a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers (1936) Author: R A J Walling * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0900861h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2009 Date most recently updated: October 2009 Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
The night train glided into Paddington Station punctually at seven on Monday morning, July 8.
In the string of taxis drawn up between the arrival platforms was one large private car. Its chauffeur watched the passengers drift to the underground stations or hurry away in cabs. In ten minutes the platform was almost clear. Then he made for the entrance of the first sleeping coach, searched along the corridor for Berth No. 10 and knocked at the door—a distinctive knock with two rapid taps delayed at the end. The door opened an inch.
"Me, sir," said the chauffeur.
The door opened wide to admit him and immediately closed. He touched his sandy forelock to the occupant of the berth, who stood fully dressed in a suit of country clothes. A large suit-case lay on the bunk, ready-strapped, with a rain coat resting on it. The owner, a big-built man of dark complexion, black eyes of a piercing brightness, and a commanding air, who looked anything from thirty-five to forty, said:
"Nothing, sir. Nobody."
"Been here since half past six. Watched all the time. I'd bet on it—nobody at all."
"It's important, Morris."
"I know, sir."
"But it's become more important than you know. I can't take a single chance."
"I'd guarantee it, sir—nobody here."
The dark man turned to the window opposite the corridor and peered past the edge of the blind. An empty train stood on the next track.
"Take the bag and the coat, drive round to the departure side. I'll slip out this way and meet you there. Keep your eye lifting, Morris."
The chauffeur picked up suit-case and coat and vanished. The dark man waited a moment or two, walked down the corridor to the end of the coach, opened the door on the blind side, stepped across to the running board of the adjoining train, opened a compartment door and vanished, too.
The chauffeur drove the big car slowly under the canopy outside the departure platform, leaned back and turned the door handle without stopping. The dark man, waiting on the curb, boarded the car still in motion and it passed on toward Bishops Road.
"Not a thing, sir," the chauffeur threw over his shoulder.
"Good. But don't go direct. Get along to Lancaster Gate and through the Park, and then down the Mall. I'll keep a watch through the back window, Morris."
Half way along the Mall, he said:
"All right. Nothing following. You can drive straight home."
Under the Admiralty Arch, into Trafalgar Square, round the whirligig, across the Strand, into the Adelphi. The car pulled up outside a tall, dark and grimy house in John Street. The chauffeur opened the door with a latch-key, the dark man dashed inside, mounted four flights of stairs, entered a room on the fourth landing and dropped into a chair with a gesture of relief. It was an old family house converted into apartments which its owner dignified with the name of flats. The stairs were dark, the floors uneven. The room in which the dark man threw off his hat and sat in a lounge chair had probably been a servant's bedroom in older days. It was small, low-ceiled, and its only window looked upon the chimney pots of Adelphi Terrace. But the woodwork had been painted white, the furniture was good, the carpet thick. An opening had been practiced in the one wall, and curtains concealed another room.
The chauffeur arriving with the bag took it into that room, returned and stood at attention.
The dark man looked at his watch.
"Had your own?"
"Before I left, sir."
"Right. Well, Morris—a narrow squeak this time!"
"So I judged by your message, sir. You ought to have taken me."
"Impossible, man! I told you it was impossible. And I've scraped through—at least, I suppose so. But it was astonishing to find nothing doing at Paddington. Didn't you think so?"
"You didn't give 'em much time, sir—"
"Time enough. I can't quite understand what's put the spanner in the works, Morris. Still, we won't look our good luck in the teeth, eh? And now I disappear."
The sandy-haired man who stood so straight and looked so like an old soldier gazed down at the figure lounging in the chair with a touch of anxious affection in his gray eyes.
"It's too dangerous, Mr. Arthur—playing this lone hand."
"Not half so dangerous as if I had you on my hands, old blunderhead." The hard, vivid features softened into a smile. "You stick to your chauffing and valeting. Now, I'm catching the boat train at Victoria at ten, and I'll be out of their reach before you can say knife. So don't worry. I'll serve my own breakfast. You go in and get everything ready."
He raised his bulk out of the chair, handed the man a bunch of keys, crossed the landing to another room where a small table was laid and breakfast dishes were ready on a hot plate.
Morris parted the curtains and entered a bedroom. In the wardrobe he found a small steel box, and placed it on the table. Three of the keys in the bunch, applied one after the other, opened it. He took out a number of curious things—a black beard mounted on a foundation so absolutely transparent that it seemed not to exist, tubes of greasepaint, bottles of stain—and arranged them on the table. He selected clothes from the wardrobe and laid them on the bed. He cleared the suit-case and refilled it. He turned as the dark man came in.
"Any letters, Morris?"
The chauffeur took a small bundle from a drawer of the dressing table. They were opened, glanced at, thrown aside.
"No message from Mr. Penrose yesterday?"
"Any post this morning?"
The chauffeur looked at his watch.
"Not before I left. But it's eight now. I'll go down and see."
"A moment, Morris." The dark man stood looking down at the collection of curious things on the table. "I want to tell you something. Don't be alarmed. You may hear about it, so you'd better be prepared. A man—er—died last night."
"My God!" Morris murmured.
"Yes—I thought so. But let that be the last ejaculation, Morris. He died. If he hadn't died, I probably should have. That make any difference?"
"Well, all right. Go down and see if there's any post."
Morris returned holding out one envelope. "Monday morning—only one letter, sir. I suppose it's meant for you?"
He took it and frowned over it. "I suppose so—but it's the first time I've been turned into a limited liability company. Let's see."
The envelope, carefully slit open, revealed a single sheet of quarto paper ruled with faint lines, obviously torn off a cheap pad. He read what was scrawled on it, frowned, read again, picked up the envelope and examined superscription and post-mark.
"Something queer about this, Morris. Give me the code book."
From the bottom of the steel box the chauffeur produced a slim notebook. The dark man ran through its pages, referring at intervals to the letter. He shook his head, handed back the book, sat on the foot of the bed and frowned at his shoes for some minutes. Suddenly he looked up.
"Get through on the telephone, Morris."
The chauffeur went back to the next room. "Nobody there, sir, they say," said he when he returned. "Will you speak to Anderson?"
The dark man, looking at his watch, tapped an impatient foot on the floor. Then he strode between the curtains. The chauffeur heard the rumble of his voice—then words, spoken sharply: "Not till ten? Far too late! Never mind. Ring off."
"Morris," said he, coming back, "what was the name of that fellow Mr. Ted Fielding told me about?—you know, over the affair in Elford Mansions?"
"Something like Tell—was it Tellford?" Morris knit his eyebrows.
"No—I've got it, Morris! Tolefree—that was the name. Look him up in the telephone book."
Morris came back with the second volume of the London Telephone Directory, a finger between the pages. He pointed out two entries:
"Tolefree, Philip, Insurance Broker, Watling Street
"Tolefree, Philip, 6, Bridge House, Cannon Street."
"Ring him up at Bridge House, Morris."
The dark man read and re-read the communication on the sheet of flimsy quarto till the call was through. Morris, waiting in the bedroom, heard the rumble of his voice in the next room.
"Now, get to it, Morris," he said when he returned, sat himself in a chair, submitted to a great apron such as the barbers use, and presently was undergoing facial transformation at the hands of Morris.
"You're early this morning, sir!"
Tolefree's clerk, young Allen, was tidying his office and sorting his correspondence when Tolefree walked in at a quarter to nine.
"An early visitor this morning, Allen. Due now. Be 'ready for him: he's in a hurry."
Allen placed the client's chair. Tolefree sat down and pulled Who's Who out of his book rest. He was studying it when Allen brought in a card inscribed only with a name: "Mr. Ronald Hudson." And immediately that person of world-wide celebrity occupied the client's chair. Tolefree had never looked with more curious interest at anyone.
What he saw was a mask familiar to every reader of a newspaper. There was the unfashionably hirsute face under a mass of black hair worn rather too long. There were the brilliant dark eyes and the thin, well-shaped nose and the luxuriant black beard which made this extremely English Englishman look like an extremely French Frenchman. There were the powerful torso and the mighty arms which belonged to the dare-devil free-lance soldier and adventurer whose exploits were known to all the world. There was the quizzical, semi-cynical smile of the Don Quixote who could be guaranteed to turn up wherever on the globe a windmill offered itself for attack. There was the broad, calm brow that walled the brain of the genius respected in half a score of learned societies. There was the hairy right hand that had penned half a score of books for which publishers and public clamored, and above it a little watch in platinum looking strangely delicate and feminine on such a wrist. There, radiating to Tolefree, was the smile they said few women could resist. There was the meteor which had flashed out of nowhere nine or ten years ago.
There, in a word, was Ronald Hudson.
The last person in the world Tolefree had ever expected to see in that chair talking preliminary generalities to him. Few people ever sat there who had not encountered trouble of a sort from which Hudson was certainly immune—petty, sordid trouble, dishonesty with money, sneak-thievery, small defalcations. It was certainly not money that brought Hudson to Wading Street. Nobody was likely to have stolen money from Hudson, and anyhow he would have taken a trouble of that sort straight to the police.
Tolefree was a patient man. He did not mind waiting to learn what had brought Hudson to Watling Street. He submitted to the measuring glance in the midst of a sentence. But he knew why Hudson did not blurt out his mission in the first minute. Hudson was piercing him with those brilliant eyes, boring into him, exploring him. Tolefree returned the compliment with a steady gaze on the leonine face and racked his memory to relate the reputed Hudson of the newspapers with this Hudson who confronted him. He came to the conclusion that the newspapers knew of Hudson just what Hudson wished them to know and no more. That was not very much. Most people who figured in Who's Who were only too anxious to reveal themselves—age, condition, descent, place of birth, marriage, family, residence, honors and offices, literary performances, recreations and the rest of it. But of Hudson Who's Who said no more than this:
HUDSON, RONALD, writer. Publications: Various books of travel. Address: Coutts's Bank.
Tolefree, being a somewhat bookish man, knew those works of travel, from the very first of them, the one on the great journey through the Kali Desert. He put his age at forty, but that was sheer guessing—the raven beard might disguise an age above or below. On the whole, however, Tolefree thought not less than forty. There were thirty years of Hudson concealed somewhere in the backward abyss of time...
"...and so, when I heard that most moving episode in the bright career of Bill Chance and the film star, I thought I'd like to come and see the man who got him out of the mess."
Tolefree smiled. "A fascinating youth, Mr. Chance," said he. "D'you know him well?"
"Not at all; 'I echo the gossip of the Wayfarers' Club." Hudson fell silent, with his eyes staring steadily into Tolefree's. Then he suddenly made up his mind to come to the point.
"I've been told you'd be a hard man to deceive, and I believe it."
"You flatter me," Tolefree murmured. "But—you don't want to deceive me, do you?"
"Whatever I want, I haven't done it, have I? Admit it—"
"Well, it's extremely clever," said Tolefree. "But, as you challenge me—no, you haven't. I saw through it at once. Still, you know—that's my business, seeing through it."
"Quite so. The point is this—that if our talk came to nothing, and you were afterwards to tell other people you'd seen through it, they wouldn't believe you."
"Naturally they wouldn't. I said it was extremely clever. I can quite understand that if I made the suggestion to anyone outside this room I should be in danger of a visit from two doctors and a magistrate bent on certifying me. But then, of course, there's no reason why I should suggest it."
Hudson relaxed his gaze.
"Very well. We've cleared the preliminaries. Now, Mr. Tolefree, I told you I was in a desperate hurry. But for that, and the fact that it's Monday morning, and I've no time for other consultations, I'd not be here worrying you. Fact is, I'm bound for the boat train at Victoria. I shall be away at least a week. I have to be in Lisbon tomorrow night—"
"Hadn't heard of another revolution looming up in that quarter," said Tolefree.
"Touché!—you have my reputation at your finger-ends. But though, as the proverb says, common fame is seldom to blame, don't believe everything you hear about me. Portugal's perfectly quiet at present. However, this journey's the real reason why I've come to you—or rather my compulsory absence from England is. But for that I should be trying myself to solve the conundrum I'm going to ask you to tackle."
"A matter of cerebration that won't interfere much with anything else you've got to do. When I used the word conundrum, it was deliberate. This is a written conundrum, and I should think one after your very heart."
"But," Tolefree protested, "I'm no good at conundrums. The simplest cross-word puzzle has me beaten. There's something so inhuman about a conundrum—"
"Well, listen to what I have to say. If then you refuse, no harm is done. I shall have spoken to you in confidence and you'll forget it forthwith."
Tolefree pushed a cigarette box towards him and took out his own pipe.
"Two friends of mine are concerned in this, Mr. Tolefree," Hudson said, taking a paper from his pocket. "I can tell you the name of one but not of the other. They're in a jam. I greatly want to get them out of it, but I shall be away. The friend who must be anonymous found this letter in his post-box this morning. He can't make head or tail of it, nor can I. Have a look at it."
Hudson passed across the table a thin sheet of paper torn from a common writing pad, inscribed in a round, unformed and almost illiterate handwriting thus:
DEAR SIRS,—Mr—. Headmoor will be obliged if you will cancel the orders sent on the 1st, 4th and 5th and substitute the following:
Send him only one sink, Una type: surplus E.P.E
He hopes this will be in time for despatch by the end of the week as the matter is urgent.
P.S. Two rose pattern. J.J.
Tolefree looked up from his reading of the document.
"That seems straightforward enough," said he. "Your anonymous friend is a builder's merchant and Mr. Headmoor is one of his customers, from whom he's been in the habit of receiving orders. Your friend knows his address and therefore Mr. Headmoor, who's no hand at writing letters, has not thought it necessary to supply one."
Hudson shook his head.
"My friend is not a builder's merchant," said he. "He doesn't know the first thing about building, and he never sold anything in his life."
"Then the letter has reached him by mistake."
"Not so, for it was addressed to him in the same handwriting as that."
"Does he know a Mr. Headmoor?"
"Never heard the name."
"Or a Jobling woman, married or single?"
"Not the least in the world."
"He has no doubt the letter was intended for him?"
"Otherwise I shouldn't be sitting in your office."
Tolefree picked up the paper and scrutinized it.
"In that case," said he, "a most peculiar missive. And remarkably inconsistent in itself."
"I thought it consistently obscure," said Hudson.
"Yes—in the circumstances. But intrinsically, as an example of letter-writing, quite inconsistent. The handwriting isn't feigned—it's the work of a person who writes with pain and tribulation. But the composition is not the work of such a person. It's terse and businesslike, grammatical, not a single word misspelt. It is therefore a dictated letter. Mr. Headmoor has not merely instructed—Miss or Mrs. Jobling to write; he has superintended her performance. As your friend doesn't deal in sinks of the Una type—whatever they may be—Mr. Headmoor, whoever he may be, has chosen this way of communicating to him information on some other matter."
Hudson pondered this for a moment.
"You're right, without question. I ought to tell you, Tolefree, that my friend does occasionally receive remarkable communications. With most of them he has no difficulty at all. But this one beats him and he's no time now to worry it out. I promised to see whether I could get it done for him—"
"Ah, then you can possibly suggest the key of the enigma—unless Miss Jobling is a Twentieth Century Sphinx proposing insoluble problems—"
"I thought you might find the key," said Hudson. Tolefree looked at the paper again.
"It don't seem very likely. I don't even know where to look for the keyhole, do I? Now, if you could tell me whether your friend was expecting a communication about this time—"
"I was going to tell you that."
"And from whom he expected it—"
"Of course. He did rather expect some news round about now, and it hasn't arrived. I shall tell you the name of the person who was to send it, but it mustn't pass your lips either by design or by accident," said Hudson with slow emphasis.
"Then he was expecting to hear of or from a Mr. Thomas Penrose."
Once more Tolefree took up the paper and examined it line by line. "Well!" said he, "that's quite plain. The letter was dictated by Mr. Penrose to Miss Jobling."
"Eh?" Hudson exclaimed. "You leap at that, don't you?"
"No—it leaps at me. It's the first thing he says—`Mr. Penrose will be obliged,' et cetera. You know a bit about Celtic languages, I guess?"
"Not a thing."
"Oh? Well, Pen = Head; ros = moor. Mr. Penrose is therefore writing under two compulsions—-first to conceal his name from a casual glance; and next to avoid writing in his own hand. That is, naturally, unless he's playing a joke on your friend?"
"Joke!" cried Hudson, snatching back the paper. "Anything but a joke."
"Then, could you say whether your friend received any communications from Mr. Penrose on the first, fourth and fifth which Mr. Penrose might now wish to cancel?"
Hudson looked over the letter again. "No—I'm quite sure he's had nothing from Penrose for at least a fortnight."
"I suppose you can't be a bit more confidential about it, can you?" Tolefree asked. "You're anxious to discover under what compulsion Mr. Penrose may be—and perhaps where?"
Hudson said he could not be more confidential. "I've gone far enough in mentioning Penrose's name. But yes—my friend's most anxious to discover where and how Penrose is under compulsion as you call it. If I know anything about him the information is there."
He put down the letter.
"Well—you know best," said Tolefree. "But it's a tall order to get anything out of that without some sort of pointer. Where did your friend think Mr. Penrose might be when he wrote the communication he expected?"
"That's the deuce of it, Tolefree. He wasn't quite sure. Penrose was traveling: he thought he was on the continent."
"You spoke of an envelope, addressed in the same insult hand—"
"Yes, but it tells nothing. It was a cheap envelope with a three-halfpenny stamp in the right-hand corner and a halfpenny one in the left. They were Jubilee stamps and stretched almost across the top. They were postmarked `T.P.O.' The letter had been posted somewhere in a mail train with the extra halfpenny fee."
"Then Mr. Penrose was not on the continent but in England. A little inquiry at the Post Office should do the trick. You could probably discover whereabouts the letter was put on the train."
"No, Tolefree! That won't do. I don't want any such inquiry. It would mean handing over the envelope and disclosing my anonymous friend. If I were prepared to do that the police would be my mark. But I don't want the police in this, and that's why I've come to you."
"Oh!" Tolefree and Hudson looked deeply into each other's eyes again. "If you could indicate even remotely where he might possibly have been in England, or if you could say whether he commonly used a code, or even what the nature of the communication was likely to be—"
Hudson made vigorous gesture of dissent.
"If he were in England, I should have expected him—or rather my friend would have expected him—to be in London. He would be familiar with certain codes, but he hasn't used either of them here. I can't tell you anything about the nature of the communication."
"But you think it's important?"
"My friend does."
Tolefree pulled up his sleeve to look at his watch.
"You're giving me a raw deal, Mr. Hudson," he said.
"I can't help it. Those are the conditions."
"If this isn't in a formal code, it's a cryptogram, of course. It may take a long time to decipher. I have many jobs in hand—"
"I question whether any one of them's nearly so important as this. Anyhow, it needn't interfere with your jobs. Find out what that letter means, and if you can get it before the end of the week act accordingly. Never mind expense. Dig up Penrose whatever it costs. If nothing has happened by Sunday, I shall be at the Wayfarers' and you can get me on the telephone."
"In the meantime," said Tolefree, "what if Mr. Penrose's compulsion means danger for him?"
"He'll take his chance. I calculate it's not danger to Penrose we have to reckon with, but danger to his job. Now, that's all I can say. Is it a bet?"
Tolefree picked up the letter and read it through once more.
"All right, Mr. Hudson—it's a bet."
Allen saw the visitor off the premises and into the big car, driven by a sandy-haired man, which crawled out of the narrow street behind a wagon and then sped westward to Victoria Station.
Tolefree stayed in his office with his eyes bent upon the missive of Miss Jobling—not, it must be confessed, with any particular concentration or penetration. A cryptogram?—what was it?—any expert could probably have deciphered it with half a suggestion of a key, or perhaps without. Had this problem been submitted to him by any casual client, he would not have accepted it: he would have turned up the address of someone who specialized in this kind of mystery, or possibly got an address from Pierce at Scotland Yard.
It was the mystery behind the mystery that had caused Tolefree to make his bet with Hudson—partly that, and partly the personality of Hudson himself.
Hudson was an obscurer puzzle than Miss Jobling's letter. Had Hudson meant him to perceive what in fact he had perceived—that the Hudson of newspaper fame was an invention, a triumphant piece of camouflage? Whether he had meant it or not, as soon as he saw that the camouflage was pierced, he displayed his intelligence by making no bones about it.
But why, if he gave Tolefree credit for "seeing through it," did he maintain the fiction of the friend who had received this letter—insist on his anonymity?
And why, above all, had he come to Tolefree? Tolefree was right outside the Hudson world and had never expected to enter it. However, there was no doubt that connection with the eminence of Mr. Hudson might have an interesting sequel.
Tolefree spread the letter and placed a sheet of foolscap beside it.
He set down at the head of his sheet what he knew about it. The letter was sent on behalf of a Mr. Penrose. That was beyond question. Hudson had been expecting a letter from Penrose and Penrose had expected him to grasp the translation of his name from its native syllables into English. Evidently Hudson had not done so. But his attitude showed that this was a disguised message from Penrose on some business unfit for the eyes of Post Office or police.
Penrose was believed by Hudson to be on the continent, and Hudson was now on the way to the continent himself. The business was therefore almost certainly done or to be done abroad.
But Penrose was not on the continent. He was in England. The letter had been posted on a train on Sunday—a very natural thing if Penrose was in a place where the Post Office did not collect letters on Sunday, or collected them early in the morning. But where in England it was impossible to say within three or four hundred miles without referring the postmark to the Post Office. Hudson had deliberately refrained from handing over the envelope. It therefore contained some indication which he did not want revealed—probably the name of the fictitious friend to whom it had been addressed.
Penrose had not used any code with which Hudson was familiar, though he had used such codes before. Why? It could only be that he feared the communication might fall into the hands of some person who knew the code. In an apparently stupid and meaningless letter he had conveyed information which was urgent, and Hudson was expected to do something about it before the end of the week.
As he had said to Hudson, Penrose must be under some sort of compulsion—in a position where it would be unsafe or perhaps impossible to communicate with Hudson en plein and dangerous to use an established code. He had therefore invented a code. He had enlisted the services of an illiterate person to write a letter which would pass for a business communication, and had posted it to some address which would convey nothing to the inquisitive. He had trusted to Hudson's resources to get the message unraveled, and Hudson would certainly have been able to do so but for his departure on the journey to Lisbon.
What sort of jam could a friend of Hudson's be in, assuming that he was in England?—under some restraint, but not in personal danger? Clearly engaged in some enterprise which other people wanted to prevent, which would fail if it were not completed this week. What sort of enterprise? Something that would not stand examination by the public authorities. Therefore something illegal. What sort of illegal enterprise might a man like Hudson be cherishing? To judge by what he called his reputation, it might be any one of a dozen adventures in any part of the world, all of which the public authorities would strongly censure. True, there was no sign of trouble in Portugal at the moment—but one never knew what might be brewing in Lisbon. The enterprise might therefore be opposed by the authorities, or it might be by some private interests that Hudson's action challenged. This latter in all probability, because Penrose would not be kept under compulsion by the authorities in the way the letter suggested. If he had been detected in wrong-doing, he would have been arrested and charged before some magistrate within twenty-four hours...
Arrived at this point, Tolefree turned again to the letter. But nothing he had noted contained a key. No short cut: the cryptogram, if cryptogram it was, must be puzzled out of the contents of the letter itself.
He had no doubt it could be done. For the present he found himself brooding again over the personality and the motives of Hudson.
Strange how little things of apparent insignificance determine action. Tolefree afterwards said that, had he guessed at the consequences of that morning's work, he would have bundled Hudson and his letter out of Watling Street with a blank refusal. At this moment, however, thinking of Hudson's aura of mystery and the immense publicity achieved by a man who seemed to shun personal advertisement, he saw on his desk the visiting card Allen had brought to him with its simple inscription, "Mr. Ronald Hudson." He picked it up, and, idly turning it over in his fingers, perceived that the back was covered with fine, faint writing in pencil.
From that moment dated Tolefree's plunge into the desperate business of the Old Hallerdon tragedy.
The writing was not only fine and faint, but minute. He took from his drawer a large reading glass which magnified the card by three diameters and brought up a list of initials. He copied them on to his foolscap sheet:
That memorandum, made by Hudson on one of his visiting cards and unnoticed by him when he handed it to Allen, was the factor that determined Tolefree's action and led him to his solution not only of Miss Jobling's cryptogram but of a conundrum infinitely graver.
He gazed at it long. The division of the initials into groups of six and four with a mark between meant nothing to him then, and the list would have had no meaning whatever but that one little-used letter of the alphabet appeared in it—the letter Q. The odds were a million pounds to a postage stamp that the sign "J.Q.F." referred to one man only. Tolefree knew that man. It could be no other than Felderman, the patent lawyer in Bishopsgate Street.
Tolefree rang for Allen and told him to get Mr. Felderman's office on the telephone. The clerk who answered regretted that Mr. Felderman was out of town and not expected back for a few days.
"Put me on to Mr. Wilkinson," said Tolefree...
"Hello—that Tolefree?" came a voice. "You're up betimes this morning, Tolefree. I've only just stepped into the place."
"Shan't keep you a minute. The boy tells me Felderman's away. I want to speak to him. Can I get hold of him?"
"I dunno. Yes, perhaps. He's been away over the week-end at Sir Thomas Grymer's place, Old Hallerdon, in Devon. Bit of a house party. Don't expect him back till Thursday or Friday. Anything big?"
"No—just one small question," said Tolefree. "Thanks, I'll ring and try my luck. Old Hallerdon, you said?" He scribbled the name on his sheet.
"Yes—half a tick and I'll give you the number...It's Newton Abbot 5684."
"Large party there, Wilkinson?"
"Don't know. Felderman mentioned that he'd be meeting the great Mr. George Lyneham—"
"Ah, yes—I saw in the paper that Lyneham was going down for a short visit to Grymer. Well—thanks."
"All right, Tolefree—cheerio!" said Wilkinson.
Tolefree turned to his sheet. Not a doubt that Hudson's card bore the initials of a house party at Old Hallerdon. He converted the "T.G." into Sir Thomas Grymer and the "G.L." into George Lyneham, and the "J.Q.F." into James Quilter Felderman. He had no personal knowledge of Lyneham, but everybody in the City was aware of him—the quiet, powerful man who had come from small beginnings in so short a time to such financial celebrity that money seemed to flow to him like steel filings to a magnet. If Hudson was engaged in some high-colored and costly adventure, and if Lyneham was financing him, things might be expected to happen. It was perhaps significant that Lyneham was with Grymer, the engineer who made so many things in which adventurers might be interested.
Tolefree rang for Allen again...
The trunk call Allen put through to Devon was the second step in Tolefree's progress towards tragedy. It took three-quarters of an hour to mature.
"Sir Thomas Grymer's, Old Hallerdon," said the voice at the other end.
"If Mr. Felderman is in, I wish to speak to him," said Tolefree.
"What name shall I say, sir?"
"Wilkinson," said Tolefree, and waited...
"Hello, Wilkinson? London burning down?"
"Felderman, this is Tolefree speaking. I took your partner's name in vain because—you understand?"
"Oh, well, yes! And what's biting Tolefree this morning?"
"Desperate hunger for a talk with you, Felderman."
"That's flattering. Carry on."
"But not on the telephone," said Tolefree.
"I see! By Jove, I see! But you're on it dam' quick, Tolefree, aren't you?"
"Haven't the ghost of a notion what you mean, but I'm certainly not wasting time. I've looked up the trains. I can catch the 10.30 at Paddington and be at Newton Abbot at half past two. Are you far away? Could we meet somewhere?"
"We certainly could! We certainly will, Tolefree. But hang on to the line a moment. I've got an idea..."
Tolefree felt a little excitement at the prospect of success for his first shot. Felderman was away several minutes, and the operator had twice reminded him of the passage of time before the wire came alive again.
"Still there, Tolefree? Well, I have an invitation for you. Sir Thomas Grymer will be honored if you'll join his party at Old Hallerdon for a day or two."
"The deuce he will!" exclaimed Tolefree.
"He will. I've explained to him that you're an accomplished antiquarian. He had a pet antiquarian here for a day or two but lost him this morning, and he'll be rejoiced to have someone to talk to about the architecture of the Tudor period—"
"Hold on, Felderman! What's all this?"
"Cost too much to explain it on the phone. Come along down. I'll meet you at the station and tell you. A walking encyclopaedia like you oughtn't to have any difficulty in filling the bill. And if you want me, Tolefree, I want you a devil of a lot more! Mug it up in the train, can't you?"
"Is this serious, Felderman?"
"Not only serious—very grave," said Felderman. "Gosh, if it isn't a miracle you've rung up this morning!"
Tolefree frowned at the telephone, considering. "All right, then. But I can't catch the 10.30 in that case. I shall have to make some preparation."
"Get the 1.30. It reaches Newton Abbot at five. I'll be there with a car."
Not long after, Tolefree was back at Cannon Street packing his bag. What Felderman had said aroused a deep curiosity. It caused him to select with care the clothes he might need. The sober tweed he now wore would be suitable for the rôle Felderman suggested. A suit of country clothes of less restrained hue and cut might sustain another rôle if he had to change it. There must be tails because he would meet ladies at dinner. And there was the question of books. The big bag would be full, but he must mug up the Tudor Renaissance if he was to carry off the part of an antiquarian. He would have three hours in the train for that. So into the bag went Banister-Fletcher though he weighed about three pounds. And with the possible situation of Mr. Penrose in his mind, in went also the revolver for which he never carried ammunition—exemplifying his oft-expressed theory that an empty automatic was just as coercive as a loaded one and far less dangerous. And in went refills for his torch.
But while his train slid at sixty miles an hour from Paddington into the West Country, Tolefree never gave a thought to Tudor architecture, and Banister-Fletcher remained undisturbed in his bag. Hudson got between him and his studies. He found himself speculating about builders' merchants in the twentieth century rather than about builders in the sixteenth. All his reading was confined to the letter of Miss Jane Jobling. As he passed to the restaurant car for lunch, he thought of stopping to ask the cook in the kitchen what was an E.P.E., but refrained. It must be an electroplated something-or-other. As he came back from lunch he glanced into the kitchen on the offchance of seeing a sink. When he had lit his pipe and sat in his corner, he gazed at the flying landscape with unseeing eyes, looking past it to the unknown bourne of Old Hallerdon, where, he guessed, he was to meet the people enumerated on Hudson's card, and wondering what acquaintance with them might tell him about Hudson.
On the platform at Newton Abbot, Felderman was waiting for him.
"Hello, Tolefree! Glad you could make it."
"Very good of you to be glad. We seem to be a mutual godsend, don't we?"
Felderman signaled to a porter to take the bag, and led the way outside. A big Daimler stood there. The chauffeur got out when he saw Felderman and held the door open.
"Put the bag in and wait," said Felderman. "We'll come back here to join you."
He walked across the road to the gate of a little public garden, found a seat in the shade, produced a cigar case, and offered Tolefree his cutter.
"Now then, Tolefree—your business urgent?"
"In a sense—but how about yours?"
"You shall judge. I thought I'd like to put you wise before we go to Grymer's, and we can't talk in the car."
Felderman lit his cigar and got it well started. This shrewd gray man, whom Tolefree knew as a City lawyer of rather jovial temperament, was preternaturally solemn this afternoon.
"Get ready for a jolt, Tolefree," he said. "There's a dead man at Old Hallerdon. They say he committed suicide. But I'm not so sure."
If Tolefree was jolted he did not show it.
"I want to tell you about it," said Felderman.
"Oh? But first tell me whether I'm right in supposing the house party at Old Hallerdon to number nine people, yourself and Lyneham and a Mr. Canon among them."
"What do you know? You can't have heard—not yeti Was it about Grymer's party you wanted to talk to me?"
"It was," said Tolefree. "But I've heard nothing about your dead man till this minute. Am I right?"
"Up to a point. There were eight in addition to Grymer and his wife. But one of 'em's gone away—the tame antiquarian. And one of, 'em's dead—"
"He was called Peter Lewisson," said..Yelderman.
"Ah, well—now, I'll listen," said Tolefree.
Two cigars had been smoked in the shade of a tall elm in the garden, and the chauffeur waited a long hour before Felderman had finished his story and answered Tolefree's questions.
"I'll tell you first what happened last night," said he. "You know about Grymer?"
Tolefree had never met Sir Thomas Grymer, but, like everyone else, knew of him as the chairman of Applewhites.
"Well, that's it. Peter Lewisson, who's lying dead at Old Hallerdon, was one of Grymer's men at Manchester, an engineering research chemist. Last night about a quarter to twelve, we found him shot dead, with a revolver in his hand, lying on the floor of his bedroom. He was an obvious suicide, Tolefree—far too obvious. I'm not so sure. It worries me. But I daren't say a word to a soul at Old Hallerdon. You're the man."
Tolefree shook his head.
"Decidedly not, Felderman! The police are the men."
"Well, you'll see. They aren't. They're quite certain he killed himself."
"If they are—?"
"You mean, why trouble with it? But I can't help it, Tolefree. I'm puzzled to death about lots of things at Old Hallerdon. By the way," he added, giving Tolefree a sidelong glance, "what's puzzling you in connection with Old Hallerdon?"
"Nothing more than a coincidence. Who found Lewisson dead?"
"The tame antiquarian—fellow called Borthwick, a few seconds before I reached the room myself. But you'll never get the hang of it unless I tell you what went before."
"I'd like to know first how and why all those people got to Old Hallerdon, and what they were doing there—including yourself."
"Yes. Well, it was this way—"
Sir Thomas Grymer, said Felderman, besides being an eminent engineer, was a man of some note on the fringes of finance and society. He had great wealth. But he also had quality. "He's a personality, Tolefree. He has presence. You get him?"
Well, Old Hallerdon, Tolefree must understand, was one of Grymer's highbrow fancies. It cost him a little fortune to make the place what it was, for the house, on two sides of what had been a quadrangle, was a farmhouse for more than a hundred years, and the quadrangle a farmyard, and the chapel a barn. He'd put architects and archaeologists on to the job of restoring it to something like the state it had in the sixteenth century when the Duke to whom Henry the Eighth sold a neighboring Priory used the Priory as a stone quarry and built himself a Tudor mansion. Grymer was as proud of this performance as of Applewhites latest aeroplane engine. He could hold forth on it for hours. Nothing delighted him so much as to entertain antiquarians who would listen to him.
"And that's where you come in, Tolefree. You're going to be Grymer's tame antiquarian. You talk about coincidence!—it's a happy coincidence that Borthwick left this morning. You'll be able to talk oriels, mullions, gables and chimney stacks while you weigh things up. Multa viros nescire decit, you know—"
Tolefree smiled. "And Sir Thomas is one of 'em?"
"Er? No—I didn't mean that. Everyone's one of 'em."
"Well, never mind. I have a good picture of Sir Thomas. But about his chemist?"
"It's the reason why his chemist was there that bothers me. Grymer was coming down to spend a week at Old Hallerdon, and he invited Lyneham—well, I needn't tell you anything about Lyneham?"
"No—his other name's Midas, isn't it?"
"Rolling," said Felderman. "He asked me to join. Then this fellow, Borthwick, whom he'd met at his club. And, the day before we were coming down, a Frenchman called Thibaud burst in on him with a letter of introduction and a brand new invention for him to consider. He invited him, too, and wired to Manchester for Lewisson to come along, with the idea that they could discuss Thibaud's proposals at odd times."
Tolefree took a sheet of foolscap from his pocket and unfolded it.
"Yes," said he. "And then there was Canon—"
"Why—you've got a list! Tolefree, you're hiding up something."
"Nothing whatever, Felderman. My list has nothing to do with your story. I can't tell you how I got it, but I did. Who is Canon?"
"The Canon, you mean. He's Canon Merafield, the vicar of Hallerdon, one of three local people. There's his niece, Miss Merafield, and there's the Honorable Robert Bigbury—nice youth. You'll meet 'em all. But they just don't count. Keep your mind on the visitors from town. Now, I'm not going to suggest anything to you about any of 'em—want you to see for yourself—hear the evidence at the inquest tomorrow and tell me afterwards whether you're satisfied with it. But here's the bare bones of fact. Lewisson seemed under the weather yesterday, spent a lot of the day in his room and didn't come down to dinner last night. But later on he turned up in the smoke-room and said he was better. He and Grymer were the last up. All the party had retired when a shot in Lewisson's room roused everyone. Borthwick and Thibaud and I were nearest. Borthwick got there first, then I, and then Thibaud. Lewisson was dead on the carpet, with an automatic clutched in his hand. Within a minute or two everybody was there. Next—doctors, police—it all went off according to Cocker, Tolefree. They examined the body carefully, and when they moved it, they found the discharged shell from the automatic underneath. Pretty well squashed by the fall, it was. And this is curious, Tolefree—I happened to be looking at Thibaud when that shell was uncovered, and I could swear that something had given him a nasty shock. He had looked perfectly normal a moment before; now he was pale, and his cheek was twitching. I don't know what you'll make of that. Well, I'm not satisfied. But if you get the atmosphere, hear all the evidence, and then you're satisfied, I give in."
"You don't say why you're not satisfied," Tolefree remarked.
"No. I hoped you wouldn't ask that. I don't want to prejudice you. I'll say this—that I see no reason why Lewisson should have shot himself. Nor does Lyneham. But you come and see things on the spot and form your own conclusions. Whatever you're after—" Felderman paused.
"I can't tell you what I'm after, Felderman—anyhow till I get my bearings."
"Well, I know what you ought to be after, and that's the truth of this poor devil's fate. What's more, I bet you will be after it before another twenty-four hours."
"You seem to feel strongly, Felderman—"
"All right—I do. Lewisson seemed to me a good chap. I hate the idea that he may have been put out for some hellish reason—say, because his knowledge stood in somebody's way. And I can't bring myself to believe that he committed suicide because he had a headache. It doesn't make sense. However, drop it now. You're going to drive through some fine country and see a place that ought to impassion an archaeologist like you."
Felderman's gravity fell from him. He seemed to have discharged his mind of a load.
The drive, ten miles to the north, towards the dark serrated line of high country on the horizon was all that he had promised. The car made light of the hills on this spur of Dartmoor. In half an hour, at a crest, Felderman pointed into the next valley.
"Old Hallerdon," he said.
An ancient house, tucked cosily among the trees, it made a fine picture from the hillside where the road curled down towards it—a gray house of two wings in the shape of an L, with the interior angle facing southeast. It had three stories in one wing and two in the other, but the steep-pitched roofs were all at the same level for this reason—that in the eastward facing wing the height of two stories was occupied by what had evidently been a chapel, its windows arched and pointed instead of mullioned. From the hill the house appeared almost complete in plan, except, as Felderman remarked, for the domestic quarters which Grymer had built on at the back on the outside angle.
From the foot of the hill, after the car had passed a hump-backed bridge over the stream rattling down from the moor, a drive turned through lodge gates into the woods, and ended at a sweep round the lawn in the quadrangle.
In the lobby at the junction of the two wings, a tall gray-haired man waved away the servant who stood to receive them and advanced with hand outstretched. Felderman introduced Tolefree to Sir Thomas Grymer, and passed on.
"Hope you're had a good journey. Not too hot?" said the big man pleasantly.
Tolefree assured him that the journey had been a complete success and the clou of it at Old Hallerdon entrancing.
"Take Mr. Tolefree's bag up," said Grymer to the man, and to Tolefree, "Come in and have a drink."
He turned into a small room, part lounge and part office, and shut the door. He invited Tolefree to take a pew. He opened a cupboard full of bottles, and busied himself with a cocktail shaker and glasses. A big man of fine appearance, Sir Thomas Grymer twelve-and-a-half stone of weight distributed over a body six feet high, a thatch of graying hair, a pair of keen gray eyes, a clean-run face, humorous creases in it but steel behind.
"So you find Old Hallerdon entrancing?" said he, presenting Tolefree with golden fluid in a glass. "I'm mighty glad to have you here, Tolefree. I understand from Felderman that you're a great expert on the domestic architecture of the Tudor Renaissance."
Tolefree saw the gray eyes twinkling over the glass. He muttered some words of self-deprecation: Felderman had greatly exaggerated his knowledge of architecture. The twinkle broke into a laugh as Grymer said:
"You bet your life he did!"
"I will," said Tolefree, laughing too.
"Felderman's a wonderful chap and as fine a sport as they make 'em," said Grymer. "But he's got the legal hush-hush complex. He thinks engineers are born blind and business men can never see anything but their bankbooks."
"He gave me a very different impression of his thoughts about you," said Tolefree.
"Yes, I daresay. But still the feeling's there. When he suggested that he'd got on the telephone a real dyed-in-the-wool archaeologist to admire Old Hallerdon, I said, `Get him here.' Then I asked him who was this bird, and he told me he was called Philip Tolefree. Had I ever heard of him?"
"Well, had you?" Tolefree had trouble in finding his feet.
"Well—what do you think!" Grymer's eyes twinkled fast. "I said it must be the chap who'd written six volumes on the domestic architecture of the Tudor Renaissance under a nom de plume, and he said that was probably so, but he didn't know for certain. So I told him to fetch you along and here you are."
"Under false pretenses so far as the six volumes are concerned," said Tolefree.
"Yes—and so far as everything else is concerned," Grymer chuckled. "Have one more? Well, I Willa slow one." He took a chair opposite Tolefree. "False pretenses. That's way I asked you in hereto put you wise. But you see what I mean about Felderman's complex? He really imagined that I might be ignorant of your identity—and he was being a regular sly dog. But in fact, as I said, I'm very glad to have you. Now, Tolefree, what's the game?"
Tolefree shook his head.
"I know no more than you do, Sir Thomas—probably not so much. I received an invitation from you through Mr. Felderman to pay you a visit at Old Hallerdon, and here, as you said, I am."
"Well, I'm not a Marine, so you needn't try that on! I don't want to pry. But there's only one thing I can think of. We've got a French chap here that I can't make out, nor Felderman either...Is that it? I suppose it's true that you rang up Felderman, eh? He didn't ring you up?"
"It's certainly true. I wanted a talk with Mr. Felderman about something which is a thousand miles from Old Hallerdon, and he had this idea of a visit to help me out."
"So that's how I get a distinguished archaeologist—"
"A tame antiquarian was Mr. Felderman's denomination," said Tolefree demurely.
Grymer broke into a loud guffaw.
"Well, keep it up, Tolefree. I don't know much about archaeology, and Felderman knows less. Whatever you're after, God speed you. But—"
Grymer grew suddenly grave. Tolefree waited.
"But I ought to tell you this—that while Felderman's playing about with his mysterious Frenchman we've had a real tragedy at Old Hallerdon, and I'm afraid we shan't be very gay for the next two days."
"Oh?" said Tolefree.
"Yes. Last night, a young fellow staying here—the head of our chemistry research department at Manchester, fellow called Lewisson—he committed suicide. Shot himself in his room. He'd been bad all day, driven mad with a nervous headache. But nobody thought of it as desperate, and last night he seemed to be recovering. Then, just as we'd all gone to bed, he killed himself. They're holding the inquest here tomorrow, and then we'll have to get the poor fellow off to Cheshire, where his parents live. So don't be surprised if we're all preoccupied and mouldy, will you?"
Tolefree found some words. Grymer finished his glass.
"Now," said he, "you'll like to get upstairs. Dinner's at half past eight. I'll take you up. We foregather on the lawn these evenings. There's always a patch of sunshine about that time on the southeast corner, and it's not too hot in these hills. Come along."
Tolefree followed him up two turns of a broad staircase to a corridor on the first floor.
"Bathrooms straight ahead," said Grymer, pointing to a passage facing the stairs. "The Elizabethans did without 'em, so I had to build 'em on. We go this way." He turned along the corridor to the right, with bedroom doors on each side. Grymer stopped an instant at the first door on the right, and said in a whisper, "Poor Lewisson—he's in there." He threw open the second door on the left. "This is yours. We'll have to call it the Tame Antiquarians' Den. Borthwick, who was here over the week-end, had this room. There's your bag. Ring for anything you need. See you on the lawn."
Tolefree walked to the window. His room was at the back of the house, and it looked out over a walled kitchen garden and a wooded slope beyond, with a purple sweep of moorland above and behind it. His watch showed him a quarter to eight. There was no time to sit at that open window and try to make sense of his position in Grymer's party. He found his clothes laid out. He undressed, slipped into a light dressing-gown, and made for the bathrooms. There were sounds of occupation in the first two. The door of the third was ajar. He was soon submerged in the softest water that ever laved his skin. In the first moments of his enjoyment, a voice was raised in song in one of the other rooms—a more vigorous than tuneful baritone proclaiming the virtues of a Life on the Ocean Wave and a Home in the Rolling Deep, accompanied by loud splashing. Upon which cacophony broke the sound of banging on the wall and a soprano voice crying, "Bobby! Bobby!"
"Hello, Florence!" said the baritone. "You drowning? Half a tick and I'll be there."
"Shut up, you ass!" said the soprano. "You'll scandalize everybody. Poor Mr. Lewisson—"
"Well, I shan't scandalize him. He can't hear—"
By this time, Tolefree thought it well to draw attention to himself by loud splashing, and the colloquy came to a sudden end.
In the patch of sunshine on the lawn, Tolefree recognized with amusement the owner of the baritone—a very fair youth with a snub nose and very blue eyes and a pair of notably long legs, introduced to him as the Honorable Robert Bigbury—and the owner of the soprano, a neat dark girl with brown hair and sparkling brown eyes and a blue frock trailing about her feet—Miss Merafield. There was a kind of hush on the assembly. Glances went up to the window on the first floor where the blind was drawn. People spoke in low tones. He heard "Poor Mr. Lewisson!" more than once.
Grymer, having taken him round, sat him down by Lady Grymer. She was fifty, slim, competent, unaffected.
"Tom's told you about poor Mr. Lewisson?" she said in a half whisper. "It's very sad, but we thought we couldn't do him any good by breaking up the party."
"Why, of course," said Tolefree.
"But we're going to be very quiet. Tom will enjoy a chat with you about his hobby. You must see what he's doing in the old chapel. It'll be lovely. And tomorrow—I expect they'll be busy tomorrow—the inquest, you know—and perhaps Bobby Bigbury—do you play golf, Mr. Tolefree?—but of course. Come here, Bobby. Will you take Mr. Tolefree to play golf tomorrow?"
Mr. Bigbury rose and advanced.
"What's that, Janet? Golf? Not on your life—unless he'll play a threesome!"
"Is there any sea nearby?" said Tolefree.
"Not for miles and miles," replied Mr. Bigbury. "Why?"
"Oh, I just thought I'd like to sample the life on the ocean wave," Tolefree grinned. "I'm sorry, Lady Grymer, my golf is all divots; but don't worry about me. I'll be quite happy at Old Hallerdon."
"I know!" said she in the tone of a discoverer; "get Canon Merafield to show you his church: you'll make him your friend for life."
Fortunately for Tolefree the dinner gong put an end to the rival clamor of golf and ecclesiastical architecture, and at dinner, placed at the big round table between Grymer and Felderman, he was safe from both. He answered a word here and there, but initiated nothing. There was plenty of time to watch the faces of the company.
Including Grymer and his wife there were nine at table. They seemed to divide themselves into two groups—four people to whom Grymer wanted to be pleasant (that was if he might put himself in that category) and three who might represent business. Canon Merafield was a middle-aged cleric with a dry sense of humor; but evidently he was there not so much for his own beautiful eyes as for those of his niece, Florence Merafield, which were much more beautiful; and, if Tolefree was not mistaken, she had been invited because the Honorable Robert Bigbury rejoiced in her society and Lady Grymer was inclined to be a matchmaker.
The second group was a very different affair. It began with Mr. George Lyneham, the City man down to the ground, business friend of Grymer. Lyneham's money might well be in the background of whatever business they had in hand. He knew two principal types of City men who handled lots of money—the robustious type whose very waistcoats seemed to exude wealth, and the retiring and silent type who looked as if they might possibly be earning five pounds a week. Lyneham was of these latter—a rather tall, spare, unobtrusive man, who spoke little and apparently had no personality till you got him by the gray eyes. Hard to tell his age: perhaps he was fifty—younger than Grymer anyway.
But the most interesting figure at the table was Monsieur Hippolyte Thibaud—by far the most interesting to Tolefree for more than one reason. First, his attention had been startlingly called to Mr. Thibaud by both Felderman and Grymer. And now his attention was riveted upon Mr. Thibaud by the comedy in which he played the leading part. He sat exactly opposite, with Miss Merafield between him and Mr. Bigbury. Mr. Thibaud was as dark as Mr. Bigbury was fair, as sleek as he was rough, as polished as he was crude, and as light-handed as he was clumsy.
With truly Gallic verve he maintained a violent flirtation with Miss Merafield, plying her with compliments and witticisms endlessly, while Mr. Bigbury gave a first-class representation of a thunderstorm. It was impossible to hear what Mr. Thibaud, in his excellent but Parisian English, said to throw the Canon into ecstasies of laughter and cause Miss Merafield's soprano to ripple so merrily. Watching him twirl his black mustache while preparing some new sally, Tolefree observed that for the third or fourth time Mr. Thibaud's bold black eyes were fixed upon him. He turned away and said to Felderman:
"Our French friend seems in good form tonight."
"The fellow's an artist," said Felderman; "inexhaustible."
"Yes—right out of the Porte St. Martin," Tolefree grinned.
Felderman grinned too. "He's been making young Bigbury's life all Dead Sea apples. How propinquity with the ravishing Miss Merafield brings out the Gallic strain! You ought to have been here yesterday! If Bigbury had committed suicide instead of poor Lewisson nobody'd have been surprised."
"Can't quite make out what he's doing in this galley," said Tolefree.
Felderman gave him a speculative look and glanced past him to Grymer, who was talking hard to Lyneham on his left.
"Your intense absorption in architecture has left you no time for engineering—"
"None whatever," said Tolefree, with a flicker of the eyelid.
"Well, I thought I knew a bit, and so did Lewisson, but on my life I can't fathom Thibaud's ideas on the subject."
"Deep?" asked Tolefree.
"Bottomless," said Felderman.
Tolefree's look swept round the table. Thibaud's eyes were boldly fixed on him again.
"I'm inclined, to think," said Felderman, "that if the young gentleman knew as much about engineering as he does about his fellow men he'd be a world's wonder. I expect you've noticed that he's already exceedingly curious about you?"
"Yes—and perfectly conscious at this moment that we're talking about him. So get hold of Grymer for a bit, and I'll talk to his wife."
This conversation provided Tolefree with his cud to chew, and he chewed it while Grymer made him acquainted with Lyneham over the port, and went on chewing when Lady Grymer and Miss Merafield had left them and Mr. Bigbury and Mr. Thibaud had soon followed. And while Lyneham refused to satisfy Grymer's request that he should instruct Tolefree how to make a fortune in twenty-four hours, but talked about printing instead, lamenting the happy days when he had been a printer in a moderate way of business and had been foolish enough to leave that profession for the anxieties of a life in the City. And while Canon Merafield fished at him for archaeology and got no bites. Listening to the subdued buzz of talk in the drawing-room, sitting before the open window in his bedroom through which a faint tang of gorse and heather drifted with the starlight, all the time a little litany ran in Tolefree's head: "A French chap I can't make out, nor Felderman either...Exceedingly curious about you."
Tolefree knocked out his pipe and undressed leisurely, took a last sniff of the moorland smell at the window, got into bed and propped up Banister-Fletcher on his chest against his knees. He turned to page 551, "English Renaissance: the Elizabethan Style." But, try as he would, he could not read a sentence intelligibly. At every point he saw the words, "French chap...exceedingly curious..." He had turned two pages, and almost made up his mind to drop Banister-Fletcher on the floor, when he heard a tap on the door, which, by custom, he had locked.
Tolefree got out of bed, switched on the main light and opened. A gorgeous apparition in a brightly flowered dressing-gown stood in the doorway.
"Monsieur Thibaud?" exclaimed Tolefree.
"Good evening, Mr. Tolefree," said Mr. Thibaud; "you permit that I come in?"
Having stood aside while Mr. Thibaud entered, Tolefree closed the door and regarded the spectacle with awe. No tropical bird was ever quite so gayly plumed. Tolefree hitched his own humble dressing-gown off the chair where he had thrown it and enclosed his pyjamas within its folds.
"I have seen your light and knew you were not asleep," said Mr. Thibaud. "Have you some matches? I wish to smoke a cigarette and I have no matches."
Tolefree provided matches, whereupon it appeared that Mr. Thibaud wished to smoke his cigarette in Tolefree's room and asked permission to sit on one of Tolefree's chairs while he did so.
"You do not object, Mr. Tolefree? You have not need of sleep at once? The last two nights I have had the pleasure of smoking a cigarette in this room with Mr. Bort'wick, your predecessor. I have got the habit, as you say."
Mr. Thibaud showed his white teeth in a smile.
"Delighted," said Tolefree and found a cigarette for himself. "I had no idea you were interested in Mr. Borthwick's subject. I rather gathered that you Were on the engineering side of things."
"Ah, yes, that is so. Nevertheless, I am interested in Mr. Bort'wick's subject—greatly interested, énormément!"
"Truly. And in Mr. Bort'wick. I find him a most intriguing man. You know him, of course? All you—what do you say?—all you archaeologues know each other."
The smile with which Mr. Thibaud said this would have rewarded an exquisite joke.
"Unfortunately," said Tolefree, "I have not that pleasure. I never met Mr. Borthwick."
"What a pity! He is a type, Mr. Bort'wick—veritably an English type. The professional who pretends to be the amateur. The savant who affects ignorance. The perfect shopman who will not talk shop—have I got that right? So he hides his personality under a cloak as you conceal your beautiful pyjamas under a hideous dressing-gown! Pardon me, but it is so English—symbolique. So you have not the acquaintance of Mr. Bort'wick?"
The curiosity of Mr. Hippolyte Thibaud about a possible acquaintance between Tolefree and Mr. Borthwick was acute, as the intensity of his gaze into Tolefree's face as he put the question manifested. Tolefree shook his head.
"Eh?—well, I understand. It is more pleasant here than last night," said Mr. Thibaud, switching violently away from Mr. Borthwick.
"Ah—last night? You must have had a shock last night."
"Of course. I was greatly distressed when Sir Thomas told me what had happened."
"Figure it, Mr. Tolefree!" said Mr. Thibaud, slinging the end of his cigarette out at the window and bending towards him. "I am just about to come to this room to talk with Bort'wick when—boum! I hear a shot. I look out at the window. I see nothing.
"Then I hear people in the corridor. I come out. Mr. Bort'wick and Mr. Felderman are in Lewisson's room. I look over Mr. Felderman's shoulders. Mon Dieu!—there is Lewisson on the floor dead."
"Frightful shock," said Tolefree.
"Unheard of—terrible. And for me especially."
"Oh?" said Tolefree, and waited.
"But yes!—for me especially. For all day Lewisson and me—Lewisson and I—we had been in a violent dispute. We had a disagreement—"
"It was about technical things—a calculation. The poor Lewisson!—he was not well. He was excited. It was terrible that he should die like that. You see, he was excited all day and ill, and would work on that miserable calculation. It was too much. He shot himself. It is I who am responsible!"
"My dear sir!—"
"You say No? You would console me? You are like my friend Bort'wick. He says, `Do not be a dam' fool!' But I say, `Yes, Bort'wick, it is true! I have killed the poor innocent Lewisson, and I am desolated!' You do not see it so, Mr. Tolefree?"
"Certainly not," said Tolefree.
"You shall see, Mr. Tolefree, that it is so. I shall not be responsible according to the law, but—the law? Pouf! You shall see if I am right. If Hippolyte Thibaud had not come to Old 'Allerdon with his cursed calculation, the poor Lewisson would not have died."
Tolefree held on to himself.
"Nonsense," said he. "I agree with Mr. Borthwick. By the way, why is Mr. Borthwick not here for the inquest? I should have thought that as he was among the first to see Lewisson—"
"The very first."
"But Mr. Felderman was there instantly. The police thought he would give all the evidence they wanted, and Mr. Bort'wick was going away. He was all ready to go. His car was ordered at half past twelve to take him to the train. He had urgent business of the greatest importance. You see?"
"What business—? A cathedral going to fall down, or something?"
"Ah, I do not know what business. But perhaps something like that. You see? I smoke one cigarette with him while he changes his clothes and packs his baggage. Then he is gone. But what a pity you do not know Bort'wick! A truly intriguing man. But I understand, Mr. Tolefree—I understand." He regarded Tolefree quizzically, and his hand fumbled for a moment in the pocket of his gorgeous dressing-gown. Then, with an almost imperceptible shrug, he stood up decisively. "And now it is late. I go. I have enjoyed my cigarette with you. A demain."
Mr. Thibaud disappeared as quickly and silently as he had come.
From that moment Tolefree dated the birth of the vague suspicions and suggestions which diverted him from Hudson's job and made the mystery of the death of Lewisson his most urgent concern. He had no obvious reason for worrying about the death of Lewisson save Felderman's shadowy theory: but an intuition based on some tiny grains of fact made Hudson's cryptogram seem of trivial importance. The urge to dig up the truth about this tragedy was irresistible.
When Thibaud had gone Tolefree found it more hopeless than before to concentrate on the learned Banister-Fletcher or to work up any interest in the elusive personalities of Penrose and Jane Jobling. He sat with his ugly dressing-gown rolled round his elegant pyjamas, looking at the door through which the brilliant vision had gone.
Banister-Fletcher could now go into the bag and stay there. He would not be wanted again. For the essential persons at Old Hallerdon were under no illusion about Tolefree. Grymer was not deceived. Thibaud fully understood that, whatever Tolefree's business might be, it was not archaeology.
Thibaud was a more formidable enigma than Hudson's cryptogram. It leaped to the eye that his curiosity was not inspired by any possible association between Tolefree and the departed archaeologist, and his visit to the room by no need of matches. Whatever he had guessed about Tolefree, he had made quite sure that at the earliest moment he should get a certain angle on the death of the poor Lewisson.
A precautionary visit? A fishing visit? An attempt to entrap Tolefree into some word or sign that might satisfy his curiosity?
He threw off the ugly dressing-gown and got into bed.
Inquests were much of a muchness in Tolefree's experience. This one did not depart from tradition save in the apartment where the coroner sat.
It was the chapel that Grymer had turned into his library, and where even now the work of which his wife had spoken went on. Grymer was putting an interior gallery round the place—a handsome affair of dark oak balustrades and rails supported on brackets, and oak bookcases between the pointed windows—and filling the windows themselves with stained glass. Tolefree had not penetrated deep enough into Banister-Fletcher to know whether these additions were in keeping; but he guessed that when the job was done it would make a very fine library.
The workmen cleared away at ten o'clock. Grymer's servants had taken the white shrouds off a long refectory table in the middle of the floor and placed a number of chairs. A number of people destined to occupy those chairs drifted into the quadrangle. Just before eleven two cars arrived with coroner, police and doctor. At eleven the police superintendent had shepherded into the room the farmers and villagers summoned to compose the jury and the members of the house party required to give the evidence. In the grave atmosphere of the lofty chamber and the subdued light from the pointed windows people walked quietly and talked in whispers. Tolefree strolled in casually and found a seat under the end gallery between Lyneham and Felderman.
The coroner's clerk called the names of the jury; they selected a foreman; he was sworn; they were sworn. Then, headed by the superintendent of police they all filed out to ascend the staircase and turn into that room where the blind was drawn and see what was left of the poor Lewisson. Some of them looked a little paler when they returned and took their seats in a double row along the refectory table...
"Gentlemen—you are summoned to determine the cause of death of William Lewisson, aged 28, of Wilson Avenue, Withington, Manchester. You have seen the body. I think you will have little difficulty in deciding upon the cause of death. It is also your duty to determine how the deceased met his death, and there again I anticipate that you will be satisfied that the evidence is quite straightforward..."
All coroners spoke like that...
"Sir Thomas Grymer—"
Grymer rose and took his place at the table between the coroner and the superintendent.
"You are able, Sir Thomas, to identify the body of the deceased as that of William Lewisson?"
Grymer was able. He could also say that Lewisson was twenty-eight years of age and unmarried, and that he was a research chemist by profession, head of the research department of Applewhites, Limited, engineers, of which he, Grymer, was the chairman. He had invited Lewisson to spend a few days at Old Hallerdon, and he arrived on Friday afternoon.
"Was Lewisson here merely as your guest, Sir Thomas, or was there a business reason for his visit?"
Both, said Grymer. He was very glad to have Lewisson as his guest. Lewisson was a brilliant scientist and a friend for whom he had the greatest admiration. Nevertheless a business reason did exist. Some formulae were being discussed, in which discussion the assistance of Mr. Lewisson must be of the greatest value.
"I need not ask the nature of the discussion or the subject of the formulae," said the coroner, "unless they had any conceivable connection with Lewisson's death?"
Well—Grymer hung a little on this—the formulae had nothing to do with it, but the discussion was going on almost up to the time of Lewisson's death. So perhaps if he might describe what took place—?
The coroner said that was exactly what he would like.
"I'll put it as shortly as I can," said Grymer. "Among the guests I asked Lewisson to meet was Monsieur Thibaud of Paris, who had suggested to me a certain formula, or rather a theory—I needn't go into technical details—?"
"Oh, no; they are not material, you will agree, Gentlemen of the Jury?"
The gentlemen of the jury unanimously agreed.
"Well, this theory was referred to Lewisson, who worked it out in comparison with certain formulae and could not agree with Mr. Thibaud's deductions. It seemed quite a simple matter—a mere disagreement on a scientific question. But it affected Lewisson to quite unusual excitement, especially on Sunday. I thought he was not well. Indeed, he was evidently in a state of extreme nervous agitation. He complained of an atrocious headache, and I persuaded him in the afternoon to go to his room and rest. But instead of resting he seems to have worked for hours at difficult mathematical calculations. He did not come down to dinner. After dinner I went up to see him, found that he'd finished his calculations and was much quieter. He promised me to go to bed. I went up again some time after ten and found he was not in his room, and not much later he came down—"
"What time was that, Sir Thomas?"
"It was half past ten. Lewisson then said he was better and he'd have a cigar. He remained while most of the others went off to bed. Mr. Thibaud was the last of the party to retire. He went up about eleven, leaving me and Lewisson in the smoke-room. We talked for half an hour, and then I persuaded him to go to bed, and went up with him to the landing. He walked along to the bathroom—I think the jury have seen the place? Yes. Well, I was not going to bed immediately, as I had intended to wait up and see Mr. Borthwick off: he had to catch the London train at Newton Abbot at a quarter after one, and a car was ordered for half past twelve. After leaving Lewisson, I went upstairs to Lady Grymer's room, and found her asleep. I passed into my own room, and I'd been there perhaps four or five minutes when I heard a shot—"
"So, Sir Thomas, you were the last person who saw Lewisson alive?" the coroner put in.
"Well, no—for I believe Mr. Thibaud met him in the bathroom passage a few seconds after I'd gone on up."
"We are to hear Mr. Thibaud, Gentlemen," said the coroner. "Proceed, Sir Thomas. You heard a shot—"
"I ran down to the landing, saw Mr. Felderman standing at the door of Lewisson's room, and inside Mr. Borthwick kneeling beside Lewisson, who was lying on the floor. Borthwick said he was dead. Mr. Thibaud was bending over Mr. Borthwick's shoulder. Then within a minute everyone in the house was there. I immediately came down to the telephone. First I rang up Dr. Nicholas at Hallerdon and asked him to come at once; then I rang the police. I suggested that we should leave everything in the room as it was and wait downstairs till the doctor came. Dr. Nicholas was there within twenty minutes. He found—"
"We shall have the medical evidence," said the coroner.
"Very well. Then Superintendent Braddock and his man arrived with Dr. Horsman, and he took charge."
"Thank you, Sir Thomas. There is only one point I want to put to you. Lewisson had seemed ill, you say, and nervously excited?"
"Very much so till late in the evening, as I mentioned. Then he seemed quieter."
"Had you the slightest reason to suppose he was so ill as to be unaccountable for his actions?"
"Certainly not. He was a man of a sanguine and energetic type and a tremendous hard worker. He got excited about that calculation—an abstruse one of the behavior of gases exploded under high pressures. His headache I put down to some minor indisposition, perhaps brought on by hard work. Nothing to suggest any mental derangement."
"Well, that's the point: you wouldn't have expected him to commit suicide?"
"No—the last man in the world I should have credited with any such impulse," said Grymer decidedly.
"You were the last person who had any conversation with him. You were with him for some time after the others had left. What was his condition then?"
"I told you he was quieter."
"Still talking of the same subject?"
Tolefree noticed that Grymer seemed to answer this question reluctantly.
"Well—yes. After Mr. Thibaud left, Lewisson did return to that subject. He was very positive about his own correctness, and as he seemed likely to warm up again, I persuaded him in the end to drink up his peg and go to bed."
"I see. Then, the excitement of the afternoon might have been lingering with him—suppressed for a time, and then revived?"
"I can't say. It's hard to tell what was passing in his mind. I only know that when we said good night he seemed to me quite normal."
The coroner had no more to ask Grymer. He signed his deposition and went back to his chair, to be succeeded at the table by Dr. Horsman.
The police surgeon described how he had found Lewisson's body—stretched on his back on the bedroom floor, with his feet towards the dressing table and his head towards the door. He was quite dead, and had apparently died about an hour before, not more. The cause of death was a bullet wound in the head. In his right hand was an automatic revolver, firmly grasped, with his forefinger under the trigger guard. There was a very severe wound entering his head on the right-hand side just below the temple. A post-mortem examination made the next day showed that the wound had been caused by the entrance of a bullet of caliber .38.
"That's a terrible missile?" the coroner said
Yes—it had effected a great destruction of bone and had fractured and penetrated the skull on the left-hand side as well as the right. It had passed right through the head and was found on the floor under the dressing table. It had been contracted by the impact on the bones of the skull. On moving the body, the doctor found under it the discharged shell, which had been ejected from the revolver on to the floor when Lewisson fired and squashed when he fell on it. The superintendent produced the various exhibits—gun, bullet, shell—as the doctor mentioned them.
"The circumstances and appearances suggest to you a theory of the death?" said the coroner.
"They suggest that the deceased committed suicide. He probably held the revolver close to his head when he pulled the trigger. The terrible nature of the wound made by a shot of that caliber would have prevented the possibility of discovering any singeing of the flesh if the gun had been fired at a short distance from the head. Clearly it was held against his head touching the skin and in that position the flame of the shot makes no external marks."
The coroner's third witness was Superintendent Braddock, the gray-haired policeman who sat by his side. He had witnessed the doctor's examination of the body and the surroundings. He had fingerprinted the gun and found only Lewisson's marks upon it. He had taken the statements of all the persons in the house. He had satisfied himself that Lewisson committed suicide. He was so satisfied that on the urgent representations of Mr. Borthwick, who first arrived in the room after the shot, he had allowed him to leave by the 1.15 train from Newton Abbot for London. Mr. Felderman was on the scene almost at the same time as Mr. Borthwick and could be called. The third arrival was Mr. Thibaud, who could also be called if the coroner thought it necessary.
Felderman was accordingly put into the chair. He said he had gone to bed and was asleep when he heard the shot. He leaped out of bed, looked into the corridor and saw a light coming from Lewisson's doorway and rushed there. Borthwick had been a second or two in front of him and was standing in the doorway. As he came up crying, "What is it?" Borthwick stepped into the room, knelt on the floor and cried out, "Good God! he's dead!" Thibaud then came, brushed past him into the room and bent over Borthwick's shoulder. Within a few seconds the room was full of people. All the rest happened as Sir Thomas Grymer had described.
"You say you saw light coming from the doorway. Did you understand that Mr. Borthwick had opened the door?"
"I can answer that, sir," said the superintendent. "It was the chief point I discussed with Mr. Borthwick. He said he was the first in the corridor, and when he heard the shot and opened his own door he was positive that Mr. Lewisson's door was open and the light shining out of it. That was the point he made for."
Tolefree began to find the evidence interesting. He wondered what the coroner would have to say about the remarkable action of the superintendent in allowing Mr. Borthwick to depart from Old Haller'don immediately after the event which he had discovered.
Actually he said nothing about it. He was accepting the suicide as a foregone conclusion. Doubtless he had already seen all those statements of which the, superintendent spoke. For he turned again to Felderman.
"Well, Mr. Felderman, it seems that you and Mr. Borthwick entered the room almost together."
"Not two seconds apart," said Felderman.
"And how long should you say that was after the shot was fired?"
"Perhaps twenty seconds—certainly not more than thirty. My room is next to Lewisson's on the right-hand side of the corridor. Borthwick's was opposite me on the left-hand side. I heard his footstep in the corridor as I was opening my door. No—I should say not thirty seconds."
"Will you describe to us how the shot sounded to you?"
"What I heard was a loud roar—an explosion that echoed all round the place."
"In the circumstances I suppose there could not have been much smoke, but I should imagine that within thirty seconds the smell of the explosive would hardly have passed away?"
"It hadn't," said Felderman. "It was very marked. And there was actually a haze of powder-smoke in the room for a moment or two, but that cleared away."
The coroner finished with Felderman. He called Hippolyte Thibaud.
Mr. Thibaud was cool and collected. He answered every question succinctly. He made a perfect witness. But what he had to say added nothing to the jury's knowledge. He had met Lewisson for the first time on Friday night. He had noticed that the difference of opinion between them on a technical point seemed to upset him; but that trouble was not so serious as to account for Lewisson's strange behavior on Sunday. He came to the conclusion that Lewisson's nerves were out of order. But the suicide was a shocking surprise to him.
"You were apparently the last person to see Lewisson alive," said the coroner. "Will you tell us about that?"
Thibaud answered that he had gone up to his room somewhere about eleven, or a quarter after, leaving Lewisson with Sir Thomas. He undressed and went to a bathroom. He might have been there ten minutes or a quarter of an hour—could not say exactly. When he came out he saw Sir Thomas Grymer leave Lewisson on the landing and turn upstairs. Lewisson came straight on towards the bathrooms and crossed him in the passage. He said good night, and Lewisson responded. He then went into his room and sat for a few minutes in front of the window smoking a cigarette. He had intended to go along to Mr. Borthwick's room and say good-by to him before he left. He did not notice Lewisson's footsteps returning from the bathroom, but before he had half smoked his cigarette he heard the explosion.
It was a very loud explosion, as Mr. Felderman had said—so loud, and with such a reverberation that for a moment or two he did not recognize it as a revolver shot. He looked out at the window, saw nothing, listened for any other sounds, then heard running footsteps in the corridor and went out. In Lewisson's doorway, opposite his own, he saw Felderman, and looking over Felderman's shoulder he saw Borthwick kneeling beside Lewisson on the floor. By the time he had reached Borthwick's side, people were coming downstairs, and the butler came up: the room was full—
Thibaud could add nothing more to the evidence already given. The coroner disposed of him and beckoned to Dr. Horsman.
"Did the post-mortem examination tell you anything of Lewisson's state of health?" he asked.
"The heart was not too good; but, beyond that—nothing much wrong with him."
"You couldn't say anything about his mental state?"
"But you might be able to form an opinion upon the evidence of Sir Thomas Grymer?"
"Hardly an opinion. Say a conjecture. That he was in a highly-wrought condition, perhaps had been overworking, found a conflict of judgment on whatever question was under discussion, worked himself up about it, overstrained his nerves, and cracked up suddenly. Such things do happen. An accumulation of nervous trouble over a period—then something that destroys control, just the little extra that a man can't stand."
"The fact that he had the weapon with him, Doctor—?"
"You were not aware, of course, that Lewisson had this revolver, Sir Thomas?"
"No, and I'd not have believed it. I said he was the last man in the world I should have expected to commit suicide, and he was the last man in the world I should have expected to carry an automatic. The very last!" Grymer was emphatic about that.
"Well, as we have seen, he did."
The coroner gave the superintendent a glance and turned his attention to the jury. He told them that the facts seemed conclusive as to the manner of Lewisson's death, and they would have no difficulty in finding a verdict. The evidence as to the state of Lewisson's mind was not so conclusive; but they might agree with the conjecture of Dr. Horsman.
They did. A very few moments of whispered consultation up and down the table and the foreman announced that they found Lewisson to have shot himself, being at the time of unsound mind.
Tolefree strolled out of the library, found his way to the quadrangle, and so to the gardens beyond, before the formalities of the inquest had been concluded. He discovered a seat under the shade of a big beech and loaded and lit his pipe...
What had this obscure tragedy to do with the visit Hudson had paid to Watling Street and Hudson's strange commission to him? On the face of it, nothing at all—nothing more than the plain inscription on the face of Hudson's visiting card. But—turn the card over. It was a clean card. The writing on it, though faint, was fresh. It contained a list of the names of all the people in this house party, and the party had not begun to assemble till Friday. If Hudson's commission to him, to find out the meaning of the Jobling letter, had nothing to do with Old Hallerdon, what of himself, Hudson—hurriedly getting out of the country? Had Hudson's hurry any relation to what had happened at Old Hallerdon the night before?
And who was Mr. Borthwick, the "type" that so fascinated the ebullient Thibaud? Why had Mr. Borthwick made his exit from Old Hallerdon so unseemly on the very point of Lewisson's death? And was Mr. Borthwick the name on the envelope of the Jobling letter that Hudson had taken such particular care to conceal from him?
There might be no connection between the tragedy at Old Hallerdon and the singular proceedings of Hudson. But Tolefree meant to proceed on the assumption that there was...
On the evidence, a copper-bottomed, A1-at-Lloyd's case for suicide. He had watched the witnesses and marked their every word. To all appearances Lewisson must have shot himself if Felderman was telling the truth; there was no reason why Felderman should lie: he did not believe old Felderman would lie anyway. In the less than thirty seconds between the shot and Felderman's arrival in the room there was no time for a murderer to have escaped. Borthwick? Thibaud? No, on the face of it there was no time. In that space of time the gun could not have been placed in the dead man's hand in the manner described by the doctor.
If the whole story had been told to the jury, then Lewisson did commit suicide.
Yet, Felderman, whose evidence was almost conclusive about suicide, was the man who raised doubt. He had an intuition that some secret lay behind the assembly of this party at Old Hallerdon, that some significance hung about the sequence of the Frenchman's visit to Grymer, the dispute between the Frenchman and Lewisson, and the ugly thing that happened in Lewisson's room. Felderman was not a man given to sensational or romantic ideas. Felderman had been there all the time. His opinion must be respected.
He was knocking out his pipe when Felderman turned the corner of the graveled walk with Lyneham. He rose as they approached talking with animation and amusement. Felderman seemed to collect him and add him to Lyneham, Tolefree noticed.
"Hello!—the archaeologist at a loose end? We're braving a stretch before lunch—as far as the top of the wood. Coming?"
Tolefree fell into step.
"So," said Felderman, resuming his talk with Lyneham, "Froggy is neatly side-stepped and the Honorable Bobby has the girl to himself for the rest of the day."
"Well, good luck to him," said Lyneham. "The Frenchman's a queer fish. Wonder what his game is. Grymer says the engine theory's straight out of a lunatic asylum, and no wonder poor Lewisson went off the deep end about it. The idea of putting up such a scheme—!"
Lyneham shrugged his shoulders.
"You know, you're not really sorry. A day or two of this sort of thing's good for you, Lyneham—even if you can't make a million out of Froggy's invention."
"That's all right. I don't want to make a million, Felderman, and I knew nothing about Froggy, as you call him, till he came on the scene. I wish to Heaven he'd stayed away. I can't help feeling sick about that poor devil of a chemist. All so damned silly—unless the Frenchman wanted to drive him mad and played fantastic ideas accordingly. What about that?"
"Can't see through it," said Felderman. "And we're probably talking Greek to Tolefree. He doesn't know anything about it."
"Except what I heard at the inquest," Tolefree remarked.
"Inquest?—well," exclaimed Lyneham, "that was a performance, if you like! Not that it mattered. The poor fellow's dead, and showing up Mr. Thibaud wouldn't have brought him to life again."
"You whet my curiosity," said Tolefree.
"Better tell him the yarn, Felderman."
"If you're interested—" said Felderman.
"Very. You remember telling me last night that Mr. Thibaud had been making Mr. Bigbury's life a misery—"
"Oh, that! Well, he did. He started as soon as he got here. Bigbury's temperature has been bounding up before dinner on Saturday because Miss Merafield found Lewisson interesting. When Thibaud began flirting with her at table, it rocketed. I pitied the girl. She sat as she did last night, between Bigbury and Thibaud, and Lewisson was where you sat, beside me. He'd already had a bout with Thibaud on the famous theory and as good as told him he knew nothing about engines. He was in a surly temper—had two grouches against the Frenchman—one on account of Miss Merafield—"
"Eh?" said Tolefree.
"Yes, because Thibaud had simply walked in on him when he was talking to her on the lawn and cut her out as clean as a boat. It was a real comedy. Well, he had that grouch, and another because he didn't seem able to make Grymer see in two shakes of a sparrow's tail that Thibaud was either a fool or a rogue. He ate hardly anything. He just drank whisky and glowered. If he threw a remark across the table it was like a spurt of caustic soda. Thibaud, kept his temper and egged him on. What with a frantically jealous Englishman on one side of her and a French flirt on the other and an atrabilious chemist opposite and all of 'em firing at her, Miss Merafield hadn't the most joyous feast of her life."
"She doesn't seem to have suffered much," said Tolefree.
"Well, there's nothing for her Bobby to write home about, certainly," Felderman laughed. "Anyhow, now that poor Lewisson's out of the way. I think she was far more interested in him than in the Frenchman. Don't you, Lyneham?"
"Yes—and she showed her taste. But you mustn't give Tolefree the idea that Lewisson and Thibaud were at daggers drawn over the girl. It was deeper than that. He got worse and worse, as you remember, in those fat-headed discussions on Saturday and Sunday—couldn't make out why Grymer sat on the fence and didn't come down on his side. I think, between ourselves, Grymer was a bit to blame for that."
"Maybe—but no one could have foreseen what happened, and you'll give Grymer credit for doing every single thing he could as soon as Lewisson got really ill."
"He did. I don't mean more than this, that if Grymer had put Thibaud in his place earlier—but it's no good chewing that now. Tell Tolefree the inside story."
Tolefree gave Felderman a sideways look. Much in the discussion between these two with himself for audience was not easily explained if Tolefree was to Lyneham merely one of the casual antiquarians who blew in at Old Hallerdon from time to time; and this direct request to Felderman to give him the "lowdown" explained itself least of all. Felderman met his eye without flinching.
"If an antiquarian would be interested in a quite modern drama—" he said.
"The proper study of mankind—" Tolefree smiled.
"Yes—well, we've been studying the process by which a man is driven or led or drives himself to suicide, and neither of us understands it a bit. You had these two young men wrangling furiously on Saturday over a subject that really didn't matter a pound of sour apples to Lewisson, because however mad the proposal was, if Grymer and Lyneham had fallen for it he wouldn't have been hurt—"
"Except in his professional pride, I suppose," said Tolefree.
"There's that, of course. But Lyneham and I've been trying to understand why he committed suicide. It's not often done to vindicate professional pride, I guess! Sunday was the day of problems. Lyneham—you weren't there—you'd gone to church with Grymer—but I saw an extraordinary farce in the quadrangle on Sunday morning. Like me, Miss Merafield had given her uncle's sermon a miss and was reading on the lawn. Out came Lewisson, nodded to me and passed on, and flopped down in a chair beside the girl. She shut up her book and began to talk to him. He liked being talked to by Miss Merafield: who wouldn't? But it was too good to last. Out came Mr. Bigbury from a late breakfast, and flopped down in the chair on the other side of her and began to breeze in his usual way. Lewisson sat back with an air of boredom. In five minutes, out came Thibaud and hauled a chair round to the front of Miss Merafield, and soon had her laughing. Whereupon Lewisson sat up again and before you could say knife, there was a wordy quarrel, in the midst of which Mr. Bigbury cleverly abducted Miss Merafield and they were left at it."
"What was the impression?" Tolefree asked. "That Thibaud was baiting Lewisson? Because, if not—"
"I didn't get that impression quite. It looked as if the Frenchman couldn't resist the chance of a touch of persiflage with a pretty girl. If there was any baiting, I should say Lewisson did it. Fact is, he'd worked himself up to such a state—but you'll see. After lunch he seemed so ill that Grymer insisted on his going up to bed and, without consulting him, sent for the doctor—"
"In the afternoon? We didn't hear that at the inquest, did we?"
"No. You remember Grymer said he'd put it all shortly. The doctor did come, and he gave a poor report of Lewisson—said he was on the edge of a bad nervous breakdown. Instead of lying down he'd been at work in his room with reams of calculations, and when Dr. Nicholas protested he told him he'd got to put somebody where he belonged and he meant to do it without delay!"
"Whoosh!" said Tolefree.
"I reckon Grymer wasn't very eager to have all that in the newspapers. He gave me the idea of standing aside and watching the squabble between young experts—what Lyneham calls sitting on the fence. But of course neither he nor anyone else realized how serious it was. That evening the thing became absurd. The absent Lewisson simply dominated the party. We had a vision of him—at least I had—in his room scratching feverishly at his calculations like a mathematician in a nightmare—"
Tolefree raised his eyebrows at that.
"You think it's imaginative? Well, during dinner Grymer himself went up as he was getting worried, and he came back with just that report. He did literally rule the scene—eh, Lyneham?"
"He and Thibaud," said Lyneham.
"Yes!—you couldn't look at the Frenchman's face without seeing reflected in it the figure of that half-mad chemist bent on destroying him with an algebraical equation. But I needn't go on with that. It was what happened after dinner—"
"Oh?" said Tolefree. "Sir Thomas didn't suggest that anything particular happened after dinner."
"No—perhaps I put it wrongly. It's a sort of negative I have in mind—what didn't happen, if you can get the idea."
Tolefree couldn't, but he nodded.
"The party began to break up early. The first to go were Lady Grymer and Miss Merafield. After they'd gone up, Grymer paid another visit to Lewisson in his room and came back to the smoke-room to say he was much quieter. He seemed to have finished the calculations that obsessed him and promised to go to bed and leave the writing of his report for Grymer till the morning. But he didn't go to bed. When Grymer went up again, Lewisson wasn't there, and almost immediately he appeared in the smoke-room. It was then half past ten. He seemed quite rational to me at that time. He said his head was better and he'd have a cigar. He talked to Grymer and Lyneham and Borthwick and me and took no notice of Thibaud. The Frenchman was left to practice his charms on the Canon and Mr. Bigbury. Everything was going swimmingly till some devil got Lewisson on the subject of his calculations again—and off he Went from the deep end. All jargon to me—and to you also, Lyneham, I reckon?"
"Absolutely Patagonian jargon," declared Lyneham. "I'm not interested in the processes of the technical man—only in his results."
"Thus spake the true financier!" said Felderman. "It's our money he wants. Well, Lyneham was fed up, Tolefree, and he intervened—not directly, but by drawing off Grymer's attention and remarking that he thought he'd go up now. That brought several of the party to their feet and shut up Lewisson. Lyneham, having attained his end, said he didn't want to disturb the harmony—"
"Gosh!" Tolefree gave him an admiring glance.
"Well, our friend Lyneham has a sardonic touch about him. It made Grymer smile. He said it was rather early to close down and got busy mixing drinks. Lyneham refused and went off yawning. And after that Lewisson said no more about his calculations. Then the others began to drift away, the Canon and Bigbury first. Borthwick and I went up together—our rooms faced each other. That left This, baud and Lewisson in the room with Grymer. I can't say of my own knowledge what took place between then and the tragedy, but Grymer's quite clear about it. Lewisson continued to talk to him and to ignore Thibaud. Grymer thinks both were hanging on to have the last word with him. But about eleven o'clock, Thibaud gave it up, said good night, and left Applewhites chairman and their chemist together. Where-upon Lewisson started off on his mania again, and couldn't be stopped for half an hour. It was half-past eleven when Grymer persuaded him to drink up his splash and go upstairs. He wished him good night at the top of the first landing. He says Lewisson then seemed more normal than he'd been all day. He went along towards the bathrooms and Grymer turned up the staircase to his bedroom on the second floor. Within five minutes of their parting Lewisson was dead."
"Queer," said Tolefree, as Felderman paused. "Eh?" said Felderman; "I could think of a more adequate word than queer!"
Tolefree could also, but he did not say what it was. Instead, he remarked, "What a magnificent prospect!"
They had left the grounds of Old Hallerdon below the gardens, crossed a little stream and wound between high hedges to the top of the opposite hill—the tree-crowned ridge that Tolefree saw from his bedroom window. In a gateway on the edge of the wood they stood looking down into the valley upon the roofs of the house, and beyond to the landscape stretching southward in a green and gold and russet pattern of hedges, fields and woods.
"See that?" said Lyneham in a murmur, pointing.
From the quadrangle between the lawns on either side of the drive moved three vehicles in a slow Linea car, a hearse, and a second car following.
"Quick work," said Felderman. "Lewisson's last trip to Manchester."
They watched till the trees had swallowed up the little procession. "Queer? Well!" Felderman shot one of his searching looks into Tolefree's eyes. They turned to descend the hill.
"Your own experience must have been a bit unnerving," Tolefree observed.
Felderman admitted that it was. The first time he'd come upon a man who met with a violent death, and all the worse because it sprang on him out of his first sleep. It was just before eleven when he said good night to Borthwick. An interesting personality, Borthwick, he said in an aside. Did Tolefree know him? Had they ever crossed archaeological swords—or paths?
Tolefree took Felderman's private joke quite gravely. He said he only knew Borthwick by reputation as the author of a work in six volumes on the architecture of the English Renaissance, and expressed deep regret at having missed him.
"Ah," said Felderman, "there's a treat in store for you when you do meet him. He's one of the most remarkable antiquarians I ever struck. Don't you think so, Lyneham?"
But it appeared that Lyneham had not been privileged by much personal contact with Borthwick, and as for antiquarianism, it was not down his street.
Borthwick's experience, Felderman pursued his theme, was even more harrowing than his own; for he was actually the first man to see Lewisson dead. After their good night, Felderman had taken his bath, and was probably in bed by a quarter past eleven. At any rate he did not hear the rest come upstairs and was sound asleep when the startling thing happened. It was the roar of the shot that woke him up.
"You know," said he, "the stillness and silence of the country on a windless summer night—it was very much the same last night. That explosion was like the end of the world! It hadn't finished echoing round before I was out of bed, listening. I heard a door opened and footsteps bumping outside Borthwick's, no doubt. Then I pulled open my door and looked into the corridor. The light on the landing had been switched off, but I saw a dim glow from the doorway of Lewisson's room, next to mine, and a figure standing there. I rushed along, and there was Borthwick. As I cried out, `What is it?' he was in the act of stepping forward and kneeling down beside Lewisson. That couldn't have been more than half a minute after the explosion. Borthwick called out, `Good God—he's dead!' and immediately Thibaud's door opened behind me—it exactly faces Lewisson's—and Thibaud was saying, 'Mon Dieu!—qu'est-ce que c'est?' Lewisson lay on his back with his feet towards the dressing table, his arms spread and the gun in his right hand. The light was too dim to show up all the details—"
"Dim—?" Tolefree asked. "I don't think anything was said in the evidence about the lights?"
"No—you're right. But I suppose it wasn't important since they concluded that Lewisson was mad and didn't know what he was doing. But the light was dim. The only illumination came from a shaded lamp on the dressing table. I guess it was this way: there are two switches at the door, one putting on a center light in the ceiling and the other the table lamp. There was a reading lamp at the head of the bed as well, but that had a local switch. I figure it like this—that Lewisson, coming in from the bathroom, had probably touched on the table-lamp switch by mistake for the other, and left it at that."
"I interrupted you," said Tolefree. "You were saying you could see no details—such as—?"
"Chiefly what had happened to Lewisson. He just lay there with his head cocked on one side, feet towards the table and the open window beyond it, but his face outside the half-ring of light the lamp threw on the floor. Have you got it—the dim room, a semi-circle of light cutting across Lewisson's middle, and showing up scraps of paper on the floor spilled from the writing table on one side of the window, Borthwick kneeling beside him, and Thibaud squeezing past me and exclaiming, `Le pauvre Lewisson!' doors opening, footsteps and voices in the house, the smell of burnt powder, and all in less than a minute after I'd roused from a sound sleep?"
"Horrifying," said Tolefree. "Yes, I've got it all, but not your thoughts about it."
"I don't know that I did any conscious thinking then. One doesn't. But afterwards, when I'd spoken to Borthwick, one thing was fixed in my mind—"
"Of course. It must have startled anyone to find a man committing suicide with his door wide open."
"Yes—that door puzzled me, and it puzzles me now. But of course, if Lewisson had suddenly gone mad, or had been mad before and was just deceiving Grymer about it—I've heard lunatics are cute that way—"
"And I. But it's hardly more curious than the fact that a man of the Lewisson type should be carrying about an ugly great pistol like that. You three, Borthwick and Thibaud and yourself—were close by; the rest of the household on the top floor, I suppose? But the noise must have been enough to wake everyone—?"
"Yes—they all came tumbling down in the next minute or two, Grymer first, then you, Lyneham, I think?"
"No—young Bigbury and the parson were in front of me. I'd had a hot bath before I turned in, and felt drugged with sleep. Hardly conscious of the cause of the noise—though I woke with a start. It was the others rushing past my door that brought me out. The first realization came to me when I scrummed in at the doorway of Lewisson's room and saw Grymer and Borthwick on his knees beside Lewisson. To tell you the honest truth, I thought first somebody must have done him in—till I saw the gun in his hand."
"Well," said Tolefree, "anyone might have thought that, I reckon. It must have been a nasty moment for all of you."
"Terrifying," said Felderman, "especially for the women. Lady Grymer and the girl looked like nothing on earth, and the servants were scared stiff. Lady Grymer all but fainted, and the butler, who'd been waiting to see Borthwick off the premises and rushed round from his quarters when he heard the shot, was holding her up. The poor devil looked fit to faint himself. It was all confusion—everyone horrified, and all in a sort of half light till Borthwick asked someone to switch on the big lamp. We stood round him while he showed Grymer where the shot had gone in on the right side of Lewisson's head, and felt for Lewisson's pulse which didn't exist; and then Grymer rushed off to telephone for doctor and police—"
"A fearful upset," Tolefree murmured.
"It was. Lyneham and I both noticed that Borthwick, the dry-as-dust antiquary, was the coolest man there, didn't we?"
"It was Borthwick who suggested that as Lewisson was undoubtedly dead, we should all clear out of the room and go down to wait for the doctor and the police. We did. They were mighty quick coming. Young Nicholas first, who just made sure that Lewisson was dead and then left it all to the police. They didn't take long to make up their minds. Nicholas and the police doctor had a confab, and the superintendent had a private talk with Grymer. There was a little difficulty at first about letting Borthwick go, but they got over that by deciding that I knew as much about it as he did, and before the police and doctors were out of the place he was on the way to the railroad junction—"
"And by Jove!" said Lyneham, "there's the luncheon bell. We'd better step lively."
That afternoon Tolefree seemed to have Old Hallerdon to himself. The party had begun to break up. Some clerical engagement took the Canon away before lunch and he was not returning. The Honorable Robert Bigbury was playing golf with Miss Merafield on a course some distance off and she was to return to her uncle's vicarage after dinner. Lady Grymer was invisible. Grymer was in Newton Abbot on county business. Thibaud had gone with him for the excursion. Felderman and Lyneham had taken trout-rods down to the little stream.
Tolefree strolled the lawn alone, reflecting on the singularity of the conversation with Lyneham and Felderman after the inquest, extracting from it some further shreds of fact to confirm his growing suspicion that the train of circumstances leading from Watling Street and a visiting card to Old Hallerdon and a tragedy would bring him to a crisis in which he might not be able to respect Mr. Ronald Hudson's confidence. He would have no qualms about that if Lewisson had really been murdered—and that was the thing implicit in the attitude of Lyneham and Felderman.
Some things and some people needed explanation—most of all the possession of a heavy gun by a man of Lewisson's character, the personality and conduct of Mr. Borthwick, and the complacency of the police in permitting him to go; Thibaud's shock after the death, when the body was moved, and his curious behavior the night before. The police had evidently made little inquiry into the circumstances under which this death took place. On the surface it looked as if someone had said to them, "This poor fellow went mad and shot himself," and they had accepted it as a fact without troubling to find out whether anything else might have happened. The man who found the body had an appointment to catch a train and he had presumably vanished into the ewigkeit and might never come back for all they cared.
Yet, Tolefree reminded himself, he came to the case with the deliberate suggestion put into his mind by Felderman that there might be another explanation, whereas the police came to it without prejudice, found all the evidence pointing to suicide, had no reason for suspecting a murder, carried out their usual routine, and out of consideration for Grymer and all else concerned made their part of the business as little troublesome as possible. He had watched the superintendent, Braddock, and thought him an intelligent man, as incorruptible as a policeman should be. His criticism of over-complacency was probably unjust.
Could all the evidence at the inquest be true and yet fit in with any other theory than suicide? It must be true. If it was untrue there would have had to be far too wide a collusion—between Grymer, Felderman, Thibaud and the police, if not the doctor as well. That was unthinkable. The evidence was true. It fitted together as a narrative of events.
This then was the dilemma at which Tolefree looked as hep p aced up and down the lawn:
Unquestionable evidence of suicide: it satisfied the final requirements of circumstantial evidence—it was presumption of the highest order; Equally unquestionable evidence that some of the people who knew most about it did not accept the presumption. But to destroy the presumption it would be necessary to prove how a murderer could have eliminated himself from the scene before the powder-smoke had blown away, and, before doing so, have transferred in so convincing a manner to Lewisson's hand the gun from which that shell was ejected. All this in the few seconds before Borthwick reached the door. And the proof had to be reached in the absence of Borthwick.
Borthwick was the mystery man, not Thibaud. But no one seemed to think him of any importance in the case except Thibaud, with his cryptic allusions to a hidden personality. Borthwick had left Old Hallerdon an hour after he discovered the body of Lewisson. True, his departure had been arranged beforehand. But then, if Lewisson was murdered, the murder had certainly also been arranged beforehand...
The footman had appeared on the lawn and set a tea equipage under an awning. Tolefree dragged a chair into the shade and sat down with his pipe and his reflections.
At four o'clock he heard animated voices behind him. Felderman and Lyneham came into view from the garden slope. Felderman's rod was dismounted, but Lyneham brandished his, talking with unusual energy. It seemed that if anything could rouse Lyneham to enthusiasm it was trout-fishing.
"Hello, Tolefree," said Felderman, as they came up; "a siesta?"
"No luck on the river?" he asked.
"Far too bright. Not a rise—even to Lyneham, and he's a wizard while I'm a mutt with the fly. He's been giving me some lessons—not altogether a wasted afternoon. See him drop a fly on a penny at fifteen yards! It's magic! Try for that dandelion over there, Lyneham."
"Don't be an ass, Felderman! Tolefree don't want me to show off. Looks as if he can throw a fly himself," said Lyneham, eyeing him.
"A bent pin and a worm are more in my line," Tolefree grinned. "But I'd like to see you throw."
It was a momentous remark, the consequences of which no one could have foreseen.
"All right," said Lyneham, waving the slender top of his rod. "Bound to foozle it with anyone looking on."
The line shot out in a low arc, pulled the reel round with a little squeal, and came to a stop as the foliage of a dandelion growing in a crevice at the foot of the chapel wall quivered. The line remained taut.
"Stuck!" said Lyneham, reeling in and following the line.
He stooped, released it with some trouble, and, on rising, looked for another mark.
"That leaf on the path over there—what is it—about thirty feet? See what I said, Felderman?—let Your arm straighten with the rod."
The line curled overhead, shot out again and went straight to the mark. The leaf stirred.
"Damn!—my fly's gone," said Lyneham, reeling up.
Tolefree and Felderman walked with him to the other side of the lawn, and the three of them hunted for the missing fly. But it was never found. Suddenly Lyneham cried out and rose.
"Got it?" asked Tolefree.
In the palm of his hand lay a little brass shell. He slowly raised his eyes to the windows overhead. The one directly above them on the first floor, which had been blinded while Lewisson lay there, was now open.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Felderman.
"Where was it?" asked Tolefree.
"Here—" Lyneham pointed with his toe. "In the gutter, close against the turf. How could it—? I don't know much about guns, but I thought—"
"Nor I," said Felderman. "Tolefree—you?"
"Only a little. I can't quite make it out. It's the same, isn't it?—only not crushed. Might have been ejected if someone standing by the window—but—"
"I gathered from what the doctor said at the inquest this morning that Lewisson must have been standing close to the window—"
"Well, he was. His feet as he lay were right there within a yard of it," said Felderman.
"Yes. But you see we heard of only one shot—and of the shell found under the body. Now two shells!...By the way, I wonder who's got the gun now—the police?"
"Can't say," said Felderman. "We'll ask Grymer. I suppose we'd better tell him straightaway?"
"I should say so," Lyneham remarked.
"Not that there's anything to be done about it, I guess," said Felderman. "They're coming out to tea. There's Lady Grymer. Mum for the present, I think, eh?"
"Yes. Here, take it, Tolefree. You'd better explain to Grymer on the quiet."
"I, Mr. Lyneham? Oh, well—if you wish." Tolefree took the shell and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
With that second shell in his pocket, Tolefree could no longer assume that Lyneham was not well aware of him, or that he believed (if he ever had believed) in the official judgment on Lewisson's death. The look in Lyneham's shrewd eyes when, holding the shell in the palm of his hand, he glanced up at Lewisson's window and when he passed it into Tolefree's keeping, meant that Lyneham knew there was a mystery. As soon as he showed the shell to Grymer, the lord of Old Hallerdon would be equally aware. Before that awareness became embarrassing there was something he must do.
At the pleasant tea-table in the shade of the awning by the chapel wall, watching with amusement the maneuvers of the volatile Thibaud, who in the absence of any other petticoat got up a flirtation with Lady Grymer while Sir Thomas and Lyneham talked about the franc exchange and stained glass windows, and he and Felderman threw an occasional sentence at each other about nothing in particular, Tolefree had these speculations at the back of his mind and came to a resolution. He put it into execution immediately Lady Grymer rose. Going up to his room, he stopped at Lewisson's door and tried it. The door opened. He found the key inside. The next instant it was in his pocket and the door was closed again. Returning to the hall, he met the footman in the corridor.
"Excuse me, sir. Sir Thomas asked me to tell you that the family will not dress for dinner tonight, and it will be at half past seven."
The edict was for the convenience of Miss Merafield who was going home to her uncle's vicarage after dinner and had not yet got back from the links. She arrived with Mr. Bigbury just in time for the meal. The talk at the table was of golf, and Monsieur Thibaud traveled this strange, exotic country with difficulty. He was unusually silent.
Mr. Bigbury had his own car, as remarkable for its extremely modernistic appearance as he assured Tolefree it was for its guts. If Tolefree had no experience of such a car it was a part of his education which should be attended to immediately. This while he stood in the quadrangle beside the weird speed-beast, waiting for Miss Merafield. Tolefree perceived that Mr. Bigbury, who had hitherto paid him little attention, had not introduced the subject merely for the sake of light occasional conversation. He suddenly became extremely conscious of Mr. Bigbury's blue eyes and of Mr. Bigbury's effort to convey him a message through that medium. So that, when Miss Merafield's baggage had been bestowed in the dicky, and Miss Merafield had said good-by all round, and was preparing to step in, and Mr. Bigbury said, "Why not jump in now, and I'll give you a liver-tonic after we've dumped this woman?" Tolefree did not immediately spurn the idea. He played with it.
"A threesome?" said he, with a grin.
"Oh, there's lashings of room for three—and if not, Florence can sit on your knee."
Miss Merafield seconded the invitation by showing him that there was room for three, and Tolefree sat beside her.
"Farewell, Tolefree—I'll send a wreath to your funeral," Grymer called out as the engine roared and the car shot down the drive.
But it soon appeared that Mr. Bigbury had not brought Tolefree out for a liver-tonic, and that he was in no hurry to dump the woman. Having climbed quickly to the ridge beyond the wood where Tolefree had walked in the morning, and opened up the next valley where Old Hallerdon village lay, with its tall square tower far below them, Mr. Bigbury pulled in to the turf on the roadside, and said:
"A dam' neat bit of work, I guess, my first kidnaping exploit. Now you've got him, Florence. He's at your mercy. Wade in after the ransom. He's bound to pay, or we'll take him for another ride—bump him off!—put him on the spot!—is there anything else we can do to him?"
"Bobby's often taken like this, Mr. Tolefree," said Miss Merafield. "Don't mind him."
"I don't," said Tolefree.
"Tolefree!" exclaimed Mr. Bigbury—"did you ever See anything like women? Always let you down. Here this woman tempts me to perjure myself in order to capture you for her, and now we've got you, she funks it."
"Well, perhaps I can help. How much do you Want?" said Tolefree. "And as we're rather cramped here, could we conduct the negotiations and stretch our legs at the same time?"
"Ah, now you're talking! Florence—he's afraid. Put the price up." Mr. Bigbury got out of the car, led the way to a granite bowlder on the edge of the heath and seated himself. "The allegation against you, Tolefree," said he, "is that you are a fraud. You are masquerading as a highbrow dry-as-dust and you're nothing of the sort. We demand to know what is your nefarious business."
"I'll admit nothing. But I know when I'm up against it," said Tolefree; "and I'm quite prepared to pay—on conditions. Of course, you realize that it's quite open to me to invent some nefarious business on the spur of the moment, which you'd have to accept? But if you play fair with me, I'll reciprocate. Who evolved the theory that I was masquerading?"
"The woman," declared Mr. Bigbury. "She's been telling me in mournful numbers all day that you are not what you seem."
Tolefree turned to Miss Merafield. She said, "Shut up, Bobby," and her dark eyes fixed on Tolefree. "Could we be serious for a moment? I know it's awful cheek, but I've got a habit of noticing people when they're off guard. I caught Mr. Thibaud off guard last night, and I saw that he was literally consumed with curiosity about you. I can't conceive of Mr. Thibaud being the least bit curious about an antiquarian—"
"Ah?" said Tolefree. "That suggests something to me. Did you observe whether Mr. Thibaud had the same sort of curiosity about that unquestionable antiquarian, Mr. Borthwick, who was here before I came?"
"No—never. I don't think he ever spoke to Mr. Borthwick. Mr. Borthwick was a rather formidable highbrow. My uncle thought him a very learned man, whereas—"
"Yes?—whereas in the case of Tolefree, I suppose—?"
"You make me seem rude, but as a matter of fact, Uncle was rather puzzled about you—didn't seem to think you knew a great deal of archaeology."
Tolefree looked at the two young faces in turn, both earnest now. "I seem to have been rather under the harrow! But I'm more interested in what you and Mr. Bigbury think. Might I know?"
Miss Merafield got up and faced Tolefree.
"All right—I'll tell you. I don't think you're an antiquarian. I don't think you're here to admire Sir Thomas's Tudor mansion. I think you're here to find out something. It may be to find out something about Mr. Thibaud, for he's certainly a queer fish. I want to know—for a reason—whether you're what I think you are."
"And what's that?"
"I believe you're a detective."
"Good gracious!" cried Tolefree. "And the ransom you demand is a confession that I'm a detective? What sort of detective d'you think I should be if I made a confession like that?" He glanced from one to the other. "No—nothing so grand as a detective, Miss Merafield. But the suggestion's most interesting. It means that you must have thought there was something for me to detect at Old Hallerdon—"
"I did! I do," she answered.
"Something you're anxious should be detected?"
"Very anxious indeed."
Tolefree took his wallet, opened it, and fingered it.
"Miss Merafield and Mr. Bigbury," said he, "I will make a bargain with you. I'll pay the ransom by handing you my card—on conditions, as I said just now. The conditions are two—first, perfect candor on your part towards me, and perfect secrecy towards other people. You are to tell me what is the thing you're anxious about, and you're not to let another soul know that any confidence has passed between us."
"That's a bet, Florence—what?" said Mr. Bigbury. Tolefree had a fleeting thought of the last man who proposed a bet with him.
"I shall agree," said the girl.
Tolefree took a card from the wallet and handed it to her. She read, "Philip Tolefree: Private Inquiries...But you said you weren't a detective!"
"True—I'm not. I don't detect; I inquire. There's a nuance of difference, don't you think? Detective sounds so official, and there's nothing official about me. Now the murder's out!—"
And as he spoke he caught a look of horror in the girl's eyes.
"I was right, Bobby," she said in a half whisper.
"You were, Florence. Tolefree—you want us to be candid. Well, I'm going to spill the lot with a crash. I don't know what you're here to inquire about, but there's only one thing worth your while nosing into, and that's this: Lewisson. That poor devil never committed suicide. We both believe he was murdered. The police don't seem to want to do anything about it. But someone's got to. And that someone's you."
They watched Tolefree tracing the outline of a patch of lichen with his finger on the bowlder while he considered their faces. Two young and lively intelligences, on the spot during the critical days, both outside the business category, no axes to grind, just horrified by a crime, moved towards him by warm human impulse—
"I'll tell you something in confidence," said he; "but it must be in perfect confidence—"
"Right. We'll take any oath you like," Mr. Bigbury declared.
"I think it's quite possible, even likely, that Lewisson didn't shoot himself, and I'm extremely curious to find out, if that's true, who shot him and how it was done. It wasn't the business I came down here to do, but there are reasons why I want to do it. Will that complete the ransom?"
"Gosh!" cried Bigbury, "if the woman ain't a marvel! She said so from the first, Tolefree. And the cause of all this funny stuff is—we want to know if we can help."
"Sure; you can help a lot," said Tolefree.
"Be the eyes of the blind. I got here after the thing was done and people had made up their minds. Show me how it seemed to you. Some people, or at least one person, must have known what happened, but he keeps his mouth shut. Others took the obvious view—genuinely believed that Lewisson killed himself. I'd thought you two were among them. But you aren't. The best help you can give me is to say why you aren't."
"Let her tell you," said Mr. Bigbury.
But Miss Merafield, positive that Lewisson did not kill himself, could not say why she was positive. She just felt it, she told Tolefree. The strain of the last two days, trying to play up to a house party and enduring the persiflage of Mr. Thibaud with this conviction at the back of her head, had been awful. She took Bobby away to play golf this afternoon in order to persuade him that something ought to be done about it.
"I'm rather at a disadvantage," Tolefree reminded her. "I never saw Lewisson—know nothing about him except what Grymer says, that he was a good fellow and a clever scientist. Had you known him before?"
She had neither met him nor heard of him till the Friday when most of the party turned up at Old Hallerdon. But it didn't need long acquaintance with a man to judge what sort of man he was.
"I liked Mr. Lewisson," she said, "and you did, too, Bobby—"
"Quite a bright sort of bird," said Mr. Bigbury. "Fearful highbrow, of course—rather inclined to be eloquent about Stinks. But yes—I liked him."
"And you didn't think he was the sort of man who'd shoot himself?"
"Not on your life! If he'd shot the popinjay, I wouldn't have been surprised, and I shouldn't have cried my eyes out. But shoot himself—? Not a chance!"
Miss Merafield rationalized this a little. Her feeling was that Lewisson would have been either scornful or horrified of the idea of taking his own life. Tolefree would have agreed with her if he'd seen him and talked to him. A powerful man of big build, though not tall, dark, with brilliant black eyes and almost black hair, a fine brow, an animated way of speaking—so the picture of Lewisson began to come to Tolefree.
"A peculiar name," said he. "Anything Jewish about him?"
"Gosh, no!" said Bigbury. "If you want my opinion, he should have been called Ap Lewis or Fitz Lewis—either a Welshman or a Highlander."
Tolefree looked a little surprised at Mr. Bigbury's excursion into ethnology, but said nothing, and the portrait continued to grow as Miss Merafield described her own reactions to the earnest, passionate, realistic scientist who was something new in her experience of young men. He was full of common sense and an ironical wit. He had no pretentions. He told her of his family and his struggles to get a scientific education and the parents in a Manchester suburb whom he was supporting. His so-called illness—
"So-called?" said Tolefree. "Tell me about that."
Miss Merafield could tell him about that—more than anyone else knew, for Lewisson had confided in her. He came and sat beside her on the lawn on Sunday morning and said he had a head twice too big for his hat and a throat like a lime-kiln and a mouth crammed full of tongue—and it all served him right for drinking too much of Sir Thomas's whisky on Saturday night to lubricate his argument with that that...Frenchman: Miss Merafield, as a Canon's niece, dodged whatever epithet Lewisson had applied to Thibaud.
"Yes, I understand," said Tolefree, smiling at her.
Well—she had no doubt that Lewisson's illness was a whisky headache, complicated by his wrath against Thibaud, and perhaps by also by some arduous calculations with which he wanted to put Thibaud in the wrong. He confided in her still further: he said Thibaud was a fraud... Thibaud had brought an old and exploded idea to Grymer; where he'd picked it up Heaven only knew—probably out of some ancient out-of-date textbook; as for the Frenchman himself, he knew no more of the subject than an unborn babe.
"That's very extraordinary," said Tolefree, "coming to a man like Grymer with a scheme like that! How could he expect to impose on Grymer?"
Miss Merafield knew nothing of that, but she did know what Lewisson thought—that Thibaud's precious scheme was merely a pretense for getting into Old Hallerdon. But wasn't it plain to Tolefree that all the fuss about Lewisson's illness must be absurd—impossible that a young man of so robust a disposition had killed himself because he had a whisky headache?
Tolefree thought it unlikely.
So that when Miss Merafield heard the shot and rushed down, and when she realized that Lewisson was dead, the first thought that came to her was not that he had shot himself but that someone else had shot him.
Tolefree stopped her there.
"You'll understand, won't you, that an inquiry means just putting together lots of small things and getting them in order?" She nodded. "So may I ask you the questions that will put them in order for me? To all outward appearance, Lewisson shot himself and nobody else could have shot him. But if we three are right somebody else must have had the opportunity of shooting him and getting clear in not much more than no time. The sequence of things is therefore immensely important. I believe you retired at the same time as Lady Grymer, which was before Lewisson came down to the smoke-room?"
"Yes—I hadn't seen him since lunch-time."
"But you, Mr. Bigbury, did see Lewisson before you went to bed. How did he strike you then? Was he either depressed or excited?"
"He was just about normal—said his head was better, had a smoke and a splash, and talked with Grymer and the others. I don't know what about—just smoke-room talk, I suppose. The Frenchman fastened himself on Canon Merafield and me and blew off about Romanesque architecture or some such tripe. Then moneybags went up to bed, and the Canon and I followed in about a quarter of an hour."
"Lewisson was then—?"
"Still talking to Grymer and Felderman and Borthwick, and as we went out the Frenchman strolled over and stood by that crowd."
"Very well," said Tolefree. "Next thing—where was your room, Miss Merafield?"
"On the top floor, opposite Lady Grymer's."
"Facing into the quadrangle, or away from it?"
"Into it. In fact, it was the room exactly over Mr. Lewisson's."
"And yours, Mr. Bigbury?"
"The last one in the other corridor, over the library, and facing into the quadrangle. Canon Merafield's was opposite mine, facing the other way."
Tolefree turned to the girl.
"It must have been an hour after you went up when you heard the shot," he said.
"Oh, much more. I went with Lady Grymer into her room and talked to her for quite a long time. I remember that it was eleven when I came out, for I waved to Mr. Lyneham coming round the landing in his dressing-gown with a bath towel over his shoulder, and he said, `What!—not turned in yet?' Then I heard the hall clock strike. And I undressed leisurely and read in bed for quite half an hour, I should say, before it happened. In fact I'd only just dropped the book and switched off the light—"
"When you heard the shot?"
"Yes—but that wasn't the first thing."
"You know what a hot night Sunday was. I'd thrown the window wide open. I lay in bed with my hands behind my head, just thinking back over what I'd read, and gazing out through the window. I remember seeing a star or two over the roof of the library wing, and then there was a bright flash—almost like lightning it was—reflected in the opposite windows, and immediately the crash came. I jumped—"
"A moment, please," said Tolefree, putting up his hand. "Now you, Mr. Bigbury—were you asleep?"
"No, I wasn't. Fact is, Florence, I was lying in bed watching the light in your window and saying to myself, `That woman's wasting the electricity and losing her beauty sleep,' when I saw the light go out and all was quiet and still as the poet says—till the crack of doom arrived about three minutes after. Then, Tole-free, I beat the record for the high jump, and—"
"But," said Tolefree, "did you see the flash?"
"No—I couldn't. Lewisson's window, being below, was out of sight for me. I just leaped out of bed and dashed to the window. Couldn't see anything but a feeble sort of light in Lewisson's room. I heard a door latch, and somebody call out, `What's that?' Then I thought it was time to get busy, and I ran along the corridor as the Canon was coming out of his room and Grymer was going down the stairs in front of me. When I got to the first floor—"
"You were there before Miss Merafield?"
"Of course I was. Grymer was switching on the light on the landing, and Felderman was standing in Lewisson's doorway. In the room, Borthwick was kneeling beside Lewisson, Thibaud was bending over him—and then in a jiffy the room was full of people."
Tolefree turned to the girl again.
"And you, Miss Merafield, were saying that you jumped out of bed. What did you do first?"
"I stood listening. You see, I didn't realize quite what the noise was. I'd never heard a revolver shot, but it didn't sound like what I thought a revolver shot would be—more of a roar and a rumble, like an explosion."
"Yes—effect of the echoes between the walls of the quadrangle, no doubt. But can you analyze what you heard first—one crack, two or more?"
"I can't. It was just a loud roar. I wondered if there was any more to come, but for a few seconds everything was silent. Then I heard movements in the house—doors, people's voices. I found my dressing-gown, and went out in the corridor and knocked at Lady Grymer's door. She was asleep—hadn't heard, but woke up when I went in, and then there was rushing and tramping, and we went down—"
Tolefree's forehead was puckered.
"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "Can't be helped, though."
"What's biting you?" Mr. Bigbury inquired.
"You were both awake, and lying still for some minutes before the earthquake happened. It's what happened in those minutes that I want to know. But it seems that neither of you heard anything at all."
"Not me," said Bigbury. "What should I hear over there?"
"After it happened, you heard a door, and you heard someone say, `What's up?' or something like that."
"Oh, I get you—no, didn't hear a think to notice before the shot."
"And you, Miss Merafield?"
"Nor I—but of course I wasn't listening for anything. There might have been sounds I didn't notice. There must have been, for Sir Thomas Grymer went into Lady Grymer's room, didn't he?"
"Yes—but found her asleep, so I suppose he must have left very quietly and gone to his own room without making a noise."
"Anyhow, I heard nothing, Mr. Tolefree—nothing at all till the shot came."
Tolefree got up from the bowlder.
"We shall see each other again, no doubt. This is all absolutely between us, eh? There were other people awake and nearer to Lewisson. I shall have to find out whether they heard anything. But it's not going to be easy. One's Mr. Borthwick, who's no longer here, and the other's Mr. Thibaud—"
"And you bet your life," said Mr. Bigbury darkly, "Froggy was stone deaf for those few minutes."
"If I were you," Tolefree advised him, "I'd not be too sure about Mr. Thibaud. I've got a mind to cultivate him now that he'll have a little more time to spare"—and Tolefree smiled at Miss Merafield. "Shall we move on, then?"
At midnight, Tolefree opened his bedroom door and looked into the corridor. There were no lights. No sounds reached him. He stepped across to Felderman's room and tapped gently before he entered. Felderman had closed his window and drawn the thick curtains. He sat on the edge of his bed reading by the light of the shaded lamp. Putting down his book, he beckoned Tolefree to the bedside chair.
"Well?" said he in a half whisper; "did they yield anything?"
"Something a little curious, but nothing important—at any rate, nothing I can build on. The trouble is that no one heard anything beforehand. Bigbury was too far away, but the girl was right overhead and lying awake. Yet she heard nothing—"
"Not expecting, therefore not noticing," said Felderman. "But, Tolefree, our friend over the way may be expecting and noticing now. Supposing he should get curious and go along to your room for another box of matches or anything?"
"We've got to chance Mr. Thibaud, I think. I made out my light half an hour ago. I looked out at the window just now: his light's out also. If we make no noise—but then, Felderman, wouldn't it be a useful hint if he did show some curiosity?"
"Perhaps you're right. What do we do?"
"I should think we might have a smoke without attracting attention, don't you—unless you dislike smoke in your room?"
"Smoke-dried—immune," said Felderman. "Light up. Have a cigar?"
"Pipe, if you don't mind...What we do? We assume that someone shot Lewisson. Then we eliminate the people who didn't shoot him—and so we arrive. If we eliminate all the people in the house, we conclude that he was killed by someone who was not in the house—"
"But—? Oh, I see what you mean, but not how you get it."
"I don't get it. What I was going to say is that if we find that it was impossible for Lewisson to have been killed by anyone outside the house, then he must have killed himself. But I don't think we shall arrive there tonight."
"Well," said Felderman, putting a light to his cigar, "elimination first."
"I'll eliminate you to begin with. That'll clear the decks between us. Then, before we tackle the rest, I want an exact idea of where everyone was five minutes before Lewisson was shot. I've had a good look at the house, except that I didn't want to attract notice by going up to the top floor. You've been here longer—"
"I know the place well."
"Good," said Tolefree. "I've brought my notebook. Draw me a plan of the top floor."
"Roughly, it's an exact replica of this, only there are bedrooms along a second corridor over the gallery of the library—like this—"
Tolefree watched him make a sketch plan.
"Then," said Tolefree, "there are nine bedrooms up there, and on Sunday night six of them were occupied. By a quarter to twelve when Lewisson was shot, all six of their occupants were in them. The three empty rooms we can disregard. I see one of them's very small—"
"The one on the corner. I know it—a dressing-room with communication to the room Lyneham has. I slept there once when the house was full."
"The other two are right above us, at the end of the corridor. Empty rooms ruled out—nothing to do with the case. Now we eliminate. Young Bigbury?"
"I should say so."
"Quite sure of it. As I think you said last night, if Mr. Thibaud had been the victim!—but Mr. Big-bury is eliminated. Canon Merafield?"
"Not a chance. Don't suppose he knows one end of a gun from the other."
"Canon Merafield eliminated and another scandal in the Church staved off. Miss Merafield—but we needn't discuss her or Lady Grymer, who was sound asleep on the evidence of two witnesses. Then Lyneham?...Half a moment!" Tolefree put a finger on his lips and crept to the door and listened. "Thought I heard a movement. Nothing. Well—Lyneham?"
"How could he? Further away than anyone except Bigbury and the Canon. Besides, Lyneham—"
"Yes," said Tolefree. "I know the apparent absurdity of it. Not a spot of motive that anyone can see. But we're just being impersonal—considering physical possibilities. If it was a physical impossibility for Lyneham, then we eliminate him. If it wasn't, you know, Felderman, I shouldn't put much on the lack of motive, especially with a fellow like Lyneham. You never know the motives that a financial bloke may have: they hide 'em up. Secrecy's a part of their gospel. But you know the City as well as I do—"
"That's all right, Tolefree. But I think it was a physical impossibility. Lyneham had gone up a long time before, and he couldn't have got down from his room and up again—"
"He did. Miss Merafield saw him going to the bathroom at eleven o'clock."
"But this was a quarter to twelve. What I was going to say was that he couldn't have got up to his room again in the time. I was looking into the corridor not twenty seconds after the shot, and within a few seconds of that Grymer was rushing down from the top floor. He must have met anyone going up."
"Very well. We eliminate Lyneham. Only one top-floorer left, and that's Sir Thomas himself."
"You'd eliminate him at once on all the grounds of probability and psychology. Of course—so should I. So do I, in fact. But let's be impersonal again. If it was possible for anyone, was it a physical possibility for Grymer to have shot Lewisson and got far enough up the stairs to be out of your sight before you looked into the corridor, and then when the alarm came, to rush down again?"
"Good God, Tolefree!"
"Well—it was, I think. But I'll satisfy your indignation. I don't for a moment believe that anything of the sort happened. We eliminate Grymer. But we tuck that little fact away. It may come in useful. Assuming the possibility that anyone could do what must have been done in that room, Grymer could have done it if he'd wanted to, and no one could prove that he had done it, or disprove a single word he's said on the subject, since Lady Grymer, who was sound asleep, couldn't know whether he'd been into her room or not, and Miss Merafield, who was close by, heard nothing at all."
"Don't like the drift of your argument," said Felderman.
"It isn't an argument. It's just a statement of fact, which we've agreed has no relevance. But it looks as if we may have to reduce the case to what happened in a split second, so to speak, and every possibility's an essential consideration. You'll see in a moment what I mean—when we drop the top floor and come to this one. Let's get the plan of this one on paper too. I can draw it myself...
"Here we have only four bedrooms and all of them occupied; the other wing on this floor is monopolized by the gallery of the library. What are the four people on this floor doing at a quarter to twelve? We've eliminated you, Felderman: you were fast asleep. But can we eliminate Borthwick and Thibaud?"
Felderman walked to the dressing table on tip-toe and knocked the long ash off his cigar into a tray.
"Can we?" he echoed, tip-toeing back to the bed.
"On the whole, I think not. It was physically possible for Borthwick to have killed Lewisson—more possible than for any other man."
"More than Thibaud?"
"Yes—for Thibaud had to do the job, disappear from the room and be safely behind his own door before Borthwick got there. Borthwick was there before you and you don't think you were more than thirty seconds. The only difficulty is your evidence as to hearing the door of Borthwick's room open after the shot was fired and footsteps bumping in the corridor. But—was it certain that this was Borthwick's door and these were Borthwick's footsteps?"
"I thought so."
"I know—but obviously you're not quite sure. It may have been Thibaud's door and Thibaud's footsteps."
"If so I don't see—" Felderman hesitated, frowning.
"Of course, you don't see how, in that case, Borthwick and Thibaud could have avoided meeting each other. But how do we know they didn't meet?"
Felderman gave him a sceptical look. "You mean—collusion?"
"I don't really mean anything. We're discussing physical possibilities. It is a physical possibility that either Borthwick or Thibaud could have shot Lewisson and left these appearances of non-complicity—if they were in collusion. And take note of the if."
"That's an entirely new idea to me," said Felderman.
"I'm not very fond of it myself as an explanation of the inexplicable," Tolefree admitted. "But every possible theory, however far-fetched, may help us towards the truth—that's my experience. Let's leave the question of fact for a moment and speculate a bit. This is where you can help me. What was the lien between Borthwick and Thibaud? There was one. I don't know at present why Thibaud made a point of my knowing that there was one, as he did when he came to my room specifically to discuss Borthwick and told me how he'd smoked cigarettes with him on two nights and watched him pack his bag on the second—after the shooting. But there's something there, Mr. Felderman."
"I can guess one thing that's there, Tolefree. Thibaud was never deluded into believing in you as an antiquarian. As soon as he set eyes on you, he knew you were play-acting—"
"Well, let's be quite plain about it. If he knew I was a detective, or thought I might be a detective, he must have known or thought there was something for me to detect. And when he barges into my room so unceremoniously it's to talk about Borthwick and tell me what a `type' he is and how he hides his personality under a cloak. You know of no link between them, of course?"
"Never entered my head."
"And Borthwick, I believe, was quite unknown to you. But you can tell me what sort of man he was to the outer eye."
Felderman considered. "A dark man—even darker than Lewisson—with piercing black eyes. A well-built man of any age between thirty and forty. A highly-educated man, at home on all subjects, and I should say a good linguist, for he could talk French with Thibaud thirteen to the dozen."
"Ah?" said Tolefree—"and did?"
"I heard them once. Borthwick was saying something to Grymer about sixteenth century manor houses in France—Normandy or Brittany, I think—and Thibaud put in some observation. You know it's all Persian to me—I know nothing about it. But they went off gabbling French so fast that I couldn't follow 'em—and I doubt whether anyone else could."
"Well—that's a point, and it might account for the nocturnal visits to Borthwick's room. But it hasn't much to say about the death of Lewisson. What interests me more is this: Did any special relation develop between Borthwick and Lewisson during those two days?"
"None whatever. As far as I know they hardly said a word to each other, apart from casual remarks at table. They live in two different worlds."
"So that on the surface there was no conceivable reason why Borthwick should have wanted to kill Lewisson? That's the stumbling block. And I shouldn't have thought anything that happened between Lewisson and Thibaud gave a motive for murder—unless the report Lewisson was going to make on his calculations would have been fatal to whatever scheme he was trying to work with Grymer."
"Well—it would have been fatal. No doubt about that, Tolefree. Lewisson knew what he was talking about—nobody better. Whereas Thibaud doesn't seem to know the first thing about it. But—have you considered this?—that Thibaud's no fool?"
"Certainly. Thibaud's a remarkably astute man."
"And what's the inference from that?"
"There might be several. One is that a man so astute as Thibaud doesn't dream that he can push a dud invention down the throat of an astute man like Grymer, and that therefore the dud invention is a pretext for the presence of Thibaud at Old Hallerdon. I didn't make that inference myself—it was made by Lewisson—"
"Ah!" said Felderman under his breath.
"By Lewisson, who confided it to Miss Merafield."
"I'd come to the same conclusion myself, Tolefree. The fellow stirred up my suspicions from the beginning."
"Yes—but you see that if the inference is right, it absolves Thibaud from any part in the murder of Lewisson."
"Because if the invention was a piece of camouflage, and Thibaud didn't either know or care anything about it, he wouldn't have worried what Lewisson thought of it or reported upon it—and there appears to be no other reason why he should want to silence Lewisson. He didn't know Lewisson, who was brought here for no other purpose than to examine his precious plan or theory, or whatever it was."
"Well, that looks likely," said Felderman.
"But then, it's only one of several possible inferences, and I'm not accepting it at present," Tolefree warned him. "The proof of Mr. Thibaud's knowledge or ignorance of Lewisson's death will depend very much on what Mr. Thibaud does in the next twenty-four hours—or rather, on the degree of curiosity he displays, don't you think? And we mustn't forget that the inference drags in Sir Thomas Grymer. If Thibaud the expert engineer is a fraud, as Lewisson declared, Grymer can't help being aware of it. If he is, and he still keeps Thibaud as a guest, there must be a cause of that effect. Does it occur to you that we may be probing rather deeply as we go?"
"Undoubtedly, Tolefree—and taking a risk. But if a rotten crime's committed, I don't stand for it, whatever the consequences of exposing it. And, mind you, I should bet a large packet we find nothing to Grymer's discredit. Have you taken him into your confidence?"
"Not yet," said Tolefree. "Why?"
"After what happened this afternoon, I couldn't take Sir Thomas into confidence without showing him that second shell. I wanted to keep it for a few hours and speculate about it—on the spot."
"Spot? What spot?"
Tolefree nodded his head towards the right-hand wall. "In there," he said.
"You mean now?—tonight?"
Felderman pursed his lips to a whistling shape.
"And I want you to come and show me just what the position of things was on Sunday night," Tolefree went on. "I don't reckon we're going to disturb anyone, and if Thibaud shows any interest in what we're doing, can't we possibly draw some conclusions from that?"
"You'll want light—"
"It may be seen—"
"Only by Thibaud—if he's interested. The one person sleeping tonight on the other side of the quadrangle is young Bigbury. I've told him if he sees a light in Lewisson's room to forget it and go to sleep."
"The room's probably locked," said Felderman.
"It certainly is. I locked it myself. But—" Tolefree extracted a key from his pocket and showed it to Felderman. "We'll make no noise in there," said he; "I'll tell you just what I want to do."
Five minutes later, the light in Felderman's room was out. Two men in bedroom slippers were stealing along the corridor. One of them flashed a torch for a single instant, illuminating the door of Thibaud's room. He bent his ear to the door and listened.
Of that queer next hour after they had plotted out their silent experiment, Tolefree fancifully said to Felderman that it was like Lear—tragedy shot with the antics of the Fool: some moments were so tense, others so charged with farce.
For a time they stood in the pitch-black corridor motionless, holding their breaths. The house was soundless. Thibaud, on the other side of the door, made no sign of his existence.
Presently Tolefree gave his companion's arm a cautionary touch and moved to the door opposite. Slowly he turned the handle, touched Felderman again; then—he stood for the first time in the room where Lewisson had died on Sunday night. He felt Felderman pass him; he closed the door.
Inside, the darkness was not quite so intense. Still, no object could be distinguished—nothing but the slight difference where the oblong of the window, barred with its two mullions, appeared. Even there, no slice of midnight sky such as the girl had seen from the window above, for the sky was occluded by the wall of the library wing on the right and in front the wooded landscape rising beyond it was but a less Opaque shadow.
Tolefree stepped silently to the window, felt for the curtains, found they were of the same heavy rep as in Felderman's room, and gradually persuaded them across the aperture. The stillness magnified even the tiny sounds made by rings on pole.
When at last he switched on his torch, its thin line split the darkness like a spear, flashed past Felderman and fell on the switches by the door. Tolefree followed it, gently dropped the lower switch, and the room sprang into being in the rose-colored light filtered through the silk shade of the dressing-table lamp. The effect was startling. (Felderman declared afterwards that it had made him feel naked!) Neither of them spoke. All their questions and answers passed by look and gesture—and it was the pantomimic impression they made on each other that touched the scene with farce.
Tolefree, having restored the torch to his pocket, remained by Felderman's side and absorbed the picture of the room. It was oblong. The door by which they stood occurred near the end of the wall in a staggered relation to the window. Tolefree's look passed round by the right. The fireplace was in the end wall there, with a chair at each side. Behind the further chair a tall draught-screen of three leaves stood in front of an ample wardrobe placed against the outer wall to the right of the window. At a tangent from the window, so that the light came over the left shoulder, was a writing table, with a stationery box and inkstand and a clean blotting pad. On the left of the window, also at a tangent, was the dressing table, now shining richly under the light of the lamp, which reflected itself in the glass at the back. In the further corner behind this table was a deep armchair. The bed's head stood against the left-hand end wall, with a bed-table beside it and a settee at its foot.
It was going to be difficult to support Felderman's intuition by anything the appointments of the room had to reveal, unless—
He motioned to Felderman to stand with his back to the door and himself went to the dressing table and looked into the mirror. Without straining round to the right it was impossible to see the door reflected in the glass. The direct image was of the fireplace, the two chairs and the empty corner of the room. Lewisson had not got a view of an intruder in that way. Tolefree slowly shook his head and beckoned. Felderman stole across to him.
Tolefree's torch then searched the carpet between the table and the door. Just off the near corner of the settee he found the mark he sought. It had been cleaned but not entirely removed. That was where Lewisson's head lay. He raised his eyebrows in a dumb question. Felderman nodded. Tolefree's beam drew a line from that spot towards the dressing table. Felderman put out a foot to stop it. That was where Lewisson's feet rested, and in all probability the spot where he stood when shot. It was immediately in front of the glass on the dressing table.
Tolefree posted Felderman on that spot, looking into the glass. He returned to the door. Felderman, staring into the glass, shook his head in turn.
Tolefree, holding his torch at arm's length, switched on. The thin ray lit a patch of the iron gray hair on the back of Felderman's head towards the left. He stepped to the screen behind the fireplace chair, concealed himself between it and the wall, put head and arm around it, and aimed the torch. This time the ray lit up Felderman's right ear, and he could See Felderman's face reflected in the mirror. He beckoned again. Felderman made the motion of waving away the screen and Tolefree behind it: evidently that had been thought of by the police. In fact, it was hard to conceive that a murderer so clever as a murderer of Lewisson must have been would do anything so obvious, or that having done it he could get away in the time. Still...
There followed the grisliest mixture of farce and tragic symbolism.
Presently a middle-aged lawyer was lying on his back on the floor, looking intently at the second hand of Tolefree's wrist-watch, held in his left hand under the light from the table lamp. Tolefree took a good look at him, observing how the arc of light from the lamp cut across his chest and left his head in shadow. Felderman's eyes opened very wide as Tolefree produced from the pocket of his dressing-gown the revolver he had packed at Cannon Street. But he nodded his acknowledgment of the plan.
Taking his place behind the screen again, Tolefree raised his hand and dropped it, aimed the revolver at the mirror, went through the motion of firing, waited five seconds, stepped out and knelt by Felderman's side, caught up his right hand, placed the gun in it, closed the fore-finger round the trigger, and walked quickly to the door.
Felderman rose and restored the watch. He opened the fingers of both hands three times and of one hand once—thirty-five seconds.
Suddenly, Tolefree motioned to him to be still and bent his ear to the door. The slight sound he fancied he heard in the corridor must have been imaginary. It had no sequel. The house was dead quiet. Yet, for full assurance, he doused the light, eased open the door, and looked out—into blackness and stillness.
The door was closed again and the light on; once more Felderman lay down. Tolefree went through the same program, starting from the door, allowing the same number of seconds to elapse between the motion of firing and starting for the body to plant the false clue. The whole time occupied was thirty-two seconds.
He stood for a while, looking somberly at Felderman, put up his pistol, pointed to one of the chairs by the fireplace and took the other himself. They sat silent. There was not a sound in the house, nor did a sound reach them from without. Tolefree faced the door, kept his gaze upon it as intently as if it were a divining crystal for some minutes. They had acted quickly and so far as they could judge noiselessly; but Tolefree kept his eye on the door...
Over thirty seconds was too long a time. Any murderer who took more than thirty seconds must have been seen by Borthwick if not by Felderman. It was just possible that Thibaud, if he had both doors open, could have done it. But how did both doors get opened without noise that would have alarmed Lewisson?—unless Lewisson left his door wide open when he went into the room and walked to the table? No: if Thibaud came to an open door unobserved, Lewisson must have been looking at the table or the mirror. Then Thibaud's shot (or anyone else's who shot from the doorway) would have hit him in the back of the head. If Lewisson had become suddenly conscious of someone in the room, he would have swiveled round to the left, and the shot would have hit him in the forehead. Neither way would he have been wounded by a shot hitting him sideways on the right; and neither way would he have fallen as he did fall; nor would a shell ejected from a gun fired either from the doorway or from the screen have been found under Lewisson's body.
But there was the second shell...
Save for that second shell, Tolefree would then and there have come to the conclusion that Felderman's intuition was wrong, that whatever suspicions, if any, Lyneham entertained were unjustified, and that Miss Merafield knew less of the character and possibilities of Lewisson than she thought, or he had deceived her when he confessed to his whisky head.
But the second shell had to be explained.
The second shell was not compatible with suicide. For Lewisson, if he shot himself, did not fire more than one shell. He fired the last shell in the gun. Two shells were found, one of which came from the gun and was found under him and the other was found under the window where he stood, and was apparently ejected from the same gun. If so, Lewisson did not fire it. If it was fired in the room, where was the bullet?
Tolefree took the little brass cartridge from his pocket and handled it, while Felderman eyed his motions and his brooding face.
An empty shell meant a discharged bullet. But if he knew anything of the police, they had gone over this room with a small-tooth comb, and had there been a bullet they ought to have found it. Nevertheless, he would go over it again.
A murderer firing an automatic might miss with one shot and hit with the next. If he fired from a doorway the bullet might go through the open window. But it was almost certain that the bullet which killed Lewisson was not fired from the doorway, and there was no perceptible break in the explosive sound which had startled the household. To everyone who heard it, it sounded like one explosion reverberating about Old Hallerdon.
Tolefree rose, signing to Felderman to stay in his chair. He took his torch and went slowly round the room, squaring every yard of floor and walls. He examined the curtains. He considered the bed—lifted the coverlet, inspected sheets and blankets. It was unlikely that a shot fired at a standing man would hit anything below a height of four or five feet, but he made allowance for accidents. The survey of the room took some time, and it yielded nothing. There was neither bullet nor hole made by a bullet.
He pulled up at the writing table. For a table at which a frenzied mathematician had been working for several hours, it seemed remarkably neat and clean. The waste basket underneath was empty.
But Lewisson's calculations were to have been the basis of a report to Grymer: he would not have thrown them in the waste basket. He had not thrown them in, for Felderman spoke of seeing scraps of paper on the floor, spilled off the writing table, when he followed Borthwick into the room. The police? Or some tidy housemaid—?
Tolefree wondered, and, wondering, opened the table drawer. His nerves gave a jump. A neat pile of papers lay packed within. He removed a paperweight and picked up the top sheet. It was, like the rest, taken from the stationery box and headed with the embossed name of Old Hallerdon. Figures and algebraical signs covered it, all written in a bold black hand: doubtless some of the calculations Lewisson had been making on Sunday when Felderman had that vision of the mad mathematician in a nightmare.
He signed to Felderman, showed him the paper, picked up the bundle and ran through the dozen sheets—all perfectly unintelligible to him, with only a plain word or two here and there, such as Cylinder and Compression Ratio.
Then he came to the last one—and it was different.
Very different. Not the same paper, but a lined sheet torn from a book. Not the same bold hand, not the same black ink, not a figure or a sign on it, but a pencil drawing. Tolefree grasped Felderman's arm, for Felderman had made a startled motion. They stared at the paper for a full minute. Then Tolefree took his wallet and folded the sheet into it, restored the rest of the pile, packed it up as neatly as the housemaid had done, and closed the drawer.
He stood like a man in a trance, staring at the virgin blotting pad. How did Borthwick's drawing get among Lewisson's sheets of calculations? It was not a thing Borthwick would have been likely to do for Lewisson or to present to him: it had no concern with algebra, cylinders or compression ratios. Dropped accidentally by Borthwick in the room while he was kneeling by Lewisson? Packed up by the neat housemaid with the rest of the papers and put away in the drawer? If so, why had not the police seen it first? Or, if they had seen it, did it mean as little to them as to the housemaid?
Did it make the rest of Tolefree's own program meaningless? Or was it a pointer for him?
He turned from the table to Felderman. Nothing to do but to plod on...
His next step was an unforeseen experiment, not in the program: he whispered in Felderman's ear, switched off the light, pussy-footed to the window, and inched back the curtains. Then he placed Felderman once more on the spot where Lewisson had been standing before he fell. Felderman looked intently out of the window towards the library wing while Tolefree, placing the lens of the torch within half an inch of his head, pressed the switch and held it for a second.
"No!" whispered Felderman.
They stood in utter darkness. It was so silent that Tolefree could almost hear his own thoughts...
There was a point, obscure, remote—just a suggestion of a wild possibility of accounting for that second shell. It involved a theory that logic rejected—the theory of an accomplice—and it arose out of the process of elimination. As he had said to Felderman, if Lewisson was not shot by someone inside the house, and did not shoot himself, then he must have been shot by someone outside the house. It was difficult. How Lewisson could have been induced to lean out of the window so that he could be shot from below, or how that was to be reconciled with the times, Tole-free could not see. Unless Borthwick had lied...
That was the crux of this speculation—the bona fides of Borthwick. If he was in Lewisson's room before the shooting (as the dropping of that drawing might hint) and if he had an accomplice standing on the gravel walk below the window?
Tolefree did not believe it, but he wanted to make certain whether this far-fetched idea would or would not be exploded by the evidence of the one eye-witness he had. The only person who had actually seen the shot was Miss Merafield, to whom the flash came back in a reflection from the opposite windows. A point was there—vague enough now; but it might focus up to a crucial point.
So Tolefree plodded on...
Lewisson's room had yielded all that it had to tell him at present. He touched Felderman, standing by his side, and guided him to the door. There he waited, listening, with his hand on Felderman's arm, counting seconds up to sixty. All was quiet as the grave.
Tolefree opened the door and Felderman passed out, going on tip-toe to the landing. Tolefree closed the door inaudibly, leaving the key in the lock as he had found it in the afternoon. For the veriest fraction of a second he flashed his light on Thibaud's door. It remained fast shut. Then he in turn found his way to the landing.
Grymer's staircase was broad and solid and thickly carpeted. They reached the lobby without a creak. It took him three minutes to withdraw the bolts of the great door and open it wide enough to let a man through.
From the steps outside it was less than a dozen yards to the point below the window where Lyneham had picked up the second shell. They arrived there two soundless shadows.
Felderman whispered, "Pretty safe?"
"Looks so," Tolefree whispered back. "But—mum. It won't take ten seconds. Now!"
Felderman moved to the edge of the lawn and stood facing the library windows. Tolefree, placing himself back to back with Felderman, looked up and picked out the shape of Lewisson's window above his head. Again he took the torch. Aiming at the window, he flashed on and off. He caught his breath—
For him the ray illuminated in that mere instant the ancient wall, the mullions of the window—and between them a face. He stood as though petrified.
For Felderman the ray illuminated nothing, but its glow shone for that mere instant in the pointed windows of the library.
"Yes!" he whispered.
Then Tolefree surprised his fellow prowler. He said in his natural tones:
"Well, Felderman, shall we have one more turn and then go in?"—and marched straight down the gravel-walk towards the gardens. Felderman followed and overtook him.
"What's happened, Tolefree?" he muttered. "Thibaud's fooled us! He was in the window when I switched on."
"The devil!" exclaimed Felderman.
"Maybe," said Tolefree grimly. "All our splendid precautions! But there's a chance: possibly he didn't realize that I saw him—he'd be bothered by the glare of the torch. We shall have to put the best face on it we can—have a tale about heat and insomnia ready for the morning if it's wanted. But Mr. Thibaud's given us something to think about."
Long before morning, however, they had something else to think about.
They returned to the house quietly, but with no particular care now for secrecy. Tolefree fastened the great door and they went upstairs. He had no compunction about showing his torch. He lit the way with it. Pausing outside Lewisson's room, he put the beam on the two doors. They were closed. The corridor was empty.
They passed on. Felderman, ahead, opened the door of his own room—and immediately stepped back with a startled grunt.
The light was on. In the chair Tolefree had occupied an hour before sat Lyneham in his dressing-gown; leaning over the rail of the bed stood Sir Thomas Grymer in his. Both Felderman and Tole-free were bereft of words.
"Well, you two night-birds!" said Grymer, smiling at their astonishment. Lyneham said nothing, and he did not smile.
"Hello, Grymer!" Felderman responded. "What's up? You two like us?—find it too hot to sleep?"
But that, it seemed, was not the trouble.
"No—I'm a skillful sleeper, and so's Lyneham, eh? But you'd better tell 'em, Lyneham."
Lyneham looked at them with a measuring eye. "Where've you been, Felderman?"
"Oh, just for a turn outside. Tolefree—you're the culprit—"
"Afraid I am, Mr. Lyneham," said Tolefree, looking contrite. "I lured Mr. Felderman out. We'd been yarning in here and got the room full of smoke—"
"And no wonder—seeing that you had the window shut and the curtains drawn!"
Lyneham still had the air of measuring them. That was a bad break about the window; Tolefree didn't quite see how Felderman could mend it. But he was equal to the emergency.
"Shut!" he ejaculated, walking over and flinging back the curtains. "Well, I'm damned! No wonder!—as you say, Lyneham. But I could have sworn the window was open when I drew the curtains. Anyhow, it's a filthy hot night—not an air, even outside, is there, Tolefree?"
"Breathless," said Tolefree.
That, thought he, restores the moral of the Felderman-Tolefree partners. And he waited for their host or their fellow-guest to play the next card. Up to them to explain their presence in Felderman's room.
"Surprised to find us in possession?" said Grymer. "All the apologies. But Lyneham—"
They fastened their gaze on Lyneham.
"How long have you fellows been out?" he asked.
"What time—?" Tolefree looked at his watch. "Good Lord, Felderman!—do you know it's nearly an hour ago we went down?"
If either of their visitors knew they had been in Lewisson's room, Tolefree guessed he would be able to detect it then. He concluded that neither of them did know. Still, they knew something else which seemed likely to be even more embarrassing.
"What time did I wake you up, Grymer?" asked Lyneham.
"It was twenty to one—twenty minutes ago."
"Yes—and that was five minutes after I heard it, or less. Where were you fellows twenty-five minutes ago?"
"We've been strolling up and down the lawn since we went out," said Tolefree, obliquely, but with perfect veracity.
"See anyone? Hear anything unusual?"
"Not a soul—not a thing, Mr. Lyneham. Why?"
"I had a queer experience twenty-five minutes ago, that's all."
"Lyneham's been burgled, Tolefree," said Grymer. "What!—tonight?—twenty-five minutes ago?"
"About that," said Lyneham.
"And naturally he wants to know who burgled him, Tolefree." There was a gleam of amusement in Grymer's eye.
"Naturally," said Lyneham, with a frown. "You two don't know anything about it, I suppose? Not a country-house rag?"
"Whew!" Tolefree whistled. He shook his head. "However misplaced my sense of humor might be, I'm sure Mr. Felderman wouldn't stand for anything like that!"
"What the devil d'you mean, Lyneham?" Felderman asked, with a touch of anger.
"He doesn't mean anything." Grymer poured oil. "Woke out of his beauty sleep; he's peeved."
"Well!—coming down after a job like this and finding you two missing—"
"Of course—we understand," Tolefree remarked, with a glance at Felderman. "But we know nothing about it. If we could be told what the job was—"
"If it wasn't a silly joke, it was something pretty serious," said Lyneham, "and inexplicable at that. I was sound asleep—"
As Lyneham told his story Tolefree's mind worked quickly on the relation of times and facts, with a face in Lewisson's window before his eyes...
A noise woke Lyneham up. He switched on the lamp at the head of his bed and looked at the time. It was twenty-five minutes to one...
At twenty-five minutes to one, Tolefree and Felderman were in Lewisson's room, and he could fix what they were actually doing then, for when he took off his watch and handed it to Felderman he noticed that the time had gone half-past twelve. At the moment when Lyneham was disturbed they were making their experiments on the possible ways of killing Lewisson. It was between two of those experiments that he fancied he heard a sound—an indefinable sound, more like a vibration felt than an audible one, and dismissed it as a fancy. He believed they had been so silent that any external noise would have come to them: but he had to confess to himself that excitement about the experiments might have deadened his sensitiveness to other impressions for the time.
"What sort of noise?" he had asked.
Lyneham could not say. All he knew was that a noise woke him up; but as soon as he put his light on he heard a sound that he could identify: it was a quick, soft footstep, and it was in his dressing-room. In an instant he was out of bed and about to throw open the communicating door, but thought better of that. Instead he locked it, dashed out and approached the dressing-room at its own door in the corridor.
He had locked this one before he went to bed, and expected to find it still locked. If he could hear nothing, he meant to wake Grymer, who was sleeping close by—his room was on the other side of the landing—and concoct some way of trapping the intruder. To his astonishment he found the door not only unlocked, but not even closed. He pushed it open and put on the light.
Whoever had visited the room was gone. But someone had been there and done a bit of ransacking. The wardrobe door was open and a coat he had been Wearing in the day and had placed in the wardrobe before dinner was now hanging on the back of a chair. A suitcase had been opened and tumbled. "Anything gone?" Tolefree asked.
So far as he could tell from a look round, nothing. Certainly no money—for he had left no money in the room. No other valuables either. The most valuable thing there was a silver cigar-case, and that had been left untouched in the pocket of the coat.
"Not a thief, then," said Tolefree; "just a curious person."
"What d'you mean—curious person?"
"Somebody with a spot of curiosity about something he believed to be in your possession. Papers, perhaps?"
"Papers?—no, I don't carry important papers about with me on country-house visits."
"I suppose not—but the curious one might have imagined you did."
Lyneham stared hard at Tolefree.
"Now, why should you suppose that? Look here, Tolefree—if you've got an idea in your head, you'd better dig it out. Eh, Grymer?"
Grymer stared hard at Lyneham.
"If he has—yes. But I daresay it was a casual suggestion. Tolefree feeling round for a reason why anyone should burgle you—there must have been some reason."
Tolefree watched their faces closely while they made these exchanges.
"You're right, Sir Thomas," said he. "A casual suggestion—just the only theory that occurred to me. Mr. Lyneham's far more likely to have an idea in his own head."
"If he has it's going to stay there," growled Lyneham. "No damage done. I've no desire to burst up the party. Grymer evidently doesn't want it. Let it go!" He heaved himself out of his chair.
"The party?" said Tolefree. "Ah, yes—of course. I see."
"What the devil do you see?"
"The awkwardness of putting a name to the member of the party who burgled your dressing-room."
"It is awkward, isn't it? The party's a small one, now. In fact, most of it's in this room. If it's quite certain one of the party did it, the elimination of those who didn't would be easy enough. In fact, you may have eliminated them already."
"I haven't, and I don't propose to try," said Lyneham, emphatically. "Grymer's had trouble enough in this party of his already."
"Haven't quite got what Tolefree means, have you?" Grymer suggested. "I guess he's thinking we didn't come down here for nothing, and—well—"
"Oh, that?" Lyneham said, impatiently. "If he wants to be eliminated, so be it—and Felderman, too. You know yourself we thought it might be some practical joke when we found 'em missing."
"I wasn't worrying about what you thought of us, Mr. Lyneham, but about what brought you down here to Mr. Felderman's room—rather than to anyone else's, I mean. And you haven't said anything about the most mysterious part of the job—how the room you'd locked on the inside got opened from the outside."
"Better tell 'em all we did, Lyneham," said Sir Thomas.
"No!—I've done. Tell 'em anything you like."
"Still a bit peeved," said Grymer, laughing at his friend's grim face. "This is what we did, Tolefree. When he turfed me out, we went back to his dressing-room and found things just as he said. The door was open and the key inside it. Of course, we thought of the window. If a burglar got in that way, he might easily have escaped by unlocking the door—and you'd made it easy for him to get away by opening up downstairs. But the window wasn't the explanation—at least I can't think it was. It's a flat window in a high wall. No way there without a ladder, and there's no ladder on the premises that I know of long enough to reach up. We dismissed the window. It seemed as if somebody in the house must be looked for—"
"No doubt," said Tolefree.
"Well, on that floor the only other room occupied except mine and Lady Grymer's is Bigbury's. First we went along there. He might have done it for a rag, let's say. But we found that he hadn't locked his door. We looked in and made enough noise to rouse the seven sleepers, and he didn't stir. You've no doubt he was sound asleep, Lyneham?"
"None at all."
"Then we hurried down to this floor—"
"How long was that before we came in?" Tolefree asked.
"Not long—perhaps five minutes. We made haste. Lyneham took one side of the corridor and I the other. Thibaud's door locked. Tolefree's unlocked—and the room empty! That was Lyneham's first shock, and he hadn't got over it when I found Felderman's room open and empty, too, and went to look for him in Tolefree's. Second shock! We were just wondering whether to go and look for you two jokers as we thought when you came in."
"Well, Grymer," said Felderman, "you've rounded up the lot. And now—"
"Well, Felderman—and now, as Lyneham says—nothing. Let's forget it. Don't you think so, Tolefree?"
"It's up to Mr. Lyneham. If he has no arrière pensée—"
"About you and Felderman? Certainly not."
"Well, in that case Mr. Felderman and I will forget it, I expect. That is, if it will allow us to forget it. But an event without a consequence is a very rare thing. There's one point that isn't clear to me, though. You said you tried all the doors, but you didn't mention trying Lewisson's."
"Lewisson's! Good God!" cried Grymer.
"Lewisson's? What can you mean?" Lyneham demanded. "You don't suggest that the poor beggar's ghost has turned burglar, do you?"
"Wasn't thinking of Lewisson," said Tolefree, "but of his room. An empty room. A room where an intruder wasn't likely to be disturbed. An available room—for I noticed myself that the key was in the door. But it doesn't matter now. You didn't try it—and that's that."
Lyneham and Grymer gazed long at each other. "No—we didn't," said Grymer.
"We could go and look now," said Lyneham.
"You could. But you can bet that whatever purpose Lewisson's room served tonight, it's all over long ago."
"I suppose," said Grymer, "that when you two went out you left the big door open?"
"That's the deuce of it!" Tolefree answered.
When his visitors departed, Felderman went into the corridor with Sir Thomas. Lyneham seized the opportunity to hang behind for a moment and say in Tolefree's ear:
"Told Grymer about that cartridge case?"
"Not yet—haven't had a chance to get him alone."
"Why delay? No business of mine, of course, but so many funny things are happening—I think Grymer ought to know."
"You didn't think of mentioning it—?"
"What?—tonight?" said Lyneham. "No, I didn't. D'you think?—But never mind. It's more your pigeon than mine, isn't it? And I'm off tomorrow—don't want anything to keep me back. I love this place—but it's been a futile visit, and just a bit—er—annoying at the finish. You'd better do it...All right, Grymer, I'm coming."
"I shall tell him first thing in the morning. Good night," said Tolefree.
Felderman came in, closed the door and flopped into his chair.
"Fairly let you in for it tonight!" Tolefree apologized.
But Felderman needed no apology. He had never enjoyed a night out so much since his law student days—only he thought Lyneham seemed a bit above himself, "with his asinine notion that we'd behaved like two kids in a pillow-fight. These millionaires!" Tolefree thought Sir Thomas had the right word for it: Lyneham was peeved. Felderman dared say he was, but why didn't he go and blow off his peevery in the right place?
"As where?" asked Tolefree.
"Next door, of course."
"Thibaud? Ah—but neither of them knew as much about Thibaud as we do. They hadn't the privilege of seeing his face at the window."
Nevertheless, said Felderman, both Sir Thomas and Lyneham thought Thibaud a funny customer, and—"There's one thing I can't make out. How long d'you guess we were outside altogether?"
"Not more, if as much. Well—if Grymer and Lyneham were here in this room five minutes before we came in, they must have missed Thibaud by not more than a hair, don't you think? His door couldn't have been locked more than an instant before they tried it."
"Perhaps. But, as I said before, Thibaud's an elusive person. Suppose Thibaud heard us in spite of all our pussy-footing? Suppose he was on the qui vive all the time? Nothing easier than for him to dodge them—that is, if he was really Lyneham's burglar."
"If!" Felderman exclaimed. "Can you doubt it?"
"Say rather I don't understand it. Can you think of any reason why Thibaud should burgle Lyneham's room?"
"Not offhand—unless he's just a crook who couldn't resist the chance of having a go at a rich man's room."
But that was not Tolefree's idea of Thibaud. "Two or three objections to that," said he. "He doesn't strike me as that sort of crook. If he was, he'd have done a better job. He didn't steal anything. I think Thibaud was far more interested in what we were doing in Lewisson's room than in Lyneham's portable property. There's only one theory to account for the burglary if Thibaud did it, and that's a very distant possibility."
"Still, if it's a possibility—"
"Yes, Mr. Felderman, but one of those possibilities we shall never be able to turn into a certainty. It's this. Suppose that by some accident Thibaud saw or got to know of Lyneham's feat with the trout-rod, and what followed, and was vastly curious about that second shell, and believed Lyneham had it—"
"Good heavens, Tolefree! You've got it!"
"No, I haven't. I'm not a bit confident about it. And as I say we shall never find out. Moreover it doesn't matter now. We've got the shell and Thibaud hasn't. So I'm not troubling any more about Lyneham's burglar—or how he got through a locked door, which is the most curious thing of all. What I want is Lewisson's murderer. How much closer are we to him? You're accustomed to weighing up evidence and judging probability. I'd like to know what you made of those experiments."
Felderman joined the tips of his fingers and pondered the question. Evidence in the strict sense, he said, there was none at all.
"Except," Tolefree suggested, "one rather important piece of negative evidence—Miss Merafield's. If Lewisson shot himself, we have the best reason to suppose she couldn't have seen the flash. I held the torch four inches from your head. A suicide would certainly not have held his gun at a great distance. In all probability he'd have held it close to his head. But even if he had held it off in that way the flash wouldn't have been reflected in the windows of the library wing—for you saw no such reflection and my torch is brighter than the flame of a pistol. And if he held it against his head—no flash at all."
"Pass the question, Tolefree. Neither you nor I believe he shot himself."
"No—but ultimately we've got to convince other people that he couldn't have shot himself."
"You have, you mean. Well, psychologically everything's in your favor. To begin with, who can believe that a man of Lewisson's type carried a gun? Why should such a man go armed?"
"Unless, of course, his study of gases under pressure included the behavior of a pistol barrel—?"
"Yes, I agree. I don't believe it. Lewisson did not shoot himself. But also he wasn't shot by anyone standing in the doorway or behind the screen who escaped in the few seconds before you reached the room. It isn't feasible."
"What, then? From the outside?"
"Possibly. But it involves an accomplice."
"That might be."
"Yes. But it's not very easy. In fact, it's quite as difficult as the other. Undoubtedly the gun has to be planted in Lewisson's hand by someone who was in the room, and that someone has to escape. And, if Lewisson was shot as he looked out of the window, how did his body get where you saw it half a minute after?"
"Difficult, as you say." Felderman rubbed his chin. "Afraid I make nothing of your experiments, Tolefree. The only evidence is negative, as you said—and as to the probabilities, there don't seem to be any."
Tolefree felt for his pipe and pouch.
"May I?...We're being forced by the logic of circumstances in a direction you don't want to travel," he said, gently. "You don't want to disbelieve Borthwick."
He took from his pocket the sheet of ruled paper and unfolded it.
"Borthwick?" said Felderman, under his breath. "I've no special passion for Borthwick, but he didn't seem to me to be a villain."
"According to all I've heard of him, he wouldn't seem to me to be a villain, either. I'm not asking you to do more than consider the case. Put it this way: if the surface evidence hadn't so loudly yelled `Suicide!' and if the police had suspected for a moment that there was another solution, where would they have looked?"
"Borthwick was first on the scene. No one saw him leave his room. You thought you heard him, but you couldn't really swear it was he you heard. He was in Lewisson's room, or on the threshold when you got there. Now, if Borthwick shot Lewisson, the time difficulty is overcome. He has no intention to escape—and no reason for escaping. Suppose he's there when Lewisson comes from the bathroom. He can shoot him and plant the gun. If he's found kneeling beside the body—well, he's just arrived, that's all. But he actually has just time enough to do the trick and be found in the doorway—"
"Diabolical!" said Felderman, hoarsely.
"Murder nearly always is," said Tolefree. "Borthwick didn't seem to me a diabolical person."
"Very likely not. But we'll leave probabilities for the time and stick to the evidence such as it is."
"But, Tolefree!—if Borthwick had done all that, his fingerprints would have been all over the place—on the gun—"
"And the police proved that the only fingerprints on the gun were Lewisson's? I know. And there's no suggestion that Borthwick wore gloves? I know. But a handkerchief—and there you are! Obviously if Borthwick had any reason for wishing to kill Lewisson, he could have done it—or, at the very least, he had a better opportunity of doing it than anyone else."
"But there's your snag—the reason. What reason could Borthwick possibly have? An antiquarian highbrow—"
"Ah, yes—but is the highbrow theory tenable? Remember those little chats with Thibaud at dead of night. And Thibaud's visit to me. Remember also that Borthwick disappears an hour after the murder—"
"I do. He disappeared in a car arranged for him by Grymer beforehand, on business announced beforehand, and with the full consent of the police."
"All of which means nothing," said Tolefree, "supposing that Borthwick was the cool, skillful, calculating—what was it you said?—diabolical murderer that Borthwick must have been if he did this."
Felderman raised his eyebrows.
"Then," said he, "you've made up your mind that Borthwick's the man and Thibaud's in league with him?"
"Not a bit of it. All the probabilities are against it. I've made up my mind about nothing. I'm only trying to riddle something out of the evidence. And this"—he tapped the sheet of paper—"is one of the two puzzles that make it so hard to believe Borthwick's the man. The other's that second shell. Solve me them, Mr. Felderman, and you'll solve the whole problem."
Felderman took the paper and held it under the light of the bed-lamp. They looked at it together: a skillful drawing by a bold, rapid hand.
"Looks as if Borthwick was a genuine antiquarian all right," said Felderman.
Tolefree admitted that it did. "A lovely sketch. Banister-Fletcher himself couldn't have done better. See the wall and the three great windows of the library—freehand work, but how accurate! And done on Friday—"
He pointed to the signature in the corner: "5/7/35-A.L.B."
"A pretty piece of work, all that tracery," said Felderman.
"Indeed. But the most significant thing about it to me is that 'twas done in Lewisson's room."
"Eh? How d'you get that?" Felderman scrutinized the paper.
"Either Lewisson's room or yours. Calculate the point of view. The artist's got his focus not from the ground but from about the height of the spring of the arches. Hold it off and take the visual center... Eh?"
"Well, that's a bit beyond me," Felderman confessed; "but you may be right."
"I feel sure, Mr. Felderman. Now, having got Lewisson's permission, or taken French leave of yours, he did that drawing. Why did he leave it in Lewisson's room?"
"Unless he gave it to Lewisson—"
"Possible, of course; but we've agreed that they had nothing in common. Lewisson was apparently as much interested in Architecture as young Bigbury in Relativity. Anyway, poor Lewisson can't tell us and Borthwick isn't here. So we'll put it on one side. It may prove something later on. At present it proves nothing, but it suggests some hidden link between Borthwick and Lewisson or between him and Lewisson's room. The other puzzle's more vital—that second shell. Where was it fired, and where did it go?"
He extracted the little brass cylinder from his pocket and weighed it in the palm of his hand.
"Is the secret there?"
"May be," said Felderman. "But to get at it—" He shrugged his shoulders.
"To get at it, we find the bullet," said Tolefree.
"If it was fired in the room—yes. But you had a long look round and you found nothing. If you suppose the other thing—a shot fired up from the lawn at Lewisson looking out of the window, and it missed—deuce knows where the bullet went!"
"That's so. In fact, the accomplice with the gun outside is a tough proposition. Too tough, don't you think? You've got to have two men working to a time-table. Let's call 'em for the sake of argument Borthwick and Thibaud. At the moment when Lewisson enters his room, one of 'em's got to be inside with one gun and one of 'em outside with another. Who's the one outside? Must be Thibaud. If so, how did he get in again and deceive you into believing he'd just come from his bedroom? Not impossible perhaps—but wouldn't you say unlikely?"
"I don't think we need trouble about it. Another fact washes that theory right out. If any such thing happened, there'd have been a distinct interval between the shot that missed Lewisson and the one that killed him. You were asleep, it's true, and mightn't have noticed anything but a loud noise. Grymer may have been too far off to hear with certainty. Borthwick and Thibaud would have known exactly what happened, but wouldn't be available as witnesses. That would leave it in doubt. But we have a perfect witness—Miss Merafield. She was awake—eyes and ears both open. She saw the flash—one flash. She heard the noise—one noise. She called it a crash, a rumble, an explosion. I particularly asked her whether she could distinguish two shots. She couldn't. Plainly it was one rafale, not two explosions with an interval between."
"Must have been," said Felderman. "And then—?"
"Then we narrow it down to Lewisson's room and the people who could have been in Lewisson's room and got out in time. Or—stayed there."
"Borthwick!" said Felderman. "You come back every time to Borthwick. And he's—Heaven knows where by now."
"Yes, but if I'm not mistaken, knowledge of Mr. Borthwick's whereabouts is not confined to the celestial regions."
"Eh? What's that, Tolefree? D'you mean you could put your hand on Borthwick if you wanted him?"
"No; I know no more of Borthwick than you do." Tolefree slipped off the bed, put the shell in his pocket and stretched his arms. "Half past one," said he. "Bedtime?"
Tolfree went to bed. But not to sleep. His mind milled round and round while he watched the stars fade out and the silhouette of the wooded hill define itself against the sky, grinding on the question why he, Tolefree, having set out with a commission to find a missing man, should have been diverted by some obscure instinct to this ardent chase after the killer of a dead one. He had to come to grips with his suspicions—especially about the identity of Borthwick. And then? If he got evidence to confirm them, would he be any nearer linking Hudson's commission with the tragedy of Old Hallerdon? And even so, would it help him to point to a real suspect?
Probably not. The fact was that no solution of the puzzle could be reached until he had discovered the mechanism of this crime.
The mechanism—that was the point. How could this murder have been done and so completely camouflaged in the space of thirty seconds? The mystery was as dark as Lewisson's room.
He knew that no camouflage had ever been invented that could not be stripped off if the join was found. Was he to be beaten this time? Was he easier to deceive than that very astute person Hudson had believed?
Tolefree tossed and turned, his thoughts flying from Hudson in Watling Street to Borthwick in Old Hallerdon, from Florence Merafield's vision to Jane Jobling's letter. Half an hour of it. He groaned, threw off the clothes, and tumbled out of bed. He found Jane Jobling's letter in his wallet, sat down by the window, and for the first time since he left the train on Monday studied her essay on kitchen sinks and roses...
Useless—impossible. It led nowhere. It was a thousand miles from that haunting scene in Lewisson's room where Lewisson lay dead on the floor in a pool of pink light, surrounded by a crowd of people among whom almost certainly was his murderer.
Tolefree put away Jane Jobling. She must wait.
He went back to bed. The silhouette of the woods grew sharp, the sky brightened, the sun came up. He turned his back to the window and closed his eyes...
A little thud. Instantly he was wide-eyed again, staring at the wall, listening for more sounds. They came—sounds of slight and stealthy movement in the next room.
Thibaud was stirring...
Tolefree, with a cat-like movement, got his feet on the floor, reached for the gun in the pocket of his dressing-gown and crept to the door. With infinite precaution he opened it a crack and listened.
Thibaud must have opened his with precaution as perfect, for Tolefree did not hear a sound; but when, at the end of a long wait, he put his head into the corridor for the fraction of a second, his eye caught the flash of a gay-colored robe as it went round the corner towards the upper staircase.
Was Thibaud going to burgle Lyneham again—and in broad daylight?
A subtle ideal At half past four in the morning a house which had been awake so late would be sound asleep; no one would suspect the possibility of a second attempt so soon.
Tolefree did three seconds of quick thinking. He was not uninterested in Mr. Thibaud's expedition to the upper story and in any little thing Mr. Thibaud might wish to abstract from the possessions of a millionaire; but he felt a deeper interest in Mr. Thibaud himself. At the end of another three seconds he was inside Mr. Thibaud's room. Coming out again in twenty seconds more, he had a complete picture of the room on his retina. Silently turning into the passage to the bathrooms, he slipped into the nearest one and placed the door ajar in a position which gave him, through an inch of opening, a view of the landing. He waited.
It was no long vigil. Within five minutes Thibaud came in sight on the landing.
He looked backwards and upwards, listening; glanced down towards the lobby and along the passage towards Tolefree; then paused in the light of the stained window which lit the main staircase to take from the pocket of his robe a bundle of paper. He rustled through it, counted the pieces, inspected them, crammed the bundle back into his pocket. With a smile on his dark face he passed into the corridor towards his room and out of Tolefree's line of vision.
The real Monsieur Thibaud!
He did not become exactly an open book, but he had unwittingly rationalized his presence at Old Hallerdon. He was not there for engineering science. He was there for robbery. No ordinary sneak-thief, this, it was true. He had been exceedingly clever. Having failed by sheer mischance to get what he wanted from Lyneham's rooms at the first attempt, and being only just in time to escape detection, he had shown great aplomb in avoiding the noise and delay of unlocking his own door and in concealing himself in Lewisson's room, where no one was likely to look. He had been greatly surprised to find two men on the lawn below playing with a torch, but it seemed unlikely that he knew they had seen him in the window. His course was then clear: he had only to get back to his own room at leisure after Grymer and Lyneham had gone into Felderman's.
But the smartest thing of all was this early morning comeback. Only by accident of Tolefree's insomnia was Thibaud's second trip upstairs known to any person but Thibaud.
His curiosity about Tolefree now explained itself. If, possessing an extensive acquaintance with detectives, he had recognized or suspected Tolefree as a detective, he would be anxious to know what Tole-free had come to detect. If the mysterious death of the poor Lewisson, well and good; that didn't matter to him. His profound sympathy for poor Lewisson was just a cloak; he wanted an idea of Tolefree's habits and attitudes and he obtained it in the same way as he had learned Borthwick's.
But Tolefree had no great joy of his revelation. It meant that Thibaud had nothing to do with the murder of Lewisson. His pigeon was Lyneham. All the time spent in speculating upon his actions and his motives and in trying to find some combination of interest between him and Borthwick was time wasted.
At last Tolefree stole back, with the picture of Thibaud's room before his eyes and the two chief things in it:
A neat black case of burglar's tools open on the dressing table, with one or two empty places—now probably filled by the implements which had served to unlock Lyneham's door.
On the writing table evidence of the fact that he had expected no visitor in his absence—for he had left an open wallet and beside it two French banknotes of large denomination, upon which Tolefree had looked with great curiosity, since they were perfect twins, even to the point of series and number.
It was five o'clock. Tolefree got into bed. This time he went to sleep.
It was nine o'clock before he woke from a dream which, curiously enough, had nothing to do with Thibaud and Old Hallerdon, but all to do with Miss Jane Jobling. He had not actually seen her face, but she had been writing at the dictation of a person who said to her, "Well—Jane—that'll give that conceited ass Tolefree something to get on with, I guess!" and she had replied, "You bet it will!"
He was trying to get a good look at Miss Jobling's face, which was so extraordinarily elusive that she seemed to have no face at all, when a loud rapping disturbed him. Then he remembered that he was at Old Hallerdon and realized that someone wanted to enter his room. He called out a drowsy, "Come!" but the rapping continued until he was wide awake.
He had locked himself in against the contingency of a visit from Mr. Thibaud.
When he summoned up resolution enough to tumble out of bed, it was to open to Felderman, shaved and fully dressed and smoking a cigar.
"Hello!" yawned Tolefree.
"Going to have a late breakfast this morning?" said Felderman. "Not that it matters—but you're missing the chance of saying a fond farewell to our friend Thibaud."
"Eh?—the devil I am! Is he going?"
"Right now. Come across to my room and you can wave to him from the window. Thought you'd like to know."
Tolefree rubbed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair. "Not a secret flit, then?" said he, taking down the dressing-gown of which Mr. Thibaud so violently disapproved.
"No, sir!—far from that, he's being sent off in style."
From Felderman's window he saw the big car drawn up in the quadrangle beside the door. The footman put in bags. He stood with the car door open while Thibaud descended the steps and entered. Grymer came forward with Lyneham. In turn they shook hands with the departing guest.
"Gosh!" muttered Tolefree.
The door slammed. They stood back and waved their hands. The car slid away, turned the corner by the library wing and disappeared down the hill.
"Au revoir, m'sieu'," said Tolefree, turning to Felderman.
"And what about that?" said Felderman.
"I know nothing whatever about that." Tolefree's eyebrows were puckered.
"If Mr. Thibaud had anything to do with the death of Lewisson, he's getting away with it mighty easy, Tolefree." Felderman looked curiously at him as he stood tightening and loosening the tassel of his gown.
"There's something to tell you later on," he said slowly. "Weighing it up, though, I don't think Thibaud had anything to do with the death of Lewisson."
"But—what about Grymer and Lyneham shaking hands with a professional burglar and sending him off in a Daimler as if he were royalty?"
"Well, yes—in a sense. Some things make it hard to believe. But—"
"Hard to believe!" exclaimed Felderman. "I only wish you'd been at the breakfast table just now and heard the conversation about the burglary."
"Oh?—with Thibaud joining in?"
"With Thibaud as the Orator-General of the occasion, my dear sir—in fact the hero of the morning. It was just wonderful."
"Come in my room and tell me while I shave," said Tolefree.
Felderman, sitting in the window chair, described the scene in the breakfast room as Thibaud breezed in upon his host and Lyneham, already at work. When he had helped himself to his coffee, Grymer began in his quizzical way to inquire whether Mr. Thibaud had passed a peaceful night, or whether he'd been "disturbed by the burglar"—that was how he put it. Thibaud nearly choked over the piece of roll he was chewing.
"Then," he cried, "there was a burglar! I could have sworn it. But a burglar—one burglar?—are you sure it was not more?" Thibaud held up two fingers in an excited gesticulation.
Grymer said there had been no suggestion of more than one—a burglar who had got into Lyneham's dressing-room.
"There were two," cried Thibaud; "soyez-en sûr!—I saw them myself—I!"
And at once he began a narrative of his experiences which made up in liveliness what it lacked in veracity. It seemed that sounds in the corridor, stealthy footsteps, woke him in the middle of the night and he got out to investigate. He crept along to the staircase, and in the hall below saw someone flash a torchlight and heard the big door being opened.
Tolefree stood his brush on the table and looked round to Felderman, his face clothed with lather.
"Artistic liar!" he said. "We didn't make a sound."
"Nothing to make a song about," Felderman grinned. "When you started the first bolt it squeaked, say about as loud as a mouse half a mile away, Tolefree; it's what came after—"
Grymer had asked the obvious question, but found that Thibaud did not carry his investigations downstairs. He admitted it with perfect complacency: he had not chased the burglars. And why? Because he had not thought of them as burglars. Why should he think of burglars? This was very likely some member of the household or some guest escaping from the heat—he said it made a chaleur accablante, lid it not? pouf, pouf!—but he had the curiosity to go into poor Lewisson's room and look out of the window...
"He said that? Deuced clever!" Tolefree scraped the last spot of lather from his chin and turned taps in the wash-basin.
"Yes—wasn't it? Just in case we'd seen him. And this is where we come in, Tolefree—"
Thibaud, on looking out at the window, saw two men on the drive below. He could see them only vaguely, but their figures seemed familiar, and he came to the conclusion that Tolefree and Felderman were taking a little promenade to get a breath of cool air. Therefore he returned to his bedroom satisfied that there were no burglars. But if a burglary had really been done, of course he was mistaken, and, hélas! he allowed the burglars to escape. It was inexcusable. He could never expect to be forgiven—and so forth. Then he asked for details of the robbery and how it had been discovered and whether Mr. Lyneham had lost much. Lyneham said he believed nothing of importance had been taken—perhaps a few small notes from the pocket of a coat in the dressing-room, but he couldn't be sure. Anyhow it was quite trivial.
Nevertheless, said Mr. Thibaud, solemnly, burglary was a crime, and no doubt Sir Thomas had called in the police. His astonishment when he learned that Grymer did not propose to call in the police was something to behold.
"Mon Dieu!" said he, and asked what had become of the vaunted English respect for the law.
Then Lyneham said he had an important appointment in London for this evening and it was imperative that he shouldn't be delayed in the country by any petty thing—
"Ah,—les affaires!" said Thibaud; "les grandes affaires. I understand."
Furthermore, Lyneham said, Old Hallerdon and his friend Grymer had already experienced one unpleasant bout of publicity over the suicide of Lewisson, and two in a week would be excessive. Neither Grymer nor Lyneham said anything of their midnight visit to Felderman's room. It was plain that Lyneham hung on tenter-hooks about his own appointment ("Going to make another million tonight, I suppose," said Felderman) and he'd rather have had his last shirt stolen at Old Hallerdon than be detained to satisfy the curiosity of a local policeman. Grymer wasn't particularly interested, and let him have his own way. If Thibaud was a thief, he was probably glad to see the back of him.
"Ah," said Tolefree, toweling his face, "but if Grymer's not interested, I am. Did Thibaud announce his departure over the coffee and rolls?"
"No—it seemed to have been settled yesterday that he was going this morning—taken for granted."
Tolefree drew on his dressing-gown. "Settled beforehand, like Borthwick's, you notice," he said. "Felderman, whatever was the value of the notes Lyneham lost, Thibaud's got 'em. I saw him go for 'em. I saw him bring 'em back."
"You saw-!" Felderman's mouth fell open in surprise.
Tolefree told him.
"And he's off in the Daimler!" Felderman ejaculated. "Are you going to pass this on to Grymer?"
"Perhaps. I don't know. He mayn't want to have it raked over—"
"Perhaps not; but it might amuse him."
"Can't afford any time for amusing people. This is a set-back for me. What I want to tell Grymer is the tale of the second shell. I'm very anxious to see his reaction to that."
Tolefree had taken his bath and a belated breakfast. He had smoked a pipe in the yard where Mr. Bigbury was tinkering with his speed-beast. He had assured Mr. Bigbury that Froggy's sudden leap was not an irreparable disaster. He had seen Lyneham follow a footman upstairs to attend to his packing. He was talking with Grymer and Felderman in the hall. Felderman foreshadowed his own early departure. Grymer said he had come down for a week, and he meant to stay out the week, whatever the others did, provided that Tolefree would bear him company.
"If I could stay a day or two, Sir Thomas—I've hardly seen anything of the house," Tolefree smiled.
"That's a fact. You certainly won't be able to write Volume Seven unless you stay at least two days more. All these distractions—Frenchmen, speed-merchants, burglars and what not!...Did you know Tolefree had written six volumes on Tudor Architecture, Felderman?"
"No—but I wouldn't put any atrocity past him," said Felderman, rising. "I'm strolling down to the bridge to see what the water's like today. You two stay and talk."
"Well, Tolefree, what's the game? Can I know now?..." He sat with Grymer on the opposite side of the table in his little study. "You and Felderman are up to something. Felderman won't say what. It's evidently not the Frenchman. What is it?"
"No, Sir Thomas, it's not the Frenchman—at least I think not."
"I'm disappointed. I expected you to be more interested in the Frenchman, Tolefree. If you wanted to do a bit of detecting there was your chance."
"A chance, certainly. But I'm not at all sure Mr. Thibaud is my mark. If he was, I'd have suggested that, instead of lending him your Daimler, you should have telephoned to Inspector Braddock and had Mr. Thibaud questioned about the robbery in Mr. Lyneham's dressing-room."
"Oh, that?" Grymer's eyes twinkled. "A few pounds, or whatever it was—? Lyneham wouldn't hear of it. He'd rather lose a thousand than miss his appointment. Between you and me, Tolefree, Lyneham's out for bigger things. Somebody's going to part tonight."
Tolefree twinkled back. "High finance?—a hidden mystery to me. But that disposes of the Frenchman. You want to know the game? You haven't an inkling of it yet?"
"Not a spark. Unless it was the Frenchman, I'm hanged if I can see what you'd want to be chasing up."
Summoning all his powers of observation, Tole-free took a chance. He looked gravely and intently at Sir Thomas.
"I must be quite frank with you—even at the risk of insulting your hospitality. I come down in the first place to see Mr. Felderman and to discover whether Old Hallerdon can throw any light for me on a difficult commission I've undertaken. It's a private commission and I can't tell you anything about it. At Old Hallerdon I find a tragedy—apparently inexplicable. At once I begin to wonder whether it has any bearing on my inquiry. I conclude that it may have, though this is by no means certain—"
"How the deuce-!"
"Have patience, Sir Thomas. The case is this—that if your man Lewisson committed suicide—"
"If—! What are you suggesting, Tolefree?"
"If he committed suicide, then his death has no bearing on my job. But if he did not commit suicide, the manner of his death may have everything to do with my job. I am not satisfied that Lewisson did commit suicide."
"You!—but how could you know anything about it?"
Tolefree went on disregarding questions. "More than that, I'm now positive that he did not. I have proved to myself that it was impossible for him to have committed suicide."
"Good God!—and you tell me that seriously?"
"Then who?—and how?—but it's fantastic!"
"Difficult, I admit—but fantastic's too big a word. And it's not really so difficult to believe Lewisson didn't kill himself as to believe he did. You yourself didn't think he was that sort of man. I listened carefully to your evidence at the inquest—"
"Yes, yes—but if a man's driven off his head by pain or illness—"
"Did you ever know a man commit suicide because he'd had one over the eight two nights running? What happened to Lewisson was just your whisky."
"He confessed it to Miss Merafield. That was his trouble on Sunday. His excitement over the dispute with Thibaud aggravated it. And then you made a fuss about him—actually sent for a doctor! A fellow with his head disintegrated by alcohol wasn't likely to feel too good-tempered about that, you know. The long and short of it is, Sir Thomas, that Lewisson didn't shoot himself. He was shot. Who shot him and how he got away with it I don't know. I've thought of two possibilities, but they don't satisfy me. Felderman and I were trying them out last night—"
"Felderman! He knows—?"
"Yes—and I think Lyneham has an idea. You'll see that I couldn't help taking Felderman into my confidence. Indeed, Felderman had suspicions from the first—nothing to go on, but a general sense of the improbability, on the face of it, that Lewisson would kill himself just to clear the way for Mr. Thibaud. Won't you come into consultation with us? I guess that if Lewisson met his death by foul play you'll be keen to see the thing through?"
"You frighten me, Tolefree," Grymer declared. "But—! if this is true I'll not rest till we see it through, however long it takes and whatever it costs."
"Fine, Sir Thomas. A hard row to hoe, but we've made a bit of headway. Here's a thing the police didn't know when they plunged on suicide." He pulled the little brass shell from his pocket. "The police had heard of only one shot. But there were two. This is the shell of the second. Mr. Lyneham and I found it on the drive underneath Lewisson's window."
Grymer bent over Tolefree's hand.
"You know, Tolefree," he said, raising his eyes from the shell, "it's a queer thing that while I haven't had the faintest notion of all this, you and Felderman and Lyneham should—but then I expect you put it into their heads."
"I think not. Both of them evidently had reserves about the suicide story from the first. But if you'll give me a little time this afternoon we can open things up."
Grymer looked at his watch. "Very well. Meanwhile Lyneham's probably ready to go."
In the hall, Lyneham was talking to Lady Grymer. His car waited outside. Felderman came in from his walk. The adieus began. Lyneham seized a moment when Tolefree was standing by Grymer to say:
"Has Tolefree told you about that shell? Yes?—ah, good. Most suggestive, don't you think? I'd like to know if it has a sequel. Rather afraid it must have, Grymer."
"All right, Lyneham. The news staggered me, but I'll tell you if anything comes of it. See you in town next week."
The big car then reduced Grymer's house-party to two.
Luncheon was laid at a small table. It was restful, said Lady Grymer, after several meals with Mr. Thibaud. That gallant representative of the French nation had amused her greatly, but she found him rather wearing. No one, however, communicated to her the richest joke of Mr. Thibaud's brief career at Old Hallerdon, and she small-talked to her heart's content. Mr. Tolefree didn't seem to her to have done any serious archaeological exploration at Old Hallerdon yet. He promised to begin that afternoon.
Grymer's reaction to the story Tolefree had to tell him of Thibaud's second raid on the upper story was unexpected. He was more than amused: he was tickled to death. The audacity of the idea, the picture of the popinjay flitting about a silent house in the early morning sunshine, Tolefree's peep-hole in the bathroom, the whole conception of the entertainment of a professional sneak-thief at Old Hallerdon, and the impudent fellow's identification of Tolefree and Felderman as the two burglars—it all struck some comic nerve in Grymer. He laughed till he cried. His peals of mirth rang through the library where they were standing. And this was the fellow Tole-free had let slip away in style in a Daimler!
"It strikes you funny, Grymer?" said Felderman. "It's not really so funny, is it, having a crook in a house-party—especially for his victims?"
"Oh, but my dear fellow!—what's a five pound note, or whatever it was, to Lyneham? And the mountebank was worth it."
"Unless what, Felderman?"
"Unless the mountebank counted for something in the Lewisson affair."
Grymer's face became grave.
"Ah—but I can't imagine it. Tolefree thinks not. But of course, if he did—"
"I don't see Thibaud as a gunman," said Tolefree. "It's not in character. But it might be useful, Sir Thomas, to know exactly how he came to Old Haller-don and why. That is if, as we may suppose, his ostensible reason was really sheer pretense. And there's another person excites my curiosity—Borthwick."
"Ah, Borthwick? He was thrilled with his visit—especially about the old windows. Come up to the gallery and have a look at those fellows fitting the glass. It's interesting."
Grymer led the way up a circular staircase in the corner of the hall. The gallery, supported on oak corbels, ran clear around the building and gave a new perspective of the interior. The windows on the quadrangle side were finished. Men were shaping and fitting small pieces of stained glass of glowing color into the pattern of those on the paddock side. They passed round and stood in one of the book alcoves.
"A good place to talk about Borthwick," said Grymer. "He just loved this. You want to know about him? Well—I met him at the Club. I never talked to a cleverer man. He's a walking encyclopaedia—"
Tolefree started and covered his start with a smile.
"That's not an exaggeration. He knows something about everything—and especially about old architecture."
"A genuine antiquarian, then?"
"But, my dear man, much more than that! A fellow of infinite variety. Last week when I met him at the Club he seemed to know as much about Old Hallerdon as I did, and as Lyneham and Felderman were coming down I asked him to join the party. That's how Borthwick came to Old Hallerdon."
Tolefree reflected. "And Thibaud?" he asked.
"Ah, Thibaud—he was an accident. The day before I came down—last Thursday—Thibaud called at my office in London with an introduction from an eminent engineer in Paris, asking me to consider the invention the young man was putting up. He seemed respectable—anything but a crook to look at, you'll admit?—so on the spur of the moment I suggested that he should come down here and I'd get Lewisson from Manchester to look into his ideas. I wired to Lewisson, and they arrived, on the same train by chance, on Friday. That's how the party got established, Tolefree."
"Yes. I see. So Thibaud was an accident? I didn't tell you, Sir Thomas, that the first night I was here, Thibaud paid me a visit in my room—"
Grymer stared. "Not a surreptitious visit? Don't tell me he tried to burgle you, too, Tolefree!—that would be too comic."
"Much too comic. No—he didn't want my property. He just wanted to look me over. I must be a complete failure as a detective. Thibaud saw through me at once."
"That's not true, Tolefree. But I suppose something else is—that Thibaud was suspicious of any newcomer who might be here to upset his little scheme."
"Possibly," said Tolefree. "But the sole subject of his concern that night was the fate of Lewisson—le pauvre Lewisson! And he took care to impress on me, without explaining it, that he was responsible for the death of poor Lewisson."
"Good heavens!—what did he mean?"
"What you've just said makes that clear. He meant that if you'd not invited him to Old Hallerdon, Lewisson wouldn't have been here, and presumably that if he hadn't come here Lewisson would still have been alive."
"But did he suggest—what you're suggesting?"
"Oh, no—on the surface he accepted the theory that Lewisson committed suicide. What Mr. Thibaud thought in private only Mr. Thibaud knows. I have an idea, without any evidence for it, that Mr. Thibaud would be of my opinion. But he'd come to Old Hallerdon with an eye on Lyneham, and Lewisson from his standpoint was an irrelevance."
"I suppose that's true, but I can't see through it, Tolefree. His letter of introduction seemed genuine enough. What d'you think, Felderman?"
"What Tolefree thinks. The letter—well, a clever crook won't be held back by the need for a spot of forgery. I myself saw in some paper days before that the great financier, Lyneham, would spend the weekend at Old Hallerdon with the chairman of Applewhites—with the customary speculations on what two such leaders of finance and industry might be cockering up between them. It was quite open to Thibaud to see the same thing, and lay his plans accordingly."
"Well, it all seems too elaborate for me, that's all," declared Grymer. "Now, Tolefree, you've started a hare that may bolt into queer places, eh? What do you want me to do?"
"Give me the run of the house," said Tolefree, "Lewisson's room and all. Don't take any notice of what I do, and if Mr. Felderman and I are found under suspicious circumstances again, put the glass to your blind eye."
"That's easy. The place is yours. But what you're going to discover I can't give a guess. The police went over everything—"
"Yes, Sir Thomas. But they did it with a suicide complex. I'm going to do it with a murder complex. And the first thing I'm looking for is the bullet fired from the shell I showed you. Here's a case where I can't look for motive. To all appearances, the crime, if it was a crime, was a motiveless piece of brutality. My only chance is to find out how it was done. Then I think I shan't be far off knowing who did it."
"Well, good luck and God bless you! You can begin at once, Tolefree. Lady Grymer and I are going to tea with the Merafields at Hallerdon. Wire into it. Lewisson's room first? We can go this way."
He led them round the gallery to the northern end, where a door gave on to a little passage conducting to the landing. Thence he mounted to the second story and left them to their devices...
This was the first time Tolefree had seen Lewisson's room by day, with the sun pouring in through the three open leaves of the broad window and revealing the whole of it at once. He brought in the key and locked the door, invited Felderman to sit, and himself stood looking into every corner before he began to move round the room.
"Well, Felderman," he said, "we've agreed that the second shot wasn't fired outside. Therefore—in this room."
"That seems certain," replied Felderman, between the first two puffs of his cigar.
"If so, unless it was fired through the window, the bullet is here. If it's here, I'm going to find it. It wasn't fired into the wall. We saw that last night. It wasn't fired into the bed. I can't see a fracture in any piece of furniture. But we'll go all over it again..."
But hardly had he started before something brought him up with a sharp exclamation of surprise. Stooping, he picked something up from the floor underneath the dish; picked it up carefully with his handkerchief and held it out to Felderman.
"Good God!" muttered Felderman. "Another shell! But what—how..."
"I think I can throw some light on this," said Tolefree slowly as he studied the empty shell in his hand. "It's another .38, of course. From what gun?" He shrugged. "Who knows? But I can tell you how it got here. It was planted here last night—for me to find. We thought our friend was being clever admitting that he was in Lewisson's room last night; he was being far cleverer than we knew. He wanted to make sure that I would know it was he who left this here. But why? Does it make any sense to you, Felderman? And where did he get it?"
"I have an idea where he got it, Tolefree," said Felderman, his brow wrinkling in concentration. "You remember that when Thibaud appeared after the shot, he brushed past me and bent over Borthwick's shoulder? A rather curious position, perhaps. Why shouldn't he have gone over to the other side of the body if he really wanted to look? But if he wanted to pick something up, something he saw on the floor as he brushed past me into the room?"
"Possibly," admitted Tolefree. "He was behind Borthwick, you say, so Borthwick wouldn't have seen what he was doing, and his body was between you and—But why did he want it, Felderman? That's the question."
"M'm, yes," said Felderman. "And if he did want it then, why does he want it no longer? Why leave it here for you to find? If he wanted to give it to you at all, why did he wait until now?"
"There might be any number of reasons," Tolefree mused. "Perhaps he didn't want too many questions asked. He's away now, and safe. Or, perhaps he hadn't quite made up his mind about me until now. He must have heard us go into Lewisson's room, and perhaps that somehow settled the problem for him. When he saw us walking outside and flashing the torch, he knew that we had not finished with our experiments. He dropped the shell, confident that we would return and find it. It's meant to tell us something, Felderman—but what?"
"And now we have three shells," said Felderman grimly. "And still only one bullet."
"Yes," said Tolefree, "but there must be more. We'll go all over the room again."
In ten minutes he had it. The last piece of furniture in the room, in its obscurest corner, was the low soft chair in the angle behind the dressing table. A thick loose cushion was tucked between the seat and the back, crammed as if with the weight of a sitter. Tolefree picked it up, uttered an exclamation, and bent down to look at the material of the chairback. Then he examined the cushion.
In one of the folds was a tiny hole—easily missed, and it might have meant nothing save for the corresponding hole on the other side through which some fragments of feathers protruded. The chair was covered with a brocade, patterned in dull colors. An inconspicuous split an inch long marked the entrance of the bullet.
Felderman looked where Tolefree pointed. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed.
Tolefree probed with his penknife. The speed of the bullet, deadened by the feathers, had carried it not more than an inch into the stuffing of the chair. It came out immediately.
Tolefree rolled the cube in his hand and looked it over attentively. It was intact. He placed the shell beside it. No distortion, but there was some expansion: its base would not go into the brass cylinder. Still, it was a .38 bullet. There was no doubt.
"Astonishing thing, Tolefree!" Felderman pointed to the chair. "How the devil did a shot get down there?"
But Tolefree could not answer that. He stood studying cushion, chair, bullet and shell.
If Lewisson had by some mischance fired a premature first shot it would not, within three yards of him, have hit a mark not more than eighteen inches from the ground. And not the worst marksman in the world, firing at Lewisson's head, would have hit that spot in the chair. A man firing at Lewisson from the door could not have hit the chair at all. Nor could a man firing from the screen, for from that point the chair was hidden by the mirror on the dressing table.
"Was it fired from outside after all?" Felderman mused.
"My dear Felderman! How?"
"Some means of climbing to the window? Perhaps a ladder?"
Tolefree shook his head but went to the window and looked-down.
"A sheer wall—nearly twenty feet, I guess. No means of climbing. A twenty-foot ladder is a heavy thing to handle. No—not practicable. Also, if you stand where Lewisson fell and I fire at you from here and miss you, I shall hit the wall behind the bed. To hit the chair I should have to lean into the room and fire round the corner to the right. And, to clinch it, that bullet went in at an angle I couldn't make from here. The chair may have been moved, though—"
Tolefree went to it and tipped up the front legs.
"No. See the depressions in the carpet? A big, heavy chair—only place in the room for it—been there a long time. We must rule out the window, don't you think?"
"But we ought to be able to gauge the point from which the shot was fired. This hole in the stuffing slopes downward. Wait a minute—"
He took his fountain pen, placed it carefully in the aperture and held it.
"Get the line of that, Mr. Felderman. Where does it go?"
Felderman kneeled and took a sight.
"If you extended the line from the end of the pen it would reach the picture rail to the right of the screen, just over the chair by the fireplace."
"Well," said Tolefree, "it wasn't fired from the picture rail for certain. Hold the pen like that. Now, if I stand here where Lewisson stood, where does the line pass me?"
"I should say it passes the second button of your waistcoat."
"Yes. And it's a twister. Let's think it out. Is one more shot going to put us back where we began, Felderman? Must we start a fresh hare altogether?"
Tolefree took one of the chairs by the fireplace. Felderman handed back the pen.
"Not much light, is there?"
"About as much as you'd get from a lump of coal in a dark cellar. And yet, you know, I've a sort of feeling that the whole secret's here—" He contemplated the bullet and the shell. "Looks after all as if Lewisson fired that shot. He was standing near the window and the shell may have been thrown through."
"But why should he fire at the chair?" Felderman asked.
"Ah, yes—and when? If he fired that first shot, he must have fired the other. That would blow up all our hypotheses."
"And then? If the evidence is against a hypothesis, you don't want to keep it going, Tolefree?"
"Of course not, but it's puzzling. If Lewisson fired this bullet, our only eye-witness blows up, too. It would not have made the reflection Miss Merafield saw."
Tolefree frowned at his trophies. Felderman puffed up his cigar.
"Never struck a deader end," said Tolefree. "All the same there must be a way through. No effect without a cause. I'm going after that eminent antiquarian, Mr. Borthwick. You know, Felderman, I think we'll say nothing about this third shell yet—even to Grymer. There're enough hares in the pot already."
Tolfree was indeed baffled. He had accumulated facts at a great rate, but no fact seemed to get him forrader, and this last fact of all actually turned him back. There was no rational explanation of the direction or the lodgment of the bullet.
"Get after Borthwick right away!" said Tolefree to himself. "Get him defined. Materialize the simulacrum. See whether Borthwick had a dual personality. Discover whether you have met Mr. Borthwick in another character."
But it was easier said than done. The man who knew most about Borthwick was Grymer himself. If Grymer was telling the truth that most was very little. If he was telling something else it would be beyond Tolefree's power to make him tell the truth.
He looked at Felderman, seated a few yards from him in a deck chair on the lawn with a book in his hand. The book had declined to Felderman's knees. Felderman was asleep.
Tolefree walked into the house, said to the footman in the hall, "I'm going to telephone," and shut himself in Sir Thomas's study. Ten minutes later he was speaking to his friend Farrar in Moorgate Street.
"...Well, it's a jolly place and I'm learning all about the architecture of the Tudor Renaissance. But I didn't spend half-a-crown on a call to talk to you about the Sixteenth Century. Did you ever meet in that West End pot-house of yours a fellow called Borthwick?"
"There is a Borthwick," came Farrar's voice from a long way off. "Never spoke to him. He's not much in the Club. A great traveler, I've understood. He's been pointed out to me. Why?"
"I want a bird's-eye view of him—appearance, status, profession if any, age, reputation, address, and so on. When was he last in the Club? And, oh—whether he's friendly with the famous Ronald Hudson. And particularly whether he's in London now. Could you?"
"What's the idea, Tolefree?"
"That's the idea—could you?"
"I'll call there on the way to Manchester Square if you like and see what I can dig up."
"Good! Then ring me here. I'll give you the number...What time, about? After dinner? Well, say nine..."
Felderman still slept when Tolefree went out into the sunshine again. As he stood contemplating the pleasant picture of a middle-aged lawyer with an expression of innocence and beatific content on his relaxed features, the footman came to announce a call for him. Tolefree went back.
Not Farrar, of course. Decidedly not. A clear feminine voice—Miss Merafield. She had something to tell him. Yes—about the subject of their pow-wow last night: he had sworn her to say nothing to anyone but him—
"And don't tell even me over the telephone," said Tolefree. "Are Sir Thomas and Lady Grymer there?"
"At the vicarage, with uncle. I'm—somewhere else. I've got my motor. If you walk towards the top of the hill on the Hallerdon road, I'll meet you. This is something you ought to know..."
Still Felderman slumbered as Tolefree walked past him down through the gardens—over the bridge, up the hill between the woods.
Near the top he saw a motor-bicycle propped on its stand by the roadside, and a motor-cyclist leaning over the gate where he and Lyneham and Felderman had watched the funeral procession of poor Lewisson. The rider turned at the sound of his footsteps.
"Miss Merafield!" he exclaimed.
"Delighted," said Tolefree.
She was breeched and equipped in the style of a Brooklands record-breaker. Her dark hair was bunched under a beret. She was like a far too handsome boy.
"Delighted," Tolefree repeated, as he stopped beside her.
"Well—you don't look it," she said candidly. "You look exactly like the vicar's churchwarden when I ride past his gate—respectful but distinctly disapproving."
Tolefree confessed to the respect but denied the disapproval.
"Anyway," said she, "but for my little bike I'd not have seen what I did see this morning. If you'll jump up behind, I'll take you where I saw it."
Tolefree looked with some misgiving at the exiguous pillion seat that this modern Diana invited him to occupy.
"Is it necessary?" he asked.
"You'll find it interesting, I expect," said Miss Merafield, pushing her bicycle off the stand and bestriding it. Tolefree perched himself.
"Hold on tight!" she called as she kicked the machinery into life, and in a moment Tolefree found himself flying up the hill disrespectfully grabbing a belt round Diana's waist. Whether the journey was faster than it would have been in the bowels of Mr. Bigbury's speed-beast he could not say; it was certainly noisier and more breathless. It led by a narrow lane to the main road between Newton and Old Hallerdon. At the point of junction Miss Merafield brought her machine to rest.
"Fine!" said Tolefree, in the thrill of a first experience.
"Must go slow in these twisty lanes," she apologized, putting up the bicycle. "Well, Mr. Tolefree—it was here."
"Yes?—and what was it?"
"It was Mr. Thibaud."
Tolefree checked the exclamation she evidently expected.
"That's very interesting," he said. "You must have been abroad early to see Mr. Thibaud pass."
"But I wasn't early and he didn't pass. I shouldn't have taken much notice—in fact I didn't, till just now when I heard Sir Thomas tell uncle that Mr. Thibaud left Old Hallerdon for London at nine o'clock this morning. Then I guessed you might like to know he was on this spot at noon."
Tolefree looked at her admiringly. She found a packet in some recess of her garments, offered it to him and took a cigarette herself.
"I do," said he. "I like very much to know it. If I could also know what Mr. Thibaud was doing here—?"
"Actively, nothing. Passively, he was sitting in a car drawn in here close to the hedge and staring in front of him. Coming back from the town, I whizzed round the corner and nearly ran into him."
"He was facing the main road?"
"Yes—here on this spot, drawn up on his wrong side. If I'd killed him it would have been his fault, the road-hog!"
"Did you stop and tick him off, Miss Merafield?"
"No: I went on."
"D'you think he could have recognized you?"
"Pretty sure he didn't. I judge by his expression. Not Mr. Thibaud the gigolo—just a man absorbed in something, scared out of his wits by the intrusion of a thug on a motor-bike."
Tolefree laughed. "And what did the thug do?"
"Went on two hundred yards and left the bike and came back within sighting distance—just at that last bend."
"Yes—?" said Tolefree expectantly.
"The car was still here and Mr. Thibaud sitting in it. A big saloon came along the main road going towards Newton and passed the junction. Then Mr. Thibaud started up his engine, moved out of the lane, and drove off towards the town as well."
"Immediately after the big car had passed?"
"M—m!" said Mir Merafield.
"Did you know the big car?"
"No—just a flash past the opening. Couldn't see anything but a big black saloon. Does it mean anything to you? Or am I fussing about nothing?"
"Invaluable," said Tolefree. "It may mean a lot. What it means I can't say, but we could speculate. Thibaud said his fond farewell to Old Hallerdon just after nine and was driven to Newton in one of Sir Thomas's cars to catch the morning train. I saw him go. I saw the car return. So we can take it for granted that he went to Newton. But, instead of taking the train for London, he got hold of a car and came back here to wait in ambush—"
"Ambush? Golly!" Miss Merafield's dark eyes sparkled.
"What sort of car was it?"
"Small saloon—Citroën, I think."
"French, then? That's suggestive! The big car that passed the opening was Mr. Lyneham's. Guess at the meaning of the ambuscade when I tell you that Thibaud tried to rob Mr. Lyneham by forcing an entry to his dressing-room just after midnight and failed, and this morning he tried again and succeeded."
"Golly, golly, golly!" said Miss Merafield, and hugged herself with excitement.
"Couldn't have succeeded well enough, since he's still on Mr. Lyneham's tail. But my affection for Mr. Thibaud's cooled off. He was after money, not blood. And it happens to be blood I'm interested in just now."
"So I've wasted your time!" she said ruefully.
"Not a bit of it. You've helped me to get two birds with one barrel. I wanted to see you very much—to ask you again about what you heard on Sunday night. You couldn't have mistaken it if there'd been two shots at an interval of a second or so, could you?"
"Don't think so. No—I'm sure. One loud roar and then dead silence."
"Because there really were two shots—one in addition to the shot that killed Mr. Lewisson—and I can't make out when the extra one was fired. This way—"
Tolefree told her of the discovery of the third shell and the search for the second bullet. "That's between us," he said, "not for general discussion. You won't mention it?"
"Cross my throat!" said Miss Merafield, with a schoolgirl gesture.
"The next bird's Sir Thomas. Could you give me a lift to the vicarage?"
In consideration of the churchwarden's feelings, Tolefree dismounted at some distance from the vicarage and walked past the village inn and through the village street. By arrangement with his Jehu, he gave the Canon no hint of the manner of his arrival. He contrived to get Grymer aside.
"You probably have some influence with the police, Sir Thomas—"
Grymer stared at that. "Queer thing to say. No—I shouldn't think anyone has any influence with a man like Braddock. He's not built that way."
Tolefree stared in his turn. "Of course not. I don't mean improper influence. But you could probably persuade the police to do you a service—quite a little thing. What happened to the exhibits at the inquest?—you remember Braddock produced Lewisson's gun, the bullet that killed him and the shell found on the floor. I particularly want to see them. The police have accepted the suicide. They aren't going into the case further. No reason why they shouldn't hand over the things to a representative of their owner, is there? Can you do it?"
Grymer looked shrewdly at Tolefree and drew him out through Canon Merafield's window on to Canon Merafield's lawn.
"So," said he, "you've found something, Tolefree?"
"I've found the bullet that came from that second shell."
"Ah—where?" Grymer exclaimed.
"In Lewisson's room. It puzzles me. Can't make anything of it unless I see Lewisson's gun. I hope you'll help, Sir Thomas. I feel sure the police won't object—"
"All right, Tolefree. I'll help. But there's no need to go to the police. Braddock handed the whole lot over to me and I have it at home. You can go back with us directly and I'll turn it all over to you."
Tolefree said he would prefer to start now and walk to Old Hallerdon. He wanted to think.
Grymer looked skeptical. "The fact is," said Tolefree, "that the Canon threatened just now to get right back to the Early English style, and I'm afraid of being taken to church if I stay. I hoped you'd make my apologies."
Grymer laughed. "For the author of six volumes—" he began.
"Ah, but my researches don't reach back further than the Renaissance, you remember."
"All right—get along; we shall be home in an hour."
The Grymers did not prove as good as Sir Thomas's word. They were not home in an hour, and in fact had not arrived when the dressing bell rang. Tolefree was then sitting with Felderman in the hall and had told him of Miss Merafield's adventure. They went up together before the car came.
Then an accidental discovery gave Tolefree a fierce jolt. Releasing his dress coat from a hanger in the wardrobe, he must have given an extra strong tug, for the shelf from which the hanger depended tipped and some heavy thing clattered to the floor with a terrific racket. Having got the coat out on to a chair, Tolefree stooped to see what he had dislodged.
Moving his shoes at the bottom of the wardrobe, he stared at a grim-looking blue-black automatic pistol.
He stared for several seconds without touching it. He examined the shelf—stood on a chair and looked at the top of it. The space was clear. The gun must have been resting in the corner at the back against the wall.
Stepping across the corridor, Tolefree called Felderman, told him what had happened, and pointed to the weapon. Felderman jumped back.
"Good God!—Borthwick!" he exclaimed.
Tolefree took a clean handkerchief from his dressing-table drawer, picked up the gun, and carried it to the window. Watched by an excited Felderman, he examined it, still holding it in the handkerchief. It reproduced exactly the description of the gun found in Lewisson's hand. He laid the gun on the dressing table.
"What's it mean, Tolefree?" Felderman muttered. Tolefree shook his head slowly.
"Borthwick? He slept in this room," said Felderman. "But—why the deuce he left that here—"
"I can see a reason why he might have left it here," Tolefree answered. "Not that it's the strangest thing the gun suggests. But, if he did leave it, it might be because he couldn't take it away."
"I don't get you."
"If you'd shot a man, Felderman, and you knew the police would be called in immediately, and you reflected that one of the things the police might do would be to search for weapons—"
"I see—yes—but why should I? I mean if the man I shot had a gun in his hand?"
"I think you would. You'd not be taking any chances—if you'd shot a man with that gun. You'd grab the first opportunity of making sure no weapon was found on you. Naturally. You might just skip into your own room when the coast was clear, and have a guess at a place where it would be fairly safe. And that might very well be the dark corner above the shelf of the wardrobe. You'd be in a hurry. You'd have to chance your arm—you might risk that."
Felderman stepped to the wardrobe and saw that the shelf was above his head.
"Well, if I did, when I was leaving, shouldn't I make sure that I didn't leave that eviden..e behind me?"
"Undoubtedly—if you could."
"Then, why didn't Borthwick?"
"Our friend Thibaud might have a theory about that, don't you think? Remember that when Mr. Borthwick, after the discussion with the police, came up here to change his clothes and pack his kit and get ready to go, the considerate Thibaud barged in to smoke a cigarette with him, and remained with him till he departed."
"Why—yes! And if Borthwick had stuck the gun up there while there was any danger of a police examination—" Felderman stopped short.
"He'd not have been able to recover it without Thibaud's knowledge," said Tolefree.
"I was going to say that—but—" Tolefree waited for the proviso. "But why, if Thibaud and Borthwick were acting together?"
"The accomplice theory? We saw the difficulty of that last night. What's happened since puts it right out of court, Felderman. Accomplices—nothing doing. If Borthwick was the man, Thibaud had nothing in common with him. Thibaud felt very sorry for the poor Lewisson, but he was after quite another fish—Lyneham, to wit. Even today—recall what Miss Merafield told me. You can put Thibaud out of the reckoning. So that, if Borthwick had concealed a gun in that wardrobe, he couldn't get it again while Thibaud was in the room."
"That's so, I suppose," Felderman agreed. "And what then? We get Borthwick acting alone—and that's just as difficult, isn't it?"
"Not quite, is it? We agreed that if Borthwick, after you left him on Sunday night, concealed himself in Lewisson's room and shot him, he might have been able to do the rest of the performance—simply because he hadn't got to disappear after the shooting but stayed in the room. But from another point of view the Borthwick theory's very difficult indeed. One thing makes it so—"
"What's the one thing, Tolefree?"
"This—" Tolefree took the shell from his pocket. "I can't rationalize this. If Borthwick fired it in Lewisson's room, he must have been close to the window, and therefore close to Lewisson himself and in full view. You proved that by the direction of the shot. And here's something still more difficult: Why two guns? Why one to shoot with and the other to put in Lewisson's hand? And a whole bunch of other questions. Was the gun put in the dead Lewisson's hand, or was Lewisson holding it when alive? Was it a duel—or rather a shooting match? And was someone quicker on the draw than Lewisson? Did Lewisson fire at a man dodging behind the chair, and miss, and did the man then dash round the dressing table and kill Lewisson at close quarters? That might be if we could discover an interval between shots. But we can't. This discovery knocks out the other half of our theories. We must start again—and I'm going to get busy in a hurry."
Tolefree pushed up his sleeve and consulted his watch.
"Ten past eight. I shan't dine. I'll have a word with Grymer. Meanwhile, could you root out young Bigbury and ask him to come to my room at twenty past? And be here yourself?"
"All right, Tolefree. I guess he's dressing. I'll go up."
Tolefree replaced his dress coat, took from the wardrobe a Burberry, wrapped the handkerchief round the gun and put it in the pocket. He parted from Felderman on the landing and ran down to send a message to Grymer. Sir Thomas asked him to his dressing room.
"Come for that stuff, Tolefree?"
"Yes, Sir Thomas—and to beg off dinner and ask you to excuse Mr. Bigbury as well. I want him to drive me somewhere."
"Oh!" Grymer's eyebrows lifted. "Could I know where?"
"I don't quite know myself. Perhaps more than one place. It depends."
"It might turn out to be urgent. Will you have patience with me—?"
"Why, of course. On the principle of solvitur ambulando?"
"Very well. I'll see you and Bobby get a snack in the study before you go. Now, here are the poisonous things you want—"
Grymer unlocked a drawer of his writing table and extracted a parcel tied in a piece of newspaper.
"Just as Braddock gave it to me," said he.
"The things haven't been handled?"
"Except by the police—no. I haven't opened it. Do you want to open it now?"
"Rather not—if you'll let me have it just as it is for tonight—?"
"Do what you like with it, Tolefree."
"And use your telephone to get on to the C.I.D. at Plymouth?"
"C.I.D.? Good God!—have you got as far as that? But of course use the telephone."
"And pardon my haste?"
"Do what you will, Tolefree. I suppose you know where you're going?" he asked as Tolefree turned away with the parcel.
"You're anxious to have the puzzle of Lewisson's death solved?" Tolefree countered.
"Very anxious indeed."
"Well, this is a step towards the solution," said Tolefree as he bustled out of the room, leaving his host to insert the link in his cuff.
In the study he put in a call to the Police Headquarters at Plymouth, asked for the C.I.D., used the magic name of Pierce and Scotland Yard, and in three minutes was back in his room. Felderman and Mr. Bigbury awaited him. Mr. Bigbury's toilet had got as far as the removal of his coat and collar and he was in his dressing-gown.
"Could you do with a snack instead of dinner tonight, Mr. Bigbury?" Tolefree smiled his most engaging smile. Mr. Bigbury thought that, provided it was a good hearty snack, he might—to oblige Mr. Tolefree on good cause shown. What was the great scheme—another joy-ride?
"I've made an appointment in Plymouth for half-past nine," said Tolefree. "Could you get me there?"
"Could I not! Thirty-five miles and sixty minutes to do it in?—why, it's a crawl."
"Good. Then, Felderman—I'm expecting a ring from Farrar in London about nine. Will you take it for me? Thanks...Snack in the study, Mr. Bigbury, as soon as you like."
At half-past eight, as the bell was ringing for dinner, Mr. Bigbury's speed-beast was pointed towards the setting sun. At a quarter past nine it had sped through the outskirts of Plymouth and was waiting in a bunch of cars, buses and trams for a red light to turn green. It roared up a steep hill and in half a mile turned past a gleaming fire station and drew up at the entrance of a great gray building.
"Come in. You may be interested," said Tolefree to Mr. Bigbury.
At the end of the corridor, past the room where they waited, a florid, blue-eyed man sat at his table in a bare, business-like office, conning papers in the light of a green-shaded lamp. A signal buzzed. He turned a switch.
"Mr. Tolefree to see you, sir," said a voice. "In three minutes."
The blue-eyed man pressed another switch. "Sir?" said another voice.
"Bring in that reply from London."
A man in uniform was immediately in the room holding out a typed slip. He took it and read:
"TOLEFREE WELL KNOWN TO PIERCE. GIVE HIM ANY HELP YOU CAN."
He nodded. "I'll see Mr. Tolefree now—and—" he consulted two cards on the table—"and the Honorable Robert Bigbury. Put two chairs there."
"Very good of you, sir," said Tolefree, taking a chair beside Mr. Bigbury, facing the blue-eyed man across the table. "Am I sufficiently explained?"
The blue-eyed man passed the typed slip to him. "Amply," said he. "What can we do for you?"
"I believe you have a criminological laboratory—"
"All complete, with photographers, chemists, microscopists—the whole outfit."
Tolefree took from his Burberry the parcel given to him by Grymer and the gun wrapped in the handkerchief, and from his waistcoat two brass shells. He laid them on the glass-topped table. The blue eyes opened wide at the sight of the shells and the shape beneath the handkerchief. Their owner switched on more light.
"These are a few things I want examined," said Tolefree.
"Yes—and other matters."
"Then we won't handle them here. I'll have them taken to the lab. You rang up from Hallerdon. That's in the C Division of the County of Devon. Is this a police matter?"
"It was," said Tolefree. "It may be again. At present it isn't."
"Ah!—suicide of the chemist Lewisson?"
A young man in a white overall appeared. At a sign, he removed Tolefree's exhibits.
"This way," said blue-eyes, rising and opening a door into the corridor. "Fingerprints first? I think so."
In a room with a long bench brightly illuminated, the messenger had placed Tolefree's exhibits on a table where were rows of optical apparatus and another white-clad young man peered into a binocular microscope.
"Ellis," said blue-eyes, "this is Mr. Tolefree." The young man acknowledged the existence of Mr. Tolefree. "Now, if you'll tell us exactly what you want—"
"I'll explain," said Tolefree, taking out his wallet. "Perhaps I'd better not touch these things myself"—he pointed to the packages on the bench—"if you'll have them uncovered without disturbing any marks that may be on them? I leave all that to you. I'll tell you what they are. In the handkerchief is an automatic. So far as I know it hasn't been raw-handled since it was last fired, except by the man who fired it. I wish to know whether it carries any fingerprints, and if so whether they're the same as any prints you may find on this—"
Tolefree opened his wallet and picked out Borthwick's drawing.
"That's the first thing," said he. "I haven't opened the parcel, but I believe it also contains an automatic and some other things. That gun's already been tested for the fingerprints it bore and I know whose they are. Any prints made since then don't matter—"
Blue-eyes glanced at white overall, who slipped on rubber gloves and removed the handkerchief from the gun which two hours before had lain in Tolefree's wardrobe. He put it aside and turned his attention to the parcel. Tolefree and Bigbury watched with no more curiosity than the blue-eyed superintendent the unfolding of that bundle. Its main content was a gun. The man who gingerly picked it out and placed it beside the other on the bench gave a long, low whistle. Mr. Bigbury exclaimed, "Gosh!" Tolefree's eyes sparkled.
The guns were identical. It was impossible to tell one from the other.
The Superintendent sent Tolefree a long look. "Very interesting," said he. "You expected that?"
"I had an idea," said Tolefree.
"Anyone else have it?"
"I don't think anyone else was in a position to have it."
The attendant returned to the paper parcel. The remainder of the things in it were separately wrapped. He picked them out one by one:
A lead bullet slightly flattened at the tip and swollen at the base.
A brass shell with the cylinder crushed flat.
There were now on the bench two revolvers, one shell, and one bullet. Tolefree added the pencil drawing, the bullet he had taken from the chair, and the two discharged shells to the collection.
"That's the whole museum, Mr. Superintendent," he said. "I should like certain information about it: the exactitude of the similarity between the two guns—"
"Same make, same caliber, same in every detail," said Ellis. "Look like Mauser automatics, but may be another make—probably are, being .38. Magazines for seven shots. Makers' numbers filed off—owner didn't want 'em traced to him, I'd say. You couldn't tell which was which if you displaced 'em."
"Filed off!—both?" Tolefree gazed where he pointed. "By gum, that may alter things! Well—I've got two shots to account for. Possible to say which gun fired either or both?"
The Superintendent bent over the distorted bullet. "Too much knocked about to tell you, I guess, Ellis?"
"I should say so; but this one—" He pointed to Tolefree's addition. "We might find out about this one by testing the two guns. I'd better identify 'em." He made a single pencil mark on the barrel of the gun from the handkerchief and two on the gun from the parcel. "Wait while I take a note, sir."
They watched him make a catalogue of Tolefree's museum.
"Now for fingerprints, Ellis," said the Superintendent.
The gun Tolefree had found was set up on a sheet of glass. A spray of fine powder was directed on it from an air pencil till every surface had been covered. A current of air from another instrument followed. The powder disappeared. The assistant peered at the gun through a powerful glass. He shook his head.
"Nothing doing," he said. "Not a symptom—not one! The gun's been cleaned of every mark and never been touched by fingers since. Can I take off the clip, sir?"
Tolefree nodded assent.
"The last cartridge in the magazine. The fellow who loaded it mightn't have been so careful—"
"That's an idea, Ellis," said his superior. "Try for it."
The cartridge was set up and subjected to the same treatment with the same result. It might never have been touched by a human hand.
"A singular thing," the Superintendent remarked with a puzzled look at Tolefree.
"Most curious—and most significant."
"The person who loaded that gun took care not to sign his name anywhere. Significant?—I should say so!"
"Evidently," said Tolefree. "But sometimes people are a spot too clever, don't you think?"
"Very often," said the Superintendent softly. "Yes, I see, Mr. Tolefree. Much too clever. Now—you don't want the other gun printed? What about the paper?"
"I think not. It's of no importance if I can't establish a relation between the two. We'll stick to the guns. That ammunition would have fitted either of them?—but it goes without saying. They're the same. If I could know which gun fired that bullet—"
"Yes, certainly. It will take a little time. Have you any ammunition?"
"Not a single shell."
"You can find some, Ellis?"
"In the gallery, sir—there's a box of .38 rimless."
"Let's go down then. Bring the guns. Leave the rest."
In the vast basement was a corridor lined with cells and at the end a narrow vaulted chamber some ten yards long. A bright illumination sprang up at the end where three targets stood. It was not to these, however, that Ellis gave his attention but to a large tank. Directing a stream of water into it and leaving it to fill, he searched a cupboard for ammunition, showed Tolefree cartridges, indistinguishable from those he had brought, and loaded three into each gun.
"I'll take the gun from the parcel first," he said. "Stop your ears, gentlemen: it'll be a pretty big bang in here."
Mr. Bigbury shuddered as he put his hands to his ears.
Ellis held the gun with the muzzle pointing down perpendicularly into the tank and fired. There was a deafening concussion. Tolefree involuntarily closed his eyes and involuntarily waited for a shower bath which did not come. The bullet made hardly more disturbance than a sword thrust into the water.
"May have to repeat it," said Ellis, "but I'll try the other gun first," and he went through the same performance at the other end of the tank.
The water was rapidly run off. The bullets were recovered and numbered labels attached. Presently they were all in the laboratory, standing round Ellis, who sat peering through a microscope with two eyepieces, while he twirled the rests on which two bullets were fixed with a brilliant light directed obliquely on them.
When the twirling ceased, the Superintendent asked, "Got the thumb-mark?" Ellis nodded and turned to make notes on the pad beside him. He replaced one of the two bullets by the third, which Tolefree had extracted from the back of the chair. The twirling was now confined to the new addition. It soon stopped.
"Quite clear, sir," said Ellis, raising his head. "Your bullet was fired from the gun you brought in the parcel."
"Good God!" exclaimed Mr. Bigbury.
The officers turned to look at him.
"Sorry," said Mr. Bigbury.
"Like to look at the striations, sir?" Ellis stood back from the microscope.
"I shall take your word for it," said Tolefree. "Mr. Bigbury perhaps—?"
Mr. Bigbury stepped to the bench and bent to the eye-pieces. What he saw was a circle of light divided into two equal parts and lying on each part a bullet greatly magnified, with the vivid light showing the metal streaked with parallel cuts in an irregular pattern and one precisely like the other.
"These smooth-bore self-loaders," said Ellis, "are more difficult than the rifled gun, but this one's nickeled up in one place, and the nickel fused into the barrel has cut a groove—you can see it?"
Mr. Bigbury withdrew his eyes. "Gosh!—it's uncanny!" he declared.
"What you expected, Mr. Tolefree?" the Inspector asked.
"I don't quite know what I expected. But I'm not surprised," said Tolefree.
He looked thoughtfully at the museum of exhibits and picked up the crushed shell.
"This," said he, "is my greatest puzzle."
"Yes? In what way?"
"How it got crushed like that—I mean, what crushed it."
The Inspector bent over it. "Possible to say, Ellis?"
"I guess so. Sure to be something—but it would take time—means getting chemical reactions and making slides. If you could leave it?"
"Certainly," said Tolefree. "And you have ways of discovering which gun exploded which shell, haven't you?"
"Well, I'll leave it with this other one. And many thanks. That may be the vital point."
"I shouldn't wonder," said the Inspector.
Mr. Bigbury's speed-beast had torn down into the Old Hallerdon valley and was pulled up in the quadrangle just before midnight. A sleepy footman had awakened from his snooze on a chair in the porch. A sleepy Felderman had advanced from the depths of the hall and, while Mr. Bigbury took the beast to its lair, he explained that Grymer had gone up, leaving his apologies. They were in Tolefree's room with a coffee tray on the table.
Felderman, pushing back his cup, picked a new cigar from his case. "Have one?"
But Tolefree was already filling his pipe.
"Felderman—if I'd guessed where I might be led, I'd never have accepted the job that brought me to Old Hallerdon."
Felderman lit his cigar.
"I'm not a very curious man, Tolefree, naturally, being a lawyer; but you've never given me a hint of what did bring you to Old Hallerdon."
"You evidently thought that by some miracle I'd learnt on Monday about the death of Lewisson—didn't you?"
"That did occur to me. But you said no."
"And I told you the literal truth. I'd never heard of Lewisson's existence till you mentioned him while we sat in that garden near the station. My commission was a queer affair. As it seemed possibly to concern the house-party here, and as I knew you—well, you see how my mind ran?"
"Quite," said Felderman doubtfully.
"Felderman," said Tolefree earnestly, "I'd like to take you into confidence. I will. But it must be absolute confidence. This is what happened. A man rang me up early on Monday morning and asked for an appointment at my office. He came there before the streets were aired. He was a man you must have heard of—Ronald Hudson—?"
"The Hudson. He was in a blinding hurry—off to Lisbon by the boat train that morning. He commissioned me to find a missing man and all he could give me was the vaguest kind of clue. But by accident when he sent in his card he chose one on which he happened to have scribbled a list of initials. Here 'tis. Have a look at it."
Tolefree took the card from his wallet and passed it over. Felderman looked at the name, turned over the card, leaned under the table-lamp and screwed his eyes.
"Jehoshaphat!" he murmured.
"There you are—the whole bunch of you," said Tolefree, "from Grymer to Borthwick. It was from that card I made the list which surprised you so mightily."
"And that switched you off the commission, whatever it was, and brought you down here?"
"Switched me off? Certainly not. I came because of a sort of—what shall I say?—a collocation of suggestions. First, Hudson puzzled me to death. I'll tell you why presently. Next the clue he gave me was so thin, and it would have taken so long to work out, and I was so suspicious of the man and the job, that when this little guide-post turned up I decided to follow it first."
"Suspicious of Hudson, d'you mean? He's a celebrity, ain't he?"
"He is. But, Felderman—either the man who came to see me wasn't Hudson at all, but another person masquerading as Hudson, or Hudson is two men as different as Jekyll and Hyde. And—here goes!—in my opinion the man who came to see me was Borthwick—"
Felderman jumped in his chair. Tolefree slowly nodded.
"Yes—Borthwick. It all fits in. Borthwick immediately after the death of Lewisson hared away from Old Hallerdon, and caught the night train. It gets into Paddington at seven. He rang me at eight. I saw him at nine. He took the boat train at ten and was out of the country before anyone knew what had happened here."
"Go on, Tolefree!" said Felderman, excitedly. "Tell me more. It works in, as you say. But I've seen Hudson's photograph in the papers. If he's Borthwick he must have shaved off a pretty considerable beaver—"
"Well, that's the point. The man who sat at the other side of my table in Watling Street had the beaver all right; but it was a false one—"
"Ah—the masquerade!" said Felderman.
"I'm not so sure. It was a wonderfully clever outfit, and would deceive most people who didn't know a bit about disguises. But it didn't deceive me. Hudson knew it didn't deceive me. He even spoke of it obliquely. And that's the puzzle. He said by inference that if I should venture to tell anyone Hudson was a fraud going about in disguise, nobody would believe me, and I agreed with him. But if there are two personages combined in one man, who to the big world is Hudson, the adventurous traveler, and to another and a smaller world Borthwick, the learned antiquarian—"
"I've got a bit of news for you directly," said Felderman; "but settle this first. How could a man of such strong characteristics as Borthwick completely disguise himself?"
"You mean the powerful frame, the brilliant eyes, the encyclopaedic knowledge, the facility in pattering all the languages of mankind?—why, put a black beard on all that and you have the man who called me in to trail a thing which he certainly never guessed would bring me to Old Hallerdon. But we can put it beyond doubt, Felderman. You probably remember Borthwick's characteristics—I mean those that would leap to the eye. For instance, were his wrists hairy as a monkey's?"
"Well, I thought they were. Did he wear a wrist watch with an armlet of spring steel and a case of white metal—maybe silver, or perhaps platinum?"
"Gosh!—it's the man. Tolefree! The watch was platinum. I remarked that it must have cost him a fortune."
"He ought to have changed his watch to match his beard. One of those small details people are apt to forget. Had he a habit of holding your eye half way through a remark or a question?"
"A sort of measuring hesitation—yes, he had."
"He ought not to have taken that habit from one world to the other. Clearly, the man who came to see me in Watling Street was the man who discovered the body of Lewisson out here. That's why I say I don't know where I'm going—or rather where the new stuff will lead me. Now for your news—"
"It's Farrar. He rang up—"
"Good Lord, yes!—I'd forgotten Farrar for the moment. What did he say?"
"To tell you that, in the opinion of the pot-house, Borthwick is a scholar and a gentleman, but a crank. Very highbrow. Very aloof. Away most of his time digging antiquities in Egypt or Iraq. Blows into London for a week or two and out again. Good family, but most of it extinct. Has a maiden aunt in some Sussex seaside place and a bath chair. Supposed to have private means but not too much—"
"Half an anonymous gentleman, you see! How about his relations with Ronald Hudson?"
"Farrar couldn't get much on that. But what he did is suggestive. He picked on a man who knew both and had asked Borthwick whether he'd ever met Hudson. He said no; he'd often wished to meet him, but strangely enough they never crossed paths."
"Not so strange, eh?" Tolefree had a momentary grin. "And my third question to Farrar: When was Borthwick last at the Club and where is he now?"
"The secretary looked up his last visit. He slept at the Club for a week, left last Friday to pay a visit in the country and hasn't been there since."
Tolefree went to the wardrobe and fetched a parcel from the pocket of his coat.
"It all fits in, Felderman," said he, breaking open the package and placing the guns and their accompaniments on the table. "No doubt in the world the `A.L.B.' of the card and the drawing and the Ronald Hudson who came to me are the same person, and they are the gentleman who occupied this room last week and is now in Lisbon—perhaps, or somewhere."
He picked up one of the guns and peered at the pencil mark.
"Seems so," said Felderman. "And yet, you know, Tolefree, I can't see Borthwick as a murderer."
"Nor can I," said Tolefree.
"You can't? Gad!—I'm glad," exclaimed Felderman. "So wherever you're going it's not that way?"
"Don't rejoice too soon. I can't see it at present. If I've got to go that way, I shall go. But now I'm trying to find an explanation of these things. This is the gun Lewisson had in his hand, Felderman. It was the gun that fired this bullet into the back of the chair."
"Yes, undoubtedly. Bigbury and I saw the tests..."
While Felderman listened to the account of the experiments in the laboratory of the C.I.D., Bigbury knocked at the door and took his place in the conclave—quietly, for he was a very subdued young man. The finger-printing and the shooting and the cold certainty of the bloke with the microscope, as he told Tolefree on the way home, had given him the willies, and though there were several people he would like to murder he would certainly never risk it now.
"If Lewisson's gun fired that bullet," Felderman was saying, "the other—"
"Was almost certainly fired by the other gun, though it can't be proved. The bullet was far too distorted. But the mystery is—two guns of exactly the same breed, so much alike that you can't tell one from the other, and that Lewisson should have had the first and someone else the second. Still, it clears up one difficulty—"
"How?" asked Felderman.
"It gets rid of the necessity for putting a gun into Lewisson's hand after he was dead—and that was the thing that took the time in our experiments. For example, if Thibaud had shot Lewisson from the door, or rushed into the room to shoot, he could have rushed back to his own room before Borthwick got moving."
"I thought we'd dismissed Thibaud from the case?"
"We had. But as I told you this evening, this gun blows up most of our theories. We've got to start with the egg again."
Felderman looked doubtful.
"Thibaud—I'd much rather Thibaud than Borthwick, Tolefree; but you know—you didn't find the gun in Thibaud's room."
"Quite so—and you don't think Borthwick was a murderer."
Mr. Bigbury broke in with a startling announcement.
"I'm a mutt!" he declared.
Tolefree and Felderman stared into the blue eyes. "I didn't get it till now! Tolefree—did you turn up that second gun in this room?"
"Yes—accidentally knocked it off the shelf of the wardrobe."
"Lewisson had this room on Friday," said Mr. Bigbury.
Mr. Bigbury's surprising statement, calculated to deflect so radically the way Tolefree was going, reduced his companions to speechlessness.
"Ought to have thought of it before," said he, "but I just didn't."
"Other people—" Tolefree began and stopped. "Yes, Tolefree?" said Felderman. "Other people what?"
"I was going to suggest that other people might have thought of it before."
"If you mean me—"
"My dear Felderman!"
"I knew nothing about it."
Tolefree looked inquiry at Mr. Bigbury.
"You wouldn't," said Bigbury. "I only knew by accident. I think you were out on the river with Lyneham, weren't you?—or somewhere, Friday afternoon?"
"Yes; we got back just before dinner."
"That's right. Well, Lewisson and the Frenchman turned up together about four. When I came up to the bathroom, the servants were scurrying about the corridor, shifting luggage. I asked what all the shemozzle was, and they explained that Borthwick, who'd slept the night before in the room Lewisson had afterwards, found it too hot, and asked to be moved. He was a touch pernicketty, I should say, for he came along just as they were shifting his stuff into the room next door, and said if it was all the same to everybody else he'd prefer the room at the end of the corridor: that's this one. Lewisson seemed an accommodating sort of bird. He'd been in here unpacking, but he said he didn't care a damn who had which, and they brought out his stuff and put in Borthwick's. Thibaud I didn't see. I guess he was downstairs busy with the cocktails."
"Poor Lewisson!" said Tolefree softly, his glance traveling from Mr. Bigbury's blue eyes to the guns on the table and from them to the wardrobe. There was a moment of silence.
"Still, other people—eh, Felderman? Other people must have known, and we're left to find it out by accident."
"What other people? Not me—not Lyneham."
"No—not you. But never mind."
"But I do mind, Tolefree. You're suggesting that it's something concealed. I can't see that anyone who'd got the suicide theory firmly fixed in his mind was going to attach any importance to a change of rooms three days before."
"No? Well, we'll not pursue it. But unless the ostensible reason for Borthwick's pernicketiness, as Mr. Bigbury calls it, is the true one, great importance did attach to it."
"It might be the true one, surely?"
"Possibly." Tolefree eyed the guns and the wardrobe again. "But I'm inclined to think not. I'd almost bet you it's not. At the same time it may account for this—"
Tolefree picked up the pencil drawing.
"What's that?" asked Mr. Bigbury.
"It's a very good drawing of the library wing as seen from Lewisson's window, signed by Mr. Borthwick. It was found in Lewisson's room. We couldn't make out how it got there; but if Borthwick occupied the room for one night, that accounts for it. Now, consider what other reasons besides the heat Borthwick may have had for shifting his quarters. And remember that he seems not to have thought of it till after Lewisson and Thibaud arrived."
"Can't see any motive," said Felderman, "unless you're thinking he had some reason for getting Lewisson into that particular room—?"
"I don't suggest anything. But Lewisson was killed in that room, and the gun which probably killed him was found in this one."
"It may have been left here by Lewisson. He'd unpacked. He may have overlooked it."
"Possibly—but in that case he was mounting two guns, and everyone says he wasn't the sort of man to mount a gun at all."
"There's the theory of some connection between Borthwick and Thibaud—the visits to Borthwick's room and so on. If there's anything in that—not that I believe in it, Tolefree—Borthwick might have wished to get Lewisson into the room opposite Thibaud."
Tolefree frowned over this.
"Or," said Mr. Bigbury, "isn't it more likely that Borthwick didn't like the look of Thibaud's face and would rather not run the risk of seeing it first thing in the morning? You want a motive for Borthwick's dislike for that room—"
Tolefree's frown lightened. "By Jove, now, Mr. Bigbury, that's an idea!"
"Have I made an ass of myself?" asked Mr. Bigbury innocently.
"Far from it—very far from it! That's an idea. Borthwick disliked the room, Felderman, not because of the heat, but because of some other reason which may have been the nearness of Thibaud, or may not."
"I don't get the idea—" Felderman said and pulled up short. A knock at the door prevented Tolefree from expounding the idea. All three stared at it. Tolefree rose and opened. Sir Thomas Grymer stood on the threshold.
"Sorry, Tolefree," said he. "Heard you fellows growling away down here. Wondered what was up."
"Have we been disturbing the house? Afraid we'd rather forgotten it was so late, Sir Thomas."
"Oh, that's all right." Grymer came into the room. "I don't suppose anyone else has heard you. I couldn't get to sleep. Thought you must have something important, Tolefree—"
Grymer walked across to the writing table and stood looking down upon it.
"I have something that may be important," said Tolefree.
Grymer's eyes lifted from the table and sought Felderman and Bigbury.
"Nearly one o'clock," Felderman announced. "Time you and I made ourselves scarce, Bigbury."
"Don't let me break up the symposium," said Grymer, but made no motion himself.
Felderman and Bigbury caught a look from Tolefree and said good night. Grymer pulled his dressing-gown around him and sat in Felderman's chair.
"Well, Tolefree," said he, "what are you letting me in for?"
"Stacks of trouble, I fear, Sir Thomas."
"I rather guessed as much. I've not had the best of good luck with my holiday, have I?" He pulled from his pocket a letter. "First, poor Lewisson. Then a detective on false pretenses. Then a crook who robs my guest. And now—what?"
"Let out the detective, Sir Thomas. No one's more distressed than I am to find myself mixed up in this business. Quite accidentally—or at any rate by no design of mine."
"Why did you come, Tolefree?"
"To see Felderman. I thought he might be able to give me a line on a job I'd just undertaken."
"And could he?" asked Grymer.
"As it happened—no, not a direct line. But, by telling me what happened here on Sunday night, Felderman did, without knowing it, let a little light into a dark place."
Grymer's look passed for a moment from Tolefree to the table.
"Very well, Tolefree. Now, I mean you to stop talking in parables and let a little light in for me. D'you see? Just what's the meaning of that?"—and he pointed to Tolefree's museum displayed on the table.
"Very glad to tell you about that—or as much as I know about it," said Tolefree, "if you'll answer me a question."
Grymer seemed surprised.
"Never buy a pig in a poke. What's the question?"
"Oh, quite a simple thing. When we talked about Borthwick—you remember?—you said you were sure of his good faith. Did it never occur to you at all that Borthwick might not be exactly what he affected to be—had some other motive for wishing to visit Old Hallerdon last week-end?"
"Certainly not. I told you how and why I invited him."
"Yes—and when? Last week, when your party'd been fixed up and even announced in the newspapers. Then Borthwick became enthusiastic about Old Hallerdon, and you invited him—"
"What's the inference, Tolefree?" Grymer spoke gruffly.
"Just a speculation. But I'll complete my question. Do you know Ronald Hudson?"
"No, but I've seen him at the Club. Not an easy man to know. Why?"
"Well, Sir Thomas, if I suggested that Mr. Borthwick and Mr. Hudson were one and the same person would you think me insane?"
"Borthwick?—Hudson?" Grymer looked as if he would. But he said, "No, Tolefree—only blind. What the deuce are you getting at?"
"Just that. I do suggest it. I'm convinced of it."
"Why, my good man! there's not a particle of likeness between them. And they're both members of my Club—both!"
"Sounds mad, I know. But listen. I've told Felderman this already. Do you know that though Borthwick and Hudson are both members of the Club, they've never met there? That they aren't acquainted with each other? Have never been seen together? I believe it would be impossible for them ever to come face to face except in a mirror. And this is why..."
Grymer, who had picked up the letter from the corner of the table, replaced it and leant towards Tolefree, hands on knees, to listen to the narrative of his meeting with Hudson. Tolefree eagerly watched his reaction. Sheer astonishment, it seemed.
"Extraordinary!" he muttered, as Tolefree finished.
"Well!—it was. Extraordinary if Hudson had dotted down the initials of a house-party with which he had nothing to do. But there were queerer things than that. When I heard about Lewisson, and about Borthwick's flit, and compared these things with the circumstances of his visit to me, I began to be suspicious. Then I made a discovery in Lewisson's room, and became certain. It was this—"
Tolefree took the pencil drawing from the table and a visiting card from his wallet.
"Look at the `A.L.B.' there and the `A.L.B.' on the card. Can you have a doubt?"
Grymer was staggered. He made no answer. He put down the drawing and returned the card to Tolefree, staring at him with startled eyes.
"I'll finish the jail delivery, Sir Thomas. You asked me the meaning of that collection on the table." He rose and stood pointing. "I've had this stuff examined at the C.I.D. in Plymouth, without saying why. This gun is the one you lent me—the one found in Lewisson's hand. This shell was ejected from it. Thibaud left it in Lewisson's room for me last night. I'll explain that later. This bullet was fired from it. I found it embedded in the back of a chair in Lewisson's room—"
"In a chair!—why didn't the police find it?"
"Do them justice. They knew of only one shot and had accounted for it. But the shot that killed Lewisson was riot fired from the gun Lewisson held. It was certainly fired from this other."
Grymer bent over the table to look at the gun. "But this, Tolefree—where—how—?"
"I found it in that wardrobe, Sir Thomas." Grymer made an inarticulate sound. "You don't wonder now that I'm a bit curious about Borthwick?"
"Of course not." Grymer pulled himself together. "Still, I'm not going to believe that Borthwick killed Lewisson. Borthwick and a meaningless, brutal murder?—Tolefree, I think I'm a fair judge of character. I shall wager anything against it."
"You may be right. But Borthwick knows a lot about it—perhaps more than anyone else except Thibaud."
And Tolefree went on to tell Grymer about the shell that Thibaud had left in the room.
"But I shall rely on Borthwick to put me on the trail of the truth. I'm out for Borthwick from now on," he concluded.
"Yes, of course." Grymer picked up the letter again. "I see that you must. But don't be in a hurry. Thibaud may have something to tell you. This letter came for you this evening—expressed from Newton. The superscription looks to me like a Frenchman's hand. It's really why I came down."
Grymer handed over the letter to a Tolefree astonished in his turn. The envelope had the familiar blue express label and the extra postage stamps. It was addressed in a pointed writing to Mr. Tolefree at Old Hallerdon, "Private." Grymer watched him, his mouth drawn in a grim line, saw him start back with a gasp when he opened the sheet and avidly read the few words inscribed on a sheet of plain paper. He turned from it to examine the envelope before reading the note again.
"DEAR MR. PENROSE..."
That had startled Tolefree out of his composure.
"DEAR MR. PENROSE-I save your face by addressing the envelope in the name you have assumed. I was desolated to leave this morning without seeing you. I trust you found my message. I cannot write all I would say, but you waste your time at Old Hallerdon. Your friend B. knows everything. Look for him. I am in haste. I write English uneasily. So—ce n'est pas sans regret que je me désinteresse au pauvre Lewisson, mais les affaires sont les affaires, n'est-ce pas? Ayez bien soin de bruler ce chiffon, I sign myself
Tolefree sat frowning at letter and envelope for some seconds, gave an occasional glance at Grymer, took a sudden resolution, and passed the document to him.
"Read it, Sir Thomas."
Grymer read, gave the same puzzled look at the address, and said:
"Good heavens, Tolefree!—do you lead a double life too?"
"No—but the ingenious Mr. Thibaud has made a curious mistake, and it's a great boon to me."
"Boon? That's a big word. Why?"
"Because he's given me the link Felderman couldn't supply between Old Hallerdon and Hudson. You don't happen to be good at cryptograms, Sir Thomas?"
"No. Not sure I know quite what a cryptogram is."
"The job Hudson handed to me was to solve a cryptogram and take action on the solution. When he did it he certainly had no idea it would lead me to Old Hallerdon and an interest in the death of Lewisson. But he did tell me that the cryptogram itself was a message from one Thomas Penrose—" Grymer grabbed the letter again and repeated "Good heavens!"
"So you can't be surprised that Mr. Borthwick's proceedings have a peculiar interest for me," said Tolefree. He eyed his host for a moment or two. "I suppose it never occured to you to tell anyone that the day Lewisson came down Borthwick insisted on changing rooms with him—"
Grymer jerked himself upright.
"Why? That—? How did that affect anything? I knew nothing about it till it was done. Do you suggest—"
Grymer ceased, gaping at Tolefree.
"Nothing at all. You and everyone—or nearly everyone—were full of the assumption that Lewisson committed suicide. But I do think that if Braddock had known of the change of rooms he mightn't have been so complaisant about letting Borthwick go. It's a futile speculation, of course, because if Borthwick hadn't gone Hudson couldn't have come to me on Monday morning, could he? And consequently I should never have been here making myself a nuisance."
Grymer slumped back in his chair.
"What are you going to do, Tolefree?"
"Get after Borthwick by solving Penrose's cryptogram."
"And all this—?" Grymer pointed to the museum.
"I've got all I want from that, Sir Thomas. I'll ask you to take charge of it—in case it should be wanted again."
Half past one...
Tolefree, alone in his room, had pushed the museum to one end of the writing table, and sat with Jane Jobling's letter spread out under the light. It was his first real effort to get a meaning into that eccentric document. But he had already come to some conclusions about it. The letter was dictated by Penrose, or concocted by Penrose in a marvelously feigned hand.
Penrose was making an appeal to Hudson-Borthwick in a situation where he was powerless to help himself, which might become urgent before the end of the week. Hudson could not give him that help because he had to leave the country on account of the Old Hallerdon affair—or at any rate had to go on personating Borthwick in some other place.
Two chief facts glared at Tolefree: that the jam in which Hudson and Penrose found themselves was something outside the law, or Hudson would not have come to him instead of going to the police; that it was in some way mixed up with what had happened at Old Hallerdon.
If it had been otherwise, Thibaud would not have been aware of Penrose and would not have rushed at his mistake in the identity of Penrose. A fortunate mistake for Tolefree, who got from it some light on the queer conduct of Thibaud from the moment when he came to smoke that cigarette in his bedroom.
What was going to happen if he succeeded in solving the cryptogram he could hardly foresee. If he did it and discovered Penrose he might be aiding and abetting some infamy. He might even be getting himself into some danger. But it was the miraculous short cut through the puzzle of Old Hallerdon.
He set himself to concentrate on the hidden meaning of the letter:
DEAR SIRS-Mr. Headmoor will be obliged if you will cancel the orders sent on the 1st, 4th and 5th and substitute the following:
Send him only one sink, Una type, surplus E.P.E.
He hopes this will be in time for despatch by the end of the week as the matter is urgent.
P.S. Two rose pattern.—J. J.
It might be a parable—Tolefree smiled to himself. He studied it deeply for some paraphrase which, however fantastic, might suggest a connection with affairs Penrose and Hudson had in common. He worried over some possible intention in the only thing in the document which was not plain English—the initials "E.P.E." But nothing came. It looked as if "E.P.E." might mean an electroplated something-or-other. No parable appeared, unless in the hint of urgency. And, he reflected, if the letter had been capable of such a paraphrase, it would have been immediately apparent to Hudson himself. Also, he reflected, it could have no reference to the secret business between him and Penrose, as to which he refused all information.
What, then, was he to discover?
It could be nothing but the whereabouts of Penrose and the danger he might be in. Hudson wanted to have Penrose dug up, whatever it cost, before Sunday. Here, somewhere concealed, was the indication that would lead him to Penrose, and by inference there must be some pointer in it that Penrose had relied on Hudson to see.
The writer had been careful to make the letter read like a business order which, if intercepted, would look normal and innocent. But to anyone who knew it was not a business order, the form was peculiar, apart from the omission of any address. It spoke of previous orders sent on the first, the fourth and the fifth. As there was no order, and as Hudson had received no communication from Penrose for a fortnight, no overt allusion was there. But there might be a covert allusion. The dates were not there for nothing. They were, in fact, the only part of the letter which looked like a pointer.
First, fourth, fifth: the dates immediately preceded the order itself and the words of the order were underlined. But surely that was too simple?
Tolefree took from the stationery box a sheet of Sir Thomas Grymer's notepaper and copied the order. He underlined the first, fourth and fifth words. Too simple by far. But it made a first step. It eliminated something. He got:
"Send...one...sink...Una...E.P.E." and, if he went on, "He...hopes...be...in...despatch...by...the...the....week is..."
Tolefree dropped that. The result was absurd. By no combination or rearrangement of the words could he make sense.
But if not words, perhaps letters?—the first, fourth and fifth...
A jumble. Two words might be indicated; but otherwise it was just meaningless—nineteen consonants to nine vowels, of which the least common was repeated three times. Any printer or typist would know that no English sentence would be composed of such materials.
He dropped that, and brooded again over Jane Jobling's script. The dates were his only hope; they meant something—but it was not to be got at by that method.
After poring over the paper for several minutes, Tolefree raised his head and focused on the form of the words. The order itself, he suddenly perceived, consisted of alternate words of four and three letters. That was the first significant discovery.
If the dates were the pointers, they indicated the first and last letters of the first word and the first letter of the second—but then the sequence ended. There might be no sequence, but the alternation of the words of four and three letters stuck in his mind. If the first and last letters of the four-letter words were used, why not the first and last of the three-letter words?
His eye fastened on the top of the paper—"July 7."
Of course! There were four "orders," the three canceled and this one of Jane Jobling's. How would first, fourth, fifth and seventh work? They would give him the first and last letters of each word. He set to work again, a little more hopefully—but got a jumble as unintelligible as before:
"S..D H.M O..Y O.E S..K U.A T..E S.R P..S E.E"
Certainly several words could be constructed from these consonants and vowels, for the vowels included E, A, and O, three of the most commonly used. But to work them out without some guide would be an endless business—and a sheer gamble. There was the possibility of a system of substituted letters; but that would have meant a code with which Hudson was acquainted, and he had declared that no such code was employed. The concealed message was certainly in the document itself in such a form that a person accustomed to dealing with cryptograms would perceive it. That simplicity probably accounted for the absurdity of the message itself; for it was beyond question absurd that a builder who had been strewing orders over a week should suddenly cancel them all and two days after the last send an urgent S.O.S. for a kitchen sink to be delivered at once and supplant the lot.
At which point Tolefree made his second discovery. As he glared at the row of letters and the thought of an S O S wandered into his mind, he saw the thought translated into black and white—
The initials of the first three four-lettered words were S...O...S.
He seized his pencil again, counted to the initial of the fourth four-lettered word and got T; counted seven letters forward from that and got P. He set down:
That was the simple key of the cryptogram. The message to Hudson began: "S O S. Thomas Penrose." Tolefree breathed deep, sat back, pulled out his pipe, filled and lit. A glance at his watch showed him 2.45. He set to work to learn what Mr. Thomas Penrose's trouble was, and in a quarter of an hour had acquired a high admiration of Mr. Penrose's ingenuity in adapting the possible requirements of a builder busy putting fittings into a kitchen to the needs of a gentleman in distress. Mr. Penrose's ingenuity had even extended to the postscript mentioning, as if by afterthought, the pattern of sink he desired. Anyone who made a habit of reading cryptograms (Hudson, for instance) and knowing that this letter had nothing to do with sinks and kitchen, would perceive that the injunction as to pattern applied not to sinks but to something else. What more obvious than the pattern of the message?
But Mr. Penrose was too ingenious for Tolefree, who had to confess to himself that if he had been obliged to rely on discovering that a two-rose pattern sink meant a pattern of words in two rows, he would never have succeeded. He had got at the message by a more elaborate way, but when he did set it down in two rows of words, the intention of Mr. Penrose was plain:
TypE S u R
Mr. Penrose was at Dykes House in a place called Meare, and was in serious trouble. Tolefree had never heard of a place called Meare, and it was impossible for him to get any idea of its whereabouts without going down to Grymer's den and routing out a gazetteer. Gazing at the result of his dissection of the message, he decided against further noctural excursions at Old Hallerdon. Mr. Penrose would have to wait till morning.
The dissection was so easy that he wondered Hudson had not lit on it at once—and then kicked himself for a fool, since it had taken him nearly two hours to worry out a guide to the message and another quarter of an hour to interpret it—to place the words in the two columns Penrose had plotted and to get the result on which he was now pluming himself.
Either Penrose was a dog at constructing cryptograms or he had plenty of time for solitary meditation at Dykes House.
But whatever and whoever else Mr. Penrose was, he was Tolefree's next mark, and his best hope of working some sense into the tragedy of Old Hallerdon. Fancy pictures of Penrose waiting for Hudson in Dykes House and of Hudson losing Borthwick in the sunbaked streets of Lisbon flitted across his closed eyes as he went to sleep, dimly conscious that somewhere in the house a clock had given one stroke to announce that it was half past three.
Mr. Bigbury had been notably under the weather when he went to bed. The cold-blooded scientific certainty of the white-coated men in the laboratories and galleries had given him a queer feeling in the pit of his stomach. Those policemen had the air of arbiters of doom. They made him shiver. And then, there was his own bad break—his failure to perceive that the change of rooms between Borthwick and Lewisson might have a bearing on things. Altogether, as he put it to himself, the Lord was looking at him sideways and his boots were full of blood.
But some hours of sleep had restored Mr. Bigbury's normal high spirits. The sun looked gaily into his bedroom when he woke up to find Tolefree standing over him. He greeted him with his customary gaiety:
"Good morning," said Tolefree. "Too bad to wake you early after so late a night. But—"
"What's the time?" asked Mr. Bigbury, throwing back his coverings and showing a leg.
The time was eight o'clock. Tolefree leaned against the mullion of Mr. Bigbury's window.
"You look fit for anything," said he; "even game for another adventure."
"Do you come to talk to me at eight aunt emma of moving accidents by flood and field—of hairbreath 'scapes i' th' imminent deadly breach?" murmured Mr. Bigbury, tousling his sandy hair. "But if the adventure won't end at a police headquarters, lead on, Macduff, and—"
"Quite so, and a fine confusion of epitaphs," smiled Tolefree; "still, exactly the right spirit. If you weren't particularly busy about anything today, I thought I'd like another ride with you."
"So long as we don't take the Plymouth road. That fellow in the white nightshirt gives me the creeps! No—I'm not busy. But what about the woman? What shall I say to that woman if I go off sleuthing with you?"
"We might call on her by the way and I might beg you off for a day," said Tolefree.
"Righto! It's a bet. You've certainly spell-bound her. She just eats out of your hand. Where do we go and when do we start?"
"I'd better give you an idea of the job before we click," said Tolefree. "I've made a little discovery since we parted last night. It seems to point to a journey to a place called Meare, where we might find something to our advantage, as the advertisements say. Know anything of a place called Meare?"
"No," said Mr. Bigbury. "But if it's anywhere on a road, I'll get you there."
"The map says Meare is in the county of Somerset, and I should guess about sixty or seventy miles from here. A person lives there who calls herself Jane Jobling."
"Don't admire her taste in names. But you never know. Is she a peach? A peach by any other name—"
"That's the only name I know, and it's all I know about Jane. What branch of horticulture she belongs to—"
"Either a peach or a crab," interrupted Mr. Bigbury, with a tone of dividing the female sex into its primal categories. "Peach or crab—they all are!"
Tolefree laughed aloud.
"Well, if you share the adventure you'll soon know which. I'm keen on getting in touch with Jane, but it must be by deputy—"
"That's the right idea, Tolefree. I'll he the deputy. Leave it to me. If the Jobling's anything under ninety—just leave it to me!"
"I thought so," said Tolefree. "You catch my meaning exactly. But as no one but myself knows of the existence of Jane Jobling, and my business with her may be a little difficult, if we could invent some pretext for a day in the car without mentioning her or her home town—"
"We could, except for that woman. She's a simple terror about pretexts. You can't put it past her, you know, Tolefree."
"I shouldn't try. I should propose to take Miss Merafield into our confidence before we started. She'll be as secret as Grand Lodge."
"Yes—yes," Mr. Bigbury mused. "She will. A perfectly sound scheme if we could be quite certain that the Jobling was a crab and as near ninety as possible. But—"
"We could give her a birth certificate, couldn't we?—say somewhere about 1865—how would that do?"
"Tolefree!—a stroke of genius. The old cerebellum's certainly on the top-line this morning. I'm not a bit curious, really—" Mr. Bigbury's look belied his words. "But—how does this touch the case of our late friend Lewisson?"
He showed a second leg and came to join Tolefree at the window. They stood looking down into the quadrangle, where the eastern sun was making the turf glow.
"Poor old Lewisson! That bloke in the nightshirt—ugh! I s'pose there's not an earthly that he's wrong, Tolefree?"
"It seems such a dam' awful thing when you look out there, that any blackguard could choose this place to do a dirty crime. And Lewisson!—why in God's name Lewisson?"
Tolefree gave a glance at Mr. Bigbury's blue eyes, now screwed up with a deep line between the sandy eyebrows.
"Yes," said he. "Why, indeed? It's the thing that beats me. Why Lewisson? And why here? But there it is and we can't dodge it. Our friend in the nightshirt only confirms Miss Merafield's intuition, you know."
Mr. Bigbury nodded gloomily.
"Jane Jobling—she's our mark. If I'm not a thousand miles from the truth, Jane Jobling, who certainly never heard of Lewisson or Old Hallerdon, is going to lead us where we want to go—or at least where I want to go. This way—"
Tolefree gave him a short account of the midnight studies which had put him on the track of Jane Jobling. Mr. Bigbury's frown became a stare.
"Borthwick!" he exclaimed, when Tolefree had done; "but Borthwick didn't seem that kind of man to me."
"Quite on the cards that he's not that kind of man; but I know him already for two kinds of man—and there may be a third. Anyway, the only short cut I can see will take me to Meare in Somerset—and with you, if you're game."
Mr. Bigbury was not only game, he wouldn't be out of the hunt for a thousand pounds.
"You'll be going down to the bathroom now," said Tolefree. "Before you go, I'd like to see just the lie of the land on this floor which made it possible for Thibaud to get away with those two burglaries. Anyone else sleeping up here?"
Only Sir Thomas and Lady Grymer, Bigbury believed.
Sir Thomas, said Tolefree, had gone down—"and I don't suppose we shall disturb Lady Grymer—"
Mr. Bigbury hitched on his dressing-gown and led Tolefree into the corridor. He pointed out that the room beyond his own on the inside had been unoccupied all the time. The corresponding room on the outside was Canon Merafield's. The door of Lyneham's bedroom stood opposite his own. On the corner of the landing was the outside door of Lyneham's dressing-room; round the corner next to it, the door of Grymer's dressing-room.
"I was looking," said Tolefree, "for some other way for Thibaud to conceal himself when he disturbed Lyneham than dashing down the stairs. If he dodged into Sir Thomas's dressing-room, eh? Three yards, and he'd be there."
"But—Sir Thomas!—" Bigbury was aghast.
"Yes—he'd have been disturbed as well. It looks impossible. And of course it wasn't really far to his own room. But let's time it. You slip down to the door of Thibaud's room. Just give a cough and start for this landing, coming up as quietly as possible. We'll see how long it takes. Then do the reverse—try downwards from the door of Mr. Lyneham's dressing-room as far as Thibaud's."
Mr. Bigbury looked as if he did not like this experiment, but made no vocal objection. Tolefree, standing on the landing, watch in hand, listened for his cough. Between it and his arrival at Lyneham's door, ten seconds elapsed. He went down in less.
Tolefree joined him at the turn to the bathrooms.
"Easy," said he. "Thibaud could have been well away before Mr. Lyneham opened his door. But there's another inference. You see what it is?"
He did not see.
"On Sunday night, whoever shot Lewisson could also have been well away—either upstairs, or into one of the bathrooms, or round here into the passage to the library—before Felderman arrived. If he went upstairs, there were several empty rooms. If he went to a bathroom he could lie low for the needful time. If he came round here towards the library, he could lurk in the dark. Either way, he could wait till everyone had crowded into Lewisson's room and then sneak off at his leisure."
"Then—not Borthwick?" said Mr. Bigbury. "On that theory, not Borthwick."
"And not Thibaud—?"
"Nor Thibaud on that theory."
"Then who, Tolefree? What are you getting at?"
"I don't know who, and I'm only getting at ways and means. It may all be useful when we find Jane Jobling."
Mr. Bigbury went to his bath. Sir Thomas Grymer had finished his breakfast and gone out. Tolefree took his coffee alone, and was called away from it to answer the telephone.
Ellis, speaking from Plymouth: "This shell, Mr. Tolefree. I've analyzed every atom of foreign matter on it. Want the results?"
"I expect it would be all Greek to me," said Tolefree. "If you can say with fair certainty how it got crushed—"
"No doubt about it. The crushed end—the muzzle, you know—had cut particles of cured leather, and some still stuck to the edge of the metal. There were less marked symptoms of the same thing on the base, which wasn't crushed. You can infer from all the signs together that the shell was stood on by someone wearing fairly new leather shoes—that is to say, there were no particles of road metal."
Tolefree thanked him. "And did you find which gun fired that shell?"
"Yes, Mr. Tolefree. It was fired by the gun from your packet. The other gun—the one you brought in the handkerchief—fired the uncrushed shell you left." (That would be the one found in the court yard, thought Tolefree.)
"Shall I send on the details?"
Tolefree did not want the details at present. Would he file them for reference in case of need?
What Tolefree wanted he got from Felderman while Mr. Bigbury was despatching his breakfast and going round to the garage to attend to the speed-beast. Sitting with the lawyer on the lawn, Tolefree startled him with an account of the revelations of Hudson's cryptogram and outlined the proposed expedition in search of Jane Jobling.
"But, Felderman," said he, "I'd like to clear up what we've found here before I dash off somewhere else. I want your help. Hope you've got a good memory?"
"Not so bad. What have I got to remember?"
"What Lewisson wore on his feet when he was shot."
Felderman arched his eyebrows.
"That's easy. Didn't I ever mention that when he came down to the smoke-room after dinner he'd put on black trousers and a dinner jacket over a soft shirt, but still wore his crimson felt bedroom slippers?"
"No—I don't think I ever heard that, or even that he was in dinner clothes."
"Oh, but he was, all but the shoes. Everyone else being dressed, I guess he didn't care to show up in a lounge suit or a dressing-gown."
"Well, that's very interesting," said Tolefree. "I'd always pictured him in day clothes. Very interesting."
"Is it? Any point about it?"
"Rather! We're agreed that if Lewisson was shot in his room it must have been by someone among the crowd who looked down on his body a few minutes later? We know that the shell found under his body was fired from the gun in his hand. And unless we're to accept the theory of a duel with pistols—but I don't believe in that, do you?"
"Don't seem likely."
"No—there's a great difficulty, Felderman. The two guns were twins—indistinguishable. It's impossible to believe they both belonged to Lewisson."
"And impossible to see," said Felderman, "how one of them got into Lewisson's hand if they didn't belong to him."
"There's a way out of that. I've thought and thought around it. Suppose that, when Lewisson enters the room and switches up the light, the first thing he sees is the gun placed ready on the table for him. He goes and picks it up. Immediately he does so, he's shot. When I worked out that possibility there was one snag—the ejected shell found under him where he fell. How did it get there? If it was fired at such close quarters that the ejected shell fell to the ground behind him, he might have crushed it in falling. But I didn't think so. It was crushed flat as if stamped on. So I got it examined by the C.I.D. They find that the crushing was done by a leather sole—"
"Good heavens!" cried Felderman.
"Now is the question of Lewisson's footwear interesting? He didn't stamp on that shell. He fell on it—and it was planted there before he was shot. Which makes the crime all the more deliberate and damnable, but all the more puzzling."
Felderman rose. "Tolefree," said he, "it's unbelievable!"
"That there could be such deliberation?"
"Yes—I can't see it. If the shell was planted, why was it crushed that way? The fellow couldn't have foreseen that Lewisson would fall on it—"
"Of course not, and if he had he'd have known that a fall wouldn't crush it like that. Obviously he stepped on it by accident—a bad accident for him."
"Incredibly deliberate!" Felderman stuck over that.
"But you couldn't have had Lewisson killed in this way without a cynical and determined plan. The fellow's foreseen nearly everything. Lewisson's to be found with the gun. But since he won't fire it there must be an exploded shell. So he's fired a shot beforehand and thrown the shell on the floor. What he hasn't foreseen is that Lewisson will fire. Still, that's all right. He can't foresee that the police will fail to find that bullet from Lewisson's gun embedded in the chair. And yet, when they fail to find it, the number of bullets and of shells still fits—because our friend Thibaud has carried off the second shell."
"But, Tolefree, the shell Lyneham found outside—?"
"The C.I.D. expert says that one was fired from the gun I found in the wardrobe."
Felderman slumped back into his chair, frowning.
"But when, Tolefree?—when? If we admit the devilish deliberation, when did he have the opportunity for all this?"
"Opportunity?—plenty. You've got to admit both the deliberation and the opportunity. I can see five or six people who had the opportunity. Borthwick had—after you said good night to him. Thibaud, too. Grymer, Lyneham, or the Canon or Bigbury had, if either of them wanted it. Even you, Felderman!"
"But, of course, you were eliminated long ago. Well—here's Bigbury, and I'm off. Hope to see you tonight."
At four in the afternoon the speed-beast was pulled in at the side of a narrow road where a black railing guarded it from a channel of black water. The ditch ran straight across a country whose flat expanse seemed limitless.
Mr. Bigbury was poring over a one-inch Ordnance Map bought in Taunton and Tolefree was consulting a list of addresses culled from a county directory in Taunton's Public Library.
The village of Meare, easily identified on the map, had appeared from the Directory to be an inconsiderable settlement in a large parish. They had chased Dykes House through that volume in vain, and the map showed such a maze of dykes intersecting the land, any one of which might have named a house, that this council of war seemed likely to be as protracted as a Geneva conference. Even more confusing than the number of dykes was the proliferation of the tribe of Jobling. Of the few hundred people in Meare an embarrassing proportion reveled in that name.
Tolefree looked up from his lists to regard Mr. Bigbury, who had abandoned the inspection of his map to regard Tolefree.
"Well?" said Mr. Bigbury.
"This, I think," said Tolefree, "is where you go into the imminent deadly breach."
"Absolutely alone." He folded up his sheet of Joblings and put it away. Mr. Bigbury concertinaed the map into his pocket. "The essential tactic of a campaign in strange country, where the general knows neither his terrain nor the whereabouts of the enemy, is masterly inactivity till his scouts have reported. So I sit tight in this admirable post until your guile has discovered Dykes House and collected a portrait and biography of Jane Jobling—and without asking a single question about either. Does that go with you?"
"I take the car?" asked Mr. Bigbury.
"It's a touch conspicuous—"
"I've certainly seen less remarkable vehicles in the full blaze of day—but that's of no account. In the dark, you know, all cats are gray. I shall stay here or hereabouts till dark. It will give you five hours, and you'll be back not too long after nine with a plan of Dykes House in your head and the heart of Miss Jobling in your hand—"
"I'm getting all the fat," said Mr. Bigbury. "You mean you're going to live here for five hours alone?" He swept an arm across the flat horizon, broken only by groups of pollard willows and the almost imperceptible roof of a cottage here and there.
Tolefree pulled out his pipe—looked at it affectionately. "I deprive myself of your company with regret," said he. "But a scout works best alone. Square the map with your car. Somewhere within a radius of three miles the peach awaits you..."
At six o'clock, Mr. Bigbury parked his car in the yard of the Willows Inn at Meare, discovered that it would be quite possible to have a chop at half past seven, refreshed himself with a bottle of beer, and announced his intention to take a stroll for an hour. He wandered away down a dusty road by a sluggish river and turned from it into a by-way along the bank of a dyke...
In the long, solitary drive during which he minutely squared the map of the parish of Meare, Mr. Bigbury suppressing every impulse of words to the tongue, had kept his eyes skinned as the speed-beast burbled along with throttle almost shut. There were many scattered cottages among the pollarded trees, none of which, as he told himself, looked sinister enough to conceal a mystery. In the heat of the afternoon they all stood open to the air and disclosed nothing but children and housewives and an occasional laborer hoeing a garden. The parish of Meare had seemed utterly unpromising as a cave of mystery until he marked, from its further end, this long, straight track contracting to a point in the distance. The speed-beast rolled slowly down its length. Mr. Bigbury's spirits began to rise when presently he found himself following the line of a dyke edged with reeds and flags and sedge; they leaped when five hundred yards further a second dyke gleamed at right angles to the first and joined it where a bunch of willows grew. In the angle formed by the two dykes and concealed from the road by the trees, he saw as he passed a low-built brick house, built like a lean-to, with its tiled roof making one shallow slope from front to back. It was an unpretentious place, but larger than the ruling size of the cottages in this countryside, flanked by outhouses mostly constructed of tarred boards. Mr. Bigbury made no pause, nor did he give more than a passing glance at the house; but he took stock of the country around. It was not cultivated. The thin grass waved high and dry; weeds flowered and seeded in the ardent sunshine; no animal grazed; there had been no sign of stock about the premises; no life stirred.
Of all the houses he had passed in two hours of threading the roads and lanes of Meare, this was the only one which satisfied Mr. Bigbury's sense of romantic fitness. Two dykes neighbored it. It might reasonably be called Dykes House. Trees concealed it. The place looked deserted. It could not be truthfully described as sinister, for nothing was sinister in the July blaze on that open plain; but from the angle of those two dykes no other building was to be seen. It might easily hide a mystery.
Tolefree's instructions against mentioning the name of Dykes House or acknowledging the existence of Jane Jobling somewhat cramped Mr. Bigbury's arm. The injunction, however, did not extend to inquiries leading up to them, and the youth who was washing down a truck in the yard of the Willows Inn (and had been manifestly smitten with enthusiastic admiration of the speed-beast) offered him a promising point of departure. He remarked upon the flatness and the narrowness of the roads and the number of right-angled turns which prevented the speed-beast from traveling at the pace which best agreed with its constitution. From that point to an account of the route by which he had found his way to the Willows Inn, it was easy going. Finally his Odyssey reached the long track across country and the apparently deserted house among the trees—
"Aye," said the youth. "I knaw 'en—Dykes House. Empty for years'n years till three months agone."
"Oh?" said Mr. Bigbury. "But farmer doesn't seem to have done much in three months."
"Varmer? They bain't no varmers, they three! Gentry-like—took the place just as you might yerself, zur, if you was fond o' a bit o' coarse fishin' in they dykes."
"Ah, very nice," said Mr. Bigbury, opening the speed-beast's bonnet and putting his head inside, whence came the rest of his comment: "Very nice, with the Willows Inn all handy for a corpse reviver when needed."
The youth grinned at Mr. Bigbury's back. "Aye—an' needed pretty reg'lar. Two of 'em in the bar now."
Something clattered among the internals of the speed-beast, but Mr. Bigbury made no other reply. He considered what Mr. Tolefree would do in a like situation. One thing, certainly, he would refrain from doing, and that was to show the slightest curiosity about the corpses now reviving themselves in the bar. He closed the bonnet, waved his hand to the youth, and entered the inn, glancing into the bar as he passed through to the back of the house to discuss chops with the landlady and to drink his bottle of beer.
Of the four occupants of the bar, the two Gentry, sitting at a table before pale yellow liquid in two slim glasses, were easily distinguishable from the two laborers who stood at the bar ruminating over two pint mugs. But all the impression Mr. Bigbury's visual memory received in that rapid glance was the back of a dark head and a broad pair of shoulders and opposite a white face with a very black mustache. Not that this imperfect and fleeting observation troubled him: it did not interfere with the tactics he had suddenly conceived. If Dykes House was veritably a fortress and two-thirds of its garrison had deserted it, and if this part of the garrison lacked transport (he had seen no car but his own in the yard and none in the village street) the opportunity for a spot of scouting was certainly too good to be missed. He thought Tolefree would have agreed with that...
At half past six, then, Mr. Bigbury approached on foot the bunch of willows which concealed Dykes House. He was building on a complex theory.
That if the chap called Penrose was, as Tolefree supposed, being detained against his will at Dykes House, he could not be one of the Gentry known to the youth at the Willows Inn.
That three men could hardly have lived at Dykes House for three months without some sort of service.
That the odds were that Jane Jobling had provided the service;
That the occupants of the house at the present moment were probably one of the Gentry, the chap Penrose, and Jane Jobling.
That if he played the part of a silly ass successfully enough, he might deliver all the goods to Tolefree in one handful at nine o'clock.
But Mr. Bigbury found cause to thank his lucky star for the intervention which prevented him from playing the silly ass. His idea was to march up to the door with a ready-made story of having lost his way among the dykes, and to trust to chance that a woman would answer, that the woman would be Jane Jobling, and that Jane Jobling would be a peach. Afterwards he admitted that if this had happened he would certainly have been unable to rejoin Mr. Tolefree at nine o'clock. The process of events was different.
At a hundred yards' distance the willows concealed not only the house but the road ahead down which he had driven an hour ago, and there the sound of an engine came to his ears and he gathered that a car, in second gear, was approaching down that road. It did not take him a moment to decide that he did not want to be seen by any persons in the car if it passed him, and that if it stopped at Dykes House he wanted very much to see those persons without revealing himself.
He dropped down among the rushes and the sedge at the roadside, wriggled deeply into the mass, and crouched there.
The car came on till it seemed to be very close. The engine stopped. A door banged...It was making a call at Dykes House.
Mr. Bigbury listened to voices without being able to distinguish anything said. They died away. He raised his head till he could peer between the nodding tops of the sedge grass. He saw an empty landscape bounded by the willows. In two minutes Mr. Bigbury was among the willows. In three he had found a way of reaching the back of one of the outhouses. In four he had slipped inside it and discovered a crack between its warped weather boards which gave him a clear view of the yard in front of the house, where a large motor-car stood empty. The door of the house was open.
Mr. Bigbury gazed for a space upon this scene of sunlit peace, speculating on his line of retreat if things should turn sour. It seemed fairly secure. The building had at some time or other been used as a byre. It had a door at each end, and the one by which he had entered was out of sight from the house. If bad luck sent someone to it, the approach would be to the other door and long before it was opened Mr. Bigbury would be back among the sedge.
Two men left the house and strolled up and down the yard talking. One wore a chauffeur's uniform, the other tweeds. Mr. Bigbury's heart gave a bound when they turned facing him and came straight for the shed. Measuring the distance from the door of retreat, he conquered the impulse to dash away, and watched their line. They did not veer towards the entrance. Talking earnestly, they reached within a yard of Mr. Bigbury behind his crack, and turned.
A few sentences came to his ears.
From the chauffeur, "...and I said I thought it was dam' dangerous to leave him here."
From tweed-suit, "Dangerous nothing! He'll sleep twelve hours. And twelve hours is enough. They're clearing the boodle tonight. Boss has got away. Rendezvous tomorrow at..."
The place of rendezvous was lost in the distance as the voices receded. At the next turn, Mr. Bigbury had a spasm when names came to his ears—
"...in the newspapers, name of Lewisson. But you can't tell in that mob who's who."
That was the chauffeur speaking. Tweed-suit said:
"Dam' silly thing," and thrust his hands deep in his pockets as they walked away. "Why in hell did he go down to Devonshire?"
The voices became inaudible. When they approached again, tweed-suit was saying:
"Quiet as a grave till today."
"Car drove down past just an hour ago. Sports car. Young fellow—a baby-face, but you never know. First car down this road for three months—that's all. There's only that damned woman: she might be a nosy-parker—but I haven't seen her since Saturday."
Mr. Bigbury clenched his fist and looked at the point on the blue chin where he would have liked to hit Tweeds, who turned, walking away again, shaking his head to Chauffeur.
This spotty dialogue, interrupted by long inaudible intervals, continued for a quarter of an hour. Mr. Bigbury learned that the two Gentry at the Willows Inn would return at eight o'clock, that there would be time to do everything between then and dark, and that by half past ten the tenants of Dykes House would have departed in the car Chauffeur had brought for them, leaving behind a man who was expected to sleep for twelve hours.
"I'll go and have a look at him," said Chauffeur, and both went back to the house.
Mr. Bigbury stood fast. His chop at the Willows Inn might be overdone; but he would not leave his observation post before he had seen the woman who was undoubtedly Jane Jobling...
He could make little of what he had seen and heard. The precious warders of the bloke who had dictated the letter to Jane Jobling were about to cut and run, leaving him to sleep off a dose of dope; but it seemed that he was in no other danger. Mr. Bigbury and Tolefree might if they liked have a quiet night's sleep before chasing him up in the morning about half past nine and giving him his breakfast. But—Tolefree's guess was right: some link did exist between Dykes House and Old Hallerdon. And Tolefree's instructions were urgent. Therefore Mr. Bigbury, puzzled as he was, would stand fast till he could declare that he had not only discovered Dykes House but had seen Jane Jobling...
At this point Jane Jobling ceased to be a legend and became a fact.
Hearing a slight sound behind him, Mr. Bigbury turned. The door by which he had entered slowly opened. He flattened his back against the boards. The light inside was dim and he might escape notice in a hasty glance. But his momentary fear vanished when in the opening appeared the silhouette of a young woman in a sunbonnet who evidently saw him at once and put a finger on her lips. Mr. Bigbury stayed still and silent as a post. She closed the door and stepped towards him. In that light he couldn't see whether she was a peach or not, but in truth he was not much concerned about her looks.
"Be you from Hood and Son, the builders' merchants?" she whispered.
Mr. Bigbury looked blank, thought rapidly, saw a light, and whispered back,
"Yes—come about the sink. Are you Jane Jobling?"
Mr. Bigbury never made more than a pretense of eating that chop. The whispered information Miss Jane Jobling gave him in the obscurity of the shed sent him post-haste back to the inn and a mere mouthful of mutton, and into the speed-beast, and quickly to his rendezvous with Tolefree.
When he reached the spot just before eight Tolefree was leaning over a rail, smoking his pipe, studying the life of the ditch. He looked up at the sound of the speed-beast and waved his hand to the approaching Bigbury.
"Well?—" he said as the car slid alongside the railing, "—Dykes House?"
"And Jane Jobling?"
"Been talking to her."
"Good!—and is she a peach?"
"No—an apple—cheeks like a Worcester Pearmain, and good all through."
"Fine," exclaimed Tolefree. "But out with your big news—" Bigbury was so evidently bursting with news.
"Tolefree, it's this—d'you want Penrose only? Or d'you want the gang?" he asked excitedly.
"That depends. Why?"
"Because, if you only want Penrose, you can get him in the morning and no questions asked. If you want the gang, we've got to start in now—right away."
Tolefree climbed into the car.
"I want the gang if I can get it. Or at any rate I want to see the gang. But we're a small force to tackle a gang. How many?"
"Four of 'em."
"Two to one's rather long odds. Even if I count you as two, it'll be four to three."
"There's Penrose himself—"
"You haven't seen him?"
"Well, then, before we start you'd better give me the story of Jane Jobling."
Mr. Bigbury did...
Jane Jobling was the daughter of a cottager living half a mile from Dykes House. She had been a servant of the grower of willows for basket-making who previously lived there, but the place had been untenanted for three years till a man took it last Lady Day for six months as a headquarters for coarse fishing in the dykes. He entertained friends from time to time and engaged Jane Jobling to do the house-work and plain cooking. She was there in the morning, had an hour or two off in the afternoon, returned to get supper and see to the bedrooms, but did not sleep in the house.
"His name?" said Tolefree—"Not that it matters, I suppose."
"Probably not," said Mr. Bigbury. "He's just one of the Browns."
To Mr. Brown various friends came, staying a day and a night or so. They came always by car, always arrived in the evening, and often after Jane Jobling had left for the night. They did a little fishing, but not much—far more card-playing, and some business of sorts, but what sorts Jane Jobling could not divine.
"How did she know it was business?" Tolefree asked.
A lot of writing and confabulation and money passing in the parlor, the only room Brown had furnished except for half a dozen camp beds upstairs. Jane Jobling was of opinion that every guest who came had some business to do.
"Ah!—go on, Bigbury—this is the goods. Did she say how often the friends came?—whether they came as single spies or in battalions?—whether they turned up at regular intervals?"
"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Bigbury; "you're not the only one who's curious about that!"
The guests, according to Jane Jobling, came pretty regularly towards the end of the week and generally one at a time, except the two who arrived with Brown himself: they'd been there all the time. And the last guest, who arrived a week ago—Friday of last week—
"Was Mr. Penrose, I guess?"
It was if Tolefree had the right end of the stick.
Up to that time Jane Jobling had no inkling of anything fishier than the ostensible reason for the party. But the circumstances of the newcomer's advent made her suspicious. He was driven to Dykes House in a car, and on Friday evening, when she returned to lay supper, they were carrying him from the car into the house. A handsome young man, he seemed very ill—he was then unconscious. Brown, obviously annoyed by her presence, and her sympathetic inquiries about the poor gentleman, spoke sharply, ordered her not to make a fuss, said the gentleman had a touch of the sun and would soon be all right. He was carried upstairs, and Jane Jobling was dismissed for the night while they were at supper. On Saturday Brown told her that the gentleman—
"Did she know his name?" Tolefree interrupted.
She didn't. He was then to her just a handsome but anonymous young gentleman. Brown said that the gentleman, having still been very much off color in the morning, they had sent him off in the car to take the train for London. He added that they were themselves leaving in a few days and would not require her till further notice.
It was then that Jane Jobling distinguished herself in two ways. First she determined that Brown was a thundering liar. Next she kept her own counsel. The car had certainly gone, but the manner of her employers and their anxiety to see the back of her made her doubt whether the sick man had gone in it. When she went to clear the bedrooms there were two and sometimes three of them hanging about on the first floor and the door of a staircase leading to the dormer room in the roof was bolted. Jane Jobling could add two and two together as well as anyone—
"But there must have been something to put all this into her head," said Tolefree.
There was: the fact that the sick man was of a different type of Gentry from the persons so described by the youth at the Willows Inn. He was what Jane Jobling described as a Young Gentleman, and Mr. Brown and his cronies were a different breed of cattle. A Young Gentleman who had been carried into Dykes House unconscious, whom she had seen only because she was a little early in arriving on Friday evening to do her chores, whom she had not been meant to see, excited her curiosity. She was paid her week's wages. She left in the afternoon, her engagement ended.
But on Saturday night Jane Jobling was at Dykes House again, unseen, resolved to discover what secret that dormer room contained. She scarcely knew whether or not to be surprised that Brown and his friends were still there. A chink of light came through the shutters of the parlor, wide enough for her to see that the three of them were playing some card game. If the young gentleman was on the premises, he was certainly in the dormer room. Jane Jobling made up her mind to find out why.
"Courageous young woman," said Tolefree.
"You bet! She don't know fear," said Bigbury.
Jane Jobling, however, had a native wit as large as her courage, and she'd weighed her chances to a nicety. The ruling fact was that the Brown gang had no car and therefore couldn't get away at night. Jane calculated that even if they found her on the premises she could invent a plausible reason for being there—and anyhow, they wouldn't go to extremes. But she didn't mean them to know she was anywhere within half a mile of Dykes House, and once in the dormer room they would never find her.
So, having seen through the chink of the shutters their glasses filled and a fresh deal of the cards made, she crept round to the back of the house; got in through the window of a washhouse whose faulty fastening she well knew; took off her shoes, carried them in hand, and in stockinged feet climbed the staircase to the first floor; unbolted the door of the dormer stairs and latched it after her.
Within a few seconds she was holding her breath in the dormer room itself. It was an attic and had for light a flat aperture in the roof covered by a glazed window of one pane. "Dormer room" was a misnomer, but that was what it had always been called: the willow-farmer, having a large family, had slept several of his children in the stifling place. The roof was a long slope from the front to the back of the house, descending to the level of the washhouse where Jane Jobling had entered.
"Have you got all that, Tolefree?" Mr. Bigbury asked.
"Yes—quite clear," said Tolefree.
Well, that was the place where Jane Jobling stood listening in absolute darkness—and where she had a shock and made her one mistake.
The only sound that reached her was the rumble of voices from the room below. She could see nothing but a lighter shadow on the floor where a faint starshine came through the window.
"Hist!" said Jane Jobling, but received no answer. Then she felt her way with her stockinged feet around by the walls and had made half the circuit when she stepped on a soft obstruction. She stopped, went to her knees, put her shoes on the floor, and groped—a palliasse from a bed, a blanket or rug, and under it a body.
For a moment Jane Jobling thought she was going to have a heart attack. But the body was warm, and as she touched a hand it stirred.
"Hist!" said Jane Jobling.
"What the devil!" said a feeble voice.
"Don't talk above a whisper," said Jane Jobling. "They'll hear you."
"A woman!" said the feeble voice. "What the devil! Who are you?" The speaker put out a hand, grasped her shoulder, pulled himself into a sitting position. And thus it was, Jane Jobling kneeling and the handsome young man sitting on his haunches, that with their heads close together but invisible to each other they learned as much as each thought necessary to tell.
On his part the handsome young man learned how Jane Jobling had divined his presence in the dormer room and the suspicions that had brought her there.
On her part Jane Jobling discovered a considerable reticence in the handsome young man, who said nothing about his relations with the Brown gang or how he got into their hands. What he did tell her was that he had not the least idea of his present whereabouts: he had been doped and in that condition brought on a journey—recovered from his anaesthetic that morning—starved himself all day in order to avoid taking the further doses of sleeping mixture which he didn't doubt had been liberally added to his food and drink. He had otherwise disposed of both and feigned stupor whenever his hosts came near him. He had at intervals explored the garret and found that by doubling his mattress and standing on it he could reach with a short jump to the window in the roof. He had opened the window. He was satisfied that at any moment he could make his escape.
And it was at that moment that Jane had given a little gasp of astonishment: why didn't he escape?
"What's your name, sweetheart?" said the handsome young man whom she couldn't see to the buxom young woman he couldn't see.
Jane reproved him for this familiarity, but not too severely, and told him she was called Jane Jobling.
"Well, Jane," said he, "I don't escape because I don't want to—just yet. What I want is a square meal and an honest drink without any dope—above all a drink," and he declared that if she could get him those two things, he'd be the happiest man alive, because there was nothing he wished for more than to stay at Dykes House a few days and keep his hosts there looking after him. Jane promised to do what she could about victuals and drink.
But the handsome young man was far more interested in her account of the doings at Dykes House in the past three months—the goings and comings, the appearance and personalities of the various visitors, the regularity of their arrivals and the length of their stays, and especially the business confabulations which had aroused Tolefree's curiosity. Jane did her best to give him a portrait gallery, but the persons were many and she could not definitely distinguish between three or four of them, any of whom might have been the one whom the handsome young man persistently chased through her recollections—a tallish, biggish, clean-shaven middle-aged man with dark eyes and a secretive look in them. She noticed that he seemed little concerned with his hosts at Dykes House, whom he treated with contempt.
"Jane," he was saying, "you've helped me a lot by telling me where I am. Don't worry about me. I an get away whenever I want to. But I'm glad to lave a friend outside, and if you'll—" Jane's hand on his mouth put a sudden end to his speech. (So Bigbury dramatized the scene.)
"Listen!" she whispered.
The sound of voices and footsteps came from below.
"Good God, Jane!—where do you get out?" said the handsome young man.
"Lie down and cover yourself. I'll be all right," aid Jane, and slipped away from him.
Her knowledge of Dykes House led her to a three-foot partition between roof and floor, fencing off a long low space which the willow-grower had used as a junk cupboard. She pulled open the buttoned door, crouched in, closed the door and fastened the catch from the inside. It was thence that she heard the excited disturbance at the bottom of the dormer stair when the unbolted door was discovered, the accusations and denials and reproaches and the rush up to the garret. She saw the light under the partition door. She grinned when the voices suddenly eased. She heard the tramping across the room, recognized the tones of Brown calling on the handsome young man to wake up, and the growling yawn of the handsome young man saying, "Go to hell!" silence fell again till footsteps and the light retreated. The bolt was shot across the door at the bottom of the stairs.
Jane waited ten minutes after all sound had ceased below. Then she stole again to the handsome young man's side, saying "Hist!"
"How the devil d'you manage it, Jane?" he whispered.
"I managed," said Jane.
"But you just very nearly didn't, Jane! You left your shoes." He pulled them from under the rug and groped for her hand. "I felt 'em by accident—just hid 'em in time. They'd have given the show away, Jane!"
Whereupon Jane pronounced whatever in her vocabulary stood for an expletive and doubtless would have looked crestfallen if the young man could have seen her.
"And now, how the devil are you going to get past a bolted door?"
Jane in the dark pulled up her skirt and unwound a long line from round her body. She gave him the end of it. "This way," said she...
"I must know that foresighted young woman," Tolefree exclaimed. "A touch of genius there..."
So Mr. Bigbury thought, and so thought the handsome young man. He had every right to think so. For by means of the rope Jane, with infinite precaution for silence, let herself down the sloping roof into the yard. By means of the rope an hour later the young man hauled up the parcel of food, the bottle of water and the candle for which Jane had trudged the half mile to her home. By means of the rope a little later he sent down to Jane with the empty bottle the letter which Jane was to copy in her own hand exactly as he had scrawled it in block letters on the back of a split envelope and to post to Messrs. Hood and Son at an address in John Street, W.C.2.
Jane painfully indited this epistle next morning, and safely preserved it from prying eyes till she had entrusted it to safe hands to be posted in the late box at Bridgwater station. It was not till she copied the letter that Jane discovered the handsome young man to be called Mr. Headmoor.
To Mr. Bigbury, all this precaution seemed excessive.
"I think," said Tolefree, "we may find it was quite natural. Jane Jobling begins to let in daylight, as I guessed. Didn't she intimate that Penrose had closed her mouth—forbidden her to say a word about him to anyone outside, unless it was to somebody from Hood and Son?"
"That's it. Jane wanted to call the police. Penrose wouldn't hear of it."
"Exactly. Well—go on. He's still there, in the dormer room?"
"But you say there are four in the gang, not three—?"
"One came this afternoon—in a car." Mr. Bigbury related what he had seen and heard from the chink in the wall of the shed, and how Jane Jobling, always on the alert for some reply to the letter she had copied, had observed him from her cottage going past in the car, returning on foot, disappearing into the sedge; how she made up her mind that he wasn't one of the gang ("Not that kind of Gentry," Tolefree smiled) and discovered him in his hiding place.
"So in about two hours from now the blackguards will give Penrose a stiff dose of sleeping draught, which he won't drink—"
"They may make him," said Tolefree. "All the week, I suppose, Jane Jobling's been supplying food to him?"
"And he's been pretending to be doped. But this looks more serious. We ought to get there earlier. You've got a date with Jane, no doubt?"
"She'll be waiting for us near her cottage."
"Then, start up," said Tolefree, looking at his watch. "It's half past eight."
At a quarter to nine, the speed-beast drew up at the junction of the road from Meare with the track running by the dyke-side. Tolefree and Bigbury got out. A sun-tanned young woman in a lilac bonnet, with cheeks the color of a ripe apple, and gray eyes under dark brows, stood there.
"Jane Jobling," said Mr. Bigbury.
"How do you do, Miss Jobling?" said Tolefree, holding out his hand.
Nearing half past nine the sun had gone down half an hour and the twilight was fading. Tolefree stood beside the speed-beast on the track by the dyke, watch in hand, three hundred yards from the house. He saw Mr. Bigbury and Jane Jobling cross the dyke on a plank and plunge out of sight beyond the fringe of sedge and willow fronds. He timed their progress to the back of Dykes House. He allowed fifteen minutes for Jane Jobling to carry out the plan they had made.
Tolefree then left the speed-beast and walked along the road. Following the trail Bigbury had blazed he penetrated the outskirts of Dykes House, identified the deserted byre where Bigbury had hidden, entered and waited. So fast had the light gone and so thick were the trees around the enclosure that the yard at which he looked through the cracks of the boarding was nearly as dark as full night. He could just make out the gleam from the polished surfaces of a motorcar, see a shadow flitting about it, and hear footsteps. A second shadow melted into the first, and a sound of voices came, but no distinguishable words, till one shadow went off towards the house and a sentence was thrown across the yard, "Eh? Oh, stow it under the seat."
Tolefree waited, listening intently, watching the shadows.
At last, the sound came for which he had waited—a shout within the house, a noise of hurrying footsteps. He started but did not move, watching the shadow about the car.
Instantly the thing happened that he had least expected. Instead of rushing into the house, the shadow disappeared into the car itself. A dazzling blaze from the headlights, the engine roared, the car moved quickly in a half circle out of the yard, turned left and accelerated and, by the time Tolefree had groped his way out of the byre, was racing along the track where Bigbury had seen it come.
One of the gang had made good his escape.
Tolefree troubled no more about him, but made for the house, pulling from his pocket as he ran the gun which he always said was as effective for coercion without ammunition as if loaded.
He stopped in a narrow hallway partly lit by the gleam from an open door on the left. Down the staircase fronting him were coming three men, hands above their heads, shepherded by the tall figure of Mr. Bigbury with a gun pointed at their backs; and behind Mr. Bigbury another tall, fair and handsome young man holding Tolefree's torch; and behind him again Jane Jobling.
At the bottom of the stairs the leading man, a person in a well-cut tweed suit, broke away and dashed for the open. Tolefree stepped into the light with his gun at arm's length, and pointed to the room on the left.
"That way, please," said he.
With an oath the fellow pulled up sharp, the others cannoned into him, and all three were hustled into the room where a lamp stood on the mantelpiece.
"Keep your hands up, Mr. Brown," said Tolefree to the man in tweeds. "Face the wall. You others, too. Now, Mr. Bigbury, see whether they're armed."
Mr. Bigbury, handling them with a complete disregard for gentleness, especially the man in tweeds who had spoken of him as Baby Face, found that neither of them was armed. Tolefree turned to the handsome young man who looked on with a smile of amusement.
"In that case," he said, "it would seem to be your lead, Mr.—er—Headmoor."
"Leave 'em there under guard and come outside," he responded.
With Mr. Bigbury standing in the doorway, gun now in his pocket, but with a forbidding expression of dislike on his fair face, the handsome young man drew Tolefree and Miss Jobling into the yard.
"Our young friend Hercules in there tells me your name's Tolefree and you've got a paper of mine," said he.
Tolefree pulled out his wallet and, while Penrose held the torch, found the letter to Hood and Son. He nodded and showed it to Miss Jobling.
"Jane—recognize your handiwork?"
"Eess," said Jane.
"Shan't see much more of you, Jane, I guess; but I'm eternally grateful. You know," he turned to Tolefree, "this Somerset lass is eighteen carat all through."
"I have the highest opinion of Miss Jobling," said Tolefree.
"Before I leave these parts I shall call on you, Jane," Penrose told her. "But now leave us to settle Mr. Brown's hash, will you?"
He grasped Jane's cool, rough hand. Tolefree followed suit. Jane tramped off.
"Now, Mr. Tolefree," said Penrose, "how did it all happen?..."
He listened silently to Tolefree's selective summary of the things that had brought him to Dykes House. An occasional "Yes, I see" came out of the darkness to Tolefree's ears as they paced the yard. Only once did Penrose show any astonishment—when he heard the story of Lewisson's death. Then he exclaimed:
"Damn!—that tears it!"
"Men are the playthings of fate," said Tolefree. "Fate is blind. She often shoots the wrong man."
Penrose stopped, put a hand on Tolefree's arm, and growled:
"That'll be enough, Mr. Tolefree. I'm not giving you any confidences, you understand? You undertook, as a private detective, to worry out the meaning of my letter and find me if you could. You've done both and that's the end of the contract. The man who employed you will settle with you. What else you do about anything that took place at Grymer's is no concern of mine. We part company. That understood?"
Tolefree released his arm from Penrose's grasp. "Heard," said he.
"Well, I should have said, rather, is that agreed?"
Tolefree paused before answering. "I think you make a mistake in assuming that you have the power to withhold your confidence."
"All right. I make my own mistakes."
"You're greatly outnumbered, Mr. Penrose. Bigbury and I could call upon Brown and Company to help us and they'd jump at the chance."
"You could, but you won't—that is if you value your liberty."
"No, I don't think I shall. But listen to this. Though, as you say, I've fulfilled my contract about you, I'm far more interested in the thing that happened at Grymer's. I mean to get to the bottom of that, you understand. You could help me to a short cut by mentioning one name—the name of the—er—boss."
"I daresay I could. But I'm not mentioning any names. I'm an anonymous person myself, and so far as I'm concerned every other person in this affair is as anonymous as, say, Brown yonder. It's no good, Tolefree—nothing doing. You've no locus standi."
"All right. I make my own locus standi," said Tolefree, shortly.
"But not at Dykes House, and not tonight, I assure you. At Dykes House, whatever you may be anywhere else, you're the private detective instructed to dig me up. Nothing more. You've barged by accident into a big thing you can know nothing about. By sheer accident and nothing else. Accident counts for so much! If I'd not been too cocksure before I landed at Southampton last Friday morning, I shouldn't have given anyone the chance to jazz up my breakfast coffee with knockout drops; but then I shouldn't have known so much about the big thing as I do now."
"I know what the big thing is," said Tolefree. "You? Nonsense. You can't bluff me."
"When I say I know, I mean that I argue what the big thing is."
"Argue away, then."
"No! I give confidence only for confidence. But every word you say confirms my argument. Anyway it's beside my point. Big thing or none, I intend to track down the man who murdered Lewisson, let him be as big as Colossus. Mr. Penrose, do you know the fellow who calls himself Thibaud?"
"I know no names."
"Do you know the fellow who calls himself Borthwick?"
"All men in the world are anonymous to me this evening—except you, Tolefree."
"Do you know what was rushed away from Dykes House in a car tonight?"
"Did they rush something away? It's a matter of indifference to me, since I know where they'll take it.
"Indifference! If that murderer should slip away because of this, Mr. Penrose, I don't envy your position."
"Don't you? That's nothing new. Nobody does."
"Very well," said Tolefree. "I've done my job. I've discovered you. Do I report on Sunday that you were apparently a prisoner at Dykes House, but when I dug you out, you suggested that it was a matter of no importance?—that you could have got away any time you liked, but you preferred to stay there? Is that right?"
"And that I left you there with the gang of scoundrels who had appeared to kidnap you?"
"And that when I told you of the brutal murder of an innocent young man at Old Hallerdon in which your intimate friend Borthwick was involved, you merely said, `Damn!' and refused to turn a hand about it?"
"Was that in your contract? Very well. I hate to treat you like this, Tolefree. I'll tell you one thing only—that you misread the meaning of my S O S. It was meant merely to give information, not to appeal for help. If there'd been time to read it my correspondent would have realized that. Still—report just what you like."
"Then I wish you a very good evening, Mr. Penrose!"
"One moment, if you please. Not before I've thanked you for doing your job so neatly. We'll probably not meet again, and you'll not hear of me; but I daresay I shall hear of you—and always with pleasure."
"Good evening, Mr. Penrose. I think you're in error—haven't a just sense of proportion; but—well, good evening."
Tolefree walked to the door of the house and called:
"We leave now. Say good-by to Mr. Brown."
"What the devil—!" Bigbury cried. He came to Tolefree at the door. "You mean we're going and nothing happens to that bunch of thugs?"
"Nothing at all," said Tolefree.
Mr. Bigbury sighed. "What an anti-climax!"
"Yes," said Tolefree, "but the second climax will be worth it. Now for the speed-beast and Old Hallerdon, and—step on the gas, Mr. Bigbury."
Mr. Bigbury, inquiring for Tolefree on Saturday morning, learned that he had gone to the gallery of the library to read and went after him up the spiral stairs. Tolefree, however, was not reading but standing in an alcove with a drawing in his hand, looking from it to the painted window on which the glaziers had now finished working.
"'Mornin'," said Mr. Bigbury, saluting.
"Had a good night?" Tolefree asked.
"Slept like a lizard. And what's the next move, Tolefree?"
"No locomotion today," he smiled. "Thinking of J.J.—?"
"Ah," sighed Mr. Bigbury, "she was a peach, you know. Bloom rubbed, but still a peach. The way she got into that dam'd house, pulled me through the window, led the way in the dark straight up to the room in the roof!—bold and silent as a trench-raider. Some young woman! But, Tolefree, I can't make anything of the Penrose bloke—can you? Was it all just a joke to him?"
"The Penrose incident is closed," said Tolefree. "He closed it himself. Queer chap in a queer trade, Mr. Bigbury. We shan't hear any more of him—unless—"
"Unless what? Did he come up to your expectations? Switch any light on to Lewisson?"
"It's odds he never heard of Lewisson, but even if he'd had any light to throw he wouldn't have pulled the switch. Still, some people glow with a reflected light, don't they?—and Penrose is one. A most useful day. We made the acquaintance of a remarkable young woman in Jane Jobling, and I saw the thing for which Lewisson was killed—"
"Gosh!—you did?" Mr. Bigbury's cry rang round the vaulting of the library.
"Sh!—" said Tolefree. "That's an exaggeration. It was too dark to see. I heard it being dumped in the car, and I heard it spoken of. But at present the How of Lewisson's death's more important than the Why; and I've got to find the How today—simply must—or it may be too late. I'm trying out a line—and here's Felderman to help."
The lawyer was coming through the little passage from the landing. He greeted Mr. Bigbury with a friendly smile.
"Is Sir Thomas about?" Tolefree asked.
"Just going off to sit in judgment in Petty Sessions—expects to be back to lunch."
"Ah—then we have the morning. What'll you bet I'm not on the spot, Felderman?"
"Yes—and one that works. Let's sit down here." He pulled chairs up to the reading table in the alcove. "This is Borthwick's drawing—" He spread it on the table. "Dated the fifth—last Friday. Now, compare it with this window, which is the first one on the right of the drawing. Notice anything?"
"I see some difference," said Felderman, leaning over the drawing and cocking an eye from it to the glowing window.
"And you, Mr. Bigbury?"
"Yes—all the glass in the window's colored; a good bit of the glass in the drawing looks white."
"It does," said Tolefree. "That's it. But what if the artist meant to represent not clear glass but no glass at all?"
"Ah!" Felderman pulled the drawing towards him. "Ah!—go on, Tolefree."
"Did you observe on Tuesday that the glaziers were working up through the building in this direction? This was the last window on the quadrangle side they did. Suppose the drawing accurately represents the condition of the window last Friday when Borthwick made his sketch—that's not stretching probability, is it? Well—the same evening Borthwick insisted on changing quarters and Lewisson was lodging in his room instead."
Mr. Bigbury ejected his invariable monosyllable—but in low tone this time.
"I've measured the ground below. The exact distance between the two windows is twenty feet. They're at precisely the same height above ground."
"And so it was possible—" Felderman hesitated.
"Possible that the shot which killed Lewisson was fired from this window? Not only possible, Felderman, but probable—about the only theory that gets rid of all the difficulties we found. We concluded that he couldn't have been shot from the doorway of his own room or from behind the screen. He couldn't have been shot by a person standing on the drive or on the lawn. But he could have been shot by someone concealed in this alcove. If Lewisson was standing in front of his dressing table, his right temple would have been a perfect target for a gunman here at a distance of twenty feet. He was in a lighted room, the gunman behind a partly-glazed stained window, invisible, but with plenty of open space to fire through."
Tolefree put his finger on the drawing. "I tried it out in the small hours of this morning, when the house was asleep. I put on the table lamp in Lewisson's room and I came round here. I'm no revolver champion; but I could have shot anyone who stood by Lewisson's table and shot him dead with perfect certainty.
"There's one more thing," he went on. "Miss Merafield on the other side of the angle saw the flash and heard the detonation. You, Mr. Bigbury, on this side of the angle heard the explosion but didn't see the flash. A shot fired here would account for that discrepancy. What Miss Merafield saw was not a reflection in a window but the glow of the shot itself. If this is right, we've been misled into thinking all the firing was on the other side of the quadrangle because all the shells were found over there. But we've already proved that one empty shell was planted there. Why not another?"
Felderman and Bigbury sat looking with wide-open eyes at Tolefree for a space. Then Felderman shook his head.
"Seems altogether too perfect, Tolefree—I mean, too perfectly planned; as I said to you before, devilish calculation—"
"Could any conceivable devil," said Tolefree deliberately, "have calculated more callously? Isn't devilish calculation the essence of this murder? And didn't it all but come off? Think of it!—but for the mere accident of my acquaintance with you, Felderman, there'd never have been a visible link between Hudson's visit to me and the thing that was done here the night before. I should have gone hunting for sense in that cryptogram, and no doubt in time I'd have found it. Then—what? A visit to Meare—possibly the discovery of Penrose. But what else? Old Hallerdon would have had no existence for me. The suicide of an obscure chemist in a country house would have meant nothing. Why should it? Lewisson would have remained an inexplicable suicide and the murderer would have got away with it. Not that he mayn't get away. We've not brought it close home yet."
"If you're right, Tolefree, this window's rather close, eh? But are you right?"
Tolefree put a speculative gaze on Felderman.
"In the sense that this is the best assumption so far, I am: it fits more of the facts than any other. I've half a mind to risk Grymer's wrath and knock out a pane. You'd see how well it fits."
"No need for that. I agree about the possibility," said Felderman. "But the difficulty of fitting anyone into this window at the right time—"
Tolefree rose and looked at the glowing crimsons, purples and golds, as if he saw through them the lighted square of Lewisson's room, Lewisson standing by the red-shaded lamp, Lewisson falling dead amid the fracas of shots echoing down the walls.
"Yes," said he. "There's that. If I did try to fit anyone in, you might be astonished—or even horrified. I won't. But if you admit the reasonableness of a shot through the window, it's easy to see what a secure hiding place this would be—how unlikely that anyone would be disturbed here at that time of night. Also—how conveniently close to the corridor. How long would it take the man who fired the shot to get from this point round to the door of Lewisson's room? I've paced the distance—it's exactly forty-five feet from here through the little passage and across the landing to the door. Mr. Bigbury—try it out, as we did yesterday from the top floor, will you?"
Tolefree held up his' watch and waited for Bigbury's cry of "Right!"
The time was eight seconds.
"You see, Felderman? The shot woke you up. You listened, heard a door opening—footsteps. You thought it was Borthwick's door and the footsteps were near, but you may have been mistaken—"
"Don't think I was, Tolefree."
"And, of course, you may be right. But evidently there are two possibilities: anyone could have got to Lewisson's door before you; or anyone could have stayed here hidden till the excitement was worked up and then joined in unnoticed."
"Tolefree!—what are you saying?" exclaimed Felderman.
"Well, I said you might be astonished—or horrified. So, to avoid speculations that may lead nowhere, let's close the session."
Tolefree turned out of the alcove.
"Tolefree!—you can't! All that lying—"
"It's implicit in the facts that there's been some of the stoutest lying on record," said Tolefree, over his shoulder. "Events will show. Now, I'm going down on the lawn to meditate till lunch."
Events began to show immediately.
Tolefree, with Felderman and Sir Thomas Grymer, sat in the hall over coffee after lunch, for which Bigbury (with the connivance of Lady Grymer) had fetched Miss Merafield from Hallerdon. Tolefree had given Grymer an outline of his journey to Meare and was weighing the propriety of carrying the story on to his speculations about the library window when he was summoned to the telephone to receive a telegram received overnight and re-transmitted by Allen from Watling Street:
"Handed in at Lisbon 23h. 5, July 13. To Tolefree, Watling Street, London E.C.2. No need report to Club Sunday. Proceed no further with Commission. R. H."
He wrote down the text, carried it back to the hall, and passed the slip to Grymer.
"Then," said Grymer, "your job's over?"
"So it seems." Tolefree handed on the slip to Felderman, and nodded to Bigbury to show it to Miss Merafield. "My excuse for infesting Old Hallerdon has come to an end. It's been a very pleasant visit, Sir Thomas."
Grymer, with brows knit, looked hard at him without answering.
"Oh, but—" Miss Merafield exclaimed.
"Exactly," said Grymer. "I don't think that'll work, Tolefree. You can't come down and stir us all up like this and then just fade away. Hudson commissioned you for one thing. You unearthed another. Don't I have some say in this? I told you that if you were right about poor young Lewisson I'd stick at nothing to get the truth."
"You've got to see it through, Tolefree," Felderman declared.
"Absolutely!" said Bigbury.
"But how do I know, if I go any further with this, I shan't be pitching a spanner into Hudson's works?"
"Why not? What does that matter?" Grymer's frown returned.
"Perhaps I've already done so. I can't tell. It's a question of time." He picked up the slip and pondered it. "But I admit I'd like to go through with it, Sir. Thomas. If I do, as I said to Felderman this morning, the result may be astonishing—even horrifying. If you're prepared for that—"
"Certainly! For anything."
Tolefree pushed away his coffee cup and placed a notebook on the table.
"Very well. This morning I put down a sequence of events, observations and conclusions. Here it is, beginning with Hudson's visit to me.
"Note first that he came, within a few hours of the shooting of Lewisson, to discuss an affair which apparently had nothing to do with Lewisson or Old Hallerdon. That he was in some fashion connected with Old Hallerdon was accidentally but plainly shown by the note on the back of his card. That was a mere list of initials. If ever' he realized that he'd given it to me, or had lost it, doubtless he believed it would convey nothing to me or to any person who found it. But one set of initials was unusual, and I chanced to know a man who bore them.
"Note next that the Hudson—or the pseudo-Hudson (for I don't know which)—was a man disguised very cleverly, but not so perfectly that close observation at a distance of four feet across a table didn't reveal it. The man's most noticeable feature, barring the beard which had not grown on his face, was a pair of piercing black eyes. He was a big and powerful man. Take off his beard and readjust his hair, and he would stand as a model of the man you described to me as Borthwick. I believe Borthwick and Hudson to be the same person. They belong to the same club, but no one has ever seen them together. Their handwriting is identical.
"I conclude that Hudson and Borthwick are, for some reason only to be guessed at, interchangeable personalities. I conclude that the affair of Old Hallerdon and the affair of Meare from which I was to extricate Penrose are closely joined. In fact it's certain. Bigbury, you overheard at Meare an allusion to Old Hallerdon—"
"Yes—the blighters seemed right up the pole about it," said Mr. Bigbury.
"But I conclude also that Hudson (or Borthwick) was far more concerned about the Meare affair than the Old Hallerdon affair. That's confirmed by the fact that, immediately Penrose gets out of Meare, Hudson knows it and wires to me to hold off."
"If we knew what the Meare affair was—" said Sir Thomas.
"Bet I know what it was—or rather is," said Tolefree.
"Perhaps I should say I judge—but I'd back my judgment. I believe it's an affair of false money on a gigantic scale, and part of the conspiracy can be traced to Old Hallerdon."
Felderman gasped. Grymer leaped to his feet. "Be careful, Tolefree!" he said. "That's preposterous. What's the evidence?"
"I warned you that you might be astonished and horrified—"
But Grymer was rather indignant than horror-stricken. The suggestion that Old Hallerdon had any part in such a conspiracy touched him on the raw. He continued to demand Tolefree's evidence. Tolefree soothed him.
"Don't misunderstand me, Sir Thomas. I don't mean that Old Hallerdon had any part in the conspiracy. How should it? But a hand in the game was played here: I can't doubt that. Your friend Thibaud remains unexplained. All you know about him is that he knew nothing of engines. But I've got a little more information. The morning when he made his second raid on Mr. Lyneham's property—"
"Ah!" Grymer exclaimed—"Lyneham! I remember now: Lyneham did tell me, just before he left, some story going the rounds in the City of a big currency fraud—"
"Mr. Lyneham did?" Tolefree queried. "That's curious—a coincidence if you like! Did he say whether they were English or foreign frauds?"
"Foreign. He didn't know much. What brought up the subject was that he'd been bitten himself—landed with a bad note for 500 francs the last time he was in France and he'd turned it up in his pocketbook that morning, when hunting to see whether he'd lost anything to the burglar. Said he'd been told there was a lot of bad paper in circulation."
"Ah!" said Tolefree. "That brings us nearer home. I was going to say that the morning when Thibaud paid his second visit to Mr. Lyneham's room I took advantage of his absence to slip into his own room. I found some remarkable things there. Among them was a neat burglary outfit which included a powerful magnifying glass. But more interesting—two five hundred-franc notes side by side on his table."
"Whoosh!" said Mr. Bigbury.
"But surely," Grymer protested, "there was nothing remarkable about a Frenchman having a couple of five-hundred-franc notes—"
"Nothing at all. The curiosity was in the notes themselves. Each bore the same number in the same series. Couldn't stay to examine 'em closely. But—you see? Possibly both were false; possibly one was bad and one good; but certainly both couldn't have been good—could they?"
"Thibaud!" said Mr. Bigbury. "But I thought you'd counted Thibaud out!"
Tolefree gave a glance at Felderman, but he said nothing.
"Sir Thomas asked for evidence. That's one piece. But there are others. At Meare, for instance, the succession of visitors who came for a night, the little fishing and the much business they did, the sums of money they handled. If Penrose hadn't so emphatically ordered us out of it, Bigbury, we'd have had a look round—but I guess what was left of their false money was shifted in that car. When you raised your alarm, it went off like a rocket, leaving the gang behind in the house—probably with not a trace of the three months' business done there. No evidence against 'em. Not a spot of justification for our hold-up. Even Penrose disowning us. But you remember they had spoken in your hearing of the boodle that was to be cleared? I'd put my last shirt on the theory, though it's no more than a theory."
Silence followed. Miss Merafield broke into it.
"I don't believe, all the same, Mr. Tolefree, that poor Mr. Lewisson had anything to do with a fraud."
Tolefree looked admiringly at her flushed face and indignant eyes.
"I'm quite of your opinion, Miss Merafield," he said. "That's the knot we've got to untie. I'm quite certain that if Lewisson had played any part in the conspiracy he'd not now be buried in the cemetery of some Manchester suburb."
"Glad you said that, Tolefree." Grymer's frown eased off. "I'd stake anything on Lewisson's honesty—anything! And consider this—if your theory's sound, Lewisson must have known or discovered something of the conspiracy, supposing there was a conspiracy. And how could that be? It simply couldn't be! He had nothing to do with Borthwick, and his quarrel with Thibaud was all about that damned engine—I beg your pardon, Florence."
"Then," said Tolefree, "there's not an iota of reason why Lewisson was shot."
"I see none," declared Grymer.
"Nor I, if it was certain that he'd not by accident unearthed some trace of what you call the conspiracy. But is it certain?" Felderman asked. "He occupied the room that Borthwick first had. Suppose Borthwick left something there which put Lewisson on the trail of a fishy business? We know Borthwick didn't completely clear the room, for you found that drawing there. And then, suppose Borthwick missed whatever it was, found that Lewisson had it, and knew it would be fatal to the plot? Thibaud and he were thick as thieves—under the rose. Then you could simplify the whole thing. The gun's planted where Lewisson will certainly handle it, and the shell added to make sure. The hiding place is ready twenty feet away. Borthwick or Thibaud, whichever it was fired the shot—and it may have been either—is waiting for him to come into the room, pick the gun off the table, and so—bang! and the thing's done. Either of them can be by Lewisson's side before I or anyone else gets there."
"Yes," said Tolefree, "I think a lot of that's right. But you, Mr. Bigbury—?"
"My opinion's worth nothing."
"Don't be a modest violet, Bill," said Grymer. "Let's have it."
"Well—I think a lot of it's wrong, Mr. Felderman. I can't see Borthwick in this. But if you put it all on that little rat Thibaud—"
A broad smile was spreading over Tolefree's face when Bigbury suddenly stopped as the footman entered and said to Grymer:
"Mr. Thibaud, Sir Thomas—wishes to know whether you can see him."
It was a most astonished footman who heard the inarticulate exclamation of four men in chorus and saw four pairs of eyes staring at him as though he were an escaped lunatic.
If the other three had a stunning surprise, Tolefree showed more excitement than astonishment. He half rose, looking eagerly at Grymer.
"All right," said Sir Thomas to the servant at last. "Show Mr. Thibaud into the smoke-room; I'll ring."
"Of all the frozen impudence!"
Mr. Bigbury's muttered anathema made Tolefree smile. Mr. Bigbury shifted his chair to the side of Miss Merafield and shifted the paralysis from them at the same time. Grymer said:
"Well, Tolefree? What now? That fellow—what's he up to?"
"A calculated move, Sir Thomas. Mr. Thibaud doesn't put down one foot before he knows where to plant the other," said Tolefree. "If you've no objection, why not have him in here and see whether his business with you's so private that he won't do it in our presence?"
Sir Thomas rose and pressed a bell button. "Ask Mr. Thibaud to be good enough to come here," he told the footman.
Thibaud, seeing the assembly, hesitated on the threshold, but for a mere moment.
"Ah—mademoiselle!" He bowed to Miss Merafield. "Sir Thomas—mes amis!—what a pleasure!"
"Come in, Thibaud. Take a pew. Shall I ring for some coffee?" Sir Thomas did the gracious host.
Thibaud had long since lunched; he needed no coffee; the greeting of his friends was stimulant enough for him, especially Miss Merafield and Mr. Bigbury. As neither had greeted him at all, Mr. Bigbury had regarded him with extreme dislike and Miss Merafield with hauteur, the irony was not lost on the company. Thibaud took a chair.
"I have interrupted a—conversation?" he said.
"Not at all," said Sir Thomas. "Want to see me about anything privately?"
"Oh, no—I truly wanted you to ask me to stay at Old 'Allerdon tonight." Thibaud was bland as an archangel.
"Why—" Grymer said, and caught a glance from Tolefree, "why, of course; delighted. Thought you were going back to Paris? Sure you won't have some coffee?"
Thibaud reassured Sir Thomas that he had no need of coffee.
"I went part of the way to Paris," he said. "Then I turned back. I wished to spend this night at Old 'Allerdon for two or three reasons. I was sure my friend Mr. Tolefree would have some news of the burglars, and also perhaps of the cause why the poor Lewisson killed himself—hein?"
Mr. Thibaud might have thrown a brick through the window and caused less sensation than by this dive into the middle of their pre-occupation and this brazen allusion to the raids on Lyneham's room that everyone knew he had committed.
Grymer recovered himself first. "Well—as to the burglary—" he began, but did not continue.
"And as to Lewisson's death," said Tolefree, "anything you can tell us will be of the greatest interest." He passed his cigarette case. "The very greatest interest, Mr. Thibaud. In fact, we were just talking about Lewisson."
"Ah, then—I did interrupt a conversation! But no, Mr. Tolefree, without doubt you know much more than I do. I have told you all I know—"
"That I am deeply concerned—I am desolated—by the poor Lewisson's death, because it was me—it was I who was responsible for Lewisson's death. If I had not asked Sir Thomas Grymer to invite me to Old 'Allerdon—"
"I say!" exclaimed Grymer: "it was my suggestion, you know."
"Truly—but I intended you to ask me to Old 'Allerdon because I wanted to be at Old 'Allerdon then—precisely then for a reason—but you know it, of course?"
"I confess, Sir Thomas, I know nothing about engines. I have deceived you. Perhaps in deceiving you I have saved you from a great scandal. But nothing balances the death of poor Lewisson, for if I had not come here he would not have been killed. Mr. Tolefree knows well that Lewisson did not kill himself. He was assassinated!"
He looked round to see the effect of this declaration. No one stirred.
"We all know that, Mr. Thibaud. But we also know that the murder of Lewisson was not only brutal but aimless. He had nothing to do with the scandal you're hinting—"
Thibaud shook his head vigorously. "Nothing—nothing at all!"
"I long ago satisfied myself," said Tolefree, with deliberation, "that Lewisson was never meant to be shot. He was killed in mistake for another man."
"Who was the man?"
"I do not know. Me perhaps; perhaps not. A man who was expected to go into Lewisson's room to find something that was left there."
"What was left there was a gun—"
"Yes—and that was clever. To put a gun in the man's own hand and then to shoot him—very clever! But it was not the gun that was to entice him in. Something different—it raises up the question of the scandal which I must tell you—"
"Ah," said Grymer drily, "it would seem rather advisable, wouldn't it?"
"The thing was a Bank of France note for five hundred francs—"
"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Bigbury.
"It was l'amorce—what do you call it?—the bait. But unhappily it caught the wrong fish. I will tell you what happened. When I went up on Sunday night, the door of Lewisson's room was partly open and the lamp on his table was lit. That seemed curious—"
"Why did it seem curious?" asked Tolefree. "Why should a light in Lewisson's room attract your attention?"
"I think you must have imagined, Mr. Tolefree, why such an arrangement as I shall describe for you attracted—forced my attention."
"No matter—go on, Mr. Thibaud."
"I go on. I look into the room and I see the bait. But we have a proverb: the snare is spread for innocent birds—you know it? Yes? I am not an innocent bird; alors—I take the bait without the hook. I get the note but I leave the gun. I am quite sure I shall not be shot unless I take the gun in my hand. I am not shot. It is the poor Lewisson who is shot instead."
Grymer shuddered. Miss Merafield put hands before eyes.
"Then, Mr. Thibaud—you see what this means?" Tolefree paused with eyebrows raised. "You must have known that someone was going to shoot through the window."
"I knew," said Thibaud, gravely.
"How did you know?"
"I knew that a man had been watching that window the night before—what do you call the point de mire?—sighting it? Yes, that is it. He was sighting it. But I did not think it possible that the poor Lewisson was in danger. For this reason—"
"Sighting it?" Tolefree put in. "Sighting it from the window of the library opposite?"
"Ah—you have seen that? Then you have seen all!"
"By no means all," Tolefree dissented. "You were going to tell us why you didn't think Lewisson in danger. That's the vital point."
"Is it not quite evident?" Thibaud asked, with an air of surprise. "Lewisson was not in question. Why should anyone kill the poor Lewisson? The bait was not laid for the inoffensive Lewisson. No, my friend!—it was an error that Lewisson was killed."
"And," said Tolefree, "the error was an affair of lights and costumes. Of course! And if Lewisson hadn't changed into dinner dress before he came down to the smoking room, Lewisson would never have been killed."
"It's certain," said Thibaud.
"I think in one point you are wrong, Mr. Thibaud. But I interrupt you—"
"There is not much more, Mr. Tolefree. I went back to my room with the bait but not the hook—"
"Pardon me," said Grymer. "I haven't got you, Tolefree. What the devil can lights and costumes have to do with it?"
"I figure it this way, Sir Thomas. The man who planted the bait and then waited in the alcove of the gallery—"
"Dammit!" growled Grymer. "There's too much circumlocution for me. Who was the man? I suppose you know him?"
"Pardon, pardon!" Thibaud cried, excitedly. "Mr. Tolefree, if you know who was the man, I demand that you shall not pronounce his name yet—even here!"
"No need to get excited," said Tolefree. "I don't propose to mention any name, even if I have a name in mind. The man who is concealed in that alcove sees a room with wide-open windows, the lower half of it lit by a shaded lamp throwing a bright illumination on the table and the floor—you remember remarking on that to me, Felderman?"
"It was so," said Felderman.
"The light shows up clearly the body of any person coming to stand by the table. The watcher can see what he wears and what he does with his hands. He sees a man in dinner dress come across the room and take something but not the gun. As the upper part of him and his features are in partial obscurity, it's not easy to identify him by his features—though I have a reservation about that. But since he does not take the gun, he escapes being shot, because it's necessary to the plan that he shall have the gun in his hand when he dies, or at any rate shall have moved it from the table. He goes away. The watcher still watches. After a while a man in dinner dress comes into the room who goes straight to the table and picks up the gun. In three seconds he is dead. It is Lewisson. But the murderer doesn't know it is Lewisson. If Lewisson hadn't changed his clothes the murderer wouldn't have shot him."
"My God!" Grymer groaned.
"You think that's right, Mr. Thibaud?"
"I know it is exact," said Thibaud.
"But there is something you don't know. It happened a night or two ago. First, tell me—were you aware that on the Friday when you and Lewisson arrived, Borthwick was occupying Lewisson's room but insisted on changing?"
"Yes—I knew that. Borthwick himself told me."
"Well—on the night after you left, I found in Borthwick's room, where I was sleeping, a gun concealed—the twin brother of the one Lewisson was holding when he died. You didn't know that?"
"A gun!—Bort'wick's room!—he left a gun—! But it's impossible—inouï! unheard of—"
"Nevertheless I found it. Further, Mr. Thibaud—that was almost certainly the gun which killed Lewisson. At the moment when he was shot he held the other gun in his hand and the shock contracted his finger muscles so that he pulled the trigger and fired it. The bullet he fired was in the cushion of an armchair in his room. The shell found under him was crushed; but he did not crush it for it was crushed by a leather shoe and Lewisson was wearing crimson felt slippers. Therefore it was planted in the room beforehand to give the appearance of suicide—because the murderer could not possibly have known that Lewisson's trigger finger would involuntarily close on the trigger as he died."
"Mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" cried Thibaud. "You have all this—it's certain?"
"All confirmed by examination of the exhibits in a police laboratory."
"And Bort'wick left the gun in his room? Mon Dieu!—it has been finger-printed?"
Tolefree nodded. "But the murderer was far too clever to handle the gun with bare fingers, Mr. Thibaud. Not a print on it. Either he wore gloves or the gun was carefully cleaned after. You'd not have expected a man who plotted so deliberate a crime to leave finger-prints—"
"No, no! But I would not have expected him to leave a gun for you to find, Mr. Tolefree."
"Nor I. That's a strange and puzzling thing."
"Ah! Well, I shall tell you, Mr. Tolefree, that I do not think Bort'wick has killed Lewisson, and I believe you do not think so, too."
"I've said nothing—mentioned no name. But why do you believe it, Mr. Thibaud? Is it because of the suggestion in your letter to me?"
"That I am a certain person who's not in fact called Tolefree, but something else?"
"Yes—I have believed you are Mr. Penrose."
"But what if that belief is an utter mistake?"
"You are not Penrose?"
"No, I'm not. But I'm glad you mistook me for Penrose. The error enabled me, with the help of Mr. Bigbury, to find Penrose. I was talking to him last night."
Thibaud shut up like an alarmed oyster when Tolefree announced that he was really what he seemed and not a masquerader. He muttered that he had been deluded, led astray; that in the circumstances he had been indiscreet—terribly indiscreet. He sat pulling his mustache at them.
Then Sir Thomas Grymer took the floor and laid down the law.
"Look here, Mr. Thibaud," said he, "I'm a patient man. But you've worn out my patience. I don't like to be impolite to a foreigner; but, dammit! I'm not satisfied. There's a lot of things I want to know and you've got to tell 'em. You can't come into a man's house on false pretenses and treat him and his friends like this, I'll be hanged if you can! I want to know just what you are and why you came here and what you're up to. If you don't satisfy me, I shall telephone to Braddock and tell him to come and take charge. And I mean that thoroughly. So—out with it!"
Thibaud's dark eyes flitted round the room and back to Grymer.
"I will answer all your questions privately," said he.
"No, you don't!" Grymer insisted. "We've had far too many secrets for my liking. No more here. Everyone's been in it and everyone shall hear the explanation."
"You make it very difficult for me. This is a matter of great secrecy. Who and what is Mr. Tolefree? Is he of the police?"
"Certainly not. Mr. Tolefree came here with a commission that doesn't concern me. He's a private inquiry agent, and he's been making inquiries into poor Lewisson's business. He has my confidence. You don't seem to realize, Mr. Thibaud, that it's you who wants explaining, not Tolefree."
Thibaud began pulling his mustache again.
"It is very difficult," he repeated. "Great things are at stake today—a critical moment. Tomorrow—?"
"No!" said Grymer at his gruffest. "Not tomorrow—today—now! The only things at stake for me are the truth about the death of a valuable friend and the honor of Old Hallerdon. So come on, Mr. Thibaud. If there's need for secrecy, we'll be secret—but I shall decide that, you understand?"
Thibaud was silent.
"If you'll allow me, Sir Thomas," said Tolefree, "Mr. Thibaud may take it that everyone in the room has discussed the case from A to Z, and fully realizes how delicate it may be—"
"Even Miss Merafield?" asked Thibaud.
"Miss Merafield most of all. I think Miss Merafield probably had suspicions about the killing of Lewisson before anyone else at Old Hallerdon."
Thibaud's glance shot round to her. She returned it gravely.
"Then," said he, "as your guest I put myself in your hands, Sir Thomas. I will tell you things that no one else in England knows, and you shall judge whether I have reason in demanding secrecy."
Grymer uncompromisingly settled himself to listen.
"I am a Frenchman," said Thibaud. "Naturally I am concerned in anything that affects my country. I am concerned just now about an affair of false money—a great affair, enormous!—which is being carried on to the great injury of France—perhaps of other countries, but of France, certainly."
"Naturally," said Grymer. "But so's every Frenchman."
"I am concerned not only naturally as a Frenchman, but officiously—I should say officially, hein?—but how I cannot tell you except under the oath of secrecy."
"Oaths be hanged!" said Grymer. "We're not going to take any oaths. But what you say on that point we keep to ourselves, Mr. Thibaud. That'll have to be good enough for you."
"So? I accept it. Then, I am ordered by the Sûreté to make inquiry—"
"The Sûreté? Why the dickens couldn't you have said so before?"
"You will understand in time. I have to make inquiry about an affair of false money which troubles profoundly the French Government. I am chosen because it is not the first time I am in England, I know the country; I speak English after my manner. They give me carte blanche to act as I think best. There are sums—vast sums—of false money going into circulation. The forgeries are very skillful. We do not know where they are being made. We think not in France; we believe not in England—"
"Have you tried Portugal?" asked Tolefree. Thibaud stared. "Le Portugal? Quoi!—you have information?"
"I may have. But never mind. What about England?"
"We suspect the distribution in England—because of the way the money gets into circulation. Then—it is two weeks ago—we get a clue. We trace one false note through many hands to a person in England, and we can trace it no further. It is a note for five hundred francs. I have it here." Thibaud patted his pocket. "Voilà!—I leave for England. I learn about that person—most surprising things, of his habits and some of the company he keeps. I begin to smell a traffic. I cannot discover where it is done. I keep myself informed of the movements of that person. Then I get from Paris the news that English authorities have the same suspicion, and more—that they have the idea that one big coup is on the cards immediately—and then, fini! To prevent the coup—hein? And to catch the forgers as you say with red hands! That is it, Sir Thomas Grymer. The person I watch makes preparations to leave London. I hope he is going to the place where the traffic is managed. But I find he is coming to be your guest at this so charming Old Hallerdon!"
Grymer snorted. "The devil you do!—I hope you're going to give chapter and verse for all this!"
"I cannot lose him. I do not know how to get an introduction to you. I think desperately. You are an engineer—all the world knows Applewhites. I have it! A telephone to Paris, and the next day I have my credentials—a letter from a French firm of engineers. I have also a little elementary book about the internal combustion engine. And I chance my arm."
"Dammit!—you do!" said Grymer.
"I admit I deceive you. It is too bad. But what would you? Sir Thomas Grymer is charming. I come. I see things that I suspect. I play the game—"
"What!" cried Grymer.
"I talk engines. I enrage the poor Lewisson—and no wonder. I jolly Mr. Bigbury—is that good English? I turn attention away from my inquiry. But I keep my eyes open, and I see things. I begin to feel sure. At last I am sure"—he tapped his pocket—"and then that shot blows me up. I know that the gang is aware. In a moment—pouf! and it is all over. The coup may be made or not, but I shall not be there. I am desolated. I have failed!"
"Not quite, I think," said Tolefree.
"Not quite—but why do you think so?"
"Because the coup's not coming off. It nearly did. It was timed for last night, but you'll find that the English authorities have taken a hand and put the extinguisher on it."
"Yes—I hope so. Not quite, as you say. By a miraculous piece of good luck, Mr. Tolefree, I have escaped death. I have found what I wanted. I have discovered the route of the traffic. I believe it will be in time. But until today is over not another word. I have finished. I make my most sincere apologies to you, Sir Thomas Grymer. I thank you for your invitation to stay one more night at Old Hallerdon. And I shall say no more."
"You will say a good deal more," Grymer declared. "You'll tell me what the deuce you meant by robbing Lyneham the other night and fobbing it off on other people."
"Excuse me—I have not robbed Mr. Lyneham at all. That is a false appearance—like the gun in Mr. Tolefree's room. I will explain all tomorrow—but not today, not before I know that the coup is veritably lost. It is my duty. I say no more."
And neither Grymer's indignant scowl nor the raised eyebrows of his other guests could budge Thibaud. He had said all he was going to say.
Grymer suffered an almost apoplectic strain for the rest of that Saturday. Tolefree had a hard task to persuade him against doing something drastic. The idea that a French policeman had "sold him a pup," made damnable reflections on Old Hallerdon and its inhabitants, refused to explain himself, and had the crowning impertinence to foist his person on the place again uninvited, irritated Grymer beyond endurance. He gave way only grudgingly before Tolefree's insistence that Thibaud might be vital to the solution of the Lewisson mystery.
The after-lunch sitting having broken up, it was left for Tolefree to discover the true reason for this unexpected resurrection. Thibaud had come back merely to see Tolefree. Getting him alone late in the afternoon, he said:
"It has given me much pain to annoy the good Sir Thomas Grymer, as you will understand, Mr. Tolefree. But—kismet! I had to see you. Let us walk—hein?—some place where no one will disturb us."
Tolefree suggested that they might be as well in the gallery of the library as anywhere. No one at present went there.
"Alors—!" Thibaud started instanter off for the library dragging Tolefree by the arm. They came to a halt in the alcove.
"And it was here!" he exclaimed. "You have seen that it was here? But that was clever!"
Tolefree, non-committal as to his own cleverness, said with slow emphasis:
"That's all very well, my friend. But look here!—what I can't make out is your own silence about this. You suspected—more than suspected—what might happen there"—he pointed to the window. "You knew what the change of rooms meant. When Lewisson was shot, you knew what had happened there and why it happened—"
"I have suspected it," Thibaud corrected.
"Pardon me!—much more than a suspicion. Yet you left other people to ferret out with great labor what you had in mind all the time. Why, Mr. Thibaud? Tell me that, and why did you carry off that shell?"
"You do not want me to tell you that, Mr. Tolefree."
"Indeed I do!"
"Why!—it goes of itself! Did you not see that, as an officer of the Sûreté, the fate of poor Lewisson was not my affair? I am a foreigner. You have the English police: they come to the place of the crime with marvelous expedition; they make their inquiries; they arrive at their results. If I have some suspicions, I have no proofs whatever. All I can do is try to set the police on the right path. In this way: when I reach the poor Lewisson's room, what do I see? It looks like a suicide. But I, who have seen someone sighting from the library window, who have seen the trap laid in the room, I know it is not suicide, but murder. I cannot tell the police what I know, my affairs must be kept secret, and I must be free to do what I have to do. You understand, hein? But I see the shell on the floor; I pick it up while I am bending over Borthwick's shoulder. That way, I think, I set the police on the right path. For if they do not find a shell in the room, surely they will begin to look for it elsewhere, and to ask themselves what is this all about? But, hélas—I could not see the crushed shell under the poor Lewisson's body, hein? I did not know it was there. That upsets my little plan. I am very worried."
"And then," said Tolefree, "I arrived. And you couldn't quite be sure who I was."
"That's it," said Mr. Thibaud. "Exactement. I come to your room, with the shell in my pocket. If you are Mr. Penrose, I give it to you. But I cannot be sure. If you are one of the gang...? You see, hein? So I go away again."
"And then the next night," Tolefree went on, "when you heard Felderman and me going into Lewisson's room..."
"But yes," said Thibaud. "Then I feel sure you are not of the gang. And besides, I am going away. So I leave the shell in the room for you to find, and I take care that you shall hear that I have been there."
Tolefree pondered this.
"You must see!" declared Thibaud. "It is because I have believed you were Penrose that I have come back to Old Hallerdon today and so terribly annoyed the good Sir Thomas Grymer. It is to see Penrose that I am here."
"Why did you want to see Penrose today?"
"Because I thought Penrose had discovered what I wanted to know."
"And what's that?"
"It was the nid of the faussayeurs—what is it in English? their joint?—no, it is American. But you know what I intend by that."
"Yes, Mr. Thibaud. But you still thought of me as Penrose. Therefore you must—at any rate, what made you think I had discovered anything?"
"You took a long promenade the day after I departed—"
"How the devil did you know that?" Tolefree exclaimed.
"I have heard of it—but too late."
"Then—you've been hanging about here ever since Thursday!"
"It is true I have not gone far—once to London. I returned yesterday—to find you have left."
"Well, I'll be hanged! And even now you don't know what's happened?"
"No—I do not know. But I believe. I am on the telephone to Paris this morning. I think we shall have them today, those damned faussayeurs—but in France. Those who are in England may escape, unless Penrose—but I go beyond my duty. It is my duty to say nothing. You are not Penrose. If you know Penrose you understand why it is my duty to say nothing. I have finished. I wait."
Tolefree had a moment of hesitation. Then he said:
"Possess your soul in peace, Mr. Thibaud."
"Those who are in England will not escape."
"Aid—you know that?" Thibaud got up and struck an attitude.
"I did take a journey. I did find their nest. But Penrose was already there."
"What! Nom de Dieu!—but bravo, my friend! It is splendid!"
For an instant Tolefree feared Thibaud was about to embrace him. The danger passed. "Tell me—tell me!"
Tolefree, avoiding all mention of Hudson's commission, gave him a short account of Meare, which Thibaud interrupted with many exclamations and manifestations of joy.
"We shall have them!" he cried. "In the pincettes—one claw in France, one in England. I am satisfied. I will make apologies to Sir Thomas Grymer on my knees. I will tell him all. I will make confession that I have come to Old Hallerdon to find the joint of the faux-monnayeurs—"
"Better not," said Tolefree; "he won't like it."
"But I am not here five minutes before I see it is not the joint—"
"All the same, I'd say nothing about it, Mr. Thibaud. Keep Sir Thomas's mind on the murder of Lewisson. Let him see that if the gangsters you're after are caught, the murderer of Lewisson will be caught, too. That's your line."
Thibaud seemed to relinquish with much regret the dramatic moment of an apology on his knees to Grymer. But, "Very well, my friend. You know best. I follow your advice."
He did. There was no more open talk of counterfeit money or of Lewisson that day. Tolefree and Felderman took Thibaud off Sir Thomas's hands. The atmosphere of Old Hallerdon grew calmer. There was a peaceful night.
The Sunday on which Tolefree was to have completed his commission for Hudson in London found him basking once more in a summer blaze on the lawn of Old Hallerdon. Sir Thomas and Lady Grymer had gone to church; Mr. Bigbury was seated in a pew with Miss Merafield listening at far-spaced intervals to her uncle's sermon; Felderman and Tolefree had the quadrangle to themselves, for Thibaud was restless as a monkey in a cage. He had learned that the Sunday papers reached Old Hallerdon about mid-day. He spent an hour vaguely wandering between the lodge and the house.
Towards twelve o'clock, Tolefree and Felderman heard his footsteps as he raced up the drive. He came into view waving a newspaper as it were a banner, and crying, "Holà! Monsieur Tolefree—nous les avons!" He thrust the paper into Tolefree's hands, putting a finger on a big caption, and stood back to watch the result. Tolefree and Felderman bent their heads together and read a Reuter's despatch from Paris:
BIG CAPTURE BY FRENCH POLICE
INTERNATIONAL GANG OF FORGERS ROUNDED UP
FALSE NOTE FACTORY DISCOVERED
PARIS. Saturday A long and secret campaign by the French and English authorities in conjunction ended today with the arrest of several men who are believed to be the principals of a big conspiracy to manufacture and circulate false currency of several countries, but notably of France.
The appearance in circulation during the past year of large numbers of franc notes, ostensibly of the Bank of France, so skillfully produced as to require microscopic examination to reveal their falsity, has greatly disturbed the authorities. The notes were of moderate amounts, such as go into currency in great quantities, and of which the particulars are rarely recorded by those who use them. The highest denomination of French notes forged was five hundred francs. Detection was difficult.
Months of inquiry convinced the Sûreté that the notes were not being manufactured in France. The regions in which from time to time they made their appearance suggested that they might be coming from England. The investigation was conducted with the utmost secrecy in the hope that the conspiracy might be uncloaked and the source of supply discovered without alarming the gang and giving it a chance to break up.
It is understood that the English authorities admitted the possibility that the headquarters of distribution might be in England; but after elaborate investigation they rejected the suggestion that the false money was being manufactured there. It is also understood that from English sources came the first hint of the actual situation of the factory.
A note of five hundred francs detected in Paris some three weeks ago was traced with minute patience through the several accounts in which it figured, and the clues stopped at an account in London. Inquiry into that account led to remarkable revelations, which it is thought may cause a sensation in the forthcoming proceedings. The facts pointed to a well-known person whose name has not been revealed and cannot of course be mentioned till a charge has been preferred. Pursuit of this clue and a review of the goings and comings of the person concerned led to intensive secret explorations in the neighborhood of Lisbon. A firm of color-printers had last year built large works at a short distance from the city on the south bank of the Tagus. It was apparently a perfectly sound business, employed a number of workmen of various nationalities, and did some exceptionally good technical work. Two facts were noted by the inquirers, however: First, that the workmen did not include a staff of photo-engravers commensurate in skill and experience with the very modern plant installed; and next that the company had a remarkably large staff of directors and officials, who traveled a great deal. The discovery in London was held to justify a raid on the factory, which was carried out last night by the Portuguese authorities.
The result was astonishing and far graver even than had been suspected. The place was equipped with a plant equal to that of any note-printing establishment in Europe, and there were engraved blocks in store for printing currency notes of several nations. The plant had been working at high pressure recently, for a stock of freshly printed notes, especially of the Bank of France, was packed ready for delivery to the amount of several millions of francs.
The raid, which took place at midnight last night, was just in time. There were no workmen on the premises, but a number of officers of the company and some directors were, at the moment when the police entered the department, engaged in destroying the printing blocks and burning "spoils."
All were placed under arrest. They include the Englishman to whom the note already mentioned was traced in London. He had arrived in Lisbon during the week.
The exportation of the false money had been ingeniously contrived by means of a private motor yacht which frequently visited the Tagus and lay in the river at no great distance from the factory. It is believed to have belonged to the Englishman. The police think he had got wind of the suspicions that suddenly arose about the printing enterprise at Lisbon, and that if the raid had been delayed another day all trace of its illegal activities would have disappeared and a great sum of forged currency would subsequently have found its way into trade.
The French Sûreté acknowledges with gratitude the services of the English authorities without which the coup could not have been made. There is a rumor that the center of distribution in England has been discovered. The examination and trial of the prisoners will take place in Portugal where the actual offense of forgery took place, but it is understood that application will be made for the extradition of the accused Englishman on the charge of uttering notes in England.
Tolefree and Felderman looked up from the paper to see Thibaud standing with his arms akimbo and his eyes blazing with excitement.
"Voilà, mes amis! C'est fini! We have them—hein? Now I go! I drive to London. Make my apologies to the good Sir Thomas. I fly to Paris. I cannot stay. I have here the pièce de conviction. I have the note which was traced to London. I have its jumelle—what do you call it?—the twin—which I found at Old Hallerdon. Mr. Felderman, I salute you! Mr. Tolefree, I love you! Au revoir, mes amis!"
Thibaud seized a hand of each, shook it violently, and danced across the lawn into the house.
"Hi!" cried Tolefree after him, "you can't go like this!"
Thibaud did not hear him.
"What a fellow!" said Felderman.
"Yet, I don't know." Tolefree, who had started up, declined into his chair. "Grymer won't miss him."
Before they had settled down to re-read the newspaper report at leisure, loud noises were heard from the other side of the house, and Thibaud at the wheel of a car came flying round into the drive. He waved his left hand out of the window, shouted, "My love to Miss Merafield and Mr. Bigbury!" and almost collided with the Daimler coming back from church. He switched away from it, still waving avid was gone.
Sir Thomas strode across the lawn to them when the car had discharged its passengers.
"What's that lunatic up to now?" he demanded. "Going back to Paris," said Tolefree.
"And a dam' good riddance! If ever I believed in the Channel Tunnel I'm dead against it now."
"You haven't seen the paper yet," said Tolefree, and passed it to him.
"Jim!" said Sir Thomas to Felderman, "when I asked you down here for a quiet stay, and, some fishing, who the deuce would have guessed at all this?"
He pushed away the sheet he had been reading and finished his coffee and smiled upon Felderman and Tolefree, who made a trio with him in the hall, Bigbury having stayed for lunch with the Merafields.
"Can't think of anyone who'd have guessed it—except Thibaud," Felderman answered with a quiet grin.
"Damn that chap! I hope to Heaven he won't go and splutter Old Hallerdon all over the continent." Tolefree looked up from the filling of his pipe.
"It won't need Thibaud to do that," said he. "What d'you mean?"
"This—when Thibaud bolted off this morning, he was yelling, `It's finished! We have 'em,' or something like that. But it isn't finished—it's only beginning. They'll extradite that vague Englishman from Portugal on a charge of uttering false notes. Then they'll find that they have to put him on trial for murder."
"Lewisson?" exclaimed Sir Thomas.
"Yes—for murdering Lewisson at Old Hallerdon a week ago today."
"I wonder, Tolefree—I wonder! You may have a surprise before you're much older—a great surprise."
"Wouldn't be the first by many," smiled Tolefree. "What's the nature of it?"
"Hanged if I tell you! Coming all this Box and Cox mystery over us. I'll keep my little mystery to myself. You'll be astonished, my dear fellow. Felderman—mark that. I'm going to astonish Tolefree, with his vague Englishman to whom he won't even put the name of Smith or Jones!" Grymer chuckled, but pulled himself up. "Not that I ought to be playing with a subject like Lewisson's death," he said in afterthought.
"I'd wager with you, Sir Thomas, if it were on any other subject. I'd wager that the boss of the English end of this ramp"—he picked up a newspaper—"is the man who murdered Lewisson in mistake for another person."
"Box and Cox," murmured Grymer.
"Yes—but I told you I had reservations about Thibaud's theory. I still have. We shall see."
"Put a name to him, Tolefree. Then we shall see."
Tolefree slowly shook his head.
"It would be a terrible thing to make such a charge on pure theory. I should have to accuse one of the people who were here last week-end. If I was wrong—no, you wouldn't thank me. There's one person essential to the proof of the charge, and he's not here. That's a curious remark of yours about a Box and Cox mystery, Sir Thomas—curious and very apt. If my guess is right, the mystery's deliberate and purposeful—and inevitable, and some of it will never be solved in the open."
"Why not?" Grymer shot at him.
"Felderman, I daresay you know of the house in London that I'll describe. It's an inconspicuous house in the West End, exactly like fifty others in the same street. It would be with the greatest difficulty that I or any other person would get entry to it. I should have to receive an invitation which at the same time would be a command. When I entered, the door would be locked behind me. Before the person who had commanded me would receive me I should be vetted by a number of polite and distinguished-looking men, each of whom would pass me on to another, equally polite and distinguished-looking, and every door I passed would be locked behind me. I should never know whether the man whom I finally saw was or wasn't the man who commanded me. None of these persons would recognize me if I ever saw him again. None of them would ever recognize each other in public. Not one of them would ever communicate his business to another. The business on which I was commanded would never pass the lips of the man with whom I discussed it. When I was passed out of that remarkable house I should find myself in another street at some distance from the street where I entered. You know of that house, Felderman?"
"I know of it, but not where it is," said Felderman.
"Nor I. And while we talk it may be quite a different house and may be quite differently placed. That's the extreme example of purposeful mystery. It's the way in which such secrets as this are unearthed—" Tolefree rattled the newspaper.
"Ah—" said Felderman. "Yes, Tolefree—I get you! So that's it?"
"That, in my judgment, is it. The identity of the vague Englishman won't be disclosed until someone sitting in some such house resolves that the time has come to disclose it. Not for me to anticipate. But when the time comes, the disclosure will show that the man now under arrest in Lisbon was in this house last Sunday, that he came here prepared for a desperate measure if the need arose, that while here he was faced with a dilemma, driven to murder in a vain attempt to stave off disaster, staged the murder to look like a suicide, stood in the library window and shot Lewisson, and immediately afterwards found that he had done murder to no purpose. The chain is complete. Only one man's evidence is wanted to fasten the ends."
"And that's all you have to say now?" asked Grymer.
"Now and at any time, Sir Thomas. I'm out of my element. This is a police affair—and I think Mr. Braddock's likely to be busy on it before many days."
"Maybe—but not the way you suggest. Wait till you get inside my purposeful mystery. Say dinner time. Let's have done with mystery till then. What about a stroll across the valley and tea at Merafields'?"
Grymer exploded his surprise when Tolefree had dressed for dinner, called in on Felderman, and walked down with him to Lady Grymer's drawing room. The host and his wife were already there with two men.
"Ah—here you are. Let me introduce you, Tolefree, to Mr. Borthwick. And Mr. Penrose you know."
Whatever astonishment Tolefree felt he suppressed with perfect success. He shook hands with Penrose and nodded to the big clean-shaven man with the brilliant dark eyes who stood in morning clothes talking to Lady Grymer. Felderman was made acquainted with Penrose.
Lady Grymer said how delightful it was to have the delightful party of last Sunday nearly complete again—at least there was, of course, Mr. Lyneham, who'd gone off to make some more money, and that most delightful and volatile Mr. Thibaud, who'd spirited himself away, but then they'd got Mr. Tolefree and Mr. Penrose instead, and Canon Merafield and Florence and Mr. Bigbury would be here directly, and wouldn't anybody like a cocktail, and Mr. Borthwick and Mr. Penrose mustn't mind not being en tenue because everyone understood that Mr. Penrose had driven all the way from London and Mr. Borthwick had flown which was much worse, so nerve-racking, and then the tiresome car journey from Hembury Aerodrome...
While Lady Grymer beamed on the world of Old Hallerdon in the firm conviction that she was putting all her guests at their ease, Tolefree looked hard into the black eyes of Borthwick, who returned the gaze with the same intentness, and Penrose regarded both with a sort of eager amusement as they drew together. For Felderman, however, the moment was a strain. Tolefree, arriving in front of Borthwick, said, with a smile.
"I feel rather like a cuckoo, Mr. Borthwick: I've knuckled into your old quarters."
Felderman, with the vision in his mind of that wardrobe and its contents, sensed his nerves tautening. Borthwick, however, did not blink an eyelid.
"Really? They put you in the corner-room? It doesn't matter: poor Lewisson's old room will do for me now—I suppose you heard about Lewisson?—I'm in there."
"Ah—poor Lewisson!" said Tolefree. Felderman held his breath. But Tolefree passed on to the Renaissance. "Wonderful old place, this, Mr. Borthwick. I understand you specialize—"
Felderman breathed again. They stood, a group of three, in the window at the end of the room; Grymer and his wife were talking to Penrose some distance off. Tolefree meandered along about Tudor architecture—a subject which was not going to spoil anyone's appetite for dinner, and only once more approached the danger line:
"By the way, I met your friend Mr. Penrose under queer circumstances a day or two ago. Is he interested in archaeology, too?"
"Haven't the faintest," said Borthwick. "You're under a misapprehension. I don't know Mr. Penrose. His arrival here almost at the same time as myself is a mere coincidence. I understand that he came in the hope of meeting one of the house party who has left."
"Oh? Sorry," said Tolefree. "These extraordinary coincidences will happen, won't they? By the way, that's a strange story in this morning's paper about the false note factory at Lisbon."
"By the way? I don't quite see—but it is a strange story," Borthwick answered. "Excuse me—" and he walked over to Grymer just as the Merafields and Mr. Bigbury arrived.
"Gosh!—gosh!" was written in large letters on Mr. Bigbury's face when Borthwick nodded to him, and "Golly! golly!" when he caught sight of Penrose; but by a great effort he refrained from articulating either. Lady Grymer took the stage again with expressions of her pleasure at the renewed liveliness of Old Hallerdon, and they were at the big round table before Bigbury could relieve his feelings in speech.
Whatever disappointment he felt that his surprise had gone off like a damp squib, Grymer concealed.
He led the talk at dinner on country-house lines and made no allusion either to Lisbon or to Lewisson. He kept his powder for a later hour when they had listened to the broadcast bulletin, and Bigbury had set off to drive the Canon and Miss Merafield home, and Lady Grymer had left them in the smoke-room.
"Well, Tolefree," said he, manipulating a soda syphon, "are you surprised?"
"I am, Sir Thomas. You couldn't have surprised me more. You're at least a day ahead of my expectation—but then, I'd forgotten aeroplanes."
"What d'you mean?—is that enough soda, Felderman?—what d'you mean about aeroplanes? Aren't you surprised to find Borthwick here without any handcuffs on him?"
"Handcuffs?—you're jesting, Sir Thomas!"
"Yes, Grymer," said Borthwick; "what the devil d'you think you're driving at?"
"At Tolefree. Take a long breath, Borthwick: Tolefree here has been expecting every moment to hear of your arrest for the murder of Lewisson."
"Well, I'm damned!" Borthwick's brilliant eyes met Tolefree's again. Tolefree made motions of dissent, but Grymer went on:
"When you left a week ago tonight, Borthwick, everybody was sure that Lewisson had committed suicide till Tolefree—"
"Not everybody, Grymer," Felderman said. "Not I for one. And Miss Merafield wasn't at all sure—"
"And," Tolefree interjected, "you can assume that Mr. Borthwick didn't believe it. In fact, Mr. Borthwick was quite certain about what happened to Lewisson—and how—and why; but the business he had in hand was of such desperate urgency—"
"You can stop right there, Mr. Tolefree!" Borthwick's voice was sharp as his eyes, boring into him again. "No one has any right to assume what's in my mind, or to inquire into what I do or the reason why I do it. Who are you—if it's not an insolent question? And what's your concern in Lewisson's death?"
"Insolent? Not the least," Tolefree protested. "There's no secret about me. I'm a private inquiry agent with a small office in Watling Street in the City. Last Monday morning I was given a commission to discover the whereabouts of a Mr. Penrose—"
Borthwick darted a look at the tall young man who had been so silent all the evening.
"This Mr. Penrose?"
"Yes, sir—and he did the job jolly well, I assure you," said Penrose.
"Well, that brought me here," Tolefree went on, "to see my friend Felderman, who was staying with Sir Thomas; and as it happened I arrived not many hours after Lewisson's death. I saw the inquest and heard the verdict of suicide. I agreed with Felderman, that it was an incorrect verdict because the police hadn't got the essential evidence. I was of opinion that Lewisson had been murdered. I've told Sir Thomas Grymer how I think it was done and why—a killing plotted by a desperate man who laid a trap for another person into which Lewisson fell. I've told Sir Thomas the reasons why up to now it was impossible—or rather would be indiscreet and beyond my competence—to put a name to the murderer. He's wrongly assumed that I suspect you. I did think at first you might possibly have killed Lewisson but not since Thursday morning when the doings of Mr. Thibaud let in floods of light, and especially since Friday night when I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Penrose. Today I told Sir Thomas there was one person essential to the proof of the charge. I meant you. But we've all discussed the thing to rags here. You don't want me to go all over it again—"
"With Grymer's permission, I certainly do. I think I'm entitled to that," declared Borthwick.
"Go on, Tolefree. Tell him about it—and don't forget the gun—eh? You know, Borthwick, you left a lot of evidence against you, my dear fellow. You left a drawing of the window where the shot was fired. You left your gun in the room where you slept—most careless!"
"Of course," said Tolefree, "Mr. Borthwick made a drawing of the windows as a record of their condition at a moment when he saw something suspicious there. Thibaud had seen it, too. Did you know that?"
"Yes—he told me. But—a gun? I never carry a gun!"
"No—the gun was planted in your room for me to find. You accidentally left the drawing when you changed rooms with Lewisson."
Grymer's exclamation was almost shrill. They stared at him.
"Planted, Tolefree? Who the devil could have planted it—and where are you getting?"
Tolefree shrugged his shoulders. "I've no wish to get anywhere, Sir Thomas," said he. "Mr. Borthwick wished—you asked me—"
"Go on—go on!" growled Grymer.
"Very well. After what you said it was necessary to eliminate Mr. Borthwick—"
"Eliminate be damned! No man in his senses could have suspected Borthwick. Go on eliminating. So far as I can see you'll have to eliminate everyone and leave Lewisson's death as great a mystery as ever."
"I could try that—but not if it annoys you, Sir Thomas. It's not my business. And I should have to be exceedingly candid."
"Go on—go on! Put a name to Lewisson's murderer," Grymer insisted.
"I won't take you at your word, but I'll tell you what I think happened on Sunday night, and you can draw your own conclusions. Apart from Lewisson there were seven men here on Sunday night. We rule out the ladies. We rule out the servants: nobody's ever suggested a suspicion of them. The men were yourself, Mr. Borthwick, Mr. Lyneham, Mr. Felderman, Mr. Thibaud, Mr. Bigbury, Canon Merafield. I'm going to say that any one of the seven, given the conditions under which the party in the smoke-room broke up, might have stood in the library window and shot Lewisson—that is, all had the opportunity."
"Dam' nonsense!" muttered Grymer.
"Well—you'll see. Remember I'm only talking of opportunity. All except you went up some time before Lewisson, and any one of the party had ample time to conceal himself in that alcove. But the crime couldn't have been done without preparation—the placing of what Thibaud called the bait, the planting of the gun on Lewisson's table, and the dropping of the empty shell in Lewisson's room.
"That eliminates four people. The preparation must be careful. It must be done after the time when Lewisson comes down here, and done in secret. Who has the opportunity? Anyone who goes up long enough before you and Lewisson. The first to go is Mr. Lyneham. If he wants to kill a man in Lewisson's room and possesses a pair of revolvers of identical pattern, he has more opportunity than anybody else except one person. Canon Merafield and Mr. Bigbury go up next. They go together. As the preparation must be done quickly (since there is no knowing how soon Lewisson will retire) and as neither Mr. Bigbury nor the Canon was alone for a quarter of an hour after they left the smoke-room, they can be ruled out. Another fact which is even more vital than the time is this—that Lewisson was not the man the murderer meant to kill, and Bigbury was well aware that Mr. Borthwick had shifted from that room and Lewisson had occupied it. Therefore we eliminate the Canon and Bigbury.
"The next to go up were Felderman and Mr. Borthwick. They went together. Perhaps Mr. Borthwick had time enough to prepare the crime after he left Felderman. But he must be eliminated because he also knew the occupant of that room was Lewisson. Felderman, you had exactly the same opportunity as Mr. Borthwick. But you must be eliminated on the time factor. You were unquestionably in your room when the shot was fired, for, if not you could not have come round from the gallery and entered your room and got rid of your gun and joined Mr. Borthwick in Lewisson's within twenty seconds.
"Then Thibaud went up. He had the necessary time and beyond question the skill. For a while he was a likely suspect. I put him off the list, however, on Wednesday night or rather in the small hours of Thursday morning. Everything that Thibaud did proved that he had no interest in Lewisson, but that he was after other game. Momentarily, it seemed as if he might be just a crook—wormed his way into Old Hallerdon to do a robbery. But that idea was already fading away when on Thursday night I had his letter—"
"Letter? What letter?" Borthwick demanded. "Here it is"—Tolefree rustled through his wallet and gave the paper to Borthwick, who read it, frowning, and passed it back without a word.
"You see that he mistook me for Mr. Penrose. Perhaps you can understand why?" Tolefree addressed the question to Penrose, who nodded.
"Then Thibaud went clean off the list of suspects. The letter not only gave me the key of the enigma that I had started out to solve, but it proved that Thibaud and Penrose were in the same business, in which also Mr. Borthwick was involved—though neither Thibaud nor Penrose knew each other."
Tolefree paused for a comment from Borthwick. He made none.
"The last to go up were Sir Thomas Grymer and Lewisson. They parted on the landing when every other person was presumably in his room. After Lewisson had gone to the bathroom and Thibaud had passed him on the way to his room, there was time for Sir Thomas Grymer to come down the stairs and get into the gallery through the little passage from the landing. As he could not be sure how soon Lewisson would return, he could not then have made the necessary preparations in Lewisson's room—"
"Thanks!" said Grymer, with a gruff laugh.
"But—" Tolefree resumed.
"Ah—I'm not let out yet!"
"But, Sir Thomas, you were the last person known to have been in Lewisson's room after he came down here and before Thibaud entered, attracted by what he called the bait."
"You went up about half past ten to see how Lewisson was getting on. He'd already left. If you were provided with a pair of revolvers and an exploded shell and two false bank-notes, you could have laid the trap. As, however, you well knew Lewisson was in that room, and you could not possibly have wanted to kill your valued chemist, we must eliminate you."
Grymer grunted something unintelligible. A dead silence settled on the room. All eyes were on Tolefree, Borthwick's with a look of warning in them.
"Thibaud has a theory," said Tolefree. "I think he's wrong. He says he's the man for whom the bait was laid. I've not believed that since Thursday night. Even in the dim light in the upper part of the room, it was not likely that Lewisson would be mistaken for Thibaud. Lewisson was a big-built man and clean shaven. Thibaud is a smallish man and wears a conspicuous black mustache. Lewisson must have been shot in mistake for a man of. Lewisson's own build, and by someone who was unaware that there had been a change of rooms. When he came he must have had a deliberate intention to kill if his personal safety demanded it, and provided himself with the weapons. As to the method of killing, I think it was dictated by the circumstances. He found an opportunity which he could hardly have expected. He was able to stage a suicide. When afterwards he realized that he had two enemies at Old Hallerdon instead of one, and estimated that the suicide theory was suspect, he fled—a day or two before he intended to go. It dawned upon me on Thursday morning. The man who was meant to die was Mr. Borthwick—is not that so?"
"Undoubtedly," said Borthwick.
"And the man whose life might have been in danger but for his own astuteness was Thibaud. Mr. Borthwick was killed vicariously because he was known to be about to upset an illegal business which had been as profitable as Aladdin's Cave and to identify its head-center. The business was to come to an end yesterday with a big coup which would have yielded millions. If Mr. Borthwick, who had got wind of the Lisbon factory, and had come to Old Hallerdon for the purpose of identifying the well-camouflaged person who was the brains of the conspiracy, was allowed to leave on Sunday night and get to Lisbon during the week, good-by to the coup and a long life in jail for its author. Therefore he had to die."
"Good God, Tolefree!" Grymer exclaimed. "Can't stand any more. Put a name to the man who killed Lewisson."
"I won't without Mr. Borthwick's consent."
"Why the devil is Borthwick's consent necessary?"
"Felderman," said Tolefree, turning to him, "this afternoon we agreed about the conditions of silence and secrecy in a certain house in London?"
"Well, that's why, Sir Thomas. And please don't press me till I've made a confession. I confess to one bad bloomer, Mr. Borthwick. I mentioned a commission given to me last Monday. I was misled into thinking, and telling Felderman and Sir Thomas, that the person who put me on that job was one and the same person with you."
"I—I'm myself and no other person," said Borthwick.
"Of course. I withdraw the suggestion and all that follows from it, including your association with Mr. Penrose. And having done that, I'll take your consent or your refusal to state who in my opinion tried to murder you and actually murdered Lewisson."
"It doesn't matter to me now," said Borthwick. "Take the responsibility yourself."
"Anyhow you agree that the murderer whom doubtless you saw on Friday exploring the possibility of shooting you through the library window is the leader of the false money ramp?"
"Yes—it was he."
"And of course you never imagined he'd mistake Lewisson for you—probably didn't even guess at his plan till you rushed out on hearing the shot?"
"But when you saw what the plan was you went away without disputing the suicide theory because you didn't want to give the murderer a premature alarm. You were probably on the way to Lisbon to arrange for the raid and if he'd had the slightest hint of that you'd never have got the gang red-handed—?"
"Well—let it go at that," said Borthwick.
Sir Thomas Grymer had been penciling notes on the margin of a newspaper.
"Tolefree," said he, looking up, "you said there were seven men here last Sunday and inferred that one of them killed Lewisson. You have eliminated six. Do you say that the seventh was the man?"
"Ask Mr. Borthwick," Tolefree answered.
Borthwick gave a nod.
"Lyneham!" cried Grymer. "But—it's impossible!—grotesque!"
"Not to Mr. Borthwick. To me it was fantastic when the logic of the facts drove me to Lyneham. I'd never heard of him more than his wealth and his position in the City; but Mr. Borthwick must have known when he wangled the invitation to Old Hallerdon—"
"Grymer," said Borthwick, "I came down this afternoon to apologize to you as early as I could for making use of your hospitality and your house to catch out a crook. We'd long suspected something of the sort but had no evidence. The French were grumbling hard and at their request we got on to it in real earnest. It was Thibaud who trailed the thing back to Lyneham. We couldn't believe it. I got wind of the place at Lisbon through the Customs, who were curious about a yacht which made fast and regular voyages to the Tagus, but couldn't detect anything fishy. The color-printing works in Lisbon aren't many. There's not a vast lot of work for them. This new place—well, the papers told you about it. It wasn't quite explained. I got a smell of Lyneham there. We decided to watch him. Then just as the papers announced that he was going to spend a weekend here, we realized from the Lisbon reports that the thing was about to blow up there. I came down to make sure Lyneham didn't get away before we struck. Before the first day was over I realized that he was wise to me. No such thing has ever happened before. Moneybags!" he exclaimed bitterly and stopped.
"Well, Borthwick, what about moneybags?" said Grymer, bristling.
"I beg your pardon, Grymer. I forgot you're a wealthy man. But moneybags and no conscience—you never know where you are. Anyhow, Lyneham had somehow got wise to me. I watched him, cat and mouse fashion, continuously. That was how I found him sighting my room from the gallery. I should have changed in any case. Lewisson turning up made it easy. My biggest surprise was Thibaud. I had no idea the Sûreté was so close on his heels. But Thibaud was not only a surprise; he was a godsend. He played his part so well that Lyneham hadn't seen through him before I left, and we arranged that while I went to look after things at Lisbon he should watch Lyneham. He had a big success—found forged notes in Lyneham's room, lay in wait for Lyneham's journey, tracked him to Croydon Aerodrome, let Paris know—and by Thursday afternoon I had the news in Lisbon that he was on his way there. The Portuguese were anxious to strike at once. I persuaded them to wait till he was on the spot, and we had an armed launch ready to deal with the yacht, which lay in the Tagus with steam up. But it was quite simple. We took 'em completely by surprise while they were busy cleaning up. Lyneham's now in the central penitentiary at Lisbon, and Scotland Yard men are on their way to arrange for his extradition."
Grymer had listened, open-mouthed.
"I haven't got you, Borthwick," he said. "I know you as a member of the Club interested in archaeology. What's all this about `we'? You asked Tolefree who he was. If it isn't an insolent question, who are you, my dear fellow?"
"I can't tell you, Grymer, if you haven't seen it. Tolefree seems to have had an idea—"
"Not an idea—a revelation, and a startling one," said Tolefree. "It came with Thibaud's letter."
"I'm afraid you'll have to be content with that and my apologies, Grymer."
"Yes—I suppose so. Secret Service stuff—I never believed in it. But admit that I've a bit of a grouse, won't you? I can't really think it's Lyneham. A man of good standing in the City—"
"For how long? A jumped-up man! Not heard of three years ago. No one knew how he got his money or his reputation. Any man who can fling money about, if seems to me, can get away with the City and no questions asked. However, I know little about it. Not much in my line, thank God!"
Grymer looked his disapproval.
"I shall wait to see whether it's not some hideous mistake. I'm not troubled so much about the false money business. It's the idea that Lyneham was a murderous criminal. Tolefree, you haven't convinced me."
"I thought Mr. Borthwick's certainty was enough," said Tolefree; "but I think I could account for every move Lyneham made. The first point is that he was the only man of the seven who didn't know of the change of rooms on Friday, except Felderman, who, being on the same floor, learned of it afterwards, but made nothing of it. Lyneham, who was out on the river with Felderman when the change was made, undoubtedly thought Mr. Borthwick was still there. He had been seen by Thibaud, who suspected him of the false money ramp and was keeping an eye on him, and we now know that he was seen by Mr. Borthwick also, studying the alignment of the two windows. He went up on Sunday night quite early—before anyone else. At eleven o'clock Miss Merafield met him going down ostensibly to the bathroom, but his goal was the gallery, and he must have had under his towel one of the brace of pistols whose fellow he had put ready for Borthwick to handle at the same time when he threw down and accidentally stepped on the empty shell which was to prove that Borthwick had killed himself. He was the last person except the ladies to turn up in Lewisson's room when the body was discovered, and no one saw him on the way there—that's so, Felderman?"
"I think so—I don't remember seeing him till you suggested that we should all clear out, Borthwick."
"There's no doubt about it," said Tolefree. "It's Mr. Bigbury's recollection as well. His plan was well laid and well carried out. But he made one mistake. He had overlooked the shell ejected from his own gun when he fired from the window. I have the shell. It has been examined. It was not fired from the gun found in Lewisson's room, but from the one found in my room. It could not, therefore, have been ejected through Lewisson's window on to the drive. I don't know when Lyneham realized that it might be found and raise the question of murder instead of suicide, and I don't know whether he looked for it, but I do know when he found it. The shell had gone through the library window and fallen on the turf below. Felderman—you remember his lessons in fly-throwing, and how he aimed at that dandelion plant under the wall, and caught his cast in it? And how he threw another cast across to the drive and lost his fly? And that 'twas while looking for the lost fly that he said he picked up the shell?"
"Good heavens!" said Felderman. "You mean that he found it under the wall and took it across?"
"Why should he? Why not drop it in his pocket and say nothing about it?"
"For an excellent reason. He'd already seen that I was no antiquarian, but had turned up here on false pretenses. We had talked about the crime. He must have known that I should be looking for possibilities. Here was a chance to put inquiry off the scent. He handed it to me. More than once he insisted that I should tell Sir Thomas about it. He made great play with it as one more false clue. And finally, he planted the gun in the room Borthwick had occupied in such a way that I was bound to find it. He certainly did that in a panic the night Thibaud alarmed him by his so-called burglary. He probably thought the burglar was after his gun. He probably stuck it in his dressing-gown pocket, and when he found I was not in my room he put it on the wardrobe shelf where sooner or later I was bound to disturb it or anyone searching the house might find it. And there was yet another excellent false clue."
"Dammit, yes!" said Grymer. "He was in a panic! I thought it was about the robbery. He did take the doors on your side of the corridor while I went for Felderman's. He did stay rather a long time in Tolefree's room—I remember going to look for him there when we found you both missing."
"But," said Tolefree, "while the clues to Lyneham's crime to be found in Lyneham's conduct are good enough for a theory, they'd never hold in a court of law. I called Mr. Borthwick the essential witness. Without him they'd be worthless as evidence; but he links 'em up and makes 'em rational. He proves that Lyneham was the murderer because Lyneham alone had a motive for murder—the most powerful motive of all, the urge to save his own skin."
"Damn him!" cried Grymer. "I hope he'll hang! Sure you've got him, Borthwick?"
"Perfectly sure, Grymer. Leave it to Scotland Yard."
By the end of the week, Old Hallerdon was empty, but the papers were full of Old Hallerdon. The stir created when the anonymous Englishman of Sunday languishing in the Lisbon Penitentiary, crystallized into the well-known City magnate, Mr. George Lyneham, was overwhelmed by the immense sensation of an application for his extradition on the charge of murdering Peter Lewisson.
But Tolefree had little interest in the processes of the law which were to bring Mr. George Lyneham to the gallows and reveal to an eager public the secret of the wealth of this Midas, who had started life in a small printing business and been far too expert at his trade. For him the thing was over. His sole curiosity was the effect of the Lewisson affair on the career of Mr. Ronald Hudson. But he heard nothing of Hudson or Borthwick or Penrose for several days.
It was on Saturday evening, when having eaten his supper he busied himself with a coffee percolator in his book-lined den, that a ring at his outer door announced a black-bearded man with his hair a touch too long, and Hudson entered, apologizing for visiting Tolefree at home and so late. Accepting coffee and a cigarette, he played for a few moments with Tolefree's bachelor habits and his queer taste in books.
"Well, Tolefree—it's a mess."
"I could have kicked myself for not realizing earlier that you were in the Service," said Tolefree. "Is it an irreparable mess?"
"No mess is," Hudson answered with a grim smile. "And you're not to blame. I came along for this very purpose—to make sure you understand the reason for the secrecy which must have seemed so strange in me—and in Penrose, too. Inexorable rule—never to be broken—"
"Yes—I understand," said Tolefree.
"In fact, if you had realized me I should have been disappointed—a failure. The trouble arose from your acquaintance with Felderman. Otherwise you wouldn't have dived right into the Old Hallerdon affair. I didn't come to complain, but to tell you something. Borthwick is sentenced to death. After he's given his evidence at the trial of Lyneham, for which occasion he will be adopted by Scotland Yard, he departs this life. And Penrose also—who asks me to thank you for what you did for him."
"He didn't seem very thankful at Meare—"
"He couldn't tell you a thing. Everyone's lips were sealed till we'd made sure of that touch-and-go business at Lisbon. But we're grateful to you for turning up at Meare at the exact moment when they were bringing off the coup. It enabled Penrose to make the wires hot an hour or two earlier than he might have done, stop the stuff at the Croydon Aerodrome,—and tell me what had happened."
"One thing's puzzled me about Penrose at Meare," said Tolefree.
"You mean—why he didn't escape?"
"No—I understand that. He knew that as long as they thought they had him safe the plot would go to its appointed end. I see that—and also that his message to you was merely information of his whereabouts. It's what happened after—when it blew up. He stayed there with that gang. Wasn't he in danger of his life?"
"Not a bit of it. The three men left there were just underlings—Penrose knows how to deal with the type. When they found the gaff blown, they were afraid of their lives of seeing a policeman's blue coat in the doorway every next minute. Penrose gave 'em a run for their money, and they ran—instanter. Not that they got far—"
"So I gathered," said Tolefree, smiling. "Well, since Borthwick and Penrose are condemned to death, and I shan't know anything about their resurrection, I hope I may learn that Mr. Ronald Hudson is to continue delighting the world with his books and keeping it guessing about himself."
"I hope so, too. I think so—unless Mr. Philip Tolefree should by any chance condemn him to death also—?"
"Mr. Philip Tolefree is the only man outside the Service who isn't still guessing about him. Lucky you were able to put Grymer and Felderman off the scent on Sunday, and there's no danger there. I desperately want to keep the Hudson legend in being, Tolefree."
"Of course. I know nothing about Hudson except what I've read in the papers."
"Thanks. The legend was my own creation ten years ago. You may guess how useful it is. The irresponsible, erratic Hudson, searching the world for material for his irresponsible, erratic books—no one worries about where he goes or what he does. Therefore he's been able to communicate to Borthwick or any other manifestation of his ego information that Borthwick or his like couldn't obtain. It was in fact Hudson who went to the banks of the Tagus, ostensibly for material for a book, and put two and two together about the printing works and the yacht. He actually ate an exquisite dinner on the yacht before he departed from Lisbon three weeks ago, leaving Penrose to keep an eye on it while he came home to keep an eye on Lyneham. But it would be fatal to Hudson, as I suggested to you last week, to be identified with any other manifestation—such as Borthwick. Borthwick must die. And so must Penrose."
"Not my fault about Penrose, was it?"
"No—mine. I simply had to give you the name he wore just then. Lisbon was calling, and I'd no time to read his riddle. As it happened, he was in no desperate need of succor, but I couldn't know that. He'd tracked Lyneham's gang to Southampton. Unfortunately one of the group—it was the fellow who dressed and acted as chauffeur, and thought he'd got away with the stuff—must have seen him in Lisbon, and they put Penrose out while he was sharing breakfast with them at the South Western Hotel. They hadn't any real knowledge of him. They just made assurance doubly sure by keeping him till they should get the All Clear from Lisbon. Your great service was to appear before they made themselves scarce. Another day and we'd have had an incomplete capture. Now we've netted the lot."
"Congratulations," said Tolefree. "But to me there's Only one of the lot that matters—the man who killed Lewisson. Poor Grymer!—he was pretty crestfallen over his friend Lyneham. Never saw a man more surprised."
"You'd have seen one if you'd been at Old Hallerdon and in the know when I realized that Lyneham was aware of me. I ought to have cleared out before—then poor Lewisson wouldn't have been killed. But Thibaud thought he might get him there and I said I'd wait a day or two. It was bad judgment—"
"Or bad luck, which is often the same thing."
"Well, that's a kind way of putting it. But you didn't know your Lyneham and I did. When did you begin to see through it?"
"I confess not till I found that gun in my room and had chewed for hours over how it got there and why I hadn't found it before. Bigbury's sudden recollection of the change of rooms and Thibaud's confusion of me with Penrose settled it. The two guns explained the appearance of suicide; your drawing gave me the window; Thibaud's letter drove me to the cryptogram and that to the motive for a murder—not of Lewisson but of somebody else who couldn't be anyone but you. Still, even when Lyneham became the only possible murderer, it seemed so preposterous that I could hardly believe my own logic."
"Again—because you didn't know your Lyneham. Among the world's dangerous men there's no more dangerous—and I've seen a few—than the fellow who sees a way of making easy money dishonestly and gets drunk with the scent of riches. I daresay Lyneham was a good printer and might have made a modest fortune honestly. But he touched and tasted big money, and then he smelt millions. What's a life that stands between him and the millions? You can bet that when Lyneham heard from Grymer that a man named Borthwick would be in his house-party, he saw the writing on the wall, and he put his gun-case into his bag resolved to wipe Borthwick off the landscape if necessary. But the way of the transgressor is hard, Tolefree...there's something in that, eh?"
"Fortunately for law-keepers," said Tolefree.
"It was deuced hard for Lyneham to find not only that he'd murdered the wrong man, but that there was another man on his heels whom he couldn't murder. To be obliged to run away from little Thibaud!—that was hard if you like."
"Why, though, did he run away to Lisbon, of all places in the world?"
"Because, though he'd smelt a rat in England, he hadn't smelt it out there, and the temptation to make the final haul was too much for him. The best man on earth can't see clearly through a golden haze, Tolefree, and Lyneham wasn't that."
"Irritamenta malorum," murmured Tolefree.
"Yes, by Croesus! There's a man who gets fifty shillings a week, the happiest, loyalest man I know. He's outside now. I'd like you to make his acquaintance. May I call him in?"
Hudson presently returned with a sandy-haired, gray-eyed man who looked like an old soldier.
"Morris," he said, "this is Mr. Tolefree. You rang him up for me a fortnight ago."
Morris saluted Mr. Tolefree.
"I want you to know him. He's the only man who's seen through it."
"You know, Mr. Arthur, we were rather in a hurry that morning," Morris protested.
"Yes, old blunderhead. But if we'd had half the day he'd have seen through it all the same."
"Sit down, Morris," said Tolefree. "Have a drink. Mr. Hudson exaggerates. If ever I want to star as the author of a six volume book on the Tudor Renaissance, I'll come to you to make me up for the part."
Morris looked puzzled, but he sat down and had a drink.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia