"Nothing shall make me give that," said Pocket valiantly; "on your account, if not on his!"
Phillida encouraged his new resolution without comment on this last assurance. She had stooped, and was picking up the unbroken negatives and putting them back in the rack; he followed her example, and collected the broken bits, while she put the rack back in its place, and certain splinters in theirs, until the locker shut without showing much damage. Pocket was left with the fragmentary negatives on his hands.
"I should throw those away," said Phillida. "And now, by the time you're ready to go, I'll have a cup of tea ready for you."
They faced each other in the rosy light, now doubly diluted by the open door, and Pocket did not move. He wanted to say something first, and he was too shy to say it. Shyness had come upon him all at once; hitherto they had both been like young castaways, finely regardless of appearances, he of his bare feet and throat, she of her dressing-gown and her bedroom slippers. She was unconscious or careless still, as with a brother; but he had become the very embodiment of mauvaise honte, an awful example of the awkward age; and it was all the fault of what he suddenly felt he simply must say.
"But—but I don't want to leave you!" he blurted out at last.
"But I want you to," she returned promptly and firmly, though not without a faint smile.
It was leaving her with a villain that he minded; but he could not get that out, except thus bluntly, nor could he denounce the doctor now as he had done when his blood was up. Besides, the man was a different man to his niece; all that redeemed him went out to her. Pocket did not think he was peculiar there; in fact, he thought romantically enough about the girl, with her dark hair all over her pink dressing-gown, and ivory insteps peeping out of those soft slippers especially when the vision was lost for ever, and he upstairs making himself as presentable as he could in a few minutes. But it seemed she was busy in the same way, and she took longer over it. He found the breakfast things on the table, the kettle on the gas-stove, but no Phillida to make the tea. He could not help wishing she would be quick; if he was going, the sooner he went the better, but he was terribly divided in his desires. He hated the thought of deserting a comrade, who was also a girl, and such a girl! He could only face it with the fixed intention of coming back to the rescue of his heroine, he the hero of their joint romance. But for his own immediate freedom he was already unheroically eager. And yet he could deliberately fit the broken negatives together, on the white tablecloth, partly to pass the time, partly out of a boyish bravado which involved little real risk; for the doctor had not yet been gone an hour; and a loaded revolver is a loaded revolver, be it brandished by man or boy.
The piecing of the plates was like a children's puzzle, only easier, because the pieces were not many. One of the reconstructed negatives was of painful interest; it reminded Pocket of the fatal one smashed to atoms by Baumgartner in the pink porcelain trough. There were trees again, only leafless, and larger, and there was a larger figure sprawling on a bench. Pocket felt he must have a print of this; he remembered having seen printing-frames and tubes of sensitised paper in the other room; and hardly had he filled his frame and placed it in position, than Phillida ran down stairs, and he told her what he had done.
"I wish you hadn't," she said nervously, as she made mechanical preparations with pot and kettle. "It would only make matters worse if my uncle came in now."
"But he wasn't back on Friday before ten or eleven."
"You never know!"
Pocket spoke out with a truculence which his brothers had inherited, but not he, valiantly as he might try to follow a family example.
"I don't care! I can't help it if he does come. I'll tell him exactly what I've done, and why, and exactly what I'm going to do next. I give him leave to stop me if he can."
"I'm afraid he won't wait for that. But I wish you had waited for his leave before printing his negative."
Pocket jumped up from table, and ran to the printing-frame in the sunny room at the back. He had been reminded of it only just in time. It was a rather dark print that he first examined, one half at a time, and then extracted from the frame. It was meshed with white veils, showing the joins of the broken plate. But it had been an excellent negative originally. And it was still good enough to hold Pocket rooted to the carpet in the sunny room, until Phillida came in after him, and stood looking over his shoulder.
"I know that place!" said she at once. "It's Holland Walk, in Kensington."
He turned to her quickly.
"The place where there was a suicide or something not long ago?"
"The very place!" exclaimed the girl, looking up from the darkening print.
"I remember my uncle would take me to see it next day. He's always so interested in mysteries. I'm sure that's the very spot he showed me as the one where it must have happened."
"Did he take the photograph then?"
"No; he hadn't his camera with him."
"Then this is the suicide, or whatever it was!" cried Pocket, in uncontrollable excitement. "It's not only the place; it's the thing itself. Look at that man on the bench!"
The girl took a long look nearer the window.
"How horrible!" she shuddered. "His head looks as though it were falling off! He might be dying."
"Dying or dead," said Pocket, "at the very second the plate was exposed!"
She looked at him in blank horror. His own horror was no less apparent, but it was more understanding. He had Baumgartner's own confession of his attempts to secure admission to hospital death-beds, even to executions; he expounded Baumgartner on the whole subject, briefly, clumsily, inaccurately enough, and yet with a certain graphic power which brought those incredible theories home to his companion as forcibly as Baumgartner himself had brought them home to Pocket. It was the first she had ever heard of them. But then he had never discussed his photography with her, never showed her plate or print. That it was not merely a hobby, that he was an inventor, a pioneer, she had always felt, without dreaming in what direction or to what extent. Even now she seemed unable to grasp the full significance of the print from the broken negative; and when she would have examined it afresh, there was nothing to see; the June sunshine had done its work, and blotted out the repulsive picture even as she held it in her hands.
"Then what do you think?" she asked at last; her voice was thin and strained with formless terrors.
"I think that Dr. Baumgartner has the strangest power of any human being I ever heard of; he can make you do anything he likes, whether you like it yourself or not. The newspapers have been raking up this case in connection with—mine—and I see that one theory was that the man in this broken negative committed suicide. Well, if he did, I firmly believe that Dr. Baumgartner was there and willed him to do it!"
"He must have been there if he took the photograph."
"Is there another man alive who tries these things? I've told you all he told me about it, but I haven't told you all he said about the value of human life."
"Nor need you! He makes no secret of his opinion about that!"
"Then put the two things together, and where do they lead you? To these murders committed with the mad idea of taking the spirit in its flight from the flesh; that's his own way of putting it, not mine."
"But I thought your case was an accident pure and simple?"
"On my part, certainly; but how do I know he couldn't get more power over me in my sleep than at any other time? He saw me walking in my sleep with this wretched revolver. He said himself I'd given him the chance of a lifetime. You may be sure he meant before that poor man's death, not after it."
"It isn't possible," declared Phillida, as though she had laid hold of one solid certainty in a sea of floating hypotheses. "And I know he hasn't a pistol of his own," she added, lest he should simplify his charge.
But there they were agreed.
"He hadn't one on him that morning; that I can swear," said Pocket, impartially disposing of the idea. "Mine was the only one in that cape of his, because I once jolly nearly had it out again when he came back into the room. There was nothing of the sort in his other coat, or anywhere else about him, or I couldn't have helped seeing it." Phillida accepted this statement only too thankfully. She beamed on the boy, as if in recognition of a piece of downright magnanimity towards an enemy whom she could now understand his regarding in that light. If only he would go before the enemy returned! If her uncle had such a power over him as he himself seemed to feel, then that was all the more reason for him to go quickly. But Pocket was not the man to get up and run like that. Perhaps he enjoyed displaying his bravery on the point, and keeping his companion on tenter-hooks on his account; at any rate he insisted on finishing his breakfast, and gave further free expression to the wildest surmises as he did so. And yet he was even then on the brink of a discovery which was some excuse for the wildest of them all, while it demanded a fresh solution of the whole affair.
He had been fingering the recovered weapon in his pocket, almost fondling it, though with mingled feelings, as the Prodigal Son of his small possessions; suddenly it leapt out like a live thing in his hand, and clattered on the table between the girl and boy. It was a wonder neither of them was shot dead in his excitement. His whole face was altered; but so was his whole life. She could not understand his incoherent outburst; she only knew that he was twisting the chambers round and round under her nose, and that there appeared to be live cartridges in all six.
"Don't you see?" the words came pouring. "Not one of them's been fired—it's as I loaded it myself the other night! It can't have been this revolver at all!"
"But you must have known whether you fired or not?"
"I tell you I was walking in my sleep till the row woke me. I'd only heard it once before, in a room. It sounded loud enough for the open air, though I do remember wondering I hadn't felt any kick. But I was so dazed, and there was this beastly thing in my hand; and he took it from me in such a rage that of course I believed I'd let it off. But now I can see I can't have done. It wasn't my revolver and it wasn't me!"
"Yet you say yourself my uncle didn't carry one?"
"I'll swear he didn't; but there's another man in all this! There was the man they arrested on Saturday—the man I was so keen to set free!"
The boy's laugh grated; he was beside himself with righteous joy. What was it to him that his innocence implied another's complicity? Only too characteristically, he saw simply the central fact from his own point of view; but was it such an undoubted fact as he hot-headedly supposed? There was the broken negative to confirm a certain suspicion, but that was not enough for Phillida.
She asked if he had no more cartridges, and he said he had a few loose in his waistcoat pocket; he had thrown away the box. "Then my uncle might have put in a fresh one while you were asleep."
"Why should he?"
"I don't know, but it sounds quite as possible as the other."
"I'll soon tell you if he did!" cried Pocket. "There were fourteen in the box to start with, because I counted them, and we only shot away one at the Knaggses' before we were cobbed. That left thirteen—six in the revolver and seven in my pocket. There are your six, and here's one, two, three, four—and three's seven!"
He swept them over the cloth like crumbs, for her to count them for herself, while he looked on with flaming cheeks and wagging tongue. He was beginning to see what it all meant now, but still only what it meant to him and his. He could look his people in the face again; that was the burden of his loud thanksgiving. He was as sure of his innocence as though the dead man had risen to prove it.
"Very well," said Phillida, briskly; "then it's all the more reason you should go this minute, and catch the very first train home."
And in her sudden anxiety to see him safely off, she was for helping him on with the overcoat he had brought down again with his bag; but he followed her out slowly, and he would not turn his back.
"I can't leave you now," he said; and she knew that he saw it from her side at last.
"Because the whole thing's altered! I'm not going to leave you with a man like that!"
So Pocket, without a moment's thought either for her immediate feelings or the ultimate consequences to himself; and yet with an unconscious air of sacrifice more wounding than his actual words. She would have flung open the door, and ordered him out, but he got his back to it first. So her big eyes blazed at him instead.
"You're very kind!" she cried. "But suppose I don't believe a word you say against my uncle behind his back?"
"I shall wait and say it to his face. That's another reason for waiting."
"Do you think you're the person to judge him—a boy like you?"
"I don't say I am. I only say that print——"
"How do you know he took the negative?"
"I don't, but——"
"But you jump to conclusions like a baby!" cried the girl, too quick for him in following up a confusing advantage. "I never heard anybody like you for flying from one wild notion to another; first you say he must have made you fire, though you own you were walking in your sleep with a loaded revolver, and then you're sure you never fired at all, simply because you find the revolver fully loaded after days and days! Then you find a photograph that needn't necessarily be what we thought it, that my uncle needn't have taken even if it was; but you jump to another conclusion about him, and you dare to speak of him to me as though you knew every horrid thing you chose to think! As if you knew him and I didn't! As if he hasn't been kind and good to me for years and years—and kind to you—far too kind——"
The strained voice broke, tears were running down her face, and in it and them there was more sincerity. Grief, and not anger, was the well of those bitter tears. And it was in simple supplication, not imperiously any more, that she pointed to the door when speech failed her. The boy's answer was to go close up to her instead. "Will you come with me?" he asked hoarsely.
She shook her head; she was past surprise as well as indignation; she could only shake her head.
"My people would be as good to you as ever he was," urged Pocket extravagantly. "They'd understand, and you'd stay with us, Phillida! You might live with us altogether!"
She smiled very faintly at that.
"Oh, Phillida, can't you see that they'd do anything for you after all we've been through together? And I, oh! there's nothing I wouldn't do if only you'd come with me now this minute! I know there's a train about ten, and I know where we could borrow the money on the way. Come, Phillida, get on your things and come away from all this horror!"
He had gone on, even into details, encouraged by the tolerance or apathy which had allowed him to go on at all. He took it for indecision; but, whatever it was, she shook it off and declared once for all that she would never leave Dr. Baumgartner, even if everything was true about him, and he as mad as that would make him out.
"But he is!" cried Pocket, with most eager conviction. "That's the only possible explanation, and you'd believe it fast enough if you'd heard all he said to me that first night, and been with me in the dark-room when he developed his negative of the man he said I shot! You'd see how it all fits in, and how this other negative this morning simply shows he was at the bottom of that other affair as well! Of course he's mad; but that's the very reason why I can't go and leave you with him."
"He would be as he's always been to me."
"I believe he would," said honest Pocket.
"Then why don't you go away and leave us?"
"Because I can't."
"Because you won't!"
"Very well, because I won't and never will! But, mind you, it'll be your fault if anything happens to either of us after this!"
He only meant it as a last argument, though he did resent her fatal obstinacy, and all the obligations which it imposed upon himself. He stood chained in fetters of her forging, as it were to the stake, but he was prepared to stand there like a man, and he did not deserve the things she said to him in a fresh paroxysm of unreasonable wrath. He might be a baby, but he was not a complete coward, or simply trying to make her miserable, as she declared; neither, on this occasion, was he thinking only of himself. But Phillida seemed suddenly to realise that, for she broke off with a despairing little cry, and ran sobbing up the stairs.
A THIRD CASE
In days to come, when the boy had schooled himself not to speak of these days, nor to let his mind dwell on their mystery and terror, it was as a day of dark hours and vivid moments that he remembered the one which Phillida and he began alone together in her uncle's house. Those endless hours were either mercifully forgotten or else contracted to an endurable minimum; but the unforgettable moments would light themselves up in his memory without a detail missing.
There was their first encounter at the dark-room door, and Phillida standing all but barefoot in the ruby light, with her glorious hair about her shoulders, a picture that could never fade. Then there was the moment of the incriminating print, which the sun wiped out even as Phillida stood with it in her hands. That moment merged itself in the greater one of his discovery that the revolver was fully loaded, his inspiration that neither it nor he had done the fatal mischief in the Park. Then she was begging him to go (she who would keep him the time before!) and he entreating her to come with him, and neither giving way an inch, so that they quarrelled just when they should have stuck together, and she ran away in tears, and he stayed below in a glow of anger which dissolved his fears like snow in May.
That was the beginning of a black hour and more. Phillida was never to be forgiven, then; he was staying there at his peril, staying absolutely on her account, and so far from giving him the slightest credit for it, or a single word of encouragement, she said all sorts of things and was off before he could answer one of them. It was not for Pocket to see the many ironies of that moment, and not for him to recognise the tonic property of his heroic grievance. He could only see himself at the foot of those stairs, first gnashing his teeth and not sorry he had made her cry, then sitting down with his eye on the front door, revolver in hand, to await the click of the doctor's key. Another click was to answer it; and at the point of the cocked revolver Baumgartner was to have made a clean breast of his crimes, not only to the giant-killer at the foot of the stairs but to the girl he meant to call to witness with her own ears.
Pocket saw himself a desperate character just then, and one not incapable of desperate action had the climax only come at once. But he had more than an hour of it alone at his post; he had a whole hot forenoon of unmitigated suspense, of sickening alarms from tradesmen's carts, boys whistling past the house as though they were not in a wicked world at all, and then a piano-organ that redoubled his watchfulness, and spoilt some tunes for him for ever. Once he did hear shambling feet on the very steps outside. Once was quite enough, though it was but an advertisement for cast-off clothing (and false teeth) that came fluttering through the letter-box. Pocket was left in such a state that he would not have backed himself to hit the door from the stairs; and he put the chain on it, thinking to interview the doctor over that, in the manner of old Miss Harbottle.
So it happened that the first significant sound was entirely lost upon him, because he was listening for one so much nearer at hand, until Phillida ran downstairs and almost over him where he sat.
He got up to make way stiffly, but a glance assured him that the quarrel was over on her side. The great eyes were fixed appealingly upon him, but with a distressing look which he had done nothing to provoke. Not before then was he aware of another duet between newsboys coming nearer and nearer, and shouting each other down as they came.
"You hear that?" she whispered, as if not to drown a note.
"I do now."
"Do you hear what it is?"
Pocket listened, and caught a word he was not likely to miss.
"Something fresh about the murder," said he grimly.
"No; it's another one," she shuddered. "Can't you hear? 'Another awful murder!' Now they're saying something else."
"It is something about the Park." Pocket stuck to his idea.
"And something else about some 'well-known'—I can't hear what!"
"No more can I."
"I'll open the door."
She opened it on the chain as he had left it. That did not help them. The shouting had passed the end of their quiet road. It was dying away again in the distance.
"I must go out and get one," said Phillida. "Some well-known man!"
"You're not thinking of the doctor, surely?"
"I don't know! I can't think where he is."
"But you're worse than I am, if you jump to that!" said Pocket, smiling to reassure her. He did not smile when she had run out as she was; he had shut the door after her, and he was waiting to open it in a fever of impatience.
Dr. Baumgartner had left the house before six o'clock in the morning; now it was after twelve. If some tragedy had overtaken him in his turn, then there was an end to every terror, and for him a better end than he might meet with if he lived. The boy remembered Him who desireth not the death of a sinner, and was ashamed of his own thought; but that did not alter it. Unless his fears and his surmises were all equally unfounded, better for everybody, and best of all for Phillida, if this criminal maniac came to his end without public exposure of his crimes. Pocket may have misconceived his own attitude of mind, as his elders and betters do daily; he may have been thinking of his own skin more than he knew, or wanted to know. In that case he had his reward, for the murdered man was not Dr. Baumgartner. Phillida's first words on returning were to that effect; and yet she trembled as though they were not the truth.
"Who was it, then?" the schoolboy asked suspiciously.
"Sir Joseph Schelmerdine."
"So he was the well-known man!"
He was well known even to the boy by name, but that was all. He had seen it in newspapers, and he thought he had heard it execrated by Baumgartner himself in one of his little digs at England. Pocket was not sure about this, but he mentioned his impression, and Phillida nodded with swimming eyes.
"Did the doctor know him?"
"Not personally; but he thought him a European danger."
"I can't tell you. It was something to do with politics and gold-mines, and some financial paper. I never understood."
"May I see the paper you've brought in?"
The girl held it tight in her hand, and tighter still as he held out his.
"I'd rather you didn't," she said.
"Then there's something you haven't told me."
"I shall know it sooner or later."
"I know you will, and I know what you'll think! You may think what you like, and still be wrong!"
There was a pause between the sentences, and in the pause the boy found the paper at his feet. There was no need to open it at the place; it was so folded already, the news standing out in its leaded type, and more of it in the late corner. Sir Joseph Schelmerdine, Bart., M.P., the well-known proprietor of the Money-maker, had been shot dead in front of his house in Park Lane. The murder had been committed in the early hours of the morning, before anybody was about except Sir Joseph and his groom, and the person whom the groom described as the only possible murderer. The man had just seen his master mounted for the early morning ride, and had left him in conversation with a photographer representing himself as concerned with the press, and desirous of obtaining an equestrian photograph for his paper. The groom thought it was to be taken in the Park, and was himself on his way back to the mews when the riderless horse overtook him. Mounting the animal, he had galloped round to find Sir Joseph dead in the road, and no trace of the "photographer" but a false beard and spectacles which he had evidently discarded in his flight, and which unfortunately precluded a close description of his appearance. But a hue and cry had been started, and it was believed that the criminal was still in hiding in the immediate neighbourhood, which was being subjected to a thorough search under the direction of responsible officers from Scotland Yard.
Such was the news which the young girl had shrunk from showing to her companion. She had left him, indeed, to read it by himself. And the next thing he remembered was finding her quite insensible in the big chair in the back room.
The afternoon was a blank broken by no more moments such as these. It was a period of dull misery and gnawing dread; but the pair saw each other through it, they were not divided any more. Now they listened for his step no longer, but for more newsboys crying his capture to the world. And in the hours that they spent thus listening, and listening, the girl had much to say, that it did her good to say, about this Dr. Baumgartner as she had known and almost loved him in the past.
Lovable, however, he had never been, though more than good and kind to her for all that. He had never taken her into his life, or entered into hers, in the many years they had been more or less together. All she really knew of him was from her mother, whose elder sister he had married soon after the Franco-Prussian War, and lost soon after marriage. He must have been settled in England many years before Phillida's mother, herself an Englishman's widow, came to keep house for him. The girl could not remember her father, but her mother had lived to see her in her teens, and in her lifetime Dr. Baumgartner had seemed much as other men. It was only of late years that he had withdrawn from a world in which he was justly honoured, and buried himself ever deeper in his books and his photographic experiments. His niece had never known anything of these; he had told her nothing, and she had always gone in awe of him. But he had sent her to school, he was going to send her to college, he had only just given her six months in Switzerland. It was during those months that all his eccentricities had become pronounced; that he had given up servants, and taken to doing half the work of the house himself, with the casual aid of charwomen, and saving the other half by having the meals in from a restaurant. Phillida had no influence with him in these or any other matters. She only blamed herself for not having realised the change in him and done more to save him from himself. He had done so much for her, whatever madness might have overtaken him in the end; her own kinsfolk so much less, for all their opulent integrity. Nothing could make her forget what he had done. She never could or would desert him; it was no use asking her again; but she took her callow champion's hand, and wrung it with her final answer, which was unaccompanied by further prayers for his departure.
And Pocket could understand her now, though it was no consecutive tale that he heard, but a very chaos of excuses and extenuations, regrets, suppositions, and not always revelant recollections, of which he had to make what he could in his own mind. What he made was a narrative so natural that he could not believe it was the life-story of a murderer. His own convictions became preposterous in his own eyes. What had he been thinking about all day? Was that the way a murderer would behave? Was this the way a murderer would live, in these surroundings, with those books about him, with that little billiard-table in the next room? Had those waxen murderers in the garish vault lived ordinary lives as well? Pocket had only thought of them as committing their dreadful deeds, yet now he could only think of Baumgartner as living this ordinary life.
The mood passed, but it would recur as sure as Phillida thought of something else to be said for Dr. Baumgartner; it was the creature of her feeling for him, and of the schoolboy's feeling for her. If he could have convicted himself of the fatal affair in the Park, and so cleared Baumgartner of all blood-guiltiness whatsoever, in that or any other case, he would have done it for Phillida's sake that afternoon. But with every hour of the doctor's absence suspicions multiplied. Phillida herself was a prey to them. She was almost as ready to recall symptoms of incipient insanity as instances of personal kindness; if one lost one's reason, she broke a long silence to contend, there could be no question of regret and wrong. She was not so sure about crime and punishment. Pocket, of course, said there could be no question of that either; but in his heart he wondered how much method they must prove to hang a madman.
The evening meal had been taken in, but that was all. The girl and boy had no thought of sitting down to it; she had made tea not long before; and strong excitement is its own meat and drink. They were sitting silently together in the room at the back. The scented summer dusk was deepening every minute. Suddenly there was a sound of small branches breaking in the garden. Pocket peeped out, standing back from the window at her entreaty.
The laburnum by the wall was shaking violently, pouring its golden rain into both gardens, and the bush beneath it looked alive; a tall figure rose out of it, and came creeping towards the little conservatory, bent double, and brushing the soil from his clothes as he advanced with long and stealthy strides. It was Dr. Baumgartner, in a cap pulled down over his eyes, and the old alpaca jacket. He had a newspaper parcel under his arm.
The boy and girl were in the dark angle between the window and the door; but it was only comparative darkness, and Baumgartner might have seen them; they were clasping hands as they shrank away from him with one accord. But he did not seem to see them at all. He stretched himself, as though he found it a relief to stand upright, and more mould trickled from his garments in the act; he took off the alpaca jacket, and shook it as one shakes a handkerchief. There could have been nothing in the pockets, certainly no weapon, and if he had a hip-pocket there was none in that, for his gaunt figure stood out plainly enough in the middle of the room. There was still the newspaper parcel; he had put it down on one of the walnut-tables. He now removed the paper; it fell at Pocket's feet, a newspaper and nothing more; and nothing had come out of it but the stereoscopic camera, that either watcher could detect.
And he passed through the room without taking the least notice of either of them, whether he saw them or not; and they heard him go upstairs, and shut the door, and then his footsteps overhead.
"I'll go up and tackle him at once," said Pocket, through his set teeth; but Phillida would not hear of it.
"No! I must go first and see if there's nothing I can get him; he mayn't have had anything all day. There's no need for you to come at all—I believe he's forgotten all about us both!"
"Not he!" whispered Pocket, as the door opened overhead. "Here he comes!"
He could not help gripping his revolver as the stairs creaked again under Dr. Baumgartner; he had gripped it more than once already with the hand that was not holding Phillida's. The doctor was coming down in a hurry, as though he had indeed forgotten something. But he passed the open drawing-room door; they saw him pass, jingling a bunch of keys, and never so much as glancing in on the way. It was the dark-room door he opened. Now he would find out everything! They heard a match struck, and saw the faint light turn into a strong deep crimson glow. The door shut. The children stood listening in the dark.
Running water, and the chink of glass; the tapping of a stoppered bottle; the opening of the dark slide; these stages the younger photographer followed as though he were again looking on. Then there was a long period without a sound.
"He's developing now!" whispered Pocket, close to the folding-doors. He caught the sound of laboured breathing on the other side. "There it is—there it is—there it is!" cried the doctor's voice in mingled ecstasy and mad excitement. A deep sigh announced the blackening of the plate at the conclusion of the first process. A tap ran for a moment; interminable minutes ensued. "It's gone! It's gone again!" cried the wild voice, with a sob; "it's gone, gone, gone like all the rest!"
One listener waited for the passionate smashing of the negative as before; but that did not happen again; and then he wondered if it was being put straight into the rack with the others, if the damage to the locker had been discovered at last. He never knew. The door opened. The red glow showed for a moment in the passage, then went out. The door shut behind Baumgartner, and again he passed the drawing-room, a bent figure, without looking in. And the flagging step on the stairs bore no resemblance to the one which had come hurrying down not many minutes before.
"I must go to him!" said Phillida in broken undertones, and her grief communicated itself to the other young sympathetic soul, for all the base fears he had to fight alone. Personal safety, little as she might think of it, was the essence of her position as opposed to his; and he was of the type that thinks of everything. She left him listening breathless in the dark. And in the dark she found him when at length she returned to report the doctor busy writing at his desk; but a pin's head of blue gas glimmered where there had been none before, and a paper which had been trodden underfoot now rustled in Pocket's hand.
"Does he know I'm here?" he asked.
"I don't think so. We never mentioned you. I believe he's forgotten your existence altogether; he began by looking at me as though he'd forgotten mine. He says he wants nothing, except time to write. He seems so strange—so old!"
Again the break in her voice, and again the boyish sympathy in his. "I wonder if something would be any comfort to you?"
"I don't think so. What is it?"
"Something I saw in the paper he brought in with him. I lit the gas while you were upstairs."
Phillida turned it out again without comment.
"Nothing that you saw can make any difference to me," she sighed.
"Do you remember my saying there must be another man in these—mysteries?"
"I think I do. What difference does it make? Besides, the man you meant is in prison."
"You said he was?"
"He was let out early this morning! Let me light the gas while you read it for yourself."
But Phillida had no desire to read it for herself. "I doubt if there's anything in that," she said; "but what if there were? Does it make it any better if a man has an accomplice in his crimes? If he's guilty at all, it makes it all the worse."
THE FOURTH CASE
The boy and girl sat long and late in the open window at the back of the house. The room would have been in darkness but for a flood of moonlight pouring over them. The only light in the house was in the room above, and they only saw its glimmer on the garden when a casual cloud hid the moon; but once Pocket had crept out into the garden to steal a look at the lighted window itself; and what he saw was the shadow of a huge bent head smoking a huge bent pipe, and dense clouds of shadow floating up the wall and over the ceiling.
It seemed hours since they had heard footstep or other sound upstairs or anywhere. There had been a brisk interval—and then an end—of more or less distant hansom-bells and motor-horns. There was no longer even a certain minute intermittent trembling of trifles on the walnut-tables, to which Pocket had become subconsciously accustomed in that house, so that he noticed its absence more than the thing itself. It was as though the whole town was at rest, and the tunnels under the town, and every single soul above or below ground, but those two white faces in the moonlight, and perhaps one other overhead.
Pocket wondered; it was so long since a single sound had come down to their ears. He wanted to steal out and look up again. Phillida was against it; perhaps she was wondering too. Pocket, as usual, saw what he did see so very vividly, in his mind's eye, that he shivered and was asked if he felt cold. The whispered debate that followed was the longest conversation they had that night. The window was not shut as a result of it, but Pocket fetched his overcoat on tiptoe, and it just went over both their shoulders, when the chairs were drawn as near together as they would go.
The ragged little garden was brimming over with moonlight from wall to wall. The unkempt grass looked pale and ghostly, like the skin of some monstrous wolf. The moon rolled high in the sky and clouds flew above and below the moon, varying in pace as well. Yet it was a still night, and Pocket did not think that he had broken the stillness, until the door burst open behind them, and Baumgartner stood there, holding his lamp aloft. The wick was turned too high, the flame ran up the chimney in the draught, and for an instant a demoniac face flared up behind it. Then the chimney cracked, and fell in a tinkling shower, and the doctor was seen whirling a naked tongue of fire about his head. The boy drew back as the lamp flew through the open window, within an inch of his nose, and crashed upon the path outside.
The trio stood without a word in the moonbeams; but the doctor was breathing hard through his teeth, like a man wrestling with himself; and at last he laughed sardonically as though he had won.
"A lamp like that's a dangerous thing," said he, with a kind of forced solemnity and a shake of the head; "you never know what may happen when a lamp does that! I'm glad the window was open; it didn't go very near my young fellow, I hope?"
And he took Pocket playfully by the ear, but pinched it so hard that the boy could have screamed with pain.
"It would have served you right," continued the doctor, before Pocket could find his tongue, "for sitting up so late, and keeping a young lady from her bed to bear you company. Come, Phillida! I shall have another word with you, young fellow."
The two words to the girl were in a different key from all the rest. They were tolerant, conciliatory, tenderly persuasive. The rest was suavely sinister; it made her hesitate; but Pocket had the presence of mind to bid her a cheery good-night, and she went, closely followed by Baumgartner.
Posted once more at the open door, the boy heard Baumgartner on the next flight, soothing and affectionate still, allaying her fears; and his own surged into his throat. He looked wildly about him, and an idea came. He opened the front door wide, and then stole back through the conservatory into the moonlight. He heard Baumgartner coming down before he gained the garden. He tore to the end of it, and cowered in the shadow of the far wall.
The doctor came running into the moonlit room, but not for a minute; it looked as though he had run out first into the road. In the room he lit the gas, and Pocket saw him have a look in all the corners, but hardly the look of a seeker who expects to find. Some long moments he stood out horribly at the open window, gazing straight at the spot where the fugitive crouched a few inches out of the moonlight and hugged the revolver in his pocket. He seemed to see nothing to bring him out that way, for he closed that window and put out the gas. The trembling watcher heard the front door shut soon after, and saw another light in Baumgartner's room the minute after that, and the blind drawn down. But on the blind there lagged a cloud-capped shadow till the doctor's pipe was well in blast.
There were no more shadows after that. The moon moved round to the right, and set behind the next house. The sky grew pale, and the lighted blind paler still, until Baumgartner drew it up before putting out his light. Pocket was now too stiff to stir; but it was not necessary; the doctor had scarcely looked out. There was a twitter of sparrows all down the road, garden answering to garden. The sun came up behind Pocket's wall, behind the taller houses further back. And Baumgartner reappeared at his window for one instant in his cap.
The front door shut again.
Down the garden ran Pocket without the least precaution now. There was a gravel passage between the tradesmen's entrance, on the detached side of the house, and the garden wall. This passage was closed by a gate, and the gate was locked, but Pocket threw himself over it almost in his stride and darted over into the open road.
Just then it was a perfectly empty road, but for a gaunt black figure stalking away in the distance. An overwhelming curiosity urged the boy to follow, but an equal dread of detection kept him cowering in gateways, until Baumgartner took the turning past the shops without a backward glance. Pocket promptly raced to that corner, and got another glimpse of his leader before he vanished round the next. So the spasmodic chase continued over a zigzag course; but at every turn the distance between them was a little less. Neither looked round, and once the boy's feet were actually on the man's shadow; for half the streets were raked with level sunlight, but the other half were ladders of dusk with rungs of light at the gaps between the houses. All were dustier, dirtier, and emptier than is ever the case by night or day, because this was neither one nor the other, though the sun was up to make the most of dust, dirt, and emptiness. It was before even the cleansing hour of the scavenger and the water-cart. A dead cat was sprawling horribly in one deserted reach of wood-paving. And a motor-car at full speed in a thoroughfare calling itself King's Road, which Pocket was about to cross, had at all events the excuse of a visible mile of asphalt to itself.
Pocket drew back to let it pass, without looking twice at the car itself, which indeed was disguised out of knowledge in the promiscuous mire of many countries; but the red eyes behind the driver's goggles were not so slow. Down went his feet on clutch and brake without a second's interval; round spun the car in a skid that tore studs from the tyres, and fetched her up against the kerb with a shivered wheel. Pocket started forward with a cry; but at that moment a ponderous step fell close behind him; his arm was seized, and he was dragged in custody across the road.
"Your boy, I think!" cried one whom he had never seen before, and did not now, being locked already in the motorist's arms.
"When did you find him?" the father asked when he was man enough, still patting Pocket's shoulders as if he were a dog.
"Only last night when I wired."
"In the house where you and I couldn't make ourselves heard."
The schoolboy flared up through all his emotion.
"Why, I never saw you before this minute!"
"Well, I've had my eye on you, more or less, for a day or two."
"Then why didn't you wire before?" demanded Mr. Upton, quite ready to mask his own emotion with a little heat. "I didn't get it till after nine o'clock—too late for the evening train—but I wasn't going to waste three hours with a forty-horser eating its head off! So here I am, on my way to the address you gave."
"It was plumb opposite Baumgartner's. I mounted guard there the very night you left. He came out twenty minutes ago, and your boy after him!"
"But what does it all mean, Thrush? What on earth were you doing there, my dear boy?"
The notes of anger and affection were struck in ludicrously quick succession; but the first was repeated on the boy's hang-dog admission that he had been hiding.
Thrush himself seemed surprised at the expression. "But at all events we found you better employed," he said to Pocket, "and the sooner we all take up the chase again the more chance we shall have of laying this rascal by the heels."
"Take it up, then!" snapped Mr. Upton. "Jump into the motor, and bring the brute to me when you've got him! I want to speak to my boy."
He did not realise the damage done to his car, or listen to a word that passed between Thrush and his chauffeur; he had eyes only for those of his child who had been lost but was found, and not a thought in his head outside the story he extracted piecemeal on the spot. Poor Pocket told it very volubly and ill; he would not confine himself to simple facts. He stated his suspicion of Baumgartner's complicity in the Hyde Park affair as though he knew it for a fact; cited the murders in Holland Walk and Park Lane as obvious pieces of the same handiwork, and yet declared his conviction that the actual hand was not Dr. Baumgartner's at all.
"But why should you think he had an accomplice, Tony?"
"He was unarmed the other morning. I'm quite positive of that. And his niece, who lives with him, has never seen a firearm of any kind in the house."
"Well, he's villain enough to hang, if ever there was one! It's time we laid hold of him. Where's Mr. Thrush? I thought you'd taken him on in the car?"
This to the chauffeur, now the centre of the carrion crowd that gathers about the body of any disabled motor. The chauffeur, a countryman like his master, was enjoying himself vastly with a surreptitious cigarette and sardonic mutterings on the cause of his scattered spokes; the facts being that he had nearly fallen asleep at his wheel, which Mr. Upton had incontinently taken into his own less experienced hands.
"The car won't take anybody anywhere to-day," explained the chauffeur, with his cigarette behind his back. "I shall have to get a lorry to take the car." He held his head on one side suddenly. "There's a bit o' tyre trouble for somebody!" he cried, grimly.
Indeed, a sharp crack had come from the direction of the river, not unlike the bursting of a heavy tyre; but Pocket Upton did not think it was that. He caught his father's arm, and whispered in his father's ear, and they plunged together into a side street broader than the asphalt thoroughfare, but with scarcely a break in either phalanx of drab mediocre dwellings, and not a creature stirring except themselves and a few who followed. The hog's back of a still more deserted bridge arched itself at the foot of the street, its suspension cables showing against the sky in foreshortened curves. As they ran a peculiarly shrill whistle cut the morning air like a streak of sound.
"P'lice!" screamed one of those bringing up the rear, and they easily spurted past father and son, each already contending with his own infirmity. Mr. Upton was dangerously scarlet in the neck, and Pocket panting as he had not done for days. In sad labour they drew near the suspension bridge, to a crescendo accompaniment on the police whistle. It was evidently being blown on the Embankment to the right of the bridge, and already with considerable effect. As the pair were about to pass an intermediate turning on the right, a constable flew across it on a parallel course, and they altered theirs with one accord. Pocket panted after the constable, and his father thundered after Pocket, into a narrow street debouching upon a fenced strip of greenery, not too dense to hide broad pavement and low parapet on its further side, with a strip of brown river beyond that, and a skyline of warehouses on the Surrey shore.
The narrow garden had not been opened for the day. There was a gate opposite the end of the road, another gate leading out on the Embankment opposite that. Between the two gates a grimy statue rose upon a granite pedestal, a meditative figure clad to the heels in some nondescript garment, and gazing across the river as he sat with a number of discarded volumes under his chair. It was a peculiarly lifelike monument, which Pocket would have been just the boy to appreciate at any other time; even now it struck him for an instant, before his attention was attracted to the group of commonplace living people on the Embankment beyond the narrow garden. They were standing together on the far side of one of the fixed seats. There was the policeman who had blown the whistle, and a small but motley crew who had answered to the call. Conspicuous units were a gentleman in dressing-gown and pyjamas, a couple of chimneysweeps, and a labouring cyclist on his way to work. They had formed a circle about some hidden object on the ground; and long before the new-comers could run round and join them, the schoolboy had steeled himself to look upon another murdered man. He was in no hurry to look; apart from a natural dread of death, which he had seen for the first time, and then unwittingly, only the other morning, it was the murderer and not his victim of whom the boy was thinking as he arrived last upon the scene. It was Dr. Baumgartner whom he half expected to see swimming the river or hiding among the bushes in the enclosed garden; for he was not one of the group on the Embankment; and how else could he have made his escape? The point was being discussed as Pocket came into earshot; all he could see of the fallen man was the soles of his boots upright among living legs.
"Is he dead?" he asked of one of the chimneysweeps, who was detaching himself from the group with the air of a man who had seen the best of the fun.
"Dead as an 'erring," replied the sweep cheerfully. "Sooicide in the usual stite o' mind."
"Rats!" said the other sweep over a sooty shoulder; "unless 'e shot 'isself first an' swallered the shooter afterwards! Some'un's done 'im in."
Pocket set his teeth, and shouldered his way into the group. His father was already in the thick of it, talking to the stout man in spectacles, who had risen miraculously from the ground and was busy brushing his trouser-knees. Pocket forced himself on with much the same nutter he had taken into the Chamber of Horrors, but with an equal determination to look just once upon Dr. Baumgartner's latest victim. A loud cry escaped him when he did look; for the murdered man, and not the murderer, was Dr. Baumgartner himself.
WHAT THE THAMES GAVE UP
Phillida was prepared for anything when she beheld a motor-car at the gate, and the escaped schoolboy getting out with a grown man of shaggy and embarrassed aspect; but she was not prepared for the news they brought her. She was intensely shocked and shaken by it. Her grief and horror were not the less overwhelming for the shame and fear which they replaced in her mind. Yet she remained instinctively on her guard, and a passionate curiosity was the only emotion she permitted herself to express in words.
"But have they no idea who did it? Are they quite sure he didn't do it himself?"
Mr. Upton broke through his heavy embarrassment with no little relief, to dispose of the question of suicide once and for all.
"It's the one thing they are sure about," said he. "In the first place no weapon was to be found, and we saw no sign of a camera either, though this boy tells me your uncle had his with him when he went out. That's more or less conclusive in itself. But there was a doctor on the spot before we left, and I heard him say the shot couldn't have been fired at very close quarters, and that death must have been instantaneous. So it's no more a suicide than the case in Park Lane yesterday or the one in Hyde Park last week; there's evidently some maniac prowling about at dawn, and shooting down the first person he sees and then vanishing into thin air as maniacs seem to have a knack of doing more effectually than sane men. But the less we jump to conclusions about him—or anybody else—the better."
The girl was grateful for the covert sympathy of the last remark, and yet it startled her as an index of what must have passed already between father and son. It was a new humiliation that this big bluff man should know as much as the boy whom she had learnt to look upon as a comrade in calamity. Yet she could not expect it to be otherwise.
"What must you think!" she cried, and her great eyes filled and fell again. "Oh! what must you think?"
"It's no good thinking," he rejoined, with almost a jovial kindness. "We're all three on the edge of a mystery; we must see each other through before we think. Not that I've had time to hear everything yet, but I own I can't make head or tail of what I have heard. I'm not sure that I want to. I like a man's secrets to die with him; it's enough for me to have my boy back again, and to know that you stood by him as you did. It's our turn to stand by you, my dear! He says it wasn't your fault he didn't come away long ago; and it shan't be mine if you stay another hour alone in this haunted house. You've got to come straight back with us to our hotel."
They happened to be all three standing in the big back room, a haunted chamber if there was one in the house. With his battle-pictures on the walls, his tin of tobacco on the chimney-piece, and the scent of latakia rising from the carpet, the whole room remained redolent of the murdered man; and the window still open, the two chairs near it as they had been overnight, and the lamp lying in fragments on the path outside, brought the last scene back to the boy's mind in full and vivid detail. Yet the present one was in itself more desolate and depressing than any in which Dr. Baumgartner had figured. It might be that the constant menace of that portentous presence had thrown his simple middle-class surroundings, at the time, into a kind of reassuring relief. But it was the case that the morning had already clouded over; the sunshine of the other mornings was sadly missing; and Phillida looked only too eager to fly from the scene, until she declared she never could.
"But that's absurd!" cried Mr. Upton bluntly. "I'm not going to leave a young girl like you alone in the day of battle, murder and sudden death! You needn't necessarily come with us, as long as you don't stay here. Have you no other relatives in London?"
"None anywhere that I know much about."
"That doesn't matter. It's time they knew more about you. I'll hunt them up in the motor, if they're anywhere within a hundred miles, but you simply must let me take their place meanwhile."
He was a masterful man enough; it did not require the schoolboy's added supplications to bring about an eventual compromise. The idea had indeed been Pocket's originally, but his father had taken it up more warmly than he could have hoped. It was decided that they should return to their hotel without Phillida, but to send the car back for her later in the morning, as it would take her some time to pack her things and leave the deserted house in some semblance of order.
But her packing was a very small matter, and she left it to the end; most of the time at her disposal was spent in a hurried investigation of the dead man's effects, more especially of his store of negatives in the dark-room. The only incriminating plates, however, were the one she had already seen on its discovery by Pocket the day before and another of a man lying in a heap in the middle of a road. This one had been put to dry openly in the rack, the wood of which was still moist from the process. Phillida only held it up to the light an instant, and then not only smashed both these negatives, but poured boiling water on the films and floated them down the sink. The bits of glass she put in the dust-bin with those of the broken lamp, and had hardly done so when the first policeman arrived to report the fatality. He was succeeded by a very superior officer, who gained admittance and asked a number of questions concerning the deceased, but in a perfunctory manner that suggested few if any expectations from the replies. Neither functionary made any secret of his assumption that the latest murder was but another of the perfectly random series which had already thrilled the town, but on which no light was likely to be shed by the antecedents of the murdered men. A third official came to announce that the inquest was to be opened without delay, at two o'clock that afternoon, and to request Phillida to accompany him to the mortuary for the formal identification of the deceased.
That was a dread ordeal, and yet she expected a worse. She had steeled herself to look upon a debased image of the familiar face, and she found it startlingly ennobled and refined. Death had taken away nothing here, save the furrows of age and the fires of madness, and it had given back the look of fine courage and of sane integrity which the girl was just old enough to associate with the dead man's prime. She was thankful to have seen him like this for the last time. She wished that all the world could see him as he was, so noble and so calm, for then nobody would ever suspect that which she herself would find it easier to disbelieve from this hour.
"You do identify him, I suppose, miss?" the officer whispered, impressed by her strange stare.
"Oh, yes!" said Phillida. "But he looks as I have not seen him look for years. There are worse things than death!"
She said the same thing to Mr. Upton at luncheon in his private sitting-room at the hotel, whereupon he again assured her that he had no desire to know a dead man's secrets. He had found his boy; that was quite enough for him, and he was able to deliver himself the more freely on the subject since Pocket was not at table, but in bed making up for lost sleep. Not only had he succeeded in finding his son, but he had found him without the aid of police or press, and so not more than a dozen people in the world knew that he had ever disappeared. Mr. Upton explained why he had deemed it essential to keep the matter from his wife's ears, and added almost equally good reasons for continuing to hush it up on the boy's account if only it were possible to do so; but would it be possible to Phillida to exclude from her evidence at the inquest all mention of so recent a visitor at her uncle's house? Phillida promised to do her best, and it proved not only possible but easy. She was questioned as to the habits of the deceased so far as they explained his presence on the Embankment at such a very early hour, but that was all. Asked if she knew of a single person who could conceivably have borne such a grudge against Dr. Baumgartner as to wish to take his life, the witness answered in the negative, and the coroner bowed as much as to say that of course they all knew the character of the murder, but he had put the question for form's sake. The only one which caused her a moment's hesitation arose from a previous answer, which connected the doctor's early ramblings with his hobby of instantaneous photography. Had he his camera with him that morning? Phillida thought so. Why? Well, he always did take it out, and it certainly was not in the house. Mr. Upton wiped his forehead, for he knew that his boy's name had been on the tip of the witness's tongue. And there was a sensation in court as well; for here at last was a bone for the detectives, who obtained a minute description of the missing camera, but grumbled openly that they had not heard of it before.
"They never told me they hadn't got it," explained Phillida to the coroner, who made her his courteous bow, and permitted her to leave the court on the conclusion of her evidence.
On the stairs Mr. Upton paid her compliments that made her wince as much as the crude grip of his hand; but he was tact itself compared with his friend Mr. Thrush, who sought an interview in order to ply the poor girl there and then with far more searching questions than she had been required to answer upon oath. She could only look at Mr. Upton in a way that secured his peppery intervention in a moment. The two men had scarcely seen each other since the morning, and the ironmaster thought they had enough to say to each other without bothering Miss Platts just then; they accordingly adjourned to Glasshouse Street, and Phillida was to have gone on to the hotel; but she made them drop her at a shop near Sloane Square on the pretext of seeing about her mourning.
Phillida had promised to drive straight back to Trafalgar Square and order tea for herself if Tony had not appeared; but she did not drive straight back. She had a curious desire to see the place where the murder had been committed. It had come upon her at the inquest, while listening to the constable who had found the body, her predecessor in the witness-box. She had failed to follow his evidence. He had described that portion of his beat which had brought him almost on the scene of the murder, almost at the moment of its commission. It included only the short section of Cheyne Walk between Oakley Street and Cheyne Row. The houses at this point are divided from the Embankment by the narrow garden which contains the Carlyle statue. He had turned up Cheyne Row, at the back of the statue, but before turning he had noticed a man on the seat facing the river on the far side of the garden. The man was sitting down, but he was said to have turned round and watched the policeman as he passed along Cheyne Walk. There might have been a second man lying on that seat, or crouching on the flags between the seat and the parapet, but he would have been invisible from the beat. Not another creature was in sight anywhere. Yet the policeman swore that he had not proceeded a dozen yards up Cheyne Row before the shot was fired. He had turned round actually in time to see the puff of smoke dispersing over the parapet. It was all he saw. He had found the deceased lying in a heap, nearer the seat than the parapet, but between the two. Not another soul did he see, or had he seen. And he had not neglected to look over the parapet into the river, and along the foreshore in both directions, without discovering sign or trace of human being.
Such was the story which Phillida found so hard to credit that she proceeded to the spot in order to go over the ground for her own satisfaction. This did not make it easier to understand. It had come on to rain heavily while she was in the shop; the shining Embankment was again practically deserted, and she was able to carry out her experiment without exciting observation. She took a dozen steps up Cheyne Row, pretended she heard the shot, turned sharp round, and quite realised that from where she was the body could not have been seen, hidden as it must have been by the seat, which itself was almost hidden by the long and narrow island of enclosed garden. But a running man could have been seen through the garden, even if he stooped as he ran, and the murderer must have run like the wind to get away as he had done. The gates through the garden, back and front of the statue, had not been opened for the day when the murder took place, so Phillida in her turn made a half-circuit of the island to get to the spot where the body had been found, but without taking her eyes off the spot until she reached it. No! It was as she had thought all along; by nothing short of a miracle could the assassin have escaped observation if the policeman had eyes in his head and had acted as he swore he had done. He might have dashed into the garden, when the policeman was at his furthest point distant, if the gates had been open as they were now; but they had been locked, and he could not have scaled them unobserved. Neither would it have been possible to take a header into the river with the foreshore as described by the same witness. Yet the murderer had either done one of these things, or the flags of the Embankment had opened and swallowed him.
The girl stood on the very spot where the murdered man must have fallen, and in her utter perplexity it was no longer the tragedy but the problem which engrossed her mind. What had happened, had happened; but how could it have happened? She raised her umbrella and peered through the rain at a red pile of many-windowed flats; had that Argus of the hundred eyes been sleeping without one of them open at the time? Her own eyes fell as far as the black statue in the narrow garden, standing out hi the rain, like the greenery about its granite base, as though the blackened bronze were polished marble. How lifelike the colossal scholar in his homely garb! How scornful and how shrewd the fixed eternal gaze across his own old Father Thames! It assumed another character as the girl gazed in her turn, she seemed to intercept that stony stare, to distract it from the river to herself, and to her fevered fancy the grim lips smiled contemptuously on her and her quandary. He knew—he knew—those grim old eyes had seen it all, and still they stared and smiled as much as to say: "You are looking the wrong way! Look where I am looking; that way lies the truth you are poor fool enough to want to know!"
And Phillida turned her back towards the shiny statue, and looked over the wet parapet, almost expecting to see something, but never dreaming of what she actually saw. The tide, which must have been coming in that early morning, was now going out, and between the Embankment masonry and the river there was again a draggled ribbon of shelving foreshore, black as on some volcanic coast; and between land and water, at a point that would necessarily have been submerged for the last eight or nine hours, a small object was being laid more bare by every receding wavelet. It was black and square, perhaps the size of two large cigar-boxes side by side; and it had one long, thin, reddish tentacle, finishing in a bulb that moved about gently in the rain-pocked water.
Phillida felt the parapet strike cold and wet through her rain-coat sleeves as she leant far over to make doubly sure what she object was; but indeed she had not a moment's doubt but that it was the missing camera of the murdered man.
AFTER THE FAIR
Mr. Upton was dumfoundered when the top-floor door in Glasshouse Street was opened before Eugene Thrush could insert his key; for it was the sombre Mullins who admitted the gentleman as though nothing had happened to him except a fairly recent shave.
"I thought he was in prison?" exclaimed the ironmaster when the two were closeted.
"Do you ever read your paper?"
"I haven't looked at one since Plymouth."
"Well, I howked him out first thing yesterday morning."
"You did, Thrush?"
"Why not? I had need of the fellow, and that part of the game was up."
Mr. Upton showed symptoms of his old irritability under the Thrush mannerism.
"My good fellow, I wish to goodness you'd explain yourself!"
"If I cared to be profane," returned Thrush, mixing drinks in the corner, "I should refer you to the first chapter of the Book of Job. I provided the prisoner, and I'd a perfect right to take him away again. Blessed be the song of the Thrush!"
"You say you provided him?"
"In other words, I laid the information against my own man, but only with his own consent."
"Well, well, you must have your joke, I suppose. I can afford to put up with it now."
"It wasn't meant as a joke," returned Thrush, and drank deep while his client sipped. "If it had come off it would have been the coup of my career; as it didn't—quite—one must laugh it off at one's own expense. Your son has told you what that poor old sinner made him think he'd done?"
"Would it surprise you to hear that one or two others thought the same thing?"
"Not you, Thrush?"
"Not I to quite the same positive extent as my rascal Mullins. He jumped to it from scratch!"
"He connected Tony with the Park murder?"
"From the word 'go.' "
"On the strength of an asthma cigarette and my poor wife's dream?"
"No; he didn't know about the dream. But he refused to believe in two independent mysteries at one time and on one spot. The eternal unities was too many measles for Mullins, though he never heard tell of 'em in his life."
Mr. Upton was no longer irritated by the other's flippancy. He looked at Thrush with a shining face.
"And you never told me what was in your minds!"
"It was poison even in mine; it would have been deadly poison to you, in the state you were in. I say! I'll wear batting-gloves the next time we shake hands!" and Thrush blew softly on his mangled fingers.
"You believed he'd done it, and you kept it to yourself," murmured Mr. Upton, still much impressed. "Tell me, my dear fellow—did you believe it after that interview with Baumgartner in his house?"
Thrush emptied his glass at once.
"Don't remind me of that interview, Mr. Upton; there was the lad on the other side of so much lath-and-plaster, and I couldn't scent him through it! But he never made a sound, confound him!"
"Tony's told me about that; they were whispering, for reasons of their own."
"I ought to have seen that old man listening! His ears must have grown before my purblind eyes! But his story was an extraordinarily interesting and circumstantial effort. And to come back to your question, it did fit in with the theory of a fatal accident on your boy's part; he was frightened to show his face at school after sleeping in the Park, let alone what he was supposed to have done there; and that, he believed, would break his mother's heart in any case."
"By Jove, and so it might! It wouldn't take much just now," said Mr. Upton, sadly.
"So he thought of the ship you wouldn't let him go out in—and the whole thing fitted in! Of course he had told the old ruffian—saving his presence elsewhere—all about the forbidden voyage; and that gentleman of genius had it ready for immediate use. I'm bound to say he used it on me with excellent effect."
"Same here," said the ironmaster—"though I'd no idea what you suspected. I thought it a conceivable way out of any bad scrape, for that particular boy."
"It imposed upon us all," said Thrush, "but one. I was prepared to believe it if you did, and you believed it because you didn't know your boy as well as you do now. But Miss Upton, who seems to know him better than anybody else—do you remember how she wouldn't hear of it for a moment?"
"I do so, God bless her!"
"That shook me, or rather it prevented me from accepting what I never had quite accepted in my heart. That's another story, and you're only in the mood for one at present; but after seeing Baumgartner on Saturday, I thought I'd like to know a little more about him, not from outsiders but from the inside of his own skull. So I went to the British Museum to have a look at his books. It was after hours for getting books, but I made such representations that they cut their red tape for once; and I soon read enough to wonder whether my grave and reverend seignior was quite all there. Spiritualism one knows, but here was spiritualism with a difference; psychic photography one had heard about, but here was a psychical photographer gone mad or bad! When a gifted creature puts into admirable English his longing to snap-shoot the souls of murderers coming up through the drop, like the clown at Drury Lane, you begin to want him elected to a fauteuil in Broadmoor. Will you believe me when I tell you that I stumbled mentally on the very thing I shall presently prove to have been the truth, and that I dismissed it from my mind as the wildest impossibility?"
"I don't see how you're going to prove it now," remarked Mr. Upton, who hoped there would be no such proof, for the sake of the girl who had been good to his boy; but that was a private consideration which there was no necessity to express.
"I shall want another chat with your lad when he's had his sleep out," replied Thrush, significantly; "he's told me quite enough to make me eager for more. But you haven't told me anything about your own adventures?"
And he got another drink to help him listen; for as a rule the ironmaster was only succinct when thoroughly irate. But now for once he was both brief and amiable.
"What have I to tell compared with you?" he asked. "Those damned old wooden walls only cleared the Thames on Sunday morning, and they weren't near Plymouth when I left last night; but my little aluminium lot broke all her records before I broke one of her wheels. What I want to know is what you did from the time I left on Sunday night to that great moment this morning."
"I sat down to watch Baumgartner, his house," replied Thrush. "The merit of those quiet little streets is that there are always apartments of sorts, though not always the most admirable sort, to be had in half the houses. There was quite a choice bang opposite Baumgartner's, and I'd taken a front room before you were through Hammersmith. Of course I explained that I had lost a last train, and the landlady's son embarrassed me with pyjamas of inadequate dimensions. Well, I sat at the front window all night, for no better reasons than my strong feeling about the doctor's writings, and your daughter's disbelief in his yarn about her brother. Soon after five in the morning the old bird came out, and I was after him like knife. I tracked him to Knightsbridge without much difficulty, excepting the one of avoiding being spotted, but there that happened by the merest accident. He was passing under the scaffolding outside the church they're pulling down there, and he's so tall he knocked his hat off. I admit I was too close. He saw, and must have recognised me; but I shouldn't have recognised him if I hadn't seen him start out. He was wearing a false beard and spectacles!"
"That's proof positive," said ingenuous Mr. Upton, under his breath.
"Well, I confess it's something like it in this case; but it was a very awkward moment for me. I hadn't to let him see I knew him, nor yet that I was following him, and the only way was to abandon the chase as openly as possible. It was then I decided that it was no use leaving poor old Mullins in pawn to the police. I redeemed him without delay. We went back to my new rooms together, which I needn't tell you I liked so much that I brought a suit-case and took them for a week. Of course, as we had lost the run of Baumgartner, the next best thing was to watch for his return. Mullins took that on while I got some sleep; when I awoke the Park Lane murder was the latest, and I won't say I didn't suspect who'd done it. Perhaps I didn't tell you he had his camera with him as well as beard and goggles, and all three figured in the first reports."
"But all this time you had no idea my boy was in the house?"
"None whatever; we saw the girl once or twice, but that was all until I wired last night. What I never saw myself was Baumgartner's return; but in the afternoon I sent Mullins round to another road to try and get a room overlooking the place from the back. Well, the houses were too much class for that; but one was empty, and he got the key and risked going back to prison for the cause! Suffice it that he set eyes on both man and boy before I sent that wire."
"And you left my son in that murderer's clutches a minute longer than you could help?" It was a previous incarnation of Pocket's father that broke in with this.
"You must remember in the first place that I couldn't be in the least sure it was your son; in the second, if murder had been intended, murder would have been done with as little delay in his case as in the others; thirdly, that we've nothing to show that Dr. Baumgartner is an actual murderer at all, but, fourthly, that to raid his place was the way to make him one. Poor Mullins, too, as the original Sherlock of the show, was desperately against calling in the police under any circumstances. He assured me there was no sign of bad blood about the house, until the small hours, and then he saw your son make his escape. I told him he should have collared the lad, but he lost sight of him in the night and preferred to keep an eye on that poor desperate doctor."
Thrush treated this part of his narrative with the peculiar confidence which most counsel reserve for the less satisfactory aspects of their case. But Mr. Upton was not in a mood to press a point of grievance against anybody. And the name of Mullins reminded him that his curiosity on a very different point had not been gratified.
"Why on earth did you have Mullins run in?" he inquired, with characteristic absence of finesse.
"I'm not very proud of it," replied Thrush. "It didn't come off, you see."
"But whatever could the object have been?"
"I must have a damn-it if I'm to tell you that," said Thrush; and the ironmaster concluded that he meant a final drink, from the action which he suited to the oath. "It was one way that occurred to me of putting salt on the lad."
"You puzzle me more and more."
"Well, you see, I gathered that he was a particularly honourable boy, of fine sensibilities, and yet Mullins thought he had shot this man by accident and was lying low. I only thought that, if that were so, the news of an innocent man's arrest would bring him into the open as quick as anything. Mullins proving amenable to terms, and having really been within a hundred miles of both murders at the time they were committed, the rest was elementary. But what's the good of talking about it? It didn't come off."
"It very nearly did! I can tell you that straight from Tony; he was going to give himself up yesterday morning, if he hadn't accidentally satisfied himself of his own innocence."
Mr. Upton said more than this, but it was the explicit statement of fact that alone afforded Thrush real consolation. His spectacled eyes blinked keenly behind their flashing lenses; the button of a nose underneath twitched as though it scented battle once again; and the drink with the opprobrious name was suddenly put down unfinished.
"If only I could find that camera!" he cried. "It's the touchstone of the whole thing, mark my words. If it's an accomplice who did this thing, he's got it; even if not——"
He stood silenced by a sudden thought, a gleam of light that illumined his whole flushed face.
"Mullins!" he roared. Mullins was on the spot with somewhat suspicious alacrity. "Get the almanac, Mullins, and look up Time of High Water at London Bridge to-day!"
He himself flopped down behind the telephone to ring up the cab-office in Bolton Street. But it takes time even for a Eugene Thrush to consume all but three large whiskies and sodas; and the afternoon was already far advanced.
THE SECRET OF THE CAMERA
The camera had been placed upon a folded newspaper, for the better preservation of the hotel table-cloth. Its apertures were still choked with mud; beads of slime kept breaking out along the joints. And Phillida was still explaining to Pocket how the thing had come into her possession.
"The rain was the greatest piece of luck, though another big slice was an iron gangway to the foreshore about a hundred yards up-stream. It was coming down so hard at the time that I couldn't see another creature out in it except myself. I don't believe a single soul saw me run down that gangway and up again; but I dropped my purse over first for an excuse if anybody did. I popped the camera under my waterproof, and carried it up to the King's Road before I could get a cab. But I never expected to find you awake and about again; next to the rain that's the best luck of all!"
"Because you know all about photography and I don't. Suppose he took a last photograph, and suppose that led directly to the murder!"
"That's an idea."
"The man threw the camera into the river, but the plate would be in it still, and you could develop it!"
The ingenious hypothesis had appealed to the eager credulity of the boy; but at the final proposition he shook a reluctant head.
"I'm afraid there's not much chance of there being anything to develop; the slide's been open all this time, you see."
"I know. I tried to shut it, but the wood must have swollen in the water. Yet the more it has swollen, the better it ought to keep out the light, oughtn't it?"
"I'm afraid there isn't a dog's chance," he murmured, as he handled the camera again. Yet it was not of the folding-bellows variety, but was one of the earlier and stronger models in box form, and it had come through its ordeal wonderfully on the whole. Nothing was absolutely broken; but the swollen slide jammed obstinately, until in trying to shut it by main force, Pocket lost his grip of the slimy apparatus, and sent it flying to the floor, all but the slide which came out bodily in his hand.
"That settles it," remarked Phillida, resignedly. The exposed plate stared them in the face, a sickly yellow in the broad daylight. It was cracked across the middle, but almost dry and otherwise uninjured.
"I am sorry!" exclaimed Pocket, as they stood over the blank sheet of glass and gelatine; it was like looking at a slate from which some infinitely precious message had been expunged unread. "I'm not sure that you weren't right after all; what's water-tight must be more or less light-tight, when you come to think of it. I say, what's all this? The other side oughtn't to bulge like that!"
He picked the broken plate out of the side that was already open, and weighed the slide in his hand; it was not heavy enough to contain another plate, he declared with expert conviction; yet the side which had not been opened was a slightly bulging but distinctly noticeable convexity. Pocket opened it at a word from Phillida, and an over-folded packet of MS. leapt out.
"It's his writing!" cried the girl, with pain and awe in her excitement. She had dropped the document at once.
"It's in English," said Pocket, picking it up.
"It must be what he was writing all last night!"
"You see what it is!" urged Phillida, feebly. But she watched him closely as he read to himself:—
"It is a grim coincidence that I should sit down to reveal the secret of my latter days on what is supposed to be the shortest night of the year; for they must come to an end at sunrise, viz., at 3.44 according to the almanac, and it is already after 10 p.m. Even if I sit at my task till four I shall have less than six hours in which to do justice to the great ambition and the crowning folly of my life. I used the underlined word advisedly; some would substitute 'monomania,' but I protest I am as sane as they are, fail as I may to demonstrate that fact among so many others to be dealt with in the very limited time at my disposal. Had I more time, or the pen of a readier writer, I should feel surer of vindicating my head if not my heart. But I have been ever deliberate in all things (excepting, certainly, the supreme folly already mentioned), and I would be as deliberate over the last words I shall ever write, as in my final preparations for death——".
"What is it?" asked Phillida, for his eyes had dilated as he read, and he was breathing hard.
"He practically says he was going to commit suicide at daybreak! He's said so once already, but now he says it in so many words!"
"Well, we know he didn't do it," said Phillida, as though she found a crumb of comfort in the thought.
"I'm not so sure about that."
"Go on reading it aloud. I can bear it if that's the worst."
"But it isn't, Phillida. I can see it isn't!"
"Then let us read it together. I'd rather face it with you than afterwards all by myself. We've seen each other through so much, surely we can—surely——"
Her words were swept away in a torrent of tears, and it was with dim eyes but a palpitating heart that Pocket looked upon the forlorn drab figure of the slip of a girl; for as yet, despite her pretext to Mr. Upton, she had taken no thought for her mourning, that unfailing distraction to the normally bereaved, but had put on anything she could find of a neutral tint; and yet it was just her dear disdain of appearance, the intimate tears gathering in her great eyes, unchecked, and streaming down the fresh young face, the very shabbiness of her coat and skirt, that made her what she was in his sight. Outside, the rain had stopped, and Trafalgar Square was drying in the sun, that streamed in through the open window of the hotel sitting-room, and poured its warm blessing on the two young heads bent as one over the dreadful document.
This was the part they read together, now in silence, now one and now the other whispering a few sentences aloud:—.
"What I have called my life's ambition demands but little explanation here. I have never made any secret of it, but, on the contrary, I have given full and frank expression to my theories in places where they are still accessible to the curious. I refer to my signed articles on spirit photography in Light Human Nature, The Occult Review and other periodicals, but particularly to the paper entitled 'The Flight of the Soul,' in The Nineteenth Century and After for January of last year. The latter article contains my last published word on the matter which has so long engrossed my mind. It took me some months to prepare and to write, and its reception did much to drive me to the extreme measures I have since employed. Treated to a modicum of serious criticism by the scientific press, but more generally received with ignorant and intolerant derision, which is the Englishman's attitude towards whatsoever is without his own contracted ken, my article, the work of months, was dismissed and forgotten in a few days. I had essayed the stupendous feat of awaking the British nation to a new idea, and the British nation had responded with a characteristic snore of unfathomable indifference. My name has not appeared in its vermin press from that day to this; it was not mentioned in the paragraph about the psychic photographer which went the rounds about a year ago. Yet I was that photographer. I am the serious and accredited inquirer to whom the London hospitals refused admittance to their pauper deathbeds, thronged though those notoriously are by the raw material of the British medical profession. Begin at the bottom of the British medical ladder, and you are afforded the earliest and most frequent opportunities of studying (if not accelerating) the phenomena of human dissolution; but against the foreign scientist the door is closed, without reference either to the quality of his credentials or the purity of his aims. I can conceive no purer and no loftier aim than mine. It is as high above that of your ordinary physician as heaven itself is high above this earth. Your physician wrestles with death to lengthen life, whereas I would sacrifice a million lives to prove that there is no such thing as death; that this human life of ours, by which we set such childish store, is but a fleeting phase of the permanent life of the spirit. One shrinks from setting down so trite a truism; it is the common ground of all religion, but I have reached it from the opposite pole. Religion is to me the unworthy triumph of instinct over knowledge, a lazy substitution of invention for discovery. Religion invites us to take her postulates on trust; but a material age is deserving of material proofs, and it is these proofs I have striven to supply. Surely it is a higher aim, and not a lower, to appeal to the senses that cannot deceive, rather than to the imagination which must and does? But I am trenching after all upon ground which I myself have covered before to-day; it is my function to-night to relate a personal narrative rather than to reiterate personal views. Suffice it that to me, for many years, the only path to the Invisible has been the path of so-called spiritualism; the only lamp that illumined that path, so that all who saw might follow it for themselves, the lamp of spirit photography. It is a path with a bad name, a path infested with quacks and charlatans, and by false guides who rival the religious fanatics in the impudence of their appeal to man's credulity. Even those who bear the lamp I hold aloft are too often jugglers and rogues, to whose wiles, unfortunately, the simple science of photography lends itself all too readily. Nothing is easier than the production of impossible pictures by a little manipulation of film or plate; if the spiritual apparition is not to be enticed within range of the lens, nothing easier than to fabricate an approximate effect. And what spiritualist has yet succeeded in summoning spirits at will? It is the crux of the whole problem of spiritualism, to establish any sort or form of communication with disembodied spirits at the single will of the embodied; hence the periodical exposure of the paid medium, the smug scorn of the unbeliever, and the discouragement of genuine exploration beyond the environment of the flesh. There is one moment, and only one, at which a man may be sure that he stands, for however brief a particle of time, in the presence of a disembodied soul. It is the moment at which soul and body part company in what men call death. The human watcher sees merely the collapse of the human envelope; but many a phenomenon invisible to the human eye has been detected and depicted by that of the camera, as everybody knows who has the slightest acquaintance with the branch of physics known as 'fluorescence.' The invisible spirit of man surely falls within this category. To the crystal eye of science it is not so much invisible as elusive and intractable. Once it has fled this earth, the sovereign opportunity is gone; but photography may often intercept the actual flight of the soul."