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Title: The Night of the Storm
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: September 2012
Date most recently updated: September 2012

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

Title: The Night of the Storm
Author: Arthur Gask


*

Published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. in serial form commencing
Monday 5 July, 1937, and in book form by Herbert Jenkins, London in
1937.

*



CHAPTER I.--THE CRIME


"Yes, they are all three as pretty as pictures," said the
Superintendent, scowling, "but I'll stake my life one of them killed the
man." He spoke slowly and deliberately. "They come of the best stock in
the land, by birth and breeding they should be above reproach, and yet
it is as clear as daylight to me that one of them has stooped to a
guilty passion, and then, for some reason turning upon her lover, has
sent him into eternity with the callousness of a butcher slaughtering a
sheep."

"Very eloquently put, sir," smiled the stout, fatherly-looking
Detective-Inspector Stone, "and I'm sure you ought to have been a
clergyman." He seemed amused. "But you have just told us that everyone
says that these girls always kept him at a distance, and that you
haven't the slightest evidence that there was friendship between him and
any of them!"

"And I haven't the evidence," retorted the Superintendent warmly, "but
that doesn't make me the less certain that one of them was the
murderess, for if she is equal to meeting us in the calm and brazen way
she is now doing, then depend upon it she was quite clever enough to
have kept her goings-on hidden from everybody."

"But why necessarily a guilty passion?" asked a third man, the lanky
Detective-Inspector Carter, with a frown. "Two of the sisters are
unmarried, you say!"

"But he wasn't," replied the Superintendent dryly. "He was very much
married and everybody knew it, for his wife brought him into court last
year to get a separation." He pursed up his lips. "And I've no doubt she
could have got a divorce if she had wanted, for he was a gay dog, right
enough, and cocked his eye at every pretty girl he saw. We found scores
and scores of pictures of girls among his effects."

"But not one of any of these three girls in the Priory?" asked Inspector
Carter.

The Superintendent shook his head. "No, unfortunately, there was not one
of any of them." He slapped upon the desk before him. "But see how black
everything looks against them." He punctuated each sentence with his
hand. "The man was shot just before half-past ten, and old Evans the
gardener heard the rifle fired and called out to someone he saw running
in the direction of the Priory! Then just after half-past ten, the
butler heard the front door of the Priory being shut very stealthily and
then the sounds of someone moving about in the hall. Then, not two
minutes later, he saw that the rook rifle, which he swears was there
earlier in the evening, was missing from its accustomed place, and the
next morning my men found this very rifle, dropped by the murderer, not
fifty yards from the dead man's bungalow, and it has since been proved
that it fired the fatal bullet." He laughed scornfully. "Just put two
and two together, for there are only three individuals who can fulfil
the two requirements of being able to get possession of that rifle and
later, as the stealthy prowler, to be entering the house as one of its
natural occupants for the night." His voice was most emphatic. "Only one
of those girls, I say."

"But there are four servants and----" began Inspector Stone.

"All accounted for," interrupted the Superintendent. "The butler and the
three maids were together in the kitchen from before nine o'clock until
they went up to their rooms just after half-past ten." He shook his head
vexatiously. "No, it was one of these three girls, without any doubt,
but unhappily I can't bring it home to her. They are just sitting tight
and persisting in their denials that they left the house and I can't
prove to the contrary. I am up against a dead wall."

"I noticed that the inquest was as short as you could make it," said
Stone.

"Yes, purely formal." The Superintendent scowled. "We just proved the
discovery of the body and the cause of death and then had it adjourned."

Three men were seated in the room of the Superintendent of the
Colchester police, Superintendent William Russell himself, and the two
Detective-Inspectors from Scotland Yard, the latter among the shrewdest
and most brainy officers in the Criminal Investigation Department, who
had been sent to Colchester to give their assistance to the Essex police
in the matter of the mysterious murder of Edwin Asher Toller of
Stratford St. Mary.

A long silence followed, and then Inspector Stone produced a note-book
and remarked briskly, "Well, go through it slowly again, Bill. We've got
the general hang of things now and so shall be able to pick out what's
important and what's not. We'll question you as you go along. Start from
the beginning and give us more details. Tell us more, too, about all the
parties concerned, apart from the actual murder."

The Superintendent made a grimace as of faint protest, but then began in
brisk and policeman-like tones----

"The village of Stratford St. Mary is about six miles from here. The
Priory, at the far end, is the most important residence in the
neighborhood, and attached to it is a considerable estate, extensive
enough, at any rate, to necessitate an agent to look after its affairs.
The place has been in the possession of the Brabazon-Fanes, who are one
of the best county families round here, for hundreds of years, but I
gather the estate is somewhat impoverished now and that its rent-bill is
not anything like it used to be. The late General Brabazon-Fane, the
last male of the line, died two years ago and the property descended to
his three daughters Beatrice, Eva, and Margaret. Beatrice is the eldest,
unmarried and twenty-eight. Then comes Eva, also unmarried, twenty-six,
and finally, the youngest Margaret, Lady Mentone, twenty-five and
married to Sir Charles Mentone, a director of the Orion line of
steamers." He sighed. "They are three lovely girls and noted for their
good looks."

"This Sir Charles Mentone is, of course, the member of Parliament,"
commented Inspector Stone.

"Yes, for the Ashburton division of Devonshire and he's thirty years his
wife's senior. There are no children as yet." The Superintendent raised
his eyebrows. "By-the-by, this girl, Lady Mentone, went on the stage
when she was eighteen and there was a family quarrel, but when she
married Sir Charles, five years ago, everything was made up and she's
been a frequent visitor at the Priory ever since."

"No mother living?" asked Inspector Stone.

The Superintendent shook his head. "No, she has been dead for many
years." He went on. "Well, Edwin Asher Toller was the bailiff or agent
of the estate and had been so for the last three years. His salary was
6 a week. He was a good-looking, well-groomed man of thirty-five, of a
decided personality and most capable in his work. It happened I had met
him, personally, in connection with some poachers he was prosecuting
then on behalf of the estate."

"How long ago?" asked the other Inspector, Carter.

"About two months. The last week in April, if I remember rightly."

"And what opinion did you form of him then," asked Stone, "apart from
his being so capable, as you say?"

"For one thing, that he ought to have been in a much better position
than he was at his time of life, as he impressed me as being a very
knowledgeable and travelled man of the world." The Superintendent shook
his head. "Yet I didn't take to him, for he seemed a bit deep, and you
could never tell exactly what was in his mind. He thought a deuced lot
of himself, too. Moreover, he was very hard, and pressed for sharp
punishment upon those two poor devils who had only been caught snaring a
few hares."

The Superintendent paused, but, no further question being asked, went
on. "Well, the Priory is situated in about forty acres of walled grounds
and the agent lived in a small modern bungalow close to the wall, about
three hundred yards distant from the main building. He was looked after
by an elderly housekeeper who has been in the Brabazon-Fane service for
more than thirty years. Upon the night of the murder, on Tuesday, four
days ago, she was absent from the bungalow, having come in here for a
concert at the assembly rooms, and was not expected back until about
half-past eleven, when it was known she would return by the village
bus."

"Did she go to the concert alone?" asked Carter.

"No, Mrs. Evans, the wife of the Priory gardener was with her, and the
cook would have accompanied them, too, had she not been feeling tired
after the annual tenants' ball which had been held the previous night,
and decided to stay at home. Well, just before half-past ten, the
gardener, who was sitting up for his wife, and whose cottage is only
about 100 yards distant from the agent's bungalow, heard the sharp crack
of a rifle fired evidently not far away, and, immediately stepping to
his front door, was just in time to see--there was a bit of a moon up to
then--a figure darting among some rhododendron bushes. Thinking it was a
poacher after the pheasants, which are very tame all round the Priory
and often roost among the trees within the grounds, he shouted to the
runner to stop, but of course the party only went the faster, and being
old and rheumaticky, the gardener was unable to give chase, and so after
waiting a minute or two, and seeing and hearing nothing more, he
returned indoors."

"But can he give no description of the person he saw?" asked Stone.

"Not the slightest. He just saw someone running and that was all. His
sight's not too good and he's rather stupid, too. He's over seventy."

"And we can be perfectly exact about the time?"

"Yes, we can be absolutely certain there, for he heard the clock of the
village church strike the half-hour just as he came out of his door."
The Superintendent became most impressive. "And now the Priory butler,
Samuel Chime, comes into the picture, and he, too, heard the half-hour
strike. He was sitting in the kitchen then with the maids, and, an old
army man, and, most precise in his habits, he rose up at once and
ordered them to bed. He went into his pantry to get a drink of water and
he said it couldn't have been two minutes after the clock had struck,
when, just as he was raising the tumbler to his lips, he thought he
heard the faint click of the inner door of the hall being shut, followed
by the sound of some faint movement in the hall. He says he paused and
stood still to listen, but, hearing nothing more, he imagined he must
have been mistaken, because he knew all the young ladies had gone up to
their rooms an hour and more before. Still, he told us that.
Nevertheless he went into all the four rooms leading out of the hall
and, switching on the lights, had a good look round. Then, he says, he
locked and bolted the outer hall door and was in the very act of
switching off the lights there, when he noticed that a little rook-rifle
was missing from its accustomed place upon the wall, just above where he
was standing."

"A rook-rifle kept in the hall!" exclaimed Stone.

"Yes, because it is a treasured memento of the old General who, during
the last years of his life used to potter about with it in the grounds,
to shoot at any birds eating his fruit."

"But it wasn't kept loaded, of course?" asked Stone.

"No, but there was a broken box of cartridges close handy in the drawer
of the umbrella stand. The butler was a little surprised about the rifle
not being there, but thought that perhaps one of the young ladies might
have taken it to polish it--they were the only ones ever to touch
it--and had omitted to put it back. At any rate he didn't then associate
its absence with the clicking of the door that he had heard, and at once
dismissing the matter from his mind, he switched off the lights and took
himself off to bed."

The Superintendent glanced down at a paper upon his desk and went on.
"Then nothing more happened until twenty minutes past eleven when the
agent's housekeeper, Sarah Bowman, came back from the concert. She had
been dropped by the village bus, along with the gardener's wife, just
outside the Priory grounds and, bidding good-night to her companion,
proceeded to walk across a short stretch of lawn to the bungalow, less
than a hundred yards away. Then, having to pass before the window of
Toller's office, she saw that the light was on, the window open, and that
the blind had not been drawn. I must tell you here that it was a close
and sultry night, with a storm threatening, and not a breath of air
stirring. Well, she glanced in, going by, and was about to say
good-night, when to her horror she saw Toller in the big armchair only a
few feet from the window, lying back in an unnatural pose, with his head
bent down and his face covered in blood. Naturally she was terrified,
and at once called out to him, and receiving no answer, she rushed into
the bungalow and into his room."

"Were the doors shut?" asked Carter.

"No, neither of them"--the Superintendent paused impressively--"and in
his basket in the hall was curled the agent's little fox terrier."

"Drugged, eh?" queried Stone quickly.

The Superintendent laughed. "Not a bit of it, and he came up at once,
wagging his tail." He went on--"She ran into the office and laid her
hand upon Toller's arm, but the sight of blood at once made her feel
sick, she dashed to the telephone and rang up the Priory. It is a
private phone, and only rings up to there, but it has an extension into
the butler's room at night, and Chime answered her at once. She wailed
wildly that she didn't know what had happened, but that she had come
home to find Toller lying back quite still in his chair and all covered
with blood, and she was sure he must be dead."

"She didn't say then he had been murdered?" asked Stone sharply.

"No, and she says it hadn't occurred to her, for she was too dazed to
think of anything, but Chime thought of murder or suicide at once, and
so rang up Dr. Athol, the village doctor, a very smart man, by the by,
asking him to come immediately. He also says he asked him to bring the
village Constable along with him but the doctor said later he did not
take in that part of the message, and in consequence he came alone. Dr.
Athol is both the a medical man and a friend of the Brabazon-Fanes, and,
living not half a mile away, he arrived at the bungalow just at the very
same moment as the butler, who had hastily thrown on some clothes and
rushed there himself."

"Had the butler said anything to any of them at the Priory?" asked
Stone.

"No, he had told no one, but had come straight off on his own, taking
the precaution, however, to lock the hall door of the house behind him.
They found the housekeeper standing outside the bungalow, sobbing
hysterically and clutching the little fox terrier she was holding. She
pointed to the open window, and they looked through. Then the doctor ran
in, and seeing instantly that the man was dead, with no delay sent Chime
back to the house to ring up the village constable and tell him, too, to
acquaint us here with what had happened. Also, he ordered Chime to wait
at the entrance to the grounds, and, when we arrived, bring us straight
to the bungalow without going near the house. He didn't want to alarm
anybody there, and particularly so, because he had been called in that
very day to attend Lady Mentone, who had not been well after the ball of
the previous night." The Superintendent nodded here. "I learnt later
that a baby is expected next year."

He went on--"I was just going to turn in when we got the ring from the
Constable, and I decided at once to go out myself with two of my men."
He frowned. "But we had the devil's own luck that night. We were
shorthanded, and couldn't get in touch with our special photographer, as
he was off duty, and no one knew where he was. Also, our own surgeon had
gone up to town to a medical dinner, and to cap all we ran into one of
the most awful storms I have ever encountered. It was quite fine when we
started, but a mile off Stratford St. Mary it was thundering, and the
lightning was flashing and the rain simply coming down in torrents.

"We picked up the butler at the entrance to the grounds, and, reaching
the bungalow, found Dr. Athol waiting for us in the passage. He said
that as the man was stone dead when he arrived he had not disturbed the
body, but had left everything exactly as it had been when he came in. It
appeared, too, that the housekeeper had collapsed, and it had taken him
all his time to attend to her."

"But, of course, he was with you when you examined the body?" asked
Carter.

The Superintendent nodded. "It was still quite warm, and he estimated
that death had taken place less than two hours previously. There was not
much blood about, very little in fact, and the hole in the forehead was
very small. From the position of the body we were of opinion that the
deceased had undoubtedly been shot through the open window, and, from
the size of the wound, that a weapon firing a .22 bullet had been used."
He paused dramatically. "And then, hardly able to articulate in his
excitement, the butler, who had been standing alongside us while we had
been examining the body, burst out impetuously with a story of how the
small .22 rifle was missing from the Priory Hall, and how earlier in the
night he had thought he heard someone stealthily closing the hall door
when all the lawful inmates of the house were at that moment accounted
for in other parts of the building."

The Superintendent shook his head vexatiously. "And I confess candidly I
was guilty of a great error of judgment then, for after listening to the
man, I didn't attach much importance to what he had told us, in fact I
didn't altogether believe him. I sized him up as only a busybody, who
just wanted to get into the limelight, as he was obviously so anxious to
make all things fit in--that the agent had been shot with that
particular rifle. Then----"

"One moment, please," interrupted Stone, "you told us, did you not, that
the butler said he had heard the movements in the hall after the
clicking of the hall door, not, before?"

"Yes, that's it," nodded the Superintendent, "and, remembering that
there was then no association in our minds with the murderer and the
person who clicked that door, you can understand my blunder." He
shrugged his shoulders disgustedly. "We had not learnt then that the
gardener had seen the murderer running towards the Priory only two
minutes before the time of the clicking of the door. So when Chime said
he had heard those movements after the clicking, I dismissed them as
unimportant, just thinking that perhaps one of the young ladies had been
out for a late stroll, although he had imagined they had all gone to
bed."

"And naturally," commented Stone, "you did not think the sounds had
anything to do with any theft of the missing rifle?"

The Superintendent shook his head. "No, I did not," he replied
emphatically. "And about the disappearance of that rifle from its
accustomed place; when I asked Chime if it had ever been missing from
the hall before, he began to hum and haw, and then admitted that Miss
Eva, the second girl, had taken it into her bedroom, only a few nights
previously, to shoot at an owl that had began hooting in the tree just
opposite her window."

He sighed heavily. "No, that night the butler didn't impress me, and the
next morning I saw I had lost my chance"--his voice hardened--"for he
had become an evasive and unwilling witness. He had been out and heard
what the gardener had to say, and, undoubtedly comparing the latter's
story with his own, was realising how damning he was making things look
for one or other of his young mistresses."

Inspector Carter emitted an exclamation of surprise. "But hadn't the
gardener," he asked incredulously, "at once told his wife what he had
heard and seen the very moment she had got home the previous night?"

"He had certainly told her," replied the Superintendent, "but unhappily
he had told no one else, and"--he looked rather sheepish--"as a plain
statement of fact, we were not even aware of the gardener's existence
that night." He went on quickly. "I have said we were dogged by evil
luck, and that terrific storm upset everything. When we arrived at the
bungalow the rain was simply coming down in sheets and it was so pitch
dark that we didn't see, and no one thought to mention to us, that there
was any gardener's cottage so near. Consequently, the gardener never
entered into our minds, and we were all unconscious that there was
almost an eye-witness of the actual crime, in possession of a most
valuable clue as to the identity of the murderer." He almost groaned. "I
could have kicked myself when, returning the next morning, I saw the
cottage there, for then I guessed instantly that in the stillness that
had preceded the thunderstorm, its inmates would most certainly have
heard the firing of the shot that killed the agent."

"But I should have thought this smart doctor you talk about," growled
Stone, "would have had the intelligence to suggest your questioning the
gardener as to whether he had heard anything, seeing that his cottage
was such a little way away!"

"Well, be didn't," replied the Superintendent and then he added after a
moment, "but I think that was because he was much too concerned about
the condition of the housekeeper, she is a patient of his and he was
aware she has valvular disease of the heart. Indeed, she was so bad that
night that he had to give her a strychnine injection." He sighed. "There
again we were most unfortunate, for we didn't get her story until the
following morning."

"Then didn't you attempt to ask her any questions at all?" asked Stone,
very surprised.

"I didn't even see her," replied the Superintendent, "for the doctor
said we had better not go into her room." He shook his head angrily.
"Yes, and another thing, we didn't learn that night that all the time
there had been a dog upon the premises, for the doctor had put the
little beast upon the bed by the woman's side, to comfort her, so he
says."

"And the significance there?" asked Carter.

The Superintendent nodded emphatically. "That the dog had not barked, or
maybe had not even left his basket, when the killer had crept up to the
open window through which the agent had undoubtedly been shot, which
means surely"--he spoke very solemnly--"that the animal was familiar
with his or her footsteps."

"And does the fox terrier know the young ladies well?" asked Carter.

"Sure," replied the Superintendent. "He's always up at the house after
scraps; and he meets me, barking like the very devil, every time I
appear."

"And the butler," went on Carter, looking rather puzzled, "didn't even
he suggest that perhaps the gardener might have heard something?"

"Never said a word," replied the Superintendent, and he shook his head
disgustedly. "You see, that awful thunderstorm, apart from the
distraction of the noise, was actually filling us with physical
discomfort and dulling all our senses. The butler had got wet through,
waiting for us, and was shivering as if he were seized with an ague, and
we, driving with no side curtains up, were no better off, for we were
soaked almost to the skin, too. As I have already told you, it wasn't
raining when we started out, and naturally in a great hurry, we had just
jumped into the car as it was."

"Well, what did you do next?" asked Stone.

"Decided to leave everything as it was until the morning, touching
nothing in the room and even letting the body remain in the position we
had found it. We locked the door and one of my men, Detective Lesser,
was left in charge of the bungalow with strict injunctions that no one
was to enter on any pretence."

"And what time was it, then?" asked Stone.

"A quarter to one and still raining heavily. Well, in the morning we
were back again by eight o'clock and then things began to move quickly.
We got the gardener's story straight away, and then knowing the exact
moment when the murder had been committed, and at once realising the
significance of what the butler had told us"--he paused
dramatically--"we began to have ideas."

He paused a long moment to marshal his facts in their proper order, and
then resumed his tale. "Some things, at any rate, seemed perfectly
obvious to us. A murder had been committed with a .22 bullet and a rifle
of that calibre had been taken from the hall of the Priory not long
before the murder had been done. Presumably, therefore, the murder had
been carried out with that rifle. Then the murderer had been seen
running in the direction of the Priory, and not two minutes later
someone had been heard to enter there. Therefore, again, we can presume
it was the murderer who had gone in, and if the rifle had not been
returned to its place, then undoubtedly it had been thrown away so as
not to impede the murderer's flight." He smiled. "All justified
deductions, were they not?"

The Inspectors nodded and he continued. "So we started to search for
that rifle, and we found it in less than a couple of minutes"--his voice
hardened grimly--"at the very spot where the murderer had been passing
when the old gardener, seeing the running figure, had shouted to him or
her to stop, and as I have already told you among a clump of
rhododendrons."

"And after the rain, no fingermarks of course, on it?" asked Carter.

"Not a sign of one, for it was muddied all over," replied the
Superintendent. He lent forward over his desk. "Now comes an interesting
point, for the rifle, being a light one, to a running man it would have
been of small impediment, but"--he spoke very slowly--"to a woman, and
especially to one of slight physique, such as all these three girls,
carrying it in flight would certainly have been a handicap."

"And you thought at once of these sisters!" suggested Stone.

"Of course I did," replied the Superintendent instantly, "and I went
straight up to the house to have a talk with them. The butler opened the
door, and his jaw dropped and he looked darned scared the moment he set
eyes upon me. 'Found that rifle?' I asked with no preliminaries. 'No-o,'
he stammered, 'and no one knows any thing about it.' 'Good,' I said,
'and now don't you forget about those noises you heard in this hall
after the clicking of this door.' 'No, no,' he exclaimed at once, some
firmness coming into his voice. 'I made a mistake last night, and it has
come back to me now that the sounds I heard were footsteps upon the
gravel outside, and they were not in here at all.'"

He paused and made a gesture of contempt. "But I took no notice of his
denial and, asking where the young ladies were, was informed that they
were just finishing breakfast in the morning room. So I ordered him to
announce me, and, intending to give him no opportunity to warn them,
followed straight upon his heels. Detective Jennings came with me."

"But didn't the butler want to go and ask the girls, first, if it were
convenient to them to see you?" asked Inspector Carter.

"Of course he did," replied the Superintendent. "He didn't want me to
follow him. But I waved him on angrily and he shuffled before me with
the gait of a very frightened man. Well the three girls were standing
talking by the window when he opened the door"--he frowned here and
shook his head--"and the instant I set eyes upon them, I confess quite
frankly that I didn't feel quite so sure one of them had shot the man.
They looked so dainty and such perfect ladies and there was an air of
refinement about them that I couldn't well associate with crime. They
are women----"

"Yes, of course they are women," Interrupted Stone testily, "and being
women, at your time of life you ought to know you can never judge by
appearance what they will or will not do. A woman in a fury or a passion
is much nearer to the savage than we men are and I've seen----"

"Never mind what you've seen, Charlie," broke in Inspector Carter
rudely, "everyone knows you've seen a lot that you ought not to have
seen but you needn't tell us about it now, for it's not to the point."
He waved to the Superintendent. "Go on Bill. Take no notice of him."

The eyes of the burly Stone twinkled good-humoredly, but he subsided
into silence and the Superintendent went on.

"Well, I can tell you I didn't beat about the bush, and after I'd told
them who I was, I went straight to the point. 'One of you young ladies,'
I said sharply, 'came into the hall just after half-past ten last
night,' I eyed them very sternly. 'Now which one of you was it?' They
all went white as chalk, and for a few seconds looked at one another
bewilderedly. Then the eldest, Miss Beatrice, said very quietly, but
with a choke in her voice. 'None of us. We were all in bed by half-past
nine!' 'That not true,' I said. 'The gardener saw one of you running by
the rhododendrons, and your butler heard whoever it was, not two minutes
after, creep into the hall here.' Then I raised my hand accusingly and
went on: 'One of you killed your agent; you shot him with that rifle you
took from the hall. You----'"

"One moment," said Stone. "Did they go white before you said a word to
them--before you had spoken at all?"

"No but they all looked very agitated, as if the way I had come into the
room was upsetting to them."

"But did they know then what the gardener had seen?" went on the stout
Inspector.

The Superintendent frowned. "Yes, unfortunately, for as I have said, the
butler had been over to the gardener, very early, to tell him all that
had happened during the night, and then, in turn the gardener had told
his story, and back had come Chime to the house and informed the young
ladies."

"But when they had first learnt that the man had been murdered?" asked
Stone.

"The eldest one had learnt it a few minutes after we had gone the
previous night, because Dr. Athol, taking the housekeeper home with
him--he had decided he dare not leave her in the bungalow with the body
there--had called at the Priory in passing and made the butler go and
fetch Miss Beatrice. Then he had broken the news to her and the first
thing in the morning, so she says, she told her sisters."

"Then if one of these girls was the killer," remarked Carter, "she was
prepared to meet you with an expression of innocence, when you
appeared!"

"Yes, unhappily she not taken by surprise as far as the knowledge of the
agent's death and the gardener's story were concerned"--the
Superintendent nodded grimly--"but she was undoubtedly deuced surprised
to be confronted with an accusation of murder so speedily, for when I
entered the room no one in the Priory was aware that the old General's
rifle had been picked up among the rhododendrons."

"Well, go on," said Stone. "How did they take it when you accused them
point blank?" asked Carter.

"They gasped and went more ghastly than ever. Lady Mentone gave a little
cry and dropped into an armchair as if she were going to faint, and
Beatrice rushed and put her arms round her. Then the third one, Eva,
from pallor turned to a flaming red and stamping her feet, but without
raising her voice, turned on me like a tigress and exclaimed furiously.
'You fool! You senseless fool!'"

"It looked the real thing, as if they were very surprised?" queried
Stone.

"Very much like it," frowned the Superintendent, "and then in a few
moments they had all, so to speak, recovered themselves and were lashing
in to me as if I were trying to blackmail them. Oh, yes, the breeding
came out right enough then, for they had got their tempers well under
control. They became now sarcastic and icily cold. 'Where's your proof
that it was one of us?' they kept asking. 'What motive could we have
had?' 'Why should we have wanted to harm him?' and adding that Toller
was a valuable employee of theirs." He looked scornful. "Employee! mind
you, to rub it in that he was only a servant. They all denied, too, that
they had touched the rifle. Then I asked them if any one of them could
bear witness as to where any other of them was after ten, and they
reiterated they had said good-night to one another and were in their
separate rooms by half-past nine."

The Superintendent mopped his forehead with his pocket handkerchief, as
if he were still thinking of the gruelling nature of the interview, and
then went on. "I could get nothing out of them. As I say, I was up
against a blank wall, and so with the intimation that they must
practically consider themselves as prisoners, and and extracting from
each a solemn promise she would not go beyond the Priory grounds, I left
them and went to have another talk with the butler. In the hall,
however, I met this Dr. Athol who had just arrived to see Lady Mentone,
as a patient. As I have told you, she had overtired herself at the ball
and he was apprehensive about her."

"But did he tell you that straightaway?" asked Stone.

"No, but when I told him how the girls had come to be under the gravest
suspicion"--the Superintendent nodded viciously--"I tell you I made no
secret of it, he looked very disturbed and said any bad shock might have
very serious consequences for Lady Mentone. Then when, in reply to his
questioning, I informed him how the girls had taken the accusation, he
said that as a medical man, whose special study up to his coming to
Stratford St. Mary less than a year previously, had been nervous
diseases, in his opinion it was quite impossible for anyone of their
temperaments to have committed any such crime and not be hysterical and
absolutely prostrated after it. He was convinced that if any one of them
were really a murderess, then her mental state would be so noticeable
that it would be patent to anyone."

"And without having seen any of these girls I don't agree with him,"
growled Carter. "Why, I knew a woman once, a fragile little flower of a
thing, whom it turned out later had been the party to kill her husband
with an axe, and who, when we called in not a couple of hours after she
had committed the crime, choked back her sobs to make us a cup of tea. I
have also known----"

"Never mind what you have also known, Elias," interrupted Stone with a
grin, and evidently remembering the snub he had received a few minutes
previously. "You've known a great deal too much in your time for the
peace of mind of your missus if anyone only told her." He turned to the
Superintendent. "Go on, Bill!"

"Then I returned to that precious butler again," went on the
Superintendent disgustedly, "and at once was of opinion that he'd been
listening at the keyhole when I was questioning those girls, and was
heartened at the way they had denied everything, for he now swore most
confidently to his tale about the footsteps on the gravelled drive. I
was pretty sharp with him, but I couldn't shake him, and he began to get
impudent and finally stated he wasn't going to suppress facts to please
anyone. I gave him up at last and went back to the bungalow. We----"

"One moment, please," interrupted Stone. "Had the body been taken away
by then?"

"Yes, we had brought an ambulance along with us that morning, as well as
our own surgeon and our photographer; the latter is also a fingerprint
expert."

"What did the surgeon say?"

"Corroborated all Dr. Athol had said. Death had been instantaneous, and
it was undoubtedly a .22 bullet that had killed him." The Superintendent
shook his head. "Now comes a very mystifying thing for, quite in the
dark as to the motive for the murder, as a matter of routine we
proceeded to get all the fingerprints that were in the room."

He paused here so long that Stone began to become impatient. "Get along,
man," he said sharply. "You found----"

"None at all," exclaimed the Superintendent, "or practically none! Just
a few of the dead man's upon the arms of the chair in which he was
sitting, but none anywhere else." He threw out his hands. "None where we
should have expected to find them. None upon the knobs of the desk
drawers, none upon the desk itself, none upon the door of the safe and
none even upon either the outside or inside handles of the door."

"Curious!" nodded Stone thoughtfully. "Very curious!"

The Superintendent went on. "Our expert said he could not remember
finding so few in a tenanted room, and the only explanation I can put
forward there is that furnished by the housekeeper. She says Toller had
hardly used the office at all that day, having come into this town very
early upon some income tax business connected with the estate, and
returning just in time for his evening meal, after seven o'clock."

"But what was he doing when he was killed?" asked Carter.

"Leaning back in an armchair and either asleep, or else smoking his
pipe--we picked one up on the floor close near--and looking through a
catalogue of motor cars that we found upon his lap. This catalogue, we
learnt later, he had obtained from a firm in Colchester. It was fouled
with blood."

"And the search in the office yielded nothing, you say," remarked Stone.

"Nothing of any service," was the reply, "except as I have already told
you, that from the number of pictures of girls that we found in the desk
he must have been very interested in the other sex. There are eight
drawers to the desk, and four he used for the estate and four for
himself. They were all closed, because the roll-top of the desk was
down, likewise the safe was locked, and the keys were in his pocket.
Nothing apparently had been disturbed."

"But about these pictures of girls?" asked Carter. "Whose were they?"

"Oh, film stars, actresses, girls in beauty competitions and girls in
bathing costumes. They had all been cut out of newspapers and magazines.
As for the other private things, they were a lawyer's letters in
relation to his wife's separation, bills from tradesmen"--the
Superintendent nodded impressively--"he owed a devilish lot of money and
seemed to have been living greatly beyond his means, for there were
three letters from firms in this town threatening summonses, and one
from a money-lender who was pressing him for the payment of thirty-odd
pounds. Then there were a number of racing programmes."

"But no letters from any woman?" asked Stone.

"No, and when subsequently, we came to make enquiries about his private
life, we could learn nothing, although"--the Superintendent nodded again
here--"there's undoubtedly a lot to learn, for nearly every week-end of
late it had been his custom to go away on his motor cycle, but to where,
no one knows."

"Were his accounts all right?"

"Quite, and he had little chance of going crook there, for every
fortnight an accountant from this town, one of the girls' trustees, used
to go down to check them up. This chap, by the by, gives the murdered
man a most excellent character."

"And you say you can gather no evidence of the slightest friendship
existing between him and any of these Brabazon-Fane girls?" asked Stone.

"None whatever, and I cannot discover either that any of them had ever
set eyes on him before he came there as agent. We have not been able to
get in touch with his wife, but we are assured by the lawyer who acted
for her in the separation agreement against Toller that she is now
somewhere in America. The accountant, too, tells me the General engaged
Toller through some agency, but he doesn't know which agency it was."

"But did the girls have nothing at all to do with him?" asked Stone. "If
he were well-dressed, educated and good-looking, as you say, did they
never ask him up to the Priory to a meal or a game of tennis?" He looked
puzzled. "It doesn't seem natural to me, for women are women all the
world over, and a handsome man always appeals."

"Well, outwardly, it didn't here," replied the Superintendent, "for they
had nothing at all to do with him except in a purely business way, and
then it was only Miss Beatrice whom he saw. He had been rather hard upon
certain of the tenants lately and had threatened to turn them out,
because they were behind with the payment of their rents, and I have
learnt they had appealed direct to her for leniency."

"Then he wasn't too popular with the tenants?" queried Carter.

"No, but then agents never are, as all the dirty work falls upon them."

"But are they a cold and passionless lot, these Brabazon-Fane girls?"
asked Stone after a moment's silence.

The Superintendent laughed. "Not a bit of it. Eva's a desperate little
flirt, if ever I saw one. She's engaged to a barrister in the city but,
with all her rudeness to me, tilts up her chin provokingly to make me
feel that, after all, I'm only a man. Then Lady Mentone--they call her
Billy among themselves--can make herself most fascinating if she wants
to, and Beatrice--I am inclined to like her best of the three--for all
her nun-like face, somehow gives me the impression that she could be
very affectionate." He nodded. "By-the-by, three years back this sister
was upon the point of being married to the Honorable Ian James, but he
was killed in a motor accident and now she is being paid a lot of
attention by the rector of Stratford St. Mary, a middle-aged widower."
He screwed up his face thoughtfully. "In passing, I should be more
inclined to regard this girl, than either of the other two, as the
killer, for with all her gentleness she seems to have a most decisive
determination of character."

A short silence followed and then Stone remarked frowningly. "Well, if
they have dispositions such as you say, why again, I ask, did they keep
the agent at such a distance? I contend it wasn't natural, and there
must have been a reason for it."

The Superintendent considered. "Well, they are very proud," he replied
after a few moments, "and I think it was simply because the man was
employed by them and that therefore they held him to be in a socially
inferior position."

"Have you got a photograph of him?" asked Carter.

"We haven't, but they have one up at the Priory, in a flashlight photo
taken of all the guests at the ball, the night before he was murdered.
He comes out very well, too." He grinned suddenly. "Oh, yes. I have
evidence of intimacy of a kind, for that night he danced once with
Beatrice and Eva, and twice with Lady Mentone. We saw that from the
dance programme we came upon, in one of his drawers."

"Oh! he had two dances with Lady Mentone, did he?" commented Stone.
"Hum! there may be something in that."

Again a short silence followed and then Carter remarked slowly. "Then we
are to take it that your whole case against one of these girls depends
upon that clicking of the door the butler heard, and if it were not for
that, you would never have thought of them?"

"Exactly," replied the Superintendent, "for it was that clicking that
started us at once upon their trail."

"And there are no suspicions about anyone else in any other direction?"
went on Carter.

"None that I regard of any value," was the instant reply. The
Superintendent shrugged his shoulders. "It is true there was a tale of
two hikers who had been camping the previous night not far from the
Priory grounds, and whose subsequent movements we have not been able to
follow up. Also the gardener came to us the next afternoon with a
handful of feathers which he found under some trees, as least a quarter
of a mile distant from his cottage, and there was no doubt they had come
recently from some pheasant. But we could be sure of no footmarks among
the thick layer of leaves about where he said he had found them, and I
gave the matter no further thought." He laughed drily. "You see, the
girls are all very well liked, and at once everyone wanted to shield
them, whereas the agent, with his haughty manners and high ways of
carrying on, was by no means popular."

"But how did the gardener come to be looking among the trees so far away
from his cottage?" asked Stone.

"Oh, he said a couple of sheep had wandered into the grounds and he had
followed them to drive them out."

No one spoke for a few moments and then Stone asked another question.
"And the girls, of course, have had proper legal advice?"

"Oh! yes, plenty of it. I had a call here, the next day but one, from
this future husband of Miss Eva. He is Jimmy Aker-Banks, the K.C., and
he was very venomous. He tried to bully, and advised me to be more
careful, or he didn't know what might happen to me. Of course, he wanted
to make out that the whole idea of the girls having anything to do with
the murder was absolutely preposterous." The Superintendent laughed
contemptuously. "I know he's a big man at the Bar, but I think, in fact
I'm perfectly sure, I gave him something to ponder over after he'd gone
away. Then Sir Charles Mentone called here, and wanted to poo-pooh the
whole matter, too, but I tell you I gave him very short shrift, and told
him pretty sharply that I was going to do my duty whatever the
consequences."

They chatted for a few minutes and then the burly Inspector Stone rose
briskly to his feet. "Well, we'll go and have a talk with them now and
see what we can find out." He made a grimace. "It doesn't seem quite the
thing for three big men to go and put the third degree upon three
defenceless girls, but we'll have to do it. It appears we've got to trap
one of them into some admission that will incriminate her and then"--he
heaved a deep sigh--"but we'll talk about that later on." He scowled at
Inspector Carter. "Come on, you old ruffian. You always boast you can
see through any woman, and now we'll try you out." He grinned at the
Superintendent. "But Bill here says they are so pretty that I almost
hope you'll turn out to be a dud."




CHAPTER II.--BEATRICE'S DIARY


July 10th. I do not wonder it is three days since I have written a line,
and even now I scarcely have the heart to take up my pen, for it is so
dreadful to think that in the years to come everything will be down here
in black and white, to recall what happened.

But whether I write or not we shall forget nothing, and all our lives
the memory will remain with us that we have been accused of being
murderesses.

Oh! that awful night, and the much more awful days that have followed!

And we had been so happy, too, up to then, and there had not seemed to
be a single cloud in the sky. The ball had been such a great success,
and in a few days we were going to town to help Eva choose her own
trousseau.

Then, in a few hours, down came the avalanche, and we were hunted and
haunted creatures. Policemen and Detectives were spying into our lives,
asking us the most terrible questions, and as good as telling us, too,
that one of us was going to be hanged.

But how could any sane person have imagined that one of us could have
killed Mr. Toller; that Billy could have crept out into the night to
commit a murder, or that Eva, in the joy and happiness of being about to
marry the man she loves, had carried out such an awful crime? How could
I, too, like a mad woman on the talkies, have been so dead to the
sacredness of father's memory as to use his rifle to murder anyone--even
if I had wanted to?

And yet they were all so sure of it, and that hard-voiced
Superintendent, with such insolent contempt, refused altogether to
believe that after we had gone off to bed none of us had left our rooms
again that night, and he glared at us as if he were a judge condemning
us to death.

But I will put down exactly what happened that dreadful night, and
afterwards, before my brain gets addled and my memory too confused to
write everything in its proper order.

We went to bed a few minutes before half-past nine, and I was so tired
that, almost the moment my head had touched the pillow, I fell asleep. I
remembered nothing more until I was awakened by an insistent tapping
upon my door, and instantly it flashed into my mind that one of the
maids had been taken ill, and I thought at once of Rose, because she had
fainted the previous night at the ball. But when I switched on the light
and, opening the door, saw Chime standing there as white as a ghost, and
he whispered to me that Mr. Toller had met with an accident, and that
Dr. Athol was waiting downstairs to tell me about it, an instinct warned
me that something terrible had happened.

Chime went off instantly after giving me the message, and so, hurriedly
throwing on my dressing gown, I came down to the hall to find him
standing with Dr. Athol there, perfectly silent and the very picture of
gloom. Then Dr. Athol told me very quietly that Mr. Toller had just been
found murdered in his office, and that he had been shot through the open
window.

When I was gasping at the horror of the news, he pointed to the wall and
asked me sharply if any of us had moved father's rifle. For the moment I
was so dazed that I couldn't grasp what he was asking, and he had to
repeat the question. Then when I shook my head numbly, he went on to
say, very solemnly, that the dreadful feature of the crime was, that in
all probability it had been done with that very rifle. Someone must have
come in and stolen it, for just before Chime had shut up the house for
the night he had heard the hall door being shut, and, immediately
afterwards had noticed that the rifle was missing.

Then he warned me on no account to tell Billy or Eva that night, and to
break the news most carefully to Billy the next morning. I was to make
out to her that the police thought it must have been an accident and
that some poacher might have done it when he had come after the
pheasants. I was to tell her, too, that the doctor would come round as
early as he could in the morning.

Oh, I felt so dreadfully ill when I got back to my room and would have
given anything for some brandy. But I dared not go down again to get it.
I was afraid of the darkness of the stairs.

So, with my heart beating so fast that every moment I thought I was
going to faint, I lay on the bed wondering and wondering who could have
been the murderer, if it had been done with poor father's rifle and a
cartridge had been taken from the hall-stand, then the murderer must
have been someone who knew the house well.

I went over all the tenants in my mind, one by one, and especially those
who had particular reason to dislike Mr. Toller. But then nobody had
liked Mr. Toller very much. He was too curt and brusque with everyone
who had to come to him about the affairs of the estate, and although we
girls knew he was very capable and was managing everything splendidly
for us, we didn't like him for other reasons.

Certainly, he had always kept his place with us, and had never shown
himself in the slightest respect familiar, but we had all agreed he had
a bold way of looking at women, and it wasn't pleasing. Eva said it was
a sort of veiled insolence, as if he thought he could make any woman
fall in love with him, if he wanted to.

So, in a personal way, we had never taken to him, and from the beginning
we had made up our minds to keep him at a distance. No one could deny he
was good looking, and with people talking so much, as they do in little
country places, we didn't want the slightest whisper of any scandal.

Then when I thought of scandal I could feel my eyes fill with burning
tears. What an awful scandal this would mean now! The police would come
again in the morning, they would bring detectives with them who would
cross-examine everyone, there would be an inquest and the newspapers
would be full of it.

What a dreadful time we were in for, and how broken now would be the
peace and quietness of our lives!

Directly it was light I slipped out of my room and told Eva and Billy
everything. Darling Billy went as white as a sheet and couldn't get her
breath, but Eva didn't turn a hair, and said at once she wasn't a bit
surprised. She was sure some girl must have killed him and no doubt he
had deserved it.

Then when we were at breakfast the many dreadful shocks of the day
began, for Chime came in, looking very upset, and told us Evans had
heard the shot that killed Mr. Toller, and had actually seen the
murderer running away as if he were coming up to the Priory.

Then, not half an hour afterwards, we heard loud voices in the hall and
Superintendent Russell from Colchester burst rudely into the room and
began shouting that he had evidence one of us had gone out of the house
late the previous night, and he hadn't the slightest doubt, whichever
one it was, that she had killed Mr. Toller.

It was awful the way he started to rave at us, and I was terrified.

The Superintendent went on repeating, over and over again, that it must
be one of us, and he tried to twist what poor Chime had said, when they
were looking at Mr. Toller's dead body, so that it would seem likely.

But we soon saw he had not a scrap of real evidence against us, and once
the shock of his accusations was over, we answered him quite coolly, and
I am sure let him see we were not in the least afraid of him.

Then afterwards Dr. Athol came in, and, with that grave, quiet smile of
his, told us to take no notice at all of the Superintendent. He said the
police were up against a blank wall. They had found out nothing and it
was only that that made them so ready to accuse anyone. He comforted us
at once, and it was delightful to see how Billy seemed to revive.

All day long the detectives were in and out of the house, asking
questions of all the servants and demanding to search everyone's room.
They said, too, we were on no account to go out of the grounds, and they
put a policeman by the gates to keep guard.

It was a dreadful day, and yesterday and today have been almost as bad.
It has been a relief not to have seen the Superintendent, but there have
been detectives and police searching the grounds and they have kept on
coming in to ask us more questions. One of the detectives is occupying
the bungalow, and we can see the lights on there until one and two in
the morning. I wonder if they are expecting the murderer to come back
and try to kill someone else.

Thank goodness, Eva telephoned at once to Jimmy to come down, and since
he talked to the detectives, they have been much more polite. Of course,
Charles has been here as well, but although he is Sir Charles Mentone,
they didn't pay as much attention to him as they did to Jimmy. The dear
old fellow kept on losing his temper, and then they answered back that
they were only doing their duty, and had been obliged to ask all the
questions they thought necessary.

All the good Charles really did was to frighten off some reporters who
came from the London newspapers. One man said he was prepared to offer
what he called 'big money' if we would allow him to take our
photographs.

Mary has been to see us every day and has brightened us up a lot.
Augustine has come too, and he couldn't have been kinder or more
sympathetic. Really, I have never liked him so much before, and I didn't
draw away my hand, as I usually do, when he holds it longer than
necessary, in saying good-bye. He wanted us to go to evensong tonight,
and said no one had the right to stop us, but we knew how the people
would stare, and so we decided to keep away.

Dear me, I wonder how it would feel for a murderess to find herself a
clergyman's wife?

But I am wrong to smile, even to myself. Our trouble is so dreadful, and
it can really have no end. Always, always, people will look at us and
they will think to themselves: "One of those girls committed a murder
once. Now which of them can it be?"

I am so tired. I do hope I get some sleep tonight.

July 11th. I have written to Gilbert Larose. I have asked him to come
and help us.

No one knows we have done it, and it was Eva's suggestion.

She had been talking over the phone to Jimmy and he had happened to
mention that Mr. Larose had been the best detective anyone had ever
known, and if he had only been at Scotland Yard now and had been put on
the case, he would have found out who the murderer was long ago, and we
should have been saved this terrible shame.

Then Eva came and told us what Jimmy had said and wanted to telephone in
a hurry to Carmel Abbey in Norfolk, where Mr. Larose lives. But I
reminded her that Mr. Larose had married that rich widow, Lady Helen
Ardane, and it would be no good us offering him money to come. I said it
would be an impertinence, too, for perfect strangers to ask him for help
and especially to telephone him, as over the phone we could explain so
little.

We argued over it for a long time and in the end it was arranged we
should send him a letter. So I wrote it, and it was posted tonight. I
feel rather ashamed now that we have done it, for I feel certain he
won't come.

More detectives have been here today and one is still staying on at the
bungalow. He is a horrid man, called Lesser, with big, deep-sunk eyes.
He walks round and round the Priory and keeps staring up at the windows,
as if he expected to see the murderer standing there.

He went into the kitchen this afternoon and asked Susan to give him a
cup of tea. He told her they had not done with us yet, and there would
be some surprises for us before long.

It is simply awful for us all, and the strain has told a lot upon Billy.
She has been looking very pale and drawn today, and I can see Norman
Athol is getting anxious about her. He has given us all a double dose of
sleeping tablets to take tonight. I feel worn out. I wonder if Mr.
Larose will come.

July 12.--We are thrilled! Mr. Larose is coming! He says he will be here
early tomorrow morning! He telephoned tonight, when we were in the
middle of dinner, and apologised that he had only just come in and read
my letter.

But, oh! how my heart beat when Chime came in and said there was a trunk
call for me from Downham Market. I was dreadfully afraid I was going to
get an awful snub. Instead, Mr. Larose sounded ever so nice. He said he
had read about Mr. Toller's death, and would be only too happy to help
us. It would be like old times to him. He told me to cheer up and to
worry as little as possible.

We were delighted, and when, as a great secret, Chime was told, his eyes
filled with tears, he was so relieved. Eva insisted we should open a
bottle of champagne, and Billy had her first good meal since the night
Mr. Toller was killed.

After dinner Dr. Athol came with Mary, and he was most astonished when
we told him Mr. Larose was coming. But he was very pleased about it, and
told us, laughingly, that leading spiritualists say Mr. Larose could be
the greatest medium in the world if he wanted to, for they fully believe
he can call up the spirits of the murdered dead.

We had quite a happy evening, but something has rather disturbed me,
and, with all our own troubles, I cannot understand how I can yet come
to dwell upon it.

We are very fond of Mary and Norman, and, as I was watching them tonight
the dreadful thought came to me suddenly that she does not love him as
she should.

Several times she seemed to look very peculiarly at him, and it made me
wonder if, after all, she is only marrying him to become Lady Athol when
his uncle dies.

Can she possibly be jealous of Billy--I can hardly think it, with her
fine nature, but then, it's a very sad and unkind world.




CHAPTER III.--THE MASTER MINDS


"This is Stratford St. Mary we are just coming to," remarked
Superintendent Russell to the two Inspectors from the Yard, "and to the
ordinary person it might seem quite impossible that so beautiful a
village could be associated with a dreadful crime."

"That's so," nodded Inspector Carter thoughtfully, "but it has often
been noted that, in proportion to the number of its inhabitants, the
countryside is undoubtedly more criminally inclined than any cities or
big towns. We might imagine wickedness and vice would flourish best
among the crowded slums, but very lonely places often produce the worst
cases of homicide."

"Exactly," commented Stone, his eyes twinkling, "and if we only knew it,
many a rosy-cheeked farmer round here hides a dead body in his haystack,
and the cellar of the old woman who keeps the village shop would get her
hanged, if the authorities only dug it up."

"Don't take any notice of him, Superintendent," said Carter with a
frown. "He's always most frivolous when he should be concentrating his
thoughts." He eyed his colleague contemptuously. "And it all come from
his being too greedy with his food."

A short silence followed, and then as the car turned out of the main
road and shot between some high gates it slowed down a little to pass a
single seater car coming out. "That's Miss Arbour," said the
Superintendent. "She's a great friend of theirs and engaged to that Dr.
Athol."

"Well, she's very good-looking," nodded Stone. "Does she live in the
village, too?"

"Yes, not a quarter of a mile away and just outside the Priory grounds."
The Superintendent smiled grimly. "She's been coming here every day to
give them moral support."

Entering the grounds, the Superintendent made a little detour to point
out to them the bungalow and the gardener's cottage, and then drove up
to the front door. Jumping briskly out of the car he rang the bell. "Now
the butler generally answers it," he said, "and you just notice the
hang-dog look he'll put on when he sees me."

"To speak to the young ladies," he announced curtly when, as he had
expected, the butler appeared, and immediately they were ushered into
the hall.

"If you'll please wait here a moment, sir," said Chime most
deferentially, "I'll tell them you have come. They have a visitor with
them in the library, but I expect they'll see you at once."

"But he didn't look hang-dog," remarked Stone with a smile when the
butler had gone off. "In fact, the fellow seemed to me to be suppressing
a grin."

"But he'll not grin presently," said the Superintendent, rather annoyed.
"It'll frighten the life out of him when he learns from where you've
come."

Chime returned almost immediately with the intimation that the Misses
Brabazon-Fanes would see them at once, but the Superintendent made no
movement to leave the hall, and, instead, stood pointing out to the
Inspectors where the small rifle had hung upon the wall, and the drawer
in the hall stand from which it was supposed the cartridge had been
taken. Then he opened and shut the hall door several times to let them
hear the clicking it made, and, indeed, was evidently intending, in a
most studied way, to make those who were expecting him realise they must
wait upon his pleasure and not he upon theirs.

But Stone frowned, and with an impatient movement of his head towards
Chime, intimated most plainly that they must not keep those waiting for
them any longer. So, reddening slightly at the implied reproof, the
Superintendent followed the butler up the long lounge hall.

Chime threw open the door of the library. "Mr. Russell and the two
gentlemen," he announced, and he stepped back for the others to pass in.

Four people were sitting in the room and they all rose to their feet at
once as the little party came in. Stone had the instant impression of
three very pretty girls and a youngish and smartly dressed man who was
standing just behind them. But he was all eyes for the girls, whose good
looks, he thought admiringly, did not certainly fall short of what the
Superintendent had stated.

"Inspectors Carter and Stone," said the Superintendent curtly, "and they
want a few words with you." He turned to his companions. "The Misses
Brabazon-Fane. Mr. Carter and Mr Stone," and then he frowned in
annoyance at the presence there of a man he did not know.

The two Inspectors bowed gravely. "Good morning, young ladies. We are
very sorry----" began Stone politely, but then his grave expression
passed suddenly and his face broke into a surprised and pleasant smile.
"Ah! Mr. Larose!" he exclaimed with great animation. "Now, we certainly
did not expect to find you here," and he at once stepped forward to
shake hands, with Carter immediately following suit.

"I arrived only a few minutes ago," explained Larose returning the
smile, "I'm a friend of the Misses Brabazon-Fane."

"And a very good friend for them to have, too," smiled the stout
Inspector. "I'm sure I wouldn't wish for a better one myself, if I were
in any difficulty or trouble." He turned to the Superintendent. "This is
Mr. Gilbert Larose, Mr. Russell, and, as you know, he was once a
colleague of ours at the Yard. We've worked on many cases together."

The Superintendent just nodded. He was in no mood for any politeness,
and was downright annoyed that Stone should be speaking so pleasantly in
the presence of a murderess.

"But won't you sit down, gentlemen?" said one of the girls, the one whom
both the Inspectors were already inclined to register in their minds as
being the prettiest. She inclined her head proudly. "We'd better make
ourselves known to you. I am Beatrice Brabazon-Fane, the eldest; this is
my sister, Eva, who comes next, and this is the youngest of us, Lady
Mentone."

"Pleased to meet you," bowed Stone, "and we only wish it had been under
happier circumstances." He smiled his kind, fatherly smile. "You can
count on us being as considerate as possible."

"And you won't mind Mr. Larose being here when you question us?" went on
Beatrice sweetly. "He can stay with us?"

"Certainly, he can," replied Stone heartily. "Neither my colleague nor I
will have the slightest objection." He spread out his hands. "We are not
any more for the prosecution than, I take it, is Mr. Larose for the
defence. All we are after is to get at the truth. We want to find the
person who killed that poor man, and if none of you had any part in it,
then you needn't have the slightest fear of us or be afraid of being
tripped up by any questions we may ask you."

"Thank you," said Beatrice quietly. "Then you can ask us anything you
like and we'll try to help you all we can."

"That's it," said Stone quickly. "It's your help we want." He spoke very
solemnly. "But you must realise the exact position you are in, young
ladies, and how, under all the circumstances, we cannot but regard you
are being under the very gravest suspicion." He shook his head slowly.
"Indeed I tell you quite frankly that if, instead of three of you, there
was only one, then we should not have the very slightest compunction in
ordering her immediate arrest."

"But no grand jury would allow the case to go up for trial," rapped out
Eva sharply. "No one murders without a motive and you'll never discover
any of us had the faintest reason for wanting to kill Mr. Toller." She
laughed scornfully. "No grand jury, I say, would return a true bill."

Stone regarded her half in amusement and half with a frown, but before
he could make any comment the Superintendent broke in dryly. "This one
is the young lady I told you of Mr. Stone, who is engaged to that King's
Counsel, Mr. Aker-Banks, and upon several occasions, already, she has
been good enough to enlighten me as to the law of evidence."

"Ah!" exclaimed Stone smilingly, "I understand." He turned to the girl
and went on. "But if one of you did commit this crime, Miss Eva, then
the motive will assuredly be found. So, if we come to the conclusion
that one of you is the guilty party, then we shall have to trace back
for the reason why the murder was done." He took some papers out of his
pocket. "Now you all express your perfect willingness to help us all you
can and will, voluntarily, answer any questions we ask? Good, then we'll
start straight away."

"But I think, Mr. Stone," said Inspector Carter, speaking for the first
time, "it will be better if we question those young ladies separately."

"Why?" asked Beatrice immediately and in rather a sharp tone of voice.

"Because we shall then see," replied the Inspector imperturbably, "if
your stories exactly coincide." He turned to the Superintendent. "You
haven't spoken to any of these ladies alone as yet, Mr. Russell?"

"No," jerked out the Superintendent crossly. "I didn't suggest it and
they wouldn't have been willing if I had. They've been on the defensive
all along."

"Well, Miss Brabazon-Fane," said Stone suavely, "will you now very
kindly come into another room and prove the sincerity of your
willingness to help and of your having nothing to hide. Mr. Larose can
be present and then you won't feel quite so much on your own."

So Beatrice, a little pale but appearing quite self-possessed, left the
library with the four men. Then when they were out in the hall Inspector
Stone stopped suddenly and said to the girl. "But now I come to think of
it, will you please take us upstairs and just show us the rooms where
you young ladies sleep. It may make it clearer for us to understand
where you all were that night." He smiled reassuringly. "We don't want
to examine anything, but only to see the situation of the rooms."

Without a word Beatrice led the way up the broad staircase and, gaining
the landing above, opened the first door she came to. "This is my
bedroom," she said quietly, "and my sisters' are the adjoining ones up
the passage."

They all stepped inside. The room was a good-sized one and furnished in
excellent taste. The men looked round with varied feelings. Stone could
smell dried lavender somewhere and the expression upon his face was
reverential and almost timid. Carter was cold and calculating, and
nothing escaped his eye; the Superintendent was scowling, as if he were
not too pleased that a murderess, or a sister of one, should sleep so
daintily, and Larose was turning his head in all directions and taking
instantaneous mental photographs of everything before him.

It was only Stone who moved from beyond the threshold of the room, and
he tip-toed to one of the open windows and, stretching his head outside,
took a good look round over the grounds.

Then they went into the next room, Lady Mentone's, which was furnished
in pale blue, and finally they looked into Eva's cream-tinted bedroom.

"Thank you," said Stone, "and now for the few little questions we would
like to ask you."

They proceeded to a small room off the lounge ball, and when they were
seated, Stone started to speak at once.

"Now, please, Miss Brabazon-Fane," he said kindly, "as I say, don't look
upon us as your enemies. Look upon us as your friends who want to clear
you of this suspicion. So just tell us, in a conversational and
unrestrained sort of way, exactly what you did that night after you
separated from your sisters. Tell us everything. Oh, first, where did
you part company?"

"They left me just outside my bedroom door," replied Beatrice. "I said
good-night to them there, and they went on up the corridor to their own
rooms."

"And what, exactly, were your last words to them?" asked Stone. He bent
towards her. "I want, particularly, to know your last words."

Beatrice appeared to be surprised at the question. Then she hesitated
for an appreciable time before she spoke. "I think they were,
'Good-night' to Eva, and to Lady Mentone, 'Now, mind you don't read for
a single moment.'" She nodded. "Yes, that's what I said, because Dr.
Athol had, only that morning, forbidden Lady Mentone to read in bed."

"And then you went into your room and got ready for bed!" suggested
Stone.

"Yes, I undressed at once, switched off the light, and got straight into
bed."

"You mean you got into bed," smiled Stone, "and then switched off the
light. I noticed you have a light over your bed, with a double switch."

Beatrice shook her head. "No, I switched off the light first, as I
always do, because I went over to the windows and pulled up the blinds.
I always sleep with the blinds up."

Stone accepted the explanation. "Are you a light sleeper?" he asked.

Beatrice nodded. "Oh, yes, quite light. I wake up very quickly."

"Go on," said Stone. "Tell us everything you remember."

"Well, I was dead tired and I think I fell asleep at once. Then the
thunder woke me and I got out of bed to see if the rain was coming in
either of the windows, but finding it wasn't I got back quickly and then
I don't think I was awake long. I didn't fully wake up again until I
heard someone tapping on my door, and I called out. 'Who is it?' Then
Chime answered, and I jumped out of bed at once and, after switching on
the light, opened the door."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone, "then you switched on the light, forgetting the
blinds were pulled up! You must have been very startled to forget that."

"I didn't forget it," replied Beatrice quickly, "but as I wasn't going
near the window it didn't matter then." She nodded. "Yes, I was
startled. I thought one of the maids had been taken ill."

Stone went off on another tack. "Now, do you usually sleep with your
door bolted?"

Beatrice shook her head. "No, never. It is always unbolted, so that the
maid can bring in the tea when she calls me in the morning."

"And does the maid knock before entering?" asked Stone carelessly.

"Most certainly she does."

"And she waits for you to speak before she comes in?"

"Of course. She's been properly trained. She waits until I call out that
she can come in."

"And I suppose it is only the maids who come up on your floor; never
Chime!"

"Yes, only the maids; never Chime. His room is in a different wing, and
he goes up by another staircase."

Stone went on. "Well, now another thing. Did you know Mr. Toller's
housekeeper would be away from the bungalow that evening?"

"Yes, I did."

"Then how did you come to know it?"

"Because that morning cook told me and had asked for permission to go
with her into Colchester."

"But did you know the cook hadn't gone?"

"Yes, I happened to go into the kitchen later in the day, and cook said
then she was feeling too tired to go out."

Stone leaned back in his chair. "Well suppose," he said slowly, "you had
really been the one to shoot Mr. Toller and leave him where he was
found, you would have known that everything would have been discovered
when his housekeeper returned from Colchester by the bus about half-past
11." He eyed her frowningly. "That is so, is it not?"

Beatrice did not hesitate a moment. "Yes, I expect I should," she
replied quickly. "Mrs. Bowman would have had to pass by the open window,
and with the blind drawn up, of course, she would have seen him lying
there."

"And that being so," continued the Inspector, "you would have guessed
the housekeepers first thought would have been to ring here for help?"

"Yes, I certainly should have been expecting her to have rung up Chime,"
replied Beatrice. She went on coolly. "Then Chime, after he had made
sure what had really happened, would have come up and informed me, for I
am the mistress here and it would have been the natural thing for him to
do."

The Inspector's voice now took on an almost accusing note, and he spoke
even more slowly still. "And if guilty of the murder and expecting all
this to happen, when Chime had come to knock at the door you would have
called out to him exactly what you have just told us--as an innocent
person--you did?" He shook his finger warningly. "You said 'Who's
there,' and not 'Come in,' which you would have said if you had thought
it was one of the maids!"

But Beatrice seemed in no wise disconcerted. "You are inferring a great
deal from a very little, aren't you?" she asked quietly. She looked
fearlessly at him. "Tell me exactly what you mean?"

"I mean, Miss Beatrice," said Stone sternly, "that when Chime knocked
upon your door that night your actions and speech appeared not unlike
those of the guilty woman. You acted and spoke exactly as if you had
been expecting Chime--and no one else--to knock upon the door, and you
were prepared to cry out at once 'Who's there?' Now if you had thought
it was one of the maids knocking, which, of course, in the ordinary way
you would have thought--for you have just told us Chime never came up on
your floor--you would have called out, as you say you always do, 'Come
in!'" He shook his head frowningly. "Now that, to my mind, is decidedly
suspicious."

"And to mine," retorted Beatrice with some heat, "decidedly ridiculous."
She looked scornful. "Good gracious, when a girl is suddenly awakened in
the middle of the night by tapping upon her door, is it likely, do you
think, she is going to call out 'Come in'? There was something
frightening about Chime's knocking. I have told you it was quiet, but it
was insistent, as of someone in a desperate hurry. He knocked quickly,
quite half a dozen times, and the knocking was as different from that of
any of the maids as is an unfamiliar footstep from one you know quite
well." She shrugged her shoulders. "You are making a lot out of nothing
at all."

Stone frowned and gave a quick glance round at the others, especially at
Larose. But the latter's expression was quite inscrutable, and if he
thought the Inspector was not coming out too well from the encounter,
his face did not show it.

Stone turned back to Beatrice. "And so you think you've explained that
to our satisfaction," he said, not unpleasantly. "Well, we'll go on.
What happened next?"

"I put my head round the door," went on Beatrice, "and Chime whispered
that Mr. Toller had met with a dreadful accident, and Dr. Athol was
waiting in the hall to tell me about it. So I threw on my dressing gown
and ran downstairs. Then Dr. Athol told me Mr. Toller had been shot, and
everything that had happened. Then----"

"One moment, please. How did he begin telling you?"

"By saying he had dreadful news, or something like that."

"And what did you say then? What exactly were your first words?"

Beatrice shook her head. "Oh, I don't remember. I haven't the remotest
idea. All I recollect is I was sick with horror. Hardly any conversation
ensued, and Dr. Athol went off almost at once."

"And what did you say to Chime when he had gone?"

"Nothing. I went straight back to my room. I never said a word to him,
nor he to me."

The Inspector looked incredulous. "Come, come," he said sharply. "You
don't mean to tell us you weren't curious about a lot of things, as to
the finding of the body, what police had come, and when Chime had heard
someone shutting the door?" He scoffed. "To say nothing of the murder
having been done with your own rifle, stolen from the hall!" He shook
his heard frowningly. "Surely you don't mean us to believe you never
asked your butler anything?"

"But I do," said Beatrice with the utmost firmness, "for it's the truth.
I couldn't think properly and I never gave a thought to any details. All
I realised was that I had been standing in the dimly lighted hall, with
the noise of the pouring rain so loud that Dr. Athol had had to raise
his voice to make himself heard, and I had been told that a man I had
been seeing and speaking to almost daily, for more than two years, had
been brutally murdered." Her voice choked. "Can't you understand what my
mental condition must have been then?"

Stone turned to the Superintendent. "Just touch that bell, please." He
spoke ominously. "We'll verify this straight away."

A dramatic hush came over the room. It was a critical moment and the
Superintendent was the only one there who was not feeling sorry for the
girl. She was leaning back in her chair and her eyes were cast down. Her
face was very pale. Stone and Carter were, purposely, looking away from
her, but the Superintendent was regarding her with a cold, sarcastic
smile.

Larose was troubled. Beatrice had certainly held her own most ably up to
then, but, somehow, he thought he sensed she had all along been playing
a part, and behind all her quick and ready answers had been a background
of anxiety as if she were not absolutely certain of herself.

A tense minute followed and then they heard footsteps outside, there was
a gentle tap upon the door and Chime entered. He looked interrogatively
at his mistress.

Beatrice indicated Inspector Stone. "This gentleman wants to ask you
some questions," she said quietly, "and of course you'll answer him as
fully as you can."

"Yes, Miss," said Chime, and he looked respectfully at the Inspector.

"So you see, Mr. Chime," smiled Stone, "your mistress wishes you to be
quite frank with us and not keep back anything. You understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well," went on Stone briskly, "you fetched your mistress down that
night and were present in the hall when Dr. Athol was telling her what
happened?"

Chime nodded. "Yes, sir, I was there all the time."

"And then you let the doctor out and, of course, bolted the door behind
him?"

"Yes, sir."

Stone leaned forward and spoke very sharply. "Now, are you quite sure
you bolted that door after he had gone out?"

The Superintendent regarded Stone admiringly. This big man from the yard
would make Chime convict his mistress of falsehood, but was so masking
his intention by questions that were of no importance, that the butler
would not realise he was tailing into a trap.

Chime replied without the slightest hesitation. "Yes, sir, I am quite
sure."

"And your mistress saw you do it?" went on Stone, very quietly.

Chime hesitated. "I don't quite know about that, sir," he replied very
slowly, "but she must have heard me shoot the bolts, anyhow," he
explained. "You see she was half-way up the stairs when I turned round
and so I can't say whether she had been watching me."

"Oh, then she didn't speak to you?" said Stone quickly.

"No, sir, she didn't say anything. She appeared very ill."

"But if she were half-way up the stairs, as you say," snapped Stone
viciously, "how could she appear to you to be very ill? You would have
only seen her back."

"Yes, sir," said the butler, "but she was hanging on to the bannister as
she went up. She looked as if, any moment, she were going to fall. I was
relieved to see her reach the landing safely."

A short silence followed and then Stone said quietly, "Thank you, Mr.
Chime. That's all. You can go now," and when the butler had left the
room he turned to Beatrice and went on briskly--"Then the next morning
you informed your sisters. Tell us what happened."

"I told my sister Eva, first," said Beatrice, "as I thought it best we
should both go together to Lady Mentone. So I went into Eva's room just
after half-past six and woke her up. She was dazed and I had to tell her
twice before she could take in what I was saying. Then----"

"Then what were her exact words?" interrupted Stone. "Her exact words,
please?"

Beatrice thought for a moment. "Something like 'My God, how dreadful!
But his wife or some other woman did it, and I'm not at all surprised.
It probably served him right!'"

"Then you went and told Lady Mentone? Was she asleep, too?"

"No, she was sitting up in bed and brushing her hair. She always wakes
up early."

"Who spoke first when you went in?"

"She did. She asked us what we were doing wandering about so early. Then
I told her what had happened."

"Your exact words, please," said Stone.

Beatrice was quite ready with her reply. "I said, 'Now, don't be
frightened, Billy, but there was a dreadful accident at the bungalow
last night. Someone shot Mr. Toller and he's dead. He was shot through
the window, and the police think it must have been some poacher who had
come after the pheasants.'"

Stone eyed her very sternly. "And you can reel off the exact words
there," he said slowly, "and yet you tell us you can remember nothing of
what you said at the much more tragic moment when Dr. Athol had just
told you Mr. Toller had been murdered!" He looked scornful. "Don't you
think that rather peculiar?"

"No, I don't," replied Beatrice sharply, "for when Dr. Athol told me of
the murder I was too horror-struck to retain any recollection of what I
said, but----" she nodded emphatically--"I had been all night rehearsing
the exact words I should use to Lady Mentone, and they are clearly
impressed upon my memory." She spoke very quietly.

"Oh, that's your explanation, is it?" grunted Stone. He thought for a
moment. "Then how did Lady Mentone take it?"

Beatrice looked troubled at the recollection. "She went ghastly pale and
then fell back upon the pillow and began to cry. We expected she would
take it badly, for she's emotional and very highly strung. She was
terribly shocked."

"But for all that," commented Stone grimly, "not two hours later she was
downstairs having breakfast with you."

"She never makes an invalid of herself," retorted Beatrice calmly.
"That's the trouble. She does much too much, and that day she had to go
back to bed before lunch."

"Well, now about that dog of Mr. Toller's," went on Stone, after having
scanned his notes. "The animal knows you quite well, doesn't he?"

"Very well," replied Beatrice carelessly. "He's always up here round the
house."

"And therefore, if that night you had gone tip-toeing up to Mr. Toller's
window," suggested Stone, "he would not have barked because he would
have recognised your footsteps."

"I doubt it," retorted Beatrice instantly, "because if I had tip-toed
up, the footsteps then would have sounded quite different from my usual
ones." She looked scornful. "As a rule, I don't tip-toe."

Stone half smiled and looked down his nose. Then a short silence
ensuing, Inspector Carter, speaking for the first time, asked, "Have you
been accustomed to shoot much with that rifle, Miss Brabazon-Fane?"

"Yes, I've often shot rooks with it," replied Beatrice, "but I haven't
used it since my father's death."

"Are you a good shot?"

"Quite passable."

"Then you would have had no need," suggested Carter, "to go close up to
the window if you had wanted to shoot Mr. Toller. You could have fired
across that flower bed I noticed, when driving in just now. I don't
suppose you would have been more than thirty yards away."

"But if I had done that," said Beatrice promptly, "I should not have
been seen running by the rhododendrons just afterwards. I should have
cut across the lawn as the nearest way to the front door here."

Inspector Carter made no comment, and then Stone took up the questioning
again.

"Now as to your personal relations with Mr. Toller," he said. "I
understand you young ladies were never friendly with him. In fact, it is
suggested from your line of conduct that you didn't like him."

"It was not a case of like or dislike in any personal way," said
Beatrice sharply. She shrugged her shoulders. "He was just our agent,
and that was all. He was particularly an acquisition to the estate,
because he had had something of an architect's training, and was a very
good draughtsman."

"Were you yourself brought much in contact with him?" asked Stone.

"Certainly. I saw him at least two or three times every week, for it was
I who finalised all the estate business with him."

"Did he came up here, then?"

"No. I went down to the office. He never came up here at all." Beatrice
nodded. "That was the arrangement my father made when Mr. Toller was
first engaged and when father died I continued it."

"Then upon those very many occasions you refer to," said Stone sharply,
"you were closeted with Mr. Toller alone."

"I was certainly alone with him in the office," admitted Beatrice
calmly, "but almost invariably one of my sisters was waiting for me
outside. We always made these occasions of visiting the office part of
our usual morning walk in the grounds."

"Hum!" remarked Stone thoughtfully, and then he asked, "Have you been
aware all along that Mr. Toller was a married man?"

"No, we did not any of us know that until we saw in the newspapers about
six months ago that his wife had got a separation from him."

Stone shook his head decisively. "Then we cannot understand this lack of
friendliness," he said, "and I tell you frankly, we are suspicious there
was some very good reason for it. It's all nonsense to say you neither
liked nor disliked the man. You can't have employed him for upwards of
three years and not formed some estimation of his character."

"I have never said we hadn't formed any estimation of his character,"
declared Beatrice warmly. "On the contrary, right at the beginning we
judged him to be a man who would become familiar upon the slightest
encouragement and that is why we left him alone." She shrugged her
shoulders. "He was our agent, and nothing more, and we never let him get
any further."

"You danced with him at the tenants' ball," said Stone with a frown.

"As I danced with the blacksmith and the verger of the church,"
commented Beatrice. "We all had one dance with him. It was a duty
dance."

"And you have told Mr. Russell," went on Stone, "that you have no idea
of anyone who might have had cause to wish Mr. Toller ill!"

"Not to the extent of murdering him," replied Beatrice. "Certainly, very
few of the tenants liked him, as his manner was rather overbearing, but
we can imagine no one who would have hated him enough to carry out so
dreadful a revenge."

"Well, one question more," said Stone, "and it is a very important one."
He bent forward smilingly. "Now how long have you known Mr. Gilbert
Larose?"

Beatrice looked at her wrist-watch. "Exactly an hour and five minutes.
He arrived only just before you did."

Stone elevated his eyebrows as if surprised. Then he seemed rather
amused. But he made no comment, and went on briskly. "Well, now we'll
have Miss Eva in. No, no, you needn't go, Miss Beatrice. You can sit and
listen. I don't expect we shall be long with either of your sisters."

"But one thing first, please," said Beatrice. "I want to know when we
shall be able to use the office again. It is most inconvenient not to be
able to get to the books and the safe. Our trustee, Mr. Oliver Redding,
the Colchester accountant, has rung up Superintendent Russell twice, but
he's got no satisfaction at all, and it is most annoying, as a new agent
has been engaged, and is waiting to take up his duties."

Stone looked interrogatively at the Superintendent, and the latter said,
frowningly to Beatrice. "You may be able to have it after today. It all
depends upon these gentlemen here."

Eva Brabazon-Fane came into the room with her head held very high, but
the moment she set eyes upon her sister her studied expression of
defiance passed instantly away.

"Oh, Beatrice, darling!" she exclaimed in some dismay, "have they been
bullying you? You look so pale."

"No, we have not been bullying her," exclaimed Stone at once. He laughed
slyly. "And you must know quite well she's not the sort of young lady to
stand bullying at any time. From all I've learnt of her these last few
minutes she can hold her own with anyone."

"Well what do you want to ask me?" said Eva coldly, and in no wise
responding to the Inspector's good-natured attitude.

"The first thing you knew of the murder," began Stone, "was when your
sister came into your room the next morning! That is so, is it not?"

"Yes, when she woke me up," replied Eva curtly.

"Oh, you were asleep when she came in, were you?" exclaimed Stone, as if
very surprised.

"Yes, fast asleep, and she had to almost shake me to wake me up."

"And what did you say when she had told you Mr. Toller had been killed?
Your exact words, please."

Eva looked scornful. "Oh, I don t remember," she replied sharply. She
corrected herself quickly. "Oh, yes, I do." She shook her head. "But I'm
not going to tell you. I made a remark I should not have done."

"But you must tell me," said Stone sternly. "It's one of the things I
asked you in here to find out." He spoke very quietly. "Take in fully,
please, Miss Eva, what I have already told you--that you and your
sisters are under the very gravest suspicion. Indeed, in all my life's
work among crime, I do not think I have ever known circumstantial
evidence of a stronger nature than that we have now against one of you
three girls." He raised his hand in emphasis. "Realise that we are now
accusing you, and that if the accusation be unwarranted, then it will be
much better for you all to rebut it here, rather than compel us to fight
it out later in court." He smiled quite pleasantly. "Therefore, just you
try to satisfy us that, although we may suspect, we cannot adduce one
single fact in proof, and in consequence we should be very foolish if we
brought you before the magistrates in Colchester tomorrow."

Eva looked contemptuous and if she sensed a veiled threat in the
Inspector's words she certainly showed no fear, but continued to object
to giving him the information he asked for.

"But why," she asked boldly, "should I repeat a remark I regret having
made? It won't help you in any way."

"I'll be the judge of that," retorted Stone sharply. He spoke pleasantly
again. "You see, Miss Eva, we want to find out if there is any collusion
between you three; if one of you committed the murder and the others
knew it; in fact, if two of you are trying to shield the third. So, I am
asking you questions to catch you tripping."

Eva tossed her head. "Oh, in that case, then I'll tell you. I said
something to the effect that I wasn't very surprised, some woman might
have done it, and no doubt it served him right."

"Ah!" exclaimed Stone, "then you must have had some very good reason to
make that remark!"

"Only that it was public knowledge he had served one woman badly, his
wife," returned Eva coolly, "and that it was his habit to regard every
woman insolently."

"And yet you danced with him at the tenants' ball?" frowned Stone
incredulously.

Eva nodded. "If I hadn't," she replied, "he might have imagined I
thought him different from the others there, and was afraid of his
powers of seduction."

"Then you positively disliked him?" asked Stone.

"Detested him," was the calm reply. "Always regarded him as a
good-looking blackguard."

Stone repressed a smile. "But Miss Beatrice here has just told us that
she did not dislike him."

Eva looked affectionately at Beatrice "That's not true," she said
quietly. "She did dislike him, but her nature is much too kind to admit
it."

"And can you suggest no one," asked Stone, "who wanted to take revenge
on Mr. Toller?"

"I could suggest every pretty girl he'd ever spoken to," replied Eva
scornfully, "but I know of no one in particular."

"Have you shot with that rifle?" was Stone's next question.

"Yes, quite often. I shot an owl with it, not a fortnight ago."

"Are you a good shot?"

Eva nodded. "Quite a good one. I could shoot you"--the faintest
expression of amusement flickered into her eyes--"or Superintendent
Russell here, in the forehead, three times out of five at sixty yards."

"And could either of your sisters do that?" asked Stone, noting with a
grim smile the scowl upon the Superintendent's face.

"Oh, no," replied Eva, "ten yards would be their limit or, perhaps, only
five." She looked nonchalantly round the room. "But my marksmanship is
different."

Stone was annoyed at her flippant tones. "But have you really taken in
yet, young lady," he asked, "that we feel almost certain one of you
girls is the criminal?"

"Certainly, I have," she replied, and then she added scornfully, "Thanks
to Chime and his very lively imagination."

"Ah!" exclaimed Stone, "you think it imagination on Chime's part, do
you?" He regarded her very sternly. "Well, we do not."

"But you don't know Chime," laughed the girl, "and how little he can be
depended upon for anything except his routine duties as a butler." She
looked very amused. "His sole recreation is reading penny-dreadfuls, and
he's bursting with imagination. He's always warning us the house will be
broken into one night, and he's always telling us he's heard poachers in
the grounds. He goes out looking for footprints in the morning."

"Then you believe Chime didn't hear the clicking of the door and those
sounds in the hall that night?" asked Stone frowningly.

"Oh, I don't say that," replied Eva instantly, "but I am certainly of
opinion that he wasn't certain he heard them until they fitted in with
someone having come into the house to steal that rifle to shoot Mr.
Toller with." She nodded emphatically. "Then he was at once quite sure
he heard the clicking of the door."

"And the footsteps in the hall?" queried Stone sarcastically. "They were
an afterthought, too, were they?"

"Yes, in the same way as the crunching on the gravel," replied Eva. "The
crunching is his obsession now, and you won't get him away from it.
Chime has a strong vein of obstinacy in his character, and a whole bench
of judges won't shake him there. That's his final decision and he'll
stick to it, although he may keep on telling his story in a different
way." She laughed. "That'll be your snag. You see."

"Then you've discussed it with Chime?" asked Stone frowningly.

"Of course we have," replied Eva. "We've tried to get at the real truth
of everything"--she looked round disdainfully--"but without any
success."

Stone smiled ironically. "These assertions of yours that Chime's
testimony can never be relied upon are ingenious and cleverly put,
but"--he shook his head grimly--"they don't shake our belief in him in
the very slightest. His mentioning having heard that church clock chime
at half-past ten, just before he heard the clicking of the door and
those footsteps in the hall, is proof positive to us that his story
told, when by the dead man's side, is absolutely the truth."

"I don't see it," scoffed Eva. "Explain, please."

"Well, bear in mind," said Stone, raising one fat forefinger
impressively, "that your butler knew nothing then of the gardener having
heard the fatal shot a few seconds before that chiming of the clock, or
of his having seen the assassin flying towards this house a few seconds
afterwards, but for all that he was able to give Superintendent Russell
certain information, not understandable at the time he gave it, but
which fitted in exactly when the gardener's tale became known. In
effect, he gave the end of the story without having heard the beginning.
He knew the key to the puzzle without having seen the puzzle itself."

Stone went on. "And another of the times so well fits in, too. It was a
little over a minute after the half-hour that Chime heard the hall door
bang shut and it would take any of you young ladies about that time to
run, from where the gardener saw the flying figure, to the door itself."

"And do you think, if it had been one of us," asked Eva scornfully,
"that we should have been so dead to the first principles of safety, as
to throw away the rifle, the only thing that could have incriminated us.
How did we know it was going to pour with rain and there would be no
fingermarks upon it?"

"You may have been wearing gloves," said Stone.

"But why throw the rifle away at all?" asked Eva. "Why shouldn't we have
put it back to its accustomed place in the hall, and then it might never
have been found out that the murder had been committed with it?"

"The rifle was hampering your running," said Stone, "and you were in a
panic. You heard the gardener shouting after you and you were afraid you
might be caught."

"Caught by the gardener," laughed Eva mockingly, "whom we know is 74,
and is so crippled by rheumatism that he can hardly walk, let alone
run!"

"Well, you had heard the church clock strike the half-hour," said Stone
testily, "and knowing Chime was always punctual to the minute in locking
up, you were realising the urgency of getting into the house before it
was closed up."

"And knowing all that," laughed Eva merrily, "why should we have cut the
time for shooting Mr. Toller so fine? Why should we not have made the
shooting half an hour earlier and walked home at our leisure?" She made
a gesture of contempt. "But if the door had been shut, I could have got
into my room with no difficulty, for as a young girl I have many times
climbed through my window, up the ivy, and I could have done it that
night again, if I had wanted to."

Stone looked at Carter interrogatively, but as the latter had apparently
no questions to ask, he nodded to the Superintendent to ring the bell,
and very soon Lady Mentone was being ushered in. Both Beatrice and Eva
wanted to remain while she was being questioned, but the Inspector
firmly but smilingly insisted they must withdraw.

Lady Mentone was quite as good-looking as her sisters, and not
dissimilar to them in appearance. She had the same clear-cut profile,
pretty mouth, and flawless complexion, but her eyes were bigger and of a
lighter blue. Her chin, however, was not so firm and her face,
generally, suggested not such a strong and self-reliant character as
either Beatrice's or Eva's. Just now she was looking rather haggard and
wan.

She settled herself in her chair and took out a cigarette. "I'll smoke,
if you don't mind," she said in her beautifully-modulated voice. She
smiled. "I feel a little nervous."

Stone took her over much the same ground as he had done Eva, and she
answered readily enough, corroborating in many details what her sisters
had said. Then Stone, remembering the Superintendent had told him her
name was down twice on Toller's dance programme, asked carelessly. "And
I understand you danced with Mr. Toller at the tenants' ball?"

"Yes," she replied. "I had one dance with him."

"Only one," queried Stone, and when she nodded, he went on sharply. "But
your name was twice on his programme."

"I know it was," she smiled, "but we sat out the second dance."

"Oh, you sat it out, did you," he exclaimed. "Well, how did you come to
do that, if as, with your sisters, you say, you didn't like the man."

She spoke with no embarrassment. "The explanation is quite simple. The
first dance was the one we give to anyone and it came to an end just
when I was finding his conversation interesting. Then, as I was looking
down my programme to see who was going to claim me next, he saw I was
not full up and asked me for another dance later on. I couldn't well
refuse him without being downright rude, and to some extent I didn't
want to refuse him. So I let him put down his name again."

"But you didn't have another dance, you say," said Stone.

"No, when it came to the time I was feeling tired, and said I would
rather sit it out."

"Then where did you go?"

"Into the conservatory. It was more secluded and the light was dim
there, and to be quite frank with you, I wasn't over-anxious to be seen
with him. I knew my sisters would disapprove of it."

"And what had been his conversation to make it so interesting to you?"
asked Stone.

"Oh, it was about theatres and plays and actors and actresses. He knew
quite a lot about theatrical matters."

"Did he know you had been on the stage?"

"Yes, he said he remembered seeing me in 'The Moss Rose.'"

Stone eyed her very intently. "And do you remember seeing him then?" he
asked sharply.

"Good gracious, no!" was the instant reply. "I had never set eyes upon
him before he came up here as the agent."

"But how did he come to know such a lot about actors and actresses?"
asked Stone.

Just for one second Lady Mentone hesitated. Then she shook her head. "I
don't know," she replied. "He didn't say."

"And how long were you two sitting out?" was Stone's next question.

"Something under ten minutes I should say. Not any longer, certainly."

"And how do you explain," asked Stone very sternly, "this willingness on
your part to remain, even for that time, with a man whom you have all
said you disliked, alone, in a secluded spot, and in the semi-darkness."

Lady Mentone's laugh was like the tinkling of a silver bell. "It requires
no explanation," she said. "I was just bored with the whole evening and
his conversation was more interesting than would have been a dance with
the local baker, the village butcher, or the other tradesmen who are
tenants of ours." She flared up angrily. "I, Mr. Inspector, am not like
my sisters. I have seen more of the world than they have, and can put
any man in his place quick and lively, if he presumes upon any
politeness I show him." She looked scornful. "Any girl who's been on the
stage as I have, sees no significance in being alone with a man."

"Did you consider Mr. Toller a gentleman?" asked Stone, ignoring her
display of temper.

"Certainly not. He always gave me the impression of being a clever but
unscrupulous adventurer."

Stone asked her a few more questions and then, thanking her most
politely, said he had finished with her for the present.

Larose, too, got up from his chair. "And I'll go as well," he said. "I'd
like, however, to be with you when you go through the bungalow, if I
may."

"Certainly," smiled Stone, "and we'll send Chime for you in a few
minutes." Then when the door was closed behind the two he turned and
nodded to his companions. "And I'm not sorry he didn't want to stop.
He's a fine fellow, Gilbert Larose, but too much of a sentimentalist at
heart, and he would be inclined to shield those girls if he could find
any excuse for doing so." He made a grimace. "Well, gentlemen, what's
the verdict? What do you two think?"

"There's no collusion between them," said Carter promptly, "but I
believe two of them are holding something back, that last one and the
elder sister." He nodded. "They know more than they have told us."

"But I'm not so certain there's no collusion," snapped the
Superintendent decisively. "I believe they are all involved in the
murder and, to my thinking, that Eva girl put up the biggest bluff of
all."

A long silence followed and then Carter asked: "Well, Charles Stone,
what do you say?"

The stout Inspector looked very troubled. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid," he
whispered. "I would like to think none of them had had a hand in it, but
somehow I've got the impression the curtain has just been rung down upon
a little drama, specially staged for us. They were all three much too
ready with their answers, as if they'd thought out every question that
was likely to be put to them." He shook his head frowningly. "They
wanted to appear quite unconcerned, but there was tragedy behind
Beatrice's eyes, Eva put much too bold a front on, and this last girl
was, in part, lying to us, although I don't quite know where." He drew
in a deep breath. "We all suspect these girls, but we must explore all
other avenues in case we are wrong."

He rose briskly to his feet. "Now, for the bungalow, please,
Superintendent."

"But aren't you going to have Chime in now?" frowned the latter. "He's
the most damning witness against them."

"I think," said Stone slowly, "I think we'd best leave him for a little
while. Then we may be able to see if the girls have been priming him
what to say, following upon the questions we have just been asking them.
Yes, we'll do the bungalow first, and then we can go through the
statements of all the staff here"--he nodded--"not by any means
forgetting Toller's housekeeper. She's most important."




CHAPTER IV.--THE SUSPICIONS OF LAROSE


Their deliberations over, the three men left the little room to make
their next business the inspection of the bungalow, but passing down the
long lounge hall, the Superintendent suddenly stopped and laid a hand
upon the others. "Look!" he exclaimed quickly, and pointing through one
of the windows, "that chap to whom Lady Mentone is talking is Dr. Athol,
the quack who saw the body first."

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Stone interestedly, and then they all stood still to
watch the animated conversation that was going on upon the gravel drive,
not five yards from the window through which they were looking.

The conversation was at any rate animated upon Lady Mentone's part, but
the doctor appeared to be contenting himself with nodding every now and
then. Presently Lady Mentone made a movement with her head in the
direction of that part of the building in which was situated the room
the Inspectors and the Superintendent had just vacated.

"She's talking about us," nodded Stone with a grin, "and I shouldn't
wonder if we are none of us getting too good a character." His face
puckered up into a frown. "Hum! They seem pretty good friends, those
two, and from the way he's looking at her, he might be her sweetheart."

"Oh, they're good friends, right enough," commented the Superintendent.
"He's up here every day, and that girl has been a patient of his for
some time. The servants tell me whenever she's not feeling well now, she
comes up here to be under his care."

"Well, we'll have a little talk with him at once," said Stone briskly.
"We'll button-hole him straightaway."

But when they got outside they found Larose just being introduced to the
doctor, and the latter seemed amused when the Superintendent made known
who Stone and Carter were.

"Really," he exclaimed laughingly, "it overwhelms me being introduced to
so many stars in the crime world all at once."

"Well, we'd like to speak to you for a few minutes, Doctor, if you can
spare the time," said Stone. "We won't keep you long."

"Certainly," nodded the doctor, "with pleasure," and Lady Mentone at
once moved off, but Larose, receiving no hint that his presence was not
desired, remained.

Dr. Athol was a tall, good-looking man of aristocratic appearance, and
in the early thirties. His face was grave and thoughtful, with keen grey
eyes. His mouth and chin suggested courage. There was no mistaking he
was a professional man.

"You were the first to arrive upon the scene of the murder, after the
housekeeper, I understand," began Stone.

"Well, Chime and I arrived at exactly the same moment," replied the
doctor.

"And where was the housekeeper when you got there?"

"Standing outside, leaning against the wall and holding the little fox
terrier in her arms."

"But I thought she was very faint and ill!" frowned Stone.

"She became so," said Dr. Athol, "but she had kept herself up until we
arrived, and even then was able to get to her bedroom by herself."

"And we are told that neither you nor the butler touched anything in the
office."

"Chime touched nothing," was the reply, "and all I did was to lift up
and drop one of the dead man's arms and put my finger upon a splash of
blood on the arm of the chair to ascertain roughly how long he had been
dead."

"And after you had sent Chime off for the police," went on Stone, "did
you wait in the room where the deceased was?"

The doctor shook his head. "No, I just pulled down the blind and
then----"

"You pulled down the blind!" interrupted Stone, as if very surprised
"What did you do that for?"

The doctor smiled. "Well, it was hardly seemly, was it, to leave a
corpse before the open window?" he asked. "And such a corpse, too, with
its face mottled over in black blood! Why, it would have been terrifying
to anyone who had happened to pass the window."

"But who was likely to pass," frowned Stone, "at that time of night."

Dr. Athol seemed suddenly to become nettled at the Inspector's tone.
"Well, as a matter of fact," he said coldly, "that aspect of the matter
never really entered my mind. There was a dead body there, and according
to all usages of civilisation and ideas of respect for the dead, it
should not be left exposed to view. So that was why I pulled down the
blind."

"But why didn't you switch off the light?" went on Stone. "That would
have done just as well."

"I didn't think of it until afterwards," said the doctor, "and then was
glad I hadn't done it. Of express purpose, neither I nor Chime had
touched anything in the office that would take a finger mark, and if I
had switched the light off I might have been rubbing away the finger
marks of someone else."

Stone at once smiled most pleasantly, as if he were not desirous of
arousing any antagonism in the doctor's mind.

"Of course, of course," he exclaimed, "and I've no doubt you did the
right thing. It is only we nasty-minded policemen who think of nothing
but the urges of our trade when a body is found." He waved the matter to
one side. "And what did you do next?"

"Stepped into the passage and called to Mrs. Bowman to know how she
was."

"And what did she say?"

The doctor shook his head. "I received no answer and so I went into her
room. She was on the verge of unconsciousness, and knowing the state of
her heart--she is a patient of mine--I got my hypodermic case out of the
car and gave her a strychnine injection. She was very bad."

"And you remained with her the whole time," asked Stone, "until Chime
returned with the police officers?"

"Except for going out once," replied the doctor, "when the storm broke
and the rain began to fall so heavily. I was wondering then if it would
beat through the open office window and went to see."

"And where was the dog all this time?"

"Curled up in his basket in the hall. He went into it directly Mrs.
Bowman put him down and he didn't come out until I lifted him out. He
was frightened at the thunder, and was whining, so I brought him in and
put him on Mrs. Bowman's bed."

"And was the woman so ill," asked Stone, "that it would have been
impossible to get any reply from her if questions had been put to her
straight away?"

The doctor shook his head. "Oh, no, she wasn't as bad as that, but she'd
nearly had one bout of unconsciousness and I didn't want to risk
anything." He frowned. "Besides, her testimony was of no urgency. She
had told Chime all she knew, that she had come home and found Mr. Toller
dead, and that was all."

"And how is it you never came to suggest to Mr. Russell," asked Stone,
"that the gardener's cottage being so near, the gardener might have
heard the shot fired?"

Dr. Athol shrugged his shoulders. "I just didn't think of it. I was
occupied with my patient until the officers arrived and then to carry on
any conversation was painful. The noise of the storm was so deafening
that we had to shout to make ourselves heard."

"Well, thank you, Doctor," said Stone after a few moments' pause.
"That's all I want and I'm much obliged to you. We'll go off now to the
bungalow." Then as they turned away, he whispered to the Superintendent,
"Get that housekeeper, quickly, before the doctor has a chance to speak
to her. Bring her over to the bungalow and we'll talk to her there."

The Superintendent winked his eye and disappeared in the direction of
the kitchen regions of the Priory, while the others proceeded to walk
slowly across the grounds.

Stone turned at once to Larose. "It must be funny to you, my boy," he
said smilingly, "to be taking a back seat like you are now and watching
someone else do the questioning."

"Not at all," laughed Larose. "I'm only just beginning to get a grasp of
the story as a whole. I had read all there was in the newspapers, of
course; then Miss Brabazon-Fane had enclosed a long statement when she
wrote asking me if I would come here; and finally"--he regarded the
burly Inspector in a most friendly way. "I have heard your very
admirable examination of the three girls." He nodded. "Yes, I am just
getting a grip of everything now."

"Well, you must admit, Gilbert," said Stone very solemnly, "that things
look devilish black against these girls."

"In a circumstantial way they certainly do," agreed Larose at once, "but
still"--he shook his head--"if one of them did it, do you think they
would have all three, been so anxious for me to come here?"

"Two of them may have wanted you," said Stone, "and the other one did
not dare to object." He spoke sharply. "But look here, Gilbert; I want
to know exactly how we stand. If you discover anything implicating one
of these girls you're not likely to pass it on to us, are you?"

"No-o," said Larose hesitatingly, "I hardly think that I am." He looked
troubled. "You see, I shall be making all my investigations here on the
assumption that these girls are innocent, and if I come to learn
anything to the contrary"--he hesitated again--"well, it will be deuced
awkward and I shall have to drop the case." He shook his head. "'No,
Charlie, you mustn't depend upon me helping you against any of those
girls."

"I thought not," said Stone grimly, "and therefore after you've been
over the bungalow with us, we'd better part company." He nodded. "We'll
be quite good friends, but we'll keep any little discoveries we make--to
ourselves."

"Good!" thought Larose, "then he thinks he's just picked up a clue! He
suspects that doctor about something!" But he said aloud. "Quite right,
Charlie, that'll be the best plan. Any discoveries about outsiders we'll
pool, but anything we find out about the girls well keep to ourselves."

As they approached the bungalow, the front door of which was standing
open, a man appeared from inside and planted himself frowningly in the
doorway, with the evident intention of barring their entrance.

"It's all right," nodded Stone. "We're from the Yard, but we'll wait
here for Superintendent Russell. He'll be coming in a minute." He eyed
the man interestedly. "So you're the officer who's been left in charge
since the night of the murder?"

"Yes, sir, I'm Detective Lesser," replied the man.

"And how the deuce did you come to miss that cottage there?" asked
Stone, jerking his head in the direction of the gardener's habitation,
not a hundred yards away.

"Simply bad luck, sir," said the detective. "The Superintendent backed
his car round the corner of the bungalow to get out of the rain and by
doing that his lights didn't pick up the cottage."

At that moment the Superintendent himself appeared, with an
elderly-looking woman walking beside him. "Just go and wait in your own
room, please, Mrs. Bowman," he said to her. "We shan't keep you very
long," and then he whispered to Stone, "It's all right. He's not had a
chance of speaking to her."

Stone frowned, without replying, and the door of the office being
unlocked, the little party trooped into the room. Then Detective Lesser
said suddenly to the Superintendent. "Something happened here last
night, sir. Somebody got into the bungalow when I was away."

The Superintendent turned in a flash. "What!" he exclaimed in
consternation, "they've robbed the safe?"

"No, sir, they didn't touch it," replied the man. "You can see the seals
are quite intact. But they tried to open the desk here, and they went
through some of the things in the other room."

"But what did they take?" asked the Superintendent quickly.

"Nothing that I can see, sir. My coming back must have disturbed them,
and they bolted away."

"But what happened?" asked the Superintendent. "Tell me, quick."

"I left here on my bicycle, sir," said the detective, "just before it
got dark, to come in and report to you, and was away not quite an hour
and a half. When I got back, directly I opened the front door, I knew
something had happened, for I felt a draught in this passage, which I
knew should not have been, and I smelt a smell of varnish. I thought
someone had been blowing the safe. I switched on the light and found
this door was unlatched. Then----"

"But are you sure you left it shut?" interrupted the Superintendent.

"Quite sure, sir, shut and locked, and I had the key in my pocket with
me. Then, seeing the seals were still on the safe, I ran out of here and
up the passage, to find the back door was open. I rushed outside and
flashed my torch, but it was pitch dark, and I could not see anyone.
Then I came and examined the whole place thoroughly. Look at the desk
there. They first tried to tamper with the lock, and then they used
something like a screwdriver to prize the roll-top up. See where they
put in the wedge."

Everyone bent over the desk, and Stone exclaimed scornfully, "The fool!
He tried to lift it up from the middle, whereas if he'd put in the
screwdriver or whatever it was at one of the ends the leverage would
have been much greater, and he'd have probably broken the lock at once."
He sniffed. "He was an amateur."

"But the work on the back door, sir," said the detective, "was not like
that of an amateur. It was very clever, for not only was the door there
locked, but the key was left in the lock on the inside. But he used a
pair of fine pincers with serrated jaws, and, pushing them in the
keyhole, he caught hold of the end of the key and turned it round
bodily." He produced a key from his pocket. "You can see the pincer
marks here quite plainly."

"But what on earth did he come for?" asked the Superintendent irritably.
"It could only have been for the money in the safe."

"Perhaps he was going for the safe after he had opened the desk,"
suggested Lesser. "I am sure I must have interrupted him."

"What's in the safe?" asked Stone.

"Eighty-two pound odd in cash," replied the Superintendent. "We wouldn't
let anything be disturbed."

"And he must have been watching me," said Lesser, "to be aware I was
away, for it was the first time I had been more than a few hundred yards
from the place."

"Why didn't you report it at once last night?" snapped Stone.

"I told him never to use the phone," explained the Superintendent,
"because they could listen in to everything at the Priory. He would have
had to ring through from there." He turned to Lesser. "But what was that
varnish you say you smelt?"

The detective shook his head. "I don't know, sir. It's puzzled me ever
since," and then, seeing the scornful look upon his superior's face, he
added quickly: "But I'm positive I smelt it, sir. I'm a non-smoker and
I've got a very keen sense of smell."

The Superintendent walked over to the safe and, breaking the seals,
unlocked the door and rapidly checked over the contents. "Quite all
right," he said. "Nothing's been taken." He looked at the Inspectors.
"There's nothing here of a private nature and I'll give everything back
today to the estate accountant. You can now examine the contents of the
desk."

"And I understand that everything here," said Stone, looking round the
room, "is much the same as upon the night the murder was done."

"Yes," nodded the Superintendent, "but I'm afraid it won't help you
much. That's the chair in which he was lying back and that's the
catalogue of motor cars we found on his lap. That's the pipe that was on
the floor, and that's the pipe cleaner he'd recently been using." He
unlocked the desk and rolled back the top. "See, you can open the
drawers now. These on the right were the ones he used for his private
affairs."

"Was the desk closed when you found the body?"' asked Stone.

"Yes, and his keys were in his pocket." The Superintendent looked
puzzled. "But the funny thing to me is about those fingermarks, or
rather the absence of them. None on the handles of the door, either
inside or outside. Not a single one anywhere upon the desk top or the
drawer handles, not one upon any of the chairs, except upon the arms of
the one in which he was lying, and not a single one on the outside of
the safe. Inside the safe--plenty of them--and they're all of the dead
man himself." He shook his head. "It's most peculiar to me."

But Stone seemed not a bit interested in the fingermarks. Instead, he
remarked a little testily, "Well, let's look at the contents of his
drawers, for those seem the only things likely to help us."

In the meantime Larose had picked up the catalogue of motor cars and,
after one frowning glance at the blood splashed cover, was idly turning
the pages of the book. It consisted of about thirty pages of well
illustrated matter, featuring cars of most expensive makes, and was
issued, he noted, by a big firm in Colchester, with many agencies.

Presently he put it up on the mantelshelf and turned to watch Stone, who
was frowningly going through a large number of photographs that he was
taking from the drawers. The photos were all of girls and cut from
newspapers or magazines. There were a few pencilled sketches that the
dead man had apparently done himself, as they were marked at the foot
with his initials. 'C.A.T.'

"Hum," remarked Stone, "I don't wonder those Brabazon-Fane girls say
they kept away from him."

Then he picked up three stained-looking envelopes and examining their
contents, found they each contained a faded flower, one a small white
rose, one a pink carnation, and the third a camellia. "No doubt
mementoes of some particular conquests," he commented, "taken off some
girls who probably thought him a very charming fellow." He picked up a
small length of faded blue ribbon, exclaimed, "Hallo! what's this?"

He scrutinized the ribbon for a few moments, and then held it out to
Larose. "Here, my son," he smiled, "tell us the name of the girl who
wore that."

Larose took the ribbon, and in his turn scrutinized it carefully. It was
about eighteen inches long and half an inch wide. "A hair ribbon," he
smiled back, and then he took it over to the window to get a better
light. His back was now towards the others, and he seemed to juggle with
the ribbon. He rolled it up, unrolled it and let it fall loosely across
the fingers of one hand. Then for a long moment he regarded the creases
in it very thoughtfully, before finally turning round again and
replacing it upon the desk.

Stone was now looking at the dead man's dance programme of the tenants
ball. "Now, we must find out who each one of his partners was," he said,
"for it is quite possible that something that happened on that night was
the cause of this crime the night after." He turned to the
Superintendent. "Have all his private effects put away, somewhere, and
then I think we can return to the bungalow to the Miss Brabazon-Fanes.
It seems there's nothing further to be gained by keeping it shut up."

"One moment, please," said Larose. "May I have a copy of that dance
programme?"

"Certainly," said Stone. He smiled. "Now, would you like to take it up
with Mr. Lesser to the Priory, and find out from the young ladies or the
maids whom all the initials represent? They are sure to know."

Larose sensed that Stone was anxious to get rid of him and, so taking
the hint, he straightway left the bungalow with Detective Lesser.

The moment he had gone Stone said briskly. "Now we'll have that woman
in."

Mrs. Bowman showed herself to be a very sensible woman, and she answered
the questions put to her quickly and concisely. She said she had fought
off her faintness until Chime and the doctor had arrived and then had
just managed to get on to her bed. No she had not fainted right off, but
she had been very near to it. Still, she remembered everything that had
happened that night most clearly. Yes, she had heard the doctor send
Chime off to ring for the police.

"And what happened then?" asked Stone. "Did Dr. Athol come to you at
once?"

"Oh, no, not for a few minutes, but I can't tell you for how long."

"But what was he doing?" asked Stone carelessly.

"I don't know. I heard him pull down the blind, and then I think he
seemed to be walking about."

"In the passage, you mean?" suggested Stone.

"N-o, I think he was in here. The sounds seemed to come from this room."

"And then he called out to know how you were?" asked Stone.

"No, he came in of his own accord, to see me, and felt my pulse. Then we
talked about how terrible it was, and we wondered who could have done
it."

"Oh, then you had a conversation?"

"Yes, we were talking until it began to thunder, and that upset me a
bit, for the dog began to whine. Then Dr. Athol brought the dog on to
the bed, and said he had better give me a prick to quieten me down. He
said, too, he would take me home with him, so that I should not be
worried with any questions that night."

"Hum!" remarked Stone, "very considerate of him, I am sure," and he gave
a quick glance round at the others. Then he pointed to one of the open
drawers in the desk, and asked:--"Ever seen any of these pictures here?"

Mrs. Bowman nodded carelessly. "Oh, yes, he's often left the drawers
half open. He was careless about his own things, but he knew I wasn't a
curious woman, and took no notice of me. As often as not, he never shut
down the top of the desk."

"Did he tell you anything about his private affairs?" asked Stone.

"Never a word," replied the woman. "He was a very secretive man. He
hardly spoke to me at all."

Then Stone proceeded to ask her a lot more questions about the dead
man's routine of life, finally dismissing her with thanks for the
intelligent way in which she had answered all his questions.

"A very useful little interview that," remarked Stone, when the door had
closed behind her, "and it should give us quite a lot to think about."
He suddenly leant forward impressively and lowered his voice to a
whisper. "That doctor has deliberately lied to us, and we must ask
ourselves what was he doing it for. He told us he went in to that woman
directly he had pulled down the blind, but she now says it was some
minutes before he came in, and in the interval she had heard him moving
about here in this room." His face was all puckered into a frown. "What
does it mean?"

"A lot," exclaimed the Superintendent sourly, "and for one thing, that
I've been a darned fool."

Stone turned sharply to him. "You found no fingermarks here because they
had all been wiped off, and think--who was it who had the opportunity to
wipe them off?"

"That doctor quack," snarled the Superintendent, "and I can see now he's
been baulking us all along." He spoke very quickly. "To begin with, when
Chime phoned him that night to come at once and bring the village
constable with him, he pretended he hadn't heard about the constable,
and so came alone. Then he sent Chime to ring us up and directly Chime
had gone he pulled down the blind and proceeded methodically to rub away
any fingermarks that some visitor to Toller might have left, and,
finally, he bamboozled us that the housekeeper was so ill we must not
get her story that night." He shook his head angrily. "Yes, yes, if we
had, the woman would undoubtedly have mentioned her having come home
with the gardener's wife and then we should have at once thought of the
gardener and have wakened him up to know if he had seen or heard
anything."

"That's it," nodded Stone emphatically, as the Superintendent paused to
get his breath, "and with the gardener's story told to you, you would
have gone straight up to the Priory and perhaps have caught out one of
those girls when she was trembling and upset and before she had had time
to make up any tale." He thumped his fist upon the desk. "Yes, that
doctor knew or guessed that one of those girls had done it and at once
tried to shield her all he could."

"Steady, steady," exclaimed Carter with a frown, "you're guessing wildly
now." He nodded. "You're splendid, Charlie, at getting the truth out of
anyone, but when you come to summing everything up, you're much too
prejudiced in your opinions." He spoke sharply. "How do you know this
Bowman woman isn't making a mistake? She said she could only just crawl
on to her bed and in that condition she is quite likely to be mistaken
about the doctor's movements. Then how do we know there was any wiping
off of fingermarks at all? Bowman says Toller was away all day after she
had dusted the room and did not come in here that night until after she
had left with the gardener's wife at nearly half past seven. Then what
is more likely than that Toller, tired out with his day's work, threw
himself straight into the armchair and never moved to touch anything in
the room?"

"But no fingermarks on the door handle, Elias!" said Stone, pursing up
his lips, "that's suspicious isn't it?"

"Not necessarily," replied Carter. "Toller may have just washed his
hands before opening the door and they may have been clean and cool and
have left no marks." He spoke scornfully. "And why should Dr. Athol have
been guessing one of these girls had done it. They had been quite
amiably disposed towards Toller the previous night, as witness their
dancing with him. They had none of them seen him again after that, for
he was off to Colchester by half-past eight the next morning, so what in
Heaven's name could he have done to make them want to murder him so
suddenly, and the doctor be aware of it, too?"

"Well, if the quack was not shielding one of them, he was shielding
somebody else," said Stone stubbornly. "The discrepancies in the two
last stories we have heard and the absence of fingermarks here make me
almost certain of that."

"But if Toller were shot through the open window, as we know he was,"
persisted Carter, "why should there be any finger marks in this room?"
He went on decisively. "No, no, Charlie, it is no good us making blind
guesses. This is undoubtedly a crime of passion, and our only hope of
getting the murderer is to look back over Toller's life to find who
among those he has recently been brought in contact with would have had
reason to wish him ill. It is too late now to catch anyone red-handed,
and all we can do to pick out the murderer is to first find the motive
for the murder."

"A woman did it," asserted the Superintendent. "I'm sure of that."

"And I'm equally sure her name or initials are upon that dance
programme," said Stone. "Something came to a climax that night of the
ball, and the bullet here twenty-four hours later was the sequel. Well,
now we'll go and talk to the other servants, commencing with the
simple-minded Mr. Chime." He turned smilingly to Carter. "But all the
same, I'm not forgetting that doctor chap. In spite of the white washing
you would like to give him."

In the meantime Larose had been keeping an eye to catch Mrs. Bowman when
the Inspector had finished with her, and following her into the kitchen
garden, started an informal little talk, out of sight of the windows of
the house. He had begun to introduce himself, but soon found that was
quite unnecessary. She had heard about him from Chime, and, in common
with the other servants, was regarding him as having come to the Priory
to save the young mistresses from the rudeness and bullying of the
police.

"And I suppose," smiled Larose, "you had a rough time with those
gentlemen from Scotland Yard?"

"Oh, no," replied the woman, "they were quite nice with me. The stout
one did nearly all the questioning, and he was very polite." She looked
shrewdly at Larose. "But why did they ask me such a lot about Dr. Athol?
Surely they don't suspect him now?" Then, with tactful handling on the
part of Larose, she had soon told all that had taken place at the
interview with the Inspectors.

"And was the doctor friendly with Mr. Toller?" asked Larose.

"Well, not exactly friendly," replied the woman, "but Mr. Toller had
been to him when he cut his hand a few months ago, and they were on good
speaking terms. As a matter of fact, Dr. Athol called to see Mr. Toller
on the very morning of the day when he was killed."

"Oh, when he was away in Colchester?" Larose exclaimed, very interested.

"Yes, but he didn't, of course, know he had gone. He only came to find
out where Mr. Toller had got his fox terrier. He wanted one like him, he
said."

"Did you tell that to those gentlemen from Scotland Yard?" asked Larose.

The woman shook her head. "No, I just answered the questions they asked
me and that was all. That Superintendent has been very rude to us, and
he's put everyone against the police."

Larose thought for a moment. "When did you first know Mr. Toller was
going into Colchester that day?"

"Not until that morning. He didn't know himself before the letters came.
Then he rang up Miss Beatrice, and I heard him say the income tax people
were making a fuss about something and he'd better go in at once and
clear it up."

"What time did he get back home that evening?" asked Larose.

"About a quarter-past seven. He was very late and I was quite relieved
to see him, as I wanted to catch the half-past seven bus to go to that
concert."

"But surely the income tax people hadn't kept him all that time,"
suggested Larose.

"Of course not," said the woman, "but he had remained on in the town to
enjoy himself." She nodded. "I could see he'd had a spot or two and he
had brought a small flask of whisky home with him as well."

"But he wasn't drunk?" exclaimed Larose.

"Oh, no, but he was lively for him," replied Mrs. Bowman instantly. "He
very seldom touched anything, but I knew at once that he had that
evening."

"And when he'd had his tea, was it his custom to be in the office until
he went to bed?" asked Larose.

"Yes, he was always either at the desk or in the armchair where he was
found."

"Did he usually have the window open and the blind drawn up?"

"On hot nights, yes, and then he'd often doze off in the chair."

Larose spoke very solemnly. "Well now Mrs. Bowman, you probably know
more about Mr. Toller than anyone, and so please tell me if any lady
visitors ever came to the bungalow to see him."

"Never," she replied emphatically. "The only lady who ever came was Miss
Beatrice. He was a lonely man with no friends, and no strangers ever
came to see him."

"And what about his letters?" asked Larose. "Did you take in the letters
when they arrived?"

"Yes, nearly always. They were delivered at the Priory with the
newspapers and one of the maids brought them here. She generally passed
them on to me through the kitchen window. No, he very seldom had private
ones, in fact I think it must be months"--she hesitated--"oh, but he had
one a little while ago. I remember now, for it upset him and he didn't
finish his breakfast."

"Where was it from?" Larose asked.

"I don't remember. It was addressed in bad handwriting, and then the
next morning he went away early and didn't come back until the next
day." Mrs Bowman nodded. "I think someone must have died, for some days
after I found a black tie when I was tidying up his things, and I had
never seen it among them before."

"And how long ago is it since he was away for that night?"

"Oh, I don't know. I couldn't possibly tell you. I should say it was
from three weeks to about a month ago. At any rate, Miss Beatrice can
tell you, for of course, he had to get permission from her to go." She
smiled. "Miss Beatrice is very strict with everyone in that respect, and
with all her gentleness, no one takes any liberties with her."

"Now another question," said Larose after a few moments' pause. "Have
you ever seen the contents of his private drawers in the desk?"

Mrs. Bowman looked amused. "I could have seen them every day in the week
if I had wanted to, for the top of the desk was, as often as not, not
pulled down. Yes, I've seen them sometimes when they've been left half
open, but they didn't interest me, and I've just pushed the drawers to."

"Have you ever seen some envelopes containing faded flowers?"

"No, I've never noticed them. I shouldn't have among all the papers
there."

Larose spoke very carelessly. "Have you ever noticed a piece of faded
blue ribbon about?"

"Yes," she nodded, "it was hanging out of one of the pigeon-holes a few
days ago."

"And you'd never seen it until then?"

"No, and I did rather wonder where he'd got it from. It looked like a
girl's hair ribbon to me."

Giving a new turn to the conversation, Larose questioned her about
Toller's week-ends away, and she told him that on many Saturdays it had
been the agent's custom to leave the bungalow, on his motor cycle, some
time after two o'clock and not return until well after dark upon the
Sunday night. These excursions had commenced about six months
previously, and at one time it had taken very bad weather to keep him at
home. Latterly, however, he missed occasional Saturdays, and, indeed,
had not gone away upon the three week-ends just before he was killed.

Larose parted with her with the injunction that she was on no account to
mention to anyone the questions he had asked her, and he felt sure he
could trust her in that respect.

Walking back to the bungalow, he found, as he had expected, that only
Lesser was there. The detective was in the office and was just preparing
to empty the contents of Toller's private drawers upon a large sheet of
brown paper that he had spread out upon the floor.

"Hullo," exclaimed Larose, as if surprised that the two Inspectors were
no longer there, "they've gone, have they?"

"Yes, sir," replied the detective, "they're up at the house."

Larose took out a cigarette. "Got a match?" he asked.

"No, sir, but I'll get you one from the kitchen," said Lesser. As he
passed into the passage Larose darted over to the mantelshelf, and in
the twinkling of an eye had pushed the blood-splashed catalogue of motor
cars up his waistcoat and buttoned up his coat.

The detective returning with the matches, Larose thanked him, and then
brought up the matter of the entry into the bungalow the previous night.
Lesser was of the opinion that someone must have noticed him cycling
through the village, and guessing he would be going into Colchester, had
thought it a heaven-sent opportunity to break in.

"But do you think anyone in the village would have recognised you?"
asked Larose.

"Oh, yes. The tradesmen have been up here every day and seen me about,"
replied the man. "Besides, I happened to meet the constable then, and
stopped to have a short talk with him. I noticed that several people
were eyeing us, and no doubt they learnt who I was."

Returning to the Priory, Larose had lunch with the three sisters, a
dainty meal in a beautiful old oak-panelled room, and they were waited
upon by the soft-footed Chime and a smart parlormaid.

He admired the girls more than ever, and thought to himself with
something of a pang of conscience that the older he grew the more
susceptible he was to female beauty. He decided that Beatrice and Lady
Mentone were the prettiest, Eva lacking their gentleness of feature.

After lunch and alone with them in the lounge, he said he wanted to know
anything that had happened lately that was different from the ordinary
routine of their agent's daily life, but he did not mention he knew
Toller had been away for one night, only a little time ago.

"Well, we can quickly give you chapter and verse then," exclaimed Eva
with animation, "for Beatrice keeps a diary, and puts down everything
that happens day by day. We always go to her when we want to remember
anything."

"That's splendid," said Larose, and, turning to Beatrice, he asked her
if her diary were too private for him to read.

A shadow, he thought, crossed over her face, and then she replied
hesitatingly, "N--no, I don't think so. At any rate, I'll go through it
this evening and then either lend you the whole diary or else read out
anything that refers to Mr. Toller."

"And one other thing," said Larose. "I want your permission to go
anywhere and everywhere in this house and not to be questioned about my
actions."

"You mean even in our bedrooms?" queried Eva, looking rather surprised.

"Everywhere," smiled Larose. He nodded. "Yes, and perhaps particularly
in yours, Miss Eva, now that you've told us you can go in and out
through your window down the ivy."

"But surely you don't suspect any of us, do you?" asked Eva with a
pretty frown.

"Hardly," laughed Larose, "considering that you asked me to come here."
His face became grave. "Still, if one of you did do it. I want to be in
a position, if necessary, to tell the other two." He shook his head.
"But if I did find out anything about any of you, I shouldn't acquaint
our friends from Scotland Yard. I'm not working with them, and, as a
matter of fact, have just been politely told by Inspector Stone to keep
away from them in future."

"But, Mr. Larose," said Beatrice with her face looking rather white and
drawn, "you frighten me. I know I didn't do it, and I can't dream of
either Billy or Eva having done it either."

"Of course, you can't," nodded Larose reassuringly, "but then, as
Inspector Stone said, the suspicion seems so very strong against one of
you, that in looking for the murderer I must take you all into account."
He shook his head frowningly. "But mind you, whoever it was that killed
your agent, I am sure he or she did not do it except under the greatest
provocation, for I take it your Mr. Toller was a bad man."

"But what makes you think that?" asked Billy breathlessly.

"Well," said Larose slowly, "you've shown me his photograph and I know
his type: clever and unscrupulous, and the very man to have mystery in
his life. Besides, the police know other things about him, which perhaps
later you may learn." He spoke briskly and decisively. "Now, of course
I'm going to have a talk with your servants, and I think I shall see the
gardener first." He looked thoughtful. "I understand the gardener has no
idea whether the flying figure he saw belonged to a woman or a man?"

"No," said Beatrice, "he has no idea."

"And what colored frocks were you wearing that night?" asked Larose.

Eva supplied the information, seemingly very amused. "Beatrice's was
pink, Billy's was blue, and mine was cream."

"Well that, at least, ought to have helped the gardener to determine
whether it was a woman or a man he saw," said Larose, "for a man
wouldn't be in light clothes, unless, of course, he had taken his coat
off, and was in his shirt sleeves." He rose up from the settee. "Now,
which of you will come and introduce me to the gardener." He smiled at
Beatrice. "I think it had better be you and we can have a chat together
at the same time."

Beatrice rose from her seat and, smiling back, pretended to heave a big
sigh. "Yes, I'll be your first victim," she said, "for it seems I'm the
most suspected of us all."




CHAPTER V.--GATHERING UP THE THREADS


Larose spent the afternoon in talking to the domestics, and if his
questions were much more pleasantly put than the Superintendent's had
been, and if he were much more genial-looking than Inspector Stone, he
nevertheless went over the ground in an equally searching and thorough
manner.

Then he had tea in the lounge with the girls and two visitors who
called, and later, sauntering idly through the grounds, passed out on to
the high road and at once proceeded to quicken his steps as he walked
into the village.

Making his way to where he had learnt the village constable lived, he
was fortunate to find him at home. The constable was a big-faced portly
man, and upon Larose introducing himself, he beamed at once.

"I know you, sir," he smiled. "I was stationed in Hammersmith when you
came down about the Bridge road murder, and I remembered seeing you
then."

"Well, of course, I'm only an outsider now," smiled back Larose, "but I
happen to be a friend of the young ladies at the Priory, and so I'm just
scouting about to find out anything I can."

"And I hope, sir, the criminal doesn't turn out to be one of them," said
the constable emphatically. "I only know them by sight, but everyone
speaks well of them, and it seems impossible they could have had any
part in it."

"It was you whom Mr. Chime rang up that night, wasn't it?" asked Larose,
and when the constable nodded he went on. "But why didn't you go up to
the Priory yourself, at once?"

"They told me not to, at Colchester, sir," replied the constable. "You
see, I rang them up to tell them what had happened here, and then was
explaining to the Superintendent how to find the Priory, when he said,
as they would have to pass my house, I had better wait outside in the
road for their car and show them the way. They were coming at once, and
so it wouldn't mean five minutes delay."

"Well, how is it you didn't tell them about the gardener's cottage being
so near?" asked Larose.

"I didn't know it was there," replied the constable. He smiled. "I've
only been stationed here just over a month, and I had never been in the
Priory grounds."

They discussed the murder for a few minutes, and then Larose casually
brought round the conversation to Dr. Athol. The constable said the
doctor was considered to be very clever and was particularly esteemed by
everyone in the village because he never seemed to trouble about getting
his fees.

"But he's very well-off," he said, "and they say he only settled here so
that he could be quiet and write his books."

"Does he do many operations?" asked Larose.

The constable shook his head. "None at all, sir, I believe. He's only a
physician, and as the village is so near to Colchester he sends in any
surgical cases to the hospitals there."

"Well, do you know if there was any accident about here last night?"
asked Larose. "Did anyone break their legs or arms, for instance?"

The constable looked very puzzled at the question. "No one that I've
heard of, sir," he replied, and then suddenly he grinned. "Oh, yes,
there was what you might call an accident in these days. Mrs. Benger,
the baker's wife, had a baby last night."

Larose grinned too. "Did Dr. Athol attend her?" he asked.

"Yes, and it was a bad case. He had a lot of trouble with her."

Larose looked amused. "And how do you know it was a bad case? Did he
call you into consultation?"

"Not quite," laughed the constable, "but I heard about it afterwards.
Besides, I know he was in the house for more than two hours, as I saw
him arrive just as I was coming home for my tea, and then I happened to
be just saying good-night to that detective staying up at the Priory,
when he passed us coming out." He waved his arm round. "The baker's is
only a little way up the road."

They talked on for a little while and then Larose bade him good-bye, and
proceeded on his walk back to the Priory. "Whew!" he whistled, "what a
bulls-eye! As I thought that doctor's mixed up in it somehow! It was he
who got into the bungalow when Lesser was away last night and that
varnish smell Lesser noticed was the chloroform the doc had been using
for the confinement. He saw Lesser cycling off towards Colchester and,
upon the spur of the moment, must have gone straight off to the bungalow
with the reek of the chloroform strong upon his clothes." He screwed up
his eyes. "Now what on earth could he have gone there for?"

But his train of thought was interrupted just as he was passing into the
Priory grounds. He met a car coming out and, its occupants catching
sight of him, it was pulled up with a jerk and Stone put his head out of
the window.

"So you're loafing, are you, my boy!" he exclaimed. "What have you left
the Priory for?"

"Oh, just for a little walk to collect my thoughts," replied Larose. He
smiled. "I can't think properly with so many pretty girls about."

"Yes," commented Stone sternly, "that's where you'll go wrong. A pretty
face has always been your downfall. You'll be compounding a felony soon
and all, perhaps, for a squeeze of the hand and a few unlawful kisses."
He shook his head warningly. "Don't forget you're a married man now,
Gilbert."

Larose regarded him disdainfully. "And how have you been getting on?" he
asked. "Have you picked up any clues?"

"Several," replied Stone darkly, "but none are going to be passed on to
you." He let in his clutch. "Good-bye, we'll be seeing you again soon.
We've not finished here, by a long chalk."

Returning to the Priory and encountering Beatrice in the lounge, Larose
asked her if the key of the bungalow had been given up.

"No," she replied, "at the last moment Mr. Stone said that detectives
had some more enquiries to make here and so it would be more convenient
if he could remain until tomorrow. I'm going to have the key back then."

That night, towards midnight, all in the Priory except Larose were
wrapped in slumber, and he was in his bedroom writing to his wife. The
room was in darkness, except for a small reading lamp upon the desk.



"The Priory,

"Stratford St. Mary,

"July 14th.

"My dearest Helen," he wrote.

"Well, here I am at the delightful old Priory, quite enjoying myself,
but confronted with a problem that is certainly among the most difficult
I have ever been set to solve. As you know, I have come to clear three
extremely pretty girls of the suspicion of having committed a most
cold-blooded murder. Imagine my uneasiness and the apparent hopelessness
of my task when I tell you that two of the ablest and most experienced
men of the Yard, after having exhaustively cross-examined these girls,
are definitely of the opinion that one of them is the murderer.

"The dreadful thing is, these two Scotland Yard men have been all their
lives in crime, they are profound students of human nature, and, as I
well know, they are possessed of a sort of instinct that tells them
whether they are being lied to or not.

"I have worked with both of them on many cases, I know their capacity,
and have the greatest respect for their opinions."



Larose stopped writing here and, looking up, stared meditatively into
the shadows of the room. "Yes," he murmured softly, "Stone thought
Beatrice was in part untruthful and I think she was, too. A lot of what
she told us was no doubt fact, but, there were patches of falsehood in
between and she was very much on the defensive then. Of express purpose,
because she knows Chime cannot lie readily, she did not ask him a single
question that night in the hall, but I am of the same opinion as Stone,
that she had not been to sleep at all, and it was Chime, and Chime only,
whom she was expecting to knock upon her door." He sighed. "And she has
such a lovely, Madonna-like face, you would think a lie would scorch
those beautiful lips of hers."

He picked up his pen again and wrote on.



"But I will not bore you with my speculations, which are, of course, so
inconclusive as yet, and will only just write you a chatty letter about
some of those having parts in this dreadful drama. As I have said, the
girls are very pretty, and they are much of the same type, with
aristocratic features, lovely eyes, and the most beautiful complexions
imaginable. I think I like the eldest one, Beatrice, best. She, of
course, is the mistress of the Priory, and with all her gentleness of
disposition, carries herself with a proud dignity, and he would be a
bold man, indeed, who attempted any familiarity with her. Anyone can see
she is devoted to her sisters, and she mothers them in a quiet and
unobtrusive manner.

"Then there is Eva, the second girl, and she is quite as good-looking,
but of a bolder type of character."



He paused again here and considered.

"Ay, bolder," he ruminated, "but was that boldness, when Stone was
questioning her, all put on? To me, she seemed deuced anxious to
repeatedly thrust herself into the limelight on purpose to draw
attention away from the others, just as if she knew they were in some
peril. She's cleverer than her sisters, too, and realised that if the
hunt were not shaken off quick and lively, with every hour's delay there
was increasing danger that something might be found out." He nodded.
"Yes, Eva is a bluffer and a determined one at that. She looks to me the
most innocent of them all, but she's very uneasy about something, for
all that."

He wrote on.



"Then there is Lady Mentone, the youngest of the three, the young wife
of an elderly husband. Quite as pretty as the others, but a more
finished and sophisticated product of the sex, undoubtedly because she
was on the stage for two years. Her natural character, however, is quite
child-like, and she wants a lot of petting and taking care of to be
happy."



He looked up once more and laughed softly.

"Yes, child-like, but for all that a consummate actress, and an
accomplished little liar. She was lying heavily when she was telling
Stone about her conversation with Toller at the ball. She said she had
become suddenly interested in Toller because he knew so much about
theatrical matters, but she added she didn't know how he had come to
acquire that knowledge." He scoffed. "Just as if that wouldn't have been
the first thing she would have asked him, if he had not volunteered the
information himself. But he would certainly have said something
like:--'Oh, I was on the stage once myself,' or 'I had many friends in
the profession,' or 'I was an ardent theatre-goer.' I am sure he would
have said something of his own accord, to make his display of knowledge
intelligible to her, and I am equally as sure that if he hadn't she
would have enquired into it at once." He shook his head. "No, she lied
there, and the question is--why did she think it imperative she must do
so? What was she keeping back from us?"

He screwed up his face.

"Now another thing struck me. According to the cook, who is an
intelligent woman, and very observant, both Beatrice and Lady Mentone,
long before the ball was over, that night, looked very worn out. She
says she met Beatrice in the lounge, looking very white and tired, and
the other one didn't take part in any of the last dances. And she so
particularly noticed it about Lady Mentone because, as a rule, she says,
that young woman is energetic and lively almost up to the last moment
before she is ready to collapse."

He looked very thoughtful. "I am interested in what the cook says,
because that night of the ball seems a turning point somehow, both to
Beatrice and Lady Mentone. Before the ball, all animation and
excitement, then towards the end of the ball both are suddenly not
themselves, and then the next day Beatrice is very quiet and
preoccupied--she forgets to arrange for the day's meals, and the cook
has to go after her and remind her--and Lady Mentone is so out-of-sorts
that Dr. Athol is sent for and he remains with her for nearly a whole
hour."

He thought on for a long while and then with a frown of perplexity
picked up his pen and wrote on.



"Then, Helen, there are the servants, just the typical good-class ones
that you would expert to find in a family like the Brabazon-Fanes, and
all devoted to their young mistress, especially to Beatrice. There is
the butler, most respectable and trustworthy, very simple-minded and now
very much in a fog as to what he really did hear that fateful night; not
an intentional liar, but without a shadow of a doubt now shaping his
testimony so that it will tend to exonerate the girls as much as
possible. Then there is the cook, a stout, motherly woman of middle-age,
and very inquisitive in a pleasant sort of way. The two maids are
nonentities and need not be considered."

"Now I come to three interesting persons, and the first is the Rector of
Stratford St. Mary. He called this afternoon when we were having tea in
the lounge, and it needed no second sight to see that he is paying
stately court to Beatrice. He is a well-preserved and handsome widower
of about forty-five and inclined to be rather pompous. His father was an
Honorable and his uncle is Lord Vavasour. To a large extent he is
supposed to rule the village with a rod of iron, but I rather fancy the
secret of his power lies in the fact that he is possessed of ample
private means and is very generous to all his parishioners."

"This rector seemed very worried about the predicament of the sisters
and most interested in me. He shook his head a lot, and several times
remarked enigmatically to me that the suspicion about them must be
cleared up at all costs. I couldn't make out what he meant, he said it
in such a funny sort of way, as if he thought I was missing something,
and he asked me twice to come and call upon him and he would show me
over the church. He appears to be very much in love with Beatrice and,
naturally, she is flattered by his attention. But she has had one
romance in her life; her lover was killed in an accident, and I think
she is not the sort of girl who will love easily again.

"Now for a very interesting man--that Dr. Athol who was called first to
the dead man, and who is a great friend of the family as well as their
medical attendant. He will be Sir Norman Athol when his uncle dies. He
is about thirty, very clever and distinguished-looking, and has a very
kind face. I was introduced to him this morning and then met him again
at dinner tonight. I should say that he is usually of a very reserved
disposition, but he was certainly very friendly towards me. He was once
one of the medical officers of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum,
and he invited me to come up to his place and look over a collection of
photographs of some of the inmates he'd got. He also suggested that
perhaps I might like to attend a lecture he is giving tomorrow night in
Colchester upon 'Genius and Insanity.'"

"His fiancee, a Miss Mary Arbour was dining with us, too. She is a great
friend of Beatrice, and I could enthuse a lot about her if I had time.
She is a very beautiful woman, not a girl, but a woman, although she is
only of Beatrice's age, twenty-eight. She is tall and stately with a
beautifully-proportioned figure. She has nice features, beautiful deep
blue eyes, and, what you know I always admire in a woman, a beautiful
mouth. In repose her face is rather sad, but when she smiles everything
lights up, and you can then hardly take your eyes off her. I could see
Dr. Athol is very proud of her. Eva told me she was generally very
distant towards strangers, but she certainly could not have been nicer
than she was to me. She is well-to-do, but has no relations, and lives
with a companion in a house called 'The Towers,' only about a stone's
throw outside the walls of the Priory's grounds. She asked me,
particularly, to come and see some very special roses she has got. She
is going to be married to the doctor in six weeks, and I was laughingly
informed that her companion is very annoyed about it as she, the
companion, will then have to look for another situation."

"I have given you all these details about Dr. Athol and his bride-to-be
for special reasons which I will make clear to you later. The doctor is
a very charming man.

"Well, my best love to you, sweetheart.

Your loving husband,

Gilbert."



Larose leant back in his chair and laughed softly. "Yes, certainly, a
very charming man this Dr. Athol, but I have not the slightest doubt now
that he is mixed up in some way with this murder. Stone has dropped on
to it, too, for I can tell, by the questions he put to that housekeeper,
he is of opinion that the doctor was not speaking the truth about what
he told us he did that night in the bungalow, when he was waiting for
the police. And if the doc. was lying then, of course, it was because he
did something that he doesn't want us to know. Yes, yes, he was busy
wiping away all the possible fingermarks left by someone who might have
been in the bungalow that night."

He looked very puzzled. "But whose finger-prints were they? Were they
his own or someone else's? Still, one thing is quite certain. If he
himself had not left any there, nevertheless he sensed the possibility
of someone else having left some, and, as I say, he wanted to shield
whomsoever it was."

He chuckled softly. "But I have more against the doctor than Stone, for
I know he saw Lesser cycling off towards Colchester and went straight up
and broke into the bungalow. As Stone said, it was an amateur who tried
to open that desk, and it just fits in, too, that someone who was in
possession of surgical instruments should have opened the back door.
When I saw those marks on the key that had been turned in the lock, I
knew they were certainly not made by any mechanic's tool, with sharp and
fine serrations in the jaws. They were made by an instrument with blunt
serrations, set wide apart, such as a pair of the artery forceps, in the
possession of every medical man. And those are just what Dr. Athol would
have had that night, handy in his bag, when coming straight from a
confinement case."

His thoughts ran on. "And what he broke into the bungalow for he didn't
get. He was surprised by Lesser's return home when he was trying to open
the desk, which would, of course, have yielded very quickly to that big
screw driver, although he had set about the job in a stupid manner.
Again, as proof that he was hurried off, he didn't shut the back door
after him, fearful no doubt that Lesser would hear him making his
get-away."

He rose softly from his chair and walking to the window, leaned out and
stared into the night. There was no moon showing, but the stars gave a
faint light, and his eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness, he could
pick out the dim outlines of the bungalow that was so much occupying his
thoughts.

"And if that chap weren't still there," he murmured, "I'd go
straightaway and try to find out what the doctor was looking for"--he
shook his head frowningly--"but it may have been taken away now, in that
big parcel of Toller's effects I saw they had got in the car this
afternoon."

But noticing how late the hour was getting, he gave no further rein to
his meditations, and undressing quickly, proceeded to get into bed. He
shut his thoughts away from everything, even from the pretty face of
Beatrice Brabazon-Fane, and in a few minutes was asleep.




CHAPTER VI.--GHOSTS


The following morning at breakfast-time Beatrice handed over her diary
to Larose with the smiling intimation that she had run briefly through
it, and there was nothing in it he might not read.

The book was bound in black morocco, with 'Diary' in gold letters upon
the cover, and was about an inch thick. It was for no particular year,
and was not dated in any way, neither were its pages numbered. It was
provided with a lock and key.

"Dr. Athol gave us all one for a Christmas present last year," said
Beatrice, "but I am the only one who has written it up regularly. He has
kept one for many years and says he finds it most useful, and I quite
agree with him."

Larose retired to the library and spent a good half an hour going most
carefully through the later entries in the diary. They were made of
domestic, personal, and social matters, with many references to the
affairs of the estate. Every time, apparently, that Beatrice had been
over to the bungalow she had put it down, and Toller's name appeared
many times in reference to requests and complaints of the tenants. He
noticed that Toller had been away from the Priory on the third and
fourth days of the preceding month, a Tuesday and a Wednesday.

His perusal of the diary over, Larose regarded it very thoughtfully. He
balanced it upon the palm of his hand many times, and let it open
itself; he scrutinised the stitching that bound the pages together; and
finally he very carefully counted the number of pages it contained.

Then, making a note of something in a little pocket book he carried, he
returned the diary to Beatrice with many thanks and the remark that he
would know later whether its perusal had been of any service to him.
Then he went to pay a visit to Dr. Athol. He had learnt where he lived,
and expected him to be out at that time in the morning. But that did not
trouble him in any way, as all he wanted was to get some idea of the
geography of the house. He remembered the doctor had told him he was
lecturing in Colchester that night, and he, Larose, was intending then
to get inside the house through some window and have a look at the
surgical instruments. Also he very much wanted to get a glimpse of the
diary the doctor was known to keep, and see what entry there was for the
night of the murder.

The doctor's house was just off the main road, and was two-storied, old,
and covered in ivy. It was approached by a pretty little lane, and a
short drive led up to the front door.

Just as Larose was passing up the lane, a butcher's cart dashed by him,
and he saw it turn into the doctor's drive! He followed, but it was not
in sight as he approached the house. He heard a merry voice call out
"Butcher! Butcher!" at the back, followed by shrill female voices and
much laughter.

Gaining the hall door, he found it wide open, and from the dust-pan and
brush upon the carpet, he guessed that one of the maids had been
interrupted in her work by the arrival of the butcher, and had gone to
the back door to join in a chat with him.

The house was low and long, and at the end of the rather narrow hall was
the door leading to the kitchen regions. Larose hesitated about ringing
the bell, and then, the laughter continuing, he walked boldly inside and
peered quickly one after another into the four rooms opening into the
hall.

"Breakfast room, dining room, drawing room, and consulting room," he
muttered, "and all the windows kept opened and with only very
old-fashioned catches. Excellent! Couldn't be better!" He took a
lightning glance at a big bureau in a corner. "And I shall have no
difficulty there. Really, things seem so propitious that I'm half
inclined to take a chance now." But hearing the wheels of the butcher's
cart upon the drive, he thought better of it, and tip-toed back quickly
into the hall.

No, the doctor was not at home, the maid told him, but he would be in at
two o'clock, and Larose noted with some satisfaction that she looked a
careless sort of girl and just the kind to leave doors unlocked and
windows unbolted at night.

Returning towards the Priory by a rather roundabout way, he came to the
entrance to 'The Towers', and, after a moment's hesitation, walked into
the drive there.

"I may as well have a little talk with Miss Arbour," he thought. "She
asked me to come and look at her roses, and it struck me, too, last
night, she doesn't like Lady Mentone overmuch, so perhaps she may tell
me something about her that I haven't heard. I could see Billy is half
in love with the doctor herself, and of course Miss Arbour must know it
as well."

Walking up the drive, he came upon a thin elderly woman cutting roses
from some trees by the hall door, and she looked up at him enquiringly.

"Is Miss Arbour at home?" he asked, rather thinking he was in the
presence of the companion.

"No," replied the woman; "but what is it you want?"

"Oh, nothing particular," said Larose, "but I met her last night, and
was coming to pay a little call."

"You met her last night!" exclaimed the woman. Her eyes grew very wide.
"Then are you Mr. Larose?" and when Larose smilingly nodded assent, she
burst out excitedly. "Have you found out anything about the murderer
yet?"

"Hardly!" laughed Larose, "and I'm afraid it'll take us some time."

"I'm Miss Arbour's friend, Miss Carrington," explained the woman. "I
live here with her, and, of course, have heard everything that's been
happening day by day at the Priory. It's been a dreadful shock to us."

"It must have been," agreed Larose. He looked up at the house. "But what
a wonderful view there should be over the country from the turret of
that tower."

"There is," said Miss Carrington. She lowered her voice darkly. "And we
happened to be sitting up there the very night of the murder." She
shuddered. "If we had only known it, the crime was being done under our
very eyes, and only a big oak tree that stands in the way may have
prevented us seeing the murderer." A thought struck her. "But would you
like to go up into the turret and see how near everything seems?"

Larose expressed his pleasure at the idea, and so was taken into the
house, and by a little winding staircase from the second story ascended
to the tower. A glorious stretch of country was unfolded to him. He was
looking right over the Priory grounds, and only a thick row of trees hid
the Priory itself from view.

"Yes," went on Miss Arbour's companion, "and that night we were up here
from soon after dinner until past midnight"--she nodded
mysteriously--"and quite a lot of things happened. First a courting
couple came up that little lane running round the Priory wall, which is
very unusual, because some years ago a man hanged himself on one of the
trees there, and the place is supposed to be haunted. Then later I saw a
woman coming in a great hurry up the lane. Her head was muffled in a
scarf, and, of course, I could not see who she was from here, but I
thought she was swinging herself along like Lady Mentone does when she
is walking very quickly. I started to point her out to Mary, that's Miss
Arbour, but she was reading, and looked up too late to see her before
she was among the shadows of the trees."

"You saw Lady Mentone then that night!" ejaculated Larose, hardly able
to contain his surprise.

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Miss Carrington quickly. "I don't say I
positively recognised Lady Mentone. I only say this woman was walking
like Lady Mentone does, with a swing from the hips."

"And what time would that have been?" asked Larose, very puzzled.

"Oh, quite early that night, long before ten o'clock."

Larose regarded her thoughtfully. She had been gabbling on as if only
for the pleasure of hearing herself talk, but he was now wondering, all
at once, if she really meant to convey some information to him.

She went on. "And then another thing happened, and I'll only tell you
that if you promise me you'll not let anyone know I have mentioned it.
Miss Arbour is always getting angry with me for what she calls
gossiping."

"Oh, I won't mention it," said Larose. "I'll be mum as an oyster."

"Well, much later on," said Miss Carrington, "a man appeared in the lane
and he appeared so quickly that I was sure he must have dropped down
over the Priory wall. 'Look.' I called out to Mary, 'there's Dr. Athol
there. I'm sure it is,' and Mary got very angry and said he was nothing
like him. The man ran up the lane." She cast down her eyes. "Of course I
must have been mistaken and it was probably only because I'd thought
that the woman I had seen before was walking like Lady Mentone that I
then thought the man looked like Dr. Athol. You see they're such great
friends that I always think of them together." She laughed meaningly.
"Really, they ought to be the couple getting married next month," she
nodded. "I'm sure he thinks more of her than he does of Mary, and I
believe, too, Mary's beginning to know it."

There could be no mistaking her meaning now, Larose realised. She was
definitely spiteful and no doubt because, as he had learned the previous
night, she would be leaving Miss Arbour upon the latter's marriage. So
she was now bringing up about the man and the woman in the lane to
suggest that they had been Dr. Athol and Lady Mentone who must have had
a rendezvous there.

"And what time was it that you saw this man?" asked Larose carelessly.

"Well, I don't know that," she replied, "because I dozed off afterwards
and I remember the eleven o'clock chimes waking me up with a start."

When a few minutes later Larose left her, he was in a very puzzled frame
of mind. If what she had told him was the truth, then besides adding to
his suspicions about Dr. Athol, it brought Billy Mentone definitely into
the picture. But was it true, he asked himself, or was this spiteful
woman just making it all up to bring scandal upon Dr. Athol and so, at
the last moment, prevent his marrying Miss Arbour?

Then all at once Larose drew in a deep breath. There must be something
in it, he told himself excitedly, for it could not be just a coincidence
that this woman was bringing Dr. Athol upon the scene too.

Here was he tracking the doctor and suspecting him of knowing something
about the murder, and now from a totally unexpected quarter were coming
insinuations, whether or not put forward in spite it did not matter,
suggesting also that he was involved in it!

And not only that, but by the woman bringing in Lady Mentone, she was
supplying the motive that he, Larose, had been groping for all along.

A wild rush of thoughts surged through Larose's mind, and he let his
imagination run riot wheresoever it would.

Lady Mentone was Toller's victim! She had fallen into his power somehow
and she had appealed to Dr. Athol to save her! Toller had been trying to
blackmail her! He had shown his hand that night when they were sitting
out in the conservatory! The next morning she had been ill, and in that
long interview with Dr. Athol had told him everything, and the doctor
had promised to save her! He had at once gone to see Toller, but had
found him out, and had made that excuse to the housekeeper about a dog.
Then had come the events of that night, and nothing was as yet clear
then, except that the doctor had taken some part in them!

His thoughts ran on. Then, if it were a case of blackmailing Lady
Mentone, it could only be that Toller had found out something in Lady
Mentone's past life, most likely something that had happened when she was
on the stage and so--ah! but another thought thrilled through him! That
length of hair ribbon that had been among Toller's effects! It was
creased in a peculiar way! Of course, of course, it had been tied round
a bundle of letters, and, oh! oh! blue was Lady Mentone's favorite
color, as evidenced by the color scheme of her bedroom, and the blue
dress she was actually wearing that very day.

About half an hour later, sitting at lunch opposite to the girl who was
now so occupying his thoughts, he wondered, as he watched her laughing
eyes when she smiled, and the play of her pretty mouth when she spoke,
if it could be possible such a dainty and glorious creature were a
murderess. He looked at her hands. They were small and white and
beautifully shaped, and yet it was one of those soft fingers, he was
wanting to make out, which had pressed the trigger of that rifle and
sent a fellow being into eternity.

It was a particularly bright and lively meal, as if, with the withdrawal
of the policemen and detectives, the girls were now freed from all their
anxieties. Both Beatrice and Lady Mentone had lost their careworn looks
and chatted confidently with Larose, exactly as they would to an old
friend of the family, as well as to an honored guest.

And then suddenly a great revulsion of feeling came over Larose, and he
realised that he had absolutely no evidence against anyone, and that
their guilt was all conjecture on his part. So, with the meal over, with
no pang of conscience, he accepted a cigarette from Lady Mentone,
admiring once again the beauty of the hand that held the cigarette case
out to him.

But he did not dally long with his fair companions, and early in the
afternoon found him entering the showroom of the Colchester Motoring
Company. He asked to see a Mr. R. Messenger, and upon a young fellow
coming forward, he held out for inspection the cover of the motor car
catalogue that he smuggled out of Toller's office. He had, however, so
folded the cover that the blood-marks upon it could not be seen.

"Did you write your name there?" he asked, pointing to 'R. Messenger' on
the cover.

"Yes, sir," replied the man. "I generally do so when I give anyone a
catalogue, so that if they return they will know who waited upon them
and will ask for me again."

"Well, do you remember a gentleman coming here last Tuesday," asked
Larose, "a tall, good-looking man, well-dressed, with a moustache?"

"Certainly," replied the man at once. "The gentleman was particularly
interested in the Ormonde cars for which we are the agents, and I gave
him a demonstration in one."

"Did he seem a serious customer?" asked Larose. "I mean did he give you
the impression that he was really in the position of being able to buy
such a car?"

"Most assuredly," replied the man. "Indeed, he asked what discount there
would be upon an immediate cash purchase."

"Did he give you his name?" was the next question.

"No. I asked him, but he said it didn't matter and he would call again."

"Thank you," said Larose. "That's all I wanted to know." Then, noting
the puzzled look upon the salesman's face, he added with a smile. "And
if he does come in again to purchase the car, be sure you don't take a
cheque."

"Oh, thank you, sir," said the man, nodding significantly. "I'm sure we
are very much obliged to you for the hint. I understand."

"And that means," commented Larose grimly when he was out again in the
street, "that Toller was undoubtedly expecting he would shortly be in
the possession of money." His face assumed a stern expression. "Yes, he
was certainly on the blackmail"--he hesitated and looked rather
worried--"unless money were coming to him from the estate of that person
for whose funeral he bought the black tie."

His next visit was to the Public Library and he was going to take a long
shot there. It was on Tuesday the second of June that Toller had
received the letter that caused him to be away from Stratford St. Mary
on the following Wednesday and Thursday and return with a black tie in
his possession. Therefore, presumably, Larose was arguing, someone in
whom he was interested had died on the Monday. In that case the decease
of that person, if it were advertised at all, would be in the death
column of some newspaper on the Tuesday or Wednesday, and there was just
a chance the dead person might have been a relative of Toller, and of
the same name.

Larose was particularly wanting to find out who had died, for it was
insistently ringing in his mind that it was then Toller had obtained the
material for the blackmailing, if indeed he had been blackmailing. He
argued that, because the going away of Toller for those two days had
been apparently the only unusual happening for a long time in Toller's
usually uneventful life, and the very occasion, if someone had died, of
finding something among the latter's papers.

Then again, if Lady Mentone were the victim of the blackmailing, it
would account for Toller having held his hand until he could get in
close touch with her. She was known to be arriving upon a visit to the
Priory a few days before the tenants' ball, and Toller would be sure he
would get a chance, under the most auspicious circumstances possible, of
speaking to her alone.

He knew it was a slender chance of any of Toller's relations considering
themselves important enough to advertise the death of any of their
number, but still there was always the chance.

So he started looking through the files of the daily papers for June 3
and 4 for anyone of the name of Toller who had died, but he was soon
regarding his labor as a very unprofitable one.

'The Daily Telegraph,' 'The Express,' 'The Daily Mail,' and the other
daily papers were patiently gone through, but there was no Toller
anywhere, and coming at last to 'The Times,' he smiled faintly at the
thought of finding the name there. No, still no Toller; and then, as
with the previous newspapers, he began to con through all the Christian
names of the deceased. Then suddenly he frowned, caught his breath, and
gave a low whistle as he read over to himself:--

"Wedlake--On the 2nd of June, at 28 Lissom street, Tottenham Court road.
Daniel Edwin, for twenty-nine years in the box office of the Olympic
Theatre. Aged 68."

"Whew!" he whistled. "An Edwin in the box office of a theatre for
twenty-nine years and one of Toller's names was Edwin! Great Scott! If
they were related then no wonder Toller knew something about theatrical
matters!"

He looked quickly at his watch. "Nearly four o'clock and it's 52 miles
to town." He made a rapid calculation. "No, I couldn't do it in time.
The doctor's going to be out tonight, and I may not get such an
opportunity again." His eyes glinted. "But I'll pay a visit to Lissom
street, sure enough, tomorrow."

That night, as soon as it was dark, Larose slipped out of the Priory and
made his way across the grounds towards the wall where it was nearest to
Dr. Athol's house. He had no fear that he would be seen by anyone in
'The Towers', for the night was pitch black, and the moon would not be
up for some hours.

Reaching the belt of trees close to the wall, he had almost to feel his
way between them, but he had marked out the way he would go, earlier in
the evening, and so soon dropped into the narrow lane where Miss
Arbour's companion had seen so much to interest her upon the night of
the murder.

He crept up the doctor's drive and reconnoitring round the house saw
there was only one light showing and that, in the kitchen. He had learnt
that the doctor kept only two maids, and so, hearing voices there, he
felt quite confident he would have all the front rooms of the house to
himself.

Approaching the window of the consulting room, he found it was not only
unlatched, but was also open for some inches at the top. He lifted the
sash very quietly and stepped into the room. Then his first action was
to place a small wooden wedge under the door so that he could not be
taken by surprise if anyone attempted to enter.

Then he flashed a small torch and made for the surgical instruments that
he had noticed that morning in a glass case upon a small table in one of
the corners of the room. There were quite a large number of artery and
other forceps among them, and, quickly examining their jaws, one by one,
he was extremely disappointed to find that none of them showed any signs
of having been used for a purpose other than that for which they were
intended.

"But there are no midwifery instruments here," he muttered, "so he must
have kept those in a different place."

Then his light fell upon a good-sized black leather bag under the table
desk and his eyes sparkled when, upon opening it, he found another
glittering array of nickel-plated instruments. Then his search was a
very short one, for the jaws of almost the very first pair of artery
forceps he picked up showed signs of rough usage. The serrations were
flattened and shiney, with much of the nickel-plating worn off. Also,
the jaws no longer met as closely as they should have done. A few
moments' search and he found a second and slightly stouter pair in the
same condition.

He replaced them quickly and, closing the bag, restored it to its place
under the desk. He made no comment, contenting himself with a grim
smile.

He next approached a beautiful Sheraton bureau. There were six
good-sized drawers to it and all were locked. The locks gave him some
little trouble, refusing to yield to any of the skeleton keys he had
brought with him, but some very stiff strips of half-round wire and a
pair of pincers, after some patience, overcame the difficulty, and the
locks, in turn clicked open.

In the first drawer he looked into he found four diaries, each one the
facsimile of the one Beatrice had lent him that morning, and they were
all unlocked. A quick glance showed him they went back for several
years. He saw, too, at once that they were in no sense medical case
books and contained no record of the doctor's purely professional
dealings with his patients. Instead, they were just the happenings of
his personal and social life, chattily put down.

Larose turned to the entries of that week and at once he frowned. There
was a whole page given to the day of the Priory Tenants' Ball and most
of that to the ball itself. Then for the next day there were just the
terse entries. "Very sultry day. Thunderstorm at night. Chime rang me up
11.30 p.m. Toller shot." Then the entries for the next day were very
restrained, just mentioning that Superintendent Russell of Colchester
and several detectives were all day up at the Priory and that the
Brabazon-Fane girls were very upset. For the following day the entries
were much fuller, and it seemed that, as far as writing up his diary,
the doctor's equilibrium had been restored.

For a long moment Larose stood hesitating, listening intently for any
sounds out in the hall, but everything was perfectly quiet and so he
seated himself down and laying his torch upon the desk, began very
quickly to count how many pages the diary contained.

"Exactly as I thought," was his whispered comment presently. "There are
416 pages here and in Beatrice's only 412. She has torn two leaves out."

Hurriedly replacing the diary, he closed the top drawer, and then
proceeded to go quickly through the other three. "If he is hiding
anything he's found in the bungalow, it will be here," he murmured, "but
I don't think he got what he was after that night, or, at any rate, not
all that he wanted then."

But he found nothing to interest him for a few moments, and then
suddenly, at the very bottom of the last drawer, he came upon a little
packet of letters with a dance programme on top and just underneath that
what felt like a withered flower in an envelope. The packet was tied
round with a piece of blue ribbon.

"Good God!" he gasped. "What a coincidence!" His eyebrows dropped to one
straight line, and he added grimly. "But is it a coincidence? This
ribbon is almost the very spit of the piece that was in Toller's
drawer."

And then, to his horror, he heard a door opening at the back of the
house and the sound of quickly approaching voices in the hall. He caught
his breath in his dismay, but, not for one moment losing his presence of
mind, thrust the packet into his pocket and softly but swiftly pushed to
the drawers of the bureau. Then he darted across to the door and stood
hesitating, doubtful as to whether he should withdraw the wedge or not.

But to his great relief there came a loud burst of music, and he
realised the maids had switched on the wireless in some other room. So
he promptly pulled away the wedge from under the door, and slipping out
of the window, pulled down the sash and disappeared into the darkness of
the night.

Arriving back at the Priory and in the silence of his own room, with
everyone else in the house apparently asleep, Larose proceeded to
examine the little packet.

He untied the ribbon and studied it critically. Certainly it was of
exactly the same color as the piece in Toller's desk, but he could not be
sure it was of the same width. Still, the coincidence of the two ribbons
was certainly extraordinary. Then he scrutinised the dance programme. It
was one of the Horsham Tennis Club. It was faded and discolored, and he
was not surprised to see the date upon it was more than ten years
back--May 29, 1922. There were no names upon it that struck any chord of
memory in him.

"Hum!" he remarked. "E. Ransome, R. Bailey, A. Chandos, Eva Brown.
Almost always the full name put down, so it looks as if he did not know
anyone there too well. Still 'A.C.' comes twice in the second half of
the programme, and as, apparently, he took her into supper as well, it
would seem that at any rate he is getting acquainted with one of them."

He picked up the first envelope. It was yellow and discolored, and the
ink of the very girlish-looking handwriting upon it was faded, it was
postmarked "Faygate, August 2, 1922," and addressed to "Norman Athol,
Esq., St. Benger's Hospital, London, E." He abstracted the letter from
it and read:




"The Hall,

Faygate,

Surrey.

Dear Mr. Athol,

I want to see you particularly. Can you come down this week? We are not
on the telephone as you know, but if you wire or write, I will meet you
at the station at any time you mention, in the evening preferred.

Sincerely yours.

Adele Chandos."



"Hum!" remarked Larose, "and so she was the Adele Chandos and the 'A.C.'
he had had four dances with that night and took into supper."

The next letter was in the same handwriting, and from the same place,
but written a fortnight later. It read:



"Dear Mr. Athol,

You must have got my letter! Then what does it mean that you have not
replied to it? Surely you are not going to be so despicable as to take
no notice. I tell you it is very urgent that I see you at once.

Sincerely yours.

Adele Chandos."



"Dear me! dear me!" exclaimed Larose. "I'm afraid it looks like tragedy
here." He frowned heavily. "Really, I do hope I find I was justified in
taking these letters."

The third envelope had got a French stamp upon it and was thickly
covered with postmarks. It had not reached its destination, but had been
returned to the sender through the London Dead Letter Office marked,
"Gone away. Address unknown." Its earliest postmark was "Marseilles,
October 18th, 1922." It was addressed in a very shaky hand writing to:



"Miss Adele Chandos,

care of Miss Neave,

The Hall,

Faygate, l'Angleterre."



Larose felt very uncomfortable as he drew out the letter.

It was written from the Hospital de St. Pierre, Marseilles, and read:



"My dear Miss Chandos,

I hope everything is quite well with you and that you are enjoying nice
autumn weather. You will no doubt have been wondering what has become of
me, but I have been desperately ill with typhoid fever and, even now,
can hardly grasp my pen. As I told you, I went to Cairo to visit my
uncle, but I was kept there a fortnight longer than I had anticipated,
and then, coming up the Mediterranean, I became sick, and was landed
here at Marseilles and brought to this hospital. It has been a long and
wearying illness for it slightly affected my spine. Indeed the doctors
here tell me that only these last few days have they felt confident that
I was going to get well.

However, I fear the convalescence will be very slow and it may even be a
month and more before I am able to leave here. So do please write and
tell me everything about yourself. I always look upon those few days in
Horsham as the happiest and most thrilling of all my life.

With my very kindest regards.

Very Sincerely yours,

Norman Athol.

P.S.--I have still got that carnation you gave me, that last wonderful
evening."



The fourth letter was again from Norman Athol, still a patient at the
St. Pierre Hospital, and it had met with the same fate as its
predecessor, being, like it, returned to Marseilles through the Dead
Letter Office. It had told of the sufferer, rapidly gathering strength
and hoping soon to be in London and back at his medical studies.

The fifth and last letter was from some woman, or at least, Larose
judged from the handwriting that it was from a woman, living at Horsham,
and it was dated December 2nd of the same year as the other letters. It
was addressed to Norman Athol at St. Benger's Hospital, and the writer
twitted him with being so interested in Adele Chandos.

"No, we never knew what became of her," she wrote, "for within three
days of old Miss Neave's death she went off, without saying good-bye to
anyone. Then the house was shut up and within a month all the furniture
and the house itself had been sold by auction. I don't wonder you were
taken with the pretty Adele. She was a lovely girl." The letter finished
up with "Sincerely yours, L. Barton."

Larose made up the little bundle with its blue ribbon, frowning all the
time. "And he has kept them all these years," ran his thoughts, "hoping
that he may one day meet her again and vindicate himself in her eyes. Of
course, he shall have them back. I'll mail them to him directly this
business is all over. I ought never to have touched them, but I didn't
know." He shook his head. "Now, I wonder, I wonder what that girls
letter really meant? Did she"--but he pulled himself up short. "There,
there, Gilbert, what's that to do with you? Just leave it alone and get
quickly into bed. You've a hard day's work tomorrow, and there's a hot
trail to follow."




CHAPTER VII.--THE PERILS OF A PRETTY FACE


The following morning, shortly after ten o'clock, Larose rang the bell
of number 28 Lissom street, and a slatternly-looking woman of about
middle age, with inflamed eyes, answered the door.

The street was a poor-class one, and if Larose had not been impressed by
the look of the house from outside, his unfavorable opinion of things
generally, deepened when the door was opened. The passage looked dirty
and untended, the linoleum was worn, and full of holes, and the
unpleasant smell of unventilated rooms offended his nostrils.

"I want to get a few details of the late Mr. Wedlake's life," he said
most politely. "I understand he used to live here."

"But he's been dead now for some weeks," snapped the woman sharply. "He
died the beginning of last month."

"Yes, I saw the announcement when it appeared in the newspapers," smiled
Larose. "That's how I knew he lived here."

"Oh! it was in the newspapers, was it?" grunted the woman. "Well, I
didn't see it. I never have time to read the newspapers now. I'm a busy
woman." She glared significantly at Larose. "I am busy now. I have four
lodgers to attend to."

"But I came from a newspaper," fibbed Larose, "and, of course, we're
going to pay you for any information you give," and producing a one
pound note, he held it out for her acceptance.

Her face showed her surprise. She took the note, and then immediately
her manner changed, and she spoke most politely. "Come in, sir. Of
course I'll tell you all I can," and Larose was ushered into a stuffy
little parlor and invited to take a chair.

"You see," began Larose suavely, "Mr. Wedlake was a bit of a celebrity
in theatrical circles, as he'd been in charge of the box office at the
Olympic Theatre for nearly thirty years."

"And don't I know that," smiled the woman. "The poor old gent was always
talking about it, and I've had to listen to it for five years."

"Five years!" ejaculated Larose, as if very surprised. "Good gracious!
Had he lived here all that time?"

"Ever since his old master, Mr. Aaronson died," said the woman. "The
family allowed him 2 a week, which was quite generous, considering Mr.
Aaronson had been living away from his wife, and the two children had
taken their mother's part. I am always astonished that they gave Mr.
Wedlake anything."

"Did any of them come to Mr Wedlake's funeral?" asked Larose beginning
to turn the conversation into the channel he wanted.

"Yes, one of them," said the woman. "He and Mr. Wedlake's nephew were
the only mourners."

"Mr. Wedlake's nephew," frowned Larose, looking rather puzzled, and then
he took the plunge. "Ah! that would be Mr. Toller, from Stratford St.
Mary, of course?"

"Yes," nodded the woman. "Mr. Toller was the only relation he had."

Larose's heart gave a great bound. He had struck plumb on to the very
middle of the target! He had picked up a trail that not one in a
thousand would have known existed!

"And Mr. Wedlake's old master, this Mr. Aaronson," he said hesitatingly,
"let me think. Who was he?"

"THE Mr. Aaronson," laughed the woman. "Mark Aaronson who owned the
Olympic Theatre. You must have heard of him. He had been owner and
manager there for many years, and he must have produced scores of plays
in his time."

"Yes, yes, of course!" exclaimed Larose, "but I didn't remember him for
the moment." He spoke eagerly. "It was he who produced 'The Moss Rose.'"

"Oh, I don't know about that," said the woman. "I've been to no theatre
for twenty years. My life's been much too hard and busy to go gadding
about on pleasure." Her face brightened. "But there are a bundle of old
playbills in the attic and you might find it there. Mr. Wedlake had got
a lot of playbills and when he died and Mr. Toller went through his
things, he told me he was going to take some of them, although they were
of no value to any one." She fingered the crisp note Larose had given
her, and added:--"But he forgot them and you can have them, if you like.
I meant to have burnt them, as I don't suppose Toller will come back and
I don't want rubbish lying about and collecting the dust."

Larose thanked her gratefully and then, continuing the conversation,
asked: "And Mr. Wedlake was working for Mr. Aaronson up to the time Mr.
Aaronson died?"

"Oh, yes," was the reply, "but he had left the box office several years
before that. He had got too old, and Mr. Aaronson had taken him on to be
his confidential attendant at home. Mr. Wedlake was always to be
trusted, and I think he did many things for Mr. Aaronson that it was
wise shouldn't get known." She laughed meaningly. "Mr. Aaronson was a
gay bird, they say, and he was only forty-eight when he died. Mr.
Wedlake said he was a wonderfully handsome man, and very fascinating."

"He died suddenly?" guessed Larose.

"Yes, of pneumonia, and he'd left no will. If he had, I'm sure he'd have
left something substantial to Mr. Wedlake."

"Did Mr. Wedlake leave anything?"

"Twelve and ninepence," laughed the woman, "and the clothes he stood up
in. He died very suddenly, too. He had a stroke, and was dead in two
minutes. I went out and rang up young Mr. Aaronson, and he arranged for
the funeral."

"Did Mr. Toller often come here?" asked Larose.

"On a Sunday, every two or three months." The woman grinned. "I fancy he
thought the old gent had got a bit of money put away, and he would come
into it. But he was mistaken and looked very glum as he went through his
box."

"What is Mr. Toller?" asked Larose, guessing as she did not read the
newspapers she did not know he was dead.

"A clerk, I think, now, down at that place in Essex. But I've heard Mr.
Wedlake say he's been lots of things; something in a money-lender's
office, a gentleman's valet, and a waiter in a flash night club. His
mother was only a charwoman."

Larose smiled to himself. How well, he thought, he could now understand
Toller's personality! A scheming, imitative man, who had picked up his
poise and bearing from the better class people with whom he had mixed in
a menial capacity! It was indeed a strange world!

Chatting a few minutes longer, he left the house with a thick bundle
under his arm, and then turning into a little coffee house in Tottenham
Court road, which was quite empty at that time of the morning, he
ordered a cup of coffee and proceeded to go through the playbills.

Yes, there was the one of 'The Moss Rose,' the very first one upon the
top of all of them, and it almost seemed from its position, that Toller
might have placed it there.

He scanned eagerly down the cast for a Margaret Brabazon-Fane, and then
he smiled. "Of course, of course," he murmured, "this Phyllis Fane is
she! She didn't make use of her own name!" He nodded. "And from the size
of the letters she had quite an important part."

He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "And what is all this leading up to?"
he asked himself. "Six and a half years ago a very beautiful young girl,
only just over eighteen, who had run away from her home, was in the
employ of a very attractive man nearly five and twenty years older than
she. This man was separated from his wife and reputed to be gay, and
five and a half years ago he died very suddenly. Then six weeks ago we
have his confidential servant dying and this servant's nephew goes
through his uncle's papers. This nephew happens to be employed by this
one-time beautiful girl--now a beautiful woman and married to a wealthy
elderly man--and he has a private talk with her. At once, then, it seems
as if a bomb had burst in this woman's house. She becomes suddenly ill,
she secretly goes out at night, and this nephew is found murdered. Now,
what does it all mean, I ask myself? What is the most natural
explanation?"

He pursed up his lips. "Of course, blackmail would account for
everything. Suppose this girl had had an affair with her employer and
had written him compromising letters, which he had kept for sentimental
reasons, and tied round with a piece of ribbon from her hair." He
nodded. "Often a gay lover who has carelessly plucked many a bright
flower in his early days, suddenly finds himself, when well advanced
into middle age, really and hopelessly in love for the first time. Then
he's more romantic a hundredfold than a young boy in the calf-love of
his 'teens."

He went on. "Well, this servant perhaps kept his old master's letters.
If he did, for what purpose we shall never know. Perhaps in the capacity
of almost a confidential friend he had known the girl too, and had kept
them for sentimental reasons of his own. Perhaps he had brought them
away from his dead master's house so that they should not fall into the
hands of the family and then--forgot them. That woman said she was sure
the box where Wedlake's papers were had not been touched for years until
Toller opened it after the funeral."

He paused a moment to collect his thoughts.

"Then how was it the letters became separated from the ribbon? Was it,
perhaps, that Toller realised in attempting to blackmail Lady Mentone he
was playing a most dangerous game and, if the contents of the letters
were not too damning, she might confess everything to her husband, and
then the police would be down upon him without a second's warning? Was
it that he realised that and wanted to be able to deny everything if he
were accused? Perhaps there were a dozen or more letters, forming a
bulky packet, and so he separated them in order to hide them the
easier!"

Larose laughed softly. What concrete form he was now giving to his
conjectures and yet--his face grew very stern--he had a sure foundation
upon which to build them.

Early in the afternoon found him at the stage door of the Olympic
Theatre. A rehearsal was on and the door was open. A well-built and
shrewd-looking attendant was seated just inside, but Larose noticed
there was an empty sleeve instead of a right arm.

"Good afternoon!" said Larose.

"Good afternoon, sir," returned the man, and he eyed Larose very
intently.

"Do you want to make an easy pound?" asked Larose.

"That depends," said the man, and then he added sternly. "You can't come
in here?"

Larose smiled. "I don't want to," he said. "I only want some
information. First have you been the attendant here for long?"

"Eight years," replied the man laconically, still continuing to eye
Larose very intently.

"Well, that's splendid," said Larose. He took the playbill of 'The Moss
Rose' from his pocket and went on briskly. "Now, I'm collecting
reminiscences of various actors and actresses for a book I'm writing,
and I want to know if you remember some of the people who played in 'The
Moss Rose.'"

The man took the playbill in his hand and glanced down it. "Certainly I
do," he said, "and I think I could tell you something about nearly all
of them"--he looked up sharply at Larose and added, "if I chose."

"But of course you'll choose," smiled Larose.

"I'm not so sure about that," said the man. "I want to know what I'm
going to give the information for." He scoffed. "I don't believe it's
for a book. You look like a detective to me, except that you're a bit
better dressed than most detectives usually are."

Larose's jaw dropped in his surprise.

"But I assure you I'm not one," he said warmly. "I'm nothing at all to
do with detectives or the police."

The man grinned delightedly. "Come, come, Mr. Larose," he said, "put
down all your cards. I know you quite well. I was in the city police
once and remember you in the Munro street burglary," and he chuckled,
enjoying the good joke.

Larose laughed merrily. "Fairly caught," he said, "but you should have
kept it up a little bit longer. I felt the perspiration dripping into my
boots."

"Well, how can I help you, sir," asked the man. "I shall be very pleased
to do anything I can for you."

"It's like this," said Larose. "I'm enquiring into a matter of Mark
Aaronson's days, and as far as I am concerned, it's not going to be a
police matter, whatever I may find out. It's just a little private
enquiry I am making. Now you knew Mr. Aaronson, didn't you."

"Very well, and I couldn't have wished for a better employer. Certainly,
he was a Jew, but he was a thorough gentleman, and everybody liked him."

"But he was a bit gay, wasn't he?" suggested Larose. "In his private
life, I mean."

"Oh, yes, he was fond enough of the girls," laughed the man, "and they
were all ready to fall for him, even the prettiest of them, like ripe
peaches off a tree." He shook his head. "But you must understand there
was nothing nasty about Mr. Aaronson. He was the very opposite of a bad
man. Although very fond of the girls, he was never making a fuss of more
than one at a time. In fact, in the last year of his life he had, so to
speak, settled down and become a sort of prim married man."

"But he was married already!" exclaimed Larose.

"Yes, yes," nodded the attendant, "but his legal wife was a cold,
unpleasant woman, and they had been separated for some years." He nodded
more vigorously still. "But she must have had a kink in her not to have
got on with him, for he had one of the nicest natures I have ever known.
He was a father to everyone here, and kindness itself to everyone, old
and young, pretty and plain."

"Well, just cast your eye down this playbill," said Larose, "and tell me
if there is anyone there in whom he was particularly interested about
the time he died. You need mention no names."

The man gave one glance at the playbill, and then looked up and smiled.
"Yes, and she was as sweet and pretty a little lady as you could ever
find. He never looked at another girl after he became friends with her."

"Then did he, did he----" began Larose hesitatingly, and then he
stopped.

The man laughed. "I should think so," he said, "but we never knew." He
went on quickly. "You see, sir, he was a very wealthy man and could
cover his tracks in a way that no one could follow. We all guessed their
relations, but we were never sure. No one knew anything for certain." He
shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate there was never any public scandal.
When she was away once, recovering from an illness, I knew she used to
write to him every day. The letters used to come here and I put them in
his room. The envelopes were typed, and I always noticed he picked out
that particular one first."

"Where did they come from?" asked Larose.

The man winked. "Cromer, a nice quiet place. Very select, and not many
trippers about!"

Picking up his car from the garage where he had left it, and driving
back swiftly along the road towards Colchester, Larose, notwithstanding
all he had found out, was in a rather subdued frame of mind.

That there were happenings in Lady Mentone's past life that could make
her an easy target for blackmailers he was now absolutely sure, and he
was equally as sure that it was because Toller had been attempting to
blackmail her that the latter had come to his death.

Then who was it who had actually committed the murder?

From all he had found out it must have been either Lady Mentone or Dr.
Athol, and for many reasons he was inclined to give the preference to
the doctor, notwithstanding the strong suspicion that Chime's first
testimony threw upon the girl!

Then what had been the threat Toller had been holding over Lady Mentone?
Undoubtedly, to send some letters she had once written to Mark Aaronson
to her husband, Sir Charles Mentone.

Then a last question. Where were those letters now? Had Lady Mentone or
the doctor got hold of them, or were they still hidden where neither she
nor the doctor could find them?

He thought for a long time, and then shook his head. "Somehow, I don't
think they've found them and yet, from her manner, her ladyship seems to
think she's quite safe now." He sighed. "Yes, I've got a lot to find out
yet."

And then suddenly it was as if a bomb had exploded in his mind and all
his ideas became as chaotic as they could possibly be.

Arriving at the outskirts of the village of Stratford St. Mary, and just
about to pass the churchyard, which abutted on to the main road, he
became aware that the rector was standing by the Lychgate and waving his
arms energetically for him to stop.

He pulled up instantly and the reverend gentleman walked quickly over to
the car.

"Well met, sir," he called out. "Now just you spare a few minutes and
come and look over the church."

Larose glanced at his wrist watch. "But it's rather late, Mr. Vavasour,"
he began, "and I----"

"But you must come," said the rector, and then lowering his voice
mysteriously added. "Don't make any bones about it, for I want to speak
to you most particularly, and anyone seeing your car here will only
think I'm showing you over the church. I've been worrying all day how to
get in touch with you without arousing any suspicions."

Very puzzled, Larose alighted from the car and followed the rector up
the path to the church door. The rector unlocked it, and lead the way up
the dim aisle and ushered him into the vestry. He closed the door
carefully behind them.

"Sit down, Mr. Larose," he said. "I am very disturbed in my mind, and
want your advice upon a very important matter."

More puzzled than ever, because he could see the rector was looking very
upset, Larose complied with his request, and then sat, waiting for him
to speak.

But the rector seemed reluctant to begin and moistened his lips and
swallowed hard several times before, finally he spoke.

"See here, Mr. Larose," he said nervously, "you've seen many people
tried haven't you? Well, in sentencing a convicted person, and
particularly a woman, a judge always takes into consideration all the
circumstances of the crime, doesn't he? I mean, judges are as lenient as
possible when great provocation has been shown for the committing of the
offence. That is so is it not?"

"Certainly," agreed Larose, wondering what on earth was coming next.
"They invariably lean to the side of mercy whenever they can find any
excuse. Our judges are very humane men."

"Well, that being so," said the rector, "I shall not hesitate to tell
you all I know, although as a priest, I am very reluctant to break
silence." His face brightened. "Still, it was not told me under the seal
of the confessional, and so I am breaking no sacred trust."

But then he was silent for such a long time that Larose asked rather
testily--"And what is it you want to tell me, sir?"

The rector awoke from his reverie. "The young ladies up at the Priory
must be cleared of suspicion at all costs," he said sharply, "and the
guilty must be punished so that the innocent may go free." He eyed
Larose intently and burst out fiercely. "That Toller was a bad man. He
betrayed a young girl who was a native of these parts, and she shot him
in revenge."

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose, "you know that?"

The rector nodded. "Last Monday week," he went on solemnly--"I remember
the day perfectly well, because on that night the ball was taking place
at the Priory--a woman of the village here, one of the most devout
members of my congregation, came into the vestry after evensong to ask
for my advice and help for a niece of hers who was in great trouble. She
said that the previous week this niece, who is in a situation at
Woodbridge, came to stay with her upon a short holiday, and feeling out
of sorts, the girl went to Dr. Athol for a tonic. The doctor told her
what was the matter with her. Then she went to the Priory to acquaint
Toller with her condition, and ask him to marry her, as he had often
promised to do. To Toller's great anger, because he was afraid of people
seeing him speaking to her, she met him just coming out of the grounds.
A heated conversation ensued, in which Toller told her he was married
already. Then----"

"But surely she had known all along that he was married," interrupted
Larose. "It was public knowledge. Everyone knew it."

"Well, she didn't," said the rector. "She had been away from here for
longer than a year and a half, and had not noticed it in the newspapers.
Well, she returned to her aunt, nearly demented, and, confessing
everything, threatening to have a dreadful revenge on Toller, cut short
her holiday, and returned, as she said she was going to, to Woodbridge."

"What day was that?" asked Larose sharply.

"Last Sunday week," replied the rector.

"Well, she wasn't here when the murder was committed!" frowned Larose.

"Who can say that?" asked the rector scornfully. "She has a bicycle, and
Woodbridge is only sixteen or seventeen miles from here, so she could
easily have covered the distance in a couple of hours."

Larose thought for a moment. "Does anybody else besides the girl's aunt
know what you have told me?"

The Rector hesitated. "I'm not certain about that. I impressed upon her
to tell no one, but she may have spoken to her brother. He is devoted to
the girl, who is the child of his favorite sister, now dead."

"Who's her brother?" asked Larose.

"Chime, the butler at the Priory," replied the Rector.

Larose gasped. "Good God!" he exclaimed again, and then in sheer
amazement he felt stifled and could not get his breath. Chime the uncle
of the wronged girl! Chime, devoted to her, and Chime upon whose
testimony everything depended, if the crime were to be brought home to
one of the inmates of the Priory!

Larose's thoughts raced like lightning through him. But Chime could not
be the killer, for he was in the Priory kitchen along with the three
maids when the church clock had struck half-past ten! Ah! but was he
really in the kitchen then as he had said he was? He might easily at
some time earlier in the evening have put back the kitchen clock, and no
one but he in the kitchen have heard the chimes! All the maids said they
hadn't noticed them. They had been too absorbed in their game of cards!
Then had Chime, on the spur of the moment, faked all the evidence about
the clicking of the door and the footsteps in the hall, not realising
then the dire consequences for his young mistresses? Chime was an
insatiable devourer of detective stories, and it would just enthrall a
mentality such as his to lay down false clues and baffle everyone! As
for the actual killing of Toller, would that trouble him afterwards! No,
perhaps not, as he was a simple soul, and he would be arguing he had
done quite right in punishing a wretch like Toller.

Larose was jerked out of reverie by the Rector asking hoarsely--"Will
they hang that girl, do you think?"

"No of course not," said Larose sharply. "She may get seven years,
reduced to under five by good conduct or if she makes out the rifle went
off by accident, the jury may let her off altogether."

"Then what are you going to do?" asked the rector uncomfortably.

"See this aunt first," said Larose. "Who is she and where does she
live?"

"She's a Mrs. Jackson, a widow with no children, and she lives just
behind the Black Swan. Her husband was employed on the railway, and she
has a small pension."

"Well, I won't go now," said Larose. "I'll go after dark tonight." He
smiled. "If I find she's told Chime. I may not have to bring you in at
all."

The rector looked relieved. "But it was my duty to tell you," he said.

"Of course it was," replied Larose. "You need have no regrets about
that." Larose left the church by himself and driving off in his car,
sighed heavily. "What a mix up! It seems there was a whole crowd of
people hovering about Toller that night, and if this Marriott girl was
the one who shot him, then it would, in part, account for the doctor's
subsequent actions, too. She might have disclosed to him who her
betrayer was, and so, thinking it must be she who had shot him, and to
prevent her being found out, he had wiped away any possible fingermarks
she might have left. Of course, the girl herself would have known quite
well, from her many visits to her uncle at the Priory, that there was a
rifle there. Really, things had become a greater puzzle than ever!"

Darkness had just fallen when Larose knocked upon Mrs. Jackson's door,
and he knew it was the woman herself, directly she opened it. She was
wizened and frail looking, and she eyed him, he thought rather uneasily.
She opened the door only a few inches.

"Mrs. Jackson, isn't it?" he asked, with a smile. "Then, I should like
to speak to you for a few minutes. May I come in?"

"But what is it you want?" she asked sharply. "Who are you?"

"I'm a friend of the young ladies at the Priory," replied Larose, "and I
want to speak to you about Myrtle. No, no," he went on quickly, for he
saw a terrified expression had come over her face. "I have nothing
whatever to do with the police. I assure you of that."

"Then has the rector been saying anything to you?" she asked instantly.
Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, I do wish I had never spoken to him
about her."

"But it was certain to have come out sometime," said Larose, shaking his
head. "The detectives were trying to trace where Mr. Toller used to go
for those week-ends, and sooner or later they would have found out
everything." He frowned. "Besides, it was Mr. Vavasour's duty to speak.
It wouldn't have been right for him to have kept silent."

"No, no, I know it wouldn't have been," choked the woman, she opened the
door quite wide. "Yes, you can come in," and then, taking him into the
kitchen, she pointed to a chair, for the moment too overcome to say
anything more.

"Of course, I know this is all most distressing," said Larose kindly. He
spoke with the utmost sympathy. "But you must tell me everything your
niece confessed to you."

So haltingly and in great distress she told him the same story that he
had heard at the rectory. "But I can't believe she was the one to shoot
him, sir," she said tearfully. "I know she's a very determined girl,
and, once she makes up her mind, it is difficult to turn her. Still, she
never said she was going to shoot him. She only threatened to throw
something over him, and she even went so far as to buy the stuff at a
chemist's in Colchester."

"To throw something over him!" exclaimed Larose, a cold shiver running
down his spine. "What was it?"

"I don't know," she replied, "but she said it would blind him, and I was
so frightened that I got it away from her and emptied the bottle on to
the earth in the garden. It made a lot of smoke come up."

"Oh, but that would have been awful!" said Larose, looking very
horrified. "It must have been vitriol, and it would have turned
everybody's sympathy away from her."

"I told her that," almost wept the woman, "and the chemist oughtn't to
have sold it to her. It was Mr. Glass in the High street, and she told
him she wanted it to clean the washhouse copper with it. He made her
sign in a book, so he must have known how dangerous it was."

"And what day did she go back to her situation?" asked Larose, after a
moment's silence.

"The Sunday afternoon. I worried and worried her to get her out of the
village."

"And when did Mr. Chime first know anything about all this?" asked
Larose.

"Not until the Thursday after the ball. She hadn't been near him, and he
called to know why she hadn't been to the ball. He said he had no idea
she had gone back to Woodbridge?"

"How did he take it?" asked Larose.

"Oh, he was shocked! He was horrified, and we both cried together. He is
a very gentle man, my brother, and he was very fond of Myrtle. He was
always buying her presents, and last Christmas he spent 12 on a bicycle
for her."

"And how long has this friendship with Toller been going on?"

"For longer than six months. She met him first when she was on a
week-end visit to me just before Christmas. The wheel of her bicycle
became loose on the Ipswich road, and he was passing and put it right
for her. Then she met him, by arrangement, the next night in the Priory
lane, and after that he used to visit her regularly, at Miss Bain's, the
old lady she was working for near Woodbridge." The woman shook her head.
"I would have warned her against him if I had known what was going on,
but she never told me a word until last week. She did not know he was
married, and considered herself engaged to him." She almost broke down.
"But now what are you going to do with her?"

"First," replied Larose, "I shall go and speak to her." He leaned
forward to the woman. "You see, Mrs. Jackson, it isn't fair that those
young ladies up at the Priory should be under the suspicion that they
are, now, is it?"

"No, it is not," agreed the woman. "They are so kind to everyone. When I
was ill last year, Miss Beatrice was always bringing me soup and things,
and they paid the doctor's bill for me, too."

"Ah! that reminds me," said Larose, who had got up to take his leave.
"Do you know if your niece by any chance told Dr. Athol who the man
was?"

The woman nodded. "She went to him again after she had seen Toller, and
then I think she told him who was the cause of the trouble. Dr. Athol
was awfully kind to her, and said that when the time came he would find
a hospital for her and no one need learn anything about it in the
village here."

The next morning after breakfast, Larose said he was going out in his
car and did not know whether he would be in for lunch.

Eva frowned prettily. "Then are you giving it up, Mr. Larose?" she
asked, and when he smilingly shook his head, she went on. "I think you
might tell us something of what you are doing. It is so worrying for us
to think that everything is standing still."

"Nothing is standing still, Miss Eva," he said gravely, "neither I, nor
those officers from Scotland Yard. You can be sure of that. But in cases
like this, if you don't catch the criminal red-handed it often takes a
long time before you can bring home the crime to anyone," and then he
swore at himself under his breath, for his eyes falling upon Beatrice,
he saw how pale she had become.

Eva followed him into the hall. "I think you were horrid to talk like
that," she said angrily, "just as if you wanted, on purpose, to rub in
that this suspicion against us is going to drag on and on for ever.
Didn't you see how you upset Beatrice?"

Larose appeared very contrite. "I'm sorry, Miss Eva," he said, "but you
shouldn't have asked me so pointedly. Remember, our bargain was that you
should give me a free hand and ask no questions." A thought suddenly
struck him. "But look here, I'm going into Ipswich this morning, and
what about taking Miss Beatrice with me. The ride would do her good.
I'll drop her at some hotel and then we'll meet again later." He smiled.
"We might even have a romantic tete-a-tete lunch together."

Eva's face flushed and her eyes opened wide in her surprise. "Oh, how
nice of you, Mr. Larose," she said gratefully. "I am sure it will do
Beatrice a lot of good, and she'll feel so protected with you."

Beatrice blushed crimson when the proposal was put to her, but she
accepted it at once and so in a few minutes she and Larose were driving
off together. The blush was still upon her face, and it continued so,
long after the car had passed out of the grounds and on to the Ipswich
road.

Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, and then Beatrice asked a
little nervously! "Is it to find out something that you are now going
into Ipswich?"

"Certainly," smiled Larose. "I'm working hard, as I told you, and the
matter is really never out of my mind."

"And are we in it today?" she said hesitatingly. "Does this journey
concern us."

Larose laughed happily. "No, this is your day off. I'm forgetting about
all of you, for the time being." The road was quite clear and he looked
down admiringly at the pretty face beside him. "Still as we are alone
together, I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"What about?" she asked quickly, and he noticed she now held her hands
clasped tightly together.

"Yourself, principally," he replied. He waited for a few moments until
he had another straight run before him and then, looking down at her
again, asked quickly. "Why did you tear those two leaves out of your
diary before you gave it me to read? No, answer at once, please. I want
to watch your face as you speak. Don't stop to make anything up."

"Thank you," said Beatrice in offended dignity. "Then do you think I
would tell you a lie?"

"Certainly," smiled Larose, "I'm quite sure of it." He corrected himself
quickly. "No, we won't use the word lie. We'll call it a story,
instead." He laughed. "It's the privilege of your charming sex to be
untruthful, and it by no means signifies a very deplorable state of
mind. It's often your only defence against us, we much coarser menfolk."
He looked down for the third time. "But come, answer my question please,
Miss Beatrice. Why did you tear out those leaves?"

"Because there was something on them I didn't want you to see," she
replied coldly.

"Naturally," commented Larose, "but that's not my point. I want to know
what it was you didn't wish me to see."

Beatrice spoke very calmly. "Don't you realise, Mr. Larose, a woman may
write things in a diary that she does not desire any man, and especially
a strange man, to read."

"Oh, I know all about that," said Larose with now a note of solemnity in
his tones, "but you must remember, Miss Beatrice, that one of those two
leaves you tore out was the very keystone of the arch to me, having been
written, as it was, upon the night of the ball or during the day after."

"But why should the ball interest you?" asked Beatrice sharply. "Mr.
Toller was alive and well then, and the ball had nothing to do with his
death."

"I'm not so sure," said Larose, "for to my thinking it was upon that
night someone set a match to the trail of gunpowder destined to explode
that dreadful mine not 24 hours after." He spoke cheerfully. "But come,
we'll dismiss consideration of that now, for this present journey may
turn my thoughts into quite a different direction."

And then, Beatrice quite recovering her equanimity, they chatted gaily
about plays, pictures, and social matters, causing Larose to think many
times what an agreeable and charming companion he had with him.

He dropped her in Ipswich, near the White Horse Hotel, arranging to meet
her for lunch there, if he could possibly finish his business in time,
if not, he said, he would be sure to call for her later in the
afternoon.

"A very charming girl," was his comment, "and whatever she did she would
never be a bad one. She's of a very sweet disposition, and if I were
single she is the very kind of girl I would choose." He sighed
whimsically. "Yes, when I get back, I'll talk to Helen and see if
something can't be arranged. I'll----" but he pulled himself up sharply.
"Gilbert, Gilbert," he went on, "you're always ready to fall in love
with every pretty face you see. Really, really, you are too much like
the normal man--much too natural."

In a very few minutes he was at Woodbridge, and being directed to where
Miss Bain lived. Hers was a pretty little house, in a large garden, upon
the outskirts of the town. It was obvious she was quite well-to-do, as
the garden was well trimmed, and everything in perfect order.

He rang the bell and the door was opened by a smart maid in uniform. He
saw a kindly looking little old lady just behind her.

"Can I speak to Miss Marriott?" he asked, and the old lady at once came
forward.

"I'm sorry," she said, "but she's away on holiday." She looked curiously
at the well-dressed Larose. "What did you want with her?"

"I come from her aunt, Mrs. Jackson, of Stratford St. Mary, and I
wanted----" began Larose, when the old lady interrupted.

"But she's with her aunt now," she said rather sharply. "She went away
to stay with her last Thursday."

"Well, she's not there now," said Larose. "I've just come from Stratford
St. Mary. The week before last she was certainly with her aunt but she
left her on Sunday week to return here."

"She did return here on that Sunday," said Miss Bain. "Her aunt had
other visitors then and it wasn't quite convenient for her to stay on,
but she went back to her as arranged, I understand, on the Thursday."

Larose frowned. "Then Mrs. Jackson will be very worried when she hears
that," he said, "for Myrtle was not too well when she left her that
Sunday."

The old lady was evidently a woman of intelligence and quick decision.
"Come in, will you," she said to Larose, and then in a little room with
the door shut behind them, she asked sharply "Now, tell me what it all
means, please."

"That's what I don't know," replied Larose, taking the chair she
offered. "I am a friend of Mrs. Jackson, and knowing I was coming out
this way on business, she asked me to call here and enquire how her
niece was. As I say, she was uneasy about her that Sunday."

"And I was uneasy then, too," said Miss Bain. "Myrtle is a good maid and
we are quite fond of her. When she returned that evening we could see
she was in great distress but she refused to say anything. The next day
she seemed better, but she wasn't herself again, and she looked
downright ill when she left on Thursday."

Larose was thinking hard. "When she came home on the Sunday," he asked,
"did she say she would be wanting to go back to Stratford St. Mary on
the following Thursday?"

"No," she said, "nothing at all about going back until the Thursday
morning. Then she asked me if I could spare her, and as she had only had
part of her yearly holiday, I of course let her go."

"Did she leave here on her bicycle?" asked Larose.

"Yes, she and her bicycle are inseparable. She is very fond of going
about the country upon it."

"Did she ever go out at night?" was the next question.

"Oh, yes, often." The old lady nodded. "Myrtle is a very self-reliant
girl and we always trust her, she sometimes cycles into Ipswich to meet
the man she is engaged to, and then they go to the pictures."

"And do you happen to know," asked Larose, "if between the Sunday when
she returned here, and last Thursday when she went away again, she went
out any night on her bicycle?"

"Oh, I couldn't tell you that. She might have done. She often came in
when we were all in bed. As I say, we trusted her."

"And have you seen the man she's engaged to?" asked Larose.

"Certainly, Mr. James has many times been here to dinner on Sunday," she
replied. "As I expect you know, of course, he's a clerk in Colchester."
She frowned. "He seems above her station in life, and I'm not quite
pleased with that. He's a very agreeable man to speak to, but I think
such marriages often turn out to be a failure." She looked very worried.
"Well, what do you think we ought to do?"

Larose made a grimace. "It won't be too pleasant for me to go back and
tell her aunt," he said. A thought seemed suddenly to strike him. "Did
she take many clothes away this time?"

"I don't really know," said Miss Bain. "I haven't been in her room since
she left." She rose from her chair. "I'll go up at once and see." She
looked anxious. "This is really becoming very worrying."

Larose stood up too. "And I'll come with you if I may," he said briskly,
and then, seeing the old lady's indignant astonishment at the
suggestion, he smiled his most pleasant smile and added. "You see, I may
be of help as I was once a detective attached to Scotland Yard."

Miss Bain's eyes opened and her face assumed a very frightened
expression. "O-oh, then you've come here as a detective. You think
something dreadful has happened to Myrtle?"

"No, not necessarily," said Larose and then, seeing her so obvious
distress, he went on fibbingly. "The girl may have just gone off after
some petty quarrel with her sweetheart,"--he nodded, "but that we shall
have to find out."

"What's your name?" asked the old lady faintly.

"Larose. Gilbert Larose, and I have done quite a lot of work for the
Criminal Investigation Department."

"Oh, I've heard of you," she exclaimed, and her face brightened at once.
"You are said to be very clever." She moved to the door. "Yes, come with
me by all means."

The bedroom of the missing maid was at the end of a passage upon the
first floor, and it was comfortably, if plainly, furnished. Miss Bain
opened the wardrobe.

"Of course, she couldn't take much," said Larose, "if she went away on
her bicycle."

"But there was a good-sized carrier on it," said Miss Bain, "that took a
suitcase, specially made." She made a quick survey of the wardrobe. "No,
she has taken none of her dresses and no extra pair of shoes. She must
have just gone off in what she stood up in. She was wearing her winter
coat and skirt." She looked in the chest of drawers. "And she doesn't
seem to have taken much from here."

"Had she any other relations to go to?" asked Larose.

"No, Mrs. Jackson and her uncle, Samuel Chime, the butler up at the
Priory in Stratford St. Mary, are the only relations she has."

Larose hesitated a moment. "And, of course, you have seen in the
newspapers the dreadful murder that took place in Stratford St. Mary
last week?"

"Yes," shuddered the old lady, "and we half thought, at the time, it was
that that made her want to return there so suddenly last Thursday. She
was a girl who liked to see exciting pictures and she loved books with
murders in them."

Larose was back at the White Horse Hotel in good time for lunch, to find
Beatrice sitting in the lounge, waiting for him. They had lunch
together, and Larose thought it could not have been a more pleasant
little meal. He saw quite a different Beatrice then. She was no longer
the careworn mistress of the Priory, but had become a happy and smiling
woman, enjoying everything to the full.

She recalled his life when at Scotland Yard, and asked him presently if
the many criminals he must have been responsible for bringing to
punishment had been all really bad people.

"No, certainly not," he replied smilingly. "Some of the women were
almost as charming and attractive as yourself. So often theirs was the
crime of the moment, and it was their misfortune they had to suffer all
the rest of their lives for the lapse of a few seconds."

She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Then if it were really I who had
shot Mr. Toller," she asked, "you would not necessarily be horrified at
sitting with me here?"

"By no means," he replied, "for until I knew all the circumstances
preceding the murder, I could not determine whether you were really a
bad woman or not. You might have killed under great provocation, and in
righteous anger, and from a moral point of view you might be equally as
worthy of respect as the judge who was sentencing you to death." He
laughed. "That's justice, but not law. The law demands its pound of
flesh in every circumstance."

Driving back in the car, Larose took a sudden resolution and told her
all about Myrtle Marriott. After the first horrified exclamation, she
sat very silent, with her face blanched, and her hands clasped tightly
together as when he had been questioning her about the missing leaves
from the diary.

His story finished, they neither of them spoke for a long minute, and
then she exclaimed with some feeling. "And now I suppose you are going
to try to hound down this poor girl, as if you were certain it was she
who shot Mr. Toller. She may have had nothing whatever to do with it,
and yet just because you are suspicious about her, you are going to
uncover her shame in quite a different matter, to the glare of an awful
publicity."

"Naturally her disappearance will have to be broadcast," said Larose,
"as would the disappearance from her home of any other young girl, but
no suggestion will be given out that she is wanted for murder, and, of
course, the other matter will not be mentioned at all."

"And what proof is there that she killed Mr. Toller?" asked Beatrice.

"None," replied Larose, "and even if she did kill him, we may never get
that proof." He asked. "You know her, of course?"

"Yes, and she's a very nice girl," replied Beatrice. She sighed. "I
don't wonder poor old Chime has been so quiet lately."

"I shall have to question him about it," said Larose, "for it brings him
into the picture as the possible murderer."

"What!" exclaimed Beatrice indignantly. "Can you think for one moment
that Chime did it?"

Larose frowned. "It certainly seems hardly probable, but we must realise
now he would have had very good reason for doing it." He looked cheerful
again. "But come, I don't want to take you back home looking pale and
worried. I want you to have some roses in your cheeks, so what about
turning off here and running down to Dovercourt for a breath of the sea.
We can have a cup of tea there, although I really ought not to be
wasting my time, gallivanting about with a strange young woman I have
only known for three days."

"But will it really be wasting your time?" asked Beatrice archly, and
then they both smiled.




CHAPTER VII.--THE PASSING YEARS


Shortly after half-past eight the next morning, Inspector Carter was
busy writing in his private office in Scotland Yard, when his colleague,
Inspector Stone, walked unceremoniously into the room and with a deep
sigh lowered his huge body into an armchair.

"Was chasing a woman all yesterday," he grunted, "and I didn't get any
proper meals. I always feel upset the next day."

"Then why not leave women alone for a change?" commented Carter, looking
up from his writing. "Your gross body can have no possible interest for
anyone now, except in the depraved way we are all apt to regard a
monstrosity."

Stone ignored the insult. "I know for certain now," he remarked
carelessly, "which of those pretty creatures up at Stratford St. Mary
shot that man, and it is now almost only a matter of putting on the
handcuffs," and he stopped speaking to enjoy the surprised expression
upon Carter's face.

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the latter, laying down his pen and at once all
attention. "Then which one was it, and how did you come to find out?"

"It was Margaret, Lady Mentone," said Stone with aplomb, "and I found it
out by using that intelligence of which I alone here at the Yard appear
to have the monopoly." He frowned darkly. "I'll make you sit up, too, by
something else I've got to tell." He spoke briskly. "Yes, Toller had
unearthed a hefty scandal of her ladyship's pre-nuptial days, and when
he was sitting out with her in the conservatory that night he told her
he was intending to capitalise his discovery."

"Good!" exclaimed Carter smilingly, "then I am proud of you as my pupil.
Tell me the whole story."

"Well, I thought, as with you," began Stone, "that if there were
anything fishy about any of those girls, it was most likely it would be
about the youngest one, as she had been away from home and on the stage
for two years. So yesterday morning I went to an old journalist friend
of mine upon the staff of the 'Era.' He's been on theatre work for
longer than thirty years, and, in his time, has hobnobbed with everyone
of any importance. So I asked him if he remembered a Miss Margaret
Brabazon-Fane who, among other plays, had had a part in 'The Moss Rose'
about six or seven years ago."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Carter, "it was a bad slip of hers when she
mentioned 'The Moss Rose.'"

Stone nodded and went on. "So my friend called for some of the files of
his paper to refresh his memory, and then pointed to the name of Phyllis
Fane on the cast of 'The Moss Rose.' 'That's the young woman,' he said,
'and I remember all about her.' Then he told me the pretty Margaret had
been a favored protege of the great Mark Aaronson, the proprietor of the
Olympic Theatre, who died about five years ago."

Stone shook his head. "Mind you," he said, "he had no absolute proof,
but Margaret had been known to have stayed at his place in Cromer, a
little seaside bungalow."

Stone took out a piece of paper with some notes upon it and continued.
"Then I asked him if he knew how I could get in touch with anyone who
had known Aaronson in his private life, and he at once said I was deuced
unlucky there, as Aaronson's confidential servant, an old man called
Wedlake, had died only a few weeks back, and he could have told me
everything. Of course I wanted to know where the man had lived, hoping
there was a wife still about, who might relate something, and more files
of the 'Era' being gone through, I got the address of a house in a
street off Tottenham Court road."

Stone spoke most impressively. "I was there for a good hour, and found
out"--he looked very solemn--"quite a lot of things. The landlady told
me Wedlake had lived alone at her place for five years, and, dying upon
the fourth of last month, had had only two mourners at his funeral. One
of those mourners was Mark Aaronson's son, and the other was the dead
man's nephew,"--he paused dramatically here--"Edwin Asher Toller."

"Toller!" exclaimed Carter incredulously. "Toller, in touch with anyone
who knew of the scandal! Good heavens, what possibilities that opens
up!"

"Of course it does," said Stone with a triumphant smile. "Why, it almost
clinches the whole thing!" He went on. "Well, after the funeral Toller
went through some papers that his uncle had had for years and kept in an
old wooden box, and, in the light of what took place afterwards, it is
any odds on that he found among them some of this little Phyllis Fane's
letters, written to Mark Aaronson when he and she were lovers. I may add
that the landlady says this box had not been opened since the first week
when Wedlake came to her as a lodger, until Toller opened it then."

"But why," asked Carter, looking very puzzled, "should this Wedlake have
had any of his master's most private letters in his possession." He
shook his head. "It seems very unlikely to me."

"I don't attempt to explain it," replied Stone, frowningly, "but if
there were any such letters there, then he undoubtedly brought them away
with him after his master's death. Knowing nothing of Wedlake's
character, of course, we might be inclined to think he took them to do a
bit of blackmailing himself, but from the character his landlady gave
him, I don't believe that for one moment. She says he was always a
silly, sentimental old man, and had actually been keeping one of his
dead master's gloves as a memento for all those years. He had it in a
drawer, wrapped up in tissue paper, and he often took it out to weep
over it." He threw up his hands. "Can't you see the possibility of his
having some of Aaronson's letters? He had been Aaronson's most trusted
and confidential servant for many years, and we may therefore take it
for granted he was deep in most of his master's secrets. Then, what is
more likely than that what his master prized, he might prize, too, and
for purely sentimental reasons he did not like to give those letters to
the flames?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, he may have taken them to prevent
any of the estranged family getting them and then might have forgotten
their existence. The landlady said she was certain he had not looked in
his box for many years. It was a medium-sized wooden one, and the key to
it was so clogged with dirt that, she said, Toller could not even get it
in the locker until he had cleaned it."

"Did she see what Toller took from the box?" asked Carter.

"No, but she was present when Toller opened it," replied Stone, "and saw
it was three parts empty, with its contents appearing to be all old
newspapers and playbills." He raised one fat forefinger in emphasis and
shook it in Carter's face. "Now comes something important. She says she
was not much interested in the contents of the box, because she knew
there was no money there, and----"

"But how did she know there was no money there?" interrupted Carter
sharply.

"Because Wedlake was a spendthrift and could never keep a penny,"
frowned Stone, annoyed at the interruption. "He had two pounds sent him
every Monday by the Aaronson family, but he never had a farthing of it
left by the end of the week, and she was sick of his cadging round
everyone to get a few coppers for his tobacco. He was always hard up."

"Go on," said Carter, because Stone had stopped speaking.

"You interrupted my train of thought," said Stone testily, "and I
can't--ah! now I remember. I was just going to tell you something very
important, and it is this. The door bell rang when she was standing over
Toller, watching him rummaging among the papers, but she recollects that
as she was turning away to go out of the room"--his face was all
elation--"she caught sight of a piece of ribbon showing among the papers
and the color of it was blue." He leant back triumphantly in his chair.
"Now, what do you think of that?"

Carter frowned. "You mean it was probably the same piece we saw in the
office in Toller's drawers."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Stone. His face clouded over. "And by the creases
in it we ought to have guessed then it had been used to tie up some
letters. It was very remiss of us."

A long silence followed, and then Carter said very thoughtfully. "This
piece of ribbon, Charles, is the strongest part of your case, otherwise
I should have said it was very weak." His face brightened. "Still, at
all events we've now something solid to go on. We can be sure Lady
Mentone's version of her conversation with Toller that night was an
untruthful one, and if she was lying to us, she had some very good
reason for it."

"Of course she had!" exclaimed Stone. "There's not the slightest doubt
about it!" He spoke briskly and in a business-like manner. "Now let us
consider the exact position. Assuming that Toller did get hold of some
incriminating letters and met with his death because he was threatening
to blackmail Lady Mentone with them--where are they now?"

Carter weighed every word as he answered very slowly, "We did not find
them among Toller's effects; those girls had not got them when we went
down to the Priory three days ago, for otherwise Beatrice and Lady
Mentone would not have been so frightened of us that morning,
therefore----"

"We have no knowledge of what has become of them," interrupted Stone,
"but," and here glared hard at his colleague--"do you not see the
significance of two things now? What was that unknown person looking for
when he broke into the bungalow that evening when the detective had gone
into Colchester, and why were those girls so anxious to have the
bungalow given back to them?" He snapped his fingers together. "Can't
you understand it now?"

Carter gave a grim nod. "Yes, and they've had two days now to find
them," he said ruefully. He shrugged his shoulders, "I expect they've
beaten us there."

Stone nodded back. "Yes," he said fiercely, "but knowing what we do now,
we may yet be able to trap that Lady Mentone into some admission that
will convict her out of her own mouth. She's not as clever as the other
two are, remember."

He laughed ironically. "Now, I'll tell you the other thing that I've got
to surprise you." A twinkle came into his eyes. "The day before I went
there a man called at this same house in Lissom street, upon an enquiry
such as mine. He was well-dressed, very pleasant and plausible and,
giving the woman a pound note, was allowed to go off with a bundle of
what she said were old playbills which Toller had mentioned he was going
to take away with him, but had forgotten to do so."

He rapped his fist sharply upon the desk. "Now, who was that man, Elias,
and what was he up to?"

Instantly Carter's expression became a startled one, his jaw dropped,
and his eyes opened to their fullest extent. "Gilbert La----" he began
falteringly, and then he was interrupted by a knock upon the door and a
young constable entered.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," he announced, addressing himself to
Stone, and he handed him a card upon a salver.

Stone picked up the card, and then, elevating his eyebrows with a jerk,
looked intently at Inspector Carter. "Mr. Gilbert Larose, Carmel Abbey,
Downham, Norfolk," he remarked dryly. He turned to the constable. "Bring
him in here, please."

"Gosh!" he whispered when the constable had retired, "then has Gilbert
come to make a clean breast of everything"--he grinned--"to just show us
how mighty clever he can be?" He nodded significantly. "Well, we'll give
him the surprise of his life when we let him know we are quite aware how
this pretty creature once carried on."

Larose came in looking very spic and span and shook hands with both of
them. "Boys!" he exclaimed gaily, "I've come to give you the oil and I
shall be most interested to learn what you think of it."

Stone pretended to look very disappointed. "Oh, I quite thought you had
come to tell us there was going to be a revival of 'The Moss Rose' with
the original cast, and you were bringing us a couple of tickets." He
smiled. "You think you've stolen our thunder, do you? But as it happens,
you just haven't." He nodded. "Still, I'm glad you've managed to resist
those unlawful kisses and are going to show yourself a respectable
character for once."

"Don't try to bluff, Charlie," smiled Larose. "You know perfectly well
you'd be quite at a dead end if it weren't for me." He spoke very
solemnly. "Yes. I've found a motive for the crime at last! A one-time
girl of the village, whom Toller had wronged and promised to marry,
found out three days before he was killed, that he was already a married
man. She upbraided him violently and threatened him with her revenge.
Indeed, we can prove that her threat was no empty one, for she went so
far as to buy a bottle of vitriol to throw over him," and then he went
on to relate all he had found out about Myrtle Marriott.

After an exclamation of stark surprise from Stone, neither of the two
Inspectors interrupted while he was telling his story. Their eyes,
however, never left his face. Stone was scowling hard, and Carter's
expression, too, was a frowning one.

A short silence followed when Larose had finished. Stone was not a
little annoyed, and disappointed as well. He had been fully expecting
that Larose was going to tell them about his visit to the dead Wedlake's
landlady, and he had been hoping to cover him with mortification by the
announcement that they knew all about it. The stout Inspector was not
too pleased either, that the trail appeared to be now leading right away
from Lady Mentone.

However, he could but realise the extreme importance of Larose's news,
and so, swallowing his annoyance, he asked, "And about this precious
butler--when you questioned him last night, did you form the opinion
that he was speaking the truth when he said he had not heard of his
niece's trouble until two days after the murder?"

Larose hesitated. "I don't know, Charlie," he replied. "Honestly, I
can't say. One moment I think of him as simple as a little child, and
the next moment I am wondering if this simplicity is masking cunning of
a very subtle kind. You know as well as I do that if his simplicity is
child-like, then his conscience may be as undeveloped as a child's,
too." He frowned. "But if he was lying to me, he is a born actor, for he
appeared to be on the verge of breaking down when I was questioning
him."

"And do those girls at the Priory know about his niece's trouble?" asked
Stone.

Larose nodded. "Yes, if I hadn't told them Chime would certainly have
done so when he knew I had learnt about it." He looked thoughtful.
"Besides, I wanted to see how they would take it."

"Then you still suspect them, the same as we do?" snapped Stone.

Again Larose hesitated, and then he laughed lightly. "Of course, I've
been suspecting them all along. One couldn't help it. The evidence
pointing their way was so strong." He spoke firmly. "And yet from my
association with them during the last few days, however strong may be my
suspicion, I am more and more convinced that none of them could have
been the actual murderer." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, I know
anyone might kill in the moment of passionate anger, but my point is,
the temperament of each of those girls is such that it would not stand
up to the strain of plotting and preparing for a deliberate murder."

Stone looked unconvinced. "And how did they respond," he asked dryly,
"when you suggested the possibility of their pet butler having shot the
man?"

"I didn't suggest it," said Larose sharply. "I let them realise the
possibility for themselves, and they were indignant at once."

They talked on for a long time and then Larose left them, very uneasy in
his mind. He had passed over, as if unnoticed, Stone's mocking reference
to the revival of 'The Moss Rose,' but he realised quite well that there
was something behind it. As he had told the three girls, no one was
standing still, and from his knowledge of Stone, the latter least of
anyone, would be likely to be marking time. No, Stone had, of course,
been looking into Lady Mentone's stage career, and without doubt he had
learnt something of her association with the fascinating Mark Aaronson.
Then, once upon the trail, no intelligence would show to greater
advantage than would Stone's, for with his lively imagination he would
jump from one stepping stone to another with the agility of an acrobat.

Then Larose frowned suddenly. Yes, Stone's opening remarks, a few
minutes back, almost suggested that he knew where he, Larose, had been
and, if the matter of Myrtle Marriott had not been mentioned first, that
the stout Inspector was going to poke fun at him for thinking he could
steal the thunder of Scotland Yard and get away with it.

For a few moments Larose stood hesitating upon the pavement and then,
hailing a taxi, he directed the driver to take him to Lissom street, off
Tottenham Court road. Then his first glimpse of the landlady, when she
opened the door to his ring, made all his suspicions a certainty.

"Ah!" exclaimed the woman instantly, "you told me an untruth the day
before yesterday. You said you came from a newspaper, and now I know you
are a detective. Another one's been here barely an hour ago, and he
asked me all about you." Her voice rose in anger. "And you never told me
poor Mr. Toller had been murdered."

Larose bowed his head to the storm. "I didn't want you to know," he
said. "You told me you didn't read the newspapers, and so what was the
good of horrifying you?" He took out two pound notes and handed them
over to her. "Here, take these as some little compensation for the shock
you must have got when my colleague told you."

The woman hesitated a moment and then, taking the proffered notes,
smiled quite amiably. "Well, you're a gentleman, anyhow," she said,
"even if you weren't as truthful as you might have been. That other
detective tried to frighten me, and said I had no business to let you
have those papers." She looked very uneasy. "Can they do anything to
me?"

Larose laughed. "No, no, of course not," he replied. "He was only
jealous because I got them before him." He looked very amused. "How did
you come to tell him I'd been here?"

"He showed me his card and began asking me if Mr. Wedlake had ever told
me anything about Mr. Aaronson's private affairs, and I said at once it
was funny he should come about Mr. Wedlake, as a gentleman from the
newspapers had been here only the day before yesterday to ask all about
Mr. Wedlake's funeral. He seemed very surprised, and asked me what you
wanted to know about it. Then when I happened to mention Mr. Toller's
name, he almost jumped out of his skin, he was so excited, and he told
me then about Mr. Toller having been murdered last week. He had no idea
Mr. Toller was Mr. Wedlake's nephew."

"No, very few people knew that," remarked Larose endeavoring to look
very important. "It wasn't generally known." He laughed as if it were a
good joke. "Did he go on to ask you anything about me?"

The woman nodded. "I should think he did. I had to tell him as much as I
could about what you were like, the color of your eyes, and if you
showed your teeth when you smiled, and how you were dressed."

"Did you tell him I asked you about 'The Moss Rose?'" was Larose's next
question.

"Yes, and he clicked his tongue. Then when I told him you had taken
those old playbills away, he looked very cross and said I had no
business to let you have them. He went upstairs to see Mr. Wedlake's
box, but I had burnt the rest of the papers, to get rid of them,
directly after you had gone the other day. So all he did was to stare at
Mr. Wedlake's name painted upon the lid of the box. Of course, I had
told him Mr. Toller had looked through it after the funeral, but what he
had taken away I did not know, as I had not been with him all the time."

"Well, did you tell him anything you didn't tell me?" asked Larose after
a few moments' silence. "I mean, did you remember anything more of any
interest?"

The woman considered and then shook her head. "No nothing, I think,
except that when I was looking over Mr. Toller's shoulder as he was
rummaging in the box, I told him I had seen something tied round with a
piece of blue ribbon."

"Blue ribbon!" ejaculated Larose. He forced himself to speak calmly.
"What did it look like?"

"Just faded blue ribbon. That's all. I only just caught a glimpse of it
among the newspapers as I was hurrying off to answer the bell."

"Was my colleague interested about it?" asked Larose after a long pause.

"Oh, yes, he was very curious and quite disappointed that I could not
tell him any more."

Larose remained talking to her for only a few minutes longer, and, as he
drove away, no longer wondered why his old friends Carter and Stone had
parted with him so coldly.

In the meantime the two Inspectors had been having a very earnest
deliberation together.

"And what do you think of it, Elias?" had been the first question Stone
had asked when Larose had gone out of the room.

Carter frowned and shook his head. "It's a wee bit disappointing,
Charlie," he said, "that when with some intelligence you have picked up
a trail that leads direct to that Mentone girl, you should now have to
switch on to one picked up by somebody else that leads to quite a
different party."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone instantly. "I have no intention for one moment of
dropping this Mentone girl. She still seems more likely to be the one
who killed Toller." He nodded. "Remember, if we do get hold of this
Myrtle Marriott, and if we do know she had good reason for wanting to do
violence to Toller, we haven't the slightest proof that she killed him."

Carter smiled drily. "And if we do know Toller was attempting to
blackmail Lady Mentone, with letters he had obtained from his dead
uncle's effects, and she had every reason to wish him dead"--he looked
amused--"we haven't the slightest proof she fired the fatal shot."

"All in good time," growled Stone. "We'll trap her into some admission
yet."

"Another thing, too, strikes me," said Carter thoughtfully. "I don't
think anyone will ever see that Marriott girl again. It looks to me as
if she meant to destroy herself when she went off with only the clothes
she stood up in. She's probably drowned by now."

"But she took her Savings Bank book with her, her mistress said,"
commented Stone. "That doesn't look like drowning to me!"

"Perhaps she intended to draw out the money first, and send it to her
aunt," said Carter. "Gilbert said there was a great friendship between
them, and the 12 she had would be a windfall for a poor woman." He
shook his head. "No, I think she's dead."

Stone looked at his watch. "Well, we'll run straight down to Woodbridge
now," he smiled, "and see if she came back." The smile dropped from his
face. "Then we'll call in at the Priory and talk to that pretty Phyllis
Fane of 'The Moss Rose' fame, and the simple-minded butler whom our dear
Gilbert says he can't place."

And so it came about that a little after four o'clock that afternoon the
two Inspectors were driving into the Priory grounds. They had called
upon Miss Bain and learnt that there was no further news of the missing
girl, and the weeping aunt at Stratford St. Mary had likewise been of no
help to them. Now they were going to interview both Lady Mentone and
Chime, and it was evident from the happy expression upon his face that
Inspector Stone was regarding this part of his day's work as quite a
pleasing little adventure.

"We'll catch her on the hop, eh, Elias?" he said, "and she'll be so
astounded at what we've learnt, that maybe, she won't be able to make up
anything plausible upon the spur of the moment."

Chime answered the door to their ring, just as Larose, from a secluded
seat in the rose garden, caught sight of them.

"We want to see Lady Mentone," said Stone pleasantly. "Is she at home?"

"Yes, sir," replied Chime, whose knees were shaking under him. "She is,
but the other young ladies are out. I'll go and fetch her at once."

He showed them into a little room off the lounge hall and went off to
inform her ladyship. He found her alone, in the music room, reclining
luxuriously upon a big settee and reading a magazine. She went as white
as chalk when he delivered his message, but just managed to say, "Thank
you. Tell them I'll be there in a minute." But with his departure and
the door closed behind her, she sank back, half fainting, upon the
settee.

At that moment, and as if he had only been waiting for Chime to go;
Larose pushed open one of the large French windows and stepped into the
room. He put his finger to his lips. "Hush!" he whispered, "and don't
raise your voice." He smiled. "They've asked particularly for you,
haven't they?"

Lady Mentone just inclined her head. She was too overcome to speak.
Larose came over and stood beside her. He spoke very sharply now.

"Pull yourself together," he ordered, "and don't give in. You've nothing
to be afraid of, if you do as I tell you." He looked round to make sure
the door was shut and went on quickly. "Now they've probably picked up
some little tattle about you when you were on the stage and your clue is
to decline to discuss it with them. If they bring up any of your private
affairs, if you choose, just refuse point-blank to say anything about
them." He bent down and put his face close to hers. "Just ride the high
horse and defy them. You understand?"

A faint tinge of color had come back into her face. "But I am so
frightened," she shivered. "That man Stone is so clever, he'll trap to
trick me into saying something I don't mean."

"Of course he will if you let him," said Larose. "He'll try to make you
confused and then you'll admit things that you'll realise too late you
needn't have admitted at all. In the city today I heard rumors of what
they've been up to." He was most emphatic. "They've found nothing
whatsoever to connect you with the shooting of your agent, but"--he
shrugged his shoulders disdainfully--"they may have unearthed happenings
in your life, before you were married, that you don't broadcast
everywhere." He spoke very sternly. "Remember, however, that they are
your own secrets, and for your husband's sake don't let them become
further known." He took her by the arm and helped her from the settee.
"Come on," he said smilingly, "show them the actress that everyone so
applauded in the old 'Moss Rose' days."

A profound student of human nature, Larose had struck just the right
chord, and on the instant, as it were, Lady Mentone became a different
woman. She drew herself up proudly, the color rushed back into her face,
and there was a bright sparkle to her eyes. She took Larose's hand and
squeezed it. "You are a dear," she said impulsively. "If I did not want
to add another secret to my life, I'd throw my arms round your neck and
kiss you."

She dashed over to the mirror and, with a beautiful white hand smoothed
down her hair. "Now, kind friend," she said smilingly, "give me a
cigarette and I'll go in and play my part before this unfriendly
audience." Her eyes danced mischievously. "My only regret is that you
will not be there to see me act."

So it was a very dignified and unruffled young woman that presented
herself before the two Inspectors. With a gracious little bow and the
air of a queen, she waved them back to the chairs from which they had
both risen upon her entrance, and then in that rich voice which had
thrilled so many in her old stage days, she bade them smoke if they
wanted to. "I am smoking, as you see," she said, "and a cigarette may
make us more polite to one another."

Stone looked as grim as death and was not too pleased with her jaunty
air. He remembered her nervousness upon the occasion when he had last
questioned her and he had fully expected now to be handling a frightened
and shrinking creature. "We want to ask you some questions," he said
gruffly, "and please be very precise as you answer them."

"Certainly," she replied carelessly, "I'll answer anything as long as
you are not too personal and keep strictly to the point."

"Well, I believe you knew Mark Aaronson when he was alive!" burst out
Stone gruffly, and with no preliminary skirmishing.

A shadow fell at once across her face, and she replied sadly. "Yes, I
knew him"--she paused a moment--"well."

"And what were your relations with him?" went on Stone brusquely

"I had engagements under him in three plays," she replied, "and besides
that he was my greatest friend." She spoke wistfully. "Except for my
husband he was the greatest friend I have ever had in my whole life."

"So we're heard," commented Stone drily, "and we know, too, there was
far more than friendship between you. In fact, to put it bluntly, and in
plain English, you were----"

"----his mistress," prompted Lady Mentone gently, because Stone had
hesitated, as if unwilling to say the word. She went on very quietly,
apparently having taken no offence. "No, I wasn't his mistress, although
with a man of less noble nature I might easily have become so." She
spoke reminiscently. "I was a romantic girl of only eighteen then, and
he was such a handsome man. Any girl in my then circumstances might have
fallen for----"

"That'll do," interrupted Stone brusquely. "We don't want any play
acting now, and you don't deceive us in the slightest. We know you were
his mistress, and among other places you lived together at Cromer as man
and wife."

"You say so," said Lady Mentone calmly, and then suddenly her eyes
flashed and she rapped out scornfully--"But look here, Inspector Stone,
of Scotland Yard, what's that to do with you if I was?" She nodded
angrily. "Just mind your own business, and keep to the matter in
hand--who killed our agent Toller?"

"Ah, Toller!" exclaimed Stone significantly, "I'll come to him in a
minute." He dropped his voice to quiet tones again. "Now I'll come to
another person." He spoke slowly and deliberately. "Have you ever known
anyone called Wedlake?"

"Certainly I have," replied Lady Mentone, "and if it was Mr. Aaronson's
servant you refer to, I knew him well." She laughed maliciously. "And
because I admit that, are you going to suggest I was his mistress, too?"
She nodded. "I saw in the newspapers a few weeks ago that he had died."

Stone ignored her question with contempt. "And do you remember his
Christian names?" he asked.

"I should think so," she laughed, "considering that he had been with Mr.
Aaronson for many years." She nodded. "George Edwin were his Christian
names."

Stone's voice was like the hiss of a snake. "And do you know," he
whispered, "that the late Edwin Asher Toller was his nephew?" His voice
rose abruptly to a higher key. "No, no; it's no good your attempting to
deny it. He told it to you that night of the ball."

Lady Mentone's face was the very picture of astonishment. All the
laughter and amusement had died away, and she stared at him wide-eyed,
and with her mouth open.

"His nephew!" she gasped. "But Mr. Wedlake had always told us his nephew
had become a waiter!" She recovered quickly from her surprise. "How do
you know he was Mr. Wedlake's nephew?"

"Never mind how we know," snapped Stone fiercely. "We know as well as
you do, and when Toller told you that night he threatened you at the
same time."

"Both statements are untrue," snapped Lady Mentone, equally as fiercely.
She looked him straight in the face. "How do you know what happened at
the ball? You weren't there."

"But in the light of what happened afterwards," retorted Stone, "we can
surmise most accurately what took place."

"Surmise!" she scoffed with biting sarcasm. "Anyone can surmise anything
if he wants to so as to fit in with his preconceived ideas." She looked
very amused. "Besides, if Mr. Toller were really poor old Wedlake's
nephew, he least of all, would have told me so, because he would have
guessed I knew he had once been put in prison. He forged a cheque with
someone's signature when he was working for a money lender, and his
uncle had to borrow the money from Mr. Aaronson to pay for the defence."
She shook her head. "No, he would certainly not have made his identity
known to me." She spoke scoffingly again. "As for threats, no one has
anything to threaten me with"--she bowed smilingly--"not even a great
detective from Scotland Yard."

"But this won't do for us," exclaimed Stone viciously, "for Toller, as
the nephew of Mark Aaronson's servant, must have heard something of the
scandal of your association with his uncle's master."

"There was no scandal," said Lady Mentone with quiet dignity. She looked
amused again. "And if there had been any, no one would have ever learnt
it from Mr. Wedlake. He was Mr. Aaronson's friend as well as his servant
and would have told no tales."

"But Wedlake dying," went on Stone, stung by her defiance into taking a
long shot, "and his nephew attending the funeral, he found among his
effects, documentary evidence of your guilty relations with Aaronson
that he threatened to show to your husband," and he put his hand in his
pocket to feel for his handkerchief and wipe the sweat of annoyance from
his forehead.

Then for the first time during the interview it seemed that Lady Mentone
had lost her confident poise. Her face had paled, her eyes had opened
wide and she had drawn in a sharp breath. But her lapse was only
momentary, and as the perspiring Stone mopped his forehead, she
exclaimed shakily, and obviously, steadying herself with an effort,
"Well, produce this evidence, Inspector, and we shall see what it is
worth."

Then suddenly she threw back her head and broke into a low rippling
laugh, quite regardless of the angry looks of the two men before her.

"Oh, I am so sorry," she said when she had in part recovered herself,
"and I must apologise." Her eyes sparkled in merriment. "But the idea
came suddenly to me that you must be about the two sickest detectives in
all the kingdom. You came here evidently expecting to find me a
shrinking, frightened woman, whereas I tell you honestly I entered this
room with the full intention of enjoying myself, having realised that I
had nothing to fear from you and you could be as bullying as you liked."

She rose from her chair. "But I think we'll leave off here, if you don't
mind, for you've brought back memories that are very dear to me, and
made me feel very sad." She moved over to the door. "But you'll have a
cup of tea, won't you? No, of course you must. At any rate, I'll send
Chime in with it and you can have your talk with him at the same time. I
understand he's another suspect now." She smiled archly. "Perhaps there
are some black pages in his past that you may uncover. Certainly, he
doesn't look romantic to me, but then--you never can tell," and with a
friendly good-bye, and before they could recover from their
astonishment, she was out of the room and had closed the door behind
her.

The two Inspectors regarded each other very solemnly, and then Carter
remarked drily. "Nothing doing, Charlie, and if there were any letters,
she's got them now and feels quite safe. I am afraid we shall have to
wipe her off the slate."

"Not at all, not at all," snapped Stone irritably. "She's just been
playacting all the time. She had simply nerved herself up to play the
part she did, and every emotion she portrayed was artificial. Her
condescending politeness, her appearance of perfect ease, her scorn, her
anger and her defiance were all put on." He ground his teeth together.
"It is just as if that galoot, Gilbert, had prompted her and had told
her exactly what we were going to ask her and exactly what to say."

"Well, in that case," smiled Carter, "Gilbert should be very proud of
his pupil, for if she were acting she was one of the finest actresses I
have seen." He shook his head. "No, Charlie, we're bested this time
right enough."

"I don't agree," commented Stone savagely, "and I'm not cornered yet.
The mask dropped off her face for those few seconds when I was
mentioning documentary evidence, and I'll have to think out what it
meant. There's a chink in her armor somewhere and well have to find out
where it is."

Chime came in with the tea and bread and butter in a few minutes, and
was submitted to some sharp questioning, but he stuck valiantly to his
point that he knew nothing about his niece's trouble until told by his
sister, two days after the murder, and that he had never fired a rifle
or a gun in his life.

"Not that I wouldn't have killed him if I had known everything," he
said, with more spirit than the Inspectors had ever seen him show, "but
it just happens I didn't know and so it was not me who gave him his
punishment."

He seemed to become quite brave. "And I don't believe it was Myrtle
either. She had seen the rifle many times and even taken it down and
handled it, but she didn't know where the cartridges were, of that I'm
quite sure."

"That doesn't let her out," said Carter, frowningly, "for there were
plenty of .22 cartridges at Miss Bain's. The old lady's nephew kept a
small rifle there for his holidays."

Chime was not detained very long, and then he stood waiting in the hall
to show the Inspectors out. He no longer looked frightened, but only
very miserable.

In the meantime Lady Mentone, with her heart still beating quickly, had
returned to Larose in the music room.

"I got on beautifully----" she began gaily, and then suddenly her face
grew white as death, her legs tottered, and Larose had just time to dash
forward and catch her as she went into a dead faint.

Larose was quite imperturbable, and, laying her flat upon the carpet, he
took her handkerchief, and, dipping it in the water of a bowl of
flowers, proceeded to dab her forehead. Stopping for a moment to feel
her pulse, he opened her hand, and noticed where her finger nails had
been impressed deeply into her palm.

"Poor little Billy!" he murmured. "She's been through an ordeal." He
sighed. "Why is it, I wonder, that the sweetest emotions of life so
often exact the most dreadful payments?"

Lady Mentone soon began to come to. She drew a deep breath, her eyes
opened, she stared round and then she made an effort to get up.

"No, don't be in a hurry," said Larose quietly, "you're quite all right.
Wait a minute or two, until you feel stronger."

She did as he bade her, and her color began to come back. Then Larose,
disregarding her blushes, lifted her bodily and propped her up with
cushions on the settee.

"And so you got on well, with those dreadful Inspectors," he smiled.
"You didn't let them frighten you?"

"No, I defied them as you told me to," she smiled back, "and then they
didn't seem at all formidable." She laid one of her hands upon his. "Oh,
I'm grateful to you, Mr. Larose. If you hadn't warned me what to expect
I'm sure I should have broken down."

"What did they say?" asked Larose. "Tell me if you feel strong enough."

"Thank you, I feel quite all right again now, and I will tell you
everything," she replied, and then she went on as if she were quite
amused at what had taken place. "They said there had been some dreadful
scandal about me when I was on the stage. They said that Mr. Aaronson's
servant, a man called Wedlake, was Mr. Toller's uncle, and this Wedlake
having died a few weeks ago, and Mr. Toller going to his funeral, he had
found what they called 'documentary evidence' about me among some
papers, and upon the night of the ball here had tried to blackmail me by
threatening to show them to my husband."

"Did they produce this documentary evidence?" asked Larose with a frown.

She laughed merrily. "No, when I asked them to show it to me, they just
stared and said nothing."

"Of course, they meant 'letters'," commented Larose thoughtfully.

"Yes, I suppose so," she said carelessly, but Larose noticed she had
flushed a little, and was now avoiding his eyes.

A short silence followed, and then Lady Mentone exclaimed suddenly.
"But, oh! how worried Beatrice and Eva will be when they hear that these
detectives have been again, and especially that they are now making a
dead set at me. We had all been so hoping that their suspicions, as far
as we were concerned, had died away." She looked very troubled. "Oh,
what will they think when I tell them?"

"That Scotland Yard has shot its bolt with you girls," replied Larose
cheerfully, "and that they won't be troubling you any more. It is
evident your two sisters were out of the picture long ago, and that you
were the only one about whom they had any suspicions. Make light of the
whole matter when you tell Miss Beatrice, and oh, I say"--he shook his
head--"don't mention that I gave you that warning, and for goodness sake
don't let them know you fainted in here."

"I certainly won't," said Lady Mentone blushing again. She smiled
prettily. "You've been awfully kind to me, Mr. Larose, and I'm so
grateful to you."

So when Beatrice and Eva returned home from having tea with Miss Arbour
at 'The Towers', they were given a very entertaining account of Billy's
interview with the Inspectors, and of all she had learnt from them about
Toller.

"And now you come to think of it," exclaimed Eva, "Mr. Toller did look
very much like a high-class waiter. One could tell, somehow, he wasn't a
gentleman, although he had the manners of one."

Dinner that night was another bright meal, with Lady Mentone showing no
signs of the ordeal she had been through. Indeed, Larose thought he had
never seen her look prettier, and he could understand, as he could also
with Beatrice, anyone falling in love with her.

Presently, when they were all together in the lounge. Larose gave them
something of a shock.

"Will you please let me have the keys of the bungalow?" he said to
Beatrice. "I want to go in there for an hour or two tonight."

Beatrice almost gasped. "What on earth for?" she asked.

Larose smiled. "I can always think better when I'm on the actual scene
of any tragedy," he said, "and sometimes I believe I can almost recall
the atmosphere that preceded the crime." He smiled at their astonished
faces. "At any rate, my imagination is most active then."

"But what exactly are you going to do?" asked Eva sarcastically, when a
short silence had ensued. "Are you going to sit in the armchair, with
the window open, and the blind up, and imagine you're Mr. Toller?"

"Something like that," he laughed. He made a wry face. "But I'm glad
that rifle is no longer available. I shall feel rather safer in
consequence."

"Shall I come with you?" asked Beatrice with a demure smile.

Larose pretended to look at first pleased, and then doubtful. He shook
his head and asked, "What would Mr. Vavasour say?"

In the meantime during the journey back to town, Stone had been very
quiet and had hardly spoken a word to his companion. Arriving at
Scotland Yard, he had left the arranging of the broadcast for the
missing Myrtle Marriott to Carter, and had gone off with only a curt
nod.

Then at his own home, contrary to his usual custom, he hardly spoke to
any of his family and, finally, long after everybody else was in bed and
asleep, he had lain in his own particular armchair in the dining-room,
thinking, thinking, thinking.

He was trying to determine what, in the middle of her bold defiance of
them that afternoon, had so suddenly made Lady Mentone's face blanch for
those few fleeting seconds as it had done, just after he had stated that
Toller had found documentary evidence of her guilty intrigue with Mark
Aaronson.

That she had not been frightened at what he had said, he felt quite
sure, for after he had spoken the words, she had been wreathing her
features for a mocking laugh, the like of which she gave them the moment
she had recovered herself. But the laugh then had frozen on her face,
she had gasped for breath, and there had been a terrified expression in
her eyes.

Then what had been the cause of the sudden change that followed? What
thought had avalanched into her mind to give her such instantaneous
relief? What had so assured her in a lightning flash that he was not
about to produce the evidence that he had said existed?

He thought on and on, and then, like the exploding of a bomb, the answer
came to him.

He had told her Toller had found the evidence that incriminated her and
that could only have meant letters of some kind. Then he had put his
hand in his pocket for his handkerchief to wipe his face and--she had
thought he was going to produce the letters!

Yes, that was it. There could be no doubt about it, for it would explain
everything. She had seen the handkerchief come out instead of the
letters, and the relief had been so great that she had burst into that
high-pitched and half-hysterical laugh, clothing it with mockery to mask
the real state of her emotions.

Yes, and that was why she had cut short the interview so precipitately.
She had been strung up to the last point of endurance and could stand no
more. Inspector Stone took out his handkerchief once again and mopped
over his face with a grim smile.

So that meant the letters had not been found! Well, he would find them!
Toller had hidden them somewhere, and his, Stone's, search would not be
like anyone else's. It would be the search of a man well versed in crime
and who, all his adult life, had accustomed himself to the ways of
criminals and the trend of their thoughts. He would be off to the
Priory, once again, on the morrow.

He went to bed quickly, and the loud snores that so soon followed
testified to his healthy and unemotional state of mind.




CHAPTER IX.--STIRRING DEAD WATERS


The clock of the old Stratford St. Mary church was just chiming midnight
when Larose let himself into the bungalow and gently closed the door
behind him. The night was pitch black and not a star was shining, and he
had with difficulty found his way there, without flashing his torch.

He had delayed leaving the Priory until so late, because he was wishing
when he came to switch on any of the lights in the bungalow that none of
the Priory servants or anyone in 'The Towers' should be awake to see
them and wonder what was going on.

It was generally known that although the new agent had been appointed,
he had not as yet taken up his residence there, preferring to cycle in
every day from Colchester.

Once in the passage, Larose flashed his torch to get his bearings, and
then, tip-toeing into the office, settled himself comfortably into the
armchair in which the former agent had been sitting when death had come
to him so suddenly.

He shut his eyes and gave himself up to his thoughts.

Now he had come there, he told himself because he believed that
somewhere hidden in the bungalow were letters that had formed the basis
of Toller's threats to Lady Mentone--and they must be found without
delay.

He would not go over the old ground again, he frowned, but would take it
for granted, as did both Stone and Carter, that there had been letters
in Toller's possession that incriminated Lady Mentone.

Then, certainly, he went on, Lady Mentone had not recovered them, as
proved by her terror that afternoon in the music room when Chime had
entered to announce that the two Inspectors were wanting to see her. She
had been terrified then that they might be going to spring some dreadful
surprise upon her, whereas with the letters in her possession, or burnt,
she would have had no need to be frightened about anything, for it was
only those letters that could in any way link her up with a reason for
wishing Toller dead.

Then again, Scotland Yard had not got hold of them either, as proved by
Stone's attitude towards Lady Mentone only a few hours ago. He had tried
to bluff her into admitting their existence, by referring to documentary
evidence Toller had obtained, as if that evidence were now secure in
their hands. But she had called his bluff and at once he had apparently
collapsed like a pricked balloon.

Larose smiled here. Then Stone had returned to the city, undoubtedly
thinking that she herself had recovered the letters and most probably
had burnt them.

The smile dropped quickly from Larose's face. Ah! but Stone might not be
so easily shaken off as all that, and when he had thought things over he
might yet return, as quickly as the strike of a snake, to the attack.
Stone was a shrewd judge of character, and he might not, perhaps, have
been quite so completely taken in by Lady Mentone's defiance, as that
young woman imagining.

Long after Stone had left the Priory, he would be re-weighing every word
she had spoken; he would be recalling every inflexion of her voice and
he would be going over every emotional sign she had exhibited. He might
easily, too, be reasoning that she had terminated the interview so
quickly because her resistance was on the verge of breaking down.

And then suddenly he would drop on to it that her fears had been still
with her, and if Toller had got possession of any letters, which all
things seemed to point that he had, then even as he, Stone, was
wondering where they were, so was she.

Then down again to the Priory he would come post-haste, knowing that if
no one had got hold of them as yet, then it must be in the bungalow that
they would be found, and he would search every nook and cranny with the
thoroughness of an expert.

Larose began talking to himself. "Now, I am Edwin Asher Toller. It is
the night of the ball and I just returned here. I have danced with three
beautiful girls and I have drunk deeply of their beauty. I have gloated,
too, that I have let one of them know she is in my power."

"But I am a little uneasy about my victim, for women the world over are
highly emotional creatures, and it may be she will not be able to hide
the terror she must feel. I am threatening to expose her past to her
husband, and if she will not or cannot comply with my requirements,
then, rather than he shall hear the truth from me, she may, perhaps,
confess everything to him and throw herself upon his mercy."

"Yes, I am doubtful about her, as her strength of character is not very
great, and in letting her know I am in the possession of these letters,
I realise that I have at once placed myself in a position of some
danger. So I must now take due precautions and so secrete these letters,
that in the event of any charge of blackmail being brought against me,
they will not be found anywhere and I shall be able to deny everything."

"But I am not going to hide them where the first mug plainclothes man
can lay hands upon them. There will be no 'behind pictures' or 'inside
mattresses' or 'up chimneys' for me. I will think of something original.
They make quite a bulky packet, tied with this ribbon, so I will untie
them to make them easier to hide, as separated, they can be disposed of
somewhere a few at a time."

With a deep sigh at the probable difficulty of the task before him,
Larose switched on his torch, and rising from his chair, after a long
and thoughtful stare at the big roll-top desk, proceeded to go through
the other rooms of the bungalow, one by one.

Nothing escaped his eyes and to all places where even a single envelope
could be hidden, he gave a close scrutiny. To the wainscotting of the
rooms he gave special attention, but there was not the slightest sign of
any of them having been disturbed lately.

"But I am wasting my time," he frowned disgustedly. "They are the very
places everyone would think of. So, I will go back to my first idea, the
roll-top desk. That appears so obvious a place to secrete any letters in
that no one would dream Toller had chosen such a hiding place."

Returning to the office, he switched on the light and proceeded to
unlock the big desk and roll back the shutter. Then he took out every
one of the drawers, until the lower part of the desk was empty and
skeleton-like framework. He lay down upon the floor and flashed his
torch everywhere under the well, and at the back from where the drawers
had come out. Then he wriggled at the framework of the eighteen
pigeon-holes, without disturbing their contents. But everything was
unyielding and immovable, and he paused to take a breath. Then he pulled
the roll-top shutter up and down many times listening intently for any
unusual sounds.

"No help for it," he remarked finally. "I'll have to get the top off.
Toller could have pushed a dozen letters alone under that shutter and
there would be nothing to show for it." He nodded. "But he'd have had to
lift that top off, as I am going to do, to get them out again." He
nodded a second time. "It's just as well I anticipated this and am able
to do it without leaving anything to show it has been done."

The desk was a good-class one and very highly polished. Its top was
thick and heavy and had been screwed on with six screws. But the heads
of the screws had been sunk well below the surface of the wood, then the
screw-holes had been plugged with wood of exactly the same kind and the
plugs cut off level. Finally the top had been planed smoothly before the
polishing had been done. The result was, the holes where the screws had
gone in showed only very faintly.

Larose took a fine hack-saw blade out of his breast pocket and rubbing
it well over with a piece of soap which he fetched from the kitchen,
began the rather arduous task of cutting all round the top where it was
joined to the main body of the desk. He had spread a curtain that he had
taken from one of the bedroom windows upon the floor to catch the
sawdust and, in addition to that, he held his handkerchief just below
the saw all the time he was using it.

It was quite a long business, and he sighed with relief as he felt his
saw pass through the last screw. He had made a good job of it, and kept
a straight line the whole way round.

He lifted the lid off and peered into the cavity he had exposed.
Flashing his torch all round where the shutter was coiled, for the
moment a great disappointment surged through him. He could see nothing.
But thrusting his hand down underneath, however, he gave a triumphant
"A-ah," as his fingers came in contact with what was undoubtedly an
envelope with a letter inside. Instantly he leant over and pulled down
the shutter over the inside of the desk and then at once a number of
envelopes came into view. He took them out quickly, eleven of them in
all, and each one with the typed address 'Mark Aaronson, Esq., The
Olympic Theatre, Haymarket, London,' marked 'private' and with the
post-mark Cromer on it.

He showed no elation at his success, but, rather, the expression upon
his face was a sad one.

"And because of these," he said solemnly, "a man died." He sighed. "Had
she only known it, she was writing them in blood."

Then for the moment, he gave no thought to the letters and, laying them
upon the mantelshelf, prepared to replace the top of the desk, so that
there should be no sign to show it had been taken off.

Producing a match box from his pocket, he took out a number of small
brass nails, of the kind used for fastening on the sole of a shoe.
These, at regular intervals, he proceeded to hammer in, softly, with the
office poker, all round that part of the wood that had supported the
desk top. He left, however, half of their lengths protruding.

Then he filed off all their heads and gave to them a sharply pointed
end. Next, he lifted up the heavy desk top, and adjusting its position
with great care pressed it hard down into its original place. The nails
gripped and at once the top was firm and steady, and, apparently, held
as tightly as it had been before the screws were cut through.

"That'll do," he remarked, regarding everything with satisfaction, "and
unless anyone gives it a good tug, it will keep on for years."

Then he rolled up the curtain upon the floor and, carrying it into the
back garden, shook it out very carefully before replacing it on the
window. Finally he washed his hands at the kitchen sink and returned to
the office. Then he picked up the letters from the mantelshelf, and,
subsiding once again in the armchair, proceeded to go through them.

They were dated, as he had expected, nearly six years previously, and
the handwriting was delicate and refined. They were signed "Billy."

Frowning all the time, Larose read them through. They were real love
letters and beautifully written, and he could quite understand why Mark
Aaronson had treasured them.

They breathed the very ardent passion of a young girl, in her first love
affair, and their burden was the wonder to the writer that life could
hold such happiness as she was then experiencing.

They were written within the space of three weeks and he gathered she
was not able to walk then, because of some injury to her ankle. They
referred to many intimate little details of her life when he was not
with her, and it seemed the greater part of each day was spent by her
upon a couch, before a window overlooking the sea. Apparently it was
Mark Aaronson's custom to come down to her in the early hours of each
Sunday morning, and return to town each Monday afternoon.

She referred several times to the play of 'The Moss Rose,' and mentioned
how glad she would be to resume her part in it when she was all right
again.

"And there can be no doubt," commented Larose, "what their relations
were, but who is there who has the right to judge her? Aaronson was the
one to blame, because of his age. Eighteen and forty-four! What a
difference. Still, it would have been a great temptation to the
strongest of us, for she must have been very beautiful."

He made a grimace. "But was it really, then, this pretty creature who
shot Toller? Has she committed a murder?"

He started to argue with himself. "But if she has done all those things.
I wouldn't necessarily consider her a really bad woman. She's anything
but bad, and in this dreadful business here she may have had a certain
claim to the right to both lie and kill. To lie--because from all
accounts her husband worships her. And to kill--because a blackmailer is
always an outlaw, and who knows yet what this one's terms for secrecy
were?"

He rose up from his chair. "But I'm not certain yet she did fire that
fatal shot. It may have been that Marriott girl, or yet again"--he
hesitated quite a lone time--"Dr. Athol."

The following morning when Chime came into Larose's room at seven
o'clock, he brought the startling news that there had been a fire at Dr.
Athol's during the night, and most of the front rooms of the house had
been completely burnt out, with nothing of their contents saved. The
fire brigade from Colchester had managed to put the fire out, but they
had made an awful mess of everything.

"Of course they can't explain it, sir," went on the butler, "but they
think it must have originated in the doctor's consulting room after he
had gone to bed."

"Hum!" remarked Larose to himself when Chime had left the room, "and
that destroys every shred of evidence that it was Dr. Athol who broke
into the bungalow." He looked troubled. "But I've an unpleasant time
before me for I must tackle Lady Mentone at once."

Arriving in the breakfast room a few minutes after the family had all
sat down, he was rather surprised to see a stranger seated next to Lady
Mentone.

"My husband, Mr. Larose," smiled the latter, evidently with great pride,
as the man rose and shook hands most cordially with the master of Carmel
Abbey, "and he's come down at this unearthly hour to tell us he's just
been made Home Secretary."

"And very pleased to meet you, sir," smiled Sir Charles Mentone. "I am
most grateful to you for coming here to help these poor girls. I should
have come down some days ago to thank you, but most urgent matters in
the House prevented me. However, directly I was free, I have lost no
time in paying my respects. I left the city before seven this morning."

Larose, making a suitable rejoinder, regarded him critically.

He saw a tall, distinguished-looking man in the late fifties with a
clean-shaven, intellectual face, a very kind expression, and humorous,
twinkling blue eyes. It was evident by the way he looked at his wife
that he was immensely proud of her, as well as being very much in love.

"Gosh!" thought Larose with a dreadful pang, "if he only knew of those
letters, what would he think of her?" He lowered his eyes to his plate
to hide any expression. "If it were not that she might be always
worrying, I would burn them and she would never know what had become of
them."

Everyone at the table seemed bright and happy, and the conversation was
an animated one. The main topic of conversation was, of course, the
burning of Dr. Athol's house in the night, and it appeared that Beatrice
had already had a long conversation over the phone with Mary Arbour
about it. It had taken place about two o'clock in the morning, and all
being over in an hour, the doctor and his two maids had been given
refuge for the remainder of the night at 'The Towers'. The fire had
spread so rapidly, that nothing in the front of the house had been
saved.

The conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Chime, who
shuffled into the room with a very scared face and whispered something
to Beatrice.

"What is it?" asked Eva instantly, seeing that her sister's face had
gone very pale.

Beatrice smiled with a great effort. "Nothing much, dear," she replied.
Her voice gathered strength. "Only that Inspector Stone wants to speak
to me."

"It's very inconvenient his disturbing us so early," snapped Eva
crossly. She turned to the butler. "Has he come by himself?"

Chime gulped down something in his throat. "No, miss, there are two
others with him." His voice choked. "They look like plainclothes men."

A dreadful silence followed, and all the three sisters looked
frightened. Beatrice was ghastly pale, and so was Lady Mentone. Sir
Charles looked very puzzled, not understanding why any of them should
appear to be so upset.

But Larose came instantly to the rescue. "Don't look so worried
everyone," he smiled, "he's not come to arrest any of you, or there
would be women with him instead of men." He laughed merrily. "Don't I
know only too well the ways of the Yard." He nodded confidently to
Beatrice. "Just send him a message that you're at breakfast, and it's
not convenient to see him"--his eyes twinkled--"or, better still, invite
him to join us and have a cup of coffee. He may be tired after his long
drive."

Instant relief flooded everyone's face at Larose's words, and Beatrice
sent out the message he suggested. Then with Chime out of the room,
Larose went on. "He's probably only come to ask for the loan of the keys
of the bungalow again. It doesn't do for the Yard to appear to drop
everything all at once, and they have to make out they're busy." He put
his finger to his lips. "But for heaven's sake don't tell him I had
those keys last night. They're all back in the study drawer, where you
told me to put them."

Chime reappeared, looking now much more cheerful. "He says he'd rather
not come in, Miss," he announced, "as he breakfasted before he left
town, but he'll be very much obliged if you'll let him have the keys of
the bungalow for a little while," and then poor Chime was astonished at
the ripple of laughter that rolled round the room.

Eva leant over the table towards Larose with her face flushed and her
eyes sparkling. "Really, Mr. Larose," she said warmly, "if I didn't
remember that you had a wife, and I a very jealous husband-to-be"--she
waved her hand round the room--"I'd suggest we should slip away from all
this crowd and I'd"--she blushed prettily--"well, I don't know what I
wouldn't do."

Larose appeared to look most eager and made to rise with no delay from
his chair. "My memory's often bad," he smiled, "and if you would let
yours go for once"--he nodded darkly--"your suggestion might not turn
out to be such a bad one," and then feeling the gentle pressure of a
foot upon one of his, and knowing that it could only be Beatrice's, he
blushed himself, in his turn.

In the meantime Stone had bustled into the bungalow with his two
assistants. "Now lads," he said briskly, as they made their way into the
office, "you know all the circumstances, and it's some letters you've
got to look for. I don't think they'll be very far away." He took a long
envelope out of his breast pocket and produced the length of blue ribbon
that had been found in one of the desk drawers upon the occasion of his
previous visit to the bungalow. "See, they were at one time tied up in
this and, from the creases here, there should be quite a tidy few."

"Well, sir," said one of the plainclothes men, looking round, "where
should we start first. I would suggest trying this desk. It's a heavy
bit of furniture and most people would be unlikely to think of it, as it
is so obvious."

"I quite agree with you," said Stone, "so we'll take all the drawers out
and move it a bit nearer to the light. Then well turn it upside down and
see if he's by any chance tin-tacked the letters to the bottom. I've
known of that trick being done once with some stolen bank notes."

So once again, within a few short hours, the drawers of the big desk
were removed and laid to one side. Then, in order not to scratch the
linoleum upon the floor, the three men proceeded to lift the desk bodily
up.

"One moment," cried Stone, "turn it round this way first," and he put
his hands to swing it in the right direction. Then, to everyone's
amazement the top came off in his hands, and it was only by good fortune
that he retained hold of it and it did not fall upon his feet. He stared
blankly at it for a few moments, while the plainclothes men lowered the
desk on to the floor again and joined interestedly in the scrutiny.

They saw the frayed wood along which the hack saw blade had passed, the
bright ends of the sawn screws and the little brass nails, sticking up
in a row.

"Hell!" exploded Stone violently, "someone's been before us!" He thrust
his face down in the cavity where the roll top coiled. "The letters are
gone!"

One of the plainclothes men recovered from his astonishment first. "But
can we be sure, sir," he began.

"Be sure!" snarled Stone. "No, we can be sure of nothing, of course. But
it looks darned likely that someone has guessed the letters were here
and did what we'd have done to get at them."

"Of course, no one would have gone to all that trouble to put any
letters in," went on the man. "He would have just slipped them up under
the shutter and----"

"Don't be an ass," interrupted Stone fiercely. "We needn't be told
that." He calmed down at once and added thoughtfully. "No, it was a very
different matter getting them out to putting them in, and our only doubt
can be whether the person who made this their hiding place thought
better of it afterwards, and removed them to hide them somewhere else."
He glued his eyes to the desk top. "Now when was this cut off?"

"Very recently, sir," said the plainclothes man meekly. "I can smell the
soap he used to grease the saw."

"Good!" nodded Stone, and he at once darted out of the office, to
return, however, very quickly. "Only one piece of soap in the place," he
remarked disappointedly, "and that looks as if it was probably last used
by someone to wash his hands with, in the kitchen sink."

The other plainclothes man now spoke for the first time, and he was
evidently of a much more pugnacious temperament than his colleague. "But
how do we know, Inspector, that any letters were ever put there?" he
asked brusquely. "The shutter may have gone wrong and the top taken off
to put it right."

"Well, it must have been done in the last few days, and since the agent
was killed," commented Stone dryly, "or the smell of the soap wouldn't
be hanging about, as it is now."

"But we don't know," persisted the second man boldly, "that whoever took
this top off found anything at all. He may have found nothing there,
just as we have."

"Quite so," smiled Stone pleasantly. He nodded. "But you agree the
attempt to find something has been done very recently?"

"Oh, yes," nodded back the man at once, "and whoever he was, he made a
damned good job of it. I'm a pretty good carpenter myself, and I
couldn't have done it better."

"You don't think it could have been done by a woman?" queried Stone,
with a frown.

"My oath no!" replied the man. He hesitated a moment. "If it was, then
she was no ordinary woman. She'd been brought up in the trade."

But at that moment they heard footsteps outside, and Stone darted into
the passage, just in time to intercept Chime before the latter reached
the office door.

"Superintendent Russell has just rung up, sir," said the butler. "He had
found out that you were here, and he wants to speak to you. He said will
you please ring him up within the next half hour or so."

"Thank you," said Stone. "I'll see to it." Then a thought seemed to
strike him. "Here, I say," he called out, as Chime had proceeded a few
paces, "are you much of a carpenter, Mr. Chime?"

The butler turned in his tracks. "No, sir," he smiled, "but I do odd
jobs about the house sometimes."

"Well, have you got a good kit of tools?" asked Stone.

Chime smiled again. "No, sir. What we have are kept in one of the
kitchen drawers, all except the big saw."

"Well, have you got a fine saw of any kind, a hack-saw, for instance?"

"No, sir, we have only very plain tools. If anything out of the way
wants doing we ring up Mr. Collins in the village."

Stone went back into the office and one of the men at once asked, "Are
we to go on with the search, sir?"

"Yes, I think you'd better," replied Stone. "Do this room first, because
I understand the agent will be here in a few minutes. Then search the
other rooms most thoroughly and don't hesitate to look behind any
wainscoting if it appears to have been disturbed lately. Then go over
the garage and the garden and cast your eye over those trees just
behind. There's just a chance we may be quite mistaken the letters were
ever in this desk, although I'm not very hopeful. I am going away for a
while, but at any rate, hang about until I come back. Oh, and be sure to
put that desk right, so that no one can see we've touched it."

"Very good, sir," replied the man, and Stone walked out of the bungalow.

The Inspector was feeling intensely disappointed. He had not candidly
admitted it to himself, but he had been depending so much upon finding
the letters somewhere about that big desk for, as with Larose, he had
been thinking Toller might have imagined everyone would regard it as the
most unlikely place wherein to hide anything.

It was so much in the mind's eye. It would seem to be so foolhardy to
keep the letters at his very elbow, so to speak, and there were,
apparently, so many other places that would be so much more difficult to
find.

Stone had no intention now of going into the Priory to ring up the
Superintendent. He was tired of the sight of everybody there, he told
himself, and besides, he did not want anyone to hazard from his own
rejoinders over the 'phone what the Superintendent in Colchester might
be talking about. So, he walked the short distance to the village
constable's little house and got in touch with Colchester from there.

The Superintendent had quite a lot to tell him about the missing Myrtle
Marriott, for the broadcast of the previous evening had already brought
some important news.

The big carrier upon the back of Myrtle's bicycle had apparently caused
people to remember her, and the dreadful storm upon the night of
Toller's murder had made the date easy to recall to their minds.

A porter at the railway station in Ipswich had rung the Colchester
police and stated that a young woman answering to her description had
sheltered for more than two hours under the railway arch upon that
particular night. Also, a man who kept a small shop in the little
village of Washbrook, about four miles the Colchester side of Ipswich,
had phoned that she had knocked him up the same night some time about
eleven for some oil for her lamp, which had gone out, and, finally, a
chemist in Ipswich stated that he had sold six ounces of sulphuric acid
to her on the afternoon of the previous day.

Stone had received the three items of information with a frown, and
then, ringing off, had stayed on for a few minutes to chat with the
village constable.

Then, when about to leave the constable's house and standing with him on
the door-step, he asked him if he happened to have heard anything about
the Mr. Larose who was staying up at the Priory.

"Yes, he called here and made himself known to me one day last week,"
replied the constable. "I think it was upon the day you and Inspector
Carter came up."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone with a frown, "and what did be come to you for?"

"Nothing particular, sir. He asked me about what happened when I went up
to the house with the Superintendent that night of the murder. Just a
little chat to pass the time, I think."

The frown upon Stone's face deepened and he shook his head. "No, no, my
friend," he said sharply, "Mr. Larose never indulges in little chats, as
you call them, just to pass the time. There is purpose in everything he
does, and he never wastes his time. He came here expecting to pump you
about something, so think now what questions he asked you."

The constable hesitated. "Well, he seemed interested about Dr. Athol,
and how he was liked in the village, and if he performed operations, and
things like that." He looked rather sheepish. "And we discussed the bad
time the baker's wife had had in her confinement the previous night,
when the doctor had been attending her."

"Great Jupiter!" ejaculated Stone, looking very puzzled. "He wanted to
know if Dr. Athol performed operations and you discussed some
confinement. Then depend upon it, he was curious for some reason."

But the constable could suggest no reason, and Stone was frowning all
the time. Then suddenly he asked sharply, "Who is that woman passing
now? Quick!"

The constable looked across the road and answered in a stage whisper.
"Miss Carrington, one of the ladies who lives up at 'The Towers.' She's
Miss Arbour's companion there."

"Well, she's passed twice," grunted Stone, "and each time I noticed she
stared hard at me."

He left the constable for a few minutes, and, walking thoughtfully
through the village, became aware, when he was just beyond the last
house, that the woman he had referred to was close behind him.

He slowed down to let her get ahead, but when she drew level, to his
surprise, there came a hoarse whisper--"You're one of the Inspectors
from Scotland Yard aren't you? I thought so, and I want to speak to you
about something very important. Don't stop, for I mustn't be seen
talking to you. Watch where I turn off into the lane past those trees
and come after me," and, accelerating her pace, she shot away in front
of him.

"Hum!" remarked Stone, winking to himself, "an assignation with a female
in some lonely place!" His eyes twinkled. "But I wish she were a bit
younger. Men get particular at my age."

She was waiting for him round the corner of the lane, and opened the
conversation at once. "Seeing you were a stranger and talking to the
constable here," she said, nodding her head vigorously, "I guessed you
came from the London police, and I asked Mr. Cowles, the butcher, and he
said you did." She looked rather nervous. "Now, if I give you
information, you are not bound to tell from whom you received it, are
you?"

"Certainly not," replied Stone. He smiled. "We just say, 'from
information received.'"

"Well, it's about Mr. Toller's murder I'm going to speak to you," she
said breathlessly, "and I consider it my duty to inform you that I think
Dr. Athol was mixed up in it." And then she proceeded to tell the
astonished and very interested Inspector all that she thought she had
seen from the tower of their house the night when the Priory agent had
been shot.

"Are you sure it was Dr. Athol who dropped over the wall then?" asked
Stone sharply. "Were you positive about it at the time?"

"I was almost positive I recognised him," she replied, "the moment I
caught sight of the man in the lane, and then I became quite positive
when Miss Arbour bridled up so quickly and said it was ridiculous. Of
course, she was very put out, because undoubtedly it looked as if he had
been visiting Lady Mentone secretly in the Priory grounds."

"Then are he and Lady Mentone suspected of being more than friends?"
asked Stone with a frown.

"I suspect them," replied Miss Carrington, "and I think many others do,
too. She comes down here on purpose to be attended by him, and the
Priory maids have told ours that when he visits her, he nearly always
stays half an hour." She looked very mysterious. "I am sure she was
going to him at his house that night."

"And why are you telling me all this about Dr. Athol and Lady Mentone?"
asked Stone sternly.

"Because," she replied firmly, "I have no wish for my friend, Miss
Arbour, to throw herself away upon such a man, who, besides, has no
affection for her." She glared at the Inspector. "Unless I can open her
eyes, the marriage will take place in a month."

Stone cross-examined her sharply, and then, learning from her that Dr.
Athol's house had been burnt down and that the doctor was now a guest at
'The Towers,' announced his intention of at once going to see him.

"Then please let me go on alone first," ordered Miss Carrington
peremptorily, "and wait at least five minutes before you move. I must
not be seen anywhere near you or Miss Arbour may suspect something."

So it happened that Larose, returning from a quick inspection of the
doctor's gutted house, came upon the Inspector leaning idly against a
tree, not very far from the entrance to the Priory grounds.

"Hullo!" they exclaimed simultaneously, and then they both smiled and
shook hands.

"But I thought you were picking up clues in the bungalow!" said Larose.

Stone shook his head. "No, my men are doing that." He regarded Larose in
a most friendly manner. "I've got some interesting news for you," and he
proceeded to pass on to him all that had resulted from the broadcast of
the previous night for the missing Myrtle Marriott, and of which he had
just heard from Colchester.

"And that upsets your apple-cart, Gilbert," he smiled, "in exactly the
same way it upsets mine. No, no, don't you attempt to deny it, for you
suspect that pretty petal of 'The Moss Rose' every bit as much as I do."
He shook his head. "If I had only found those love letters tied with the
blue ribbon, the dainty creature would have been in the cells long ago."

Larose made no pretence that he did not understand what the Inspector
meant. "But look here, Charlie," he said earnestly, "with all that has
now come to light, is not the evidence against the Marriott girl far
stronger than any we possess against Lady Mentone?"

"In a way, yes," agreed Stone readily, "but for all that I am still of
the opinion that the pretty one killed him. As far as we can learn,
Myrtle has never fired a rifle in all her life and besides, she is not
of the killing type. She fits in so essentially to the type of
vitriol-throwing woman, vulgarly passionate, afraid of nothing--note her
bicycle rides in the dead of night--and very spiteful and revengeful for
any fancied wrong done to her by anyone. So she would a hundred times
rather have seen Toller writhing in agony than kill him outright. She
told her aunt she was going to 'do him cruel.'"

He lowered his voice dramatically. "Then I ask you, if she came here
that night with the second bottle of vitriol in her possession, why did
she not throw it over him? And I answer my own question by
replying"--his voice was only a whisper now--"because when she crept up
to the window of the bungalow she saw Toller was already dead!"

The face of Larose was quite expressionless. "Dreams! Charlie," he said,
"just dreams! Lady Mentone has become your obsession and you can't think
of anybody else."

Stone ignored his comment and sighed heavily. "Yes, my lad, you and I
came to learn about the existence of those letters just two days too
late, and I'm very much afraid now they've hopped in and got them, since
the keys of the bungalow were given back!" He nodded. "I say they,
because I am sure there was someone helping the girl to get them back."
He eyed Larose very intently. "Look here Gilbert, is that doctor chap
another lover of hers?"

Larose shook his head. "I shouldn't think so," he replied. "At any rate,
I saw her with her husband at breakfast this morning, and she seemed
pretty keen on him." Then seeing the sceptical smile upon Stone's face,
he added. "And you'd better go a bit easy there now. Sir Charles was
made Home Secretary last night."

Stone smiled. "That makes no difference, and if I nabbed her, what a
feather it would be in my cap!" He looked at his watch and began to move
away. "Well, I'm off now, to have a word with Dr. Athol, and I'll ask
him, straight, to account for his movements the night Toller was
killed."

Dr. Athol and Mary Arbour were in the library of 'The Towers.' He had
breakfasted alone and been out to see some patients and then, returning
to the house of his fiancee, had found her busy arranging some flowers.

"Good morning, dear," he said as he drew her to him and kissed her
quickly, "then you're not upset by last night's, or rather this
morning's, shock? Splendid! It shows your nerves are A1. No, kiss me
properly. Ah, that's better." He laughed lightly. "We're not a very
passionate couple, are we?"

Mary blushed ever so little, and then flashed him her beautiful, sunny
smile. "But you do love me, don't you, Norman?"

"Of course I do, sweetheart"--he looked fondly down at her--"and always
shall. If you went out of my life now it would be terrible for me."

They talked on for a few minutes and then one of the maids came in to
announce that Inspector Stone had just come, and wanted to speak to the
doctor. She had put him in the morning room.

Dr. Athol frowned. "All right," he said. "Tell him I'll be there in a
minute."

A shadow crossed over Mary's face. "What do you think he wants, Norman?"
she asked quickly.

"Oh, to ask me about that Marriott girl, I expect," replied the doctor
carelessly. He rose up from his chair. "I'll be back very soon."

Mary's face was all calmness and serenity until he had left the room,
but the instant the door had closed behind him, a great change came over
her. She started up from her chair, her lips parted nervously, and a
look of fear came into her eyes. She moved over to the door and stood
listening.

A half-minute went by and then very quickly opening the door, she
tip-toed across the hall and through the French window of the dining
room into the garden. Then picking her steps very carefully so that she
should make no sound upon the gravelled drive, she proceeded about
twenty yards along by the side of the house until she reached a door
leading into the conservatory. She opened the door very quietly, and as
quietly closed it behind her. Still tip-toeing she threaded her way
among the big palm-tubs until she came nearly to the end of the long
conservatory. Then, through a window of the house that opened, there
came the sound of voices, and with her attitude one of intense
attention, she stood listening.

A deep voice that she knew could be only that of the Scotland Yard
Inspector, was saying, "And of course, doctor, in discussing the girl
with me, you are violating no canons of professional secrecy. The girl
has spoken openly to her aunt about everything and, in turn, the aunt
has spoken equally as openly to me."

"Quite so," commented Dr. Athol quietly, "and in my opinion the girl's
mental state was such that she would go to any lengths to obtain
vengeance upon Toller."

Stone nodded. "Bah!" he snorted, "that Toller was a devil!"

"And I should say," went on the doctor drily, "that who ever killed him,
rid the world of one of the worst types of man, and benefited his
fellows."

"That may be quite true, doctor," snapped Stone instantly, "but it is
not what the law allows. As you know quite well, the law does not admit
the right of any private individual to take things into his own hands.
If it did, then there would be no end to personal vengeance and anyone
with a fancied grievance could be judge, jury, and hangman, all
himself." He shook his head. "No, that would never do."

A short silence ensued and then Stone, eyeing the doctor very intently,
spoke again. "And now another matter Dr. Athol, and it concerns you this
time." He looked very stern. "I am not satisfied with your reply to my
questions the other day. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that you
were deliberately untruthful."

The doctor's face flushed, and he frowned angrily, but he kept his
temper, and said very quietly. "Particularise, please, Inspector Stone.
Give chapter and verse."

"Your story of what you did that night in the bungalow when you had sent
Chime off and were waiting for the police to come," retorted Stone,
"does not tally with that given by Mrs. Bowman. She says you were moving
about in the office for a considerable time after Chime had left, and
yet you averred you went into her bedroom at once."

"And why should Mrs. Bowman's word be preferred to mine?" asked the
doctor scornfully, "particularly so as she was, upon that night, in a
far greater state of mental upset than was I?"

"Because we have other suspicions about you," replied Stone instantly,
"that are occasioning us to, altogether, doubt your good faith." He
rapped out quickly. "Now, can you account to us how you spent the time
between 9.30 and 11 upon the night of the murder?" He shook his head
very sternly. "It has come to that, Dr. Athol, and you'll have to put
down all your cards to satisfy us."

The first expression upon the doctor's face was one of sheer amazement,
then it became one of anger, and finally it passed to one of mild
amusement. Then he appeared to be thinking very hard, and in the end he
frowned. "I suppose you have a right to ask," he said slowly, "and I
have not the slightest objection to telling you. Now, let me see. I had
dined late that night, because I had been called to an accident at
Higham. I saw two patients in the surgery after dinner. I read a little,
and about nine o'clock I went out to see another patient, a Mrs. Batley,
and probably stayed there half an hour. I was back soon after 9.30, and
I read again." He looked straight at Stone. "And I read on until Chime's
'phone call came about twenty minutes to twelve."

"And no doubt," asked Stone very pleasantly, "you were seen by one of
your maids."

"No," replied the doctor calmly, "no one came into the room." He smiled
carelessly. "I am sorry I can only give you my word."

Stone's eyes were resting idly upon a bowl of beautiful white roses on a
table, and then suddenly he darted a lightning glance at Dr. Athol. "But
you saw Lady Mentone during that time," he snapped viciously. "We have
witnesses that you did."

If he had expected the doctor to start and gasp, he was disappointed,
for not a muscle of the doctor's face moved. He just looked at Stone
thoughtfully, without the faintest suggestion of any surprise.

"So that's your idea, is it?" he said very quietly, at length. His voice
rose ever so little. "Well, it's a rotten one, let me tell you, for I
neither went out, nor did Lady Mentone come in."

But if the doctor had his face under perfect control, Stone had
nevertheless seen out of the corner of his eye a contraction of the
muscles of one of his hands. He had clenched his fingers together.

"No good, doctor," said Stone sharply. "You were seen together in the
Priory lane, and we can prove it." He picked his hat up from a chair and
jerked his head in the direction of the door. "Come over with me to the
Priory and I'll tax her ladyship with it in front of you. That'll settle
it to the satisfaction of us both. I shall tell instantly by her
expression if she is speaking the truth."

Dr. Athol hesitated. There was no doubt now that he was upset and that
some of his self-confidence had gone. His face had whitened, under its
tan, and he moistened his lips with his tongue and swallowed twice.

"I wouldn't put Lady Mentone to such a shock and----" he began hoarsely.

"Nonsense," interrupted Stone instantly. "If you've spoken the truth any
questions I ask her will be no shock at all." His voice hardened. "Only
if you've lied to me will it be any shock." He jerked his head again to
the door. "Come on. I dare you to accept my challenge."

Dr. Athol bowed. "All right then," he said briskly, "we'll go. As a
private individual I am very pleased to, but"--he frowned uneasily--"as
Lady Mentone's medical man, I may not be doing right," and he led the
way out of the room.

Stone followed close upon his heels, determined he should get no chance
of going to the telephone and sending a warning to the Priory that they
were coming. As the distance was so short, too, at Stone's suggestion
they went on foot, and, turning out of the drive he smiled to himself at
the way he had managed things. They would take Lady Mentone quite
unprepared.

But the burly Inspector would not have been quite so pleased if he had
been in 'The Towers' two minutes after, for Mary Arbour was putting
through a ring to the Priory.

Chime answered it, and she exclaimed breathlessly. "Quick! I want to
speak to Lady Mentone. Get her for me at once. Tell her it's important."

Chime left the receiver off and was gone for a long while. Then, when at
length he returned, he said apologetically. "I'm very sorry, Miss
Arbour, but I can't find her anywhere. Miss Beatrice and Miss Eva, I
know, have gone to take some flowers to the church, and I rather think
her ladyship must be with them."

Mary bit her lip in vexation. "Well, go and look again for her," she
ordered, "and if she's not in, then tell her to ring me up at once when
she returns, before speaking to anyone. You understand?"

"Yes, Miss," replied Chime, "I'll see to it."




CHAPTER X.--AN OLD MAN'S DARLING


In the meantime Larose had returned to the Priory with the intention, as
soon as possible, of catching Lady Mentone alone. And his star was
certainly in the ascendant there, for entering the grounds, he saw her
at the far end of the garden picking flowers.

Making his way behind the trees, so that he would not be seen by anyone
looking from the windows of the house, he came upon her just as she had
finished filling a large basket with roses. She looked up brightly at
him, as he approached.

"If you were wanting to help me," she smiled, "you've come too late.
I've got an I want now."

He shook his head frowningly, and looked around to make sure no one was
about. "No, it's not that, but I want to speak to you," he said, "and
its very important. Is Sir Charles likely to come out?"

Her face sobered at once at his grave tones. "No, I think he'll be busy
most of the morning," she replied. "He has a lot of letters to write."

"Well, let's go into that summer-house," went on Larose, "and if we sit
behind the door, no one will see us even if they pass. Bring the basket
in with you, too."

She looked a little nervous, but, complying with his request, in a
minute or two they were seated in the summer-house and secure from
observation, unless anyone came in. Through a small window they had a
good view of the whole length of the garden.

Larose turned his eyes away from her and looked down at his shoes. "I
have some letters of yours," he began very quietly, "and I'm going to
give them back to you after I've asked you a few questions." He heard a
faint gasp at his side, but did not look around, and went on carelessly.
"I found them last night, where Toller had hidden them, under the
roll-top of the office desk."

A deep silence followed, and although they were seated close together,
Larose imagined he could feel the vibrations of the beating of her heart
upon the back of the summer-house against which they were both leaning.

He looked round now. She was lying back heavily, and her bosom was
heaving in her rapid breathing. Her face was blanched, her lips were
parted, and she was regarding him with an expression of absolute terror.

"No, don't disturb yourself," he said kindly, "I'm not your enemy and no
one is going to have them but you." He smiled reassuringly. "But it's
lucky I got them when I did, for they are what Inspector Stone has come
to search for this morning."

She found her voice at last. "Have you read them?" she asked chokingly.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "I had to, to learn the extent of the hold that
Toller had got upon you, and to know if his death was justified."

She sat up sharply and her face crimsoned to the roots of her hair.
Face, neck, and bosom were now one furious red.

"Oh, what must you think of me?" she gasped. "What a dreadful woman I
must appear to you now!"

"Not necessarily," he replied calmly. He shrugged his shoulders. "I
don't judge people in those matters. They belong to themselves and we
seldom know the whole truth."

"But the lies I've told!" she wailed. "And I've lied to you as much as I
did to everybody else."

"Well, you had to," he smiled rather sadly. "Lies were your only
defence." The smile dropped from his face and he regarded her very
sternly. "But there must be no more of them now, please, Lady Mentone,
for you must tell me the absolute truth. I was going to give you back
these letters unreservedly, but there's another suspected woman in it
now, and we can't let Myrtle Marriott suffer, if she's not really
guilty. We shall have to----"

"But she must be guilty," broke in Lady Mentone passionately. "We did
not shoot him, and it has been the greatest puzzle to us who did."

"'We' and 'us,'" commented Larose quietly. "Please explain. No, no," he
went on quickly, for she had drawn back sharply and was again regarding
him with terror. "I tell you I must have absolute truth from you now,
and there most be no holding back." He nodded. "And much of what you
tell me I shall be able to check up, for I have found out a great deal
more than you imagine." He smiled again. "So now, please, who are 'we'
and 'us'?"

"But I shall be bringing possible punishment upon someone else,"
protested Lady Mentone piteously, "and it'll be the blackest ingratitude
on my part after the kindness that has been shown me."

"But you can't help it," retorted Larose sternly, "and, knowing the
danger you are in, I am sure that person will be only too thankful for
you to speak." He spoke more gently. "It may perhaps comfort you a
little that I know perfectly well who that person is."

And then, holding herself in bravely, Lady Mentone told the whole story
as far as she and Dr. Athol were concerned.

On the night of the tenants' ball, in her first dance with Toller, they
had not taken a dozen steps before he had informed her he had been
waiting longer than a month for that opportunity to speak to her, when
no one would regard with suspicion their talking together. He told her
the dead Wedlake had been his uncle, and that upon his death certain
letters of hers to Mark Aaronson had come into his, Toller's,
possession. Then he said that of course he was going to give them back
to her but, as a poor man and always wanting money, he was sure she
would see it would be a gracious act on her part to make him a little
present.

"And the brute didn't frighten me very much when we were dancing," said
Lady Mentone tearfully. "He put it in quite a friendly way then, and I
thought he only meant a few pounds that I could squeeze out of my dress
allowance money. But when we were sitting in the conservatory, I almost
fainted when he said he must have 5,000, and not only that"--her face
became suffused with blushes again--"but he leered at me in a horrible
way, and said I must come and see him in the bungalow next night."

"Don't rub your eyes," said Larose sharply, "you don't want everyone to
see you've been crying. Remember, that Inspector Stone will be furious
at not finding those letters today; and if he comes for another talk
with you, you must be at your best to outwit him. Don't forget you are
absolutely safe now, and he can't touch you unless you give yourself
away."

"All right," she said, pulling herself together at once, "I won't let
myself go." She smiled wanly. "I'll try to show myself a decently worthy
object of your great kindness."

Then she told him how she had felt desperately ill the next day and
Beatrice had insisted in calling in Dr. Athol.

"And I broke down completely," she said, "and I told him everything."
She looked up meaningly. "No, we have never been lovers. Please don't
think that. He's only been a great friend." She drew herself up with
dignity. "I've been as straight as a die since I married, and honestly,
the only lover I ever had before was Mr. Aaronson."

Then she told him Dr. Athol had promised her he would get the letters
back from Toller directly he could manage to see him. He was going to
give him the fright of his life, too, and make him find some excuse to
resign from his situation at the Priory immediately.

"And he was so certain he would come back very soon that day," said Lady
Mentone, "but we didn't know then that Mr. Toller had gone into
Colchester and it was only when Dr. Athol called in at the bungalow that
he learnt it from the housekeeper. She told him she didn't expect Mr.
Toller back until evening. Then when evening came the doctor had to go
about 10 miles away, where someone had met with an accident, and he had
to stay and give the anaesthetic for another doctor. So he did not get
home until late, and then decided to go and see Mr. Toller the last
thing, when it was less likely his visit to him would be noticed." She
shook her head. "But I knew nothing of the reason for the delay and,
getting worried, and anxious, because I had not heard from Dr. Athol, I
slipped out when we were all supposed to be in bed, and went off to see
him."

"What time was that?" asked Larose.

"Just before 10. I waited until I thought Beatrice and Eva would be
asleep, for they were the only ones who would be likely to hear me
moving about. Then I went up the short way, by our lane, terrified all
the time that I might be seen by someone in 'The Towers', for there was
a light burning in one of the turrets there."

"You were seen," interrupted Larose, "by that Miss Carrington, and she
declares she recognised you by your walk."

"Oh, how awful!" exclaimed Lady Mentone, looking very frightened. "Then
I've been living in a fool's paradise all the time?"

"Perhaps you have," nodded Larose. "But still, don't worry, for the
evidence would be worth very little in a court of law. The woman did not
see your face, and it's only guesswork or spite. Go on, and please tell
me everything in detail."

"I saw a light in the doctor's study," she said shakily, "and I tapped
on the window and he came out and spoke to me. He told me he would go to
the bungalow directly he reckoned I had had time to get home. He would
have returned with me, he said, if it hadn't been unwise to run the risk
of anyone seeing us together in the grounds so late at night."

"And what time did you get home?" asked Larose.

"I don't know, but I was in bed by the time the chimes were striking
half-past ten. I heard them distinctly. Then I remember very little
more, for I must have fallen asleep almost at once. I must tell you I
had taken a strong sleeping draught."

"And Dr. Athol," asked Larose. "What happened to him?"

Lady Mentone shivered. "He went to the bungalow and found Mr. Toller
dead."

"Yes, yes," ejaculated Larose, "but tell me exactly what he says he
did."

"He waited at home a little longer than he had intended to give me time
to get home, because he said he was finishing a cigar and thinking of
what he was going to say to Mr. Toller. Then he climbed over our wall
and made his way quickly to the bungalow. Every one knew Mr. Toller
never went to bed much before midnight, and so he expected to see the
office lit up. He got close to the window and saw Mr. Toller was lying
back in the armchair with blood streaked down his face from his
forehead. Then he knew instantly that he was dead, and he came away as
quickly as he could."

"But why?" asked Larose sharply. "As a medical man, he wouldn't be
frightened of death, and didn't he realise it was his duty to go in and
see what had happened?"

Lady Mentone looked very uncomfortable. "But he was thinking of other
things," she replied. "He says if he has raised the alarm then, there
was no excuse that he could give for being there at that time of night,
and besides----" she looked more uncomfortable than ever--"he thought at
once that Eva had done it."

"Why, Eva?" ejaculated Larose with astonishment.

Lady Mentone spoke very quickly. "Because when I had told him everything
that morning, he had warned me on no account to mention a word to either
Beatrice or Eva, and I had said I would never dare to, for Eva was so
quick-tempered she would shoot Mr. Toller at once if I did. So, seeing
the body lying there covered in blood, it jumped into his mind at once
that Eva had caught me coming back into the house and I had confessed
everything to her and she had done exactly as I had said."

"Well, he must have realised it would be discovered directly the
housekeeper came home!" frowned Larose.

"Yes," said Lady Mentone, "but he wanted to give Eva time to calm down
and he hoped, too, she would remember then to clean father's rifle, so
that no one would think it had been used. Then directly he got back home
he began to worry whether Eva had been inside the office and left her
fingermarks anywhere, and he was so hoping he would be rung up before
the constable and get a chance to wipe round everywhere with a
handkerchief."

"And he did get the chance," nodded Larose grimly, "and it was the
absence of those fingermarks that turned Inspector Stone's suspicions
upon him."

"Oh! then does the Inspector really suspect him?" asked Lady Mentone
fearfully, and with her eyes opened very wide. "Norman has been thinking
all along from the questions he put to him that he did."

"Yes, he suspects him right enough," replied Larose, "and he's gone up
to 'The Towers' to question him now. No, don't worry. He'll get nothing
out of him. The doctor will know it's all suspicion and that there is no
proof. Go on, please. What happened the next morning when the doctor
came up to the Priory?"

Lady Mentone smiled again, a very wan little smile, however. "He nearly
gave himself away, for, meeting Eva alone as he came into the hall, he
whispered. 'And what did you do, young woman, last night?' But then,
instantly, seeing from her face that she didn't understand what he
meant, and that he'd made a dreadful mistake, he managed to turn it off
by pretending he'd been guilty of a joke in very bad taste." She clasped
her hands. "Oh, but Eva's been worried all the time, and I'm sure she's
suspected something ever since. She doesn't know what or why, but she's
anxious about me, and so is Beatrice." She sighed deeply. "I think
they've been talking together about me and Dr. Athol, because they can't
understand why the doctor was so long with me that morning when I was
telling him everything, and twice, Beatrice has caught him speaking to
me in a very low voice."

"Well, what did the doctor say to you, when he came the morning after
the murder?" asked Larose.

Once again Lady Mentone smiled, but this time with some amusement. "It
was an awful mix up." She made a grimace. "With Eva out of it, he
thought I'd done it, and I thought he'd done it,"--she sighed--"and it
wanted a lot of explaining before we were convinced that each of us was
innocent."

She was silent for a few moments, and then went on. "Then came those
days of awful suspense. Every moment I was expecting that the letters
would be found, and each time the Superintendent asked to see us, I
thought he had come to arrest me. Still the days went on and, with
nothing happening, my dread became a little less, especially as all the
time Norman was awaiting his opportunity to get into the bungalow and
search Mr. Toller's bedroom. He thought the letters must be there seeing
that they hadn't been found in the office."

"He got the opportunity?" suggested Larose.

"Yes, one evening when Detective Lesser had gone into Colchester for a
short time, but he found nothing in the bedroom and the detective came
back when he was searching in the office, and he narrowly escaped being
caught. He only just got away in time." She looked enquiringly at
Larose. "But you must have been very clever to find them, for after the
bungalow had been given back to us, the doctor spent one whole night
searching everywhere. I got the keys from Beatrice's drawer for him.
Where did you find them?"

Larose told her, and then said very impressively. "Now, Lady Mentone, I
am trusting you, and have you honestly told me everything you know? What
you have told me is the absolute truth?"

"The absolute truth, Mr. Larose," she replied earnestly. "I have told
you everything." She laughed a little bitterly. "I won't say upon my
honor, because after what you know of me you may think I have not got
any honor and----"

"Nonsense," interrupted Larose sharply. "I regard you as quite a good
woman"--he smiled--"and a very charming one, too." He laughed lightly.
"Who knows that my life has not its secrets, too? Your misfortune is you
have been found out." He made a gesture as if dismissing the whole
matter, and putting his hand in one of his side pockets, produced a
small packet. "Well, here are the letters, eleven of them. Are they all
you wrote? You don't remember? Still, don't worry, for they are
undoubtedly all that were kept." He hesitated a moment before giving
them to her. "But should I burn them for you? Perhaps it would be
safer!" He smiled. "Remember, you are quite two hundred yards from the
house, and the Inspector may turn up at any moment."

"No, I'll take them," she said eagerly, "and then with my own eyes I
shall see that they are burnt," and with hands that trembled, she thrust
the little packet under the roses in her basket.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Larose," she said, stretching out her hand for
his. Her eyes moistened and she choked back a sob. "But for you I should
be a broken woman and the happiness of life for ever closed." She nodded
towards the basket. "No one knows about those except you and I?"

"No, no one," nodded back Larose. "It is a secret between us." He
pretended to sigh. "But a very different secret for you from the last
one."

"Of course it is," she said. She shook her head with a pretty frown, "I
couldn't give and you wouldn't want to take."

"Of course not," Larose said, and then he smiled.

"Of course not," she echoed back, and then she let go his hand and
smiled archly.

They moved out of the summer-house and proceeded to walk thoughtfully
down the narrow path, just wide enough for two. Lady Mentone would
insist upon carrying her basket.

"No," she said, "these are not going out of my hands until I place them
in the kitchen fire, and then----"

"Hullo!" interrupted Larose sharply. "Here are Dr. Athol and the
Inspector. No, don't stop. Look, they've seen us and are coming this
way."

Lady Mentone felt her knees shaking under her, but she took a good grip
of herself and glanced smilingly at the basket of roses to make sure the
little packet was well out of sight.

"By Jove, what glum faces they've got!" said Larose softly. His voice
dropped to an intense whisper. "Look out, and mind your step now. The
Inspector may be wanting to question you and the doctor together. Yes,
you look out for squally weather."

But there were no signs of impending danger upon Lady Mentone's smiling
face. She just looked sweet and dainty, as if she were part of the
beautiful and fragrant roses she was carrying in her basket.

The two men walked quickly up and lifted their hats. Stone looked fierce
and pugnacious, and the doctor very calm and rather bored. The former
spoke up at once.

"I want to ask you a couple of questions, please, Lady Mentone," he said
brusquely, "and I want you to answer them instantly so that I shall know
you're not making anything up." He became most polite. "Excuse me, Mr.
Larose, but would you mind very kindly moving back." He smiled. "I want
to see her ladyship and the doctor, standing side by side, so that they
won't be able to prompt each other as to what to say."

And so upon that narrow gravelled path between the rose trees began
another battle royal between the Inspector of bull-dog tenacity and the
gentle-looking aristocrat, Margaret, Lady Mentone. The latter's heart
was fluttering wildly, but she held her head high and her lips were
parted in a gracious smile.

"Now, your ladyship," said Stone sharply, "upon the night of your
agent's murder both you and Dr. Athol were seen by certain inmates of
'The Towers' in the Priory lane. That is so, is it not?"

"Upon the night of the murder!" echoed Lady Mentone very quietly. "Dr.
Athol and I together in the Priory lane!" She spoke with the utmost
calmness. "Who said so, Inspector Stone?"

"Answer my question first," rapped out the Inspector angrily. "You don't
deny you both passed up the lane!"

As in a lightning flash, Lady Mentone drew herself up to her full
height, her careless pose was flung from her, and the expression upon
her face became one of bitter scorn.

"And so you come again," she exclaimed, "with your trumped-up evidence
to prove me a liar and worse. You said yesterday you had documentary
evidence against me of a guilty intrigue, and when I challenged you----"

"Never mind about yesterday," interrupted Stone hotly, "I can bring
witnesses to prove that you and Dr. Athol here were in the lane around
the time when Edwin Asher Toller was murdered." He glared fiercely at
her. "What do you say to that?"

Lady Mentone was quite calm again now, and her anger appeared to have
died down. "I only say you can't bring them," she replied quietly. Her
eyes flashed. "You might find some scandal-mongering person who
suggested to you that I was there, and who then, finding you credulous
about everything to do with me, stated it as a fact."

"But why should anybody suggest to me that you, in particular, were
there," asked Stone scornfully, "if there was no truth in it?"

"Because it's no doubt all over the village now," scoffed Lady Mentone,
"that you have been making a dead set at me." She nodded darkly.
"Servants talk, Inspector Stone, and you remember yesterday, you were
shouting at me."

"You visited the doctor and were in his home that night," said Stone
fiercely.

Lady Mentone felt a thrill of great relief surge through her. She was on
safe ground at last and saw that the Inspector was now floundering out
of his depth. He must be only wildly guessing she felt sure, for she
knew she had never been actually in the doctor's house that night.

"I tell you I was not," she said very firmly, "and I defy you to bring
any witnesses to say that I was."

"But I am confident," insisted Stone, "that you both know much more
about that agent's death than you make out, and also"--he glared
fiercely at them--"that there is some secret understanding between you
in connection with it."

"Then prove it, Inspector," said Lady Mentone sweetly, "and get out the
warrants at once. As for this secret understanding between us"--she
looked round and smiled--"well, tell my husband about it. Here he
comes," and they all turned to see the newly-appointed Home Secretary
striding up the path.

Sir Charles advanced briskly. "Hullo!" he called out genially, "a solemn
conclave considering all the aspects of the dreadful case!"

Lady Mentone laughed. Then she directed her husband's attention to
Stone. "Charles, this is Inspector Stone," she said sweetly. "You must
have heard of him. He's one of the chiefs at Scotland Yard."

"Of course, I've heard of him," exclaimed Sir Charles heartily, and at
once moving forward to shake hands. He bowed with old-world courtesy.
"One of the most distinguished and capable officers we have."

Stone was looking rather red, but his eyes twinkled merrily. He had
quite got over the annoyance of his rebuffs from Lady Mentone and the
situation now was appealing to his sense of humor.

"Very pleased to meet you, Sir Charles," he said. "I saw in the paper
this morning that you had been made Home Secretary, and now, of course,
we shall have to be extra careful at the Yard."

"Not any officers such as you, Inspector," laughed Sir Charles. "You are
one of our shining stars, and I tell you I was greatly relieved when I
heard you were taking charge of this case. Superintendent Russell is no
doubt a very worthy man, but he is a little bit tactless and crude, I
imagine." He turned to his wife. "But I want you, Margaret, for a few
minutes. Will you please come indoors?" and then smilingly he took her
basket of roses from her. "No, I'll carry this, dear."

But he was clumsy in getting hold of the basket and tipping it sideways,
all its contents were spilled on to the ground.

"Dear me, dear me!" he exclaimed, "what a silly thing to do!"

Everyone at once jumped to gather up the roses, but the path was narrow
and apart from Sir Charles, Dr. Athol was the only one able to assist in
the picking up of the flowers. Inspector Stone, however, pounced upon
the little brown paper packet of letters that had been flung on to a
flower bed.

Out of the tail of her eye, Lady Mentone saw he had picked it up, but
she made no comment, and with steady fingers arranged the roses in the
basket, as they were handed up to her.

For a few seconds the Inspector held the little packet in his hand, with
no interest, apparently, as to what its contents might be, but then
gradually he began to press his fingers thoughtfully over it and then he
suddenly glanced down. His glance was a very quick one, however, and
looking up again he saw that Lady Mentone was watching him with a
curious expression, that he could not for the instant fathom, upon her
face.

"There was nothing to break in this, was there, your ladyship?" he asked
frowningly. He fumbled with the packet openly now. "They seem to be only
letters to me!"

Larose felt a cold shiver run down his spine and his forehead breaking
out in little beads of sweat. If ever Lady Mentone had been menaced by
Stone, she was in deadly peril from him now!

Larose had missed nothing of what had happened. He had seen Stone pick
up the packet, he had watched his fingers running idly over it and then
he had seen the startled expression that had come into Stone's face.
Then, so well was he aware of Stone's uncanny power of intuition that he
was terrified as to what would follow next.

As in one lightning flash Stone might have grouped together three
happenings; his own failure to discover the letters that morning;
finding him, Larose, talking with Lady Mentone and lastly, a packet of
letters in so extraordinary a place as a rose basket that was being
carried about in the garden.

He swore deeply under his breath.

But Lady Mentone's voice, although her heart was throbbing like a
piston, came calm and unruffled and in its accustomed beautiful
modulation.

"Yes, only letters," she nodded to the Inspector. She laughed slyly.
"Some old love letters of mine, Mr. Stone, that I don't want my husband
to read." She nodded to Sir Charles, who had now finished picking up
what he considered his share of the spilled roses, and added carelessly.
"Take that little packet from the Inspector, please, Charles, and put it
in your pocket at once. Don't look at it whatever you do, or you'll
never have any trust in me again," and she turned away to finish
rearranging her roses.

Smiling tolerantly, Sir Charles stretched out his hand for the packet,
but just for the fraction of a second Stone hesitated to pass it over.
As Larose had surmised, his imagination had been quivering like a
tuning-fork, but at the same time his reason shrieked to him that it was
too miraculous a coincidence that the very letters he had been seeking
so vainly should be now in his hands! Then Lady Mentone's calm
indifference turned the scales.

He handed the packet with a bow to Sir Charles, who at once put it in
hip pocket.

"And now I'll give you a rose for your button-hole, Inspector," said
Lady Mentone graciously. Her ready smile lit up her face again. "I'm
sure you don't get flowers like these at Scotland Yard." Her eyes were
dancing with merriment. "Which color would you prefer?"

"The deepest crimson that you have," replied Stone solemnly, and he
glared at Larose who was trying not to smile.

Sir Charles and his lady nodded a smiling good-bye and the three men
stood watching them until they had entered the house.

"A very fascinating young woman that," sighed Stone, turning at last to
his companions, "and I can understand any man falling in love with her."

"And yet you would believe her guilty of the most dreadful offences,"
commented Dr. Athol dryly.

"Certainly," agreed Stone readily, "but that in no wise detracts from
her charm." He smiled. "Never before have I met anyone so untruthful,
and yet who can get away with it as she does every time." He tapped the
doctor in quite a friendly way upon the arm. "You lie very poorly, my
friend. You fidget and clench your hands when you are doing it, but she
lies with the demeanor of a nun saying her prayers, and then--almost I
believe I am the liar myself." He shook his head frowningly. "Still,
although I say it who shouldn't, it is almost a relief to me that she
can do it, for I shouldn't like to see the handcuffs upon those pretty
wrists of hers." He tapped the doctor upon the shoulder this time. "Put
that down to his credit, sir, when you are judging Inspector Stone."

"I will," laughed Dr. Athol, "and if you should meet with any accident
before you leave the Priory, I'll attend you with pleasure, without
charging any fee." He looked at his watch. "But I must be going back
now. I've a lot to do."

"And I'll come with you as far as the lane," said Larose. "I'm going
into the village to get some tobacco," and with a nod of good-bye to the
Inspector, they turned and walked on in the direction of the exit from
the Priory grounds.

For a few moments Stone stood watching them, and then was turning away
himself, when his eyes fell upon a deep heel-mark in the grass border
just where Larose had been standing.

He regarded it curiously, he bent over it and then he frowned. His lips
moved as if he were muttering an imprecation and he scowled. Then with a
snap of his fingers he straightened himself up suddenly and walked
smilingly away. His smile, however, was a very grim one.

"A suspicious man, that Inspector!" remarked Dr. Athol when he and
Larose were out of earshot. "And he can be very bitter, too."

"Suspicious!" echoed Larose, as if very surprised. "Well, hasn't he good
reason to be? And bitter! Well, wouldn't you be bitter in his
circumstances?" He laughed. "But for rotten bad luck and being just a
few hours too late, he would have been quite justified in taking both
you and Lady Mentone back with him into Colchester this morning; her
ladyship as the possible slayer of E. A. Toller, and you, as an
accessory after the fact."

The doctor looked astonished. "Y-o-u think so," he stammered. "You
believe----"

They had now turned into the road and were out of sight of the house,
and Larose stopped suddenly to interrupt the doctor. "Now look here," he
said impressively. "I know it must be most unpleasant for a gentleman,
such as you are, to be continually uttering falsehoods, as you have been
doing ever since Lady Mentone dragged you into this. So, I tell you
straight away that in talking to me there is no need for any further
untruths. Lady Mentone has told me everything."

He spoke in ordinary and matter-of-fact tones. "I found those letters
Toller had hidden away, and gave them to her ladyship a little while ago
and she, with no disloyalty to you, made known to me how you had been
trying to help her," and then, very quickly, he told the doctor
everything that had happened.

Dr. Athol's face was a study, and when Larose had finished he exclaimed
fervently. "Oh, what a mercy you, and not the Inspector, found those
letters! These past few days have been a nightmare to us! I had to lie,
too, to protect that poor girl." He looked intently at Larose. "But I
say, how did the Inspector get to know we had both passed up the lane
that night?"

"Miss Carrington told him just before he came up to see you," replied
Larose. "She and Miss Arbour were up in the turret that night!"

"Good God!" exclaimed the doctor looking very taken aback. "Then did
Miss Arbour see us both, too?"

"She saw you, but said at once it wasn't you, and I don't think she
caught sight of Lady Mentone at all. It was only Miss Carrington who
said she saw her ladyship, and then she only thought it was she, because
the walk was the same. I can tell you now she told me this about both of
you two days ago, but I did not repeat it to anyone."

"Bah!" exclaimed the doctor, "that Carrington woman hates me and she
would tell any lie about Lady Mentone because she knows she and I are
friends. She's always trying to poison Miss Arbour's mind about her,
too."

And at that very moment Mary Arbour was talking to Lady Mentone over the
'phone.

The latter had got Mary's urgent message directly she had come into the
house with Sir Charles, but she had waited until she had hidden away the
letters before ringing her up.

Strangely enough, after the mental agony they had occasioned her, she
was yet not intending to destroy the letters until she had read them
again, and, for one thing, seen if they had been very dreadful for
Larose to have gone through. She was so exhilarated, too, with the way
she had outwitted and outgeneralled the Inspector, when he was been
actually holding the evidence he wanted against her in his own hands,
that the very idea of taking yet further risks was thrilling to her.

So she ran upstairs and secreted the letters, not in her own
bedroom--she chuckled here at the way her encounters with Scotland Yard
had sharpened her wits--but behind one of the folds in the carpet up the
main staircase that were held in place by the brass rods.

Then she rang up Mary.

"Oh, is that you, dear," came Mary's voice. "Well, I am afraid now I am
too late to be of any good, but I wanted to tell you that that odious
Inspector, the stout one, had been up here talking to Norman, and then
gone off with him down the drive. I don't of course know what he wanted,
but from a few words I caught as they were going out of the door I
guessed he was coming to worry you again."

"And so he was, dear," said Lady Mentone gaily. "He had picked up some
stupid gossip about Norman and me having been seen together in the
grounds that awful night, and he wanted to question us together." She
laughed merrily. "But he got nothing out of it, of course, and it ended
in his going away with a rose I had given him in his button-hole."

"Was he pleasant, then, when he went away?" asked Mary, and had Lady
Mentone only known it. Mary's face was white and drawn.

"Oh, quite pleasant, dear," she replied, "except that, to the very last
he wanted to let us know he was still sure that one of us was
guilty"--she laughed merrily--"by choosing the darkest blood red rose
there was in my basket to imply something sanguinary."

Mary rang off, and then, subsiding into an armchair, covered her face
with her hands. "And I could have been so fond of him!" she murmured
brokenly. "He makes my path so very hard." Tears welled into her eyes.
"How faithless men can be!"

But she heard quick steps upon the gravel outside, and darted out of the
hall. A few moments later Dr. Athol was calling her.

"Mary, are you anywhere about?" he called out, and he began opening the
doors of the rooms. She appeared at once. She had wiped her eyes, and
there was now no trace of her recent emotion.

The doctor came up to her and took her hand. "I am sorry, dear, that I
went off so abruptly," he said, "but that suspicious Inspector had heard
some rubbish about Billy and me, and wanted to confront us together. He
insisted that I should go to the Priory with him at once." He laughed a
little bitterly. "But he came a nasty thud directly he spoke to Billy,
and, in the end went off with his tail between his legs."

Mary looked troubled. "I guessed it was something like that," she said,
"and tried to get Billy on the phone to prepare her, but I didn't speak
to her until a few minutes ago, and then she told me what had happened."

The doctor drew her to him and kissed her tenderly. "But what made you
think of it, dear?" he asked, feeling very uneasy.

Mary hesitated. "I was suspicious of Jane Carrington," she said slowly,
and as if choosing her words very carefully, "and it was like this. I
happened to be standing at my bedroom window a few minutes before the
Inspector arrived, and I saw Jane coming up the lane in a funny manner.
She was almost running, which she never does, and she kept looking back
as if she thought she was being followed. Then directly she got in the
drive she stared up at all the windows of the house as if to see it
anyone was watching her come in. Then when the Inspector arrived I
instantly put two and two together, and thought she had just been
talking to him and had hurried home to get here first."

"But why should you think she had been talking to him?" asked the
doctor, guessing instinctively that Mary was holding something back.

"Because I've recently found out that Jane can be very deceitful. On
Monday Mr. Larose called to have a look at my roses. You remember I
invited him that night at dinner? I was out, but Jane met him in the
drive and introduced herself to him, and they talked for quite 20
minutes. Jane never told me about this, but cook happened to mention it
casually to me the next day, and when I asked Jane about it, she got
very red and said she'd forgotten to mention it."

"What had they talked about?" asked the doctor, although he knew quite
well.

"Ah! That's just it," said Mary. She caught her breath ever so little.
"I've not mentioned it to you before, because it seemed so ridiculous,
but the night that man was killed Jane and I were sitting up in the
turret and Jane said she first saw Billy coming up the lane and then
you." She shook her head. "I didn't see the woman she saw, but the man
was not a bit like you."

"And you think she told that to Inspector Stone?" asked Dr. Athol, as if
in deep thought.

"She must have done, Norman, for how else could he have heard it? There
were only us two in the turret."

"'Then have her in now and ask her," said the doctor grimly. "That'd
stop her mouth at any rate."

Mary shook her head. "No, Norman, I have a better plan. A month tomorrow
was to be our wedding day. Well----" she hesitated and a deep blush
suffused her face; then she burst out quickly, as if anxious to get it
over--"Let us get married at once, instead, and then we can send Jane
away, and you can come to live here straightaway as the master."

Just for one moment Dr. Athol regarded her wonderingly, and then with a
delighted smile he drew her again to him.

"Tomorrow, darling," he exclaimed breathlessly. "I'll go into Colchester
this afternoon and get the special licence."

"No, not Colchester, Norman," she said, gently pushing him from her.
"We'll be married in Ipswich." She gave a little shiver. "After all that
has happened here, Colchester means only policemen and prisons to me."
She smiled. "And don't you see what a wonderful excuse it will be to get
rid of Jane, so that she won't be in the neighborhood any longer to
spread her dreadful lies. I realise now that she's a woman capable of
any spite." She frowned. "But I won't tell her until this evening, and
then she shall go off on an early train."

"Yes," nodded the doctor grimly, "and I'll drive her myself into
Colchester, so that she shan't do any more gossiping here."

"No, I'll do that, please." She sighed. "And, Norman, I think it would
look better if you didn't come back here tonight. You could go to some
hotel in Ipswich and I'd meet you there tomorrow, when you've got the
licence?" She looked up shyly at him. "You can't sleep at your own house
tonight, and if you stay here there's always such a chance of scandal
with a woman like Jane about."

They arranged, too, that they should tell no one and give everyone the
surprise of their returning on the morrow as man and wife.

Fate tried one last throw of the dice against Lady Mentone that
afternoon.

Stone, hoping against hope, and with all his better judgment telling him
he was wasting time, had put the bungalow and everywhere around it
through a fine comb, but late afternoon found him, dispirited and
thoroughly worn out, getting into his car to return to the city.

Then, just as he was sitting there waiting for his two men who were
washing their hands, he saw a beautiful limousine driving out of the
Priory grounds, with Sir Charles Mentone leaning out of the window, and
waving his hand to a little group standing before the front door.

"Ah, the doting husband!" ejaculated Stone irritably, and then he added,
under his breath. "But, by gosh, what a sensation there would have been
if I had caught his pretty darling." He shook his head savagely. "And
I'm almost sure I had her in my hands and like a blithering idiot, let
her slip through my fingers. Gilbert didn't dig his heel in that turf
for nothing. He was in a dreadful fright about something." He sighed.
"Yes, Gilbert's been the snag here all along, and I can guess now it was
he who found those letters. He'd just given them to her, too, this
morning." He gritted his teeth together. "Yes, what a chance I've
missed."

Then a sudden thought struck him and he caught his breath. He hesitated
and then he jumped like lightning out of the car and started to run
quickly towards the back door of the Priory. He opened it without
ceremony, and marched into the kitchen. The cook was the only occupant
there, and she was mixing the ingredients of a cake. A bright fire was
burning in the stove.

"Good afternoon, Cook," said Stone. He jerked his head towards the stove
"Now, is that the only fire burning in the house today?"

"Yes, sir," smiled the cook looking very puzzled, "and there wouldn't be
one here if I could help it. It's been a very close afternoon."

"Have you been here all day?" asked Stone. "Has anyone been burning
papers in that stove? Have you seen anyone put anything in it?"

The cook looked more puzzled than ever. "No, sir, no one's touched the
range except me."

"And which of the young ladies has been in the kitchen today?"

"Only Miss Beatrice, sir. She came in to give the orders, after
breakfast."

"Thank you," said Stone, and, with no ceremony again, he proceeded into
the other part of the house. He met Chime in the hall. "Where's her
ladyship?" he asked curtly.

"Here I am, Inspector," came a melodious voice, and Lady Mentone
appeared from the dining-room. "Oh, are you just going?" she asked,
seeing that Stone was carrying his hat in his hand. "Now, won't you stop
and have a cup of tea? It's just coming in. Chime's going to fetch the
others from the garden."

Stone ignored her suggested hospitality. "Where are those letters you
had this morning?" he asked sternly. "I want to see them?"

At once Lady Mentone appeared to look the very picture of consternation.
Her mouth gaped, her eyes opened, and she put her hand over her heart.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed. "My husband's gone off with them! I
forgot to take them out of his pocket!"

"But I'm going to search your room," said Stone grimly. "I believe they
are up there."

"Search my bedroom!" gasped her ladyship. Her look of incredulity passed
and her face broke into a broad smile. "But you don't think----" she
began.

"Yes, I do," snapped Stone. "I'm going up at once."

She looked at him with contempt. "Then go," she said, haughtily, and she
made as if to walk out of the hall.

"No, you don't, please," went on Stone. "I won't let you out of my
sight. You'll come up with me." He jerked his head in the direction of
the front door, which was standing open. "Would you like to wait for one
of your sisters to come with us."

Lady Mentone's face was as red as fire. "Certainly not," she replied
scornfully. "I'm not afraid of being alone with you anywhere." She
laughed mockingly as she led the way upstairs. "You have no sex-appeal
for me, Inspector Stone."

They reached her bedroom, and she walked inside before him. Her
composure was perfect. "As you see, it's quite tidy," she said quietly,
"and so, please, don't upset it too much."

Stone got to business at once, frowning and now feeling very much
annoyed. He was a fool, he told himself, and he had been much too
imaginative and hasty. But all the same, he began his search most
thoroughly.

Turning his attention first to the bed, he pushed his hands under the
pillow and the bolster. He thrust his arms under the whole length of the
bed-clothes and under the mattress. Then he examined the carpet all
round and looked behind the pictures and up the chimney. He opened the
wardrobe and lifted every hat from the shelf, following that by sweeping
aside the dresses and peering all round, below.

He began upon the chest of drawers, rapidly going through the contents
of the first two drawers and passing his hand under the paper linings.
Then he opened the long drawer and saw upon the top of some underclothes
a big catalogue from a well-known London emporium. But of the letters
there was no trace.

He closed the drawer with a snap.

"Thank you, your ladyship," he said quietly. "I was mistaken," and in a
few minutes Lady Mentone heard his car drive away.

That night Larose posted a little packet to Dr. Athol. It was enclosed
in a long envelope with 'Important' written on the top left-hand corner,
and the handwriting was in bold printed letters.




CHAPTER XI.--NEMESIS


The following morning, just as the highly disgusted Miss Jane Carrington
was being driven into Colchester, with tears of baffled spite in her
eyes and a crossed cheque for three months' salary in her bag, Mrs.
Jackson arrived at the back door of the Priory to have speech with her
brother, Samuel Chime.

Tears were streaming down her face and her voice was choking as she
proceeded to tell him that the village constable had just been round to
her to say that a body answering in all respects to the description of
their niece, was now lying in the Southend mortuary and someone was to
proceed there at once to identify it.

The body had been washed up on the shore between Southend and
Shoeburyness and to all appearances it had been in the sea about a week.

The butler trembled like a leaf and tears welled from his eyes, too.
"No, Sally, you shan't go," he choked. "Miss Beatrice will spare me, I'm
quite sure."

The sisters were shocked at the news. "Of course, Mrs. Jackson is not to
go Chime," said Beatrice peremptorily. "You'll go yourself"--she turned
to Larose--"and Mr. Larose will drive you there."

So in due time, the poor butler, gripped firmly by the arm by Larose so
that he should not fall, identified the sodden thing upon the mortuary
table as the remains of one Myrtle Marriott whom, as a little child, he
had fondled and cherished, deeming her then but little lower than the
angels. The inquest had been fixed for the afternoon of the following
day.

And in the same hour that Chime had been weeping over the dead in
Southend, in Ipswich Mary Arbour had been promising to love, honor, and
obey Norman Athol. There had been only five people present at the
ceremony, and the two witnesses had been the verger and the church
cleaner.

The ceremony over, the bridal couple had driven to an hotel for lunch.
They had spoken very little, and Mary had seemed very nervous. She
hardly looked at her husband and, indeed, appeared all the time to be
avoiding his eyes. And it was the same during the drive home. Hardly a
word was spoken and when the doctor made any remark, Mary answered it
only in monosyllables.

Arriving at 'The Towers,' they left the car standing before the front
door and walked inside. Then there being no one about in the hall, Dr.
Athol made a movement to take his bride in his arms.

"No, not here, please Norman," she said hurriedly and gently pushing him
away. "Come into the drawing-room. I want to tell you something very
important."

"Goodness gracious," laughed Dr. Athol, "the only important thing I have
to tell you, is that I love you."

Very puzzled, and now very much taken aback, because he saw that she was
trembling violently, he followed her into the drawing-room, and the door
being closed, to his amazement, she again repulsed him.

"No, Norman," she said, and her voice was little above a whisper, "keep
away from me, please, and hear what I've got to say."

He caught his breath, for her face had gone a deathly color. "My
darling, what is it?" he asked anxiously. "Are you feeling ill?"

She shook her head. "Not physically," she replied shakily, "but in other
ways"--she could hardly speak--"I am a dead woman"--her eyes
flashed--"at all events to you."

"Mary! Mary!" exclaimed the doctor, "whatever has come over you?"

"Nothing has come over me," she replied, speaking now in a much stronger
tone. "As I am now, so I have always been since I came here and met you
a year and a half ago. I am just the same except"--her eyes flashed
again--"that the time has now come for me to drop the mask and speak
plainly to you."

"Then speak, darling," said Dr. Athol, sinking wearily into a chair.
"Speak and get it over at once." He affected a jovial spirit he did not
feel. "There's a bee buzzing somewhere in your bonnet, but we'll soon
drive it away."

Mary was now icily cold. "Have you had any lovers before me?" she asked,
regarding him very intently.

The doctor looked greatly relieved. "Oh, then, it's only jealousy, is
it? Well, we'll soon settle that." He laughed lightly. "Yes, dear, of
course I have, when I was quite a young fellow." He seemed very amused.
"I had plenty of flirtations in my student days."

But there was no answering amusement in Mary's eyes. "Then you have not
always been what the world would call a good man?" she asked quietly.

Dr. Athol raised his eyebrows ever so little. "Well, it all depends upon
what you call a 'good' man, sweetheart. The flaming days of youth were
mine once, just as they come to everybody in their time." He nodded. "I
won't tell you any falsehoods. I've just been a natural, ordinary man,
nothing more, and nothing less."

Mary spoke with an assumption of great carelessness. "Well, I've been
ordinary and natural, too, like you. Just an ordinary, natural woman."
Her words now came very slowly. "Only it happens the consequences to me
were more serious"--she looked him straight in the face--"for although I
was not married--I had a child."

The doctor sat up in his chair with a jerk, his jaw dropped and his eyes
opened very wide. "You--had--a--child!"

"Oh, yes," replied Mary calmly, "you could forget your love affairs, but
I was not able to forget mine, and there has always been the child to
remind me of them."

"Good God!" exclaimed the doctor.

Mary nodded. "Ah, that's how I used to commence my prayers." She sighed.
"But they were not answered."

A long silence followed and then the doctor asked hoarsely. "And is the
father of your child alive?"

Mary nodded again. "Most certainly--and his fatherhood has never
occasioned him the slightest worry or anxiety."

Another silence followed, and then the doctor asked sharply. "Why didn't
the father marry you?"

Mary shrugged her shoulders. "Why don't men always marry the woman who
has given them everything?" She spoke as if it had been quite the
natural thing for the father to have done. "He went away!"

"And when did all this happen?" frowned Dr. Athol.

"Ten years ago, when I was barely eighteen." She looked scornful. "I was
poor and friendless, then, and he had known me"--she paused
significantly--"for just three days--only three short days!"

"Oh the scoundrel," ejaculated the doctor warmly.

"Yes, the scoundrel!" exclaimed Mary in rising anger. "He left me, to
nurse my dreadful fears, to bear my shame alone, and to walk that valley
of the shadow with no dear faces near me and no one to comfort me." She
made a gesture of contempt. "Bah! a brute like the very beasts of the
field and worse even than they!"

"Where is the child now?" asked the doctor very quietly after a long
pause.

Mary was now quite calm, too. "At school. It was a son I had, and a year
and a half ago I put him away from me that I might enter the matrimonial
lists unhampered and obtain a husband." Her tone was hard and bitter. "I
intended to make one man pay for the wrong done me by another." She
laughed mockingly. "Now, my dear husband, what are you going to do?"

For a long moment Dr. Athol regarded her very thoughtfully, and then he
smiled. "It is not in your nature Mary, to be as heartless as you try to
make out you are." He rose to his feet and held out his arms to her.
"Come, dear. I'm very fond of you and I'll try to make up for
everything. The child shall be ours, mine as well as yours, and we'll
tell people we've adopted him."

But there was no answering tenderness in her face, as she stepped
sharply away from him. "No, no, Norman keep back," she cried, "for I
haven't finished yet." She lowered her voice to an intense whisper. "Do
you think you can ever make up to me for all that I have gone through;
for those nights of horror when I became aware of what was going to
happen," she shook her head in passion. "I tell you I nearly went mad. I
tried to find the father of my child, but he had gone away and my
letters to him were unanswered."

"Mary! Mary!" exclaimed Dr. Athol reprovingly, "why do you work yourself
up to this state of distress. I've told you I'll take you as you are,
darling, and in time you will forget all this. I know you're a good
woman, and----"

"I'm not a good woman," she interrupted fiercely, "for my heart has
hardened, and all these long years I have thought of nothing but
revenge, and now----" a clarion note of triumph rang in her voice--"I
have obtained it. Yes, it has come to me at last!"

Then as suddenly as the calm follows the storm, her voice dropped and
she spoke very quietly again. "Norman," she asked carelessly, "do you
remember Faygate?"

Dr. Athol started. He went pale as death, and he swallowed hard.
"Faygate! Faygate!" he muttered, as if he were awakening from a dream.
He suddenly leant forward. "Oh, Adele, it can't be you!" He gasped. "But
it can't be you!"

Adele Chandos inclined her head. "But it is, Norman," she replied
coldly. "I am the Adele you betrayed and left ten years ago." She smiled
sadly. "I do not wonder, however, that you have never recognised me, for
my griefs have aged me, and as I say"--her voice was like the hiss of a
snake--"you only knew me then for three days, remember, Norman."

"I was mad, I was mad," burst out Dr. Athol, the very picture of
remorse. "It was the impulse of the moment and every hour of my life
since has been one long regret." His face became illuminated suddenly
with a great tenderness, and he held out his arms to her again. "But oh,
Adele, what a happy ending for us to be married and for me to see my
son!"

She swept back from him for the third time. "And do you think," she
asked scornfully, "I have forgiven you--that I am ever going to let you
see or touch your son? Do you imagine you are ever going to hear him
call you 'Father,' and that he is to learn he was begotten by such a
man?" Her eyes blazed. "Why, I only married you to legitimatise him and
get my revenge upon you."

The doctor winced as if he had been struck a violent blow. "Revenge,
Adele!" he choked hoarsely. "But you can't be such a bad woman as to
want to----"

"I am a bad woman," she broke in fiercely, "bad as you have made me;
bad, cruel, and hard, and all these years I have been waiting only to
tell you how I hate you," she gritted her teeth together. "Yes, how I
hate you! I----" but she bit her lip and with difficulty restrained
herself from bursting into tears. Almost at once, however, she had
pulled herself together to go on, speaking very quietly again. "Listen,
when you left me,----"

"But I did not leave you," said the doctor sternly. "I did not know what
was happening to you, and yet for fear of what might be, I tried in
every way to----"

"Listen, please, Norman," she interrupted wearily and as if her passion
had quite exhausted her. "Listen, I say, and when I have spoken you
shall tell me anything you can think of to mitigate the contempt I feel
for you."

Dr. Athol's expression was one of both anger and pity. "All right," he
said sharply, "go on"--he looked very grim, "but don't be too bitter, or
you may be regretting it in a few moments."

"I don't want to be bitter," she replied sadly, "although, God knows, I
have suffered enough to make me so"--she was almost on the verge of
tears again--"and I realise now, too, that in punishing you I am making
it much more unhappy for myself than I had ever thought."

"Go on," said the doctor, "I'll talk to you in a minute."

She shook her head. "But I have schemed so long to make you suffer,
Norman, that nothing will alter my decision that when you leave this
room, you go out of my life for ever." She regarded him intently. "Are
you fond of me? I have sometimes thought you were."

Dr. Athol nodded. "I have been for a long time, although"--he nodded
again--"the passion I had once for Adele has made me a little cold
towards Mary. I think you must have sensed something of that nature."

She frowned as if his words were stirring an unwelcome chord in her. "Do
you realise," she went on, "that when I knew, I almost took my own life?
And I should probably have done so if my employer had not died suddenly
and, leaving me all she possessed, made me a rich woman. Then I went
abroad to have my baby, and remained there until two years ago, when I
came back to England to find out about you. As you had qualified as a
doctor, you were easily traced, and I came here to be near you. I
thought you wouldn't recognise me and, hating you like poison, I let you
make love to me." Her lips curved in scorn. "You were an easy prey."

"Yes, because you reminded me of Adele," commented the doctor promptly.
"I thought so from the very first, although the possibility of your
being she, of course, never entered my mind." He frowned and asked
abruptly. "But why did you marry me in all this hurry?"

A look of fear came into her face. "Because any moment," she replied
quickly. "I have been expecting you to be arrested for murder." She
nodded significantly. "Jane Carrington was spiteful, but she spoke only
the truth. She did see you drop over the wall that night, and she had
seen Billy Mentone there, too. You were together in the lane."

"No, we were never there together," said the doctor sharply. "We were
there at different times. Billy was in great trouble and she came up to
see me for help." He smiled. "And it may ease your mind a little to be
assured that your husband had nothing whatever to do with the murder."

"Is that really the truth, Norman?" she asked very solemnly, and then
she went on quickly. "As the father of my son I shall say nothing, and
as your wife I shall bear no evidence against you."

"It's the absolute truth," replied Dr. Athol. He looked her straight in
the face. "Mr. Larose knows everything that we did that evening, and it
is upon his advice that Billy is disclosing nothing to the police."

"Then you are engaged in a conspiracy to defeat justice?" suggested
Adele scornfully.

"Not justice," snapped Dr. Athol, "but the law." He regarded her very
sternly. "Can't you see that poor woman has a secret she must hide from
everyone," he nodded significantly--"even as you and I have now? She
doesn't want half a dozen lives ruined to provide the public with a
sensation."

"Then it was she who killed that man?" said Adele slowly. "She was the
murderess!"

"Not at all. She had no more to do with it than I had. We were both, as
it were, drawn into a dreadful whirlpool."

"But she was being blackmailed!" said Adele quietly. "Inspector Stone's
suspicions are upon a sure foundation there!"

Dr. Athol smiled. "You say so." He shook his head. "But I can't tell you
anything. Her secrets are not mine to give away."

Adele spoke in quite a casual manner. "Norman, tell me what are your
exact relations with Billy Mentone?"

The doctor did not pretend to misunderstand. "Don't be foolish, Adele,"
he said, shaking his head reprovingly. "There is nothing like that
between us. I am just her doctor and her friend--nothing more." He
smiled again. "No, I have never kissed her, and have not even held her
hand."

Adele shook her head. "I don't believe you, Norman," she said very
quietly.

Dr. Athol's face flushed and he looked furiously angry, but he had his
temper well in hand. "You are quite mistaken," he said, sternly, "but we
won't discuss that now. You are wandering into trivialities when this
other question is not settled." He dropped his voice to quiet tones.
"Now, have you quite finished talking about what you call my desertion
of you, ten years ago?"

Adele was cold as ice. "I have said all I want to," she replied, "and it
now only remains for you to leave me."

"Oh, but there's much more to do than that," said Dr. Athol
significantly, "for I have to tell you something." He drew in a deep
breath. "Now I make no excuses, for nothing could have been worse than
the wrong I did you. It was a dreadful crime and I deserve every
punishment you can give me." He snapped his fingers together. "So much
for that, and now for what followed afterwards." It was his turn now to
reprove her. "You were a foolish girl, for after those two letters you
wrote me from Faygate, which I did not receive until four months
afterwards, you made no further effort to find me," and then he went on
to tell her all that had happened, as Larose had read in the letters he
had taken that night from the bureau in the consulting room.

"So you must realise, Adele," he finished up with, "my first fault was
my only one and after that I tried in every way I could to obtain an
opportunity to make atonement." He spoke with intense emotion. "I never
forgot you and, until that fire two nights ago destroyed everything, I
had kept both your letters and mine, always hoping that one day I might
meet you again, and put myself right with you."

And all the time he had been speaking, Adele's eyes had never left his
face. At first she had regarded him disdainfully, then it had been only
with an effort that she had kept up an appearance of studied scorn and
disbelief and finally her expression was a most unhappy one.

When at last he had finished and a few moments of intense silence
followed, she sank back tremblingly into a chair. "I can't believe you,
Norman," she said weakly. "I have nursed my wrongs for so long that they
are not to be reasoned away in a few minutes by a few plausible words."
She smiled, with a faint tinge of sarcasm. "It is unfortunate that those
letters were burnt just when they were so needed."

There was a knock upon the door, and one of the maids entered with a
small packet upon a salver. She advanced to Adele. "I am very sorry,
Miss," she said apologetically, "but this came by post this morning when
you were away with Miss Carrington, and I forgot to mention it when you
came back. It is marked 'Important.'"

"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Adele frowningly. She looked down at the
packet. "But it's for Dr. Athol. Give it to him," and when the doctor
had taken it from her, the maid retired from the room.

Dr. Athol regarded the little packet curiously. It was addressed in a
peculiar way and the post-mark on it was blurred and indistinct. "Now,
that's funny," he remarked. "I wonder why it was addressed to me here.
Anyhow, they've soon got to know about the fire."

"The handwriting looks disguised," said Adele sweetly. "Perhaps Billy
Mentone has sent you a present and didn't want me to know anything
about."

But Dr. Athol did not hear her. He had opened the packet and for the
moment his faculties were paralysed. "What," he muttered, "where did
these come from?" and then he gasped. "Good heavens! A miracle! One of
the firemen must have picked them out of the ruins!"

He darted over to Adele's side. "Look, look!" he exclaimed excitedly,
"the very letters I have just told you about! They must have played the
hose upon the bureau they were in, and being in the lowest drawer the
fire didn't reach them." He spoke with great emotion. "Now, Adele, will
you believe me?"

She stared incredulously at what he had thrust into her hands; the two
envelopes addressed in her handwriting, the three addressed in his, the
dance programme of the Horsham Tennis Ball, and an envelope that she
could feel contained a withered flower.

Then with shaking fingers she took out one of the letters that had been
returned to Marseilles from the Dead Letter Office in London. But she
only read a few lines and then turned back to the containing envelope
and looked at the post-marks. Her scrutiny, however, was a very short
one, and then she looked up at Dr. Athol.

"If you please, Norman," she said weakly, "will you go away. I'll let
you know if I want to see you again." Her voice shook. "I can't bear any
more just now."

"All right, dear," the doctor replied, "and take your time over it." He
smiled. "I feel limp as a rag myself, and you must be almost done in."
He walked over to the door. "I shall be at my own place when you want
me. Some of the rooms will be quite habitable, now that the tarpaulins
have been put up," and in a few seconds Adele Chandos was alone.

The doctor walked down the drive in a turmoil of emotion, but his
thoughts were very quickly turned in another direction, when, by the
entrance gates he met the village constable on his bicycle. Upon seeing
him, the constable alighted, and, touching his cap, respectfully handed
him a paper.

"A subpoena, sir," he said, "for you to attend the inquest at Southend
tomorrow."

"What inquest?" snapped the doctor, his nerves all on edge.

"Oh, haven't you heard, sir?" exclaimed the constable. "I made sure they
would have told you at the Priory. Myrtle Marriott's body was washed up
on the sands yesterday near Southend, and Mr. Chime went over to
identify it this morning."

"Are they sure it was the girl?" asked the doctor quickly.

"Oh, yes, quite sure, sir. Mr. Chime recognised it at once, and I've
just served him with his subpoena to be present tomorrow, and one of the
young ladies, as well."

"One of the young ladies at the Priory!" ejaculated Dr. Athol, very
surprised. "Which one?"

"Miss Eva, sir."

The doctor frowned crossly. "Goodness gracious, what's she wanted at the
inquest for?"

"I don't know, sir. I just had my instructions from Colchester to serve
the subpoenas, and I don't know anything more."

The constable mounted his bicycle and rode away and Dr. Athol turned
into the lane, as being the nearest way to the Priory. He had just
passed through the gates of the grounds, when a movement behind some
trees about twenty yards away caught his eye, and he looked round
quickly to see a man bending down close to the wall. The man
straightened himself and he saw that it was Larose.

"Good morning!" he called, and started to walk towards him.

Larose had looked round with a very startled and annoyed expression, at
the same time making a quick movement to hide behind his back a small
bottle that he had in his hand. But realising who had called to him, he
allowed the bottle to come into view again, and his face broke into a
smile.

"Oh, it's only you, is it?" he laughed. "But it might have been the
Inspector and then I should have been very disgusted at my
carelessness." He made a grimace. "It is always my boast that I have
eyes at the back of my head when I'm on any very particular work."

"But what have you been doing?" asked Dr. Athol curiously.

The laughing expression dropped instantly from Larose's face and he held
up the bottle for the doctor's inspection. "Looking for this," he
replied very solemnly, "and I found it, pushed under the bricks at the
bottom of the wall. It is the second bottle of vitriol that girl
obtained, and so we can be quite certain now she brought it here to
throw over Toller, the night he was murdered. Look, she never even
troubled to scrape the label off. See--'John Bentley, Chemist and
Druggist, Ipswich. Sulphuric Acid. Poison'."

"But how the devil did you come to find it?" asked the doctor
wonderingly.

"A bit of luck," replied Larose, "and guessing she would have got rid of
it not far from where she was most likely to have left her bicycle as
she made her way up to the bungalow behind these trees. I thought----"

"But she didn't go straight up to the bungalow," interrupted the doctor.
"She went up to the house first, to get that rifle."

"No, she never went near the house nor touched the rifle," replied
Larose. "And she never shot the man nor used her vitriol, because she
found him murdered when she arrived at the bungalow." He looked intently
at the doctor. "But, of course, you know the girl is dead, don't you?"

Dr. Athol nodded. "Yes. I've just been served with a subpoena to attend
the inquest tomorrow."

Larose laid his hand upon the doctor's arm and drew him a few paces away
to the edge of the belt of trees.

"Now, there's something rather amusing," he said. "See those four clumsy
men trampling among the flower beds. Lesser is one of them, and they've
been sent post-haste from Colchester to find this bottle." He shook his
head. "But they are going about it all wrong. They argue that coming
here last night to throw the vitriol, and finding Toller dead, the girl
would have immediately hurled the bottle away from her and bolted,
exactly as you tell me you did, to get away as quickly as possible. But
I didn't think she would have been quite such a fool, because she
couldn't have helped realising the vitriol would be traced back to her,
and, it being found where it was, she might be accused of the murder. So
I argued she at least would have taken it as far away as where she had
left her bicycle. Then she might have proceeded to get rid of it at
once, because having certainly taken off its wrappings, and most likely
loosened the stopper, the bottle would be both awkward and dangerous to
carry on the machine." He waved his arm back in the direction of the
wall. "And if you were not expecting the object to be looked for, what
better hiding place could you want than under those bottom bricks where
the earth has sunk away?" He nodded. "Remember, there was a moon shining
and she could see quite well where to put the bottle."

"But how would it help them in any way if they did find it among those
flower beds?" asked the doctor gloomily.

"Why, it would prove the girl did come here that night," replied Larose
sharply, "but not to murder--only to throw vitriol. And it would be
almost proof, too, that she did not throw the vitriol because she found
Toller dead. Therefore, she was not the murderer."

He gripped him hard by the arm. "Don't you see, doctor, that because it
will come out at the inquest upon Myrtle Marriott tomorrow that Toller
had betrayed her and she had threatened him with her revenge, everyone
will be quite sure she killed him. Then when this other inquest, the
adjourned one on Toller, comes on here next week, the jury will almost
certainly bring in a verdict of murder against the girl. It will seem
the most natural thing to do."

"Certainly," agreed the doctor drily, "and if I were on the jury I
wouldn't hesitate five seconds."

"But Scotland Yard won't have it," said Larose, "for its view is that
the real murderer will be escaping under a smoke-screen." He shook his
head vehemently. "Can't you see, doctor, how embarrassing that girl's
death is to them? They can't get any story from her now, and a clever
counsel will use her threats against Toller as a red herring, to draw
the scent away from these girls here."

Dr. Athol looked incredulous. "But you surely don't still believe, Mr.
Larose," he asked warmly, "that one of the girls here killed Toller?"

"One of the girls, or else Chime or you?" smiled Larose. "I am quite
certain it's among one of you five." He looked very amused. "Just think
of how the suspicions have been piling up against some of you! Why, if
Inspector Stone had got hold of those letters, instead of me, where
would poor Lady Mentone be today?"

"It can't bear thinking about," replied the doctor instantly. He eyed
Larose curiously. "Do you still suspect her?"

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "I tell you I suspect you all, for you
are all keeping something back from me. You've got some secret that's
troubling you, now, I can tell that. Chime looks at me as furtively as
if he had been committing murder every night. I saw at breakfast this
morning that Miss Beatrice has got a load of trouble upon her and Miss
Eva looked up sharply each time the door opened, as if she were----"

"Oh!" broke in the doctor suddenly, "and why's Eva been served with a
subpoena, too, to attend that inquest tomorrow?"

"What!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised, "she's had a summons! I've not
heard anything about it!"

"The constable happened to mention it when he was giving me mine not a
quarter of an hour ago. He'd served one on Chime, too."

Larose's momentary uneasiness seemed to have passed. "Oh, well, I've not
been in the house since lunch, so I expect I shall hear all about it
when I go in."

"But what are you going to do about that vitriol?" asked the doctor.
"Are you going to tell those men that you've got it?"

Larose shook his head. "No, the Superintendent has been rather curt and
offhanded with me and I don't feel inclined to help him in any way," he
grinned. "Besides, I haven't been helping the authorities too much
already, have I? All innocently, I was asked to come here to be of
service to these girls, and then, from the very beginning, it struck me
it was only in unlawful service that I could help them."

The doctor sighed a deep sigh. "He was an awful brute that Toller, and
deserved everything he got."

"Quite so," commented Larose briskly, "and we'll leave it at that. After
all, if the shooting were brought home to either of those girls, it is
quite probable their punishment would be only a nominal one. I believed
every word of Lady Mentone when she spoke of the price Toller wanted her
to pay. It would have been just like a man of his type."

That night after dinner Larose made the suggestion that both Beatrice
and Lady Mentone should accompany Eva to the inquest next day.

Eva was up in arms at once. "What a horrible suggestion!" she exclaimed
indignantly. "It will make them both downright ill, and upset them for
the inquest next week."

"Nonsense," retorted Larose sharply. "On the contrary it will prepare
them for it and they will be able to get an idea of what's in store for
them. They've got an ordeal before them next week, but it won't be half
so dreadful to look forward to if they realise that coroners are
generally men who allow the police to take no liberties with any of the
witnesses." He smiled encouragingly at the other two sisters. "You won't
have nearly so gruelling a time as Inspector Stone gave you that morning
when I first came."

So the next morning after an early lunch, Larose set off with the three
girls in his own car. Dr. Athol was following with Chime and Mrs.
Jackson.

The time for the inquest had been fixed for half-past one, and the large
room, where the Southend coroner was holding his court, was well filled
when he opened the proceedings. Something of the dead girl's relations
with the murdered agent of Stratford St. Mary had evidently leaked out,
for, in addition to the local reporters, two pressmen had come down from
London.

Looking round the room, Larose at once caught sight of Inspector Stone
seated next to the Colchester Superintendent of Police, and the former,
catching his eye, nodded in a most friendly way. Then the Inspector,
seeing who were sitting next to Larose, bowed most politely to each one
of the three girls in turn.

The coroner, who was small of stature and rather frail, looked for all
that a very shrewd man, and it was evident from the first moment he
spoke that he would waste no time in the proceedings.

"Gentlemen," he began briskly to the twelve men in the jury box who were
leaning forward to catch every word, "you have undergone the unpleasant
task of viewing the body of this young woman and you now have to
consider all the circumstances attending her death." He spoke very
solemnly. "This is an unusual case, if indeed all deaths by drowning are
not unusual, because in the course of our enquiry this afternoon we
shall have to consider certain matters, which although not absolutely
relevant, will nevertheless have to be brought in, in order that we may,
to some extent, determine the state of the deceased's mind at the time
of her death. I will just give you a brief outline of everything, so
that you will be better able to take in the evidence as it is brought
before you.

"Now this young woman, Mrytle Marriott, aged twenty, was a domestic
servant in the employ of a Miss Bain of Woodbridge, in Suffolk, her home
being with her aunt, a Mrs. Jackson, of the village of Stratford St.
Mary, near Colchester. Her body was discovered at 4.25 yesterday
morning, washed up on the sands in Thorpe Bay, two and a quarter miles
east of Southend Pier, and, according to the medical evidence that will
be tendered, she had probably been in the water about seven days. She
was fully dressed, and in one of the pockets of her costume was a
handkerchief wrapped round a ten shilling Treasury note and six
shillings in silver."

"There were no signs of violence about the body, and you will be told
that the ultimate cause of death was asphyxia by drowning. You will
learn that the young woman was undoubtedly alive when she became first
immersed in the sea, for signs then of vital activity are apparent.

"The post-mortem has revealed that although the body was well nourished,
the deceased was not in perfect health at the time of her death.

"She was last seen alive upon the night of Tuesday last week, when one
of the waitresses serving in the refreshment kiosk at the end of the
pier here remembers her having a cup of tea and two pieces of cake,
about nine o'clock. The medical evidence confirms she had partaken of
just such a meal within half an hour, at most, of her death. This same
waitress will tell you, also, that, going out of the kiosk a few minutes
later to watch a big liner passing down to sea, she saw the deceased
sitting half-way down the landing steps, apparently engaged in watching
the big waves--it was a rather gusty night--breaking upon the iron steps
just below her."

"Now we must go back and refer to those irrelevant matters that must,
however, be brought in. Deceased's period of service in Woodbridge goes
back for longer than a year and a half, and during the last year of that
time she had been frequently visited by a man who was known to her
employer by the surname of James, and who was supposed to be working in
Ipswich. Deceased had often stated that the intentions of this man were
serious, and that in course of time she would be married to him."

"I will remark here that James, as deceased herself well knew, was not
her follower's real name, and, moreover, as she well knew, also, he did
not work in Ipswich. He was Edwin Asher Toller, and was employed by Miss
Beatrice Brabazon-Fane, of The Priory, Stratford St. Mary, as her
agent."

"Well, on Wednesday, June 30th, just three weeks ago, deceased left
Woodbridge for Stratford St. Mary on a few days' visit to her aunt, Mrs.
Jackson. She was not feeling well and on the following day, consulted
the local medical man, Dr. Athol, who at once informed her of her
condition.

"Whereupon deceased immediately went to acquaint Toller as to what Dr.
Athol had told her and arrange with him to be married at once. But
according to the tale deceased unfolded to her aunt, Toller not only
denied paternity, but he also informed deceased he was already a married
man. Deceased said the interview was a very stormy one and she openly
admitted she had stated her intention of having a cruel revenge upon
Toller.

"That her threat was not an idle one is proved by her purchase the next
day in Colchester of eight ounces of vitriol, which she was of course
intending to throw over Toller. But she made no secret to her aunt of
her purchase, and after much persuasion Mrs. Jackson ultimately
prevailed upon her to give up the acid and go back to Woodbridge on the
Sunday. Her return to her situation, however, evidently made no
difference to her determination to obtain revenge for, upon the
following day, Monday, we find her buying vitriol again, this time in
Ipswich."

The coroner paused here and looked very gravely at the twelve jurors.
Then he went on.

"We next hear of the deceased upon the Stratford St. Mary-Ipswich road
on the following night at the village of of Washbrook, about six miles
from Stratford St. Mary, and where she knocks up a storekeeper towards
eleven o'clock to obtain some oil for her bicycle lamp, and we hear of
her again about half an hour later, when she is taking refuge in the
Ipswich railway station for upwards of two hours, from a terrific
thunderstorm."

He made a gesture with his hands. "I have to bring this to your notice
because, as I expect you all know, the man Toller was murdered that very
night at exactly half-past ten and as yet no arrest has been made of his
murderer."

He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, it may be that deceased had
nothing whatever to do with the crime, but taking into consideration the
wrong done her by the murdered man, her threats of vengeance, her double
purchase of the vitriol, thus so clearly evidencing her unaltered
determination to injure him, and, finally, her undoubted presence near
Stratford St. Mary about that very hour when the murder was carried
out--you may be inclined to argue that her mental state was such as to
goad her to the committing of deeds of violence that in the end did not
stop short of taking her own life."

He paused to take breath. "I am sure, gentlemen, you will realise the
difficulty of my position. This man, Toller, had to be mentioned to you
in these proceedings, for if he had been alive he would have been the
principal witness here this afternoon, and, now he's dead, the part he
played in the tragedy of deceased's ending, still loses none of its
importance to us. My duty and yours, however is to consider Toller in
connection with the deceased only in as far as he might have been
responsible for her mental state."

He shook his head. "A very difficult thing to do, gentlemen." He sat up
stiffly in his chair. "We will now take the evidence."

And then in a quick procession, a score or more of witnesses filed
through the witness box; Chime who had identified the body, the man who
found it on the shore, the police surgeon who had performed the
post-mortem, the lodging housekeeper with whom the girl had put up in
Southend, the woman from the refreshment kiosk on the pier, the aunt in
Stratford St. Mary, Dr. Athol, Miss Bain, and all the essential persons
who had been brought in contact with Myrtle Marriott following upon the
day she had first left Woodbridge to visit Mrs. Jackson.

The coroner was quick and sharp and did nearly all the questioning, with
the local Inspector who was representing the police, intervening only
occasionally. The spectators seemed to be getting very little for their
trouble in attending the inquest, and a few of them drifted from the
room, but a rustle of interest at last went round when the name of Eva
Brabazon-Fane was called.

Eva stepped into the witness box with perfect self-possession, as if an
appearance in a coroner's court were quite an every-day affair with her.
She took the oath with no display of nervousness, and a few moments'
silence ensued as the coroner looked down at his papers.

"You are Miss Eva Brabazon-Fane?" he asked as length, looking up.

"I am," replied Eva.

"And you live at the Priory, Stratford St. Mary?"

"I do."

"You were acquainted with the deceased?"

"I was."

"How long had you known her?"

"Practically all her life. She was born in Stratford St. Mary, and so
was I."

"Were you on friendly terms with her?"

"Certainly. She was in my class in the Sunday school for three years and
besides that she has done little odd jobs of dressmaking for me and my
sisters."

The coroner bent forward and spoke very slowly. "Did you receive a
letter from her, posted in Woodbridge on Wednesday, the 7th instant, the
night after your agent had been murdered?"

Eva spoke very coolly. "I didn't notice when it was posted, but I
received one from her by the first post on the Thursday morning."

"Have you still got that letter?"

"No, I didn't keep it."

"Well, will you please tell us what it contained?"

Eva considered her words very carefully. "She wrote first that she had
heard I was going to be married next month, and she hoped I would be
very happy. Then she went on that she was sorry she had not been up to
see me when visiting her aunt the previous week, and the reason for it
was that she was very worried. Finally, she told me she would be leaving
her situation in Woodbridge almost at once and would I, please, not
write to her there. She would be coming to see me very soon."

A short silence followed, and then the coroner asked. "And was that
all?"

"Yes, that was all."

The coroner went on. "And did her handwriting seem agitated? I mean was
it the usual handwriting? I ask you this, because one of her fellow
servants at Miss Bain's happened to see her addressing the envelope and
she said deceased seemed to be writing backhand."

"Yes, the handwriting upon the envelope was rather different to that of
the letter inside," replied Eva. "No, there were no signs of agitation
in the letter. It was just her ordinary handwriting."

"Did you speculate upon the fact that the handwriting on the envelope
was different?" asked the coroner.

"Yes, I thought she had attempted to disguise it so that if our butler,
who is her uncle, happened to take in the letters he would not know that
one was from her, and so be likely to ask me how she was."

The coroner considered. "And that is all you can tell us, Miss
Brabazon-Fane? Her letter in no wise suggested that she was going to
take her life, which she did less than a week later?"

"Yes, that is all I can tell you," replied Eva. She shook her head. "No,
her letter suggested nothing of the kind."

"Thank you," said the coroner with a polite little bow, and Eva was
preparing to leave the witness-box when Inspector Russell jumped to his
feet.

"One moment please, sir," he said. "I'd like to ask this witness some
questions."

"Certainly," said the coroner, "I am sure the young lady will oblige
you."

Eva's heart was bumping furiously, but, save for a slightly heightened
color, she appeared as unconcerned as ever.

"Now, Miss Brabazon-Fane," began the Superintendent sharply. "You say
you didn't keep the letter. Well, what did you do with it?"

"Tore it up," replied Eva quietly. "Tore it up into very little pieces
and put it in the waste paper basket."

"And would those pieces be able to be found now?"

"Hardly, I should think. They would have been put in the incinerator,
days ago."

"Then can you bring anyone to corroborate what you say was in the
letter?"

"No, no one. I was the only person to read it."

The Superintendent elevated his eyebrows. "But surely you told your
sisters about it."

Eva looked defiant. "No, I didn't. There was enough anxiety already in
the house on account of the death of our agent, and I was not wanting to
add to it."

"But when Mr. Larose and, later, your butler, the girl's uncle,"
persisted the Superintendent, "informed you that the girl had gone away,
no one knew where, you, of course, told your sisters then of the letter
you had received some days earlier."

"No, I didn't," replied Eva sharply. "I knew it would hurt their
feelings to know I had kept back the information from them. I told
nobody until I received the subpoena yesterday, and then I had to
account for being served with it."

The Superintendent appeared to be impolitely incredulous, and paused for
a long moment to regard her very sternly. Then he went, on with a cold,
sarcastic smile. "And when you did learn that the murdered agent had
been the one to cause the girl's trouble, were you not very surprised at
the calm tone of the letter she had written to you the day after his
death?"

Eva shook her head. "No, because I guessed she had not heard of his
death when she wrote to me."

The Superintendent looked very fierce. "But she had heard," he retorted
emphatically, "and the same fellow servant who informed us that Myrtle
Marriott had sent a letter to you, also tells us that they had both read
the account of the murder in that evening's paper. The Ipswich 'Evening
News' is delivered regularly at Miss Bain's house before six o'clock." He
bent forward exultingly. "Now what do you say to that?"

But Eva was still quite composed. "I say nothing to it," she replied
calmly. "I am only here to state the facts of which I have any
knowledge, and I know nothing about that."

A smile went round the court, and the Superintendent reddened in anger.
"But that won't do for me," he exclaimed loudly. "I want to----"

"But I see no good in your pressing the witness, Superintendent,"
interposed the coroner suavely, "and it will only waste our time. The
writer of the letter is dead, the letter is destroyed, and apparently,
the witness here is the only one to have read it. That being so, we
cannot go behind her evidence, and must accept it at its face value."

The Superintendent bottled his annoyance with a great effort. "Very
good, sir," he said, and he subsided heavily into his seat.

"Thank you, Miss----," began the Coroner once again, when he was
interrupted by Inspector Stone this time. "I should like to ask the
witness one question, if I may, sir," and the Coroner bowing his assent,
the Inspector addressed Miss Eva with his most pleasant smile.

"Concerning this letter, Miss Brabazon-Fane," he said. "Now there was
nothing about it, was there, that struck you in any way that Myrtle
Marriott was insane? I mean it was just an ordinary letter that anyone
might have written in the same circumstances, sensible, reasonable, and
suggesting no unusual emotional strain?"

"Yes, it was quite an ordinary and sensible letter," replied Eva,
whereupon the Inspector bowed his thanks and sat down.

"Very clever that," whispered Larose to Beatrice. "He has impressed upon
the jury that Myrtle could hold herself well in hand when she wanted
to." He nodded. "A very important point when they come to return their
verdict."

The coroner's summing up was very short, but very much to the point.

"Gentlemen," he said. "I am sure you have paid careful attention to the
evidence that has been tendered, and it is now your duty to put on
record how, in your opinion, deceased came to meet with her death. You
can say it was a case of wilful murder, or it was one of
self-destruction, or one of merely accidental death. And if you do not
hold definitely to any of these views and are at all uncertain, then you
can just bring in a verdict of 'found drowned.'"

"Of course, you can take it for granted that she was either pushed, or
she threw herself, or she fell, into the sea from the landing steps of
the pierhead. She was last seen there, and therefore that is the only
reasonable supposition you can adopt."

"With regard to wilful murder, I think that you can rule that out at
once. You have heard there were no signs of violence upon the body, and
no appearances of rough handling before death; also no evidence has been
put forward that anybody wished her ill, or that any doubtful characters
were seen upon the pier head that night."

"Well, you have ruled out wilful murder, and you will next proceed to
consider self-destruction. Did she deliberately throw herself into the
sea?"

He paused here to regard the jury very thoughtfully. "Now, if you had
not been put in possession of the facts concerning her physical
condition, and if you did not know she had, at all events, been
contemplating violence upon her murdered betrayer, and if you were not
aware that she had come secretly to this town, unknown to all her
relations, and taken lodgings under an assumed name--I think you would
dismiss the idea of self-destruction, too.

"You would remember that she was not without money--there was that
credit of 16 in the Savings Bank book left at her lodgings, and, more
suggestive still, she had had a meal such a little while before she was
drowned. Added to this last fact, you have heard that the meal was
partly digested in her stomach."

He nodded impressively. "Now, if you were intending to destroy yourself
in a few minutes by throwing yourself into the sea, would you have a cup
of tea and two slices of rich cake by way of preparation, and, moreover,
would your mental state allow of the digestion of that cake being well
upon its way?" He shook his head. "No, I am sure not, and therefore, if
deceased did throw herself into the sea that night, she was not
contemplating so doing when partaking of her meal, and therefore it
would have been a sudden act, carried out on the spur of the moment."

He went on. "You are bound to be in some perplexity here, but you must
remember the deceased was of a very determined character, as evidenced
by her second purchase of vitriol after the first had been taken from
her, and if she had suddenly made up her mind to destroy herself, she
would certainly have had the resolution to carry it through.

"Now we come to the third possibility, that of accidental death, and it
is not unlikely that rising from those iron steps, she may have slipped
into the sea. The sea was rough and it was a windy night and any brief
cries she may have uttered would very possibly not have been heard. It
is possible, too, she may have been swept under the iron steps of the
pier and have uttered no cries at all.

"In conclusion, gentlemen, you will have to choose between suicide and
accidental death, and if there be any doubt in your minds, your verdict
can be just 'found drowned'."

With a great shuffling of feet the jury retired, but they were absent
only a few minutes and then returned, as most people in the court were
expecting, to deliver the last verdict suggested by the coroner.

As everyone was moving out of the room, Inspector Stone managed to edge
himself up close to Larose.

"Clever, very, that pretty Eva," he whispered, "but she's another one
who does not always speak the truth."

"But I don't think you will ever be able to prove it, Charlie,"
whispered back Larose.

"No, I don't think we ever shall," agreed Stone readily. He grinned.
"And at the other inquest next week I suppose the verdict will be 'Found
shot'," and he moved off, chuckling delightedly at his own joke.

Making for his car which was parked only a few yards away, he ran up
against the local Inspector, who was standing on the pavement, regarding
with frowning eyes the back of Dr. Athol's car that was just being
driven away, and he stopped to shake hands with him.

"Good-bye Inspector," he said genially. He smiled. "But you look very
worried about something."

"Not worried," laughed the local Inspector, an elderly man with a heavy
grey moustache, "just puzzled." He screwed up his eyes. "All the
afternoon I've been trying to think where I've seen one of those
witnesses before. It was that Mrs Jackson, the aunt of the drowned girl.
I'm sure I know her face and yet I can't place when I've seen it." He
nodded. "And I'd swear she's seen me, too, for I caught her looking at
me several times, and then she'd quickly turn her head away, as if she
didn't want me to recognise her. I can't think----" but he stopped
suddenly and ejaculated a triumphant, "Ah! I have it!" he exclaimed
gleefully. "Of course! of course! What a fool I've been! Thirty odd
years ago--she was Maisie Chime, whose dad had a shooting gallery in the
Mile-End road. I lived quite near there then, and a very pretty girl she
was." His eyes glistened. "Yes, yes, many a sixpence have I wasted at
the gallery, to get a little yarn with her. She was as pretty as a
peach."

It was now Stone's turn to look thoughtful. "Shooting gallery!" he
commented slowly. "Then did she do any shooting herself?"

"Rather," replied the local Inspector enthusiastically. "Why, she'd hit
a two bob piece at 20 yards every time," and then he was most agreeably
surprised when Inspector Stone suggested they should at once adjourn for
a little liquid refreshment.




CHAPTER XII.--THE QUICK AND THE DEAD


Before leaving Southend, Chime, upon the advice of his young mistress,
arranged for the body of his niece to be brought back to Stratford St.
Mary to be buried in the village churchyard, and that same evening Mrs.
Jackson went to interview the rector about the funeral.

As the rector had told Larose, Mrs. Jackson was a zealous member of his
congregation, and, indeed, no one in the village was a more regular
attendant at the services than she, not only on Sundays, but on every
week-day as well. Each daily evensong, wet or fine, would find her in
her accustomed place, a small, frail figure, ecstatically contemplating
a rather gruesome stained glass window depicting the martyrdom of the
saints.

Now more than sixty years of age, she was a strange mixture of a
profound reverence for things spiritual and a great shrewdness in her
dealing with the world. She would religiously slip her penny in the
alms-box by the church door, and then go out and haggle to the last
farthing in her purchase of the daily necessities of life. It was said,
too, that she always charged more than anyone in the village for her
eggs, and also that if a strange fowl strayed into her yard, there it
would remain until it was seen and claimed by its lawful owner,
notwithstanding that she herself would, all along, have been quite aware
to whom it belonged.

Her own personal relations, too, with the Deity, in her own mind,
differed very greatly from those that ordinary people experienced. When
their fowls escaped from their runs and were killed by speeding
motorists, or when their cats and dogs sickened and died, everything was
due to carelessness and improper feeding. But when her fowls were run
over or she lost a pet cat, then a special significance was attached to
the catastrophe, and she would declare solemnly that what had happened
was a particular 'act of God.'

With a harsh and hard-drinking husband, she had not had a happy married
life, and with no children of her own she had been very fond of her
niece. For her brother, Samuel Chime, at the Priory, she had a mild
affection, their main bond of union, however, being their mutual
interest in the church.

She had a profound respect, and even fear, for the rector, and so her
consternation can be imagined when, upon presenting herself before him
in the study that night, he firmly, but as kindly as possible, refused
to allow her niece to be buried in the village churchyard, for to her
thinking it was the same thing as condemning the girl's soul to eternal
damnation.

"I am very, very sorry, indeed, I can not permit it," declared the
rector, "but I am unhappily compelled to refuse. It is not that she was
a sinner, and, as far as we can determine, an unrepentant one at that,
but she took her own life, and, according to all church tradition, a
suicide must not be interred in consecrated ground."

"But she did not commit suicide, sir," choked the old woman. "I am sure
it was quite by accident that she was drowned and they thought so today
at the inquest."

"I'm afraid not," said the rector firmly. "I have read the account in
the newspaper this evening, and there can be no doubt what the jury
thought, although, to spare everyone's feelings, they brought in their
verdict of 'found drowned.'" He eyed her very solemnly. "Besides, we all
know, Mrs. Jackson, that had she lived she would have been proven guilty
of an even more dreadful crime than self-destruction, namely that of
taking the life of a fellow human being."

"But we don't know that for certain," sobbed the woman. "It may after
all have been someone else."

The rector shook his head. "It is hardly possible. She took his
punishment into her own hands, which is contrary to all laws, both
divine and human." He opened the door to close the interview. "I repeat,
I am very, very sorry, but Myrtle must be buried in the Colchester
Cemetery in unconsecrated ground," and he showed the weeping woman out.

The following morning Inspector Stone received a four page letter from
Miss Carrington, written from a London address. She said that two days
previously she had been hurried out of Stratford St. Mary, with barely
an hour's notice, in the undoubted expectation that thereby the police
would not be able to obtain her evidence for the inquest next week. But
she was determined to see justice done, and so she was sending word
where she could be found. Thinking things over, she was certain now that
it had been Dr. Athol she had seen that night in the lane and she was
certain, too, from Miss Arbour's abrupt and startled manner that her
employer had recognised him as well. She was equally certain now that
the woman, seen also in the lane, had been Lady Mentone. There was no
mistaking that swing of the hips, although the woman had been walking in
a furtive manner. Of course, Miss Arbour was only wanting to marry the
doctor to be Lady Athol one day, and that was why she was willing to
perjure herself and declare that the man she had seen had not been her
fiance. There was no doubt, too, that Dr. Athol and Lady Mentone were
lovers and the former had murdered Mr. Toller because the agent had
proof of their intrigue and was threatening to disclose it to Sir
Charles Mentone, or in default of that, had been intending to blackmail
the guilty wife.

In conclusion, she added there was a rumor, too, that the agent, a few
days before he had been murdered, had been intending to purchase an
expensive motor car from some firm in Colchester, and as he had hitherto
been known to be always heavily in debt, that could only have meant he
had been expecting to obtain a large sum of money from some source.

"Hum!" remarked the Inspector thoughtfully, "a very spiteful letter, but
still that does not make any difference if she can deliver the goods."
He nodded. "Yes, I'll have a little talk with this Miss Arbour, as well
as with that Mrs. Jackson, straightaway."

But when, a little more than two hours later, he drew up in his car
before Mrs. Jackson's cottage, just behind the 'Black Swan,' he got no
response to his knocking upon the door. Peering through the kitchen
window, however, he saw the fire was burning in the stove, and guessed
from that that the woman would be returning before long. So leaving one
of his men to await her coming, he drove to 'The Towers'.

Adele had spent a most unhappy two days, and her pallid face and the
dark shadows under her eyes told of the misery she was going through.

The vengeance she had so longed for was certainly hers at last, but its
flaming flowers had withered in her hands, and their possession now was
only adding to her anguish. Against her will, with all the proofs before
her, she had had, most reluctantly, to admit to herself that she had
been entirely misjudging the character of her lover of those years ago,
and that he was not guilty of the cruel and heartless conduct she had
ascribed to him. Still, notwithstanding all his denials, she was
determined not to let herself believe that he had had no part in the
agent's murder and, worse still, that he had not been for a long time
the lover of Margaret Mentone.

Her unhappiness was the sharper, for in her heart of hearts she realised
now she could be very fond of the doctor if it were not for Margaret.
The murder she could have forgiven if great provocation had been shown,
but his infatuation for the wife of Sir Charles Mentone was an offence
quite unpardonable.

Dr. Athol, according to his promise, had made no attempt to see her, but
he had rung her up twice to know how she was, and each time she had
spoken to him with a coldness she did not feel.

She was now reading a letter that had just come by that morning's post,
and her lips curved in scornful contempt as she perused it. It was from
her late companion and read:--



"To Mary Arbour--

"Now I have left you, I can tell you frankly that I have never liked
you. I have always hated your proud and stuck-up ways, and the
despicable manner in which you have now turned me out is a disgrace to
anyone who calls herself a lady. If I can punish you I will, you can be
sure of that. I am writing by this same post to Scotland Yard, so that
they will know where to find me, when they want my evidence at the
inquest. Dr. Athol does not care a button for you, and he is all for
that other woman. He is only marrying you because he wants more money.
He is a horrid man, and you two will be a well-matched couple. You will
see me at the inquest next week."



The letter made Adele feel rather uneasy, and, its perusal over, she
stared thoughtfully into space. But her meditations were interrupted by
the ringing of the hall door bell, and then, after some talking in the
hall, a maid entered the room with a card upon a salver.

"I told him, you were not well, Miss, and were receiving no visitors,"
said the girl, "but he insisted upon my bringing in the card."

Adele Athol's face was quite impassive as she picked up the card. "I'll
see him, Mabel," she said. "Show him in here."

And so, a few moments later, Inspector Stone was standing before her.

As once before, the Inspector thought her a very beautiful woman, but
she was much paler now, he told himself, than that day when he had seen
her driving from the Priory in her car. Her pallor was, however, he
thought due to nervousness and to the knowledge that she must be aware
for what purpose he had come.

"Miss Arbour, I believe," he said politely, and Adele bowed in assent.
"Well, I've just come to ask you a few questions about what you saw when
you were in the turret on the night of the Priory agent's murder."

Adele shook her head. "But I have really nothing to tell you there," she
said, smiling ever so faintly, "unless, of course, you want to hear my
impression of that awful storm."

He smiled back. "No, it isn't the storm that interests me," he said. His
face became grave. "It's about those people you saw in the lane I want
to hear."

She shook her head again. "I saw no people at all or, at most, a shadow
which might have been that of a man."

The Inspector looked stern. "Come, come, Miss Arbour," he said sharply,
"it's no good your starting off with a lot of denials and then, in the
end, having the truth dragged out of you, and your being shown to be an
untruthful person. Be honest with me straight away, and, however
distasteful to you, admit that you saw a man there whom you recognised
as Dr. Athol."

Adele looked him straight in the face. "I shall never admit that,
Inspector Stone," she said, "and it is best you should realise that once
and for all that it is waste of time to worry me."

Stone spoke gently and persuasively. "But we know you recognised him,
Miss Arbour, and we shall be able to prove it. They'll get it out of
you, right enough, in the witness box."

"The witness box!" exclaimed Adele with a frown. "But knowing you'll get
no admission out of me you won't surely put me there!"

"But we shall," replied the Inspector, pursing up his lips grimly, "and
then the cross-examination of a smart counsel will be most unpleasant
for you, when you are stating what you know is not the truth."

"I may not be here for the inquest," said Adele uneasily. "I am thinking
of going away at the beginning of next week."

Stone looked sterner than ever. "That won't do for us, Miss Arbour, and
if I think there's going to be anything like that I will have you served
with a subpoena within an hour. Then if you don't appear at the inquest
the coroner will issue a warrant for your arrest."

"But you'll not get me in the witness box to say anything about Dr.
Athol," said Adele, with a gleam of triumph in her eyes. She hesitated
just a moment. "A wife does not testify against her husband!"

"Her husband!" ejaculated the Inspector. "But you're not married yet!"

"We are," nodded Adele. "We were married in Ipswich the day before
yesterday."

Stone smiled grimly. "Then we shall want proof of that."

Without a word, Adele walked over to a small bureau and abstracting a
paper from a drawer handed it over to him. He glanced through it
frowningly, and then gave it back to her.

"Hum!" he remarked, looking rather nonplussed, "you did that on
purpose!"

"Of course," laughed Adele lightly. "People do not usually marry by
accident, do they?" she spoke carelessly. "As a matter of fact, we did
it because the fire at Dr. Athol's house had made it uninhabitable, and
he was coming to stay here. So, once married, we could get rid of that
Miss Carrington, who was spreading so many untruthful reports about
him."

"How do you know she was?" snapped the Inspector.

Adele shrugged her shoulders. "Well, she approached both Mr. Larose and
you and gave a very highly colored account of what she saw that night
when she and I were sitting in the turret."

"We shall see whether the coroner's jury consider it very highly
colored," remarked Stone dryly, "when she goes into the witness box."

Adele shook her head. "But I shouldn't rely too much upon Jane
Carrington," she said sweetly. "You shall read a letter that I received
from her this morning and judge if everyone will not think she is
animated by pure malice when it is produced for their perusal."

She walked over to the bureau again and took out the letter she had been
reading when the Inspector had arrived. Then, hesitating a moment, she
pressed the bell, and stood waiting, with no attempt to hand over the
letter, until one of the maids had come into the room.

"Mabel," she said sharply, "I dropped a small key at the back of the
bureau yesterday. See if you can find it," and then when the girl was
kneeling down and groping about, she at last gave the letter to the
Inspector.

A good two minutes' silence followed, with the Inspector reading the
letter, Adele standing just before him and the maid looking for the lost
key. Then when Adele saw the letter had been read through, she stretched
out her hand to receive it back, and with it again in her possession she
turned to the maid.

"Oh, never mind about it now, Mabel," she said. "If you can't find it,
some other time will do," and the girl at once left the room.

The Inspector shook his head reproachfully. "That was not necessary,
Mrs. Athol," he said. "We at Scotland Yard would have no more thought of
keeping your letter than of burgling your house."

Adele flushed crimson. "I apologise, Mr. Stone," she said contritely.
She sighed wearily. "I have had a lot of worry lately, and sometimes I
find it difficult to keep the correct balance of things."

They parted on quite friendly terms, the Inspector carrying away the
impression of a very beautiful woman, but at the same time a very sad
one.

"Not a bit as a woman should look when she's only been married two
days," he muttered. He nodded. "But I suppose she knows she's given her
heart to a man who is a murderer!"

In the meantime the weeping Mrs. Jackson had gone to the Priory to
acquaint them that the rector would not allow Myrtle to be buried in the
churchyard. Chime was horrified, but at the same time was prepared to
accept the ban. His young mistresses, however, were very indignant and
thought quite differently.

"I'll go round at once, Beatrice," said Eva with flaming cheeks, "and
just tell him there'll be no wedding bells for him if he's not going to
show himself more charitable. We're not going to allow any parson who's
narrow-minded to come into the family."

Beatrice looked very distressed. "No, of course, you're not to go, Eva,"
she said quickly. "I'll go or else"--she looked round and caught
Larose's eye--"perhaps, Mr. Larose would not mind." She blushed. "Then
there will be no personal question about it."

Larose agreed at once, and so, not a quarter of an hour later, caught
the rector as he was getting ready to set out for Colchester. He said
there was a meeting he had to attend. Larose explained how upset
everyone was at the Priory and asked the rector to reconsider his
decision.

The rector appeared to be most uncomfortable. "But I cannot, Mr.
Larose," he said earnestly, "for apart from my own personal opinion, my
bishop is most strict about such matters, and already I am not in his
good books. We differ strongly upon certain points of ritual." He shook
his head. "No, I cannot alter my decision. That suicides should not be
buried in consecrated ground is the well-established law and usage of
the church, and we must conform to things accordingly."

"But in treating this girl as a suicide," protested Larose bluntly, "you
are, in a most pointed manner, bringing contempt and discredit upon the
law of the land, for the court, yesterday most decisively refused to
record a verdict of self-destruction."

The rector looked very grave. "But, you and I know quite well it was
suicide, and that she was a murderess as well."

"We know nothing of the kind," said Larose sharply. "As to the manner of
her death I am quite content to think as the coroner's jury did, and as
to her having murdered that man, our suspicion of her is no proof, and
there are others we can suspect equally as well." He pointed to a
beautiful double-barrelled gun propped up in a corner of the study, and
went on, repressing a smile. "Why, perhaps I am even now beginning to
have suspicions of you! You are evidently habituated to the use of
lethal weapons, you knew Toller was a bad man, and you were aware of the
existence of that rifle at the Priory and of the cartridges in the
drawer. So, is it not possible you may have considered yourself an
instrument of Providence and shot him?" He held up his hand warningly.
"Remember, at the time Toller was killed only three persons in Stratford
St. Mary knew what Toller had done, the aunt, Dr. Athol, and you."

"Mr. Larose! Mr. Larose!" ejaculated the rector reprovingly, and looking
very taken aback, "you should not even make a joke of such things with a
man in my position."

"Well, you never know whom the police may be suspecting next," said
Larose darkly, "even, perhaps, it may be poor old Mrs. Jackson's turn
soon."

The rector opened the door for him to pass out. "Tell Miss
Brabazon-Fane, will you, please, that I'll come up to see her this
evening and explain."

"And in the meantime?" asked Larose.

The rector hesitated. "I'll--I'll make arrangements for the grave to be
got ready in Colchester."

Passing through the rectory gates Larose almost ran into Inspector Stone
as the latter was coming in.

They both turned the corner at the same moment, and in their
preoccupation a collision was avoided very narrowly. They both frowned
and then, recognising each other, smiled.

"What! you here again!" exclaimed Larose. "Then have you come to reside
in the village?"

"Almost, it seems," replied Stone. He grinned. "I'm trying to make
bricks out of straw, Gilbert, and I tell you I'm not getting on too well
with the job." He looked sharply at him. "But I say, what have you been
doing at the rector's? I'm just going in to see him."

"I've been in about the burial of that girl," replied Larose. "He's
turned nasty about it and doesn't want her buried here, because he's
certain she committed suicide," and then he asked curiously. "But what
do you want with him?"

Stone looked amused. "I've got another suspect. Old Mrs. Jackson this
time. No, you needn't smile. Do you know, 35 years ago she was one of
the finest shots with a small rifle in the show world, and the winner of
many prizes," and then he went on to tell Larose all he had learnt about
her the previous afternoon.

"And I've just been talking to her now," he went on, "and although she
looks a frail and worn old woman, I can't quite make up my mind about
her. She told me a downright lie to begin with, and said she knew
nothing about rifles and had never fired one in her life. Then when I
told her she'd been almost born in a shooting gallery, and had helped
her father in one until she was 25, she looked as flabbergasted as any
woman I have ever seen. Then, of course, she couldn't convincingly
account for her actions upon the night of the murder. She says she was
in her bed by nine o'clock and never left it again until the morning,
but the landlord of the Black Swan swears he saw a light being moved
about in her house, when he and his wife went up to their room about
eleven o'clock, and he remarked upon it to his wife at the time. Then
the next morning, quite early, she came into his bar and had a good sup
of brandy, a thing that surprised him because she is known to be a
teetotaller. She was looking pale and ill, and said the storm had upset
her."

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Larose, "but you can't imagine a
fragile-looking old woman like that committing a murder!"

"Oh, I don't know so much about that," said Stone. "She looks a deep one
to me." He nodded. "Yes, and she's a bit of a mystery to everyone, too,
for she's known to go out for long walks at night, and return home at
any hour in the morning. Another thing, too. We know she received a
letter last week, postmarked from London, and I am sure it was from her
niece. But she says it was only a circular about some poultry food from
somewhere, and she threw it away." He shook his head. "But I could tell
by her manner she was lying again."

A short silence followed while Larose digested the news, and then he
asked curiously. "But what do you want to see the rector for now?"

"To find out from his reverence exactly how she told her tale to him
when she came here the night before Toller was killed, and what was her
reason for coming to see him at all." He nodded. "You see, Gilbert, this
woman has the reputation, among other things, of being a bit of a
religious crank, almost, some think, to the point of fanaticism, and I
am wondering if she's quite right. With people like that, it's always in
the cards they may imagine themselves instruments of Providence and just
commit any sort of crime with no qualm of conscience at all."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose delightedly, "and you just mention that to the
rector, and use those exact words. But don't say you've been speaking to
me."

"All right," nodded Stone, looking at his watch; "Good-bye," but then,
just as he was starting to move off, he stopped and went on speaking.
"Oh, one moment, Gilbert." He looked at him very sternly. "I suppose it
was you who put that doctor up to getting married so quickly, so that he
should shut his wife's mouth." He shook his head reprovingly. "Well, I
think you did a very wrong thing. I've just been up to see the lady, and
for a two-days-old bride she looks miserable. I am sure she suspects
that her husband had something to do with the murder, and when she
showed me the marriage certificate, I felt devilish sorry for her."

With great difficulty Larose suppressed a gasp of surprise. What! the
doctor married already to Mary Arbour and he'd told no one about it!
What on earth did it mean, too, that the previous day he'd been looking
so glum and unhappy?

He spoke earnestly. "No, Charlie I had nothing whatever to do with it
and I didn't even know it had taken place until it was all over."

"Well, what makes Mrs. Athol look so glum?" asked Stone.

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "Disillusionment, I suppose." He grinned
"Don't you remember how your poor missis looked, two days after she had
married you?"

Stone ignored the insult and went on. "Well, she's spiked our guns,
right enough, for I find we can't depend upon that Carrington woman and
so we shan't put her in the box at all." He winked knowingly. "So you
can tell your pretty little friend----"

"----Meaning," broke in Larose.

"The Mentone girl, of course, that she won't have to tell any more lies
about not being in the lane that night with the doctor. It may ease her
mind to know that I don't intend to bring up the matter again."

"Good! Charlie," said Larose, "I'll give her the message and no doubt
she'll be sending you her love."

He walked quickly back to the Priory and made known to Beatrice the
result of his mission to the rector. She set her lips firmly. "But I
won't wait for him to come up here tonight," she said. "I'll go and talk
to him in the vestry after evensong." She looked at Larose and smiled.
"Then I can cut short the interview whenever I please."

"I think the stumbling-block is that his bishop at Chelmsford would be
so angry," said Larose.

Beatrice looked scornful. "Then he'll have to choose between the bishop
and me," she snapped.

Larose sighed. "I'm sorry for the poor bishop," he said. "He doesn't
stand much chance," and they both laughed.

Then Larose told what he had heard from Stone about Dr. Athol and Mary
having been married two days ago.

Beatrice was flabbergasted. "And he seemed so unhappy yesterday," she
said. "We all remarked upon it and wondered, too, why Mary hasn't been
round to see us for three days." She looked very troubled. "And I don't
like to ask either of them about it, for they must have some reason for
keeping it secret and would have told us if they wanted us to know." She
shook her head. "Mary's such a great friend of mine that I can't
understand it."

And Larose could not understand it, either, but, bound by no such
scruples as Beatrice possessed, he determined to make it his business to
find out at once. That Stone was right in his conjecture that they had
married in order that the mistress of 'The Towers' could not be
compelled to give evidence against her husband, he felt sure, and it
annoyed him most intensely to think that perhaps, after all, Dr.
Athol--and in that event Lady Mentone also--had been deceiving him as to
their part in what happened upon the night of the agent's murder.

It would have been the basest ingratitude, he told himself, and not only
that, but a great blow to his pride that he had allowed himself to be so
hoodwinked by any woman, however pretty and attractive she might be.

He put on his hat and walked out of the Priory, intending to find Dr.
Athol straight away, and then--the first person he encountered was Lady
Mentone. She was in the drive, with her flower basket again, and this
time was picking carnations.

"Hullo!" she called out gaily, "going for a walk? I wish I could come
with you, but I've all the flowers to arrange before lunch. The
Honorable Jimmy may be coming down today." Then when Larose had drawn
level with her, she added smilingly. "Really, Mr. Larose, if you stay
here much longer I shall be taking to calling you Gilbert, I am getting
so accustomed to you."

"Oh, you are, are you?" commented Larose, but with no answering smile.

She looked at him curiously and her face clouded.

"What's the matter with you?" she asked. "You're not cross with me about
anything, are you?"

"I don't know," he replied, and then he rapped out. "Look here, Lady
Mentone. Have you been making a fool of me, and did you tell me the
exact truth about what you and the doctor did upon that night of the
murder?"

Lady Mentone flushed crimson and tears welled up into her eyes. "Oh, of
course, I did!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I wouldn't be such a beast
as to deceive you after all your kindness to me. Everything I told you
was true and I didn't leave out anything, either." Her voice choked.
"You know more about me than anyone in the world, and you could ruin my
whole life if you chose."

"All right, all right," said Larose soothingly, and desirous at all
costs to prevent her breaking into tears. "I quite believe you and I'm
very sorry to have doubted you for one moment. Yes, I quite believe you
and so please smile again."

"But what made you think they were all stories I told you?" she asked
brokenly, and by no means having recovered her composure.

Larose thought it best to be quite frank with her and so proceeded to
tell her not only about the secret marriage that had taken place, two
days previously, but also that, in his opinion, the only inference that
could be drawn was that Dr. Athol wanted to render it impossible for his
wife to give evidence against him.

"So that's what made me wonder for a moment," he finished up, "whether
Miss Arbour had not possibly witnessed that night more than you were
willing to tell me."

And all the while Lady Mentone had listened wonder-eyed, her emotion of
the moment or two previous being now all thrust into the background by
her great surprise.

"And I saw him yesterday," she exclaimed, "and he said nothing! But he
was looking very glum, I thought." She looked intently at Larose. "But
what are you going to do? Are you going to ask him as you did me?"

"Yes," replied Larose. "I am going up now."

Arriving at 'The Towers,' Larose saw its mistress in the distance, at
the far end of the garden, but he rang the front-door bell, and was then
most surprised to learn from the maid that not only was Dr. Athol not
staying there, but that he had returned to his own house two days
previously. So round to the doctor's house he went, to find a number of
workmen busy there. By means of large tarpaulins and planks, the unburnt
part of the house had been made habitable. Asking to see the doctor, he
was kept waiting for a few minutes and then conducted to a room at the
back that had been temporarily converted into a study.

The doctor looked just the same as ever, the calm, unruffled,
professional man, except that his eyes were heavy and his face was
rather pale and drawn.

Larose came straight to the point, and telling the doctor frankly whence
his information came about the marriage, asked him bluntly if he had
arranged it to prevent his wife giving information about his movements
upon the night of the murder.

The doctor looked very embarrassed at the question, but made no
hesitation about his reply. "Myself, I did not for one moment arrange
this sudden marriage for that reason," he replied, "but although I did
not learn it until after the ceremony, I admit to you quite frankly that
it was one of the reasons uppermost in my wife's mind." He shrugged his
shoulders. "She thinks I am the murderer, or if not, am certainly
shielding Lady Mentone."

"Hum!" commented Larose, "then she knows more than you told me."

"No, no," said the doctor instantly. "I was quite honest with you, and
told you everything. I kept nothing back."

A short silence followed, and then Larose asked, "You are not living
with her?"

Dr. Athol smiled sadly. "No, she sent me away from her within half an
hour of our arriving at her house after we had been married." He sighed.
"It was a terrible surprise."

"But why did she marry you at all if she thought you were a murderer and
she had no intention of living with you?"

The doctor shook his head. "That is quite another matter, Mr. Larose,
and of a very private nature. I am very sorry I cannot explain it to
you."

"Well, what are you going to do?" asked Larose curiously.

"Leave the neighborhood directly this affair at the Priory is finished
with. I can't very well run away before then."

Larose looked him straight in the face. "And does your wife think there
has been anything between you and Lady Mentone?"

Dr. Athol raised his eyebrows. "Most certainly she does, and that is the
trouble now. Another misunderstanding between us, I think I have
explained away, but nothing will convince her that Lady Mentone and I
have not been lovers, and indeed, are not still so."

Returning to the Priory, Larose told Lady Mentone the result of his
conversation with the doctor, and she blushed hotly. "The little beast,"
she exclaimed, "but I've thought lately she was thinking that! She's
often looked at me very curiously." She sighed. "I could easily have
fallen in love with Norman if I'd wanted to, but I've never let myself
give him a thought that way. Besides, I'm very fond of my husband." She
looked troubled. "But now what ought we to do?"

Larose laughed. "It's not us, it's you." He became grave again. "I think
you ought to go and see her. Go up boldly and tell her I got it out of
the doctor and then told you. I should tell her what was in those
letters, too. You have to startle her to show her you're in earnest and
speaking the truth."

Lady Mentone made a grimace, but then nodded. "Yes, I'll go. Mary's a
very nice girl at heart, and I'm sure she loves Norman." She nodded
again. "Yes, that shall be my punishment. I'll tell her everything." She
sighed. "But she is so cold and passionless I don't think she'll quite
understand things."

"Oh, but I don't believe she is cold or passionless," said Larose
sharply. "She looks to me a woman who's had a very sad life and is just
starving for affection."

Lady Mentone sighed again. "But I shan't go up until tonight. It needs
darkness and dim lights for what I'll have to tell her." She smiled
roguishly. "But I wish you could come up with me, Gilbert, and hold my
hand."

"Nothing doing!" said Larose emphatically. "I should be blushing all the
time."

The daily evensong at Stratford St. Mary was always a choral one and a
few minutes before five Larose, seeing Beatrice passing through the hall
with her hat on, offered to accompany her.

"But I'll not go into the vestry with you," he said. "I'm a kind-hearted
man and I don't want to see the rector grovelling at your feet."

So it came about that a most uneasy feeling stirred in the rector's
heart, as when marching behind half a dozen diminutive choir-boys and to
the soft strain of the beautiful organ, he caught sight of Beatrice and
Larose sitting side by side at the end of a pew half way down the aisle.

But he repressed all outward signs of emotion and in his deep, rich
voice and in beautifully modulated tones proceeded with the service of
evening prayer. All told, there were only five in the congregation, and
his voice was caught and echoed back from the empty spaces of the
church. The light was dim, for the stained-glass windows were rich and
deep in color and partly ivy covered. The church was very old.

The service was finely rendered but Larose's thoughts were wandering
and, glancing covertly at the beautiful face beside him, he was of the
opinion the reverend gentleman would not for long withstand the coming
attack upon him.

The service over, Beatrice waited until the body of the church was
empty, save for herself and Larose, and then with a smile at her
companion, walked softly up the aisle and turned into the vestry.

The rector affected a deep sigh directly she came in. "Now, my dear Miss
Brabazon-Fane," he said with an uneasy smile, "this is not fair of you
to come and tackle me here. You ought to have waited until I came up to
you tonight."

"No, Mr. Vavasour," said Beatrice sharply. "I wasn't going to have a
light argument with you over a cigarette and a cup of coffee. You have
made this a serious matter and it had best be settled within the walls
of that same church where this poor girl used once to kneel and pray."

"Believe me, it's a real grief----" began the rector.

"I should think it could be," interrupted Beatrice, "for you are
covering with perpetual shame a poor man and woman, who are in no way
sinners, even if Myrtle was." She spoke with intense feeling. "How do
you think Mrs. Jackson and Chime can live happily, with everyone
pointing to them as having had one of their own flesh and blood denied a
Christian burial."

"It is no question of her being denied Christian burial," said the
rector quietly, "for I have arranged she shall be buried in Colchester
by a minister of another denomination."

"And I have arranged that she shall be buried here," retorted Beatrice
firmly, "and it is you who are going to conduct the burial service over
her. She is going to rest here where her father and mother lie buried
and their fathers and mothers before them."

The rector made no comment, but stood regarding Beatrice with a half
smiling, half reproachful expression.

"Don't you see," went on Beatrice warmly, "that in refusing to give
burial to Myrtle, you are punishing the living and not the dead. It is
Chime and his unhappy sister who will suffer, not Myrtle, who is beyond
all care of what you do to her."

"But it is the tradition of the church," said the rector solemnly, "that
such as Myrtle should not lie among those who waited for their release
at the divinely appointed hour." He shook his head. "Besides, you know
quite well that, all apart from her having taken her own life, she was a
murderess as well, and it is that which has so strengthened me in my
decision. I do not wish----"

"But you don't know she was a murderess," broke in Beatrice sharply. "No
one has the slightest proof that she was. It is all conjecture."

The rector heaved a big sigh. "I will not argue with you, Miss
Brabazon-Fane. I will either accede to your request or else"--he drew
himself up proudly--"refuse it."

"But you will accede to it," pleaded Beatrice. Her voice was very
gentle. "Won't you, Augustine?"

The rector winced as if he had received a blow. "The priest says no," he
replied sadly. He turned away his eyes. "But the man says yes."

"Oh, thank you so much!" exclaimed Beatrice with intense feeling and she
laid her hand upon his arm. "I am very grateful indeed to you. I knew
that in the end you would brave any censure from outsiders, rather than
inflict pain upon the poor folks under your protection here."

"I am doing wrong," said the Rector quietly, "and I do not pretend I do
not know it." He shook his head frowningly. "As many a better man before
me I am waiving my clear duty for the sake of a woman's smile."

"Well, I'll give you a very nice one at any rate," said Beatrice, and
then she added gaily. "You'll come up to night, just the same, of
course? I'll reward you by playing some of your favorite Chopin."

But he shook his head gravely. "No, not tonight, now, if you don't
mind." His face broke into a smile. "I'll call later for my thirty
pieces of silver, when I have earned them." He opened the vestry door.
"Is Mr. Larose waiting for you? Oh, then I'll come and tell him I have
given in."

Larose knew at once with whom lay the victory when he saw Beatrice's
face.

"Good Evening," said the rector genially. "I've had to capitulate, as no
doubt you expected." He laughed. "You have no idea Mr. Larose what a
little spit-fire this young lady can be." He turned enquiringly to
Beatrice. "Now you've never been called that before, have you?"

"But I have," replied Beatrice, her face all at once sobering down, and
then she wondered subconsciously why Larose had so suddenly turned to
take an intense interest in a brass tablet upon the wall.

The rector saw them to the church door, and so strange is life that,
although his conscience should have been tormenting him, all his
thoughts that night were harking back to the small white hand that had
been laid upon his arm!

Night had just fallen when Margaret, Lady Mentone, leaving Eva busy at
some needlework, and Beatrice playing Chopin to Larose, slipped
unnoticed out of the priory and proceeded to make her way by the narrow
lane to 'The Towers'.

The lane was certainly supposed to be haunted and the night was
certainly chilly, but the shivers that from time to time stirred her had
nothing whatever to do with either ghosts or cold. But she walked
resolutely on, and turning into the drive of 'The Towers', she saw a
light burning in the room she knew to be Adele's boudoir.

Reaching the hall door she found it unlocked, and with no hesitation she
let herself in. Then, with her heart beating violently, she tip-toed
down the hall to the boudoir, and tapped lightly with her knuckles.

"Come in," said Adele's voice very quietly, and in a few seconds Lady
Mentone was in the room and had closed the door behind her.

"Good evening," she said cheerily, "I've come to have a little talk with
you. Don't be too astonished and don't get cross. No, do sit down
again"--for Adele had risen to her feet and was facing her as white as a
ghost--"and if you don't mind I'll sit down, too, for I've been walking
quickly and what I'm going to tell you will be something of an ordeal to
me." She put her hand over her heart and smiled faintly. "I'm not
accustomed yet to making confessions and I find this one very
unpleasant."

Adele resumed her seat, and with her face as expressionless as a mask,
regarded her unwelcome visitor.

A short silence followed and then Margaret burst out quickly. "Look
here, Mary, you're a perfect little fool, and I've come to tell you so.
We won't beat about the bush either. You told Inspector Stone that you
were married and it's all over the place now. Then Mr. Larose got it out
of your husband that you were refusing to live with him, because you
believed he and I were lovers."

Her face flushed furiously in indignation. "Well, I tell you your
thoughts are evil ones, and there's not the very slightest shadow of
foundation for them." Her voice rose ever so little. "Never once has
Norman even held my hand a moment longer than necessary, never once has
he kissed me, and in all the secrets between us never has there been one
word of love."

Her breast heaved in her emotion. "Yes, there has been a secret between
us and when you have learnt it, if you are anything like the girl I
think you are, it will cut you to the quick that you have forced me to
tell it to you."

She looked simply raging. "But why don't you speak? Why do you not say
something, instead of sitting there like a china-faced doll?"

Adele answered her quietly. "What would you have me say, Billy? That I
know you have a face for which any man might fall and that you can act
beautifully? That I know Norman loves you and----"

"Norman doesn't love me, you stupid creature," burst out Margaret
impetuously, "and you are so passionless yourself that you wouldn't
recognise love if you saw it." She snapped her fingers together.
"Norman's almost passionless, too, and until he met you he was like a
man living on the memory of some woman he'd lost. I've often rallied him
upon it, but he never said anything and only smiled. Then when you came
to live here"--she shrugged her shoulders--"however good-looking you may
be, nothing more astonished me than when he started to make love to
you."

"But he's done a lot for you, Billy, hasn't he?" said Adele
sarcastically, "even to"--she smiled coldly--"well, you know what he's
done."

"Yes, I do," replied Margaret sharply, "and that's why I've come now to
humiliate myself before you and lay bare a great shame in my life. Of
all the world, only Norman and Mr. Larose know it"--her lips curled
contemptuously--"No, Mr. Larose is not my lover either, and when you
have heard it I shall not be at all surprised if you draw your skirts
from me as if I were polluting you." She laughed as if she were amused.
"A girl of your type will never be able to understand it."

Adele made no comment and Lady Mentone went on very solemnly. "Now
listen intently, please. A little over seven years ago, a young girl
became stage-struck and ran away from her home, and because she was not
bad-looking, she was taken on in the chorus of a musical comedy. That
she had talent was afterwards proved, for it happened she immediately
attracted the attention of a very influential man in the theatrical
world, and was given an important part in the comedy, in which she
immediately made good."

She threw out her hands. "Well, of course, the not unnatural thing
happened, she fell in love with her benefactor, which, according to all
conventional ideas, was a very wrong thing for her to do, he was a
married man. But the girl took no account of that, for she knew he was
unhappy and separated from his wife. Incidentally, he was nearly thirty
years older than she--and she was only eighteen."

Then for a moment Lady Mentone stopped speaking. She had seen Adele had
suddenly dropped all her studied expression of indifference and was now
biting her lip. She went on.

"Well, this girl, defying convention as if, indeed, she were not aware
of it, went secretly to live with her lover and for a year and longer
enjoyed such happiness as she had not believed could exist. Then,
suddenly, the man died and she thought everything was ended for her. But
almost at once another man came into her life, again a man far more than
double her age, and caring very little what happened to her, she married
him. She had no affection for him at the time, but he was very kind to
her, and gradually she became fond of him. Then, when some years had
gone by and she had just learnt she was going to have a baby, indeed,
the very day when she first knew it, a dreadful calamity threatened her,
for some compromising letters she had once written to her old lover fell
into the hands of a scoundrel and he started to blackmail her."

A long silence followed, and then Lady Mentone laughed bitterly. "Of
course, you know the girl was I and the blackmailer was Toller. He
tackled me almost directly we were upon our feet in the first dance and
then he made me sit out that other one in the conservatory, when he told
me what he meant to do." She nodded. "You can understand what sort of a
night I had and what was my condition the next morning. I felt so ill
that I could hardly speak, and Beatrice rang Norman to come at once.
Then when Norman came"--she with difficulty restrained her tears--"I
thought I was going mad, and I broke down and told him everything."

Adele waited until she had in part recovered her composure, and then
asked with no expression in her voice, "And what did Beatrice and Eva
say when you told them, too?"

"I didn't tell them at all," exclaimed Lady Mentone sharply. "They don't
know, now. I should die if Beatrice heard about everything, and Eva
wouldn't speak to me again if she knew." Her voice rose in her
earnestness. "I tell you no one but Norman and Mr. Larose know that
these letters have existed, and only Mr. Larose has seen them. It was
Mr. Larose who found them," and then she went on to tell everything that
had happened from the day Larose had arrived at the Priory up to when,
that same morning, he had said she must come up herself to 'The Towers'
and convince Mary that she was so cruelly misjudging Norman Athol.

Adele regarded her thoughtfully and then asked quietly and with no trace
of sarcasm. "And is this a little play you've been acting for me, Billy,
or is it the truth?" She smiled wistfully. "Heaven knows I would like to
believe you, but I've been afraid of you all the time I've been
listening, for as a professional actress you would just revel in such a
part as this."

"Yes," nodded Lady Mentone grimly. "I might revel in playing the part,
but I can tell you I don't revel in having to convince you it is a
tragedy of real life," and then from the pocket of her coat she took a
bundle of letters, tied tightly round with string.

"Here, just glance through these," she said hoarsely, as she slipped off
the string, "and yours are going to be the last eyes to see them, for
then I'm going to throw them in the fire before you." She shrugged her
shoulders. "It was Fate that made me keep them and not burn them three
days ago." Her lips tightened. "If Inspector Stone got hold of them, I
might hang for them, even now!"

Adele hesitated and then took the letters in her hand. "Which ones am I
to read?" she asked nervously.

"Oh, any of them!" exclaimed Billy defiantly. "You'll think each one is
as bad as the other."

"One moment, Billy," said Adele. "If neither you or Norman shot Toller,
who did?"

"No one knows," replied Lady Mentone emphatically. "They've suspected
everyone, but they haven't come upon a shred of real proof yet." She
nodded. "I hope Myrtle did it, but she's innocent until they're sure
about it, and that's why Beatrice has made the rector bury her in the
church yard."

Adele sighed and glanced down at the letters. She picked out one and
commenced to read. But she only turned the first page and then with a
sudden movement she flung the whole lot into Lady Mentone's lap. "I
believe you, Billy," she choked. "I don't want to read any more," and
covering her face with her hands, she burst into tears.

Instantly Lady Mentone sprang up and leant over her, and the tears of
the two girls mingled together.

A few minutes later, Adele saw Lady Mentone out of the front door and
walked nervously, but with resolution, to the phone. She gave Dr.
Athol's number and her heart was palpitating violently when she heard
his voice.

"Norman," she began and then she had to steady herself before she could
go on. "Norman, Billy's just been to see me and"--she could hardly
speak--"she's made everything all right." Her voice became stronger and
matter of fact. "You can come over at once it you like, and if you bring
your things"--she spoke only in a whisper now--"you needn't go back if
you don't want to. We'll explain to the servants."

And so that night saw Norman and Adele enter into a new life where the
memory of those burning moments of the years ago were no longer a pain
and dreadful memory to them.

Two days later Myrtle was laid to rest in the village churchyard, and
because many people thought it a very wrong thing to do, and also
because it had somehow leaked out that the Bishop of Colchester had most
plainly intimated his displeasure to the rector, people came from all
round to attend the funeral. Perhaps they hoped that at the last minute
there would be some sensational intervention and even, maybe, the
dramatic appearance of the bishop himself to stop the proceedings. At
any rate, the church was crowded and the churchyard was filled with
spectators.

But nothing untoward happened and in the sure and certain hope of the
resurrection the body was lowered into the grave.

The three girls from the Priory were there and Dr. Athol and his
beautiful bride. Beatrice had suggested that Larose should come, too,
with the Priory party, but rather to her surprise, he had said he would
rather not, as he had some particular work he wanted to do. Beatrice had
frowned, thinking it to be only an excuse, but she would have realised
in a most surprised fashion that Larose had been speaking the truth, had
she been inside Mrs. Jackson's cottage a bare five minutes after the
hearse had left the front door.

Ever since Inspector Stone had told him what he had found out about Mrs.
Jackson, Larose had been thinking quite a lot about the woman, feeling
certain with the Inspector that she had been lying about the letter she
had received from London the week before.

The previous day, accompanying Beatrice to the cottage behind the Black
Swan for the final arrangements to be made about the funeral, one thing
in particular had struck him. The woman had undoubtedly been very fond
of her niece, as she had tearfully exhibited for their inspection
photographs of her at various ages. Also, she had showed them some
letters of the girl that she was treasuring, ones of apparently no
particular interest, but which Myrtle had written home during the past
year, while in her situation at Woodbridge.

So he was arguing that if the last letter she had received had by any
chance been from her niece, she would be keeping that also, particularly
so, as if the girl were contemplating taking her life, it might have
been a sort of farewell letter. In that case, he was thinking, it might
in some way refer again to the subject matter of the letter written by
her to Eva Brabazon-Fane. He was altogether scoffing at the idea that
the contents of Eva's letter were such as she had testified at the
inquest.

Then he was sure that if the aunt had kept the letter, unless she were
carrying it about with her, which he thought highly improbable, he would
easily be able to find it. The cottage was very barely furnished and,
apart from that, the mentality of the woman was such that she would in
all probability select the most likely hiding place.

Wearing a pair of old and worn suede gloves, he effected an entry into
the cottage with no difficulty through one of the windows at the back
and then, very quickly, he went through any likely places where the
letter might have been put away.

There was nothing of any value in the place, and nothing was locked up.
He started upon the chest of drawers and then at the bottom of the last
drawer came upon a small sugar bag, the contents of which made him open
his eyes. It contained half a dozen or so of stout wooden pegs and a
number of peculiarly coiled lengths of thin copper wire.

"Whew!" he ejaculated, "the old woman's a poacher. These are snares! And
that's why she takes her midnight walks and comes home at all hours of
the morning! Goodness gracious! Who'd have thought it? What an eye
opener as to her real character, and what she is capable of doing!"

Closing the drawer, he next turned his attention to the wardrobe and the
kitchen cupboard. Then he felt all round the edges of the one solitary
piece of linoleum the cottage contained, finally he very carefully
turned back the bed-clothes of the narrow bed.

"Under the mattress or thereabouts is such a favorite place for hiding
money and small articles," he sighed, "that a burglar of even very poor
imagination should rarely come empty-handed out of small houses.
Sometimes, the hider never seems to think of anyone looking there."

But it was not under the mattress he found anything and he was just
beginning to frown in annoyance at his lack of success, when suddenly
passing his hands over the mattress he felt the crackling feeling of
paper, and a few seconds' search showed him where something had been
thrust through a slit in the side of the mattress. He inserted his
fingers gently and drew out a folded envelope. The postmark was London,
E.C., and dated the previous Monday week, and the handwriting was very
small.

With his heart beating quickly in his excitement, he drew out the letter
and saw, as he had been expecting, that it was signed 'Myrtle,' the
handwriting being now quite different. The letter was quite short.



"My dearest Aunty,--I have come up specially to post this, so that no
one should find out by the postmark where I am staying. I cannot make up
my mind what I shall do. Everything seems so hopeless, that almost every
minute I wish I was dead. If you never see me again, remember I always
loved you for your kindness to me, and my great worry is how grieved you
and uncle will be. Good-bye, Aunty darling.

Your poor niece,--Myrtle."

"P.S.--I am glad he is dead, and I know who shot him, but I wrote them I
would never tell."



"Ah!" exclaimed Larose, with a puzzled frown. "'I wrote them I would
never tell!' 'Them,' not 'him' or 'her.'"

Then for a long minute he considered what he should do with the letter.
If he left it, it was just possible that either Scotland Yard or the
Colchester police might have another fit of energy and, obtaining a
search warrant to go through the cottage, perhaps find it! If he took
it, the old aunt might worry herself into desperation that the
detectives had somehow got hold of it, and that she might be put in
prison for her lying.

Then suddenly an idea came to him and he smiled as if he were very
pleased with himself. He would in part destroy the letter and leave only
enough of it that the aunt could be quite sure it was the same letter
she had so carefully hidden away. So he held the letter over the kitchen
stove and, striking match after match, scorched out so many words and
lines that the paper became so riddled with holes that all the writing
left upon it could convey no possible meaning to anyone. Then he treated
the envelope in the same way, leaving no postmark and only a couple of
words of the address.

Then he took out two of the girl's other letters that he had seen her
aunt replace in the drawer after she had been showing them to himself
and Beatrice the previous day and, sandwiching the scorched letter
between them, tucked them all three through the slit in the mattress
cover.

"And when the old woman next goes there," he grinned, "she'll think it's
another act of God done on her special behalf!" And he let himself out
of the cottage again and made his way back to the Priory.

The following morning, exactly as he had anticipated, two very angry
detectives from Colchester were questioning and cross-questioning the
very puzzled Mrs. Jackson as to the reason she had secreted three of her
niece's letters in the mattress, and as to how one of them had come to
be so riddled with burnt holes that its message was now quite
unintelligible.

But the old woman could give no explanation and she seemed so surprised
herself that the detectives told the Superintendent later that she was
the most accomplished liar they had ever had any dealings with.




CHAPTER XIII.--PEACE


The adjourned inquest upon Edwin Asher Toller was fixed for the morning
of Thursday following, and on the Tuesday Inspector Stone was closeted
with Tresidder-Jarvis, the well-known King's Counsel, who had been
briefed to appear for the police.

The K.C. was a big and ponderous man, with his massive head appearing to
come straight off his shoulders. He had large bushy eyebrows and his
eyes were like those of a brooding eagle. Just now he was frowning hard.

"Well, Inspector," he announced in the deep melodious voice that had so
often in his career led juries from the clear and obvious path of duty,
"you have certainly not given me much to go on." He tapped the thick
sheaf of papers on his desk. "Gog and Magog! but there's not a meaty
bone to pick on the whole dish. Nothing but suspicions, and every time
I've thought I was just about to come upon something tangible, it's
petered away to nothing."

The Inspector sighed. "I'm sorry, sir, but it's the best we could do.
We've explored every avenue and each time have come up against a dead
wall. The suspects have every time been too clever for us."

"But it can't be cleverness upon the part of them all," commented the
K.C. sharply. "There are four women and two men upon your list, and only
one of them can have fired the fatal shot. Therefore, five of them have
no need to be clever to prevent us from proving them guilty."

"But there may have been collusion, sir," said the Inspector, "and if
there were, then there was some deuced cleverness somewhere to make the
stories dovetail."

The K.C. considered. "And from these memoranda," he said thoughtfully,
"I gather it is your opinion that if collusion did exist, it was either
between this doctor and Lady Mentone, or else between two or all three
of the sisters. You do not suggest that this butler was in collusion
with anyone!"

"Oh, no, sir, he's told too many different tales for that, and he's
veered about the compass too much to be in collusion with anyone."

"Of course," went on Tresidder-Jarvis, "if he were reliable, this
butler's evidence would really be the keystone of the arch, for
undoubtedly, immediately after the crime, he was in proximity to the
murderer."

"But you will no doubt have gathered that the cook's evidence is going
to be the snag there," said Stone, "for remember, she recalls now that
during that evening Chime went several times into his pantry to get a
drink of water from the filter there. Therefore he may have heard the
clicking of the front door upon an occasion much earlier than when he
was lifting the glass to his lips, just after he had heard the clock
strike half-past 10." He nodded. "I fully expect that Mr. Aker-Banks,
who is appearing for the sisters, will make a great point of that."

"Naturally," agreed Tresidder-Jarvis, "and quite reasonable, too." He
smiled. "I note the servants had had bloaters for tea that evening, and
as they were very salty it is no wonder everyone was thirsty." He picked
up a blue pencil and pulled the papers upon his desk nearer to him.
"Well," he went on briskly, "we'll go through all the suspected parties,
one by one." He cleared his voice. "Miss Beatrice Brabazon-Fane, now
what of her?"

"I suspected her very strongly at first," said the Inspector, "for she's
of the quiet, capable type, very conscientious, and would make an
excellent martyr. I thought she might perhaps have shot the man to save
the honor of the family."

The K.C. poked the papers with a stodgy finger. "But there's no
suggestion of guilt in any of these answers she gave you. From your
notes she answered readily and very much to the point."

"But it was instinct that told me----"

"Pshaw!" grunted Tresidder-Jarvis, "that kind of instinct will carry no
weight with the coroner's jury. The only instinct that will appeal to
them is her pretty face."

"Oh, she's pretty as a peach!" exclaimed Stone with some enthusiasm.

"Enough!" said the K.C., raising his hand protestingly. "I know her. I
met her at a dinner a few months ago, and if I were on a jury I'd never
convict her of anything except breaking mens hearts." He shook his head.
"But we'll leave her for the moment. Now for the second one, Eva."

"Almost as pretty," said the Inspector, "but quite a different type;
very self-reliant and as bold as brass." He pursed up his lips. "But she
was anxious, for some reason, not for herself I think. She was afraid we
should trip one of her sisters. I feel sure of that."

"But you've no evidence against her?" asked the K.C.

"No, none, except that what she told the coroner at the Marriott girls
inquest did not ring true. What she said the letter had contained did
not seem feasible. I am sure the dead girl had written to her about
something connected with what happened upon the night of the murder,
which was a secret between them."

Tresidder-Jarvis made a note upon the margin of one of the papers before
him. "Good! Then I'll see what I can get out of her in that connection."
He frowned. "Now, what about this Lady Mentone? As the wife of the Home
Secretary we must tread very warily there." He considered. "Things
certainly look most suspicious, but you have really no evidence that may
implicate her, except the testimony of that woman Carrington, and
according to that letter she wrote to Mrs. Athol and you read, the
testimony would be altogether nullified by the open malice she shows."
He nodded. "You'd be quite right in not calling upon her." He frowned
again. "I say you have no evidence against Lady Mentone. That those
compromising letters of hers had an actual existence you can only
surmise, and therefore the blackmailing by the murdered man you can only
surmise also. You are not prepared to prove that as Margaret
Brabazon-Fane the girl was the mistress of Mark Aaronson and there is no
justification for your attempting to prove it, unless you can produce
the incriminating letters to follow it up. By itself, the raising of any
scandal in her past life, when she was a single girl would be a most
unwarranted and despicable thing to do. It would be hitting below the
belt."

He shook his massive head. "No, against these girls, objectively, there
may be very strong suspicion, but against any one of them individually,
you have no real grounds of suspicion at all. Your stumbling block is
that you can put forward no reason for the committing of the crime.
Therefore, when I come to cross-examine them, I shall give no suggestion
to the court that any individual suspicion exists."

He picked up another of the papers on his desk. "Now we will take this
Dr. Norman Athol, and here again you have no evidence against him. You
can suggest no motive for his wanting to kill the man, and none of his
actions that night seem to me to warrant any real suspicion. The story
of his being in the lane at the time of the murder is wholly discredited
by reason of the person who tells it; you cannot prove he wiped any
fingerprints away, and of the two versions as to how he passed the time
while waiting for the arrival of the police, his and his housekeeper's,
I would prefer his every time."

"But the housekeeper is a very sensible and level-headed woman," said
Stone reproachfully. "A most reliable witness, as you will see."

"That may be," agreed the K.C. again, "when she's not upset. But when
she's just seen the bloodied face of her dead master, and she's upon the
verge of collapse"--he smiled--"well, I'd rather take the testimony of a
cool and accustomed-to-death professional man, any day."

He went on. "Now we come to the aunt, Maria Jackson, and once again,
directly we come to weigh matters up, everything fizzles out. As I take
it, the only real suspicious circumstance against her is that five and
thirty years ago she was a crack rifle shot. But what does that prove?"
He chuckled in amusement. "Why, five and thirty years ago at the
Varsity, I ran the 300 yards in record time! But could I do it now?" He
renewed his merriment. "Bless my soul, a little child could beat me
today; indeed, I couldn't run three hundred yards at all."

"But she lied to me," said Stone frowningly. "She said she had never
handled a rifle in her life."

"What of that?" asked the K.C. instantly. "In all the circumstances the
old woman would naturally have been afraid of any association with her
and rifles at a time like this, and besides, as a most respected
attendant of the parish church, she may not have wanted all the lads and
lassies of the village to point at her as someone who had once earned
her living in a lowdown shooting gallery in the East End, which probably
made its largest earnings upon the Sabbath Day." He looked very dubious.
"No, the jury will want something better than that lie to make them
think she had anything to do with the murder."

"But at all events, we have the motive there," argued Stone, "----to
punish the betrayer of her niece."

"Ah! the motive!" agreed Tresidder-Jarvis readily, "but not the carrying
out of the crime. Great Scott! do you think that old woman could have
bolted off as quickly as the gardener says the sharpshooter did?"

"I've considered that," said Stone. "She's very agile."

"But there again comes the problem," went on the K.C. leaning back in
his chair. "Why should she or the Marriott girl, if either of them had
committed the crime, have wanted to run at once into the Priory? What on
earth could have been their object?"

He shook his head and turned once again to his papers. "As for this
Samuel Chime, his prevarications are most irritating. I shan't be able,
however, to sum him up properly until I've got him in the witness-box.
But if he's not mental or of a very subtle character, I should take him
to be just a meddling bungler. I gather from your notes that that is
your opinion, too, and that you don't think he had anything to do with
the crime. Now for that drowned girl."

He regarded the Inspector for a long time, very thoughtfully. "Now, on
the evidence you can produce, I don't think any jury will bring in a
verdict of wilful murder there. She threatened--that is what you can
certainly prove--but a threat does not necessarily mean execution--and,
another thing, when she threatened, she meant vitriol, you know. So, one
of two things happened. Either she never went as far as the Priory
grounds that night, or else, arriving at the bungalow, she found the man
already dead and beyond her vengeance." He nodded. "That's what you
think, isn't it?"

"Yes," replied Stone emphatically, "and I go farther. I say she arrived
upon the scene just after the murder had been committed, and actually
saw the murderer. She would have been approaching the bungalow behind
the row of tall trees there, and, if so, almost certainly would have
been unseen by whoever was running away. She might not have grasped then
what was happening, but continuing on to the bungalow, she would have
done so very soon."

"And you go on to surmise that the next day she wrote to Eva
Brabazon-Fane about it." The ponderous K.C. elevated his eyebrows. "Why
should she have done that?"

"Perhaps, to thank her," suggested the Inspector a little hesitatingly;
"perhaps to assure her she wouldn't give her away."

The K.C. shook his head. "Weak! weak!" he exclaimed, "and besides, that
would make Eva the murderer!"

"Not necessarily," retorted the Inspector. "It might have been one of
the other girls she saw, and she wrote to Eva, because she knew her
best."

"Then that implies a collusion," commented Tresidder-Jarvis sharply,
"and yet you wrote here you can find no trace of it!" He smiled. "You
say Gilbert Larose is in the complete confidence of these girls and he
may possibly know more than you do! Well, why not subpoena him on some
count, and I'll see then what I can get out of him?"

The Inspector shook his head. "No, sir, he's an old colleague of mine,
and that would hardly do." He smiled. "Besides, I am quite certain you
would get nothing out of him, as he's a very wily bird."

The K.C. laughed. "I agree there. I've met him in court several times,
and, since he's been married, socially as well." He nodded. "His is a
very attractive personality, but he has absolutely no respect for the
law, and would throw dust in its eyes, every time, if he thought it
advisable."

"Quite so," nodded the Inspector, "and I'm sure he's been helping these
girls. He's a sentimentalist, and would take the view that whoever
killed this Toller was doing the community a service."

Tresidder-Jarvis pursed up his lips. "Well, well, I'm afraid this
inquest is going to turn out to be a very tame affair, and there'll be
no fireworks for anyone. I don't really see why you briefed me."

And from a sensational point of view, a very tame affair the inquest did
seem to be, the public, generally, being greatly disappointed that at
its conclusion no one had been summarily arrested and carried struggling
and protesting to prison.

The inquest was held in the village hall, and, although quite a
fair-sized building, accommodation was taxed to the utmost. The coroner,
qualified both as a legal practitioner and a doctor of medicine, was of
suave and courtly manner, but with all the politeness with which it was
his wont to treat everyone who came before him, there was no nonsense
about him, and he could size up a witness as quickly as anyone.

The proceedings opened very quietly, and not much interest was
occasioned until Chime stepped into the box. The butler started off with
great confidence in his replies to the questions the coroner put to him,
but presently the suggestion being made to him that he really must be
more exact, he quickly became confused and began to qualify everything.
From being quite certain he had heard no sounds in the hall before the
village clock had struck the half-hour, he became almost certain, and
then he was not quite sure. Then he admitted he was often being chaffed
for 'hearing sounds' about the house at night, and that it was not
unusual for him to declare there was someone moving about in the rooms
above, when, upon investigation, no one could be found there.

Tresidder-Jarvis's cross-examination added nothing to what the coroner
had elicited, and Aker-Bank drew from him the admission that, although
he had certainly been thirsty that night, he did not think he had been
into the pantry for water quite as many times as the cook alleged.

Beatrice gave her evidence very quietly and neither the coroner nor
Tresidder-Jarvis suggested there was the slightest reason for
disbelieving her when she averred she had not left her bedroom between
the hour of half-past nine and when, later, she had been awakened by
Chime, shortly after midnight. In reply to a question by
Tresidder-Jarvis, however, she admitted there was no one to corroborate
that fact.

Lady Mentone lied prettily and fluently, undoubtedly believing that her
falsehoods were, at worst, very trivial sins, and given in the good
cause of preserving her husband's honor. Eva was treated with deference,
and regretted, both with the coroner and Tresidder-Jarvis, that she had
not kept the letter Myrtle had written to her.

Dr. Athol told his falsehoods pleasantly and with conviction, but
rejoicing all the time that his wife was not present to hear him. He,
also, felt that he was justified in his untruths, because, thereby, he
was saving Lady Mentone's reputation.

Mrs. Jackson admitted she had lied to the Inspector when she had told
him she had never fired a rifle in her life, but explained that she had
only done so because she did not want it noised about that she had once
followed a calling that she did not now hold to be respectable. She
denied, again, that she had any letter from her niece since the latter
had left Woodbridge, and she admitted she could bring no witness to
corroborate what she averred she had been doing upon the night of the
murder.

The Reverend Augustine Vavasour made an impressive appearance in the
witness box and in sonorous tones gave an account of his interview with
Mrs. Jackson, when she had first come to ask him for help and advice
about her niece. He stated that the aunt had been fearful that the girl
was going to do something desperate. Tresidder-Jarvis did not
cross-examine him, but to everyone's surprise, Aker-Banks at once jumped
up to do so.

"I understand, Mr. Vavasour, you were the first one, to learn from Mrs.
Jackson, of her niece's betrayal by deceased?" he asked.

"I believe that is so," replied the rector. "She said she had told no
one up to then."

"And you were shocked, of course, and told her so?"

"Yes, I was very shocked, and, of course, expressed my opinion that he
was a dastardly scoundrel."

"And you would have liked to have seen him punished?" asked Aker-Banks
very quietly.

"Certainly," replied the rector, "most severely punished."

The K.C.'s next question startled the court. "And I am told you have
many times gone rook shooting with the late General Brabazon-Fane?"

"That is so," replied the rector innocently. "We were great friends."

"And you knew all about his rifle being upon the wall of the Priory
Hall?" asked Aker-Banks, slightly raising his voice.

The rector was now beginning to look uncomfortable, and his face
flushed. "C-e-r-tainly," he stammered. "I've often seen it resting
there."

"Well, now," said the K.C. suavely, "what were you doing about half-past
ten upon the night of the murder?"

The rector looked horrified. "Reading in my study," he replied, with a
distinct quaver in his voice.

"And can you bring forward anyone who is prepared to corroborate that
statement?" asked Aker-Banks with great sternness.

"No--o," replied the rector, and there was a catch in his voice. "I
expect the maids were all in bed."

"Thank you, Mr. Vavasour. That is all," bowed the K.C. His face broke
into a beaming smile. "I only just wanted to bring home to the jury
that, except for married couples, it might be difficult for many of us
to bring proof as to what we were exactly doing at that late hour of the
night." He bowed again. "No suggestion of your being involved in the
murder, I assure you."

A ripple of amusement ran round the court, in which the perspiring
rector joined.

The coroner summed up quickly. He told the jury that if from the
evidence tendered they had gathered anything to implicate any person or
persons in particular, then they must be much cleverer than he was, for
he himself could see no light anywhere. It was undoubtedly a most
mysterious crime, and he could not help remarking that its mystery had
not been made any the less by the testimony of the witness Samuel Chime.
Reading through the depositions prepared for him, he had certainly been
of opinion that the butler's evidence was going to be most valuable, but
upon seeing him and hearing him in the box, and noting the vagueness and
uncertainty of his statements, his undoubted predilection for the
marvellous, and his shocking memory, he had come to the conclusion that
they must disregard him altogether, and with him out of the way, so much
upon which the authorities had been depending to bring home the crime to
its perpetrator, fell to the ground.

Then he went on to review all the other evidence, especially that
relating to this dead Myrtle Marriott, warning them there, however, that
although it was quite possible that she might have been the assassin,
still they had no convincing proof, and therefore it was not meet they
should cast such a slur upon her memory by recording a verdict of wilful
murder against her.

In conclusion, he advised them that there was only one possible verdict
for them to bring in, and it was that of wilful murder by some person or
persons unknown.

The murmur of quiet conversation buzzed round the hall when the jury had
retired to consider their verdict, but no one seemed in any doubt as to
what it would be.

"A pity we couldn't have put that Carrington woman into the box,"
whispered Stone to the Superintendent, "but it would have led nowhere,
and then directly the other side produced the letter she wrote to Mrs.
Athol, then--bang would have gone everything. Her intentions were so
undoubtedly malicious."

"I've just heard that she was in the village this morning," said the
Superintendent, gloomily, "intending to thrust herself in here to make a
fuss. But she was feeling faint from the long journey and went into the
Goose and Feathers to lie down for a rest. Then the landlady persuaded
her to have some brandy, and gave her so strong a dose that her legs
became wobbly and she couldn't stand up. Then I hear she went to sleep
and woke up feeling so sick and ashamed that she had herself driven away
again at once."

"And a good thing for us, too," nodded Stone. "She would have brought
discredit upon us whether she went into the box or not. The coroner
would have only thought we were trying to throw dirt."

"Bah! he's too much of a society man," grunted the Superintendent, "and
his wife went to the same boarding-school in Eastbourne as the two
eldest Brabazon-Fane girls." He scowled angrily. "We've made a mess of
this business somehow, although at one time I thought I had all the good
cards in my hands." He looked scornful. "That Eva did it, right enough."

"No, Billy Mentone," said Stone quickly. He clicked with his tongue.
"Gosh! but she's got a nerve! She shook hands with me as she was coming
in here as if we were the greatest friends, and when she smiled at me I
felt devilish glad she was going to get off." He sighed. "She's very
fascinating isn't she?"

"No, she's not a bit to me," retorted the Superintendent. "She's just a
high class society woman who, if she wants to, will break as many laws
as the dirtiest little drab of the streets. But just because her clothes
cost a lot of money and she uses nice smelling scent, elderly men like
you----"

"Hush! hush! Here they come!" interrupted Stone.

The jury filed back into the box, and after the usual preliminaries, the
foreman announced "Wilful murder by some person unknown."

"Certainly not," whispered Stone. "We know quite well who did it." He
grinned as he rose from his seat. "But I'm going to have another sniff
of that scent as she goes out of the door."

It was a very merry dinner that night at the Priory. Aker-Banks was
delaying his departure until he had made a little love to Eva, and Sir
Charles had run down for a couple of hours.

"I've been keeping away, on purpose," whispered the latter to Larose. "I
knew everything would be all right, but I didn't want it to be said I
was using my official position to influence anybody in any way."

Larose took Adele into dinner, and he noted what a different woman she
appeared to be now. The hard, cold lines had dropped from her face, as
it were like the stripping of a mask, and when she looked at her husband
sitting opposite to her, as she very often did, her eyes had the look of
tenderness in them as when a young girl just falls in love.

Eva's eyes were very bright and sparkling, and one of her cheeks was
much redder than the other. Billy Mentone remarked demurely that Jimmy
Aker-Banks ought really to bring his razor down with him.

Beatrice looked as beautiful and madonna-like as ever, and there was a
quiet and restful peace upon her face that Larose had not seen before.
Once, glancing round to see that everyone was being looked after, she
caught Larose's eye, and blushing prettily, she lifted her glass of
champagne and gave him a silent toast. He lifted his glass in return and
then lowered his eyes.

"Gilbert, Gilbert," he chided himself angrily, "what would your wife say
if she knew?" He nodded. "Perhaps, it's a good thing I'm going home
tomorrow. I must be a bad man."

Just after nine o'clock Sir Charles and Eva's future husband took their
departures and a few minutes later Dr. Athol and his wife prepared to
go, too.

"I'm sure we all want a good long sleep," smiled the doctor. "I don't
seem to have had a decent one for weeks," and when his wife had gone to
put on her hat, he drew Larose to one side.

"Good-bye, sir," he said. He looked Larose straight in the face. "And if
I don't see you again, I'll tell you now"--there was a catch in his
voice--"you've been the best friend one man and one woman ever had."

"A great pleasure," commented Larose lightly. "We wicked people are
often quite good at heart." He laughed. "The religion of kindness has no
temples and no priests, but all the same it's not a bad faith to adhere
to."

As they were making their way to the doctor's car, in the drive, Mrs.
Athol lingered behind with Larose and then suddenly gripped him by the
arm. "Tell me, did you ever hear of a girl called Adele?" she whispered
quickly.

The muscles of Larose's arm became rigid, and he gave a big gasp. "Ah! I
thought so," she went on. "An instinct told me it was you. But quick,
how did you come to get hold of those letters?"

"I suspected your husband of the murder once, and searched his room one
night," replied Larose, speaking very rapidly. "Then just as I had found
that packet, and before I could go through its contents, I was
interrupted, and had to run from the house. I thought they were the
letters Lady Mentone had been blackmailed about, but I wouldn't have
touched them for one moment if I had known whose they were."

"Well, it's a good thing you did," she whispered, bending close over to
him, "or I should not be the happy woman I am tonight."

With the doctor and Adele gone, the little party returned to the lounge
and a long silence fell upon them. Then Beatrice said a little
nervously. "We're so sorry you are going tomorrow, Mr. Larose. You've
been such a tower of strength to us through all this."

"Yes, you have," nodded Eva emphatically. She smiled. "And although you
didn't actually drive the detectives away, and you didn't stop them from
suspecting us"--she shrugged her shoulders--"you somehow gave us
courage, and made us not half so much afraid of them as we should have
been without you." She turned affectionately to Lady Mentone. "Isn't
that so, Billy, dear?"

Billy nodded solemnly. "Yes, he's been a great friend and we've not felt
lonely since he came." She sighed prettily. "Speaking for myself, I
think, however, it is a good thing he's going, as I'm beginning to get
quite fond of him."

They all laughed, and then Eva went on thoughtfully. "My great regret is
you'll perhaps always be worrying that you didn't find the murderer."

Larose laughed. "Not at all," he replied. "When I've done all I can in a
case, I put it out of my mind and think no more about it." He became
grave all at once. "But look here. I've been thinking how I can best say
good-bye to you all, and I'd like you to do me a favor." He took them
all in in turn. "I'd like to have ten minutes' talk with each of
you--alone." He smiled. "I think I can give you some good advice. So
what about it?"

"Certainly," nodded Eva promptly. "I am quite agreeable, at all events,"
and then both Beatrice and Billy agreed, too, but in their cases, it
almost seemed a little nervously.

"Well," went on Larose briskly, "you'll each come with me into the
library, and you'll all promise me that when I have done with you,
you'll go straight to bed and not see one another again until tomorrow
morning." He held up his hand. "Also, you'll all promise me you'll
never, all your lives, tell one another what I have said to you." He
looked round very solemnly at them. "Now, is that a bargain?"

For quite a long moment none of them made any reply, and then it was
Billy who spoke first. "Yes," she said, "I'll promise." She made a
grimace. "I suppose you're going to lecture us!"

"No," laughed Larose carelessly. "I'm just curious and want to ask you
all something," and then the other two sisters agreeing, too, he asked.
"Well, which of you will come first?"

"Oh, I will," exclaimed Lady Mentone at once. "I'm scared and want to
get it over."

"All right, the youngest first," said Larose, "and after you, I'll take
Miss Eva."

So off Lady Mentone marched him to the library and then, with the door
closed, she flung herself into an armchair. "Well, Sir Gilbert," she
asked with a fine assumption of carelessness. "What is it?"

"I just want to suggest," said Larose gravely, "that you must not let
your mind keep on wondering who killed that man." He spoke very slowly.
"I think you had better take it for granted it was poor Myrtle."

"But are you certain she did it?" asked Lady Mentone quickly.

Larose smiled. "Who can be certain of anything?" he asked. He nodded.
"Still the evidence against her is stronger than against anybody else,
and we must leave it at that."

"All right," said Lady Mentone. "I won't worry." She looked round to
make sure the door was closed, and suddenly bent forward towards Larose.
"But do you know," she went on in a hoarse whisper, "that I've got a
horrible idea Beatrice and Eva both suspect something about me. When we
got home after the inquest they both made a special point of coming into
my bedroom and kissing me, as if to say. 'Oh, you're quite safe now, and
so don't worry any more!'" Her eyes opened very wide. "Do you think
they've come to believe that Inspector Stone was right, and I had once
written guilty letters?"

But Larose laughed it off, assuring her that it was only imagination and
that no one but he, the doctor, and Mary Athol could possibly know.

They talked on for a few minutes and then Billy said suddenly, "You like
Beatrice, best of us all, don't you, Mr. Larose? Oh, no, you needn't
blush, but I'm quite sure of it. An instinct tells me so." She looked
very solemn. "Well, she thinks a lot of you and will take notice of what
you say. So, you just tell her to marry Mr. Vavasour. She doesn't love
him, of course, but he'll make her a splendid husband, and she'll get
very fond of him in time." She suddenly remembered something. "Oh, my
husband told me on the quiet tonight that poor Augustine has got into a
lot of hot water on account of burying Myrtle in our churchyard. Several
bishops are down upon him, and only the Bishop of Norwich says he did
right." She sighed. "Poor Augustine, he's such a stickler for propriety
and tradition, and it was Beatrice who led him astray." She spoke most
emphatically. "Yes, Beatrice must marry him, to make up for his lost
reputation."

Larose saw her from the room and then went and fetched Eva. The latter's
face was a little flushed and she eyed him rather defiantly. "And what
is it you want?" she asked sharply.

Larose smiled. "First, a promise from you that you will speak the
absolute truth, with no prevarication and keeping nothing back. Do you
agree?"

Eva hesitated and, for her, looked very uncomfortable. "Y-e-s. I suppose
so," she replied. She spoke quickly. "I mean, of course."

"I am obliged to mention that," said Larose quietly, "because a lot of
untruths were told at the inquest today"--he nodded significantly--"and
a lot more have been told before that."

Eva made no comment, but her eyes were fixed intently upon him. He
rapped out sharply. "Now, do you know who killed that man?"

Eva's face was quite expressionless. "No," she retorted instantly in a
tone that was equally as sharp as his. "I don't."

"Good!" commented Larose calmly. "Then don't you try to find out." He
spoke in cold and mater-of-fact tones, "Never give either of your
sisters the very slightest idea that you know it was one or other of
them who did it. You understand?"

"I hear you," replied Eva a little breathlessly and suppressing her
amazement, only with a great effort.

Larose went on. "Now, I said a lot of untruths were told at the inquest
today and, among others, Mrs. Jackson and you both told them. I won't
call your untruths lies, because that is a harsh word, and, to my
thinking, should not be used about an untruth when that untruth is
uttered justifiably." He spoke between his clenched teeth. "That Toller
was a vile creature, Miss Eva, much viler than I hope you ever will
learn. So, whoever shot him did so, as we would destroy a rat earning
the infection of a dreadful plague. It was an act of God, if you will
have it so, but it was carried out through human agency, and if you
pray"--he inclined his head--"remember the killer in your prayers."

Eva's face was a study of most delighted and thankful relief. "Oh, thank
you, thank you, Mr. Larose," she exclaimed fervently, and with all her
caution now thrown to the winds. "I could embrace you for saving that.
It takes such a load off my mind."

"Well, you need have no grieving about that man's death," said Larose
emphatically. "Indeed, after his vile persecution of your sister his end
was much too merciful. Of course, if he had fallen into the hands of the
law he would have received a severe punishment of a kind, but it would
have been nothing to the punishment and misery that would have come to
you from the publicity that would have ensued."

"B-ut, Mr. Larose," began Eva hesitatingly, "then there were letters,
and Inspector Stone was----"

Larose raised his hand protestingly. "Better not ask questions," he said
smilingly, "and then all your life long there will be no critical
thoughts to come between you and those you love." He spoke warmly. "I
honor and respect both your sisters, and, looking at things sensibly,
they neither of them have much to grieve over."

Eva gave a little shiver of fear. "But I knew all along that there was
danger somewhere, yet somehow all along, too, I felt you were acting as
our protector." A sudden thought came to her and she asked quickly. "And
what part have you played in all this, Mr. Larose?"

Larose's eyes twinkled. "Oh, I came just in time to spike their guns. I
was lucky, for by a few hours only I was able to make things safe." He
looked intently at her. "Now, one thing more. Mrs. Jackson misled the
court this morning. She did receive a letter from her niece in which the
girl wrote she was glad Toller was dead, adding she 'had written them
she would never tell.'" He nodded. "I suppose, of course, that was what
was in her letter to you?"

Eva nodded back. "Yes, her letter to me contained just one brief line.
'You are quite safe, for I shall not tell anyone'." She sighed deeply.
"And do you wonder everything became a nightmare to me then, and that I
was horrified every moment what was going to come out next. I could see
that both Beatrice and Billy were worried almost out of their lives
about something, and although I dropped them hints, they wouldn't
confide in me. I didn't want to ask them straight-out, for I was afraid,
if I did not know the truth, what effect it might have upon me. As it
was, being sure of nothing, I could keep up my courage and face those
awful detectives bravely."

"And very bravely you did face them," nodded Larose. "I am sure it was
you who made even Inspector Stone believe there was no collusion between
you all." He made a grimace. "But you must agree that Chime had made
everything look very black against you girls."

"Yes, I can't understand Chime," said Eva with a frown. "Thank Heaven,
after that first night, he's never told the same story twice." She
laughed. "But, really, I have never known him so absolutely stupid, as
he was in the witness box today. In a general way, he's certainly by no
means a fool, but this morning it was exactly as if he'd got no
intelligence at all."

"And it was a good thing for you that he seemed like that," nodded
Larose, "for he quite convinced the coroner that no reliance could be
placed upon anything he said, and that therefore there might be no truth
in that damning story which he gave to the police on that night."

"But Chime's always been a funny mixture," went on Eva, "and we have
often said among ourselves that we can't quite make him out. He's like a
child in some ways, and yet in others he's very intelligent. For
instance, he's by far the best chess-player in the village here, and he
can beat the rector, who used to think himself pretty good."

"Well, you know your cue," said Larose, when after a few moment's
silence Eva had risen to her feet. "Never refer to this conversation and
never try to find out which of your sisters killed him."

"I never will," said Eva earnestly. "Whichever one did it, although I
don't think any the worse of her, I don't want to know." She held out
her hand, "Good-night, Mr. Larose, I'll think of something nice to say
tomorrow, when I bid you good-bye."

"Oh! one moment," exclaimed Larose. "One thing more. I'm puzzling now,
as to why you suggested sending for me when you were already suspecting
one of your sisters had killed the man." He frowned at her enquiringly.
"Why did you do it?"

Eva looked most amused. "Because my Jimmy had, laughingly, told me I had
better. He said in fun, over the phone, that if there really was a
murderer in the family and one of us had shot Toller for a good
cause--Jimmy had always hated him and complained about us keeping him
on, because he said he looked such a satyr--then you would be the very
man to help us, as you were quite capable of saving all our necks by
leading all Scotland Yard away upon a false trail." She laughed merrily.
"He declared you were criminally minded yourself, in a nice way."

"Oh, he did, did he?" laughed back Larose. "Well, you tell him I'll have
a quarrel with him about it, one day."

Larose brought Beatrice into the library with a little quickening of the
beating of his heart. She, however, was quite cool and collected.

"Well, what's the great secret?" she asked brightly, seating herself
comfortably in a chair. "I am very curious as to why you should be
wanting to interview us like this?"

"It was really only you that I wanted to speak to," replied Larose
lightly, "but I didn't intend the others to know that." He spoke very
quietly, dropping his voice almost to a whisper. "Yes, I just wanted to
tell you that you could always be quite assured in your mind now that
neither of your sisters would ever know it was you who shot your agent."
He spoke as emphatically as possible. "Indeed, no one will ever know and
it will be a secret between you and me for ever."

For a few seconds she stared at him as if she could not take in what he
was telling her. Then she grew deathly pale and a look of frozen calm
came over her face.

"No, no, don't look at me like that," he went on quickly. "You know I'm
your friend and so you have nothing to fear from me." He shook his head
emphatically. "You needn't be afraid of anybody now."

She pulled herself together with a great effort. "How do you know I did
it?" she asked fiercely. "You haven't any proof?"

"No, I have no proof, and no one else will be able to have any either,"
he replied instantly. "I only surmise it." He smiled. "But it's a pretty
good surmise, for lots of little things suggest it, and I half suspected
it from the very first."

She made no attempt at any denial. "Yes, I did it," she said wearily,
"and it will haunt me all my life. Always, when with others, I shall be
wearing a mask, but when I'm by myself----"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Larose. "Yours was an act of justice, and,
although, of course, illegal, you have really nothing to reproach
yourself with. You overheard him blackmailing your sister, and if you
were listening when he made his vile demands, then----"

"I was," she interrupted fiercely, "but I didn't kill him for that,
only. I--I----" her voice choked, and then with a sudden movement she
drew herself up and slipped the shoulder strap of her dress. "Look,
look, I killed him for that. He had been drinking, and he bit me there,"
and she fell back limply into the chair.

Larose gave just one lightning glance at the half healed and still angry
wound upon the white shoulder as he sprang forward to catch her from
slipping to the floor.

Then, to his great relief, she did not faint, but burst into a flood of
passionate tears, her body shaking, and her breath coming convulsively.

Now in after-time and when thinking things over, Larose always told
himself that, although he never could quite remember all that happened
in the immediate minutes that followed, of some things he was quite
sure. He knew that he took her in his arms and held her tightly to him,
and that later he sat her up and put back the shoulder strap with
shaking fingers. Also, he recollected that he dried her tears for her,
and stroked her hair to comfort her. In fact, he took no shame in
thinking he did the very best he could to help her recover her
composure. But he was quite sure he never actually kissed her, although
he might have just brushed her hair lightly with his lips.

At any rate, under his ministrations, she soon began to recover, and,
with deep blushes, to rearrange her disordered dress.

Then haltingly, with long pauses and averted eyes, she told him her
tale, and a pitiful and dreadful tale it was.

When the ball was in progress, she began to get worried early about
Billy, because she thought her sister was looking unusually pale, and
missing her from the ballroom about an hour later, she started to find
out where she had gone. Then she was horrified to see her, through the
palms in the conservatory, in earnest conversation with the agent.

For the moment she had been almost unable to believe her eyes, and had
stopped dead in her astonishment. Then the first words that reached her
made her crouch down in terror, and then, creeping up behind them, she
had heard his demands.

Then all the next day she had watched with agony Billy's distress of
mind, thinking of every possible way in which she could help her. When
night came, she had made up her mind what she would do, and feeling
quite sure that her sister was too ill to leave her room, she crept out
and made her way to the agent's bungalow. The door was open and she
walked straight into the office. Toller had risen to his feet upon
hearing her footsteps and was smiling when she entered the room, but his
face fell directly he saw who had come.

Then she tried a big bluff with him. She told him Billy had related
everything to her, and if he did not at once hand over the letters, they
were going into their friend, the Chief Constable, on the morrow, to lay
everything before him. She also said Toller was to leave the bungalow by
9 o'clock the next morning.

At first, she thought Toller was frightened, but he soon recovered
himself, and said sneeringly that it was no good her trying to bluff
him, as no married woman would dare run the risk of her husband seeing
letters such as Billy had written. He reiterated his demand for the
money, and laughed contemptuously at any idea of his leaving the Priory
until he had got it.

"Then he must have seen that I was frightened myself," went on Beatrice
tearfully, "and had only been trying to bluff him, for he said the one
alternative to the 5,000 was that I should marry him. Then, when I was
glaring at him and quite speechless in my rage, he made a sudden grab at
me." Her voice was only just a whisper. "Then when he had me in his arms
and I was so paralysed with terror that I could do nothing to save
myself, he bent over me and gave me that wound. But somehow he slipped
on the floor and before he could get up, I had escaped and was out of
the bungalow."

"Awful! awful!" ejaculated Larose, "enough to have driven you out of
your mind." He shuddered. "You did right to kill him."

"I swore I would," said Beatrice brokenly. "I took down father's rifle
and got two cartridges out of the box and----"

"Two cartridges?" queried Larose sharply. "Then what did you do with the
other one?"

"I don't know," she replied. "I was holding it in my hand, I think. At
any rate, I cannot remember what became of it. Well, I crept to the
office window, which was open and, putting my hand inside, snapped up
the blind. He was sitting back in the armchair, and I saw the whites of
his eyes show when he saw me with the rifle." She covered her face with
her hands. "Then I shot him, and the rest you know."

A long silence ensued and then Larose remarked thoughtfully. "And there
was no barking from the dog, because he had followed you back here and
then returned with you again to the bungalow." He nodded. "That was what
puzzled us all--why the gardener had not heard him make any sound."

"He jumped at me the first time I went to the bungalow," said Beatrice,
"but the second time I think he must have gone straight into his
basket." Then a thought seemed to strike her suddenly, and at once she
looked very frightened again. "But what about Billy?" she asked with a
trembling voice. "Are those letters always going to be like a sword
hanging over her head?"

"No. They are burnt and done with now," smiled Larose assuringly. And
then he went on to relate to her the whole story of how he had come to
learn of their existence, and all that had happened after. He passed
over very lightly, however, her sister's one-time relations with Mark
Aaronson.

"So now," he finished up cheerfully, "no motive can ever be found why
any of you girls should have wished Toller harm."

Beatrice had listened with moist eyes, and then, when he had stopped
speaking for a few moments she let her hand rest lightly upon one of
his. "Oh! what should we have done without you?" she asked plaintively.
"They would have arrested Billy, and then I should have had to come
forward with the whole awful story."

Larose passed it off with a laugh. "Well, it's all over now," he said,
"and it only remains for you to forget as much of it as you can. Time
will soon blunt the sharpness of your memory, and when you're married
you'll----"

"But I'm never going to marry," interrupted Beatrice quickly. "I'm not
fit to be anyone's wife now."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Larose emphatically. "There's no man in all the
kingdom you are not fit to marry. Any woman would be perfectly justified
if she shot such a man, and if you had actually been put on trial for it
no jury would have been willing to say you had been guilty of a crime,
and no judge would have punished you for what you did." He regarded her
smilingly. "Besides, you'll have to marry that poor rector now as some
compensation for his disgrace. Eva has just told me nearly all his
superiors are furious with him because of that burial here--which, you
know, was entirely your work."

Beatrice looked uncomfortable, and then, a little animation coming into
her voice, she asked curiously, "What made you suspect me at all?"

"Lots of things," smiled Larose. "When Inspector Stone was questioning
you and asking you why you did this and why you did that, you had all
your reasons so ready to the tip of your tongue that I felt sure you
must have been thinking them all out beforehand. Then those pages you
tore from your diary made things look very suspicious, and I was pretty
confident that you had written up all the four pages again especially
for me. Then, when I found out about Billy, and got the confession from
her about the blackmailing, you came into the picture at once. The cook
had told me that upon the night of the ball, just as the orchestra had
struck up 'The Merry Widow,' she saw you crossing the lounge--and you
could only have been coming from the conservatory--looking very tired
and white."

"I don't wonder," sighed Beatrice, "after what I'd just been through."

"Well," went on Larose, "looking up the memorandum I had made of
Toller's dance programme and comparing it with the pieces played by the
orchestra, I saw at once that you must have been in the conservatory
when Billy was in there with that wretch. The dance before 'The Merry
Widow' waltz was the one she sat out with him." He nodded. "Then I
guessed you must have heard something of their conversation."

He smiled. "The stand you made about where the Marriott girl was to be
buried made me think a lot, too. You were so determined she should be
buried here, when exactly where she was going to be buried should have
been of small interest to you. But I had got a very good idea of your
character by then and judged that knowing she was not the murderer, your
conscience was insisting her memory should not suffer because of what
you yourself had done."

He took a folded paper out of his pocket. "And this made me quite
certain you were the one who had shot the man. It is a page from the
motor catalogue he was reading just before he was killed. See what he
has drawn and written under the drawing in pencil."

With a shiver of repugnance, she took the page from him, and saw upon it
the quite well-executed drawing of a man embracing a girl. The girl's
face was not visible and she appeared to be struggling. Under the
drawing was written 'little spit-fire.'

"And so when you admitted in the church that night to the rector," went
on Larose, "that you had been called a little spit-fire before and
admitted it, too, with such troubled expression upon your face, as if
the memory were disturbing--the whole scene of what might perhaps have
taken place that night in the bungalow flashed into my mind. You had
gone there, unknown to everyone, and you had repulsed Toller when he had
tried to kiss you."

He rose from his chair. "But now better go," he said. "It's nearly
half-past ten, and you mustn't meet Chime with that tear-stained face,
when he comes to lock up." He raised his hand warningly. "Remember now,
none but you and I, in all the world, will ever know who killed Toller."
He nodded. "So try to forget it as quickly as you can."

He moved to the door to open it for her. "Good-night, Beatrice," he
said, very softly, and when she looked up shyly and answered,
"Good-night--Gilbert," he took her hand and raised it reverently to his
lips.

A few minutes later, as he was thoughtfully smoking a cigarette, Chime
came to know if he wanted anything. "No, thank you," he replied and then
remembering the gruelling the butler had received that afternoon at the
inquest, he added kindly, "Oh, if I were you, Chime, I shouldn't take
too much to heart what the coroner said about you, today. I shouldn't
worry about it."

"I'm not, sir," replied Chime instantly. He smiled a slow, inscrutable
smile. "I am sure I am very pleased if I was able to be of any service
to the young ladies by appearing so stupid."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Larose sharply, rather puzzled at the
curious expression upon the man's face.

The butler hesitated. "W-e-ll you see, sir," he replied, "it was me who
brought all the trouble on them in the first instance, and it's been a
great grief to me ever since. If I had only had the sense to have held
my tongue and not butted in that night, no one would have had any
suspicion about my mistresses, and we should all have been spared the
dreadful time we have been through."

"But what's that to do with your being such a dope at the inquest
today?" asked Larose with a frown.

"Well, it's like this, sir," explained the butler, looking rather
sheepish. "When I came to hear the gardener's story, the next morning, I
saw how unpleasant it was going to be for the young ladies here, because
of what I had told the Superintendent about the noises I had heard in
the hall." He dropped his eyes to the ground. "So I began to alter my
tale a bit, and then to hum and haw and say I wasn't certain, and then
I've kept on with it all along." He looked up furtively to see how
Larose was taking his admissions. "No harm done, sir. Only a little
prevarication just to make thinks easier for us, and I didn't at all
mind them thinking I was an old fool."

Larose thought afterwards that he had never been more astonished in his
life. "But goodness gracious!" he exclaimed very concerned, "you'll be
had up for perjury if that gets's known. You mustn't tell it to a soul."

"Oh, no, I shan't sir," replied Chime instantly. He nodded. "I know when
to keep a still tongue and I am only telling it to you, just as I would
talk to a priest in the confessional." He smiled. "Besides, I know I am
quite safe with you, sir, as you are the friend of the young mistresses.
Why, I was just behind two of the Colchester detectives in the court
this morning and I heard one of them say that Superintendent Russell had
told someone that you had queered the pitch for the police by getting
rid of some evidence that would certainly have secured a conviction." He
nodded again. "Yes, I know I'm quite safe with you."

"And don't you repeat that again, either," said Larose sharply. He
smiled. "Or I shall be getting a bad reputation. I'm a justice of the
peace in my own county, you must understand."

A short silence followed, and then Chime said tentatively. "And I
suppose it's quite certain, sir, we shan't be worried any more by the
police?"

Larose shook his head. "No, they won't come here again. They've
finished."

The butler still lingered. "I should like to believe it was Myrtle who
killed him," he said meditatively, "but I can't think it was, for I'm
certain she knew nothing about rifles." He paused for a moment. "So, I
should like to believe one of the young ladies did it, instead."

"But why on earth should one of them want to do it?" asked Larose,
curious at the turn the conversation was taking.

Chime pursed up his lips. "He was always insulting them, sir, if they
had only realised it. Every look he gave them was an insult. He was a
dreadful man!"

"But it was not one of them who killed him," said Larose sharply. "You
understand that?"

"Oh, yes, sir," replied the butler instantly, "and I wouldn't for one
moment suggest it." He cleared his throat embarrassedly. "But I had a
dream, sir, the other night. A very peculiar one, and it shows what
funny things one can dream." He looked intently at Larose. "I dreamt I
had just come in from talking to that gardener upon the morning after
the murder. It was still very early, it wasn't six o'clock, and none of
the maids were yet about. I was just passing through the hall when
something bright, half-way up the stairs, caught my eye. The sun was
shining upon it, and I thought it must be something one of the young
ladies had dropped, as that staircase is only used by them. So I went up
the stairs and picked it up"--he was still looking intently at
Larose--"and what do you think it was, sir?"

The face of Larose was like a wooden mark. He was preparing himself for
some uncomfortable surprise. "How should I know?" he asked carelessly.
"What was it?"

"A little cartridge, sir," replied the butler very solemnly, "just like
those others, in the drawer, that belong to the little rifle." He smiled
as if he were pleased at the memory of his sagacity. "I remember I
slipped it back where I thought it had come from, as quickly as
possible, and this time"--he nodded vigorously--"I was sensible enough
to hold my tongue."

Larose stretched himself and yawned. "It was a dream, of course," he
remarked in a tired voice, "only a dream!"

"Yes, sir, only a dream," agreed Chime instantly, "and it is one I shall
never mention again to anyone." He cleared his throat. "I have only told
it to you, sir, because I should like you to know I'm very fond of the
young mistresses, and have done my best to atone for my first mistake.
Good night, sir," and he glided out of the room closing the door
noiselessly behind him.

"Whew!" whistled Larose softly, "and I thought I'd played the leading
part in this drama, but now I see it's old Chime who's been the hero all
along!" He whistled again. "Whew! but what an escape for that little
lady!"

* * * *

The autumn leaves were falling when Larose, at his own home, Carmel
Abbey, received a long and chatty letter from Lady Mentone. After
mentioning that they were all quite well and had had no further dealings
with policemen or detectives, she went on to say that, to the great
surprise of everyone and to the great anger of not a few, Mr. Vavasour
had been offered and had accepted the Deanery of Norwich Cathedral. So,
he and Beatrice were going to be married next month, and of course he,
Larose, and Mrs. Larose, would in due time be receiving an invitation to
attend the ceremony.

She finished up with the postscript--"Beatrice sends her very kind
regards to you, and I am to be sure and tell you that all her wounds are
healed now."

"What does she mean by that?" asked Helen Larose, who had been reading
the letter over her husband's shoulder.

"Oh, I suppose that she is beginning to get over the awful trial she
went through," replied Larose carelessly. "She's very sensitive and, I
think, suffered more than anybody."

Helen looked thoughtful. "But I'm always sorry you didn't find out who
killed the man." She stroked her husband's head affectionately. "I
should hate to think anyone had the impression you had become a
back-number."

"Well, if I didn't find out much," laughed Larose, "I certainly made a
good impression, or they wouldn't be asking us to this wedding that's
coming on."

"Of course, I expect they liked you," smiled his wife. She pretended to
look very severe. "And you liked one of them, too, for I remember now
you were talking about some Beatrice the other night in your sleep."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose readily, "but wasn't that the name you were
suggesting to give the new heifer calf?" and then he looked very
reproachfully at his wife when she laughed scornfully.

*   *   *   *   *

A little less than a year later Inspector Stone and Larose happened to
meet one morning in Bond street, and they stopped and shook hands
cordially.

After a few minute's conversation upon general matters, the Inspector
said carelessly. "Oh, by the bye, last week I saw a paragraph in a
Society paper, remarking how interesting it was that all of the three
Brabazon-Fane girls had presented their husbands with a baby within the
same twelve months."

"Well, what about it?" frowned Larose. "Does the Yard object?"

"Oh, no, not that I've heard of," replied Stone quickly. He looked
intently at his friend. "But I was wondering what they've called them.
Do you know?"

"Certainly, I do," said Larose, "and as a matter of fact I'm one of the
godfathers of the baby the eldest sister had. It's a girl and she's
called her Helen after my wife. They have become great friends. Then
Lady Mentone's little boy is called Charles and----"

"It's called Charles after me?" broke in the Inspector, his face one
broad and delighted smile.

"No, you silly old fool," laughed Larose, "after her husband, of
course!"

"Oh, oh!" ejaculated Stone, pretending to be very disappointed, "but I
quite thought----"

"And Eva's is called James," went on Larose, ignoring the interruption.
"They are all beautiful babies. I've seen the lot of them."

"Well, well, but I'm delighted," frowned Stone, shaking his head
mournfully, "for I did hope I might get a certain clue at last." He
lowered his voice darkly. "I felt sure that, as some atonement, the
guilty one would have named her firstborn Edwin, and then--down
past-haste with a warrant we would have gone," but then, seeing the
contemptuous scorn with which Larose was pretending to regard him, his
face broke into another delighted smile.



THE END.



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