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Title:      Was It Murder?
Author:     James Hilton
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Language:   English
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Date first posted:          March 2005
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Title:      Was It Murder?
Author:     James Hilton




First published 1953 as Murder at School by 'Glen Trevor'.
This edition first published 1953.




CHAPTER I

THE STRANGE AFFAIR IN THE DORMITORY


     Pilate might well have added:  "What is youth?"--
       And so the modern father too may wonder,
     Faintly remembering his own, forsooth,
       But feeling it would be an awful blunder
     To tell his sons a tenth part of the truth
       About the sex-temptations HE came under.
     Therefore, in England now, on every hand,
       This proper study of mankind is banned.


So, after patient effort, composed Colin Revell in his Islington
lodgings on a murky December morning.  You will have rightly
deduced that he was young, rather clever, and not hard up enough to
have to do any real work.  He was, in fact, just as old as the
century; had had one of those "brilliant" careers at Oxford that
are the despair alike of parents and prospective employers; and
enjoyed a private income of a little over four pounds a week.
Added to which, he was an only child; his parents were both dead;
and his relatives were the usual collection of retired colonels and
tea-planters who, from their fastnesses at Cheltenham, eyed him
with as little relish as he did them.

His unassuming ground-floor front looked on to a somewhat decayed
street within walking distance of the Caledonian Cattle Market.
The hour was a trifle short of noon, and the remains of a recent
breakfast lay pushed somewhat away from him on the table.  His
purple dressing-gown and black silk pyjamas contrasted oddly with
the landlady's furnishings, which, in an ecstasy of admiration for
their Victorian antiquity, he had allowed to remain exactly as when
he had first entered into occupation.  It was a pose, undoubtedly,
but an amusing one.  The landlady, a Mrs. Hewston, thought her
lodger rather "queer", but as he paid her well and regularly and
did not appear to mind her stealing his gin, she was glad enough to
keep him.

Gin, indeed, was the sedative with which, having composed his
stanza, Revell restored a somewhat fatigued mind.  His friends were
all aware that, besides writing occasional literary articles for a
high-brow weekly, he was "at work" on a full-length satirical epic
in the manner and metre of Don Juan.  He had begun it during his
final year at Oxford, and by the date at which this story opens it
had grown to lack only two things--continuity and a publisher.

A clock somewhere in the neighbourhood began the chiming of noon.
Factory-sirens shrieked; groups of children straggled out of an
elementary school opposite.  And the postman, observing Mrs.
Hewston in her basement kitchen, descended the area steps and
handed her three letters with the remark:  "All for your young
gentleman."

A moment later the young gentleman was opening them.  One was a
returned article from the Daily Mail (too good for them, of course,
he consoled himself); another was a bill from an Oxford tailor
equally famous for high prices and long credit.  And the third was
the following:


The School House,
Oakington.
December 15th

MY DEAR REVELL,

I don't think we ever met, but as you are an O.O. and I am the
present Head of Oakington, perhaps we can do without an
introduction.  My friend Simmons of Oxford mentioned you to me some
time ago as a neat solver of mysteries, and as there seems as if
there might be one at Oakington just now, I take the somewhat large
liberty of asking your help.  Could you spend the coming week-end
here?  I should be glad to put you up, and there will be the final
house-match to watch on Monday, if you are interested.

Yours sincerely,

ROBERT ROSEVEARE.

P.S.--A good train leaves King's Cross at 2.30 to-morrow afternoon.
Dinner-jacket.


Revell digested the communication over a second and more potent gin-
and-vermouth.  It seemed to him distinctly the sort of thing which
(in books) drew from its reader the comment "Whew!"  Accustomed and
even pleased as he was to receive week-end invitations, the
Headmaster of Oakington was hardly a host he would have chosen.  He
disliked schoolmasters and sentimental revisitings with almost
equal degrees of intensity, and the two in conjunction could raise
in his mind only the most dismal of prospects.

Yet the letter was curious enough to give him, after his moment of
instinctive recoil, the faint beginnings of interest.  It was in so
many ways the sort of letter one did not quite expect from a
schoolmaster.  There was a mingling of friendliness and curtness in
the wording of it that Revell, as something of a word-fancier
himself, could not help but admire.  He liked, too, the sentence
about the house-match; it was unexpectedly broad-minded of a
headmaster to conceive the possibility of an old boy not being
interested in house-matches.  (And Revell most emphatically
wasn't.)  And then, too, there was the mystery--whatever it might
turn out to be.  A mystery always attracted him.  Anything
attracted him, in fact, that brought with it the possibility of
being drawn into some new vortex of interest.  His soul yearned
with Byronic intensity for something to happen to it.  He was
almost twenty-eight, and so far he seemed to have done nothing in
life except win the Newdigate, give a terrifying study of the Jew
in the O.U.D.S. production of The Merchant of Venice, publish a
novel (of course he had done THAT), and rake in an unexpected
tenner for inventing the last line of a limerick about somebody's
chewing-gum.

That little affair at Oxford, as well--it pleased him that it was
still remembered and that old Simmons still talked about it.  A
rather valuable manuscript had disappeared from the College
library, and by means of a little amateur detective-work he had
succeeded in tracing and recovering it.  The whole business,
concerning as it did the integrity of one of the dons, had
naturally been hushed up, but not without many pleasant compliments
to the undergraduate whose versatility could take at a single
stride the gulf between Shylock and Sherlock.

But what finally turned the scale in Revell's mind was the last
word of the postscript.  Dinner-jacket.  There, he decided, spoke
that rara avis, the headmaster who was also a man in the world.
Dinner-jacket.  It suggested good food, perhaps even good wine; and
Revell delighted in both.  For a moment he permitted his
imagination to soar; then, having decided definitely to accept the
invitation, he packed his bag, dressed with care, sent a wire to
the School from the post office round the corner, and made the
necessary arrangements with Mrs. Hewston.

That afternoon, during the rather tedious train-journey, he dallied
with further stanza composition, but had not time to do very much
before Oakington station intervened.  The dingy goods-yard, the
gravelled platform, even the faces of one or two of the station
staff, were all familiar to him.  As he gave up his ticket and
stepped into the lane he could glimpse the School buildings
directly ahead, surmounting the ancient village with a halo of
nineteenth-century Gothic.  "The School, sir?" interrogated a cab-
driver who evidently recognised him.  He nodded with ghastly pride.
He was an Old Boy.



Whether Oakington was or was not a pukka public school might have
been aptly debated by a squad of mediaeval theologians raised from
the dead.  On the one hand, it was included in the Public Schools
Year-Book, it ran an O.T.C., it reckoned to send a few scholarship
boys to the universities each year, and it had a school-song of
unimpeachable mediocrity.  Yet, on the other hand . . . there had
been a feeling in the scholastic world that Oakington might well be
the answer to the question:  When is a public school not quite a
public school?  It is only fair to add, however, that this feeling
had been diminishing steadily since the advent of Dr. Robert
Roseveare.  Lately, indeed, in the offices of scholastic agencies
and even across the table of the annual Headmasters' Conference, it
had begun to be whispered that Roseveare was something of a new
broom.  And it was generally agreed that after his predecessor's
long and easy-going régime there had been a good deal left to sweep
up.

Structurally the School was all that gargoyles and crocheted spires
could make it.  If there were sermons in stones, Revell reflected,
as the cab turned into the drive towards the Head's house, then
Oakington was a complete ecclesiastical library.  He was on the
point of mentally elaborating the theme when he perceived through
the gathering twilight a newer structure, put up since his
schooldays and in a style which he mentally classified as Hampstead
Garden Suburb Elizabethan.  "That's the new War Memorial 'All,
sir," remarked the cabby, glowing with local patriotism.  Revell
nodded.  He had heard of it.  More than that, he had even (he
recollected) subscribed a guinea towards it.  Life was full of such
strange ironies.

His spirits rose, however, a few minutes later when a white-haired
butler admitted him into a room which, despite the fact that it had
not been structurally altered since he had last seen it, looked
nevertheless a different room of a different house.  Furnished
richly yet with taste, it had a touch of masculine severity that
was somehow in complete harmony with the butler's words:  "The Head
is expecting you, sir.  He is in the study, if you will follow me."

The study presented another striking change; under the régime of
the Reverend Dr. Jury, who had been Head of Oakington in Revell's
time, it had been a gloomy, littered apartment, full of dusty
folios and sagging bookshelves.  Now, however, it looked more like
the board-room of a long-established limited company.  A thick pile
carpet, a large mahogany pedestal-desk, nests of bookshelves in the
two alcoves by the side of the fire-place, a very few good etchings
on the walls, and several huge arm-chairs drawn up in front of an
open fire, gave an impression that was anything but pedagogic.  And
Dr. Roseveare himself confirmed the impression.  He was tall (well
over six feet), upright, and of commanding physique.  Bushy, silver-
grey hair surmounted a strong, smooth-complexioned face into which,
however, as he gave Revell a firm hand-grip, there came a smile
both cordial and charming.  His voice was melodious, perhaps a
little wistful, and in his accent there was just the faintest and
most fascinating flavour of something that was not quite Oxford, or
even Cambridge.  He looked, in fact, rather like a popular preacher
(Revell thought of Mr. R. J. Campbell in his spell-binding days),
yet with an agreeable and compensating touch of worldliness that
his perfectly cut lounge-suit suggested but in no way emphasised.
"Delighted you could come," he remarked, throwing off his gown with
a Roman gesture.  "Apart from any private reason, it is always a
pleasure for Oakington to receive her old boys.  We feel we are in
their debt quite as much as some of them feel they are in ours."

Revell nodded politely, guessing that such an adroit remark was
bound to have done duty on many previous occasions.  As a collector
of such felicities, he added it joyfully to his store.  A little
old-boyishness in response seemed clearly indicated, so he replied,
slipping easily into the part, that it would be jolly to look at
the old scenes once more.

At which Dr. Roseveare smiled warily, as if rather wondering.  For
a few minutes they fenced skilfully over such subjects as the
weather, house-matches, the coming Christmas holidays, the life of
a young man in London, and the new War Memorial Hall.  Of this
latter Revell diplomatically observed that Oakington had always
needed a hall.  Roseveare replied:  "Oh yes, undoubtedly.  Some
people like the present structure.  The plans, anyhow, were passed
before I came here."

The admission, with all its possible implications, drew them
together.  Within five minutes Revell had ceased to be old-boyish
and Roseveare had ceased to be--or at least to appear to be--wary.
The two talked easily, intimately, and with that flow of goodwill
that always exists between two people who each know that the other
recognises and appreciates technique in conversation.

By dinner-time Revell had grown accustomed to astonishments.  A
charmingly furnished bedroom with the latest type of bathroom
adjoining, his dinner clothes laid out on the bed with all their
proper creases intact, an electric warmer already between the
sheets--all added to his sensations of physical, mental, and
spiritual well-being.  When the second sounding of the gong
summoned him downstairs, he found his host reading the evening
paper with his back to the study fire.  "Ah . . . no news of any
importance. . . .  I'm afraid I cannot offer you a cocktail, but a
glass of sherry perhaps?  I usually take one myself."

It was exceedingly good sherry, and the dinner, when they adjourned
to the panelled dining-room, was worthy of such a handsome
beginning.  "I have a good cook," explained the doctor, almost
apologetically.  The good cook, however, could hardly claim credit
for the excellent Volnay, or for the Napoleon brandy, served in
balloon glasses which, at Roseveare's suggestion, they took at
leisure in the study afterwards.

"You will smoke?" queried Roseveare, offering a box of Coronas.  "I
may not do so myself, unfortunately, but I shall enjoy the scent of
yours.  Good. . . .  And now, I am sure, you are waiting for me to
mention the little affair I hinted at in my letter to you."

Revell was waiting, it is true, but without any intense eagerness.
If life could continue to provide such agreeable moments of
suspense, he at any rate would not be impatient.

"I shall be interested, of course," he answered.

"No doubt my letter surprised you?"

"Well, perhaps I was--a little--puzzled by it."

"Exactly."  Roseveare seemed to welcome the reply.  "And that, my
dear boy, is just my own position in a nutshell--I am PUZZLED."

Revell glanced up with the beginnings of keener interest.  There
had been in the "dear boy" a suddenly emotional inflection, as if,
behind the mask of bland benignity, the elder man were calling out
for sympathy from the younger.  "I hope I shall be able to help
you, sir," Revell said, simply.

"I hope so, too, though I am afraid you may think the whole affair
too fantastic even to be considered.  Perhaps I had better give you
a brief outline--fortunately it will not be very complicated.  It
concerns an extremely sad and unhappy accident that occurred here
at the beginning of this Term."

He waited as if for Revell to make some comment, and then
continued:  "There was a boy here named Robert Marshall, a younger
brother of our head prefect.  A much elder brother--Henry, I think--
was here in your time.  I don't know if you knew him?"

"Slightly, that's all."

"Ah yes, yes.  He was killed during the last days of the War--most
tragically, for he was under nineteen and ought not to have been
sent out.  His death, indeed, was such a blow to his parents that
they both died within a couple of years.  The two younger boys were
left--Robert and Wilbraham.  They came on here in the usual way and
at the usual ages from a preparatory school.  Pleasant boys--not
brilliant, perhaps, but well liked and altogether a credit to the
School.  Wilbraham, as I said just now, is our present head prefect--
a boy of sound character, good at games, and very popular.  He
will leave next summer, no doubt, and enter Oxford--there is,
fortunately, plenty of money.  But to come to the point.  About
three months ago his younger brother--Robert, that is to say--was
the victim of a most peculiar and distressing accident.  A heavy
gas-fitting fell on him in the dormitory during the night, killing
him instantly."

"Good Lord!"  Revell, who till then had been listening rather
dreamily, found himself suddenly jerked into attention.

"Some of the London papers had a paragraph about it," Roseveare
went on.  "I don't know if you noticed it?"

"No, I'm afraid I didn't."

"Then I certainly think it will be best if, before saying any more,
I allow you to read the account of the inquest, reported fairly
fully in our local paper."

He took out a pocket-wallet and produced therefrom a folded
newspaper-cutting.  "Take your time," he remarked, handing it over.
"And remember--all this happened three months ago."

It was a column and a half in length, and Revell, at a first quick
reading, seized its main points as follows.  The accident had taken
place on the first Sunday-night-Monday-morning of the Autumn Term.
It had not been discovered till daylight, when a boy named March,
who had chanced to wake early, saw that something had happened, and
raised the alarm.  The gas-fitting was a heavy, old-fashioned,
inverted-T-shaped affair, one of a series that were suspended in a
double row along the whole length of the dormitory.  Underneath the
junction of the horizontal and vertical sections of piping a brass
tip had been fitted, apparently for ornamental effect.  Marshall,
it seemed, had been sleeping with his head exactly under this tip,
so that when the whole thing collapsed the effect must have been
like a heavy spear falling on him.

Of several witnesses called, none could give much real information.
The school doctor, a fellow named Murchiston, described how he had
been sent for at seven in the morning to examine the body.  Death,
he thought, had been instantaneous, the skull and brain having been
pierced.  The accident might have taken place from five to eight
hours before--he would not care to commit himself more than that.

The housemaster, Mr. T. B. Ellington, described the position of his
private house, next to the School House block containing the
dormitory, but quite separate from it.  He was not only Marshall's
housemaster, he explained, but the boy's cousin as well.  It was
his habit to walk through the dormitory and turn off the gas-jets
at ten o'clock every night.  He had done so as usual on that
particular Sunday night.  He had not noticed anything at all
peculiar about any of the gas-fittings.  After bidding the boys
good night he had worked for a time in his own private room
adjoining the dormitory and had then returned to his house and gone
to bed.  That might have been, perhaps, as late as one o'clock, for
he had been busy marking terminal examination papers.  He had
certainly heard nothing unusual during that time.  He knew nothing
at all about the accident till a boy came to him soon after six
o'clock with news of what had happened.  He had immediately
hastened to the dormitory and had found Marshall dead.  The whole
gas-fitting, wrenched or broken off at the ceiling, lay across the
bed in the position in which, apparently, it had fallen.  He had
been too much distressed to examine it minutely.  There was a
strong smell of gas in the dormitory, so he had sent a boy to turn
off the supply at the main.  Then he had sent another boy to fetch
the Headmaster.

Evidence was then given by several boys, including the two who
slept in the beds on either side of Marshall's.  None of them had
heard anything during the night.  They agreed that they usually
slept well and did not waken easily.

A "certain liveliness" seemed to have been introduced into the
proceedings by the evidence of a Mr. John Tunstall, chief engineer
to the local gas company.  On being informed of the accident by
telephone, he said, he had immediately visited the School, and made
an examination.  The gas-fitting was very old, and of a type that
no company would supply or recommend nowadays.  He had found a
large fracture in the pipe near the ceiling-rose.  This had
evidently been the cause of the fitting's suddenly dropping loose.
Such fractures did sometimes occur in fittings that had seen many
years' service, especially if they had been subjected to any
particular sort of strain.  Questioned by the Coroner on this
point, he said that he had in mind another and a similar fitting at
the School that had been pulled down as a result of some of the
boys swinging on it.

Dr. Roseveare next gave evidence, if evidence it could be called.
The Coroner allowed him latitude to make a few kindly remarks
concerning the dead boy and to express sympathy with his relatives.
From that he passed to the more practical announcement that the
governors of the School had already given orders for the complete
electrification of the entire buildings.  He also craved leave to
state, since the point had been raised, that there never had been,
to his knowledge, any instance of Oakington boys swinging on the
gas-fittings.  The incident presumably referred to by one of the
witnesses had been that of a window-cleaner who had carelessly
broken off one of the fittings with his ladder.  As Headmaster he
thought it only fair, in the interests of the School, to mention
this. . . .

That was all.  The jury, without retiring, returned the inevitable
verdict of "Accidental Death".

Roseveare waited in silence until he could see that Revell had got
to the end.  Then, moving forward a little in his chair, he coughed
interrogatively.  "Well?  And what do you think of it?"

Revell handed back the cutting.  "It was an odd sort of accident,
of course," he commented.  "But then, odder ones have happened, I
daresay."

"Precisely."  Roseveare's grey, deep-set eyes quickened a little.
"I naturally regarded it in that light myself.  So did the poor
boy's guardian, a Colonel Graham, living in India, from whom I
received a most courteous and sympathetic letter.  And then, just
about a week ago . . ."  He paused.  "You will probably think it
was quite a small and insignificant thing.  Indeed, I hope you do.
Anyhow, let me tell you about it."

Through the haze of cigar-smoke Revell nodded encouragement.
Roseveare continued:  "Last week I had a letter from Colonel Graham--
a second letter.  He suggested that Mr. Ellington, as the poor
boy's housemaster and cousin, should take charge of his personal
belongings until he himself came home from India in about six
months' time.  I had naturally been expecting instructions of such
a kind, and had already had everything collected and stored away.
I was just looking them over before passing them on to Ellington
when--to make a longish story a little shorter--I chanced upon
this."  He produced a second slip of paper from his wallet.  "It
was between the pages of the boy's algebra-book."

It was a sheet of notepaper with the Oakington crest and letter-
heading.  At the top was the date--September 18th.  And underneath,
in carefully printed capital letters, the following:


"IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN TO ME, I LEAVE EVERYTHING TO MY BROTHER
WILBRAHAM, EXCEPT MY THREE-SPEED BICYCLE, WHICH I LEAVE TO JONES
TERTIUS.  (SIGNED)--ROBERT MARSHALL."


Revell, after a short pause, handed back the document without
remark.  Roseveare went on:  "You can perhaps imagine my feelings
at the discovery of such a thing.  It raised--hardly perhaps so
much as a suspicion--but a sort of--shall I say a sort of curiosity
in my mind.  It was rather disconcerting to reflect that on the
very evening before the boy died he had been thinking of his own
possible death."

Revell nodded.  "I suppose there WAS a three-speed bicycle?"

"Oh yes.  And he WAS friendly with Jones--I verified all that.  I
couldn't get hold of another example of his printing to compare
with, but the handwriting of the signature seemed authentic
enough."  He clenched his hands on the arms of the chair and added,
with a touch of eagerness:  "I daresay the whole thing is just pure
coincidence.  I certainly don't want you to assume that there is
more in it than meets the eye."

Revell nodded once again, but with his glance fixed rather shrewdly
on the other.  "What is it," he asked, "that you would like me to
do?"

"Nothing definite, I assure you--nothing definite at all.  Just
consider, if I may so express it, that for a few days you hold a
watching brief.  Here, as I have told them to you, are the facts--
presenting a situation that is, shall we agree to say, abnormal
enough to be worth a little extra attention if only for its own
sake.  Just look over it yourself and tell me how you feel about it--
that's really all I have in mind."

"But surely, sir, you don't suspect--"

"My dear boy, I suspect nothing and nobody.  As a matter of fact"--
the emotional inflection was in his voice again--"this terrible
business was a great blow to me--far greater than I have allowed
people to see.  Apart from personal regrets, the publicity that the
whole affair received was a great setback to the School.  You may
or may not know, Revell, the state in which I found things when I
first came here.  For half a dozen years I have toiled hard to
raise and improve, and then--comes THIS.  There is no one on my
staff in whom I would care to confide.  I cannot probe into the
matter myself--to do so would draw even greater attention to it.
And yet, of course, there may be nothing at all to probe. . . .  My
nerves, I am aware, are not in the best condition--I need a long
holiday which I shall not be able to take until the summer vacation
next year.  I can see you are tremendously mystified by all this.
And no wonder.  It is all, I daresay, perfectly absurd."

"I must admit, sir, I don't see a scrap of evidence to suggest
anything really wrong."

"Of course not.  There isn't any, I don't suppose.  And yet--
there's that little demon of curiosity in my mind--why WAS the boy
thinking of death on that Sunday evening?"

"Who can say?  Coincidences like that DO happen.  And there's
nothing very remarkable in the note itself.  Just the fatuous sort
of thing I might have written myself on a Sunday night after chapel
when I'd nothing else to do."

"Probably--you comfort me even by saying so.  Nevertheless, you
will not decline my vague and probably quite ridiculous
commission?"

"Oh, of course not, if you would really like me to look into it."

"Good.  You see, no doubt, how well suited you are for the task.
As a distinguished Old Boy of the School, you have the best of
reasons for being here as my guest.  You can talk to both boys and
masters without anyone questioning your bona-fides.  No one, of
course, knows or need know why you are really here.  You
understand?"

"Oh yes."

"Then I leave things in your hands.  I have heard splendid
accounts, my dear Revell, of your work in connexion with a
certain regrettable affair at Oxford.  This, I hope, will be less
serious. . . .  You were in School House, I believe, when you were
here?"

"Yes."

"Good--that will give you a convenient excuse for meeting
Ellington.  I mentioned your visit to him, in fact--he suggested
you might care to breakfast with him to-morrow morning."

"I should be delighted."

"Most likely he will drop in later on to-night to meet you. . . .
Another cigar?  Yes, do, please.  Are you interested, by the way,
in etchings?  I have one or two here that are considered to be
rather choice."

Revell perceived that the discussion, for the time being, was over,
and he could not but notice and admire the ease with which the
other resumed his earlier manner.  Nerves or not, he certainly had
them well under control.  They talked on for over an hour on varied
topics; Roseveare showed himself to be a man of remarkably wide
interests, and obviously enjoyed an exchange of views with the
younger generation.  Yet there was not a trace of patronage or of
condescension in his attitude.  He listened sympathetically when
Revell told him of his literary work and of the Don Juan epic.
Revell liked him more and more; it was as if their recent more
serious talk had been a strange interlude in a much more real
intimacy.

Towards ten o'clock Ellington arrived and was introduced.  He was a
heavily built, middle-aged fellow, thick-set of feature and going a
little bald.  Under his impact the conversation sagged instantly.
He appeared cordial enough about the breakfast invitation, but
Revell gathered that it was his housemasterly habit to ask School
House old boys to breakfast, and that he did it as a sort of
routine duty.  Revell, in fact, was not greatly attracted to him.
When he had gone Roseveare faintly shrugged his shoulders.  "A hard
worker, Ellington, and a devoted colleague.  But not much of a
conversationalist, I am afraid.  However . . .  Perhaps you will
take a little whisky before going up to bed?  I usually do so
myself."

And, since Revell usually did so whenever he had the chance, the
ritual was jointly observed.



CHAPTER II

SOLVED!


Sunday at Oakington in Revell's time had always been a depressing
day.  No cooked foods were served from the kitchens; all newspapers
(except religious weeklies) were removed from the School reading-
room; no boy could leave the grounds without special permission;
games and gramophones were alike forbidden; three chapel services
had to be attended; and it was also a day of compulsory black
suits, shoes, and ties.

To Revell, comfortably dozing while the chapel bell importunately
rang for the first service, there came the jumbled memories of some
hundred or so of such days.  Not that he had had an unhappy time at
School.  But there was an unholy glee to be derived from lying
between warm sheets and thinking of the Oakington multitude
shivering in its pews on a December morning with the prospect of
nothing but cold brawn for breakfast.  He wondered also, since
Roseveare was not apparently a cleric, who read the lessons. . . .

Roseveare. . . .  The name somehow managed to banish his
drowsiness; after a little delay he got up, enjoyed the steamiest
of hot baths, dressed, and went downstairs.  The butler met him
with a reminder of his breakfast engagement with Mr. Ellington.  He
nodded and walked out through the porch into the chill wintry air.
From the chapel across the intervening lawn came the sound of a
hymn.  Ellington's house, viewed from where he was, presented the
appearance of a suburban villa leaning coyly against the massive
flanks of School House.  It was not perhaps very elegant, but it
had enabled four generations of pedagogues to combine marriage and
housemastership in a manner both effective and discreet.

Revell walked briskly across the quadrangle, climbed the short
flight of steps, and rang the door-bell.  A woman's voice from the
interior called "Come in!"  He entered and waited a few seconds in
the hall.  The voice again cried "Come in!"--whereupon, fired with
a little determination, he walked over to the room from which the
sound had seemed to proceed and boldly pushed open the door.  He
found himself immediately in the presence of a dark-haired, bright-
eyed little woman, almost pretty, who was frying rashers of bacon
at a gas-cooker.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she stammered, seeing him.  "I thought--I
thought you might be the boy bringing the milk. . . .  Oh, do
forgive me. . . .  I suppose you are Mr. Revell?"

Revell smiled and admitted that he was.

"I really am most awfully sorry.  My husband's in chapel, you know--
he'll be here in a few minutes.  The servants all go to chapel
too, so I have to get the breakfast myself on Sundays.  I hope
you'll excuse me."

"Rather," answered Revell, gaily, turning on the torrent of chatter
he held in reserve for such occasions.  "I love cooking and
kitchens, as a matter of fact.  If I'd been old enough to go to the
War, there's only one thing I'd wanted to be--a batman.  The
morning miracle of ham and eggs--"

"Yes," she interrupted, "cooking is rather fun.  And Molly prefers
it to going to chapel, I know, but we--or rather, my husband--has
to insist on her going to the first service, even if she misses the
others.  It's an old school custom, I suppose."

"I wonder," said Revell, with that air of slightly cynical
abstraction that always or nearly always interested women, "is
Oakington really old enough to have any old customs?"

"I don't know."  She was, he perceived, out of her depth.  But his
spirits rose as he contemplated her; she would at least relieve the
concentrated boredom of a breakfast with Ellington.  Ellington, in
fact, appeared on the scene almost at that moment.  "Sorry to keep
you waiting," he grunted, and to his wife he added, rather sharply:
"Why didn't you show Mr. Revell into the drawing-room?"

"I'm so glad she didn't," interposed Revell.  "A drawing-room in a
morning is like--"  He paused, trying to think of some epigram,
either original or purloined; but as neither the housemaster nor
his wife appeared to be listening he gave up his effort and merely
smiled.  And Mrs. Ellington faintly smiled back.

Eyeing her a little later across the breakfast-table, he guessed
her to be anything between twenty and thirty years younger than her
husband.  Vivacious in a shy, limited kind of way, she talked a
good deal about nothing in particular, and Revell, as he had
expected, found her animated chatter a pleasant antidote to
Ellington's ponderous small-talk.  Ellington was, undoubtedly, a
prime bore; his conversation consisted almost entirely of house-
match anticipations.  Once or twice Revell tried to take things in
hand himself, but without much success.  Even his less-subtle
witticisms passed unnoticed, though occasionally, a minute or so
too late, Mrs. Ellington responded with a scared little laugh, as
if she were just beginning to feel her way cautiously into an
unfamiliar world.

It began to rain towards the end of the meal.  "Bad time of the
year for a visit," commented Ellington.  "Nothing but rain and fog.
Been a pretty bad Term altogether, in fact."  Revell waited to see
if this were to be a prelude to some remark about the Marshall
affair; and so, perhaps, it might have been but for the sudden
intrusion, amidst numerous jocund apologies, of a small-statured,
red-faced, cheery-looking person whom Ellington introduced as "our
padre--Captain Daggat".  The two seemed on good terms; Ellington
made Daggat take a cup of coffee, although the latter insisted that
he had already breakfasted.  "Snug little place, this, eh?" he
said, winking at Revell.  "Not so bad being a married housemaster."
He sat down at the table and dominated the talk by sheer
fatuousness.  He made foolish jokes with Mrs. Ellington, talked
shop with Ellington himself, and addressed Revell from time to time
with that slangy familiarity which a certain type of parson
cultivates in the belief that it makes people feel "at home" with
him.  Towards ten o'clock, when Ellington had to rush away to take
a class in scripture, Revell made polite excuses to go.  But Daggat
hung on to him mercilessly.  "Come along, old chap.  You'll enjoy a
stroll round the old place, even if it IS raining.  Good-bye, Mrs.
Ellington, and many thanks. . . .  Seen our War Memorial Hall yet,
Revell?"

Despairingly Revell allowed himself to be piloted from place to
place.  They explored the Memorial Hall, the Museum, the Library,
and the new science laboratories.  Revell summed up Daggat as that
commonest of types, the athletic parson.  His slang, his bubbling
eagerness to be of service, his frequent references to the War
(which he seemed to recollect as a sort of inter-school rugger-
match on a large scale)--all would have jarred inexpressibly had
not Revell been hoping that in due course, and preferably without
prompting, Daggat would talk about the dormitory tragedy.  When at
length he suggested "a pipe and a pow-wow in my snuggery", Revell
agreed willingly enough.  The snuggery proved to be on the first
floor of the main School House block; it was the usual room
affected by such an occupant, with its wide-open windows and
languishing fire, its sporting trophies, its hackneyed reproductions
of too famous paintings, and its mantelpiece full of fixture-cards.
Pinned to the wall by the fireplace was the list of preachers in
Oakington School Chapel during the current term. Revell glanced at
it.  "So you're on duty to-day?" he commented.

"Yes.  They usually book me for the beginning and end of Term."

"I hope I'm not taking up your time when you'd rather be
preparing?"

"Oh, not in the least, my dear chap.  I always preach extempore.
Often I don't even know my subject till I get into the pulpit.
It's the only way.  Once let the fellows feel that you're not
speaking straight from the heart, and you lose grip on them.  Don't
you think so?"

Revell answered vaguely.  He was thinking, as a matter of fact,
about Mrs. Ellington, and idly speculating upon how and where she
had met Ellington, what in him had attracted her, and whether they
had been married long.  Daggat roused him from such problems by
asking what years he had been at Oakington.

"I was here during the War.  'Fifteen to 'eighteen."

"You were too young, I suppose, to be in the big scrap?"

"'Fraid so."  Revell felt like adding:  "Too young to have had any
of those stirring adventures which you are going to tell me about
now if I give you half a chance."  Something of his feeling must
have translated itself into a warning glance, for Daggat, after
momentary hesitation, twisted the subject to a different angle.
"Ten years ago, by Gad!" he exclaimed.  "To think it's all as long
ago as that!  And yet a pretty good deal's happened in the
interval, I must admit--even at Oakington.  Almost a complete
change of staff, you know.  I don't suppose you've seen many
familiar faces."

"I caught sight of old Longwell this morning, but he didn't know
me--I never took drawing.  Some of the servants' faces I seem to
remember.  But apart from that, everyone's a stranger."  He added:
"I gather there was something like a clean sweep when the new Head
came?"

Daggat nodded.  "I came in 'twenty-three--a year after the Head.  I
heard stories, of course, of what things had been like before . . ."

They chatted on, coming at length to reminiscences of particular
boys whom Revell had known in his time, and whose younger relatives
were still at Oakington.  It was easy, in such a connexion, to
mention Marshall, and Daggat was only too eager to discuss the
tragedy.  "I suppose you read about it at the time?" he queried,
and Revell allowed him to presume so.  "Ah, a terrible business.
Queer thing, when you come to think about it, that a gas-thingumbob
should come crashing down just when a boy's head is underneath it.
Providence, of course--that's all one can say.  As I've told the
School in my sermons time and time again--WE NEVER KNOW.  With all
our modern science and invention--with all our much-vaunted--"

A sharp tap on the door-panel interrupted a peroration whose
conclusion seemed reasonably predictable.  "Come in!" yelled
Daggat, in a high-pitched, sing-song tenor.  The door opened a few
inches, and a man's voice, deep-toned and rather cultivated,
murmured:  "Sorry, Daggat--didn't know you were busy.  Any other
time'll do."

Daggat jumped up hastily.  "No, don't go, Lambourne--we're only
chatting.  Come in and meet Mr. Revell--he's an Old Boy."

The new-comer made his way into the centre of the room with a sort
of nonchalant indifference.  He was a youngish man, rather tall,
perhaps in his early thirties, with dark eyes and hair and a
curious half-melancholy carelessness in the way he nodded and
smiled.  He was dressed, if not perhaps definitely unconventionally,
at least in a way that was not quite expected of an Oakington master
on a Sunday morning; in fact, Revell decided, liking him a little on
sight, there was nothing about him that was either schoolmasterly or
sabbatical.

"We were talking," said Daggat, puffing away at a huge briar pipe,
"about poor Marshall.  Revell knew his brother--the one who was
killed in the War."

Lambourne inclined his head, but made no comment.

"I must say I feel dashed sorry for the present Marshall," Daggat
continued.  "He's here now, you know, Revell--our head prefect.
The only one left out of three brothers, and both the others
killed.  Frightful bad luck, you know, and his parents both dead,
too.  The poor fellow was pretty badly cut up, I can tell you.  The
Head wanted to give him leave of absence for the rest of Term, but
of course there was nowhere for him to go.  His guardian's in
India."

"How about his holidays, then?"

"I think he spends most of them with other fellows' people.  He's
very popular."

"Once he had a fortnight with Cousin Thomas," put in Lambourne.
"Did you know, by the way, that Ellington was his cousin?  They
toured the Lake District, anyhow, caught terrible colds, and
finished up with a very bourgeois week-end at a seaside hydro near
Blackpool."

"Yes, he's very popular," Daggat reiterated.  "Jolly good at all
games, but swimming especially.  Quite the best swimmer Oakington
ever had, I believe.  Different in almost every way from his
brother, poor chap."

Revell gathered somehow that Daggat had not greatly cared for the
younger Marshall.  "You knew HIM quite well too, I suppose?" he
queried.

"Oh, fairly well.  He was in my junior form for English.  Quiet
sort of fellow--imaginative, I daresay--read queer kinds of books.
Not bad at his work.  I expect he'd have taken his School
Certificate."

Revell felt that the epitaph on the deceased had, from the
schoolmasterly point of view, been fitly and finally pronounced.
As if to clinch the matter, Daggat added:  "Ah well, the only way
to look at these things is to believe that somehow or other they're
providential."

Lambourne smiled.  "I'm afraid you view Providence a shade too
indulgently, Daggat.  Even an insurance company would hardly dare
to call a falling gas-fitting an act of God."

Just then the chapel bell began to ring for morning service.  "Must
dash away," cried Daggat, picking up his gown.  "You two chaps stay
here and chin-wag as long as you like."

When he had gone, Lambourne poked up the fire and dragged his chair
nearer to it.  "I wish Daggat, as a believer in hell-fire, would
use a little more coal," he remarked.  "It would prevent his
visitors from envying the warmth of the lower regions."  He dug
into the coal-scuttle with the shovel.  "Empty, of course.  We call
him 'the Cherub', by the way.  Decent fellow, except when he's
preaching.  Then he makes you feel you want to wring his neck.  I
warn you, you'll have him to-night, if you go."

"I know.  He told me."

"You're staying at the Head's, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Just for the week-end?"

"That's all."

"Pity.  You might have come along to dine with me one night at the
local pub.  I like a change from school dinners now and again."  He
went on, after a pause, and with disconcerting abruptness:  "Like
the Head?"

"Pretty well, I think."

"I suppose you mean that you can't quite make him out?"

"No, I wouldn't say that I meant that."  Revell was a little
resentful of the other's interpretative air.

"You must remember he's been other things besides a schoolmaster.
Lived abroad a good deal--America and the Colonies.  His degree's a
medical one, by the way.  Bit of a bon viveur, too, and the very
devil for being discreet.  All things to all men and to nearly all
women, you know."

"He makes a good Head, though, I should think."

"Oh, first rate.  Organising ability and all that.  Quite a war-
time discovery, in fact."

"He was in the War, then?"

"Of it more than in it, though I'm not suggesting he didn't risk
his life once or twice.  Ran so many hospitals and things that when
he took it into his head to want to run Oakington, the governors
snapped him up with joy."

Something in his tone provoked Revell to a question which, in
normal circumstances, he would have been least likely to ask.
"Were you in the War at all?"

"Oh yes.  Decidedly.  But I didn't organise anything.  I just got
gassed and shell-shocked--that was all."  He added, with a faint
smile:  "I don't quite know why I'm telling you all this--I don't
gossip about my own affairs as a rule.  Really, I suppose it's
because Daggat put me in the mood--it always gets on my nerves to
hear him explaining how Providence does this, and that, and the
other in this best of all possible worlds. . . .  By the way, to
change the subject, are you the author of a novel?"

Revell, for whom this was rare and priceless flattery, admitted
that that was so.

"I thought it must be you," Lambourne rejoined.  "I think I read it
when it came out.  The usual sort of thing that people do write
just after they leave Oxford.  Still, rather better than most, I
remember.  Done anything since?"

Damned patronising, Revell thought, yet more in disappointment than
anger.  And there was undoubtedly something in Lambourne that
appealed to him.  "Odd journalism," he replied, briefly.  But he
would not confide in him--not yet, at any rate--about the Don Juan
epic.

They talked on for a few more minutes, but the slowly dying fire
made Lambourne less and less happy.  "Really," he said at length,
rising from his chair, "I MUST go and do some work.  I think I
shall take a hot-water bottle to bed with me and mark exercise-
books until dinner-time.  Midday dinner, you know, on Sundays--cold
meat and beetroot. . . .  Come along and have tea with me one
afternoon, if you can spare the time.  So long."  It was the
pleasantest, politest, and most effective way of saying:  "Don't
bother me any more just now"; and Revell, who himself specialised
in just such pleasant, polite, and effective methods, appreciated
the other's technique.



Revell found Oakington a rather depressing place, as he wandered
about the familiar corridors amidst silences unbroken save by the
echo of his own footfalls.  It was raining heavily outside;
otherwise he would have more gladly strolled about the grounds.  He
even half-wished that he had gone into chapel, except that to
attend the evening service and two chapels in one day seemed more
than could be expected of anyone who was not still a public
schoolboy.

Things were still pretty much the same, he reflected, despite
Roseveare's uplifting influence.  There were the same spluttering
hot-water pipes in the corridors; there was the same curious smell
of dust and ink in the deserted classrooms.  From the ground floor
he descended to the basement bathrooms; these, however, had been
considerably modernised since his time.  Everywhere, too, there
were new and rather ugly electric-light fittings.

He next visited the two dormitories, in each of which he had slept
as a schoolboy.  School House had five floors, including basement
and attic; the first and second floors contained the senior and
junior dormitories respectively.  Each dormitory was approached by
a corridor leading from the staircase landing, and on both sides of
these corridors were the private rooms of the masters.  Ellington
had a room on the second floor, immediately above Daggat's.

It was rather melancholy, pacing along the felt matting in between
the tiers of beds in the dormitories.  In neither of them could
Revell feel quite sure which bed he had once occupied--so lightly
did sentimental recollections weigh on him.  He found, indeed, that
his thoughts were far more on the boy Marshall than on his own
schooldays.  The bright new electric lamps suspended from the
ceiling over the central gangway drew his attention to the double
row of scars on either side, where formerly had been the gas-
fittings.  Certainly, as Daggat had said, it was a curious thing
that one of them should have fallen directly on to a sleeping boy.
And yet such curious things DID happen.  Perhaps the boys HAD been
swinging on it previously, despite Roseveare's denial at the
inquest.  Heads could not know everything that happened.

During lunch, however, he did not mention the matter, nor did
Roseveare.  After a pleasant meal, punctuated with equally pleasant
conversation, the weather improved, and Revell, leaving the other
in his study, strolled out into the world of leafless trees and
sodden turf.  There was really not much that he could do.  In his
own mind he was quite certain that young Marshall had met his death
by an unusual sort of accident, and that the note left in his
algebra-book a few hours previously was nothing more significant
than a rather remarkable coincidence.  What did puzzle him was not
so much the Marshall affair itself, as Roseveare's extraordinary
fit of nerves over it.

Still, he might as well fill in the time with some sort of inquiry.
A chat with Jones Tertius, for instance, was an obvious step,
though he did not expect it to yield very much.  The junior boys,
he knew, usually spent winter Sunday afternoons in the Common Room;
so he re-entered School House, put his head in at the familiar
door, and asked the nearest occupant if he could tell him Jones's
whereabouts.  The cry went round, and in a moment or two he found
facing him a small, spectacled, rather shy youngster dressed in
Oakington's compulsory Sunday blacks.

Revell, when he chose to exert himself, had a distinct way with
people.  He was young enough, too, to be able to approach a
thirteen-year-old without any sign of adult condescension.  "Hullo,
Jones," he began, with a pleasant smile.  "Sorry to drag you away
from your friends"--not "pals" or "chums", as Daggat would have
said--"but I thought you might have a minute or two to spare.
Perhaps we could take a turn round the pitch--it's stopped
raining."

The boy accompanied him willingly enough but with very natural
surprise.  "I'm an O.O. up for the week-end, you see," went on
Revell, "and when I saw your name on the School list, I thought I'd
look you up in case you were the brother of a fellow I knew very
well when I was here.  Of course, I know the name isn't exactly a
rare one, but--"

And so on.  It turned out that the boy had no brothers, either past
or present, but by the time the matter had been fully elucidated,
the pair had reached the sports pavilion and were faced with the
return walk.  And what more natural, therefore, than that Revell
should say, as if making conversation:  "Awfully bad business about
that boy who was killed here at the beginning of Term, wasn't it?
Did you know him?"

But beyond the fact that Jones had known him, and had been his
particular friend, Revell learned practically nothing.  Jones was
one of those boys who do not respond to pumping, even by the most
expert pumper.  It was evident, though, that he shared none of the
Head's curiosity, misgiving, or whatever exactly it was.  And as
Revell had fully expected this, he bade farewell to the boy at the
door of School House with a satisfied smile.

Like some rather preposterous slow-motion film the pageant of an
Oakington Sunday tortuously unwound itself.  Revell took tea with
the Head and dazzlingly propounded his pet theory that Charlotte,
Emily, and Anne Brontë were allotropic personalities of the same
human or perhaps inhuman being.  The Head listened attentively and
appeared impressed.  In such wise the time passed pleasantly enough
until the ringing of the chapel bell for evening service.  The
Head, it seemed, was not going to attend.  "I have some letters to
write," he explained.  "But you go, most certainly.  Supper will be
immediately afterwards.  We do not dress on Sundays."

In one of the rear pews of the rather ornate chapel, as the School
began to stream in, Revell sought to capture the real, genuine,
hundred-per-cent thrill of the Old Boy dreaming of past days.  He
was far more conscious of a thrill, however, when Mrs. Ellington
came to sit in the pew beside him.  She smiled cordially, and her
husband, next to her on the other side, leaned forward with a nod
of reluctant recognition.  "I wondered if you would be here," she
whispered, "and to tell the truth, I rather hoped you wouldn't."

Of course he asked why.

"Because Captain Daggat is preaching.  He really is AWFUL."

Revell was thoroughly amused.  "So I've been told already to-day."

"Oh yes, by Mr. Lambourne, I know.  He said he had met you.  He
also said you had written a novel.  Have you really?"

"England expects," replied Revell, lightly purloining some one
else's epigram, "that every young man some day will write a novel."

"But you have, haven't you?  Do tell me what it's called--Mr.
Lambourne gave me the name, but I'm afraid I've forgotten."

"Ancient Lights," answered Revell, frowning heavily.  (Every time
he uttered it, it always sounded sillier, but this was the first
time he had ever whispered it to his neighbour in a place of
worship.)

"Ancient Rights?"

"No, Lights," he enunciated, as loudly as he dared.

"How interesting!  I must get Mudie's to send it down with their
next batch."

The announcement of the opening hymn put an end to further
conversation.  She was a fool, he thought, as he sang an
intermittent and languishing alto.  A charming and attractive
little fool, no doubt; but a fool for all that.  Yet with a half-
sideways glance at her dark and sparkling eyes, he felt again the
thrill of proximity.

Even apart from his neighbour, he found the chapel service quite
interesting, especially as Daggat, within five minutes of beginning
his sermon, supplied a perfect clue to the mystery of the note in
Marshall's algebra-book.

He would take as his text, began Daggat, in a mournful monotone,
part of the eighteenth verse of the twenty-second chapter of
Jeremiah.  Jeremiah, twenty-two, eighteen.  "They shall not lament
for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not
lament for him, saying, Ah Lord! or, Ah his glory!"  As it was the
last Sunday before the vacation, he thought it would not be
unfitting to review in retrospect the manifold blessings and trials
of the past Term.  It was a good thing, every now and then, to stop
and take a look behind us along the path of life, as it were, and
so draw lessons from the past to help us in the future.  There had
been one happening, at least, within the memory of them all, that
had brought them the deepest and most profound sorrow.  Into their
midst, unlooked for and without warning, there had come the Angel
of Death. . . .

"You may remember," went on Daggat, entering upon his second half-
hour with a preliminary swig of water from the tumbler on the
pulpit-ledge, "you may, I say, remember words which I addressed to
you here, from this same pulpit, upon the first Sunday of this
Term.  How little did I, or any one of us then, imagine that, so
shortly afterwards, my words would appear prophetic!  And yet it
should be a lesson to us--a much needed lesson in this age of
boastful science and too-confident invention--a lesson to us never
to forget, even for a moment, that our health, our happiness, even
the very breath of our life, depend, not upon our own puny wills,
but upon an all-wise and an all-knowing Providence. . . ."

Revell almost laughed.  He knew that immediately after evening
service it was the custom for the whole school to adjourn to the
assembly hall and spend twenty minutes, presided over by a master,
in writing letters, reading books, or some other silent occupation.

"Wasn't it awful?" whispered Mrs. Ellington, as they left the pew
after the Benediction; and she added, without waiting for him to
reply:  "But it was positively cheerful compared with some that we
HAVE had.  By the way, how long are you staying?"

He said that he would most likely be returning to London the next
morning.

"Don't forget to visit us when you come again," she said with a
smile, and Revell, shaking hands, promised accordingly.

During supper with the Head he could not resist the temptation to
be oracular.  "I think I've solved your little mystery, sir," he
remarked, after preliminary conversation.

But Roseveare, rather to his surprise, showed no eagerness for him
to explain.  "Revell," he answered, with slow emphasis, "I'm afraid
I owe you an apology.  There IS no mystery.  I sent for you in a
moment of nervous prostration--now, in a more normal condition, I
can realise fully what you must have thought of it all.  You have
disguised your feelings with great politeness, my dear boy, but I
can judge of them all the same.  And you're right, too.  I have
allowed myself to be completely foolish, and I apologise to you
most sincerely for wasting your time. . . .  Do help yourself to
some more wine."

Revell did so, rather crestfallen.  "All the same," he rejoined,
"though I quite agree with you that there isn't any real mystery,
I do happen to have found a reason--or at least a theory--to
explain the note left in Marshall's algebra-book."  He felt rather
piqued at Roseveare's latest attitude; having done his job, it
was disappointing to be received with apologies instead of
congratulations.  "You see," he went on, "it was all a matter of the
boy's temperament.  He was, I gather, the sensitive, imaginative
type.  Now it so happened that on the first Sunday evening of Term
Captain Daggat preached a rather doleful sermon-- all about sudden
death and that sort of thing.  I know, because in his sermon to-
night he made a great point of recalling what he had said then.
Well . . . my theory is that Marshall, over-impressed by it all,
went straight away into the hall afterwards and wrote out that
rather amateurish last will and testament. . . .  Don't you think
it possible?"

"More than possible--very probable, I should think.  But the whole
thing is, as I said, too foolish to be worried about. . . .  Come
into the study and let us take a liqueur and talk of pleasanter
things."

Revell was not wholly mollified, even by the excellent old brandy
that followed.  He could not understand the other's sudden change
of mood, and he felt a little sore at the manner in which his
really brilliant theory had been received.  By the morning,
however, he had come to the conclusion that Roseveare perhaps did
suffer from sudden baseless apprehensions, and after breakfast the
two parted with many expressions of mutual esteem.  "You must
certainly come and see me again," urged the Headmaster of
Oakington, shaking hands with him from the porch.  "I shall look
forward to it exceedingly."  And Revell replied with some sincerity
that he would also.  Just at the last moment the other thrust a
sealed envelope into his hand.  "Don't open it till you get into
the train," he said.  "Good-bye--good-bye."

Revell, of course, opened it in the taxi.  It contained a cheque
for ten guineas and a sheet of notepaper on which were written the
words "For Professional Services".



In his private diary (which he vaguely imagined might some day be
published in a number of annotated volumes), Revell wrote:  "The
Oakington incident is closed.  It was all quite pointless, as I
thought from the beginning, but it ended in fond farewells and a
cheque for ten guineas; which isn't really so bad.  I think I
rather like Roseveare, nerves or not, but I didn't greatly care for
Ellington.  The real Oakington mystery, I should think, is why such
an attractive woman as Mrs. Ellington ever married him."



CHAPTER III

THE STRANGE AFFAIR IN THE SWIMMING-BATH


More desperately than ever, upon a certain warm June morning, did
Revell long for something to happen to him.  And his epic poem in
the metre of Don Juan was, by a really curious coincidence, about a
young man to whom simply all things happened, one after another and
again and again--love affairs, adventures, thrills and escapades of
every kind, and some of them not a little scandalous.

That very morning he had received a letter from an old Oxford
friend asking him to join a proposed scientific and geographical
expedition to New Guinea.  It was hardly the sort of thing he cared
about, even in the role of "writer-up" and general publicity
manager; but the terms of the invitation had given him a certain
inward fretfulness that he could not shake off.  "Decadent youth,"
his friend had written, with what Revell regarded as too ponderous
facetiousness, "put away your cocktails and high-brow literary work
for two whole years and then go back to them if you feel like it!
We hope to leave in September, and, as it happens, we want a man
who can turn our adventures into a book.  I don't know where this
letter will find you, but in case you are in some other part of the
world, you can consider the offer open until the middle of August.
DO come--it is a wonderful chance . . . etc., etc."

No; decidedly the offer did not attract.  He hated flies, swamps,
pigmies, and the sort of men who put adventures into books--guinea
books, as a rule, remaindered at four-and-six.  "With Rod and Line
in the Sahara, by Major Fitzwallop"--THAT kind of thing--heavens,
no--he would not and could not do it.  And yet it was, in a way,
infernally unsatisfying to long for something to happen and then to
have to turn down something quite exciting when it DID happen.

Fortunately something else happened that morning which took away
all thought of the New Guinea proposal.  On an inside page of his
daily paper Revell's eye caught a small paragraph headed:  "Public
School Tragedy."  It ran:


The swimming instructor at Oakington School made a gruesome
discovery yesterday morning when he unlocked the door of the School
swimming-bath.  On the floor of the bath, which had been emptied
for cleaning, lay the dead body of Wilbraham Marshall, the head
prefect of the School, who was to have given a swimming display at
the coming Jubilee Speech Day celebrations.  It is surmised that
Marshall went for a practice swim at night and dived in, unaware
that the water had been drawn away.  By a curious coincidence, it
is only nine months since his brother met with a fatal accident at
the School.


This time the decadent youth about town wasted no time in
pondering.  Almost frantically, and with his mind reacting fiercely
to unidentifiable thrills, he consulted a railway guide and sent
off the urgent-sounding telegram--"Roseveare Oakington Arriving
this afternoon by one-twenty train Revell."  He calmed down a
little as he shaved, put on an O.O. tie, packed a handbag, called
at the bank to draw some money, made arrangements with his
landlady, and taxied to King's Cross.  On the train he decided that
he had never quite understood why Roseveare had sent for him on
that first occasion, and why, having sent for him, he had appeared
so eager to dismiss him.  He wished he had a Doctor Watson to talk
to; he would have liked to recount the whole dormitory incident,
concluding with--"Depend upon it, Watson, we have not yet heard the
last of this affair."

After the hot morning the weather had grown rapidly stormy, and by
the time Oakington came into view the sky was dark, and thunder
already rumbled in the distance.  There had been nearly a month
without rain, and the parched fields and dusty roads seemed to
stare hopefully at the clouds massing above them.  Revell, as he
stepped from the train, felt the first tentative drops of rain upon
his face.  Ten minutes later, when the white-haired butler ushered
him into Roseveare's study, the storm was beginning to break.

Roseveare, standing with his back to the empty fire-grate, welcomed
him cordially and apparently without surprise.  He was rather pale,
and with lines of anxiety about his eyes, looked perhaps more like
a popular preacher than ever.  "Good of you to come," he began, in
a tone of suave melancholy.  "It is indeed a terrible affair--
terrible altogether."

Revell went directly to the point.  "I felt I HAD to be on the
spot. . . .  I wish you'd give me a few details.  I know nothing,
I'm afraid, except from a very short paragraph in the Mail."

Roseveare eyed him with (so it seemed) wistful admiration of his
youthful energy and enthusiasm.  "I fear there isn't a great deal
to tell.  I take it you already know the main facts.  Wilson--he's
the swimming instructor--opened the door of the baths about eight
o'clock yesterday morning--his usual time.  He--"

"He OPENED the door?  In the paper it said he unlocked it."

"No, the door was merely closed.  That was his first surprise.  He
found the poor boy lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the
bath.  Quite dead--skull completely shattered.  I was sent for
immediately--there was nothing that could be done, of course.  A
horrible sight--I've seen bad enough things in the War, but somehow
this seemed most horrible of all.  Murchiston came.  He agrees that
the boy must have died instantly.  From the top diving-platform,
too--his wrist-watch was found there.  It's awful to think of--and
happening just now--only a day before Speech Day!"

Revell inclined his head in sincere sympathy.  There really was
something rather titanically perturbed about the tall, handsome
figure with its crown of silver hair.  "I can guess how you must
feel about it," he said.  "That's why--or one of the reasons why--
I came.  Do you mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Please do--any you like."

"Thanks.  There are just one or two matters. . . .  The theory, I
suppose, is that Marshall took a dive without knowing the bath was
empty?"

"People are saying that, naturally."

"It must have been dark, then, or he would have seen.  Why didn't
he switch on the lights?"

"Ah yes, I didn't tell you that.  The fuses had gone.  We
discovered it last night."

"So, presumably, finding that the switches wouldn't work, he
decided to swim in the dark?"

"Presumably."

"Was it usual for him to swim late at night?"

"He had done so, I believe, on previous occasions.  He was to have
organised a swimming display for Speech Day afternoon, you know--
that gave him sufficient excuse for any extra visits to the baths.
As he was fond of swimming and as it was a particularly hot night,
I don't think there is anything intrinsically unusual in his going
there at such a time.  It is quite against the rules, of course,
but rules hardly apply strictly to the head prefect.  He had a key
to the baths, as a matter of fact."

"You say he went on previous occasions?"

"Yes.  He went the night before, and on several nights last week."

"But it isn't dark till nearly eleven at this time of the year.
Surely he wouldn't go there later than that?"

"It was dark earlier the night before last, owing to heavy clouds.
But in any case, we believe that he had been in the habit of going
to the baths rather late.  As head prefect, you see, he could let
himself in and out of the House whenever he liked."

"Wouldn't he have to be in the dormitory by the usual time?"

"He didn't sleep in a dormitory.  He had one of the small rooms."

"Oh, indeed?  How was that?"

"Well, it was rather an exceptional case, of course.  After his
brother's accident last year, he was very much distressed and
didn't sleep well.  He told Murchiston, who had him under
treatment, that he thought it would help if he could get up and
read for a time whenever he had one of his sleepless nights.  Of
course he couldn't do that in the dormitory, so Murchiston and I
both agreed that he had better have one of the small rooms.  We
were all of us very sorry for the boy, and anxious to do anything
we could to help him, even at the expense of a school rule or two."

"Quite," agreed Revell.  "And the result was that he had his own
private room and nobody therefore knew exactly when he DID go to
bed?"

"I daresay not.  Both Ellington and myself would probably have
turned a blind eye to any small irregularities, even if they had
come under our notice."

"Yes, I understand.  And now about the bath being empty.  How was
that?"

"It was being cleaned--or rather emptied in readiness for
cleaning."

"Isn't it remarkable that Marshall didn't know?"

"I should certainly not have been surprised if he HAD known.  Yet,
as a matter of fact, the arrangements for emptying and cleaning
WERE made rather at the last moment."

"Oh?"

"And I'm afraid that, so far as it may be blameworthy, I must take
responsibility for that.  I gave the order for the emptying about
six in the evening, and Wilson stayed late to see to it.  It ought
to have been done earlier, but in the rush of preparing for Speech
Day I had not thought of it until Ellington mentioned it during the
afternoon."

"Marshall was not informed about it?"

"Not by me, certainly.  If I had chanced to see him, I should
probably have mentioned it in private conversation.  So, most
likely, would Wilson or Ellington.  But it was not exactly anyone's
business to tell him.  You see what I mean?"

"Where would he have been between six in the evening and dusk?"

"Let me see--from six to half-past there would be chapel.  From
then until eight I believe he superintended the juniors at
preparation.  From eight onwards he stayed, I expect, in his study,
though he would have to go up to his bedroom to change."

"Did he wear a bathing-suit?"

"Yes.  And his slippers and dressing-gown were found by the side of
the bath."  Roseveare added:  "I have willingly answered all your
questions, and I will just as willingly answer any others that
occur to you, but I really don't think there can be much dispute as
to what happened."

Revell regarded the other with sudden curiosity.

"Then," he exclaimed, his curiosity turning rapidly into
bewilderment, "you don't want me to look into this affair as I did
into the other?"

"By all means look into it--I will give you every assistance to do
so.  The two accidents present a most terrible and remarkable
coincidence, and one extremely damaging to the reputation of the
School.  But I must confess that--on the evidence before us--I
cannot feel much doubt as to the way in which poor Wilbraham met
his death. . . .  The inquest, by the way, is to be held the day
after to-morrow--perhaps you might care to attend.  Oh--just one
other thing--you will stay to-night, of course.  I could not think
of letting you go back before our Speech Day celebrations.  Though,
Heaven knows, they come at a singularly inopportune moment. . . ."



The storm broke in all its fury as Revell left Roseveare's house.
He made a dash across the lawn to the School House, barely
escaping a complete drenching.  The interview had left him with
bewilderments and misgivings that did not diminish in retrospect.
He felt in a mood for a long solitary walk on freezing roads with a
biting east wind in his face, and the almost tropical downpour
outside gave him the uncomfortable sensation of being trapped and
frustrated.  He wondered what on earth he could or should do next.
Behind the veneer of blandness and courtesy that Roseveare had
offered, it had not been difficult to detect a certain frigidity.
Queer that a man afflicted with nervous apprehensions should have
worried over the first accident, yet should find (apparently)
nothing but "a most terrible and remarkable coincidence" in the
second!  Queer--yes, decidedly queer. . . .  Through the windows he
could faintly discern, beyond the mist of falling rain, the cricket
pavilion crowded with sheltering youngsters.  Suddenly a flash of
vivid lightning seemed to explode the whole sky in one immense
detonation.  By Jove, THAT was near. . . .  He felt he must DO
something, visit someone, talk to somebody about something.  He
thought of Lambourne--perhaps he would be in his room.  It was, he
knew, on the ground floor, next to the studies.  He went to it and
tapped on the panel of the door, but there was no answer.  After a
moment's pause he turned the handle and went in.  The room seemed
empty at first, but on closer inspection he perceived that a large
armchair whose back was towards him was occupied by a huddled
figure.  He strode into the middle of the room and looked; it was
Lambourne.

"Good Lord, man, whatever's the matter?"  He saw that the fellow
was shivering like a jelly.  He put a hand on his shoulder and felt
him start sharply.

"Oh, it's you, Revell, is it?  I--I didn't know you were up here."
It was a brave, rather pitiful attempt at self-composure.  "Do sit
down.  I'm--I'm sorry to--to be like this.  I can't help it.  It's
the storm.  Since the War I--"

"That's all right," Revell assured him, as if the whole matter were
the most natural thing in the world.  "I think we've got the worst
over now.  Anything I can do?  What about a spot of tea or
something?  I'll put the kettle on, eh?  No, no--you needn't show
me where everything is--I messed about in these rooms a good deal
when I was here."

The casual method succeeded where any more intensely expressed
sympathy would probably have made matters worse.  While Revell
chattered inconsequently and as the storm gradually subsided,
Lambourne's condition returned to normal.  "I'm afraid I'm not much
of a host," he said, as Revell pumped up the Primus stove.  "I
can't stand a din.  'Heaven's artillery', Daggat calls it in his
sermons--he thinks it's a compliment to picture heaven as a sort of
super-great-power in a state of perpetual and glorious warfare. . . .
There are biscuits in that box.  I'll be all right in a minute
or two.  I suppose you're up here for Speech Day?"

Revell, caught just very slightly unawares, hesitated a second
before replying:  "Yes, that's it."

"It won't be much of a festival, I'm afraid, with this latest
affair hanging over it.  Of course you've heard."

"Oh yes.  It was in all the papers.  Pretty terrible, eh?"

Lambourne raised himself in his chair.  "You know, Revell, you do
rather give yourself away--to me, at any rate.  Why don't you admit
that you're here for the same reason as last time--because of the
Marshall affair?"

Revell almost dropped the biscuit-tin he was holding.  "Really?
And--and what makes you think that?"

Lambourne laughed.  "Oh, just a suspicious instinct I happen to be
blessed with.  But I'm proud to say I had my doubts from the first.
You overdid it, I'm afraid--or rather, you UNDERDID it.  Anyone
would have thought that boys were killed every night in their
dormitories, the way YOU talked about it.  Even Daggat remarked to
me afterwards that he didn't think you'd been very interested in
our local gossip.  Now if you'd only insisted on visiting the fatal
dormitory and sniffing about like a stage Sherlock, I might have
believed in you."

Revell shrugged his shoulders hopelessly.  "You make me feel I must
be a tremendous fool," he said.  "Of course your suspicions about
me are right--there doesn't seem to be any point in denying it.
But I didn't think I was doing things quite so obviously."

"Oh, don't think that--you aren't.  It's only my own exceptional
acuteness that pierces your otherwise excellent disguise as the Old
Boy revisiting his Alma Mater.  And you needn't fear I shall
breathe a word of it to anyone else.  But I really would be
interested to know all about the affair from your point of view."

It was just what Revell had been wanting--to tell somebody.  He did
so, fully, and by the time he had finished the rain had stopped and
sunlight was pouring into the room.  "I must admit," he said, by
way of conclusion, "that there seems just a touch of queerness
about it all.  Roseveare seemed far more suspicious about the first
affair, when he hadn't any real cause, than he does now, when
anyone would think he had cause enough."

"Suspicious?" echoed Lambourne, as if weighing the word.  "Are YOU
suspicious, then?"

"Perhaps I am."

"Of what?"

"That's just the point--I hardly know.  It might be almost
anything, but I'm pretty certain it's something."

"What evidence have you?"

"None that would stand a moment's examination in a court of law.
None at all, really.  Just the coincidence of the two accidents,
and the Head's puzzling attitude, and my own feeling about it.
It's all queer, to say the least."

"As you say, to say the least.  Why not say a little more and call
it a double murder committed with diabolical ingenuity?"

"WHAT?" Revell gasped.  "I suppose you're joking--"

"Not at all.  As a mere matter of theory, isn't it possible?  Isn't
the really successful murder not merely the one whose perpetrator
never gets found out, but the murder that doesn't even get
suspected of being a murder?"

"But, my dear man, as you said to me just now, where's your
evidence?"

"Exactly.  I haven't got any--I'm in the same boat as you."

"Are you--are you--really quite serious about all this?"

"Perfectly.  I suspected it, as a matter of fact, from the moment
the news of the first accident reached me.  But then I'm afraid I
nearly always do suspect things--I have a thoroughly morbid mind.
I never hear of a drowning accident but what I wonder if somebody
pushed the fellow in.  And it's such a dashed clever way of
murdering anybody, you know--letting a gas-pipe fall on 'em."

"And what about this latest affair?"

"A mistake.  No one, however clever, should expect to get away with
more than one murder.  Tempting Providence, you know.  Not that it
isn't more than likely that the dear old country Coroner and his
twelve good men will swallow this just as willingly as they did the
first one.  Only, from a purely technical point of view--the only
point of view that interests me--the repetition mars the symmetry
of the thing."

"But surely, man, if you have suspicions of this sort, you can't be
satisfied to leave things as they are?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Hardly my business, eh?"

Revell was indignant; he was even (a rare accomplishment) shocked.
Lambourne's attitude of cynical indifference was one he had very
often adopted himself, yet now he saw it in another he reacted
against it instantly.  "I don't know how you can say that," he
said.

"No?  Well, maybe I'm different from you, that's all.  After seeing
three years of purposeless slaughter backed by all the forces of
law and religion, I find it hard to share in the general
indignation when somebody tries on a little purposeful though no
doubt unofficial slaughter on his own.  That's my attitude--maybe a
wrong one, but I can't help it.  I'll talk things over with you, of
course, as much as you like--give you my ideas and all that.  Only
don't expect me to give any active assistance."

Revell laughed.  "You're almost as queer as all the rest of the
business. . . .  Look here, Lambourne, I do want to get to the
bottom of things, if I can.  It's building bricks without straw for
the present, I know, but that doesn't matter.  You suspect a double
murder, eh?  Well, the first thing to look for, then, is a motive--
unless, of course, we're dealing with a homicidal maniac.  Do you
agree?"

"Quite."

"Well, the only motive I can think of is money.  Two schoolboys can
hardly have had any personal enemies.  But it did occur to me that
since all Robert Marshall's money went to his brother Wilbraham, it
would be interesting to know where Wilbraham's money goes now?"

"I can tell you that--it's fairly common knowledge, in fact.
Ellington gets it."

"Ellington?  The devil he does!  I say, that's a bit astonishing,
isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Ellington's his cousin and next-of-kin.  He
couldn't very well leave it to anybody else."

"How much--roughly--does it amount to?"

"Matter of a hundred thousand or so."

Revell whistled.  "Quite enough to make some people commit a couple
of murders."

"Oh, bless you, yes.  Some folks would commit twenty murders for a
fiver, for that matter. . . .  Anyhow, that's one thing settled.
We've found the murderer.  The only thing left to do now is to find
out whether there's really been a murder or not."

"You needn't be so sarcastic," answered Revell, smiling.  "After
all, in a case like this, doesn't everything depend on personality
and motive?  Find the murderer, then you know there's been a
murder.  If you can't find a murderer, then you'll have to believe
that the whole thing's been purely accidental."

"Good, Revell--you have, I am delighted to see, an intricate mind.
Ellington's our man, of course.  But unfortunately there's not a
scrap of evidence against him.  All you can say is that he comes
into a bit of money through the two successive accidents.  Ah, but
stay--there IS just one other little matter.  I'd almost forgotten
it.  Ellington was one of the very few people who knew that
Marshall was sleeping in the dormitory on the night of the first
accident."

"Good Lord--I never heard anything about that!"

"No, I don't suppose you did," replied Lambourne, relishing his
little sensation.  "It was a point that didn't come out at the
inquest--although, mind you, there was no reason why it should.
Young Marshall, you see, had spent the greater part of his summer
vacation abroad--he'd been, I think, with his guardian in Italy.
Anyhow, owing to timetables and what not, the Head had given him
special permission not to return until the Monday--the rest of the
School, you will remember, having re-assembled on the previous
Saturday.  Did they, by the way, have the system of dormitory
prefects in your time?"

"Yes."

"Ah, then you'll understand how it all came about.  Marshall was
the dormitory prefect of the junior dormitory.  Now the rule is
very strict about having somebody in charge, and as Marshall was to
be away on the Saturday and Sunday nights, somebody had to step
into the breach, and that somebody was Ellington.  I know, because
the fellow asked me if I'd oblige, but I made some excuse--I sleep
badly enough as it is, without the additional miseries of a
dormitory mattress.  Besides, as housemaster, it was his job, not
mine.  Anyhow, he did it on the Saturday night, and was doubtless
prepared to repeat the performance on the Sunday night as well.
All the staff knew about it--he'd been cursing his luck in the
Common Room.  But then, quite unexpectedly, about half-past five on
the Sunday evening, Marshall turned up."

Certainly, Revell thought, Lambourne had the knack of making things
sound devilishly significant, whether they were so or not.

"Yes--he'd caught an earlier cross-Channel boat than he'd reckoned
on, or some simple enough reason like that.  Anyhow, he went into
Chapel and Hall afterwards in the usual way.  Daggat may possibly
have noticed him--he was preaching that night, which was the
reason, as you can guess, why most of the older masters kept away.
I did, and so did Ellington.  Ellington, as a matter of fact,
didn't know that Marshall had come back until nine o'clock, when
the boy went to see him in his room next to the dormitory."

"Not in his private house?"

"No.  His wife was out visiting, so he was filling in the time
marking papers, I believe.  He was surprised to see the boy,
naturally, though glad enough to discover he could spend the night
on his own feather-bed after all.  The boy went to bed in the
dormitory at the usual time, and Ellington stayed up to finish his
marking--at least, that's what he said at the inquest.  The point
is, you see, that his wife wouldn't be expecting him, and might
well be asleep when he DID go to bed--whenever that may have been."

"Pretty quick work, though, to plan a thing like that at such short
notice."

"Oh, I know.  I'm not suggesting he did.  It may have all been
planned beforehand, and he just seized the favourable opportunity
as it came."

"Quite.  But I'm afraid it all shows how equally well the whole
business MAY have been an accident.  Assuming it was pure chance
that the boy got killed and not Ellington himself."

"Oh yes.  Exactly what Ellington said himself the morning after."

"Which, of course, he WOULD say, if he WERE the murderer."

"Naturally."

"Oh Lord, what a lot of assumptions we're making!  I wish we had
more evidence.  Can you connect Ellington with this latest affair
in any way?"

"'Fraid I can't, on the spur of the moment.  That's your job--
you're the detective.  If I were you, I should have a look round
pretty soon--if there've been any clues left lying about, I don't
suppose they'll stay there for ever."

It was a hint, perhaps, and Revell, who felt he would like to be on
his own for a while to think things over, was glad enough to take
it.  "Come and chat with me again as often as you like," was
Lambourne's farewell remark, and Revell assured him that he would.



The grounds of Oakington School were roughly circular, and round
them ran a pleasant tree-sheltered pathway popularly known as the
Ring.  Four successive generations of Oakingtonians had found that
to make its complete circuit, at strolling pace, was an agreeable
way of spending a quarter of an hour when there was nothing else to
do, and upon this Wednesday afternoon in June Revell followed
almost instinctively the familiar trail.  The sunlight blazed
bountifully through the washed air; the scents of moist earth and
dripping vegetation rose around him in a steamy cloud.  From time
to time he passed groups of strolling boys who stared at him with
that slight and politely disguised curiosity that is, perhaps, the
"fine fleur" of the public-school tradition.  He could well guess
the chief subject of their conversations.  He could imagine the
sensation that the double affair of the Marshall brothers would
have caused at the Oakington of his day.  It was, undoubtedly, the
most spectacular of sensations--only less so, perhaps, than
Lambourne's theory if it could be proved correct.  But WAS it?
That, naturally, was the all-engrossing problem that occupied his
mind during the half-mile circuit.

The chief trouble, of course, was that it was so fearfully
difficult to verify anything that might or might not have taken
place nine months before.  People so easily forgot details, or even
if they didn't, they could easily say so if they were asked awkward
questions.  He quite saw that there was very little he could hope
to discover about that first affair.

He thought a little cynically of the bright new electric fittings
that met the eye all over the School.  That had been the Head's
doing--natural enough, in a way, but a pretty efficient method of
clearing up traces if there had been anything wrong.  Had the Head,
by the way, known of Marshall's sudden and unexpected arrival at
the School that night?

He lit a cigarette as he began the second circuit of the Ring.  The
easiest thing, undoubtedly, was to believe that things were just as
they seemed.  Two fatal accidents to two brothers--well, it was
unusual, even remarkable, but was it more so than any conceivable
alternative supposition?

Anyhow, as Lambourne had said, he had better tackle the more recent
affair, since not only was there a greater chance of discovering
things from it, but also his inquiries could be made more openly,
as springing from the mere natural curiosity of an Old Oakingtonian
about an affair that was for the time being on everybody's lips.
And so, as he came round to the School buildings again, he made his
way to the low, squat, red-bricked erection, some distance away
from the rest, in which, ten years before, he had splashed about on
many a summer's afternoon.

His lips tightened irritably as he turned the handle of the door
and found it unlocked.  The place ought not, he felt, to have been
thus left open to any casual sensation-seeker, though of course it
suited him well enough to be able to enter so easily.  He walked
through the small entrance-hall, past the shower-baths and the
drying-room, and into the main glass-roofed building.  Four elderly
charwomen were kneeling on the floor of the bath, busily engaged in
scrubbing the white porcelain tiles.  At the farther end, by the
diving-platforms, a rough-looking fellow in grey flannels and a
brown cardigan was noisily dismantling an improvised grandstand
consisting of several tiers of wooden benches.  Revell watched the
scene for over a minute before anyone saw him, and even then no one
took any particular notice.  It was only too obvious that there had
been many previous visitors.  At length he walked along the edge of
the bath and approached the man at the far end.  "Busy cleaning up,
I see?" he commented, with the air of the fatuous sightseer.

The man nodded deferentially, noticing the Old Oakingtonian tie.
"Yes, sir, and not a pleasant thing to 'ave to clear up, neither."
How eager they all were, Revell thought, to discuss the little tit-
bit of tragedy that had fallen into their midst!  He offered the
man a cigarette, which he took with a half-knowing salute.  Another
of them wanting to be told all about it, Revell fancied him
thinking.  "Yes, sir, I reckon I don't want to see a thing like
that again.  Fell right off from the top, and you'd think so, too,
if you'd seen what _I_ saw.  Terrible thing, ain't it?  An'
'appenin' just now--right in front of Speech Day.  Of course there
ain't goin' to be no swimmin' gala--natchrally THAT'S been put
off."

Revell inclined his head in melancholy agreement.  "I suppose the
poor chap must have taken a plunge in the dark?" he hazarded.

"Looks like it," replied the other.  "The fuses was all gorn. . . .
I daresay you 'eard about 'is poor brother larst Autumn Term, sir?"
The man's eyes quickened with ghoulish pride.

"Yes, I read about it.  By the way, what are you going to do when
the cleaning's finished?  Fill the bath up again?"

"Yes, sir.  Though I don't suppose there'll be any swimmin' till
next week.  You don't 'ardly feel you'd like to go in it now,
some'ow, do you, sir?"

Revell expressed a limited sympathy with this extreme of delicacy
and then, with a farewell nod to the man, walked back towards the
entrance.  The same trick as before, he reflected ruefully--all
traces obliterated, and in quite the most natural manner, too.  He
flung down the stump of his cigarette and ground it under his heel.
Really, if there were anything in Lambourne's theory, it had all
been managed with devilish ingenuity.

As he descended the outside steps of the swimming-bath a small
female figure on a bicycle suddenly dismounted in front of him and
greeted him with a bright smile.  "Hullo, Mr. Revell--how are you?
I didn't know you were up here."

The encounter relieved him momentarily of his load of doubts and
apprehensions.  "Hullo, Mrs. Ellington--delighted to meet you
again.  Yes, I thought I'd come up for Speech Day.  Not going to be
such a joyous festival, though, is it?"

"It's just frightful," she answered, her dark eyes clouding over
instantly.  "Have you been brave enough to look where it happened?
_I_ haven't.  It was a terrible sight for poor Wilson, I'm afraid.
And, you know, I feel particularly awful about it myself, because--
in a sort of way--I was responsible.  I know it's foolish of me to
think so, but really I can't help it."

"But how on earth--"

"You see, Mr. Revell, it was _I_ who suggested having the bath
cleaned.  It wasn't very dirty, but I happened to be looking in on
Monday afternoon in connexion with the seating arrangements for the
gala display, and it just occurred to me that the bath might be a
little bit cleaner.  So I mentioned it to my husband, and he
mentioned it to the Head, and the order was given to Wilson almost
immediately.  And but for that . . ."  She shuddered and stared
miserably at the handle-bars of her bicycle.

"But really, Mrs. Ellington, I don't think you can possibly feel
responsible--there was no real negligence on your part or anything
like that.  The whole affair was just a most frightful accident--"
He said it before he realised what he was saying.

"Oh yes, I know, but that doesn't stop me from feeling how I do
about it. . . .  Will you come along to tea, by the way?  I'm just
putting my bicycle in the shed before I go in.  I'm sure my husband
will like to see you again."

Revell accepted the invitation and, taking her machine away from
her, wheeled it to its allotted space in the covered bicycle-stand.
It would not be a bad idea to meet Ellington, he reflected, and to
observe him from the standpoint of one who already suspected him of
being a double murderer.  Apart from which, Mrs. Ellington's
company was itself sufficient to make the suggestion attractive.

Ellington was not in when they reached the house, so they prepared
the tea themselves, chatting pleasantly meanwhile.  She was, he
decided once again, a charming little creature--full of elf-like
vivacity and so childishly frank as well.  "You know," she said,
"we come into an awful lot of money through that poor boy being
killed.  It sounds terrible to be thinking of it even before he's
buried, but it's hard not to.  Tom's his nearest relative, you see--
there was simply nobody else to leave it to.  We shall be quite
rich."

Revell assumed polite surprise.  "Will you leave Oakington, do you
think?"

"Oh, I do hope so.  The life of a schoolmaster's wife isn't all
fun.  Have you seen that play Young Woodley, by the way, that's on
in town?"

"Yes, several times.  I liked it immensely."

"Oh, so did I.  And I do sympathise so much with the schoolmaster's
wife--not so much in connexion with the boy--but just generally.  I
mean--oh, I don't know quite how to express it in a way that you
won't misunderstand, but--"

And as if to illustrate the inexpressible, Ellington himself came
in at that moment in an obvious bad temper.  Really, thought
Revell, for a man who, whether by accident or design, was about to
inherit a hundred thousand pounds, he was remarkably peeved.  He
shook hands perfunctorily with Revell, planked himself down in the
most comfortable chair, and told his wife, when she handed him a
cup of tea, that it was disgustingly weak.  A boor as well as a
bore, Revell reflected.  A few mouthfuls of buttered tea-cake made
the man more talkative, but only to air his grumbles.  "Speech Day
to-morrow, by Gad!" he muttered.  "And the Lord knows what's going
to happen--everything either altered or cancelled--no definite
plans--no method--and in the meantime the whole discipline of the
School going absolutely to pot!"  He gulped down a half-cupful of
tea.  "Boys seem to think that because a fatal accident's happened
they can all run riot.  I had to thrash several of them to-day for
being late, and the excuse they gave me, if you please, was that
they'd been in the swimming-bath talking to Wilson!"

"Don't you think it's rather excusable?" Mrs. Ellington queried,
with an inflection in her voice that Revell thought was slightly
acid.

"No, I do not."

Revell interposed tactfully.  "I certainly agree," he said,
addressing Ellington, "that there's been far too much sightseeing
in the swimming-bath.  In my opinion the place ought to have been
locked up immediately after the accident, and no one ought to have
gone near it without special permission.  What possibility is there
of reconstructing how the accident happened when everybody's been
allowed to treat the place like a side-show on a fair-ground?"

Ellington faced him truculently.  "RECONSTRUCTING, eh?  What d'you
mean?  Isn't Murchiston's opinion good enough?  And the Head's too?
Don't see what need there'll be of any reconstructing, as you call
it.  Still, you're right about the sightseeing--there HAS been too
much of it.  And there's been too much of other things, too.
Chattering and gossiping and idle tittle-tattle--the whole School's
full of it.  I quite expect to have to discuss nothing else from
morning till night to-morrow."

"I can quite understand that you must feel heartily sick of it
all."

Ellington grunted.  "I can't even cycle into the village without a
dozen people stopping me to ask questions.  Stupid scandal-
mongering, that's all it is."

There was nothing much to be got out of him save repeated grumbles
on similar lines, so Revell took an early leave, pitying Mrs.
Ellington for having to face the rest of the wrathful outpouring
alone.  "You must come and see us again before you go," she said,
walking with him to the top of the outside steps.  And there was
(or perhaps he merely imagined it) something in the tone of her
voice that added an unspoken--"PLEASE come again."



Dr. Roseveare was most charming at dinner.  Though his face still
bore traces of the strain he was undergoing, he yet managed, with
the true courtesy of a host, to entertain his guest without
apparent signs of preoccupation.  Revell would have been willing
enough to discuss the swimming-bath affair, but he found the
other's opinions concerning Oriental china almost equally
revealing, at any rate as a proof of his extraordinary self-
control.  Yet this was the man, who, nine months before, had been
suffering from nerves!

Not till the close of the meal did the conversation approach the
narrowed confines of Oakington, and then Revell, seizing the
opportunity, asked if he might visit the swimming-bath on his own.

Roseveare seemed more interested in the request than surprised by
it.  "Why, yes, of course, if you wish.  But I should have thought
you would have been there already."

"Oh, I have.  But I'd rather like to have a few moments there by
myself--and at night."

"Very well--I will lend you my key.  I am afraid, though, that you
will find very little of interest."

"Still, I'd like a look around.  And there's just one other thing,
too--I'm sorry to have to bother you about it, but I'm relying on
your offer to help me, you know--could I be permitted to see the--
er--the body?"

Roseveare smiled rather sadly.  "You think it necessary for your--
investigations, eh?  Well, I won't refuse you, or perhaps you WOULD
think I was trying to hamper your efforts.  But of course you quite
understand that nothing must be disturbed in any way.  Subject to
that condition, I can certainly comply.  In fact, I'll take you now--
it is almost dark and we shall attract less attention than in the
daytime."

At about half-past ten, therefore, on the eve of Oakington Jubilee
Speech Day, Revell and Dr. Roseveare made their rather gruesome
pilgrimage to the School gymnasium that had been temporarily turned
into a mortuary; the doctor unlocked the door and, in the dim
illumination of a rather distant electric light, Revell pulled back
the linen sheet and looked upon what was left of Wilbraham
Marshall, sometime head prefect of Oakington School.  A glance was
sufficient--or rather, perhaps, many additional glances would have
been no more helpful.  The doctor did not look at all.

"And now," said Revell, as they left the gymnasium and relocked it,
"I needn't trouble you any further if you will just lend me the
swimming-bath key."

Roseveare detached it from his bundle and pressed it into Revell's
hand with an almost fatherly gesture.  "Yes, I think I'll leave you
to it--I have a number of urgent matters to attend to to-night.
You'll help yourself to my whisky if you're back after I've gone to
bed, won't you? . . .  That's right.  Good night."

Revell unlocked the door of the swimming-bath and walked up the
entire length of the building as far as the diving-board and
platforms.  Then he walked back again.  That was all.  He had seen
what he wanted to see, and was rather proud, indeed, of having
expected to see it.  And also, too, he had heard what he wanted to
hear.



CHAPTER IV

A SPEECH DAY AND AN INQUEST


It was surely the most remarkable Speech Day Oakington could ever
have experienced.  Had the tragedy happened a little earlier, it
might have been possible to postpone the Jubilee celebrations, but
with less than forty-eight hours' notice, the major proceedings had
to remain as planned.  Details, of course, were judiciously altered--
and yet perhaps not too judiciously, for a little of even
manufactured gaiety would have helped to mitigate the sombre
melancholy of the affair.

Revell, as a slightly quizzical spectator, watched the curious
scene from hour to hour.  He saw the reception at the main entrance
in the morning--saw Dr. Roseveare, with a mechanical smile and a
few mechanical words of welcome, shaking hands mechanically with
each one of several hundred guests; he attended the chapel service
and listened to an appallingly dull sermon by an Old Oakingtonian
whom years and ambitious mediocrity had combined to make a colonial
bishop; he sat in one of the rearmost rows in the Hall during the
afternoon and heard the lugubrious chanting of the School Song.
The guest of honour was Sir Giles Mandrake, a millionaire
shipowner; his wife presented the prizes.  Roseveare sat
conveniently at Lady Mandrake's elbow, ready to give her tactful
assistance in any little difficulty that might arise.  His massive
head ("leonine" was the obvious word), with its crown of silver
hair, seemed in a strange way to dominate everything and everybody.
A truly remarkable man, as Revell had realised, though never so
completely as now.  For after the tedious, halting, nerve-racking
speech by Sir Giles, Roseveare's cool, exquisitely-chosen words
were like healing ointment on a raw wound.  He spoke gently of the
School's past, wisely of its present, and hopefully of its future.
In a single guarded sentence he referred to "events during the past
year which we must all deplore and which I, personally, regret more
than I can ever say"--but that was all.  He made a few half-
wistful, half-jesting comments on the School's sporting
achievements.  He complimented his staff and thanked them for their
loyalty.  He mentioned one or two scholastic successes.  He made,
in short, the perfect speech for the somewhat difficult occasion.

In place of the swimming display there was a rapidly improvised
concert of appalling badness.  Then came a garden-party tea
on the quadrangle, during which Revell chatted to several Old
Oakingtonians whom he knew and who had brought their families with
them.  They were all, of course, agog with excitement about the
Marshall affair, and the known fact that the body lay in the locked
gymnasium awaiting the inquest on the morrow gave them a particular
thrill.  "Too bad--to have happened just now," was a frequent
comment, but Revell imagined that in many cases a more truthful one
would have been--"Too good--to be able to get a genuine Edgar
Wallace thrill out of a Speech Day."  For already the place was
alive with the wildest and most sinister rumours.

But by seven at night almost the last of the visitors had departed.
Many of the boys whose homes were within moderate distance had gone
back with their parents for the traditional week-end holiday; the
school servants were busily clearing away the tea-party litter from
the quadrangle; and the whole school, after the turmoil, seemed
lonely and forlorn.

Revell, from sympathy with the Head after the strain of such a day,
would not have mentioned the Marshall affair on his own account.
He could hardly avoid doing so, however, when Roseveare calmly
asked him what train he intended catching the next day.  The
question was put so artlessly and with such apparent casualness
that Revell was for the moment taken aback.  Roseveare seemed to
notice this, for he added:  "Please don't think I particularly want
you to go--I only imagined you might have other affairs to attend
to, now that Speech Day is over.  There is the inquest to-morrow
morning, which you might care to attend, but no doubt it will be
over by lunch-time."

After a thoughtful pause Revell said:  "If you don't mind, I should
rather like to stay on a few days longer."

"You would?  Very well, I shall be delighted, of course.  May I
take it that your investigations are bearing fruit?"

The question was neither sarcastic nor contemptuous, but perhaps it
was just a shade too bland.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Revell answered.  "Only I just feel I'd
like to poke about a bit more, that's all."

Roseveare nodded with complete geniality.  "You're a conscientious
fellow, Revell, and deserve a far better fate than to be probing a
mystery that isn't, I'm afraid, much of a mystery at all.  I know
the place is full of rumours, but most of them contradict each
other, and in any case, the theories of a generation reared on
crook dramas and detective novels are hardly worth taking
seriously.  I do not, of course, expect that even the inquest to-
morrow will stop these unpleasant fiction-mongers.  They will just
go on till they are tired, and we shall have to put up with it."

Revell was silent, and the other continued:  "I hope you are not
forgetting the boy's wrist-watch which was found on the top diving-
platform.  That, more perhaps than anything else, seems convincing
evidence of what happened."

"Possibly, though I don't see why he shouldn't have left it down
below, with his dressing-gown and slippers."

"He may have forgotten it until the last minute.  It was radium-
pointed, so that in the dark its illumination may have attracted
his attention just as he was on the point of diving.  Would you
like to see the watch, by the way?  It will be one of the exhibits
shown to the jury to-morrow."

"Oh no, don't bother--I don't think it would help me much."

As he exclaimed rather peevishly to Lambourne an hour or so later:
"What the hell was the use of looking at the damned watch after it
had been mauled about by Wilson and Roseveare himself and God knows
who else?  Besides, I'm not a finger-print expert, even if the
murderer's paw-marks were plastered all over it!"

"Yet you have, I suppose, a theory of your own by this time?"
Lambourne queried.

Revell nodded rather gloomily.  "Yes, I have, and it would be about
as easy to prove to that jury to-morrow as the Einstein theory.
Not that I care much about the inquest."

"Don't you?  Well, neither do I.  Which is why I intend to suppress
a little evidence which, even if I took pains to blurt it out,
would only be considered highly irrelevant."

"Oh?"

"Yes, it would.  If I told them that about midnight on the night
before last Ellington was seen walking about the grounds, they'd
probably ask me what the devil it had to do with Marshall."

"Good heavens!  Who saw him?"

"I did."

"YOU?"

"Myself alone.  You see, I happen to be a very bad sleeper, and I
often go for a stroll late at night.  And that night was the
hottest of the year--I knew I should find it hard to get a wink, so
I thought I'd take a turn round the buildings."

"And you saw Ellington?"

"More than that, I met him and spoke to him.  He told me he was
doing exactly the same thing--taking a stroll because of the heat.
I don't care for his company much, but it seemed churlish not to
chat with him, so I did--for perhaps a quarter of an hour or so.
In fact, we walked once round the Ring and then went back to our
respective habitations.  At least, he saw me go into School House,
and I presume he let himself into his own immediately afterwards."

"But, my dear fellow, this seems frightfully important.  Why on
earth didn't you tell me about it before?"

"Because I didn't want you to know too much against Ellington all
at once.  It might have biased you in deciding whether the accident
was faked or not.  Now that you're pretty certain of that, I don't
mind you knowing the lot."

"How do you know I'm pretty certain the accident was faked?"

"Because you had the excellent idea of visiting the swimming-bath
in the dark.  I was taking another stroll and I saw you--funny what
a lot of things I see on my strolls.  I saw you go in and I saw you
come out again in about half a minute, which is roughly the time it
would take any reasonably intelligent person to spot what really
happened.  Or at any rate, what really couldn't have happened."

"Yes, quite," said Revell eagerly.  "I could see the water rippling
distinctly.  And I noticed, too, that footsteps sound differently
when the bath is full."

"You might add that the whole place smells differently--there's
nothing quite so unmistakable as the smell of the water in a
swimming-bath. . . .  Oh yes, the accident theory is hopelessly
impossible.  Unless, of course, you begin by bringing evidence that
three of the boy's senses were deficient."

A silence followed, which Revell broke by the question:  "What did
you and Ellington talk about when you met that night?"

"Shop, of course.  Have you ever heard Ellington talk anything
else?"

"It would be amusing if he gave evidence that he met YOU at that
suspicious hour.  And rather clever of him, too."

Lambourne laughed.  "You bet he won't.  As a matter of fact, he
visited me here an hour ago to discuss that very point.  And we
both agreed that we would not waste the Coroner's valuable time by
mentioning such a trivial matter."

"Good Lord!  You've got a nerve!"

"Well, it seemed a fairly reasonable arrangement, I must admit.  He
promised not to say he'd seen me if I promised not to say I'd seen
him.  After all, in the eyes of the law, I suppose we should both
be equally suspect if there were suspicion at all.  Anyhow, the
inquest's bound to be the biggest farce you ever saw, so what does
it matter?"

And Revell, though he completely agreed with the other's sentiments,
could not forbear a slight shudder at the tone of cynical
indifference in which they had been expressed.



The inquest was held in the School gymnasium the following morning
amidst the gathering heat of a typical midsummer day.  It began at
ten o'clock and was over within the hour.  Revell had never seen
anything quite so slickly performed.  Dr. Roseveare, calm and
weightily sorrowful, brooded over the proceedings like some kindly
deity whom it would have been ungenerous and even impious to
frustrate.  Both Coroner and jury seemed anxious to spare the
feelings of such a well-known and valued citizen of Oakington.
Indeed, it might almost have appeared that general sympathy was as
much with the doctor as with the deceased.

Medical evidence was given by Murchiston in a decorous and hardly
audible undertone.  The injuries (technically specified) were, he
declared emphatically, such as might have arisen through a fall
from a considerable height on to a hard surface.  Wilson, dressed
in his Sunday clothes, described his finding of the body and of his
later discovery of the wrist-watch on the top diving-platform.  The
jury, having previously seen the body, were then conducted into the
swimming-bath and shown the place where the body had been found.
They also climbed (some of them) and examined the diving-platform.
On the return of the entire party to the gymnasium, Roseveare was
called upon to give evidence; he explained the boy's habits more or
less as he had previously explained them to Revell.  No further
evidence was called, but one of the jurors insisted on asking at
what hour the wrist-watch had stopped.  As it had stopped through
want of winding and at eleven minutes past three on the afternoon
following the boy's death, it was not easy to see the point of the
matter, but it served at any rate to prevent the asking of any
further and perhaps less foolish questions.

The jury retired and brought in an almost immediate verdict of
"Accidental Death".  Then the Coroner expressed sympathy all round--
with the relatives of the boy, with the Head, with the School, and
even with the jury for being called upon to investigate such a
distressing affair.  "It is only too clear how it happened," he
remarked.  "Boys will be boys, and we all of us know the temptation
of a swim in weather like this."

"And then," as Revell remarked to Lambourne afterwards, "the
fatuous idiot wiped the sweat off his thick head.  Man, it was
awful to have to sit there and listen to it all.  Roseveare had 'em
absolutely in the hollow of his hand.  Of course, I know he's the
biggest pot in Oakington, and half the jury were tradesmen who
depended on the School, but still--even THAT doesn't altogether
explain it.  Englishmen aren't really corrupt enough to connive at
murder.  The trouble is, they never SUSPECTED.  They've heard all
the queer rumours, but when it came to the point, Roseveare simply
hypnotised the lot of 'em!

"ONLY TOO CLEAR HOW IT HAPPENED!  God--I nearly laughed when the
Coroner said that!  Only too clear why a boy should dive into an
empty bath in the middle of the night. . . .  And I suppose the
first inquest was pretty much the same kind of farce?"

"Quite," replied Lambourne calmly.  "Yet I wonder you're even
surprised at it--it's all so much the sort of thing one has to
expect.  Most people in this world are incapable of any really
critical observation--they won't and can't see anything unless they
have a previous hint that it's going to be there.  If Scotland Yard
men had examined the gas-fittings after the first accident, they
might have discovered something rather interesting about them, but
as it was, you see, the examiners were merely gas company officials
bent on exonerating their own firm.  What they may have wondered,
among themselves, I've often speculated on--though it's quite
possible that they didn't wonder anything at all.  That Tunstall
fellow, though, seemed to think somebody had been playing the fool
with things--only the dear old Head shut him up--reputation of the
School at stake and all that sort of thing, don't you know.  Mind
you, we mustn't blame anyone TOO much, for there IS a distinct
initial improbability about a falling gas-fitting being in reality
a diabolically-contrived murder."

"Yet YOU suspected it?"

"Oh yes, but then, as I said before, I suspect everything and
everybody."

The attitude, which had been amusing enough at first, only served
to irritate Revell now that his thoughts had become further
engrossed in the case.  That evening, in the privacy of his
bedroom, he wrote out a short summary of the whole Marshall affair,
concluding with a few supplementary memoranda which might, he felt,
help him by being set down logically on paper.  Under the heading--
"Have there really been murders?" he wrote:

"I think so.  The first 'accident' will be hard and perhaps
impossible to elucidate, but if the second 'accident' is definitely
proved to be murder, then a considerable balance of probability
will lie in favour of the first accident having been murder also,
especially if there can be found any adequate motive for the double
event.  And such a motive undoubtedly exists.

"Let us, then, examine the second 'accident'.  Clearly, there are
only three possibilities--(1) a bona-fide accident, (2) suicide,
and (3) murder.  The following points weigh heavily against the
first possibility:


"(1) Even on the darkest night any person of normal eyesight
can see the water in the swimming-bath--therefore, he would
most likely notice the absence of it.  If also he were
familiar with the bath, as was the deceased, he would probably
notice the totally different sound of his own footsteps caused
by the emptiness of the bath.

"(2) The wrist-watch discovered on the top diving-platform is
a rather suspiciously direct pointer to the theory of the
dive.

"(3) The burned-out fuses.  Here again we have something by no
means intrinsically suspicious, but one must admit that it
happened very fortunately or unfortunately upon this
particular night out of all other nights.


"We have, then, disposed of the accident theory, though maybe not
conclusively enough for a jury--especially a Coroner's jury.  There
remain the two other possibilities.  Suicide seems out of the
question; we are thus left with the third--murder--by process of
elimination."


Under the heading "Why suspect Ellington?" Revell went on to write;


"(1) He is the only person who apparently benefits by both the
accidents together.  (Note that he would not have benefited in
any way by one of them separately.)

"(2) He is known to have been walking about the School grounds
at a time when the murder MAY have been committed."


Lastly, under the heading "Questions to be solved", he wrote:


"(1) In the case of both accidents, how EXACTLY was the thing
done?

"(2) Why did the Head send for me last December?  Why did he
appear to have suspicions then?  And why hasn't he any
(apparently) now?  Why does he seem as though he would be glad
if I went back and forgot the whole business?

"(3) Is Lambourne entirely trustworthy?  Is his pose of
indifference sincere?"


And upon these wise and cautious speculations Revell went to bed
and to sleep.

Revell stayed on at Oakington, and each morning at breakfast Dr.
Roseveare's welcome was just a shade more ironical.  The dead boy's
body was in the meantime coffined and taken away by motor-hearse
for burial in the family grave in Herefordshire; the living boys
returned after their Speech Day holiday, full of other and various
topics; the swimming-bath again echoed to the shrieks of the junior
learners.  Oakington, in fact, began to function normally again,
and the second Marshall affair seemed as if it might soon sink into
impenetrable limbo with the first.

But to Revell, of course, the problem of the two deaths was an ever-
insistent reality.  He pondered over it night and day, and the
readiness of the others to forget only increased his determination.
The trouble was, as it had been right from the beginning, that
although he had plenty of theories, there was precious little
evidence in support of any of them.  Nor did his most careful
investigations bear much result.  He got into diplomatic
conversation with various boys who had known the two brothers, but
none could tell him anything of importance, and even their
"suspicions", when he probed them, turned out to be based on
nothing more than the mere coincidence of the double tragedy.

Several times he strolled casually into the swimming-bath,
professing a keen interest in the School swimming, but really in
the hope of discovering something hitherto overlooked or of
surprising Wilson at some suspicious task--one of his theories had
included the baths-attendant as an accomplice.  But he discovered
nothing, and all Wilson's occupations seemed entirely innocent.

In his notebook, naturally, it was all quite simple, for he had
written down:


"Assuming that the theory accepted by the Coroner is incorrect, and
since the boy's injuries were too severe to have been caused by a
mere fall off the side, it follows that his death must have been
caused by some object or instrument.  It is clear, too, that he
must have been struck either (1) while he was standing on the side
or (2) he must have been induced to descend into the empty bath and
then struck.  As there were no blood-stains on the side, the second
possibility seems more likely.  In that case the murderer would
have had to be someone who could have made some plausible excuse
for inducing the boy to descend into the bath.  Ellington, as one
interested in swimming, could have done this.

"Question, therefore:  What was the weapon or object used to kill
the boy, and what was done with it afterwards?  What, also, did the
murderer do with his clothes, if, as seems likely, they were blood-
stained?"


In detective stories, as Revell well knew, he would only have had
to take a few casual walks about the School grounds to discover
both the clothes and the weapon, to say nothing of complete sets of
finger-prints.  Unfortunately, once again, realities were
different, and though he kept half an eye on the shrubbery as he
strolled round the Ring, it was not with any intense expectation of
finding anything.  Naturally the murderer would have taken care to
destroy or at least to hide his weapon.  It was a pity, perhaps, as
Lambourne said, that you could not legally prove a thing had
existed merely by proving that somebody had had motive and
opportunity to destroy it.  And it was equally a pity that proof by
elimination was not held in such high respect in law-courts as in
Euclid.

One thing, however, these few apparently unfruitful days at
Oakington did yield, and that was a rich crop of rumours and
impressions.  The rumours he mainly ignored (they varied from
theories of "curses" laid on the Marshall family to reports of
masked men searching the School grounds at midnight); but the
impressions were valuable.  Revell learned, for example, that
Ellington was unpopular, being considered somewhat of a bully, and
that Roseveare was idolised.  Lambourne, he found, was a bad
disciplinarian and rather unpopular with the boys on account of his
sarcastic manner; Daggat, on the other hand, though laughed at and
thought rather a fool, was quite well liked.  Murchiston, the
School doctor, was also a favourite, chiefly, no doubt, because he
was slack and good-natured.

He learned a little more from an afternoon's chance meeting with
Mrs. Ellington in the neighbouring village of Patchmere.  He had
borrowed a bicycle and was pedalling for pleasure about the country
lanes he had known years before; she, with her handle-bar basket
full of packages, was obviously on business.  "I've just been
getting butter and eggs from the farms," she explained.  "It's
really a good excuse for a ride on a day like this, isn't it?"

He agreed.  They chatted for a while, standing against the kerb of
the sunny village street; then, since she was returning, it
occurred to him to accompany her.  "I'm only riding about because
I've nothing better to do," he said.

She laughed her pretty laugh as she mounted her machine.  "All
right, then.  But why do you come here for a holiday if you are so
bored?"

"Oh, I'm not at all bored.  On the contrary, I'm enjoying my stay
immensely--it's my first long visit, you know, since I left the
School."

"And how long ARE you staying?"

"Not--er--not beyond the end of the week, I don't suppose."

She appeared to accept his explanation without any further
puzzlement.  They gossiped pleasantly along the lane back to the
School, and as they turned in at the gateway she said, with a touch
of mockery in her voice:  "Well, if you've nothing better to do,
you might have tea with me, eh?  The kettle will be boiling in ten
minutes or so."

"Thanks," he answered, laughing.  "I'll come."

When he returned after putting away his bicycle he found her alone
in the rather conventionally-furnished sitting-room that overlooked
the quadrangle.  "My husband's away," she said, greeting him with a
smile.  "He's gone to the funeral of that poor boy--down in
Herefordshire, you know."  She added:  "I'm so glad you're not
offended with us--I'm afraid we were rather rude when you came here
to tea the other day."

He thought it rather sacrificial of her to say "us" and "we"
instead of "him" and "he", and he replied, meaningly:  "I'm quite
sure YOU weren't in the least rude, Mrs. Ellington."

"Oh well, then, if you really insist on it, I'll say my husband
was.  I'm afraid he very often is.  He's not really happy as a
schoolmaster, you know--he's not made for the job.  Anyhow, it
won't be for much longer--I think I told you we were going to be
quite rich.  And Tom's decided he'll give up school and go out to
Kenya Colony."

"Really?"

"Yes, now that he can afford to buy a decent ranch or whatever you
call it."

"But--well--what about you?"

"ME?  Oh, I don't mind--why should I?"

Yet he felt, somehow, the narrowness of the gulf that separated her
from tears.  He was thrilled a little, too.  For all his man-of-the-
worldliness, he could never QUITE escape the feeling that married
people, merely by being married, belonged to an older generation
than himself; and to that extent he was always rather astonished
when they began to tell him their troubles, as they very often did.
But Mrs. Ellington was hardly telling him--she was hardly even
hinting.

He said, at a venture:  "I feel confoundedly sorry for you, anyhow.
I don't altogether know why, but it IS so."

She answered:  "I guessed it--right from the time of our first
meeting last December.  Curious, wasn't it?"

"I say, did you really?"

"Yes.  But I hardly thought I should ever have the chance of saying
so."  She smiled and seemed marvellously on the point of breaking
down.  "Tell me," she added, in a voice that trembled, "are you
writing another book . . . ?"

And the incident, with all its implications and unexplored
possibilities, was over.



But, as he had to admit to himself afterwards, he was really no
nearer a solution of the Marshall affair.  As the days came and
went and each morning made it a little harder for him to face the
Head's quizzical glance, he came to the reluctant conclusion that
his Oxford detecting triumph must have been a fluke.  Though, of
course, it had been altogether less baffling.  Here at Oakington
crookedness and mystery hampered him at every turn; at certain
moments the whole place seemed shrouded in an atmosphere of dark
malevolence, amidst which Roseveare, Ellington, and even Lambourne
strutted about like figures in a nightmare.

"'Fraid I shall have to give it up," he told the latter on the
Friday night that was exactly ten days after the swimming-bath
tragedy.  "I really can't stay on here for ever, and there doesn't
seem much chance of my being able to do anything."

Lambourne nodded sympathetically.  "Yes, I rather thought that's
what would happen.  Ah well, it's not the first time a clever
murderer's succeeded in getting away with it.  D'you know, I think
most people, if they were careful enough, could manage to commit
one murder in safety--it's really not so very hard.  The temptation
is, when you've done it, to repeat yourself with another.  Even
then you may perhaps carry it through with a bit of luck--the
Brides in the Bath murderer did, and Ellington here, we may
presume, is having the same good fortune.  But the third time is
nearly always unlucky--bound to be, by the law of averages, isn't
it?"

"The third time?  But there aren't any more Marshall brothers,
surely?"

"Maybe not, but what does that signify?  Once the murderer gets it
into his head that he's cleverer than the rest of mankind, he
begins to think of murder quite casually as a means of getting rid
of anybody he happens to dislike.  It's true, Revell--I've made
rather a study of the matter.  Two successful murders by the same
person are very often followed by a third."

"Well, I don't know how he'll manage it.  He's not staying on at
Oakington after this Term, so his wife says.  He's thinking of
going out to Kenya Colony."

"Really?  That's very interesting, and Ellington as an Empire-
builder is distinctly good.  All the same, I don't see that my
original point needs much altering.  I shall await with patience
the announcement in the Daily Mail that the wife of a wealthy Kenya
planter has been mauled to death by a lion or bitten by a poisonous
snake or drowned in some river with an unpronounceable name."

"Good God, man, you don't mean that she's going to be the next?"

"Possibly not.  Perhaps she'll have an affair with some other chap,
and HE'LL be the next.  Ellington's frightfully jealous, you know."

"It's damnable to think of her living with such a fellow!"

"Yes, isn't it?  But then, if you make your bed, you must lie on
it, particularly if it's a marriage-bed."

And Revell, making a mental note of the epigram (which he thought
might do very well in some novel he might subsequently write),
could only agree that it was so.



CHAPTER V

ENTER SECOND DETECTIVE


That evening Revell informed Dr. Roseveare that he would leave
Oakington on the following day.  The latter accepted the
arrangement without comment, but his conversation at dinner was
perhaps a degree more cordial than usual; and over the bed-time
whisky he assured Revell that he had greatly enjoyed his company
and hoped he would come again.  "And I trust," he added, "that the
next occasion will not bring you here with such a melancholy
motive."  That was all he said that had the slightest bearing upon
the Marshall affair.  He guessed, no doubt, that Revell had failed
to discover anything of importance, and was too considerate to
refer to it openly.

The best train to town left Oakington about eleven in the morning,
and Revell, being in no particular hurry, decided to wait for it.
He bade his host good-bye immediately after breakfast and spent a
final odd hour wandering about the School.  Vaguely, perhaps, he
wondered if he might meet Mrs. Ellington or Lambourne, though he
had paid them both official farewell visits the previous evening.

Chance took him up the staircase in School House--chance combined
with the knowledge that from the window of the topmost landing he
could see across the quadrangle and into the cosy domesticities of
Mrs. Ellington's sitting-room.  But from that topmost landing, when
he reached it, he perceived that the sitting-room was empty.  Ah
well, she was probably shopping in the village--he might meet her
on the way to the station.  And, anyhow, it did not greatly matter.

He was just about to descend the stairs again when he noticed with
surprise that the door of the narrower staircase that led up from
the second landing to the disused sick-rooms was standing slightly
ajar.  Queer. . . .  He had often during the recent trouble wished
for an opportunity to look over those disused sick-rooms, but the
door had always been locked, and he had not cared to attract
attention by asking for a key.  Rather pleased with the chance so
simply and casually presented to him, he pushed open the door and
quickly ascended.  Soon he found himself in the apartments in
which, ten years before, he had spent a not unhappy fortnight with
German measles.  Since then a new sanatorium had been built at some
distance from the School, and these wholly unsuitable and
inadequate sickrooms had been dismantled.  Nothing remained but the
wooden partitions between the rooms and the worn brown linoleum on
which the marks of the bedposts were still visible.  In places the
linoleum had been pulled up, exposing the bare boards; there were
marks, too, of hasty carpentering in taking up some of the boards
and replacing them again.  That, he surmised, had been the work of
the electricians when they had laid cables for the dormitory below.

He tried, mentally, to reconstruct what might have happened on that
night at the beginning of the previous Autumn Term.  He pictured
Ellington, towards midnight, unlocking the door at the foot of the
narrow staircase, climbing up, taking up a previously loosened
floorboard and letting drop a previously loosened gas-fitting.
That, of course, assumed that the boy's murder had been premeditated
and that it would have happened anyhow, some time or other during
the Term.  The choice of the boy's first night might have arisen
from the curious opportunity that had fallen to Ellington of staying
up as late as he liked that night without his wife wondering where
he was.

Revell was occupied with these and other reflections when suddenly,
and to his considerable amazement, he heard footsteps approaching
from the head of the staircase towards him.  And simultaneously a
sharp, rather commanding voice called out:  "Well, young man, and
what do you think you are doing up here?"

Revell turned and saw facing him a middle-aged man, average in
height and physique, moderately well-dressed, and so thoroughly
normal in most other respects that he was almost, for that very
reason, remarkable.  Fresh-complexioned, blue-eyed, and with a
small brown moustache, he was the sort of man one usually has a
vague feeling of having met somewhere before, though the time and
the place escape one's mind.  Even his voice had no particular
accent or mannerism, and gave no clue to class, profession, or
social position.  One thing only it did most certainly indicate,
and that was a strong and virile character.

Revell, beyond his astonishment, was inclined to resent the
stranger's brusqueness.  "I think I've as much right to ask you the
same question," he said.

"Well, maybe you have.  But that's no reason why you shouldn't
answer MY question, is it?"

"Why should I?"

"May I take it, then, that you have a right to be here?"

"Certainly.  I am an Old Oakingtonian at present staying here as
the guest of the Headmaster."

"And he knows you are exploring these rather gloomy regions?"

Revell flushed angrily.  He did not mind abuse, but he never cared
for banter.  "I really don't see why I should discuss it with you,"
he retorted, in his best Oxford manner.

The stranger laughed (even his laugh was superbly normal) and took
a step forward.  "All right, then--no need to get annoyed about it.
Queer place to come sightseeing, anyhow--I think you'll have to
admit that much. . . .  Yes, these boards HAVE been loosened, but
it was probably done by the electricians when they wired the
dormitories.  That's what you were thinking, isn't it?"

Revell was too startled to answer.  The other continued:  "Come
now, why don't you be frank about it?  You came up here because you
remembered that a boy named Marshall had been killed last September
by a gas-pipe falling on top of him in the dormitory immediately
below.  Isn't that correct?  No need to mind admitting it--I'm up
here for the same reason, as a matter of fact."

"Perhaps you'll tell me who exactly you are," said Revell,
guardedly.

"Certainly.  My name's Guthrie.  Yours is Revell, I believe?"

"Yes."

"I thought so.  Well, Mr. Revell, you don't seem inclined to trust
me very much.  Just tell me this, though--have you definitely
formed the opinion that the first of the Marshall boys was
murdered?  Because I can tell you absolutely that the second boy
was.  That's quite settled."

"WHAT!  What do you mean?"

"Steady--don't get excited--we don't want people to hear us
talking.  I'm prepared to be frank with you if you'll be the same
with me.  Can we call it a bargain?"

Revell slowly nodded.  "You were saying about the second Marshall--"

"Oh yes.  He was murdered all right.  We dug up his body last night
and found a bullet in his brain."

"GOOD GOD!"

The other made a sign that they should both be as quiet as
possible.  "In fact," he whispered, "I think we'd better finish
this conversation in a more convenient spot.  Can I trust you to go
down ahead of me, to walk out of the School gates, and meet me in
five minutes' time at the corner of the Patchmere lane?  And, of
course, on no account to mention a word about this to anyone you
happen to meet?  Go along then--I'll follow discreetly and lock up--
I've got a key."

Five minutes later the two met again in the bright sunshine of the
country cross-roads.  Revell by that time had managed to conquer
his amazement; he greeted the other with a slight smile.  "First of
all, Mr. Guthrie, I really would like to know WHAT you are and how
you come into all this," he began.

"Soon, Mr. Revell--all in good time.  Are you busy just at
present?"

"I was thinking of catching the eleven o'clock train back to town."

"Were you?  Could you possibly make it a later one?"

"Oh yes.  What do you want me to do?"

"Well, you might lunch with me at Easthampton, to begin with.  My
car's at the pub along the lane here--we can be at Easthampton in
half an hour."

Easthampton, the busy market town fifteen miles away, had several
pretty good hotels, and at one of them, the Greyhound, Guthrie
appeared to be staying.  "There's too much gossip in a little place
like Oakington," he said, as he left his car in the hotel-yard.
"Come on--there's not a great crowd here, so we shall be able to
talk."

He chatted about unimportant matters till the waitress had left
them alone after their meal; then, offering Revell a cigarette from
his case, he went on, as if there had hardly been any interruption
since the conversation in the Oakington sick-rooms:  "Yes, it was a
bullet all right--found it in the first five minutes.  That old
darling Murchiston's too old for his job--don't believe he'd have
found a cannon-ball even.  Still, we mustn't blame him, since he
served our purpose pretty well."

"The Coroner seemed just as big a fool."

"Oh, the Coroner?  Mustn't blame him, either, I'm afraid--he only
did as he was told.  Privately he suspected something was wrong,
but we suggested to him that a verdict of Accidental Death would be
a good thing if it could be managed.  And it was.  Oh, he's smart
enough--make no mistake about it."

"YOU suggested to him about the verdict?"

"WE, yes--Scotland Yard, I mean, though perhaps I oughtn't to tell
you.  Oh yes, we're not so blind as people often suppose.  What _I_
want to know now is how YOU came to have suspicions?"

"It's rather a complicated story, I'm afraid."

"Never mind, I'll listen.  I've been pretty frank with you--now
it's your turn.  Go ahead."

Revell, after a doubtful pause, began at the beginning and told the
whole history of his connexion with the Marshall affair.  Guthrie
did not question him during the narration, but when he had
finished, the good-humoured, rather nondescript face took on a
sudden look of alertness.  "So you're what might be termed an
amateur detective, eh, Mr. Revell?"

"I don't claim the title, I assure you.  I came in, at the
beginning, because of Roseveare's invitation, and when the second
affair happened I think it was rather natural that I should take an
interest in it."

"Oh, quite.  And for an amateur you really haven't done so very
badly.  The point is that we professionals have all the cards in
our hands.  Inevitable, isn't it?  You've no credentials--no police
force to back you up.  The only thing an amateur can do--and that,
very often, quite easily--is to scare the criminal and give him a
good chance of getting away."

"I don't think I've done that."

"Did I say so?  Personally I think the Oakington murderer is very
far from being scared.  The inquest verdict must, as we intended,
have reassured him considerably."

"There have been all sorts of rumours about, though."

"Oh, I daresay.  Most likely some of my plain-clothes fellows have
been seen--I put them on to keep an eye on things at night."

"Do you mean that you've been searching the place already?"

"Hardly that--though by pure luck my men DID find something--but
this weather's the very devil--gives everybody such a reasonable
excuse for taking a stroll in the middle of the night. . . .
However, most of that's by the bye.  What I was just going to tell
you was that a few days ago a man named Graham arrived in town.  He
also had noticed the rather remarkable accidents that had happened
to two boys at a public school.  He was the boys' guardian, in
fact, so he had every right to be interested.  But instead of
trying to solve the mystery, if any, on his own, he very wisely--
yes, VERY wisely, if I may say so, Mr. Revell--came to us at the
Yard for a little talk about it."

Revell accepted the implied rebuke with a faint smile.

"Not that he had definite evidence, of course," continued the
other.  "One very often hasn't, at the beginning of a case.  But he
told us enough for the Yard to send me to Oakington--just for a
little unofficial look around.  I hope I didn't make myself too
conspicuous, though I did have a chat with the local Coroner and
police.  Like you, Mr. Revell, I very soon came to the tentative
conclusion that the second boy, and possibly the first as well, had
been murdered.  Then, quite by chance, one of the constables on
patrol duty found something that definitely gave us a clue.  On the
strength of it we were able to approach the Home Office with a
request for the exhumation of the body.  That's how it all
happened. . . .  Now don't ask me what it was that my men found,
for a detective has to keep a few secrets to himself.  Tell me now,
if it doesn't happen to be one of YOUR secrets, whom do you
suspect?"

"The obvious person seems to be Ellington--the housemaster of
School House."

"Yes, yes, I daresay.  And what are the reasons that make you think
he is so very obvious?"

"Well, to begin with . . . but, as a matter of fact, I tabled them
all in my notebook--perhaps you'd care to have a look?"

"Yes, I certainly should."

Revell produced his notebook, opened it at the proper page, and
handed it across to the other.  Guthrie studied it intently for a
moment or two.  "I suppose you took a First in Greats at Oxford,
eh?" he remarked, as he handed it back.

"Well yes, I did, as it happens, but--"

"So did I, too--but I've had twenty years of hard experience since,
which make up for it.  You've made some clever and quite valuable
points, but you should beware of theorising too much.  However,
there's one little minor mystery that we ought to be able to clear
up within the next few hours.  And that is the very queer attitude
of the celebrated Dr. Roseveare.  Will you undertake that little
job for me?"

"I'll try, of course.  But how do you suggest I should set about
it?"

"In the directest manner possible.  Tell him that the boy's body
has been exhumed and that Scotland Yard is investigating the murder--
watch the fellow's face and don't give him time to make up a yarn.
Ask him for a full explanation of all that puzzles you.  I'm giving
you the job because it occurs to me that he might be franker with
you than he would be with me--that's the sort of sly fellow I am.
Anyhow, we shall see if it works."  And he added:  "By the way, I
wouldn't chatter too much about all this to Lambourne.  You may
perhaps have been a shade too free with that young man."



Guthrie motored Revell back to Oakington towards tea-time, and
arranged to meet him again later on in the evening.  When or how
Revell was to get back to town afterwards was not even discussed.

He felt rather bewildered when he was left alone.  So much seemed
to have happened during those few hours since the morning.  He had
been caught up, as it were, in the swift maelstrom of great events,
and though it was just the sort of thing he had always longed to
have happen to him, he was not altogether sure that it was as
pleasant as he had expected.  Now that he knew beyond all doubt
that the affair in the swimming-bath HAD been murder, he felt, more
than he had ever felt before, a certain overlying horror in the
atmosphere of Oakington.  Strolling round the Ring on that lovely
midsummer afternoon, with the song of birds and the plick-plock of
cricket in his ears, he felt with awe that somewhere thereabouts,
perhaps in one of the rooms whose windows glittered in the
sunlight, or perhaps even on the pavilion-roof watching the game,
was someone who had carefully and callously schemed the deaths of
one and perhaps of two persons.  Over the entire School there
seemed to hang the dark and spectral shadow of such a deed, and all
the more terribly because it was still invisible to so many.

He thought of Guthrie with grudging admiration mingled with
astonishment that any Oxford man could contrive to look as he did
at the age of forty or so.  There was a queer forcefulness about
the fellow--a personality, undoubtedly, that hid behind the
deliberately average manner.  Guthrie, too, had been very
confidential, and Revell felt more than a little proud to think
that his own deductions, even without much background of evidence,
had proved so largely correct.  Theory, even with the recent stamp
of Oxford upon it, had its place if it could so intelligently
anticipate the findings of practical research.

Towards six o'clock he walked up the drive leading to the Head's
house.  He was perhaps just the least bit nervous, but apart from
that it was a relief, after so much speculating and theorising, to
know that at last he was about to tackle something straightforwardly.

Roseveare, busy with correspondence in his study, was naturally
astonished to see him again.  "Missed your train, eh?  There's
another good one at seven, I think--you can verify it from my time-
table here. . . ."

Revell flushed under the scarcely veiled hint.  "I came back, sir,"
he began, slowly, "because I wanted to have a few words with you--
confidentially."

"Confidentially?  Dear me, that sounds very interesting.  Please
sit down--these letters, I hope, will not keep me very long."

Revell would have quickly resented such treatment in more normal
circumstances; as it was, he merely interposed:  "I think, sir, you
would rather I gave you my message without delay.  I really came to
tell you that yesterday the body of Wilbraham Marshall was exhumed,
and it was found that he had been shot."

The effect upon Roseveare was electric; he looked up with suddenly
piercing eyes that were like the gleaming tips of a pair of foils.
But after the first bewildered second there came to him, as from
immense reserves of hidden strength, a sort of defensive blandness
which might have concealed anything or everything behind its
ramparts.  Revell, who had expected a good deal from the suddenness
of his announcement, was not altogether satisfied with its results.

"But, my dear boy, you're not serious, are you?  All sorts of
rumours, I know, are still in circulation--"

"This isn't a rumour," Revell cut in.  "I heard it from a Scotland
Yardman who has been in Oakington to-day and who attended the
exhumation yesterday."

"Scotland Yard?  And in Oakington?  But surely--surely--if that
were so--he would come to me with his information?"

"Apparently not."

"And you say it was discovered that the boy had been shot?"

"Yes.  They found the bullet in his head."

"That is dreadful--very dreadful."  A look of horror entered his
eyes for a moment, before giving way to renewed astonishment.  "But
really, you must tell me more about this.  It was good of you to
miss your train and bring me the terrible news.  Yes, very good of
you--and--I thank you sincerely."  There was an ample graciousness
in his voice.  "Now tell me--how did you come into possession of
this appalling information?  Where did you meet your informant?
Why did he tell you?"

Revell, who had come to cross-examine rather than to be cross-
examined, was somewhat taken aback by this string of inquiries.
Nevertheless, he answered:  "I met him--er--quite accidentally.  As
for why he told me, I don't know, unless he thought I might be able
to help him.  Anyhow, it's established now that the boy was
murdered and that the accident was a mere fake.  And naturally,
sir, I'm a little puzzled over one or two small matters that
concern you and me in this affair."

"Such as?"

"Well, in the first place, why did you REALLY send for me here to
begin with?  I daresay you can quite understand that this recent
affair rather opens up the earlier one.  You obviously had
suspicions of some kind when you sent for me originally, and the
reason you gave was--if you don't mind my being perfectly frank
about it--paltry.  I put it down to the state of your nerves at the
time--but I really can't understand how and why your nerves have
been so totally unaffected by this second affair.  This was far
more suspicious, on the face of it; yet you didn't seem to have any
suspicions; you didn't send for me; and when I did come, you gave
me the impression that nothing was or could be wrong and that I was
altogether wasting my time.  Rather a puzzling change of front,
sir, it seems to me."

"Yes, I'm sure it must have been puzzling."

"I wish you could explain it to me, anyhow," Revell went on.  "In a
serious affair like this, every little mystery cleared up is so
much to the good.  Besides, I'm sure you must be anxious that the
person who murdered one and perhaps two of your boys shall be
discovered as soon as possible."

The simplicity of the appeal seemed to bring Roseveare nearer to
emotion than hitherto; after a pause, and in a rather different
voice, he replied:  "I don't quite see how my explanation can help
towards the discovery of the criminal, but still, I recognise your
right, in the circumstances, to be told rather more than you know
already.  I will give you the explanation, therefore, though I
doubt if it will do any good.  It concerns other persons besides
myself, unfortunately, so you must allow me to mention no names.  I
wish I could prevent you from guessing, but I may hope, at least,
that you will try to respect as many privacies as you can."

It was an easy promise to make, and Revell made it.

"You will believe me, I am sure," Roseveare went on, "when I tell
you that I had not the slightest suspicion at first that the
dormitory accident was anything but what it appeared to be.  There
was nothing to suspect; there was nobody to be suspected; it seemed
just one of those tragic, almost pointless, mishaps that do happen
from time to time.  The inquest returned what appeared to me and to
everyone else the only possible verdict.  Not for two months--till
the end of November, in fact--did I harbour the very least
misgiving.  Then, one afternoon, the wife of one of my staff
visited me alone in this room, and unfolded an exceedingly
remarkable story.  She gave me to understand that her husband had
done several things that seemed to connect rather curiously with
the death of the boy."

"Good heavens!  You mean that she suspected her husband of having
murdered him?"

"Nothing nearly so definite as that, I am afraid.  She was far too
incoherent and hysterical to frame her suspicions into anything so
tangible.  I did not, as a matter of fact, believe her or take much
notice of what she said, which is perhaps a pity.  I remember she
mentioned the sick-rooms over the dormitory and said that her
husband had been there several times during the vacation, and
without apparent reason.  She also said that on the night of the
accident he had not come to bed until very late.  Anyhow, as I
said, I regarded her case as rather pathological--she seemed to me
to be in a highly hysterical condition, and I packed her off as
quickly as I could and tried to think no more of the matter."

"Yet you did, I suppose?"

"I did.  I confess it.  It's curious how a suspicion, dismissed at
first as utterly preposterous, improves its status after a time.
Not, of course, that I really came to believe her.  But I did,
perhaps, come to feel that the matter was just worth probing a
little.  After all, there are queer things in this world, and I
knew that as well as anyone.  The trouble was, of course, that I
was not in a position to do any of the probing myself.  To have
attempted even the most casual investigation would have attracted
notice--you would be surprised how hard it is for a headmaster to
find out what is going on in his own school.  So, to come to the
point, I recollected a chance conversation I had some years ago
with the Master of your college at Oxford, and I sent for you.

"Well now, consider my position when you came.  I did not feel
justified in telling you the truth--to have done so, I judged,
would have prejudiced the impartiality of your investigation, apart
from being an atrocious slander upon a colleague for whom I had,
and still have, every respect.  On the other hand, it was clearly
necessary that I should give you some reason for having sent for
you.  I therefore concocted the little note which I told you had
been left between the pages of the boy's algebra-book."  He half-
smiled.  "It sounds, I daresay, a childish thing to have done, but
it was really the only thing I could think of.  And I was, I
confess, rather amused when you discovered a plausible and an
altogether satisfactory reason why the boy should have left the
note which, in fact, he did not write at all.  The moral, perhaps,
is that it is easy for an ingenious person to find reasons for
anything."

He continued, after a pause:  "That week-end you were here,
however, something happened that removed all my misgivings
completely.  The lady in question visited me again, but in very
different circumstances.  She came, in fact, to apologise for her
previous visit, and to tell me that all her suspicions were really
quite groundless and merely the result of nerves.  This tallied, of
course, with my own theory of the incident, and I was very glad to
take her word about it."

"Although really you had no more reason to suppose she was speaking
the truth then than before?"

"Well, perhaps not, according to the strictest logic.  But you must
remember that, as something of a doctor myself, I could see the
immense improvement in her condition--she was calm and rational
upon this second visit and gave every evidence of being bitterly
ashamed of her previous one.  Anyhow, I DID believe her.  And so,
by the time you made your report to me, the matter was already
settled in my mind and I was thinking that I had sent for you on
somewhat of a fool's errand.  It was not, of course, your fault,
but I was naturally anxious for you not to waste any more of your
time."

"And what about this second accident?  Didn't it awaken any of the
old suspicions?"

"Why should it have done?  It was, I admit, a most remarkable
coincidence, but in the face of Murchiston's evidence, to say
nothing of the evidence of my own eyes, how could I have thought of
anything but accident?  Your attitude, of course, was bound to be
different, for you could not know the whole truth about the first
affair.  I wasn't in the least surprised that you came along, but
you can hardly have expected me to invite you."

"You really thought it possible that the boy did dive into the
empty bath?"

"Certainly.  It was unlikely, but perfectly possible.  It seemed
far more possible to me than any theory of murder.  In fact, but
for the bullet which you say has been discovered, I doubt if murder
could or would have been thought of.  What puzzles me is why the
Home Office so readily permitted the exhumation.  They must have
been given reasons beyond mere local tittle-tattle."

"The detective told me his men had found something--some piece of
evidence--he didn't tell me what."

"Found something?  Where?"

"Here.  On the premises, somewhere or other."

"Do you mean to tell me that policemen have been searching the
School?"

"Not searching, I think, so much as watching."

"Watching or searching, it is all equally scandalous."  His voice
lost, for the first time, its smooth precision.  "Common courtesy,
I should have thought, would have made even a detective ask for the
permission which he might know I should have to give.  You may tell
your detective friend, Revell, if you see him again, that I should
like very much to know by whose authority he sets his spies to
trespass on private property!  A disgraceful infringement of all
public and personal rights!"

And so the interview closed on that note of anger.  It was
something to have found out that trespass, if not murder, could
raise the ire of the Headmaster of Oakington.



CHAPTER VI

LAMBOURNE'S STORY


Revell was determined not to sacrifice his entire independence in
the investigation.  Greatly as he respected Guthrie, he had no
desire to be merely his assistant, or to give up his own rather
interesting position in an affair that was certainly becoming more
interesting at every moment.  When he met the detective that
evening in one of the country lanes near the School, he gave him a
fairly full account of his interview with Roseveare.  Guthrie
nodded complimentarily when he had finished.

"So you got it out of him, then?  The question is, of course--is it
the truth?"

Revell had wondered the same thing himself, but he was a little
astonished by Guthrie's calm suspicion.  "Do you mean that you
suspect him?" he queried.

"Oh, I wouldn't go so far as that.  It's rather that I always
suspect a queer yarn.  And this, you'll admit, is pretty queer.
Who's this woman he was talking about--I suppose you DID make a
guess?"

Revell paused uncomfortably.  "I don't know whether I ought--"

"Of course you ought," interrupted Guthrie with a laugh.  "It's all
informal--between ourselves, you know.  Anyhow, if you prefer it,
I'll have a shot myself and say she's Ellington's wife.  Impudent-
looking piece, with black hair and a turned-up nose--that's the
lady, isn't it?"

The description astonished Revell so much that he did not reply;
but Guthrie evidently took his silence for an affirmative.

"Why should she go to the Head with such a yarn, I wonder?  If she
DID go, that is.  We must remember that either or both of them may
be complete liars.  By the way, Roseveare wasn't Head in your time
here, was he?"

"No.  He came a few years after the end of the War.  I daresay you
know all about his War record and so on?"

"Oh yes, I gathered he was rather a mandarin in those days.  I even
went a bit farther back and looked up his record before the War.
That was quite exciting, too."  Guthrie stopped to light his pipe
in the gathering dusk.  "Thought so--these hedges are full of young
lovers, and young lovers, contrary to the popular idea, are not so
intent on their own affairs that they won't listen to two strangers
chattering in high-pitched voices about a local big pot.  We must
talk more quietly. . . .  Now let me tell you a few things about
our friend the Headmaster of Oakington.  To begin with, he hasn't
any ordinary schoolmaster's degree--the 'doctor' before his name is
a medical title."

"I knew that."

"Oh, you did?  Well, it's unusual, rather, isn't it?  Then again,
he had no scholastic experience before he came to Oakington.  He's
been many things in his time--doctor, politician, business man,
even a sort of gentleman farmer--but till a few years ago he never
ran a school."  Guthrie paused and puffed reflectively.  "Of
course, you know why Oakington took him?  The place was in a bit of
a bad way under the previous fellow--Jury, wasn't his name?--and
they--the School governors--imagined Roseveare would pull the show
out of the mire.  Which, to a large extent, I believe he has done."

"He has a wonderful personality, I think."

"Oh yes--no doubt about that.  Don't think I'm attacking the fellow
at all.  I'm merely pointing out that we're not dealing with the
average Eton and Oxford headmaster who composes Greek epigrams and
wears a parson's collar.  Roseveare's a man of wider experience
altogether.  Twice at least he made a fortune and lost it--once in
America and again in New Zealand.  He had, and still has, an
extraordinarily persuasive way with him.  In America he made a
great hit as a company-promoter."

"Really?  That reminds me that I've very often seen him poring over
stock-market reports in the papers."

Guthrie smiled.  "That, by itself, isn't very remarkable, I'm
afraid.  There's hardly a headmaster in England who hasn't dabbled
in shares--generally to his loss. . . .  Roseveare, however, really
was a sort of financier at one time in his career.  Oh, quite
honest, yes--or at least as honest as a financier can be.  He was
unlucky, though, in the end--lost all his money and crossed to New
Zealand.  There he set up as a local doctor in a small town where
the schoolmaster's name was Ellington."

"Good Lord--you mean the Ellington who's here at Oakington now?"

"Yes.  What's more, when Roseveare became successful and took a
practice in a larger town, Ellington soon afterwards followed him
there as a schoolmaster.  They were obviously very close friends.
The only place Ellington didn't follow Roseveare to was the War.
He stayed in New Zealand, where there wasn't conscription, and
became rather unpopular.  Later, when Roseveare was appointed to
Oakington, Ellington came hopping over from the other side of the
world to become a housemaster here.  Curious, don't you think?"

"Very curious.  I say, don't you think it looks rather like
blackmail?  Suppose Ellington knew something a little bit
discreditable about Roseveare's past--after all, a man with all
those different careers may well have done something or other--"

"He may, of course, but there's absolutely not a shadow of
evidence."

"Well, just for the moment assuming that he had done something a
little bit over the line in one way or another--"

"That's all very well, but I fail to see what possible connexion it
can have with the murder of the boy Marshall.  After all, that's
what we're investigating."

Suddenly Revell was attacked, conquered, and completely overwhelmed
by an idea.  "Yes, I know, and see how it fits in.  Do you remember
me telling you that the boy came back unexpectedly that night and
that very few people knew he was in the dormitory?  Roseveare
didn't--at least, I don't think he did.  Well, supposing Roseveare,
having been blackmailed by Ellington till he was desperate, had
decided to get rid of his oppressor once and for all!  He knew that
Ellington had to sleep in Marshall's bed in the dormitory until the
boy came back.  He didn't expect the boy back until Monday.  Isn't
it just possible, then, that the death of the first Marshall was
that somewhat rare combination--a murder AND an accident?"

Guthrie broke into a gust of laughter.  "Now that's really clever
of you, Revell, and if there were only the least little bit of
evidence in support of it, I'd say it was worth looking into.  Even
so, I don't know how you'd fit in the second affair.  What possible
motive could the respected Headmaster have had for murdering the
second boy?"

"Exactly."  Revell's voice was sharp with excitement.  "And have I
ever suggested that he murdered them both?  Mayn't there just as
easily have been two murderers as two murders?"

"Oh, get away with you--you're too clever for a poor old honest
plodder like me.  Besides, I think we've done enough theorising for
the time being.  What we want is facts, and the sooner we set about
getting them the better.  Now let's turn back for a final drink
before bed-time."

Nor would he say another word about the case except, just before
they separated, to mention that it might be just as well, in the
circumstances, if Revell were to stay on for a time as the guest of
Dr. Roseveare.



Revell accordingly spent another night in the Head's comfortable
house.  Roseveare had already gone to bed when he came in, but it
was clear that he was expected to stay, since his bag had been
unpacked again and whisky and sandwiches left hospitably on the
dining-room sideboard.

In the morning, when he went down to breakfast, the butler told him
that Dr. Roseveare presented his apologies but was breakfasting
that morning in the Masters' Common Room.

The reason for that became apparent an hour later, when Revell met
Lambourne in the corridor of School House.  "Hullo, Revell!" cried
the latter, with a jaunty air.  "Still here?  I guess you'll stay
on now, won't you?  Such a sensation, isn't it?  Come along into my
room, and I'll tell you all about it."

As soon as the door had closed upon them, Lambourne continued
breathlessly:  "We've just been accorded the rarest of honours.
The Head breakfasted with us in the Common Room.  You've no idea,
Revell, not being a poor devil of an usher, what that means.  Of
course we knew immediately that something had happened or was going
to happen--the last time we had him to share our Quaker Oats was
when five prefects made a dash to the Wembley Exhibition with five
barmaids.  But that was years and years ago.  This time the news
was even more serious.  Unfortunately the surprise part of it was
rather ruined by the fact that we'd all just been reading the
thrilling news in the Daily Mail.  Journalistic enterprise in these
days, my boy, is a horse that wants some beating."

"I wish you'd tell me what on earth you're talking about," said
Revell, a trifle peevishly.  He had slept badly and was in none too
good a humour.

"Is it possible that you haven't yet seen the morning papers?"

"I haven't, no."

"Then you aren't aware that Wilbraham Marshall's body has been
exhumed and that the authorities suspect what the Sunday Press will
delight to call 'foul play'?"

Revell's surprise needed no assuming, for he had had no idea that
the matter would already have come to the notice of the newspapers.
Lambourne continued, well satisfied with the sensation he was
creating:  "That's a pretty sort of scandal to happen to a school
whose clientele is just struggling on to the border-line that
separates Golder's Green from Kensington!  Naturally our learned
and respected chief was fairly rattled about it.  Told us, in so
many words, that detectives were about and that any one of us, at
any time, might be suspected of murder.  Advised us all to keep
calm and 'endeavour to reconcile our duty to the School with our
duty to society'.  I suppose he means we're not to be too helpful
when the detectives come to cross-examine us."

"I expect you were all pretty staggered, eh?"

"STAGGERED?  Wouldn't you have been?"

"Did anybody--anybody in particular--appear concerned?"

"Ellington went rather pale, if that's what you're angling after.
As a matter of fact, the person most affected was quite probably
myself--I fainted.  Never could stand the little touch of drama."

"Well, well," said Revell, with a sigh, "I suppose we must resign
ourselves to events."

"The Head isn't exactly in a mood of resignation, I can tell you.
He's put servants at all the gates to act as pickets and stop
newspaper men from coming in.  No one is to enter the grounds
without authority--no one is to answer any questions put by
strangers--all town-leave is stopped for the whole school, prefects
included, until further notice.  We're a beleaguered garrison,
rallying under our gallant Captain Roseveare against the expected
onslaughts of the Fleet Street Fusiliers."  The bell began to ring
for morning school.  "That means I must hurry away to inject a
little English literature into the fourth form.  They won't do any
work, of course--and do you blame them?"

Revell laughed and left him.  Since Guthrie's cautionary remark, he
had taken care not to confide too much in Lambourne; indeed, he was
now definitely on his guard against him.

The Head was just leaving his study when Revell entered it a little
while later.  He greeted Revell with his customary urbanity; and
never, in some sense, had Revell felt his charm more hypnotically.
In such a presence the theory that postulated him as a murderer
melted into absurdity.

"Sorry to have left you alone for breakfast," Roseveare began, "but
I thought it best to make an announcement to the staff at the
earliest possible moment.  Even so, I find I have been forestalled
by the newspapers.  I do wish your detective acquaintance would
hurry up with his inquiries--I am afraid the work of the School
will be sadly affected until the whole thing is cleared up.  Have
you any idea what he intends to do and when?"

Revell confessed that he knew nothing.  "I should think, though,
that he'll get to work pretty quickly--he seems that sort of man."

"I'm glad to hear it.  In spite of his discourtesy, I shall be very
willing to give him all the help I can.  Do you yet know, by the
way, what it was that his men found here while they were searching--
or, as you put it, watching--the place?"

"I'm afraid I don't."

"I only wondered if it might have been a revolver.  Because Mr.
Ellington told me this morning that he had missed his from the
place where he usually keeps it."

Revell fought back his excitement.  "Really?  I didn't know he had
a revolver, even."

"Neither did I till he told me.  It's a relic, apparently, of more
strenuous days in the colonies before he came to Oakington.
Anyhow, he discovered last night that it was missing.  Naturally,
it occurred to me that perhaps it was that which the police had
discovered."

"It may have been.  In any case, the missing revolver seems an
important clue."

"Very, I should think.  Mr. Ellington was most distressed about it,
as you can imagine."

"I suppose he felt that it--er--in a way--threw a certain amount of
suspicion on himself?"

Roseveare appeared utterly shocked and astonished.  "Good God, no--
I don't suppose such a preposterous notion ever entered his head--
or anyone else's, either!  What distressed him was the thought that
by his own slackness in leaving his drawer unlocked the tragedy may
have been enabled to take place."

"You mean that the murderer may have taken Ellington's revolver?"

"Murderer?  Why are you and your detective-friend so persistent in
assuming murder?  All that is known is that the boy was shot.  Far
be it from me to teach Scotland Yard, its job, but I really do feel
convinced, in my own mind, that suicide is a far likelier
supposition.  It is horrible enough, but it is by no means
impossible.  Ellington, I may say, tells me that ever since the
death of the boy's brother last year, Wilbraham suffered from moods
of extreme depression.  He confided in Ellington a good deal, it
appears, and had free access to his rooms at all times--which would
have given him ample opportunity to take the revolver."

"But why on earth should he shoot himself in the swimming-bath, of
all places?"

"How can I tell you?  It might occur to him as a place where he
would be likely to cause least disturbance."

"And why should he climb to the top diving-platform?"

"Again, how can I tell you?  But, in any case, are you sure that he
did?"

Revell looked his astonishment, and Roseveare, taking his chance,
resumed:  "My dear boy, don't be so bewildered.  In a case like
this it is really our duty to consider all possibilities, however
remote.  I may as well tell you that I have given a good deal of
careful consideration to the matter, and I have already evolved a
theory--tentatively, of course--which seems to me at least as
reasonable as any other.  I believe, briefly, that the boy DID
commit suicide."

"From the top diving-platform?"

"Not necessarily.  The bath is ten feet deep and the extent of his
injuries seemed to me quite consistent with a fall from the edge.
And I speak, remember, with some medical knowledge and experience."

"And the wrist-watch?"

"Ah, now we come to a different point.  Clearly the wrist-watch was
placed on the top platform by somebody, and if not by the boy
himself, then by whom?  And, even more important, why?  The only
reason I can think of is that someone entered the bath after poor
Wilbraham had shot himself, discovered the tragedy, and tried to
make a suicide look like an accident."

"Why?"

"The obvious reason would be consideration for the boy's family--
for the School's reputation--for, indeed, everybody concerned.
Accident is bad enough, but suicide, you will agree, is much
worse."

"And murder worst of all?"

"Oh, undoubtedly, but I really must decline to consider such a
possibility until every other avenue has been thoroughly explored."

"Well, according to your theory, the thoughtful visitor, whoever he
was, placed the boy's wrist-watch on the top platform, removed his
dressing-gown and slippers, if he had them on, and also took away
the revolver."

"Those are undoubtedly matters that would naturally occur to anyone
who wished to produce the impression of an accident."

"But he would hardly leave the revolver lying about for the police
to discover afterwards?"

"Pardon me, but how do we know that the police have discovered it?
I understood just now that you yourself were not certain about it.
All that seems definitely established is that Ellington's revolver
is missing, and since Ellington reported the loss himself, it would
seem obvious that he, at any rate, was NOT the person who visited
the scene of the tragedy that night."

"Then whom do you suspect?"

"My dear boy, that is hardly my province.  I am merely putting
forward a theory which, for all its excessive complication and
intricacy, seems to me infinitely less improbable than to suppose
that one of my colleagues, whom I have known and respected for many
years, should suddenly and for no conceivable reason commit the
cold-blooded murder of his own cousin.  As a matter of fact, I do
happen to know, on very good authority, that someone did visit the
swimming-bath a short time after it may be supposed that the
tragedy took place.  Now, now, don't cross-examine me--I am not, at
the moment, prepared to say more than that."

With which altogether cryptic remark he gathered up his papers and
gown and left Revell to think things over.



He thought things over, and two hours later, having received a
message from a uniformed policeman (there was not much pretence of
secrecy about things now), met Guthrie outside the School entrance.
He had his car with him, and the two drove rapidly to Easthampton.
"I've got to fetch my things across," he explained.  "I've taken
lodgings for the present at the house of the local police-sergeant--
it's on the spot, and Oakington gossip doesn't matter so much now.
You don't mind the ride to Easthampton and back, I suppose?"

Revell assured him that he would positively enjoy it, and further
went on to describe his recent interview with Dr. Roseveare.
Guthrie listened attentively.  At the end he offered no comment of
his own, but asked Revell for his.

Revell hastened to oblige.  "Well, it seemed to me pretty obvious
that Roseveare and Ellington had had a confidential chat together.
Roseveare never hinted at suicide yesterday when I talked to him,
but he had it all very pat to-day."

"It's an ingenious theory, anyhow.  We mustn't ignore it."

"It looks to me as if it were made specially to fit in with the
possibility that the police have discovered Ellington's revolver.
I wish you'd tell me whether they really have or not."

Guthrie half-smiled.  "I think once again I must plead the Official
Secrets Acts," he answered, jocularly.

"But why?  I've been pretty frank with you, and you said it was a
bargain between us--"

"All right," Guthrie interrupted, with that imperturbable good
humour that was perhaps his most annoying trait.  "Tell you what--
if you really are devoured with curiosity, you can listen in to a
couple of interviews I shall be having this evening.  It'll be a
bit stagey, but that can't be helped.  I shall be in Ellington's
room in School House, and you can hide in the little room next
door.  The partition's only matchboard--you'll be able to hear
through it.  By Jove, yes, it's an idea--and you might be really
useful, too, apart from enjoying yourself.  Do you happen to know
shorthand, by the way?"

"I'm afraid I don't."

"Pity.  I've never yet met an Oxford graduate who did, but I've met
dozens who'd be twice as efficient IF they did.  Take my tip,
Revell, and learn it as soon as ever you get back to town--join a
class and work till you can do at least a hundred and fifty words a
minute. . . .  Anyhow, if you can't take shorthand notes, you can
keep your ears wide open, I daresay.  It might be handy to have you
as a witness afterwards."

"I'll do my best, I assure you.  Who are the two persons you intend
to see?"

"You'll know in good time."

He was, Revell felt, being merely provoking, but there was nothing
for it but to accept the situation as it stood.  They lunched at
Easthampton and then, after the detective had settled his account
at the hotel, drove back to Oakington and deposited his luggage at
the police-sergeant's cottage on the outskirts of the village.  The
sergeant was on duty, but his buxom wife offered tea, which they
took in a parlour which, in less strenuous days, Revell would have
lauded as a masterpiece of Victorianism.  As it was, he allowed
Guthrie to talk football and politics to his heart's content (the
detective was almost equally ardent as a Twickenham rugger "fan"
and as a Liberal).  Not till the village clock struck five did
Guthrie suggest a move, and then, with a sudden return to business,
he gave instructions.  "I don't want us to be seen together too
much," he said, "so you had better walk to the School from here and
go straight up to Ellington's room in School House.  I shall take
the car--I'll be ahead of you by ten minutes or so, I should
reckon.  Anyhow, a minute or so either way won't matter."

Revell agreed, and within a quarter of an hour, after a warm walk
over the meadows, was turning the handle of Ellington's door.
Guthrie was there, reading a newspaper by the window, and gave him
a nod and a signal to be quiet.  "Ah, that's right, Revell,
you're in plenty of time."  Following the detective's further
instructions, Revell settled himself in the small adjoining
apartment, which had at one time been the bedroom of an unmarried
master.  There were cracks here and there in the matchboard
partition, and he arranged his chair so that he could see a good
deal of what went on in the main room.  Guthrie cautiously
approved.  "All right so long as you're not seen yourself," he
whispered.  "I expect our first visitor along in a few minutes.
Just wait patiently, and for the Lord's sake don't want to sneeze."

Revell waited, and after a few moments heard the School bell
ringing for the end of afternoon school.  A few seconds later came
the sound of heavy footsteps ascending the stairs and marching
along the corridor; then the door was suddenly flung open and
Ellington in cap and gown, and with books under his arm, strode
into the room.

"Good evening, Mr. Ellington," said Guthrie instantly.

Ellington stopped sharply as he heard his name spoken.  "Hullo!" he
barked, seeing the trespasser.  Then he added:  "I don't think I
know you.  What the devil are you doing in my room, anyway?"

"Oh, merely waiting to have a little chat with you, Mr. Ellington."

"Chat be damned!  What I want to know is what right you have to be
here!"

"But surely, Mr. Ellington, you don't object to people waiting in
your room when they call on you and you happen to be out, do you?"

"It's not that.  It's--it's--the circumstances.  I suppose you're
the detective that's been prowling about here lately?"

"Yes, you've guessed it."

Ellington raised his eyes to the ceiling as if in mute protest to
the powers above.  "All I can say," he retorted, at length, "is
that if _I_ were Head _I_ wouldn't put up with you interfering with
the whole routine of the School in this infernal way!  It's
scandalous, and I've told the Head so!  There seems to be a
conspiracy on the part of officialdom to ruin the School
altogether!"

"Now that's an interesting idea, Mr. Ellington," said Guthrie, with
exquisite blandness.  "I wonder if there could possibly be anything
in it?  The Home Secretary, shall we say, murders a boy in order
that the resulting hullabaloo shall make Oakington a less dangerous
rival of Eton and Harrow!  By Jove, I don't think the idea had ever
struck me before!"

"It's no joking matter, I should think."

"You're quite right.  It isn't."  Guthrie's voice became suddenly
serious.  "Look here, Mr. Ellington, I'm only the servant of
authority--I have to do these things.  There's been a murder
committed--it's my job to investigate it.  Don't you see?"

"I don't see, because in the first place I don't agree that there
HAS been a murder committed," retorted Ellington, but his manner
was certainly a shade less truculent.  He went on:  "Ever since
Robert's accident last year there's been a positive epidemic of
unpleasant rumours going about the School.  No proof, no evidence--
merely suspicion, insinuation, and scandal.  I've done my best to
trace it all to its source, but without success.  Now comes the
second affair, and I find the Home Office and police taking all
these ugly rumours for evidence and framing a murder theory quite
vaguely and off-hand, without the slightest foundation that would
stand up in a court of law--"

"I'm afraid the murder is a little more than a theory by now, Mr.
Ellington.  You know, of course, that a bullet was discovered in
the boy's head."

"So I understand.  But I still say that to deduce murder from such
evidence is the most fatuous thing I ever heard of!  Who would or
could have shot the boy?  On the one hand you have absolutely no
reason at all why the boy could have been murdered, and on the
other hand you have a very likely reason why the boy could have
taken his own life!"

"Really?"  Guthrie leaned forward with as much interest as if the
idea were absolutely new to him.  "Yet another theory, Mr.
Ellington?  Come now, you must give us details."

And Ellington proceeded, with a fluency rather unexpected in a man
of his type, to outline the identical theory that Roseveare had
previously outlined to Revell, and that the latter had recapitulated
for Guthrie's benefit.  Guthrie listened with every appearance of
respectful attention and nodded gravely when Ellington had finished.
"A highly ingenious theory, Mr. Ellington," he commented.  "Is it
impertinent to ask if you thought of it yourself?"

Ellington looked for a moment on the edge of a complete explosion
of temper.  Guthrie continued:  "I'm really not meaning to be
offensive at all.  Only I happen to know that Dr. Roseveare has
given his support to the same theory, and I should like to know
whether he suggested it to you or you to him.  It doesn't very much
matter, of course."

"It was his idea, first of all," said Ellington gruffly, after a
pause.  "I'm not the sort of person who could have thought of such
a thing, and I won't pretend I am.  But I do entirely endorse it--
every word of it."

"Quite," agreed Guthrie.  "And thanks for being so confidential.
You really are helping me tremendously. . . .  By the way, I
understand you missed a revolver of yours quite recently?"

"Yes."  Ellington's face went a little pale, though he had
obviously been prepared for the question.

"I wish you'd tell me how it happened."

"I missed it yesterday--I opened the drawer where it usually was
and found it gone.  The drawer was unlocked--I'm afraid that must
have been due to my own slackness some time or other, but I can't
remember when."

"When did you last see your revolver?"

"Months ago--perhaps six months.  I keep it in the bottom drawer of
an old bureau along with a lot of old examination papers.  I just
happened to want to refer to them yesterday--otherwise I might not
have missed the thing at all.  It's no use here, of course."

"Was it loaded?"

"No, but there were cartridges in the drawer along with it."

"Were any of these missing?"

"I really couldn't say.  I can't remember exactly how many there
were to begin with."

Guthrie nodded as if in complete satisfaction and understanding.
After a pause he continued:  "Oh, by the way, Mr. Ellington, you
don't happen to have missed anything else lately, do you?  Not a
weapon--but just--well, anything?"

Ellington seemed puzzled.  "No--at least, I don't think I have.
Why?"

"Oh, I only wondered.  I thought perhaps you might have lost, say,
a cricket-bat."

"A cricket-bat?"  A curious look of astonishment came into his
eyes.  "That's really very extraordinary, you know.  For I believe
I have lost one--now you come to remind me of it.  I was looking
for it in the sports pavilion the other day, though of course I
didn't bother very much when I couldn't find it--I had too many
other things to think about.  And besides, I wasn't sure if I
hadn't put it somewhere else."

"You have a locker in the pavilion, I suppose?"

"Yes, but I'm afraid it's a locker that doesn't lock."  A touch of
his earlier and perhaps more normal truculence returned to him.
"People here borrow one's possessions in a most disgraceful way--
it's quite possible that one of the boys took my bat and has it
still.  I'll make inquiries, if you like."

"Oh no, I wouldn't bother."

The truculence blazed up suddenly.  "Indeed I shall!  I have a
right to investigate the loss of my own property, surely?  Ah, but
I see . . . are you suggesting that the cricket-bat and the
revolver are connected in any way?"

"My dear Mr. Ellington, I'm suggesting nothing at all.  But I
really am most grateful to you for answering my questions, and
before you go there's only one other thing I want to say.  And that
is, do you mind if I stay here for half an hour or so and talk to
someone else whom I have asked to meet me here?"

"Stay here as long as you like," said Ellington.  "I can't stop
you, can I?"  He took up his cap and gown and made towards the
door.

"I'm afraid, if it comes to the point, you can't," Guthrie called
after him through the already opening door.  "But I always like to
be polite whenever I can, that's all."

Some seconds after Ellington's footsteps had ceased to echo down
the corridor and staircase, Revell cautiously peered round the edge
of the partition.  Guthrie was relighting his pipe and grinning.
"What an unfortunate man, Revell!" he exclaimed.  "And still more,
what an unfortunate manner!  Do you think I ought to have arrested
him?"

"It depends whether you think him guilty.  Do you?"

"Well, there's rather a good deal against him, you know.  Motive,
of course, to begin with.  And then the missing revolver."

"He gave us that information himself, remember."

"Oh yes.  But not until Roseveare had told him that my men had
found something.  He may have thought it good tactics to come
forward with a voluntary statement.  As it happens, what my men
found wasn't the revolver, so our friend Ellington has thoughtfully
made us a free gift of valuable evidence."

"It wasn't the revolver?"

"'Fraid not."

"I suppose you're waiting for me to ask again what it really was."

"Not at all.  And in any case, I don't propose to tell you--not
yet, anyhow.  Perhaps it won't be long before you find out,
though."

Conversation soon wilted under the strain of the detective's
irritatingly vague responses, and for the final ten minutes before
the arrival of the second visitor Revell and Guthrie hardly spoke
at all.  At last came the sound of slower, quieter footsteps along
the outside corridor; the door opened cautiously; and Lambourne
entered.

His face was exceedingly pale, Revell noticed; he was obviously
very nervous.  "You wished to see me?" he began, approaching
Guthrie.

"Yes, that's right, Mr. Lambourne.  Please sit down.  I'm glad it
wasn't inconvenient for you to come at this hour."

"Oh no, I managed it all right."

"Good.  Smoke if you care to."

Lambourne sat in the easy-chair facing Guthrie and quakingly lit a
cigarette.  Guthrie did not speak for at least a minute; then, with
a manner very much more direct than he had adopted with Ellington,
he plunged straight into the midst of things.  "I would like you,
Mr. Lambourne," he said, quietly, "to tell me exactly where you
were and what you were doing between the hours of eight-thirty P.M.
and two A.M. on the night of Wilbraham Marshall's murder.  I choose
eight-thirty as a beginning, because I know that until then you
were taking preparation in the Hall.  Now tell me just what
happened after that."

Lambourne inhaled vigorously before replying, as if struggling for
some sort of control over himself.  "I think," he answered, at
length, "I was in my study most of the time until midnight.  It was
terribly hot--the hottest night of the year, I believe.  I knew I
should have difficulty in sleeping, so about midnight or so I
thought I would go for a walk outside--I have often found that a
good way of bringing on drowsiness.  I therefore went out, took a
stroll round the Ring, and came back.  I might have been out
perhaps a quarter of an hour altogether.  Then I went to bed and
fell asleep fairly quickly--probably long before two A.M.  That's
about all I can tell you, I think."

"You met someone while you were out, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes.  I thought your inquiry concerned merely my own
movements, or I would have mentioned it.  I met Ellington, as a
matter of fact."

"I see.  And that is really all you have to tell me?"

"Yes.  I think it is."

"Would you like time to think a little more?"

Lambourne's hands twitched nervously as he jerkily shook his head.
Guthrie, nevertheless, allowed considerable time to elapse before
he spoke again; but he was watching the other continuously.  At
last, and with a sharpness that was rather like the bark of a dog,
he said:  "I'm sorry you should think it worth while to lie to me,
Mr. Lambourne."

"LIE?  But I'm--I'm not lying!"

"YOU ARE!"  Again the bark.  "You were seen entering the swimming-
bath at half-past ten!"

The effect of this was not quite what Revell had expected.
Lambourne did not break down, but by a mighty effort he managed to
appear amused.  He laughed, even--rather hysterically, it is true--
and threw his half-smoked cigarette almost jauntily into the
fireplace.  "The game's up, I see," he remarked, with an air of
nonchalance.  "You're a cleverer sleuth than I took you for, Mr.
Guthrie.  May I ask you how you found out?"

"No, you mayn't.  You're here to answer questions, not to ask them.
You admit that you were in the swimming-bath at ten-thirty?"

"I suppose I must."

"Did you see Marshall?"

"Yes, I saw him."  The note of hysteria almost dominated his voice.

"Then you were probably the last person to see him alive.  Do you
know that?"

"Not at all."  Lambourne's voice rose to a high-pitched declamation.
"Oh no, not at all.  On the contrary, I was far more probably the
second person--counting the murderer--to see him dead.  Don't you
believe me?  No, of course you don't--I don't expect you to--that's
why I never told you or anyone else.  And besides . . .  Oh God, what
a muddle it all is!"  He dropped his head into his hands and began
to sob.

"Calm yourself and let's have the whole story.  You went to the
swimming-bath.  Why?"

Lambourne, when he looked up, was again laughing hysterically.
"Why did I go?  Because, my dear Sherlock Holmes--oh, you'd never
guess unless I told you.  I went because I wanted a swim!"  And his
face worked with uncanny merriment.

Guthrie took no notice.  "Go on.  You went to the swimming-bath
because you fancied a swim.  Did you meet anyone on the way?"

"No."

"What happened when you got there?"

"First of all, I found the door unlocked.  That surprised me, to
begin with.  Then I was surprised again to find that the switches
wouldn't work.  But it wasn't quite dark, so I went through into
the main building.  I saw then that the bath was empty."

"So what did you do?"

"As I looked down into the empty bath I could see something at one
end that showed faintly against the white tiles--some dark heap of
something, it looked.  I--I climbed down the steps at the end to
see what it was--I struck a match--and--and--"  He shuddered.  "I
don't want to have to describe it--don't ask me--please don't ask
me!  But I'll tell you this much--the blood was still warm!"

"Well, go on.  What did you do?"

Lambourne prepared himself for an obvious ordeal.  "I'll tell you,"
he cried, "though I know you won't believe me.  I hardly believe
myself, when I think of it.  I stood perfectly still by the side of
the body for about a quarter of an hour and thought things out.
And by that time I had come to the conclusion that seems to be
fairly generally accepted now--that the affair wasn't an accident
at all, but a murder.  More than that, I had made up my own mind as
to who had done it.  I saw the whole diabolical plot--this second
affair as the perfect counterpart of the first one--murder of an
amazingly clever and subtle kind.  And I decided, at that same
moment, to accept the murderer's challenge, as it were, and do
something that would bring his marvellous and intricate scheme to
ruin!"

"Go on," repeated Guthrie impatiently.  "Let's have less of what
you decided and more of what you did."

"I'm coming to what I did.  My aim was to ruin the accident theory,
and--more than that--to incriminate the murderer.  The murderer I
knew to be Ellington.  So I thought out a scheme as neat as his
own, and, having thought it out, I put it into operation
immediately.  I left the swimming-bath and walked over to the
sports pavilion.  In Ellington's locker, as I had guessed, there
was a cricket-bat.  I took it back with me to the bath; I smeared
it in the blood that was lying about; and then I left the bath
finally, closing, but not of course locking, the door behind me.
Last of all, I hid the bat in some bushes near the rifle-range,
where I knew it would be found sooner or later."

"You provided us, that is to say, with a faked clue?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't it occur to you to come straight to us and tell us the
truth about it all?"

"Because I never thought you'd believe it was murder unless you had
a clue of some kind."

"Did you have any idea that the boy had been shot?"

"Not the slightest.  My theory was that he had been killed by
bashing on the head--that was why I thought of the cricket-bat."

"Did you tell anyone of your suspicions about Ellington?"

"There was--and is still--a young fellow here named Revell who took
an interest in the case--I told him."

"But no one else?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I--I didn't want to be--personally--connected with the affair at
all.  I--I hate inquests and law-courts and all that sort of
thing."

Guthrie's face, already hard, appeared to harden.  Slowly his cross-
examination was becoming keener and more hostile.  "Now let's turn
to another aspect of the matter.  What were your relations with the
boy?"

"With Marshall?  I had hardly any at all.  I didn't tutor him in
anything."

"I know enough of public-school life to know how little that may
count.  You were both in School House--you must have been fairly
often in contact.  How did you get on together?"

"Fairly well, I think."

"Wasn't there some kind of trouble at the beginning of this Term?"

"There was a bit of an incident--I should hardly call it
'trouble'."

"Never mind what you'd call it--we're not here to split hairs.  Do
you feel inclined to give us your version of the incident or the
trouble or whatever name you think it ought to have?"

"It was really quite a trifling matter.  The boy had been speaking
of me--rather openly--in a way that tended to undermine my
discipline."

"And you lost your temper with him?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"You threatened him?"

"I--I may have done.  I lost my temper--and--and when I do that I--
I--probably--say things I don't mean."

"Now, Mr. Lambourne, will you tell me--"

But just then two things took place almost simultaneously.
Lambourne, his nerves strained to breaking-point, gave a little cry
and plunged forward in a state of collapse, while, at the same
moment, the door opened and Mrs. Ellington appeared, halted for a
second on the threshold, and then rushed forward.

She took in the situation with her usual alertness; nor was she
doubtful as to whose side she favoured.  "Oh, what a shame!" she
exclaimed, turning on Guthrie sharply.  "I suppose this is what
they call the third degree--to bully someone weaker than yourself!
You couldn't try any of your games on my husband, so you thought
you'd have better luck with a poor fellow who was shell-shocked in
the War and has suffered from neurasthenia ever since!  You
coward!"

In any other circumstances Revell would have been amused at such a
gallant attack.  Yet Guthrie faced it stolidly enough.  "I'm sorry
you think so hardly of me, Mrs. Ellington," he said, quite calmly,
"but I'm afraid it can't be helped.  People have to be questioned,
you know--especially if they have things to hide.  Anyhow, I
suppose there's nothing more can be done just now.  Have you any
brandy you could get me for him?"

"If you'll help him along to my house," she answered with cold
dignity, "I think I can manage all the rest myself.  I used to be a
nurse, and I've helped Mr. Lambourne before when he's been ill."

Lambourne had by this time recovered somewhat, and with Guthrie and
Mrs. Ellington on either side, he managed to stagger out of the
room.



CHAPTER VII

THE THIRD OAKINGTON TRAGEDY


Revell did not see Guthrie again that evening.  After the detective
had left with Mrs. Ellington and Lambourne, Revell followed the
party at a discreet distance and saw them enter Ellington's house.
He rather expected Guthrie would seek him out afterwards, but as
time passed he grew tired of pacing about the quadrangle in
anticipation.  Then, while the school were in evening chapel, he
suddenly saw Mrs. Ellington and Lambourne walking over to School
House.  He could only conclude that Guthrie had gone back to his
lodgings in the village--perhaps by the side-door that communicated
directly with the lane.

On the whole, he was not too pleased with Guthrie.  He rather
inclined to agree with Mrs. Ellington that the cross-examination of
Lambourne had been harsh, if not positively cruel.  He had to
admit, however, that Lambourne's story in some sense justified it;
the man, on his own confession, had lied, suppressed evidence,
manufactured false clues--committed almost every crime to rouse the
ire of a detective.

Presumably, of course, it was the cricket-bat that Guthrie's men
had discovered, though Guthrie had not definitely said so.
Lambourne's story exculpated Ellington to that extent, but in
other ways it seemed only to strengthen the probability of the
housemaster's guilt.  The motive, combined with the missing
revolver, certainly made strong evidence.  But what had been the
make and calibre of Ellington's revolver, and did it tally with the
bullet found in the body?  Surely Guthrie must already have pursued
such obvious lines of inquiry.  The trouble was that the detective,
after his first confidential outburst, had seemed to disclose less
and less of his routine procedure.

It was another hot night, and Revell slept badly.  Soon after dawn
the twittering of the birds awoke him--a sound which ought to have
been soothing, but somehow on this occasion missed being so.  On
the contrary, after a few minutes of it, he was so restless that he
got up, had a cold bath, dressed, and went downstairs.  Till about
seven o'clock he idly read the previous day's evening papers; then,
as the servants began to be heard, he let himself out at the front
door into the cool, sunny air of early morning.  For several
minutes he walked about with aimless vigour, wondering why he
didn't get up as early every morning of his life (though it was
quite obvious why not).  Soon, however, his meditations were
interrupted by the realisation that someone was running towards him
and trying to attract his attention.  It was Daggat.  With hair
unkempt and a dressing-gown wrapped round his fat little body, he
looked more like a cherub than ever.  (Though a cherub would not,
Revell decided as the man came nearer, have smelt so aggressively
of soap and bath salts.)

"Thank God somebody's awake and up!" he cried, panting with
excitement.  "Revell, the most frightful thing has happened--oh,
the most frightful--"

Here his breath gave way and he leaned limply on Revell's arm till
he recovered.  Revell was almost equally astonished and excited.
"Good heavens, Daggat--what's the matter?  What on earth's
happened?"

"It's--it's another of these frightful tragedies.  There's a curse
laid on the School--I've heard people say it before--and I'm
beginning to believe it.  I was having my morning tub when Brownley
came for me.  He'd been to Lambourne's room to call him and
couldn't get an answer.  Then when he went in he found--oh, it's
terrible--on top of all these other affairs--"

"Come on, man, get it out!  You mean that Lambourne's DEAD?"

"Yes.  Died in his sleep apparently.  I've already sent for
Murchiston.  I told Brownley to send for the Head, too.  No need
for anyone else to know just yet.  But I'm dashed glad to find you
about the place--one feels the need of a pal in an affair like
this.  Come back with me now to his room, will you?"

If only Daggat wouldn't be so provokingly sentimental, Revell
thought; but he allowed the man to cling to his arm affectionately
during the hurried walk.  "It's pretty awful, Daggat, but you must
keep calm about it," he said.  "I wonder--"  He was wondering what
Guthrie would think about it, but he checked himself in time and
merely added:  "I wonder how soon the papers will get hold of it.
Tremendous sensation, of course.  Third tragedy at Oakington--can't
you just picture it all?"

When they reached the familiar room at the end of the ground-floor
corridor, they found Dr. Roseveare already there, partially
dressed, and talked in a hushed voice to Brownley, the School House
butler.  "A terrible business, gentlemen," he said, in a voice that
seemed to Revell the most perfect example of correct and
appropriate feeling in the circumstances.  Not that he imagined
Roseveare to be at all insincere.  On the contrary, the bitter
anxiety in his face and eyes was only too visible.  But it was all
done with such perfect technique, and Revell admired technique.

He moved a little forward and looked at the bed.  Lambourne was
lying on it quite normally; but for a little extra pallor and
curious rigidity of feature, it would not have been hard to think
him merely asleep.  There was no sign of a struggle or of any
suffering before the end.  Roseveare seemed to be reading Revell's
thoughts, for he remarked:  "A peaceful finish, don't you think?
Poor fellow--one can almost feel glad, in a way.  Few people ever
knew how much he suffered."  He half-glanced at Brownley, as if he
might have said more had not the servant been present.

But the arrival of Murchiston put an end to such observations.  The
seventy-year-old doctor, whose house lay just across the road from
the School main entrance, had evidently made no delay in answering
the summons.  Yet even at such short notice he had attired himself
in the conventional frock-coat and striped trousers of an earlier
generation of practitioners.  Carrying his tall hat and gloves, he
looked rather grotesque by the side of Daggat and the Head.  "Dear
me, this is very sad!" he murmured, almost mechanically, as he
shuffled into the centre of the little group.  Revell felt that
Murchiston had arrived at an age when nothing could or would very
much surprise him.  Nevertheless, he approached the bedside with a
briskness rather startling in such an obvious antique, and for
several moments gazed steadfastly and without speaking at the dead
man.  Perhaps he was thinking, Revell speculated; or perhaps he was
merely wondering what to think.  At length he pulled down the
bedclothes and gave the body a businesslike though necessarily
perfunctory examination.  When he turned round he addressed
Roseveare.  "Sudden heart attack, I should imagine," he said.  "But
I'd better not give it you as a certainty.  Have a look yourself if
you like."

"I had already come to the same opinion, doctor," replied
Roseveare, without moving.  "In fact, I should hardly think myself
there is any doubt about it.  I always understood that the poor
fellow was liable to drop dead at any moment."

"Yes, but I haven't been attending him for several months and--
and--"  Murchiston coughed gruffly and added:  "In the ordinary
course of things I would have given a certificate, but after recent
affairs--with all these damnable insinuations going about--one can't
be overcautious."

"Yes, of course.  I quite appreciate your position.  So you think
there will have to be a post-mortem?"

"If anybody wants to do it.  _I_ won't."

Revell could not but feel a certain grudging sympathy with the
downright old fellow.  The newspapers had been none too kind to him
about his evidence at the Marshall inquests, and their innuendoes
had evidently stung him pretty deeply.  And, after all, as Revell
had to admit, who could have expected him to probe the boy's
shattered head in search of a bullet?  Anyhow, he was clearly
determined not to make any more blunders, and Revell did not blame
him for his attitude.

While Roseveare was discussing with Murchiston and Brownley the
arrangements to be made about the body, Revell, struck with a
sudden idea, slipped away from them and hastened to the Head's
house.  There, at the study telephone, he rang up the local police-
station and asked if a message could be sent to Detective Guthrie.
There had been an important development at the School, was all he
said, and could the detective come over as quickly as possible?
The voice at the other end gave a promise that such a message
should be delivered immediately; after which Revell put down the
instrument and hurried away to breakfast.  Roseveare did not make
an appearance, and from the butler's face Revell knew that the news
had already spread.

A quarter of an hour later he saw the detective's car entering the
drive.  He rushed out and in a few short sentences told him what
had happened.  Guthrie nodded.  "All right--thanks for sending for
me.  Let's go and see things."  They hastened together into School
House.

Brownley, on guard outside the locked door of Lambourne's room,
barred their admission.  "I'm sorry, sir, but I have orders from
the Headmaster not to--" he began, but Guthrie cut him short.
"You'll open that door, my man, or you'll find yourself under
arrest," he snapped, with outrageous exaggeration of his own
powers.  "I'm a detective and I don't intend to waste any time over
you."  He whipped out his official card with a gesture that Revell
had seen before, but only at the cinema.  Brownley caved in and
admitted them.

In the little room where Lambourne's body still lay, Guthrie
continued to behave more like a stage or screen detective than
Revell would ever have imagined.  He pranced about the room,
examining books, papers, crockery--anything, it seemed, that came
under his roving notice.  Revell half-expected him to produce at
any moment an insufflator or a magnifying-glass or some other
implement of the more sensational modern Sherlock.  He did seize a
small bottle with evident triumph and put it in his pocket, but
Revell, having glanced at it before, had noticed that it contained
only aspirin tablets.

The examination was still proceeding when the door opened and Dr.
Roseveare entered.  (Revell guessed that the faithful Brownley had
been to tell him of the invasion.)  At any rate, Roseveare betrayed
no great surprise at what was in progress; Guthrie's at seeing him
appeared far greater.  "Dr. Roseveare?" he queried, unnecessarily,
and the other bowed slightly.

The two men faced each other in silence for several seconds, as if
sizing each other up.  They were certainly well-matched, both
physically and intellectually.  Guthrie, with a shrug of the
shoulders, began at last:  "You must forgive my taking the law into
my own hands, Dr. Roseveare."

The Headmaster of Oakington was at his suavest.

"Most certainly, Mr. Guthrie, since the law already IS in your
hands.  In fact everything is in your hands entirely--including, I
fear, our own personal rights and liberties.  But of course it has
to be endured."

"I can assure you that my only aim is to get at the truth.  Perhaps
you can tell me something about this tragic affair?"

"I am perfectly ready, as I always have been, to tell you anything
that is in my power.  Mr. Lambourne, as perhaps you know, had very
bad health--his heart was weak--"

"Thanks, but as there will be an autopsy, we need not argue about
that.  Tell me--when did you last see Mr. Lambourne?"  (As an
obvious crib from the famous question addressed to Dr. Crippen,
Revell thought this distinctly second-rate.)

"Last night.  About nine o'clock, I should think.  I had been
dining out, and visited him immediately on my return."

"Alone?"

"He WAS alone, when I arrived here.  I stayed for about an hour or
so, talking and trying to cheer the fellow up a little.  I gathered
that you, sir, were to a large extent responsible for his
condition."

"Never mind that.  Who told you, in the first place, that he was
ill?"

"He missed taking his lessons, and the fact was reported to me in
the usual way."

"Did you visit him at all before the evening?"

"No.  I caused inquiries to be made, but I had not time for a
personal visit until after dinner."

"You were on good terms with him?"

"I am on good terms, I am glad to say, with every member of my
staff."

"Were you satisfied with his work?"

"Is that question really necessary?"

"If you don't answer it, I shall draw my own conclusions."

"Perhaps I had better say, then, that while Mr. Lambourne was not
the best or most successful of teachers, I knew that he worked hard
and I was very willing for him to remain at the School."

"All right. . . .  Now you said he was alone when you arrived here--
in this room--last evening.  What about when you left?"

"Mrs. Ellington arrived about ten o'clock with some invalid food
that she had prepared for Mr. Lambourne.  I thought I should
perhaps be somewhat in the way if I remained, so I left them almost
immediately."

"Mrs. Ellington, I believe, was formerly a nurse.  Do you know if
she was in the habit of looking after Mr. Lambourne when he has
been ill?"

"Very likely.  She had--and I had also--a very deep sympathy with
Mr. Lambourne."

"Have you any idea about what time she left him last night?"

"Not the slightest.  Why not ask her yourself?"

Guthrie allowed the questioning to cease.  He had been, if not
exactly worsted, at any rate met on equal ground by one of his own
mettle.  "All in good time," he said, with a return to his usual
imperturbability.  "I think we'll leave things here just as they
are for the present, if you don't mind."  He manoeuvred Roseveare
out of the room and locked the door on the outside.  "Of course
you'll have to give evidence at the inquest," he added, putting the
key in his pocket.

"I had imagined so."

The two men gave each other a final stare, half-hostile, half-
respectful; after which Roseveare strode away with immense dignity.

Guthrie turned to Revell.  "Can't help rather liking the fellow,
can you?  Such dignity--such pride--such a marvellous way of
quibbling all round the question.  What a K.C. he'd have made!"

"You seemed pretty doubtful about him?"

"Did I?  Oh, I think it was all fairly plausible.  But we must have
a little chat with the Lady with the Lamp, of course.  And by Jove--
here she is!"  This final exclamation was whispered, for Mrs.
Ellington was hastening towards them along the corridor.  She was
ashen pale, and her eyes showed signs of recent weeping, but there
was a calm eagerness in her voice as she addressed Guthrie.  "I've
been looking for you," she began, abruptly.  "I want to see you--to
speak to you.  It is most important.  Will you--both of you--come
up to my husband's room just above?"

"Certainly, Mrs. Ellington, if you wish."

No more was said till they were all three of them seated in the
room next to the dormitory in which the first of the tragedies had
occurred.  Revell was glad to note that Guthrie's attitude towards
Mrs. Ellington was both courteous and kindly.  He seemed to have
entirely forgiven her for her outburst of the previous day.  (And
no wonder, Revell thought, since by his death Lambourne had given
the most convincing proof of his unfitness to stand the ordeal of a
detective's hostile cross-examination.)  "There now," Guthrie said,
as he settled himself in the easy-chair opposite hers.  "We shan't
be disturbed here and you can tell me anything you like.  Do you
mind if I smoke?"

She signified impatient permission.  "I feel I MUST tell you," she
went on, agitatedly.  "I hate doing so--more perhaps than I have
ever hated anything--but I think it is only fair to so many others.
And--I suppose--really, I owe you an apology."

"I can't think what for," replied Guthrie, gallantly.  "And anyhow,
don't let that bother you at all."

"It's because of my attitude yesterday," she insisted.  "I hated to
see you bullying Mr. Lambourne--if you WERE bullying him, that is.
And yet I can see now how right you were--from your own point of
view."

"What makes you think so, Mrs. Ellington?"

She paused before answering, and when she did answer, it was hardly
to the point.  "I wouldn't like to be a detective, Mr. Guthrie.  It
must be so terrible to find people guilty."

"Ah, but there are compensations.  You often find people innocent
as well."

Her face brightened.  "Yes--and that is why--one reason why--I must
tell you.  It has all been so frightful for everybody here lately--
so much doubt and suspicion. . . ."  She nearly broke down, but
managed to save herself by a last effort.  "Do you know, when I
heard that Mr. Lambourne had died during the night, I was glad?"

"You were?"

"Yes--glad.  Can't you guess why?  Shall I have to put it all into
words for you?"

"Well, I daresay I CAN make a guess.  I suppose it was because you
think Lambourne's guilty?"

Revell started in astonishment, but a slight glance from Guthrie
quelled him.  Mrs. Ellington slowly nodded.  "I not only think he
is," she said.  "I KNOW it.  It was he who killed Wilbraham
Marshall.  And Robert as well."  She buried her face in her hands
and was silent for a while.

"Both of them, eh?"  Guthrie seemed hardly surprised.  "And how do
you know that?"

"Because, Mr. Guthrie, he told me."

She gathered courage now that her secret was out.  "Yes.  He told
me last night.  He was terribly ill--ill in mind, I mean--and I
tried to comfort him.  Then he told me.  He thought you were on his
track and he felt he must tell somebody about it.  I seemed to
freeze up--I didn't know what to say to him.  Oh, what COULD I have
said to him?  I believe I told him he must confess to you--and he
said he would in the morning--this morning, that would have been.
I think he was quite out of his mind when he did it--he was often
out of his mind for short spells.  I was sorry for him--I couldn't
help it--even after he had told me.  Was that wrong of me?  He was
almost raving at first, but I calmed him and made him give his
promise.  He said--they were almost his last words--'I'll tell
Guthrie to-morrow.'  Then he went to sleep and I left him."

She looked first at Guthrie and then at Revell as if in pathetic
challenge.  It was Revell who first spoke.  "But, Mrs. Ellington,"
he exclaimed, "why on earth should Lambourne have done it?"

She shook her head despairingly.  "I know--that was just the
question I kept on asking him.  And his reasons were so strange.
That's why I think he must have been out of his mind.  He said--
it's such an awful thing to have to repeat--but he said he hadn't
meant to kill the boy at all in the first place--it was my husband
he wanted to kill.  And he thought my husband would have been
sleeping in the dormitory that night."

"Yes, I understand how that could have arisen.  Go on, please,"
interposed Guthrie.  "Did he tell you why he had wanted to kill
your husband?"

She smiled a wan half-smile.  "It was because of me, he said.
That's what makes it so terrible for me to think of.  But for
me . . .  You see, Mr. Lambourne and I have always been friendly--
we have tastes in common--books, plays, music, and so on.  And
because my husband doesn't care for such things, Mr. Lambourne
imagined I was unhappy."

"And have you been unhappy, if I may ask the question?"

She returned him a glance of tranquil sadness.  "If you want a
really truthful answer, Mr. Guthrie, I could not say 'no'.  But I
assure you that Mr. Lambourne exaggerated, and in any case, I never
complained to him or discussed my private affairs with him at all."

"I see.  But all the same, you think his reason for wishing to kill
your husband was to free you from a partner he thought you
disliked?"

"Perhaps.  It looks like it.  But he had nothing to hope for from
me--I mean--I want to be quite clear about this--there was nothing
whatever between us.  We were simply friends, and I had never given
him the slightest encouragement to imagine anything else."

"The trouble is, of course, that some men don't need any
encouragement.  Anyhow, what about the second murder?"

"I'm coming to that.  He said that when he found out that the
person in the dormitory bed had been the boy and not my husband, he
was at first overwhelmed with remorse.  And I do remember, as it
happens, how ill he was at the time.  Then--so he said--his hatred
of my husband grew in him until it gave him no rest at all.  And,
as time went on, he began to think of an extraordinary way in which
his original murder, which had been, as one might call it, a
mistake, might be turned to good account."

"Yes, I understand.  This is all very interesting, and you are
putting it very clearly."

"The motive was always, you see, the same--hatred of my husband.
And the plan that came into his head was--briefly--to murder the
other brother so that suspicion should fall on the man he hated.
He reasoned that no one could have any apparent motive for
murdering the two boys except my husband (who inherited their
money, as you know), and that two such suspicious accidents would
undoubtedly cause inquiries to be made."

"Did he give you any details as to how each of the murders was
done?"

"Yes, he told me everything.  The first one was done by letting the
gas-pipe drop down on to the bed.  He had previously loosened it.
He went up into the sick-rooms above the dormitory and staged the
whole thing."

"Yes.  And the second murder?"

"He went to my husband's room one day when he was out and took away
his revolver and cartridges.  He knew that the boy used to take a
swim in the evenings during the hot weather.  On that particular
night he went down to the swimming-bath himself.  He found the boy
already there, cursing his luck because the water had been drawn
out.  Mr. Lambourne was in his dressing-gown and pyjamas, as if
ready for a swim--it was his excuse, of course, for going there.
He chatted with the boy for a time, gradually leading him along the
edge of the bath as far as the diving-platforms.  He waited till
the boy was standing on the edge facing the empty bath with the
platforms just above him; then he sprang back suddenly, whipped out
his revolver, and shot up at the boy from behind."  She trembled as
she spoke the words.  "Oh, he MUST have been out of his mind to do
such a thing--he MUST have been.  Don't you think so, Mr. Guthrie?"

"Very possibly, Mrs. Ellington.  Most murderers, at the moment of
their murder, must be very near the borderline of insanity."

"HE was, I am sure."

Guthrie nodded.  "And I suppose, after shooting the boy he staged
the affair to look like an accident?"

"Yes."

"Did he give you any details of how he did that?"

"He took off the boy's wrist-watch that he was wearing and climbed
up to the top diving-platform with it."

"Yes.  Anything else?"

"He . . .  Oh, it's too terrible--he went down into the bath and
hit the boy over the head--but the boy was already dead--"

"Did he tell you what he hit the boy with?"

She looked dazed.  "No--or at least he may have done, but I don't
remember.  It's so hard to remember every detail of it all."

"Yes, of course.  And it isn't, perhaps, so very important, so long
as we know he hit the boy with something.  After that, I suppose,
he just went back to his room and to bed?"

"No--he was flurried and took a walk to calm himself.  My husband
can vouch for that, because they met.  My husband was having a
stroll before going to bed."

"Yes, I think I know about that."  He paused thoughtfully and
added:  "Perhaps, Mrs. Ellington, as you knew Lambourne rather
well, you can tell us a little more about him--about the man
personally, I mean?"

She responded eagerly, as if relieved to talk of less tragic
matters.  "He was a charming man, Mr. Guthrie, in his ordinary
moods--one of the cleverest and most interesting men I ever knew.
He was very badly hurt in the War--that's what began the trouble, I
daresay.  He had the most awful pains in his head, and sometimes
deep depression would come over him like a cloud--that was how he
described it.  He told me once that he hadn't had more than a dozen
happy moments during the whole of the past ten years--and all the
dozen, he said, had been when he was with me.  I felt sorry for him
when he spoke like that.  He had no relatives in England and he
wasn't the sort to make friends--he had too sharp a tongue.  He
wasn't very popular either with the boys or the masters--he found
teaching rather hard, but it was the only way he could possibly
earn a living.  Dr. Roseveare befriended him--HE understood how he
suffered, too, I think.  Then his heart went wrong and he was told
by the doctors that he might drop dead at any moment.  Do you
wonder I pitied him?"

"Not at all.  I should have been surprised if you hadn't.  Now
don't distress yourself, Mrs. Ellington"--she had begun to cry
softly--"you have really done all that you could possibly do, I
think.  It has been very good of you to come and tell me all this."
She was still crying, and Guthrie, with a little gesture of
kindliness, rose from his chair and touched her lightly on the
shoulder.  "Well now, I don't think we need trouble you any more
for the time being.  If I should want to ask you a few more
questions later on, you won't mind, I know--but I don't suppose I
shall.  Your statement seems to clear up an exceedingly distressing
and unhappy affair.  There's only one thing I want to ask you--and
that is, not to mention to anyone else what you have just told us."

"I won't," she promised.

"Have you told anyone so far?"

"No.  Not even my husband.  He would have--have misunderstood how--
how Mr. Lambourne could have come to be so confidential with me."

"Ah yes, I understand.  Well, remember, now--not a word to anyone.
Good-bye for the time being, and once again--many thanks."

She gave him a sad farewell smile as he held open the door for her
to escape.  "Escape" was indeed the word that occurred to Revell;
it was as if she were some wild thing that had been trapped in a
cage and was now, by gracious permission of the snarer, allowed to
fly stumblingly away.

"Whew!" exclaimed Guthrie, after she had gone.  "That puts the lid
on it, doesn't it?  Revell, without asking me any questions (though
I know you are bursting to), will you kindly go downstairs and make
an appointment for me to see Dr. Roseveare as soon as possible?
And then, after that, unless he can see me immediately, you might
go down to the tobacconist's shop in the lane and get me an ounce
of shag.  Yes, shag, my boy--it's what I feel like."

Revell obeyed.  There was really nothing else to be done.



CHAPTER VIII

THE DETECTIVE GIVES IT UP


The body of Max Lambourne had been taken to the local Drill Hall,
and there the inquest was held a couple of days later.  It was a
far more public affair than the two previous ones; the accommodation
for the Press was much larger, since the newspapers had featured the
third Oakington tragedy on the grandest scale.

Revell sat in the public gallery, an interested watcher of the
proceedings; he had been informed beforehand that he would not be
wanted to give evidence.

Everyone seemed to have learned a lesson from the two earlier
inquests, and to have made up their minds that this one, at any
rate, should stand out as a model of correct inquest procedure in
every possible way.  The Coroner was careful to the point of being
punctilious, and even the merely formal matter of identification
was treated as if there might be some doubt about it.

After the jury had viewed the body (which naturally conveyed very
little to them), witnesses were called.  The first was the School
House butler, Brownley.  He described how and when he had found
Lambourne dead.  The Coroner questioned him a little, mainly (so
far as Revell could judge) to give the court an impression of his
own shrewdness.

"It was your usual time for calling him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you touch him at all?"

"I shook him a little to try to wake him, sir, but not really
enough to move him in any way."

"What did you do after that?"

"I went to fetch help, sir.  The first person I saw was Captain
Daggat--he was just leaving his bath, sir.  He told me to fetch the
Headmaster, while he telephoned for Dr. Murchiston."

"So you went to the Headmaster's house?"

"Yes, sir, and the Head came at once."

Brownley was then permitted to stand down.  Daggat gave evidence
next, merely amplifying the butler's account of the discovery.  The
third witness was Murchiston, who made as usual a somewhat striking
figure in his frock-coat and cravat.  He testified to having been
summoned by telephone, to arriving at the School, and to making a
cursory examination of Lambourne's body.

"What do you mean by a cursory examination?"

"A rapid one--such as could be made on the spot."

"Very well.  Please tell us what opinions you came to."

Murchiston had evidently prepared a careful answer to such a
question.  He replied, slowly and with deliberation:  "My
examination was not such as enabled me to come to any definite
opinions, especially as it was several months since I had last
attended Mr. Lambourne professionally.  His condition seemed
consistent with a sudden heart attack, to which I knew him to be
liable, but in the circumstances, I thought it best to leave the
matter to be decided by a post-mortem."

"You did not perform the post-mortem?"

"No, but I was in consultation with the doctor who did."

"Do you agree with his findings?"

"Certainly."

The next witness, obviously, was the doctor who HAD performed the
post-mortem.  He was Hanslake, the police-surgeon.  A brisk,
brusque, younger man, he had no time for the old-fashioned niceties
of a Murchiston.  With commendable brevity he testified to his
examination of the body and to the cause of death, which he
declared outright and without any emotion whatever to have been an
overdose of veronal.

This, as might have been expected, caused something of a sensation
in the court.  When it had subsided, the Coroner turned to
Murchiston again.

"Was Mr. Lambourne, to your knowledge, in the habit of taking
veronal?"

"I knew that he had done so on some occasions.  He took it for
sleeplessness and headaches, I believe.  I warned him strongly
against it, but he told me that it was the only thing that gave him
peace."

"What exactly was the matter with him, Dr. Murchiston?"

"It would almost be easier to say what wasn't the matter with him.
He had been gassed and blown up during the War, I understand.
Apart from a bad heart, there was nothing organically very wrong,
perhaps, but the whole state of his mind and body was extremely
low."

"Would you call him a neurasthenic?"

"The term was not invented when I studied medicine, but so far as I
know the meaning of it, I should say he was one."

"Would such a condition be likely to give him suicidal impulses?"

"Possibly.  I could not say more than that."

The Coroner returned to Hanslake.

"You said it was an overdose of veronal.  Was it a heavy overdose?"

"Heavy enough for anyone who wasn't an out-and-out addict."

"Is there, then, any possibility that it could have been taken
accidentally?  I mean--supposing the deceased had felt particularly
unwell, might he have taken so much without suicidal intent?"

"It is possible, of course."

"Is it possible that anyone could have taken a similar amount and
not have died?"

"My experience, I'm afraid, isn't wide enough to give a definite
answer."

"You see what I am trying to get at?"

"Oh yes, you want to know whether it could have been an accidental
overdose and not suicide.  I think in a case of this sort there is
always the possibility."

"You said just now that the dose was heavy enough for anyone who
wasn't an out-and-out addict.  Did you mean that such an addict
might take it harmlessly?"

"Not necessarily.  Most addicts die from an overdose."

"But the deceased was not what you would call an addict?"

"I should say not."

"Thank you."

Mrs. Ellington was next called.  She gave her evidence in a calm
clear voice and answered all questions unhesitatingly.  She had
been friendly with the deceased, she said, for some years, and had
sympathised with him a great deal in his afflictions.  She was a
trained nurse and had sometimes visited him when he had been ill.
She had visited him on the night before he died, and had found him
then in a very troubled condition.

"What was the cause of his trouble?"

"Nothing very definite.  I think it was just one of his periodic
attacks of depression."

"What time did you leave him?"

"Soon after eleven.  I waited till he was asleep."

"Did you know he took veronal?"

"I had guessed that he sometimes took something.  I did not know it
was veronal or anything dangerous."

"Did you see him take anything while you were with him?"

"No."

"Had he ever said anything to you about taking his own life?"

"No.  He was often despondent about things, but that was all."

"Thank you."

The last witness was Dr. Roseveare.  In suave and mellow tones he
testified to Lambourne's unhappy existence.  "He worked hard, he
was conscientious, and we all felt very sorry for him.  He was as
much and as clearly a victim of the War as if he had died on the
battlefield, except that his suffering had been infinitely more
protracted."  And Dr. Roseveare paused, aware that his words would
be headlined throughout England the following day, and would
probably be the theme for articles in all the next Sunday's papers.

"You visited him on the night before he died?"

"Yes.  Like Mrs. Ellington, I tried to cheer him, but, I fear, with
less success."

"Do you know if he had anything to worry about?"

"Nothing at all connected with his work here, I am quite certain.
I was perfectly satisfied with him."

"Did you know that he took veronal?"

"I had not the slightest idea."

"Did he ever talk to you about taking his life?"

"Never."

"Thank you.  I think that will be all, unless any of the jury would
care to put a question?"

One of the jurymen, a local saddler, stood up and said:  "Can Dr.
Roseveare tell us if the deceased was at all worrited by the
Marshall affair?"

The Coroner glared furiously at the questioner, as if he had
committed the grossest of blunders, to say nothing of the most
deplorable breach of good taste.  But Dr. Roseveare was perfectly
unperturbed.  "I am afraid," he answered, "that the Marshall
affair, as you call it, has been a worrying thing for all of us at
Oakington recently, but I cannot see any reason why it should have
affected Mr. Lambourne any more than the rest of us."

The juryman wriggled as he stood.  "I was only meanin', sir, that
if the deceased was in a low state of mind, like what the doctor
said, it was the sort of thing 'e might 'ave worrited about."

"Oh, quite--quite."  The Head was most affable.  "I see your point,
and in a general way, I think it very possible."

But everyone somehow knew that the saddler had made a fool of
himself.

The Coroner, before the jury retired, said it was one of the
saddest cases he had ever come across.  The deceased, as Dr.
Roseveare had said, had died a soldier's death in the sense that
the real cause, undoubtedly, had been the injuries honourably
received in the service of his country.  (Roseveare had not said
anything of the kind, but there was no one to contradict.)
Unfortunately, perhaps, it was their task, as a court, to inquire
into the more immediate cause of death, which two medical men had
agreed was an overdose of veronal.  There seemed no doubt that the
deceased had acquired the habit of taking the drug to relieve his
sufferings, both physical and mental.  The dose that killed him was
heavy, but there was nothing at all to show that he had taken it
with the intention of ending his life.

After that, of course, an open verdict was almost inevitable.  The
jury deliberated for less than five minutes before deciding upon
it; in less than ten the court had dispersed, the newspaper-men
were hurrying to the local post office, the Head was entering a
taxi on his way back to the School, and the Coroner was enjoying a
smutty story with the police-surgeon.  The third Oakington tragedy
had been accounted for.



It was during lunch with Roseveare at the School that Revell
learned where Guthrie had been.  "He said there was no need for him
to attend the inquest, so he spent the morning packing.  He's going
back to town this afternoon.  I suppose you know that he's giving
up the case?"

"REALLY?"

"I had a long talk with him yesterday about it.  He was frank
enough to admit that he had no evidence against anyone, so there
was nothing for it but to accept the situation.  A likeable man,
Revell, apart from his detestable occupation."

Revell smiled, though he was rather bewildered by Roseveare's
information.  He had guessed that Lambourne's confession must
inevitably end the matter, but he had not quite realised that the
end would come so soon and so tamely.

Roseveare continued:  "By the way, Revell, what exactly are your
intentions, now that this unhappy business seems to have worked
itself out?  Do you particularly wish to go back to London?"

Revell hesitated, and the other went on:  "Because, if you aren't
keen to return, you are very welcome to stay on here until the end
of Term, which is only four weeks away.  As a matter of fact, I
would rather you did so.  I don't think your real position here has
yet been guessed by anyone, and that, you will agree, is a good
thing."  (Lambourne had guessed it, though, Revell remembered.)  "I
fear that if you were now suddenly to disappear, the circumstance
might only add another to the monstrous cloud of suspicions that we
are now hoping to disperse.  My staff, I trust, feel that so far I
have done my best to protect them and their interests, but their
attitude might change were they to discover that I had imported an
Old Boy of this School to act as amateur detective and spy on
them."

"The description of my job isn't exactly flattering," replied
Revell with a laugh, "but still, I see your point."  He was
thinking, as a matter of fact, of sunny afternoons with Mrs.
Ellington by his side as the two of them cycled along country
lanes, of cool tea-times with Mrs. Ellington ministering to him in
her little chintz drawing-room, of restful Sabbath evenings with
Mrs. Ellington beside him in the visitors' pew in chapel.  "I'll
stay on if you like," he added.  After all there was nothing else
to do, and the thought of his sooty little pied-à-terre in
Islington was far from attractive.  "But you must let me do some
work for you, or something like that.  Otherwise it will seem just
as strange as if I were to go."

"Quite.  I had already decided, in fact, to offer you a temporary
post as my secretary.  And at a salary which you will discover for
yourself at the end of the Term."

"You are really too generous, sir."

But it was difficult not to be put in a good humour by such jovial
and beneficent methods.



Yet, for all that, Revell was slightly annoyed, and his annoyance
centred upon Guthrie.  It was unmannerly of the fellow, to say the
least, to clear off without a word of explanation or thanks to one
who had undoubtedly assisted him to the best of a perhaps more than
average ability.  Then an idea struck him; if he were going to stay
on at Oakington for the rest of the Term, he must first go back to
his rooms and make arrangements with his landlady, pack a few extra
things, and so on.  Why not go that very afternoon and travel on
the same train as the detective?

Thus it came about that the two of them met in a compartment of the
three-twenty train to King's Cross.  Guthrie seemed not in the
least surprised, and welcomed Revell quite cordially.  "Another
deserter, eh, Revell?  Given up the Oakington case as hopeless even
to the amateur?"

"I'm staying on at Oakington till the end of Term," Revell
explained.  "The Head asked me to.  But I'm just going back to pick
up a few things."

"Oh, so you've taken the secretary's job, then?  He told me he was
going to ask you."

"I'm trying it till the end of the Term, anyhow," replied Revell,
cautiously.

"Congratulations."  And Guthrie laughed.  "Not at all a bad job, I
should think.  Precious little work, and plenty of time to flirt
with the charming Florence Nightingale, eh?"

Revell found himself, to his intense annoyance, flushing like a
schoolboy.

"Oh come now, no need to look shocked!  She's a pretty little piece
for those who like their multum in parvo.  Can't say I do, myself,
but tastes differ, don't they?"  He added:  "I'm glad we're to
travel together--it will save me writing you a very nice letter of
thanks."

"What I'd like as much as thanks," said Revell, "is to know a
little bit more about what exactly happened."

"Oh?  You want me to go over the ground like the fiction detective,
do you, and explain every point?  The trouble is there's not much
to explain, I'm afraid.  Lambourne's confession closes the affair,
of course, and neither the professional nor the amateur branch of
the service can really claim to have covered itself with glory.
It's rather an annoying thing, to get a confession at second-hand.
Legally, you see, it doesn't count.  It's a particularly vicious
example of what the soldier said."

"You mean that you can't even announce it to the public?"

"Advisable not to--so they tell me at headquarters.  Can't be
proved, you see.  Some relative of Lambourne's, if he has any,
might up and sue me for slandering the family name.  Dashed queer
thing, the law, isn't it?"

"So the Oakington murders will go down into history as unsolved
crimes?"

"If they go down to history at all, I suppose they will.  Of course
I've had to tell my superiors the truth about it.  But nobody else.
And I should advise YOU not to, either."

"Haven't you told Roseveare?"

"No.  Why should I?  Let the poor man stick to his suicide theory--
it's less unpleasant for the School's reputation, and that's all he
cares about."

He leaned back amongst the cushions and puffed contentedly as the
train gathered speed out of the station.  "It's been a disappointing
case altogether--there's no doubt about it.  By the way, I
understand the inquest went off all right?  Were you there?"

"Yes.  They brought in an open verdict."

"Good.  Mrs. Ellington and Roseveare and I were anxious that that
should happen.  No use bringing more scandal on the School, was
there?"

"Yet you think it was suicide?"

"I'm positive of it.  Suicide to escape a murder charge.  But I
could hardly have said that in the court, could I?"

Revell thought for a moment.  At last he said:  "It's a queer
business, the whole thing.  What sort of a man do you think
Lambourne really was?"

"You want a character study, eh?  Well, I'm not particularly good
at that sort of thing, but I'll do my best.  I should say his chief
characteristic was cowardice."

"Cowardice?"

"Yes.  You know, Revell, behind all the sentimental stuff, there
isn't very much to be said for the coward.  And Lambourne, I'm
afraid, WAS one--utterly.  During the War, for instance--I wonder
why nobody beside me ever thought of looking up his record.  Oh
yes, I know he was shell-shocked--and I'm not talking of anything
he did after that--it may have been excusable then, but it wasn't
before.  Anyhow, he narrowly escaped a court-martial death-
sentence."

"For cowardice?"

"Yes.  It's on the record.  That sarcastic manner of his, too--it's
very often the mark of the coward, especially in dealing with boys.
Then again, if he had a passion for Mrs. Ellington, why on earth
didn't he have an affair with her if he could persuade her to it?
That's what a normal man does in such circumstances.  He doesn't
plan a complicated system of murders to bring her husband to the
scaffold.  Finally, of course, there was the suicide.  Perfectly in
character--a last act of cowardice rather than face the music."

"Would you have got him, do you think, if he hadn't confessed?"

Guthrie smiled.  "That's tempting me, isn't it?  To be perfectly
frank, I don't know.  His brains were so much better than his
nerves."

"What puzzles me is that he should have bothered to make the murder
look like an accident at all.  Why not leave all the clues pointing
straightforwardly to Ellington if his object were merely to get
Ellington hanged?"

"Because, my dear boy, he was far too clever for that.  Murderers
don't leave clues pointing straightforwardly to themselves.  Don't
you see that by making the thing look like an accident he was
really making the case blacker than ever against Ellington?  It was
clever, damnably clever, I admit.  But even cleverness can't
circumvent fate.  And it was fate that made Brownley see him that
night as he left the swimming-bath with the cricket-bat under his
arm."

"Oh, it was Brownley, then, who saw him?  But he had a pretty
marvellous explanation of it all, didn't he?"

"Marvellous, as you say.  To twist it round to make things look
blacker than ever against Ellington was sheer genius--nothing less.
Perhaps he WAS a genius, in his way.  Ah well, the case is over and
done with, and perhaps it's as well he did take his own life--it's
saved the world a lot of trouble.  Even if we'd got a full
confession written out and signed by him, a clever lawyer might
easily have cast doubts upon it.  The law never likes too much to
depend on the word of the man in the dock--whether it's for or
against him."  He yawned for the second time.  "Let's forget it,
Revell, if we can.  Always a mistake to think too much about these
things.  That was the trouble with Lambourne--he STUDIED crime--
read all the high-brow books about it--got 'em locked up in a
little bookcase in his bedroom--ever see it, by the way? . . .  Ah
well, if the Oakington affair's done nothing else, it's made us
acquainted--maybe we shall meet again some day."

"I hope so," answered Revell sincerely enough.

They chatted on until King's Cross was reached, and then, at the
entrance of the Tube station, shook hands with great cordiality.

Four hours later, having done all he wished, Revell was again at
the station on his way back to Oakington.



CHAPTER IX

THEORIES


He was glad to be back.  He realised it as he stepped out of the
train at Oakington station; the sham Gothic towers and buttresses
no longer repelled as formerly, but lured with a sinister
fascination that grew as he walked along the lane towards them.
Two boys--two brothers--had been killed within those grotesque
precincts.  The murderer had then killed himself.  Yet somehow,
instead of the apathy that usually follows the final closure of an
unsavoury incident, Revell was conscious of a widening and
deepening interest in the whole affair.  It was closed, finished,
wound up--yet he was still a little curious; there were still
things that he wanted to know about it.

That evening the Head talked to him of the harm that the affair had
done to the School's reputation.  Revell sincerely sympathised;
Roseveare, as always, exercised a queer personal fascination over
him.  "It's been pretty awful, I know," he said, "but it's over and
done with now, and people soon forget."  (He did not really think
so, but it was the thing to say.)

"They never forget a name," Roseveare answered.  "Long after I am
dead--perhaps long after you are dead, even--people will still say,
when they hear 'Oakington' mentioned--'Why, isn't that the school
where those two boys were killed?'  Don't you think they will?
Don't people still remember Rugeley as the town where Palmer
poisoned his victims?"

It was true, Revell admitted to himself.  Merely during his hasty
visit to London he had been able to estimate the extent to which
the Oakington tragedies had impressed themselves on the popular
imagination.  In Oakington village it was only to be expected that
the School's affairs would loom largely, but it had been rather a
shock to see the word "Oakington" on half the newspaper placards in
London.  His landlady, even, had added the name to the small list
of notorieties that formed the currency of her street-door and
garden-wall chatter.  And she had shown him proudly an article she
had cut from one of the cheaper and more lurid weeklies; it was
headed--"Dormitory Death-Drama and Swimming-Bath Shooting Shambles;
Oakington's Two Mystery Tragedies Now Capped by Schoolmaster's
Sudden Death."

Revell recollected all this as Roseveare talked.  The smooth and
rolling periods followed each other majestically; Roseveare had
acquired the rare knack of talking like a book without sounding
like one.  "For weeks, Revell, we have lived in a state of siege;
we have had forced upon us such indignities and espionage as no
community can endure without contamination.  The good feeling
between master and master has been sadly affected--how, indeed,
could it have been otherwise, when each one of us has had an eye on
someone else as a possible murderer?  Discipline--esprit de corps--
the tonic life-blood of the School--has almost ceased to exist.  A
deplorable state of affairs, but now, perhaps, we may feel that the
worst is over, and may begin the task of restoration.  And the
first step, since this terrible chapter of mysteries has been left
unsolved by the authorities, is to establish some basis of
hypothesis on which the matter may conveniently be discarded.  It
was with this in mind that this afternoon, while you were away, I
allowed myself to be interviewed by a group of newspaper-men."

"Oh?  I'll bet they were pleased."

"They were.  I made them a short statement which will doubtless
appear in the papers to-morrow.  A judicious statement, I hope,
which will do good, whether it is true or not.  But," he added, "it
is just as likely to be true as any other supposition.  When one is
faced with so many theories, all without tangible foundation, one
has surely a right to choose the least objectionable?"

"Surely," agreed Revell.

The next morning, therefore, in common with some millions of others
throughout the United Kingdom, he was able to read "the first
authentic interview with the Headmaster of Oakington".  It was
amusing to learn that "Dr. Roseveare is a tall, handsome man with a
charming smile and a quiet, forceful personality.  He greeted our
representative most affably, and begged to be excused for not
having received him before.  'I felt', he explained, 'that while
the case was as it was, it had better not be discussed.  Now,
however, that circumstances have altered, I am glad to be able to
make a statement.'"  (All of which, as Revell perceived, meant
exactly nothing at all.)

"'First,'" continued the statement, "'I think I may tell you
definitely that the police have retired from the case.  They have
discontinued the quest for the murderer, which they would hardly do
if they still believed he existed.  I conclude, then, that they do
not now believe that any murder was committed at all.  As this
corresponds with the personal opinion I have myself held all along,
I cannot pretend to be surprised.

"'The first death--that of poor Robert Marshall--was, I think,
undoubtedly an accident.  There has never appeared, at any rate,
the slightest scrap of definite evidence to the contrary.

"'The second of the unfortunate brothers--Wilbraham--was shot, it
is true, but no substantial evidence has appeared to point to any
person as the assailant.  The only conclusion to be reached, then,
is that he died by his own hand.

"'I myself have little doubt that this was so.  The poor boy had
been greatly depressed since the death of his brother, to whom he
had been very closely attached.

"'Perhaps I ought to add that the tragic death of Mr. Lambourne,
one of the School staff, appears to have been quite unconnected
with the other events.  Mr. Lambourne, as I said at the inquest,
was a peculiarly unhappy victim of the War, and had been in a poor
state of health for many years.  The jury rightly returned an open
verdict, but my private opinion, for what it is worth, is that the
overdose of veronal which caused his death was taken accidentally
and not at all with suicidal intent.

"'That, gentlemen, is really all I have to say.  We at Oakington
have gone through a gruelling time; for nearly a year it has seemed
as if some malign fate were working against us at every turn.  I
can only say that the School will try to forget these terrible days
as soon as possible, and will strive to do its duty in the future
as nobly as it has done in the past.'"

As Revell read, he could almost hear the suave, well-chosen words
spoken in the calm, soothing voice of the Head himself.  The whole
thing, in its evenness, its urbanity, its air of serene
reasonableness, was thoroughly typical of the man.  Yet was it not
in some sense a shade TOO reasonable?

He was not quite reckless enough to suggest as much to its author.
Indeed, at breakfast he congratulated Roseveare wholeheartedly on
the statement, and expressed the belief that it would help a great
deal towards the closing of the whole affair.  Then, after the
meal, he strolled out in the open air and smoked a languid
cigarette.  It was another of those glorious summer days of which
the season had already been so generous; there was to be a big
cricket-match against Westerham in the afternoon, and already the
life of the School was noticeably beginning to revolve in a more
normal orbit.

Yes, the affair was closed . . . and yet . . . and yet in some
strange and secret way he could not let it be closed in his own
thoughts.  Neither Lambourne's confession nor Guthrie's exposition
had given that sense of finality that ought, he felt, to have been
in his own mind.  Too many mysteries remained; too many questions
had never been answered.  Thus, with a sort of sickening
willingness, he allowed himself to be led back into the realm of
doubt.

The mood persisted for several days, till one afternoon, in a
moment of half-sinister idleness, he got out his notebook and
glanced through the pencilled relics of those many hours he had
spent over the Oakington case.  He had made copious notes of
various conversations he had had with the chief actors in the
Oakington drama; there were pages, for example, concerning
Guthrie's remarks.  Then he came to reports and summaries of talks
he had had with Lambourne.  Queer to think that the crimes that
Lambourne had discussed so abstractedly and nonchalantly had all
the time been his own!

Lambourne had said (according to Revell's scribbled memoranda):


"I suspected it from the moment the news of the first accident
reached me.  But then I nearly always do suspect things.  I have a
morbid mind. . . .  Nobody, however clever, should expect to get
away with more than one murder.  From a technical point of view,
the repetition mars the symmetry of the thing. . . .  After my
years at the War, I find it hard to share the general indignation
when someone tries a little unofficial slaughter on his own."


All that, Revell had to admit, was fairly incriminating.  Along
with Lambourne's bookcase of crime literature it might be held to
show him as a person capable of planning and imagining murder.

Again, Lambourne had said:


"If Ellington isn't the murderer, there probably hasn't been a
murder at all. . . .  I didn't want you to know too much against
Ellington--it might have biased you in deciding whether the
accident was faked or not."


Yes, that was certainly corroboration of the fact that Lambourne
had, very cleverly and with an appearance of judicial fairness,
sought to throw suspicion on Ellington.  Revell was gratified to
find that, even at such an early stage of the proceedings, he
himself had written, apropos of Lambourne:  "Is he entirely
trustworthy?  Is his pose of indifference sincere?"

Once again, Lambourne had said:


"Most people, if careful enough, can commit one murder safely.  The
temptation is to commit a second.  Even that may be successful.
But the third time, by the law of averages, is likely to be
unlucky. . . .  Once the murderer has got it into his head that
he's cleverer than the rest of mankind, he begins to think of
murder quite casually.  Two successful murders very often lead to a
third."


And after saying that, Revell remembered, Lambourne had joked about
the possibility of Ellington murdering some third person in due
course--probably his wife.

Ah well, Revell reflected, there would be no third murder, since
the murderer was now dead himself.

Suddenly, seized with a fit of inspiration, he turned to the first
blank page and scribbled down:


"The beastly part of this case is the tremendous amount that
depends only on what people have SAID.  The explanation of my being
sent for at first depends on what Roseveare SAID, and in what he
SAID Mrs. Ellington SAID.  The whole theory of Lambourne as the
murderer depends again on what Lambourne SAID, and on what Mrs.
Ellington SAID he SAID.  There really seems to have been far too
much SAYING and not enough discovery of independent evidence."


Then, apparently satisfied for the time being, Revell locked the
notebook in a drawer, lit another cigarette, and strolled out into
the warming air.  Summer at Oakington was really rather delightful,
with the clank-clank of the roller over the cricket-pitch and the
songs of the birds in the high trees.  A pity the buildings were so
frightful.  Revell, varying the confession of Landor, could say
that art he loved, and next to art, nature.

As he passed the front entrance of Ellington's house, he saw,
emerging from the porch, Mrs. Ellington with a man whom he did not
recognise.  She greeted him with a pleasant if rather wistful smile
and hastened to introduce him to the stranger.  The latter,
apparently, was none other than Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne, who had
come to Oakington to attend to matters connected with his brother's
death.  Mrs. Ellington, after a few moments, left the two men
together; she seemed glad enough to do so, and Revell could easily
understand her motive.  The raking over of recent events must have
been peculiarly distressing to her.

Geoffrey Lambourne, on further examination, appeared as a short,
rather stout man, round-faced and spectacled, not much like his
brother and seemingly many years his senior.  Revell was interested
in his mere identity, and could feel considerable sympathy with
him.  They took a stroll, at Revell's suggestion, round the Ring,
and Lambourne, in a delicate, rather over-sensitive voice, told
Revell that he was the representative of an English firm in Vienna
and had come to England especially to wind up his brother's
affairs, interview his solicitors, and so on.  "It's all been a
little curious, his death, don't you think?" he said.  The faintly
quizzical understatement, spoken in such a quiet tone under that
blazing sky, made Revell suddenly shiver.

"Very curious," he answered, guardedly.  "But then, I think your
brother was in many ways a very curious man."

"May I ask if you knew him well, Mr. Revell?"

"Oh, not very well.  But we liked each other's company, I think."

Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne nodded.  "He liked yours, at any rate.
Several of his letters to me contained mentions of you."

"Really?  I had no idea he would ever think me worth writing about.
I certainly liked him--he had a wry sense of humour that rather
appealed to me."  (Certainly, Revell reflected, he HAD had a wry
sense of humour.)  "I suppose you were very much attached to him?"

"I was."  The simplicity of the admission held its own pathetic
dignity.  "We were the sole survivors of our family--both bachelors
too, and likely to remain so."  He blinked gently as he entered a
patch of open sunlight.  "Max was the only human being in the world
I had to care about, and I--or so I had imagined--occupied a
similar place in his affections."

Revell was quick to notice the pluperfect tense of this last
remark.  "So you HAD imagined?" he echoed.

The other nodded.  "Yes, exactly.  But I had better tell you, if
you are interested, just what happened when I arrived in England."

"Yes, please do."

"I had been wired for, you understand, by the solicitor who acts
for us both.  I was not in time for the inquest, but I was able in
Paris to buy English newspapers that reported it.  I am glad, by
the way, that the jury returned an open verdict, for I am perfectly
certain that my brother was not the sort to take his life
deliberately.  The veronal habit was a surprise to me, but I can
hardly blame him, poor fellow--he was, as your Headmaster said, a
most tragic victim of the War.  But I must tell you what happened
at my visit to the solicitor.  I had naturally expected that my
brother's possessions, small though they might be both in quantity
and value, would pass to me--in fact, we had both made wills in
each other's favour some dozen years ago.  Judge of my surprise
when the solicitor informed me that my brother, greatly against his
persuasions, had made a later will, dated only last year, leaving
everything he had to a complete stranger."

"Indeed?"

The other coughed deprecatingly.  "Please do not suppose that the
bequest itself troubles me.  I am not badly off, and in any case,
my brother left nothing but his books, a few pounds in the bank,
and his term's salary payable up to the date of his death.  What
does--or perhaps I had better say, DID--perturb me a little was the
discovery that he knew anyone whom he cared for sufficiently to put
me in, so to speak, a second place.  Or rather," he added, with a
slight smile, "no place at all.  In this second will of his, I was
not even so much as mentioned."

Revell was itching to learn the name of this mysterious
beneficiary, but he felt that Geoffrey Lambourne was the kind of
man who told his tale better when left alone.  He therefore
contented himself with a sympathetic murmur.

"Yes," continued Lambourne, "I was a little hurt at first, I
confess.  And when I further learned that it was a woman, I was
perhaps even annoyed."

"A woman?"

"Yes.  The woman who introduced us just now.  Mrs. Ellington."

"Good Lord, you don't say so?"

"You are surprised, Mr. Revell?"

"Well, yes, I must admit I am.  Though really not so much, perhaps,
on second thoughts.  At least, I can think of a reason for it."

"So can I--a very obvious one."

"You mean that your brother was in love with her?"

"It wouldn't surprise me, having seen her."

Revell smiled.  "Yes, she's an exceedingly attractive woman, I
admit.  Your brother certainly admired her, but I don't imagine
there was ever anything like a real affair between them.  Mrs.
Ellington sympathised with him a great deal--they had many tastes
in common--far more, no doubt, than she had with her husband, who
isn't the most suitable man for her to have married.  Whenever your
brother struck his bad patches she was able to help him in many
ways--she had been a nurse, you know.  I really think that's all it
came to."

"You like her, then?"

"Yes, I do.  Very much."

"Thank you, Mr. Revell.  You have told me just what I wanted to
know.  Mrs. Ellington, whom I liked, I must say, as soon as I met
her, was far too modest to explain things as you have done.  I can
see now exactly why my brother made his will as he did, and I'm no
longer troubled about it in the least.  Mrs. Ellington I certainly
don't blame at all--she says that the bequest came as a complete
surprise to her, which I can well believe.  Perhaps as an
embarrassment as well, for by the look of him, Mr. Ellington is not
a man to deduce a good motive when one not so good is equally
handy.  I note, by the way, that YOU don't care for him, either?"

"We're rather different types, I'm afraid."

They had completed the first round of the Ring, and it was
Lambourne this time who suggested a second circuit.  Revell agreed,
offering the other a cigarette.  "It's very decent of you to tell
me all this," he said, lighting one for himself.  "I haven't been
here long enough to have become really intimate with your brother,
but perhaps I knew him as well as any of the others did."

"Better, I am sure.  You knew, of course, about his War
experiences?"

"You mean about his--er--his court-martial and all that?"

Lambourne, however, showed by a sudden clouding over his normally
benignant countenance that he had not meant any such thing.  When
he replied there was even a mild ring of indignation in his tones.
"Good heavens, Mr. Revell, am I to understand that the story of his
one single lapse followed him here?  I am sorry to hear it--I had
no idea of it all.  I still do not believe that he committed
suicide, but if ever there could have been a reason for his doing
so, it would have been the raking up of that sad affair."

"It didn't follow him here," Revell answered, with a feeling of
having badly put his foot in it.  "So far as I know, not a soul at
Oakington knew about it except me.  I'll be frank with you and tell
you how I got to know.  You've heard, of course, of the two boys
whose deaths here during the past year have caused such a sensation
in the papers?"  The other nodded.  "Well, a detective from
Scotland Yard was here recently looking up all our pasts and so on.
He took me into his confidence a bit and told me of the affair."

"He had no business to," was the quick response.  "It was a thing
that ought to have been forgotten long ago.  And in any case, after
all these years, I don't feel that the slightest real disgrace
attaches to my brother.  He was, behind that attitude of cynicism
that so many people misunderstood, one of the bravest and sincerest
men who ever lived.  He was among the first to enlist when the War
broke out, and for two years he waged a constant battle, not so
much against the Germans, as against a far more terrible foe--his
own nerves.  You may think this is high-flown language--but I
assure you I'm only telling the simple truth.  My brother fought a
long and terrible battle, till at last his nerve gave way.  He was
court-martialled.  He would doubtless have been shot but for the
pleading of an officer who understood him a little.  And afterwards
he went back to the trenches and never gave way again till a
particularly bad head-smash caused him to be sent home.  In all, he
fought for nearly three years, was wounded four times, and also
badly gassed.  I defy anyone to call that the record of a coward!"

And Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne looked, for the moment, as if he really
were capable of defiance.

"I should say not!" Revell answered.  "I think it's one of the
pluckiest records I ever heard of."

The other warmed to his sympathy.  "I knew you would think so.  My
brother wrote to me that he felt you as a kindred spirit.  The
trouble with him was always that he was too imaginative, too
sensitive to things that other people hardly felt at all.  He often
worried over other people's troubles far more than they did
themselves.  They never knew it, of course.  He hid everything
behind that mask of cynicism.  But Mrs. Ellington saw beneath it,
apparently.  Perhaps you did, also.  Was he comfortable here--in
his work, I mean?"

"I think so.  Oh yes, I'm pretty sure he was."  For a moment Revell
had a wild idea that he would tell Geoffrey Lambourne the whole
amazing story of his confession.  Nothing but vague caution
prevented him; it would be safer, he felt, on second thoughts, to
let the whole unpleasant business remain as it was.  There was no
knowing what Geoffrey would do if he were told, and whatever he
might choose to do could hardly lead to anything but further
trouble.

Lambourne, still with quietly smouldering indignation, was
continuing.  "You know I rather wonder if this other business--the
deaths of the two boys--was worrying him at all.  I see one of the
jurymen at the inquest suggested it, too.  It was just the sort of
thing that WOULD have worried Max.  Since the War he had always
been deeply interested in crime--often, in fact, I've told him
frankly that he was getting morbid about it.  He once told me that
there wasn't a crime I could think of in which he couldn't to some
extent sympathise with the criminal.  I remember inventing the most
horrible and ruffianly affair, more out of amusement than anything
else, but when I had finished he replied quite seriously:  'Yes, I
can quite conceive circumstances in which a good man might be
driven to do a thing like that.'  Over-imaginativeness again, of
course."

Revell was finding all this extraordinarily interesting.

"Yes, he even told ME once, apropos of some murder case, that after
being in the War he could never manage to be very indignant over a
little private and unofficial slaughter."

Lambourne nodded.  "That was just the sort of thing he WOULD say.
But really, of course, it was a grotesque perversion of the real
state of affairs.  My brother was deeply indignant over murder; but
he felt that the State, after organising murder on a wholesale
scale for four years, had no right to be.  And he hated what he
called the legal torture of criminals.  He not only hated it--it
upset him whenever he thought about it, which was very often.  I
recollect at the time of the Thompson-Bywaters case, he was
positively ill through worrying over it.  I was with him on the
night before Mrs. Thompson was executed--we were sharing a room at
a hotel--he couldn't sleep a wink, and was in such a state of
collapse by the morning that I had to send for a doctor.  'If I
could save that woman with my own life, I would,' he told me, and I
quite believed him.  Whenever he conceived a sympathy for anyone,
even though he might never let them know it, he was ready to
sacrifice himself in almost incredible ways.  And it was the irony
of ironies that most people thought him sarcastic and unfriendly
and perhaps even callous!"

They had reached the end of the second circuit and were now once
again within sight of the entrance of Ellington's house.  Mrs.
Ellington, as it chanced, came cycling along the drive towards
them, and as she approached she dismounted and smiled at Revell.
"I hope you've been giving me a good character," she began.  "Mr.
Lambourne came here hating me pretty badly, so I hope you haven't
let me down."

Geoffrey Lambourne made haste to reply.  "Not at all, not at all.
On the contrary, Mr. Revell has told me how you have on so many
occasions helped my brother.  I am deeply grateful to you, and I
think he did quite right to put you before me in his thought and
feelings, I, after all, was a thousand miles away, but you were on
the spot."

"Oh no," she answered, embarrassedly.  "I did very little.  I
really don't deserve all your praise.  But I'm glad you don't hate
me now, anyway."

She smiled again and left them, whereupon Lambourne turned once
more to Revell.  "A charming woman," he remarked, when she was well
out of earshot.  "I can guess how my brother felt towards her--it
wasn't his way to feel things by halves.  And there had never been
any woman in his life before."  The School bell began to clang, and
he hurriedly consulted his watch.  "Good heavens, we've been
talking for nearly an hour--I mustn't keep you any longer.  I have
to return to London this evening--this is really a very hurried
visit.  But perhaps we may meet again some day.  Good-bye."



When Revell sank into an easy-chair in the Head's deserted drawing-
room, his mind began at first to function with curious slowness, as
if it were recovering after the numbness of a blow.

Geoffrey Lambourne's story only, of course, added to the already
long enough list of things that people had SAID.  Yet, on
reflecting carefully, Revell was amazed to find how strangely it
fitted in.  Guthrie's character study of Max Lambourne had been
based on only half a story; Geoffrey Lambourne had now supplied the
other half, which would have made the character study entirely
different.  Guthrie, for example, had mentioned the court-martial
episode, but it was Geoffrey Lambourne who, by explaining it, had
made it appear in a totally different light.  Nothing that Geoffrey
had said really contradicted Guthrie's evidence, yet somehow, after
hearing Geoffrey, Guthrie's whole idea of Max Lambourne seemed
fundamentally absurd.

The confession was, of course, the snag.  After all, if a man
behaved suspiciously, as Lambourne had done, and if afterwards he
confessed to the crime of which he had been suspected, there was
usually no reason to disbelieve him.  Guthrie, by accepting
Lambourne's confession as bona fide, had only acted as most
reasonable persons would have done.  That suspicion should wrongly
point to a man, and that his confession, when made, should be
false, was really too much to credit.

And yet . . . and yet . . . could it be that . . . ?  Once again
Revell found himself theorising wildly without evidence.  It was no
use trying not to; he could not help it.  And the mainspring of his
theorising was nothing less than a conviction, strong enough to be
proof against all logic, that Max Lambourne had not and could not
have committed the murders at all.

Then why on earth had he confessed to them?  And suddenly, like a
bubble born and swelling on the surface of troubled water, a theory
vividly complete darted across Revell's mental vision.  Supposing
Lambourne had confessed to save someone else . . . ?

Even as the idea came to him, the cautious and critical second self
that watched over his actions bade him pause and think where he was
going.  How scornfully, in his more normal mood of cynicism, would
he have rejected such a motive!  How he would have laughed at it if
he had met with it in a play or a novel!  Fantastic self-sacrifice
had never appealed to him even ethically, and he had always
regarded Sidney Carton's last moments as those of a bore who must
also have been a bit of a prig.  Yet now, in perfect seriousness,
he was casting Max Lambourne for the same unlikely role!  Was it
possible?

Ten minutes of profound thinking convinced him that it was.  The
theory gained on him; he saw details rising up at every step, like
fragments of a new scene when one approaches it on a misty day.
The murders, he argued, had been committed by someone else.
Lambourne, with a shrewdness quite in consonance with his abilities
and with his study of crime, had guessed from the beginning the
identity of the culprit.  His story about laying the false clue of
the cricket-bat was true; in his own queer, tortuous way he had
done his best to unmask the murderer.  Later, however, he had got
into a mess; he had imagined that Guthrie suspected him (and
perhaps the detective did), and he had been greatly upset by the
severity of Guthrie's cross-examination.  Even though he might have
known that Guthrie could prove nothing, he would have worried
desperately over the matter; in fact, as Geoffrey Lambourne had
said, it was just the sort of thing he could not endure.

Then suddenly (so Revell's theory continued), he had realised how
the whole terrible business might react on Mrs. Ellington.  The
detective, in course of time, might subject HER to the same savage
questioning.  Even if he did eventually arrive at the right
conclusion and arrest Ellington, there could be nothing but
unhappiness in store for Mrs. Ellington.  For though she might not
care for her husband a great deal, to see him tried and convicted
for murder would be a frightful ordeal.  And an ordeal, too, from
which he (Lambourne) would save her if he could.  Most likely he
had not reached his final decision until that last evening when she
had visited him.  Her kindness then, her solicitude for his health,
and his own deep love for her, might all have combined to give him
a vision of that simple, ultimate sacrifice which would ensure her
peace of mind.  After all, what did it matter?  He had no family to
disgrace; his health was bad; he would probably not live long in
any case.  He had no future to which he or any other human being
could look forward hopefully; he was doomed, in some sense, as much
as any convicted criminal.  Why not, indeed, cut the Gordian knot
that entangled his own miserable affairs, and those of Oakington
itself?  If he had said of Mrs. Thompson, a stranger, that he would
save her with his own life if he could, would he not be far more
likely to feel the same impulse of self-sacrifice towards Mrs.
Ellington, whom he loved?

Revell had to check himself from thinking too eloquently.  But it
really was remarkable how easily the details fitted in.
Lambourne's motives for the two murders, as recounted by Mrs.
Ellington, had been more than a little fantastic; but that was
quite natural if they had been merely a last-minute improvisation
by Lambourne himself.  The overdose of veronal, too, took on
another aspect when viewed in this light; Revell was now convinced,
with Guthrie, that it had been suicide.  To confess to a crime one
hadn't committed was surely enough; to stand trial and go to the
scaffold for it was well beyond most human endurance.  Revell could
picture the scene in Lambourne's room on that fatal night--could
picture Mrs. Ellington soothing him, as she believed, to sleep,
after receiving his promise that he would repeat his confession to
the detective on the morrow.  But doubtless he had not been really
asleep, but merely closing his eyes, happy with her so close to him
and well satisfied with the neatness of his plan.  And then, when
at length she had gone, he had--perhaps with a last cynical smile--
reached out for the bottle and played his final act in the rather
incomprehensible drama of life.

Revell jotted down the whole of this new theory without its
emotional trimmings, and then considered it as critically as he
could.  It seemed to him to have few flaws.  Of two theories, both
equally unprovable, he considered it rather more credible than the
other.  Both were intricate, both were perhaps fantastic; but his
was psychologically in character, whereas the other was not.

But of course the greatest and most important difference between
the new theory and the old one was that while the former was a
final and definite closure of the whole affair, the latter opened
it wider than ever.  For if Lambourne had not committed the two
murders, then someone else had; and that someone else was still,
presumably, alive and at Oakington.  And suddenly, with a fresh and
more sinister thrill, Revell re-read his earlier memorandum of one
of Max Lambourne's aphorisms--"two successful murders very often
lead to a third."

A THIRD?  Was it possible, then, that at that very moment somewhere
within those sham Gothic walls the murderer was already
contemplating the final item of his triple bill?



CHAPTER X

MORE THEORIES


An inter-school cricket-match on a blazing midsummer afternoon is
decidedly not an occasion to encourage morbid introspection, and it
must be admitted that Revell's latest theory did not seem quite so
probable as he languidly listened to the plick-plock of the
Oakington cricketers from a deck-chair by the side of the pavilion.
He was supposed to be watching them, but in reality his eyes were
half-closed and he could see nothing but sunlight and the brim of
his Panama.  From time to time, obedient to a warning murmur about
him, he would cautiously open one eye and ejaculate a tired cry of
"Well played, sir!" or "Oh, jolly well hit, sir!"  It amused him to
be a ritualist on such occasions.

It was true that his theory did not seem quite so fundamentally
probable under that canopy of blue sky and sunshine.  To begin
with, it was several days old, and he had almost pondered it out of
existence.  Indeed, after so much prolonged reflection, he had now
at odd moments considerable difficulty in believing that there had
been any murders, or even deaths at all, and that Lambourne,
Ellington, Guthrie, and the rest of them could have been any more
substantial than creatures of a dyspeptic dream.  Only his own
mysterious presence at an Oakington School cricket-match kept him a
little anchored to reality.  Why WAS he at Oakington, anyway?  Oh
yes, the boy Marshall and so on. . . .  He found himself strangely
transfixed between sleep and wakefulness, while something
subconsciously authoritative warned him to be careful.  He had had
the thing too much on his mind; he was in danger of becoming
obsessed with it.  Perhaps Roseveare and Guthrie were right; it was
better to forget.  Yes, better to forget.  Better by far he should
forget and smile than that he should remember and go mad. . . .
Ah, well played, sir!  Very pretty--VERY pretty! . . .

Gradually he became aware that some object of fair size intervened
between his eyes and the Oakington eleven.  And that object, under
closer examination, revealed itself as the front portion of a pair
of trousers.  Furthermore, on tilting his hat-brim a little
upwards, he perceived that the trousers were occupied, as it were,
and surmounted by an Eton jacket and a face which, in a vague sort
of way, he seemed to remember.

"Excuse me, sir, but could I and my friend see you for a minute or
two?"

"See me?"  He stared sleepily.  "Why yes, of course, if you
particularly want to."

The boy nodded with extraordinary gravity.  "I'm Jones Tertius, sir--
you spoke to me when you came here last year.  And this is my
friend Mottram."

A second Eton jacket obtruded into the line of vision, but by this
time Revell was three-quarters awake.  "Oh, you're Jones, are you?
Jones--JONES?  Good Lord, yes--I remember, of course."  The final
quarter of complete consciousness returned to him with a rush.
"Delighted to see you again, Jones--and your friend, too.  Can I
help you at all?"

"Well, you see, sir, we thought--or at least Mottram thought--"

"Stop a minute.  Is it anything particularly private?"

"Well, perhaps it is, sir, in a way."

"Then let's take a stroll where we shan't be interrupted."  He rose
out of his deck-chair and unostentatiously piloted the two boys
beyond the pavilion throng.  "Looks as if we shall win, eh?" he
commented.  "That batsman's got a fine stroke--what's the chap's
name?"

"Teviot, sir," replied Mottram.

"Ah yes, Teviot--he had a brother here in my time, I think."  Not
that Revell cared two straws about Teviot or his brother, but it
was the sort of conversation that the Head's secretary might
legitimately be overheard having with two juniors.

When the three of them were well out of earshot of the crowd,
Revell changed the subject abruptly.  "Now then, Jones, you and
your friend can talk to me as much as you like."

Jones flushed and seemed rather nervous.  "It's like this, sir," he
began.  "We thought--or rather, it wasn't me who thought at first,
sir, but Mottram--It was he who had the idea--and he--he asked me--
and--"  His breath or perhaps his nerve gave way at that point, and
Revell, who liked and understood youngsters better than he
admitted, gave his arm a friendly squeeze.

"Well," he said sympathetically, "since Mottram seems to have done
all the thinking, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea if he did the
telling, eh?"

Jones looked greatly relieved; it was clearly only his good manners
as an earlier acquaintance that had constrained him to act as
spokesman.  Mottram, on the other hand, as soon as the signal was
given, began to talk with a suddenness that reminded Revell of a
B.B.C. announcer late with his programme and trying to save an odd
minute over the reading of the news items.  "Jones told me," he
rattled off, "about you questioning him about Marshall Secundus,
sir, and when you came here again just after Marshall Primus was
killed, I thought you were probably a detective, sir."

"Oh, you DID, did you?"  The truth, or partly the truth, in a
single sentence!  Mottram was clearly a force to be reckoned with.
"Well, it was an ingenious theory, but that's all, I'm afraid.  You
know now, of course, that I'm merely Dr. Roseveare's secretary."

"Yes, sir, but I thought perhaps that was only a sort of blind--
detectives often do that sort of thing when they're working on a
case."

"Do they, by Jove?  You seem to know a lot about detectives and
their ways."

"Yes, sir.  My father's a detective."

"Oh, I see.  That accounts for it."  (And he snobbishly thought:
Good heavens, does the modern detective, not content with
graduating at Oxford, send his sons to a boarding-school?)
"Anyhow," he added, "I'm not a detective, either in disguise or
otherwise, so I'm afraid you're wrong."

"I'm sorry, sir."

"Oh, it doesn't matter, I assure you.  And I'm quite interested in
the affair about the Marshall boys, and if you do happen to know
anything of special interest about it, I'd be glad to hear what it
is."

"It wasn't about the two boys, sir--it was about Mr. Lambourne."

"Mr. Lambourne, eh?"

"Yes, sir.  You see, I thought that perhaps as the two boys may
have been murdered, Mr. Lambourne may have been murdered as well."

Revell had the presence of mind to be severe.  "Mr. Lambourne
murdered?  My dear fellow, you're talking through your hat, or you
would be, if you'd got one on!  And really, though I daresay you
mean well, it's not altogether proper of you to go about spreading
ideas of that kind!  Didn't you read the Head's remarks in the
newspapers a little while ago?  I'm sure you did.  He said that
probably there hadn't been any murders at all.  And now, apart from
taking no notice of that, you're calmly suggesting that the death
of Mr. Lambourne was another murder!  I'm ashamed of you, Mottram.
You're obviously an intelligent person--I'm sure your opinions must
count a good deal amongst your friends, and it's just your kind of
person who ought to squash these absurd rumours, not invent them!"

Revell thought that was rather well spoken.  But Mottram was not to
be intimidated.  "I'm sorry, sir, I didn't think you would be
annoyed.  But I haven't spread any rumours.  I haven't talked to
anybody about this except Jones.  And I DO think the two Marshalls
were murdered, anyhow, and so do a lot of other people, my father
says."

"But, my dear boy, leaving the two Marshalls out of it for the time
being, what possible reason can you have for thinking that Mr.
Lambourne was murdered?"

"I don't say he was, sir.  I only say that if the two Marshalls
were, he might have been as well."

"MIGHT HAVE BEEN!  And how much do you suppose that counts without
any evidence?"

"Oh yes, I know, sir."  He seemed for a moment to be slightly
uncomfortable.  Then summoning fresh courage, he went on:  "The
fact is, sir, there IS something we happen to know that Jones
thought you might be interested in.  Of course it doesn't matter,
sir, if you'd rather we didn't bother you with it."

Revell laughed.  "Now you're coming to earth.  I'm willing enough
to hear facts, but I really must decline to listen to wild theories
without a shadow of foundation!"  (And he successfully contrived to
look indignant as he said it!)

"It's about the night that Mr. Lambourne--died--sir.  You remember
that at the inquest Mrs. Ellington was supposed to have been the
last person to see him.  She said that she left him soon after
eleven o'clock."

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, sir, somebody went to see him later than that."

Revell controlled his inward excitement.  "You'd better tell me how
you know and all about it."

"Yes, sir.  We thought you'd be interested."  There was just a
suggestion of a snigger on Mottram's face.  "You see, sir, Jones
and I were matched against each other in the School chess
tournament, and as we were rather late in playing off the game we
asked Mr. Lambourne during the afternoon if we could stay up after
lights-out and play it off in the Common Room.  It's better, you
know, to have everything quiet when you're playing chess."

"Doubtless.  But it wouldn't have been much of an excuse for
staying up late when I was a boy here."

"Ah yes, sir, but we asked Mr. Lambourne.  He often gave us
permission for things that no one else would."

"I see.  Well, go on.  He told you you could stay up, I suppose."

"Yes, sir.  We began to play about ten, and I won about a quarter
past eleven.  That was earlier than we'd expected, so we thought we
wouldn't go up to the dormitory immediately.  We put the light out
and sat by the window, you see--"

"In the dark?" Revell interrupted.

"There was moonlight, sir."

"But surely you wouldn't sit there doing nothing, even if there was
moonlight?"

"Well, sir, I suppose it doesn't matter if you DO know--we were
having a smoke."

"A SMOKE?"  He laughed.  "The old game, I see--I used to do it
myself.  But not at your age--it's really too early."  He tried to
look fatherly.  "However, go on with the story."

"About a quarter to twelve, sir, just when we were thinking it was
time to go to bed, we heard footsteps along the corridor coming
towards the Common Room door--it sounded like somebody in slippers.
Of course we got an awful wind-up, thinking somebody in the rooms
above might have smelt something, but the footsteps went right past
the door and down to the end of the corridor.  After they'd gone by
I went to the door and opened it an inch or so to see who it was,
and it was Dr. Roseveare, sir, in his dressing-gown.  Of course, as
you know, sir, there's only one place he could have been going to--
there's nothing beyond the Common Room except Mr. Lambourne's room
and the store-cupboards."

"Well, what happened after that?"

"I don't know, sir.  We waited a bit, till we thought he'd be
safely in Mr. Lambourne's room--then we scooted off to bed.  But
you see, sir, what it means--that the Head must have been there
later than anybody else!"

"Oh yes, I quite see that, Mottram."  He felt he must at all costs
minimise the importance of the affair, and he also did not much
care for Mottram, in whom he recognised an unpleasantly exact
replica of the sort of youngster he himself had been at such an
age.  "Interesting to know all this, of course, but it no more
proves Mr. Lambourne was murdered than it proves Queen Anne was
murdered.  'Fraid you won't successfully follow in your father's
footsteps, Mottram, if you let yourself jump to such wild
conclusions."  And to show that the matter had made only the
slightest of impressions on him, he resumed his chatter about the
cricket and led the two boys gently back to the pavilion.



But he knew that it was, or might be, tremendously important.  Mrs.
Ellington, according to her evidence, had left Lambourne at a
little after eleven.  The Head, in his dressing-gown, had visited
him at a quarter to twelve, and had returned at some later time
unknown.  Why?  What could have been the need for a visit at such
an hour?  And, most of all, why had Roseveare, when questioned by
Guthrie, told a direct lie by stating that he had not seen
Lambourne after nine o'clock?

That night, as Revell smoked a cigarette in bed, he found himself
thinking, incredulously at first, of Mottram's impudent suggestion
that Lambourne had been murdered.  Then suddenly, as if a window
had been opened in a hitherto closed room, he thought--Good God,
suppose the little devil were right?  Suppose Lambourne had known
too much, and the real criminal, whoever he was, had visited him
that night and dosed him, somehow or other, with the veronal
tablets?  Was it possible?  It did not invalidate the self-
sacrifice motive, though of course it might be found to supersede
it.  And it most certainly recalled Lambourne's axiom that two
successful murders often led to a third.  What, then, if the so-
probable third had already been committed, and Lambourne, by the
bitterest of ironies, had been its victim?

So, for a little time, Revell permitted himself to suspect the Head.
Roseveare had, all along, behaved with a certain suspiciousness; he
possessed, too, more perhaps than anyone else at Oakington, the kind
of brain that could plan deeply and craftily.  Unfortunately, apart
from the one item of his late and unacknowledged visit to Lambourne,
there was not a tittle of evidence against him.  There was not even
a possible motive.  Why on earth should a headmaster murder two of
his boys and thereby ruin the reputation of his school?

To which the answer came, in due course, that Roseveare need by no
means have murdered the boys at all.  Supposing that Ellington had
done that, that Lambourne had discovered proof, and that Roseveare,
to avoid the worst sort of scandal, had politely snuffed out the
too-clever investigator?  THERE was a motive, at any rate, and a
fairly likely one.  Was the theory possible, then?

When Revell reached that point in his reflections, he dashed his
head desperately against the pillows and made up his mind that he
would die rather than formulate any further theory.  He had
theorised and theorised and theorised, and each theory fitted in so
beautifully until the next one came along, and at the end of it all
he was hardly an inch nearer any provable solution.  It would
certainly drive him completely mad if he did not give it up; it was
a sort of mental debauchery that sapped his energies and made him
feel as impotent as a Euclid theorem in the hands of a relativist
mathematician.  Henceforth, he decided, with many vows, he would
merely observe.  He would observe Ellington, Mrs. Ellington,
Roseveare, Daggat, Brownley, Jones Tertius, Mottram, the School
House cat--every living thing, in fact, in that extraordinary
conglomeration of mysteries that was placed between Nottingham High
School and Oundle in the Public Schools Year-Book.  He would be the
angel in the house--the recording angel, at any rate, in School
House.



CHAPTER XI

AMOROUS INTERLUDE


     So it began--the strangest idyll, glowing
       Fitfully nearer to his young heart's core,
     And also, on the woman's side, o'erflowing
       With sharp and febrile ardours that are more
     Than ever likely to make sudden showing
       After ten years of marriage to a bore,
     Breeding repressions such as Dr. Freud did
       Well to tell us how are best avoided.


So wrote Revell towards midnight in his room in School House on the
seventh of July.  As more befitting his secretarial position, he
had ceased to lodge at the Head's house and had been allotted
instead the room opposite Ellington's adjacent to the junior
dormitory.  The change suited him well, since he had more time to
himself and could feel himself less under the immediate
surveillance of Dr. Roseveare.

It was his first completed stanza for a month, and he was rather
proud of it.  (It would need a preliminary one, of course, closing
up his hero's previous adventure and introducing a new one, but
that could be done later.  One of the advantages of the Don Juan
idea was that the hero could do anything he or his creator liked so
long as he kept within the rhymed Iambic pentameter.)

Revell had been observing for exactly a fortnight, and he had kept
his vow--he had not permitted himself a single new theory.  The
restriction had at first been irksome, but after a time he had
grown almost completely satisfied to be merely a watcher, a noter-
down of unconsidered trifles.  Such as, for example, that Ellington
was getting more ill-tempered and morose than ever; that his wife
bore her burden with a patience which must, sooner or later, break
down; that the Head, too, was showing signs of the abnormal strain
of recent affairs; that Mottram was cheeky and needed a thrashing;
that the new master appointed in place of Lambourne was an amusing
youngster named Pulteney, fresh from Cambridge; and that house-
matches were less of a bore to watch when Pulteney and himself had
previously arranged an intricate series of shilling bets upon the
number of runs made by each of the twenty-two players.

And also, of course (for it deserves a paragraph to itself), that
Mrs. Ellington was an exceedingly charming woman.  He had thought
so all along, but the revelation had not come to him with full
intensity till he took on his rôle of Sunday and weekday observer.
He saw her quite often--by chance that was just pleasantly
flavoured with the doubt as to whether both of them had not been
looking out for each other a little.  They talked a good deal about
matters which had nothing to do with the School and its affairs--of
books, plays, pictures, and so on; she knew very little, but had a
lively intelligence, and it delighted Revell to instruct her.  She
hardly ever mentioned her husband, but it was impossible to ignore
the ever-present tragedy of her married life; Ellington was at
worst churlish and at best boring.  Revell, as his own friendship
with her developed and as his feelings for her increased in warmth,
could well imagine the relationship that had existed between
herself and Lambourne.  How she must have enjoyed Lambourne's
clever chatter after her husband's surly silences; and how he,
in turn, must have ached for the woman who had borne, so
uncomplainingly, the first decade of a probable life-sentence.

To Revell, naturally, the chief count against Ellington was that he
was a double murderer.  Yet it was strange how one could accept
even the most horrible situation after a time; and there were
certainly moments when Revell almost forgot about the murders and
hated Ellington most of all for some minor but exasperating piece
of rudeness towards his wife.

Once, however, he made an interesting and rather revealing
experiment (though, true to his vow, he did not allow himself to
dogmatise from it).  He was dining with the Head and allowed the
conversation to turn on the new-comer, Pulteney.  He said he liked
him, and spoke approvingly of his discipline, both in form and in
the house.  Roseveare cordially agreed, and Revell added:  "To be
quite frank, that seemed rather the weak spot in Lambourne,
admirable as he was in other ways--he sometimes let the kids have
too much of their own way."

Roseveare again agreed, and Revell, who had carefully planned his
own moves in the conversation, continued:  "A rather amusing
example of his slack ways came under my notice quite recently, in
fact.  I remember it particularly because it happened on the night
before he was found dead--I'd decided to chaff him about it the
next day, poor fellow.  I was taking a stroll about the quad latish
in the evening--perhaps it would be half-past eleven or so--when,
as I came near School House, I thought I heard voices in the Common
Room.  Naturally I went to investigate, and what d'you suppose it
was?  Two juniors playing chess!  Of course it was no business of
mine, especially as they said Lambourne had given 'em permission,
so I just left 'em there, and Heaven alone knows when they DID go
to bed.  But chess, mind you--at getting on for midnight!"

He saw that Roseveare had gone very slightly pale and that his
knuckles were whitening as he clenched them on the table.  "Who
were the ruffians--purely as a matter of curiosity?" he queried,
with an effort to appear casual.

But Revell had expected the question, and was not to be caught so
easily.  "Didn't ask 'em, I'm afraid, and probably wouldn't know
'em even if I saw 'em again.  You can guess they had the lights
pretty low."

And then he changed the subject.  He was quite satisfied; he had
made another observation.



In his talks with Mrs. Ellington he never mentioned the murders.
It was easy not to, now that the affair had practically died out of
the newspapers; and, of course, the fact that in her eyes Lambourne
was the proved culprit while he himself believed so differently,
acted as a simple barrier to discussion between them.  Sometimes,
though not often, she mentioned Lambourne in some other connexion,
and Revell was pleased to note how generous and fair-minded she
was; her belief in his guilt had not closed up all the wells of her
pity for him.

She was, Revell thought, entirely and deliciously adorable.
Sometimes, as they took tea together, or as they chatted during
some chance meeting in the lane, he almost caught himself wanting
to kiss her.  Her delicate smallness appealed so mutely for
protection, and her dark eyes, that were sad as a rule when they
first met, brightened so noticeably during their moments together
that he could not but feel that she, as well as he, was attracted.
It more than gratified him; it almost, when he grasped the full
significance of it, intoxicated him.  Oakington was a dark forest,
and he himself was a knight of chivalry faced with the task of
rescuing a particularly enchanting damsel from the maw of a
particularly nauseating ogre.  More and more, as those days of July
slipped by, his aim became rescue as well as retribution; and
though he dreaded the moment when she would learn the truth, he
looked forward to the equally inevitable moment when she would
realise how and from what he might have saved her.

They came to calling each other by their Christian names.  Hers was
Rosamund.  He made absurd puns about it; once, when she came
cycling along the drive on a rainy afternoon, he called out "Sic
Transit Gloria Rosamundi", which he thought not bad.  She smiled,
dismounted, and answered:  "I'm going to have a real transit very
soon.  Tom's arranged that we shall leave England on the tenth of
August.  Just think of it--only a fortnight after Term ends for all
the shopping I shall have to do!"

"You're going away so soon?"  He was almost bewildered.

"Yes.  We shall be on our plantation or whatever it is by the time
the Autumn Term begins here.  It's a terrible rush, but of course
if we're going to go, there's not much point in delaying over it."

Revell nodded, still dazedly.  He was amazed to discover what a
personal blow it was to him.  Disappointment and then indignation
succeeded.  "But, Rosamund, what an awful life for you!  Have you
really thought what it will mean?  Some God-forsaken back-block in
the middle of Africa--no theatres, no books, no shops--"

"Oh, but we shall have a car," she interrupted, "and every three
months or so I shall drive the two hundred miles for a week's
shopping in Nairobi.  And Mudie's will probably send out a box of
books now and again, including yours as fast as they come out,
Colin.  And there are several other people living within twenty
miles or so."

"God--I don't know how you can bear to think of it all."

"But I don't think of it.  I just live on from day to day."  She
stared mutely at the front tyre of her bicycle.  "What else is
there to do?"

"I know."  It was pouring with rain, but neither of them moved.  "I
shall be sorry not to see you again," he said at last.

"Yes.  And I too.  We have been good friends."  And she added, with
a lessening of reserve that only emphasised the reticence of her
entire attitude hitherto:  "I believe you understand a great deal
more than I could ever tell you.  Perhaps we shall meet again at
the concert to-night?  Will you go?"

"If YOU go.  Rather.  I'll keep a seat for you."

She smiled and mounted her machine, and he went back to his room in
a state of curiously mingled joy and misery.  She had spoken to him
perhaps more intimately than ever before, yet it was all clouded
over by the imminence of her departure.  He had never guessed that
it could matter so much to him.  Just over three weeks and she
would be en route with her husband for Africa.  Revell perceived,
with a feeling of sheer panic, that there was no time to be lost.
The unmasking of Ellington would have to take place during those
three weeks, or else never at all.  And his own observations,
though so far significant, were hardly yet of a kind to be acted
upon.

The departure was itself, of course, a suspicious thing.  Why such
enormous hurry to get away from Oakington?  Did it not seem as if
Ellington wished to put as great a distance as possible between
himself and the scene of his crimes?

Meanwhile, all the more intensely in the face of their possible
separation so soon, Revell looked forward to the concert.  It was a
terminal affair, held in the Memorial Hall, and attended by the
whole school.  A few of Oakington's most promising musicians took
part, and this native talent was helped out by visiting artists
from London who might or might not be worth hearing.  Revell, whose
appreciation of music was fastidious, would never have thought of
going but for Mrs. Ellington; yet for her sake he would cheerfully
endure, if not fire and water, at least Liszt's Second Rhapsody
bungled by a nervously ambitious schoolboy.

She joined him just before the concert began and smilingly thanked
him for keeping a seat for her.  (Ellington, of course, was not
with her; he was entirely unmusical.)  During the first half of the
programme, made up of various items by the boys, Revell hardly
exchanged a word with her, but when the interval came they chatted
a little.  It had always been their habit to pretend, to
themselves, at any rate, that they were only left together by some
astonishing accident of fate; thus Revell, observing the
convention, gave the necessary opening.  "I suppose Mr. Ellington
couldn't manage to come?"

And she answered:  "No, he doesn't care for concerts much.  He's
gone to Easthampton on business and won't be back till the last
train."

The second half of the programme consisted simply of the Kreutzer
Sonata, played by a visiting pianist and violinist of considerable
talent.  Revell, at any rate, with Mrs. Ellington by his side, was
in a mood to be impressed.  The Kreutzer had always been a
favourite of his, and to hear it now gave him an extraordinary
sensation of having Heaven on his side.  During the tranquil adagio
movement he was calmed, mellowed, made ready for the triumphant
ecstasy to which the final presto movement raised him.  When the
last chord had been struck he was left full of speechless emotion.
Only after they had fussed their way out through the crowd and were
standing together in the bright star-shine did he find words, and
then merely to suggest a stroll.

She agreed.

They set out for the conventional circuit of the Ring.  There was
no moon, but a sky pale with stars, and the beauty of it threw
enchantment even over the architectural monstrosities of the
skyline.  Oakington was going to bed; ten o'clock chimed from the
School clock; light after light disappeared from those rows of
windows that were the dormitories.  The smell of the trees and the
mown grass was in the air; an owl hooted into the blue-black
silence.

He began, with the Kreutzer Sonata still dreamily in his ears:
"D'you know, Rosamund, I'm beginning to find myself in a queer
situation.  I--I rather think--I'm falling in love with you."

"Are you?"  She did not seem particularly surprised, but there was
a tremor of something else in her voice.

"Yes, I'm afraid so.  Do you mind?"

"Why should I mind something so--so--something so--"  She
hesitated, and then suddenly seemed to shake herself into another
mood.  "Really, Colin, I don't quite know what I'm talking about,
and neither do you, I think.  I don't mind, of course--in fact, I
feel rather thrilled about it--but it's all rather futile and
pointless in a way, don't you think?"

"Yes, but--"  He tried to protest, but there was no need, for with
immense astonishment he found her in his arms and her lips
approaching his.  "Colin," she whispered, "Colin--just once--and
then never again--just once--"

He kissed her.  It went to his head like rare wine; he began to
chatter wildly in his enthusiasm.  Gone now was his caution in
mentioning Ellington; he spoke of him quite openly as a man whom
she did not and could not love.  "Oh, why DID you marry him,
Rosamund?  I've always wondered.  He's so utterly the opposite of
you in every way--do you think everyone hasn't noticed it?
Rosamund, you hate him, I know--you MUST do--it's impossible to
think of you spending all the rest of your life with him.  And in
Kenya, of all places.  Rosamund, you simply CAN'T do it!"

"I can.  I shall just have to."

"Not if you were to run away from him."

"But I couldn't do that."

"Why not?"

And he had a swift vision of Rosamund and himself sharing some art-
and-crafty studio in Chelsea, himself writing high-brow novels and
Rosamund painting futurist pictures or making terra-cotta
statuettes or casting horoscopes or keeping a hat shop or employing
her time in some such task that possessed the conventional amount
of unconventionality.  His own four or five pounds a week plus,
say, half as much from her, would easily permit them to sustain an
idyllic existence on love, art, gin, and tinned sardines.
Delightful prospect!  Was he game for it?  He believed he was, and
with rising enthusiasm in his voice, rapidly sketched out to her
the bare outlines of such a future.

"You're a dear boy," she said, when he had finished.  "I believe I
should be perfectly happy with you like that, too.  But of course
you don't really mean it.  It's the Kreutzer Sonata gone to your
head, that's all.  What a pity I'm not a designing woman, or I
might take you at your word!"

"DO!" he cried, eagerly.  "I only wish you would!"

She laughed.  "Suppose I do, then?  When shall we go to your little
Chelsea studio?  To-night?  There's the last train to town at
eleven, you know.  Or perhaps to-morrow would give us more time to
pack.  And I could leave the conventional note on the dressing-
table for Tom. . . .  Ah, I can see from your eyes that you don't
really mean what you've been saying.  Never mind--I'm not offended.
I love you for your romantic impulsiveness."

"But I DO mean it," he retorted, stung a little.  "I mean every
word of it.  And at the end of the Term--"

"Why wait till then?"

"I--I don't know--except that it would give us time to--to prepare
things.  And there would be less scandal here, too.  After all,
there's been enough lately."

That seemed to bring a cloud within sight of them both.  "True,"
she admitted.  "It's been the most dreadful of years--when I look
back on it all--"  She shivered a little.  "The only bright spot
was when you came here.  You're such an unlikely sort of person to
be a headmaster's secretary.  Whatever made you give up that
wonderful life in London to come to Oakington?"

"Just a change of atmosphere."

"Yes, I should think so."  She was silent for a while, and then
added, in a different voice:  "No, Colin, on second thoughts I
don't know that I'd want to go away with you.  You wouldn't treat
me as I'd want to be treated.  You'd think me too small--too
scatter-brained, I suppose--to be trusted with your intimate
secrets.  You don't REALLY trust me, do you?"

"Trust you?  Why, of course I do!"

"Then why didn't you tell me the truth about why you came here?  Do
you think I really believe you only came for a change of
atmosphere?  Besides, you don't do an hour's secretarial work in a
week.  No, my dear Colin, you're a clever boy, and you're having
some clever game of some kind, though I'm not quite certain what it
is.  And I shouldn't wonder if you've only been making love to me
with some hidden purpose."

"Rosamund, that's not true!"  He was sincerely indignant that she
should think him capable of such a thing.  "I assure you--"

"You assure me that you came here from London merely for a change
of atmosphere, and that the Head lets you stay here as his
secretary and do no work?"  She suddenly began to cry.  "I'm
sorry," she whispered, "but I can't help it.  I believed you for a
moment--just while you were kissing me--but--but now--"

"No, really--"  He tried to take her in his arms again, but she
eluded him.  "Really, you mustn't do that. . . .  Rosamund. . . .
It isn't that I've been really deceiving you--it's--oh, dash it
all, if there's no other way of convincing you, I'll tell you
everything--"

"Not if you'd rather not.  Not unless you're sure you thoroughly
trust me."

"Of course I trust you.  It never had anything to do with that.  It
was merely--oh, Rosamund, didn't you say yourself how dreadful the
past year had been?  Well, I knew that, and I wanted to save you
from being dragged into any more of it."

"More of it?"  Her voice was incredulous.  "But surely--surely it's
all over now?  I had hoped--"

"Yes, I know.  So had I--so had everybody.  But I'm rather afraid
it isn't--or at any rate, may not be--QUITE over yet."

"I don't think I understand at all," she said, in a slow, chilled
voice.  "Tell me the whole truth, Colin, however terrible it is."

But that, of course, was just what he could not do; he could not
tell her how he suspected her husband.  So he told her merely that
in his opinion the murderer had not been Lambourne.  She was
astonished, bewildered--the revelation disturbed, he could see, the
whole foundations of her recent life.  "Not Mr. Lambourne?" she
echoed.  "But, Colin, he confessed to me!"

"I know he did, but it wasn't true."

"Then why--why should he confess?"

"He might have wanted to save someone else."

She was bewildered for a long time.  He could not be too explicit
with her lest he made it clear who, in his opinion, HAD committed
the murders.  In fact, his whole story was far less convincing than
it ought to have been, by reason of the large suppressions he had
perforce to make.  Yet, in the end, she seemed dubiously persuaded.
Woman-like, she went straight to the crux of the matter.  "But,
Colin, if Mr. Lambourne didn't do it, then who did?"

"Yes, of course.  And that's just what I don't know for certain,
though I've got suspicions."

"Won't you tell me?"

"It wouldn't be fair.  They may be quite unfounded.  Far better not
talk about it till the suspicions become certainties."

"But supposing they never do?"

"They probably will.  Criminals always give themselves away if you
watch them long enough."

"Do you really think that?"

"I'm sure of it."

"But--how horrible it all is--it may be somebody we all know--
somebody we meet every day--"

"Quite possibly."  He nodded gravely.  He felt that years hence,
when he came to write his reminiscences as a crime-investigator, he
would begin a chapter with the sentence:  "Of all the mysteries
that it has fallen to my lot to unravel, that of the Oakington
murders was undoubtedly the most horrible. . . ."

She clung to his arm with a timid gesture that made him feel
superbly protective.  "Colin, let's go in now--I think I'm a little
scared after all this.  It's getting late, too--Tom will soon be
back."

From the way she spoke her husband's name he knew that he had
avoided giving her the slightest inkling as to where his suspicions
lay.

On the way back to the School they talked in a new mood of
seriousness.  "So you see," he explained, "what it all means.
There were only three people in the world who knew that Lambourne
had confessed to you--Detective Guthrie, me, and yourself.  But
there are only two--yourself and me--who know that Lambourne's
confession was false."

"And there is only ONE who knows--or has an idea--who really is the
murderer."

He half-smiled.  "Perhaps."

"Mr. Guthrie believed that Mr. Lambourne had done it?"

"Oh yes.  As he was so often careful to tell me, it was facts HE
was bothered about, not theories.  The fact that Lambourne had
confessed to you was enough for him.  Perhaps it ought to have been
enough for me, too, but--well, it wasn't."

"So you're doing this altogether on your own?"

"Altogether."  He felt a strong pride rising in him.  "I believe
that somewhere on these premises there is a person who has
committed the most devilish crimes, and if the police are satisfied
to give the matter up as a bad job, then I am not."

"You're brave, Colin."

"No, it isn't that.  It's more, to be quite frank, a sort of
damnable conceit that I've got."

"You think you'll get the murderer, then, in the end?"

"Yes, I do.  I've certain evidence already, and I hope to get more
very soon."

She shuddered.  "It all sounds so terribly ruthless.  Oh, let's
hurry--I seem to see people hiding behind every tree."

He left her at the door of her house and climbed to his own room in
a state of strange excitement.  He had kissed her, and she was the
first married woman he had ever kissed.  He perceived that he had
passed a definite milestone in life.

But the incident was not repeated.  Indeed, there came no suitable
opportunity.  When first they met again after the night of the
concert, she warned him that they must be more discreet.  "Because
I have an idea Tom guesses how I feel towards you," she explained,
and the confession helped to soften the restrictions it
foreshadowed.  Revell, too, now that the Kreutzer Sonata mood had
worn off, was less inclined to be reckless; he saw at any rate that
to have Ellington jealous of him would only complicate the final
and more important issue.

The matter, however, led to a short but rather revealing
conversation.  He agreed that the very last thing he desired was to
make things more difficult for her than they were.

"It isn't that," she answered.  "I'm not thinking of myself at all--
so far as I'm concerned I wouldn't much care what happened.  I'm
thinking of you."

"ME?"

"Yes."

"But _I_ don't care, either--not personally.  A writer isn't
supposed to have much of a reputation, you know."

She smiled.  "I wasn't thinking of your reputation.  It's more a
matter of your personal safety.  Oh, I know you'll think that's
absurd and melodramatic, but it isn't.  You don't know Tom as I
do."

The obvious corollary that neither did she know Tom as he did,
struck at him with sinister intensity.  "But surely you don't mean
to say that I should be in actual physical danger from him?"

"You might be," she answered.  "It's a frightful thing to have to
confess about one's husband, but it's true.  He'd do nearly
anything in a fit of jealousy.  And I think--already--he's a little
jealous of you.  That's why we must be careful."

So they saw far less of each other during that final fortnight of
the Term.  It was just as well, Revell admitted to himself, for
there had been more than a whisper of talk among the masters, and
even the Head had come to know that his secretary and the wife of
one of his housemasters had struck up a rather close friendship.
As end of Term approached, however, the scandal-mongers were
baffled, for Revell and Mrs. Ellington entirely ceased their habit
of openly chatting for half an hour on the edge of the quadrangle
within sight of all Oakington.  Once or twice she called on him in
his room in the evening, but stayed only for a moment or so,
finding him busy on what he had already come to think of as "the
case".  He had never, in fact, been so intent upon anything in his
life.  So much, he knew, depended on whether, during the few days
that still intervened before the departure of the Ellingtons, he
could manage to discover some last fragment of conclusive evidence.
It was maddening to be so morally certain of Ellington's guilt and
to have collected such a mass of suspicious probabilities against
him, yet to lack just the one single thread of hard fact that would
knit the whole into a presentable indictment.  As each day passed
and still that fact eluded his most strenuous search, Revell became
fidgety to the point of panic.  Hour after hour in his room in
School House he sat at his desk before the window pondering over
the pencilled entries in his notebook in the hope that somehow or
other an avenue of swift investigation might suggest itself.  He
even sent to his Islington lodgings for his portable typewriter and
laboriously typed out the contents of his notebook on quarto
sheets; he thought that their added clarity in such a form might
well reward him for his trouble.

End of Term came; Oakington dispersed to its homes; the School
itself took on that air of dreary desolation that always hangs
about deserted buildings.  On the last evening before the break-up,
Ellington, in the presence of the whole school assembled in the
Hall, had been presented with a large and opulent-looking cowhide
valise.  Dr. Roseveare's speech had naturally been a perfect model
for such occasions.  He had mentioned Ellington's years of faithful
service, had hinted vaguely at recent ill-health and at a decision
to assist recovery by living the freer, more invigorating life of
the Colonies.  "And so, remembering what a lot of good wishes he
will have to take with him, we thought we would give him this bag
to carry them in!"  Oh, very pretty--VERY pretty, Revell had
murmured to himself.

Revell's position at the School, now that Term was over, was
becoming somewhat anomalous, but Roseveare eased it considerably by
suggesting that he should stay on a few days if it convenienced him
at all.  Revell accepted the offer with relief, and in his own room
that night addressed himself to a last, frenzied attempt at solving
the Oakington problem.  First of all he typed out, in concise form,
the sum-total of his reasons for suspecting Ellington.  They were
as follows:

(1) He had strong motive for both crimes.

(2) He has no alibi for the time when the second murder was
committed, and probably none for the time of the first,
either.

(3) The revolver with which the second murder was committed
belonged to him.

(4) He is, according to his wife, a violent man.

(5) He plans to leave England almost immediately.

Fairly impressive, Revell thought, as he looked it over.  And then,
rather suddenly, he thought of something else that should, he
upbraided himself, have struck him long before.  It was a chilly
evening for the time of the year, and he had donned a dressing-gown
for warmth while he sat at his writing-desk.  That reminded him of
the dressing-gown that Wilbraham Marshall had worn on the night of
the murder.  Thus, with amazing swiftness, the sequence of argument
developed.  The boy, Revell assumed, had been shot whilst standing
on the edge of the bath.  He would, therefore, since the bath was
empty, have been wearing his dressing-gown.  Almost certainly it
would have been stained with blood; ergo, the murderer, if he
wished to leave an impression of an accidental dive, would have had
to remove the soiled dressing-gown and leave another, unsoiled, on
the side of the bath.  Doubtless the former had been destroyed, but
the latter, included presumably amongst the boy's other
possessions, might well yield valuable clues.  Whose was it, for
example, and how had it been obtained?

The idea seemed so promising, and the urgency of the whole matter
had lately been driving Revell into such agonies of fretfulness,
that he allowed himself the relief of feeling that he had now
really and definitely scored.  The dressing-gown ought, somehow or
other, to implicate Ellington.  How, of course, had yet to be
discovered, and there was distinctly no time to waste.  He did not
even at first know where the dressing-gown was; but a seemingly
casual chat with Brownley drew the information that it had been
taken charge of by Detective Guthrie along with other belongings of
the dead boy.

Revell was slightly chagrined by that, for Guthrie was perhaps the
last person he wished to drag back into the affair.  Guthrie, in
his opinion, had bungled the case altogether and thrown it up far
too readily; he had also, Revell considered, treated a youthful
amateur with a patronage and condescension quite unjustified by
their respective degrees of success.  Yet there was nothing else
for it; the clue of the dressing-gown must not be overlooked.  So
Revell, after much cogitation, there and then composed the
following:


MY DEAR GUTHRIE,

I am still interesting myself somewhat in various aspects of recent
unhappy events here.  A point has occurred to me in connexion with
the dressing-gown left in the swimming-bath on the night of the
tragedy.  I believe you took charge of it, and if it is still in
your possession, would it be permissible for me to see it, at some
time and place to suit your convenience, but preferably as soon as
possible?

Yours faithfully,

COLIN REVELL.


He was rather proud of that letter; it seemed to conceal the
significance of the matter and to suggest rather a painstaking
research student busily gathering material for a thesis.  Guthrie
would probably laugh at the amateur who continued to bother with a
case long after it was finished, but that could not be helped.

Revell had just signed the letter and sealed it in an addressed
envelope when Mrs. Ellington chanced to call with a few books that
he had lent her from time to time.  (They were Brett Young's Tragic
Bride; Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome; and the play edition of Young
Woodley--all of which he had had to send for specially from his
rooms in Islington.  But it had been part of her education, of
course, and therefore worth the trouble.)  "We've already begun to
pack some of our things," she explained, "and I didn't want these
of yours to get mixed up with the rest."

He invited her to sit down, but she declined.  "Really, no, I
mustn't stay--it's too late.  And besides, you're busy."  She
approached his desk and looked over his shoulder.  "What--a letter
to Mr. Guthrie?"  Her exclamation of astonishment gratified him,
though, as a matter of fact, he would rather she had not known
about the letter.  "Colin--do you mean--does this mean--that at
last--at last--you've discovered who did it?"

He swung round and faced her startled eyes.  "Not perhaps all that,
Rosamund," he answered, but with a triumph he could not disguise.
"All the same, things are coming to a bit of a climax.  My letter
to Guthrie may--if I'm lucky--round off the whole thing."

"You mean that it will prove who did it?"

"It may LEAD to a final proof."

"But the School is broken up--everybody's away."

He answered cautiously:  "Yes, I know--it's a pity it couldn't have
happened earlier."  He had to go very carefully over this extremely
slippery ground, or she would assuredly begin to suspect the truth.
"Still, it's an advantage that everything's been kept so secret.
Guthrie's method of filling the School with policemen isn't perhaps
the best, after all."

She nodded.  "It's terrible, though."  He saw with deep pity the
strain that was put upon her; he smiled and, changing the subject,
asked how she felt about going away so soon.

"I'm trying my best to be thrilled," she answered, valiantly.  "It
seems almost impossible to believe that I shall soon be seeing
Paris, Marseilles, Suez, the Red Sea, and so many other places.  I
hate the thought of the life at the end of it all, but I daresay I
shall manage to enjoy the journey."

"Unfortunately the journey will only last three weeks, whereas the
life after it--"

"Oh yes, but please don't remind me of it."

He felt he could all the better remind her of it because in his own
mind he was telling himself:  "She will never see those places--at
least, not with Ellington.  By the day planned for the departure,
Ellington will be under arrest.  It will be a bitter ordeal for
her, but perhaps less bitter than the one she is fearing now."

They chatted on for a time, more intimately than since the night of
the concert, till at last, with the chiming of the School clock,
she exclaimed:  "Oh, how thoughtless I've been--I've made you miss
the post with that important letter!  Really, Colin, I'm ever so
sorry!  Do forgive me!"

He had missed it right enough; the last collection from the village
post-office was made at ten-fifteen, and it had just chimed the
half-hour.  A pity; it would mean perhaps a day's delay, and a day
that could ill be spared.  Her face, however, so anxious and self-
reproachful, made him take an easier view of the matter.  After
all, he could go out and post the letter early in the morning in
time for the first collection.  He comforted her by saying so, and
assured her that it was not her fault at all.  Besides, it would
reach Guthrie some time on the morrow.  "And as soon as he gets
it," he added, "the wheels ought to be set in motion, and maybe
within twenty-four hours--"  He shrugged his shoulders; he could
not forbear a little boastfulness in front of her.  "It's been a
fearful job," he said, with the air of a veteran detective, and he
rejoiced to see the strange look of wonder in her eyes.

Suddenly, standing near the window, she stepped back with a
startled exclamation.  "Oh, Colin, I must hurry back.  I've just
seen Tom at the front door and he looked up and saw me here.  Isn't
it awful to have to run away like a guilty schoolboy?  But I must.
So good night."

But for the compelling thought of what was so soon to happen, he
would have refused to let her go.  He would have said:  "No, you
are doing no harm here and here you shall stay.  And if your
husband fancies he has any grievance, then let him come here and
talk to me about it. . . ."  That, undoubtedly, would have been
magnificent, but, in the circumstances, it would hardly have been
the right kind of war.  So, with inward indignation and a final
handshake of sympathy and understanding, he opened the door for her
and heard her light footsteps die away along the corridor.



CHAPTER XII

ALMOST THE FOURTH OAKINGTON TRAGEDY


It was getting on for eleven, but he was far too excited for sleep;
the dressing-gown clue and her visit to him had combined to fill
his mind with surging anticipations.  What, he speculated, would
happen to her after her husband's arrest?  How would she take it?
Was there anywhere she could go, or anyone who would look after
her?  It would be a frightful position for a woman to be in, but
was it any more frightful than the position she was in, all
unknowingly, at the moment?  He wondered if definite suspicion of
her husband had ever crossed her mind.  Some little thing that he
had said or done--some odd happening or coincidence that had seemed
trivial enough at the time, but which she might have remembered
since--had she ever envisaged the terrible possibility?  He rather
believed that she hadn't, despite Roseveare's queer story of her
behaviour after the dormitory affair.  It was a pity, in a way; it
would have made it easier for her when the crisis did come.

She would have to leave Oakington of course.  How would she manage
during the trial?  If she came to London, as she would probably
have to, he could make things as pleasant for her as possible.  And
then afterwards--at an altogether decent interval afterwards--was
it also possible . . . ?  Revell was not wholly mercenary (no more
so, that is, than most young men of his age and income), but he
could not help a thrill at the thought that she would inherit
(presumably) all the money that Ellington had inherited from the
two boys.  She would be a tolerably rich woman, in fact.  Would
she, then, with an income of a hundred pounds a week or so, be
attracted by a vagabond life in a Chelsea studio?  Very well, if
not, he would have to be adaptable.  For her sake he would
cheerfully become a country gentleman; he would even hunt foxes and
attend agricultural shows if it were positively demanded of him.
With her, anyhow, he would have a thrilling and joyous existence;
he was confident of that.

Pleasant dreams; and they passed the time very satisfactorily until
midnight.  Cigarette after cigarette he smoked in his chair by the
empty fire-grate, yet still the tide of excited anticipation flowed
in his brain without abatement.  There was no chance of sleep yet,
he knew--not that he particularly wanted to sleep, for his thoughts
were quite enjoyable enough to be savoured for another hour or so.
And an additional pleasure was the fact that, for the time being,
he could do no more at "the case"; until Guthrie replied, the
affair was beyond his control.  He was, in a way, heartily sick of
pondering over the ghoulish details of the murders, and now that he
could lawfully put them out of his mind for the time being, he felt
as buoyant as a schoolboy excused homework.

Shortly after midnight he left the easy-chair and uncovered his
typewriter at the desk in front of the window.  He would, he
decided, compose a stanza of his epic before going to bed.  And the
stanza, naturally enough, would be about his hero's affair with a
pretty woman unfortunately married to a man as nearly as possible
like Ellington.  This woman, as nearly as possible like Mrs.
Ellington, had just had a clandestine meeting with her lover (a
youth as nearly as possible like Revell), and when she got back to
her own home she discovered that:


     Her husband was in bed; his huddled torso
       Upwards and downwards in his slumber heaved;
     It jarred on her; she wished he didn't snore so;
       And then besides, she was a trifle peeved
     To think--


To think what?  She had really so many things to be peeved about
(or aggrieved about, for that matter--the rhyme would suit equally
well), but just what, out of so many?  He pondered, with his
fingers poised above the typewriter keys.  Then suddenly, facing
him from the uncurtained window as he looked up, he saw something
that made his heart miss a beat and the blood tingle sharply
through all the veins of his body.

It was, or appeared to be, the barrel of a revolver placed right up
against the outside of the window-pane and pointing directly at his
eyes.  It was at the right-hand side of the pane, close up to the
wooden window-frame, and it was impossible in the darkness to see
how it was fixed or held in position.  Revell, at the first instant
of seeing it, had stared incredulously; he half-thought himself
dreaming.  Then, as his wits returned to him more completely, he
jerked his chair backwards and stood up; and at that moment, with
his eyes still fixed upon it, the strange phenomenon disappeared.

Was he mad?  Had he been overworking his brain till the danger-
point of hallucination had been reached?  He would not have been
surprised, for the apparition at the window had not been plain
enough to be sworn to.  Quickly, with sharpening determination to
discover what, if anything, had happened, he went to the window and
threw it wide open.  There was nothing to be seen except the black
and starless night.  The very emptiness and innocence of it seemed
more than ever to point to the theory of hallucination.  But Revell
was desperately anxious to take no chances, and every second
increased his excitement.  Inevitably his brain linked the matter
with the entire chapter of Oakington horrors; and, if the
apparition had been real at all, he was quick to realise that it
could signify only one thing.  An attempt had been made on his
life.  Not a moment ago the revolver had been there; now it was
gone, but its owner could not be far away--must, in fact, be quite
close.  And with a growing perception that every second counted,
Revell dashed into the corridor.

First he turned to the left, into the dark and empty dormitory.  He
pressed the switch that should have illuminated it, but no light
appeared.  The same old trick of the broken fuse?  It was natural,
perhaps, that he should think so at first, but he remembered, a
second later, that Brownley had been in the dormitories during the
day removing all the globes and shades for a terminal clean.
Nevertheless, though it was almost pitch dark and he could see
nothing, he strode down the central gangway between the two long
tiers of beds.  It was not the best thing to have done, as he
realised as soon as he reached the end wall, for he heard a sharp
movement at the doorway where he had entered and a rush of
footsteps along the corridor past his room.

He raced back; his blood was up.  The revolver at the window now
became an indisputable fact, for he had heard the assailant
escaping.  Revell chased wildly after him, oblivious of the
probability that the fellow still had his revolver with him.  At
the landing where the stairs led down to the lower floors, Revell
halted; it seemed likely that the fugitive had taken the obvious
line of escape.  But then, in the almost total darkness to which
his eyes were becoming accustomed, he noticed that the small door,
usually closed and locked, which admitted to the stairs leading up
to the disused sickrooms, was very slightly ajar.  It was as if
someone had tried to bang it behind him but had given it just too
little a push.  Revell, listening with his ear to the opening,
fancied he heard faint sounds above; that settled it; he pushed the
door wide open and began to climb.

The ancient sick-rooms, musty from long disuse, sent their own
peculiar smell down the stairs to greet him.  He had no light, not
even a box of matches; his quarry, too, was by that time hidden,
perhaps, and able to listen carefully to the sounds of the pursuit.
Revell thought of all that in a vague sort of way, but it hardly
affected his attitude towards the immediate future.  He was only
conscious that at last, at long last, Ellington had played into his
hands.  The man had been deuced clever with his earlier affairs,
but this last one, engendered probably out of a sudden sex-jealousy
of another man, had made him over-reach himself.  That was how
Revell phrased it to himself, and he was full of an avenging fury.
Someone had actually tried to murder him, to shoot him in cold
blood as he sat at his typewriter; it was a monstrous thing, and he
experienced, though a hundred times more intensely, the feeling
that constrains so many Englishmen to write to The Times.

At the top of the stairs he found himself panting for breath.  He
knew the plan of those old rooms as well as anybody; he had spent
many well-remembered days in them as a boy.  A corridor went off to
the right, and from it the various rooms opened off, divided from
each other and from the corridor by matchboard partitions.  To the
left were lavatories, a kitchen, and the room where Murchiston had
been wont to examine the tongues of an earlier generation of
Oakingtonians.  Revell tried the handle of one of the doors; it was
locked.  Then, almost as if Providence had given him a sign (Daggat
would certainly have thought so), he heard a faint sound along the
corridor to the right.

But now the need for caution began to occur to him.  He was in
total darkness; he had no flashlight or weapon; the pursued might
at any moment turn the beam of a torch upon him and fire.  It was
not a pleasant thought that somewhere in the darkness a few yards
away from him a person, possibly a homicidal maniac, crouched in a
corner knowing that he had been traced at last.  The danger of
people who have already committed several murders is that nothing
very much worse can happen to them if they are convicted of an
extra one; Revell realised this, and the implication was by no
means comforting.  Those sick-rooms, too, were eerie places to be
in; there was a stale smell of drugs and disinfectant still
lingering about them after a decade of disuse.  The boards, he
recollected, had been torn up in some of them; if he were not
careful he might pitch head foremost to the floor.  And then,
presented with such an opportunity, what might not his assailant
do?

Revell paused; his heart was beating like a pumping-engine;
perspiration, also, began to stream down his forehead and face.
The joists creaked under his feet, and a breath of tainted air
wafted by him, as if in alarm at being so unusually disturbed.
Decidedly he was in an awkward position--alone with a maniac on a
disused floor of an empty school.  Courage, that had flowed so
strongly in him at first, began to ebb away with every second.  And
then, with a sudden freezing sensation at the base of his spine, he
heard a sound from the far end of the corridor--a faint creaking of
the joists, as though someone were beginning to move again after a
stillness.  Supposing the murderer were now to reverse the rôles
and become the pursuer instead of the pursued?  A thrill of fear
clutched at Revell's heart, and involuntarily he took a step back.
He was at the head of the stairs now; he had only to dash down and
he would be quite safe.  It looked a craven thing to do, perhaps,
but really, it was only common sense; no one could blame him; there
had been two and perhaps three Oakington murders already--why make
a possible fourth?  Besides, he could lie in wait at the bottom,
summon help, or do something or other.  He was just preparing for a
cautious downward retreat when something happened that stiffened
every hair of his head.  It was a sound from below like the careful
closing of a door.

TRAPPED?  It looked as if he might be, anyhow, and he silently
cursed himself for having been such a reckless fool.  Meanwhile he
was enveloped by a feeling of slow paralysis, and as he stood there
with his back pressed against the wall he knew well enough that he
was in deadliest fear as well as danger.  The joists still creaked
along the corridor to the right--was it only his imagination that
made the sound of the creaking seem nearer?  But there was
something even more horrible to come, for a few seconds later he
heard a faint but perfectly identifiable sound from below--the tap
of a footstep climbing the stairs.

He licked the perspiration as it streamed down over his lips.  What
could he do, trapped between an enfilading terror on the right and
an ascending one from below?  There was no inch of room to escape;
he was sheerly cornered, and whatever movement he made could only
decrease the distance between himself and one or other of his
pursuers.  For he was convinced, by now, that they WERE his
pursuers; and like a horrible nightmare there came the sudden
vision of a possibility that had never before occurred to him,
though it was simple enough, by all standards--the possibility that
the Oakington murders had been the work, not of one person only,
but of TWO!  And the two now were after HIM!

If only he could have flashed a light in either direction he would
not have cared so much, though the darkness, he knew, hid him from
them as effectively as it hid them from him.  But the terror lay in
not knowing who, or even in some sense WHAT, was coming; better
even to be a target for revolver-practice than to wait in total
darkness for something unknown and terrible to lay hands on him.

The footsteps on the stairs were climbing towards him.  He was
certain of it, though he felt rather than heard their approach.
They were soft, stealthy footsteps, creeping up towards him through
the blackness.  He was sure that in another moment he would either
turn sick or scream at the top of his voice or else hurl himself
desperately downwards against whatever horror might be ascending.
All he did, however, was to close his eyes, as if to shut out the
very perception of darkness.  The footsteps were quite near to him
now; whatever belonged to them could not be more than a few yards
away.  Yet still no light!  He felt that he MUST break down, MUST
ultimately secure the blessed relief of unconsciousness, MUST--and
yet somehow could not.  Then, to his utmost horror, he felt a hand
reaching out of the darkness, and cautiously roving over his hand,
his arm, his shoulder, his neck.  He opened his mouth to scream,
but the hand suddenly closed over it, while a hoarse voice
whispered in his ear:  "Follow me down, you fool, and for God's
sake be quiet!"

He never knew exactly what happened just after that.  The next he
clearly remembered was being in his own room, in his own easy-
chair, with Guthrie offering him brandy out of a flask.  Yes,
GUTHRIE.

"Feeling better, eh?" the detective said, in a kindly voice.

Memory came back to him with a rush.  "Yes--oh yes, I'm all right--
but up there--in the sick-rooms--there's someone hiding--"

"Don't get excited--I know all about it.  I turned the key in the
lock at the bottom of the stairs as we came down."

Turned the key in the lock!  Why on earth hadn't he himself thought
of something so absurdly simple?  He stammered:  "But--but--aren't
you going to--to arrest him?"

"All in good time--no need for you to worry.  A little bit of a
wait will do our friend up there no harm.  First of all, as soon as
you feel ready for it, I'd like to know just a few details of this
latest development."

Revell was still dazed; he stared at Guthrie in vague astonishment.
"I don't understand," he gasped.  "I don't understand why you are
here--I don't--I don't think--I understand--anything."

"No?"  Guthrie's voice was quietly sympathetic.  "All right, then,
it doesn't matter.  You've had a pretty fair shock--I'm not
surprised it's taken a bit of the wind out of you.  But you were
chasing somebody, weren't you?"

Revell jerked out:  "Somebody tried to shoot me--through that
window--I ran after him--and he went up to the sick-rooms."

"You SAW him try to shoot you?"

"I saw the revolver, and I knew who he was."  After which, in slow,
staccato phrases, he recounted the whole incident.

For the next few moments Guthrie behaved like an altogether
different man.  Usually calm and imperturbable in manner, he became
suddenly agile and excited; he sprang to the window, opened it
wide, and gave the sill and framework a most minute examination.
When he turned round again his lips were tight with anger.  "A
pretty trick, Revell," he said bitterly.  "Well worthy of the
others.  Come and look here."  And as Revell staggered to his feet
and approached the window, the detective took his arm with a sudden
friendliness that was again unusual.  "I'm damned glad you're still
alive, anyhow.  It's only by amazing luck that you are.  The
difficulty, you see, was to shoot without being seen--to take aim,
that is, without the criminal having to put a head round the
corner.  You were typing, you say, just before you noticed the
revolver pointing at you?"

"Yes."

"Sitting here at this desk?"

"Yes."

"You've often been in the same position before, I suppose?"

"Yes, fairly often."

"I see."  He led Revell close to the window.  "Notice these two
nails on the inside of the window embrasure.  They're new--that was
rather careless, for it would have been just as easy to find rusty
ones.  But it was a devilish neat idea, all the same.  For if you
place the barrel of a revolver plumb against the brickwork and at
the same time lying across these two nails, it will aim directly at
the head of anyone sitting as you were at the desk here.  The
assassin had only to lean out of the end dormitory window next
door, hold the revolver in position, and shoot as soon as the sound
of your typewriter began.  Simple, but rather desperate when you
come to ponder over it.  Our friend must have rather badly wanted
you out of the way."

"It was jealousy," Revell answered.  "His wife told me he was like
that.  And he saw her here with me a little while ago."

"Oh?"  Guthrie raised his eyebrows slightly.  Then he wandered
about the room with apparent casualness, picking up first one thing
and then another.  At last the writing-desk and its contents
attracted his attention.  "Hullo, what's this--a letter for me?  I
suppose I may open it."  Revell  watched him half-dreamily, still
too bewildered to attempt any interference.  He saw the detective
read the letter, slip it into its envelope, and put it into his
pocket without remark.

"I still don't quite understand why you are here," Revell said at
length.

"No?  Ah well, never mind--all in good time, as I said before.  You
can thank your lucky star I WAS here, anyhow.  Have a smoke--it'll
calm your nerves."  He lit his own pipe and puffed vigorously.
"The Oakington murderer is, of course, upstairs.  I daresay you
guessed as much.  There's no chance of escape--the windows are too
far from the ground and barred as well.  And here, by the way, is
the revolver that nearly did for you.  I found it on the stairs on
the way up.  The murderer must have been in a deuce of a hurry to
drop it."  He produced from his hip-pocket a villainous-looking
long-barrelled weapon.  "This is what is called a Colt Point 22
Police Positive.  Not a nice thing to be plugged with, by any
means.  Yes, my lad, you've been damned lucky."  He turned to the
bookshelves at his elbow, abstracted an A.B.C. guide, and began
languorously to search the pages.  "Ah, there's a train to town in
half an hour from now--the night mail from Easthampton.  I should
catch it, if I were you."

Revell faced this new suggestion with fresh bewilderment.  "But--
but WHY?"

"Oh well, you've had enough for one night, surely.  Leave me the
job of putting the bracelets on our friend.  You'll be able to read
all about it in the papers to-morrow."

Revell suddenly realised the drift of the other's remarks.  "Mr.
Guthrie," he answered, with flushing cheeks, "you needn't think you
can take me in as easily as that!  I can see what you're after.
You've bungled this case pretty badly up to now, yet you want to
come in for all the credit just as if you hadn't.  _I_ tracked down
the Oakington murderer, not you, and though I don't mind you coming
in with me on it, I'm damn well going to see that you don't shove
me out!  After sweating over the business long after you'd given it
up as a bad job, don't you think I deserve to be in at the finish?"

Guthrie nodded quite equably.  "All right, if that's how you look
at it."  He shrugged his broad shoulders; Revell was rather
surprised that he should give in so easily.  "Well, if we are going
to do the job together, we'd better get it done, that's all.  Do
you feel equal to any possible unpleasantness?"

"Of course," answered Revell, valiantly.  "We shall be armed,
anyhow."

"Oh, I wasn't so much thinking of that.  Still, you can carry this
affair with you, if you like.  It isn't loaded now, so you can wave
it about if you feel inclined.  Anyhow, let's go."

He led the way out into the corridor, and a moment later, after
unlocking the door at the foot, they were climbing the stairs to
the floor above, but this time with Guthrie's powerful electric
torch illuminating the way.  Revell's heart was beginning to beat
fast again, but Guthrie appeared quite calm.  "This was where we
first met, wasn't it?" he whispered, as they reached the top.
"Romantic spot, eh?"  He turned to the right, with Revell following
him.

There were five rooms in a row, each with the door closed.  Guthrie
opened the first, flashed his torch round, and closed the door
again.  "Nothing there," he said.

The next three rooms were similarly searched; since they were
completely bare of furniture it did not take more than a rapid
flash of the torch into all the corners.  They knew then, of
course, as they had perhaps expected from the beginning, that their
quest would end at the fifth room.  As Guthrie opened the door of
it a strange sound came from within--a sound as of a dry, coughing
sob.  And a second later the rays of the torch lit up, in the
furthest corner, the small huddled figure of Mrs. Ellington.



CHAPTER XIII

LUNCH FOR TWO IN SOHO


Two days later, at the hour of ten in the morning, Colin Revell sat
up in bed at his Islington lodgings and gloomily surveyed the
sunlight streaming in at the sides of the window-blind.  He had
slept badly--had had troubled, nightmarish dreams that had awakened
him from time to time in a sickly glow of perspiration.  Now, as
his full consciousness returned, the nightmare horrors vanished,
but memories took their place--and memories that were hardly to be
preferred.

With a yawn of misery he jolted himself out of bed and wound up the
paper blind.  Islington greeted him with its familiar frowsiness;
it was a Friday, and innumerable vendors were pushing their hand-
carts towards the Cattle Market.  The sun shone mistily out of a
sky that was like a curtain of soiled muslin stretched just above
the housetops.  Why DID one live in such a place?  Why, in fact,
did one live at all?  For in his mind's eye he was seeing the cool
green lawns of Oakington.  Fate had decreed that he should at last
sigh wistfully for his Alma Mater.

Mrs. Hewston's tap on the door-panel reminded him of more earthly
things.  "Are you gettin' up, sir?" she called out, in that tone of
sing-song commiseration which Revell found hardest of all to
endure.

"Yes," he answered, curtly.

"I do 'ope you're feelin' better, sir."

"Oh yes, Mrs. Hewston, thanks--there's really nothing at all the
matter with me."

"That's what you SAY, sir, but it don't seem true, reelly.  Any'ow,
I'll put the breakfast out for you, sir."

"All right."

She went down again and busied herself with the preparation of the
inevitable ham-and-eggs.  She was indeed a good deal mystified by
her lodger's condition.  As she informed her neighbour across the
garden fence:  "'E don't 'ardly seem the same person since 'e come
back from that school.  'E don't eat, and 'e don't sleep ('cos me
bein' a light sleeper and 'is room bein' over mine, I can 'ear 'im
movin' about at all hours of the night), and 'e don't read 'is
paper--in fact, 'e don't seem to take no interest in anything.
Sort of listless, like.  It's my belief them murders 'as thoroughly
got on 'is nerves.  But you'd think 'e'd be more satisfied now,
wouldn't you, seein' they've found out as 'ow the woman done them
after all?"

"After all" was typical of Mrs. Hewston.  It conveyed, without
exactly saying so, the impression that all along in her own mind
she had suspected the truth.  Which was certainly not the case.

Meanwhile, after a wash, but without his customary bath and shave,
Revell descended to his ground-floor sitting-room.  The thought of
ham-and-eggs, by now a little chilled under their cover, was hardly
cheering.  He turned to the sideboard and brought out a gin-bottle.
Before opening it he went to his desk for a ruler and measured the
height of the liquid--'five and a half inches, and when he had gone
to bed it had been six.  Mrs. Hewston again, he reflected, without
malice, without even irritation.  She always did, and she always
would, and what the hell did it matter, anyway?

What did anything matter, in fact?  He mixed himself a stiff gin-
and-tonic and drank it off at a gulp.  Then he sat heavily in his
chair beside the empty fire-grate and closed his eyes.  His
typewriter, still locked, faced him from the corner where he had
dumped it down two days before, and the manuscript of his
unfinished epic lay mixed up with a heap of unopened letters on his
writing-desk.

But behind his closed eyes there was no relief.  Indeed, thoughts
and images only crowded more impetuously; he lived again through
those frightful moments at the top of the sick-room staircase, felt
again that fearful brain-splitting shock when Guthrie had shone his
torch through the doorway of the fifth room.  What had happened
after that was still, as it had been at the time, a vague nightmare
in his mind.  The woman's wild shriek of defiance, her tigerish
attack, Guthrie's ruthless but calm retaliation, and that horrible
procession of the three of them up to the moment of his collapse.
He still saw her blazing, hunted eyes, and still heard her hoarse
screaming.  Guthrie, no doubt, had grown used to such scenes, but
for him, Revell, they were a memory that would always horrify.

God--how awful it was.  And to think that she, whom he had believed
the most charming and innocent creature that ever breathed. . . .
Oh, damn it all, there was nothing for it but another drink.  He
rose, and in doing so, noticed the streamer headline on the front
page of his morning newspaper.  "Mrs. Ellington in Court--
Sensational Evidence"--it shouted.  The ghouls!  He threw the paper
across the room where he could not see it.  But of course that was
really quite useless--the whole business was altogether impossible
to escape.  Every placard would contain one or other of those
fateful words--"Ellington" and "Oakington". . . .  Oh yes, there
was decidedly nothing for it but another drink.

But while mixing it he heard footsteps and voices outside his room,
and in a few moments Mrs. Hewston opened the door with the
information, given in the same tone of graveyard sympathy, that a
gentleman had called to see him.  And before he could give any
reply, the nondescript and average figure of Detective Guthrie came
into view and, after a friendly nod of dismissal to Mrs. Hewston,
stepped past her into the room.

"Well, my lad," he began, with a robust cheerfulness that jarred
exquisitely on every one of Revell's nerves, "I thought I'd pay you
a morning call.  Your landlady's been giving me an awful account of
you, but of course I know what landladies are.  Nothing much wrong
really, I suppose, eh?"

"Oh no."  Revell managed a dismal smile.  "Have a drink?"

"No thanks.  I don't drink in the morning, and neither should you,
by the way.  Now I come to look at you, though, you do seem a bit
dickey.  Only natural, of course, after the shock of Wednesday's
little affair."

Revell abandoned the mixing of his drink and re-established himself
in the arm-chair, motioning Guthrie to take the one opposite.  The
detective did so.

"As a matter of fact," he went on, "I came chiefly to tell you
that, for the present, at any rate, I don't think we shall need
your evidence.  I quite appreciate your scruples in the matter, and
it's just possible we may be able to do without you altogether,
even at the Assizes.  I'll do my best for you, anyhow.  We shan't,
of course, take up the matter of that attempted attack on you.  Too
many counts on the indictment never help the prosecution.  So you
needn't fear you're going to have a lot of limelight turned on
you."

Revell nodded.  "Thanks.  That's good of you."

"Oh, don't thank me--it was all decided at the Yard, but I was very
glad, of course, for your sake."  His gaze roved round the room.
"Look here, don't let me interrupt your breakfast."

"You're not doing--I didn't intend to have any."

"Oh, nonsense, man--you must EAT."

"Je n'en vois pas la nécessité."

"Oh, don't be funny."  Guthrie lifted the cover and peered at the
neglected ham-and-eggs.  "I must admit it doesn't look very
tempting.  But Revell, you know, you mustn't let this Oakington
business upset you too much.  It IS upsetting, I know--even to a
hardened old sleuth like me.  I've only arrested three women for
murder in twenty years, and I can't say I've grown used to the
experience."

"Oh, I shall be all right soon."

"Of course you will.  Cheer up, anyhow, and don't take gin for
breakfast if you want to live to a decent old age."  He stared at
the other doubtfully for a moment and then, as if seized with a
sudden idea, continued:  "Look here, come to lunch with me in town--
we'll go to some quiet little place where we can chat, if you
like.  There's a French restaurant I know near Leicester Square--
you'll have an appetite for the food there when you see it, I'm
certain.  Go up and dress, and I'll wait for you down here."

Revell opened his mouth to decline, but the other anticipated him.
"Go along now--I won't listen to any refusal.  Got a newspaper, by
the way, that I can look at while you're getting ready?"

Revell pointed to the newspaper on the floor.  "Thanks," replied
the detective genially, as he picked it up.  "I say, what a splash
these papers are making of the affair!  By Jove, it reads well!
Run along and take your time--I shall be quite happy here."



Over an hour later--shortly after noon, to be precise--Revell and
the detective stepped out of a taxi in a narrow Soho street.
Revell's spirits were, if anything, a shade less doleful.  To begin
with, he had put on a new brown suit that his tailor had just
finished for him, and he was distinctly aware that he looked well
in it.  London, too, was less gloomy than Islington, and even
beyond his misery there were the beginnings of hunger.

In the small ante-room to the restaurant the detective broke his
rule and drank a cocktail.  Revell stood a second one, and after
that the two repaired to a table and composed what Revell had to
admit was a really creditable lunch.  Petite Marmite, Sole Mornay,
Poulet en Casserole, Canapé Macmahon--each in turn tempted him and
won.  He ate; he enjoyed.  And a large bottle of Liebfraumilch
still further improved his attitude towards the world in general.

During the meal he spoke little, but Guthrie kept up an
entertaining flow of talk just faintly tinged with "shop".  Revell
found him quite amusing to listen to; indeed, he was rather
surprised to find him possessed of such conversational powers.

At Guthrie's suggestion they took coffee and liqueurs in a small
room at the rear of the restaurant.  They had lunched so early that
they had the room to themselves; it was a sort of lounge, fitted up
with tile-topped tables and deep armchairs.  There, in relaxed
attitudes, they made themselves thoroughly comfortable, while good
black coffee, excellent old brandy, and a cigarette, made even
Revell feel that life was partially worth living.  "Good place,
this," he commented.  "I must come here again."

Guthrie nodded.  "Yes, they give you good food and don't worry you
with trimmings.  Hang your own hat and coat up on the hooks--not an
army of retainers to collect sixpences from you.  And this lounge
place here I've always liked--you're not the first person I've
brought, I can assure you.  Some pretty queer secrets have been
told here."

"Are you going to tell me any?"

Guthrie smiled.  "I'm not sure, yet.  Are you busy this afternoon,
by the way?"

Revell shook his head.  "I've nothing on that can't be let go,
anyhow."  He hadn't, as a matter of fact, anything on at all, and
he felt far too drunk to think of bothering about it, even if it
had existed.

"Good.  I'M quite free too, as it happens.  I thought, as we may
not meet again for some time, you might care to hear a bit about
the case.  Don't hesitate to say so, though, if you'd rather not."

"I'd like to hear about it--I think."

"Yes, and I'd rather you did, too.  You're a clever chap, Revell,
and you've a clever brain, but I'm not at all sure that if you
didn't learn the truth you wouldn't go rearing up some new gigantic
theory of your own."  He laughed.  "Joking apart, you had some
ingenious ideas about this Oakington affair.  TOO ingenious, some
of them, unfortunately.  Yet the real truth, when I managed to get
at it, was just as extraordinary.  You'll have a pretty good retort
when I've finished, Revell--you'll be able to say that nothing you
imagined was really any more unlikely than what DID happen."

Guthrie paused, puffed at his pipe for a few seconds, and then went
on:  "I could easily, if I wanted to, pose as a Heaven-sent
Sherlock in this affair, but I'm not going to.  I'd rather be frank--
after all, I shall get quite enough credit in the newspapers.
They'll boom me no end, which will be very gratifying, of course,
but the plain truth is--and I don't mind admitting it to you--that
except for spotting the culprit I haven't been particularly right
about things.  Of course the main thing is to get your man--or
woman, even--but I do feel, all the same, rather like a boy who's
got the answer right and parts of the sum wrong.  By the way, if
you're going to listen to the full yarn, I must just put through a
telephone call first, if you don't mind--shan't be a minute."

When he came back, after the interlude, he resumed:  "Yes, I was
fairly wrong as well as fairly right.  I was wrong, for instance,
about the death of the first boy.  I was wrong about Lambourne's
death, too.  Of course, when I say I was right in this and wrong in
that, I only mean that my preconceived theories do or do not tally
with the woman's confession.  You can say, if you like, that
there's no earthly reason why she should be believed now any more
than before, and naturally I can't deny it.  She's the most
consummately clever liar I've ever come across, and quite capable
of hoodwinking us to the end if she had anything to gain by it.
The point is that she hasn't.  We've got her, anyhow, so I can't
see why she should stuff us up with a lot of unnecessary yarning."

"Did she volunteer a confession, then?"  Revell's voice trembled a
little in the varying throes of brandy and memory.

"More or less.  I gave her the usual warning, of course, but she
began to talk, all the same.  She seemed rather to like telling us
how clever she'd been.  Not unusual, you know, with the superior
sort of criminal."

"And how was she?  I mean--how did she seem to take it all--the
arrest and so on?"

"Oh, not so badly.  After the big scene she just caved in--they
often do.  We took down all she said in shorthand, worked it up
into a statement, had it typed, and then got her to sign it.  She
was quite calm by then.  You'd have been astonished--she read it
over and put her name at the end as quietly as if it had been a
cheque for a new hat."

He continued:  "Let's clear up a few side-issues first of all.
There was Roseveare, to begin with.  I admit I began by suspecting
him--not tremendously, but on general principles.  There was, and
perhaps is, something just faintly fishy about him.  Sort of man
who COULD be crooked, if he wanted to--you know what I mean?  He's
certainly as cunning as an old fox, but he has his charm."

"_I_ rather liked him, anyhow."

"So did I--so did everybody.  He WAS likeable.  Just the opposite
with Ellington, of course.  You remember how thrilled we were to
discover that Ellington and Roseveare were old pals, as you might
say?  You, I recollect, hatched a wild theory about something
sticky in Roseveare's past that Ellington was blackmailing him
about.  There wasn't the slightest evidence of any such thing, of
course, but you thought it possible--just because you didn't like
Ellington.  That was part of the whole trouble--nobody DID like
Ellington, and most people were more than willing to believe the
worst about him.  As a matter of fact, his feeling for Roseveare
was marvellously different from what you thought.  Roseveare had
befriended him in the past, and Ellington had followed him about in
sheer gratitude ever since.  As faithful as an old mastiff--and
about as savage, too."

"Why on earth did his wife marry him, I wonder?"

"Why did he marry her, for that matter?  She wasn't too much good,
even in those days.  There was a scandal over her at the hospital
where she was a nurse--I soon found THAT out.  She wasn't even
technically faithful to Ellington, and it was THAT, I think--some
affair that she had with someone--that made him come back to
England and ask Roseveare for a job."

"Decent of Roseveare to give him one."

"Oh yes.  And it increased, of course, Ellington's gratitude.  Mrs.
Ellington, too, was pleased, and the first thing she did at
Oakington was what more than one woman had done before her--she
fell in love with the Head."

"Seriously?"

"The only serious affair she's ever had in her life--so she says.
She seems rather proud of it.  And I daresay Roseveare, behind his
coy and innocent manner, wasn't wholly unsusceptible--in fact, I
rather think he was just a little bit of a fool over her.  Not
much, mind you--and only for a time.  He thought she was rather a
tragic figure--the poor little colonial girl married to a man who
didn't understand her and had brought her back from the great open
spaces--all that sort of thing.  Ellington hadn't told Roseveare
anything against her--he was a man of honour to that extent.  So
the friendship prospered, and while everything was going on so
nicely, Robert Marshall met his death by the accidental fall of a
gas-fitting in the dormitory."

"ACCIDENTAL?"

"Yes.  SHE says it was, and I always rather thought so myself.
There was never any definite evidence to the contrary, and the
murder theory was very far-fetched.  Incidentally, I found after
careful inquiry amongst some of the boys that there HAD been
horseplay in the dormitory--swinging on the gas-brackets and so on,
though of course after the boy's death they were all very terrified
about admitting it.  Yes, I think we'll agree that it was an
accident, though a deuced queer one, in view of what it led up to."

He went on, leaning forward a little:  "We come now to Lambourne.
I needn't say much about him except that he must have the credit or
discredit of laying the spark to the train of gunpowder.  Really,
I'm getting quite eloquent--you must stop me if I fly too high.
Anyhow, to return to sober fact, Lambourne, in the course of
conversation with Mrs. Ellington shortly after the accident,
remarked upon the cleverness of such a method of committing murder.
He treated her, indeed, to a complete lecture on murder as a fine
art--you can imagine him doing it, I daresay.  And thus the great
idea was born in her mind.

"It certainly WAS great, from her standpoint.  She wanted three
things--first, to be rid of her husband--second, to have money--and
third, to marry Roseveare.  Doubtless she assumed that if she
managed the first two, the third would follow pretty easily.  And
after a good deal of careful thought she hit on a plan of campaign
which was so diabolically unusual that I excuse you all the
theories you ever had in your life, since the real thing was as
astounding as any of them.  Lambourne, as I said, put murder into
her mind, but the elaboration of the idea was wholly hers.  And
briefly, it was as follows.  She would kill the second brother in
such a way that guilt would inevitably fall on her husband.  But
first of all, before doing that, she had another little scheme in
hand.  About a week after the accident she went to Roseveare and
pretended--she was a superb actress, remember--to be upset and
hysterical.  When Roseveare asked her what was the matter, she
began to talk wildly and hysterically about the accident and her
husband's connexion with it--hinting that he had been up in the
disused sick-rooms a good deal of late, that there was more in the
accident than had happened, and so on.  Roseveare naturally pooh-
poohed the matter, which of course she had expected him to.  She
knew that as things stood then, the idea was absurd, but she also
knew (and this was the diabolical cleverness of her) that if the
second brother died by another apparent accident, those wild hints
of hers about her husband's connexion with the first affair would
recur to Roseveare with terrible significance.

"Here, however, we come to the first example of the lady's weak
spot--and that was a tendency to have moments of sheer panic.
Roseveare, it seems, had after all been slightly impressed by her
hysterical suspicions (she must have acted too well), and had sent
for a young man named Colin Revell to look into the matter
unofficially.  The whole explanation he gave you, by the way, is
probably the exact truth.  But Mrs. Ellington for some reason had
one of her panicky moments when Lambourne told her that someone was
already on the track--so she immediately went to Roseveare and told
him that she'd been a very naughty and hysterical woman to think
such horrid things about her husband, that she hadn't really meant
any of them, and that she was very, very sorry!  Roseveare believed
her only too willingly and dismissed his young inquiry agent at the
earliest possible moment.  Extraordinary, really, that she should
have worried about you at all, Revell.  What HAD she to fear?
Nothing--yet for all that, your arrival upset her nerve for the
time being.  I should think you ought to feel rather proud of
that."

Revell made no comment, and Guthrie proceeded:  "Well, now we pass
to the actual murder, and I expect you're thinking it's about time
we did.  Mrs. Ellington, after you'd gone back, soon regained her
lost courage and began to plan her 'murder by accident'.  She must
have made her detailed plans very quickly and almost at the last
minute.  She knew that Wilbraham was a swimmer and very often went
to the baths on the warm evenings.  On the particular day decided
upon she contrived, by an apparently casual suggestion to her
husband, to have the bath suddenly emptied.  (She frankly admitted
her responsibility for this, which was a distinctly clever touch.)
Then, soon after ten in the evening, when the boy came down to the
baths all ready for a swim, she met him, seemingly by accident, and
entered with him on some pretext or other.  That wouldn't be
difficult--they were cousins, remember, and on fairly intimate
terms.  It wasn't more than half-dark, and when they got into the
main building a surprise awaited them--the bath was empty.  And
I'll warrant you she acted that surprise jolly well."

Guthrie's voice had become a little husky; he poured himself out
the remains of the now cold coffee and drank it.  Then he went on:
"Most of this I'm glad to say I deduced.  Afterwards, however, I
wasn't so lucky.  My notion was that she'd suddenly shot the boy
while the two of them were standing on the edge of the bath, and
had then bashed his head about to disguise the bullet-wound.  A
pretty awful thing for a woman to do, when you come to think about
it, and I'm not really surprised that Mrs. Ellington decided on
something much more artistic.  She wanted the boy's head to be
bashed in completely, and she came to the really brilliant
conclusion that the best way to achieve this would be to make him
actually fall from that top diving-platform.  She did it (I've only
her word for it, of course, but it sounds quite credible) by
larking about with him for a time and then challenging him for a
race up to the top.  There are two ladders, you know, approaching
the platform from either side, so conditions were quite good for a
race.  The two reached the top, and there, in the gathering
twilight, she whipped out her revolver and shot him so that he fell
head foremost on to the tiled floor sixty feet below.  There was no
need to bash his head in."

Revell shuddered involuntarily.  "She had nerve," he muttered.

"Up to a point, yes, but beyond that--however, I shall come to that
later on.  She had nerve enough to go to the fuse-box and cut the
fuses, and to unstrap the boy's wrist-watch (it hadn't been injured
in the fall) and climb back with it to the top diving-platform.
Oh, and you remember the note you wrote me about the dressing-gown?
You thought it might have led to a clue, but I'm afraid I'd given
it my fullest attention long before, and there was no clue in it at
all.  The dressing-gown and slippers found by the side of the bath
next morning were simply the boy's ordinary dressing-gown and
slippers, and no amount of perseverance could deduce anything else
from 'em.  The beauty of it was, you see, that before going up the
ladder to the platform, the boy took off his dressing-gown--it's an
awkward garment to be wearing in a climbing-race.  And, of course,
that suited the lady admirably, though I wouldn't say she
absolutely foresaw it.  Probably she had some alternative plan if
circumstances had arisen differently.  Anyhow, as it was, there
were only the boy's slippers to be removed after the murder, and
they hadn't any blood on them.

"I'd better clear up one other small point while I'm about it.  I
daresay it may have struck you as rather remarkable that nobody
heard the shot.  One reason, of course, was the fact that the
swimming-baths are a fair distance away from the other School
buildings.  But the chief reason, I think, was that everyone
assumed that the affair had happened so much later than it did.
You, for instance, went about asking people, if they had heard
anything during the night--they hadn't, of course.  But when I
asked them what they had heard during the evening I got quite a lot
of interesting answers.  Several people, for example, thought they
had heard something between ten and eleven o'clock, but there'd
been so many noises of all kinds during the day that they hadn't
taken much notice.  Mrs. Ellington had chosen her time well.  Even
at Oakington most people are awake at ten-thirty on a midsummer
evening, and, though it may seem a paradox, there is always less
chance of a noise being noticed when most people are awake than
when they are asleep.  That night, also, as it happened, workmen
had been busy until dusk knocking platforms and grandstands
together in readiness for the Oakington Jubilee celebrations, so
there was an additional reason for a noise passing unnoticed.  I'm
not denying that she took a risk, of course.  But then, all
murderers must do that.

"Now," he continued, after a short pause, "we can turn to what
happened immediately after the murder.  Mrs. Ellington, of course,
went home and to bed.  And here comes another factor in the
situation.  Ellington was a very jealous man, and suspected his
wife with Lambourne.  That night--the night of the murder, that is--
he fancied she had been to visit him.  He didn't tax her with it--
that wasn't his way--but he brooded and went out to walk his
feelings off a little.  Meanwhile Lambourne, thinking to have a
swim, had gone down to the baths and had found the body there.  I
don't doubt that it was a fearful shock to him and that he really
did do exactly what he said he did.  His story, improbable enough
in itself, has a certain ring of possibility in it when you think
of the man who told it.  He suspected murder instantly, but whereas
other men would have raised an alarm and declared their suspicions,
Lambourne's less-straightforward brain accepted the challenge, as
it were, and set about to trump the other fellow's card.  Believing
that Ellington had bashed the boy's head in and taken away the
weapon, he fabricated, just as he confessed, the evidence of the
cricket-bat.  Then he took his stroll and met Ellington.  It must
have been a dashed queer meeting--Lambourne thinking Ellington had
just committed murder, and Ellington thinking Lambourne had just
been carrying on with his wife. . . ."

He smiled slightly and continued:  "I think you know how _I_ came
into it all.  Somebody sent Colonel Graham, the boy's guardian, an
anonymous letter, which he brought to us along with newspaper
cuttings of the two inquests.  He had suspicions, rather naturally,
and I went off to Oakington by the next train to see what I could
find out at firsthand.

"You mustn't imagine that Graham's misgivings were taken at their
face value.  Coincidences do happen, often enough--in fact, they're
far less unusual than the murder of two boys by a schoolmaster.
Until I found independent evidence of some kind, there was really
no case against anybody.  To begin with, I spent a few days
scouting round the place as a perfect stranger.  The first thing to
do, if possible, was to interview the writer of the anonymous
letter, but it had been typewritten and had a London postmark, so
THAT wasn't a very promising line of investigation.  I don't know
now who wrote it, but I strongly suspect Lambourne. . . .  You see,
then, my difficulty when I arrived at Oakington.  I had nothing at
all to go on but the coincidence of the two apparent accidents and
an anonymous letter that might or might not be some malicious hoax.
All the usual clues that one looks for after a murder had been
cleared away beyond hope of discovery.  It was really enough to
make any detective hold up his hands in despair.  Then, just in the
nick of time, came the finding of the cricket-bat.

"By then, as you know, there were all sorts of rumours about the
place, and it was pretty generally known that Scotland Yard was on
the job.  Two of my men, plain-clothes chaps, of course, found the
bat during a casual stroll about the grounds.  They weren't looking
for anything--they just tumbled across it.  It struck me at the
time that the thing must have been very badly hidden, and why,
after all, should it have been hidden at all and not destroyed?
Still, it was evidence, and it enabled us to get a Home Office
order for the exhumation of the body, and that, of course, led to
the discovery of something that was a complete surprise to us--the
bullet in the boy's brain.

"All this must have startled Mrs. Ellington pretty considerably,
for her detailed plans to have her husband suspected had been on
rather different lines.  You see now, perhaps, why I was so
secretive about what it was that my men had discovered?  Mrs.
Ellington knew it couldn't have been the revolver, for she had
hidden that carefully.  She didn't know, of course, anything about
Lambourne's faked cricket-bat clue.  All she did know was that
SOMETHING had been discovered, SOMEWHERE, and SOMEHOW, and she must
have spent awful moments wondering whether she had dropped a
handkerchief or a spot of face-powder or some other incriminating
trace in the swimming-bath.  It's not a bad plan to give people
these awful moments, and it certainly worked with Mrs. Ellington.
You said just now that she had nerve, and I agreed that she had,
but only up to a point.  That's the whole truth of the matter, and
I'm rather proud that, having noticed it, I made use of it all
along.

"Not, of course, that I suspected her at first.  On the contrary,
there was a fairly strong case against Ellington himself--the
cricket-bat clue, the missing revolver clue, his obvious motive--oh
yes, I daresay we might have got a conviction.  Only, to me, at any
rate, the case seemed too strong--as well as in some ways too weak.
We had found the cricket-bat a little too easily.  The missing
revolver had been confessed to by Ellington himself.  The motive--
well, it was obvious enough, but wasn't it, in a sort of way, TOO
obvious?  All this may sound rather vague, but then it WAS only a
vague feeling, at the time.  I'm quite certain that if Mrs.
Ellington's plans hadn't gone astray we should have been provided
with some much more convincing clues to implicate her husband--
clues that were neither too far-fetched nor too obvious.  She was
clever enough to get inside the skin of a detective, as it were,
and see things with just his critical mind.  She was much cleverer
than Lambourne--she would never have left such a schoolboyish
signpost as a blood-stained cricket-bat lying under a bush.  As for
what she WOULD have left us, if she had had a chance, I can't tell
you.  But I'll wager it would have pointed to her husband in some
subtle and rather indirect way.

"For days, as a matter of fact, I felt like arresting Ellington--on
suspicion, at any rate.  And yet, in a way, I never felt any
enthusiasm about it--subconsciously, even then, I must have known
he wasn't guilty."

Guthrie smiled.  "We detectives deal in evidence, of course, not in
subconscious intuitions.  Anyhow, before long, the case against
Ellington was decidedly weakened by Brownley's statement that on
the fatal night he had seen Lambourne walking towards the Ring with
a cricket-bat.  I had already, in a way, been rather favourably
impressed by Ellington.  I didn't like him, and I don't like him,
but I didn't think he was the 'killer' type, and I certainly
doubted his ability to plan anything very astute.  So, you see, my
suspicions veered a little towards Lambourne.  It wasn't easy to
think of a motive in his case, but then he was such a queer person
that he might well have had a queer enough reason.  I did, I admit,
think for a time that he might have killed the boy to throw
suspicion on Ellington.  And it was then that Mrs. Ellington got
into her second panic.  (Her first, you remember, was when you
first arrived at Roseveare's summons.)

"I had questioned Lambourne pretty stiffly, and had got out of him
the story of what he really did on the night of the murder.  I
don't know that I actually disbelieved him, but he evidently
thought I did, and was sufficiently upset by it all.  What happened
after that was in a way superbly logical.  He had one of his
periodic nerve attacks, Mrs. Ellington ministered to him as on
former occasions, and the next day he was found dead of an overdose
of veronal.  Whereupon Mrs. Ellington volunteered the information
that on the previous evening he had made a full confession of
murder to her, and had promised to make the same over again to me
in the morning.  All perfectly feasible and not really improbable,
when you come to think about it.  Her story and her way of telling
it were both admirably convincing.  It wasn't legal evidence, of
course, but it was moral evidence of a rather unshakable character.
There was really nothing for me to do after listening to it but to
shrug my shoulders and shake the dust of Oakington from my feet for
ever.  Which I did.  Or rather, to be more accurate, appeared to
do."

Revell leaned forward excitedly.  "You mean that you didn't believe
her?" he exclaimed.

"Believe her?  Not only did I not believe her, but by the time she
had got to the end of her yarn I knew for certain that she had
murdered the boy herself."

"Good God!"

"Yes, I was certain of it.  And it was a single word that told me--
a single word of two letters and one syllable--a word that we all
use perhaps a hundred times a day.  I don't suppose you'll remember
it--the really significant things in life are often the least
memorable.  It was when she was describing how Lambourne had
confessed.  She did it all so perfectly--except for just that one
word.  She told how Lambourne and the boy had walked along by the
side of the bath as far as the diving-platform, how Lambourne had
waited till the boy was standing on the edge facing the empty bath
with the platform just above him, and how Lambourne then had sprung
back and shot up at the boy from behind.  Revell, when I heard her
say that, I had to use all the self-control I possess--for it told
me, as clearly as a vision from Heaven, that the woman had done
it!"

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow the argument."

"No?  I'm not surprised--it was a thing I might easily have missed
myself if I hadn't been lucky.  Repeated at second-hand, as I did
it just now, I don't suppose it did exactly leap out at you.  But I
assure you, Revell, it was convincing enough to me.  The little
word 'up' was the one morsel of truth that the woman couldn't help
letting escape."

"The word 'up'?  How?  I don't remember--"

"Not even now?  I'll say it again then.  In recounting Lambourne's
confession, she told us that he had 'shot up at the boy from
behind'.  Now d'you get it?  Why on earth should she have used that
word 'up'?  Lambourne's rather a tall fellow--he wouldn't have
needed to shoot up at all, for the boy was only of medium height.
But Mrs. Ellington herself was exceptionally little--hardly five
feet, I should say--and for her it would have had to be a
distinctly upward shot.  Unconsciously, while describing
Lambourne's supposed movements, she had had her own in mind, and
that one little word, to anyone who noticed it, was as eloquent as
a signed confession."

He paused and then went on:  "Of course you can laugh if you like
and say that it was a preposterously vast conclusion to draw from a
preposterously minute premise.  I quite agree, and I was fully
aware of it at the time.  No one knew better than I did that it
wouldn't stand for a minute before a judge and jury.  To begin
with, there was no one to swear that she had said it--and there
were a hundred other ways in which a clever counsel could have
ridiculed it to pieces.  I simply had to pack up and go, although I
was perfectly sure that she had committed murder and had managed to
palm it off on a poor devil of a suicide.

"And even that wasn't quite so hellish as the real truth, as it
happened.  Here, again, I depend on nothing but her own statement,
but she told this part of it so proudly that it may well be true.
It's frightful enough, in all conscience, for, according to her,
Lambourne's death was neither suicide nor accident, but murder.
And it was she who murdered him!"

Revell stared speechlessly.

"Yes.  And the way she managed it was perhaps the most astonishing
part of the whole business.  She'd got into a panic, you see, with
all the inquiries being made, and she had the idea that if someone
only confessed everything would be all over.  So, knowing that
Lambourne was hopelessly in love with her, she went to him and told
him nothing less than the whole truth.  Yes, it wasn't HE who
confessed to HER, but SHE who confessed to HIM.  And at the end of
it all, working upon his hysteria, she suggested a suicide-pact
between them--that they should both make their exit together from a
horrible world.  She played on Lambourne's shattered nerves like a
virtuoso, and in the end, no doubt by making love to him pretty
daringly, she had her way.  Roseveare, as it happened, came along
just then--just a sudden idea to see if Lambourne was asleep, that
was all--he listened a few minutes outside the door, heard a bit of
the love-making, and walked away in disgust.  I gather he had
suspected Mrs. Ellington of that sort of thing before."

"Did he tell you all this?"

"Yes--explained it fully after the inquest on Lambourne.  His one
idea, of course, was and had been all along to avoid any more
scandal to the School."

"Yet he lied to you about that second visit of his to Lambourne's
room."

"No, he didn't.  It was the fault of my too-precise question.  I
asked him when he last saw Lambourne, and he answered--quite
truthfully--nine o'clock.  He didn't see him after that, though he
heard him talking."

"It was pretty cool of him, though, to say nothing about it at the
inquest."

"No doubt.  But, as he told me, he couldn't see how the purely
private scandal of an affair between Lambourne and Mrs. Ellington
could affect the matter.  Anyhow, as he frankly admitted, it was
his aim to let the inquest go as smoothly as possible."

Revell nodded.  "He's a cool customer, though.  The curious thing
is that two boys happened to see him as he paid that second visit
to Lambourne's room--they were playing chess in the Common Room.
They told me about it, and I naturally wondered what on earth the
Head had been up to. . . .  But please go on--don't let me
interrupt the exposition."

"There's not a very great deal to go on to, now.  Of course Mrs.
Ellington didn't keep her share of the compact.  Lambourne took his
overdose, but she only pretended to take hers, and the result we
all know.  But I do hold that it was a rather magnificent
improvisation on a theme suggested by mere panic."

"She was a marvellous woman," said Revell slowly.

"In many ways, yes.  But for that one tiny slip I might never have
suspected her.  Even then, if she had kept her head, I could have
proved nothing.  She had me on toast, if she had only known.  She
had YOU, too, but in a rather different way, and that's why I
didn't make much of a confidant of you in the matter.  In fact, I
was very glad for you to think that I'd really been taken in by it
all."

"Oh, you were, were you?"

But Guthrie did not immediately reply to the rather disgruntled
remark.  He stared for some moments at his fingernails and then
resumed:  "Time's getting on, Revell--I arranged to meet a friend
here this afternoon."  He put a steadying hand on Revell's arm as
the latter moved to get up.  "No, no--that wasn't a hint for you to
go--not at all.  As a matter of fact, I rather want you to meet my
friend.  He should be here any minute now."  He took out his watch,
compared it with the clock on the far side of the room, and lit his
pipe again.  "Yes," he went on, reflectively, "that was a wonderful
theory of yours about Lambourne confessing to save some other
person.  The sort of thing, you know, that would never have
occurred to a practical-minded fellow like myself.  But my friend's
different.  He's more like you--a bit complicated in the attic.
Ah, here he comes, by Jove."

Guthrie rose to his feet with a welcoming smile, and Revell,
turning round, was astonished to see the benign, spectacled face of
Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne.



CHAPTER XIV

ENTER THIRD (AND LAST) DETECTIVE


For a moment Revell was too bewildered to speak.  Then at last,
taking the stranger's proffered hand, he managed to gasp:  "Mr.
Lambourne?  But--but--I thought you'd gone back to Vienna?"

Guthrie placed a chair for the stranger to sit between them.  "Of
course, you've met before, you two--I can see that," he remarked,
pleasantly.  "I think perhaps we'd better blow our little gaff and
have done with it.  This isn't really Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne at
all--in fact, so far as I know, there isn't any such person in the
world.  It's my friend and colleague Detective Cannell, of the
Yard."

Revell found this rather more bewildering than ever.  "But surely I
met you at Oakington--" he stammered, staring blankly across the
table at the round and absurdly cheerful face of the mystery man.

The latter nodded.  "Quite right, Mr. Revell," he said, in that
same quiet, soothing voice that Revell had liked instinctively on
the occasion of their first meeting.  "I WAS Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne
for the time being, it is true.  I gather that you haven't
explained things yet, Guthrie?" he added, turning to his friend.

"Not altogether," Guthrie answered.  "The first part took longer
than I had expected.  I'm terribly hoarse, by the way--I wish you'd
do the rest."

"Very well."  And the other turned to Revell with a smile.  "We owe
you a considerable apology, Mr. Revell, but we hope you'll forgive
us when you've heard all the details.  You may wonder why we
trouble to tell you about it now, but the truth is that we both
dislike deceiving innocent people, and even when it has to be done
we prefer, if possible, to undeceive them afterwards.  Yes, that's
so--we have a conscience, though you mightn't think so.  You see we
rather liked you, Mr. Revell, as well, and that made us regret
having to make use of you in the way we did.  So now, if we can, we
shall make amends.  You'll drink another brandy with me, I'm sure?"

Revell hardly acquiesced, but the other took his silence for
acceptance and gave the order.  Then he went on:  "Let's see, now,
Guthrie, how much does our young friend know?"

"I got as far as Lambourne's supposed confession and my own
supposed retirement from the case," replied Guthrie.

"Ah, yes.  I'm afraid the plain truth, Mr. Revell, whether Guthrie
told it to you or not, is that he was pretty badly stumped by this
Oakington case.  Here was a woman whose husband inherited a large
sum of money by the deaths of two boys.  The first boy was killed
accidentally--therefore she thought to herself--what a fine idea if
I kill the other boy and my old man gets hanged for the murder!
Nothing left then but the money, which will just suit me . . . that
was her idea, wasn't it?  But Guthrie, try as he would, couldn't
find a shadow of evidence against her.  So he came to me, in the
end--and not for the first time, let me say.  He talked--oh, how he
did talk!--all one evening and nearly all one night about the case--
we both examined it from every possible angle--we theorised and
wrangled and argued--and what did we discover at the end of it
all?"  He paused dramatically.  Then, in scarcely more than a
whisper, he answered:  "Nothing."

The waiter came with the brandies, and the little interruption gave
Cannell time to raise steam, as it were.  "Nothing at all, Mr.
Revell, I do assure you.  That blessed woman had committed the
almost perfect crime.  There wasn't a ha'porth of legal evidence
against her.  That little word 'up' that Guthrie has probably told
you about--how a counsel would have sneered at it!  'It is the sort
of clue you read about in detective stories', he would have said.
Or else he would have denied that she'd ever used the word.  Or
else he would have called as witnesses the doctors who performed
the autopsy and asked them if from their examination of the body
they believed that the shot had been fired in an upward direction.
And of course, since the head was so injured that the course of the
bullet was quite untraceable, they would have had to reply that
there was no evidence of direction at all.

"We also knew just a little bit of scandal about the lady's past,
but it wouldn't have helped us in a court of law.  No, the fact is,
there was simply NOTHING against her that could be proved.  And, if
you want the truth, there isn't much now.  But for that signed
statement of hers, I don't know what we could be sure of getting
her on--even an attempted murderous assault upon you would want
some pretty hard proving.  It may interest you to know, by the way,
that the weapon that nearly killed you belonged to her husband.  He
had bought it quite recently in preparation for his life in Kenya."

"And if you HAD been killed," put in Guthrie, "it seems quite
possible that Ellington might have been hanged for it.  There was
method even in that woman's madness."

The other detective resumed:  "Ah yes--she had an extraordinary
talent for improvisation.  If only her nerve had equalled it--if
only she had sat tight--laughed at you, Mr. Revell--put out her
tongue at you--shrugged her pretty little shoulders and told you,
metaphorically, of course, to go to hell!  A man might have done
it, if ever a man had had her type of genius to begin with.  But
her nerve was only a woman's.  We broke down that nerve--you, me,
and Guthrie between us--and that's about all we did do."

Revell shook his head despairingly.  "I still don't quite see how
you come into this affair, Mr. Cannell.  What made you appear at
Oakington as Mr. Geoffrey Lambourne?"

"Ah, quite right--that's what I must explain to you.  You see, when
Guthrie and I found ourselves completely at a deadlock in this
case, we decided to use a little guile.  We knew there was no hope
of a frontal attack, so we planned what the military tacticians
call an enveloping movement.  And with your unconscious assistance
we succeeded."

"I still don't quite follow."

"You will in a moment.  The details of the plan were my own, but
the conception--the broad outline--was agreed to by both Guthrie
and myself.  Briefly, our idea was to stand by, unknown to the
lady, and watch what happened in a particular set of circumstances.
To that end I composed the unique and original character of
Geoffrey Lambourne, visited Oakington, saw our heroine, and found
her particularly charming.  But it was you whom I wanted to see
most of all.  I wanted to tell you all about my poor, imaginary
brother.  I must say I was rather proud of the way I carried it
through, especially afterwards, when I noted its effect upon you."

"You mean that it was all a pack of lies that you told me?"

"By no means.  It was an impersonation founded to a large extent
upon the truth.  Lambourne really had left a will in Mrs.
Ellington's favour, and I'm pretty certain it was for the obvious
reason.  In fact, though I never met the fellow, I wouldn't mind
betting that my own interpretation of him was a good deal more
accurate than Guthrie's."

Guthrie interposed:  "Quite probably.  I never pretend to do that
sort of thing.  Psychological jerry-building doesn't appeal to me
temperamentally, though I admit it has its uses."

Cannell went on:  "You see, Mr. Revell, the chief reason for not
believing Lambourne guilty was the obvious fact that he wasn't at
all the sort of man to do such a thing.  Not much of a reason for a
chap like Guthrie, but you and I, perhaps, are human enough to let
it weigh.  At any rate, by telling you the sort of man Lambourne
was, I very successfully convinced you that he couldn't have been
the criminal, didn't I?"

"You mean that you wanted me to reach that conclusion?"

"Oh, much more than that.  I wanted you to begin an entirely new
attempt to solve the Oakington riddle on your own.  You did so.
And all the time I wanted you to become more and more friendly with
the pretty lady.  You did that, too.  I wouldn't have minded if
you'd even begun to suspect her a little--in fact, part of my
Geoffrey Lambourne impersonation was aimed to lead you gently in
that direction.  But it didn't work--and, anyhow, everything else
went according to plan, so that one little point hardly mattered.
The great thing was that sooner or later she should get to know
that you were investigating the case on your own, and that the
whole thing wasn't finished with, as she had supposed.  I guessed
she'd play Delilah to your Samson, and a particularly fascinating
Delilah, too.  Guthrie's not so sure--her style of looks doesn't
appeal to him.  He and I, of course, were watching all the time.
We had our eye on her as she became more and more worried lest her
earnest young lover should stumble accidentally on the truth.
Rather refined torture for her, when you come to think of it, but
not more than she thoroughly deserved.  Night after night she knew
that you were sitting up in your room, pondering over the problem
to which she alone was the answer.  You saw her looking pale and
worried, and you thought in your innocence that her husband was the
cause of it.  But he wasn't--it was you yourself."

"Which was what you had intended?"

"Precisely.  We knew her weak spot, and when you know that about
your enemy, the battle's half won.  Her weak spot was FEAR.  Even
when she was in an absolutely secure position, she couldn't put
away from her the terror of being discovered.  Twice, under the
stress of this fear, she had given way to panic, and Guthrie and I
were quite certain she would do it a third time.  We were watching
and waiting for it, and in the end--though not in the way we had
foreseen--it came."

Revell gulped down what was left of his brandy.  "But I don't like
it," he cried, thickly.  "I'm beginning to see your game, and I
don't like it a bit.  It seems to me like damned, dirty work.  Why
couldn't you have stayed on at Oakington and watched her openly?
If she was so terrified of me, surely she'd have been still more
terrified of you?"

Cannell shook his head.  "Think--we were detectives," he said
quietly.  "We had absolutely no locus standi at Oakington except as
servants of the law.  If we had stayed, we should have had to
arrest somebody--we should have had to make out a case--and there
WAS no case.  Don't forget that.  How could two detectives foist
themselves indefinitely on a public school merely to terrify
someone against whom there wasn't a shadow of legal evidence?
Impossible, my dear boy, and I'm sure you can see it was.  It was a
clear case for private enterprise--for the gifted amateur--and
particularly for the amateur who was an Old Boy of the School and
whom the Headmaster could appoint as a temporary secretary without
attracting undue attention."

"Good heavens--you mean that Roseveare was in the game, too?"

"He helped us, yes.  It was necessary."

Revell glared at his two companions with eyes that grew more angry
with every second.  "I see," he exclaimed, not too coherently, for
he had drunk quite enough.  "I was a decoy, eh?  You couldn't get
any evidence yourself, so you used me to pull the irons out of the
fire for you!"  His face was flushed; the drink he had taken gave
his rage a certain dream-like quality of which he was curiously
aware as he continued.  "I suppose, since you couldn't prove the
other murder, you rather hoped she'd murder me to give you a chance
of proving that?"

Cannell shook his head sadly.  "My dear Revell, that is unjust to
us.  We had no idea you were in personal danger--we had no idea
that her third moment of panic would take the form it did."

"It was your letter to me that sent things off with a bang,"
interposed Guthrie.  "Fortunately I was keeping an eye on your room
that night--I'd seen her in it with you a bit before the thing
happened.  Then when I saw some vague person leaning out of the
dormitory window towards yours I guessed something was wrong and I
raced up as quick as I could.  You owe your life to that bit of
spying, Revell."

"And after all," said Cannell, "you weren't hurt--though it was
only by the greatest of good fortune, I know--"

A slow, dull pain was tearing through Revell's head.  "Not hurt,
eh?  NOT HURT?  To be fooled all the time--to--to have you two
prying and spying--oh, damnation--it's more than I can stand--I'm
going--I'm going--"  He lurched up from his chair, spilling the
remains of the coffee and upsetting the brandy glasses.  His head
throbbed; there was a monstrous dark blur before his eyes; he had
been a fool, he reflected, to have that second brandy.

The two detectives were helping him, one on either side.  There was
a halt in the restaurant, where Guthrie paid the bill, even for the
cocktail that Revell was supposed to have stood him, for Revell was
far beyond remembrance of such a detail.  He was, in fact, barely
sober enough to walk the dozen yards or so across the restaurant to
the street-door.

Out on the pavement, while a uniformed porter went for a taxi, he
heard Guthrie saying:  "By the way, Revell, this Oakington affair's
going to make the devil of a stir when it comes on at the Assizes,
you know.  A Fleet Street friend of mine asked me this morning if
I'd do a few articles about it after the trial, but of course I had
to refuse--not professional, you know.  But I mentioned you--
cracked you up no end--said you were absolutely in the thick of it
and knew the dame from A to Z.  So I wouldn't be surprised if you
hear something pretty soon.  'Mrs. Ellington as I Knew Her'--that
sort of thing, you know.  And if you take my advice, you won't
accept a penny under a hundred quid for the job--they'll give it
you if you stand out firm enough."

And he heard Cannell saying:  "Don't think too hardly of us.  We
did the only thing that was to be done, and in the only way it
could be done.  You helped us tremendously--it all, in the end,
depended on you."

He felt them shaking his hand and hoisting him into a taxi; he
heard the door bang to; then, with a sideways lurch as the cab
started, his head and face lolled on to the unpleasantly-tasting
cushions.

He was in a drowsy coma when the cab pulled in at the Islington
kerbside.  The driver left his perch, opened the door, and with
cheerful good humour wakened him and helped him out.  "It's all
right, sir," he said, as Revell began to fumble in his pockets.
"You don't owe me nothin'.  The other gentlemen made that all
right.  Shall I ring the bell, sir, or do you think you can
manage? . . .  Very good, sir, thank you.  Mind the step. . . ."

Two minutes later Revell was safely sprawled in his favourite arm-
chair.  Mrs. Hewston was out, enjoying her weekly pilgrimage to the
grave of the late Mr. Hewston.  There was no occupant of the house
save the large cat that purred a welcome about his legs.

He was calmer now, and inclined to vary his self-pity with a touch
of cynicism.  Yes, it had all been the very devil of a business,
but a hundred quid for a series of articles was good money, and
there was the Head's cheque for twenty-five, too--not ungenerous
for three weeks of pretended secretaryship. . . .  Mrs. Ellington
as he knew her, eh?  Well, well, perhaps he could make it readable.
He could describe her dark, lustrous eyes, her pert little nose,
the queer little romp of laughter that she had sometimes, her soft
yielding kiss . . . ah, no, no, he could hardly go as far as that.
Not in newspaper articles, at any rate; but it might be worked into
his epic poem, somehow.

She was, and he still thought so, the most charming, the cleverest,
and altogether the most devilish female he had ever known, and he
knew that in later life he would always thrill at the thought that
he had almost been murdered by her.  What a brain she had had, and
what a personality, and what powers of acting and imagination!  If
only she had turned such qualities to good account instead of bad--
if, for example, she had used them to run a West-End beauty parlour
or to stand for Parliament. . . .

But he felt himself becoming trite; such reflections, perhaps, were
best left to provincial J.P.s.  Later in the day, when he was less
drunk, he came to the sudden and startling decision that he would,
after all, join the New Guinea expedition.  He would write his Mrs.
Ellington articles beforehand, and then, gorged with gold, set out
for the great open spaces where a man could live a man's life and
all that sort of thing.  What was more, the youthful hero of his
epic poem, surfeited with the tribulations of the world, should
join a precisely similar expedition and for a precisely similar
reason.  He and his author had both, for the time being, done with
civilisation.  More particularly, even, they had done with women.
Women were . . .

Needless, however, to follow the matter into too intense detail.
Time, the Great Healer, with the help of a strong gin-and-tonic,
had restored considerable ravages by midnight; indeed, it was round
about then that Revell completed a stanza which expressed, through
the narrative experience of his hero, what he believed to be the
exact truth of the matter.  He thought of Mrs. Ellington, no longer
with bitterness, but with a tranquil, almost an ennobling sadness
of mind and heart. . . .


     . . . And when he thought of her, a strange emotion
       Linked her mind with lands he might explore;
     She was the mystic continent and ocean,
       The far-flung island and the distant shore;
     And in a dream he drank the magic potion,
       Sweeter than wine, that made his spirit soar
     Till he was Cook, Columbus, and Cabot,
       Frobisher, Livingstone--in fact, the lot!



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Was It Murder? by James Hilton





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