The Ashiel mystery
Mrs. Charles Bryce
Part 2 out of 5
Gimblet leant out of the window and watched the barge negotiate the
bridge. Then he returned to his chair, and taking Lord Ashiel's envelope
out of his pocket looked it over thoughtfully before opening it. He had
no doubts as to what it contained; he had been on the point of reminding
the peer that he had forgotten to give him the key of the cipher he had
spoken of when the widow's ring at the door had driven him to a hurried
retreat, but he had not considered the omission of any particular
significance. His client would certainly discover it and either return to
give him the key, or send it to the flat.
It would probably be some time before it was required for use here. In
the meantime, thought Gimblet, he would have a look at it before locking
it away in the safe.
He turned over the envelope. To his surprise, the flap was open and the
glue had obviously never been moistened.
It was the work of an instant to look inside, but almost quicker came the
conviction that it was useless to do so.
He was not mistaken.
The envelope was empty.
Gimblet stared at it for one moment in blank dismay. Then he strode to
the door and shouted for Higgs.
"Did you notice," he asked him, "whether the envelope Lord Ashiel gave
you for me was fastened, or was it open as this one is?"
"Oh no, sir," replied Higgs, "it was sealed up. There was a large patch
of red sealing-wax at the back, with a coronet and some sort of little
picture stamped on it. I can't say I looked at it particularly, but there
may have been a lion or a dog, or some kind of animal. His lordship's
arms, no doubt"
"You are quite certain about the sealing-wax?" Gimblet repeated slowly.
"Yes, sir, I am quite certain about that," answered Higgs; and he could
not refrain from adding, "I put down the note on this little table, sir,
as you told me."
"Thank you. That is all."
Gimblet's tone was as undisturbed as ever, but inwardly he was seething
with anger and disgust; directed, however, entirely against himself.
When Higgs had departed he allowed himself the unusual, though quite
inadequate relief of giving the chair on which his last visitor had sat a
violent kick. After that he felt rather more ashamed of himself than
before, if possible, and he sat down and raged at the simple way in which
he had been fooled.
The widow had taken the envelope, of course. She must have snatched it up
during the few seconds he had turned his back on her in order to step
across the hall and retrieve her bag, and have replaced it at the same
instant with this empty one which she had no doubt taken from his own
writing-table while he stooped beside her to pick up her glove.
Gimblet fetched one of his own blue envelopes and compared it with the
substitute. Yes, they were alike in every particular. The watermarks were
the same and showed that she had used what she found ready to her hand.
It seemed, then, that the _coup_ was not premeditated. But why, why, had
he let her escape so easily? If only he had been a little quicker about
following her, and had not wasted time looking for Higgs! She had had
time to get clear away; and he, bungler that he was, had thought it of
little consequence, and had afterwards stood poring over a catalogue in
the hall, having decided that her morals were no business of his. Ass
that he had been!
Who was she? Probably some one known to Lord Ashiel, or why should she
have wanted his letter? Well, Ashiel must have met her on his way out,
and would in that case at least be able to provide the information as to
who she was. Still, more people might know Ashiel than Ashiel knew, and
it was possible that that hope might fail. No doubt she was a member of
the society the peer had so rashly entangled himself with in the days of
his youth; one of those enemies of whom he had spoken with such grave
apprehension. Had she followed him into the house and forced her way in
on a trumped-up pretext, on the chance of hearing or finding something
that might be useful to her Nihilist friends, or had she known that Lord
Ashiel intended to leave some document in Gimblet's keeping, and come
with the idea, already formed, of stealing it? Such a plan seemed to
partake too much of the nature of a forlorn hope to be likely, but
whether or no she had expected to find that letter, Gimblet could hardly
help admiring the rapidity with which she had possessed herself of it
without wasting an unnecessary moment.
She must have been safe in the street and away with it, in less than
five minutes from when she first saw it. Oh, she had been quick and
dexterous! And he? He had been a gull, and false to his trust, and
altogether contemptible. What should he say to Lord Ashiel? Why in the
world hadn't he locked up the letter when Higgs brought it in? This was
what came of making red-tape regulations about not being disturbed. After
all, he comforted himself, she would be a good deal disappointed when she
found what she had got. The key to a cipher; that was all. And a key with
nothing to unlock was an unsatisfactory kind of loot to risk prison for.
Evidently she expected something more important; perhaps the very
documents she had invited Gimblet to steal for her, regardless of
expense. This, he thought, was a reassuring sign for Lord Ashiel. For it
was plain they meant to steal the papers, if they could; but not so plain
that they looked to murder as the means by which to gain that end, since
they applied for help from him.
Gimblet rang up the Carlton Club and asked for his client, but he was not
in, nor did he succeed in communicating with him that afternoon; and when
he rang up the Club for the fifth time after dinner he was told that Lord
Ashiel had already left for Scotland.
With a groan, and fortifying himself with chocolates, the detective sat
down to write a long and full account of his failure to keep what had
been confided to his care, for the space of one hour.
In a couple of days he had an answer. Ashiel did not seem much perturbed
at the loss of the cipher.
"It is a nuisance, of course," he said. "I must think out another, and
will let you have it in a few days before sending you other things. No, I
did not recognize the person I met as I was leaving your rooms. In spite
of what you say as to your belief that theft and not murder is the object
of these people, I am still convinced that my life is aimed at. However,
I think that for the present I have hit on a way of frustrating their
plans. With regard to the other problem you are helping me to solve, I am
seeing a great deal of both the young people, and I believe there can be
no doubt as to the identity of one of them, but I will write to you on
this subject also in a few days' time."
He sent Gimblet a couple of brace of grouse, which the detective devoured
with great satisfaction, and for the next week no more letters bearing a
Scotch postmark were delivered at the Whitehall flat.
"Here they come again."
Lord Ashiel spoke in a voice scarcely above a whisper, and Juliet
crouched low against the peaty wall of the butt. There was an instant's
silence, and then crack, crack, shots sounded from the other end of the
line. Another minute and Lord Ashiel's gun went up; she heard the whirr
of approaching wings before she covered both ears with her hands to
deaden the noise of the explosions she knew were coming.
Then several guns seemed to go off at once. Bang! bang! bang! Bang!
Juliet did not really enjoy grouse-driving, but she tried to appear as if
she did, since every one else seemed to, and at all events there were
intervals between drives when she could be happy in the glory of the
hills and the wild free air of the moors.
Meanwhile she knelt in her corner of the butt beside her host's big
retriever, and waited. There was a little bunch of heather growing
level with her nose, and she bent forward silently and sniffed at it.
But the honey-sweet scent was drowned for the moment by the smell of
gunpowder and dog.
Bang! bang! bang!
Presently Lord Ashiel turned and looked down at her, with a smile.
"The drivers are close up," he said. "The drive is over."
They went out of the butt, and she stood watching the dog picking up the
birds Lord Ashiel had shot. He found nineteen, and the loader picked up
three more. Juliet was glad her host shot so well. She thought him a
wonderful man. And how kind he was to her. But she could not help looking
over from time to time to the next butt, round which three other people
were wandering: Sir David Southern, and his loader, and Miss Maisie
Tarver, to whom he was engaged to be married.
One of Sir David's birds had fallen near his uncle's butt, and presently
he strolled across to look for it, his eyes on the heather as he
zigzagged about, leading his dog by the chain which his uncle insisted on
"There is something here," called Juliet. "Yes, it is a dead grouse. Is
this your bird?"
Sir David came up and took it.
"That's it," he said. "Thanks very much. How do you like this sort
He leant against the butt and looked down at her.
"Oh, it's so lovely here," began Juliet.
"But you don't like the shooting, eh?"
"I don't know," Juliet stammered. "I think it's rather cruel."
"You must remember there wouldn't be any grouse at all if they weren't
shot," he said seriously, "and besides, wild birds don't die comfortably
in their beds if they're not killed by man. A charge of shot is more
merciful than a death from cold and starvation, or even from the attack
of a hawk or any of a bird's other natural enemies. Just think. Wouldn't
you rather have the violent end yourself than the slow, lingering one?"
"Yes," admitted Juliet, "I would. I believe you're right But I don't
really much like seeing it happen, all the same."
"I think you'd get used to it; it's a matter of habit. I believe
everything is a matter of habit, or almost everything. I suppose one gets
used to any kind of horror in time."
He spoke reflectively; more, or so it seemed to Juliet, as if trying to
convince himself than her; and as he finished speaking, she was conscious
that his eyes, which had never left her face while they were talking, had
done so now, and were fixed on some object or person behind her. She
turned instinctively and saw Miss Maisie Tarver approaching, a brace of
grouse swinging in each hand.
"I've got them all, right here, David," she informed him, as she came up.
She was a tall dark girl, with the look of breeding which often proves so
confusing to Europeans when they first come in contact with certain of
her countrywomen. "This bird," she added, holding up one which still
fluttered despairingly, "was a runner, but now he won't do any more
running than the colour of my new pink shirt-waist; and that's guaranteed
a fast tint, I guess."
Juliet looked away, trying not to show her dismay at the struggles of the
"Here, give me that bird, Maisie," said David rather abruptly. "I'll
knock it on the head."
"Oh, I can do that, if it makes Miss Byrne feel badly," Maisie laughed.
Raising her small foot on to a stone, she began to make ineffectual
attempts to beat the bird's head against her toe. David snatched it from
her unceremoniously, and turned his back while he put an end to the poor
creature's sufferings. His face was very red. When he had killed the bird
he tossed it to Lord Ashiel's loader, and strode away across the heather.
Maisie looked at Juliet with a laugh.
"Your English young men are perfectly lovely," she remarked, "and David
is just elegant, I think, or I'd not have gone and engaged myself to be
led to the altar by him; but I can't kind of get used to the British way
of looking at things. It's quite remarkable the manner you people have
of admiring a girl one moment, because she's a good sport, and throwing
fits of disapprobation the next, because she tries to act like she is
one. Why, David looked at me just now as if he'd have taken less than two
cents to put knock-out drops in my next cocktail."
"Oh," protested Juliet. "I'm sure he didn't mean to. I think his
expression is naturally rather stern."
"Stern nothing," said Miss Tarver. "When I came up he was looking at you
as if he reckoned he could eat you, shooting-stick and all. Oh, there
aren't any flies on me! I know just what myself and dollars are worth to
Sir David Southern, and I'm beginning to do some calculating on my own
account as to what Sir David Southern is worth to me."
"Oh, surely you are wrong," cried Juliet. "I am certain Sir David has
never thought about your money. Oh, I feel sure you misjudge him; and you
mustn't talk like that, even in fun!"
"I don't know," said Miss Tarver doubtfully. "His cousin says David's
really vurry attached to me, but it's the sort of thing one ought to be
able to see for oneself, and I don't seem to feel a really strong
conviction on the subject. As for his thinking of my dollars, I fail to
see how he can help that when he's over head and ears in debt, the way he
is. He told me so himself when he proposed. He put it as a business
proposition. Said his ancient name was up for auction, and did I reckon
it worth my while to make a bid, or words to that effect. There's a
romantic love-story for you. He was the only titled man I'd ever struck
up till a month ago, and I always did think it would be stunning to marry
into an aristocratic British family, so I was pleased to death at the
idea of putting his on its legs again with my dollars. What else could I
do with them anyway? But I believe if I'd met your friend, Lord Ashiel,
before I'd taken the fatal step, I'd have waited to see if he didn't
fancy an Amurrican wife. But of course _he_ doesn't care a hill of beans
whether I'm rich or not. He's got plenty himself, I'm told, and I guess
he'd never have looked at me while you were around, any old way. All the
same I call him a real striking-looking man."
"Oh, don't talk so loud," implored Juliet. "He'll hear you. He's
"Not he," said Miss Tarver. "He's back of the butt still. And I will say
he is a real high-toned gentleman, and it's my opinion the girl who gets
him will be able to give points to the man who took a piece of waste land
for a bad debt, and struck the richest vein of gold in Colorado on it."
She looked at Juliet with an insinuating eye.
"Come along," said Lord Ashiel, as he strolled up to them with a bird
he had been looking for, "we're going on now to the next drive," and
they started off down the hillside, wading deep through the heather to
Juliet had been nearly a week at Inverashiel. A week of wet weather which
had sadly interfered with the shooting, but which had thrown the house
party on its own resources and given her plenty of chances to get well
acquainted with the other guests at the castle. They were most of them
related to Lord Ashiel and already well known to each other. The
American, David Southern's fiancée, the half Russian girl, Julia
Romaninov, who had arrived on the same day as Juliet, and Juliet herself,
were the only strangers. Mrs. Haviland, Lord Ashiel's sister, had been
there when she arrived, but had left a day or two later as her husband,
who was in the south, had fallen ill and needed her presence. Her place
as hostess had been taken by Lady Ruth Worsfold, a distant cousin of the
McConachans, who lived in a little house a mile down the loch, which was
given her rent free by Lord Ashiel. Another cousin of his, Mrs. Clutsam,
a young widow, he had also provided this year with a small house on the
estate which was sometimes let to fishing tenants, and she, too, was at
present staying at Inverashiel.
The guns consisted of Col. Spicer and Sir George Hatch, both well-known
soldiers of between forty and fifty years of age, and Lord Ashiel's two
nephews, David Southern, the son of a widowed sister, and Mark
McConachan, whose father, now dead, had been Lord Ashiel's only brother.
Both were tall, good-looking young men, though there was not even a
family resemblance between the grey-eyed and fairhaired David, with his
smooth-shaven face and slender well-proportioned figure, and his
loose-limbed, rather ungainly cousin, whose appearance of great strength
made up for his lack of grace, and whose large melting brown eyes made
one forget the faults which the hypercritical might have found in the
rest of his face: the rather large nose, and the mouth which was apt too
often to be open except when it closed on the cigarette he was always
smoking. He had been, so Juliet had heard some one say, one of the most
popular men in the cavalry regiment he had lately left on account of its
being ordered to India.
They were all very nice to Juliet, and she thought them all charming.
Especially, she told herself with unnecessary emphasis, did she think
Miss Maisie Tarver a delightful person; rather strange, possibly, to
European ways and customs and manner of conversation, a very different
type, certainly, from the new Lady Byrne--to whom Juliet was beginning to
feel she had perhaps not hitherto sufficiently done justice--but open as
the day, and with a heart of gold. She even went so far as to defend her
to old Lady Ruth Worsfold, who had lamented one morning when David and
his fiancee had gone out shooting together--for Miss Tarver, though not a
good shot, was fond of ferreting rabbits--that the lad should be throwing
himself away on this young lady from a provincial American town.
"I forget which, my dear, but it's something to do with chickens, I
believe." They were sitting in the hall, and Lady Ruth looked up from her
embroidery as she spoke, with art interrogative glance towards Mrs.
Clutsam and Julia.
"Chicago," said Mrs. Clutsam, turning round from the table where she was
writing. "That's where she comes from."
"Yes, that's it," said Lady Ruth; "the name had slipped my memory. It's
the place where they all kill pigs, isn't it? I've read about it in
Kipling. Her having been brought up to do that accounts for her passion
for wounding rabbits, no doubt. I daresay one has to keep one's hand in.
That reminds me, I will tell the cook not to send up sausages for
breakfast. The poor girl is probably tired of the sight of them, though I
suppose they mean money to her, which is always pleasant. When I had a
poultry farm I used to feel my heart warm at the thought of poor dear
Duncan's bald head. You know, my dear," she went on, turning to Juliet,
"my husband had the misfortune to lose all his hair some years before he
died, though really I don't believe there was a patent hair-wash he
didn't try, till the house fairly reeked of them: but they never did any
good, and he got to look more and more like one of my nice new-laid eggs;
though not so brown of course, for I always kept Wyandots which lay the
most beautiful dark brown ones, like _café au lait_"
"Well, the money will be very useful to poor David," said Mrs. Clutsam,
without turning her head. She was rather annoyed because she had found
that she had written "I am so glad you can kill pigs," instead of "I am
so glad you can come" to some one she had invited to stay with her.
"There's plenty of money on this side of the duck pond, or whatever they
call it," said Lady Ruth severely.
And it was then that Juliet had burst in.
"I am sure Sir David has never given a thought to Miss Tarver's
money," she said.
"Why not, my dear?" said Lady Ruth, turning upon her mild, surprised
eyes. "He is terribly badly off; it is his duty to marry money; but he
needn't have gone so far for it."
"I don't believe he would marry for money. He would be above doing such a
thing!" Juliet declared.
Julia, who had said nothing, stared at her, and laughed softly. She had a
very low, musical laugh.
"I don't think you understand the position," said Mrs. Clutsam, turning
round at last and laying down her pen with an air of resignation. "David
Southern has inherited a lot of debts from his father, who only died last
year, and he had piled up a good many on his own account before then,
never suspecting that he would not be very well off. But he found the
place mortgaged up to the hilt. There is really nothing between his
mother and starvation, except her brother-in-law Ashiel's charity, and
that is not pleasant for her because she has never been on good terms
with him. It is very important that David should obtain money somehow,
for her sake more than for his own, and I'm sure he feels that deeply. He
is devoted to her."
"But there are other ways of getting money than by marrying,"
"Yes, there are; but they are slow and uncertain, and David can't bear to
see his mother poor. I am sure it was for her sake that he proposed to
"I think he would have tried some other way first, unless he had been in
love with her," Juliet repeated, flushed and obstinate.
"Mr. McConachan says Sir David is very fond of Miss Tarver, really,"
said Julia, speaking for the first time. She spoke English fluently, but
with a slight foreign accent. "He says his cousin is so reserved that
he conceals his feelings as much as possible, but that, _au fond_, he
There was a short silence; Mrs. Clutsam seemed about to speak, but her
eyes met those of Lady Ruth fixed on her with an expressionless gaze, and
she turned round without a word and took up her discarded pen.
They were both thinking the same thing. If David concealed his feelings
in the presence of Miss Tarver he was not so successful when he was in
Juliet's neighbourhood. Both women had noticed the change that came over
him when she was in the room. It was not that he did not try to appear
indifferent; he did not talk to her, or seek her society. On the contrary
he seemed to avoid it, and relapsed into silence at her approach. But
both Lady Ruth and Mrs. Clutsam had caught him looking at her when he
thought himself unobserved, and their observations had not left either of
them in any doubt as to how the land lay.
Sir David Southern might be engaged to marry Miss Tarver, but he had
fallen in love with some one quite different, and some one who was,
moreover, or so they imagined, destined for quite another person.
For what was Miss Juliet Byrne doing at Inverashiel Castle?
This was a question which much exercised the minds of Lord Ashiel's
relations and, when she was not present, formed the subject of many
Where had this girl, this extremely pretty and attractive girl, suddenly
appeared from? Well, they all knew, of course, where she really had come
from; but why? Why had Lord Ashiel suddenly sprung her on them like
this? He had not even told Mrs. Haviland that he had invited her until
the day before she arrived. Why this mystery? Where had he met her? How
long had he known her? To a casual question Juliet had replied guardedly
that she had not known him very long, but that he knew her family.
Fervently did she hope that what she said was true.
One thing, however, seemed certain. No matter how, where, or why, Ashiel
had made friends with Juliet Byrne, he was bent on becoming even better
acquainted. He appeared to be on excellent terms with her already, and
every day saw them grow more familiar, and, on Ashiel's side, almost
affectionate. If he went shooting or fishing Juliet must go too; to her
he addressed his remarks; it was she whom he consulted when he made plans
for the following days. His health was bad, he was subject to terrible
headaches, and if she were not present he grew quickly nervous and
irritable; when she was, he seldom took his eyes off her. He seemed to
watch her, Mrs. Clutsam thought, with a certain expectancy; but also with
a distinct and unmistakable pride. There was little doubt in the mind of
anyone in the house that there would soon be a second Lady Ashiel.
As the party walked between the butts on that brilliant August day, Miss
Tarver tacked herself on to her host and strode on ahead with him,
keeping up a flow of interminable, drawling inanities, which made him
wonder for the fortieth time what David could see in her.
The others tailed out after them, followed by dogs and loaders.
Without knowing how it came about, Juliet found herself walking beside
David; and, as she was not used to the rough going on the hillside, they
insensibly dropped behind the rest of the long, straggling procession.
The way was uphill; Juliet panted and stumbled; and her companion seemed
disinclined to talk.
They came to a burn, and he gave her his hand to cross from stone to
stone. The burn was high, and one stone was under water, leaving a space
too wide for Juliet to jump. David stepped on to the flooded rock, and
turned to her.
"I will lift you over here," he said shortly. "Oh, I can wade quite
well," said she. "My shoes are wet already."
But without more words he put his arms round her, and lifted her over.
When he put her down he found his tongue.
"If Maisie stands with my uncle at the next drive," he said, "will you
come to my butt?"
"I should like to," she said. For some reason his tone made her breath
David stood looking down at her as though considering.
"I can't go back on my word," he said at last inconsequently. "I shall
have to marry her, if she wants it, I suppose. But I can't bear you to
think that I care for her. I've got to think of other people."
"You mustn't say that!" she cried. "Oh, you mustn't say that to me!"
"Why not?" he said, looking at her strangely. "What have I said that
"Nothing, I suppose," Juliet faltered. "But--but--Oh," she cried, "if
you don't care for her, you must tell her so, and she will break it off.
Anything would be better than to go on with it!"
"I think she knows," he answered gloomily. "She won't break it off,
because she wants to be 'my Lady,' It's a business matter, really. And
I'd have to stick to it for my mother's sake, anyhow."
Juliet could think of nothing to say. "You ought not to marry her," she
"If I didn't," he began hoarsely--"if she did let me go, I don't suppose
you'd ever care for me enough to marry me? Oh, I know I ought not to say
it," he broke off; "I'm a cad to speak like this. Forgive me, Juliet."
Juliet's world revolved around her at an unusual pace for the space of a
second. She shut her eyes to steady herself; a mixture of misery and
happiness deprived her of speech or movement. Gradually the misery
predominated and she burst into tears.
"Forgive me, forgive me," he was saying. He stood before her, looking as
wretched as a man can look.
"Yes, yes," she sobbed. "Let us forget all about it. You must forget me."
"You know I can't," he said. "Juliet, Juliet, don't cry. If you cry I
shall be simply obliged to kiss you." And he took a step towards her.
They were still standing at the edge of the burn, screened from the
track ahead, partly by a little bush of alder which grew beside them,
partly by the winding of the path round the slope of the hill. As David
spoke a rabbit came scampering up to the other side of the bush, and
then, becoming aware of their proximity, turned at right angles and
darted down the bank. It was three or four yards away, and going hard,
when there was a loud report, and the branches of the alder cracked and
rattled. Several little boughs fell to the ground a foot or two away
from the spot on which Juliet stood. Surprise dried her tears and
restored David to his senses.
"Hi!" he shouted, bounding on to the path, and waving his arms
frantically. "What are you shooting at? Look out, can't you?"
Fifty yards up the track his Cousin Mark was standing, an open gun in his
hand; a scared ghillie was running towards them down the path beyond.
"Good heavens, David," Mark ejaculated, "do you mean to say you were in
the burn? I thought you were on ahead! Why in the world did you lag
behind like that? Do you know I might easily have shot you?"
"Do I know it? You precious near did shoot me, and Miss Byrne, too, I
tell you. If it hadn't been for that alder we should have been bound to
get most of the charge between us. It's not like you to be so careless."
"I'm frightfully sorry, old man," said Mark, coming up; "it was careless
of me, but I felt sure there was no one back there. I saw that rabbit and
stalked it, meaning to overtake you all afterwards. They walk so
fearfully slow, you know, what with all these ladies, and Uncle Douglas
not feeling very fit. And Miss Byrne here, too! By Jove, I _am_ sorry!
Beastly stupid of me."
He was plainly agitated, and could hardly blame himself severely enough.
And David, for his part, was not disposed to make light of what had
happened. Perhaps he was glad of a subject on which he could enlarge.
"It was a rotten shot, too," he mumbled, as they all hurried on after
the others. "You were about four yards behind that rabbit."
"Absolutely rotten," agreed Mark. "I don't know what's happened to my
shooting. I've hit every bird in the tail to-day, except when I've missed
'em clean, and that's what I've done most of the time. There's something
wrong with my eye altogether. If I don't get better, I shall knock off
shooting--for a few days, anyhow."
All his usual self-possession seemed to have been shaken out of him by
the thought of the catastrophe he might have caused. Young, good-looking
and popular, he was accustomed to take the pleasure shown in his society
and the admiring approval of his associates, which had always contributed
so much to his comfortable feeling of satisfaction with himself, and
which had invariably strengthened his reluctance to harbour unpleasant
doubts as to his own perfections, as a matter of course; and the
heartiness with which he now cursed himself for a careless and dangerous
fool testified to the fright he had had.
Even when David, relenting a little, though still reluctant to show
it, grunted surlily, "None of you cavalry soldiers are safe with a
gun." Mark did not, as he would generally have done, deny the
accusation resentfully, but displayed an astonishing meekness, which
proved how clearly he saw himself to be in the wrong. Juliet, who had
sometimes thought him rather selfish--a fault he shared with many
others of his kind, and one perhaps almost unavoidable in attractive
only sons--was touched by his unusual humility, and treated the matter
lightly, doing all she could to cheer him up and restore to him his
good opinion of himself.
But Mark, while he smiled back gratefully in reply, would not allow her
to persuade him that he was less to blame than he asserted, and he was
still lamenting his carelessness when they came up with the rest of the
party, who were already stationed in the butts.
Miss Tarver was beside Lord Ashiel, and Mark stopped a minute to relate
how nearly he had been the cause of an accident, although both David and
Juliet, by mutual consent, guessed what he was going to do, and tried to
"No need to say anything about it," David mumbled in his ear.
"No, no, don't, please," Juliet murmured in the other.
Yet he would not be tempted, and they walked on together in silence,
leaving him to tell the story.
"I as near as makes no difference peppered David and Miss Byrne just
now," they heard him begin, and then Lord Ashiel's voice broke in in an
angry tone as they passed out of earshot.
David's loader reported afterwards that that young gentleman and Miss
Byrne, when she waited with him in the butt, seemed to find very
little to talk about. And it was a long wait before any birds came up,
on that beat.
It was a few days after this that Gimblet, taking up an evening paper at
the Club, was startled to see a sinister headline of "Murder,"
immediately followed by the name of Ashiel.
"MURDER OF A SCOTCH PEER."
"LORD ASHIEL SHOT DEAD IN HIS OWN HOUSE."
"ESCAPE OF MURDERER."
"They've got him," he muttered between his teeth as he hastily began to
read the paragraph that followed:
"News reaches us, as we go to press, of a dastardly crime, involving the
death of Lord Ashiel, which occurred late last night at his residence in
the Highlands of Scotland. Lord Ashiel was sitting quietly in his library
at Inverashiel Castle, when a shot was fired through the window by
someone in the grounds, which wounded his Lordship so severely that death
took place instantaneously. Although the household was immediately
alarmed and a thorough search made through the garden and grounds
surrounding the castle, the murderer contrived to escape. The police are
continuing their search in the neighbourhood, and it is believed that a
very strong clue to the scoundrel has been discovered. Douglas, Lord
Ashiel, was the seventh Baron. He was born in 1869, educated at Eton and
Oxford, and served for some years in the Diplomatic Service. He was a
widower and childless, and is succeeded in the title by his nephew, Mr.
There was nothing more.
Gimblet strode out of the Club and drove to New Scotland Yard. The
Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department was in, and
received him gladly. Gimblet held out the paper he had carried off from
the Club and pointed to the news of the tragedy.
"Is all this correct?" he asked.
"Yes, yes, indeed," replied Mr. Beech, the superintendent. "We heard of
it this morning. The Glasgow people have sent their men up, but it will
take them all day to get to the place. Inverashiel is on the West Coast,
and not what one would call easy to get at. They ought to be there about
"Who has gone?" asked Gimblet.
"Macross has gone himself with one or two others. He has taken a
photographer and a finger-print man, and will get to work as soon as he
possibly can. This is a big business. Lord Ashiel is an important person;
apart from his being a Scotch landowner--he owns 90,000 acres of moorland
there--he is connected with half the great families in England. He has a
cousin in the Cabinet; cousins everywhere, in the Foreign Office, in
Parliament, in trade; he has one who owns a newspaper. He is rich; he is
a sleeping partner in some Newcastle iron works, he is part owner of a
small colliery in Yorkshire. Oh, there's going to be a fine to-do about
this case, you bet your life!"
"I knew him," said Gimblet slowly. "He came to see me a fortnight ago. He
told me he expected an attempt might be made to kill him."
"The deuce he did!" exclaimed Beech. "Did he say who it was he feared?"
"Not exactly; but I gathered he had mixed himself up with some secret
society abroad. He refused to give me any explicit information, or to
appeal to you for protection, as I advised him to do. He told me he had
some document in his possession which his enemies were anxious to obtain
from him, and that if they failed to do so by peaceful methods he thought
it likely they might try to get him out of the way; though he added that
he did not anticipate any open assault, but thought it likely he might
die some death that should have all the appearances of being accidental.
He made me promise to take up the case if this should happen."
"We are always glad of your help, my dear fellow," said Beech.
"He gave me certain instructions, in the event of my being able to
satisfy myself that his death is the work of his Nihilist friends," said
Gimblet, who thought it unnecessary to mention his disconcerting
experience with the veiled lady, "And contrariwise, if I can make sure
that they have no hand in it, it was his wish that I should then leave
the whole thing alone. So I had better see what I can make of it before I
go into this any further with you."
"I can't say I agree with that idea," protested the superintendent.
"However, I know you insist on working on your own lines, and that I have
really no influence with you, in spite of the show you make, humbug that
you are! of consulting my opinion. Well, good luck go with you; and let
me know if you hit on anything that escapes our men."
Gimblet walked back to his flat, his mind full of the tragedy which he
had an uneasy feeling he might, in some way, have averted. How, he hardly
knew. Lord Ashiel could not have lived all his life encircled by a cordon
of police and detectives; and, without such precautions, a man condemned
by Nihilist societies is practically sure to fall a victim to their
excellent organization and disregard for the lives of their own members.
Still Gimblet had liked the dead peer, and could not get the pale
aristocratic face and tired, feverish blue eyes out of his head. Surely
he might have found some way of preventing this catastrophe.
He found a telegram at his flat. It was signed Byrne, and ran:
"Please come immediately to investigate death of Lord Ashiel certain
It had been sent off at four o'clock that day.
"Higgs," called Gimblet to his servant, as he filled up the prepaid reply
form, "I am going North to-night, by the eight o'clock from Euston. Pack
me things for a week; country clothes; and put in plenty of chocolate."
He collected several things he wanted packed, and then retired to his
sitting-room, where he buried himself in an enormous file of typewritten
papers he had borrowed from Scotland Yard, and which related to the
various Nihilists known to be living in England. He had to return them
before he left London, and when he dropped them at the Yard about seven
o'clock, on his way to the station, he learnt that no word had yet come
from the Scotch authorities as to any further developments at
A few minutes past eight he was travelling North as fast as the Scotch
express could carry him.
It was midday on the following day when he got off the steamer that had
brought him from Crianan, and landed with his luggage on the wooden pier
which displayed, painted on a rough board, the name of Inverashiel.
One of the deck hands dumped his luggage out on to the side of the loch
and the boat moved on again.
A track led across the moor, and down it Gimblet saw a farm cart
advancing, driven by a man who shouted as he approached:
"The young leddy's comin' doon tae meet ye, sir."
And behind him, on the near skyline, the detective beheld the hurrying
figure of a girl.
Leaving the man with the cart to grapple with his luggage, which was not
of large dimensions, Gimblet walked to meet Juliet. As they drew near,
she stopped and held out her hand.
"Mr. Gimblet?" she asked.
"Yes," he said; "and you are Miss Byrne, are you not?"
He looked at her keenly as he spoke, noticing that her eyes were red and
swollen, and that her whole bearing was eloquent of sorrow and want of
sleep. She lifted a miserable face to him.
"Yes," she said. "I am so glad you have come, but it has seemed a long
while. I suppose you couldn't get here before. Do you know all that has
"I know that Lord Ashiel is dead," said the detective. "Hardly more
than that. Will you tell me all there is to tell before we go up to
"I have left the castle, and am staying with Lady Ruth Worsfold, whose
house you can just see through the trees," she said. "Will you come there
first, or shall we go straight to the castle. It is about a mile through
"Let us walk straight up," said Gimblet. "You can tell me as we go. I
have, as you say, been a long while getting here, but it is fortunate
that the day is fine. I hope it has not rained during the last
"I don't know," said the girl. "No; I believe it has been fine. But I
haven't taken much notice what the weather has been like." She was
disappointed and indignant that he should talk in this trivial strain,
when her own heart was nearly bursting, and her every nerve stretched and
tingling. She had pinned all her hopes on the arrival of the famous
Gimblet heard the change in her tone.
"You think I am talking platitudes about the weather," he said quickly,
"and you think I am unsympathetic for your distress; but, believe me,
what I said is very much to the point. If it has not rained the
murderer's footmarks will be very much more easily seen, and that is very
"You don't know," said Juliet in a voice that trembled ominously. "They
have found plenty of footmarks. The Glasgow detectives said they were
Sir--Sir David Southern's. They found his gun too, not cleaned; and they
say he did it, and they have taken him away, to--to prison." A sob
escaped her, but she controlled herself with a great effort and went on:
"You must prove that he didn't do it. I know he didn't. Anyone who knew
him must know he didn't. Oh you must, you must, find the real murderer!"
Gimblet was silent for a moment before this appeal. It was difficult to
know what to say. He knew Macross well for a cautious, intelligent
officer; if he had arrested Sir David Southern it seemed pretty certain
that there was good evidence against that gentleman. On the other hand
Lord Ashiel had seemed to think it likely that his death might wear an
appearance calculated to mislead. Still Gimblet had a deep-rooted
prejudice against holding out hopes he could not see a good chance of
fulfilling, and he had so often been appealed to by distracted women to
save their friend and "find the real murderer."
"Will you not begin at the beginning?" he said at last. "I know how you
came to be staying at Inverashiel, but I know nothing of what has
happened since your arrival, except the bare fact of Lord Ashiel's death.
Tell me every detail you can think of, but, first, who else was staying
at the castle besides yourself? I suppose they have left now?"
"Yes, they have all gone," said Juliet. "The men went before it all
happened, and the others the next day. There were Lady Ruth Worsfold and
Mrs. Clutsam; they are both cousins of Lord Ashiel's, and he lends them
little houses that belong to him near here, but they were staying at the
castle for a week or two. Then there was Miss Julia Romaninov. She is
half a Russian, and Lord Ashiel's sister, who is away just now, had
invited her. An American girl, Miss Tarver, a great heiress, was there
too. The men were Sir George Hatch and Colonel Spicer, who are cousins of
Lord Ashiel's; and Mr. Mark McConachan and Sir David Southern, who are
his nephews, Mr. McConachan being the son of his dead brother, while Sir
David is his younger sister's child.
"I have been here a fortnight. The time has gone quickly. Every one was
very nice to me; and, though nothing out of the way happened, it was all
new and delightful, and I enjoyed it very much. Lord Ashiel, especially,
was kindness itself; he was never tired of explaining to me the customs
and traditions of the countryside, and he spared no pains to see that I
was amused and entertained. I was with him most of the time, and grew to
know him very well. I thought him a wonderful man: so clever, so widely
read, so tolerant and sympathetic in his opinions. He was terribly
delicate, though; he had continual headaches, and was so easily tired;
but he told me it was a new thing for him to feel ill; up till a year or
so ago he had always had the best of health. Mrs. Clutsam told me she
thought he had been terribly worried over something; she didn't know what
it was; and of course it is not so very long since his wife and child
died. But he did not strike me as being troubled about anything; his eyes
had a sad expression, and sometimes he looked at me in a wondering sort
of way; but I never saw him appear worried, and he was always cheerful
and lively while I was with him."
"Was he not equally so with the rest of the party?" asked Gimblet. "Did
he show his likes and dislikes plainly?"
"I am afraid he did, rather. I think feeling ill and tired made him
irritable, and his temper was very quick. But he was always nice to me."
"Who wasn't he nice too?"
"Well, I don't think he liked Miss Romaninov much, In fact, she seemed to
get on his nerves, and sometimes he was so rude to her that I used to
wonder that she stayed. But she is such a quiet, good-tempered little
thing; she never seems to mind anything, and she was really sorry and
upset when he died. And he didn't much like the other girl, Miss Tarver,
but he made an effort, I think, to bear with her for his nephew's sake.
He said to me how glad he was that the boy would be well provided for."
"Which nephew?" asked Gimblet. "I don't understand. What had Miss Tarver
to do with it?"
"Sir David Southern was engaged to marry her. She has thrown him over
now," said Juliet, and in spite of herself there was a trace of elation
in her voice. "As soon as Sir David was suspected of the murder she broke
off the engagement."
"Ah," said Gimblet, stooping to pick a piece of bracken, and waving it
before him to keep at bay the flies, which were buzzing round them in
clouds. He offered another bit silently to his companion, and she took it
absently, without a word.
"He seemed very fond of Mr. McConachan," she said, "and I think he liked
every one else as well. Yes, I am sure he did, though he did have a
dreadful quarrel with Sir David two days before he was killed; and he was
angry with him once before that."
"Ah," said Gimblet again. "How was that?"
"The first time it was my fault, or partly my fault," Juliet went on. "It
was out shooting, and I couldn't go as fast as the others, so I lagged
behind and nearly got shot by accident, as Mr. McConachan thought we were
in front of him. Sir David was with me, and Lord Ashiel was fearfully
angry with him, and said he'd no business to let me get in a place where
I might have been killed. He was rather cross with him for the next few
days, though I told him it was my fault; and then the other day, when Sir
David annoyed him again, there was a frightful row."
"Was that your fault too?" asked Gimblet with a smile.
"No, it really wasn't. Sir David had a dog, a retriever, to which he was
devoted, but which Lord Ashiel hated. It was not a well-trained dog, I
must admit, and it used to pay very little attention to its master,
except at meal times, when it became very affectionate, not only to him,
but to every one. The truth is that he spoilt it, and never punished it
when it did wrong, or took any trouble to make it behave better. I heard
that before I arrived there was trouble about it, as it did a lot of
damage in the garden, trampling down the flower-beds, and knocking Lord
Ashiel's favourite plants to pieces--he was very fond of gardening--and
the very first day they went out shooting it ran away for miles, and Sir
David after it, which delayed one of the drives half an hour. His uncle
had been very cross about that, they said, and told Sir David he must
keep it on a chain; but the next day it ate a grouse it was supposed to
be retrieving, and Lord Ashiel was furious, and said that if it did
anything more of the kind he'd have it killed.
"However, after that, all went well. The dog was kept tightly chained,
and nothing happened till the other day. We were all out on the moors,
waiting in the butts for the last drive to begin. Everything had gone
badly with the shooting that day; the birds all went the wrong way; there
were hardly enough guns for driving, anyhow; there was a high wind, and
the shooting had been shocking; no one had shot well except Mr.
McConachan, who is such a good shot; every one had been wounding their
birds, and that always annoyed Lord Ashiel. He was in a very bad temper,
and though he was not cross with me, I was rather afraid he might be, so
I went and stood with Sir David. Miss Tarver was watching Sir George
Hatch in the next butt, and then came Colonel Spicer, with Mr. McConachan
and Lord Ashiel right at the end of the line.
"We had been waiting some time, when Sir David whispered to me that the
birds were coming, and crouched down under the wall of the butt. His
loader was kneeling behind him ready to hand him his second gun, with two
cartridges stuck between his fingers to reload the first one. We were all
intent on the grouse, and no one noticed that that wretched dog had
worked his head out of his collar and was roaming about behind us. Just
at that moment a mountain hare came lolloping along the crest of the
hill, and, deceived by the stillness, came to a pause just opposite us
and sat up on its hind legs to brush its whiskers with its paw. Its
toilette didn't last long, however, for by that time the dog had caught
its wind, and with a series of yelps had hurled itself upon it. The hare
was off in a second, and away they went, straight down the line, the dog
making as much noise as a whole pack of hounds as he bounded and leapt
over the thick heather. Sir David started up with an exclamation of
dismay, and I, too, stood up and looked over the top of the butt.
Following the direction of his eyes, I saw clouds of grouse streaming
away to the left, all turning as they came over the hill, and wheeling
away from us towards the north.
"The drive was absolutely spoilt. The hare and its pursuer had by this
time gone the whole length of the butts, and looked like going till
Christmas. Lord Ashiel had come out into the open, and we saw him put his
gun to his shoulder. The dog gave one last leap, and rolled over before
the report reached our ears. It was a quarter of a mile away from us."
Juliet paused; she was out of breath; they had been walking fast and were
within sight of the castle gates. The way led along the side of Loch
Ashiel, and the castle rose in front of them on a tall rocky promontory,
which jutted far into the water.
"Let us rest here a few minutes," said Gimblet. "It is too much to ask
you to talk while we are walking up that hill, and I don't want you to
leave out any details, however unimportant they may appear to you."
They had reached a place where a wide horseshoe of beach ran down to the
loch. For more than a week there had been no rain to speak of. The season
as a whole had been dry, and the water was very low; tufts of grass
dotted the shore; brambles and young alders were springing up bravely,
determined to make the most of their time. At the back stretched a
meadow, part of which had been cut for hay; the rest of it was so full of
weeds and wild flowers, ragweed, burdock and the red stalks of sorrel,
that it had been left untouched, and filled the foreground with colour.
The grass had gone to seed and turned a rich reddish purple; beneath it
grew wild geraniums whose leaves were already scarlet. Bluebells and
scabious made a haze of mauve, and everywhere the warm, sandy stalks of
the dried grasses shone yellow through the patch.
They sat down at the edge of the beach and leant back against the
overhanging turf. Opposite to them the little town of Crianan clung to
the steep rocks below Ben Ghusy, the houses looking as if they stood
piled one on top of another in a rough pyramid; and the whole surmounted
by the high walls and tower of the Roman Catholic monastery which
dominated the scene, and always seemed to Juliet to wear a look of stern
defiance, as if it were offering a challenge to that other fortress that
frowned back at it. She could imagine the monks in the old days, standing
on its parapet and daring the Lords of Inverashiel to do their worst. Far
away down the loch lay the hills, scarce more deeply grey than the water;
beyond them more distant tops melted into the sky. The grey ripples
lapped gently on jagged shingle, and a persistent housefly buzzed loudly
round their heads; at that hour there were as yet few midges, and it was
very peaceful, very solitary, very desolate.
"I don't know," said Juliet, going on with her story where she had left
off, "which was more angry, Lord Ashiel or Sir David. After the first few
minutes, in which they both said things I am sure they regretted
afterwards, neither of them would speak to the other, and it was a very
uncomfortable evening for every one. The next day was better. Colonel
Spicer and Sir George left by the morning train, both going on to shoot
in other parts of Scotland. Mrs. Clutsam went away too; she had some one
coming to stay with her at her own house near by. Both the young men went
stalking on different parts of the forest, and Lord Ashiel and I, with
the two other girls, spent the morning on the loch trolling for salmon;
but we didn't get a rise.
"In the afternoon I walked up the river with Julia Romaninov; we talked
about our schooldays. She had been at school in Germany, and I in
Switzerland. After a while she got tired and went home, but I went on by
myself, for I had a lot of things to think of, and was glad to be alone.
I came at last to a great pool among the rocks, where the river comes
down in a fall from far above in a cloud of spray and foam. I stood on a
stone at the water's edge and watched the trout rising in the pool. The
river was low and the water very clear. Standing on the rocks above it,
it seemed as if I could see every pebble at the bottom, except where they
were hidden in the ripples which spread away from beneath the fall. The
pool is like the bottom of a well; high rocks rear themselves round it to
a great height; they are veiled in a greenness of fern and moss, and near
the top many trees have found a roothold in the crevices and bend forward
towards each other over the water, as divers poise themselves before
leaping down. Through a narrow opening opposite the fall the river makes
its way onward. As I stood there a stone must have come down from the
heights above. I did not see it, and the noise of the waterfall deadened
any sound of its descent, but suddenly I felt a heavy blow between the
shoulders, and I must have tumbled forward into the pool below.
"The next thing I remember was looking up into the anxious friendly face
of Andrew Campbell, one of the ghillies at Inverashiel. It seemed to be
hanging above me in the sky, which was the only other thing I could see,
and I wondered vaguely why I saw it upside down. My head was aching
cruelly and I couldn't imagine what was the matter, though I was too weak
and faint to care. To cut my adventure short, Andrew had come to a pool
lower down the river just as I floated into it on top of the current; he
had fished me out, and was now restoring me to life again. I was got back
to the house, how I hardly know, put to bed, and actually wept over by
Lord Ashiel. By the evening I had so far recovered that I was able to
come down to dinner, though I should not have done so if it had not been
for the anxiety of my host, as my head still felt as if it was going to
split. I received many congratulations on my escape, and Lord Ashiel,
when he spoke of it, was so much moved that every one was quite
embarrassed, and I myself was touched beyond expression at the affection
he did not attempt to conceal. He was very silent after that, but in
spite of him dinner that night was a merry meal. Every one was in the
best of spirits, or else assumed them for the time being. We all joked
and laughed over my adventure, and Mr. McConachan said I bore a charmed
life, since I had escaped being killed by his careless shot, and now the
river refused to drown me. It was not till the servants had left the
room, and we were preparing to do the same, that Lord Ashiel spoke again.
"Lady Ruth had got up, and was moving towards the door, and the other
girls and I were following her, when he called her back. 'Will you wait a
minute, Ruth,' he said. 'I have something to tell you and my young
friends here.' He smiled round at all of us, including Sir David, to whom
he hadn't spoken since the affair of the dog. 'I have some good news
which I want you to share with me.' He took me by the hand and drew me
forward. 'I want,' said he, 'to introduce you all to a young lady whom
you do not know. This is Juliet McConachan, my dear and only daughter.'
"I was not really so surprised as he expected. His behaviour to me had
made me suspicious, and during the last few days especially I had allowed
myself to nourish a hope that we were related. But I was glad. I can't
tell you how glad and thankful. Every one else was tremendously
surprised. They all clustered round us with questions and exclamations,
but Lord Ashiel would say no more just then, and only smiled and beamed,
and nodded mysteriously. 'I am not going to answer any questions till I
have had a talk with Juliet,' he said. 'This is as much news to her as it
is to any of you, and it is only fair that she should be the first to
hear the story. For I won't deny that there is a story. Come to me
presently, my child,' he went on, addressing himself to me. 'Come to the
library in half an hour's time. You will find me there, and I will tell
you all about it.'
"I went to the drawing-room, my aching head almost forgotten. I was, of
course, intensely excited; indeed I think I scarcely took in any of the
kind things that Lady Ruth and the others said to me that evening; at all
events I have hardly any idea what they were, and none at all as to what
I answered. My one overmastering desire was to be alone; to have time to
think; to realize all that the news meant to me; and after a quarter of
an hour had passed I made some excuse, and left the room. The nearest way
to my bedroom was by a back stair, and to reach it I had to pass through
a passage leading to the gun-room. The door of that room was ajar, and as
I went by Sir David Southern came out.
"'What have you been doing in there at this time of night?' I asked; and
oh, Mr. Gimblet, I was so foolish as to repeat this to the Glasgow
detective when he questioned me. To think that my careless words have led
them to believe Sir David capable of such a crime! But I had no idea of
the meaning they would attach to it. You will understand presently how it
was. 'I went to clean my rifle,' he answered, shutting the door behind
him. 'I always see to that myself. And where are you off to so fast,
Cousin Juliet? That is what you are to me, it appears.' And so we
talked: about me, and our newly discovered relationship. I need not
repeat all that, need I? And, besides, I do not remember everything we
said," added Juliet, flushing.
"After a little while, though, I told him how badly my head ached, and he
was very sympathetic about it. 'You ought not to have come down to
dinner,' he said, 'the dining-room gets so hot and stuffy; it is a low
room, and Uncle Douglas never will have the window open, even on a lovely
night like this.' There is a door at the foot of the stairs, opposite the
gun-room, and as he spoke he drew back the bolt. 'Come out into the
garden for a few minutes,' he said, holding the door open for me to pass,
'a little fresh air will do you more good than anything.'
"The night was warm, I suppose, for Scotland, but cool enough to seem
wonderfully fresh and invigorating after the enclosed air within the
house. It was very dark, and the sky was overcast, though just above us a
star or two was shining, very large and clear. Otherwise I could hardly
distinguish anything at all, except the line, about fifty yards away,
where the lawn came to an end, and the ground dipped abruptly down
towards the loch, so that the level edge of the grass showed up against
the less opaque darkness of the sky, like a black velvet border to a
piece of black silk.
"We stood there a little while, till I remembered I must go to the
library. My head was already much better when I turned back into the
house; Sir David didn't follow me; he seemed to be staring through the
gloom in front of him. 'I am going in,' I said. 'What are you looking
at?' 'I thought I saw something move over there on the skyline,' he
replied; 'do you see anything?' I looked, but could make out nothing.
'Well,' he said, 'if you are going in, I think I'll just go over and see
if there's anyone about; you might leave the door open, will you?'
"And so I left him, and made my way to the library. As I passed through
the billiard-room, Mr. McConachan, who was knocking the balls about,
asked me if I had seen his cousin, and I told him Sir David was outside
on the lawn by the gun-room door.
"Lord Ashiel--my father--was waiting for me, and he came to meet me and
kissed me tenderly. We were both very much agitated: I was still feeling
the effects of my escape from drowning, and he, poor dear, was weak and
ill. In short, neither of us was in a fit state to meet the situation
calmly; and, if my tears flowed, they were not the only ones that were
shed. For a few moments we cried like babies, in each other's arms, and
then I pulled myself together, for I knew how bad it was for his health
to get into this nervous state. Mr. Gimblet, I needn't tell you all the
conversation that followed between us. He told me that you know the whole
story, that you are the one person in the world in whom he had confided;
so it is unnecessary for me to repeat what he said of his marriage to my
mother, of her death, and of his resolve never willingly to look upon me,
the baby who had taken her from him. He told me also of the years that
had intervened between that day when he had shuffled off his
responsibilities on to Mrs. Meredith, and the day, not long ago, when he
at last decided to hunt out his daughter.
"He told me of his fears that she should prove to be none other than
Julia Romaninov, and of how, in desperation, he had applied to you for
help, and of how you had discovered my existence.
"He said he had never really doubted from the moment he first set eyes on
me that I was Juliana's child. But he dared not hint such a thing to me
till he was certain, and anxious though he was to see a likeness between
me and her, or himself, he had not been able to tell himself, truthfully,
that he could really see one, until that day. It was when I was brought
home that afternoon, so white and faint, so changed by my pallor from
what he chose to describe as my usual gay brilliance, that the
resemblance suddenly showed itself. He hardly knew that it was I; it
might have been Juliana that they were carrying. He said there could be
no doubt that I was her daughter; that he for one, required no further
proof; though we should probably get it now it was no longer wanted. Sir
Arthur Byrne might be able to suggest some way of tracing things. Not
that it mattered, for he could not in any case leave me his title, and,
on the other hand, he had full control of his money, which would be mine
before very long.
"I cried out at that, that he must not say so; that it was not money I
wanted, but a father, affection, friendship. He repeated that all the
same I should have it in course of time. That it was all settled already.
Even before he was certain that I was his own child, he liked me well
enough to make up his mind about that. He asked me if I remembered that
he had stayed at home the other day while the rest of us were on the
hill? He said he had made his will that day, and I was the principal
legatee, though he had not alluded to me in it by my own name. But he
worded it carefully, so that that should make no difference; and though
he believed it was quite clear as it was, he would make it over again,
as soon as he could obtain legal proof of my birth.
"I supposed I murmured some sort of thanks for his care of my future, and
he went on again, saying that he only wished the title could come to me
too, when he died; but that it would go to Mark, since the little boy his
second wife had given him was dead, and I was a girl.
"He said he was afraid that Mark might be a little disappointed, for, if
he hadn't found me, Mark and David would have shared his fortune between
them; but they would soon get over it, for they were good lads,
especially Mark; and David would have plenty of money through this very
satisfactory marriage of his. I couldn't help interrupting that money
wasn't everything. I am telling you all these trivial things, Mr.
Gimblet, because you said I was to try and remember everything, however
"Yes," said Gimblet, "that is what I want. Pray go on."
"He only smiled when I said that," Juliet resumed, "and said that
different opinions were held on that subject by different people. Then he
went on talking about my future life, and said again how glad he would
always be that he had consulted you, and how grateful he was for what you
had done for him, and that if any trouble cropped up, I was to be sure
and send for you at once. He looked to you to protect my interests, and,
if necessary, to avenge his death.
"I couldn't think what he meant, and said so; but he only smiled again
and said he hoped there would be no need for it. He said he had some
papers he must send to you to take care of, some papers that were rather
dangerous to their owner, he was afraid, though at the same time they
were a safeguard to him. But he shouldn't like me to have anything to do
with them, or the boys either, and he must get them away from Inverashiel
as soon as he could. In the meantime they were in a safe place where no
one would find them, and he would write to you that night and tell you
how to look for them, just on the chance that something should happen
before he could send them off. His will was with them, too, for the
present, but he would send that up to Findlay & Ince. He wouldn't tell me
where the papers were; he didn't want me to have anything to do with
these tiresome things.
"He said all this with hesitation; with long pauses between the
sentences. It seemed to me that he would have liked to tell me more, and
I didn't know what to say. Indeed, he seemed to be talking rather to
himself than to me, and I am not sure if he heard me when I said that if
he had any anxiety I should like to share it, if it were possible.
Presently he seemed to take a sudden resolution. He said that there was
no reason, at all events, why he should not explain to me how to find the
papers. He had written directions in cipher once before and given you the
key, but you had lost it, and might do so again. It would be just as well
that I should know about it too, in any case. He had had to think out a
new method, and at present it was known to no one except himself, which
was perhaps not very wise. However, he would send it to you that night,
and would explain it to me at once. But first I must promise him, very
faithfully, never to mention it to anyone, whatever happened, not to let
anyone, except you, ever guess that there was such a thing in existence.
"I promised solemnly; still he hardly seemed satisfied, and looked at me
very searchingly, while he said he wondered if I were old enough to
understand the importance of this, and if I realized that I was promising
not to tell my nearest or dearest; not my adopted father, Sir Arthur
Byrne, nor my lover, if I had one. That it was a matter of life and
death, that his life was in danger then, and that I would inherit the
risk unless I did as he said.
"Rather indignant, though completely mystified, I promised again. He
seemed satisfied, and said he would write the whole thing down for me. He
moved from the hearth, where we had been sitting, to the writing-table,
which stands in the middle of the room, in front of the window. He sat
down at it, and I stood a little behind him, looking on as he took a
sheet of notepaper and turned over the pens in the tray in search of a
pencil. The room was very hot; the tufts of peat smouldering in the
grate, and the two lamps, combined with the fumes of Lord Ashiel's cigar
to render the atmosphere oppressive to a person with a violent headache.
I glanced longingly towards the window. It was not entirely hidden by the
heavy curtains which were drawn across it, for they did not quite meet in
the middle, and I could see perfectly well that the window was shut. For
a moment I hesitated, torn between the desire for fresh air and the fear
that my father might feel too cold. He was terribly chilly. I decided to
ask him, and turned to him again as he took up the pencil and examined
the point critically.
"'Would you mind,' I was beginning; but at that instant a loud report
sounded just outside the window. Lord Ashiel fell forward on to the table
with a low cry, his hand clasped to his ribs. 'Oh, what is it?' I cried,
bending over him; 'you are hurt; you are shot! Oh, what shall I do!' He
was making a great effort to speak, I could see that plainly enough; but
no words would come, and he seemed to be choking. At last he managed to
get out a few words. 'Gimblet,' he gasped, 'the clock--eleven--steps--'
and then with a groan his hand dropped from his side, his head rolled
back upon the table, and a silence followed, more horrible to me than
anything that had gone before.
"I saw now that his shirt was already soaked with blood; and, as in
terror I called again upon his name, the dreadful truth was borne in upon
me, and I knew that he was dead."
Juliet's voice failed her; she spoke the last few words in a quavering
whisper, and if Gimblet had looked at her at that moment he would have
beheld a countenance drawn and distorted by horror.
But he was very much occupied, and did not look up. With a notebook open
on his knee, he was busily writing down what she had said.
"You are sure of the words?" he asked, as his pencil sped across the
page. "'Gimblet--the clock--eleven--step,' is that it?"
His matter-of-fact voice soothed and reassured her. This little
grey-haired man, sitting at her side, was somehow a very comfortable
companion to one whose nerves were badly overwrought. Juliet pulled
"Steps," she corrected, and her voice sounded almost natural again.
"Do you suppose," asked the detective, "that he meant the English word,
steps, or the Russian, steppes?"
"I don't know," said Juliet, surprised. "I never thought of it. But, Mr.
Gimblet, I have not told anyone but you that he spoke after he was hit. I
thought perhaps that he might have wished those last words of his to be
"Quite right," said Gimblet approvingly. "He did right to trust your
discretion. And now, please, go on," he added, putting down his pencil;
"what happened next?"
And Juliet answered him in a tone as calm as his own:
"I think I must have fainted."
"The next thing I remember, was finding myself lying on the floor, and,
when I tried to get up, seeing everything in the room swinging about me
like the swinging boats at a fair. I don't know how long I had been
unconscious, but when, at last, I managed to stand up, and clinging,
faint and giddy, to the back of a chair, looked again at the motionless
figure that sprawled across the writing-table, there was a great pool of
blood on the polished oak of the floor beneath it, which grew slowly
broader, as drop after drop dripped down to swell it With a great effort
I conquered my faintness, and staggered out of the room and down the
"In the billiard-room Mr. McConachan was still practising his game. He
must have been making a break, for I remember hearing him speak, as I
opened the door. 'Twenty-seven,' he said aloud. My voice wouldn't come,
and I stood holding on to the doorpost, while he, with his back to me,
went on potting the red.
"'That you, Miss Byrne?' he said, without looking round. Then, as I
didn't answer, he glanced up and saw by my face, I suppose, that
something was very wrong. He came quickly to me, his cue in his hand.
'What's the matter?' he said. 'Do you feel ill?' 'Lord Ashiel is dead,' I
said; 'in the library. Some one shot him. Didn't you hear?' 'Dead?' he
cried; 'Uncle Douglas shot! Do you know what you're saying! I heard a
shot, it is true, five minutes ago, but surely that was the keeper
shooting an owl or something.'
"I shook my head. 'He is dead,' I repeated dully. He looked at me, still
incredulous, and then darted forward and caught me by the arm. 'Here, sit
down,' he said, and half pushed, half led me to a chair. I saw him run to
the bell and tug violently at the rope. Then I believe I fainted again.
"I think that is all there is to tell you, Mr. Gimblet. You know already
that the murderer got clear away, and the next morning footmarks were
found outside the window which proved to have been made by Sir David
Southern. I was so idiotic, when I was questioned, as to mention having
spoken to him outside the gun-room door, and to repeat, incidentally,
that he had said he had been cleaning his rifle. I never dreamt that
anyone could be so mad as to suspect him. But they looked at the rifle,
and found that it was dirty, so that it must have been discharged again
since I saw him. And it appears he did not join in the search for the
murderer, and was not seen until it was all over. And so they arrested
him and took him away. No amount of evidence could ever make me believe
for a moment that he had a hand in this dreadful thing, but oh, Mr.
Gimblet, I see only too well how black it looks against him. What shall I
do if you, too, now that I have told you everything, think he did it? You
don't, do you?"
"My dear young lady," said the detective. "I really can't give you an
opinion at present. There are a score of points I must investigate, a
dozen other people besides yourself whom I must question, before I can
form any kind of conclusion. I hope that Sir David Southern may prove to
be a much wronged man. But beyond that I can't go, just at present; and I
shouldn't build too much on my help if I were you. I'm not infallible;
far from it. And I certainly can't prove him innocent if he is guilty."
He stood up, shaking the sand out of his clothes.
"Let us go on, up to the castle," he said.
The gates were near at hand; in silence they breasted the steep incline
of the drive, which wound and zigzagged up between high banks covered
with rhododendron and bracken, and grown over with trees. After a quarter
of a mile these gave place to an abrupt, grass covered slope, whose top
had been smoothed and levelled by the hand of man, and from which on the
far side rose the castle of Inverashiel, its stout and ancient framework
disguised and masked by the modern addition to the building which faced
the approach; a mass of gabled and turreted stonework in the worst style
of nineteenth century architecture which in Scotland often took on a
shape and semblance even more fantastically repulsive than it assumed in
the south. The great tower that formed the principal remaining portion of
the old building could just be discerned over the top of the flaring
façade, but the nature of the site was such that most of the ancient
fortress was invisible from that part of the grounds. Juliet stopped at
the turn of the road.
"I will leave you here," she said, "you will not want me, I suppose?
After you have finished, will you come to Lady Ruth Worsfold's house, and
tell me what you think? It is just past the station turning; you will
easily find your way, though the house is hidden by the trees. Your
luggage will be there already, as Lady Ruth is going to put you up."
Mr. Mark McConachan, or rather Lord Ashiel, as he had now become, was in
the act of ending a solitary meal, when Gimblet was announced. He went
to meet the detective, forcing to his trouble-lined face a smile of
welcome that lit up the large melancholy eyes with an expression few
people could resist.
"I thought it was another of those newspaper fellows, but, thank
goodness, I believe they're all gone now," he said. "I am exceedingly
glad to see you, Mr. Gimblet. I should myself have asked you to come to
our aid, but I found that Miss Byrne had been before me. I suppose you
have seen her?"
"Yes," said Gimblet. "She met me at the station. I'm afraid I'm rather
late on the scene. I hear that the Glasgow police have come and gone,
taking with them the author of the crime."
"It is a dreadful business altogether," returned young Ashiel. "I don't
know which part of it is the worst. There's my uncle dead, shot down like
a rat by some cold-blooded scoundrel; and now my cousin David, poor chap,
in jail, and under charge of murder. It seems impossible to believe it of
him, and yet, what is one to believe? One can only suppose that he must
have been off his head if he did it. But have you had lunch, Mr. Gimblet?
Sit down and have something to eat first of all; you can ask me any
questions you wish while you are eating."
And he insisted on Gimblet's doing as he suggested.
"The household is naturally a bit disorganized," he said when the
servants had left the room and the detective was busy with some cold
grouse. "I had a cold lunch myself to save trouble; would you rather
have something hot? I expect that a chop or something could be produced,
if you are cold after your journey."
Gimblet assured him that he could like nothing better than what he
"You have had Macross up here, haven't you?" he asked. "It is really
disappointing to find the whole thing over before I arrive. I am afraid
there is nothing left for me to do."
Mark looked at him quickly. Was it possible he accepted Macross's verdict
without inquiring further himself?
"We are hoping you will undo what has been done," he said. "I look to you
to get my cousin out of prison. Surely there must be some other
explanation than that he did it. I simply won't believe it."
"If there is any other explanation," said Gimblet, "I will try and
find it; but the affair looks bad against Sir David Southern from what
I can hear."
"Why should he have shot through the window?" said Ashiel. "They were
both in the same house. Why should my cousin go into the garden, when
he had nothing to do but to open the library door and shoot, if he
"Oh," said Gimblet, "ordinary caution would suggest the garden. He did
not know perhaps, whether his uncle would be alone; and as a matter of
fact, he was not, was he?"
"No, Miss Byrne was with him. By Jove," said Mark, bending forward to
light a cigarette, "I shall never forget the fright it gave me when I
saw her face. She looked as if--oh, she looked perfectly ghastly! I was
in the billiard-room when she came in, as white as a sheet, and stood
there without speaking for a minute, while I imagined every sort of
catastrophe except the real one. And all the time I kept thinking it
would turn out to be nothing really, as likely as not; women will look
hideously frightened and upset if they cut their finger, or see a rat,
or think they hear burglars. One never knows. And then at last she got
out a few words, 'Lord Ashiel has been shot,' or something of the sort,
"What did you do?" asked Gimblet.
"Well, I had to see to her, you know. I couldn't very well leave her in
that state, could I? I hung on to the bell for all I was worth, and the
butler and footmen came running. I told them to look after the young lady
and to call her maid, and then I ran off to the library, followed by old
Blanston, the butler. You know what we found there. My poor old uncle,
dead as a door nail; a hole in the window where the bullet came in, and
the floor around him all covered with blood. Ugh!" Mark shuddered, "it
was horrid. We only stayed to make sure he was dead, and then we left him
as we had found him and rushed back to rouse the rest of the household,
and to start a chase after the murderer. Of course the first person I
looked for was David Southern, but he wasn't to be found, so I and three
menservants ran out at once with sticks and lanterns, and hunted all over
the grounds without seeing or hearing anything or anyone. The hall boy
had been sent down to fetch up the stablemen and chauffeur, and to rout
out some of the gardeners and anyone else he could find, so that we were
a decently large party, and I don't think there was an inch of ground we
didn't go over, of all that lies within the policies. The murderer,
however, had plenty of time to get right away, and as it was hopeless to
scour the whole country side in that darkness--for it was as black as
your hat--I decided, after an hour of groping about in the shrubberies,
that we must leave off and wait for daylight."
"What time was it when you abandoned the hunt?" asked Gimblet.
"It was past midnight. I didn't see that any good could be done by
sitting up all night. On the contrary, I thought it important that we
should get some sleep while we could, so as to be fresher for the chase
when daylight came. At this time of the year it gets light fairly early,
so I sent every one to bed, except two of the ghillies, whom I told to
row across the loch to Crianan and fetch the doctor and police, which I
suppose I ought to have thought of before. Then I went to bed myself."
"And when did Sir David Southern turn up?" asked Gimblet.
"Oh, he appeared soon after we started to beat the policies. I hadn't
time then to ask him where he'd been, and he was as keen on catching
the murderer as anyone. Of course it never occurred to me to
"Naturally. Please go on with your narrative."
"Well, we slept, to speak for myself, for three or four hours, and then
James and Andrew came back with the people I had sent for. And now, Mr.
Gimblet, I come to a strange thing, a thing I've been careful not to
mention to anyone but you, though I'm afraid it's bound to come out at
the trial. When Blanston and I went out of the library, we locked the
door behind us, but when I opened it again, to let in the doctor and the
police, my uncle's body had been moved."
"Moved? How?" Gimblet repeated after him.
"Oh, not far, but it had been touched by some one, I am ready to swear,
though I said nothing about it at the time. When we first found him, he
was lying forward on the table with one arm under his head and the other
hanging beside him. When I went in for the second time he was sitting
sideways in his chair with his head and arm in quite a different place.
Instead of being in the middle, on the blotting-pad, they were further to
the right, on the bare polished wood."
Gimblet looked at him keenly.
"You are perfectly certain of this?" he said.
"Absolutely. Besides, you can ask Miss Byrne and Blanston. They both saw
him as he was at first. And the police and Dr. Duncan can tell you what
his position was when they went into the room. I said nothing about it
to any of them, because I thought at once that it must be David who had
"Why did you think that?"
"Because he knew where the key was. I took it out of my pocket when we
were alone in the smoking-room before going up to bed, and asked him what
I should do with it.
"'Oh, put it in a drawer,' he said, pointing to the writing-table, and I
put it there, as he suggested. Of course I see now that some one else may
have found the key in that drawer, but at first it did look as if David
must, for some reason, have taken it, and been in the library, after I'd
gone to bed."
"It seems very unlikely that anyone else would have hit on the place
where you had put it," said Gimblet reflectively. "And if they had
done so, would they have recognized the key? Is the library key
peculiar in any way?"
"It is rather an uncommon pattern," said Mark. "It is very old and
strong. I think anyone who knew the key would have recognized it
"It is hardly likely that anyone would have found it if they had had to
search all through the house for it in the middle of the night,"
commented Gimblet. "Is there no other way of getting into the library?"
"No, there is only one door."
"How about the window? It was broken; could not anyone have put in a
hand, or raised the sash?"
"I don't think anyone could have got in. It isn't a sash window. There
are stone mullions and small leaded casements in the old part of the
castle where the library is, and I doubt if anyone larger than a child
could squeeze through; in fact, a child couldn't; there are iron bars
down the middle, which make it too narrow."
"H'm," murmured Gimblet. "I should like to have a look at them. And what
was the doctor's report?"
"He said that the injuries to the heart were such that death must have
been instantaneous, or practically so."
"Did anything else come out?"
"Nothing, except the evidence against poor old David, I'm sorry to say."
"You haven't told me that yet," said Gimblet. "Go on from when the police
arrived on the scene."
"As soon as it was daylight we started off again on our search. But right
at the beginning of it, they came upon the footsteps."
"Ah, where were they?"
"The flower-bed outside the library window showed them plainly; the
ground beyond that was mossy, and there were no other marks. We divided
into two parties, one going west down the side of the loch, and the other
north and east over the hills. Till ten o'clock or later we beat the
country, searching behind every rock, and going through the woods and
bracken in a close line. But we saw no sign of a stranger, and came back
at last, dead beat, for food and a rest. When we got back we found that
the policeman left in charge had been nosing about, and whiling away his
time by collecting the boots of every one in the house and fitting them
to the footprints on the flower-bed. As bad luck would have it, David's
shooting-boots exactly fitted the marks."
"His shooting-boots?" said Gimblet. "He wouldn't be wearing
shooting-boots after dinner."
"That's what he said himself, and there seems no imaginable reason why he
should have worn them, unless--" Mark hesitated for a moment, and then
went on in a tone perhaps rather too positive to carry complete
conviction to a critical ear. "Of course not. He can't have put them on
after dinner. The idea is ludicrous. He must have made those footmarks
earlier in the day."
"Is that what he himself says?" asked the detective. He had finished
eating, and was leaning back in his chair with that air of far-off
contemplation which those best acquainted with him knew was
habitually his expression when his attention and interest were more
than usually roused.
"No," admitted Mark regretfully. "He doesn't. He sticks to it that he'd
never been near the flower-bed, with boots, or without them; it's my
belief his memory has been affected by the shock of all this. And he
would insist on talking to the police, though they warned him that
what he said might be used against him. I did all I could to stop him,
but it was no good. It really looked as if he was doing his best to
"How was that? What else did he say?"
"You see," said Mark, "when the Crianan man had got hold of the boots
that matched the footprints, he was no end excited by his success.
Pleased to death with himself, he was. And he was as keen as mustard on
following up his rotten clue. The next thing he did was to want a look at
David's guns. Of course we didn't make any objection to that, though if
I'd known--well, it's no earthly thinking of that now. So off we all
marched in procession to the gun-room, and it didn't take long to see
that the only one of the whole lot there that hadn't been cleaned since
it was last fired was the Mannlicher David had shot his stag with the day
before. The silly ass of a constable took it up and squinted through it
as solemn as a judge, and then he just handed it to my cousin, and 'What
have you to say to this, Sir David?' says he. Infernal cheek! 'I shot it
off yesterday, and haven't had time to clean it since,' said David, and
I, for one, could have sworn he was speaking the truth. Why not, indeed?
There was nothing improbable about it. But the dickens of the thing was
that while we were all out of the house, and he had the place to himself,
the policeman had routed out poor Miss Byrne and badgered her for an
account of all that had happened the evening before; and she, without a
thought of doing harm to any of us--I'm convinced she's as sorry for it
now as I am myself--had mentioned incidentally that David had told her,
when she saw him half an hour before the murder, that he'd just been
cleaning his rifle. She'd told me so, too, as far as that goes, when she
passed through the billiard-room on her way to the library. I happened to
ask her if she knew what he was up to."
"Decidedly awkward for Sir David," said Gimblet meditatively, "but
after all, some one else might have fired off the rifle after he had
Mark shook his head gloomily.
"There are difficulties about that," he said. "It happens that David is
very fussy about his guns, always cleans them himself, you know, and
won't let another soul touch 'em. And though he keeps them in the gunroom
like the rest of us, he's got his own particular glass-fronted cupboard
which he keeps the key of himself. My uncle and I share one between us,
and generally leave the key in the lock, so that the keeper can get at
the guns, which we never bother to clean ourselves. Not so David. Ever
since we were boys he's had his own private cupboard, and no one but
himself has ever been allowed to open it. We always spent our holidays
here, and my uncle let us behave as if we were at our own house. David
took out the key for the sergeant to use, and when he was asked if anyone
else could have got at the rifle, he replied that it was impossible, as
the key had been in his pocket the whole time, except for an hour or two
while he was asleep, when it had lain on the table by his bedside."
"Did he deny having told Miss Byrne he had cleaned the rifle?"
"Yes; he said he hadn't told her so. It was all very unpleasant, and the
police sergeant was as suspicious as you like, by this time. 'What were
you doing when the alarm was given?' he asked David. 'I was out in the
grounds,' said David, and that was rather a facer for the rest of us, I
must confess. He went on to say that he had fancied he saw some one
hanging about at the edge of the lawn--which is the opposite side of the
house from the library--and gone out to make sure, but he had found no
one, though he hunted about for nearly an hour, till he saw lights
approaching and fell in with our party of searchers. He said that it was
then he first heard what had happened."
Gimblet nodded his head thoughtfully.
"Miss Byrne said she saw him start off to look for some one," he
"Yes," said Mark eagerly, "there's no doubt he saw a man lurking in the
darkness. And it was dark too," he added, "never saw such a black night
in my life; I must say it beats me how he could have seen anyone. But his
eyes were always rather more useful than mine," he concluded hastily.
"The police, however, seem to have thought it improbable," said Gimblet,
"since they arrested your cousin for the murder."
"Stupid brutes!" said Mark viciously. "No, they would have it it was
impossible he should have seen anyone. And what clinched it was the
unlucky fact that David and my uncle had had a violent row the day
before. My uncle shot David's dog; I must say I think it was uncalled
for, and poor David was absurdly fond of the beast. He felt very savage
about it, and all the ghillies heard what he said to Uncle Douglas."
"What did he say?"
"Oh, a lot of rot. He lost his temper. The idiotic thing he said was,
that he'd a good mind to shoot _him_ and see how he liked it. Pure
temper, you know. I don't believe David would hurt a hair of his head."
"Well, it was decidedly an indiscreet remark."
"It was imbecile. And of course the police heard all about it from the
servants and keepers, and it fitted in only too well with all the rest
about the footmarks and his absence from the house at the time, and the
rifle and everything. By the by, the bullet was a soft-nosed one which
fitted David's rifle; but for that matter it fitted mine--which is a .355
Mannlicher like his--or a dozen others on the loch side. It's a very
common weapon on a Scotch forest. But taking one thing with another there
was a good deal of evidence against him, so they made up their minds he
had done it; and Macross, when he arrived from Glasgow with his
myrmidons, agreed with the local idiots, and took him off. I'm certain
there must be a mistake somewhere, but so far it seems jolly hard to hit
on it. I hope you'll put your finger on the spot."
"I hope so," said Gimblet, but his voice was full of doubt. "It's hard to
see how anyone else could have used his rifle after he cleaned it, since
he admits that he locked it up and kept the key on him. Yes," he murmured
to himself, "the rifle speaks very eloquently. What other interpretation
can be put on these facts? I'm sure you must see that yourself," he went
on, glancing up at Mark, who was feeling in his pocket for another
cigarette. "Sir David told Miss Byrne he had cleaned his rifle; he told
the police he then locked it up and that the key had been in his
possession ever since. But the rifle was found to have been fired again
since he had cleaned it. His only explanation was to contradict what he
had previously said to Miss Byrne. Do those facts appear to you to leave
any possible loophole of doubt as to his guilt?"
Mark struck a match and lighted his cigarette before he answered. When
at length he did so his reluctance was very plain, and his voice full
"Poor old chap," he said. "I'm afraid he must have done it in some fit of
madness. As you say, there is no other imaginable alternative."
Gimblet nodded philosophically.
"Is there anything else?" he asked.
"There's a letter which arrived for Uncle Douglas this morning," he said,
"which you may think worth looking at. I daresay it's of no importance,
but it struck me as rather odd."
He took a letter out of his pocket and handed it to the detective, who
opened it and read as follows:
"Si Milord ne rend pas ce qu'il ne doit pas garder, le coup de foudre lui
tombera sur la tête."
There was no signature, nor any date.
Gimblet turned the sheet over thoughtfully. The message was typewritten
on a piece of thin foreign paper; the postmark on the envelope was Paris,
and the stamps French. He folded it again and replaced it in its cover.
"It seems the usual threatening anonymous communication," he observed.
"Have you any idea who it's from?"
Mark shook his head.
"None," he confessed. "It looks, though, as if my uncle had in his
possession something belonging to the writer, doesn't it? Don't you
think it might have something to do with the murder?"
"I don't see why the murderer should send a threatening letter after the
deed was done," said the detective. "Still less could he have posted it
in Paris on the very day the crime was committed."
"No, that's true enough," Mark admitted reluctantly.
"Has any suspicious looking person been seen about this place, this
summer? Any foreigner, for instance?" asked the detective.
"No; no," Mark replied. "I should have heard of it for certain if there
had been. It would have been an event, down here."
Gimblet dropped the subject.
"If I may," he said. "I will keep this. It may lead to something,"
he added, tucking the letter away in an inside pocket. "That's all,
Mark was silent for a minute. He seemed to be thinking.
"That's all I know about the murder," he said at last, "but there are
plenty of complications apart from that. I suppose Miss Byrne told you
that my uncle electrified us all by saying she was his daughter, only an
hour or so before he died?"
Gimblet nodded. "Yes," he said, "she told me."
"It makes it very awkward for me," said Mark. "I want to do the right
thing, but I'm hanged if I know what I ought to do. You see, my uncle
used to say that he'd left his property between me and David; he never
made any secret of it, and as a matter of fact I've had a communication
from his London lawyers, telling me they have a very old will, made when
I was a small boy, long before the birth of his son, and that everything
is left to me. There were reasons why he may have thought David would be
provided for--he was engaged to marry a very rich American, but she
dropped him yesterday like a red-hot coal as soon as it began to look as
if he'd be suspected. She's gone now, I'm glad to say. As a matter of
fact, if David can only be cleared of this horrible charge, I shall
insist on dividing my inheritance with him. That is, if I can't get Miss
Byrne to take it, or Miss McConachan, as I ought to call her now."
"Lord Ashiel could leave his money where he liked, couldn't he?"
"Yes, he could, but he would naturally have left it to his daughter, if
she really was his daughter. In fact, Miss McConachan says he told her he
had done so, but I haven't come across the will so far, though I had a
good hunt through his papers this morning; Blanston and the housekeeper,
who say they witnessed some document which may have been a will, have no
idea where it is. Of course, my uncle may have intended to say that he
was going to make one, and Miss McConachan may have misunderstood him,
but she seems to think he had some secret hiding-place of his own, and I
hope to goodness you'll be able to hit on it, if he had. I can't stand
the idea of profiting by a lost will, and I'd far rather simply hand over
the money than bother to look for this missing paper."
"Oh, I daresay it will turn up," said Gimblet. "You haven't had much time
to find it yet."
"My uncle was a very methodical man. Everything is in its place. You wait
till you see his papers! If he made a will he must have hidden it
somewhere where we shall never dream of looking for it. It's just waste
of time hunting about, and I shall have another try at persuading my new
cousin to let me make over everything to her."
"It is not every young man in your position who would part so readily
with a large fortune," observed Gimblet.
But Mark awkwardly deprecated his approving words.
"Oh," he said, "I'm sure any decent chap would do the same in my place."
"And now," said Gimblet, "may I visit the scene of the crime?"
Mark took him first to his uncle's bedroom; a room austere in its
simplicity, with bare white-washed walls and uncarpeted floor. No one
could have hidden a sheet of paper in that room, thought the detective,
as he gazed round it, after he had looked, with a feeling akin to
guilt, on the features of the dead peer. He had not known how to
protect this man from the dreadful fate that had struck him down from a
direction so utterly unexpected, and he held himself, in a way,
responsible for his death.
Then young Ashiel led him away, down a wide corridor into the
billiard-room, and so into another passage, at the end of which a door of
stout and time-darkened oak gave access to the library. It creaked
noisily on its hinges, as he pushed it open and ushered Gimblet in. They
stepped into a square room, comfortably furnished, with deep arm-chairs,
and a large chippendale writing-table which stood at right angles to the
bow window, so placed that anyone writing at it should have the light
upon his left. It was rather a dark room, the walls being lined with
books from floor to ceiling, except at two points: opposite the window an
alcove, panelled in ancient oak, appeared in the wall; and above the
fireplace, opposite the door, the wall was panelled in the same manner
and covered by an oil painting, representing Lord Ashiel's grandmother.
The polished boards were unconcealed by any rug or carpet, and reflected
a little of the light from the window. An ominous discoloration near the
writing-table showed plainly upon them.
In the glass of the mullioned casement was the small round hole made by
the fatal bullet.
Gimblet glanced at the bureau on which the writing materials were set out
in perfect order, and could not conceal his annoyance.
"Everything has been moved, I see," he said. "Why couldn't they leave it
as it was for a few hours longer?"
"Nothing was touched till after the police had gone," said Mark. "I
confess I did not think it necessary to leave things alone once they were
out of the house. Not only have the housemaids been at work in here, but
I spent most of the morning here myself, going through the papers in that
bureau. Will it matter much?" He spoke with evident dismay.
"Never mind," said Gimblet, "I suppose Macross's people photographed
everything, and I can get copies from them, I have no doubt. By the by,
what did Sir David Southern say about having been in the room while you
were in bed? Did he admit it; and did he say why he moved the body?"
"He said he'd not been near the place," replied Mark, looking more
perplexed and worried than ever. "I can't understand it at all," he
added. "Why should he deny it to me?"
Gimblet opened a drawer in the bureau. Papers filled it, tied together in
bundles and neatly docketed. They seemed to be receipted bills. He
glanced at the pigeon-holes, and opened one or two more drawers.
Everywhere the most fastidious order reigned.
"You have been through all these?" he asked.
"Yes, but there is a cupboard full in the smoking-room. I thought of
looking into those this afternoon."
"It would be a good plan," Gimblet agreed. "Don't let me keep you," And
as the young man still lingered, "I prefer," he confessed, "to do my
work alone. If you will kindly get me a shooting-boot of Sir David
Southern's, I shall do better if I am left to myself."
"If that is really the case," said Mark, "I have no choice but to leave
you. I admit I should have liked to see your methods, but if I should be
Gimblet did not deny it, and Mark departed to fetch the boots.
"This is not the identical pair," he said when he returned. "The police
took those; but these come from the same maker and are nearly the same,
so Blanston tells me."
"Ah, yes, Blanston," said Gimblet. "I must see him presently. Thanks
Left alone, Gimblet examined the window, opening one of the small-paned
casements, and measuring the space between the mullions and the central
bars of iron. Satisfied as to the impossibility of any ordinary-sized
person passing through those apertures, he took one more look round, and
then with a swift movement drew each of the heavy curtains across the
bay. They did not quite meet in the middle, as Juliet had observed. Then
he made his way out into the garden through the door just outside, at the
end of the passage which led from the billiard-room to the library.
The library was at the far end of the oldest portion of Inverashiel
Castle. To Gimblet, examining it from the outside, it looked as if the
room had been hewn out of the solid walls of the ancient fortress; for
beyond the mullioned, seventeenth-century window, the wall turned sharply
to the left and was continued with scarce a loophole in the stupendous
blocks of its surface for a distance of fifty yards or so, where it was
succeeded by the lower, less heavy battlements of the old out-works. In
the angle formed by the turn and immediately opposite the window of the
library, a long flower-bed, planted with standard and other rose trees,
with violas growing sparsely in between, stretched its blossoming length,
and continued up to the actual stones of the library wall. At the farther
end of it, a thick hedge of holly bordered on the roses at right angles
to the end of the battlements; while the lawn on his left was spangled
with geometrically shaped beds showing elaborate arrangements of
heliotrope, ageratum, calceolarias, and other bedding-out plants.
Gimblet walked slowly along the lawn at the edge of the bed, his eyes on
the black peaty mould, where it was visible among the flowers. About
twenty yards from the hedge, he stopped with a muffled exclamation. The
bed in front of him was covered with footprints of all shapes and sizes;
but plainly distinguishable among the rest were the neat nail-encrusted
marks which matched the boot he held in his hand. He put it down on the
ground and carefully made an imprint with it in the soil, beside the
existing footmarks. It was easy to single out its fellows.
"Two extra nails," murmured Gimblet to himself, "but otherwise, the same.
Probably made on the same last."
Stepping cautiously in the places where his predecessors had walked, he
followed the tracks that had betrayed Sir David Southern. They were
numerous and distinct; he counted fourteen of each separate foot. First
Sir David would seem to have walked straight across the bed, then
returned and taken up his position near the middle. He was not contented
with that, it seemed, for he had walked backwards five or six paces and
then moved sideways again till he was exactly opposite the opening
between the curtains. Here the ground was trampled down as if he had
several times shifted slightly from one place to another. Whether or not
he was exactly in line with the writing-table Gimblet could not see, as
its position was hidden in the obscurity behind the drawn curtains. It
would want a light there to prove that, thought Gimblet; still there was
no reason to doubt that it was so. There were four or five more
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