"Am I to understand," he enquired, "that the late Colonel Menendez had expected to be attacked?"
"You may understand that," replied Harley. "It explains my presence in the house."
"Oh," said the Inspector, "I see. It looks as though he might have done better if he had applied to me."
Paul Harley glanced across in my direction and smiled grimly.
"As I had predicted, Knox," he murmured, "my Waterloo."
"What's that you say about Waterloo, Mr. Harley?" demanded the Inspector.
"Nothing germane to the case," replied Harley. "It was a reference to a battle, not to a railway station."
Inspector Aylesbury stared at him dully.
"You quite understand that you are giving evidence?" he said.
"It were impossible not to appreciate the fact."
"Very well, then. The late Colonel Menendez thought he was in danger from negroes. Why did he think that?"
"He was a retired West Indian planter," replied Harley, patiently, "and he was under the impression that he had offended a powerful native society, and that for many years their vengeance had pursued him. Attempts to assassinate him had already taken place in Cuba and in the United States."
"What sort of attempts?"
"He was shot at, several times, and once, in Washington, was attacked by a man with a knife. He maintained in my presence and in the presence of my friend, Mr. Knox, here, that these various attempts were due to members of a sect or religion known as Voodoo."
"Voodoo, Inspector, also known as Obeah, a cult which has spread from the West Coast of Africa throughout the West Indies and to parts of the United States. The bat wing is said to be a sign used by these people."
Inspector Aylesbury scratched his chin.
"Now let me get this thing clear," said he: "Colonel Menendez believed that people called Voodoos wanted to kill him? Before we go any farther, why?"
"Twenty years ago in the West Indies he had shot an important member of this sect."
"Twenty years ago?"
"According to a statement which he made to me, yes."
"I see. Then for twenty years these Voodoos have been trying to kill him? Then he comes and settles here in Surrey and someone nails a bat wing to his door? Did you see this bat wing?"
"I did. I have it upstairs in my bag if you would care to examine it."
"Oh," said the Inspector, "I see. And thinking he had been followed to England he came to you to see if you could save him?"
Paul Harley nodded grimly.
"Why did he go to you in preference to the local police, the proper authorities?" demanded the Inspector.
"He was advised to do so by the Spanish ambassador, or so he informed me."
"Is that so? Well, I suppose it had to be. Coming from foreign parts. I expect he didn't know what our police are for." He cleared his throat. "Very well, I understand now what you were doing here, Mr. Harley. The next thing is, what were you doing tonight, as I see that both you and Mr. Knox are still in evening dress?"
"We were keeping watch," I replied.
Inspector Aylesbury turned to me ponderously, raising a fat hand. "One moment, Mr. Knox, one moment," he protested. "The evidence of one witness at a time."
"We were keeping watch," said Harley, deliberately echoing my words.
"More or less we were here for that purpose. You see, on the night of the full moon, according to Colonel Menendez, Obeah people become particularly active."
"Why on the night of the full moon?"
"This I cannot tell you."
"Oh, I see. You were keeping watch. Where were you keeping watch?"
"In my room."
"In which part of the house is your room?"
"Northeast. It overlooks the Tudor garden."
"At what time did you retire?"
"About half-past ten."
"Did you leave the Colonel well?"
"No, he had been unwell all day. He had remained in his room."
"Had he asked you to sit up?"
"Not at all; our vigil was quite voluntary."
"Very well, then, you were in your room when the shot was fired?"
"On the contrary, I was on the path in front of the house."
"Oh, I see. The front door was open, then?"
"Not at all. Pedro had locked up for the night."
"And locked you out?"
"No; I descended from my window by means of a ladder which I had brought with me for the purpose."
"With a ladder? That's rather extraordinary, Mr Harley."
"It is extraordinary. I have strange habits."
Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat again and looked frowningly across at my friend.
"What part of the grounds were you in when the shot was fired?" he demanded.
"Halfway along the north side."
"What were you doing?"
"I was running."
"You see, Inspector, I regarded it as my duty to patrol the grounds of the house at nightfall, since, for all I knew to the contrary, some of the servants might be responsible for the attempts of which the Colonel complained. I had descended from the window of my room, had passed entirely around the house east to west, and had returned to my starting-point when Mr. Knox, who was looking out of the window, observed Colonel Menendez entering the Tudor garden."
"Oh. Colonel Menendez was not visible to you?"
"Not from my position below, but being informed by my friend, who was hurriedly descending the ladder, that the Colonel had entered the garden, I set off running to intercept him."
"He had acquired a habit of walking in his sleep, and I presumed that he was doing so on this occasion."
"Oh, I see. So being told by the gentleman at the window that Colonel Menendez was in the garden, you started to run toward him. While you were running you heard a shot?"
"Where do you think it came from?"
"Nothing is more difficult to judge, Inspector, especially when one is near to a large building surrounded by trees."
"Nevertheless," said the Inspector, again raising his finger and frowning at Harley, "you cannot tell me that you formed no impression on the point. For instance, was it near, or a long way off?"
"It was fairly near."
"Ten yards, twenty yards, a hundred yards, a mile?"
"Within a hundred yards. I cannot be more exact."
"Within a hundred yards, and you have no idea from which direction the shot was fired?"
"From the sound I could form none."
"Oh, I see. And what did you do?"
"I ran on and down into the sunken garden. I saw Colonel Menendez lying upon his face near the sun-dial. He was moving convulsively. Running up to him, I that he had been shot through the head."
"What steps did you take?"
"My friend, Mr. Knox, had joined me, and I sent him for assistance."
"But what steps did you take to apprehend the murderer?"
Paul Harley looked at him quietly.
"What steps should you have taken?" he asked.
Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat again, and:
"I don't think I should have let my man slip through my fingers like that," he replied. "Why! by now he may be out of the county."
"Your theory is quite feasible," said Harley, tonelessly.
"You were actually on the spot when the shot was fired, you admit that it was fired within a hundred yards, yet you did nothing to apprehend the murderer."
"No," replied Harley, "I was ridiculously inactive. You see, I am a mere amateur, Inspector. For my future guidance I should be glad to know what the correct procedure would have been."
Inspector Aylesbury blew his nose.
"I know my job," he said. "If I had been called in there might have been a different tale to tell. But he was a foreigner, and he paid for his ignorance, poor fellow."
Paul Harley took out his pipe and began to load it in a deliberate and lazy manner.
Inspector Aylesbury turned his prominent eyes in my direction.
"I am afraid of this man Aylesbury," said Paul Harley. We sat in the deserted dining room. I had contributed my account of the evening's happenings, Dr. Rolleston had made his report, and Inspector Aylesbury was now examining the servants in the library. Harley and I had obtained his official permission to withdraw, and the physician was visiting Madame de Staemer, who lay in a state of utter prostration.
"What do you mean, Harley?"
"I mean that he will presently make some tragic blunder. Good God, Knox, to think that this man had sought my aid, and that I stood by idly whilst he walked out to his death. I shall never forgive myself." He banged the table with his fist. "Even now that these unknown fiends have achieved their object, I am helpless, helpless. There was not a wisp of smoke to guide me, Knox, and one man cannot search a county."
I sighed wearily.
"Do you know, Harley," I said, "I am thinking of a verse of Kipling's."
"I know!" he interrupted, almost savagely.
"A Snider squibbed in the jungle. Somebody laughed and fled—"
"Oh, I know, Knox. I heard that damnable laughter, too."
"My God," I whispered, "who was it? What was it? Where did it come from?"
"As well ask where the shot came from, Knox. Out amongst all those trees, with a house that might have been built for a sounding-board, who could presume to say where either came from? One thing we know, that the shot came from the south."
He leaned upon a corner of the table, staring at me intently.
"From the south?" I echoed.
Harley glanced in the direction of the open door.
"Presently," he said, "we shall have to tell Aylesbury everything that we know. After all, he represents the law; but unless we can get Inspector Wessex down from Scotland Yard, I foresee a miscarriage of justice. Colonel Menendez lay on his face, and the line made by his recumbent body pointed almost directly toward—"
I nodded, watching him.
"I know, Harley—toward the Guest House."
Paul Harley inclined his head, grimly.
"The first light which we saw," he continued, "was in a window of the Guest House. It may have had no significance. Awakened by the sound of a rifle-shot near by, any one would naturally get up."
"And having decided to come downstairs and investigate," I continued, "would naturally light a lamp."
"Quite so." He stared at me very hard. "Yet," he said, "unless Mr. Colin Camber can produce an alibi I foresee a very stormy time for him."
"So do I, Harley. A deadly hatred existed between these two men, and probably this horrible deed was done on the spur of the moment. It is of his poor little girl-wife that I am thinking. As though her troubles were not heavy enough already."
"Yes," he agreed. "I am almost tempted to hold my tongue, Knox, until I have personally interviewed these people. But of course if our blundering friend directly questions me, I shall have no alternative. I shall have to answer him. His talent for examination, however, scarcely amounts to genius, so that we may not be called upon for further details at the moment. I wonder how I can induce him to requisition Scotland Yard?"
He rested his chin in his hand and stared down reflectively at the carpet. I thought that he looked very haggard, as he sat there in the early morning light, dressed as for dinner. There was something pathetic in the pose of his bowed head.
Leaning across, I placed my hand on his shoulder.
"Don't get despondent, old chap," I said. "You have not failed yet."
"Oh, but I have, Knox!" he cried, fiercely, "I have! He came to me for protection. Now he lies dead in his own house. Failed? I have failed utterly, miserably."
I turned aside as the door opened and Dr. Rolleston came in.
"Ah, gentlemen," he said, "I wanted to see you before leaving. I have just been to visit Madame de Staemer again."
"Yes," said Harley, eagerly; "how is she?"
Dr. Rolleston lighted a cigarette, frowning perplexedly the while.
"To be honest," he replied, "her condition puzzles me."
He walked across to the fireplace and dropped the match, staring at Harley with a curious expression.
"Has any one told her the truth?" he asked.
"You mean that Colonel Menendez is dead?"
"Yes," replied Dr. Rolleston. "I understood that no one had told her?"
"No one has done so to my knowledge," said Harley.
"Then the sympathy between them must have been very acute," murmured the physician, "for she certainly knows!"
"Do you really think she knows?" I asked.
"I am certain of it. She must have had knowledge of a danger to be apprehended, and being awakened by the sound of the rifle shot, have realized by a sort of intuition that the expected tragedy had happened. I should say, from the presence of a small bruise which I found upon her forehead, that she had actually walked out into the corridor."
"Walked?" I cried.
"Yes," said the physician. "She is a shell-shock case, of course, and we sometimes find that a second shock counteracts the effect of the first. This, temporarily at any rate, seems to have happened to-night. She is now in a very curious state: a form of hysteria, no doubt, but very curious all the same."
"Miss Beverley is with her?" I asked.
Dr. Rolleston nodded affirmatively.
"Yes, a very capable nurse. I am glad to know that Madame de Staemer is in such good hands. I am calling again early in the morning, and I have told Mrs. Fisher to see that nothing is said within hearing of the room which could enable Madame de Staemer to obtain confirmation of the idea, which she evidently entertains, that Colonel Menendez is dead."
"Does she actually assert that he is dead?" asked Harley.
"My dear sir," replied Dr. Rolleston, "she asserts nothing. She sits there like Niobe changed to stone, staring straight before her. She seems to be unaware of the presence of everyone except Miss Beverley. The only words she has spoken since recovering consciousness have been, 'Don't leave me!'"
"Hm," muttered Harley. "You have not attended Madame de Staemer before, doctor?"
"No," was the reply, "this is the first time I have entered Cray's Folly since it was occupied by Sir James Appleton."
He was about to take his departure when the door opened and Inspector Aylesbury walked in.
"Ah," said he, "I have two more witnesses to interview: Madame de Staemer and Miss Beverley. From these witnesses I hope to get particulars of the dead man's life which may throw some light upon the identity of his murderer."
"It is impossible to see either of them at present," replied Dr. Rolleston briskly.
"What's that, doctor?" asked the Inspector. "Are they hysterical, or something?"
"As a result of the shock, Madame de Staemer is dangerously ill," replied the physician, "and Miss Beverley is remaining with her."
"Oh, I see. But Miss Beverley could come out for a few minutes?"
"She could," admitted the physician, sharply, "but I don't wish her to do so."
"Oh, but the law must be served, doctor."
"Quite so, but not at the expense of my patient's reason."
He was a resolute man, this country practitioner, and I saw Harley smiling in grim approval.
"I have expressed my opinion," he said, finally, walking out of the room; "I shall leave the responsibility to you, Inspector Aylesbury. Good morning, gentlemen."
Inspector Aylesbury scratched his chin.
"That's awkward," he muttered. "The evidence of this woman is highly important."
He turned toward us, doubtingly, whereupon Harley stood up, yawning.
"If I can be of any further assistance to you, Inspector," said my friend, "command me. Otherwise, I feel sure you will appreciate the fact that both Mr. Knox and myself are extremely tired, and have passed through a very trying ordeal."
"Yes," replied Inspector Aylesbury, "that's all very well, but I find myself at a deadlock."
"You surprise me," declared Harley.
"I can see nothing to be surprised about," cried the Inspector. "When I was called in it was already too late."
"Most unfortunate," murmured Harley, disagreeably. "Come along, Knox, you look tired to death."
"One moment, gentlemen," the Inspector insisted, as I stood up. "One moment. There is a little point which you may be able to clear up."
Harley paused, his hand on the door knob, and turned.
"The point is this," continued the Inspector, frowning portentously and lowering his chin so that it almost disappeared into the folds of his neck, "I have now interviewed all the inmates of Cray's Folly except the ladies. It appears to me that four people had not gone to bed. There are you two gentlemen, who have explained why I found you in evening dress, Colonel Menendez, who can never explain, and there is one other."
He paused, looking from Harley to myself.
It had come, the question which I had dreaded, the question which I had been asking myself ever since I had seen Val Beverley kneeling in the corridor, dressed as she had been when we had parted for the night.
"I refer to Miss Val Beverley," the police-court voice proceeded. "This lady had evidently not retired, and neither, it would appear, had the Colonel."
"Neither had I," murmured Harley, "and neither had Mr. Knox."
"Your reason I understand," said the Inspector, "or at least your explanation is a possible one. But if the party broke up, as you say it did, somewhere about half-past ten o'clock, and if Madame de Staemer had gone to bed, why should Miss Beverley have remained up?" He paused significantly. "As well as Colonel Menendez?" he added.
"Look here, Inspector Aylesbury," I interrupted, I speaking in a very quiet tone, I remember, "your insinuations annoy me."
"Oh," said he, turning his prominent eyes in my direction, "I see. They annoy you? If they annoy you, sir, perhaps you can explain this point which is puzzling me?"
"I cannot explain it, but doubtless Miss Beverley can do so when you ask her."
"I should like to have asked her now, and I can't make out why she refuses to see me."
"She has not refused to see you," replied Harley, smoothly. "She is probably unaware of the fact that you wish to see her."
"I don't know so much," muttered the Inspector. "In my opinion I am being deliberately baffled on all sides. You can throw no light on this matter, then?"
"None," I answered, shortly, and Paul Harley shook his head.
"But you must remember, Inspector," he explained, "that the entire household was in a state of unrest."
"In other words, everybody was waiting for this very thing to happen?"
"Consciously, or subconsciously, everybody was."
"What do you mean by consciously or subconsciously?"
"I mean that those of us who were aware of the previous attempts on the life of the Colonel apprehended this danger. And I believe that something of this apprehension had extended even to the servants."
"Oh, to the servants? Now, I have seen all the servants, except the chef, who lives at a house on the outskirts of Mid-Hatton, as you may know. Can you give me any information about this man?"
"I have seen him," replied Harley, "and have congratulated him upon his culinary art. His name, I believe, is Deronne. He is a Spaniard, and a little fat man. Quite an amiable creature," he added.
"Hm." The Inspector cleared his throat noisily.
"If that is all," said Harley, "I should welcome an opportunity of a few hours' sleep."
"Oh," said the Inspector. "Well, I suppose that is quite natural, but I shall probably have a lot more questions to ask you later."
"Quite," muttered Harley, "quite. Come on, Knox. Good-night, Inspector Aylesbury."
Harley walked out of the dining room and across the deserted hall. He slowly mounted the stairs and I followed him into his room. It was now quite light, and as my friend dropped down upon the bed I thought that he looked very tired and haggard.
"Knox," he said, "shut the door."
I closed the door and turned to him.
"You heard that question about Miss Beverley?" I began.
"I heard it, and I am wondering what her answer will be when the Inspector puts it to her personally."
"Surely it is obvious?" I cried. "A cloud of apprehension had settled on the house last night, Harley, which was like the darkness of Egypt. The poor girl was afraid to go to bed. She was probably sitting up reading."
"Hm," said Harley, drumming his feet upon the carpet. "Of course you realize that there is one person in Cray's Folly who holds the clue to the heart of the mystery?"
"Madame de Staemer?"
He nodded grimly.
"When the rifle cracked out, Knox, she knew! Remember, no one had told her the truth. Yet can you doubt that she knows?"
"I don't doubt it."
"Neither do I." He clenched his teeth tightly and beat his fists upon the coverlet. "I was dreading that our friend the Inspector would ask a question which to my mind was very obvious."
"Well, what investigator whose skull contained anything more useful than bubbles would have failed to ask if Colonel Menendez had an enemy in the neighbourhood?"
"No one," I admitted; "but I fear the poor man is sadly out of his depth."
"He is wading hopelessly, Knox, but even he cannot fail to learn about Camber to-morrow."
He stared at me in a curiously significant manner.
"Do you mean, Harley," I began, "that you really think——"
"My dear Knox," he interrupted, "forgetting, if you like, all that preceded the tragedy, with what facts are we left? That Colonel Menendez, at the moment when the bullet entered his brain, must have been standing facing directly toward the Guest House. Now, you have seen the direction of the wound?"
"He was shot squarely between the eyes. A piece of wonderful marksmanship."
"Quite," Harley nodded his head. "But the bullet came out just at the vertex of the spine."
He paused, as if waiting for some comment, and:
"You mean that the shot came from above?" I said, slowly.
"Obviously it came from above, Knox. Keep these two points in your mind, and then consider the fact that someone lighted a lamp in the Guest House only a few moments after the shot had been fired."
"I remember. I saw it."
"So did I," said Harley, grimly, "and I saw something else."
"What was that?"
"When you went off to summon assistance I ran across the lawn, scrambled through the bushes, and succeeded in climbing down into the little gully in which the stream runs, and up on the other side. I had proceeded practically in a straight line from the sun-dial, and do you know where I found myself?"
"I can guess," I replied.
"Of course you can. You have visited the place. I came out immediately beside a little hut, Knox, which stands at the end of the garden of the Guest House. Ahead of me, visible through a tangle of bushes in the neglected garden, a lamp was burning. I crept cautiously forward, and presently obtained a view of the interior of a kitchen. Just as I arrived at this point of vantage the lamp was extinguished, but not before I had had a glimpse of the only occupant of the room—the man who had extinguished the lamp."
"Who was it?" I asked, in a low voice.
"It was a Chinaman."
"Ah Tsong!" I cried.
"Good heavens, Harley, do you think—"
"I don't know what to think, Knox. A possible explanation is that the household had been aroused by the sound of the shot, and that Ah Tsong had been directed to go out and see if he could learn what had happened. At any rate, I waited no longer, but returned by the same route. If our portly friend from Market Hilton had possessed the eyes of an Auguste Dupin, he could not have failed to note that my dress boots were caked with light yellow clay; which also, by the way, besmears my trousers."
He stooped and examined the garments as he spoke.
"A number of thorns are also present," he continued. "In short, from the point of view of an investigation, I am a most provoking object."
He sighed wearily, and stared out of the window in the direction of the Tudor garden. There was a slight chilliness in the air, which, or perhaps a sudden memory of that which lay in the billiard room beneath us, may have accounted for the fact that I shivered violently.
Harley glanced up with a rather sad smile.
"The morning after Waterloo," he said. "Sleep well, Knox."
A SPANISH CIGARETTE
Sleep was not for me, despite Harley's injunction, and although I was early afoot, the big house was already astir with significant movements which set the imagination on fire, to conjure up again the moonlight scene in the garden, making mock of the song of the birds and of the glory of the morning.
Manoel replied to my ring, and prepared my bath, but it was easy to see that he had not slept.
No sound came from Harley's room, therefore I did not disturb him, but proceeded downstairs in the hope of finding Miss Beverley about. Pedro was in the hall, talking to Mrs. Fisher, and:
"Is Inspector Aylesbury here?" I asked.
"No, sir, but he will be returning at about half-past eight, so he said."
"How is Madame de Staemer, Mrs. Fisher?" I enquired.
"Oh, poor, poor Madame," said the old lady, "she is asleep, thank God. But I am dreading her awakening."
"The blow is a dreadful one," I admitted; "and Miss Beverley?"
"She didn't go to her room until after four o'clock, sir, but Nita tells me that she will be down any moment now."
"Ah," said I, and lighting a cigarette, I walked out of the open doors into the courtyard.
I dreaded all the ghastly official formalities which the day would bring, since I realized that the brunt of the trouble must fall upon the shoulders of Miss Beverley in the absence of Madame de Staemer.
I wandered about restlessly, awaiting the girl's appearance. A little two seater was drawn up in the courtyard, but I had not paid much attention to it, until, wandering through the opening in the box hedge and on along the gravel path, I saw unfamiliar figures moving in the billiard room, and turned, hastily retracing my steps. Officialdom was at work already, and I knew that there would be no rest for any of us from that hour onward.
As I reentered the hall I saw Val Beverley coming down the staircase. She looked pale, but seemed to be in better spirits than I could have hoped for, although there were dark shadows under her eyes.
"Good morning, Miss Beverley," I said.
"Good morning, Mr. Knox. It was good of you to come down so early."
"I had hoped for a chat with you before Inspector Aylesbury returned," I explained.
She looked at me pathetically.
"I suppose he will want me to give evidence?"
"He will. We had great difficulty in persuading him not to demand your presence last night."
"It was impossible," she protested. "It would have been cruel to make me leave Madame in the circumstances."
"We realized this, Miss Beverley, but you will have to face the ordeal this morning."
We walked through into the library, where a maid white-faced and frightened looking, was dusting in a desultory fashion. She went out as we entered, and Val Beverley stood looking from the open window out into the rose garden bathed in the morning sunlight.
"Oh, Heavens," she said, clenching her hands desperately, "even now I cannot realize that the horrible thing is true." She turned to me. "Who can possibly have committed this cold-blooded crime?" she said in a low voice. "What does Mr. Harley think? Has he any idea, any idea whatever?"
"Not that he has confided to me," I said, watching her intently. "But tell me, does Madame de Staemer know yet?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean has she been told the truth?"
The girl shook her head.
"No," she replied; "I am positive that no one has told her. I was with her all the time, up to the very moment that she fell asleep. Yet—"
"She knows! Oh, Mr. Knox! to me that is the most horrible thing of all: that she knows, that she must have known all along—that the mere sound of the shot told her everything!"
"You realize, now," I said, quietly, "that she had anticipated the end?"
"Yes, yes. This was the meaning of the sorrow which I had seen so often in her eyes, the meaning of so much that puzzled me in her words, the explanation of lots of little things which have made me wonder in the past."
I was silent for a while, then:
"If she was so certain that no one could save him," I said, "she must have had information which neither he nor she ever imparted to us."
"I am sure she had," declared Val Beverley.
"But can you think of any reason why she should not have confided in Paul Harley?"
"I cannot, I cannot—unless—"
"Unless, Mr. Knox," she looked at me strangely, "they were both under some vow of silence. Oh! it sounds ridiculous, wildly ridiculous, but what other explanation can there be?"
"What other, indeed? And now, Miss Beverley, I know one of the questions Inspector Aylesbury will ask you."
"What is it?"
"He has learned, from one of the servants I presume, as he did not see you, that you had not retired last night at the time of the tragedy."
"I had not," said Val Beverley, quietly. "Is that so singular?"
"To me it is no more than natural."
"I have never been so frightened in all my life as I was last night. Sleep was utterly out of the question. There was mystery in the very air. I knew, oh, Mr. Knox, in some way I knew that a tragedy was going to happen."
"I believe I knew, too," I said. "Good God, to think that we might have saved him!"
"Do you think—" began Val Beverley, and then paused.
"Yes?" I prompted.
"Oh, I was going to say a strange thing that suddenly occurred to me, but it is utterly foolish, I suppose. Inspector Aylesbury is coming back at nine o'clock, is he not?"
"At half-past eight, so I understand."
"I am afraid I have very little to tell him. I was sitting in my room in an appalling state of nerves when the shot was fired. I was not even reading; I was just waiting, waiting, for something to happen."
"I understand. My own experience was nearly identical."
"Then," continued the girl, "as I unlocked my door and peeped out, feeling too frightened to venture farther in the darkness, I heard Madame's voice in the hall below."
"Crying for help?"
"No," replied the girl, a puzzled frown appearing between her brows. "She cried out something in French. The intonation told me that it was French, although I could not detect a single word. Then I thought I heard a moan."
"And you ran down?"
"Yes. I summoned up enough courage to turn on the light in the corridor and to run down to the hall. And there she was lying just outside the door of her room."
"Was her room in darkness?"
"Yes. I turned on the light and succeeded in partly raising her, but she was too heavy for me to lift. I was still trying to revive her when Pedro opened the door of the servants' quarters. Oh," she closed her eyes wearily, "I shall never forget it."
I took her hand and pressed it reassuringly.
"Your courage has been wonderful throughout," I declared, "and I hope it will remain so to the end."
She smiled, and flushed slightly, as I released her hand again.
"I must go and take a peep at Madame now," she said, "but of course I shall not disturb her if she is still sleeping."
We turned and walked slowly back to the hall, and there just entering from the courtyard was Inspector Aylesbury.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "good morning, Mr. Knox. This is Miss Beverley, I presume?"
"Yes, Inspector," replied the girl. "I understand that you wish to speak to me?"
"I do, Miss, but I shall not detain you for many minutes."
"Very well," she said, and as she turned and retraced her steps, he followed her back into the library.
I walked out to the courtyard, and avoiding the Tudor garden and the billiard room, turned in the other direction, passing the stables where Jim, the negro groom, saluted me very sadly, and proceeded round to the south side of the house.
Inspector Aylesbury, I perceived, had wasted no time. I counted no fewer than four men, two of them in uniform, searching the lawns and the slopes beyond, although what they were looking for I could not imagine.
Giving the library a wide berth, I walked along the second terrace, and presently came in sight of the east wing and the tower. There, apparently engaged in studying the rhododendrons, I saw Paul Harley.
He signalled to me, and, crossing the lawn, I joined him where he stood.
Without any word of greeting:
"You see, Knox," he said, speaking in the eager manner which betokened a rapidly working brain, "this is the path which the Colonel must have followed last night. Yonder is the door by which, according to his own account, he came out on a previous occasion, walking in his sleep. Do you remember?"
"I remember," I replied.
"Well, Pedro found it unlocked this morning. You see it faces practically due south, and the Colonel's bedroom is immediately above us where we stand." He stared at me queerly. "I must have passed this door last night only a few moments before the Colonel came out, for I was just crossing the courtyard and could see you at my window at the moment when you saw poor Menendez enter the Tudor garden. He must have actually been walking around the east wing at the same time that I was walking around the west. Now, I am going to show you something, Knox, something which I have just discovered."
From his waistcoat pocket he took out a half-smoked cigarette. I stared at it uncomprehendingly.
"Of course," he continued, "the weather has been bone dry for more than a week now, and it may have lain there for a long time, but to me, Knox, to me it looks suspiciously fresh."
"What is the point?" I asked, perplexedly.
"The point is that it is a hand-made cigarette, one of the Colonel's. Don't you recognize it?"
"Good heavens!" I said; "yes, of course it is."
He returned it to his pocket without another word.
"It may mean nothing," he murmured, "or it may mean everything. And now, Knox, we are going to escape."
"To escape?" I cried.
"Precisely. We are going to anticipate the probable movements of our blundering Aylesbury. In short, I wish you to present me to Mr. Colin Camber."
"What?" I exclaimed, staring at him incredulously.
"I am going to ask you," he began, and then, breaking off: "Quick, Knox, run!" he said.
And thereupon, to my amazement, he set off through the rhododendron bushes in the direction of the tower!
Utterly unable to grasp the meaning of his behaviour, I followed, nevertheless, and as we rounded the corner of the tower Harley pulled up short, and:
"I am not mad," he explained rather breathlessly, "but I wanted to avoid being seen by that constable who is prowling about at the bottom of the lawn making signals in the direction of the library. Presumably he is replying to Inspector Aylesbury who wants to talk to us. I am determined to interview Camber before submitting to further official interrogation. It must be a cross-country journey, Knox. I am afraid we shall be a very muddy pair, but great issues may hang upon the success of our expedition."
He set off briskly toward a belt of shrubbery which marked the edge of the little stream. Appreciating something of his intentions, I followed his lead unquestioningly; and, scrambling through the bushes:
"This was the point at which I descended last night," he said. "You will have to wade, Knox, but the water is hardly above one's ankles."
He dropped into the brook, waded across, and began to climb up the opposite bank. I imitated his movements, and presently, having scrambled up on the farther side, we found ourselves standing on a narrow bank immediately under that summer house which Colin Camber had told me he had formerly used as a study.
"We can scarcely present ourselves at the kitchen door," murmured Harley; "therefore we must try to find a way round to the front. There is barbed wire here. Be careful."
I had now entered with zest into the business, and so the pair of us waded through rank grass which in places was waist high, and on through a perfect wilderness of weeds in which nettles dominated. Presently we came to a dry ditch, which we negotiated successfully, to find ourselves upon the high road some hundred yards to the west of the Guest House.
"I predict an unfriendly reception," I said, panting from my exertions, and surveying my friend, who was a mockery of his ordinarily spruce self.
"We must face it," he replied, grimly. "He has everything to gain by being civil to us."
We proceeded along the dusty high road, almost overarched by trees.
"Harley," I said, "this is going to be a highly unpleasant ordeal for me."
Harley stopped short, staring at me sternly.
"I know, Knox," he replied; "but I suppose you realize that a man's life is at stake."
"I mean that when we are both compelled to tell all we know, I doubt if there is a counsel in the land who would undertake the defence of Mr. Colin Camber."
"Good God! then you think he is guilty?"
"Did I say so?" asked Harley, continuing on his way. "I don't recollect saying so, Knox; but I do say that it will be a giant's task to prove him innocent."
"Then you believe him to be innocent?" I cried, eagerly.
"My dear fellow," he replied, somewhat irritably, "I have not yet met Mr. Colin Camber. I will answer your question at the conclusion of the interview."
THE WING OF A BAT
For a long time our knocking and ringing elicited no response. The brilliant state of the door-brass afforded evidence of the fact that Ah Tsong had arisen, even if the other members of the household were still sleeping, and Harley, growing irritable, executed a loud tattoo upon the knocker. This had its effect. The door opened and Ah Tsong looked out.
"Tell your master that Mr. Paul Harley has called to see him upon urgent business."
"Master no got," replied Ah Tsong, and proceeded to close the door.
Paul Harley thrust his hand against it and addressed the man rapidly in Chinese. I could not have supposed the face of Ah Tsong capable of expressing so much animation. At the sound of his native tongue his eyes lighted up, and:
"Tchee, tchee," he said, turned, and disappeared.
Although he had studiously avoided looking at me, that Ah Tsong would inform his master of the identity of his second visitor I did not doubt. If I had doubted I should promptly have been disillusioned, for:
"Tell them to go away!" came a muffled cry from somewhere within. "No spy of Devil Menendez shall ever pass my doors again!"
The Chinaman, on retiring, had left the door wide open, and I could see right to the end of the gloomy hall. Ah Tsong presently re-appeared, shuffling along in our direction. Unemotionally:
"Master no got," he repeated.
Paul Harley stamped his foot irritably.
"Good God, Knox," he said, "this unreasonable fool almost exhausts my patience."
Again he addressed Ah Tsong in Chinese, and although the man's wrinkled ivory face exhibited no trace of emotion, a deep understanding was to be read in those oblique eyes; and a second time Ah Tsong turned and trotted back to the study. I could hear a muttered colloquy in progress, and suddenly the gaunt figure of Colin Camber burst into view.
He was shaved this morning, but arrayed as I had last seen him. Whilst he was not in that state of incoherent anger which I remembered and still resented, he was nevertheless in an evil temper.
He strode along the hallway, his large eyes widely opened, and fixing a cold stare upon the face of Harley.
"I learn that your name is Mr. Paul Harley," he said, entirely ignoring my presence, "and you send me a very strange message. I am used to the ways of Senor Menendez, therefore your message does not deceive me. The gateway, sir, is directly behind you."
Harley clenched his teeth, then:
"The scaffold, Mr. Camber," he replied, "is directly in front of you."
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded the other, and despite my resentment of the treatment which I had received at his hands, I could only admire the lofty disdain of his manner.
"I mean, Mr. Camber, that the police are close upon my heels."
"The police? Of what interest can this be to me?"
Harley's keen eyes were searching the pale face of the man before him.
"Mr. Camber," he said, "the shot was a good one."
Not a muscle of Colin Camber's face moved, but slowly he looked Paul Harley up and down, then:
"I have been called a hasty man," he replied, coldly, "but I can scarcely be accused of leaping to a conclusion when I say that I believe you to be mad. You have interrupted me, sir. Good morning."
He stepped back, and would have closed the door, but:
"Mr. Camber," said Paul Harley, and the tone of his voice was arresting.
Colin Camber paused.
"My name is evidently unfamiliar to you," Harley continued. "You regard myself and Mr. Knox as friends of the late Colonel Menendez—"
At that Colin Camber started forward.
"The late Colonel Menendez?" he echoed, speaking almost in a whisper.
But as if he had not heard him Harley continued:
"As a matter of fact, I am a criminal investigator, and Mr. Knox is assisting me in my present case."
Colin Camber clenched his hands and seemed to be fighting with some emotion which possessed him, then:
"Do you mean," he said, hoarsely—"do you mean that Menendez is—dead?"
"I do," replied Harley. "May I request the privilege of ten minutes' private conversation with you?"
Colin Camber stood aside, holding the door open, and inclining his head in that grave salutation which I knew, but on this occasion, I think, principally with intent to hide his emotion.
Not another word did he speak until the three of us stood in the strange study where East grimaced at West, and emblems of remote devil- worship jostled the cross of the Holy Rose. The place was laden with tobacco smoke, and scattered on the carpet about the feet of the writing table lay twenty or more pages of closely written manuscript. Although this was a brilliant summer's morning, an old-fashioned reading lamp, called, I believe, a Victoria, having a nickel receptacle for oil at one side of the standard and a burner with a green glass shade upon the other, still shed its light upon the desk. It was only reasonable to suppose that Colin Camber had been at work all night.
He placed chairs for us, clearing them of the open volumes which they bore, and, seating himself at the desk:
"Mr. Knox," he began, slowly, paused, and then stood up, "I accused you of something when you last visited my house, something of which I would not lightly accuse any man. If I was wrong, I wish to apologize."
"Only a matter of the utmost urgency could have induced me to cross your threshold again," I replied, coldly. "Your behaviour, sir, was inexcusable."
He rested his long white hands upon the desk, looking across at me.
"Whatever I did and whatever I said," he continued, "one insult I laid upon you more deadly than the rest: I accused you of friendship with Juan Menendez. Was I unjust?"
He paused for a moment.
"I had been retained professionally by Colonel Menendez," replied Harley without hesitation, "and Mr. Knox kindly consented to accompany me."
Colin Camber looked very hard at the speaker, and then equally hard at me.
"Was it at behest of Colonel Menendez that you called upon me, Mr. Knox?"
"It was not," said Harley, tersely; "it was at mine. And he is here now at my request. Come, sir, we are wasting time. At any moment—"
Colin Camber held up his hand, interrupting him.
"By your leave, Mr. Harley," he said, and there was something compelling in voice and gesture, "I must first perform my duty as a gentleman."
He stepped forward in my direction.
"Mr. Knox, I have grossly insulted you. Yet if you knew what had inspired my behaviour I believe you could find it in your heart to forgive me. I do not ask you to do so, however; I accept the humiliation of knowing that I have mortally offended a guest."
He bowed to me formally, and would have returned to his seat, but:
"Pray say no more," I said, standing up and extending my hand. Indeed, so impressive was the man's strange personality that I felt rather as one receiving a royal pardon than as an offended party being offered an apology. "It was a misunderstanding. Let us forget it."
His eyes gleamed, and he seized my hand in a warm grip.
"You are generous, Mr. Knox, you are generous. And now, sir," he inclined his head in Paul Harley's direction, and resumed his seat.
Harley had suffered this odd little interlude in silence but now:
"Mr. Camber," he said, rapidly, "I sent you a message by your Chinese servant to the effect that the police would be here within ten minutes to arrest you."
"You did, sir," replied Colin Camber, drawing toward him a piece of newspaper upon which rested a dwindling mound of shag. "This is most disturbing, of course. But since I have not rendered myself amenable to the law, it leaves me moderately unmoved. Upon your second point, Mr. Harley, I shall beg you, to enlarge. You tell me that Don Juan Menendez is dead?"
He had begun to fill his corn-cob as he spoke the words, but from where I sat I could just see his face, so that although his voice was well controlled, the gleam in his eyes was unmistakable.
"He was shot through the head shortly after midnight."
Colin Camber dropped the corn-cob and stood up again, the light of a dawning comprehension in his eyes.
"Do you mean that he was murdered?"
"Good God," whispered Camber, "at last I understand."
"That is why we are here, Mr. Camber, and that is why the police will be here at any moment."
Colin Camber stood erect, one hand resting upon the desk.
"So this was the meaning of the shot which we heard in the night," he said, slowly.
Crossing the room, he closed and locked the study door, then, returning, he sat down once more, entirely, master of himself. Frowning slightly he looked from Harley in my direction, and then back again at Harley.
"Gentlemen," he resumed, "I appreciate the urgency of my danger. Preposterous though I know it to be, nevertheless it is perhaps no more than natural that suspicion should fall upon me."
He was evidently thinking rapidly. His manner had grown quite cool, and I could see that he had focussed his keen brain upon the abyss which he perceived to lie in his path.
"Before I commit myself to any statements which might be used as evidence," he said, "doubtless, Mr. Harley, you will inform me of your exact standpoint in this matter. Do you represent the late Colonel Menendez, do you represent the law, or may I regard you as a perfectly impartial enquirer?"
"You may regard me, Mr. Camber, as one to whom nothing but the truth is of the slightest interest. I was requested by the late Colonel Menendez to visit Cray's Folly."
"To endeavour to trace the origin of certain occurrences which had led him to believe his life to be in danger."
Harley paused, staring hard at Colin Camber.
"Since I recognize myself to be standing in the position of a suspect," said the latter, "it is perhaps unfair to request you to acquaint me with the nature of these occurrences?"
"The one, sir," replied Paul Harley, "which most intimately concerns yourself is this: Almost exactly a month ago the wing of a bat was nailed to the door of Cray's Folly."
"What?" exclaimed Colin Camber, leaning forward eagerly—"the wing of a bat? What kind of bat?"
"Of a South American Vampire Bat."
The effect of those words was curious. If any doubt respecting Camber's innocence had remained with me at this time I think his expression as he leaned forward across the desk must certainly have removed it. That the man was intellectually unusual, and intensely difficult to understand, must have been apparent to the most superficial observer, but I found it hard to believe that these moods of his were simulated. At the words "A South American Vampire Bat" the enthusiasm of the specialist leapt into his eyes. Personal danger was forgotten. Harley had trenched upon his particular territory, and I knew that if Colin Camber had actually killed Colonel Menendez, then it had been the act of a maniac. No man newly come from so bloody a deed could have acted as Camber acted now.
"It is the death-sign of Voodoo!" he exclaimed, excitedly.
Yet again he arose, and crossing to one of the many cabinets which were in the room, he pulled open a drawer and took out a shallow tray.
My friend was watching him intently, and from the expression upon his bronzed face I could deduce the fact that in Colin Camber he had met the supreme puzzle of his career. As Camber stood there, holding up an object which he had taken from the tray, whilst Paul Harley sat staring at him, I thought the scene was one transcending the grotesque. Here was the suspected man triumphantly producing evidence to hang himself.
Between his finger and thumb Camber held the wing of a bat!
COLIN CAMBER'S SECRET
"I brought this bat wing from Haiti," he explained, replacing it in the tray. "It was found beneath the pillow of a negro missionary who had died mysteriously during the night."
He returned the tray to the drawer, closed the latter, and, standing erect, raised clenched hands above his head.
"With no thought of blasphemy," he said, "but with reverence, I thank God from the bottom of my heart that Juan Menendez is dead."
He reseated himself, whilst Harley regarded him silently, then:
"'The evil that men do lives after them,'" he murmured. He rested his chin upon his hand. "A bat wing," he continued, musingly, "a bat wing was nailed to Menendez's door." He stared across at Harley. "Am I to believe, sir, that this was the clue which led you to the Guest House?"
Paul Harley nodded.
"I understand. I must therefore take no more excursions into my special subject, but must endeavour to regard the matter from the point of view of the enquiry. Am I to assume that Menendez was acquainted with the significance of this token?"
"He had seen it employed in the West Indies."
"Ah, the black-hearted devil! But I fear I am involving myself more deeply in suspicion. Perhaps, Mr. Harley, the ends of justice would be better served if you were to question me, and I to confine myself to answering you."
"Very well," Harley agreed: "when and where did you meet the late Colonel Menendez?"
"I never met him in my life."
"Do you mean that you had never spoken to him?"
"Hm. Tell me, Mr. Camber, where were you at twelve o'clock last night?"
"And where was Ah Tsong?"
"Ah Tsong?" Colin Camber stared uncomprehendingly. "Ah Tsong was in bed."
"Oh. Did anything disturb you?"
"Yes, the sound of a rifle shot."
"You knew it for a rifle shot?"
"It was unmistakable."
"What did you do?"
"I was in the midst of a most important passage, and I should probably have taken no steps in the matter but that Ah Tsong knocked upon the study door, to inform me that my wife had been awakened by the sound of the shot. She is somewhat nervous and had rung for Ah Tsong, asking him to see if all were well with me."
"Do I understand that she imagined the sound to have come from this room?"
"When we are newly awakened from sleep, Mr. Harley, we retain only an imperfect impression of that which awakened us."
"True," replied Paul Harley; "and did Ah Tsong return to his room?"
"Not immediately. Permit me to say, Mr. Harley, that the nature of your questions surprises me. At the moment I fail to see their bearing upon the main issue. He returned and reported to my wife that I was writing, and she then requested him to bring her a glass of milk. Accordingly, he came down again, and going out into the kitchen, executed this order."
"Ah. He would have to light a candle for that purpose, I suppose?"
"A candle, or a lamp," replied Colin Camber, staring at Paul Harley. Then, his expression altering: "Of course!" he cried. "You saw the light from Cray's Folly? I understand at last."
We were silent for a while, until:
"How long a time elapsed between the firing of the shot and Ah Tsong's knocking at the study door?" asked Harley.
"I could not answer definitely. I was absorbed in my work. But probably only a minute or two."
"Was the sound a loud one?"
"Fairly loud. And very startling, of course, in the silence of the night."
"The shot, then, was fired from somewhere quite near the house?"
"I presume so."
"But you thought no more about the matter?"
"Frankly, I had forgotten it. You see, the neighbourhood is rich with game; it might have been a poacher."
"Quite," murmured Harley, but his face was very stern. "I wonder if you fully realize the danger of your position, Mr. Camber?"
"Believe me," was the reply, "I can anticipate almost every question which I shall be called upon to answer."
Paul Harley stared at him in a way which told me that he was comparing his features line for line with the etching of Edgar Allen Poe which hung in his office in Chancery Lane, and:
"I do believe you," he replied, "and I am wondering if you are in a position to clear yourself?"
"On the contrary," Camber assured him, "I am only waiting to hear that Juan Menendez was shot in the grounds of Cray's Folly, and not within the house, to propose to you that unless the real assassin be discovered, I shall quite possibly pay the penalty of his crime."
"He was shot in the Tudor garden," replied Harley, "within sight of your windows."
"Ah!" Colin Camber resumed the task of stuffing shag into his corn-cob. "Then if it would interest you, Mr. Harley, I will briefly outline the case against myself. I had never troubled to disguise the fact that I hated Menendez. Many witnesses can be called to testify to this. He was in Cuba when I was in Cuba, and evidence is doubtless obtainable to show that we stayed at the same hotels in various cities of the United States prior to my coming to England and leasing the Guest House. Finally, he became my neighbour in Surrey."
He carefully lighted his pipe, whilst Harley and I watched him silently, then:
"Menendez had the bat wing nailed to the door of his house," he continued. "He believed himself to be in danger, and associated this sign with the source of his danger. Excepting himself and possibly certain other members of his household it is improbable that any one else in Surrey understands the significance of the token save myself. The unholy rites of Voodoo are a closed book to the Western nations. I have opened that book, Mr. Harley. The powers of the Obeah man, and especially of the arch-magician known and dreaded by every negro as 'Bat Wing,' are familiar to me. Since I was alone at the time that the shot was fired, and for some few minutes afterward, and since the Tudor garden of Cray's Folly is within easy range of the Guest House, to fail to place me under arrest would be an act of sheer stupidity."
He spoke the words with a sort of triumph. Like the fakir, he possessed the art of spiritual detachment, which is an attribute of genius. From an intellectual eminence he was surveying his own peril. Colin Camber in the flesh had ceased to exist; he was merely a pawn in a fascinating game.
Paul Harley glanced at his watch.
"Mr. Camber," he said, "I have just sustained the most crushing defeat of my career. The man who had summoned me to his aid was killed almost before my eyes. One thing I must do or accept professional oblivion."
"I understand." Colin Camber nodded. "Apprehend his murderer?"
"Ultimately, yes. But, firstly, I must see that to the assassination of Colonel Menendez a judicial murder is not added."
"You mean—?" asked Camber, eagerly.
"I mean that if you killed Menendez, you are a madman, and I have formed the opinion during our brief conversation that you are brilliantly sane."
Colin Camber rose and bowed in that old-world fashion which was his.
"I am obliged to you, Mr. Harley," he replied. "But has Mr. Knox informed you of my bibulous habits?"
Paul Harley nodded.
"They will, of course, be ascribed," continued Camber, "and there are many suitable analogies, to deliberate contemplation of a murderous deed. I would remind you that chronic alcoholism is a recognized form, of insanity."
His mood changed again, and sighing wearily, he lay back in the chair. Over his pale face crept an expression which I knew, instinctively, to mean that he was thinking of his wife.
"Mr. Harley," he said, speaking in a very low tone which scorned to accentuate the beauty of his voice, "I have suffered much in the quest of truth. Suffering is the gate beyond which we find compassion. Perhaps you have thought my foregoing remarks frivolous, in view of the fact that last night a soul was sent to its reckoning almost at my doors. I revere the truth, however, above all lesser laws and above all expediency. I do not, and I cannot, regret the end of the man Menendez. But for three reasons I should regret to pay the penalty of a crime which I did not commit, These reasons are—one," he ticked them off upon his delicate fingers—"It would be bitter to know that Devil Menendez even in death had injured me; two—My work in the world, which is unfinished; and, three—My wife."
I watched and listened, almost awed by the strangeness of the man who sat before me. His three reasons were illuminating. A casual observer might have regarded Colin Camber as a monument of selfishness. But it was evident to me, and I knew it must be evident to Paul Harley, that his egotism was quite selfless. To a natural human resentment and a pathetic love for his wife he had added, as an equal clause, the claim of the world upon his genius.
"I have heard you," said Paul Harley, quietly, "and you have led me to the most important point of all."
"What point is that, Mr. Harley?"
"You have referred to your recent lapse from abstemiousness. Excuse me if I discuss personal matters. This you ascribed to domestic troubles, or so Mr. Knox has informed me. You have also referred to your undisguised hatred of the late Colonel Juan Menendez. I am going to ask you, Mr. Camber, to tell me quite frankly what was the nature of those domestic troubles, and what had caused this hatred which survives even the death of its object?"
Colin Camber stood up, angular, untidy, but a figure of great dignity.
"Mr. Harley," he replied, "I cannot answer your questions."
Paul Harley inclined his head gravely.
"May I suggest," he said, "that you will be called upon to do so under circumstances which will brook no denial."
Colin Camber watched him unflinchingly.
"'The fate of every man is hung around his neck,'" he replied.
"Yet, in this secret history which you refuse to divulge, and which therefore must count against you, the truth may lie which exculpates you."
"It may be so. But my determination remains unaltered."
"Very well," answered Paul Harley, quietly, but I could see that he was exercising a tremendous restraint upon himself. "I respect your decision, but you have given me a giant's task, and for this I cannot thank you, Mr. Camber."
I heard a car pulled up in the road outside the Guest House. Colin Camber clenched his hands and sat down again in the carved chair.
"The opportunity has passed," said Harley. "The police are here."
INSPECTOR AYLESBURY CROSS-EXAMINES
"Oh, I see," said Inspector Aylesbury, "a little private confab, eh?"
He sank his chin into its enveloping folds, treating Harley and myself each to a stare of disapproval.
"These gentlemen very kindly called to advise me of the tragic occurrence at Cray's Folly," explained Colin Camber. "Won't you be seated, Inspector?"
"Thanks, but I can conduct my examination better standing."
He turned to Paul Harley.
"Might I ask, Mr. Harley," he said, "what concern this is of yours?"
"I am naturally interested in anything appertaining to the death of a client, Inspector Aylesbury."
"Oh, so you slip in ahead of me, having deliberately withheld information from the police, and think you are going to get all the credit. Is that it?"
"That is it, Inspector," replied Harley, smiling. "An instance of professional jealousy."
"Professional jealousy?" cried the Inspector. "Allow me to remind you that you have no official standing in this case whatever. You are merely a member of the public, nothing more, nothing less."
"I am happy to be recognized as a member of that much-misunderstood body."
"Ah, well, we shall see. Now, Mr. Camber, your attention, please."
He raised his finger impressively.
"I am informed by Miss Beverley that the late Colonel Menendez looked upon you as a dangerous enemy."
"Were those her exact words?" I murmured.
The inspector turned rapidly, confronting me. "I have already warned your friend. But if I have any interruptions from you, I will have you removed."
He continued to glare at me for some moments, and then, turning again to Colin Camber:
"I say, I have information that Colonel Menendez looked upon you as a dangerous neighbour."
"In that event," replied Colin Camber, "why did he lease an adjoining property?"
"That's an evasion, sir. Answer my first question, if you please."
"You have asked me no question, Inspector."
"Oh, I see. That's your attitude, is it? Very well, then. Were you, or were you not, an enemy of the late Colonel Menendez?"
"I say I was. I hated him, and I hate him no less in death than I hated him living."
I think that I had never seen a man so taken aback, Inspector Aylesbury, drawing out a large handkerchief blew his nose. Replacing the handkerchief, he produced a note-book.
"I am placing that statement on record, sir," he said.
He made an entry in the book, and then:
"Where did you first meet Colonel Menendez?" he asked.
"I never met him in my life."
Colin Camber merely shrugged his shoulders.
"I will repeat my question," said the Inspector, pompously. "Where did you first meet Colonel Juan Menendez?"
"I have answered you, Inspector."
"Oh, I see. You decline to answer that question. Very well, I will make a note of this." He did so. "And now," said he, "what were you doing at midnight last night?"
"I was writing."
Very succinctly Colin Camber repeated the statement which he had already made to Paul Harley, and, at its conclusion:
"Send for the man, Ah Tsong," directed Inspector Aylesbury.
Colin Camber inclined his head, clapped his bands, and silently Ah Tsong entered.
The Inspector stared at him for several moments as a visitor to the Zoo might stare at some rare animal; then:
"Your name is Ah Tsong?" he began.
"Ah Tsong," murmured the Chinaman.
"I am going to ask you to give an exact account of your movements last night."
Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat.
"I say I wish to know exactly what you did last night. Answer me."
Ah Tseng's face remained quite expressionless, and:
"No sabby," he repeated.
"Oh, I see," said the Inspector, "This witness refuses to answer at all."
"You are wrong," explained Colin Camber, quietly. "Ah Tsong is a Chinaman, and his knowledge of English is very limited. He does not understand you."
"He understood my first question. You can't draw wool over my eyes. He knows well enough. Are you going to answer me?" he demanded, angrily, of the Chinaman.
"No sabby, master," he said, glancing aside at Colin Camber. "Number- one p'licee-man gotchee no pidgin."
Paul Harley was leisurely filling his pipe, and:
"If you think the evidence of Ah Tsong important, Inspector," he said, "I will interpret if you wish."
"You will do what?"
"I will act as interpreter."
"Do you want me to believe that you speak Chinese?"
"Your beliefs do not concern me, Inspector; I am merely offering my services."
"Thanks," said the Inspector, dryly, "but I won't trouble you. I should like a few words with Mrs. Camber."
Colin Camber bent his head gravely, and gave an order to Ah Tsong, who turned and went out.
"And what firearms have you in the house?" asked Inspector Aylesbury.
"An early Dutch arquebus, which you see in the corner," was the reply.
"That doesn't interest me. I mean up-to-date weapons."
"And a Colt revolver which I have in a drawer here."
As he spoke, Colin Camber opened a drawer in his desk and took out a heavy revolver of the American Army Service pattern.
"I should like to examine it, if you please."
Camber passed it to the Inspector, and the latter, having satisfied himself that none of the chambers were loaded, peered down the barrel, and smelled at the weapon suspiciously.
"If it has been recently used it has been well cleaned," he said, and placed it on a cabinet beside him. "Anything else?"
"No sporting rifles?"
"None. I never shoot."
"Oh, I see."
The door opened and Mrs. Camber came in. She was very simply dressed, and looked even more child-like than she had seemed before. I think Ah Tsong had warned her of the nature of the ordeal which she was to expect, but her wide-eyed timidity was nevertheless pathetic to witness.
She glanced at me with a ghost of a smile, and:
"Ysola," said Colin Camber, inclining his head toward me in a grave gesture of courtesy, "Mr. Knox has generously forgiven me a breach of good manners for which I shall never forgive myself. I beg you to thank him, as I have done."
"It is so good of you," she said, sweetly, and held out her hand. "But I knew you would understand that it was just a great mistake."
"Mr. Paul Harley," Camber continued, "my wife welcomes you; and this, Ysola, is Inspector Aylesbury, who desires a few moments' conversation upon a rather painful matter."
"I have heard, I have heard," she whispered. "Ah Tsong has told me."
The pupils of her eyes dilated, as she fixed an appealing glance upon the Inspector.
In justice to the latter he was palpably abashed by the delicate beauty of the girl who stood before him, by her naivete, and by that childishness of appearance and manner which must have awakened the latent chivalry in almost any man's heart.
"I am sorry to have to trouble you with this disagreeable business, Mrs. Camber," he began; "but I believe you were awakened last night by the sound of a shot."
"Yes," she replied, watching him intently, "that is so."
"May I ask at what time this was heard?"
"Ah Tsong told me it was after twelve o'clock."
"Was the sound a loud one?"
"Yes. It must have been to have awakened me."
"I see. Did you think it was in the house?"
"In the garden?"
"I really could not say, but I think that it was farther away than that."
"And what did you do?"
"I rang the bell for Ah Tsong."
"Did he come immediately?"
"He was dressed, then?"
"No, I don't think he was. He had quickly put on an overcoat. He usually answers at once, when I ring for him, you see."
"I see. What did you do then?"
"Well, I was frightened, you understand, and I told him to find out if all was well with my husband. He came back and told me that Colin was writing. But the sound had alarmed me very much."
"Oh, and now perhaps you will tell me, Mrs. Camber, when and where your husband first met Colonel Menendez?"
Every vestige of colour fled from the girl's face.
"So far as I know—they never met," she replied, haltingly.
"Could you swear to that?"
I think that hitherto she had not fully realized the nature of the situation; but now something in the Inspector's voice, or perhaps in our glances, told her the truth. She moved to where Colin Camber was sitting, looking down at him questioningly, pitifully. He put his arm about her and drew her close.
Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat and returned his note-book to his pocket.
"I am going to take a look around the garden," he announced.
My respect for him increased slightly, and Harley and I followed him out of the study. A police sergeant was sitting in the hall, and Ah Tsong was standing just outside the door.
"Show me the way to the garden," directed the Inspector.
Ah Tsong stared stupidly, whereupon Paul Harley addressed him in his native language, rapidly and in a low voice, in order, as I divined, that the Inspector should not hear him.
"I feel dreadfully guilty, Knox," he confessed, in a murmured aside. "For any Englishman, fictitious characters excepted, to possess a knowledge of Chinese is almost indecent."
Presently, then, I found myself once more in that unkempt garden of which I retained such unpleasant memories.
Inspector Aylesbury stared all about and up at the back of the house, humming to himself and generally behaving as though he were alone. Before the little summer study he stood still, and:
"Oh, I see," he muttered.
What he had seen was painfully evident. The right-hand window, beneath which there was a permanent wooden seat, commanded an unobstructed view of the Tudor garden in the grounds of Cray's Folly. Clearly I could detect the speck of high-light upon the top of the sun-dial.
The Inspector stepped into the hut. It contained a bookshelf upon which a number of books remained, a table and a chair, with some few other dilapidated appointments. I glanced at Harley and saw that he was staring as if hypnotized at the prospect in the valley below. I observed a constable on duty at the top of the steps which led down into the Tudor garden, but I could see nothing to account for Harley's fixed regard, until:
"Pardon me one moment, Inspector," he muttered, brusquely.
Brushing past the indignant Aylesbury, who was examining the contents of the shelves in the hut, he knelt upon the wooden seat and stared intently through the open window.
"One-two-three-four-five-six-seven," he chanted. "Good! That will settle it."
"Oh, I see," said Inspector Aylesbury, standing strictly upright, his prominent eyes turned in the direction of the kneeling Harley. "One, two, three, four, and so on will settle it, eh? If you don't mind me saying so, it was settled already."
"Yes?" replied Harley, standing up, and I saw that his eyes were very bright and that his face was slightly flushed. "You think the case is so simple as that?"
"Simple?" exclaimed the Inspector. "It's the most cunning thing that was ever planned, but I flatter myself that I have a good straight eye which can see a fairly long way."
"Excellent," murmured Harley. "I congratulate you. Myopia is so common in the present generation. You have decided, of course, that the murder was committed by Ah Tsong?"
Inspector Aylesbury's eyes seemed to protrude extraordinarily.
"Ah Tsong!" he exclaimed. "Ah Tsong!"
"Surely it is palpable," continued Harley, "that of the three people residing in the Guest House, Ah Tsong is the only one who could possibly have done the deed."
"Who could possibly—who could possibly——" stuttered the Inspector, then paused because of sheer lack of words.
"Review the evidence," continued Harley, coolly. "Mrs. Camber was awakened by the sound of a shot. She immediately rang for Ah Tsong. There was a short interval before Ah Tsong appeared—and when he did appear he was wearing an overcoat. Note this point, Inspector: wearing an overcoat. He descended to the study and found Mr. Camber writing. Now, Ah Tsong sleeps in a room adjoining the kitchen on the ground floor. We passed his quarters on our way to the garden a moment ago. Of course, you had noted this? Mr. Camber is therefore eliminated from our list of suspects."
The Inspector was growing very red, but ere he had time to speak Harley continued:
"The first of these three persons to have heard a shot fired at the end of the garden would have been Ah Tsong, and not Mrs. Camber, whose room is upstairs and in the front of the house. If it had been fired by Mr. Camber from the spot upon which we now stand, he would still have been in the garden at the moment when Mrs. Camber was ringing the bell for Ah Tsong. Mr. Camber must therefore have returned from the end of the garden to the study, and have passed Ah Tsong's room—unheard by the occupant—between the time that the bell rang and the time that Ah Tsong went upstairs. This I submit to be impossible. There is an alternative: it is that he slipped in whilst Ah Tsong, standing on the landing above, was receiving his mistress's orders. I submit that the alternative is also impossible. We thus eliminate Mr. Camber from the case, as I have already mentioned."
"Eliminate—eliminate!" cried the Inspector, beginning to recover power of speech. "Do you think you can fuddle me with a mass of words, Mr. Harley? Allow me to point out to you, sir, that you are in no way officially associated with this matter."
"You have already drawn my attention to the fact, Inspector, but it can do no harm to jog my memory."
Harley spoke entirely without bitterness, and I, who knew his every mood, realized that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Therefore I knew that at last he had found a clue.
"I may add, Inspector," said he, "that upon further reflection I have also eliminated Ah Tsong from the case. I forgot to mention that he lacks the first and second fingers of his right hand; and I have yet to meet the marksman who can shoot a man squarely between the eyes, by moonlight, at a hundred yards, employing his third finger as trigger- finger. There are other points, but these will be sufficient to show you that this case is more complicated than you had assumed it to be."
Inspector Aylesbury did not deign to reply, or could not trust himself to do so. He turned and made his way back to the house.
AN OFFICIAL MOVE
We reentered the study to find Mrs. Camber sitting in a chair very close to her husband. Inspector Aylesbury stood in the open doorway for a moment, and then, stepping back into the hall:
"Sergeant Butler," he said, addressing the man who waited there.
"Go out to the gate and get Edson to relieve you. I shall want you to go back to headquarters in a few minutes."
"Very good, sir."
I scented what was coming, and as Inspector Aylesbury reentered the room:
"I should like to make a statement," announced Paul Harley, quietly.
The Inspector frowned, and lowering his chin, regarded him with little favour.
"I have not invited any statement from you, Mr. Harley," said he.
"Quite," returned Harley. "I am volunteering it. It is this: I gather that you are about to take an important step officially. Having in view certain steps which I, also, am about to take, I would ask you to defer action, purely in your own interests, for at least twenty-four hours."
"I hear you," said the Inspector, sarcastically.
"Very well, Inspector. You have come newly into this case, and I assure you that its apparent simplicity is illusive. As new facts come into your possession you will realize that what I say is perfectly true, and if you act now you will be acting hastily. All that I have learned I am prepared to place at your disposal. But I predict that the interference of Scotland Yard will be necessary before this enquiry is concluded. Therefore I suggest, since you have rejected my cooperation, that you obtain that of Detective Inspector Wessex, of the Criminal Investigation Department. In short, this is no one-man job. You will do yourself harm by jumping to conclusions, and cause unnecessary trouble to perfectly innocent people."
"Is your statement concluded?" asked the Inspector.
"For the moment I have nothing to add."
"Oh, I see. Very good. Then we can now get to business. Always with your permission, Mr. Harley."
He took his stand before the fireplace, very erect, and invested with his most official manner. Mrs. Camber watched him in a way that was pathetic. Camber seemed to be quite composed, although his face was unusually pale.
"Now, Mr. Camber," said the Inspector, "I find your answers to the questions which I have put to you very unsatisfactory."
"I am sorry," said Colin Camber, quietly.
"One moment, Inspector," interrupted Paul Harley, "you have not warned Mr. Camber."
Thereupon the long-repressed wrath of Inspector Aylesbury burst forth.
"Then I will warn you, sir!" he shouted. "One more word and you leave this house."
"Yet I am going to venture on one more word," continued Harley, unperturbed. He turned to Colin Camber. "I happen to be a member of the Bar, Mr. Camber," he said, "although I rarely accept a brief. Have I your authority to act for you?"
"I am grateful, Mr. Harley, and I leave this unpleasant affair in your hands with every confidence."
Camber stood up, bowing formally.
The expression upon the inflamed face of Inspector Aylesbury was really indescribable, and recognizing his mental limitations, I was almost tempted to feel sorry for him. However, he did not lack self- confidence, and:
"I suppose you have scored, Mr. Harley," he said, a certain hoarseness perceptible in his voice, "but I know my duty and I am not afraid to perform it. Now, Mr. Camber, did you, or did you not, at about twelve o'clock last night——"
"Warn the accused," murmured Harley.
Inspector Aylesbury uttered a choking sound, but:
"I have to warn you," he said, "that your answers may be used as evidence. I will repeat: Did you, or did you not, at about twelve o'clock last night, shoot, with intent to murder, Colonel Juan Menendez?"
Ysola Camber leapt up, clutching at her husband's arm as if to hold him back.
"I did not," he replied, quietly.
"Nevertheless," continued the Inspector, looking aggressively at Paul Harley whilst he spoke, "I am going to detain you pending further enquiries."
Colin Camber inclined his head.
"Very well," he said; "you only do your duty."
The little fingers clutching his sleeve slowly relaxed, and Mrs. Camber, uttering a long sigh, sank in a swoon at his feet.
"Ysola! Ysola!" he muttered. Stooping he raised the child-like figure. "If you will kindly open the door, Mr. Knox," he said, "I will carry my wife to her room."
I sprang to the door and held it widely open.
Colin Camber, deadly pale, but holding his head very erect, walked in the direction of the hallway with his pathetic burden. Mis-reading the purpose written upon the stern white face, Inspector Aylesbury stepped forward.
"Let someone else attend to Mrs. Camber," he cried, sharply. "I wish you to remain here."
His detaining hand was already upon Camber's shoulder when Harley's arm shot out like a barrier across the Inspector's chest, and Colin Camber proceeded on his way. Momentarily, he glanced aside, and I saw that his eyes were unnaturally bright.
"Thank you, Mr. Harley," he said, and carried his wife from the room.
Harley dropped his arm, and crossing, stood staring out of the window. Inspector Aylesbury ran heavily to the door.
"Sergeant!" he called, "Sergeant! keep that man in sight. He must return here immediately."
I heard the sound of heavy footsteps following Camber's up the stairs, then Inspector Aylesbury turned, a bulky figure in the open doorway, and:
"Now, Mr. Harley," said he, entering and reclosing the door, "you are a barrister, I understand. Very well, then, I suppose you are aware that you have resisted and obstructed an officer of the law in the execution of his duty."
Paul Harley spun round upon his heel.
"Is that a charge," he inquired, "or merely a warning?"
The two glared at one another for a moment, then:
"From now onward," continued the Inspector, "I am going to have no more trouble with you, Mr. Harley. In the first place, I'll have you looked up in the Law List; in the second place, I shall ask you to stick to your proper duties, and leave me to look after mine."
"I have endeavoured from the outset," replied Harley, his good humour quite restored, "to assist you in every way in my power. You have declined all my offers, and finally, upon the most flimsy evidence, you have detained a perfectly innocent man."
"Oh, I see. A perfectly innocent man, eh?"
"Perfectly innocent, Inspector. There are so many points that you have overlooked. For instance, do you seriously suppose that Mr. Camber had been waiting up here night after night on the off-chance that Colonel Menendez would appear in the grounds of Cray's Folly?"
"No, I don't. I have got that worked out."
"Indeed? You interest me."
"Mr. Camber has an accomplice at Cray's Folly."
"What?" exclaimed Harley, and into his keen grey eyes crept a look of real interest.
"He has an accomplice," repeated the Inspector. "A certain witness was strangely reluctant to mention Mr. Camber's name. It was only after very keen examination that I got it at last. Now, Colonel Menendez had not retired last night, neither had a certain other party. That other party, sir, knows why Colonel Menendez was wandering about the garden at midnight."
At first, I think, this astonishing innuendo did not fully penetrate to my mind, but when it did so, it seemed to galvanize me. Springing up from the chair in which I had been seated:
"You preposterous fool!" I exclaimed, hotly.
It was the last straw. Inspector Aylesbury strode to the door and throwing it open once more, turned to me:
"Be good enough to leave the house, Mr. Knox," he said. "I am about to have it officially searched, and I will have no strangers present."
I think I could have strangled him with pleasure, but even in my rage I was not foolhardy enough to lay myself open to that of which the Inspector was quite capable at this moment.
Without another word I walked out of the study, took my hat and stick, and opening the front door, quitted the Guest House, from which I had thus a second time been dismissed ignominiously.
Appreciation of this fact, which came to me as I stepped into the porch, awakened my sense of humour—a gift truly divine which has saved many a man from desperation or worse. I felt like a schoolboy who had been turned out of a class-room, and I was glad that I could laugh at myself.
A constable was standing in the porch, and he looked at me suspiciously. No doubt he perceived something very sardonic in my merriment.
I walked out of the gate, before which a car was standing, and as I paused to light a cigarette I heard the door of the Guest House open and close. I glanced back, and there was Paul Harley coming to join me.
"Now, Knox," he said, briskly, "we have got our hands full."
"My dear Harley, I am both angry and bewildered. Too angry and too bewildered to think clearly."
"I can quite understand it. I should become homicidal if I were forced to submit for long to the company of Inspector Aylesbury. Of course, I had anticipated the arrest of Colin Camber, and I fear there is worse to come."
"What do you mean, Harley?"
"I mean that failing the apprehension of the real murderer, I cannot see, at the moment, upon what the case for the defence is to rest."
"But surely you demonstrated out there in the garden that he could not possibly have fired the shot?"
"Words, Knox, words. I could pick a dozen loopholes in my own argument. I had only hoped to defer the inevitable. I tell you, there is worse to come. Two things we must do at once."
"What are they?"
"We must persuade the man on duty to allow us to examine the Tudor garden, and we must see the Chief Constable, whoever he may be, and prevail upon him to requisition the assistance of Scotland Yard. With Wessex in charge of the case I might have a chance. Whilst this disastrous man Aylesbury holds the keys there is none."
"You heard what he said about Miss Beverley?"
We were now walking rapidly along the high road, and Harley nodded.
"I did," he said. "I had expected it. He was inspired with this brilliant idea last night, and his ideas are too few to be lightly scrapped. If the Chief Constable is anything like the Inspector, what we are going to do heaven only knows."
"I take it, Harley, that you are convinced of Colin Camber's innocence?"
Harley did not answer for a moment, whereupon I glanced at him anxiously, then:
"Colin Camber," he replied, "is of so peculiar a type that I could not presume to say of what he is capable or is not capable. The most significant point in his favour is this: He is a man of unusual intellect. The planning of this cunning crime to such a man would have been child's play—child's play, Knox. But is it possible to believe that his genius would have failed him upon the most essential detail of all, namely, an alibi?"
"It is not."
"Of course it is not. Which, continuing to regard Camber as an assassin, reduces us to the theory that the crime was committed in a moment of passion. This I maintain to be also impossible. It was no deed of impulse."
"I agree with you."
"Now, I believe that the enquiry is going to turn upon a very delicate point. If I am wrong in this, then perhaps I am wrong in my whole conception of the case. But have you considered the mass of evidence against Colin Camber?"
"I have, Harley," I replied, sadly, "I have."
"Think of all that we know, and which the Inspector does not know. Every single datum points in the same direction. No prosecution could ask for a more perfect case. Upon this fact I pin my hopes. Where an Aylesbury rushes in I fear to tread. The analogy with an angel was accidental, Knox!" he added, smilingly. "In other words, it is all too obvious. Yet I have failed once, Knox, failed disastrously, and it may be that in my anxiety to justify myself I am seeking for subtlety where no subtlety exists."
There were strangers about Cray's Folly and a sort of furtive activity, horribly suggestive. We had not pursued the circular route by the high road which would have brought us to the lodge, but had turned aside where the swing-gate opened upon a footpath into the meadows. It was the path which I had pursued upon the day of my visit to the Lavender Arms. A second private gate here gave access to the grounds at a point directly opposite the lake; and as we crossed the valley, making for the terraced lawns, I saw unfamiliar figures upon the veranda, and knew that the cumbersome processes of the law were already in motion.
I was longing to speak to Val Beverley and to learn what had taken place during her interview with Inspector Aylesbury, but Harley led the way toward the tower wing, and by a tortuous path through the rhododendrons we finally came out on the northeast front and in sight of the Tudor garden.
Harley crossed to the entrance, and was about to descend the steps, when the constable on duty there held out his arm.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I have orders to admit no one to this part of the garden."
"Oh," said Harley, pulling up short, "but I am acting in this case. My name is Paul Harley."
"Sorry, sir," replied the constable, "but you will have to see Inspector Aylesbury."
My friend uttered an impatient exclamation, but, turning aside:
"Very well, constable," he muttered; "I suppose I must submit. Our friend, Aylesbury," he added to me, as we walked away, "would appear to be a martinet as well as a walrus. At every step, Knox, he proves himself a tragic nuisance. This means waste of priceless time."
"What had you hoped to do, Harley?"
"Prove my theory," he returned; "but since every moment is precious, I must move in another direction."
He hurried on through the opening in the box hedge and into the courtyard. Manoel had just opened the doors to a sepulchral-looking person who proved to be the coroner's officer, and:
"Manoel!" cried Harley, "tell Carter to bring a car round at once."
"I haven't time to fetch my own," he explained.
"Where are you off to?"
"I am off to see the Chief Constable, Knox. Aylesbury must be superseded at whatever cost. If the Chief Constable fails I shall not hesitate to go higher. I will get along to the garage. I don't expect to be more than an hour. Meanwhile, do your best to act as a buffer between Aylesbury and the women. You understand me?"
"Quite," I returned, shortly. "But the task may prove no light one, Harley."
"It won't," he assured me, smiling grimly. "How you must regret, Knox, that we didn't go fishing!"
With that he was off, eager-eyed and alert, the mood of dreamy abstraction dropped like a cloak discarded. He fully realized, as I did, that his unique reputation was at stake. I wondered, as I had wondered at the Guest House, whether, in undertaking to clear Colin Camber, he had acted upon sheer conviction, or, embittered by the death of his client, had taken a gambler's chance. It was unlike him to do so. But now beyond reach of that charm of manner which Colin Camber possessed, and discounting the pathetic sweetness of his girl-wife, I realized how black was the evidence against him.
Occupied with these, and even more troubled thoughts, I was making my way toward the library, undetermined how to act, when I saw Val Beverley coming along the corridor which communicated with Madame de Staemer's room.
I read a welcome in her eyes which made my heart beat the faster.
"Oh, Mr. Knox," she cried, "I am so glad you have returned. Tell me all that has happened, for I feel in some way that I am responsible for it."
I nodded gravely.
"You know, then, where Inspector Aylesbury went when he left here, after his interview with you?"
She looked at me pathetically.
"He went to the Guest House, of course."
"Yes," I said; "he was close behind us."
"And"—she hesitated—"Mr. Camber?"
"He has been detained."
"Oh!" she moaned. "I could hate myself! Yet what could I say, what could I do?"
"Just tell me all about it," I urged. "What were the Inspector's questions?"
"Well," explained the girl, "he had evidently learned from someone, presumably one of the servants, that there was enmity between Mr. Camber and Colonel Menendez. He asked me if I knew of this, and of course I had to admit that I did. But when I told him that I had no idea of its cause, he did not seem to believe me."
"No," I murmured. "Any evidence which fails to dove-tail with his preconceived theories he puts down as a lie."
"He seemed to have made up his mind for some reason," she continued, "that I was intimately acquainted with Mr. Camber. Whereas, of course, I have never spoken to him in my life, although whenever he has passed me in the road he has always saluted me with quite delightful courtesy. Oh, Mr. Knox, it is horrible to think of this great misfortune coming to those poor people." She looked at me pleadingly. "How did his wife take it?"
"Poor little girl," I replied, "it was an awful blow."
"I feel that I want to set out this very minute," declared Val Beverley, "and go to her, and try to comfort her. Because I feel in my very soul that her husband is innocent. She is such a sweet little thing. I have wanted to speak to her since the very first time I ever saw her, but on the rare occasions when we have met in the village she has hurried past as though she were afraid of me. Mr. Harley surely knows that her husband is not guilty?"
"I think he does," I replied, "but he may have great difficulty in proving it. And what else did Inspector Aylesbury wish to know?"
"How can I tell you?" she said in a low voice; and biting her lip agitatedly she turned her head aside.
"Perhaps I can guess."
"Can you?" she asked, looking at me quickly. "Well, then, he seemed to attach a ridiculous importance to the fact that I had not retired last night at the time of the tragedy."
"I know," said I, grimly. "Another preconceived idea of his."
"I told him the truth of the matter, which is surely quite simple, and at first I was unable to understand the nature of his suspicions. Then, after a time, his questions enlightened me. He finally suggested, quite openly, that I had not come down from my room to the corridor in which Madame de Staemer was lying, but had actually been there at the time!"
"In the corridor outside her room?"
"Yes. He seemed to think that I had just come in from the door near the end of the east wing and beside the tower, which opens into the shrubbery."
"That you had just come in?" I exclaimed. "He thinks, then, that you had been out in the grounds?"
Val Beverley's face had been very pale, but now she flushed indignantly, and glanced away from me as she replied:
"He dared to suggest that I had been to keep an assignation."
"The fool!" I cried. "The ignorant, impudent fool!"
"Oh," she declared, "I felt quite ill with indignation. I am afraid I may regard Inspector Aylesbury as an enemy from now onward, for when I had recovered from the shock I told him very plainly what I thought about his intellect, or lack of it."
"I am glad you did," I said, warmly. "Before Inspector Aylesbury is through with this business I fancy he will know more about his limitations than he knows at present. The fact of the matter is that he is badly out of his depth, but is not man enough to acknowledge the fact even to himself."
She smiled at me pathetically.
"Whatever should I have done if I had been alone?" she said.
I was tempted to direct the conversation into a purely personal channel, but common sense prevailed, and:
"Is Madame de Staemer awake?" I asked.
"Yes." The girl nodded. "Dr. Rolleston is with her now."
"And does she know?"
"Yes. She sent for me directly she awoke, and asked me."
"And you told her?"
"How could I do otherwise? She was quite composed, wonderfully composed; and the way she heard the news was simply heroic. But here is Dr. Rolleston, coming now."
I glanced along the corridor, and there was the physician approaching briskly.
"Good morning, Mr. Knox," he said.
"Good morning, doctor. I hear that your patient is much improved?"
"Wonderfully so," he answered. "She has enough courage for ten men. She wishes to see you, Mr. Knox, and to hear your account of the tragedy."
"Do you think it would be wise?"
"I think it would be best."
"Do you hold any hope of her permanently recovering the use of her limbs?"
Dr. Rolleston shook his head doubtfully.
"It may have only been temporary," he replied. "These obscure nervous affections are very fickle. It is unsafe to make predictions. But mentally, at least, she is quite restored from the effects of last night's shock. You need apprehend no hysteria or anything of that nature, Mr. Knox."
"Oh, I see," exclaimed a loud voice behind us.
We all three turned, and there was Inspector Aylesbury crossing the hall in our direction.
"Good morning, Dr. Rolleston," he said, deliberately ignoring my presence. "I hear that your patient is quite well again this morning?"
"She is much improved," returned the physician, dryly.
"Then I can get her testimony, which is most important to my case?"
"She is somewhat better. If she cares to see you I do not forbid the interview."
"Oh, that's good of you, doctor." He bowed to Miss Beverley. "Perhaps, Miss, you would ask Madame de Staemer to see me for a few minutes."
Val Beverley looked at me appealingly then shrugged her shoulders, turned aside, and walked in the direction of Madame de Staemer's door.
"Well," said Dr. Rolleston, in his brisk way, shaking me by the hand, "I must be getting along. Good morning, Mr. Knox. Good morning, Inspector Aylesbury."
He walked rapidly out to his waiting car. The presence of Inspector Aylesbury exercised upon Dr. Rolleston a similar effect to that which a red rag has upon a bull. As he took his departure, the Inspector drew out his pocket-book, and, humming gently to himself, began to consult certain entries therein, with a portentous air of reflection which would have been funny if it had not been so irritating.