The Postmaster's Daughter
Part 1 out of 5
The Postmaster's Daughter
by Louis Tracy
Author of "The Terms of Surrender," "The Wings of the Morning,"
I. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
II. P. C ROBINSON "TAKES A LINE"
III. THE GATHERING CLOUDS
IV. A CABAL
V. THE SEEDS OF MISCHIEF
VI. SCOTLAND YARD TAKES A HAND
VII. "ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS"
VIII. AN INTERRUPTED SYMPOSIUM
IX. HE WHOM THE CAP FITS--
X. THE CASE AGAINST GRANT
XI. P. C. ROBINSON TAKES ANOTHER LINE
XII. WHEREIN WINTER GETS TO WORK
XIII. CONCERNING THEODORE SIDDLE
XIV. ON BOTH SIDES OF THE RIVER
XV. A MATTER OF HEREDITY
XVI. FURNEAUX MAKES A SUCCESSFUL BID
XVII. AN OFFICIAL HOUSEBREAKER
XVIII. THE TRUTH AT LAST
THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
John Menzies Grant, having breakfasted, filled his pipe, lit it, and
strolled out bare-headed into the garden. The month was June, that
glorious rose-month which gladdened England before war-clouds darkened
the summer sky. As the hour was nine o'clock, it is highly probable that
many thousands of men were then strolling out into many thousands of
gardens in precisely similar conditions; but, given youth, good health,
leisure, and a fair amount of money, it is even more probable that few
among the smaller number thus roundly favored by fortune looked so
perplexed as Grant.
Moreover, his actions were eloquent as words. A spacious French window
had been cut bodily out of the wall of an old-fashioned room, and was now
thrown wide to admit the flower-scented breeze. Between this window and
the right-hand angle of the room was a smaller window, square-paned, high
above the ground level, and deeply recessed--in fact just the sort of
window which one might expect to find in a farm-house built two centuries
ago, when light and air were rigorously excluded from interiors. The two
windows told the history of The Hollies at a glance. The little one had
served the needs of a "best" room for several generations of Sussex
yeomen. Then had come some iconoclast who hewed a big rectangle through
the solid stone-work, converted the oak-panelled apartment into a most
comfortable dining-room, built a new wing with a gable, changed a
farm-yard into a flower-bordered lawn, and generally played havoc with
Georgian utility while carrying out a determined scheme of landscape
Happily, the wrecker was content to let well enough alone after enlarging
the house, laying turf, and planting shrubs and flowers. He found The
Hollies a ramshackle place, and left it even more so, but with a new note
of artistry and several unexpectedly charming vistas. Thus, the big
double window opened straight into an irregular garden which merged
insensibly into a sloping lawn bounded by a river-pool. The bank on the
other side of the stream rose sharply and was well wooded. Above the
crest showed the thatched roofs or red tiles of Steynholme, which was a
village in the time of William the Conqueror, and has remained a village
ever since. Frame this picture in flowering shrubs, evergreens, a few
choice firs, a copper beech, and some sturdy oaks shadowing the lawn, and
the prospect on a June morning might well have led out into the open any
young man with a pipe.
But John Menzies Grant seemed to have no eye for a scene that would have
delighted a painter. He turned to the light, scrutinized so closely a
strip of turf which ran close to the wall that he might have been
searching for a lost diamond, and then peered through the lowermost
left-hand pane of the small window into the room he had just quitted.
The result of this peeping was remarkable in more ways than one.
A stout, elderly, red-faced woman, who had entered the room soon after
she heard Grant's chair being moved, caught sight of the intent face. She
screamed loudly, and dropped a cup and saucer with a clatter on to a
Grant hurried back to the French window. In his haste he did not notice a
long shoot of a Dorothy Perkins rose which trailed across his path, and
it struck him smartly on the cheek.
"I'm afraid I startled you, Mrs. Bates," he said, smiling so pleasantly
that no woman or child could fail to put trust in him.
"You did that, sir," agreed Mrs. Bates, collapsing into the chair Grant
had just vacated.
Like most red-faced people, Mrs. Bates turned a bluish purple when
alarmed, and her aspect was so distressing now that Grant's smile was
banished by a look of real concern.
"I'm very sorry," he said contritely. "I had no notion you were in the
room. Shall I call Minnie?"
Minnie, it may be explained, was Mrs. Bates's daughter and assistant,
the two, plus a whiskered Bates, gardener and groom, forming the domestic
establishment presided over by Grant.
"Nun-no, sir," stuttered the housekeeper. "It's stupid of me. But I'm not
so young as I was, an' me heart jumps at little things."
Grant saw that she was recovering, though slowly. He thought it best not
to make too much of the incident; but asked solicitously if he might give
her some brandy.
Mrs. Bates remarked that she was "not so bad as that," rose valiantly,
and went on with her work. Her employer, who had gone into the garden
again, saw out of the tail of his eye that she vanished with a half-laden
tray. In a couple of minutes the daughter appeared, and finished the
slight task of clearing the table; meanwhile, Grant kept away from the
small window. Being a young man who cultivated the habit of observation,
he noticed that Minnie, too, cast scared glances at the window. When the
girl had finally quitted the room, he laughed in a puzzled way.
"Am I dreaming, or are there visions about?" he murmured.
Urged, seemingly, by a sort of curiosity, he surveyed the room a second
time through the same pane of glass. Being tall, he had to stoop
slightly. Within, on the opposite side of the ledge, he saw the tiny
brass candlestick with its inch of candle which he had used over-night
while searching for a volume of Scott in the book-case lining the
neighboring wall. Somehow, this simplest of domestic objects brought a
thrill of recollection.
"Oh, dash it all!" he growled good-humoredly, "I'm getting nervy. I must
chuck this bad habit of working late, and use the blessed hours of
Yet, as he sauntered down the lawn toward the stream, he knew well that
he would do nothing of the sort. He loved that time of peace between
ten at night and one in the morning. His thoughts ran vagrom then.
Fantasies took shape under his pen which, in the cold light of morning,
looked unreal and nebulous, though he had the good sense to restrain
criticism within strict limits, and corrected style rather than matter.
He was a writer, an essayist with no slight leaven of the poet, and had
learnt early that the everyday world held naught in common with the
brooding of the soul.
But he was no long-haired dreamer of impossible things. Erect and
square-shouldered, he had passed through Sandhurst into the army, a
profession abandoned because of its humdrum nature, when an unexpectedly
"fat" legacy rendered him independent. He looked exactly what he was, a
healthy, clean-minded young Englishman, with a physique that led to
occasional bouts of fox-hunting and Alpine climbing, and a taste in
literature that brought about the consumption of midnight oil. This
latter is not a mere trope. Steynholme is far removed from such modern
"conveniences" as gas and electricity.
At present he had no more definite object in life than to watch the trout
rising in the pool. He held the fishing rights over half a mile of a
noted river, but, by force of the law of hospitality, as it were, the
stretch of water bordering the lawn was a finny sanctuary. Once, he
halted, and looked fixedly at a dormer window in a cottage just visible
above the trees on the opposite slope. Such a highly presentable young
man might well expect to find a dainty feminine form appearing just in
that place, and eke return the greeting of a waved hand. But the window
remained blank--windows refused to yield any information that
morning--and he passed on.
The lawn dipped gently to the water's edge, until the close-clipped turf
gave way to pebbles and sand. In that spot the river widened and
deepened until its current was hardly perceptible in fine weather. When
the sun was in the west the trees and roofs of Steynholme were so
clearly reflected in the mirror of the pool that a photograph of the
scene needed close scrutiny ere one could determine whether or not it
was being held upside down. But the sun shone directly on the water now,
so the shelving bottom was visible, and Grant's quick eye was drawn to a
rope trailing into the depths, and fastened to an iron staple driven
firmly into the shingle.
He was so surprised that he spoke aloud.
"What in the world is that?" he almost gasped; a premonition of evil was
so strong in him that he actually gazed in stupefaction at a blob of
water and a quick-spreading ring where a fat trout rose lazily in
Somehow, too, he resisted the first impulse of the active side of his
temperament, and did not instantly tug at the rope.
Instead, he shouted:--
An answering hail came from behind a screen of laurels on the right of
the house. There lay the stables, and Bates would surely be grooming the
cob which supplied a connecting link between The Hollies and the railway
for the neighboring market-town.
Bates came, a sturdy block of a man who might have been hewn out of a
Sussex oak. His face, hands, and arms were the color of oak, and he moved
with a stiffness that suggested wooden joints.
Evidently, he expected an order for the dogcart, and stood stock still
when he reached the lawn. But Grant, who had gathered his wits, summoned
him with crooked forefinger, and Bates jerked slowly on.
"What hev' ye done to yer face, sir?" he inquired.
Grant was surprised. He expected no such question.
"So far as I know, I've not been making any great alteration in
it," he said.
"But it's all covered wi' blood," came the disturbing statement.
A handkerchief soon gave evidence that Bates was not exaggerating.
Miss--or is it Madam?--Dorothy Perkins can scratch as well as look sweet,
and a thorn had opened a small vein in Grant's cheek which bled to a
"Oh, it is nothing," he said. "I remember now--a rose shoot caught me as
I went back into the dining-room a moment ago. I shouted for you to come
and see _this_."
Soon the two were examining the rope and the staple.
"Now who put _that_ there?" said Bates, not asking a question but rather
stating a thesis.
"It was not here yesterday," commented his master, accepting all that
Bates's words implied.
"No, sir, that it wasn't. I was a-cuttin' the lawn till nigh bed-time,
an' it wasn't there then."
Grant was himself again. He stooped and grabbed the rope.
"Suppose we solve the mystery," he said.
"No need to dirty your hands, sir," put in Bates. "Let I haul 'un in."
In a few seconds the oaken tint in his face grew many shades lighter.
"Good Gawd!" he wheezed. At the end of the rope was the body of a woman.
There are few more distressing objects than a drowned corpse. On
that bright June morning a dreadful apparition lost little of its
grim repulsiveness because the body was that of a young and
If one searched England it would be difficult to find two men of
differing temperaments less likely to yield to the stress of even the
most trying circumstance than Grant and Bates, yet, during some agonized
moments the one, of tried courage and fine mettle, was equally horrified
and shaken as the other, a gnarled and hard-grained rustic. It was he
from whom speech might least be expected who first found his tongue.
Bates, who had stooped, straightened himself slowly.
"By gum!" he said, "this be a bad business, Mr. Grant. Who is she? She's
none of our Steynholme lasses."
Still Grant uttered no word. He just looked in horror at the poor husk
of a woman who in life had undoubtedly been beautiful. She was well but
quietly dressed, and her clothing showed no signs of violence. The
all-night soaking in the river revealed some pitiful little feminine
secrets, such as a touch of make-up on lips and cheeks, and the dark
roots of abundant hair which had been treated chemically to lighten its
color. The eyes were closed, and for that Grant was conscious of a deep
thankfulness. Had those sightless eyes stared at him he felt he would
have cried aloud in terror. The firm, well-molded lips were open, as
though uttering a last protest against an untimely fate. Of course, both
men were convinced that murder had been done. Not only were arms and
body bound in a manner that was impossible of accomplishment by the dead
woman herself, but an ugly wound on the smooth forehead seemed to
indicate that she had been stunned or killed outright before being flung
into the river.
And then, the rope and the staple suggested an outlandish, maniacal
disposal of the victim. Here was no effort at concealment, but rather a
making sure, in most brutal and callous fashion, that early discovery
must be unavoidable.
The bucolic mind works in well-scored grooves. Receiving no assistance
from his master, Bates pulled the body a little farther up on the strip
of gravel so that it lay clear of the water.
"I mum fetch t' polis," he said.
The phrase, with its vivid significance, seemed to galvanize Grant into a
species of comprehension.
"Yes," he agreed, speaking slowly, as though striving to measure the
effect of each word. "Yes, go for the police, Bates. This foul crime must
be inquired into, no matter who suffers. Go now. But first bring a rug
from the stable. You understand? Your wife, or Minnie, must not be told
till later. They must not see. Mrs. Bates is not so well to-day."
"Not so well! Her ate a rare good breakfast for a sick 'un!"
Bates was recovering from the shock, and prepared once more to take an
interest in the minor features of existence. Among these he counted
ability to eat as a sure sign of continued well-being in man or beast.
Grant, too, was slowly regaining poise.
"I hardly know what I am saying," he muttered. "At any rate, bring a rug.
I'll mount guard till you return with the policeman. There can be no
doubt, I suppose, that this poor creature is dead."
"Dead as a stone," said Bates with conviction. "Why, her's bin in there
hours," and he nodded toward the water. "Besides, if I knows anythink of
a crack on t'head, her wur outed before she went into t'river.... But who
i' t'world can she be?"
"If you don't fetch that rug I'll go for it myself," said Grant,
whereupon Bates made off.
He was soon back again with a carriage rug, which Grant helped him to
spread over the dripping body. Then he hastened to the village, taking a
path that avoided the house.
The lawn and river bank of The Hollies could only be overlooked from the
steep wooded cliff opposite, and none but an adventurous boy would ever
think of climbing down that almost impassable rampart of rock,
brushwood, and tree-roots. At any rate, when left alone with the ghastly
evidence of a tragedy, Grant troubled only to satisfy himself that no one
was watching from the house. Assured on that point, he lifted a corner of
the rug, and, apparently, forced himself to scrutinize the dead woman's
face. He seemed to search therein for some reassuring token, but found
none, because he shook his head, dropped the rug, and walked a few paces
Then, hardly knowing what he was about, he relighted his pipe, but had
hardly put it in his mouth before he knocked out the tobacco.
Clearly, he was thinking hard, mapping out some line of conduct, and
the outlook must have been dark indeed, judging by his somber and
More than once he looked up at the attic window of the cottage which had
drawn his eyes before tragedy had come so swiftly to his very feet. But,
if he hoped to see anyone, he was disappointed, though, in the event, it
proved that his real fear was lest the person he half expected to see
should look out.
He was not disturbed in that way, however. Fish rose in the river; birds
sang in the trees; a water-wagtail skipped nimbly from rock to rock in
the shallows; honey-laden bees hummed past to the many hives in the
postmaster's garden. These were the normal sights and sounds of a June
morning--that which was abnormal and almost grotesque in its horror lay
hidden beneath the carriage rug.
To and fro he walked in that trying vigil, carrying the empty pipe in one
hand while, with the other, he dabbed the handkerchief at the cut on his
face. He was aware of some singular change in the quality of the sunlight
pouring down on lawn and river and trees. Five minutes earlier it had
spread over the landscape a golden bloom of the tint of champagne; now it
was sharp and cold, a clear, penetrating radiance in which colors were
vivid and shadows black. He was in no mood to analyze emotions, or he
might have understood that the fierce throbbing of his heart had
literally thinned the blood in his veins and thus affected even his
sight. He only knew that in this crystal atmosphere the major issues of
life presented themselves with a new and crude force. At any rate, he
made up his mind that the course suggested by truth and honor was the
only one to follow, and that, in itself, was something gained.
By the time Bates returned, accompanied by the village policeman, and two
other men carrying a stretcher, Grant was calmer, more self-contained,
than he had been since that hapless body was dragged from the depths. He
was not irresponsive, therefore, to the aura of official importance which
enveloped the policeman; he sensed a certain uneasiness in Bates; he even
noted that the stretcher was part of the stock in trade of Hobbs, the
local butcher, and ordinarily bore the carcase of a well-fed pig.
These details were helpful. Naturally, Bates had explained his errand,
and the law, in the person of the policeman, was prepared for all
"This is a bad business, Mr. Grant," began the policeman, producing a
note-book, and moistening the tip of a lead pencil with his tongue. Being
a Sussex man, he used the same phrase as Bates. In fact, Grant was
greeted by it a score of times that day.
"Yes," agreed Grant. "I had better tell you that I have recognized the
poor lady. Her name is Adelaide Melhuish. Her residence is in the
Regent's Park district of London."
Robinson, the policeman, permitted himself to look surprised. He was, in
fact, rather annoyed. Bates's story had prepared him for a first-rate
detective mystery. It was irritating to have one of its leading features
cleared up so promptly.
"Oh," he said, drawing a line under the last entry in the note-book,
and writing the date and hour in heavy characters beneath. "Married
"Married, but separated from her husband when last I had news of her."
"And when was that, sir?"
"Nearly three years ago."
"And you have not seen her since?"
"You didn't see her last night?"
Grant positively started, but he looked at the policeman squarely.
"It is strange you should ask me that," he said. "Last night, while
searching for a book, I saw a face at the window. It was that window,"
and four pairs of eyes followed his pointing finger. "The face, I now
believe, was that of the dead woman. At the moment, as it vanished
instantly, I persuaded myself that I was the victim of some trick of the
imagination. Still, I opened the other window, looked out and listened,
but heard or saw nothing or no one. As I say, I fancied I had imagined
that which was not. Now I know I was wrong."
"About what o'clock would this be, Mr. Grant?"
"Shortly before eleven. I came in at a quarter past ten, and began to
work. After writing steadily for a little more than half an hour, I
wanted to consult a book, and lighted a candle which I keep for that
purpose. I found the book, and was about to blow out the candle when I
saw the face."
Robinson wrote in his note-book:--
"Called to The Hollies to investigate case of supposed murder. Body of
woman found in river. Mr. Grant, occupying The Hollies, says that woman's
name is Adelaide Melhuish"--at this point he paused to ascertain the
spelling--"and he saw her face at a window of the house at 10.45 P.M.,
"Well, sir, and what next?" he went on.
"It seems to me that the next thing is to have the unfortunate lady
removed to some more suitable place than the river bank," said Grant,
rather impatiently. "My story can wait, and so can Bates's. He knows all
that I know, and has probably told you already how we came to discover
the body. You can see for yourself that she must have been murdered. It
is an extraordinary, I may even say a phenomenal crime, which certainly
cannot be investigated here and now. I advise you to have the body taken
to the village mortuary, or such other place as serves local needs in
that respect, and summon a doctor. Then, if you and an inspector will
call here, I'll give you all the information I possess, which is very
little, I may add."
Robinson began solemnly to jot down a summary of Grant's words, and
thereby stirred the owner of The Hollies to a fury which was repressed
with difficulty. Realizing, however, the absolute folly of expressing any
resentment, Grant turned, and, without meaning it, looked again in the
direction of the cottage on the crest of the opposite bank. This time a
girl was leaning out of the dormer window. She had shaded her eyes with a
hand, because the sun was streaming into her face, but when she saw that
Grant was looking her way she waved a handkerchief.
He fluttered his own blood-stained handkerchief in brief acknowledgment,
and wheeled about, only to find P. C. Robinson watching him furtively,
having suspended his note-taking for the purpose.
P.C. ROBINSON "TAKES A LINE"
"It will help me a lot, sir," he said, "if you tell me now what you know
about this matter. If, as seems more than likely, murder has been done, I
don't want to lose a minute in starting my inquiries. In a case of this
sort I find it best to take a line, and stick to it."
His tone was respectful but firm. Evidently, P.C. Robinson was not one to
be trifled with. Moreover, for a sleuth whose maximum achievement
hitherto had been the successful prosecution of a poultry thief, it was
significant that the unconscious irony of "a case of this sort" should
have been lost on him.
"Do you really insist on conducting your investigation while the body is
lying here?" demanded Grant, deliberately turning his back on the girl in
the distant cottage.
"Not that, sir--not altogether--but I must really ask you to clear up one
or two points now."
"For goodness' sake, what are they?"
"Well, sir, in the first place, how did you come to find the body?"
"I walked out into the garden after finishing breakfast a few
minutes ago, and noticed the rope attached to the staple, just as
you see it now."
"Did you walk straight here?"
"No. Not exactly. I was--er--curious about the face I saw, or thought I
saw, last night, and looked into the room through the same window. By
doing so I scared Mrs. Bates, who was clearing the table, and she
"Her would, too," put in Bates. "Her'd take 'ee for Owd Ben's ghost."
"You shut up, Bates," said the policeman. "Don't interrupt Mr. Grant."
Grant was conscious of an undercurrent of suspicion in the
constable's manner. He was wroth with the man, but recognized that he
had to deal with narrow-minded self-importance, so contrived again to
curb his temper.
"I am not acquainted with old Ben or his ghost," he said quietly. "I can
only tell you that I went inside to reassure Mrs. Bates, and then
strolled slowly to this very spot. Naturally, I could not miss the rope
and the stable. To my mind, it was not intended that I or anyone else
should miss them. I regarded them as so peculiar that I shouted for
Bates. He came at once, and drew the body out of the water."
"And you recognized the dead woman as the one you saw last night?"
"At about ten minutes to eleven?"
"Is it likely, sir, that any other person saw her in these grounds a
"What do you mean?"
"Well, sir, I can't put it much plainer. Could anybody else have seen her
here, say about 10.15?"
Grant met the policeman's inquiring glance squarely before he answered.
"It is possible, of course," he said, "but most unlikely."
"Were you alone here at that hour?"
Again Grant sought and held that inquisitive gaze, held it until Robinson
affected to consult his notes. There was a moment of tense silence. Then
the reply came with an icy stubbornness that was not to be denied.
"I decline absolutely to be cross-examined about my movements. If you are
unable or unwilling to order the removal of the body, I'll telegraph to
the chief of police at Knolesworth, and ask him to act. Further, I shall
request Dr. Foxton to examine the poor lady's injuries. It strikes me as
a monstrous proceeding that you should attempt to record my evidence at
this moment, and I refuse to become a party to it."
"Now, then, Robinson, stop yer Sherlock Holmes work, an' help me to lift
this poor woman on to the stretcher," said Bates gruffly.
The policeman's red face grew a shade deeper with annoyance, but he had
the sense to avoid a scene. He was not popular in the village, and was
well aware that the two rustics pressed into service as stretcher-bearers
would joyfully retail the fact that he had been "set down a peg or two by
"I'll do all that's necessary in that way, sir," he said stiffly. "I
suppose you have no objection to my askin' if you noticed any strange
footprints on the ground hereabouts?"
"That was the first thing I looked for, both here and outside the
window--the latter, of course, for another reason. I found none. These
stones would show no signs. The ground is so dry that even the five men
now present leave no traces, but I remember seeing in the bed of the
stream certain marks which, unfortunately, were obliterated when Bates
hauled the body ashore. They were valueless, however--shapeless
indentations in the mud and sand."
"Were they wide apart or close together, sir?"
"Quite irregular. No one could judge by the length of the stride whether
they were made by the feet of a man or a woman, if that is what you have
in mind ... but, really--"
Grant's impatient motion was not to be misunderstood. Robinson stooped,
removed the rug, and unfastened the rope, after noting carefully how it
was tied, a point which he called on the others to observe as well. Then
he and the villagers went away with their sad burden, the rug being
requisitioned once more to hide that wan face from the vivid sunshine.
Bates had a trick of grasping a handful of his short whiskers when
puzzled; he did so now; it seemed to be an unconscious effort to pull his
jaws apart in order to emit speech.
"I've a sort of idee, sir," he said slowly, "that Robinson saw Doris
Martin on the lawn with 'ee last night."
Grant turned on his henchman in a sudden heat of anger.
"Miss Martin's name must be kept out of this matter," he growled.
But Sussex is not easily browbeaten when it thinks itself in the right.
"All very well a-sayin' that, sir, but a-doin' of it is a bird of another
color," argued Bates firmly.
"How did you know that Miss Martin was here?"
"Bless your heart, sir, how comes it that us Steynholme folk know
everythink about other folk's business? Sometimes we know more'n they
knows themselves. You've not walked a yard wi' Doris that the women's
tittle-tattle hasn't made it into a mile."
No man, even the wisest, likes to be told an unpalatable truth. For a few
seconds, Grant was seriously annoyed with this village Solon, and nearly
blurted out an angry command that he should hold his tongue. Luckily,
since Bates was only trying to be helpful, he was content to say
"Of course, if you are so well posted in my movements last night, you can
assure the coroner and the Police that I did not strangle some strange
woman, tie a rope around her, and throw her in the river."
"Me an' my missis couldn't help seein' you an' Doris a-lookin' at the
stars through a spyglass when us were goin' to bed," persisted Bates. "We
heerd your voices quite plain. Once 'ee fixed the glass low down, an'
said, 'That's serious. It's late to-night.' An' I tell 'ee straight, sir,
I said to the missis:--'It will be serious, an' all, if Doris's father
catches her gallivantin' in our garden wi' Mr. Grant nigh on ten
o'clock.' Soon after that 'ee took Doris as far as the bridge. The window
was open, an' I heerd your footsteps on the road. You kem' in, closed the
window, an' drew a chair up to the table. After that, I fell asleep."
Perturbed and anxious though he was, Grant could hardly fail to see that
Bates meant well by him. The mental effort needed for such a long speech
said as much. The allusion to Sirius, amusing at any other time, was now
most valuable, because an astronomical almanac would give the hour at
which that brilliant star became visible. Other considerations yielded at
once, however, to the fear lest Robinson and his note-book were already
busy at the post office. Without another word, he hurried away by the
side-path through the evergreens, leaving Bates staring after him, and,
with more whisker-pulling, examining the rope and staple, which, by the
policeman's order, were not to be disturbed.
Grant reached the highroad just as Robinson and the men with the
stretcher were crossing a stone bridge spanning the river about a hundred
yards below The Hollies. A slight, youthful, and eminently attractive
female figure, walking swiftly in the opposite direction, came in sight
at the same time, and Grant almost groaned aloud when the newcomer stood
stock still and looked at the mournful procession. He, be it remembered,
was somewhat of an idealist and a poet; it grieved his spirit that those
two women, the quick and the dead, should meet on the bridge. He took it
as a portent, almost a menace, he knew not of what. He might have
foreseen that unhappy eventuality, and prevented it, but his brain
refused to work clearly that morning. A terrible and bizarre crime had
bemused his faculties. He seemed to be in a state of waking nightmare.
He was stung into impetuous action by seeing the policeman halt and
exchange some words with the girl. He began to run, with the quite
definite if equally mad intent of punching Robinson into reasonable
behavior. He was saved from an act of unmitigated folly by the girl
herself. She caught sight of him, apparently broke off her talk with the
policeman abruptly, and, in her turn, took to her heels.
Thus, on that strip of sun-baked road, with its easy gradient to the
crown of the bridge, there was the curious spectacle offered by two men
jogging along with a corpse on a stretcher, a young man and a young
woman running towards each other, and a discomfited representative of
the law, looking now one way and now the other, and evidently undecided
whether to go on or return. Ultimately, it would seem, Robinson went
with the stretcher-bearers, because Grant and the girl saw no more of
him for the time.
Grant had received several shocks since rising from the breakfast-table,
but it was left for Doris Martin, the postmaster's daughter, to
administer not the least surprising one.
Though almost breathless, and wide-eyed with horror, her opening words
were very much to the point.
"How awful!" she cried. "Why should any-one in Steynholme want to kill a
great actress like Adelaide Melhuish?"
Now, the name of the dead woman was literally the last thing Grant
expected to hear from this girl's lips, and the astounding fact
momentarily banished all other worries.
"You knew her?" he gasped.
"No, not exactly. But I couldn't avoid recognizing her when she asked for
her letters, and sent a telegram."
"Oh, Robinson told me she was dead. I see now what is puzzling you."
"It is not quite that. I mean, why didn't you tell me she was in
Steynholme? Has she been staying here any length of time?"
The girl's pretty face crimsoned, and then grew pale.
"I--had no idea--she was--a friend of yours, Mr. Grant," she stammered.
"She used to be a friend, but I have not set eyes on her during the past
three years--until last night."
"After you had gone home. I was doing some work, and, having occasion to
consult a book, lighted a candle, and put it in the small window near the
bookcase. Then I fancied I saw a woman's face, _her_ face, peering in,
and was so obsessed by the notion that I went outside, but everything was
so still that I persuaded myself I was mistaken."
"Oh, is that what it was?"
Grant threw out his hands in a gesture that was eloquent of some feeling
distinctly akin to despair.
"You don't usually speak in enigmas, Doris," he said. "What in the world
do you mean by saying:--'Oh, is that what it was?'"
The girl--she was only nineteen, and never before had aught of tragic
mystery entered her sheltered life--seemed to recover her
self-possession with a quickness and decision that were admirable.
"There is no enigma," she said calmly. "My room overlooks your lawn.
Before retiring for the night I went to the window, just to have another
peep at Sirius and its changing lights, so I could not help seeing you
fling open the French windows, stand a little while on the step, and go
"Ah, you saw that? Then I have one witness who will help to dispel that
stupid policeman's notion that I killed Miss Melhuish, and hid her body
in the river at the foot of the lawn, hid it with such care that the
first passerby must find it."
Every human being has three distinct personalities. Firstly, there is the
man or woman as he or she really is; secondly, there is the much superior
individual as assessed personally; thirdly, and perhaps the most
important in the general scheme of things, there is the same
individuality as viewed by others. For an instant, the somewhat idealized
figure which John Menzies Grant offered to a pretty and intelligent but
inexperienced girl was in danger of losing its impressiveness. But, since
Grant was not only a good fellow but a gentleman, his next thought
restored him to the pedestal from which, all unknowing, he had nearly
"That is a nice thing to say," he cried, with a short laugh of sheer
vexation. "Here am I regarding you as a first-rate witness in my behalf,
whereas my chief worry is to keep you out of this ugly business
altogether. Forgive me, Doris! Never before have I been so bothered.
Honestly, I imagined I hadn't an enemy in the world, yet someone has
tried deliberately to saddle me with suspicion in this affair. Not that I
would give real heed to that consideration if it were not for the unhappy
probability that, strive as I may, your name will crop up in connection
with it. What sort of fellow is this police constable? Do you think he
would keep his mouth shut if I paid him well?"
Grant was certainly far from being in his normal state of mind, or he
would have caught the tender gleam which lighted the girl's eyes when she
understood that his concern was for her, not for himself. As it was,
several things had escaped him during that brief talk on the sunlit road.
On her part, Doris Martin was now in full control of her emotions, and
she undoubtedly took a saner view of a difficult situation.
"Robinson is a vain man," she said thoughtfully. "He will not let go the
chance of notoriety given him by the murder of a well-known actress. Was
she really murdered? Robinson said so when I met him on the bridge."
"I'm afraid he is justified in that belief, at any rate."
"Well, Mr. Grant, what have we to conceal? I was in your garden at a
rather late hour, I admit, but one cannot watch the stars by day, and a
big telescope with its tripod is not easily carried about. Of course,
father will be vexed, because, as it happens, I did not tell him I was
coming out. But that cannot be helped. As it happens, I can fix the time
you opened your window almost to a minute, because the church clock had
chimed the quarter just before you appeared."
Grant, however, was not to be soothed by this matter-of-fact reasoning.
"I am vexed at the mere notion of your name, and possibly your portrait,
appearing in the newspapers," he protested. "Miss Melhuish was a
celebrated actress. The press will make a rare commotion about her death.
Look at the obvious questions that will be raised. What was she doing
here? Why was she found in the river bordering the grounds of my house?
Don't you see? I had to decide pretty quickly whether or not I would
admit any previous knowledge of her. I suppose I acted rightly?"
"Why hide anything, Mr. Grant? Surely it is always best to tell
He looked into those candid blue eyes, and drew from their limpid depths
an element of strength and fortitude.
"By Jove, Doris, small wonder if a jaded man of the world, such as I was
when I came to Steynholme, found new faith and inspiration in friendship
with you," he said gratefully. "But I am wool-gathering all the time this
morning, it would seem. Won't you come into the house? If we have to
discuss a tragedy we may as well sit down to it."
"No," she said, with the promptitude of one who had anticipated the
invitation. "I must hurry home. There are accounts to be made up. And
Robinson and others will be telegraphing to Knoleworth and London. I must
attend to all that, because dad gets flustered if several messages are
handed in at the same time."
"Come and have tea, then, about four o'clock. The ravens will have
fled by then."
"The police, you dear child, and the reporters, and the
photographers--the flock of weird fowl which gathers from all points of
the compass when the press gets hold of what is called 'a first-rate
story,' By midday I shall be in the thick of it. But, thank goodness,
they will know nothing to draw them your way until the inquest takes
place, and not even then if _I_ can manage it."
"Don't mind me, Mr. Grant. You must not keep anything back on my account.
I'll try and come at four. But I may be very busy in the office. By the
way, you ought to know. Miss Melhuish came here on Sunday evening. She
arrived by the train from London. I--happened to notice her as she passed
in the Hare and Hounds 'bus. She took a room there, at the inn, I mean,
and came to the post office twice yesterday. When I heard her name I
recognized her at once from her photographs. And--one more thing--I
guessed there was something wrong when I saw you, and Robinson, and
Bates, and the other men standing near a body lying close to the river.
That is why I came out. Now I really must go. Good-by!"
She hastened away. Grant stood in the road and looked after her.
Apparently she was conscious that he had not stirred, because, when she
reached the bridge, she turned and waved a hand to him. She was
exceedingly graceful in all her movements. She wore a simple white linen
blouse and short white skirt that morning, with brown shoes and stockings
which harmonized with the deeper tints of her Titian red hair. As she
paused on the bridge for a second or two, silhouetted against the sky,
she suggested to Grant's troubled mind the Spirit of Summer.
Returning to the house by way of the main gate, which gave on to the
highway, he bethought him of Mrs. Bates and Minnie. They must be
enlightened, and warned as to the certain influx of visitors. He resolved
now to tackle a displeasing task boldly. Realizing that the worst
possible policy lay in denying himself to the representatives of the
press, who would simply ascertain the facts from other sources, and
unconsciously adopt a critical vein with regard to himself, he determined
to go to the other extreme, and receive all comers.
Of course, there would be reservations in his story. That is what every
man decides who faces a legal inquiry as a novice. It is a decision too
often regretted in the light of after events.
Meanwhile, P. C. Robinson was hard at work. In his own phrase, he "took a
line," and the trend of his thoughts was clearly demonstrated when a
superintendent motored over from Knoleworth in response to a telegram. He
told how the body had been found, and then went into details gathered in
"Miss Melhuish hadn't been in the village five minutes," he said, "before
she asked Mr. Tomlin, landlord of the Hare and Hounds, where The Hollies
was, and how long Mr. Grant had lived in the village. She went for a walk
in the direction of his house almost at once. Tomlin watched her until
she crossed the bridge. That was on Sunday evening."
Superintendent Fowler allowed his placid features to show a flicker of
surprise. In that rural district an actual, downright murder was almost
unknown. Even a case of manslaughter, arising out of a drunken quarrel
between laborers at fair-time, did not occur once in five years.
"Oh, she came here on Sunday, did she?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Yesterday, too, she spoke of Mr. Grant to Hobbs, the butcher,
and Siddle, the chemist."
The two were closeted in the sitting-room of Robinson's cottage, which
was situated on the main road near the bridge. It faced the short, steep
hill overhanging the river. A triangular strip of turf formed the village
green, and the houses of Steynholme clustered around this and a side road
climbing the hill. From door and windows nearly every shop and residence
in the village proper could be seen. In front of the Hare and Hounds had
gathered a group of men, and it was easy to guess the topic they were
discussing. The superintendent, who did not know any of them, had no
difficulty in identifying Hobbs, who looked a butcher and was dressed
like one, or Tomlin, who was either born an innkeeper or had been coached
in the part by a stage expert. A thin, sharp-looking person, pallid and
black-haired, wearing a morning coat and striped trousers, must surely be
Siddle, while a fourth, the youngest there, and of rather sporting guise,
was apparently a farmer of a horse-breeding turn.
"Who is that fellow in the leggings?" inquired the superintendent
irrelevantly. He was looking through the window, and Robinson considered
that the question showed a lack of interest in his statement, though he
dared not hint at such a thing.
"He's a Mr. Elkin, sir," he said. "As I was saying--"
"How does Mr. Elkin make a living?" broke in the other.
"He breeds hacks and polo ponies," said Robinson, rather shortly.
"Ah, I thought so. Well, go on with your story."
Robinson was irritated, and justly so. His superior had put him off his
"line." He took it up again sharply, leaving out of court for the moment
the various rills of evidence which, in his opinion, united into a
"The fact is, sir," he blurted out, "there is an uncommonly strong case
against Mr. John Menzies Grant."
"Phew!" whistled the superintendent.
"I think you'll agree with me, sir, when you hear what I've gathered
about him one way and another."
Robinson was sure of his audience now. Quite unconsciously, he had
applied the chief canon of realism in art. He had conveyed his effect by
one striking note. The rest of the picture was quite subsidiary to the
bold splurge of color evoked by actually naming the man he suspected of
murdering Adelaide Melhuish.
THE GATHERING CLOUDS
Thus, it befell that Grant was not worried by officialdom until long
after his housekeeper and her daughter had recovered from the shock of
learning that they were, in a sense, connected at first hand with a
ghastly and sensational crime.
Like Bates and their employer, neither Mrs. Bates nor Minnie had heard or
seen anything overnight which suggested that a woman was being foully
done to death in the grounds attached to the house. As it happened,
Minnie's bedroom, as well as that occupied by her parents, overlooked the
lawn and river. Grant's room lay in a gable which commanded, the
entrance. He had chosen it purposely because it faced the rising sun. The
other members of the household, therefore, though in bed, had quite as
good an opportunity as he, working in the dining-room beneath, of having
their attention drawn to sounds disturbing the peace of the night in a
quiet and secluded spot. Moreover, none of them was asleep. Minnie Bates,
in particular, said that the "grandfather's clock" in the hall struck
twelve before she "could close an eye."
At last, just as Grant was rising from an almost untasted luncheon, Mrs.
Bates, with a voice of scare, announced "the polis," and P.C. Robinson
introduced Superintendent Fowler. This time Grant did not resent
questions. He expected them, and had made up his mind to give full and
detailed answers. Of course, the finding of the body was again described
minutely. The superintendent, a man of experience, one whose manner was
not fox-like and irritating like his subordinate's, paid close attention
to the face at the window.
"There seems to be little room for doubt that Miss Melhuish did enter
your grounds about a quarter to eleven last night," he said thoughtfully.
"You recognized her at once, you say?"
"I imagined so. Until this horrible thing became known I had persuaded
myself that the vision was a piece of sheer hallucination."
"Let us assume that the lady actually came here, and looked in.
Evidently, her face was sufficiently familiar that you should know
instantly who this unusual visitor was. I understand, though, that you
had not the least notion she was staying in Steynholme?"
"Not the least."
"How long ago is it since you last saw her?"
"Nearly three years."
"You were very well acquainted with her, then, or you could not have
glanced up from your table, seen someone staring at you through a
window, and said to yourself, as one may express it:--'That is Adelaide
"We were so well acquainted that I asked the lady to be my wife."
"Ah," said the superintendent.
His placid, unemotional features, however, gave no clew to his
opinions. Not so P. C. Robinson, who tried to look like a judge,
whereas he really resembled a bull-terrier who has literally, not
figuratively, smelt a rat.
Despite his earlier good resolutions, Grant was horribly impatient of
this inquisition. He admitted that the superintendent was carrying
through an unpleasant duty as inoffensively as possible, but the attitude
of the village policeman was irritating in the extreme. Nothing would
have tended so effectively to relieve his surcharged feelings as to
supply P. C. Robinson then and there with ample material for establishing
a charge of assault and battery.
"That is not a remarkable fact, if regarded apart from to-day's
tragedy," he said, and there was more than a hint of soul-weariness in
his voice. "Miss Melhuish was a very talented and attractive woman. I
first met her as the outcome of a suggestion that one of my books should
be dramatized, a character in the novel being deemed eminently suitable
for her special role on the stage. The idea came to nothing. She was
appearing in a successful play at the time, and was rehearsing its
successor. Meanwhile, I--fell in love with her, I suppose, and she
certainly encouraged me in the belief that she might accept me. I did
eventually propose marriage. Then she told me she was married already.
It was a painful disillusionment--at the time. I only saw her, to speak
to, once again."
"Did she reveal her husband's name?"
"Yes--a Mr. Ingerman."
The superintendent looked grave. That was a professional trick of his. He
had never before in his life heard of Mr. Ingerman, but encouraged the
notion that this gentleman was thoroughly, and not quite favorably, known
to him. Sometimes it happened that a witness, interpreting this sapient
look by the light of his or her personal and intimate knowledge, would
blurt out certain facts, good or bad as the case might be, concerning the
person under discussion.
But Grant remained obstinately silent as to the qualities of this
doubtful Ingerman, so Mr. Fowler scribbled the name in a note-book, and
was particular as to whether it ended in one "n" or two.
Still, he carried other shots in his locker. In fact, Mr. Fowler, had he
taken in youth to nicer legal subtleties than handcuffs and summonses,
would have become a shrewd lawyer.
"We'll leave Mr. Ingerman for the moment," he said, implying, of course,
that on returning to him there might be revelations. "I gather that you
and Miss Melhuish did not agree, shall I put it? as to the precise
bearing of the marriage tie on your love affair?"
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow your meaning," and Grant's tone
stiffened ominously, but his questioner was by no means abashed.
"I have no great acquaintance with the stage or its ways, but I have
always understood that divorce proceedings among theatrical folk were,
shall we say? more popular than, in the ordinary walks of life," said
Grant's resentment vanished. The superintendent's calm method, his
interpolated apologies, as it were, for applying the probe, were
beginning to interest him.
"Your second effort is more successful, superintendent," he said dryly.
"Miss Melhuish did urge me to obtain her freedom. It was, she thought,
only a matter of money with Mr. Ingerman, and she would be given material
for a divorce."
"Ah," murmured Fowler again, as though the discreditable implication
fitted in exactly with the life history of a noted scoundrel in a written
_dossier_ then lying in his office. "You objected, may I suggest, to that
somewhat doubtful means of settling a difficulty?"
"Something of the kind."
Assuredly, Grant did not feel disposed to lay bare his secret feelings
before this persuasive superintendent and an absurdly conceited village
constable. Love, to him, was an ideal, a blend of mortal passion and
immortal fire. But the flame kindled on that secret altar had scorched
and seared his soul in a wholly unforeseen way. The discovery that
Adelaide Melhuish was another man's wife had stunned him. It was not
until the fire of sacrifice had died into parched ashes that its earlier
banality became clear. He realized then that he had given his love to a
phantom. By one of nature's miracles a vain and selfish creature was
gifted in the artistic portrayal of the finer emotions. He had worshiped
the actress, the mimic, not the woman herself. At any rate, that was how
he read the repellent notion that he should bargain with any man for the
sale of a wife.
"You might be a trifle more explicit, Mr. Grant," said the
superintendent, almost reproachfully.
"In what direction? Surely a three-years-old love affair can have little
practical bearing on Miss Melhuish's death?"
"What, then, may I ask, could bear on it more forcibly? The lady
admittedly visits you, late at night, and is found dead in a river
bordering the grounds of your house next morning, all the conditions
pointing directly to murder. Moreover--it is no secret, as the truth must
come out at the inquest--she had passed a good deal of her time while in
Steynholme, unknown to you, in making inquiries concerning you, your
habits, your surroundings, your friends. Surely, Mr. Grant, you must see
that the history of your relations with this lady, though, if I may use
the phrase, perfectly innocent, may possibly supply that which is at
present lacking--a clew, shall I term it, to the motive which inspired
the man, or woman, who killed her?"
P.C. Robinson was all an eye and an ear for this verbal fencing-match.
It was not that he admired his superior's skill, because such finesse
was wholly beyond him, but his suspicious brain was storing up Grant's
admissions "to be used in evidence" against him subsequently. His own
brief record of the conversation would have been:--"The prisoner, after
being duly cautioned, said he kept company with the deceased about
three years ago, but quarreled with her on hearing that she was a
The superintendent seldom indulged in so long a speech, but he was
determined to force his adversary's guard, and sought to win his
confidence by describing the probable course to be pursued by the
coroner's inquest. But Grant, like the dead actress, had two sides to his
nature. He was both an idealist and a stubborn fighter, and ideality had
been shattered for many a day by that grewsome object hauled in that
morning from the depths of the river.
"I am willing to help in any shape or form, but can only repeat that
Miss Melhuish and I parted as described. I should add that I have never,
to my knowledge, met her husband."
"He may be dead."
"Possibly. You may know more about him than I."
"Even then, we have not traveled far as yet."
Fowler was puzzled, and did not hesitate to show it. He believed, not
without reasonable cause, that this young man was concealing some element
in the situation which might prove helpful in the quest for the murderer.
He resolved to strike off along a new track.
"I am informed," he went on, speaking with a deliberateness meant to
be impressive, "that you did entertain another lady as a visitor
Grant allowed his glance to dwell on Robinson for an instant. Hitherto he
had ignored the man. Now he surveyed him as if he were a viper.
"It will be a peculiarly offensive thing if the personality of a helpless
and unoffending girl is brought into this inquiry," he cried. "'Brought
in' is too mild--I ought to say 'dragged in.' As it happens, astronomy is
one of my hobbies. Last evening, as the outcome of a chat on the subject,
Doris Martin, daughter of the local postmaster, came here to view Sirius
through an astronomical telescope. There is the instrument," and he
pointed through P.C. Robinson to a telescope on a tripod in a corner of
the room. The gesture was eloquent. The burly policeman might have been a
sheet of glass. "As you see, it is a solid article, not easily lifted
about. It weighs nearly a hundred-weight."
"Why is it so heavy?"
The superintendent had a knack of putting seemingly irrelevant questions.
Robinson had been disconcerted by it earlier in the day, but Grant seemed
to treat the interruption as a sensible one.
"For observation purposes an astronomical telescope is not of much use
unless the movement of the earth is counteracted," he said. "Usually, the
dome of an observatory swings on a specially contrived axis, but that is
a very expensive structure, so my telescope is governed by a clockwork
attachment and moves on its own axis."
Mr. Fowler nodded. He was really a very well informed man for a country
police-officer; he understood clearly.
"Miss Martin came here about a quarter to ten," continued Grant, "and
left within three-quarters of an hour. She did not enter the house. She
was watching Sirius while I explained the methods whereby the distance of
any star from the earth is computed and its chemical analysis
"Most instructive, I'm sure," put in the superintendent.
He smiled genially, so genially that Grant dismissed the notion that the
other might, in vulgar parlance, be pulling his leg.
"Well, that is the be-all and end-all of Miss Martin's presence. It would
be cruel, and unfair, if a girl of her age were forced into a distasteful
prominence in connection with a crime with which she is no more related
than with Sirius itself."
The older man shook his head in regretful dissent.
"That is just where you and I differ," he said. "That very point leads us
back to your past friendship with the dead woman."
"Surely you see, Mr. Grant, that Miss Melhuish might be, probably was,
watching your star-gazing, especially as your pupil chanced to be, shall
I say, a remarkably attractive young lady ... No, no," for Grant's anger
was unmistakable--"It does no good to blaze out in protest. An unhappy
combination of circumstances must be faced candidly. Here are you and a
pretty girl together in a garden at a rather late hour, and a woman whom
you once wanted to marry spying on you, in all likelihood. I've met a few
coroner's juries in my time, and not one of them but would deem the
coincidence strange, to put it mildly."
"What in Heaven's name are you driving at?"
"You must not impute motives, sir. I am seeking them, not
"But what am I to say?"
"Perhaps you will now tell me just how Miss Melhuish and you parted."
The fencers were coming to close quarters. Even P. C. Robinson had to
admit that his "boss" had cornered the suspect rather cleverly.
Grant realized that there was no room for squeamishness in this affair.
If he did not speak out now, his motives might be woefully misunderstood.
"We parted in wrath and tears," he said sadly. "Miss Melhuish could not,
or did not, appreciate my scruples. She professed to be in love with me.
She even went so far as to threaten suicide. I--hardly believed in her
sincerity, but thought it advisable to temporize, and asked for a few
days' delay before we came to a final decision. We met again, as I have
said, and discussed matters in calmer mood. Ultimately, she professed
agreement with my point of view, and we parted, ostensibly to remain good
friends, but really to separate for ever."
"Thank you. That's better. What _was_ your point of view, Mr. Grant?"
"Surely I have made it clear. I could not regard my wife as purchasable.
The proposed compact was, I believe, illegal. But that consideration did
not sway me. I had been dreaming, and thought I was roaming in an
enchanted garden. I awoke, and found myself in a morass."
The superintendent nodded again. Singularly enough, Grant's somewhat
high-flown simile appeared to satisfy his craving for light.
"Do you mind telling me--is there another woman?" he demanded, with one
of those rapid transitions of topic in which he excelled.
"No," said Grant.
"You see what I am aiming at. Let us suppose that Miss Melhuish never, in
her own mind, abandoned the hope that some day the tangle would
straighten itself. Women are constituted that way. If her husband is now
dead, and she became free, she might wish to renew the old ties, but,
being proud, would want to ascertain first whether or not any other woman
had come into your life."
"I follow perfectly," said Grant, with some bitterness. "She would be
consumed with jealousy because my companion in the garden last night
happened to be a charming girl of nineteen."
"It is possible."
"So she went off and got someone to kill her, and tie her body with a
rope, and arrange a dramatic setting whereby it would be patent to the
meanest intelligence that I was the criminal?"
Mr. Fowler smiled, and looked fixedly at P.C. Robinson.
"No, no," he said, quite good-humoredly. "That would be carrying realism
to extremes. Still, I am convinced, Mr. Grant, that this mystery is bound
up in some way with your romance of three years ago. At present, I admit,
I am working in the dark."
He rose. Apparently, the interview was at an end. But, while pocketing
his note-book, he said suddenly:--
"The inquest will open at three o'clock tomorrow. You will be present, of
course, Mr. Grant?"
"I suppose it is necessary."
"Oh, yes. You found the body, you know. Besides, you may be the only
person who can give evidence of identity. In fact, you and the doctor
will be the only witnesses called."
"Has he made a post-mortem?"
"He is doing so now. You see, there is clear indication that this
unfortunate lady was struck a heavy blow, perhaps killed, before she was
put in the river."
"Good Heavens! Somehow, I was so stunned that I never thought of looking
for signs of any injury of that sort."
Grant's horror-stricken air was so spontaneous that it probably justified
the severe test of that unexpected disclosure. He was so unnerved by it
that the two policemen had gone before he could frame another question.
Once they were in the open road, and well away from The Hollies,
Robinson ventured to open his mouth.
"He's a clever one is Mr. Grant," he said meaningly. "You handled him a
bit of all right, sir, but he didn't tell you everything he knew, not by
The superintendent walked a few yards in silence. Even when he spoke, his
gaze was introspective, and seemed to ignore his companion.
"I'm inclined to agree with you, Robinson," he said, speaking very
slowly. "We have a big case in our hands, a very big case. We must tread
warily. You, in particular, mixing with the village folk, should listen
to all but say nothing. Don't depend on your memory. Write down what you
hear and see. People's actual words, and the exact time of an occurrence,
often have an extraordinarily illuminating effect when weighed
subsequently. But don't let Mr. Grant think you suspect him. There is no
occasion for that--yet."
Mr. Fowler could be either blunt or cryptic in speech at will. In one
mood he was the straightforward, outspoken official; in another the
potential lawyer. P.C. Robinson, though unable to describe his chief's
erratic qualities, was unpleasantly aware of them. He was not quite
sure, for instance, whether the superintendent was encouraging or
warning him, but, being a dogged person, resolved to "take his own
line," and stick to it.
Grant passed a distressful day. Work was not to be thought of, and
reading was frankly impossible. His mind dwelt constantly on the tragedy
which had come so swiftly and completely into his ordered life. He could
not wholly discard the nebulous theory suggested by Superintendent
Fowler, but the more he surveyed it the less reasonable it seemed. The
one outstanding fact in a chaos of doubt was that someone had
deliberately done Adelaide Melhuish to death. The murderer had been
actuated by a motive. What was that motive? Surely, in a place like
Steynholme no man could come and go without being seen, and the murderer
must be a stranger to the district, because it was ridiculous to imagine
that he was one of the residents.
Yet that was exactly what a dunderheaded policeman believed. P.C.
Robinson had revealed himself by many a covert glance and prick-eared
movement. Grant squirmed uneasily at the crass conceit, as there was no
denying that circumstances tended towards a certain doubt, if no more, in
regard to his own association with the crime.
The admission called for a fierce struggle with his pride, but he forced
himself to think the problem out in all its bearings, and the folly of
adopting the legendary policy of the chased ostrich became manifest.
What, then, should he do? He thought, at first, of invoking the aid of a
barrister friend, who could watch the inquest in his behalf.
Nevertheless, he shrank from that step, which, to his super-sensitive
nature, implied the need of legal protection, and he fiercely resented
the mere notion of such a thing. But something must be done. Once the
murderer was laid by the heels his own troubles would vanish, and the
storm raised by the unhappy fate of Adelaide Melhuish would subside into
a sad memory.
He was wrestling with indecision when a newspaper reporter called. Grant
received the journalist promptly, and told him all the salient facts,
suppressing only the one-time prospect of a marriage between himself and
the famous actress.
The reporter went with him to the river, and scrutinized the marks, now
rapidly becoming obliterated, of the body having been drawn ashore.
"The rope and iron staple, I understand, were taken from the premises of
a man who lets boats for hire on the dam quarter of a mile away," he
Grant was astounded at his own failure to make any inquiry whatsoever
concerning this vital matter. He laughed grimly.
"You can imagine the state of my mind," he said, "when I assure you
that, until this moment, it never occurred to me even to ask where these
articles came from or what had become of them."
"I can sympathize with you," said the journalist. "A brutal murder seems
horribly out of place in this environment. It is a mysterious business
altogether. I wonder if Scotland Yard will take it up."
Grant surprised him by clapping him on the back.
"By Jove, my friend, the very thing! Of course, such an investigation
requires bigger brains than our local police are endowed with. Scotland
Yard _must_ take it up. I'll wire there at once. If necessary, I'll pay
The newspaper man had his doubts. The "Yard," he said, acted in the
provinces only if appealed to by the authorities directly concerned. But
Grant was not to be stayed by a trifle like that. He hurried to the post
office, hoping that Doris Martin might walk back with him.
The girl and her father were busy behind the counter when he entered. He
noticed that Doris was rather pale. She was about to attend to him, but
Mr. Martin intervened. It struck Grant that the postmaster was purposely
preventing his daughter from speaking to him.
For some inexplicable reason, he felt miserably tongue-tied, and was
content to write a message to the Chief Commissioner of Police, London,
asking that a skilled detective should be sent forthwith to Steynholme.
Mr. Martin read it gravely, stated the cost, and procured the requisite
stamps. In the event, Grant quitted the place without exchanging a word
with Doris, while her father, usually a chatty man, said not a syllable
beyond what was barely needed.
As he passed down the hill and by the side of the Green he was aware of
being covertly watched by many eyes. He saw P.C. Robinson peering from
behind a curtained window. Siddle, the chemist, came to the shop door,
and looked after him. Hobbs, the butcher, ceased sharpening a knife and
gazed out. Tomlin, landlord of the Hare and Hounds Inn, surveyed him from
These things were not gracious. Indeed, they were positively maddening.
He went home, gave an emphatic order that no one, except Miss Martin, if
she called, was to be admitted and savagely buried himself in a treatise
But that day of events had not finished for him yet. He had, perforce,
eaten a good meal, and was thinking of going to the post office in order
to clear up an undoubted misapprehension in Mr. Martin's mind, when
Minnie Bates came with a card.
"If you please, sir," said the girl, "this gentleman is very pressing.
He says he's sure you'll give him an interview when you see his name."
So Grant looked, and read:--
MR. ISIDOR G. INGERMAN
_Prince's Chambers, London, W._
Grant stared again at the card. A tiny silver bell seemed to tinkle a
sort of warning in a recess of his brain. The name was not engraved in
copper-plate, but printed in heavy type. Somehow, it looked ominous. His
first impression was to bid Minnie send the man away. He distrusted any
first impression. It was the excuse of mediocrity, a sign of weakness.
Moreover, why shouldn't he meet Isidor G. Ingerman?
"Show him in," he said, almost gruffly, thus silencing shy intuition, as
it were. He threw the card on the table.
Mr. Ingerman entered. He did not offer any conventional greeting, but
nodded, or bowed. Grant could not be sure which form of salutation was
intended, because the visitor promptly sat down, uninvited.
Minnie hesitated at the door. Her master's callers were usually cheerful
Bohemians, who chatted at sight. Then she caught Grant's eye, and went
out, banging the door in sheer nervousness.
Still Mr. Ingerman did not speak. If this was a pose on his part, he
erred. Grant had passed through a trying day, but he owned the muscles
and nerves of an Alpine climber, and had often stared calmly down a wall
of rock and ice which he had just conquered, when the least slip would
have meant being dashed to pieces two thousand feet below.
There was some advantage, too, in this species of stage wait. It enabled
him to take the measure of Adelaide Melhuish's husband, if, indeed, the
visitor was really the man he professed to be.
At first sight, Isidor G. Ingerman was not a prepossessing person.
Indeed, it would be safe to assume that if, by some trick of fortune, he
and not Grant were the tenant of The Hollies, P.C. Robinson would have
haled him to the village lock-up that very morning. It was not that he
was villainous-looking, but rather that he looked capable of villainy. He
was a tall, slender, rather stooping man, with a decidedly well-molded,
if hawk-like, face. His aspect might be described as saturnine. Possibly,
when he smiled, this morose expression would vanish, and then he might
even win a favorable opinion. He had brilliant black eyes, close set, and
an abundant crop of black hair, turning gray, which, in itself, lent an
air of distinction. His lips were thin, his chin slightly prominent. He
was well dressed, and managed a hat, stick, and gloves with ease.
Altogether, he reminded Grant of a certain notable actor who is
invariably cast for the role of a gentlemanly scoundrel, but who, in
private life, is a most excellent fellow and good citizen. Oddly enough,
Grant recognized in him, too, the type of man who would certainly have
appealed to Adelaide Melhuish in her earlier and impressionable years.
Meanwhile, the visitor, finding that the clear-eyed young man seated in
an easy chair (from which he had not risen) could seemingly regard him
with blank indifference during the next hour, thought fit to say
"Is my name familiar to you, Mr. Grant?" he inquired.
The voice was astonishingly soft and pleasant, and the accent agreeably
refined. Evidently, there were surprising points about Mr. Ingerman. Long
afterwards, Grant learned, by chance, that the man had been an actor
before branching off into that mysterious cosmopolitan profession known
as "a financier."
"No," said Grant. "I have heard it very few times. Once, about three
years ago, and today, when I mentioned it to the police."
The other man's sallow cheeks grew a shade more sallow. Grant supposed
that this slight change of color indicated annoyance. Of course, the
association of ideas in that curt answer was intolerably rude. But Grant
had been tried beyond endurance that day. He was in a mood to be brusque
with an archbishop.
"We can disregard your confidences, or explanations, to the
police," said Ingerman smoothly. "Three years ago, I suppose, my
wife spoke of me?"
"If you mean Miss Adelaide Melhuish--yes."
"I do mean her. To be exact, I mean the lady who was murdered outside
this house last night."
Grant realized instantly that Isidor G. Ingerman was a foeman worthy of
even a novelist's skill in repartee. Thus far, he, Grant, had been merely
uncivil, using a bludgeon for wit, whereas the visitor was making play
with a finely-tempered rapier.
"Now that you have established your identity, Mr. Ingerman, perhaps you
will tell me why you are here," he said.
"I have come to Steynholme to inquire into my wife's death."
"A most laudable purpose. I was given to understand, however, that at one
time you took little interest in her living. I have not seen Mrs.
Ingerman for three years--until last night, that is--so there is a
chance, of course, that husband and wife may have adjusted their
differences. Is that so?"
"Until last night!" repeated Ingerman, almost in a startled tone. "You
Grant turned and pointed.
"I saw, or fancied I saw, her face at that window," he said. "She
looked in on me about ten minutes to eleven. I was hard at work, but
the vision, as it seemed then, was so weird and unexpected, that I went
straight out and searched for her. Perhaps 'searched' is not quite the
right word. To be exact, I opened the French window, stood there, and
listened. Then I persuaded myself that I was imagining a vain thing,
and came in."
"What was she doing here?"
"I don't know."
"She arrived in Steynholme on Sunday evening, I am told."
"I heard that, too."
"You imply that you did not meet her?"
"No need to imply anything, Mr. Ingerman. I did not meet her. Beyond
the fanciful notion that I had seen her ghost last night, the first I
knew of her presence in the village was when I recognized her dead body
"Strange as it may sound, I am inclined to believe you."
Grant said nothing. He wanted to get up and pitch Ingerman into the road.
"But who else will take that charitable view?" purred the other, in
that suave voice which so ill accorded with his thin lips and slightly
"I really don't care," was the weary answer.
"Not at the moment, perhaps. You have had a trying day, no doubt. My
visit at its close cannot be helpful. But--"
"I am feeling rather tired mentally," interrupted Grant, "so you will
oblige me by not raising too many points at once. Why should you imagine
that conversation with you in particular should add to my supposed
"Why, then, may I ask, do you so obviously resent my questions? Who has
so much right to put them as I?"
Grant found that he must bestir himself. Thus far, the honors lay with
this rather sinister-looking yet quiet-mannered visitor.
"I am sorry if anything I have said lends color to that belief," he
answered. "Candidly, I began by assuming that you forfeited any legal
right years ago to interfere in behalf of Miss Melhuish, living or dead.
Let us, at least, be candid with each other. Miss Melhuish herself told
me that you and she had separated by mutual consent."
"Allow me to emulate your candor. The actual fact is that you weaned my
wife's affections from me."
"That is a downright lie," said Grant coolly.
Ingerman's peculiar temperament permitted him to treat this grave
insult far more lightly than Grant's harmless, if irritating, reference
to the police.
"Let us see just what 'a lie' signifies," he said, almost judicially. "If
a lady deserts her husband, and there is good reason to suspect that she
is, in popular phrase, 'carrying on' with another man, how can the
husband be lying if he charges that man with being the cause of the
"In this instance a hypothetical case is not called for. Three years ago,
Mr. Ingerman, you had parted from your wife. Your name was never
mentioned. Apparently, none in my circle had even heard of you. Miss
Melhuish had won repute as a celebrated actress. I met her, in a sense,
professionally. We became friends. I fancied I was in love with her. I
proposed marriage. Then, and not until then, did the ghost of Mr."--Grant
bent forward, and consulted the card--"Mr. Isidor G. Ingerman intrude."
"So marriage was out of the question?"
"If you expect an answer--yes."
Ingerman rested the handle of his stick against his lips.
"That isn't how the situation was represented to me at the time," he said
Grant was still sore with the recollection of the way in which the
superintendent of police had forced him to confess the pitiful scheme
whereby a woman in love had sought to gain her ends. He refused to sully
her memory a second time that day, even to gain the upper hand in this
"I neither know nor care what representations may have been made to you,"
he retorted. "I merely tell you the literal truth."
"Possibly. Possibly. It was not I who used the word 'lie,' remember. But
if you are ungracious enough to refuse to withdraw the offensive phrase,
let it pass. We are not in France. This deadly business will be fought
out in the law courts. I am here to-night of my own initiative. I thought
it only fair and reasonable that you and I should meet before we are
brought face to face at a coroner's inquest, and, it may be, in an Assize
Court.... No, no, Mr. Grant. Pray do not put the worst construction on my
words. _Someone_ murdered my wife. If the police show intelligence and
reasonable skill, _someone_ will be tried for the crime. You and I will
certainly be witnesses. That is what I meant to convey. The doubt in my
mind was this--whether to be actively hostile or passively friendly to
the man who, next to me, was interested in the poor woman now lying dead
in a wretched stable of this village."
The almost diabolical cleverness of this long speech, delivered without
heat and with singularly adroit stress on various passages, was revealed
by its effect on Grant. He was at once infuriated and puzzled. Ingerman
was playing him as a fisherman humors a well-hooked salmon. The simile
actually occurred to him, and he resolved to precipitate matters by
coming straightway to the landing-net.
"Is your friendship purchasable?" he inquired, making the rush without
"My wife was, I was led to believe," came the calm retort.
Grant threw scruples to the wind now. Adelaide Mulhuish was being
defamed, not by him, but by her husband.
"We are at cross purposes," he said, weighing each word. "Your wife, who
knew your character fairly well, I am convinced, thought that you were
open to receive a cash consideration for your connivance in a divorce."
"She had told me plainly that she would never live with me again. I was
too fair-minded a man to place obstacles in the way when she wished to
regain her freedom."
"So it was true, then. What was the price? One thousand--two? I am not a
"Nor am I. As a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, it was a
serious matter for me when my wife's earnings ceased to come into the
"My first, if rather vague, estimate of you was the correct one. You are
a good bit of a scoundrel, and, if I guess rightly, a would-be
"You are talking at random, Mr. Grant. The levying of blackmail connotes
that the person bled desires that some discreditable, or dangerous, fact
should be concealed."
"Such is not my position."
"I can relieve you of any oppressive doubt. I informed the police some
few hours ago that you have appeared already in a similar role."
"Oh, you did, did you?" snarled Ingerman, suddenly abandoning his pose,
and gazing at Grant with a curiously snakelike glint in his black eyes.
"Yes. It interested them, I fancied."
Grant was sure of his man now, and rather relieved that the battle of
wits was turning in his favor.
"So you have begun already to scheme your defense?"
"Hadn't you better go?" was the contemptuous retort.
"You refuse to answer any further questions?"
"I refuse to buy your proffered friendship--whatever that may mean."
"Have I offered to sell it?"
"I gathered as much."
Ingerman rose. He was still master of himself, though his lanky body was
taut with rage. He spoke calmly and with remarkable restraint.
"Go through what I have said, and discover, if you can, the slightest
hint of any suggested condonation of your offenses, whether avowed or
merely suspected. I shall prove beyond dispute that you came between me
and my wife. Don't hug the delusion that your three years' limit will
save you. It will not. I wish you well of your attempt to prove that I
was a consenting party to divorce proceedings. I came here to look you
over. I have done so, and have arrived at a very definite opinion. I,
also, have been interviewed by the police, and any unfavorable views they
may have formed concerning me as the outcome of your ex parte statements
are more than counteracted by the ugly facts of a ghastly murder. You
were here shortly before eleven o'clock last night. My wife was here,
too, and alive. This morning she was found dead, by you. At eleven
o'clock last night I was playing bridge with three city men in my flat.
When the news of the murder reached me to-day my first thought, after the
shock of it had passed, was:--'That fellow, Grant, may be innocently
involved in a terrible crime, and I may figure as the chief witness
against him.' I am not speaking idly, as you will learn to your cost.
Yet, when I come on an errand of mercy, you have the impudence to charge
me with blackmail. You are in for a great awakening. Be sure of that!"
And Isidor G. Ingerman walked out, leaving Grant uncomfortably aware that
he had not seen the last of an implacable and bitter enemy.
It was something new and very disturbing for a writer to find himself in
the predicament of a man with an absolutely clear conscience yet
perilously near the meshes of the criminal law. He had often analyzed
such a situation in his books, but fiction diverged so radically from
hard fact that the sensation was profoundly disconcerting, to say the
least. He did not go to the post office. He was not equal to any more
verbal fire-works that evening. So he lit a pipe, and reviewed Ingerman's
well-rounded periods very carefully, even taking the precaution to jot
down exact, phrases. He analyzed them, and saw that they were capable of
two readings. Of course, it could not be otherwise. The plausible rascal
must have conned them over until this essential was secured. Grant even
went so far as to give them a grudging professional tribute. They held a
canker of doubt, too, which it was difficult to dissect. Their veiled
threats were perplexing. While their effect, as apart from literal
significance, was fresh in his mind, he made a few notes of different
He went to bed rather early, but could not sleep until the small hours.
Probably his rest, such as it was, would have been even more disturbed
had he been able to accompany Ingerman to the Hare and Hounds Inn.
A small but select company had gathered in the bar parlor. The two hours
between eight and ten were the most important of the day to the landlord,
Mr. Tomlin. It was then that he imparted and received the tit-bits of
local gossip garnered earlier, the process involving a good deal of play
with shining beer-handles and attractively labeled bottles.
But this was a special occasion. Never before had there been a
Steynholme murder before the symposium. Hitherto, such a grewsome topic
was supplied, for the most part, by faraway London. To-night the
eeriness and dramatic intensity of a notable crime lay at the very doors
of the village.
So Tomlin was more portentous than usual; Hobbs, the butcher, more
assertive, Elkin, the "sporty" breeder of polo ponies, more inclined to
"lay odds" on any conceivable subject, and Siddle, the chemist, a
reserved man at the best, even less disposed to voice a definite opinion.
Elkin was about twenty-five years of age, Siddle looked younger than his
probable thirty-five years, while the others were on the stout and
prosperous line of fifty.
They were discussing the murder, of course, when Ingerman entered, and
ordered a whiskey and soda. Instantly there was dead silence. Looks and
furtive winks were exchanged. There had been talk of a detective being
employed. Perhaps this was he. Mr. Tomlin knew the stranger's name, as he
had taken a room, but that was the extent of the available information.
"A fine evenin', sir," said Tomlin, drawing a cork noisily. "Looks as
though we were in for a spell o' settled weather."
"Yes," agreed Ingerman, summing up the conclave at a glance. "Somehow,
such a lovely night ill accords with the cause of my visit to
"Well, you and these other gentlemen may judge for yourselves. It will
be no secret tomorrow. I am the husband of the lady who was found in the
river outside Mr. Grant's residence this morning."
Sensation, as the descriptive reporters put it. Mr. Tomlin was dumbly but
unanimously elected chairman of the meeting, and was vaguely aware of his
responsibilities. He drew himself a fresh glass of bitter.
"You don't tell me, sir!" he gasped. "Well, the idee! The pore lady's
letters were addressed to Miss Adelaide Melhuish. Perhaps you don't know,
sir, that she stayed here!"
"Oh, yes. I was told that by the local police-constable. Have I, by any
chance, been given her room?"
"No, sir. Not likely. It's locked, and the police have the key till the
inquest is done with."
"As for the name," explained Ingerman, in his suave voice, "that was a
mere stage pseudonym, an adopted name. My wife was a famous actress, and
there is a sort of tacit agreement that a lady in the theatrical
profession shall be known to the public as 'Miss' rather than 'Mrs.'"
"Well, there!" wheezed Tomlin. "Who'd ever ha' thought it?"
The landlord was not quite rising to the occasion. He was, in fact,
stunned by these repeated shocks. So Hobbs took charge.
"It's a sad errand you're on, sir," he said. "Death comes to all of us,
man an' beast alike, but it's a terrible thing when a lady like Miss--
"Ingerman is my name, but my wife will certainly be alluded to by the
press as Miss Melhuish."
"When a lady like Miss Melhuish is knocked on the 'ead like a--"
Mr. Hobbs hesitated again. He also felt that the situation was rather
"But my wife was flung into the river and drowned," said Ingerman sadly.
"No, sir. She was killed fust. It was a brutal business, so I'm told."
"Do you mean that she was struck, her skull battered?" came the demand,
in an awed and soul-thrilling whisper.
"Yes, sir. An' the wust thing is, none of us can guess who could
ha' done it."
"Lay yer five quid to one, Hobbs, that the police cop the scoundrel afore
this day fortnight," cried Elkin noisily.
Then Mr. Siddle put in a mild word.
"Gentlemen," he said, "let me remind you that we four will probably be
jurors at the inquest."
That was a sobering thought. Elkin subsided, and Hobbs looked critically
at the remains of a gill of beer.
Ingerman took stock of the chemist. He might easily induce the others to
believe that Grant was the real criminal, but the quiet man in the black
morning-coat and striped cloth trousers was of finer metal. He knew
instantly that if he could persuade this one "probable juror" of Grant's
guilt, the remainder would follow his lead like a flock of sheep.
But there was no need to hurry. Next day's inquest would be a mere
formality. The real struggle would begin a week or a fortnight later.
"You have said a very wise thing, sir," he murmured appreciatively. "Even
my feelings must be kept under better control. But this is no ordinary
murder. Before it is cleared up there will be astounding revelations.
Mark the word--astounding."
Hobbs, whose heavy cheeks were of a brick-red tint, almost startled the
conclave by a sudden outburst which gave him an apoplectic appearance.
"You're too kind'earted, Siddle," he cried. "Wot's the use of talkin'
rubbish. We all know where the body was found. We all know that Doris
Martin an' Mr. Grant were a'sweet-'eartin' in the garden--"
"Look here, Hobbs, just keep Doris Martin's name out of it!" shouted
Elkin, smiting the table with his fist till the glasses danced.
"Gentlemen!" protested Siddle gently.
"It's all dashed fine, but I'm not--" blustered Elkin. He yielded to
Ingerman's outstretched hand.
"I seem to have brought discord into a friendly gathering," came the
mournful comment. "Such was far from being my intent. Landlord, the round
is on me, with cigars. Now, let us talk of anything but this horror. If I
forget myself again, pull me up short, and fine me another round."
Siddle half rose, but thought better of it. Evidently, he meant to use
his influence to stop foolish chatter.
THE SEEDS OP MISCHIEF
Ingerman was a shrewder judge of human nature than the village chemist.
As well try to stem the flowing tide as stop tongues from wagging when
such a theme offered.
Tomlin created a momentary diversion by clattering in the bar. After this
professional interlude, Ingerman ignored his own compact.
"I'm sure you local residents will be interested, at least, in hearing
something of my wife's career," he said. "There never was a more lovable
and gracious woman, and no couple could be more united than she and I
till some three years ago. Then came a break. She was independent of me,
of course. She was a celebrity, I a mere nobody, best known, if at all,
as 'Miss Melhuish's husband.' Nevertheless, we were devoted to each other
until, to her and my lasting misfortune, a certain author wrote a book
which, when dramatized, contained a part for which my wife's stage
presence and talents seemed to be peculiarly suited."
Siddle stirred uneasily, but the others were still as partridges in
stubble. Ingerman did not intend to alarm the shy bird of the
"I name no names," he said solemnly. "Nor am I telling you anything that
will not be thoroughly exposed before the coroner and elsewhere. From
that unhappy period dated our estrangement. My wife fell under a fatal
influence which lasted, practically unchecked, until the day, if not the
very hour, of her death. Do I blame her? No--a thousand times no! You see
me, a plain man, considerably her senior. _I_ had not the gift of writing
impassioned love passages in which she could display her artistic genius.
When I came home from the City, tired after the day's work, _she_ was
just beginning hers. You know what London fashionable life is--the
theater, a supper, a dance, some great lady's 'reception,' and the rest
of it. Ah, me! The stage, and literature, and the arts generally are not
for poor fellows moiling in a City office. You gentlemen, I take it, are
all happily married--"
"I'm not," said Elkin, "but I'll lay you long odds I will be soon."
For some reason, this remark produced a certain uneasiness among his
friends. Tomlin stared at the ash of one of the cigars "stood" by this
talkative Londoner; Hobbs, whose glass had reached a low level again,
examined the dregs almost fiercely; and Siddle seemed to be about to say
something, but, with his usual restraint, kept silent. Then Ingerman made
a very shrewd guess, and wondered who Doris Martin was, and what Hobbs's
cryptic allusion had meant.
"Good luck to you, sir," he said, "but--take no offense--don't marry an
actress. There's an old adage, 'Birds of a feather flock together.' I
would go farther, and interpolate the word 'should.' If Adelaide Melhuish
had never met me, but had married the man who could write her plays, this
tragedy in real life would never have been."
"D--n him," muttered Elkin fiercely. "He's done for now, anyhow. He'll
turn no more girls' heads for a bit."
"An' five minutes since you yapped at me like a vicious fox-terrier for
'intin' much the same thing," chortled Hobbs.
Siddle stood up.
"You ain't goin', Mr. Siddle?" went on the butcher. "It's 'ardly 'arf
"I have some accounts to get out. It's near the half year, you know," and
Siddle vanished unobtrusively.
Hobbs shook his head, and gazed at Elkin as though the latter was a
"Siddle's a fair-minded chap," he said. "He can't stand 'earin' any of us
'angin' a man without a fair trial."
Ingerman had marked the chemist for more subtle treatment when an
opportunity arose, or could be made. At present, he was not sorry such a
restraining influence was removed. The next half hour should prove a
golden one if well utilized. He was right. Before the inn was cleared,
what between Elkin's savage comments and the other men's thinly-veiled
allusions, he knew all that Steynholme could tell with regard to Grant
and Doris Martin.
Grant's first thought next morning was of the girl who had been thrust so
prominently into his life by the death of another woman. That was,
perhaps, the strangest outcome of the tragedy. Doris was easily the
prettiest and most intelligent girl in the village, a rare combination in
itself, even among young ladies of much higher social position than a
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