TRENT'S LAST CASE
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
By E.C. (Edmund Clerihew) Bentley
CHAPTER I: Bad News
Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?
When the scheming, indomitable brain of Sigsbee Manderson was scattered by a shot from an unknown hand, that world lost nothing worth a single tear; it gained something memorable in a harsh reminder of the vanity of such wealth as this dead man had piled up—without making one loyal friend to mourn him, without doing an act that could help his memory to the least honour. But when the news of his end came, it seemed to those living in the great vortices of business as if the earth too shuddered under a blow.
In all the lurid commercial history of his country there had been no figure that had so imposed itself upon the mind of the trading world. He had a niche apart in its temples. Financial giants, strong to direct and augment the forces of capital, and taking an approved toll in millions for their labour, had existed before; but in the case of Manderson there had been this singularity, that a pale halo of piratical romance, a thing especially dear to the hearts of his countrymen, had remained incongruously about his head through the years when he stood in every eye as the unquestioned guardian of stability, the stamper-out of manipulated crises, the foe of the raiding chieftains that infest the borders of Wall Street.
The fortune left by his grandfather, who had been one of those chieftains on the smaller scale of his day, had descended to him with accretion through his father, who during a long life had quietly continued to lend money and never had margined a stock. Manderson, who had at no time known what it was to be without large sums to his hand, should have been altogether of that newer American plutocracy which is steadied by the tradition and habit of great wealth. But it was not so. While his nurture and education had taught him European ideas of a rich man's proper external circumstance; while they had rooted in him an instinct for quiet magnificence, the larger costliness which does not shriek of itself with a thousand tongues; there had been handed on to him nevertheless much of the Forty-Niner and financial buccaneer, his forbear. During that first period of his business career which had been called his early bad manner, he had been little more than a gambler of genius, his hand against every man's—an infant prodigy—who brought to the enthralling pursuit of speculation a brain better endowed than any opposed to it. At St Helena it was laid down that war is une belle occupation; and so the young Manderson had found the multitudinous and complicated dog-fight of the Stock Exchange of New York.
Then came his change. At his father's death, when Manderson was thirty years old, some new revelation of the power and the glory of the god he served seemed to have come upon him. With the sudden, elastic adaptability of his nation he turned to steady labour in his father's banking business, closing his ears to the sound of the battles of the Street. In a few years he came to control all the activity of the great firm whose unimpeached conservatism, safety, and financial weight lifted it like a cliff above the angry sea of the markets. All mistrust founded on the performances of his youth had vanished. He was quite plainly a different man. How the change came about none could with authority say, but there was a story of certain last words spoken by his father, whom alone he had respected and perhaps loved.
He began to tower above the financial situation. Soon his name was current in the bourses of the world. One who spoke the name of Manderson called up a vision of all that was broad-based and firm in the vast wealth of the United States. He planned great combinations of capital, drew together and centralized industries of continental scope, financed with unerring judgement the large designs of state or of private enterprise. Many a time when he 'took hold' to smash a strike, or to federate the ownership of some great field of labour, he sent ruin upon a multitude of tiny homes; and if miners or steelworkers or cattlemen defied him and invoked disorder, he could be more lawless and ruthless than they. But this was done in the pursuit of legitimate business ends. Tens of thousands of the poor might curse his name, but the financier and the speculator execrated him no more. He stretched a hand to protect or to manipulate the power of wealth in every corner of the country. Forcible, cold, and unerring, in all he did he ministered to the national lust for magnitude; and a grateful country surnamed him the Colossus.
But there was an aspect of Manderson in this later period that lay long unknown and unsuspected save by a few, his secretaries and lieutenants and certain of the associates of his bygone hurling time. This little circle knew that Manderson, the pillar of sound business and stability in the markets, had his hours of nostalgia for the lively times when the Street had trembled at his name. It was, said one of them, as if Blackbeard had settled down as a decent merchant in Bristol on the spoils of the Main. Now and then the pirate would glare suddenly out, the knife in his teeth and the sulphur matches sputtering in his hatband. During such spasms of reversion to type a score of tempestuous raids upon the market had been planned on paper in the inner room of the offices of Manderson, Colefax and Company. But they were never carried out. Blackbeard would quell the mutiny of his old self within him and go soberly down to his counting-house—humming a stave or two of 'Spanish Ladies', perhaps, under his breath. Manderson would allow himself the harmless satisfaction, as soon as the time for action had gone by, of pointing out to some Rupert of the markets a coup worth a million to the depredator might have been made. 'Seems to me,' he would say almost wistfully, 'the Street is getting to be a mighty dull place since I quit.' By slow degrees this amiable weakness of the Colossus became known to the business world, which exulted greatly in the knowledge.
At the news of his death panic went through the markets like a hurricane; for it came at a luckless time. Prices tottered and crashed like towers in an earthquake. For two days Wall Street was a clamorous inferno of pale despair. All over the United States, wherever speculation had its devotees, went a waft of ruin, a plague of suicide. In Europe also not a few took with their own hands lives that had become pitiably linked to the destiny of a financier whom most of them had never seen. In Paris a well-known banker walked quietly out of the Bourse and fell dead upon the broad steps among the raving crowd of Jews, a phial crushed in his hand. In Frankfort one leapt from the Cathedral top, leaving a redder stain where he struck the red tower. Men stabbed and shot and strangled themselves, drank death or breathed it as the air, because in a lonely corner of England the life had departed from one cold heart vowed to the service of greed.
The blow could not have fallen at a more disastrous moment. It came when Wall Street was in a condition of suppressed 'scare'-suppressed, because for a week past the great interests known to act with or to be actually controlled by the Colossus had been desperately combating the effects of the sudden arrest of Lucas Hahn, and the exposure of his plundering of the Hahn banks. This bombshell, in its turn, had fallen at a time when the market had been 'boosted' beyond its real strength. In the language of the place, a slump was due. Reports from the corn-lands had not been good, and there had been two or three railway statements which had been expected to be much better than they were. But at whatever point in the vast area of speculation the shudder of the threatened break had been felt, 'the Manderson crowd' had stepped in and held the market up. All through the week the speculator's mind, as shallow as it is quick-witted, as sentimental as greedy, had seen in this the hand of the giant stretched out in protection from afar. Manderson, said the newspapers in chorus, was in hourly communication with his lieutenants in the Street. One journal was able to give in round figures the sum spent on cabling between New York and Marlstone in the past twenty-four hours; it told how a small staff of expert operators had been sent down by the Post Office authorities to Marlstone to deal with the flood of messages. Another revealed that Manderson, on the first news of the Hahn crash, had arranged to abandon his holiday and return home by the Lusitania; but that he soon had the situation so well in hand that he had determined to remain where he was.
All this was falsehood, more or less consciously elaborated by the 'finance editors', consciously initiated and encouraged by the shrewd business men of the Manderson group, who knew that nothing could better help their plans than this illusion of hero-worship—knew also that no word had come from Manderson in answer to their messages, and that Howard B. Jeffrey, of Steel and Iron fame, was the true organizer of victory. So they fought down apprehension through four feverish days, and minds grew calmer. On Saturday, though the ground beneath the feet of Mr. Jeffrey yet rumbled now and then with Etna-mutterings of disquiet, he deemed his task almost done. The market was firm, and slowly advancing. Wall Street turned to its sleep of Sunday, worn out but thankfully at peace.
In the first trading hour of Monday a hideous rumour flew round the sixty acres of the financial district. It came into being as the lightning comes—a blink that seems to begin nowhere; though it is to be suspected that it was first whispered over the telephone—together with an urgent selling order by some employee in the cable service. A sharp spasm convulsed the convalescent share-list. In five minutes the dull noise of the kerbstone market in Broad Street had leapt to a high note of frantic interrogation. From within the hive of the Exchange itself could be heard a droning hubbub of fear, and men rushed hatless in and out. Was it true? asked every man; and every man replied, with trembling lips, that it was a lie put out by some unscrupulous 'short' interest seeking to cover itself. In another quarter of an hour news came of a sudden and ruinous collapse of 'Yankees' in London at the close of the Stock Exchange day. It was enough. New York had still four hours' trading in front of her. The strategy of pointing to Manderson as the saviour and warden of the markets had recoiled upon its authors with annihilating force, and Jeffrey, his ear at his private telephone, listened to the tale of disaster with a set jaw. The new Napoleon had lost his Marengo. He saw the whole financial landscape sliding and falling into chaos before him. In half an hour the news of the finding of Manderson's body, with the inevitable rumour that it was suicide, was printing in a dozen newspaper offices; but before a copy reached Wall Street the tornado of the panic was in full fury, and Howard B. Jeffrey and his collaborators were whirled away like leaves before its breath.
All this sprang out of nothing.
Nothing in the texture of the general life had changed. The corn had not ceased to ripen in the sun. The rivers bore their barges and gave power to a myriad engines. The flocks fattened on the pastures, the herds were unnumbered. Men laboured everywhere in the various servitudes to which they were born, and chafed not more than usual in their bonds. Bellona tossed and murmured as ever, yet still slept her uneasy sleep. To all mankind save a million or two of half-crazed gamblers, blind to all reality, the death of Manderson meant nothing; the life and work of the world went on. Weeks before he died strong hands had been in control of every wire in the huge network of commerce and industry that he had supervised. Before his corpse was buried his countrymen had made a strange discovery—that the existence of the potent engine of monopoly that went by the name of Sigsbee Manderson had not been a condition of even material prosperity. The panic blew itself out in two days, the pieces were picked up, the bankrupts withdrew out of sight; the market 'recovered a normal tone'.
While the brief delirium was yet subsiding there broke out a domestic scandal in England that suddenly fixed the attention of two continents. Next morning the Chicago Limited was wrecked, and the same day a notable politician was shot down in cold blood by his wife's brother in the streets of New Orleans. Within a week of its rising, 'the Manderson story', to the trained sense of editors throughout the Union, was 'cold'. The tide of American visitors pouring through Europe made eddies round the memorial or statue of many a man who had died in poverty; and never thought of their most famous plutocrat. Like the poet who died in Rome, so young and poor, a hundred years ago, he was buried far away from his own land; but for all the men and women of Manderson's people who flock round the tomb of Keats in the cemetery under the Monte Testaccio, there is not one, nor ever Will be, to stand in reverence by the rich man's grave beside the little church of Marlstone.
CHAPTER II: Knocking the Town Endways
In the only comfortably furnished room in the offices of the Record, the telephone on Sir James Molloy's table buzzed. Sir James made a motion with his pen, and Mr. Silver, his secretary, left his work and came over to the instrument.
'Who is that?' he said. 'Who?... I can't hear you.... Oh, it's Mr. Bunner, is it?... Yes, but... I know, but he's fearfully busy this afternoon. Can't you... Oh, really? Well, in that case—just hold on, will you?'
He placed the receiver before Sir James. 'It's Calvin Bunner, Sigsbee Manderson's right-hand man,' he said concisely. 'He insists on speaking to you personally. Says it is the gravest piece of news. He is talking from the house down by Bishopsbridge, so it will be necessary to speak clearly.'
Sir James looked at the telephone, not affectionately, and took up the receiver. 'Well?' he said in his strong voice, and listened. 'Yes,' he said. The next moment Mr. Silver, eagerly watching him, saw a look of amazement and horror. 'Good God!' murmured Sir James. Clutching the instrument, he slowly rose to his feet, still bending ear intently. At intervals he repeated 'Yes.' Presently, as he listened, he glanced at the clock, and spoke quickly to Mr. Silver over the top of the transmitter. 'Go and hunt up Figgis and young Williams. Hurry.' Mr. Silver darted from the room.
The great journalist was a tall, strong, clever Irishman of fifty, swart and black-moustached, a man of untiring business energy, well known in the world, which he understood very thoroughly, and played upon with the half-cynical competence of his race. Yet was he without a touch of the charlatan: he made no mysteries, and no pretences of knowledge, and he saw instantly through these in others. In his handsome, well-bred, well-dressed appearance there was something a little sinister when anger or intense occupation put its imprint about his eyes and brow; but when his generous nature was under no restraint he was the most cordial of men. He was managing director of the company which owned that most powerful morning paper, the Record, and also that most indispensable evening paper, the Sun, which had its offices on the other side of the street. He was, moreover, editor-in-chief of the Record, to which he had in the course of years attached the most variously capable personnel in the country. It was a maxim of his that where you could not get gifts, you must do the best you could with solid merit; and he employed a great deal of both. He was respected by his staff as few are respected in a profession not favourable to the growth of the sentiment of reverence.
'You're sure that's all?' asked Sir James, after a few minutes of earnest listening and questioning. 'And how long has this been known?... Yes, of course, the police are; but the servants? Surely it's all over the place down there by now.... Well, we'll have a try.... Look here, Bunner, I'm infinitely obliged to you about this. I owe you a good turn. You know I mean what I say. Come and see me the first day you get to town.... All right, that's understood. Now I must act on your news. Goodbye.'
Sir James hung up the receiver, and seized a railway timetable from the rack before him. After a rapid consultation of this oracle, he flung it down with a forcible word as Mr. Silver hurried into the room, followed by a hard-featured man with spectacles, and a youth with an alert eye.
'I want you to jot down some facts, Figgis,' said Sir James, banishing all signs of agitation and speaking with a rapid calmness. 'When you have them, put them into shape just as quick as you can for a special edition of the Sun.' The hard-featured man nodded and glanced at the clock, which pointed to a few minutes past three; he pulled out a notebook and drew a chair up to the big writing-table. 'Silver,' Sir James went on, 'go and tell Jones to wire our local correspondent very urgently, to drop everything and get down to Marlstone at once. He is not to say why in the telegram. There must not be an unnecessary word about this news until the Sun is on the streets with it—you all understand. Williams, cut across the way and tell Mr. Anthony to hold himself ready for a two-column opening that will knock the town endways. Just tell him that he must take all measures and precautions for a scoop. Say that Figgis will be over in five minutes with the facts, and that he had better let him write up the story in his private room. As you go, ask Miss Morgan to see me here at once, and tell the telephone people to see if they can get Mr. Trent on the wire for me. After seeing Mr. Anthony, return here and stand by.' The alert-eyed young man vanished like a spirit.
Sir James turned instantly to Mr. Figgis, whose pencil was poised over the paper. 'Sigsbee Manderson has been murdered,' he began quickly and clearly, pacing the floor with his hands behind him. Mr. Figgis scratched down a line of shorthand with as much emotion as if he had been told that the day was fine—the pose of his craft. 'He and his wife and two secretaries have been for the past fortnight at the house called White Gables, at Marlstone, near Bishopsbridge. He bought it four years ago. He and Mrs. Manderson have since spent a part of each summer there. Last night he went to bed about half-past eleven, just as usual. No one knows when he got up and left the house. He was not missed until this morning. About ten o'clock his body was found by a gardener. It was lying by a shed in the grounds. He was shot in the head, through the left eye. Death must have been instantaneous. The body was not robbed, but there were marks on the wrists which pointed to a straggle having taken place. Dr Stock, of Marlstone, was at once sent for, and will conduct the post-mortem examination. The police from Bishopsbridge, who were soon on the spot, are reticent, but it is believed that they are quite without a clue to the identity of the murderer. There you are, Figgis. Mr. Anthony is expecting you. Now I must telephone him and arrange things.'
Mr. Figgis looked up. 'One of the ablest detectives at Scotland Yard,' he suggested, 'has been put in charge of the case. It's a safe statement.'
'If you like,' said Sir James.
'And Mrs. Manderson? Was she there?'
'Yes. What about her?'
'Prostrated by the shock,' hinted the reporter, 'and sees nobody. Human interest.'
'I wouldn't put that in, Mr. Figgis,' said a quiet voice. It belonged to Miss Morgan, a pale, graceful woman, who had silently made her appearance while the dictation was going on. 'I have seen Mrs. Manderson,' she proceeded, turning to Sir James. 'She looks quite healthy and intelligent. Has her husband been murdered? I don't think the shock would prostrate her. She is more likely to be doing all she can to help the police.'
'Something in your own style, then, Miss Morgan,' he said with a momentary smile. Her imperturbable efficiency was an office proverb. 'Cut it out, Figgis. Off you go! Now, madam, I expect you know what I want.'
'Our Manderson biography happens to be well up to date,' replied Miss Morgan, drooping her dark eyelashes as she considered the position. 'I was looking over it only a few months ago. It is practically ready for tomorrow's paper. I should think the Sun had better use the sketch of his life they had about two years ago, when he went to Berlin and settled the potash difficulty. I remember it was a very good sketch, and they won't be able to carry much more than that. As for our paper, of course we have a great quantity of cuttings, mostly rubbish. The sub-editors shall have them as soon as they come in. Then we have two very good portraits that are our own property; the best is a drawing Mr. Trent made when they were both on the same ship somewhere. It is better than any of the photographs; but you say the public prefers a bad photograph to a good drawing. I will send them down to you at once, and you can choose. As far as I can see, the Record is well ahead of the situation, except that you will not be able to get a special man down there in time to be of any use for tomorrow's paper.'
Sir James sighed deeply. 'What are we good for, anyhow?' he enquired dejectedly of Mr. Silver, who had returned to his desk. 'She even knows Bradshaw by heart.'
Miss Morgan adjusted her cuffs with an air of patience. 'Is there anything else?' she asked, as the telephone bell rang.
'Yes, one thing,' replied Sir James, as he took up the receiver. 'I want you to make a bad mistake some time, Miss Morgan—an everlasting bloomer—just to put us in countenance.' She permitted herself the fraction of what would have been a charming smile as she went out.
'Anthony?' asked Sir James, and was at once deep in consultation with the editor on the other side of the road. He seldom entered the Sun building in person; the atmosphere of an evening paper, he would say, was all very well if you liked that kind of thing. Mr. Anthony, the Murat of Fleet Street, who delighted in riding the whirlwind and fighting a tumultuous battle against time, would say the same of a morning paper.
It was some five minutes later that a uniformed boy came in to say that Mr. Trent was on the wire. Sir James abruptly closed his talk with Mr. Anthony.
'They can put him through at once,' he said to the boy.
'Hullo!' he cried into the telephone after a few moments.
A voice in the instrument replied, 'Hullo be blowed! What do you want?'
'This is Molloy,' said Sir James.
'I know it is,' the voice said. 'This is Trent. He is in the middle of painting a picture, and he has been interrupted at a critical moment. Well, I hope it's something important, that's all!'
'Trent,' said Sir James impressively, 'it is important. I want you to do some work for us.'
'Some play, you mean,' replied the voice. 'Believe me, I don't want a holiday. The working fit is very strong. I am doing some really decent things. Why can't you leave a man alone?' 'Something very serious has happened.' 'What?'
'Sigsbee Manderson has been murdered—shot through the brain—and they don't know who has done it. They found the body this morning. It happened at his place near Bishopsbridge.' Sir James proceeded to tell his hearer, briefly and clearly, the facts that he had communicated to Mr. Figgis. 'What do you think of it?' he ended. A considering grunt was the only answer. 'Come now,' urged Sir James. 'Tempter!'
'You will go down?'
There was a brief pause.
'Are you there?' said Sir James.
'Look here, Molloy,' the voice broke out querulously, 'the thing may be a case for me, or it may not. We can't possibly tell. It may be a mystery; it may be as simple as bread and cheese. The body not being robbed looks interesting, but he may have been outed by some wretched tramp whom he found sleeping in the grounds and tried to kick out. It's the sort of thing he would do. Such a murderer might easily have sense enough to know that to leave the money and valuables was the safest thing. I tell you frankly, I wouldn't have a hand in hanging a poor devil who had let daylight into a man like Sig Manderson as a measure of social protest.'
Sir James smiled at the telephone—a smile of success. 'Come, my boy, you're getting feeble. Admit you want to go and have a look at the case. You know you do. If it's anything you don't want to handle, you're free to drop it. By the by, where are you?'
'I am blown along a wandering wind,' replied the voice irresolutely, 'and hollow, hollow, hollow all delight.'
'Can you get here within an hour?' persisted Sir James.
'I suppose I can,' the voice grumbled. 'How much time have I?'
'Good man! Well, there's time enough—that's just the worst of it. I've got to depend on our local correspondent for tonight. The only good train of the day went half an hour ago. The next is a slow one, leaving Paddington at midnight. You could have the Buster, if you like'—Sir James referred to a very fast motor car of his—'but you wouldn't get down in time to do anything tonight.'
'And I'd miss my sleep. No, thanks. The train for me. I am quite fond of railway travelling, you know; I have a gift for it. I am the stoker and the stoked. I am the song the porter sings.'
'What's that you say?'
'It doesn't matter,' said the voice sadly. 'I say,' it continued, 'will your people look out a hotel near the scene of action, and telegraph for a room?'
'At once,' said Sir James. 'Come here as soon as you can.'
He replaced the receiver. As he turned to his papers again a shrill outcry burst forth in the street below. He walked to the open window. A band of excited boys was rushing down the steps of the Sun building and up the narrow thoroughfare toward Fleet Street. Each carried a bundle of newspapers and a large broadsheet with the simple legend:
MURDER OF SIGSBEE MANDERSON
Sir James smiled and rattled the money in his pockets cheerfully. 'It makes a good bill,' he observed to Mr. Silver, who stood at his elbow.
Such was Manderson's epitaph.
CHAPTER III: Breakfast
At about eight o'clock in the morning of the following day Mr. Nathaniel Burton Cupples stood on the veranda of the hotel at Marlstone. He was thinking about breakfast. In his case the colloquialism must be taken literally: he really was thinking about breakfast, as he thought about every conscious act of his life when time allowed deliberation. He reflected that on the preceding day the excitement and activity following upon the discovery of the dead man had disorganized his appetite, and led to his taking considerably less nourishment than usual. This morning he was very hungry, having already been up and about for an hour; and he decided to allow himself a third piece of toast and an additional egg; the rest as usual. The remaining deficit must be made up at luncheon, but that could be gone into later.
So much being determined, Mr. Cupples applied himself to the enjoyment of the view for a few minutes before ordering his meal. With a connoisseur's eye he explored the beauty of the rugged coast, where a great pierced rock rose from a glassy sea, and the ordered loveliness of the vast tilted levels of pasture and tillage and woodland that sloped gently up from the cliffs toward the distant moor. Mr. Cupples delighted in landscape.
He was a man of middle height and spare figure, nearly sixty years old, by constitution rather delicate in health, but wiry and active for his age. A sparse and straggling beard and moustache did not conceal a thin but kindly mouth; his eyes were keen and pleasant; his sharp nose and narrow jaw gave him very much of a clerical air, and this impression was helped by his commonplace dark clothes and soft black hat. The whole effect of him, indeed, was priestly. He was a man of unusually conscientious, industrious, and orderly mind, with little imagination. His father's household had been used to recruit its domestic establishment by means of advertisements in which it was truthfully described as a serious family. From that fortress of gloom he had escaped with two saintly gifts somehow unspoiled: an inexhaustible kindness of heart, and a capacity for innocent gaiety which owed nothing to humour. In an earlier day and with a clerical training he might have risen to the scarlet hat. He was, in fact, a highly regarded member of the London Positivist Society, a retired banker, a widower without children. His austere but not unhappy life was spent largely among books and in museums; his profound and patiently accumulated knowledge of a number of curiously disconnected subjects which had stirred his interest at different times had given him a place in the quiet, half-lit world of professors and curators and devotees of research; at their amiable, unconvivial dinner parties he was most himself. His favourite author was Montaigne.
Just as Mr. Cupples was finishing his meal at a little table on the veranda, a big motor car turned into the drive before the hotel. 'Who is this?' he enquired of the waiter. 'Id is der manager,' said the young man listlessly. 'He have been to meed a gendleman by der train.'
The car drew up and the porter hurried from the entrance. Mr. Cupples uttered an exclamation of pleasure as a long, loosely built man, much younger than himself, stepped from the car and mounted the veranda, flinging his hat on a chair. His high-boned, quixotic face wore a pleasant smile; his rough tweed clothes, his hair and short moustache were tolerably untidy.
'Cupples, by all that's miraculous!' cried the man, pouncing upon Mr. Cupples before he could rise, and seizing his outstretched hand in a hard grip. 'My luck is serving me today,' the newcomer went on spasmodically. 'This is the second slice within an hour. How are you, my best of friends? And why are you here? Why sit'st thou by that ruined breakfast? Dost thou its former pride recall, or ponder how it passed away? I am glad to see you!'
'I was half expecting you, Trent,' Mr. Cupples replied, his face wreathed in smiles. 'You are looking splendid, my dear fellow. I will tell you all about it. But you cannot have had your own breakfast yet. Will you have it at my table here?'
'Rather!' said the man. 'An enormous great breakfast, too—with refined conversation and tears of recognition never dry. Will you get young Siegfried to lay a place for me while I go and wash? I shan't be three minutes.' He disappeared into the hotel, and Mr. Cupples, after a moment's thought, went to the telephone in the porter's office.
He returned to find his friend already seated, pouring out tea, and showing an unaffected interest in the choice of food. 'I expect this to be a hard day for me,' he said, with the curious jerky utterance which seemed to be his habit. 'I shan't eat again till the evening, very likely. You guess why I'm here, don't you?'
'Undoubtedly,' said Mr. Cupples. 'You have come down to write about the murder.'
'That is rather a colourless way of stating it,' the man called Trent replied, as he dissected a sole. 'I should prefer to put it that I have come down in the character of avenger of blood, to hunt down the guilty, and vindicate the honour of society. That is my line of business. Families waited on at their private residences. I say, Cupples, I have made a good beginning already. Wait a bit, and I'll tell you.' There was a silence, during which the newcomer ate swiftly and abstractedly, while Mr. Cupples looked on happily.
'Your manager here,' said the tall man at last, 'is a fellow of remarkable judgement. He is an admirer of mine. He knows more about my best cases than I do myself. The Record wired last night to say I was coming, and when I got out of the train at seven o'clock this morning, there he was waiting for me with a motor car the size of a haystack. He is beside himself with joy at having me here. It is fame.' He drank a cup of tea and continued: 'Almost his first words were to ask me if I would like to see the body of the murdered man if so, he thought he could manage it for me. He is as keen as a razor. The body lies in Dr Stock's surgery, you know, down in the village, exactly as it was when found. It's to be post-mortem'd this morning, by the way, so I was only just in time. Well, he ran me down here to the doctor's, giving me full particulars about the case all the way. I was pretty well au fait by the time we arrived. I suppose the manager of a place like this has some sort of a pull with the doctor. Anyhow, he made no difficulties, nor did the constable on duty, though he was careful to insist on my not giving him away in the paper.'
'I saw the body before it was removed,' remarked Mr. Cupples. 'I should not have said there was anything remarkable about it, except that the shot in the eye had scarcely disfigured the face at all, and caused scarcely any effusion of blood, apparently. The wrists were scratched and bruised. I expect that, with your trained faculties, you were able to remark other details of a suggestive nature.'
'Other details, certainly; but I don't know that they suggest anything. They are merely odd. Take the wrists, for instance. How was it you could see bruises and scratches on them? I dare say you saw something of Manderson down here before the murder.' 'Certainly,' Mr. Cupples said.
'Well, did you ever see his wrists?'
Mr. Cupples reflected. 'No. Now you raise the point, I am reminded that when I interviewed Manderson here he was wearing stiff cuffs, coming well down over his hands.'
'He always did,' said Trent. 'My friend the manager says so. I pointed out to him the fact you didn't observe, that there were no cuffs visible, and that they had, indeed, been dragged up inside the coat-sleeves, as yours would be if you hurried into a coat without pulling your cuffs down. That was why you saw his wrists.'
'Well, I call that suggestive,' observed Mr. Cupples mildly. 'You might infer, perhaps, that when he got up he hurried over his dressing.'
'Yes, but did he? The manager said just what you say. "He was always a bit of a swell in his dress," he told me, and he drew the inference that when Manderson got up in that mysterious way, before the house was stirring, and went out into the grounds, he was in a great hurry. "Look at his shoes," he said to me: "Mr. Manderson was always specially neat about his footwear. But those shoe-laces were tied in a hurry." I agreed. "And he left his false teeth in his room," said the manager. "Doesn't that prove he was flustered and hurried?" I allowed that it looked like it. But I said, "Look here: if he was so very much pressed, why did he part his hair so carefully? That parting is a work of art. Why did he put on so much? for he had on a complete outfit of underclothing, studs in his shirt, sock-suspenders, a watch and chain, money and keys and things in his pockets. That's what I said to the manager. He couldn't find an explanation. Can you?"
Mr. Cupples considered. 'Those facts might suggest that he was hurried only at the end of his dressing. Coat and shoes would come last.'
'But not false teeth. You ask anybody who wears them. And besides, I'm told he hadn't washed at all on getting up, which in a neat man looks like his being in a violent hurry from the beginning. And here's another thing. One of his waistcoat pockets was lined with wash-leather for the reception of his gold watch. But he had put his watch into the pocket on the other side. Anybody who has settled habits can see how odd that is. The fact is, there are signs of great agitation and haste, and there are signs of exactly the opposite. For the present I am not guessing. I must reconnoitre the ground first, if I can manage to get the right side of the people of the house.' Trent applied himself again to his breakfast.
Mr. Cupples smiled at him benevolently. 'That is precisely the point,' he said, 'on which I can be of some assistance to you.' Trent glanced up in surprise. 'I told you I half expected you. I will explain the situation. Mrs. Manderson, who is my niece—'
'What!' Trent laid down his knife and fork with a clash. 'Cupples, you are jesting with me.'
'I am perfectly serious, Trent, really,' returned Mr. Cupples earnestly. 'Her father, John Peter Domecq, was my wife's brother. I never mentioned my niece or her marriage to you before, I suppose. To tell the truth, it has always been a painful subject to me, and I have avoided discussing it with anybody. To return to what I was about to say: last night, when I was over at the house—by the way, you can see it from here. You passed it in the car.' He indicated a red roof among poplars some three hundred yards away, the only building in sight that stood separate from the tiny village in the gap below them.
'Certainly I did,' said Trent. 'The manager told me all about it, among other things, as he drove me in from Bishopsbridge.'
'Other people here have heard of you and your performances,' Mr. Cupples went on. 'As I was saying, when I was over there last night, Mr. Bunner, who is one of Manderson's two secretaries, expressed a hope that the Record would send you down to deal with the case, as the police seemed quite at a loss. He mentioned one or two of your past successes, and Mabel—my niece—was interested when I told her afterwards. She is bearing up wonderfully well, Trent; she has remarkable fortitude of character. She said she remembered reading your articles about the Abinger case. She has a great horror of the newspaper side of this sad business, and she had entreated me to do anything I could to keep journalists away from the place—I'm sure you can understand her feeling, Trent; it isn't really any reflection on that profession. But she said you appeared to have great powers as a detective, and she would not stand in the way of anything that might clear up the crime. Then I told her you were a personal friend of mine, and gave you a good character for tact and consideration of others' feelings; and it ended in her saying that, if you should come, she would like you to be helped in every way.'
Trent leaned across the table and shook Mr. Cupples by the hand in silence. Mr. Cupples, much delighted with the way things were turning out, resumed:
'I spoke to my niece on the telephone only just now, and she is glad you are here. She asks me to say that you may make any enquiries you like, and she puts the house and grounds at your disposal. She had rather not see you herself; she is keeping to her own sitting-room. She has already been interviewed by a detective officer who is there, and she feels unequal to any more. She adds that she does not believe she could say anything that would be of the smallest use. The two secretaries and Martin, the butler (who is a most intelligent man), could tell you all you want to know, she thinks.'
Trent finished his breakfast with a thoughtful brow. He filled a pipe slowly, and seated himself on the rail of the veranda. 'Cupples,' he said quietly, 'is there anything about this business that you know and would rather not tell me?'
Mr. Cupples gave a slight start, and turned an astonished gaze on the questioner. 'What do you mean?' he said.
'I mean about the Mandersons. Look here! Shall I tell you a thing that strikes me about this affair at the very beginning? Here's a man suddenly and violently killed, and nobody's heart seems to be broken about it, to say the least. The manager of this hotel spoke to me about him as coolly as if he'd never set eyes on him, though I understand they've been neighbours every summer for some years. Then you talk about the thing in the coldest of blood. And Mrs. Manderson—well, you won't mind my saying that I have heard of women being more cut up about their husbands being murdered than she seems to be. Is there something in this, Cupples, or is it my fancy? Was there something queer about Manderson? I travelled on the same boat with him once, but never spoke to him. I only know his public character, which was repulsive enough. You see, this may have a bearing on the case; that's the only reason why I ask.'
Mr. Cupples took time for thought. He fingered his sparse beard and looked out over the sea. At last he turned to Trent. 'I see no reason,' he said, 'why I shouldn't tell you as between ourselves, my dear fellow. I need not say that this must not be referred to, however distantly. The truth is that nobody really liked Manderson; and I think those who were nearest to him liked him least.'
'Why?' the other interjected.
'Most people found a difficulty in explaining why. In trying to account to myself for my own sensations, I could only put it that one felt in the man a complete absence of the sympathetic faculty. There was nothing outwardly repellent about him. He was not ill-mannered, or vicious, or dull—indeed, he could be remarkably interesting. But I received the impression that there could be no human creature whom he would not sacrifice in the pursuit of his schemes, in his task of imposing himself and his will upon the world. Perhaps that was fanciful, but I think not altogether so. However, the point is that Mabel, I am sorry to say, was very unhappy. I am nearly twice your age, my dear boy, though you always so kindly try to make me feel as if we were contemporaries—I am getting to be an old man, and a great many people have been good enough to confide their matrimonial troubles to me; but I never knew another case like my niece's and her husband's. I have known her since she was a baby, Trent, and I know—you understand, I think, that I do not employ that word lightly—I know that she is as amiable and honourable a woman, to say nothing of her other good gifts, as any man could wish. But Manderson, for some time past, had made her miserable.'
'What did he do?' asked Trent, as Mr. Cupples paused.
'When I put that question to Mabel, her words were that he seemed to nurse a perpetual grievance. He maintained a distance between them, and he would say nothing. I don't know how it began or what was behind it; and all she would tell me on that point was that he had no cause in the world for his attitude. I think she knew what was in his mind, whatever it was; but she is full of pride. This seems to have gone on for months. At last, a week ago, she wrote to me. I am the only near relative she has. Her mother died when she was a child; and after John Peter died I was something like a father to her until she married—that was five years ago. She asked me to come and help her, and I came at once. That is why I am here now.'
Mr. Cupples paused and drank some tea. Trent smoked and stared out at the hot June landscape.
'I would not go to White Gables,' Mr. Cupples resumed. 'You know my views, I think, upon the economic constitution of society, and the proper relationship of the capitalist to the employee, and you know, no doubt, what use that person made of his vast industrial power upon several very notorious occasions. I refer especially to the trouble in the Pennsylvania coal-fields, three years ago. I regarded him, apart from an all personal dislike, in the light of a criminal and a disgrace to society. I came to this hotel, and I saw my niece here. She told me What I have more briefly told you. She said that the worry and the humiliation of it, and the strain of trying to keep up appearances before the world, were telling upon her, and she asked for my advice. I said I thought she should face him and demand an explanation of his way of treating her. But she would not do that. She had always taken the line of affecting not to notice the change in his demeanour, and nothing, I knew, would persuade her to admit to him that she was injured, once pride had led her into that course. Life is quite full, my dear Trent,' said Mr. Cupples with a sigh, 'of these obstinate silences and cultivated misunderstandings.'
'Did she love him?' Trent enquired abruptly. Mr. Cupples did not reply at once. 'Had she any love left for him?' Trent amended.
Mr. Cupples played with his teaspoon. 'I am bound to say,' he answered slowly, 'that I think not. But you must not misunderstand the woman, Trent. No power on earth would have persuaded her to admit that to any one—even to herself, perhaps—so long as she considered herself bound to him. And I gather that, apart from this mysterious sulking of late, he had always been considerate and generous.'
'You were saying that she refused to have it out with him.'
'She did,' replied Mr. Cupples. 'And I knew by experience that it was quite useless to attempt to move a Domecq where the sense of dignity was involved. So I thought it over carefully, and next day I watched my opportunity and met Manderson as he passed by this hotel. I asked him to favour me with a few minutes' conversation, and he stepped inside the gate down there. We had held no communication of any kind since my niece's marriage, but he remembered me, of course. I put the matter to him at once and quite definitely. I told him what Mabel had confided to me. I said that I would neither approve nor condemn her action in bringing me into the business, but that she was suffering, and I considered it my right to ask how he could justify himself in placing her in such a position.'
'And how did he take that?' said Trent, smiling secretly at the landscape. The picture of this mildest of men calling the formidable Manderson to account pleased him.
'Not very well,' Mr. Cupples replied sadly. 'In fact, far from well. I can tell you almost exactly what he said—it wasn't much. He said, "See here, Cupples, you don't want to butt in. My wife can look after herself. I've found that out, along with other things." He was perfectly quiet—you know he was said never to lose control of himself—though there was a light in his eyes that would have frightened a man who was in the wrong, I dare say. But I had been thoroughly roused by his last remark, and the tone of it, which I cannot reproduce. You see,' said Mr. Cupples simply, 'I love my niece. She is the only child that there has been in our—in my house. Moreover, my wife brought her up as a girl, and any reflection on Mabel I could not help feeling, in the heat of the moment, as an indirect reflection upon one who is gone.'
'You turned upon him,' suggested Trent in a low tone. 'You asked him to explain his words.'
'That is precisely what I did,' said Mr. Cupples. 'For a moment he only stared at me, and I could see a vein on his forehead swelling—an unpleasant sight. Then he said quite quietly, "This thing has gone far enough, I guess," and turned to go.'
'Did he mean your interview?' Trent asked thoughtfully.
'From the words alone you would think so,' Mr. Cupples answered. 'But the way in which he uttered them gave me a strange and very apprehensive feeling. I received the impression that the man had formed some sinister resolve. But I regret to say I had lost the power of dispassionate thought. I fell into a great rage'—Mr. Cupples's tone was mildly apologetic—'and said a number of foolish things. I reminded him that the law allowed a measure of freedom to wives who received intolerable treatment. I made some utterly irrelevant references to his public record, and expressed the view that such men as he were unfit to live. I said these things, and others as ill-considered, under the eyes, and very possibly within earshot, of half a dozen persons sitting on this veranda. I noticed them, in spite of my agitation, looking at me as I walked up to the hotel again after relieving my mind for it undoubtedly did relieve it,' sighed Mr. Cupples, lying back in his chair.
'And Manderson? Did he say no more?'
'Not a word. He listened to me with his eyes on my face, as quiet as before. When I stopped he smiled very slightly, and at once turned away and strolled through the gate, making for White Gables.' 'And this happened—?' 'On the Sunday morning.'
'Then I suppose you never saw him alive again?'
'No,' said Mr. Cupples. 'Or rather yes—once. It was later in the day, on the golf-course. But I did not speak to him. And next morning he was found dead.'
The two regarded each other in silence for a few moments. A party of guests who had been bathing came up the steps and seated themselves, with much chattering, at a table near them. The waiter approached. Mr. Cupples rose, and, taking Trent's arm, led him to a long tennis-lawn at the side of the hotel.
'I have a reason for telling you all this,' began Mr. Cupples as they paced slowly up and down.
'Trust you for that,' rejoined Trent, carefully filling his pipe again. He lit it, smoked a little, and then said, 'I'll try and guess what your reason is, if you like.'
Mr. Cupples's face of solemnity relaxed into a slight smile. He said nothing.
'You thought it possible,' said Trent meditatively—'may I say you thought it practically certain?—that I should find out for myself that there had been something deeper than a mere conjugal tiff between the Mandersons. You thought that my unwholesome imagination would begin at once to play with the idea of Mrs. Manderson having something to do with the crime. Rather than that I should lose myself in barren speculations about this, you decided to tell me exactly how matters stood, and incidentally to impress upon me, who know how excellent your judgement is, your opinion of your niece. Is that about right?'
'It is perfectly right. Listen to me, my dear fellow,' said Mr. Cupples earnestly, laying his hand on the other's arm. 'I am going to be very frank. I am extremely glad that Manderson is dead. I believe him to have done nothing but harm in the world as an economic factor. I know that he was making a desert of the life of one who was like my own child to me. But I am under an intolerable dread of Mabel being involved in suspicion with regard to the murder. It is horrible to me to think of her delicacy and goodness being in contact, if only for a time, with the brutalities of the law. She is not fitted for it. It would mark her deeply. Many young women of twenty-six in these days could face such an ordeal, I suppose. I have observed a sort of imitative hardness about the products of the higher education of women today which would carry them through anything, perhaps.
I am not prepared to say it is a bad thing in the conditions of feminine life prevailing at present. Mabel, however, is not like that. She is as unlike that as she is unlike the simpering misses that used to surround me as a child. She has plenty of brains; she is full of character; her mind and her tastes are cultivated; but it is all mixed up'-Mr. Cupples waved his hands in a vague gesture—'with ideals of refinement and reservation and womanly mystery. I fear she is not a child of the age. You never knew my wife, Trent. Mabel is my wife's child.'
The younger man bowed his head. They paced the length of the lawn before he asked gently, 'Why did she marry him?'
'I don't know,' said Mr. Cupples briefly.
'Admired him, I suppose,' suggested Trent.
Mr. Cupples shrugged his shoulders. 'I have been told that a woman will usually be more or less attracted by the most successful man in her circle. Of course we cannot realize how a wilful, dominating personality like his would influence a girl whose affections were not bestowed elsewhere; especially if he laid himself out to win her. It is probably an overwhelming thing to be courted by a man whose name is known all over the world. She had heard of him, of course, as a financial great power, and she had no idea—she had lived mostly among people of artistic or literary propensities—how much soulless inhumanity that might involve. For all I know, she has no adequate idea of it to this day. When I first heard of the affair the mischief was done, and I knew better than to interpose my unsought opinions. She was of age, and there was absolutely nothing against him from the conventional point of view. Then I dare say his immense wealth would cast a spell over almost any woman. Mabel had some hundreds a year of her own; just enough, perhaps, to let her realize what millions really meant. But all this is conjecture. She certainly had not wanted to marry some scores of young fellows who to my knowledge had asked her; and though I don't believe, and never did believe, that she really loved this man of forty-five, she certainly did want to marry him. But if you ask me why, I can only say I don't know.'
Trent nodded, and after a few more paces looked at his watch. 'You've interested me so much,' he said, 'that I had quite forgotten my main business. I mustn't waste my morning. I am going down the road to White Gables at once, and I dare say I shall be poking about there until midday. If you can meet me then, Cupples, I should like to talk over anything I find out with you, unless something detains me.'
'I am going for a walk this morning,' Mr. Cupples replied. 'I meant to have luncheon at a little inn near the golf-course, The Three Tuns. You had better join me there. It's further along the road, about a quarter of a mile beyond White Gables. You can just see the roof between those two trees. The food they give one there is very plain, but good.'
'So long as they have a cask of beer,' said Trent, 'they are all right. We will have bread and cheese, and oh, may Heaven our simple lives prevent from luxury's contagion, weak and vile! Till then, goodbye.' He strode off to recover his hat from the veranda, waved it to Mr. Cupples, and was gone.
The old gentleman, seating himself in a deck-chair on the lawn, clasped his hands behind his head and gazed up into the speckless blue sky. 'He is a dear fellow,' he murmured. 'The best of fellows. And a terribly acute fellow. Dear me! How curious it all is!'
CHAPTER IV: Handcuffs in the Air
A painter and the son of a painter, Philip Trent had while yet in his twenties achieved some reputation within the world of English art. Moreover, his pictures sold. An original, forcible talent and a habit of leisurely but continuous working, broken by fits of strong creative enthusiasm, were at the bottom of it. His father's name had helped; a patrimony large enough to relieve him of the perilous imputation of being a struggling man had certainly not hindered. But his best aid to success had been an unconscious power of getting himself liked. Good spirits and a lively, humorous fancy will always be popular. Trent joined to these a genuine interest in others that gained him something deeper than popularity. His judgement of persons was penetrating, but its process was internal; no one felt on good behaviour with a man who seemed always to be enjoying himself. Whether he was in a mood for floods of nonsense or applying himself vigorously to a task, his face seldom lost its expression of contained vivacity. Apart from a sound knowledge of his art and its history, his culture was large and loose, dominated by a love of poetry. At thirty-two he had not yet passed the age of laughter and adventure.
His rise to a celebrity a hundred times greater than his proper work had won for him came of a momentary impulse. One day he had taken up a newspaper to find it chiefly concerned with a crime of a sort curiously rare in our country—a murder done in a railway train. The circumstances were puzzling; two persons were under arrest upon suspicion. Trent, to whom an interest in such affairs was a new sensation, heard the thing discussed among his friends, and set himself in a purposeless mood to read up the accounts given in several journals. He became intrigued; his imagination began to work, in a manner strange to him, upon facts; an excitement took hold of him such as he had only known before in his bursts of art-inspiration or of personal adventure. At the end of the day he wrote and dispatched a long letter to the editor of the Record, which he chose only because it had contained the fullest and most intelligent version of the facts.
In this letter he did very much what Poe had done in the case of the murder of Mary Rogers. With nothing but the newspapers to guide him, he drew attention to the significance of certain apparently negligible facts, and ranged the evidence in such a manner as to throw grave suspicion upon a man who had presented himself as a witness. Sir James Molloy had printed this letter in leaded type. The same evening he was able to announce in the Sun the arrest and full confession of the incriminated man.
Sir James, who knew all the worlds of London, had lost no time in making Trent's acquaintance. The two men got on well, for Trent possessed some secret of native tact which had the effect of almost abolishing differences of age between himself and others. The great rotary presses in the basement of the Record building had filled him with a new enthusiasm. He had painted there, and Sir James had bought at sight, what he called a machinery-scape in the manner of Heinrich Kley.
Then a few months later came the affair known as the Ilkley mystery. Sir James had invited Trent to an emollient dinner, and thereafter offered him what seemed to the young man a fantastically large sum for his temporary services as special representative of the Record at Ilkley.
'You could do it,' the editor had urged. 'You can write good stuff, and you know how to talk to people, and I can teach you all the technicalities of a reporter's job in half an hour. And you have a head for a mystery; you have imagination and cool judgement along with it. Think how it would feel if you pulled it off!'
Trent had admitted that it would be rather a lark. He had smoked, frowned, and at last convinced himself that the only thing that held him back was fear of an unfamiliar task. To react against fear had become a fixed moral habit with him, and he had accepted Sir James's offer.
He had pulled it off. For the second time he had given the authorities a start and a beating, and his name was on all tongues. He withdrew and painted pictures. He felt no leaning towards journalism, and Sir James, who knew a good deal about art, honourably refrained—as other editors did not—from tempting him with a good salary. But in the course of a few years he had applied to him perhaps thirty times for his services in the unravelling of similar problems at home and abroad. Sometimes Trent, busy with work that held him, had refused; sometimes he had been forestalled in the discovery of the truth. But the result of his irregular connection with the Record had been to make his name one of the best known in England. It was characteristic of him that his name was almost the only detail of his personality known to the public. He had imposed absolute silence about himself upon the Molloy papers; and the others were not going to advertise one of Sir James's men.
The Manderson case, he told himself as he walked rapidly up the sloping road to White Gables, might turn out to be terribly simple. Cupples was a wise old boy, but it was probably impossible for him to have an impartial opinion about his niece. But it was true that the manager of the hotel, who had spoken of her beauty in terms that aroused his attention, had spoken even more emphatically of her goodness. Not an artist in words, the manager had yet conveyed a very definite idea to Trent's mind. 'There isn't a child about here that don't brighten up at the sound of her voice,' he had said, 'nor yet a grown-up, for the matter of that. Everybody used to look forward to her coming over in the summer. I don't mean that she's one of those women that are all kind heart and nothing else. There's backbone with it, if you know what I mean—pluck any amount of go. There's nobody in Marlstone that isn't sorry for the lady in her trouble—not but what some of us may think she's lucky at the last of it.' Trent wanted very much to meet Mrs. Manderson.
He could see now, beyond a spacious lawn and shrubbery, the front of the two-storied house of dull-red brick, with the pair of great gables from which it had its name. He had had but a glimpse of it from the car that morning. A modern house, he saw; perhaps ten years old. The place was beautifully kept, with that air of opulent peace that clothes even the smallest houses of the well-to-do in an English countryside. Before it, beyond the road, the rich meadow-land ran down to the edge of the cliffs; behind it a woody landscape stretched away across a broad vale to the moors. That such a place could be the scene of a crime of violence seemed fantastic; it lay so quiet and well ordered, so eloquent of disciplined service and gentle living. Yet there beyond the house, and near the hedge that rose between the garden and the hot, white road, stood the gardener's toolshed, by which the body had been found, lying tumbled against the wooden wall, Trent walked past the gate of the drive and along the road until he was opposite this shed. Some forty yards further along the road turned sharply away from the house, to run between thick plantations; and just before the turn the grounds of the house ended, with a small white gate at the angle of the boundary hedge. He approached the gate, which was plainly for the use of gardeners and the service of the establishment. It swung easily on its hinges, and he passed slowly up a path that led towards the back of the house, between the outer hedge and a tall wall of rhododendrons. Through a gap in this wall a track led him to the little neatly built erection of wood, which stood among trees that faced a corner of the front. The body had lain on the side away from the house; a servant, he thought, looking out of the nearer windows in the earlier hours of the day before, might have glanced unseeing at the hut, as she wondered what it could be like to be as rich as the master.
He examined the place carefully and ransacked the hut within, but he could note no more than the trodden appearance of the uncut grass where the body had lain. Crouching low, with keen eyes and feeling fingers, he searched the ground minutely over a wide area; but the search was fruitless.
It was interrupted by the sound—the first he had heard from the house—of the closing of the front door. Trent unbent his long legs and stepped to the edge of the drive. A man was walking quickly away from the house in the direction of the great gate.
At the noise of a footstep on the gravel, the man wheeled with nervous swiftness and looked earnestly at Trent. The sudden sight of his face was almost terrible, so white and worn it was. Yet it was a young man's face. There was not a wrinkle about the haggard blue eyes, for all their tale of strain and desperate fatigue. As the two approached each other, Trent noted with admiration the man's breadth of shoulder and lithe, strong figure. In his carriage, inelastic as weariness had made it; in his handsome, regular features; in his short, smooth, yellow hair; and in his voice as he addressed Trent, the influence of a special sort of training was confessed. 'Oxford was your playground, I think, my young friend,' said Trent to himself.
'If you are Mr. Trent,' said the young man pleasantly, 'you are expected. Mr. Cupples telephoned from the hotel. My name is Marlowe.'
'You were secretary to Mr. Manderson, I believe,' said Trent. He was much inclined to like young Mr. Marlowe. Though he seemed so near a physical breakdown, he gave out none the less that air of clean living and inward health that is the peculiar glory of his social type at his years. But there was something in the tired eyes that was a challenge to Trent's penetration; an habitual expression, as he took it tobe, of meditating and weighing things not present to their sight. It was a look too intelligent, too steady and purposeful, to be called dreamy. Trent thought he had seen such a look before somewhere. He went on to say: 'It is a terrible business for all of you. I fear it has upset you completely, Mr. Marlowe.'
'A little limp, that's all,' replied the young man wearily. 'I was driving the car all Sunday night and most of yesterday, and I didn't sleep last night after hearing the news—who would? But I have an appointment now, Mr. Trent, down at the doctor's—arranging about the inquest. I expect it'll be tomorrow. If you will go up to the house and ask for Mr. Bunner, you'll find him expecting you; he will tell you all about things and show you round. He's the other secretary; an American, and the best of fellows; he'll look after you. There's a detective here, by the way—Inspector Murch, from Scotland Yard. He came yesterday.'
'Murch!' Trent exclaimed. 'But he and I are old friends. How under the sun did he get here so soon?'
'I have no idea,' Mr. Marlowe answered. 'But he was here last evening, before I got back from Southampton, interviewing everybody, and he's been about here since eight this morning. He's in the library now—that's where the open French window is that you see at the end of the house there. Perhaps you would like to step down there and talk about things.'
'I think I will,' said Trent. Marlowe nodded and went on his way. The thick turf of the lawn round which the drive took its circular sweep made Trent's footsteps as noiseless as a cat's. In a few moments he was looking in through the open leaves of the window at the southward end of the house, considering with a smile a very broad back and a bent head covered with short grizzled hair. The man within was stooping over a number of papers laid out on the table.
''Twas ever thus,' said Trent in a melancholy tone, at the first sound of which the man within turned round with startling swiftness. 'From childhood's hour I've seen my fondest hopes decay. I did think I was ahead of Scotland Yard this time, and now here is the hugest officer in the entire Metropolitan force already occupying the position.'
The detective smiled grimly and came to the window. 'I was expecting you, Mr. Trent,' he said. 'This is the sort of case that you like.'
'Since my tastes were being considered,' Trent replied, stepping into the room, 'I wish they had followed up the idea by keeping my hated rival out of the business. You have got a long start, too—I know all about it.' His eyes began to wander round the room. 'How did you manage it? You are a quick mover, I know; the dun deer's hide on fleeter foot was never tied; but I don't see how you got here in time to be at work yesterday evening. Has Scotland Yard secretly started an aviation corps? Or is it in league with the infernal powers? In either case the Home Secretary should be called upon to make a statement.'
'It's simpler than that,' said Mr. Murch with professional stolidity. 'I happened to be on leave with the missus at Haley, which is only twelve miles or so along the coast. As soon as our people there heard of the murder they told me. I wired to the Chief, and was put in charge of the case at once. I bicycled over yesterday evening, and have been at it since then.'
'Arising out of that reply,' said Trent inattentively, 'how is Mrs. Inspector Murch?'
'Never better, thank you,' answered the inspector, 'and frequently speaks of you and the games you used to have with our kids. But you'll excuse me saying, Mr. Trent, that you needn't trouble to talk your nonsense to me while you're using your eyes. I know your ways by now. I understand you've fallen on your feet as usual, and have the lady's permission to go over the place and make enquiries.'
'Such is the fact,' said Trent. 'I am going to cut you out again, inspector. I owe you one for beating me over the Abinger case, you old fox. But if you really mean that you're not inclined for the social amenities just now, let us leave compliments and talk business.' He stepped to the table, glanced through the papers arranged there in order, and then turned to the open roll-top desk. He looked into the drawers swiftly. 'I see this has been cleared out. Well now, inspector, I suppose we play the game as before.'
Trent had found himself on a number of occasions in the past thrown into the company of Inspector Murch, who stood high in the councils of the Criminal Investigation Department. He was a quiet, tactful, and very shrewd officer, a man of great courage, with a vivid history in connection with the more dangerous class of criminals. His humanity was as broad as his frame, which was large even for a policeman. Trent and he, through some obscure working of sympathy, had appreciated one another from the beginning, and had formed one of those curious friendships with which it was the younger man's delight to adorn his experience. The inspector would talk more freely to him than to any one, under the rose, and they would discuss details and possibilities of every case, to their mutual enlightenment. There were necessarily rules and limits. It was understood between them that Trent made no journalistic use of any point that could only have come to him from an official source. Each of them, moreover, for the honour and prestige of the institution he represented, openly reserved the right to withhold from the other any discovery or inspiration that might come to him which he considered vital to the solution of the difficulty. Trent had insisted on carefully formulating these principles of what he called detective sportsmanship. Mr. Murch, who loved a contest, and who only stood to gain by his association with the keen intelligence of the other, entered very heartily into 'the game'. In these strivings for the credit of the press and of the police, victory sometimes attended the experience and method of the officer, sometimes the quicker brain and livelier imagination of Trent, his gift of instinctively recognizing the significant through all disguises.
The inspector then replied to Trent's last words with cordial agreement. Leaning on either side of the French window, with the deep peace and hazy splendor of the summer landscape before them, they reviewed the case.
Trent had taken out a thin notebook, and as they talked he began to make, with light, secure touches, a rough sketch plan of the room. It was a thing he did habitually on such occasions, and often quite idly, but now and then the habit had served him to good purpose.
This was a large, light apartment at the corner of the house, with generous window-space in two walls. A broad table stood in the middle. As one entered by the window the roll-top desk stood just to the left of it against the wall. The inner door was in the wall to the left, at the farther end of the room; and was faced by a broad window divided into openings of the casement type. A beautifully carved old corner-cupboard rose high against the wall beyond the door, and another cupboard filled a recess beside the fireplace. Some coloured prints of Harunobu, with which Trent promised himself a better acquaintance, hung on what little wall-space was unoccupied by books. These had a very uninspiring appearance of having been bought by the yard and never taken from their shelves. Bound with a sober luxury, the great English novelists, essayists, historians, and poets stood ranged like an army struck dead in its ranks. There were a few chairs made, like the cupboard and table, of old carved oak; a modern armchair and a swivel office-chair before the desk. The room looked costly but very bare. Almost the only portable objects were a great porcelain bowl of a wonderful blue on the table, a clock and some cigar boxes on the mantelshelf, and a movable telephone standard on the top of the desk.
'Seen the body?' enquired the inspector.
Trent nodded. 'And the place where it lay,' he said.
'First impressions of this case rather puzzle me,' said the inspector. 'From what I heard at Halvey I guessed it might be common robbery and murder by some tramp, though such a thing is very far from common in these parts. But as soon as I began my enquiries I came on some curious points, which by this time I dare say you've noted for yourself. The man is shot in his own grounds, quite near the house, to begin with. Yet there's not the slightest trace of any attempt at burglary. And the body wasn't robbed. In fact, it would be as plain a ease of suicide as you could wish to see, if it wasn't for certain facts. Here's another thing: for a month or so past, they tell me, Manderson had been in a queer state of mind. I expect you know already that he and his wife had some trouble between them. The servants had noticed a change in his manner to her for a long time, and for the past week he had scarcely spoken to her. They say he was a changed man, moody and silent—whether on account of that or something else. The lady's maid says he looked as if something was going to arrive. It's always easy to remember that people looked like that, after something has happened to them. Still, that's what they say. There you are again, then: suicide! Now, why wasn't it suicide, Mr. Trent?'
'The facts so far as I know them are really all against it,' Trent replied, sitting on the threshold of the window and clasping his knees. 'First, of course, no weapon is to be found. I've searched, and you've searched, and there's no trace of any firearm anywhere within a stone's throw of where the body lay. Second, the marks on the wrists, fresh scratches and bruises, which we can only assume to have been done in a struggle with somebody. Third, who ever heard of anybody shooting himself in the eye? Then I heard from the manager of the hotel here another fact, which strikes me as the most curious detail in this affair. Manderson had dressed himself fully before going out there, but he forgot his false teeth. Now how could a suicide who dressed himself to make a decent appearance as a corpse forget his teeth?'
'That last argument hadn't struck me,' admitted Mr. Murch. 'There's something in it. But on the strength of the other points, which had occurred to me, I am not considering suicide. I have been looking about for ideas in this house, this morning. I expect you were thinking of doing the same.'
'That is so. It is a case for ideas, it seems to me. Come, Murch, let us make an effort; let us bend our spirits to a temper of general suspicion. Let us suspect everybody in the house, to begin with. Listen: I will tell you whom I suspect. I suspect Mrs. Manderson, of course. I also suspect both the secretaries—I hear there are two, and I hardly know which of them I regard as more thoroughly open to suspicion. I suspect the butler and the lady's maid. I suspect the other domestics, and especially do I suspect the boot-boy. By the way, what domestics are there? I have more than enough suspicion to go round, whatever the size of the establishment; but as a matter of curiosity I should like to know.'
'All very well to laugh,' replied the inspector, 'but at the first stage of affairs it's the only safe principle, and you know that as well as I do, Mr. Trent. However, I've seen enough of the people here, last night and today, to put a few of them out of my mind for the present at least. You will form your own conclusions. As for the establishment, there's the butler and lady's maid, cook, and three other maids, one a young girl. One chauffeur, who's away with a broken wrist. No boy.'
'What about the gardener? You say nothing about that shadowy and sinister figure, the gardener. You are keeping him in the background, Murch. Play the game. Out with him—or I report you to the Rules Committee.'
'The garden is attended to by a man in the village, who comes twice a week. I've talked to him. He was here last on Friday.'
'Then I suspect him all the more,' said Trent. 'And now as to the house itself. What I propose to do, to begin with, is to sniff about a little in this room, where I am told Manderson spent a great deal of his time, and in his bedroom; especially the bedroom. But since we're in this room, let's start here. You seem to be at the same stage of the inquiry. Perhaps you've done the bedrooms already?'
The inspector nodded. 'I've been over Manderson's and his wife's. Nothing to be got there, I think. His room is very simple and bare, no signs of any sort—that I could see. Seems to have insisted on the simple life, does Manderson. Never employed a valet. The room's almost like a cell, except for the clothes and shoes. You'll find it all exactly as I found it; and they tell me that's exactly as Manderson left it, at we don't know what o'clock yesterday morning. Opens into Mrs. Manderson's bedroom—not much of the cell about that, I can tell you. I should say the lady was as fond of pretty things as most. But she cleared out of it on the morning of the discovery—told the maid she could never sleep in a room opening into her murdered husband's room. Very natural feeling in a woman, Mr. Trent. She's camping out, so to say, in one of the spare bedrooms now.'
'Come, my friend,' Trent was saying to himself, as he made a few notes in his little book. 'Have you got your eye on Mrs. Manderson? Or haven't you? I know that colourless tone of the inspectorial voice. I wish I had seen her. Either you've got something against her and you don't want me to get hold of it; or else you've made up your mind she's innocent, but have no objection to my wasting my time over her. Well, it's all in the game; which begins to look extremely interesting as we go on.' To Mr. Murch he said aloud: 'Well, I'll draw the bedroom later on. What about this?'
'They call it the library,' said the inspector. 'Manderson used to do his writing and that in here; passed most of the time he spent indoors here. Since he and his wife ceased to hit it off together, he had taken to spending his evenings alone, and when at this house he always spent 'em in here. He was last seen alive, as far as the servants are concerned, in this room.'
Trent rose and glanced again through the papers set out on the table. 'Business letters and documents, mostly,' said Mr. Murch. 'Reports, prospectuses, and that. A few letters on private matters, nothing in them that I can see. The American secretary—Bunner his name is, and a queerer card I never saw turned—he's been through this desk with me this morning. He had got it into his head that Manderson had been receiving threatening letters, and that the murder was the outcome of that. But there's no trace of any such thing; and we looked at every blessed paper. The only unusual things we found were some packets of banknotes to a considerable amount, and a couple of little bags of unset diamonds. I asked Mr. Bunner to put them in a safer place. It appears that Manderson had begun buying diamonds lately as a speculation—it was a new game to him, the secretary said, and it seemed to amuse him.'
'What about these secretaries?' Trent enquired. 'I met one called Marlowe just now outside; a nice-looking chap with singular eyes, unquestionably English. The other, it seems, is an American. What did Manderson want with an English secretary?'
'Mr. Marlowe explained to me how that was. The American was his right-hand business man, one of his office staff, who never left him. Mr. Marlowe had nothing to do with Manderson's business as a financier, knew nothing of it. His job was to look after Manderson's horses and motors and yacht and sporting arrangements and that—make himself generally useful, as you might say. He had the spending of a lot of money, I should think. The other was confined entirely to the office affairs, and I dare say he had his hands full. As for his being English, it was just a fad of Manderson's to have an English secretary. He'd had several before Mr. Marlowe.'
'He showed his taste,' observed Trent. 'It might be more than interesting, don't you think, to be minister to the pleasures of a modern plutocrat with a large P. Only they say that Manderson's were exclusively of an innocent kind. Certainly Marlowe gives me the impression that he would be weak in the part of Petronius. But to return to the matter in hand.' He looked at his notes. 'You said just now that he was last seen alive here, "so far as the servants were concerned". That meant—?'
'He had a conversation with his wife on going to bed. But for that, the manservant, Martin by name, last saw him in this room. I had his story last night, and very glad he was to tell it. An affair like this is meat and drink to the servants of the house.'
Trent considered for some moments, gazing through the open window over the sun-flooded slopes. 'Would it bore you to hear what he has to say again?' he asked at length. For reply, Mr. Murch rang the bell. A spare, clean-shaven, middle-aged man, having the servant's manner in its most distinguished form, answered it.
'This is Mr. Trent, who is authorized by Mrs. Manderson to go over the house and make enquiries,' explained the detective. 'He would like to hear your story.' Martin bowed distantly. He recognized Trent for a gentleman. Time would show whether he was what Martin called a gentleman in every sense of the word.
'I observed you approaching the house, sir,' said Martin with impassive courtesy. He spoke with a slow and measured utterance. 'My instructions are to assist you in every possible way. Should you wish me to recall the circumstances of Sunday night?'
'Please,' said Trent with ponderous gravity. Martin's style was making clamorous appeal to his sense of comedy. He banished with an effort all vivacity of expression from his face.
'I last saw Mr. Manderson—'
'No, not that yet,' Trent checked him quietly. 'Tell me all you saw of him that evening—after dinner, say. Try to recollect every little detail.'
'After dinner, sir?—yes. I remember that after dinner Mr. Manderson and Mr. Marlowe walked up and down the path through the orchard, talking. If you ask me for details, it struck me they were talking about something important, because I heard Mr. Manderson say something when they came in through the back entrance. He said, as near as I can remember, "If Harris is there, every minute is of importance. You want to start right away. And not a word to a soul." Mr. Marlowe answered, "Very well. I will just change out of these clothes and then I am ready"—or words to that effect. I heard this plainly as they passed the window of my pantry. Then Mr. Marlowe went up to his bedroom, and Mr. Manderson entered the library and rang for me. He handed me some letters for the postman in the morning and directed me to sit up, as Mr. Marlowe had persuaded him to go for a drive in the car by moonlight.'
'That was curious,' remarked Trent.
'I thought so, sir. But I recollected what I had heard about "not a word to a soul", and I concluded that this about a moonlight drive was intended to mislead.'
'What time was this?'
'It would be about ten, sir, I should say. After speaking to me, Mr. Manderson waited until Mr. Marlowe had come down and brought round the car. He then went into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Manderson was.'
'Did that strike you as curious?'
Martin looked down his nose. 'If you ask me the question, sir,' he said with reserve, 'I had not known him enter that room since we came here this year. He preferred to sit in the library in the evenings. That evening he only remained with Mrs. Manderson for a few minutes. Then he and Mr. Marlowe started immediately.'
'You saw them start?'
'Yes, sir. They took the direction of Bishopsbridge.'
'And you saw Mr. Manderson again later?'
'After an hour or thereabouts, sir, in the library. That would have been about a quarter past eleven, I should say; I had noticed eleven striking from the church. I may say I am peculiarly quick of hearing, sir.'