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Title: The Craig Poisoning Mystery Author: A Fielding * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900501h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2019 Most recent update: May 2019 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of 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.
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"YOU say you're going up to town, Bob, as soon as you've left here. Anywhere near Pont Street? Good. Then do you mind wheeling that nearer to me?" The sick man waved a thin, but still brown hand, to where a little writing cabinet, shaped like a miniature roll-top desk, stood on a swing table.
"Thanks," he went on. "Just wait a minute, will you, while I write a note. If you'll drop it in Houghton's letter-box, or hand it in yourself, I shall be much obliged." He hesitated. "Yourself," he repeated. "It's most important, and I don't want to wait for the post."
"You write it and I'll deliver it within the hour." Dr. Lindrum, after swinging the table up and across the bed as requested, went to one of the windows.
"Without fail?" persisted the man in bed, unlocking the cabinet.
"Let's see. I must look in for a moment at home...within an hour and a half without fail. You can count on that as the outside time limit unless some accident happens to me or the car," Lindrum assured him.
His good figure, crisply curly hair and fresh coloring gave the doctor an air of vitality and strength which made him a pleasant enough young man to look at, though his features summed up to a rather indeterminate whole. He spoke without turning around, his attention riveted by something outside. That something was a girl walking along the path below. Very slender, she was dressed in green with white muslin at the open throat. On her feet were sandals. Her slim, well-shaped legs, like her arms, were bare and brown as a Neapolitan baby's. They suggested sunshine and summer, just as her buoyant walk suggested youth.
Behind him a pen could have been heard traveling swiftly over a sheet of paper, but he did not hear it. He only heard the crunch of gravel under light, small feet, the feet of Countess Alexandra Ivanoff, the Russian girl to whom the sick man behind him was engaged to be married.
Ronald Craig wrote for nearly five minutes, and not once did Lindrum take his eyes off the figure in the green frock that swayed and swung about her like the calyx of a tossing flower as she strolled on, moving with a rhythm that suggested that she was humming as she walked.
Finally the pen stopped. Craig read over what he had written. It ran:
I am being slowly poisoned. I found part of a letter this morning which proves it, though who the confederate is, and how it is being put into my food, are beyond my present brain capacity to unravel. I will go into that when I am better. Be here tomorrow morning at nine, in a car, and take me away. I shall never leave this room alive unless you get me out of it. If I were to try and go by myself they would prevent me, on the plea that I am too ill to get up. Lindrum, of course, is all right, only he is a silly ass and would make a fearful fuss if I told him why none of his medicine is helping me. And there must not be a fuss. Not here. I am getting him to wait while I write this, and drop it, himself, into your box. Telephone me that it has reached you. Be careful what you say, as I shall be. Until you come, I shall touch nothing that is not opened before me. If by any chance you are delayed, I shall arrange with Match. He, too, can be trusted. I can write no more. I feel very tired.
Your affectionate cousin,
He addressed this staggering note to Guy Houghton, Esq., Pont Street, London, S.W.I.; sealed it, and then held it out with evident effort.
"I suppose I can rely on you, Bob?" His eyes seemed to search the young doctor's very soul.
Bob Lindrum was the son of a former rector of Woodthorp, and this was Woodthorp Manor. He and Ronald Craig, though the latter was fifteen years the elder, had known each other, off and on, since the days when Bob toddled about in pinafores, though they met rarely of late years, for the Craigs had left the place some time ago, and only kept on the manor, shorn of land and rights, as their dower house.
"You certainly can, Craig," the other assured him, as he tried to put the big, square envelope into an inner pocket. It was too big and he held it in his hand.
The door of the sick room opened and the nurse came in. She was a woman in early middle age, with a firm chin and firmer eyes. Something in the way Craig looked at her suggested dislike, or possibly—to anyone who knew what he had just written—suspicion. She carried a tray with a bottle of Vichy on it.
"Where's Match?" Craig asked in a weak voice. He was a man of a little over forty, with a rather rugged face, the face of a man of the people, which he was not. Just now he was blanched to a pallor that seemed to extend to his eyes, but he had evidently been an out-of-door man, big of frame and powerfully built.
"The butler is away at the moment." The nurse had a lady's voice, but not one that suggested great tenderness for her patient. "He is expected back in time to serve lunch," she added.
Craig nodded. Then he glanced down at the tray. "I asked for an unopened bottle of Vichy," he said, with a twitch of his white lips.
"I have just this moment opened it," the nurse assured him with smiling urbanity.
"By God!" Craig raised himself on an elbow and actually clenched his fingers. "By God, nurse, you'll bring me an unopened bottle when I ask for it, or you'll leave the house!"
His eyes might be faded by illness, but they could still flash with fire. He looked for a brief second what he was when well—a man whom it was next to impossible to placate should he be really roused.
The nurse bit her lip.
"Get another bottle and open it in here." Lindrum's tone was low and almost apologetic. "It's apt to taste flat unless opened at the moment of drinking."
She went out silently.
"How I loathe that woman!" Craig spoke with energy. He bit back an "I don't trust her," and said instead, "By the way, just hand me back that letter I gave you, will you? I want to add a postscript."
Lindrum handed it to him and Craig levered up the flap with a touch from a paper knife, added a couple of lines and refastened it. The gum was still damp.
"I'm sorry you don't like the nurse," Lindrum said while this was being done. "She's very capable. However, you won't have any need of her much longer."
"You think not?" Craig asked slowly, handing him the letter again, while his eyes lingered on the doctor's face with a probing, searching stare.
There was a moment's silence. Usually' Craig had a string of complaints, the complaints of a man not used to being ill, and a stream of impatient wonder that, after nearly a month's illness, he was no better. But today there was a cold, bleak withdrawal, quite different from anything that he had shown before.
Lindrum broke the silence by asking for a rubber band, as the letter entrusted to him partly slipped from the papers he held.
"I haven't any bands to spare," was the reply.
"My dear chap!" Lindrum's eyes looked meaningly and reproachfully at the roll-top writing cabinet. "Look in there."
"You can get some at the shop just outside." Craig made no move toward the table in question.
"Hope I shall never be in need of a life-line with you on shore," Lindrum said laughingly. "You'd shout to me to get one in Davy Jones's locker." He held out his hand to his patient. "Cheer up, and don't feel so doubtful of your progress. Malaria is a tricky thing. So is summer cholera, as the people call it. And when you get both together, you get a trying combination."
Craig nodded almost contemptuously.
"Look here!" Lindrum said suddenly, looking at him in his turn rather hard, his finger on the other's pulse. "What about a consultation? I've tried all the usual treatments; let's see if there isn't something fresh. When I'm in town this afternoon I'll look in at—"
"I'll talk that over with you tomorrow afternoon," Craig said in a weary but very decided voice. "I think I shall sleep a little now." There was a tap on the door, a light tap that changed both men's faces. Into each came a brightness, a glow, as though the sun himself stood without. Craig lost his sleepy look.
"Come in!" His voice was clearer than a moment ago, his face seemed to fill out as the door opened.
Countess Alexandra—Jura, as she was called—came in with a sprig of mignonette in her long Byzantine hands. Ronald Craig seemed to drink her in as she stepped to the bed and stood looking down at the man whom she was to marry in a couple of months with a grave, speculative look in her young face.
Of its claim to beauty there were two quite opposite opinions. Some people considered her plain, but for her clear creamy complexion. While some, on the other hand, thought her very lovely, and to this group belonged the two men in the room.
To Lindrum, as he looked at her, his heart thumping, she seemed like a beautiful tea-rose. The comparison was not inapt as far as tints went. A tea-rose's soft creams, and yellows, and shell-pinks were all reproduced in her. In her pale honey hair, her pale ivory skin, her cheeks but faintly streaked with color. Even her lips were but a shade deeper. Nothing about her was vivid. To Craig she was like a wash-drawing on vellum come alive, a drawing made by some Byzantine artist, with her eyes that suggested a slanted setting, her high cheek-bones, her slender, almost attenuated, body. To him, as to Lindrum, she was fragile and perfect.
Her long narrow eyes, in color they suggested amber seen through smoke, were bent on the sick man as she gently tapped one of his hands, the hand that would have clasped hers, with the mignonette spray.
"You should be out in the sunshine." Her voice was faintly hard. A hardness of accent, Lindrum thought, rather than of actual timbre.
"I hope to be soon," Craig said eagerly.
"Bravo!" applauded the doctor. "That's the spirit." The other had not spoken so hopefully during the whole interview this morning.
"Stay and talk to me!" urged her fiance. She shook her head, not smiling. Jura rarely smiled.
"I am going to write a letter and then I am going to try on a dress." She spoke without any accent, yet not as an English girl would have run the words together.
She looked around for a tumbler, found one, and put the sprig in water.
"It's the only flower you have ever picked for me," Craig said sentimentally.
"Lady Craig picked it," Jura said flatly, "together with some sweet peas."
Lady Craig was the widow of the former owner of the house, a knight who had been the sick man's cousin. She was the only dowager in the family, so Woodthorp Manor was hers to live in during her lifetime. Ronald Craig had been taken ill over three weeks ago now while on a week-end visit. As for Countess Jura, the Russian was an orphan, and Lady Craig was bringing her out.
"But one must not put mignonette in with sweet peas," Jura went on. "One cannot have the two together," she said again, as though the fact interested her and might interest him. "One can have either alone—but not both."
"Why not?" Craig asked, as he pulled the stem through a buttonhole of his creased pyjama jacket. Craig was not a fastidious man, as his crumpled appearance showed, in spite of all the efforts of the nurse to smarten him up.
"The one or the other will die." She still looked dreamily at the flower. Lindrum left them and said a word to the nurse outside.
"I don't like the way this thing, or these things, are dragging on. Craig is losing strength, not gaining any. He seemed so much better for a while after you came, but these last days..."
Countess Jura came out. She had caught the last sentences, and motioned him to follow her to a distant window.
"Do you think he is going to die?" she asked under her breath, but without a tremor.
"Certainly not!" Lindrum said explosively.
She met his expostulatory gaze with a blank look.
"It is not a sin to die. People do it all the time. Especially sick people." And turning, she passed on to her room, her skirt swaying to her steps.
Lindrum was very white when he rejoined the nurse, who also stood watching the Russian girl.
"I'm always so sorry for Countess Jura." She spoke very quietly. "Of course, a nurse is supposed to have neither eyes nor ears except for her patient—and the doctor," she added, a trifle sardonically. "But, as I told you when I came, I think it's very pitiful about Countess Jura."
He said nothing.
"She's so helpless. And she's being forced into a marriage, as we both know. However, perhaps something will turn up to prevent it." Her eyes were carefully on some notes she was making of what he had ordered for her patient.
As for Lindrum, he only shot her a swift, uneasy glance. He should have made some scathing reply, but, though a nurse, Mrs. Kingsmill was also a doctor's daughter, and his sister's friend.
"Why not take her out for a spin this afternoon?" she suggested.
He shook his head. "Too much to do; besides, Craig wants me to drop a very important letter in the letterbox as I pass Pont Street. A letter to a cousin of his."
"Well, why not take Countess Jura? Pont Street means Sloane Street, which in its turn means Brompton Road, which in its turn means shopping, which in its turn means Countess Jura." Mrs. Kingsmill was laughing a little now under her breath, but her tone was insistent.
For a second he hesitated then he shook his head firmly. "No, no!" And, so saying, he went slowly down the stairs.
In the lounge hall below, the figure of a woman could be seen standing. The figure of a young woman. A fact which cost the figure's owner, Lady Craig, resolute massage, iron dieting, and much expense. Vaguely Lindrum wondered, as he had often done before, why she went to so much trouble, for, as she turned her face toward him, its years showed as fifty in some magical way, in spite of smoothed skin and red-brown hair. She was very nearly an ugly woman, but she looked as though she had plenty of that quality we call character.
"Is anything the matter, Robert?" she asked quickly. She had known Lindrum as a tow-headed baby. "You're not really anxious about him, are you?"
"Yes, I am, this morning," he said gravely. "No remedies of mine seem to help him for more than a day or two. That was a bad relapse he had last week, and it looks to me as if it might be about to repeat itself."
"You don't think he is going to die, do you?" She spoke in hushed tones. Her eyes, cool and emotionless, were fixed on him.
"Of course he isn't!" he almost snapped. "Why should he?"
"Jura fears the worst," she said quietly. "I don't know why—but I think she is nerving herself to lose him." This time her eyes were on the floor.
"There's no reason whatever why he shouldn't recover—none!" Lindrum spoke forcefully.
"That's good news." She gave him one of her meaningless smiles. "Jura is over-anxious, doubtless. Just as we all are."
But it struck him that her whole manner was much more indifferent than it had been when Ronald Craig first fell ill. Then, her concern had been undeniable and very great. Yet at first his illness had only seemed to be a passing chill.
"I think you ought to press the arsenic in his tonic." She spoke idly, with no imperative in her voice. Emily Craig had traveled much in Africa, and like many another, she had found that arsenic often helped where quinine was of little use.
Lindrum knew this, and murmured some vague assent. He said good-by and walked out to his car. He was just climbing in, when he thought of Craig's letter. For a second he could not recollect what he had done with it. Then he remembered laying it down on the landing table while he made some alteration in the nurse's diet list. He ran up the stairs in search of it. The door of the nurse's bedroom was open. She was standing in the room, the letter was in her hand. Catching sight of the doctor she came out quickly, holding it up.
"You dropped this, didn't you? Countess Jura found it lying on the landing. I thought I saw you lay it down a moment ago, and was just going to run after you with it."
He thanked her, took it, and hurried down to his car again. He drove as if he were practising to break the record—or his neck. At his gate he stopped, left the machine to look after itself, and leaning his arms on the top of his gate, stood looking at the building as though he had never seen it before.
It was a pretty house. Roses surrounded it, roses climbed up on it, virginia creeper covered it from end to end. Yes, it was charming. But, could it find favor in the eyes of Countess Jura? Though she did not remember them, the houses where she had lived as a baby—before 1917—had been palaces. Alexandra Alexandrowna, penniless though she was, was a cousin of the Kalkoffs, kin by marriage to the dead tsar himself. She was about to make a very wealthy marriage, though not a smart one. She was no wife for a doctor. Even if—even supposing...
The nurse's words stung him afresh. They were only a repetition, aloud, and by an independent witness—for what motive could bias her?—of what he had not dared to tell himself explicitly, but what he had known since he first saw them together, and that was that the Russian girl did not care for Ronald Craig. That she really disliked him. But that, in spite of that dislike, she was going to marry him. Unless something intervened...Lindrum tried to whip up some scorn for the girl who was prepared to sell herself with her eyes open. Those enigmatic long eyes of amber seen through smoke. But Lindrum could not find any scorn in his heart for Jura. He knew that with her lack of training, her fragile build, she could no more support herself than can a young canary turned out of its gilded cage. He told himself that generations of cage-birds had gone to her making, and that she must find another cage or die. And a gilded cage, of course...yet Lindrum felt that in her heart of hearts, in the center of that wayward, difficult-to-understand complexity that was Alexandra Ivanoff, she really cared for him—Bob Lindrum.
The nurse could have told him that Jura no more loved him than she did Ronald Craig, or at best only substituted a tepid liking for an active dislike. Lindrum would not have believed her. He felt sure that if Jura were free, she would choose him. But she was not free.
He flung the gate open, and stormed into the morning room. Lunch was laid in the deep bay window that opened onto the lawn. Two beds of roses almost encircled it. In the space between, across the grass, a clump of delphiniums seemed like a part of the deep-blue sky above them. On the dull ebony table, sprays of Dorothy Perkins, in a bowl of the same soft azure, nodded their heads to their luckier sisters outside. The mats were blue and green raffia. The cream china was flecked with blue. A little silver, a little glass, all very ordinary but brightly shining, made up a most attractive picture. Lindrum eyed it moodily. The ebony of the table was painted deal. The silver was plate; the glass, just glass. Craig was said to have bought some of the imperial china for his bride to be...
His sister came in. Agatha Lindrum was a handsome girl, but with something rather bitter in her face. Good at every game; keen rider to hounds, first-class dancer, she was intensely interested in the women's work of the village. With her many interests, she seemed to radiate vitality, and yet it struck the doctor that she looked very tired. For the first time he noticed that she had artificially touched up cheeks that used to be as fresh as a rose. Well, small wonder if she felt cabined. And, unfortunately, there was now no leaving for her. Drivng her mother in town, she had had a bad smash, and since then Mrs. Lindrum walked only with the help of a stick and a supporting arm. Agatha had wasted no words in self-reproach; she took her mother home when she was able to be moved, and was her constant companion.
"If I put up a bottle for Craig, Agatha, will you see about it at once? I'm trying something different."
"I'll take it up myself. The boy has started on his rounds."
She went to put her things on. Or, rather, she started toward the door. Something heavy moved outside. A stick could be heard thumping along. Mrs. Lindrum came in, leaning heavily on the arm of the servant, her cane in her other hand. She was a handsome woman, with a rather imperious air. Catching her eye, one did not wonder at the signs of good housekeeping on every side. It was a most autocratic eye.
"Dearest, you should have waited for me!" her daughter scolded her affectionately, as she hurried off.
"Is anything wrong?" Mrs. Lindrum asked, turning to her son. He was surprised at the question.
"Wrong? With Agatha? Not that I know of. Why?"
"She looked—worried, I thought." The reply was guarded.
"You're thinking of me," he retorted. "I look worried. I am worried. Over Craig."
"Is he very ill? You don't think he's going to die, do you? I mean—I mean—" She stopped with an expression that showed that she had not meant to phrase her thought in just those words.
"Certainly not!" her son said with energy. "Only his illness is a bit baffling." This was the third time this morning that the question of Craig's death had been mentioned. And the third time that in refuting the suggestion as absurd, he had had a vague, most uncomfortable feeling that the vehemence of his denial gave no pleasure. Mrs. Lindrum took his arm and grasped her stick.
"I'll sit out in the garden for a while," she murmured, and he placed her carefully in her favorite deck-chair.
In about ten minutes he hurried back to the morning room, where Agatha sat reading the paper.
"Looking for a situation?" he asked, for that was the page before her. She only smiled and took the-bottle from him.
"Now then, I'm off," he murmured, half to himself. "I'll lunch at my club. Where's that letter I promised Craig to drop in Houghton's box?" He saw it as he spoke lying on top of his coat, where he had placed it so as to be sure and catch his eye.
"It seems to've come pretty well unstuck." Reaching for a bottle of gum, he gave a dexterous sweep of the brush under the loosening flap, then he hurried off.
GUY HOUGHTON received his cousin's letter as he was finishing lunch. He opened and read it at once.
He was a short, slender, rather ugly young man of around thirty, with a pleasant smile and merry blue eyes. Just now they stared at the letter before him in stupefaction.
Ronald thought he was being poisoned! Ronald thought that that was why he was ill. Wanted to be fetched tomorrow around nine...without fuss...Lindrum and Match were all right...Good heavens t what' on earth was happening at Woodthorp?
He jumped up so suddenly that the terrier, snoozing against his knee, gave a bark and then dived after him. Dogs adored Houghton. The master made for the telephone. A moment more, and he was speaking to his cousin, for Craig had an extension beside his bed.
"That you, Ronnie?" Houghton asked. "I've just got your letter." His voice betrayed an effort to sound ordinary. "Look here, can't I run down to see you this afternoon? No? You don't feel up to it?" There was a moment's silence on his part as Craig replied, "Stick to the plan, Guy. Glad you got my letter."
But Houghton had more to say. "I wish you'd post me at once that volume of Hakluyt's 'Voyages' you wrote about last week. One of an early edition, you remember? If you wrap it up well it won't get damaged, and I'll take the greatest care of it, and oh," he managed to make his voice sound really casual now, "why not slip into it that print you mentioned in the letter that I've just received. That—eh—first impression you found. Or, at any rate, a replica of it. Just in case it might get lost. As it's very interesting, quite amazingly so, I'd very much like to see it. Now, don't put off sending it, there's a good chap. Post it as soon as possible, will you? Without fail?"
There was a second's silence, then Craig's answer reached him.
"All right. Perhaps it might be as well. I'll post the book to you this afternoon. Come and see me sometime, Guy."
"I may be passing quite soon," Houghton mentioned carelessly, and Craig's voice replied with a contented:
"Good! Look in on me any time you're near here. By-by."
Just before the receiver was hung up, Houghton's ear caught the sound of a door opening in Craig's room. He thought he heard a young, rather hard little voice saying:
"Don't stop telephoning, Ronald. Or am I interrupting you? Is it anything very private?"
Houghton frowned. He disliked the Russian girl intensely. Well, at any rate, Ronald now knew that the letter had arrived safely, and that he could count on him, Houghton, turning up to the minute tomorrow morning.
And, meanwhile, that "part of a letter" which Craig wrote proved his suspicions, or at least a copy of it, would be safely on its way to town in a volume of the "Voyages." He ought to get it by tonight. What in the world could it be? Written by whom, and to whom? Houghton felt as though his head were whirling.
First of all, he rang for his man and gave directions as to getting a room ready for Mr. Craig tomorrow morning. Mr. Craig would probably keep to his bed, he added, as he had got a slight chill in the country. Then he reached for the telephone directory. Ronald wanted no fuss. No, of course not—in the house of a relative, with his fiancée as the only other guest! But Houghton was determined to take down some authority on toxicology with him in the morning. Just whom? He sat awhile reflecting. He wanted a first-class man. But a discreet man...and not a man whose mere name would inform all Woodthorp what was feared. Then he had an inspiration.
Houghton, who was a first-class bat, and played for his county, had met a Dr. Gilchrist more than once when the latter played for London University or the Hospitals. Gilchrist was a brilliant research worker in disease-antidotes, and Houghton remembered hearing that, by reason of his field of work, poisons were also his specialty. Houghton felt sure that if there were anything to be found out down at Woodthorp Manor, Gilchrist would find it. And yet his name would mean nothing sinister, not even to Lindrum.
He rang Gilchrist up. The doctor was in his Richmond rooms. Would he be free, Houghton asked, to go down into the country tomorrow, Saturday, morning, on a very special case? As a consultant. He was free? Good. So that, supposing he were properly asked by the medical man in charge of the case, Gilchrist would do Houghton the great favor of coming down to look at a cousin whose illness seemed to be dragging on a bit long? Houghton went on to say that a very early consultation would be wanted, so perhaps Gilchrist would let him, Houghton, call for him around seven tomorrow morning. It was a fearful hour, but he would be most grateful.
Gilchrist, who had intended spending the week-end in the country in any case, said that he had no objection to the idea, supposing, of course, that the usual formalities were complied with...and that he liked to get up early.
Houghton thanked him and assured him he would be called up shortly by a Dr. Lindrum who had charge of the case. After ringing off, Houghton tackled that young man next.
Lindrum seemed delighted at the suggestion of getting Dr. Gilchrist of the Imperial Research Laboratory down to see Craig, but doubted if Craig would welcome the idea of another doctor overhauling him. Houghton assured him that he would overcome any objections of his cousin's, and again Bob Lindrum seemed delighted to hear it.
At his very unusually early breakfast next morning, Houghton told his man to take particular care of a book which would probably arrive by the morning post, and to telephone to him at Woodthorp Manor, when it came.
In the car, Gilchrist asked for the first time for general particulars of the man whom they were going to see.
Houghton explained that his cousin, Ronald Craig, had come down to spend a week-end with a relative's widow living at Woodthorp Manor, and had caught a chill on arriving. As he had had malaria several times, he and the local medical man, Dr. Lindrum, thought that he had got another bout of his old enemy, but that was nearly a month ago now, and Ronald Craig was still in bed.
"He's getting very anxious about himself," he added, "and I'm very fond of him. He was a good pal to me once when I was in a hole. From a letter I got from him yesterday, he seems to think that he is going to die."
"Well, so he is," was the uncompromising retort. "We all are!"
"Ah, but not yet! Not at only forty. And just about to be married." Houghton spoke with energy. "Not if I can help it!"
A thrush burst into song as they turned in the main street of the little village. Gilchrist commented on the pleasure of hearing such music.
"My cousin's fiancée says that thrushes are the guardian angels of Woodthorp Manor, there are so many. That's the place over there!" Houghton waved a hand to a small, unpretentious house with a good deal of ivy doing its best to pry the bricks apart. As they turned in at the gates—there seemed to be no lodge-keeper—another thrush stopped its rippling song to stare down at them. Gilchrist had no idea that thrushes looked so fierce. Its eyes were the cruellest that the analyst had ever encountered. Not the eyes of a guardian angel. Who was it who said, 'Ubi aves, ibi—?'
A half-strangled cry came from Houghton.
"The blinds, man. Look at the blinds!"
Gilchrist looked. As they swept up to the front door, the blinds were being pulled down consecutively in room after room. Houghton was out and onto the steps in a flash, Gilchrist with him. Before Houghton could touch the door, it opened, and a man, obviously a superior servant of some kind, stood there. He looked very pale. It was Match, the butler.
"Oh, sir—I'm very glad to see you!" He hardly needed to say more. His face told what had happened before he went on, "Mr. Craig has just died, sir."
"Just died!" Houghton looked stunned.
Match drew out his watch. "Just a quarter of an hour ago, sir."
It was not yet nine o'clock.
"Dr. Lindrum upstairs?"
"No, sir. He was kept away all night by a maternity case. But he's started for here at last. He'll arrive any minute now. We tried for Dr. Williams, but he was away too. There's been a bad fire over at Chesham Millwall. Poor Mr. Craig." Match shook his head with a look of retrospective pity. "It was awful, sir. Till just at the end. The end was peaceful."
Gilchrist turned to go back to his car. There would be no consultation now.
"Don't go!" Houghton said brokenly. "Lindrum won't be long. And we shall want you."
It was irregular, but Gilchrist asked Match a few questions, at first almost automatically, then with alert interest. At one of the replies he shot a sudden swift glance at Houghton, who was listening closely. Houghton's eyes were on the doctor's face, but they could read nothing there.
Match explained that the nurse had just gone to lie down, utterly worn out with trying to cope with the hours of agony that had preceded her patient's death. The ladies had also gone back to their bedrooms. When Gilchrist finally stood silent, looking at a hunting print on the wall as though it very much puzzled him, Houghton touched his arm and motioned to the stairs. Gilchrist followed him. Match would have preceded them, but Houghton made him a sign to stay where he was. The butler, however, came on up.
"Here's the key to the room, sir," he said, handing it over. One of Gilchrist's swift glances ran over him, but Match stepped down again with his eyes on the ground.
Houghton took the key without comment, and going on up, unlocked the door.
The bed was covered with a sheet. Beneath it, as they turned it back, lay Ronald Craig's dead body. Houghton stood for a long moment looking down at his cousin with the grieved and horrified expression of a man who does not want to believe the evidence of his eyes, then he turned away.
"There's a letter, or part of a letter, rather, which he meant to send me yesterday, I think. It hadn't come before we left town. I wonder if it's lying about anywhere..."
Gilchrist had only eyes for the body before him. Bending down, he studied it with the same kind of attention, though in a heightened degree, that he had paid to the final answers of the butler.
Houghton meanwhile found a bunch of keys on the corner of the mantel, and unlocking the writing cabinet went systematically through it. There was no "part of a letter" inside. He had just relocked it, when Lindrum hurried in. He, too, went to the bed for a second, before he shook hands with Houghton, who introduced the doctor from London.
"It's too late for a consultation," Lindrum said, shaking his head sorrowfully. "Terribly sorry I couldn't get here last night," he went on to Houghton, speaking in a voice that sounded genuinely pained. "But it was touch and go all night long with a confinement case, and Dr. Williams couldn't come either, most unfortunately. He was kept at the hospital owing to a fire that injured a lot of people." Lindrum turned to the bed again. "Not that we could have done anything. Though it was so frightfully sudden...malaria and dysentery are tricky things apart, let alone combined...Well, I have the death certificate with me and—"
"I want a word with you, Dr. Lindrum," Gilchrist interrupted. "I'm too late for a consultation, as you say, but I should like to talk the illness over with you." There was an undercurrent of command in Gilchrist's tone.
Houghton said that he would wait in the library to hear their conclusions, and would they kindly lock the door and bring him the key when they had done? He particularly requested that no one was to be allowed to enter on any pretext whatever.
The two doctors assured him that they would do as he wished, but, in point of fact, they scarcely heard him. As soon as the door had closed, Gilchrist wheeled on the other man.
"Look here, were you giving him arsenic, and was it an overdose? Do you do your own dispensing?"
Lindrum stared at the speaker with dropped jaw.
"Speak, man!" Gilchrist said impatiently. "He died of arsenic poisoning." He jerked his head toward the bed. "As clear a case as could be. The symptoms of the final attack as detailed by the butler—besides, look at his gums, his lids. Now, if it was an honest accident, one of your own prescribing or dispensing, God forbid that I should ruin you. But I must be sure. What were you giving him?"
"I deny it!" Lindrum said, his voice shaking. "Your guess, I mean. Absolutely. The case was possibly gastric influenza—"
Gilchrist interrupted, and in a quiet, level voice ran over the symptoms as told him, and as evident in the dead man before them, which, to his thinking, stood for poison, and arsenic poison at that.
"Each one is compatible with my reading of the case." Lindrum spoke stoutly enough, but there was a look of suppressed terror in his eyes.
"No, they're not!" Gilchrist said bluntly. Then, in a gentler tone: "You see, poisons are my specialty. Whereas, I don't suppose you've ever had a case before." He was sorry for the other chap. "There's no shadow of doubt," he went on inexorably, "but that he was poisoned, and, to account for certain things"—he mentioned them in detail—"he must have had the poison administered to him in small doses—very small indeed, I think—for some weeks, and then, yesterday, he got a heavy dose that finished him off."
There was a long pause. Lindrum's face had grown whiter and whiter as the other proceeded.
"If you're right—" he said now shakily, "you may be—I don't say you are, but you may be—it's nay ruin!"
"Not necessarily—" Gilchrist spoke under his breath, though they were both talking very low. "Think well! Could it have been some blunder? Grammes for grains? Anything of that sort?"
"He had a tonic of his own"—Lindrum's voice was as gray as his lips, it was the voice of a man facing horrible things—"an arsenic tonic. Some quack stuff. I warned him to discontinue it. But he was an obstinate man. It's possible he was still taking it..."
"That might account for the small doses, but his end was due to a definite largish dose taken, according to the butler's account, in the afternoon. I'll stake my reputation that I'm not out in saying so much. How can you explain the final dose? By the way, I don't see any medicine at all in the room."
Lindrum did not look around. He made no reply. He was evidently overwhelmed, either by what had happened, or by Houghton's having brought this man down at once to the deathbed.
Gilchrist's face hardened. Then, as the other stammered, "I—I—" and seemed to be choked by emotion, it softened again.
"The truth!" he urged. "If it's a blunder, and you can prove it to me—I must be sure on that point, of course—there need be no autopsy. Houghton may suspect—"
"He will!" muttered Lindrum, biting his lips.
"He may. But there's no one so vindictive that they would want to pillory a man for an honest blunder, let alone a friend. He said you were a friend of the dead man as well as of himself?"
Lindrum nodded. He looked as though he could not speak. Sinking into a chair, he sat with a hand pressed against his eyeballs, almost, a keen observer might have said, as though shutting out some sight, some remembered sight that had now grown unbearable to recall.
Suddenly Gilchrist caught sight of the door handle turning. Very cautiously, very tentatively. Apparently the person on the other side was not sure if the door was locked or not. A second later it opened, also very gently, and Gilchrist saw a white, haggard woman's face staring in at them. On the instant, noiselessly, silently, the door closed again. Gilchrist went to the door and locked it.
"He's a white man," he went on in his rapid, low tones, coming back to the other. "Besides, no one wants the rumor of death by poison spread about one of his own family, unless it's due to a criminal act. No, Houghton may guess, but, if I stand by you, he'll let things lie, or I'm much mistaken."
Gilchrist did not add that, even so, the manor house would probably change its medical attendant.
"I must have the facts, however," he urged again, as the other said nothing. "The full facts."
Lindrum made a great effort and pulled himself together. Haltingly, but sufficiently dearly, he indicated the course of Craig's illness of now nearly four weeks, and the remedies given.
Gilchrist listened attentively, now nodded, now looked dubious and asked a question or two.
"Of course, I blame myself—now—" Lindrum broke out at the end, "for not having been more suspicious, but there's no one in the house but women. His own family! How could I suspect—" he almost implored.
"Granted your diagnosis, I don't think anyone can blame you for your treatment," Gilchrist said now. "Evidently, however, there's been foul play. You will, of course, as matters are, insist on an autopsy, and communicate the results, which will most certainly bear out what I've just said, to the police. You should come out all right if you carry things with a bold hand, and tackle them immediately. As you say, no one expects, or wants, their family doctor to be a suspicious criminologist."
Lindrum drew a paper from his pocket, it was the death certificate, and tore it across. "I had already signed it!" he murmured under his breath. "Well—I wonder where this will lead—how far—" He pulled up, and began to talk of the arrangements for the post mortem.
Meanwhile, Houghton had been joined in the library by Lady Craig.
"Guy"—she gave him a cool, beautifully manicured hand—"I'm thankful for this chance of seeing you alone. An awful thing has happened! Oh, not Ronald's death, that is only sad, but this is awful. Last night—before he died—he called out loud that he was dying of poison. Those were his words. Match was in the room and heard them. So did the nurse. Now, you know what that means—unless the doctor squashes it at once. But Bob Lindrum couldn't even squash a caterpillar!"
"Did Ronnie say anything about a paper he wanted to show me?" Houghton interrupted her without any ceremony.
"Paper? Do you mean a newspaper?" Lady Craig spoke after a second's pause, and after a rather startled glance.
"No. Not a newspaper," was Houghton's only answer.
"All sorts of letters of his are upstairs"—she spoke with seeming carelessness—"if it was a letter? Whom was it from?" Then, as he said nothing, she went on hurriedly. "But we can talk of papers later. The point now is this awful remark of Ronald's. He was rambling, of course. Quite out of his mind. But, with Match in the room as well as the nurse, how are we to deal with it?"
"I brought down a doctor with me from town for a consultation with Lindrum. As it happens, he's not only a specialist in tropical diseases, but an expert on poisons. Suppose we wait and hear what he has to say."
"You brought him down!" Lady Craig evidently bit back some remarks with difficulty. Houghton was now the owner of the manor house, and there were certain debatable points about some of the charges which she expected the estate to settle for her annually, that enjoined anyone of an economical nature to go warily—, and Emily Craig was very economical.
"I think that most uncalled for, Guy," she said finally. "What happened was that Ronald was wandering at the last. We know that, but it must be stated by the kind of person other people will have to believe. I don't know why on earth you brought an unknown medical man along. He's no good, socially. What we need—"
The door opened. The two doctors came into the room together. Lindrum was very pale, but seemed quite collected.
"Well, Bobby?" Lady Craig said, rising and going over to him, her whole face and manner friendly to the point of being maternal.
Houghton, too, took a step forward.
"I'm sorry to say I can't give a certificate," Lindrum said, glancing a little nervously from one to the other. "I—I—there must be an autopsy."
"Oh, surely not!" she said beseechingly, while Houghton turned and gave Gilchrist a long, inquiring look.
"It's unavoidable." Lindrum spoke with more assurance now. "I needn't tell you how frightfully sorry I am, Lady Craig. How I wish it could be avoided."
"You need not," she assured him coldly.
"But there's no other course open to me, as his medical man," he protested. "Dr. Gilchrist here—"
At this stage the man from London was introduced to the lady of the house, who welcomed him graciously, with a few words of regret that he had not been summoned earlier. Then she turned to Lindrum again.
"Why won't you give a death certificate?" she asked.
The young man hesitated. Then he said baldly: "I'm sorry to shock you both, but it looks now as if Craig had died of poison—of arsenic poison."
"How long has this been going on?" Houghton asked with a quiver in his voice. "This poisoning of Ronnie, I mean, Bob?"
Lindrum looked at him very unhappily. "Dr. Gilchrist and I think it must have been for some weeks. I can't tell you how sorry I am that I didn't guess what the matter was, but I didn't! I think it's possible that he was dosing himself with some patent medicine, or some old tonic, all the time without letting me know, and that the arsenic in it—supposing I'm right in my guess, of course—may have done the harm. Arsenic is cumulative, you know."
Houghton started to speak, but checked himself. The matter was too grave for hasty words. Nor were words of much account now.
The doctors excused themselves. They wanted to return to the bedroom for some further examinations and tests. Lindrum had the key in his pocket and now led the way upstairs again.
Once alone with him, Lady Craig turned on Houghton with fear-distended eyes.
"I can't believe it.. It isn't true!" She was not on guard now. Her face showed suddenly all its lines.
"Would to God I had got here sooner with Gilchrist," Houghton said bitterly. "I had a feeling last night that something was wrong. I half thought of rushing down here yesterday evening—"
"All the more need for us to get hold at once of some clever man who will be of use," she interrupted hastily. "The secretary of the Crime Revelers might be able to put us on to the right person—"
"We must get hold of the police at once," Houghton retorted, looking around for the telephone.
"Not first!" she urged. "Of course, if the doctors are right, it may have to come to that, though it's some mistake on Bob's or Agatha's part. But first of all we need—"
"The police," he finished firmly. "You see, I happen to be concerned with finding out the truth about Ronnie, not merely with having some smart amateur give your household a clean bill of health. I want the person who killed Ronnie to swing for the killing. I'll find out who did it, if it takes every penny of my own, as well as of his, money."
"For goodness' sake, don't tell that to whomever we decide to bring in!" Lady Craig said irritably. "Though, of course, it's nothing to do with me—financially, I mean. But that kind of man charges quite appallingly enough, as it is."
Houghton was not listening. He had got the number of the local police station, and now reached again for the instrument.
The door opened. It was Match.
"The chief constable is just coming up to the house, my lady. I know his car."
"Chief constable?" Houghton repeated. Lady Craig started.
"Yes, sir. I telephoned to him last night, or rather this morning, when Mr. Craig died. Just before you came."
"What do you mean?" Houghton asked bluntly.
"Mr. Craig told me, in between his horrible spasms of pain, sir, that he had been poisoned. I felt it my duty to let the police know, yet I didn't quite like to call the police in from the station near here, so I passed the matter on to Colonel Godolphin."
"Match!" came in almost a shriek from Lady Craig.
"As you know, my lady, I am leaving service next week," he went on suavely. "Ah, there is the ring now! Shall I show him in here, my lady?"
"Certainly not! Into the morning-room."
"Very good, my lady."
Houghton could not repress a smile as the butler left them.
"Well, my dear Emily, the question is taken out of our hands." He looked well pleased that it was so.
"Anything but!" she said under her breath. "But it disposes of my intention of giving Match a handsome present when he leaves." She stopped. They could hear the front door open.
"Now, every word in this house will be weighed, and all sorts of questions put which needn't have been gone into." It struck Houghton that, deep down, the woman facing him was horribly uneasy. She was ageing before his very eyes.
"As long as they get the criminal, who cares!" he said half-comfortingly, half-menacingly.
"Ah, my dear Guy," she retorted sweetly, "we are not all in the same fortunate position as yourself. I have not ample means of my own, nor shall I step into a vast fortune owing to poor Ronnie's death."
Before Houghton could speak, the butler came in to announce Colonel Godolphin and another gentleman.
LADY CRAIG drew a deep breath as she entered the morning-room. The chief constable, Colonel Godolphin, was a middle-aged man with a rather grim face.
"How good of you to've come at once!" she said fervently. "But I thought—" She looked around for the colonel's companion.
"Chief Inspector Pointer of the C.I.D. happened to be down near here last night on another matter, so I got him to come along—just in case he should be wanted. He's seeing about the car at the moment."
"Does this mean that the affair will be in the hands of Scotland Yard?" Houghton asked. "I hope you won't think it rude of me, colonel, but I should be delighted to hear as much."
"Yes, indeed!" breathed Lady Craig, casting a stony glance at the speaker. "Not that we haven't entire confidence in your men," she murmured to her guest.
"So it's true!—what was told me over the telephone. I hoped there might be some mistake. Your butler—at least the voice sounded like his—" Godolphin began briskly.
"It was my butler speaking." Lady Craig's tone conveyed the impression that Match had been merely her mouthpiece.
"—rang me up half an hour ago, and said that Craig had just died—" Again he paused. Lady Craig nodded sadly. Godolphin murmured his condolences to the two before he proceeded briskly: "Your butler went on to say that, before dying, Craig had gasped out that he was being poisoned, and would we look into the matter. So, of course, I hurried up at once."
"Dreadful, isn't it?" she said with a sigh. "And the doctors think it's true. It's very terrible that, if Dr. Lindrum had only been more, well—up in his work, poor Ronald might have been with us still. We had a man down from town for a consultation finally, but—, he only got here this morning. Too late! Dr. Lindrum thinks poor Ronald was taking some medicine of his own, which combined with Dr. Lindrum's medicine to poison him. However, that's as may be! Of course, the only thing for us to do was to insist on an autopsy, and put the whole matter immediately in your hands."
Godolphin gave her rather a curious smile. He knew the woman. He very much doubted how far she had insisted on any such disagreeable thing, but he said a few civil words of approval, and then asked for Lin-drum. "He's still here, isn't he? Mr. Pointer thought he must be."
The detective-officer in question had assumed as much, since the blinds were up in the room which the colonel had told him was Craig's. He thought that only a medical examination would explain that in the otherwise discreetly darkened house.
Godolphin was told that both the medical men had gone back for another look at the body.
"But they seem to have no doubt of what caused his death," Houghton went on. "Both are certain that it was due to arsenical poisoning. Of all the terrible ideas!" He stopped himself.
"What about weedkiller?" Godolphin asked.
"We only use a non-poisonous kind. I won't have any other," Lady Craig replied.
Match opened the door.
"Detective Chief Inspector Pointer," he announced.
In came a tall, lean, bronzed young man, with a definitely efficient look about his grave face and quiet movements. His eyes were his best feature. They were large, dark gray, and well-opened, with an expression of seeming frankness which yet baffled all attempts to read them. Lady Craig decided that there were both brains and power in this man.
"Hope you won't mind my having put a constable outside Mr. Craig's room," he said, as Lady Craig offered her hand. He did not add that another was in the garden, and another in the hall.
"I'm thankful to know one's there!" she said gratefully. "Though, personally, I am certain that this dreadful affair will be soon cleared up. Dr. Lindrum's theory is—" She repeated it as still more of a certainty than before.
"Can we have a word with the butler?" Godolphin suggested, when she had done.
Houghton, without asking leave, rang the bell.
Match, when he came in, briefly ran over the events of last night. He seemed to consider them the continuation of yesterday afternoon, which, according to him, marked the beginning of, the end. He had gone into Mr. Craig's room, around four, to see whether he should take out to the post a book which Mr. Craig had been wrapping up. He found him sitting up in bed, looking terribly ill, with his face twitching. Countess Jura seemed unconscious of his state, as she stood with her back to him, looking out the window.
"I thought the tea had disagreed with him. The Countess Jura had ordered up the tray a few minutes before, and two cups were standing on it by the bed, each about half-empty. Mr. Craig couldn't speak, seemingly, or daren't, for fear of groaning aloud or crying out. That's what his face looked like, sir," Match went on, addressing Houghton. "He made me a sort of sign with his eyes, as I entered, to get her away. So I said: 'I think Mr. Craig looks very poorly, my lady, perhaps you'll be good enough to call the nurse.' She didn't take my meaning." Match was speaking very carefully and slowly. "Not at all, apparently, for, without turning round, she said that the nurse and Lady Craig had only just left the room. And I was to leave the tray, as she hadn't finished her cup yet. Well, it was no time for ceremony, so I said, hurrying to the bed: 'Please call the nurse at once, my lady!' Then she did look round, and then—well—she rushed off to Mrs. Kingsmill as fast as she could go, carrying the tray away with her.
"The nurse came in, but there didn't seem anything she could do. We tried for the doctor on the phone, but he was making his round, and there aren't many telephones here about. The nurse said something about the new medicine not suiting Mr. Craig. After a while he grew quieter, and fell into a sleep. When he woke up he seemed much better—so much better that the doctor, when he hurried in at seven, seemed to think we had been a bit exaggerating things to ourselves. I heard him tell Mr. Craig that he had been possibly taking his Vichy too cold. Mr. Craig had asked for the bottles to be set on ice," Match explained. "Mr. Craig had wanted nothing for his dinner. He, the butler, had sat with him as usual from nine to eleven, during which time the nurse was off duty."
"Craig had no night nurse, Lady Craig here put in, indeed, he resented having one during the day, but, with her small staff, it was impossible to attend to a sick person properly. In Craig's case, Match had acted as a sort of second attendant. Last night, Match resumed, the sick man had not talked to him at all, but lay, apparently reading, though he, Match, noticed that he never turned a page. But he took the open book as a signal that Mr. Craig did not want to be talked to.
"At eleven the nurse came in. Something about the sick man's appearance must have startled her afresh. She asked Match to sit on a moment longer. He heard her using the telephone—telephoning to the doctor, as she told him afterward. He himself only thought that Mr. Craig looked very sleepy. Match went to bed on being relieved, and slept until he was awakened by the groans of the sick man, whose room was below his. He heard him calling out as though in great pain. This was just after midnight, as he saw on glancing at his watch before hurrying down to help the nurse.
"Mr. Craig's eyes were open, but," Match went on, "I don't think he was rightly conscious. He asked what the time was. I said just past twelve, as near as no matter. He said: 'Twelve o'clock, and Guy hasn't come yet!' I replied that Mr. Houghton might come in the morning, and he said: 'Oh, is it night?' I told him it was, and his face cleared. He said: 'Be sure and bring him straight to me.' And on that"—Match shut his eyes with a look of sick repugnance at the memory—"he had an awful seizure. So bad that he called out to me: 'Match, I'm dying! They've poisoned me!' But, after a bit, it passed, and he seemed to grow drowsy again. The nurse went to wake her ladyship up. I don't think Mr. Craig rightly knew anyone when they came in. He seemed to be again in a sort of stupor. I thought that meant that he was better, but, around eight this morning, he had another dreadful attack and, after it, seemed to fall away as it were and died without opening his eyes again, at a quarter to nine. I telephoned to you, sir, just as Mr. Houghton was driving up in his car."
"'They've poisoned me!'" Houghton repeated. "Surely, Match, Mr. Craig must have said something more definite to you. After calling out that? Or before?"
"No, sir," Match said in a low voice, and Pointer did not believe him.
"Were you in the room when Mr. Craig actually died?" Godolphin asked.
"Yes, sir, and afterward, too. I didn't leave it till I locked the door when everyone had left. I handed the key to Mr. Houghton here, as the head of the family now."
"So you were in the room last night practically continuously from nine o'clock on, with the exception of about an hour from eleven till past twelve?..." Godolphin wanted to have the hours clear in his mind.
"Yes, sir. All the time."
"Nothing has been taken out of the room?"
"Nothing but the bed covers, sir. The nurse took them before I knew what she was about. The blankets, and pillows, and so on, sir. The sheets were left."
"And these bed covers and pillows are where?"
"In a hamper which I had taken into my pantry. Also I took the medicine bottle that had been used for Mr. Craig. It was empty but, even so, after he died as he did, I wrapped it in my handkerchief in case of fingerprints, and put it in my pocket. It's down in my pantry at this moment along with the hamper."
"And the pantry door?" Pointer asked.
"Locked, sir," Match replied with dignity. "And the key is here." He touched his breast-pocket significantly.
"Good man!" Houghton said warmly. "Keep it so."
"But I suppose you tidied up the room, put things in their proper places, and so on?" Pointer threw in casually.
"No, sir, not a thing was touched except the bed, and the bottle of medicine. As I say, before I knew what she was doing, the nurse had the pillows and blankets off, but barring that, I wouldn't let her touch anything. She wanted to stay behind and tidy up, but I was firm. Of course, when Mr. Houghton arrived, I let him have the key, and can't speak for what has happened since."
The doctors came in as he finished. Lindrum was very pale. He shook hands with the chief constable, whom he knew, and there were introductions all around.
"As I just told Lady Craig," Lindrum began, in a voice that had a suppressed tenseness in it, "we suspect that death was due to the administration of arsenic. Until the autopsy, which must be held, of course, that is as much as I care to say."
"Do you suspect a big dose?" Godolphin asked nevertheless.
"Yes, as the actual cause of his death last night. But"—Lindrum flushed and then paled again—"but certain signs make us think that the poison must have been being administered for some weeks past as well." "Four weeks past?" Godolphin asked under his breath.
"Not as long as twelve weeks is all we can say with certainty, I think." Gilchrist answered for the other.
"How the deuce can you tell that?" Godolphin almost whispered, drawing him aside. "Merely as a matter of curiosity—"
"Apparently there's none in his hair yet," was the brief but sufficient reply. Meanwhile, Lady Craig had turned to Lindrum. She took no trouble to lower her voice.
"There was a good deal of arsenic in the tonic that you were giving him, wasn't there?"
Lindrum quite scouted the idea that his medicine could have had any deleterious effect on his patient, unless the latter had been taking some other remedy or remedies, unknown to his medical attendant. As to the acute seizure of last night—having said that, he could say nothing more until the finding of the post-mortem. Lindrum seemed unable to stop talking—he had prescribed a variant of a new, but well-tried, tonic for malaria, and the solitary dose of it which had been given by the nurse at noon yesterday could not possibly have done any harm to, let alone killed, Craig.
"But I thought Match found the bottle—" Houghton began. He did not get to the word "empty," for the eye of the chief constable was on him with an expression as though Houghton were a recruit, and had dropped his rifle on parade.
Lindrum and the chief constable then discussed the arrangements to be made for the taking of the body to the nearest hospital. Gilchrist had promised to assist at the autopsy, and the house surgeon would be available as a third. The actual final analysis would be done by a Home Office expert. That settled, the two medical men would have hurried off, but Godolphin detained Lindrum.
"I should be much obliged if you would not go to your poison cupboard from now on. I have no power to enforce that request until the finding of the autopsy is actually in my hands, but it would be a prudent step on your part, Lindrum."
Lindrum's jaw muscles moved as though he set his teeth for a second. "Certainly," he said stiffly. "Here is the key." He detached it from the end of his watch-guard, and without another word left the room.
"Obviously—" Lady Craig began as soon as the door closed behind them, "it was an overdose, or a mistake in the prescribing. A new bottle was begun yesterday. Robert Lindrum puts up his own medicines, and his sister Agatha helps him. Well—there you are!" She looked around the little circle. Something in Houghton's expression made her add, reluctantly, "Apparently, it wasn't suicide—"
"No, Emily, it wasn't suicide," he said curtly. "But I want a word now with the colonel and the chief inspector, alone."
"It's thoughtful of you to spare me," she murmured, as she let him open the door for her. "I'll go up and see if Jura Ivanoff is awake. Poor child!"
Houghton, standing in the doorway, looking after her, saw her feet slow up more and more with every step of the stairs. She had forgotten him, she had forgotten the police, he felt sure, as with compressed lips she all but came to a standstill on the landing.
He closed the door and led the way to the farther end of the room.
"That idea of Lindrum's about doubled doses of medicine won't work. It wasn't only to Match that Ronald spoke of being poisoned," he began: "he wrote me to the same effect."
Houghton now handed over the letter which he had received yesterday noon. Colonel Godolphin read it through with the closest attention, and his lips shaped themselves as though he were giving an inaudible whistle.
"Well!" he said, finally passing it over to Pointer, "well!" Then, after a pause: "That certainly settles the question of suicide or a mistake in his medicine, as you say! Where's the part of a letter to which he refers?"
"Ah, where!" Houghton echoed. "I suggested to him to send it to me, inside a book, so that no one would suspect what he was doing. Match saw him wrapping one up. Yet nothing has come from here for me this morning, or I should have heard from my man. And I caught sight of the book agreed on, lying by his bed. Someone, or something, made him change his mind—most unfortunately!"
"I suppose Mr. Craig was a man whose judgment could be relied on?" Pointer asked. "This letter of his must form the very foundation of any inquiry."
"My cousin made a fortune on the stock exchanges of the world," Houghton said. "Not in one lucky sweep, but in operations extending over years. You couldn't do that without having accuracy of judgment that amounted to genius."
Godolphin said that he, too, would rely implicitly on Craig's judgment.
"If we take up the matter," Pointer went on, "the letter will, of course, be sent up for investigation by our experts. Not that I suspect it to be a forgery. On the contrary."
"It's his writing," Houghton said almost sadly, "as it was this last week or two."
"Are the people staying here in the manor house friends of yours, too, Mr. Houghton? Would any of them be by way of staying with you in town?"
Houghton shook his head. The household at the manor consisted only of Lady Craig, Countess Jura, and a children's governess, besides the servants. None of the three ladies had ever, or would in all probability ever, stop with him.
"Why?" he asked curiously.
"Well, Mr. Craig evidently thought he would be safe, if he could get off with you," Pointer explained. "That being so, it would narrow down the circle of possible suspects here by clearing any who were also great friends of yours. But, since that isn't so, since Mr. Craig would know that by going with you he would get away from everyone down here, it leaves things pretty much as they were. He may have had his suspicions of any one of them."
"That letter is damned vague," Houghton agreed. "Does it tell you anything at all?"
"I wouldn't be surprised if the guilty person were someone known to you both, Mr. Houghton," Pointer thought. "At least, that's a fair guess to start with. Evidently he was certain of the real poisoner's identity. Mr. Craig doesn't seem to feel any great amazement, either. Nor does he say that you'll be staggered to learn the name...Of course, he was tired, and very ill...but still, all omission of surprise is rather noticeable."
"Had he any enemies known to you?" Godolphin asked.
"Not a soul," Houghton said confidently. "He made a huge fortune about a year ago, or rather, he finished making it then—put all his affairs into gilt-edged securities, left everything in the hands of the Empire Insurance Company to manage for him, and has taken life easily ever since. As far as I know, he made no enemies before retiring. Certainly he couldn't have made any since, and enemies of this kind don't wait a year and more before showing themselves."
Both Godolphin and Pointer thought this argument reasonable.
"Have you any idea how his will runs?" Pointer asked next.
"Pretty well everything was left to me in the last will of which I know anything. It was made a year ago. Of course, he may have made another, but I doubt it, with his marriage so near at hand. The idea was that it was only as a pro tem arrangement—we both thought—which is why, apart from affection, I want the murderer found and hung, chief inspector. It's my plain duty," Houghton finished grimly, half under his breath.
"Any legacies?" Pointer asked.
"Several, I think."
"Can you remember them?"
Houghton thought a moment. "Five hundred a year to whoever has the Dower House. It was to be made into a sort of fund, of course, but the interest amounted to that. Varying sums to men in various parts of the world who had worked for him. Nothing striking, that I can remember..."
"Anything to any servants here?"
"I rather think that Match's wages were to be continued during his life, as an annuity, but I may be wrong. We shall soon know."
The chief constable was staring at the carpet, however, lost in thought. "That confederate," he murmured, "that confederate inside the house...Nothing to go on there...Damned vague, as you say, Houghton. But, as Craig excepts Match, the butler, it evidently lies among the women."
"One fact will help," Pointer thought. "This letter reached Mr. Houghton around two. It should be easy to find out when it was written. Was Mr. Craig's manner different, after it, to any member of the household? The answer to that question might give us a lift part of the way. Shall I keep this letter, sir, or will you? I suppose Mr. Houghton has no objection to one of us taking possession of it?"
Houghton's gesture waved away the idea of any objections on his part to anything the two officials might do.
"You keep it," Godolphin said. "I shall have to leave the case entirely to you. Last night's fire looks like arson. Together with our preparations for quarter sessions it will keep me fully occupied."
Houghton initialed the letter and watched the chief inspector put it carefully away.
"You know," he burst out, "it can't seem such an incredible nightmare to you as it does to me. To me, who know all the people in the house, and would have vouched for all of them. Yet he wasn't murdered from outside, but from inside. And, what's more, he was murdered before he could show me the proof which he had found, which was actually in his hands...I think he was killed because he had got hold of that guilty letter and had written to me to come at once. We weren't to be allowed to meet."
"By George!" muttered Godolphin, "that's a possibility! That you weren't to meet! Still, the doctors seem sure that he was being poisoned for some time, in small doses..."
"But he wasn't actually finished off until he had sent me that letter saying that he had hold of a paper, which proved what damnable thing was going on—until he wrote me to come and take him away."
"One thing is certain, if you're right in thinking that Mr. Craig was killed to prevent a meeting between you," Pointer said thoughtfully: "it would mean that someone knew of the contents of this letter. For, from the wording of it, it doesn't seem likely that he would have shown the paper he had found to anyone else, or even spoken of it." Houghton agreed.
"Unless Craig was indiscreet when he telephoned you?" suggested Godolphin.
"I don't think anyone could have guessed—no," Houghton said with certainty as he repeated the words they had exchanged along the wire, "no one could have guessed from overhearing what either of us said. Unless"—his face darkened—"unless they got it out of him afterward. Unless someone overheard enough to make them curious. Someone who suspected that Ronnie might guess what was happening, and was on the watch...In that case, they might have got it out of him afterward, about my coming down here this morning, I mean. Only that much, of course."
"Would he have been likely to speak of your arrival?"
"To only one person, he might have. To Countess Jura." Houghton's voice was studiously level; he deliberately would not meet the eyes of either man.
"How did this letter reach you, and when, exactly?" Godolphin asked him. "According to what Craig writes here, Lindrum was to drop it in your box himself. I see there's no stamp or postmark on it."
"Someone—Lindrum, evidently—did drop it in my letter-box, and my man brought it in at once."
"You heard the ring? You know that it really was brought to you instantly?" Godolphin pressed.
"I do. I was at lunch. Time would be around ten past two. I heard a ring, and Hughes, my man, left me and went to the door, bringing in the letter you have there. And, for extra certainty, I heard the letter drop into the box. Hughes certainly had no time to open the envelope, or do more than see that it was addressed to me."
"Yet the envelope's been opened." The chief constable pointed to a line of dried gum outside the flap.
"Opened while it was damp, I think," Pointer added, he was inspecting it through a glass, "and, as you say, sir, stuck down with some fresh gum."
Houghton gave an exclamation. He, too, peered in his turn, and now noticed, for the first time, the slight wrinkles and waviness.
"If done while it was wet," Pointer thought, "your cousin might have opened it himself for some last word, or postscript."
"There's no postscript," Godolphin pointed out. "Might have forgotten the date, of course, and opened it to put it in..."
He pulled at his mustache for a moment. "This very much backs up your idea, Houghton," he said finally. "We haven't any right—officially—until the finding of the post-mortem, to assume death by poisoning."
"Don't stop for red tape," Houghton urged. "Only clear up this nightmare."
"Lucky you're the head of the family," Godolphin murmured a trifle grimly, as he thought of Lady Craig, whose gushing welcome had by no means hoodwinked him.
"The house is hers," Houghton went on, "but she won't want to antagonize me just now. Supposing I'm right in thinking I'm Ronnie's executor. So ring bells; order the servants about as though they were your own; take anything away, for the time being, that you want to; open everything you see. In short, search the house from top to bottom, only find that part of a letter that Ronnie wrote of."
"Have you looked in the bedroom for it?" Godolphin asked.
Houghton explained that Lindrum had come in just as he was starting the search, and that, naturally, the two medicos had wanted the room to themselves.
"You disarranged nothing?" Pointer asked. "It may be most important to know if you altered the position of anything."
"I think I can say with certainty that I didn't lay so much as a finger on anything but a writing-cabinet which stood, locked, on a table close to the bed. I looked around the room, saw that there was no pillow under which the paper might have been tucked, thought of feeling under the sheet at the head of the bed but couldn't bring myself to do that—and decided to first look in the writing-case. I had just relocked it—my cousin's keys were on the mantel, and I put them back there-when—."
"So you did touch the keys, Houghton, as well as the cabinet?" Godolphin said with a dry chuckle.
Houghton gave a half-smile in reply. "Well—true. In the same way that I suppose I touched the door handle, the key which Match gave me—by the way, here it is; Lindrum handed it to me when they had finished—even the carpet. I trod on that too. Sorry. But now, look here, I quite understand that no one can be allowed to go into that room alone, or I shouldn't have stayed down here for a second, but will you both come up with me now, at once, and let us see if we can't find that precious paper my cousin referred to?"
Godolphin and Pointer both rose by way of assent.
"Supposing it to be still in existence I shouldn't locate it, off-hand, in the room where Mr. Craig died," Pointer said in a low tone to the chief constable, who gave him an emphatically assenting look.
Houghton led the way upstairs. Godolphin followed and waved to Pointer to come along. Strictly speaking, as yet the Scotland Yard man was only an onlooker, Indeed, still more strictly speaking, if the affair were placed in his hands, he would still be supposed to act only as an adviser to the chief constable. But even that standing was not his yet. For the moment, there were only the words of the dying man, written and spoken, and the belief of the two doctors, to show that a crime had been committed. Such, at least, was the theory. In point of fact, none of the three men had the least doubt on the matter, and the chief inspector carried with him up to the bedroom a camera which he had borrowed from his host of last night, the local superintendent.
AT a word from Godolphin, Houghton remained with the former in the doorway while Pointer took several photographs of the room and then quickly measured the distances between the various most important pieces of furniture and marked them on a plan.
That done, the room was free to move about in, though Godolphin asked Houghton not to touch anything. He himself stepped first of all to the bed and looked long at the face which had been hidden by the sheet. "He's altered," Godolphin said pityingly; "must have suffered agonies, by the change in him."
"He relied on me—and I wasn't there!" came in a choked whisper from Houghton, who strode to the window a Moment and stood there, back to the room, biting his lips.
Pointer eyed the dead man closely. He saw a good-looking man with sharply cut features—features that suggested considerable driving power. He looked a very unyielding man, the detective thought, a man whom he would expect to insist on his own way even in trifles. He looked, to Pointer, like one who would live to schedule, and insist on others living to it too. There was nothing easy-going about the face. But it was emphatically the face of a law-abiding man.
"I'll see to it that whoever did it pays for it!" Houghton now said tensely, moving away from the window and stepping to the writing-cabinet. He picked up the keys, which lay where he had left them, unlocked the case and flung back the top.
"You see, the paper's not in here!" He fluttered through the contents a second time, more carefully.
Godolphin good-naturedly forbore to remind him about not touching things, and went through the little cabinet too.
"There's no gum here," he remarked as he did so, "otherwise it seems to be stocked with everything that the mind of a stationer could think of. What's the word the house-agents always use? 'Replete.' That's it."
"Yes, a sort of portable office. But as you say, there's no gum, though there's a pot of Stickwell. And what's much worse, there's no 'part of a letter.'" Houghton shook his head.
Pointer, after looking the case over very carefully too, took out the letter sent Houghton by the dead man.
"It evidently came from that block there. Want to make sure?" asked Godolphin, without much interest.
"I think we'll find it's an inch shorter than the rest of the sheets on this pad." The man from the Yard was measuring the two with his long but very strong-looking fingers, the fingers of an engineer.
Godolphin, who was turning away, turned back keenly interested. As he had thought, the letter sent Houghton was identical in make of paper and color, but, as Pointer thought, it was an inch shorter. The envelope, on the other hand, tallied absolutely with the others in the same division, envelopes made to go with that particular block.
Pointer eyed the lower edge closely.
"I rather thought that something had been torn off here and that the edge had then been roughened to look like the other edges," he murmured half to himself.
"That would explain why the envelope was opened!" came in great excitement from Houghton.
"Y-yes, only I don't think it was Mr. Craig who went to the trouble of trying to hide the fact that the paper had been shortened," Pointer said, deep in thought.
"Someone with plenty of time did that. Neatly done."
"It looks as if a postscript had been added and cut off by someone," Godolphin thought. "I can't imagine Craig working to make the sheet look as if it hadn't been touched, can you, Houghton?"
Houghton ridiculed the idea. "The last man in the world to've cared how the paper looked," he added.
"No," his voice was husky, "what was taken away was the name! I feel sure Ronnie opened it to scrawl with his weary fingers the poisoner's name. Perhaps a sort of feeling that he had better tell me...Well, this, at any rate, proves that the letter is no forgery, had proof been needed."
"Whoever tore it off must have known—positively—that you and the writer were not going to meet. At least, that's how it looks to me—so far," Pointer said slowly.
"By Jove!" came from Houghton, "what a thought! That the actual fingers that tore off—touched—that letter, that opened that envelope, were the fingers of the murderer!"
"I don't know about opening the envelope. Mr. Craig might have done that himself to write the very postscript in question," Pointer reminded him, "but as to who tore it off...yes, that's how it looks, so far."
"I rather agree with you, Pointer," Godolphin now said. "Yes, I rather agree with you. I wonder if we can find any finger-prints on it—?"
"You won't!" Houghton said hopelessly. "Whoever tore it and worked away at the edge to make it look like the rest of the paper would have worn gloves."
He picked up a big book from a table by the wall. "This is what I wanted him to send the precious find in." He fluttered its leaves carefully but fruitlessly. "Match said he wrapped up a book...Here's the wrapper!" He pounced on the paper-basket and fished out a brown sheet that had been folded around something flat and sharp-edged. Houghton laid it on the volume. The marks fitted.
"So he did mean to send it...I would have asked Match about it just now, only I didn't want to interrupt the story of how the end actually came. Hello—look at this!" Houghton had turned the wrapper over.
He pointed to a hole torn in it. Looking closely, they could all see the end of a pen-stroke and a fragment of a stamp on the part that remained. But the address had been evidently torn bodily out.
"But who—who—" Houghton spoke thickly. His hands shook as he let Pointer take the wrapping-paper from him and fold it up carefully for finger-prints. Houghton let them have his to subtract from any possible others. Craig's were taken too. Pointer enclosed the wrapper in a waxed paper envelope for careful attention at the Yard, after Godolphin and Houghton initiated it and put the hour and date beside their initials. Houghton looked like a man in a nightmare.
"This is amazing!" he said finally. "In a way infinitely more amazing than not being able to find that part of a letter of which Ronnie wrote me; than discovering that his postscript had been torn off his letter to me. That they should disappear is comprehensible—part of the criminal's efforts to escape detection. But why should anyone want to tear my name and address off that wrapper?"
There was a short silence. It was, as he said, oddly incomprehensible.
"Whoever tore it off couldn't have known that Craig had written to you," Godolphin hazarded finally. "I think it was done to keep you out of the affair lest you should do just what you have done, and bring down a medical expert."
"Poor Ronnie! Poor chap! The best pal a man could have. To go under surrounded by this sort of work—"
Houghton spoke passionately, under his breath. "It's like turning over a stone and finding it alive with crawling vermin. I quite counted on finding that paper—finding it in this room. But I'm afraid there isn't an earthly chance of its being here, as you say." As neither of the other two answered him, he went on, "Or even in existence, you think?"
"I'm afraid not," both said frankly.
"I won't allow that it's been burnt or destroyed," he said obstinately. "It would be too rotten bad luck!"
"There's always accident, or a blunder, or the possibility of blackmail to keep it safe," Godolphin comforted him. "I've known very incriminating documents saved for the last reason. Not by the criminal, needless to say, though."
The search passed on into the bathroom. Here, again, no paper was found. What had been the sitting-room intended to go with the bedroom was now the nurse's room. There was nowhere else to look, except in the remainder of the house, and evidently Craig himself could not have hidden it, except in his sick-room.
"Mr. Craig used to live here himself, I understand, before the house was made into a dower house?" Pointer asked Houghton, as the latter stood looking rather helplessly down at the toilet-table of his cousin.
The drive up from the police station had been too swift to allow of more than a few words between himself and the chief constable. Houghton nodded.
"Yes. This is the outline of my cousin's life. He ran away to sea as a lad. Refused to come home, and stayed on in the merchant service. When his cousin, Sir George Craig—Lady Craig's husband—who had bought this house, found it a bit small and inconvenient, he let it to Ronald Craig and his wife. Then when Sir George died—intestate—a little later, it came to him as next-of-kin. When George died, Ronald left the sea and went into the City. Bought a seat on the stock exchange and did surprisingly well. Lately he's been doing really big things. Playing the South American market. He got out a year ago. Cleared a huge fortune. His two little kids, both girls, unfortunately, live here with Lady Craig. The house is hers for her life use, of course. Ronald turned it into the Dower House when he began negotiations for buying Clere Towers."
"You didn't speak of that missing paper to Lady Craig?" Godolphin eyed him thoughtfully.
Houghton returned the look.
"I did not. I didn't speak of it to anyone until I heard that a policeman was on duty outside the bedroom to prevent anyone entering. I had to leave the key with Dr. Gilchrist and Lindrum. You see, I thought then =that it was somewhere in this room."
"And you think Lady Craig might have destroyed it?" Godolphin asked.
"I didn't, and don't, think one way or another about her, or anyone else," Houghton said doggedly, "but someone in this house has been wearing a most damnably well-made mask. Someone has been posing as an ordinary inmate, perhaps as something closer, and yet has murdered Ronnie. Apart from what the doctors say, his letter to me shows that. It's a horrible fact, but it is a fact. As for me, I'm all in the dark. I find that I can't tell his friends from his foes."
There was a short silence.
"I'll see if by any chance the letter got tucked away into some magazine or book and is downstairs," Houghton said finally, without much hope of success, and so saying he left them.
Colonel Godolphin and Pointer stayed a little longer in the bathroom.
"Mr. Craig was evidently not very particular about his personal belongings, in spite of all that stationery outfit in there." Pointer stood glancing over the tube of shaving cream, squeezed into a sort of dying-worm effect, the dented tin of toothpaste, a cardboard box of cotton wool bursting at every fold, and a very much used pair of brushes that stood on the glass shelf.
"Certainly there's nothing of the millionaire about these things," Godolphin agreed. "I told you, coming here, that he had no valet. He was a chap of simple taste all through, I fancy. Though in the merchant service he wouldn't have had much cash to spare, and while his financial plans were ripening he once told me that he had to look twice at every shilling. He dressed shockingly. But Countess Jura would have altered all that fast enough. She has the reputation of being extravagant enough for a dozen ordinary women. It was for her that he bought Clere Towers from Lord Wattle, who couldn't afford even to heat it. And because he made such elaborate improvements in it, the wedding had to be delayed. Come to think of it, that plumbers' strike may have done the Russian girl out of well over a million."
"Was there no idea when the marriage was coming off?"
"Not for a couple of months, was the latest opinion of Sir Oliphant Newton, the architect to whom Craig handed Clere Towers over. In spite of Craig's efforts to get it earlier. Craig was desperately afraid of rivals with the lady. Personally, I can't think why."
"Was there any special man with whom her name had been coupled?" Pointer wanted to know.
"Nothing so easy for you! No, preventive measures only, I believe. But as he himself fell head over heels in love with her at her first dance, I suppose he thought she might have the same effect on other men. It's club gossip that the marriage settlements were drafted the same week and O.K.'ed by her relatives, but that with them went the proviso that the countess was to stay with Lady Craig, at Woodthorp, until the wedding."
Pointer had finished in the bathroom. The two returned to the bedroom. "Anything you've taken a fancy to in here?" Godolphin asked.
"Mr. Craig's cigarette holder on the mantelpiece. Apparently he has only the one. It's seen, much service." Pointer dropped it into an envelope after Godolphin had had a look at it. "The box of cigarettes over there," the detective officer went on; "they're Russian cigarettes, I see. Then his tooth-brush and tin of tooth-paste from the dressing-room. His tumbler and water-bottle"—Pointer was writing a list—"will have to be left for later. There's the medicine bottle from the butler, and his medicine glass here on the mantel end. I think that's all for the present."
"Anything more in here that interests you?" Godolphin asked.
"Yes, something else, sir." Pointer picked up once more a coverlet lying folded on the foot of the chaise longue. He spread it out over the silent sheeted figure in the bed.
"That ink splash?" Godolphin said promptly. "Looks new, eh? Rather near the foot, unless the coverlet has been turned so that what is now the foot was at the head."
"Fortunately you can't turn it." Pointer showed that a flounce ran around the three sides, leaving the top plain. The coverlet in question was of deep crimson, which struck a very happy note of color in the peacock-green room, with its walnut furniture.
"Looks to me as though Craig, pen in hand, had leaned far forward and drawn up a spare blanket," Godolphin thought, "and a splash like that looks as though he had dropped his pen in doing so. But no The splash is too big for that. You think someone leaning on the bed-end here, and holding out a filled pen to Craig, like this, dropped it? But why make such a splurge?"
Pointer, his eyes on the stain, did not answer.
"What's your reading of the trail, scoutmaster?" Godolphin persisted.
"Do it again, sir," Pointer asked. "Hold out your pencil as you did just now, not at the full stretch of your arm, but as a five foot four to six person might have held it."
"You mean a woman? But the splash is too near this end," Godolphin objected.
"Not if I do this, sir." Pointer promptly leaned over the bed until his arm was approximately where the sick man's might have been had he been sitting up, and struck the pencil from Godolphin's hand. It fell very fairly near the spot in question.
"That's it!" Godolphin ejaculated. "And that accounts for the ink splashing toward the bed-end, a curious point which had rather bothered me. By love!" Godolphin hung over the coverlet a second, his lips tight, "I don't wonder Houghton feels as he does I Something very nasty was going on here in this charming little house, among these dear simple souls. How old do you think the ink stain is? It looks very fresh to me."
So it did to Pointer. "The H.Q. analyst will tell us. Also what ink it is. Though we may hear something about it from someone in the house. It may, of course, be only an ordinary accident, but I think it must have happened yesterday, or else why was the coverlet left unchanged. It was apparently folded up here at night. And I rather think"—Pointer hung over the bed—"I rather think that something fell at the same time as the pen. Or why is there only the one splash and none of the little fry that usually go with such a mark as that?"
"You think the rest of the marks were on whatever was dropped at the same time?"
Pointer fancied that they might find that the case. "A pen suggests a paper," Godolphin went on, as Pointer began to collect his notes.
"Suggestive!" Godolphin said slowly, "and Craig poisoned Craig poisoned! You know, if you had searched the countryside over, I don't think you could have found a house where one would expect to be safer from that sort of thing than here. There are only women in the house for one thing—"
"And poison is supposed to be peculiarly a woman's weapon, and peculiarly the method of death chosen by fellow inmates," Pointer finished to himself. But aloud he only said, "Barring the doctor."
"True. Barring Bob Lindrum."
"What's his reputation, sir?"
"Good. Meant for the Church, but preferred doctoring. Father was the late rector here. Gave Bob the best education he could stretch to, on the understanding that his mother and sister should always have a home with him. Bob took a splendid degree, and is well liked. Of course this poisoning of Craig's, unless it's cleared up, will be a disaster to him. But provided he's not implicated—and Craig felt sure he wasn't—he will live it down in time. After all, how could he suspect? He's not a policeman. And between ourselves, I doubt if I should have suspected in his place."
"And Mr. Houghton's reputation, sir?"
"First-class cricketer, which means that he always plays the game. He's wealthy. On the stock exchange, and engaged to a charming girl, one of the Somerset Hawthornes." Godolphin caught sight of the clock. "Suppose we have breakfast? I had only started mine. By the time it's over, the doctors may be able to give us a word to go on—something official. Or are there any clues that will melt away?" Pointer thought not.
"As to helping Houghton hunt on for that enclosure that never reached him, he might as well search for the torn-off postscript, to my mind," Godolphin went on.
"I'll break it to him gently"—and Godolphin left the room. The chief inspector beckoned to the constable on the landing and had him lock himself into Craig's room. Outside, Pointer stood a moment looking about him. A passage ran to a door at its end, others opened off it. Beside the end door he found a staircase. As he was about to descend it he heard voices in the room, tense to the point of anger and yet low. They were women's voices. One was Lady Craig's:
"There's quite a good train at eleven. I shall explain to the colonel that you want to get another post at once, so as not to be associated in people's minds with this tragedy—at least not more than can be helped. The explanation is reasonable. That is all I wanted to see you about." A chair was pushed back.
Pointer came up from the staircase as though from below just as the door opened and Lady Craig came out.
"I'm getting the geography of the wing in my head," he said. "May I look in here?"
"Certainly!" She turned the handle. Inside, a plain, thin, tall young woman was standing by the table with her head bent, so deep in thought that she did not look up. Pointer had never seen so much hesitancy, such deep uneasiness, so clearly on any face before. This young woman was trying to think, trying to come to a decision which, whatever it was, she evidently considered very important.
"I refuse—" she began. When Lady Craig cut in:
"This is the chief inspector, he just wants to see the room for a minute"—and without giving Pointer another second, Lady Craig closed the door and turned to him.
"Have you found out anything? One hears of such marvels nowadays."
"The case is in Colonel Godolphin's hands," Pointer reminded her.
"And he is—?"
"Downstairs with Mr. Houghton, I think."
She hurried down the passage, and he could hear her descending the smooth polished stairs to the ground floor. The manor abounded in uncarpeted wastes of slipperiness. Pointer went down the little stairs deep in thought, found a door at their foot unbolted, with the key standing unturned in the lock, that led directly into the garden. He examined first one and then the other for some minutes. That done, he found the chief constable in the library with Lady Craig and Houghton. "Do you mind if we show Lady Craig your letter, Houghton?" Godolphin was saying as Pointer entered. Houghton repeated that he left everything to the police.
She read it through and stared accusingly at Houghton. "Why didn't you tell me of this at once?"
"I preferred to let the police manage this show, Emily," was the cold reply.
She bit her lip. She was angry, but was also something else. Pointer thought there was dismay mingled with the anger, or even causing it. "Well, of course that takes it quite out of our circle," she said after a second's silence. "Some business affair. There was no reason in the world, but one, why Ronald should have been deliberately poisoned, and that was—his money. Or something to do with it. I'm glad to know as much."
Godolphin coughed behind his hand.
"Now about this portion of a letter Craig refers to," he went on, "have you seen anything that might be it? In his possession, or in his room?"
She said that she had not.
The same answer was returned to a question as to her having seen a book intended for the post, or its wrapper in the basket, when the idea of posting it had apparently been abandoned.
"I don't believe that Ronald did know the truth," she said almost defiantly. "No; why should he? He found something that misled him as half-truths so often do. I don't think he knew who was poisoning him at all."
"My dear Emily," Houghton raised an eyebrow, "that won't wash. There never was a better judgment than Ronnie's. I'd trust it in every circumstance," and so saying he left the room.
"Rubbish!" she said tartly. "There's no one whose judgment is always right. Besides, there's only one person who benefits by poor Ronald's death." She had turned to Godolphin. "That is Guy Houghton. This is in strict confidence of course."
"Oh, absolutely!" both assured her.
"But I don't see how—" began Godolphin.
"Oh, how could anyone have done it?" she interrupted shortly. "Mind you," she broke off, "I'm not saying for a moment that Guy did, or could do such a thing. But I do maintain between ourselves that he is the only person who benefits by poor Ronald's death. The only person in the house that is to say—"
"Outside the house?" Pointer queried.
"The only person outside or inside the house," she amended.
"But the motive? I thought he was a very wealthy man already?"
"He's on the stock exchange," she said swiftly. "Who knows how anyone really stands there? But all this is beside my one point which is, the fact that he profits, profits enormously, and the rest of us lose!"
She fastened a pair of hard, watchful eyes on the chief inspector as she spoke. Pointer thought that he would never look to Lady Craig to help the cause of justice—supposing this mood were characteristic of her—and supposing the hunt for the truth lay too near her own concern for her liking.
Lady Craig had not noticed any difference, however slight, in Mr. Craig's manner, toward anyone in the house from noon on yesterday? "From the time that letter you just read was written, in other words?"
There was no doubt about it: she paled.
"As far as I noticed he was just the same," she said promptly. "He certainly was to me, and so I assume he was to everyone."
The two men went into the hall; there they found Houghton just coming out of the library.
"I've been trying to get Osbourn, Ronnie's solicitor, on the phone," he explained. "The firm is Osbourn—Osbourn of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Unfortunately, this being Saturday, he is out of town. However, the message will be sent on to him down to Hove, letting him know that Ronnie's dead, and he won't be long in getting into touch with us. As I told you, the Empire Insurance Company looked after my cousin's financial matters entirely since he left the stock exchange last year. There, too, we must wait till Monday."
"By the way," Godolphin asked suddenly, "who inherits if anything happens to you?"
Houghton stared. This was a new idea.
"To me? Oh, well, if anything happened to me at once, I suppose both our fortunes would be divided between the children and Lady Craig as the only remaining kith and kin." He thought over the idea for a moment.
"Well, be careful of yourself!" Godolphin said gravely. "As a sensible man you won't eat or drink except at the inn while down here. We're off for the police station now. The doctor's first information should reach us soon, and we'll be back at once supposing it is what we all know it will be. Sorry not to help you in your search, Houghton, but believe me, or rather us, it's sheer waste of time. That paper is either destroyed or in very safekeeping somewhere." So saying, Godolphin, followed by Pointer, made for his car.
"So Lady Craig is very insistent, isn't she?" Godolphin said dryly, "that no one benefits by Craig's death except Houghton. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. But why?"
"Ah, why didn't she want to say to whom Mr. Craig's manner had altered yesterday afternoon or night. Or at least toward whom she thought it had altered?"
"You think she kept that back?"
"I do, sir, after due—though naturally hurried—reflection."
"Humph!" Godolphin murmured, "I always did say that Emily Craig was deep. Damned deep. Or could be. What are you looking at?"
Pointer was examining some black specks in an envelope. "Tea leaves, sir, which I picked up by that handsome Dutch silver tea-caddy in Mr. Craig's room. The one beside an electric kettle."
"It was empty, wasn't it? I thought it looked merely ornamental."
The caddy in question, a handsome affair with a tea-schooner in full sail on the lid, conveyed that impression owing to the dust-free condition of its gilt interior.
"This tea is very unusual..." Pointer replaced the envelope in his letter-case. Tea was one of the things on which he was qualified to speak. Had he had his way, a statue to the great Chinaman who first in vented it would tower aloft in every country. "A genuine Chinese blend, I fancy. It's unfermented, or I'm much mistaken. I don't think you can buy this, except as a special order, anywhere in Europe."
POINTER sat in silence while Godolphin finished a belated breakfast, then, lighting up, he asked: "When did Mr. Craig's wife die, sir?"
"She isn't dead," was the unexpected reply. "She ran away about three years ago with a chap called Ardmay, who used to hunt down here. Nephew of our M.F.H. Craig didn't trouble to divorce her until he met Countess Jura a year ago. Then he got it, of course, together with the custody of the children. It was made absolute about two or three months ago now.
"Is Mrs. Craig Mrs. Ardmay?"
"Not yet. Ardmay has been called to his mother's house. She's at death's door, they say. They'll marry as soon as she's recovered, or the funeral is over. They've been living on the Riviera. He's interested in some land development scheme out there. Mrs. Craig—Miss Bingham as she calls herself again—lives very discreetly at Beausoleil. It's Ardmay's villa, but when I was at Cannes last winter I heard they managed things very well. He puts up at the Paris. He's a wealthy chap. Provided they settle in some other county once they're married, everyone will overlook these last few years—or almost everyone. I believe his family are Romans. As I say, he's rich, and she's very clever. Oh, very clever indeed. And a thruster. So, in their case, I fancy, old records won't be played more than can be helped. My own belief is that if she had had any idea that Craig would become a Croesus, she would have stuck it out. But as it was, she only had the cheese-paring side of life with him. As I told you, for years he put every farthing he could scrape or borrow into his speculation. They lived like people with a bare couple of hundred a year. Before his cousin died, they really were poor. His father had failed; hers was a rather shady solicitor in Cardiff, who married his cook. No money there either."
"What is she like, sir?"
"Ah!" Godolphin lit a cigar. "What is anyone like with the lid off? Or, as Houghton called it, 'the mask off?' As he says, someone's mask has fitted very nicely all these years. Of course, in a book, I should assure you that the Craig household are all above suspicion. As a matter of fact I'm prepared to suspect each and all of them. But about Mrs. Craig—well, I never liked her. She's very handsome, very bad form—hunted in scarlet boots once. And because she felt a bit—well—of an outsider among us, she was most outrageously bad-mannered. She's the type who's always either chummy or arrogant. Frankly, she struck me as being capable of anything except of being a lady. She swaggered, and elbowed, and pushed her way about the countryside, and was left more and more to herself. Then Ardmay came along. She went for him. He was attracted, of course, but she fairly flung herself at his head."
"Was there any arrangement made by which she sees her children at times?"
"I was waiting for that question. No; she deserted her babies, and Craig said she should abide by it. Not that she seems to mind. And it was very convenient for Craig. He never had to be afraid of running up against her, or hearing the children talk of their mother's visits. I've telephoned the Monte Carlo police to let us have full particulars of Miss Bingham, of course. We should get a reply any moment."
"I wonder why Mr. Craig didn't leave his money to his children," Pointer speculated.
"Possibly because a wealthy aunt of his, who was their godmother, left them a comfortable fortune apiece. Besides, as Houghton says, this will was only intended as a stop-gap. There's the telephone!" Godolphin seized the instrument. It was Monte Carlo speaking. Miss Bingham was at the villa Soleil at the moment. Had been now for the last fortnight. Just now she had influenza. Was she alone? She was, except for two servants. It was a small villa. Yes, Mr. Ardmay was the proprietor. He had not been in the principality for a month now. Further news of Miss Bingham or of Mr. Ardmay, should he return, would be sent on.
"Lucky for Ardmay and Miss Bingham that Craig had got his divorce," Godolphin said with his rather chaffing smile as he hung up. "Or don't you make theories as you go along, Pointer?"
"I like finding facts better," Pointer thought. "Of course, if you can't find a fact lying around, you have to fish for it with a theory."
Both men were silent on that; both lost in thought "I'd like your opinion of the characters living at the house, sir," Pointer said finally. He thought he might as well fill in the time usefully. "Beginning with Lady Craig. What about her, sir?"
"What do you think of her yourself, you saw her for a few minutes," countered Godolphin. He was beginning to like his quiet, pleasant companion, with the grave, thoughtful face.
"I should say she was a clever, capable woman, especially when it comes to money matters. Either is really hard up, or is a bit on the near side where spending is concerned, but is fond of display."
Godolphin laughed. "Quite right. But how did you know it? She dresses well. How did you spot that she's supposed to be a fearful screw?"
"Gardener," Pointer explained in one word. "By the work done, I wondered at first if she employs a blind and half-crippled gardener from compassion. But as I happened to see a very hale and hearty—and very awkward—young man hacking at the hedge, I can't call it trimming it, I saw that it must be economy. Then the plants chosen for her beds—showy and cheap. Utmost effect for the money. The place selected for them too—best view—spots from the drawing-room windows. You say she's called a screw, sir. Is she well off?"
"No one at the manor is well off. Which may or may not be a help to you. Lady Craig lost practically everything in the Daintry crash two years ago. You remember the Daintry Trust Company? She was one of the unfortunate people who trusted, to the tune of her all, I understand. Since then she has lived almost entirely at the Dower House, of which she luckily has the use, and has many quite remunerative irons in the fire, I understand. She's taken to bringing girls out. She was a Rawiton, you know. A connection of the present duke. So there's not a great house in England with which she hasn't some link. I'm told that her terms are five hundred pounds down before she takes a girl, all her expenses including frocks, and a last five hundred pounds when she marries the girl off well. That's how she comes to be looking after this Russian countess. They say in her case that she's not to be paid until the wedding, which must make Craig's death a fearful blow to her finances. I've a sister-in-law who knows all this sort of thing and who happened to be lunching with us last month, or I might not have all the details so pat."
"And the young lady herself, Countess Alexandra, sir? What of her?"
"Let me see?" Godolphin thought a moment. "I've met her about nine times I fancy. So I've met exactly nine entirely different young women, all looking just alike, all called Countess Alexandra or Countess Jura—according to whether people know her well or slightly—Jura is a nickname. They, the nine of her, struck me as having one common quality. She must act. If not on the boards, then off. And the boards would be safer' for herself and for others. As to which of the nine young women I met is the genuine article I can't even hazard a guess."
"I suppose, however, all nine of her were, or was, greatly attached to Mr. Craig?"
Godolphin had never seen them together, but agreed that one would think so. Certainly his death had been a tremendous blow to her prospects.
"And the nursery governess at the manor? What is she like?"
"Very unlike a nursery governess. Or a governess of any kind."
Godolphin's leathery face creased into a faintly humorous smile. "Best company you could ask. Witty and amusing. A bit cynical, but that makes her all the more amusing. My wife learned by chance that she took classical honors at Newnham, then lost her voice and took to teaching kiddies to ease the strain. It's returning again, luckily. Must be a dull life for such a girl. There's something about her that suggests a suffragette in the old days. She ought to've been a man. First-class fighting stuff in Miss Cornwall, and it's wasted in a nursery schoolroom. She never even pretends to care much for children."
"Pretty?" Pointer asked.
Godolphin shook his head.
"Ugly. But interesting looking." He smoked in silence for a minute. "Only ugly young woman I've ever met who gives me the idea she doesn't mind her looks." There came another silence. "Hope she's not in it," the chief constable muttered finally.
"Because you like her, sir?"
"Because you would find her damned difficult to catch," Godolphin corrected with a hard smile. "I'm like Houghton. I want the man or woman who killed Ronald Craig to swing, whoever he or she is. That's what I'm here for."
"And what I'm here for too, sir. It wouldn't surprise you to hear that this governess is in the crime?"
"Nothing about Miss Cornwall would surprise me," Godolphin acknowledged. "Finely finished, tightly closed, impenetrable piece of goods. But hard as steel inside as well as outside, I should say. Though you never know. And of course she's poor, else why go governessing?"
"Is she particularly friendly with the countess?" Pointer asked.
"Detests her virulently. I don't mind saying in confidence that if it had been Countess Jura who had been found poisoned, I should have very grave suspicions of Miss Cornwall. But in Craig's case—" He finished with a wave of smoke ring.
"Craig's case..." He repeated meditatively. "It's puzzling. In a novel"—Godolphin was fond of contrasting real life with fiction—"in a novel of course it would be some old sin of Craig's reaping a belated punishment, such as that in some flowery isle he should have married the daughter of the flowery chief but did not, and her father has at last tracked him down. But in point of fact, Craig was distinctly the kind of man who doesn't make enemies. A just man, however severe he may be, is generally well liked. Ronald Craig was."
"And what about Miss Lindrum? Dr. Lindrum's sister?"
"Nice girl. Thorough good sport."
"Friend of Mr. Craig's?"
"Hardly knows him, I fancy."
"Friend of Mrs. Craig's once upon a time?"
Godolphin said that, as far as he knew, the two had never met. Agatha Lindrum was studying at Paris during the years of the Craigs' life at Woodthorp. "Her mother, Mrs. Lindrum, was a great friend of Mrs. Craig's. Her only friend," Godolphin added.
"Lady Craig said that Miss Lindrum helped her brother to put up his medicines. Do you know if that's so, sir? And does Mrs. Lindrum help too?"
"No. Not the mother. The sister is a qualified dispenser. She does put up most of Lindrum's stuff. But for Craig's letter one might think there had been no crime here, only an accident. Lucky for Miss Lindrum he wrote it."
"Ah, but for Mr. Craig's letter, sir, everything would look quite different! The curious thing is that in spite of writing it, of being on his guard, Mr. Craig should have taken a fatal dose of poison that night."
Pointer eyed his shoe-tips as though they might help him to solve the riddle.
"Everlasting pity that postscript of his was torn away," Godolphin muttered. "But that's where a criminal scores. He knows what's important, and can concentrate on the thing that matters most, and get rid of it. There's one thing in this case. There'll be no need to test alibis."
"And that's a blessing." Pointer was one with him in that.
"Fortunately, too, arsenic has to be bought."
Pointer gave him a long look.
"When a doctor is a family friend, sir? One who does his own dispensing, and who has a sister to help him put up his medicine?"
"Ah!" Godolphin's face grew grave. "Well—mall that's to be found out by you I I can't say I envy you the job. Too many women in it for one thing."
"Quite so, sir. A governess and a nurse living under the same roof with him and his Russian fiancée, a doctor's sister within a stone's throw, and a former wife in Monte Carlo."
"Chances for plenty of jealousy melodramas, you think?" Godolphin asked. "And to help you to get tied up, I can assure you, as could Houghton, that Craig was a great favorite with women. He was uncommonly interesting when he chose to exert himself. He attracted them and they attracted him. I even used to wonder if Miss Cornwall wasn't a bit fascinated. She asked a lot of questions about him in a discreet way. However, it's not jealousy here, I think, but something much harder to spot."
"There's one good thing, sir," Pointer thought; "so far, there's nothing to show that more than one motive was working. The missing paper, the missing postscript, the missing address, all fit in with one line of reasoning, that someone wanted to prevent a premature discovery of the poisoning of Mr. Craig. An accomplice..." Pointer went on, thinking aloud, head bent, eyes on his boots, hands deep in his pockets, "an accomplice...yet it's difficult to imagine anyone running the risk of being found giving poison, except for their own ends. It's not a hireling's job as a rule."
"If you want a thing well done, do it yourself, eh?" murmured Godolphin cynically.
"It would have to be some very great personal gain to insider as well as outsider, to accomplice as well as to instigator, or some tremendous emotion common to both, felt by both; if not, what inducement could be offered to anyone at the Dower House to make them accept the most dangerous part of the work?"
"Don't forget, the task wasn't so dangerous until Houghton arrived with his London specialist," Godolphin cautioned him. "Whoever the criminal's accomplice is, very nearly pulled it off. Horribly nearly. As to what would make anyone help in the crime..." Godolphin thought a while. "In a gang of criminals, terror is often the weapon that makes them come to heel, but here—rat the Dower House—that would hardly seem a good weapon. Yet you never know..."
Again both men fell into a profound study.
"If Mr. Craig was right, if he really did know who was poisoning him," began the cautious Scotland Yard man.
"He was right about the poisoning, wasn't he? Hardly likely he'd be wrong about the proof he found," Godolphin thought. Pointer nodded. "Then we can say with certainty that Mr. Houghton, Dr. Lindrum, and the butler, can be set on one side."
This time it was Godolphin who nodded. "Apart from his letter, I think we could do that as regards the first and last of the three. But for Houghton's arrival with his expert, Lindrum would have given a death certificate. And Match called us in very promptly."
The colonel stopped as the telephone rang again. He turned to it rather impatiently. Then his face lightened.
"What, you, Lindrum! Got one definite result already? Arsenic found in the teeth and gums...constant smallish doses, and one big dose since he last ate anything solid. That all so far? Well, it's enough isn't it? It was for poor Craig. Thanks very much. We'll get on with the job now."
"Ask for Dr. Gilchrist to come to the phone a minute, will you, sir?" Pointer put in swiftly as the colonel was about to hang up. When the expert obligingly stepped to the other end, Pointer asked him for an interview as soon as the autopsy should be finished.
"Won't be for another two or three hours." Gilchrist did not seem keen on a talk. "And I must be back in town as soon as possible."
"I won't detain you longer than a few minutes. I can meet you at the railway station if you like."
Gilchrist did not seem to like it much, but grunted an agreement, and Pointer nailed him down to a definite train and hour.
Then Godolphin took up the receiver again and quickly arranged with Scotland Yard, through the Home Office, that Pointer, being on the spot, should take over the investigation into the death of a Mr. Ronald Craig, which the doctors declared to be due to arsenical poisoning, and which a letter written to his cousin by the dead man, showed could not have been suicide. Upon which Pointer again took a turn at the instrument and sent the Yard what sounded like a grocery order, which, decoded, would mean that he wanted information concerning each of the people he had met so far who were connected, however slightly, with the late Ronald Craig. "Get into touch with any friends of his; he's a member of three clubs," Pointer's list went on, "and find out if he's supposed to have any enemies, or have shown any signs of nervousness, and so on. The usual thing. Don't let it be known that his death is believed to be anything but a natural one, though, if necessary, you can say that it looks rather odd to you."
He rang off and turned to the chief constable:
"Are you coming up, sir?"
Godolphin shook a most reluctant head. "Unfortunately I have some other things I must just glance over, but I shall be at the manor as soon as I decently can."
"I'll get on with the questioning of the household then. There are some odd marks in the garden which may, or may not, be explained by what I hear. For the present they are covered over with empty flower-pots, and a constable of yours is on guard over them, sitting decorously out of sight in the potting shed."
"You make my mouth water!" Godolphin replied with a short laugh, as, saluting, Pointer left him and started back for the manor. The case, as far as he was concerned, was just beginning. He was like a captain setting out on a voyage of discovery with the letter of the murdered man as his only instrument of precision. All bearings must be taken by it.
The colonel overtook him in his car. Godolphin looked quite sheepish.
"I found there was nothing that couldn't be done without me," Godolphin muttered, as he motioned the other to get in beside him, and drove on.
First of all, at the house, a constable was given charge of the articles taken from the dead man's room and dispatched with them to town in a fast police car. Then the two took their seats in the morning-room which Lady Craig had placed at their disposal.
Houghton was waiting for them. The result of the autopsy, as so far known, was to him a foregone conclusion. He said as much. As for the missing paper—it still had not turned up, and even he was beginning to be less certain of getting hold of it.
"A moment, Mr. Houghton," Pointer said as he turned to leave them. "Was there no mention in Mr. Craig's will of Miss Bingham, the children's mother?"
"I don't recollect any. But as I say, this will was never meant to come into effect. It was just a hastily made division of his property at a time when he was doing well, but nothing like as well as he did eventually. I need hardly say—in confidence"—Houghton looked them both very squarely in the eye—"that both Millie Bingham and the children shall have their fair and equitable share. In her case with provisos, of course, which may prevent her making any use of it. But that can't be helped. That's her lookout."
"Did Mr. Craig and she seem to get on well together in the old days, or was the running-off on her part rather expected? You mustn't mind the question, Mr. Houghton. It's confidential too."
"My cousin and his wife jogged along fairly," Houghton said. "There was never any animosity between them. Neither before, nor after, they parted."
"Pointer wants to be sure she wasn't thirsting for the blood of your cousin," Godolphin put in brusquely.
"She speaks, and probably thinks, very nicely of him. It was just a case of a misfit."
"And she never asked to see her children?"
"Never, as far as I know. But I don't think she would have been allowed to if she had."
"Jealous temperament?" Pointer persisted.
"Of Ardmay, yes; but not of Craig."
"Do you know where she is now, Mr. Houghton?" Pointer wondered if Houghton knew of an English residence.
"Lives near Monte Carlo. She's a frightful gambler I hear. But she wisely avoids Cannes and Aix-les-Bains just at present."
"And this Mr. Ardmay?"
"At his mother's place near Worcester at the moment. She's very ill."
With that Houghton left the two officers to settle down to work. But a telephone call came for Godolphin. The colonel was wanted.
"Ten to one it's only a baby's feeding bottle that's missing, or a cat has been stolen," he muttered disconsolately as he hurried off. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised quite unnecessarily.
And he returned within the hour. "Well?" he asked. "Learn anything?"
"I've just finished with the servants and Mr. Craig's nurse," Pointer said. "Apparently none of them has any idea as to how, or why, Mr. Craig was poisoned. Apparently also, anyone in the house could have had access to his food had they been so minded. But there's some odd little items..."
"Ah!" murmured Godolphin appreciatively, "such as?"
"The nurse says that a new, full, medicine bottle was sent in before lunch yesterday; that she gave one dose out of it; that when the second was due, at five, Countess Alexandra suddenly said that she wanted to give it to Mr. Craig herself, carried bottle and medicine-glass into the bathroom and dropped the bottle, by accident, into the basin before she could pour any out, so that all the medicine ran away."
"Humph...by accident...that's interesting. Next item?"
"To finish with the countess, she has changed rooms rather recently with the governess, taking a very inferior one which lies, however, at the head of the stairs leading down into the garden, and also leading straight along into Mr. Craig's room. Her previous bedroom was beside her sitting-room on the floor above."
Godolphin received this with a meditative twist of his mustache. "Humph..." he finally said. "When was this?"
"About five weeks ago, sir."
"The nurse says she noticed that ink-stain on Mr. Craig's cover at noon yesterday. She was sure it was not there in the morning. The coverlet was left on his bed all day long, by the way, and only taken off at night. She thinks it must have been made when the children and Miss Cornwall came in to see their father around eleven. Miss Cornwall brought them, preparatory to taking them for a walk."
"Ah!" Godolphin said still more appreciatively. "Miss Cornwall! Quite so!"
"Then about the tea Mr. Craig used, sir. It seems it was China tea, only drunk by him and by Lady Craig. Lady Craig not only orders it herself, but sees to it that the caddies in her room and in his are filled. Now Match when he set things to rights yesterday, after Countess Jura's mad dash for the nurse, tells me he had noticed as he replaced it, that the caddy was half full. So the tea, presumed to be the same as that which Countess Jura had used yesterday, and after drinking a half-cup of which, it was believed that Craig had been violently seemed to have disappeared. As to the cups used, the housemaid who had washed them noticed nothing odd, she says, being apparently under the impression that arsenic is a dye."
"And what about the letter that Craig wrote to Houghton about? I see you're keeping the best bit to the end."
"The nurse says that a half-sheet of gray paper folded in half fell out from under Mr. Craig's pillow last night, in the course of one of his paroxysms. She picked it up and placed it on the mantel, weighting it down with the medicine spoon, which, incidentally made a smear on it, she noticed. As to what became of the gray half-sheet, she says she has no idea whatever. I had her go over very carefully with me how each of the people stood when they came into the room in the course of the night, and there were two people, each of whom stood for quite a few minutes at that corner of the shelf, and so could have either read or taken away the paper."
"And they were—?"
"Miss Cornwall and Match, the butler. I haven't seen Miss Cornwall yet."
"And Match? What does he say?"
"That he didn't see it. He says he was too much upset at the attacks Mr. Craig was having to see anything."
"Do you believe him?"
"I can't make up my mind, sir. I don't disbelieve him."
"Did Mrs. Kingsmill notice what was written on the paper? But the fact that you haven't told me of it first thing, shows she didn't read it."
"Unfortunately she can't see well without her glasses. All she can say is that there were four or five lines of writing on it, and no signature, as she feels sure that the lines were all of about even length. But beyond that, and the fact that the paper was perfumed, therefore, one would think, a woman's, she knows nothing more about it. Or says she doesn't, and she struck me as very carefully telling me all about it. Yes, she struck me as telling all she knew about it," Pointer repeated, stressing the last word of his sentence.
"Oh? Where did she give you the contrary impression?" Godolphin's ears were pricked.
"About the words that Mr. Craig called out. She says she remembers his crying out, 'I'm poisoned, Match! I'm dying,' but thinks—or rather, no—says, that she can't recollect any other of his further words. Match told us that Mr. Craig said, 'I'm dying, Match. They've poisoned me!'"
"Pretty near—" Godolphin thought.
"Oh, yes, if it were a genuine lapse of memory on her part, but I don't think it is. I think Mr. Craig did say something else, and that she won't say so."
"Humph...'They've poisoned me!'...oughtn't to be any difficulty about repeating that—"
"If those were the words—" Pointer threw in.
"Eh? I thought Match—"
"Just so, sir. Match says they are. But when it comes to the exact words that Mr. Craig called out last night, I think he, too, is holding something back. Or altering something, I'm not sure which. Mrs. Kings-mill won't change the words, and simply refuses to recollect them. That's how I read the situation."
"But nothing, so far, has thrown any light on those marks you found in the garden, whatever they are, I hope?" Godolphin said.
Pointer shook his head. "Quite the other way, sir. They are distinctly not explained, so far, by anything I have heard. They're just a double line of footprints—but I have just asked Countess Alexandra to speak to us. I think she's at the door."
She came in, pale and distraught-looking. Her hair was combed straight back from her face, showing her high cheek-bones. Her—to Pointer—repellent hands, with their incredibly long flexible fingers, were twisting at a square of lace. Her eyes were red-rimmed.
"Oh, how can I speak of it!" she began, before the door was barely shut behind her. "My loss! My breaking heart!" And there came a sob. It sounded like a real sob. "It was my fault—my doing," she now panted, sinking into a chair and staring ahead of her.
"Eh?" Godolphin asked.
"I told him I intended to break off our engagement. Yesterday morning I told him—or rather, wrote him a note telling him it, and because of that—!" She buried as much of her face as possible in the lace square.
She could not tell the exact time. It was yesterday morning...before lunch...before two, that was to say...after her breakfast at eight. At any rate, she was sure—here came a heart-broken sob—that either Ronald Craig had taken poison because of that letter, or he might have meant to take only enough to make him very ill, so that she would change her mind. But he had evidently miscalculated and taken a fatal dose. There was no question about it, she assured the silent men, no question at all.
"Did Lady Craig know of this letter?" Pointer asked.
Yes, she had told her this morning when she—Alexandra Alexandrowna—had collapsed after Craig's death.
So this might have been the letter for which Lady Craig had been looking in the dead man's room, and—muddling thought—it might also have been the half-sheet of paper which the nurse had seen tucked beneath Craig's pillows, for, on questioning, the Russian girl said that she had written on her usual letter pad, which was gray, and whose sheets, when folded, might look like the 'half-letter' spoken of by the nurse. Jura said that she had no idea what had become of her note. It had done its work. As to any other letter which he had beneath his pillow, she dismissed the idea as absurd. He would have kept no letter there but hers. That unfortunate letter! She had not meant it. Not one word of it. She adored Ronald Craig. Now that he was dead, she would never marry...a convent would...
Clip—clip—clip came the sound of shears at work on some bush just outside.
"Tell him to go away!" she ordered suddenly with unexpected tartness. "He disturbs me. He is to go away!" She waited till the message was sent out, and then went on pensively: "Why is it that death makes such a difference? We all die. Then why does one feel so about it?" She leaned forward as though expecting an answer, and genuinely interested in it.
"About this letter you wrote Craig?" Godolphin said, unmoved.
She explained that she had asked Craig a fortnight ago to release her from her promise. "It was a whim—, I loved him dearly—I still love him dearly—I always shall—"
"—love him dearly," finished the chief constable mechanically. "Quite so. What did he do about your request?"
"He refused to listen. He knew me better than I knew myself. We finally agreed that we should talk it over when he was well again." Alexandra repeated that she thought he was taking something to keep him ill, to prevent his getting well quickly, because of that understanding.
This amazing notion made Godolphin stare at her from under his bent brows. "And yesterday morning I wrote it again in a note which I put in his hand. Only yesterday morning! Why has one no premonition of things that are about to happen? Why, when things come, does one not want them any more? Is this meant to be so? Or is it our fault? Or is it—"
"I don't know," Pointer said flatly, "but I should like to know why you made tea for Mr. Craig yesterday afternoon? Was it your usual habit?"
"No. I felt like it. That is all." She seemed to think that finished the explanation.
"You mean you felt thirsty?" Pointer, studiously matter-of-fact, queried.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"No. He was very silent. I know now that he was very ill. I thought it was because of my letter—as indeed it was. And yet I wanted to make things easy. Why should one not part friends? So I suggested tea and rang for the tray."
"It came ready-made, I suppose?" Pointer supposed nothing of the kind.
"Oh, no. There is an electric kettle in his room. I made the tea. He has delicious China tea. Much better than Lady Craig's own. She always says it is the same blend for herself and for him—she buys Indian for the rest of the house—but that is nonsense. I dislike her tea. Mr. Craig's China was nearly as good as good Russian tea."
"Did it look different," Pointer asked, "in the caddy, or the pot, from the tea that Lady Craig thought was the same? Or don't you know?"
"Certainly I know. She has a caddy in her bedroom as he has in his. She makes her before-breakfast tea for herself. The two looked, as they tasted, quite different. Mr. Craig's had much smaller leaves, and much more jasmine, and it had a perfume! Altogether, as I say, it was as good as the best Russian tea."
As Pointer disliked Russian tea, the real kind, with its faint but perceptible tang of the leather saddle-bags in which it had been carried across the steppes, he did not appreciate the praise.
Asked as to whether the caddy had been full, or half full, or nearly empty, she believed it had been about half full—but she could not say with certainty.
They passed on to the accident she had had with the medicine bottle. She treated that very airily. She had made some clumsy gesture. She was always gesturing, she said with a shrug, and had knocked the bottle over. The cork had come out, and before she could get across the room to pick it up, all the contents had flooded the carpet.
"Where, exactly, in the room was this?" Pointer asked. She told them, near the bed. The bottle stood on the bedside table.
"But there's no stain on the carpet."
"No?" Oh, well, now that she came to think of it, the bottle had stood in the bathroom, and it was on the wash-basin shelf that the accident had occurred.
"But the nurse says the bottle always stood by the bed."
Countess Alexandra looked bored.
"I really cannot remember where the accident occurred—I only know I knocked it over and spilled it all. What does it matter where it happened? The nurse has been trying to make trouble, I see. Why is it that love does not always bring love, but dislike always calls out dislike?"
Godolphin gave a click of impatience. Pointer repressed a grin with difficulty. They interrupted her philosophical queries, and questioned her on matters more directly connected with the case.
As to a letter in Craig's writing addressed to Houghton, which she had placed on the landing table at noon yesterday, she explained that she had found it lying on the carpet, picked it up, and laid it in safety, certain that someone would see it and take it down to the hall table, where stood a box for the outgoing mail—the butler's box.
No—this very petulantly to Godolphin—Craig had never spoken to her about thinking he was being poisoned. He knew better. As to his calling out last night, one always thought one was being poisoned if things tasted badly.
They explained that Craig had written a letter to his cousin, in which he deliberately stated that he was being poisoned.
"Whom by?" she asked, and her eyes lost something of their desolate look and grew intent.
It was no use pretending that they knew. Godolphin acknowledged that Craig had not said, in this particular letter.
"Then he merely wanted to spite someone," she said fiercely. "He was angry and wanted to punish. Yes, that is it! He hated Nurse Kingsmill, and knew that any question of poison would mean that she would be suspected, and could get no more cases. Yes, that was his reason. And how wicked of him. I loathe the woman too, but I wouldn't harm her!"
"Why did Mr. Craig hate her?" Pointer asked. She shrugged her shoulders and tapped the carpet with a very narrow little foot.
"Why do you loathe her?" Pointer asked next.
She hesitated for a fraction of a second. "For the same reason that Ronald did. Nurse Kingsmill has done everything she could to separate us."
Clip—clip—clip, the sound of the shears came again. It seemed to calm her this time, for she went on more quietly.
"To me, she says he is too old for me. And he is—much! She asks me what I should do with the children. In fact, I like them. I am really only marrying him because I love them. But to him she says how young I am, and how foolish. How extravagant. How—how Russian! Well, yes, I am Russian. Ah, Russia! Do you know what a Russian means when he speaks of tosca?" Her eyes were dreamy, and there was deep longing in them. "Tosca," she repeated with a sigh, "it means, to us—"
But Godolphin absolutely refused to hear what tosca meant to a Russian, and as to Pointer, it stood, just now, for waste of time; he passed on quickly to something else.
"The butler tells me that you changed rooms with Miss Cornwall?"
She nodded carelessly.
"May I ask why?" he went on.
"I like to sleep with my feet toward the North Pole, and the bed in my old room faced west."
"You changed about five weeks ago only?"
"Yes. I stood it as long as I could. One always does stand things as long as one can. One hopes—"
With an apology, Pointer interrupted her to ask if, since she had the bedroom at the end of the little passage, she had heard anyone in the garden last night.
She shook her head. "I don't think anyone was out last night—not after the nurse got in. Why? Has the gardener missed any flowers?"
Pointer said the question was a routine one, and, thanking her, held the door open for her.
When they were alone, the two men gave a smothered laugh.
"What did I tell you, Pointer? Countess Jura the Tenth and Eleventh, as far as I'm concerned. The First and Second, for you. The Heart-broken Fiancée, the Indignant Critic—who thinks it very wrong of Craig to have written to his cousin that he was being poisoned,—and, as always of late, the Philosopher, who would like to discuss the fifth dimension, and a sixth too, probably, if we would let her."
"I wonder why she disliked the sound of those shears so much? They seemed to—deflate her, this last time," mused Pointer.
"Pity they can't remind her of when they cut a bit off the end of her tongue," Godolphin thought. "It's far too long. Swivel-hung, too."
Pointer thought that the greatest pity, from his point of view, was that she was a foreigner. That most foreign of all foreigners—a Russian.
"Cossack,". Godolphin amplified. "Don Cossack, I'm told."
"Worse and worse, sir. But with any foreigner, a detective is at a disadvantage. All the signposts are written in their language, not his."
"And that tea of Craig's, that different tea from Lady Craig's own, you think the poison might have been given in that?"
"Seems as though it might have, sir. When we get the analysis of all the things sent up, we shall be able to be more certain. It seems a good guess, at the moment."
"And she heard no one in the garden last night. I'm very keen on inspecting the garden."
"Lady Craig may tell us something that makes it unnecessary, sir." But Godolphin refused to be damped.
AND Lady Craig certainly seemed to have no light to throw on anything that interested the chief inspector. She had heard no one in the garden last night. The idea was absurd.
"By the way," she went on, "Miss Cornwall, the children's governess, would like to leave at once." She would, of course, let the police have her address, which was a well-known Women's University club.
"Rather sudden, isn't it?" Godolphin asked.
"This whole dreadful tragedy is sudden," Lady Craig reminded him coldly. "You can't blame her for not wanting to be dragged into it. After all, she has her living to get, and people don't like children's governesses who have been in houses where someone was poisoned."
Emily Craig spoke as though the manner of Ronald Craig's death seemed to her far worse than the death itself. "And now that her voice is so much better, she was thinking of getting another post anyway."
As to departures from the manor, Godolphin left that to the Scotland Yard man to permit or refuse. Pointer granted it at once. Apart from any other reasons, this was a poison case, and one where the victim—Ronald Craig—had believed the danger to lie in the house itself. Pointer could not insist on anyone remaining in the place where Craig's death had proved the rightness of his suspicion, for the chief inspector had no means of protecting any of the inmates, or even of watching over them. It might complicate the inquiry, but no one would be kept at Woodthorp Manor against their own wishes. He said as much.
"The children are going down to a cottage a friend has lent me in Devon. The nurse is taking them by the eleven train too."
"About the governess," Pointer said casually, "are you dismissing her, or is she giving up the place? I don't quite understand which."
"Well—half-and-half—I suppose," Lady Craig said lightly. "I've always thought it ridiculous of Mr. Craig to have such tiny tots be given so expensive a governess, and the executors may think the same. In any case, I don't want there to be any idea that I kept her on, and am therefore responsible for her salary."
Godolphin gave one of his grim smiles—a smile that said, "Just like you!"
"She acted as Mr. Craig's secretary,' didn't she?" Pointer next wanted to know. Lady Craig negatived it. Mr. Craig saw to his own correspondence entirely unaided.
"We want to explain an ink-stain," Pointer went on, "merely by way of routine, of course. It is on this coverlet."
"Indeed!" Lady Craig looked all interest. "Why, it was a new one only—" She checked herself with evident difficulty. "Most careless of someone," she finished.
"About the tea that Mr. Craig used," Pointer threw in casually, "it was special tea, I understand?"
"China tea," she answered promptly. "I always use it, and Dr. Lindrum thought it would be best for him, too. Why?"
"Is there any tea in his room at the moment?" he asked, without replying.
"I'm afraid I haven't looked lately. Whenever his tea-caddy is empty, I refill it from the tea I use myself."
"And when did you last refill the caddy?" he persisted.
She shook her head, with a very watchful eye on him. "I really have no idea," she replied lightly. "As I said, whenever I happened to notice it was empty."
"Did you make tea for him?" he asked next.
"No, never," came swiftly and very firmly. "The nurse would probably do that, as the children were generally taken in to see their father around five."
"And where do you get it from?"
She explained that she and Mrs. Lindrum ordered it together, so as to buy it at a reduced rate in bulk. Mrs. Lindrum did the ordering through some hospital supply society. It reached the manor house in a tin biscuit box kept in a cupboard in her—Lady Craig's—room. She rose, as though the interview were over. "Look here," Godolphin stopped her, "can you explain about Countess Jura and Craig? Were they engaged at the time of his death last night, or were they not?"
"I really couldn't say." Lady Craig gave her conventional smile that had no merriment attached to it. "She says now that they were not. Poor Ronald, as far as I know, considered that they were. But I'll send Miss Cornwall in to speak to you."
"What would her position have been, sir," Pointer asked under his breath, coming back to his chair, "supposing the engagement had been broken off and Mr. Craig had lived?"
"Not a pleasant one, I should imagine," Godolphin said slowly. "As I told you, from what I saw of him, I should expect Craig to've been a very generous man as long as you were fulfilling your contract, but hard as nails if you failed him, let alone tried to do him, give him less than the bargain was for. For instance, if he had promised anything—advanced any money to Lady Craig for the marriage, you can be sure that she would have to refund every farthing, and possibly pay interest as well. But, unless there was someone else in the offing, I can't think that the countess would have been able to get out of it. The Kalkoffs had arranged it with Craig. They wouldn't want to try to get her a second husband." He shook his head. "I can't see how she could have helped herself, unless she had some way of earning her living up her sleeve. And I never met a girl who struck me as less able, and less inclined, to do that."
The door opened. Pointer saw again the plain young woman with the intelligent face that he had seen when he was allowed to look for a second into what he now knew was the children's school-room. It was also the face that Dr. Gilchrist had seen for a moment peering into the room where the dead man lay.
She explained that she wanted to go to town, and get other work. That the sooner she could go, the better, as there would be the less to connect her in people's minds with the tragic affair that had happened last night. She spoke without any emotion, as though solely concerned with what was best for herself. Pointer studied her with covert intentness.
The character of the people associated with a crime meant little in itself. Good judge though he was, he never relied on his impressions. It was what they had done, not his ideas as to what they might do, that mattered. He was no witch-doctor to smell out a criminal. But in dealing with the circle around a problem, in pulling out from unwilling witnesses things they would rather not have let slip, a right judgment of their characters was all-important. A wrong reading might close some most valuable mouth forever, as far as a case was concerned.
Godolphin had said that Yseult Cornwall disliked teaching children. Pointer would have expected some such feeling. The colonel thought that she had good fighting stuff in her...Yes, Pointer saw something about the long jaw that suggested one who would enjoy wresting a victory from out of the very teeth of opposition. Godolphin considered her hard...She was speaking like a hard woman now. Most of all, it was a shut-in face, by which the chief inspector meant a face that lived behind closed doors—that kept its feelings well away from inspection—good and evil feelings alike.
Watching her now, listening to her, he learned nothing whatever except what she was saying. And that in itself was rare with him. He felt as though there were a thick sheet of lead between his mind and hers. Was this barrier intentional? According to her own account, she had absolutely nothing to tell them.
"What about the paper that Mr. Craig signed yesterday?" Pointer suggested, looking apparently at his notebook as though checking off some previous statement made him. A useful ruse sometimes. Miss Cornwall only stared blankly. She knew nothing of any paper or any signature, she said.
On the ink-stain being mentioned, she only said that probably Mr. Craig had dropped his pen, or the children had been playing with it. They had been in a minute or two before she joined them. As to any letter laid on the mantel-shelf last night, she had seen none. She had gone into the room only for a second or two to say good-by to Mr. Craig.
"Do you think Mr. Craig was conscious?" Pointer asked in a tone that did not suggest much interest in the reply.
Again came the same hesitation that had marked some passages with each of the household, except Countess Jura, the pause of a person debating whether they will speak or be silent, agree or deny. It is a pause that never suggests love of accuracy but rather concealment.
"But surely," put in Godolphin sharply, "surely, Miss Cornwall, you would know at once whether Craig was conscious or not. Did he speak to you? Did he reply to anything you said?"
"No," she said very low, "no. Perhaps he wasn't conscious."
"I waited for a moment or two, thinking he might speak. But there was nothing I could do. So I went back to my own room and stayed there till I heard the butler locking the door, and so knew that Mr. Craig was dead."
Pointer waited a second and then said suddenly:
"Do you know how much tea there is left in Mr. Craig's tea-caddy?" And on the instant there swept across her face a perfect convulsion of terror. Gone in a moment, it left a ravaged grayness behind.
"I think it's empty, or nearly so." She said very evenly: "I made tea generally for him, you know, as he liked the children with him at that hour. But yesterday he didn't feel up to having them, and they, of course, were my only reason for being there. Oh, about the caddy, as Lady Craig always sees to it that it is full, very possibly she filled it yesterday." The glance that flickered from one to the other of the two men, suggested again that sickly terror. As they seemed to have nothing more to ask her, she left them with a gait that suggested that only will-power kept it from staggering. There was a moment's silence while Pointer made a note in his book. He used his own shorthand.
"Was her manner just as usual, sir?" he asked.
Godolphin was emphatic that it was not.
"I never saw such a change. Generally, always hitherto, her chief characteristic has been aplomb, certainty of manner. Her voice, her way of speaking, what she said, all suggested a young woman absolutely sure of herself and her place in the world. But today, that stiff, wooden sort of stolidity, isn't the Miss Cornwall I've ever seen before...Of course a murder in the household of which she's a member would be a shock, but I should have expected her to react to it quite differently. Then there's her face. She's no beauty at the best of times, but she looks like her own mother today. But so does Emily Craig. It takes Countess Jura's philosophical spirit apparently to pass unscathed through such events as Craig's deathbed scenes. But, personally, I should say you've got the accomplice!"
"Looks like it," Pointer agreed. "I never felt greater terror in anyone before. But shall we have a look at the garden now, sir?"
He led the way out.
"These flower-pots here, sir, and those over against the house, cover some odd marks."
Godolphin settled down to the trail like a hound. He found that someone, a woman evidently, and in the dark—for in places a swerve of an inch would have meant avoiding a plant—had rushed headlong across two of the beds in the scant little acre of garden, which was all that was left around the house. He saw at once that the prints would cover part of a beeline drawn from the gate to Craig's bedroom window. Then they were lost. Nearer the house was a different set. Women's shoes again, but lower-heeled and broader-toed. They showed that the wearer had stood close in against the wall under Craig's window. A small stone squirrel placed at the foot of a lilac tree there had had his paw broken off. Godolphin went over the marks again. Yes; a headlong rush half across the garden from the gate in the direction of Craig's window, as straight as though a line had been drawn, it must have been over everything in the way. Then, either another woman or a change of shoes and a long wait under the window.
"Well, Pointer," the colonel asked, when he himself was quite clear as to this much, "what do you make of it?" They were talking in the center of the tennis courts now, well away from eavesdroppers.
"I think two women, sir. One rushed out across those beds in the middle, straight for Craig's lighted window—rushed at night with her eye only on the light. Then she lost it. It would be cut off by that clump of trees"—he pointed to some chestnuts—"and went on by the path. Which would seem to show that the room was lighted only by a small shaded light, I think, otherwise she could have seen the reflection on the trees. But seeing no reflection she follows the path. As she now leaves no marks she knows how the paths run; only at first in her rush she didn't care. She is a woman of around five foot five or six, I should think."
"I make her five foot six," Godolphin nodded. "Do the marks tally with any of the women in the house?"
"Might be any of them, sir, except Countess Alexandra.' These marks were made by leaps rather than steps, so that breadth of foot is really all one can judge by."
"What about the nurse?"
"She carries a very good electric torch always with her, and the lamps here aren't put out until she's back in the house. Match puts them out before going to bed. They were on last night as usual. Besides, I think this woman was in slippers when she ran."
"That heel-mark bears it out." Godolphin bent over a smudge again: "How about those by the wall?"
"They don't fit anyone in the house, sir. The heel is too low even for the nurse's shoes, and the toe too broad. She didn't go inside I think. But the other did. The one who leaped straight through these beds. She either is an inmate of the house, and didn't come out again last night, or, if she left, walked along the gravel paths back to the gate. But the other woman who stood close under Mr. Craig's window only walked on the paths, unless it was someone who had stepped out of the house. There are no other marks of feet except across the two flower-beds and by the side of the house. You noticed the stone squirrel's broken paw, sir?"
"Yes; what broke it?" Godolphin liked "to see the young tins at it," as he often said.
"Something small and sharp, and held at an angle like this"—Pointer demonstrated with his cane. "In fact, I think it was like this," he tapped the cane, "for there is the mark of a stick deep in the ground at one side as though leaned on heavily or for a long time."
"A walking stick!" Godolphin seemed much struck. "A heavy woman?" he asked in an odd voice.
"Or stood a long time. Tired, say. Either is possible, but I think it was fatigue, not weight. Judging by the footprints, she stood all the time while waiting with her left ear turned to the window above her. Her weight on her right foot, like this." Pointer leaned to one side on his stick, his right foot barely on the ground, the left half of his face turned up in an attitude of one listening closely.
"I thought that hole a gardener's stake." Godolphin was vexed with himself.
"One of your constables asked the gardener about what stakes he uses. He has none big enough to fill that hole. Besides," Pointer took out something from a rubber pouch, "I had time to pour in a little quick-setting plaster of the superintendent's which I had brought with me. This is the result." He held it out.
"Bent ferrule." Godolphin's mustache twitched as though he started to add something. But he said no more as he handed it back.
"Good quality cane," Pointer thought, replacing his exhibit in its pouch. "Not a laboring person's certainly. Nor are the shoes those of a laboring person. Very flexible soles."
"A lame woman?" Godolphin asked, and there was again a curious glint in his eye.
Pointer thought not. "There are no marks whatever of her stick coming up the garden paths, though she may have kept to the grass. But neither are there any marks of it under the window until she stood there. I should say not lame, but hears better with the left ear than the right."
And then Godolphin broke into a low laugh of intense amusement. "What a tangle! I know, and you soon will know, a woman who's hard of hearing in her left ear, but she's very lame in her left leg—all but a cripple. Odd how the wrong people fit and the right ones won't. But as to sticks out here in the country, everyone, male or female, uses them. But that's your lookout. Anything else?"
"No," Pointer said thoughtfully. "It looks as if a woman rushed in at the gate, along the gravel path until she could see the light from the sick-room window, then ran across these beds."
"Stumbled over them would be a better word," Godolphin threw in.
"True, sir. Then on by the path again, in the dark, up to the little side door. Then she—or one of the women—threw some gravel up at the window."
"I saw some on the sill." Godolphin was vexed with himself for not paying more attention to it. "I only thought of the children—well, what did the two come for?"
"Ah! that's just it, sir," Pointer agreed. "What?"
"The part of the letter Craig mentioned to Houghton?" persisted the colonel.
There was a short silence. "I don't see why the rush, if it was that," the chief inspector went on, eyes on his shoes, head bent. "Nor why it was left till so late, as we think it was—it's odd. The two women whose prints never show together...one of whom seems to've followed the other, stood listening below the window or watching..."
"To help if need be? Perhaps she had a torch," suggested Godolphin.
"Possibly, sir. Though the way that squirrel was hit looks as if she had been feeling her way with her stick once she left the path and crossed to the wall."
"There's Houghton. Let's see if he has any suggestions to make." Godolphin motioned to him to come on out, and showed him the footprints.
"Whose are they?" was the immediate question. It was one that could not be answered for the moment.
"Do you think they came for that missing letter?" Houghton asked next, studying them attentively. This, too, could not be answered. All they could say was that from the size of one the woman could be either Lady Craig, Miss Cornwall, or Mrs. Kingsmill. But that the other woman, the one who waited under Craig's window, had not been identified with any of the shoes yet seen.
Houghton looked disappointed.
"Probably the one was only the nurse hearing Ronnie call out in pain and dashing back to him; and the other might easily be the marks made by some passing stranger who heard the cries too and hurried along to see what was wrong. Saw the lights and moving shadows in that one room and heard the sound of voices...and stood for a moment listening to know what was wrong." He turned to Godolphin: "The attitude which you think the woman took suggests Mrs. Lindrum, so do the flat low heels and broad-toed shoes, but she can't walk out of doors unaided since her accident, poor soul. Once, she was the best dancer in the county."
Godolphin gave an account of Mrs. Lindrum's accident to Pointer, as the two set to work taking casts, initialing each, and making a plan of them carefully to scale. That done, they were handed to the constable on duty in the potting-shed, who was to take them to the police station.
Back in the house as Pointer and Godolphin were washing their hands they again discussed the marks. The cloak-room looked into the garden. Countess Jura came into sight, singing something under her breath, a sad, wailing little song, true Cossack, had they known it. She was looking very white, the two thought, in the bright sunlight, and for once walked as though she had no spring in her. She did not see the two men at the window, but she did see the gardener who was clearing away some cuttings. With a rather courtly gesture she swept some out of her path. She stood a moment, head arrogantly thrown back, and said something to him. From his appearance he seemed to be civilly arguing the case with her. They saw her foot stamp the ground, then she went past him and on around a bush. The gardener leaned on his broom and watched her. It was an oddly considering, meditative look. The man was no gardener in Pointer's opinion, yet oddly enough that glance was a true gardener's glance. Just so had his own father often stood of an evening, pipe in mouth, in his tiny coastguard's plot of ground, eyeing some plant which was not doing well. With a ruminating, critical, yet very affectionate glance: "Who is the gardener here, sir? Do you know him?" Pointer asked.
Godolphin nodded. "That's Jones. He's the Woodthorp general odd-job man. Was a clerk in the city until just lately, when his doctors told him he must get out into the open-air more, so he's trying his hand at any work that keeps him away from the house. Very poor fist he makes of most things," the colonel went on.
"I got him to touch up a corner on my garage, and it's not dry yet; but he means well, and he's uncommon cheap. Says frankly that he's trying to learn how to do things and only asks the pay of a learner. He only gardens—if one may call it that—one day a week here, I believe. He looks after a lot of the houses around where they can't, or won't, afford good work." Godolphin stopped. The Russian girl had once more come out. She said something peremptory to the man, of which the two listeners caught the words: "At once! Immediately!" The man stayed a moment on his broom, looking thoughtfully back into her flushed face, still with his considering gaze. Then he nodded and went off. Godolphin laughed.
"Just like Jones. He's a queer fish. But very likeable. He's talking of leaving the odd-job trade and going in for touring the country with some puppets he's making, I understand. 'The Pilgrim's Progress' it's to be called, and he intends to show the story in a little booth like a Punch and Judy show. I've seen some of his figures; he carves them out of knots and twisted branches very cleverly." He stopped as Houghton hurried in, evidently with a message.
"Lindrum's just phoned. He'll be back at this house in an hour. Says a Mr. Scarsdale will be there too. May I come with you? I want to hear what Lindrum has to say about that letter, the letter that brought me down here."
Both Godolphin and Pointer assured him he would be welcome.
"My cousin may have said something which Bob only half listened to at the time, and which might be important if I knew of it. But who is Scarsdale?"
"Scarsdale," Pointer explained, "is the head dispenser at the hospital where the autopsy is held. I asked him to check and seal up Dr. Lindrum's poison-book, preliminary to an official from the Home Office going over it later on."
"Unfortunate that so little arsenic goes such a long way," was Houghton's only comment. He looked very discouraged. His labors had brought him no reward, and he was beginning to understand that they would not.
Godolphin decided to put in the time until the hour was up in going through Craig's private papers with Houghton, and the two settled down to work. Pointer was due at the railway station to meet Dr. Gilchrist.
The medical man was already seated in the waiting-room as he got there. "Do you mind if I drive you up and down the road in my car?" Pointer asked. "There's plenty of time, and we shall be quite safe from eavesdroppers there."
Gilchrist none too eagerly followed him into the little two-seater. There he gave a detailed account of the complete autopsy finding. Further tests would be made in due course by other experts.
"I presume that's all you want to know, chief inspector," he wound up.
"Nearly all," Pointer said speciously. "But by the way, how did you happen to come down to the manor house this morning?"
Gilchrist told him.
"And once you had met Dr. Lindrum, who suggested the idea of poison—you or Dr. Lindrum?"
"I don't remember..."
"Ah I Not Dr. Lindrum," murmured Pointer. "Did he seem at all unwilling to admit the idea that it was poison once it had been suggested by you?"
Gilchrist was too angry to speak for a moment. He did not care to have his mental pockets turned inside out.
"Dr. Gilchrist," Pointer said quietly, "I haven't time to be diplomatic. If we're right, a dreadful crime has been committed here, and a man slowly done to death—until the final swift dose was given him at the time which best suited the murderer's convenience. If you have any sympathy with murder, frankly I have none. Quite apart from the fact that I'm at Scotland Yard, I have none. Never had."
"Nor I either!" Gilchrist was young enough to retort with warmth. "But Dr. Lindrum—"
"—may have had nothing whatever to do with the crime. May have had his medicine tampered with, or his poison-cupboard rifled. May have been the catspaw. You know yourself, Dr. Gilchrist, that around him, not necessarily on him, suspicion must rest. He may have some shrewd ones himself. How did he take it when you first diagnosed his late patient's death for him?"
"Who told you, chief inspector, that I diagnosed it for him?" Gilchrist asked stonily.
"Who told you death was due to arsenic?" Pointer countered. "The appearance of things." He spoke with a faint half-smile, and Gilchrist gave in. Those pleasant gray eyes seemed to look at him so casually, and yet Gilchrist felt suddenly that they were reading things far back in his mind. Things of which he himself was not fully aware.
Pointer soon elicited the facts of the first talk between the two medical men. Gilchrist went on to say that at the autopsy, every action, every word, and, he thought, every look of Lindrum's, were those of an absolutely innocent man taken quite unawares by what had been going on.
"I see..." Pointer stared at his boots. "I see...Yet, frankly, Dr. Gilchrist, wouldn't you have expected him to have detected that it was going on—the poisoning of his patient, I mean? Weren't the symptoms sufficiently marked to arrest a doctor's attention? Toward the end, say?"
"Yes," he said honestly, after a struggle, "they were. He must have been overworked or preoccupied, I think. Greatly worried with another case, or his own affairs."
"He is well up in his work?"
"His degree would tell you that. M.B. of London isn't to be had for the asking." Gilchrist evidently wanted to be on his brother medico's side if he could do so and play fair.
"Now, would you tell me exactly what you did in the room? Where you stood, what you touched. Next, what Mr. Houghton did. And lastly, what Dr. Lindrum did. If you could let the time you were in the bedroom pass before your mind like a film and just enumerate all the movements on it?"
The idea amused Gilchrist. He wanted to test for himself how sharp his observation and his memory were. When he had finished, after several corrections, and "oh, I forgot's," Pointer again thought over things for a second in silence.
"You're quite sure that neither of you three gentlemen took anything out of the bedroom?"
"And didn't touch the paper basket, you think? Nor a silver tea-caddy with a ship in full sail on it?"
"I'm sure none of us three went near either."
Pointer thanked him, saw him into the train, and then drove on to Lindrum's house, which was at the other end of the village. When he was shown in, the young doctor turned a face on him that even Pointer hardly recognized. He was pale and looked very shaken, and yet curiously elated, with a deep and hidden elation.
The dispenser was in another room with his assistant, a thin spectacled youth, who, from first to last, did not open his mouth in public. Houghton and Godolphin came hard on Pointer's heels.
Lindrum took them all into his surgery; Godolphin handed him back the key to the poison cupboard and he unlocked the door for them. All the time, he had a curiously absent air as though his mind were elsewhere. It was only at the click the key made that he seemed to wake up with a start. He looked like a man called from a pleasant dream to a most unpleasant reality.
"Oh, by the way," he said suddenly, "I ought to explain that there was an accident with the arsenious acid jar. It fell into the sink"—he pointed to a chip on the edge. "I weighed the contents immediately afterward, and noted them, of course, together with the explanation of what had happened, in my book. I also sent word to the council to be on the lookout. Nearly eight drachms went down the pipe." He led the way back to his smoking-room. There, Houghton and his two companions heard in full detail the story of the letter handed by the dead man to Lindrum. Half-way through it Pointer was called to the telephone.
The analysis of the things hurried up to town by a motor cyclist constable this morning was now available. The bedding was not finished yet, but the Home Office expert could already say with certainty that there was no arsenic in any of the toilet things sent, nor in the cigarettes or cigarette holder, nor yet in the bottle of medicine which, though empty as a grocer would see it, yet contained liquid sufficient to be tested.
Pointer thanked him, and told the others of the first result. Lindrum gave a sigh of relief.
"I didn't expect much—personally—from those analyses," Houghton said. "The food would offer so much safer, more indetectable a way of giving the poison. Match is out of it of course." He spoke with certainty. "The poison was already in some tumbler or cup. Colorless, odorless, tasteless, what was easier?"
"But not so easy to get colorless, odorless, and tasteless arsenic," Pointer could have added, but did not.
"Do you thoroughly trust the nurse?" he asked the doctor.
"Absolutely!" Lindrum spoke with vehemence.
"Mr. Craig evidently didn't," Pointer mused. "What makes you think that?" The doctor's tone was indignant.
"He didn't include her with you in that letter you've just been telling us about."
"Mrs.. Kingsmill is absolutely incapable of any crime, let alone murder. She's the most loyal, most painstaking soul imaginable. My sister would tell you the same. She's known her for years intimately."
Lindrum, after a moment, took up his account of the happenings to the letter which he had dropped in Houghton's box.
"Ronnie reopened it before you; did you see what he wrote?" Houghton asked eagerly. "Oh! I don't mean the words; but surely you have an idea of how many lines it ran to?"
"Four or five, I should say, no more. He added a paragraph that length"—Lindrum marked on his finger about the depth of the paper that was missing. "I do remember now that he had to fairly work his pen in and out at last to get his words on the one sheet."
"By the way, doctor," Pointer struck in, "that letter Mr. Craig kept under his pillow the last day? You would probably have seen it. Did you see the writing?"
Lindrum hesitated but for the barest fraction:
"No, I didn't," he said. Yet there was something in his eye...some reservation.
"Did you recognize the paper, or rather have you seen any similar paper before?"
"Dozens of times," Lindrum said too hurriedly. "Lots of people use it. It was just a mottled gray, rough edges, nothing in the least remarkable." He shot a swift look at the other as though to read his face.
Pointer hesitated. But Craig had trusted Lindrum. He rose.
"As Mrs. and Miss Lindrum are not coming back till this evening, and it may be too late to disturb them then, may I have a word with your maid? In a room to ourselves? As you know, Dr. Lindrum, we absolutely accept your account of the letter, but I must confirm the hours when you came in, when you left, and so on—that's routine."
Lindrum nodded; rang the bell and told the maid to take the chief inspector into the dining-room, and to answer all his questions as fully as possible.
Pointer began them by looking out of the window at the flowers. "By the way, if I should want to send a note to the doctor at any time, you employ the same gardener as Lady Craig does, don't you?"
"No, sir. We don't need a gardener. Miss Agatha and the master between them do the little there is to be done in that line. But Jones is always there to run errands when the boy as carries the bottles is busy. He often takes the doctor's medicine around. Very trustworthy is Jones."
"Do you know if in the message Lady Craig sent by him just now she mentioned anything about the date of the inquest?" Pointer asked on a chance. It was a ludicrous question to him, but Mary saw nothing funny.
"The note wasn't from her ladyship, sir. It was from the Russian countess, at least, so Jones said."
Pointer did not seem to be listening, as he strolled around the room looking appreciatively at the row of snapshots that were framed to make a picture chair-rail running around three of the four sides.
"Mrs. Lindrum's work, sir. She started doing of them at this last Christmas, and hasn't quite finished yet. Those last ones were taken only the day of the tennis party at the manor, sir. The day that poor Mr. Craig came down ill. Must have been poisoned in town, sir. One of these slow-working poisons. That's what I say."
Pointer was interested in all the snapshots of the doctor, especially when he saw that each had been dated in a neat, clear hand. He had quite a chat with the maid about them and Miss Lindrum and her mother. Suddenly a bell rang. Pointer had had a word with one of the constables on duty at the manor house before leaving. He was to ring the Lindrums' back door bell at a given minute, and have a chat with the maid about the fire of last night and any suspicious characters seen around; or, failing that, to question her as to the whereabouts of sundry perfectly respectable neighbors. The one important thing was to detain Dr. Lindrum's only servant for a specified length of time.
Mary jumped up and stood irresolutely. Pointer told her that he would just finish a note he was making and then rejoin the other gentlemen. She hurried off downstairs. After all, a detective officer from Scotland Yard can find his way back by himself along a six-foot passage, if anyone can, she argued. Pointer gave her a minute, and then slipped up the stairs.
When he finally returned to the doctor's study, the two dispensers, who had finished, followed him in. He listened without much interest to what they would say. Their faces had told him that nothing of importance was coming. As he thought, they reported that everything was in order. They had relocked the cupboard with the poison-book in a sealed envelope package inside, and now handed the key to the chief constable, who passed it promptly over to Pointer.
"I should be much obliged if you would let me glance through your appointment book and jot down the dates when you first attended Mr. Craig," the latter said, when the two men had left the room.
Lindrum laid the volume before him. When he turned to sit down again Houghton went over to him.
"That report of the dispensers, Bob, as far as I'm concerned, it wasn't necessary. I hope you know that. But it's satisfactory to have it clearly stated. For the rest"—he held out his hand—"I'm most awfully sorry for you. So would Ronnie be. I know, as he knew, that you had nothing to do with any poisoning of him."
Lindrum's face worked. For a second it looked as though he might break down as he wrung the other's hand.
"Fortunately, apart from your character," Houghton went on, "there isn't the ghost of a motive."
Lindrum took a stride forward. "There's something I ought to tell you. All three of you." It was the voice of a man who feels that he must speak, however much against his own interests speech may be. "There is a motive, some might say, on my part," Lindrum went on. "It may come as a shock to you, Houghton. It's this—I intend to marry Countess Jura as soon as it's decent to announce the engagement and have the wedding." He looked from one to the other almost defiantly. Houghton looked at him as though he could not believe his ears, and then fell to patting Sheik, Lindrum's cocker, who was enraptured at such attentions on the part of one of his particular gods.
"Since when, Bob?" Houghton finally asked.
Lindrum flushed. "I don't want to sail under false colors. I loved her the first time I set eyes on her. Naturally."
"Naturally!" murmured Houghton under his breath, with a glance at Godolphin that was very close to a grimace.
"As long as she was engaged to Craig I would have done nothing until I had spoken to him first and got him to release her. I meant to do this as soon as he was well. She never cared for him." He said the last almost pleadingly to Houghton, who nodded grudgingly.
"Do you think Ronnie guessed it?" Houghton asked, after a moment's silence.
"Not that she cared for me," Lindrum said quickly. "He knew probably that she didn't love him, but I think he had no idea...it was a dreadful position, but none of our own making."
"Well," Houghton said, stroking Sheik's beautiful head thoughtfully, "it's only what I should have expected of you, Bob, to play the game and out with the truth, damning the consequences; but I'm afraid people will talk. If it comes off!"
"If what comes off?"
"Your marriage to Jura Ivanoff."
"Let them! I am going to marry her as soon as it can be arranged without showing any lack of feeling for Craig. It's a very terrible position for us both. For the present, of course, nothing is to be said to anyone else, but I thought you three should be told immediately. You are all keen on getting the murderer. So am I! More than any man, I want to clear up this dreadful problem."
"And you think this will help to clear it up?" Godolphin asked.
"It's the truth, colonel."
There was an awkward silence broken to everyone's secret relief by the servant coming in to say that the doctor was wanted at once by Miss Green, who sent word round that the swelling in her throat was worse. Pointer handed him back his book, and his three visitors hurried off, while the doctor came as far as the gate with them and then turned in the opposite direction. For a moment none of the three spoke.
"Poor Bob!" Houghton said finally under his breath. "Poor Bob! For I can't think that girl will ever marry a country doctor. If she wanted to, her people wouldn't let her. Nor would she want to, unless I read her all wrong. Well, facts are as before, and his confidence means nothing to me. Ronnie knew who was poisoning him, and it wasn't Bob Lindrum. But I wonder what Jura's game is...looks as if she wanted people to suspect him...people who don't know him...it would be just like her!"
"Fortunately, neither of the Lindrums can be connected with the murder of Craig, according to that last letter of his to you," Godolphin reminded him. "No need of accomplices in the house for either of them apart from no motive whatever. As for an incriminating letter, part of which Craig found, well, neither of those two would have written to anyone at the manor. A word in a quiet spot would have been so much safer." Godolphin was glad that this was so. He was prepared to suspect and arrest anyone, but he was glad that the dead rector's children were out of the question. The parson had been a very popular figure throughout the countryside.
Houghton thoroughly agreed with him.
"Apart from Ronnie's letter, that would be my own conviction too."
"And what's your conviction about Mrs. Lindrum?" Pointer asked him. "What's she like?"
"In looks? Handsome woman. Sort of type to break rather than bend. Used to run the parish when her husband was alive. I never cared for her as a kid," he ended ruminatingly.
"Why not?" asked Godolphin in surprise. "I like her myself. Stern, but fine character."
"I used to have a sort of notion that she wasn't quite straight. That she didn't always stick to the truth, I mean. You know how quick kids are to notice that—and remember it! It may be all wrong. I may merely have overheard her, the poor soul, telling the village bore that she was so sorry he had to go; or reassuring the chief squawker in the village choir that she hadn't been miles out of her course at the end of the anthem. Children's likes and dislikes are silly things."
"You don't dislike her nowadays?" Pointer asked.
"The other way round. I like her. Mrs. Lindrum is a woman who actually thinks. I mean really does think, not merely think that she thinks. Let alone talk about it, like that Russian girl." Houghton nodded and turned in at the first shop for some cigarettes.
"WHY this interest in Houghton's feelings about Mrs. Lindrum?" Godolphin asked with frank curiosity.
"Because she may be a most important witness, even granting she's nothing more," Pointer said gravely. "Her shoes fit exactly the marks of the feet that waited under Mr. Craig's window last night. Fit them too exactly for there to be any mistake. Also, when I pretended to have found a bent ferrule in the hall, which I had lost again most unaccountably, by the time I spoke of it to the maid, I was told that the ferrule on Mrs. Lindrum's malacca cane is bent."
"Impersonation?" Godolphin asked curtly.
Pointer was silent.
"We agreed"—Godolphin turned on him sharply "we agreed that the woman try the wall, though she had a stick, and leaned on it while she stood there, didn't limp when she walked along the path. Well—that settles the possibility of it being Mrs. Lindrum herself."
"Mrs. Lindrum doesn't limp, either, when she's in her bathroom, sir."
"Do you mean she fakes being a crippler' Godolphin asked incredulously.
"There's no other explanation for the shoes in her room, sir. All but a pair of black satin, high-heeled bedroom slippers show that they were worn by a woman who limped with the left foot. The right sole is much more worn than the other, and the shoe is thrust somewhat out of shape. But those satin bedroom slippers of hers! Both their soles are equally worn and polished as smooth as a waiter's or a dancer's, though they're fairly new. She has a gramophone in her bedroom with a selection of dance records. The maid told me she always plays them for an hour before falling asleep. She does more than play them. She gets an hour of much-needed exercise every night by dancing to the tunes on the bathroom floor, which has no room underneath it to betray her by the sound, and is cut off from the rest of the house."
"What on earth!" Godolphin stared at Pointer, almost dubiously.
"When she had her accident, the doctor had her bedroom put on the ground floor and a bathroom made for her out of what was the conservatory. The bedroom is floored with cork carpeting, and is pitted everywhere with the marks of her stick. But the bathroom, a much larger bathroom than ordinary, is tiled, and on the polished soles of those slippers are tiny criss-cross marks made by the joins of the tiles when danced over. Danced over very frequently. I shall find out when she bought the slippers. Fortunately, the name of the firm where she got them is inside, and they're too small a size for anyone else in the house to wear."
Godolphin did not hide his amazement.
"Yet, do you know, at a dinner some weeks ago, when a tray of black coffee was upset into her lap, it struck me that she hopped back out of its way with uncommon dexterity for a cripple. But I didn't follow up the thought. Amazing!...Mrs. Lindrum...well, well! But the reason?"
"If Miss Lindrum had ever been in love with Mr. Craig, I could see a reason," Pointer murmured.
"For Mrs. Lindrum's deception?"
"Yes, sir, for it, and the double footprints of last night, assuming that one pair was Miss Lindrum's. But as everyone, including yourself, tells me that the two were the merest acquaintances, I wonder if the explanation is connected with the fact—also learned from you—that Mrs. Lindrum was a great friend, the one great friend in the neighborhood of the one-time Mrs. Craig."
"And what would that mean?"
"I don't know yet, sir; but I do now know that Mrs. Lindrum stood under Mr. Craig's window last night."
"Do Miss Lindrum's shoes fit the marks of the other woman?" Godolphin asked, deep in thought.
"She could have made them. The servant didn't hear her go out last night, but her room is on the top floor. There's nothing to prove it was she, however."
"Any 'more than Lady Craig or Miss Cornwall," mused Godolphin, "and Miss Cornwall certainly had the wind up this morning. I saw her once when a savage dog made as if to attack her and the children; she didn't give an inch. Sheer pluck saved them all then. Yet this morning—you think she's in it?" Godolphin's voice said that he himself did.
"I do, sir, up to her neck. And Miss Cornwall is far too intelligent to make any mistake about that. No mere appearance of being involved would account for the state she was in—beneath all her self-control. She knows there's proof against her enough to hang her if we come upon it. At least that's how I read her." Pointer spoke with certainty. "And that is what has absolutely unnerved her. Her hands trembled all the time, tight-pressed between her knees though she kept them. When I asked her about the letter on the mantelshelf—which she had not seen she said—a bead of sweat trickled down her temples. Her very teeth would have chattered if she had not clenched them now and again. Oh no, if she's not the person to whom that missing portion of a letter was sent, that would mean there's still another at the manor house in the crime. Which seems to me most improbable. It's bad enough, and unusual enough, to have two poisoners at work. But three! Guilty or innocent, I think certainly that Miss Cornwall is the accomplice of whom Mr. Craig wrote his cousin."
"Proof against her—but if she got hold of the letter and tore it up—or didn't she get hold of it..." Godolphin groped.
"That's a very difficult question to be sure of, sir," Pointer thought. "She was in the room where it lay out on the mantelpiece, unless Match, or some other person, had already taken it. But unless she knew that it is still in existence, I don't think she'd be so frightened."
"She knows someone is holding it over her?" Godolphin wondered. "Maybe. And the ink on Craig's coverlet?"
"I think she was getting Mr. Craig to sign something which he had promised to sign before he found that incriminating part of a letter. After he found it, he—I think—knocked the pen and paper out of her hand in a sudden burst of fury. Yet—" Pointer stopped.
"Go on!" said Godolphin. "Yet?"
"He says, when writing to Mr. Houghton at noon, that he doesn't know who the accomplice is. But I shouldn't be surprised if, on reflection, he had decided it was probably Miss Cornwall. He didn't have her in to make tea for him yesterday, apparently for the first time since he was ill. And I don't think she felt it safe to go into his room last night until he was unconscious. Probably she decided that it would look odd if she stayed away entirely."
"But what would she stand to gain?" he asked, "apart from money? And—I may be wrong—but I don't think money in itself would appeal to Miss Cornwall. She's not Emily Craig."
"Supposing she thought that if Mr. Craig were out of the way, she had a chance of marrying Mr. Houghton?" Pointer said slowly. "This is but the merest guesswork, sir, but I had an idea from the way she looked at him this morning, when he said good-by to her as she got into the car, that she was a bit fond of him—"
"Well, do you know, Pointer, that's what my wife always maintains!" Godolphin evidently valued his wife's opinion on such a matter. "I thought she had rather a leaning toward Craig, but Mrs. Godolphin always maintains—between ourselves—that it was for Houghton. And he?"
"Oh, he is quite indifferent, sir, and, I think, unconscious of her liking. You say he's engaged, but Miss Cornwall may not feel that to be an insuperable bar. At any rate, it's the only guess I have, so far, as to any motive on her part."
Pointer was trying to peer through a dense fog, and he knew it. But vaguely—vaguely—he thought he saw something through it—something that would get clearer as he came closer.
"It was a pretty desperate game to play," he went on. "The risks were enormous, but then the fortune of the dead man was enormous...Her face and her past history don't suggest a criminal...but she has had to take to a form of earning her living which must be rather hard to bear for a girl who has taken honors...She did not like teaching children...yet she seemed condemned to spend the remainder of her life doing it...unless she married. Yes, it might suit Miss Cornwall, just as well as someone else, that Ronald Craig should die."
"Yseult Cornwall as the accomplice; the tea as the medium; but the chief criminal, the instigator?" Godolphin muttered. "You have no idea?" he asked, as Pointer said nothing.
"My idea is that it's Miss Bingham," was the reply. "It's only an idea, of course, but she would fit all of the facts we know so far. That part of a letter found by Mr. Craig...he would have known his wife's writing at once...so would Mr. Houghton...Yes, the whole tone of Craig's letter to his cousin was consistent with the guilty fragment found having come from Mildred Bingham. She might, in spite of all belief to the contrary, have a grudge to satisfy against Mr. Craig. She certainly could not come to the manor in person, and would therefore have to arrange for the poison to be given by that most dangerous thing—a confederate. No gifts of food sent by her would have been even accepted by the sick man. She would certainly fit with the choice of her children's governess as her accomplice. Personally, I find it hard to believe that any woman would leave those two uncommonly taking little tots and not try to have any word about them. If Miss Cornwall is, as I think is possible, her employee, why, she's in constant touch—through her—with them; and through her, keeps a footing in her one-time husband's house."
"And that would quite account for Lady Craig's manner," Godolphin went on, working out the sum for himself. "Yes, Miss Cornwall in Miss Bingham's pay...that would explain Emily Craig's whole odd manner when the young woman was mentioned. If Lady Craig knew that the mother had planted the governess in the house, unknown to the father, but with her—Lady Craig's—cognizance. In the light of the tragedy of this morning, any secrecy which she had presumably or, rather, certainly promised, would have a very different look. She would probably assure herself that Yseult Cornwall was quite innocent, but she would hasten to get rid of her; she would have as little to do with her before her departure as possible. Yes...it fits...and it would explain why Miss Cornwall disliked the Russian girl so much...if she were on the wife's side...and it would explain why she asked so many questions at first about Craig, before he came down to that tennis party last month. I wonder what you think she wanted Craig to sign?" he wound up curiously.
"I should expect it to be something connected with Miss Cornwall's ostensible reason for being at the manor. Something connected with the children? She could press whatever she wanted to with regard to them, such as, say, some provision for them after Craig's marriage to Alexandra Ivanoff, without arousing any suspicion, necessarily, that she was in league with the one-time wife. It was quite possible that, 'acting on instructions received,' as the Force put it, Yseult Cornwall had been trying to get Craig to let his former wife have the custody of the two children, or, at least, a share in it. As he was about to marry again, it was quite likely that she had pretty well succeeded. Then"—so Pointer was reasoning out what might have happened—"then Mr. Craig had found that incriminating letter, or part of a letter, from Miss Bingham, and the mere mention of her name made him see red."
"By Jove, it would!" came heartily from Godolphin. "But I don't see what possible grudge Mildred Bingham can have against Craig—"
"There might be active hatred on her side that Mr. Craig had so long postponed getting the divorce, and had got it only because it suited him to be free," Pointer thought. "It is possible...it is just possible, sir, that it is by no means so certain that Mr. Ardmay would marry Miss Bingham now, though it might have been quite certain, had she been free in the beginning. Mr. Ardmay's mother was ill...Mr. Ardmay has been sent for and is with her...She is getting better, but she has apparently not yet insisted on his marrying Miss Bingham...Suppose Mr. Ardmay has failed the lady...It seems to me, sir, that there are possibilities of a complete change in Miss Bingham's feelings toward Mr. Craig. And of a recent change too. Say, some four weeks old—or rather, no, not four—at least five weeks ago," he corrected himself carefully.
"Now, what might you mean by that?" Godolphin asked, "or is it the Scotland Yard touch?"
Pointer laughed. "While I was out of the room, sir, I telephoned to the Sewage Disposal Board, and learned that Dr. Lindrum had reported the accident of the arsenic jar just about five weeks ago almost to a day. That means a week before Mr. Craig came down to the manor house."
"And what, in its turn, does that mean?" Godolphin asked, cocking an eye at him.
"Nothing much by itself, but when I found out, by looking over some snapshots of him, that he first took to wearing the key on the end of his watch-guard around the same date, it grows interesting. Off-hand, it looks, sir, as though the jar had not been dropped by Dr. Lindrum, but by someone whom he found at his poison% cupboard. It had had a smart fall, judging by the chip. And both facts—dropped poison jar, with the loss of some of its contents, an indeterminate amount, of course, and his keeping the key of the cupboard on him—took place only a week before Mr. Craig fell ill."
"By George!" muttered the intrigued chief constable. "But where does Miss Bingham come in?"
"I found in his engagement book that on the day when he telephoned to the Urban Council, a Mrs. Harding had an appointment at his house at eleven. He sent the council the message at eleven-twenty, according to their books, just after the accident, as we think. The lady's name first appears in the book about eight weeks ago, and occurs very frequently up to the day of the accident, but not once after it! And, what's more, an entry for her, two days after it, is scratched through with a big black dash, as though marked off very decidedly.
"What's her address? Is it given?"
"Very carefully, the first time. The maid's writing, I fancy. Cloud Cottage, Morton Dean. Apparently the only time Mrs. Harding came to Dr. Lindrum's house was when the accident occurred to the jar of arsenic."
"Cloud Cottage!" Godolphin seemed surprised. "Why, that's little Mrs. Cook's house! She's our crack tennis player. Very nearly up to champion form. Practically lives at the tennis club. And, by Jove—yes, she's quite a friend of Lady Craig's. I've met her at dinner at the manor house more than once."
"According to the children's nurse, the Craig children are taken over there constantly to play with the little Cook children. Oddly enough—or not oddly, perhaps—the Cook children never come to the manor to play with the Craigs."
"I seem to remember hearing Mrs. Cook tell about a sunk garden which has a gate, and which she had turned into a play garden for her children. She said something about the nurse being able to watch them from the window," Godolphin murmured.
"And Miss Bingham also, sir, if she stayed with Mrs. Cook, under the name of Mrs. Harding. She couldn't venture to talk to her children, I fancy, but she could see them. And, oddly enough, just eight weeks ago, Miss Cornwall began to take them over to Mrs. Cook's every afternoon—so said their quite innocent Nannie. If Miss Cornwall is, as we believe, linked with Miss Bingham, then, obviously, one would think the mother would take the chance when she is in England of having the governess arrange for her to see her children. Yet they were taken nowhere else except to Mrs. Cook's. And Miss Cornwall too, of course, while bringing them to play with the Cook children, could have long undisturbed talks with their mother. But after the accident to Dr. Lindrum's poison jar, the children have only been once a week."
"All this means that very possibly it was Mildred Bingham who was at the poison jar, and that Lindrum caught her at it." Godolphin drew his breath with a sharp intake. "If so, she told him she'd thrown all the poison away, we may be sure. And he believed her, for," Godolphin's face creased into one of his cold smiles, "he was desperately gone on Mildred Craig at one time. It was a case of calf-love, of course, which faded out, but something sentimental from that sort of thing always sticks. Yes, because of it, he might—would—have swallowed any tale she told him, and because of it, too, he must have lent himself to her incognito as Mrs. Harding. And as soon as she had what she came for—the necessary poison—in her possession, she skipped...It all fits..."
"That Mrs. Harding is really Miss Bingham is only a guess as yet, sir."
"Of course, but a good one! Lindrum's house is the first one at the end of the village, the end nearest to Morton Dean too...That servant's been with them about five years, he told me, since Mrs. Craig's day, that is, and she's a London woman...Yes, if Lin-drum found Mildred Bingham fingering the poison pot, and she assured him it was pure accident, he would have believed her, though he would—and did—break of all relations with her."
"There's another thing"—Pointer was half talking to himself—"when I got word about the harmlessness of the doctor's medicine bottle and the rest of the things taken from Mr. Craig's room, I also was told the name of that tea which was spilled around the empty caddy. No wonder Countess Jura liked it. It's unprocurable in Europe, and difficult to get in China. The Mandarin name means the Tea of a Thousand Years—it's considered such a tonic. Now, I particularly asked at the manor for any sort of box, or basket, or container, lead or zinc-lined. In short, something which tea as good as I knew that tea was, could have come in. Good Chinese tea is most elaborately put up, as a rule. The servants had no idea of what I wanted, had never seen any such boxes or baskets, either in anyone's room, or thrown out. That looked to me as though the tea in question had been handed over, or sent, in some ordinary wrapping, by post. Now, if Miss Cornwall could meet Miss Bingham so easily, and, of late, so frequently, what was easier than for her to be handed the especial tea which was to be reserved for Mr. Craig?"
"And you can add another little fact," Godolphin said quietly. "Mr. Ardmay's father was a tea-broker in Shanghai. Ardmay himself is on the board of a half-dozen tea companies...and Lady Craig would be more than willing for Miss Bingham to supply Craig with tea, just as she would be delighted to have her pay for Miss Cornwall. Though I'll bet a new hat she charges Craig for the hundred a year Miss Cornwall, as a university woman, must ask. Yes, Lady Craig would know all about that especial tea that came into the house in some unacknowledged way...Looking back on last night, I think she feels that she was very near an open scandal. And an open scandal to Emily Craig would mean an end of her commissions on introductions and matches."
Both men thought that, on the whole, Lady Craig fitted into the lighter parts of the puzzle, as well as did Yseult Cornwall and Mildred Bingham into its darker, its very horrible center.
"I congratulate you, Pointer," Godolphin said warmly. "You only got to work after breakfast, and you've already a very plausible idea of how the poison was obtained, how it was given, and by whom...I call that really smart work."
Pointer flushed. He was a shy man where praise was concerned. "It's all Mr. Craig's letter," he said truthfully enough. "I'm merely going by it."
Having shown his appreciation, Godolphin now began to see the flaw.
"Hello! I forgot one thing—.and so have you!" Pointer thought this was quite likely; but which thing was it?
"Why, Miss Bingham's vouched for in Monte Carlo. I haven't much opinion of the French police, but at least they're accurate enough when it comes to keeping tally of visitors."
"But is it Miss Bingham, sir? Or some friend of hers? Well, I shall very soon know whether she was Mrs. Harding, or not."
"Probably by being present at Dr. Lindrum's coming interview with Countess Alexandra. She sent him some word that tremendously elated him. Word that she would marry him, I think. In any case, he's sure to rush over and see her, if only to tell her that he's told us—"
"He has a telephone you know," Godolphin reminded him.
"And he's in love with her," Pointer countered, smiling a little. "Personally, I bank on his coming over to see her. If so, in their talk, they may drop something that would give me a line on—well, my guess...If not, then I shall put it squarely to him, and get it out of him, by hook or by crook."
"And now I see," Godolphin went on, "why you think the fact that Mrs. Lindrum was a friend of Miss Bingham's may be connected with those marks of hers in the manor garden last night. Though I still don't see where she comes in..."
"Neither do I, sir," Pointer said, to the other's patent disappointment, as he let himself in at the manor-house gate.
He stopped for a word with the butler in the hall.
"I rather think that Dr. Lindrum will be here shortly. Can you show him into the library?"
Match said that it could be done perfectly. He may, or may not, have guessed that the chief inspector would choose to sit writing up his notes in the dining-room, and that possibly the communicating door between the two rooms might not be quite shut.
Pointer asked him to come in for a word first. He wanted to talk with Match. That odd hesitation, or sense of something being withheld, that marked the butler and the nurse concerning the words called out by Craig last night, haunted him. "I'm dying, Match." Pointer wondered if the words that followed were not: "She's poisoned me"? The nurse might think they referred to herself or to the doctor's sister, even, who put up his prescriptions, and who was a great friend of hers. And Match? Did Match know that the pronoun referred to Mildred Bingham? If so, why did he shield her? From affection? Apparently he had had little to do with her, but he might be under a debt of gratitude nevertheless. That remained to be found out, or was it from some idea of blackmail, or even with an idea of himself playing the sleuth? Certainly the name of Mildred Bingham had not been mentioned when the nurse was in the room, or the latter would have repeated it. Her denial of any knowledge of the other woman had rung quite true, and her reference to what little she had heard of her had sounded genuinely contemptuous.
Pointer now opened with a few more inquiries about Craig's past life, as far as it could be known to the butler.
"He had been in the merchant service; had he any friends still at sea?"
"None so far as I know, sir."
"Any letters or parcels come from out of the way corners of the world while he was staying here?"
"No, sir. I think he was finished with the sea. Quite finished. Didn't mind talking of it, you know, but didn't regret it. He was quite the financier." Match suddenly gave a subdued little laugh. "The sea showed though. More than he thought. Made him a bit of a mixture."
"Well, he was a gentleman, and yet he had funny ways. Never would have a valet" Match evidently considered that most eccentric.
"Never would be waited on more than he could help. Until he fell ill. It was as much as my place was worth to lay his things out for him, and a well-planned meal was wasted on him. He could appreciate cooking, but not a proper sequence of dishes, and didn't care how they were served! He would eat off the silver salver if he felt like it!" Match added, by way of a fanciful illustration of his meaning, rather than of actual happening.
"What was your opinion of his judgment? Would you rely on it?"
"Generally speaking, it was very good, sir. Financially speaking, it was first class, of course. But—well—" He hesitated.
Pointer pressed him for an answer.
"Well, sir, in confidence, what's your opinion of a man's judgment who wants to marry a young lady against her will? Any young lady, but Countess Jura of all young ladies! It's asking for trouble."
"Did you ever see Mrs. Craig?" Pointer said, looking up suddenly.
"Yes, sir. When the lease of the house was being made out to Mr. Craig by Sir George, Mr. Craig and his lady stayed here a good deal, off and on."
"What was she like?" Pointer asked in an idle tone.
"Very nice lady, indeed, sir," Match said, as casually as he rose and pushed his chair neatly back into line.
"You're leaving the Dower House I hear shortly, Mr. Match. Why?"
"My joints, sir." The man spoke with every appearance of candor. "I can't hold things as I used to."
"I see." Pointer thought a moment. "But why did you telephone to the chief constable on your own initiative early this morning? Why didn't you leave it to Lady Craig?"
Match looked uncomfortable. "Well, sir. I should have done so, strictly speaking, but when it comes to avoiding unpleasantness I don't trust her ladyship, between you and me, sir. Not when it comes to avoiding unpleasantness. And Mr. Craig was my employer, strictly speaking. So, on the whole, I thought it best to do what her ladyship couldn't undo. There's the front door bell, sir." Match quietly withdrew.
He left again a mixed impression behind him. The trouble was that, as Colonel Godolphin said, everyone in a murder case developed caution and took on some protective covering, weighed their words with a care that could be far more misleading than hasty speech.
Yet Pointer felt certain that some definite reason lay behind Match's silences or repressions. For one thing, the chief inspector, like Houghton, felt fairly certain that last night, when he felt the end was in sight, Craig would have said some definite word to the servant whom he trusted. Unless the trust of the morning had turned by night into distrust. That possibility was always present in Pointer's mind, but he, had to go by the letter sent; he had to take it, until controverted, as expressing the murdered man's last ideas of things. Match, Pointer thought, might know that the one-time Mrs. Craig was the person of whose guilt Craig had found the proof; yet Match shielded her, or at least was not willing to pass on his knowledge to the police or to Houghton. Time would show why Match had acted as he did, and on whose side the man really stood.
Pointer heard Match show in the doctor. Barely a minute passed before the door into the library from the hall was dashed open, flung shut, and across the room ran Alexandra Alexandrowna. She ran so fast that her curly hair flew behind her like little pale-gold Mercury wings.
"Robert!" she cried, and Pointer promptly opened the door a little wider. That voice would not be accompanied by a roving eye. It sounded completely absorbed in its own cause, or its own effect.
Lindrum jumped to meet the radiant figure, and clasped it tightly. His face showed an emotion too great for words for a moment. Then, as she drew away he said humbly: "Darling, I hope you'll forgive my bringing you even distantly into all this. But I told the police—I thought they ought to know..."
"You told them? When?"
"Just now. They were at my house a moment ago."
"And you told them! My Robert!" She cried again, taking his head between her overlong, overslender fingers, and looking deep into his eyes. "My own Robert!" Pointer wondered if this sort of thing were going on indefinitely. But even Godolphin, he thought, would have to allow that the Russian girl was truly beautiful at the moment, in a certain exalted, emotion-drunk way.
"I only lied when they questioned me," she said in self-scorn. "I never thought of your being so far—so far—above me. I told them I loved—him! I was afraid for your sake. But you weren't afraid for yourself! And to think that you did it for me! For me! Oh, what I owe you, my Robert. What I owe! What force of character! I feel so small compared to you! So insignificant! And so is everybody else! Everybody else!" The scorn was still there, even fiercer than before, but not of herself this time.
Lindrum smiled adoringly down at her.
"Well, darling, I thought it the only thing to do. After your dear message—Jones brought it at once—I felt as though you would forgive my bringing you into it—"
"I shall suffer with you in everything! Yes, in your prison cell, I shall be there too. There is no one to compare with you! Others—pooh—they wait! They look on! But you! No one else was willing to do for me what you did!" She repeated almost like a chant: "Oh, kiss me quick, before they come to take you away!"
Lindrum blinked. For a moment it seemed as though he would only obey and let the beautiful creature say what she liked. Then his medical training made him probe. "Look here, darling," he began hesitatingly, "I don't doubt it's your beautiful way of expressing things, but there's no need to see the future quite so black. Prison cell? And I don't quite follow—I'm glad you think I did right, but—" His voice was bewildered. So was his face.
"It was right!" she said fiercely. "No matter what the world says! It was right because you did it to set me free. As long as Ronald lived I should never have got free," she went on passionately. "He had bought me as serfs used to be bought. And I was as helpless. Oh, my beloved, I will never forget what you have done! You did it for me. We will atone by our prayers for the sin of it. I shall always love and weep for you. Always. I sent you word that I would marry you whenever you wished. And I should have. It is a small enough thing on my part for what you did. But you have taken the noble, the martyr's road, and I love you twice as much!" She would have flung her arms around his neck, but he actually ducked and stood away from her.
"What do you mean by I 'did it'? What—" He stopped. His face turned slowly a dead, limp white. "What did I do?" he finished in a hoarse croak.
She opened wide her clouded amber eyes. "I don't understand you! Oh, how wonderful not to understand those we love! I, who generally understand people only too well. But why do you look and speak like this? You told the police! Then why not be frank between our two selves? Of course, it was—terrible—it was a great sin—the way you chose. But it was done for love of me."
"What was?" The question came like the crash of something falling; something breaking.
She stamped her foot lightly. "Oh, why do you want me to put it into words? What do words matter? In the beginning was not the word, ever! That is silly. In the beginning was the thought. Before words. There is no need of words between us!"
He held her off. "Say it!" he ordered in a curious dead voice. "Say it in words. What is it I have done?"
She gave a little shiver. "How dangerous you look. I love danger. I love—"
"Say it!" The man almost shook her. "What did I do? How did I set you free as you call it?"
"By what you gave him—the medicine—the poison—if you want it put into speech." She spoke coldly now, rubbing her shoulder where he had gripped it.
"You mean that? You think that?" There was passion in his voice again, but of quite a different kind from any she had heard before. "That I murdered—. slowly poisoned my patient, just because he was engaged to you? You think that, and you've been slobbering over me because of that!" His tone was rougher even than his words. Alexandra Alexandrowna jumped.
"But you told me you had! You told the police! And you said to me as I passed you on the stairs after the police came that it was all because of your love for me."
She spoke like a person just getting down from a merry-go-round, who hardly knows whether he is on his head or his heels.
"Because my infatuation for you had blinded me to what I should have noticed in Craig's symptoms," he corrected bitterly. "And I shall never forgive myself in having been so blind. But I, too, have murdered him! Murdered him; not in cold blood but slowly to've done him to death, and then be thanked for it! Let me pass, please!" She still stood looking absolutely incapable of movement. His words, his tone, above all, his look roused her. Her eyes were like a smoky lantern flaming out of her face.
"You are acting a part!" she said accusingly. "Why? Because the police are in the house? Because one of them is probably looking at us from the next room through the door which is not shut?"
Pointer acknowledged that she had most inconveniently sharp eyes, this young woman.
"Then you did not tell the police!" she murmured very low. "You lied to me. And I have talked freely, thinking there was nothing more to conceal. Why did you lie to me? You are so difficult to understand, you English. So subtle, so secretive. So—.yes—so treacherous. One builds on what seems firm, and it gives beneath one's feet! You are giving beneath my feet!" She finished with a flash of her amber eyes that made them look very brilliant.
"Will you let me pass, please," he repeated. "God, to think me capable of such an act! To be capable of thinking me capable of it!" He was stammering almost brokenly.
She came a step nearer, staring at him. He backed away, a quite involuntary seeming, but very decided movement.
"I see!" Scorn rang in her yoke. "You did murder Ronald Craig. That I know. That much is true. But not, as I thought, for me, but for yourself!"
This evidently made all the difference to Alexandra Alexandrowna. "Well," she drew a deep breath, "I will not give you away. After all, you have freed me from slavery, and I am thankful that I shall not have to marry you. I did not want to marry you—really. But I thought I was in honor bound to pay the price."
No wonder that Colonel Godolphin said you met a fresh person every time you met this young woman, Pointer thought.
As for the doctor, with a gesture of being able to stand no more, he rushed from the room and the house.
Jura stalked to the now closed communicating door and flung it open. The room beyond was empty.
Pointer was in the hall, watching the doctor tear his hat from Match's astonished grasp, and tumble out through the door held open for him. The chief inspector was as puzzled as was Match, but from a different reason. Lindrum's horror—Countess Jura's scene with him—was it a well-worked-up play that he had witnessed? Been meant to witness? Or again it might have been acting on Lindrum's part—alone. Or acting on her part—alone. "An actress born" Godolphin had called her. If she were guilty, and believed that she was being watched, it would have been a clever move to accuse another, to refuse to be convinced of his innocence. And what, or rather whom, had she meant with her bitter "others they wait, they look on?" However, Pointer reminded himself that such speculations were waste of time. Like the doctor, Alexandra was out of the running. Neither was in Craig's mind when he wrote his last letter to his cousin. But supposing that Jura were not acting, why was she so certain that the doctor had poisoned his patient? Was it just the certainty of the woolly wits with which Houghton credited her, or had she really some knowledge which, to better trained eyes, might not point to the doctor, but to the real criminal?
Jura met him on the stairs.
"I want to see you alone," she commanded. "You may as well know something," she began, when the door of her little sitting-room had closed behind him.
"Just as well," he agreed, as she stopped on that. Her manner reminded him of the famous saying about the Almighty and a cockroach. But the tone was not assumed. This was only yet another Countess Alexandra, the one who was kin by marriage to the dead tsar of all the Russias.
"Last night the nurse ran down the stairs by my room and let in Dr. Lindrum. He rushed upstairs with her. I looked out and saw the nurse standing outside the room, as though on guard, as though to prevent anyone entering. She must have heard me open my door, for she came a step or two down the passage, and I closed it. I don't know why. Why does one do such odd things sometimes that one cannot explain to oneself? Anyway, something about her whole manner suggested secrecy, and I dosed my door. A few minutes later I heard them both go down the stairs again, but very quietly and cautiously."
"When was this?"
She said that she had no idea. Her watch was not going. She had forgotten to wind it up. Why was it that one always forgot—
"You saw Dr. Lindrum?" Pointer broke in.
She shook her head. "But I heard his footsteps."
"You're sure they were his?"
For a second she hesitated. Then with a movement of her head she said boldly, "Yes."
Pointer fancied that she honestly thought it was the doctor, but knew that her proofs were shaky.
But Lindrum could not have come up those stairs. He was absolutely vouched for during the whole of last night.
"And what do you think Dr. Lindrum came for?" he asked again.
She waved her cigarette in the air. "How should I know? Dr. Lindrum is a complete stranger, I find. How does one know why a complete stranger does things? I do not even know why I myself do things."
"I'm sorry to hear you say that," he said blandly, Jo "because I wanted to ask you again why you emptied Mr. Craig's medicine bottle."
She fixed her cloudy eyes somberly on him. She sighed. "One is never—no, not consecutive—that is not the word I want. Con-consistent, that is it. One cannot be. I wanted to be free. Oh, I say that frankly, but I could not stand by and actually see him given poison." She frowned and flung her cigarette on the floor. "It is silly not to be consistent. But one is much weaker than one thinks. Even one's hates are weaker than one thinks. Why is that? Is it because—"
"One moment," Pointer cut in. "What made you think of poison in the first place?"
"One has intelligence. One reflects. One remembers." She was talking quite familiarly now.
"And one reads," he suggested. "No one else in the house seems to have connected Mr. Craig's illness with poison except he himself—and you. I accept your statement that he never spoke of being poisoned to you, but I can hardly believe that you would arrive at such a conclusion without some help."
"I read about arsenic poisoning in the encyclopaedia," she now confessed. "Mr. Craig had the volume brought up to him."
"When? Please try to remember. This hour may be important."
"Just before the doctor came yesterday morning. He asked me if I would mind bringing it up. He asked me in rather a low tone. I now remember. I sent it up. I was too occupied with other things to bring it myself."
"To whom did you give it?"
"To the butler."
"And you—what made you read up poisons in it?"
"I happened to come in and see him reading the page in the afternoon. Just after the doctor had left. He shut it, but I had come close up before he noticed me. He was so wrapped in what he was reading, and his face looked quite terrible. So I looked at the page and read it for myself afterward. And when I had read it I knew—That was why I told Ronald Craig to leave Woodthorp as soon as I read what was wrong with him."
Pointer gave her one of his swift and apparently casual glances. She was staring straight before her. "And he?"
"He said that he had already decided to go. I spoke of change of air, of course, and of fresh doctors did not speak of poison. Nor did he. He told me, as a great secret, that he had arranged to leave early next morning. That was why I said nothing to Dr. Lindrum, and only emptied the bottle. I thought it precaution enough, since it was Dr. Lindrum who was poisoning him. As to the motive—I thought I knew it. I did not. There I was wrong. But only there."
"And the motive you thought, was—?"
"You heard," she said indifferently. "You were in the adjoining room and heard."
"Had you ever suggested to Dr. Lindrum that you would not be sorry if Mr. Craig died?"
For once she looked genuinely unhappy.
"Of course I had! But I thought of natural death. Not of killing. That was why I was prepared to atone. I thought Dr. Lindrum had misunderstood me because he loved me. A noble misunderstanding." She choked. "I would do anything for anyone I loved. But men? Men are very difficult to understand, I think," she murmured, her eyes full of tears. She turned her face haughtily away as though conscious of them. "I have nothing more to tell you." And with a quite unconscious arrogance she dismissed him from her presence.
POINTER was quite willing to be dismissed. He hurried down the stairs and out of the house as soon as he had verified the hour when a volume of Chambers's Encyclopaedia had been sent upstairs. The butler had brought it away on leaving the room for the night, and replaced it on the shelves. It had been the first volume. Walking away from the manor, Pointer wondered how much of this about a visitor having been admitted last night was true.
It was borne out by at least one pair of footprints found by him in the garden, the running pair, careless of anything but hurrying toward the light shining out of the sick-room. He put the thought aside for a moment.
So Ronald Craig had read up arsenical poisoning. That would explain his certainty. But he must have felt certain before sending for the particular volume. Before the doctor came yesterday morning, that meant just before writing the letter to Houghton. Yes, he had evidently found something very conclusive...that part of a letter which he did not seem to have sent on. Pointer's mind went on to the rest of the interview with the Russian girl just now, as, deep in thought, he walked down to the rooms the nurse occupied at the other end of the village. So Countess Jura now claimed to have thrown away the contents of the medicine bottle from a feeling of horror when she believed that Ronald Craig was being poisoned, and suspected that the poison was in the medicine.
It was possible that she was telling the truth. But the fact remained that by her act she might well have made it exceedingly difficult to prove that there was no poison whatever in that medicine bottle. Yet, if that had been her intention, would she not have rinsed out the bottle? It would have been quite simple under pretext of washing her hand from the spilled medicine.
Yes, on the whole, Pointer inclined to think that the reason she gave just now might have been the real one. That medicine...was it to replace a poisoned one by an innocent one, that someone had come last night. Was the Russian right in her certainty, if it really was her certainty, that the nurse had let in whoever it was who had come by the little side door? Was it the poisoner who had rushed over when the purpose was accomplished to recover the tell-tale vehicle? Then was it the nurse who was the accomplice of Mrs. Craig? Was he all wrong in his ideas about Miss Cornwall?
A minute later he was talking to the nurse, who seemed as pale as her stiffly starched apron.
"Why did you not tell me that you had let someone into the manor last night by the door leading down into the garden, past the children's day nursery?" he asked sternly.
Her pupils dilated. "I—I—" She stopped short. "Because of the fact that Mr. Craig died from poison," she said finally, with every appearance of candor. "And it was only Miss Lindrum I let in. It was such a kind thought of hers to come over and help me, and it seemed dreadful that, because of that, she should be brought into this terrible tragedy."
"What exactly happened?" he asked after a pause.
"When I telephoned to the doctor's house that Mr. Craig had just had a most frightful seizure, Miss Lin-drum answered the call, and told me he was out on a call. But she rushed around herself to see if she could help me, as I seemed so upset. Awfully good of her. But then Miss Lindrum is a good friend to me, and I couldn't bear that she should be penalized for such a kind thought."
"She went into the sick-room?"
"Yes; just to see him and to be sure that there wasn't anything she could do. There wasn't. Mr. Craig was unconscious, or dozing heavily. She waited a moment or two with me and then left."
"You were in the room with her?"
"All the time?" he pressed.
"She only stayed a couple of minutes. There was nothing she could do to help. Nothing anyone could do. I got her to stay with him just for those few seconds while I took a grip of myself again out in the passage. You see, Mr. Craig's seizures last night were something quite new to me. I have never seen anything like them." Her voice shook a little.
"Then as a matter of fact you were outside the bedroom while Miss Lindrum was inside it."
"Yes." Her eyes were riveted on his face. "Why? Or rather, why not?"
"When you went back in again, can you be sure that the medicine bottle was exactly in the same place as when you left the room?"
"I didn't notice. You forget that the bottle was empty. Countess Jura emptied it." She spoke in what looked like honest bewilderment.
He accepted the correction. "How did you hear Miss Lindrum at the garden door?"
"She threw up a handful of gravel. You see, she didn't want to call any servant to the front door. She thought the whole house might be helping in the sickroom."
"But how did you know who threw the gravel?" he persisted.
"When I telephoned to the doctor, and she learned how ill Mr. Craig seemed to be, she said something about coming herself to see if she could help. So I ran down as soon as the gravel clinked on the pane and let her in."
"Did you go out with her afterwards?"
"Just down to the door. As I say, it was only a bare five minutes at the outside."
There was a short silence. So, as he had fancied, Miss Lindrum might have been the person in her mind if she had suppressed, as he thought she might have, a possible "she" in Craig's last words.
"Why didn't you repeat the exact words used by Mr. Craig, when he called out that he was being poisoned?" he asked suddenly.
Mrs. Kingsmill looked as though he had given her a bad jolt. She said nothing for one startled moment.
"Your duty to Mr. Craig, as I see it, should make you repeat exactly what he said. He was a dying man. It was his last effort to point out who was his murderer. Frankly, Mrs. Kingsmill, it seems to me a very terrible thing that you should try to alter that message, or refuse to pass it on. As it happens, so far, Miss Lindrum is outside those whom we suspect. But even if she were not, Mr. Craig was in your charge, and he was done to death. It seems to me the least that you can do—now—to help us." Pointer had hard work to keep real feeling from creeping into his voice. The picture before him of the dying man in his agony trying to leave some word for those who should look into his death, and then the two in the room, nurse and butler, for their own ends, for their own reasons, whether good or bad, giving the police only a garbled version, moved him deeply.
His words stung the nurse, as he had intended that they should. "What exactly did Mr. Craig say?" Pointer asked again. "Word for word, Mrs. Kingsmill, please. And you must be prepared to swear to them."
The nurse drew a long breath. "He said: 'I'm dying, Match. She's poisoned me.' And I shall never forgive you if you have got me to say anything that will harm Agatha Lindrum."
Pointer blinked, then he mentally disentangled the words of the dying man from the addition of the woman speaking. So it had been "she"!
Yes, that fitted his theory or rather his idea...But the nurse and Miss Lindrum?...As Godolphin sensibly said: "Miss Lindrum need not have had any accomplice in the house, and most certainly would not have written an incriminating letter to anyone in the house."
As he expected, when he went on to the doctor's house he found him looking like a man who has had a severe tumble in the dark. There was something dazed about his eyes, bewildered in his voice. Pointer was in a hurry. He must get through all this outlying fog to something clear and sharp of outline, and that as quickly as possible. He told Lindrum bluntly of Countess Alexandra's idea that the doctor had been to the Dower House after all last night.
"She's off her head," Lindrum said in a strangled voice, "must be. It's dreadful, but she's—well—I don't believe she's quite sane," he finished in a burst of confidence. "Between ourselves only, chief inspector. But I mean it. The things she said—the things she thought —has been thinking—been thinking all along—" He choked.
"The nurse says that Miss Lindrum came to the house last night," Pointer went on. "It might have been she whom the countess heard."
"My sister went there?" Lindrum looked genuinely surprised. "Well, if Mrs. Kingsmill says she did—" He signified with a wave of his hand that the matter was then established.
"And did Mrs. Lindrum go up to the manor too, last night?"
"My mother?" The doctor spoke as though he had not heard aright. "My mother, chief inspector, can't walk alone."
There was a second's pause. Pointer broke it abruptly. "Dr. Lindrum, why didn't you tell us the truth about Mrs. Harding?"
The bluff worked. After a second's stare, the stare of a man who has been thinking of something very different, Lindrum said wearily:
"I might as well have done so, evidently. When did you learn about her?"
"An hour ago."
"And who told you?"
"We never reveal the source of our information," Pointer said officially, thinking with an inward grin of the doctor's book under his elbow at the moment. "But why did you leave us to find out this most important fact?"
"Because it isn't important," Lindrum said urgently, almost fearfully. "I assure you it isn't. She had no more to do with Craig's death than I have. It's simply a case of appearances being against her."
"Such as the appearance of having once been Mrs. Craig? Or do you mean the appearance of having been caught at your poison cupboard?" the chief inspector asked with a note of sternness in his voice. "No, please don't say that you refuse to answer, for if it was not against Mrs. Craig, or Miss Bingham, or Mrs. Harding...whichever you like to call her, that you took to keeping the key of your cupboard on you, then it obviously was against your sister. There's no other possible choice."
Lindrum flushed and then paled. "That's a monstrous assertion. I told you that I hand my sister the key of the cupboard of an evening."
"We have no proof of that. We have proof only that you wear the key on your watch-guard. It would be possible to make out a case against Miss Lindrum. She had access to your poisons at all times until you took to wearing the key on you."
He let this sink into a very disturbed-looking young man. Then he went on: "If not she, then you probably pledged your word to Miss Bingham, who was passing at the moment as Mrs. Harding, when you found her with the jar in her hand, that you would keep her secret. But I really think, under the circumstances, that if so, in common fairness to Miss Lindrum, you should break that promise."
Lindrum stared straight before him with a mulish expression.
"I can find out," Pointer went on gravely, "if you refuse to help. I can find out. But it will take time, and the criminal will probably escape. You can always congratulate yourself that not only was your patient poisoned, but that also, thanks partly to you, his murder was not cleared up."
That did it. Lindrum gave in with a gesture of resignation very unlike the manner which even Pointer knew was his natural one. He had suffered, and suffered deeply. He would never forget this day as long as he lived.
"You're pretty brutal, chief inspector, but you're right in what must be only a guess. What happened was this: I was attending Mrs. Craig for nerves, under the name of Mrs. Harding. She came to see me here one day when she was getting better. This room communicates as you see with my surgery. Our servant had never seen her as Mrs. Craig. I was out, and she was taken in here to wait, as the maid was cleaning the dining-room, which is used as my waiting-room. The poison cupboard was supposed to be kept locked, of course, but one gets slack in a peaceful little place like this. I came in, and went to it at once to replace some strychnine I had with me for a possible injection, and found her—" he paused—"well—found her with the jar of arsenic in her hands. My entrance startled her, and she dropped the jar. But she 'swore that she had taken nothing out of it, swore solemnly, and I think—thought—no, think—truthfully."
"What did you do then, doctor?"
"Weighed everything while she was still there. All was correct except the jar of arsenic out of which some of the powder had been spilled. I weighed what was left and sent word as I say to the authorities. Mind you, the stuff spilled in the basin was to the eye just about what was lacking in the jar."
"A small pinch would do if dropped into paper," Pointer mused.
"It would," Lindrum agreed, his eyes on the floor. "Doctor, can you swear, as an honest man, that a pinch hadn't been taken out?"
"I can't swear it. But I—I-" He made a helpless gesture.
"Why did you suspect her of having taken some of the poison?"
"But I didn't suspect her, and don't!" came in energetic denial.
"You must have! Forgive me, but you must have. Or why did you question her so closely, and weigh the poisons at once—while she was still there?"
Lindrum bit his lip.
"Why did she go to the cupboard, and why did she take down the jar of arsenic?" Pointer went on.
"Suicidal impulse," Lindrum said in a low tone. "I'm violating her confidence, chief inspector, but I don't know what else to do under these terrible circumstances. She was desperate. Craig refused to see her refused to let her have the children, and she was tired of life. She solemnly swore, and I absolutely believe her, that it was to get some poison for herself that she unlocked the cupboard. Suicide, but not murder, was in her mind."
"Suicide? That's rather hard to believe," Pointer said, to draw the other on, "they tell me she's extremely happy—about to marry this Mr. Ardmay."
"Ardmay has let her down," Lindrum went on. "This is in strict confidence, all this, remember. That marriage won't take place, and she knew it. She came over to England to see him—Ardmay, I mean. And saw that he meant to leave her on the mat. He's the type that would. It was his mother's doing, but he could defy the old woman if he had any spirit. He lost his money over some Riviera land ventures, and she has the purse now, and won't hear of the marriage. She's a Roman Catholic. In her eyes, 'once Mrs. Craig always Mrs. Craig."
"When was this?"
"Three months ago and a bit over. She came to me as Mrs. Harding two months ago."
"But where does Mr. Craig come in?" Pointer seemed puzzled. "You said she talked of suicide because he wouldn't see her."
"She found out her mistake. She would have given her right hand if Craig would have taken her back. You know," he went on in a burst of what certainly looked like candor, "you know, that's one of the reasons why I hoped—well—wanted to—why Countess Jura didn't seem to me so unattainable as she would otherwise have been. You see I knew that Mrs. Craig was over here just in order to try and have a meeting with Craig, but he refused. She told me that he returned her letters unopened at that time. And he wasn't a man to change his mind. Nor can you blame him," he added honestly, "but I heard from her only this last week that she was about to pull off one thing on which she had set her heart. I mustn't name names, but someone at the Dower House had worked on Craig sufficiently to get him all but to agree to let the mother have free access to her children. His death has stopped that, which shows that your ghastly suspicion of who might have poisoned him is impossible."
"I didn't know the facts," Pointer explained.
"I don't suppose it would do much harm if I guessed that the nurse was Miss Bingham's friend up at the house?" he went on.
Lindrum looked impatient. "The two don't know each other. No, it wasn't the nurse, but I must see about—" He turned wearily to some letters and prescriptions.
"Just a few last words," Pointer said rising. "Miss Lindrum, is she a friend of the former Mrs. Craig's?"
"Doesn't know her. Never saw her. Like Mrs. Kings-mill," Lindrum murmured, getting to work.
Pointer still lingered. "Can you give me any idea why the butler should be on Mrs. Craig's side?"
Lindrum looked incredulous.
"No earthly idea. The Craigs stopped with Sir George and Lady Craig now and then before they moved into the house, but for that I don't think Match knew anything of them. I think you must be wrong there."
Pointer said that that was very likely.
Lindrum again turned a pale face to his desk.
"Not much sense in going on," he said bitterly. "Craig done to death in front of my eyes, and without hindrance from me! It's pretty well finished me. That and other things combined; but that especially!"
"It could have happened to anyone in your position," Pointer said truthfully. "And to put it bluntly, doctor, if one man has died who needn't have, you have plenty of times to remember when, but for you, a man wouldn't have lived. Plenty of times...and will have plenty more. One other thing, that letter under Mr. Craig's pillow, it did look like Miss Bingham's notepaper?"
"It did," Lindrum acknowledged. "But I was quite right in saying that it was in no wise peculiar; that lots of people used paper just like it. In any case, if from her, then it couldn't have been the guilty part of a letter which Craig found, and about which he wrote to Houghton."
Pointer expressed no opinion on the matter, but thanked him and hurried off. He had learned a lot from the doctor. Yes, out of the foggy patches was emerging something that he had rather fancied might stand revealed when he first heard of Mildred Bingham. If what he had been told about the Ardmays was true, then Craig's death had entirely changed everything. Neither Mrs. Ardmay nor her son could withdraw from the marriage now without public opinion being strongly against them. As a good daughter of the Roman Church no one could blame the mother for refusing to permit the marriage hitherto, but not since this morning...not since early this morning.
Pointer hurried forward to catch up with the village postman whom he saw just ahead of him. He had noticed that just outside the manor house stood a postbox. From the isolation of the house, he fancied that it would be but little used except by inmates of the house itself. It had been, he learned later, supplied solely at the request of Ronald Craig when the latter lived at the manor.
The chief inspector asked Merton, the postman, whether he had taken many letters yesterday from that particular box.
"You know who I am, and the job I'm on, I expect," he wound up, holding out his tobacco pouch.
"I do, sir. We all do. And good luck to you is what we all say t To be poisoned in his own old home! Where's a man safe, if not with his young lady, and all? But now as to letters, well, of course, the Official Secrecy Act doesn't bind me in a case like this?" he queried. It was plain that he hoped it did not.
"Not to me," Pointer assured him. "What you tell me will be absolutely confidential. Just as the questions I put to you are."
"My eldest joined the Force last year. He's to be moved to London this year, if he does well. Perhaps you'd keep an eye on him, sir, if he comes your way. Name of William Henry. But now, as to letters from that particular box...it's emptied three times daily, as you know, sir. There was one letter first collection in the morning, and none in the evening; but all the three o'clock collection was a letter in Mr. Craig's own writing. The only one in the box. As it happens, the authorities have told us to keep a tally of the number of letters we collect from that box. They're thinking of taking it away. This letter I took up at three was Mr. Craig's all right. Many's the time I've taken a cable back to the post-office for him in the old days when he lived here. Yes, sir. It was Mr. Craig's own writing."
"Good. That is very important. Did you notice the address, by any lucky chance?"
Merton had, but it had quite slipped from his memory. In answer to further questions, he could only say that it wasn't to any funny place, by which, it seemed, he meant abroad. He had an idea that it was addressed to some well-known town.
"It couldn't have been by any chance to a Mr. Osbourn, at Harrow?"
"That was it, sir!" Merton was awed by what he took to be a fine exhibition of detective craft. "Smart work that, sir!"
Pointer was amused at this easily earned praise.
"And the letter you took up in the morning, was it to a Mrs. Harding? Or was it to a Miss Bingham at some place abroad, Monte Carlo or Beausoleil?" He wrote down the names.
Merton shook his head. He was sure that the stamp had been a three-halfpenny one, but beyond that certainty, and one equally fixed that the writing had not been Mr. Craig's, he knew nothing about it.
"Who do the people around, who do your yourself, think could have poisoned Mr. Craig?" Pointer asked as they walked on together.
"Why, the Bolshies, of course!" The man seemed surprised at the question. "These Russian Bolshies wanted to spite the countess, having killed her pa and ma, and the rest of the family too, I understand. They do say in the village as she's a relation of the Russian Crown. Well, there you are, sir. Spite, that's what it was, at the notion of her being about to marry such a wealthy gentleman. Or spite at Mr. Craig for being about to marry a Russian countess. One way or the other it certainly was."
Pointer thanked him, promised to remember William Henry Merton, junior, and turned in at the manor house gate.
He found Houghton just leaving the telephone. "Osbourn ought to be on the line soon," Guy said, looking a little worried. "It seems to me most extraordinary that they can't locate him. It's nearly four o'clock, and I rang them up at ten this morning."
"What do you say to driving me out to his home?" Houghton stared.
"My dear chief inspector, he lives at Harrow, it's true, but his wife and children are down at Hove, and I understand that Osbourn, like the good family man he probably is, goes down there every week-end. Today, being Saturday, he's on his way there, we may be sure."
"Did he go to his house at Harrow last night?" Pointer asked.
"No one knows. I've tried ringing the house up, but it's apparently closed. The office can't say where he was. Mrs. Osbourn can't, either. They're all terribly shocked at his not being 'available,' as the head clerk put it. Osbourn is the only living partner, and it certainly is awkward just now. However, Mrs. Osbourn is certain that he'll be down sometime today, as she hasn't had any word to the contrary from him. There's nothing to do but wait, as far as I can see."
But Pointer saw further. If Mr. Osbourn had not gone to his Harrow home last night, then there might be a letter waiting for Mr. Osbourn which he, Pointer, would very much like to see. He explained his idea to Houghton. But the latter refused to see much in it.
"You think my cousin might have sent a copy, or even the letter itself that he found, to Osbourn? I only wish he had. But he would have phoned me, or mentioned k in his note—"
"He was very ill yesterday afternoon. Perhaps shortly after the letter was taken out to the box. He may not have been able to let you know," Pointer objected.
Houghton shook his head.
"No," he said stubbornly, "something tells me that that letter, that part of it he found, hasn't left the house yet. I told you I noticed that someone had been hunting through the books in the book-room. It's true of the few in the dining-room, too. No, you can play around Harrow, but you'll get nothing for your pains. Besides, Osbourn himself may phone me up at any minute."
Godolphin came hurrying in. He had just definitely closed his office for the day, except for some emergency. Even so, he had given the superintendent what practically amounted to plenary powers until he, the chief constable, should appear again.
Pointer explained what he was now after.
"My car can do seventy without a gurgle when the road's clear," Godolphin said promptly. "Give me a Bentley for speed, any day. I'll run you out to Harrow, but what will you do when you get there?"
"Like the speed of your Bentley, sir, that's better not told before civilians." And leaving word with Houghton to let them know at the Harrow police station if Mr. Osbourn should communicate with him, or 'if anything unexpected happened, Pointer left the house in charge of Sergeant Milton.
In the car, he told the chief constable the result of the last couple of hours' work.
"So it is Mrs. Craig, or Mildred Bingham, rather...Hard lines on those two poor little kids, eh, Pointer?"
"Very," Pointer said gruffly. Those were the terrible sides to his life's work.
"Craig wrote to Osbourn," Godolphin murmured after a moment. "Who took the letter to the box?"
"Ah, who?" Pointer echoed. "All I think we can say for sure is that it wasn't Miss Cornwall."
The drive was not more than an hour, even with Godolphin having to go carefully on account of Saturday afternoon traffic, but by avoiding main roads, he managed to keep his car pretty well extended most of the time.
Mr. Osbourn's house at Harrow was a substantial-looking villa, meant for large families, and large incomes. The two opened the gate, and Godolphin was about to drive the car in, when Pointer suggested keeping it outside. The house had a shut-up look, and the blinds were down, but he pointed to the marks in the gravel before them.
"Good many comings and goings for a house shut up over the week-end," he murmured.
He rang the bell. Godolphin used the knocker. No sound of stirring came from behind the door, though they repeated the duet several times.
"Well, what do we do now?" Godolphin asked. "Fish in the letter-box? I'll bet you've got the necessary equipment with you."
Pointer did not reply. He was examining the gravel.
"The only freshly made ones are those two. One set looks like a taxi," he murmured. "Patched tires—"
"Coming lightly laden, and going away empty." Godolphin was not above showing that in ordinary police work he, too, could hold his own. "In other words, setting down a fare, probably. But these are marks of almost new Rapson Perfectas, belonging to a small light car, a sports model, I should say. Both sets of marks made about the same time—last evening, in all likelihood. And round about the same time, though the Rapson going and coming, crosses the other marks. It looks to me as though Mr. Osbourn came up from the station in a taxi, his own car probably being with his family at the seaside, and that the Rapson called for him later on, and drove him away in it. Anything else particularly interesting about the marks, Pointer?" Godolphin wanted to learn if Craig's letter was still in the letter-box.
"Only the place where the Rapson waited, sir." Pointer was frowning a little. "Not by the front door, nor by the garage, but off there to one side."
He walked to the spot. Saw that, standing there, a car, by day or by night, would be out of sight of the road, though quite in view from the steps of the house itself. The road was splendidly lighted, two lamps being practically at the gates. It was the "out of view from the road" detail that intrigued the chief inspector. It looked as though whoever had used the light little car did not wish his car to be noticed by anyone—or someone—on the road, but had no objection to people in the house knowing he was there. There were many explanations of that. Some quite all right; but one was not. It was that the person in the Rapson-tired car knew that whoever was in the house, Mr. Osbourn or another, would have no suspicions aroused by his coming, but that it might be well if passers-by saw as little of the car as possible. In fact, it rather suggested to Pointer that, though the solicitor was not suspicious, the driver, or the occupant—though the lightness of the marks suggested only one occupant of the car—realized before his arrival that it might be as well for him to leave as unobtrusively as possible.
"Solicitors have many such callers," Godolphin thought, when the other had pointed this out, "especially well-known family solicitors, like Mr. Osbourn."
"Yes...but there are no footprints leading to the Rapson along the gravel path. Whoever was in it, must have walked from the car and back to it along the grass border. I don't think two people either came or left in it."
"Difficult to tell," Godolphin demurred, "though I agree they must have both been light-weights."
"Well, sir, if Mr. Osbourn went with him, both walked along the grass border. Yet it's so narrow an edging here as to be decidedly difficult to do so by day, let alone by night."
"I take back about Osbourn going off in the car. The Rapson probably came to see if Osbourn was in, and found the place shut up," Godolphin suggested, pulling his mustache.
"Think so, sir?" Pointer evidently did not. "People don't generally come to a solicitor's private house on business, on Saturday afternoons or evenings—I don't think those tracks were made early last evening—what do you say?"
"I should put them as more probably made last night." Godolphin was rather an expert on marks and impressions made in soil, and had been examining these attentively.
Pointer thought so, too. "But if so, the gate was fastened back, for the car didn't pause at it..."
They strolled carefully around the house. All windows were shuttered, and all shutters closed.
"Do you mind lighting a cigarette, while I investigate the letter-box, sir. If anybody comes up to the gate, as though they might be coming in, just strike two matches in quick succession, will you?"
"Compounding a felony..." Godolphin murmured sadly.
"Not at all, sir!" Pointer seemed shocked. "I'm only going to look inside."
He gave a twist to the rather cumbrous top of his umbrella, unscrewed something, pulled out something, tightened up a ring—and he had a very nice small periscope, with a tiny electric bulb to reflect into its minute mirror. He inserted it, moved it about, and then withdrew it and restored his umbrella to its usual appearance.
"Letter-box is empty, sir," he said, walking to the gate, "so that if, as is practically certain, the letter was delivered yesterday, it has been taken out of the box."
"Ah! We thought the taxi probably brought Osbourn to the house last night." Godolphin now lit a cigarette in earnest. "It looks as if he left the house on foot, and that after he left, the Rapson drove up, found the house shut up, and went off. As to walking on the grass—he may have a bad foot, or it may be a hobby of his. Oh, yes, I know what you're going to say. Funny of him not to've driven up to the door and walked to and from his car in the usual way, but I remind you again that Osbourn is a family solicitor, with probably dozens of very funny cases on hand. But what are you going to do next? I suggest the station, and a word with the station-master."
It was what Pointer intended doing, so they drove off down the hill.
To the station-master, Colonel Godolphin explained that he wanted Mr. Osbourn very particularly on a matter connected with one of the families to whom the latter acted as solicitor. They had found his house shut up. Could the station-master give any advice?
That gentleman at once explained that Mr. Osbourn always spent his week-ends at Hove. Mrs. Osbourn and the children would go down in the car early on Friday, or sometimes even Thursday evening, and Mr. Osbourn would join them on a Friday or a Saturday. He invariably went down by train. No; he had not gone down from Harrow either yesterday or today. The station-master was quite sure on that point because, as he hoped to catch him and ask a question about some of the new by-laws, he had told off the two porters early this morning to keep an eye out for the solicitor and let him know when he came along. It looked to him as though, for once, Mr. Osbourn had gone straight from his offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He had telephoned from there for a taxi to meet his train last evening—the eight o'clock train and he must have gone in by bus this morning.
Pointer wondered if they could find any servants at Mr. Osbourn's house if they went on up to it.
The station-master said he could save the gentlemen the journey by telling them that they would not. The servants went down to Hove at the same time as their mistress, except a former housemaid who lived at Harrow, and looked after the solicitor until he joined his family. Mrs. Pinwheel, the lady in question, had been in at the station not half an hour ago to use one of the automatic machines, and had passed a word to him about being a lady of leisure at the moment.
"She might know the hour when Mr. Osbourn will be back on Monday," Godolphin suggested, and asked for her address.
The station-master pointed across the road, round a corner, and up a lane, to some cottages. Mrs. Pinwheel lived in the fourth from this end. Her son was a fireman on the railway.
To Mrs. Pinwheel the two went. They found her in. She assured them that Mr. Osbourn would be back at his office on Monday as usual, and was now down with Mrs. Osbourn and the little Osbourns at Hove. He had said as much yesterday, when he had telephoned her from his office. He would be in in the evening, he said, to have an interview with a client. He had told her to get out the sherry, and have the decanter and a couple of glasses ready on a tray in his study, together with some sandwiches carefully covered up.
"Which I did, sir, and left everything as ordered. Mr. Osbourn doesn't often see anyone at his house, but I've known him to do it now and then, to oblige, as you might say. I suppose the lady couldn't make it convenient to come to his office."
"He always orders port to be put out if it's gentlemen, and the whisky and siphon filled. I've been fifteen years in Mr. Osbourn's service, sir; I know his ways."
Pointer fumed a bit at not having been told that Mr. Osbourn wouldn't still be at Harrow, and asked when she had had this telephone message.
"Just about this time yesterday, sir," Mrs. Pinwheel looked at her clock. "Just around five, it was, as you might say."
"Then he didn't go down to Hove till late last night?" Pointer looked regret at an opportunity just missed. "That's what he said, sir, over the phone. As how he was going on down after the interview, and I wouldn't be needed until Monday morning. He takes his dinner out, you see, sir, when Mrs. Osbourn isn't here. I only come in of a morning to get him his breakfast, and tidy up and see to things. I leaves always at noon."
"I think I've seen Mr. Osbourn about Harrow; he's a very big heavy man, isn't he?" Pointer said in leaving.
"Lor', no, sir! Mr. Osbourn is as thin as a rail. Quite a youngish gentleman, is Mr. Osbourn. Not much over thirty."
They thanked her, and turned away with the air of men who had had a journey for nothing.
"So the visitor was a lady, and Osbourn was a lightweight? Perhaps he drove off with her afterward in the Rapson..." Godolphin was looking very alert.
Pointer suggested a halt at the nearest telephone. He had the Osbourn number at Hove. A lady's voice answered, and told very much the same story just now related by Mrs. Pinwheel. "No; Mr. Osbourn isn't here yet."
Pointer explained that he was speaking from Woodthorp Manor.
She did not let him finish.
"I'm so sorry, so very distressed, about Mr. Craig's death. It's Mrs. Osbourn speaking. It's too unfortunate that my husband has been delayed in getting down here just this one week-end. But that's how things always happen, isn't it?"
Pointer did not say that it was. He was by no means sure that things always happened as they were happening just here. On the whole, he thought that they did not.
"I'll tell him as soon as he gets here, of course," Mrs. Osbourn went on, "and he'll ring you up at once. It'll be a very great shock to him."
"Mr. Houghton telephoned you earlier today, didn't he? Well"—as an assent came along the wire—"did he tell you that we are hunting everywhere for a most important paper?"
"No, he didn't. A paper missing?"
"That's what we want to know. We think it may have been sent to your husband, reaching him last night by the seven o'clock delivery. Would he have been at his house then?"
"Yes," came Mrs. Osbourn's eager voice, "he would have been there, but he never opens letters after office hours—never. He leaves them until next morning, after breakfast. I don't know if that's of any importance?"
Nor did Pointer.
"He telephoned me in the afternoon," Mrs. Osbourn went on, "that he was going back to the house to see a client, a lady, there, and might not be able to get down here till this morning, or possibly not till this evening. He said he would ring me up again. I'm afraid he has done so, and I didn't get the message. Nurse and I were out on the sands with the children, and the two maids were both in the garden, part of the time, picking fruit; and I had sent the butler out about some wine that hadn't come. It's all most unfortunate!—most dreadfully unfortunate! But he won't be long now...at least, I hope not, and the moment he gets in..." There followed assurances of immediate telling of the news and immediate connection by Mr. Osbourn with the manor, and then, after some civil messages of condolence, Mrs. Osbourn rang off.
For a moment after he had hung up, the chief inspector stood with his hands jingling the money in his pockets, head bent, his eyes fixed steadily on his shoe tips. Godolphin said nothing until Pointer raised his head. "And the rest of the tale's improper, sir," he murmured, leading the way out. "I don't think you ought to know any more."
"A burglar needs a mate," Godolphin said dryly, "though what interests you so about that house...I think you're over-suspicious, but I suppose that's part of the life you lead...we both lead. Or do you think we can find that all-important letter in some drawer of the absent Mr. Osbourn's desk. If so, I'm quite willing to aid and abet any felony to get a look at it."
Pointer did not smile. He looked very grave.
"We think that Mr. Craig may have been killed so that he couldn't show that incriminating letter to Mr. Houghton. Well, sir, if a copy of it, or it itself, was sent to Mr. Osbourn...I think we must see inside that house as soon as possible."
Godolphin needed no pressing to show what his car could really do in an emergency. Once more they stopped outside the gates of Mr. Osbourn's house. This time, Pointer, when he got out, carried with him a neat little suitcase, which he had stopped in at the Woodthorp police station to borrow when they started on this trip.
"What's inside it? Black overalls and a mask?" Godolphin asked.
"No, sir. The collapsible steel ladder that you took from the burglars who burgled Lord Harbutt's house last month. The superintendent was showing it to me last night, and I thought—possibly—we might need it when we came to Mr. Osbourn's house, so I brought it along with us."
It was only at the fourth window that he had any success. There he found a bedroom window that had been left open so often that the two screw holes had permanently warped away from each other, so that, except for the pleasure it probably gave Mrs. Pinwheel to turn the screws, the result was negative.
It was an upper bedroom window, and Pointer was soon inside. Another moment, and the wiry and athletic Godolphin was beside him. The house was quite still. The door was locked on the outside, but a little manipulation and they were out on the landing. One by one they glanced through the bedrooms on the same floor. The furniture was neatly sheeted all were empty. None showed signs of disturbance. Downstairs, they found the same, except that in the telephone room was a basin and towel that had been used. Last of all, Godolphin opened a room that looked like a library. He took his hat off and turned to Pointer.
"I fancy this must be Osbourn."
Sitting in front of a writing-table, half-lying on the table itself, sat a youngish, very thin man. He had been shot through the back of the head at such close range that the weapon had singed the trim, well-kept hair.
The dead man was lying sprawled to one side, but both Godolphin and Pointer thought he had been pushed to one side, immediately after he had been killed, to enable his murderer to see, or to get at, what had been in front of him. Or to give that impression to the police.
The table was in confusion, some of the papers tossed so that they all but covered the quiet face of the man who lay with one extended hand still holding a pen. Whatever it was on which he had been writing, or editing, or signing, it was no longer in front of him. The top sheet of the blotting-pad had gone too.
"Yes; I take it this is Mr. Osbourn," Godolphin said again, putting down his hat beside Pointer's by the door, and also pulling on his gloves.
Pointer studied the half of the face that was visible. There was nothing in it to suggest any sowing that should have led to this harvest. It was a pleasant, thoughtful face. Just now, it wore that contented look that so often comes in death—as though life had been well worth while. A chain dangled from the man's side, with a key-ring on the end. Behind him was the safe which the solicitor had apparently opened, for it was standing with its door flush with the wall, and showed as great a confusion as did the desk. In short, the room shouted aloud that someone had been hunting for something among the papers in it. Did it shout too loudly? No; Pointer could not say that it did. It looked very natural.
"The point is, did they find it?" Godolphin now said.
"That Rapson car didn't wait very long, judging by the marks and the absence of oil spots," Pointer said.
"Not an hour, I should judge," Godolphin confirmed.
"This room oughtn't to take anything like an hour to search," Pointer as an expert on such matters said firmly. "Unless done to lead us off the track; I should say whoever was hunting lost their nerve and was half beside themselves. Didn't know what they had looked at, and what not..."
Pointer stopped. For he had just caught sight of a little gray glove crumpled up under a chair near the safe. So intent on whatever they were doing had some one been that on it was the mark of a small, high heel. Pointer bent over it, but he did not touch it.
"Gray," mused Godolphin, "like the paper. Seems fond of the color. And now what?"
"I think that's all, sir, until the police know the facts."
Godolphin and he left the house as they had entered it, then Pointer took down the steel ladder, repacked it in its suitcase, and the two made for the colonel's car. He drove off without a further word to the police station. "I shall be interested in hearing how you break the news," he said dryly. "The ways of the Yard with us humbler fry are interesting."
They found that Maddox, the Harrow station superintendent, was a young, keen man, who privately considered this the day of his life when Pointer told him he had just found the dead body of a man, whom they presumed to be Mr. Osbourn, the well-known solicitor, in his empty house here in Harrow.
"Could you identify him, if it is he?" Godolphin asked.
"Certainly, sir. Know him to speak to." Maddox described the lawyer, and in doing so described the dead man.
"You quite understand, don't you," Pointer went on, "Colonel Godolphin and I have just dropped in to ask you whether Mr. Osbourn is away? You aren't sure. And you run us up in your car. We find the house deserted; you, suddenly remembering that the Osbourns are away over the week-end, take a turn round the house to see that all is as it should be. You catch sight of an open window on the first floor. Oh, yes, you'll find one open, but it was shut when I got there. Nothing in the house was open then. However, catching sight of the open window, and noticing marks of a ladder against the wall, you at once hurry back to your car where we are waiting, tell us what you have noticed, and at the same time get out the collapsible steel police ladder you always keep in your car."
The superintendent was grinning from ear to ear. "I suppose it turns out afterward that the ladder marks and the open window had nothing to do with the crime?"
"It does. One was an oversight on Mrs. Pinwheel's part, the other is the doing of the gardener," Pointer agreed. "We shall want your best photographer, plenty of magnesium powder, and plenty of plaster, to take some impressions from the gravel in front of the house. Be sure and not drive quite up to the gate."
And so within a few minutes the superintendent and two of his men stood gazing down at the dead body of Mr. Osbourn. Maddox at once telephoned to the Yard, who, in learning that chief inspector Pointer "happened" to be on the spot, asked for him.
"You think there's a connection with Craig's death?"
The assistant commissioner's voice did not sound surprised. "Then you'd better carry on. Let us know at once if you think the two are separate, though your 'happening' to be at Harrow is pretty good proof that they're linked."
Pointer went on with his careful search of the room, after the photographer took his exposures. The superintendent had telephoned to the police surgeon before setting out. Vickers was at the house within ten minutes.
"You don't need me to tell you the cause of death," he murmured, as he stepped up to the desk, "but that it should happen to Osbourn! Good, steady-going Osbourn! He hasn't an enemy in the world." It sounded like an echo from Woodthorp.
"You're a friend of his, aren't you, doctor?" the superintendent asked. Vickers nodded.
"Close friend. Cecil Osbourn is one of the best of chaps. I suppose I must be the one to break it to his wife. Pleasant task! The two were as happy as a pair of lovebirds." He straightened up from his examination. "But evidently all his good qualities didn't save him from such an end, though let's hope they'll help him where he is now. Any clues as to why—" His eye caught the open safe. "Ah!" he murmured, "a robbery! Any idea as to who it was?" He turned to the three experts.
"Any idea as to when he was murdered?" Was all the information he got.
Vickers shook his head. "All I can say is, over twelve hours ago, and under twenty-four, and that's only a guess, mind you."
"But sometime early last night would fit?"
"Very well indeed."
"Say—not long after eight?"
Vickers could not be more precise than he had been.
Pointer and the others asked further particulars of the dead man's life and character. All details supplied by the doctor showed that it would apparently be waste of time hunting among his past for clues as to the motive for this death.
He had last seen the solicitor on Wednesday when he had been his cheery self, full of plans for a summer holiday on the Broads, which he had promised his boys.
"By the way," Pointer looked up from the cellarette which he had just unlocked, "did Mr. Osbourn wear glasses? Was he short-sighted? Or near-sighted?"
"Splendid sight. Proud of it. Why?"
But Pointer only replaced an empty whisky decanter and relocked the little affair without replying.
"What was stolen? Securities?" Vickers turned to Colonel Godolphin.
"Can't tell yet. It all depends on what turns out to be missing. Did you ever hear Mr. Osbourn talk of a client of his, a man called Ronald Craig?"
The doctor had.
"He's some fearfully wealthy chap who used to give Osbourn quite healthy tips now and then. Tips which Osbourn passed on to me." Vickers, in answer to a further question, said that his friend had never spoken of Craig's private life nor referred to him recently. No, he had no idea of when Osbourn had last seen the ex-financier.
"Did you ever hear him speak of a Miss Bingham, or a Mrs. Harding?"
He had not.
"Do you know by chance the private address of Mr. Osbourn's confidential clerk?" he next asked.
Dr. Vickers explained that Osbourn had lost his head clerk some months ago, and that he, Vickers, knew nothing about the present man. Then he and the superintendent settled about the autopsy later and Vickers hurried away.
As soon as he had gone, the glove was carefully lifted and examined. The makers were a famous French manufacturing firm. There was no stamp inside, but instead was a tiny fragment of hand-made, rough-edged mottled gray paper. It was quite blank.
Next they hunted for a list of the safe's contents, and finally found it in a locked drawer of the writing table.
"Craig's will is on it," Godolphin said, who was skimming it over, "but no letter of his. Of course it would have come too late, but I'm afraid—"
So was Pointer. So was the superintendent, who had been told of the quest on the way up from the station. All three feared that, as the dead man suggested, there was no such letter now on the premises. That the murderess had thought it would be in the safe seemed likely from the fact that Osbourn was not killed until the safe, a combination safe, was open. She would have naturally looked in there first therefore, yet the wild confusion of the papers in the writing-table showed that the search had extended to every paper in the room.
"Any finger-prints?" Godolphin asked.
"Gloves, sir," Pointer said briefly, "but not like this"—he touched the pocket in which, in a sealed envelope of waxed paper, lay the glove that had been found under a chair—"rubber gloves. Which was probably how this little affair came to be forgotten."
Godolphin paused in front of the little tray on which stood a decanter three-quarters full, two long-stemmed sherry glasses and some stale olive sandwiches under a cover. On one of the glasses was a smeared half-moon, which still gave out a cloying perfume.
"Lipstick," he muttered.
Godolphin remembered something.
"Why did you ask about Osbourn's eyesight?"
"Because of this, sir." Pointer unlocked the cellarette. He held out the empty whisky decanter. "I can't see why Mr. Osbourn would have locked it away like that unless he had been very near-sighted. Looks to me as if the lady had unlocked it after his murder, and helped herself to whatever was in it, for there's quite a rim of lipstick on it too. She drank it neat. And from the jug!"
"No wonder she couldn't find the paper!" Godolphin said feelingly, as he too peered through a glass at the decanter lip. "Well, that's the most hopeful sign I've seen yet. The letter may be here after all, and she was too exhilarated to know it when she saw it even though in doubles or trebles."
With that they set to work themselves on the writing-table from which the contents had been tumbled so carelessly, one paper even lying on the foot of the man, who must have been but inanimate clay when it was flung from the drawer above. At long last they found at the back of a drawer, crushed between it and the back of the desk itself, a letter. A letter bearing the Woodthorp postmark, and the date of yesterday. It was addressed in Craig's writing to Osbourn.
Godolphin's hand shook a little with excitement as he drew out the paper from the envelope and saw an enclosure inside. Smoothing them out from their crumpled state, he read the letter first.
DEAR OSBOURN,—I found the original of which
the enclosed is a careful copy among some daubs the children
brought in to show me this morning. As they had been coloring a lot
of advertisements collected for them by everyone in the manor, I
don't yet know to whom it was sent. But the fragment speaks for
itself. I have had a strange and growing conviction that I was
being slowly poisoned. I now know it, and that the poison used is
arsenic. I have written to Houghton to take me away tomorrow
morning, and shall go first to his house in Pont Street until
Monday. Put this away in your safe in case anything happens to the
original. I thought of sending it to Houghton, but will keep it
until he comes. Can you make it convenient to come to my rooms in
Hay-Hill, on Monday at four? There must be no scandal, but I will
talk over with you what steps can be taken.
Yours in haste,
Godolphin waited a moment then opened the enclosure. The two looking over his shoulder bent closer. On a piece of paper Craig had copied out a paragraph in a hand that trembled, probably from excitement and horror as much as from weakness. The lines were crooked and very unevenly spaced.
"Why should he suspect if you are very careful? But don't try to hasten the end and overdo the poison. That's where the only danger lies. And let me know what the doctor thinks of his condition every day. Only be very careful with him too, not to rouse his suspicions by overquestioning."
The chief constable replaced the sheets in the envelope with a certain solemnity.
"Clear enough—clear enough—as to what was taking place, but not as to the poisoners. What a pity Craig didn't send Osbourn the original. I fancy the murderer thought he had. Hence all this."
He and Pointer stared down at the note which meant more to them than it could to Maddox. It was a letter from one dead man to another dead man. One poisoned within a few hours of sending the letter and the copy, the other shot within a few hours of receiving them.
No wonder Miss Cornwall was frightened if this was what lay out on the mantelshelf for all to see and if it had been sent originally to her.
Pointer moved to the telephone. "I suggest we ring up Mr. Houghton now, sir, and get him to open Mr. Craig's will."
Pointer was put through quickly. "Chief Inspector Pointer speaking from Hill Rise Avenue, Harrow. Mr. Osbourn's house, yes—"
Here Houghton interrupted him with an eager: "Has he got the letter—the letter Ronnie found?"
"Mr. Craig only sent him a copy of the letter, but even so, it is very interesting. Will you come here as soon as you can?" And disregarding the eager request for more detailed information, Pointer hung up.
HOUGHTON must have nearly eclipsed the chief constable's record in his run across from Woodthorp. When Pointer opened the door to him he stared. "What! Isn't Osbourn here?"
"Mr. Osbourn's been murdered," Pointer said closing the door. Houghton gave a sort of strangled shout of horror.
For answer the other opened, showed him into where the chief constable was poring over the contents of the writing-table. Maddox had not been able to wait.
Houghton stared at the figure lying on the couch, the face covered with a towel.
"Is that Osbourn? I never met him."
Godolphin nodded. "And here's the letter Craig wrote him with a copy of the fatal paper he found inside. See the connection?"
But apparently Houghton only saw the envelope held out to him. He read the note with compressed lips. "Copy he sent me...so he changed his mind himself about not sending me the original. What a pity!"
"Think so?" Godolphin gave his short dry laugh.
"From the police point of view—perhaps! But from your own? It would have meant a third dead body on our hands."
Houghton only stretched out his hand for the enclosure. He looked disappointed when he glanced it over.
"This tells nothing—nothing we don't know already." He frowned down at it. "Who wrote these damned murdering lines? That's the riddle! And to whom? 'Don't overdo the poison...that's where the only danger lies,' he read aloud, the only danger!" His voice shook as he repeated the words and handed the two papers reluctantly back to Pointer. "Tell me everything, please," he begged.
They went over each point.
"And here is the glove we found under that chair." Pointer held it out in its paper tray. "Don't touch it, but perhaps you could identify it by the perfume?"
Houghton sniffed and shook his head.
"Is there any lady known to both you and Mr. Craig who is very fond of gray?" Pointer asked next.
"Countess Alexandra," Houghton said promptly.
Godolphin intervened. "Prejudice isn't evidence, and the cap must fit the head, Houghton. I've met Countess Alexandra several times, and, as it happens, she's never yet been wearing gray!"
"She wore it the day she came to town to choose Ronnie's birthday present," Houghton said defensively, "all gray. Hat, cloak, shoes, and gloves. I'm bound to say it suited her. She called to ask what sort of thing he might be expected to like. That writing cabinet thing was her choice finally."
"Now, Mr. Houghton," Pointer went on, looking at his shoe tips as he stood leaning an arm on the mantel-shelf, "that copied part of a letter Mr. Craig found don't think hard—don't try and not implicate innocent people—but just say out the first name that comes into your head after reading it and Mr. Craig's covering letter."
"I can't think of anyone except—you know who I think is at the bottom of this terrible business," Houghton said finally, "but I can't say honestly that those lines suggest her, style."
"Countess Alexandra had no need to write any messages, nor to have an accomplice. Besides, I don't think this is a foreigner's note," Pointer said, "the phrase 'don't overdo' looks to me genuine homespun."
Houghton only studied afresh the copy of Craig's copy which Maddox had made, and which they were all using.
"Setting her on one side," the chief inspector went on, "doesn't Mr. Craig's own letter to Mr. Osbourn suggest anything to you? Miss Bingham for instance?" Godolphin asked bluntly.
Houghton stared at him. There was incredulity as well as horror on his face.
"But she's out of England, and Osbourn here was shot Besides, Mildred Bingham has no grudge against Ronnie. Nothing to gain by his death."
"We know to the contrary," the colonel went on.
"We know that with Craig's removal the great bar to her marriage with Ardmay was removed also." He explained the mother's standpoint about divorce.
"Craig's letter points directly to her. He wants no scandal, but there must be some sort of punishment, and he will talk over with the solicitor what steps can be taken. To whom would the word scandal apply outside of the Woodthorp circle? Only to Miss Bingham. Mind you, Pointer suspected her from the first. This letter of Craig's is only one more confirmation."
"And you think because of that whelp Ardmay—" Houghton began thickly.
"We do," Godolphin added.
"She was in gray the last time I saw her. I never considered her as possible. And I should have known her writing." Houghton spoke like a man groping along a trail and identifying each thing as he came to it by its feel in the darkness. "Yes, I should have known it anywhere; it's so peculiar." He stopped a moment and then said suddenly: "That was the postscript to my letter! That Ronnie Craig was sending a copy to Osbourn. In which case whoever tore it off would have known where to look for it, and would have known that it wasn't coming to me. And would have known, too, that Ronnie was keeping the original."
Godolphin and Pointer both thought this fitted in well with the possibilities.
"And that was why the address was taken," Godolphin added, "stamps and all so as to be able to prove the assertion to the head poisoner that it hadn't gone. Yes, by Jove, little by little, things are getting clearer."
"But all this doesn't go with the known fact that Miss Bingham's out of England! I mean Osbourn's death and this getting of the paper. And who was her accomplice?" Houghton asked.
They told him who was suspected. He only nodded.
"Well, I shouldn't wonder at the choice of Miss Cornwall," lie said thoughtfully, "but was it she who shot Osbourn? It couldn't have been Mildred Bingham we know. She's in Monte Carlo."
Now, while Houghton had been breaking the speed limit and very nearly his steering gear in getting to Harrow, Pointer and the chief constable had been talking to the Monte Carlo police. The latter were quite certain that the lady in question had been at the villa last night, and was there now. They were unshakable on this point, and it had now become of prime importance. Hitherto, the whereabouts of Miss Bingham, provided she were kept under close observation, was quite immaterial to the case. Whether she were in England or out of it would neither prove nor disprove her guilt in the poisoning of Ronald Craig, but this murder of Mr. Osbourn's brought in at once the question of alibis, and raised them to prime importance. No one at the manor house had been absent last evening around the time when the visitor of Mr. Osbourn had apparently been expected. But when had that visitor really arrived? It might have been a clever ruse to telephone for an early evening hour and then telephone again at the hour itself pleading a breakdown, or some other unavoidable delay, getting the appointment postponed to a much later hour.
Could anyone from Woodthorp have got away unnoticed during last night for a couple of hours? Craig had sent his own car back to town for a thorough overhaul. There was Lady Craig's car, a fine looker but a poor performer, and not one that fitted with Rapson nor yet with patched tires.
It had taken the colonel an hour to cover the distance between Woodthorp and Harrow. Houghton had taken only a little more, but a woman driving at night Pointer decided they must count at the very least three hours to come and go. The garage at Woodthorp was locked at night and the key hung in the butler's pantry, but as he had been in Craig's bedroom so much last night that meant little. Also the sports car was probably taken at some garage; the car in which the murderer or murderess drove being left for some useful repair on some pretext. Dangerous thing to do though. Miss Cornwall was a very good driver, but she had been noticed by butler and nurse—or so they said—hovering around the sick-room. Was that to furnish an alibi? Certainly if they were telling the truth, and Pointer thought they were in that particular, she could hardly have driven here, murdered the lawyer, and searched, however hastily, for the letter. Besides, he believed she had the original. If so, she would have known that this was but a copy though she might well have feared the accompanying letter.
But what about Mildred Bingham? Pointer decided that the very first move must be to settle whether the woman, believed by the Monte Carlo police to be Mildred Bingham, really were that lady or not. If she were, then his whole theory would have to be expanded—the trouble was it could not expand without bursting. No, if his theory was right, Mildred Bingham must have been here herself last night, whatever the French police thought. Pointer considered them the most easily hoodwinked police in the world.
"We asked you here to open Craig's will," he now heard Godolphin saying. "We all think it ought to be done at once."
Houghton took the envelope in question and broke the seal. He read it aloud. It corresponded fairly well with what he had told them. There was a codicil, however, in which Craig granted to his former wife the custody of the children of that marriage, provided she were either married again or living alone, and provided that Mr. Osbourn, who was made their trustee jointly with herself, was satisfied on this point. The solicitor was one of the two executors.
Further, Mildred Bingham was left an income of five hundred for life, and five hundred a year for each child under age as long as it lived with her; the amount to be continued to the children after twenty-one. The codicil was of fairly recent date, made about seven months ago, whereas the will was some five years old.
There were numerous bequests. A thousand pounds was left to each of the Lindrums in memory of the many kindnesses their father had shown the dead man (Ronald Craig). Osbourn was down for another thousand. Match was left an annuity of a hundred whether he were in service or not. Altogether it was a kindly will, remembering many people.
"Ronnie told me about a year ago that he meant to have that codicil added. It sounds monstrous now though I've been turning over your ghastly supposition in my head, and—"
"Did you ever mention this codicil to Miss Bingham?"
"I'm not sure," Houghton replied casually, "I may have. A couple of weeks before that tennis party Emily gave on his birthday, I ran into her in Bond Street, and she asked after him in the nicest way. I may have told her of it then."
"What did she say?"
"I don't think she said anything. Which is why I can't be certain whether I told her or not. We were both in a great hurry. Nor is the point important."
"Oh, yes, it is, Mr. Houghton," Pointer said to that, "very important! I wish you could be sure whether you told her then or not."
Houghton stared. The look of horror that had shown once before on his face came back to it, and this time it stayed.
"Let me think!" he all but whispered, spanning his forehead with both hands and resting his elbows on his knees. He was silent a full minute, then he looked up. "No!" he said positively, and in a tone of great relief. "Thank God, no! Whatever the motive was, it wasn't any careless words of mine that caused all this. No. The motive must have been as you think, Mrs. Ardmay, and to obtain possession of the incriminating letter. But a woman to murder the father of her children—a man she seemed to rather like in spite of having left him."
"Trouble is," Godolphin fumed, "because we can't lay our hands on the original of that letter we can't apply for a warrant. Nowhere in either his letter to you or Osbourn does Craig give his certainty a name. If he had tried to hold us up he couldn't have thought of a better way. Miss Cornwall, to whom Pointer and I both think the original of the letter went, has now regained possession of it and will have destroyed it at once, of course. Unless Osbourn's murder helps us out we can do nothing. It would only be another case of our being certain who the criminal or criminals are, and yet not able to get at them."
"But Mildred Bingham is at Beausoleil!" Houghton said again and again in a bewildered tone.
"That's just the point we should like you to clear up, Mr. Houghton," Pointer explained. He and Godolphin had talked this over while Houghton was hurrying to the house. Godolphin was not sure enough of his own memory of the one-time Mrs. Craig. Houghton would be as good a judge as they could get hold of at the moment, and they could rely on his telling them the truth. "If the lady who is and has been at Beausoleil for some days or rather weeks is Miss Bingham, then of course she didn't drop her glove here last night. Would you recognize her voice over the telephone? That might be a short cut to finding it out?"
"I think I should. It's a rather hard, and yet deep voice for a woman. You think there's some impersonation—that she is dead, or kidnapped, and that some one—"
"Nothing so melodramatic," Godolphin said gruffly. "We think she's the criminal, Houghton. Sure of it. The point in question is how many confederates she is using. Pointer's theory is the only possible one."
"I should rather call it Mr. Craig's theory," Pointer thought. "I'm only going by his sailing directions, as it were."
After some minutes Houghton was put through. The two police officers listened intently.
"Is that you, Mildred? Yes, I thought I recognized your voice, but I wasn't quite sure. You know who's speaking, don't you?" The answer made him nod to the two others. "Yes, Guy Houghton. You know Ronnie's been ill lately? Well, he has been. Very ill. Much worse than we thought. I'm sorry to say that it took a fatal turn last night, and that he died early this morning. I'm writing you all details. So is Emily." He told the connecting link that he was finished, and turned away.
"Hard lines on her to break it in that brutal fashion and not give her a true explanation. But, at any rate, we know that it was Mildred Bingham speaking. She recognized my voice at once."
"She might have been told whom to expect," Godolphin reminded him.
"Yes, the important thing is whether you recognized her voice." Pointer was tidying up some loose papers still left out. "Would you have recognized it supposing she hadn't seemed to know who was speaking to her?"
"It's very like hers if not hers," Houghton said cautiously, "but oddly enough it sounded more like her voice when I first met her than when I saw her last. She used to have rather a pronounced accent, which she lost. It was rather marked just now. I thought it might be emotion, and it might be! Trouble is, I can't honestly swear for or against it being Mildred herself," Houghton acknowledged, impatient with his own lack of certainty. Again the Monte Carlo police were communicated with. A close and detailed account of the lady believed to be Miss Bingham was telephoned back to Pointer, and proved as inconclusive as the voice that Houghton had heard over the telephone. Unfortunately, the lady possessed no distinguishing marks of any kind. Certainly the description now furnished again closely resembled the Mildred Bingham known to two of the men listening.
"The voice was like hers if not hers," Houghton repeated. Pointer thought a moment and then let Houghton betake himself home to bed while he himself rang up Dr. Lindrum.
"Yes?" came on the instant in the alert voice of a man accustomed to night calls.
"Look here, Dr. Lindrum," Pointer began with an appearance of frankness, "I want to get into touch with Miss Bingham. Most urgently. Do you know of any address that will find her?"
"She lives at Monte Carlo. That's the only address of hers I know of."
"Would you mind calling Mrs. Lindrum to the phone for a moment. I'm sorry to—"
Lindrum cut into his polite regrets. "My mother is not here. I'm thankful to say that my sister prevailed on her to go abroad until all this has been settled one way or another. She's going to Switzerland with some friends. No, I'm sorry, chief inspector, but you can't have the address. Anything I can tell you you're welcome to, but I don't intend to have my mother dragged into this. What did you want her for?"
"I want Miss Bingham's present address," Pointer said shortly, "if you or Miss Lindrum can supply it instead, so much the better."
Lindrum said that he had no idea of her whereabouts, and his sister did not know the woman.
Pointer rang off. It would be no use trying Lady Craig. She was not the woman to admit any knowledge of anyone in the position which Pointer believed she knew Mildred Bingham occupied in the mystery surrounding the death of Ronald Craig. He must try a woman detective whom he often employed. He very carefully instructed her in what she was to say, and above all, in how she was to say it. Miss Gerding was a very good actress indeed, who, prevented from getting engagements owing to rheumatism, was invaluable to Scotland Yard.
At a word from him she now rang up Miss Cornwall at her club. Miss Cornwall had not seemed in any hurry to get another post. She had not put her name down on any of the university women's usual registers. She had spent the time, since her return to town yesterday, in her room, taking all her meals in it.
Called to her telephone now, Miss Cornwall heard a gentle but very excited woman's voice speaking to her in the tone of one afraid of being overheard.
"Is that Miss Cornwall? Miss Yseult Cornwall? Oh, I'm so glad you're in. Listen! I can't get hold of Mildred. Mildred Bingham, of course."
"What!" Checked in her well-memorized conversation, the detective heard a hard and clear: "I don't know where Miss Bingham is," and a sound as though the receiver were about to be put down.
"Wait a moment!" came in a tone of genuine urgency. "Something dreadful has happened. Mr. Craig's solicitor, a Mr. Osbourn, has been murdered, and the police think that Millie did it, because of that letter you lost. Oh, never mind how I know! There's no time for explanations. I don't know how to get word to her. Her telephone is too dangerous, and I can't get off by myself again until tomorrow. Oh, don't interrupt! Listen I Who is it speaking? Tell her it's Daisy. The papers won't have the news until tomorrow morning. You'll go yourself? At once? You can get hold of a little sports car that can do forty?"
And then the actress did a clever bit of work, as clever as all that had gone before it. Turning away from the instrument, the receiver still in her hand, she said in quite a different, a would-be casual voice: "Hello, mums, you're dressed early. I was just ringing up my beauty doctor." Then into the phone she spoke again in a voice that sounded as though she were trying desperately to make it sound light, "Thanks so much, Miss Smith," and with a little laugh of forced merriment, she hung up. So Pointer's bluff had worked. Mildred Bingham, the real one, was in England. In or near London. And he had found it out without wasting valuable time and public money by going to Monte Carlo with Houghton, who, with the best will in the world to settle the point, might not be able to tell the one-time Mrs. Craig from any good impersonation. As to the measures he had just taken to prove this, Pointer always thought of his job as soldiering, soldiering in a war which, for him, would only end with his death; the war of right against wrong. As a soldier, so he too had to use weapons, take cover, and try to mislead the enemy. Open fighting was to his taste, but his duty was to win. And here, he did not even feel that an enemy was opposed to him so much as that he was tracking down some great man-eating cat, who had already slain two men to his knowledge and might slay more.
A taxi, rather a smart one, for the journey might be long, set down a fare just outside Miss Cornwall's club at the time this very one-sided conversation was going on over the wire. The fare was fussy about the payment, but finally, just as Miss Cornwall came hurrying down the steps, all seemed settled, and the driver, who looked singularly unlike what he was, a Scotland Yard man, put up his flag and began to turn.
Miss Cornwall walked on past. Pointer, who had thought she might not want to take a taxi from the house, was driving another, and followed her quickly moving figure until she turned into a street where there was a public garage. He knew it well, and putting on speed, passed her and had a word with the man in charge for the night. When Miss Cornwall arrived, she found that all cars were out. There was nothing for it but to take the taxi which was discussing some point about the quality of the lubricating oil supplied, with a vehemence which made the driver seem quite unwilling to be torn away from his half-finished argument.
"I want you to get me down to Surbiton as fast as possible," she said hurriedly.
The man looked anything but charmed.
"Surbiton. That's a long way, lady."
"I'll pay well," she said eagerly, "but I'm in a tearing hurry."
"Where to in Surbiton?" he asked, half yielding, half growling. But she did not seem to hear and had got in. Pointer dismounted stiffly. "'Ere lady," he said in the tone of a man that means to stand no nonsense, thrusting in a head through the open window and filling the cab with an odor of fried onions, shag and stout, "'ere lady, which end of Surbiton? Near the station or out far?"
"Surbiton View Road. This end. Just pass the station. I want you to take me there and bring me back here. I shan't keep you a minute outside."
Pointer mumbled something and started off obediently. He drove well, but not too well, and in a reasonable time drew up at a number that she gave him. The house was dark. Pointer watched her run up the steps and keep her finger on the bell. After a little, the door opened. Miss Cornwall pushed her way in unceremoniously, and a little later Pointer saw a light go up in one of the second-floor rooms facing him. Miss Bingham's bedroom, he fancied. The house was large, and bore a small brass Private Hotel plate near the bell.
Barely two minutes passed before the door was opened again, very quietly indeed, and out slipped a woman as tall as Miss Cornwall, but lighter in build. Even in the light of the car's lamps, her face showed up as over-rouged. She crossed to the car and got in.
"The other lady is staying on. She doesn't want you to wait for her. She sent out this"—a pound note was thrust into the driver's grimly hand. "Now drive me as quickly as possible to Victoria Station in town."
Pointer got down with the heavy tread of an elephant and began breathing noisily.
"I don't like leaving my fare," he said obstinately. "She asks me particular to bring her back, and I promises her particular, and what I promises I does. There's no one can't say as I doesn't."
"Oh, don't stand there talking!" Miss Bingham—as he felt sure it was—said quickly. "She's going to stay here; and as I want to go into town, I'm taking you in her stead so that you shouldn't lose by coming out here."
"But I promised her to take her into town," Pointer said loudly, and in the tone of a man with one idea. "What I want to know is—"
The door opened again, but not so secretively, and Miss Cornwall came running out.
"Why, you're there!" she cried in a tone of surprise.
"Waiting for you," the other replied easily. "Didn't you hear me say I'd go on out to the taxi?" She turned to the man. "Now drive us to Victoria Station. You can keep what I just handed you for yourself—and a quiet tongue," she murmured, in a voice so low that he hardly caught it.
Pointer mumbled some agreement this time, and clambered back to his wheel. So Miss Bingham wanted to hurry off without Yseult Cornwall. She had thought she could leave her in her place, apparently. It did not throw a very nice light on Miss Bingham's character, but neither did it suggest that Miss Cornwall was in possession of any facts, let alone of a letter, which could harm Mildred Bingham.
Pointer drove rapidly this time, but not to Victoria Station, though he took them to a house not far from that spot. He stopped just before he got to his objective to take in beside him another Scotland Yard man. When the taxi finally stopped, Miss Bingham began at once, "This isn't the station! I told you—"
"I am Inspector Watts"—the man beside Pointer now stood by the door. "I want a word with you, Miss Bingham, and with you, Miss Cornwall. Kindly go on into this 'house. The door is open. There is a room on the right-hand side as you enter, where we can all talk."
Then, as the women sat on as if turned to stone, he pulled out a card like a season-ticket and held it out. "Here is my warrant-card, in case you would like some corroboration as to who I am."
Yseult Cornwall leaned forward and read it; she even compared the photograph with the man before her. Mildred Bingham only sat white and silent. Then, as Watts opened the door and helped each out, she followed the other, without a word, into the trim little house.
Watts was close behind them. He turned on the top step. "We shan't need you any more, my man. You can call round tomorrow morning for your fare."
Pointer touched his cap and drove off.
A moment later Watt asked Miss Cornwall to follow him into the room opposite. Here she found Pointer cleaned up, and waiting for her. The chief inspector wanted an interview with her first, for he fancied that she would be calmer than would Mildred Bingham, and that she might be induced to betray the chief person in the guilty compact, if he were right in his theory that such a pact existed. He found her quite collected outwardly. Her eyes looked at him steadily from out of dark hollows.
He cautioned her, and though she paled at the knowledge of what that preliminary meant, she kept her head high, and her outward look of self-control, as she began:
"If Miss Bingham were any other than the kind of woman she is, I should have preferred to tell you before her what I am now going to tell you by myself. But she's a raving maniac just now. She chooses to think I have betrayed her to you. If she is innocent, of course, I"—for a second a quiver passed over her white face—"if she is innocent," she repeated, "I have, in a sense, done just that, I suppose. But I still don't see how I could have acted differently..." She put her hand to her forehead for a second. Yseult Cornwall looked ill. "I'm in an awful position. I knew it when I heard—what Mr. Craig called out. I must protect myself."
She paused, and then went on hurriedly:
"I was at the manor house on Mrs. Craig's behalf—Miss Bingham's behalf. I met her at Monte Carlo about a year ago, when I was there with a very bad throat. I talked to her now and then, and finally, just before I thought I must come back and see what I could find in the way of secretarial work, she offered me the post of nursery governess to her two children, at a hundred a year. I was to keep her informed of how they were getting on, of course, and, above all, I was to try and get her husband, who had not divorced her at that time, to let her see them at intervals. As she told the story, all my sympathies were with her. And then, too, I liked the idea of pulling it off—about her and her children, I mean. I thought it wicked of Mr. Craig."
Miss Cornwall paused again, and her face grew grimmer.
"I accepted with relief, and I liked the house when I got to it. Lady Craig and I suited each other splendidly. I liked the people. I don't care much for children of that age—to me they're just little animals, and not nearly so engaging as puppies—but I grew quite fond of them. But I saw hardly anything of Mr. Craig.
"About two months ago—I have all the dates written down for you here, and the addresses"—she handed Pointer a paper—"Miss Bingham came to England. She stayed with a Mrs. Cook, a friend of Lady Craig's, who takes paying guests, and who has three or four children of her own with whom the little Craigs could play. Lady Craig arranged it so that I took them there every Wednesday for all afternoon. Sometimes the mother watched them from an upper window; sometimes she wasn't there. Then one Wednesday she wanted me to do my best to get a written understanding from Mr. Craig about the children. I was, rather, to push for it. He had got his divorce by that time, and she fancied he might be willing to let her have her way after he was married. I was quite willing to try, but I saw so little of him. Once a month he came down to see the children, or had them brought to his rooms in Mayfair for the afternoon, but that was all. Nurse and I went with them, and he seemed to like talking to me, but that was all. Oh, I ought to tell you before this, as soon as she came to Mrs. Cook's, Miss Bingham spoke as though there might be a chance of winning her husband back to her. However, about the children: I said I would do what I could. She got impatient," Yseult's low, husky voice went on. "Finally, she said she would arrange it, somehow. That's rather a trick of hers, talking as though things would happen, just because she wanted them to, so I didn't think much about it, and when Mr. Craig came down soon after to see Countess Jura on his birthday and fell ill, I thought it merely a piece of good luck." She repeated the last two words with a bitter laugh. "I'm sorry to talk like this about her," she went on, "but the position is not one where I can keep silence. If I am doing her harm, well—I can't help it—the responsibility is too horrible!"
Naturally Pointer agreed with her.
"That's all I know, chief inspector—oh, I hope you will believe me that that's all I know about his illness." Her intelligent eyes, distended with fear, were fixed on the detective officer. "You see, I used to pour out tea for him every day. Make it for him. There's an electric kettle and a plug in his room. And she gave me the tea to use. Said it was some wonderful first-picking she got direct from Peking through Mr. Ardmay, and would do Mr. Craig a world of good. I know—I know how it sounds—now. Even Lady Craig half distrusts me. Oh, it was horrible to feel that she half suspected me and wanted me to leave. She wouldn't shake hands when I left!"
"What about yesterday morning?" Pointer went on, leading her for the moment off that terrible question of the tea. "In the morning the children were taken in by their nurse, and you went in afterward with a paper for him to sign?"
She nodded. "He had quite come round to my way of thinking about the right of the mother to have them." She paused, then she corrected herself. "That's a bit inaccurate, but he had come to see how much easier it would make it for himself and his remarriage if Miss Bingham were allowed to have them, she and Lady Craig together, for at least part of the year. Yes, I had brought it off, after ever so many talks—talks in which I always argued on abstract lines, of course, quite impersonally, but putting the thing from the point of view of convenience to himself and from fairness to Countess Jura. The idea was that the mother could come and stay with Lady Craig, alone, whenever she wanted to, and for as long as she wanted, though Lady Craig had to agree to anything decided about them if Mr. Craig were away. It was the best I could do as a compromise. I had grown to like Mr. Craig, and to see that Miss Bingham had brought her troubles on herself. But about this agreement concerning the children. Mr. Craig had agreed to sign it provisionally, with Lady Craig and me as witnesses. But"—her face grew tense at the memory—"when I hurried in yesterday morning with the paper which I had drafted, and which he was to alter if he didn't like any clause, he struck it out of my hand, and the pen as well which I was holding. And he looked at me..." She swallowed. "I didn't have a clue to what was really in his mind. I know now what—that—he was thinking—suspecting—how I wish I had known it then At least, I could have cleared myself. I only knew something was wrong, but I thought it was that he had learned about my being put there by Miss Bingham—her employee—and I had been told by Lady Craig, as well as Miss Bingham, that I was to be very careful, that he never forgave being taken in. He motioned to me to leave him, and—I was startled by that look and wanted to think things over—I went. Then later in the afternoon the door opened as I was passing and his eyes met mine—it was after that first dreadful seizure he had—he looked at me with a dreadful look. It was a most awful look. I couldn't face the possibility of it again, even though it surprised me. That was why I wouldn't go in to see him at the end. Not at first. But as the night wore on, I couldn't bear not to ask him to forgive me, to tell him, that, after all, I had meant well, both to him and the children, as well as to Miss Bingham, by the deception I had practised on him. So I finally went in. Lady Craig had quite agreed with me that I must stay away, but she let me finally come in—when he was unconscious. I thought he was dead, and went to the fireplace to get myself in hand.
"I had liked him, as I told you, and besides, his death meant that I had failed, just when I thought I had succeeded. I had worked most awfully hard, Mr. Pointer, trying to get him to like to talk to me, to listen to my point of view. And as I stood there with my back to the bed, I found myself looking down at part of Miss Bingham's last letter to me! I saw at once how he knew about me. I slipped it into my dress and ran down to telephone to Miss Bingham that he was very ill indeed, and that I thought he had found part of her last letter to me. I must have dropped the letter either running down the stairs or on the way to the phone. At any rate, I forgot all about it until next morning when I heard that Mr. Craig had died of poison, and that that half-sheet was considered most important—a clue to the murder. And I thought of the tea! The tea that I had made so often for him, and for him alone! Mr. Pointer"—her eyes were almost leaping out of her face—"I nearly died of horror first, and then of fright. What an awful position for me, supposing that things were wrong. And they were He had been poisoned! Lady Craig told me that she would not keep me in the house, she refused to listen to anything I said, refused to speak out, but only told me that I must leave at once and not see the children again. I wouldn't let that pass. I insisted that if she stood to that last, I should go straight to you, and tell you the whole story of why, and how, I was in the house. Finally, she gave in; and let me go to the station with Nannie and the babies.
"I went on up to town, as you know, to my dub. Last night..." She told him of the telephone message and of the shock it gave her. "I didn't know what to do, what to think. But I had lost Miss Bingham's letter, I had got her into this trouble, supposing she were innocent. I, of all people, mustn't let her down. Finally, I decided to do as this Daisy said, and warn her. She took it like a demented thing. I don't think she is guilty, I feel sure she isn't, of this second-hand murder, at any rate. But we decided she must try to get abroad—to—to friends abroad."
"To whoever is impersonating her there. With the object of throwing us off the track, of course."
"Not at all!" Miss Cornwall spoke very sharply. "Her maid is taking her place—in bed with the 'flu is the idea—to prevent Mr. Ardmay knowing she was back in England trying to get into touch with Mr. Craig, as she did try at first. Until she found he sent back every letter—through his solicitor—unopened."
She evidently did not know that Miss Bingham had tried to slip away alone, leaving her to face any trouble there might be.
"About this tea, first of all, how was it given you?"
"Mrs. Harding, as she called herself, used to hand it me or send it me by post. It came in charming little lead-lined baskets. She used to keep some herself, and pack about a quarter of a pound at a time into small ordinary tins which I took back to the manor, or which. she posted to me. I thought she really did think it, as she said, a wonderful restorative. She told me the Mandarins called it the Tea of a Thousand Healthy Years, and impressed on me that it was frightfully difficult to get and appallingly expensive, and that it was to be used only for him, exclusively for him. Mr. Craig looked distinctly better after he drank it. He thought so too. Only, he believed that Lady Craig got it for him."
"And did you keep it exclusively for him?"
Her face grew sickly white. "Yes. I used only to pretend to pour some into my cup, and the children only had milk."
"And Lady Craig knew about it?"
"Of course. She didn't mind one way or another at first, she said. Then she, too, thought it was helping Mr. Craig. We both knew, of course, that he wouldn't touch it if he knew where it came from, so Lady Craig always spoke of it as though she ordered it. Chief inspector, I'll never put myself in a false position again for any reason—for any purpose. I feel stifled with all the lies of these last days. I don't suppose you'll believe me, but quite apart from this horror of his death, I've had my lesson. It's not true that it's only the first step that costs. Each step costs in one's self-respect. Deceit leads so far..." She bit her lip, and turned again to her story. "Countess Jura used to get quite pettish about not being given some of the tea in question. She knew, in spite of all Lady Craig said, that what was sent her in the mornings wasn't the same as what was made for Mr. Craig, but she saw that Lady Craig was resolute about it. I think she thought it merely love of economy on her part."
"When was the last time that you made tea for him?"
"The day before the last."
"And was any tea left in the caddy?"
"No; I emptied it almost entirely, but a new packet was ready, and Lady Craig put it in sometime in the evening. Each packet used to about half fill the caddy."
"So Countess Jura used this new packet?"
Miss Cornwall nodded. Her face showed that she realized what underlay the question.
"Have you any idea what became of it? We found the caddy empty."
"I don't know, but I think Lady Craig emptied it sometime last night. She was wearing a kimono that had a belt with wide sash ends that she used for pockets. She often kept her keys in them. And as she passed me fairly late last night, I smelt the peculiar delicious fragrance of that tea. My belief is she was uneasy about it, and emptied the caddy herself."
"Was it empty when you went in later on?"
Miss Cornwall, had not looked. She had not thought, at the time, of connecting the vague jasmine perfume that she had noticed when the lady of the house passed her. It was only later that recollection had linked the two.
There had been no tea in Lady Craig's sash ends when Pointer had inspected her dressing-gown, but he too had noticed a peculiar and very pleasant fragrance. He listened without any comment.
Then he asked her to write down for him as carefully, and as accurately as possible, the words on the paper that she had taken off the mantel-shelf, the part of the letter written to herself as she claimed, and as Pointer had long ago suspected.
She made a draft and corrected it, then she finally handed him the following, written after much thought:
He won't suspect if you're careful. But don't overdo it, that's the great danger. And be sure and let me know daily what the doctor thinks of him. You must be careful with the doctor not to make him too suspicious of you by over-questioning.
She explained that she could not be sure of every word, but that was the close sense of every sentence and, to a great extent, the exact wording. It meant, she now explained, that she was not to overdo her efforts about Miss Bingham and the children. Miss Bingham was afraid she might spoil everything by showing her hand too clearly. That was where the only danger lay. And with the doctor too, Miss Bingham was afraid that she might question him in such a way that he should think her interest in the sick man excessive.
"And Countess Jura did," she threw in with a mirthless smile.
Dr. Lindrum, Yseult Cornwall now explained, knew that Miss Bingham had come down near Woodthorp, but not that she and Miss Bingham were in touch with each other.
Pointer scanned her lines closely and had her sign and date it. Folding it up he said slowly:
"There's a reference to poison in the letter we have, you think it means the tea?"
"Reference to poison?" Her eyes grew wild. "Of course there's no reference to poison—"
"There is in the copy that Mr. Craig made, and that we have in our possession. The one he sent to his solicitor, Mr. Osbourn."
She was on her feet in a second: "Let me see that copy!" she gasped.
He shook his head.
"It's not true!" she said hoarsely. "You've mistaken some word! Misunderstood some sentence; wait a moment, I remember now the exact words in one sentence ran: 'Don't try to hasten things and overdo it!'" She looked terrified. "Or—wait—wait! 'Don't try and hasten the end.' That was it! 'and overdo it.' I can't be sure of the exact words used."
"Mr. Craig was," Pointer said very gravely indeed. Her face grew still. Her quivering stopped. Almost stonily she turned to him:
"How could the word 'poison' have been used in any letter of Miss Bingham's to me? Do you mean that you're going to pretend, that anyone is pretending, that that word was used between us? That I knew?" He made no reply. His silence was sufficient answer.
"Miss Cornwall," he said instead, "Miss Bingham had access to poison. On at least one occasion. That is proved. Access to enough to have killed two or three people. That being so, and with the possibility of poison in her possession, and with you constantly in and out of the room of a man who died from the very poison we know she could have obtained, with a letter which you acknowledge receiving from Miss Bingham, a copy of which was made by Mr. Craig himself and sent to his solicitor with instructions for its safekeeping, made by him with the original before him, what is the natural inference? The sentence I referred to in the copy runs: 'Don't overdo the poison. That's where the only danger lies.' You have told me about the tea. It sounds as though it means: 'Don't give him too much of the tea.' Had the letter been as innocent as you claim, why was Mr. Craig not allowed to see his cousin and show him the original? Why was Mr. Osbourn murdered in order to get possession of it?"
She now sat staring at him with eyes that seemed to see something very close to her which was too awful to look on. But she was plucky. Now that she realized her danger, she was bracing herself.
"If that half-sheet sent me—it was a third, unsigned postscript—had really contained any such word, any such allusion," she said now, "it stands to reason I should have destroyed it at once. It was just because I thought it of no importance once it had given our secret away to Mr. Craig, the secret of who my real employer was, that I merely tucked it into my gown and didn't even remember it till all that talk about it next morning?"
"We don't know that you didn't destroy it," Pointer said gently. "I'm sorry to put it like that, but we don't know one way or another about that letter except that no one seems able to find it."
"You must have seen that I have been searching all over the lower rooms," she protested.
"But there is also a part of a book wrapper missing," Pointer said, "the part with Mr. Houghton's address on it."
"Oh, that!" She almost sniffed. Her mind was on something else evidently, for she burst out, low voiced but tense. "And you're going to see and talk to Mildred Bingham," she murmured half as though to herself, "and she'll make the worst possible impression on you. Oh, I too, probably! I too! But at least I can speak the truth. She can't. Not even to save her life!"
There was a tap on the door. The constable announced the arrival of Houghton. Pointer had asked him to come and put the identity of Miss Bingham beyond question. At the name, Yseult gave a quiver. Something in her eyes spoke of sharp pain, but she closed them, and leaning back in her chair seemed to sink into a somber reverie. Pointer had not asked her where she was last night, the night when Osbourn had been shot. His men had been ascertaining that she had no real alibi. She was believed to have spent that night, as its predecessors, in her room, presumably in bed, but no one at the club could vouch for this.
It was quite possible, with luck, for her to have left and returned unnoticed. The weapon used on the solicitor had been the most usual kind of small automatic, the bullet one to be bought at every gunsmith's. Yseult Cornwall was indeed in a most dangerous position.
WHEN Houghton was shown into the room where Miss Bingham sat pouring out a stream of indignation on and around a stolid inspector, she jumped up and rushed at him.
"Guy! Save me! Save me! I'm innocent!" She fell forward and collapsed against him. He deposited her on a chair.
"We want the truth," he said coldly. "Who is the woman masquerading at Monte Carlo in your name?"
"Oh, Guy, I'm in the most terrible position," she began. "Oh, don't look at me like that! I'm innocent. I'm trapped. Oh, if only I hadn't listened to that Cornwall woman!"
Houghton shook himself free of her clutching hands.
"This is the lady who was Ronald Craig's wife. This is the real Mildred Bingham," he said curtly to the chief inspector, who had followed him in, "and that ends my usefulness to you, I think." Without waiting for a reply he walked from the room.
Privately, Pointer envied him his escape. For the half-hour that followed was a horrible one. First of all he cautioned her. At this Miss Bingham raved, swore, wept, and entreated by turns. Finally she turned to the detective officer:
"Yseult Cornwall got me into this! I ought to've known better than to trust her! If there's been any poisoning done she's done it. If anyone murdered the solicitor, she did! For her own ends, whatever they are! I only know she offered to take the post at Woodthorp manor and keep me posted as to my children, bring them to see me when I was near by, and work on Mr. Craig so that he would let me have them."
Pointer disliked the woman, disliked her extremely. She was handsome with her still lovely skin, flashing eyes, smart figure, and hard masterful voice. Boundless physical energy was in her, and she had probably superb health. But there was in her, too, he felt as he studied her very carefully, a force restless and irresponsible, a will to have what it wanted at any cost, or rather at any one else's cost. He believed that she was immoral in the widest sense. If starving, she would, he thought, steal. If in a tight place, lie. Law as an ideal simply would not exist for her. If her need were great enough and she felt herself safe enough, he did not think that she would shrink from murder. Lady Craig he counted as an egoist, but there were limits to her egoism set by common sense and good taste. Here were no limits. This woman, however, had a certain mesmeric quality, a sort of strong effluvium of the grasping spirit that was in her, which might draw weaker, frailer spirits into her reach, even against their own will. She denied everything. She lied flatly, wildly, ridiculously.
"That woman"—she finally came back again to Yseult Cornwall—"lured me on with her talk. She betrayed me to you. Coming to me last night with talk about someone who had phoned to her. Daisy t I know three Daisies. Of course I trusted her, fool that I was. As I had trusted her in the beginning."
"That letter you wrote Miss Cornwall, part of which she lost, your last letter," Pointer now began.
"...was full of sorrow that he was ill; was full of hopes that he would soon be better. I'll tell you the whole truth." She seemed to force herself to be calm, and now drew up a chair at a table. "The whole truth. I wanted the children, my children"—again there was an interlude quite irrelevant to the charge that hung over her by a hair—then came the story amid denunciations of everybody but herself. When Mildred Bingham found fault with herself it was only for being too trustful, too affectionate, too fond, too easily led. The picture she painted was of a gentle soul, who, finding too little of the love that she needed with her husband, had flung everything to the winds for the sake of finding it elsewhere.
"But I wanted to get back!" she sobbed. "I wanted my husband and my children." Pointer asked few questions 'until she had more or less run down. Then he said: "And the letter Mr. Craig found, the letter, of part of which we have a copy?"
Again she insisted that it had been wholly affectionate in tone. Had she ended with a postscript giving Miss Cornwall any final instructions? None. Except to let her know how Mr. Craig and the children were. Especially Mr. Craig, as he was ill at the time. "There is nothing else whatever in it, chief inspector, and if you have any paper which says more than that, then it's no copy of what I wrote! I swear that! I'm prepared to swear to it anywhere!"
That much Pointer quite believed.
For the rest her story, or rather, many stories, boiled down to the fact that Ardmay had lost his money, that his cat of a mother refused to let him have any, unless he gave her, Mildred Bingham, up; that like all men he was not to be trusted, and was giving way to the fiend who was his mother, that she was therefore in a frightful position. That she longed inexpressively to be back with Ronald Craig. That a too affectionate heart had learned its lesson. That no one but a mother could understand a mother's feelings. That Ronald Craig, left to himself, would have taken her back, just as Ardmay left to himself would never have given her up, that now that Ronald Craig was dead, Mrs. Ardmay would have to give in, or she, Mildred Bingham, would bring an action against the son...That people couldn't play with her without regretting it; that Miss Cornwall had deceived her from first to last, and, while pretending to serve her, had worked against her and taken the opportunity to play her own dark game, whatever it was.
Pointer asked her, again cautioning her, to write out as well as she could remember them, any postscripts to her last letter to Miss Cornwall.
She scrawled some lines which bore no slightest resemblance to the copy sent by the dying man to his solicitor. A copy which one of his careful nature would make exact. About Dr. Lindrum's poison cupboard, she denied absolutely ever having been to it. If he said she had, he was trying to protect himself. She acknowledged that her maid had taken her place at Beausoleil. That, she explained, was because of Ardmay. Here she got a little into difficulties, but finally said that she didn't want to slip up on both men. Her idea was to try and get Craig to take her back, working through that deceitful minx Miss Cornwall. But, failing this, she intended to leave a latchstring out. Ardmay must not know that she had made any overtures to Craig. He was to think her still at Monte Carlo. It was only bad luck that her visit, incognito, as Mrs. Harding, to England, should have coincided with Ronald Craig's death and Mr. Osbourn's. As to the latter she had never asked him for an appointment. She had spent the night of his murder in her own rooms in the furnished service flat she had taken after her nerves got better.
She hadn't any witnesses, of course she had none. Once more came a burst of weeping and of terror. Of imploring him not to arrest her. She did not try to explain the glove found at the lawyer's, she denied ever having approached him in any way, either last week or before. If the glove was really hers, then, she said: "Miss Cornwall put it where it was found. She could easily have taken one. Yes, she always wore gray gloves, mouse-gray—it was her favorite color, as everyone knew."
Indeed, she was wearing it at the moment, and really was one of the very few women it suited.
And then she forgot that she had denied the episode with Dr. Lindrum's poison cupboard, and suddenly burst out: "Oh, why didn't he let me take the poison then and there as I meant to! I knew it was the only way out." Suddenly she slid to her knees. "Chief inspector, I swear that I'm innocent! Look, I swear it by my children. Don't arrest me! It would be the end of life for them as well as for me! You know how things cling I 'Their mother was accused of poisoning her husband, oh, yes, she got off'—supposing I do get off-'there wasn't enough proof to convict.' You know how people talk!"
Pointer did not think that anyone would ever say in her case that there was not proof enough to convict, but he stood silent. It was a terrible scene. Innocent or guilty, the woman was fighting for her life. He did not try to tell her that his was but to arrest, that it was for judge and jury to decide on her guilt and her punishment. For, in a way, she was right. An arrest on a murder charge could be a very terrible injustice. The mere trial for murder—a frightful punishment. But was she innocent? He thought not. Even while listening gravely, thoughtfully, carefully to her, he believed her guilty.
Yet she continued to implore him to search on, to look further, to look better; and no man could refuse to hear that plea.
"Who do you yourself think is the guilty person?" he asked finally.
"That sister of the doctor's, of course," she said on the instant. "She's in love with Ronald Craig; she all but pulled it off—until he saw this Russian girl. Then he dropped her, and she's furious. Oh, I know her I Smug hypocrite! I know how she used to meet him on the sly." Pointer disliked the woman more and more. Godolphin was right; Mildred Bingham seemed capable of everything except of being a lady.
"Where did this take place? This meeting or these meetings?"
"In Paris! I was there with Mr. Ardmay, and the first people we bumped into were the two of them. I didn't mind. But I made some inquiries. Oh no, there was nothing one could get hold of. She's not the kind to think the world well lost for love I Though, of course, one knows how things really were between them."
"Or one interprets it according to one's own outlook on life," Pointer thought.
"It seems he met her by chance in the first place at a mutual acquaintance's, and after that he followed it up—or she followed him up t She was staying with a French professor, taking some final examination or other at the Sorbonne, and, I say, they were inseparable for nearly a fortnight. Then he left Paris, went home and met this Russian creature. That was the end of the Lindrum girl's hopes. Evidently he had been careful not to commit himself in writing. She couldn't prove anything, so I suppose she just had to do what many another has had to do before, and let him go. No one at Thornton seems to have any idea that they were on such a footing, but I always thought it might come in useful in some way. With Ronald Craig one needed every weapon."
"And Mrs. Lindrum?"
For the first time her face softened. "Ah, she's a good sort. She's the only one at Woodthorp I am fond of."
"She was with you at Streatham, wasn't she?" But Miss Bingham refused to say.
"Didn't she mind her daughter going about with Mr. Craig in Paris?"
"I don't suppose she told her mother. Mrs. Lindrum would have stopped it at once if she had. She was a friend of mine in the old days, and hoped that Mr. Craig would take me back. She encouraged me to think he might."
"And Dr. Lindrum?"
"When I saw him last he had no idea of it. But whether she's told him since..." Mrs. Craig looked doubtfully at him with her large glittering eyes, passionate, sultry eyes; eyes that a touch would kindle into flame, and whether you liked them or not would depend on whether you liked flaming eyes. Some men had. Ronald Craig once had evidently, and so had Ardmay—once.
Again came a passionate entreaty to spare her, and this time, something more truthful crept out.
"I'm about to marry. At last it's going to be all put right. His cat of a mother has given way finally. She sees that we're determined on it."
Mrs. Ardmay saw that Craig was dead, and that she could not help herself, was more like what Pointer thought.
There was more in the same strain, or rather there was the same thing in different strains, but nothing fresh came out. Pointer stood looking at his shoes. Opportunity—method—motive—all three were here. All three very unusually well proved. Miss Cornwall; the tea; and last of all, the fact that with her marriage to Ardmay all Mildred Bingham's troubles were over. Without it they were just beginning. And the dead man alone stood in her way. And only his death could avail her. And, granted that she had killed the one man, she would have had to kill the second to prevent—so she would think—her guilt coming to light. It was a formidable threefold theory.
Pointer felt convinced that she was guilty. But he had not yet tested that belief. He had not yet proved that only she could have done the two murders. Finally, he told her that she must stay where she was for the present. So must Miss Cornwall. And he would do his very best, as though he believed her story, to see what he could find to substantiate her innocence, to prove her claim that someone else was the murderer. Next morning, after he had had a long talk with his superiors at the Yard, he went on down to Woodthorp, where the chief constable met him at the station.
Godolphin listened intently to the account given him. "Yet you haven't arrested her? Why not? We know '—know—from Craig's copy of her letter to the Cornwall girl that she is the poisoner. Or rather that both are."
"Yes," Pointer went on doggedly, "I think just that too, sir. But there is the fact that on the sheet of paper on which Mr. Craig wrote that copy for Mr. Osbourn, the word overdo comes last on the line, and there is a little gouge out of the paper after it."
"Well?" said Godolphin impatiently, "well?"
"Well, sir, it is possible that he might have copied the word 'it' and that someone got hold of the copy before we did, nicked away the paper edge with that little word on it, and wrote in below, in an imitation of the very weak spindly hand used by Mr. Craig throughout, the two fatal words 'the poison' on which the prosecution will chiefly depend to prove their case."
"Among many other things, all of which fit," Godolphin reminded him.
"Quite so, sir. But they say all roads lead to Rome. Certainly all paths in an inquiry lead to the criminal, if he really is the criminal, or they end in no-thoroughfares. I must make sure I'm right. I don't doubt it, but I must make sure."
"How can you be surer than you are now?" It was an exclamation rather than a question.
"By leaving Mr. Craig entirely out of it, sir, except through his death. By starting afresh on the case as though his letters to Mr. Houghton and Mr. Osbourn didn't exist, and seeing if my inquiries lead—as I think they will—to one or both of those two women. For there's one very odd thing, sir—"
"My theory and their own story of why Miss Cornwall was at the manor seem negatived by that codicil."
"I was wondering about that," Godolphin said too. "No need to work on Craig to let her have the children when evidently he had no objection to handing them over to her at the time he made that codicil some three months ago. No, Yseult Cornwall's clever tale as to why she was Mildred Bingham's spy in the house won't work. Not after it!"
Pointer made no reply. Godolphin finally looked at him questioningly, "I'll run to half-a-crown instead of the usual penny," he said encouragingly.
"I was wondering how to prove her guilt or their guilt, to myself, sir."
"Personally," came the uncompromising retort, "what was good enough for Ronald Craig is good enough for me. But here's the police station"—the colonel was driving—"and I must let you start out on what will prove to be a circular tour by yourself. You're sure to finish up at Mildred Bingham and Yseult Cornwall. But, as I say, I can't accompany you. That arson case is turning out a big thing, and I shall have no more hours to spare for the next day or two. When you get whatever you'll be content with as conclusive proof, and are ready to apply for a warrant, will be time enough to let me know."
Two constables rushed out as he drew up. Behind them the superintendent waved a telegram in the doorway. Before Godolphin let them draw him inside, he turned for the last word to Pointer. "The inquest is tomorrow. We'll have it adjourned for a week. Meantime don't unsettle the mind of a true believer. Now, Hopkins, have you located the purchase of that petrol yet?"
Pointer made himself scarce amid a low babble of talk that did not concern him.
He walked up the village, deep in thought. How to prove Miss Bingham's guilt? How to make sure...Paradoxically enough, in order to do so, he must now assume her innocence, and possibly that of Yseult Cornwall. He must take up the case as though on her side and determined to show Chief Inspector Pointer of New Scotland Yard that he had wrongly suspected her.
He stopped at the Lindrum's house and learned that Miss Lindrum was in. He was very grave with her, and warned her that owing to a recent piece of information she was in rather a difficult position.
"I must ask you why you went to Mr. Craig's room on the night he died," he wound up.
"Because Mrs. Kingsmill is a friend of mine. Surely there couldn't be a more natural impulse than to help her in such a frightful emergency."
"Mr. Craig was also a great friend of yours. So I have just heard," he said on that.
She looked at him a moment, a clear-eyed, tranquil, meditative look.
"So you know," she said on that, and a faint flush crept into her sunburnt cheeks, "so you know. Well, it simplifies matters. I hate lying. Yes, I loved Ronald Craig. Loved him dearly. We met by chance two years ago in Paris and spent a wonderful fortnight together, he and I. I was living there, and I showed him the Paris I loved. One of the many Parises. We hit it off well. He asked me to marry him. But I wasn't sure—I wanted to prepare my mother." She sighed at that. "I took her for a drive in town and got so interested in telling her about Ronald that we had a frightful smash. It was my fault. And my mother is a helpless cripple because of it. That made any marriage for me out of the question. It wouldn't have been fair to any man, and it would have been brutal to my mother to leave her. I told Mr. Craig so and, as it happens, he met Alexandra Ivanoff—Countess Jura—shortly afterward.
"He wrote me at once what had happened. Ronald Craig was an upright man, through and through. I wrote back and said that I was glad, as it made things easier all round. Well"—she folded her hands, brown, capable hands, that looked as though they could school a timid horse, or fly a plane, or dandle a baby, all with equal ease—"I came home to keep house for my mother, and to see Ronald's children. He was never at the manor, or so rarely that it amounted to never. But he fell ill. I avoided the house as much as possible. The night he died..."
Suddenly she looked at Pointer, and the room seemed transfigured. When he was a lad, a strolling "magician" had shown the villagers a scene where, all of a sudden, gray stone walls became rose-tinted, covered with blossoming creepers, cobblestones changed to flower-beds and a playing fountain. It had been but the simplest trick of lighting, but it had made a tremendous impression on the coastguard's son, who had watched wide-eyed. It seemed to Pointer now as though he saw the same thing repeated, only it was truth this time, not illusion. The whole little room seemed to be swung off and up into some other world, a world of permanency and beauty, and again the walls seemed roses, and the ground beneath his feet was as a sheet of flowers.
"I wanted to see him once more," she said very softly. "Laura Kingsmill is my friend. She knew. She had guessed. I had never told her, but she had guessed. So when I ran across she let me in and left me alone in his room, while she stayed outside to give me a moment if anyone should come to the door. No one did, though it seems that I was heard, coming and going. The explanation I gave you that I went to help Mrs. Kingsmill was true—as far as it went. You know the rest of the truth now, chief inspector, and if you know anything, you must realize that I wouldn't have harmed a hair of his head." Her lips quivered, but she stiffened them, just as she had fought down the tears in her eyes a moment ago. Her face, wholly gentle, and aglow still with the roses and flowers, turned to him.
Pointer was convinced that whoever had poisoned Craig it was not this woman. She would be watched, and her past looked into—but by one of his men. He would waste no time himself over her.
"What is your own opinion," he asked finally, "as to who really poisoned Mr. Craig?"
"I can say this with certainty," she replied at once, "of those connected with him, friends of his whom I know, it wasn't my brother, it wasn't Guy Houghton, it wasn't Match, it wasn't Mrs. Kingsmill."
"You don't feel sure about Lady Craig?" he asked.
"I don't feel about her as I do about the others I have named," she said after a pause. "She seems all out for money, and people who are all out for money are, I think, not quite human, somehow."
"And Countess Alexandra?"
"She disliked Ronald Craig—so Mrs. Kingsmill told me. Mrs. Kingsmill hoped that she would give him up and take somebody else, my brother, or anyone else. I think"—a sad smile flitted across the girl's face—"I think she hoped that in that case, he and I would come together again. But if the Russian girl had anything to do with Ronald's death, she did it as a self-willed child, quite ignorant of what a terrible thing she was doing."
"What about Miss Cornwall?" She looked at him reproachfully.
"I told you whom I set on one side. More than that it isn't fair to ask of me. I haven't the faintest shadow of proof. I have no knowledge, however trifling, that would help you, or, of course, I would tell it you—would have told you at once."
"You can help me by talking freely," he said. "It will be quite confidential. You know all the people well. I am hunting for a new light on the case. How about Miss Bingham, the lady who was once Mrs. Craig?"
She looked at him steadily.
"I rather think you can answer that question better than I can," she said finally.
"You think it was she?" he asked slowly.
"I do. Not because she was Mrs. Craig once upon a time—but because of many things I have heard about her. But all only hearsay, and of course, I'm bound to be prejudiced. I know Bob told you about finding her at his poisons."
"Do you agree with your brother in thinking that she went to his cupboard for poison for herself?" Agatha Lindrum's face went very white.
"If I only knew!" she murmured. "I thought it, at the time, just the sort of thing she might be expected to do—I mean, go there and be found with a jar of poison in her hands when he came in. I thought it was done for effect—to work on his feelings. I thought so until Ronald's death. But now—now..." She did not finish her sentence. "Ronald was quite right not to let her have anything to do with the children," she went on instead. "It wasn't harshness on his part. We talked it over several times. She really was, in his opinion, the last woman in the world to have charge of any children. Tyrannical, harsh, overbearing when angered he felt that she would only bully them."
"Yet in his will he practically leaves them in her charge. With reservations, true, but still practically gives them to her."
Agatha Lindrum jumped in her chair.
"I don't believe it!" she said hotly. "Forgive me, I mean that I feel sure your information about that is wrong."
"I read the will myself."
"But it's impossible!" she repeated. "He felt so strongly about it. He was so convinced that she was the kind of woman who loves her children only while they are babies, while they are still her own flesh and blood, as it were, part of her. But as they grew to be themselves, when another, an individual spirit began to show in them, she would hate them. She would crush the spirit, just as much as she would cherish the body that had once been part of her own body. It's what that type of woman always does—the type that's all passion and has no idea of fairness. No, no, he couldn't have handed those two tots over to her!"
"But I saw the will," Pointer repeated.
"Isn't there any chance of its being a forgery?" she countered. "I can't—I can't think that he would be so cruel to his own babies."
"We have no reason to think the will anything but genuine," he replied.
"But I have!" she returned with spirit. "I, who heard Ronald Craig talk on that very point, I have the best of reasons!"
"It would have made things easier for his coming marriage," Pointer suggested.
She shook her head.
"Ronald Craig wasn't the man who does things because they're easier. And Countess Jura's by way of being fond of the children. She's only a bigger, child herself. I've seen them all playing together like kittens."
"Could the countess have had access to the poison cupboard?" was his only comment.
Agatha Lindrum thought. "Not unless she knew where the key was kept, and went to it before that incident of Miss Bingham. Practically, I should say it was so unlikely that one could almost say it was impossible. Once or twice she was alone in the dining-room, which connects with the surgery, but I was always around when she was here—it would be something about some flowers, or a word from Lady Craig, or some arrangement about tennis—I don't think she's ever been to the house more than three times, all told."
"And Lady Craig?"
"She came often when we first moved in here, but that's long ago now. And my brother always 'balances' his poisons, as he calls it, every year, just before New Year. Any poison that's been taken would have to have been taken since then, and since then, Lady Craig has never been in."
"And Miss Cornwall?"
"She has never been here. I hardly know her. For some reason or other, Miss Cornwall won't make friends with me."
The reason was not difficult to find, if one knew that she was Miss Bingham's friend, or had been, when she first came to the manor. Doubtless her employer had told her of the suspected intrigue between her former husband and the doctor's sister.
"No other person of the set we're interested in could have got to that poison, you think?" he pressed.
She was quite sure that no one could. Pointer rose and thanked her. "By the way, I understand that Mrs. Lindrum has left England?"
Something like a veil passed over the frank face looking at him.
"Yes." And Miss Lindrum turned away.
"That's unfortunate," Pointer said, "because I very much want to ask her a question or two. Perhaps we can do it by letter. Will you let me have her address?"
"I can't give it you," the reply came, very decidedly. "My mother is a very ill woman, chief inspector. Since that terrible car smash she had, for which I was responsible, her nerves have never been right. It's due to them that she can't walk. The actual injury to the leg is quite healed—it's the nerve that still suffers. Ronald Craig's death, with all its rumors and suppositions, has brought on a real nerve crisis. I begged her to go abroad, at once, and try to put it right out of her mind. Under the circumstances, I think you yourself must agree that she can't have any questions put to her. She knows nothing. She would only be made ill."
Pointer expressed no opinion on that as he took his leave. He thought it very probable that Mrs. Lindrum would yet have a very remarkably swift and complete cure, a cure restoring her walking powers in their entirety to her.
ONE of the main questions in Pointer's mind was where the guilty person—who was not to be Miss Bingham nor Miss Cornwall—could have obtained the poison used for Ronald Craig. Dr. Lindrum's cupboard was, on the whole, fairly inaccessible, or at least he would assume so, for the time being. Of course, if the doctor were himself the criminal, the supply was to his hand. But Pointer did not think him the criminal. True, he was in love with Countess Jura, he benefited under Craig's will, but, apart from other reasons, Pointer had a great admiration for country doctors. Not lightly did he suspect of murder a member of what he considered a very selfless band of men. Lindrum would be left till the last among his list of possibles. He decided to turn his attention first of all to veterinary surgeons. They are often amazingly careless about the safekeeping of the poisons which their business necessitates their having on the premises. Much more careless than are medical men. Pointer directed that all "vets" in England should be questioned as to any strangers who, within the last six months, had either purchased poison from them, or brought them animals to kill. Should any of these newcomers to the surgeon resemble, even slightly, any of Craig's circle, the chief inspector was to be at once informed. He rather thought that a man in town would have been chosen, and preferably a very busy man with a large practice.
This message telephoned, he listened to the account of the pasts, as so far uncovered, of all the people connected, distantly or closely, with the crime. He learned nothing that could suggest why a crime should have been committed by any one of them, let alone a double murder.
This did not discourage the man who was trying to save Mildred Bingham from himself. He had many ideas which only Craig's letter had made him set on one side. First of all, he intended to question Lady Craig as to the wrapper which had been mutilated, and left in the paper basket in Craig's room, since hers were the finger-prints found on it. Inexplicably mutilated, according to Houghton. Pointer's own notion was that the lady might merely have salvaged the stamps, which had evidently been thrown away too, since there was a tiny corner of one still on the paper in the Yard's possession. But he wanted to find out more as to her exact complicity in the Bingham-Cornwall combination—that combination which Craig's codicil had made seem at variance, both with his own preconceived notion, and with the tale told by both women. Yet, if not for that reason, why was Yseult Cornwall at the house?
Walking up to the manor house now, he passed the tiny cottage occupied by Jones. Jones...Pointer heard again the sound of the clipping shears that seemed to affect the Russian girl so deeply; saw again her manner when speaking to him just before she sent him off with the message to Dr. Lindrum that had brought such short-lived joy to the young medico; noticed once more, in memory, the man's manner to her, the something in it not at all of a servant's look or bearing.
Jones, so said Godolphin, so said everybody, had been a clerk in town. The firm for which he worked, according to his own account, had been sold. There was a record on the books of such a name, but as all the staff had changed, it was not possible to find out more without devoting an amount of time to the search which seemed quite needless. But Jones's writing on his gardener's tabs was not that of a clerk. True, in this day of typewriters, that meant little, but the writing was quite peculiarly unclerkly. The letters were those of a man who formed them with the greatest difficulty, Pointer would have said. And, to a lesser degree, the same was true of the numbers written by him. The door of the cottage stood open, and in the one ground-floor room sat Jones. He was whittling at something in his hand. Evidently one of the little figures of which Godolphin had spoken. Pointer asked if he might come in. Jones waved toward a chair opposite, and showed Pointer his work. Just now he was carving a grotesque and rather sinister figure, with a smiling face that looked dangerous, one hand held out as in friendship, the other hidden in the folds, with a knife in it.
"It's Content, Dangerous Content," Jones explained, and went on with it. He showed Pointer two sets of figures, one of wood and painted, one dressed in quaint and gaudy stuff clothes.
"And what's that?" Pointer asked, his eye on something behind the man.
"That's the Palace Beautiful." Jones brought it forward with evident pride. "And here's the street leading to it."
Pointer looked at both with interest.
"You've had good teaching," he said finally.
Jones smiled. "Yes, the only teaching worth anything. Self-taught."
"Ah, well, you've traveled a lot probably, and picked up little dodges here and there."
"I haven't traveled more than other people," was the reply. "I carve from memory, not from objects set in front of me."
Finally the chief inspector came directly to the ostensible object of his visit.
"I want to know if anyone from the manor house was out and around the night last week when Mr. Craig died. Your cottage is next to the manor, though off down a lane, but you might have seen or heard someone?"
Jones put down his knife. He had been asked this question before.
"No one passed this house that night," Jones said yet again. "I know, for I spent the greater part of it leaning on my gate. You could see the light of his sick-room from there, and I knew that he must be ill because the light burned all night, and people passed to and fro across it."
They talked of the death.
"In the village, they say that Mr. Craig left word who killed him," Jones wound up.
Pointer looked surprised. "They haven't told me that"—and he turned the conversation.
His mind was working. Those figures...those street scenes, and above all, that palace. They were pure Russian. Pure Muscovy...those cupolas and turrets. He studied the man in front of him. Typically English, one would have said, with his long slightly tanned face and blue-gray eyes, his gentle expression, and rather diffident smile. Only, his lashes were quite unusual in length and curve. They emphasized the already noticeably dreamy look of the eyes. Jones spoke English like an educated man, with no hint of accent or of a foreign turn to his speech.
The two sat in silence. Pointer very carefully kept himself, as far as possible, from liking or disliking any persons whom he met in the course of one of his inquiries. But, just as he had disliked Miss Bingham in spite of this, so now he was conscious of a strong attraction to the young fellow beside him. He felt as though some friendly dog were sitting next to him, as though something that liked him were near. Looking up from his contemplation of his boots, he met the handy-man's eyes full and square. And the sensation of friendliness deepened.
"I envy you," Jones now said, putting his work away. "A man doing the work he is best fitted for is an enviable thing. Well, I shall be doing it when I start out on the road next week with my 'Pilgrim's Progress' puppets. As a rule, most of us are slaves."
"To the capitalists?" Pointer asked equably.
"To the mistake of wanting to be happy," Jones said. "He knew! Bunyan knew!"
He waited for Pointer to precede him. At the gate, they parted, Jones to do some chimney repairs at the other end of the lane, Pointer ostensibly to go on up to the manor, but he only made a loop behind the little plot of ground, and then once more entered the tiny cottage. Jones had not locked the door behind him. Pointer now saw that there was no lock on it.
He looked over the two rooms very carefully. Everything bore the marks of extreme poverty, genuine poverty. The scanty articles were all of the cheapest. There were no letters, no books save a well-thumbed paper edition of the immortal tinker's immortal works. On the hob was a jug of some dark liquid. Pointer sniffed at it. Then he tasted it. It was a mixture of chocolate and black coffee. In a varnished earthenware pot of odd design was some thick, sour cream. In the cupboard, which the man used as a larder, was the remains of some scarlet-colored soup, slices of fermenting beetroot lay in a bowl beside it. Borsch, in its most simplified form, and Russian chocolate...and, hanging from a hook in the cupboard was a dried fish of a species quite unknown to Pointer, though it looked to him not unlike a very small smoked bass. Pointer knew a maître d'hôtel who could name any given dish all the world around. Pointer finished with the cottage and went on to the police station. Here he telephoned to his friend and described very painstakingly the puzzle in Jones's cupboard.
"That's swgue!" the man at the other end exclaimed before he had finished. "The famous Russian fish. But you've got to be a Russian born to like it. They say it tastes to them rather like trout. It doesn't to anyone else."
Pointer got him to spell the name and then hung up. It only was one more item. That Jones was a Russian his carvings had suggested to the detective by the quite unconscious Byzantine touch to the churches, the odd, un-English shapes to the farmhouses. His food had strengthened the idea, which was still further borne out by the writing on the labels. Jones could doubtless write his Cyrillic letters with ordinary ease.
Jones a Russian...and Countess Jura a Russian...Well, many of that most unhappy country are earning their livelihood in similar posts...To the other recollections of clipping shears and meeting in the garden, he added one more, the Russian girl's high hysterical tone as she said, "Others—they only look on and wait."
But more than ever he must see Lady Craig. He was told that she was out, and would not—could not—be back for nearly an hour. Pointer promptly said he would wait for her in her morning-room.
While he waited, he worked carefully and quickly through the contents of her writing-table. There was only one thing that interested him. In a locked box inside a locked drawer, he found a letter. It was from a certain Ilya Popoff, and was written from the Soviet Embassy in London. The letter was some months old. It offered Lady Craig ten times the fee she would get from Ronald Craig, if she would contrive to break off the just-announced engagement between Ronald Craig and Countess Alexandra Ivanoff, and arrange instead a marriage between the young lady and the writer.
Pointer photographed the letter, then replaced everything as he had found it, and was apparently deep in a book of travels when Lady Craig came in. "I'm so glad you're back," she began at once. "I want a word with you. A private word. An absolutely confidential talk."
Pointer assured her that it would be confidential as far as that was possible. "Any suspicions of yours, for instance, will be absolutely so. But of course any facts you tell me may have to be mentioned or proved at a trial. But if possible we will not call you as a witness."
"Oh, it's nothing to do with Ronald Craig's death," she said at once with a certain overhaste. "It's merely that I feel I can't bear the load of doubt any more." There was a little silence while she lighted a cigarette with fingers that shook. "It's only about Countess Jura," she began again, "and the night that Mr. Craig died. For the fact is she was out when I called her the first time. Her bed hadn't been slept in, yet it was past midnight. The second time when I went again she was there—had unlocked the door with a key from the night nursery which fits it. I hadn't relocked it, of course. I suppose she thought it was still locked. I never thought of it, but burst in to tell her that she must come at once. That Ronald was going—fast. She was in the most extraordinary get-up. It was nothing less than a disguise." Lady Craig's voice was very low, but she spoke as one who had thought it all over and who intended to tell the whole truth. "She looked like a girl from some charity orphanage. Got up so that no one would ever guess it was Countess Jura Ivanoff. A scarf or handkerchief over her head hid almost all of her face and all of her hair—and she had a shawl on as well, I think—I seem to remember it tossed on a chair. The sort of thing charwomen throw over their shoulders in the East End. Now, chief inspector, why had she disguised herself like that? Where had she been that no one was to identify her?" Edyth Emily Craig looked at the detective officer with a worried concentration.
She might not be a generous woman, nor have much in the way of sentiment in her make-up, but she struck Pointer; she had so struck him all along as fundamentally on his side of the line—as honest. The feeling would not weigh the scales by a feather's weight on her side should he find anything to contradict or even to query it, but for the present he thought that she was telling all she knew—not telling more.
"Didn't you ask where she had been?"
"I don't remember what I said. The fact that Mr. Craig might be dying, even while I stood there, was the only clear thought in my mind. Of course she ought to be in the room. You know how servants' gossip spreads."
"And what did she say when you spoke to her?"
"She burst out singing!" Lady Craig lowered her, voice again. "And when I repeated that Ronald was dying and she must come quickly with me if she wanted to see him alive, she—" Lady Craig paused—"she said she wasn't coming. When I repeated 'He's dying, I tell you!' she said a most extraordinary sentence in her detached way: 'And why should he not die? Why should he live to spoil my life?'"
"And you?" Pointer asked.
"I told her that unless she came with me at once, I would send her out of the house by the first morning train, back to her relatives. On that she threw off the disguise she had on and got into a dressing-gown and came with me. Mr. Craig had sunk into a sort of stupor, and didn't know anyone, but at least she was in the room for a moment. Not that she looked at him. She refused to go near the bed."
"What did she do in the room?"
"She went over to the fireplace and stood there a moment with her back to the bed, her hands to her face, leaning on the mantelpiece as though she couldn't bear to look at him. Then she turned round and almost ran out of the room. But the point was she had been there. Now, chief inspector, I have said nothing about this because I thought I could find out by myself what it was all about. But I can't. And as you're in the house anyway, there is no reason, since you are evidently at a standstill in the investigation, why you should not do me this trifling service. I know the commissioner very well," she said patronizingly, "and you may count on a good word from me in return."
"Thank you," he said very seriously, "that's very good of you. But about Mr. Craig's death. Is it a fact that you yourself stand to lose financially by it?"
She lighted a fresh cigarette. "I think I had better tell you the exact truth about the position as regards myself and Countess Jura's marriage. Mr. Craig had arranged with me to keep her down here until the marriage, and was, of course, paying me for the care of' her. You see I bring out girls, and of course he made it worth my while to stay down here just with her. On the wedding day I was to have my fee and that would have ended matters. As you say, I would usually expect to lose heavily by Mr. Craig's death, but—I'm going to be quite frank with you—as a matter of fact I shan't lose. Because before he left town I was approached by a young Russian, enormously wealthy, staying over here with some friends of his at the Soviet Embassy in London. He met Countess Jura and fell in love with her. It's odd the effect she has on some people—men—I can't see it myself; however, this young man promised me ten times my usual fee if I could help him break off the match between the countess and Mr. Craig. I wrote to him that I could not even consider such a proposition. Should the engagement be broken off, however, I would let him know, and we would then take the matter up."
Pointer was amused—inwardly—at the lady's way of putting things.
"So, as a matter of fact," he now asked, "You were really backing up the countess in her desire to be free?"
"I let her know that I would not oppose any efforts she might make in that line," Lady Craig said, diplomatic as ever. "I was quite aware that the countess disliked Mr. Craig, and only accepted him because she really had no option. Her relations, the Kalkoffs, had put it quite plainly to her before me. It was take my cousin or leave their house, and lose their protection and backing."
"Did you tell her of the proposition?"
"Certainly. That would only be fair. Though I can hardly think she would marry a communist. He's the son of some commissar or other, and I don't suppose she really gave the matter another thought." Lady Craig said this last a little too glibly. Her worried eyes did not match her tone.
"And Mr. Craig had no idea of this young man's existence?" Pointer had no doubt as to what the reply would be.
"I believe she said something definite in a note she gave him not long before he died. No one but herself had seen it, so I can't say. Apparently Mr. Craig destroyed it at once."
"And the young man's name?"
"Have you any letter of his, or any specimen of his writing?"
Lady Craig promptly said that she had not. Evidently she did not intend to let go of her one letter, even for Scotland Yard. But the odd thing was that apparently the young man in question had never written to Countess Jura herself, or if he had, she had not kept his letters among her other most untidy possessions. Pointer did not think she kept them on herself. It was possible, all things were possible with her, that she had merely tossed them into the paper basket.
"Do you think the young man will keep his promise to you? I mean to the tune of ten times your usual fee, now that what he may call chance has removed Mr. Craig?"
"Yes, I think he will." Lady Craig was very assured. "Would you describe him to me?"
"Oh, I've never seen him!" She spoke as though Mr. Popoff were a most improper spectacle. "I had a very polite acknowledgment of my reply, and that ended the matter for the moment."
"You really think so, Lady Craig?" Pointer asked meaningly, "now that Mr. Craig has died of poison, you really think so?"
Her cigarette quivered. "That's why I'm telling you this," she said. "I'm not quite easy in my mind..."
"In spite of your feelings about Mr. Houghton?" Pointer seemed puzzled.
"I'm quite sure that Countess Jura is not in the murder," Lady Craig explained elaborately. "Only her dressing up like that and going out that night was odd. And I dislike odd things. And I really thought you might be glad of something definite to work on. But as to Mr. Houghton—that's quite another matter. That's intuition. I don't say that he did it. Only I do say that he stands to benefit by his cousin's death, and we none of us do. Mr. Osbourn? Mr. Osbourn was probably shot to throw you off the trail. And it has very evidently achieved its purpose. That is in strict confidence, of course, but I don't like Guy Houghton. I don't trust him. I hear he's already cutting down the extra allowance Ronald Craig always paid toward the upkeep of the manor...altogether, if any one of our little circle killed those two men, it was quite obviously Guy."
"Dogs seem very fond of him," he murmured.
"Dogs!" Lady Craig might have been an Arab woman from her tone of contempt. "Dogs are frightfully overrated creatures, chief inspector."
"I shouldn't wonder," Pointer agreed. "By the way, I suppose Countess Alexandra can describe Mr. Popoff?"
"She says he's huge; red-haired; stammers slightly, and has lost the little finger of his right hand."
Pointer eyed his shoes. "Sounds rather a noticeable figure. Does she seem to share his feelings for her at all?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. We never discuss him. I merely told her of his offer and my reply. Telling her that, of course, until she had definitely given up Mr. Craig, I could not think of letting her see or correspond with this other man."
"By the way," he asked suddenly, "what jewelry has Mr. Craig given her?"
"As she refused to wear a ring, he gave her instead, on their engagement, a very handsome string of pearls. They're insured for three thousand; far below their real value, of course. Probably he has given her other things as well. But Countess Jura tells one very little about herself. She'll talk for hours over such things as how it is that violets know how to be violets, and why they don't get muddled and come up cabbages, and so on." Lady Craig looked her impatience. "But she never talks of sensible things. And Ronald Craig was the last man to speak of any gifts he gave. By the way, this information too is in strict confidence, of course. I mean about the pearls. It was only by chance I learned their value; I don't know where she keeps them. I've never seen her wear them. Not that the matter is of any importance."
Pointer raised an inward eyebrow. He turned the conversation now to Yseult Cornwall and Miss Bingham. At first Lady Craig baulked, but finally she confessed, with what seemed full details, to a plot which agreed with the story told by the two women in all particulars. Certainly she and Miss Cornwall had had plenty of time, the early hours after Ronald Craig had died, to go over it carefully. When pressed she acknowledged that she had thrown the tea away. In a revulsion or convulsion of horror at the thought of what might be believed to have been done by its means. The chief inspector wasted no words on explaining to her how impossible her action now made it to prove, or disprove, the question of poison in the tea. Like the Russian girl, but for a far less understandable reason, Lady Craig had seen to it that no evidence could be gleaned from the caddy. She refused to acknowledge that she had really thought poison was in it, for it was obviously impossible to connect Guy Houghton with the tea, and above all things she wished, at least outwardly, to believe in the innocence of Miss Bingham, and of the arrangement by which she paid Yseult Cornwall's salary; a salary which Pointer had seen booked in duplicate to Ronald Craig in the lady's accounts. Finally she left the chief inspector, repeating that he would doubtless be glad of the Countess-Jura-out-in-disguise-at-night puzzle to fill up his time. He walked back to the inn, thinking over what he had just found out, and just been told.
Lady Craig might stand to gain five thousand pounds by the death of Ronald Craig, or at any rate, a handsome sum. Countess Jura, had she not married him, would have had to hand back the pearls, and possibly other valuable gifts as well. Pearls insured for three thousand...not seen on her...sold or pawned? Where had she been on the night when the man whom she disliked, and yet to whom she was engaged, had been poisoned? Whom met? Why in disguise? She had asked the governess to change rooms with her, taking an inferior one close beside the stairs that led out of the house. The dress Lady Craig had described, Pointer had seen just such figures on the table of Jones, the handy-man. Russian peasant women, though he called them by the good old English names of the book from which they came. To Jones they were suitable, familiar, homelike. It was only to English eyes that they seemed what they were—outlandish. No one from the manor had passed the house, Jones said. Had Jura only gone as far as his cottage?
It was a strange thought, for one who had seen Countess Jura as she had been the last time, arrogant and haughty. Countess Jura, child of a murdered colonel of the Imperial Bodyguard. But it was not so strange to one who had seen the interview in the garden...seen her when the clipping of the shears broke in on her protestations of love for the dead man. Was Jones an emissary of Ilya Popoff? A go-between? Ilya Popoff, who had offered Lady Craig five thousand pounds on his marriage to Countess Alexandra? If any other than Mildred Bingham were the criminal—and for the moment Pointer was determinedly assuming innocence—then the poison must have been administered in some other way than by means of the tea. For though Yseult Cornwall could have poisoned it, yet as she herself had told him of that tea, told it voluntarily, without having it either bluffed, or dragged, or surprised out of her, Pointer did not think that she herself had any guilty association with it.
But if not by way of the tea, then how—quite apart from how it had been originally procured—how had the arsenic reached Craig in many small doses ever since he came to the manor house, and in one biggish dose on the afternoon of the last day when he had taken no solid food since breakfast? Pointer's mind ran over and over every possibility.
Suddenly an idea came to him. Houghton had given him a key to a side door; using it now, he went up to the room where Craig had died three days ago. Barring the articles removed by himself, nothing had yet been touched. The inquest would be tomorrow afternoon, and until it was over, everything would stay as it was.
He went to the writing cabinet, unlocked it, and spent some time over its contents. Then he relocked it, relocked the door, and went downstairs to find Match.
"When was the writing cabinet of Mr. Craig's last fitted out?" Pointer asked him.
"It was only given him on his birthday, sir. Present from Countess Jura. Looks it, doesn't it?"
"But some of the things—the stamps, for instance—aren't the same, surely."
"They are, sir. No need to buy others for another month, I should say, not even at the rate Mr. Craig used them up. I said that to him once when it was open, and he laughed and counted the number of stamp-booklets; you know, those three-shilling booklets, sir. Well, there were twelve of them alone. Not to speak of the other stamps in separate pockets."
"I wonder how many of the books are left now," Pointer asked in an idle tone. "Have you any idea?"
"Seven untouched ones," Match said promptly. "I happen to know, because I handed him out a booklet only the last day. He took out the last stamp from it and I took down the paper cover. And I happened to notice, as one does, that there were just seven left."
"The sponge to damp them with is quite dry," Pointer went on. "You put them on for him, I take it."
"Not a bit of it. He licked them always. Just one of the funny little ways he had of which I spoke to you."
Pointer only stayed a few minutes longer. He had had a surprise. He had only tested this idea of the stamps that had come to him, as a proof to himself that it was sheer fantasy, and the fantasy was turning into something solid. For the stamp booklets now in the cabinet, though seven in number, had all been issued under a fortnight ago. He had found that out by comparing them with one of this last new issue which he himself carried. The advertisement and printed matter differed with every issue. So these seven booklets were not part of the original ones given a month ago with the cabinet: That meant...
Down at the police station telephone he got on to one of the Yard's swiftest analysts and asked him to test for arsenic the back of a tiny stamp fragment which would be brought to his office at once. Another message instructed one of the chief inspector's men to hurry along with the corner of a stamp still adhering to the torn brown paper wrapper.
The result came within half an hour. The back of the stamp had been coated with a remarkably strong arsenic solution. And the chief inspector's face grew taut as he heard it.
Late that night Pointer watched the tiny cottage. He saw Jones leaning on his gate become but a blur in the moonlight...saw a figure that reminded him of Caterina, in "Resurrection"—the only Russian play for which Pointer had ever cared—come lightly up to the gate. Saw it open and two blurred figures seat themselves on the wooden bench beside the door. The moon shone out as though by arrangement with the chief inspector. Beside Jones sat a girl in the typical Russian peasant dress. High boots, bulky skirt pleated around a slim waist, bright cotton handkerchief knotted beneath a creamy chin. She turned her head, and Pointer saw that it was Countess Jura. The two talked together very earnestly. He could hear their voices, but not their words. She seemed indignant; but Jones, as Pointer had to continue to call him, kept in his even tones the effect of being the master of the situation that had struck Pointer in the garden. He pushed the gate open and came up to them. Jura did not budge, nor turn her face away.
"Ah, the good-looking policeman! The nice policeman from Scotland Yard!" she said; and he saw yet another Countess Jura, young and roguish, and rather charming this time. "What do you think you have come upon, Mr. Policeman?"
"Mr. Popoff, Mr. Ilya Popoff. In spite of being neither huge, nor red-haired; nor a stammerer, nor minus the little finger on his right hand."
Jones's jaw dropped. Jura gave a delighted giggle.
"I did not want him to be suspected, when he made up his mind to follow me down here," she explained quite needlessly.
"You are Mr. Popoff?" Pointer repeated to the man.
"I was," Jones said quietly, "I was. But he was a wealthy man, inheriting ill-gotten gains, and I have nothing to do with him. I am Jones, a British subject, a poor man owning nothing but what you see on me and in my box in there."
"But he is a power!" the girl bent forward. "A power for good. I have felt it. Others have felt it. He cares. He really cares. There are so few who care for others. Ilya, I mean Henry, does. We are going to start off together teaching and preaching our ideas to the world. This puppet show will help. It shows what we mean. And every language can see. We are going to go to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem!"
"A Russian idyll?" Pointer murmured. "A pair of Russian lovers?"
"Lovers!" She drew herself up.
"Lovers!" Jones leaped to his feet.
"What an idea!" came from the girl. "Russian, yes; but lovers, no. We are reformers, chief inspector. And reformers are never in love." There was just a trace of malice in the swift glance of her amber eyes that shone in the moonlight like big soft lamps.
"Love has nothing to do with it," Jones said, with uncalled-for vehemence. "As Alexandra Alexandrowna says, we are reformers. Pledged together to work for the world."
"Some job As an American would say," Pointer murmured under his breath.
"Besides, I do not want to go!" she flashed out. "Not in the least!"
"You must, for your soul's sake," Jones said firmly. "She has a beautiful soul"—he turned to Pointer "but it is sick. Her only hope is to leave her old life behind her, and come away, a poor woman. Earning what she lives on. Giving away what is beyond that. It is her only hope."
"It's not!" Jura burst in angrily. "There is no reason why I should not stay as I am, and help preach just the same."
"Your soul would die," he said solemnly. "For you, as for me, wealth is death. The pleasures of this world are death. We care too much for them. There are no half-way measures for those who care too much. Your soul lives forever, Alexandra Alexandrowna, your body dies shortly. Which is worth caring for? Come with me on my pilgrimage and you will feel your soul grow day by day, as I feel mine growing, since I left the world."
"It was all right for you to throw away your money," Jura flamed out. "Ill-gotten money. Your father murdered mine for his land, or men like your father."
"And men like your grandfather had my grandmother flogged to death for a fault. There is no difference in blindness. Both were blind. What our fathers did has nothing to do with us. They are the fathers of our bodies. God is the father of ourselves."
"Are you going to be married?" Pointer asked prosaically.
"No," Jones said firmly. "We have our own standards. We..."
"We are original," Jura added. "People do not think enough. What have words spoken over us to do with our mission?"
"We have our own standards in everything," Jones repeated.
"Are you going to coin your own money then?" Pointer asked prosaically. "Money is standard if it's any good. So are rules of life."
"I see what you mean," Jones murmured thoughtfully. "One must conform in some things, so why not in more? Yes...that is a thought..."
"I do not mind marrying you. But do not think I love you." Jura eyed Jones under her long Slav lashes. He stirred on the bench.
"I have told you over and over that I do not love you, either. I am interested in your soul," he replied loftily.
She rose with an odd little laugh that lingered among the flowers as though its sweetness had something in common with them. "I am ready to marry you and start on our pilgrimage," she said again demurely.
He eyed her with something of distrust in his face. Then his eyes lit on a chain around her neck, as her unbound kerchief slipped off her head.
"You still have the yellow diamond!" he snapped.
Her hand went to her bodice. "Give it to me," he commanded. She hung back. "Do you value your soul above a diamond? No money can buy a soul! Give it me, Alexandra Alexandrowna! Here is a first proof of your words. Lay it on my hand."
Reluctantly she slipped a thin chain off her neck and laid on his work-worn palm something that seemed to fill the little garden with its radiance as the moon shone on it. Pointer had never admired jewels till now. Like many another detective officer, he had often wished that women's gauds were all at the bottom of the sea, and thought the world would be the better; but as he looked at this diamond that Craig had given his fiancée, he saw something quite beautiful. Had it cost only a penny, it would have been beautiful.
"Come inside!" Jura said in a strangled whisper, "I want to see it once again by the light."
Jones made no objection, but opened his door for her to pass in, and switched on the electric light with which he had fitted his cottage. They were in his one living-room. On his open palm the stone lay like a block of sunlight.
"It is not a stone," Jura said in a whisper, "it is air, fire, and water, in one. But it is not a stone."
And it did look, as it twinkled and shone, like nothing that Pointer had ever seen before. Cut in many little facets in the Russian way, for it had been a court jewel he learned afterwards by chance, the center of a diadem of the unhappy empress's, and bought by Craig at Cannes with his baccarat winnings, it had that quality of a good diamond of looking far larger than it was. And it looked living. And somehow it looked happy. Its radiance was gentle and soft.
"Oh, it is beautiful!" she breathed, and added a Russian word.
"Your soul is far more beautiful!" Jones said steadily, and before Jura guessed what he was about, he flung it with one clean overhand pitch into the fire still smoldering on the hearth. There was a sort of snapping sound, a green flash of light, a crackling, and then nothing. Jura flung herself down by the fire and poured out a string of Russian words which left Jones quite unmoved.
"I have given up an income of ten times that to the poor. I have the right to destroy it. It was hindering you. Why do you want this? So as to feel certain that you would always have some money with you, should you care to turn back? That is why you wanted to keep it."
"No, no!" Jura was almost in tears. "I liked it for itself. It was beautiful. It was beautiful!"
"You have your beads that you made for yourself!" Jones glanced at a string of reddish beads of very rough workmanship that she wore on a stout red string. "You do not need jewels." Jura and he started to argue. She was beside herself. He quite unruffled, but her fury was not that of a criminal who sees some of the profits for which a crime has been committed being snatched away, Pointer thought.
"It was from Russia!" she said finally, and her eyes were full of tears. "From Holy Mother Russia!" She turned to Pointer as she wiped her cheeks. "And now he has destroyed it. You don't know what tosca means to a Russian."
Pointer again had no time to learn.
"Were you two together the night before Mr. Craig died?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes, I came to meet this brute. I often did. Or rather not to meet him, to hear what he had to say. I like hearing what he has to say."
"And what time was it when you came here?"
She shrugged. "The moon was just over a big bank of cloud. It was after Lady Craig and Miss Cornwall and I went up to bed—after ten that is—"
"And you stayed till—?"
"Lady Craig would know. She came into my room just as I got in. She always knows what time it is."
"Can you give me the hour when she got here, more precisely?" Pointer asked Jones.
"The nightingale was singing in that bush," Jones said dreamily. "She seemed like part of his song. She herself is a melody—but badly played," he added hastily.
"You came to Woodthorp because of her?"
"To save her from marrying a wealthy man. To save her from herself. She needs poverty to show what is in her. To find her soul—her beautiful soul."
Jura burst out passionately in Russian to say that she would rather have had the yellow diamond than any soul. Pointer left them still arguing. He did not tell them that any effort to leave England would be futile. Jones did not intend to leave for another week, so he had told his various employers, and the owner of his cottage. In a week many things might have happened.
NEXT morning came a message from one of Pointer's men. He had found a veterinary surgeon in Victoria who had dispatched a dog for a stranger, a lady, just about two months ago. He could not describe her, except to say that she had lost her voice, and could only whisper. She had telephoned beforehand, telling him that her darling had just been run over by a car, and that she wanted him to put the poor thing out of its misery. The dog was terribly injured. It was a mongrel of some sort, though she spoke as though it had only needed to be shown to win a prize at any dog show.
Pointer went to see the man. He explained that it was a matter of a dog theft.
"Not of that dog; not unless the thief was blind. You can bet your life on that!"
Questioned, the vet repeated his story. What had become of the dog? It's hide had been sold along with others. It was oddly marked—the man remembered the dog quite clearly and described it with humor, but he was unable to give any details about the lady.
Where had he left her while he chloroformed the creature? She had refused to leave her pet, and had gone into his surgery with him. The dog had been muzzled. The lady's little girl was afraid of unmuzzled dogs it seemed. While he had done the actual chloroforming, she had moved away from the table, unable to bear it, her handkerchief to her eyes.
"Did she move in this direction?" Pointer asked, going behind him. The vet nodded. "That's right. When all was over, she thanked me, paid me handsomely, and went off."
"One moment," Pointer said. "Just take your watch, will you, and spend as much time at the table as you did with the dog." He laid his gloves on the table. "This is the dog. I want to be quite sure of the time she spent in here." The vet chuckled and bent over it. Pointer stepped lightly to the poison cupboard behind the man, from which the latter had taken the bottle of chloroform and on one of the shelves of which stood a bottle marked "White Arsenic." He gave it one swift tip into an empty tobacco pouch that he had ready, replaced it noiselessly, and then was at the window, his handkerchief to his eyes.
"That's right," the vet said turning round. "Doggie's dead. If you want to do it properly, totter forward now, hang for a second over him with your handkerchief to your eyes, then dry up, and pay me handsomely."
"What about the muzzle and the collar?" Pointer asked.
"Perquisites. She left both behind. Brand new too. It was the poor tyke's birthday or some such stuff, according to her, and she had just bought them for him." He handed Pointer back his gloves.
"Have you got them still?"
The man had no idea. The muzzle had probably been sold, but he was not often asked for collars, and this one, though very unusually strong, had been badly wrenched and blood-stained.
Going to a press the man lifted a drawer out onto the table. There were various oddments in it, but only two collars. One was thin and small. Pointer lifted the other on his penknife, before the vet had finished placing the drawer before him.
"Yes, that's it. The ring for the leash is badly wrenched open. The dog had pulled away from the lady it seemed, and caught his thong in tram points just as the car came along."
Pointer was gazing entranced at the bright blank name shield on the collar dangling before him. On the polished metal was a splendid finger-print, such a print as detectives dream of but seldom see. It looked much too slender to have been made by the spatulate tips of the vet. He asked him for his, and the man willingly let him take them on the understanding that "they went no further."
"I don't want to find myself in your 'Rogues' Gallery' next time a murder is done," he said facetiously. Little dreaming how closely, in Pointer's mind, the collar was connected with just that crime.
The chief inspector took it back to the Yard, and there had the print compared by an expert with those of all the people connected with Ronald Craig's death, a complete set of which Pointer had secured by many effective devices. The next step was to have his men turn their attention to all shops that sold dogs, while he reserved the Lost Dogs' Home for himself, as most probably the place where the dog came from. He was right in his very obvious guess. A dog of just such odd marking had been sold two months ago, on the very day the accident had occurred, to a lady dressed all in gray, who had lost her voice. Nothing more was remembered about her appearance, except that the saleswoman thought she was very timid, even afraid of the mongrel that she finally selected and took away with her. No, she had not been particular. The beast was only wanted for a watch dog in a lonely bungalow.
His men were told to drop dogs, and Pointer went to see Miss Bingham and Miss Cornwall in their house of unobtrusive detention. Each denied ever having been to the veterinary near Victoria Station. Each wrote out and signed the denial. The governess was very quiet; Miss Bingham was not. The two refused to see or speak to each other, the woman who, with her husband, kept the apartment house, told Pointer, and the chief inspector thought that they were sensible. Miss Bingham detained him as he was leaving her, and made another appeal to him.
"Chief inspector, everything would be right now, if only you would say that you know I'm innocent. You do know it. You must know it. You're far too clever not to. Mrs. Ardmay has given way. I hold some letters of his that she wouldn't care to hear read aloud in court. We could announce our engagement, only I daren't. With this hanging over me. Or dare I? No one suspects that I'm detained by you—yet."
Pointer said something non-committal, and promised to put her out of her state of incertitude as soon as possible. Then he went down to Woodthorp. Here in Godolphin's presence he asked the two Lindrums the same question concerning the dog, with the same result. Then, carrying the chief constable on with him, he put it to Lady Craig, Countess Jura, and to every member of the Craigs' circle from Houghton to Jones. No one, according to his or her signed statement, had ever heard of the man or the shop in question, or had had a dog destroyed.
Lady Craig and Countess Jura were due to put in an appearance at a house known as Russki Dorn to all White Russians in London. The royalties, as they called the relatives of the late imperial family, were to be present, and Countess Jura could not be absent. Lady Craig went upstairs to finish her toilet. Houghton was strolling in a leisurely way through the downstairs rooms—he had promised to run the two women up in his car—Lady Craig liked to save her tires and petrol—when he caught sight of the Russian girl in what looked like an attitude of devotion. She was on her knees before the table, on which stood a tiny square powder-box. He thought that he'd seen it, or a similar one, in Lady Craig's possession many times. But what was Countess Jura doing? Why was she casting that odd, half-frightened look over her shoulder before she bent forward and did something to the top of it? It looked, from here, as though she were putting something back, some small flat package, or taking it out...only about the size of half a dozen stamps folded one on top of the other. He trod on a squeaking board, and, looking up, she saw him—saw him watching her.
Her face turned chalk-white, but she gave no other sign of emotion as she snapped the case shut and slipped it into the beaded bag that dangled like a glittering ball from her wrist.
"Surely that's Lady Craig's powder-box." He spoke more shortly and suspiciously than he was aware of. She nodded. Something that looked as though she would have liked to run off with it showed in her eyes for a second, then she said suddenly, hurriedly:
"We've just time for a cocktail apiece. Let me mix you one. The National Anthem a man called it the other day—he said it made him feel so warlike."
Houghton hesitated. He remembered the words of Godolphin, Pointer's words too, that everyone in the house was in danger as long as the criminal was not found...
When Match came, she enumerated the list of ingredients she wanted. As one of them was brandy, she asked Match to be sure and bring up the bottle that Dr. Lindrum had left the other week. When they came, Jura mixed them, shook them, and poured them out.
Putting her own glass aside, she went to the window, and, opening it, looked out.
"It's going to rain. Oh, what a nuisance! It is going to rain!" Slowly she came back and picked up her glass again, singing a little song under her breath.
Suddenly, the little ball swinging at her wrist on its circlet of paste, opened, and out tumbled the hurriedly-thrust-in wad, and a powder puff.
Houghton sprang to pick them up for her. He saw, as he did so, that what she had been looking at was four stamps gummed in a line on a backing of brown paper, and folded into a compact little pad. The corner of one stamp was missing.
"So that was why the address was torn off the wrapper," he said sarcastically. "The stamps were the attraction!"
She made a swift and quite unexpected swoop, and had the stamps off his palm before he could have believed her inefficient-looking fingers could have stirred.
"I know why you want those," she said, white-faced and blazing-eyed. "I know now how Ronald Craig was murdered. The stamps were poisoned, and you poisoned them!"
He stared at her with a face of horror.
"Stamps...poisoned...Ronnie..." Then he took a step forward as she tried to dodge out of the room. He was between her and the door. "By God, if there should be truth in it If that was how he died! Poisoned by you! Put out of the way by you! Out of your way!"
"I didn't do it!" she retorted, "but you did! You! You! No one knows but me, and I shall telephone to the police. Your face betrayed you just now. There was murder in it. There is murder in it now—"
Lady Craig could be heard tap-tapping down the polished wooden stairs. Jura came close and hissed a sentence at him. He looked at her with a twist of his lips.
"If you're not mad, you dope!" was his comment.
The door opened. Lady Craig came in hurriedly.
"Lost your powder-box?" Houghton asked. "Countess Alexandra has found it, I fancy."
"He means the one you gave me because you didn't like the pocket in the top," the Russian girl said, with a hint of breathlessness in her voice.
"I gave it to you because you admired it!" Lady Craig said stiffly.
"Will you join us in a cocktail? Oh, you must!"
Lady Craig turned to accept the glass when her heel suddenly slipped on the polished board. If Houghton had not caught her, she would have fallen full length. For a second, she hung heavily in his arms, too dazed to stir. Her cocktail had flown out of her hand over the floor.
"There's another in the shaker," Jura said promptly, but Lady Craig refused a second. One close shave was as much as she cared to give her new frock, she said, eyeing it closely to be sure it was unharmed.
Jura drank her glass and then looked puzzled.
"What a funny flavor! It must be Dr. Lindrum's brandy. It tastes quite odd. Not like a National Anthem at all. Much more like a Morning After. And how it burns!..." Filling her glass with soda water, she drained it at a gulp.
"You're looking very poorly," Lady Craig said. "These weird brews are bad for the complexion. Why," she broke off, listening, "that sounds like Colonel Godolphin's voice, and that is the chief inspector's!" She did not seem to hear them with joy.
Jura said nothing. She went paler yet. Her eyes in a swift sweep flew round the room, as though longing for escape.
It was Colonel Godolphin and Pointer who entered. Dr. Lindrum was with them. The chief inspector turned to Jura after a brief word of greeting to the others.
"Countess Alexandra, we have learned that the stamps missing from the brown paper wrapper which Mr. Craig thought of sending a book to Mr. Houghton in, are in your possession. Will you kindly let us have them?"
Silently, but with a hand that shook, she held them out. Lady Craig's face flushed. She took a half-step forward.
Pointer addressed her next.
"You took these stamps off the wrapper in the basket, didn't you, Lady Craig?"
"I may have." She eyed them closely, and flushed pinker yet. "Why not? Why should one throw stamps away?"
There were two one-shilling stamps, a sixpenny, and a penny stamp on the little strip. Ronald Craig had evidently intended to insure the book.
"I understood you to say, Dr. Lindrum, when we overtook you, that with you, in your bag, you have the means of detecting the presence of arsenic in water?"
Lindrum, who was quite white, nodded.
"Yes—a bottle of hydrochloric acid. And, as Lady Craig always keeps ammonia in the bathrooms, I can make a simple test. An organic mixture would need Reinsch's process, which would have to be done at home."
Pointer left the room. He asked Match for a tumbler, wiped it out, and put in about a tablespoonful of water from the tap. Then, with a bottle of ammonia under his arm he came back into the room again, where no one had stirred, where one had the sensation that no one had drawn a full breath.
Tearing off one of the stamps, Pointer laid it down on the table, and damping the back, drew off the paper. Then he washed the back of the stamp over and over again, in the water in the tumbler, using a little camel-hair brush that he took from its paper envelope.
"Colonel Godolphin was with me when I bought this at the chemist's, and we had the man initial it. It's sterilized—just in case. Will you test this water in the glass for arsenic, doctor?"
Lindrum took the tumbler, poured in some hydrochloric acid, and drew a sharp breath. A yellow precipitate formed at once. "I'll add ammonia, and if it's sulphide of arsenic, it will dissolve." He added some drops of ammonia, and the precipitate dissolved with a couple of swirls of the glass.
His face went still whiter, and without a word he handed the glass to Pointer.
"Proof positive?" the latter asked.
"Proof positive. The stamps must have been coated thickly with the strongest possible solution of arsenious acid. It dissolves easily in boiling water. I suppose gum was added to make the back of the stamp look usual. But what does this mean? Is this how—"
"Yes," Pointer said gravely, "this is how we think Mr. Craig was poisoned, Dr. Lindrum, continual small doses of poison from the backs of the stamps in that cabinet of his. He always licked his stamps, it seems. A fact that must have been known to the poisoner obviously. We expect to find that the lower denomination stamps had the poison in smaller doses, and that the larger, less often used stamps, carried fatal doses."
There came a gasp from Lady Craig, an intaking of breath from the others. Jura, alone, only nodded.
"You gave him that cabinet!" Houghton wheeled on the girl. "You! I knew it all along!" His face was white. A convulsive shudder ran through him.
She only stared at him, white-faced as he, and yet with a certain terrible expectancy.
"You mean to tell us that the poison was on Ronald's stamps!" Lady Craig repeated in a choked voice. "Oh, what a relief!—but, of course, how horrible!"
"And they were given him by that little Russian devil," Houghton muttered thickly. He swayed. His face went an awful green-white. He staggered.
"By God she's poisoned me!" he called with a sudden wild shriek of pain. "Those cocktails! Godolphin, you were right! She's done for me too, as well as Ronnie!" He collapsed.
Lady Craig hurried to him. Jura rushed in the opposite direction, and stood with her back to the room. Pointer, misinterpreting her move, was in front of the window. Lindrum hurried with Godolphin to the man writhing in a dreadful cramp on the floor.
"You hear what he says," he asked the girl over hit' shoulder in horror. "You hear what he's saying. That you've—you've—"
"I did I' I did! But I cannot bear to see him. Take him away where I cannot see or hear him!" she ordered brokenly, just as the door opened and Match showed the gardener into the room, with a look that said he was not to be blamed for this extraordinary proceeding.
"He said he was expected, my lady," he murmured, and then went to the aid of the man on the floor.
The man he and others knew as Jones took one step toward Jura, but she, on her part, jumped to meet him, flung her arms around his neck, and bursting into tears, hid her face on his breast.
Even when he bent over Houghton, Match watched them with goggling eyes, especially as the gardener's arm went around the countess, and not as a support, but as a lover puts it.
Godolphin pulled at his mustache.
"Countess Alexandra," Pointer said sternly, "I have to warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you. You hear what Mr. Houghton says—that you have poisoned him? You acknowledge that you did poison him?"
Lady Craig jumped up from beside Houghton and went across to Jura, who had now disengaged herself from Jones. She put herself in front of her.
"Of course, she doesn't mean that," she said firmly. "She never said such a thing. We are all overstrung just now."
"But I did poison him," Jura said firmly and clearly. "I poisoned him because there was nothing else to do. You see, he caught sight of the stamps in my hand."
"The stamps...in your hand?" Lady Craig repeated, as though dazed.
"I found them in that powder-box you gave me. They fell out just now. I saw they were the missing ones from the wrapper, because I had handed those very ones to Ronald to put on. He told me which he wanted. And suddenly, as I looked at them, I seemed to see myself handing them to him, and his putting them on, and then of his being so ill...It was like a flash of lightning which makes you see far and sharply. So I telephoned to you." She turned to Pointer. "Then I had another look at them, and saw Guy Houghton watching me, and when I saw the look in his eyes, I knew I was looking at Ronald's murderer. But who would believe me? I could not show you that expression on his face. I made up my mind I must get him to poison me too.
"So I accused him of having murdered Ronald—and of having poisoned the backs of the stamps, and said I was going to telephone to the police. And he killed Mr. Osbourn too because of having forged a will which Mr. Osbourn would have known was forged. I knew I was right because of the look in his eyes again—the murder-look. I suggested cocktails to gain time, and, I thought, if he is a poisoner, he will be able to fit this in nicely. And he did. I went to the window to give him time to poison my glass. He thought me stupid, you see, or he would not have tried it that way. But, being sure that I was stupid, he did as I thought, since he was in a hurry to silence me. I was not sure what to do. I left my handkerchief on the window ledge. It was a sign for Ilya, if ever I wanted him."
"Ilya?" Lady Craig interrupted automatically, staring round her.
"The man you know as Jones, Lady Craig, is Mr. Ilya Popoff, or was so called before he changed his name and nationality," Pointer explained.
"I did not know how I was going to escape Guy Houghton," Jura went on. "Then Lady Craig came into the room, and had an accident. I think my guardian angel arranged that. I have often wondered why one's guardian angel lets one get into such awkwardnesses. Surely if they have the power to help, they have the power—"
"Oh, go on! Go on!" Godolphin almost stammered.
"When Lady Craig had her accident, Guy Houghton's back was turned to me and to both glasses, his and mine, as he held her up. I changed them. He had drunk quite a quarter of his, so I dashed some from mine over that palm. I shall always have palms in my rooms, Ilya, in memory of my escape. For if I had put a full glass in place of his, he would have suspected. Then I drank my glass—which had been his—for fear that he would see that it was not full, and rinsed the glass with soda water, so that he would feel comfortable. Then I waited. Oh, it is not nice to wait for poison to take effect even on someone else. One feels quite terrible. And one wonders if one has made a mistake, and has taken it oneself, after all."
"Lies I lies! lies!" came from the floor in a tone of unexpected energy. "Stand back, Lindrum—I may be dying, but I'll see justice done before I do die. She murdered Craig because she hated him, and knew that from the value of the gifts he had given her, a string of pearls he bought for eight thousand as a wonderful bargain, and a diamond for which he paid three thousand, she could exist quite comfortably for a time. She had sold the pearls and would have to explain that to him. So she poisoned him with poison from Lindrum's cupboard probably, or else Jones got it for her from some tin of weed-killer. You can see for yourself the terms they are on. Craig suspected her at the very last, and she realized that she must do something. She let him find a half-sheet in Mildred Bingham's writing—a sheet which, unfortunately, he did not send to me, or we could prove it a forgery—but she got hold of it while he lay dying, and destroyed it.
"She was all but too late to see him alive, as she had rushed over to Osbourn's, shot him with the automatic she keeps in her room, and destroyed a letter which Craig had written last of all, later than any other, in which he told the solicitor that he intended to break off the engagement. He had discovered the truth in some way during the last afternoon. It was because of finding that out, that he was given the final dose of poison—poison on his stamps, she now says. A diabolical idea which suits her! When I asked for a book to be sent me it would give her her chance to hand him herself the right stamps to put on...the right stamps...My God!—no, let me be—I must speak while I can. She counted on my not being able to challenge anything she should say. Tonight I saw her with the stamps in her hand—gloating over them. And something in her face—I guessed the truth! Not that I had ever doubted who had killed Ronnie, but for the first time I guessed the means she had used. She says I looked murder—I may well have. I felt it. But when she said she wanted a cocktail, I thought she did not know that I had seen the things—and above all, her face. I wanted time to think...I wanted to detain her for a moment until I could drive her and Lady Craig up to Scotland Yard—not to this Russian party. I forgot who I was dealing with—just as Ronnie did—just as Osbourn did! Like them, I pay the penalty."
The accusing voice had grown thinner, and higher, and more forced. Now, with a groan, Houghton had to let the others lift him and carry him into another room. Pointer opened the door for them. He followed them into the hall. Colonel Godolphin would not let anyone in the other room out of his sight. Pointer motioned Match into yet a third room when the now unconscious man had been laid down on a couch, and Lady Craig was getting together the things that the doctor needed, getting them very quickly and efficiently. "Match," he said, "why did you try to shield the lady who was Mrs. Craig? I feel pretty sure that Mr. Craig when he was dying told you Miss Bingham was the poisoner, that he called out, 'She's poisoned me,' in reference to that talk. Come now—the truth! It won't hurt the lady in question, and we must clear it up."
Match fingered his chin. "In confidence, sir? I had, and have a reason, but it's nothing to do with any crime."
"In that case, in strict confidence," Pointer promised.
"Miss Bingham is my niece, sir," Match said in a low voice. "Her father married his cook, you may have heard? Well, my sister was that cook. Not that she got much out of the marriage. But after Mr. Bingham died, his people took a great interest in the one child of the marriage. Then my sister died, and the Binghams took Millie to live with them. I went to my sister's funeral and had a talk with Miss Bingham, my sister's sister-in-law. Nice lady. I could see that Millie would have everything necessary. Not that they were wealthy, but comfortably off, and besides, there was the step up. I didn't want to harm the child, and as I told them, I should never let her know who I was, unless she needed me. Which she never has. But when you asked me to put you all on her trail, knowing that whatever her faults she's no criminal, why I couldn't do it. Simply couldn't do it, sir."
"Does she know of the relationship?" Pointer asked. Match thought not. In fact he was sure not. No one knew.
"But that was why I wouldn't enter Mr. Craig's service, sir. It would have been a bit trying—Miss Bingham isn't an easy one to get on with. Like her father, I fancy. Still, now you know the facts, sir."
"There's one I haven't been told yet, Mr. Match," Pointer looked at him steadily. "Where's that letter Miss Cornwall dropped?"
"You're sure it won't harm Miss Bingham, sir? It's a bit—just a bit—well—it needs some explaining, does that bit of paper."
"I think we know the explanation. Just as we now know the criminal."
"Indeed, sir! Well, it's more than I can see clearly as yet. However, I was afraid to own up to having found it. Carelessly worded like that, it might have done no end of harm, I thought. Set you all on the wrong track, as it did Mr. Craig. So when I picked it up where Miss Cornwall had dropped it running down the stairs—I saw her drop it—I thought it would be safer with me. Ladies are so careless, sir. Especially in moments. But I told you the strict truth when I said that I never saw it lying on the mantelpiece. I was too upset with what Mr. Craig thought of Miss Bingham, and what he had just called out."
"You have the letter on you?" Pointer asked.
Match drew something carefully from an inner pocket, unfastened the flap of a gummed envelope, and drew out a gray sheet of paper with a few lines at the top, and on the back a brownish smear. A medicine stain. The bell rang. Match was wanted by Dr. Lin-drum.
He hurried away. Pointer read the paragraph through, and went back to join the chief constable. "I have warned you, Countess Alexandra," he began as he closed the door behind him, "that anything you say may be used against you; with that warning in your mind, what is your answer to the charges brought against you?"
"They are absurd," she said, holding her head high, "and ridiculous,"
"Not at all," was the very grave reply, "you say you have poisoned Mr. Houghton—"
"I changed the glasses!" she retorted.
"So you say. But what facts support that statement? All we know is that we find him poisoned, apparently dying, and that you caused the poison to be administered. Any poisoner could claim that he changed glasses. Where is your proof?"
Her face grew very pale. "I—I telephoned to you," she said, with eyes widening in terror.
"After he saw the stamps in your possession?"
"Before! Before!" she cried.
"Your proof? Mr. Craig was poisoned by someone in this house. I have yet to hear you refute the charges brought against you by a man who believes himself to be dying. In a condition that is to say where especial weight always attaches to evidence."
She stared at him, looked around the room as though its walls were a closing steel trap, and turned to Jones, who stood silently watching the whole scene.
"I cannot prove anything!" she half whispered. "Ilya! I cannot prove anything! I—I am lost!" Then she pulled herself together and turned very quietly toward the detective officer.
"I have no proof! I did what I thought was best under the circumstances. To catch Ronald Craig's murderer I put my own life in danger...it seemed to me the only thing that would convince the police. I—who saw those eyes that looked at the stamps and then at me—I knew! But no one else would believe me. So I did what I thought best. And now I must suffer for it. I am ready. Good-by, Ilya! They will let me see you before I'm executed, I hope!" She held out a stately hand.
Jones took it and kissed it. He looked keenly at the chief inspector. "You are in no danger, Alexandra Alexandrowna." Jones spoke with a certitude that surprised the other two men. "He is frightening you for your good. Showing you what might be. But you are in no danger. Am I right?" He looked at Pointer, who replied somewhat reluctantly:
"Countess Alexandra took an absolutely uncalled-for action when she changed those glasses. She need not have drunk hers. She could have made some excuse—with Lady Craig in the room she was safe for the moment, and she knew we were coming!"
"But I wanted to change them!" Jura flashed at him. "I wanted Guy Houghton to drink what he thought I had swallowed. I knew that I was the only one who knew. He might or might not slip through a trial. Justice is often so unjust. But if he drank the glass, he would have his punishment, and I should know he had it. I did not reflect that he would make so much noise"—she turned with a shiver to Ilya—"oh, please get me some tea. I feel I need a cup. Tell Match not to bring the sugar—it is one of our fast days and I cannot take sugar, tell him to put some raspberry jam on the tray instead. I will have it in the library where I cannot hear those screams. It might so easily have been me."
Godolphin turned on Pointer as the door closed behind the couple. "In heaven's name, where are we? Who killed Craig? I'm at sea!"
"Houghton killed him, sir. We have his finger-print on the dog's collar."
"But Mildred Bingham's letter the one of which Craig sent a copy to Osbourn—"
"I'll explain that later, sir. It's part of a long story. I was at the station waiting to tell you that everything was ready for the final wind-up when Countess Jura telephoned."
"Then Osbourn—surely that plucky little Russian girl wasn't right in what she said about a forged will?"
"She was, sir. How she guessed it! However, that would lead one far astray. Plucky she is, as you say. Though it has cost us Houghton, I'm afraid. I doubt if he under-dosed Countess Alexandra's drink. But to go back to Osbourn. I think the whole idea of murdering both Craig and Osbourn arose in Houghton's mind when Mr. Osbourn's confidential clerk died some six months ago, and he saw a chance by a double crime to get an enormous fortune."
"But he's a wealthy man!" Godolphin murmured, protesting with himself rather than Pointer.
"As far as we know, sir. But not as far as I suspect. The Paris Bourse has monthly settlements, and I think that certain inquiries I am making will show that the differences he would have had to meet the first of next month would have been the final touch to some twelve months of constant heavy losses."
They found out later that this was so, and that Houghton had also been speculating in Spanish pesetas with equally disastrous results.
"I think Mr. Houghton made a very careful and elaborate plan for the death, first of his cousin, and then of Mr. Osbourn, the only other witness to the will. I fancy it would have been something really neat. Slow poisoning of Mr. Craig was part of it, we know, and probably something quite 'safe' for Mr. Osbourn. A motor accident, say, or a drowning fatality when he was down at Hove. But Mr. Craig was clever. He grew suspicious, and Mr. Houghton had no time to let his plan run on. He had to throw it aside, and act at once when that letter from his cousin reached him. But for that, I think Mr. Houghton would have presented us with a really neat piece of work. But Mr. Craig rushed him. Fortunately for Mr. Houghton, Mr. Craig had come upon part of a letter written by Miss Bingham which seemed to him to confirm his suspicions."
"Seemed to! But the letter did!" Godolphin repeated, exasperated. "And, damn it all, man, Houghton really wanted to find it!"
"Oh, he did, sir! Because he had counted on getting hold of it and destroying it. You see, what I think happened was this: As soon as he got Mr. Craig's letter with, as I believe, a postscript that he was arranging for his solicitor to meet him, which would mean that Mr. Craig would move away from the Woodthorp circle and either would have to be continued to be poisoned, which would be very dangerous, or would have to be killed differently, Mr. Houghton arranged for the sending of the book, which would, as he hoped and as it did, finish Craig. Then he telephoned Osbourn for an appointment in Mildred Bingham's name. It seems that Mr. Osbourn never met her. His brother drew up Craig's settlements. Mr. Houghton must have had a very unpleasant half-hour deciding on whom suspicions should fall. He had no time, and dared make no inquiries so suddenly as to whether Miss Bingham were out of England, but she was the most likely of Craig's circle to pitch on as a suspect. He had no idea how good a choice she was!
"And he always spoke as though he felt certain of her and suspected Jura Ivanoff!" Godolphin gave his grimly relishing smile.
"I have an idea that he longed to weave a really devilish web around Countess Alexandra," Pointer went on slowly, "and that part of his fury was that he knew it might not work. He couldn't find any plausible motive in her case—so he thought—and she was too constantly with Lady Craig to be safely impersonated. He really does hate the countess because it was owing to her that Mr. Craig changed his will."
"And so put him to a lot of extra trouble such as forgery and eliminating Osbourn," nodded Godolphin. "I follow you. Well?"
"He had to take Miss Bingham. Houghton is small, and, dressed as a woman, in gray, which is the color Miss Bingham affects, he is received by Mr. Osbourn, who has just got Craig's letter but has not read it, at least probably not, according to Mrs. Osbourn. Houghton, as Miss Bingham, gets him to open the safe on some simple pretext—a man doesn't easily think of danger when alone with a woman. Houghton has the forged will ready to slip into the open safe as soon as he has shot Mr. Osbourn. He takes away the original and destroys it. We may never know what its dispositions were; probably a small sum was left to Houghton, and the estate divided between Craig's two children. Then Houghton drops the glove that he must have picked up at some interview with Miss Bingham. Or it's a glove that merely resembles hers—a common fitting, I find; and the perfume she uses is quite a usual one too, it seems. You know, sir," Pointer broke off his recitation to put in, "I wondered why Rapson, as we called the visitor, didn't wait longer than an hour, since, apparently, the paper that was being ostensibly hunted for was so important. I thought it was Miss Bingham at the time, and couldn't think why she was so hurried. Since she didn't have to be back at Woodthorp and put in an alibi there. It strongly suggested Yseult Cornwall at the moment."
"It strongly suggested that empty whisky decanter to me," Godolphin said. "I thought she wanted to lie down and sleep it off. But Houghton has a head like teak."
"Those tire marks driving out of the gate rather made me change my opinion about the whisky having affected her," Pointer murmured. "The car was turned very neatly too. But to go on with Houghton, he opened Craig's letter to Osbourn, or found it open, and read the enclosed copy of that part of a letter that Craig had found, and which threw him all wrong, and therefore us all wrong, for we had to go by it. This is the original part of her letter that Miss Cornwall lost. This is what Miss Bingham really wrote."
Godolphin took the folded sheet, opened it, and read:
"Why should he suspect if you are very careful? But don't try to hasten the end and overdo it." The remainder of the passage was as in the copy.
"You see, sir." Pointer produced the copy found in Osbourn's writing. "Houghton wrote in the two words 'the poison' in a weak scratchy hand, just like the rest in the space between two lines. Mr. Craig spaced very irregularly in both letter and copy. He was practically a dying man when he wrote to Mr. Osbourn. The fact that 'it' came at the end, of the line, gave Mr. Houghton his chance to tear it off. His alteration of course meant all the difference between a guess and a certainty. He left the letter where it might appear to have escaped the frenzied search of the murderess, and yet not be missed by us, then he drove off. Gave up the car in a garage in Ealing that we have traced it to, probably took a bus to where he had left his own car, and changed on the way home in it. Next morning, he fetched Dr. Gilchrist and came on down with him. Hunted for the original of the letter which he wanted to destroy because of the altered copy, and couldn't find it. Hoped, doubtless, that it had been destroyed. When I asked him to identify Miss Bingham's voice on the phone he must have had quite a knotty point to decide."
"And when I asked him whether he had or had not told her of the codicil?" put in Godolphin.
"He decided that he must stick to the truth. And I fancy, also, he did not want to draw any attention to the will as the cause of the murders."
"But how did he get the poison?" Godolphin asked after a moment's silence. "You said something about a dog—something that absolutely settled his guilt."
"We have his finger-prints, sir, on the poor brute's collar. Dressed as Miss Bingham, all in gray, that is, but having lost his voice, since a woman's is not easy to imitate unless you're an actor, and not always then, Houghton..." Pointer described the steps that Houghton had evidently taken to get sufficient arsenic in his possession to kill Craig. "Jura Ivanoff needn't have offered herself up a sacrifice! Quite unnecessary!"
"Plucky!" Godolphin murmured as before.
"I tried to give her a good fright by way of thanks," Pointer replied, with something of Godolphin's own dryness.
"To think she guessed the motive, and guessed the stamps!
"And I always thought her a half-wit. But how did you get on to the stamps? She says she remembered Craig's attack coming just after he had stuck them on the big book, but you? What turned you in the right direction?"
"Trying to prove Miss Bingham guilty," Pointer said with a short half-laugh. "Taking Craig as right in his certainty as to who was poisoning him, also assuming that that copy found at the solicitor's was, what it claimed to be, an accurate copy of what he had found among the children's daubs, then Miss Bingham seemed most certainly guilty, and Miss Cornwall a, perhaps innocent, perhaps guilty, confederate. That being so, when Miss Bingham implored me to look further, and try to find another criminal, I had, as I told you, sir, to assume that Mr. Craig had written nothing, that we had no letter of his which we had to go by, either to his cousin or his solicitor. Though I marked a little time clearing up the Countess Jura and Jones tangle, the case then looked like this:
"A rich man murdered. The lawyer who has his will murdered the same night," Pointer resumed the story. "This presupposed a man who benefits and who could have slipped in a forged will. We find that both the witnesses of the will are dead. One a natural death; one murdered. All this suggests the one who benefits under the found will, supposing he knew the supposed maker of the will, had access to his writing and signature; knew what kind of pen and what kind of ink he used. One who knew also that the clerk-witness was dead, and had a specimen of his writing, or at least of his signature too. Houghton fitted all this."
"He could experiment as many times as he liked before he produced the perfect will, the one we have," Godolphin agreed. "No wonder there were lollipops for everyone." The colonel was quite appreciative.
"Miss Lindrum said it was a forgery," Pointer spoke slowly. "I thought that mere affection for the dead man, unwillingness to see flaws in him."
"Countess Jura said it was a forgery, too," Godolphin gave a vexed laugh. "Out of the mouths of babes...just as Emily Craig was right in maintaining that alone of Craig's circle, Houghton was capable of murder and had adequate motive for it. It sounded like bunkum at the time. But she was right."
"And right too about the fact that his fondness for dogs didn't count for much. Do you know, sir, when I think of that poor tyke, taken from the Home, and tied down in the middle of the road, and then slowly driven over..." Pointer did not finish. Evidently his thoughts were not sufficiently official.
Godolphin agreed forcefully. There was a short silence.
"I wonder what he would have done if Craig hadn't licked the fatal stamps?" he asked finally.
"I think he would have come for him with Gilchrist, made a big fuss, taken him up to town in his car alone—and Craig would have died en route as the result, it would of course be supposed, of poison given him here at the manor." Pointer's idea was very close to what Houghton had intended doing.
"Cold-blooded devil! Then did you suspect him along with Miss Bingham?" Godolphin wanted to see if Pointer would be frank.
"No, sir. But I said to myself that, but for Craig's letter, I should suspect him. Miss Bingham, however, seemed to fit everything so well. Though I thought it odd all along that if Mrs. Craig was the criminal, and if, as I felt sure, Craig had spoken of her to Match that last night, why was no effort made on Match? Since nothing happened to him, it looked as though the murderer knew he—or she—wasn't suspected. But I had to go by that last letter Craig left, and it led us far astray! Horribly far, now that we know the truth.
"I don't think it's often one has a case where motive—method—opportunity—all fit one person absolutely and yet that person is innocent."
"I'm afraid I should have let it rest at that, and not looked further," Godolphin returned honesty for honesty, "but I still don't see what turned you to those stamps."
"Well, sir, taking Mr. Houghton as guilty, he hadn't minded anything being taken from the house or examined. Therefore nothing we could find mattered. But he had been first in the dead man's room with Dr. Gilchrist. The latter I didn't suspect after seeing him. What did Houghton touch in the room? He himself spoke of the cabinet. Gilchrist confirmed this. I looked it over again and examined the booklets of stamps. They looked to me very fresh. Singularly so, considering what a wad of each kind there was. I had a booklet in my pocket. Found all of the seven in his cabinet were the same. Decided to make quite sure, and found out at the P.O. that these booklets had only been issued a fortnight. Then I remembered Houghton's shock when he found the address, as he always called it, gone off the wrapper that had been around the book intended for him. He was thinking, not of the address, but of the stamps. Which again he had expected to have in his own possession and destroy."
"And now I understand why he wouldn't come along to Osbourn's in the first place," Godolphin ruminated. "He didn't want to be associated in our minds and in everyone's mind with two dead bodies. Well, well, and to think I felt sure the trail would come looping back to Mildred Bingham! I don't care for the woman, but she has had a terribly close shave!"
"But what about Mrs. Lindrum's footprints in the garden?"
Pointer believed that Mrs. Lindrum had learned of her daughter's liking for Craig. She, too, like Mrs.
Ardmay, had no place for divorce in her scheme of things. Especially as she really seemed to have liked Mrs. Craig. At that time Craig himself was never down at Woodthorp, and Pointer fancied that when she had her smash, Mrs. Lindrum saw her chance to keep her daughter permanently with her, continually by her side. He believed that on the night before Craig died, Mrs. Lindrum knew that some message had reached Agatha that the man was very ill, and had seen her start out breakneck to go to the manor. Mrs. Lindrum followed, walking as she could walk, swiftly and surely. Under the window she heard enough to know that here was no question of anything but a parting, and had slipped back home before her daughter returned. "Her pseudo-lameness had started too long before Mr. Craig's illness for her to be necessarily marked as guilty because of it," Pointer wound up, "but it was confusing."
"And you think she'll come home perfectly cured!" Godolphin laughed.
Jura opened the door, and, after a second's hesitation, came in and closed it behind her.
"Ilya says everything will be all right—about what I had to do. Moving the glasses. I know you didn't like my doing it—" She looked rather indignantly at Pointer. "You ought to be very grateful to me. But Ilya is right. People do not think enough. If everyone who tried to poison another were to be poisoned himself, poisoning would soon stop."
"By Jove, it would!" Godolphin agreed with a grin. "Simplify things no end. Blackmail the blackmailers. Steal from thieves, and so on...but some things are too simple. I very much hope you have learned never again to administer what you may think poetic justice." He wound up on the austere note that the occasion demanded.
"Poetic justice!" She opened her amber eyes and gave a shudder. "There was no poetry about it, colonel. Oh, none at all! Remember how he looked! How he sounded! Do not let us talk of that."
"Let me ask you then," he put in, "what made you think that Mr. Houghton murdered Mr. Osbourn because of a forged will?"
She only looked at him. "But of course! There is no other reason. People do not think enough, or we should have known at once who the criminal was and why..."
"But Craig's letter," Godolphin reminded her.
She stared still more. "What of that? What had that to do with facts? He was mistaken. Of course he was mistaken. Even I was mistaken. I thought it was Dr. Lindrum. But when I saw—well, what one sees, one sees! Why is it that only what we find out for ourselves is really ours?"
"Did you ever ask Mr. Jones to poison Mr. Craig?" Pointer asked bluntly instead of answering her question.
Even Godolphin gave an inward start. Jura shook a calm, thoughtful head. "No. But I thought he ought to have offered to do it." She looked at the carpet and sighed. "It is a pity to have too fine a character. Ilya has too fine a character."
"Is that why you don't tell him that the pearls Mr. Craig gave you are inside those red beads you always wear?" Pointer asked. He found it very hard to forgive this girl that, owing to her, Guy Houghton would never be brought to justice.
She opened her eyes. "You guessed it? I shall have to think of something different—yes, that is why. They are mine. I intend to keep them. But why are you still so cross with me because I changed those glasses? I was in great danger of my life. I really was."
"He'd have found it a bit difficult to explain your dead body," Godolphin said in a matter-of-fact tone.
She shook her head. "You do not think enough, Colonel Godolphin. Guy Houghton does. He would have made it out an accident—or a suicide—and had a letter of confession to be found in my room later on."
"And why did you run the risk?" Pointer asked more gently.
She gave a little sigh. "I was sorry I had not been able to help Ronald Craig. He had been killed with me beside him. I did not love him. But now that he was dead I was sorry, and I thought this would make it up to Ronald. He will be pleased that his murderer is punished."
There came a long-drawn howl of agony from above them. It blenched every face. Jura shivered. The door opened and Jones came in.
"Come, Jura, come away from this house of horrible things."
"Would you rather that it was I screaming up there?" she asked coldly, but stepping with alacrity to the door. "Have you told the chief inspector we are going to be married after all?"
For a second, her eye caught Pointer's. There was something faintly amused in hers. He knew then that Alexandra Ivanoff had always intended that there should be a marriage.
"It will be simpler," she went on demurely. "We are going to the Russki Dom tonight to tell my cousins. Ilya does not love me"—a dimple appeared for a second in her cheek then disappeared instantly—"but we shall do a great deal of good, and save our souls, and finally we may perhaps work round to Mother Russia. You see, Ilya does know what tosca means to a Russian, though you don't!"
But by this time Pointer guessed. The two young people had hardly left the house when Lindrum hurried in.
"He'll live," he said brusquely, "though I never saw a chap stand pain so badly I My getting here at once saved him."
He stared at the faces of the two men, who each turned on him an expression very difficult to read. "I'm off now"—he spoke to Pointer this time. "I suppose—, I suppose she's been taken away?" His face was pale and drawn. "I shall give evidence of insanity," he said huskily, "of hidden, but strong, homicidal mania."
"I doubt if the jury would listen to you," Godolphin said. "There never was a saner man than Houghton," and they left the doctor gaping after them.
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