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Title: The Devil's Advocate Author: Fred M White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1100691h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2011 Date most recently updated: September 2018 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy. HTML version by Roy Glashan. 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
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Philippa Goldfinch clung lovingly to the arm of David Macrae, and he smiled down into those speaking blue eyes of hers. It was hardly necessary for her to say anything, because he could see, from the expression of her eyes, that her heart was as full of pleasure and delight as his own. For he had won through. It was but a year since he had come to Hitherfield, where he had joined the staff of the 'Mercury,' and, in the very first week, had met Philippa Goldfinch and fallen head over ears in love with her. It seemed a long time since then, and the prospect had appeared remote enough, but yet here he was this perfect May evening in the garden of the Bungalow, which was actually his own, and paid for with his own money.
"Doesn't it seem marvellous, dearest?" he said. "A year ago, and I never knew you. I shall never forget the first night at the Melba concert when you came into the town hail, and I asked Richard Farrell who you were. And even then I believe I had made up my mind. And now—"
Philippa smiled up into his face again, and the grasp of her little hand tightened on his arm.
"Yes, isn't it wonderful?" she echoed. "It's almost as wonderful as that book of yours."
For Macrae had not only written a book, but it had been quite a successful one. It had been published not long before he had been appointed to the 'Hitherfield Mercury,' and now it was in its second edition. It had brought him success in another way—a serial story or two, and now he was engaged upon a third, which would enable him to marry Philippa with an easy mind. A little time before he had purchased the Bungalow, with its furniture complete, from a man who had gone abroad, and now there was no reason why he and Philippa should wait any longer.
His salary was of no great matter, for the 'Hitherfield Mercury' was not a big money-making concern, but his appointment there was a stepping-stone to better things. Meanwhile he had made up his mind to stay in that beautiful, romantic spot for the next few years, and now he and Philippa were standing in the garden of the Bungalow, looking across the heather and gorse-clad common towards the setting sun. The garden itself was rather a wild one, for the late proprietor had very wisely done nothing to improve upon nature. There were flower-beds and borders here and there and a tennis lawn, but the grounds, for the most part, had been left as the late owner had found them when he had built that charming bungalow and furnished it with taste and discretion. There were three or four bedrooms, a small drawing room which Philippa called her own, a little den where Macrae could write in his spare time, and a big lounge-hall sitting room, with a conservatory leading out of it at the back, beyond which was a mass of gorse and heather, ending in a low stone wall that divided the garden from the common.
Beyond that was a heathery expanse, extending for miles, with not another human habitation in sight. It was wild and desolate enough there, and almost impossible to believe that the town of Hitherfield was not more than half a mile away.
They stood in the big sitting room presently, admiring the old furniture and the exquisite mezzotints upon the walls. The late proprietor had neglected nothing in the way of luxury and comfort, and Macrae had deemed himself exceedingly fortunate to be able to get hold of so desirable a residence.
"Another three weeks," he said, "and we shall be here together. It seems almost too good to be true, Phil."
"Yes, and all of it paid for," Philippa smiled. "I should hate to start in debt, David."
"Would you?" Macrae smiled a little dubiously. "I don't know whether I ought to tell you or not—"
Philippa looked up quickly. "I want you to tell me everything, David," she said. "I want to feel that there are no secrets between us."
"Well, then, I must make my confession," David smiled. "It is not quite paid for. At least, I paid Donaldson, but I had to borrow a hundred pounds, of which I was short. Of course, it doesn't matter, for in a month I shall have finished that big serial story, and, as you know, it is a cash transaction, and my agent tells me that he will have no difficulty in getting a good price for the American rights. So you needn't worry, child. We shall be quite free of debt before we return from our honeymoon."
Philippa looked just a little dubious. She knew what to be in debt meant, because that easy-going, scientific old father of hers had never quite managed to live within his income since he had retired from active practice as a doctor, and it was one of the struggles of Philippa's life to keep things going properly.
"Where did the hundred pounds come from?" she asked.
"Oh, I borrowed that from some moneylenders in Hitherfield. I don't suppose you have seen their advertisement, but they call themselves Douglas and Company. They have got branch offices in most towns on the South Coast. I believe they are very decent people. I had to give them what they called a judgment, just as a matter of form, because I objected to the publicity of a bill of sale, but they are not likely to worry me."
Philippa was conscious of a slight sinking of the heart. She had heard her father talk like this, because he, too, had got into a similar trouble some time before, and Philippa had had to realise a small legacy to settle the matter.
"I do hope it will be all right, David," she said. "Of course. I don't know much about these things—"
With that, she bent down and caressed an Irish terrier that was standing at her feet with a stone in his mouth, which he was inviting her to throw across the room so that he might fetch it. This was a game of which Bragger never tired. He was not Phillippa's dog, either, but acted as bodyguard and leader to a blind ex-soldier called Ned Hammer, the protege of a prosperous farmer and bookmaker who lived nearby to Dr. Goldfinch's cottage. Bragger, however, had taken a great fancy to Philippa, and hardly ever permitted her out of his sight, except at such times as his master had need of him.
"Put it down, you silly dog," she said. "I decline to play any games with you in my new house."
Bragger whined, and then dropped the stone with a feeling, evidently, that things were not propitious just then so far as his beloved friend was concerned. Then, a moment later, he pricked up his ears and made for the open door at top speed.
"Isn't he a wonderful dog?" Philippa laughed. "You may be sure that his master wants him."
"I thought I heard Hammer whistle," Macrae said. "He is very fond of wandering about on the common in the evening."
"I believe he knows every inch of it," Philippa said. "You know, he used to be a bit of a poacher before the war, and the loss of his sight. I am not sure that he doesn't indulge in that pastime now. But never mind about Ned Hammer. Are you quite sure that there will be no trouble with these moneylenders?"
"I wouldn't worry that pretty head of yours any more about it," Macrae said. "Why should you? I shall have all I want in a month, and something may crop up in the meantime."
"But you couldn't pay it out of your salary, David."
"You are right there," Macrae laughed. "My salary is barely enough for my board and lodgings. And beside, I am not good at borrowing, except in the ordinary way of business. I did try the bank, and though the manager was sympathetic he told me that his directors did not advance money on that sort of security. Upon my word, Phil, I am almost sorry I told you. I hate to see that look of trouble in those blue eyes of yours."
With an effort Philippa forced a smile to her lips, and then, in the sheer delight of their affection, and the attractions of a new house, which she was going over for the first time, quite forgot anything else. It was dark by the time they had finished, and Philippa was on her way home again, with David talking in his enthusiastic way, walking by her side.
"Well, are you quite satisfied, little girl?" he asked.
"Absolutely," Philippa sighed. "I didn't think I could possibly be so happy. But don't you think you ought to put a caretaker in the house? It is rather a lonely spot, and anybody coming across the common after dark could empty the place by the back way without anybody being the wiser."
"I have provided for that," Macrae said. "I am going to sleep there myself in future."
"What, all alone? When?"
"Well, I thought of beginning tonight. You see I am quite used to fending for myself, I learnt that during my five years' campaigning. There is a spirit stove in the house and one or two old cooking utensils, and with these and a blanket on the sofa in my den I shall get on famously. I have already told the postman to deliver any letters that come to the Bungalow, and when I come downstairs tomorrow and find my letterbox more or less full I shall really feel as if the place belonged to me. Besides, if there is any sort of trouble I shall get Ned Hammer to lend me his dog for the night. I know Bragger will be quite ready to stay with me if I asked him, and that Bragger has enough sense to know that his master won't want him before breakfast. I shall enjoy camping out. And when my day's work is done it will be a positive joy to work in the Bungalow instead of that stuffy little room in a noisy street full of children. That's one of the reasons why I decided to take up my quarters in the Bungalow. With any luck I shall get that story finished at the end of next week, and then, my dear girl, I'll pay that hundred pounds, and I shan't expect to see that serious line on your pretty forehead any more."
With that he bent down and kissed Philippa's smiling lips. They were standing just outside Dr. Goldfinch's gate now, and a moment later Macrae was striding down the road towards the Bungalow, whistling with the air of a man who has no care in the world. It seemed to him that he had nothing else to wish for.
Once inside the Bungalow, Macrae enjoyed the sensation of turning on the electric lights and surveying his own property quite alone for the first time. He pulled down the blinds, and drew the curtains, after which he lay back on the lounge in one of the latticed windows and sighed with deep satisfaction as he contemplated all the luxury with which he was surrounded. It seemed to him, indeed, that he was a fortunate man to have achieved all this in so short a space of time. It was only yesterday that he had come out of the Army, or so it seemed, only too glad to take the first thing that was offered him. Before the Great War he had written one or two short stories with indifferent success, but these five years had broadened his mind and given him a power of expression which he realised with wonder and delight. Now, nothing came amiss to his pen. He had managed to write a successful book, and those serial stories of his were being eagerly sought after. By comparison, his work on the 'Hitherfield Mercury' was child's play. He had more or less a free hand, because his employer was a man of considerable means, and one who always spoke his mind freely. Therefore, Macrae was encouraged to attack abuses wherever he found them, and that easy sarcasm of his had bitten pretty deeply into the minds of a good many citizens whose actions had not commended them to the public. Especially severe had Macrae been on a local money-lender known as Joseph Baines, a miserly old man who lived all by himself in a cottage at the back of the town, and one whose cold-blooded extortions had become a by-word in Hitherfield. Macrae had enjoyed that immensely, and his series of articles exposing Baines' methods had been vastly appreciated by readers of the 'Hitherfield Mercury.'
All these things were passing in Macrae's mind as he sat there enjoying his new-found prosperity. He remembered the day when he had first seen Philippa, and how, much against his will, Richard Farrell, a rising young solicitor, had introduced him to the girl with the blue eyes and pleasant smile. He had not been ignorant of the fact that Farrell was an admirer of Philippa's himself, but he did not know, because Philippa had never mentioned it, that there had been something like an understanding between those two before Macrae came along. And there was another thing Macrae, in his happy ignorance, did not know. It had seemed to him that Farrell had taken his disappointment philosophically enough, but deep down in his heart was a bitter enmity of the successful journalist, and a determined vow to come between Macrae and his choice by fair means or foul, if the opportunity ever offered itself. Philippa might have suspected something of this, and, indeed, in uneasy moments she did. But she put the thought out of her mind and said nothing. That sort of thing was all very well in books, but not in the least likely to happen in a quiet spot like Hitherfield. Meanwhile Farrell smiled when they met, he shook hands with Macrae, and congratulated him, but he was waiting his chance all the same.
Macrae came out of his reverie presently, and proceeded to gather the necessary material for a simple supper. As he crossed the hall in the direction of the kitchen he saw that the postman had come along during his absence with Philippa, and that there were three letters in the box. One was an invitation to a tennis party, the second a few lines from his literary agent, and the third a business looking envelope with, the name 'Douglas and Co.' on the flap.
"Now, that's rather a coincidence," Macrae muttered to himself. "I wonder what those chaps want. Funny they should write to me today. Getting uneasy about their money, perhaps. Well, a fortnight will see the end of them, thank goodness."
Without any sort of apprehension Macrae tore open the envelope and read the curt communication inside.
"Dear Sir," (it ran)—"Referring to our recent business transaction and the loan to you of £100, repayable on demand, we are instructed by our head office to apply to you for the repayment of the same by 12 o'clock tomorrow. We have to point out that your objection to giving us a bill of sale necessitated us taking a judgment for the amount, which we duly obtained yesterday in the High Court of Justice. We regret that certain serious calls upon our capital compel us to make this demand, which must be settled, as indicated, failing which we shall immediately proceed to levy an execution on your effects at the Bungalow.—Yours faithfully.—Douglas & Co."
At this unexpected blow Macrae reeled. It was only for a moment, because he had not finished the letter. There was worse to come. Across the bottom of the typewritten communication was a scrawl in an unsteady hand as follows:—
"This will teach you to concern yourself with the business of a man who never did you any harm. You know now that Douglas and Co. is only another name for Joseph Baines."
And then Macrae realised. He had walked glibly into a trap that had been laid for him, never guessing for a moment, or forgetting perhaps how frequently these bloodsuckers masquerade under high-sounding names. He had never seen Baines in the office of Douglas and Co., which concern was apparently managed by an alert little Jew, assisted by an office boy of the same nationality. At any rate, here he was caught like a rat in a trap, with no possibility of an escape. He could see plainly enough now that unless the money was paid by 12 o'clock tomorrow he would be practically ruined. Without the slightest doubt, this bitter enemy of his would exercise the powers conferred upon him by the court, and seize all the furniture in the Bungalow. There was no one in Hitherfield from whom he could borrow the money. He might have asked the proprietor of his paper, but that individual was away somewhere on the Continent, and Macrae had no idea of his address. There was no one in Hitherfield to whom he could apply with the slightest prospect of success, and he was much too proud to ask Dr. Goldfinch, even if he possessed the necessary cash, which the distracted young man very much doubted. Given another day or so, he might have gone to town and laid the trouble before his literary agent, who, possibly, would have advanced the money on the strength of the forthcoming serial, or perhaps arranged an immediate sale of the copyright of the novel. But that was out of the question in the face of the letter from Douglas and Co.
It was in vain that Macrae raged up and down the house, cursing the fate that had robbed him of his happiness at that moment, and trying to think out some scheme by which he could get out of the difficulty. But that rascal Baines had laid his plans far too cunningly. He had been nursing his wrath all this time, and had struck unerringly, like the wolf that he was, at the exact moment. A few hours later, and the story would be all over the town. People would turn their backs on him and sneer; but this was not the worst.
What would Philippa say when she knew? What would she think when she heard of this dread disaster? There was only one thing for it, for Macrae to put his pride in his pocket and go and see this merciless creditor of his. It was getting late now, but possibly Baines had not gone to bed, and, accordingly, a few minutes later Macrae closed the front door behind him and went along the common to the far side of the town, where he knew Baines was residing. It was quite a small place, a little remote from a group of cottages, and flanked by a small strip of weedy soil that passed in these parts as a garden. Macrae knocked at the door again and again, but there was no response. He even tried the handle of the door, and threw a handful of gravel against the bedroom window. But after a quarter of an hour of this Macrae gave up the attempt in despair, and retraced his steps homewards.
It was very late now, and there was not a soul to be seen; indeed, Macrae had not encountered a human being from the time he started till he was approaching the back entrance of the Bungalow again. Just as he was entering the little gate he heard a whine in the bushes, and a dog emerged. He came toward Macrae, growling and snarling, with his bristles up, but directly he was called by name Bragger came fawning to Macrae's feet.
By the light of a vesta which he struck Macrae could see that the dog had been mishandled. There was a cut over his right ear and a deep gash in his side, from which the blood was oozing. In addition, one eye was partially closed.
"Well, what are you doing here at this time of night?" Macrae asked. "You've been poaching, you villain. What's more, you've run up against one of the keepers, and he's given you more than you deserve. Better come inside, old chap, and I will see what I can do for you."
Despite his troubles and the anxiety that was gnawing him like a tooth, Macrae was ready to do his best for the injured animal. But, strangely enough, for once Bragger did not respond. He was still restless and uneasy, and not quite sure, after the treatment he had received, whether he could trust this old friend of his. Then with a sudden pricking of his ears and a yelp half of defiance and half of pain, he vanished, and was seen no more.
"Now, that's very odd," Macrae said to himself. "There is something wrong here. I wonder if anybody has got into the house while I was away. If Bragger was hanging about he would be sure to go for him. I'd better make sure."
He closed the front door behind him, and made a thorough search of the bedrooms. Then he went as carefully over the apartments downstairs, including the kitchen, but no sign of any intruder was to be seen. There was only one place to overhaul now, and that was the conservatory at the back. Here were the ferns and palms, just as the late occupant had left them, an artistic jungle of greenery that might possibly conceal an intruder. The door leading to the garden was unlocked, and the key was missing. Macrae switched on the light, and suddenly started back as he saw something lying on the floor. With quickened breath be realised that here was the body of some man, the intruder, perhaps, who, possibly, had been pulled down and left insensible by the dog Bragger. But as Macrae turned the body over and saw the white, mean face, he staggered back, sick and dizzy. Here was tragedy indeed.
"My God!" he cried. "It's Joseph Baines. My one enemy in the world lying dead in my own house. What does it mean? And what on earth am I going to do next?"
In a roomy old world cottage on the west side of Hitherfield, Philippa Goldfinch lived with her father, a retired doctor of small means and a man devoted to science and research of various kinds. He was a perfect child in all worldly matters, in spite of his wonderful store of general knowledge, and he might have been quite comfortable in his simple way but for the fact that he was ever ready to believe everything that he heard, and take human nature, generally at its own valuation. He was always going to make a fortune in some mysterious way, and ever indulging in fond dreams that obsessed him every time a fresh company prospectus came into his hands. It was part of Philippa's business in life to get hold of these and destroy them before they reached her father's hand, or there would have been nothing left to live on. For the rest, a fairly good annuity, paid monthly, by a wealthy brother of the doctor's, was the mainstay of the household.
The garden of the cottage was one of Philippa's chief delights. Here she spent most of her time in the spring and summer, with the doctor usually in close attendance, for his botanical knowledge was minute, and he was constantly experimenting with new plants and rock vegetation of various kinds.
They were there now on the morrow of David's ghastly discovery, after an early breakfast in the glorious sunshine, and admiring the great bed of wall-flowers in front of the cottage. The doctor was busy with some new plants which had reached him only the day before from a brother botanist in Hertfordshire.
"Now this, my dear Philippa," he was saying, "is something that has never been tried in England before. It belongs to the Depreesa family, and is indigenous to the Alps. But I am sanguine that we shall make a success of it here."
He wandered on in his kindly way, with his black smoking cap on the back of his grey head, making occasionally a shrewd remark which was not altogether in keeping with his character. It was a way he had, and one that occasionally deceived people who were prone to accept him as the acme of simplicity. But there were times when Dr. Goldfinch, believing himself to be absolutely right, displayed a tenacity of purpose and a dogged perseverance which surprised his friends almost as much as they surprised himself.
"Ah, well," he said, "I suppose I shan't have you here to help me much longer. Of course, the garden will suffer, but we can't help that. You might come over and give me a hand sometimes."
"Of course I will," Philippa said. "Why not? David will have his work to do, and the garden at the Bungalow is quite a natural one. There will not be much to do there, Dad; it will be one of my great regrets to turn my back on this old place."
Dr. Goldfinch went on with his planting. He was only just beginning to realise what Philippa's departure would mean to him. She had engaged a responsible housekeeper for him, it was true, but then, that would not be quite the same thing. They were talking the matter over in their simple way when the postman, coming up the drive, distracted the doctor's thoughts.
"Ah, here comes the post," he said briskly. "The postman with a parcel for me. Those new books, I expect. Now, you go on with this work while I take the books and remove the covers. I shall be back in a few minutes."
Philippa bent over her rock garden with a tolerant smile. She knew perfectly well that, unless something out of the common happened, she was not likely to see her father again this side of luncheon time. She was still working quietly away when a shadow falling across the bed attracted her attention, and looking up she saw that Richard Farrell was standing there.
"Good morning," he said. "I hope I didn't startle you. But, as I was passing by, I saw you at work here, and I could not resist the temptation to come and speak to you. Isn't it a glorious morning? Quite good to be alive."
Farrell spoke cheerfully enough, but there was a certain something about him that did not suggest that this apparently genial mood of his was in perfect accord with the beauty of the day. It seemed to Philippa that he looked drawn and tired, and for the first time she noticed a certain suspicion of red about his eyes. He had strangely coarsened of late. There was a nervous movement of his hands, and Philippa could see a little pulse throbbing behind his left temple. In a vague, resentful way she was wondering why he had obtruded himself on her in this fashion, and yet, only a few brief months ago, he had been more than a welcome guest at the cottage. Why had she not noticed these points in Farrell before? Philippa wondered. She knew very little of the world, having lived most of her life in that beautiful and secluded spot, but she seemed to know now without anyone telling her that Farrell had been drinking. She had never spoken to a man in that condition before, and yet something told her that she was right. Not that there was anything offensive about his manner, his speech was clear enough, and he stood before her a fine, handsome figure of a man that any girl might have admired. But the vague something was there, and Philippa shrank from him.
"Yes, it is a lovely morning, isn't it?" she said. "We are taking advantage of it to get some new rock plants in."
"Oh, really," Farrell replied. "I should hardly have thought that you would have taken much interest in this garden now, since you have got one of your own to look after."
"I shall be always interested in this one," Philippa said, a little coldly. "It was a wilderness when we came here first, and just look what we have made it now."
But Richard Farrell did not appear to be listening. He gazed with a strange light in his eyes about the place, then he turned to Philippa with a queer smile on his lips.
"Some people are wonderfully lucky," he said. "But luck does not always last, you know."
The words sounded almost like a threat, and Philippa resented them accordingly. What did Farrell mean by that suggestion?
"I don't quite follow you," she said frigidly.
"Oh well, I think what I said was pretty plain. David Macrae is a lucky man now, but it does not follow that he will always be as fortunate. Perhaps you think I don't like him. You are not far wrong. If he had never come here—"
"Please don't," Philippa said. "I thought we had agreed not to allude to that subject again."
"Very likely," Farrell said. "But we are not all girls, you know. A man's affection isn't much to the average woman when the next man comes along. If Macrae had never come to Hitherfield you would not be talking to me like this."
Philippa listened in haughty silence. This was not the first time that Farrell had forgotten himself. And yet she had some sort of feeling for him, because she was bound to recognise the fact that what he said was perfectly true. She placed her trowel down on the bed and faced him with a certain dignity.
"I make every allowance for you, Richard," she said. "I have known you a great many years, and there was a time when I thought that I really cared for you. But, thank heaven, I found out my mistake in time. I never really cared."
"Yes, you did," Farrell said, savagely. "You would have married me if Macrae had not turned up."
"Perhaps I might—and regretted it ever afterwards."
A furious gleam came into Farrell's eyes. Just for a moment it looked as if he were on the verge of a violent out-break. It was fortunate, perhaps, that the doctor suddenly appeared.
"Philippa, those stupid people have sent me the books without the volume of index," he complained. "Without the index they are perfectly useless. Ah, good morning, Richard. A glorious day, isn't it? On your way to work, eh? Plenty to do for a rising young lawyer like you. What's the matter with your hand?"
Those mild blue eyes of the doctor's that usually saw so little beyond his own nose, save in the way of science, had gone straight to Farrell's right hand. On it he could see three or four small red angry indentations, much as if the fingers had been caught in a trap. Farrell put his hands behind his back quickly.
"Oh, it is nothing," he said. "I was opening a box last night and I got entangled with some nails."
"Let me have a look at it," the doctor said. "Those sort of things should never be neglected. If the nail happened to be a bit rusty, blood-poisoning and all sorts of complications might be set up. Now, come on, let me see it."
"Really, it is not worth troubling about," Farrell laughed awkwardly. "I never take any notice of these little things. I will put some liniment or something of that sort on when I get back."
Like most mild-mannered men, there was a certain vein of obstinacy in the doctor's simple nature. Therefore, at length, with a sullen air, Farrell extended his hand, and Goldfinch bent over it tentatively for some moments.
"They don't look like scratches to me," he said. "Now, are you quite sure that you haven't got a cat in the house?"
"I don't keep a cat," Farrell said. "What would one do with a cat in lodging? The landlady has one of course; being a landlady of the traditional type, she would."
"Are you quite sure the cat didn't scratch you?"
"Upon my word, I think you are right," Farrell said. "He is rather a nasty brute, and, now I come to think of it—but what does it matter? I must be getting along."
"Well, don't neglect those bites," the doctor said warningly. "If you like, I will give you something to put on them."
But Farrell declined to remain any longer. With a few commonplace remarks he backed slowly down the garden, and was lost to sight presently along the road. Goldfinch, with his black cap on the back of his head, watched him out of sight.
"Do you know, my dear," he said thoughtfully, "that is a very extraordinary young man. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that he has changed a lot of late. He used to look so healthy, and if I didn't know him to be quite an athlete I should say that he was a little inclined—but perhaps I had better not say it."
"Perhaps not," Philippa laughed. "Still it is a strange thing that I was thinking the same as I was standing talking to him before you came out of the house. He has changed. Do you know, father, he was quite ill-tempered when you asked to have a look at his hand. And fancy you noticing it."
"My dear child, that sort of thing is second nature to me. As a doctor, one notices many things. Still, it is no business of mine. I thought, at one time, that you and Farrell were going to make a match of it. But I am glad you didn't, very glad indeed, though I hadn't a word to say against the man then. I understand he is making a big practice for himself, and getting on famously. But I am glad, yes, I am glad you didn't marry him."
With that Goldfinch turned away and went back to the house. Those books of his would certainly keep him occupied for the rest of the morning, despite the fact that the index had not arrived, so that Philippa went back to her work with a full determination of sticking to it until luncheon time.
But again she was interrupted. A minute or two later David Macrae came striding down the path, looking neither to the right nor to the left, his eyes full of misery, and his face white, and almost despairing. He was close to Philippa before he was even aware that she was so near at hand.
She looked at him with a sinking heart and a strange foreboding of coming evil. She rose to meet him, and held out two hands, which he took almost mechanically.
"David," she whispered—"David! what has happened? Why do you look at me in that strange way?"
"What has happened?" Macrae echoed. "My dearest girl, I am just trying to think. I have been walking about for hours. Sometimes it is perfectly clear to me, and at others I am moving in a dream. I meant to have seen you just after breakfast, but I took the wrong turning and crossed the common instead."
"David!" Philippa cried, "David, what is it? Do try and think. You are frightening me terribly."
There was something in the tone of Philippa's voice that acted like a tonic on Macrae's strained nerves. His eye gradually cleared, and his features became normal.
"A most terrible thing has happened, Philippa," he said. "A thing incredible. I could not have believed it possible, though a novelist like myself imagines many strange things."
"You have lost your money," Philippa suggested. "That serial story has gone off. Oh, it cannot be worse than that."
"Ah, if I could only think so. What you suggest would be merely amusing by comparison. But I must tell you in the best way I can, I suppose. Ah, my dear girl, it would have been far better for you if you had never seen me, and had married Farrell instead."
"You speak as if you had done something wrong," Philippa said. "But I shall never believe that."
"Oh, I have done nothing wrong," Macrae replied. "Though whether the rest of the world will believe me is another matter. Now, let us go into the house and I will try and tell you all about it. But I don't want to see the doctor at present."
"Oh, you won't," Philippa smiled, faintly. "He is in his den with some new books, and I shall have great difficulty in dragging him from them to his luncheon."
She led the way to the little dining room at the back of the house, and there dropped into a chair with limbs that were shaking strangely. With folded hands she waited for Macrae to proceed.
"Do you remember my telling you, last night, all about that hundred pounds I borrowed from Douglas & Co.?"
Philippa began to breathe a little easier. She had been doubtful in her mind ever since that loan was mentioned. She had seen trouble of the sort in her own home, but, if it was merely a question of money, then, it was hard to account for David's strange agitation. The thought flashed across her mind that he was not the boldly courageous man that she had taken him for. If a comparatively little thing like this upset him so greatly, then what would happen in the case of a real misfortune? It was impossible to look into David's strong, self-reliant face and believe this.
"I remember it perfectly well," she said. "It worried me at the time, but you were so confident—"
"Would you mind waiting till I have finished?" Macrae said. "After all, money has very little to do with it. If I had lost everything, I should still have had you, and it would only be a question of waiting and working for a few more months. I told you that I had borrowed that money to complete the purchase of the bungalow, and that before Douglas & Co. let me have it I had to consent to what is called a judgment. That meant that if they demanded the money at any moment I must pay, or they would realise their security. They would take over everything, and give me the balance after they had sold the property and paid themselves. You know that I was sleeping in the bungalow last night, and I made some light reference to what the last post might bring me. Well, Philippa, it brought me a letter from Douglas & Co., giving me till 12 o'clock today to find the money, or they would proceed. Of course, there was the usual excuse that they were hard pressed—"
"But what a monstrous thing to do," Philippa cried. "They must have known perfectly well that you could pay in a few days, and moneylenders are never short of capital. Why did they do it? Has some enemy of yours been at work here?"
"Indeed, there has," Macrae groaned. "It was a typewritten letter, and across it was scrawled a line or two saying that this would teach me to make attacks upon people in the 'Hitherfield Mercury' who had never done me any harm. And those few lines I am speaking about were signed by Joseph Baines."
"But what does that mean?" Philippa asked.
"Surely, my dearest girl, the meaning is plain enough. These bloodsuckers often masquerade under different names, and, without us knowing it, all this time Baines and Douglas & Co. are one and the same man. It is a favorite dodge of these scoundrels. They lend some poor devil money, and call it in suddenly. At the same time he gets a circular from the same rascal, in another name, and he flies to him for assistance. Oh, it has been done a thousand times. And now you understand. When I was replying to Douglas & Co. I was really addressing Joseph Baines. And, without appearing himself, he was actually lending me his own money. This is his revenge for those articles I wrote in my paper. You see how cunningly he lured me into the trap. He knew I could not find the money at a moment's notice, and he thinks he has ruined me."
"Yes, but only thinks. I suppose that our little house will have to go. It is a mean revenge, but will only cost us a trifling inconvenience. Don't worry, David; don't worry."
"Ah, if I had only told you the worst," Macrae sighed. "When I got that letter I went off at once to see Baines. You know that he lives in a little house by himself on the far side of the common, with no one to look after him. Well, late as it was, I set out to see him, and to try if I could soften his heart. It was a hateful thing to have to do, but for your sake I did it. I thought perhaps when I convinced him that his money was all right he might listen to reason. It was a stupid idea, because he knew very well that his beloved cash was safe. Still, I did it. I went over to his cottage about 10 o'clock, but I could not make anybody hear. I knocked in vain, until I came to the conclusion that he was either out or would not come to the door. Perhaps he saw me through one of the bedroom windows. At any rate, I had my journey for my pains, and I went back to the Bungalow very downhearted. Just before I locked up for the night I went round the house, and, rather to my surprise, found that the outer door of the little conservatory was open, and the key missing. It occurred to me that perhaps there never had been a key. So, to make sure that there was nothing wrong I turned on the light in the conservatory, and there, lying on the floor behind some ferns—"
Macrae stopped, almost unable to proceed. Philippa rose with a white and terrified face, and held out her hands to him.
"Go on," she whispered. "David, please go on."
"It was Baines himself," Macrae said, brokenly. "He was lying on the floor, quite dead, and had been murdered beyond the shadow of a doubt. And that is all I can tell you."
"What an awful thing!" Philippa said. "Do you think he was lying there when we were in the house? Oh, it is impossible to know what to think."
"Yes; but you can see what people will think," Macrae groaned. "They will say that I lured him into the Bungalow and murdered him in cold blood. Here is a man in whose power I am. He writes me a letter saying what he is going to do. He can ruin me absolutely, and being quite desperate, I lured him into my own house and destroyed him like the dog that he is. Oh, I know I shall have a good deal of sympathy, but everybody will say that I am the only possible culprit. Don't forget the letter, Philippa."
"Couldn't you destroy it?" Philippa whispered.
"Oh, I could, of course. But that would be an admission of guilt if it was found out, and I am certainly not going to do that. No; I must fight the thing through. Of course, I went to the police station at once, and told Superintendent Dent exactly what had happened. I was with him pretty nearly all night. He allowed me to leave him this morning, pending the inquest, which takes place tomorrow, but though I said nothing about my indebtedness to Baines I could see what the inspector thought. My dearest girl, I may be arrested at any moment."
Before Philippa could reply a little servant looked into the room and said that Inspector Dent was there, and he would like to see Mr. Macrae at once.
"Ah, there you are," David said bitterly. "It is as I told you, Philippa. They are after me already. You know what Dent wants, of course. He has come here without doubt to arrest me for the wilful murder of Joseph Baines."
Philippa started forward with the instinct of a mother defending her child. She burned to stand between her David and the danger that threatened him. They should not take him away, they should not cast a slur upon his good name. Surely no man or woman in the possession of their senses could imagine that David was capable of doing this thing. He seemed to grasp something of what was passing through her mind as he put her gently on one side.
"You cannot do anything, my dear girl," he said. "Don't make it any worse for me than it is."
Philippa fell back with her lip caught between her teeth and a suggestion of tears in her eyes. Still, she looked almost defiantly at the Inspector as he came into the room, nor was he particularly at ease, because he knew and liked both these young people, and his errand was anything but a pleasant one.
"I am sorry to intrude like this," he said. "Exceedingly sorry. But you must understand, Miss Goldfinch, that I have my duty to do, however repugnant it may be."
Philippa said nothing. She was beginning to see that Dent was right, and that she had been on the verge of behaving badly. She walked across to the window and looked out with eyes that saw nothing.
"I am quite ready for you," Macrae said.
"I don't think you quite understand," Dent replied. "It's not exactly what you think. I am going to ask you to come with me, for the present, at any rate, and—"
"Let me quite understand," Philippa said. "Are you arresting Mr. Macrae for the murder of Joseph Baines?"
"Well, not precisely," Dent explained. "There is a great difference, you see, between an arrest and detaining a person on suspicion. Perhaps, in the course of an hour or two—"
"But the thing is monstrous," Philippa cried. "Why should Mr. Macrae do this? He had no quarrel with Mr. Baines. They were not on speaking terms, I know, because of those articles in the 'Hitherfield Mercury.' Mr. Macrae has just been telling me all about them. He found Baines dead in his conservatory, and the first thing he did was to communicate with you. I ask you if that was the action of a man who is guilty of a crime?"
"Of course it wasn't," Dent hastened to agree. "Mr. Macrae has given us every assistance. But the body was found in his conservatory, late at night, and there is no getting away from the fact that those two were on very bad terms. Possibly we shall get to the bottom of the mystery, but please don't be angry with me, Miss Goldfinch, because I am merely doing my duty. For the present, at any rate, Mr. Macrae is not my prisoner."
"I am sorry," Philippa said. "All I want you to do is to understand my feelings in the matter."
"I think I had better come along with you, Inspector," Macrae said. "But perhaps you will allow me to have just five minutes alone with Miss Goldfinch."
Dent cast a professional eye round the room. There was only one door, and beyond it two windows that opened almost directly on to the common. There could be no sudden escape that way, and, besides, Dent was a man who had rather a tender heart, for a man of his profession, and he had a high regard for Macrae.
"Oh, certainly," he said. "I will just step outside and wait for Mr. Macrae in the garden."
"I want to give you this," David said, when the inspector had gone. "It is the letter that I had from Douglas & Co., with Baine's message scribbled across it. I did not show that to Dent, though perhaps I ought to have done so. Mind you, I don't want to conceal anything, but if this comes out without my volunteering the information, then it will look all the worse for me. That is why I am asking you to take care of the letter. I must have legal advice, Philippa. I must consult a lawyer."
"Richard Farrell," Philippa suggested. "I don't particularly like him, and he has no reason to be fond of you, but there is nobody else here capable of taking up the case. He is very shrewd and clever, and he will appreciate the opportunity of bringing his name prominently before the public. I wish there was somebody else, but there isn't, and I should like you to send for him."
"Very well," Macrae said, listlessly. "I will do as you suggest, not that I think it will make any difference."
So it came about that during the course of the day, and before the inquest, which took place in evening, Farrell had seen Macrae at the superintendent's private house, where the latter was detained, and had eagerly proffered his services. He had suggested also that Macrae should be present at the proceedings, ready to give evidence if necessary, though, in the circumstances, it was rather an unusual course. But then, Macrae, being an innocent man, had nothing to be afraid of and was eager to face every enquiry.
Shortly after 6 o'clock the inquest took place in the lounge hall of the Bungalow. After a few preliminaries, Inspector Dent came forward and tendered his evidence. He had been sent for on his evidence, the previous evening shortly after 11 o'clock by a messenger from David Macrae, and, in consequence, he had gone off to the Bungalow. There he found the body of Joseph Baines lying precisely in the attitude that the jury had witnessed, and, upon questioning Macrae, had been informed that the latter had come in to the Bungalow late the previous evening and found deceased lying there. When Dent had finished Farrell stood up.
"I would like to ask you a few questions, inspector," he said. "Did Mr. Macrae tell you that he had taken over the Bungalow only a few hours before the murder!"
"Certainly he did," Dent said.
"And that he was sleeping there alone?"
"So I gathered. There was no one else in the house, as, up to the present, Mr. Macrae has no servant."
"He sent for you at once, didn't he? And he told you everything that had happened. Did he tell you, for instance, that he had gone out somewhere about 10 o'clock, with the purpose of calling upon the man who is now lying dead?"
"Yes, he told me that," Dent said. "I understood they had some sort of business together, which was not of a very pleasant nature. Mr. Macrae went to deceased's cottage, but could not make anybody hear, so that he returned home again.
"And when he found Baines lying there, he sent for you, without delay? I merely want to point out to you, sir, that this was hardly the action of a guilty man."
"Oh, quite so, Mr. Farrell," the coroner said. "Quite so."
"One or two further questions, and I have finished," Farrell went on. "Inspector, you knew Mr. Baines very well, didn't you?"
"Certainly, I have known him for a good many years."
"And he was a small man, wasn't he? Very slender and light, and, therefore, would be easily handled by a man of my client's physique. What I merely want to suggest is this—if Baines had fallen by the hand of my client in his own house, then it would have been an easy matter to have carried him out on to the common and thrown him down on the gorse there. It was late at night, there was no one about, and the common, at that hour, is always deserted. I have alluded to this, merely because it seems to me that no guilty man could have behaved in the way my client has done. Had he been a criminal he would have got rid of the body with the greatest ease, and have said nothing about it. However, I shall have an opportunity, no doubt, of alluding to this again."
"Is your client prepared to give evidence?" the coroner asked. "You know best, of course."
"Thank you, sir. My client is going to give evidence. He will tell you exactly what happened in his own words, and it will be for the jury to draw their own conclusions."
The proceedings dragged on, with Macrae sitting there, wondering vaguely if it were not all a dream from which he would awake presently, and trying to read something of what the jury was thinking from the expression of their faces. But he dropped this presently, and relapsed into his own gloomy thoughts. So far as he could see, he had few friends there, and it occurred to him uneasily that most of the sensation-mongers crowded into that pretty hall-sitting-room of his had already made up their minds.
Then he seemed to hear someone calling his name a long way off, and gradually he recognised that the time had come for him to stand up there and tell his story over again. He told it simply and straightforwardly, with the air of a man who is uttering nothing but the truth, and who has little to conceal. The coroner put one or two questions to him, supplemented with some further ones at the suggestion of Inspector Dent. Then the coroner summed up at considerable length, and the jury retired to consider their verdict. They came back presently, and took their places again.
"Well, gentlemen," the coroner asked. "Have you agreed upon your verdict?"
"Yes, sir," the foreman said. "We have come to the conclusion that Joseph Baines met his death at the hands of some person or persons unknown. More than that we don't feel called upon to say. And we are quite unanimous."
"Then there is no more to be said," the coroner went on. "I thank you, gentlemen, for your attendance."
It was all over, and presently the jury with the rest of the spectators, filed out leaving Macrae with Farrell and Inspector Dent alone in the bungalow. Farrell turned to the inspector and asked him what he proposed to do.
"Well," Dent said, cautiously, "I shall be guided by evidence. I may point out to you, Mr. Macrae, that the coroner's jury is not final, and, meanwhile he is free to do what he likes without interference on my part. But, beyond question, Baines was murdered, and it is my business to find the criminal."
"And may it not be long before you do," David said. "I suppose I am free now, to go back to my business?"
"I have already told you so," Dent replied. "And I hope sincerely that you have heard the last of it."
Two days had elapsed, and Richard Farrell was seated in his private office going through his letters, and arranging his day's work. Not that he had very much to do, because, of late, his practice had fallen off, and clients were righting shy of him. Up to the present there was no tangible reason for this, though there were certain vague rumors floating about Hitherfield which were not calculated to impress business men in his favor. He had started well enough, three years ago, and, being the only young lawyer in the place, and possessed of an easy assurance in himself and a glib tongue, had begun to make a name for himself as an advocate in the police courts. And, for a time, he had done very well indeed.
But within the last few months, especially since Macrae had come to Hitherfield, he had lapsed into dubious habits. He had developed a fondness for racing, and the atmosphere of hotel billiard rooms. He was on friendly terms with more than one bookmaker in the neighborhood, and it was whispered that he owed Sam Farmer, the local bookmaker and stock breeder, a great deal of money.
At that very moment he was reading a letter from the man in question. It was not a nice letter, and couched in anything but friendly terms. He knew Farmer to be a generous and kindhearted man, but evidently there were limits to his patience, and the letter hinted something to the effect that unless at least a hundred pounds was forthcoming during the next week steps would be taken which would result in Farrell being posted as a defaulter. This would mean, of course, that he would be warned off every racecourse in future, and worse than that, he would certainly lose the confidence of his few remaining clients. For, as a matter of fact, Farrell was in desperate circumstances. He owed money in every direction, and even the local moneylenders were beginning to regard him with a certain amount of suspicion. He had owed Baines money, to begin with, and Baines had been getting nasty. The recent tragic event had eased the situation in that direction, and therefore Farrell was somewhat troubled in his mind.
Still, the situation was serious enough and he sat himself quietly down to evolve some way out of it. His clerk came in a minute or two later, with the information that Mr. Isaac Blinn would like to see him without delay.
"Ask him to come in," Farrell said.
There entered a little dark man, with a long, thin nose and a mass of black curly hair. This was the Jew manager of the local branch of Douglas & Co., money lenders.
"Good-morning, Mr. Farrell," said he. "If you will give me a few minutes I have some business to discuss with you. In fact, I think I can put a good thing in your way."
"Then you are welcome," Farrell laughed. "Good things have been few and far between recently."
"Yes, I suppose business is quiet. Now, look here, Mr. Farrell, I am here on behalf of my partner, the late Joseph Baines. I daresay that astonishes you."
"Well, it does," Farrell confessed. "I had no idea that your firms were connected. Of course, I know you moneylenders are often hand in glove with one another when there are sheep to be shorn, but I didn't know that there was any partnership between you. I thought you were just the manager for a big London firm."
"Ah, so does everybody else," the little man grinned. "My dear sir, there is no Douglas & Co., at least there isn't if you put me on one side. It is practically all Baines', and I think people will be astonished when they find what a lot of money Baines left behind him. Our two offices are mixed up together, and I want you to straighten things out. I don't care how soon it is done, because these complications stop progress. I am going to ask you to go over all Baines' books and get in the outstanding money. Most of them are loans, repayable on demand, and generally there is a good deal to be done. I expect you will have to issue a lot of writs, but you won't regret that much."
"Oh, I suppose not. I will do what you want with pleasure. You had better let me have all Baines's letter books. I shall be able to do what you want by studying these, and perhaps you might be disposed to hand me over Douglas & Co.'s letter book as well. I can take it home in the evening and let you have it back the next morning. By studying those two books I shall be able to separate the sheep from the goats, so to speak."
"Now that is not a bad idea," Blinn said. "I will let you have Baines's current letter book tonight, and, at the same time, I will leave ours. You can go over them in the evening for an hour or two for the next fortnight, and, by that time, you ought to have the whole thing properly mapped out. And don't you hesitate over getting the money in. You will have a free hand, and, if you have to take proceedings, don't come to me for instructions, but take them. It won't cost us anything, and you ought to make quite a little pile out of it. But mind you, no one is to know that there is any connection between Baines and myself, because I shall probably take on the old man's office and run the show with a manager. It will pay me to do so."
Farrell breathed a little more freely. It was quite evident to him that Baines had not altogether taken his partner into his confidence. They might have placed a good deal of dirty business in one another's hands, but, no doubt, there had been secrets on both sides. It was quite plain, for instance, that Blinn was ignorant of the fate that he, Farrell, was rather deeply indebted to the dead man for money lent. Otherwise Blinn would certainly have mentioned it, and suggested that Farrell should have done all the work for nothing, by way of working off his loan. And if this was so, then those books were to be entrusted to him, and Farrell began to see a way of obliterating all trace of the transactions which had taken place between Baines and himself.
"Very well," he said. "We will let it go at that, shall we? You pack up those letter books, and deliver them at my lodgings, and I will have a go at them tonight. My clerks will bring them back first thing in the morning."
Blinn fell in with this arrangement, and went on his way, leaving Farrell in a more easy frame of mind. To begin with, here was a slice of business which, properly handled, should mean a couple of hundred pounds at least, with more to follow. And, still better, was the knowledge that, with any luck, he would be able to free himself from claims made against him by Baines's executors. He could remove from the dead man's letter book all traces of correspondence between Baines and himself, and it would go hard indeed if he could not find some excuse for handling Baines's ledger.
It was with quite a keen zest, therefore, that he found himself that evening examining Baines's letter book. There was a deal of absorbing reading there, which threw an interesting sidelight upon certain businesses in Hitherfield. Here were men whom Farrell regarded as quite prosperous, having dealings with Baines upon terms which could only have one result.
"My word," Farrell muttered to himself. "If some of the local gossips could see these letters they would have enough to talk about for the rest of their natural lives. Not that it concerns me. Now, where the Dickens is the record of the last letter that Baines wrote to me? We must get rid of that."
After a long search he found the copies he required, and with a sharp penknife removed the thin flimsy sheets from the book and carefully put a match to them. With the exception of Baines' business ledgers, all trace of that dreadful debt had been removed. It seemed to Farrell that he was comparatively safe now. On the morrow he would ask Blinn casually to lend him the loan of the ledger for an hour or two, and, when he had finished with that he would be in a position to defy anyone to prove that he had ever been so much as a penny in Baines' debt.
Then another thought struck him.
"Stop a moment," he went on, communing with himself. "Those rascals are mixed up together, and it is just possible that in the letter book of Douglas and Co. is some reference to me. If so, then I have had all my trouble for my pains. I'll have to go through Douglas and Co.'s book from end to end and make sure."
It was a long and weary task, for the book contained some six or seven hundred leaves of copied letters, and it was necessary, at any rate, to glance over every one of them. The whole town was fast asleep, the street lamps were out, and the first flush of early dawn was beginning to glow in the east before Farrell had finished, and still nearly a hundred of the flimsy tissues were, as yet, unread. He helped himself to another cigarette, and went on doggedly with his uncongenial task.
Then he came to something that brought him up, all standing. It was a copy of the typewritten letter which had been sent from the office of Douglas and Co. to David Macrae, asking for the immediate payment of a hundred pounds, and calling attention to the fact that a judgment had been obtained for the amount, payment of which would be enforced by 12 o'clock the following day, unless the loan was liquidated in the meantime. And there followed that straggling scrawl in Baines' untidy handwriting.
"Oho," Farrell whispered to himself. "This is something like a discovery. If this had been disclosed to the jury the night before last, it seems to me that they might have brought in another verdict. Because, here we have a motive for getting Baines out of the way."
Farrell sat there for quite a long time, turning this matter over and over in his mind. He was wondering how he could turn it to the best advantage. No doubt it was the original of this letter that had impelled Macrae to set out on the night of the murder to see if he could do anything with his creditor.
"Of course, he had that letter," Farrell went on to himself. "And he deliberately suppressed it. He didn't even tell me, his solicitor. My word, what a chance for me. Ah, my hated rival, you are not the husband of Philippa Goldfinch yet, and if I have anything to do with it you never will be."
As was quite natural in the circumstances, Hitherfield made the most of the Baines mystery. Nothing so startling had happened in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, the London papers had taken it up, and the whole county was talking of very little else. There were those who stoutly defended Macrae and declined to hear a word against him, but, on the other hand, there were folk who nodded their heads sagely and intimated that certain people could say a great deal if only they were disposed to do so. And this, precisely, was the sort of thing that got on David Macrae's nerves and almost maddened him. He had to go about his business in the ordinary course of things and face people in the street, much as if nothing had happened, and it seemed to him that, in most cases, he could detect a certain shrinking that filled him sometimes with despair, and at others with a desire to argue the matter out.
Still, he and his friends, who rallied round him, and it was a great deal of encouragement when he received a telegram from his employer, somewhere in the South of France, expressing every confidence in him, and, moreover, giving him instructions to offer two hundred pounds reward, in the 'Hitherfield Mercury,' to anyone who would bring the culprit to justice. It was absurd, of course, that a man in Macrae's position should lay violent hands upon Baines, whom he had never spoken to in his life. He had criticised Baines' methods freely enough, but that was merely in the course of business.
Still, Macrae walked about more or less weighed down by the recollection of the letter which he had received from Baines within a few hours of the latter's death. He had kept this entirely to himself, and now he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of his judgment in having done so. It would have been far better if he had handed over the letter to Farrell, and allowed the jury to make the best or worst of it. That, at any rate, would have been a straightforward thing to do, though, of course, it might have led to his standing in the court of justice, actually being tried for the murder of Joseph Baines. And, even now, he could not see how the fact could be permanently kept from public knowledge. That letter had been copied in the office of Douglas and Co., and sooner or later some member of the firm would assuredly find it out. And when they did so, and Inspector Dent grasped the fact, then would Macrae stand in a serious position, and be accused of deliberately withholding a piece of evidence that would go a long way to damn him in the eyes of the public. It certainly was not the attitude of an honest man, and Macrae spent many hours in worrying over the situation, and wondering if it would not be better, late as it was, to make a clean breast of it, and hand over the letter to the police. He might, perhaps, have told Farrell, but for some reason he had refrained from doing so. Farrell would probably have suggested that the letter be ignored, and the risk run as to whether it came out or not.
Meanwhile, Farrell was apparently doing all he could to help the man who had been his successful rival, and Macrae was almost absurdly grateful for this practical sympathy. But, strangely enough, Philippa did not share this opinion.
"You are perfectly innocent," she said. "Oh, I know what you are going to say. Very few men would have done the same as Richard Farrell. But, my dear boy, this is not a melodrama, but life itself. Mr. Farrell is a lawyer, and takes a commonsense view of life. I might have married him if I had not met you—indeed, I think it is very probable. But I know now what a hideous mistake it would have been, and I am grateful—grateful for my escape. Richard Farrell is doing what he can for you, because he expects to be well paid for it. It is entirely a matter of business."
Macrae did not argue the matter any further. At that moment he and Philippa were on their on their way towards a certain farm house a mile or two out of Hitherfield, owned by one Sam Farmer, a stock breeder and turf commission agent who lived on his own land, and who was a warm friend of both of them. It was on a Thursday afternoon, which was the half holiday in Hitherfield, and Philippa had lured David out of the town, so that he might be away from anything that reminded him of the Baines tragedy, and in the peaceful country, where, they would be sure of a warm welcome. Farmer was a man of substance, and one of the wealthiest individuals in the neighborhood. Moreover, his daughter, Enid, was Philippa's great friend. They had been to school together, and visited regularly, for Enid's mother had been a lady, and nobody quite understood how it came about that she had married her farmer husband. At any rate, they had been very happy together, until Mrs. Farmer's death, after which time Philippa was always welcome there, because her and Enid's mother had also been schoolfellows, so that there was a warm bond of sympathy between them. It was here, in this old house, with its picturesque thatched roof, that Farmer more or less played at agricultural pursuits, for the greater part of his wealth had been derived from betting. He was not actually a bookmaker in the ordinary sense of the word, but ran a set of offices in Hitherfield where he acted as a commission agent. He was rarely seen on a racecourse, but he had the whole thing at his finger-ends, and no shrewder man was connected with the turf.
He was, withal, one of the kindest and most generous of men, and there was nobody living who had done more for broken soldiers in the Great War than Sam Farmer. There were half a dozen of them employed about the farm, and most of them drawing a good wage, which they could not possibly earn. Farmer was talking to one of them now outside on the lawn in front of the house when his visitors arrived. This man was called Ned Hammer, a blinded soldier, who had received a certain amount of training at St. Dunstan's, and was now something in the way of a farm bailiff. With the aid of his dog, Bragger, he managed to get about all over the place, and, indeed, there was something quite human about the terrier.
"Ah, here you are," Farmer cried. "Come and sit down and rest yourselves after your walk. Enid will be down in a minute."
Philippa dropped into a basket chair, and responded fittingly to Bragger's friendly advances. The dog was almost as fond of her as he was of his own master, and during such times of the day as his services were not needed, Bragger spent many odd hours with Philippa in the garden of the cottage. Once Hammer had settled down for the evening and showed no signs of going out Bragger would set off gaily for Hitherfield to call upon his friends. And, after Philippa he liked Macrae as well as anyone in the world.
So they sat there talking for some time, until Enid Farmer came down and warmly greeted Philippa. She was a pretty girl, dark and graceful, and possessing all her father's shrewdness and clearness of judgment. They talked on general topics until at length the blind soldier rose to go, saying that he had certain duties to attend to, and vanished in the direction of the farm yard, leaving the dog behind him. It seemed almost impossible to believe that a man who walked so resolutely should be blind.
"It is really amazing," Philippa said, as she watched Hammer out of sight. "They must be a marvellous set of people at St. Dunstan's. Why, my dear, he walks as if he could see as well as you or I."
"I almost believe he can," Enid said. "Don't forget that Ned Hammer was born in the neighborhood. Still, it is very wonderful. You may not think it, but Ned actually goes poaching."
Sam Farmer laughed aloud.
"Ah, that he does," he said. "Goes out in the evening with his dog after dark, and, at this time of the year, they seldom fail to come back without a rabbit or two. My belief is that Ned and his dog have some way of talking to one another. At any rate, Bragger always knows what is in his master's mind. He gets into trouble sometimes, though. He came back a few nights ago looking as if he had been very much in the wars. Ah, he is a wonder."
Bragger sat there, curled up in a ball, regarding Philippa with one eye, as much as to say, "I know all you are talking about, and I could tell you a good deal more if I wanted to." Philippa bent down and caressed his golden ears. She was about to say something appropriate to the occasion, when another figure emerged from the house and strolled across the lawn.
"Why, it's Mr. Philp," Philippa exclaimed.
"Aye, that it is," Farmer replied with a humorous smile and a half wink in Philippa's direction. "Come down for a breath of fresh air, so he says."
Philippa was not blind to Enid's heightened color, and the smile on her face as the man called Philp came across the lawn. He was a young, rather handsome man, with a keen, clever face, and the general appearance of a barrister, in which his looks did not belie him, for that was exactly what he was. Years ago he had been at school at Hitherfield, an ambitious youth with the Bar ever in his mind. But only he and the genial, kind-hearted bookmaker knew that but for the elder man's generosity he never would have attained his object. But long ago, he had repaid Farmer in everything but gratitude, and now, as the old man humorously put it, he was showing his appreciation for all his patron had done for him by doing his best to engage the affections of Enid. One of these early days Philp would make a big mark at the Bar, and no one knew it better than the shrewd, kindly old man who sat by his side.
"Hello, Macrae," Philp cried. "I was coming to see you tomorrow. Well, how are you?"
"Well, I am all right personally," Macrae said.
"Ah, I quite understand. Now, let's have a little chat over this little business of yours. It is no use pretending we haven't got it in our mind, because I know these good friends of mine are thinking about nothing else. I hadn't heard a word about it until I got down here last night. I am going to stay here over what we lawyers call the Easter recess, and I need not tell you, my dear fellow, that my services are quite at your disposal."
"That is very good of you," Macrae said gratefully. "But what can you do? I am absolutely innocent."
"Of course you are," Philp cried. "Everybody ought to know that. Even Bragger knows it, don't you, old chap?"
The dog seemed to understand, for he jumped down to the ground and barked round Macrae's feet, at the same time looking up into his face, as if to assure him of his indignant sympathy.
"Well," Macrae laughed a little unsteadily. "I have got one friend, at any rate. It is very kind of you, Philp, to take all this interest in my affairs, but I can't see how you are going to help me. There is no getting away from the fact that Baines was murdered in my house, at a time when I was alone in it."
"Well, nobody wants to argue that," Philp said. "The man was undoubtedly killed in the Bungalow, but you were not there at that particular moment, because, by a certain grim chance, you were out, actually looking for the man who was found dead by yourself a little later in your conservatory. Now, arguing the matter out as a lawyer, I am going to assume that you did murder Baines. And if you had, you would never have been fool enough to have left the body where it was found, and gone off, almost at once, to notify the police. No, you would have taken the body, and thrown it down somewhere on the common. You could easily have done that, because you are a fairly powerful man, and Baines was only a dried up wisp of humanity. It was very late at night, with nobody about, and therefore you could have adopted that course with absolute security. Again, you had no quarrel with Baines. I know you exposed him in your paper, but then, that was in the ordinary course of business. Of course, Baines was an old blackguard—"
"Aye, he was that," Farmer interrupted. "He robbed everybody he came in contact with; yes, even me. I don't generally let a man get beyond me, but he fairly had me lost with him. He was fond of a gamble, and he swindled me out of a good round sum. I couldn't quite prove it, so I had to let it go. I didn't want people to know that Sam Farmer had been done, so I pocketed my loss. But it was a clever swindle, and I have found out since that Richard Farrell was at the bottom of it. In fact, I believe he invented it. But I never told this to anybody before, though I was sorely tempted, Philippa, my dear, when it looked as if you were going to marry Farrell. However, you did much better for yourself than that, and that is why I kept my tongue between my teeth. But that is all over now, and there is no reason why I should not speak."
"Now, Macrae," said Philp, "I want you to tell me exactly what happened on that particular night. Don't do it without any details, however trifling they may be. In a case like yours these details are often of the last importance."
"'Pon my word, there is practically nothing to tell," Macrae said. "I told them everything at the inquest."
"Now I don't mind making you a small bet that you didn't," Philp went on. "Don't hurry, but sit quietly down and think the whole thing over. Come, there must be some trifle that has escaped your mind. I don't care how silly it is."
Macrae appeared to fall in with Philp's mood, and for some time sat there with his mind dwelling upon the tragic night, and all that had gone to it. But there was nothing of the least importance that occurred to him, until, presently, his eye fell upon the dog that was lying curled up at his feet.
"There is only one thing," he said. "And strangely enough, it is concerned with Bragger. I should not have thought of it, if the dog had not been lying at my feet."
"Let's have it," Philp said, encouragingly. "For all you know, we might be on the verge of great discoveries."
"Ah, well, we won't go as far as that," Macrae said. "All I have to tell you is this. On the night of the murder, when I got back from my unsuccessful attempt to see Baines, I found the dog outside the Bungalow. He was in such a state that he hardly knew me, and I thought for a moment that he was going for me. He was cut about, and evidently had been badly handled. I tried to look at his wounds, and get him inside the house. But he would not have that at any price. Then he suddenly darted off and I saw him no more."
"Now, that is very interesting," Philp said. "I suppose you don't know what time that would be about."
"Somewhere near 11, I should say. But surely you don't regard what I told you as being of the least importance?"
"Not by itself, perhaps, but we may make further important discoveries presently, into which this information might fit."
"Here, stop a moment," Farmer cried. "That reminds me. On the night of Baines' death, Hammer was off with his dog after supper, and he didn't come back till quite late. I wouldn't mind making a small bet that he and Bragger were off poaching again, and if I am correct, they were after the rabbits on the common. And if this is right, then they were not far off when Baines was done in. What do you think of that for a bit of logic, Ivor?"
"Perfectly sound, sir," Philp said. "We will assume, for the sake of argument, that on the night of Baines' death Hammer and his dog Bragger were out poaching on the common, quite close to the Bungalow, They must have been on the common, or else Macrae would never have seen the dog near the Bungalow. It is a thousand pities that Hammer is blind, because he would be no sort of use to us as a witness. But still—"
"Yes, but he might have heard something," Philippa interrupted. "Why not ask him?"
"Not quite so fast, please,"—Philp smiled. "One thing at a time, if you don't mind. It is just possible that Hammer would decline to say anything, seems that he was poaching, which is a thing that I understand he has been forbidden to do. We may have to force his hand presently, but not if it can be avoided. Still, you are quite right—probably Hammer did hear something. Whether he will tell us so or not is a different matter. Now, the dog evidently got into serious trouble, probably at the hands of a gamekeeper. Possibly at the hands of somebody else. But that I don't want to talk about for the moment. At any rate, here we have positive evidence to the effect that somebody was prowling about on the common close to the Bungalow on the night Baines was killed. Perhaps that somebody came in contact with Bragger, and something like a fight followed. At any rate, Bragger had a rough time of it. We may find, ultimately, that he suffered at the hands of a keeper."
"Well, I should say not," Farmer interposed. "In the first place, there is only one keeper in the employ of the man who has most of the shooting in these parts, and as it is early summer, there is no occasion for the keeper to worry. You see, there are no pheasants or partridges on the common, and the man who has the shoot cares little or nothing about the rabbits. However, I can easily find out. I will make it a point to see the keeper tomorrow, and ask him if he happened to be about on the common on the night of Baines' murder. We shall be able to settle that point, anyway."
"It seems to me," Enid Farmer said, "that there is no occasion to do anything of the sort. Bragger is much too clever a dog to allow himself to be mishandled by a keeper. He has been poaching for months, and knows the whole process from beginning to end. He would scent the keeper for a long way off, and, once he had done so, would be sure to warn his master."
"Now, that is really clever of you, Enid," Philp said. "I should never have thought of that. I see exactly what you mean. Bragger would guide his master on to the common, and pilot him there on the lead. Then he would go off poaching and come back to Hammer with what he had picked up. If he had scented the keeper, he would have rushed back at once and dragged his master to a place of safety. No, we shall have to look elsewhere. Still, there is no getting away from the fact that the dog was there, and that his master was some little way off. I think we can dismiss the keeper theory altogether."
"Then what do you think happened?" Macrae asked.
"Ah, there you have me," Philp confessed. "There was somebody out on the common that night, and, moreover, somebody who is anything but friendly disposed to the dog. Yet we have not been wasting our time this afternoon. I told you, Macrae, that in cases of this kind, there are no such things as trifles. I think—"
Philp paused, as Farmer held up a warning finger. Someone was coming in the front gate, and crossing the lawn in the direction of the shady corner where the little group was seated. As the intruder came nearer he proved to be no other than Richard Farrell himself. He came with that easy assurance of his, and dropped into one of the wicker chairs without awaiting an invitation.
"Ah, quite a gathering of the clans," he said. "I happened to passing this way, and I thought I would look in to see how things are going. How are you, Philp?"
Philp made some sort of vague reply. He hardly heard what Farrell was saying, for he was watching the dog. Almost directly Farrell approached Bragger seemed to stiffen, with his hackles up, and those perfect teeth of his displayed in a savage snarl. He looked as if he would have jumped forward and have flung himself bodily upon the intruder if Philp had not restrained him.
"Here, steady on, old boy," he whispered. "None of that."
Bragger thumped his stump of a tail and subsided again. He did not move again from his hiding-place under the chair until half an hour had passed, and Farrell rose to go. At his first movement Bragger darted forward and gripped him by the leg.
"Here, damn the dog," Farrell exclaimed. "Pull him off somebody. It is a dashed funny thing that all dogs go for me in this fashion. Pull him off, Philp, he'll tear my trousers."
Very promptly, Philp kicked Bragger under the chair again, where he lay growling and snarling, without any further attempt on Farrell. Then, Philp walked with Farrell to the gate, and as he came back alone, Bragger crawled to his feet and looked up into his face as if inquiring if he had done anything wrong.
"I am not going to blame you," Philp said. "Your instincts are quite sound my boy, and if you could only speak I think you would be able to tell us a good deal of what happened in the Bungalow the other night. I believe you could tell us who murdered Joseph Baines."
In the eyes of Hitherfield it seemed that Richard Farrell was a real friend to David Macrae. It was understood that he had taken up the case con amore, and without the slightest expectation of ever being rewarded for his services. This was admirable enough from the point of view of the average lawyer, who rarely works for nothing, but in addition to this everybody knew that Farrell had been very much in love with Philippa Goldfinch before the advent of Macrae, and therefore the lawyer was accorded a meed of praise that he hardly deserved. He could do with it because of late his reputation was going steadily downhill, and the staid inhabitants of Hitherfield were beginning to look askance at him. Racing and billiard playing in second-class hotels cannot be carried on in a small select town like Hitherfield without comment, and this Farrell was finding out to his cost.
But now that the tide of public opinion was slightly turning in his favor, and the name of Macrae was prominently mentioned, it seemed to him that his chance had come. He might yet be able to turn round and drag his reputation out of the fire. A brilliant defence of Macrae with a final proof of his innocence would go far to give him back his lost practice, but on the other hand this would mean the end of his secret hopes so far as Philippa was concerned. For the trouble that had come on David had set all the old flame burning, and if the slur remained then he might win Philippa yet. Therefore it seemed the proper thing to assume a tremendous zeal for Macrae and to shout his innocence on the housetops.
He could afford to do this for more reasons than one. In the first place it looked both loyal and sportsmanlike without doing his fresh prospects any harm. And at the same time it did not tend to any practical help so far as David was concerned. Farrell could do what looked like more than his duty and put money in his pocket at the same time, and yet to see to it that Macrae did not benefit so far as the clearing of his good name was concerned. If all went well with him, he would leave David with at least a permanent shadow on his fair fame, and one which must prevent Philippa from ever being mistress of the Bungalow. And, moreover, Farrell had the weapon in his own hands.
He knew all about the letter which Baines had written to Macrae through the offices of Douglas and Co., and, as a consequence he was very much alive to the knowledge that David was deliberately suppressing that letter. Not that he blamed Macrae for doing so, because a man of his mentality would understand how David was holding that information back, so long as a serious charge was still hanging over his head. It was exactly what he would have done himself, but it would not do to hurry matters. It seemed to him that he had the game entirely in his own hands, and if Macrae elected to keep silence then he would see to it that the incriminating letter book should come out in evidence in a way that looked entirely accidental.
He was thinking this over in his office a day or two later, when Ivor Philp walked in. Farrell looked up with a certain annoyance on his face, for Philp was no friend of his, and there was little love lost between them. Like himself, the barrister had been bred and born in Hitherfield, he had been to school with Farrell, and there was little about the latter that was not known to him. Sooth to say, he had a poor opinion of the lawyer, and on more than one occasion had not hesitated to say so.
"This is rather an honor," Farrell said, sarcastically. "But I had forgotten for the moment that a lawyer can often be of use to a barrister, especially when he goes on circuit."
"Oh," Philp smiled indifferently. "I am not here looking for a brief, if that is what you mean. Fortunately, I have no occasion to do anything of the kind."
"Yes, I know you are getting a tremendous swell," Farrell sneered. "What luck some men have, to be sure. You have a great deal to thank Sam Farmer for."
"I am perfectly well aware of that," Philp smiled. "And I shall know how to show my gratitude when the time comes. But we need not waste time throwing bouquets at one another. I came to see you with regard to David Macrae."
"Oh, really?" Farrell said. "What have you got to do with his case? I was under the impression that it was my sole business. Besides, Macrae is a free man, and, as far as I can see, likely to remain so. He is not out of the wood yet, of course—"
"No, or I should not be here. Of course, it is absurd to suppose for a moment that Macrae murdered Baines. But that is merely a pious opinion and does not help things much. There are a large number of people quite ready to believe the worst, and I am not going to rest satisfied until I have got to the bottom of this mystery. I am going to defend Macrae if this matter goes any further."
"Oh, indeed? I have been instructed to represent Macrae if there are any further proceedings."
"Oh, yes, that's all right, as far as the magistrates are concerned, but you can't appear before a judge. Now, look here, Farrell, I have been talking this matter over with Macrae, and he agrees with me that if any proceedings are taken against him it will be just as well for him to be represented by counsel. You can appear at the preliminary hearing if you like, and I will come in after the adjournment. Of course, I know that this is altogether quite irregular, but I am doing this out of friendship, and ignoring any question of fees entirely. I thought as a matter of courtesy I had better come and tell you so. I suppose you have no objection?"
Farrell was on the point of saying a great deal, then suddenly he checked himself, and forced a smile to his lips. He began to see how he could take advantage of this opportunity, and it was in quite a friendly way that he parted with Philp a little later. No sooner had the latter gone, than he put on his hat and strolled round to the offices of Douglas and Co., where he asked to see Mr. Isaac Blinn, and was conducted into that individual's office.
"Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Farrell?" the little moneylender asked. "I am rather busy this morning."
"Oh, I am not going to detain you long," Farrell said. "I have been all through those books you let me have, especially the letter books, and I have written to everybody who was indebted to Baines. Now, I wonder if you would mind letting me have Baines' ledgers, so that I can check my figures?"
"Well as to that, Baines had his own way of keeping his accounts," Blinn explained. "He was quite an illiterate man, as you know, and could hardly write his own name. He was incapable of keeping a set of books in the ordinary way, but all the same he forgot nothing, and no man ever got the best of him. I believe that I have got a queer volume—in fact, a big scribbling diary, in which all the accounts are entered."
"Yes, I have heard something of that," Farrell said. "But how do you manage in cases where you have done business with Baines as Douglas & Co? You know what I mean. Occasionally a client of yours would be called upon to pay up, and if he could not find the money he got a circular from Baines offering him cash without security, and all that sort of humbug. There is no reason why there should be any delicacy between us in discussing this matter, because I know all about your methods."
"Oh, that is all right," Blinn said, not in the least offended. "As a matter of fact, we worked things together. Sometimes we paid off Baines' debts, and sometimes he paid off ours. It was all the same to us, because we scored both ways. Still, you want to know if Douglas & Co. kept a proper record of the transactions, and I can assure you that they did. I am not quite certain, but I think that about a year ago Baines got our accountants to make a full list of his loans, and it is just possible that I could put my hand upon it. But I am not certain."
This was rather unpleasant hearing, because Farrell was under the impression that no record existed of his financial dealings with Baines. As a matter of fact, he had owed Baines a good deal of money, and though Blinn did not know it he had already managed to get an hour or so alone with that important scribbling diary, at the end of which time there was no trace of any monetary transactions between the murdered man and himself. But if what Blinn said was true, then he would have to walk warily, and lie very low until he knew exactly how things stood. But that was not what he was after for the moment. He wanted, or at least he said he wanted, to verify certain figures with Douglas & Co.'s letter book. He took a sheet of paper covered with names and amounts from his pocket, and laid them on Blinn's table.
"Now, this is one of the items that puzzles me," he said. "Here is John Smith of the Forge, who borrowed on a certain date thirty pounds from Joseph Baines. As far as I can make out, Smith was pressed for the money, and after getting one of your circulars came to you to pay off the loan. On certain terms I believe you did so. Do you remember the transaction?"
"Perfectly well," Blinn grinned. "My memory is a ledger in itself. And I believe that we wrote to Smith, enclosing a cheque the very same day that Baines was killed."
Farrell nodded. He knew this perfectly well from his examination of Douglas & Co.'s letter books. And he knew, also, that this letter, typewritten on half a sheet of notepaper, has been copied in the same page of the letter book as the curt communication which had struck at the root of Macrae's happiness. In fact, the whole thing had been engineered so that Farrell should bring a startling fact to Blinn's notice without the latter having any idea that he was being led to it, so to speak. "Would you mind turning up the letter in your book?" he asked. "I want to make absolutely sure."
Blinn called for the letter book, and turned up the desired item in the index. Then, as he glanced over it, his eye naturally fell on the other letter, copied on the same page.
"Good heavens, look at this," he cried. "A letter typewritten on our own machine, and on our headed paper, from us calling upon Macrae to find a hundred pounds by the next day, with a postscript in Baines' own scrawl. Now, what do you suppose Inspector Dent would say to that, Mr. Farrell? If this fact becomes public property, I should not like to stand in Macrae's place. Upon my word, I wish I had not seen that letter."
Farrell looked disturbed and uneasy. He had all the air of a man who has made a discovery that has shaken him off his balance. At the same time he was inwardly congratulating himself upon the artistic way in which he had led up to the discovery, and he was telling himself that once this thing was public property Macrae was as good as doomed. He knew perfectly well that Blinn was not in the least likely to keep this to himself, and that before very long it must come to the ears of Inspector Dent. And once this had happened Dent would lose no time in arresting Macrae for the murder of Joseph Baines. Indeed, in the circumstances he could do very little else, for here was an actual motive for the crime, a thing that had been lacking before, which probably accounted for the fact that no steps had been taken against Macrae.
"This is very terrible," Farrell said. "I would give a great deal if I could have prevented it. And it's all the worse, because I have blundered upon this evidence at a time when I am acting as Macrae's legal adviser. Of course, if I had found it out myself I might have been justified in suppressing it, but I cannot do that now without asking your assistance, and I don't see that I can do so, because it might get you into trouble."
"Oh, I am not going to get into trouble," Blinn said. "I have got no quarrel with Macrae, and I am by no means satisfied even in the face of this that he had anything to do with the crime. But no risk for me, if you don't mind."
"Oh, I am quite in accord with you," Farrell said. "But what are you going to do? Macrae is more or less a friend of mine, and, moreover, I am his solicitor. It would never do for me to go to the police and give him away in this fashion, though I dare not keep the evidence to myself. If I did and it was found out I should probably get struck off the rolls. But there is no reason why you should not mention it to Dent and tell him, which is perfectly true, that we came upon it quite by accident. You can say I was there at the time, if you like, but I want the information to reach Dent through you in the first place."
"Very well," Blinn said. "I will phone to Dent when you are gone and ask him to come round and see me. It is a devilish unpleasant business for both of us, and I don't mind saying that I would give fifty pounds not to have found it out."
"Yes; that is just my feeling," Farrell said. "However, there it is and there is no getting out of it. I will get along now and see Macrae. Of course, he had that letter all right, and I daresay, from his point of view, that he felt quite justified in suppressing it. But you can see for yourself what a mad action it was, and if I can get round to Macrae and tell him what I have discovered I may persuade him to see Dent and volunteer the information about the letter first. Yes; that's the idea. You do nothing till you have heard from me. Directly I have seen Macrae I will telephone to you, and then you can ring up Dent. Meanwhile you had better put that letter book away and say no more about it."
Farrell walked out of the office and went in search of Macrae. The latter was not to be found at 'The Hitherfield Mercury,' and it being somewhat early in the afternoon he was not expected back for some time. Probably he might be found at the house of Dr. Goldfinch, one of the clerks thought. He had certainly set off in that direction, and had intimated that if he were wanted in a hurry a messenger might find him at the cottage.
But Macrae was not there.
"He has not been here today at all," he said. "He is not out with Philippa, either, because she is making pastry in the kitchen. But come round the garden with me, and have a look at my hyacinths. They are just in their prime now. By the way, I see you have still got your hand tied up."
"Oh, yes," Farrell said, carelessly. "It is nothing. There is a scratch or two that does not heal up, and a certain amount of matter. But it is not worth troubling about."
"Ah, there you are quite wrong," the doctor cried, "it is very unwise to neglect the bite of an animal. A cat, wasn't it?"
"Yes, a cat," Farrell said. "But—"
But the doctor was not listening. He was absent-minded enough in most things, but where his professional instincts were touched he could be a man of action in a moment. He reached out swiftly, and before Farrell knew what was happening the clumsy bandage was off his fingers and Goldfinch was examining the mattery scars with the deepest interest.
"I don't like the look of this at all," he said. "You ought to have come to me before, or at any rate have consulted somebody else. Do you know that a scratch like that, especially when it suppurates very frequently ends in lockjaw? I have had a good many of these cases in my hands in my time, and I know what they mean. But I don't quite understand the depth of those bites. And they are blunt, too. Was it an old cat? I mean a cat very worn as regards the teeth, or are you quite sure—"
"Oh, I don't know," Farrell said, impatiently. "I never asked the age of the cat. It is my landlady's, and I daresay that the trouble is all my own fault. Still, I did not come here to talk about myself. I want to see Macrae without delay. Something has happened that he ought to know."
"What is that?" Philippa demanded. She had come out of the house, and was standing behind the other two, without being seen. "You might tell me, please."
"I am afraid I cannot," Farrell said, with apparent reluctance. "I must be getting along. I must see Macrae, and when I have finished with him he will probably come along and explain himself."
Without waiting for any more he turned his back upon the garden, leaving Philippa to her own disturbed thoughts. Something fresh had undoubtedly happened, and, her instincts told her that it was evidently something not to David's advantage.
"What do you make of it?" she asked her father.
"Really, I don't know, my dear," the doctor said absently. "But I never saw a cat make marks like that before. I have had a good deal of experience, and if I were betting on it, which am not, I should be inclined—but I think we are on a different subject, aren't we? Now, you go back to the house and don't worry yourself any longer. I don't suppose there is anything really the matter. These lawyers are always so mysterious when their clients' businesses are concerned. David will be certain to come along and tell you if there is anything wrong. Besides, I want my tea."
The afternoon wore away, tea was a thing of the past, and as yet there was no sign of Macrae. He usually dropped in some time before 6 o'clock, but then there were frequently occasions, when he was called away by a rush of business, and Philippa was disposed to make the best of it. She knew that if there had been any really bad news she must have heard of it by this time. It was past 6 o'clock before she put her work away and made up her mind to have a run across the common before dinner. David would be certain to put in an appearance directly that meal was over.
She put on her hat and walked down to the bottom of the garden through a little wicket gate which opened out on to the common. She had hardly reached the open when she heard the patter of footsteps behind her, and turned to see Bragger racing round her in eccentric circles and showing every sign of delight.
"Well, you are coming along with me, are you?" she asked. "That's right, old boy. I shall be delighted to have you. Why, you have not paid me a visit for nearly a week. Have you been busy poaching? Yes, I am quite sure you have."
Bragger barked and yelled in his delight, and smiled with his long strip of pink tongue hanging out of the corner of his lips. The sun shone on his golden coat, and made little flecks of light in those almost human brown eyes of his. Then, once having been sure of his welcome, and having told Philippa in his own way how pleased he was to see her again, he led the way across the common in the direction of the Bungalow, which they reached presently.
The place was closed now, and seemed to have a desolate, brooding air that almost brought the tears to Philippa's eyes. It only seemed a few hours ago since she had taken the greatest pride and joy in the place, and now she was wondering if ever she would see the inside of it again. She stood there, sorrowfully contemplating what had once been so pure a pleasure, and moved on reluctantly presently when she realised that Bragger was tugging at her skirts.
"So you want to go on, do you?" she said. "Very well."
Bragger darted forward until they had come to the far side of the common, where he disappeared into a thick clump of gorse bushes, in which Philippa could presently hear him growling and snarling, much as if he had come to grips with some enemy. This went on for so long that Philippa forced her way through the bushes to find out the cause of all the trouble. There, on an open spot, was Bragger, scratching away amongst a mass of last year's dead leaves, his bristles all up, and his fangs displayed in a snarl, as if he were fighting to get at the throat of some deadly enemy. He had already removed a deal of the soft, moist earth, and as Philippa looked down, it seemed to her that she could see the glint of some yellow metal. She stooped to raise it, and jumped back just in time to escape a vicious snap from Bragger's foaming jaws.
"You bad dog," she cried, as she beat him off. "What is the matter with you? How dare you behave like that to a friend? Now, stand on one side, and let me see what you have got."
With a whine Bragger dropped on to his forepaws and watched intently as Philippa bent to pick up what she could see now was a brass button. There was a coat attached to it, and this she held up far above the dog's head. He was wild to get at it now, and only her word of command restrained him.
"It is only an old coat," she said. "But all the same, Bragger, I think we will take it with us."
Philippa would have been hard put to it to explain why she set so much store by the damp and mouldy rag that Bragger had unearthed. After all, there was nothing in the fact that the dog had turned up this evil-smelling piece of serge, for Bragger had taken many walks with Philippa, and most of the time he was in the habit of finding some rubbish that apparently he was proud to lay at her feet. But on this occasion his manner and air of general excitement, to say nothing of his rage, appealed to the girl's romantic instinct. She was not in the least interested in the coat as a coat, for apparently it was long past wearing, but even now Bragger would not behave as a respectable dog should do, and it took Philippa all her time to keep him at arm's length. He seemed to forget that he was with a friend, and indeed once or twice Philippa had fairly to beat him off with such violence as she dared.
Finally he crept doggedly behind her with his tail down, and the air of one who is resigned to the inevitable, and recognises the fact that he is in the presence of a superior force, the stupidity of which is altogether too much for him. He followed sulkily, then, with his stump of a tail down, and a general expression of absolute contempt for humanity as a whole. So Philippa carried the coat, more or less at arm's length, across the common, and, just before she entered the high road, she came in contact with Philp.
"What on earth have you got there?" he asked.
"I don't know," Philippa confessed. "It looks to me like a coat, a serge cost belonging to some man, and one which Bragger here dug up under some gorse bushes. But then, he is always doing that sort of thing. He goes out for walks with me frequently, and never without digging up some refuse."
Bragger seemed as if he understood what was going on, for he whined and wagged his tail, looking up into Philp's face as much as to say, "Here is somebody who understands at last." But Philp was not in the least interested in what Bragger was thinking.
"And what are you going to do with it?" he asked. "You are not collecting rags and bones, by any chance?"
"That is not the idea," Philippa laughed. "You see, Bragger behaved in such an extraordinary way over this old rag that I began to wonder if there was not some sort of method in his madness. Usually, when he unearths a bone, he brings it to me and lays it at my feet, much as if he were making me a present. But he was quite mad over this coat, and, really, when I took it from him, I thought he was going to attack me. If you ask me why I am carrying this coat home, I cannot tell you. I would throw it away if I thought Bragger would not go mad over it again."
Philp looked down at the dog, and a hazy sort of idea began to crystallise in his mind. He reached out without a word, and took the earth-stained coat from Philippa's hand and threw it over his shoulder.
"We will take this up to your house, I think," he said, "and get your father to examine it. It will probably amuse him to make an analysis. Doesn't he do a good deal of that sort of thing?"
"Well, yes, he does," Philippa said. "He is always pottering about with his microscope and making all sorts of astounding discoveries. Perhaps he can tell us what there is about this rag that so excited the dog."
"That is just what I was thinking," Philp said. "I was going over to Farmer's place, but there is no hurry about that, and I think I will come along with you instead."
Dr. Goldfinch was pottering about his garden in his usual detached way and he listened rather aimlessly to what Philp had to say. Meanwhile Bragger had vanished, disgusted no doubt with the obtuseness of these extraordinary mortals.
"Yes it looks to me like a serge coat," the doctor said. "Do I understand that Bragger dug it out of the earth somewhere on the common? He brought it to you, Philippa, did he, or at least, you took it from him, and he was very much annoyed over it. It is a serge coat, and I should say belonged to a boating man. You can see that, at one time, it was edged with silk of some particular color, and that it has recently been dyed. As an old 'Varsity man myself, I should say that this was a college boating blazer, which the owner has had dyed to use as a lounge jacket. It is covered with hair. Can't you see a lot of short hairs all over it? But then, perhaps, they came off the dog."
"I don't think so," Philippa said. "I saw the coat dug up, and I took it from Bragger almost as soon as he had dragged it out of the ground with his teeth. I snatched it away from him, and, therefore, they cannot be from the dog."
Dr. Goldfinch seemed to accept this explanation, though apparently he was far from satisfied. He leant over towards Philippa and removed three or four short golden hairs from her coat.
"Well, these are Bragger's, at any rate," he said.
"I don't think we need argue that point," Philippa replied. "Bragger left them on my coat when he was trying to snatch the jacket from me. I almost had to fight him."
Goldfinch smiled, but made no reply. He placed the golden-brown hairs carefully between two leaves in his pocket book, and, taking the jacket in his hand, walked towards the house.
"I don't know why I should worry about this thing," he said. "But, to a certain extent, it interests me, and I am going to examine that coat under a microscope. If I find anything on it in the least suspicious, I will come and let you know."
"I should be glad if you would," Philp said. "I am not forgetting that a deliberate murder took place not far from where that coat was found, and it occurs to me that we may have to thank Bragger for finding a clue. I may be all wrong, of course, but that is by no means a bad coat, if it were properly cleaned, and I should like to know why the owner took the trouble to bury it. Of course, he must have buried it, because it is absurd to suppose that the dog did so, and again, why should the dog be so angry and excited because he had found that coat? I dare say you will think I am building up a theory on a very slender foundation, but this is something in my line, and I have known more than one crime to be traced home on a far flimsier clue than this. My dear Philippa, I want you to realise that David is not out of the wood yet."
Philippa said nothing, but deep down in her heart she knew that Philp was telling no more than the truth. She knew, too, how acutely David was feeling his position, and the knowledge that even now he might be arrested at any moment. And, moreover, she was the only one who knew all about the letter which had passed between David and the dead moneylender. She fully realised what it would mean if that once became public property.
"Do you really think that David is still in danger?" she asked Philp when the doctor had gone into the house, and they were seated on the lawn in the sunshine.
"Of course I do," Philp replied promptly. "I should be no friend to either of you if I failed to tell you so. You see, there is no getting away from the fact that there was bad blood between those two men, though, of course, they practically never met. So far as I can see, there is no motive for the crime, and that, of course, is all in David's favor. But if the police could find the motive, then there is only one thing that Dent could do."
Philp made this remark casually enough, merely as a matter of argument, and without any thought in the back of his mind. Therefore he was surprised to hear the sudden gasp from Philippa and to notice that all the blood had left her face. He was on the point of an exclamation, and then suddenly checked himself.
He knew that he had blundered quite by accident upon some knowledge which had been concealed from him, and a knowledge that Philippa undoubtedly shared, It was not for him to cross-examine her at that moment, though, perhaps, through a judicious remark or two the girl might care to take him into her confidence. At any rate, he was going to tackle Macrae at the first possible moment. If David found himself in custody again, Philp had made up his mind to take up the case for him before the local magistrates, and he felt that he could not do either himself or his client justice unless he knew everything. He waited, therefore, for Philippa to go on. She had recovered herself, and there was little sign of her recent agitation as she turned to him and looked eagerly into his face.
"What do you mean by motive?" she asked. "Surely you don't suggest that David had any motive for murdering a poor miserable specimen of humanity like Joseph Baines?"
"Well, you see, he might. I don't mean that he would so far forget himself as to attack an old man like that. You must pardon me, Philippa, if I appear critical, but I am speaking now entirely as a lawyer. You see, Baines was a money lender. I have no doubt that there are plenty of people in Hitherfield who were under that old rascals thumb. I mean men he could ruin by holding up his hand, and when an unfortunate individual has a business to depend upon, and perhaps a family as well, then you can see for yourself how easy it is for a man to act on the spur of the moment. Suppose we assume, for the sake of argument, that David had borrowed money from Baines. I don't say that he had, but he might. Supposing that such is the case, then we may be pretty sure that Baines would drive a hard bargain. He would not part with his money until he had got his client to sign a contract which would enable him to get his money back at a moment's notice. That is what I mean by a motive."
Philippa said nothing. She sat there with a world of misery in her eyes, and when the doctor appeared, as he did a few moments later, she rose to her feet with a gasp of relief. Goldfinch came toward them rapidly and excitedly. He was quite changed from the ordinary old dreamer that he was.
"I have been making some preliminary experiments," he said. "I'm a long way from being finished yet, but I have found out something of importance. There is blood on that coat, quite a lot of it, and, what is more, it is human blood."
"That is very significant," Philp said. "Now, Dr. Goldfinch, I want you to finish your experiment. And when you have done so, you must promise me that not a word of this shall be said to a soul till the proper time. We are on the track with a vengeance."
David Macrae was seated in an office trying to interest himself in his work, with somewhat indifferent success. He was wondering if the time would ever come when he would be free of the cloud that was hanging over his head. He had many friends, of course, who believed in him implicitly, but, on the other hand, there were those who passed him with downcast eyes, to say nothing of the few who were always ready to impute the worst motives to everybody. Generally speaking, Hitherfield regarded David as an innocent man. But this was not good enough for him, and he would never be satisfied until he could stand before the world without a slur upon his character, and the police could point to the actual culprit.
And he was troubled in his mind, moreover, because he had kept to himself the history of his transactions with Joseph Baines. He knew now that he had committed a terrible indiscretion in not informing Inspector Dent of that debt, and disclosing to him all that had happened in connection with it. It seemed to him that it was too late now, and that any explanation with regard to that letter would be accepted as the prompting of a guilty conscience, and lead to his immediate arrest on the charge of murder. And David shrunk with horror at the mere contemplation of finding himself within a prison cell. He would have to go through with it now, and trust to luck to pull him through. It was just possible that the flimsy copy of that fateful letter in the possession of Douglas and Co. would never be found, though it might come out in the course of years, or it might even have come out already. That, at any rate, was a risk to be run. And yet, as he sat there at his office table, he was wishing from the bottom of his heart that he had told the whole story to Inspector Dent at the time that the crime was discovered. Only Philippa knew, and she had placed the letter away where it could not be found.
David had turned this matter over in his mind for the twentieth time, when the door of his office opened, and Philp came in.
"Are you pretty busy, Macrae?" he asked.
"Well, no, I am not," David confessed. "As a matter of fact, I was making work to do. This is one of my slack afternoons, and I was trying to forget things. I dare say it may sound rather cowardly to you, but I am frightened, Philp, I am frightened."
Philp dropped into a chair, and lighted a cigarette.
"Tell me why," he said. "Mind you, David, you have all my sympathy, and I am absolutely convinced that you are an innocent man. That fact may give you a certain consolation, but it does not establish your innocence in the public mind. Now, don't forget that I have arranged to represent you in case of any further trouble. Farrell rather demurred, and suggested to me, insolently enough, that I was out touting for business. He poses as your friend, and, as a solicitor, he is doing very well for you. But still, he is not an advocate, and does not understand these things like I do. And, being your friend, I want to prove the fact. Of course, you need not tell me unless you like, but it is not difficult for a man like myself, accustomed to these matters, to see that you have something on your mind."
"Of course, I have," Macrae laughed harshly. "How could it be otherwise, situated as I am? Here am I, still enjoying a public position, thanks to the large-heartedness of my proprietor, but, as everybody knows, in danger of being arrested at any moment."
"Oh, I know all that, of course," said Philp, significantly. "But isn't it something worse than that? Isn't there some trouble which you are keeping entirely to yourself?"
"Perhaps I had better tell you," Macrae said.
And with that he went into details. He told his visitor the whole story of the borrowed money. He told him all about that letter which had come from the offices of Douglas and Co., and which, moreover, had been written upon by Baines and signed in his own handwriting. When he had finished he lay back in his chair with the air of a man who is face to face with Fate, and defies it to do its worst.
"Now you know all about it," he concluded. "Now you know what has been worrying me, and why I am almost ashamed of my own shadow. Of course, I ought to have told Dent at once. But you see I felt so sure that the authorities would find the right man that I did not trouble about it. And besides, I was going to be married, and I did not want everybody in Hitherfield to know that I had borrowed money to pay the balance on the Bungalow."
"I don't like it," Philp said. "I don't like it a bit. By the way, I suppose you can pay that money?"
"I can now," David explained. "In fact, I managed it two days after Baines was killed. He knew that I could not pay within twelve hours, and that is why he tried to break me up. But the very next day I got my agent in London on the telephone, and when I said that I wanted a hundred pounds in a desperate hurry he offered to advance it. You see, I have one or two very good commissions, to say nothing of a serial story nearly finished, and Walters is taking no risk in sending me his cheque. I got it, and it is in the bank now. I was thinking of sending the money to Douglas and Co., but after what I have told you, you will see why I funked it."
"Yes, I can quite understand," Philp said. "Now, mind you, it is tremendously in your favor, if this thing comes out, that you are in a position to prove how easily the money could have been found. Twenty-four hours would have put you right, and the devil of it is that if Baines had lived and had carried out his threat, he would have had to have waited eight days in law before he could have sold up your effects. I want you to understand that this money being so easily obtained helps you tremendously. It shows that you were not desperately placed, and that you merely borrowed the hundred pounds to pay off the balance of a debt to a man who was sailing to Australia. There is no reason for us to tell anybody that you telephoned to your agents, the mere fact that you had enough and to spare coming in a few hours will help you tremendously before a jury, and will nullify the suggestion that you were desperately placed. Still, I almost wish you had not told me this. It is a pious fiction for a barrister to assume that his client is innocent. He has to plead for him as if he thoroughly believed in the integrity of his client. Of course, it is a fiction. But if a noted criminal tells his counsel that he is guilty, then it is the duty of counsel to act accordingly."
"What nonsense," Macrae cried. "Do you mean to tell me that your eminent K.C.s who defend diabolical scoundrels don't know all the time that they are guilty?"
"Well, they are supposed not to. It is one of those fine, hair-splitting legal points upon which criminal practices are built up. You know what I mean—every man is innocent till he is found guilty. And it is not a bad theory either, when you come to think of it. Still, my dear fellow, there is a vast difference in this case, because, though you have suppressed certain evidence, you still maintain that Baines never suffered at your hands, and in my heart of hearts, I know that to be a fact. But this story you have just told me is bound to come out, and if you are wise, you will send for Farrell and tell him all about it. The mere fact that you have told your solicitor will be a point in your favor. But does Farrel know?"
"He doesn't," Macrae said, little dreaming of the trick that Farrell had played upon him. "Very well, I will go round to his office presently and tell him all about it."
"That's right," Philp said. "Believe me, it is far the better way. You had better instruct Farrell to lay the facts before Dent, and leave the latter to act as he thinks best. And when the time comes, I shall know how to use the information."
With that, Philp took his leave, and Macrae lapsed into his own gloomy thoughts. He had no delusions as to what lay before him, though, at the same time, he felt quite sure that all Philp had said was perfectly sound and logical. Without doubt, he would be formally arrested now, and have to stand in the dock, charged with the wilful murder of Joseph Baines, and the mere prospect filled him with terror. Still, the real culprit must be somewhere about, and perhaps by this time Inspector Dent was already on the track. There was some consolation in this thought, and, somewhat heartened by it, David went back to his work again. He had not been engaged more than half an hour before one of his reporters looked into the room.
"Well, what do you want now?" he asked, irritably.
"There's a man downstairs asking to see you," the reporter said. "I told him you were busy, but he said that his business was important, and I told him to wait."
"Well, and who is he?" Macrae asked.
"Mr. Isaac Blinn, from Douglas and Co. Shall I ask him up, or shall I tell him to call again?"
"Ask him up," Macrae said, in a voice that he was quite successful in keeping steady. "I'll see him at once."
Blinn came into the room, smiling amiably, but his manner changed as soon as the door was closed behind him.
"I am afraid I have got rather an unpleasant piece of business to talk over," he said. "I have found a letter in our letter book from the late Joseph Baines to yourself, asking for the immediate payment of a hundred pounds. It was written on the morning of his death. You see, he was a sort of partner of ours, and used our typewriter. He must have come in the office before it was open and—well—there you are. I suppose you had that letter, which contained a postscript in Baines's own handwriting?"
"Perfectly right," Macrae agreed. "I borrowed that money to meet a certain emergency. I believe it is due on demand. Perhaps I had better give you a cheque for it here and now."
"That might be as well," Blinn agreed. "I will take it, and give you a receipt. But, you see, Mr. Macrae, unfortunately the thing cannot end there. Of course, I know that Baines thought he had you in a trap, and apparently, he was wrong. But, in view of what happened in your Bungalow, it is my positive duty to see Inspector Dent and hand that letter over to him."
David stood up with the whole room swaying round him, but whatever he was feeling was not reflected on his face.
"I think you are quite right," he said, coolly. "Pray do not get into trouble on my account. Go and see Dent at once."
A certain hard, fierce pride prevented Macrae from making any sort of explanation to his visitor. He might have told Blinn, of course, that this information was more or less public property, inasmuch as Philp already knew it. But he sat there doggedly at his desk, resolved to let the little moneylender think whatever he pleased. It would be all the same in the long run. It was obvious, too, that Blinn had not the slightest intention of holding back anything which in the slightest degree was likely to compromise himself.
"I thought it was only the fair thing to come and let you know what I had found in our letter book," he said. "Dashed funny thing that I hadn't spotted it before. Fact is, Baines and our set were one, and Baines had the run of our office without the general public being any the wiser. He must have popped in the day of his death before the clerk got to the office and dashed off that note on the Remington. I suppose he couldn't resist the temptation to write in that postscript. Queer old devil was Baines. I thought that I could come and tell you this before going on to the police station and putting Dent wise. I am bound to do this, don't you think?"
"Assuredly," Macrae said coldly. "In the circumstances you could do nothing else. I had my own reasons for suppressing the fact, but now you know so much it would be absolutely dishonest if you were to burke the matter of that letter."
The little man faded out of the office a minute later with a palpable expression of relief on his cunning features. He had no quarrel with Macrae, and his attack on Baines left him cold. He knew that he and his kind were the objects of contempt and suspicion to the great majority of mankind, but that mattered not a straw so long as there was a good living in the business. But he did not mean to get into any trouble with the police, and in this Macrae agreed.
A little later David put on his hat and went off in the direction of Dr. Goldfinch's cottage. It seemed to him that he must see Philippa without delay, and tell her what had happened. He found her in the garden, busy among her flowers, as usual, though the doctor himself was not to be seen. As she looked up at him she saw from the expression of his face that something was wrong.
"What is it, David?" she whispered.
"Rather bad news, I am afraid," Macrae replied. "It has to do with that letter that Baines wrote me. I mean the one that I gave you to take care of. The original copy has been found by the man Blinn, who manages for Douglas and Co., and he has been round to see me just now to tell me so. I thought it was rather decent of him to warm me before he went on to the police."
"Is he really doing that?" Philippa asked.
"My dear girl, can he do anything else? It is a piece of important evidence in the case, and by suppressing it Blinn might get himself into serious trouble. Now you realise what a fool I was not to have told Dent in the first place. I should have been no better off, and no worse. If I had done that I should have, at any rate, maintained my reputation as a truthful man. And now Dent will be sure to conclude that I kept the information from him. And in this, of course, he is right. Philippa, you must be prepared to hear of my being arrested at any moment."
Philippa listened with a strange sinking at her heart. She blamed herself for not having insisted, in the first place, that Dent should be told everything. She had known, even when David had handed her the letter, that nothing could be gained by suppressing it, and all that David said was hideously true.
"I see it, now it is too late," she murmured. "Ah, if we had only told one person—"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I have," Macrae said. "I told Ivor Philp. He, at any rate, will be able to come forward and testify that he knew all about the letter before Blinn came along and told me of his discovery. That is in my favor, anyhow."
They were still gravely discussing this unfortunate state of affairs when Philp himself appeared at the gate and walked up the garden path to where Macrae and Philippa were standing. His keen eye told him at once that something was wrong.
"Well, what is it now?" he asked.
In as few words as possible, Macrae told him.
"Well, you are not surprised," he said. "This was bound to come out, sooner or later, and, of course, there was only one thing for that fellow Blinn to do. Still, I can tell everybody, Dent included, that I knew all about it, and that we suppressed the facts on the ground of policy. I will do all I can for you, David, but the situation is very grave."
"Oh, it's terrible," Philippa cried. "And here is David all the time as innocent as I am. If we could only prove it!"
"Oh, we shall prove it all right when the time comes," Philp said cheerfully. "I am quite sure of that. It's going to be very awkward for David, but he will come through the ordeal right enough, and the criminal will suffer his proper penalty. Mind you, I have got my own theory, but it is early days to talk about that yet. Philippa, your father is going to help us in this matter. Do you know where he is? I should like to have a few words with him."
Philippa explained that the doctor was busily engaged in his study, and that for some time he had been quite excited over the discovery of that old serge coat. They were still talking over this matter when the doctor emerged hurriedly from the house, and came down the path toward them in a state of mild excitement. He was not usually ruffled or disturbed, but now his eyes were gleaming behind his gold rimmed spectacles, and his mop of grey hair was standing on end like that of an angry cockatoo.
"What did I tell you?" he exclaimed. "Ah, you are here, are you, Philp? I am glad of that, because you are a sensible man, with a logical mind that very little escapes. I suppose Philippa has told you what I have been working on?"
"Yes, sir," Philp said. "She has just reminded me."
"Very well, then. I told you that there was blood on that coat, and human blood, beyond a doubt. That I have just established by an infallible test. But that is not the point, because the facts might be so easily explained away. But I told Philippa that the coat was covered with the hairs of a dog."
"Are you quite sure of that?" Philp asked.
"Of course I am," the doctor fumed mildly. "What I am telling you is merely elementary knowledge to a scientific mind. I told Philippa they were the hairs of a dog, and suggested that they might be those of the terrier, Bragger, that found the coat. But Philippa said that that was impossible, because she had it in her hand almost as soon as it was uncovered."
"That's true enough," Philippa remarked. "There was only a small space laid bare where Braggers paws had been at work, and what attracted my attention was a brass button. I pushed the dog off and dragged the coat out of the earth. Bragger could have only touched it with his paws, of that I am certain."
"And yet you are wrong," Goldfinch said excitedly. "That coat was covered with short hairs, of exactly the kind that the coat of a terrier consists of. They were golden-brown hairs, more or less coated in dirt. I washed them and gave them the proper test. I am prepared to testify that they came from the coat of a brown terrier."
"But," Philippa interrupted, "I have already told you—"
"Yes, yes, I know. It was impossible for Bragger to have left any of his hairs on that coat after you found it. Now, let us suppose for a moment that the dog left some of his coat on the cloth before it was buried. What do you say to that?"
"I say that it is uncommonly interesting," Philp put in. "Go on, doctor—I see you have not finished yet."
"Well, I haven't," Goldfinch proceeded. "Here we have Bragger very interested in that coat, and behaving as if he had what I might call a personal grudge against the owner. Philippa's evidence is to the effect that the dog could not have left any hair upon the coat after she found it. When she brought the coat in and told me all about it I removed several of Bragger's hairs from her jacket. There was no doubt they were Bragger's hairs, because he left them on her coat when he was trying to get at his object. Now, I took several hairs from Philippa and carefully put them in my pocket book. Then I compared them, under the microscope, with the hairs from the coat, and I found that they were identical. There is no question whatever about it. The owner of that old dyed blazer most assuredly had been in contact with Bragger some time or another, and the dog had left a lot of his hairs on it. It may only be a coincidence, after all. I make no claim to the legal mind, but probably my friend Philp can offer a plausible explanation."
"I can offer a great deal more than that," Philp said. "But at the present moment I would much rather not. You go on with the good work, sir; you are doing very well just now, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, you are helping David enormously. I have a theory, and what you have shown me today tallies exactly with it. Oh, I shall know what to do when the time comes. Meanwhile, I am going over to Farmer's place on business, and I am going to ask David to walk part of the way with me."
A minute or two later Philp and his companion turned into the road, and walked slowly along in the direction of Farmer's establishment. David would have said a good deal more with regard to what Dr. Goldfinch had just told them, but, for the moment, Philp put him off, because he had other things to talk about.
"Now, look here," he said. "You haven't got anything to be afraid of. I am absolutely convinced in my own mind that we shall have your innocence established within a week—or, say, a fortnight at the outside. I daresay you will have to put up with a good deal of inconvenience in the meantime, but in the long run, that will be all in your favor."
"Then you think I shall be arrested?" David asked.
"I should say there is no doubt about it," Philp said coolly. "But it might be a good deal worse, my boy. Now, you keep a stout upper lip, and leave yourself entirely in my hands. I give you my word that I shall see you safely through."
Once he had parted with Macrae, Philp went thoughtfully along the road, turning over the problem in his mind. It seemed to him that it was fortunate for Macrae that he happened to be taking a more or less irregular holiday in the neighborhood of Hitherfield. He ought to have been looking after his own work in London, but the fine weather had tempted him into the country, to say nothing of another lure in the shape of Enid Farmer's beautiful eyes. That little episode in his career was still more or less incomplete, and he had yet to be satisfied that the course of true love was running smoothly. He had no very grave doubts, so far as Enid was concerned, because they had been more or less sweethearts from childhood. But what Farmer would say when Philp proposed to take his only daughter away was quite another matter. And, besides, Philp owed practically everything to the genial old man, who had been more than a father to him.
He had been left alone many years ago, with nothing but a fairly good education and no prospects beyond a clerkship in the office of some Hitherfield solicitor. It was Farmer who had recognised his undoubted talent, and had advanced the money necessary to take him to London and pay his barrister's fees. But for Farmer, he would still be in a subordinate position. He had managed by sheer hard work and some little journalistic talent to pay off the money, and start himself at the Bar. He was doing exceedingly well now, and likely to go very far, but the obligation was still there, and Ivor Philp was not the man to forget it. He was going to see Farmer, if possible, today, and lay the matter frankly before him.
But this sudden change in Macrae's fortunes had put that idea clean out of his head. Farmer and Enid would have to wait for the present, until he had unravelled the tangle which threatened to ruin Macrae and his career for all time. So that it was a very quiet and thoughtful Philp who walked up the drive towards Farmer's house, and met Enid, who stood smilingly on the door step.
"I didn't expect to see you today," she said.
"Does that mean you don't want to see me?" Philp asked.
She looked at him shyly under her long lashes, and he knew, with a warm thrill at his heart, that the question was quite superfluous. He reached out a hand and drew her from the doorstep.
"Come out and enjoy the sunshine," he said. "I have something to say to you, and if that is quite satisfactory, I shall have something to say to your father as well. I wonder if you know what I mean by that cryptic remark."
Enid laughed into his face wholeheartedly.
"Of course I do," she said. "Why should there be any pretence between you and me, Ivor? I have been conceited enough to believe that you have been in love with me for years, and I am also candid enough to admit that the knowledge is not displeasing to me. But why have you been all this time making up your mind?"
"My dear girl," Philp said, "my mind has been made up ever since you were a child at school. But there is your father to consider. I wonder what he will say when I tell him that, in return for all his kindness to me, I am anxious to rob him of the thing that is the dearest in the world to him."
"Well, you can't ask him now," Enid laughed. "Because he doesn't happen to be at home. Oh, yes, I will come for a walk if you like. But why so grave?"
"I was thinking about Macrae," Philp said. "But perhaps I had better tell you all that has happened. When we have discussed that matter we will go round over the common, and when we get back about lunch time I want to have a few words with Ned Hammer."
"That will be all right," Enid said. "He is somewhere about on the farm. But never mind about him for the moment. Is there anything fresh with regard to David Macrae?"
As they walked along Philp told her everything. She seemed to be genuinely concerned, for she was very fond of Philippa, and interested in her happiness. It was nearly 1 o'clock before they got back to the house again, and Enid suggested that she should go in search of Hammer and his dog.
"Wait a minute or two," Philp said. "There is no great hurry. Before we go any further, perhaps it would be just as well if I told you of a strange instance that happened at Dr. Goldfinch's cottage before I came along here. But, mind you, what I say is to be a secret, even from your own father."
With that, he proceeded to tell her all about Philippa's discovery of the coat and what the doctor had had to say as to the hair on it, and the blood stains. It was rather a thrilling story, and Enid listened to the end without comment.
"It's all rather gruesome," she said. "But still, it might not mean anything. Are you going to suggest that there is any connection between the coat and the murder of Joseph Baines?"
"Well, that will be going rather far," Philp said. "But here is a garment, which undoubtedly belonged to some man who, for some vital reasons of his own, determines to get rid of it. There is human blood on the coat beyond the shadow of a doubt, and the owner goes to the length of burying it under a patch of gorse on the common. Now a guilty man would never do anything of the sort. It is quite evident, from what I hear, that the coat had not been there long, because, though it was damp from the earth upon it, it had not been soaked with wet, which undoubtedly it would have been had it been there long. And, moreover, any lapse of time would have removed all trace of the scent upon which Bragger was undoubtedly working, and probably have blunted the dog's memory as well. He smelt that coat when he was walking across the common with Philippa, and, with that wonderful instinct of his, brought it to light. And then, don't forget how excited he was over it. I am quite sure that Bragger did not regard the owner of the coat with any friendly feeling."
"That all sounds very clever, Ivor," Enid said.
"Oh, I don't know. It would sound fairly obvious to a man with a logically-trained mind. Well, here we have a blood-stained coat hidden in the gorse by someone who has something to conceal. Who it was or why it was we can only conjecture, but for some time past there has been no act of violence committed within miles of Hitherfield, with the solitary exception of the murder of Joseph Baines. Now, all of us who know him are perfectly certain that David Macrae had nothing to do with it. If he had, he would never have allowed the body of Baines to be found in his bungalow at that time of night with no one about; he could have carried a man like Baines for a mile or more, and thrown him into the heather. But he did nothing of the kind. Almost directly he found the body he went off to the police and told them all about it. But there is no reason for me to go out of my way to convince you that David's hands are clean. My suggestion is that Baines was murdered on the common, and his body deliberately thrown into the bungalow to cast suspicion on David. Very likely there was a struggle, in which blood was shed, and when the murderer discovered the fact he smuggled that coat out on to the common the next day, or next night, and buried it. He probably would have burnt it but for the fact that the weather has been so hot the last fortnight, and any suggestion of lighting a fire would have excited suspicion. What I have got to do now is to find the owner of that coat, and, when I do I shall be able to put my hands upon the man who killed Joseph Baines. At any rate, that is my theory, though I know I have a long row to hoe yet. Now, would you be good enough to find Hammer for me?"
Hammer appeared presently, with his dog in attendance, and sat down on a rustic seat at the end of the garden with a smile on that blind, patient face of his, ready to hear everything that Philp had to say. At his feet Bragger sat, with the air of one who takes an intelligent interest in the conversation.
"Now, what can I do for you, sir?" the soldier asked.
"Well, you can answer me a few questions," Philp said. "By-the-way, is that dog of yours bad tempered?"
"God bless your soul, sir," Hammer cried, firing up in defence of his favorite, "he's the best tempered dog in the world. Of course, he has his likes and dislikes, same as humans, and he's a devil to fight when he's roused. But anyone on two legs can do anything with him. Ah, Bragger's all right."
"Any good out poaching?" Philp asked.
"Well, sir, I won't deny as he ain't handy with a rabbit. You see, he takes after his mother in that respect. I suppose Bragger is about four years old now, and I taught him a goodish bit before I lost my sight. Yes, I think Bragger's as good on a rabbit as any I ever trained. And in the dark there is no one to touch him."
"So I have heard," Philp said drily. "And, moreover, Mr. Farmer told me that, up to the end of 1916, when you joined up, there wasn't a bigger poacher in the country."
"Well, I ain't going to deny, sir, as I've done my share," Hammer said. "And I don't hold as there's no harm to it, neither. I can't be so very bad, or else Mr. Farmer wouldn't give me a job here. Pheasants and partridges I never touched, but with rabbits and hares I ain't so particular. They just grows wild and don't belong to nobody. But you, being a lawyer, sir—"
"Never mind about that," Philp said. "I understand your point of view, and I have no doubt that Bragger shares it enthusiastically. Is it true, as a little bird has whispered in my ear, that you are fond of a ramble at nights, blind as you are? I am told that you take Bragger who guides you at the end of a lead, and that some nights you come home with half a dozen rabbits in your pocket. Oh, you needn't tell me unless you like."
A queer sort of a grin spread over the blind man's face.
"It's one of the few pleasures I have got, sir. We do go out most nights, and my old mother gets the benefit of it. You see, there are lots of rabbits on the common that don't belong to anybody, and I don't see why I shouldn't have a few."
"Quite right," Philp said quietly. He dropped his hand upon Hammer's shoulder and held him in a tight grip. "Now, Hammer," he went on, "I want you to tell me where you were on the night of Baines' murder between nine and eleven, and what you were doing. And I am not going to let you go till I have had a full answer. It's the truth I want, and nothing but the truth."
Ned Hammer gave a strange sort of a gasp as be turned his sightless eyes in Philp's direction. He was not an emotional man, he had had many years' training in a hard military school, and his crowning misfortune had stilled him into the semblance of a mere machine that works according to rule. Here was a man, Philp decided, who could and would have baffled any counsel, however astute, if he only made up his mind not to speak. He must act accordingly.
"What's that you said, sir?" Hammer asked, very quietly.
"A plain question, Ned," Philp said, as easily. "I merely asked you to tell me where you were at a certain time on the evening of the murder of the man Baines. If you were at home or in bed at the time, then you have only got to say so and I have finished, because I know that your word is to be trusted."
"Thank you, sir," Hammer replied. "I don't wish to seem rude, but in a manner of speaking what may that be to you?"
"Well, personally, nothing, but it may have an important bearing on the case in question. You are a long way from being a fool, Ned, and you know perfectly well what certain scandalmongers are saying about Mr. Macrae. They say that he—"
"Yes, I know as they do sir, and a fine lot of liars they are. He's a proper gentleman is Mr. Macrae, and there's nothing as I wouldn't do for him, and that's the truth."
"Now you are talking, Ned. That is just what I hoped to hear you say. He is in danger, and before long will be in greater danger still. Something has come to my ears today that is most serious."
"But he never done it, sir, I'd lay my life on that."
"So we all would, Ned, but that will not save him. He is certain to be arrested before many hours have gone on what we lawyers call the capital charge, and I want to prevent that if I can. And that is why I am asking you to tell me where you were on the night that Joseph Baines was murdered."
"All right, sir," Hammer replied. "If you can assure me that the information is any service, then I will speak freely. But I shall get myself into trouble. Mr. Farmer, he's very good to me and that old mother of mine, and though I do what I can, I don't anything like earn the wage he pays me, and he's rather particular. I promised him that I wouldn't get into trouble, and especially that I would not do any more poaching. And I have broken my word more than once, because I can't help it. You see, sir, it's in my blood, a bit of poaching to me is what drink is to some men. The worst of it is as I promised I wouldn't go near the common o' nights. Mr. Farmer, he ain't on very friendly terms with the gentleman what owns the common, and I knew it all the time. But there's heaps of rabbits there, so I takes my dog, and we has a good time there."
"Ah, now we are coming to it," Philp said. "You are telling me, in a round about way that on the night of the murder you were poaching in the neighborhood of the common?"
Hammer heaved a sigh of relief, much as a child might do who has owned up to some fault.
"That's it, sir," he said. "It was a fine night, and when my old mother had gone off to bed, pretty early, as usual, I called the dog and off we went. Why, he almost made me come. You don't know how near a human being that dog is. So we went, as I am telling you, and we did very well indeed."
"Yes; and is that all, Ned?"
"Well, I think so, sir. I don't know as I can tell you much more. You see, when we go off on those expedition's Bragger leads me to some place where I can lie on the grass, and I take his lead off. When he gets hold of a rabbit he brings it back to me, then he goes off again, and so on."
"I can imagine all that," Philp said. "But didn't you notice anything strange on the night in question? Didn't Bragger come back to you more or less exhausted and rather cut about?"
"Perhaps I had better tell you the whole story when I am about it, sir," Hammer went on. "I didn't want to speak about it, but if it is all that important—"
"My good man," Philp said impressively, "it is more than important. You were on the common on the night of that murder, and therefore quite close to the Bungalow where the body of Joseph Baines was found. You must have been there all the time, and you were lying more or less hidden in the grass. Do you mean to say that you heard nothing in the least suspicious all the time you were there?"
"I am not going as far as that, sir," Hammer replied. "It is a funny thing, but I should never have thought any more about what I heard if you hadn't come and talked to me like this. You see, sir, we often go out poaching together, and, lying there, half hidden, waiting for the dog, I have heard more than one funny bit of talk. You see, the lads and lasses go over the common courting, and all that sort of thing, and if they sit down on the grass, close to me, why, of course, I am bound to hear what they are saying. Not as I wants to, sir, as you understand, but, being blind, and in the dark, and the dog some way off, and all those sandpits about on the common, I daresn't move. But what I hears I just tries to forget. And now I'll tell you what I heard on the common."
"We are getting warm," Philp smiled. "What you have to say may have no bearing whatever upon the case, but, on the other hand, it may be of the utmost importance. Go on, Ned."
"Well, sir, it would be about 10 o'clock, so far as I recollect, perhaps a little later. I can't quite say, but there was two or three rabbits lying at my feet, and Bragger had gone off after another. He don't make no noise, that dog, but just hunts as quietly as a man would do. I was lying on a bit of grass with high gorse all round me. I know that, because I could feel it in my fingers, and I knew I was only just off the path, because only a step or two away I had been on the road, so that if anybody passing by spoke I should be able to hear everything that was said. So I sits there quietly, not smoking, because I had come out without any cigarettes, when I hear someone coming along the road, and the dog not very far off, because he was sniffing loud enough for me to hear. Then I realised that there was somebody else coming along the road in the other direction. They must have known one another, for they stopped and began to talk."
"Did you happen to recognise either voice?" Philp asked.
"No sir, I didn't. They must have been both strangers to me, because, since I lost my sight I have got quite clever at recognising voices, and I never heard either of them before."
"Well, what were they talking about?"
"In a manner of speaking, they were gossiping at first, then they began to talk about money. From what I could make out, one of them owed the other a lot of money, and the other, so to speak, couldn't pay. It must have been a great deal of money, because I heard something about five hundred pounds."
"Yes. Now, what sort of a voice did the man have who was evidently the creditor?"
"A funny sort of voice, sir, sort of harsh and grating, but not too strong. I may be wrong, but I should think that the one speaker was quite an old man. The other man must have been younger, because his voice was clear enough."
"What sort of a voice? I mean, was it a common one, or did it strike you as being that of a gentleman?"
"A gentleman, I suppose, sir," Hammer went on. "They was fairly good friends at first, and then they began to quarrel. What I might call number one—that's the gentleman—was telling the other that it was all right, and if he only had a bit of patience the money would be paid right enough. Then number one, he goes on to remind number two as they did a fine stroke of business together not long before, and that number one had worked out the whole scheme. But number two, he says, as how that was all very well, but they had divided that little lot between them, and a big sum was still outstanding. They were still disputing over this as they moved away, till I could only just hear them. Then the older man cried out something that I could not quite catch, and made a noise in his throat as if he was choking. I could hear what might have been a blow, then there was a crash in the bushes, and, after that, silence."
"Is that all that happened," Philp asked. "Where did your dog come in? I wasn't there, of course, but I am perfectly sure that Bragger had some sort of a hand in it."
"Now, how did you come to guess that, sir?" Hammer said, admiringly. "Because it is a fact. I heard Bragger beginning to growl and snarl, and from the sound of it I knew that he had fallen foul of somebody. I heard a voice call out, 'Damn the dog!' then there was a sound as if somebody were struggling, and a yelp from Bragger as if he were hurt. It was all done so quickly that I can hardly recollect all the details, but Bragger he crawls back to me presently, and lies down at my feet, all done up and exhausted. When I puts my hand on him his side was wet, and when he winced I knew that there was blood on his skin. Somebody had evidently slashed him with a knife or something of that sort. It was a blackguard thing to do, and I was half a mind to try and do something, but you see I had no business there, sir, so I decided to lie low. And there we stayed for an hour or more, till I put Bragger on the lead again, and we came back across the common to the cottage. And that's about all, sir."
"And quite enough, too. Now, look here, Ned, there is not the slightest doubt that one of those two men was Joseph Baines, and the other was the criminal who murdered him. When you heard the elder man cry out, he was fighting for his life, and probably as he lay on the ground Bragger came up and took a hand. I think we have established the fact fairly clearly that Baines died there, on the common, and that he was picked up and carried into the conservatory of the bungalow by the man who killed him. It was a diabolically clever idea to shift the blame on to somebody else. What we have got to do now is to find the man who did this vile thing."
"And have you found him, sir?" Ned asked, eagerly.
"No, but I shall. And now, Ned, not a word of this to a soul. If you so much as breathe it, you may be doing Mr. Macrae a great harm, and I am sure you don't want to do that."
"You can rely upon me, sir," Ned said. "Mr. Macrae is a proper gentleman, and there is nothing I wouldn't do to help him."
Philp's pleasant preoccupations were not so great that he could not find plenty of time to devote to the affairs of David Macrae. He had come down to Hitherfield mainly to reach an understanding with Enid Farmer and her father, and now he had succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations. Much to his surprise and delight, he had found the genial old man as pleased as himself over the turn of affairs. It was the one thing that he had been hoping for, and now that the matter was settled and the engagement announced, Philp, after consulting Enid, threw himself heart and soul into the business.
He had not the slightest doubt now, even if, indeed, he ever had, that Macrae was entirely innocent. He had worried this thing out in his mind, and it seemed to him an easy matter to put his hand upon the culprit when the right time came. But there must be no indecent haste, which might tend to ruin the whole of his carefully laid plans. In the first instance, he went off and had an interview with the obliging Mr. Blinn, who appeared to be quite a decent type of man, except where business was concerned.
"Now, look here, Mr. Blinn," Philp said. "Mr. David Macrae is a great friend of mine, and I am anxious enough to clear his good name for him. I believe him to be entirely innocent."
"Well, so do I," the little Jew smiled.
"Oh, then, you have got no sort of prejudice against him."
"Not in the least, my dear sir. I suppose you are thinking about those articles in 'The Hitherfield Mercury.' I am not saying that they were unjustified, ours is not a pleasant profession, and we have got to take all the knocks that come our way. Baines was one of the worst of our class, but we are not all so bad as he was. And now, Mr. Philp, what can I do for you?"
"You can answer me a few questions," Philp said. "Am I to understand that Baines and Douglas and Co. were actually one, and that you were practically Baines' servant?"
"Well, not quite that," Blinn explained. "Baines found the capital, and, if I may say so, I found most of the brains. You see, I am a partner, with a small share of the business, and the affairs of Douglas and Co. are practically in my hands. On big questions, Baines had the say, but generally I had a free hand."
"Ah, I quite understand. Now that Baines is dead, who comes into all his money. Did he leave a will?"
"Not that we can find," Blinn said. "I haven't the remotest notion who takes the money. I never heard Baines speak about a single relative, and I don't believe he has got one in England. He was a reticent old man, and, in fact, not English. As far as I can make out from a bit of information I picked up some time ago, his name was really Banjamins, and he came from Russia. We shall have to advertise for the next-of-kin, which will be a long process. Meanwhile, I am looking after the interests of his representative, and I am being helped by Mr. Farrell. You see, all the books and papers are in my hands, with the exception of a lot of documents the old man kept in an ancient safe in his cottage. I haven't had time to touch them yet."
Philp stayed there a little longer, asking what appeared to be a good many meaningless questions, then he went off quite satisfied with the information he had obtained. The next thing he did was to despatch a telegram addressed to one Carl Peterson, somewhere in London, with a request that the recipient should come down to Hitherfield without delay. Accordingly, in the course of the afternoon, there appeared a tall, slim man, with a pale, resolute face, and short yellow beard, who sat for an hour or so in Philp's lodgings in Hitherfield, listening to what the latter had to say. Peterson did not in the least present the popular idea of the private detective, but that was exactly what he was, and Philp had found him exceedingly useful on more than one occasion. He proceeded to explain exactly what he wanted Peterson to do, while the latter listened and smiled. He was prepared to take any sort of risk, provided that he was well paid for it, and that he was asked to do nothing questionable.
"It's like this, Peterson," Philp said. "I dare say you have read all about the mysterious murder here."
"Of course I have, sir," Peterson replied. "It's my business to know those sort of things, and besides, they interest me, even when I am not concerned."
"Precisely. Now, have you formed any opinion on the subject?"
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that, sir, but I wouldn't mind making a small bet that the man the police suspect is quite innocent. Mr. Macrae had no hand in that deed. Why, he could have got rid of the body as easily as possible, besides—"
"Never mind that for a moment," Philp interrupted. "I shall be able to put my hand on the right criminal when the time comes. Now, you take a cigarette and listen to what I have to say."
Philp went on to tell his assistant exactly what had happened, until the latter had assimilated all the facts.
"Now, what I contend," Philp said, "is that the murderer, whoever he may be, was under monetary obligations to Baines. That seems to be borne out by the conversation overheard by the blind man Hammer. There is not the slightest doubt that Hammer was, in a manner of speaking, present when the crime was committed."
"There seems no doubt about that, sir."
"Very well, then. I want to make sure, by an examination of Baines' books. Those books at present are in his office in Hitherfield. I want you to get hold of them, this evening if possible, and bring them to me. You will have to commit something of a burglary, but I don't suppose you'll mind that if you are well paid for the risk."
"Very good, sir," Peterson said cheerfully. "Only tell me where I am to go, and the thing is as good as done."
"There will be no difficulty whatever about it," Philp went on. "The office is in a little tumble-down cottage in a quiet back street, with a neglected strip of garden behind it. You will be able to get in through a back window, and you will find the ledger there, lying on a deal table in what used to be the kitchen. I know that, because I found it out this morning. We will take a walk presently, and I will show you. But I shouldn't be at all surprised to find that certain pages in that ledger have been cut out, because a certain individual, who is in rather low water, has by the accident of fortune, been in a position to go over the book. If I am right then you will have to make a second burglary and break into a safe. It is an old-fashioned safe, not likely to present any difficulties to an expert like yourself, and I may ask you this evening to make a second journey to the cottage and bring me books you may find in that depository. I may be all wrong, of course, but Baines was a secretive man, with a wonderful business faculty, and it is any reasonable odds that he has a private set of books."
Peterson, being quite ready, and not in the least dismayed by what lay before him, finished his cigarette and expressed a desire to see the cottage in question without further delay. They set off presently and came at length to a small, shady lane at the back of a row of cottages, in the centre of which was the one where Baines did all his work, and had woven his many nets. This Philp pointed out to his companion, and the latter smiled meaningly.
"Oh, that's all right, sir," he said. "This lane will be quite quiet after dark, and there is plenty of hiding places if anybody happens to be about. You will notice that those back windows have dark blinds. I shall be able to push the catch back easily enough, and by 10 o'clock you shall have those books, and, if you want me to burgle that safe, I will come back and do it before morning."
It was just after 11 o'clock when Peterson turned up at Philip's lodgings and walked into the house announced, as arranged. From under a long, loose overcoat, he produced one bulky volume, which he laid on the table before Philp. He explained that this was the only book he could find, and Philp proceeded to go through it, page by page. An hour or more elapsed before he looked up with an exclamation and a pleased smile on his face.
"It is just what I thought," he cried. "Here you are, Peterson, pages 174 and 175 missing. They have been very neatly cut out with a penknife. If the pages had not been numbered it would have been almost impossible to detect this. Now, this is most important. The man who was talking to Baines on the common on the night of his death was the man who cut those pages out."
"Probably," Peterson agreed. "But if they are destroyed, I don't see that it helps us much."
"A negative evidence perhaps. We can only assume that somebody did cut them out. Now, suppose we lay our hands upon Baines's private ledger? It's any odds there is one in his safe, and it's any odds, too, that in the private ledger those two pages are recorded. If we can prove this fact, we are going a long way. It's a busy evening for you, Peterson, because I want you to go back to the cottage and bring me the private volume that I am certain you will find in the safe."
Without a word, Peterson went off as quietly as he had come, and made his way back to the cottage, along the deserted streets, without meeting a soul. The second task was an easier one, because he knew every step of the way, and in less than a quarter of an hour he was at work upon the safe. Nor was this a difficult matter, for the safe was a very old one with an ordinary lock, which yielded to a sort of master key in the course of a few minutes, without showing the slightest signs that the lock had been tampered with. It would be a comparatively light matter, therefore, to restore the ledger which Peterson had found, and fasten the lock again without the greatest expert knowing that the safe had been opened.
"There you are, sir," Peterson said, "As a matter of fact, there was nothing in the safe but that book."
With an eagerness he could hardly conceal, Philp compared the two leather-bound volumes. He turned presently to page 174 of the fresh folio, and as he did so a little cry of triumph broke from his lips. He turned eagerly to his companion.
"Here you are, Peterson," he cried. "These two books are practically fascimiles. And here are the missing pages. If you look at the names on the top of page 174, you will be able to read the proper description of the murderer. There it is—name and address. But all the same, we have not quite finished yet."
It was only natural that Blinn should carry out his idea of calling upon Inspector Dent and informing the latter as to the letter in the press copy book of Douglas & Co. He was not particularly anxious to do this, because, according to his light, he was a fairly decent little man, who, however, was not in the least likely to take any personal risk. Therefore, as soon as he conveniently could, he waited upon Dent with the letter book in his possession, and, without comment, laid the information before him.
"You understand," he said, "that I have got no feeling against Mr. Macrae. He never did me any harm personally, and I don't want to injure him. But with this information in my possession, I feel that I must come and tell you all about it."
"That's right enough, of course," Dent said. "If you had not done so, and we could subsequently prove that you knew this. It might have been awkward for you. I wouldn't worry, if I were you, Mr Blinn; Macrae is far from being convicted yet."
"Then you don't think he is guilty?" Blinn asked, eagerly.
"I am pretty sure he isn't," Dent replied. "And that is what is worrying me. Of course, I must assume that he is, but somehow, I cannot convince myself. I am very much afraid that with this information I shall have formally to arrest him."
"Ah, that is just what I expected." Blinn said. "If I could have destroyed that letter book, I would, and I don't mind admitting as much. And yet what you people call the presumptive evidence is all against Macrae. Here we have the body of Baines actually found in his bungalow, and, by a bit of bad luck, I have to come along and prove to you that Macrae was in Barnes's hands, and at his wit's end to find a hundred pounds. No, that is not quite correct. Look here, Inspector, I have already seen Macrae, and told him what I had discovered, and what it was my duty to do. You see, Baines led him into a trap, under the impression that he was dealing with an independent firm called Douglas & Co. I may tell you he wasn't. Douglas & Co. and Baines are one and the same. But that you will gather by what I have told you already. Now, I dare say you think that this murder might have been committed to get Baines out of the way, and give Macrae time to find that hundred pounds. Well, I can tell you this, that when I spoke to Macrae about it, he offered to give me the hundred pounds there and then, if I could offer him a legal receipt. So that is a point in his favor, anyhow."
"By jove, it is," Dent said. "It knocks the motive theory out, for the moment, at any rate. Of course, Macrae had no idea that Baines was your employer, and that a record of the transaction appeared in your books. But when you come to think of it, this fact is not altogether in his favor. Still, there it is, Macrae suddenly discovered that he was in Baines's power, and, well, according to his own showing, he went to look for the old man and have it out with him. He thinks that Baines was not at home when he called, and they might have met on the common and had a quarrel. What I want to impress upon you, is that the evidence generally tells very much against Macrae. And yet, according to your showing, he was in a position to pay off that hundred pounds at any moment. Still, that might have been bluff. By the way, did he pay you, by any chance?"
"Well, no," Blinn admitted. "But that might have been my fault. I said there was no hurry in the circumstances."
"Suppose you had offered to take it. Isn't it possible that the money would not have been forthcoming?"
"Well, I only wish I had given him the chance now," Blinn said regretfully. "I am very much upset over the whole business, and I would give something to be out of it. I suppose I shall have to give evidence against Macrae when the time comes?"
Dent replied that he was quite sure of it, and Blinn went his way sorrowfully. It was a little later the same afternoon that Dent, having failed to locate his man at the office, went along the road in the direction of Dr. Goldfinch's house. He had a warrant for Macrae's arrest in his pocket, and seeing the latter seated on the doctor's lawn, hastened to get his unpleasant task over as quickly as possible. As he walked up the path, Philippa rose to her feet, and laid her hand, almost unconsciously, on Macrae's shoulder. He could see how white she had gone, and how her lips were trembling.
"Courage, my dearest girl," he whispered. "This was bound to happen after what I told you."
"With that, Macrae turned and faced the Inspector steadily enough, and walked in his direction.
"I suppose you want me, Inspector?" he asked.
"That's right," Dent said, in his most formal manner. "I have a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Joseph Baines, and I must warn you that anything you say will be taken down in evidence against you. I think I need not say any more."
"Oh, I quite understand," Macrae said. "And I am greatly obliged to you, Inspector, for coming here in person. I am ready to accompany you as soon as you like."
He turned and said a few words to Philippa, who stood there, helplessly enough, and then, with just one backward glance, walked resolutely towards Hitherfield by Dent's side. There was nothing said between either of them until the police station was reached, and David found himself seated in a small, whitewashed cell, with nothing before him but the compensation of his own unhappy thoughts.
Meanwhile something like consternation reigned in the doctor's cottage. Philippa had sent off a messenger in hot haste to find Philp, but apparently he was not available, having gone out of town for the day, and not being likely to return till late. It was just after tea-time that Farrell put in an appearance. He seemed to be greatly concerned, and he spoke to Philippa in a way that brought the tears into her eyes. It was many months since she had seen him in this attractive mood, and her heart went out towards him.
"This is a most dreadful business," he said. "And I would have given anything to have prevented it, Philippa, I want you to forget all I said in my anger when David Macrae came between us. You know what my feelings were, and what a terrible disappointment it was to me when I realised that Macrae had taken what I regarded as my own place. I felt, and I feel still, that if Macrae had not come along, we should have never drifted apart. Still, there it is, and no doubt you have chosen wisely. And for the sake of old times, I am going to do all I can to clear Macrae's good name. I know why he has been arrested, in fact, he told me all about it himself. I am glad he did so, because I had found it out a day or two before. You see, Baines's affairs were partly placed in my hands, and I had instruction to get in all the money that was owing to them. And I also knew that Baines and Douglas and Co. were one and the same. When I knew this, I went through the books of both firms, and I found the copy of the fateful letter that Baines had written to Macrae."
"Is it so very terrible?" Philippa asked.
"Well, it is a very important piece of evidence against Macrae," Farrell replied. "What a pity that Macrae did not send Baines a cheque directly he got the letter."
"But it wasn't possible," Philippa cried. "There wasn't time. It was all a plot to ruin David, and compel him to give up the bungalow. Two or three days more, and it could have been easily arranged. Oh, can't you see how vilely Baines behaved?"
"Yes, I suppose he did. Still, it is not much use talking like that now. I shall be able to help Macrae by giving evidence in his favor, and telling the judge that I knew all about that letter, and that, though Macrae did not make it public property, he confided in me. That ought to help, because, you see, Philippa, the prosecution will make a tremendous lot out of the fact that Macrae was in Baines' debt, and tried to conceal the fact. I suppose you have seen the original letter?"
"Oh, of course," Philippa said. "Why, David gave it me to take care of. If you want it, I dare say he won't mind my handing it over to you. Shall I write and ask him?"
"Oh, there is no sort of hurry," Farrell said. "I am only trying to convince you that things are not quite as bad as they look. You keep a stout heart, and we will save Macrae for you yet. And don't forget that both of you have a real friend in need. I have quite got over the old trouble, Philippa, and I am going to forget myself entirely in Macrae's interests."
"Then you don't think he is guilty?" Philippa asked.
"I am absolutely sure he isn't," Farrell said. "Oh, we shall get hold of the guilty party yet."
"There I am entirely with you," Philp said, as he came, unseen, across the grass. "Is this thing true, Farrell?"
"I am sorry to say it is," Farrell replied.
"Then, in that case, this is where I come in," Philp went on. "I am glad to hear you say you are going to leave no stone unturned to help Macrae, and if you will devote yourself entirely to the outside work, I will see to the court proceedings. What I mean is that I will appear for Macrae when he comes before the magistrate; in fact, he has instructed me to do so."
"Very well," Farrell said, quietly. "I should very much like to have defended him myself, even if it was only for the sake of the old friendship between Philippa and myself. Perhaps I shall be more use looking up our evidence outside. I must be getting along now. Good-bye, Philippa, and keep your courage up."
Whereupon Farrell took his leave, and faded out into the road, leaving Philippa and Philp alone together. For the first time Philippa broke down, and the tears rolled over her cheeks.
"Don't take on like that," Philp said. "There is really nothing to worry about. I didn't want to say anything before Farrell, but I am going to pledge you my professional reputation that David will be a free man in the course of a fortnight. I will go further than that, and promise you that his innocence will be established beyond a shadow of a doubt. Only this you must not mention to a soul."
"What," Philippa cried. "Do you mean to say that—"
"Never mind what I mean to say. Do as I tell you, and hope for the best. Now I want to have a little chat with your father. Does he happen to be at home? Because, if he is, you might take me to him at once, for there is no time to be wasted."
Dr. Goldfinch was pottering about in his study, in his inconsequent way, apparently very busy doing nothing, so that he hailed Philp quite cheerfully. He seemed to have already forgotten the fact that Macrae had been arrested in his own garden a short time ago, though, at the same time, he was not looking quite so composed as usual.
"Well, my young friend," he asked, "and what can I do for you? This is a most unpleasant business in connection with Macrae, but they will never prove anything against him, never. I had no idea that Dent was such a fussy official. I have always regarded him as a level-headed man. It is very annoying, and very trying for that poor child of mine. But it must come right in the end."
"There I quite agree with you," Philp said, gravely. "But we are some way off the end yet. Now, if you will listen to me for a few moments, I will try and show you the danger in which Macrae stands. And, mind you, it is a danger."
Then Philp went on to very carefully and logically lay what he considered to be the evidence for the prosecution before his elderly listener. It was all so practically done that even a dreamer like Goldfinch began to realise at last that there was a long way to go before Macrae could hold up his head again.
"Upon my word," the old man cried, "I had no idea it was as bad as all that. Yes, yes, I see it quite clearly now. Is there any way in which I could be of assistance?"
"My dear doctor, you can be of the greatest possible assistance. Now that you have a proper grasp of the facts, I am going to take you more or less into my confidence. I cannot tell you everything, but I can tell you a good deal. I have been doing a good deal of detective work, and, moreover, I have an assistant down from London helping me. He has found out certain things, and I hope, before long, to put my hand upon the actual murderer. We shall have to be very cautious because, if what I am doing becomes public property, the whole of my work will be in vain."
"Yes, yes," the doctor exclaimed. "But where do I come in?"
"I am just coming to that. I think that that business of the coat that Philippa found has been kept perfectly quiet."
"I have not mentioned it to anybody," the doctor said. "Philippa might have talked to some of her friends—"
"I am sure she hasn't," Philp said. "Because I particularly asked her not to. She knows something about it, and, of course, so does Macrae, and if you have remained silent—"
"'Indeed I have," the doctor protested. "I did not see any reason for keeping it a secret, but, at the same time, I have not mentioned it to anybody."
"Ah, I am very glad to hear that," Philp said, with a sigh of relief. "And I particularly want you to maintain the same attitude. Because you and I, between us, hold the clue to the mystery, which is wrapped up that old coat."
"Dear me, dear me," the doctor cried, excitedly. "Is that really so? And yet why shouldn't it be? Here we have a coat, which has evidently been buried secretly by some individual for purposes of his own. On that coat are human bloodstains, as I am in a position to prove, and, moreover, it was covered with hairs which undoubtedly belong to the blind man Hammer's dog. How the hairs got on the coat is a mystery at present, because Philippa said that the dog never touched the coat after she found it."
"Yes, that is right enough," Philp said. "But we are getting on a little too fast. When the time comes, I shall be able to show you how the hairs got on the coat before it was buried, but, meanwhile, I should like to have a look at the coat."
Dr. Goldfinch was eager enough now; he had lost all his absent manner, and was displaying that high intelligence which was part of his nature when it became a question of scientific research. He took the coat from an old oak chest in the corner of the library, and laid it on the table where the sun could shine on it.
"There you are," he said. "A serge flannel coat, which must have been the property of some sporting man. I should say it had been dyed, because you can see there is an edging of silk round the seams and the pockets which is not quite of the same color as the material itself. I should say the dye did not take the silk quite as well as it did the serge. And if you look closely, you will see that something has been removed from the breast pocket. I want you to note the fact that the patch pocket looks fresher and newer than the rest of the coat, as if it had been protected by a badge."
"That is perfectly right," Philp said, after a careful examination. "My eyes are perhaps a little better than yours, because I can distinctly trace an outline on the pocket in the shape of a shield. That shield, no doubt was made of colored cloth, and on it, undoubtedly, was at one time, a badge belonging to some athletic club, or, more probably, the coat of arms of some college."
"I believe you are right," the doctor said. "Now I come to look at it again I can see the outline of a shield. In that case it would not be an ordinary dyed blazer, because such garments do not have silk edgings. But boating blazers do. I remember having one of my own when I was at Brazenose, Oxford. I was not a rowing man, as you might understand the term, but I used to do a fair amount of sculling, and my blazer was black serge bound with gold silk. I don't think we wore a badge, at any rate, it is such a long time ago that I forget. But I think that this was a college boater blazer, and that the owner had it dyed and probably used it for tennis and that kind of thing."
"There I quite agree with you," Philp said. "Please show me the bloodstains on it."
The doctor produced a strong magnifying glass, and, spreading the coat out pointed to certain stains, more especially on the front and down both arms.
"There you are," he said. "Those are human bloodstains all right, and if you like I will tell you exactly how I tested them. It is not a very difficult matter when you know how."
"I don't think we need go into that for the moment," Philp said. "If you are absolutely satisfied that they are blood stains, and you can prove it in a court of justice, then that is all that I will ask you to do. What I want now is for you to let me have the loan of the coat for a day or two for certain investigations. I can promise you it will not pass out of my hands, and that it will not in any way be interfered with."
The doctor expressed no objection, whereupon Philp folded the coat up into a small space and made a parcel of it with a piece of string and some brown paper. But though the doctor was curious enough to know the reason for this Philp showed no disposition to gratify his curiosity. All he could do was to say that before the week was out he hoped to be in a position to make a definite move in the mystery which was keeping Hitherfield on the tiptoe of expectation.
"I think I will be getting along now," he said. "I am much obliged to you, doctor, for all you have done, and I may say that you have been of the greatest possible assistance. What you have just shown me tends to confirm my theory exactly. I am very pleased with the result of our little talk, and if you will refrain from mentioning it, except to Philippa, I shall be more than obliged."
Half an hour later Philp was back in his lodgings in Hitherfield. He sat down for some time, smoking a thoughtful cigarette, after which he unpacked the coat and laid it on the table in a strong light. For some little time he was examining it inch by inch, turning up the collar and conning carefully the tab at the back, by which a coat is hung. But though he went over it again and again with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass he could see nothing further than was likely to help him, and he was about to give up the investigation for the moment when it occurred to him to turn the pockets inside out. There were three pockets altogether, one on either side, and one on the breast. The lower pockets produced nothing, but just inside the edge of the breast pocket neatly and firmly sewn was a thin tab of yellow tape, placed vertically, so that it ran straight down the pocket without being seen.
On this scrap of tape were certain figures, and something that looked very much like a date. The figures, prefixed with a capital K, were 6626, surmounted by the figure 2 in smaller letters. Following the figures were two apparently mysterious sets of signs, thus—25/5/- and 3/6/-. Underneath these again was a capital X, followed by something unintelligible, and finishing with the word 'press.'
"Ah, now we are getting to it," Philp murmured. "This looks like a real live clue. And, hello, what have we got here?"
As Philp spoke, he turned over the yellow tape in his fingers, and on the back of it discovered a tiny circular piece of paper with the figures 121 boldly printed upon it.
"Now that is a very strange thing," he went on. "And not the least strange thing about it is the fact that the doctor quite overlooked this important piece of tape. Well, so did I, for that matter. I suppose the clever way in which it is tacked in escaped the attention even of the owner, because no man in his senses would ever have left that tell-tale piece of evidence in the pocket. Now I wonder what it means, and how am I to make use of it?"
Philp was on the point of cutting the tape free from the pocket when it suddenly occurred to him that this would be an exceedingly foolish thing to do. If there was any real significance in this discovery it would be singularly discounted if he detached the tab from the inside of the pocket, wherein it had been sewn by some expert. He decided to wait and show the coat to Peterson, when the latter called, as he usually did late in the evening.
Philp congratulated himself upon this when at length Peterson arrived and was shown the most recent development.
"This is absolutely great, sir," he said. "That's the dyer's tab. I have seen scores of them in my time. Those figures mean the dates on which the coat was sent and returned. We shall be able to trace the owner of this coat, and when we have done so I think that our little job will be about finished. You had better leave it in my hands, sir. It wants patience and caution, but with that piece of evidence will hang the right man yet."
It was only one visit that Philippa paid to the police station after Macrae's arrest, and that was so painful that David decided not to expose the girl to the same ordeal again. He was innocent enough, and both of them knew it, and so, strangely enough, did the officials about the place, where Philippa was met with all sorts of sympathy, but the sordid atmosphere and the sense of restraint told on Philippa's nerves and reacted on her lover.
"You must not come here after today," he told her gently but quite firmly. "I appreciate it to the core of my being, but it hurts you, dearest, and it hurts me. Besides, if Philp is right, I shall not be here very much longer."
Philippa would have gone to that hateful place every day had it helped in any way, but the grim surroundings and the mean narrowness of that little whitewashed cell and the grating behind which she had to stand when talking to David, to say nothing of the gaoler who was within earshot, all combined to grate on her and fill her with a sort of terror that kept her awake at nights. So that she came there no more, though she was present at the first hearing before the magistrates in the Town Hall, which was packed with a great mass of perspiring humanity eager to see a man fighting for his life.
The whole sordid tragedy was ablaze again; and Hitherfield was not apparently aware of anything else. And once more David was convicted before he was tried. By this time everybody knew all about the letter from Joseph Baines to Macrae on the notepaper of Douglas and Co., and how this had put a different complexion on the crime altogether. And so all the idle silly talk went on.
With a certain suggestion of contempt in his eyes. David looked at the crowd gathered there, and realised that in their opinion he had already been condemned. He listened vaguely to what the solicitor for the moment representing the police had to say, and the evidence of Inspector Dent given without any sort of feeling but in a manner that carried a deal of conviction behind it. As the witnesses came and went Philp asked certain apparently meaningless questions, while Farrell seated under the magistrates' platform smiled encouragingly on his client. He had been working very hard at the case for the last few days, and David was correspondingly grateful.
Dent told the bench how he had arrested the prisoner, in consequence of certain information which had come his way, and when he had finished he proposed to call certain witnesses, and then ask for a formal adjournment for a fortnight.
"Just one moment, if you please," Philp said. "Am I right in thinking that the information you speak of takes the form of a letter? I mean a letter written to my client by Joseph Baines in the name of Douglas and Company?"
"Quite correct," Dent said. "It was a letter written from the office of Douglas and Co., with a postscript in Mr. Baines' own handwriting. I will produce it if necessary."
"There is no occasion," Philp said. "The letter was a request for the immediate payment of a hundred pounds which my client had borrowed from deceased on the security of a bungalow which Mr. Macrae had recently purchased."
"All this is very irregular," Dent protested. "But I am not in the least disposed to deny it."
Philp, having made his point, went on generally.
"Now, Inspector Dent," he said. "Did you find that letter out for yourself, or did the information come to you from an outside source? For instance, did Mr. Blinn tell you about it?"
Dent admitted that this was so and one of the magistrates a little more astute than the rest enquired of Philp as to what deduction he was trying to arrive at.
"Well, it's like this, your worships," Philp explained. "But for that letter my client would not have been arrested. Everybody here knows that my client incurred the enmity of the dead man through a series of articles in the 'Hitherfield Mercury.' Now, my client was anxious to get married. He bought a house and furniture from a man who was going abroad in a great hurry. It had to be a cash transaction, and my client was short of a hundred pounds. This he borrowed from Douglas and Co., never dreaming for a moment that he was placing himself in the hands of the late Joseph Baines. The security was an excellent one, but, nevertheless, the dead moneylender drove a tremendously hard bargain. He insisted upon taking a judgment for the whole amount, which means that he was in a position to levy an execution whenever he pleased. It was a typical moneylender's bargain, but my client knowing that the money would be forthcoming at an early date, did not hesitate. Then Baines wrote to him, demanding his money by 12 o'clock the next day. That was impossible, and my client is prepared to tell you how he went round to Baines' house on the night of the tragedy to try and bring him to reason."
"One moment," a magistrate interrupted. "I suppose your client got that letter?"
"I have just told your worships he did," Philp went on.
"Then why, in the circumstances, did he conceal the fact?"
"I am really grateful to your worships for asking that question," Philp smiled. "Because it brings me to the point I want to make. As a matter of fact, my client did not conceal the fact. For instance, he told me, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, he told his solicitor, Mr. Farrell, as well. Mr. Farrell is here, and, if necessary, I will call him to prove the fact."
"That is so," Farrell murmured. "If the Bench wants me in the witness box I shall be happy to confirm."
Philp smiled to himself. All this sort of thing would have been impossible in any Court of Justice beyond that of the ordinary meeting of unpaid magistrates, but he had gained his point, and he was not disposed to push matters any further.
"I think that will do for the present, Inspector," he said. "Of course, your contention is that this letter is evidence of motive, and all the more so because my client did not come forward and volunteer to tell you all about it. There I think he was wrong, but a man who stands face to face with so grave a charge is rather apt to lose his head. All I want to impress upon the Bench is that my client disclosed that letter, not only to me, but to his solicitor as well. I have no further questions to ask the Inspector."
Another witness or two followed, and then there stepped into the box a local resident of dilapidated appearance who answered to the name of Lidgett. He was by way of being a working gardener and a doer of odd jobs. But this general seediness and the mouldy bloom on his clothing spoke loudly enough of the general loafer who is given to the evil of strong drink. He stood there, grinning sheepishly and waiting to be examined.
"Now, Lidgett," the solicitor representing the prosecution said. "I want you to tell me what you were doing and what you saw on the night of Mr. Baines' murder."
"Well, sir," the witness said, "I wasn't doing nothing in particular. I'd 'ad an odd job o' work at the tennis club, and just as I were going 'ome to bed I remembered as I 'ad left my waistcoat on one o' them iron seats outside the pavilion. So I goes back to fetch it, and when I was climbin' over the railings, I see somebody leaving the pavilion by the back way, and go off over the railings on to the common."
"Yes? Go on. Did you know who it was?"
"Well, yes, sir, in a manner o' speakin'. It was fairly dark, but not so dark as all that, if you knows what I mean. You see I done lots of odd jobs about the tennis club, and I know most o' the members by sight. The gentleman as I see gettin' over the railings on the side next to the common was Mr. Macrae."
"And that you are prepared to swear, I suppose?"
"Well, I don't quite know about that, sir," the witness said with some hesitation. "I wouldn't go so far as to swear, but I am pretty sure as it were Mr. Macrae."
"Do you want to ask the witness any questions?" the chairman of the bench said, turning to Philp.
"Oh, dear no," Philp said. "The man seems to be anything but clear in his mind, and he is not prepared to swear to my client. Moreover, he was probably anything but sober at the time."
"I weren't so bad as all that, sir," Lidgett said, in a spirit of self-defence. "I ain't going to deny as I'd 'ad a few drinks, but I wasn't what you would call properly drunk."
"Quite drunk enough for my purpose," Philp said contemptuously. "I have no more to say, as far as Lidgett is concerned, except that no jury would place the slightest reliance upon what he has said. Besides, admitting for a moment that my client was in the tennis club pavilion, I fail to see how the fact touches the case."
Inspector Dean appeared to be about to say something, then apparently changed his mind, and Lidgett shambled out of the witness box only too thankful for the opportunity of retiring into private life again. But Philp knew perfectly well what was in the back of the inspector's mind. Macrae had declared, over and over again, that he had gone straight to Baines' house on the night of the murder and came again to the Bungalow without deviating a yard. And if it could be proved that he really had been inside the tennis pavilion late at night, before or after the crime was committed, then his credibility would be severely shaken.
But Philp was quite sure that a mistake had been made by the witness Lidgett, though no doubt that individual has seen somebody coming away from the pavilion in the darkness, and avoiding the streets of the town by getting over the railings at the back and walking across the common. It might be possible that here was some further really telling evidence, if one could get to the bottom of it, and Philp made a note of it accordingly.
One or two witnesses were recalled, without throwing any sort of light upon the problem, and then Dent stood up.
"That's all the evidence I propose to offer your worships today," he said. "I should like to have an adjournment for a fortnight, when I hope to carry the case further."
"Very well," the chairman said. "This day fortnight, at the same time. Meanwhile, the court stands adjourned."
Philp did not wait to speak to Macrae after the court had risen, but made his way at once towards his lodgings, where he found Peterson awaiting him. The latter had been away for the last day or two on some private business, and was back again now, prepared to go into the matter of the mysterious coat.
"Ah, here you are," Philp said. "Sit down and help yourself to a cigarette and we will get to business. My client has just been before the magistrates, and the case has been adjourned for a fortnight. That should give us ample time. And now, before I get back to the matter in hand, I want to ask you to keep an eye upon a man named Lidgett who lives in one of the slums here. He is a sort of working gardener, though it's precious little work he does, especially if there is any drink about. I want you to find him out and try and pump him in the congenial atmosphere of some fifth-rate pub. But perhaps I had better tell you what he told the magistrates, so that you can understand what you have to do. I don't say Lidgett will be any sort of help to us, but he may. It is just possible that he is acting as somebody's tool. Now listen."
With that Philp proceeded in a few words to give Peterson an outline of Lidgett's evidence.
"There you are," he concluded. "Of course, my client was nowhere near the tennis pavilion on the night in question, and I can't understand why Lidgett said he was. The man was not sober at the time, but I believe he did see somebody, and if you can find out who that somebody really was the fact may be of assistance. And now let us get on with more important matters. Here is the tab of yellow tape and the serge coat. This is entirely in your line, Peterson, and now that we have a quiet hour to ourselves I should like to know precisely what you are going to do about it."
"I can see my way fairly well, sir," Peterson said. "Now just pull that tab out of the pocket of the coat and have another look at it. Let us first take the capital K, followed by 6626, which the figure 2 on the top of the others. Now, that is just the official mark of some firm whose business it is to clean and dye clothes. Whose mark it is we cannot say yet—not a local firm, because if it were there would be no occasion for those numbers. I should say that the owner of the coat, whoever he was, had sent it either direct to some great advertising firm or perhaps through some firm of hosiers in Hitherfield. I am afraid it will be a long job, sir, and in any case I shall have to cut that tab off, which we don't want to do, because I can't go trailing that coat around Hitherfield asking a heap of questions without setting a lot of gossip going, and if we once do that the story is certain to come back to the ears of the man who owns the coat."
"I quite see that," Philp said. "You must take the tab alone. I will cut it out for you."
Philp proceeded to do this and laid the tab on the table under the eyes of Peterson, who studied it carefully.
"It will take some time, as I said, sir," he went on. "If this coat was sent up through a firm in Hitherfield then it will not be quite so difficult. If not, then I shall have to take it to London and make enquiries through a firm there who make a speciality of this sort of thing."
"I quite see the difficulty," Philp said. "And all the more so because the work might have been done years ago."
"Ah, I know better than that, sir," Peterson smiled. "Just cast your eye over those other figures. Here we have 25/5/-, followed by 3/6/-. Now, if that means anything it means a date."
"That's good," Philp cried. "Upon my word, Peterson, I am a great fool not to have noticed it before."
"Oh, it's the date right enough, sir. And it can't be this year, because we are not yet at the end of May. The coat was sent to some dyers on the 25th of some May, and was evidently returned on the 3rd of June, because, you see, we have 3/6/-. Now, that's pretty smart work for a firm of dyers in these times, and evidence to me that the coat could not have been sent very far. You see, most of these big dyers' works are in Scotland, and between the two dates only ten days elapsed. Now, it would take two days to send and return the coat, which reduces the time to six. So we can reckon Scotland out altogether. My experience teaches me that these sort of things take anything up to three months, and six weeks would be a fair average. Then we can reckon out the present year altogether. From 1918 to the year after the beginning of the war practically no dyeing was done at all, because most of the big firms had been commandeered by the Government. Therefore it is logical to assume that this coat was dyed in the early summer of 1919."
"That is exceedingly clever reasoning," Philp said. "I will give you all the credit for that, Peterson. And now, if you have got no more to say, you had better go off at once and see if you cannot set on the track of this thing."
Peterson went off, and spent the rest of the afternoon going from one hosier's shop to another with the tab in his possession. He must have visited a score or more of little hosiers and the like without achieving the least success. Most of these were acting as agents for various firms of dyers, but there was not one who could identify the yellow tab as being the signed mark of any firm they touched. It was late before Peterson went back to Philp's lodgings and told him that so far he had met with no success.
"Are you sure you have been everywhere?" Philp asked.
"Pretty well, sir. You see, Hitherfield is not a very big place, and one soon gets over the ground. I find that most of the people here send their stuff to Scotland, and directly a tradesman told me that I did not bother any further. That coat must have been dyed by a firm not very far off, say in London, or somewhere near—that is, of course, if it was handed in to a Hitherfield tradesman. But then, unfortunately we do not know whether it was or not. It is just possible that the coat does not belong to a Hitherfield man at all. The murderer might be a stranger who had come down here—"
"Ah, that is not quite so clever as most of your deductions," Philp said. "I am going to assume—in fact, I can go further than that—that the man who murdered Baines lived not very far off. I think I could prove it to you if I liked, but I should like to go a bit further before being all that definite. It is quite plain to me that Baines' murderer was wearing that coat at the time the crime was committed. If not, why was the coat hidden? And where did those blood stains come from? If you grant that, my good Peterson, you must admit that no murderer would be insane enough to go wandering about the country advertising himself by walking about in his shirt sleeves. Oh, no, he was not very far from home, where he would have many coats, probably, and he knew perfectly well that he could reach his abode quite safely under the cover of the darkness. Probably a man who lived in lodgings, and possessing his own latchkey. If not, then there are other people who know something of this terrible story. You see, a boating coat like that is not a thing that would be missed by a wife or a landlady or a servant. I think you will agree with me, Peterson, that my deductions are not far wrong."
"I think they are absolutely right, sir," Peterson said. "But I am afraid that I shall have to give the thing up so far as Hitherfield is concerned. But it is only a question of time. The private enquiry firm I speak of in London will be able to find out who that coat belongs to, though it may take them a month to do so. Perhaps you would like me to go to London tomorrow and consult them?"
"Certainly I should," Philp said. "But you might have another run round Hitherfield first. It is just possible that in some back street you may find the man you want."
"Very well, sir," Peterson said, "I will put in a full morning, and if I have no luck, then I will go to London by the afternoon train. If you don't see me tomorrow you will know that I have gone to London, and, directly I get something definite at the other end, I will send you a wire. I have a good deal to do, and it seems a pity that I should be wasting your time and money hanging about here."
With that they left it, and Peterson went his way back to to his own lodgings, while Philp strolled as far as Dr. Goldfinch's house with a view to giving Philippa all the encouragement he could. Meanwhile, Peterson started his search again until the shops were closed in the evening, and the next morning pursued the trail. He had come to the conclusion reluctantly that he was off the track in Hitherfield when he passed a small shop which had previously escaped his attention, in a window of which was a neat card to the effect that the occupant of the shop acted as agent for the firm of Plant and Company, Dyers and Cleaners, with works at Streatham. Without hesitation Peterson dived into the shop and interviewed the elderly woman who appeared to run her tiny business entirely unaided.
"Good morning," he said. "I see that you are agent for a firm of dyers. Now, two years ago I had a boating coat dyed for me through some people in London who are now out of business, and the work was so well done that I should like to have a further garment treated by the same firm. It is just possible that your people are the ones I am talking about. At any rate, here is the tab from the coat when it came back. Is it familiar to you?"
The woman behind the counter put on her spectacles.
"That it is, sir," she said. "That's Plant & Co.'s mark. I know it by the way the numbers are arranged, and the fact that they always use yellow tape. Yes, and that date must have meant May, 1918. They are good people, are Plants, though they are not in a very large way of business. I remember sending them a boating coat myself about a year ago. It was a sort of serge flannel with orange silk binding. But wait a bit, sir; I'll just go through my books, and perhaps I can identify that mark as one from something that has been through my hands."
The speaker opened a small ledger and pored over the contents for a minute or two. Then she looked up with a smile.
"That's quite right, sir," she said. "This tab came off the coat I mean. You see the numbers tally."
"Would you mind telling me who your customer was?" Peterson asked. "It's only a matter of curiosity, but—"
"Oh, that's all right, sir," the woman replied. "I had that coat dyed for Mr. Macrae, of the 'Hitherfield Mercury.'"
Peterson gasped and choked in the fullness of his emotion at this unexpected blow. The surprise was almost cruel in its intensity. He had been getting on so splendidly, and everything had been going so right, that the check knocked him off his feet for the moment. It was fortunate, perhaps, that he was dealing with an old woman who was past heeding much in the way of surprises. So that Peterson was able to pull himself together instantly and carry on as if he had heard nothing to his disadvantage.
"Oh, quite so, quite so," he said, coolly enough. "I know something of Mr. Macrae; but that is not the point. I want to make sure, because your people seem to be exactly what I am looking for. There is not the slightest doubt, I suppose, that the coat this tab came off was one that Mr. Macrae brought here to be dyed about a year ago. You see, I am so—well, faddy—"
"And so are many of my customers, sir," the old woman said. "You wouldn't believe what a fuss some of them make. They bring old stuff here and expect me to give them back something that looks like new, they does. But there's none of them as gets as near it as Plant & Co., and if you send me anything I am quite sure that you won't regret it."
Peterson muttered something appropriate and took his leave. He was still rather off his usual poise and quite at sea as to what was likely to happen next. It seemed to him that he had gone very far to confirm the fact that, after all, Philp was altogether wrong in his deductions and that the crime really lay at Macrae's door. The evidence following that of the copy letter book was almost damning in its completeness. But still, Peterson was too old at the game to feel convinced even yet, and therefore he hastened back to Philp to lay this disturbing evidence before him.
"What's the matter?" Philp asked as he glanced into Peterson's disturbed features. "Anything gone wrong?"
Peterson hastened to unburden himself. He told Philp what he had discovered without embroidery, and the latter listened for a time with a face quite as grave as that of his assistant.
"All this is certainly very disturbing," he admitted, "but it may be capable of explanation. It's a very good thing for Mr. Macrae that Dent knows nothing of this, otherwise—but I am not going to accept this evidence as final. This business is a good deal more sinister than I had expected. There is no occasion for you to go to town now, because we have found out all we want here, and it is pretty plain where that coat was sent to be dyed. And it is pretty plain, too, that it was Mr. Macrae himself who handed it over to the shopkeeper there. But I am not worrying about that for the moment. You stay here and keep your eye on Lidgett. Get hold of him and treat him generously. I have an idea that he could tell us a story if he liked. Now I will just go as far as Dr. Goldfinch's house and let him know what we are doing."
"All right, sir," Peterson said. "If Lidgett has any story to tell I will worm it out of him."
He went on his way, and a little later Philp walked along the road towards the doctor's place. When he got there Goldfinch was eagerly awaiting him, and there were no signs of Philippa anywhere. It was, moreover a different kind of Goldfinch altogether, a man, alert and vigorous, and following everything that Philp had to say with the keen interest of a criminal barrister.
"Now, that is a most extraordinary thing," he exclaimed, when at length Philp had finished. "My dear fellow I hope you have not lost faith in poor David Macrae."
"Not for a moment," Philp said. "I still believe him to be innocent, but you must admit, doctor, that the evidence we have discovered is terribly against him. Perhaps it is fortunate, on the whole, that it is we who have discovered this evidence, and not the police. I am not going so far as to say that we are justified in suppressing it, but there is no reason why we should disclose it for the present. Still, it certainly looks bad. Here we have traced a coat, apparently belonging to David Macrae, and, according to your analysis that coat shows traces of human blood. It also has upon it hairs from a dog which you have identified as those belonging to Bragger. That coat was dug up very near the scene of the murder by Bragger himself, and the dog showed marked signs of hostility—"
"Ah," the doctor interrupted impatiently, "that is just where you trip up. You criminal lawyers don't know everything, and let me remind you that the dog Bragger is the best of friends with David Macrae. He will go anywhere with him. Now, that being so, and there is no denying it, why should the terrier show a disposition to destroy a coat belonging to one of his best friends?"
"Ah, that is a very good point," Philp said, "and I am glad you thought of it. But there is no getting away from the fact that the coat belonged to Macrae."
"I don't believe it did," the doctor said. "Now, that coat undoubtedly belonged to a 'Varsity man, and Macrae was at neither of our universities. This being so, he would hardly be the man to masquerade in the boating jacket of some famous college. You must admit that, my dear fellow."
"Oh, I am prepared to admit anything in Macrae's favor," Philp smiled. "But let us carry the argument a bit further. Macrae is an economical man, and when he came here a year go, he was in very different circumstances from what he is now. He is fond of cricket, and I understand quite one of the best tennis players in the club here. That being so, it was necessary for him to have a proper set of flannels. What more natural then, that he should buy a secondhand boating blazer and have it dyed?"
The doctor rather grudgingly conceded the point.
"Of course, that is possible," he said. "But even if it is so, that does not get away from the fact that Bragger was hostile to the owner, and if the owner was Macrae, then how do you account for the terrier's conduct? He is a clever dog, is Bragger, and if he could only speak I am sure he would be able to give us some vital evidence."
The two men were still discussing this point when Philippa came into the room. Philp hesitated just for a moment before he decided it would be far better in the long run to tell her exactly what had happened. She listened to all he had to say with a pale face, and a sinking heart; then she lifted her head and looked proudly at the speaker.
"I suppose, as a lawyer, you must look at the thing from every side," she said. "Still, I know you are wrong, because David never had a coat like that. I have never seen him in a flannel jacket of any sort, nor do I believe he possessed one. But don't you think it would be better to ask him? I suppose when you go to the goal you see David alone?"
"Oh, there is no difficulty about that," Philp said. "I can go any time by appointment; but if I drop in casually, then I can only stay a few minutes. However, yours is a very good suggestion, and I think I will go along at once."
No obstacle was placed in Philp's way, so that half an hour later he was alone in the narrow whitewashed cell with his client. It seemed to him that the anxiety and solitary confinement of the last day or two were beginning to tell upon Macrae, for he looked white and anxious, and there was a certain vague detachment about him that Philp did not like at all. Still, he cheered up a little as Philp appeared, and looked at the latter eagerly, as if expecting something in the way of good news.
"Well, how are you feeling?" Philp asked.
"I am feeling well enough in myself," Macrae said. "But this suspense is beginning to get on my nerves. That is the worst of being an imaginative man. I sit here, hour after hour, thinking of all sorts of horrors, until I can hardly contain myself. I should be much happier if they would only place me in a cell with somebody else. It would not much matter who it was, so long as I had someone to talk to. But I suppose that is impossible. In a serious charge like this, the law shows very little mercy to a prisoner. My goodness, Philp, the days are long. It is quite early yet, and still I feel as if I had been up for years. Can't you ask them to make things a bit easier for me?"
"I am afraid not," Philp said. "You must try and be a man, Macrae. Remember that we are all doing our best for you, and that every friend you have believes in your innocence. I tell you, that before long I shall be able to prove it. But meanwhile things have not been quite as well as I could have hoped. Now sit down and follow me carefully."
With a sigh Macrae sat on his stool, and prepared himself to listen to all that Philp had to say.
"I want you to cast your mind back a few days," the latter went on. "I suppose you remember Philippa telling you all about a coat that she had found on the common? I mean the one that the dog Bragger managed to unearth."
"Yes, I remember that," Macrae said listlessly. "But what has that got to do with my case?"
"That is what I am here to find out," Philp said. "Now that coat was a college blazer, and a boating coat, because it had silk binding, and was evidently made of some self-color. I mean it hadn't gaudy stripes, like the cricket blazer. We have examined it carefully, and come to the conclusion that it was dyed by somebody who obtained possession of it from its owner, who probably was a University man. From certain indications under the silk binding, where the dye had not done its work properly, Dr. Goldfinch says that it was a Brazenose College boating blazer."
"Still I am just as much in the dark," Macrae said.
"Well, we are coming to the light now, anyway. That coat was taken to a woman who kept a little shop in Exmoor street, and her name is James. She says that the coat was taken to her about a year ago by a customer who ordered her to have it dyed black. It came back in the course of a little over a week, and she delivered it to her customer's lodgings."
Macrae glanced up with a vivid look in his eyes, "You mean me?" he cried. "Yes, that is true enough. I did take her a college blazer to be dyed, and it did come back within about a week. But I assure you—"
At that moment the cell door was thrown open, and one of the gaolers came hastily in. "Your time is up, Mr. Philp," he said. "Ten minutes."
"All right," Philp said impatiently. "Macrae, I will come again tomorrow morning with a proper order, and then we shall be able to go into this matter properly."
Meanwhile, Peterson had gone off to carry out the instructions which Philp had given him. He wanted to find Lidgett, and lead that individual into some obscure little public house, where they could sit down and talk without much fear of interruption, and, at the same time, he would have to be particularly careful not to let that seedy individual know that he was being sought for with any ulterior motives. It was a game that required a certain amount of diplomacy; but Peterson managed it at length, and shortly after 6 o'clock, led his victim, all too willing, into a little beer house that stood by the side of the river.
It was too early in the evening yet, for any company to have gathered together, so that they had the place to themselves. There was a comfortable seat in a kind of arbor on the river's bank, and it was into this that Peterson led the way.
"We shall be quite comfortable here," he said. "Now, what is it to be? Can you manage a quart?"
Lidgett intimated that he could manage a quart of the landlord's famous ale without the slightest inconvenience to his capacity. He not only managed this, but he contrived to imbibe another measure of the same quantity before he began to thaw and respond to Peterson's questions. It was nothing to him who his companion was, as long as he was one of the generous type, and apparently able to pay for as much beer as the thirsty one could consume. He was beginning to get a bit thick in his utterance, but Peterson could see his mind was perfectly clear as he gradually brought the conversation round to the Hitherfield murder.
"A very queer case, isn't it?" he asked. "One of the queerest cases I ever heard of. But I dare say there are one or two people who could tell us a story if they liked."
"Aye, these be," Lidgett chuckled as he lurched a little in his companion's direction. "I could, for one, but I ain't going to get myself into trouble, not me."
"Quite right, too," Peterson said. "And that reminds me, you were a witness in the case, weren't you?"
"I was that, guvnor, and I don't want no more of it. They fairly frightened me, till I didn't know what I was doing."
"What do you mean by that?" Peterson asked. "Didn't you tell the magistrates that you saw Mr. Macrae—"
"And so I thought at first," Lidgett said.
"At first. I don't quite know what you mean by at first."
"Well, you see, it was like this, guvnor, I'd 'ad a drink or two. I works on the tennis club odd times, and I has to put things away in the evening. Between you and me, I was in the pavilion after the members had gone on the night as old Baines was done in, and on the floor of the dressing room I picks up half-a-crown. So I just comes to the very place where we are sitting, and I does myself proper. I came at once, mind you, and don't wait; when all my money was gone, I recollects as how I's left my waistcoat on the seat of the verandah of the pavilion. Mind you, I were pretty full, and I didn't know much what I was doing; but I gets my waistcoat and puts it on, and I sits down on the verandah, pulling myself together like. And then I see someone come along, across the lawns, and let himself into the pavilion. 'E'd got his own key, because, you see, the club hadn't much 'elp during the war, and the men members used to come along in the evenings after business and do a bit of cutting and rolling, and such like. That's why they all had keys given them."
"Well, get on," Peterson said, impatiently.
"Ain't I a-gettin' on?" Lidgett said, sulkily. "It was pretty dark by that time, not far off 10 o'clock, and I wasn't none too sober. So I sits there, quite quiet, and I sees the gentleman go into the pavilion and come out again. Thinks I to myself, that's Mr. Macrae, and, honest, I thought it was him, and I goes on thinkin' so till the day after I give my evidence, and then things seemed to clear like. I begin to have my doubts when that lawyer chap was asking me questions; but next day I was sure I was wrong. Because it wasn't Mr. Macrae at all."
"Did you know who it was?" Peterson asked.
"Well, I did half an hour ago," Lidgett said. "But that beer has all muddled me up again, and now, in a manner o' speaking, I don't know where I am. But if you like to ask me to come round another night in this friendly way, maybe I can tell you."
Peterson swallowed his disappointment as well as he could. Either this man was fooling him, or the amount of liquor he had consumed had really clouded his muddy faculties. Perhaps it was the latter, and, if so, Peterson would have to possess his soul in patience. Therefore, he turned the subject aside, as if it had been of no importance, and casually suggested further refreshments, which reduced Lidgett to silence and a desire to slumber. Still, the ice had been broken now, and it should be an easy matter to get what Peterson wanted on the next occasion, which he had decided would be the following night.
He slid away presently, leaving Lidgett snoring on a bench, and went back to Hitherfield with a feeling that he had not been altogether wasting his time. He might, or might not be on the verge of an important discovery, but of that he could not be certain till a few more hours had elapsed. At any rate, he knew now perfectly well that it was not Macrae that Lidgett had seen on the night of the murder in the neighborhood of the tennis pavilion. All this he conveyed presently to Philp, who gave it a good deal more attention than it seemed to deserve.
"You evidently have not been wasting your time," Philp said. "You have established one important fact, and, what is better still, you have given me an idea. Now, don't stay here any longer, because I have a good deal to do. Keep your eyes on Lidgett, and he careful not to give him too much to drink tomorrow, until you have found out who it was he saw in the neighborhood of the pavilion. It's more important than you may think."
"Very good, sir," Peterson said. "I may be wrong, but I fancy that Lidgett knows a good deal if we can only get him to speak. But the man is frightened. He has all the horror of a police court that goes to his class, and he would go a long way to save himself from giving further evidence. I don't mean to suggest that he has been bribed, or that he is doing a bit of quiet blackmail. It is that he merely hates anything to do with the law, and I believe that he would see Macrae hanged rather than come forward and give evidence on his behalf, even if he knew he was innocent, and also, the name of the murderer."
"You don't suggest he knows that, Peterson?"
"No, I don't," Peterson replied. "If he did, then his manner would have been quite different. He made a mistake, and you will remember that he did his best, in his blundering way, to put it right when he gave evidence. But I do believe he remembers now who it was that he saw outside the pavilion, though I do not altogether see how the fact is going to help us."
"I don't see it myself, as far as that goes." Philp confessed. "But if it is the man I suspect, then it will go very far to confirm a theory I have formed. But I cannot tell you what that theory is until I have seen Mr. Macrae again. I have arranged for half an hour's interview with him tomorrow morning, and when I come away I shall possibly bring some valuable information with me. I shall be disappointed if I don't."
A further night in prison had left its mark on Macrae. He seemed to be listless and absent, very much as if his mind was suffering under the strain, and it was some time before Philp could bring him to take an interest in his own case.
"Here, try and pull yourself together," he said. "When I was here yesterday I was asking you certain questions about a boating coat. You remember that, don't you?"
"Yes. I remember that," Macrae said, absently.
"Very well then. That coat was in your possession. You took it to the woman James, and you asked her to have it dyed. This was done, and the coat returned to you at your lodgings. Now I want you to tell me where you bought that coat, or the name of the tailor who made it for you."
Macrae looked up with no sort of interest in his eyes. He was like a man absolutely dazed, or a sufferer on the verge of some terrible mental illness.
"I never had it made for me at all," he said. "It wasn't my coat. I have never had a boating blazer. I couldn't afford such things. And, besides, I have hardly been on the river since I came here. You see, my game is tennis."
"Oh, I know all about that," Philp said. "I want you to tell me where you got that coat from. Wake up, man! Do you realise what all this means to you?"
"I suppose I do," Macrae said, stupidly. "Oh, that coat. Ah, yes. You see, it was like this. Not long after I came here last summer I went with a lot of people for a river picnic. There were about twenty of us in two large boats, and we pulled up-stream as far as Dunham Castle. There was a good deal of fun going on, especially on the way back, and, feeling a bit chilly, in a thin shirt, I picked up a blazer lying on one of the thwarts, and put it round my shoulders like a towel."
"Ah, now we are getting on," Philp said. "What sort of a blazer was it? A college one?"
"I think so," Macrae went on. "It was dark brown or blue, I forget which, or, perhaps, black; but it was bound round the edges with orange-colored silk, and the same on the pockets. There was a badge of some sort on the breast pocket; but I could not say what it was. Then something happened, and the coat slipped from my shoulders and dropped into the river. When I got it out it was soaked, and the chap it belongs to told me not to bother anything about it, but to throw it back again. I thought that was rather foolish, so I brought that coat back and had it dried, and, because the colors had run, I sent it to be dyed. It looked so well when it came back that I took it to the owner, and he used it all the rest of the summer as a tennis coat. I believe it is hanging up in the pavilion now."
"And whose coat was it?" Philp asked, quietly. "Did it belong to anybody living in Hitherfield?"
Macrae looked up, somewhat wearily. "I thought I told you," he said. "If it really matters, the coat is the property of Richard Farrell."
David Macrae did not in the least appear to understand the full significance of what he was saying. He had lapsed, apparently, into a perfectly apathetic stage, and seemed to have resigned himself to the worst. Philp regarded him with a certain annoyance, but that feeling soon passed. Perhaps, in the circumstances, it was only natural. Well, before long it would not matter.
"What happened after that?" he asked.
"I don't know what you mean," Macrae went on, in the same listless way. "What could happen? After I had done my best to put matters right I took the coat back to Farrell, and told him what I had done. Then he told me that the coat did not really belong to him at all; it was the property of a friend who came down here to stay a few days with him, and he left it when he went away. So you see Farrell wore it sometimes, though he had no sort of right to do so, as the thing was a University boating coat, and Farrell was not a 'Varsity man. Not that there was much harm in it. Anyway, he took the coat, saying it would do very well for tennis, and he hung it up on the knob of his locker, and there it stayed all last season. It was still there when the tennis season began this year, and the day before Baines' murder I saw it there. But what has all this to do with my case?"
Philp evaded the question. It seemed almost amazing to him that Macrae could not see the connection, especially as he knew all about the dog Bragger and the strange way he had behaved with regard to the property found by him on the common.
"Never mind about that for the moment," he said. "That coat belonged to Baines—I mean Farrell—and after you had it dyed you gave it back to him, and he used it all last season for tennis. It was left in the tennis pavilion all the winter, and was there when you opened play this year. Has Farrell been a regular player since the courts were opened this summer?"
"I don't think he has been up once," Macrae said. "You see, Farrell has been quite a different man lately, and, of course, we are not particularly friendly."
"Ah, that I can understand," Philp said.
"Yes, a year ago Farrell and myself were on very good terms. I was a newcomer then, and he went out of his way to make himself agreeable. He proposed me for the tennis and rowing clubs, but then I had not met Philippa. When he realised that I was a rival, then his manner changed altogether. No doubt Philippa would have married him if I had not come along, but I don't think we need go into that. For a long time now Farrell has avoided all his old friends, and I don't believe he has been near the tennis club since we started to play, and I know he hasn't been on the river. He has taken up with a different set altogether, racing and billiards, and all that sort of thing."
"Yes, I understood that," Philp said. "And is it true that every member of the tennis club has a key to the pavilion?"
"Certainly it is. You see, until quite recently we have had no regular ground-staff, and during the last year of the war, most of the men members were in the habit of turning out in their spare time to look after the courts. I had a key given me, but I never used it, because soon after I joined the club we had our old workman back again."
"Oh, then you have got a key, have you?" Philp asked. "I wonder if you could let me have it?"
"As a matter of fact I have got it in my pocket," Macrae said. "It's a Yale key, and I carry it on my bunch with the rest. I wonder that they didn't take it off when they brought me here; but if you want it, you shall have it."
In the same detached, listless sort of way, Macrae handed over the key, which Philp promptly pocketed. Then he stood up and laid his hand on Macrae's shoulder.
"I don't like to see you like this, my dear fellow," he said. "Making all due allowance for the artistic temperament, I am still rather annoyed to find you in this low condition. You must cheer up, and hope for the best. Now, look here, it only wants a few days now till the next hearing of your case, and I promise you most definitely that when I have had an hour or two with the magistrates you shall walk out of court a free man, and not a soul in Hitherfield will doubt your innocence. Now, what do you say to that, David Macrae?"
Macrae smiled faintly. "I almost wish I could believe it," he said. "But it seems too good to be true. And yet—"
"And yet you are absolutely innocent, of course, you are. I am going now, and I don't suppose I shall see you again, till we met in court, but what I say is absolutely true."
With that, he went, and for the rest of the afternoon was busy writing letters and despatching certain telegrams. It was quite dark before he had finished, and directly he felt sure that he would not be observed, under cover of the darkness he made his way through the suburbs of the town until he stood at length in front of the tennis club. He passed through the gate, and with Macrae's key in his hand, unlocked the door. Then, with the aid of a small torch, he went round the lockers until he came to one in the middle slot of which was Farrell's visiting card. There was no flannel coat hanging upon the nob, a fact that seemed to afford the intruder a good deal of satisfaction. A careful search of the dressing room disclosed nothing in the way of a dark serge tennis coat, so therefore what Macrae had said was true, and Philp made his way back home satisfied. He knew now that a most important piece of evidence was in his hands to be produced at the psychological moment. When he got back to his lodgings, he found Peterson awaiting him. In a few words, he told the latter exactly what had happened.
"We are getting on, Peterson, my friend," he said. "I am going to town tomorrow for a day or two, and meanwhile, I am going to leave certain things in your hands. I think you know pretty well where my suspicions lie, and perhaps you have been making a few investigations on your own."
"I have not been altogether idle, sir," Peterson replied.
"Oh, then, in that case, perhaps you can tell me something about Farrell and his habits? For instance, where he lives—"
"Yes, sir, I can. He lodges with an old lady in Water street. She is quite a respectable party, and has one daughter, who is a milliner's apprentice. She is rather a sentimental girl, and a great reader of cheap fiction. One of the sort of girls who is her own heroine, and has dreams that some day she will marry a gentleman and have car of her own."
"Well, that ought to help us," Philp said. "I wonder if you could contrive to get lodgings in the same house? Make yourself agreeable to the old lady, and hint to the daughter that you are a man of some importance. Are you married, Peterson?"
Peterson replied that he was not.
"That is all to the good then. You know what I mean. Get hold of this girl and make a fuss of her. Take her to the pictures, and find out if you can, all about Farrell's movements on the night of Baines' murder."
Peterson winked solemnly, and rose.
"Here, wait a minute," Philp said. "Don't be in a hurry. You haven't told me yet how you got on with Lidgett."
"Upon my word, sir, I had forgotten all about it," Peterson exclaimed. "I had a great time with him."
He proceeded to tell Philp all that had happened, to the latter's undisguised satisfaction. Everything was going right now, and it only needed a little patience and common prudence to get to the bottom of the mystery.
"You have done very well indeed Peterson," Philp said. "Nothing could have been better. And now you had best do as I tell you, and report to me when I come back."
It was a day or two before Philp returned to Hitherfield and almost as soon as he had got into his lodgings Peterson came along with the pleased smile of a man who knows that he has done his work well, and has something to communicate.
"It's all right, sir," he said. "Everything is going splendidly. I have been under the same roof as Farrell now for eight-and-forty hours, and I have found out all sorts of things. The girl and myself are the best of friends."
"And you have found her a great help to you?"
"I have that, sir. You see, she is in the habit of being out late in the evenings, after her mother has gone to bed. The type of girl who has her own latchkey. Well, on the night of the Baines murder, she had been to the local cinema with a friend, to see Mary Pickford in some big part, and that was rather an event. Besides, it fixed the date in her mind. Well, she came back just about eleven, and let herself into the house with her latchkey. The house was all in darkness, and she went into the kitchen to get herself a glass of milk and a biscuit, and as she sat there with the door open the light in the passage went up, and she could see that Farrell had just come in, and had turned up the gas in the passage. She says he was in his shirtsleeves."
"Oh, really. Do you mean to say he had come into the house in his shirt sleeves?"
"He must have done, sir, because he turned up the gas, and there was no light in his room when the girl came in, and if he had come down the stairs for anything she must have seen him. So she just popped out and asked him if he wanted something. He seemed rather surprised, but said that a cat in the garden had been keeping him awake, and he had come down to drive it off. Of course, she didn't quite believe that, but she hadn't any real suspicions, and she doesn't realise now the importance of what she told me. It was not for me to make any comment, but I had my own ideas, all the same. Now, what do you think of it, sir?"
"There is only one thing one can think," Philp said. "We are finding out something fresh all the time now. Carry on with the good work, Peterson, and don't mention the matter to the girl again. She must not know the importance of what she has told you until she repeats it again in the witness box. That will be three days hence, and when I have finished on that occasion I rather think that the mystery will be over."
"That's right, sir," Peterson said. "We shall have a pretty surprise for Hitherfield before the winter is out. And now, sir, what can I do next?"
"Nothing for the moment," Philp said. "But it looks to me as if I shall have a busy day tomorrow."
It was not long after breakfast the following morning before Philp made his way through the streets of Hitherfield in the direction of the office of Douglas and Company, where he asked to see the manager, Mr. Blinn. The latter was busily engaged, and could not see his visitor for at least half an hour. So Philp sat down and waited patiently for his time to come. He found himself presently in a dingy little office where many a worthy man had sought his ruin, but that was a matter of indifference to Philp just them. He closed the door carefully behind him, and took a seat near Blinn's desk. His manner was as impressive as he intended it to be.
"Now, look here, Mr. Blinn," he said. "I have come to place myself entirely in your hands—that is, so far as the Baines case is concerned. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I have got to the bottom of the mystery, and, within a few days, everybody will know who murdered your partner. But, before I can be sure, it is necessary that I should be put in possession of certain facts, and you are the one man who can do it."
"Then you can count upon me," Blinn said, with alacrity. "Nobody will be more pleased than myself to have this business cleared up. Of course, Baines was murdered all right, but I have got a pretty uneasy feeling that the police have the wrong man by the heels. That is what troubles me."
"Oh, well, it won't trouble you very long, if you only do as I ask you. If you will give me the information I want, you will not only do my client, Mr. Macrae, a great service, but you will help the authorities to lay the real culprit in gaol."
"There is nothing I should like better," Blinn cried.
"Ah, then in that case I had better go right down to business. I want to have a look at Mr. Baines' private ledger."
"But, my dear sir, I don't know that he kept one. He very probably did, but I have found no trace of it."
"No, but I have. I have seen it."
"You have seen it?" Blinn cried. "Good heavens, where?"
"Well, in my own lodgings, to be candid," Philp said. "I burgled the old man's safe in his house. You can make what use of that information you like, but, you see, I had certain information to go on, and I found a certain theory, which is turning out to be absolutely correct. In other words, I know who the criminal was and why Baines was murdered. I might go further, and say I know how the crime was committed, and exactly where. But, to make sure of these things. I had to take matters in my own hands. So, with the aid of an expert, I removed Baines' private ledger to my house, and compared it with the business ledger which you placed in the hands of Mr. Farrell, so that he could collect all outstanding accounts. And I may tell you that those ledgers did not correspond. There are two pages missing in the public ledger, which appear in the private one, and if you will be good enough to get both those books here without delay I am going to prove to you the motive that led to Baines' death."
"Amazing!" Blinn exclaimed. "Extraordinary! It shall be just as you say, Mr. Philp. I have got the public ledger here. I got it back from Mr. Farrell when he had finished with it; but I have not been through Mr. Baines' safe yet, though I have a pretty shrewd idea as to where the key is hidden."
"Then, that's all right. We'll have a look at the public ledger first, and then we can go on to Baines' cottage and examine the private one. Where is the former?"
Blinn produced the ledger promptly, and Philp fluttered over the leaves until he came to the part where the missing pages ought to have been. He laid his finger on the book.
"There you are," he said. "You see, the pages are numbered, and two of them are missing. But in the private ledger, which I have carefully examined and which is practically a copy of this one, with a lot of notes in the margin, the missing pages are present. Now, I want to prove this to you, so that when I call for those books at the next hearing of the charge against my client, you can produce them and give us the evidence we need to prove that a certain man who was heavily in Baines' debt has removed from this ledger all the figures relating to that debt."
"But only one man has had those books outside the office," Blinn protested. "No one in Baines' employ or ours would have had the slightest interest in removing those two pages."
"Precisely," Philp said drily. "You know who has handled these ledgers, or, rather, this particular ledger, outside the office, and nobody else has that information."
Blinn's dark skin became a trifle paler. "All right, Mr. Philp," he said huskily. "I think I know what you are driving at. One man has had that ledger in the way of business, and only one man. No occasion, at this stage, to mention any names. And now, if you like we will go along to Baines' cottage and have a look into his safe."
A little later the safe in the cottage was opened and the other ledger disclosed. It was as Philp had said, practically a facsimile of the other book, except that the missing pages were intact, and when these came to be examined it was evident enough that at the time of Baines' death a certain individual was in his debt to the extent of nearly a thousand pounds.
"Well, I'm blessed," Blinn cried. "This is an eyeopener. What do you want me to do now, Mr. Philp?"
"Well, I want you to carry out what Lord Beaconsfield once called a policy of masterly inactivity. In other words, go back to your office and keep this information to yourself. In two or three days you will have a subpoena to attend the police court and produce those two books. Meanwhile, silence."
With that the two parted, and Philp set out to pay a call at the police station on Inspector Dent.
"I am going to astonish you," he said to that individual when once they were alone in his office. "I am going to give a piece of most important evidence bearing on the Baines murder. I haven't told you this before, because I had a fancy to do a little bit of detective work on my own account. But let me tell you this. Some days ago, when Miss Goldfinch was on the common with a dog belonging to a man named Hammer, who is in the employ of Mr. Sam Farmer, she found a coat buried under some gorse bushes. At least, it was the dog who found the coat—a bloodstained serge coat that, beyond question, was the property of the murderer."
With this introduction Philp proceeded to tell his story at length. He told how the dog had behaved when the coat had been found, and how it was impossible that Bragger's own hairs could have been left on the garment after it was dug up. Then he went on to describe the way in which Dr. Goldfinch had experimented on the coat and come to the logical conclusion that the bloodstains upon it were human. He supplemented this with the testimonial he had extracted from Ned Hammer, and wound up by telling the astonished Dent the rest of the details, though, for his own purpose, he refrained from mentioning the information he had elicited in connection with those two ledgers.
"I think that is about all," he said. "I thought it just as well to come and tell you this, because I want to convince you, if there is any necessity to do so, that my client is quite innocent of this crime. I know exactly where to put my hand upon the actual murderer; but I am going to do it in my own time, and in my own way. I am going to force a confession in dramatic circumstances; but if, in the meantime, you want that coat, I am perfectly willing to hand it over to you."
"Well, you have certainly surprised me this morning," Dent admitted. "But, from a strict police point of view, I shall want a good deal more before I am satisfied. I suppose you intend to call the man Hammer at the next hearing."
"Certainly," Philp said. "And I mean to call the dog as well. We can't swear the terrier, but I think he will serve my purpose all the same. And what do you propose to do at the next hearing? Are you carrying the case much further?"
"Well, that I can't say for the moment," Dent said. "In the face of what you have told me, we shall have to start almost afresh. It will probably take weeks before we can get to the bottom or the whole thing. I shall probably call a little more formal evidence and ask for a month's adjournment."
"Ah, that is just what I expected," Philp said. "And meanwhile an absolutely innocent man will be kept in prison."
Dent shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "That may be correct," he said. "But then it is the usual thing, and though exceedingly unpleasant for Mr. Macrae is more or less inevitable. I very much regret it, Mr. Philp, but I am afraid your client must put up with it for the next few weeks. In the circumstances I cannot very well release him."
"No, I suppose not," Philp smiled. "But if I were a betting man I would offer you long odds that next Thursday afternoon, when the day's proceedings before the magistrates are finished my client will walk out of the court a free man."
So saying, Philp rose, and, shaking hands with Dent, returned thoughtfully to his lodgings. At 10 o'clock on the Thursday morning he turned up the police court, and from his seat in the well listened to what Dent was saying.
"Your worship," the inspector said. "I don't propose to offer any evidence this morning. Certain information has come into my hands during the last day or two, which has been thoroughly investigated. If I am right, it will throw another light on the crime altogether. But still it will take time, and I formally apply for a further month's adjournment."
"Has the defence any objection to that?" the chairman asked. "What do you say, Mr. Philp?"
Philp bent down to Farrell, who was seated by his side, rather restlessly looking over his correspondence.
"What do you think?" Philp asked.
"Oh, it is nothing to do with me," Farrell said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "It is for you to say."
"Very well. Your worships, I object. If the police will not call evidence, I will, and when I have finished there will be no adjournment, for the simple reason that my client's innocence will be established. I have all my witnesses here, and I am going to prove my statement up to the hilt."
Farrell looked up in wild-eyed astonishment, while an electric thrill seemed to run through everybody listening there.
Philp flung out the challenge modestly enough, but with a certain force behind it that did not fail to make a proper impression on the bench. There was not a man there who had not known Philp from his earliest days or who was ignorant of the name that he was making for himself in London, nor was there one of them who would not have given a good deal to see Macrae walk away a free man without a stain on his character.
At the first sound of Philp's voice David threw up his head and looked the interested spectators in the face. He seemed to realise that the crisis was at hand and that ere long he was going to hear something of the truth. Philippa, seated with her father behind the solicitors' table, glanced up and met his eyes with a serene and smiling confidence in her own. And then the friendly duel between Philp and Dent began in earnest.
"The suggestion made by Mr. Philp is quite irregular," the latter said. "I must be allowed to call my witnesses in my own way your worships. There is a good deal to be done before I can make matters quite clear, and therefore—"
"That is not my point," Philp said, eagerly. "If Inspector Dent merely applies for a further adjournment, then I propose to call witnesses. Most of them are Mr. Dent's witnesses, but I cannot help that. I made a very deliberate statement just now, and I am going to justify it and save my client much unhappiness."
"As you please," Dent replied. "I certainly apply for a further adjournment I can make no objection. But I think it is a mistake."
"Very well," Philp said curtly; "in that case I will not waste the time of the bench any longer. Call Edward Hammer."
Guided by a policeman Hammer found his way into the witness box, and instantly a thrill ran through the spectators. There was something really dramatic in the appearance of a blind witness. He turned his face instinctively towards Philp, and answered his questions clearly and without hesitation. He told the court how on the night of Baine's murder he had been poaching on the common and had heard certain things that attracted his attention.
"One moment, Mr. Philp," the chairman of the bench interrupted. "I understand that the witness is blind. How, in that case, does he manage his night poaching?"
"Perhaps I had better explain," Philp said. "The witness, Hammer, has a dog—an Irish terrier of extraordinary intelligence. This dog is as fond of a bit of poaching as his master, and between them and a lead they manage exceedingly well. Your worships will see the dog presently. He is not in court just yet, but he is going to be one of my principal witnesses."
Even as Philp spoke there came a bark or two from outside the court, followed by a whine, which seemed to point to the fact that Bragger was tied up somewhere waiting for his master. Something like a laugh went round the spectators, but there was no mirth in it, because everybody there knew by a sort of instinct that there was a thrilling drama yet to be unfolded.
Hammer went on with his evidence. He told what he had overheard close to him when he was lying hidden in the bushes, he described the dog's excitement, and angry snarls, and how, when Bragger came back to him again, there was blood on his fur. A few more questions and Hammer was led from the court. Philp looked interrogatively at Inspector Dent, but the latter merely shook his head, and declined to ask the witness any questions. Then there was another thrill among the excited audience as the name of Philippa was mentioned, and she came forward quite coolly and collectedly to give her evidence.
She told the court all about that walk of hers on the common, and how Bragger had accompanied her. Then she described the dog's excited manner, and the way in which he had dug up a coat from under the bushes, very close to the spot where Hammer had lain a night or two before, and how she had had to fight the terrier for the possession of it.
"Did you notice the coat particularly?" Philp asked.
"Certainly I did," Philippa replied. "It was a black serge boating coat, and I took it home with me. My father pointed out that it was covered with dog hairs, and declared that they belonged to Bragger. I protested against this, because the dog never touched the coat at all."
"In point of fact, you took it from him?"
"No; I pulled it out of the earth, directly it was disclosed. I noticed a brass button, but the dog never touched it, so I took the coat back home, and when my father examined it he declared that there were stains of human blood upon it."
"Did Dr. Goldfinch satisfy himself that the hairs on the coat had come from the last witness's dog?"
"He was quite emphatic on the point," Philippa said. "It was easily capable of proof, too."
"And what happened after that?"
"Nothing, as far as I know. My father wanted to hand the coat over to the police, but you prevented him."
"That is perfectly true," Philp said, turning to the Bench. "I want your worships to understand that I had no intention of interfering with the course of justice, but there were certain good and sufficient reasons why I wanted the matter of that coat kept quiet. Your worships will understand presently. And now I want to call Dr. Goldfinch to confirm what his daughter has said."
The doctor came eagerly forward, and gave his testimony. He described the process by which he had elicited the fact that the coat bore bloodstains, and, moreover, human bloodstains, which were of a comparatively recent date. Also, he described how the coat was covered with hairs which he had identified as those that came from the coat of the dog Bragger.
"That is very extraordinary," the chairman said. "From what I can gather the dog seemed not only to know the owner of the coat, but was also violently prejudiced against him."
"That is exactly what I am going to prove," Philp said. "I say that this coat was being worn by the murderer at the time the crime was committed, and that he was attacked by the dog Bragger. It was undoubtedly the murderer that the witness Hammer heard when he was lying hidden in the bushes. The dog obviously recognised the murderer as an old acquaintance of his, and attacked him, probably just after the crime was committed. The criminal tried to kill the terrier, and very nearly succeeded. At any rate, when the dog returned to his master he had a wound in his side, which was probably made with a knife. And now it becomes necessary for me to prove who that coat belonged to."
There was a pause for a minute or two while Philp exchanged a few whispered sentences with Farrell, who was sitting by his side. Apparently they were having some difference of opinion, for Farrell looked white and uneasy, until at length Philp pushed him contemptuously aside and called for Lidgett.
Lidgett came, awkward and shambling, and perfectly sober, though obviously he had been tuning himself up for the ordeal. He lolled in the witness box and grinned at Philp.
"Now I want you to listen carefully to what I am saying," the latter said. "The last time you were here you gave certain evidence; but when I came to cross-examine you you were not quite so certain in your facts. Do you remember telling the court that on the night Joseph Baines was killed you saw my client going into the pavilion of the tennis club? It was not very important evidence, but you were fairly certain of its truth. And yet, when I put it to you directly you changed your mind."
"Yes, sir; that's because I wasn't telling the truth," the witness said. "And I wasn't telling a lie, neither, mister. You see, I'd had a few drinks that night, and, in a manner o' speaking, I didn't quite know what I was doing. So when I see as it might make a difference to Mr. Macrae, who is a proper sort o' gentleman. I begins to feel as perhaps I'd made a mistake. So I wouldn't swear as it was Mr. Macrae and when I goes away I begins to think. And then, all of a sudden like, it comes to me as the gentleman I 'ad seen going into the pavilion, just after nine o'clock, was not Mr. Macrae, but Mr. Farrell."
"What nonsense," Farrell cried, jumping to his feet. "And what a reliable witness!"
"Oh, I knows I ain't much of a scholar," Lidgett said. "But I'm right this time, and I'm ready to swear it. It was about 'alf-past nine, or a few minutes later."
"Oh, that doesn't matter either way," Farrell muttered. "But you are quite wrong, all the same."
"Still, he swears to it now," Philp pointed out. "I think that will do, Lidgett. I have no more questions."
Lidgett scrambled out of the box, and a moment later Blinn, of Douglas and Co., came forward.
"I shall not detain you long, Mr. Blinn," Philp said. "In the first place, I think you and Mr. Baines were partners?"
"Well, practically," Blinn said. "It was Mr. Baines' capital that ran Douglas and Co., and I was a sort of managing director with a share of the business."
"And Mr. Baines had the run of your office?"
"Certainly he had. He used to come and go, generally before we began business in the morning, and late at night. He had his own key and the run of all the office books."
"Quite so. Then in that case the letter from Douglas and Co., asking my client to pay off a loan of a hundred pounds within a few hours, might have been written on your office typewriter by Baines and copied into the letter-book?"
"It not only might have been done, but it was done," the witness explained. "I knew nothing whatever about it till after the murder; but no doubt Mr. Macrae had the letter."
"Oh, we don't deny it," Philp said. "My client had the letter, and told his solicitor so. Also, he told me. But that is not quite the point. I think, after Baines died, you decided to separate your accounts, and get in all the money that was owing to your senior partner. For that purpose you handed over your books to a solicitor?"
"That is perfectly correct, sir," Blinn said.
"And the name of that solicitor, if you don't mind?"
"Certainly," Blinn said, glibly. "I handed the books to Mr. Farrell, and he took them away with him."
"Yes, he had them one or two nights?"
"Yes, there were a good many accounts, and I saw no objection. I think Mr. Farrell took them home with him."
Philp glanced down just for a moment at Farrell, and saw that he was deadly pale, with a fine bead of perspiration on his forehead. He half rose to his feet, but dropped back again as Philp laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Not quite yet," he murmured. "I wouldn't try and get away, if I were you. It's too late."
All this was unseen by the spectators, and was appreciated only by the two actors in the case. Then, quite calmly, as if nothing had happened, Philp turned to his witness.
"And I suppose you got those books back in time?" he asked. "Did you notice anything wrong with them?"
"Well, yes," Blinn said. "Two of the pages had been removed. They had been cut out very neatly, but at any rate they were gone, and at first I thought they might have been taken away by Mr. Baines himself."
"Indeed! What caused you to change that opinion?"
"The finding of Mr. Baines' private ledger in his safe. When I came to examine the two together I found that they were practically identical. They had evidently been ordered from the same stationer, and each contained the same number of leaves. The private ledger was marked all over with certain notes by Mr. Baines, and it contained the missing pages."
"Yes, quite so. And those missing pages probably related to certain monetary transactions between your late principal and some client. Would you mind telling us the name of that client?"
"Certainly," Blinn said. "It was Mr. Farrell."
A great shout went up from the assembled audience, and once more Farrell rose from his seat. But one glance from Philp was enough to send him cowering back again, with his hand before his eyes and a deadly chill running up his spine.
"Ah! now we are beginning to get it," Philp said. "You tell us, Mr. Blinn, that the private ledger contained the record of moneys lent by your principal to Mr. Farrell, who, by the way, is my client's solicitor. How much money?"
"Well over a thousand pounds," Blinn declared.
"And all record of this is missing from Mr. Baines' ordinary ledger—the ledger which you handed over to Mr. Farrell so that he could collect certain debts? I suppose you insinuated that he had no knowledge of a private ledger, and therefore he thought himself safe in cutting out those few leaves?"
"Well, something of that sort, sir," Blinn said.
By this time everybody in the court was standing on a tip-toe of expectation. There was no one there, however stupid, who did not realise that the drama was reaching the crisis, and everybody there knew exactly how Farrell stood. They knew that he had been deserting his practice of late, and spending his time on racecourses and in billiard rooms, and that the end was not very far off.
"Now I will carry the case a little bit further," Philp said. "I am going to call Miss Elizabeth Pincher, who is the daughter of the woman who keeps the house where Mr. Farrell lodges. She may have something interesting to tell us."
The little milliner's apprentice came jauntily into the box and faced Philp with every sign of confidence.
"I won't detain you long," he said. "I merely want you to tell us all about your movements on the night of the murder, and what you saw before you went to bed. Now, have you got anything in your mind by which you can fix that date?"
"Certainly, sir," the witness said, glibly. "I was going to the pictures with a friend, and I remember the date perfectly well, because I had never seen Mary Pickford before and I was rather excited about it. I went with a girl who lives next door to us, and when I came back at about 11 o'clock, or perhaps it might have been half-past 10, our house was all in darkness. I let myself in with my latch-key—"
"You are sure the house was all in darkness?" Philp interrupted. "No light in Mr. Farrell's room?"
"No, sir, or I should have seen it. Mr. Farrell has a front sitting room, and as I passed along the passage to go to the kitchen and get myself a glass of milk and a biscuit, I saw that Mr. Farrell's sitting room door was open and the room in darkness. I thought he had gone to bed for the moment; then I heard his latch-key in the front door, and I went out to see if he might want anything. But he turned into his sitting room, as if he hadn't seen me, and put up the gas."
"Would you mind telling us how he was dressed?" Philp asked. "What sort of a coat was he wearing?"
"He was not wearing a coat at all sir," the witness explained. "He was in his shirt sleeves. It struck me as being so funny that I went into his sitting room and asked him if anything was wrong. Certainly, he wasn't wearing a coat when he came in, and I know the door was closed, because I heard him put his key in the door. When he saw that I noticed that he had no coat on he said that he had gone upstairs to bed just before I came in, and that he had come down to scare away some cats that were making a noise in the garden. Then I went to bed, and I cannot tell you any more."
With that, the witness stepped down, and Philp glanced round the court as if in search of somebody. He seemed about to speak again, when there was a scurry of feet, and a snarl, and almost before the court realised what had happened, Bragger was by the solicitor's table making a violent attack upon Farrell. Had not a burly constable caught Bragger by the collar and placed him forcibly in Hammer's arms, there is no doubt that the terrier would have done Farrell a serious mischief. He fell back, half-fainting on the table, a pitiable object, with white despairing face and a look of absolute terror in his eyes.
"I don't think I need go any further," Philp said. "If your worships think it necessary, I will put my client in the box. He will tell you on oath that the coat discovered by Miss Goldfinch on the common was the property of Mr. Farrell. It came into my client's hands as a result of a boating accident. My client, who was wearing it at the moment, dropped it into the river, and Mr. Farrell made light of it. But my client had the coat properly cleaned and dyed, and returned it to the owner. It was at one time a Brazenose College boating blazer, and was left in Hitherfield by the owner, who was a friend of Mr. Farrell's. At any rate, my client returned it, and last year Mr. Farrell used it as a tennis coat. I can prove, if necessary, that it hung upon his locker all through the winter, and was in its place the day before Joseph Baines was murdered. The next evening it disappeared, as I know, because I went to the tennis pavilion to look for it myself. It seems to me that I have established my client's innocence, and that Inspector Dent will share that opinion. With what he has learnt this morning he may decide to take other steps. Meanwhile—"
"Stop!" Farrell cried. "Say no more!"
He had risen to his feet, white as death, with a haunted look in his eyes, but otherwise perfectly calm.
"I am going to tell the truth," he went on. "I am going to tell the court exactly what happened. Circumstances have been too strong for me, and I will do my best to put matters right. But I should never nave done so had it not been for Mr. Philp's cleverness. I hated Macrae. Some of you may know why; but I do not propose to go into that."
He stopped for a moment and wiped his heated face.
"I owed Baines money," he went on. "It was a lot of money, and just what the ledger showed. I was practically a ruined man, utterly at the end of my resources, with my practice gone, and nothing before me but bankruptcy, and I should have been bankrupt a few days later if Baines had only lived, so I decided to kill him. On the night of the crime, I went to his cottage to find him, with a knife in my pocket, but before I did that, I called at the Tennis Club and got the coat you have all heard so much about. I changed into that in my rooms, because I thought perhaps there might be bloodshed, and I went to look for Baines. He was out, walking on the common, so a neighbor said, and I followed him. I found him not very far from Mr. Macrae's bungalow, and, after a few words, I attacked him.
"He put up quite a surprising struggle for so old a man, and, when I had finished, the coat was smothered with blood. When Baines lay dead at my feet, that dog appeared suddenly from out of the bushes and attacked me. I had to fight for my life. But I drove the dog off at last, never dreaming there was anybody near, and I buried the blood-stained coat under the gorse bush. Then I washed my hands in a little pool and—no, before that, I carried the body and hid it in the conservatory of the Bungalow.
"I don't say that I wanted to throw suspicion upon Macrae, but it struck me as a good way of covering my own tracks. Then I went back home, feeling sure that my landlady would be in bed, but luck was against me, as you have heard. And that is about all I have to say. I played for a big stake, and I lost it."
With that, Farrell collapsed into his seat, with a policeman on either side of him. A few minutes later he was led away, and an excited audience poured out into the street, where they paused for a minute or two to give Macrae a hearty cheer as he emerged. But he did not seem to see any of them as he walked off down the road with Philippa in the direction of the doctor's cottage. They were alone together presently, seated in the sunshine, and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together again.
"I must try and thank Philp for all that he has done for me when I am sufficiently recovered to speak coherently," Macrae said as he sat there with Philippa by his side. "It seems like some dreadful, evil dream. Philippa, I was actually in despair; I did not see how a could get out of it. And yet Philp pledged his reputation to me that I should be free in a few days, and you can see how handsomely he kept his word."
"It is all very wonderful," Philippa said. "But you were bound to prove your innocence some time. And just think of the hideous hypocrisy of that man. David, but for the mercy of Heaven, I might have been his wife. I might—"
But Macrae would have no more of that. He caught Philippa in his arms and stopped her lips with kisses. And after that there was little more to be said.
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