"Yes," said Grant.
"Love isn't mentioned. The fair Doris will be true. You're in luck, my boy. But somebody is out for your blood, and here is clear warning. Gee whizz! If I remain in Steynholme a week I shall become an occultist. What is a lyme-hound?"
"'Lyme,' or 'leam,' is the old-time word for 'leash.'"
"Good!" said Hart. "That will appeal to Furneaux. Have him in to dinner every day, Jack. He's a tonic!"
Furneaux, for some reason known only to himself, did not accompany Doris to the post office. Once they were across the bridge, and the broad village street, more green than roadway, was seen to be empty, he tapped her on the shoulder and said pleasantly:
"Run away home now, little girl. Sleep well, and don't worry. The tangle will right itself in time."
"Poor Mr. Grant is suffering," she ventured to murmur.
"And a good thing, too. It will steady him. Hurry, please. I'll wait here till you are behind a locked door."
"No one in Steynholme will hurt me," she said.
"You never can tell. I'm not taking any chances to-night, however."
So Doris sped swiftly up the hill. Arrived at her house, she waved a hand to the detective, who flourished his straw hat in response. A fine June night in England is never really dark, so the two could not only see each other but, when Doris disappeared, Furneaux, turning sharply on his heel, was able to make out the sudden straightening of a pucker in the blind of a ground-floor room in P.C. Robinson's abode.
The detective walked straight there, and tapped lightly on the window. Robinson, after an affected delay, came to the door.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
"As if you didn't know," laughed Furneaux.
Robinson turned a key, and looked out.
"Oh, it's you, sir?" he cried.
"You'll get tired of saying that before I quit Steynholme," said the detective. "May I come in? No, don't show a light here. Let's chat in the back kitchen."
"I was just going to have a bite of supper, sir," began Robinson apologetically. "It's laid in the kitchen. On'y bread and cheese an' a glass of beer. Will you join me?"
"With pleasure, if I hadn't stuffed myself at Grant's place. Nice fellow, Grant. Pity you and he don't seem to get on together. Of course, we policemen cannot allow friendship to interfere with duty, but, between you and me, Robinson—strictly in confidence—Grant had no more to do with the actual murder of Miss Melhuish than either of us two."
Robinson had turned up a lamp, and hospitably installed Furneaux in his own easy-chair.
"The 'actual murder,' you said, sir?" he repeated.
"Yes. It was his presence at The Hollies which brought an infatuated woman there, and thus directly led to her death. That is all. Grant is telling the truth. I assure you, Robinson, I never allow myself to break bread with a man whom I may have to convict. So, I'll change my mind, and take a snack of your bread and cheese."
The village constable, by no means a fool, grinned at the implied tribute. What he did not appreciate so readily was the fact that his somewhat massive form was being twiddled round the detective's little finger.
"Right you are, sir," he cried cheerily. "But, if Mr. Grant didn't kill Miss Melhuish, who did!"
"In all probability, the man who wore that hat," chirped Furneaux, taking a nondescript bundle from a coat pocket, and throwing it on the table.
Robinson started. This June night was full of weird surprises. He set down a jug of beer with a bang—his intent being to fill two glasses already in position, from which circumstance even the least observant visitor might deduce a Mrs. Robinson, en neglige, hastily flown upstairs.
He examined the hat as though it were a new form of bomb.
"By gum!" he muttered. "Are these bullet-holes?"
"An' is this what someone fired at?"
"But how in thunder—"
He checked himself in time. He did not want to admit that he had been watching the only recognized road to Grant's house all the evening.
"Quite so!" chortled Furneaux, with admirable misunderstanding. "You're quick on the trigger, Robinson—almost as quick as that friend of Grant's who arrived by the 5.30 from London. You perceive at once that no ordinary head could have worn that hat without having its hair combed by the same bullet. It was stuck on to a thick wig. Now, tell me the man, or woman, in Steynholme, who wears a wig and a hat like that, and you and I will guess who killed Miss Melhuish."
Robinson suspected that, as he himself would have put it, his leg was being pulled rather violently. Furneaux read his face like a printed page. Chewing, much against his will, a mouthful of bread and cheese, he mumbled in solemn, broken tones:
"Think—Robinson. Don't—answer—offhand. Has—anybody—ever worn—such things—in a play?"
Then the policeman was convinced, galvanized by memory, as it were.
"By gum!" he cried again. "Fred Elkin—in a charity performance last winter."
Furneaux choked with excitement.
"A horsey-looking chap, on to-day's jury," he gurgled.
"No wonder he looked ill."
"No wonder, indeed. How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done!"
Robinson was flabbergasted. He could only murmur "Fred Elkin!" in a dazed way.
"Have a drink," said Furneaux sympathetically. "I'll wet my whistle, too. Only half a glass, please. Now, we mustn't jump to conclusions. This Elkin looks a villain, but may not be one. That is to say, his villainy may be confined to dealings in nags. But you see, Robinson, what a queer turn this affair is taking. We must get rid of preconceived notions. Superintendent Fowler and you and I will go into this matter thoroughly to-morrow. Meanwhile, breathe not a syllable to a living soul. If I were you, I'd let Mr. Grant understand that we regard him as rather outside the scope of our inquiry. This beer is very good for a country village. You know a good thing when you see it, I expect. Pity I don't smoke, or I'd join you in a pipe. I must get a move on, now, or that fat landlord will be locking me out. Good night! Yes. I'll take the hat. Good night!"
While walking up the hill Furneaux fanned himself with the straw hat.
"One small bit of my brain is evidently a hereditary bequest from a good-natured ass!" he communed. "Here am I, Furneaux, plagued beyond endurance by a first-class murder case, and I must go and busy myself with the love affair of a postmaster's daughter and a feather-headed novelist!"
When Tomlin admitted him to the Hare and Hounds, he buttonholed the landlord, who, at that hour, was usually somewhat obfuscated.
"Sir," said the detective gravely, "I am told that you Steynholme folk indulge occasionally in such frivolities as amateur theatricals?"
"Once in a way, sir. Once in a way. Afore I lock up the bar, will you—"
"Not to-night. I've mixed port and beer already, and I'm only a little fellow. Now you, Mr. Tomlin, can mix anything, I fancy?"
"I've tried a few combinations in me time, sir."
"But, about these theatrical performances—is there any scenery, costumes, 'props' as actors call them?"
"Yes, sir. They're stored in the loft over the club-room—the room where the inquest wur held."
Furneaux's shrill cry scared Mr. Tomlin.
"Y-yes, sir," he stuttered.
"Is that my candle?" said the detective tragically. "I'm tired, dead beat. To-night, Mr. Tomlin, you are privileged to see the temporary wreck of a noble mind. God wot, 'tis a harrowing spectacle."
Furneaux skipped nimbly upstairs. Tomlin proceeded to lock up.
"It's good for trade," he mumbled, "but I'll be glad when these 'ere Lunnon gents clears out. They worry me, they do. Fair gemme a turn, 'e did. A tec', indeed! He's nothin' but a play-hactor hisself!"
THE CASE AGAINST GRANT
Next morning, after a long conference with Superintendent Fowler, from which, to his great chagrin, P. C. Robinson was excluded, Furneaux went to the post office, dispatched an apparently meaningless telegram to a code address, and exchanged a few orthodox remarks with Doris and her father about the continued fine weather. While he was yet at the counter, Ingerman crossed the road and entered the chemist's shop.
"Let me see," said the detective musingly, "by committing a slight trespass on your left-hand neighbor's garden, can I reach the yard of the inn?"
"What the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over," smiled Doris. "Mrs. Jefferson went to Knoleworth early to-day, and took her maid. By shopping at the stores there, they save their fares, and have a day out each week."
"May I go that way, then?" he said. "Suppose you send that goggle-eyed skivvy of yours on an errand."
This was done, and Furneaux made the desired transit.
Now, Tomlin, to whom the comings and goings of all and sundry formed the staple of the day's gossip, had seen the detective go out, but could "take his sollum davy" that the queer little man had not returned. He, too, had watched Ingerman going to Siddle's. Ten minutes later Elkin came down the hill, and headed for the same rendezvous. Five minutes more, and Hobbs, the butcher, joined the others. Tomlin was seething with curiosity, but there were some casual customers in the "snug," so he could not abandon his post.
Soon, however, Ingerman led Elkin and Hobbs to the inn. Evidently, the "financier" had been making some small purchases. He was in high spirits. Ordering appetizers before the mid-day meal, he announced that he was returning to London that afternoon, but would be in Steynholme again for the adjourned inquest.
"No matter how my business suffers, I mean to see this affair through," he vowed. "You gentlemen can pretty well guess my private convictions. You were good enough to give me your friendship, so I spoke as openly as one dares when no charge has actually been laid against any particular person."
"Ay," said Elkin, with whom sunshine seemed to disagree, because he looked miserably ill. "We know what you mean, Mr. Ingerman. If the police were half sharp they'd have nabbed their man before this ... Did you put any water in this gin, Tomlin?"
"Water?" wheezed Tomlin indignantly. "Water?"
"Well, no offense. I can't taste anything. I believe I could swallow dope and not feel it on my tongue."
"You do look bad, an' no mistake, Fred," agreed Hobbs. "Are you vettin' yerself? Don't. Every man to his trade, sez I. Give Dr. Foxton a call."
"I'm taking his medicine regular. Perhaps I need a change."
"'Ave a week-end in Lunnon," said Hobbs, with a broad wink.
"Change of medicine, I mean. I'm not leaving Steynholme till things make a move. My next trip to London will be my honeymoon."
"You look like a honeymooner, I don't think," guffawed Hobbs.
"You wouldn't laugh if I told you what you really look like," cried Elkin angrily. "Bet you a level fiver I'm married this year. Now, put up or shut up!"
Furneaux peeped in, through a door, always open, which led to the stairs.
"Can I have my account, Mr. Tomlin?" he said. "I'm going to town by the next train."
"You don't mean to say, Mr. Furneaux, that you are abandoning the case so soon?" broke in Ingerman.
"Did I say that?" inquired the detective meekly.
"No. One can't help drawing inferences occasionally."
"Great mistake. Look at our worthy landlord. He's been drawing inferences as well as corks, and he's beat to the world."
Tomlin was, indeed, gazing at his smaller guest open-mouthed.
"S'elp me!" he gurgled. "I could ha' sworn—"
"Bad habit," and Furneaux crooked a waggish forefinger at him. "Even the wisest among us may err. Last night, for instance, I blundered. I really fancied I had a clew to the Steynholme murderer. And where do you think it ended? In the loft of your club-room, Mr. Tomlin. In a box of old clothes at that. Silly, isn't it?"
"Wot! Them amatoor play-hactin' things?"
Elkin grunted, though intending to laugh.
"Not so sharp for a London 'tec, I must say," he cried. "Why, those props have been there since before Christmas."
"Yes. I know now," was the downcast reply. "Twelve hours ago I thought differently. Didn't I, Mr. Tomlin?"
Tomlin tried hard to look knowing.
"Oh, is that wot you wur drivin' at?" he said. "Dang me, mister, I could soon ha' put you right 'ad you tole me."
"Well, well. Can't be helped. I may do better in London. What do you say, Mr. Ingerman? The City is the real mint of money and crime. Who knows but that a stroll through Cornhill may have some bearing on the Steynholme mystery?"
"May be you'd get a bit nearer if you took a stroll along the Knoleworth Road, and not so very far, either," guffawed Elkin.
"Who knows?" repeated Furneaux sadly. "Good-day, gentlemen. Some of this merry party will meet again, of course, if not here, at the Assizes. Don't forget my bill. Mr. Tomlin. By the way, one egg at breakfast had seen vicissitudes. It shouldn't be rated too highly."
"I'm traveling by your train," cried Ingerman.
"So I understood," said Furneaux over his shoulder.
There was silence for a moment after he had gone. Ingerman looked thoughtful, even puzzled. He was casting back in his mind to discover just how and when the detective "understood" that his departure was imminent, since he himself had only arrived at a decision after leaving the chemist's.
"That chap is no good," announced Elkin. "I'll back old Robinson against him any day."
"Sh-s-sh! He may 'ear you," muttered the landlord.
"Don't care if he does. Cornhill! What the blazes has Cornhill to do with the murder at The Hollies?"
Ingerman appreciated the value of that concluding phrase. Elkin had used it once before in Siddle's shop, and was quietly reproved by the chemist for his outspokenness.
Ingerman, however, did not inform the company that his office lay in an alley off Cornhill. He elected to rub in Elkin's words.
"Mr. Siddle seemed to object to The Hollies being mentioned as the scene of the crime," he said. "I wonder why?"
"Because he's an old molly-coddle," snapped the horse-dealer. "Thinks everyone is like himself, a regular slow-coach."
Tomlin closed the door into the passage, closed it for the first time in living memory, whereat Furneaux, on the landing above, grinned sardonically, and ran downstairs.
"Wot's this about them amatoor clo'es?" he inquired portentously. "Oo 'as the key of that box?"
"I have," said Elkin. "I locked it after the last performance, and, unless you've been up to any monkey tricks, Tomlin, the duds are there yet."
"You're bitin' me 'ead off all the mornin', Fred," protested the aggrieved landlord. "Fust, the gin was wrong, an' now I'm supposed to 'ave rummidged yur box. Wot for?"
Furneaux popped in.
"My bill ready?" he squeaked.
"No, sir. The train—"
"Leaves at two, but I'm driving to Knoleworth with Superintendent Fowler."
The door closed behind him. Tomlin shook his head.
"Box! Jack-in-the-box, I reckon," he said darkly, turning to a dog-eared ledger.
Neither at Knoleworth nor Victoria did Ingerman catch sight of the detective, though he was anxious either to make the journey in the company of the representative of Scotland Yard or arrange an early appointment with him. True, he was not inclined to place the strange-mannered little man on the same high plane as that suggested by certain London journalists to whom he had spoken. But he wanted to win the confidence of "the Yard" in connection with this case, and the belief that he was being avoided was nettling. He found consolation, of a sort, in the illustrated papers. One especially contained two pages of local pictures. "Mr. Grant addressing the crowd," with full text, was very effective, while there were admirable studies of The Hollies and the "scene of the tragedy." His own portrait was not flattering. The sun had etched his Mephistophelian features rather sharply, whereas Grant looked a very fine fellow.
Ingerman would have been more than surprised were he privileged to overhear a conversation which began and ended before he reached his flat in North Kensington.
Furneaux, who had jumped into the fore part of the train at Knoleworth, and was out in a jiffy at Victoria, handed his bag to a station detective, and turned into Vauxhall Bridge Road, one of the quietest of London's main thoroughfares. There he met a big man, dressed in tweeds, whose manifest concern at the moment seemed to center in a rather bad wrapping of a very good cigar.
"Ah! How goes it, Charles?" cried the big man heartily, affecting to be aware of Furneaux's presence when the latter had walked nearly a hundred yards down a comparatively deserted street.
"What's wrong with the toofa?" inquired Furneaux testily.
"My own carelessness. Stupid things, bands on cigars.... Well, what's the rush?"
"There's a train to Steynholme at five o'clock. I want you to take hold. I must have help. Like your cigar, this case has come unstuck."
Mr. James Leander Winter, Chief Inspector under the Criminal Investigation Department, whistled softly.
"Tut, tut!" he said. "One can never trust the newspapers. Reading this morning's particulars, it looked dead easy."
"Tell me how it struck you. Sometimes the uninformed brain is vouchsafed a gleam of unconscious genius."
Winter appeared to be devoting his mind to circumventing the vagaries of a fragile tobacco-leaf. He was a man of powerful build, over forty, heavy but active, deep-chested, round-headed, with bulging blue eyes which radiated kindliness and strength of character. The press photographer described him accurately to Grant. The average Londoner would have taken him for a county gentleman on a visit to the Agricultural Show at Islington, with a morning at Tattersall's as a variant. Yet, Sam Weller's extensive and peculiar knowledge of London compared with his as a freshman's with a don's of a university. It would be hard to assess, in coin of the realm, the value of the political and social secrets stowed away in that big head.
"First, I must put a question or two," he said, smiling at a baby which cooed at him from the shaded depths of a passing perambulator. "Is there another woman?"
"Yes, the postmaster's daughter, Doris Martin."
"Shy, pretty little bird, of course?"
"Everything that is good and beautiful."
"Is Grant a Lothario?"
"Excellent chap. Quarter of an hour before the murder he was giving Doris a lesson in astronomy in the garden of The Hollies."
"Never heard it called that before."
"This time the statement happens to be strictly accurate."
"I'm sure of it. If anything, the death of Adelaide Melhuish cleared the scales off their eyes. Those two have never kissed or squeezed—yet. They'll be starting quite soon now."
"How old is Doris?"
"But a really good-looking girl of nineteen must have had admirers before Grant went to the village."
"She had, and has. Having educated herself out of the rut, however, she left many runners at the post. One is persistent—a youngish horse-coper named Elkin. Adelaide Melhuish probably saw her with Grant. Neither Doris nor Grant knew that Adelaide Melhuish, as such, was in Steynholme. That is to say, the girl had seen Miss Melhuish in the post office, and recognized her as a famous actress, but that is all. And now I shan't tell you any more, or you'll know all that I know, which is too much."
The cigar was behaving itself at last, having burnt down to the fracture, so Winter's thoughts could be given exclusively to the less important matter of the Steynholme affair.
"To begin with," he said instantly. "Ingerman can establish a cast-iron alibi."
"So I imagined. But he's a bad lot. I throw in that item gratuitously."
The oddly-assorted pair walked in silence until Vauxhall Bridge was in sight. Winter pulled out a watch.
"What time did you say my train left Victoria?" he inquired.
"Plenty of time yet to make your guess and listen to further details," scoffed Furneaux.
"Frankly, I give it up. But, if I must share in the hunt, I tell you now that, metaphorically speaking, I shall cling to the postmaster's daughter till torn away by sheer force of evidence."
Furneaux dug his colleague in the ribs.
"That's the effect of constant association with me, James," he cackled gleefully. "Ten years ago you would have pounced on Elkin. You've hit it! I'm a prood mon the day. The pupil is equaling the master."
"You little rat, I had hanged my first murderer before you knew the meaning of habeas corpus! Let's turn now, and get to business."
Few Treasury barristers, leading for the Crown, could have marshaled the facts with such lucidity and fairness as Furneaux during that saunter to Victoria Station.
"Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice," said Othello to Lodovico, and these Scotland Yard men, charged with so great a responsibility, never forgot the great-hearted Moor's advice.
When Winter took his seat in the train at five o'clock he could have drawn a plan of Steynholme, which he had never seen, and marked thereon the exact position of each house mentioned in this record. Moreover, he was acquainted with the chief characters by sight, as it were. And, finally, he and Furneaux had arranged a plan of campaign.
Furneaux refreshed a jaded intellect by an evening at the opera. Next morning, at eleven o'clock, he was inquiring for Mr. Ingerman at an office in a certain alley off Cornhill.
A smart youth interposed a printed formula between the visitor and a door marked "Private." Furneaux wrote his name, and put "Steynholme" in the space reserved for "business." He was admitted at once. Mr. Ingerman, apparently, was immersed in a pile of letters, but he swept them all aside, and greeted the caller affably.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Furneaux," he said. "I missed you on the train yesterday. Did you—"
"Nice quiet place you've got here, Mr. Ingerman," interrupted the detective.
"Yes. But, as I was about to—"
"Artistically furnished, too," went on Furneaux dreamily. "Oak, self-toned carpets and rugs, restful decorations. Those etchings, also, show taste in the selection. 'The Embankment—by Night.' Fitting sequel to 'The City—by Day.' I'm a child in such matters, but, 'pon my honor, if tempted to pour out my hard-earned savings into the lap of a City magnate, I would disgorge here more readily than in some saloon-bar of finance, where the new mahogany glistens, and the typewriters click like machine-guns."
Ingerman was nettled. He glanced at his correspondence.
"You have a somewhat far-fetched notion of my position," he said, with a staccato quality in his velvet voice. "I am not a magnate, and I toil here to make, not to lose, money for my clients."
"A noble ideal. Forgive me if my rhapsody took the wrong line."
"And I'm sure you will forgive me if I now put the question which leads to the probable cause of your visit. Did you travel by the two o'clock train yesterday?"
"Yes. I avoided you purposely."
"May I ask, why?"
"My mind was weary. I wanted my wits about me when I tackled you."
Ingerman smiled, and leaned back, resting both elbows on the arms of the chair, and bringing the tips of his fingers together.
"Proceed," he said.
"You prefer that I should drag out a statement piecemeal rather than receive it en bloc?"
"Put it that way, if you like."
"I shall even enjoy it. To clear the ground, are you the Isidor G. Ingerman who exploited the A1 Mine in Abyssinia?"
Ingerman's finger-tips whitened under a sudden pressure, but his voice remained calm.
"An unfortunate episode," he said.
"And the Aegean Transport Company, Limited?"
"Into which I was inveigled by Greeks. But why this history of ruined enterprises?"
"It's a sort of schooling. I have noticed that the smartest counsel invariably begin with a few fireworks in order to induce the proper frame of mind in a witness."
"Does that mean that you want me to blurt out bitter and prejudiced accusations against Mr. Grant?"
"I want to hear what you have to say about the death of your wife. You forced the cross-examining role on me. I'm doing my best."
Ingerman kept silent during many seconds. When he spoke, his cultured voice was suave as ever.
"Perhaps it was my fault, Mr. Furneaux," he said. "You gave me a strong hint. I should have taken it, and we might have started an interesting chat on pleasanter lines. So, with apologies for my insistence about the train, I make a fresh start. I believe firmly that Grant was directly concerned in the murder. And I shall justify my belief. Within the past fortnight a rapprochement between my wife and myself became possible. It was spoken of, even reduced to the written word. I have her letters. Mine should be found among her belongings. May I take it that they have been found?"
"Yes," said Furneaux.
"Ah. So far, so good. My poor wife reached the parting of the ways. She saw that her life was becoming an empty husk. I think the theater was palling on her. But I see now that she still cherished the dream of winning the man she loved—not me, her husband, but that handsome dilettante, Grant. I take it, therefore, that she went to Steynholme to determine whether or not the glamour of the past was really dead. Unfortunately, she witnessed certain idyllic passages between her one-time lover and a charming village girl. Imagine the effect of this discovery on one of the artistic temperament. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' and my unhappy wife would lash herself into an emotional frenzy. She would tear a passion to rags. Her very training on the stage would come to her aid in scathing words—perhaps threats. If Grant remained cold to her appeal the village beauty should be made to suffer. Then he would flame into storm. And so the upas-tree of tragedy spread its poisonous shade until reason fled, and some demon whispered, 'Kill!' I find no flaw in my theory. It explains the inexplicable. Now, how does it strike you, Mr. Furneaux?"
"Is that so? I have the advantage, of course, in knowing my wife's peculiarities. And I have made some study of Grant. He admits already that he is under suspicion. Why, if he is innocent? Mind you, I pay little heed to the crude disposal of the body. Horace, I think, has a truism that art lies in concealing art. My wife's presence in Steynholme was no secret. She would have been missed from the inn. Search would be made. The murder must be revealed sooner or later, and the murderer himself was aware that by no twisting or turning could his name escape association with that of his victim. Why not face the music at once? he would argue. The very simplicity of the means adopted to fasten a kind of responsibility on him might prove his best safeguard. Even now I doubt whether any jury will find him guilty on the evidence as it stands, but my duty to my unhappy wife demands that I shall strengthen the arm of justice by every legitimate means in my power."
"Is that your case, Mr. Ingerman?"
"At present, yes."
"It assumes that the police adopt your view."
"Not necessarily. The police must do their work without fear or favor. But Grant can be committed for trial on a coroner's warrant."
"Grant is certainly in an awkward place."
"Only a little while ago you dismissed my theory of the crime as airy persiflage."
"That was before you quoted Horace. I have a great respect for Horace. His ode to the New Year is a gem."
"Would you care to see my wife's recent letters?"
"If you please."
"They are at my flat, I'll send you copies. The originals are always at your disposal for comparison, of course. Now may I, without offense, ask a question?"
"Is it wise that the emissary of Scotland Yard should leave Steynholme?"
"But didn't I tell you that I might obtain light in the neighborhood of Cornhill?"
"True. I could have given you the facts in Steynholme."
"I'm a greater believer in what the theater people call 'atmosphere.' Some of your facts, Mr. Ingerman, remind me of an expert's report in a mining prospectus. When tested by cyanide of potassium the gold in the ore often changes into iron pyrites. But don't hug the delusion that I shall neglect Steynholme. The murderer is there, not in London, and, unless my intellect is failing, he will be tried for his life at the next Lewes Assizes. Meanwhile, may I give you a bit of advice?"
"By all means."
"Employ a sound lawyer, one who will avoid needless mud-slinging. Good day! Send those letters to the Yard by to-night's post if practicable."
"It shall be done."
When the door closed on Furneaux, Ingerman smiled.
"I've given that little Frenchman furiously to think," he murmured.
But the "little Frenchman" was smiling, too. He had elaborated the scheme already discussed with Winter. It was much to his liking, though unorthodox, rather crack-brained, more than risky, and altogether opposed to the instructions of the Police Manual. Each of these drawbacks was a commendation to Furneaux. In fact, the Steynholme mystery had taken quite a favorable turn during that talk with Ingerman.
P. C. ROBINSON TAKES ANOTHER LINE
About the time Furneaux was whisked past The Hollies in Superintendent Fowler's dogcart, Grant and Hart were finishing luncheon, and planning a long walk to the sea. Grant would dearly have liked to secure Doris's company, but good taste forbade that he should even invite her to share the ramble. Thus, the death of a woman with whom he had not exchanged a word during three years had already set up a barrier between Doris and himself. Though impalpable, it was effective. It could neither be climbed nor avoided. Quiet little Steynholme had suddenly become a rigid censor of morals and etiquette. Until this evil thing was annihilated by slow process of law, Doris and he might meet only by chance and never remain long together.
When the two were ready to start, Hart elected to dispense with his South American sombrero.
"I am sensitive to ridicule," he professed. "The village urchins will christen me 'Owd Ben,' and the old gentleman's character was such that I would feel hurt. So, for to-day, I'll join the no hat brigade."
"I wonder if we'll meet Furneaux," said Grant, selecting a walking-stick. "It's odd that we should have seen nothing of him this morning."
"It would be still more odd if we had, remembering the precautions he took not to be observed coming here last night."
"Well, that's so. I forgot to ask the reason. There was one, I suppose."
"Of the best. That little man is a live wire of intelligence. He's wasted on Scotland Yard. He ought to be a dramatist or an ambassador."
"Quaint alternatives, those."
"Not at all. Each profession demands brains, and is at its best in coining cute phrases. I've met scores of both tribes, and they're like as peas in a pod."
A bell rang.
"That's the front door," said Grant. "It's Furneaux himself, I hope."
But the visitor was P.C. Robinson, who actually smiled and saluted.
"Glad I've caught you before you went out, sir," he said. "Mr. Furneaux asked me to tell you he had to hurry back to London. I was also to mention that he had got the whiskers."
"What whiskers? Whose whiskers?"
"That's all he said, sir—he'd got the whiskers."
"Why, Owd Ben's whiskers, of course. How dense you are, Jack!" put in Hart.
Now, this was the first Robinson had heard of whiskers in connection with the crime. He remembered Elkin's make-up as Svengali, of course, and could have kicked himself for not associating earlier a set of sable whiskers with the black wig and the bullet-torn hat.
But, Owd Ben! What figure did that redoubtable ghost cut in the mystery?
"There are certain lacunae in your otherwise vigorous and thrilling story, constable," went on Hart.
"Very likely, sir," agreed Robinson, much to the surprise of his hearers. He had not the slightest notion what a lacuna, or its plural, signified. He was only adopting Furneaux's advice, and trying to be civil.
"Ah, you see that, do you?" said Hart. "Well, fill 'em in. When, where, and how did the midget sleuth obtain the specter's hairy adornments?"
The policeman, whose wits were thoroughly on the alert, realized that he had scored a point, though he knew not how.
"He did not tell me, sir," he answered. "It's a rum business, that's what it is, no matter what way you look at it."
Grant, agreeably aware of the village constable's change of front, accepted the olive branch readily.
"We're just going for a walk," he said. "If you have ten minutes to spare, Mrs. Bates will find you some luncheon, I have no doubt."
"Well, sir, meals are a trifle irregular during a busy time like this," admitted Robinson, feeling that his luck was in, because tongues would surely be loosened in the kitchen to an official guest introduced by the master of the establishment. He was right. No member of the Bates family dreamed of reticence, now that the household was restored to favor with "the force." Before Robinson departed, he was full of information and good food.
What more natural, then, an hour later, than that he should contrive to meet Elkin as the horse-dealer was taking home a lively two-year-old pony he had been "lungeing" on a strip of common opposite his house?
Each was eager to question the other, but Elkin opened fire.
"Anything fresh?" he cried. "You have a fair course now, Robinson. That little London 'tec has bunked home."
"Has he?" In the language of the ring, Robinson thought fit to spar for an opening.
"Oh, none of your kiddin'," said Elkin, stroking the nervous colt's neck. "You know he has. You don't miss much that's going on. Bet you half a thick 'un you'd have put someone in clink before this if the murder at The Hollies had been left in your hands."
"That's as may be, Mr. Elkin. But this affair seems to have gripped you for fair. You look thoroughly run down. Sleepin' badly?"
"Rotten! Hardly got a wink last night."
"You shouldn't be out so late. Why, on'y a week ago you were in bed regular at 10.15."
"That inquest broke up the day yesterday, so I was delayed at Knoleworth."
"What time did you reach home?"
"Dashed if I know. After twelve before I was in bed. By the way, what's this about things missing from a box owned by the Amateur Dramatic Society? That silly josser of a detective—What's his name?"
"Furneaux," said Robinson, who was clever enough not to appear too secretive, and was thanking his stars that Elkin had introduced the very topic he wanted to discuss.
"Ay, Furneaux. I remember now. He worried old Tomlin last night about that box, which is kept in the loft over the club-room. So Tomlin and I, and Hobbs, just to satisfy ourselves, went up there as soon as Furneaux left to-day. And, what do you think? The box was unlocked, though I locked it myself, and have the key; and a hat and wig and whiskers I wore when we played a skit on 'Trilby' were missing. If that isn't a clew, what is?"
"A clew!" repeated the bewildered Robinson.
"Yes. I'm telling you, though I kept dark before the other fellows. Didn't you say Grant's cheek was bleeding on Tuesday morning?"
"Well, the whiskers were held on by wires that slip over the ears. One wire was sharp as a needle. I know, because it stuck into a finger more than once. Why shouldn't it scratch a man's cheek, and the cut open again next morning?"
"By jing, you've got your knife into Mr. Grant, an' no mistake," commented Robinson.
"You yourself gave him a nasty jab at the inquest," sneered Elkin.
"I was just tellin' the facts."
"So am I. I think you ought to know about that hat and the other things. I would recognize them anywhere. Furneaux had something up his sleeve, too, or he wouldn't have pumped Tomlin... Woa, boy! So long, Robinson! I must put this youngster into his stall."
"I'll wait, Mr. Elkin," said Robinson solemnly. "I want to have a word with you."
The policeman was glad of the respite. He needed time to collect his thoughts. The story of the dinner-party and its excitement disposed completely of Elkin's malicious theory with regard to Grant, but, since the horse-dealer was minded to be communicative, it would be well to encourage him.
"Come in, and have a drink," said Elkin, when the colt had been stabled.
"No, thanks—not when I'm on duty."
Elkin raised his eyebrows sarcastically. He could not possibly guess that Robinson was adopting Furneaux's pose of never accepting hospitality from a man whom he might have to arrest.
"Well, blaze away. I'm ready."
The younger man leaned against a gate. He looked ill and physically worn.
"Your business has kept you out late of a night recently, you say, Mr. Elkin," began the other, speaking as casually as he could contrive. "Now, it might help a lot if you can call to mind anyone you met on the roads at ten or eleven o'clock. For instance, last night—"
Elkin laughed in a queer, croaking way.
"Last night my mare brought me home. I was decidedly sprung, Robinson. Glad you didn't spot me, or there might have been trouble. What between the inquest, an' no food, an' more than a few drinks at Knoleworth, I'd have passed Owd Ben himself without seeing him, though I believe I did squint in at The Hollies as I went by."
"What time would that be?"
"Oh, soon after eleven."
"I can't be certain to ten minutes or so. The pubs hadn't closed when I left Knoleworth. What the devil does it matter, anyhow?"
It mattered a great deal. Robinson could testify that Elkin did not cross Steynholme bridge "soon after eleven."
"Nothing much," was the answer. "You see, I'm anxious to find out who might be stirring at that hour, an' you know everybody for miles around. I'd like to fix your journey by the clock, if I could."
"Dash it all, man, I was full to the eyes. There! You have it straight."
"Were you out on Monday night?"
"The night of the murder?"
"I left the Hare and Hounds at ten, and came straight home."
"Who was there with you?"
"The usual crowd—Hobbs, and Siddle, and Bob Smith, and a commercial traveler. Siddle went at half past nine, but he generally does."
"You met no one on the road?"
The monosyllable seemed to lack Elkin's usual confidence. It sounded as if he had been making up his mind what to say, yet faltered at the last moment.
Robinson ruminated darkly. As a matter of fact, long after eleven o'clock on that fateful night, he himself had seen Elkin walking homeward. He was well aware that the licensing hours were not strictly observed by the Hare and Hounds when "commercial gentlemen" were in residence. Closing time was ten o'clock, but the "commercials," being cheery souls, became nominal hosts on such occasions, and their guests were in no hurry to depart. Robinson saw that he had probably jumped to a conclusion, an acrobatic feat of reasoning which Furneaux had specifically warned him against. At any rate, he resolved now to leave well enough alone.
"Well, we don't seem to get any forrarder," he said. "You ought to take more care of your health, Mr. Elkin. You're a changed man these days."
"I'll be all right when this murder is off our chests, Robinson. You won't have a tiddley? Right-o! So long!"
Robinson walked slowly toward Steynholme. At a turn in the road he halted near the footpath which led down the wooded cliff and across the river to Bush Walk. He surveyed the locality with a reflective frown. Then, there being no one about, he made some notes of the chat with Elkin. The man's candor and his misstatements were equally puzzling. None knew better than the policeman that the vital discrepancy of fully an hour and a half on the Monday night would be difficult to clear up. Tomlin, of course, would have no recollection of events after ten o'clock, but the commercial traveler, who could be traced, might be induced to tell the truth if assured that the police needed the information solely for purposes in connection with their inquiry into the murder. That man must be found. His testimony should have an immense significance.
That evening, shortly before seven o'clock, a stalwart, prosperous-looking gentleman in tweeds "descended" from the London express at Knoleworth. The local train for Steynholme stood in a bay on the opposite platform, and this passenger in particular was making for it when he nearly collided with another man, younger, thinner, bespectacled, who hailed him with delight.
"You, too? Good egg!" was the cry.
The gentleman thus addressed did not seem to relish this geniality.
"Where the deuce are you off to?" he demanded.
"To Steynholme—same as you, of course."
"Look here, Peters, a word in your ear. If you know me during the next few days, you'll never know me again. I suppose you'll be staying at the local inn—there's only one of any repute in the place?"
"That's so. I've got you. May I take it that you will reciprocate when the time comes?"
"Have I ever failed you?"
"No. We meet as strangers."
Peters bustled off. He had the reputation of being the smartest "writer up" in London of mystery cases. The Steynholme affair had interested both him and a shrewd news-editor.
The pair arrived at the Hare and Hounds within a few minutes of each other. The big man registered as "Mr. W. Franklin, Argentina." Peters ordered a chop, and went off at once to interview the local policeman. Mr. Franklin took more pains over the prospective meal.
"Have you a nice chicken?" he inquired.
Yes, Mr. Tomlin had a veritable spring chicken in the larder at that moment.
"And do you think your cook could provide a tourne-dos?"
"A what-a, sir?" wheezed Tomlin.
The visitor explained. He liked variety, he said. Half the chicken might be deviled for breakfast. The two dishes, with plain boiled potatoes and French beans, would suit him admirably. He was sorry he dared not try Tomlin's excellent claret, but a dominating doctor had put him on the water-cart. In effect, Mr. Franklin impressed the landlord as a man of taste and ample means.
Peters had gobbled his chop before Franklin entered the dining-room, but they met later in the snug, where Elkin was being chaffed by Hobbs anent his carryin's on in Knoleworth the previous night.
Siddle came in, but the chatter was not so free as when the habitues had the place to themselves.
Now, Peters had marked the gathering as one that suited his purpose exactly, so he gave the conversation the right twist.
"I suppose you local gentlemen have been greatly disturbed by this sensational murder?" he said.
Hobbs took refuge in a glass of beer. Siddle gazed contemplatively at his neat boots. Tomlin meant to say something; Elkin, eying the stranger, and summing him up as a detective, answered brusquely:
"The murder is bad enough, but the fat-headed police are worse. Three days gone, and nothing done!"
"What murder are you discussing, may I ask?" put in Franklin.
Peters turned on him with astonishment in every line of a peculiarly mobile face.
"Do you mean to say, sir, that you haven't heard of the Steynholme murder?" he gasped.
"I seldom, if ever, read such things in the newspapers, and, as I landed in England only a week ago from France, my ignorance, though abyssmal, is pardonable. Moreover, I can say truly that I am far more interested in pedigree horses than in vulgar criminals."
Peters explained fluently. This was no ordinary crime. A beautiful and popular actress had been done to death in a brutal way, and the country was already deeply stirred by the story.
Elkin waited impatiently till the journalist drew breath. Then he broke in.
"Pedigree horses you mentioned, sir," he said, his rancor against Grant being momentarily conquered by the pertinent allusion to his own business. "What sort? Racing, coaching, roadsters, or hacks?"
"All sorts. The Argentine, where I have connections, offers an ever-open door to good horseflesh."
"Are you having a look round?"
"Yes. There are several decent studs within driving distance of Steynholme. Isn't that so, landlord?"
"Lots, sir," said Tomlin. "An' the very man you're talkin' to has some stuff not to be sneezed at."
"Is that so?" Mr. Franklin gazed at Elkin in a very friendly manner. "May I ask your name, sir?"
Elkin produced a card. Every hoof in his stables appreciated in value forthwith, but he was far too knowing that he should appear to rush matters.
"Call any day you like, sir," he said. "Glad to see you. But give me notice. I generally have an appetizer here of a morning about eleven."
"An' you want it, too, Fred," said Hobbs. "Dash me, you're as thin as a herrin'. Stop whiskey an' drink beer, like me."
"And you might also follow that gentleman's example," interposed Siddle quietly, nodding towards Mr. Franklin.
"What's that?" snapped Elkin.
"Don't worry about murders."
"That's a nice thing to say. Why should I worry about the d—-d mix-up?"
The chemist made no reply, but Hobbs stepped into the breach valiantly.
"Keep yer 'air on, Fred," he vociferated. "Siddle means no 'arm. But wot else are yer a-doing of, mornin', noon, an' night?"
Elkin laughed, with his queer croak.
"If you stay here a day or two, you'll soon get to know what they're driving at, sir," he said to Franklin. "The fact is that this chap, Grant, who found the body, and in whose garden the murder was committed, has been making eyes at the girl I'm as good as engaged to. That would make anybody wild—now, wouldn't it?"
"Possibly," smiled Franklin. "Of course there is always the lady's point of view. The sex is proverbially fickle, you know. 'Woman, thy vows are traced in sand,' Lord Byron has it."
"Ay, an' some men's, too," guffawed Hobbs. "Wot about Peggy Smith, Fred?"
Elkin blew a mouthful of cigarette smoke at the butcher.
"What about that tough old bull you bought at Knoleworth on Monday?" he retorted.
Hobbs's face grew purple. Mr. Franklin beckoned to Tomlin.
"Ask these gentlemen what they'll have," he said gently. The landlord made a clatter of glasses, and the threatened storm passed.
"You've aroused my curiosity," remarked Franklin to Peters, but taking the company at large into the conversation. "This does certainly strike one as a remarkable case. Is there no suspicion yet as to the actual murderer?"
"None whatever," said Peters.
"That's what you may call the police opinion," broke in Elkin. "We Steynholme folk have a pretty clear notion, I can assure you."
"The matter is still sub judice, and may remain so a long time," said Siddle. "It is simply stupid to attach a kind of responsibility to the man who happens to occupy the house associated with the crime. I have no patience with that sort of reasoning."
Hobbs, who did not want to quarrel with Elkin, suddenly championed him.
"That's all very well," he rumbled. "But the hevidence you an' me 'eard, Siddle, an' the hevidence we know we're goin' to 'ear, is a lot stronger than that."
"I'm sure you'll pardon me, friends," said Siddle, rising with an apologetic smile, "but I happen to be foreman of the coroner's jury, and I feel that this matter is not for me, at any rate, to discuss publicly."
Out he went, not even heeding Tomlin's appeal to drink the ginger-ale he had just ordered.
"Just like 'im," sighed Hobbs. "Good-'earted fellow! Would find hexcuses for a black rat."
Elkin talked more freely now that the chemist's disapproving eye was off him. Ultimately, Mr. Franklin elected to smoke a cigar in the open air, and strolled forth. He sauntered down the hill, stood on the bridge, and admired the soft blue tones of the landscape in the half light of a summer evening. Shortly before closing time, Robinson appeared, it being part of his routine duty to see that no noisy revelers disturbed the peace of the village. He noticed the stranger at once, and elected to walk past him.
Thus, he received yet another shock when Mr. Franklin addressed him by name.
"Good evening, Robinson," said the pleasant, clear-toned voice. "I've been expecting you to turn up. Kindly go back home, and leave the door open. I want to slip in quietly. I am Chief Inspector Winter, of Scotland Yard."
"You don't say so, sir!" stammered Robinson.
"But I do say it, and will prove it to you, of course. I'll be with you in a minute or two. There's someone coming. You and I must not be seen together."
Robinson made off, and Winter lounged along the Knoleworth road. He met Bates, going to the post with letters.
Naturally, Bates looked him over. Returning from the post office, he kept a sharp eye for the unknown loiterer, but saw him not. He even walked quickly to the bend of the road, but the other man had vanished.
Grant and Hart were talking of anything but the murder when Bates thrust his head in. He was grasping his goatee beard, sure sign of some weight on his mind.
"Beg pardon," he said, "but I thought you'd like to know. The place is just swarmin' with 'em."
"Bees?" inquired Hart.
Bates stared fixedly at the speaker for a second or two.
"No, sir, 'tecs," he said. "There's a big 'un now—just the opposite to the little 'un, Hawkshaw. I 'ope I 'aven't to tackle this customer, though. He'd gimme a doin', by the looks of 'im."
Bates had disappeared before Grant remembered that the press photographer had mentioned the Big 'Un and the Little 'Un of the Yard.
"Now, I wonder," he said.
His wonder could hardly have equaled Winter's had he heard the gardener's words. The guess was a distinct score for blunt Sussex, though it was founded solely on the assumption that all comers now, unless Bates was personally acquainted with them, were limbs of the law.
WHEREIN WINTER GETS TO WORK
Winter had identified Bates at the first glance. The letters in the man's hand, too, showed his errand, so, while the gardener was climbing the hill, the detective slipped into Robinson's cottage.
He found the policeman awaiting him in the dark, because a voice said:
"Beg pardon, sir, but the other gentleman from the 'Yard' asked me to take him into the kitchen. A light in the front room might attract attention, he thought."
"Just what Mr. Furneaux would suggest, and I agree with him," said Winter, quite alive to the canny discretion behind those words, "the other gentleman."
Robinson led the way. Supper was laid on the table. Poor Mrs. Robinson had again beaten a hasty retreat.
"Now, Robinson," said the Chief Inspector affably, "before we come to business I'll prove my bona fides. Here is my official card, and I'll run quickly through events until 1.30 p.m. to-day. I met Mr. Furneaux at Victoria, and he posted me fully up to that hour."
So the policeman listened to a clear summary of the Steynholme case as it was known to the authorities.
"I did not warn either Mr. Fowler or you of my visit because a telegram could hardly be explicit enough," concluded Winter. "At the inn I am Mr. Franklin, an Argentine importer of blood stock in the horse line. At this moment the only other man beside yourself in Steynholme who is aware of my official position is Mr. Peters, and he is pledged to secrecy. To-morrow or any other day until further notice, you and I meet as strangers in public. By the way, Mr. Furneaux asked me to tell you that he found the wig and the false beard in the river early this morning. The wearer had apparently flung them off while crossing the foot-bridge leading from Bush Walk, having forgotten that they would not sink readily. Perhaps he didn't care. At any rate, Mr. Hart's bullet seems to have laid Owd Ben's ghost. Now, what of this fellow, Elkin? He worries me."
"Can I offer you a glass of beer, sir?"
"With pleasure. May I smoke while you eat? You see, I differ from Mr. Furneaux in both size and habits."
Robinson poured out the beer. He was preternaturally grave. The somewhat incriminating statements he had wormed out of the horse-dealer that afternoon lay heavy upon him. But he told his story succinctly enough. Winter nodded to emphasize each point, and congratulated him at the end.
"You arranged that very well," he said. "I gather, though, that Elkin spoke rather openly."
"Just as I've put it, sir. He tripped a bit over the time on Monday night. But it's only fair to say that he might have had Tomlin's license in mind."
"That issue will be settled to-morrow. I'll find out the commercial traveler's name, and send a telegram from Knoleworth before noon.... Who is Peggy Smith?"
Robinson set down an empty glass with a stare of surprise.
"Bob Smith's daughter, sir," he answered.
"No doubt. But, proceed."
"Well, sir, she's just a village girl. Her father is a blacksmith. His forge is along to the right, not far. She'll be twenty, or thereabouts."
"Not more than the rest of 'em, sir."
"Have you seen her flirting with Elkin?"
Robinson took thought.
"Now that I come to think of it, she might be given a bit that way. Her father shoes Elkin's nags, so there's a lot of comin' an' goin' between the two places. But folks would always look on it as natural enough. Yes, I've seen 'em together more than once."
"In that case, he can hardly grumble if the postmaster's daughter has an eye for another young man."
"Miss Martin!" snorted Robinson. "She wouldn't look the side of the road he was on. Fred Elkin isn't her sort."
"But he said to-night in the Hare and Hounds that he and Miss Martin were practically engaged."
"Stuff an' nonsense! Sorry, sir, but I admire Doris Martin. I like to see a girl like her liftin' herself out of the common gang. She's the smartest young lady in the village, an' not an atom of a snob. No, no. She isn't for Fred Elkin. Before this murder cropped up everybody would have it that Mr. Grant would marry her."
"How does the murder intervene?"
Robinson shifted uneasily in his chair. He knew only too well that he himself had driven a wedge between the two.
"Steynholme's a funny spot, sir," he contrived to explain. "Since it came out that Doris an' Mr. Grant were in the garden at The Hollies at half past ten on Monday night, without Mr. Martin knowin' where his daughter was, there's been talk. Both the postmaster an' the girl herself are up to it. You can see it in their faces. They don't like it, an' who can blame 'em!"
"Who, indeed? But this Elkin—surely he had some ground for a definite boast, made openly, among people acquainted with all the parties?"
"There's more than Elkin would marry Doris if she lifted a finger, sir."
"Can you name them?"
"Well, Tomlin wants a wife."
Winter laughed joyously.
"Next?" he cried.
"They say that Mr. Siddle is a widower."
"The chemist? Foreman of the jury?"
"From appearances, he is a likelier candidate than either Elkin or Tomlin. Anybody else?"
"I shouldn't be far wrong if I gave you the name of most among the young unmarried men in the parish."
"Dear me! I must have a peep at this charmer. But I want those names, Robinson."
Winter produced a note-book, so he was evidently taking the matter seriously. The policeman, however, was flustered. His thoughts ran on Elkin, whereas this masterful person from London insisted on discussing Doris Martin.
"My difficulty is, sir, that she has never kep' company with any of 'em," he said.
"Never mind. Give me the name of every man who, no matter what his position or prospects, might be irritated, if no more, if he knew that Miss Martin and Mr. Grant were presumably spooning in a garden at a rather late hour."
It was a totally new line of inquiry for Robinson, but he bent his wits to it, and evolved a list which, if published, would certainly be regarded with incredulous envy by every other girl in the village than the postmaster's daughter; as for Doris herself, she would be mightily surprised when she saw it, but whether annoyed or secretly gratified none but a pretty girl of nineteen can tell.
Winter departed soon afterwards. Before going to the inn he had a look at the forge. A young woman, standing at the open door of the adjoining cottage, favored him with a frank stare. There was no light in the dwelling. When he returned, after walking a little way down the road, the door was closed.
Next morning, Bates heard of Peters as the detective and of Mr. Franklin as a "millionaire" from South America. Moreover, he scrutinized both in the flesh, and saw Robinson salute Peters but pass the financial potentate with indifference.
Alas, that a reputation, once built, should be destroyed!
"I was mistook, sir," he reported to Grant later. "There's another 'tec about, but 'e ain't the chap I met last night. They say this other bloke is rollin' in money, an' buyin' hosses right an' left."
"Then he'll soon be rolling in the mud, and have no money," put in Hart.
"Who is he?" inquired Grant carelessly.
"A Mr. Franklin, from South America, sir."
Grant and Hart exchanged glances. Curiously enough, Hart remained silent till Bates had gone.
"I must look this joker up, Jack," he said then. "To me the mere mention of South America is like Mother Gary's chickens to a sailor, a harbinger of storm."
But Hart consumed Tomlin's best brew to no purpose—in so far as seeing Mr. Franklin was concerned, since the latter was in Knoleworth, buying a famous racing stud. Being in the village, however, this fisher in troubled waters was not inclined to return without a bag of some sort.
He walked straight into the post office. Doris and her father were there, the telegraphist being out.
"Good day, everybody," he cried cheerfully. "Grant wants to know, Mr. Martin, if you and Miss Doris will come and dine with him, us, this evening at 7.30?"
The postmaster gazed helplessly at this free-and-easy stranger. Doris laughed, and blushed a little.
"This is Mr. Hart, a friend of Mr. Grant's, dad," she explained. "I'm afraid we cannot accept the invitation. We are so busy."
"The worst of excuses," said Hart.
"But there is a London correspondent here who hands in a long telegram at that hour."
"What's his name?"
"Great Scott! Jimmie Peters here? I'll soon put a stopper on him. He'll come, too—jumping. See if he doesn't. Is it a bargain? Short telegram at six. Dinner for five at 7.30. Come, now, Mr. Martin. It's up to you. I can see 'Yes' in Doris's eye. Over the port—most delectable, I assure you—I'll give full details of the peculiar case of a man in Worcestershire whose crop of gooseberries increased fourfold after starting an apiary. And what does it matter if you do lose a queen or two in June? The drones will attend to that trifle.... It's a fixture, eh? Where's Peters? In the Pull and Push? I'll rout him out."
The whirlwind subsided, but quickly materialized again.
"Peters nearly fell on his knees and wept with joy," announced Hart. "He believes he was given a bull steak for luncheon. He pledges himself to have only five hundred words on the wire at five o'clock."
Meanwhile, father and daughter had decided that there was no valid reason why they should not dine with Mr. Grant. Martin already regretted his aloofness on the day of the inquest, though, truth to tell, Hart's expert knowledge of bee-culture was the determining factor. On her part, Doris was delighted. Her world had gone awry that week, and this small festivity might right it.
Not one word of the improvised dinner-party did Hart confide to Grant. He informed the only indispensable person, Mrs. Bates, and left it at that. Grant, a restless being these days, took him for another long walk. It chanced that their road home led down the high-street. The hour was a quarter past seven, and Peters hailed them.
Hart introduced the journalist, saying casually:
"Jimmie is coming to dinner, Jack."
"Delighted," said Grant, of course.
Peters looked slightly surprised, but passed no comment. Then Doris and her father appeared. They joined the others, shook hands, and, to Grant's secret perplexity, the whole party moved off down the hill in company. When the Martins turned with the rest to cross the bridge, Grant began to suspect his friend.
"Wally," he managed to whisper, "what game have you been playing?"
"Aren't you satisfied?" murmured Hart. "Sdeath, as they used to say in the Surrey Theater, you're as bad as Furshaw!"
There were others far more perturbed by that odd conjunction of diners than the puzzled host, who merely expected Mrs. Bates to belabor him with a rolling pin. Mr. Siddle, for instance, had just closed his shop when the five met. That is to say, the dark blue blind was drawn, but the door was ajar. He came to the threshold, and watched the party until the bridge was neared, when one of them, looking back, might have seen him, so he stepped discreetly inside. Being a non-interfering, self-contained man, he seemed to be rather irresolute. But that condition passed quickly. Leaning over the counter, he secured a hat and a pair of field-glasses, and went out. He, too, knew of Mrs. Jefferson's weakness for shopping in Knoleworth, and that good lady had gone there again. Her train was due in ten minutes. A wicket gate led to a narrow passage communicating with the back door of her residence. He entered boldly, reached the garden, and hurried to the angle on the edge of the cliff next to the Martins' strip of ground.
Yes, a spacious dinner-table was laid at The Hollies. Doris, Mr. Martin, and Peters soon strolled out on to the lawn. The pedestrians had obviously gone upstairs to wash after their tramp.
Mr. Siddle rather forgot himself. He stared so long and earnestly through the field-glasses that he ran full tilt into Mrs. Jefferson and maid before regaining the high-street. But the chemist was a ready man. He lifted his hat with an inquiring smile.
"Didn't you say you wanted some anti-arthritic salts early in the week?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Jefferson, "but I got some to-day in Knoleworth, thank you."
"Well, I was just making up an indent, and might as well include your specific if you really needed it."
Which was kind and thoughtful of Mr. Siddle, but not quite true, though it fully explained his presence at Mrs. Jefferson's gate.
Mr. Franklin, escorting a fragrant Havana up the hill (he had traveled by the same train) saw the meeting, and, being aware of Mrs. Jefferson's frugal habits, since Furneaux had omitted no item of his movements in Steynholme, remembered it later during the nightly gathering in the inn.
Elkin greeted Mr. Franklin respectfully when the great man joined the circle.
"Did you see anything worth while at Knoleworth, sir?" he said.
"No. I was unlucky. All the principals were at a race meeting."
"By gum! That's right. It's Gatwick today. Dash! I might have saved you a journey."
"Oh, it doesn't matter. In my business there is no call for hurry."
Elkin looked around.
"Where's our friend, the 'tec?" he said.
"I think you're wrong about 'im, meanin' Mr. Peters," said Tomlin. "'E's 'ere for a noospaper, not for the Yard."
"That's his blarney," smirked Elkin. "A detective doesn't go about telling everybody what he is."
"Whatever his profession may be," put in Siddle's quiet voice, "I happen to know that he is dining with Mr. Grant. So are Mr. Martin and Doris. By mere chance I called at Mrs. Jefferson's. I went to the back door, and, finding it closed, looked into the garden. From there I couldn't help seeing the assembly on the lawn of The Hollies."
"Dining at Grant's?" shouted Elkin in a fury. "Well, I'm—"
"'Ush, Fred!" expostulated Tomlin with a shocked glance at Mr. Franklin. "Wot's wrong wi' a bit of grub, ony ways? A very nice-spoken young gent kem 'ere twiced, an' axed for Mr. Peters the second time. He's a friend o' Mr. Grant's, I reckon."
"What's wrong?" stormed the horse-dealer. "Why, everything's wrong! The bounder ought to be in jail instead of giving dinner-parties. Imagine Doris eating in that house!"
"Ay! Sweetbreads an' saddle o' lamb," interjected Hobbs with the air of one imparting a secret.
Elkin was pallid with wrath. He glared at Hobbs.
"What I had in my mind was the impudence of the blighter," he said shrilly. "That poor woman's body leaves here to-morrow for some cemetery in London, and Grant invites folk to a small dinner to-night!"
A sort of awe fell on the company. None of the others had as yet put the two events in juxtaposition, and they had an ugly sound. Even Mr. Siddle stifled a protest. Elkin had scored a hit, a palpable hit, and no one could gainsay him. He felt that, for once, the general opinion was with him, and drove the point home.
"Hobson—the local joiner and undertaker"—he explained for Mr. Franklin's benefit—"came this morning to borrow a couple of horses for the job. It's to be done in style—'no expense spared' was Mr. Ingerman's order—and the poor thing is in her coffin now while Grant—"
He stopped. Mr. Siddle coughed.
"You've said enough, Elkin," murmured the chemist. "This excitement is harmful. You really ought to be in bed for the next forty-eight hours, dieting yourself carefully, and taking Dr. Foxton's mixture regularly. He has changed it, I noticed."
"Bed! Me! Not likely. I'm going to kick up a row. What are the police doing? A set of blooming old women, that's what they are. But I'll stir 'em up, if I have to write to the Home Secretary."
"Gentlemen," said Mr. Franklin, smiling genially, "I cannot help taking a certain interest in this affair. May I, then, as a complete stranger to all concerned, tell you how this minor episode strikes me. Mr. Grant, I understand, denies having seen or spoken to Miss Melhuish during the past three years. None of the others now in his house had met her at all. Really, if a man may not give a dinnerparty in these conditions, dining-out would become a lost art."
Elkin was obviously seeking for some retort which, though forcible, would not offend a possible patron. But Siddle answered far more deftly than might be looked for from the horse-dealer.
"Your contention, sir, is just what the man of the world would hold," he said, "but, in this village, where we live on neighborly terms, such an incident would be impossible in almost any other house than The Hollies."
Mr. Franklin nodded. He was convinced. Tomlin, Hobbs, and a local draper bore out the chemist's reasonable theory. Next morning Steynholme was again united in condemning Grant, while the postmaster and his daughter were not wholly exempted from criticism.
The dinner itself was an altogether harmless and cheery meal. By common consent not one word was said about the murder. Hart was amusing on the question of bees—almost flippant, Mr. Martin deemed him. Peters had a wide store of strange experiences to draw on, while Grant, if rather silent in deference to two such brilliant talkers, found much satisfaction in regarding Doris as a hostess.
The next day being Saturday, or market day, the village was busy. At eleven o'clock there was a somewhat unnecessary display of nodding plumes and long-tailed black horses at the removal of the coffin to the railway station. For some reason, the funeral arrangements had not been bruited about until Elkin made that envenomed attack on Grant in the Hare and Hounds the previous night. Ingerman had sent a gorgeous wreath, the only one forthcoming locally. This fact, of course, invited comment, though no whisperer in the crowd troubled to add that the interment was only announced in that day's newspapers.
Peters, meeting Mr. Franklin on the stairs of the inn, put a note into his hand. It read:
"Why don't you have a chat with Grant? The public mind is being inflamed against him. It's hardly fair."
Mr. Franklin, meeting Peters in the passage, winked at him, and the journalist tortured his brains to turn out some readable stuff which should grip the million on Sunday yet not to be damaging to the man whose hospitality he enjoyed over night.
In a word, the passing of Adelaide Melhuish was exploited thoroughly as an indictment of her one-time lover, and the only two in Steynholme not aware of the fact were Grant, himself, and Wally Hart.
By a singular coincidence, not ridiculously beyond the ken of a verger, when Doris went to church on Sunday morning, she found herself beside Mr. Franklin.
At the close of the service the same big man whom she had noticed as a neighbor in the pew overtook her at the post office door. He lifted his hat. A passer-by heard him say distinctly:
"Pardon me for troubling you, but can you tell me at what time the mail closes for London?"
"At four-thirty," said Doris.
No other person overheard Mr. Franklin's next words:
"I am now going to drop a letter in the box. It's for you. Get it at once. It is of the utmost importance."
Doris was startled, as well she might be. But—she went straight for the letter. It was marked: "Private and Urgent," and ran:
DEAR MISS MARTIN. I am here vice Mr. Furneaux, who is engaged on other phases of the same inquiry. My business is absolutely unknown. I figure at the inn as "Mr. W. Franklin, Argentina." Indeed, Mr. Furneaux left the village because he realized the difficulties facing him in that respect. Now, I trust you, and I hope you will justify my faith. You know Superintendent Fowler. I want you to meet me and him this afternoon at two o'clock at the crossroads beyond the mill. A closed car will be in waiting, and we can have half an hour's talk without anyone in Steynholme being the wiser. Remember that this village, like the night, has a thousand eyes. Naturally, I would not trouble you in this way if the cause was not vital to the ends of justice. Whether or not you decide to keep this appointment, I have every confidence that you will respect my wish that no one, other than yourself, shall be informed of my identity. But I believe you will be wise, and come.
Chief Inspector, C.I.D., Scotland Yard, S.W.
A card was inclosed, as a sort of credential. But, somehow, it was not needed. Doris had seen "Mr. Franklin" more than once, and she had heard him singing the hymns in church. He looked worthy of credence. His written words had the same honest ring. She resolved to go.
Her father, sad to relate, had found three dead queens in the hives. He was busy, but spared a moment to tell her that Mr. Siddle was coming to tea at four o'clock. Doris was rather in a whirl, and seemed to be unnecessarily astonished.
"Mr. Siddle! Why?" she gasped.
"Why not!" said her father. "It's not the first time. You can entertain him. I'll look after the letters."
"I must get some cakes. We have none."
"Well, that's simple. I wonder if that fellow Hart really understands apiaculture? You might invite him, too."
With that letter in her pocket Doris had suddenly grown wary. Hart and Siddle would not mix, and her woman's intuition warned her that Siddle had chosen the tea-hour purposely in order to have an uninterrupted conversation with her. She disliked Mr. Siddle, in a negative way, but the very nearness of the detective was stimulating. Let Mr. Siddle come, then, and come alone!
"No, dad," she laughed. "Mr. Hart's knowledge will be available to-morrow. In his presence, poor Mr. Siddle would be dumb."
CONCERNING THEODOEE SIDDLE
Winter, being a cheerful cynic, had not erred when he appealed to that love of mystery which, especially if it is spiced with a hint of harmless intrigue, is innate in every feminine heart. Indeed, he was so assured of the success of his somewhat dramatic move that as he walked to a rendezvous arranged with Superintendent Fowler on the Knoleworth road he reviewed carefully certain arguments meant to secure Doris's assistance.
Passing The Hollies, he smiled at the notion that Furneaux would undoubtedly have brought Grant to the conclave. It was just the sort of difficult situation in which his colleague would have reveled. But the Chief Inspector was more solid, more circumspect, even, singularly enough, more sensitive to the probable comments of a crusty judge if counsel for the defense contrived to elicit the facts.
"Anything fresh?" inquired the superintendent, when a smart car drew up, and Winter entered.
Mr. Fowler was in plain clothes, and the blinds were half drawn. No one could possibly recognize either of the occupants unless the car was halted, and the inquisitor literally thrust his head inside. The motor was a private one, borrowed for the occasion.
"Yes, a little," said Winter, as the chauffeur put the engine in gear. "Your man, Robinson, has been drawing Elkin, or Elkin drew him—I am not quite sure which, but think it matterless either way."
He sketched Robinson's activities briefly, but in sufficient outline.
"A new figure has come on the screen—Siddle, the chemist," he added thoughtfully.
"Siddle!" Mr. Fowler was surprised. "Why, he is supposed to be a model of the law-abiding citizen."
"I don't say he has lost his character in that respect," said Winter. "Still, he puzzles me. Elkin is a loud-mouthed fool. The verbal bricks he hurls at Grant are generally half baked, and crumble into dust. Hitherto, Siddle has tried to repress him, with a transparent honesty that rather worried me. On Friday night, however, Siddle attacked Grant with poisoned arrows. He did more damage in two minutes than Elkin could achieve in as many months."
"He showed very clearly that Grant was guilty of gross bad taste in inviting Mr. Martin and his daughter to dinner that evening. I'm inclined to agree with him, if the story has been told fairly. But that is beside the main issue. Siddle aroused the sleeping dogs of the village, and the pack is in full cry again. Grant seems to have been popular here; he had almost recovered from the blow of Miss Melhuish's death by the straightforward speech he made before the inquest. But Siddle threw him back into the mud by a few skillful words. What is Siddle's record? Is he a local man?"
"I think not. Robinson can tell us."
"Robinson says he 'believes' Siddle is a widower. That doesn't argue long and close knowledge."
"We must look into it. Robinson has been stationed here four years. Siddle is not old, but he has been in business in Steynholme more years than that. But—you'll pardon me, I'm sure, Mr. Winter—may I take it that you are really interested in the chemist's history?"
The superintendent was perplexed, or he would not have adopted his professional method of semi-apologetic questions with a man from the C.I.D.
"I hardly know what I'm interested in," laughed Winter. "Grant didn't kill the lady. I shall be slow to credit Elkin with being the scoundrel he looks. Siddle, and Tomlin, if you please, are regarded as starters in the Doris Martin Matrimonial Stakes, and I don't think Tomlin could ever murder anything but the King's English. It is Siddle's volte face that bothers me."
"Um!" murmured Mr. Fowler. He was not an uneducated man, but volte face, correctly pronounced, was unfamiliar in his ears.
"The change was so marked," went on the detective. "I gather that Siddle is a stickler for charity and fair dealing. He didn't abandon the role, of course. It was the sheer ingenuity of his method that caught my attention. So I simply catalogue him for research."
"Has Miss Martin promised to meet us?" inquired the other, feeling that he was on the track of volte face.
"No. But there she is!" cried Winter. "She has just heard the car. Tell your chauffeur to slow up. The road is empty otherwise. By the way, you help her in. She might be a bit shy of me, and I don't want a second's delay."
Winter's judgment was not at fault. Doris was feeling a trifle uncertain, seeing that she was about to encounter a complete stranger. Moreover, she had come a good half mile from the shop whence the cakes for tea were to be procured at the back door, and as a favor. Her eyes were fixed on the slowing car with a timid anxiety that betrayed no small degree of doubt as to the outcome of this Sunday afternoon escapade. She was pale and nervous. At that moment Doris wished herself safe at home again.
"One word," broke in the superintendent hurriedly. "Why are you so sure that Grant is innocent, Mr. Winter?"
"I'm sure of nothing with regard to this case. But I have great faith in Furneaux's flair for the true scent. It has never failed yet."
Mr. Fowler wished his companion would not use such uncommon words. However, he got out, and took off his hat with a courteous sweep. Doris had to look twice at him. Hitherto, she had always seen him in uniform. Winter smiled at the unmistakable expression of relief in her face. She was almost self-possessed as she took the seat by his side.
"Good day, Mr. Winter," she said.
"Mr. Franklin, please. Better become used to my pseudonym.... Plenty of room for your feet, Mr. Fowler? That's it. Now we're comfy. The chauffeur will bring us back here in half an hour, Miss Martin. Will that suit your convenience?"
"Oh, yes. I am free till nearly four o'clock. We have a guest to tea then."
"I have a well-developed bump of curiosity these days. Who is it, may I ask?"
"Mr. Siddle, the local chemist."
"Indeed. An old friend, I suppose?"
"We have known him seven years, ever since he came to Steynholme."
"Ah. He is not a native of the place?"
"No. He bought Mr. Benson's business. He's a Londoner, I believe."
"Is there—a Mrs. Siddle?"
"No. I—er—that is to say, gossip has it that he was married, but his wife died."
"He doesn't speak of her? Is that it? One would have thought that in a house where he is well known—"
"We don't really know him well. No one does, I think."
"You've invited him to tea, at any rate," laughed Winter.
"No," said Doris. "He invited himself. At least, so I gathered from dad."
"Ah, well. He feels lonely, no doubt, and wishes to chat about recent strange events in Steynholme. And that brings me to the reason why I sought this chat under such peculiar conditions. You realize my handicap, Miss Martin? If I were seen talking to you, or even entering your house as apart from the post office, people would begin to wonder. You follow that, don't you?"
Yes, Doris did follow it. What she did not follow was the veiled admiration in Superintendent Fowler's glance at the detective. Those few inconsequential questions had shed a flood of light on Siddle's past and present, yet the informant was blissfully unaware of their real purport. And the way was opened so deftly. The purchase of a chemist's business would almost certainly be negotiated through a local lawyer. Let him be found, and Siddle's pre-Steynholme days could be "looked into," as the police phrase has it. The superintendent had the rare merit of being candid with himself. He had no previous experience of Scotland Yard men or methods, and was inclined to be skeptical about Furneaux. But Winter's prompt use of a chance opening, and the restraint which cut off the investigation before the girl could suspect any ulterior motive, displayed a technique which the Sussex Constabulary had few opportunities of acquiring.
"Now, Miss Martin," began Winter, "if ever you have the misfortune to fall ill—touch wood, please—and call in a doctor, you'll tell him the facts, eh?"
"Why consult him at all, if I don't?" she smiled.
"Exactly. To-day I'm somewhat in the position of a Harley-street specialist, summoned to assist an eminent local practitioner in Dr. Fowler. That's a sort of gentle preliminary, leading up to the disagreeable duty of putting some questions of a personal nature. What you may answer will not go beyond ourselves. I promise you that. You will not be quoted, or requested to prove your statements. Such a thing would be absurd. If I were really a doctor, and you needed my advice, you might easily describe your symptoms all wrong. It would be my business to listen, and deduce the truth, and I would never dream of rating you for having misled me. You see my point?"
"Yes, but Mr. Win—Mr. Franklin, I know nothing whatever about the murder."
"I'm sure you don't. It was a wicked trick of Fate that took you to Mr. Grant's garden last Monday night."
"It was really an astronomical almanac," retorted Doris, who now felt a growing confidence in this nice-spoken official. "Sirius is a star remarkable for its beautiful changing lights, and on Monday evening was at its best. I think I ought to explain," and she blushed delightfully, "that the village gossip about Mr. Grant and me is entirely mistaken. We are not—well, I had better use plain English—we are not lovers. My father and I are just on close, friendly terms with Mr. Grant. I—my position hardly warrants even that relationship with an author of some distinction. But please set aside any notion of us as likely to become engaged. For one thing, it is preposterous. For another, I shall not leave my father."
Poor Doris! She little guessed how accurately this skilled student of human nature read the hidden thought behind that vehement protest. Even the note of vague rebellion against social disabilities was pathetic yet illuminating. Of course, he took her quite seriously.
"Let us keep to the hard road of fact," he said. "What you really mean is that Mr. Grant has never made love to you. But I must be candid, young lady. There is no earthly reason why he shouldn't, though I could name offhand half a dozen why he should.... Well, well, I must not pay compliments. My friend, Mr. Furneaux, can manage that with much greater facility, being half a Frenchman. And now I'm going to say an unpleasant thing. I ask your forgiveness in advance. Both Mr. Furneaux and I agree in the opinion that your imaginary love affair is indissolubly bound up with the mystery of Miss Melhuish's death. In a word, I have brought you here today to discuss your prospective marriage, and nothing else. That astonishes you, eh? Well, it's the truth, as I shall proceed to make clear. There's a Mr. Fred Elkin, for instance—"
Doris uttered a little laugh of dismay. Winter's emphatic words had astounded her, but the horse-dealer's name acted as comic relief.
"I can't bear the man," she protested.
"I have no doubt. But you ought to know that he is loudly proclaiming his determination to marry you before the year is out."
The girl's face reddened again, and her eyes sparkled.
"I wouldn't marry him if he were a peer of the realm," she said indignantly.
"Quite so. But he is an avowed suitor. Now don't be vexed. Has he never declared his intentions to you?"
"He would never dare. I sing and act a little, at village concerts and dramatic performances, and he has annoyed me at times by an officious pretense that he was deputed by my father to see me home. I came here quite a little girl, so people learnt to use my Christian name. I don't object to it at all. But I simply hate hearing it on Mr. Elkin's lips."
"Exit Fred!" said Winter solemnly. "Next!"
Doris, after a period of calm, was now profoundly uncomfortable. This kind of prying was the last thing she had expected. She had come prepared to defend Grant, but, beyond one exceedingly personal reference, the detective had studiously shut him out of the conversation.
"What am I to say?" she cried. "Do you want a list of all the young men who make sheep's eyes at me?"
"No. I can get that from the Census Bureau. Come, now, Miss Martin. You know. Has any man in the village led you to suspect, shall we put it? that sometime or other, he might ask you to become his wife?"
Lo, and behold! Doris's pretty eyes filled with tears. Superintendent Fowler was so pleased at hearing Scotland Yard introducing a parenthetical query into its sentences that he, sitting opposite, was taken aback when Winter said in a fatherly way:
"I've been rather clumsy, I'm afraid. But it cannot be helped. I must go blundering on. I'm groping in the dark, you know, but it's a thousand pities I shall have to tread on your toes."
"It isn't that," sobbed Doris. "I hate to put my thoughts into words. That's all. There is a man whom I'm—afraid of."
She turned on Winter a face of sudden awe.
"How can you possibly guess?" she said wonderingly, and sheer bewilderment dried her tears.
"My business is nine-tenths guesswork. At any rate, we are on firm ground now. If you could please yourself, I suppose, Mr. Siddle would not come to tea to-day!"
"He certainly would not," declared the girl emphatically.
"You believe he is coming for a purpose?"
"Elkin—I must drag him in again for an instant—pretends that the commotion aroused in the village by this murder would incline you favorably to a proposal of marriage. Mr. Siddle may have discovered some virtue in the theory."
"Did Mr. Elkin really hint that I needed him as a shield?"
Doris was genuinely angry now. She little imagined that Winter was playing on her emotions with a master hand.
"Don't waste any wrath on Elkin," he soothed her. "The fellow isn't worth it. But his crude idea might be developed more subtly by an abler man."
"I think it odd that Mr. Siddle should choose to-day, of all days, for a visit," she admitted.
Winter relapsed into silence for a while. The car was running through a charming countryside, and a glimpse of the sea was obtainable from the crest of each hill. Mr. Fowler was too circumspect to break in on the thread of his coadjutor's thoughts. The inquiry had taken a curious turn, and was momentarily beyond his grasp.
"It's singular, but it's true," said the detective musingly when next he spoke, "that I am now going to ask you to act differently than was in my mind when I sought this interview. I should vastly like to be present when Siddle bares his heart to you this afternoon.
"I can invite you to tea."
Alas! that won't serve our ends. But, if you feel you have a purpose, you will be nerved to deal with him. Bring him out into that secluded garden of yours—"
"The first thing he will suggest," and Doris's voice waxed unconsciously bitter. "He knows that dad will be busy with the mails for an hour after tea."
"I think it bad, most disagreeable."
"You won't find the position so awkward if you are playing a part. And that is what I want—a bit of clever acting. Lean on those railings, and make Siddle believe that your heart is on Mr. Grant's lawn. You know the kind of thing I mean. Dreamy eyes, listless manner, inattention, with smiling apologies. You will annoy Siddle, and a cautious man in a temper becomes less cautious. Force him to avow his real thoughts. You will learn something, trust me."
There were no tears in Doris's eyes. They were wide open in wonderment.
"About his attitude to this tragedy. Do this, and you will be giving Mr. Grant the greatest possible help. He needs it. Next Wednesday, at the adjourned inquest, he will be put on the rack. Ingerman will fee counsel to be vindictive, merciless. Such men are to be hired. Their reputation is built up on the slaughter of reputations. I want to understand Siddle before Wednesday. By the way, what's his other name?"
"Theodore Siddle. Unusual. Well, your half hour is nearly up. Will you do what I ask?"
"I'll try. May I put one question?"
"You said you had something altogether different in view before we met. What was it?"
"I'll tell you—let me see—I'll tell you on Thursday."
"Why not now?"
"Because it is the hardest thing in the world for a woman to be single-minded, in the limited sense of concentration, I mean. Focus your wits on Siddle to-day. I don't suggest any plan. I leave that to your own intelligence. Vex him, and let him talk."
"Yes. What man won't get mad if he notices that his best girl is thinking about a rival."
This time Doris did not blush. She was troubled and serious, very serious.
"I'll do what I can," she promised. "When shall I see you again?"
"Soon. There's no hurry. All this is preparatory for Wednesday."
"Am I to tell my father nothing?"
"Please yourself. Not at present. I recommend you."
The car had stopped. It sped on when Doris alighted. She would be home with her cakes at three o'clock, and Mr. Martin would never have noticed her absence.
"A fine bit of work, if I may say so," exclaimed Fowler appreciatively. "But I am jiggered if I can imagine what you're driving at."
Winter was cutting the end off a big cigar. He finished the operation to his liking before answering earnestly:
"We stand or fall by the result of that girl's efforts. Furneaux thinks so, and I agree with him absolutely. After five days, where are we, Mr. Fowler? In the dark, plus a brigand's hat and hair. But there's a queer belief in some parts of England that a phosphorescent gleam shows at night over a deep pool in which a dead body lies. That's just how I feel about Siddle. The man's an enigma. What sort of place is Steynholme for a chemist of his capacities? Dr. Foxton has the highest regard for him professionally, and I'm told he doctors people for miles around. Yet he lives the life of a recluse. An old woman comes by day to prepare his meals, and tidy the house and shop. His sole relaxation is an hour of an evening in the village inn, his visits there being uninterrupted since the murder. He was there on the night of the murder, too. For the rest, he is alone, shut off from the world. Without knowing it, he's going to fall into deep waters to-day, and he'll emit sparks, or I'm a Chinaman.... I'll leave you here. Good-by! See you on Tuesday, after lunch."
The superintendent drove on alone. He pondered the Steynholme affair in all its bearings, but mostly did he weigh up Winter and Furneaux. At last, he sighed.
"London ways, and London books, and London detectives!" he muttered. "We're not up to date in Sussex. Now, if I could please myself, I'd be hot-foot after Elkin. I see what Winter has in his mind, but surely Elkin fills the bill, and Siddle doesn't.... What was that word—volt what!"
Doris was lucky. She met Mr. Siddle as she emerged from the back passage to the cake-shop. Resolving instantly that if an unpleasant thing had to be done it should at least be done well, she smiled brightly.
"See what you have driven me to—breaking the Sabbath," she cried, holding up the bag of cakes.
"Tea and bread-and-butter with you would be a feast for the gods," said Siddle.
"Now you're adapting Omar Khayyam."
"A Persian poet of long ago."
"I never read poetry. But, if your tastes lie that way, I'll accomplish some more adaptation."
"Oh, no, please. Cakes for you, Mr. Siddle; poets for giddy young things like me."
There was a sting in the words. Doris preened herself on having carried out the detective's instructions to the letter thus far.
Arrived in the house she found her father still in the garden, examining some larvae under a microscope. He looked severe rather than studious. He might have been an omnipotent being who had detected a malefactor in a criminal act. Was Steynholme and its secret felon being regarded in that way by the providence which, for some inscrutable purpose, permitted, yet would infallibly punish, a dreadful murder? She was a girl of devout mind, and the notion was appalling in its direct application to current events.
In the meantime the chemist, evidently taking a Sunday afternoon constitutional, came on Winter, who was leaning on a wall of the bridge and looking down stream—Grant's house being on the left.
He would have passed, in his wonted unobtrusive way, but the detective hailed him with a cheery "Good day, Mr. Siddle. Are you a fisherman?"
"No, Mr. Franklin, I'm not," he answered.
"Well, now, I'm surprised. You are just the sort of man whom I should expect to find attached to a rod and line—even watching a float."
"I tried once when I was younger, but I could neither impale a worm nor extract a hook. My gorge rose against either practice. I am a vegetarian, for the same reason. If it were not for this disturbing tragedy you would have heard Hobbs, the butcher, rallying me about my rabbit-meat, as he calls my food."
"Well, well!" laughed Winter. "Your ideas and mine clash in some respects. I look on a well-grilled steak as a gift from Heaven, and after it, or before it—I don't care which—let me have three hours whipping a good trout stream. With the right cast of flies I could show a fine bag from this very stretch of water."
"Why not ask Mr. Grant's permission? It would be interesting to learn whether he will allow others to try their luck."
Mr. Siddle strolled on. Winter bent over, keen to discern the gray-backed fish which must be lurking in those clear depths and rippling shallows.
ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BIVEE
The sun, transmuted into Greenwich time, exercised an extraordinary influence on the seemingly humdrum life of Steynholme that day. A few minutes after three o'clock—just too late to observe either Winter or Siddle—P.C. Robinson strolled forth from his cottage. He glanced up the almost deserted high-street, in which every rounded cobble and white flagstone radiated heat. A high-class automobile had dashed past twice in forty minutes, but the pace was on the borderland of doubt, so the guardian of the public weal had contented himself with recording its number on the return journey.