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Title: The Hand in the Dark
Author: Arthur J. Rees
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202331.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Hand in the Dark
Author: Arthur J. Rees

First Published 1920


*



CHAPTER I


Seen in the sad glamour of an English twilight, the old moat-house,
emerging from the thin mists which veiled the green flats in which it
stood, conveyed the impression of a habitation falling into senility,
tired with centuries of existence. Houses grow old like the race of men;
the process is not less inevitable, though slower; in both, decay is
hastened by events as well as by the passage of Time.

The moat-house was not so old as English country-houses go, but it had
aged quickly because of its past. There was a weird and bloody history
attached to the place: an historical record of murders and stabbings and
quarrels dating back to Saxon days, when a castle had stood on the spot,
and every inch of the flat land had been drenched in the blood of serfs
fighting under a Saxon tyrant against a Norman tyrant for the sacred
catchword of Liberty.

The victorious Norman tyrant had killed the Saxon, taken his castle, and
tyrannized over the serfs during his little day, until the greater
tyrant, Death, had taught him his first--and last--lesson of humility.
After his death some fresh usurper had pulled down his stolen castle,
and built a moat-house on the site. During the next few hundred years
there had been more fighting for restless ambition, invariably connected
with the making and unmaking of tyrants, until an English king lost his
head in the cause of Liberty, and the moat-house was destroyed by fire
for the same glorious principle.

It was rebuilt by the freebooter who had burnt it down; one Philip
Heredith, a descendant of Philip Here-Deith, whose name is inscribed in
the Domesday Book as one of the knights of the army of Duke William
which had assembled at Dives for the conquest of England. Philip
Heredith, who was as great a fighter as his Norman ancestor, established
his claim to his new estate, and avoided litigation concerning it, by
confining the Royalist owner and his family within the walls of the
moat-house before setting it on fire. He afterwards married and settled
down in the new house with his young wife. But the honeymoon was
disturbed by the ghost of the cavalier he had incinerated, who warned
him that as he had founded his line in horror it would end in horror,
and the house he had built would fall to the ground.

Philip Heredith, like many other great fighters, was an exceedingly
pious man, with a profound belief in the efficacy of prayer. He
endeavoured to thwart the ghost's curse by building a church in the
moat-house grounds, where he spent his Sundays praying for the eternal
welfare of the gentleman he had cut off in the flower of his manhood.
Perhaps the prayers were heard, for, when Philip Heredith in the course
of time became the first occupant of the brand-new vault he had built
for himself and his successors, he left behind him much wealth, and a
catalogue of his virtues in his own handwriting. The wealth he left to
his heirs, but he expressly stipulated that the record of his virtues
was to be carved in stone and placed as an enduring tablet, for the
edification of future generations, inside the church he had built.

It was a wise precaution on his part. The dead are dumb as to their own
merits, and the living think only of themselves. Time sped away, until
the first of the Herediths was forgotten as completely as though he had
never existed; even his dust had been crowded off the shelf of his own
vault to make room for the numerous descendants of the prolific and
prosperous line he had founded. But the tablet remained, and the old
moat-house he had built still stood.

It was a wonderful old place and a delight to the eye, this mediæval
moat-house of mellow brick, stone facings, high-pitched roof, with
terraced gardens and encircling moat. It had defied Time better than its
builder, albeit a little shakily, with signs of decrepitude here and
there apparent in the crow's-feet cracks of the brickwork, and decay
only too plainly visible in the crazy angles of the tiled roof. But the
ivy which covered portions of the brickwork hid some of the ravages of
age, and helped the moat-house to show a brave front to the world, a
well-preserved survivor of an ornamental period in a commonplace and
ugly generation.

The place looked as though it belonged to the past and the ghosts of the
past. To cross the moat bridge was to step backward from the twentieth
century into the seventeenth. The moss-grown moat walls enclosed an
old-world garden, most jealously guarded by high yew hedges trimmed into
fantastic shapes of birds and animals; a garden of parterres and lawns,
where tritons blew stone horns, and naked nymphs bathed in marble
fountains; with an ancient sundial on which the gay scapegrace Suckling
had once scribbled a sonnet to a pair of blue eyes--a garden full of
sequestered walks and hidden nooks where courtly cavaliers and
bewitching dames in brocades and silks, patches and powder, had played
at the great game of love in their day. That day was long since dead.
The tritons and nymphs remained, to remind humanity that stone and
marble are more durable than flesh and blood, but the lords and ladies
had gone, never to return, unless, indeed, their spirits walked the
garden in the white stillness of moonlit nights. They may well have done
so. It was easy to imagine such light-hearted beauties visiting again
the old garden to revive dead memories of love and laughter: shadowy
forms stealing forth to assignations on the blanched, dew-laden lawn,
their roguish faces and bright eyes--if ghosts have eyes--peeping out of
ghostly hoods at gay ghostly cavaliers; coquetting and languishing
behind ghostly fans; perhaps even feeding, with ghostly little hands,
the peacocks which still kept the terrace walk above the moat.

The spectacle of a group of modern ladies laughing and chatting at tea
in the cloistered recesses of the terrace garden struck a note as
sharply incongruous as a flock of parrots chattering in a cathedral.

It was the autumn of 1918, and with one exception the ladies seated at
the tea-tables on the lawn represented the new and independent type of
womanhood called into existence by the national exigencies of war. The
elder of them looked useful rather than beautiful, as befitted patriotic
Englishwomen in war-time; the younger ones were pretty and charming, but
they were all workers, or pretended workers, in the task of helping
England win the war, and several of them wore the khaki or blue of
active service abroad. They were all very much at ease, laughing and
talking as they drank their tea and threw cake to the peacocks perched
on the high terrace walk above their heads.

The ladies were the guests of Sir Philip Heredith. Some months before,
his only son Philip, then holding a post in the War Office, had fallen
in love with the pretty face of a girl employed in one of the
departments of Whitehall. He married her soon afterwards, and brought
her home to the moat-house. It was the young husband who had suggested
that they should liven up the old moat-house by inviting some of their
former London friends down to stay with them. Violet Heredith, who found
herself bored with country life after the excitement of London war work,
caught eagerly at the idea, and the majority of the ladies at tea were
the former Whitehall acquaintances of the young wife, with whom she had
shared matinée tickets and afternoon teas in London during the last
winter of the war.

The hostess of the party, Miss Alethea Heredith, sister of the present
baronet, Sir Philip Heredith, and mistress of the moat-house since the
death of Lady Heredith, belonged to a bygone and almost extinct type of
Englishwoman, the provincial great lady, local society leader, village
patroness, sportswoman, and church-woman in one, a type exclusively
English, taking several centuries to produce in its finished form. Miss
Heredith was an excellent, if somewhat terrific, specimen of the class.
She was tall and massive, with a large-boned face, tanned red with
country air, shrewd grey eyes looking out beneath thick eyebrows which
met across her forehead in a straight line (the Heredith eyebrows) and a
strong, hooked nose (the Heredith falcon nose). But in spite of her
massive frame, red face, hooked nose, and countrified attire, she looked
more in place with the surroundings than the frailer and paler specimens
of womanhood to whom she was dispensing tea. There was a stiff and
stately grace in her movements, a slow ceremoniousness, in her
politeness to her guests, which seemed to harmonize with the
seventeenth-century setting of the moat-house garden.

At the moment the ladies were discussing an event which had been
arranged for that night: a country drive, to be followed by a musical
evening and dance. The invitations had been issued by the Weynes, a
young couple who had recently made their home in the county. The husband
was a popular novelist, who had left the distractions of London in order
to win fame in peace and quietness in the country. Mrs. Weyne, who had
been slightly acquainted with Mrs. Heredith before her marriage, was
delighted to learn she was to have her for a neighbour. She had arranged
the evening on her behalf, and had asked Miss Heredith to bring all her
guests. The event was to mark the close of the house party, which was to
break up on the following day. Unfortunately, Mrs. Heredith had fallen
ill a few hours previously, and it was doubtful whether she would be
able to join in the festivity.

"I hope you will all remember that dinner is to be a quarter of an hour
earlier to-night," said Miss Heredith, as she handed a cup of tea to one
of her guests. "It is a long drive to the Weynes' place, so I shall
order the cars for half-past seven."

The guests glanced at their hostess and murmured polite assent.

"I am looking forward to the visit so much," said the lady to whom Miss
Heredith had handed the cup. "It will be so romantic--a country dance in
a lonely house on a hill. What an adorable cup, dear Miss Heredith! I
love Chinese egg-shell porcelain, but this is simply beyond anything!
It's----"

"Whatever induced Dolly Weyne to bury herself in the country?" abruptly
exclaimed a young woman with cropped hair and khaki uniform. "She
loathed the country before she was married."

"Mrs. Weyne is a wife, and it is her duty to like her husband's home,"
said Miss Heredith a little primly. She disapproved of the speaker,
whose khaki uniform, close-cropped hair, crossed legs, and arms a-kimbo
struck her as everything that was modern and unwomanly.

"Then what induced Teddy Weyne to bury himself alive in the wilds? I'm
sure it must be terrible living up there alone, with nothing but earwigs
and owls for company."

"Mr. Weyne is a writer," rejoined Miss Heredith. "He needs seclusion."

"My husband doesn't," said a little fair-haired woman. "He says
newspaper men can write anywhere. And we know another writer, a Mr.
Harland, I think his name is, who writes long articles in the Sunday
newspapers----"

"I don't think his name is Harland, dear," interrupted another lady.
"Something like it, but not Harland. Dear me, what is it?"

"Oh, the name doesn't matter," retorted her friend. "The point is that
he writes long articles in his London office. Why can't Mr. Weyne do the
same?"

"Mr. Weyne is a novelist--not a journalist. It's quite a different
thing."

"Is it?" responded the other doubtfully. "All writing is the same, isn't
it? Harry says Mr. Harland's articles are dreadfully clever. He
sometimes reads bits of them to me."

"Mrs. Weyne feels a little lonely sometimes," said Miss Heredith. "She
has been looking forward to meeting Violet again. It will be pleasant
for both of them to renew their acquaintance."

"I should think she and Violet would get on well together," remarked the
young lady with the short hair. "They both have a good many tastes in
common. Neither likes the country, for one thing." The other ladies
looked at one another, and the speaker, realizing that she had been
tactless, stopped abruptly. "How is Violet?" she added lamely. "Do you
think she will be well enough to go to-night?"

"I still hope she may be well enough to go," replied Miss Heredith. "I
will ask her presently. Will anyone have another cup of tea?"

Nobody wanted any more tea. The meal was finished; but the groups of
ladies at the little tables sat placidly talking, enjoying the peaceful
surroundings and the afternoon sun. Some of the girls produced
cigarette-cases, and lit cigarettes.

There was a sound of footsteps on the gravel walk. A tall, good-looking
young officer was seen walking across the garden from the house. As he
neared the tea-tables he smilingly raised a finger to his forehead in
salute.

"I've come to say good-bye," he announced.

The ladies clustered around him. It was evident from their manner that
he was a popular figure among them. Several of the younger girls
addressed him as "Dick," and asked him to send them trophies from the
front. The young officer held his own amongst them with laughing
self-possession. When he had taken his farewell of them he approached
Miss Heredith, and held out his hand with a deferential politeness which
contrasted rather noticeably with the easy familiarity of his previous
leave-taking.

"I am sorry you are compelled to leave us, Captain Nepcote," said Miss
Heredith, rising with dignity to accept his outstretched hand. "Do you
return immediately to the front?"

"To-night, I expect."

"I trust you will return safely to your native land before long, crowned
with victory and glory."

Captain Nepcote bowed in some embarrassment. Like the rest of his
generation, he was easily discomposed by fine words or any display of
the finer feelings. He was about twenty-eight, of medium height,
clean-shaven, with clear-cut features, brown hair, and blue eyes. At the
first glance he conveyed nothing more than an impression of a handsome
young English officer of the familiar type turned out in thousands
during the war; but as he stood there talking, a sudden ray of sunlight
falling on his bared head revealed vague lines in the face and a
suspicion of silver in the closely cropped hair, suggesting something
not altogether in keeping with his debonair appearance--secret trouble
or dissipation, it was impossible to say which.

"Will you say good-bye to Mrs. Heredith for me?" he said, after a slight
pause. "I hope she will soon be better. I have said good-bye to Sir
Philip and Phil. Sir Philip wanted to drive me to the station, but I
know something of the difficulties of getting petrol just now, and I
wouldn't allow him. Awfully kind of him! Phil suggested walking down
with me, but I thought it would be too much for him."

They had walked away from the tea-tables towards the bridge which
spanned the entrance to the moat-house. Miss Heredith paused by two
brass cannon, which stood on the lawn in a clump of ornamental foliage,
with an inscription stating that they had been taken from the
_Passe-partout_, a French vessel captured by Admiral Heredith in the
Indian Seas in 1804.

"It is hard for Phil, a Heredith, to remain behind when all young
Englishmen are fighting for their beloved land," she said softly, her
eyes fixed upon these obsolete pieces of ordnance. "He comes of a line
of great warriors. However," she went on, in a more resolute tone, "Phil
has his duties to fulfil, in spite of his infirmity. We all have our
duties, thank God. Good-bye, Captain Nepcote. I am keeping you, and you
may miss your train."

"Good-bye, Miss Heredith. Thank you so much for your kindness during a
very pleasant visit. I've enjoyed myself awfully."

"I am glad that you have enjoyed your stay. I hope you will come and see
us again when your military duties permit."

"Er--yes. Thank you awfully. Thank you once more for your kindness."

The young officer uttered these polite platitudes of a guest's farewell
with some abruptness, bowed once more, and turned away across the old
stone bridge which spanned the moat.




CHAPTER II


Miss Heredith turned her steps towards the house. The guests had
dispersed while she was saying farewell to Captain Nepcote, and nothing
further was expected of her as a hostess until dinner-time. It was her
daily custom to devote a portion of the time between tea and dinner to
superintending the arrangements for the latter meal. The moat-house
possessed a competent housekeeper and an excellent staff of servants,
but Miss Heredith believed in seeing to things herself.

On her way to the house she caught sight of an under gardener clipping
one of the ornamental terrace hedges on the south side of the house, and
she crossed over to him. The man suspended his work as the great lady
approached, and respectfully waited for her to speak.

"Thomas," said Miss Heredith, "go and tell Linton to have both motors
and the carriage at the door by half-past seven this evening. And tell
him, Thomas, that Platt had better drive the carriage."

The under gardener touched his cap and hastened away on his errand. Miss
Heredith leisurely resumed her walk to the house, stopping occasionally
to pluck up any weed which had the temerity to show its head in the trim
flower-beds which dotted the wide expanse of lawn between the moat and
the house. She entered the house through the porch door, and proceeded
to the housekeeper's apartments.

Her knock at the door was answered by a very pretty girl, tall and dark,
who flushed at the sight of Miss Heredith, and stood aside for her to
enter. A middle-aged woman, with a careworn face and large grey eyes,
dressed in black silk, was seated by the window sewing. She rose and
came forward when she saw her visitor. She was Mrs. Rath, the
housekeeper, and the pretty girl was her daughter.

"How are you, Hazel?" said Miss Heredith, offering her hand to the girl.
"It is a long time since I saw you. Why have you not been to see us
lately?"

The girl appeared embarrassed by the question. She hesitated, and then,
as if reassured by Miss Heredith's gracious smile, murmured that she had
been so busy that she had very little time to herself.

"I thought they gave you an afternoon off every week at your place of
employment," pursued Miss Heredith, seating herself in a chair which the
housekeeper placed for her.

"Not always," replied Hazel. "At least, not lately. We have had such a
lot of orders in."

"Do you like the millinery business, Hazel?"

"Very much indeed, Miss Heredith."

"Hazel is getting on nicely now," said her mother.

"I am very glad to hear it," responded Miss Heredith, in the same
gracious manner. "You must come and see us oftener. I take a great
interest in your welfare, Hazel. Now, Mrs. Rath."

There are faces which attract attention by the expression of the eyes,
and the housekeeper's was one of them. Her face was thin, almost meagre,
with sunken temples on which her greying hair was braided, but her large
eyes were unnaturally bright, and had a strange look, at once timid and
watchful. She now turned them on Miss Heredith as though she feared a
rebuke.

"Mrs. Rath," said Miss Heredith, "I hope dinner will be served
punctually at a quarter to seven this evening, as I arranged. And did
you speak to cook about the poultry? She certainly should get more
variety into her cooking."

"It is rather difficult for her just now, with the food controller
allowing such a small quantity of butcher's meat," observed Mrs. Rath.
"She really does her best."

"She manages very well on the whole, but she has many resources, such as
poultry and game, which are denied to most households."

When Miss Heredith emerged from the housekeeper's room a little later
she was quite satisfied that the dinner was likely to be as good as an
arbitrary food controller would permit, and she ascended to her room to
dress. In less than half an hour she reappeared, a rustling and
dignified figure in black silk. She walked slowly along the passage from
her room, and knocked at Mrs. Heredith's door.

"Come in!" cried a faint feminine voice within.

Miss Heredith opened the door gently, and entered the room. It was a
spacious and ancient bedroom, with panelled walls and moulded ceiling.
The Jacobean furniture, antique mirrors, and bedstead with silken
drapings were in keeping with the room.

A girl of delicate outline and slender frame was lying on the bed. She
was wearing a fashionable rest gown of soft silk trimmed with gold
embroidery, her fair hair partly covered by a silk boudoir cap. By her
side stood a small table, on which were bottles of eau-de-Cologne and
lavender water, smelling salts in cut glass and silver, a gold cigarette
case, and an open novel.

The girl sat up as Miss Heredith entered, and put her hands mechanically
to her hair. Her fingers were loaded with jewels, too numerous for good
taste, and amongst the masses of rings on her left hand the dull gold of
the wedding ring gleamed in sober contrast. Her face was pretty, but too
insignificant to be beautiful. She had large blue eyes under arching
dark brows, small, regular features, and a small mouth with a petulant
droop of the under lip. Her face was of the type which instantly
attracts masculine attention. There was the lure of sex in the depths of
the blue eyes, and provocativeness in the drooping lines of the
petulant, slightly parted lips. There was a suggestion of
meretriciousness in the tinted lips and the pretence of colour on the
charming face. The close air of the room was drenched with the heavy
atmosphere of perfumes, mingled with the pungent smell of cigarette
smoke.

Miss Heredith took a seat by the bedside. The two women formed a
striking contrast in types: the strong, rugged, practical country lady,
and the fragile feminine devotee of beauty and personal adornment, who,
in the course of time, was to succeed the other as the mistress of the
moat-house. The difference went far beyond externals; there was a wide
psychological gulf between them--the difference between a woman of
healthy mind and calm, equable temperament, who had probably never
bothered her head about the opposite sex, and a woman who was the
neurotic product of a modern, nerve-ridden city; sexual in type, a prey
to morbid introspection and restless desires.

The younger woman regarded Miss Heredith with a rather peevish glance of
her large eyes. It was plain from the expression of her face that she
disliked Miss Heredith and resented her intrusion, but it would have
needed a shrewd observer to have deduced from Miss Heredith's face that
her feeling towards her nephew's wife was one of dislike. There was
nothing but constrained politeness in her voice as she spoke.

"How is your head now, Violet? Are you feeling any better?"

"No. My head is perfectly rotten." As she spoke, the girl pushed off her
boudoir cap, and smoothed back the thick, fair hair from her forehead,
with an impatient gesture, as though she found the weight intolerable.

"I am sorry you are still suffering. Will you be well enough to go to
the Weynes' to-night?"

"I wouldn't dream of it. I wonder you can suggest it. It would only make
me worse."

"Of course I shall explain to Mrs. Weyne. That is, unless you would like
me to stay and sit with you. I do not like you to be left alone."

"There is not the slightest necessity for that," said Mrs. Heredith
decisively. "Do go. I can ring for Lisette to sit with me if I feel
lonely."

"Perhaps you would like Phil to remain with you?" suggested Miss
Heredith.

"Oh, no! It would be foolish of him to stay away on my account. I want
you all to go and enjoy yourselves, and not to fuss about me. At present
I desire nothing so much as to be left alone."

"Very well, then." Miss Heredith rose at this hint. "Shall I send you up
some dinner?"

"No, thank you. The housekeeper has just sent me some strong tea and dry
toast. If I feel hungry later on I'll ring. But I shall try and sleep
now."

"Then I will leave you. I have ordered dinner a little earlier than
usual."

"What time is it now?" Violet listlessly looked at her jewelled
wrist-watch as she spoke. "A quarter-past six--is that the right time?"

Miss Heredith consulted her own watch, suspended round her neck by a
long thin chain.

"Yes, that is right."

"What time are you having dinner?"

"A quarter to seven."

"What's the idea of having it earlier?" asked the girl, propping herself
up on her pillow with a bare white arm, and looking curiously at Miss
Heredith.

"I have arranged for us to leave for the Weynes' at half-past seven. It
is a long drive."

"I see." The girl nodded indifferently, as though her curiosity on the
subject had subsided as quickly as it had arisen. "Well, I hope you will
all have a good time." She yawned, and let her fair head fall back on
the pillow. "Now I shall try and have a sleep. Please tell Phil not to
disturb me. Tell him I've got one of my worst headaches. You are sure to
be back late, and I don't want to be awakened."

She closed her eyes, and Miss Heredith turned to leave the room. As she
passed the dressing-table her eyes fell upon a handsome jewel-case. As
if struck by a sudden thought, she turned back to the bedside again.

"Violet," she said.

The girl half opened her eyes, and looked up at the elder woman from
veiled lids. "Yes?" she murmured.

"Your necklace--I had almost forgotten. Mr. Musard goes back to town
early in the morning, and he wishes to take it with him."

"Oh, it will have to wait until the morning. I don't know where the keys
are, and I can't be bothered looking for them now." The girl turned her
face determinedly away, and buried her head in the pillow, like a spoilt
child.

Miss Heredith flushed slightly at the deliberate rudeness of the action,
but did not press the request. She left the room, softly closing the
door behind her. She walked slowly along the wide passage, hung with
bugle tapestry, and paused for a while at a narrow window at the end of
the gallery, looking out on the terrace gardens and soft green landscape
beyond. The interview with her nephew's wife had tried her, and her
reflections were rather bitter. For the twentieth time she asked herself
why her nephew had fallen in love with this unknown girl from London,
who loathed the country. From Miss Heredith's point of view, a girl who
smoked and talked slang lacked all sense of the dignity of the high
position to which she had been called, and was in every way unfitted to
become the mother of the next male Heredith, if, indeed, she consented
to bear an heir at all. It was Miss Heredith's constant regret that Phil
had not married some nice girl of the county, in his own station of
life, instead of a London girl.

Miss Heredith terminated her reflections with a sigh, and turned away
from the window. She was above all things practical, and fully realized
the folly of brooding over the inevitable, but the marriage of her
nephew was a sore point with her. She proceeded in her stately way down
the broad and shallow steps of the old staircase, hung with armour and
trophies and family portraits. At the bottom of the stairs she
encountered a manservant bearing a tray with sherry decanters and
biscuits across the hall.

"Where is Mr. Philip?" she asked.

"I think he is in the billiard room, ma'am," the man replied.

Miss Heredith proceeded with rustling dignity to the billiard room. The
click of billiard balls was audible before she reached it. The door was
open, and inside the room several young men, mostly in khaki, were
watching a game between a dark-haired man of middle age and a young
officer. One or two of the men looked up as Miss Heredith entered, but
the young officer went on stringing his break together with the
mechanical skill of a billiard marker. Miss Heredith mentally
characterized his action as another instance of the modern decay of
manners. In her young days gentlemen always ceased playing when a lady
entered the billiard room. The middle-aged player came forward, cue in
hand, and asked her if she wanted anything.

"I am looking for Phil," she said. "I thought he was here."

"He was, but he has just gone to the library. He said he had some
letters to write before dinner."

"Thank you." Miss Heredith turned away and walked to the library which,
like the billiard room, was on the ground floor. She opened the door,
and stepped into a large room with an interior which belonged to the
middle ages. There was no intrusion of the twentieth-century in the
great gloomy apartment with its faded arabesques and friezes, bronze
candelabras, mediæval fittings, and heavy time-worn furniture.

The young man who sat writing at an ancient writing-table in the room
was not out of harmony with the ancient setting. His face was of antique
type--long, and narrow, and his long straight dark hair, brushed back
from his brow, was in curious contrast to the close crop of a military
generation of young men. His eyes were dark, and set rather deeply
beneath a narrow high white forehead. He had the Heredith eyebrows and
high-bridged nose; but, apart from those traditional features of his
line, his rather intellectual face and slight frame had little in common
with the portraits of the massive war-like Herediths which hung on the
walls around him. He ceased writing and looked up as his aunt entered.

"I have just been to see Violet," Miss Heredith explained. "She says she
is no better, and will not be able to accompany us to the Weynes'
to-night. I suggested remaining with her, but she would not hear of it.
She says she prefers to be alone. Do you think it is right to leave her?
I should like to have your opinion. You understand her best, of course."

"I think if Violet desires to be alone we cannot do better than study
her wishes," replied Phil. "I know she likes to be left quite to herself
when she has a nervous headache."

"In that case we will go," responded Miss Heredith. "I have decided to
have dinner a quarter of an hour earlier to enable us to leave here at
half-past seven."

"I see," said the young man. "Is Violet having any dinner?"

"No. She has just had some tea and toast, and now she is trying to
sleep. She does not wish to be disturbed--she asked me to tell you so."
Miss Heredith glanced at her watch. "Dear me, it is nearly half-past
six! I must go. Tufnell is _so_ dilatory when quickness is requisite."

"Did you remind Violet about the necklace?" asked Phil, as his aunt
turned to leave the library.

"Yes. She said she would send it down in the morning, before Vincent
leaves."

Phil nodded, and returned to his letters. Miss Heredith left the room,
and proceeded along the corridor to the big dining-room. An elderly man
servant, grey and clean-shaven, permitted a faint deferential smile to
appear on his features as she entered.

"Is everything quite right, Tufnell?" she asked.

Tufnell, the staid old butler, who had inherited his place from his
father, bowed gravely, and answered decorously:

"Everything is quite right, ma'am."

Miss Heredith walked slowly round the spacious table, adjusting a knife
here, a fork there, and giving an added touch to the table decorations.
There was not the slightest necessity for her to do so, because the
appointments were as perfect as they could be made by the hands of old
servants who knew their mistress and her ways thoroughly. But it was
Miss Heredith's nightly custom, and Tufnell, standing by the carved
buffet, watched her with an indulgent smile, as he had done every
evening during the last ten years.

While Miss Heredith was thus engaged, the door opened and Sir Philip
Heredith entered the room in company with an old family friend, Vincent
Musard.




CHAPTER III


Sir Philip Heredith was a dignified figure of an English country
gentleman of the old type. He was tall and thin, aristocratic of mien,
with white hair and faded blue eyes. His face was not impressive. At
first sight it seemed merely that of a tired old man, weary of the
paltry exactions of life, and longing for rest; but, at odd moments, one
caught a passing resemblance to a caged eagle in a swift turn of the
falcon profile, or in a sudden flash of the old eyes beneath the
straight Heredith brows. At such times the Heredith face--the warrior
face of a long line of fierce fighters and freebooting ancestors--leaped
alive in the ageing features of the last but one of the race.

His companion was a man of about fifty-five. His face was brown, as
though from hot suns, his close-cropped hair was silver-grey, and he had
the bold, clear-cut features of a man quick to make up his mind and
accustomed to command. His eyes were the strangest feature of his
dominating personality. They were small and black, and appeared almost
lidless, with something in their dark direct gaze like the unwinking
glare of a snake. His apparel was unconventional, even for war-time,
consisting of a worn brown suit with big pockets in the jacket, and a
soft collar, with a carelessly arranged tie. On the little finger of his
left hand he wore a ruby ring of noticeable size and lustre.

Vincent Musard was a remarkable personality. He came of a good county
family, which had settled in Sussex about the same time that the first
Philip Heredith had burnt down the moat-house, but his family tree
extended considerably beyond that period. If the name of Here-Deith was
inscribed in the various versions of the Roll of Battle Abbey to be seen
in the British Museum, the name of Musard was to be found in the French
roll of "Les Compagnons de Guillaume à la Conquête de l'Angleterre en
1066," the one genuine and authentic list, which has received the stamp
of the French Archæological Society, and is carved in stone and erected
in the Church of Dives on the coast of Normandy. Vincent Musard was the
last survivor of an illustrious line, a bachelor, explorer, man of
science, and connoisseur in jewels. He had been intended for the Church
in his youth, but had quarrelled with it on a question of doctrine.
Since then he had led a roving existence in the four corners of the
earth, exploring, botanizing, shooting big game, and searching for big
diamonds and rubies. He had written books on all sorts of out-of-the-way
subjects, such as "The Flora of Chatham Islands," "Poisonous Spiders
(genus Latrodectua) of Sardinia," "Fossil Reptilia and Moa Remains of
New Zealand," and "Seals of the Antarctic." But his chief and greatest
hobby was precious stones, of which he was a recognized expert.

His father had left him a comfortable fortune, but he had made another
on his own account by his dealings in gems, which he collected in remote
corners of the world and sold with great advantage to London dealers. He
was intimately acquainted with all the known mines and pearl fisheries
of the world, but his success as a dealer in jewels was largely due to
the fact that he searched for them off the beaten track. He had explored
Cooper's Creek for white sapphires, the Northern Territory for opals,
and had once led an expedition into German New Guinea in search of
diamonds, where he had narrowly escaped being eaten by cannibals.

The passage of time had not tamed the fierce restlessness of his
disposition. Although he was not quite such a rover as of yore, the
discovery of a new diamond field in Brazil, or the news of a new pearl
bed in southern seas, was sufficient to set him packing for another
jaunt half round the world. He was the oldest friend of the Herediths,
and Miss Heredith, in particular, had a high opinion of his qualities.
Musard, on his part, made no secret of the fact that he regarded Miss
Heredith as the best of living women. It had, indeed, been rumoured in
the county a quarter of a century before that Vincent Musard and Alethea
Heredith were "going to make a match of it."

It was, perhaps, well for both that the match was never made. Musard had
departed for one of his tours into the wilds of the world, not to return
to England until five years had elapsed. Their mutual attraction was the
attraction of opposites. There was nothing in common except mutual
esteem between a wild, tempestuous being like Musard, who rushed through
life like a whirlwind, for ever seeking new scenes in primitive parts of
the earth, and the tranquil mistress of the moat-house, who had rarely
been outside her native county, and revolved in the same little circle
year after year, happy in her artless country pursuits and simple
pleasures.

Of late years, Musard had spent most of his brief stays in England with
the Herediths. He had his own home, which was not far from the
moat-house, but he was a companionable man, and preferred the warm
welcome and kindly society of his old friends to the solitary existence
of a bachelor at Brandreth Hall, as his own place was named.

He had recently returned to England after a year's wanderings in the
southern hemisphere, and had arrived at the moat-house on the previous
day, bringing with him a dried alligator's head with gaping jaws, a
collection of rare stuffed birds and snakeskins for Phil, who had a
taste in that direction, and a carved tiki god for Miss Heredith. He had
also brought with him his Chinese servant, two kea parrots, and a mat of
white feathers from the Solomon Islands, which he used on his bed
instead of an eiderdown quilt when the nights were cold. He had left in
his London banker's strong room his latest collection of precious
stones, after forwarding anonymously to Christie's a particularly fine
pearl as a donation towards the British Red Cross necklace.

Musard's present stay at the moat-house was to be a brief one. The
British Government, on learning of his return to his native land, had
asked him to go over to the front to adjust some trouble which had
arisen between the head-men of a Kaffir labour compound. As Musard's
wide knowledge of African tribes rendered him peculiarly fitted for such
a task, he had willingly complied with the request, and was to go to
France on the following day.

Miss Heredith had taken advantage of his brief visit to consult him
about the Heredith pearl necklace--a piece of jewellery which was
perhaps more famous than valuable, as some of the pearls were nearly
three hundred years old. Sir Philip had given it to Violet when she
married Phil. But Violet had locked it away in her jewel-case and never
worn it. She had said, only the night before, that the setting of the
clasp was old-fashioned, and the pearls dull with age. Miss Heredith,
although much hurt, had realized that there was some truth in the
complaint, and she had asked Musard for his advice. Musard had expressed
the opinion that perhaps the pearls were in need of the delicate
operation known as "skinning," and had offered to take the necklace to
London and obtain the opinion of a Hatton Garden expert of his
acquaintance.

Vincent Musard smiled at Miss Heredith in friendly fashion as he entered
the dining-room, and Sir Philip greeted his sister with polite, but
somewhat vague courtesy. Sir Philip's manner to everybody was
distinguished by perfect urbanity, which was so impersonal and unvarying
as to suggest that it was not so much a compliment to those upon whom it
was bestowed as a duty which he felt he owed to himself to perform with
uniform exactitude.

Musard began to talk about the arrangements for his departure the
following day, and asked Tufnell about the trains. On learning that the
first train to London was at eight o'clock, he expressed his intention
of catching it.

"Is it necessary for you to go so early, Vincent?" inquired Miss
Heredith. "Could you not take a later train?"

"I daresay I could. Why do you ask?"

"I was thinking about the necklace. Violet was too unwell to give it to
me to-night, and she may not be awake so early in the morning. I should
like you to take it with you, if it could be managed."

"I can take a later train. It will suit me as well."

"Is Violet unable to go with us to the Weynes' to-night?" said Sir
Philip, glancing at his sister.

"Yes; her head is too bad."

"It is a pity we have to go without her, as the party is given in her
honour. Of course, we must go."

"Where is her necklace?" asked Musard. "Is it in the safe?"

"No," replied Miss Heredith. "It is in Violet's room, in her
jewel-case."

"Well, as Mrs. Heredith will be alone in the house to-night, I think it
would be wise if you locked it in the safe," said Musard. "There are
many servants in the house."

"I think that is quite unnecessary, Vincent. Our servants are all
trustworthy."

"Quite so, but several of your guests have brought their own
servants--maids and valets."

"Very well. If you think so, Vincent, I will see to it after dinner."

The conversation was terminated by the sound of the dinner-gong. The
guests came down to dinner in ones and twos, and assembled in the
drawing-room before proceeding to the dining-room. The men who were not
in khaki were dressed for dinner. The gathering formed a curious mixture
of modern London and ancient England. The London guests, who were in the
majority, consisted of young officers, some young men from the War
Office and the Foreign Office, a journalist or two, and the ladies Miss
Heredith had entertained at tea on the lawn. These people had been
invited because they were friends of the young couple, and not because
they were anybody particular in the London social or political world,
though one or two of the young men had claims in that direction. Mingled
with this very modern group were half a dozen representatives of old
county families, who had been invited by Miss Heredith.

The party sat down to dinner. There were one or two murmurs of
conventional regret when Miss Heredith explained the reason of Mrs.
Heredith's vacant place, but the majority of the London
guests--particularly the female portion--recognized the illness as a
subterfuge and accepted it with indifference. If Mrs. Heredith was bored
with her guests they, on their part, were tired of their visit. The
house party had not been a success. The London visitors found the fixed
routine of life in a country house monotonous and colourless, and were
looking forward to the termination of their visit. The life they had led
for the past fortnight was not their way of life. They met each morning
for breakfast at nine o'clock--Miss Heredith was a stickler for the
mid-Victorian etiquette of everybody sitting down together at the
breakfast table. After breakfast the men wandered off to their own
devices for killing time: some to play a round of golf, others to go
shooting or fishing, generally not reappearing until dinner-time. After
dinner they played billiards or auction bridge, and the ladies knitted
war socks or sustained themselves till bedtime with copious draughts of
the mild stimulant supplied by their favourite lady novelists. At
half-past ten o'clock Tufnell entered with a tray of glasses, and the
guests partook of a little refreshment. At eleven Miss Heredith bade her
visitors a stately good-night, and they retired to their bedrooms. The
great lady of the moat-house was a firm believer in the axiom that a
woman should be mistress in her own household, and she saw no reason why
her guests should not adopt her way of life while under her roof. She
was a country woman born and bred, believing in the virtues of an early
bed and early rising, and she was not to be put out of her decorous
regular way of living by Londoners who turned night into day with
theatres, late suppers, night clubs, and other pernicious forms of
amusement which Miss Heredith had read about in the London papers.

Dinner at the moat-house was a solemn and ceremonious function. In
accordance with the time-honoured tradition of the family, it was served
at the early hour of seven o'clock in the big dining-room, an ancient
chamber panelled with oak to the ceiling, with a carved buffet, an open
fireplace, Jacobean mantelpiece, and old family portraits on the walls.
There were sconces on the walls, and a crystal chandelier for wax
candles was suspended from the centre of the ceiling above the table.
The chandelier was never lit, as the moat-house was illuminated by
electric light, but it looked very pretty, and was the apple of Miss
Heredith's eye--as the maidservants were aware, to their cost.

The dinner that night was, as usual, very simple, as befitted a
patriotic English household in war-time, but the wines made up for the
lack of elaborate cooking. Sir Philip Heredith and his sister followed
their King's example of abstaining from wine during the duration of war,
but it was not in accordance with Sir Philip's idea of hospitality to
enforce abstinence on their guests, and the men, at all events, sipped
the rare old products of the Heredith cellars with unqualified approval,
enhanced by painful recollections of the thin war claret and sugared
ports of London clubs. Such wine, they felt, was not to be passed by. Of
the young men, Phil Heredith alone drank water, not for the same reason
as his father, but because he had always been a water drinker.

Under the influence of the good wine the guests brightened up
considerably as the meal proceeded. Sir Philip, in his old-fashioned
way, raised his glass of aerated water to one and another of the young
men. He was an ideal host, and his unfailing polished courtesy hid the
fact that he was looking forward to the break up of the party with a
relief akin to that felt by the majority of his guests. Conversation had
been confined to monosyllables at first, but became quite flourishing
and animated as the dinner went on. Miss Heredith smiled and looked
pleased. As a hostess, she liked to see her guests happy and
comfortable, even if she did not like her guests.

The conversation was mainly about the war: the Allies' plans and hopes
and fears. Several of the young men from London gave their views with
great authority, criticising campaigns and condemning generals. Phil
Heredith listened to this group without speaking. Two country gentlemen
in the vicinity also listened in silence. They were amazed to hear such
famous military names, whom they had been led by their favourite
newspapers to regard as the hope of the country's salvation, criticised
so unmercifully by youngsters.

"And do you think the war will soon be over, Mr. Brimley?" said a
feminine voice, rather loudly, during a lull in the conversation. The
speaker was a near neighbour and friend of Miss Heredith's, Mrs. Spicer,
who was not a member of the house party, but had been invited to dinner
that night and was going to the Weynes' afterwards. She was stout and
fresh-faced, and looked thoroughly good-natured and kind-hearted.

She addressed her question to a tall young man with prematurely grey
hair, prominent eyes, and a crooked nose. His name was Brimley, and he
was well-known in London journalism. His portrait occasionally appeared
in the picture papers as "one of the young lions of Fleet Street," but
his enemies preferred to describe him as one of Lord Butterworth's
jackals--Lord Butterworth being the millionaire proprietor of an
influential group of newspapers which, during the war, had stood for
"the last drop of blood and the last shilling" rallying cry. As one of
the foremost of this group of patriots, Mr. Brimley had let his ink flow
so freely in the Allies' cause that it was whispered amongst those "in
the know" that he was certain for a knighthood, or at least an Empire
Order, in the next list of honours.

Mr. Brimley looked at the speaker haughtily, and made an inaudible
reply. Although he was a lion of Fleet Street, he did not relish being
called upon to roar in the wilds of Sussex.

"Won't the poor German people be delighted when our troops march across
the Rhine to deliver them from militarism," continued the old lady
innocently.

There was a subdued titter from the younger girls at this, and a young
officer sitting near the bottom of the table laughed aloud, then flushed
suddenly at his breach of manners.

"Have I said something foolish?" asked the old lady placidly. "Please
tell me if I have--I don't mind."

"Not at all," said another young officer, with a beardless sunburnt
face. "Personally, I quite agree with you. The Germans ought to be jolly
well pleased to be saved from their beastly selves."

"What a number of land girls you have in this part of the world, Miss
Heredith," remarked the young officer who had laughed, as though anxious
to turn the conversation. "I saw several while I was out shooting
to-day, and very charming they looked. I had no idea that sunburn was so
becoming to a girl's complexion. I saw one girl who had been riding a
horse through the woods, and she looked like what's-her-name--Diana. She
had bits of green stuff sticking all over her, and cobwebs in her hair."

"That reminds me of a good story," exclaimed a chubby-faced youth in the
uniform of the Flying Corps. "You'll appreciate it, Denison. Old Graham,
of the Commissariat, was out golfing the other day, and he turned up at
the club all covered with cobwebs. Captain Harding, of our lot, who was
just back in Blighty from eighteen months over there, said to him,
'Hullo, Graham, I see you've been down at the War Office.' Ha, ha!"

The other young men in khaki joined in the laugh, but a tall gaunt man
with an authoritative glance, the Denison referred to, looked rather
angry. Miss Heredith, with a hostess's watchful tact for the
suspectibilities of her guests, started to talk about a show for
allotment holders which had been held in the moat-house grounds a few
weeks before. It seemed that most of the villagers were allotment
holders, and the show had been held to stimulate their patriotic war
efforts to increase the national food supply. The village had entered
into it with great spirit, and some wonderful specimens of fruit,
vegetables, poultry and rabbits had been exhibited.

"The best part of it was that Rusher, my own gardener, was beaten badly
in every class," put in Sir Philip, with a smile.

"Not in every class," corrected Miss Heredith. "The peaches and
nectarines from the walled garden were awarded first prize."

"Rusher was beaten in the vegetable classes--in giant vegetable marrows
and cabbages," retorted Sir Philip, with a chuckle. "He hasn't got over
it yet. He suspects the vicar of favouritism in awarding the prizes. The
fact that his daughter won first prize for rabbits with a giant Belgian
did little to console him."

"And we raised quite a respectable sum for the Red Cross by charging
threepence admission to see a stuffed menagerie of Phil's," added Miss
Heredith.

"A stuffed menagerie! What a curious thing," remarked a young lady.

"Not quite a menagerie," said Sir Philip. "Merely the stuffed remains of
some animals Phil used to keep as a youngster. When they died--as they
invariably did--he used to skin them and stuff them. He was quite an
expert taxidermist."

"Tell them about your museum exhibit, Philip," said Miss Heredith, with
quite an animated air.

"We also arranged a little exhibition of--er--old things," continued Sir
Philip diffidently. "Armour, miniatures, some old jewels, and things
like that. That also brought in quite a respectable sum for the Red
Cross."

"From the Heredith collection, I presume?" said Mr. Brimley.

"What wonderful old treasures you must have in this wonderful old house
of yours," gushed the young lady who had spoken before. "I am so
disappointed in not seeing the Heredith pearl necklace. What a pity dear
Mrs. Heredith is ill. She was going to wear the pearls to-night, and now
I shall have to go away without seeing them."

Sir Philip bowed. He did not quite relish the trend of the conversation,
but he was too well-bred to show it.

"You shall see the pearls in the morning," said Miss Heredith
courteously.

"I adore pearls," sighed the guest.

"If you admire pearls, you should see the collection which is being made
for the British Red Cross," remarked Vincent Musard. "I had a private
view the other day. It is a truly magnificent collection."

All eyes were turned on the speaker. The topic interested every lady
present, and they were aware that Musard was one of the foremost living
authorities on jewels. The men had all heard of the famous traveller by
repute, and they wanted to listen to what he had to say. Musard seemed
rather embarrassed to find himself the object of general attention, and
went on with his dinner in silence. But some of the ladies were
determined not to lose the opportunity of learning something from such a
well-known expert on a subject so dear to their hearts, and they plied
him with eager questions.

"It must be a wonderful collection," said a slight and slender girl
named Garton, with blue eyes and red hair. She was a lady journalist
attached to Mr. Brimley's paper. Twenty years ago she would have been
called an advanced woman. She believed in equality for the sexes in all
things, and wrote articles on war immorality, the "social evil" and
kindred topics in a frank unabashed way which caused elderly
old-fashioned newspaper readers much embarrassment. Miss Garton was just
as eager as the more frivolous members of her sex to hear about the Red
Cross pearls, and begged Mr. Musard to give her some details. She would
have to do a "write up" about the necklace when she returned to London,
she said, and any information from Mr. Musard would be so helpful.

"It is not a single necklace," said Musard. "There are about thirty
necklaces. The Red Cross committee have already received nearly 4,000
pearls, and more are coming in every day."

"Four thousand pearls!" "How perfectly lovely!" "How I should love to
see them!" These feminine exclamations sounded from different parts of
the table.

"I suppose the collection is a very fine and varied one?" observed Sir
Philip.

"Undoubtedly. The committee have had the advice of the best experts in
London, who have given much time to grading the pearls for the different
necklaces. In an ordinary way it takes a long while--sometimes years--to
match the pearls for a faultless necklace, but in this case the experts
have had such a variety brought to their hands that their task has been
comparatively easy. But in spite of the skilful manner in which the
necklaces have been graded, it is even now a simple matter for the
trained eye to identify a number of the individual pearls. The largest,
a white pearl of pear shape, weighing 72 grains, would be recognized by
any expert anywhere. There are several other pearls over thirty grains
which the trained eye would recognize with equal ease in any setting.
The few pink and black pearls are all known to collectors, and it is the
same with the clasps. One diamond and ruby clasp is as well-known in
jewel history as the State Crown. The diamonds are in the form of a
Maltese Cross, set in a circle of rubies."

"That must have been the gift of the Duchess of Welburton," remarked Sir
Philip. "She inherited it from her great aunt, Adelina, wife of the
third duke. There was a famous pearl necklace attached to the clasp
once, but it disappeared about ten years ago at a ball given by the
German Ambassador, Prince Litzovny. I remember there was a lot of talk
about it at the time, but the necklace was never recovered. The clasp,
too, has a remarkable history."

"All great jewels have," said Musard. "In fact, all noteworthy stones
have dual histories. Their career as cut and polished gems is only the
second part. Infinitely more interesting is the hidden history of each
great jewel, from the discovery of the rough stone to the period when it
reaches the hands of the lapidary, to be polished and cut for a
drawing-room existence. What a record of intrigue and knavery, stabbings
and poisonings, connected with some of the greatest jewels in the
British Crown--the Black Prince's ruby, for example!"

Musard gazed thoughtfully at the great ruby on his own finger as he
ceased speaking. The guests had finished dinner, and Miss Heredith, with
a watchful eye on the big carved clock which swung a sedate pendulum by
the fireplace, beckoned Tufnell to her and directed him to serve coffee
and liqueurs at table.

"What is your favourite stone, Mr. Musard?" said a bright-eyed girl
sitting near him, after coffee had been served.

"Personally I have a weakness for the ruby," replied Musard. "Its
intrinsic value has been greatly discounted in these days of synthetic
stones, but it is still my favourite, largely, I suppose, because a
perfect natural ruby is so difficult to find. I remember once journeying
three thousand miles up the Amazon in search of a ruby reputed to be as
large as a pigeon's egg. But it did not exist--it was a myth."

"What a life yours has been!" said the girl. "How different from the
humdrum existence of us stay-at-homes! How I should like to hear some of
your adventures. They must be thrilling."

"If you want to hear a real thrilling adventure, Miss Finch, you should
get Mr. Musard to tell you how he came by that ruby he is wearing," said
Phil Heredith, joining in the conversation.

The eyes of all the guests were directed to the ring which Musard was
wearing on the little finger of his left hand. The stone in the plain
gold setting was an unusually large one, nearly an inch in length. The
stone had been polished, not cut, and glowed rather than sparkled with a
deep rich red--the true "pigeon's-blood" tint so admired by
connoisseurs.

"Nonsense, Phil"--Musard flushed under his brown skin--"your guests do
not want to hear me talk any more about myself. I've monopolized the
conversation too long already."

"Oh, please do tell us!" exclaimed several of the guests.

"Really, you know, I'd rather not," responded Musard, in some
embarrassment. "It's a long story, for one thing, and it's not
quite--how shall I express it--it's a bit on the horrible side to relate
in the presence of ladies."

"I do not think that need deter you," remarked one of the young officers
drily. "We are all pretty strong-minded nowadays--since the War."

"Oh, we should love to hear it," said the lady journalist, who scented
good "copy." "Shouldn't we?" she added, turning to some of the ladies
near her.

"Yes, indeed!" chorused the other ladies. "Do tell us."

"Go ahead, Musard--you see you can't get out of it," said Phil.

"Perhaps, Phil, as Mr. Musard does not think it a suitable
story--" commenced Miss Heredith tentatively. Her eye was fixed anxiously
on the clock, which was verging on twenty minutes past seven, and she
feared the relation of her old friend's experience might make them late
at the Weynes. But at that moment Tufnell approached his mistress and
caught her eye. A slight shade of annoyance crossed her brow as she
listened to something he communicated in a low voice, and she turned to
her guests.

"I must ask you to excuse me for a few moments," she said.

She rose from her place and left the room. As the door closed behind her
the ladies turned eagerly to Musard.

"Now, please, tell us about the ruby," said several in unison.

The explorer glanced at the eager faces looking towards him.

"Very well, I will tell you the story," he said quietly, but with
visible reluctance.




CHAPTER IV


"It was before the war. Many strange things have happened in the world
before the Boche broke loose with his dream of 'Deutschland über Alles.'
I had been to Melville Island trying to match a pearl for the Devonshire
necklace, and I went from the pearl fisheries to New Zealand, led there
by rumours of the discovery of some wonderful black pearls. It was,
however, a wild-goose chase. These rumours generally are. One of the
experts of the New Zealand Fishery Department had been exploring the
Haurakai Gulf, and returned to Auckland with a number of black pearls,
which he had found in an oyster-bed on one of the Barrier Islands. He
thought his fortune was made, though, being a fishery expert, he ought
to have known better. They were black pearls right enough, but they came
from edible oysters, and were valueless as jewels--not worth a shilling
each.

"I put up at the Royal hotel, Auckland, waiting for a ship to take me
back to England. I had arranged to return round the Cape, to look at a
parcel of diamonds which were expected to arrive at Capetown from the
fields in about six weeks' time. The day before I was due to sail, a
rough-looking man named Moynglass, a miner, came to the hotel to see me.
He had heard of me as a mining expert, and he had a business proposition
which he wanted to place before me.

"He told me he and four others had just returned to Auckland after
putting in six weeks among the volcanic beaches of the North Island,
searching--'fossicking,' he called it--for fine gold. These black sand
volcanic beaches are common in parts of New Zealand. The black sand is
derived from the crystals of magnetic iron, and there is frequently a
fair amount of fine gold mingled with them. By the continued action of
the surf the heavier materials, gold, and ironstone sand, are mingled
together between high and low water mark, and what appears as a stratum
of black sand is found on the surface or buried under the ordinary sand.
The gold is usually very fine, and the trouble of sifting and collecting
it is great. A man works for wages, and hard-earned wages at that, who
goes in for this kind of mining. But your true miner is ever an
adventurer and a gambler, and gold thus won is dearer to his heart than
gold which might be earned with less effort and more regularity in the
form of sovereigns. You see, there is always the chance of a big find.

"Moynglass and his party had met with fair success along the beaches,
but they wanted more than that. Moynglass was anxious to trace the fine
gold to its source, and find a fortune. He believed, like most miners,
that this fine gold is carried along the beds of the larger rivers and
distributed by the action of the sea along the different beaches where
it is found. His theory was that if the drift of the gold sands could be
traced to their source, a great quartz reef would be found which would
make the discoverers wealthy men. But he and his mates knew nothing
about geology, and they wanted somebody to go with them who could chart
the course, and lead them to the launching point of the gold.

"I had heard this theory before, and was not impressed by it. I should
probably have turned down Moynglass's proposition if, in the course of
his conversation, he had not produced a sample of ruby quartz from his
pocket and showed it to me. He said he had found it while exploring one
of the rivers of the Urewera country. I examined the quartz attentively.
It was emery rock, and imbedded in the pale green mass were ruby
crystals, and true Oriental rubies at that. I realized the valuable
nature of the discovery, and questioned the man closely as to where he
had obtained the ruby rock, but he became instantly suspicious, and
guarded in his replies. If I joined his party--well and good: he would
show me the spot, and we would share and share alike, but he would tell
me nothing otherwise.

"I decided to go, and the terms were agreed upon. We set out from
Auckland, the five of us, a week later. We went by coastal steamer to a
little port in the Bay of Plenty, and there we plunged into the Urewera
Mountains. My companions thought of nothing but the search for the
source of the golden sands, but I was interested only in the ruby rock.
There lay the fortune, if I could find it. I carried the specimen of
corundum in my waistcoat pocket.

"The river we were ascending to its source was called the Araheoa. It
was a rushing, noisy torrent, winding along a deep and narrow gorge,
which in places almost met overhead. Some patches of olivine and
serpentine encouraged me to think that we should find a heavy belt of
the rock somewhere along the upper part of the valley, but my hopes were
not realized. Day after day passed, and I found no more of it. When my
companions washed the sands of likely stretches of river beach for fine
gold, I examined the waste for corundum crystals, but I found no signs
of them.

"We followed the river until we reached an inaccessible mountain gorge
which seemed to bar our further progress. But, by diverting our course
some miles to the northward, we were able to ascend to the upper reaches
of the river, and, here, to my delight, I found the banks and rapids
studded with great green masses of olivine rocks.

"I was anxious to examine these rocks, which extended up the mountain
side, and my companions agreed with me that it was advisable to leave
the bed of the river for the spur of the mountains where the river
apparently took its rise. We crossed the stream, and commenced a gradual
but oblique ascent of the spur. But after climbing for some hours we
found our further progress stopped by a wide and deep gully, a sinister
place, full of masses of dark green rocks. At the foot of one of the
largest of these rocks we came across a large hole descending almost
perpendicularly into the earth.

"We lit our lamps and descended. After some scrambling we found
ourselves on a landing-place, from which another low passage of an
easier gradient led into a large cave in the solid rock.

"The surface underneath our feet was covered with a dust so fine that it
slipped from beneath us like sand, and rose in thick clouds about us.
The cave was high enough to walk upright in, and seemed to run a great
distance, with many lateral passages and smaller recesses off the
principal chamber. Moynglass entered one of these passages and
disappeared from view. A few moments afterwards we heard him, in a very
excited voice, calling us to follow him.

"We proceeded stooping, in Indian file, down the passage, and found
Moynglass in a smaller cave at the end of it, staring intently at
something which was at first difficult to see in the gloom. Then, by the
light of our lamps, we made out a sapling sticking up between two rocks,
with a withered human hand impaled on it by a rusty sheath knife.

"As I was examining it, one of my companions, who had been exploring the
cave, gave a cry of astonishment which caused me to look round. In a
corner of the cave, revealed by his lamp, lay two skeletons side by
side. The hand of one skeleton was missing, and in the eye of the other
there gleamed a large uncut ruby. We examined the skeletons and searched
the cave, but found nothing to throw any light on the mystery or reveal
any clue of identity. There was not a vestige of food or clothing around
the remains, and not a scrap of writing--only the two crumbling
skeletons, the sapling, the sheath knife, and the ruby.

"What had brought about such a tragedy in the dim recesses of that
prehistoric cave? Who could say? Perhaps the men had been prospecting
together, and one had found the ruby and hidden in the cave, where his
companion had found him and cut off his right hand with some primitive
idea of making his vengeance fit the crime. Then, perhaps, they had been
unable to escape from the cave, and had died together of thirst and
hunger. But what is the use of speculating? The secret must ever remain
hidden in the cave where the skeletons still lie."

Musard stopped abruptly, and sat staring straight in front of him. His
strange eyes had a fixed look, as if gazing into the distance. His brown
hand rested lightly on the white tablecloth, and the great ruby on his
little finger gleamed fitfully in the light.

"You haven't told us all the story yet," said Phil Heredith quietly.

The other looked doubtfully at the ring of intent faces regarding him.
"I left that part untold for a good reason," he admitted. "It is--well,
I thought it a little bit too horrible to relate."

"Oh, do tell us," said the lady journalist enthusiastically. "We are all
dying to hear it. It is such an unusual and exciting story that it would
be cruel to leave us in suspense about the end."

"Very well, then," said Musard, as the other ladies chorused their
approval. "We left the cave, and Moynglass, who considered himself the
leader of the expedition, put the ruby in his pocket. That night we
camped at a wild desolate spot, not far from the edge of a cliff about
two hundred feet high, at the foot of which the bitter sulphurous waters
of the river flowed into a chasm. In the morning we found Moynglass
lying dead in his blanket, with the rusty sheath knife he had brought
away from the cave sticking in his breast. The ruby was gone, and, so,
also, was the eldest member of our party--an elderly dark-faced Irishman
named Doyne, who, the previous day, had angrily disputed Moynglass's
right to carry the ruby.

"We searched for Doyne all that day, but could find no trace of him. The
next day we tracked across a glacier-like expanse littered with large
blocks of sandstone. It was a grim spot. A horrible, stony, treeless
waste which might have been the birthplace of the earth and the scene of
Creation--a tableland between great mountains, full of masses of
rhodonite contorted into grotesque shapes of stone images; a place where
our lightest whispers came shouting back out of the profound stillness
from the huge castellated black rocks bristling on the edge of a
precipice which slit the valley from end to end.

"It was there we found Doyne, staggering along the lip of the gorge. He
had gone mad in the solitude, and was wandering along bareheaded,
tossing his arms in the air as he walked. When I saw him I thought of
Cain trying to escape from the wrath of God after killing Abel. He saw
us as soon as we saw him, and started to run. We set out in pursuit, but
he fled with great speed, leaping from rock to rock like a mountain
goat. He was getting away from us when he slipped and fell into the
chasm with a loud cry. We found a path down the precipice and descended,
and discovered him at the foot, battered to death, with the ruby
clutched in his hand. That ended the expedition. The others insisted on
returning to the coast without delay, and when we arrived there they
gladly sold their shares in the ruby to me."

There was rather a long silence when the explorer had finished his
narration. The long hand of the clock on the mantelpiece was creeping
past the half-hour, but the circle round the dining-room table had been
so enthralled by the story that nobody had noted the passage of time.

"What a ghastly adventure, Mr. Musard!" began one of the ladies, with a
mirthless little laugh. "Did you never discover anything more about the
two dead men in the cave?"

"No," replied Musard. "As I said, there were no papers or any clue to
throw light on their identity. The skeletons must have lain there for
many years, for the bones were crumbling into decay."

"You have never revisited the spot?" asked Sir Philip.

"I was in the Ureweras two years later with a Maori guide, investigating
copper deposits for the New Zealand Government, but I did not go back to
the valley."

"Would it not have been possible to give the poor things--the skeletons,
I mean--Christian burial?" Mrs. Spicer asked timidly.

"It was impossible to dig a grave in the solid rock. Besides, they have
a sepulchre of Nature's which will outlast any human grave," replied
Musard.

"The thing that puzzles me is how the ruby got into the skeleton's eye,"
remarked the lady journalist musingly. "If that was the skeleton of the
man who killed the other for stealing the ruby, who placed the ruby
where you found it? Obviously, he could not have done it himself, for it
must have been put there after death. Who, then, could it have been?"

"I have no idea," said Musard, in a tone which suggested that he did not
care to discuss the subject further.

"May I look at the ring?" Miss Garton asked.

Musard drew it off his finger and handed it to her in silence. The
others wanted to see it, so it was passed from hand to hand round the
table, to the accompaniment of many admiring comments on the size and
beauty of the stone. One of the young officers, with an air of much
interest, asked Musard whether he thought there were other rubies like
it to be found near the spot.

"Hardly in that form," replied Musard. "It is a puzzle to me how the men
who found the ruby managed to get it out of the ruby rock and partially
polish it. They had no tools or instruments of any kind--at least, we
found none in the cave. Undoubtedly there are rubies in that part of the
world. It was near the valley that Moynglass found his sample of
corundum, with a ruby crystal in it. On our way back, at the head of the
valley, I came across a belt of magnesian rocks charged with ores of
copper and iron, and probably containing the matrix of ruby crystals."

"I wonder you wear the thing," said the chubby-faced youth of the Flying
Corps, handing the ring across the table to the explorer.

"Why not?" asked Musard.

"Well, I wouldn't care to wear a ring found in a skeleton's head. I
should expect the old bus to flop to the ground while I was doing a
stunt, if I had a thing like that on my finger. Aren't you frightened of
being haunted by the original owner?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied Musard indifferently. "There's a horrible
history attached to most jewels, if it comes to that. I am not
superstitious." He replaced the ring on his finger, and added
thoughtfully: "I suppose many people would regard it in that light--as a
grim sort of relic. Certainly, I shall never forget the valley of rocks
where we found it. It was the strangest place I have ever seen--a 'waste
howling wilderness.' And sometimes I fancy I can still hear the cry
Doyne gave as he slipped or jumped from one of the black rocks into
space. I remember how it came ringing back from the cliffs a hundred
times repeated. It was--"

He broke off suddenly, as a scream pealed through the moat-house--a wild
shrill cry, which, coming from somewhere overhead, seemed to fill the
dining-room with the shuddering, despairing intensity of its appeal. It
was the shriek of a woman in terror.

The ladies at the dinner table regarded one another with frightened eyes
and blanched faces.

"What was that?" several of them whispered together.

"It came from Violet's room! My God, what has happened?" exclaimed Phil.
He sprang to his feet in agitation and pushed back his chair. His face
was white, his mouth drawn, and he fumbled at his throat with a shaking
hand, as though the pressure of his collar impeded his breathing. Musard
rose from the table and walked to where the young man was standing.

"Don't get upset needlessly, Phil," he said soothingly, placing a hand
on his shoulder.

Sir Philip had also risen from his seat, and for the briefest possible
space the three men stood thus, facing each other, as if uncertain how
to act. Then the tense silence of the dining-room was broken by the loud
report of a fire-arm.

"Let me go!" cried Phil shrilly, shaking off Musard's arm. He turned and
limped rapidly towards the door, and as he did so his infirmity of body
was apparent. One of his legs was several inches shorter than the other,
and he wore a high boot.

Musard reached the door before him in a few rapid strides, and Sir
Philip came hurrying after his son. The rest of the male guests
followed, flocking towards the door in a body.

The first sight that Musard's eye fell upon as he passed through the
doorway was the figure of Miss Heredith, rapidly descending the
staircase. By the hall light he could see that her face was pale and
agitated. She walked swiftly up to her old friend, and laid a trembling
hand on his arm.

"Oh, Vincent, I was just coming for you--something terrible must have
happened!" she began, in a broken, sobbing voice. "I was going upstairs
to my room, when I heard the scream, and then the shot. They must have
come from Violet's room. Will you go up and see, Vincent?"

Musard did not wait for her concluding words. He was already mounting
the staircase, taking two or three of the broad shallow stairs in his
stride. Phil hobbled after him, and Sir Philip and some of the guests
straggled up in their wake.




CHAPTER V


A shaded light in an alcove at the head of the stairs threw a dim light
down the passage which led off the first-floor landing, but Musard felt
for the electric switch and pressed it. The light flooded an empty
corridor, with the door of the room nearest to him gaping into a dark
interior.

Musard stepped inside the open door, struck a match to find the switch,
and walked over and turned on the light. As he did so, Phil and his
father reached the door and followed him into the room, where, less than
two hours before, Miss Heredith had been with Phil's young wife, and
left her to sleep. The room seemed as it had been then; there was no
sign of any intruder. The cut-glass and silver bottles stood on the
small table by the head of the bed; the gold cigarette case was open
alongside them; a novel, flung face downward on the pillows, revealed a
garish cover and the bold lettering of the title--"What Shall it
Profit?"--as though the book had dropped from the hand of some one
overcome by sleep. But the white rays of the electric globe, hanging in
a shade of rose colour directly overhead, fell with sinister
distinctness on the slender figure of the young wife, lying in a huddled
heap on the bed, her fashionable rest gown stained with blood, which
oozed from her breast in a sluggish stream on the satin quilt. A sharp,
pungent odour was mingled with the heavy atmosphere of the room--the
smell of a burning fabric. There was no disorder, no weapon, no
indication of a struggle. Only the motionless, bleeding figure on the
bed revealed to the guests clustering outside the room that somebody had
entered and departed as silently as a tiger.

Musard went swiftly to the bedside and bent over the girl.

"She has been shot," he said, in a tone which was little more than a
whisper.

"She has been murdered!" It was Phil, pressing close behind Musard, who
uttered these words. "Murdered!" he cried, in an unnatural voice, which
was dreadful to hear. He made a few steps in the direction of the bed
with his arms outstretched, then stopped, and, swinging round, faced the
guests who were thronging the corridor outside. "Murdered, I say!" he
repeated. "Where is the murderer?"

He stood for a moment, fixing a wild eye on the group of frightened
faces in the doorway, as though seeking the murderer among them. Then
his face became distorted, and he fell to the ground. His limbs seemed
to grow rigid as he lay; his legs were extended stiffly, the upper part
of his arms were pressed against his breast, but the forearms inclined
forward, with the palms of the hand thrown back, and the fingers wide
apart. Even in his unconsciousness he looked as though he were warding
off the horror of the sight which had stricken him to the ground.

In the presence of domestic calamity human nature betrays its inherent
weakness. At such times the artificial outer covering of civilization
falls away, and the soul stands forth, stark, primitive, forlorn, and
cries aloud. The strain of the tremendous tragedy which had entered his
house, swift-footed and silent, was too much for Sir Philip. He sank on
his knees by the side of his unconscious son, whimpering like a child--a
weak and helpless old man. There was no trace of the dignity of the
Herediths or pride of race in the wrinkled face, now distorted with the
pitiful grin of senility, as Sir Philip crouched over his son, stroking
his face with feeble fingers.

One or two of the women in the passage became hysterical. The young men
looked on awkwardly, with grave faces, not knowing what to do. There was
something very English in their shy aloofness; in their dislike of
intruding in the room unasked.

Musard, looking round from the bedside, glanced briefly at the prostrate
figure of Phil, and then his gleaming eyes travelled to the group at the
doorway. He, at all events, was calm, and master of himself.

"The ladies had better go downstairs," he said, speaking in a subdued
voice, but with decision. "They can do no good here. And will you
two"--he singled out two of the young men with his eye--"carry Phil
downstairs? He has only fainted. Please take Sir Philip away also.
Telephone for Dr. Holmes immediately, and send for Sergeant Lumbe. And
some of you young men search the house thoroughly--at once. No, not this
room. Search the house from top to bottom, and the grounds outside. Be
quick! There is no time to be lost."

The group in the doorway melted away. The ladies, pale-faced and
weeping, went downstairs together like a flock of frightened birds, and
the young men, only too glad to obey somebody who showed nerve and
resolution at such a moment, dispersed at once to search the house.

Musard was left in the room alone, but not for long. Miss Heredith
entered from the corridor almost immediately. Tufnell accompanied her to
the door, but stopped there, with staring eyes directed towards the bed.
Miss Heredith's face was drawn, but she had recovered her self-control.
She walked quickly towards Musard, who was still bending over the bed.

"Vincent!" she cried. "In pity's name tell me what dreadful thing has
happened? They have carried Phil downstairs, and they tried to detain
me, but I broke away from them and came straight to you. Is Violet----"

Musard sprang to his feet at the first sound of her voice, and wheeled
round swiftly, as if trying to impose his body between her and the
figure on the bed.

"Go back, Alethea!" he sternly commanded. "Go back, I say! This is no
sight for you, and you can do no good."

He still sought to intercept her as she approached, but she gently put
aside his detaining hand, and, walking to the bedside, looked down.
Then, at that sight, her fingers sought for his with an impulsive
feminine movement, and held them tight.

"Do not be afraid for me," she whispered. "See! I am calm--I may be able
to help. Is she--dead?"

"Dying," said Musard sadly.

"Is it...?" her voice dropped to nothingness, but her frightened eyes,
travelling fearfully into the shadowy corners of the big bedroom,
completed the unspoken sentence.

Musard understood her, and bowed his head silently. Then, turning his
face to the door, he beckoned Tufnell to approach. The old servant
advanced tremblingly into the room, vainly endeavouring to compose his
horror-stricken face into a semblance of the impassive mask of the
well-trained English servant.

"Go downstairs and get me some hot water," said Musard quietly. "Look
sharp--and bring it yourself. I do not want any maidservants here to go
into hysterics."

Tufnell hastened away. Musard resumed his place at the bedside, silently
watching the figure on the bed. There was blood on his hands and
clothes.

"Is there no hope? Can nothing be done to save her?" whispered Miss
Heredith.

"Nothing. The lung is penetrated. She is bleeding to death."

His quick eye noticed a change in the figure on the bed. The face
quivered ever so slightly, and the blue eyes half opened. Then the
stricken girl made an effort as though she wanted to sit up, but a
sudden convulsion seized her, and she fell back on her pillow, with one
little white hand, glittering with rings, flung above her head, as if
she died in the act of invoking the retribution of a God of justice on
the assassin who had blotted out her young life in agony and horror.

"She is dead," said Musard gently. "This is a terrible business, and our
first duty is to try and capture the monster who committed this foul
crime."

They stood there in silence for a moment, looking earnestly at one
another. Outside, somewhere in the woodland, there sounded the haunting
gush of a night-bird's song, shivering through the quietness like a
silver bell. The sweet note finished in a frightened squawk, and was
followed by the cry of an owl. The song had betrayed the singer.

Musard turned away from Miss Heredith, and walked restlessly around the
bedroom, scanning the heavy pieces of furniture and the faded hangings,
and peering into every nook and corner, as if seeking for the murderer's
place of concealment. A roomy old wardrobe near the window attracted his
eye, and he stopped in front of it and flung its doors open. It
contained some articles of the dead girl's apparel--costumes and
frocks--hanging on hooks.

His eye wandered to the window, shrouded in the heavy folds of the
damask curtains. He walked over to it, and drew the curtains aside. The
bottom half of the window was wide open.

Miss Heredith, who was following his movements closely, gave vent to a
faint cry of surprise.

"The window!" she exclaimed.

Musard looked round inquiringly.

"The window--what of it?" he asked.

"It was closed when I came in here before dinner to see Violet."

"You are quite sure of that?"

"Oh, yes! At least, I think so."

"I do not understand you."

"I mean that the atmosphere of the room was heavy and thick, as if the
window had not been opened all day."

"It has been a still, close day."

"But Violet never had a window open if she could help it. She disliked
fresh air. She was always afraid of catching cold."

Musard looked out of the window into the velvet darkness of the night.

"If the window was closed before, the murderer has opened it and escaped
through it," he said.

"It is hardly possible."

"Why not?" He turned round and faced her.

"The ground falls on that side. The window is nearly twenty feet from
the ground. And--there is the moat to be crossed. There is no bridge on
that side of the house, and this window opens on the garden. Don't you
remember?"

"I remember now."

"I thought you would."

"Still----" Musard broke off abruptly, and walked away from the window.

Near the window stood the dressing-table. The swing oval mirror
reflected its contents--ivory brushes, silver hand mirrors, all the
costly bijoutry of a refined woman's toilet. Among them stood Violet's
silver jewel-case. Musard strode over and examined the case. It was
locked.

"This ought to be put away," he said.

"I was coming up to get it when I heard the scream," whispered his
companion.

"Perhaps you will take charge of it now," he said, placing it in her
hands. As he did so there flashed across his mind the cynical
appropriateness of the old proverb about locking doors after stolen
steeds.

There was a restraint and lack of spontaneity about their conversation
of which both were acutely conscious. The note was forced, as though
from too great an effort to strike the right key. A curious
psychological change had swept over both since they stood together by
the bedside of the dying woman. It had come with the entry of death.
They conversed hurriedly and guardedly, as if they mistrusted each
other. In each of them two entities were now apparent--a surface
consciousness, which talked and acted mechanically, and a secondary
inner consciousness, watchful, and fearful of misinterpretation of the
spoken word. The faculties which make up the human mind are different
and complex, and mysteriously blended. It may be that when tragedy
upsets the frail structure of human life the brute instincts of
watchfulness and self-preservation come uppermost, guarding against
chance suspicion, or the loud word of accusation. Perhaps through
Musard's mind was passing the thought of the strange manner in which the
murder had been committed, and how he, by detaining everybody downstairs
at the dinner table while he told his story had been an instrument in
its accomplishment.

The situation was terminated by the arrival of Tufnell with some hot
water. Almost on his heels came the young men who had been searching the
house. Musard was relieved by their return, though his impassive face
did not reveal his feelings. Miss Heredith left the room with Tufnell,
taking the jewel-case with her. Musard met the young men at the
threshold.

The tall young officer with the sunburnt face, Major Gardner, informed
Musard that they had completed a search of the house from top to bottom,
but had found nothing. They had also searched the grounds, without
result.

"Mrs. Heredith is dead," Musard gravely informed them. "She died while
you have been searching for the miscreant who fired the shot we heard at
the dinner table. Gentlemen, he must be found. It seems hardly possible
that he has succeeded in getting clear away in so short a time."

"We have searched the place from top to bottom," remarked one of the
young men.

"It is a strange, rambling old place, and difficult to explore unless
you know it thoroughly," said Musard.

"We have done the best we could."

"I do not doubt it, but there are many old nooks and corners in which a
man might hide."

"His first thought, after such a dreadful crime, would be to get away as
quickly as possible," said Major Gardner.

"But how did he escape? Certainly not by the staircase, because we
rushed out from the dining-room directly we heard the shot, and we
should have caught him on his way down."

"Is there not a window in the bedroom? Could he not have escaped that
way?"

"The window is nearly twenty feet from the ground."

"An athletic man might jump that distance," remarked Major Gardner
thoughtfully.

"I still think it possible he may be concealed about the premises,"
replied Musard. "There is an old unused staircase at the end of this
passage, which opens on the south side of the moat-house. Did you find
it? It shuts with a door at the top, and might easily have escaped your
notice."

"I opened the door and went down the staircase," said the young flying
officer. "Nobody could have escaped that way. The door at the bottom is
locked, and there is no key."

The scared face of a maidservant at that moment appeared at the head of
the stairs.

"If you please, sir," she said, addressing Musard, "one of the gentlemen
downstairs sent me up to tell you that he has been trying for the last
ten minutes to ring up the police, but he can't get an answer."

"Send the butler to me at once."

The maid disappeared, and in another moment the butler came hurriedly up
the stairs.

"Tufnell," said Musard quickly, "you must go at once to the village and
get Sergeant Lumbe and Dr. Holmes. Hurry off, and be as quick as you
can. And now, gentlemen," he added, turning to the others, "let us go
downstairs. While we are waiting for the police I will help you make
another search of the house and grounds. The murderer may escape while
we stand here talking. We have wasted too much valuable time already."




CHAPTER VI


The butler left the moat-house at a brisk pace which became almost a run
after he crossed the moat bridge. His way across the park lay along the
carriage drive, bordered by an avenue of tall trees, between an
ornamental lake and some thick game covers, and then through the outer
fields to the village.

It was a soft and mellow September night, with a violet sky overhead
sprinkled with silver. But a touch of autumn decay was in the air, which
was heavy and still, and a white mist was rising in thick, sluggish
clouds from the green, stagnant surface of the lake. The wood was veiled
in blackness, in which the trunks of the trees were just visible,
standing in straight, regular rows, like soldiers at attention.

Tufnell hurried along this lonely spot, casting timid glances around
him. He was not a nervous man at ordinary times, but like many country
people, he had a vein of superstition running through his phlegmatic
temperament, and the events of the night had swept away his calmness.
The croaking of the frogs and the whispering of the trees filled him
with uneasiness, and he kept glancing backwards and forwards from the
lake to the wood, as though he feared the murderer might suddenly appear
from the misty surface of the one or the dim recesses of the other.

He had almost reached the confines of the wood when he was startled by a
loud whirr, which he recognized as the flight of a covey of partridges
from a cover close at hand. What had startled them? Glancing fearfully
around him he saw, or thought he saw, the crouching figure of a man in
one of the bypaths of the wood, partly hidden by the thick branches
which stretched across the path a short distance from the drive.

Tufnell's first impulse was to take to his heels, but he was saved from
this ignominious act by the timely recollection that he was an
Englishman, whose glorious privilege it is to be born without fear. So
he stood still, and in a voice which had something of a quaver in it,
called out:

"Who is there?"

In the wood a bird gave a single call like the note of a flute, the wind
murmured in the tall avenue of trees, a frog splashed in the still
waters of the lake, but there was no sound of human life. Glancing
cautiously into the wood, the butler could no longer see anything
crouching in the path. The man--if it had been a man--had vanished.

"It may have been my fancy," muttered the butler, speaking aloud as
though to reassure himself by hearing his own voice.

He walked quickly onward, and was relieved when he had left the wood
behind him, and could see the faint lights of the village twinkling
beyond the fields. Crossing a footbridge which spanned a narrow stream
at the bottom of the meadows, Tufnell climbed over a stile, and walked
along the road on the other side until he reached a cottage standing
some distance back from the road at the summit of a gentle slope.
Tufnell ascended the slope and knocked loudly at the cottage door.

After the lapse of a few moments the door was opened by a woman with a
candle in her hand--a stout countrywoman of forty, with a curved nose,
prominent teeth, and hair screwed up in a tight knob at the back of her
head. Her small grey eyes, scanning the visitor at the door, showed both
surprise and deference. The butler of the moat-house was not in the
habit of mixing with the villagers, and by them he was accounted
something of a personage. He not only shone with the reflected glory of
the big house, but was respected on his own merit as a "snug" man, who
had saved money, and had a little property of his own.

"Is your husband at home, Mrs. Lumbe?" he asked, in response to her mute
glance of inquiry. He spoke condescendingly, like a man who recognized
the social gulf between them, but believed in being polite to the lower
orders.

"Yes, he is in, Mr. Tufnell. Will you come inside?"

The butler rubbed his boots carefully on the doormat, and followed the
woman down a narrow passage to a small sitting-room at the end of it,
where a man was sitting, reading a newspaper and smoking a pipe.

"Robert," said the woman, "here is Mr. Tufnell to see you."

The man looked up from his newspaper in some surprise, and got up to
greet his visitor. He was not in uniform, and his rough, ungainly figure
and round red face revealed the countryman, but from the crown of his
close-cropped bullet head to his thick-soled boots he looked like a
rural policeman. There was an awkward pose about him as he stood up--a
clumsy effort to maintain the semblance of an official dignity. The
questioning look his ferret eyes cast at the butler through the haze of
tobacco smoke which filled the room indicated his impression that the
visit was not merely a neighbourly call. Tufnell did not leave him in
doubt on the point.

"You are wanted at the moat-house at once, Sergeant Lumbe," he said
gravely. "A terrible crime has been committed. Mrs. Heredith has been
murdered."

"Murdered!" ejaculated the sergeant, looking vacantly across the table
at his wife, who had given vent to a cry of horror. "Murdered!" he
repeated, as though seeking to assure himself of the truth of the
butler's statement by a repetition of the word.

"Yes. She was shot in her bedroom a little while ago while the other
guests were at dinner. You must come at once."

Sergeant Lumbe laid his pipe on the table with a trembling hand. He was
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophe, and hardly knew what to
do. His previous experience of crime was confined to an occasional
arrest of the village drunkard, who invariably went with him
confidingly. His eye wandered to a bookcase in the corner of the room,
as if he would have liked to consult a "Police Code" which was
prominently displayed on one of the shelves. Apparently he realized the
indignity of such a course in the presence of a member of the public, so
he turned to Tufnell and said:

"I'll go with you, but I must first put on my tunic."

"Be as quick as you can," said the butler, taking a chair.

Sergeant Lumbe went into an inner room, where his wife followed him.
Tufnell heard them whispering as they moved about. Then Sergeant Lumbe
hastily emerged buttoning his tunic. There was an eager look on his
face.

"The wife has been saying that we ought to take her brother along," he
said. "He belongs to Scotland Yard. He's spending his holidays with us."

"Where is he?" asked Tufnell, impressed by the magic of the name of
Scotland Yard.

"He's just stepped over to the _Fox and Knot_ to have a game of
billiards, finding it a bit lonesome here, after London. Do you think we
might send for him and take him with us?"

"I think it would be a very good idea," said Tufnell. "But can he be got
at once?" he added, with a glance at the little clock on the
mantelpiece. "The sooner we return the better."

"The wife can bring him while I am changing my boots. Hurry down to the
_Fox_, Maggie, and tell Tom he's wanted at once."

"Don't tell him what it's for until you get him outside," hastily
counselled the butler as the policeman's wife was departing on her
errand. "Sir Philip won't like it if he hears that what happened
to-night was discussed in the _Fox_ tap-room."

The little clock on the mantelpiece had barely ticked off five
additional minutes when Mrs. Lumbe returned in a breathless state,
accompanied by a young man with billiard chalk on his coat and hands.

"This is my brother, Detective Caldew," said Mrs. Lumbe, between pants,
to the butler. "I told him about the murder, and we hurried back as fast
as we could."

"It's a horrible crime, and we must lose no time while there is still a
chance of catching the murderer," said the young man, regaining his
breath more easily than his stout sister. He brushed the billiard chalk
off his clothes as he spoke. "Let us go at once."

Tufnell cast a curious glance at the new-comer. He saw a man of about
thirty-five, tall, well-built and dark, with a clean-shaven face and
rather intelligent eyes under thick dark brows. He had some difficulty
in recognizing Detective Caldew as the village urchin of a score of
years before who had touched his cap to the moat-house butler as a great
personage, second only in importance to Sir Philip Heredith himself.

Tufnell was not aware that in the former village boy who had become a
London detective he was in the presence of a young man of soaring
ambition. Caldew had gone to London fifteen years before with the idea
of bettering himself. After tramping the streets of the metropolis for
some months in a vain quest for work, he had enlisted in the
metropolitan police force rather than return to his native village and
report himself a failure. At the end of two years' service as a
policeman he had been given the choice of transfer to the Criminal
Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. He had gladly accepted the
opportunity, and had shown so much aptitude for plain-clothes work that
by the end of another two years he had risen to the rank of detective.
Caldew thought he was on the rapid road to further promotion, and had
married on the strength of that belief. But another ten years had passed
since then, and he still occupied a subordinate position, with not much
hope of promotion unless luck came his way. And there seemed very little
chance of that. Caldew's professional experience had imbued him with the
belief that the junior officers of Scotland Yard existed for no other
purpose than to shoulder the blame for the mistakes of their official
superiors, who divided amongst themselves the plums of promotion,
rewards, and newspaper publicity. That, of course, was the recognized
thing in all public departments. Caldew found no fault with the system.
His great ambition was to obtain some opening which would bring him
advancement and his share of the plums.

He believed his opportunity had arrived that night. It had always been
his dream to have the chance to unravel single-handed some great
crime--a murder for choice--in which he alone should have all the glory
and praise and newspaper paragraphs. He determined to make the most of
the lucky chance which had fallen into his hands, before anybody else
could arrive on the scene. He had confidence in his own abilities, and
thought he had all the qualifications necessary to make a great
detective. He was, at all events, sufficiently acute to realize that
opportunity seldom knocks twice at any man's door.

The three men set out for the moat-house. At the butler's request
Sergeant Lumbe went ahead to summon the doctor, who lived on the other
side of the village green, and while he was gone Caldew drew the details
of the crime from his companion. Lumbe rejoined them at the footbridge
which led across the meadows into the Heredith estate, and they
proceeded on their way in silence. Sergeant Lumbe's brain--such as it
was--was in too much of a whirl to permit him to talk coherently;
Tufnell, habitually a taciturn individual, had been rendered more so
than usual by the events of the night; and Caldew was plunged into such
a reverie of pleasurable expectation, regarding the outcome of his
investigations of the moat-house murder, that the stages of his
promotion through the grades of detective, sub-superintendent, and
superintendent, flashed through his mind as rapidly as telegraph poles
flit past a traveller in a railway carriage. The crime which had struck
down one human being in the dawn of youth and beauty, turned another
into a murderer, and plunged an old English family into horror and
misery, afforded Detective Caldew's optimistic temperament such extreme
gratification that he could scarcely forbear from whistling aloud. But
that is human nature.

They passed through the wood, and crossed the moat bridge. The mist was
creeping out of the darkness on both sides of the moat-house, casting a
film across the faint light which gleamed from one or two of the heavily
shuttered windows. Caldew, pausing midway on the bridge to glance at the
mist-spirals stealing up like a troop of ghosts, asked his
brother-in-law if the moat was still kept full of water. He received an
affirmative reply, and walked on again.

A maidservant answered Tufnell's ring at the front door, and informed
him in a whisper that Sir Philip and Miss Heredith were in the
drawing-room. Thither they bent their steps, and found Musard awaiting
them near the door. He nodded to Sergeant Lumbe, whom he knew, and
glanced interrogatively at Caldew. Lumbe announced the latter's
identity.

"You had better come in here first," said Musard, opening the door of
the drawing-room and revealing the baronet and Miss Heredith sitting
within. Brother and sister glanced at the group entering the room.

"This is Detective Caldew, of Scotland Yard," Musard explained to them,
indicating the young man. "He is staying with Lumbe, who thought it
advisable to bring him."

"Have you told them everything?" Miss Heredith spoke to Tufnell. Her dry
lips formed the words rather than uttered them, but the old retainer
understood her, and bowed without speaking. "What do you wish to do
first, Detective Caldew?" she added, turning to him, and speaking with
more composure. She was quick to realize that he would take the lead in
the police investigations. A glance at Sergeant Lumbe's flustered face
revealed only too clearly that the position in which he found himself
was beyond his official capabilities.

Caldew stepped briskly forward. He was in no way embarrassed by his
unaccustomed surroundings or by the commanding appearance of the great
lady who was addressing him. He was a man who believed in himself, and
such men are too much in earnest to be diffident.

"I should like to ask a few questions first, madam," he said. "So far, I
have heard only your butler's version of what happened." Without waiting
for a reply he launched a number of questions, and made a note of the
replies in a pocket-book.

Musard, who assisted Miss Heredith to answer the questions, was rather
impressed by the quick intelligence the detective displayed in eliciting
all the known facts of the murder, but Sergeant Lumbe, who remained
standing near the door, was shocked to hear Caldew cross-questioning the
great folk of the moat-house with such little ceremony. He thought his
brother-in-law a very forward young fellow, and hoped that Miss Heredith
would not hold him responsible for his free-and-easy manner.

"Now I should like to commence my investigations," said Caldew,
replacing his pocket-book. "There has been too much time lost already. I
will start with examining the room where the body is, if you please."

"Certainly." Miss Heredith rose from her seat as she uttered the word.

"My dear Alethea!"--Musard's tone was expostulatory--"I will take the
detective upstairs. There is no need for you to come."

"I prefer to do so." Miss Heredith's tone admitted of no further
argument. She was about to lead the way from the room when she paused
and glanced at Tufnell. "When will Dr. Holmes be here?" she asked.

"Almost immediately, ma'am."

"You had better stay here and receive him, Philip." Miss Heredith placed
her hand affectionately on her brother's shoulder. He had not spoken
during the time the police were in the room, but had sat quietly on his
chair, with bent head and clasped hands, looking very old and frail. "It
will be as well for him to see Phil before going upstairs," she added.

Sir Philip looked up at the mention of his son's name. "Poor Phil," he
muttered dully.

"I think the doctor should examine Phil the moment he comes," continued
Miss Heredith, aside, to Musard. "His look alarms me. I fear the shock
has affected his brain. Tufnell, be sure and show Dr. Holmes to Mr.
Philip's room directly Sir Philip has received him."

"You can rely upon me to do so, ma'am," said Tufnell earnestly.

"Very well. We will now go upstairs."

She left the drawing-room and proceeded towards the broad oak staircase,
with Musard close behind her. Detective Caldew followed more slowly,
noting his surroundings. When they reached the head of the staircase
Miss Heredith switched on the electric current, and the bedroom corridor
sprang into light. Detective Caldew was surprised at its length.

"Where does this passage lead to?" he asked abruptly.

"To the south side of the moat-house," replied Musard.

"Has it any outlet?"

"Yes; a door at the end communicates with a narrow staircase, leading to
another door at the bottom. The second door was a former back
entrance--it opens somewhere near the servants' quarters, I think?" He
glanced inquiringly at Miss Heredith.

"Those stairs are never used now," she replied. "The entrance door at
the bottom of the staircase is kept locked."

"There are such things as skeleton keys," commented the detective.

Musard opened the door of the death-chamber and switched on the light.
Caldew walked at once to the bedside. He drew away the covering which
had been placed over the face of the young wife, and stood looking at
her.

Death had invested her with pathos, but not with dignity. On the pallor
of the death mask the tinted lips, the spots of rouge, the pencilled
eyebrows of the dead face, were as clearly revealed as print on a white
page. The lips were parted; the small white teeth were showing beneath
the upper lip. The little nose rose in the sharp outline of death;
between the half-closed eyelids the darkened blue eyes looked out
vacantly. The thick, fair hair, spotted with blood, flowed in disordered
waves over the white pillow; the numerous rings on the dead hands blazed
and glittered with hard brilliance in the electric light.

It was these costly jewels on the murdered girl's hands which prompted
the question which sprang to the detective's lips:

"Did the murderer take anything?" he asked. "Has anything been missed?"

"No," said Miss Heredith. "Nothing has been taken."

"Mrs. Heredith had more jewellery than this, I suppose?" pursued the
detective. "Brooches and necklaces, and that kind of thing. Where were
they kept?"

"Mrs. Heredith's jewel-case is downstairs, in the safe in the library,"
replied Miss Heredith. She did not feel called upon to add the
additional information that she had taken it there herself, and locked
it up, not half an hour before.

Detective Caldew made a mental note of the fact that the motive for the
crime was not robbery, unless, indeed, the murderer had become flurried,
and fled. His eye, glancing round the room, was attracted by the window
curtains, which were stirring faintly. He flung them back, and saw the
open window.

"How long has this window been open?" he asked.

Miss Heredith gave her reasons for believing that the window was closed
when she left Violet to go downstairs to the dining-room. Caldew
listened thoughtfully, and nodded his head in quick comprehension when
she added the information that the bedroom window was nearly twenty feet
from the ground.

"You think the murderer did not jump out of the window," he said. "The
more important point is, did he get in that way? It is not a difficult
matter to scale a wall to reach a window if there is any sort of a
foothold. It is a point I will look into afterwards."

He tried the window catch, and then walked about the room, examining it
closely. His quick, eager eyes, looking about in every direction, were
caught by something glittering on the carpet, close to the bed. He
glanced at his companions. As a detective, he had long learnt the wisdom
of caution in the presence of friends and relatives.

"I should like to be left alone in the room in order to examine it more
thoroughly," he briefly announced.

When Miss Heredith and Musard had left the room he locked the door
behind them, and, kneeling down by the bedside, disentangled a small
shining object almost concealed in the thick green texture of the
carpet. It was a trinket like a bar brooch, with gold clasps. The bar
was of transparent stone, clear as glass, with a faint sea-green tinge,
and speckled in the interior with small black spots. Caldew had never
seen a stone like it. The frail gold of the setting suggested that it
was not of much intrinsic value, but it was a pretty little trinket,
such as ladies sometimes wear as a mascot. Caldew reflected that if it
were a mascot it was by no means certain that the owner was a woman.
Many young officers took mascots to the front for luck.

As he turned it over in his hand he observed some lettering on the
underside. He examined it curiously, and saw that an inscription had
been scratched into the stone in round, irregular handwriting--obviously
an unskilled, almost childish effort. Holding the brooch closer to the
light, he was able to decipher the inscription. It consisted of two
words--"Semper Fidelis."

It seemed to Caldew that the inscription rather weakened the correctness
of his first impression that the trinket had been worn as a feminine
mascot. He doubted very much whether any modern woman would cherish a
mid-Victorian sentiment like "Always Faithful." On the other hand, many
men might. His experience as a detective had led him to the belief that
men were more prone to such sentiments than the other sex, though their
conduct rarely accorded with their protestations and temporary
intentions.

Struck by a sudden thought, he dropped the trinket back on the carpet.
It was just visible in the thick pile.

"A good idea!" he murmured, as he rose to his feet. "I'll watch this
room to-night."

As he stood there, speculating on the possibility of the owner of the
trinket returning to the room to search for it, he was interrupted by a
low tap at the door. He walked across and opened it. Tufnell stood
outside, grave and composed.

"Mr. Musard would like to see you in the library," he said.

His tone was even and almost deferential, but the detective's watchful
eyes intercepted a fleeting glance cast by the butler over his shoulder
in the direction of the still figure on the bed.

"Very well, I will see him," said the detective.

"I will take you to him, if you will come with me." The butler preceded
him along the passage with noiseless step, and Caldew followed him, deep
in thought.

The butler escorted him to the library, and entered after him. Musard
was in the room alone, standing by the fireplace, smoking a cigar. He
looked up as Caldew entered.

"I have just learnt something which I think you ought to know," he said.
"The information comes from Tufnell. He tells me that while he was going
around the house this afternoon he found the outside door of the back
staircase unlocked."

"Do you mean the door at the bottom of the staircase in the left wing?"
asked Caldew.

"Precisely."

"I understood from Miss Heredith that this door was always kept locked."

"So it is, as a rule. It was only by chance that the butler discovered
this evening that it had been unlocked. You had better explain to the
detective, Tufnell, how you came to find it unfastened."

"I was going round by the back of the house this evening," said the
butler, coming forward. "As I passed the door I tried the handle. To my
surprise it yielded. I opened the door, and found that the key was in
the keyhole, on the other side. I locked the door, and took the key
away."

"What time was this?" inquired Caldew.

"A little before six--perhaps a quarter of an hour."

"Is it your custom to try this door every night?"

"Oh, no, it is not necessary. The door is always kept locked, and the
key hangs with a bunch of other unused keys in a small room near the
housekeeper's apartments, where a number of odds and ends are kept."

"When was the last time you tried the door?"

The butler considered for a moment.

"I cannot rightly say," he said at length. "The door is never used, and
I rarely think of it."

"Then, for all you know to the contrary, the key may have been in the
door for days, or weeks past."

"Why, yes, it is possible, now that you come to mention it," said the
butler, with an air of surprise, as though he had not previously
considered such a contingency.

"The key had been taken off the bunch?"

"Yes."

"Do the servants know where the key is kept?"

"Some of the maidservants do. The back staircase is occasionally opened
for ventilation and dusting, and the maid who does this work gets the
key from the housekeeper."

"Who has charge of the room where the keys are kept?"

"Nobody in particular. It is really a sort of a lumber-room. The
housekeeper has charge of the keys."

"Thank you; that is all I wish to know."

The butler left the room, and Caldew looked up, to encounter Musard's
eyes regarding him.

"Do you think this has anything to do with the murder?" Musard asked.

Caldew hesitated for a moment. It was on the tip of his tongue to reply
that he attached no importance to the butler's statement, but
professional habits of caution checked his natural impulsiveness.

"I want to know more about the circumstances before advancing an
opinion," he replied. "Tufnell's story was rather vague."

"In what respect?"

"In regard to time. The door may have been left unlocked for days."

"Who would unlock it?" replied Musard. "The inference, in view of what
has happened, seems rather that the door was unlocked to-day, and
Tufnell stumbled upon the fact by a lucky chance--by Fate, if you like.
At least it looks like that to me."

"And the murderer entered by the door?"

"Yes."

"I think that is assuming too much," said Caldew. He had no intention of
pointing out to his companion that such an assumption overlooked the
fact that Tufnell's discovery, and the locking of the door, had not
prevented the crime and the subsequent escape of the murderer.

He turned to leave the room, but Musard was in a talkative mood. He
offered the detective a cigar, and kept him for a while, chatting
discursively. Caldew was in no humour to listen. His mind was full of
the problems of this strange case, and he was anxious to return
upstairs. He took the first opportunity of terminating the conversation
and leaving the room.

It was his intention to conceal himself in one of the wardrobes of the
bedroom in the hope that the owner of the trinket he had found would
return in search of it. As he reached the landing he was surprised to
see that the door of the murdered woman's bedroom was wide open,
although he remembered distinctly that he had closed it when he left the
room to accompany the butler downstairs. With a quickly beating heart he
hurried across the room to the spot where he had left the trinket. But
it was gone.




CHAPTER VII


It was the morning after the murder, and five men were seated in the
moat-house library. One of them attracted instant attention by reason of
his overpowering personality. He was a giant in stature and build, with
a massive head, a large red face from which a pair of little bloodshot
eyes stared out truculently, and a bull neck which was several shades
deeper in colour than his face. He was Superintendent Merrington, a
noted executive officer of New Scotland Yard, whose handling of the most
important spy case tried in London during the war had brought forth from
a gracious sovereign the inevitable Order of the British Empire.
Merrington was known as a detective in every capital in Europe, and
because of his wide knowledge of European criminals had more than once
acted as the bodyguard of Royalty on continental tours, and had received
from Royal hands the diamond pin which now adorned the spotted silk tie
encircling his fat purple neck.

The famous detective's outlook on life was cynical and coarse. The
cynicism was the natural outcome of his profession; the coarseness was
his heritage by birth, as his sensual mouth, blubber lips, thick nose,
and bull-neck attested. It was a strange freak of Fate which had made
him the guardian of the morals of society and the upholder of law and
order in a modern civilized community. By temperament and disposition he
belonged to the full-blooded type of humanity which found its best
exemplars in the early Muscovite Czars, and, if Fate had so willed it,
would have revelled in similar pursuits of vice, oppression, and
torture. As Fate had ironically made a police official of him, he had to
content himself with letting off the superfluous steam of his tremendous
temperament by oppressing the criminal classes, and he had performed
that duty so thoroughly that before he became the travelling companion
of kings his name had been a terror to the underworld of London, who
feared and detested his ferocity, his unscrupulous methods of dealing
with them, and his wide knowledge of their class.

He was a recognized hero of the British public, which on one occasion
had presented him with a testimonial for his capture of a desperado who
had been terrorizing the East End of London. But Merrington disdained
such tokens of popular approval. He regarded the public, which he was
paid to protect, as a pack of fools. For him, there were only two
classes of humanity--fools and rogues. The respectable portion of the
population constituted the former, and criminals the latter. He had the
lowest possible opinion of humanity as a whole, and his favourite
expression, in professional conversation, was: "human nature being what
it is...." He was still a mighty force in Scotland Yard, although he had
passed his usefulness and reached the ornamental stage of his career,
rarely condescending to investigate a case personally.

His present visit to the moat-house was one of those rare occasions, and
was due to the action of Captain Stanhill, the Chief Constable of
Sussex, who was seated near him. Captain Stanhill was a short stout man,
with a round, fresh-coloured face, and short sturdy legs and arms. He
wore a tweed coat of the kind known to tailors as "a sporting lounge,"
and his little legs were encased in knickerbockers and leather gaiters,
which were spattered with mud, as though he had ridden some distance
that morning. He was a very different type from Superintendent
Merrington--a gentleman by birth and education, a churchman, and a
county magnate. He never did anything so dangerous as to think, but
accepted the traditions and rules of his race and class as his safe
guide through life. Like most Englishmen of his station of life, he was
endowed with just sufficient intelligence to permit him to slide along
his little groove of life with some measure of satisfaction to himself
and pleasure to his neighbours. He was a sound judge of cattle and
horses, but of human nature he knew nothing whatever, and his first act,
on being informed of the murder at the moat-house, was to ring up
Scotland Yard and request it to send down one of its most trusted
officials to investigate the circumstances. In reply to this call for
assistance, Superintendent Merrington, not unmindful of the county
standing and influence of the Herediths, had decided to investigate the
case himself, and had brought with him two satellites--a finger-print
expert who was at that moment paring his own finger-nails with a
pocket-knife as he stared vacantly out of the library window, and an
official photographer, who was upstairs taking photographs in the death
chamber.

Seated near the finger-print expert was a police official of middle-age,
Inspector Weyling, of the Sussex County Police. He was a saturnine sort
of man, with a hooked nose, a skin like parchment, and a perfectly bald
sugar-loaf head, surmounted at the top by a wen as large as a duck-egg.
His deferential attitude and obsequious tone whenever Superintendent
Merrington chose to address a remark to him indicated that he had a
proper official respect for the rank and standing of that gentleman.
Inspector Weyling was merely a police official. He had no personal
characteristics whatever, unless a hobby for breeding Belgian rabbits,
and a profound belief that Mr. Lloyd George was the greatest statesman
the world had ever seen, could be said to constitute a temperament.

The fifth man was Detective Caldew, who had just completed a narrative
of the events of the previous night for the benefit of his colleagues,
but more especially for Superintendent Merrington, in whose hands lay
the power of directing the investigations of the crime. It was by no
wish of Detective Caldew that Superintendent Merrington had been brought
into the case. Caldew thought when the county inspector arrived and
found a Scotland Yard man at work he would be only too glad to allow him
to go on with the case, and he anticipated no difficulty in obtaining
the consent of his official superiors at Scotland Yard to continuing the
investigations he had commenced. But Inspector Weyling, when notified of
the crime by Sergeant Lumbe, had telephoned to the Chief Constable for
instructions. The latter, distrustful of the ability of the county
police to bring such an atrocious murderer to Justice, had begged the
help of Scotland Yard, with the result that Superintendent Merrington
and his assistants appeared at the moat-house in the early morning
before the astonished eyes of Caldew, who was taking a walk in the
moat-house garden after a night of fruitless investigations.

In the arrival of Merrington, Caldew saw all his fine hopes of promotion
dashed to the ground. He was by no means confident that Merrington would
permit him to take any further share in the investigations, but he was
quite certain that if he did, and the murderer was captured through
their joint efforts, very little of the credit would fall to his share
when such a famous detective as Merrington was connected with the case.
Merrington would see to that.

Caldew, in his narration of the facts of the murder, laid emphasis on
the mysterious nature of the crime, in the hope that Merrington might
deem it wiser to return to London and leave him in charge of the case,
rather than risk a failure which would greatly damage his own
reputation. Merrington listened to him gloomily. He fully realized the
difficult task ahead of the police, and his temper was not improved in
consequence.

"Apparently the murderer has got clean away without leaving a trace
behind him?" he said.

"Yes."

"No sign of any weapon?"

"No."

"Anything taken?"

"No. Miss Heredith says nothing was taken from the room, and nothing is
missing from the house."

"The motive was not robbery then," remarked Captain Stanhill.

"It may have been," responded Merrington. "Caldew says the first
intimation of the crime was the murdered woman screaming. The scream was
followed in a few seconds by the revolver shot. If she screamed when she
saw the murderer enter her room, he may well have feared interruption
and capture, and bolted without stealing anything."

"Why did he murder her, then, in that case?" asked Captain Stanhill.

"To prevent subsequent identification. Many burglars proceed to murder
for that reason. I know plenty of old hands who would commit half a
dozen murders rather than face the prospect of five years' imprisonment.
I do not say that burglary was the motive in this case, but we must not
lose sight of the possibility."

"It seems a strange case," murmured Inspector Weyling absently. He was
thinking, as he spoke, of his rabbits, and wondering whether his wife
would remember to give the lop-eared doe with the litter a little milk
in the course of the morning.

"It's a very sad case," said Captain Stanhill. "Poor young thing!" The
Chief Constable was a human being before he was a police official, and
his face showed plainly that he was stricken with horror by the story of
the crime.

"It's a damned remarkable case," exclaimed Merrington, in his booming
voice. "I do not remember its parallel. An English lady is murdered in
her home, with a crowd of people sitting at dinner in the room
underneath, and the murderer gets clean away, without leaving a trace.
No weapon, no finger-prints or footprints, and no clue of any kind."

Caldew had been hoping to get an opportunity of telling Merrington
privately about the missing trinket, but he realized that he was not
doing his duty by delaying the explanation.

"There was something which might have helped us as a clue," he said.
"Last night, while I was examining Mrs. Heredith's bedroom, I saw a
small trinket lying on the floor near the bedside."

"What sort of a trinket?" asked Merrington.

"A small bar brooch."

"Where is it?"

"I do not know," replied Caldew awkwardly. "I left it where I saw it,
hidden in the carpet, thinking it possible that the person who had lost
it might return in search of it, but while I was downstairs it
disappeared."

"It is rather strange," said Merrington thoughtfully. "I am not inclined
to think there is anything in it to help us," he added, after a moment's
consideration. "Still, I will look into it later. Why did you leave the
trinket in the room, Caldew?"

"I thought it possible that if the owner had anything to do with the
crime he--or she--might return for it," said Caldew. "So I left it where
I found it, and watched the room from the end of the passage."

"A murderer doesn't go about wearing a cheap trinket, and, if he did, he
wouldn't risk his neck coming back to look for it. The brooch was more
likely dropped by one of the maidservants, who picked it up again."

"Would a girl go into a room where there was a dead body?"

"A country wench would. English countrywomen have pretty strong nerves.
You ought to know that. But why did you leave the room if you expected
the owner of the trinket to return in search of it?"

"I was called downstairs to see Mr. Musard. An unused outside door which
is generally kept locked was discovered unlocked by the butler before
the murder was committed. As the door opens on a staircase leading to
the left wing, Mr. Musard thought the butler's discovery had some
bearing on the crime."

"He thought the murderer may have entered the house that way? Such a
theory would suggest that one of the servants is implicated."

"Yes; but I do not agree with Mr. Musard."

"What is your own opinion?"

"I think the key must have been left in the door by one of the
servants--perhaps some days ago. The fact that the butler locked the
door when he found it unfastened did not prevent the murder being
committed, or the murderer escaping afterwards."

"The murderer may have entered by the door before the butler discovered
that it had been unlocked, and then concealed himself inside the house
awaiting an opportunity to commit the crime."

"In that case, he would have tried to escape the same way, but it is
quite certain that he did not do so. Mr. Musard says that the staircase
was the first place to be searched when the guests rushed upstairs. If
the murderer had gone that way he would have found the door at the
bottom locked, and the key removed, and he must have been caught before
he could get back upstairs."

"There's something in that," said Merrington. "But how do you account
for the door being unlocked in the first instance?"

"The servants know where the key is kept. One of the maids may have
taken it to steal out of the house that way to keep an appointment with
a sweetheart, and forgotten all about it when she returned. The back
staircase and entrance are never used by the members of the household,
and the key, which was inside the door, may have been there for days
without being noticed. Tufnell admits that it was only by chance he
tried the door yesterday. He had not tried it for weeks before."

"I'll have a look at this door later. And now, we had better get to
work. We have got to catch this murderer pretty quickly, or the press
and the public will be up in arms. He's had too long a start already.
You must make up your mind for considerable public indignation about
that, Caldew."

"I do not see how I can be held responsible for the murderer getting
away," said Caldew, in an aggrieved tone. "He had his start before I
arrived. I did everything that I could. I searched the house inside and
out, and Sergeant Lumbe has been scouring the country-side since
daybreak looking for suspicious characters."

"I am not blaming you, Caldew," responded Merrington, but his voice
suggested the reverse of his words. "I am merely pointing out to you the
way the British public will look at it. They will say, 'Here is a young
wife murdered in the bosom of her home and family, and the murderer gets
right away. What do we pay the detective force for? To let murderers
escape?' Mark my words, if we don't lay our hands on this chap quickly,
we'll have the whole of the London press howling at our heels like a
pack of wolves. Half a dozen special reporters travelled down in the
train with me and pestered me with questions all the way. They are
coming along here later for a statement for the evening editions. But
never mind the journalists--let us get to work without further loss of
time. Have you made a list of all the guests who have been stopping in
the house?"

"Not yet. Here is a sketch plan of the moat-house interior and the
grounds which you may find useful."

"Thanks. You had better prepare a list of the guests before they leave.
They are sure to get away as fast as possible, and we may want to
interview some of them later on. Now we had better have a look at the
body."

They went upstairs to the bedroom. There they found a young man, with a
freckled face and a snub nose, packing up a photographic apparatus. He
was the photographer, and he had been taking photographs of the dead
body.

"Finished?" inquired Merrington. "That's right. Then you and Freeling
had better return to London by the next train--you'll be wanted in that
Putney case."

The photographer and the finger-print expert left the room together, and
Merrington walked across to the bed. He drew away the sheet which
covered the dead girl, and bent over the body, examining it closely, but
without touching it.

"The corpse has not been moved, I suppose?" he remarked to Caldew, who
was standing beside him.

"Not since I arrived. But she may not have been shot in that position.
She lived some minutes afterwards, and may have moved slightly--not
much, I should say, for there are no marks of bloodstains on any other
part of the bed."

Merrington nodded. He was looking at the bullet wound, which was plainly
visible through a burnt orifice in the rest-gown which the dead girl was
wearing. The wound was a circular punctured hole in the left breast,
less than the size of a sixpenny piece.

"The wound has been washed," he observed. "Was that done by the police
surgeon?"

"The police surgeon has not been here. The corpse was examined by the
village medical man, Dr. Holmes."

"I should like to see him. Where is he to be found?"

"He will be here in the course of the morning. He is attending young
Heredith, who is suffering from the shock. The doctor fears brain
fever."

"When he comes I want to see him. It is idle speculating about the cause
of death in the absence of a doctor. Death in this case appears to have
been due to hæmorrhage. Apparently the murderer aimed at the heart and
missed it, and the shot went through the lungs. The shot was fired at
very close range too--look how the wrapper is burnt! Any sign of the
bullet, Caldew?"

"I found none."

"Well, we shall have to wait for the doctor to clear up these points."

His trained eyes swept round the bedroom, taking stock of every article
in it. He next carefully examined the door, and the lock on it.

"The door was open when the others came upstairs, you said, Caldew?"

"Yes--about half open."

"That accounts for the scream and the shot being heard so plainly
downstairs. It also suggests that the murderer fled very hurriedly,
leaving the door open behind him."

"It seems to me more likely that he escaped by the window, even if he
did not enter that way. Miss Heredith, who was the last inmate of the
household to see Mrs. Heredith alive, thinks that the window was closed
when she was in the room before dinner."

Merrington walked over to the window and examined it, testing the lock
and looking at the sill.

"Does Miss Heredith say that the window was locked, or merely closed,
when she was in the room?" he asked.

"She cannot say definitely. She thinks it was closed because the air was
heavy, and she knew that Mrs. Heredith disliked having her bedroom
window open."

Merrington shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"A woman's fancies are not much to build a theory upon," he said. "Have
you any other reason for thinking that the murderer may have escaped by
this window?"

"Yes. After the shot was fired the guests rushed upstairs immediately,
and the murderer would have run into them if he had attempted to escape
downstairs."

"Is there no other means of escape from the wing except by the
staircase?"

"There is the back staircase I told you of, at the end of the corridor.
That staircase is never used. The door is kept locked, and the key hangs
in a room downstairs. It was the door at the bottom of this staircase
which was found unlocked by the butler yesterday evening."

"I'll have a look at it, and then we'll go downstairs. I want to see
this bedroom window from outside."

They left the bedroom and proceeded to the end of the corridor, where
Caldew pointed out the door at the top of the staircase. Merrington
opened it, and went down the stairs. He reappeared after the lapse of a
few minutes with dusty hands and cobwebs on his clothes.

"The murderer didn't get in that way," he said. "On the face of it, it
seems a plausible theory to suggest that he entered by the locked door
and hid himself somewhere in this wing, and escaped after committing the
murder by jumping through the bedroom window. But it is impossible to
get over your point that if he had entered by the door he would have
tried to escape by the same means, not knowing that the door had been
locked in the meantime. To do that he must have traversed the corridor
twice and gone down and up these back stairs while the guests were
coming up the other stairs. He couldn't have done it in the time. He
would have been caught--cut off before he could get back. Look at this
steep flight of stairs and the length of the corridor! That disposes of
the incident of the door. Whoever unlocked it was not the murderer."

Merrington retraced his steps along the corridor. As he walked, his eyes
roved restlessly over the tapestry hangings and velvet curtains, and
took in the dark nooks and corners which abound in old English
country-houses.

"Plenty of places here where a man might hide," he muttered, in a
dissatisfied voice.

At the head of the front staircase he paused, and looked over the
balusters, as though calculating the distance to the hall beneath. Then
he descended the stairs.

It still wanted half an hour to breakfast time. There was no sign of
anybody stirring downstairs except a fresh-faced maidservant, who was
dusting the furniture in the great hall. She glanced nervously at the
groups of police officials, and then resumed her dusting. Merrington
strode across to her.

"What is your name, my dear?" he asked, in his great voice.

"Milly Saker, sir."

"Very well, Milly. I'll come and have a talk with you presently--just
our two selves."

The girl, far from looking delighted at this prospect, backed away with
a frightened face. Merrington strode on through the open front door, and
turned towards the left wing.

It was a crisp autumn morning. The early sunshine fell on the hectic
flush of decay in the foliage of the woods, but a thin wisp of vapour
still lingered across the moat-house garden and the quiet fields beyond.
Merrington kept on until he reached the large windows of the
dining-room, which opened on to the terraced garden.

"That's Mrs. Heredith's window," he said, pointing up to it. "Her
bedroom is directly over the dining-room. If the murderer escaped by the
window he must have dropped on to this gravel path."

"It is a pretty stiff drop," said Captain Stanhill, measuring the
distance with his eye.

"Oh, I don't know," replied Merrington. "He'd let himself down eight
feet with extended arms, and that would leave a drop of only ten feet or
thereabouts--not much for an athletic man. But if he dropped he must
have left footprints."

"There are none. I have looked," said Caldew.

The information did not deter Merrington from examining the path anew.
He got down on his hands and knees to scrutinize the gravel and the
grass plot more thoroughly.

"Nothing doing here either," he said as he scrambled to his feet. "There
are neither footprints nor marks such as one would expect to find if a
man had dropped out of the window. What are you looking at, Weyling?"

In reply Inspector Weyling made his first and only contribution towards
the elucidation of the crime.

"Could not the murderer have climbed up to the bedroom by that creeper?"
he asked, pointing to a thin trail of Virginia creeper which stretched
up the wall almost as high as the window.

Merrington tested the frail creeper with his great hand. His sharp tug
detached a mass of the plant from the brickwork.

"Not likely," he replied. "It might bear the weight of a boy or a
slender girl, but not of a man. What do you think, Caldew?"

Caldew nodded without speaking. Weyling's remark had started a train of
thought in his mind, but he had no intention of revealing it to a man
who plainly did not intend to confer with him on equal terms, or
disclose his own theory of the murder--if he had formed one.

"Let us get inside again," said Merrington, in his masterful way.

He turned back towards the house, and the others followed.




CHAPTER VIII


As they reached the library again a small silver clock on the
mantelpiece gave a single chime. Merrington looked at it, and then
glanced at his watch.

"Half-past eight!" he said. "That clock is five minutes slow--by me. The
people who have been staying here will go off after breakfast. Visitors
always leave a house of trouble as soon as possible--like rats deserting
a sinking ship. The thing is to question as many as we can get hold of
before they go. As some of them knew Mrs. Heredith before her marriage,
we may elicit something about her or her antecedents which will throw
some light on the motive for the crime."

"I do not think Sir Philip will care to have his guests questioned,"
remarked Captain Stanhill doubtfully. "They must be all well-connected
and very respectable people, or they would not have been invited here."

"There have been very respectable and highly connected murderers before
to-day, Captain Stanhill, as no doubt you are aware," rejoined
Merrington caustically.

"The guests were all downstairs in the dining-room at the time the
murder was committed," said Caldew. "Miss Heredith told me so herself."

"I am aware of that fact also," retorted Merrington sharply.
"Nevertheless, they must be seen. We cannot afford to throw away a
chance."

"It is a delicate and awkward business," murmured the Chief Constable.

"It will be a delicate and awkward business for us if we don't lay our
hands on this criminal," responded Merrington. "Sir Philip Heredith,
with his influence and connections, will be able to make it pretty hot
for Scotland Yard and the County Police if the murderer of his son's
wife is allowed to escape. You'd better take the job in hand at once,
Caldew. Weyling can go with you and help. See as many of the guests as
you can--especially the ladies--and get what you can out of them. But
I'd be glad if you'd first ask Miss Heredith to grant me an interview
before breakfast. Don't send a servant, but see her yourself."

Caldew left the room to undertake the investigations allotted to him,
and Weyling followed him with a startled expression of face. He felt
overweighted by the magnitude of the task which had been thrust upon
him, and doubted his ability to discharge it properly.

"Miss Heredith will be able to give us more information than Sir
Philip," remarked Merrington in a friendly tone to Captain Stanhill, as
the door closed behind the subordinate officials. "A woman is generally
more observant than a man--particularly if anything underhand has been
going on."

Captain Stanhill cast a puzzled glance at his companion. As a
simple-minded English gentleman he was quite unable to penetrate the
obscurity of expression which masked the meaning of the last remark.
Merrington caught the look, but had formed too poor an opinion of his
companion's understanding to explain himself further. Besides, he liked
mystifying people.

"I'm going to put the servants through their facings straight away," he
continued. "If there is anything to be learnt we are more likely to find
it out from them than the guests. Trust the backstairs for knowing
what's going on upstairs! Servants want skilful handling, though. You've
got to know when to bully and when to coax. Half measures are no good
with them."

Captain Stanhill did not reply. He wandered round the spacious library,
glancing at the rows of books in their oaken shelves. Superintendent
Merrington, while awaiting the arrival of Miss Heredith, drew forth the
plan of the moat-house which Caldew had sketched, and studied it
closely.

The moat-house had only two stories, but it was a rambling old place and
covered a considerable area of ground, facing three sides of the county.
The principal portion, consisting of the old house which had been burnt
down and rebuilt, faced the north. The two wings had been added later.

The front door opened into a spacious entrance hall which in former
times had been the dining-room. At the end of the hall was the grand
staircase, adorned by statues, armour, and the Heredith arms carved in
panels. The principal rooms, with the exception of the dining-room, were
all on the ground floor of the main building, but corridors led off the
entrance hall to the newer wings at each side, extending on the right
side to the billiard room, conservatory, greenhouses, and orangery, and
on the left side to the dining-room, Miss Heredith's private
sitting-room, and Sir Philip's study.

Merrington carefully studied the arrangements of this wing, as depicted
on Caldew's sketch plan. The upper portion was reached by a staircase
which opened off the corridor almost opposite the dining-room door, and
ran, with one turning, to a landing which was only a few feet away from
the door of the bedroom in which Mrs. Heredith was murdered. Next to
this room was a dressing-room, and a spare bedroom. The remainder of the
wing consisted of two bathrooms, a linen room, and Miss Heredith's
bedroom, which was at the south end of the wing. The rooms all faced the
west side of the house, and were lit by windows opening on the terraced
gardens. They were entered by a corridor which ran the whole length of
the wing, terminating in the door which opened on the unused back
staircase.

Before Merrington had finished his scrutiny of the plan, the door
opened, and Miss Heredith entered the library. She looked pale and worn,
and there were dark rings under her eyes which suggested a sleepless
night. But her face was composed, though grave.

Captain Stanhill advanced and shook hands with her, uttering a few words
of well-bred sympathy as he did so, and then introduced Superintendent
Merrington.

"Superintendent Merrington has been kind enough to come down from
Scotland Yard at my request to give us the benefit of his skill in
investigating this terrible crime," he said simply.

"I desired an interview with you in order to ask a few questions," said
Merrington, coming to the point at once.

Miss Heredith bowed.

"Were all the blinds down in the dining-room last night during dinner?"
asked Merrington.

Captain Stanhill looked quickly at his colleague. He failed to see the
purpose of the question.

"I think so," replied Miss Heredith, after a moment's reflection. "I
cannot say for certain, as I was out of the room during the latter
portion of the dinner, but I can easily ascertain." She touched a bell,
which was answered by a maidservant. "Tell Mr. Tufnell I wish to speak
to him," she said.

The girl went away, and Tufnell appeared a moment afterwards.

"Were the blinds all drawn in the dining-room during dinner last night,
Tufnell?"

"Yes, ma'am. I pulled them down myself before sounding the gong."

"Thank you, Tufnell."

"I understand that you were not present at the dinner table when the
shot was fired?" said Merrington when the butler had left the room.

"No, I was not."

"May I ask why you left the table?"

The question was put suavely enough, but a half-uttered protest from
Captain Stanhill indicated that he, at least, realized the sting
contained within it. But Miss Heredith, looking at Merrington with her
clear grey eyes, replied calmly:

"I was called out of the room to speak to our chauffeur. He had been
ordered to have an extra vehicle in readiness to convey our guests to an
evening entertainment, and he wished to consult me about it."

"Why did you not return to the dining-room?"

"Because dinner was nearly finished when I left the room."

"Where were you when the shot was fired?"

"I was on the stairs, on the way to my room when I heard the scream. I
was hastening back to the dining-room as quickly as possible, but before
I reached it the shot rang out."

"Surely these questions are unnecessary, Merrington," exclaimed
Captain Stanhill. "Anyone would think--I mean that there is not the
slightest idea in our minds that Miss Heredith--at least, I meant to
say--" Captain Stanhill floundered badly as he realized that his remarks
were capable of a terrible interpretation which he did not intend, and
broke off abruptly.

"I am very glad that Superintendent Merrington has asked these
questions," said Miss Heredith coldly.

Merrington bowed a grim acknowledgment. He had still many questions he
wanted to ask Miss Heredith, and he proceeded to put them in his own
masterful way, very much as though he were examining a witness in the
police court, Captain Stanhill thought, but in reality with a courtesy
and consideration quite unusual for him. It was his best manner; his
worst, Captain Stanhill was to see later. As a matter of fact, it was
impossible for Merrington to be gentle with anybody. He had spent so
many years of his life probing into strange stories and sinister
mysteries that he had insensibly come to regard the world as a larger
criminal court, made up of tainted and adverse witnesses, whom it was
his privilege to cross-question.

He questioned Miss Heredith searchingly about the young bride. According
to an eminent expert in jurisprudence, the tendency to believe the
testimony of others is an inherent instinct implanted in the human
breast by the Almighty. If that be so, it is to be feared that the seed
had failed to germinate in Merrington's bosom, for his natural tendency
was to look upon his fellow creatures as liars, particularly when they
were of good social standing, with that hatred of notoriety which is
characteristic of their class. Merrington had this fact in his mind as
he interrogated Miss Heredith closely about the circumstances of her
nephew's marriage. He hoped to extract from her something which her
English pride might lead her to conceal, something which might throw a
light on the motive for the murder.

Miss Heredith answered him with a frankness which even Merrington
grudgingly realized left nothing to be desired. She was, apparently,
only too anxious to help the police investigations to the best of her
ability. But what she had to tell amounted to very little. Her first
knowledge of her nephew's intention to marry was contained in a letter
written home some four months before, in which he announced his
engagement to a young lady engaged in war work in a London Government
office. A month later came the news that he was married, and was
bringing his young bride to the moat-house. The young couple arrived a
week after the receipt of the second letter. They were welcomed home,
and settled down to country life in the old place. Phil left his post in
the War Office, and busied himself in looking after the estate. He was
very fond of his young wife, but it was obvious from the first that
Violet found the quiet country existence rather dull after her London
life. She knew nobody in Sussex except Mrs. Weyne, the author's wife,
who had been an acquaintance of hers in London years before, and she did
not seem to care much for the county people who visited the moat-house.
She received letters from girl friends in London, and sometimes read
extracts from them at the breakfast table, but her life, on the whole,
was a secluded one. It was in order to brighten it that Phil suggested a
house party. The guests consisted principally of Violet's and Phil's
London friends and acquaintances.

"Do you know the names of these girl friends who used to write to her?"
asked Merrington.

Miss Heredith replied that she did not.

"I suppose her husband would know them?"

"It is quite impossible to question my nephew," said Miss Heredith
decisively. "He is dreadfully ill."

Merrington nodded in a dissatisfied sort of way. He was aware of Phil's
illness, and his suspicious mind wondered whether it had been assumed
for the occasion in order to keep back something which the police ought
to know. His thick lip curled savagely at the idea. If these people
tried to hide anything from him in order to save a scandal, so much the
worse for them. But that was something he would go into later.

The next questions he put to Miss Heredith were designed to ascertain
what she thought of the murder, whether she had any suspicions of her
own, and whether there was any reason for suspecting Miss Heredith
herself. At that stage of the inquiry it was Merrington's business to
suspect everybody. He could not afford to allow the slightest chance to
slip. His object was to get at the truth; to weigh each particle of
supposition or evidence without regard to the feelings or social
position of the witness.

The case so far puzzled him, and Miss Heredith's answers to his
questions revealed little about the murder that he had not previously
known. The only additional facts he gleaned related to the murdered
girl's brief existence at the moat-house; of her earlier history and her
London life Miss Heredith knew nothing whatever. Merrington made some
notes of the replies in an imposing pocket-book, but he was plainly
dissatisfied as he turned to another phase of the investigation.

"Were all your guests in the dining-room at the time the scream and the
shot were heard?" he asked.

"They were all there when I left the room. The butler can tell you if
any left afterwards."

"I will question Tufnell on that point later. No, on second thoughts, it
will be better to settle it now. I attach importance to it."

Tufnell was recalled to the room, and, in reply to Superintendent
Merrington's question, stated that none of the guests left the
dining-room before the shot was fired. Tufnell added they were all
interested in listening to a story that Mr. Musard was telling. Having
imparted this information the butler returned to the breakfast room,
overweighted with the responsibility of superintending the morning meal
in his mistress's absence.

"Is this Musard the jewel expert of that name?" asked Merrington.

"Our guest is Mr. Vincent Musard, the explorer," replied Miss Heredith
coldly.

"The same man." Merrington made another minute note in his pocket-book,
and continued, "May I take it, then, that all your guests who were
staying here were assembled in the dining-room at the time the murder
was committed?"

"Yes; except one who left during the afternoon."

"Who was that?"

"Captain Nepcote, a friend of my nephew's. He received a telegram
recalling him to the front, and returned to London by the afternoon
train."

Merrington made a note of this in his pocket-book with an air of
finality, and asked Miss Heredith to see that the servants were sent to
the library one by one, to be questioned. Miss Heredith said she would
arrange it with the housekeeper, and was then politely escorted to the
door by Captain Stanhill.

The next few hours were educative for Captain Stanhill. Although he was
Chief Constable of Sussex, he took no part in the proceedings, but sat
at the table like a man in a dream, living in a world of Superintendent
Merrington's creation--a world of sinister imaginings and vile motives,
through which stealthy suspicion prowled craftily with padded feet,
seeking a victim among the procession of weeping maids, stolid
under-gardeners, stable hands, and anxious upper servants who presented
themselves in the library to be questioned. But it seemed to Captain
Stanhill that though the women were flustered and the men nervous, they
knew nothing whatever about the atrocious murder which had been
committed a few hours before in the room above their heads. Merrington
also seemed to be aware that he was getting no nearer the truth with his
traps, his questions, and his bullying, and he grew so angry and savage
as the day wore on that he reminded Captain Stanhill of a bull he had
once seen trying to rend a way through a mesh. As the morning advanced,
Merrington's face took on a deeper tint of purple, his fierce little
eyes grew more bloodshot, and between the intervals of examining the
servants he mopped his perspiring head with a large handkerchief.

The significance of one fact he did not realize until afterwards. The
last of the inmates of the moat-house to come to the library was the
housekeeper, Mrs. Rath, who presented herself at his request in order to
acquaint him with the details of the domestic management of the
household. Mrs. Rath entered the room with a nervous air. Her white face
contrasted oddly with her black dress, and her hands shook slightly, in
spite of her effort to appear composed. Merrington stared at her
careworn face and hollow grey eyes with the perplexed sensation of a man
who is confronted with a face familiar to him, but is unable to recall
its identity.

"Where have I seen you before?" he blurted out.

The housekeeper raised frightened eyes, ringed with black, to his
truculent face, but dropped them again without speaking. Merrington did
not repeat his question. He did not imagine the housekeeper knew
anything about the murder, but it was a mistake to put a witness on her
guard. It was in quite a different tone that he thanked Mrs. Rath for
sending the servants to the library, and asked her to describe the
household arrangements of the previous night. Mrs. Rath, who had been
palpably nervous after his first question, became reassured and more at
her ease, and answered him intelligently.

"And where were you at the time of the murder, Mrs. Rath?" pursued
Merrington, when he had drawn forth these details.

"I was in my sitting-room."

"Did you hear the scream and the shot?"

"I heard the scream, but not the shot."

"How was that?"

"My sitting-room is a long way from Mrs. Heredith's room. Perhaps that
is the reason."

Merrington looked at the position of the housekeeper's room on the plan
of the moat-house which Caldew had drawn. As she said, it was a
considerable distance to her room, which was in the old portion of the
house, near the rear, and on the ground floor.

"Were you alone in your room?" he asked.

"No. My daughter was sitting with me."

To a quick ear it may have seemed that the answer was a trifle long in
coming.

Merrington shook his head irritably. Really, it seemed impossible to
reach the end of the people who were in this infernal moat-house at the
time of the murder.

"Does your daughter live with you here?" he asked.

"Oh, no. She came to see me yesterday afternoon, and stayed all night
because she missed her train back after--after the tragedy."

"Is she here now?"

"No. She went away by an early train. She is employed as a milliner at
Stading, the market town, which is ten miles away."

"She lives there, I suppose?"

"Yes. She lives in."

"Who is her employer?"

"Mr. Closeby, the draper. Daniel Closeby and Son is the name of the
firm."

Merrington made another note in his pocket-book. It sounded plausible
enough, but the girl must be added to the lengthening list of people in
the case who would have to be seen.

"I think that is all I need detain you for, Mrs. Rath," he said.

The housekeeper lingered to inquire when the gentlemen would like their
lunch. Merrington, who had breakfasted early and passed an arduous
morning, replied bluntly that it could not be too soon to please him.

"I'll have it served in the small breakfast-room in a quarter of an
hour," said Mrs. Rath, hurrying away.

Her whole bearing, as she departed, indicated such an air of
irrepressible relief at having passed through a trying ordeal that all
Merrington's former doubts of her revived.

"I'd give something to remember where I've seen that infernal woman
before," he ejaculated, slapping his thigh emphatically.

"What infernal woman?" asked Captain Stanhill, who had come to the
conclusion that he did not like Superintendent Merrington or his style
of conversation.

"Why, that woman who has just left the room--that housekeeper. I've seen
her before somewhere, in very different circumstances, but I cannot
recall where. I recollect her face distinctly--particularly her eyes. I
flatter myself I never forget a pair of eyes. Confound it, where the
devil have I seen her?"

Captain Stanhill turned away indifferently, and the conversation was
terminated by the appearance of Detective Caldew, who appeared in the
doorway as Mrs. Rath left the room.

"Dr. Holmes is waiting in the drawing-room if you wish to see him," he
announced.

"Bring him here," commanded Merrington curtly. He had a great notion of
his self-importance, and had no intention of dancing attendance on a
mere country practitioner.

Caldew went away, and shortly reappeared with a little man whom he
introduced as Dr. Holmes. The doctor was a meagre shrimp of humanity,
with a peevish expression on his withered little face, as though he were
bored with his own nonentity. He was dressed in faded clothes and
carried a small black bag in one hand and a worn hat in the other. If he
had any idea of airing a professional protest at being compelled to wait
upon the police, the thought vanished as his eye took in the stupendous
stature of Superintendent Merrington, who towered above him like a
mastiff standing over a toy terrier.

"Sit down, doctor," he curtly commanded. "I want to ask you a few
questions about the death of Mrs. Heredith. You examined the body, I
understand?"

Dr. Holmes bowed, put on a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles in order to
see Superintendent Merrington better, and waited to be questioned.

"I understand you were summoned to the moat-house last night, doctor,
after Mrs. Heredith was murdered, and examined the body. What was the
cause of death?"

"The cause of death was a bullet wound," pronounced the doctor
oracularly.

"I am aware of that much," answered Merrington irritably. "But a bullet
wound is not necessarily fatal. Mrs. Heredith lived some time after her
death, so it is certain that the bullet which killed her did not
penetrate the heart. What is the nature of the injuries it inflicted?"

"Death in Mrs. Heredith's case was the result of a bullet passing
through the left lung. It passed between the second and third ribs in
entering the body, traversed the lung, causing a great flow of blood,
which filled the air passages."

"Then the cause of death was hæmorrhage?"

"Yes. There was very severe internal hæmorrhage. The face and the
left-hand side of the neck were covered with blood. There had also been
bleeding from the mouth and nose. Mr. Musard, who accompanied me to the
room, told me he had washed it away while Mrs. Heredith was dying, in an
endeavour to staunch the flow."

"She was quite dead when you saw her?"

"Oh, yes. Judging by the warmth of the body, and by the fact that blood
had ceased to flow, I should say that death had taken place about forty
minutes before."

"What time did you reach the moat-house?"

"It would be about twenty minutes past eight. Sergeant Lumbe called at
my house at ten minutes past the hour--I made a note of the time--and I
went immediately. It is about ten minutes' walk to the moat-house from
the village."

"Was the main blood vessel of the lung broken?" asked Captain Stanhill,
who had been following the doctor's remarks with close attention.

"The aorta? It is difficult to say from an external examination. Mr.
Musard tells me that Mrs. Heredith died about five minutes after he
reached the room. The aorta is a very large vessel, and if it were burst
bleeding to death would be very rapid."

"Could the wound have been self-inflicted?" asked Merrington.

Dr. Holmes pursed his lips.

"I can form no definite opinion on that point," he said. "By the
direction of the bullet, I should say not."

"Have you found the bullet?"

"No, it is in the body. As apparently it took a course towards the right
after entering the body, and there is no corresponding wound in the
back, I should say that it is lodged somewhere in the vertical column.
Of course, I cannot be sure."

"The Government pathologist will clear up these points when he makes the
post-mortem examination," said Merrington. "I do not think we have any
more questions to ask you, doctor."

"How is your patient, the young husband?" asked Captain Stanhill, as Dr.
Holmes rose.

"The symptoms point to brain fever. The family, on my advice, have sent
to London for Sir Ralph Horton, the eminent brain doctor."

"I do not wonder his mind has given way under the shock," remarked
Captain Stanhill. "To lose his wife in such terrible circumstances after
three months' marriage must have been a cruel blow."

"It was the worse in his case because he has always been nervous and
highly strung from childhood--partly, I think, as the result of his
infirmity. He has a deformed foot. His present illness seems to be a
complete overthrow of the nervous system. I have been with him the
greater part of the night. He has been highly delirious, but he is a
little quieter now."

Merrington pricked up his ears at this last remark. After his fruitless
investigations of the morning he was inclined to think that the clue to
the murder lay in the past--it might be in some former folly or secret
intrigue of the young wife's single days. The question was, in that
case, whether the husband was likely to have any knowledge of his wife's
secret. If he had, he might, in his delirium, babble something which
would provide a clue to trace the murderer. It was a poor chance, but
the poorest chance was worth trying in such a baffling case.

"I should like to have a look at your patient," he said to Dr. Holmes.

"It would be impossible to question him in his present state," replied
the doctor stiffly.

"I do not wish to question him. I merely wish to look at him."

"In that case you may see him. He is quite unconscious, and recognizes
nobody. I will take you to his room, if you wish."

The little doctor bustled along the corridor, and turned into a passage
traversing the right wing of the moat-house. About half way down it he
paused before a door, which he opened softly, and motioned to the other
two to enter.

It was a single bedroom, panelled in oak, which was dark with age, with
one small window; but it had the advantage of being as far away as
possible from the upstairs bedroom in the left wing where Phil's wife
lay murdered. A small fire burnt in the grate, a china bowl of autumn
flowers bloomed on a table near the bedside, and a capable looking nurse
was preparing a draught by the window. She glanced at the three men as
they entered, but went on with her occupation.

The sick man lay on his back, breathing heavily. His black hair framed a
face which was ghastly in its whiteness, and his upturned eyes, barely
visible beneath the half-closed lids, seemed fixed and motionless.

"Any change, nurse?" the doctor asked.

"No change, sir."

But even as she spoke Phil's face changed in a manner which was
wonderful in its suddenness. His features became contorted, as though a
sword had been thrust through his vitals, and he struggled upright in
his bed, with one shaking hand outstretched. His eyes, glaring with
delirium, roved restlessly over the faces of the men at the foot of the
bed.

"She's dead, I tell you! Violet's dead.... Have they found him? Ah,
who's that?"

Once again he uttered his young wife's name, and fell back on the
pillow, motionless as before, but with one arm athwart his face, as
though to cover his eyes.

"I shall be glad if you will leave the room," said the little doctor
gravely. "Your presence excites him." He hurried round to the bedside
and bent over his patient.




CHAPTER IX


"Have you formed any theory of the murder yet?"

It was the evening of the same day, and Superintendent Merrington and
Captain Stanhill were once more in the moat-house library. It was
Captain Stanhill who asked the question, as he stood warming his little
legs in front of a crackling fire of oak logs which had just been
lighted in the gloomy depths of the big fireplace. Although it was early
in autumn, the evening air was chill.

Superintendent Merrington was walking up and down the room with rapid
strides, occasionally glancing with some impatience at the clock which
ticked with cheerful indifference on the mantelpiece. He was about to
return to London, but was waiting for the return of Detective Caldew and
Sergeant Lumbe. Caldew had cycled to Chidelham to see the Weynes, and
Lumbe had been sent to investigate a telephoned report of a suspicious
stranger seen at a hamlet called Tibblestone, some miles away.

Merrington's face wore a gloomy and dissatisfied expression. He had
spent the afternoon in a whirlwind of energy in which he had done many
things. He had explored the moat-house from top to bottom, squeezing his
vast bulk into every obscure corner of the rambling old place. He had
rowed round the moat in a small boat, scrutinizing the outside wall for
footmarks. He had mustered the male servants, and superintended an
organized beat of the grounds, the woods, and the neighbouring heights.
He had interviewed the village station-master to ascertain if any
stranger had arrived at Heredith the previous day, and had made similar
inquiries by telephone at the adjoining stations. He had inspected the
horses and vehicles at the village inn to see if they showed marks of
recent usage, and he had peremptorily interrogated everybody he came
across to find out whether any one unknown in the district had been seen
skulking about the neighbourhood.

Merrington lacked the subtle and penetrative brain of a really great
detective, but he possessed energy, initiative, and observation. These
qualities had stood him in good stead before, but in this case they had
brought nothing to light. The mystery and meaning of the terrible murder
of the previous night were no nearer solution than when he had arrived
to take up the case, ten hours before.

The most baffling aspect of the crime to him was the apparent lack of
motive and the absence of any clue. In most murders there are generally
some presumptive clues to guide those called upon to investigate the
crime--such things as finger-prints or footprints, a previous threat or
admission, an overheard conversation, a chance word, or a compromising
letter. Such clues may not prove much in themselves, but they serve as
finger-posts. Even the time, which in some cases of murder offers a
valuable help to solution, in this case tended to shield the murderer.
It seemed as though the murderer had chosen an unusual time and unusual
conditions to shield his identity more thoroughly and make discovery
impossible.

The case was full of sinister possibilities and perplexities. It bore
the stamp of deep premeditation and calculated skill. As the crime was
apparently motiveless, it was certain that the motive was deep and
carefully hidden. The only definite conclusion that Merrington had
reached was that the murderer would have to be sought further afield,
probably in London, where the dead girl had lived all her life. There
seemed not the slightest reason to suspect anybody in the neighbourhood,
as she was a stranger to the district, and knew nobody in it except Mrs.
Weyne, who lived some miles away. It was unfortunate that her husband,
who was the only person able to give any information about her earlier
life, was too ill to be questioned.

On hearing Captain Stanhill's question, Merrington paused abruptly in
his impatient pacing of the carpet, and glanced at him covertly from his
deep-set little eyes. If he had consulted his own feelings he would have
told the Chief Constable that it was not the time to air theories about
the crime. But in his present position it behoved him to walk warily and
not make an enemy of his colleague. If there was to be an outburst of
public indignation because the murderer in this case had not been
immediately discovered and brought to justice, it would be just as well
if the county police shared the burden of responsibility. Merrington
realized that he could best make Captain Stanhill feel his
responsibility by taking him fully into his confidence. He was aware
that he had practically ignored the Chief Constable in the course of the
day's investigations, and it was desirable to remove any feeling that
treatment may have caused. Superintendent Merrington had the greatest
contempt for the county police, but there were times when it was
judicious to dissemble that feeling. The present moment was one of them.

Captain Stanhill, on his part, cherished no animosity against his
companion for his cavalier treatment of him. He realized his own
inexperience in crime detection, and had been quite willing that
Superintendent Merrington should take the lead in the investigations,
which he had assisted to the best of his ability. He thought Merrington
rather an unpleasant type, but he was overawed by his great reputation
as a detective, and impressed by his energy and massive self-confidence.
The Chief Constable had not asserted his own official position, because
he was aware that he was unable to give competent help in such a
baffling case. He was, above all things, anxious that the murderer of
Violet Heredith should be captured and brought to justice as speedily as
possible, and he had no thought of his personal dignity so long as that
end was achieved.

The abstract ideal of human justice is supposed to be based on the
threefold aims of punishment, prevention, and reformation, but the heart
of the average man, when confronted by grevious wrong, is swayed by no
higher impulse than immediate retribution on the wrongdoer. Captain
Stanhill was an average man, and his feelings, harrowed by the spectacle
of the bleeding corpse of the young wife, and the pitiful condition to
which her murder had reduced her young husband, clamoured for
retribution, swift, complete, and implacable, on the being who had
committed this horrible crime. And he hoped that the famous detective
would be able to assure him that his desire was likely to have a speedy
attainment. That was why he asked Merrington whether he had formed any
theory about the crime.

"It would be too much to say that I have formed a theory," replied
Merrington, in response to Captain Stanhill's question. "It is necessary
to have clues for the formation of a theory, and in this case we are
faced with a complete absence of clues."

"Do you not think that the trinket found by Detective Caldew in Mrs.
Heredith's bedroom has some bearing on the murder?" said Captain
Stanhill.

"I attach no importance to it. There were a number of persons in the
bedroom after the murder was committed, and any of them might have
dropped the ornament. Or it may have been lost there days before by a
servant, and escaped notice."

"But it was picked up again during Caldew's absence from the room. Do
you not regard that as suspicious? Detective Caldew, when he was
relating the incident to us this morning, seemed to think that the
trinket belonged to the murderer, who took the risk of returning to the
room to recover it for fear it might form a clue leading to discovery."

"Caldew reads too much into his discovery," replied Merrington, with an
indulgent smile. "Like all young detectives, he is inclined to attach
undue importance to small points. As I told him, I cannot imagine a
murderer taking such a desperate risk as to return to the spot where he
had killed his victim, in order to search for a trinket he had dropped.
Caldew may have concealed the brooch so effectually in the thick folds
of the velvet carpet that he could not find it again when he looked for
it on his return to the room. That explanation strikes me as probable as
his own theory of a mysterious midnight intruder returning to search for
it while he was out of the room. The trinket may have some connection
with the crime, or it may not, but as I have not seen it I prefer to
leave it out of my calculation altogether. This case is going to be
difficult enough to solve without chasing chimeras. But to return to
your question. Although I have not actually formed a theory, my
preliminary investigations of the circumstances have led me to arrive at
certain conclusions and to exclude possibilities I was at first inclined
to adopt. I will go over the case in detail, and then you will see for
yourself the conclusions I have formed, and understand how I have
arrived at them.

"In the first place, the greatest problem of this murder is the apparent
lack of motive. There seems to be no reason why this young lady should
have been killed. She had only recently been married, and, apparently,
married happily, to a wealthy young man of good family, who was very
much in love with her. It is obvious that money difficulties have
nothing to do with the crime. Her husband is the only son of a wealthy
father, and he is able to give his wife everything that a woman needs
for her happiness and comfort. She is cherished, petted, and loved, and
has a beautiful home. Who, therefore, had an object in putting an end to
this young woman's life in her own home, in circumstances and conditions
attended with the utmost possibility of discovery and capture? The
perpetrator of the deed must have acted from some very strong motive or
impulse to venture into a country-house full of people, at a time when
everybody was indoors, in order to kill his victim.

"In a seemingly purposeless murder like this, a certain amount of
suspicion gathers round the other members of the household. Human nature
being what it is, one should never take anything for granted, but should
always be on the watch for hidden motives. But in this case the members
of the household, with the exception of Miss Heredith, were downstairs
in the dining-room at the time the murder was committed. Miss Heredith
left the room a few minutes before the shot was heard. You will recall
that she volunteered that statement to us this morning. It occurred to
me at the time that that may have been bluff to put us off the scent.
Clever criminals often do that kind of thing. My suspicions against her
were strengthened by the additional fact that Miss Heredith did not like
her nephew's wife. She masked the fact beneath a well-bred semblance of
grief and horror, but it was plain as a pikestaff to me. But, after
thinking over all the circumstances, I came to the conclusion that she
had nothing whatever to do with it."

"Such a possibility is inconceivable," exclaimed Captain Stanhill. "A
lady like Miss Heredith would never commit murder."

"It was not for that reason that I excluded her from suspicion," replied
Merrington drily. "The points against her were really very damaging. She
was out of the dining-room when the scream was heard, and when the
others rushed out of the dining-room on hearing the shot, the first
thing they saw was Miss Heredith descending the staircase of the wing in
which her nephew's wife had been murdered. Fortunately for Miss
Heredith, she was almost at the bottom of the staircase when she was
seen. The guests streamed out of the dining-room directly the shot was
heard, therefore it is impossible that Miss Heredith could have shot
Violet Heredith and then reached the bottom of the stairs so quickly.
She is able to establish an alibi of time, by, perhaps, half a minute.

"As all the members of the house party were in the dining-room at the
time, it is clear that they had nothing to do with the actual commission
of the crime. The next thing is the servants, and they also can be
excluded from suspicion. When we examined them this morning they were
all able to prove, more or less conclusively, that they were engaged in
their various duties at the time the murder was committed. The point is
that not one of them was upstairs in the left wing of the house when
Mrs. Heredith was shot.

"My original impression that the murder was not committed by a native of
the district has been deepened by our afternoon's investigations. Where,
then, are we to look for the murderer? To answer that question, in part,
let us first consider _how_ the murder was committed, and try and
reconstruct the circumstances in which the murderer must have entered
and left the house.

"Caldew thinks that the murderer entered the house by scaling the
bedroom window, and made his exit by the same means. He bases that view
on Miss Heredith's belief that the window was closed when she was in the
bedroom before dinner. After the murder was committed the window was
found open. But Miss Heredith's statement about the closed window does
not amount to very much. She does not actually know whether the window
was open or shut, because the window curtains were completely drawn at
the time she was in the room. Those curtains are so thick and heavy that
they would keep out the air whether the window was open or shut, and
account for the stuffy atmosphere in a room which had been occupied all
day.

"I do not regard the open window as a clue one way or the other. The one
thing we must not lose sight of is that nobody can say definitely when
it was opened. It may have been opened by Mrs. Heredith herself before
Miss Heredith came into the room, or the murderer may have flung it open
and escaped from the room that way after committing the murder.
Personally, I do not think that he did, but I am not prepared altogether
to exclude the possibility of his having done so. But I am convinced
that he did not enter the bedroom by scaling the outside wall and
getting in through the window. In the first place, there are no marks of
any kind on the window sill or the window catch. There is not very much
one way or another in the absence of marks on the sill or even on the
catch, supposing the window was locked. The murderer might have opened
the catch from outside without leaving a mark--I have known the trick to
be done--and he might have got into the room without leaving any marks
on the sill, particularly if he wore rubber boots. But, what is far more
important, there are no marks on the wall outside, or any disturbance or
displacement of the Virginia creeper which covers a portion of the wall,
to suggest that the murderer climbed up to the room that way. I think it
is certain that if he had done so he would have left his marks on the
one or the other. The wall is of a soft old brickwork which would
scratch and show marks plainly, and the Virginia creeper would break
away. In any case, as I said this morning, it would barely sustain the
weight of a boy, or a very slight girl. Finally, there are no marks of
footsteps approaching the wall in the garden outside.

"The question of entry is naturally of great importance, and that was
why I questioned the butler this morning whether the blinds were drawn
in the dining-room last night. At that time, before I had had an
opportunity of making my subsequent investigations, I deemed it possible
that the murderer might have entered from outside by the window. In that
case he would have had to pass the dining-room windows to reach the
bedroom window, and might have been seen by one of the guests in the
dining-room. It would be dark at the time, but last night was a very
clear one, and his form might have been discerned flitting past the
dining-room windows. But the absence of footprints in the gravel, and
more particularly, in the soft yielding earth beneath the bedroom
window, is conclusive proof to me that he did not get into the room that
way.

"Did he escape by the window? That question is more difficult to answer.
It is quite possible that it might have been done without injury, but it
is a desperate feat to leap from an upstairs window in the dark. The
murderer was in desperate straits, and for that reason we must not rule
out the possibility that he did so. But if the leap was made through the
window, my argument about the absence of footprints in the soft garden
soil underneath the window comes in with additional force. A person
leaping from such a height, even in stocking feet or rubber boots, would
be certain to leave the impress of the drop, in footmarks or heelmarks,
in the soil where he landed.

"Caldew's principal reason for believing that the murderer escaped by
the window was based on the point that there was no other avenue of
escape possible. We can only speculate as to what happened in the
bedroom immediately before the murder was committed, but Caldew's theory
is that Mrs. Heredith saw the murderer approaching her, and screamed for
help. That scream hurried the murderer's movements. The scream was sure
to arouse the household, and it left the murderer with the smallest
possible margin of time in which to shoot Mrs. Heredith and make escape
by the window. An attempt to escape down the front staircase meant
running into the arms of the inmates of the dining-room rushing
upstairs. The only other exit from that wing of the house was the
disused back staircase, and that was found locked when it was searched
after the murder. Therefore, according to Caldew, the murderer escaped
by the window because there was no other way out.

"That theory is plausible enough on the surface, but only on the
surface. For the same reason that establishes Miss Heredith's innocence,
the murderer could not have escaped by running down the staircase,
because there was not sufficient time to get past the people who had
been alarmed by the scream. But if the murderer was a man, it is just
possible that he might have darted out of the bedroom and dropped over
the balusters, before the dining-room door was opened, getting clear
away without being seen by anybody--not even by Miss Heredith. An
examination of the staircase of the left wing has convinced me that this
feat was possible. The staircase has a very sharp turn in the middle,
which has the effect of hiding the top of the staircase from the bottom,
and the bottom from the top. The leap is not so dangerous as the one
from the window, because it is not so high. It is probably six feet
less, allowing for the flooring beneath and the higher window opening
above. The spot by the foot of the staircase where the murderer might
have dropped is well screened, even from the view of anybody near the
bottom of the staircase, by some tall tree shrubs in tubs, and some
armour.

"But there is another and likelier way by which the murderer might have
escaped. I saw the possibility of it as soon as I examined the upstairs
portion of the wing in which the murder had been committed. There are
several places where the murderer could have hidden until chance
afforded the opportunity of escape. He would avoid seeking shelter in
any of the adjoining bedrooms, because he would realize that they would
be searched immediately the murder was discovered, but there are
excellent temporary places of concealment behind the tapestry hangings,
or in the thick folds of the heavy velvet curtains at the entrance to
the corridor, or in the small press or wardrobe which is built right
over the head of the stairs. Suppose that the murderer, after firing the
shot, dashed out into the corridor with the idea of escaping down the
stairs. He hears the guests coming upstairs, and realizes that he is too
late. He instinctively looks round for some place to hide, sees the
curtains, and slips behind them. From their folds he watches the guests
troop along the corridor to the murdered woman's bedroom. He could touch
them as they passed, but they cannot see him. Then, while they are all
congregated round the doorway of Mrs. Heredith's bedroom, he emerges on
the other side of the curtains, slips down the staircase, and gets out
of the house without meeting anybody."

"But all the guests did not go upstairs," observed Captain Stanhill, who
was following his companion's remarks with close attention. "Some stayed
in the dining-room. Tufnell, the butler, made that quite clear when you
were examining him this morning."

"Yes--a few hysterical females cowering and whimpering with fear as far
away from the door as possible," retorted Merrington contemptuously.
"The butler made that clear also."

"But the servants would also have heard the scream and the shot,"
pursued Captain Stanhill earnestly. "Is it not likely that some of them
would have been clustered near the foot of the staircase, wondering what
had happened?"

"No," replied Merrington. "Servants are even more cowardly than they are
curious. They would be too frightened to congregate at the foot of the
staircase, for fear the murderer might come leaping downstairs and
discharge another shot in their midst. It is possible, however, that the
murderer remained hidden upstairs for some time longer--perhaps until
the butler left the house to go to the village for the police, and
Musard took all the male guests downstairs to make another search of the
house. He would then have an exceedingly favourable opportunity of
slipping away unobserved. It is true that the upstairs portion of the
wing was searched before that time arrived, but the search was conducted
by amateurs who knew nothing about such a task, and would probably
overlook such hiding-places as I have indicated."

It appeared to Captain Stanhill that Superintendent Merrington, instead
of always adopting his theory of fitting the crime to the circumstances,
was sometimes in danger of reversing the process.

"From what you say it seems to me that it is very difficult to tell how
the murderer escaped," he remarked.

"It is even more difficult to say how the murderer, after entering the
moat-house, found his way to Mrs. Heredith's bedroom in order to murder
her. The house is a big rambling place, consisting of a main building
and two wings. It would be impossible for you or me or any other
stranger to find our way about it without previous knowledge of the
place, unless we had a plan. How, then, did the murderer accomplish it?
How did he know that Mrs. Heredith slept in the left wing? How did he
know that he would find her alone in that wing while everybody else was
downstairs at the dinner-table?"

Again, it seemed to Captain Stanhill that Merrington's detective methods
had a tendency to multiply difficulties rather than clear them up.

"Perhaps he was provided with a plan of the house," he suggested.

"That answers only one of my points. In my consideration of this aspect
of the case, two possible solutions occurred to me. It is impossible for
any of the guests to have committed the crime, because they were all
downstairs at the time, but it is just possible one of them may have
instigated it."

"It is incredible to me that a guest staying in a gentleman's house
could plot such a crime," said Captain Stanhill.

"Nothing is incredible in crime," replied Merrington. "I've no illusions
about human nature. It is capable of much worse things than that.
Strange things can happen in a big country-house like this, filled with
a large party of young people of both sexes--flirtations, intrigues, and
worse still."

"But not murder, as a general rule," commented Captain Stanhill, with a
trace of sarcasm in his mild tones.

"You cannot lay down general rules about murder. An unbalanced human
being, under the influence of hatred, jealousy, or revenge, is no more
amenable to the rules of society than a tiger. But I do not think that
this crime was instigated by one of the guests, because in that case it
would probably have been arranged to be committed later in the evening,
when the members of the house-party were at the house of the Weynes, and
the moat-house was occupied only by the servants. Still, I do not intend
to lose sight of the hypothesis. Another possibility is that one of the
servants was in league with the murderer. A third possibility is that
Mrs. Heredith may have brought in the murderer herself."

"What do you mean?"

"She may have had a lover, and the lover may have murdered her."

"Oh, impossible!" Captain Stanhill repelled the idea with an instinctive
gesture of disgust. "It is too monstrous to suppose that a happily
married young wife would be carrying on an intrigue three months after
her marriage."

"More monstrous things happen every day--human nature being what it is,"
retorted Merrington coolly. "You must remember that we know practically
nothing about her. The people who knew her in London left the house
before they could be questioned; Miss Heredith and her brother have no
knowledge of her past; and her husband is too ill to tell us anything.
Her marriage was apparently a hasty love match--a love match so far as
young Heredith was concerned. So far, we have only two slender facts to
guide us in our estimate of her, which are contained in the two letters
in which young Heredith announced his marriage to his people. According
to those statements, she was an orphan who was earning her living as a
war clerk in the Government department in which young Heredith held his
appointment. That does not carry us very far. During her brief life at
the moat-house she seems to have been reticent about her earlier life.
Miss Heredith is not the type of woman to have questioned her, and,
apparently, she vouchsafed no information. An examination of her boxes
and her writing-table has brought to light nothing in the way of writing
or correspondence to help us. Such a girl--a bachelor girl in London in
war-time--may have had passages in her past life of which her husband
knew nothing--passages which may have an important bearing on her
murder. Not until we have a thorough knowledge of her antecedents and
her past life can we hope to pierce the hidden motives which have led to
this murder. It is there, in my opinion, that we must seek for the clue
to this strange murder, and it is to that effort I shall devote my
energies as soon as I return to London. Until those facts are brought to
light we are merely groping in the dark."




CHAPTER X


In accordance with Merrington's instructions, Caldew devoted a
considerable portion of the morning seeking information among the
moat-house guests. But few of them showed any inclination to talk about
the murder. Many of the women were too upset to be seen, and the men had
plainly no desire to be mixed up in such a terrible affair by giving
interviews to detectives. Everybody was anxious to get away as speedily
as possible, and Caldew was compelled to pursue his inquiries amongst
groups of hurrying people, flustered servants, and village conveyances
laden with luggage. Most of the departing guests replied to his
questions as briefly as possible, and gave their London addresses with
obvious reluctance; the few who were willing to aid the cause of justice
could throw very little light on the London life of the murdered girl.
Even those who had been acquainted with her before her marriage seemed
to know very little about her.

Caldew finished his inquiries by midday. By that time most of the guests
had departed from the moat-house and were on their way to London.
Superintendent Merrington and Captain Stanhill were in the library
examining the servants. Sergeant Lumbe had gone by train to Tibblestone
to sift the story of the suspicious stranger who had descended on that
remote village during the previous night.

It wanted an hour to lunch-time, and Caldew decided to spend the time by
making a few investigations on his own account before cycling over to
Chidelham in the afternoon to see the Weynes.

Caldew had not been impressed with Merrington's handling of the case.
Subordinates rarely are impressed with the qualities of those placed
over them in authority. They generally imagine they could do better if
they had the same opportunities. Caldew was no exception to that rule.
It seemed to him that Merrington lacked finesse, and was out of touch
with modern methods of criminal investigation. He had been spoilt by too
much success, by too much newspaper flattery, by too many jaunts with
Royalty. No man could act as sheep-dog for Royalty and retain skill as a
detective. That kind of professional work was fatal for the
intelligence. Merrington had a great reputation behind him, and his
knowledge of European criminals was probably unequalled, but his methods
of investigating the moat-house murder suggested that he was no longer
one of the world's greatest detectives, if, indeed, he had ever deserved
recognition in their ranks. Caldew recalled that his fame rested chiefly
on his wide experience rather than on the more subtle deductive methods
of modern criminology. It was said in Scotland Yard that when Merrington
was at the height of his reputation, twenty years before, his knowledge
of London criminals and their methods was so extensive that he could in
most cases identify the criminal by merely looking at his handiwork.

As a modern criminologist, Caldew believed that the less a detective
intruded his own personality into his investigations the better for his
chances of success. He did not think that the loud officialism of
Merrington was likely to solve such a deep, subtle crime as the murder
of Violet Heredith, and, consequently, he had the chance for which he
had waited so long. It now remained for him to prove that he could do
better than Merrington. He had sufficient confidence in his own
abilities to welcome the opportunity, but at the same time he believed
that he was confronted with a crime which would tax all his resources as
a detective to unravel.

Like Merrington, he had been struck by the strangeness of the murder.
All the circumstances were unusual, and quite outside his previous
experience of big crimes. He had also come to the conclusion that the
ease with which the murderer had found his way into the moat-house, and
afterwards escaped, pointed to an intimate knowledge of the place.

It would be too much to say that Caldew and Merrington reached different
conclusions by the same road. Up to a certain point their independent
deductions from the more obvious facts of the case were alike, as was
inevitable. In every crime there are circumstances and events which are
as finger-posts, pointing the one way to the experienced observer. But
their subsequent deductions from the outstanding facts branched widely,
perhaps because the younger detective did not read so much into
circumstances as Merrington. From the same facts they had reached
different theories about the murder. Merrington, by a process of minute
and careful deductions which he had placed before the Chief Constable,
had convinced himself that the key to the murder and the murderer was to
be found in London; Caldew believed that the solution of the mystery lay
near the scene of the events, and perhaps in the house where the murder
was committed.

Caldew was aware that he could have given no satisfactory reason for
holding that belief, apart from the point that the murder had been
committed by somebody who knew the moat-house sufficiently well to get
in and out of the place without being seen. But that point was open to
the explanation that the criminal might have provided himself with a
plan of the house. Nevertheless, the impression had entered his mind so
strongly that he could not have shaken it off if he had tried. But he
did not try. He had sufficient imagination to be aware that intuition,
in crime detection, is sometimes worth more than the most elaborate
deductions.

For the rest, all his speculations about the crime were affected by the
trinket he had found in the bedroom on the night of the murder. But the
discovery and subsequent disappearance of that clue, as he believed it
to be, had not led him very far as yet. He felt himself in the position
of a palæontologist who is called upon to reproduce the structure of an
extinct prehistoric animal from a footprint in sandstone. The vanished
trinket was a starting-point, and no more. It was a possible hypothesis
that the person who had dropped the stone and entered the death-chamber
in search of it was the murderer, but so far it was incapable of
demonstration or proof. As an isolated fact, it was useless, and brought
him no nearer the solution of the mystery. But, on the other hand, it
was an undoubted fact, and, for that reason, was dependent upon other
facts for its existence. It was his task to find out who had dropped the
trinket in the bedroom and subsequently returned for it during his own
brief absence downstairs. To establish those essential kindred facts
was, he believed, to lay hands on the murderer of Violet Heredith.

Caldew walked thoughtfully from the moat-house down to the village,
intent on commencing his own independent investigations into the crime.
If the solution of the mystery lay near the scene, as he believed, it
was possible that some clue might be picked up among the villagers, to
whom the daily doings of the folk in "the big house" were events of the
first magnitude, and who might, presumably, be supposed to know anything
which was likely to throw light on the obscure motive for the crime. It
was for that reason he directed his footsteps towards the fountain head
of gossip in an English village--the inn. He flattered himself he would
be able to extract more local information from the patrons of the place
than any other detective could hope to do. To begin with, he was a
Sussex man and a native of the village, and since his return, after so
many years' absence, he had spent his evenings at the inn renewing old
associations and talking to the companions of his boyhood.

A week's renewed village life had taught him the ways of the place and
the war-time drinking customs of the inhabitants. Constrained by recent
legislation to compress their convivial intercourse into extremely
limited periods, the village tradesmen, and a fair proportion of the
surrounding farm labourers and shepherds, had fallen into the habit of
assembling at the inn at midday, to discuss the hard times and drink the
sour weak "war beer" forced on patriotic Britons as an exigent war
measure.

Caldew entered a side door which opened into a small snuggery, divided
from the tap-room by a wooden partition. It was here that the regular
cronies and select patrons of the establishment sat in comfortable
seclusion to discuss the crops, the weather, and market prices in the
broad Sussex dialect, which Caldew, from the force of old association,
unconsciously fell into again when he was with them.

The room was nearly full, but his appearance threw a marked restraint on
the group of assembled countrymen. The conversation, which had obviously
been about the murder, ceased instantly as he entered and seated himself
on one of the forms placed against the partition. The innkeeper, who was
standing behind the bar in his shirt sleeves, nodded uneasily in
response to his friendly salutation, but the customers awkwardly avoided
his glance by staring stolidly in front of them. Caldew attempted to
dispel their reserve with a friendly remark, but no reply was
forthcoming. It was obvious that the patrons of the inn wanted neither
his conversation nor company. One after another, they finished their
beer and walked out of the inn with the slow deliberate movements of the
Sussex peasant.

Caldew had not allowed for the change the murder had effected on the
village mind. His familiar relations with the inn customers had changed
overnight. He was no longer the former village lad, returned to his
native village, and welcomed from his old association with the place,
but a being invested with the dread powers and majesty of the law, from
which no man might deem himself safe.

Caldew walked out of the snuggery and opened a door at the side of the
house. It opened into a billiard room--a surprising novelty in an
English country inn, and the outcome of a piece of enterprise on the
part of the landlord, who had picked up a small table cheap at a sale,
and installed it in the clubroom, hoping to profit thereby. Again Caldew
was conscious of the same distinct air of constraint immediately he
entered. Two or three men who were talking and laughing loudly became as
mute as though their vocal organs had been suddenly smitten with
paralysis. The village butcher, who was at the billiard table in the act
of attempting some complicated stroke, stopped abruptly with his cue in
mid air, and gazed at the detective with open mouth and a look of
apprehension on his florid face, as though he expected instant
accusation and arrest for the moat-house murder.

With an irritated appreciation of his changed status in village eyes,
Caldew left the inn and walked home for a meal before setting forth to
Chidelham to interview Mrs. Weyne.

There was a strong smell of soap suds in his brother-in-law's house, and
a vision of his sister's broad back, in vigorous motion over a steaming
wash-tub in the kitchen, indicated that she was in the throes of her
weekly wash. She ceased her labours at the sound of footsteps, and
turned round.

"Oh, it's you, Tom. Come for a bite to eat? Jest sit you down, and I'll
have dinner on the table in no time. I got something good for you. Old
Upden, the shepherd, brought me a nice rabbit this mornin', and I've
stewed it. It's the last one we'll get, I expect. Upden was telling me
he ain't going to snare no more, because the boys steal his snares,
which ain't no joke, with copper wire at five shillings a pound."

Caldew took a seat at the table, and watched his sister dish up the
dinner. As Sergeant Lumbe's income was not sufficient to permit of all
the refinements of civilized life, such as a separate room for dining,
the family midday dinner was taken in the kitchen, which was the common
living room. Mrs. Lumbe's preparations for the meal were prompt and
effective. She carried the tub of clothes outside, opened the window to
let out the steam, laid knives and forks and plates on the deal table,
then put a liberal portion of stewed rabbit into each plate out of the
pot which was steaming on the side of the stove. Dinner was then ready,
and brother and sister commenced their meal.

Caldew ate in silence, and his sister glanced at him wistfully at
intervals. She had no children of her own, and she had a feeling of
admiration for the brother she had mothered as a boy, who had gone to
the great city and become a London detective. From her point of view he
had achieved great fame and distinction, and she cherished in her
workbox some newspaper clippings of crime cases in which his name had
been favourably mentioned by friendly reporters. She hoped he would be
successful in finding the moat-house murderer. She would have liked to
question him about the case, but she stood a little in awe of him and
his London ways.

"What's the best way to Chidelham, Kate?" asked Caldew, as he rose from
the table. "There used to be a footpath across by Dormer's farm which
cut off a couple of miles. Is it still open?"

"It's still open, Tom. Old Dormer tried to get it closed, and went to
law about it, but he lost. Be you going across to Chidelham?"

"Yes, I shall ride over on my bicycle this afternoon. Do you know where
the Weynes live?"

"The Weynes? Oh, you mean the writing chap that bought Billing's place.
Their house stands by itself a mile out of the village, just afore you
come to Green Patch Hill."

"Thanks. I know Billing's place very well, but I wasn't aware that he
had sold it. I'd better be getting along. It's a good long ride."

"What be you goin' there for, Tom?" asked Mrs. Lumbe, with keen
curiosity. "About this case?"

"Yes," replied Caldew shortly.

"Have you found out anything yet, Tom?" pursued his sister earnestly,
her curiosity overcoming her awe of her clever brother. "Jem was telling
me before he went to Tibblestone that a ter'ble gre'at detective come
down from Lunnon this mornin', and was stirrin' up things proper. Jem
says he's a detective what travels about with the King, and 'e's got
letters to his name because of that. Is he on the tracks of the murderer
yet, Tom?"

"No, and he's not likely to, as far as I can see," said her brother a
little bitterly.

"Dear, dear, that's a pity, for it's a ter'ble thing, and an awful end
for the young lady. Jem came home all of a tremble like last night with
the ghastly sight of her corpse and I had to give him a drop of spirits
to help him to sleep. We was a talkin' about it in bed, and wond'ring
who could 'ave done it. Nobody hereabouts, for I'm sure there's nobody
in the village would hurt a fellow creature. Besides, the folk at the
big house is too respected for a living soul to think of harming them."

"They are popular with everybody, are they?" said Caldew, sitting down
again with the realization that he was likely to gather as much
information about the Heredith family from his sister as he could obtain
anywhere else.

"Oh, yes," replied his sister. "It's only nat'ral they should be. Sir
Philip is a good landlord, and he and Miss Heredith are very generous to
folk."

"Is Philip Heredith well-liked in the district?"

"He's been away so long that folk don't know much about him. But I never
heard anybody say anything against him. He's different from Sir Philip,
but he seems gentle and kind."

"He used to be a quiet and solitary little chap years ago," remarked
Caldew. "I remember climbing a tree in Monk's Hill wood for a bird's
nest for him. He couldn't climb himself because of his lameness."

"It doesn't seem like a Heredith to be small and lame," said Mrs. Lumbe
thoughtfully. "I've heard those who ought to know declare that Miss
Heredith never forgave his mother for bringing him into the world with a
lame foot. The servants at the big house say Mr. Phil has always been
ter'ble sensitive about his lameness. That's what made him so lonely in
his ways, though he was rare fond of animals and birds. We was all taken
aback when we heard of his marriage. He always seemed so shy of the
young ladies. The only girl I ever knowed him to take any notice of was
Hazel Rath. I have met them walking through the woods together."

"Who is Hazel Rath?"

"The daughter of the moat-house housekeeper. She came to the moat-house
with her mother nearly ten years agone. She was a pretty little thing.
Miss Heredith was very fond of her, and sent her to school. Mr. Philip
was fond of her too, in his way, though, of course, there could never
a'been anything between them. But nobody hereabouts ever expected him to
marry a London young lady."

"Why not?" asked Caldew.

"The Herediths have always married in the county, as far back as can be
counted. It was thought Miss Heredith would make a match between Mr.
Philip and the daughter of Sir Harry Ravenworth, of the Wilcotes. The
Ravenworths are the second family in the county, and well-to-do. 'Twould
a'been a most suitable match, as folk here agreed. But 'twas not to be,
more's the pity."

Caldew nodded absently. His original interest in his sister's talk was
relapsing into boredom because it seemed unlikely to lead to anything of
the slightest importance about the murder.

"The young lady he did marry was not a real lady, so I've heard say,"
continued Mrs. Lumbe, placidly pursuing the train of her reflections.
"She didn't come much into the village, but when she did she walked
about as though she were bettermost, and everybody else dirt beneath her
feet. But I have heard that she had to earn her own living in London
before Mr. Philip fell in love with her pretty face. If that's the
truth, she gave herself enough airs afterwards, and did all she could to
make Miss Heredith feel she'd put her nose out of joint, as the saying
is."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Caldew sharply, with all his senses
again alert.

"Well, you know, Tom, Miss Heredith has been the mistress of the
moat-house and the great lady of the county since Lady Heredith died.
But when Mr. Philip brought his young wife down from London that was all
changed. The young lady soon let her see that she wasn't going to be
ruled by her, and didn't care for her or her ways. They do say it was a
great trial to Miss Heredith, though she tried not to let anybody know
it."

"Where did you learn this?" Caldew asked abruptly.

"Lord, Tom, how short you pick me up! Milly Saker, who's parlourmaid at
the moat-house, told me in the strictest confidence, because she knew I
wouldn't tell anybody. And I wouldn't tell anybody but you, Tom. She
told me from the very first that she didn't think the two ladies would
get on together. They were so different, Milly said, and she was certain
Miss Heredith didn't think the young lady good enough to marry into the
Heredith family."

"Did she tell you if they had ever quarrelled?"

"I asked her that, and she said no. Miss Heredith is always the lady,
and she wouldn't lower herself by quarrelling with anybody, least of all
with anybody she did not consider as good a lady as herself. But Milly
says she was sorely tried at times. Milly thought it would end up in her
leaving the moat-house and marrying her old sweetheart, Mr. Musard,
who's just returned from his foreign travels. Perhaps you've seen him."

"Yes, I've seen him," said Caldew. "So he is her old sweetheart, is he?"

"So folk used to say," returned Mrs. Lumbe. "I remember there was some
talk of a match between them when I was a girl, but nothing came of it.
It's my opinion that Miss Heredith must have refused him then because of
his wild days, and he took to his travels to cure his broken heart. But
they still think a lot of each other, as is plain for everybody to see,
and go out for walks together arm in arm. So perhaps it will all come
right in the end."

With this comfortable doctrine of life, based on her perusal of female
romances, Mrs. Lumbe got up from her seat to clear the table.

"I trust it will," said her brother, but his remark had nothing to do
with the triumph of true love in the last chapter.

He left the room to get his bicycle to ride to Chidelham.




CHAPTER XI


On his way to Chidelham, Caldew again pondered over the murder, and for
the first time seriously asked himself whether Miss Heredith could have
committed the crime. He had glanced at that possibility before, and had
practically dismissed it on the score of lack of motive, but his
sister's story of the differences between Miss Heredith and her nephew's
wife supplied that deficiency in a startling degree. In reviewing the
whole of the circumstances by the light of the information his sister
had given him, it now seemed to him that Miss Heredith fitted into the
crime in a remarkable way.

The most important fact leading to that inference was that she alone, of
all the inmates of the moat-house the previous night, was out of the
dining-room when the murder was committed. That supposition took no
cognizance of the servants, but Caldew had all along eliminated the
servants in his consideration of the crime. In the next place, it
supplied an explanation for the disappearance of the bar brooch from the
bedroom. In all likelihood the butler had first acquainted his mistress
with his discovery of the unlocked staircase door, and she, realizing
where she had dropped her brooch, had seized upon the opportunity to
request Musard to call the detective downstairs and tell him about the
door. In his absence she returned to the bedroom for the brooch.

This theory seemed plausible enough at first blush, but as Caldew
examined it closely several objections arose in his mind. The hidden
motive of the crime, as innocently laid bare by his sister, was strong,
but was it strong enough to impel a woman like Miss Heredith, with the
rigid principles of her birth, breeding, and caste, and a woman,
moreover, who had spent her life in good works, to commit such an
atrocious murder? Caldew considered this point long and thoughtfully.
With his keener imagination he differed from Merrington by relying to
some extent on external impressions, and he could not shake off his
first impression of Miss Heredith as a woman of exceptionally good type.
He had to admit to himself that her graciousness and dignity were not
the qualities usually associated with a murderer. Religion, hypocrisy,
smugness, plausibility; these were the commonest counterfeit qualities
of criminals; not dignity, worth, and pride.

There was, of course, the possibility that Miss Heredith, grown
imperious with her long unquestioned sway at the moat-house, had
quarrelled with the young wife, and committed the murder in a sudden
gust of passion. The most unlikely murders had been committed under the
sway of impulse. Caldew recalled that Miss Heredith had been the last
person to see the murdered woman alive, and nobody except herself knew
what had occurred at that interview. It might be that the young wife had
said something to her which rankled so deeply that she conceived the
idea of murdering her.

Caldew, on reaching this stage of his reasoning, shook his head
doubtfully. He had to admit to himself that such a theory did not ring
true. If Miss Heredith had been maddened by some insult at the
afternoon's interview, she was far more likely to have killed Mrs.
Heredith immediately than have waited until dinner-time. And, if she had
committed the murder, why had she gone about it in the manner likeliest
to lead to discovery, openly leaving her guests a few minutes before,
and allowing herself to be seen afterwards descending the staircase?
Even the veriest neophyte in crime usually displayed some of the caution
of self-preservation.

But Caldew was too experienced in criminal investigation to reject a
theory merely because it was contrary to experience. There existed
presumptions for suspicion of Miss Heredith which at least warranted
further inquiry. And, thinking over these presumptions, he arrived at
the additional conclusion that the theory of her guilt could also be
made to account for the puzzle of the open window in Mrs. Heredith's
bedroom. Caldew believed that the open window had some bearing on the
crime. His first impression had been that the murderer had entered and
escaped by that means. The Virginia creeper to which Weyling had
directed attention that morning had strengthened that belief, in spite
of Merrington's opinion that the plant would not bear a man's weight.
But now it seemed to him that Miss Heredith might have opened the window
for the purpose of throwing the revolver into the moat so that it should
not be found. He determined to investigate that possibility as soon as
he returned to the moat-house.

He reached his destination only to learn that Mr. and Mrs. Weyne had
motored over to the moat-house to pay their condolences to the family.
He remounted his bicycle and rode back as fast as he could, chagrined to
think that he had wasted the best part of an afternoon in a fruitless
errand.

It was evening when he reached Heredith again, and rode through the
woods towards the moat-house. It looked deserted in the gathering
twilight. A fugitive gleam of departing sunshine fell on the bronze and
blood-red chrysanthemums in the circular beds, but the shadows were
lengthening across the lawn, and the mist from the green waters of the
moat was creeping up the stained red walls.

His ring at the front door was answered by the pretty parlourmaid who
had been dusting the hall before breakfast. He recognized in Milly Saker
a village playmate of nearly twenty years ago, and he recalled that it
was she who had told his sister of the difference which had existed
between Miss Heredith and her nephew's wife.

Milly greeted the detective with a coquettish smile of recognition.

"How are you?" she said. "You wouldn't look at me this morning. You
seemed as if you didn't want to recognize old friends."

Caldew's mind was too preoccupied to meet these rural pleasantries in
the same spirit.

"Is Miss Heredith in?" he asked, stepping into the hall.

"I shouldn't be here talking to you if she was," replied the girl
pertly. "She's gone to the village in the motorcar to meet Mr. Musard.
She's just got a telegram to say he's coming back."

"I thought he was going to France," said Caldew.

"Well, he's not. The telegram says he's not. So Miss Heredith's gone to
meet him by the evening train. Tufnell's out too. I don't know where
he's poked to, but I shan't cry my eyes out if he never comes back."

"Have Mr. and Mrs. Weyne been here?"

"Yes. They drove over in their car, and saw Miss Heredith and Sir
Philip. They weren't here very long."

"Where are Superintendent Merrington and Captain Stanhill?"

"In the library. They come in about an hour ago. The big gentleman has
to go back to London to-night--I heard him say so. A good riddance too.
He had all the servants in the library this morning, bullying them
dreadfully."

"What did he say to you?" asked Caldew, with a smile.

"Nothing," responded the girl promptly, "except what he said early this
morning, when he stopped me in the hall here, and put his great ugly
hand under my chin, and told me he'd have a talk with me by-and-by. But
he didn't get the chance, because I was over in the village all the
morning with my mother, who's been ill. But he gave all the other girls
such a time that they haven't done talking of it yet. Gwennie Harden,
who sleeps with me, says he must have thought one of us murdered Mrs.
Heredith, and the cook was so angry with the questions he asked her that
she was going to give a month's warning on the spot, but old Tufnell
talked her over, saying that it was only done in the way of duty, no
personal reflection being intended. Tufnell begged her pardon for what
she'd had to put up with, and the cook granted it, and there the matter
ended. But they do say that Mrs. Rath--that's the housekeeper--came out
of the library looking fit to drop. But Hazel Rath didn't go into the
library, although she stayed here last night, and has been with her
mother all day. Favouritism, I call it. Why should they put all us
servants through our facings, and leave her alone?"

The mention of Hazel Rath's name recalled to Caldew's mind the
information his sister had given him about the early association between
her and Philip Heredith. But the import of that statement, and the
significance of the piece of news Milly Saker had just given him, were
not made clear to him until later. At the moment his thoughts were fixed
on the idea of testing his new theory about the open window while Miss
Heredith was absent. As he turned away, he asked the girl where Sir
Philip was.

"He's sitting with Mr. Phil," was the reply.

"I suppose there is nobody upstairs in the left wing?" he added.

"Nobody but the corpse," responded Milly, with a slight shiver. "Miss
Heredith's had her bedroom shifted. Last night she slept downstairs, but
this morning she gave orders for the white bedroom in the right wing to
be prepared for her. I reckon she wants to get as far away from it as
possible, and I don't blame her."

Caldew proceeded upstairs, and entered the death-chamber in the silent
wing. On his way back from Chidelham he had picked up a round stone,
which he now took from his pocket, intending to throw it from the
window, and mark the spot where it fell into the moat. He opened the
window, and looked out across the garden. The distance to the moat was
much farther than he had imagined; so great, indeed, that his own shot
at the water fell short by several feet. It was impossible that Miss
Heredith could have accomplished such a remarkable feat as to hurl a
revolver across the intervening space between the window and the moat.
No woman could throw so far and so straight.

This unforeseen obstacle rather disconcerted Caldew at first, but on
looking out of the window again it seemed to him, by the lay of the
house, that the window of Miss Heredith's bedroom was closer to the moat
than the window at which he was standing. As Miss Heredith had
transferred her bedroom to the other wing, he decided to go into the
room and see if he were right. He still clung to his new idea that the
revolver had been thrown into the moat, although his altered view that
it might have been thrown from Miss Heredith's window meant the
abandonment of his other assumption that the disposal of the revolver by
that means accounted for the open window in Mrs. Heredith's bedroom.
Caldew realized as he left the room that the question of the open window
still remained to be solved. What he did not realize was that he was
distorting the facts of the case in order to establish the possibility
of his own theory.

The door of the room which Miss Heredith had occupied was ajar. He
pushed it open and entered. There was within that deserted and desolate
air which a room so quickly takes on when the occupant has vacated it.
The heavier furniture and the bed remained to demonstrate the ugliness
of utility after the accessories and adjuncts of luxury had been carried
away.

The blind was down and the room in partial darkness. Caldew went to the
window, raised the blind, and looked out. The distance to the moat was
appreciably nearer, compared with the window of the room he had just
left, but the distance was still considerable.

As Caldew turned from the window, with the reluctant conviction that he
had been nursing an untenable theory, a last ray of sunshine shot
through the open window, causing the dust he had raised by his entrance
to quiver and gyrate like a host of mad bacilli dancing a jig. The shaft
of light, falling athwart the dismantled toilet-table, brought something
else into view--a tiny fragment of gold chain dangling from the polished
satinwood drawer.

Caldew pulled the drawer open. Inside was a lady's thin gold neck chain,
with a bundle of charms and trinkets attached to the end, which had
evidently been left behind and forgotten. He glanced at the chain
carelessly, and was about to replace it in the drawer, when his eye was
arrested by one of the trinkets. It was a small image, not much over an
inch in length; a squatting heathen god, with crossed arms and a satyr's
face--a wonderful example of savage carving in miniature.

It was not the perfection of the carving or the unusual nature of the
ornament which attracted Caldew's attention, but the material, of which
it was composed, a clear almost transparent stone, with the faintest
possible tinge of green. Holding it in the sunlight, Caldew was able to
detect one or two minute black flecks in the stone. There was no doubt
about it--the image was of the same peculiar material as the trinket he
had seen in the murdered woman's room the previous night.

As he stood there examining the charm, the murmur of voices not far away
fell on his ears. Looking cautiously out of the window, he saw Musard
and Miss Heredith walk round the side of the house to the garden, deep
in earnest conversation. Caldew backed away to an angle where he was not
visible from beneath, and watched them closely. Musard was talking,
occasionally using an impressive gesture, and Miss Heredith was
listening attentively, with a downcast face, and eyes which suggested
recent tears. As she passed underneath the window at which he was
watching, she raised a handkerchief to her face and sobbed aloud. Caldew
wondered to see the proud and reserved mistress of the moat-house show
her grief so freely in the presence of Musard, until he remembered what
his sister had told him of their supposed early love for each other. And
with that thought came another. It must have been Musard, the explorer,
the man who had wandered afar in strange lands in search of precious
stones, who had brought to the moat-house the peculiar stone of which
the missing brooch and the little image had been fashioned.

Acting on the swift impulse to take the image to Miss Heredith and see
how she received it, Caldew slipped the chain into his pocket and
hurried downstairs. At the bottom of the staircase he was stopped by
Tufnell, who had evidently been waiting for him to descend. The usually
imperturbable dignity of the butler was for once ruffled, and he looked
slightly flushed and dishevelled.

"I have been down to the village looking for you," he said, in a
querulous tone. The majesty of the law had not vested Caldew with any
dignity in the old butler's eyes. He saw in him only the village urchin
of a score of years ago, whose mischievous pranks on the Heredith estate
had been a constant source of worry to him.

The detective appreciated the estimation in which the old man held him,
and the fact did not tend to lessen his own irritation.

"What did you want me for?" he curtly asked.

"I did not want you, but the gentlemen in the library do. Superintendent
Merrington thought you had been a long time away, and he sent me down to
the village to look for you. He is anxious to return to London. You will
find him in the library."

The butler's cool assumption that it was Merrington's privilege to
command, and Caldew's duty to obey, nettled the latter considerably. He
felt that Merrington had, in his offensive way, deliberately asserted
his official authority in order to humiliate him in his native place.
Acting on the impulse of anger he replied:

"I have some things to attend to before I can see him. You can tell him
so, if you like."

He walked away towards the hall door, conscious that the butler was
standing stationary by the stairs, watching him. When he got outside, he
turned his steps towards the garden; but brief as had been the interval
since he had seen Musard and Miss Heredith conversing together by the
sundial, it had been sufficient to bring the conversation to a
conclusion. Miss Heredith was no longer to be seen, and Musard was
sauntering along the gravel walk smoking a cigar.

Had they seen him at the window, and broken off their conference in
consequence? It looked as if this were so. Miss Heredith must have
entered the house by another door, because if she had gone in by the
front door he must have encountered her. Caldew would have retraced his
steps if Musard had not looked up, and, seeing the detective, waited for
him to approach.

Caldew walked towards him, wondering whether Miss Heredith had missed
her chain of charms, and had gone upstairs to find it. In that case, he
reflected grimly, the position of the previous night was reversed, and
this time it was she who was forestalled. It was an ironical situation,
truly, but he was to some extent the master of it.

Musard nodded to the detective and proffered his cigarcase. Caldew
accepted a cigar and admired the case, which was made of crocodile skin,
worked and dressed in a manner altogether new to him. He had never seen
anything like it in London tobacconists' shops, and he said so.

"Native manufacture," replied Musard, selecting a fresh cigar. "My
Chinese boy shot the crocodile which provided it. It's a rare thing for
a Chinese to be a good shot with a modern English rifle, but my boy
would carry off anything at Bisley. He never misses. It was lucky for me
that he didn't that time, because the brute came along to bag me while I
was swimming in a river. Suey, hearing me call, ran out from the tent
with my rifle, and shot him from the bank. He got him through the
eye--the eye and the throat are the only two vulnerable spots in a
crocodile. A bullet will rebound off the head as off a rock."

"Where did this happen?" asked Caldew, in an interested tone. His own
knowledge of crocodiles was confined to the fact that he had once seen a
small one in a tank at the Zoological Gardens.

"In Zambesi. There are plenty of them there in the rivers and mango
swamps. Some hunters stake a dog overnight by the river bank, and the
animal gives them warning of the approach of the reptiles by howling
with terror. It is rather cruel--to the dog."

"Undoubtedly," said Caldew.

"How are you getting on with your investigations in this case?"
continued Musard, abruptly changing the conversation.

Caldew was instantly wary, and stiffened into an attitude of official
reserve, wondering why Musard should seek to question him about the
murder.

"I am an old friend of the Herediths," continued Musard, as though
divining the other's thoughts. "This murder is a very terrible thing for
them. I am afraid it may mean Sir Philip's death-blow. He is old and
feeble, and the shock, and his son's illness, have had a very bad effect
on him. I should have gone to France to-day for the War Office, but I
arranged for somebody to go in my place in order to remain with the
family in their hour of trial. Have you found out anything which leads
you to suppose you are on the track of the murdered?"

"I am afraid I cannot tell you anything about the investigations,"
replied the detective cautiously. "I am not in charge of the case, you
know."

"I understand," rejoined the other, with a nod. "Perhaps I should not
have asked you. My anxiety must be my excuse."

He uttered this apology so courteously and pleasantly that Caldew felt
momentarily ashamed of his own rigidly official attitude. But his
instincts of caution quickly reasserted themselves, and he told himself
that in this sinister case it was his business to be on his guard and
talk to nobody.

The situation was terminated by the reappearance of Miss Heredith from a
door at the side of the house. The detective was a little surprised to
see her again, for he had conceived the idea that she had gone indoors
to avoid meeting him. She went eagerly to Musard without noticing him.

"Oh, Vincent!" she exclaimed, and the look of relief on her face was
unmistakable. "Sir Ralph Horton is just leaving. He says that Phil has
passed the crisis, and there is no need for him to stay any longer. Phil
still needs great care and attention, but Sir Ralph says it will be
quite safe to leave him in Dr. Holmes's hands. There is no fear for his
brain, thank God."

"This is good news," said Musard. "Have you told Sir Philip?"

"Not yet. I thought it better to defer it until after dinner. I want you
to tell him then."

Miss Heredith turned as though to re-enter the house, but Caldew, who
had been hovering a few paces away within earshot of this dialogue,
approached her with the gold chain in his hand.

"Excuse me, Miss Heredith," he said. "One of the maids told me that you
no longer occupied the room upstairs in the left wing, so I took the
liberty of going in there to see if it was possible for the murderer to
have escaped by clambering from the window of one room to another, and
while I was there I found this chain. It was hanging out of a drawer of
the toilet-table near the window, and as it had obviously been forgotten
I thought I had better restore it to you."

He held it out to her as he finished speaking, keenly watching her face
for some sign of confusion or trepidation. But Miss Heredith received
the chain calmly, and thanked him for returning it. Caldew was
disappointed at the failure of his test, but he essayed a further shot.

"I noticed a very peculiar little image among the charms on the chain,"
he said hesitatingly. "I have never seen anything like it before, and I
couldn't help wondering where it came from."

It was a clumsy trap, and he realized it, but he was too anxious to
achieve his end by more subtle methods. There was nothing in Miss
Heredith's calm countenance to suggest that she was alarmed or uneasy at
his curiosity. She turned to Musard.

"Mr. Caldew means the strange little image you gave me when you arrived,
Vincent. What is it?"

She held out the chain, and the explorer took it in his big brown hand.
He separated the image from the other charms with his forefinger, and
turned it over carelessly.

"That is a tiki," he said.

The explanation conveyed nothing to Caldew.

"I have never heard the word before," he said. "What is a tiki?"

"It is the Maori word for the creator of man, and is also taken to
represent an ancestor," Musard explained. "The Maoris are to some extent
ancestor worshippers, and adorn their pahs and temples with large wooden
images of immense size, supposed to represent some renowned fighting
ancestor. These images are worshipped as gods, and are believed to be
visited by the spirits, who ascend to converse with them by the hollow
roots of a pohutukawa tree, which descends into the Maori nether
regions. The smaller tikis, or, more strictly speaking, hei-tiki, such
as this, are carved as representations in miniature of the larger
images, and are worn as neck ornaments. They are supposed to render the
wearer immune from the wicked designs of evil spirits."

"From what material are they carved?" said Caldew, who had followed this
explanation attentively. "I have never seen anything resembling it. It
seems as clear and colourless as glass, but it emits a faint greenish
lustre, and there are black flecks in it."

"It is nephrite, or Maori greenstone," replied Musard. "London jewellers
term it New Zealand jade."

"Surely this stone is not jade?" said Caldew, in some surprise. "I have
seen New Zealand jade ornaments in London shops, but they were made from
a dull deep greenstone, not a bit like this stone, which is clear as
crystal, and has a lustre."

"There are different sorts of jade," replied Musard. "The present craze
of Society women is for Chinese pink jade and tourmalin. A good pink
jade necklace will readily bring a thousand pounds in Bond Street, and
it is going to be the fashionable jewel of the season. New Zealand
nephrite has not yet come into popular favour with English ladies, and
only the commoner dark green variety, which is frequently spurious, is
seen here. This image was made of the rarer kind of pounamu, as the
Maoris call it."

"It is very pretty," said Caldew. "Have you any more of it?" He
flattered himself that the assumption of carelessness in his tone was
not overdone.

"No," replied Musard. "It was the only piece of the rare kind I was ever
lucky enough to obtain."

"There was another small piece, Vincent," remarked Miss Heredith. "You
brought it about ten years ago. It was the same kind of transparent
stone, with black flecks in it."

"I had forgotten. I gave it to Phil, didn't I? What did he do with it?"

"He had it made into a brooch for Hazel Rath, and gave it to her as a
birthday gift."




CHAPTER XII


As Caldew returned to the house for his interview with Merrington, the
one clear impression on his mind was that the discovery of the owner of
the missing brooch was the starting point in the elucidation of the
murder.

In the library he found Superintendent Merrington, Captain Stanhill,
Inspector Weyling, and Sergeant Lumbe. The sergeant, who looked tired
and dirty, was apologetically explaining that his visit to Tibblestone
had been fruitless.

"I had my journey for nothing," he was saying in his thick country
voice, as Caldew entered. "I had a wild goose chase all over the place,
and then it turned out that this chap Mr. Hawkins telephoned about was
only a canvasser for In Memoriam cards for fallen soldiers. I come
across him at last sitting by the roadside eating his dinner and reading
a London picture paper. He looked a doubtful sort of a customer, sure
enough, but he was able to prove that he was playing bagatelle in the
inn last night at the time the murder was committed."

Superintendent Merrington dismissed this information with a nod, and
turned to Caldew.

"Did you interview Mrs. Weyne?" he asked.

"They were not in," was the reply. "I was told they had motored to the
moat-house. Did you see them?"

Superintendent Merrington frowned. He had not seen the Weynes, and he
had not been informed of their visit. It was another addition to the sum
of untoward incidents which had happened to him since his arrival at the
moat-house, and he felt very dissatisfied and wrathful.

"I am returning to London by the next train, Caldew," he said, in his
authoritative voice. "Official business of importance demands my
immediate presence. I will have some inquiries made at Scotland Yard
about the people who have been staying here. In the meantime, you had
better remain on the spot and continue your inquiries under the Chief
Constable."

"I shall be very glad of Detective Caldew's help in unravelling this
terrible mystery," Captain Stanhill remarked courteously.

Caldew drew several conclusions from his chief's speech. Merrington was
puzzled about the case, but had no intention of taking him into his
counsel. Merrington believed that the murderer had got clear away, and,
therefore, further local investigation was useless, but he deemed it
advisable to keep a Scotland Yard man on the scene to watch for possible
developments, because he placed no reliance on the county police. It was
apparent that Merrington thought the murderer had come from a distance,
and he was going to seek him in London. But he was leaving nothing to
chance. He was retaining control of the investigations at both ends in
order to monopolize the glory of the capture. If the murderer escaped,
Caldew and the county police could be made the scapegoats for public
indignation.

But while paying the involuntary tribute of swift anger towards these
astute tactics of his departmental chief, Caldew realized with
satisfaction that he was in the possession of a piece of valuable
information which might upset his calculations.

"There are several people in the district whom it will be advisable to
interview," continued Merrington, hastily consulting his notes. "In the
first place, you must make another effort to see the Weynes. Mrs. Weyne
may be able to give us some valuable information about Mrs. Heredith's
earlier life. And I think you should see the station-master of Weydene
Junction. The murderer may have walked across country to the junction
rather than face the greater risk of subsequent identification by taking
the train at one of the village stations on this side of it. And you had
better see the housekeeper's daughter and get a statement from her. I do
not suppose she knows anything about the crime, but she was here last
night, and she had better be seen. She is employed as a milliner at the
market town of Stading."

"Do you mean Hazel Rath?" inquired Caldew, in some surprise.

"Yes. She is the daughter of the housekeeper. She stayed here last night
with her mother, but left to go back to her employment by the first
train this morning."

"There must be some mistake about that. I understand she is still in the
house."

"Who told you so?"

"One of the maidservants."

"We had better have the maid in and question her. What is her name?"

"Milly--Milly Saker."

Merrington touched the bell, and told the maidservant who answered it to
send in Milly Saker.

The girl came in almost immediately, looking half defiant and half
afraid. Merrington glanced at her keenly.

"You're the girl I saw dusting the hall this morning," he said. "Why did
you not come in with the other servants to be examined?"

"Because I wasn't here," answered the girl pertly.

"Where were you?"

"Down in the village, at my mother's place."

"Who gave you permission to go?"

"Mrs. Rath, the housekeeper."

"Did you ask her for leave of absence?"

"No. She knew my mother was ill, and she said to me after breakfast,
'Milly, would you like to go and see your mother this morning?' I said,
yes, I should, if she could spare me. She told me she could, so I
thanked her and went."

Superintendent Merrington and Captain Stanhill exchanged glances. The
same thought occurred to both of them. Mrs. Rath, the housekeeper, had
assured them that she had sent all the servants to the library to be
examined. Merrington turned to the girl again.

"Mrs. Rath's daughter was staying with her last night, wasn't she?"

"Yes."

"Is she still here?"

"Yes."

"Are you quite sure of that?"

"Yes, when I was outside about half an hour ago, I saw her through the
window, sitting in her mother's room."

This piece of information conveyed some significance to Merrington's
mind which was not apparent to Caldew. He paused for a moment, and then
continued abruptly:

"Where were you last night at the time of the murder?"

"Please, sir, I don't know nothing about it," responded the girl with a
whimper.

"Control yourself, my good girl," said Captain Stanhill soothingly.
"Nobody suggests you had anything to do with it."

For reply, the girl only sobbed loudly. Superintendent Merrington, who
had his own methods of soothing frightened females, shook her roughly by
the arm.

"Listen to me," he sternly commanded. "Do you want to go to prison?"

"N--o, sir," responded Milly, between a fresh burst of sobs.

"Then you'd better stop that noise and answer my questions, or I'll put
you under lock and key till you do. Where were you last night when the
murder was committed?"

"I was waiting at table till dessert was served," replied the girl,
thoroughly subdued by the overbearing manner of the big man confronting
her.

"What did you do when you left the dining-room?"

"I went to the kitchen and was talking to cook for a while."

"And what did you do then?"

"I went up the passage and into the hall to see if dinner was finished.
I knew Miss Heredith was anxious to have dinner over early as they were
all going out, and I wanted to get dinner cleared away as quickly as I
could, because I wanted to go out myself. I saw her leave the room and
go towards the front door, but nobody else came out of the dining-room,
and I could hear somebody talking. So after waiting a little while, and
seeing nobody else come out, I went back towards the kitchen."

"Where were you standing while you were waiting?"

"Just at the corner of the passage leading up from the kitchen."

"You didn't go up stairs at all?"

"No, of course I didn't. 'Tisn't my place to go upstairs."

"Don't be saucy, but answer my questions. Did you hear the scream and
the shot?"

"No, I didn't. I was back in the kitchen before then, and the kitchen is
right at the back of the house. Cook and me didn't know anything about
it till one of the girls came running down and told us about what had
happened."

"Did you see anybody except Miss Heredith in the hall or on the
staircase of the left wing while you were standing at the end of the
passage?"

"Nobody except Miss Rath."

"Do you mean the housekeeper's daughter?"

"Yes."

"When did you see her?"

"As I was standing there waiting for a chance to clear away the dinner
things, she come up from the centre passage leading from the
housekeeper's rooms, and turned into the hall."

"Where was she going?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask her," replied the girl, who had regained
something of her pert assurance.

"Did she see you?"

"No. I was standing at the end of the kitchen passage, which is close to
the right wing. The passage she come out of was quite a long way from
where I was standing, almost in the centre of the house. She turned the
other way."

"She turned to the right, then, as she emerged from the passage, and
walked in the direction of the left wing?"

"I don't know where she was going to. All I know is that I saw her turn
out of the passage, and walk, as if might be, up the hall in that
direction."

"Did you notice her actions?"

"I can't say as I did particular, except that she was walking in the
shadow, on the side nearest to the passage she come out of, and seemed
to be looking at the dining-room door."

"You are sure it was Hazel Rath?"

"Oh, it was her all right," replied Milly confidently. "I recognized
her, as well as the dress she was wearing."

"Was this before or after you saw Miss Heredith leave the dining-room?"

"About ten minutes afterwards."

"Did you mention to anybody that you saw her?"

"I did not," replied the girl, as if the matter were one of supreme
indifference to her.

"Why not?"

"I suppose Miss Rath is free to go where she pleases," said the girl
airily. "She's privileged. When she used to live here she had the run of
the house, just like one of the family. Tain't my business to question
her comings and goings."

"Oh, Miss Rath used to live here, did she? How long ago?"

"Till about two years ago, before she went to business."

"And how long did she live here?"

"It must have been a good seven years or more," said Milly, considering.
"She come here as a little girl when her mother come as housekeeper.
Miss Heredith took a great fancy to her, and she was made quite a pet of
the house, and did just what she liked. When she grew up she used to
help her mother, and do little things about the house. But she never
gave herself airs--I will say that."

"Very well. You may go now."

"Caldew," said Merrington quickly as the door closed behind the girl,
"go and find the housekeeper and send her in here. And then keep an eye
on her daughter, and do not let her out of your sight, until I send for
you. Then bring her in."

When Caldew left the room on his errand, Captain Stanhill turned to
Superintendent Merrington with a pained expression on his face.

"Do you suspect--" he commenced.

"I suspect nobody--and everybody," was the prompt reply. "My duty is to
find out the facts, and my business is now to ascertain why the
housekeeper lied to me about her daughter this morning. She was a fool
to try and trick me. There's something underneath all this which I'll
sift to the bottom before I leave."

There was a timid tap, and the door opened slowly, revealing the frail
black figure of the housekeeper standing hesitatingly on the threshold.
Her frightened eyes were directed to Merrington's truculent ones as
though impelled by a magnet.

"You--you wished to see me?" she stammered.

"Yes. Come in." Merrington curtly commanded. "Close that door, Lumbe.
Sit down, Mrs. Rath, I have a few questions to ask you."

The housekeeper took a seat, with her eyes still fixed on Merrington's
face. She looked ill and haggard, but the contour of her worn face, and
the outline of her slender figure suggested that she had once possessed
beauty and attraction. Merrington, staring at her hard, again had the
idea that he had seen her long ago in different conditions and
circumstances, but he could not recall where.

"Look here, Mrs. Rath," he commenced abruptly. "I want to know why you
lied to me this morning."

"I--I don't know what you mean. I didn't come here to be insulted." The
housekeeper uttered these words with a weak attempt at dignity, but her
lips went suddenly white.

"Don't put on any fine-lady airs with me, for they won't go down," said
Merrington, in a fierce, bullying tone. "You know what I mean very well.
You told me this morning, when I asked you, that you had sent in all the
servants to be examined. I have just discovered that you did not. There
was a girl, Milly Saker, whom I did not see. Why was that?"

It seemed to Captain Stanhill that the tension of the housekeeper's face
relaxed, and that a look of relief came into her eyes, as though the
question were different from the one she had expected.

"I did not tell you a lie," she replied, in a firmer tone. "I sent in
all the servants who were in the house at the time. Milly was not at
home."

"Where was she?"

"She went across to the village to see her mother, who is ill."

"With your permission, I presume?"

"Yes."

"Why did you permit her to go?"

"The girl's mother was very ill, and needed her daughter."

"You let her go, although I had told you I wanted to question all the
servants?"

"No, it was before you told me that I gave Milly permission to have the
morning off," responded Mrs. Rath quietly.

"Is that the true explanation?"

"Yes."

"Is it as true as your other statement?"

"What other statement?"

"The statement you made to me this morning when you assured me your
daughter had left this house to return to her employment at Stading?"
said Merrington, with a cruel smile. "That wasn't true, you know. How do
you describe that untruth? As a temporary aberration of memory, or
what?"

The housekeeper looked up with swift, startled eyes, and her thin hand
involuntarily clutched the edge of the table in front of her, but she
did not speak.

"You lied about that, you know," continued Merrington. "I've found out
your daughter has been in the house all day. Why did you tell me a lie?
Come, out with it!"

"You are too abrupt, Merrington," said Captain Stanhill, interposing
with unexpected firmness. "You have frightened her. Come, Mrs. Rath," he
said gently, "can you not give us some explanation as to why you misled
us this morning?"

"Because I didn't want my daughter to be drawn into this dreadful
thing," she exclaimed wildly. "I suppose it was very foolish of me," she
added, in a more composed voice, as though reassured by the kindly look
in Captain Stanhill's eyes, "but I really didn't think it mattered. My
daughter knew nothing about the murder and as she is highly strung I did
not want her to be upset."

"Where was your daughter last night when the murder was committed?"
asked Merrington.

"In my room."

"Did either of you hear the scream or the shot?"

"No, my rooms are a long way from the left wing, and we were sitting
with the door shut."

"Then when did you learn about the murder?"

"Very soon after it happened. One of the maidservants came and told me."

"And you say that your daughter was with you at the time, and had been
with you a considerable time before?"

"Yes."

"I think that will do, Mrs. Rath, I have given you every opportunity,
but you still persist in telling falsehoods. Your daughter was seen
walking up the hall last night in the direction of the left wing shortly
before the murder was committed. The person who saw her was the maid
Milly Saker. Was that the real reason why you gave Milly leave of
absence to visit her mother this morning--so that she should not tell us
what she knew?"

"It is not true," gasped the housekeeper. "My daughter was not out of my
rooms last night, I assure you that is the truth."

"I wouldn't believe you on your oath," retorted Merrington. "Lumbe, go
and tell Caldew to bring in the girl."




CHAPTER XIII


The girl who entered the room a moment later was tall and graceful, with
a yearning expression in her soft dark eyes, as though in search of a
happiness which had been denied her by Fate. Her appearance was one of
unusual refinement. She had not a trace of the coarsened blowzy look so
common in English country girls; there was nothing of rustic lumpishness
in her slim figure, and there was more than mere prettiness in her
exquisite small features, her thick dark hair, her clear white skin with
a tracery of blue veins in the temples. Her high-bridged nose and firm
chin suggested some force of character, but that suggestion was
counteracted by her wistful tender mouth, with drooping underlip. The
face, on the whole, was a paradoxical one, containing elements of
strength and weakness, and the eyes were the index to a strange
passionate nature.

She advanced into the room quietly, with a swift glance, immediately
veiled by drooped lids, at the faces of the police officials who were
awaiting her. When she reached the far end of the table at which they
were seated she stopped and stood with her hands clasped loosely in
front of her, as though waiting to be questioned.

"Please sit down, Miss Rath," said Captain Stanhill politely. "We wish
to ask you a few questions."

The girl seated herself in a chair some distance away from her mother,
and this time she surveyed the men before her with an air of
indifference which was obviously simulated.

But again she quickly dropped her eyes, for Merrington was staring at
her with a look of amazement, as though confronted with a familiar
presence whose identity he could not recall. He glanced from Hazel to
her mother, and his eyes fastened themselves fiercely on the housekeeper
with the satisfaction of a man who had solved an elusive puzzle.

"So we _have_ met before, Mrs. Rath," he said. "You are--"

"No, no! Please keep silent in front of my daughter," broke in the
housekeeper hurriedly.

"I was not mistaken. I remembered this woman's face this morning, but I
could not then recall where I had seen her before," pursued Merrington,
turning to Captain Stanhill and speaking with a sort of reflective
cruelty. "Her daughter's face supplies the clue. She is the image of her
mother as I remember her when she stood her trial at Old Bailey fifteen
years ago. She was tried for--"

"I beg of you not to say it!" Mrs. Rath started from her seat, and
looked wildly around as though seeking some avenue of escape from a
threatened disaster.

"Is it necessary to go into this, Merrington?" asked Captain Stanhill in
his mild tones, glancing from the excited woman to his colleague with
the troubled consciousness that he was assisting in a scene which was
distasteful to him.

"Of course it is necessary if we want to get at the truth of this case,"
retorted Merrington. "You needn't be concerned on Mrs. Rath's account,"
he went on, with a kind of savage, disdainful irony. "A woman who has
been tried as an accessory to murder is not likely to be squeamish. Her
name is not Rath. It is Theberton--Mary Theberton. She and her husband
were tried at Old Bailey fifteen years ago for the murder of a man named
Bridges. The trial made a great stir at the time. It was known as 'The
Death Signal Case'."

Caldew looked at the housekeeper with a new interest. He readily
recalled the notorious case mentioned by Merrington. Theberton was an
Essex miller, who, having discovered that his young wife was in the
habit of signalling his absence to Bridges by means of a candle placed
in her window, had compelled her to entice him to the cottage by the
signal, and was then supposed to have murdered him by throwing him into
the mill dam. But though Bridges was seen entering the cottage and was
not seen afterwards, the charge of murder failed because the detectives
were unable to find his body. Theberton protested his innocence; Mary
Theberton said her husband locked her in her room before admitting
Bridges, and she knew nothing of what took place between the two men.

There was much popular sympathy with her during the trial as the belief
gained ground that the relations between her and Bridges were innocent,
though indiscreet; the outcome of a craving for sympathy which had led
an unhappy young wife to confide her troubles to a former schoolfellow.
She was the daughter of an architect, and had been reared in refinement
and educated well, but she had been disowned by her father for marrying
beneath her. Her husband ill-used her, and her story was that she had
sought the assistance of an old schoolfellow in order to go to London to
earn a living for herself and her little daughter. When the trial was
over Theberton emigrated, and his wife disappeared, although there was
some talk of putting on foot a public subscription for her. This was the
end of "The Death Signal Case," for the mystery of the disappearance of
Bridges was never solved.

Caldew wondered by what strange turn of Fortune's wheel the woman before
him had come to be housekeeper at the moat-house. It was certain that
Miss Heredith knew nothing of the black page in her past, because Miss
Heredith, in spite of her kind heart and rigid church principles, was
the last person to appoint anybody with a tainted name to a position of
trust in her household. She was too proud of the family name to do such
a thing. The fact that the housekeeper had held the post so long without
discovery was proof of the ease with which identity could be safely
concealed from everything except chance. Although her nervous demeanour
suggested that she had been walking on a razor edge of perpetual
suspense in her quiet haven, ever dreading detection, it seemed to
Caldew that she might have gone undiscovered to her grave but for a
trick of Fate in selecting Superintendent Merrington to investigate the
moat-house murder. Fate, after its cruel fashion, had left her on her
razor edge for quite a long while before toppling her over, and Caldew
reflected that he had been made the instrument of her fall.

But what lay beyond the exposure of the housekeeper's identity? Why had
she deceived Merrington about her daughter's presence in the house? Was
it only the fear that Merrington would recognize her in her early
likeness to her daughter, or were her falsehoods intended to deceive the
detectives about Hazel's movements at the time of the murder? What would
the girl say? The situation was full of strange possibilities.

While these reflections were passing through Caldew's head there was
silence in the room, broken only by the clock on the mantelpiece ticking
loudly, with pert indifference to human affairs. Merrington, after
dragging the hidden and forgotten tragedy to light, remained quiet,
watchfully noting the effect on mother and daughter. The mother stood
without a word or gesture, her hand stiffened in arrested protest, like
a woman frozen into silence. The girl's look was directed towards her
mother with the fixity of gaze of a sleeper awakened in the horror of a
bad dream. At least in their stillness they were both in accord. Then
Hazel glanced wonderingly at the faces of the others in the room, with
the fatigued indifference of a returning consciousness seeking to regain
its bearings. This phase passed, and in the sudden wild burst of tears
which followed was the belated realization of the meaning of her
mother's exposure; the shame, the agony, the disgrace which it implied.
With a quick movement she rose from her seat, walked across to her
mother, and caught hold of her hand.

"Mother!" she said.

But her mother turned away from her, and, sinking in her chair, covered
her face in her hands with a shamed gesture, like a woman cast forth
naked in the light of day.

"Never mind your mother just now," said Merrington, as the girl bent
over as though to sooth her. "Please return to your seat and answer my
questions."

Hazel turned round at the sound of his voice, but stood where she was,
regarding him anxiously.

"You stayed here last night with your mother, I understand?" Merrington
continued.

"Yes."

"When did you arrive here?"

"Yesterday afternoon."

"Where from?"

"From Stading, by train. I had an afternoon off, and I came to see my
mother."

"How long is it since you visited her previously?"

"It must be about three months," said Hazel, after a short reflection.

"Do you always allow three months to elapse between your visits?"

"No." There was a trace of hesitation in the response.

"You used to come oftener?"

"Yes."

"How often?"

"Nearly every week." This time the hesitation before the reply was
plainly apparent.

"Why did you allow so long a time to elapse between this visit and the
last one when you had previously been in the habit of seeing your mother
nearly every week?"

Hazel again hesitated, as though at a loss for a reply.

"I have been so busy," she murmured at length.

"Is this your first visit to the moat-house since Mrs. Heredith came
here to live?"

"Yes." The response was so low as to be almost inaudible.

Caldew, who was the only person in the room with the deeper knowledge to
divine the drift of these questions, realized with something of a shock
that Merrington, with fewer facts to guide him, had reached his absolute
conclusion about the events of the last half-hour while he had wandered
perplexedly in a cloud of suspicions. The mental jump had been too great
for him, but Merrington had not hesitated to take it. Caldew waited
eagerly for the next question. It was some time in coming, and when it
did come it was not what Caldew expected. As though satisfied with the
previous answers he had received, Merrington branched off on another
track.

"How did you spend last night?" he asked abruptly.

"I do not understand you." There was the shadow of fear in the girl's
dark eyes as she answered.

"I will put it more plainly then. How did you occupy the time between
your arrival at the moat-house and bedtime?"

"I spent it with my mother in her rooms."

"Were you there all the time?"

It seemed to Caldew that the elder woman's attitude was that of a
listener. Though she still kept her face buried in her hands, her frame
slightly moved, as though she were listening to catch the reply.

"Yes." The word was spoken hurriedly, almost defiantly, but the girl's
eyes wavered and fell under Merrington's direct glance.

"May I take it, then, that you were in your mother's room at the time
Mrs. Heredith was murdered?"

This time Hazel did not reply audibly, but a faint movement of her head
indicated an affirmative.

"What would you say if your mother admits that you left her room before
the murder was committed, and that she did not see you until
afterwards?"

It was a clever trap, Caldew reluctantly conceded, this idea of playing
off the mother and daughter against each other, but one that he would
have hesitated to use. The effect was instantaneous. Before the girl
could frame her frightened lips in reply, her mother lifted her head
sharply.

"I didn't say so! Don't answer him, Hazel, don't tell him. Oh!" Too late
the wretched woman realized that she had betrayed her daughter, and she
sank into a stupefied silence.

"Your mother has let the cat out of the bag," said Merrington to the
girl, in a bantering tone. "Come, now," he added, changing swiftly into
his most truculent mood. "We may as well have the truth, first as last.
You were seen last night going up the hall in the direction of the left
wing just before the murder was committed. Do you admit it?"

"I do." The admission was made in a low but calm tone.

"Then your last answer was untrue. What were you doing in the hall at
that time?"

Hazel, staring straight in front of her, did not reply, but her quickly
moving breast betrayed her agitation.

"Did you hear me? I asked what were you doing in the hall last night."

"I shall not tell you."

"Did you go upstairs?"

"I shall not tell you."

These replies were given with a firm readiness which was in striking
contrast to her previous hesitation. She was like a person who had been
forced on to a dangerous path she feared to tread, and had summoned
fortitude to walk it bravely to the end.

"Of course you realize the position in which you place yourself by your
silence?" The quiet gravity with which Merrington put this question was,
similarly, in the strangest contrast to his former hectoring style. "It
is my duty to warn you that you are placing yourself in a grave
situation. Once more, will you answer my questions?"

"I will not." The answer was accompanied by a gesture which contained
something of the carelessness of despair.

"Then you must abide the consequences." He turned to Captain Stanhill
and Caldew. "It will be necessary to search the housekeeper's rooms.
Lumbe, you remain here and take charge of these two women. Do not allow
either of them to leave the room on any pretext. You had better keep the
door locked until we return."

He strode out of the room followed by Captain Stanhill and Caldew, to
the manifest trepidation of two maidservants outside, who had plainly no
business there. It was apparent that Milly Saker had been talking, and
that strange rumours were agitating the moat-house underworld.

"Where are the housekeeper's rooms?" said Merrington, abruptly accosting
one of the fluttered girls. "Come now, don't stand gaping at me like a
fool, but take us there directly."

The terrified girl went quickly ahead along a corridor leading from the
main hall. Turning down a narrower passage near the end she paused
outside a closed door and said:

"This is the housekeeper's room, sir."

"Stop a minute," said Merrington. "Does the housekeeper occupy only one
room?"

"No, sir, there are two. A sitting-room, with a bedroom opening off it."

"She has no other room in any other part of the house?"

"Oh, no, sir."

"That will do. You may go."

The maid needed no second bidding, but scuttled back towards the
corridor like a scared hen making for cover. Merrington flung open the
door in front of him and entered.

The room was well and simply furnished in the style of the house, but
the personal belongings and the bindings of some books suggested a mind
not out of harmony with the refinement of its surroundings. Merrington,
with a swift and comprehensive glance around him, began to upset the
neat arrangement and feminine order of the apartment with a thorough and
systematic search.

Caldew watched him for a moment, and then walked across to the door of
the inner room and entered it. The bedroom was large and airy, and the
appointments struck the note of dainty simplicity. Caldew was quick to
notice a girl's hat, with a veil attached, cast carelessly on the
toilet-table.

He made a circuit round the bed and approached the table to look at the
hat. A tight knot and a slight tear in the gossamer indicated that it
had been discarded very hastily, and Caldew wondered whether Hazel had
it on, waiting for an opportunity to slip away from the moat-house, when
he had knocked at the door to summon her to the library.

As he put the hat down his eye fell on a pincushion by the mirror, and
he gave a start of surprise. In the midst of hatpins at various angles
he saw the little brooch which had disappeared from the death-chamber.
The stone with the greenish reflection shone clearly against the blue
and gold shot-silk of the pincushion; the portion of the clasp which was
visible revealed the beginning of the scratched inscription of "Semper
Fidelis." The absence of any attempt to conceal the brooch was proof
that its owner was under the delusion that nobody had seen it lying in
the death-chamber. Caldew felt a thrill of professional vanity at the
success of his ruse.

His own name uttered in a peremptory shout from the next room caused him
to pick up the brooch and hasten thither. The first sight that met his
eye was the flushed triumphant face of Merrington bending over some
articles on the table. Caldew's view of the objects was obscured by
Captain Stanhill, who was also examining them, but he guessed by the
attitude of both men that a valuable find had been made. He advanced
eagerly to the table and saw, lying between them, a small revolver and a
handkerchief. The white cambric of the handkerchief was stained crimson
with blood.

The room was in great disorder. Superintendent Merrington, in the
impetuosity of his search, had reduced the previous order to chaos in
the course of a few minutes. Drawers had been opened and their contents
strewn about the floor, rugs and cushions had been flung into a corner
of the room, and the doors of a cabinet had been forced. Even the
pictures on the wall had been disarranged, and some of the chairs were
knocked over.

"Where did you find these things?" asked Caldew, picking up the revolver
and examining it.

"In that gimcrack thing over there." Merrington pointed to a slight,
elegant writing-table standing in a corner of the room. "Isn't it a
typical female hiding-place? About as safe as burying your head in the
sand. The drawer had been locked and the key taken away, but it was
quite easy to open. The lock is a trumpery kind of thing, with the bolt
shooting into the soft wood."

"I see that the revolver is still loaded in five chambers," said Caldew,
as he put down the weapon.

"Yes, and the sixth has been recently discharged. We don't require much
clearer evidence than that. And look at this handkerchief. The blood on
it is hardly dry yet."

Caldew took the handkerchief in his hand. As Merrington remarked, the
blood on it was hardly dry. It was a small linen square, destitute of
feminine adornment except for a dainty "H R" worked in silk in one
corner. The letters were barely visible in the blood with which the
whole handkerchief was saturated.

"I wonder how she got the blood on the handkerchief?" said Caldew. "Did
she try to stop the bleeding after shooting Mrs. Heredith?"

"It would be just like a woman to do so," grunted Merrington. "Women are
fond of crying over spilt milk--especially when they have spilt it
themselves. However, that's neither here nor there. The point is that
this is the girl's handkerchief, and this is the revolver with which she
shot Mrs. Heredith."

"But what was her motive for committing such an atrocious crime?" asked
Captain Stanhill in bewilderment.

"Jealousy," responded Merrington promptly. "I saw the possibility of
that motive as soon as I heard Milly Saker's story, and learnt that
Hazel Rath had lived for some years in the moat-house. Young Heredith
and she must have been thrown together a lot before the war, and there
was doubtless a flirtation between them which probably developed into an
intrigue. There are all the materials at hand for it--a well-born idle
young man, a girl educated above her station, a lonely country-house,
and plenty of opportunity. I know the type of girl well. These
half-educated protégées of great ladies grow up with all the whims and
caprices of fine females, and their silly little heads are easily
turned. Probably this girl imagined that young Heredith was so
captivated by her pretty face that he would marry her. When she learnt
that she had been dropped for somebody else she brooded in secret until
her unbalanced nature led her to commit this terrible crime. Moreover,
she is the daughter of a woman with a queer past, who has been living
under an assumed name for the past fifteen years."

"Do you think mother and daughter have acted in collusion in this
murder?" Caldew asked.

"That is a question I would not care to answer offhand," responded
Merrington thoughtfully. "Undoubtedly the mother shielded the daughter
and lied to save her, and she obviously knew that the girl was absent
from her room at the time the murder was committed. How far this implies
guilty knowledge, or the acts of an accomplice, we are not yet in a
position to say. We will arrest the daughter, and detain the mother--for
the present, at all events. Whether we charge the mother as well as the
daughter will depend on our subsequent investigations. It will be no
novelty for the mother to be charged as accessory in a murder case,"
concluded Merrington, with a grim smile.

"We have no direct evidence that the girl went upstairs last night,"
said Caldew, with a reflective air. "Milly Saker did not see her going
upstairs, and apparently nobody saw her coming away."

"No direct evidence, it is true. But the presumptive evidence is so
strong that it is hardly needed. In the first place, Milly Saker saw her
going down the hall in the direction of the left wing just before the
murder was committed. Next day--this morning--the housekeeper sent Milly
Saker out of the way before she could be questioned by the police. That
act suggests two inferences. First, Mrs. Rath, as she calls herself, had
some inkling that Milly Saker saw her daughter in the hall on the
previous night, and secondly, that Mrs. Rath feared, in the light of
subsequent events, to let it be known that her daughter was seen walking
down the hall before the murder was committed. From these inferences we
may conclude that, even if the mother had no actual knowledge of the
crime, she believed that her daughter was guilty. Her subsequent actions
to-day confirm that theory in every respect. And, of course, the
recovery of this revolver and the girl's handkerchief in her mother's
rooms, where she slept last night, is the strongest possible proof that
the girl shot Mrs. Heredith."

"Of course there can be no doubt of that. It would be impossible to find
a stronger case of circumstantial evidence," said Caldew earnestly. "But
here is a piece of direct evidence. Look here!" He produced the little
brooch from his pocket and placed it on the table beside the revolver
and the handkerchief. "This is the brooch I told you about. It is the
brooch I saw in Mrs. Heredith's room which disappeared while I was
downstairs. I found it stuck in a pincushion in the next room, beside
the girl's hat. She must have realized that she dropped it in the
murdered woman's bedroom, and seized the opportunity to return for it
while I was out of the room. That is a piece of direct evidence that she
was in Mrs. Heredith's bedroom."

"So you were right about the brooch. I owe you an apology for that,
Caldew," said Merrington. He placed the little trinket in his big hand,
and turned it over with his finger. The inscription on the back caught
his eye, and he held it closer to read it. "Semper Fidelis!" he
exclaimed. "The words are typical of the girl. The wishy-washy sentiment
would appeal to her, and she's of that partly educated type which thinks
a Latin tag imposing. I wonder who gave it to her? Oh, I have it! It was
probably a gift from young Heredith, and she added the inscription on
her own account so as to enhance the value of the gift and keep her
'Faithful Always.'"

Once more Caldew reluctantly admitted to himself that Merrington's
deductions were more swift and vigorous than his own, but he was
secretly annoyed to think that the other had gained partly by guesswork
the solution of a clue which had caused him so much thought and
perplexity.

"The brooch is no more direct evidence than the revolver and
handkerchief," continued Merrington. "The girl, unless she is a born
fool, is not likely to admit ownership of any one of them. She would be
putting the rope round her own neck to do so."

"I realize that," replied Caldew. "But I think that she might be trapped
into giving away that she owns the brooch. Women are very impulsive
where the loss of ornaments is concerned, and then their actions are
instinctive. I have frequently noticed it."

"And how do you propose to find out?" asked Merrington.

"By asking her."

"You'll get nothing out of this girl for the asking," replied
Merrington. "She runs deeper than that, or I am very much mistaken.
However, ask your own questions, by all means, after I have questioned
her about the revolver and the handkerchief. Let us get back to the
library."

They returned to the library. Sergeant Lumbe opened the door in response
to their knock, his face furrowed with the responsibilities of office.
Mother and daughter were sitting where they had left them, but the elder
woman had regained some measure of composure, and was staring drearily
in front of her. She did not look at the police officials as they
entered, but Hazel glanced towards them, and her eyes fell on the
revolver and handkerchief which Merrington carried in his hand. It
seemed to Caldew that her face remained unmoved. Merrington walked over
to her.

"You must consider yourself under arrest on a charge of murdering Mrs.
Heredith," he said, in quiet, almost conversational tones. "This
revolver and this handkerchief were found in your mother's sitting-room.
If you have any explanation to make you may do so, but it is my duty to
warn you that any statement you make now may be used in evidence against
you later on."

"I have nothing to say," replied the girl simply.

"You decline to say how this revolver came into your possession, or make
any explanation about the bloodstains on this handkerchief?"

"Yes."

"Do you also refuse to tell us what you have done with the brooch you
were wearing last night?" added Caldew.

The girl, with an impulsive instinctive gesture, hastily put her hand to
the neck of her blouse, then, realizing that she had unconsciously
betrayed herself, she let it fall slowly to her side.




CHAPTER XIV


The popular fallacy which likens circumstantial evidence to a chain
naturally found no acceptance in the mind of Superintendent Merrington.
If a link in a chain snaps, the captive springs free, but if he is bound
by a rope it is necessary for all the strands to be severed before
liberty can be regained.

Merrington remained at Heredith to weave additional strands for the rope
of circumstantial evidence by which Hazel Rath was held for the murder
of Violet Heredith. It was a good strong case as it stood, but
Merrington had seen too many strong ropes nibbled through by sharp legal
teeth to leave anything to chance. If the circumstances against Hazel
Rath remained open to an alternative explanation--if, for example, the
defence suggested that the mother was implicated in the crime and the
daughter was silent in order to shield her, it might be difficult to
obtain a conviction. Merrington knew by wide experience how alternative
theories weakened the case of circumstantial evidence, no matter how
strong the presumption from the known facts appeared to be.

A useful strand in circumstantial evidence is motive, and it was motive
that Merrington sought to prove against Hazel Rath. His own inference
about the crime, swiftly and boldly reached shortly before he arrested
her, was that the girl was in love with Phil Heredith, and had murdered
his young wife through jealousy. Hazel's silence in the face of
accusation supported that theory, in his opinion. She was ashamed to
confess, not the crime, but the hopeless love which had inspired it.
Women were like that, Merrington reflected. A woman who dared to commit
murder would blush to admit, even to herself, that she had given her
love to a man who was out of her reach. But it is one thing to hold a
theory, and another thing to prove it in the eyes of the law. As Hazel
Rath was not likely to help the Crown establish motive by confessing her
love for Philip Heredith, it was left to Superintendent Merrington to
establish his theory, by all the independent facts and inferences he was
able to bring to light.

This proved more difficult than he anticipated. He had visualized the
situation with excellent insight up to a certain point, and he had
imagined that it would not be a difficult matter to obtain proofs of the
existence of an early flirtation or intrigue between Phil Heredith and
the pretty girl who had occupied an anomalous position in the
moat-house. But a further examination of the inmates of the household
failed to furnish any proofs in support of that supposition. Merrington
could readily understand Miss Heredith and her brother denying such a
suggestion; but the fact that none of the servants had seen anything of
the kind was fairly convincing proof that no such relation existed.

No class have a keener instinct for scandal than the servants of a
country-house. They have opportunities of seeing hidden things which
nobody else is likely to suspect. And the moat-house servants asserted,
with complete unanimity, that there had been nothing between Phil
Heredith and Hazel Rath during the time the girl had lived at the
moat-house. Their relations had been friendly, but nothing more. There
was no record of secret looks, stolen kisses, or surprised meetings to
support the theory of a mutual flirtation or furtive love. It was
impossible to doubt that Phil Heredith's attitude to the girl who had
occupied a dependent position in his home had been actuated by no warmer
feeling than a sort of brotherly regard.

Merrington, versed by long experience in forming an estimate of
character from second-hand opinion, was forced to the conclusion that
Phil Heredith was not the type of young man to betray the innocence or
trifle with the feelings of a young and unsophisticated girl. The
servants' testimony revealed him as gentle and courteous, but shy and
reserved, not fond of company, and immersed in his natural history
pursuits.

Merrington, however, had less difficulty in proving to his own
satisfaction that Hazel Rath had been secretly in love with Phil
Heredith almost since the days of her childhood. There was, to begin
with, the greenstone brooch which Caldew had picked tap in the bedroom
after Mrs. Heredith had been murdered. The members of the household were
in the custom of making the girl little presents on her birthday
anniversary, and Phil had given her the piece of greenstone, set in a
brooch, on her birthday six years before. There was no secret about it;
the gift had been chosen on the suggestion of Miss Heredith, who told
Merrington the facts. What was unknown was the addition of the
inscription, "Semper Fidelis," which must have been scratched on the
brooch subsequently by the girl herself as a girlish vow of love and
fidelity of the giver.

Detective Caldew might have ascertained these facts and shortened the
police investigations by the simple process of asking Miss Heredith
about the brooch in the first instance. But it is easy to be wise after
the event, and Superintendent Merrington was the last man to quarrel
with his subordinate for excess of caution in the initial stage of the
investigations, when it was his duty to doubt everybody and confide in
nobody. Moreover, Merrington could not forget that he himself had
completely underestimated the importance of that clue when Caldew had
drawn his attention to it.

A search of Hazel's bedroom at Stading brought to light additional
testimony of the love which was likely to destroy her. Merrington and
Caldew, ruthlessly turning over the feminine appointments of this dainty
little nest, had unearthed from the bottom of the girl's box a square
parcel tied with ribbon. The packet contained letters and postcards from
Phil, principally picture postcards from different Continental places he
had visited after leaving Cambridge. There were three letters: two
schoolboy epistles, asking the girl to look after the pets he had left
at home, and one short note from the University announcing the dispatch
of a volume of poems as a birthday gift. There was also a Christmas
card, dated some years before, inscribed, "To dear Phil, with love, from
Hazel." The girl had kept it, perhaps, because she was too shy to bestow
it on the intended recipient, but its chief value in Merrington's eyes
was the similarity between the written capital F and the same letter in
the scratched inscription on the greenstone brooch.

With these discoveries Merrington was satisfied. In Hazel Rath's secret
love for Phil Heredith the Crown was supplied with the motive for the
murder of Phil Heredith's wife. In Merrington's opinion, the supposition
of motive was strengthened by the fact that the murder was committed
during Hazel's first visit to the moat-house since the arrival of the
young bride, because until Phil's marriage it had been the girl's custom
to visit the moat-house once a week. Miss Heredith informed Merrington
that she had questioned the girl on the afternoon of the murder about
the sudden cessation of her visits, and Hazel had replied rather
evasively. Merrington formed the opinion that she had stayed away
because she could not bear to see the woman whom Phil had made his wife.
Then, realizing that her prolonged absence was likely to be remarked
upon, she went across on the day of the murder to see her mother.
Merrington did not think that the murder was premeditated. His belief
was that when the girl found herself back in the surroundings where she
had spent such a happy girlhood in association with Phil Heredith, she
was seized with a mad fit of jealousy against her successful rival, and
under its influence had rushed upstairs and murdered her. Merrington had
also come to the conclusion that her mother knew nothing about the crime
until afterwards, and then she had endeavoured to shield her daughter by
lying to the police and sending Milly Saker out of the way.

Merrington was unable to account for Hazel's possession of the revolver
with which Mrs. Heredith had been killed. The girl maintained her
stubborn silence after her arrest, and refused to answer any questions
about the weapon or anything connected with the crime. The police
assumption was that she had obtained the revolver from the gun-room of
the moat-house shortly before the murder was committed. The gun-room was
underground. It had originally been the crypt of the Saxon castle which
had once stood on the site where the moat-house was built, and was
entered by a short flight of steps not far from the passage which led to
the housekeeper's rooms. It was rectangular in shape, and, like the
majority of gun-rooms in old English country mansions, contained a large
assortment of ancient and modern weapons.

Neither Sir Philip Heredith nor Miss Heredith was able to state whether
the revolver found in the housekeeper's room belonged to the moat-house
or was the property of one of the guests, and Phil Heredith was too ill
to be asked. As expert evidence at the inquest definitely determined
that the bullet extracted from the murdered woman had been fired from
the revolver, Merrington did not attach very much importance to the
question of ownership, but before his departure for London he arranged
that Caldew should return to the moat-house later with the revolver for
Phil's inspection, in the hope of settling the point before the trial.

Miss Heredith had undertaken to let the detectives know when her nephew
was well enough to be seen, but as time went on she doubted whether he
would ever recover. Although the delirium which had followed his seizure
had passed away, he was slow in regaining health, and remained in bed,
listless and indifferent to everything, sometimes reading a little, but
oftener lying still, staring at the wall. He was passive and quiet, and
obedient as a child. He seemed to have no recollection of the events of
the night of the murder, and his aunt did not dare to recall them to his
mind.

It was for Phil's sake, and for him only, that she was able to preserve
her own courage and calmness through the sordid ordeal of the lengthy
inquest and the empty pomp of the funeral of the young wife. Her own
heart was bruised and numb within her with the horrors which had been
heaped upon her. She was like one who had seen a pit open suddenly at
her feet, revealing terrible human obscenities and abominations
wallowing nakedly in the depths. It was a poignant shock to her that
human nature was capable of such infamy. Her startled virgin eyes saw
for the first time in the monstrous passion of sex a force which was
stronger than her own most cherished beliefs. If a sweet and gentle girl
like Hazel Rath, who had been brought up under her own eye to walk
uprightly, could be swept away in the surge of tempestuous passion to
commit murder, where did Faith and Religion stand?

Almost as much as the effect of the murder did she fear the result of
this second revelation on her nephew. The knowledge that the person
accused of killing his wife was a girl who had lived in his own home for
years was bound to have an additionally injurious effect on his strange
and sensitive temperament. Nobody knew that temperament better than Miss
Heredith. It was not the Heredith temperament. It had been the heritage
of his mother, a strange, elfin, wayward creature, who had died bringing
Phil into the world. Like all sisters, Miss Heredith had wondered what
her brother had seen in his wife to marry her. Phil had all along been a
disappointment to his father. He had come into the world with a lame
foot and a frail frame, and the Herediths had always been noted for
masculine strength and grace. Instead of growing up with a scorn for
books and an absorbing love of sport, like a true Heredith, Phil had
early revealed symptoms of a bookish, studious disposition, reserved and
shy, with little liking for other boys or boyish games. His one hobby
was an interest in natural history. He devoted his pocket money to the
purchase of strange pets, which he kept in cages while they lived and
stuffed when they died.

Miss Heredith had disapproved of this hobby, but had suffered it in
silence, on the principle that a Heredith could do no wrong, until one
winter's morning she had been frightened into her first and only fit of
hysterics by discovering a large spotted snake coiled snugly on some
flannel garments she was making for the wife of the curate, in
anticipation of that unfortunate lady's fifth lying-in. Investigation
brought to light the fact that the snake had been surreptitiously
purchased by Master Phil from a Covent Garden dealer. He had kept it in
a box in the stables, but, finding it torpid with cold one night, he had
put it in his aunt's work-basket for the sake of the warmth. When Miss
Heredith recovered from her hysterics she had seen to it that Phil was
packed off to school almost as quickly as the snake was packed off to
the Zoological Gardens.

After Phil's college days his father's influence had obtained for him a
Government post which was to be the forerunnner of a diplomatic career,
if Phil cared for it. That was before the war, which upset so many
plans. In his capacity of assistant departmental secretary, Phil had
nothing particular to do, and an ample allowance from his father to
spend in his leisure time. Many young men in these circumstances--thrown
on their own resources in London with plenty of money to spend--would
have lost no time in "going wrong," but Phil's temperament preserved him
from those temptations which so many young well-born men find
irresistible. He had a disdain for the stage, he did not care for chorus
girls, he disliked horse-racing, and he did not drink.

He sought distractions in another way, and rumours of those distractions
filtered in due course down to his family home in Sussex. It was
whispered that Phil was "queer"--that his old passion for petting
reptiles and lower animal forms had merely been diverted into another
channel. He had become a Socialist, and had been seen consorting with
the lower orders at East End meetings with other people sufficiently
respectable to have known better. It was even stated that he had
supported an Irish revolutionary countess (who had discovered the first
Socialist in Jesus Christ, and wanted to disestablish the Church of
England) by "taking the chair" for her when she announced these tenets
to the rabble in Hyde Park one fine Sunday afternoon. A Heredith a
socialist and nonconformist! These were bitter blows to Miss Heredith, a
woman soaked in family and Church tradition, but she bore the shock with
uncompromising front, and was able to make the shortcomings of Phil's
mother a vicarious sacrifice for the misdeeds of the son.

But the bitterest blow to Miss Heredith's family pride was the news of
Phil's marriage. Till then she had pinned her faith, like a wise woman,
in the reformative influence of a good marriage. Although a spinster
herself, she was aware that there was no better method of reducing the
showy nettlesome paces of youth to the sober jog-trot of middle-age than
the restraining influence of the right kind of yokefellow. The qualities
Phil most needed in a wife were those possessed by a sober-minded,
unimaginative, placid girl of conventional mould. Such maidens are not
unknown in rural England, and Miss Heredith had not much difficulty in
picking upon one in the county sufficiently well-born to mate with the
Herediths. Miss Heredith perfected her plan in detail, and had even gone
to the length of drafting the letter which was to bring Phil down from
London to be matrimonially snared, when the news came that he had snared
himself in London without his aunt's assistance.

She did not like his wife from the first, and it was equally certain
that Phil's wife did not like her. It was a marvellous thing to Miss
Heredith that a shallow worldly girl like Violet should have captured
the heart of a young man like her nephew so completely as to cause him
to alter his ways of life for her. Phil loved Nature, and books, and
solitary ways; his wife detested such things. Phil, in his eagerness to
please her, and banish her apparent boredom with country life, had
suggested asking some people from London with whom, at one time, he
would have had very little in common. Perhaps his London life had
changed him, but if so, it was a change for the worse for a young man,
and a Heredith, to be so much under the thumb of his wife as to give up
his own habits of life at her behest. But Phil was so much in love that
he had done so, cheerfully and willingly. Violet's lightest wish was his
law.

These thoughts, and others like them, passed and repassed through Miss
Heredith's mind as she sat, day after day, in her nephew's sick room. It
was her custom to take her needlework there of an afternoon, and relieve
the nurse for two or three hours. But her sewing frequently lay idle in
her lap, and she leaned back in her chair, absorbed in thought, glancing
from time to time at Phil's worn face on the pillow, where he lay like
one exhausted and weary, reluctant to return to the turmoil of life. He
took his food and medicine with the docility of a child, and
occasionally smiled at his aunt when she ministered to him. Gradually he
mended and increased in bodily strength until he was able to sit up, and
smoke an occasional cigarette. Sometimes he talked a little with his
aunt, but always on indifferent subjects. He never asked about his wife,
or spoke of the murder, as he had done in his delirium. It was apparent
to those about him that his recollection of the events which had brought
about his illness had not yet returned. Nature had, for the time being,
soothed his stricken brain with temporary oblivion.

Then one day the change that Miss Heredith anticipated and feared came
on him as swiftly as a dream. She entered the room to find him up and
dressed, walking up and down with a quick and hurried stride. One glance
from his quick dark eyes conveyed to her that his wandering senses had
recrossed the border-line of consciousness, and entered into the horror
and agony of remembrance.

"Phil, dear," she said, hastening to his side, "is this wise?"

"How long have I been lying here?" he demanded impatiently, as though he
had not heard her speak.

"It is ten days since you were taken ill," she replied, in a low voice.

"Ten days!" he repeated in a stupefied tone, as though unable to realize
the import of the lapse of time. "It is incredible! It seems to me as
though it was only a few hours. What has happened? What has been done by
the police? Has the murderer been arrested?"

It came to Miss Heredith with a shock that his dormant brain had
awakened to leap back to the thing which had paralysed it, and with that
knowledge came the realization that the dreaded moment for the
revelation she had to make had arrived. And, like a woman, she sought to
postpone it.

"Phil," she said weakly, "do not talk about it--until you are stronger."

"I am strong enough not to be treated as a child," he rejoined
fretfully, turning on her a sallow face, with a bright spot in each
cheek. "Is the funeral over?"

"Some days ago," she murmured, and there was a thankful feeling in her
heart that it was so.

Before he had time to speak again there was a tap at the door, and a
maidservant entered.

"Mr. Musard would like to speak to you for a moment, ma'am," she said to
Miss Heredith.

Miss Heredith caught eagerly at the respite.

"Tell him I will come at once. Phil," she added, turning to her nephew,
"I will send Vincent to you. He can tell you better than I. He has been
here all through your illness, and has looked after everything."

She hurried from the room without waiting for his reply. She saw the
tall form of Musard standing in the hall, and went rapidly to him.

"Phil has come to his senses, Vincent," she exclaimed, in an agitated
voice. "He wants to know everything that has happened since he was taken
ill. What shall we do?"

"He must be told, of course," replied Musard, with masculine decision.
"It is better that he should know than be kept in suspense. How is he?"

"He seems quite normal and rational. Will you see him and tell him?"

"Yes. As a matter of fact it is advisable that he should know everything
without delay. I sent for you to tell you that Detective Caldew has just
arrived to ascertain if Phil can identify the revolver. I told him Phil
was still ill, but he is persistent, and thinks that he ought to be
allowed to see him. It would be better if Phil could see him, and settle
the point."

"Oh, Vincent, do you think it is wise?"

"Yes. Phil has had a shock, but it is not going to kill him, and the
sooner he takes up his ordinary life again the better it will be for
him. Come, now, everything will be all right." He smiled at her anxious
face reassuringly. "Leave it to me. I will see that nothing is done to
agitate Phil if I do not think him strong enough to bear it. Now, let us
go to him."

The bedroom door was open and Phil was standing near it as though
awaiting their appearance. He held out his hand to Musard, who was
surprised by the strength of his grip. He eyed the young man critically,
and thought he looked fairly well considering the ordeal he had passed
through.

"I am glad to see you better, Phil," he said. "How do you feel? Not very
fit yet?"

"I am all right," responded Phil quickly. "Now, Musard, I want you to
tell me all that has happened since I have been lying here. I am
completely in the dark. Has anybody been arrested for the murder of my
wife?"

He spoke in a dry impersonal tone as though of some occurrence in which
he had but a remote interest, but Musard was too keen a judge of men to
be deceived by his apparent calmness. He thought that it was better for
him to learn the truth at once.

"Yes, Phil," he said quietly, "there has been an arrest. Hazel Rath has
been arrested for the murder of Violet."

"Who?" The tone of detachment disappeared. The interrogation was flung
at Musard's head with a world of incredulity and amazement.

"Hazel Rath, the housekeeper's daughter."

"In the name of God, why?"

"Gently, laddie. Sit down, and take it quietly. I'll tell you all."

Phil controlled himself with a painful effort, and took a chair near the
bedside.

"Go on," he said hoarsely.

Musard seated himself on the edge of the bed at his side, and entered
upon a narration of the circumstances which had led to the arrest of
Hazel Rath. Phil listened attentively, but the expression of amazement
never left his face. When Musard finished he was silent for a moment,
and then impetuously broke out:

"I feel sure Hazel Rath did not commit this crime."

Musard was silent. That was a question upon which he did not feel called
upon to advance an opinion. Miss Heredith was too moved to speak.

"Why do you not say something?" exclaimed Phil, turning on her angrily.
"Surely you do not think Hazel guilty?"

"Oh, Phil," responded his aunt piteously, "it seems hard to believe, but
what else can we think? There was the revolver and the handkerchief
found in her mother's room, and the little greenstone brooch you gave
her was picked up in Violet's bedroom."

"Why do they think she has killed her? Tell me that!"

Musard, in his narration of the facts, had omitted mention of the
supposed motive, but he now made a gesture to Miss Heredith to indicate
that she had better tell Phil.

"It was because the police believe that Hazel was--was in love with you,
Phil," she falteringly said. "They think she murdered Violet in a fit of
jealousy."

"Hazel in love with me?" He echoed the phrase in mingled scorn and
amazement. "That is preposterous. If the police have nothing better than
that to go on--"

"They have," interrupted Musard. "They are going on the clues I have
mentioned--the brooch, the handkerchief, and the revolver."

"Where did Hazel get the revolver?"

"It is thought she got it from the gun-room."

"There are no revolvers in the gun-room," rejoined Phil quickly. "We
have no revolvers, unless father bought one recently. What make is it?"

"The ownership of the revolver is a point the police have not yet been
able to settle," returned Musard. "It is only an assumption on their
part that Hazel got it from the gun-room. They thought it either
belonged to the house or was left behind by one of the guests. Neither
your aunt nor I knew, and Sir Philip was unable to settle the point. The
police thought you might know. As a matter of fact, one of the
detectives engaged in the investigations has just arrived from London
and brought the revolver with him to see if you can identify it."

"I should like to see him. Where is he?"

"In the library. I will bring him in."

Musard left the room and quickly returned with Caldew, who entered with
a business-like air.

"This is Mr. Heredith," said Musard.

"I trust you are better, Mr. Heredith," said the detective smoothly. "I
am sorry to trouble you so soon after your illness, but there is a point
we would like to settle before the trial of the woman who is charged
with murdering your wife. We want, if possible, to establish the
ownership of the weapon with which the murder was committed." He
produced a revolver from the pocket of his light overcoat as he spoke.
"In view of the evidence, the identification of the weapon does not
matter much one way or another, but it is as well to fix the point, if
we can. The girl refuses to say where she obtained the revolver--indeed,
she remains stubbornly silent about the crime, and refuses to say
anything about it. That doesn't matter very much either, because the
evidence against her is so strong that she is bound to be convicted. Can
you tell me anything about the revolver, Mr. Heredith? Do you recognize
it?"

Phil was turning the revolver over in his hands, examining it closely.

"Yes," he said. "I recognize it. It belongs to Captain Nepcote."

"Captain Nepcote? Who is he?"

"He is a friend of my nephew's who was staying here, but left the
afternoon of the day the murder was committed," said Miss Heredith. "He
was recalled to the front, I understand. I gave his name to
Superintendent Merrington as one of the guests who had been staying
here."

"How do you identify the revolver as his property?" asked Caldew,
turning to Phil.

"By the bullet mark in the handle. The day before my wife was killed it
was raining, and some of the guests were down in the gun-room shooting
at a target with Nepcote's revolver. He showed us this mark in the
handle, and said that it had saved his life in France. He was leading
his men in a night raid on the German lines, and a German officer fired
at him at close range, but the bullet glanced off the handle of the
revolver."

"Then there can be no doubt Hazel Rath got it from the gun-room," said
Caldew, returning the weapon to his pocket. "Captain Nepcote must have
left it behind him there, and that is where Hazel Rath found it."

"No, no! That seems impossible," said Phil.

"Well, I think it is quite possible," replied Caldew.

"Is it your opinion, then, that Miss Rath is guilty?" demanded Phil,
with a note of sharp anger in his voice.

"Phil!" said Miss Heredith. "You must not excite yourself."

But the young man took no notice of his aunt's gentle remonstrance. His
eyes were fixed on the detective.

"I have not the least doubt of it," was the detective's cold response.

"I must say I think you have made a terrible mistake," Phil said,
striding about the room in a state of great agitation. "Hazel would
not--she could not--have done this thing." He wheeled sharply around, as
though struck by a sudden thought. "Are the jewels safe?" he added.

"Yes," said Miss Heredith. "We found Violet's jewel-case locked, so I
put it away in the library safe."

"The question of robbery does not enter into the crime," remarked
Caldew. "The motive, as we have established it, is quite different."

"I have been told of the motive you allege against this unhappy girl,"
said Phil indignantly. "That idea is utterly preposterous. Again, I say,
I believe that you have made a blunder. I do not think Hazel would
handle a revolver. She was always very nervous of fire-arms."

"That is quite true," murmured Miss Heredith.

"A jealous woman forgets her fears," said the detective rather
maliciously. "She didn't stop to think of that when she wanted to use
the revolver."

"And where did she get it from?" asked Phil quickly.

Caldew shrugged his shoulders, but remained silent.

"You still persist in thinking that she obtained the revolver from the
gun-room?" Phil continued.

"Yes, I do."

"Do you not intend to make any further inquiries? You had better see
Nepcote about the revolver. I will give you his address."

"Captain Nepcote left here to go to the front, and we have not heard
from him since," Miss Heredith explained to the detective.

In a calmer moment Caldew might have realized the expediency of Phil's
suggestion, but his professional dignity was affronted at what he
considered the young man's attempt to interfere in the case and direct
the course of the police investigations. It was the desire to snub what
he regarded as a meddlesome interposition in his own business which
prompted him to reply:

"It is a matter of small importance, one way or the other. It is
sufficient for the Crown case to know the owner of the revolver. The
point is that the murder was committed with it, and it was subsequently
found in the girl's possession."

"I have nothing more to say to you," said Phil.

"Are you convinced now, Phil?" asked Miss Heredith sadly, when Caldew
had taken his departure. "It was hard for me to believe at first, but
everything seems so certain."

"I am not at all convinced," was the stern reply. "On the contrary, I
feel sure that some terrible mistake has been made. I would stake my
life on the innocence of Hazel Rath. How can you, who have known her so
long, believe she would do a deed like this? The detective who has just
left us is obviously a fool, and I am not satisfied that all the facts
about Violet's death have been brought to light. I am going to London at
once to bring another detective to inquire into the case. You know more
about these things than me, Musard--can you tell me of a good man?"

"If you are determined to bring in another detective, you cannot do
better than get Colwyn," replied Musard.

"Colwyn--the famous private detective? He is the very man I should like.
Where is he to be found?"

"He has rooms somewhere near Ludgate Circus. I will write down the
address. I think he will come, if he is not otherwise engaged."

"Why should he refuse?" demanded Phil haughtily. "I will pay him well."

"It is not a question of money with a man like Colwyn, and I advise you
not to use that tone with him if you want his help."

"Very well," said Phil, pocketing the address Musard had written down.
"I will catch the 6.30 evening train up. Aunt, you might tell them to
give me something to eat in the small breakfast-room. I do not want to
be bothered getting dinner in town."

"Phil, dear, you mustn't dream of going to London in your present state
of health," expostulated Miss Heredith tearfully. "Why not leave it
until you are stronger? Vincent, try and persuade him not to go."

"Phil is the best judge of his own actions in a matter like this,"
replied Musard gravely.

"At least let Vincent go with you, Phil," urged his aunt.

"I want nobody to accompany me," replied Phil, speaking in a tone he had
never used to his aunt before. "I will go and get ready. Tell Linton to
have the small car ready to drive me to the station."




CHAPTER XV


Colwyn had rooms in the upper part of a block of buildings on Ludgate
Hill, looking down on the Circus, above the rookery of passages which
burrow tortuously under the railway arches to Water Lane, Printing House
Square, and Blackfriars. It was a strange locality to live in, but it
suited Colwyn. It was in the thick of things. From his windows, high up
above the roar of the traffic, he could watch the ceaseless flow of life
eastward and westward all day long, and far into the night.

No other part of London offered such variety and scope in the study of
humanity. The City was stodgy, the Strand too uniform, Piccadilly too
fashionable, and the select areas for bachelor chambers, such as the
Temple and Half Moon Street, were backwaters as remote from the roaring
turbulent stream of London life as the Sussex Downs or the Yorkshire
Moors.

In addition to these things, the spot offered a fine contrast in walks
to suit different moods. There was that avenue of wizardry, Fleet
Street, whose high-priests and slaves juggled with the news of the
world; there was the glitter of plate-glass fronts between the Circus
and St. Paul's, the twilight stillness of the archway passages and their
little squeezed shops, the isolation of Play House Yard and Printing
House Square, the bustle of Bridge Street, and the Embankment. From his
window Colwyn could see the City shopgirls feeding the pigeons of St.
Paul's around the statue of Queen Anne.

To Colwyn, London was the place of adventures. He had lived in New York
and Paris, but neither of these cities had for him the same fascination
as the sprawling giant of the Thames. Paris was as stimulating and
provocative as a paid mistress, but palled as quickly. In New York
mysteries beckoned at every street corner, but too importunately.
Neither city was sufficiently discreet for Colwyn's reticent mind. But
London! London was like a woman who hid a secret life beneath an austere
face and sober garments. Underneath her air of prim propriety and calm
indifference were to be found more enthralling secrets than any other
city of the world could reveal. It was emblematic of London that her
mysteries, in their strangest aspects and phases, preserved the air of
ordinary events.

Colwyn saw nothing extraordinary in this. To him Life seemed so
perpetually inconsistent that there could be nothing inconsistent in any
of its events. It was to his faith in this axiom, expressed after his
own paradoxical fashion, that he partly owed some of those brilliant
successes which had stamped him as one of the foremost criminal
investigators of his day. He never rejected a story on the score of its
improbability. He had seen so many unusual things in his career that he
once declared that it was the unforeseen, and not the expected, which
occurs most frequently in this strange world of ours. That was, perhaps,
partly due to the wide gulf between human ideals and actions, but,
whatever the reason, Colwyn never lost sight of the fact that the
incredible, once it happened, became as commonplace as the meals we eat
or the clothes we wear. It seemed to Colwyn that the unexpected happened
too frequently to call forth the astonishment with which it was
invariably greeted by most people. In his experience, Life was almost
too prodigal of its surprises, so much so, indeed, as to be in danger of
reaching the limit of its own resources. But he consoled himself,
whimsically enough, with the belief that such an event was too probable
ever to happen.

It was nearly eleven o'clock at night, and Colwyn, getting up from a
table where he had been busily writing, walked to the window and looked
down on the deserted street beneath. It was a nightly custom of his. He
lived, as he worked, alone, attended only by a taciturn manservant who
had been with him for many years. He accepted with characteristic
philosophy the view that a man who spent his time unveiling shameful
human secrets had no right to share his life with anybody. Even the
articles of furniture of his lonely rooms, if endowed with any sort of
entity, might have worn a furtive air in their consciousness of the
secrets they had heard whispered in their owner's ears by those who had
sought his counsel and assistance in their trouble and despair. There
had been many such secrets poured forth in those lonely rooms, perched
up high above the roar of the London traffic. It was the Confessional of
the incredible.

As Colwyn stood at the window, the electric bell of the front door rang
sharply through the empty building. Looking down into the street, he saw
the figure of a man in the doorway beneath. He glanced at his watch. It
was late for a visitor. He walked to the lift at the end of the passage
and descended. As he did so, the bell in his rooms once more pealed
forth beneath the pressure of an impatient hand.

The visitor, revealed by the light in the hall, was a young man muffled
in a thick overcoat for protection against the sharp autumn wind which
was blowing along the rain-splashed street. He stepped inside the door
as Colwyn opened it, and, glancing at the detective from a pair of dark
eyes just visible beneath the flap of his soft felt hat, said:

"Are you Mr. Colwyn?"

"Yes. What can I do for you?"

"I am afraid it is a very late hour for a visit," said the other,
brushing the rain drops off his coat as he spoke, "but I should be very
glad if you could spare me a little time, late as it is. I have come
from the country to see you."

Colwyn nodded without speaking. Strange adventures had come to him at
stranger hours. He showed the way to the lift, switched off the electric
light he had turned on in the passage, and ascended with his visitor to
his rooms. There his companion, with an impulsiveness which contrasted
with the detective's quiet composure, again spoke:

"I want your assistance, Mr. Colwyn."

"Will you not be seated?" said the detective, as with a swift glance he
took in the external attributes of his young and well-dressed visitor.

"Thank you. I regret to disturb you at such a late hour, but the train I
travelled by was greatly delayed by an accident. I thought at first of
postponing my visit till the morning, but it is so urgent--to me, at all
events--that I determined to try and see you to-night."

"It was just as well that you did. I may be called out of London in the
morning."

"Then I am glad that I came. My name is Heredith--Philip Heredith."

Colwyn looked at his visitor with a keener interest. The London
newspapers were full of the particulars of the moat-house crime, and had
published intimate accounts of the Heredith family, their wealth, social
position, and standing in the county. Colwyn, as he glanced at Philip
Heredith, came to the conclusion that the London picture papers had been
once more guilty of deceiving their credulous readers. The portraits
they had published of him in no wise resembled the young man who was now
seated opposite him, regarding him with a sad and troubled look.

"I have heard of your great skill and cleverness in criminal
investigation, Mr. Colwyn," continued Phil earnestly, "and wish to avail
myself of your help. That is the object of my visit."

Colwyn waited for his visitor to disclose the reasons which had brought
him, seeking advice. He had followed the newspaper accounts of the
murder and police investigations with keen interest. The special
correspondents had done full justice to the arrest of Hazel Rath. There
is no room for reticence or delicacy in modern journalism, and no
reserves except those dictated by fear of the law for libel. Colwyn was
therefore aware that Hazel Rath figured as "the woman in the case," and
was supposed to have shot the young wife in a fit of jealousy. The
newspapers, in publishing these disclosures, had hinted at the existence
of previous tender relations between the young husband and the arrested
girl, in order to whet the public appetite for the "remarkable
revelations" which it was hoped would be brought forward at the trial.

"I have come to consult you about the murder of my wife," continued
Phil, speaking with an evident effort. "I should like you to make some
investigations."

Colwyn was sufficiently false to his own philosophy of life to
experience a feeling which he would have been the first to admit was
surprise.

"The police have already made an arrest in the case," he said.

"I believe they have arrested an innocent girl."

As the young man sat there, he looked so worn and ill that Colwyn felt
his sympathy go out to him. He seemed too boyish and frail to bear such
a weight of tragedy on his shoulders at the outset of his life. His face
wore an aspect of despair.

"If you think that a mistake has been made, you had better go to
Scotland Yard," said Colwyn.

"I have already spoken to Detective Caldew, but his attitude convinced
me that it was hopeless to expect any assistance from Scotland Yard, so
I decided to come to you."

"In that case you had better tell me all that you know, if you wish me
to help you," said the detective. "In the first place, I wish to hear
all the facts of the murder itself. I have read the newspaper accounts,
but they necessarily lack those more intimate details which may mean so
much. I should like to hear everything from beginning to end."

In a voice which was still weak from illness, Phil did as he was
requested, and related the strange sequence of events which had happened
at the moat-house on the night of his wife's murder. Those events, as he
described them, took on a new complexion to his listener, suggesting a
deeper and more complex mystery than the newspaper accounts of the
crime.

From the first the moat-house murder had appealed to Colwyn's
imagination and stimulated his intellectual curiosity. There was the
pathos of the youth and sex of the victim, murdered in a peaceful
country home. The terrible primality of murder accords more easily with
the elemental gregariousness of slum existence; its horror is
accentuated, by force of contrast, in the tender simplicity of an
English sylvan setting. Colwyn's chief interest lay in the fact that,
although the case against Hazel Rath was as strong as circumstantial
evidence could make it, the supposed motive for the crime was weak. But
he reflected that there did not exist in human life any motive
sufficiently strong to warrant the commission of a crime like murder.
Probably no great murder had ever been justified by motive, in the sense
that incitement is vindication, though human nature, ever on the alert
in defence of itself, was prone to accept such excuses as passion and
revenge as adequate motives for destruction. The point which perplexed
Colwyn in this particular case was whether the incitement of jealousy
was sufficient to impel a young girl, brought up in good social
environment, which is ever a conventional deterrent to violent crime, to
murder her rival in a sudden gust of passion.

"Now, let me hear your reasons for thinking that the police have made a
mistake in arresting Hazel Rath," the detective said, when Phil had
concluded his narration of the events of the night of the murder. "The
case against her seems very strong."

"Nevertheless, I feel sure she did not do it," said Phil emphatically.
"I understand her nature and disposition too well to believe her guilty.
I have known her since childhood. She has a sweet and gentle nature."

"I am afraid your personal opinion will count for very little against
the weight of evidence," replied Colwyn. "It is impossible to generalize
in a crime like murder. My experience is that the most unlikely people
commit violent crimes under sudden stress. Unless you have something
more to go upon than that, your protestations will count for very little
at the trial. Criminal judges know too well that human nature is capable
of almost anything except sustained goodness."

It was the same point of view, only differently expressed, that
Superintendent Merrington had advanced to Captain Stanhill at the
moat-house the evening after the murder.

"I have other reasons for thinking Hazel Rath innocent," replied Phil.
"If she had murdered my wife we would have seen her as we rushed
upstairs after hearing the scream and shot. She hadn't time to escape."

"What about the window of your wife's room?"

"It is nearly twenty feet from the ground, so that would be impossible."

"How do you account for the brooch being found in your wife's bedroom?
Is there any doubt that it belongs to Hazel Rath?"

"It is quite true that the brooch is hers. I gave it to her on her
birthday, some years ago. The police think that Hazel is in love with
me, and murdered my wife through jealousy. But that is not true. I have
known her since she was a little girl, and regarded her as a sister."

Phil uttered these words with a ringing sincerity which it was
impossible to doubt. But that statement, Colwyn reflected, did not carry
them very far. The speaker might honestly believe that the feeling
existing between himself and Hazel Rath was like the affection of
brother and sister, but he was speaking for himself, and not for the
girl. Who could read the secret of a woman's heart? The real question
was, did Hazel Rath love Philip Heredith? There lay a motive for the
murder, if she did.

"Does Hazel Rath still refuse to explain how her brooch came to be found
in Mrs. Heredith's bedroom and subsequently disappeared?" inquired
Colwyn after a short pause.

"I understand that she persists in remaining silent," returned the young
man. "Oh, I admit the case seems suspicious against her," he continued
passionately, as though in answer to a slight shrug of the detective's
shoulders. "It is for that reason I have come to you. I believe her
innocent, and I want you to try and establish her innocence."

"I am afraid I must decline, Mr. Heredith." A sympathetic glance of
Colwyn's eyes softened the firm tone of the refusal. "Apart from your
own belief in Miss Rath's innocence, you have very little to go upon."

"There is more than that to go upon," said Phil. "There is the question
of the identity of the revolver. Hazel is supposed to have obtained it
from the gun-room."

"I know that from the newspaper reports."

"Yes, but you do not know that the detectives have not been able to
establish the ownership of the weapon until to-day. They were under the
impression that it belonged to the moat-house, but neither my father nor
aunt was able to settle the point. Detective Caldew visited the
moat-house to-day to see if I could identify it. I immediately
recognized it as the property of Captain Nepcote."

"Who is Captain Nepcote?"

"He is a friend of mine. I knew him in London before I was married. He
was a friend of my wife's also. He was one of our guests at the
moat-house until the day of the murder."

"Did he leave before the murder was committed?"

"Yes; some hours before."

"Then how did Hazel Rath obtain possession of his revolver?"

"That is what I do not know. I must tell you that the day before the
murder some of our guests spent a wet afternoon amusing themselves
shooting at a target in the gun-room. They were using Captain Nepcote's
revolver. When I told Detective Caldew this, he came to the conclusion
that Nepcote must have left it there after the shooting, and Hazel Rath
found it when she went to look for a weapon."

"I see. And what is your own opinion?"

"I do not believe it for one moment."

"Why not?"

"For one thing, it strikes me as unlikely that Nepcote would forget his
revolver when leaving the gun-room. In any case, the police are taking
too much for granted in assuming, without inquiry, that he did. Caldew
told me that the question of the ownership of the revolver did not
affect the case against Hazel Rath in the slightest degree."

"Do you know whether the revolver was seen by anybody between the time
of Captain Nepcote's departure and its discovery in Hazel Rath's
possession?"

"I understand that it was not."

"Do you know whether Captain Nepcote took it from the gun-room after the
target shooting?"

"That I cannot say. I left the gun-room before the shooting was
finished."

"Let me see if I thoroughly understand the position," said Colwyn. "In
your narrative of the events of the murder you stated that all the
members of the household and the guests were in the dining-room when the
murder was committed. Nepcote was not there because he had returned to
London during the afternoon. Nevertheless, it was with his revolver that
your wife was shot."

"That is correct," said Phil.

"If Nepcote did not leave his revolver in the gun-room the police theory
would be upset on an important point, and the case would take on a new
aspect. Have you any suspicions that you have not confided to me?"

"I cannot say that I have any particular suspicions," the young man
replied. "I do not know what to think, but I should like to have this
terrible mystery cleared up. I have not seen Nepcote since the day of
the murder to ask him about the revolver. He said good-bye to me before
he left, and I understood that he had received a wire from the War
Office recalling him to the front. After the murder I was taken ill, as
I have told you, and it was not until to-day that I was informed of what
happened during my illness."

"I am inclined to agree with you that the case wants further
investigation," said Colwyn.

"Then will you undertake it?" asked Phil.

The feeling that he was face to face with one of the deepest mysteries
of his career acted as an irresistible call to Colwyn's intellect. He
consulted the leaves of his engagement book.

"Yes, I will come," he said.

Phil glanced at his watch.

"I am afraid we can hardly catch the last train to Heredith," he said.

"We will drive down in my car," said Colwyn. "Please excuse me for a few
moments."

He left the room, and returned in a few moments fully equipped for the
journey.

"Let us start," he said.

His tone was decided and imperative, his movements quick and full of
energy. That was wholly like him, once he had decided on his course.




CHAPTER XVI


It was so late that Ludgate Circus was deserted except for a ramshackle
cab with a drunken driver pouring forth a hoarse story of a mean fare to
a sleepy policeman leaning against a lamp post. The sight of two
gentlemen on foot when all 'buses had stopped running for the night
raised fleeting hopes in the cabman's pessimistic breast, and changed
the flow of his narrative into a strident appeal for hire, based on the
plea, which he called on the policeman to support, that he hadn't turned
a wheel that night, and amplified with a profanity which only the
friendliest understanding with the policeman could have permitted him to
pour forth without fear of consequences.

He intimated his readiness to drive them anywhere between the _Angel_
on one side of London and the _Elephant_ on the other for three bob, or,
being a bit of a sport, would toss them to make it five bob or nothing.
The boundaries, he explained in a husky parenthesis, were fixed not so
much by his own refusal to travel farther afield as by his horse's
unwillingness to go into the blasted suburbs. As his importunities
passed unregarded he damned them both with the terrible earnestness of
his class, and rumbled back into his dislocated story with the languid
policeman.

Colwyn kept his car in a garage off the Bridge Street archway. Thither
they proceeded, and waited while the car was got ready for the roads by
a shock-headed man who broke the stillness of the night with prodigious
yawns, and then stood blinking like an owl as he leaned against the yard
gates watching the detective backing the car down the declivity of the
passage into Bridge Street. Before they had reached it, he banged the
gates behind him with another tremendous yawn, and went back to his
interrupted slumber in the interior of a limousine.

It was a fine night for motoring. There was a late moon, and the earlier
rain had laid the dust and left the roads in good condition. Colwyn
cautiously threaded the crooked tangle of narrow streets and sharp
corners between Blackfriars and Victoria, but as the narrow streets
opened into broader ways he increased the speed of his high-powered car,
and by the time London was left behind for the quiet meadows and
autumn-scented woods they were racing along the white country roads at a
pace which caused the roadside avenues of trees to slide past them like
twin files of soldiers on the double.

Mile after mile slipped away in silence. Beyond an occasional direction
of route by Phil there was no conversation between the two men in the
car. Phil sat back looking straight in front of him, apparently absorbed
in thought, and the car occupied Colwyn's attention. When they reached
the heights above Heredith, Phil pointed to the green flats beneath and
the old house in a shroud of mist.

"That is the moat-house," he said. "The carriage drive is from the
village side." And with that brief indication that they were nearing
their journey's end he once more settled back into silence.

Colwyn brought the car down from the rise into the sleeping village, and
a few minutes later he was driving up the winding carriage way between
the rows of drooping trees. On the other side of the woods the
moat-house came into view. The moonlight gleamed on the high-pitched red
roof, and drenched the garden in whiteness, but the mist which rose from
the waters of the moat swathed the walls of the house like a cerement.
The moon, crouching behind the umbrageous trees of the park, cast a
heavy shadow on the lawn, like a giant's hand menacing the home of
murder.

Late as the hour was, Tufnell was up awaiting their arrival, with a
light supper and wine set ready in a small room off the library. Phil
had telephoned from Colwyn's rooms to say that he was returning with the
detective, and the butler, as he helped them off with their coats, said
that rumours of a railway accident had reached the moat-house, causing
Miss Heredith much anxiety until she received the telephone message.

Colwyn and Phil sat down to supper, with the butler in assiduous
attendance. The meal was a slight and silent one. Phil kept a host's
courteous eye on his guest's needs, but showed no inclination for
conversation, and Colwyn was not the man to talk for talking's sake.
When they had finished Phil asked the butler which room Mr. Colwyn was
to occupy.

"Miss Heredith has had the room next to Sir Philip's prepared, sir."

"No doubt you are tired, Mr. Colwyn, and would like to retire," Phil
said.

"Thank you, I should. I travelled from Scotland last night, and had very
little sleep."

"In that case you will be glad to go to bed at once. I will show you to
your room," said the young man, rising from the table.

"Please do not bother," replied Colwyn, noting the worn air and white
face of the other. "You look done up yourself."

"Miss Heredith was anxious that you should retire as soon as you could,
sir, so as to get as much rest as possible after your journey," put in
the butler, with the officious solicitude of an old servant.

"Then I shall leave you in Tufnell's care," said Phil, holding out his
hand as he said good night.

He went out of the room, and Colwyn was left with the old butler.

"Is it your wish to retire now?" the latter inquired.

"I shall be glad to do so, if you will show me to my bedroom."

The butler bowed gravely, and escorted Colwyn upstairs to his bedroom.

"This is your room, sir. I hope you will be comfortable."

"I feel sure that I shall," replied Colwyn, with a glance round the
large handsome apartment.

"Your dressing-room opens off it, sir."

"Thank you. Good night."

"Good night, sir." The butler turned hesitatingly towards the door, as
though he wished for some excuse to linger, but could think of nothing
to justify such a course. He walked out of the room into the passage,
and then turned suddenly, the light through the open doorway falling on
his sharpened old features and watchful eyes.

"What is it? Do you wish to speak to me?" said Colwyn, with his pleasant
smile.

A look of perplexity and doubt passed over the butler's face as he
paused irresolutely in the doorway.

"I merely wished to ask, sir, if there is anything else I can get for
you before I go."

His face had resumed its wonted impassivity, and the words came
promptly, but Colwyn knew it was not the answer he had intended to make.

"I want nothing further," he said.

The butler bowed, and hurried away. Colwyn stood for a few moments
pondering over the incident. Then he went to bed and slept soundly.

He was awakened in the morning by the twittering of birds in the ivy
outside his window. The mist from the moat crept up the glasslike steam,
but through it he caught glimpses of a dappled autumn sky, and in the
distance a bright green hill, with a trail of white clouds floating over
the feathery trees on the summit. As he watched the rapid play of light
and shade on the hill, he wondered why the moat-house had been built on
the damp unwholesome flat lands instead of on the breezy height.

When he descended later, he found Tufnell awaiting him in the hall to
conduct him to the breakfast table. In the breakfast-room Sir Philip,
Miss Heredith, and Vincent Musard were assembled. The baronet greeted
Colwyn with his gentle unfailing courtesy, and Musard shook hands with
him heartily. The fact that Phil had brought him to the moat-house was
in itself sufficient to ensure a gracious reception from Miss Heredith,
but as soon as she saw Colwyn she felt impelled to like him on his own
account. It was not the repose and simplicity of his manners, or his
freedom from the professional airs of ostentatious notoriety which
attracted her, though these things had their weight with a woman like
Miss Heredith, by conveying the comforting assurance that her guest was
at least a gentleman. There was more than that. She was immediately
conscious of that charm of personality which drew the liking of most
people who came in contact with Colwyn. In the strong clear-cut face of
the great criminologist, there was the abiding quality of sympathy with
the sufferings which spring from human passions and the tragedy of life.
But, if his serenity of expression suggested that he had not allowed his
own disillusionment with life to embitter his outlook or narrow his
vision, his glance also suggested a clear penetration of human motives
which it would be unwise to try to blind. Miss Heredith instinctively
realized that Colwyn was one of those rare human beings who are to be
both feared and trusted.

"You will not see my nephew until later," she explained to him as they
sat down to breakfast. "He is far from strong yet, and he has had so
little sleep since his illness that I am always glad when he is able to
rest quietly. I looked in his room a few minutes ago and he was sleeping
soundly, so I darkened the room and left him to sleep on."

Colwyn expressed his sympathy. His quick intelligence, gauging his new
surroundings and the members of the household, had instantly divined the
sterling qualities, the oddities, and class prejudices which made up the
strong individuality of the mistress of the moat-house. He saw, for all
her dignified front, that she was suffering from a shock which had
shaken her to her inmost being, and he respected her for bearing herself
so bravely under it.

The breakfast progressed in the leisurely way of the English morning
meal. The tragedy which had darkened the peaceful life of the household
nearly a fortnight before was not mentioned. Colwyn appreciated the tact
of his hostess in keeping the conversation to conventional channels,
leaving it for him to introduce the object of his visit in his own time.
Only at the conclusion of the meal, as Miss Heredith was leaving the
apartment, did she tell him that she hoped he would let her know if
there was anything he required or wished her to do. He thanked her, and
said there was nothing just then. Later, it would be necessary for him
to go over the house, under her guidance, if she could spare the time.
She replied that she could do so after lunch if that would be suitable,
and went away. Sir Philip followed her, and Colwyn and Musard were left
alone.

"Shall we have a cigar in the garden?" said Musard. He wished to know
more of the man of whom he had heard so much by repute, and he believed
that tobacco promoted sociability. He also desired to find out whether
Colwyn's presence at the moat-house meant that Phil had succeeded in
impressing him with his own belief in the innocence of Hazel Rath.

Colwyn willingly agreed. He realized the difficulties of the task ahead
of him, and he welcomed the opportunity of hearing all he could about
the murder from somebody who knew all the circumstances. Phil's personal
knowledge of the facts did not extend beyond the point where he had
fallen unconscious in the bedroom, and a talk with Musard offered the
best available substitute for his own lack of first-hand impressions.

The garden basked in the warmth of a mellow autumn sunshine which had
dispersed the morning mist. In the air was the scent of late flowers and
the murmurs of bees; the bright eyes of blackbirds and robins peeped out
from the ornamental yews, and the peacocks trailed their plumes over the
sparkling emerald lawns. But Colwyn and Musard had no thought of the
beauty of the morning or the charm of the old-world garden as they paced
across the lawn. It was Musard who broached the subject which was
engrossing their minds.

"It was very good of you to come down here, Mr. Colwyn. Your visit is a
great relief to Miss Heredith."

"Does Miss Heredith share her nephew's belief in Miss Rath's innocence?"

"I would not go so far as to say that, though I think his own
earnestness has impressed her with the hope that some mistake has been
made. But her chief concern is her nephew's health, and she is anxious,
above all things, to remove his mental worry and unrest. The mere fact
that you have undertaken to make further inquiries into the case will do
much to ease his mind."

"I will do what I can. My principal difficulty is to pick up the threads
of the case. It is some time since the murder was committed, and the
attendant circumstances which might have helped me in the beginning no
longer exist. It is like groping for the entrance to a maze which has
been covered over by the growths of time."

"Do you yourself believe it possible that Hazel Rath is innocent?"

"I have come here to investigate the case. The police account for the
girl's possession of Captain Nepcote's revolver, with which Mrs.
Heredith was shot, by the theory that she obtained it from the gun-room
of the moat-house shortly before the murder. There is work for me to do
both here and in London, in clearing up this point. It is so important
that I cannot understand the attitude of Detective Caldew in dismissing
it as a matter of no consequence. If Hazel Rath were convicted with that
question unsettled, she would be condemned on insufficient evidence. It
is for this reason I have taken her interests into my hands. But, apart
from this point, I am bound to say that the case against her strikes me
as a very strong one."

"Yet it is quite certain that Phil Heredith believes her innocent,"
remarked Musard thoughtfully.

"Belief is an intangible thing. In any case, his belief is not shared by
you."

"How do you know that?"

"You would have said so."

"Well, I will go so far as to say that Hazel Rath is a most unlikely
person to commit murder."

"Murder is an unlikely crime. There is no brand of Cain to reveal the
modern murderer. Finger-prints are a surer means of identification. This
unhappy girl may be the victim of one of those combinations of sinister
events which sometimes occur in crime, but I do not intend to form an
opinion about that until I know more about the case. For that reason I
shall be glad if you will give me your account of everything that
happened on the night of the murder. Philip Heredith's story is
incomplete, and I wish to hear all the facts."

Musard nodded, and related the particulars with an attention to detail
which left little to be desired. His version filled in the gaps of
Phil's imperfect narrative, and enabled the detective to visualize the
murder with greater mental distinctness. The two stories agreed in their
essential particulars, but they varied in some degree in detail. Colwyn,
however, was well aware that different witnesses never exactly agree in
their impressions of the same event. Phil had made only an incidental
reference to the dinner-table conversation about jewels, and Colwyn was
not previously aware that the story of the ruby ring had occupied twenty
minutes in the telling.

"How did you come to tell the story?" he asked.

"Some of the ladies were admiring my ring, and Phil suggested that they
should hear the story of its discovery. I had just finished when the
scream rang out from upstairs, followed by the shot."

"How long was the interval between the scream and the shot?"

"Only a few seconds," replied Musard. "Some of us started to go upstairs
as soon as we heard it, but the shot followed before we reached the door
of the dining-room."

Colwyn reflected that this estimate differed from Phil Heredith's, who
had thought that nearly half a minute elapsed between the scream and the
shot. But he knew that a correct estimate of the lapse of time is even
rarer than an accurate computation of distance.

Musard knew nothing about two aspects of the case on which Colwyn
desired to gain light. He had seen nothing of the target shooting in the
gun-room the day before the murder, but he thought it quite possible
that Captain Nepcote's revolver might have lain there unnoticed until
the following night, because the men of the house party were a poor
shooting lot who were not likely to use the gun-room much. He had heard
the head gamekeeper say that there had been no shooting parties, and
Tufnell had told him that only one or two of the men had brought guns
with them. Neither was Musard aware whether there existed the motive of
wronged virtue or slighted affection to arouse a girl like Hazel Rath to
commit such a terrible crime. He had always thought her a sweet and
modest girl, but he had seen too much of the world to place much
reliance on externals, and he had had very few opportunities of
observing whether there had been anything in the nature of a love affair
between her and Philip. His own view was that whatever feeling existed
was on the girl's side only.

"If there had been love passages between them, Phil's conscience would
not have allowed him to be quite so certain of her innocence," added
Musard. "I told him of her arrest, and there can be no doubt that he
thinks the police have made a hideous mistake in arresting her.
Detective Caldew refused to admit the possibility of mistake, but Phil
shuts his eyes to everything that tells against the girl, including her
mother's unpleasant past."

"Did Miss Heredith know anything of her housekeeper's past?"

"No. Mrs. Rath, as she calls herself, came to Heredith many years ago,
took a small cottage, and tried to support her daughter and herself by
giving lessons in music and French. She would have starved if it had not
been for Miss Heredith, who helped her and her little girl, tried to get
the mother some pupils, and finally took her into the moat-house as
housekeeper. Mrs. Rath disappeared from the place after her daughter's
arrest, when the police had decided that it was not necessary to detain
her, leaving a note behind her for Miss Heredith to say that she
couldn't face her after all that had happened."

Colwyn did not speak immediately. He was examining the row of upper
windows which looked down on the garden in which they were standing.

"Is that the window of the room in which Mrs. Heredith was murdered?" he
asked, pointing to the first one.

"Yes. It is high for a first-floor window, but there is a fall in the
ground on this side of the house."

Colwyn tested the strength of the Virginia creeper which grew up the
wall almost to the window, and then bent down to examine the grass and
earth underneath.

"Caldew thought at first that the murderer escaped from the window, but
Merrington did not agree with him," said Musard.

If the remark was intended to extract an expression of opinion from
Colwyn it failed in effect, for he remained silent. He had regained his
feet, and was looking up at the window again.

"Where is the door which opens on the back staircase of this wing?" he
said, at length.

"At the extreme end. You cannot see it from here. It opens on the back
of the house."

"According to the newspaper reports of the case, the door is always kept
locked. Is that correct?"

"As a general rule it is. But it was found unlocked before dinner on the
night the murder was committed."

"I was not informed of this before."

"Phil was not aware of it, and Detective Caldew attached so little
importance to it when I told him after the murder that I should not have
thought it worth mentioning if you had not asked me. Caldew's point of
view was that the door had been left unlocked, accidentally, by one of
the servants, which is quite possible. I understand both detectives
agree that it had nothing to do with the murder, because the door was
locked by the butler, who discovered it unlocked, fully an hour before
the murder was committed. If Hazel Rath had attempted to escape that way
she would have been caught in a _cul-de-sac_, for we rushed upstairs
from the dining-room immediately we heard the scream."

"Did you search the back staircase?"

"Almost immediately. It was empty."

"And there is no doubt that the door at the bottom was locked?"

"None whatever--one of the young men tried it."

"What time did the butler make his discovery?"

"Shortly before dinner. I do not know the exact time."

"Thank you. Now, if you will excuse me, I should like to see the room
Mrs. Heredith occupied. Is it empty?"

"Yes. The wing has been unoccupied since the night of the murder. Shall
I show you the way up?"

"It will not be necessary. I know the way, and I shall be there some
time."

"In that case I will leave you till lunch-time," responded Musard, as he
walked away.

Colwyn did not go upstairs immediately. He took a solitary walk in the
woods, thinking over everything that Musard had told him. Then he
returned to the house and mounted the staircase to the left wing. His
first act was to make a thorough examination of the unused back
staircase at the end of the corridor. Then he entered the bedroom Mrs.
Heredith had occupied.

The room had the forlorn appearance of disuse. The bed had been partly
stripped, and the tall-backed chairs, in prim linen covers, looked like
seated ghosts with arms a-kimbo. Colwyn's first act was to draw the
heavy window curtains and open the window. He then commenced an
examination of the room in the morning sunlight.

His examination was long and thorough, but it brought nothing to light
which added to his knowledge of the events of the murder. The time went
on, and he was still engrossed in his scrutiny when the door opened and
Phil entered the room.




CHAPTER XVII


"Lunch is waiting," said the young man. "My aunt thought that you did
not hear the gong, so I came up to tell you."

"Miss Heredith was right--I did not hear it. I am sorry if I have kept
you waiting. I have been so busy that I forgot the passing of time."

If Phil felt any curiosity as to the matters which had engaged Colwyn's
attention in the room where his wife had been murdered, he did not
express it in words.

"My aunt will show you over the moat-house after lunch, if you wish,"
was what he said.

"I should be glad," returned Colwyn. "But I am reluctant to put Miss
Heredith to the trouble."

"Do not think of that," responded Phil. "My aunt desires nothing better
than to show the old place to anybody she likes. And she has taken a
liking to you."

"It is very good of her. I shall be pleased to accept her offer, for I
wish to see over the house as soon as possible."

They had started to descend the stairs. Colwyn, happening to glance over
the balusters, saw the motionless figure of Tufnell standing at the
bottom of the staircase partly concealed by the group of ornamental
shrubs in the hall. His face was turned upwards with an aspect of
strained curiosity, but it was immediately withdrawn as his eyes
encountered Colwyn's downward gaze. A moment later Colwyn saw him enter
the dining-room.

When they reached the foot of the staircase, Colwyn, with an explanatory
glance at his soiled hands and dusty clothes, promised to join the
luncheon party in a few minutes. He went to his own room for a hasty
toilet, and when he descended a few minutes later he again saw Tufnell
in the hall. The butler, who was giving a direction to a servant, met
his eye calmly, and hastened to open the dining-room door for him.

There was more conversation at luncheon than at the morning meal. The
weight of senility relaxed from Sir Philip sufficiently to permit him to
talk to his guest with some brightness. He told Colwyn a story of a
seagoing ancestor of his who had entertained the Royal Family in his own
frigate at Portsmouth in honour of Sir Horatio Nelson's victory of the
Nile, and how the occasion had tempted the cupidity of his own fellow to
make a nefarious penny by permitting the rabble of the town to take
peeps at the guests through one of the port-holes. It happened that one
Jack Tar, eager to gaze on his idol Nelson, got his head jammed in the
port-hole, and broke up the party with a volley of terrible oaths and
roars for assistance. "The servant's name was Egg--Dick Egg, but he was
a bad egg," chuckled Sir Philip, as he concluded the narrative. He
repeated the poor joke several times in manifest appreciation.

Miss Heredith did not smile at the story. She deprecated anything which
had the slightest tendency to cast ridicule on the family name. That was
made abundantly clear after the meal, when Sir Philip had retired to his
room for his afternoon nap, and the others went over the old house. She
took Colwyn under her special charge, and, forgetful of the real object
of the detective's visit, discoursed impressively to him on the past
glories of the Heredith line. She lingered long in each room, all rich
in memories of the past, pointing out the objects of interest with
loving pride. It would have been a disappointment to her if she had
known that the guest who walked beside her, listening to her stories and
legends of each antique relic and ancient picture, had his thoughts
fixed on far different matters. Colwyn's reasons for seeing the
moat-house had little to do with ancient oak, carved ceilings, panelled
walls, and old family portraits.

It was not until they descended to the gun-room that Colwyn's keen
professional scrutiny suggested, by force of contrast, that his former
air of interest had been largely feigned. There were several underground
rooms, entered by a short flight of stone steps, with an oak door at the
top and bottom. The two principal rooms were the armoury, full of
armour, spears, lances and bows, and the gun-room adjoining. What
arrested Colwyn's attention in the latter room was the display of guns
on the walls. There were many varieties of them: rifled harquebuses,
obsolete carbines, flint-lock muskets, and modern rifles; in fact, the
whole evolution of explosive weapons, from the first rude beginnings
down to the breech-loader of the present day.

"The Herediths have ever been a family of great warriors, Mr. Colwyn,"
said Miss Heredith, following his glance along the walls. "Each of those
weapons has some story of bravery, I might almost say heroism, attached
to it. That sword you are looking at belonged to my grand-uncle, who
commanded the British Army in the Peninsula. He was originally a major
in the 14th Foot."

"I was under the impression that Wellington commanded in Portugal," said
Musard.

"My grand-uncle was Sir Arthur Wellesley's senior officer, Vincent,"
responded Miss Heredith. "He arrived in Portugal in 1809 to take
command, but Sir Arthur most culpably failed to have horses ready to
carry him to the field of battle. In consequence of Sir Arthur's neglect
my grand-uncle was compelled to take the next boat back to England.
There was a question asked in the Commons of the day about Sir Arthur's
conduct. I do not know what the question was, but the answer was in the
negative, though I am not quite sure what that means. In any case, my
grand-uncle was a greater soldier than Wellington. My mother often heard
my grand-aunt say so."

"I notice that there are no revolvers or pistols among the weapons on
the walls," said Colwyn.

"We never had a revolver," replied Phil.

"There are a pair of horse pistols in that case," said Musard, pointing
to an oblong mahogany box with brass corners, resting on a stand in a
niche of the wall. He crossed over to the box and fumbled with the brass
snibs, but was unable to open it. "The case is locked," he said.

"Perhaps it is only jammed," suggested Phil.

"Oh, no, it is locked fast enough. Do you understand anything about
locks, Mr. Colwyn?"

"You will have to break it open if you have lost the key," said Colwyn,
after glancing at the box. "It is an obsolete type of lock."

"I should have liked to show you those pistols," said Musard. "They
carry as true as a rifle up to fifty yards. Their only drawback is that
they are a bit clumsy, and have a heavy recoil."

"I wonder where the key is?" remarked Miss Heredith. "I must ask Tufnell
about it."

"Will you tell me where the revolver practice took place that
afternoon?" said Colwyn, turning to Phil.

"They were firing from behind the bagatelle board at a target fixed over
there," said Phil, pointing to the far wall.

"Who proposed the game?"

"Nepcote. It was a very wet afternoon, and everybody had to stay
indoors. He suggested after tea that it would be a good way of killing
the time before dinner. Several of the men and two or three of the girls
thought it a capital idea, and a sweepstake was arranged. They asked me
for a revolver, but I told them we had not one. One of the officers
offered his army revolver, but that was objected to as too heavy and
dangerous for indoor shooting. Then Nepcote said that he had a light
revolver in his bag, and he went upstairs to get it. He came downstairs
with it in his hand, and those who were taking part in the sport went
downstairs to the gun-room. I went with them for a while, but I did not
stay long."

"Captain Nepcote's revolver is not an army weapon?"

"Oh, no. It is a very small and slight weapon, nickel-plated, with six
chambers. It is so light as to resemble a toy."

"With a correspondingly light report, I presume. The sound of the target
practice would not be heard upstairs?"

"It would be an exceedingly loud report that penetrated to the upper
regions through that door," interjected Musard, pointing to the oak door
with iron clamps which gave entrance to the gun-room. "Besides, there is
another door at the top of the steps. If they were both shut you might
fire off every weapon in the place without anybody upstairs hearing a
sound."

Colwyn had listened to Phil's account of the target shooting with the
closest attention. He remained silent for some moments, as though he
were pondering over every point in it. Then he said:

"What makes you feel so sure that Nepcote did not leave his revolver in
this room after the shooting?"

"He could only have left it on the bagatelle board or one of the
chairs," replied Phil earnestly. "If he had done so it would have been
seen by somebody."

"Provided anybody entered the gun-room," put in Musard.

"Of course there must have been somebody here," rejoined Phil with some
warmth. "The detectives think that Hazel did not find it until the
following evening. Do you suppose nobody visited the gun-room for
twenty-four hours?"

"I think it quite likely with such a poor shooting lot--" Musard
commenced, but broke off as he caught Miss Heredith's warning glance.
"All right, laddie," he added soothingly; "Perhaps you are right, after
all."

"I have no doubt I am right," exclaimed Phil excitedly. "Do you not
think I am right, Mr. Colwyn?"

"I think that what you have said about the likelihood of the revolver
having been seen is quite feasible," responded the detective. "But there
is nothing to be gained by discussing that possibility at the present
moment. Shall we go upstairs again, Miss Heredith?" he added, turning to
her.

She turned on him a grateful glance for his tact and forbearance, and
hastened to lead the way from the gun-room. The few words between Phil
and Musard had not only brought sharply back to her all the past horror
and agony of the murder, but had caused a poignant renewal of her
apprehensions about her nephew's health. She realized that he was a
changed being, moody and irritable, and liable to sudden fits of
excitement on slight provocation. She felt that Musard had been rather
inconsiderate to forget Phil's illness and cause him to get excited by
differing from him.

Her concern was not lessened by intercepting a strange glance which Phil
cast at Musard when they reached the library. Before she had time to
reflect on what it meant, Phil turned to her and asked her where she had
put Violet's jewel-case.

"I told you yesterday, Phil, that I brought it downstairs and locked it
up," replied Miss Heredith, with a glance at the safe in the corner of
the room. "I have been keeping the keys until you got better."

"Then you might let me have them now," said the young man. "I should
like to see if the jewels are all right."

"Why, Phil, of course they are all right," his aunt replied. "We found
the jewel-case locked, and not tampered with in any way."

"Was Mrs. Heredith's jewel-case in her bedroom the night she was
murdered?" asked Colwyn.

"Yes," responded Miss Heredith. "We found it on her toilet-table, where
she usually kept it."

"Did it contain valuable jewels?"

"It contained a necklace of pearls which was given to poor Violet by Sir
Philip," was the reply. "It is an old family necklace."

"Then I agree with Mr. Heredith that the jewel case should be opened."

"Very well. As you think it necessary, I will go to my room for the
keys."

Miss Heredith left the library, and returned in a few moments with a
small bunch of keys in her hand. She went to the safe, unlocked it, and
returned to the table bearing an oblong silver box of quaint design,
with the portrait of a stout simpering lady in enamel on the cover. Miss
Heredith directed Colwyn's attention to the portrait, remarking that it
was a likeness of a princess of the reigning house, who had given it and
the box to her great-uncle, Captain Sir Philip Heredith.

"Her Royal Highness held my great-uncle in much esteem, Mr. Colwyn," she
added, as she proceeded to fit one of the keys into the box. "He was one
of the most famous of Nelson's captains. When he died the residents of
his native town erected a memorial to him. It was inscribed with
testimony to his worth in a civic, military, and Christian capacity,
together with a text stating that he caused the widow's heart to sing
for joy. Beneath the text was commemorated his feat in sinking the
French frigate _L'Équille_, with every soul on board."

"That hardly seems like causing the widow's heart to sing for joy,"
commented Musard.

"The reference was to English widows, Vincent," replied Miss Heredith,
proceeding to open the box with loving care. "At that period of our
history we had not discovered the good qualities of the French people,
which have endeared them to--Oh!" Miss Heredith broke off with a
startled exclamation as the lid of the silver box fell back, revealing
an empty interior.

It is only in moments of complete surprise that the human face fails to
keep up some semblance of guard over the inmost feelings. At the
discovery that the jewel-case was empty Miss Heredith's dignity dropped
from her like a falling garment, and she stared at the velvet interior
with half-open mouth and an air of consternation on her face.

"Oh!" she cried again, finding voice after a moment's tense silence.
"The necklace is gone."

"By heaven, this is amazing," muttered Musard.

"I thought you said it was safe?" The speaker was Phil. He did not look
at his aunt as he uttered this reproach, but gazed at the empty box with
glowing eyes under drawn brows.

"Phil, Phil, I thought it was safe--oh, I thought it was safe!" cried
Miss Heredith almost hysterically. "Where is it gone? Who could have
taken it? The box was locked when we saw it upstairs, and the day after
the funeral I found Violet's keys at the back of the drawer where she
always kept them."

"The box may have been locked when you found it, but it seems equally
certain that it was also empty," said Colwyn. He alone of the excited
group was cool enough to estimate the awkward possibilities of this
discovery. "How was it that the detectives did not open the jewel-case
on the night of the murder, so as to make quite sure that the necklace
had not been stolen?"

"I took the necklace downstairs and locked it away before the police
arrived," said Miss Heredith tearfully. "When Detective Caldew came he
asked me if anything was missing from Violet's bedroom, and I told him
no. Of course, I did not dream of anything like this. Oh, how I wish now
that I had opened the jewel-case at the time. But I never thought. I
tried the case and found it locked, so I thought it had not been
touched."

"Really, I am more to blame than Miss Heredith," interposed Musard
hurriedly. "I saw the jewel-case first, and I should have thought of
having it opened."

"It is a pity you did not inform the detectives about the case," said
Colwyn. His face was grave as he realized how completely the police had
been led astray in their original investigations by the misunderstanding
which had concealed an important fact. "But first let us make sure that
the jewel-case was empty when it was brought downstairs. How many people
have access to this safe, Miss Heredith? Is there more than one key?"

"There is only one key," she replied. "And that has been in my
possession since the night of the murder."

"That disposes of that possibility, then. What about Mrs. Heredith's
bunch of keys? Have they also been in your possession since she was
killed?"

"Yes; I kept them in an upstairs drawer, which was locked."

"Can you tell me when you last saw the necklace?"

Miss Heredith reflected for a moment.

"Not for some time," she said. "Violet did not care for it, and rarely
wore it."

"The necklace was of pink pearls," Musard explained. "Their value was
more historical than intrinsic, for they had become tarnished with age,
and the setting was old-fashioned. It was for that reason Mrs. Heredith
did not like it. I was going to take the pearls to London the following
day to arrange to have them skinned and reset."

"When I went into poor Violet's room that night to see if she felt well
enough to go to the Weynes' I asked her for the necklace," said Miss
Heredith. "She replied that she would give it to me in the morning. If
she had only given it to me then, she might have been alive to-day."

"I should like to hear more about this," said Colwyn. "Please tell me
everything."

In response Miss Heredith related to the detective all that had passed
between the young wife and herself in the bedroom before dinner on the
night of the murder. Colwyn listened attentively, with a growing sense
of hidden complexities in the crime revealed at the eleventh hour. He
saw that the case took on a new and deeper aspect when considered in
conjunction with the facts which had been so innocently ignored. When
Miss Heredith had finished, he asked her when it was first decided to
send the necklace to London for resetting.

"It was the night before the murder," Miss Heredith replied. "Sir Philip
suggested that Violet should wear the necklace to the dance on the
following night, but Violet said that the pearls were really too dull to
be worn. Mr. Musard agreed with her, and offered to take it to London
and have it cleaned and reset by an expert of his acquaintance. Mr.
Musard had to return to London on the morning after the dance, so that
was the reason why I went into Violet's room before dinner on the night
of the party to ask her for the necklace."

Colwyn considered this reply in all its bearings before he spoke.

"The best thing I can do is to return to London without delay and bring
these additional facts before Scotland Yard," he said. "They have been
misled--unwittingly but gravely misled--and it is only right that they
should be informed at once. I know Merrington, and I will make a point
of seeing him personally and telling him about the discovery of the
missing necklace."

The little group heard his decision in a silence which suggested more
than words were able to convey. It was Phil who finally uttered the
thought which was in all their minds:

"Are you satisfied that Hazel Rath is innocent?"

"I cannot say that," responded the detective quickly. "The loss of the
necklace does nothing to lessen the suspicion against her unless it can
be proved that she had nothing to do with its disappearance--perhaps not
even then. But all the facts must be investigated anew. The necklace
must be traced, and the point about the revolver cleared up. But there
is nothing more to be done here at present. The field of the
investigation now shifts to London. I will get ready for the journey, if
you will excuse me."

"I hope you will continue your own investigations, Mr. Colwyn," said
Phil earnestly. "I am more than ever convinced of Hazel Rath's
innocence, but I have small faith that the police are likely to
establish it--even if they attempt to do so. I was not impressed with
the skill of Detective Caldew, or his attitude when I told him that I
believed Hazel Rath to be innocent."

"I will continue my investigations in conjunction with Scotland Yard, if
it is your wish," the detective replied.




CHAPTER XVIII


Colwyn was upstairs in his bedroom preparing for his return journey to
London when a meek knock and an apologetic cough reached his ears. He
turned and saw Tufnell standing at the half-open door. The face of the
old butler wore a look of mingled determination and nervousness--the
expression of a timid man who had braced himself to a bold course of
action after much irresolute deliberation.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, and his trepidation was apparent in
his voice. "But might I--that is to say, could you spare me a few
minutes' conversation?"

"Certainly," replied the detective. "Come inside, Tufnell. What is it?"

The butler entered the room and carefully closed the door behind him.

"I am sorry to interrupt you, sir," he said. "But I have just heard Miss
Heredith give orders for your car to be got ready for your return to
London, and I knew there was no time to be lost. It's about the--the
murder, sir." He brought out the last words with an effort.

"Go on," said Colwyn, wondering what further surprise was in store for
him.

"It's about something that happened on that night. I wanted to tell you
before, but I didn't like to. After the murder was discovered I was sent
over to the village to fetch the police and the doctor, and while I was
hurrying through the woods near the moat-house I thought I saw a man
crouching behind one of the trees near the carriage drive. He seemed to
be looking towards me. When I looked again he was gone."

"And what did you do?"

"I called out, but received no answer, so I hurried on."

Colwyn scrutinized the butler with a thoughtful penetrating glance. The
butler bore the look with the meek air of a domestic animal who knows
that he is being appraised.

"Am I the first person to whom you have told this story?" the detective
asked after a pause.

"Yes, sir."

"Why did you not inform the police officers when they were investigating
the case?"

"For several reasons, sir. It seemed to me, when I came to think it
over, that it must have been my fancy, and then it passed out of my mind
in the worry and excitement of the house. Then, when I did think of it
again, I didn't like to mention it to Superintendent Merrington, because
he was such a bullying sort of gentleman that I felt quite nervous of
him. Really, for a gentleman who has travelled with Royal Highnesses, as
I've heard tell, and might be supposed to know how gentlemen behave, the
way he treated the servants while he was here was almost too much for
flesh and blood to bear." The butler's withered cheeks flushed faintly
at the recollection. "I couldn't bring myself to tell him, sir."

Colwyn smiled slightly. He was not unacquainted with Merrington's
methods of cross-examination.

"You could have spoken to Detective Caldew, the other officer engaged in
the case," he said.

"Young Tom Caldew!" exclaimed the butler, in manifest surprise.

"You know him then?"

"I know him, but I cannot say I know any good of him," rejoined the
butler severely. "Young Tom Caldew was born and bred in this village,
and an idle young vagabond he was. Many a time have I dusted his jacket
for stealing chestnuts in our park. The place was well rid of him, I
take it, when he ran away to London and joined the police force. No,
sir, I really couldn't see myself confiding in young Tom Caldew."

"And why have you confided in me now?"

"Well, sir, it was the arrest of the young woman that set me thinking,
and caused me to wonder whether I'd done right in keeping this back.
What I thought I saw that night may have been merely fancy on my part,
but it took on an added importance in my mind when Miss Rath was
arrested for murdering Mrs. Heredith. It seemed to me as though I might
be doing some sort of injustice to her by not telling about it, and I
wouldn't like to have that on my conscience after the way things turned
out. But I thought it was too late to say anything after they had
arrested Miss Rath and taken her away. Then Mr. Philip got better from
his illness and went to London to fetch you. The same evening I heard
Miss Heredith and Mr. Musard talking at the dinner table about the
murder, and I gathered from what they said that Mr. Philip thought the
detectives had made a mistake in arresting Miss Rath. Then I decided to
tell you when you arrived, but I couldn't summon up my courage to do so
until now," concluded the butler simply. "I hope I have done right,
sir."

"You have certainly done right in not keeping the story to yourself any
longer," said Colwyn. "Before I leave here you had better show me the
place in the woods where you thought you saw this man."

"I shall be happy to do so, sir. I should like to thank you for
listening to me. It is a weight off my mind."

"I shall be going almost immediately," continued Colwyn. "I think the
best plan will be for you to meet me in the carriage drive, near the
spot. Can you manage that?"

"Quite easily, sir."

"Excellent. And now, as you go downstairs, I should be glad if you would
tell Mr. Musard that I should like to see him in my room before I go."

"Very well, sir. Afterwards you will find me waiting at the bend of the
carriage drive where it winds round the lake."

Colwyn nodded his comprehension, and Tufnell left the room with a
relieved countenance. A few moments later there was another knock at the
door. In response to Colwyn's invitation the door opened, and Musard
appeared.

"Tufnell said you wished to see me," he said, with an inquiring glance
from beneath his dark brows.

"Yes. I should be glad if you would give me a description of the missing
necklace. It will be useful in tracing it."

"It is not difficult to describe," replied Musard, seating himself on
the edge of the bed. "It consisted of a single row of pink pearls, none
of them very large. The biggest is about forty grains, and the others
between twenty and thirty. It has a diamond clasp, set in antique gold,
which is the most valuable part of the necklace. Do you know anything
about jewels?"

"A little."

"Then you are aware that blue and red diamonds are the most valuable of
stones. This diamond is a blue one--not very large, but a particularly
fine stone."

"Of course the necklace is well-known to jewel experts?"

"As well-known as any piece of jewellery in Europe. Some of the pearls
in it are hundreds of years old. It would be almost impossible for the
thief to dispose of the necklace."

"It might be taken to pieces," suggested Colwyn.

"In order to hide its identity? Well, yes, but the selling value would
be greatly reduced. The pearls have been strung."

"What about the diamond? Could not that be sold by the thief without
risk of discovery?"

"Only by sending it to Amsterdam to get it cut into two or three smaller
stones, so as to lessen the risk of detection. The Heredith blue diamond
is known to many connoisseurs. It is cut in an unusual form--a kind of
irregular rosette, in order to display its fire and optical properties
to the best advantage. If it were cut it would lose a great deal of its
value. The money value of one large diamond of first quality is very
much greater than the same stone cut into three. But it would be
difficult to sell the diamond in its present form. The chances are that
it would be recognized in Hatton Garden--if it were offered for sale
there."

"But if the diamond fell into the hands of somebody with a knowledge of
precious stones he might keep it close for a while and then dispose of
it abroad--in America, for instance," returned Colwyn. "That trick has
been performed with better-known stones than the Heredith diamond. In
fact, it strikes me as possible to sell the whole necklace that way. The
disposal of the necklace depends largely upon who stole it--upon whether
it has fallen into experienced or inexperienced hands. There are jewel
dealers who ask no awkward questions if they can get things at their own
price."

"Quite so," assented Musard, casting a quick glance at his companion's
face. "It would be a risk, though--the thief might pick the wrong man. I
can give you the addresses of two or three men in Hatton Garden who
should be able to tell you if the necklace has been offered there. They
know everything that is going on in the trade."

"I shall be glad to have them."

Musard scribbled several names and addresses on a leaf of his
pocket-book, tore it out, and handed it to the detective.

"There is a curious coincidence about the loss of this, necklace," he
remarked casually, as he rose to go. "It is another example of the
misfortune which attaches to the possession of a blue diamond."

"Are you thinking of the Hope blue diamond? That certainly has a
sinister history."

"That is the most notorious instance. But all blue diamonds are unlucky.
I could tell you some gruesome stories connected with them. The previous
wearer of the Heredith necklace--Philip's mother--died in giving birth
to him. Incidentally, there is a curious legend attached to the
moat-house in the form of a curse laid on it by the original builder,
who was burnt alive in the old house. He prophesied that as the house of
the Herediths was founded in horror it should end in horror. These old
family curses sometimes come home to roost after a long lapse of time,
though modern cynicism affects to sneer at such fancies. Of course,
there may be nothing in it, but we have had more than enough horror in
the moat-house recently, and poor Mrs. Heredith had a blue diamond in
her room when she was murdered. But I must not keep you any longer, Mr.
Colwyn. If there has been any miscarriage of justice in this terrible
case I trust that you will be successful in bringing it to light."

He lingered after shaking hands, as though he would have liked to
continue the conversation. Apparently not finding sufficient
encouragement in the detective's face to do so, he turned and left the
room, and Colwyn resumed his preparations for departure.

When they were completed he, too, went downstairs, carrying his bag.
Miss Heredith and Phil were waiting to bid farewell to him. As Miss
Heredith said good-bye, she looked into his face with the perplexed
expression of a simple soul seeking reassurance from a stronger mind in
the deep vortex of extraordinary events into which she had been plunged
beyond her depth. Phil looked white and ill, and the hand which he gave
into the detective's cool firm grasp was hot and feverish. While his
aunt murmured those conventional phrases under which women seek to cover
the realities of life as they bedeck corpses with flowers, Phil stood
aside with the impatient air of one scornful of the futility of such
things. As Miss Heredith ceased speaking he took a step forward, his
dark eyes fixed eagerly and searchingly on Colwyn.

"You will lose no time?" he said. "You will find out everything?"

"I have already promised you that I will continue my investigations,"
replied Colwyn. The quiet sincerity of his words was the indication of a
mind which despised the weakness of mere verbal emphasis.

"Lose no time. Spare no money," said Phil rapidly. His words and
utterance contrasted forcibly with the stillness and composure of the
man he was addressing. "Think what it means! Let me know everything that
happens. Send me telegrams. Follow this thing out night and day. I
depend on you--"

"Phil, Phil!" remonstrated Miss Heredith. "Mr. Colwyn has already
promised to do all he can. You must be patient."

"Patience! My God, don't talk to me of patience," retorted her nephew
fiercely. "I shall have no patience nor peace till this thing is
settled."

Miss Heredith looked at him sadly. His breach of good manners in
uttering an oath in her presence hurt her worse than a blow, but her
heart sickened with the realization that it was but another
manifestation of the complete change in him which had been brought about
by his wife's murder. Colwyn brought the scene to a close.

"Of course I shall communicate with you," he said to Phil, as he took
his departure. Phil accompanied him to his car, and stood under the
portico watching him as he drove away. Colwyn glanced back as he crossed
the moat-house bridge. The young man was still standing in the open
doorway, looking after him. The next moment the bend of the carriage way
hid him from view.

Colwyn encountered Tufnell at the next bend of the drive, waiting for
him on the path under the trees which bordered the edge. The detective
pulled up his car and stepped out.

"It was just off here, sir, that I thought I saw the figure that night,"
said the butler.

He plunged into a leafy avenue which led off the path at right angles,
and followed it into the wood until he reached the mossy trunk of a
great oak, which flung a gnarled arm horizontally across the narrow walk
as though barring further intrusion into its domain. Tufnell stopped,
and turned to the detective.

"It seemed to me as though a man was crouching just about here, sir," he
said in a whisper, as if he feared that the intruder might still be
hiding there and overhear his words.

Colwyn carefully examined the spot. The moss and grass where he stood
grew fresh underfoot, with no marks to suggest that they had been
trodden on recently. But close by, behind the horizontal branch of the
great oak, was a tangled patch of undergrowth and brambles, broken and
pressed down in places, as though it had been entered by a human being.
As Colwyn was looking at this place, his eye was attracted by a yellow
speck in the background of green. It was a tiny fragment of khaki,
caught on one of the bramble bushes.




CHAPTER XIX


Superintendent Merrington sat in his office at Scotland Yard, irascible
with the exertions of a trying day which had made heavy inroads upon his
temper and patience. He had several big cases on his hands, his time had
been broken into by a series of visitors with grievances, and he had
been called upon to adjust a vexatious claim of a woman attacked in the
street by a police dog, while the animal was supposed to be on duty
tracking a sacrilegious thief who had felled a priest in an oratory and
bolted with the silver candlesticks from the altar.

The woman had gone mad from the shock and had been placed in a public
asylum, where she had imagined herself to be a horse, and in that guise
had neighed harmlessly, for some years, until cured by auto-suggestion
by a rising young brain doctor who had devoted much time and study to
her peculiar case. Her first act of returned reason was to bring a heavy
claim for damages against Scotland Yard, and Merrington had fought it
out that day with an avaricious lawyer who had taken up the case on the
promise of an equal division of the spoils.

Merrington had preferred to pay rather than contest the suit in law, and
he was exceedingly wroth in consequence. He was angry with the old woman
for presuming to get cured, and angry with the brain doctor for curing
her. He considered that the brain doctor had been guilty of a piece of
meddlesome interference in restoring the old lady to so-called sanity in
a world of fools, without achieving any object except robbery from the
public funds by a rascally lawyer. To use Merrington's own words,
expressed with intense exasperation to an astonished subordinate, the
old woman was quite all right as a horse, comfortable and well-fed, and
had probably got more out of life in that guise than she ever had as a
human being, compelled to all sorts of shifts and contrivances and mean
scrapings before her betters for a scanty living, with nothing but the
work-house ahead of her. He concluded in a sort of grumbling epilogue
that some people never knew when to leave well alone.

It was in no very amiable frame of mind, therefore, that he received
Colwyn's card with a pencilled request for an immediate interview.
Merrington disapproved of all private detectives as an unwarrantable
usurpation of the functions of Scotland Yard, but he particularly
disapproved of a private detective like Colwyn, whose popular renown was
far greater than his own. But there were politic reasons for the
extension of courtesy to him. The famous private detective was such a
powerful rival that it was best to conciliate him with a little
politeness, which cost nothing, and he had done Scotland Yard several
good turns which at least demanded an outward show of gratitude. He had
influence in the right quarter, too, and, altogether, was not a person
to be lightly affronted. The consideration of these factors impelled
Merrington to inform the waiting janitor that he would see Mr. Colwyn at
once, and even caused him to crease his fat red features into a smile of
welcome as he awaited his entrance.

When Colwyn appeared in the doorway the big man he had called to see got
up from his swing-chair to shake hands with him. When his visitor was
seated Merrington leaned back in his own chair and remarked, in his
great rolling voice:

"What can I do for you, Mr. Colwyn?"

"Nothing personally. I have called to have a talk with you about the
Heredith case."

The veneer of welcome disappeared from Merrington's face at this
opening, though a large framed photograph of himself on the wall behind
his chair continued to smile down at the private detective with unwonted
amiability.

"Ah, yes, the Heredith case," he responded. "A strange affair, that. I
investigated it personally. It was a pity you were not in it. There were
points about that murder--distinct points. You would have enjoyed it."

Merrington's professional commiseration of Colwyn's ill-luck in missing
an enjoyable murder was intended to convey a distinct rebuke to the
other's presumption in discussing a case in which he had not been
engaged. But Colwyn's next words startled Merrington out of his attitude
of censorious dignity.

"I was not in the case at first, but I was called into it subsequently
by the husband of the murdered woman. He is dissatisfied with the
outcome. He thinks a mistake has been made in arresting the girl Hazel
Rath."

The silence with which Merrington received this information was an
involuntary tribute to his visitor, implying, as it did, that he knew
Colwyn would not have come to see him without weighty reason for the
support of what sounded like the repetition of a mere expression of
opinion.

"I was reluctant to interfere until Mr. Heredith told me something which
suggested that one of your men was in danger of underestimating an
important clue," continued Colwyn. "That decided me. I went back with
Mr. Heredith in my car the night before last. After my arrival at the
moat-house I made an interesting discovery--quite by accident. I
discovered that a pearl necklace which had been given to Mrs. Heredith
by Sir Philip Heredith was missing from the jewel-case in which it had
been locked. That jewel-case was in Mrs. Heredith's bedroom on the night
she was murdered."

This piece of news was so unexpected that it caught Merrington off his
guard.

"A jewel robbery as well as murder!" he ejaculated, in something like
dismay.

"It looks like it. You will be able to form a better judgment when I
have told you all the circumstances of the discovery."

Merrington had long ago convinced himself that the case he had worked up
against Hazel Rath did not admit of the slightest possibility of doubt;
and, like all obstinate men, he adhered to his convictions with
additional strength in the face of anything tending to weaken them. As
he recovered from his surprise at the private detective's piece of news,
he listened to his account of the opening of the jewel-case with the
wary air of one seeking a loop-hole in an unexpected obstacle. Before
Colwyn had finished he had found it in the belief that Hazel Rath, and
nobody else, had stolen the missing jewels.

"This girl is a thief as well as a murderer," was the manner in which he
expressed his opinion when Colwyn had ceased speaking. "She has stolen
the necklace."

"She may have done so, but it is too great an assumption to make without
proof," returned Colwyn. "You must be perfectly well aware, Mr.
Merrington, that this belated discovery is of the utmost importance to
the Crown case, one way or the other. If you can prove that Hazel Rath
stole the necklace, it gives you an unassailable case against her. If
the necklace was stolen by somebody else, you are confronted with a new
and strange aspect of this murder."

"Not to the extent of lessening the strength of the case against this
girl," replied Merrington doggedly. "She was seen going to the staircase
leading to Mrs. Heredith's room just before the murder; her brooch was
found upstairs in the room; and the revolver and her handkerchief were
found concealed in her mother's rooms. Add to that, her silence under
accusation, and it is impossible to get away from the belief that she,
and nobody else, murdered Mrs. Heredith."

"I am not attempting to controvert your theory or contradict your
facts," rejoined Colwyn coldly. "My visit is to bring under your notice
a fresh fact in the case which needs investigation. Whether that fact
squares with your own theory or not, it is too important to be
disregarded or overlooked. That is why I left the moat-house immediately
I discovered it. I felt that you had been ignorantly misled, and that it
was only right you should be told without delay."

Merrington was conscious of that evanescent feeling which men call
gratitude. His impulse of thankfulness towards the man opposite him was
all the keener for the realization that he would not have acted so
generously if he had been in Colwyn's place. But his gratitude was
speedily swallowed up by the knowledge that he had been led astray, and
his anger was mingled with the determination to find a scapegoat.

"I am obliged to you for your information, although I do not attach
quite so much importance to it as you do," was his careful rejoinder.
"But I certainly blame Detective Caldew for not finding it out before
you did. He made the original inquiries at the moat-house, and he seems
to have made them very carelessly. He said nothing to the Chief
Constable of Sussex or myself, when we arrived, about a jewel-case,
locked or open."

"He didn't know himself."

"It was his duty to inquire. When he assured us, on the authority of
Miss Heredith, that nothing was missing, I naturally assumed that he had
made the proper inquiries. But I thank you for letting me know, and I
shall, of course, have investigations made. But I should like to know
why young Heredith interfered and brought you into the case?"

"For one thing, he has a strong belief in Hazel Rath's innocence."

"Mere sentiment," replied Merrington contemptuously. "Perhaps he's still
sweet on the girl."

"There is more than that in it. There's the question of the revolver. Of
course you are aware that he identified the revolver with which his wife
was shot as the property of Captain Nepcote, a guest at the moat-house
who left on the afternoon of the day on which Mrs. Heredith was
murdered. Heredith does not accept your theory of the way in which Hazel
Rath is supposed to have obtained the revolver. He does not think that
Nepcote left the revolver behind him at the moat-house. He told Caldew
this, but Caldew said the ownership of the revolver was a matter of no
consequence."

"Caldew's a fool if he said that, and I wish I'd never allowed him to
meddle in the case," replied Merrington forcibly. "I've had the police
court proceedings against the girl put back for a week till the question
of the ownership of the revolver could be settled. Now that it is
decided I shall have Nepcote interviewed and questioned without delay."

"Before you try to trace the missing necklace?" The faint inflection of
surprise in Colwyn's voice might have escaped a quicker ear than
Merrington's.

"Scotland Yard will trace the necklace fast enough," he confidently
declared. "I like to take things in their proper order. The next thing
to do is to ascertain whether Nepcote left his revolver behind him at
the moat-house, though I have not the least doubt that he did. The
necklace is really a minor consideration. It merely provides another
motive for the murder--cupidity as well as jealousy."

"Is that the way you regard it?" A less thick-skinned man than
Merrington would this time have caught something more than surprise in
the other's tone.

"Is there any other way of looking at it?"

"I would not like to venture an opinion in this case without more
knowledge than I have at present," returned Colwyn in sober accents.
"But so far as I have gone into it I should say that there are several
things which seem to require more explanation. Nepcote's own actions
seem to call for some investigation."

"You are surely not suggesting that Nepcote had anything to do with the
murder or the robbery of the pearls?" said Merrington in an astonished
voice. "That is quite impossible. He left the moat-house in the
afternoon before the murder was committed, and went over to France that
night."

"He didn't go to France that night. He stayed in London, and did not
return to France until the following day."

Merrington was obviously startled at this unexpected information.

"This is news to me," he said gravely. "Where did you learn it?"

"From the War Office this morning. There is no possibility of mistake.
Nepcote was in London on the night of the murder."

"He probably has an explanation, but what you have just told me is an
additional reason for seeing and questioning Nepcote without delay, even
if I have to send a man to France for the job."

"It will not be necessary for you to do that. Nepcote returned to London
two days ago--sent over on some special mission. I ascertained that fact
also from my friend at the War Office."

Merrington glanced at a small clock which stood on the desk in front of
him.

"I will go immediately and see him myself," he said.

"I should like to accompany you."

"I shall be delighted to have you," replied Merrington with complete
untruth. "I have Nepcote's address included in the list of guests who
were at the moat-house at the time of the murder," he added, opening his
pocket-book and hastily scanning it. "Ah, here it is--10 Sherryman
Street. I'll send for a taxi-cab. Is there anything I can do for you in
return for your kindness in bringing me this information?"

"I should be obliged if you would lend me a copy of the coroner's
depositions in the Heredith case."

"With pleasure." Merrington touched a bell, and instructed the policeman
who answered it to bring a typescript of the Heredith murder depositions
and the revolver which figured as an exhibit in the case. "And tell
somebody to call a taxi, Johnson," he added.

When Merrington and Colwyn emerged from the swing doors of the entrance
a few moments later, a taxi-cab was waiting at the bottom of the stone
steps, with a pockmarked driver leaning against the door of the vehicle,
gazing moodily over the Thames Embankment. He received Merrington's
instructions morosely, cranked his cab wearily, and was soon threading
his way through the mazes of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus with
a contemptuous disregard for traffic regulations, due to his prompt
recognition of the fact that he was carrying a high official of Scotland
Yard who was above rules of the road regulated by mere police
constables. He skimmed in a hazardous way along Regent Street, dipped
into the network of narrower streets which lay between that haunt of the
fox and the geese and Baker Street, and finally stopped abruptly outside
a tall house which was one of a row in a quiet street which led into the
highly fashionable locality of Sherryman Square.

Sherryman Street, in which the taxi-cab had stopped, was an offshoot and
snobbish mean relation of Sherryman Square, which housed a duke, an
ex-prime minister, and a fugitive king, to say nothing of several lesser
notabilities, such as a High Court Judge or two, several baronets, and a
war-time profiteer whose brand-new peerage had descended in the last
heavy downpour of kingly honours. Because of their proximity to these
great ones of the earth, the inhabitants of Sherryman Street assumed all
the airs of exclusiveness which distinguished the residents of the
superior neighbourhood, and parasitical house agents spoke of it with
great respect because one end opened into the rarefied atmosphere of the
Square. It was true that the other end was close to a slum, and there
was a mews across the way, but these were small drawbacks compared to
the social advantages.

Sherryman Street was full of gaunt, narrow houses, with prim fronts and
narrow railed windows, let in segments, flats, and bachelor apartments.
Number 10 was as like its fellows as one drab soul resembles another.
Superintendent Merrington's ring at the doorbell brought forth an
elderly woman with an expressionless face surmounted by a frilled white
cap. She informed them in an expressionless voice that Captain Nepcote's
apartments were on the second floor. Having said this much, she
disappeared into a small lobby room off the entrance hall, leaving them
free to enter.

A knock at the entrance door of the second-floor flat brought forth a
manservant whose smart bearing and precision of manner suggested
military training. He cautiously informed Superintendent Merrington, in
reply to his question, that he was not sure if Captain Nepcote was at
home, but he would go and see.

"Who shall I say, sir?" he asked, in unconscious contradiction of his
statement.

Merrington stopped further parleying by impatiently pushing past the
servant into the room.

"Go and tell your master I want to see him," he said, seating himself.

The servant looked angrily at the burly figure on the slender chair, and
then, as though realizing his inability to eject him, he left the room
without further speech.

The room they had entered was furnished in a style which suggested that
its occupier had sufficient means or credit to gratify his tastes, which
obviously soared no higher than racehorses and chorus girls. Pictures of
the former adorned the wall in oak; the latter smirked at the beholder
from silver frames on small tables. The room was handsomely furnished in
a masculine way, although there was the suggestion of a feminine touch
in the vases on the mantelpiece and some clusters of flowers in a bowl.

The door opened to admit a young man, who advanced towards his visitors
with a questioning glance. His appearance, though military, was far from
suggesting the sordid warfare of the trenches. He was well-groomed and
handsome, and wore his spotless uniform with that touch of distinction
which khaki lends to some men.

"Good afternoon," he said, and waited for them to announce the object of
their visit.

"Are you Captain Nepcote?" Merrington asked.

"My name is Nepcote," was the response. "May I ask who you are?" His
glance included both his visitors.

"My name is Merrington," responded that officer, answering for himself.
"Superintendent Merrington, of Scotland Yard. This is Mr. Colwyn, a
private detective," he added, as an afterthought. "I wish to ask you a
few questions. I understand you were staying at the residence of Sir
Philip Heredith when young Mrs. Heredith was murdered."

"That is not quite accurate," replied the young man. "I left the
moat-house on the afternoon of the day that the murder was committed,
and returned to London. What is it you wish to ask me? I am afraid I
cannot enlighten you about the crime in any way, for I know nothing
whatever about it. It came as a great shock to me when I heard of it."

"Is this your revolver?" said Merrington, producing the weapon and
laying it on the table.

"Why, yes, it is," said the young man, picking it up and looking at it
in unmistakable surprise. "Where did you get it?"

"Where did you have it last?" was Merrington's cautious rejoinder.

"Let me think," returned Nepcote thoughtfully. "Oh, I remember. The last
time I saw it was at the moat-house on the day before my departure. We
were using it for a little target practice in the gun-room downstairs."

"And what did you do with it afterwards?"

"That I cannot tell you," responded Nepcote. "I have no recollection of
seeing it since. I have never thought about it."

"Nor missed it?"

"No. It is no use to me--it is not an Army revolver. But it seems to me
that I must have left it in the moat-house gun-room after the target
shooting. After we finished shooting some of us had a game of bagatelle
on a table in the gun-room. I must have put the revolver down and
forgotten all about it afterward. I have no recollection of taking it
upstairs, and I have certainly never seen it since. Was it found in the
gun-room?"

"It was found at the moat-house, at any rate. It was the weapon with
which Mrs. Heredith was killed."

"What!" His exclamation rang out in horror and incredulity. "Why, it is
impossible. The thing is a mere toy."

"A pretty dangerous toy--as it turned out," was the grim comment of
Merrington.

"It seems incredible to me," persisted the young man. "It's very
old, and you have to be very strong with the finger and thumb to
make it revolve. And the cartridges are very small; only seven
millimetres--about a quarter of an inch. I've had the old thing for
years, but I never regarded it as a real fire-arm. I'd never have let
the girls use it in the gun-room if I'd thought it was a dangerous
weapon. Perhaps there is some mistake."

"There is no mistake," replied Merrington. "Mrs. Heredith was killed
with that revolver, and no other. We were unable to establish the
identity of the weapon until a day or two ago, and that is one of my
reasons for calling on you to-day--to make quite sure of the identity
and see if you could tell me where you left it."

"I have no doubt now that I must have left it behind me at the
moat-house," responded Nepcote. "I was recalled to France and went away
in a hurry. God forgive me for my carelessness. To think that it
resulted in this terrible murder!" His face had gone suddenly white.

"Did you return to France that night?" asked Merrington carelessly.

"As a matter of fact, I did not. When I returned to London from Sussex I
found another telegram here from the War Office extending my leave until
the following day. I returned to France the next afternoon."

"Thank you, Captain Nepcote." Merrington, as he rose to go, held out his
hand. It was evident that the statement about the telegram had cleared
his mind of any suspicions he may have felt about the young man. As
Nepcote shook hands he added: "You had better hold yourself in readiness
to attend the police court inquiry, which will be held a week from
to-day. I will send you a proper notification of time and place. All we
need from you is the formal identification of the revolver."

"Is it essential that I should attend?" asked the young man anxiously.
"I'd rather not be mixed up in the case at all, you know. Besides, I may
have to return to France."

"Perhaps we shall be able to dispense with your evidence now that we
have the facts," replied Merrington, after a moment's consideration. "I
will see what can be done, and let you know. You had better give me your
address in France, in case you have left England. It is necessary for me
to know that, because the case has to some extent taken a new turn by
the discovery that robbery as well as murder has been committed. A
valuable necklace belonging to the murdered woman is missing."

Captain Nepcote had taken out his pocket-book while Merrington was
speaking, in order to extract a card. As the other uttered the last
sentence, the pocket-book half slipped from his fingers, and several
other cards fluttered onto the table. Nepcote picked them up hastily,
but not before Colwyn's quick glance had taken in their contents. It
seemed to him something more than a coincidence that the name and
address displayed in neat black lettering on one of the cards should be
identical with one of the Hatton Garden addresses given him by Musard at
the moat-house the previous day.




CHAPTER XX


Colwyn spent a couple of hours that night reading the depositions he had
obtained from Merrington, and next morning he studied them afresh with a
concentration which the incessant hum of London traffic outside was
powerless to disturb. He was well aware that a report was a poor
substitute for original impressions, but in the typewritten document
before him lay the facts of the Heredith case so far as they were known.
It was a clear and colourless transcription of the narrative of the
witnesses, set down with a painstaking regard for the value of
departmental records, and chiefly valuable to Colwyn because it
contained the expert evidence which sometimes reveals, with the pitiless
accuracy of science, what human nature endeavours to hide. In the
balance of the scales of justice it is the ascertained truth which
weighs heavier than faith, reason, or revealed religion.

When he had finished his study of the depositions, he sat awhile
pondering over his own discoveries since he had been called into the
case by the husband of the dead woman. These discoveries, due apparently
to chance, invested the murder with a complexity which stimulated all
the penetrative and analytical powers of his fine mind, because they
brought with them the realization that he was face to face with one of
those rare crimes where the solution has to be unravelled from a tangle
of false circumstances, which, by their seeming plausibility, make the
task of reaching the truth one of peculiar difficulty. As Colwyn sat
motionless, with his chin resting on his hand, brooding over the sullen
secretive surface of this dark mystery, the feeling grew upon him that
the murder had been preconceived with the utmost cunning and caution,
and that the facts so far brought to light, including his own
discoveries, did not penetrate to the real design.

The one conviction in his mind at that moment was that the man he and
Merrington had interviewed on the previous afternoon had some connection
with the mystery, and that an investigation of Nepcote's actions was the
first step towards the solution of the murder. Colwyn based that belief
on the apparently detached facts of the revolver, the patch of khaki he
had found in the woods near the moat-house, and the accident which
disclosed that Nepcote was carrying the address of a Hatton Garden
jeweller in his pocket-book. These things, taken apart, had perhaps but
slight significance, but, considered as links in a chain of events which
started in Philip Heredith's statement that he had first met his wife at
a friend's house where Nepcote was also a guest, and finishing with the
knowledge that Nepcote had not returned to France on the night of the
murder, they assumed a significance which at least warranted the closest
investigation.

Colwyn was not affected by the fact that Superintendent Merrington
looked at the case from an entirely different point of view. He did not
want the help of Scotland Yard in solving the crime. He had too much
contempt for the official mind in any capacity to think that assistance
from such a source could be of value to him. He always preferred to work
alone and unaided. It was the Anglo-Saxon instinct of fair play which
had prompted him to tell Merrington about the missing necklace, so that
there might be no unfair advantage between them. Merrington had received
the information with the imperviable dogmatism of the official mind,
strong in the belief in its own infallibility, resentful of advice or
suggestion as an attempt to weaken its dignity. It seemed to Colwyn that
not only had Merrington's ruffled dignity led his judgment astray in an
attempt to fit the discovery of the missing necklace into his own theory
of the case, but it had caused him to commit a grave mistake in putting
Nepcote on his guard at a moment when the utmost circumspection of
investigation was necessary.

To Colwyn, at all events, the discovery of the missing necklace was of
the utmost importance because it substituted another motive for the
murder, and a motive which carried with it the additional complication
that the thief had some motive in trying to keep its disappearance
secret as long as possible by locking the jewel-case after the jewels
had been abstracted. If Hazel Rath had not stolen the necklace, the
whole of the facts took on new values. It was quite true that the
mystery of Hazel Rath's actions on the night of the murder, her
subsequent silence after the recovery of the brooch and the handkerchief
and the revolver in her mother's rooms, remained as suspicious as
before, but the changed motive caused these points to assume a different
complexion, even to the extent of suggesting that she might be a lesser
participant in the crime, perhaps keeping silence in order to shield the
greater criminal.

Merrington, stiff-necked in his officialism, had been unable to see this
changed aspect of the case, and, strong in his presumption of the girl's
guilt, had acted with impulsive indiscretion in going to see Nepcote
before attempting to trace the missing necklace.

Colwyn's reflections were interrupted by the appearance of the porter
from downstairs to announce a visitor. The visitor, partly obscured
behind the burly frame of the porter in the doorway, was Detective
Caldew, of Scotland Yard. Colwyn had met him at various times, and
invited him to enter. As Colwyn had once said, his feelings towards all
the members of the regular detective force were invariably friendly; it
was not their fault, but the fault of human nature, that they were
sometimes jealous of him. So he made Caldew welcome, and offered him a
cigar.

Caldew accepted the cigar and the proffered seat a little nervously. His
was the type of temperament which is overawed in the presence of a more
successful practitioner in the same line of business. He had long envied
Colwyn his dazzling successes, but at the same time he had sufficient
intelligence to understand that many of those successes stood in a class
which he could never hope to attain.

At the present moment, Caldew's feelings were divided between resentment
at Colwyn's action in conveying information to Scotland Yard which had
earned him a reprimand from Superintendent Merrington, and the anxious
desire to ascertain what the famous private detective thought of the
Heredith case.

"Merrington has sent me round for the copy of the depositions he lent
you yesterday." It was thus he announced the object of his visit. "Have
you finished with it?"

It was apparent from this statement that Superintendent Merrington's
gratitude for information received might now be considered as past
history. Colwyn, reflecting that it had lasted as long as that feeling
usually does, congratulated himself on his forethought in having made a
copy of the report. He handed the copy before him to his visitor.

"I am obliged for the loan of it," he said. "It makes interesting
reading. You're own share in the original investigations has some
excellent touches, if you'll permit me to say so. That trap for the
owner of the brooch was a neat idea."

Caldew's resentment waned under this compliment to his professional
skill.

"The trick would have worked, too, if I hadn't been called downstairs,"
he said. "The girl was quick enough to get into the room while I was out
of it. Not that it mattered much, as things turned out, but it is a
strange thing about this necklace, isn't it?"

"Very. Has Merrington told you all about it?"

"Yes, and he gave me a rare wigging for not discovering the loss.
Between ourselves, I do not think that I was treated quite fairly about
it. Miss Heredith never said a word to me about a jewel-case being in
the room. She took it downstairs before I arrived, and never mentioned
it when I asked her if anything had been stolen. If she had told me I
should have had the case opened. But that didn't weigh with Merrington.
He's beastly unfair, and never loses a chance to put the blame on to
somebody else when anything goes wrong."

"I am sorry if you got into trouble through my action in informing him,"
said Colwyn. "But of course you must realize that a discovery of such
importance could not be kept secret."

"That's quite true," replied Caldew, in a softened voice. "Fortunately,
it does not affect the issue, one way or another. Mr. Heredith believes
that Hazel Rath is innocent, and I suppose that is why he has called you
into the case. But she is guilty, right enough. I tried to make that
clear to Mr. Heredith, but he appears to be a man of fixed ideas. The
question is, what has become of the necklace? My own impression is that
she has hidden it somewhere. She had no opportunity to dispose of it
before she was arrested."

"That means that you think she has stolen it."

"Why, of course--" Caldew's confident tone died away at the expression
of his companion's face. "Don't you?"

"I do not."

"Why not?"

"For one thing, the jewel-case was locked. How did the girl know where
the key was kept?"

"She might have got the knowledge from her mother. Mrs. Rath, as the
housekeeper, would probably know all about the keys of the household."

"Of the ordinary keys--yes. But that knowledge was hardly likely to
extend to Mrs. Heredith's private keys, unless Miss Heredith told her.
Even if Hazel Rath did know where the key was kept, it is difficult to
believe that she searched for it after committing the murder, and then
restored it to the drawer where it was kept. That argues too much
cold-blooded deliberation even in a murderer, and more especially when
the murderer is supposed to be a young girl."

"I am not so sure of that," responded Caldew, with a shake of the head.
"Murder is a cold-blooded crime."

"On the contrary, murders are almost invariably committed under the
influence of the strongest excitement, even when the incentive is gain,
and the murder has been deeply premeditated. That is a remarkable truth
in the psychology of murder. But the important fact about the theft of
the necklace is that even if Hazel Rath knew where the key of the
jewel-case was kept she had not time to obtain it from the drawer on the
other side of the bed, steal the necklace, restore the key to its place,
and escape from the room before the guests from downstairs entered the
bedroom. If Hazel Rath was indeed the murderess, time was of paramount
importance to her. She must have realized that the scream of her victim
would alarm the household downstairs, and that some of the men must have
started upstairs before the subsequent shot was fired."

Caldew was silent for a space, cogitating over these points with a
troubled look which contrasted with his previous confident expressions
of opinion about the case. His inward perturbation was made manifest in
the question:

"Do you also share Mr. Heredith's view that Hazel Rath is innocent?"

"I cannot say. The facts against her are very strong."

"Of course they are strong!" exclaimed Caldew eagerly, as though
clutching this guarded expression of opinion as a buoy for his own
sinking conviction. "They are so strong that it is quite certain she
committed the murder."

Colwyn remained silent. A statement which was merely an expression of
opinion did not call for words.

Caldew, always impressionable, became uneasy under his companion's
silence, and that uneasiness was tinctured in his mind with such a dread
of the possibility of mistake that it flowed forth in impulsive words:

"I wish you would tell me what you really think of the case, Mr. Colwyn.
I have been waiting for years for the chance of handling a big murder
like this, and now that it has come my way I should like to pull it off.
It means a lot to me," he added simply.

Colwyn reflected that he had already given away more information about
the Heredith case than his judgment approved or his conscience dictated.
But his kindly nature prompted him to help the anxious young man seated
in front of him, who had so much more than he to gain by success.

"I think there is more in this case than you and Merrington have yet
brought to light," he said.

"I suppose there is, if it is proved that Hazel Rath did not steal the
necklace. But have you found out anything else besides the loss of the
necklace?"

Colwyn did not directly reply. He was glancing over the depositions
again.

"There are one or two curious points here," he remarked, as he turned
over the leaves. "In the first place, the ammunition expert who was
called at the inquest to give evidence about the bullet extracted from
the body testified that in weight and in length it corresponded with the
seven millimetre bullet made for a pinfire revolver. The bullet had
undoubtedly been fired from the revolver which you found in Mrs. Rath's
rooms. Bullets for English revolvers are not graded in millimetres, but
there appears to be sufficient demand for this size to cause British
firms to manufacture them. The nearest size in central-fire cartridge to
seven millimetres is called the 300, which is .3 of an inch. Seven
millimetres is .276 of an inch. The point to which I want to draw your
attention is the extreme slightness and smallness of the revolver with
which Mrs. Heredith was killed. As Captain Nepcote told Merrington
yesterday, it is little more than a toy."

"That struck me as soon as I saw it," said Caldew. "But I do not see
what bearing the fact has on the case, one way or another."

"Nevertheless, it is a point not without importance, when it is
considered in conjunction with the other circumstances of the case. The
evidence of the Government pathologist is also of interest. After
stating the cause of death to be heart failure due to hæmorrhage
consequent upon the passage of the bullet through the lung, he mentions
that there was a large scorched hole through the rest-gown and
undergarment which Mrs. Heredith was wearing at the time she was
murdered."

"I noticed that when I was examining the body."

"Was the dress-stuff smouldering when you saw the body?"

"No; but there was a smell of a burning fabric in the room."

"The Government pathologist says that the burnt hole was nearly two
inches across, but he also states that the punctured wound made by the
bullet was about the size of a threepenny piece. The disparity suggests
two facts. In the first place, the shot must have been fired at very
close range--very close indeed, considering the smallness of the
revolver and the largeness of the burnt hole. In the next place,
somebody must have extinguished the burning fabric before you arrived,
otherwise it would have smouldered in an ever-widening ring until the
whole of the dead woman's garments were destroyed."

"Mrs. Heredith may have extinguished it herself in her dying moments,"
said Caldew, who had been following his companion's deductions with the
closest attention.

"That is unlikely, in view of the nature of her injuries. The bullet,
after traversing the left lung, lodged in the spinal column. After such
a wound Mrs. Heredith was not likely to be conscious of her actions."

"It may have been extinguished by Musard, who tried to stop the flow of
blood while Mrs. Heredith was dying."

"He would have mentioned it to you. It is my intention to ask him, but
my own opinion is that we are faced with a different explanation."

"What is that?"

"The presence of another person in the room."

"Somebody who escaped through the window!" exclaimed Caldew, placing his
own interpretation on the deduction. "Do you suspect anybody?"

"Not exactly. But I intend to investigate Captain Nepcote's actions on
the night of the murder."

Caldew, who lacked some of the information possessed by his companion,
found this jump too great for his mind to follow.

"For what purpose?" he asked. "Nepcote returned to France before the
murder was committed."

"He did not. He stayed in London that night, and did not return to
France until the following day. He explained that yesterday by stating
that when he reached London after leaving the moat-house he found
another telegram from the War Office extending his leave for twenty-four
hours."

"Merrington said nothing of this to me. All he told me was that you and
he had seen Nepcote, who identified the revolver as his property, and
said that he had left it behind at the moat-house by accident."

"Merrington is a man of fixed ideas, to use your phrase. He insisted on
trying to fit in the loss of the necklace with his own theory of Hazel
Rath's guilt. It was his obstinacy which led him to commit the folly of
going to see Captain Nepcote before endeavouring to trace the missing
necklace. It is only fair to Nepcote to add that he volunteered the
information that he did not return to France on the night of the
murder."

"That does not seem like the action of a man with anything to hide,"
commented Caldew thoughtfully.

"Unless he was facing a dangerous situation. In that case, frankness
would be his best course to remove Merrington's suspicions. The fact
that the murder was committed with his revolver is in itself a
suspicious circumstance, in spite of the apparently plausible
explanation. I have realized that all along. I had also previously
acquainted Merrington with the fact that Nepcote did not return to
France on the night of the murder, as was supposed. Merrington led up to
that point skilfully enough, but it struck me that Nepcote saw the trap,
and took the boldest course. It gave him time, at all events."

"Time for what?"

"Time to profit by Merrington's folly in putting him on his guard. Time
to permit him to make his escape, if he is actually implicated in the
crime."

"Surely you are reading too much into this," exclaimed Caldew in a
protesting voice. "Nepcote's story seems to me quite consistent with
what we know of his movements. Miss Heredith, when giving us the names
of the guests who had been staying at the moat-house, mentioned that
Captain Nepcote had been recalled to France on the afternoon of the
murder by a telegram from the War Office. Nepcote tells you that when he
reached London he found another telegram awaiting him extending his
leave. Surely that is consistent?"

"Is it consistent that the two telegrams were sent to different
addresses? They would have been either both sent to the moat-house, or
both sent to his London flat--that is, if they were sent by the War
Office. Only a relative or a personal friend would take the trouble to
send to different addresses. There lies the weak point of Nepcote's
statement."

"By Jove, there is a point in that," said Caldew, in a startled tone.
"But these are facts which can be ascertained," he added, as though
seeking to reassure himself.

"They can be ascertained too late. I have already set inquiries on foot,
but it takes some time to gain any information about official telegrams.
Nepcote has plenty of time to take advantage of Merrington's blunder, if
there is any occasion for him to do so. No matter what his explanation
is, the fact remains that he was in England, and not in France, on the
night the murder was committed, and I propose to find out how he spent
the time. But it is of the first importance to find out what has become
of the missing necklace, which is the really important clue. Is Scotland
Yard making any investigations about it?"

"Yes. Merrington has put me on to that because I let you score the point
over him of discovering that it was missing. I am sure that he hopes I
will fall down over the job of tracing it. I shouldn't be surprised if I
did, too. It's no easy thing to get on the track of missing jewellery,
especially if it has been hidden. I have not even got a description of
the necklace to help me."

"I can give you a description, and perhaps help you in the work of
tracing it."

"Can you? That's awfully good of you." Caldew's face showed that he
meant his words. "Have you any idea where it is?"

"I have at least something to guide me in commencing the
search--something, which, curiously enough, I owe to Merrington's
blunder in visiting Nepcote before he looked for the necklace. We will
go across to Hatton Garden, and I will put my idea to the test."




CHAPTER XXI


On reaching the street, they crossed Ludgate Circus, and directed their
steps towards Hatton Garden by way of St. Bride Street.

A few minutes later, they emerged in that portion of Holborn which is
graced by the mounted statue of a dead German prince acknowledging his
lifelong obligations to British hospitality by raising his plumed hat to
the London City & Midland Bank on the Viaduct corner. Hatton Garden, as
every Londoner knows, begins on the other side of this improving
spectacle--a short broad street which disdains to indicate by external
opulence the wealth hidden within its walls, though, to an eye practised
in London ways, there is a comforting suggestion of prosperity in its
wide flagged pavements, comfortable brick buildings, and Jewish names
which appear in gilt lettering on plate-glass windows.

Colwyn walked quickly along, glancing at the displayed names. He had
almost reached the Clerkenwell end of the Garden when his eye was caught
by the name of "Austin Wendover, Dealer in Oriental Stones," gleaming in
white letters on the blackboard indicator of a set of offices hived in a
building on the corner of a side street. It was the name of the man he
was searching for. He turned into the passage, and mounted the stairs.
Caldew followed him.

On the landing of the first floor another and smaller board gave the
names of those tenants whose offices were at the back of the building.
Mr. Wendover's was amongst them, and a pointing hand opposite it
revealed that he conducted his business at the end of a long passage
with a bend in the middle. When this passage was traversed, Mr.
Wendover's name was once more seen, this time on a door, with a notice
underneath inviting the visitor to enter without knocking.

Within, a young Jew with a sensual face was busily writing at a desk in
the corner, with his back to the door. He ceased and turned around at
the sound of the opening door, and, thrusting his fountain pen behind an
ear already burdened with a cigarette, waited to be informed what the
visitors wanted.

"Is Mr. Wendover in?" Colwyn inquired.

"Yes, he is. What name, please?" The young Jew scrambled down from his
stool preparatory to carrying a message.

In answer Colwyn tendered Musard's card of introduction. The young Jew
scanned it, shot an appraising glance at the two detectives, and
vanished into an inner room. He reappeared swiftly in the doorway, and
beckoned them to enter.

The inner room was furnished with leather chairs, a good carpet, and a
large walnut table. Mining maps and framed photographs of famous
diamonds hung on the walls, but there was nothing about the man seated
at the table to suggest association with precious stones except the
gleam of his small grey eyes, which were as hard and glistening as the
specimen gems in the showcase at his elbow. His face was long, thin and
yellow, of a bilious appearance. His gaunt frame was clothed in black,
and his low white collar ended in front in two linen tags, fastened with
a penny bone stud instead of the diamond which might have been expected.
This device, besides dispensing with a necktie, revealed the base of a
long scraggy neck, with a tuft of grey hair pushing its way up from
below and falling over the interstice of the collar, matching a similar
tuft which dangled pendulously from the diamond merchant's nether lip.
Altogether, as Mr. Austin Wendover sat at his table with his long yellow
hands clasped in front of him waiting for his visitors to announce their
business, he looked not unlike a Methodist pastor about to say grace, or
a Garden City apostle of culture for the masses preparing to receive a
vote of thanks for a lecture on English prose at a workers' mutual
improvement society. Even his name suggested, to the serious mind, the
compiler of an anthology of British war poets or the writer of a book of
Nature studies, rather than the material wealth, female folly, late
suppers, greenrooms, frivolity and immorality brought before a vivid
imagination by the mere mention of the word diamonds.

"My name is Colwyn; my friend is Detective Caldew, of Scotland Yard,"
said Colwyn, in response to Mr. Wendover's glance of interrogation. "We
are in search of a little information, which we trust you will give us."

"That depends upon what ye want to know." This reply, delivered in an
abrupt and uncouth manner, suggested that the diamond merchant's
disposition was anything but a cut and polished one.

"Quite so. You have heard of the Heredith murder, I presume."

The diamond merchant nodded his head without speaking, and waited to
hear more.

"The Heredith necklace of pink pearls was stolen from Mrs. Heredith's
room on the night that she was murdered, and we are endeavouring to
trace it."

"And what has that got to do with me?"

"I have reason to think that the necklace may have been offered or sold
in Hatton Garden. It may have been submitted to you."

"What d'ye mean by coming to me with such a question? What does Mr.
Musard mean by sending ye here? Does he think I've turned receiver of
stolen property at my time of life? I'm surprised at him."

"My dear Mr. Wendover, Mr. Musard had no such thought in his mind. We
simply come to you for information. Mr. Musard gave me your address as a
reputable dealer of stones who would be likely to know if this necklace
had been offered for sale in Hatton Garden."

"Well, it has not been offered to me. I've handled no pearls for twelve
months."

"Would you know the Heredith necklace if it were offered to you?"

"I would not, and I've already told ye it was not offered to me."

Colwyn was nonplussed and disappointed, but the recollection of
Nepcote's furtive glance and hasty concealment of the diamond merchant's
card on the previous night prompted him to a further effort.

"It is possible the necklace may have been broken up and the stones
offered separately," he said. "The clasp contained a large and valuable
blue diamond."

"I tell ye I know nothing about it. I very rarely buy from private
persons. It's not my way of doing business."

"We have reason to suspect that the necklace was offered for sale by a
young military officer, tall and good looking, with blue eyes and brown
hair, slightly tinged with grey at the temples."

"That description would apply to thousands of young officers. They're a
harum-scarum lot, and dissipation soon turns a man's hair grey. I have
had some of them here, trying to sell family jewels for money to throw
away on painted women. There was one who called some days ago in a
half-intoxicated condition. He clapped me on the back as impudent as you
please, and calling me a thing--a dear old thing, which is one of their
slang phrases--asked me what he could screw out of me for a good
diamond. I sent him and his diamond off with a flea in the ear." Mr.
Wendover's gummy lips curved in a grim smile at the recollection.

"Can you describe him more particularly?" asked Colwyn, with sudden
interest.

"I paid no particular attention to him, and I wouldn't know him again if
he were to walk in the door. It was almost dark when he came, and my
eyes are not young. But he was not the man ye're after. It was days
before the murder."

"Did he give you his name?"

"He did not, and I wouldn't tell ye if he did. What's it to do with the
object of your visit? Ye're a persistent sort of young fellow, but I'm
not going to let ye hold a general fishing inquiry into my business.
There are two kinds of foolish folk in this world. Those who babble of
their affairs to their womenfolk, and those who babble of them to
strangers. I have no womenfolk, thank God! so I cannot talk to the
futile creatures."

"Then I shall not ask you to break the other half of your maxim on my
account," said Colwyn, rising with a smile.

"It would be no good if ye did," responded Mr. Wendover, with a
reciprocatory grin which displayed two yellow fangs like the teeth of a
walrus. "My business conscience is already pricking me for having said
so much. He that holds his own counsel gives away nothing--except that
he holds his counsel. Ye might do worse than lay that to your heart, Mr.
Colwyn, in your walk through life. There's fifty years' experience
behind it. Good-bye to ye, Mr. Colwyn, and ye, young man. I wish ye both
luck in your search, but my advice is, try the pawn-shops." At the
pressure of his thumb on the table the young Jew appeared from the next
room, as if summoned by a magic wand, to let the visitors out.

"That's a queer old bird," said Caldew, as they walked away. "Do you
think he has told us the truth?"

Colwyn did not reply. He was thinking rapidly, and wondering whether by
any possibility he had made a mistake. But once more there flashed into
his mind, like an image projected on a screen, the little scene which he
alone had witnessed at the flat on the previous evening--the fluttering
cards, the quick, unconscious gesture of concealment, and the startled
glance which so plainly reflected the dread of discovery. No! there was
no mistake there, but the explanation lay deeper.

They had reached the angle of the narrow passage which led to the front
outlet of the offices. A small window was fixed at the dark turn of the
long dark corridor to admit light. Colwyn chanced to glance through this
window as he reached it, and his quick eye took in the figure of a man
standing motionless in a narrow alley of the side street below. He was
almost concealed behind an archway, but it was apparent to the detective
that he was watching the corner building. As Colywn looked at him he
slightly changed his position and his face came into view. With a quick
imperative gesture to his companion, Colwyn ran swiftly along the
remainder of the corridor and down the flight of stairs into Hatton
Garden.

Caldew followed more slowly, puzzled by the other's strange action. When
he reached the doorway Colwyn was nowhere to be seen, so he waited in
the entrance. After the lapse of a few minutes he saw Colwyn returning
from the direction of Clerkenwell.

"He has got away," he said, as he reached Caldew. His voice was a little
breathless, as though with running.

"He? Who?"

Colwyn drew him into the empty entrance hall before he answered:

"Nepcote. He was watching outside. I saw him through the upstairs
window. He either followed us here or has been waiting to see if we
came. I should have foreseen this."

A flicker of unusual agitation on Colwyn's calm face increased Caldew's
mental confusion.

"I don't understand," he stammered. "He--Nepcote--why should he be
watching us?"

"Because he penetrated the truth last night. He knew he was in danger."

"But why should he follow us here?"

"He accidentally dropped some cards from his pocket-book when giving
Merrington an address at his flat last night, and one of them was
Wendover's business card. Merrington did not see it--it would have
conveyed nothing to him if he had--but I did. Nepcote knew that I saw
it, and must have realized that I suspected him. He has been watching my
rooms and followed us here, or he has been hanging around this place to
see if I called on Wendover."

"Even now I do not see the connection. If Wendover told us the truth,
Nepcote has not been to him with the necklace. Then what did it matter
to Nepcote whether you came here or not?"

"Nepcote may have been the man who offered the diamond to Wendover."

"That is impossible. Wendover says that man called some days before the
murder."

"Still, it may have been Nepcote."

"That goes beyond me," said Caldew, with a puzzled look. "What are you
implying?"

"Nothing at present. Every step in this case convinces me that we are
faced with a very deep mystery. It isn't worth while to hazard a guess,
because guessing is always unsatisfactory."

"Perhaps we had better try and get a little more out of Wendover," said
Caldew.

"That would be merely waste of time. He has not got the necklace, and he
is unable to describe the man who offered him the diamond. I believe now
that it was Nepcote, but that doesn't matter, one way or another. It is
far more important to know that he came here to-day to watch for us.
That implies that he had reason to fear investigations about the
necklace. The inference to be drawn is that Nepcote is responsible for
the disappearance of the necklace, and is, therefore, deeply implicated
in the murder."

"Perhaps it was not Nepcote that you saw?" suggested Caldew. He felt
that the remark was a feeble one, but he was bewildered by the sudden
turn of events, and in a frame of mind which clutches at straws.

"Put that doubt out of your mind," said Colwyn. "I saw his face
distinctly. He had disappeared by the time I got down. The alley where
he was standing commanded a view of the entrance of this building. I
ascertained that by standing in the same spot. His flight is another
proof--though that was not needed--of his guilty knowledge and
complicity in this murder. Why should he run away? According to his own
story last night he had nothing to fear. But now, by his own actions, he
has brought the utmost suspicion on himself."

"I suppose it is no use searching about here for him?" remarked Caldew,
glancing gloomily out of the doorway.

"Not in the least. The neighbourhood is a warren of alleys and side
streets from here to Grays Inn Road."

"Then I shall go up to his flat at once," said Caldew. "He has not had
time to go back."

"He will not return to his flat. We have seen the last of him until we
catch him. He has had two warnings, and he is not likely to be guilty of
the folly of waiting to see whether lightning strikes thrice in the same
spot. He will get away for good, this time, if he can. Nevertheless it
is worth while going to the flat. We may pick up some points there."
Colwyn uttered these last words in a lower tone at the sight of two
office girls descending the staircase with much chatter and laughter.

"Let us go then."

They travelled by 'bus from Grays Inn Road as far as Oxford Circus, and
walked along a number of quiet secluded streets--the backwaters of the
West End--in order to reach Sherryman Street from the lower end, which,
with a true sense of the fitness of things, was called Sherryman Street
Approach. If the Approach had not been within a stone's throw of
Sherryman Square it might have been called a slum. It had tenement
houses with swarms of squalid children playing in the open doorways, its
shops offered East End food--mussels and whelks, "two-eyed steaks,"
reeking fish-and-chips, and horsemeat for the cheap foreign element.
There were several public-houses with groups of women outside drinking
and gossiping, all wearing the black shawls which are as emblematic of
the lower class London woman as a chasuble to a priest, or a blue
tattooed upper lip to a high-caste Maori beauty. A costermonger hawked
frozen rabbits from a donkey-cart, with a pallid woman following behind
to drive away the mangy cats which quarrelled in the road for the oozing
blood which dripped from the cart's tail. An Italian woman, swarthy,
squat, and intolerably dirty, ground out the "Marseillaise" from a
barrel-organ with a shivering monkey capering atop, waving a small Union
Jack, and impatiently rattling a tin can for coppers.

To turn from this squalid quarter into Sherryman Street was to pass from
the east to the west end of London at a step. It was as though an
invisible line of demarcation had been drawn between the lower and upper
portion of the street, and held inviolate by the residents of each
portion. There were no public houses or fish-shops in Sherryman Street;
no organ-grinders, costermongers, unclean children, or women in black
shawls. It had quiet, seclusion, clean pavements, polished doorknockers,
and white curtains at the windows of its well-kept houses, which grew in
dignity to the semblance of town mansions at the Square end.

Number 10 showed a blank closed stone exterior to the passer-by, like an
old grey secretive face. As they approached it Colwyn, with a slight
movement of his head, drew his companion's attention to the upper
windows which belonged to Nepcote's flat. The blinds were down.

"It looks as if Nepcote left last night," he said.

The sight of the drawn blinds, like yellow eyelids in the grey face,
awakened some secret irritation in Caldew's breast, and with it the
realization of his powers as an officer of Scotland Yard.

"I shall force a way in and see," he angrily declared.

"Better get a key from the housekeeper," suggested Colwyn. "The women
who look after these bachelor flats always have duplicate keys. But the
front door is ajar. Let us go upstairs first."

They ascended the stairs to the flat, and the first thing they noticed
was a Yale key in the keyhole of the door.

"A sign of mental upset," commented Colwyn. "At such moments people
forget the little things."

They opened the door and entered. The front room was much as Colwyn had
seen it the previous night. The flowers drooped in their bowl; the
chorus girls smirked in their silver settings; the framed racehorses and
their stolid trainers looked woodenly down from the pink walls.

"Nepcote does not seem to have taken anything away with him," remarked
Caldew, looking into the bedroom. "The wardrobe is full of his uniforms,
but the bed has not been occupied."

"Here is the proof that he has fled," said Colwyn, flinging back the lid
of a desk which stood in the sitting-room. It was filled to the brim
with a mass of torn papers.

"Anything compromising?" asked Caldew, eagerly approaching to look at
the litter.

"No; only bills and invitations. Any dangerous letters have been burnt
there." He pointed to the grate, which was heaped with blackened
fragments. "He's made a good job of it too," he added, as he went to the
fireplace and bent over it. "There's not the slightest chance of
deciphering a line. But it would be as well to search his clothes. He
may have forgotten some letters in the pockets."

Caldew took the hint, and disappeared into the inner room, leaving
Colwyn examining the contents of the grate. He returned in a few minutes
to say that he had found nothing in the clothes except a few Treasury
notes and some loose silver in a trousers' pocket.

"That looks as if he had bolted in such a hurry that he forgot to take
his change with him," said Colwyn. "It is another interesting revelation
of his state of mind, because there is very little doubt that he
returned to the flat this morning after leaving it last night."

"How do you arrive at that conclusion?"

"By the burnt letters in the grate. They are still warm. He was in such
a state of fear that he dared not sleep in the flat last night, but he
returned this morning to burn his letters and change into civilian
clothes. Then he rushed away again in such a hurry that he forgot his
money. There is nothing more to be seen here. We had better make a few
inquiries of the housekeeper as we go downstairs."

They walked out, and Caldew locked the door behind him and placed the
key in his pocket. When they reached the entrance hall Colwyn paused
outside the door of the recess where the housekeeper lurked, like an
octopus in a pool. At Colwyn's knock a white face, topped by a white
cap, came into view through the narrow slit in the curtained glass half
of the door, and swam towards them in the interior gloom after the
manner of the head of a materialized ghost in a spirit medium's parlour.
The door opened, and the apparition appeared in the flesh, looking at
them with stony eyes. Caldew undertook the conversation:

"Did Captain Nepcote sleep here last night?" he curtly asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, has he been here this morning?"

"I don't know." The tone of the second reply was even more
expressionless than the first, if that were possible.

"It's your business to know," said Caldew angrily.

"It is not my business to discuss Captain Nepcote's private affairs with
strangers." The woman turned back into her room without another word,
closing the door behind her.

"D--n her!" muttered Caldew, in intense exasperation.

"These ancient females learn the wisdom of controlling their natural
garrulity when placed in charge of bachelors' flats," said Colwyn with a
laugh. "We will get nothing out of her if we stay here all day, so we
had better go."

"I am going straight back to Scotland Yard," Caldew announced with
sudden decision when they reached the pavement. "I must tell Merrington
all about this morning's work, and the sooner the better. We must have
the flat watched. Perhaps Nepcote may return."

"He will not return," said Colwyn. "He knows that we are after him, and
that the flat will be watched. But it is a good idea not to let him have
too long a start. Come, let us see if we can find a taxi, and I will
drop you at Scotland Yard."

They walked along to Sherryman Square, and esteemed themselves fortunate
in picking up a cruising taxi-cab with a driver sufficiently complaisant
to drive them in the direction they wished to go.




CHAPTER XXII


It was to Merrington's credit as an official that he suppressed his
feelings as a man on hearing Caldew's story, and did everything possible
to retrieve the situation once he was convinced that Nepcote had fled.
Any lingering doubts he may have had were scattered on learning, after
confidential inquiry at Whitehall, that Captain Nepcote had not put in
an appearance at the War Office that day, and had neither requested nor
been granted leave of absence from his duties.

On receipt of this information Merrington turned to his office
telephone, and, receiver in hand, bellowed forth peremptory instructions
which set in motion the far-reaching organization of Scotland Yard for
the capture of a fugitive from justice. Nepcote's description was
circulated to police stations, detectives were told off to keep an eye
on outgoing trains and the docks, and the entrances to the tubes and
underground railways were watched. After enclosing London, Merrington
made a wider cast, and long before nightfall he had flung around England
a net of fine meshes through which no man could wriggle.

But it is difficult even for Scotland Yard to lay quick hands on a
fugitive in the vast city of London, as Merrington well knew. While
waiting for the net to close over his destined captive, he decided in
the new strange turn of the case to investigate the whole of the
circumstances afresh. Inquiries set afoot in London, with the object of
discovering all that could be learnt of Nepcote's career and Violet
Heredith's single life, occupied an important share in Scotland Yard's
renewed investigations into the Heredith murder.

Caldew was sent to Heredith to look for new facts. He returned after a
day's absence with information which might have been obtained before if
chance had not directed suspicion to Hazel Rath: with a story of an
unknown young man who had left the London train to Heredith at Weydene
Junction on the night of the murder. The story, as extracted from an
unintelligent ticket collector, threw no light on the identity of the
stranger beyond a statement that he had worn a long light trench-coat,
beneath which the collector had caught a glimpse of khaki uniform as the
gentleman felt for his ticket at the barrier.

On that slight information Caldew had pursued inquiries across a long
two miles of country between Weydene and the moat-house, and had deemed
himself fortunate in finding a farm labourer who, on his homeward walk
that night, had been passed by a young man in a long coat making rapidly
across the fields in the direction of Heredith. The labourer had stared
after the retreating figure until it disappeared in the darkness, and
had then gone home without thinking any more of the incident. Caldew was
so impressed by the significance of the second appearance of the man in
the trench-coat that he had timed himself in a fast walk over the same
ground from Weydene to the moat-house, and was able to cover the
distance in half an hour. On the basis of these facts, he pointed out to
Merrington that, if Nepcote was the man who left the train at Weydene at
seven o'clock, he had time to walk across the fields and reach the
moat-house by half-past seven, which was ten minutes before the murder
was committed.

Merrington admitted the possibility, but refused to accept the
inference. He was forced by recent events to accept the theory of
Nepcote's implication in the mystery, but he was not prepared to believe
without much more definite proof that he was the murderer. He was still
strong in his belief that Hazel Rath was the person who had killed Mrs.
Heredith, whatever the young man's share in the crime might be. The
discovery about the man in the trench-coat was all very well as far as
it went, and perhaps formed another clue in the puzzling set of
circumstances of the case, but it did not carry them very far, and
certainly did nothing to lessen the weight of evidence against the girl
who was charged with the murder.

Merrington was forced back on the conclusion that the most important
step towards the solution of the mystery was to lay hold of Nepcote, and
to that end he directed his own efforts and that of the service of the
great organization at his command. As the days went on, he supplemented
his original arrangements for Nepcote's arrest with guileful traps. The
female dragon who guarded masculine reputations at 10, Sherryman Street,
was badgered into cold anger by pretty girls, who sought with tips and
blandishments to glean scraps of information about the missing tenant.
Scented letters in female handwriting, marked "Important," appeared in
the letter racks of Nepcote's West End clubs. Merrington even inserted
an advertisement in the "Personal" column of the _Times_, setting forth
a touching female appeal to Nepcote for a meeting in a sequestered spot.

At the end of three days, with no sign of Nepcote in that period,
Merrington was compelled to make application to the Sussex magistrates
for another adjournment of the police court proceedings, on the ground
that fresh information needed investigation before Scotland Yard could
proceed with the charge against Hazel Rath. An additional week was
granted with reluctance by the chairman of the bench, a Nonconformist
draper with political ambitions, who seized the opportunity to impress
the electors of a constituency he was nursing for the next general
election by making some spirited remarks on the sanctity of British
liberty, which he coupled with a scathing reference to the dilatory
methods of Scotland Yard. He let it be understood that the police must
be prepared at the next hearing to go on with the charge against the
prisoner or withdraw it altogether.

In the face of these awkward alternatives, Merrington pursued the quest
for Nepcote with vigour. The men working immediately under his
instructions were spurred into an excess of energy which brought about
the detention of several young men who could not adequately explain
themselves or their right to liberty in the great city of London. But
none of these captures turned out to be Nepcote. Merrington believed he
was hiding in London, but at the end of five days he still remained
mysteriously at liberty in spite of the constant search for him. He
seemed to have disappeared as completely as though he had passed out of
the world and merged his identity into a chiselled name and a banal
aspiration on a tombstone.

In the angry consciousness of failure, Merrington was not blind to the
fact that he had only his own impetuosity to blame for allowing Nepcote
to slip through his fingers. His mistake was due to his dislike of
private detectives and his unbelief in modern deductive methods of crime
solution. His own system, which is the system of Scotland Yard, was
based on motive and knowledge. If he found a strong motive for a crime
he searched for the person to whom it pointed. If there was no apparent
motive he fell back on his great knowledge of the underworld and its
denizens to fit a criminal to the crime. The system has its measure of
success, as the records of Scotland Yard attest.

Merrington had brought both methods to bear in his handling of the
Heredith case. When his original investigations failed to reveal a
motive for the murder, he determined to return to London to ascertain
what dangerous criminals were at liberty who might have committed the
murder. His own view then was that the murder was the work of an old
hand who had entered the moat-house to commit burglary, and had murdered
Mrs. Heredith to escape identification. The isolation of the moat-house,
the presence of guests with valuable jewels, the time chosen for the
crime, and the scream of the victim, tended to confirm him in this
belief. Caldew's chance discovery about Hazel Rath, and the subsequent
events which arrayed such strong circumstantial evidence against her,
brought the other side of the system uppermost and set Merrington
seeking for a motive which would accord with the presumption of the
girl's guilt. Having found that motive, he was satisfied that he had
done his duty, and he thought very little more about the case.

It was his tenacious adhesion to conservative methods which caused him
to blunder in his treatment of Colwyn's information about the missing
necklace. He rarely acted on impulse. His habitual distrust of humanity
was deep, and to it was wedded a wariness which was the heritage of long
experience. But his obstinate conviction of Hazel Rath's guilt led him
to make a false move in his effort to square the loss of the necklace
with the evidence against the girl. His own poor opinion of human nature
hindered him from seeing, as Colwyn had seen, any inconsequence between
such widely different motives as maddened love and theft; that was one
of those subtle differentiations of human psychology in which his
coarse-grained temperament was at fault. It is probable that
Merrington's dislike of private detectives contributed to obscure his
judgment at a critical moment. He was unable to see that Colwyn, by
reason of his intellect and practical capacity, stood in a class apart
and alone.

In his contemplation of the case Merrington's thoughts turned to Colwyn,
and he wondered in what direction the private detective's investigations
into the case had progressed--if they had progressed at all--since he
had seen him last. In a chastened mood, he reflected that Colwyn had not
only given him a warning which was annoyingly different from other
advice in being well worth following, but had acted generously in
informing him of the missing necklace when he might have kept the
discovery to himself, in order to score a point over Scotland Yard and
place one of the Yard's most distinguished officials in an awkward
position.

With a belated but unconscious recognition of an intelligence which far
surpassed his own, Merrington felt that it would be worth while to have
another talk with Colwyn, in the hope of finding some way out of the
perplexities in which he had plunged himself by permitting Nepcote to
escape.

The next interview, which was of his seeking, took place at Colwyn's
rooms in the evening, after Merrington had previously arranged for it by
telephone. The face of the private detective revealed neither surprise
nor resentment at the sight of Merrington. He invited his guest to sit
down, and then seated himself a little distance from the table, on which
whisky and cigars were set out.

"Well, Mr. Colwyn, you were right and I was wrong about that fellow
Nepcote," Merrington commenced, realizing that it was best to come to
the point at once. "I wish now that I had followed your advice."

"If you hadn't gone to see him perhaps you wouldn't know as much as you
know now," said Colwyn drily.

"That's one way of looking at it," responded Merrington with his great
laugh. "Unfortunately, that interview caused Nepcote to bolt, and so far
he has shown us a clean pair of heels."

"You've had no news of him?"

"Only a lot of false reports. I am convinced that he is still hiding in
London, but the trouble is to get hold of him. These infernal darkened
streets make it more difficult. A wanted man can walk along them at
night right under the nose of the police without fear of being seen."

"Have you made any fresh discoveries about the case?"

"We have ascertained that a man who may have been Nepcote was seen near
the moat-house on the night of the murder."

Colwyn nodded indifferently. The tracing of Nepcote's movements on the
night of the murder was to him one of the minor points of the problem,
like the first pawn move in chess--essential, but without real
significance, in view of the inevitable inference of the flight.

"I have been working on the case from this end," he said.

"In what direction?"

"Trying to arrive at the beginning of the mystery. I have been
endeavouring to find out something about Mrs. Heredith's earlier life.
It struck me that it might throw some light on the subsequent events."

"I have been investigating along similar lines. Shall we compare notes?"

"With pleasure, but I should think that you have been able to find out
more than I have been able to discover single-handed. For one thing, I
have seen Lady Vaughan, the wife of Sir William Vaughan, of the War
Office. She is a kind and gracious woman, taking a great interest in the
hundreds of girl clerks employed at her husband's department in
Whitehall. Last winter she gave a series of dances at her house in
Knightsbridge, and the girls were invited in turns. Mr. Heredith was
present at one of these functions."

"So much I know," said Merrington.

"Then you are probably aware that Captain Nepcote was also present that
evening, and brought several other young officers with him. It was he
who introduced Philip Heredith to the girl whom he afterwards married."

"I knew Nepcote was a guest at one of the dances, but it is news to me
that he introduced the girl to young Heredith. Lady Vaughan did not tell
us this."

"Lady Vaughan did not know. I ascertained the fact later from one of the
guests who witnessed the introduction. I attach some importance to the
point. Last winter Philip Heredith and Nepcote were on fairly intimate
terms, working together in the same room at the War Office, and
sometimes going together to the houses of mutual friends. It was
evidently a case of the attraction of opposites."

"It must have been," replied Merrington emphatically. "I have had
inquiries made about Nepcote, and I should not have thought he would
have appealed to Mr. Heredith. There is nothing actually wrong so far as
we can learn, but he had the reputation, before the war, of a fast and
idle young man about town, with a weakness for women and gambling. He
came into a few thousands some years ago, but soon spent it. I imagine
that he has subsisted principally on credit and gambling since he
squandered his money, for he is certainly not the type of man to live on
his pay as an officer. As a matter of fact, he was in serious trouble
with the Army authorities recently for not paying his mess bills in
France. He was not brought up to the Army, and he has seen very little
active service. He got his captain's commission about twelve months
after the war commenced, when the War Office was handing out commissions
like boxes of matches, but he managed to keep under the Whitehall
umbrella until quite recently. He seems to have a bit of a pull
somewhere, though I cannot find out where. Perhaps it is his charm of
manner--everybody who knows him says he has a charming manner, though it
wasn't apparent to me that night I interviewed him at his flat."

"Perhaps he was too afraid to exercise it on that occasion," suggested
Colwyn, with a smile. "He must have thought that it was all up with
him."

"Have you discovered anything about Mrs. Heredith's antecedents?" asked
Merrington with an abruptness which suggested that he had little relish
for the last remark.

"Very little, apart from the fact that she lived in rooms, and had no
real girl friends, so far as I can ascertain. Apparently she was a girl
who played a lone hand, as they say in America. The type is not uncommon
in large cities. My information, such as it is, is not of the least
importance one way or the other."

"I have learnt very little more than you, except that she changed her
rooms pretty frequently, but always kept within an easy radius of the
West End, living in dull but respectable neighbourhoods like Russell
Square and Woburn Place. It was precious little time she spent there,
though. The people of these places know nothing about her except that
she used to go out in the morning and did not return till late at
night--generally in a taxi, and alone, so far as is known. She was,
apparently, one of those bachelor girls who have sprung into existence
in thousands during the war--one of that distinct species who trade on
their good looks and are out for a good time, but keep sufficiently on
the safe side of the fence to be careful of their reputations. It's part
of their stock in trade.

"Such girls contrive to go everywhere and see everything at the expense
of young men with more money than brains, who have been caught by their
looks. It's the Savoy for lunch, a West End restaurant for dinner,
revue, late supper, and home in a taxi--with perhaps, a kiss for the lot
by way of payment. The War Office was a godsend to this type of girl. It
gives them jobs with nothing to do, with a kind of official standing
thrown in, and the chance of meeting plenty of young officers over on
leave from the front, with money to burn and hungry for pretty English
faces. It is difficult to find out anything about these bachelor girls.
They have no homes--only a place to sleep in--they confide in nobody,
and their men friends will never give them away. Almost any woman will
give away a man, but I have never yet known a man give away a woman."

"If Mrs. Heredith was that type of girl, it is possible that some early
episode or forgotten flirtation in her past life is mixed up with the
mystery of her death."

"You think that, do you?" asked Merrington regarding his companion
attentively.

"How else can we explain Nepcote's appearance in the mystery, except on
the ground that he may have murdered her for the necklace? It is
important to bear in mind that Nepcote knew her in her single days. If
she had a secret she has taken it to the grave with her. There remains
Nepcote, who is deeply implicated in the case in some way. You may learn
something from him if you can catch him and induce him to speak, though
I must confess I find it difficult to reconcile the supposition that he
committed the murder with the known circumstances of the case."

"There I agree with you," exclaimed Merrington. "What is Hazel Rath's
position if we admit any such supposition? Nothing has yet come to light
to shake the evidence which points to her as the person who murdered
Mrs. Heredith."

"Does she still refuse to speak?"

"Yes. She is as obstinate as a mule and as mute as a fish. I sent a very
clever woman detective down to the gaol at Lewes to try and coax her to
say something, but she could get nothing out of her. She said she had no
statement to make, and nothing whatever to say. She refused to go beyond
that."

"She may have some strong reason for keeping silence," remarked Colwyn
thoughtfully. "Arrested persons sometimes remain silent under a grave
charge because they are anxious to keep certain knowledge in their
possession from the police. Nepcote's implication in the case lends
colour to the theory that Hazel Rath may be keeping silent for some such
purpose."

"In order to shield Nepcote?"

"It is possible, though I do not think we are in a position to infer
that much without further knowledge. But now that we know that Nepcote
is connected with the case I certainly think that a strong effort should
be made to induce Hazel Rath to speak."

"It is not to be done," replied Merrington, with an emphatic shake of
the head. "The girl is not to be drawn."

"Have you told her about the recent developments of the case?"

"About Nepcote, do you mean?"

"Yes."

"Certainly not," replied Merrington, in a tone of outraged officialism.
"To give the girl that piece of information before I know what it means
would place such a powerful weapon in the hands of the lawyer for the
defence that I should have to withdraw the charge against Hazel Rath at
the next police court proceedings if I did not arrest Nepcote in the
meantime. I do not want any dramatic developments--as the idiotic
newspapers call it-in my cases. There is a certain amount of public
sympathy with this girl already."

"I think you stand to gain more than you lose by telling her that
Nepcote is suspected."

"I prefer to arrest Nepcote first. We may get him at any moment, and
then, I hope, we shall find out where we stand in this case. But what do
you mean by saying that I have more to gain than lose by telling the
girl about him?"

"If she is keeping silent to shield Nepcote, she is likely to reveal the
truth when she knows that there is nothing more to be gained by silence.
She will then begin to think of herself. In my opinion, you have now an
excellent weapon in your hand to force her to speak."

"Can we go so far as to assume that she is keeping silence to shield
him? Let us assume that they went to Mrs. Heredith's room together for
the purpose of murder and robbery. The girl, we will suppose, fired the
shot and Nepcote escaped from the window with the necklace. Is Hazel
Rath likely to reveal such a story when she knows it will not save
herself?"

"Your assumptions carry you too far," returned Colwyn. "Our presumptive
knowledge does not take us that distance. Till Nepcote's share in the
case is explained it is useless indulging in speculations outside our
premises. Let us defer inferences until we have marshalled more facts.
We do not know whether more than one pair of eyes witnessed the murder
of Mrs. Heredith; the theory that Hazel Rath fired the shot is merely a
presumption of fact, and not an actual certainty. Much is still hidden
in this case, and the question is, can Hazel Rath enlighten us? As she
and Nepcote are now both implicated, it seems to me that the best
inducement to get her to speak is by letting her know that you have
arrested Nepcote. In my opinion, the experiment is well worth trying."

Merrington rose to his feet and paced across the room, pondering over
the proposal.

"I am inclined to believe you are right," he said. "At any rate, I shall
go down to Lewes to-morrow and put it to the test. I would ask you to
accompany me, but it would be a little irregular."

"I shall be content to learn the result," Colwyn answered.




CHAPTER XXIII


There are moments when the human brain refuses to receive communication
from its peripheries, and the rapidity of thought becomes so slow that
it can be measured by minutes. The stage of consciousness on which
life's drama is solitarily played for every human being is too
circumscribed to expand all at once for the reception of a strange and
unexpected image. Such moments follow in, the wake of a great shock,
like a black curtain descending on a lighted scene. When the curtain
begins to rise again it is on a darkened stage, on which the objects are
seen dimly at first, then clearer as returning intelligence, working
slowly for the accommodation of the new setting, places the fresh
impression in order with the throng of previously existing ideas.

Such a moment seemed to have come to Hazel Rath as she stood looking at
Merrington, who sat in an easy chair on the other side of the table
confronting her with the tangible perception of his massive presence,
reinforced by the weight of an authority which, if not so perceptible,
was sufficiently apparent in the stolid blue back of a policeman on duty
outside the glass door, and in the barred windows of the little room to
which she had been brought to receive the news which had just been
conveyed to her. But she gave no sign of having heard, or, at least,
understood the import of Merrington's relation. Her dark eyes wandered
around the little office, and slowly returned to the face of the big man
who was watching her so closely. Her look, which at first had been one
of utter bewilderment, now revealed a trace of incredulity which
suggested a returning power for the assimilation of ideas. But she did
not speak.

"Have you nothing to say?" Merrington demanded. He had been a silent
listener to many criminal confessions in his time, but in the unusual
reversion of roles he was becoming unreasonably angry with the girl for
not repaying his confidence with her own story.

His loud hectoring voice startled her, and seemed to accelerate the
mechanism of her mind into the association of her surroundings with her
position.

"Why did you bring me here to torture me?" she cried, with a sudden rush
of shrill utterance which was, in its way, almost as pitiful and
surprising as her previous silence. "Oh, why cannot you leave me alone?"

She threw her arms out wildly, then, as if realizing the futility of
gesture, dropped them helplessly to her sides. There was something in
the action which suggested a bird trying to stretch its wings in a
cramped cage. Her quivering lips, tense facial muscles, and strained yet
restless bearing plainly revealed an unbalanced temperament, bending
beneath the weight of a burden too heavy and sustained. As an
experienced police official, Merrington was well versed in the little
signs which indicate the breaking point of imprisonment in those unused
to it. He saw that Hazel Rath had reached a state in which kindness and
consideration, but no other means, might induce her to tell all she
knew.

"Come now, my good girl," he said in a gentle pleasant voice which would
have astonished Caldew beyond measure if he had heard it, "nobody wants
to torture you. On the contrary, I have come down from London purposely
to help you."

He paused for a moment in order to allow this remark to sink into her
mind and then went on:

"I do not think that you quite understood what I have been trying to
tell you. I will tell you again, and I wish you to listen to me for your
own sake."

He glanced at her again, and satisfied that he had now gained her
attention, repeated the news he had endeavoured to tell her previously.
The story, which he embellished with additional details as he went on,
was a practical demonstration of the trick of conveying a false
impression without telling an actual untruth. Merrington's sole aim was
to convince Hazel that further silence on her part was useless, so, to
that end, he used the incident of his visit to Nepcote's flat in a way
to suggest that Nepcote's admission of the ownership of the revolver
amounted to an admission of his own complicity in the murder.

It was an adroit narration--Merrington conceded that much to himself,
not without some pride in his own creation--but he was not prepared for
its immediate and overmastering effect on the girl. She listened to him
with an intensity of interest which was in the strangest contrast with
her former inattention and indifference. When Merrington reached the
point of his revelations by telling her about the missing necklace in
order to assure her that the police were aware that Nepcote had gained
more from the commission of the crime than she had, she surprised him by
springing to her feet, her eyes blazing with excitement.

"I knew it would be proved that I am innocent," she exclaimed. "Now I
can tell you all I know."

"It is the very best course you can pursue," responded Merrington with
emphasis.

"I know it--I see it now! Oh, I have been very foolish. But I--" A burst
of hysterical tears choked further utterance.

Merrington waited patiently until she recovered herself. He was troubled
by no qualms of gentlemanly etiquette at watching the distress of the
distraught girl sobbing wildly at the little table between them. There
is a wide difference between pampered beauty in distress and a female
prisoner in self-abasement. So he waited composedly enough until she
lifted her head and regarded him with dark wistful eyes through a
glitter of tears.

"You had better tell me all," he said.

"Yes, I will tell you everything now," she quickly replied.

"Before you do so it is my duty to warn you that any statement you make
may be used in evidence against you at your trial," Merrington said,
with a swift resumption of his official manner. "At the same time, I
think you will be acting in your own interest by keeping nothing back."

"I quite understand. But it is such a strange story that I hardly know
how to begin."

"Tell me everything from the first. That will be the best way."

"That night I went up to Mrs. Heredith's room just to see her," she
commenced, almost in a whisper. "My mother had told me earlier in the
evening that she was alone in her room suffering from a headache. I
thought I would take the opportunity while the others were at dinner to
go up to her room and ask her if she wanted anything. So I left my
mother's room and walked quietly down the hall to the left wing. There
was nobody about. All the guests were at dinner, and the servants were
busy in the kitchen and the dining-room.

"When I got upstairs I noticed that Mrs. Heredith's door was open a
little, and I saw that there was no light in the room. I thought that
strange until I remembered she had been suffering from a bad headache,
and probably had turned off the light to rest her head. I did not knock
because I thought she might be asleep. I was just going to turn away
when I heard a sound like a sob within the room. I listened, and heard
it again. I hardly knew what to do at first, but the thought came to me
that perhaps Mrs. Heredith was worse, and needed someone. So I pushed
open the door and went in.

"I know the moat-house well, so I was aware that the switch of the
electric light was by the side of the fireplace, near the head of the
bed, and not close to the door, as in the other rooms. To turn on the
light I had to walk across the room. It was very dark, and I walked
cautiously for fear of stumbling and alarming Mrs. Heredith. Twice I
stopped to listen, and once I heard a sound like somebody whispering. I
was dreadfully nervous because I didn't know whether I was doing right
or wrong by going into Mrs. Heredith's room like that, but something
seemed to urge me on.

"I must have mistaken my direction in the dark, for I couldn't find the
electric switch. I kept running my hand along the wall in search of it,
and while I was doing this, somebody caught me suddenly by the throat.

"All the blood in my veins seemed to turn to ice, and I screamed loudly.
Immediately I screamed the hand let go, but I was too frightened to
move. It was so silent in the room then, that I could hear my own heart
beating, but as I stood there by the wall not daring to move I thought I
heard a rustling sound by the window. My hands kept wandering over the
wall behind me, trying to find the switch of the light. Then, suddenly,
there was a dreadful sound--the report of a gun. It seemed to fill the
room with echoes, which rolled to the window and back again. As the
sound of the report died away, my fingers touched the switch and I
turned on the light.

"I was standing close to the head of the bed, and the first thing I
noticed was something glittering on the carpet at my feet. I stooped and
picked it up. It was a revolver. Then my eyes turned to the bed, and I
saw poor Mrs. Heredith. She was lying quite still with blood on her
mouth. I could see that she was still alive, because her eyes looked at
me. At that terrible sight I forgot everything except that she was in
agony. I was bending over her wiping her mouth when I caught the sound
of footsteps running up the stairs. It flashed across my mind that I
must not be found there, in a room where I had no right to be, holding
in my hand a revolver which had just been discharged. I switched off the
light and ran out of the room. The light from the landing outside guided
me to the door. I had just time to get outside and slip behind the
velvet curtains when some of the gentlemen appeared on the landing.

"I stayed there hidden for some time, too frightened to move, and
expecting every moment to be discovered. I could hear them moving about
searching, and I thought that somebody would draw aside the curtains and
see me hiding underneath. But nobody came near me. I heard them go into
Mrs. Heredith's room, and Mr. Musard started talking. The corridor was
silent, and it seemed to me that I had a chance of escaping downstairs
if the staircase was clear. I crept across to the balusters, still
keeping under the cover of the curtains, and looked over. I could see
nobody in the hall downstairs. I slipped the revolver into my dress and
ran downstairs as quickly as I could. I got to the hall without meeting
anyone, and then I knew that I was safe. But just as I turned into the
passage leading to my mother's rooms I heard the dining-room door open.
I looked back and saw Tufnell come out and go upstairs, but he did not
see me. Then I reached my mother's rooms."

She was silent so long that Merrington thought she had finished her
story. "And what about your brooch--the brooch which you dropped in the
room. When did you get that again?"

"I did not miss it until some time after I had returned downstairs. I
wondered at first where I had dropped it. I then remembered the hand on
my throat, which must have unloosened the brooch and caused it to fall.
I knew it was necessary for me to recover it so it would not be known
that I had been in the room. The house was very quiet then, and the hall
was empty, though I could hear the murmur of voices in the library, so I
walked along the hall and ran upstairs. The door of the bedroom was
partly open, and by the light within I could see that the room was
empty--except for _her_. I went into the room. The first thing I saw was
my little brooch shining on the carpet, close by the bedside, near where
I had been standing when the hand clutched at my throat. I picked it up
and ran downstairs."

"Is that the whole of your story?"

She considered for a moment. "Yes, I think that I have told you
everything."

"What took you to Mrs. Heredith's room in the first place?"

"I--I wanted to see her."

"For what purpose? If you want me to help you, you had better be frank."

"I wished to see the girl whom Mr. Phil had married." She brought out
the answer hesitatingly, but the colour which flooded her thin white
cheeks showed that she was aware of the implication of the admission.

But Merrington was impervious to the finer feelings of the heart. He
disbelieved her story from beginning to end, and was of the opinion that
she was trying to hoax him with a concoction as crude as the vain
imaginings of melodrama or the cinema. It was more with the intention of
trapping her into a contradiction than of eliciting anything of
importance that he continued his questions.

"You say that you heard a noise at the window after the shot was fired.
What did you imagine it to be?"

"I was too nervous at the time to think anything about it, but since I
have thought that it must have been someone getting out of the window."

"Did you hear the window being opened?"

"No; I heard nothing but the rustle, as I told you. But it may have been
the wind, or my fear."

"Did you catch a glimpse of the person in the room--whoever it was--when
you were caught by the throat?"

"No. I only felt the hand. It was quite dark, and I could see nothing."

"You are quite sure this happened to you? You are sure it is not
imagination?"

"Oh, no, it was too terribly real."

"Did you observe anything about the revolver when you picked it up?"
said Merrington after a pause.

"No, except that it was bright and shining."

"Nor when you placed it in your dress to carry it downstairs?"

"I do not know anything about fire-arms. When I got downstairs I locked
it away as quickly as I could."

"So you picked up a revolver which had just been fired, without noticing
whether the barrel was hot or cold. Is that what you wish me to
believe?"

"I picked it up by the handle. I seem to remember now that it was warm,
but I cannot be sure. I hardly knew what I was doing at the time."

Her confusion was so evident that Merrington did not think it worth
while to pursue the point.

"If your story is true, why have you not told it before?" he said. "If
you are merely the unfortunate victim of circumstances that you claim to
be, why did you not announce your innocence when I was questioning you
at the moat-house on the day after the murder?"

The girl hesitated perceptibly before answering the question.

"Perhaps I might have done so but for your recognition of my mother,"
she said at length, in a low tone.

"I fail to see how that affected your own position."

"It seemed to me then that it did," she responded in a firmer tone. "I
knew that my story sounded improbable, but after learning what you knew
about my mother it seemed to me that you would be even less likely to
believe me, so I thought the best thing I could do was to keep silence,
and trust to the truth coming to light in some other way."

The recollection of the incidents of his visit to the moat-house came
thronging into Merrington's mind at this reply.

"Did you see your mother when you got downstairs on the night of the
murder?" he asked.

"Not at first. She came in afterwards."

"How long afterwards?"

The girl, struck by a new note in his voice, looked at him with horror
in her widened eyes.

"I understand what you mean," she replied, "but you are wrong--quite
wrong. My mother knows nothing whatever about it. She did not even know
that I had been upstairs. She is as innocent as I am."

"That does not carry us very far," said Merrington coldly, rising to his
feet and touching a bell in front of him. "I do not believe you have
told all."




CHAPTER XXIV


Strong in his conviction that the story of Hazel Rath was largely the
product of an hysterical imagination, Merrington dismissed it from his
mind and devoted all his energies to the search for Nepcote. The task
looked a difficult one, but Merrington did not despair of accomplishing
it before the day came round for the adjourned hearing of the charge
against the girl. He knew that it was a difficult matter for a wanted
man to remain uncaptured in a civilized community for any length of time
if the pursuit was determined enough, and in this instance the military
police were assisting the criminal authorities.

Merrington's own plans for Nepcote's capture were based on the belief
that he had not the means to get away from London unless the Heredith
necklace was still in his possession. As that seemed likely enough,
Nepcote's description was circulated among the pawn-brokers and
jewellers, with a request that anyone offering the necklace should be
detained until a policeman could be called in. He also had Nepcote's
former haunts watched in case the young man endeavoured to approach any
of his friends or acquaintances for a loan. Having taken these steps in
the hope of starving Nepcote into surrender if he was not caught in the
meantime, Merrington next directed the resources at his command to
putting London through a fine-tooth comb, as he expressed it, in the
effort to get hold of his man.

But it was to chance that he owed his first indication of Nepcote's
movements since his disappearance. He was dictating official
correspondence in his private room at Scotland Yard three days after his
visit to Lewes, when a subordinate officer entered to say that a man had
called who wished to see somebody in authority. It was Merrington's
custom to interview callers who visited Scotland Yard on mysterious
errands which they refused to disclose in the outer office. The
information he received from such sources more than compensated for the
occasional intrusion of criminals with grudges or bores with public
grievances.

The man who followed the janitor into the room was neither the one nor
the other, but a weazened white-faced Londoner, with a shrewd eye and
the false, cringing smile of a small shopkeeper. He explained in the
strident vernacular of the Cockney that his name was Henry Hobbs--"Enery
Obbs" was his own version of it--and he kept a pawnbroker's shop in the
Caledonian Road. It was his intention to have called at Scotland Yard
earlier, he explained, but his arrangements had been upset by a domestic
event in his own household.

"They've kep' me runnin' about ever since it happened," he added,
bestowing a wink of subtle meaning upon the pretty typist who had been
taking Merrington's correspondence. "The ladies--bless their
'earts--always make a fuss over a little one."

"When it is legitimate," Merrington gruffly corrected. "Miss Benson," he
said, turning to the typist, who sat in a state of suspended animation
over the typewriter at the word where he had left off dictating, "you
can leave me for a little while and come back later. Now my man," he
went on, as the door closed behind her, "I've no time to waste
discussing babies. Tell me the object of your visit."

The little man stood his ground with the imperturbable assurance of the
Cockney.

"We thought of calling it Victory 'Aig. Victory, because our London lads
seem likely to finish off the war in double-quick time, and 'Aig after
our commander, good old Duggie 'Aig, whose name is every bit good enough
for _my_ baby. What do _you_ think? Don't get your 'air off, guv'nor,"
Mr. Hobbs hastily protested, in some alarm at the expression of
Merrington's face, "I'm coming to it fast enough, but my head is so full
of this here kiddy that I hardly know whether I'm standing on my 'ead or
my 'eels. It's like this 'ere: a few days ago there was a young man come
into my shop to pawn his weskit. I lent him arf-a-crown on it and he
goes away. But, yesterday afternoon he comes back to pawn, a little
pencil-case, on which I lends him a shilling. Now, I shouldn't be
surprised if this young man wasn't the young man we was warned to look
out for as likely to offer a pearl necklace."

"What makes you think so?"

"By the description. I didn't notice him much at first, but I did the
second time, perhaps because I'd just been reading over the 'andbill
before he come in. He looks a bit the worse for wear since it was drawn
up--hadn't been shaved and seemed down on his luck--but I should say it
was the same man, even to the bits of grey on the temples. Bin a bit of
a dandy and a gentleman before he run to seed, I should say."

"What makes you think that?" asked Merrington, who had scant belief in
the theory that gentility has a hallmark of its own.

"Not his white hands--they're nothing to go by. It was his clothes. I
was a tailor in Windmill Street before I went in for pawnbroking, and I
_know_. This chap's suit hadn't been 'acked out in the City or in one of
those places in Cheapside where they put notices in the window to say
that the foreman cutter is the only man in the street who gets twelve
quid a week. They hadn't come from Crouch End, neither. They was
first-class West End garments. It's the same with clothes as it is with
thoroughbred hosses and women--you can always tell them, no matter how
they've come down in the world. And it's like that with boots too. This
chap's boots hadn't been cleaned for days, but they were _boots_, and
not holes to put your feet into, like most people wear."

"You made no effort to detain him?"

"How could I? He didn't offer the necklace, or say anything about
jewels, so I had no reason for stopping him. I could see 'e was as
nervous as a lady the whole time he was in the shop, so before I gave
him a shilling for his pencil I marked it with a cross as something to
'elp the police get on his tracks in case he is the man you're after.
When he left I went to my door to see if there was a policeman in sight,
but of course there wasn't. I doubt if he'd have got him, though. He was
off like a shot as soon as he got the shilling--down a side street and
then up another, going towards King's Cross. Here's the pencil-case he
pawned. I didn't bring the weskit, but you can 'ave it if it's any good
to you."

Merrington glanced carelessly at the little silver pencil-case, and
after asking the pawnbroker a few questions he permitted him to depart.
Then he touched his bell and sent for Detective Caldew.

Half an hour later Caldew emerged from his chief's room in possession of
the pawnbroker's story, with the addition of as much authoritative
counsel as the mind of Merrington could suggest for its investigation.
Caldew did not relish the task of following up the slender clue. He had
not been impressed by the relation of Mr. Hobbs' supposed recognition of
Nepcote, although as a detective he was aware that unlikely statements
were sometimes followed by important results. But the element of luck
entered largely into the elucidation of chance testimony. There were
some men in Scotland Yard who could turn a seeming fairy tale into a
startling fact, but there were others who failed when the probabilities
were stronger. Caldew accounted himself one of these unlucky ones.

But luck was with him that day. At least, it seemed so to him that
evening, as he returned to Holborn after a long and trying afternoon
spent in the squalid streets and slums of St Pancras and Islington. The
goddess of Chance, bestowing her favours with true feminine caprice, had
taken it into her wanton head, at the last moment, to accomplish for him
the seemingly impossible feat of tracing the pawnbroker's marked
shilling, through various dirty hands, to the pocket of the man who had
pawned the pencil-case. Whether she would grant him the last favour of
all, by enabling him to prove whether this man and Nepcote were
identical, was a point Caldew intended to put to the proof that night.

Caldew was in high good humour with himself at such a successful day's
work, and he alighted from the tram with the intention of passing a
couple of hours pleasantly by treating himself to a little dinner in
town before returning to Islington to complete his investigations. He
wandered along from New Oxford Street to Charing Cross by way of Soho,
scanning the restaurant menus as he passed with the indecisive air of a
poor man unused to the privilege of paying high rates for bad food in
strange surroundings.

The foreign smells and greasy messes of Old Compton Street repelled his
English appetite, and he did not care to mingle with the herds of
suburban dwellers who were celebrating the fact that they were alive by
making uncouth merriment over three-and-sixpenny tables d'hótes and
crude Burgundy and Chianti in the cheap glitter of Wardour Street. As a
disciplined husband and father, Caldew's purse did not permit of his
going further West for his refection, so when he reached Charing Cross
he turned his face in the direction of Fleet Street. He had almost made
up his mind in favour of a small English eating-house half-way down the
Strand, when he encountered Colwyn.

The private detective was wearing a worn tweed-suit and soft hat, which
had the effect of making a considerable alteration in his appearance. He
was about to enter the eating-house, but stopped at the sight of Caldew
looking in the window, and advanced to shake hands with him.

"Thinking of dining here, Caldew?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Caldew. "It seems a quiet place."

"It certainly has that merit," responded Colwyn, glancing into the empty
interior of the little restaurant. "You had better dine with me if you
have nothing better to do. I should like to have a talk with you."

Caldew expressed a pleased acquiescence. He had not seen the private
detective since he had taken him a copy of Merrington's notes of his
interview with Hazel Rath, and he wished to know whether Colwyn had made
any fresh discoveries in the Heredith case.

At their entrance, a waiter reclining against the cash desk sprang into
supple life, and with a smile of prospective gratitude sped ahead up the
staircase, casting backward glances of invitation like a gustatory siren
enticing them to a place of bliss. He led them into a room overlooking
the Thames Embankment, hung up their hats, took the wine card from the
frame of the mirror over the mantelpiece, wrote down the order for the
dinner, and disappeared downstairs to get the dishes.

"It seems to me that you've been here before," said Caldew.

"I always come here when I have an expedition in hand," was the
response.

Caldew wondered whether his companion's expedition was connected with
the Heredith mystery, but before he could frame the question the waiter
returned with a bottle of wine, and shortly afterwards the dinner
appeared. It was not until the meal was concluded that Colwyn broached
the subject which was uppermost in his guest's thoughts by asking him if
he had met with any success in his search for Nepcote.

"We are still looking for him," was Caldew's guarded reply, as he
accepted a cigar from his companion's case.

"In Islington, for instance?" The light Colwyn held to his own cigar
revealed the smile on his lips.

Caldew was so surprised at this shrewd guess that his match slipped from
his fingers.

"What makes you think we are looking for Nepcote in Islington?" he
demanded.

"I am not unacquainted with the ingenious methods of Scotland Yard," was
the reply. "I can see Merrington working it out with a scale map of
London to help him. He is convinced that Nepcote is still in London
without a penny in his pockets. Merrington asks himself what Nepcote is
likely to do in such circumstances? Borrow from his friends or attempt
to cash a cheque? We will guard against that by watching his clubs and
his bank. Raise funds on the necklace--if he has it? Merrington knows
how to stop that by warning the pawn-brokers and jewellers. When he has
done so he has the satisfaction of feeling that his man is cut off from
supplies, wandering penniless in stony-hearted London, as helpless as a
babe in the wood. Where will he hide? He is a West End man, knowing
little of London outside of Piccadilly, so the chances are that he will
not get very far, and that his wanderings will end in surrender or
starvation. But Scotland Yard cannot wait for him to surrender, and
Merrington, with an imagination stimulated by the necessity of finding
him, decides in favour of Islington--the so-called Merry Islington of
obsequious London chroniclers, though, so far as my personal observation
goes, its inhabitants are merry only when in liquor. Islington is
congested, Islington contains criminals, and Islington is an ideal
hiding-place. Therefore, says Merrington, let us seek our man there."

"Oh, come, Mr. Colwyn, you don't put me off like that. Somebody must
have told you that I was out there to-day."

"I saw you myself. As a matter of fact, I have been looking for Nepcote
in that part of London--in an area between Farringdon Street and
Euston."

"Why there in particular? London is a wide field."

"I have endeavoured to narrow it by considering the possibilities. The
suburbs are unsafe, and so is the West End; the City affords no shelter
for a fugitive. There remain the poorer congested areas, the docks, and
the East End. But that does not help us very much, because there is
still a vast field left. What narrowed it considerably for me is my
strong belief, taking all the circumstances into consideration, that
Nepcote has not got very far from where we last saw him. What finally
determined me to select Islington as a starting point for my search was
that strange law of human gravitation which impels a fugitive to seek a
criminal quarter for shelter. A hunted man seems to develop a keen scent
for those who, like himself, are outside the law. Islington, as you are
aware, has a large percentage of criminals in its population. At any
rate, I am looking for Nepcote in Islington."

"Although I could pick flaws in your theory, I am bound to say that you
are right," said Caldew. "Nepcote is hiding in Islington. At least, we
think so," he cautiously added.

"Good! How did you find out?"

Caldew gave his companion particulars of the pawnbroker's visit to
Scotland Yard that morning.

"I have been looking for Mr. Hobbs' marked shilling in the small shops
between King's Cross and Upper Street all the afternoon," he said. "I
traced it quite by accident after I had decided to give up the attempt.
One of the uniformed men at the _Angel_ happened to tell me, as a joke,
about a coffeestall keeper who had gone to him in a fury that morning
about a chance customer, who, in his own words, had diddled him for a
bob overnight. He showed the policeman a shilling he had taken from the
man, and was under the impression that it was a bad one because it was
marked with a cross. The policeman put the coin in his pocket and gave
the man another one to get rid of him. I obtained the shilling from him,
and went to see the coffeestall keeper. His description of the man who
passed it resembled Nepcote, and he added the information that the
customer, after changing the shilling for a cup of coffee, had asked him
where he could get a bed. The coffeestall keeper directed him to a cheap
lodging-house near the _Angel_. I went to his lodging-house, and
ascertained that a man answering to the description had slept there last
night, and on leaving this morning said that he would return there for a
bed to-night. I have a policeman watching the place, and I am going out
there shortly to see this chap--if he comes back. Do you care to go with
me?"

"I'll go with pleasure," said Colwyn, who had listened to this story
with close attention.

"Then we'd better be getting along. But, I say, don't mention this to
Merrington if anything goes wrong and I don't pull it off. The old man
has his knife into me over this case, and my life wouldn't be worth
living if Nepcote slipped through our fingers again. I want to try and
surprise him, and let him see that there are other men at Scotland Yard
besides himself."

"I don't think you have much to fear from Merrington," said Colwyn,
laughing outright. "He is in a chastened mood at present. But you can
rely on my discretion, and I hope you will get your man."

"I believe I shall," returned Caldew in a confident tone. "Shall we make
a start?"

Colwyn paid the bill, and they set out through the darkened streets,
upon which a light autumn fog was descending. The Kingsway underground
tramway carried them to the _Angel_, where they got off. Caldew threaded
his way through the unwashed population of that centre, and turned into
a side street where a swarm of draggle-tailed women were chaffering for
decaying greens heaped on costers' stalls in the middle of the road. He
turned again into a narrower street running off this street market, and
stopped when he got to the end of it. He nudged his companion, and
pointed to a sign of "Good Beds," visible beneath a flare in a doorway
opposite.

"That's the place," he said.

A policeman came up to them, looming out of the fog as suddenly as a
spectre, and nodded to Caldew.

"Nothing doing," he briefly announced. "I've watched the place ever
since, but he hasn't been in."

"All right," said Caldew. "You can leave it to me now. I shan't need you
any longer. Good night!"

"Good night, and good night to you, Mr. Colwyn," the policeman
responded, turning with a smile to the private detective. "I didn't
recognize you at first because of the fog. I didn't know you were in
this job."

"And I hope that you won't mention it, now that you do know," interposed
Caldew hastily.

"Not me. I'm not one of the talking sort." The policeman nodded again in
a friendly fashion, and disappeared down the side street.

The two detectives stood there, watching, screened from passing
observation in the deep doorway of an empty shop. The flare which swung
in the doorway opposite permitted them to take stock of everybody who
entered the lodging-house in quest of a bed. By its light they could
even decipher beneath the large sign of "Good Beds, Eightpence," a
smaller sign which added, "Or Two Persons, a Shilling," which, by its
careful wording, seemed to hint that those entranced in Love's young
dream might seek the seclusion of the bowers within unhindered by
awkward questions of conventional morality, and, by its triumphant
vindication of the time-worn sentiment that love conquers all, tended to
reassure democracy that the difference between West End hotels and
Islington lodging-houses was one of price only.

But the visitors to the lodging-house that night suggested thraldom to
less romantic tyrants than Cupid. Drink, disease and want were the
masters of the ill-favoured men who shambled within at intervals,
thrusting the price of a bed through a pigeon-hole at the entrance,
receiving a dirty ticket in exchange. These transactions, and the faces
of the frowzy lodgers were clearly visible to the watchers across the
road, but none of the men resembled Nepcote. Shortly after ten o'clock
raindrops began to fall sluggishly through the fog, and, as if that were
the signal for closing, the figure of a man appeared in the
lodging-house doorway and proceeded to extinguish the flare.

"We had better go over," Caldew said.

They walked across the oozing road, and he accosted the man in the
doorway.

"You're closing early to-night," he observed.

The man desisted from his occupation to stare at them. He was an
ill-favoured specimen of an immortal soul, with a bloated face, a
pendulous stomach, and a week's growth of beard on his dirty chin. A
short black pipe was thrust upside down in his mouth, and his attire
consisted of a shirt open at the neck, a pair of trousers upheld by no
visible support, and a pair of old slippers. Apparently satisfied from
his prolonged inspection of the two visitors that they were not in
search of lodgings, he replied in a surly tone:

"What the hell's that to do with you? If you let us know when you're
coming we'll keep open all night--I don't think."

Caldew pushed past him without deigning to parley, and opened a door
adjoining the entrance pigeon-hole. A man was seated at the table
within, reckoning the night's takings by the light of a candle. It was
strange to see one so near the grave counting coppers with such avid
greed. His withered old face was long and yellow, and the prominent
cheekbones and fallen cheeks gave it a coffinlike shape. His sunken
little eyes were almost lost to view beneath bushy overhanging eyebrows,
and from his shrunken mouth a single black tusk protruded upward, as
though bent on reaching the tip of a long sharp nose. He started up from
his accounts in fright as the door was flung open, and thrust a hand in
a drawer near him, perhaps in quest of a weapon. Then he recognized
Caldew, and smiled the propitiatory smile of one who had reason to fear
the forces of authority.

"That chap you're after didn't turn up to-night," he mumbled.

"You're closing very early. He may come yet."

"Tain't no use if 'e do. 'E won't get in. All my reg'lars is in, and I
ain't going to waste light waiting for a chance eightpence. P'r'aps
you'd like to see the room where he slep' last night?"

Caldew nodded, and the lodging-house keeper, calling in the man they had
seen closing the door, directed him to show the gentlemen the single
room. The man lit a candle, and took the detectives upstairs to the top
of the house. He opened the door of a very small and filthy room, with
sloping ceiling and a broken window. A piece of dirty rag which had been
hung across the window flapped noisily as the rain beat through the
hole. The man held up the candle to enable the visitors to see the
apartment to the greatest advantage.

"We charge tuppence more for this bedroom because it's a single doss,"
he said, not without a touch of pride in his tone.

"And well worth the money," remarked Caldew.

"Look here, Mr. ---- Funnysides, I didn't bring you up here to listen to
no sarcastical remarks," retorted the man, with the sudden fury of a
heavy drinker. "If you've seen enough, you'd better clear out. I want to
get to bed."

"You had better behave yourself if you don't want to get into trouble,"
counselled Caldew.

"So you're a rozzer, are you? D--d if I didn't think so soon as I
clapped eyes on you. But you've got nothing against me, so I don't care
a snap of my fingers for you. You'd better hurry up."

Caldew took no further notice of him, but joined Colwyn in examining the
room. They found nothing giving any indication of its last tenant. The
only articles in the room were a bed, a broken chair, and a beam of wood
shoved diagonally against one of the walls, which threatened to fall in
on the first windy night and bury the wretched bed and its occupant.
After a brief search they turned away and went downstairs. The door was
immediately slammed behind them, and the turning of the lock and the
rattling of a chain told them that the place was closed for the night.

Pulling up his coat collar in an effort to shield himself from the
persistence of the rain, Caldew expressed his disappointment at the
failure of the night's expedition in a bitter jibe at his bad luck. At
first he thought he would wait a little longer on the watch, then he
changed his mind as he glanced at the unpromising night, and decided
that it wasn't worth while. He lived in Edgeware Road, so he shook hands
with Colwyn and set out for the Underground at King's Cross.

Colwyn returned to the _Angel_ to look for a taxi-cab. The fog was
lifting, and crowds were emerging from the cinemas and a music-hall with
the fatigued look of people who have paid in vain to be entertained.
Outside the music-hall some taxi-cabs were waiting for the more opulent
patrons of refined vaudeville who had been drawn within by the rare
promise of an intellectual baboon, reputed to have the brains of a
statesman, which shared the honours of "the top of the bill" with two
charming sisters from a West End show. The drivers of the taxi-cabs said
they were engaged, and uncivilly refused to drive the detective to
Ludgate Circus.

A Bermondsey omnibus came plunging through the fog, scattering the filth
of the road on the hurrying pleasure-goers, and stopped at the corner to
add to its grievous load of damp humanity. Those already in the darkened
interior sat stiffly motionless, like corpses in a mortuary wagon, as
the new-comers scrambled in, scattering mud and water over them, feeling
for the overhead straps. Colwyn did not attempt to enter. Even a
Smithfield tram-car would be better than the interior of a 'bus on a wet
night.

An ancient four-wheeler went past, crawling dejectedly homeward. The
driver checked his gaunt horse at the sight of Colwyn standing on the
kerb-stone, and raised an interrogative whip. He added a vocal appeal
for hire based on the incredible assumption that a man must live, which
he proclaimed with a whip elevated to the sodden heavens, calling on a
God, invisible in the fog, to bear witness that he hadn't turned a wheel
that night. The phrasing of the appeal helped Colwyn to recall that it
was the same cabman who had accosted Philip Heredith and himself on the
night they had motored to the moat-house.

He engaged the cab and entered the dark interior. The whip which had
been uplifted in pious aspiration fell in benedictory thanks on the bare
ribs of the horse. The equipage jolted over the _Angel_ crossing into
the squalid precincts of St. John's Street. In a short time the
overpowering smell of slaughtered beasts announced the proximity of
Smithfield. The cab turned down Charterhouse Street towards Farringdon
Market, and a little later pulled up under the archway at Ludgate
Circus.

"I leaves it to you, sir," said the cabman, in a husky whisper. His
expectant palm closed rigidly on the silver coins, and his whip fell on
the lean sides of his horse with a crack like a pistol shot as he
wheeled round, leaving the detective standing in the road.

The fog had almost cleared away, but the unlighted streets were plunged
in deep gloom, through which groups of late wayfarers passed dimly and
melted vaguely, like ghosts in the darkness of eternity. As Colwyn was
about to enter the corridor leading to his chambers, a man brushed past
him in the doorway. There was something about the figure which struck
the detective as familiar, and he walked quickly after him. By the light
of the departing cab he saw his face. It was Nepcote.




CHAPTER XXV


In that swift unexpected recognition Colwyn observed that the man for
whom they had been searching looked pale and worn. He stood quite still
in the doorway, his breath coming and going in quick gasps.

"We have been looking for you, Captain Nepcote," Colwyn said.

"I am aware of that. I have been waiting to see you, but I could get
nobody to answer my ring."

"My man is out. You had better come upstairs to my rooms."

He led the way to the lift at the end of the corridor. When they reached
the rooms Colwyn switched on the electric light. Nepcote dropped wearily
into a chair, and for the first time Colwyn was able to see his face
clearly.

He looked very ill: there could be no doubt of that. His face was
haggard and unshaven, his clothing was soiled, his attitude one of utter
dejection. He crouched in the chair breathing hurriedly, with one hand
pressed to his right side, as though in pain. Occasionally he coughed: a
short, high-pitched cough, which made him wince.

"You had better drink this before you talk," Colwyn said.

He handed him a glass of brandy and water. Nepcote seized it eagerly and
gulped it down.

"I've caught a bad chill," he said in a hoarse unnatural voice. "I
couldn't carry on any longer. That's why I came to see you to-night. But
I'd given up hopes. I was ringing for some time."

"You came to surrender yourself?"

"Yes; I am fed up--absolutely. I was a fool to bolt. I've had a horrible
time, sleeping out of doors and in verminous lodging-houses, with the
police after me at every turn. I stuck it as long as I could, but to-day
I was ill, and when I saw a policeman watching the lodging-house where I
meant to sleep to-night I felt that I had to give in."

"Why have you come to me instead of going to the police?"

"I thought I would get more consideration from you. I know you are
searching for Mrs. Heredith's necklace. Here it is."

He drew from his pocket a small parcel wrapped in dirty tissue paper,
and put it on the table. The untidy folds fell apart, exposing the
missing necklace, but the diamond was missing from the antique clasp.

"The diamond is in that," he said, placing a small cardboard box beside
the pearls. "I wish I had never seen the cursed thing."

"How do you come to have Mrs. Heredith's necklace?"

Nepcote hesitated before replying.

"I was terribly upset by Mrs. Heredith's death," he said at length. "I
knew her before she married Phil Heredith. We were old friends."

The inconsequence of this statement convinced Colwyn that he was seeking
time to frame an evasive answer.

"If that is all you have to say it is useless to prolong this
interview," he coldly remarked.

"I--I am going to tell you where I got the necklace," Nepcote said, with
downcast eyes. "Mrs. Heredith gave it to me."

"Why did Mrs. Heredith give you her necklace?"

"She asked me to raise some money on it for her."

"For what purpose?"

"I cannot say. Pretty women always need money. It may have been for
dress, or bridge, or old debts. She brought me the necklace one day, and
asked me to get some money on it. I suggested that she should apply to
her husband, but she said she needed some extra money, and she did not
wish him to know."

"And you complied with her request?"

"I did, after she had pressed me several times. I am always a fool where
women are concerned. I promised to raise money on the necklace in London
for her. That was the beginning of my troubles. But who could have
foreseen? How was I to know what was going to happen?"

He sat brooding for a space with gloomy eyes, like a man repelled by the
menace of events, then burst out wildly:

"I'm in a horrible position. Who will believe me? My God, what a fool
I've been!"

"You are doing yourself no good by going on like this," Colwyn said.
"You are keeping something back. My advice to you is to be quite frank
with me and tell me everything."

"You must give me a few minutes first to think it over," responded
Nepcote. He cast a doubtful glance at the detective, and relapsed into
another brooding silence.

"Before you say anything more it is my duty to inform you of my own
connection with the case," said Colwyn. "There has been an arrest for
the murder, as no doubt you are aware, but the family are not satisfied
that the right person has been arrested. You are suspected."

"Do they think that I murdered Violet? Oh, I never dreamt of this," he
added, as Colwyn remained silent. "I thought that you and the police
were searching for me because of the necklace. It is even worse than I
thought. I will now tell you all. Perhaps you will then help me, for I
am innocent."

Until that moment he had flung out his protestations with an excited
impetuosity which told of a mind suffering under a grievous burden,
though it was impossible to determine whether that state of feeling
arose from anxiety or conscious guilt. His quietness now was in the
oddest contrast. It was as though he had been sobered by his realization
of the difficulty of convincing an outsider of his innocence of a foul
crime in which he was deeply entangled by an appalling web of
circumstance.

He began by explaining, vaguely enough, his past friendship with the
murdered girl. He had first met her in London two years before. Their
relations, as he depicted them, conveyed a common story of a casual
acquaintance developed in the familiar atmosphere of secluded
restaurants, with dances and theatres later on. His story of this phase
had all the familiar elements which make up the setting of a modern
sophisticated love episode, into which a man and a girl enter with their
eyes open. In the masculine way, Nepcote refrained from saying anything
which could hurt the dead girl's reputation, but it was his reticence
and reservations which completed the story for his listener. He said
that their flirtation ceased when Violet became engaged to Philip
Heredith. On his own showing he then acted sensibly enough in a delicate
situation, and was afterwards reluctant to accept the invitation to the
moat-house. With one of his reticent evasions he slurred over his reason
for changing his mind, but Colwyn guessed that it was due to the
feminine disinclination to bury an old romance. Violet had probably
written and asked him to come.

He conveyed to Colwyn a picture of the state of things existing at the
moat-house when he arrived. It was an unconscious revelation on his part
of a giddy shallow girl hastily marrying a wealthy young man for his
money, quickly bored by the dull decorum of English country life,
sighing for her former existence--for the gay distractions of her
irresponsible London days. It seemed that in this frame of mind she
welcomed Nepcote as a dear link with the past, and sought his society
with a frequency which had its embarrassments. Of course there was
nothing in it--Nepcote was fiercely insistent on that--she was bored,
poor girl, and liked to talk about old times with her old friend, but it
was awkward, devilish awkward, in a country house full of idle people
and curious servants with nothing to do but use their eyes.

She had taken him aside to tell him of her little troubles. Miss
Heredith did not think her good enough for Phil--she was sure she
thought that. They had the vicar and old frumps in to tea, and she had
to listen to their piffle. They all went to bed soon after ten--just
when people were beginning to wake up in London and go out for the
night. And she had to go to church on Sunday because it was expected of
her, did he ever hear of such rot--and so on. It seemed that everything
in her life bored her. Of course Phil worshipped her, but that didn't
help her much. How could it, Nepcote asked, fixing his burning glance on
his listener, when she had only married him for his coin?

It appeared he had given her such counsel as his worldly experience
suggested. He told her to get Phil to take her up to London now and
again for a change. He advised her to stand no nonsense from anybody,
pointing out to her that she was the future Lady Heredith, and, within
limits, could do practically what she liked.

These intimate details of the confidences between them brought Nepcote
to the vital point of his possession of the necklace. He now admitted
that his former story was untrue. The actual truth was that he had
needed some money badly for his gambling debts. He told Violet of his
position, and asked her had she any money to lend him. She had not, and
rather than ask Phil, she had, for old friendship's sake, offered him
her necklace to raise money on, or to sell outright the diamond in the
clasp. He accepted her offer, and went up to London on the following day
to try and sell the diamond. Wendover's card had been given to him by a
brother officer in France as that of a man who gave a good price for
jewels without asking too many questions. But the diamond merchant had
not lived up to his reputation. He had refused to look at the diamond.
He had been horribly rude, treating him as though he was a pickpocket,
and had practically ordered him out of his office. In fact, his whole
attitude was so suspicious that Nepcote decided it would be better to
leave his gambling debts owing than run the risk of trying to raise
money on a married woman's jewels. He returned to the moat-house,
leaving the necklace locked in his desk at his flat.

At this point Nepcote ceased speaking again, interrupted by a paroxysm
of coughing, and when it passed his eyes turned towards the window, as
though he were listening to the gentle patter of rain on the panes. For
a space the two men sat with no sound in the room except Nepcote's
laboured breathing. When he did resume he spoke with a quickened
emphasis, like a man aware that he was entering upon the part of his
narrative most incredible of belief.

"It happened three nights later," he said. "I was in my room writing
some letters before retiring, when I heard a light and hurried tap at my
door. When I opened it Violet was standing there. She stepped quickly
inside. Before I could express my opinion of her reckless foolishness
she burst into passionate sobs and reproaches. It was all my fault--that
was the burden of her reproach between her sobs. It was some time before
I could get out of her what was wrong. Then she told me that Sir Philip
had asked her to wear the necklace at some dance we were to attend on
the next night. It was then that I learnt that the necklace had been
given to Violet by Sir Philip as a wedding present. Violet attached such
little value to the gift that she had given the necklace to me, thinking
it would not be missed, but she had found out her mistake that night. It
was in the presence of Phil and Miss Heredith that Sir Philip had asked
her to wear it. Violet tried to get out of it by saying that the pearls
were dull and the necklace wanted resetting. On hearing this Miss
Heredith had gone out of the room and returned with Mr. Musard, an old
family friend who had arrived that day on a short visit. He is a
connoisseur in jewels, and Miss Heredith asked his advice about the
necklace. Musard told her that the pearls had long needed some treatment
technically known as "skinning," and he offered to take the necklace to
London two days later and get it done by an expert. Violet accepted the
offer, and then promised Sir Philip that she would wear the necklace at
the party.

"She slipped upstairs to see me as soon as she dared. She was greatly
relieved when she learnt that I had not parted with the necklace, and
she wanted me to go up to London and bring it back so that she could
wear it to the party. I was willing to do so, but I doubted whether I
would be able to get back in time. The local train service had been
restricted on account of the war, and the only train I could catch back
did not reach Heredith until half-past seven.

"It was Violet who hit on the plan. The big thing--the vital thing for
her, she pointed out, was to have the necklace in time to give to Musard
before he went to London. She said she could easily get out of going to
the dance by pretending to have one of her bad headaches, and she did
not wish to meet Mrs. Weyne again. Her idea was that I should pretend I
had been recalled to France, delay my departure until the afternoon
train to prevent suspicion, and return secretly with the necklace. She
said that the afternoon train reached London at twenty-five minutes past
five, which would give me thirty-five minutes to take a taxi to my flat,
get the necklace, and catch the return express at six o'clock. I was to
leave the train at Weydene Junction, where nobody was likely to
recognize me, and walk across country to the moat-house. She expected
that by the time I reached the house the others would have left for the
Weynes, so the coast would be clear. I was to enter the house by a
little unused door at the back of the left wing which she would leave
unlocked for me, and wait at the foot of the staircase until she came
down.

"I did not like this plan because of the risk, but Violet grew almost
hysterical when I objected to it. She said there was no danger, and it
was her only chance of safety. She believed that Phil suspected
something, because he had looked at her strangely when they were talking
about the necklace downstairs. I put that down to nervousness on her
part, but I realized she must have the necklace, so I gave in, and said
I would do as she wished. I have since bitterly regretted that I did not
go openly to London and back, even at the risk of a little idle
curiosity.

"I announced my recall and departure next morning at the breakfast
table, and returned to London by the afternoon train. I drove to
Sherryman Street, got the necklace, and returned to Victoria just in
time to catch the six o'clock express. I left the train at Weydene, and
walked across the fields to the moat-house. It was quite dark when I
reached there. I crossed the back bridge over the moat and went to the
door in the left wing, as we had arranged. To my surprise it was locked.

"I waited outside the door expecting Violet to come down. Everything was
silent, so I thought the others must have started for the dance. But the
time went on, and nobody came. Then I decided to creep round the, side
of the wing and see if there was a light in Violet's bedroom. At that
moment I heard a loud scream from somewhere upstairs, followed by a
deafening report.

"I had no idea what had happened, but I knew that I must not be found
there, so I slipped back the way I had come. I ran along the outside of
the moat wall, making for the wood in front of the house. As I passed
Violet's window I looked up, and it was in darkness. I suppose that was
why I did not connect the shot or the scream with her.

"I plunged through the woods till I came to the carriage drive. From
there the front of the moat-house was visible to me. I could see lights
flashing, and people moving hurriedly about. After I had stood there for
some time I saw a man hurrying across the moat-house bridge in my
direction, so I went back into the wood and hid behind a tree. The man
stopped as he walked along the carriage drive, and looked towards the
tree where I was crouching. He called out 'Who is there?' I recognized
his voice. It was Tufnell, the butler. I thought I was discovered, and
crept into some undergrowth, but in a moment he walked on.

"I remained hidden in the undergrowth for some time--an hour or more.
Once I heard footsteps crunching on the gravel-path, then all was silent
again. After waiting for some time longer I decided to walk back to
Weydene and return to London. But I made such a wide detour for fear of
being seen that I lost my way, and it was nearly midnight when I found
myself at Rainchester, on the main line, just in time to catch the last
train to London.

"It was a terrible shock to me when I opened my paper the next morning
and read about poor Violet's murder. I had never thought of anything
like that. At first I could think of nothing but her terrible end, but
then it occurred to me that my own position would be awkward if the loss
of the necklace was discovered. As the papers said nothing about the
necklace I concluded that it had not been missed. But I knew the police
would be searching for clues, and might discover the loss at any moment.
I knew it was dangerous for me to keep it in my possession, so I decided
to get rid of it without delay.

"I thought at first of returning it anonymously, but I immediately
abandoned that idea as too dangerous. Then I thought of dropping it into
the river. It occurred to me, however, that if by any chance the police
discovered that the necklace had been given to me, and I couldn't
produce it if I were questioned, I should be in a worse fix still. So I
tried to think of a safe hiding-place where I could lay my hands on it
in case of necessity. I could think of none. Time went on, and before I
had decided what to do with the thing my man came along and said it was
time to catch the boat train. So in the end I put the necklace into my
pocket and took it to France with me. It seemed as safe there as
anywhere else for the time being.

"I was only going to the base, so I saw the London papers every day. I
was very relieved when I read of the arrest of Hazel Rath for the
murder. I returned to London feeling reasonably safe, though it seemed
strange to me that the loss of the necklace had not been discovered.

"I thought everything was found out when you and that Scotland Yard
detectives visited my flat. But Merrington seemed to have no suspicions
of me, and I was just beginning to think I was finally safe when he
remarked that the police knew of the missing necklace. I started, and
that gave me away to you, at all events. I saw you glance at Wendover's
card as it fell on the table, and I knew that you suspected me.

"After you had both left I had a bad half-hour. I could see I was in a
dangerous fix. You were aware of the address of the diamond merchant to
whom I had gone, and who, no doubt, would be able to identify me. I had
made my own position worse by lying about the War Office telegram, as
could easily be proved. There was also the possibility that the police
might find out about my return to Heredith on the night of the murder. I
did not then see what all these facts portended for me, though I do now.
But I feared arrest for the theft of the necklace, with the alternatives
of imprisonment if I kept silent, or facing a horrible scandal if I told
the truth. I was not prepared for either.

"I slept at an hotel that night because I feared arrest, but next
morning, early, I returned to the flat to exchange my khaki for a
civilian suit. After thinking over things during the night I had come to
the conclusion that I had most to fear from you, and I decided to watch
you. If you did not visit Wendover's place during the day it seemed to
me that I might be alarming myself needlessly. You know what happened. I
bolted when I saw you emerge from the buildings, and wandered about for
hours, not knowing what was best to do. When I discovered that I had no
money--nothing in my pockets except that cursed necklace, which I had
taken with me because I knew the flat would be searched--I decided to
return to the flat for the money I had left behind in my other clothes.
I was too late. When I reached Sherryman Street I saw two men watching
the flat from the garden of the square opposite, and I knew I would be
arrested if I went inside.

"What's the use of talking about what followed? I hadn't the ghost of a
show from the start. Do you think you know anything about London?
Believe me, you don't until you have been cast adrift in it with empty
pockets. It's a city of vampires and stony hearts, a seething inhuman
hell where you can wander till you drop and die without anyone giving a
pitying glance--much less a helping hand. Even a man's guardian angel
deserts him. It doesn't take a man very long to get to the gutter, to
fall lower and lower until there's nothing but the Thames Embankment or
the mortuary in front of him. I've had my eyes opened--I've talked to
some of these poor devils in this Christian city. But what's the good of
telling you this? I've been down to the gutter myself the last few days,
falling each day to lower depths, tramping hungry and footsore in the
midst of herds of respectable human brutes, slinking away from the eye
of every policeman, pawning clothes for the price of a verminous bed, to
lie awake all night knowing that I would be murdered by the
vulture-faced degenerates sleeping in the same hovel, if they had caught
a glimpse of the necklace.

"How many wild schemes have I planned in the night for raising money on
the necklace in the morning! Once I went into a pawnshop, but the
pawnbroker's eyes glittered when I spoke of pearls, and I got away as
quickly as I could. I suppose there was a reward, and he was on the look
out for me. One way and another I have been through hell. I feel like a
man in a fever. I was drenched through yesterday, and I've had no food
for twenty-four hours."

He ceased, and sat staring into vacancy as though he were again passing
through the horror of his wanderings. Then another fit of coughing
seized him, prolonged and violent. When it had subsided he looked at
Colwyn with bloodshot eyes.

"I feel pretty bad," he said weakly.

That fact had been apparent to the detective for some time past.
Nepcote's frequent fits of coughing and a peculiar nasal intensity of
utterance suggested symptoms of pneumonia. As Colwyn lifted the
telephone receiver to summon a doctor, the thought occurred to him that,
if the immediate problem of the disposal of Nepcote had been settled by
his illness, his inability to answer questions necessitated his own
return to the moat-house without delay. In any case, that course was
inevitable after what he had just heard. It was only at the place where
the murder had been committed that he could hope to judge between the
probabilities of Nepcote's strange story and Hazel Rath's confession. It
was there, unless he was very much mistaken, that the final solution of
the Heredith mystery must be sought.




CHAPTER XXVI


It was late afternoon when Colwyn reached Heredith the following day.
The brief English summer, dying under the intolerable doom of
evanescence for all things beautiful, presented the spectacle of
creeping decay in a hectic flare of russet and crimson, like a withered
woman striving to stave off the inevitable with pitiful dyes and rouge.

In this scene the moat-house was in perfect harmony, attuned by its own
decrepitude to the general dissolution of its surroundings. Its aspect
was a shuttered front of sightlessness, a brick and stone blindness to
the changes of the seasons and the futility of existence. The terraced
gardens had put on the death tints of autumn, but the house showed an
aged indifference to the tricks of enslaved nature at the bidding of
creation.

Colwyn's ring at the door was answered by Milly Saker, whose rustic
stare at the sight of him was followed by an equally broad grin of
recognition. She ushered him into the hall, and went in search of Miss
Heredith. In a moment or two Miss Heredith appeared. She looked worn and
ill, but she greeted Colwyn with a gracious smile and a firm handshake,
and took him to the library. Refreshments were brought in, and while
Colwyn sipped a glass of wine his hostess uttered the opening
conversational commonplaces of an English lady. Had he a pleasant
journey down? The roads were very good for motoring at that time of
year, and the country was looking beautiful. Many people thought it was
the best time for seeing the country. It was a fine autumn, but the
local farmers thought the signs pointed to a hard winter. Thus she
chatted, until the glass of sherry was finished. Then she lapsed into
silence, with a certain expectancy in her mild glance, as though waiting
for Colwyn to announce the object of his visit.

"I presume you have come down to see Phil?" she said, as Colwyn did not
speak. "Unfortunately he is not at home," she went on, answering her own
question in the feminine manner. "He has gone to Devon with Mr. Musard
for a few days. It was my idea. I wanted him taken out of himself. He is
moping terribly, and of course that is bad for him. I hope to persuade
him to go with Vincent for a complete change when this--this terrible
business is finished." Again her eye sought his.

"When do you expect them to return?"

"To-morrow night. Phil would not stay away longer. He has been expecting
to hear from you. Can you stay till then?"

"Quite easily. In fact, I came down prepared to stop for a day or so. I
have some further inquiries to make which will occupy me during that
time."

"Then of course you will stay with us, Mr. Colwyn."

"You are very kind, but I do not wish to trouble you. I have engaged a
room at the inn."

"It is no trouble. I will send down a man for your things. Phil would
not like you to stay at the inn--neither should I." Miss Heredith rose
as she spoke. "Please do whatever you wish, Mr. Colwyn. I quite
understand that you have work to do, and wish to be alone."

"Thank you. Then I shall stay."

Colwyn sat for a while after she had left him, forming his plans. He was
grateful to her for a tact which had not transgressed beyond the limits
of unspoken thought during their brief interview, but he was more
pleased with the fortuitous absence of Phil and Musard at that period of
his investigations. He welcomed the opportunity of working unquestioned,
because he was not prepared to disclose the statements of Nepcote and
Hazel Rath to any of the inmates of the moat-house until he had tested
the feasibility of both stories in the setting of the crime.

"It has all turned out very fortunately, so far," was the thought which
arose in his mind. "And now--to work."

He glanced at his watch. It was nearly four o'clock. His immediate plans
were a walk to Weydene, and another observation of the bedroom which
Mrs. Heredith had occupied in the left wing. He decided to leave his
investigation of the room until later so as to have the advantage of the
waning daylight in his walk across the fields.

When he returned to the moat-house it was dark, and on the stroke of the
dinner hour. That meal he took with Sir Philip and Miss Heredith in the
faded state of the big dining-room--three decorous figures at a brightly
lit oasis of snowy linen and silver, with the sober black of Tufnell in
the background. Sir Philip greeted Colwyn with his tired smile of
welcome. He seemed somewhat frailer, but quite animated as he pressed a
special claret on his guest and told him, like a child telling of a
promised treat, that he was dining out the following night. He insisted
on giving the wonderful news in detail. He had yielded to the
solicitations of an old friend--Lord Granger, the ambassador, who had
just returned to Granger Park after five years' absence from England,
and would take no denial. But it was Alethea's doing--she had arranged
it all.

"I'm going to put back the clock of Time," he said, with a feeble
chuckle. "Put the hands right back."

"I think it will do him good, don't you, Mr. Colwyn?" said Miss Heredith
with a wistful smile.

"I have no doubt of it," said Colwyn with an answering smile. "A meeting
with an old friend is always a good thing. Are you going with Sir
Philip?"

"Oh, yes. I wouldn't go without her," said the baronet, with the
helpless look of senility. "You're going, aren't you, Alethea?"

"Of course, Philip," was the gentle response.

This conversation, slight and desultory as it was, gave sufficient
indication to the detective of the heavy burden Miss Heredith was
bearing. The baronet could talk of nothing else during the remainder of
the dinner, and when the meal was finished he begged his guest to excuse
him as he wished to obtain a good night's rest to fortify him against
the excitement of the coming outing. With an apologetic smile at Colwyn
his sister followed him from the room.

The old butler busied himself at the sideboard as Colwyn remained seated
at the table sipping his wine. His movements were so deliberate as to
convey a suspicion that he was in no hurry to leave the room, and the
glances he shot at Colwyn whenever he moved out of the range of his
vision carried with them the additional suggestion that the detective
was the unconscious cause of his slowness. More than once, after these
backward glances, he opened his lips as though to speak, but did not do
so. It was Colwyn who broke the silence.

"Tufnell!" he said.

"Yes, sir?" The butler deposited a dish on the sideboard and stepped
quickly to the detective's chair.

"I want to ask you a question or two. It was you who found the back door
of the left wing unlocked on the night of the murder, was it not?"

The butler gravely bowed, but did not speak.

"What made you try the door? Did you suspect that it was unlocked?"

"No; it was just chance that caused me to turn the handle. I'm so used
to locking up the house at nights that I did it without thinking. I
certainly never expected to find it unlocked, and the key in the inside
of the door. That was quite a surprise to me. I have often wondered
since who could have unlocked it and left the key in the door."

"You told me last time I was here that this door is usually locked and
the key kept in the housekeeper's apartments. I suppose there is no
doubt about that?"

"Not the least, sir. The key is hanging there now with a lot of others.
Nobody ever thinks of using the door. That is why I was so astonished to
find it open that night."

"If the key was hanging with a number of others it might have been taken
some time before and not be missed?"

"That's just it, sir. It might not have been missed by now if I had not
discovered it that night."

"What time was it when you found it?"

"Shortly before six o'clock--getting dusk, but not dark."

"You are quite sure you locked the door after finding it open?"

"There can be no doubt of that, sir. The lock was stiff to turn, and I
tried the handle of the door to make sure that I had locked it
properly."

"Did you return the key to the housekeeper's apartments immediately?"

"I intended to return it after dinner, but I forgot all about it in the
excitement and confusion. It was still in my pocket when I informed Mr.
Musard about it."

"Here is another question, Tufnell, and I want you to think well before
answering it. Do you think it would have been possible for anybody to
enter the house and gain the left wing unobserved while the household
was at dinner that night?"

"I have asked myself that question several times since, sir--feeling a
certain amount of responsibility. It would have been difficult, because
the windows of the downstairs bedrooms of the left wing were all locked.
There was always the chance of some of the servants seeing anybody
crossing the hall on the way to the staircase, unless the--person
watched and waited for an opportunity."

Colwyn nodded as though dismissing the subject, but the butler lingered.
Perhaps it was his realization of the implication of his last words
which gave him the courage to broach the matter which had been occupying
his mind.

"Might I ask you a question, sir?" he hesitatingly commenced.

"What is it?"

"It's about the young woman who has been arrested, sir. Is there any
likelihood that she will be proved innocent?"

"You must have some particular reason for asking me that question,
Tufnell."

"Well, sir, I am aware that Mr. Philip thinks her innocent."

"So you told me when I was down here before, but that is not the reason
for your question. You had better be frank."

"I wish to be frank, sir, but I am in a difficulty. I have learnt
something which seems to have a bearing on this young woman's position,
which I think you ought to know, but I have to consider my duty to the
family. It was something--something I overheard."

"If it throws the slightest light on this crime it is your duty to
reveal it," the detective responded gravely. "You are aware that I have
been called into the case by Mr. Heredith because he is not convinced of
Hazel Rath's guilt."

"Quite so, sir. For that reason I have been trying to make up my mind to
confide in you. When you have heard what I have to say you will
understand how hard it is. It relates to Mr. Philip, sir. Since his
illness I have been worried about his health, because he is so changed
that I feared he might go mad with grief. He hardly speaks a word to
anybody, but sometimes I have seen him muttering to himself. The night
before he went away with Mr. Musard he did not come down to dinner. Miss
Heredith was going to send a servant to his room in case he had not
heard the gong, but I offered to go myself. When I reached his bedroom,
I heard the most awful sobbing possible to imagine. Then, through the
partly open door, I heard Mr. Philip call on God Almighty to make
somebody suffer as he had suffered. He mentioned a name--"

"Whose name?"

The butler looked fearfully towards the closed door, as though he
suspected eavesdroppers, and then brought it out with an effort:

"Captain Nepcote, sir."

Colwyn had expected that name. Nepcote's statement on the previous night
had led him to believe that Philip Heredith had suspected Nepcote's
relations with his wife, but could not bring himself to disclose that
when he sought assistance. It was Colwyn's experience that nothing was
so rare as complete frankness from people who came to him for help. It
was part of the ingrained reserve of the English mind, the sensitive
dread of gossip or scandal, to keep something back at such moments. The
average person was so swaddled by limitations of intelligence as to be
incapable of understanding that suppressed facts were bound to come to
light sooner or later if they affected the matter of the partial
confidence. Of course, there was sometimes the alternative of a
reticence which was intended to mislead. If that entered into the
present case it was an additional complication.

"What interpretation did you place on these overheard words?" he asked
the butler. "Did you suppose that they referred to the murder?"

"Well, sir--" the butler hesitated, as if at a loss to express himself.
"It was not for me to draw conclusions, sir, but I could not help
thinking over what I had heard. I know Mr. Philip believed the young
woman to be innocent, and--Mrs. Heredith was shot with Captain Nepcote's
revolver."

"I see. You had no other thought in your mind?"

"No, sir. What else could I think?"

The butler's meek tones conveyed such an inflection of surprise that
Colwyn was convinced that he, at all events, had no suspicion of the
secret between Mrs. Heredith and Nepcote.

"Your confidence is quite safe with me, Tufnell," the detective added
after a pause. "But I cannot answer your question at present."

"Very well, sir." The butler turned to the sideboard again without
further remark, and left the dining-room a few minutes later.

Colwyn went to his room shortly afterwards, and occupied himself for a
couple of hours in going through his notes of the case. It was his
intention to defer his visit to the bedroom in the left wing until the
household had retired, so as to be free from the curious speculations
and tittle-tattle of the servants.

The moat-house kept country hours, and when he had finished his writing
and descended from his room he found the ground floor in darkness. A
clock somewhere in the stillness chimed solemnly as he walked swiftly
across the hall. Its strokes finished proclaiming the hour of eleven as
he mounted the staircase of the left wing.

The loneliness of the deserted wing was like a moving shuddering thing
in the desolation of the silence and the darkness. It was as though the
echoing corridor and the empty rooms were whispering, with the appeal of
the forgotten, for friendly human companionship and light to disperse
the horror of sinister shapes and brooding shadows which lurked in the
abode of murder. Colwyn entered the bedroom where Mrs. Heredith had been
murdered, and by the ray of his electric torch crossed to the bedside
and switched on the light.

He stood there motionless for a while, trying to picture the manner and
the method of the murder. If Hazel Rath had spoken the truth, the
murderer had stood where he was now standing when the girl entered the
room in the darkness. Had the light from the corridor, streaming through
the open door, revealed her approaching figure to him? How long had he
been there in the darkness, waiting for the moment to kill the woman on
the bed?

If Nepcote was the murderer he must have entered almost immediately
before, because he could not have reached the moat-house until nearly
half-past seven, and the shot was fired at twenty minutes to eight. How
had he known that Mrs. Heredith was there alone, in the darkness? A
secret assignation might have been the explanation if the time had been
after, instead of before the household's departure for the evening. But
even the most wanton pair of lovers would hesitate to indulge their
passion while the risk of chance discovery and exposure was so great.

As he pondered over the two stories Colwyn did not attempt to shut his
eyes to the fact that Hazel, on her own showing, fitted into the crime
more completely than Nepcote. She had ample opportunities to slip into
the room and murder the woman who had supplanted her. She had really
strengthened the case against herself by the damaging admission that she
had sought Mrs. Heredith's room in secret just before the crime was
committed. Her explanation of the scream and the shot was so improbable
as to sound incredible. It was not to be wondered that Scotland Yard
preferred to believe that it was the apparition of the frantic girl,
revolver in hand, which had caused her affrighted victim to utter one
wild scream before the shot was fired which ended her life.

But Colwyn had never allowed himself to be swayed too much by
circumstance. Appearances were not always a safe guide in the
complicated tangle of human affairs. Things were forever happening which
left experience wide-eyed with astonishment. The contradictions of human
nature persisted in all human acts. In this moat-house mystery, the
grimmest paradox of his brilliant career, Colwyn was determined not to
accept the presumption of the facts until he had satisfied himself that
no other interpretation was possible. His subtle mind had been
challenged by a finger-post of doubt in the written evidence; a
finger-post so faint as to be passed unnoticed by other eyes, but
sufficiently warning to his clearer vision to cause him to pause midway
in the broad track of circumstantial evidence and look around him for a
concealed path.

It was the point he had mentioned to Caldew at his chambers after
reading the copy of the coroner's depositions which Merrington had lent
him. While perusing them he had been struck by a curious fact. The
medical evidence stated that the cause of death was a small punctured
wound not larger than a threepenny piece, but added the information that
the hole in the gown of the dead woman was much larger, about the
diameter of a half-crown. The Government pathologist had formed the
opinion that the revolver must have been held very close to the body to
account for the larger scorched hole. That inference was obvious, but
Colwyn saw more in the two holes than that. It seemed to him that the
live ring of flame caused by the close-range shot must have been
extinguished by the murderer, or it would have continued to smoulder and
expand in an ever-widening circle. And that thought led to another of
much greater significance. The shot had been fired at close range to
ensure accuracy of aim or deaden the sound of the report. But, whichever
the murderer's intention, the second purpose had been achieved,
intentionally or unintentionally. How had it happened, then, that the
sound of the report had penetrated so loudly downstairs?

As Colwyn moved about the room, examining everything with his quick
appraising eye, he noticed that the position of the bed had been changed
since he last saw it. The head was a trifle askew, and nearer to the
side of the wall than the foot. The difference was slight, but Colwyn
could see a portion of the fireplace which had not been visible before.
The bed stood almost in the centre of the room, the foot in line with
the door, and the head about three or four feet from the chimney-piece.
In noting this rather unusual position during his last visit, Colwyn had
formed the conclusion that it had been chosen for the benefit of fresh
air and light during the summer months, as the window, which looked over
the terraced gardens, was nearer that end of the room.

Colwyn approached the head of the bed and bent down to examine the
bedposts. A slight groove in the deep pile carpet showed clearly enough
that the bed had been pushed back a few inches. The change in position
was so trifling that it might have been attributed to the act of a
servant in sweeping the room if a closer examination had not revealed
the continuance of the groove under the bed. The inference was
unmistakable: the bed, in the first instance, had been pushed much
farther back on its castors, and then almost, but not quite, restored to
its original position.

Had the bed been moved to gain access to the fireplace? He could see no
reason for such a proceeding. It was too early in the autumn to need
fires, and the room had not been occupied since the murder. In any case,
the appearance of the grate showed that no fire had been lit. There was
ample space to pass between the head of the bed and the fireplace,
though perhaps not much room for movement. On his last visit Colwyn had
looked into this space to test its possibilities of concealment. In the
quickened interest of his new discovery he pushed the bed out of the way
and examined it again.

The first thing that caught his eye was a scratch on the polished
surface of the register grate. It looked to be of recent origin, and for
that reason suggested to Colwyn's mind that the bed had been moved by
somebody who wanted more room in front of the grate. For what purpose?
He turned his attention to the grate itself in the hope of obtaining an
answer to that question.

The grate was empty, and in the housewifely way a sheet of white paper
had been laid on the bottom bars to catch occasional flakes of soot from
the chimney. But there were no burnt papers or charred fragments to
suggest that the grate had recently been used. Dissatisfied and
perplexed, Colwyn was about to rise to his feet when it chanced that his
eyes, glancing into a corner, lighted on something tiny and metallic in
the crevice between the white paper and the side bars of the grate.
Wondering what it was, he succeeded in getting it out with his finger
and thumb. It was a percussion cap.

This discovery, strange as it was, seemed at first sight far enough
removed from the circumstances of the murder, except so far as it
brought the thought of lethal weapons to the imagination. But a weapon
which required a percussion cap for its discharge had nothing to do with
Violet Heredith's death. She had been killed by a bullet which fitted
Nepcote's revolver, which was a pinfire weapon. The medical evidence had
established that fact beyond the shadow of a doubt. Moreover, the
percussion cap was unexploded, which seemed to make its presence in the
grate even more difficult of explanation. It looked as though it had
been dropped accidentally, but how came it to be there at all? The
strangeness of the discovery was intensified by the knowledge that
percussion caps and muzzle-loading weapons had become antiquated with
the advent of the breech-loader. Who used such things nowadays?

By the prompting of that mysterious association of ideas which is called
memory, Colwyn was reminded of his earlier visit to the gun-room
downstairs, and Musard's statement about the famous pair of pistols in
the brass-bound mahogany box, which "carried as true as a rifle up to
fifty yards, but had a heavy recoil." They belonged to the period
between breech-loaders and the ancient flint-locks, and were probably
muzzle-loaders. With that sudden recollection, Colwyn also recalled that
Musard had been unable to show him the pistols because the key of the
case had been mislaid or lost.

This incident, insignificant as it had appeared at the time, seemed
hardly to gain in importance when considered in conjunction with the
discovery of the cap in the grate. Apart from the stimulus to memory the
percussion cap had produced, there was no visible co-ordination between
the two facts, because it was, apparently, quite certain that Mrs.
Heredith had been shot by Nepcote's revolver, and by no other weapon.
But the balance of probabilities in crime are sometimes turned by
apparently irrelevant trifles which assume importance on investigation.
Was it possible that the key of the pistol-case had been deliberately
concealed because the box had something to hide which formed a
connection between the pistols and the presence of the cap in the grate?
That inference could only be tested by an examination of the case of
pistols. The experiment was undoubtedly worth trying. Colwyn left the
room and descended the stairs.




CHAPTER XXVII


The gun-room was dark and silent as a vault. In the deep recesses the
armoured phantoms of dead and gone Herediths seemed to be watching the
intruder with hidden eyes behind the bars of their tilting helmets and
visored salades. The light of Colwyn's electric torch fell on the shell
of a mighty warrior who stood with one steel gauntlet raised as though
in readiness to defend the honour of his house. His initials, "P.H.,"
were engraved on his giant steel breast, and his steel heels flourished
a pair of fearful spurs, with rowels like daggers. Standing by this
giant was a tiny suit of armour, not more than three feet in height,
which might have been worn by a child.

"A strange pair," murmured Colwyn, pausing a moment to glance at them.
As he turned his light in their direction his eye was caught by an
inscription cut in the stone above their heads, and he drew nearer and
read that the large suit had been worn by the former Philip Heredith, "A
True Knight of God." The smaller suit had been made for a dwarf attached
to his house, who had followed his master through the Crusades, and
fought gallantly by his side.

Colwyn turned away and flashed his light along the walls in search of
the case of pistols. His torch glanced over the numerous trophies
adorning the walls, lances, swords, daggers, steel head-pieces,
bascinets, peaked morions--relics of a departed age of chivalry, when
knights quarrelled prettily for ladies, and fighting was fair and open,
before civilization had enriched warfare with the Christian attributes
of gas-shells, liquid fire, and high explosives. Then the light fell on
that which he was seeking--a dark oblong box, with brass corners, and a
brass handle closing into the lid.

Colwyn lifted the case down from the embrasure in which it was placed,
and carried it to the bagatelle table. A brief examination of the lock
satisfied him that it was too complicated and strong to be picked or
broken. It was curiously wrought in brass, of an intricate antique
pattern which would have puzzled a modern locksmith. He turned the case
over, and saw that the bottom had been mortised and screwed. The screws
had been deeply countersunk, and were embedded in rust, but a few were
loose with age. Colwyn unscrewed these loose ones with his pocket-knife,
and then set about unloosening the others.

It was a tedious task, but Colwyn lightened it with the aid of a bottle
of gun oil which he found in one of the presses. Some of the screws
yielded immediately to that bland influence, and came out easily. Others
remained fast in the intractable way of rusty screws, but Colwyn
persevered, and by dint of oiling, coaxing, and unscrewing, finally had
the satisfaction of seeing all the screws lying in a little greasy brown
heap on the faded green cloth of the bagatelle table. The next thing was
to lever off the bottom of the lid. That was not difficult, because the
glue in the mortises had long since perished. Soon the bottom was lying
on the table beside the screws, and the interior of the case revealed.

The pair of weapons which Colwyn lifted from the case were horse pistols
of a period when countryfolk feared to ride abroad without some such
protection against highwaymen. They were superior specimens of their
type. They were beautifully made, rich in design and solid in form, with
ebony stocks and chased silver mountings. The long barrels were
damascened, and the carved handles terminated in flat steel butts which
would have cracked the pate of any highwayman if the shot missed fire.
As Colwyn anticipated, the pistols were muzzle-loaders. The cock, which
laid over considerably, was in the curious form of a twisted snake. When
the trigger was pulled the head of the snake fell on the nipple.

Colwyn examined them carefully. He first ascertained that they were
unloaded by probing them with the ramrod which was attached to each by a
steel hinge. Then he ran his finger round the inside of the muzzles to
ascertain whether either pistol had been recently fired. One was clean,
but from the muzzle of the other he withdrew a finger grimed with
gunpowder. While he was doing this his other hand came in contact with
something slightly uneven in the smooth metal surface of the butt. He
turned the pistol over, and noticed a small inner circle in the flat
steel. It was a small hinged lid, which hid a pocket in the handle. He
raised the little lid with his finger-nail, and a shower of percussion
caps fell on the bagatelle table. This contrivance for holding caps was
not new to Colwyn. He had seen it in other old-fashioned muzzle-loaders.

Colwyn compared the caps which had dropped on the table with the one he
had found upstairs. They were the same size. He tried the solitary cap
on the nipple, and found that it fitted perfectly. As he did so, he saw
something resembling a thread of yellow wool caught in the twisted steel
of the hammer. It was a minute fragment, so small as to be hardly
noticeable. Colwyn was quite unable to determine what it was, but its
presence there puzzled him considerably, and he was at a loss to
understand how it had got caught in the hammer of the pistol. It struck
him that the thread might be khaki, and his mind reverted to his earlier
discovery of the patch of khaki in the wood outside the moat-house.

It was with the hope of finding out whether this pistol had been lately
used that Colwyn turned his attention to the velvet-lined interior of
the case. The inside was divided into a large compartment for the
pistols and several small lidded spaces. In one of these he found some
shot, a box of percussion caps, and a powder-flask half-full of common
gunpowder. Another space contained implements for cleaning the pistols.
The contents of the next compartment puzzled him. There were some odd
lengths of knotted string, and a coil of yellow tubular fabric, about
the thickness of his little finger, some inches in length. Colwyn
recognized it at once. It was the wick of a tinder-lighter, then being
sold by thousands by English tobacconists to replace a war-time scarcity
of matches, and greatly used by cigarette smokers.

The mystery of the presence of the wick in the pistol-case was not
lessened because it enabled Colwyn to identify the tiny yellow fragment
adhering to the cock of the pistol. He picked up the wick and observed
that one end was cut clean, but the other end was blackened and burnt.
At that discovery there entered his mind the first prescient warning of
the possibility of some deep plan in which the pistol and the wick
played important parts. With his brain seeking for a solution of that
possibility, he proceeded to examine the pieces of string.

They were odd lengths of ordinary thick twine, but they all seemed to
consist of loose ends which had been knotted together. It was not until
Colwyn took them out of the compartment that he noticed an amazing
peculiarity about them. Each piece of knotted string was burnt at both
ends.

There are some discoveries which spring into the mind with shattering
swiftness. This was one of them. A revelation seemed to come to Colwyn
as light from the sky at midnight, which, lays everything bare in one
frightful flash.

"Is it possible?"

He felt as though these words rushed from him like a thunder-roll
reverberating through the empty space around him. But his set lips had
not uttered a single sound. With tingling nerves he proceeded to carry
out an experiment. He first laid the wick of the tinder-lighter along
the stock of the pistol, just behind the hammer. He next took up one of
the lengths of string, and pulling back the hammer and the trigger of
the pistol, proceeded to bind them both firmly back with the string,
which he passed twice round the wick. When he had tied the string tight
he lit a match and applied it to the end of the wick which was farthest
from the string. His idea was to see whether this extemporized fuse
would creep along the stock of the pistol, burn the string, and release
the bound cock and trigger.

The wick smouldered and glowed, and began to creep towards the string,
which crossed the stock of the pistol about three inches from the
burning end. Colwyn took out his watch and timed its progress. In four
minutes the first inch of the wick was consumed, and the spark at the
end continued to creep sullenly forward in a dull red glow. In another
eight minutes it reached the string, and Colwyn eagerly watched the
process of the burning of the binding. The string singed, smouldered,
and when nearly severed, sprang apart under the pressure of the hammer
and trigger it had been holding back. The released hammer fell with full
force on the cap on the nipple, and exploded it.

There, then, seemed the explanation. Mrs. Heredith had been shot with
Nepcote's revolver, but it was not the deliberately deadened sound of
that slight weapon which had startled the guests in the dining-room on
the night of the murder. The report they had heard was made by the
heavier pistol in front of him. It was a ruse of terrifying simplicity
but diabolical ingenuity. The wick of the tinder-lighter was an
admirable slow match, obtainable in any tobacconist's shop for a few
pence, which, by means of this trick, had established a false alibi for
the actual murderer by causing the report which had reached the
dining-room, and sent the inmates hastening upstairs to ascertain the
cause. The shot which had mortally wounded Mrs. Heredith must have been
fired before.

How long before? Obviously not very long. That would have been dangerous
to the murderer's plans. He had to consider two things. There was the
chance of somebody entering the room before the false charge exploded,
and the possibility that the coldness of the body of his victim might
arouse medical suspicions. Colwyn did not think that the criminal had
avoided killing Mrs. Heredith so as to ensure against that risk of
discovery. The infliction of a mortal wound which failed to cause
immediate death not only required a high degree of anatomical knowledge,
but left the door open to a dying confession which might have upset the
whole plan. Fate had helped the murderer to that extent.

But the murderer owed more than that to Fate. It was to that grim
goddess he was indebted for the last wonderful touch of actuality which
lifted the whole contrivance so superbly above the realm of artifice.
Suspicion was in the last degree unlikely in any case, but Hazel Rath's
entry and loud scream, just before the moment fixed for the explosion,
ensured complete success by adding a natural verisimilitude which might
have deceived the very Spirit of Truth. Colwyn esteemed himself
fortunate indeed in lighting on what he believed to be the facts. Who
could have imagined a situation in which whimsical Destiny had
ironically stooped down from her high place to dabble ignobly in a
murderer's ghastly plot?

The one point which perplexed Colwyn was the successful concealment of
the pistol on the night of the murder. That part of the plan was as
essential to the murderer as the false report, but it seemed strange
that the pistol had not been discovered when the room was searched. An
examination of the grate upstairs might reveal the reason.

Before leaving the gun-room Colwyn replaced one of the pistols and
restored the case as he had found it to its original position. He
carried away with him the pistol which had been used.

When he reached the upstairs bedroom he locked the door before
proceeding to examine the fireplace. It was immediately apparent to him
that the pistol had not been placed in the grate or beneath it. Either
place would have meant discovery when the room was searched. It was a
careful examination of the upper portion of the grate which suggested
the hiding-place. The weapon could have been safely hidden within the
broad iron flange running round the open damper of the grate.

The complete revelation of this portion of the murderer's design came to
Colwyn as he was passing his hand over the inner surface of this ledge.
It was a register grate, and the space at the back had not been filled
in. The murderer, when concealing the pistol at the top of the grate,
had only to balance it carefully on the flange, with the muzzle pointing
into the room, to ensure that the recoil from the report would cause the
weapon to fall into the deep hole between the back of the grate and the
chimney.

This additional proof of the murderer's perverted intelligence impressed
Colwyn as much as the mechanism for the false report. The pistol,
blindly recoiling and jumping behind the grate after the explosion of
the blank charge, was almost as effectually concealed as at the bottom
of the sea, and might have remained there for years without discovery.
Colwyn plunged his arm into the hole, but could not reach the bottom.

But the murderer had more in his mind than the effectual concealment of
the pistol, important though that was to him. The grate was an excellent
choice for two other reasons. It carried the slight vapour from the
tinder wick up the chimney, and the convex iron interior formed an
excellent sounding board which would enhance the sound of the report.
Truly the dark being who had planned it all had left nothing to chance.
He had foreseen everything. His handiwork bore the stamp of unholy
genius.

Who had done this thing? Who had sought, with such patient cunning, to
upset those evidential principles by which blind Justice gropes her
hesitating way to Truth? In concocting his masterpiece of malignant
ingenuity the murderer had worked alone. His only accomplice--apart from
the after-hand of Fate--was a piece of automatic mechanism which had
done his bidding secretly, and would never have betrayed him. It was
this ability to work alone, scheming and brooding in solitary
concentration until the whole of the horrible conception had been
perfected in every degree, which stamped the designer as a ferocious
criminal of unusual mould, remorseless as a tiger, with a neurasthenic
mind swayed by the unbridled savagery of natural impulse.

As Colwyn meditated over the murder, his original impression of the
guests assembled in the dining-room downstairs in a premeditated scene
set for its production came back to him with renewed force. The murderer
had taken his part in that scene as one of the unconscious audience,
dining and taking his share in the conversation, while his secret
consciousness was strained to an intense anticipation of the false
signal from his mechanical accomplice upstairs. Colwyn could picture him
joining in the mockery of meaningless phrases with dry lips, his ears
listening for every sound, his eyes covertly watching the crawling hands
of the clock. Then, when the crack had pealed forth, he had been able to
exchange suspense for action, and rush upstairs with the others,
confident in the feeling that, let suspicion point where it would, it
could not fall on him.

But the murderer had not foreseen the scream which preceded the shot.
How had he comported himself under the shock of that cry, which was
outside the region of his calculations? He had not time to reflect upon
its origin, to investigate its source. He had to steel his nerves to
face it because he dared not do otherwise. But its sudden effect on the
nerve centres of his brain, previously strained almost to the breaking
point, must have brought him to the verge of a subsequent collapse.

Colwyn believed he saw the end in sight. The presumptions, the facts,
and the motive all pointed to one figure as the murderer of Violet
Heredith. She had been killed from the dual motive of punishment in her
own case and vengeance on a greater offender than herself. The alibi had
been devised to ensure a tremendous revenge on the man by bringing him
to the gallows as her supposed murderer. That part of the plan had gone
astray, so the murderer, in the fanatical resolve of his latent fixed
idea, had recourse to a further expedient as daring and original as the
scheme which failed. The second instrument had been the means of his own
undoing.

But as he reached this final stage of his reasoning, Colwyn stopped
short in something like dismay. He had left a point of vital importance
out of his calculations. If the murderer was the man he thought, he was
downstairs in the dining-room at the time the false shot was fired. Then
whose hand had clutched Hazel Rath's throat in the murdered woman's
bedroom upstairs, just before the shot was fired?

Colwyn slowly paced up and down the room in the midnight silence,
conning all the facts over again in the light of this overlooked
incident.




CHAPTER XXVIII


The three dined together in the big dining-room almost in silence.
Musard and Philip Heredith had not returned until after six, and their
first knowledge of Colwyn's presence was by some oversight deferred
until they met at the dinner table. In the awkwardness of that surprise
they sat down to dine, and Musard's half-hearted efforts to start a
conversation met with little response from his companions. Colwyn was
preoccupied with his own thoughts, which apparently affected his
appetite, for he sent away dish after dish untouched. Phil hastened the
service of the meal considerably, as though he were anxious to get it
over as speedily as possible in order to hear what the detective had to
say. As soon as the dessert was on the table he turned to Colwyn eagerly
and asked him if he had any news.

"I have many things to say," was the response.

"In that case, shall we take our coffee into the smoking-room?"
suggested Musard with a slight glance at the hovering figure of the
butler.

"I prefer to remain here, if you do not mind," said Colwyn.

Musard shot a puzzled look at him, which the detective met with a clear
cold gaze which revealed nothing. There was another silent pause while
they waited for the butler to leave the room. But Tufnell was pouring
out coffee and handing cigars with the slow deliberation of a man
sufficiently old to have outlived any illusions about the value of time.
Philip Heredith lit a cigarette. Musard waved away the cigar-box and
produced a strong black cheroot from the crocodile-skin case. Colwyn
declined a cigar, and his coffee remained untasted in front of him.

"You can leave the room now, Tufnell," said Phil impatiently. "Do not
return until I ring. We do not wish to be disturbed."

Tufnell bowed and left the room. As he did so Colwyn pushed back his
chair and walked across to the window, where he stood for a few moments
looking out. A wan young moon gleamed through the black tapestry of the
avenue of trees, pointing white fingers at the house and plunging the
old garden into deep pools of shadow. The trees huddled in their rows,
whispering menacingly, and stretching half-stripped branches to the
silent sky.

Colwyn returned to the table and confronted the two men who were
awaiting him. He glanced from one to the other of their attentive faces,
and said abruptly:

"Hazel Rath is innocent."

"I was certain of it." Philip Heredith's hand came down emphatically on
the table in front of him as he made this declaration. "I knew it all
along," he added in additional emphasis.

"This is an amazing piece of news, Mr. Colwyn," said Musard, turning
earnestly to the detective. "Who, then--"

Colwyn made a detaining gesture.

"Wait," he said. "I cannot tell you that just yet." He turned to Phil,
whose dark eyes were fixed on his face. "It was you who asked me to try
and solve the mystery of your wife's death. It is to you that my
explanation is due. Shall I speak freely in Mr. Musard's presence, or
would you rather hear me alone?"

"I can go to the smoking-room," said Musard, rising as he spoke.

But Phil waved him to his seat again.

"No, no, Musard, stay where you are. There is no reason why you should
not hear what Mr. Colwyn has to say. Your advice may be needed," he
added as an afterthought.

"So be it," said Colwyn. "Then I had better commence by informing you
that Hazel Rath has broken her silence. She has made a statement to the
police, which, whilst affirming her innocence, does very little to clear
up the murder. Her story, briefly, is that she went up to the left wing
about half-past seven, noticed that Mrs. Heredith's room was in
darkness, and went in under the impression that she might be ill and in
need of assistance. She groped her way across the room to turn on the
light, and she had reached the head of the bed and was feeling for the
switch when a hand clutched her throat. She screamed wildly, and the
hand fell away. A moment afterwards the report of a shot filled the
room. She found the electric switch, and turned on the light. The first
thing she saw was a revolver--Nepcote's revolver--lying at her feet near
the head of the bed. Then her eyes turned to the bed, and she saw Mrs.
Heredith, bleeding from the mouth and nose. While she was attempting to
render her some assistance she heard footsteps on the stairs, and
thought of her own safety. She switched off the light and ran out,
carrying the revolver and the handkerchief with which she had been
wiping the blood from the dying woman's lips. She was just in time to
conceal herself behind the curtains in the corridor and escape the
observation of those who were rushing upstairs. There she stayed while
the rooms were searched, and was afterwards able to steal downstairs
unobserved and gain the safety of her mother's apartments, where the
revolver and the handkerchief were subsequently found."

"This is a remarkable story," said Musard slowly. "Do the police believe
it?"

"They do not, but I have my reasons for thinking it true," responded
Colwyn. "The next step in the story of how this unhappy girl became the
victim of an apparently irrebuttable set of circumstances through her
own silence, has to do with another person's secret visit to the
moat-house on the night of the murder. That person was a man, who came
to return to Mrs. Heredith the necklace which we subsequently discovered
to be missing from her locked jewel-case. It is not necessary to relate
how the necklace came to be in his hands. He had undertaken to return
the necklace from London to enable Mrs. Heredith to produce it on the
following day, and it was arranged between them that when he reached the
moat-house that night he was to enter the unused door in the left wing,
which was to be previously unlocked for him, and was to wait on the
staircase until Mrs. Heredith was able to steal down to him and obtain
the jewels. That plan was upset by Tufnell finding the door unlocked,
and locking it again before his arrival. When he did arrive he found
himself unable to get in."

"Stop a moment," exclaimed Musard hoarsely. "This story goes too deep
for me. Who is this man? Do you know him? Has he anything to do with the
murder?"

"Yes, I know him, and he has much to do with the murder," said the
detective. "Shall I mention his name, Mr. Heredith?"

Phil nodded, as though he were unable to speak.

"The man is Captain Nepcote."

"Nepcote!" A swift flash of wrath came into Musard's heavy dark eyes as
he uttered the name. Then, in a wider understanding of the sordid
interpretation of Colwyn's story, he hesitatingly added: "I think I see.
It was Nepcote's revolver. Was it he who shot Violet?"

"Before answering that question it is necessary to give Nepcote's
explanation of his actions on that night. His own story is that he did
not enter the house. He says that while he was waiting outside he heard
a scream followed by a shot, and he then hid in the woods in front of
the house until he thought it safe to return to London. He declares he
is innocent of the murder."

"That is a lie!" Phil burst forth. "Who will believe him?" He stopped
abruptly, and turned fiercely to Colwyn. "How do you know Nepcote said
this?" he demanded.

"Because I saw him the night before I left London. He told me
everything, and gave me the necklace."

"And you let him go again? Are you mad?" Phil was on his feet, shaking
with excitement.

"What makes you think I let him go?" retorted Colwyn coldly. "You need
not be afraid that your wife's murderer will escape justice. Nepcote is
lying ill of pneumonia in a private hospital in London. He can only
escape by death. But the manner in which you have received this
information suggests to my mind that you have had your own suspicions of
Nepcote all along, but have kept them to yourself."

"I cannot conceive that to be any business of yours," replied the young
man, with a touch of hauteur.

"It seems to me that it is, in the circumstances. You came to me seeking
my assistance because you believed in the innocence of Hazel Rath,
but--as I am now convinced--you suppressed information which pointed to
Captain Nepcote."

"I told you all that I thought necessary."

"You told me that your wife had been shot with Nepcote's revolver. Is
that what you mean?"

"Yes. That was sufficient to put you on the track without taking you
into my confidence about ... something which affected my honour and the
honour of my family." Phil turned very pale as he uttered the last
words.

"Perhaps Phil should have told you, but you must make allow--" commenced
Musard. But Colwyn silenced him with an imperative glance.

"At the time you came to see me, you believed that Captain Nepcote had
murdered your wife?" he said, facing Phil.

"I did."

"Do you mind telling me now on what ground you based that belief?"

"I fail to recognize your right to cross-question me," replied the young
man haughtily, "but I will answer your question. It was for the reason
that you have supposed. I suspected his relations with my wife. There
was his revolver to prove that he had been in her room. I do not know
why Hazel Rath carried it away."

"Perhaps I could enlighten you on that point. As you knew so much, it is
equally certain that you knew about your wife's missing necklace, though
you did not tell me of that, either. But I will not go into that now--I
wish to hurry on to my conclusion. I have at least done all that you
asked me to do; I have proved Hazel Rath's innocence. But I have proved
more than that. Captain Nepcote is also innocent."

"I should like to hear how you arrive at that conclusion." Phil strove
to utter the words calmly, but his trembling lips revealed his inward
agitation.

"His story, as told to me, fits in with facts of which he could have had
no knowledge. He says he found the door of the left wing locked, and we
know it was locked by Tufnell more than an hour before. He states that
after the shot he hid in the woods in front of the house. It was there
Tufnell thought he saw somebody hiding; it was there I found a scrap of
khaki adhering to a bramble at the spot indicated by Nepcote as his
hiding-place. Tufnell admits that he called out in alarm when his eye
fell on the crouching figure. Nepcote says that he saw Tufnell, heard
his cry, and plunged deeper into the bushes for safety. Tufnell returned
along the carriage drive twenty minutes afterwards with Detective Caldew
and Sergeant Lumbe. Nepcote heard the crunch of their feet on the gravel
as they passed. His accuracy in these details which he could not
possibly have known helped me to the conclusion that the whole of his
story was true."

"He had plenty of time to commit the murder, nevertheless," said Phil.

"It is useless for you to try and cling to that theory--now."

There was something in the tone in which these words were uttered which
caused the young man to look swiftly at the detective from beneath
furrowed brows.

"You seem to have constituted yourself the champion of this scoundrel,"
he said, in a changed harsh voice.

Musard glanced from one to the other with troubled eyes. There was a
growing hint of menace in their conversation which his mind, deeply
agitated by the strange disclosures of the evening, could only fear
without fathoming.

"I do not understand you," he said simply, addressing himself to Colwyn.
"If this man Nepcote did not commit the murder, who did? Was it not he
who was in the bedroom when Hazel Rath went there in the dark?"

"No," said Colwyn; "it was not he."

"Who was the man, then, who clutched Hazel Rath, by the throat?"
persisted Musard.

"It was no man," responded Colwyn, in a gloomy voice. "_That_ was the
point which baffled me for hours when I thought the whole truth was
within my grasp. Again and again I sought vainly for the answer, until,
in mental weariness and utter despair, I was tempted to believe that the
powers of evil had combined to shield the perpetrator of this atrocious
murder from justice. Then it came to me--the last horrible revelation in
this hellish plot. It was the hand of the dying woman, spasmodically
clutching at the empty air in her death agonies, which accidentally came
in contact with Hazel Rath's throat, and loosened her brooch."

"Oh, this is too terrible," murmured Musard. His swarthy face showed an
ashen tint. "What do you mean? What are you keeping back? Where does all
this lead to?"

"It leads to the exposure of the trick--the trick of a false report by
which the murderer sought to procure an alibi and revenge."

"What do you mean? What have you found out?" cried Phil, leaping to his
feet and facing Colwyn.

As he uttered the words, a loud shot in the room overhead rang out with
startling distinctness.

"I mean--that," said Colwyn quietly.

Even up to the moment of his experiment he was not quite certain. But in
the one swift glance they exchanged, everything was revealed to each of
them.

Before Musard could frame the question which trembled on his amazed
lips, Phil spoke. His face was very white, and his dark eyes blazing:

"Yes. That is it. You have found me out." His voice, deepened to a
bitter intensity, had a deliberate intonation which was almost solemn.
"What did they do to me? Shall I ever forget my feelings when,
unobserved by them, I caught them in the house one day, whispering and
kissing? I walked straight out into the woods to be alone with my shame.
My brain was on fire. When I recalled his lecherous looks and her wanton
meaning glances I was tempted to destroy myself in misery and despair.
Human nature--ah, God, what a beastly thing it is. I had trusted them
both so utterly--I loved her so deeply. How had they repaid my trust and
love? By deceiving me, under my eyes, in my own home, before my marriage
was three months old.

"That night I dreamt of obscene things. I awoke with their images
hovering by my bedside, looking at me with sneering eyes, mocking me
with lewd gestures. 'Your honour and the honour of the Herediths--Where
is it?' they kept repeating: 'Sold by the wanton you have made your
wife. What is honour to the lust of the flesh? There is nothing so
strong in the world.' But as I watched them the ceiling rolled away, and
in the darkness of the sky a stern and implacable face appeared. And it
said, 'There is one thing stronger than honour, stronger even that the
lust of the flesh, and that is--Death.'

"It was the answer to a question I had been asking myself ever since I
knew. I got up, and sat by the open window, to plan how I should kill
them both. But I wanted the man to feel more than a swift thunderstroke
of mortal agony. I wished to make him suffer as I had suffered, but at
first I could see no way.

"Then it came to me in the strangest way--a light, a direction, a guide.
I had been smoking as I sat there thinking--smoking cigarettes which I
lit with a little automatic lighter I always used. I must have laid it
down carelessly, for I was interrupted in my meditations by the sight of
a thin trail of vapour ascending from the window ledge. I had failed to
put the extinguisher on the lighter, and the wick had gone on burning.
As I watched the red spark crawling almost imperceptibly along the
yellow wick, there dawned in my mind the first glimmering of the idea of
a slow match and a delayed report. Bit by bit it took form, and the
means of my revenge was made clear to me. I went back to bed and slept
soundly.

"I was in no hurry to act. There was much to think over, much to do,
before the plan was finally perfected. I carried out experiments in the
gun-room when everybody was in bed, secure in the knowledge that no
report, however loud, could penetrate from those thick walls upstairs.
While I was making ready I watched them both. Not a furtive glance or
caress passed between them which I did not see.

"The night my aunt asked Violet about the necklace I suspected that it
was no longer in her possession. I guessed that by her evasive answers
and telltale face. When she left the room and went upstairs I crept
after her in the shadows and followed her to the door of Nepcote's room.
I listened to their conversation; I heard him promise her to return
secretly to the moat-house on the following night with the necklace. My
heart leapt as I listened. I believed that I had him.

"I stole away quietly without waiting to learn any more, but I stayed up
till far into the night preparing my final plans. My intention was to
shoot her just before dinner, and arrange for the false report to
explode after he had arrived and hidden himself in the old staircase,
waiting for her to go to him. Then, when the report startled everybody
in the dining-room, I intended to be the first to rush upstairs, and
lead the search in the direction of the old staircase. I would have had
him by the throat, before he had time to get away. How would he have
been able to account for his secret presence in the house when her
jewels were in his pocket and her dead body upstairs, close to where he
was hiding?

"I had intended to kill Violet with a small revolver which I had bought
in a second-hand place at London last winter, but Nepcote's carelessness
in leaving his own revolver in the gun-room gave the last finishing
touch to my plan. I could scarcely believe my luck when I found it. It
seemed as though he himself were playing into my hands. I hid it away,
expecting that there would be inquiries, but there were none. He had
forgotten all about it. It was strange, too, that Violet herself helped
by telling my aunt before dinner on the night of her pretended illness
that she did not wish to be disturbed by anybody. That removed a defect
in my arrangements which had caused me much anxious thought. I had
feared that somebody, probably a servant, might enter the room in the
period between the first and second reports. It was a chance I could not
afford to overlook, and I could see no way of guarding against it except
by locking the door, which I did not want to do. I wanted to leave the
door partly open so as to make sure of the second report penetrating to
the dining-room downstairs.

"When my aunt gave me Violet's message in the library shortly before
dinner I knew that the moment had arrived. The altered arrangements for
an earlier dinner cost me a moment's perplexity, but no more. One cannot
hurry one's own guests, and I knew it would be impossible to get dinner
over as quickly as my aunt anticipated. If it were ending too quickly
for my purpose it would be an easy matter to introduce a subject which
would set somebody talking. That, as you know, is what actually
happened.

"After my aunt left me I waited until the last possible moment before
slipping upstairs. The revolver and the pistol were locked away in my
own bedroom in readiness. I got them out. The pistol was completely
prepared except for the cap. I had bound a twelve inch tinder-wick to
the stock in order to allow for a delay of nearly fifty minutes between
the lighting and the report. I knew that Nepcote expected to arrive at
the moat-house by half-past seven at the latest, but I gave him a margin
of a few minutes for unexpected delays. I put the pistol in my pocket,
and wrapping the revolver in a silk muffler to deaden the report, went
swiftly to my wife's room. I closed the door behind me as I entered.

"She was lying on the bed with her eyes closed, and did not hear me
approach. That helped me. Can you understand my feelings. I was about to
destroy something I loved better than life itself, but it was not she
who was lying on the bed. _She_ had died before--died by her own
act--leaving behind her another woman whose life was a living lie, who
was so corrupt and worthless as to be unfit to live. It was _that_ I was
going to destroy. I felt no compunction--no remorse. As I placed the
muzzle of the revolver against her breast, she opened her eyes in
terror, and saw me. I pulled the trigger quickly.... As I did so I heard
the dinner gong sound downstairs.

"The muffled report made less noise than the clapping of a pair of
hands. I knew that faint sound would not be heard downstairs. She never
moved, and I thought she was dead. I bent over the fireplace, shook some
caps out of the butt of the pistol, and placed one on the nipple. Then I
lit a match and started my prepared fuse. It was an easy matter to place
the pistol in position at the top of the grate; the difficulty of
recovering it subsequently was not made manifest to me until after my
illness, although my previous secret examination of the grate had
convinced me that the recoil of the explosion would cause the pistol to
fall to the bottom of the chimney behind the grate. When I had placed
the pistol in position I turned off the electric light, and opened the
window to allow the fumes of the burning wick to escape. Then I hurried
downstairs. I was not in the room three minutes altogether. I saw nobody
on my way down; nearly everybody had gone in to dinner, but I was in
time to sit down with the others.

"I felt quite cold and collected as I sat at the dinner table waiting
for the moment of my vengeance. I felt as though I was under the control
of some force immensely stronger than myself which held me firm with
giant hands while the minutes slowly ebbed away. I am sure there was
nothing unusual in my behaviour. I pretended to eat, and joined in the
conversation around me.

"The report did not come at the moment I anticipated, but I was not
perturbed at the delay. My experiments had taught me the difficulty of
fixing an explosion for an exact period. The time was in general
approximately the same, but there were reasons which caused a slight
difference. The wick always burnt at a uniform rate; the trouble was
with the string. Sometimes it was slow in catching. Sometimes the
pressure of the string partly extinguished the wick and made combustion
slower as it neared the point of contact. Once I tied the string so
tight that the wick went out altogether just before reaching the string.
But I had taken measures to overcome these little irregularities, and to
make sure of the string catching readily I had rubbed a little petrol on
it where it crossed the wick.

"But it was the scream before the report which upset my calculations and
almost caused me to collapse. When that terrible cry rang out my false
strength fled from me, leaving me weak and trembling. I think I should
have betrayed myself if the report had not followed so quickly, throwing
everybody into the same state of confusion as myself. I do not know how
I managed to make my limbs carry me upstairs with the others. I did not
know what had happened. My brain refused to act. I was conscious of
nothing except that a great wheel seemed turning inside my head,
tightening all my nerves to such taut agony that I could hardly refrain
from crying aloud.

"What I said or did when I found myself in the bedroom I do not know.
When I saw that everything was as I had arranged my mind began swinging
like a pendulum towards my revenge, and I struggled to lead the search
towards the staircase. But I was unable to move. I was like a man in a
dream, encompassed by invisible obstacles. Then the wheel in my head
suddenly relaxed, I felt the room and its objects slipping from me, and
everything went black.

"You know about my illness. It was not until I was supposed to be
recovering that the power of clear thought came back to me. There were
days when my brain was numb and powerless, like that of one newly
awakened from a terrible nightmare, striving to recall what had
happened. Then one day the veil was drawn, and I remembered everything.
My aunt was in the room, and I questioned her. She brought Musard to me,
and from him I learnt the truth.

"Intuitively I realized what had happened. Hazel Rath had gone to the
room for some unknown reason, had seen my wife lying there, and
screamed. Then, hardly conscious of what she was doing, she picked up
the revolver I had left lying by the bedside, and ran out of the room in
fright. I was even able to divine a reason for her silence under the
accusation of murder. She felt that nobody would believe her story,
especially after the history of her mother's past was brought to light.

"As I turned over what they had told me and realized that my own secret
was safe, I thought I saw the way to accomplish my revenge and save
Hazel Rath. Up till then the revolver had not been identified as
Nepcote's. It seemed to me that the mere disclosure of that fact was
sufficient to direct attention to Nepcote and bring to light his
movements on that night. But the detective who came to see me about the
revolver was too foolish and obstinate to grasp the importance of my
information. It was then I decided to go to you. It was daring, perhaps,
but it seemed safe enough to me. I was determined to entangle Nepcote,
and to free Hazel Rath.

"I told you no more than I had told to the other detective. I had
powerful motives for reticence. If I had told you more you would have
seen that I had an ulterior reason for directing attention to Nepcote. I
had not the least fear that you would discover my secret, but the
knowledge, if imparted to you, would have weakened the impression I
wanted to convey by suggesting to your mind that I was actuated by
hatred of Nepcote. Besides, I did not wish any living being to know of
my shame. I believed that I could accomplish my revenge without its ever
being known. I thought Nepcote would prefer to perish as the victim of
circumstances rather than incur public opprobrium by a defence which he
knew would never be believed. The actual facts against him were too
strong. He could neither extenuate nor deny them. He could not explain
his lying telegrams, his secret return, his presence in the moat-house,
his possession of the necklace, the revolver in the bedroom where the
body was. Therefore, it was only necessary to give you a starting point,
because discovery was inevitable where so much was hidden. I saw to it
that the loss of the necklace was discovered after your arrival. That
was all you needed to know.

"I do not know what oversight of mine put you on the track of the truth.
There was one, but I do not see how that could have helped you. It was
not until the following afternoon in the gun-room, when Musard drew your
attention to the pistol-case, that I remembered that the pistol I had
used was still at the back of the fireplace upstairs, where apparently
it had lain undiscovered during my illness. I had taken the precaution
of concealing the key of the case, but I decided to restore the pistol
that night after you left. It was more difficult to recover than I
anticipated, owing to the depth of the space behind the grate. I had to
push back the bedstead and use the tongs before I could reach it. I
believe it would have lain there undiscovered for years. There was
nothing else that I can recall, except that when I restored the pistol I
saw I had left the end of one of my experimental tinder-lighter wicks
lying in the case.

"But I do not wish to know how you found out, now that Nepcote has
escaped. I have nothing left to live for. The doctor thinks I am
recovering, but I knew that it was only the hope of revenge which kept
me going. Now that is gone I have not long to live. I rejoice that it is
so. But whatever had happened, I would have saved that poor girl, Hazel
Rath.... I ask you to believe that ... Violet...."

He ceased, and with a weary gesture, let his head fall on his
outstretched arms, as though the strength which bore him up while he
told his tale deserted him when he had made manifest the truth.

His two listeners sat for some minutes in silence, each engrossed in his
own thoughts. Musard stared gloomily at Phil with unseeing eyes. He was
as one who had passed through unimagined horrors in a space not to be
measured by time, to emerge with a fatigued sense of the black malignity
of unknown gods who create the passions of humanity for their own brutal
sport. His moving lips betrayed a consciousness loosened from its
moorings, tossed in a turbulent sea of disaster. Then they formed the
whispered words:

"The house was founded in horror and it ends in horror. So the old
tradition comes true."

The next moment he turned his eyes on Colwyn with a look askance, as
though he saw in him the instrument of this misery.

"Why did Hazel Rath keep silence?" he asked.

"Women have made greater sacrifices for love," Colwyn gently replied.
"Hazel Rath loved him, and kept silence to shield him. She would not
have spoken at all if suspicion had not fastened on Nepcote, and even
when she did speak she kept something back. We may now learn later what
actually passed between Hazel and Mrs. Heredith in the bedroom that
night. My own opinion is that, while Hazel was bending over her, the
dying woman whispered the name of her murderer."

"What are you going to do now?" Musard abruptly demanded, in sudden
change of mood, speaking as though there were nobody present but their
two selves.

"There is only one thing to do."

"Do you mean to let the world know the truth--to give him up to
justice?"

"What other course is there open for me to pursue?" said Colwyn sadly.

"I cannot see what earthly purpose will be gained by making this
horrible story public. Consider, I beg of you, all the circumstances
before you inflict this dreadful sorrow and scandal on an honoured
family."

"It is because I have to consider all the circumstances that I have no
option."

"Is there no other way?" persisted Musard. "He is mad. He must have been
possessed. You heard his story; his hallucinations were those of an
insane person. He had some justification. He would never have committed
this terrible deed of his own free will."

Colwyn did not reply. It was useless to point out that there is no such
thing as free will in human affairs, and that if Philip Heredith had
been impelled to his crime by the evil force of passions which were
stronger than the restraining power of human reason, he must pay the
full price demanded by humanity for the only safeguard of its supremacy.

There was the sound of an opening door and footsteps outside, and a
voice called:

"Phil! Vincent! Where are you?"

"They have returned!" Musard excitedly exclaimed. "What are they to be
told?"

"I cannot say," replied Colwyn, casting a sombre glance at Phil's
drooping and motionless figure.

There was something new in his posture--a stark stillness which arrested
his eye. He stepped quickly to his side and bent over him.

"He is dead," he said.

"Dead? My God! Impossible!"

"It is quite true. It is better so."

"Vincent!" Miss Heredith's voice sounded not far away.

"She is coming here. Quick, what am I to say to her?"

"I cannot tell you," responded Colwyn, with another glance at the still
form. "It was he who called me in to solve this mystery, and I have done
what he asked. I will leave you to tell her what you will, but I cannot
keep silence afterwards where the liberty of innocent people is
involved. Justice is as impersonal as Truth herself."

"Vincent!" This time the voice sounded just outside the door.

"I must stop her--she must not come in here," said Musard, starting up.

But he was too late. The door opened, and Miss Heredith stood in the
doorway.

Her startled eyes took in the agitated face of Musard, and then
travelled to the drooping attitude of the figure at the table. She went
quickly past the two men, and bent over her nephew. As she did so, she
sobbed aloud. All the pity and pathos of a woman, all the misery and
mystery of a broken heart, welled forth in her faint mournful cry.

"This will kill her," said Musard savagely.

But Colwyn felt that it would not be so. As he turned from the room,
leaving the living and the dead together, he knew that when the first
bitterness of the shock was over, and she was faced again with the
consciousness of duty, she would call on her abiding faith to help her
to wear, without flinching, the heavy grey garment of life.



THE END


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