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Title: The Tragedy of the Silver Moon Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1300351h.html Language: English Date first posted: January 2013 Date most recently updated: January 2013 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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An unknown assassin is at work in London: five persons have already met their deaths—treacherously, mysteriously. An anonymous letter defies Larose to unmask the cowardly criminal. Gladly does Larose accept the challenge and, by dint of brilliant deduction, the master detective finally runs his quarry to earth.
Gilbert Larose is one of the best-known figures in modern mystery fiction—a character, as one critic put it, "clever enough to compel admiration and human enough to carry conviction."
This new novel is in Arthur Gask's most inspired and thrilling vein, endorsing yet again the Sunday Mercury's tribute that he "knows all there is to know of how to write a good mystery story."
CHAPTER I.—THE CRAFT OF THE QUACK.
CHAPTER II.—THE EXECUTIONER.
CHAPTER III.—BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
CHAPTER IV.—THE THUG IN OUR MIDST.
CHAPTER V.—ANOTHER SENTENCE OF DEATH.
CHAPTER VI.—ON THE TRACK OF THE THUG.
CHAPTER VII.—THE TRAIL OF BLOOD.
CHAPTER VIII.—RUN TO EARTH.
PROFESSOR PARIS STARBANK, for so he called himself, had a long string of letters after his name, but they did not indicate diplomas which had been granted to him by any recognised university or college and were quite worthless as far as his ability in any walk of life was concerned. Their meaning was of course, unintelligible to most people, but they meant that he belonged to the Society of Natural Healers, was a member of the Dietetic Brotherhood, and had joined the Union of Universal Therapeutists.
The Professor was a man of varied attainments, and in his time had been a chemist's errand boy, an employee in the Zoological Gardens, a kennelman to a veterinary surgeon, a conjurer, and a chauffeur and handyman to an East End practitioner of medicine. From the experiences gained in these occupations he now carried on a very successful practice as a quack doctor, styling himself "Professor" to avoid trouble with the police.
From his association with the chemist and the East End doctor he had started to acquire a knowledge of medicine, from his work with the veterinary surgeon he had learnt the use of the knife, from handling wild animals he had cultivated courage and authority, and from his conjuring he had come to realise that the great majority of people were quite easy to deceive.
He was of medium height, stoutish build, and about forty years of age. He had a large and heavy type of face, with full rounded cheeks and shrewd, calculating eyes. In repose his mouth was anything but kind.
Still, altogether he was by no means ugly, and hiding a cunningness of expression with an ever-ready smile, he passed with most people as a man of broad understanding and most sympathetically inclined.
Dressed smartly and in excellent taste, his outward appearance was that of an educated professional man, and no one would have supposed his father had been only a porter in the meat-market and his mother a little drab serving in a fried-fish shop. It was only when he spoke quickly and without care that one would have had grave doubts both as to his gentility and education, for then his aspirates were often missing and his grammar often incorrect.
A bachelor, his private residence was a good-class house in the best part of Hampstead, where a gardener-butler and a housekeeper ministered to his comfort. His consulting-rooms were at 69 Edgware Road, a corner building of five stories where he occupied as a self-contained flat, the whole ground floor of five rooms, with the yard at the back also included in his tenancy. The entrance to his flat was in a side street round the corner.
The professional rooms were furnished stylishly, with good engravings upon the walls, comfortable leather-covered chairs, and thick carpets covering all the floors. Two smart girls in the late twenties, dressed as nurses, were always in attendance. The Professor himself was always attired in spotless white ducks during his consulting hours.
His practice was quite a large one, and often seeing over twenty patients a day, he made plenty of money. Many of the patients were well dressed, and apparently of a good class. Not a few of them could have driven up in expensive cars had they so wished, but for reasons best known to themselves they preferred to park or garage their cars some distance away and arrive at the rooms on foot. Most of these latter patients were women.
Sometimes the Professor attended patients at their own homes, and then, upon occasions, his ways were most peculiar. He would not arrive until after nightfall, and the house would have to be in perfect darkness, or he would not enter. He would go, too, all muffled up, and spoke only in a hoarse whisper, so it was impossible for any of the patients to swear afterwards who it was who had actually attended them.
The police had their suspicions about a lot of things and were very interested in him. Not a few times they had called at the consulting-rooms to ask him certain questions. Then, however, he had neither seen nor heard of the person they were inquiring about, or else he stated he had only given a very harmless indigestion medicine, containing only the simplest drugs.
He had been invited to attend several coroners' inquests, upon subpoena of course, but somehow he had never been able to help on the inquiries in any way, always assuming the pained attitude of a much maligned and misunderstood man.
The police had gnashed their teeth in impotent rage, being quite certain he would many times have been sent to penal servitude if only they could have sheeted home to him his undoubted guilt.
Among his unlawful activities they knew that he was trafficking in forbidden drugs, but although they had twice raided both his private house and his professional rooms, they had found nothing. To add to their fury, upon these occasions he had not showed the slightest resentment at their search. On the contrary, he had bowed them out, for all the world as if they were among his most valued and respected patients.
"And who'll dare to tell us," had snarled Inspector Tullock once to his colleague, Inspector Miles, when they were out in the street again, "that this ignorant quack here makes enough money to keep up all this style by pretending to treat people like a properly trained doctor? Why, he'd have been found out years and years ago, for he can't know anything about the business. Damn it all, he used to be cleaning out the hyenas' cages in the Zoo not long ago, and with all his silk shirts and suede gloves he's only an ignorant, common fellow." He had sworn angrily. "He's cunning, right enough. I'll grant you that."
And certainly this self-styled Professor was cunning, for he managed to avoid all the traps which were set for him. He was always suspicious of people with big feet and could smell out, as if by instinct, a member of the Women Police who had been sent as a bogus patient to him. Directly she entered the room, one glance was sufficient to tell him what she was, and then, by a pre-arranged signal, the moving of the ink-pot upon his desk, the nurse in attendance never left his side. Upon these occasions, too, he always demanded his fee of one guinea in advance, and then would decline to examine the patient, and only discuss diet and regular exercise as a means of restoring lost health.
When a patient came accompanied by a friend he was always suspicious again, and to the talk which ensued neither the Chairman of the British Medical Association nor the Chief Commissioner of Police could have taken the slightest exception. It was a rule of life with Professor Starbank—never incriminate himself in front of a witness.
But the inspector had been quite wrong in stating that the Professor could know nothing about medicine. On the contrary, by the time the police came to be interested in him he had picked up quite a lot about the art of healing. He subscribed to a medical library and took in medical journals, being able both to understand and assimilate a lot of what he read. Added to that he had acquired quite a profound knowledge of human nature.
Indeed, there could be no denying he had made some remarkable cures, and among others, Sir Pompey Beadle, the wealthy company promoter, was a great feather in his cap. This man of many hundreds of thousands of hard cash swore right and left to all his cronies that Starbank knew more about diseases than all Harley and Wimpole Streets put together.
Sir Pompey's had been quite an interesting case, for he had been the despair of practitioners in the West End, with irritating rashes upon his arms, legs and stomach. Nothing had seemed to do them any good, for Sir Pompey had absolutely refused to give up his heavy dinners, his champagne, his liqueurs and his old vintage port. Then one day he had heard of Professor Starbank, and as much to annoy his regular medical men as for any other reason, had gone to him.
"Can you cure me?" he asked scowlingly. "Mind you, I'm not going to alter my mode of living. I've lived the same way for twenty years and it can't be doing me any harm."
"Quite so," agreed the Professor judicially. "Indeed, I consider it would be unwise to do so." He nodded. "Yes, I can cure you in a fortnight, and you'll begin to get better almost at once." He had sized up his man and spoke sternly and with no cringing. "But you'll have to follow my instructions minutely and come here every day, permitting nothing to interfere with your attendances."
"Well, what are you going to do?" asked Sir Pompey, rather taken aback at being addressed, as he thought, so cavalierly by a practitioner who lived in so unfashionable a quarter as the Edgware Road.
"I'm going to give you some special Red Rays and some very strong medicine, of which you're only to take the exact amount, not a quarter of a teaspoonful more or less. I shall only supply you with a day's quantity of the medicine upon each visit, so that you won't be tempted to take more, and you're on no account to drink it within an hour of any food or it will be most dangerous to you. You're to take it an hour before each meal and the last thing at night. You can have just the usual things to eat and drink which you are accustomed to, except that you're not to take burgundy or any white wines."
Then Sir Pompey was conducted into a room well filled with electrical appliances of various kinds and, with most of his clothes off, was laid upon a narrow operating-table. A nurse appeared and both she and the Professor put on big blue glasses and rubber gloves. Sir Pompey was given a pair of glasses of the same kind and told upon no account to remove them until the treatment was over. Strict silence was enjoined and the room was darkened. Then a fierce red light from above was swung over his body and at the same time a gentle magnetic current was run through him by way of two metal plates strapped to the soles of his feet. High up on one of the walls an electrical appliance crackled loudly, emitting long blue sparks. A strong, but pleasantly aromatic, perfume not unlike incense filled the room.
It was all most impressive, and Sir Pompey closed his eyes contentedly, being quite confident that at last he had come to the right man.
Three days later he shook the Professor warmly by the hand, giving it as his emphatic opinion that he felt at least a hundred per cent. better, and that the medicine he was taking must be very strong. Whereupon the Professor nodded with the solemn mien of one who was accustomed to handle drugs of a most deadly nature every day of his life.
Inwardly, however, he was much amused, for all he had given Sir Pompey to counteract his over-eating was a full teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in water flavoured with peppermint. It was an obsession of the Professor that an over-acid condition of the body accounted for quite half of the ailments from which people suffered.
Sir Pompey paid him a hundred guineas.
Another great triumph of Starbank had been old Mrs. Beddoes. This lady lived in South Kensington, and had plenty of relatives waiting upon her demise. She had suffered from deafness for many years, and all the great London aurists had been able to do for her was to recommend mechanical appliances of various kinds. The idea of these had been hateful to her and she had refused to make use of them. In the end she had given up all doctors, taking the view that it was sheer waste of time to go to them.
Two years later, however, her deafness had become much worse, and hearing of the Professor, she had consulted him. She told him her history and it pleased her that in his questioning he did not ask her age. She was very sensitive about that.
"I shouldn't mind if I could get a little better," she shouted, "even as I was two years ago when I gave up going to Dr. Villiers. Now do you think you can do anything for me? I don't want you to start on any treatment unless you are quite sure."
"I will examine you," shouted back the Professor, and then, with the nurse in attendance, she was taken into the electrical room and laid upon the operating-table. The room was plunged into darkness except for the small but powerful light which was focussed, in turn, into each of her ears.
The examination was very brief there, and then the Red Ray was swung over her and through a stethoscope the Professor listened long and intently behind both ears, commanding her to breathe deeply the whole time.
This examination took quite half an hour, but it need not have lasted half a minute, as Starbank had seen all he wanted to with the first glance into her cars. They were nearly blocked up with wax.
"Yes, I can cure you," he announced confidently as he helped her off the operating-table, "but I shall have to operate. No, no, I shall only use a local anaesthetic and you won't feel it at all. There will have to be four days' preparation, too, to render the ears perfectly sterile."
So the old lady's ears were plugged with cottonwool soaked with glycerine, and strapped over with adhesive plaster so that the plugs could not be dislodged.
Then on the fifth day, with great solemnity, and in complete darkness except for the inevitable Red Ray, Mrs. Beddoes was given a prick with a needle in both ears. Then a small cut was made, just enough to draw blood, and show stains afterwards upon the towels. Then the blue spark buzzing appliance was switched on fully and in the deafening roar which ensued, the softened wax was quickly syringed from the ears and glycerine plugs immediately re-inserted and bandaged in as before.
"Now, the day after tomorrow," wrote the Professor upon a leaf of his professional paper, for of course the patient was now stone-deaf with her ears plugged up as they were, "I'll come to your house at five o'clock and remove the plugs. Of course your hearing will not be perfect, but it will be improved tenfold."
Two days later the plugs were taken out and the old lady was overjoyed. She said she could now hear much better, certainly as well as two years ago, and she wrote out a cheque for sixty guineas on the spot. Indeed, she was so delighted that Starbank left the house feeling rather glum. He swore angrily at himself that he had not asked double what he had been paid.
Yet a third triumph upon which he always looked back with great pride.
A little boy of eleven years of age, of well-to-do parents in Sussex had suddenly developed epileptic fits and it had been found that unless he was treated with drugs in sufficiently strong doses to make him dull and heavy, the fits kept on recurring.
A Harley Street specialist had been consulted, but apparently the child was never to be free from trouble unless he were unusually heavily drugged. Then the parents heard of Professor Starbank through Sir Pompey Beadle, and, unbeknown to their local doctor and the Harley Street specialist, asked him if he would come down to their place, a few miles out of Dorking, and give his advice as to what should be done for their son.
The Professor found the boy looking well-nourished, and healthy except for the dullness induced by the drugs which were being given him. He realised at once that the parents were shrewd and intelligent and not the type of people to be taken in for a moment, by any parlour conjuring tricks. He had made inquiries about them before he had come down and learnt that the father was an important person in the district and Chairman of the Bench of Magistrates.
So he sat back in his chair, looking very solemn and thoughtful and regarding the boy most intently. He let the father and mother do most of the talking.
He learnt of the doctors to whom the boy had been taken, the various treatments which had been given him and at his, the Professor's, request, the exact details of the boy's mode of daily life. Then he considered for a long time before he gave his opinion, wondering what on earth he could suggest in return for the big fee he was intending to charge for coming down. He might well have been puzzled, for as a matter of fact it was the first case of epilepsy he had been called upon to treat.
Yes, certainly he must tell them something very much out of the ordinary! His advice must be very different from that of the Harley Street specialist! He must startle them with something original!
He spoke at last and he spoke very slowly in order that he would drop no aspirates and his grammar be quite correct. He spoke decisively and in his best professional manner.
He told them that the boy was naturally healthy and strong, but that there was some kink in his constitution which would not allow him to live the ordinary life of a lad of his age, in the usual way. But their mistake was they were trying to make him live that ordinary life by filling him up with most powerful drugs in order to enable him to do so. That, however, was all wrong, for the aim must be to give him the life which suited him and which he could follow without recourse to any drugs at all.
So he must have no more drugs and his mode of life must be entirely altered. His whole diet must be changed. He must be taken at once off all dairy foods. He must be deprived of his daily four glasses of milk, his cream, his butter, and his milk puddings. Instead, he must live on fruit juice, margarine on his bread, crushed nuts—almonds preferred—potatoes and haricot beans. No, not an entirely vegetarian diet, for he could have a little beef, but it must be raw and finely scraped.
Now how the boy responded to this treatment can best be told by a conversation which took place in the following year between the mother and the Harley Street specialist when the two met by chance at a garden party.
The specialist inquired after the little boy, and the mother informed him that her son had not had a fit now for nearly fourteen months, the great doctor nodded smilingly.
"Ah, then our treatment proved quite a success!" he exclaimed, looking very pleased.
The mother looked rather embarrassed. "We—ll, no, Doctor," she replied hesitatingly. "In fact, we took him to someone else and he cured him completely. We consulted a gentleman in Edgware Road. We called in a Dr. Starbank."
"Starbank!" exclaimed the horrified doctor. "The man who calls himself 'Professor.'" He spoke angrily. "You shouldn't have gone to a cheap man like that!"
"Cheap!" ejaculated the mother, with her eyes opened very wide. "Why, he charged us a hundred guineas for coming down, and we're only thirty miles from town!"
One evening, a few minutes before six, the Professor was alone in his consulting-rooms. The day's work was over and the nurses had just left, but he was remaining to write some letters. The day had been rather a worrying one, for the police had been in to make some inquiries about a man in Eaton Square who had died from an overdose of morphia, and whom they had found out was a regular patient of his.
Naturally he had denied that he had ever supplied the man with any morphia or, indeed, had ever had any in his own possession, but the nasty-eyed Inspector Tullock had undoubtedly not believed him and had gone on questioning him until he had thought the beast would never stop.
Of course the dead man had got the morphia from him, and as a matter of fact for many months had been paying two guineas for a little phial, the actual cost of winch had been only half a crown. Still, they would never be able to prove anything and he felt quite safe.
But all the same the coming of the police was very annoying, for they had not worried him for a long time and he had been hoping they had crossed him off the list of suspects and forgotten all about him.
The door bell buzzed suddenly and he frowned. He did not like late callers; at the same time, however, he was always keen on the money and it was not his habit to let anything slip.
He opened the door to find an elderly man, carrying a leather handbag, standing upon the doorstep. "Professor Starbank?" queried the man. "Well, I'm very sorry to be calling so late, and if you can't see me now I'll make an appointment for another day, but it'll have to be some time after five, because my work keeps me until then."
"What do you want to see me about?" asked the Professor, frowning, thinking from the man's bag that he was only a commercial traveller.
"Pain in the back, lumbago, I think. I get dreadful twinges at times."
Starbank's face cleared. Ah, a patient, and lumbago was often profitable! He might be able to put in much more than a bottle of medicine! It might mean battery and the all-curing Red Ray! He might get a fiver out of him! The man wasn't poor! His clothes were of good quality.
He smiled with an assumption of great kindliness. "Well, come in, I'll see you at once. I never turn anyone away who's in pain."
So the man entered and Starbank very quickly gave it as his opinion that the trouble was lumbago and must be treated at once if the risk of being laid up for many months was to be avoided.
The arrangement was made for a five-guinea cure, for which the patient was to have six treatments with the electric battery, with the first one being given straight away. The Professor was always of opinion that there was nothing like starting at once upon a treatment and getting a good deposit, cash down.
So the patient was taken into the electrical room, and with his coat and waistcoat removed and his shirt and vest pulled high up, was laid upon his side on the operating table. He indicated where he had been having pain and, the current of the battery being turned on, the electrode was moistened and pressed against the affected spot.
Then instantly a most unexpected thing happened. The patient gave a low moaning cry and rolled over upon his back, with his body sagging down in a horrible limpness. He closed his eyes and his jaw dropped.
"It won't have hurt you," called out the Professor anxiously, alarmed at the man's appearance. "You're quite all right."
But the patient was not quite all right. On the contrary, his heart had stopped beating and he had ceased to breathe.
"Good God!" ejaculated the Professor, "he must have had a crock heart and the shock was too much for him!"
Then followed dreadful minutes for Starbank. He tried in every way possible to resuscitate the patient, but all to no purpose and at last he had to realise the man was dead.
With hands which trembled, he took some brandy from a cupboard and gave himself a stiff drink. Then, subsiding into a chair, he wiped over his forehead with a handkerchief and considered what he must do.
It was damnedly awkward. There was no doubt about that. He had done nothing wrong and it was not his fault, but it would do his practice a lot of harm. It would mean the cursed police coming in again and they would make as much fuss about it as they could, to spite him.
Then there would be the coroner's inquest and it would be broadcast everywhere that he had had no training as a doctor and that his diplomas were quite worthless! It might even come out that he had once been an attendant at the Zoo. That brute, Inspector Tullock, had found it out somehow, for he had pretended to recognise him as the keeper in charge of the hyenas fifteen years ago.
What a paragraph it would make for the evening newspapers! "Hyena Attendant Practising as a Doctor in Edgware Road."
Gad! It would ruin him! Ridicule kills!
A cunning look came into his face and he sprang briskly to his feet. He searched the man's pockets and, from a card in his wallet, saw that his name was Husson and that he represented a firm of estate agents in Paddington Road. He was authorised to collect rents.
The Professor's hands were quite steady as he unlocked the man's bag with a key he found upon a bunch in his pocket. The bag contained a number of memorandum books, a fat bundle of notes done up with an elastic band—he found later that £72 10s. was the amount they totalled—and two big handfuls of loose silver.
Then, on the instant, he made up his mind what he would do. It could never be proved the man had visited him and so he would wait until it was dark and then carry his body away and dump it out in the country in some unfrequented spot.
Yes, it would be quite safe if he managed it properly! His car was in the garage in the yard outside and he could hide the body down upon the floor at the back and get it away without anyone being the wiser.
Ah, but he must be careful, for the windows of two houses overlooked his yard and people often sat at them of an evening with the blinds drawn up!
No, he mustn't be seen carrying the body across the yard, and if it came out afterwards that the dead man had told someone of his intention to visit him that evening then he, Starbank, must be prepared with all the evidence to prove he must have left the rooms when the man had called.
His movements became very quick. He pocketed the bundle of notes and a certain amount of the silver. Then, putting on gloves, he carefully wiped away with a cloth all possible traces of finger-marks upon the leather bag. He locked up the bag and put back the keys in the pocket. Then he quickly re-dressed the man and laid his body out in the passage close to the back door.
Finally, he let himself out of the front door and proceeded to walk jauntily down Edgware Road in the direction of the Marble Arch.
Night had well fallen when he returned and he let himself in by his front door, pleased that there was no one in the side street to see him enter.
Then, through a window looking out on to the backyard, he made a stealthy survey of the houses opposite. Things were not quite so satisfactory there, for two rooms were lighted up and the windows of both of them overlooking the yard were wide open. There were people in the rooms and, sitting close to one of the windows, a woman was knitting.
He glanced round the yard. There was no moon showing, but it was a bright, starlit night. The high wall abutting on the side street cast a shadow over part of the yard from an arclight in the Edgware Road. The shadow was tall and dark close up by the wall, but it petered out by the far side of the yard, and everything was as clear as if in daylight there.
Across the middle of the yard, from the door of the house to that of the garage, the shadow was only waist high and the Professor frowned as he noted it. It was most awkward, for if he were carrying the body across the yard and the woman happened to look up, she would perceive instantly what he was doing.
He thought for a long moment and then his face cleared and he smiled at his resourcefulness. He looked for and found a good-sized coil of copper wire in a drawer. He always kept copper wire handy for repairs to his electric appliances if they went wrong. Then he got busy with the body in the passage.
A few minutes later he walked across the yard to the garage. Although he walked very quietly, as he had been expecting, the woman at the window looked up from her knitting. He let himself into the garage and the woman looked down again.
Then if anyone, of fixed purpose, had stared long and intently into the shadows of that little yard, he would have seen something to puzzle him.
Across the brick surface of the yard glided an object of a flattish oblong shape, and the strange thing about it was that it appeared to be moving on its own volition. From the look of it, it might have been something wrapped in a rug, and it moved slowly and with no jerks. Right across the yard it came and disappeared through the garage door.
It was the corpse of Professor Starbank's patient being drawn into the garage by two long lengths of the copper wire.
Just after midnight a storm broke and the rain fell heavily. The Professor in his comfortable bed at home sighed happily that he had got home in time and that the backyard behind his rooms in Edgware Road would now be washed quite clean. He had been rather worrying about that yard and what marks the trailing of the dead man across it would have left upon the bricks.
The next morning he was the first to arrive at the rooms and he saw to it that by the time the nurse-attendants came, all traces of the late caller of the previous evening had disappeared. The rug had been put back in its proper place, the sheet on the operating-table smoothed down, and the pillow there plumped out, all ready for the next patient. He was confident he was quite safe.
A few minutes before one he went out as usual to snatch a hasty lunch. When he had time, he always chose a small cafe in the basement of a building in Fountain Street, a little unfrequented street, just off Seymour Square. The cafe was select and its charges high, but it was greatly esteemed by persons of certain taste for the excellent coffee it served, dispensed with great solemnity by a Hindu in a flowing garment and a fez, answering to the name of Osman. Osman had been born in a little village in the upper basin of the Ganges; he was elderly and had lived in London for many years.
The cafe had once been a large wine-cellar and its rather high roof was supported by two big arches. It was purposely kept dimly lighted, and its atmosphere was one of peace and quiet. It contained a wireless which, however, was only turned on at lunch time for the news and Stock Exchange information, and, then, tuned in very softly so as not to disturb the subdued conversation of the habitues of the cafe. It was apparently quite understood that people should talk only a little above a whisper when patronising "The Silver Moon."
That particular morning Professor Starbank was thoughtfully partaking of a little plate of sandwiches when suddenly a police announcement came over the air that information was wanted as to the whereabouts of a Benjamin Husson, of 27 Pile Street, Paddington. It gave his description and asked that any information should be forwarded at once, either to the Paddington police or Messrs. Whistle & Smith, Estate Agents, of Bayswater Road.
Starbank smiled a crafty smile. It might be months or even years before any information would be forthcoming of Mr. Benjamin Husson! His body was certainly easily accessible to those who knew where to look for it, but unless a dog nosed it out—he frowned there—no one was likely to go looking about where it had been thrown! Yes, for a long time to come the man's disappearance would be but another secret which the greatest city of the world was hugging to its mighty heart.
But the confident Professor was greatly mistaken there, as the body was found almost within twenty-four hours.
That afternoon a small paragraph appeared in some of the evening newspapers. It referred to the missing man, giving his name and address and mentioning that he was a rent collector and probably carrying about with him a good sum of money when he disappeared. It also added that foul play was feared.
Then, the next day, by the early morning post, an anonymous letter arrived at the Paddington Police Station, giving the information that Benjamin Husson was dead and disclosing, in a very strange way, where the body could be found. The letter was brief, and a well-executed drawing filled half of its one page. It stated the body was lying in the country somewhere, in a ditch about a hundred yards away from a small lane. There were bluebells and primroses growing in the field through which the ditch ran, and in the lane there was a signpost. The drawing was of the signpost, and on the several arms of it were inscribed: "Harrow 5 miles; Bushey 2 miles; Northwood 2 miles; Watford 3 miles."
The ink upon the letter was of a peculiar colour and very faint, and Inspector Talbot, who opened it, had to carry it over to the window to read it. He summoned the senior detective on duty and handed it to him. Then he took an ordnance map and spread it out on the table.
"Five miles from Harrow and two miles from Bushey!" he commented. He pointed with his finger, "It'll be about here, on Bushey Heath." He frowned. "I expect it'll turn out to be a fool's errand, but you'll have to go. Take Steele with you and start at once."
But it certainly did not turn out to be a fool's errand, and less than an hour later the inspector was very astonished to hear the detective's voice over the phone, announcing excitedly that the body had been located in the exact place the anonymous writer had stated.
"And gee!" exclaimed the detective, "whoever wrote that letter must have been right on the spot when he drew that signpost, as the arm directing to Harrow is at a different angle to the others, exactly as he's got it on the paper. It's come out of the post at some time and been pushed back."
"All right," exclaimed the inspector, "you remain there and I'll be round with the surgeon and photographer as quickly as possible. Ring up the Watford police, but don't let them interfere. This'll be a case for the Yard."
Two days later the Inspector Tullock, so much disliked by Professor Starbank, happened to be calling at the Paddington Police Station upon another matter, and Inspector Talbot brought up the Husson case.
"You know, John," he said frowningly to his brother inspector, "there's something devilish funny about the whole business. Take that anonymous letter we had telling us where the body was; first, the writing upon it was so faint that I could hardly read it when I got it, and then that same evening, when I went to put the paper in the case, the writing had all faded away and the sheet was perfectly blank. Some kind of disappearing ink must have been used."
"Ah, but they'll soon get over that," nodded Inspector Tullock. "The invisible ink wheeze is out of date now and they'll get that writing back with photographs or rays or something as easy as pie. So don't you worry there."
"But they haven't got it back, John," said Talbot earnestly, "and I've just had a phone call from the Yard to say they can't do anything with it. They say they've never had a case like it before."
"Give 'em time," frowned Tullock. "They've never been beaten yet."
His brother inspector went on: "Then, of course, although the post-mortem showed the man died from natural causes, heart failure, we don't know what brought it on. Our surgeon says it might have been from sudden shock. One thing we do know—he died that afternoon somewhere close to the Edgware Road about six o'clock."
"How the devil do you know that?" asked Tullock.
"Because about a quarter to six he called at Fullarton's, the baker in Fairholme Street, to collect the month's rent, and explained he was a bit late as he'd just been having a cup of tea and a bit of toast. Then from the contents of his stomach this toast had not long started to digest. As far as we can find out, this baker's was the last rent he collected."
"How much money would he have had on him then?" asked Tullock frowningly. "Have you any idea?"
"His employers say from seventy to eighty pounds. You see what we think happened was this. He suddenly became faint and was helped into some house to recover. Then he snuffed out straight away and the people in that house, realising he had got a lot of money with him, yielded to sudden temptation, took all the money, and waiting until it got dark, carted the body off into the country to where we found it."
"Quite plausible," grunted Tullock. "They probably loaded him up in some backyard."
"There was one funny thing," remarked the other thoughtfully. "When we took off his jacket and waistcoat we found his braces were twisted at the back, and I can't understand how he could have gone about all day long with them like that. It'd have been most uncomfortable."
Tullock did not seem much impressed. "Did he know he'd got a crock heart?" he asked.
"No, his wife says he'd never complained of that. He had, however, been saying he'd got a touch of lumbago and thought he ought to have some electric treatment for it."
"All bosh that electric business!" exclaimed Tullock contemptuously. "That's what those quacks use, and make a pot of money by it. There's that humbug, Starbank, in Edgware Road who shoves rays and the galvanic battery into every fool he can get a quid out of. It doesn't matter whether they've got a cold in the head, indigestion, rheumatism, lumbago, or any damned thing. It's all the same to him and he turns on his——" but he suddenly stopped speaking and, with his mouth open and a startled expression upon his face, stood staring hard at his colleague.
"What's bitten you, John?" asked Talbot. "Have you got a stomach ache?"
"Gosh, no," exclaimed Tullock excitedly, "but I've got a hunch." He spoke quickly. "Here, where's that Fairholme Street where the baker lives?"
"Just off Edgware Road, the Marble Arch end."
Tullock thumped his fist into the palm of his hand. "Then, tarnation, I'll give you a clue to follow. Now, was that man Husson on the telephone?"
"Yes, his wife runs a little grocer's shop in Hutt Street."
"Then put me on to her at once. I'm going to shake the very life out of this mystery. You see if I'm not."
A few minutes later Inspector Tullock hung up the receiver. "A sure thing!" he nodded grimly. "You heard—they knew of Starbank! He'd cured a friend of theirs of catarrh, when no one else could. Certainly, Husson hadn't told her he was going to the quack; but then he was a man who often didn't tell her about himself and she wouldn't have known about the lumbago if he hadn't got her to rub his back." His voice rose in his excitement. "Don't you understand now the meaning of those twisted braces? The man was partially undressed when he snuffed it. He was receiving treatment and probably the shock of the battery killed him. Then when Starbank put his clothes on after he was dead, he made a mess of those braces. See?"
Inspector Talbot whistled. "That baker's shop is only a stone's throw from Starbank's! Starbank would do anything for money, and he's got a car and a backyard!" His eyes opened very wide. "Gee! I believe, John, you're right!"
But it was a very discomforted Inspector Tullock who waited upon the Chief Commissioner of Police late that same night.
"I'm afraid it's no good, sir!" he said wearily. "I don't think we can nail him! Starbank did it right enough, but we'll not get the proof."
"Well, tell me all about it," frowned the Chief.
"He was out at lunch when we got to his rooms," began the inspector, "and we had a good spin with his two nurses. They didn't know anything of the man and were sure Starbank had no patient of the name of Husson. I think they believed they were speaking the truth. Still, we got out of them that on Tuesday they both went off together about a quarter to six, leaving this precious Professor alone in the rooms."
The inspector smiled a grim smile here. "Then Starbank himself came in and he went as white as chalk directly he saw me. 'You had a patient here on Tuesday evening, after the nurses had left,' I said. He pretended to think, and then shook his head. 'But you did, and his name was Husson,' I said, and then he got angry and began blustering to know what I wanted and said we police were always persecuting him. Then he went on to swear he left not ten minutes after the muses had gone and——"
"Left in his car?" interrupted the Commissioner.
"No, left on foot to dine and have the evening in town. He said he returned to get his car about half-past ten and went straight home. Then I brought out the search-warrant, but I could tell by his face we weren't going to find anything at the rooms, which we didn't. He wasn't looking quite so happy, however, when I told him we were going to search his private house as well and he got a bit white again. But off we went to Hampstead and, of course, he came with us."
"Not in his own car?" asked the Commissioner sharply.
"Certainly not! He came in ours. I left one of our men to examine his car, almost as if it were under the microscope. Then, when we got to his house, he looked very sick and I don't wonder he was anxious, for, upon making him open the safe he's got there, we found £72 10s. all in one-pound and ten-shilling notes, except for two fivers."
"Ah!" exclaimed the Commissioner and he nodded significantly.
The inspector shook his head vexatiously. "But they were all notes which had been well in circulation and there wasn't a distinctive mark on any one of them." He took a little brown-paper packet out of his pocket and laid it on the desk. "Still, I've brought them along to see if the experts can make anything of them, although to me they seemed hopeless."
"But how did he explain having all that money in the house?" asked the Commissioner.
"Quite plausibly. He said he always kept a good amount handy because he went to the races almost every Saturday and then took from twenty to thirty pounds with him." The inspector threw out his hands despondently. "How could we get behind that?"
"And you found nothing else in the house that seemed suspicious?"
"Nothing at all and nothing in his car either. We're up against a dead wall, as we always are when trying to catch that fellow. It's quite hopeless."
The Commissioner frowned thoughtfully. "I don't think it's necessarily as bad as that. What's your opinion of that letter they received at Paddington?"
Inspector Tullock shook his head. "I'm puzzled, sir. I can only imagine that the writer of it wrote out of pity for Husson's people. He wanted to relieve their suspense and let them know what had happened to him." He bridled up angrily. "I'm darned sure Starbank had nothing to do with it. With all his smiles and polite manners, he's a hardened criminal, if ever I saw one, and under the surface he's as cruel as hell."
The Commissioner smiled. "Then if, as you say, Starbank is the guilty party here he must have had an accomplice of a more kindly disposition."
The inspector made a gesture of resignation. "I don't understand it at all, but I don't for a moment believe anyone of a kindly disposition would be associated with Starbank in anything. He's an out-and-out evil man."
"And what sort of person was Husson?"
"A perfectly harmless little chap as far as we can gather. His only hobby was being a Theosophist and his few close friends were long-haired cranks who don't drink, smoke or swear, and only eat vegetables. At least, that's what his wife tells me, and she says they're going to have him cremated and pay all expenses."
A short silence followed and then the Commissioner dismissed Inspector Tullock with the remark that they must hope for the best.
But unhappily the best did not eventuate and the police could get no evidence to incriminate Professor Starbank. Accordingly the £72 10s. was returned to him and he received it with the pained expression of one who had been treated very unfairly. His only remark was that he hoped the scandal of their having suspected him of such dreadful wrongdoing would not get about.
He was very relieved then that no more about the dead man appeared in the newspapers and very soon was confident that the whole matter was in a way to be forgotten.
But the local police continued to discuss it quite a lot among themselves, all of them knowing that Professor Starbank's places had been raided and all of them being of opinion he was the guilty party.
Then the Paddington police talked about it to the Marylebone police and the Marylebone police passed it on, as an interesting tit-bit of crime, to the St. John's Wood police.
Then one of the policemen in St. John's Wood told his young lady about it. She was a housemaid in Grove Road and she told the butler in the house where she was employed. Then the butler mentioned it respectfully to his master the next morning, as he was waiting upon him at breakfast, and was not at all surprised at the interest he showed. They had both known the dead man quite well, as the house in St. John's Wood was in the agency of his employers and every quarter it had been he who had called to collect the rent.
"And so the police think he died in those rooms in Edgware Road," asked his master, "and that it was Professor Starbank who robbed him and hid the body away?"
"They are sure of it, sir," said the butler, "but, unfortunately, they cannot prove it."
The master of the house was elderly and of slight build. With the high forehead of the thinker and the scholar, he had big deep-set eyes. He was bearded, and his complexion was dark and inclined to be sallow. By nature, he seemed very quiet and gentle, and his three servants had a great affection for him.
He was very thoughtful after his butler had left him, and later in the morning shut himself up in his study, where it was understood, he was never to be disturbed.
Pulling down the blinds and drawing the heavy curtains, he plunged the room into complete darkness. Then he lit a small oil lamp which gave off a blue flame. He lay back in an armchair and soon it seemed he was asleep.
ONE afternoon about three weeks after the mysterious happening to Benjamin Husson, a young woman came out of Professor Starbank's rooms, looking as if she had been crying. She walked quickly down the Edgware Road in the direction of Hyde Park, without noticing that a man was following her.
Reaching the park, she walked across the grass to an unoccupied seat under some trees and sat down. Then she began mopping her eyes with her handkerchief. Well and fashionably dressed, she was obviously of the better classes. She appeared to be about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, and was undeniably good-looking, with aristocratic features and beautiful, long-lashed grey eyes. She sobbed quietly to herself.
Presently she heard footsteps close beside her and, glancing quickly up, saw to her great discomfiture that a man was proceeding to seat himself down near to her. She looked at him frowningly, but in no wise disconcerted, he raised his hat and spoke.
"Please forgive my speaking to you," he said very quietly and as if with the utmost respect, "but I see you are distressed about something, and am wondering if I can be of any service to you."
She reddened furiously at the effrontery of a perfect stranger in daring to address her, and was obviously upon the point of making some stinging retort, when something in the man's manner and appearance seemed suddenly to arrest her anger. He looked so harmless and inoffensive and had such a kind face. He was elderly, too, and undoubtedly a gentleman.
He went on gently, "No, please don't be angry with me, but I happened to see you coming out of Professor Starbank's and you looked to me as if very troubled." He bowed gravely. "I assure you that is the only reason why I have ventured to follow you."
The girl spoke fiercely. "Do you know Professor Starbank? Is he a friend of yours?"
The stranger shook his head. "No, he is no friend of mine and I have never spoken to him." He spoke sadly, "Indeed, I should not think he would have any friends, for I believe him to be an evil man."
"Evil!" exclaimed the girl with a catch in her breath. Her voice choked. "He is a devil!"
The stranger spoke more gently than ever. "Then, if he is intending to do you any harm, I will prevent it." He nodded reassuringly. "If necessary I can exert great influence over him."
"My God, then save me from him!" burst out the girl piteously. Her voice broke. "He is bringing ruin upon our lives!"
"Tell me about it," urged the stranger persuasively, "and I promise you I will put everything right. Then, you will go home comforted, and be able to sleep in peace. No, no, I don't want to know your name or where you live. Only just tell me how this man is intending to harm you. That is all"—he smiled his gentle smile—"and then I'll leave you and it will be as if we had never met, except"—he nodded solemnly—"that you will know your trouble has been taken from you."
The girl hesitated, but only for a moment. A strange urge was possessing her to tell her innermost secrets to this man. His eyes, calm and gentle though they were, seemed nevertheless to be piercing her through and through. Her words came with an irresistible rush.
"Two years ago," she panted, "Professor Starbank came to learn a secret of my sister's, and she has been living in deadly fear of him ever since. He has been continually extorting money from her, and has taken almost her last shilling. Now he has heard she is going to be married in three weeks' time and he threatens to write an anonymous letter to the man she is going to marry, unless she gives him £500"—her voice broke again—"and that she cannot do."
"Did he go to her to tell her that?" asked the stranger.
"No, he knows where we live, but he's never been to our house. He telephoned to her this morning, ordering her to come and see him, but I went instead. No, he's never even written. He's always telephoned."
"And does anyone besides you and Professor Starbank know your sister's secret?" asked the stranger.
The girl shook her head. "No, no one," she replied. She turned away her eyes. "Another man knew it once, but he died suddenly more than two years ago in an accident." Her voice shook. "If he had not been killed all this would never have happened."
The stranger regarded her thoughtfully. "And when have you to give Professor Starbank this money?"
"Within the next fortnight, and if it is not brought to him he says he'll write that letter."
For a long moment the stranger's eyes held hers and she felt she could not turn her face away. Then he spoke very solemnly.
"Well, I tell you he shall never write it now, neither will he ever telephone to you again." He was silent for a few moments and then went on. "Still, in these days before you are"—he corrected himself quickly—"before your sister is married, if you are ever troubled and come to doubt what I am telling you"—he took a letter out of his pocket and tearing off a corner of the envelope pencilled on it quickly—"then ring up that number and I'll speak to you again. Ask for the master if it is not my voice you hear." He smiled once more. "But I shall only have to tell you all is well."
"Oh, thank you so much!" exclaimed the girl brokenly. She looked very troubled. "But how shall I know he is not striking at us in the dark? How shall I know what he is doing until these three dreadful weeks have passed?"
"Because they will not be dreadful weeks," smiled the stranger. "They will be very happy weeks for you, and that is how you will know the shadow has passed from your life." He rose up to his feet to go. "No, you will not need to telephone me. I can see that. You trust me, and that is how it should be between friends."
The girl could hear herself speaking, but it seemed to her that it was not her own words she heard. "I do trust you," she said. "I believe you absolutely"—she could hardly get out her words—"but I do not understand why."
"And do not try to understand," said the stranger. "The ways of understanding are not destined for you. Your life is to be only of this world. You will love and bear children and know great happiness in your time." He raised his hat. "Good-bye, I will come to you every night in your dreams and see to it that you sleep well."
With parted lips and staring eyes the girl watched him walk briskly up the path until he was lost among the crowd by the Marble Arch.
Then she heaved a big sigh, and smiled, a very pretty-smile, although her face was still showing traces of her recent emotion.
"Am I mad or just a fool?" she asked herself. She nodded. "At any rate, I'm hungry, and that's a good sign. I'll go to the kiosk and get a bun and a cup of tea."
Later that same afternoon a new patient came to consult Professor Starbank. He said he had rheumatism in his legs and thought massage would do them good. Of course the Professor thought so too, and noting that his patient was well dressed, after a brief examination gave it as his opinion that a course of the inevitable Red Ray would be advisable as well.
But the patient said he would have only ordinary massage and so Starbank, after stating the fee would be half a guinea each time, proceeded to give him his first treatment straight away.
Then very soon the Professor found himself feeling most annoyed. Not only was he angry that he was not receiving the higher fee of a Red Ray treatment, but also he did not like the patient staring at him so hard. Indeed, it seemed the man never took his eyes off him the whole time the massage was going on, and Starbank had strong objections to being stared at. If there was any staring to be done he preferred to do it himself. Hard staring, he believed, always gave him an ascendancy over people, particularly so if they were at all of a nervous disposition. Once, this man actually caught his eyes and held them, and he was not able to draw them away until the man lowered his own.
He felt unduly tired, too, after he had gone, and for some reason he could not explain, was rather hoping he would not turn up again, as had been suggested, the following day. He was half wondering if the man were a police spy, although from his general appearance he had certainly not looked like one.
Leaving the Professor's rooms, the patient called in at a newsagent's shop to buy an evening paper and, while waiting to be attended to—there were several other customers in the shop at the time—proceeded to turn over the pages of an illustrated weekly journal, lying upon the counter.
Then he did not start, but only smiled rather sadly when his eyes fell upon the photograph of a very pretty girl, and he read underneath she was Miss Eleanor Thyra Whipple, and going to be married on the 26th to the Honourable Ian Inverary, second son of Lord Darmuire.
The photograph was that of the girl with whom he had been talking in the park.
The following day Gilbert Larose, the one-time well-known international detective, but now retired, and married for the last seven years to Helen Ardane, the wealthy widow of Sir Charles Ardane of Carmel Abbey in Norfolk, received a very extraordinary letter by the mid-day post.
It was typed and gave no address, and the sender called himself "Retribution." It was dated the previous day and had been posted in a north-west district of London. It read:
Quite recently I happened to overhear two men discussing the many
wonderful successes you were supposed to have achieved when you were a
detective attached to the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland
Yard. They said you were possessed of a sixth sense and this enabled
you, as it were by instinct, to track down the perpetrator of any crime.
They stated, also, it was your boast that when a murder had been
committed, no matter how far away the murderer had taken himself, you
could yet see the shadow he had left upon the wall.
But pride is unseemly and goes before a fall. So I will put you to the
test. What the law will stigmatise as a murder will be committed within
the next few days, and I challenge you to lay your hands upon the
murderer. The so-called victim will be a man, and he will be found dead
one morning in a room upon the ground floor of a building in Edgware
Road. Do not flatter yourself, however, that his death is being brought
about to provide you with an occasion to exhibit your vaunted powers. On
the contrary, he dies because he is an evil man and adding to the
sorrows of the world. You are only being forewarned of this happening to
bring home to you how vain and empty is your boasting and, perhaps,
render you a little more humble.
Larose read the letter twice and then handed it to his wife. "What do you think of this, dear?" he asked.
Helen Larose, a handsome and aristocratic-looking woman in the middle thirties, read it through and frowned. "I don't think whoever wrote it is serious," she said, as she handed it back to her husband. "Most likely it's someone we know well, and he's going to have a joke with you about it when he next meets you."
Larose smiled. "But I don't think so," he commented. "Somehow, it rings true to me. It doesn't strike me at all as a joking letter." He went on thoughtfully, "You know, Helen, I've noticed all my life that when a man commits a crime, as long as he's not found out, he's rather proud of it. He wants an audience, just like a man who thinks he's written a good play." He tapped the letter with his finger. "So, although the writer here is gibing at me for a boast, which by the by I have never made, he is really boasting himself." He shook his head suddenly. "But wait a minute. I'll read it again. An idea has come to me."
So he read it again, this time out aloud, and very slowly. Then he gave his verdict with a rather puzzled frown. "No, I don't think this fellow's boasting. He seems a little bit above that. He's a crank I should say, and imagines it is his mission to inflict punishment upon the chap whom he writes he is going to murder, and punishment upon me because he's heard I've been boasting."
"But do you really believe he's going to commit a murder?" asked Helen Larose incredulously.
"I think he's going to try to. Yes, I really believe he's going to attempt it or there wouldn't be any point in his writing to me. As I say, I don't look upon this letter as a joke. The writer means business."
"Then send the letter on to Inspector Stone. You said you were going to write to him to-day."
Larose nodded. "So I will, and won't dear old Charlie crinkle up his nose in scorn? He'll take it as a joke, as you do. Yes, I'll write to him straight away, and I'll tell him, too, that after Thursday I'll be up in town at the Semiris if he should want to ring me up and give me the news." He laughed. "That'll make him more scornful than ever."
So the next morning Chief Inspector Stone, one of the Big Four at Scotland Yard, ran his eyes down the anonymous letter, and not so psychologically minded as his one-time colleague and all-time friend, Gilbert Larose, curled his lips into the expected contemptuous smile.
It was just like Gilbert to take such a letter seriously, he told himself. With all his charming personality, Gilbert had always been a bit of a vain fellow, and he would now be taking it for granted his reputation had been so great that it was going to be for ever green in everybody's minds. So of course, he would take it for granted that any imaginary criminal such as the writer of this absurd letter would approach him, as still being the greatest master in the detection of crime. Yes, Gilbert was a dear fellow, but there could be no denying he thought a lot of himself at times. This letter was all bosh, and someone was just trying to get a rise out of Larose. That was all.
But two mornings later just before nine o'clock the stout chief inspector rang up the Semiris hotel in a state of great excitement.
It happened that he got speech with Larose so quickly that it almost seemed the latter had been waiting at the other end of the wire.
"Gilbert, you were right," he called out breathlessly. "The fellow who wrote you that letter has done as he said he would. Word's just come in that a man's been found murdered in a room upon the ground floor of a house in Edgware Road."
"Good God!" exclaimed Larose. "Who is the man?"
"An irregular practitioner of medicine. A quack and a bad egg who's been under police suspicion for a lot of things for a long time. Now do you want to come? All right, but are you quite ready? Then, I'll call for you at once. I can't wait even five minutes."
So very soon Larose, among a small group of detectives, was standing over the body of Paris Starbank. It was not a pleasant sight to see.
Death had come to him in his consulting-room and there were all signs that it had been a violent one.
He was lying hunched up upon the floor in front of his desk. His eyes were staring horribly, his jaw had dropped, and his face was an ugly colour.
"Dr. Miles should be here any minute," announced Inspector Tullock. "I don't know why he's keeping us waiting for so long." He nodded in the direction of the corpse. "But there seems no doubt whatever about what's happened. He was throttled when sitting in that chair. Someone came up behind him and choked the life out of him. He was killed yesterday evening. He's stiff as a board."
"The nurses found him when they came in the morning?" asked Chief Inspector Stone.
"One of them did, the younger one, Clara Jones. She says she came in about three minutes before the other one, exactly at half-past eight. They both have a latch-key, but she states she is nearly always here first."
"Anything taken from the rooms?" asked Stone, glancing round and noting there was no sign of any disturbance anywhere except by the desk.
"Not that we've found out so far," replied Inspector Tullock. "Still, we haven't looked round thoroughly yet. One thing, the place was not broken into. The windows were all bolted, with the safety catches down and the back door was locked. No, unless this Starbank let his murderer in himself, the man came in with a key."
It was well on to half-past nine before the apologetic police-surgeon arrived. In his wake another man followed closely. The surgeon very quickly gave it as his opinion that Starbank had undoubtedly been throttled.
"The thyroid cartilage has been crushed," he said, "and there are those bruises on the throat and neck." He frowned. "There are some rather puzzling features about it, though, but we shall know everything after the autopsy. Oh, yes, he must have struggled, but it's funny he did so little with his legs. With that rug there, exactly as you say you found it, he obviously did not kick much. Well, that's all I can say now. Good morning!" and he bustled out of the room.
Everyone was expecting the man who had arrived with him to leave too, but instead, he continued to stare with a white face and awed expression at the body.
"Dr. Miles is going off, sir," said Inspector Tullock, thinking the man had been so preoccupied that he had not noticed the police-surgeon's departure from the room.
But he had to address the man a second time before he engaged his attention. Then the man, as if rather startled, asked, "What doctor?"
"Dr. Miles," repeated the inspector. He frowned and added sharply, "Didn't you come with him?"
The man shook his head. "No, I don't know him. I came by myself. I just walked in to make an appointment with Professor Starbank"—his eyes wandered back to the body, now being lifted up and laid upon a couch, and he added a little sadly—"but now he won't be able to give me one."
Inspector Tullock exploded. "You've no business to be here. How did you pass the constable at the door?"
The man was most conciliatory. "I followed that gentleman who's just said how Professor Starbank died. We both arrived at the door together, and the policeman let us in."
"Then you clear out at once," ordered Tullock angrily. "You've no——" but the man looked at him intently and the words died on his lips.
The man turned to go, but apparently hearing a voice at the other side of the room addressing someone loudly as "Mr. Larose," he stopped again, and with a quick movement looked in the direction from which the voice had come.
"Which is Mr. Larose?" he asked quietly of the inspector, as if quite oblivious of the fact that he was under that gentleman's severe displeasure.
"The one by the window," replied the inspector with a politeness for which he wanted to kick himself afterwards.
For a long moment the man stared at the one-time international detective and then with an expressionless face he turned away and left both the room and the house.
That night Larose and Chief Inspector Stone were discussing the happenings of the day in the latter's room in Scotland Yard.
"Not much to help us, Gilbert," sighed the stout inspector, "nothing taken from the rooms, the place not broken into, and no strange finger-marks where we wanted to find them. As for motive"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, making his living as he did, there might have been a score and more of folks wishing him dead."
"But those finger-marks were peculiar!" commented Larose. "Starbank's all over the chair, and all about the desk! One would have thought, with the throttler having been so busy there, that he would have wiped things clean in case he should leave any of his own about."
Stone nodded. "Yes, and he didn't work in gloves either, as evidenced where his nails indented Starbank's neck and throat." He frowned. "Now I had a talk with the surgeon who did the post-mortem about those nail-marks, and he says now that the violence there was not sufficient to cause the man's death, but that he died rather from a paralytic spasm of the throat, blocking the entry of air into his lungs. He says he's very puzzled."
"If his heart had been weak," supplemented Larose, "one could have understood his dying from shock, but it was quite all right, so we are told."
"Perfectly all right," nodded Stone. "Starbank was a strong and healthy man, cut off in the very prime of life."
A short silence followed and then Stone went on: "Well, let us sum up what we know"—he heaved another big sigh—"although it's precious little. Still, certain things stand out quite clearly. The nurses went off together that evening leaving Starbank, as they'd often done, to write some letters. Then in the middle of writing the first one we must presume he was called upon to open the door to a late arrival, someone he knew quite well and——"
"The caller was not a patient," interrupted Larose. "He was a friend."
"Certainly," agreed Stone, "because when he had let the man in he went on writing his letter. Then, I should have said, he was attacked when actually writing if it hadn't been he had just finished a sentence and laid down his fountain-pen. It was he who laid down his pen, because there were only his finger-marks on it, and it was put neatly to one side." He made a grimace. "Now, what else do we know?"
"That he was killed," nodded Larose, "and his murderer let himself out of the house leaving not the slightest sign of his having been there, except the dead body he left behind."
"Exactly," agreed Stone, "and that's as far as we can get." He spoke briskly. "Now, Gilbert, have you got any ideas?"
Larose nodded. "Only that the letter to the Paddington police, informing them where the body of that man Husson was to be found, and the one sent to me about the intended murder of Starbank were both written by the same person. I am sure of it."
"And how do you make that out?" frowned Stone.
"Because they would neither of them have been written but for Starbank. They both feature Starbank. The first one tells where he has hidden the body, and the second predicts his own death. They are like two instalments of a serial story."
Stone frowned harder than ever. "You mean that the writer murdered Starbank because he realised Starbank was in some way responsible for the death of Husson, and, at any rate, had robbed him of the money he was carrying about."
"Yes," nodded Larose. "I take it the murderer was a friend of Husson rather than an enemy of Starbank. I mean he was not an enemy of the quack until the latter had maltreated his friend."
"But he must have been an intimate of Starbank to have known he had hidden the body and where it had been put."
Larose shook his head vexatiously. "That's what I can't understand and I don't attempt to explain it; but I am certain those two letters came from the same man and so it will be among Husson's friends that we shall find the murderer."
Then among the friends of the meek little rent-collector an intensive inquiry was instituted, his wife giving the names of all of whom her husband ever spoke. It appeared they were practically all members of the Bayswater Theosophical Society, but Larose, approaching them under an assumed name, was speedily of opinion that none of them would have had anything to do with the murder of Paris Starbank.
Rather contrary to what he had expected, they appeared to be just ordinary men and women, earnest and thoughtful and by no means of the eccentric natures he had been expecting they would be.
They had all been very shocked at what had happened to the fellow member of their society, but could throw no light on the mystery surrounding his death. He had been particularly well known to them all, for voluntarily, he had taken upon himself the duty of looking after the little hall in which they met.
Of course Larose never made any direct mention of Professor Starbank, but, all the same, by adroit questioning he tried to find out if any of them knew of anyone else who had any acquaintance with the quack. He drew blank, however, every time, and as day by day went by he became the more and more disheartened.
The following week he returned home, having dejectedly admitted to Inspector Stone that, as with the officers of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard, he could throw no light at all upon the murder of Paris Starbank. He confessed frankly that he was beaten.
AT eighteen Annabel Blivvy was undoubtedly the prettiest girl in the district. With her beautiful, clear-cut profile she looked a real aristocrat, and the only surmise of anyone who did not know her real parentage would have been that she sprang from a long line of noble ancestors.
She had long-lashed eyes of the deepest blue, a perfectly shaped nose, a very pretty mouth, and a faultless complexion. When she smiled she showed a perfect set of teeth. Her figure was beautifully proportioned and she carried herself with the poise of a princess.
People could not understand it, for her parents were both very ordinary-looking, indeed, her father was on the coarse side and her mother uninteresting and with no features at all.
Thomas Blivvy was a veterinary surgeon and horse-dealer in the little town of Warbury in the Midlands, and his occupation being what it was, socially at all events, Annabel did not have a very good time. She would not associate with the families of the tradespeople, and the Society people would have nothing at all to do with her.
When, however, there was any public function at which all classes appeared, to the intense annoyance of the wives and daughters of the landed gentry, the retired Army and Navy people and the professional men, it was always she who stood foremost in the public eye. Dressed most becomingly and in excellent taste, she then moved among the gathering as if, apart from her good looks, by right of birth and breeding she were the most important person there.
She scored a great triumph once when the annual Warbury Flower Show was being held. The Show was always patronised by the elite of the county, and patrician dames of most high lineage were wont to promenade themselves, along with their daughters, upon the lawn in front of the flower tents, to the soft music of some crack military band, especially lent for the occasion.
That particular afternoon a Press photographer from London, representing one of the highest-class weekly illustrated journals, took a photograph of Lady Ernestine Paltravers, the daughter of the Duke of Hothbury. Annabel happened to be standing close near to her and when the photograph appeared later in the journal it was she who was written down as the Lady Ernestine.
The Society people were furious, but Annabel had the page of the journal framed and hung over the mantelpiece of their shabby little drawing-room, remarking with a cold smile that giving her a title was only premature, as one day she would acquire one.
But if the Society women always ignored her, it was very different with their menfolk, for the latter were always most anxious to make her acquaintance.
Old Lord Rattlebury scandalised everybody by dancing with her at the Red Cross Ball, and the mother of young Sir Eric Varley bit her lip, almost until the blood came, when she saw her son taking Annabel in to supper.
When she rode to hounds too, which Annabel often did, upon the best thoroughbred her horse-dealing father had for sale, the men always clustered round her, and loud was the chorus of praise among them for the superb horsemanship she displayed.
People, however, shook their heads about her and prophesied she would one day come to a bad end. She would take no husband from the class to which she belonged, but would in all probability fall to the wiles of some man much above her station in life, and elope with him, whether he were married or not!
Had they, however, known Annabel better and been able to pierce through that cold and bitter reserve with which she had surrounded herself, they would have held a very different opinion.
Annabel's disposition may not have been a nice one, but weakness was certainly not one of her failings, and she would never take a false step for any man. She was hard and calculating, and as she grew to adult womanhood, the obsession of her life to raise herself up by a good marriage strengthened with every passing year.
Forgetting and forgiving nothing, her great hope was to repay one day every slight and insult which had been heaped upon her.
So with her heart as hard as flint, given the opportunity, she would certainly have no mercy upon those who had offended her.
She had not the least affection for her father and mother, and although very proud of her good looks, standing in considerable awe of her, they never dared to speak to her in endearing terms. She never confided in them in any way, never told them her plans, and always treated them with a cold and indifferent contempt.
Often, when she looked at them, she was sure they could not be her real parents, and it pleased her to imagine that, to smother some scandal in high life, they had been paid to adopt her and make out she was their child.
Many times she had tried to pump her mother about the early days before the Blivvy family had come to live in Warbury, but the poor soul never seemed to know what Annabel was driving at and her stupidity had increased the girl's suspicions. Often and often, when she read in the newspapers of the doings of great people, she would speculate as to whom among them she owed her being.
With no friends at all, and living the lonely unnatural life she did, it was not surprising that as she had grown up, the bad tendencies of her character had developed much more strongly than any of the good ones she possessed. She was most vindictive, and it certainly did not pay anyone to become her enemy.
Miss Darcy-Maitland, for instance, had cut her dead one morning in the main street of the town, when only a few days previously they had worked together in decorating the parish church for the Easter festivities.
Annabel had swallowed the snub with a smile, but very shortly afterwards Miss Darcy-Maitland's two little prize Pomeranians had died from poison baits, thrown over the fence into the Hall grounds. As a veterinary surgeon, Annabel's father had many drugs of a poisonous nature in his dispensary, and from his books she had found out their properties and what they were used for.
She had no compunction at all inflicting any form of suffering, for she had by nature a strong vein of cruelty in her.
Even as a little child it had been a delight to her to watch anyone killing a fowl, and when sick animals had been brought to her father for destruction she was always present at their deaths if she happened to become aware of what was going to take place.
With the end in view of making good her position by marriage, the first man upon whom she had set her thoughts had been the new Rector of Warbury, the Reverend Sylvester Pontifex.
She had always been a constant attendant at the parish church, not for one moment with any purpose of devotion, but simply because, the sacred building being a common meeting-place for all classes, she could there force upon the public eye a comparison between herself and the daughters of the exclusive and haughty county people.
She had no fear as to the result, and always going early to the church and seating herself in the front pew of the side chapel, everybody in the main body of the church had a good view of her.
Demure and pensive, and with her beautiful eyes never straying away in curiosity upon the other occupants of the pews, she looked the very embodiment of maiden sweetness and piety, and there could be no doubt she was always a most disturbing element in the devotions of the other sex.
Visitors to the church who were guests at the great house in the district, much to the disgust of the womenfolk, always wanted to know who she was, and disappointment was generally expressed when they learnt they would not be meeting her at social functions.
When, upon the decease of the old Rector, Mr. Pontifex, getting near the forties and a bachelor, came to Warbury, there was a great flutter in the dovecotes all round the district, where eligible girls were pluming their feathers, ready and willing for a matrimonial flight.
Of course, in the ordinary way a clergyman would not have been considered much of a catch, but with the Reverend Pontifex it was quite different. He was most aristocratically connected. His first cousin was Lord Thurleigh and his sister was married to a Bishop. Thus, being both good-looking and an eloquent preacher, he was undoubtedly marked out for high office in the Church. To add spice to the matter of his capture, he had High Church leanings and was believed to have vowed himself to the celibate state.
So siege was at once, on all sides, laid to his affections, but without the very slightest result. He went everywhere and he was friendly with everyone, but he showed no particular interest in any direction.
Some months went by and then it began to be remarked most uneasily, that he had taken to looking a lot in the direction of Annabel Blivvy, when old Colonel James was reading the lessons. Of course, sitting in the front pew of the side chapel as she did, she was right in his line of vision, and he had only to lift his eyes for them to fall upon her.
Then it was next heard he had called upon Mrs. Blivvy and asked Annabel to help with the St. Mary's Guild. Then rumour became wildly clamorous. Annabel had taken to returning his glances in church! He was lending Annabel books to read! He had asked Annabel to help with the altar flowers! He had had Annabel and her mother up to the Rectory for tea!
A dreadful catastrophe seemed to be impending, and there were noddings that Lord Thurleigh ought to be told what was happening and everything made known, too, to the brother-in-law Bishop of the erring Rector. Why, all his career would be blighted if he married the veterinary surgeon's daughter!
Then, suddenly, the air cleared and a mighty sigh of relief was heaved all round the countryside.
The whole thing had undoubtedly fallen through. No longer were glances exchanged between the two in church. Annabel gradually stopped helping with the flowers and she no longer attended the meetings of the St. Mary's Guild.
The fact was that when Annabel had gone up with her mother to the Rectory to tea she had noticed that the furniture was shabby and old-fashioned. Also, the tea service had not been silver but only electro-plate and not very good class plate at that. So Annabel, with the indications of what she considered as poverty, under her very eyes, was put off the reverend gentleman at once, and sweetly and very tactfully intimated to him that she could never become a clergyman's wife.
She was greatly helped to this decision by the marked attention which a newcomer to the hunting-field was then showing her. The man was a Major Temple Harland, who had just come home after a period of ten years' service in India. He was forty-five years old, well-to-do, and the only son of an ailing mother who lived in the neighbourhood, in a big house known as Welland Towers. The old lady was reputed to be very wealthy.
The middle-aged soldier took a great fancy to Annabel directly he met her, and did not mind in the least who saw it. He bought two horses at an exorbitant price from her father and, upon one excuse and another, took to calling a lot at the veterinary surgeon's house. He asked boldly where Annabel was every time he came, and she took care to be always handy.
Then, to the consternation of the county people, he started going out for long rides with her and very soon took her home and introduced her to his mother. The old lady was greatly impressed by her appearance and, with a certain malice because during her son's absence in India the Society people had almost entirely neglected her, encouraged him in his attentions.
Finally he asked Annabel to marry him and, although wildly elated at the prospect, she yet kept her head and faced the situation in a most business-like manner.
"I like you very much, dear," she said smilingly after she had allowed him to kiss her in strict moderation, "but you must realise quite clearly what your marriage to me would mean." She squeezed his hand gently with her soft white fingers. "People will be very unkind to you."
"I don't care a bit about that," laughed the lovesick Major, "as long as I have you." He snapped his fingers together delightedly. "Gad, but won't the men be envious of me?" and he made to take her in his arms again.
But she smilingly withheld herself from him. "One moment," she said. She spoke decisively. "If you marry me you can't have my father, as a horse-dealer, living so near to us. No, it would never do"—she drew herself up proudly—"for as your wife I would take my proper position in Society."
"Damnation," swore the Major, "of course you would. You'd knock the stuffing out of all these anaemic women here." He screwed up his eyes. "But what can we do about your father?"
She made no bones about the matter. "There's a good practice for sale in Kidderminster," she replied, "and if you lend him £500 he can go there." She laughed lightly. "You may as well know the worst. I don't suppose you'll ever see any of your money back, as father's not made that way."
The Major chuckled gleefully at her candour. "He should have the £500 a dozen times over, sweetheart," he laughed, "if that were his price for giving you to me."
So, much to everyone's amazement, the Blivvy family had left Warbury almost before anyone had heard they were going, as quickly, Miss Darcy Maitland remarked with a sneer upon her quite good-looking face, as if the police were after them. But they left in no disgrace, every farthing they owed being paid up before their departure.
"And so ends that girl's annoyance to us here," nodded Mrs. Fitzpatrick-Thule, whose three un-marriageable daughters never missed a service at the Reverend Pontifex's church, in the vain hope that piety would make up for the absence of good looks. "She's been a disturbing feature in the district ever since she's grown up." She raised her hands. "But what a mercy for poor Major Harland that she's gone! Why, she might even have got him to marry her if she had remained on living in the neighbourhood!"
And all Society circles echoed that last statement, wondering a little, however, how the undoubtedly badly smitten Major could appear so cheerful and unconcerned, now that the horse-dealer's daughter had left the neighbourhood.
A dreadful shock, however, awaited them, for a fortnight to the day when they were hoping they had heard the last of Annabel Blivvy, they read in the Morning Post that she and Major Temple Harland had been married by special licence in St. George's, Hanover Square, the previous afternoon.
Everyone was horrified and when the chorus of indignation had somewhat died down, vowed the Major would never dare show his face again in Warbury or within fifty miles of it. They did not, however, know Annabel, for within another fortnight she had taken over her duties as the chatelaine of Welland Towers and was actually starting to do her shopping in Warbury from a Rolls Royce car. The Major's mother had come down handsomely from her good reserves of cash.
The first Sunday the happy couple were home Annabel made her husband accompany her to church and, to the stunned amazement of the worshippers, proceeded to occupy the same seat she had done in her maiden days, in the front pew of the side chapel.
There she sat as sweet and pensive as ever, with her beautiful, long-lashed eyes the homes, no doubt, of sacred thoughts. The Reverend Mr. Pontifex did not appear to notice her presence at first, but when he did, which happened in the middle of "dearly beloved brethren," he was seen to give an obvious start. Later on, during the reading of the lessons, it was noticed he never once raised his eyes.
All the service long Annabel seemed to be quite unaware that everyone was extraordinarily interested in her. She was absorbed in her devotions and only once looked at her husband when, with a tender smile, she passed him a hymn-book.
In the weeks which followed, Annabel set a lively tune at Welland Towers, the whole place being redecorated and refurnished from cellar to garret. Old Mrs. Harland was rather frightened at the expense but, a sufferer from bad heart attacks, she was afraid of upsetting herself if she disputed anything for long. So she always gave in quickly.
Everything being carried out to Annabel's satisfaction, she opened her reign with a small but very select house-party. The guests were, of course, all from among her husband's friends. He was very well-connected, and, with this house-party in view, when upon their honeymoon Annabel had made him look up all his relations and friends whom she thought would be useful to keep in touch with.
Her beauty had made a really extraordinary impression and everyone had been charmed with her. Indeed, the old Countess of Ripon, whom they had met when calling upon the Major's one-time superior officer, General Sir Hubert Raynes, had shown her admiration most openly, and had invited Annabel to visit her the next day at her imposing mansions facing the Green Park.
In her younger days the Countess had been a Lady-in-Waiting to a royal personage and she was still a most important person in London Society. She knew everybody and everybody was not a little afraid of her, her long memory and bitter tongue making her a most dangerous person to offend. Annabel, however, sensed the streak of kindliness in the hard and cynical nature of the old woman, and boldly asked for her advice about the forthcoming house-party.
She said she came of good stock but through force of circumstances her father had had to make his living by breeding horses, and she knew she was in for a bad time with the county people when she returned home and would be held up to derision for any false step she made.
The Countess was delighted with her frankness and gave her all the advice she could. "And you invite me to your house-party, my dear," she nodded significantly, "and I'll come." A grim smile curved the hard lips. "No county people will try any monkey tricks with you, if I'm there."
So not only did the Countess grace the house-party with her presence but, also, she notified a certain Society journal of the intended visit and expressed the wish that they should send their special photographer down.
Thus it came about there was a large full-page photograph of Mrs. Temple Harland in Our Country and Our People and another photograph of her among her guests upon the lawn of Welland Towers. The names of the guests were given underneath, and included three with titles. Annabel's cup of triumph overflowed.
In the months which followed, the horse-dealer's daughter settled down as the mistress of the big house, as though to the manner born. She and her husband entertained lavishly and the Major certainly could not complain that he lacked company. The latter, however, soon realised he was not going to get as much out of his marriage as he had expected. Certainly, his wife was always good-tempered with him, and looked after his comfort, but she was cold as ice, and if she kissed him, which she very seldom did, it was only a quick peck on the cheek.
As a matter of fact Annabel had never more than just tolerated her husband, and once married to him, she would have been quite happy if she had never seen him again. She just put up with him good-naturedly and that was all. She had found out that he was inclined to drink rather heavily and she deliberately encouraged the habit, finding that when he had taken more than was good for him he ceased to be interested in her and left her alone.
But if she could manage to tolerate her husband, his mother began to irritate her intensely. The old lady was always grumbling and whimpering about the money which was being spent and her sudden heart attacks were continually upsetting the house. When one seized her, resource had to be had instantly to a little glass capsule of amyl nitrite which was crushed so that she could inhale its contents. The local medical man had warned them that a failure to give the inhalation quickly might have fatal consequences.
Annabel was soon strongly of the opinion that the old lady's decease was a desirable thing, and one day when she was alone with her in her part of the house and an attack came on, she purposely withheld the capsule.
"The capsule, the capsule," had called out old Mrs. Harland in terrified tones, and Annabel had run quickly into another room where they were kept. She had not, however, returned for a full quarter of an hour, and then had found, to her great satisfaction, that the sufferer had passed away.
The Major had been very fond of his mother and he was so upset that he had to be dosed heavily with brandy and taken to his bed at once. Then it was found that his heart was bad, too, and that he had a leaking valve. He was told he would have to live much more carefully in future.
Mrs. Harland senior left nearly £60,000 and, it all reverting to her son, Annabel congratulated herself more than ever that, for a friendless and penniless girl, in her lowly position, she had done remarkably well for herself in marrying the elderly Major.
It did not worry her in the least that she had hastened Mrs. Harland's death. Indeed, she thought she had been rather clever. Then a little later, the Banbury doctor told her that, although her husband might live for many years, he would in all probability one day go off in the same manner as his mother.
He was certainly, the doctor said, not going to make old bones.
Annabel received the information with the horrified look and catch in her breath, becoming one who was devoted to her husband, and Dr. Miles left the house thinking what a wonderful woman she was to have taken the bad news so well.
Secretly, however, Annabel was not in the least bit disturbed. She had long come to the opinion that she would never grieve over the parting with any man and that she was one of those cold, frigid women for whom the other sex would never have any appeal.
So things went on for another year, with Annabel living only for her social triumphs and the contempt she was now able to heap upon the local county people who had once so despised her. Thanks to the send-off the old Countess had given her and the charm with which she was able to infect everyone, she drew her friends from the greater social world of London. In due time she was presented at Court, and once again the face of "the beautiful Mrs. Temple Harland" looked out from the front page of the Society magazines.
Then one day Annabel received a great shock, for love came suddenly into her life; a wild thrilling passion which would have swept her completely off her feet but for the restraint and reserve with which she had hitherto always shrouded herself.
The man was a baronet, Sir Romilly Vane, and she met him, as she had done her husband, in the hunting-field. He was a widower, twenty years older than she was, and had a daughter fifteen and a little son of four. He was the third baronet of the line, was wealthy, with large commercial interests in China.
As far as Annabel was concerned it was love at first sight, and when he was brought up and introduced to her, for the moment she dropped her glorious eyes, not in coquetry but simply because she felt she was compelled to.
Sir Romilly was a very handsome man, dark, and of rather foreign appearance from his Italian mother. He regarded her admiringly, and with a masterful challenge in his bold and smiling eyes.
Annabel felt her heart beating as it had never quite beaten before.
After that first meeting Sir Romilly, of set purpose, made himself most friendly to the Major and was soon a frequent visitor to Welland Towers. When he looked at Annabel he was always smiling, as if he knew quite well what feelings were stirring in her, and that he had only to bide his time.
He had not a good reputation where women were concerned and there were whisperings of the many and easy conquests he had attained. But Annabel had got herself well in hand, and if she thrilled the more and more with every time she saw him, she was yet determined there was going to be no conquest as far as she was concerned. She would never jeopardise her position as the heiress of the Harland thousands by making a false step.
So she gave him back smile for smile, steeling herself to a confidence which, however, was only hers by a supreme effort of will. She always held herself ready to repulse him if he attempted to come an inch too far.
And, sure enough, one day he did. He was dining with them that night, and, learning from the butler when he arrived that she was in the rose garden, went out to find her. She blushed divinely when she saw him coming up the path, and he held her hand much longer than was necessary.
They were out of sight of the house and suddenly—she realised afterwards she knew it was coming—he seized hold of her and tilting up her chin kissed her passionately upon the lips. It was the most thrilling moment of her life, and all the pent-up woman nature in her rioting gloriously through every fibre of her body, for perhaps five seconds she hung limply in his arms. Then she awoke to her weakness and sent him reeling backwards from a stinging blow upon the face. The very intimacy of so striking him was almost as delicious to her as had been his caresses.
"You ever touch me again," she panted furiously, "and I'll horsewhip you."
For the moment the pain from the blow he had received had been considerable, but the brief seconds which had preceded it had been so filled with ecstasy for him that the baronet would have received any amount of such punishment, gladly.
"Your pardon, Annabel," he said gravely, "I won't offend again. It was a despicable thing to do," but all the same she saw the expression upon his face was not a repentant one.
Half an hour later they were sitting at dinner, as serene and unruffled as hostess and guest should be, but Annabel noted with a great joy the red mark upon his forehead. It was the seal, she thought, of the secret love between them. Her husband had noticed nothing.
That night until well into the small hours of the morning Annabel took counsel with herself.
If she were a free woman she could become Lady Vane. She had not the slightest doubt about it. Sir Romilly was fiercely in love with her and, apart from that, with the added wealth which she would bring, the marriage would be a good thing for him.
She thought of her husband and the baronet, and the comparison was sickening. The one, coarsening and fattening with every clay, over-eating and over-drinking and for ever making the worst of his ailments, an aging man at only forty-six, and the other—only a little younger but lithe and virile, and in the very pride of physical and intellectual strength.
What a difference between them!
And then a dreadful thought began creeping up into her mind. She had got rid of the mother and it had been so easy, then why—a catch came into her breath—should she not get rid of the son?
Daylight was streaming in through the windows before she dropped to sleep, and then a wonderful dream came to her. She had become Lady Vane, and she had borne Sir Romilly a son.
In the months which followed she became an exemplary wife, watching assiduously over her husband. She ministered to all his petty ailments, secretly, however, encouraging them. She said she was sure spirits were good for him, and therefore saw to it that he drank the best part of a bottle of brandy a day.
Sir Romilly came as much as ever to the house, always, however, treating Annabel with the utmost respect and never attempting to carry further his adventure in the rose garden. He watched her, however, in the same smiling way as if he were quite aware what her feelings were for him and, again, was only biding his time. Perhaps, in shaking hands, he held hers a little longer than he need have, and perhaps again, he squeezed it ever so lightly. But she never appeared to notice anything, and regarded him with the calm, untroubled eyes of a woman who was very sure of herself and had no fears.
So things went on for many weeks and then at last came the opportunity for which Annabel had been waiting so patiently.
Her husband added to his other ailments that of sciatica and—a great baby where pain was concerned—was continually insisting that his doctor should give him morphia. Being a wealthy and very profitable patient, the doctor humoured him as much as possible, and when the Major demanded that morphia tablets should be left with him and he be furnished with a hypodermic syringe to give himself an injection, if pain came on in the night, with some reluctance the medical man agreed to the demand.
"But on no account ever give yourself more than one tablet of a quarter of a grain," he warned. He shook his head. "I don't like leaving the syringe here and I really oughtn't to do it."
"Oh, I'll be quite all right," nodded the Major, "and I'll never take any unless absolutely necessary. I promise you that."
So the syringe and the morphia tablets being left, the next day Annabel announced that she must go up to town to see her dressmaker, but, instead, she made a hurried cross-country journey to her parents at Kidderminster.
As she had expected, she found her father was out upon his rounds, and while her mother was preparing a meal she stole into the dispensary and abstracted eight half-grain tablets of morphia from one of the many phials she found in a drawer. She knew her father was a careless man and was sure he would never notice their absence.
Back home again she waited all prepared for her husband's next attack of sciatic pains. They came on about a week later, one night after dinner, and after he had injected himself with a quarter of a grain of morphia she saw him comfortably into bed, with the pain beginning to ease off.
"And now, dear," she said, and she was quite proud that her heart was beating no faster, "you shall have a hot drink of brandy and lemon and you'll soon go off to sleep."
So the unsuspecting Major received no less than four grains of morphia in his brandy, and as his wife had told him, he soon dropped off to sleep.
Then, alone in her own room, for the first time Annabel felt fear and her teeth chattered and her legs shook. This time it was murder, real murder. It was not neglecting to save the life of the mother as she had done before, but it was deliberately taking the life of the son, and if she were found out the consequences would be terrible.
But she was not going to be found out, she told herself, as she clenched her small white teeth resolutely together. There would be nothing to throw the very slightest suspicion upon her. She had well washed out the glass of brandy and lemon she had given to her husband, and even put in a little plain brandy and water in case the glass should come to be examined. Also, she had taken three tablets of morphia from the phial the doctor had left behind him, to give all the appearance that her husband had over-dosed himself.
She would pretend to think her husband had died in a heart attack and although Dr. Miles would, of course, know better, she was trusting he would hold his tongue. He was a nervous little man, and would certainly be realising how his reputation would suffer if it came out he had allowed his patient to dose himself. Had he not said when he lent the hypodermic syringe, that he knew he was doing wrong?
So she took courage and pulled herself together, even calming down sufficiently to snatch fitful moments of sleep, between the intervals when she crept in to look at her husband. He had soon passed into unconsciousness, and with every time she bent over him she saw that his breathing had become shallower and shallower. By half-past seven he did not seem to be breathing at all.
She rang up the doctor as if in frantic haste. "Oh, do come instantly," she wailed. "He's had a heart attack and I think he's dead."
Then everything happened exactly as she had anticipated it would. Dr. Miles at once pronounced life to be extinct, and then, seeing how many tablets were missing from the phial, went as white as a sheet. He made no comment about them, however, and did not attempt to disabuse her mind that it was not his heart which had carried her husband off.
"A merciful death," he said chokingly as he moistened his dry lips with his tongue and pocketed the phial quickly. "He suffered no pain and just died in his sleep."
So four days later, under a dark November sky, Temple Harland was carried to his last resting place in the little village churchyard and Annabel's guilty secret was safe until the resurrection morn.
A year and a week later—she always intended to conform strictly to social usages—Annabel became Lady Vane, and in the following September she presented her husband with a son.
Then it would have seemed that her cup of happiness was filled to the brim. She was wealthy, she was beautiful, she loved and was beloved, and her child was as lovely as any woman could desire.
She looked back now upon her social triumphs over the Warbury county people as memories unworthy of being retained in her mind. As Lady Vane she moved in quite a different world, the glowing, glittering world of mighty London, and everything lay at her feet.
She had sold Warbury Towers, lock, stock and barrel, and, when not visiting her aristocratic friends, passed her time between her husband's county seat near Godalming, and a luxurious suite of rooms in the Acropolis Hotel in St. James's.
Her relations with her two stepchildren were peculiar. Her husband was extremely fond of both of them and, during the early days of their life, for his sake, she had made a great fuss of them.
The boy, Charles Romilly Vane, the heir to the baronetcy and a fine, handsome little fellow of nearly six, had soon taken to her, but the girl, who was equally as pretty as the boy was handsome, had never done so. Indeed, a cordial dislike soon grew up between the two, and all the girl's dissembling could not entirely hide her feelings.
Veronica Vane, who was approaching eighteen when Annabel's baby was born, was of a quiet and reserved disposition and firm character. She idolised her little brother, and had dreaded the coming of another son to her father. Taking her stepmother's measure quite correctly, she had foreseen it would always be uppermost in Annabel's mind that little Charles stood between her son and the baronetcy. An instinct told the girl that her stepmother would be always secretly hoping that the boy would die. Certainly, the idea of deliberate neglect never entered Veronica's mind, but Charles was delicate and she was fearful he would not receive from Annabel the care and attention he needed.
And as the months went by she would have shuddered had she known the dark and sinister thoughts which were beginning to gather in her stepmother's mind.
Annabel had found the bringing about of two deaths so easy that she was soon contemplating a third. But there must be no poisoning this time. The Godalming doctor was very different from the Warbury one. He was a stern, very shrewd-looking man, with eyes which she always imagined were trying to pierce her through and through.
A dour old bachelor, he was not in the slightest degree impressed by her good looks. In fact, she rather thought he disapproved of the baronet's second marriage. He had been a cousin of the first wife, and very attached to her. So he seemed now to consider her two children to be under his special care and often came up to the Court to see how they were getting on. If Annabel were not about then he came and went without making any inquiries after her. He had known Sir Romilly since he had been a small boy, and exercised considerable influence over his wayward and impetuous nature.
Yes, Annabel had sense enough to see she must not play any tricks with Dr. Salter about.
Still, she was soon only waiting for her opportunity, and when her husband had to make a business trip to China, she felt sure that in his absence that opportunity would come.
When he had been gone a few weeks, one morning little Charles wanted to have his usual dip in the beautiful bathing pool in the Court grounds. It was early in July, but the weather had turned bitterly cold and the child's nurse was against his going into the water. Annabel, however, pooh-poohed her misgivings, averring that the child must not be brought up as a milksop and, accordingly, Charles was allowed into the pool.
The nurse and Annabel stood watching him to see that he did not go out too deep. Then Annabel suddenly asked the girl to run into the house to fetch her a wrap. Directly she had started upon her errand, his stepmother suggested to Charles that he should try to swim across the pool but, acting upon her suggestion, the moment he found himself in deep water he lost his nerve and, throwing up his hands, began to cry out for help.
But Annabel had run among the trees, as she said afterwards, to prevent her little Pomeranian from catching a young bird which could not fly, and the boy would almost certainly have been drowned if one of the gardeners had not happened to arrive at that moment and, instantly plunging into the pool, rescued him.
It was, however, a near thing and Charles was almost unconscious when brought to the bank. But he was dosed with brandy and put to bed with hot-water bottles. To Annabel's great annoyance, Veronica had rung up the doctor and the latter was at the Court in a few minutes.
The next day Charles was feverish and soon pneumonia had set in. Annabel appeared almost distracted with grief and implored the grim-faced doctor to save him. Two nurses were installed and Dr. Salter came four times a day.
Two days later, after Dr. Salter had paid his evening visit, the night nurse came on duty with a splitting headache and Annabel insisted upon her going back to bed. She said she would do the nursing that night.
So little Charles got no medicine or nourishment during the night, and was exposed as much as possible to draughts. Fortunately, however, the weather had warmed up.
The next morning the doctor was frowning heavily over his little patient's condition, but made no comment about the night nurse's indisposition, apparently having heard nothing about it.
In the evening, however, he turned up with another nurse and, curtly telling the former night nurse he was not satisfied with her, sent her packing off straight away. He gave strict orders that under no circumstances was the child to be left without one or other of the nurses being with him for one single moment. As usual, he took very little notice of Annabel.
Charles began to get better, and when he was pronounced out of danger, Annabel, hiding her mortification under an appearance of great happiness, took herself off to town for a few days, as she explained, upon urgent business.
She insisted on Veronica coming with her, with the excuse that it would do the girl good, and rather to her surprise Veronica seemed quite pleased with the arrangement. Annabel's real reason, however, was to keep the girl from talking too much to Dr. Salter. She imagined that Veronica had been looking at her rather queerly ever since the incident in the bathing pool.
The morning after they arrived in town, shortly before eleven o'clock she took her stepdaughter into the underground Silver Moon Cafe in Fountain Street.
"Now you wait here for me, dear," she said sweetly, "and then I shall be certain where to find you. I may be quite an hour with my bank manager, so don't expect me back before twelve. They have delicious coffee here. I often come, and you can sit and read your magazine in peace."
Veronica, however, had no intention of doing any reading and the moment her stepmother had gone, making use of the cafe telephone, she rang up a special friend of hers, a young barrister in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Fortunately, she caught him in his chambers and, asking him to come to her at once upon a very urgent matter, a quarter of an hour later the obsequious Osman was serving them both with coffee.
The coffee served, it might have seemed that the Hindu was in no wise interested in them. On the contrary, he was very interested, as he was always interested in those who frequented the cafe. He knew the beautiful Lady Vane as an occasional customer and had heard a lot about her. So, having heard Veronica address her as "Mother" he guessed the girl was her stepdaughter.
Now, he had been serving coffee in the Silver Moon for upwards of seven years, and there was one thing about the little underground cafe which only he and one other knew.
One day long ago he had made an interesting discovery about the acoustics of the place. Circular in shape, in one particular spot under a big arch it had all the properties of a whispering gallery, and he had found out that if he stood there he could hear quite plainly what was being said at certain tables across the other side of the room. Consequently, it was his habit to make that his resting place, along with his traymobile holding his coffee-making apparatus, when he was not actually attending to the wants of customers.
That morning, it happened that Veronica and the young barrister had seated themselves at one of the particular tables where conversation could be listened into, and having served them with coffee, Osman returned to his place of vantage and proceeded to interest himself in what they were talking about. At that early hour of the day the cafe was almost empty and for the moment he had nothing else to do.
Then his eyes soon took on a rather startled look and when presently another customer, a gentleman, entered the cafe, he made a quick sign to him to approach close and take a seat near where he was standing. The newcomer was his friend to whom alone he had confided the secret of how conversations could be overheard.
"It is well you have come in this morning, Sahib," he whispered sibilantly in Hindustani. He inclined his head ever so slightly in the direction of the two on the other side of the cafe. "That young lady is the stepdaughter of the beautiful Lady Vane, and she is talking to her friend of dreadful things. She says the beautiful lady is trying to bring about the death of her little brother, so that her own son may one day become the titled one and possess all the lands and honours. She is very troubled."
The man he had addressed as Sahib frowned but, without a word, slipped in the chair Osman had indicated.
"A little nearer the wall, Sahib," whispered the Hindu, "but don't let the chair quite touch," and they both listened intently.
"But you have really no proof, darling," said the barrister. "You may be imagining it all."
"Oh, I am not, Jim!" exclaimed the girl emphatically. "I saw her distinctly, watching among the trees that afternoon. You must understand I was high up in my bedroom and although I couldn't see the bathing pool from the window, I could see her and she, I am sure, was crouching down, watching everything."
"But you didn't hear Charles crying out?"
"No, the pool was too far away. Then I saw the gardener come running up and he disappeared in a flash over the bank of the pool. Then next, I saw him come in sight again with Charles in his arms. Oh, it was terrible!"
"Well, he got over the pneumonia all right, at any rate."
"Yes, but I tremble to think what she might have done that night when she was nursing him. I didn't hear of it until the next morning, and was afraid to use the telephone in case she caught me. But I ran out, unknown to everyone, and told Dr. Salter. He was very angry but promised not to say a word."
"Well, why didn't you tell him then of your suspicions about her when Charles was in the bathing pool?"
"Oh, I didn't dare to and that's what I want to ask you about. Ought I to tell him? It seems such a dreadful thing to say about Father's wife."
A short silence followed and then she went on, "You see it's what I'd heard about Mother before all this happened which makes me so frightened now. Quite six months ago, by mere chance, I overheard what Emily was saying to our cook. Five years ago Emily was a housemaid with the Darcy-Maitlands who lived near Warbury, when Mother's father was the veterinary surgeon. Emily told Cook that people there used laughingly to call Mother the angel of death because so soon after her marriage her mother-in-law and her husband both died very suddenly. And there were tales about her long before that. It was said that when she was quite a young girl if people offended her their dogs often died soon afterwards from poison baits. Mother was suspected because her father's occupation being what it was, she could so easily get hold of poison."
"But Vera, dear," protested the young barrister in worried tones, "it sounds altogether too horrible to be true."
The girl's voice choked. "I know it does, Jim, but then I've seen she can be dreadfully cruel. Since Father's been away she's had a little fox-terrier, whom we all loved, killed, because he chased a cat into the conservatory and broke some of her orchids. Yes, beautiful as she is, her nature is cruel and heartless."
A long silence followed now, and then her sweetheart said slowly, "Well, darling, this wants a lot of thinking over. When are you going back home?"
"Not until the end of the week. This afternoon I'm going to my cousins in South Kensington, the Harcourts, until Saturday, and Mother will be staying with Lady Holmeyer at Esher Court until then. She's going with her to the opera tonight, and is very thrilled at the thought that they'll be next to the royal box."
"Well, can't I come and see you at the Harcourts?"
"Of course you can! But Jim, dear, you mustn't stop here any longer now. Mother may come any minute and I have a feeling she doesn't like me to talk to anyone. I'm sure she has found out I told Dr. Salter about the nurse."
That night at the opera, sitting well forward in Lord Holmeyer's box, Lady Vane was the magnet which drew all eyes, and more glances were thrown in her direction than anywhere else.
Never had she looked more beautiful and she knew she was by far the loveliest woman there. She felt it was her hour of greatest triumph, unless one day she should take her seat in the Peeresses Gallery of the House of Lords.
Still, she was not really happy for her thoughts gave her no peace. She had no interest in the glittering magnificence of the stage, and the glorious melodies of Gounod—the opera was Faust—fell unheeded upon her ears. All she was thinking of was how to bring misfortune upon Charles so that the baronetcy would come to her son.
And she felt she must do it quickly, before her husband's return. He must learn the news while he was abroad, for she knew she could never face him when his grief was fresh upon him. A deadly fear gripped her that, with so much passing to her own son upon Charles's death, he would sense instinctively she was not sharing his sorrow if the child had died.
No, she was not at all happy in her thoughts and then, just before the end of the first interval, a strange thing happened.
She suddenly became aware that a man in the stalls just below was staring intently at her. He was a perfect stranger and she made to draw away her eyes. Then to her astonishment she found she could not, and the auditorium was plunged into darkness with his eyes still holding hers.
She shuddered and felt heavy with a dreadful sleepiness. She could not keep awake, and closed her eyes. Then it seemed that she was dreaming and, in her dreams, was speaking of most secret things.
She awoke at last with a start, and found her hands and face were clammy with cold perspiration. She felt very frightened, but why—she did not understand.
At the end of the second act when the lights went up again, she saw the man who had been staring at her had disappeared. Her friends said that she was looking pale and tired.
That night another anonymous letter was posted to Larose. As with the one which had been sent him before it was typed, and at the foot of it was again the one word "Retribution."
TOWARDS nine o'clock the following night three men, with set and solemn faces, were talking in a large and well-furnished room in Scotland Yard. They were Sir Michael Bolden, the Chief Commissioner of Police, Chief Inspector Stone, and Gilbert Larose. Although there was no possibility of them being overheard, as if from force of habit they conversed in low tones.
"But it seems incredible the writer is going to carry out his dreadful threat!" frowned the Commissioner.
"He did it last time, sir," commented Larose, "and, from the very terseness of his letter now, I think he means to do it again. He is not boasting."
The Commissioner looked down upon the paper he was holding in his hand and read it aloud, slowly and distinctly, as if by so doing he could pierce deeper into the writer's mind.
Mr. Gilbert Larose,
11.30 p.m. Tuesday, July 22nd.
A second opportunity is now given you to prove your vaunted powers.
Tomorrow, Wednesday night, or in the early hours of Thursday morning,
sentence will be carried out upon another offender. This time it will be
a well-known Society woman, who will receive her deserts. She dies
because she is not fit to live.
A short silence followed and then the Commissioner remarked thoughtfully, "Of course, if it were not what happened to that man in Edgware Road we could regard this as an idle threat."
"It isn't a threat, sir," commented Larose sharply. "I regard it just as a cold statement of fact. To my thinking an attempt will certainly be made upon the life of some woman and the writer of the letter is so confident that, remembering his former crime, we may reasonably expect the attempt will be a successful one. Undoubtedly he has made all preparations."
The Commissioner made a grimace. "And such a little time is given to us that we are quite helpless."
"But if we had a month's notice, sir," grunted Inspector Stone, "I don't see that we could do anything. We couldn't pick up the slightest clue in Edgware Road, and this second letter to Mr. Larose doesn't help us in the least. Same kind of notepaper, same kind of envelope and the same typewriter used." He sighed. "If only we could find out whose typewriter it is we should be right on the spot. Our experts insist upon that peculiarity in the letter 'S'."
The Commissioner sighed. "Well, if we are being deliberately warned that a murder is going to be committed, and we all, apparently, take the warning to be a serious one, then it is most ignominious to have to sit with folded hands until the crime has actually been committed."
"We can't help it, sir," said the inspector. "We can only wait and see."
The Commissioner rose to his feet. "Well, of course, you'll remain here all night, Mr. Stone? What about you, Mr. Larose?"
"I'll go to my hotel, but I'll be ready the instant any news comes in."
Inspector Stone passed a most unrefreshing night, taking off only his jacket and his boots, and he did not appear too pleased when Larose, arriving next morning well after half-past eight, announced that he had had eight hours of good sleep.
"Pretty casual, aren't you," grunted the inspector sourly, "not turning up until it's getting on for nine? Why, news that half the women in London had been murdered might have come through by now!"
Larose shook his head. "But this particular woman, Charlie, was to be a Society one," he said solemnly, "and from the wording of the letter—the writer mentioned the small hours of the morning—we may expect she was going to be murdered in her bed. So it may not be until they go to call her, perhaps pretty late, that they'll find out what has happened."
"The devil!" exclaimed Stone. "You've got imagination, haven't you?"
Larose smiled. "Well, any business come in this morning?" he asked.
"A burglary at Lord Holmeyer's place at Esher," grunted Stone. "Superintendent Roberts of the Kingston police rang up about half an hour ago." The stout inspector scoffed. "Serve Holmeyer right! The old fool values his loss at about £3,000 and he hasn't got a burglar alarm on the premises!"
Larose sat down and lit a cigarette. "Well, I'll put up with your company until ten o'clock and by then, if we have heard nothing, we may reasonably hope the murder has misfired, at any rate for the time being."
But almost as he spoke the telephone upon Stone's desk buzzed and, picking up the receiver, in a few seconds the inspector ejaculated, "Good God!"
A deep silence followed, with Stone's ear glued to the receiver and his face puckered into a heavy frown. He moistened his lips several times.
"Yes, yes, I've got it!" he exclaimed at length. "How far's the place beyond Esher? And it's on the main Ripley Road? Then have a uniformed man stationed there so that, by no chance, we miss it. All right, we'll be with you as quickly as possible."
He jerked back the receiver and turned to Larose with a face which, in spite of his thirty years' association with Scotland Yard, was drawn and pale.
"He's done it!" he cried hoarsely. "God, he's murdered the wife of Sir Romilly Vane! She's just been found throttled in her bed!"
The face of Larose had paled, too. "Annabel, Lady Vane!" he gasped. "One of the most beautiful women in England! I saw her at Ascot this year!" His voice shook. "Where did it happen?"
"At Esher Court," snapped Stone. "She was staying with the Holmeyers." He went on furiously: "Yes, and the wretch has now added thieving to murder. He has gone off with all her jewels." He rose quickly to his feet. "But come on now. One word with the Chief and we'll be starting."
So, less than an hour later, they were standing by the bed upon which lay the cold and stiffening body of the once lovely Lady Vane. There was every evidence that peaceful sleep had not preceded death, for the bedclothes were all tossed and rumpled, and one of the pillows had been thrown across the floor.
The dead woman was lying extended cross-ways upon the bed, with her head hanging over the side. Her nightdress was in disarray, and split down at one shoulder. The expression upon her face was that of one who had been in great pain. Her eyes were glazed and staring, and her mouth was wide open. There were ugly marks upon the beautiful white throat and neck.
"Been dead about eight hours, I should say," said the police surgeon, "as the muscles of the neck and jaw are just beginning to stiffen." He looked at his wrist-watch. "That would make it about two o'clock when she died. Been gripped violently by the throat and then, probably, suffocated with the pillow."
"But she would have struggled, Doctor," commented Stone frowningly, "and there are no bruises upon her arms!"
"No," nodded the surgeon, "she was caught with her arms under the bedclothes and never got them free. Most likely her assailant knelt across her and then she wouldn't have stood the slightest chance." He turned to the Kingston superintendent. "Now let's have a look at that lady's maid of hers."
Then the whole story of everything was told quickly and briefly to Inspector Stone and Larose.
A few minutes before seven, one of the maids going into the dining-room had found that one of the large french windows there had been broken open. She had immediately summoned the butler, who after a hasty look round in the other rooms had seen that Lord Holmeyer's cabinet of much-prized silver snuff-boxes had been rifled of all its contents.
The butler had raced upstairs and told his master. His lordship had at once rung up the Kingston police, but not wishing to alarm his guests—there were three lady friends of his wife's staying at the Court—had kept all knowledge of what had happened from them.
Upon the arrival of the police, all the servants had been questioned sharply as to whether any of them had heard any noises during the night. Then it was remarked that Jane Brendon, Lady Vane's maid, who occupied a room adjoining that of her mistress, had not as yet come down into the kitchen for the morning cups of tea, and one of the housemaids had been sent up to fetch her.
The girl had found the door of Jane's room unlocked and, entering the room, had been terrified to see Jane lying bound and gagged upon the bed. She had shrieked for the police to come up and Jane, being released, was found to be in a half stupefied and apparently half-drugged condition. It was seen, too, that the contents of Jane's suit-case were lying strewn about the floor, and in full view was a large jewel case, broken open and empty.
From Jane's room was a door leading into the bedroom of her mistress, and upon knocking at the door Lady Vane could not be aroused. The door could not be opened as it was found to be bolted on the inside, as was also the other door of her ladyship's room leading into the corridor.
That something dreadful had happened was anticipated immediately, and it was at first suggested that one of the doors should be broken down, but it being seen from outside that the window of her room was wide open a long ladder was fetched from a shed and entrance effected that way.
Then, that Lady Vane was dead and had met with a most horrible death was at once apparent.
Revived with a strong dose of brandy, although with her head, as she described it, as heavy as lead, Jane Brendon had soon been able to tell her story.
She said she had settled her mistress for the night and put herself to bed just before twelve. She had happened to look at her watch and was sure of the exact time. She had dropped off to sleep at once and was a heavy sleeper.
She did not know how long she had slept, but she had been suddenly awakened by her mouth being pulled open violently and stuffed with a cloth. She found she was being held down and she could not cry out. Her assailants then bound her down on to the bed, by the light of a small electric torch.
Then the reading lamp on the rail at the head of the bed was switched on and she saw there were two men in the room. They had both a piece of cloth hanging over their faces. One of them opened a small box and a few seconds later one of her arms was pricked and at once she began to become unconscious.
She woke up presently feeling very ill. The room was then in perfect darkness, and it seemed to her that many hours went by before she saw the Court housemaid bending over her with terrified eyes.
Asked to account for the broken jewel case upon the floor she had at once replied that, of course, it was Lady Vane's. Following upon a burglary near Vane Park some months previously, whenever they were away from home, at her mistress's order, the jewel case had always been hidden among her, Jane's, belongings at night. It had been thought that in that way it would be safer if any burglars should happen to break in where they were staying.
Both the inspector and Larose were quickly of opinion that there was no reason to doubt the veracity of the lady's maid, and were quite sure she had had no complicity in the crime. She had been very roughly handled, with her mouth torn at the corner, a large bruise upon her forehead and extensive bruising upon her arms where she had been held down. Also, after examination, the surgeon testified that she had undoubtedly received an intravenous injection in the arm near the elbow. He thought a drug known as sodium evipan had most probably been used.
That evening Inspector Stone was again closeted with the Chief Commissioner in Scotland Yard and summing up the whole situation to him.
"Neither entry into nor exit from her room," he said emphatically, "had been made by the murderers through that open window. A twenty-foot ladder had to be fetched to reach the sill and there were no marks anywhere to show that one had been used before, neither upon the sill itself nor upon the earth of the flower-bed underneath. It was absolutely impossible, too, that anyone had been lowered from the roof. The dust and weather marks were years old there and had not been disturbed." He frowned heavily. "And she had shot home those inside bolts herself. Her finger-marks upon them came out most clearly. Therefore——"
"But if whoever murdered her," interrupted the Commissioner, "did not enter or leave by the window and she herself had bolted both doors on the inside, how are you going to account for what happened?"
"I am not accounting for it, sir," replied Stone. "I am sorry I cannot. I am just giving you the result of our investigations up to now." He went on. "Now, according to the testimony of her maid, it was never Lady Vane's custom to bolt or lock her doors when staying with friends, and she had not done so the previous night at the Court. Therefore, we must presume that last night she was frightened in some way."
"You suggest she knew some danger was threatening her?" asked the Commissioner.
Stone looked troubled. "I don't know what to think. Both Lord and Lady Holmeyer say she was as bright and lively as could be all the evening, and the maid said she was as calm and collected as usual when she left her after putting out her light. No, I think she became nervous afterwards, and got out of bed and bolted herself in." He shook his head. "But it couldn't have been for the safety of her jewels she was nervous or she would have bolted the door in the maid's room opening on to the corridor, instead of the one leading into her own room."
The Commissioner nodded in appreciation of the point. "Ah, and about those jewels," he asked, "was it known throughout the house that the maid took charge of them at night?"
The inspector spoke very solemnly. "If we are to believe the maid it was not known to a soul except her. Since the arrangement was first made many weeks ago, she had never mentioned it to anyone, and both Lord and Lady Holmeyer are emphatic Lady Vane had never told them."
The Commissioner went on another tack. "And you say that the maid can give no description of the men?" he asked.
"No, although she admits she saw them both, and one of them without the cloth covering his face, as it dropped off when he was bending down to give her that injection. She says the terror she went through must have taken away from her all memory of what they were like."
The Commissioner frowned thoughtfully. "Well, another thing, the crime must have been committed by those who knew all the geography of the house."
"Of course it was," agreed Stone instantly. He made a grimace. "But that doesn't help us much, as Esher Court is a sort of show place and upon particular days, in the absence of the family, anyone is allowed to go over certain parts upon payment of a shilling, which goes to the funds of the local cottage hospital. A lot of great people have stayed at the Court, and some of the rooms are named after them; Queen Elizabeth and Nelson are two."
"But that wouldn't tell them where Lady Vane's room was," said the Commissioner.
"No, but she's stayed with the Holmeyers several times this year," said Stone, "and she's always had the same room. Then yesterday afternoon three charabanc loads of people from Kingston came out to see the display of roses in the rose garden, and the whole time they were there Lady Vane was sitting in full view of them all at her window, reading, or pretending to read." He nodded. "I've heard that was her way. She always liked people to be looking at her."
A short silence followed and Stone went on. "Then we can't pick up so much as the ghost of a clue among the servants and not one of them looks the part of having been in collusion with the burglars."
"You mean it was a genuine break-in from outside?" said the Commissioner.
"Yes, and we can be practically certain of that, because in getting in through the french window one of them cut himself and left drops of blood and smears upon the glass, but none of the Court servants have the slightest cut upon their hands."
The Commissioner looked doubtful. "Still, all the signs of an entrance having been made that way may have been done on purpose to mislead us. They may have had a confederate in the house all the time."
The inspector nodded. "We thought of that but, if it were so, imagine they would hardly have chosen such a hard place to break into. It was a long job to cut through the thick glass of that window to get a hand in to turn the bolt, and the first hole they made, too, was not in the right place. They had to cut another one." He shook his head. "No, we argue that if they had inside help and yet wanted it to appear they had broken in, they would certainly have chosen an easier place than they did, round by the kitchen regions, for instance."
"Well, why didn't they go there in any case," asked the Commissioner, "if, as you say, it would have been so much easier?"
"Ah!" exclaimed Stone, "they chose the dining-room because there were no bedrooms above it. They couldn't have picked a place further away from where anyone was sleeping than that room." He smiled. "Yes, sir, they knew the geography of the place."
A long silence followed and the Commissioner asked frowningly, "And you haven't the slightest clue, not the very slightest?" His face relaxed to a half-smile. "Then what does Mr. Larose think about it?"
The inspector smiled too. "He's very quiet. He's hardly said a word to me, but he seems to have got on very good terms with Lord and Lady Holmeyer, as he's stopping the night there."
The Commissioner sighed. "Well, I hope to goodness we find out something and quickly, too. You've seen what the papers are saying tonight and they'll be raving mad tomorrow."
And, certainly, the next morning it seemed as if it were undoubtedly the deliberate intention of some of the newspapers to work up their readers to the highest pitch of excitement. The murder of so well known a Society woman as Lady Vane was a sensation of the highest order, and they made the most of it.
The Daily Messenger was perhaps the most energetic of them all, and from its front page looked out the lovely face of Lady Vane, while above it, in big half-inch letters of heavy type, was the one word "THROTTLED."
It spoke of this beautiful woman, in the full pride of her radiant womanhood, meeting death in one of its most dreadful forms, and it called upon the authorities to bring the murderers to book with no delay. Then it pointed out the sinister and significant parallel between the crime at Esher Court and that in Edgware Road, where Professor Starbank had been murdered, but a few weeks previously.
"Have we a professional strangler in our midst," it declaimed, "whose fiendish ingenuity is so great that, along with his confederate, he can pass through closed doors to accomplish his dreadful ends and leave no traces of his coming or going behind him? Can he murder and rob in so baffling a manner that our police are powerless to apprehend him?"
Then it answered its own questions. "No, a thousand times no. Our detective service is the best in the world, and we can confidently hope that with all the resources at its command the Criminal Investigation Department will speedily be successful in laying the miscreant by the heels."
It then spoke of the value of the jewels which had been taken; the almost priceless emerald necklace, which had been an heirloom of the Vane family for four generations, the pearls which were valued at £20,000 and the diamond tiara which had been the gift of the baronet to the deceased upon their marriage.
The next day it returned to the attack, now piling sensation upon sensation. Somehow, in exactly what way it was never determined, it had learnt that Scotland Yard had been forewarned that the murders of both Professor Starbank and Lady Vane were to take place.
Certainly, it stated, the particular people who were to be murdered had not been made known to the authorities, but they had been told murder was to be done and, in the case of the Professor, the actual locality of Edgware Road had been specifically mentioned. It was an open secret too, it went on, that upon the night of the tragedy at Esher Court, some of the "heads" of Scotland Yard had never gone off duty. Chief Inspector Stone, for one, had not taken his clothes off and had snatched what sleep he could upon a sofa in his room.
A thrill of dreadful horror surged through the public. Then they must be facing not the hidden isolated crimes of ordinary miscreants, but the open defiance of a band of criminals who were considering themselves so secure from interference that they could give beforehand some indication of what they were intending to do.
Again, it called upon the authorities to do their utmost, insisting that they should use more imagination in dealing with crimes of this nature.
A week, ten days, went by and still nothing had been found out and it began to look as if with that of Professor Starbank, the murder of Lady Vane would soon take its place among the category of undiscovered crimes.
In the meantime Jane Brendon, the lady's maid of Lady Vane, had gone to her mother in Ramsgate for a much-needed holiday and rest. She was still feeling the effects of the dreadful experience she had been through.
One afternoon a man knocked on the door of Mrs. Brendon's little house which was situated upon the outskirts of the town. Mrs. Brendon was out shopping and Jane herself answered the door.
The man said he was a doctor and had been sent especially by the Government to inquire how Miss Jane Brendon was.
Whereupon Jane, thrilled at the idea she was of such importance, told him she was Miss Brendon and invited him into the house. His manners were so charming that she felt at ease with him at once. He seemed so kind, too, and after feeling her pulse and asking her if she slept well and had a good appetite, and a few other unimportant questions, he produced a £5 note and gave it to her, as he put it, as some little compensation for worrying her when upon her holiday.
"No, no," he protested smilingly when Jane seemed reluctant to take the money, "the Government always insists upon it. It's just a matter of routine with them."
Then he turned the conversation to her years of service with the Vane family when she was maid to the first Lady Vane, and very gradually brought it round to what she remembered of the events of the fateful night.
It was unfortunate, he said, that she could not remember what the two men were like, but perhaps one day it would all come back to her. Then he looked at her very intently and she suddenly began to feel drowsy. He continued talking to her very quietly and very slowly, but she did not remember afterwards what he said.
Then she was afraid she was actually so rude as to close her eyes. She really felt so drowsy and couldn't help it. Presently, she realised how very inattentive she must have been, for she found he was telling her about an adventure he had once had when a boy in a sailing boat off the Goodwin Sands and she had no recollection of the beginning of the story. His voice, however, was so quiet and gentle that she did not wonder it had made her want to go to sleep.
He bade her good-bye presently, and directly after he had gone she was amazed to see it was nearly five o'clock by the kitchen clock. She was sure he had arrived about half-past three and she could not believe he had stayed so long.
The next morning someone rang up Scotland Yard, and refusing to give his or her name—the voice was only a hoarse whisper—asked to be put through to Chief Inspector Stone.
Rather annoyed at being interrupted, because he was very busy at the moment, the inspector demanded very sharply, "Well, who is it?"
"Never mind that," came back the hoarse whisper, "but I'm ringing up to give you the description of the two men who took Lady Vane's jewels."
"What—what do you mean?" exclaimed the astonished inspector. "Who are you?"
The speaker on the telephone ignored his question.
"The one who used the syringe upon Jane Brendon," the voice went on quietly, "was of medium height. He was foreign-looking, with dark eyes set rather close together. He had a small black moustache, a sallow complexion and a thin prominent nose, also a pronounced dimple in the middle of his chin. He took the syringe he used from a blue morocco case with a broad black elastic band round it. The other man——"
"How do you know all this?" snapped Stone brusquely.
The voice went on calmly. "The other man——"
"But wait a moment, please!" exclaimed Stone, his tone suddenly changing down to one of politeness. "Let me make a note of what you are saying. Foreign-looking, sallow complexion, small black moustache, dark eyes——"
"Set close together," prompted the voice, because the inspector was hesitating.
"Yes, closely set," went on Stone, "thin pointed nose, and big dimple on chin! Blue morocco case with black elastic band! Go on!"
"The other man," said the voice, "was rather short, of stoutish build, with no neck and a bullet-shaped head, looking as if it came straight off his shoulders. He was getting bald at the temples and had very large hands."
"Go on," said Stone, but the phone had suddenly gone dead, and he exclaimed "Blast!" as he hung up the receiver.
He looked frowningly at the notes he had scribbled upon the piece of paper, and then picked up the receiver again.
"Send Mr. Daken here," he ordered laconically, and a few moments later he was giving instructions to a very wide-awake-looking young man.
"Have these descriptions typed," he said, "and take them round to every department. Find out if anyone knows anything about either of these men. The descriptions should be very helpful."
Then, within twenty minutes, to his great satisfaction, Inspector Saville, whose special line was the night life of London and who looked out for breaches of the Licensing and the Lottery and Gaming Acts, appeared in his room and announced that the description of the man with the dimple in his chin tallied exactly with that of an Italian doctor, a Dr. Sereno, who was practising in Berner's Street.
"But we haven't come to hear of him because he's a doctor," he nodded significantly, "but on account of his being the proprietor of a night club in Soho Square."
"Has he been through our hands?" asked Stone.
The inspector shook his head. "No, we've never had anything actually definite against him, but we are pretty certain his precious club is only a camouflaged gambling den. We've raided it twice, but he'd been warned somehow, and both times we found nothing." He pointed to the typescript sheet in his hand. "But I'm sure it's the same man. He's got everything that's down here: foreign appearance, eyes, nose, complexion, moustache and that big dimple." He looked curiously at his brother inspector. "What's he wanted for?"
Stone told him about the mysterious telephone call, and Saville smiled a grim smile. "And he'd just about fit the bill," he said. "He's the real criminal type." He looked very doubtful. "Still, whoever rang you up about him may have been only someone who had a spite against him."
Stone frowned. "I've thought of that," he said slowly, "but if that were so, and he knew himself who the man was, then why didn't he give the name right out? He couldn't have been sure that among the seven and a half million men in London, we should have been able to pick him out for ourselves." He sighed. "Spite or no spite, and whether the message is a hoax or not, we shall have to follow up this Sereno. The whole case has been so mysterious all along that we must clutch at any straw."
Stone had not seen Larose for more than a week, and moreover, had not been able to get in touch with him over the phone, so he was very glad when later in the day his one-time colleague appeared.
"More mystery, Gilbert," he frowned, and at once proceeded to tell him about the telephone call he had received that morning.
Larose started and his eyes opened very wide. Then he repressed a smile and listened patiently and without comment to the story.
"Of course," said Stone finally, "we daren't make any move against this Dr. Sereno until we have something definite to go upon, but we are having him shadowed in the hope that we may be able to link him up with the other man." He looked rather grim. "You see, we can't be sure that phone message wasn't a bit of bunkum."
Then Larose made him almost jump out of his skin. "It wasn't bunkum, Charlie," he said quietly. "It was reliable information and with what I can add to it, gives the two burglars right into your hands. You can arrest that doctor chap at once, and I'll be very surprised if you don't find he's got the jewels."
Stone pulled himself together with an effort. "Gad!" he exclaimed fervently, "so you've found out something, have you?" He spoke eagerly. "Well, what do you know about this doctor?"
Larose smiled. "I don't know anything about him. In fact I'd never heard of him until you told me about him just now." Then seeing the look of disappointment upon Stone's face, he went on quickly, "But I know quite a lot about a man with no neck and a bullet-shaped head and that's what's brought me here now. Before you told me a word of that telephone message I was practically certain this fellow was one of the two men we want."
"Then who the devil is he?" gasped Stone, with his eyes as wide as saucers.
"His name's Duncombe, and he runs a small garage at Thames Ditton, close to Esher Court."
"And the evidence you have against him?" snapped Stone.
"Is all circumstantial," replied Larose, "but so strong that it's almost as if we'd got his written confession. I've found out he's very friendly with one of Lord Holmeyer's footmen, he's come into money and is drinking champagne at about a pound a bottle; he's got nearly a hundred pounds in notes hidden under a board in the garage, he's also got a jemmy and a bunch of skeleton keys there. Also, since the burglary at Esher Court he runs out for every edition of the evening papers which come in." He nodded significantly. "He never used to bother about them much before."
"You've broken into his place, I suppose?" frowned Stone.
Larose nodded again. "Yes, last night. He closed the garage early and went off somewhere on a motor bicycle." He sighed. "I wasn't prepared and couldn't follow him."
"Who's the footman?" asked Stone.
"Peter Hanson, the red-haired one. He's been with Lord Holmeyer for three years."
"And you say he was acting in collusion with this garage man?"
"No, I don't. He doesn't look that sort. I only think he's told this Duncombe as a piece of gossip that Jane Brendon took charge of her mistress's jewels at night, and Duncombe knows the Court well, as he's often been up there to help Holmeyer's chauffeur when anything's gone wrong with their cars."
Stone was frowning hard. "But the Brendon woman swore that not a soul at the Court knew of the arrangement about the jewels, not even Lady Holmeyer."
"She was wrong," said Larose. "At least that's what I think, and I'm pretty sure I'm right, because acting upon that idea, I got upon the track of this footman and it led me to this garage man with his hidden notes, his jemmy and his bunch of skeleton keys. Now you just listen to me."
So, quickly and briefly, he proceeded to tell his story. Believing Jane Brendon when she said she had never spoken a word about the matter to anyone, he knew the leakage could then have come only from Lady Vane herself. Certainly, she might not have told anyone at Esher Court, but she probably had done so at other houses where she had been staying and in that way the information had been passed on.
So learning from Jane she had only had charge of the jewel case upon two occasions before, first at Lady Bagnall Smith's near Harrogate and after that at Mrs. Stott Harvey's in Exeter, he had started to make inquiries at both these places.
At Harrogate he had drawn a complete blank, no one there appearing to have known anything of the arrangement, but in Exeter it was quite different.
Mrs. Stott Harvey was away when he called, and so he had interviewed the housekeeper. She said at once that she knew Jane took charge of the jewels, and expected everybody in the house knew it. She admitted that she herself had heard it from one of the maids and said it had first become known by one of the servants happening to overhear Lady Vane talking about it in the garden.
Asked as to how the information could have been carried to anyone at Esher Court, she said she did not know as she was sure her mistress had only the very slightest acquaintanceship with Lady Holmeyer, and would certainly have never mentioned the matter to her when they had met.
Disappointed there, Larose had pressed his inquiries about the servants and obtained from her a list of their names and home addresses. Then comparing it with a list of the Esher Court staff, which he had brought with him, he was delighted to find that an under-housemaid came from the little village of East Dean in Sussex, the same place where the parents of Peter Hanson, one of Lord Holmeyer's footmen, lived.
He questioned the girl, and found that although she had not been home for two years, she had, however, when writing to her mother some weeks previously, mentioned about Jane Brendon and the jewels to, as she put it, fill up her letter.
That had been enough, and going back to Esher, without letting the young footman hear anything about it, he (Larose) had made discreet inquiries about him. He learnt that he had quite recently been home to East Dean upon a holiday and, a quiet and reserved young fellow, he was known to have only one outside friend, a man in Thames Ditton who kept a garage. The friendship between them had sprung up when Peter had bought a motor-bicycle.
Then directly Larose had come to turn his attention to the garage man his suspicions had become aroused. Duncombe had not a good reputation with the local police, they having been suspicious for some time that he trafficked in stolen motor-cycles. He found out, too, that lately the man had been spending money freely, and among other things, buying bottles of champagne in Kingston. He had also developed a great interest in the newspapers, and ran out for every issue that appeared in the afternoons.
So Larose had taken a chance, and effecting an entrance into the garage when the man was away, had come upon the hidden money, the jemmy and the skeleton keys.
"And one thing more," he finished up with, "he's still wearing a finger-stall which may be to protect the cut he got when opening that French window at the Court."
The inspector had listened most interestedly and when Larose finished he nodded his approval. "An excellent piece of work, Gilbert," he said, "and if we could only rely upon the message I got over the phone, it would be, as you say, almost a sure thing."
"And, of course, you can rely upon the message," insisted Larose sharply. "Haven't we found that every piece of anonymous information we have received has been perfectly reliable? We were told where Husson's body was to be found, we were told about the murder of Starbank and we were warned what was going to happen to Lady Vane." He raised his voice emphatically. "Why, don't you realise it's been the same party all along?"
"And who is he?" frowned Stone.
Larose shrugged his shoulders. "How do I know?" he asked. "If he's not the murderer himself, he's in close association with him."
"But he can't be the murderer," protested Stone, "for he's now trying to give the murderers away."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Larose at once. He nodded solemnly. "Look here, Charlie, the idea first came to me when we went down to Esher Court that morning and it's been growing stronger ever since"—he spoke very slowly—"that those men who got the jewels were burglars and nothing more. I don't think they had anything to do with the murder."
"What an absurd idea!" snapped Stone rudely. "Is it likely that two lots of people broke into the Court that night?"
Larose shrugged his shoulders again. "Certainly, it mayn't seem probable, but if this doctor and the garage man turn out to be the burglars, you see if they don't emphatically deny they had anything to do with the murder."
"Of course they will!" exclaimed Stone. "What else do you expect? They'll admit one crime to escape the consequences of the other."
"But see here, Charlie," went on Larose. "You take this in." He spoke very slowly again. "One of the men who broke in through that french window cut himself somewhere with the glass, didn't he? And you found blood-marks on the sheets and pillow of Jane Brendon's bed, which from their position could not have come from the torn mouth, could they? Well, where were the blood-marks on Lady Vane's sheets? That's what I want to know and which makes me doubtful if it were the burglars who throttled Lady Vane."
"But weren't there two of them," scoffed Stone, "and couldn't the one who had not cut himself have done the throttling?"
Larose scoffed in his turn. "Is that likely? A strong and healthy young woman like Lady Vane would have required every ounce of the strength of two men to hold her down and prevent her calling out before she became unconscious." He shook his head. "No, if the murder followed upon the burglary, then certainly both men would have taken their share in it." He smiled. "Well, never mind about that for the present. What are you going to do now?"
"Get search warrants," replied Stone, "and close in upon those two men at once."
"There was no doubt about their guilt, sir," said Stone later in the day to the Chief Commissioner, "the moment we saw them. We happened to catch the doctor just as he was going out, and he looked the very picture of consternation. He knew instantly what we had come about, and when I asked him for his keys he was choking so that he couldn't speak for a few moments. Then he pointed to one of the drawers in his desk and we found everything there, diamonds, emeralds and pearls, all wrapped up in tissue paper and a large roll of washleather. In another drawer were the snuff boxes. I couldn't understand his giving in so easily until he burst out volubly that he had had nothing to do with the murder. I cautioned him, but he went on just the same. He swore that neither of them had been into Lady Vane's room and the first they heard of her death was when they saw it in the newspapers."
The Commissioner nodded scornfully. "But, of course, he would say that," he commented. "It was only what would have been expected."
Stone looked uncomfortable. "But the impression he gave us all was that he was speaking the truth there, sir. And it was the same with the man at the Thames Ditton garage. He actually wept when he denied they had had anything to do with the murder. He said everything had been done so quietly that they were sure Lady Vane had never been disturbed, and he knew nothing of what had happened to her until, as with Dr. Sereno, he got an evening paper. Then he said he was so terrified that he rushed up to the doctor, who kept him at his place all night and had to give him a huge dose of morphia to make him go to sleep."
The Commissioner did not seem impressed. "And the footman?" he asked dryly. "Of course, he is innocent, too?"
"Yes, sir, and he looks it," replied Stone stoutly. "He wasn't a bit nervous when he came in to be questioned by me, and admitted at once that he had heard, as Mr. Larose had thought, that the maid took charge of Lady Vane's jewels when he had been visiting his parents in East Dean, but he said he had told none of his fellow servants. I asked him if he had told anyone and he replied without any hesitation that he had mentioned it to a friend of his who kept a garage in Thames Ditton. They had been looking at a magazine together and, coming across Lady Vane's photograph, he had mentioned she was a frequent visitor at the Court and was coming there again the following week. Then he had said that the maid took charge of her jewels at night."
"Did he know then that you had arrested this Duncombe?" asked the Commissioner.
"No, and when I told him he went as white as a ghost and stammered he had always thought his friend a very decent fellow."
The Commissioner frowned, "And Mr. Larose's idea is that these two were not the murderers? Hum, and you say Duncombe has got a half-healed cut on one of his fingers?"
"Yes, sir, and it looks as if it had been a deep one. He says the doctor had to tie a piece of his handkerchief very tightly round it, to stop the bleeding, and even then it wasn't effective for a long time."
The arrests created a great sensation and the trial was put down for the beginning of October. In spite of the mystery of the bolted doors it was the almost unanimous opinion that the two men were the murderers. A few days before the listed date of the trial, however, the public received a staggering shock, and they no longer felt quite so certain about the matter. Warning of another intended murder was given, and this time it came in the form of a letter written to the five leading London newspapers. As before, with the ones received by Larose, it was sent in the name of "Retribution."
PERCY LANE HINTON had always been a great anxiety to his father and mother. The only child of the Reverend Henry and Mrs. Hinton, he had passed all his early boyhood in the little village of Good Roding in Essex, where his father was the Rector. He had been thoroughly spoilt and given in to in every way, so much so that with every year that passed, his father and mother had less authority over him.
By the time he was fourteen he had become so acutely wilful and disobedient that, although he could ill afford it, his father had taken him away from the day school in Chelmsford, seven miles away, and sent him to a boarding one in Ashford. The discipline there had certainly improved him, but as time went on his holidays became an even greater and greater trial to his parents.
He was so sly and deceitful that they never knew what he was doing, and could never be sure that he was speaking the truth about anything. He had very nice manners, and was never openly defiant with them, but he would tell the most downright lie with a perfectly straight face and when caught out was never in the least bit ashamed. Then he would just smile as if it were a good joke.
When he was seventeen his holidays became a perfect nightmare to them. Time after time he would take himself off on his bicycle and be away from the Rectory the whole day long. He would never tell them where he had been, and they were terrified that he was mixing with bad companions.
They knew he would not be unduly friendly with the village boys, he was far too much of a snob for that, but he was so good-looking that they feared for him with the village girls. Both the Rector and his wife could not help noticing that when he was home for the holidays there was a much greater young female attendance at the church than at any other time. And their son used to look the girls up and down during the service, in a bold, appraising way, as if he were considering which ones pleased him the most.
However, there was certainly never any open scandal and he was never actually known to have gone out, secretly, with any of them. Still, it was generally considered pretty Margery Fleming, whose father kept the village inn, could have told an interesting story had she wished, for all at once she was seen to be possessed of a tie of Percy's school colours. Of course, people asked her about it, but she just smiled and said nothing. She was a young lady who could keep her own counsel when she wanted to.
When Percy left school his father was in despair as to what to do with him, but, to his great relief, Mrs. Hinton's brother, a well-to-do tea-broker in London, came forward and offered to pay for Percy to become a doctor. Upon one of the very rare occasions when this brother came to see Mrs. Hinton, he had motored down one Sunday, he had been rather taken with Percy's good looks and nice manners.
A cynical and level-headed man of business, he eyed Percy critically. "No, I won't offer to take you into my office," he told him bluntly. "I don't believe in having relations about me, and besides I don't like clergymen's sons and don't think you'd suit me. You've been brought up too badly and look as if you'd want your own way too much. Still, I'll give you a chance. I pay all your hospital expenses and give you £2 a week until you're qualified. After that you'll never get another penny from me. Understand?"
So Percy entered St. Dunstan's Hospital as a student and for nearly six years pursued his medical studies. He was not by any means a clever boy, and was very lazy, but he possessed one sterling quality. He could hide his want of capacity with a most poker-like expression, giving most people the impression that he knew a great deal more than they did.
He was not much liked by his fellow students, for he always seemed to them to be assuming superior airs, also, he was inclined to shirk his share of unpleasant duties as much as possible. With the nurses, however, he was very popular, treating them all with a grave courtesy as if he had the greatest respect for them, when he certainly had not. He had had mild affairs with several of them, but had never committed himself too deeply and had managed things so well that none of them had found out when he was bestowing his favours upon more than one at the same time.
Rather to everyone's astonishment, he invariably scraped through his examinations. He was considered, however, to be very lucky.
"That man," commented one of the hospital professors once, referring to Percy, "will get on where men three times as clever as he is will fail. I don't say he'll be a credit to the profession, for he'll never learn very much and I don't think he has any conscience, but he'll develop an excellent bedside manner and will take a lot of people in." He smiled dryly. "It is quite possible that in the years to come we may see him as a fashionable physician in the West End."
When Percy qualified he was nearly twenty-five and a fine-looking man. Rather on the big side, he was tall and well-built, with a round face, large blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He looked healthy and strong and always as clean as if he had just come out of a hot bath. He dressed in good taste and was never anything but very spick and span.
In disposition he had not altered much since his early schooldays. If need be, he could be every bit as untruthful as when a small boy, but now was much more careful about his untruths, so that he should not be caught out. Utterly selfish, he thought only of himself, and had no scruples whatever where his own interests were concerned. He was entering the noblest profession in the world with the sole purpose of making money and having a good time.
As his uncle had told him would happen, his allowance was stopped the very day he obtained his diplomas and, having no money saved, he had to take the first position which was offered. So he became the assistant of a doctor with a large panel practice in the industrial district of West Ham.
His employer, Dr. Harvey Brice, was a bustling, merry little man of middle age. There was no sentiment about him, and the practice of his profession was carried out on the same business lines as if he were keeping a shop. His knowledge and his time were his stock-in-trade, and he was out to get the most he could for them.
"Now, Mr. Hinton," he said, just before surgery time the first morning, "I have only a few private patients, but nearly four thousand on my panel, and it is of course, with the panel ones you will have most to deal. You will have to learn to become very quick, for you will often have to get rid of about forty panel patients every morning and evening in the surgery, in about two hours."
"Forty in two hours!" exclaimed Percy rather aghast. "What can I do for so many?"
"All that is necessary," smiled Dr. Brice, "for most of them will really need no attention at all. You see, having nothing to pay, they turn up upon the slightest provocation, with nothing, or hardly anything, the matter with them. So bicarbonate of soda is the stuff to prescribe, that and a little peppermint water with something to colour it will quite satisfy them. 'Give us something black what stinks,' a man ordered me once." He laughed merrily. "Why in the old lodge days, when I made up all the mixtures myself, every year I used gallons and gallons of the darkest treacle I could get and built up a thriving practice on it. Everyone liked it."
Percy smiled a slow appreciative smile and the doctor went on, "You must understand the great thing in our work is to be able to pick out a patient who is really ill from among those who've got nothing the matter with them, and you must acquire the knack of it." He raised his hand warningly. "But look out for stomachs and abdomens. Give them a little more time, for there'll be your greatest danger; the appendix when they're young, ulcers in middle age and growths as they grow old." He smiled. "Now you shall watch me for a day or two and you'll soon pick up all the tricks. Come on. I hear the waiting-room buzzing like a hive of bees, and we've got to bung them all off by eleven."
Rather to his own surprise, Percy remained with Dr. Brice for nearly three years. He had sense enough to see he was gaining valuable experience and in a way the kind of practice suited him.
With the great majority of patients he found he could slack a lot without running much danger, and as a consequence he was soon bundling them out of the surgery as quickly as his employer would have done. He might not, as the professor at the hospital had said, be in possession of great medical knowledge, but he soon found he was quite a good judge of human nature and could weigh up those who had either nothing the matter with them, or else were making mountains of very petty ailments.
He was lucky and made few mistakes with the panel patients. However, he lost one, a woman, who came to him with a pain in the back and whom he treated for lumbago when she was upon the verge of a perforating gastric ulcer. When the mistake had been discovered too late and the patient had died, things certainly looked very awkward, but with the help of his employer the matter was hushed up.
With his long experience of handling difficult situations, Dr. Brice had succeeded in convincing the woman's relations that the lumbago had been there as well as the gastric ulcer, but that the latter condition was quite symptomless and could not have been foreseen.
Another time he lost a young girl through sheer sloth and neglect. Of course, she was on the panel too, and he had given a one minute's diagnosis of a slight bronchial cold, when she had come into the surgery. Then, three days later, upon being rung that she was worse and now very seriously ill, he had said it was not necessary for him to call and see her, as the cold was just running its natural course.
When she was ultimately known to be upon the point of death and both he and Dr. Brice had rushed to the house, the latter had boldly backed him up in bluffing it out. They insisted it was her heart that had failed, and she must have died in any case. Nothing could have saved her.
Percy was then beginning to acquire the prophesied excellent bedside manner, and the parents, ignorant and slow-witted people, were even more impressed by his confident assertions than by those of his employer. Their daughter, too, had been insured for £50 and that, in their straitened means, was by no means a small consolation.
So they made no fuss and even expressed their gratitude for the sympathy both doctors were showing them. All the same, Dr. Brice breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the girl had been buried. He had been very angry with his assistant and had warned him it had been a close shave.
As time went on Percy began to get private patients of his own among the well-to-do shopkeepers and business men in the neighbourhood. His good looks, his nice manners and the way he dressed, always made a good impression upon everybody.
Towards the end of his third year in West Ham, he was half-minded to get married. He had become very taken with Jocelyn Pells, the pretty daughter and only child of a local wholesale boot manufacturer. Her people were uneducated and common, but her father was enterprising and had worked his way up from keeping a small boot-repairing shop. When Percy was taken over the Pell factory and he noted the large number of hands employed, he was confident there would be a nice bit of money going with the girl.
Jocelyn was already engaged to a cousin of hers who worked in the factory, but she was so thrilled by the marked attentions of this good-looking young doctor, that she promptly broke off the engagement so that she might be free to accept the new proposal of marriage which she felt sure was coming.
To better fit herself to become the wife of a professional man, too, she started taking music lessons at an academy in the West End, and Percy used to meet her upon his free evening and take her out to dinner or to the pictures, or for a long drive in the country. He urged her to keep their meetings secret so that it might not give rise to talk in West Ham.
They were soon on kissing terms, but he delayed actually proposing to her until he had finally made up his mind. He realised it was a most important step and, although he was decidedly taken with the girl, he wanted first to be quite sure of her father's financial position.
Then one day he heard that the factory was not doing too well. A great loss had been made upon a Government contract, trade was bad, and more than half of the employees had had to be put off.
So Percy began to cool down and his meetings with the girl became less frequent. Then one night he found her waiting for him, all muffled up, outside one of the branch surgeries when he had been attending to patients. He had a long conversation with her in the back streets, and finally went home in a very dismayed frame of mind.
The next morning he gave his employer a week's notice, giving as his reason that there was a death vacancy not far from where his parents lived, and that he was going to buy the practice. Of course, he must take possession with the least possible delay.
Dr. Brice was very upset, but to Percy's great satisfaction and only as he had expected, insisted that his leaving must be kept from everyone until the new assistant was actually upon the scene.
So Percy slipped out of West Ham, saying good-bye to no one and leaving no address. The following week he got a billet as a ship's doctor upon a boat going to Australia.
He was away from England for three years, taking assistantships in several cities in the Commonwealth. Upon his return home he learnt by indirect inquiries that Jocelyn Pell was dead. She had thrown herself under a train, about a month after he had left, and been killed instantly. At the subsequent inquest the coroner had spoken in scathing terms of "an unknown man."
Percy did not worry in the least. Evidently the wretched girl had kept her own counsel and so there had been no open scandal about him.
His next venture had been to go as locum tenens to a very sick doctor, Dr. Ramsay, in the little cathedral town of Leddington in the Midlands, and from the moment of his first interview with the invalid, he had been of opinion that, if he so wished it, the practice might one day become his own. The doctor was suffering from primary rheumatoid arthritis and it did not look to Percy as if he would get better.
The practice was a good one, with no panel patients at all, and Percy was a success from the very first. He now looked rather older than his age, his wits had been greatly sharpened by his three years' work in West Ham, and the other three years knocking about in Australia had greatly added to his experience and resource. His bedside manners, too, were now irreproachable, and faultlessly dressed, he always looked the high-class type of professional man.
Very few of the regular patients of the practice declined to accept his services, and then only on the ground that he was not a married man. So he attended county people, retired Army and Navy folks, the families of well-to-do business men and prosperous farmers, and the clergy. Certainly the clergy must not be omitted, for he made a decided hit there, not only because he was the son of a clergyman himself, but also because of his conspicuous attendance at the cathedral services whenever opportunity allowed him.
As Percy had anticipated, Dr. Ramsay was never able to take up work again, and when he passed away some eighteen months later his widow sold the practice to Percy upon very easy terms.
Another year went by and Percy Hinton, or Lane Hinton as he now called himself, was firmly established in Leddington with one of the best, if not the largest, practices in the neighbourhood. All the while, however, he was on the watch, looking out to acquire easy money by an advantageous marriage.
He was now most proper in all his relations with members of the other sex in the district, and took extreme care to give no occasion for the slightest breath of scandal. There were plenty of girls who would have married him, but he was intending to pick one who pleased him and who at the same time would come to him with plenty of money. He did not want to have to wait until someone died for the money. He wanted it to enjoy at once, while he was young. He was always intending to give up the general practice and set up as a consulting physician in Harley Street, but he must be quite independent of his profession and not have to worry whether patients came to him or not.
Then, most unfortunately for all his plans, he fell in love and the object of his passion was a young married woman.
When he first saw Elaine Garnett she was just twenty-two and had only been married six months. Her husband, Gerald Garnett, was a large landowner and the squire of the little village of Balcombe, about five miles from Leddington.
He met her at a garden party and, in one of those strange unreasoning ways, which can never be accounted for when the inclinations of man and woman are being measured up, was instantly deeply impressed with her. She struck some deep chord in him which had never been touched before.
Undeniably very pretty, she was on the small side, but beautifully proportioned and as dainty-looking as a piece of Dresden china. She was very fair, with large blue eyes, a pink and white complexion and lustrous golden hair. He thought she had an adorably piquant little face.
Usually most self-possessed, she had been very annoyed that when first introduced to him she had felt herself colouring up furiously. She could not, however, help being very interested in him; he looked so big and tall and strong.
The Garnetts had never belonged to his practice, but after that first meeting he laid himself out to meet Elaine as often as he could at social functions, and it thrilled him that she always gave him a warm smile. He liked to imagine, too, that at those times her colour always heightened, if ever so little.
Then, late one night, to his great surprise and delight, he received an urgent telephone call to go out at once to the Garnetts' house, Balcombe Hall. It appeared that their regular doctor was away upon a holiday and Elaine, thinking his locum tenens to be much too young and inexperienced, had insisted upon Percy being summoned.
It was her husband who was ill, she explained to Percy when she met him in the hall, he had got a chill and was running a temperature and she was rather anxious because he was also in pain.
Alter a very brief examination Percy was of opinion that the patient was heading straight for pneumonia, and the next day his diagnosis turned out to be correct. The temperature had risen to nearly a hundred and five, and there was soon no doubt it would mean a hard fight to save the sick man from the clutches of the "Captain of the Men of Death."
Percy, however, now seen at his very best, was as a veritable tower of strength to the terrified wife. His bearing was confident and smiling, and he assured her that there was every probability that her husband would get better. He would be treated, he told her, with doses of sulphapyridine and they would soon bring down the temperature and relieve the pain. With the coming of the new drug, medical men had lost nearly all their fears of pneumonia.
But Elaine would have been appalled could she but have known the thoughts which were now running in Percy's mind. His close proximity to her had roused to fever heat the worst promptings of his unscrupulous, selfish nature, and there were no lengths to which he was not prepared to go to attain his ends.
Here was the woman who appealed to him as no woman had ever done before, and, as the widow of Gerald Garnett, if he, Percy, married her she would bring him all the money he wanted.
He determined the sick man should not recover.
Then with elaborate cunning he set about to carry out his plan. The first thing, he brought up two nurses whom he considered would give the least trouble. One was dull and slow-witted and the other he knew to be a secret drunkard who would give way to her failing the first opportunity she got. Then he arranged that, as Balcombe Hall was distant so far from the nearest chemist, he would himself dispense and bring all the medicines required. Finally, he insisted Elaine should take no part in the nursing, and on no account ever be in the sick room at night.
"It will only distress you, Mrs. Garnett," he said, with a world of sympathy in his eyes, "and you can't be of any help. Besides, it will also upset your husband."
The fourth day of the illness arrived with the patient getting steadily worse. There were signs that his heart was beginning to fail. So Percy asked that a well-known specialist from Birmingham should be called in in consultation.
The great man arrived within a few hours and upon Percy detailing to him the treatment the patient was receiving, or rather which he was supposed to be receiving, expressed entire approval and assured the stricken wife that everything possible was being done and they must hope for and expect the best.
And on the surface it certainly looked as if Gerald Garnett could not be receiving more care and attention than he was. Percy was in the house at all hours of the day, and at night he was there the whole time, snatching fitful moments of sleep, fully dressed, upon a sofa in an adjoining room.
Had the truth, however, been known, the patient stood little chance of recovery. He was being given the smallest amounts of the drug he should have been receiving in massive doses, and, although during the day, with his wife by his side nearly all the time, he received adequate attention and nourishment, at night it was very different.
The night nurse, as Percy had anticipated, had soon got at the brandy, and after the first couple of hours or so on duty would sink into a heavy sleep, and be altogether oblivious of the needs of her patient. So the latter received no nourishment and was without oxygen when it was most needed.
He passed away on the eighth day.
In the weeks which followed Percy's attitude towards the young widow was most tactful. He did not come to see her often and, when he did, said very little, but he made her realise he had far more than the ordinary sympathy for her and was deeply moved whenever he was with her.
Her mother and two sisters lived about twenty miles away, and had wanted her to come and live with them for a time, but Elaine was disinclined to do so because her late husband had so loved the house and lands which had belonged to his family for so many generations. She thought it would be disloyal to his memory to leave them.
Percy backed her up in her wish to go on living at the Hall, and suggested it would be better for her relations to come and live with her. He argued it was wisest Elaine should resolutely face her grief and get it over in its sad surroundings, rather than come back later on and have to fight the battle all over again.
He had made a great impression upon the family and ultimately they had followed his advice. So he had kept Elaine with him and gradually, only very gradually, had let her come to realise what his intentions were.
His courtship of her was, however, a hard one. She was very grateful to him for his kindness and admired and liked him very much, but for a long, long time the memory of her husband, to whom she had been passionately devoted, forbade the very thought of ever caring for another man.
Percy realised quite well he would never be able to fill her late husband's place, and that she would never really be in love with him. He reckoned, however, that as time went on her grief would naturally grow less acute and, with him as the patient and devoted lover, he would one day overcome her scruples and, if only out of kindness, she would consent to be his wife.
So he never pressed his attentions upon her. All along his attitude was that of one who had a most profound respect for her feelings, and although, obviously, most attached to her, would never speak his mind to distress her in any way.
He could not have acted better, and as time went on her friendship for him deepened and she came to rely upon him quite a lot in her personal and business affairs. Still, she was not a bit in love with him, and one day, when he at last ventured to propose to her, her refusal was regretful and very gentle. She told him she did not think she would ever marry again.
Then, when she saw in what a nice understanding way he took her refusal, she felt very sorry for him. She remembered his great kindness to her during her husband's illness, and her conscience began to prick her that it was perhaps her duty not to withhold from him the happiness he deserved.
Also, young and healthy and capable of appreciating all the joys of life, she realised that it was morbid to have made up her mind to live always in the past. She always envied other women when she saw them with their little ones, and could not entirely put in the background the longing to have those of her own.
So a little later, although with a half sigh of resignation, she deliberately gave him encouragement to renew his proposal and then accepted him.
Their days of courtship were short, barely two months, with Percy never entirely breaking through her reserve. "But I'll teach her when we're married," he nodded grimly. "I won't have a creature of ice for my wife, and after all, a woman always loves her master."
One bright morning in June they were married very quietly in London, and then by a strange irony of fate, with the cup of triumph almost at his very lips, misfortune avalanched itself upon Percy.
The wedding breakfast over, they flew straight off to Paris, where they were intending to pass the first days of the honeymoon.
Driving, however, from the aerodrome to their hotel, the car in which they were travelling was involved in an accident. Elaine escaped all injury, but Percy received a broken arm and slight concussion, and was taken straight off to a private hospital.
He was unconscious, and Elaine insisted upon remaining as much as possible by his side. During the night she was persuaded to take some sleep, but returned to her post the first thing in the morning.
Percy was now beginning to come to, but he did not recognise anyone yet. However, he started to talk in snatches and, when sitting by the bedside, Elaine heard him mention her name. She stroked his hand fondly, but withdrew her own hand promptly when he began to mention the names of other women. He talked of lots of them who had loved him.
He muttered how they should have had more sense than to expect he would ever marry them. They had only pleased him a little while, and then were in his way. It was money he wanted. He must have money. Then he cursed someone called Jocelyn for going to have a baby, and said he'd never marry any girl who was only a bootmaker's daughter in West Ham. She did right to kill herself, she had become a nuisance.
Then he talked of lovely Elaine Garnett married to a fool, a fool sick unto death! He, Percy, wanted her and the money she would inherit, too! No, her husband must not get better! He must die! Of course he must! That night-nurse was drinking the brandy! Well, that's what she had been brought to nurse the patient for! He knew all the time she was a drunkard, and as he had thought she would do, she had slept nearly all the night long. Yes, Garnett got no oxygen during the night, and that was why he had died. Ah, he, Percy, had managed it cleverly, and now he would get Elaine!
Elaine was struck with horror at what she was hearing, and sat on, white as a ghost and with her breast rising and falling quickly in agonised emotion. It was all like a dreadful nightmare. Her husband was stripping his life bare for her, and it was a cruel and wicked life, culminating in the murder of the man she had loved so well.
She listened for a long time and then, Percy lapsing into silence, hardly able to walk in her misery, she left his bedside and shutting herself in her room, lay down upon the bed to collect her disordered thoughts.
Could it be really possible that what she had heard was true, or was it that Percy was imagining everything. Again, was it just a medley of truth and untruth, with all the evil things he had said of himself—hallucinations?
Then she caught her breath in an agony of distress as her mind travelled back and she recalled so many things in connection with Gerald's illness.
He had always been so much worse in the mornings, Percy had been so insistent upon giving every dose of medicine himself, the decanter of brandy in the sick-room had had to be refilled every day, and the night nurse when she had come off duty had looked so dull and heavy-eyed. Yes, and once, too, she, Elaine, had subconsciously noted that the woman had smelt strongly of spirits.
Oh, but it was all too ghastly to be true! Still, at least some of it could be disproved or verified, and she determined to set about it at once.
So that same afternoon, giving the excuse at the hospital that she had just learnt that her mother was very dangerously ill, she flew back to London.
Her first intention was to get in touch with the night-nurse, Sister Rune, and, happening to remember where she came from, had no difficulty in tracing her. She learnt the woman had but recently come out of an Inebriates' Home and was now working in a Salvation Army institution in London.
Arriving there and expecting the nurse would not have heard she had married again, a supposition which turned out to be quite correct, Elaine gave her name as Mrs. Garnett and asked to speak to her. She found her in a very emotional state of mind about the wickedness of her past life and quite willing to talk about what a bad woman she had been.
Upon questioning her, she admitted at once that she had nursed Mr. Garnett very inefficiently, and confessed she had been in a half-drunken condition during the greater part of the nights before he had died.
"But it was that doctor's fault," she pleaded tearfully. "He must have seen the state I was in and yet he said nothing, and every night the brandy was left out for me to take."
"Did my husband have all the oxygen he should have done?" asked Elaine very sternly and coming straight to the point.
The woman shook her head. "I don't think so now, for he never seemed to be having it when I woke up. But the doctor was there and I supposed it was all right. The doctor never asked me to do a thing and I had drunk so much brandy that I was never awake long." She began to cry. "I never gave Mr. Garnett anything to eat or drink during the night. That doctor took charge of everything."
Elaine steeled her heart to continue her inquiries to the bitter end and went down to West Ham. There, at the office of the Stratford Express, she asked if they could give her any particulars of a young girl, whose Christian name was Jocelyn and whose father was a bootmaker, who had taken her life some eight years or so previously.
The elderly clerk who attended to her happened to remember the case, and searching the back files of the paper, soon found the report of the inquest. Elaine read it through without moving a muscle of her face.
Then from the local telephone directory she saw some people of the name of Pells were still living in the neighbourhood, and went to call at the house. She asked for Mrs. Pells and was shown into the presence of a white-haired and sad-faced elderly lady. She apologised for troubling her, but said she had come upon a matter of vital importance to a young friend of hers. This friend was a young girl and she was shortly to be married to someone whom she, Elaine, believed to be of a thoroughly bad character and about whom she was now making inquiries to save the girl from great unhappiness.
"But how can I help you?" asked Mrs. Pells, very puzzled. "Do I know the man?"
"You did once, about eight years ago," replied Elaine, regarding her very intently. "He was a doctor practising here, Dr. Lane Hinton."
Mrs. Pells went as white as a sheet. "Oh, save her from him!" she burst out vehemently. "He is a vile man and caused the death of my daughter, our only child."
Then with tears rolling down her cheeks, she told the story of her daughter's suicide, how they had at once suspected Dr. Hinton of being the cause, but how they had had no proof of it until many weeks after.
Then they had come across a letter between the leaves of a book in Jocelyn's desk, and in that she had told them everything, adding that by the time they would read it she would be dead.
"But he shall be punished," said Elaine, with a set, white face. "One day I will come and see you again and tell you how he has been shamed before everyone, unhappily not because of what he did to your daughter but for what he has done to someone else."
That night Elaine rang up the matron of the private hospital in Paris and learnt that Percy was now quite conscious and could not be getting on better.
"Well, tell him," she said with an unshaking voice, "that I have still to remain here. I am, however, sending you a letter enclosing one for him, but he is not to have that letter until he has entirely recovered from the shock and concussion and is perfectly able to understand what I have written. So you are on no account to give it him before then."
A week later Percy read the letter Elaine had sent him. It was very brief:
You are an evil man and I intend to have nothing
more to do with you. I learnt everything from your
own lips as I was sitting by your bed, and much of
what you said I have since proved to be true. You
were the murderer of my husband. Never come near
Postscript. I have spoken to the mother of Jocelyn Pells,
and she showed me a letter the poor girl had written just
before her death. You killed her, too.
Percy's face was white as that of a dead man, and he almost choked in his consternation. He was not, however, entirely taken by surprise. He had been very mystified at Elaine's absence, but at the back of his mind there had been all along the grey ghost of a great fear.
As a medical man, he knew quite well that people injured in accidents were prone to talk as they were regaining consciousness and the nurse had told him he had talked a lot. So he had been wondering uneasily just what he might have said.
His first shock over, he gnashed his teeth in fury. The little vixen shouldn't get away like that! After all he was lawfully married to her and he would compel her to come back, even if he had to use force. He would deny that there was the slightest truth in anything he had said. He would deny—ah, but she wrote she had proved what he had said to be true! Then she might have seen that cursed night-nurse and the woman might have confessed she had been half-drunk all the time and that he, Percy, had been quite aware of it. Then the woman might have said the oxygen had been turned off during the night. It was awkward, certainly, but then it would be only her word against his.
Then he thought of his practice in Leddington, and his consternation was greater than ever. It would mean the ruin of everything for him there. Even if Elaine told no one beyond her own family circle, the scandal of their not living together would be terrible and, not knowing what had happened, people would be afraid to have him for their doctor. No, he could never go back to the cathedral city. He must sell the practice for the little money he knew it would fetch if he was not prepared to give any introductions.
He cursed Elaine, as he had once cursed Jocelyn, and, had he been able to lay hands upon her at that moment, he would have shown himself in his true character and it would have gone ill with her.
For a week longer he remained on in the hospital, not being able to make up his mind what to do. One moment his passion for Elaine was almost overpowering, and the next he was working out schemes of vengeance frightful in their cruelty.
Then the totally unexpected thing happened. He received a telegram from the firm of solicitors through whom in his hospital days he had received his allowance, advising him that his uncle had died suddenly and that it was imperative he should get in touch with them with the least possible delay.
In great expectation he at once phoned them up, to learn to his great joy that he was to receive a legacy of no less than £20,000. He was so thrilled with the news that for the time being the blow Elaine had dealt him faded into the background and in quite good spirits he returned immediately to London.
Then things moved very quickly. A month later he had sold his Leddington practice and set up his plate in Harley Street. He had not answered Elaine's letter and had made no attempt to communicate with her. In a roundabout way he had learnt she had resumed the name of Garnett and gone abroad somewhere with one of her sisters.
Now Percy was no fool, and realised he would never get any patients if he just sat in his consulting-room and waited for them to come in. He knew, too, that his appearance and manner were his greatest assets, and that to get on he must make use of them to their fullest capacity.
So he joined a night club where admission was easy and, from acquaintances made there, gradually worked his way up to clubs patronised by Society people where the company was much more select. Right away from the beginning he became a great favourite with everyone and, passing as a well-to-do bachelor, soon found himself being invited to the private houses of the better-class people he had met. It was a splendid thing for his practice and tactfully letting it become known his speciality was nervous disorders, patients began to dribble in.
Then it was rumoured he was a great believer in the use of sedatives of a narcotic nature, and that he often prescribed heroin and morphia. That was glad tidings for drug addicts, and he was consulted by jaded men and women whose only object in coming to him was to obtain the drug they craved for. But they had to be well-to-do to obtain supplies, as he never charged less than two guineas for a prescription, and never gave one which could be used twice.
He was very careful to run no risks and, when he was attending confessed addicts, always impressed upon them that he was trying to break their addiction by giving gradually diminished doses. But the decrease in the amount prescribed was so very gradual that it was almost as if they were receiving everything in full.
Percy made many friends among the other sex, but never gave them any encouragement that his attentions meant marriage. Although he never thought of her without the most bitter feelings, he had never quite got over his longing for Elaine, and one day, nearly a year after she had left him, by a chance encounter, his passion for her blazed up in a sudden flare of vengeful fury.
He saw her in Regent Street and it came to him with a dreadful pang how lovely she looked, as beautiful and dainty as he had ever seen her. He was sitting in his car drawn up against the kerb while his chauffeur had gone into a jeweller's shop to fetch a watch which had been left there to be repaired, and his heart gave a big jump as he caught sight of her. She was accompanied by a tall, handsome man about three or four and thirty. The man was distinguished-looking and, bronzed and holding himself proudly, there was something of the undoubted air of the naval officer about him. Percy gnashed his teeth at the glances he saw pass between them, and pressed himself back closely into the corner of the car, so that by no chance should they catch sight of him with his face so distorted in fury.
He cursed to himself that they looked as if they were in love with each other.
They moved off presently without having seen him.
All that day he could not get Elaine out of his thoughts. What a fool he had been, he saw now! He never ought to have let her go without a struggle! He ought to have brazened things out and boldly have denied everything! Instead, by remaining silent, he had tacitly admitted his guilt, and lost the most beautiful creature in the world. In all his abandonments no woman had so tugged at his heart strings as did Elaine. She belonged to him, too. She was his by lawful right and by gad—he was almost choked in his passion—he would get her yet at whatsoever cost. He would abduct her and not care what violence he used to do so.
The next day, under an assumed name and giving no address but paying down a substantial cash deposit, he engaged a private detective to go down to Leddington and find out all he could about a Mrs. Gerald Garnett of Balcombe Hall. He was to ascertain if she were usually in residence there and, if she was now away, where she had gone and when she was likely to return. If it were still her home he was to find out who was living there with her, if she went out much, where she went, who were her particular friends, and, indeed, as much about her as he could learn. The report was not to be mailed; he would call for it in person.
A week later he received the report. The Hall was still Elaine's home and she was living there with her mother and two sisters. Occasionally she came up to spend a day in town, but always returned the same evening. She did not go out much and received few visitors. A gentleman, Commander Hardy of the Royal Navy, had been there a lot lately and he and Mrs. Garnett often played tennis and went for long walks together. The Commander was staying with some relations who lived close near the Hall. There was a mystery about Mrs. Garnett, Garnett not being her real name. About a year previously she had married a Dr. Lane Hinton of Leddington, but she had left him within a few hours of the ceremony, for what cause no one seemed to know. The doctor was now practising in London, and it was believed she held no communication with him.
Percy considered the report for several days and then went down himself to reconnoitre round Balcombe Hall. He got himself up in some rough clothes, and, with big dark glasses and a cheap cap pulled down well over his eyes, looked very different from the spick and span medico of Harley Street.
He approached Balcombe in a roundabout way and, leaving his car in a secluded lane, proceeded in the direction of the Hall on foot. Knowing every inch of the country, he took up a position behind the fence surrounding the Hall which gave him a good view of the house itself as well as that of lawns and garden.
Presently he saw Elaine and her mother come out and seat themselves on the terrace, and with his binoculars he could note every expression upon his wife's face. It was gratifying to his vicious mind that she did not look very happy but it angered him that her sadness in no way detracted from her beauty.
Presently a car came up the drive and out of it jumped the tall bronzed man he had seen with Elaine in Regent Street. Percy's pulses raced in fury as he saw the warm smile with which his wife welcomed the new arrival.
"Yes, she's in love with him," he cursed. He laughed bitterly. "But they'll never be lovers because the damned little fool is too strait-laced. Don't I know that?"
For three succeeding days he watched the house from early morning until it began to grow dark, and finally came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to get hold of her when she came to feed the two swans in the small lake among the trees, in the evening about six o'clock. The lake was a good three hundred yards from the house and was hidden from view there by a belt of trees. It had the added advantage, too, of being only about fifty yards from the fence surrounding the Hall grounds.
He made his preparations quickly. He rented a partly furnished house only about twelve miles distant from the Hall, reckoning that when the hue and cry was raised no one would imagine she had been taken such a short distance away. The house was very lonely, about two hundred yards back from the Leamington Road, and stood in its own grounds.
Of course, he did not imagine it would not be ultimately found out where he had taken her, but he reckoned that after he had held her prisoner for a few weeks, all to himself, he would have so broken her spirit that she would not care what happened to her and would be too terrified of him to go away.
As for any punishment the law might give him, well, he would not be afraid of that. Public sympathy would be on his side, as Elaine would never dare to give as her reason for leaving him what she had overheard in his incoherent mutterings when he was coming out of unconsciousness from the motor accident. She would not face the scandal. He felt quite confident there.
Next, he looked about for an accomplice and fixed upon a Captain Hubert Blemming whose acquaintance he had made at a Maida Vale gambling club. What the man had ever been captain of no one seemed to know, but Percy had taken his measure, and quite correctly, too, as that of an unscrupulous blackguard who would do anything for money. The man was educated and had the speech and bearing of a gentleman, but he mixed with people of the worst reputation and it was whispered he was a card-sharper.
Percy approached him with the suggestion that he could put him in the way of earning a hundred pounds by a few hours' work and the Captain's eyes sparkled in anticipation. Percy explained there was very little risk attached and the main qualification was that he should hold his tongue.
Then not wishing to be seen anywhere in his company, or it to become known they had had any dealings together, Percy suggested they should meet at some quiet place to talk the matter over, and named "The Silver Moon" cafe in Fountain Street.
Accordingly, the next morning at eleven o'clock they met at the cafe, and Percy told the Captain as much as he thought fit. He mentioned no places and no names, but explained he was married and his wife had run away from him a long time ago. Now, at last, he had found out where she was living and intended to get her back by force. All the Captain had to do was to help him seize her one evening when she would be alone in the garden of a certain house in the country.
"It should be all over in three minutes," he said, "and once we get her over the fence and into the car, I'll give her an injection that will keep her quiet for some hours. Then I'll drop you at some railway station and you will come to town by train. Now, to-day is Tuesday, but I can't bring it off until Sunday, so I'll pick you up at two o'clock then at the Marble Arch."
The Captain was quite agreeable, but asked, "Still, why are you doing it in broad daylight? There would be much less risk of our being seen and followed if it were done at night."
"I know that," said Percy, "but about six o'clock is the only time I can be certain of finding her alone, when we can easily get at her. I have to choose a Sunday, too, because on Sundays her people like to be quiet and don't as a rule have any visitors. So, she will have no one with her when she comes to feed those swans."
"But suppose someone is with her," said the Captain, "what then?"
"It depends upon whom that someone is," said Percy. "If it's her mother or one of the maids it won't matter. But if it's a man"—he shrugged his shoulders—"we'll wait until another day. We won't run any risks."
They left the cafe together and as they were coming out were passed by two ladies just entering. Percy was too preoccupied to notice them, but they noticed him and, when they were seated in the cafe, happening to take the same table at which Percy and the Captain had been sitting, one of them said breathlessly to the other, "Did you see that tall, fine-looking man we passed as we came in?"
"Of course I did, Ethel," was the reply, "and I thought how good-looking he was."
"Good-looking, all right, Mary," nodded the other, "but I wouldn't like to say he is a good man." Her voice thrilled with the excitement of passing on some important information. "I know him well. He used to be our doctor in Leddington. He's that Dr. Lane Hinton who married the lovely Elaine Garnett!"
"Oh, and she left him just after they were married," exclaimed Mary with great interest, "and no one knows why."
Ethel shook her head. "But some people do think they know, for there are a lot of stories going about now which would explain everything." She drew in a deep breath. "You see, he was the doctor who attended Elaine's former husband when he was taken ill with pneumonia, and people are whispering poor Gerald Garnett would have recovered if he had been properly treated. They say Dr. Hinton let him die on purpose so that he could marry the widow."
"Oh, what an awful thing to say about a doctor," exclaimed Mary indignantly, "and how wicked, because they can't have any proof."
Ethel looked mysterious. "I don't know so much about that, dear. Now you just listen to me. The very day when Elaine and Dr. Hinton were married, in the afternoon as they were driving to their hotel in Paris—of course they had flown there—their car met with an accident. Elaine wasn't hurt, but Dr. Hinton had a broken arm and concussion. Elaine started to help nurse him, but left, suddenly, the next day. Then——"
"I know all that," broke in Mary impatiently, "it's been public property for a long time."
"Don't interrupt. I'm going to tell you much more than that," snapped Ethel. She went on impressively. "Then last December Margot Hobson—you remember she was one of the Dalton girls and married that solicitor in Kidderminster—was in Paris and got ptomaine poisoning. She was nursed by a French sister who spoke English. Well, this nurse told Margot that about six months before she had helped nurse an English doctor who had been seriously hurt in a motor accident on his honeymoon and she said as he was coming to, when his bride was sitting by the bedside, he had accused himself of a lot of dreadful things. He actually said he had let his bride's first husband die of pneumonia because he was in love with his wife and would then be able to marry her himself."
"And he was this same Dr. Hinton?" asked Mary incredulously.
"Yes, the same handsome man you just saw going out of here. Of course, the nurse had never intended to mention any names, but she let his out accidentally and Margot had sense enough to keep mum and so hear a lot more about what he said he'd done."
"More!" exclaimed Mary. "More than having deliberately let a patient die!"
"Yes," nodded Ethel solemnly, "all his life he had been a thoroughly bad man, and he babbled it all out. He had carried on with lots of girls, and one called Jocelyn, whom he had known when he was practising in the East End, in West Ham, had committed suicide because he had bolted off to Australia and left her to face everything. He said he had not been found out, but the coroner had been furious about whoever had been to blame. The nurse declared, too, that Dr. Hinton just jeered at the poor girl for having trusted him."
"And his newly-wedded wife heard it all!" said Mary. She scoffed. "Then do you mean to say Elaine Garnett was such a poor judge of character that she never guessed what kind of man she was taking for her second husband?"
Ethel shrugged her shoulders. "But he took us all in, and it wasn't until people began getting suspicious about him that a lot of things in his past life were found out."
"But was Elaine in love with him?" asked Mary. Ethel shook her head. "No, I don't think so, in fact I am sure not. It was a long time before she consented to marry him and then we believe it was only out of gratitude because of his supposed kindness to her when Gerald was ill."
"And what is Elaine's life now?" asked Mary. "Is she happy?"
"Happy!" scoffed the other. "Why, I should say she is one of the most miserable women in the world. She's properly in love again now with an officer in the navy, a splendid fellow who just worships her, but of course she can't marry him with Dr. Hinton alive. She is too proud to have her husband watched and get a divorce. She is not one of that sort! Oh, and another thing! They say she lives in terror that one day Dr. Hinton will come to try and seize her by force. Everyone believes that that's exactly what he will do."
That afternoon a gentleman giving his name as Cornelius rang up Dr. Lane Hinton's nurse for an appointment at the earliest possible moment. He was told to come the following morning at half-past ten, and, accordingly, duly presented himself at Dr. Hinton's consulting-rooms at that time.
"I can't sleep, Doctor," he said in a soft melodious voice, eyeing the doctor intently. "I am a terrible sufferer from insomnia. I have taken bromides and several of the barbituric acid drugs, but they don't seem to do me any good. I think I want something stronger."
Percy regarded him intently, too, wondering if he were another profitable drug-addict. He asked what he ate and drank and put many questions about his mode of life.
"Well, I'll give you a little heroin," he said, "and see what that does. Of course, you know it's a form of opium and so you must not exceed the doses given on the bottle. Come to me in a week. Yes, it'll be two guineas, please. Thank you."
Then, just as it appeared he was about to get up to go, the patient seemed suddenly to remember something.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you another thing," he said. "It's about my eyes. When I stare hard at anything for a little while a haze seems to come over them, and I think one pupil gets a little bigger than the other. Will you kindly look?"
He leaned over towards the doctor and the latter looked hard into his eyes. Then the patient laid his fingers upon Percy's wrist.
"Do you mind if I hold on to it?" he said. "It will steady me. I feel rather shaky," and Percy felt, with all the patient's fragile appearance, his fingers were gripping with a grip of steel.
A few moments passed with Percy staring into eyes which mirrored back his own, and then he seemed to fall into a reverie. He went back in memory over a lot of his life. He thought of his days in West Ham, of Jocelyn, of his long voyage over the sea and of the many girls to whom he had made love under the eucalyptus trees in far away Australia. Then Elaine sprang into his memory, lovely, dainty Elaine, and her stupid husband, Gerald. Then he was in the sick-room with Gerald struggling to get his breath, and he remembered how he just stood watching him. Then it was Elaine again and he was begging her to be his wife. Finally, he thought of his practice, and the many prescriptions he had given for cocaine and morphia and laudanum. He was making easy money.
But suddenly he heard this gentle dark-eyed man saying, "Well, I am glad you think it all imagination, Doctor," and he found he was holding the door open for him to pass out of the consulting-room. He felt rather sleepy.
The nurse came bustling in quickly. "Mrs. Herbert wouldn't wait, Doctor," she said, "and so I've made another appointment for her next week. Colonel Sperling is getting impatient, too, and says he has another appointment soon after twelve."
"Mrs. Herbert wouldn't wait!" he frowned. "Why, her appointment wasn't until eleven!"
"And it's now nearly twelve o'clock, Doctor," said the nurse reproachfully, "and she waited three-quarters of an hour!"
Percy looked at the clock on the mantelpiece and to his amazement saw it was three minutes to twelve.
The next morning the five chief daily newspapers in London received a typescript communication. It read:
Tomorrow, Friday night, or in the early hours of Saturday
morning, another sentence of death will be carried out. This time it is
a medical man who will die. It will be punishment and not murder, as he
is an evil man and has well deserved death. I am giving this
notification to the Press so that it may be understood the two men now
about to be tried for the murder of Lady Annabel Vane are innocent of
the charge. They had nothing to do with her death and were in the house
only for the purpose of robbery. It was just a coincidence their being
there that night.
Scotland Yard was immediately notified of the letter, and Chief Inspector Stone tried to get in touch with Gilbert Larose. Then, to his great disappointment, he learnt the latter was upon a camping tour with his wife and children in the Highlands, and for the time being could not be communicated with.
A WEEK later, about nine o'clock in the morning, Chief Inspector Stone was alone in his room in Scotland Yard. He was reading a copy of that morning's issue of the Daily Messenger, and from the frowning expression upon his face the perusal was not altogether an agreeable one.
From time to time he muttered angrily, "Incompetent!. .. incapable!. .. unworthy of the public confidence!. .. undeserving of the high salaries they receive!" He rolled his eyes round comically. "High salaries! Then all these years I must have been forgotten upon a lot of the pay-days!"
He read on: "Eight days have now passed and the triple murderer is still at large!... A veritable beast of the jungle! The shadow of a dreadful death looms on us all!. .. Every day, every hour may come another warning that the destroyer has marked another of us down!. .. And we are as helpless as if there were no law or order in the land of ours, no police, no Criminal Investigation Department, no Scotland Yard!"
He heaved a big sigh and, looking up for a few moments, let his eyes wander out of the window to the bright sunshine beyond. Reluctantly, however, his glance came back to the newsprint in his hand, and he went on reading.
"Let us consider once again the victims of these ghastly crimes. First, there was Professor Starbank, an honourable and inoffensive citizen who in his humble way was ministering to the suffering of humankind; then there was Lady Annabel Vane, a beautiful young woman, representative of that class which, deny it who may, has done so much to build up the greatness of this loved land of ours; then there was Dr. Lane Hinton, an eminent member of that noble profession which so unselfishly has always——"
But there was a knock upon the door and a constable appearing announced "Mr. Gilbert Larose."
"Hullo, Charlie," exclaimed Larose smilingly, "so I find I've been missing everything." He rattled on. "Couldn't help it! It was a bad piece of luck. We were camping in Scotland by Loch Awe and had been without a wireless the whole time. Broke one of the valves going up. Heard the news only yesterday morning, and packed up at once. Caught the express from Edinburgh last night and here I am. Anything fresh?"
"Nothing much," replied Stone gloomily. He tapped the newspaper he had been reading. "Except that this rag says my screw ought to be cut down and we're all going to be murdered in our beds." He spoke sharply, "Haven't you heard all that's happened? Haven't you seen any newspapers this week?"
Larose shook his head. "No, only last night's and this morning's, and all I know, beyond what I read in them, is what the passing motorist told me. He said the brute throttled or strangled a medical man this time, and sent warning to the newspapers two days beforehand."
"Quite correct," nodded Stone, "and his technique was just the same. Last Saturday morning Dr. Lane Hinton of Harley Street was found dead in bed in his flat in Sloane Square and"—he shrugged his shoulders—"as before, no clues of any kind were to be found." He spoke wearily. "But I suppose now I'll have to go over the whole rotten story to you, although I have no expectation that it'll do the slightest good. We are baffled at every turn. The whole thing seems to have become quite hopeless."
"Of course it has not," snapped Larose, "and this third murder should bring him much nearer to falling into our hands." He spoke reprovingly. "Why, no one should know better than you, Charlie, that while a man may commit one and even two murders, and make it difficult to pick out something of his individuality and habit from the crimes, it is a hundred times less likely that he can commit three, without doing so. So now we are bound to find some points of contact common to all these chokings, and, the chief ones, how and when he came to pick his victims. It will be much easier."
"You think so!" commented Stone. He sniffed. "So did we until it came down to hard tacks and then we found out nothing."
"Well, spill the whole story," smiled Larose, "and see if I don't have better luck. Remember, barely twenty-four hours ago I was swimming in Loch Awe, and I'm all fresh for new ideas."
Stone heaved a deep sigh. "By the first post last Thursday morning," he began slowly, "the London newspapers received a typed communication from 'Retribution' informing them that a certain medical man was going to be done to death on Friday night. Usual reason given—was not fit to live, etc. Then on Saturday morning we learnt that Dr. Lane Hinton of Harley Street had been murdered in his flat in Sloane Square. The news came through just after half-past seven."
"From the flat?" asked Larose.
"No, from the police station in Chelsea. Dr. Hinton's man who found the body yelled through the open window to a constable he saw passing through the square. The constable ran up and then phoned his station from there. Of course we were in the flat with the least possible loss of time, and it was apparent at once that the doctor's death had been much the same as Lady Vane's. He had been gripped by the throat when asleep and then smothered with the pillow."
"But hadn't he struggled?" asked Larose.
"Oh, yes, a lot," replied Stone. "The bedclothes were all disarranged and there were bruises on his heels where they had struck the bottom of the bed. But here's one of the photographs. Looks pretty, doesn't it?"
Larose studied the photograph for a long minute. "But he was a big fellow," he commented frowningly. "It must have taken more than one to hold him down."
"So one would think, but there was no evidence that even one strange person had been in the room. No finger-marks anywhere about that could not be accounted for, and no bruises on his wrists, legs, or arms. Everything just as it was with Lady Vane."
"And about this man of his?" asked Larose.
Stone laughed. "Sixty-two and very frail. He and his wife, who is about fifty, looked after the flat, which consists of six rooms. No signs of any forcible entry anywhere. The flat is on the fourth story and the outside door was locked. Also, the main door of the building which is always locked by the caretaker at eleven was found locked when his wife came to open it at half-past six for the milkman."
Larose snapped his fingers together. "We'll leave all that. We won't worry about how he got in until we know who he is. Now tell me about this doctor chap. What sort of man was he?"
Stone spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully. "About thirty-five, came of decent family, and his old dad's a clergyman in Essex. Set up in Harley Street a little over a year ago; before that he'd been practising in Leddington for about four years. Had a very good-class practice there, and in May last year married a Mrs. Garnett, a good-looking and wealthy young widow in the district." He screwed up his eyes. "Some mystery there, for she left him during the honeymoon and has held no communication with him since."
"Oh, oh," exclaimed Larose, "and it is not known why?"
Stone shook his head. "No, but plenty of rumours about, and the gist of them is she found out he had been too much of a gay bird in his bachelor days and took a sudden aversion to him in consequence."
"Quite interesting!" commented Larose. "There should be a line to follow there."
Stone went on. "Now about his practice in Harley Street, and although he'd been there such a short time, from his appointment book he seemed to have been getting quite a number of patients. He called himself a specialist in nervous diseases, but our inquiries rather suggest that he was setting himself out to cater for drug addicts. At any rate, he had taken a short cut to practice by joining up with night clubs frequented by these dope birds and those with money were flocking to him. Mind you, only those with money, for his charges were stiff."
"But do you mean to say," asked Larose, looking very astonished, "that a Harley Street physician would be pandering to their vice?"
"Yes, but quite lawfully and in a way for which he couldn't be brought to book. Another medical man tells me he was making out he was curing them by giving smaller doses each time, and he was quite within his rights."
"Ah!" exclaimed Larose, "that gives us another useful line of inquiry to follow." He leant back in his chair. "Now, Charlie, listen carefully to me. This murderer is not of the usual kind. Of course, he's not sane, but he is not running amok. He doesn't strike indiscriminately, but picks his victims carefully, and he is, I should say, a man animated by some high moral principle."
"High moral principle!" ejaculated the stout inspector. "A strangler! Good God!"
Larose nodded. "Well, as I look at it he is not only an executioner, but has set himself up as some sort of judge as well, and he thinks he is benefiting the world in bumping off his victims. Remember Professor Starbank was a bad egg, and from what you've told me about this Dr. Hinton he doesn't seem to have been much better. As for Lady Vane"—he shrugged his shoulders—"who knows what he knew about her. She may have been a——"
"But how's all this going to help us in catching him," broke in Stone with some irritation. "You're just wasting time."
"Wait," remonstrated Larose, "and listen. Now he's killed three persons, and from the short warning he's given us as to what he's going to do—always only two days—we can take it that in each case he's made up his mind suddenly. He had discovered something about each of these three persons just before he gave us notice. You follow me, don't you?"
"I hear you," nodded Stone grumpily, "but to no particular profit that I can see."
"But if it's as I say, which seems probable," went on Larose persuasively, "don't you realise that if we had been shadowing each of those three persons for, say, the twenty-four hours preceding the writing of each of those three warning letters, we might have come across this assassin making contact with his predestined victim. We should perhaps have seen Professor Starbank in the company of some man, then we should have seen the same man close to Lady Vane, and then again found him talking to Dr. Hinton." He snapped his fingers together triumphantly. "So we should have seen the same thing happening to all of them upon the third day preceding their deaths."
Stone smiled rather reluctantly. "Quite clever," he commented, "but then what do you propose to do?"
"Deal with Dr. Hinton first while people's memories are fresh, and as far as possible find out every person he had had anything to do with on the day that warning letter was sent, and that would be on the Wednesday. Then I'll look through the notes I made about Lady Vane and Starbank and see if anything can be followed up there."
Stone seemed quite interested at last. "Well, I'll give you one scaly person the doctor was seen talking to a day or two before he died, a Captain Blemming, so he calls himself, a regular swell-mobsman and a frequenter of high or low gambling dens according to what money he happens to possess at the time. During the past six months he's been caught in the net in several raids upon shady night clubs."
"Oh, then tell me about him," exclaimed Larose, at once most interested. "Was he a patient of the doctor?"
"Not that we know of," replied Stone, "but one of our plain-clothes men happened to see them together that morning walking through Seymour Square and they were talking so earnestly that when they parted in Seymour Street, he followed Dr. Hinton to find out who he was. He knew this precious Captain already and was wondering if he'd picked up another pigeon to pluck. So when the doctor was going down Harley Street and a constable touched his helmet to him, he found out who he was and reported the incident after the murder."
"Have you talked to the Captain?" asked Larose eagerly.
"Yes, I saw him myself but got nothing out of him. He said he chanced to meet Hinton and had only walked with him as far as their ways lay together. The plain-clothes man, however, says he is sure he is lying, as the two were much too preoccupied in their talk for just exchanging chance remarks."
"I'll go and see him," said Larose. "Where does he live?"
Stone laughed. "He has one room on the third floor of a house in Footer Street, behind Tottenham Court Road, and you'll be astonished at the fine bird which comes off such a shabby perch."
Half an hour later Larose was climbing the dingy staircase of the drab-looking, poor-class house in which Captain Blemming resided. He knocked at the door of the room which he had been told was his and, after a few moments' wait, it was jerked open by a man, only partly dressed, and who had evidently just finished shaving, as he was still holding a soapy razor in his hand.
"What is it?" he asked crossly, and then, seeing that Larose was well dressed, he added less unpleasantly, "What do you want?"
"Captain Blemming?" queried Larose. "Then I have some money for you," and he held out a £5 note.
The Captain, however, made no attempt to take it, and puckered up his face into a very puzzled frown. "What do you mean? Who are you?" he asked.
"My name's Larose," said Larose, "and I want a few minutes' talk with you. Can I come inside?"
The Captain hesitated a few moments, and then moved aside for him to enter. The room was very barely furnished, and there were the remains of a meal upon the table, part of a loaf and a smallish piece of cheese, getting very close to the rind. It was evident money was tight in this quarter.
The Captain closed the door behind them. He still looked very puzzled. "Who sent that money, do you say?" he asked.
Larose smiled. "I didn't say anybody sent it. I brought it myself and there'll be £20 more to follow if you answer a few questions I'll put."
"What's your name?" frowned the Captain. "Larose? Are you the Gilbert Larose who used to be in the police force?"
"The same," nodded Larose, "but I've nothing to do with them now. I'm here quite privately and as there is no witness present, anything you say will be quite safe. To waste no time, I've come to ask you about that Dr. Hinton who was killed last week."
The Captain looked scornful. "You think I did it?"
Larose laughed merrily. "Not for a moment! It was a senseless murder and it's an insane man we're looking for, the same madman who murdered those other two."
"But what's it to to do with you?" asked the Captain sharply. "What are you meddling in it for?"
Larose nodded grimly. "Because he's been sending me not over-polite letters, taunting me that I'll never catch him, and I don't like to be beaten. That's the sole reason why I'm poking my nose in now."
"But why the devil do you come to me?" went on Blemming scowlingly. "I know nothing about him."
"I'm sure you don't," agreed Larose instantly. "He's covered his tracks much too cleverly for the ordinary person to pick them up, but"—he spoke very solemnly—"I believe you can put me in the way of learning of some enemy Dr. Hinton had. No, don't interrupt for a minute." He went on impressively. "Now you had a conversation with the doctor on Wednesday and I believe it was an important one. You were talking so earnestly together that I'm sure it meant business." He shrugged his shoulders despondently. "At any rate you're the only hope we've got, and if we can't get a hint from you we're at a dead end for the third time." He smiled. "I've just come from Inspector Stone and he says he couldn't get anything out of you." His smile broadened. "But I'm approaching you in a different way. Nothing you tell me shall ever be brought up against you—it can't be, as I have already mentioned, because there are no witnesses to testify to whatever you may say, and I'll give you twenty quid for a good story."
The gallant Captain was now quite at his ease and looked amused. "You want a yarn, do you?" he asked. "Well, what if I make one all up?"
Larose laughed. "Oh, it mustn't be too faked, as I shall be able to trip you. We know a lot about Hinton's goings on, and I shall be able to check up a bit on what you say." He took out his case and proffered a cigarette. "Besides, in whatever way you earn your living now, you've a lot of the gentleman about you, and I'm judge enough of character to know you'll give me a square deal if you see I'm on the square, too." He looked amused in his turn. "When I was at the Yard I've handled lots such as you, and not made many mistakes."
The Captain took appreciative puffs at his cigarette. "And you suggest four more fivers and no witnesses against me for a story?" he asked.
"Yes," nodded Larose, "and a winner at Sandown Park on Saturday as well. Back Lovely Lady; she'll be about ten to one."
Blemming grinned. "Well, I met Dr. Hinton by appointment," he said, "and he told me he was married, but that his wife had left him some time ago and he'd only just discovered where she had gone. I was to help him abduct her last Sunday and he was going to pay me £100."
"Exactly," smiled Larose, "I thought you knew something."
"But that's about all," said Blemming. "He didn't trust me too much. He was to pick me up at the Marble Arch at two o'clock on the Sunday afternoon and, when we had got hold of his wife, he was going to give her a hypodermic injection to make her unconscious and then drop me at a railway station he didn't name, to return to town. He didn't intend I should know where he was taking her."
"Where was his wife in hiding?"
"He didn't say. He only told me that he'd just come back from watching the house for three days and found out the only chance of catching her alone was about six o'clock in the evening, when she came to feed some pet swans in a pool close to the wall surrounding the grounds of the house."
"And that's all you can tell me, absolutely all?"
"Were you very friendly with Dr. Hinton?"
The Captain shook his head. "No, that was the first time I'd had any long conversation with him. I'd met him several times at various gambling joints and we were just on nodding terms. That was all."
"Then what made him approach you, in particular?"
Blemming smiled. "I expect he guessed I was hard up. Probably he noticed my clothes were getting shabby and one night when we were at a certain club, he caught me wrapping up some sandwiches in a handkerchief." He made a grimace. "That didn't look too good, but I had taken them for my breakfast the next morning."
"And about this abduction," asked Larose. "Of course, you never mentioned the conversation to anyone?"
The Captain looked amused. "Hardly! I was running as few risks as I could. At the time I didn't think it was his wife he was after. In fact I thought he was going to kidnap some girl for ransom."
"Good God!" exclaimed Larose, quite shocked. "Did you really take him for a man like that?"
Blemming scowled. "He was a worse man than I've ever been, and a much bigger hypocrite. He'd debauch any man or woman with drugs if they'd got the money to pay him. I summed him up directly I saw him, evil as you could want, with all his gentlemanly appearance."
Larose considered for a few moments. "And where did the conversation take place?" he asked.
"In a little cafe in Fountain Street, just off Edgware Road, 'The Silver Moon' it is called."
"Oh, in a public place!" exclaimed Larose. "Then all your conversation may have been overheard."
"Not at all," scoffed Blemming. "We were there so early that the cafe was quite empty at first, except for a black man who brought round the coffee. We didn't speak when he was serving us, and then he moved off right to the other side of the room. We spoke very quietly, too, the whole time."
And that was all Larose could get out of him for the £20. Still, he was not altogether dissatisfied, as he thought he had discovered what had determined the unknown assassin to take the doctor's life with such sudden haste. The former had learnt of the abduction Hinton was contemplating and intended to prevent it.
After a brief visit to the flat in Sloane Square, where he interviewed both the doctor's man and his wife, Larose went back to Stone and told him what he had found out. The stout inspector gave a rather annoyed scowl. "That's the pull you have over us," he said. "You can bribe the truth out of a man when all our threats won't get out a word." He spoke doubtfully. "But do you think he was telling you the truth?"
"I'm almost sure of it," replied Larose. "The talk was too ready to have been made up. At any rate, I'll be able to check up some of it, that part about Hinton's wife feeding the swans in the pool not far from the fence. I'll be going down to Barcombe Hall in the course of the next day or two."
"Well," asked Stone after a moment, and with just a trace of sarcasm in his tones, "and how much nearer do you think you are now to finding out who this murdering devil is?"
"A good bit, Charlie," nodded Larose, "and at any rate I'm on the beginning of a trail. I'm sure I've found out that it was because he was going to abduct his wife that Hinton was killed. It follows, therefore, that Hinton took someone else beside Blemming into his confidence, and, therefore again, that among those he came in contact with shortly before that warning letter was written to the newspapers will be found his murderer."
"Then you mean to argue it was a friend of his who killed him?" asked Stone.
"Seemingly a friend, and it would have had to have been a pretty close one, too, for him to have given him his confidence about such a matter." He spoke cheerfully. "Now what I'm going to do is to try to find out who every person was the doctor got in close contact with on that fateful Wednesday, the day the letter was mailed; his friends, his acquaintances, and his patients."
"A pretty big order isn't it?" asked Stone rather scornfully, "with no one following him about?"
"Not so bad as you would think," said Larose, "for I learnt at his flat just now that he came home before six that evening and didn't go out again afterwards. That, of course, narrows down the inquiry to the morning and the afternoon." He rubbed his hands cheerfully. "So you see, Charlie, when I've got a list of these people, I'll take it to some friends of Starbank and Lady Vane and get them to run their eyes down it. Then if they point to anyone who was a friend of the Professor or her ladyship"—his eyes sparkled—"look what we've found out, a common factor to two and, perhaps, all the murders!"
"Splendid!" smiled Stone, in a little better frame of mind, "if you only bring it off!"
"Well, tell me first," said Larose, "where I shall find Dr. Hinton's nurse-attendant. Of course she's left 71A Harley Street?"
"No, she hasn't," said Stone. "Another doctor in the building has taken her for three weeks while his own nurse is away upon holiday."
Larose did not come near the Yard again for four days, and then early in the morning he bustled into the inspector's room so quickly upon the constable's heels that the latter had not time to announce him.
"Any news?" asked Larose eagerly, the moment the door was closed behind him.
"Yes," grunted Stone sourly, "no news."
"Splendid," laughed Larose, "then I've not been forestalled. No one has stolen my thunder." He became serious and lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "Charlie, I've found where the spider spins his web. I know where he has picked up his victims. No, no, I have no idea yet who the wretch is, but with the help of the Yard I reckon we'll get him."
Stone was breathing heavily. "I know you don't lie, Gilbert, and you never play the fool. So you've found out something?" He nodded violently. "You really have!"
"I have, Charlie," nodded Larose solemnly. "I've found one thing that is common to all the murders and that is"—he spoke very slowly—"within two or three days of their dreadful ends each one of those three murdered people visited a little underground cafe in Fountain Street, just off the Edgware Road, called 'The Silver Moon.'"
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Stone, very bewildered, "what on earth did it mean?"
Larose shook his head. "I don't know, Charlie, and that's what we've got to find out." His face brightened.
"However, I've got a good description of the man whom I am pretty certain will turn out to be the master-assassin. He's of slight build, he has dark eyes and a sallow complexion and he's got a beard."
"The master-assassin!" exclaimed Stone. "Then is it a band?"
"I'm puzzled there," frowned Larose. "The business looks all along a one-man job to me, and yet the man I've got in view doesn't seem to have been capable of committing any of the murders by himself. That's why I call him the master-assassin."
"Well, let's hear the story, quickly," said Stone. "Don't keep me waiting."
"And I'll have to be quick," nodded Larose, "for by half-past ten you and I have got to be in that cafe and wait there for a couple of hours to see if this dark man with the beard comes in. Somewhere between half-past ten and twelve o'clock seems to be the time he generally arrives, if he turns up. Now you just listen to me."
He leant back in his chair and lighted a cigarette. Then he went on, "Now first of all, I went to Dr. Hinton's nurse and asked her about that Wednesday, two days before he died, and what patients he had seen that day. She got out the appointment book and it appeared it had been a very busy day for him. He had had eleven patients and after some effort she recalled them all. She showed me the card index belonging to each one, with the name and address in the doctor's handwriting, and the notes he had made about their complaints and what he had prescribed for them."
"Any opium in any of the prescriptions?" asked Stone with a grim smile.
"Yes, in four of them," replied Larose. He went on, "Then the nurse suddenly remembered something which, she said, was quite out of the ordinary. A new patient, a Mr. Cornelius, had been with the doctor for upwards of an hour that morning, and upset the later appointments. She had thought it most peculiar because the doctor was always so business-like in all his arrangements. She went on it was the more extraordinary because the doctor had not been aware how long the patient had been detaining him."
"A woman?" queried Stone dryly.
"Certainly not," snapped Larose. "A man with a beard, very dark, and of slight stature." He nodded mysteriously. "But the interesting part was, I found later he had given a false address, both to the nurse when he had made the appointment over the phone, the previous afternoon, and to the doctor himself when the card index had been filled in."
"How did you come to find that out?" asked Stone.
"I called upon all the patients the doctor had attended that day to find out what they were like and at the address this one had given no one had ever heard of him."
"But why should he——" began Stone.
"Never mind about him for the moment," interrupted Larose. "I'll return to him presently." He went on, "Then next, with some difficulty, I dug up one of Starbank's old nurses, but after all this time she couldn't remember the names of any of the patients the Professor had attended upon the days just previous to his death. She said, too, the executors, who lived in the North of England, had taken away all the books. Then suddenly, when I was minutely questioning her as to Starbank's habits and general way of living, she furnished a piece of information that almost made me jump out of my boots." He paused dramatically. "She said that nearly every day he had his lunch at 'The Silver Moon' Cafe."
"Ah!" exclaimed Stone, his eyes as wide as saucers, "yes, his consulting-rooms were close to Seymour Square."
"Well, that was enough for me," went on Larose, "and with the least delay possible I went down to Godalming Hall to have a talk with someone about Lady Vane." He smiled. "I was lucky, for as I drove up to the house I caught Sir Romilly Vane just preparing to go out. It was fortunate, too, that I had come provided with an introduction from a great friend of his, Colonel Montgomery, for, otherwise, I don't think he would have had any conversation with me at all. As it was he was very disinclined to reopen the matter of his wife's death."
"I know him," frowned Stone, "for I went to meet him on the boat when he came back from China and he was most rude and overbearing to me." He nodded. "I put it down to his grief at the loss of his wife. He was passionately devoted to her."
"Well, I said I only wanted to find out one thing, particularly," continued Larose, "and that was if at any time within a day or two previous to her death she had visited the Silver Moon Cafe near the Marble Arch. You should have seen him look at me when I asked the question, and he replied very curtly that he did not know. But I urged Miss Vane could probably tell me as she had gone up to town with her stepmother on the Monday. He made no reply but pushed angrily at the bell and ordered the butler to ask his daughter to come there at once——"
"A beautiful girl and very sensible," nodded Stone.
"Most sensible," agreed Larose. "Then imagine the thrill I got when in reply to my question she said her mother had been to the cafe. Lady Vane had left her there on the Tuesday morning about a quarter to eleven, and called back for her shortly after twelve. When they had first arrived there had been no other customers in the cafe, but a number had come in before her mother returned. She could not, however, remember what any of them were like. Then she blushed when I asked her what she had done with herself all the time her mother had been away, and rather reluctantly admitted she had rung up a friend to keep her company. I asked who the friend was and she hesitated until her father ordered her rather testily to tell me. Then she said her companion was a Mr. James Bell, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn Fields. That was all I could get out of her and I came away."
"Most interesting!" commented Stone. "Then it must be more than a coincidence that the three persons killed had been there. Now about the cafe, is it run by Thugs?"
Larose laughed merrily. "Good gracious, no! It's kept by two elderly maiden ladies who are High Church. Their brother is a clergyman near my place in Norfolk and they are as harmless as doves."
"Then in what way is what you've found out going to help us?" asked Stone with a frown.
"It's going to help us, Charlie," replied Larose very solemnly, "because a bearded man who is slight in figure and very dark often comes there and that, you will remember, was the description Dr. Hinton's nurse gave of the patient who was closeted so long with the doctor on that Wednesday, two days before he died."
"How do you know he goes there?" asked Stone sharply.
"Because the two old maids told me. They don't know his name, however, or anything about him except that he has been a customer of theirs for getting on for two years, and is very friendly with a Hindu attendant they employ, by name of Ali Khan. This dark man speaks to Ali in his own language and the Hindu calls him 'Sahib.'"
"But what on earth do you make of it?" asked Stone, his face all puckered up in a very worried frown.
Larose drew in a deep breath. "For the moment I don't make anything of it, Charlie. I am every bit as puzzled as you are. All I know is I have established two facts, the first, that all these murdered people visited the cafe very shortly before their deaths, and the second, the one person Hinton knew, of whom I was already suspicious, is accustomed to go there." He nodded. "I am sure he is linked up with the murders."
"You've been to the cafe, of course?" demanded Stone.
"Yes, late yesterday afternoon, and I was the last customer to leave. It's a queer little place in the basement of a very old house, the upper part of which has been modernised. It serves only very light refreshments, mostly sandwiches and coffee. The coffee is their speciality and is made fresh for each customer by this Hindu who wears a turban and a sort of dressing-gown. Besides him and the old maids, there's only one waitress, a young girl."
"But where did you have your talk with the old women?"
"Ladies," smiled Larose, "and not really old, only elderly. Well, I followed them home to West Kensington and later had the talk with them there."
"But suspecting what you do," frowned Stone, "didn't you think it risky questioning them?"
"No, because I first made some inquiries about them round where they lived and found they were given to good works and great church-goers. In fact, I had to wait until they had come back from a late evening service at the church before I could get speech with them. Then, to my amazement I found they knew me by sight and actually started addressing me by name. Their brother is the Rector in a little village about five miles from Carmel Abbey, and I was pointed out to them only a few weeks ago at a neighbouring flower-show."
"What did you say to them?" asked Stone.
"I cooked up a story that I was helping the British Secret Service and wanted to know who the bearded dark man was who often came to their cafe. I said it was only a political matter and nothing serious."
"Then you had to trust them?"
Larose nodded, "Yes, and they told me all they knew. I suggested approaching the Hindu but they advised me not to as he might tell the dark man at once. They said Ali was a very good servant, but very secretive and mysterious in his ways. Although he has been with them for several years, they know nothing of his private life or even whether he is married or not. Just recently he was ill and didn't come to work for nearly a fortnight, and they had no means of learning what had happened to him as they had no idea where he lived. He had not written to them, which they did not expect, as, although he speaks English fairly well, they say he is almost illiterate and cannot write or read it at all."
"Well, what do you propose to do?" asked Stone after a few moments' consideration.
"Take you to the cafe straight away, or rather we'll get there about half-past ten. Then we'll wait for this bearded man to come in and have him followed to find out where he lives. We'll have a good plain-clothes man waiting at each end of the street and we'll give them the office when the chap goes out. The old maids are not going to let on they know me."
So, by a few minutes after half-past ten, the inspector and Larose had been served with coffee by the bowing Ali Khan, and were waiting for their quarry to appear. The Hindu had gone back to his place on the other side of the room.
"Now this is the table where the Captain and Mr. Hinton sat," whispered Larose, "and so we can be quite certain they were not overheard."
"I'm glad you didn't trust that yellow man, Gilbert," whispered back Stone. "He looks a deep one to me. He may be a brother Thug and acting in with the other man."
"Well, he comes from the country where the Thugs were," commented Larose, "and it's quite possible Thuggery still survives in out of the way places we know nothing about."
Then, until nearly one o'clock, they sat on and the cafe gradually filled up with customers, but there was no appearance of the man they wanted. They each had three cups of coffee and Stone grunted he would be sick if he had a teaspoon more.
Larose heaved a big sigh. "Well, it's no good waiting any longer," he said. "If he'd been coming he'd have come long before this. We'll just have to put in time here every day until we see him. One thing in our favour—he'll never have the slightest idea we are after him."
Larose, however, was making a great mistake there and his mortification would have been great almost to the point of anguish if he had followed Ali Khan that night.
Waiting until it was quite dark, the Hindu left his lodgings upon the top floor of a house in Pimlico and, looking round many times to see he was not followed, made his way to St. John's Wood. There, he entered the grounds of a house, standing by itself in a quiet road.
There was no moon shining, and it was pitch dark, but evidently he knew his way about for, treading softly upon the strip of grass bordering the short gravel drive, he gained a long window at the side of the house farthest from the road.
The window was in darkness except for a thin streak of light at the top. He tapped lightly in a peculiar manner upon the pane, and immediately the light went out. Then the window opened very softly.
"Peace unto you, Ali," whispered a gentle voice.
"And peace unto you, O Master," came back the hoarse whisper of Ali Khan. His words came with a rush. "But all is not well for you, as you have enemies and they wish you harm. Two men came into the Silver Moon this morning and they sat at the table where I could hear. Their talk was all of you and they were waiting for you to come. Then they said when you went away you were to be followed by others waiting outside."
There was a deep intake of breath from the man inside the room, and then a long silence followed.
"They are coming again tomorrow and every day until they see you," went on Ali breathlessly. "It is a slight, dark man with a beard they are looking for and one who speaks often to me."
Again a deep intake of breath, but the voice of the speaker was calm and emotionless as he asked, "But why should they seek to do me harm?"
"I do not know, O Master," replied Ali, "but they spoke of that fair woman who died, and of the Professor who used to come to the Silver Moon, and of a doctor in Harley Street who was going to punish his wife because she had left him." His voice shook in his emotion. "They said you would be done to death on the gallows, in due time."
"Who were these men, Ali, do you know?" came the voice from the darkness, and it was still calm and gentle.
"No, Master, but one was big and strong and walked as a policeman walks, and the other had good clothes and eyes as bright as a bird's. The policeman stared hard at me, but he of the bright eyes never looked my way. They spoke to each other as Gilbert and Charlie."
"Ah!" came sharply from inside the room and another silence followed. Then came the voice again, "And did they not ask you about me?"
"No, the one called Gilbert had spoken to the two ladies about you and me, and they had warned him not to. They said we were friends and I would tell you if he did."
The other laughed softly, "And so you would, Ali. Is it not so? We are indeed friends, you and I." He spoke as if a little anxiously. "Now, you were not followed here?"
"No, Master, I did not leave my lodgings until it was dark, and at every corner I have turned to see if there were any behind me. I have walked all the way."
"It is good, and now you must not come here again, neither will you see me at the Silver Moon for a while. Although I do not fear my enemies they must not find me."
"And I shall not see you again?" asked Ali with a catch in his voice.
"Yes, you shall both see and hear me," was the reassuring reply, "but it will not be here or at the Silver Moon. Now listen. I will give you a little lamp and when you light it, it will burn with a blue flame. At night, when you would speak to me light it in a dark room, and look hard into the flame. Then after a little while you will see me and I will talk to you, and you can tell me if those men have been in again. They will soon get tired of coming and then, maybe, I will return to the Silver Moon."
Larose and Inspector Stone arrived at the cafe early the next day and proceeded to occupy the same table. They were served with coffee by Ali who salaamed deeply when Larose gave him a sixpenny tip. Then a minute or two later Larose swore softly under his breath.
"Gad! but we've been fools, Charlie!" he whispered angrily. "We've made a fatal mistake." He scowled at his companion. "The man's been warned and he won't come here again! We're wasting all our time now."
"And how the devil do you make that out?" scowled back Stone.
"Why, look at that Hindu there," snapped Larose. "It's just come to me there is something in his manner now very different from what it was yesterday. Then he was anxious and worried, but to-day he is all right." Although there was no one near them he dropped his voice to a lower tone than ever. "Depend upon it, Charlie, when we appeared yesterday he recognised you or me and was terrified his dark friend would come in." He swore again under his breath. "Then last night he went and warned him."
"Imagination, Gilbert, all imagination!" frowned the stout inspector. "Sometimes you're right, but don't you forget you can be very wrong."
Larose shook his head. "But I'm sure I'm not now. See here! There are five people in this room now, besides us. Well, every moment the Hindu has been able to spare from attending to them he has been looking at us. You just watch him. His eyes are on us all the time."
"And what could we have done," scowled Stone, "even if what you say is true?"
"Have shadowed him, of course, last night!" exclaimed Larose. "Then we should have found out where this dark man lives. Now"—he shrugged his shoulders—"you see if when we follow this Ali he's not on the look-out for us."
And it turned out Larose was perfectly right, for not only did the dark man not appear in the cafe that morning, but that night when Ali was followed to his lodgings in Pimlico, almost with the simplicity of a little child, he let the plain-clothes men who were tracking him see what he was expecting. He walked home very slowly, looking back scores of times, and when he had finally reached his destination and was up in his room, the first thing he did was to throw up the window and crane his head round to stare up and down the narrow street below.
Then for a whole week, in differing disguises, Larose himself haunted the cafe, and except when shut in the room in the house where he had his lodgings, Ali had plain-clothes men always at his heels. But it was all to no purpose, and the only satisfaction that everyone got, if indeed there was any satisfaction there, was that it looked as if the man they were after had been within an ace of falling into their hands.
Stone was very glum, but Larose was still bright and hopeful. "Look here, Charlie," he said, "it's no good going on like this. If the man won't come to us, then we must go to him and, from an inquiry I've started, I've got a good idea of the direction in which he lives." He made a gesture of annoyance. "You see, we've not been making use of the many things we knew about him."
"That's he's slight and dark and wears, or used to wear, a beard!" exclaimed Stone. "That's all we know"—he spoke scoffingly—"and a good chance it'll give us of picking him out among the millions of men he's moving among."
"A-ah, but we know more than that," smiled Larose. "We know he's well-dressed and looks a gentleman. We know he's got a gentle voice and nice manners. Then we can guess he's well-to-do and doesn't have to work for a living, proved by the long time he's so often stopped in that cafe. Another thing, he's fond of flowers, for the old maids told me he's sometimes stopped to pass a remark upon the flowers in their vases when he's been paying his bill at the desk. That was his 'nice manners' they spoke about, and they remember that one day he said they had got better carnations than he could grow in his garden."
"But how the devil does all this help us?" asked Stone, irritably, "his nice manners and his liking for flowers?"
"A lot," replied Larose. "It picks him out from the slight, dark men who are rough and impolite and it tells us, too"—he nodded solemnly—"that he lives in a house with a garden and not in a flat." He snapped his fingers together jubilantly. "Well, at any rate, I've got on his trail already, and should say he lives in Maida Vale, Hampstead, Kilburn, or somewhere near Regent's Park. I've found out that when he leaves that cafe in Fountain Street, he crosses the square and passes through Seymour Street to get to the Edgware Road."
He went on. "You see, Charlie, I reckoned that a man who had been going to the Silver Moon regularly three or four mornings a week for getting on for two years must have come to be noticed by people on his journeyings to and fro. So I started considering who would have been the ones most likely to have noticed him and thought of paper boys at once. Then I got a bull's-eye the fourth boy I asked. He sells papers from half-past eleven to six at the corner where Seymour Street turns into the Edgware Road, and he remembered the man directly I asked him."
"After you'd given him half a crown, I suppose," growled Stone.
Larose laughed. "No, only a shilling, and he didn't make up what he told me for he described the man at once as well dressed, dark and slim, and added that he walked briskly with short steps. He said he generally appeared about twelve o'clock, and invariably went up the right-hand side of the Edgware Road."
Stone's grim face relaxed a little. "It's not bad as it goes," he remarked, "but it leaves us a terribly wide field to explore."
Larose went on. "Well, I've thought it all out and, firstly, as his hair is always parted tidily and his beard always kept well-trimmed—the old maids told me that—I think we might get news of him at some good-class hairdresser's. Failing that, we must try the chemists for a purchaser of brilliantine, and next, we must scour the newspaper shops. So you send a mob of good men to all those kind of places in the suburbs, on the right side of the Edgware Road"—he nodded—"and I shall be very much surprised if we don't hear something soon."
So, a systematic inquiry was at once set about in the districts suggested by Larose, and indeed, in those as well to the west side of Edgware Road. Then, upon the third day, a plain-clothes man reported that he had picked up traces of a party, answering to the description, in a newsagent's shop in Park Street, close to Primrose Hill.
The newsagent in question stated that, until a couple of weeks or so back, a dark, slim and very nicely-spoken customer, had been in the habit of calling in every Thursday or Friday, in the latter part of the afternoons, for certain weekly periodicals. He had no idea who the gentleman was or where he came from, and rather thought he was in the habit of patronising his shop only because it was on his way home from the Zoological Gardens where, apparently, he often went. Sometimes the gentleman was chatty and talked about the animals there, especially about the tigers. He said he had seen wild tigers in their native jungle and they were beautiful creatures.
That was as far as the plain-clothes man had gone, but the trail at the Zoo had at once been followed up by others. The keepers knew the dark man quite well, and had had many chats with him, but they had no idea who he was or where he came from. One of them, however, suddenly vouchsafed the information that he must live pretty close to Lord's Cricket Ground, as once, when taking about the Eton and Harrow match which was then being played there, he had remarked laughingly the boys had made such a hullabaloo with the cheering that they had prevented him having his afternoon nap in the garden.
Chief Inspector Stone considered this last piece of information so important that he delayed all further inquiries until he had got in touch with Larose.
"So you see, Gilbert," he said, "the field of search is now so narrowed down that we ought to have no difficulty in picking up the man, and as it will be a delicate matter to approach him without his becoming aware of what we are doing, I think you had better do it yourself. All along we have been working upon your idea, and besides, with your dud clothes you look least like a policeman now. So, go ahead and spot him and then we'll discuss what next to do."
So with brisk but discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Lord's Cricket Ground, Larose made short work of finding out where the gentlemanly, dark man lived, and just before nightfall, was looking over the wall of the garden surrounding his house in Grove Avenue, St. John's Wood.
Then Larose's eyes took in a man watering some flowers not a dozen yards from him, and his pulses raced quickly and there was an unpleasant drumming in his ears, as he saw the man was of slight build and a very dark complexion.
With difficulty he suppressed a cry of exultation. The description of the man was different from that of only a little over a week ago. It was different from that given by Dr. Hinton's nurse, different from that given by the old maids of the Silver Moon Cafe, different from that given by the keepers of the Zoo and different from that given by every person who had described him in the neighbourhood in which he lived.
He was without a beard and was now clean-shaven.
AT forty years of age Canon Athelstan Morency was a fine commanding figure of a man. Tall, handsome, and of aristocratic bearing, one glance at him was sufficient to suggest he came of no common stock. Indeed, it was not to be wondered at. He could trace his ancestors back to the time of the Norman Conquest, with the name of Morency carved deep in the glorious annals of our island story.
Married to the granddaughter of an earl, an honorary canon of St. Paul's Cathedral at so early an age, and the incumbent of the fashionable church of St. Jude's in South Kensington, it was undoubtable he was marked down for high preferment. His admirers, of whom there were legion, were confident he would be "My Lord Bishop" before he was fifty.
He had great intellectual gifts and was a moving and eloquent preacher. His church was always crowded, and his reputation was such that he drew his congregation from all parts of the metropolis.
One Sunday evening a friend persuaded Sir Ransome Barling, the great authority upon diseases of the mind, to attend the service at St. Jude's, on purpose to hear the Canon preach and, driving home in their car, the two started to discuss the man and his sermon.
"A wonderful speaker," commented the friend, "and he thrilled me as he always does, but then how he thrilled everyone. I don't suppose a single person in all that big congregation took his or her eyes off him from the moment he went up into the pulpit until he came down again. I never heard a more eloquent sermon. His words seemed to burn into me. They gave me a shiver up my back."
"Exactly," nodded Sir Ransome, "he's a wonderful speaker and, whether or not one agreed with everything he said, it was a treat to listen to him. Still"—he hesitated—"I don't think I should be happy if a daughter of mine had married him."
"Good gracious, why not?" exclaimed the other, very surprised. "He has a blameless reputation, and everyone thinks the world of him. What's wrong with him?"
Sir Ransome laughed. "Nothing that I know of. He looks a fine type of man, and I don't wonder old Lord Newsome accepted him as a son-in-law. Besides, he's so handsome any girl might fall in love with him." He shook his head. "No, I wasn't considering him in the ordinary way as one man would regard another. I was thinking of him from the jaundiced point of view of a poor wretch whose life's work condemns him to look at all people as potential inmates of mental homes." He shrugged his shoulders. "You see, that's my trade and I can never get away from it."
His friend scoffed. "And you regard Morency as a possible madman?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't say that," replied Sir Ransome quickly. "I really mean it struck me he was experiencing, far more even than his hearers, the frenzied feelings of emotion he was imparting to them. He was burning himself up with those burning words you speak about, and it is an unhealthy state of mind. Yes, he seemed a sleeping volcano to me, and I didn't like the way his hands were never still. Besides"—he hesitated—"Well, I can't tell you why, but there was something about him which reminded me of those poor mental wretches it is my lot to have dealings with."
"Hum!" grunted the other, and the matter was not referred to again until after they had finished the supper they had together at the doctor's house.
Then the doctor's friend said frowningly, "Look here, Sir Ransome, what you said about Morency when we were driving home has made me feel very uneasy, but, first, do you know anything about his family?"
"Nothing whatever," smiled the doctor, "and, really, I might never have heard of him if you hadn't talked about him to me." He looked curious. "But why have I made you uneasy?"
His friend looked uncomfortable. "Well, as I've told you, Morency and I have been friends ever since our Eton days, and I know all about him and his people." He held the doctor's eyes with his own. "Your remarks upset me because his family history is a bad one, and there's insanity all the way down."
"Oh, oh," exclaimed the doctor, looking rather crestfallen, "then I wish I hadn't said anything."
"But you have," nodded the other, "and the mischief's done. Yes, his father died in an asylum, or a mental home as you call them now, and there was something fishy about what happened to his father's brother, General Morency, in India. I heard this uncle killed a native servant in a fit of temper, but escaped being put on trial because of the scandal that would have ensued. At any rate, the General was ordered home, but he died on the voyage, and there were nasty tales going about that he'd run amok on board ship and been killed when they were trying to capture him."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed the doctor. "How long ago did all this happen?"
"Nearly forty years. As a matter of fact Athelstan, the Canon, was born when his father was actually in the asylum, and that's what makes me so frightened at what you say."
The doctor considered. "His family history all right except for his father and this uncle?" he asked.
His friend shook his head. "No, and that's what makes things look even worse. Of course, I don't know if any of them were put in asylums, but I've heard that in the days of the Georges, his ancestors were called 'the mad Morencys' and there are lots of stories of the extraordinary things they did."
"Any insanity on the mother's side?"
"I don't know that, but I've seen a copy of the family tree and there has been a tremendous lot of intermarrying with blood relations. Cousins seemed to be the favoured choice when the Morencys married, and it is recorded that it was a standing joke a century and a half ago that the Morencys were so proud of their lineage they considered only a Morency was fit to mate with a Morency."
"Bad, bad!" ejaculated the doctor frowningly. "Repeated unions of such a nature provide the most fertile soils for subsequent mental derangement. But now, tell me all about this Canon. He seems a most vital and energetic man."
They talked on for some time and then when his friend had gone, the doctor remarked sadly, "And after all I've heard I shall be considerably surprised if within two years this brilliant preacher is no longer ministering to the parishioners of St. Jude's." He corrected himself. "Two years did I say? No, with the dynamic energy he appears to possess I won't give him one. Mania will develop before that, but what form it will take only the gods can say."
Certainly, as the great mental specialist had noted, Canon Morency was full of energy. For a long time he had never spared himself, and as the years had rolled on he had added task to task, as if there could be no drying up of the sources of his vitality. He personally superintended everything in his well-ordered parish, he gave lectures upon literary subjects all over London and he was at the beck and call of any organisation which wanted him to preside at their meetings.
He never seemed to want a moment's peace and going to bed was irksome to him. He said time given to sleep was time wasted, and as far as possible he acted on that principle. He went to bed late and got up early, and when he slept his sleep was broken and he was tossing about all the time.
And with all he accomplished in his days of feverish activity he was never content. He seemed to get nothing out of anything that was really pleasing to himself. He had no personal satisfaction in anything he did. He knew he pleased other people with the fine speeches which he made, but such triumphs had grown stale and he felt an emptiness in his life. So often he wished he had a hobby and that he could shut himself up in his room and enjoy it all to himself. He could not, however, interest himself in collecting anything, and he always said he had read so much that no wonder he was sick of books.
Although his marriage had been one of pure convenience and they had been married for ten years, he still admired his wife and treated her with the greatest respect and politeness. Of a most masterful nature in dealing with everyone under him, he never attempted to dominate her, and they both lived their own lives in complete harmony. There were no children and he was glad of it.
He was popular with all his subordinates and, although possessed of a most violent temper, he kept it under such perfect control that few, very few, were aware that notwithstanding his forceful ways, he was not a mild-mannered man.
Such then was Canon Morency when that Sunday evening Sir Ransome Barling formed such a gloomy opinion of his mental health.
Upon the following Wednesday the Canon went down to Saffron Walden to preach at the festal evensong of a church of which an old college friend of his was the Vicar. He was to stay the night and return the next morning.
He did not enjoy himself at all. The church was stuffy and he had a splitting headache the whole time the service was on. Then, when he went back to the Vicarage, it was to a pack of wide-eyed, staring children who watched every movement he made as if he were some strange sort of animal. It annoyed him intensely.
Then, after supper his old friend was prosy and long-winded and it was long past midnight before he could escape to his bedroom. His further trouble was that he got hardly any sleep, owls in the nearby ivy-covered church hooting throughout the night, and the cocks beginning to crow soon after he got into bed. Altogether, the next morning he rose in a very irritable condition of mind.
Having arranged, upon his way home, to call upon another college friend, who lived between Great Dunmow and Bishop's Stortford, he set off directly after breakfast, taking a short cut off the main road which the Vicar had mapped out for him.
When about six miles upon his journey and in a lonely by-road, he suddenly came to the conclusion that he was travelling in the wrong direction and so pulled up opposite a small house to inquire the way.
The house lay about fifty yards back from the road and knocking loudly several times upon the door, he got no answer. Hearing, however, noises coming from the back and the fierce squealing of some animal, he went round to find someone, and came upon a man struggling with a young pig which he had cornered in the small yard.
The man had thrown the pig upon its back and was now holding it down, preparatory to cutting its throat with an ugly-looking knife which lay handy upon the ground.
The noise of his footsteps deadened by the frantic squeals of the pig, the Canon, both horrified and thrilled, approached close up and stood just behind the man, with the latter obviously quite unaware that anyone but himself was there.
The pig's throat was duly cut, and the man turned it upon its side, so that the blood should run into the big flat dish he had pushed under his neck.
The Canon's heart was beating wildly. Some strange chord had been struck in the breast of this descendant of the mad Morencys and he was fascinated beyond expression by the sight of the swift-gushing blood. How marvellous was its rich scarlet colour, more striking and more beautiful than anything in art! How mysterious it was, too, signifying as it did in its passing, the transition of a sentient creature from life into death.
He was so enthralled in watching the dying animal that he approached nearer and nearer, until he was standing right over the bending man. The pig now quite still, the man suddenly straightened himself, bumping the back of his head heavily against the Canon's forehead.
Both equally startled, the man recovered first, and with a deep oath thrust the Canon so violently away from him that the latter had difficulty in preserving his balance. "Who the hell are you, and what do you want here?" roared the man, and he clenched his fist as if he were about to follow up the question with a blow.
Swift as a flash of lightning the evil temper of the Morencys seethed up in the Canon. Not only was he being sworn at and threatened with violence by a common man, but there was now a great bloody hand put upon his immaculate white dust-coat. So, without a single second's hesitation, he clenched his fist and struck the man a fierce blow in the face, felling him instantly to the ground. Then in an ungovernable paroxysm of rage, he started kicking at the unconscious body, head, face, chest or whatever part was nearest to his foot.
Suddenly his eyes fell upon the knife the man had dropped, and instantly he stopped kicking. A startled expression came into his face, he held his breath and there was a strange glint in his widely opened eyes. For a long moment he stood as motionless as a graven image. An almost perfect silence was all about, only the twittering of the birds and the sighing of the wind among the trees. He looked stealthily round. There was not a soul in sight. He picked up the knife and knelt down by the unconscious man.
* * * * * * * * * *
He drove back to London quite unconcerned. He had got rid of the dust-coat by wrapping it round a big stone and throwing it in a wayside pond. He had, however, first made quite sure his name was not upon it, and there was nothing in the pockets.
In some strange way it did not enter into his mind that he had done anything wrong. A clod of a man had laid his filthy paws upon him, and threatened further violence and he had punished him. He would never be found out, so he would dismiss the matter from his mind and forget all about it.
In the days which followed he felt not the slightest trace of remorse, indeed it did not seem that the adventure had occurred to him. It had happened to someone else and all the detail which he could fill in he was just imagining.
Of course, he had read in the newspapers all about the crime,
"DREADFUL MURDER IN ESSEX.
MAN KILLED IN LONELY HOUSE NEAR BRAXTED.
UNKNOWN MAN SLAUGHTERS PIG TOO.
NO CLUES LEFT BEHIND."
So he carried on his usual mode of life, preaching his beautiful sermons, organising his parish affairs, and delivering his wonderful lectures. He was no longer, however, quite the same man. He could not forget the blood he had seen, and those scarlet streams changing so quickly into purple, blackish pools were still strong in his memory. The recollection fascinated him, and now anything of a scarlet nature drew his attention at once. He often saw scarlet threads in his dreams.
He had become very interested too, in persons of stout, fresh-coloured appearance, and looking at his red-faced churchwarden, Colonel Pomperghast, he often wondered how many extra pints of rich fluid were coursing through the old soldier's arteries and veins.
He slept in a room by himself, because of the irregular hours he kept and, also, because, when sleeping at his side, the slightest movement of his wife would awake him, and then it might be hours before he could get to sleep again.
One night he went to bed very late, and it was after one o'clock before his head touched the pillow. Then, almost at once, the dog next door began to bark. He kept on barking, not for long at a time, but at frequent intervals and often enough to prevent the Canon getting off to sleep in the periods of quiet.
The Canon became very angry and jumping out of bed peered down into the garden next door where the dog was kennelled. He knew the animal well, a beautiful pure-bred collie, and had often patted him when passing in the street. Even as he watched him now he lifted up his head and started to bark anew. He was barking at the moon, which was at its full and shining brightly.
The Canon's face became distorted in fury and, a thought seizing him, he put on his slippers and a dressing-gown and taking a razor from its case, slipped quietly from the room.
It was fully ten minutes before he returned and then for fully another five he stood at the window looking down into the garden as before. He had added another recollection to those of the morning in the yard of that lonely house on the Braxted Road, and it was much in his mind the next day.
Then a few days later, as he made out to everyone, he was seized with the idea he was not getting enough exercise, and so he bought a bicycle and took to going for long rides at night. It was always moonlight nights he chose for his rides, and often he did not get home until one and two in the morning. Then he would drop off to sleep at once and show no signs of undue fatigue in the mornings.
He was quite bright and cheerful too, and never talked now about thinking of some hobby he must take up. All he complained of was that his headaches had become rather more frequent. He did not add that when they were troubling him he often heard voices talking to him, especially at night. The voice he heard most frequently was a harsh uneducated one, and it always asked the same question, "Who the hell are you, and what do you want here?"
Then, suddenly, in certain districts people began to be very worried that there was a horse and cattle maimer at work. Farmers and others got up in the morning to find that one or more of their cows or horses outside in the fields had been hamstrung, or slashed with a sharp knife during the night. This happened in places as far apart as Richmond and Epping and Chislehurst, and in other districts adjacent to London.
At first these wanton acts of cruelty had been only of local interest and reported in small paragraphs in the local papers. Richmond had not heard of a similar happening at Chislehurst, and Chislehurst did not know there had been any maiming at Epping. There was no idea the maiming had been so widespread and, accordingly, no one had regarded them as parts of one coherent whole.
This condition of things lasted for some months and then one day a small-holder in West Wickham wrote to his son in London, who was a reporter attached to the Daily Cry, that some wretch had so slashed his prize Jersey cow the previous night that she had had to be destroyed.
For the reporter the letter was a very fortunate communication, as it happened his young lady, who lived in Teddington, had told him only that very morning, about a valuable mare belonging to a neighbour living near, having been hamstrung only a few days before.
The reporter at once scented a good story, and a large number of inquiries at police stations in towns just outside the metropolis furnished him with one which was in the nature of a scoop for his paper.
Twenty-six outrages had been recorded during the previous five months, and the marvel of it was no one had recognised their significance before. Without any doubt a dangerous madman was in their midst, and he was systematically carrying on his dreadful work upon almost every fine night when there was a moon.
He had been striking right and left during all that time, but by his cunning in never making an appearance twice in the same place, he had managed so far to escape all general notice.
The authorities were soundly rated for their stupidity in not having taken the outrages as a whole, and the hue and cry was raised at once, but it was soon realised it was one thing to know that a madman was among them, and yet quite another to lay him by the heels.
After quick but searching inquiries, the opinion was formed that the maimings were undoubtedly all the work of one and the same man. He had always chosen his victims when they had been standing or lying adjacent to a fence, and he had always been content with one fierce slash with whatever weapon he carried. It was now thought he used an ordinary razor.
Then, too, it was considered certain that he arrived upon the scenes of his dreadful work upon a bicycle. A motor-car was ruled out because in none of the twenty-six cases had any mention been made of a stationary car having been noticed when the owners of the maimed beasts had reported the occurrences to the local police stations.
So it was broadcast for the public, generally, to take a special interest in all men who were seen bicycling alone after eleven o'clock at night. Vigilance committees were formed and all who had valuable stock set a watch over them until daylight came.
And through it all Canon Morency went on his way serenely indifferent to the activities of the Press, indeed, when he troubled to read more than the staring headlines he seemed to take very small interest in the matter at all. He lived his life in compartments and what had it to do with him, Canon Morency, during the day, what this other man did at night?
While daylight lasted he was the busy, bustling Rector of his parish, very much now inclined to headaches and keeping down his temper with more and more difficulty, but when night came he was another being. Then, his thoughts were all different and a feeling of exalted power surged through him. He felt that surely he was the arbiter of life and death. But he was cunning with it, he was no blunderer, and realised quite well he must watch every step he took. People were after him and looking for a man with a bicycle. So he must be careful, very careful, or he would get caught and all his power taken from him.
One night, when by the faint light of a new moon he had done his ugly work upon a cow in a field near Wimbledon Common, he had a very narrow escape. He had hidden his bicycle under a hedge about half a mile away and had had to run for his life to get back to it before he was overtaken by two pursuing men. He had got away all right, but the exertion and excitement had upset him, and his other self had felt irritable and nervy the next morning.
So he thought he would take a day off and go to the Oxford and Middlesex cricket match at Lord's. Accordingly, just before half-past eleven found him climbing the steps of the Members' Stand. The attendance was small and there were not many members there. Not feeling in a mood to hold any conversation with anyone, he was intending to go right up to the top of the stand, where, at first sight, he thought no one was. Then to his annoyance he perceived a solitary man in the top corner just where he had wanted to go himself, reading a newspaper. He muttered an imprecation under his breath and had to be content with a seat two rows farther down.
Waiting irritably for the match to begin, his attention was attracted by a plaintive mewing and, looking clown, he saw an almost pure white kitten, just by his feet.
Instantly it flashed through him how pretty scarlet would look upon a white background and, without a moment's hesitation, he lifted up a rather large foot, encased in a heavy boot, and crashed it down upon the unsuspecting kitten's head.
The head was beaten flat, and the kitten was dead without having made the slightest sound.
The colour effect was all the Canon had anticipated, and for a few seconds his eyes took it in gloatingly, but then suddenly he became the Vicar of St. Jude's again, and a shiver of apprehension went through him at the realisation of what he had done in broad daylight and in a public place.
For the first time he felt fear, and he glanced round at the man in the rows above him, wondering if the latter had seen what had taken place.
A few moments of apprehension and then he felt assured the man had noticed nothing. It was true the man was no longer reading his newspaper and that his hat being pulled down low upon his forehead and the big dark glasses he was wearing prevented the expression upon his face being seen. Still, leaning back in his seat as he was, his attitude was not a strained one, and did not for a moment suggest that he was surprised about anything.
No, the Canon felt quite safe, but all the same he thought it advisable to furtively kick the remains of the mangled kitten as far away from him as possible, and a few minutes later move to quite a different part of the grandstand. With all his assurance, however, he might have been not a little disturbed if, just after he had left the grounds in the late afternoon, he had happened to overhear the man with the dark glasses inquiring of one of the attendants who he, the Canon, was.
That night the Rector of St. Jude's was just about to insert his latch-key into his front door when he was accosted by a very polite stranger who, it appeared, had just happened to arrive on the spot at the same moment.
The stranger, speaking in educated tones, apologised for addressing the Canon in the street, but explained he would just like to have two words with him, as he was desirous of making a contribution to the church funds.
The Canon expressed his pleasure and, inviting the stranger to come in, took him into his study and bade him sit down. The stranger at once began asking questions about church work, and was so earnest and searching in his inquiries that the Canon soon found his eyes being held by the stranger's own.
Quite a long time passed and then the Canon seemed to come out of a strange sleep. For a few moments he could not collect his thoughts and then he started up and looked round in amazement. He found himself alone.
But hadn't a man spoken to him in the street? Hadn't he brought in a stranger who wanted to give him some money for the church? Hadn't they started talking together? Hadn't they—but he passed his hand over his forehead and then looked in amazement at the clock.
It was longer than an hour since he had left the church and it was only a couple of hundred yards or so away.
It was upon the evening of the day after the Canon had received his mysterious visitor that Larose looked over the garden wall of the house in St. John's Wood and saw Nile Chilcott watering his flowers.
He had no doubt whatever that he was looking at the murderer of Professor Starbank, Lady Vane and Dr. Hinton, but, even as with a violently beating heart he now gazed at the man, it came home to him most unpleasantly that there was as yet not the very slightest real evidence against him.
They had tracked him down, but they were not justified in arresting him and, more than that, if he came to learn he was now actually uncovered he would undoubtedly at once destroy all evidence against himself, even if that evidence still existed. Yes, to bring home his crimes to him would be a very difficult matter.
He returned quickly to Scotland Yard and a long discussion took place between him, the Chief Commissioner of Police and Inspector Stone, without, however, them arriving at any conclusion as to what to do next.
"But, of course, from now onwards," had said the Chief Commissioner in parting, "the wretch must be kept under constant surveillance, although I think it'll be a long time before he attempts another crime. He's been badly frightened, and he'll lie low until he believes it safe again. I'm no prophet if we hear of any more of his crimes for some months."
As it happened the Chief Commissioner turned out to be a very poor prophet, for at twenty-five minutes past seven the next morning the telephone bell by his bedside rang loudly and he picked up the receiver to learn some startling news.
The murderer had been at work again, and a clergyman in South Kensington, the well-known Canon Morency, was the victim this time. He had been strangled in bed during the night and the body had just been discovered. The speaker was Inspector Stone, who was ringing up from the Yard.
"All right!" snapped the Commissioner. "Pick me up in half an hour and, if you can, bring Mr. Larose with you. We'll all go to South Kensington together."
When they arrived at the Rectory, accompanied by another car containing plain-clothes men and the usual paraphernalia of the Criminal Investigation Department, they were confronted with a spectacle almost exactly similar to that which the inspector and Larose had seen when investigating the murders of Lady Vane and Dr. Lane Hinton. The clergyman had been throttled or strangled in exactly the same way.
It appeared that the murder had been discovered at a quarter-past seven. The Canon should have been taking an early morning service at seven o'clock, and not having arrived at the church at ten minutes past the hour, the verger had hurried round to the Rectory, thinking the Canon must have overslept himself.
Upon arriving at the house, he had found the front door open, with one of the maids washing the steps. Knowing his way about the house, the verger had run upstairs and knocked upon the Canon's bedroom door. Getting no answer, he had tried the handle of the door, and finding the door unlocked, had opened it and looked into the room. Then he had seen the room in disorder, the bedclothes all flung about, and the Canon dead, with all signs of his having met with a violent end. He had immediately rung up the police.
A few minutes of investigation and the Commissioner issued his orders to Inspector Stone. "Go at once to that Chilcott's house with a search warrant, and if you can find the slightest excuse arrest the man. At any rate, say he must come to the Yard and give an account of himself. Pounce upon him, and don't for one second let him out of your sight. Don't give him a chance to take any poison. If he refuses to be searched, stretch a point and let one of the men pass his hands over him when your back happens to be turned. Oh, and look out for muddy boots! Don't forget it's been raining since yesterday evening."
So it was a very astonished butler who, when he answered the door of the house in Grove Road, found himself confronted with five stern-faced men.
"Where's Mr. Chilcott?" snapped Stone, pushing his way at once into the hall. "Well, which is the study? There? All right, we'll announce ourselves."
Mr. Chilcott was seated in a big armchair when the door of the study was burst unceremoniously open and Stone, followed by Larose and three other men, entered. He rose instantly to his feet and in the opinion both of Larose and the inspector, there was no doubt the expression upon his face was one of consternation as well as surprise. He had gone an ugly grey colour, too, under his dark complexion.
"Mr. Nile Chilcott?" asked Stone. "Then we are police officers and I have a search warrant to go through the house." He produced the warrant and went on. "Of course you can come with us, but, first, have you any objection to being searched yourself?"
Mr. Chilcott pulled himself together with an effort and, although his face was still its grey colour, he spoke calmly and with no shaking in his tones. "But what have you come here for? What's this all about?" he asked.
"Oh, you'll know in good time," nodded Stone, "but now, can I search you?"
Mr. Chilcott drew himself up with dignity, "Certainly!" and he held his hands up high above his head.
The inspector's search was quick but thorough, and he saw to it that there was not only no firearm or other weapon on Mr. Chilcott, but also that he was carrying no bottle, box or packet that could contain anything he could poison himself with.
The search over, he asked: "Now, where's this typewriter you use?" and, Chilcott pointing one out where it stood upon a small table, he examined it carefully.
"But it's an old Hoover," he whispered frowningly to Larose. "I know the make, and those letters were never written with this."
"Never mind," whispered Larose. "He looks a deep one, and we may find another machine yet."
Mr. Chilcott spoke very quietly. He had now quite recovered his composure. "I think I deserve some politeness," he said, "and I have a right to know what your coming here means."
"It means," replied Stone sternly, "that we suspect you of being concerned with several murders."
"Murders!" exclaimed Mr. Chilcott looking very aghast, and all present put him down as a fine actor if he were indeed a guilty man. "Whose murders?" he asked, speaking sharply for the first time.
"You'll know that soon enough," said Stone. "Now, first, where were you last night?"
Mr. Chilcott looked the picture of astonishment.
"Here, in this house," he said. He looked pained. "Where else do you think I was?"
Stone ignored his question. "But you went out last night or early this morning," he said. "We know that for certain."
Mr. Chilcott sank back into the chair with an air of patient resignation. "I don't pretend to know what you mean," he said, "but I assure you I have not even left the house since I came in from watering some flowers in the garden last night, just before it began to get dark and came on to rain."
"Well, how many pairs of boots or shoes have you?" asked Stone sharply.
"Four," was the reply, "four pairs of shoes and one pair of slippers. I am wearing the slippers now."
"Who cleans your shoes?"
"Vance, my butler. He opened the door to you."
With no comment Stone pushed the bell-push and the butler appeared. "Look at me," ordered Stone, "and don't let your eyes go off my face. Now, how many pairs of shoes has your master got?"
The butler was very flustered and his mouth gaped, "Four pairs, sir," he faltered, "two brown and two black."
"And you've cleaned them this morning?"
"One pair of brown ones, sir. The pair Master wore yesterday."
"But were they dry enough to clean this morning?" snapped Stone.
"Oh, yes, sir. They had not got wet. The Master was indoors before it started to rain last night."
"But didn't you hear him go out last night or come in early this morning?"
The man looked bewildered. "He didn't go out last night, I tell you, sir."
"How do you know?" boomed Stone.
The butler hesitated. "Well, I should have heard him, sir, if he had. My room is just above the hall door and I should have heard the bolts drawn back. I am a very light sleeper."
"But he may have gone out by the back door," urged Stone.
"He might, sir," agreed the man, "but then I think I should have heard him as well. That door was bolted, too, and I always sleep with my own door open."
Stone dismissed him with a wave of the arm, and turned again to Mr. Chilcott and began questioning him.
Now, when later discussing the conversation which then ensued between Mr. Chilcott and Inspector Stone, Larose remarked thoughtfully that it might just have been as if the suspected man knew exactly how far their knowledge went and when it was necessary for him to admit anything or safe for him to deny it. It was as if he knew all their cards, without them knowing any of his.
Stone's first question was, and he rapped it out like a shot from a gun: "And how did you come to know Professor Starbank?"
Mr. Chilcott looked puzzled and then shook his head. "I did not know him," he said. "I had never heard of him until I read about his murder in the newspapers."
"Oh," sneered the inspector sarcastically, "and yet he went to the Silver Moon Cafe, which you have been continually frequenting for two years, every day for his lunch."
"I have never been there at lunch time," said Mr. Chilcott quietly. "I have always left by a quarter to twelve, in order to get back here for my own mid-day meal, which I take at 12.30. I am very regular in my habits."
Stone was evidently nonplussed by the answer, but he covered his annoyance by demanding fiercely, "How long had you known Lady Vane?"
Mr. Chilcott looked troubled. "The poor woman who was murdered too!" He shook his head again. "I did not know her either. She was only a name to me."
Stone was getting angry. "And, of course, you did not know Dr. Hinton, the Harley Street doctor who was murdered?" he roared.
Mr. Chilcott spoke very solemnly. "I knew him, and it was a terrible shock to learn of his dreadful end. I had seen him and spoken to him only two days before he died. As a matter of fact I had consulted him about my health."
"Yes, and under an assumed name and giving a false address," scoffed Stone. His eyes bored like gimlets. "How do you explain that?"
Mr. Chilcott smiled. "Quite easily. My usual medical man, Dr. Bentley, has his consulting-rooms only a few doors away, and I did not want him by any chance to learn that I had gone to someone else. I thought that perhaps he and Dr. Hinton might be acquainted with each other and my name one day crop up."
Stone sneered again. "And you want to make out you think it likely that, if they were acquainted and happened to meet, you had made yourself so interesting to Dr. Hinton that he would have immediately started talking about you?"
Mr. Chilcott smiled. "He might have, as mine is a very unusual case." With a quick movement he bared his arm and showed two deep puckered scars half-way up to the elbow. "See, I was bitten by a cobra once, and ever since I have been taken with dreadful bouts of insomnia. No medical man has been able to explain it and Dr. Hinton was particularly interested, as when he was in Australia the same thing happened to a woman who had been bitten by a death adder. Only the strongest narcotics could give her any rest."
Stone scowled in his annoyance. They had come to get this man for murder, and now he was talking to them conversationally about snake bites. "Why have you stopped going to that cafe?" he asked peremptorily.
Mr. Chilcott was quite ready with his answer. "Because I thought the coffee there was upsetting me. I was getting indigestion."
"And why have you shaved off your beard?" he went on in the same fierce tone.
"Because it suddenly struck me it was making me look so old. I am only fifty-two and by no means an old man."
Stone went on another tack. "You are a friend of Canon Morency; then do you attend his church?"
Mr. Chilcott looked puzzled. "Canon Morency!" he exclaimed. "Who told you he was a friend of mine? I have never heard of him or even seen him that I am aware of."
The inspector made no reply and then Larose spoke up for the first time. "But you've seen me, Mr. Chilcott?" he said smilingly. "We've met already, haven't we? My name's Larose, Gilbert Larose."
Mr. Chilcott's jaw dropped and for a fleeting second it seemed to those watching him that the look of consternation had returned. But he masked it quickly with a puzzled frown. "I don't remember it," he said hesitantly, and he spoke very slowly, it might have been to show no faltering in his voice.
"Oh, yes you do," persisted Larose. "Come, think."
Mr. Chilcott considered, and then shook his head. "Where?" he asked rather sharply, and as Larose did not tell him he apparently sensed the former was putting up a bluff. He shook his head more firmly. "That I am aware of," he said firmly, "I have never laid eyes on you before in all my life."
A short silence followed and then Stone asked gruffly for his keys, and, their being handed over, proceeded to go through the desk, the small safe and some cupboards let into the wall. A most thorough search of the house and outbuildings followed, but nothing of a suspicious nature was discovered, with no second typewriter coming to light. Finding the garage empty, they were rather astonished to learn Mr. Chilcott did not own a car. "You see, I am old fashioned," he explained with a pleasant smile.
Then, Mr. Chilcott expressing his perfect willingness, he was driven to Scotland Yard to undergo a long questioning by the Chief Commissioner. But it was all to no purpose and when he had eventually been allowed to leave there could not have been found a more discomfited pair than the Commissioner and Inspector Stone.
"He's not the man," frowned the Commissioner to Larose who had been present at the interview. "It was certainly a clever piece of investigation on your part, linking up the three first victims with that little cafe, but it leads us nowhere. This Chilcott, too, is not the type of man to resort to violence. I was favourably impressed with him. As you heard, he was educated at Winchester and Caius College, Cambridge, and surely they don't breed criminals there."
"It is not an ordinary criminal we are looking for, sir," commented Larose quietly. "It is one who, while committing crimes, undoubtedly believes he is doing a good action. Also, he does it for no purpose of gain." He spoke with conviction. "This Mr. Chilcott fulfils both these requirements. With all his courtesy and gentleness, he is a man of strong character and, as he has just told us, he is of independent means." He shook his head. "No, I don't agree with you, sir. This man has planned all these murders, although now I can hardly believe he himself took any part in carrying them out."
"And I agree with Mr. Larose, sir," said the inspector firmly, "if only for one reason. When we burst into his study this morning, his face showed more than surprise. The expression was one of stark, deadly fear. I am sure of it."
The Commissioner made a grimace. "Well, go your own ways," he said dryly, "and obtain the evidence to sheet everything home to him."
When the two friends had left the Commissioner's room Larose said decisively, "Well, Charlie, I'm going to follow the same procedure I did with the other crimes. I'm going to find out where this Chilcott and the Canon made contact at some time within the last forty-eight hours. We believe the murderer makes his decisions quickly and so we shan't have to go back very long." He screwed up his face in perplexity. "But you know, Charlie, I'm sure I've met that Chilcott fellow before. It keeps coming back to me that I've seen him somewhere and yet for the life of me I can't remember where."
"It's a pity you can't remember," frowned Stone. "Everyone could see he was startled when you brought it up to him. He looked pretty sick for the moment, until he pulled himself together and called your bluff."
"Well, it wasn't upon some ordinary occasion that I met him," went on Larose. "It was sometime when something very important was going on. It was at a moment of some crisis, I think. I remember his face most distinctly, and he was staring hard at me."
Larose returned to St. Jude's Rectory and asked to see Mrs. Morency. He met with no success there, for the stricken widow refused point-blank to be interviewed by anyone. Nothing daunted, however, he made himself most agreeable to the parlourmaid and proceeded to question her minutely as to all the Canon's movements, upon the two days preceding his death.
She told him that the day previous to the night when he died, he had not been away from the Rectory at any time for very long, and therefore must have been occupied with the affairs of the parish. The day before that, however, he had been away from just before eleven until nearly six o'clock. She had no idea where he had gone.
Pressed to recall the minutest details of everything, she said she had happened to be cleaning the dining-room windows when she had heard her master let himself out of the front door, and then seen him on the pavement.
"And which way did he go?" asked Larose, clutching at every straw.
She hesitated. "Let me think. Oh, I remember. He must have stood still for a moment or two before he walked off in the direction of the station."
"What was he looking at as he stood still?" asked Larose.
"Oh, I don't know that. Perhaps he was making up his mind which way to go. All I remember is that, when I was polishing the window up and down with my leather, he was in sight a moment or two longer than he would have been if he had walked straight away."
"And that's all you can tell me of what happened that day?" went on Larose.
"Except that he dined at the usual time and took the Wednesday late evensong at the church. Oh, yes, and he brought someone in with him when he came home."
Larose pricked up his ears at once. "Brought someone home with him, did he? Who was it?"
The girl shook her head. "I have no idea. I never saw them, but I happened to be in my pantry when the front door opened and I heard their voices in the hall. Whoever it was, he took him straight into his study."
"It was a man, then? You are certain?"
"Yes, I heard the voice."
"Didn't you recognise it?"
"No, it wasn't one of any of the church officers or I should have recognised it at once. They are often up here on parish matters and it is always I who answer the door."
"Did you hear anything your master or the visitor said?"
"I think I heard the master saying, 'It's no trouble at all, sir.'"
"Sir!" exclaimed Larose. "Then the man must have been a stranger for Canon Morency to address him as 'Sir.' Well, how long did this visitor stop?"
"Oh, a long time, because I heard talking when I went up to bed. Then when I was just dropping off to sleep I heard the front door shut. It must have been quite hall-past ten then. So he must have been with the master for longer than a whole hour."
And Larose, mindful of the length of the interview Nile Chilcott had had with the ill-fated Dr. Hinton two days before his death, was at once of the opinion that the dead Canon Morency had been visited by the same man.
The girl having been thanked for her information, she ushered him out of the front door and he proceeded to walk down the steps on to the pavement. Then he stood still for a few moments just as he imagined the Canon had done.
"Now what would he have done that for?" he asked himself frowningly. "Why should I be doing it in the ordinary way of things?" He snapped his fingers together triumphantly. "It's a long shot but perhaps he was looking to see if there were a taxi in sight. Anyhow, there's a chance that if he did pick up one I may learn something."
Walking briskly in the direction the parlourmaid had said the Canon took he came out of the by-street into the main road and there, not a hundred yards away he perceived half a dozen waiting taxis upon a stand. The drivers were all grouped together on the pavement with their heads bent down over a newspaper one of their number was holding, spread wide open. They looked up when he approached.
"Did any of you," he asked most politely, "happen to drive a clergyman anywhere the day before yesterday, picking him up about eleven in the morning?"
"I did," replied one of them at once. "You mean poor Canon Morency. I drove him to Lord's Cricket Ground."
Larose's heart gave a big pump. "Good," he exclaimed, "and I want you to drive me there now."
Upon the following night he called at Inspector Stone's private house and regaled that veteran hound of the law with a most interesting story.
He told him of all he had drawn out from the Rectory parlourmaid, his good fortune in so soon picking out the taximan and of being driven to Lord's. The Oxford and Middlesex match was still in progress when he arrived, and he learnt from one of the gatekeepers that Canon Morency had been a spectator on the Members' Stand upon the first day of the match. The man knew the Canon well as the latter came frequently to the ground.
Asked if he knew if a Mr. Nile Chilcott were also a member, the man had shaken his head and replied there were many members whose names he did not know, although, of course, they all had to produce their passes before being admitted to the Members' Stand.
Getting speech with the secretary, as Larose had been greatly hoping, he at once learnt that the name of a Mr. Chilcott was upon the list of members. Then, to his great disappointment, the secretary informed him that he did not know Mr. Chilcott, even by sight, explaining that he, the secretary, had held his position for only two years and that there were hundreds of members who paid their annual subscriptions, and perhaps, only put in an appearance once or twice during the season.
"Of course, Charlie," sighed Larose, "Chilcott was there on the Members' Stand, and, if they hadn't met before, he struck up an acquaintance with Morency whilst they were both watching that match. Then Chilcott made an appointment to call at the Rectory that night and no doubt was waiting outside the church to return home in company with his intended victim. Then——"
"But why?" interrupted Stone. "What should he want to murder the Canon for, an inoffensive clergyman of whom everyone speaks well?"
Larose shook his head wearily. "I don't understand it any more than do you. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps he had found out something about Morency that no one else knew, that Morency was an evil liver and it was better for the community if he were bumped off."
"But if he had only met the Canon the day before yesterday," scoffed Stone, "how did he come to know about him all at once? Did Morency confess all his sins to him upon the grandstand at Lord's, or, if you are right about him being the mysterious late caller that night, did Morency in that hour's conversation they had together in the Rectory study, unbosom himself to a perfect stranger? Why, man, the whole thing's preposterous!"
"Of course it is," said Larose sighing again, "every bit as preposterous as any explanations we can give as to how the murderer or murderers got in to strangle Lady Vane, Dr. Hinton or the Canon himself. No, I don't pretend to explain it, but I do insist I have established for the fourth time a point of contact between Chilcott and the murdered man and woman."
Stone nodded frowningly in assent, and Larose went on. "Well, I've spent all to-day in Cambridge where Chilcott obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree thirty-one years ago. At Caius College, after a lot of difficulty, I unearthed an old Don of prodigious memory who remembered all about him, I got, however, very little for my pains as all I learnt was that he was a quiet gentlemanly young fellow, a student of Sanskrit and interested in all tilings appertaining to India."
A long silence followed, and then the stout inspector heaved himself up in his chair and asked gloomily, "Well, what are we going to do now? Wait until he commits another murder and then acknowledge we're beaten again?"
Larose smiled a sickly smile. "I'm clutching at any straw now," he replied, "and to-morrow am going to Southover's, the booksellers in the Strand, to see if I can learn anything about him there. When we were going through his papers yesterday, I noticed a receipt from them, showing he had just paid £7 10s. for a book entitled Brahmanism. It's a devil of a lot to pay for one book, and I've looked up the word in the dictionary to make sure what it means, and the book's probably about the history of the Hindu priests. At any rate it shows the bent of the man's mind, as did the titles of many of the books I saw in his library. He's interested a lot in the land where Thuggism flourished so strongly a hundred years ago. Whew, what a sensation it would cause if it were found out that a band of Thugs were operating in London and that this man was employing them when he wanted a murder done!"
"Then you go off and find them, Gilbert," said Stone, smothering a yawn. "It's getting late now and quite time my poor old head hit the pillow."
THE following morning, at Southover's the booksellers, Larose, making some inquiries as to books relating to India, brought round the conversation to Mr. Nile Chilcott, and found the elderly assistant who was serving him quite willing to tell him anything he knew about this particular customer.
"No, we don't even know him by sight, sir," said the man, "for all our business with him is done through the mail. He must be a great Sanskrit student, for he's always interested in any books we have in that language. We send them to him on approval and he nearly always buys. He's very interested, too, in anything written about occultism."
"Occultism!" exclaimed Larose as if rather puzzled.
"Yes, sir, Theosophy. Does it happen to interest you?"
"Well, really, I know nothing about it," laughed Larose.
"A most absorbing subject, sir," went on the man. "I occasionally spend an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon in one of the libraries of their society in Bloomsbury Square, and I always come away wanting to go again. They have a wonderful collection of books there and it is said people from all parts of the world go to consult them. The hall attached to it is the meeting place of the 'heads' of the movement in England."
Larose did not make any purchase at the shop, but brought a catalogue away with him and stated he might be calling in again. Then he thought he would visit the Theosophical buildings on the chance that there he might pick up something about Mr. Chilcott.
Arriving at the library, however, he found two very young men clerks in charge, and they had never heard of the name. Wandering out again, his eyes fell upon a small poster on a notice board stating that a Dr. Washington Guiver of Chicago was to give an address in the hall that night upon "Occultism" and it struck him with some surprise that the charge for admission was five shillings.
"Gee-whiz!" he ejaculated, "but he must be some big bug for anyone to pay that amount to listen to him! I should have thought all addresses would be free in a sort of religious society."
His surprise at the charge recurred to him several times during the afternoon, and he wondered if it would be worth his while going to hear the doctor. If admission had been free, or the charge only a shilling, he would certainly not have given the matter a thought—but five shillings—well, it must be considered that anything the man would say would be very much worth hearing.
So in the end he decided to go, and intending to be in good time, arrived at the hall at a quarter to seven. Then, scanning down the notice board again, he saw to his annoyance that he had mistaken the time and was more than an hour too early. The address was to be given at eight and not seven, as he imagined.
He was about to turn away and take a brisk hour's walk to fill in the time, when he noticed that people were already entering the hall in twos and threes, and so altered his mind and followed them inside.
Paying over his five shillings, he found himself in quite a good-sized hall which he reckoned would hold seven or eight hundred people, and to his amazement he saw it was already more than half filled.
Finding one vacant seat not very far away from the platform, he plumped himself down next to a pleasant middle-aged woman who was knitting busily.
She was not, however, too engrossed in her work to open up a conversation and at once remarked that Dr. Guiver was going to have a splendid audience. "Why, it'll be crammed full long before half-past seven," she said, "but it's only what everyone must have expected. That's why the charge was made so high."
"It certainly does seem high for a one-man address," commented Larose, and then he asked, "But who in particular is Dr. Guiver?"
The woman looked astonished. "You've never heard of Washington Guiver!" she exclaimed. She smiled in a most friendly manner. "Then, of course, you are not a Theosophist!"
"No," replied Larose smiling back, "I know very little about Theosophy, and have come here to-night to learn."
"Then you're most fortunate to be going to hear the doctor," said the woman emphatically. "He'll take you into the heart of things at once. He's not only a brilliant speaker but also a man of wide learning as well. He's travelled extensively over India, and has even stayed at some of the Lamaseries with the monks."
"Dear me, dear me," exclaimed Larose, not knowing really what comment to make, "I had no idea of that!"
"Of course," went on the woman, "he's not one of the inner circle. He's not an adept."
"What does an adept mean?" asked Larose.
The woman looked pityingly at him. "It may mean anything," she said. She dropped her voice to an awed whisper. "It may mean a mortal who has perhaps lifted the veil between life and death"—her whisper was now almost inaudible—"and seen what lies beyond. He may actually have crossed the portal of the silent world."
Larose wanted to laugh, and had to blink his eyes hard to hide the amusement which he felt. Then for the next three-quarters of an hour he heard so much weird doctrine and was regaled with so many extraordinary tales that in the end he was of opinion he had had his five shillings worth, before ever the speaker appeared.
At eight o'clock, punctual to the minute, the great doctor stepped on to the platform and bowed gravely to the enthusiastically applauding crowd, who now filled every cranny and crevice of the big hall. He was a tall man about fifty years of age, of imposing appearance, wiry build, and with long arms and legs and a long hatchet face. His small pointed beard made his face look even longer than it was. His hair was sandy-coloured, and two big, fierce eyes looked out from under big, scraggy brows. His mouth was large and, in repose, his lips were pressed tightly together. He was undoubtedly a man of strong character and now, standing glowering above those below him, he suggested to Larose something of an eagle regarding a lot of sparrows.
The moment he started to speak, in a cold and unemotional tone of voice, his magnetism was such that never for one moment did any eyes stray away from his face and, although he spoke quietly, every word he uttered reached every part of the hall.
The theme of his address was the almost incredible potency of the human will and the seeming miracles which he stated it could accomplish, not only in the animate, but also in the inanimate world as well.
Occultism, the study of hidden things, he said, had shown conclusively humanity to be possessed of powers which, when developed, could enforce themselves upon nature, not only upon living things but upon things in which no life was, or ever could be.
Will was a mighty creative force emitting a magnetic fluid, and just as the ordinary magnet of commerce was a piece of steel to which the properties of the lodestone had been imparted, so it was possible to impart to the human will properties which would endow it magnetically with, apparently, supernatural powers. These powers, however, were in no wise supernatural ones. They were all perfectly natural and could be acquired by many people by concentration and a particular mode of life.
He went on that he had no wish to excite derision, or on the other hand pander to the gaping curiosity of lovers of sensation, but he would relate to them some of the happenings of which he had been an actual eye-witness when upon his travels in Thibet.
He had seen a priest who, as a matter of daily routine, would uplift himself in the air to light the sacred lamps high up in the roof of one of the temples; he had watched the branches of a tree bow down to allow of their fruit being picked by the exertion of a man's will, and he knew of a massive door in a certain Thibetan monastery which would open to the order of a command made by certain people.
Then he told them of Buddhist devotees whom no poisonous reptile would bite, and before whom the most ferocious beasts of the jungle would quail. His audience would, perhaps be better able to appreciate those happenings, he said, because many of them had no doubt seen tamers of wild beasts in menageries. But the power of these tamers was only a lesser example of the occult power of the will of which he was now speaking.
Next he mentioned the case of a priest whom he had once met in another Hindu temple. This man, lying upon a straw pallet in the darkness of his cell in one of the recesses far below the level of the ground, could yet at any moment, by a sheer effort of will, summon thousands and thousands of wild doves to the temple courts below. Then, the fluttering of their wings would sound like the coming of a storm, and the temple windows would be darkened by their immense number.
Finally, he went on to emphasise that this occult power could not be discovered to be possessed by anybody by chance, or picked up in any haphazard sort of way. It could be acquired only by the long and patient concentration of the mind in a body which had been purified by the purging away of all its grosser passions. In a greater or a less degree, however, this power could be acquired by everyone, and scoffers only scoffed because in their ignorance they were contemptuous of what they did not understand.
He spoke for longer than an hour and a half, never referring to a note and never once hesitating for a word, and the whole time he had held his audience spellbound.
He stopped speaking abruptly, and with no ceremony and without waiting for a vote of thanks, had disappeared from view down the steps at the back of the platform before his audience had had time to recover from the thrilled silence into which his peroration had plunged them.
It was a long while before Larose got to sleep that night. He could not determine exactly what the impression was Dr. Guiver had left on his mind. One moment he was sure he had been listening to the imaginative outpourings of a man who was either a consummate liar or mentally unbalanced, and the next—he was almost convinced he had been hearing the masterly exposition of great truths. His brain was in a turmoil of uncertainty.
The next morning, however, he came to a sudden resolution, and in a copy of the London Directory in the reading-room of the hotel where he was staying, looked up the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in London; the secretary's name and address was given underneath, a Mrs. Cooper-James who lived in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Before half-past eight he was ringing at her door.
Getting speech with her, he apologised for coming so early but explained the matter was one of urgency. He had heard the address of Dr. Guiver the previous night, and although knowing nothing of Theosophy, had been immensely impressed, so much so that he was anxious to meet him privately. He had heard that the great man was only upon a hurried visit to London, and was afraid if he did not move in the matter at once he might miss him. Would she very kindly inform him where he was staying?
The secretary was an aristocratic-looking woman of middle age. She spoke in cultured tones, at once giving him the impression that she was highly educated, indeed, he learnt afterwards that she was a Cambridge Master of Arts and had moreover taken a degree in science at London University. She eyed him critically from out of very shrewd grey eyes.
"Of course I heard him last night and know where he is to be found now," she said, "but I don't think I ought to tell you. It was one of the conditions when he consented to deliver an address here that he should not be bothered with callers. Do you want to consult him on a medical matter?"
"A medical matter!" exclaimed Larose. "No, certainly not." He seemed surprised. "But does he practise as a medical man?"
"Most certainly he does," she replied. "He's one of the best-known psychotherapeutists in the world, and runs a big clinic in Chicago."
"But it's some questions about Theosophy that I want to put to him," said Larose.
"But is it necessary to go to him?" she asked. She smiled an engaging, humorous smile. "Some of us over here are quite capable of explaining anything and I myself shall be pleased to help you in any way I can."
"I am sure it's very kind of you," smiled back Larose. He hesitated. "But, as he has turned my thoughts in a certain direction, I think it would be best if I went direct to him." An idea struck him. "Look here, if you tell me where I can find him, I'll give a nice donation to the Society."
She laughed. "What do you call a nice donation?"
"Well, £5," said Larose.
"Good," she exclaimed brightly, "then I'll accept the offer. He's staying at the Midland Hotel and will be there until Friday, when he goes up to Scotland."
Larose at once produced a £5 note and held it out to her, but she refused it smilingly. "No, I was only joking," she said. "I won't take it. It would be blackmail." She nodded significantly. "But I don't say he won't expect a fee. He's most business-like, and it's not his habit to give anything for nothing."
"As instanced, I expect," smiled Larose, "by the five shillings charged to hear him last night."
"Exactly," she said, "we had to pay him a hundred guineas for the address."
"Well, it was worth five shillings," commented Larose. Then he asked, "Is he one of the most profound exponents of the theosophical doctrines there is? I mean, of course, in Europe and America."
The secretary pursed up her lips. "Oh, dear no! He's not in the Inner Circle. He's only one of the most popular lecturers we have. If he were an adept, he wouldn't be making money out of it. It would be contrary to all exalted principles."
"But are there any real adepts in Europe or America?"
"Oh, yes, there is believed to be one in England, one in Austria and one in Czecho-Slovakia, but there is not any certainty about it, as they never speak. As high priests of Occultism they deny themselves to everyone and never come out of their seclusion."
Larose drew a bow at a venture. "Well, now turning to another matter, do you happen to have ever heard of a Mr. Nile Chilcott?"
Instantly the secretary regarded him with startled eyes, her lips parted and her brows were lowered in a distrustful frown. "But I thought you told me you knew nothing of our movement. You said you knew nothing of Theosophy or Theosophists."
"Neither do I," said Larose. "I told you last night was my first experience."
"But you know Mr. Chilcott is one of us?"
Larose shook his head. "No, I don't," he shrugged his shoulders, "but I thought he might be from the titles of the books I saw in his library."
"Then you know him, personally?" asked the secretary in a half whisper. "You must, if you have been to his house."
"But I only went there and saw him in purely business capacity," said Larose. He fibbed. "I'm not a friend of his, only a house decorator by trade, and I went to his place in St. John's Wood to see about some repairs he wants doing."
She spoke very solemnly and still in the half whisper. "And what did you think of him?" she asked. "Did he strike you as not being an ordinary man?"
"Not exactly," admitted Larose hesitatingly, as if reluctant to disappoint her, but at the same time wanting to lead her on. "He was very quiet and gentle, but that was all I really noticed."
The secretary heaved a big sigh. "Good heavens, and he is perhaps the most remarkable man in Europe!" She spoke with awed reverence. "He is the only man in England whom we believe to be an adept."
Larose caught his breath in consternation, and all the thoughts which he had been trying so resolutely to dam back as imaginative nonsense broke through and flooded his mind with horror.
Obsessed with the possibilities which the address of the American doctor had conjured up, less almost than an hour ago the idea had suddenly avalanched itself into his mind that if it were really possible for anyone to acquire those awful powers the lecturer had said they could, then, with their possession, any crime could be committed without the criminal being found out.
So his thoughts travelled back instantly to the murders he was so certain Nile Chilcott had carried out, and he wondered if the man had been doing his ghastly work in that way.
But was Chilcott a student of occult science? he had asked himself, and, lo and behold, this woman now before him was telling him Chilcott was not only a student, but also a great master in that dreadful world.
The whole thing was incredible, it was impossible, and yet—it might be true.
The secretary perceived the impression her statement had made upon him and nodded smilingly. "Yes, I don't wonder you are startled. You have encountered probably one of the most powerful men in the world, and yet have passed him over as if he were just ordinary and commonplace."
"But—but," stammered Larose, "do you as an educated woman"—he smiled—"you look one to me, really and honestly believe that it is possible to acquire the powers Dr. Guiver stated certain people could?"
"Certainly, I do," said the secretary warmly. "I have seen minor manifestations of occult power myself. We have a member of our London branch who can draw pieces of paper to him across a table by a sheer effort of will. I have seen him do it several times and, also, he can make a small spoon or fork turn towards him!"
"But a piece of paper, a spoon or a fork!" exclaimed Larose contemptuously, "what good is that?"
"Ah, but you must understand," reproved the secretary, "that this man is only a beginner and he'll probably never get farther than that. The adepts have to concentrate for years and years to obtain their power. I understand that when it begins to reach any strength it comes quickly, and in tremendous force, but it takes a long while starting. I've been told, for instance, that Mr. Chilcott spent twenty-seven years in a Tibetan lamasery high up among the Himalayan mountains."
"And why didn't he go on staying there?" asked Larose. "Why did he return to England?"
"I believe his mother sent for him," replied the secretary, "and he came over to see her before she died, about three years ago. Then why he didn't go back, no one knows. His life's a mystery for he never mixes with anyone. You're the only person I've met who has even seen him. No one is ever admitted to the house."
"Isn't he friendly with Dr. Guiver?"
"Good gracious, no! He would despise the doctor for making money by the knowledge he's gained. Now about your seeing the doctor. I think I'd better ring up and make an appointment for you. I'll tell him you want to consult him professionally and then he'll probably not refuse. Wait here a minute and I'll go and get him on the phone."
So it was arranged Larose should see the great man that afternoon at three o'clock and, accordingly, at that hour he arrived at the hotel, giving the name of Thomas Hunter.
He was kept waiting for some time and then ushered in to the doctor. The latter eyed him sharply. "I can spare you a quarter of an hour," he announced brusquely, "but not one minute longer. I am very busy. The fee will be three guineas."
Larose at once paid over the money which the doctor pocketed with a curt nod of thanks. "Now, what's the matter with you?" he demanded.
"Nothing, except that I want to ask you some questions," smiled Larose. "I don't want any medical advice, but as I am taking up your time just the same, am only too pleased to have paid the fee."
The doctor frowned as if annoyed, but giving him no time to speak, Larose went on quickly, "I heard your address last night, and was so impressed that I felt I would give a lot to ask you a few questions and the first, were you actually an eye-witness of those manifestations of occult power you told us about?"
The doctor looked furious. "I said so, didn't I?" he demanded in an angry tone.
"Yes, yes," exclaimed Larose quickly, "but as one who up to last night had never heard anything about Theosophy, they seemed so incredible, so impossible to realise."
"Not more incredible or impossible to realise," snarled the doctor, "than wireless would have seemed to anyone fifty years ago. Who would have credited then that by just turning a knob in a box one would have been able to hear voices of people twelve thousand miles and more away? Why, man, if you had got up upon a platform then and stated such a thing was possible you would have been considered a lunatic! Just think of the seeming miraculous and supernatural about wireless, and yet there is nothing supernatural about it. It has only come because of our better understanding of natural laws."
Larose was silent and he went on somewhat more amiably now, "And it is the same with those manifestations of so-called occult or hidden powers. But they are no longer powers which are hidden. They were discovered hundreds of years ago, although the knowledge of that discovery is only just being brought home to ignorant people." He scoffed. "The common herd are ignorant and always will be. They have no desire or capacity to be otherwise."
Larose changed the subject. "Could you hypnotise me?" he asked.
The doctor raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Certainly if you wanted me to." He shook his head. "But I have no time to do it now."
"Oh, I don't want you to!" exclaimed Larose. "I was only curious to learn if you thought you were certain you could do it."
"Look at me," commanded the doctor sharply. "Keep your eyes fixed steadily on mine."
Larose did as he bade him and then perhaps for a full minute there was silence in the room. Larose felt as if the doctor's eyes were boring into his head.
"And how long do you think you could stand that?" murmured the doctor very softly. "Not long! I thought you couldn't! Now turn them away. Oh, you can't, can't you? Of course you can't." He raised his voice to its normal level and turned his own eyes away. "There, that's enough, but it ought to convince you whether I could hypnotise you or not."
"It does," admitted Larose readily, "but now, could you do it against my will? Could you do it if I were not a consenting party and struggled against it?"
"No, I couldn't, but there are others who could," said the doctor, "those who have acquired more power than I have."
"You mean the adepts?" asked Larose, and when the doctor nodded, he went on. "But tell me, could they go in a crowd and hypnotise anyone they wanted to?"
"By no means. They must, first, have obtained a mastery, an ascendancy over the particular person. Then they could do it."
"But how would they get this mastery to begin with?"
"By imposing their will upon him when in close proximity, through the medium of their eyes. They would have to draw his eyes to theirs and hold them, as I did yours, just now. Then the rest would be easy."
"And when they had got this mastery or ascendancy, as you call it, how long would it last?"
"Not for an indefinite period of time. It would have to be renewed from time to time."
"And they could use their influence at a distance?"
"Yes, any distance. The whole world would not be wide enough for the mastered subject to escape. However far away, through the magnetism exerted by the adept, he could impart his thoughts to the subject and with an irresistible power force him to obey his mental orders."
"But it seems——" began Larose falteringly.
"Absurd!" interrupted the doctor. "But it isn't. There is a weird and formidable potency in the human will, the lesser results of which we can note every day. For instance, last night I hypnotised my audience by the magnetic fluid I emitted from my will. I understand there were upwards of a thousand present in that hall, and yet during the nearly one and a half hours of my address no one coughed, no one blew his nose and no one shuffled his feet. It was as if I was speaking to dead men and women! And I intended it should be so. Any noise annoys me."
A moment's silence followed and then Larose asked thoughtfully, "And if you were an adept and I were under your mastery could you, even if you were nowhere near me, inflict any injury upon me?"
"Injury!" exclaimed the doctor, elevating his eyebrows, "Why, I could cause your death!"
"Then you could make me shoot myself," suggested Larose, "or drink poison or cut my own throat."
"Oh, no, nothing like that," was the instant reply. "I couldn't compel you to do anything outside yourself, such as pick up a pistol, a knife or some dangerous drug, but I could exercise my dominion in the highest centres of the nervous system, which are situated in the convolutions of the brain and in which all wilful acts originate."
"What would that mean?" asked Larose.
"Well, I could stop your respiration. I could make you hold your breath until you had suffocated yourself."
Larose almost sprang from his chair. "What, make me throttle myself?" he asked, bending forward towards the doctor.
"Not exactly," smiled Washington Guiver, "although after death it might have all the appearance of your having done so. You might have clutched at your throat in your agony and you might have dug your nails into your flesh. You would not be a pretty sight."
A great black mist rose up before Larose's eyes, and he held his breath as if he would now throttle himself. God, what was this man telling him? What visions was he conjuring up? He thought of the lolling head of Professor Starbank, set at its dreadful angle; the white, swan-like neck of Annabel, Lady Vane, marred of its beauty where it had been so gripped and torn; the expression upon Morency's face with its gaping jaw, its blue, black—but he heard the doctor speaking to him and pulled himself out of memories again.
"What is your occupation?" the doctor was asking and Larose sensed somehow he had had to ask the question more than once.
"I am a house decorator," he replied, not knowing what the secretary might have told the doctor over the 'phone. "I do interior decorations."
"I don't believe it," said the doctor rudely. "Your temperament is much too adventurous a one to have allowed you to take up an occupation like that." He glowered at him with his fierce eyes. "I'm half inclined to think you belong to the criminal classes and had the colossal impudence to come here to sound me as to the possibility of a short cut to occult knowledge so that it would help you in your unlawful work." He smiled a cold, grim smile. "It is not my habit to mince matters and I say what I think."
Larose threw back his head and laughed merrily. "And so do I, Doctor, for I am a master in my calling, too." His eyes twinkled. "I take you to be a bird of prey, half vulture and half eagle. You are a most interesting man."
For a moment it looked as if the doctor would have struck him. Then the grim face relaxed, the closely pressed lips broke their straight line and a glint of amusement came into the fierce eyes.
"Perhaps we are both a little wrong," he smiled, "but you annoyed me by your thinking you could deceive me about being a house decorator. It was a reflection upon my judgment of character." He shook his head. "No, I am not a bird of prey. I don't pretend to not go after the cash, for I am a collector of old china and the hobby, as you will guess, is by no means a cheap one. Still, I give everybody a square deal, and I don't tell them lies." He nodded. "I have not lied to you."
He rose to his feet and offered Larose his hand. "We'll shake," he said. His grim smile returned. "It isn't often I get back-chat from the folks I meet and it was quite a novelty to get it from you. Good afternoon to you, sir," and he held open the door for Larose to leave the room.
Larose's brain was in a whirl and he could not think coherently as he walked along the street. The whole thing was absolutely unbelievable and yet, in the light of what he himself now knew—it must be true.
But if it were possible for human beings to acquire such power, why was it not generally recognised as an unquestionable truth? Why was it, generally speaking, that the whole intelligence of the world spurned such a belief with the utmost contempt and regarded those who accepted it as cranks and people of warped and crazy minds?
In his preoccupation he walked along quite oblivious of in which direction he was travelling until he suddenly became aware that he had reached the Edgware Road. He smiled, as the idea struck him that, being so near, he might as well go into the Silver Moon Cafe for a cup of coffee, and accordingly he at once turned his steps in that direction.
The cafe was well filled when he arrived, and he had to look round for a vacant seat. There was one at the table close to where the Hindu always stood with his coffee traymobile and he proceeded to occupy it. He saw, however, no sign of Ali about and perceived it was one of the elderly maiden ladies of the cafe who was now dispensing the coffee. It was some time before she came to him for his order and then, recognising him, she whispered, "It is very awkward. Ali is not here to-day. He must be ill. He had the beginnings of an awful cold on him yesterday," and then having served him she bustled quickly away.
Larose lit a cigarette and for some minutes smoked and sipped his coffee meditatively. What an ordinary and harmless little cafe this looked, and yet—what dreadful secrets it could tell if only the shadows cast by its so prettily shaded lamps could speak.
It was here, undoubtedly, where the murderer had marked down his early victims. They had sat at their tables even as he, Larose, was sitting now, sipping their coffee and idly smoking their cigarettes. They had had no idea that death was very near them, no thought—but leaning back in his chair, to his amazement he heard a man's voice, apparently just behind him, say, "Oh, sweetheart, isn't it wonderful that a week to-day you will be all mine? It seems impossible that such happiness can be coming to me!"
"But it is, darling," answered a woman's voice, "and it will be heavenly for both of us. I'm so fond of you, dear."
Astounded beyond measure at what he was hearing, instinctively, Larose turned to look behind him, although he knew quite well there could be no one there, as the back of his chair was only a couple of inches or so from the stone wall.
The man's voice went on, telling the woman how greatly she was beloved and using such intimate and endearing terms that Larose felt himself blushing uncomfortably at being an eavesdropper. It had come to him as a small shock that the circular nature of the walls was acting as a whispering gallery and conveying to him sounds from some other part of the cafe.
Then, in a flash, the significance of everything came home to him. Of course, it was in this way Ali would have overheard many conversations in the cafe and reported them to Nile Chilcott, if indeed the latter had not been present to overhear them himself.
Great Jupiter, no wonder Chilcott had been warned that they were after him! Without doubt, Ali had listened in to every word he, Larose, and Stone had said that morning when they had been waiting for Chilcott to arrive!
He looked across the room to the table where he and the inspector had had their seats when waiting for the slight dark man, and it made his heart bump unpleasantly when he saw it was occupied by a man and a girl, whose eyes were fixed adoringly upon each other. Obviously they were the two whose words were coming so plainly to him.
What evil fortune, indeed, it had been that he and Stone had occupied that table, what—ah! but had not Captain Blemming and Dr. Hinton sat there, too, when they had had that conversation about abducting the latter's wife?
Oh, how clear everything was now, and if he could really bring himself to believe that Chilcott possessed those seemingly miraculous powers, then it was possible to follow him, step by step, along his dreadful path of crime, from the moment when he first marked down his victims to that of their ghastly and agonising deaths.
But what was the good of all he had found out? Why, he would not dare to tell the Chief Commissioner or Stone what Dr. Guiver had told him. They would only mock in derision.
Leaving Seymour Square by way of the Edgware Road, it happened that his eyes fell on the corner building where the dead Professor Starbank had had his rooms, and subconsciously he recalled the scene when they had been all standing round the dead man. Then suddenly the memory of an incident which had happened there shot up into his mind. The officer in charge of the case, Inspector Tullock, had been angrily remonstrating with a stranger that the latter had no business to be in the room, and as the stranger had been going out he had turned round to stare hard at him, Larose. Now, in a flash, Larose remembered the face of the stranger. It had been that of Nile Chilcott!
He grew hot at his discovery. Now, at last, he had something definitely linking up Chilcott with the murdered Professor and while, after the lapse of all these weeks, the others might not remember Chilcott, Inspector Tullock surely would.
Tripping into a call office, he rang up Paddington Police Station and, giving his name, asked if Inspector Tullock could speak to him.
The sergeant who was answering the phone replied gruffly, "No, sir, I am sorry to tell you that Inspector Tullock was killed about two months ago in a motor accident," and Larose hung up the phone in great dejection.
That night he considered the whole matter in all its bearings and came at last to the conclusion that the boldest course was the best one, and that at any rate nothing would be lost by getting in close contact with Chilcott. He might learn something and it was just possible that, with no witnesses present, the man might boast, and perhaps, actually admit what he had done, though even then he, Larose, did not see what good would accrue. Still, the interview would be interesting and might set his doubts at rest.
The following day turned out to be a pouring wet one, and, with the rain streaming off his umbrella as he approached the front door of the house in Grove Road, he was confident he should find Chilcott at home.
He rang the bell and in about half a minute, the door being opened a few inches, he noted it was on the chain.
Asking to see Mr. Chilcott, he was told curtly by the butler who had just pushed his face round the door that his master was receiving no visitors.
"But he'll see me," insisted Larose sharply. "Take him this card," and he held out one of his cards upon which was pencilled, "To see you in a friendly way."
The butler took the card very reluctantly and, closing the door again, left Larose standing outside. "Hum!" remarked the one-time detective, "so our friend has got the wind up and is more careful now. Evidently he intends no one shall rush him like we did the other day."
The butler returned with hardly any delay and, admitting Larose into the house, ushered him into his master's study.
"Good morning, Mr. Larose," said Mr. Chilcott genially. "I am quite pleased to see you and glad your visit isn't quite of the same nature as the last one. Now what can I do for you? But sit down, will you?" and they both proceeded to seat themselves.
"Well, I really called," began Larose, "to tell you that the recollection of where I had met you before had at last come back into my mind." He eyed Mr. Chilcott very grimly. "We met, sir, in the consulting-room of Professor Starbank, when we were standing round his dead body, upon the morning following upon the night of the murder."
Mr. Chilcott seemed in no wise disconcerted, instead of which he smiled. "Ah, I thought it would return one day!" he exclaimed. "I find with myself that such lapses of memory about faces and names generally do!"
"Then you're not going to deny it!" exclaimed Larose very surprised.
"Why should I?" laughed Mr. Chilcott. "There is no one here now to bear witness to what I admit and so it is surely quite safe."
Larose frowned. "But I can bring witnesses to prove that you were there," he went on. "Do you forget that Inspector Tullock who ordered you out of the room?"
"He is dead," smiled Mr. Chilcott. "Some weeks ago I saw he had been killed in a motor accident, and, except you and he, no one would be likely to remember me. They were all too busy looking at the dead man."
Larose felt rather taken aback and, to cover his annoyance, asked sharply, "But why did you deny to Inspector Stone that you had known Professor Starbank?"
"Why should I have admitted it?" countered Mr. Chilcott, still smiling. "The inspector's coming here was disturbing to my peace of mind and I did not want to give him any encouragement to pay another visit."
Larose thought he had got the measure of this strange man quite correctly and, accordingly, at once changed his tone. "Look here, Mr. Chilcott," he said earnestly, "hasn't it been very unpleasant for a man of your character to have had to tell so many untruths? Whatever may be your faults, I take it you are not one who is habitually given to lying, and all this business must have been most distressing for you."
The easy smile dropped from Mr. Chilcott's face, and he nodded solemnly. "You are quite right," he said, "it has been most distasteful to me. I hate lies. I have striven after truth all my life."
"Then let us both put all our cards upon the table and speak frankly," went on Larose. He spoke casually and as if it were a matter of no momentous importance. "I know all you have done and how you have done it."
Mr. Chilcott smiled a slow enigmatical smile. "Then why discuss anything?" he asked. "What is the good?"
"Because," said Larose earnestly, "it is all so incredible to me that I want it verified by your own lips. Come, as you say, there are no witnesses, so nothing you say can do you any harm." He shook his head. "Besides, even if you admitted everything publicly, if you swore to it in a court of law, no one would believe a word you said. They would just think you were of unsound mind."
"Well, what do you want me to admit?" asked Mr. Chilcott curiously.
"Firstly that you are a Master in the Occult World and secondly, that you caused the death of all those four persons, Professor Starbank, Lady Vane, Dr. Hinton and Canon Morency."
For a long moment Mr. Chilcott did not answer. He had cast down his eyes and was idly tracing a pattern upon the carpet with the toe of one shoe. At last, however, he looked up and nodded. Then his face broke into a gentle smile.
"I have done nothing I am ashamed of," he said very quietly. "It is true I have acquired certain powers and that I just made use of them for the benefit of the community." His eyes flashed. "If you knew everything you would be one of the first to say I had done nothing wrong."
It was now Larose's turn to be silent. He had expected the answer he had received and yet, now it had come, it was a dreadful shock, and for the moment he was bereft of power of speech.
Mr. Chilcott went on, "I have often regretted I sent you those warning letters, for I ought to have realised you were no ordinary man. It was boasting too, and that is contrary to all the rules of life I have laid down for myself to follow." He screwed up his eyes. "But tell me, how was it you discovered I was responsible for everything?"
Larose spoke hoarsely. "I found out you had made contact with your first three victims at the Silver Moon Cafe in Fountain Street. I learnt that that was the one factor common to them all, preceding their deaths," and then he told the whole story, ending up with his discovery the previous afternoon at the cafe itself.
The whole time, however, he took care to keep his eyes turned away from those of Mr. Chilcott, which, he was quite sure, would be fixed intently upon him. After what the American doctor had told him, he was mindful to take no risks.
When he had finished, Mr. Chilcott smiled a whimsical smile. "Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "So really wonderful that I almost feel sorry you can get nothing out of it. As you have said, there is not a shred of evidence that would justify your haling me before a court of law. Yes, really, I feel sorry for you."
"But why did you murder them?" asked Larose hotly.
Mr. Chilcott spoke very quietly. "I did not murder them. I was only instrumental in the carrying out of a well-merited sentence of death."
"Whose sentence?" scoffed Larose.
"Mine," replied Mr. Chilcott sternly, "after I had received such admissions from all of them, excepting Professor Starbank, as showed they were unworthy to live. With Starbank it was different. I had extracted no admission of guilt from him, but I knew him to be secretly the vilest class of criminal. He was a blackmailer and would have driven a young woman to suicide if I had not stopped him. I befriended her. Apart, however, from his blackmailing, as your police know, Starbank was an enemy of the community and the world's well rid of him."
"Never mind Starbank," commented Larose sharply. "Although I question your right to have killed him, I know he was an evil man and no loss to anyone, but"—his face filled with horror—"to lay your hands upon a woman, that harmless Lady Vane, was a——"
"Harmless!" interrupted Mr. Chilcott, raising his eyebrows as if very surprised. "Why, she had two deaths already to her credit, one, that of her first husband, a cold-blooded and deliberate murder, done without the slightest pity so that she could marry her lover, Sir Romilly Vane. She had attempted another murder, too, that of Sir Romilly's little son, so that her own child might succeed to the baronetcy. Yes, she had tried to kill the boy once, and was planning to try again." He shook his head. "Spare no pity on her. She was a vile abandoned woman."
"But who told you all this about her?" asked Larose in great astonishment.
"She told me herself when I threw her into a sleep. It was in the Opera House, and I was questioning her for longer than half an hour. As for Dr. Hinton, he had to all intents and purposes murdered his wife's first husband in order that he might marry her. Hinton was by nature a bad man, and his life's path was strewn with the ruined women who had trusted him. Besides that, he was debauching men and women with drugs. I learnt everything from his own lips that morning when I went to consult him as a patient."
"How do I know you are telling me the truth then?" demanded Larose.
"You can verify much of what I say as to his character, by speaking to his wife, the poor woman he was intending to abduct and submit to the grossest outrages, until she either took her own life, or went out of her mind. He didn't mind which. It was only revenge he was after."
"And Canon Morency," asked Larose, wondering what on earth he was to learn now, "what about him?"
"From the general welfare of the community point of view," nodded Mr. Chilcott, "he was the most dangerous of them all. He was that cattle-maimer the police are so anxious to get hold of now and——"
"I don't believe it," interrupted Larose. His tone was incredulous. "An educated, scholarly gentleman, a clergyman holding high office in the Church."
"And a maniac filled with an insane lust for shedding blood," added Mr. Chilcott. "He was a murderer as well, for it was he who cut that cottager's throat in the yard of that lonely house upon the Braxted Road, about three months ago. If you remember the man was found dead beside his slaughtered pig."
"I don't believe it," reiterated Larose.
"Well, in a pond by the roadside, about a mile from the house, you will find the Canon's dust coat which he discarded because it was soiled with blood. As for the cattle-maiming, you will find a record of every beast he slashed upon a fly leaf of a book, at the end of the top shelf in his study. He told me every date and place is put down there and people do not lie when they are in a hypnotic sleep. I did not look for the book although I was in that room when he was telling me."
"Ah," exclaimed Larose, "then you were the unknown person who visited him that night."
"I was," nodded Mr. Chilcott, "and it was under strange circumstances that I came to be there. I had been sitting behind him upon the grandstand at Lord's that same morning, and seen him brutally stamp a kitten to death. Then, when he had turned round to see if I had observed him, I caught the maniacal, sadist look upon his face and considered it my duty to find out more about him"—he shrugged his shoulders—"with the result you now know."
Larose could hardly get out his words. "And you killed those four people merely by an effort of your will?" he asked.
Mr. Chilcott shook his head. "I did not kill them. I made them kill themselves. I forbade them to draw breath, and under my command it was as if their muscles of respiration were paralysed." He went on quickly. "You must understand, Mr. Larose, that occultism, as it is called, shows humanity to be possessed of certain powers of which ordinary science knows nothing. Then by certain modes of life continued over long and many years these powers can be developed to an extraordinary degree. I, as an adept, have so trained my will that I can project it from my body as a living, vital force, and according to degree of power I have acquired, I can accomplish things which may seem impossible to you."
"And if you admit having caused the deaths of these four persons," said Larose hesitatingly and as if not liking to put the question, "are those the only lives you have taken?"
Mr. Chilcott nodded solemnly. "Yes, I had never exercised those powers, which I believed I possessed, in that way before. I had not wanted to, but one day it happened I was a witness of the distress that man Starbank was causing to a young girl, the one I have referred to, and I felt a great pity for her. I persuaded her to tell me how it happened he was threatening her and then it came to me it was a duty to rid the world of such a scoundrel, and so I caused his death." He spoke with some embarrassment. "It was my wanting to know if he were really dead, and if so, to know how he looked after death, which brought me to his rooms that morning." He shuddered. "For the moment, it shocked me to see what I had done."
"And yet you went on and killed others," commented Larose sternly.
"Yes, I tell you I felt it was my duty, but as you know it was by chance only, through my frequenting the Silver Moon Cafe, that I came to learn later of the evil both Lady Vane and Dr. Hinton were doing. It was, again, by chance, too, I came to learn about Canon Morency. I had not deliberately set out to find evil-doers who must be destroyed."
"And what do you intend to do now?" asked Larose. "Are you going on with your crusade against wrong-doers?"
Mr. Chilcott hesitated. "I don't know," he said slowly. He looked troubled. "Almost, I am afraid of the power which I possess. With my own eyes I have seen what it can do and the thought frightens me that one day I may be tempted to use it upon one who had not deserved it."
"But if your will is so powerful," commented Larose frowningly, "then surely you can resist that temptation?"
"If I want to," agreed Mr. Chilcott. He sighed heavily. "But it might be I should not want to. I might happen not to be in my right state of——" He checked himself suddenly. "But that is my own affair."
"No, your secret is now mine," retorted Larose sharply, "and if any more people are done to death, as those four were, I shall know instantly who is responsible."
"And what will you be able to do?" asked Mr. Chilcott with some amusement. "I have been perfectly frank with you, because I know I am so safe. If you broadcast everything I have told you, who will believe you?"
"But I shan't broadcast it," commented Larose. "I don't want to be thought a lunatic. I shall tell no one."
"And in that case how will it affect me?" smiled Mr. Chilcott. "If you do know I am responsible, as you have already stated, you cannot invoke the law against me."
The face of Larose was very grim. "No, but I shall myself deal with you—in my own way." He nodded sternly. "I shall shoot you, Mr. Nile Chilcott. I shall pistol you one night when you are in your garden, or I shall break in when you are asleep and throttle you." He smiled in his turn. "I am quite capable of doing it."
Mr. Chilcott nodded. "I think so." He frowned. "Then you threaten me?"
"Yes, definitely! If any more stranglings occur, I shall take action at once. You are too dangerous a man to be allowed to live, particularly as you have admitted to me you are beginning to be afraid you cannot trust yourself."
Mr. Chilcott nodded again. "Ah, that was a mistake! I ought not to have told you." His ready smile returned. "Still, it shows that you believe I am the master I have claimed I am."
"I have to," admitted Larose reluctantly. "I cannot get away from it." He spoke persuasively. "But see here, give me an example of what you can do. No, no, you are not going to look into my eyes. I don't want any of that. I mean—show me your power over inanimate things. Make that chair come to you of its own volition."
Mr. Chilcott hesitated. "Don't imagine the exercise of this power is ever effortless on the part of an adept," he said. "On the contrary, it is always weakening, and the vital forces consumed are in proportion to the difficulty of the task accomplished." He shook his head. "No, we'll leave that chair alone, but I'll show you this." He picked a piece of paper at random off his desk and handed it to Larose. "Now drop that down anywhere upon the carpet as far away from me as you like."
With a slight quickening of the beatings of his heart in anticipation of what he was expecting would follow, Larose dropped the paper down in front of him, noting subconsciously as he did so that it was a receipt from some bookseller for £1 15s. for a work entitled Mendovers Insanity.
"Now that piece of paper is quite a dozen feet away from me," said Mr. Chilcott, "and you watch it carefully."
The paper lay extended upon the carpet and Larose glued his eyes upon it, fully expecting that any happening would follow only upon a wait of some minutes. But no, almost at once the paper began to flutter and one side of it became raised in the air. In a few seconds it floated up bodily and, gathering momentum as it moved, was drawn quickly towards Mr. Chilcott and into his outstretched hand.
"Quite simple!" he smiled. "Just an example of magnetism! My will projected a current of force and impelled the paper towards me."
Larose moistened his dry lips with his tongue. Just the fluttering of a piece of paper and yet—in the light of their conversation how significant and ominous it was.
They talked on for some time and then Mr. Chilcott himself ushered his visitor to the front door. "Then I take it," he said in parting, "that I shall receive no more visits from that heavy-looking Inspector Stone."
"No," relied Larose, grimly, "henceforth you will deal only with me." He spoke very sternly, "But I warn you most, that any more manifestations of your powers and I shall do as I said."
"There may be no occasion for you to interfere," smiled Mr. Chilcott, "but if there is I shall be quite prepared to take my chance. Anyhow, come and see me again shortly. I shall always be pleased to have a chat with you. I am sure our conversations will be interesting to each other."
Walking down the short drive, Larose drew in a deep breath. "Everything he told me was true," he murmured, "and he kept back nothing except that he is afraid he may be going out of his mind. Obviously, he is worrying about his mental condition and he has not just bought that book on insanity for nothing."
A week later Larose went to Scotland Yard to have a short talk with Inspector Stone. Fearful of ridicule and quite certain he would not be believed, he had no intention of disclosing anything that he had learnt about Mr. Chilcott. He was going to tell his friend that, although he continued to be certain Chilcott was the guilty party, there seemed absolutely no hope of bringing the charges home to him, and so he, Larose, was returning home to his place in Norfolk.
Arriving at the Yard, and carrying a small brown-paper parcel, he ran into Stone, who had just stepped out of a taxi. "Well met, Gilbert," exclaimed the latter. "The Chief has been asking after you, and I'll take you up at once."
The Commissioner of Police was pleasant, and polite as he always was, but there was an undercurrent of irony in his tones as he asked, "Well, Mr. Larose, and have you anything to tell us which will allow of us definitely fixing those crimes upon that man Chilcott?"
Larose shook his head. "No, sir, nothing. I am sure we shall never be able to bring them home to him."
"Exactly! I thought you would sooner or later come to that opinion. As I told you after he had been here that morning, he did not strike me as the type of man who would commit motiveless murders."
"But the murders were not motiveless, sir," said Larose, "if one were acquainted with the life history of any of the four victims. Just consider them in the order they were committed. We know that Professor Starbank dealt in forbidden drugs and performed illegal operations, but I have every reason to believe he was blackmailing a young Society woman, and was killed by a friend of hers to save her. At any rate, upon the afternoon preceding the night when the warning letter was mailed by that unknown writer, a well-dressed young woman was heard crying in Starbank's room. It seemed that Starbank was threatening her."
"Who told you that?" asked the Commissioner.
"One of Starbank's nurses. I located her with some difficulty and, after some pressing, she told me. She does not know who the girl was."
Larose waited for the information to sink in and then went on. "About Lady Vane, too, we may be entirely mistaken as to her having been a woman of blameless life. Notwithstanding her aristocratic appearance, she came of poor stock and in the little town in which she lived there were nasty rumours that she poisoned the pet animals of anyone who offended her. Then, she married an elderly and uninteresting man, obviously because his mother was a wealthy woman. She went to live with her mother-in-law and the old lady died soon after. Then a new admirer appeared upon the scene, Sir Romilly Vane, and soon after that the husband died."
"How?" ejaculated the Commissioner.
Larose shrugged his shoulders. "The death certificate said heart failure, but three days ago I spoke to the doctor who signed it. Taking him by surprise, I suggested the husband had died from an overdose of morphia, and the medical man was most confused. He went all sorts of colours and could not answer me at first. Then, of course, he stuck to the heart failure explanation of the husband's death."
"How long ago did that happen?" asked the Commissioner.
"Two years," replied Larose, "and, of course, the matter could not be opened again, even if we wanted to." He went on, "Well, with her elderly husband out of the way, Mrs. Harland, as she was then, became the wife of the baronet, Sir Romilly Vane, a widower with a son and daughter by his first marriage. In due time this second Lady Vane also presented her husband with a son, and everyone, knowing her ambitious and determined character, realised how galling it must have been to her that the son of the baronet's first wife, and not her own child, should be the heir to the baronetcy. You follow me, sir, don't you?"
"Yes, yes, of course I do," replied the Commissioner, testily. He frowned. "And I suppose you are going on to tell me the woman attempted another murder."
"Exactly!" nodded Larose. "At any rate, one day when the heir to the baronetcy—he is only six years old—was alone in his stepmother's care, she encouraged him to try to swim across the private bathing-pool they have in their grounds, and when, only being able to swim a few strokes, he was in difficulties, she left him to drown. However, a gardener, happening by mere chance to pass by at that very moment, saved the child. Her ladyship was seen, an observer of everything which was taking place, hiding behind some trees. She had been watching the boy drown."
"Go on," said the Commissioner. "What are you going to tell me next about Dr. Hinton?"
"I needn't deal with his trafficking in dangerous drugs," suggested Larose. "Of course Inspector Stone has already told you about that. Well, in the doctor's past life there are many other things to his discredit. Years ago, he wronged a young girl in West Ham and, forsaking her in a secret departure to Australia, drove her into suicide."
"You can prove that?" snapped the Commissioner.
"Yes, she was a Jocelyn Pells, and her parents are still living in West Ham," replied Larose. He shook his head. "But I will pass that over and, also, the many tales of the other girls he ruined, and come to his murder of his wife's former husband, Gerald Garnett of Balcombe Hall, near Leddington. He was the doctor attending this Mr. Garnett when the latter was dangerously ill with pneumonia, and, of deliberate purpose by withholding oxygen and the medicines necessary when he was struggling for his life, allowed him to the so that he, Dr. Hinton, could marry his widow."
"And that can be proved too?" frowned the Commissioner. Larose nodded. "Yes, by the widow, for the admission came to her from Dr. Hinton's own lips when he was delirious after a motor accident in Paris. That is why she left him within a few hours of their marriage."
A silence for a few moments followed, and then the Commissioner asked, "And what about Canon Morency, do you know anything discreditable of him?"'
Larose nodded again. "A lot! From a community point of view he was the most dangerous of them all, for he was not only a homicidal lunatic but, also"—he paused dramatically here—"the cattle-maimer who for these many months past has been at work just outside London."
The Commissioner's jaw dropped and he glared hard at Larose, for all the world as if he thought the latter were a lunatic himself. The face of Inspector Stone was also one of incredulous amazement, and his forehead had burst out in little beads of sweat.
"Yes," went on Larose, calmly, "the day before the first maiming took place, which occurred in a field near Chislehurst, upon the night of Wednesday, the eleventh of March last, Canon Morency bought a Sunbeam bicycle from Harrod's, and the same afternoon came home with a black mackintosh, a type of garment he had never been known to wear before. Then, from that date onwards, whenever the night was fine and there was a moon showing, it became his habit to go out between ten and eleven o'clock for a long bicycle ride. He never said where he went and there was no certainty as to the time he returned, but sometimes the maids heard his steps upon the stairs when it must have been well on in the small hours of the morning. Upon one occasion, the parlourmaid said, he came home as late as three o'clock. She is certain of that because she happened to be awake then and looked at her watch."
The Commissioner found his voice at last. "And this can be proved, too?" he gasped. "You can produce evidence that would satisfy a court of law?"
For answer Larose undid the small brown-paper parcel he had brought with him and handed a thickish book across the desk to the Commissioner.
"This is a seventeenth-century prayer-book," he said quietly, "and I borrowed it yesterday from the late Canon's library. On the fly-leaf you will see, in their proper order, a list of the dates of all the maimings and the places where they happened. I have verified that the handwriting is that of Canon Morency himself."
With horrified faces the Commissioner and Stone bent over the book. "Chislehurst, Richmond, Enfield, Bromley," murmured the former. "Good God, it looks as if it were true!"
"It is true," said Larose gravely, "and not only is there that proof, but in a drawer in the Canon's bedroom I found no less than fourteen razors, and between the handles of several of them there are traces of what looks like dried blood."
"Does anyone but yourself know anything about all this?" the Commissioner asked hoarsely.
"No, I was alone when I visited the house," replied Larose. "The wife had gone away, and the parlourmaid admitted me and left me to go when I wanted to." He smiled an amused smile. "From seeing me that morning in your company and with Inspector Stone, she has ever since imagined I am an officer from here."
The Commissioner drew in a deep breath. "What a dreadful scandal," he murmured, "and what a mercy the man is dead!"
"Yes," nodded Larose, "and there is more against him even than that, for it was he who murdered that cottager in the house near Braxted upon February the twenty-seventh last. No, there can be no doubt about it," he went on, for the Commissioner had lifted up his hands in horror. "Listen! On the previous afternoon Canon Morency had motored himself down to Saffron Walden to visit an old friend of his, the Rev. Darcy Mellin, the Vicar there, who was an old college friend of his. He was to preach at festival evensong that night and sleep at the vicarage. The next morning——"
"But how did you find out all this?" interrupted the Commissioner.
"I had been through his diary," replied Larose. "It is all down there in his own handwriting. He appears to have been most methodical in everything relating to his clerical duties and the entries in the diary are so regular that he must have written it up every night. Well, the next morning when he was leaving Saffron Walden, his friend directed him on to a by-road which would bring him out midway between Bishop's Stortford and Great Dunmow. On the way he would pass through Braxted village and go right by that cottager's home. He would have come to it, too, just before nine, which was almost exactly the time when, as it was estimated later, the cottager had been killed."
"But that's no evidence that he committed the murder," snapped the Commissioner.
"Not in itself," agreed Larose, "but taken in conjunction with the fact that shortly afterwards he became a cattle maimer, thus proving he was of unsound mind, it makes everything look very suspicious." He laughed. "A little imagination and the whole thing dovetails in perfectly. The Canon was uncertain if he were on the right road; he called at the cottage to make certain; he came upon the cottager killing a pig, the sight of the blood went to his brain and he did to the man what the man had done to the pig."
The Commissioner looked scornful, but Inspector Stone commented firmly but respectfully, "What Mr. Larose says is quite feasible, sir. I was present at the inquest and, if you remember, the general opinion was that the cottager himself had killed the pig, because it had obviously been done by one who was accustomed to slaughtering, and the man was known to be a good slaughterer. On the other hand, the man himself was undoubtedly murdered by someone in a furious rage, or else of an insane mind. Besides his throat being cut, the injuries he had received were so terrible that, according to the medical evidence, he would have died if he hadn't been touched by the knife. He hadn't a sound rib left. He had been almost kicked to death."
The Commissioner shook his head. "But I shall require much more proof before I believe the Canon was the murderer."
Larose stood up to leave, but fired a parting shot. "Well, sir," he said, "that morning Canon Morency left Saffron Walden wearing a light dust-coat. He did not return home with it and it has never been seen since. Therefore if the Canon committed the murder it is not unreasonable to suppose this dust-coat became soiled in blood, and in consequence, he got rid of it." He smiled. "About a quarter mile from the cottager's dwelling and in the direction the Canon would have been going, is a roadside pond. There is still a heap of big stones close beside it. What is more likely than that the dust-coat was tied round a big stone and thrown into it? I would suggest dragging the pond," and still smiling, he nodded to the Commissioner and let himself out of the room.
IT was nearly two months before Larose returned to London and then, mindful of his promise, the morning after his arrival in town he called to see Mr. Chilcott. No more murders of the nature of the former ones had been reported in the Press, and he was curious to learn if the recluse of St. John's Wood had definitely settled down again to his once, apparently, uneventful life.
Arriving at the house, the butler smiled when he perceived who the caller was. "Yes, sir, he's in and, of course, he'll see you. I've had particular orders to admit you whenever you come. Master's in the potting-shed with the gardener and I'll go and fetch him."
"How is he?" asked Larose, as he was ushered into the hall.
The butler's face clouded. "He's not well, sir," he replied whisperingly. "He's not at all himself. He's worried about something and he's no appetite for his meals. He's not sleeping well, either. We hear him moving about the house at all hours of the night. He's quite different, somehow, to what he used to be."
And directly Larose saw Mr. Chilcott he noticed a great difference in the man, a difference so marked that he wondered how it could possibly have come about in so short a time. He was thinner and his face was paler. His eyes, too, seemed to have shrunk back into his head and their expression was a peculiar one. They were slightly blood-shot and never still. He blinked them a lot and never looked in the same direction for longer than a few seconds at a time. Altogether, the quiet serenity of the student had gone and he was a nervy and irritable man.
"Why haven't you been to see me before?" he demanded frowningly, as he gave Larose a quick squeeze of the hand. He smiled unpleasantly. "Is it distasteful to you to have any intercourse with a man who's taken life?"
"Not at all," laughed Larose. "I've taken life myself and never regretted it. I just haven't been to see you because I've been in the country all the time. And how have you been keeping?"
"Perfectly well, perfectly well!" exclaimed Mr. Chilcott violently. "Never been better in all my life! I eat well, sleep well, and feel very fit." He snapped his fingers together vexatiously. "But I'm very annoyed with the Suffragan Bishop of Chelsea, Dr. Markingham, most annoyed. He riles me tremendously."
"Why, what's he been doing?" asked Larose.
"Preaching a series of sermons upon the false gods people are worshipping to-day, and on Sunday his theme was Theosophy." Mr. Chilcott began working himself up. "The fool knows nothing about it, and he was insulting in his language, too. He said the so-called manifestations of occult power were nothing more or less than conjuring tricks, and the urge to obtain money under false pretences was invariably at the bottom of their performances. The fool!" His eyes gleamed. "I could show him he was wrong, couldn't I?"
"Ah, but there must be none of that!" said Larose sternly. "You've given up all idea of any more of what you call executions, haven't you?"
Mr. Chilcott turned away his eyes. "Of course I have," he replied. "I am now devoting myself entirely to my studies. I am translating some old Sanskrit manuscripts and making a present of them to the British Museum." He flashed a quick look at Larose. "But if I did alter my resolve, does that threat of yours still hold good?"
"Most certainly it does," frowned Larose. "I would shoot you like a dog!"
Mr. Chilcott sighed. "Well, shooting is a quick death," he commented, "and there would be no pain."
"Oh, wouldn't there!" scoffed Larose. "I might shoot you in the stomach and you might lie in great suffering for several days," and then, noticing the scowl upon Mr. Chilcott's face, he wished he hadn't said it. So he at once proceeded to bring the conversation round to flowers, remarking what beautiful chrysanthemums he had noticed, coming up the drive.
"But with the care we give them," snapped Mr. Chilcott, "they are not half as fine as they should be. Mine are a disgrace compared with others I see." His face softened and for the moment he was his own self again. "I have told you I am passionately fond of flowers and, strangely enough, the chrysanthemum is my favourite. I think it is perhaps because I was once in Japan at a very impressionable time of my life. At any rate, I am never tired of looking at them and know where all the best ones about London are to be seen." His scowl returned suddenly. "But all flowers are out of their element among men. They are too pure and beautiful to be contaminated by human hands." He spoke harshly. "I have been wondering lately if flowers suffer and feel pain."
"Feel pain!" ejaculated Larose. "Flowers feel pain!"
"Why not?" scowled Mr. Chilcott. "Who knows it is not an agony to them when they are plucked?" He became quite angry. "They breathe and need oxygen just as we do. Well, they may go through the tortures of the damned as they are dying of suffocation and thirst."
"Quite so, quite so!" agreed Larose. He meant to be humorous and added, "If we only knew it, perhaps flowers may even think and reason."
"Of course they may," cried Mr. Chilcott hotly. "Consider, for instance, how in their need they call to the pollen-carriers for help. The pollen dust, the minute pollen grain, must be brought to them, or their ovules cannot grow into fertile seeds. They know that, and so through their colour and their fragrance, they summon to them the pollen-carrying bees, butterflies and moths." He dismissed the subject with a snap of his fingers. "Yes, of course, flowers may think."
An hour later Larose left him and, thinking everything over, was inclined to be rather disturbed. "I couldn't have believed," he told himself, "that such a change could have come over anyone so quickly. He's quite altered from what he was, and I really believe his mind is giving way. At any rate, I'll keep my eye on him during the next few weeks, although goodness only knows what I can do."
Two days later, early in the afternoon, he happened to run into Inspector Stone in Piccadilly, and they turned into the lounge of an hotel to have a drink.
"Well, thank goodness there have been no more stranglings lately," remarked the stout inspector, "and the Yard has had a little peace. Ah—that reminds me!" He screwed up his face. "A few days ago I had a visit from our St. John's Wood friend and I honestly believe the beggar hypnotised me. At any rate, I went to sleep while he was talking to me and, when I woke up, he had gone. It was a most extraordinary thing. I never really knew what happened. One moment he was staring at me with those deep eyes of his, and the next—well, as I say, I woke up and found the room empty. I don't know what he came to see me for, either. He pretended he wanted to know if he were still being watched, but that wasn't the real reason, I'm sure. There was something fishy about the whole——Why, Gilbert, my lad, what's the matter with you? Are you going to throw a faint? You look as white as a ghost!" Larose's blood had almost frozen in his veins and he felt as if his heart was going to stop beating. He stared at his friend without answering.
"What's the matter with you, I say?" repeated Stone anxiously. "Do you feel faint?"
Larose controlled his voice with a great effort. "No, Charlie," he said slowly, "I feel quite all right." He writhed his face into an expression of pain. "It was a twinge of sciatica I'm liable to sometimes, but it's going away now." He spoke hoarsely. "So, that Chilcott came in to see you, did he? When was that?"
Stone considered. "Let me see. Oh, it was on Tuesday. His complaint was that he had seen the same man walking up his road a good many times and he wanted to know why we were still worrying about him. I assured him we weren't, and he turned the conversation so quickly that it made me think he had never thought we were." He frowned. "But it was very funny about my going to sleep, wasn't it? I feel sure somehow he'd hypnotised me. Do you believe he could have done?"
Larose conjured up a sickly smile. "No, old chap, I hardly think so. I believe you must have imagined it. He'd gone before you started your little sleep."
"Oh, but I'd swear he hadn't," retorted Stone stoutly. "I remember so well beginning to feel sleepy when he was fixing me with his eyes."
"He wasn't in a bad temper with you?" asked Larose anxiously.
"No, certainly not! He had no call to be. I was as nice as pie to him and made a polite little apology that we had ever troubled him. You see, he was so quiet and pleasant that he had quite won me over to the idea the Chief holds—that after all he couldn't possibly be that murderer we want."
The two friends parted in a few minutes, Stone having to be back at the Yard by three o'clock. Larose remained sitting where he was and, when alone, his face took on an expression of great strain. "Dear old Charlie Stone," he murmured chokingly, "his life hangs on a single thread! Upon the whim of that mad creature depends whether or not he dies that dreadful death!" He almost wrung his hands in his distress. "God! What can I do to make him safe?"
A quick consideration and then, his mind made up, he paid a brief visit to the hotel where he was staying and then taxied straight off to St. John's Wood.
Mr. Chilcott was out when he arrived at the house and he had to wait for nearly two hours before he came home. Then, when he appeared, it was obvious he was in a raging temper, for, giving Larose no time to speak, he thrust a newspaper into his hands and began shouting loudly.
"Look at this rag," he cried. "That fool of a bishop has been at it again, attacking Theosophists as if they were all tricksters and three-card men. He says our teachings, if true, would be snares of the devil, but that there is not a word of truth in them and they are falsehoods from beginning to end."
He gave Larose no chance to speak, and for quite a long time raved about Dr. Markingham and this last sermon he had preached. Then, all suddenly, he seemed to become curious as to the object of Larose's visit, and asked scowlingly, "But what have you come here again for, so soon? Is it your intention to shadow me?"
"I may have to," replied Larose sternly. He came straight to the point. "What do you mean by hypnotising Inspector Stone? Why did you want to get him into your power?" Mr. Chilcott's jaw dropped and his eyes opened very wide. He looked frightened and just like a naughty child who had been found out doing something wrong. "But I didn't hypnotise him," he began feebly. "I only went to him about——"
"Don't tell untruths," interrupted Larose sharply. "I've just come from him and he told me all that took place." He spoke angrily. "Now what does it mean? I want to know."
"It means nothing," replied Mr. Chilcott, now speaking much more firmly. "I went in to complain that some man had been watching this house and it happened my eyes held his a little too long and he went off."
"I don't believe it," said Larose. "You are going back to your lies again." He strode forward suddenly and gripped Mr. Chilcott fiercely by the arm. "No, you'd better not struggle. I'm not going to hurt you, but I'll just take you into the garden and show you something."
There was no fight in Mr. Chilcott and, although his face was black as thunder at being taken hold of so forcibly, he allowed himself to be drawn through the hall and into the garden.
"Now," said Larose, releasing his arm with a jerk, "you just watch me with this." He produced a small automatic and looked round for something to fire at. "Yes," he went on, "and, when you've seen what I can do with it, you'll be able to guess what'll happen to you if you play any of your occult tricks upon Inspector Stone. I would have you understand Mr. Stone is a very particular friend of mine." He nodded grimly. "This gun's got a silencer on and makes very little noise, so you'll realise I can have a pot at you and get off safely, a hundred miles away, before you are found. I'll take care to have a good alibi and I shan't be suspected."
"But why do you threaten me?" asked Mr. Chilcott petulantly. "I tell you I'm not going to do Inspector Stone any harm." He looked cunningly at Larose out of half-closed eyes. "I am not going to do any harm to anyone any more. I have given up all that." He suddenly uttered a loud cry. "Oh, you cruel brute to kill such a beautiful bird! Why, didn't you shoot at a stone?"
Larose smiled a grim smile. "Fifty feet, if it was an inch, and I'll put a bullet into you as unhesitatingly as I did into that thrush. Have you taken it in?"
Mr. Chilcott was spluttering with rage. "You have outraged the peace of this garden," he shouted. "It was a bird sanctuary and that poor thrush was probably one of those who come here daily for their food." He could not contain his fury. "You have betrayed their trust in me. You are an evil man."
"Well, you've seen what I can do," nodded Larose, "and let it be a lesson to you. Don't think you'll escape me if you start your dirty work again. Oh yes, I'll go now. I don't want to stop when you're in this mood, but you just understand I shall come and pay you another visit very shortly to let you know I'm keeping my eyes upon you. If you refuse to see me, then I shall suspect you and"—he gritted his teeth together—"deal with you accordingly. I shan't be far away. I'm stopping in town at the Semiris Hotel."
"That was the way to talk to him," he told himself as he was being driven away. "I've frightened him, for, with all his awful powers, he's not a man of a fighting disposition." His face clouded. "But he's going out of his mind. I'm sure of it. Those clawing hands and that slobbering mouth are just what I've seen in lunatic asylums." He screwed up his face in perplexity. "But what the devil can I do about it? If I speak a word to anyone at the Yard, they'll only think that it is I who am the lunatic!" He nodded. "Still, I think Charlie Stone's safe. He won't touch him if he believes he'll get a plug in the stomach."
That night in bed it came to him suddenly that he ought to warn the Bishop of Chelsea. In Chilcott's present state of fury and, apparently, now lost to all those finer sentiments of justice which had once animated him, it was surely more than probable he would try to wreak his vengeance in that quarter.
Accordingly, the next morning, he looked up the Bishop's private address and inquired over the telephone if he would find him at home if he came round at once. But the maid who answered his call said his lordship was out and would not be in for some hours. "Still, you may catch him at the church," she added, "St. Olive's in Sloane Square. He's often in the vestry there in the mornings between nine and eleven to meet any of his parishioners who want to speak to him. Go straight in and knock on the vestry door. If he's not there I don't know where he'll be, until he comes home about one for lunch."
Larose drove to Sloane Square and, dismissing the taxi, went into the church. It was quite empty and a feeling of awe oppressed him as he proceeded to tiptoe up the aisle. It was so dark and silent and reminded him of funerals and graves.
Finding the vestry door ajar, he tapped timidly upon it and a deep voice called out to him to come in. Entering, he found himself in the presence of a big imposing-looking clergyman with a patriarchal beard.
"Dr. Markingham?" he asked and, the clergyman nodding curtly, he went on. "Well, I've come upon what you will think a very strange mission. I understand that in two sermons you have preached lately you have referred in rather disparaging terms to the doctrines held by Theosophists."
"Referred to them in rather disparaging terms!" exclaimed the clergyman, elevating his eyebrows. "I have said they are utter nonsense." He spoke sharply. "Are you a Theosophist, sir?"
Larose smiled. "I have been to only one Theosophical meeting in my life and until a short time ago knew nothing about their Society. It's very existence was practically unknown to me."
"Well, what have you come to me about?" snapped the clergyman. "Have you any grievance against me?"
"Certainly not," replied Larose quickly, "but I've come to warn you that a certain Theosophist who is greatly annoyed at what you have been saying may seek an interview with you just to show you what he can do. He'll probably hypnotise you."
"Hypnotise me!" exclaimed Dr. Markingham. He regarded Larose with contemptuous scorn. "Do you think I shall let him?"
"It may be beyond your power to prevent him!" replied Larose with the utmost gravity. "I warn you solemnly he is a dangerous man."
The clergyman's voice dropped to an icy tone. "And I suppose," he said offensively, "you are expecting some pecuniary reward from me for this information?" It took Larose quite a few moments to take in properly what Dr. Markingham had said. Then his face hardened. "Sir," he replied, equally as icily, "I could build you a new church and not know I had spent the money. I am a rich man."
The clergyman's face went a dusky red. "I ask your pardon," he said frowningly, "I had no business to say that." He tossed his head. "But the idea was so absurd that I let myself speak too hastily."
"The idea is not absurd," said Larose. "I myself know what the man can do and I tell you again he is dangerous, very dangerous."
"Who is he?" asked the clergyman.
"His name is Nile Chilcott. He may not, however, give you his name. Still, you should recognise him at once as he is of medium height, and slim, with dark eyes and a sallow complexion. Also he has very nice manners."
"I must try and remember that," said Dr. Markingham, now speaking much more graciously. He shook his head. "But then I see so many people every day I am sure to forget. I have a really shocking memory for names, too. By-the-by, you haven't told me what your name is yet."
"Larose, Gilbert Larose," said Larose.
"Ah, I shall remember that," smiled the clergyman. "I shall think of a flower." He moved to the door. "Well, good morning, sir. I have a busy morning before me, and hear more footsteps coming up the aisle. I won't forget that Mr. Philpotts when he comes. Don't you worry, he'll never hypnotise me." He laughed. "I'm not a weak type of man."
"You may not be," murmured Larose as he left the church, "but for all that you are not a very pleasant one. You are much too domineering and have much too great an idea of yourself. Well, I've warned you and now if anything happens it'll be your own look-out."
He went round to see Inspector Stone and found the latter looking gloomy, and down in the mouth. "What's the matter, Charlie?" he asked. "Has something dreadful happened? Have they docked your pay?"
Stone smiled a sickly smile. "No, it's not as bad as that, but I've had pain in my Little Mary and the quack says he'll have to take out my appendix." He shook his head obstinately. "Still, I'll put it off as long as I can. I think he only wants a new set of tyres for his car. I've noticed they're getting very worn."
Quite serious in his promise to Mr. Chilcott to keep his eye on him, on the fourth day he called at the house in St. John's Wood again, to be met by the butler with a very anxious face.
"He's gone, sir," said the man brokenly. "He went away yesterday. He told us he had to go because a great danger was threatening him, but he didn't say where he was off to, and he wouldn't tell us when he was coming back. He said it might be weeks or even months, but he would write to us when he knew for certain what he was going to do. He paid us all a month's wages and told us to carry on."
Larose felt most uneasy. "How was he in himself?" he asked. "Was he looking better than when I was last here?"
The butler appeared very troubled. "No, sir, he wasn't. Both Cook and I thought he was looking very ill. He was eating nothing and he couldn't have been sleeping properly at night because several times I found him dozing in his chair during the day. We overheard him talking a lot to himself, too, and it rather frightened us. No, sir, he wasn't in a fit state to go away. He needed care and looking after."
"Did he take much luggage?" asked Larose.
"No, sir, and that makes it more peculiar. We think he made up his mind all of a sudden yesterday afternoon, and then he just crammed a few things in a small suit-case and went off. Twenty minutes after he had come into the kitchen to tell us he was going, he had gone. I tell you, sir, we are very worried. He's been such a good master to us, but oh!—how he's altered these last few weeks. He used to be so kind and gentle, and so considerate for everyone, but lately he's been rude and irritable, exactly like a peevish child."
"I noticed that last time I came," nodded Larose. "Really, it was distressing to see him!"
The butler spoke hesitatingly and with obvious reluctance. "We are afraid, sir, Cook and me, that the master is going crazy. Come and look in his study, sir. Yesterday morning he made us pick every single chrysanthemum in the garden, and he's got them all in there. His last order was that I was to leave them exactly where they are and not to remove them on any account, however long he was away. I am to go on giving them fresh water every day, even when they are withered and quite dead."
He led Larose into the study and the scene which met the latter's eyes there would have been mirth-provoking if the whole business had not been so tragic. There were chrysanthemums everywhere, on the desk, on the mantelpiece, on the massive oak study table, on another table that had been brought in for the special purpose, on the bookshelves, and even in the fireplace. Every available vase and bowl in the house must have been called into requisition and they were supplemented by a number of jugs and tumblers and cans.
"We are short of jugs in the kitchen now, sir," sighed the butler with a wan smile, "and we have to use a wash-hand bowl for the milk, but I daren't take one of those flowers away."
"I should," said Larose emphatically. "When your master comes back he will have got over all this craze, or else"—he nodded significantly—"he won't be in a condition of mind to remember anything." An idea struck him and he pointed to the typewriter in the corner of the room. "Tell me," he asked, "has your master ever had another typewriter besides that?"
"Oh yes, sir," replied the butler instantly, "that one's been no good for a long time. It fell off the desk one day and it's been no good ever since."
"Then where's the other one gone?" asked Larose sharply, murmuring a swear word under his breath that they none of them had thought to question the butler about it before.
"I don't know, sir. Master took it away with him early one morning. I happened to be in the hall at the time and saw him going off with it in its case."
"How long ago was that?"
"Well, not so very long ago. I should say it was only a matter of weeks. Oh, yes, it must have been very soon after he had taken off his beard, because I remember he met the postman out in the drive, just as he got to the gate, and the postman didn't recognise him at first. He thought he was a stranger and didn't want to give him the letters."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Larose, realising the significance of what he was hearing.
"Quite sure! I joked to Cook about it. I recollect now that it was pouring with rain that morning, and Master came home soaking wet and with dreadfully muddy boots. We wondered where on earth he had been and why he hadn't taken a taxi."
"Had he been gone long?"
"No, quite a short time, not three-quarters of an hour, and that is why we knew he hadn't been to the West End. His boots were just as if he'd been walking in country lanes."
Larose sighed heavily. He quite understood. Chilcott had, of course, got rid of the typewriter upon which he had typed those warning letters, the only evidence to incriminate him, the morning after the night when Ali had come to the house to warn him that the police were after him.
"We must save your master from himself," he told the butler. "If he were treated by a mental doctor it is just possible he might be brought back to sanity again," and he made the man promise he would send one of the maids out and get a telephone message through to him at his hotel if Mr. Chilcott returned.
Driving away from St. John's Wood, he summed up the whole situation. They had now to deal with a man who was on the verge of insanity, if indeed he had not already crossed over the borderline. In this dangerous state, it was possible he might run amok among the community, but if he were put under restraint it was possible, too, he might be rendered harmless by means of powerful drugs. He must certainly be found and dealt with. He would surely be showing such symptoms now that he could be certified as being of unsound mind.
Larose sighed again. "I'll try that stubborn Commissioner once more, and see if he can be induced to send out a general call and get Chilcott picked up and subjected to a medical examination by experts. I feel sure he won't have gone very far away."
He was admitted to the presence of the Chief Commissioner of Police almost at once and was received pleasantly, if indeed he did sense a trace of irony in the smile with which he was greeted.
"Look here, sir," he said sharply, "I've come to you again about that man Nile Chilcott, whom you refuse to believe could have had anything to do with those murders. Well, I've visited him several times lately, and, contrary to the opinion you hold, he was responsible for all those four crimes. He has frankly admitted it to me with his own lips."
"And provided you with the proofs, too, I suppose?" suggested the Commissioner most politely, "so that we can proceed with his arrest at once."
"No, unhappily, there are no such proofs," admitted Larose, feeling, as he had expected to feel, most uncomfortable that he could not put down his cards.
The Commissioner shrugged his shoulders. "Then what good is his admission to us?" he asked. His smile was sarcastic. "Surely, when you were in the Criminal Investigation Department yourself, you must have come across people who admitted to crimes they had never committed?"
"I know that," said Larose, "but with this man it is different." He spoke emphatically. "If he did not commit those murders, and commit them, as he says, because he was doing a public service to the community, how did he come to pick upon four persons with such dreadful histories? He alone knew that they deserved punishment, therefore is it unreasonable to suppose that he alone gave them that punishment?" The Commissioner was silent. He was looking down upon the papers on his desk, and Larose went on scornfully, "And about the Canon's murder—who else but Chilcott knew Morency was the cattle-maimer?"
"Did he know that?" snapped the Commissioner, looking up.
"Of course he did. He told me, and he told me, too, the Canon was the Braxted murderer."
The Commissioner was frowning hard. "How did he find out?"
Larose smiled covertly. He felt he could play one of his cards now. "He says the Canon confessed everything when he had thrown him into a hypnotic sleep. They were alone together for a long time in the Rectory study, the night before the murder. There, Morency told him everything."
"It is incredible," snapped the Commissioner. "I tell you flatly I don't believe it."
"Then explain Chilcott's knowledge of the facts in some other way," retorted Larose angrily. "How otherwise could he have known about the recording of each act of cattle-maiming upon the fly-leaf of that book I brought you?" He banged his fist down hard upon the Commissioner's desk. "Yes, and how else could he have learnt about the blood-soiled dust-coat being thrown into that pond? I understand that it was found there?"
A long silence followed and then the Commissioner asked in a manner as if reluctant to admit any idea of such a possibility, "And you say this man states he killed all those people?" His eyes flashed. "Then how does he say he did it?"
In spite of the serious nature of the matter they were discussing, Larose with difficulty suppressed a smile of amusement. He knew the amazement and contemptuous scorn his reply would evoke. "He says," he said slowly, "he did it by an effort of will. His will emitted a magnetic fluid and, although miles away from his victims, he killed them in that way. He forbade them to breathe and so they died of suffocation."
It seemed the Commissioner could not believe his ears. "W-h-a-t!" he stuttered. "I don't understand."
"Neither do I," said Larose, "but that's what he says. Yes, and he first hypnotises his victims to obtain a mastery over them. Then he can cause their deaths later, when he wishes." He spoke very solemnly. "A little while ago he called here and hypnotised Inspector Stone."
"He's hypnotised Inspector Stone!" exclaimed the Commissioner, in astounded tones. "He told you so?"
"No, he didn't but Mr. Stone did, and I have not dared to make known to him the danger he is in. He knows nothing of what I have just revealed to you."
"But Mr. Larose, Mr. Larose," protested the Commissioner, "the man must be mad to tell you he can kill people like that, and you would be mad, too, if you believed it."
"I'm not mad," said Larose, "far from it, but this Chilcott man is and that's what I've come to you about."
He ran briefly through what had recently been happening in the house in Grove Road, the great change in Mr. Chilcott, his shoutings and ravings and how he had now run away to escape the watch which he, Larose, had been keeping over him.
"And whether he killed those people or not, sir," concluded Larose, "he's become a mad and dangerous man. He's liable to run amok wherever he is and I suggest you send out a general call and get him picked up and examined by medical experts. Then he can be put away and we may be saved from further crimes."
The Commissioner shook his head. "But I can't move in the matter on your testimony alone. You must see that. I can't put in motion all the elaborate machinery at our command at the request of a private individual. I have only your opinion that the man is out of his mind and you may be quite wrong. Any effort to get him medically examined is a matter for his relations."
"But I don't know if he has any," said Larose. "Also I can't find out where he banks, so we can learn anything from there."
The Commissioner shook his head again. "I'm sorry I can't interfere," he said. He smiled. "With that wonderful instinct which I am told by everyone you possess, why not track him down yourself and see what he is doing?" His face hardened. "As for what you tell me about his miraculous will-power, I don't believe a word about it and I don't expect you do, either."
"Well, if you should receive news, within the course of the next few days, of a fifth person being strangled," said Larose wearily, "do not be surprised if it turns out to be another clergyman. I have warned one against a stranger attempting to hypnotise him but, as with you, he will not heed the warning."
"Still, I am obliged to you, Mr. Larose," smiled the Commissioner, "but I can only reiterate that, in spite of all the certainly very puzzling things you have told me, if another such crime does occur, I shall not credit it to Chilcott until I have definite evidence in that direction."
Larose got up to terminate the interview. "Well, as for evidence," he said in parting, "I suggest you drag the Regent's Canal where it is nearest to Chilcott's house. I have every reason to believe he threw that missing typewriter in there, from the muddy towing path, on the morning following upon the day when we had been waiting for him in the Silver Moon Cafe," and nodding to the stubborn Chief Commissioner he left the room.
Now when he had made up his mind about anything Larose was not the man to be deterred from his purpose, and so now, turned down by the Commissioner, he resolved to look for Chilcott himself. It was his obsession that the man must be found and kept frightened until his mastery of Stone had had time to wear off.
The difficulty was to know where to start, but in order to learn everything he could about Chilcott's usual mode of life, and to what he was accustomed, he went back to his house in St. John's Wood and for an hour and longer questioned the butler.
Mr. Chilcott's tastes were very simple. He neither smoked nor took anything alcoholic to drink, his only beverage being China tea, and all he ate was bread, butter, eggs, fruit and nuts. He hated all kinds of conveyances and was always expressing his abhorrence of trains and motor-cars. Very occasionally he rode in trams, but then he used to complain afterwards that the vibrations had given him a headache. He walked everywhere he could.
He was passionately fond of flowers, carnations in the summer and chrysanthemums in the colder months, and, although there were always plenty growing in his own garden, he was for ever bringing home big bunches he had bought at the florist's.
That night, in the quietness of his bedroom at the hotel, Larose considered everything. "Then he's not gone far," he told himself, "for if he so hates trains and motors, for sure he's in London or close near. And he's not gone to any hotel, because he wouldn't get the food he's accustomed to there. Another thing, with this mania now upon him turning so strongly in the direction of flowers, he'll most certainly go to where he can be among them."
Suddenly he laughed. "And what chance have I of running a man to earth among all the countless millions in London, relying almost wholly upon that fact of his fondness for flowers? Ah, but it's more than a fondness now! It's a mania, and he will certainly be showing it in such an exaggerated form that it will attract attention wherever he goes. Yes, that is where my chance will come in."
The next morning he visited the shop of a fashionable florist in Bond Street and asked, as a stranger to London, where he would be likely to see the best display of chrysanthemums. The man he was inquiring of smiled. "Well, sir, that's hard to say. You will see some beautiful specimens in the London parks, but the highly cultivated blooms you will find under glass in the Botanical and Kew Gardens."
So for the next two days Larose hung about the Botanical Gardens, with all the attendants in his pay and keeping a strict watch for the coming of a slim and sallow-faced man. But nothing happened and the third day he gave up his quest there and transferred his attentions to Kew. Then, to his unbounded delight, his very first inquiry suggested he was upon the right track.
"I'm looking for a party," he explained to one of the attendants, "who's not quite right in his mind and who, it is thought, will be coming here to see the chrysanthemums. He is elderly and dark and slim. Now do you happen to have noticed a man of that description who appears very interested in chrysanthemums?"
The attendant spoke angrily, "No, worse luck, I haven't," he growled, "but I'd darned well like to. Some blanky thief has been in the chrysanthemum house, two days running, and pinched some of my finest blooms. Most likely he's the party you are asking about."
"And I should think he is," nodded Larose eagerly. "Have you any idea what time he comes?"
"On Tuesday, it was in the morning we noticed someone had been doing his dirty work, but yesterday it was not until the afternoon we saw he'd been at the plants again."
"Then I'll be on the look-out along with you to-day," said Larose, "and it'll be a pound note in your pocket if you catch him."
"But we shan't hand him over to you if we do," nodded the attendant aggressively. "It'll be a police-court case if we nab him—and he'll have to go up before the beaks in Kew." He looked vindictive. "And I don't suppose they'll let him off with a fine, either. There have been several thefts of flowers lately and old Colonel Bloodthumper threatens it will be two months next time when anyone is caught, without the option of a fine. They intend to make an example."
"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose, delighted at the thought that in that case, if the man turned out to be Mr. Chilcott, he would certainly come under medical supervision. He went on, "That's just what his relations would like. He's been rather violent lately, and the shock of being put in prison would probably sober him down a lot."
So, in addition to Larose, half a dozen and more attendants were very much upon the alert that day. It had been arranged not to interfere at once with any suspiciously-acting person, but to wait until he had actually stolen some flowers before they laid hands upon him. He must be caught in the very act and with them in his possession. Larose himself kept well in the background, so that if Chilcott appeared, as he, Larose, was so confidently expecting, he would not be forewarned and frightened away.
The hours sped on and nothing happened. At five o'clock the doors of the glass-houses were locked and, very disappointedly, Larose left the Gardens. "But I'll be back again tomorrow," he told the attendants, "and very likely we'll have better luck then."
Buying an evening newspaper from a boy in the street, Larose hailed a taxi and settled himself down to have a comfortable read as he was being driven back to town.
Then, suddenly, his eyes fell upon a paragraph on the front page and he caught his breath in consternation as he read the heading, "SUDDEN DEATH OF THE SUFFRAGAN BISHOP OF CHELSEA," "Dr. Markingham dies under very peculiar circumstances in the small hours of the night."
"Good God," he exclaimed, "then he has killed again!" and like a flash of lightning the fearful thought surged through him that perhaps Charlie Stone was dead as well.
"Pull up at the first call-box or office you come to," he cried hoarsely to the driver of the taxi, and in a couple of minutes or so the car veered to the side of the road.
Larose was out of it long before it had stopped. He put through a call to Scotland Yard and brief but very anxious moments followed.
"I'm Mr. Larose," he jerked out with difficulty, "and I want to speak to Inspector Stone. Do you know if he's in the Yard now? What, he's away! Well, what's happened to him?" His voice rose in horror. "He's not dead?"
Then so great a relief followed that a mist rose before his eyes and his head swam. "Oh, no, sir," came the constable's voice at the other end of the phone. "He's getting on very nicely, so we hear, but he was operated upon for appendicitis, late last night. The attack came on very suddenly and he was rushed to the hospital only just in time. He's in the Wigmore Street Private Hospital."
Larose hung up the receiver, feeling as limp as a rag. Thank God dear old Charlie was safe and that madman had not gone for him, too!
Returning quickly to the taxi, he was driven to the police station in Chelsea. He knew the superintendent in charge there and hoped to learn all there was to know about Dr. Markingham's death.
The superintendent was in and, delighted to see Larose, had no hesitation in telling him everything that had happened.
It appeared Mrs. Markingham had been sleeping in the same bed with her husband and, suddenly awakened by violent and convulsive movements of the latter, she had switched on the light to see the doctor almost black in the face and struggling for breath. She had called to one of the servants for help and they had tried in vain to force brandy down his throat. Then his limbs had relaxed suddenly and they had realised he was dead.
Their regular medical man, who lived only a few doors away, had been summoned, and arriving within a few minutes, he had at once given it as his opinion that Dr. Markingham had died of some virulent poison. Knowing the doctor to have been a perfectly healthy man and with his blood-pressure just what it should have been, he had refused to give a certificate of death. Accordingly, the coroner had been notified and an inquest was to be held on the morrow.
"Yes, and all the crowd's been up here," nodded the superintendent impressively, "just as if it were thought it was another job of that strangler. The Chief himself has even come and there's been no end of a how-do-you-do."
"And what time did he die?" asked Larose.
"Almost exactly on the stroke of one a.m. The family medical man was there at three minutes past and the Bishop was only just dead."
Larose was next driven to the private hospital where Stone had been operated upon. The matron, however, would not allow him to see the patient.
"I'm sorry, but we can allow no visitors for a day or two," she said. "He's going on quite well now, but the operation was a severe one because he'd left it so long. He has to be kept perfectly quiet and still."
"And that's one reason why I've come here," said Larose. "I didn't expect I should be allowed to see him, but I wanted to make known one peculiarity he has. It's this." He spoke impressively, "He's liable to be taken with spasms and then he holds his breath for a long time and struggles violently. So, I'm worrying that if he gets one of these attacks here he may burst the stitches of the wound."
The matron looked very puzzled. "I've never heard of such a case," she said dubiously, "but I'll mention it to the doctor when he calls in this evening." She nodded. "Still, he'll be all right here, as he'll be having plenty of morphia during the next few days and he can't have spasms when he's taking that." She frowned. "But what you tell me is interesting, for I think he may have had just such an attack just after they had commenced to give the anaesthetic last night. It was nitrous oxide and oxygen he had and there should have been no struggling at all. But he did struggle and made a great effort to hold his breath. We were a little anxious for the moment."
"And exactly at what time did that happen, do you know?" asked Larose, hardly able to get out his question.
"It must have been just after one o'clock in the morning," she replied, "because I remember hearing Big Ben strike as the doctor was commencing to put him under."
Returning to his hotel, Larose rang up the Chief Commissioner. "Now, sir," he said savagely, when at last he had been put through, "do you believe me or not? Dr. Markingham was the clergyman I told you I had given that warning to, but like you he was as stubborn as a mule. Yes, and my old friend, Charlie Stone, was only saved from the same form of death by his happening to have been going under an anaesthetic when the madman went for him."
The Commissioner's voice sounded rather meek. "Come round and see me, Mr. Larose. I'd like to discuss things again with you."
"I'll think it over," snapped Larose. "I'm busy now," and giving the Commissioner no chance of continuing the conversation, he hung up the receiver and rang off.
The next morning, very early, he was in Kew Gardens again, but the day passed with no appearance of Mr. Chilcott, and there was no raid upon any of the flowers. He hung about until late in the afternoon and then, disconsolately, set about returning to the West End. He thought he would walk part of the way this time.
Suddenly, when he was passing a row of shops, he saw a man, carrying a large bunch of chrysanthemums, come out of one of them only a few yards in front of him, and his heart gave a tremendous bump as he realised it was Mr. Chilcott.
Unhappily, however, Mr. Chilcott recognised him at the same moment and, with a squeal like that of some terrified animal, he dropped his bunch of chrysanthemums and made a dash to escape across the road. His rush was like that of a sightless man, for he ran full tilt into a big oncoming motor-car.
He was thrown violently backwards and his head struck the roadway with a sickening thud. He made one convulsive movement and then lay quite still. He had been killed instantaneously.
The driver of the car ground his brakes furiously and pulled up. Then, with a face as white as death, he jumped out and bent over the prostrate man. But it needed no second glance to perceive that the latter was dead. His head was turned at a dreadful angle, his ears were gushing blood and there was blood everywhere under where he lay.
A crowd quickly gathered and a policeman pushed his way through. "How did it happen?" he asked in the stern tones becoming a custodian of the law.
"I knocked him down with my car," replied the driver, a tall and aristocratic man. His voice shook. "It's a terrible thing, but I couldn't help it. He ran straight into me without the slightest warning."
"Name and address, please?" demanded the policeman, taking out his note-book.
"Here's one of my cards," said the driver. "I am Sir Romilly Vane."
Larose walked away through the crowd. "Fate! fate!" he murmured brokenly. "Chilcott murdered Lady Vane, in his ignorance of her true character, so well beloved by her husband. Then, among all the millions of men in this country, it was by chance that this husband should deal out death to Chilcott in his turn. God, upon what a dreadful drama has the curtain just been rung down!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
In the summer of the following year, Mr. and Mrs. Larose were guests of the Honourable Ian Inverary and his charming young wife at a small dinner-party the latter were giving to celebrate the christening of their first-born, a fine-looking little boy.
During the course of the meal the conversation turned upon the subject of coincidences and the host announced he would relate two really wonderful ones which had occurred to him.
"They happened last year, a few months after we had been married," he began, "and they seem to me most extraordinary." He smiled slyly. "One night I woke up to hear my wife muttering in her sleep. Of course, I listened on the chance of surprising some great secret, but all I could catch distinctly was a telephone number, 'Paddington, double seven, double seven!' She repeated it several times as if it were most important."
"You should not have listened," reproved his wife, her beautiful grey eyes flashing in amusement. "I've always told you it was very mean."
Her husband laughed happily, "But all's fair in love and war, my dear, and, as I say, I quite thought something very interesting was coming out. Well, to go on, in the morning I questioned Eleanor about the number, but she declared she knew nothing about it. So, more to tease her than anything, I rang it up.
"'Hullo,' I said, 'are you Paddington, double seven, double seven? Then who are you? I mean what do you do? Oh, you're the Electro Magnetic Clinic in the Edgware Road, successors to Professor Starbank? Then who was he? W-h-a-t, you say he was killed not long ago? Great Scott!' and I hung up the receiver at once."
He paused for a moment to add to the curiosity of his audience. At the mention of Professor Starbank, Larose had drawn in a deep breath and was at once all eyes and ears.
Mr. Inverary went on: "Then, the following day the second happening occurred and, as with the first one, it had to do with a telephone number. My wife and I were tidying a drawer in a bureau which we both had been using. She had had some old hand-bags in it and I had had a couple of old wallets and some notebooks. When I turned the drawer upside down to shake out the dust, out fell a little torn piece of an envelope, and I saw there was a telephone number scribbled upon it in pencil, in an unfamiliar handwriting, number two-seven-two-one Marylebone, this time. 'Hullo,' I said to Eleanor, 'another phone number! Do you know whose it is?' But she knew nothing about it, and out of pure devilry I rang it up.
"'Hullo, are you Marylebone, two-seven-two-one?' I asked, and a rather quavering voice replied, 'Yes,' 'Then who are you?' I went on. 'What, Mr. Chilcott's? Who's he? W-h-a-t, you say he was killed yesterday? Good God!' and I hung up the receiver as if it had been red hot."
The host beamed all round upon his guests. "Now wasn't it a coincidence that both of the parties to whom those numbers belonged had met with violent deaths, only a little while previously?" and everyone agreed that it was.
During the recital of the story the young wife had all the time preserved her charming smile, but, for all that, Larose noticed that when her husband had finished her hands were trembling.
Then was she the girl Nile Chilcott had saved from Starbank's blackmailing, he asked himself, and his comment, upon his own query was, "Who will ever know?"
Thrillers by ARTHUR GASK
The Tragedy of the Silver Moon
The House on the Fens
The Vengeance of Larose
The Fall of a Dictator
The Grave-Digger of Monks Arden
The Night of the Storm
The Master Spy
The Jest of Life
The Hangman's Knot
The Dark Highway
The Poisoned Goblet
The Hidden Door
The Red Paste Murders
Gentlemen of Crime
The Shadow of Larose
The Judgment of Larose
The Secret of the Sandhills
The Secret of the Garden
Cloud the Smiter
The Lonely House
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