The Postmaster's Daughter
Part 4 out of 5
"Exit Fred!" said Winter solemnly. "Next!"
Doris, after a period of calm, was now profoundly uncomfortable. This
kind of prying was the last thing she had expected. She had come prepared
to defend Grant, but, beyond one exceedingly personal reference, the
detective had studiously shut him out of the conversation.
"What am I to say?" she cried. "Do you want a list of all the young men
who make sheep's eyes at me?"
"No. I can get that from the Census Bureau. Come, now, Miss Martin. _You_
know. Has any man in the village led you to suspect, shall we put it?
that sometime or other, he might ask you to become his wife?"
Lo, and behold! Doris's pretty eyes filled with tears. Superintendent
Fowler was so pleased at hearing Scotland Yard introducing a
parenthetical query into its sentences that he, sitting opposite, was
taken aback when Winter said in a fatherly way:
"I've been rather clumsy, I'm afraid. But it cannot be helped. I must go
blundering on. I'm groping in the dark, you know, but it's a thousand
pities I shall have to tread on _your_ toes."
"It isn't that," sobbed Doris. "I hate to put my thoughts into words.
That's all. There _is_ a man whom I'm--afraid of."
She turned on Winter a face of sudden awe.
"How can you possibly guess?" she said wonderingly, and sheer
bewilderment dried her tears.
"My business is nine-tenths guesswork. At any rate, we are on firm ground
now. If you could please yourself, I suppose, Mr. Siddle would not come
to tea to-day!"
"He certainly would not," declared the girl emphatically.
"You believe he is coming for a purpose?"
"Elkin--I must drag him in again for an instant--pretends that the
commotion aroused in the village by this murder would incline you
favorably to a proposal of marriage. Mr. Siddle may have discovered some
virtue in the theory."
"Did Mr. Elkin really hint that I needed _him_ as a shield?"
Doris was genuinely angry now. She little imagined that Winter was
playing on her emotions with a master hand.
"Don't waste any wrath on Elkin," he soothed her. "The fellow isn't worth
it. But his crude idea might be developed more subtly by an abler man."
"I think it odd that Mr. Siddle should choose to-day, of all days, for a
visit," she admitted.
Winter relapsed into silence for a while. The car was running through a
charming countryside, and a glimpse of the sea was obtainable from the
crest of each hill. Mr. Fowler was too circumspect to break in on the
thread of his coadjutor's thoughts. The inquiry had taken a curious turn,
and was momentarily beyond his grasp.
"It's singular, but it's true," said the detective musingly when next he
spoke, "that I am now going to ask you to act differently than was in my
mind when I sought this interview. I should vastly like to be present
when Siddle bares his heart to you this afternoon.
"I can invite you to tea."
Alas! that won't serve our ends. But, if you feel you have a purpose, you
will be nerved to deal with him. Bring him out into that secluded garden
"The first thing he will suggest," and Doris's voice waxed
unconsciously bitter. "He knows that dad will be busy with the mails
for an hour after tea."
"I think it bad, most disagreeable."
"You won't find the position so awkward if you are playing a part. And
that is what I want--a bit of clever acting. Lean on those railings, and
make Siddle believe that your heart is on Mr. Grant's lawn. You know the
kind of thing I mean. Dreamy eyes, listless manner, inattention, with
smiling apologies. You will annoy Siddle, and a cautious man in a temper
becomes less cautious. Force him to avow his real thoughts. You will
learn something, trust me."
There were no tears in Doris's eyes. They were wide open in wonderment.
"About his attitude to this tragedy. Do this, and you will be giving Mr.
Grant the greatest possible help. He needs it. Next Wednesday, at the
adjourned inquest, he will be put on the rack. Ingerman will fee counsel
to be vindictive, merciless. Such men are to be hired. Their reputation
is built up on the slaughter of reputations. I want to understand Siddle
before Wednesday. By the way, what's his other name?"
"Theodore Siddle. Unusual. Well, your half hour is nearly up. Will you do
what I ask?"
"I'll try. May I put one question?"
"You said you had something altogether different in view before we met.
What was it?"
"I'll tell you--let me see--I'll tell you on Thursday."
"Why not now?"
"Because it is the hardest thing in the world for a woman to be
single-minded, in the limited sense of concentration, I mean. Focus your
wits on Siddle to-day. I don't suggest any plan. I leave that to your own
intelligence. Vex him, and let him talk."
"Yes. What man won't get mad if he notices that his best girl is thinking
about a rival."
This time Doris did not blush. She was troubled and serious, very
"I'll do what I can," she promised. "When shall I see you again?"
"Soon. There's no hurry. All this is preparatory for Wednesday."
"Am I to tell my father nothing?"
"Please yourself. Not at present. I recommend you."
The car had stopped. It sped on when Doris alighted. She would be home
with her cakes at three o'clock, and Mr. Martin would never have noticed
"A fine bit of work, if I may say so," exclaimed Fowler appreciatively.
"But I am jiggered if I can imagine what you're driving at."
Winter was cutting the end off a big cigar. He finished the operation to
his liking before answering earnestly:
"We stand or fall by the result of that girl's efforts. Furneaux
thinks so, and I agree with him absolutely. After five days, where are
we, Mr. Fowler? In the dark, plus a brigand's hat and hair. But there's
a queer belief in some parts of England that a phosphorescent gleam
shows at night over a deep pool in which a dead body lies. That's just
how I feel about Siddle. The man's an enigma. What sort of place is
Steynholme for a chemist of his capacities? Dr. Foxton has the highest
regard for him professionally, and I'm told he doctors people for miles
around. Yet he lives the life of a recluse. An old woman comes by day
to prepare his meals, and tidy the house and shop. His sole relaxation
is an hour of an evening in the village inn, his visits there being
uninterrupted since the murder. He was there on the night of the
murder, too. For the rest, he is alone, shut off from the world.
Without knowing it, he's going to fall into deep waters to-day, and
he'll emit sparks, or I'm a Chinaman.... I'll leave you here. Good-by!
See you on Tuesday, after lunch."
The superintendent drove on alone. He pondered the Steynholme affair in
all its bearings, but mostly did he weigh up Winter and Furneaux. At
last, he sighed.
"London ways, and London books, and London detectives!" he muttered.
"We're not up to date in Sussex. Now, if I could please myself, I'd be
hot-foot after Elkin. I see what Winter has in his mind, but surely Elkin
fills the bill, and Siddle doesn't.... What was that word--volt what!"
Doris was lucky. She met Mr. Siddle as she emerged from the back passage
to the cake-shop. Resolving instantly that if an unpleasant thing had to
be done it should at least be done well, she smiled brightly.
"See what you have driven me to--breaking the Sabbath," she cried,
holding up the bag of cakes.
"Tea and bread-and-butter with you would be a feast for the gods,"
"Now you're adapting Omar Khayyam."
"A Persian poet of long ago."
"I never read poetry. But, if your tastes lie that way, I'll accomplish
some more adaptation."
"Oh, no, please. Cakes for you, Mr. Siddle; poets for giddy young
things like me."
There was a sting in the words. Doris preened herself on having carried
out the detective's instructions to the letter thus far.
Arrived in the house she found her father still in the garden, examining
some larvae under a microscope. He looked severe rather than studious.
He might have been an omnipotent being who had detected a malefactor in
a criminal act. Was Steynholme and its secret felon being regarded in
that way by the providence which, for some inscrutable purpose,
permitted, yet would infallibly punish, a dreadful murder? She was a
girl of devout mind, and the notion was appalling in its direct
application to current events.
In the meantime the chemist, evidently taking a Sunday afternoon
constitutional, came on Winter, who was leaning on a wall of the bridge
and looking down stream--Grant's house being on the left.
He would have passed, in his wonted unobtrusive way, but the detective
hailed him with a cheery "Good day, Mr. Siddle. Are you a fisherman?"
"No, Mr. Franklin, I'm not," he answered.
"Well, now, I'm surprised. You are just the sort of man whom I should
expect to find attached to a rod and line--even watching a float."
"I tried once when I was younger, but I could neither impale a worm nor
extract a hook. My gorge rose against either practice. I am a vegetarian,
for the same reason. If it were not for this disturbing tragedy you would
have heard Hobbs, the butcher, rallying me about my rabbit-meat, as he
calls my food."
"Well, well!" laughed Winter. "Your ideas and mine clash in some
respects. I look on a well-grilled steak as a gift from Heaven, and after
it, or before it--I don't care which--let me have three hours whipping a
good trout stream. With the right cast of flies I could show a fine bag
from this very stretch of water."
"Why not ask Mr. Grant's permission? It would be interesting to learn
whether he will allow others to try their luck."
Mr. Siddle strolled on. Winter bent over, keen to discern the gray-backed
fish which must be lurking in those clear depths and rippling shallows.
ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BIVEE
The sun, transmuted into Greenwich time, exercised an extraordinary
influence on the seemingly humdrum life of Steynholme that day. A few
minutes after three o'clock--just too late to observe either Winter or
Siddle--P.C. Robinson strolled forth from his cottage. He glanced up the
almost deserted high-street, in which every rounded cobble and white
flagstone radiated heat. A high-class automobile had dashed past twice in
forty minutes, but the pace was on the borderland of doubt, so the
guardian of the public weal had contented himself with recording its
number on the return journey.
But his thoughts were far a-field from joyriders, stray cattle, hawkers
without licenses, and other similar small fry which come into the
constabulary net. It would be a feather in his cap if he could only
strike the trail of the veritable Steynholme murderer. The entrancing
notion possessed him morning, noon, and night. Mrs. Robinson declared
that it even dominated his dreams. Robinson was sharp. He knew quite well
that the brains of the London detectives held some elusive quality which
he personally lacked. They seemed to peer into the heart of a thing so
wisely and thoroughly. He did not share Superintendent Fowler's somewhat
derogatory estimate of Furneaux, with whom he was much better acquainted
than was his superior officer, while Chief Inspector Winter's repute
stood so high that it might not be questioned. Still, to the best of his
belief, the case had beaten both these doughty representatives of
Scotland Yard; there was yet a chance for the humble police-constable; so
Robinson squared his shoulders, seamed his brows, and marched
majestically down the Knoleworth road.
He had an eye for The Hollies, of course, though neither he nor anybody
else could discern more than the bare edge of the lawn from bridge or
road, owing to the dense screen of evergreen trees and shrubs planted by
the tenant who remodeled the property.
But the spot where the body of Adelaide Melhuish was drawn ashore was
visible, and the sight of it started a dim thesis in the policeman's mind
which took definite shape during less than an hour's stroll. Thus, at
four o'clock exactly, he was pulling the bell at The Hollies. Almost
simultaneously, Mr. Siddle knocked modestly on the private door of the
post office, to reach which one had to pass down a narrow yard.
"Mr. Grant at home?" inquired Robinson, when Minnie appeared.
Yes, the master was on the lawn with Mr. Hart. The policeman found the
two there, seated in chairs with awnings. They had been discussing, of
all things in the world, the futurist craze in painting. Hart held by it,
but Grant carried bigger guns in real knowledge of the artist's
limitations as well as his privileges.
Hart was the first to notice the newcomer's presence, and greeted
"Come along, Robinson, and manacle this reprobate," he shouted. "He's
nothing but a narrow-minded pre-Rafaelite. A period in prison will dust
the cobwebs out of his attic."
"Hello, Robinson!" said, Grant. "Anything stirring?"
"Not much, sir. I just popped in to ask if you remembered exactly how the
body was roped?"
"Indeed, I do not. Some incidents of that horrible half hour have gone
into a sad jumble. I recollect you calling attention to the matter, but
what your point was I really cannot say now. Perhaps it may come back if
"Well, we don't seem to be making a great deal of progress, sir, and I
was wondering whether you two gentlemen might help. I don't want it
mentioned. I'm taking a line of me own."
Grant repressed a smile. He recalled well enough the first "line" the
policeman took, and the mischief it had caused. Being an even-minded
person, however, he admitted that his own behavior had not been above
suspicion on the day the crime was discovered. In allotting blame, as
between Robinson and himself, the proportion was six of one and half a
dozen of the other.
"Propound, justiciary," said Hart. "You've started well, anyhow. The
connection between a line and a rope should be obvious even to a
judge.... As a pipe-opener, have a drink!"
Robinson had removed his helmet, and was flourishing a red handkerchief,
not without cause, the day being really very hot.
"Not for a few minutes, thank you, sir," said the policeman. "May I ask
Bates for a sack and a cord?"
He went to the kitchen. Hart was "tickled to death," he vowed.
"We are about to witness the reconstruction of the crime, a procedure
which the French delight in, and the intellect of France is a hundred
years ahead of our effete civilization," he chortled.
Grant was not so pleased. The memory of a distressing vision was
beginning to blur, and this ponderous policeman must come and revive it.
Yet, even he grew interested when Robinson illustrated a nebulous idea by
knotting a clothesline around a sack stuffed with straw, having brought
Bates to bear him out in the matter of accuracy.
"There you are, gentlemen!" he said, puffing after the slight exertion.
"That's the way of it. How does it strike you?"
"It's what a sailor calls two half hitches," commented Hart instantly.
"A very serviceable knot, which will resist to the full strength of
"We have no sailors in Steynholme, sir," said the policeman.
"Oh, it's used regularly by tradesmen," put in Grant. "A draper, or
grocer--any man accustomed to tying parcels securely, in fact--will
fashion that knot nine times out of ten."
"How about a--a farmer, sir?" That was as near as Robinson dared to go to
"I think a farmer would be more likely to adopt a timber hitch, which is
made in several ways. Here are samples." And Grant busied himself with
rope and sack.
Robinson watched closely.
"Yes," he nodded. "I've seen those knots in a farmyard.... Well, it's
something--not much--but a trifle better than nothing.... All right,
Bates. You can take 'em away."
"Have you shown that knot to Mr. Furneaux?" inquired Grant.
"No, sir. I've kept that up me sleeve, as the sayin' is."
Robinson shuffled uneasily on his feet.
"These Scotland Yard men will hardly listen to a uniformed constable,
sir," he said. "I'll tell 'em all about it at the inquest on Wednesday."
"In effect, John P. Robinson he sez they didn't know everythin' down in
Judee," quoted Hart.
"You've got my name pat," grinned the policeman, whose Christian names
were "John Price."
"My name is Walter, not Patrick," retorted Hart. Robinson continued to
smile, though he failed to grasp the joke until late that evening.
"Did you make up that verse straight off, sir," he asked.
"No. It's a borrowed plume, plucked from an American quill pen."
Hart gave "plume" a French sound, and Robinson was puzzled to know why
Grant bade his friend stop profaning a peaceful Sunday afternoon.
"You'll have a glass of beer now?" went on the host.
"I don't mind if I do, sir, though it's tea-time, and I make it a rule on
Sundays to have tea with the missis. A policeman's hours are broken up,
and his wife hardly ever knows when to have a meal ready."
Minnie was summoned. It took her a couple of minutes to draw the beer
from a cool cellar. So it chanced that when Doris led Mr. Siddle to the
edge of the cliff about twenty-five minutes past four, the first thing
they saw was the local police-constable on the lawn of The Hollies
putting down a gill of "best Sussex" at a draught.
"Well!" cried the chemist icily, "I wonder what Superintendent Fowler
would say to that if he knew it?"
"What is there particularly wrong about Robinson drinking a glass of
beer?" demanded Doris, more alive to the insinuation in Siddle's words
than was quite permissible under the role imposed on her by Winter.
She waved her hand to the party on the lawn. Grant, whose eyes ever
roved in that direction, had seen her white muslin dress the moment
"Who the deuce is that with Miss Martin?" he said, returning her signal.
"Siddle, the chemist," announced Robinson, not too well pleased himself
at being "spotted" so openly. "Well, gentlemen, I'll be off," and he
vanished by the side path through the laurels.
"Siddle!" repeated Grant vexedly. "So it is. And she dislikes the man,
for some reason."
"Let's go and rescue the fair maid," prompted Hart.
"No, no. If Doris wanted me she would let me know."
"How? At the top of her voice?"
"You're far too curious, Wally."
"Semaphore, of course," drawled Hart. "When are you going to marry the
"As soon as this infernal business has blown over."
"You haven't asked her, I gather?"
"Tell me when you do, and I'll hie me to London town, though in torrid
June. You're unbearable in love."
"The lash of your wit cuts deeply sometimes," said Grant quietly.
"Dash it all, old chap, I was talking at random. Very well. I'll do
penance in sackcloth and ashes by remaining here, and applauding your
poetic efforts. I'll even help. I'm a dab at sonnets."
Meanwhile, Mr. Siddle had regained his poise.
"I meant nothing offensive to the donor of the beer," he said, tuning his
voice to an apologetic note. "But I take it Robinson is conducting
certain inquiries, and I imagine that his superiors demand a degree of
circumspection in such conditions. That is all."
"Surely you do not rank with the stupid crowd in its suspicions of Mr.
Grant?" said the girl.
"I'm pleased to think you refuse to class me with the gossip-mongers of
Steynholme, Doris," was the guarded answer.
There had been no reference to the murder during tea, which was served
as soon as the chemist came in. The visitor had tabled a copy of a
current medical journal containing an article on the therapeutic
qualities of honey, so the talk was lifted at once into an atmosphere far
removed from crime. Doris was grateful for his tact. When her father went
to the office she brought Mr. Siddle into the garden solely in pursuance
of her promise to the detective, though convinced that there would be no
outcome save a few labored compliments to herself. And now, by accident,
as it were, the death of Adelaide Melhuish thrust itself into their
conversation. Perhaps it was her fault.
"No," she said candidly. "No one who has known you for seven years, Mr.
Siddle, could possibly accuse you of spreading scandal."
"Seven years! Is it so long since I came to Steynholme? Sometimes, it
appears an age, but more often I fancy the calendar must be in error.
Why, it seems only the other day that I saw you in a short frock,
bowling a hoop."
"A tom-boy occupation," laughed Doris. "But dad encouraged that and
skipping, as the best possible means of exercise."
"He was right. Look how straight and svelte you are! Few, if any, among
our community can have watched your progress to womanhood as closely as
I. You see, living opposite, as I do, I kept track of you more
intimately than your other neighbors."
Siddle was trimming his sails cleverly. The concluding sentence robbed
his earlier comments of their sentimental import.
"If we live long enough we may even see each other in the sere and yellow
leaf," said Doris flippantly.
"I would ask no greater happiness," came the quiet reply, and Doris could
have bitten her tongue for according him that unguarded opening. Suddenly
availing herself of the advice which the detective, like Hamlet, had
given to the players, she gazed musingly at the fair panorama of The
Hollies and its gardens, with the two young men seated on the lawn. By
this time Minnie was staging tea, and the picture looked idyllic enough.
Doris saw, out of the tail of her eye, that her companion was watching
her furtively, though apparently absorbed in the scene. He moistened his
thin lips with his tongue.
"As a study in contrasts, that would be hard to beat," he said, after a
"Contrasts!" she echoed.
"Well, yes. Even an uncontentious man like myself can hardly fail to
compare Sunday afternoon with Tuesday morning."
"Why not Monday night?" she flashed.
"Monday night, in part, remains a mystery yet to be unveiled. I blot
Monday night from my mind. I have no alternative, being on the jury
which has to arrive at a just verdict. Now, if Fred Elkin were here, he
would foam at the mouth."
"Happily, Fred Elkin is _not_ here."
"Ah, I am glad, glad, to hear you say that. You don't like him?"
"I detest him."
"He makes out, to put it mildly, that you are great friends."
"You will oblige me by contradicting the statement. Or--no. One treats
that sort of man with contempt."
"I agree with you most heartily. I'm sorry I ever mentioned him."
Yet Doris was well aware that the chemist had dragged in Elkin by the
scruff of the neck, probably for the sake of getting him disposed of
thoroughly and for all time. Rather on the tiptoe of expectation, she
awaited the next move. It was slow in coming, so again she looked
wistfully at the distant tea-drinkers. She found slight difficulty in
carrying out this portion of the stage directions. Truth to tell, she
would gleefully have gone and joined them.
Siddle was not altogether at ease. The conversation was too spasmodic to
suit his purpose. Though slow of speech he was nimble of brain, and,
knowing Doris so well, he had anticipated a livelier duel of wits. In all
likelihood, he cursed the tea-party on the lawn. He had not foreseen this
drawback. But, being a masterful man, he tackled the situation boldly.
"I seized the opportunity of a friendly chat with you to-day, Doris," he
went on, leaning over the fence to inhale the scent of a briar rose. "The
story runs through the village that you and your father dined at The
Hollies on Friday evening. Is that true?"
Now, Doris had it on reliable authority that Siddle himself had been the
runner who spread that story, and the knowledge steeled her heart
"Yes," she said composedly.
"It was kind and neighborly of you to accept the invitation, but a
She turned and faced him. His expression was baffling. She thought she
saw in his sallow, clean-cut features the shadow of a confident smile.
"You mean that this horrid murder should make some difference in the
friendship between ourselves and Mr. Grant?" she cried.
"Yes. To you, though to no one else would I speak so plainly, I have no
hesitation in saying that Mr. Grant is far, very far, from being clear
of responsibility in that matter. Three days from now you will
understand what I mean. Evidence will be forthcoming which will put him
in a most unenviable light. I am not alleging, or even hinting, that he
may be deemed guilty of actual crime. That is for the law to determine.
But I do tell you emphatically that his present heedless attitude will
give place to anxiety and dejection. It cannot be otherwise. A somewhat
sordid history will be revealed, and his pretense that relations between
him and the dead woman ceased three years ago will vanish into thin air.
Believe me, Doris, I am actuated by no motive in this matter other than
a desire to further your welfare. I cannot bear even to think of your
name being associated, in ever so small degree, with that of a man who
must be hounded out of his own social circle, if no worse fate is in
store for him."
"Good gracious!" cried Doris, genuinely amazed. "How do you come to know
"I listen to the words of those qualified to speak with knowledge and
authority. I have mixed in varied company this past week, wholly on your
account. Don't be led away by the mere formalities of the opening day of
the inquest. The coroner deliberately shut off all real evidence except
as to the cause of death. On Wednesday the situation will change, and you
cannot fail to be shocked by what you hear, because you will be there."
"I am given to understand that, even if I am called, my testimony will be
of no importance."
"Such may be the police view. Mr. Ingerman will press for a very
"Has he told you that?"
"So, although foreman of the jury, you have not declined to hobnob with
a man who is avowedly Mr. Grant's enemy?"
"I would hobnob with worse people if, by so doing, I might serve you."
Grant, "fed up," as he put it to Hart, with watching the _tete a tete_
between Doris and the chemist, sprang to his feet and went through a
pantomime easy enough to follow save for one or two signs. Doris held
both hands aloft. Well knowing that anything in the nature of a
pre-arranged code would be gall and wormwood to Siddle, she explained
"Mr. Grant signals that he and Mr. Hart are going for a walk; he wants me
to accompany them. But I can't, unfortunately. I promised dad to help
with the accounts."
"If you really mean what you say, my warning would seem to have fallen on
Siddle's voice was well under control, but his eyes glinted dangerously.
His state was that of a man torn by passion who nevertheless felt that
any display of the rage possessing him would be fatal to his cause.
But, rather unexpectedly, Doris took fire. Siddle's innuendoes and
protestations were sufficiently hard to bear without the added knowledge
that a ridiculous convention denied her the companionship of a man whom
she loved, and who, she was beginning to believe, loved her. She swept
round on Siddle like a wrathful goddess.
"I have borne with you patiently because of the acquaintance of years,
but I shall be glad if this tittle-tattle of malice and ignorance now
ceases," she said proudly. "Mr. Grant is my friend, and my father's
friend. In the first horror of the crime which has besmirched our dear
little village, we both treated Mr. Grant rather badly. We know better
to-day. Your Ingermans and your Elkins, and the rest of the busybodies
gathered at the inn, may defame him as they choose, or as they dare. As
for me, I am his loyal comrade, and shall remain so after next Wednesday,
or a score of Wednesdays. I am going in now, Mr. Siddle, and shall be
engaged during the remainder of the evening. Your shop opens at six, and
I am sure you will find some more profitable means of spending the time
than in telling me things I would rather not hear."
Siddle caught her arm.
"Doris," he said fiercely, "you must not leave me without, at least,
learning my true motive. I--"
The girl wrested herself free from his grip. She realized what was
coming, and forestalled it.
"I care nothing for your motive," she cried. "You forget yourself!
She literally ran into the house. The chemist, unless he elected to
behave like a love-sick fool, had no option but to follow, and make his
way to the street by the side door.
The only other happening of significance that Sunday was an unheralded
visit by Winter to the policeman's residence.
He popped in after dusk, opening the door without knocking.
"You in, Robinson?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir. Will you--"
"Shan't detain you more than a minute. At the inquest you said that you
personally untied the rope which bound Miss Melhuish's body. Here are a
piece of string and a newspaper. Would you mind showing me what sort of
knot was used?"
Robinson was nearly struck dumb, and his fingers fumbled badly, but he
managed to exhibit two hitches.
"Ah, thanks," said Winter, and was off in a jiffy.
From the window of a darkened room Robinson watched the erect, burly
figure of the detective until it was merged in the mists of night.
"Well, I'm--," he exclaimed bitterly.
"John, what are you swearing about?" demanded his wife from the kitchen.
"Something I heard to-day," answered her husband. "There was a chap of my
name, John P. Robinson, an' he said that down in Judee they didn't know
everything. And, by gum, he was right. They knew mighty little about
London 'tecs, I'm thinking. But, hold on. Surely--"
He bustled into his coat, and hastened to The Hollies. No, neither Mr.
Grant nor Mr. Hart had spoken to a soul about the knot. Nor had Bates. Of
course, Robinson did not venture to describe Winter. Finally, he put the
incident aside as a clear case of thought-reading.
A MATTER OF HEREDITY
Shortly before noon on Monday occurred two events destined to assume a
paramount importance in the affair which was wringing the withers of
Steynholme. As in the histories of both men and nations, these first
steps in great developments began quietly enough. For one thing, Furneaux
returned to the village. For another, the London telegraphist, who
expected the day to prove practically a blank, was reading a newspaper
when the telegraph instrument clicked the local call.
Doris was checking and distributing the stock of stamps which had arrived
that morning; her father was counting mail-bags in a small annex to the
main room, the Knoleworth office having acquired a habit of making up
shortages by docking the country branches. No member of the public
happened to be present. The girl could have heard what the Morse code was
tapping forth had she chosen, but she had trained herself to disregard
the telegraph when occupied on other work.
Suddenly, however, the telegraphist's pencil paused.
"Hello!" he said. "Theodore Siddle! That's the chemist opposite,
"Yes," said Doris, suspending her calculations at mention of the name.
"Well, his mother's dead."
"Dead?" she echoed vacantly. Somehow, it had never hitherto dawned on her
that the chemist might possess relatives in some part of the country.
"That's what it says," went on the other. "'Regret inform you your mother
died this morning. Superintendent, Horton Asylum.'"
"In an asylum, too," said the girl, speaking at random.
"Yes. Horton is the place for epileptic lunatics, near Epsom, you know."
"I didn't know. Does it mean that--that she was an epileptic lunatic?"
"So I should imagine, from the wording. If a nurse, or a matron, they'd
surely describe her as such."
"I suppose we ought not to discuss Mr. Siddle's telegram," said Doris,
after a pause.
"Well, no. But where's the harm? I wouldn't have yelled out the news if
we three weren't alone. Where's that boy?"
"Gone to his dinner. Father will take it. By the way, say nothing to him
as to the contents. Would you mind calling him?"
Doris hurried swiftly to the sitting-room, and thence upstairs. The
telegraphist explained the absence of a messenger, so Mr. Martin
delivered the telegram in person.
Crossing the street, he detected a dead bee. He picked it up, horrified
at the thought that the Isle of Wight disease might have reached Sussex.
So it was an absent-minded postmaster who handed the telegram over
Siddle's counter, inquiring laconically:
"Is there any answer?"
Siddle opened the buff envelope, and read. He glanced sharply at Martin.
"No," he said. "What's wrong with that bee?"
"I don't know. I have my doubts. When I have a moment to spare I'll put
it under the microscope."
Siddle examined the telegram again. The handwriting was that beloved of
Civil Service Commissioners. Unquestionably, it was not Doris's. No
sooner had his friend gone off, still intent on the dead insect, than
Siddle followed. He knew that the bee would undergo scientific scrutiny
at once, so gave Martin just enough time to dive into the sitting-room
before entering the post office.
"Did you receive this telegram a few minutes ago!" he inquired.
The young man became severely official.
"Which telegram?" he said stiffly.
"This one," and Siddle gave him the written message.
"Yes," was the answer.
"Excuse me, but--er--are its contents known to you only?"
"What do you mean, sir? It would cost me my berth if I divulged a word of
it to anyone."
"I'm sorry. Pray don't take offense. I--I'm anxious that my friends,
Mr. and Miss Martin, should not hear of it. That is what I really
have in mind."
The telegraphist cooled down.
"You may be quite sure that neither they nor any other person in
Steynholme will ever see the duplicate," he said confidentially. "I make
up a package containing duplicates each evening, and it is sent to
headquarters. If it will please you, I'll lock the copy now in my desk."
"That is exceedingly good of you," said Siddle gratefully. "You, as a
Londoner, will understand that such a telegram from--er--Horton is not
the sort of thing one would like to become known even in the most
"You can depend on me, sir."
Siddle hastened back to his shop. The telegraphist looked after him.
"Queer!" he mused. "Miss Doris guessed him at once. Phi-ew, I must be
careful! This village contains surprises."
Doris, watching from an upper room, saw the visitor, and timed him. She
imagined he had dispatched an answer. Being a woman, she sought
enlightenment a few minutes later.
"Mr. Siddle came in," she said tentatively.
"Yes," said the specialist, smiling. "And I agree with you, Miss Martin.
We mustn't talk about telegrams, even among ourselves, unless it is
Doris was silenced, but she read the riddle correctly. The chemist was
particularly anxious that no Steynholme resident should be made aware of
his mother's death. She wondered why.
She was enlightened when Furneaux paid a call about tea-time. She took
him into the garden. The lawn at The Hollies was empty.
"Well, you entertained an acquaintance yesterday?" he began.
"Yes. Am I to tell you what happened?"
"Not a great deal, I imagine," he said, with a puzzling laugh.
"No, but I annoyed him, as Mr.----"
"No names!" broke in the detective hastily. "Names, especially modern
ones, destroy romance. Even the Georgian method of using initials, or
leaving out vowels, lend an air of intrigue to the veriest balderdash."
"But no one can overhear us," was the somewhat surprised comment.
"How true!" said Furneaux. "Pardon me, Miss Martin. Tell the story in
your own way."
Doris had a good memory. She was invariably letter-perfect in a play
after a couple of rehearsals, and could prompt others if they faltered.
The detective listened in silence while she repeated the conversation
between Siddle and herself. He took no notes. In fact, he hardly ever did
make any record in a case unless it was essential to prove the exact
words of a suspected person.
"Good!" he said, when she had finished. "That sounds like the
"I don't think I have left out anything of importance--that is, if a
single word of it _is_ important."
"Oh, heaps," he assured her. "It's even better than I dared hope. Can you
tell me if Siddle's mother is dead yet?"
The question found Doris so thoroughly unprepared that she blurted out:
"Have you had a telegram, too, then?"
"No. But Siddle has had one, eh? Don't be vexed. I'm not tricking you
into revealing post office secrets. I knew she was dying, and, when I saw
your father take a message to the chemist's shop I simply made an
accurate guess.... Now, I'm going to scare you, purposely and of malice
aforethought, because I want you to be a good little girl, and obey
orders. Mrs. Siddle, senior, now happily deceased, was an epileptic
lunatic of a peculiarly dangerous type. She suffered from what is classed
by the doctors as _furor epilepticus_, a form of spasmodic insanity not
inconsistent with a high degree of bodily vigor and long periods of
apparently complete mental saneness. Now, if I were not speaking to one
who has shared her father's studies in bee-life, I would not introduce
the subject of heredity. But _you_ know, Miss Martin, that such racial
characteristics are transmitted, or transmissible, I should say, by sex
opposites. Thus, an epileptic mother is more likely to give her taint to
a son than to a daughter.... Yes, I mean all that, and more," he went on,
seeing the look of horror, not unmixed with fear, in Doris's eyes. "There
must be no more irritating of Siddle, or playing on his feelings--by you,
at any rate. Treat him gently. If he insists on making love to you, be as
firm as you like in a non-committal way. I mean, by that, an entire
absence on your part of any suggestion that you are repulsing him because
of a real or supposed preference for any other man."
"Do you want me to believe that he is liable to attack me?" demanded the
girl, her naturally courageous spirit coming to her aid.
"I do," said Furneaux, speaking with marked earnestness.
"Yet you ask me to endure his company if he chooses to force
himself on me?"
"For a few days."
"But it may be a few years?"
"No. That is not to be thought of. Leave it to me to devise a way.
Besides, you need not allow him so many opportunities that the strain
would become unbearable. You are busy, owing to the certain increase of
work brought about by this murder. Your time will be greatly occupied.
But, don't render him morbidly suspicious. For instance, no more dinners
at The Hollies. No more gadding about by night, if you hear weird noises
on the other side of the river. And you must absolutely deny yourself the
pleasurable excitement of Mr. Grant's company."
"You are carrying a warning to its extreme limit."
"And am I to keep this knowledge to myself?"
"In whom would you confide?"
"My father, of course."
"I know you better," and the detective's voice took on a profoundly
serious note. "Your father would never admit that what he knows to be
true of bees is equally true of humanity. You can trust the police to
keep a pretty sharp eye on Siddle, of course, but the present is a
strenuous period, both for us and for people with maniacal tendencies, so
accidents may happen."
"You have distressed me immeasurably," said the girl, striving to pierce
the mask of that inscrutable face.
"I meant to," answered Furneaux quietly. "No half measures for me.
I've looked up the asylum record of Mrs. Siddle, senior, and it's not
"There was a Mrs. Siddle, junior, then?"
"A Mrs. Theodore Siddle, if one adopts the conventional usage. Yes. She
died last month."
"Last month!" gasped Doris, feeling vaguely that she was moving in a maze
of deceit and subterfuge.
"On May 25th, to be precise. She lived apart from her husband. I have
reason to believe she feared him."
She hesitated, hardly able to put her jumbled thoughts into words.
"Yes. That's so," said the detective instantly. "Never mind. It's a
fairly decent world, taken _en bloc_. I ought to speak with authority. I
see enough of the seamy side of it, goodness knows. Now, forewarned is
forearmed. Don't be nervous. Don't take risks. Everything will come right
in time. Remember, I'm not far away in an emergency. Should I chance to
be absent if you need advice, send for Mr. Franklin. You can easily
devise some official excuse, a mislaid letter, or an error in a
"I think I shall feel confident if both of you are near," and the ghost
of a smile lit Doris's wan features.
"We're a marvelous combination," grinned Furneaux, reverting at once to
his normal impishness. "I am all brain; he is all muscle. Such an
alliance prevails against the ungodly."
"Is Mr. Grant in any danger?" inquired Doris suddenly.
The two looked into each other's eyes. Doris was eager to ask a question,
which Furneaux dared her to put. The detective won. She sighed.
"Very well," she said. "I'm to behave. Am I to regard myself as a
"A duck, anyhow."
She laughed lightly. Furneaux would vouchsafe no further information, it
would appear. For a girl of nineteen, Doris was uncommonly gifted with
clear, analytical reasoning powers.
The detective returned to the Hare and Hounds, and went upstairs. He met
Peters on the landing.
"The devil!" he cried.
"My _dear_ pal!" retorted the journalist.
"Are you living here?"
"Why not, indeed? Where the eagles are there is the carcase."
"Your misquotation is offensive."
"It was so intended."
"Come and have a drink."
"I say 'yes.' You'll thank me on your bended knees afterwards. The South
American gent is having the time of his life. I've just been to my room
for _Whitaker's Almanack_, wherewith a certain Don Walter Hart purposes
Wally Hart had, indeed, succeeded in running to earth the Argentine
magnate, and was giving Winter a most uncomfortable quarter of an hour.
"Ha!" shouted Hart, when Furneaux came in with Peters. "Here's the pocket
marvel who'll answer any question straight off. What is the staple export
of the Argentine!"
"How often have you been there?" demanded the detective dryly.
"And you've lived there?" This to Winter.
"Yes," glowered the big man, fearing the worst.
"Then the answer is 'fools,'" cackled Furneaux.
Wally laughed. He had remembered, just in time, that he had no right to
claim acquaintance with the representative of Scotland Yard, and there
were some farmers present, each of whom had a "likely animal" to offer
the buyer of blood stock.
"Gad, I think you're right," he said.
"You wanted me to say 'sheep,' I suppose?"
"Got it, at once."
"As though one valuable horse wasn't worth a thousand sheep."
"Just what my friend, Don Manoel Alcorta, of Los Andes ranch, Catamarca,
always held," put in Winter, drawing the bow at a venture.
Hart cocked an eye at him.
"Sir," he said, "I would take off my hat, if I wore one in Steynholme, to
any man who claims the friendship of Don Manoel Alcorta, a sincere
patriot. I suggest that we crack a bottle to his immortal memory."
"My doctor forbids me to touch wine," said Winter mournfully.
"But these bucolic breeders of browns and bays employ wiser medicos,
I'll go bail. Landlord, a quart of the best, and six out, as they say
Six glasses were duly filled with champagne. When it was consumed, Hart
"A word with you, scribe," he said. "Good-day, gentlemen. I leave you to
your nags. Treat Mr. Franklin fairly. The friend of Don Manoel Alcorta
must be a true man."
Winter heaved a sigh of relief when the professional revolutionist
"He's a funny 'un," commented one of the farmers.
"A bit touched, I reckon," said another. "Wot's 'e doin' now to the
They looked through the window. The two were standing in the middle of
the road, and Wally was shaking Peters violently. The argument was not so
fierce as it appeared to be. Peters had been commanded to bring both
detectives to dinner that evening; when he demurred, trying to hedge on
the question of Winter's identity, Hart grabbed him by the shoulder.
"Do as I tell you," he hissed. "Of course, I know now that the big fellow
is the man Grant heard of a week ago. I was an idiot to take him
seriously about the Argentine. Bring the pair of 'em, I tell you. We'll
make a night of it."
"I'll try," said Peters faintly, "but if you stir up that wine so
vigorously I won't answer for the consequences."
Winter, wishing devoutly that would-be sellers of horseflesh were not so
numerous in the district, noted the names and addresses of the local men,
and promised to write when he could make an appointment. Then he escaped
upstairs, whither Furneaux soon followed. Winter had secured an extra
bedroom, overlooking the river, which Tomlin had converted into a
sitting-room. Thus, he held a secure observation post both in front and
rear of the hotel.
"Well, how did she take it!" inquired the Chief Inspector, when he and
his colleague were safe behind a closed door.
"Sensible girl," said Furneaux. "By the way, Siddle's mother is dead.
Telegram came this morning. Things should happen now."
"I don't quite see why."
"No. You're still muddled after floundering in the mud of South America.
What possessed you to let that cheerful idiot, Wally Hart, put you in
"How could I help it? I was extracting some really helpful facts about
Siddle and Elkin from Tomlin and the others when a shock-headed whirlwind
blew in, and nearly embraced me because I claimed acquaintance with the
El Dorado bar in Buenos Ayres. From that instant I was lost. Like St.
Augustine on the gridiron, no sooner was I nicely toasted on one side
than I was turned on to the other. That grinning penny-a-liner, Peters,
too, helped as assistant torturer. Wait till he asks me for a 'pointer'
in this or any other case. He sold me a pup to-day, but I'll land him
with a full-sized mastiff."
"No, you won't. He's done you a lot of good. You were simply reeking with
conceit when I met you this morning. It was 'Siddle this' and 'Siddle
that' until you fairly sickened me. One would have thought I hadn't
cleared the ground for you, left you with all lines open and yourself
unknown to the enemy. Sometimes, you make me tired."
"Sorry, Charles," said Winter patronizingly. "I had a bit of luck on
Sunday, I admit. The chance turn taken by the conversation with Doris,
with the result that I was able to occupy a strategic position on the
cliff, and hear every word Siddle uttered, was really fortunate. But,
isn't that just what men mean when they prate of success? Opportunity
knocks once at every man's door, says the old saw. The clever man grabs
hold instantly. The indolent one, often a mere gabbler, opens his eyes
and his mouth weeks afterwards, and cries, 'Dear me! Was that the
much-looked-for opportunity?' Of course, Robinson's by-play with the sack
and rope was merely thrown in by the prodigal hand of Fate."
"Stop!" yelped Furneaux. "Another platitude, and I'll assault you with
It was the invariable habit of the Big 'Un and Little 'Un to quarrel like
cat and dog when the toils were closing in around a suspect. Woe, then,
to the malefactor! His was a parlous state.
"Let's cool down, Charles!" said Winter, opening a leather case, and
selecting, with great care, one out of half a dozen precisely similar
cigars. "We're pretty sure of our man, but we haven't a scrap of evidence
against him. How, or where, to begin ringing him in I haven't the
faintest notion. If only he'd kill Grant we'd get him at once."
"But he won't. He trusts to Ingerman playing that part of the game. He's
as artful as a pet fox. I bought soap, and a pound of sal volatile, but
he did up each parcel with sealing-wax."
"Sal volatile!" smiled Winter. "I, too, went in for soap, but my
imagination would not soar beyond a packet of cotton-wool. It was the
lumpiest thing I could think of."
"And perfectly useless!" sneered Furneaux. "I must say you do fling the
taxpayers' money about. Now, _my_ little lot will keep the electric bells
in my flat in order for two years."
"You forget that constant association with you demands that I should
frequently plug my two ears," retorted Winter.
Furneaux would surely have thrown back the jest had not a knock on the
door interrupted him.
"Who's there? I'm busy," cried Winter.
"Me-ow!" whined Peters's voice.
"Oh, it's you, Tom. Come in!"
The journalist crept in on tiptoe.
"Hush! We are not observed," he said. "Wally Hart threatens to choke me
if you two don't dine with him and Grant to-night."
There was silence for a little while. The detectives looked at
"At what time?" said Winter, at last.
Peters was astonished, and showed it.
"Why, I assured him it was absolutely imposs.," he cried.
"Well, it isn't. In fact, it suits our plans. I want exercise, and shall
walk back from Knoleworth. Furneaux will make his own arrangements. Tell
Grant that I shall drop in without knocking."
"And tell him I shall arrive by parachute," added Furneaux.
"In case of accidents, and there is a shoot-up, with myself as the
unresisting victim, my front name is James," said Peters.
"The only good point about you," scoffed Winter.
"You're strong on names to-day," tittered the journalist. "Don Manoel
Alcorta was a superb effort as an authority on gee-gees. Wally tells me
his donship is the recognized expert south of the line on seismic
disturbances, and spends his days and nights watching a needle making
scratches on a sensitive plate."
"He would be useful here in a day or two," said Winter.
"Ah, thanks! Is that a tip?"
"Not for publication. What you must say is that this affair looks like
baffling the shrewdest wits in Scotland Yard."
"My very phrase--my own ewe lamb. Pardon. I shouldn't have alluded
"The only known representative of the Yard in Steynholme is Furneaux,"
smiled the Chief Inspector.
Furneaux was drumming on a window-pane with his finger-tips.
"True," he cackled. "Just to prove it, he now informs you that Siddle,
finding trade slow, has called on Mr. John Menzies Grant!"
FURNEAUX MAKES A SUCCESSFUL BID
The lawn front of The Hollies was not visible from the upper story of the
Hare and Hounds owing to a clump of pines which had found foothold on the
cliff, but, through the gap formed by the end of the post office garden,
the entrance to the house from the Knoleworth road was discernible.
Furneaux's dramatic announcement brought the other two to the window. By
this time Peters, gifted with a nose for news like a well-trained
setter's for partridges, had begun to associate the quiet-mannered,
gentle-spoken chemist with the inner circle of the crime, so waited and
watched with the detectives for Siddle's reappearance.
At any rate the visitor must have been admitted, because a long quarter
of an hour elapsed before he came in sight again. He walked out slowly
into the roadway, thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, and glanced
to right and left. Then, turning abruptly, he stared at the dwelling he
had just quitted. What this slight but peculiar action signified was not
hard to guess. Furneaux, indeed, put it into words.
"Having warned Grant off Miss Doris Martin, and been cursed for his
pains, the foreman of the jury does not trouble to await further
evidence, but arrives at a true and lawful verdict straight off,"
announced the little man.
"We ought to hear things to-night," said Peters.
"We?" inquired Winter.
"Yes. Didn't I make it clear that I shared in the dinner invitation?"
"No, and I'm--"
"Don't say it!" pleaded the journalist. "If I fell from grace to-day,
remember my unswerving loyalty since the hour we met on the platform at
Knoleworth! Haven't I kept close as an oyster? And would any
consideration on earth move me to publish an accurate and entertaining
account of the roasting of Chief Inspector Winter by Wally Hart? Think
what I'm sacrificing--a column of the best."
Winter bent a weighing look on the speaker. There was treason in the
thought, as King James remarked to the barber who tried to prove his
loyalty by pointing out how easily he might cut his majesty's throat any
morning. But Peters maintained the expression of a sphinx, and the big
"The conditions are that not a word about this business appears in
print, either now or in the future until we have a criminal in the
dock," he said.
"Accepted," said Peters.
Furneaux laughed shrilly, even derisively, but him his colleague treated
with majestic disdain. Then, the chemist having reentered the village,
the group broke up, Peters to search his brains for "copy" which should
be readable yet contain no hint of the new trail, Winter to take train to
Knoleworth, and Furneaux to tackle Fred Elkin, who, he had ascertained
earlier, would drive home from a neighboring hamlet about five o'clock.
Elkin had returned when the detective reached the house, a somewhat
pretentious place, half farm, half villa, and altogether horsey. The
entrance hall bristled with fox masks and brushes. A useful collection of
burnished bits and snaffles hung on a side wall. A couple of stuffed
badgers held two wicker stands for sticks and umbrellas, and whips and
hunting-crops were ranged on hooks beneath a 12-bore and a rook rifle.
A pert maid-servant took Furneaux's card, blanched when she read it, and
forgot to close the door of the dining-room. Hence, the detective heard
Elkin's gruff comments:
"What? _That_ chap? Wants to see me? Not more than I want to see him.
Show him in."
Furneaux, looking very meek and mild, entered an apartment of the
carpet-bag upholstery period. A set of six exceedingly good and rare
sporting prints caught his eye.
"Good day," he said, finding Elkin drinking tea, and eating a boiled
egg. "You're feeling better, I'm glad to see."
Now, no matter how ungracious a man may be, a courteous solicitude as to
his health demands a certain note of civility in return.
"Yes," he said. "Sit down. Will you join me?"
"I'll have a cup of tea, with pleasure," said Furneaux.
"Right-o! Just touch that bell, will you?"
The other obeyed, and took a closer look at one of the prints. Yes, the
date was right, 1841, and the stippling admirable.
"Nice lot of pictures, those," he said cheerfully, when the frightened
maid, much to her relief, had been told to bring another cup and a fresh
supply of toast.
"Are they?" Elkin had taken them and some kitchen furniture for a bad
"Yes. Will you sell them?"
"Well, I haven't thought about it. What'll you give?"
"I can't resist anything in the art line that takes my fancy," he said,
after a pause of indecision. "What do you say to ten bob each?"
Elkin valued the lot at that figure, but Furneaux was a fool, and should
be treated as such.
"Oh, come now!" he cried roguishly. "They're worth more than that."
Furneaux reflected again.
"Three pounds is a good deal for six prints," he murmured, "but, to get
it off my mind, I'll spring to guineas."
"Make it three-ten and they're yours."
"Three guineas is my absolute limit," said Furneaux.
"Done!" cried Elkin. The original debt was under two pounds, so he had
cleared more than fifty per cent. on the transaction, and was plus a
number of chairs and a table.
Furneaux counted out the money, wrote a receipt on a leaf torn from his
pocket-book, and stamped it.
"Sign that," he said, "pocket the cash, send the set to the Hare and
Hounds for me in a dog-cart now, and the deal is through."
Leaving the table, he went and lifted down each picture carefully.
Somewhat wonderingly, Elkin rang the bell once more, gave the necessary
instructions, and the room was cleared of its art. He was quite sure now
that Furneaux was, as he put it, "dotty." The latter, however, sat and
enjoyed his tea as though well pleased with his bargain.
"And how are things going in the murder at The Hollies?" inquired the
horse-dealer, by way of a polite leading up to the visitor's
"Fairly well," said the detective. "My chief difficulty was to convince
certain important people that you didn't kill Miss Melhuish. Once I--"
"Me!" roared Elkin, his pale blue eyes assuming a fiery tint. "_Me!_"
"Once I established that fact," went on the other severely, "a real
stumbling-block was removed. You see, Elkin, you have behaved throughout
like a perfect fool, and thus lent a sort of credibility to an otherwise
absurd notion. Your furious hatred of Mr. Grant, for instance, born of an
equally fatuous--or, shall I say? fat-headed--belief that Miss Martin
would marry you for the mere asking, led you into deep waters. It was a
mistake, too, when you lied to P.C. Robinson as to the time you came home
on that Monday night. You told him you walked straight here from the Hare
and Hounds at ten o 'clock. You know you didn't--that it was nearer half
past eleven when you reached this house. Consider what that discrepancy
alone might have meant if Scotland Yard failed to take your measure
correctly. Then add the fact that the murderer wore the hat, wig, and
whiskers in which you made a guy of yourself while filling the role of
Svengali last winter. Now, I ask you, Elkin, where would you have stood
with the average British jury when the prosecution established those
three things: Motive, your jealousy of Grant; time, your unaccounted-for
disappearance during the hour when the crime was committed; and disguise,
a clumsy suggestion of Owd Ben's ghost? Really, I have known men brought
to the scaffold on circumstantial evidence little stronger than that.
Instead of glaring at me like a cornered rat you ought to drop on your
knees and thank providence, as manifested through the intelligence of the
'Yard,' that you are not now in a cell at Knoleworth, ruminating on your
own stupidity, and in no small jeopardy of your life."
Many emotions chased each other across Fred Elkin's somewhat mean and
cruel face while Furneaux rated him in this extraordinary manner.
Surprise, wrath, even fear, had their phases. But, dominating all other
sensations, was an overpowering indignation at the implied hopelessness
of his pursuit of Doris Martin.
He literally howled an oath at his torturer. Furneaux was shocked.
"No, no," he protested in a horrified tone. "Don't swear at your
"Friend! By--, I'll make you pay for what you've said. There's a law
to stop that sort of thing."
"But the law requires witnesses. A slander isn't a slander unless it's
uttered to your detriment before a third party. How different would be
Mr. Grant's action against you! Your well-wishers simply couldn't muzzle
you. Whether before your pot-house cronies or mere strangers, you charged
him openly with being a murderer. I'm sorry for you, Elkin, if ever you
come before a judge. He'll rattle more than my three guineas out of you.
Even now, you don't grasp the extent of your folly. Instead of telling me
how you spent that hour and a half on the night of the crime you have the
incredible audacity to threaten me, _me_, the man who has saved you from
jail. One more word, you miserable swab, and I'll let Robinson arrest
you. You'll be set free, of course, when I stage the actual villain, but
a few remands of a week each in custody will thin your hot blood. You
were with Peggy Smith after leaving the Hare and Hounds, making a fool of
an honest girl who thinks you mean to wed her. Yet you blather about
being 'practically engaged' to Doris Martin, a girl who wouldn't let you
tie her shoe-lace. You're an impudent pup, Fred, and you know it. But you
stock decent tea, so I'll take another cup. If you're wise, you'll take a
second one yourself. It's better for you than whiskey."
Elkin, despite all his faults, was endowed with the shrewdness
inseparable from his business, because no man devoid of brains ever yet
throve as a horse-dealer. He smothered his rage, thinking he might learn
more from this strange-mannered detective by seeming complaisance.
"You're a bit rough on a fellow," he growled sulkily, pouring out the
"For your good, my boy, solely for your good. Now, own up about Peggy."
"Yes. That's right. She'd prove an alibi, so your torn-fool case breaks
down when the flag falls."
"Does it? A girl may say anything to save her supposed lover. How will
the twelve good men and true view Doris Martin's evidence on Wednesday?
What did _you_ mean, for instance, by your question to the coroner at the
"I thought Grant was guilty, and I think so still," came the
"A nice juryman you are, I must say! May I trouble you to pass the
"Look here! What are you gettin' at? Damme if I can see through your
game. What is it?"
"I didn't want to worry poor Peggy. And her father might set about you if
he knew the facts, so I'm probably saving you a hiding as well as a
period in jail. The only reliable witness we had as to events in Tomlin's
place was a commercial traveler, and he is positive that the house closed
at ten o'clock. However, that's all right. How do you account for the
marvelous improvement in your health? Dr. Foxton cannot understand your
illness. He says you are wiry, and have a strong constitution."
"Dr. Foxton jolly near knocked me up," said Elkin. "I took his medicine
till I was sick as a cat."
"But you took spirits, too."
"That's nothing fresh. Anyhow, I've dropped both, and am picking up
"Since yesterday morning, if you want to know."
"I do. I'm most interested. Dr. Foxton doesn't compound his own
prescriptions, does he?"
"No. I get 'em made up at Siddle's."
"Ah. These country chemists often keep drugs in stock till they
deteriorate, or even set up chemical changes. Have you the bottles?"
"Yes. But what the--"
"Anything left in them?"
"The last two are half full. Still--"
"What a cross-grained chap you are? I buy your pictures, drink your tea,
rescue you from a positively dangerous position, warn you against
carrying any farther a most serious libel, yet you won't let me help you
in a matter affecting your health!"
"Help me? How?"
"Even you, I suppose, realize that Scotland Yard employs skilled
analysts. Give me your bottles, in strict confidence, of course, and I'll
tell you what they really contain. Then you can compare the analyses with
the doctor's prescriptions. The knowledge should be useful, to say the
least. Siddle's reputation needn't suffer, but, unless I am greatly
mistaken, you will have the whip hand of him in future."
The prospect was alluring. Elkin would enjoy showing up the chemist, who
had treated him rather as a precocious infant of late.
"By jing!" he cried, "I'm on that. Bet you a quid--But, no. You'd
hardly lay against your own opinion. Just wait a tick. I'll bring 'em."
Furneaux stared fixedly at the table while his host was absent. His
conscience was not pricking him with regard to an unmerited slur on the
country chemists of Great Britain. All is fair in love and the detection
of crime, and he simply had to get hold of those bottles by some daring
yet plausible ruse.
"Now--I wonder!" he muttered, as Elkin's step sounded on the stairs.
"There you are!" grinned the horse-dealer. "Take a dose of the last one.
It'll stir your liver to some tune."
Furneaux drew the corks out of both bottles, and sniffed the contents.
Then he tasted, with much tongue-smacking.
"Um!" he said. "Stale laudanum, for a start. I expected as much. Bought
by the gallon and sold by the drop. Is that the dogcart with my
"Hail your man. He can give me a lift."
"But there's lots of things I want to ask you--"
"Probably. I'm here to put questions, not to give information. I've gone
a long way beyond the official tether already. If you've a grain of
sense, and I think you're not altogether lacking in that respect, you'll
keep a close tongue, and act on the tips thrown out. You'll find pearls
of price among the rubbish-heap of my remarks generally. Good-by. See you
And Furneaux climbed into the cart, holding the pictures so that they
would not rattle, and perhaps loosen the old gilded frames.
"Drive me to the chemist's" he said to the groom; within five
minutes, he was explaining his purchase to Siddle, and requesting, as
a favor, that the latter should wrap the set of prints in brown
paper, making two parcels, and tying each securely, so that they
might be dispatched by train.
Siddle examined one, the first of the series, which depicted the
"Rather good," he said. "Where did you pick them up?"
"Indeed. What an unexpected place!"
"That's the only way a poor man can get hold of a decent thing nowadays.
The dealers grab everything, and sell them as collections."
"Art is not in my line, though anyone can see that these are excellent."
"Yes. But you're looking at 'The Start.' Have a peep at this one,
'The Finish.' The artist _would_ have his joke. You see that the dark
"How did you persuade Elkin to part with them?"
"By paying him a tempting price, of course. I'm a weak-minded ass in
The chemist busied himself to oblige the detective, wrapping and tying
the packages neatly. Furneaux insisted on paying sixpence for the paper,
string, and labor. There was quite a friendly argument, but he carried
The dog-cart then brought him to the station, where he tipped and
dismissed the man; a little later, he caught a London-bound train.
At half past seven precisely, Winter turned in through the
Knoleworth-side gate of The Hollies (there were two, the approach to
the house being semi-circular) and pushed the door open, as it was
Grant was waiting in the hall, and greeted him pleasantly.
"Here's a telegram which is meant for you, I fancy," he said.
"Sorry to spoil your party. Compelled to travel to London. Returning
early to-morrow. F."
"That's pretty Fanny's way," smiled the Chief Inspector. "But there's
something in the wind, or he would never have hurried off in this
fashion. He tells me that the only pleasant evening he spent in
Steynholme was under your roof, Mr. Grant."
"Come along in, Don Jaime!" drawled Hart's voice from the "den," which
had been cleared of its litter, the lawn being deemed somewhat unsuitable
for the purposes of a drawing-room on that occasion. It was overlooked
from too many quarters.
"Ah, we meet now under less uneven conditions, Mr. Hart," said Winter.
"Do you know that Enrico Suarez is in London?"
Hart, startled for once in his life, gazed at the detective fixedly.
"Since when?" he cried.
"He crossed from Lisbon last week."
Hart took a revolver from his hip pocket, and opened it, apparently
making sure that it was properly loaded.
"What's the law in England?" he inquired. "Can I shoot first, or must I
wait till the other fellow has had a pop?"
"It's all right," he said. "Suarez is in Holloway, awaiting extradition.
But I owed you one for the rise you took out of me to-day."
A bell sounded, and Peters came in. He glanced around.
"Where's Furneaux?" he demanded.
"Gone to London. Why this keen interest?" said Winter.
"There's something up. Elkin dropped in at the Hare and Hounds. He was
simply bursting with curiosity, and had to talk to somebody. So he
"He would," was the dry comment.
"Fact, 'pon me honor. I didn't lead him on an inch. It seems that
Furneaux bought some prints which caught his eye in Elkin's house, and
Tomlin says that that hexplains hit."
"Furneaux's visit to Siddle, and certain bulky parcels brought in and
brought out again."
"Queer little duck, Furneaux," said Hart. "Now that my mind is at ease
about the immediate future of the biggest rascal in Venezuela I can take
an active part in Steynholme affairs once more. When it's all through
I'll make a novel of it, dashed if I don't, with the postmaster's
daughter in the three-color process as a frontispiece."
"But who will be the villain?" said Peters.
Hart waved the negro-head pipe at the other three.
"Draw lots. I am indifferent," he said.
AN OFFICIAL HOUSEBREAKER
No word bearing on the main topic in these men's minds was said during
dinner. Grant was attentive to his guests, but markedly silent, almost
distrait. Two such talkers as Hart and Peters, however, covered any gaps
in this respect. Cigars and pipes were in evidence, and, horrible though
it may sound in the ears of a _gourmet_, the port was circulating, when
Winter turned and gazed at the small window.
"Is that where the ghost appears!" he inquired.
"Yes," said Grant. "You know the whole story, of course?"
"Furneaux misses nothing, I assure you."
"He missed a daylight apparition this afternoon, at any rate. I have no
secrets from my friends, so I may as well tell you--"
"That Siddle called, and implored you to consider Doris Martin's future
by avoiding her at present," put in the Chief Inspector.
Such shocks were losing some of their effect, on the principle that a man
hears the burst of the thousandth high-explosive shell with a good deal
less trepidation than attended the efforts of the first dozen. Still,
Grant gazed at the speaker in profound astonishment.
"You Scotland Yard men seem to know everything," he said.
"A mere pretense. Try him on sheep-raising in the Argentine, Jack,"
"Wally, this business is developing a very serious side," protested
Grant. Hart stretched a long arm for the port decanter.
"Come, friend!" he addressed it gravely. "Let us commune! You and I
together shall mingle joyous memories of
"A draught of the Warm South,
The true, the blushful Hippocrene."
"We read Siddle's visit aright, it would appear," said Winter quietly.
"Yes. That was his mission, put in a nutshell."
"And what did you say?"
"I told him that, after Wednesday, I would ask Doris Martin to marry me,
which is the best answer I can give him and all the world."
"Why 'after Wednesday'?"
"Because I shall know then the full extent of the annoyance which
Ingerman can inflict."
"Did you give Siddle that reason?"
"You literary gentlemen are all alike," he said vexedly. "You become such
adepts in analyzing human duplicity in your books that you never dream
of trying to be wise as a serpent in your own affairs. The author who
will split legal hairs by way of brightening his work will sign a
contract with a publisher that draws tears from his lawyer when a dispute
arises. Why be so candid with a rank outsider, like Siddle?"
"I distrust the man. Doris distrusts him, too."
"So you take him into your confidence."
"No. I merely give him chapter and verse to prove that his interference
"Have you engaged a lawyer for Wednesday"
"No. Why should I? My hands are clean."
"But your clothes may suffer if enough mud is slung at you. Wire to this
man in the morning, and mention my name--Winter, of course, not
"Codlin's your friend, not Short," said Hart. "Sorry. It's a time-worn
jape, but it fitted in admirably."
The detective scribbled a name and address on a card.
"I don't think you need worry about Ingerman," he went on, "though it's
well to be prepared. A smart solicitor can stop irrelevant statements,
especially if ready for them. But there must be no more of this
heart-opening to all and sundry, Mr. Grant. Siddle is your rival. He,
too, wants to marry Miss Martin, and regards you now as the only
"Siddle! That stick!" gasped Grant.
"Ridiculous, indeed monstrous," agreed Winter, rather heatedly, "but
nevertheless a candidate for the lady's hand."
Then he laughed. Peters's keen eyes were watching him, and Wally Hart was
giving more heed to the conversation than was revealed by a fixed stare
at the negro's head in meerschaum.
"You've bothered me," he went on. "I thought you had more sense. Don't
you understand that all these bits of gossip reach Ingerman through the
filter of the snug at the Hare and Hounds?"
"The man's visit was unexpected, and his mission even more so. I just
blurted out the facts."
"Well, you've rendered the services of a solicitor absolutely
Grant, by no means so clear-headed these days as was his wont, followed
the scent of Winter's red herring like the youngest hound in a pack; but
Wally Hart and Peters, lookers-on in this chase, harked back to the
"May I--" they both broke in simultaneously.
"Place to the fourth estate," bowed Hart solemnly.
"Thanks," said the journalist. "May I put a question, Winter?"
"A score, if you like."
"Totting up the average of the murder cases in which Furneaux and you
have been engaged, in how many days do you count on spotting your man?"
"Sometimes we never get him."
"Oh, come a bit closer than that."
"Generally, given a clear run, with an established motive, we know who he
is within eight days."
"Wednesday, in effect?"
"Can't say, this time?"
"Suppose, as a hypothesis, you are convinced of a man's guilt, but can
obtain little or no evidence?"
"He goes through life a free and independent citizen of this or any other
country. Arrests on suspicion are not my long suit."
"How does one get evidence?" purred Hart. "It isn't scattered broadcast
by a clever criminal. And you fellows seem to object to my method, which
has been the only effectual one so far in this affair."
"If you had shot that specter the other night there would have been the
deuce to pay."
"But you would now be sure of the murderer?"
"Why do you assume that?"
"Like Eugene Aram, he can't keep away from the scene of his crime."
Winter felt he was skating on thin ice, so hastened to escape.
"Detective work is nearly all guessing," he said sententiously, "yet one
must beware of what I may term obvious guessing. If cause and effect were
so closely allied in certain classes of crime my department would cease
to exist, and the protection of life and property might be left safely to
the ordinary police. By the way, P. C. Robinson has been rather inactive
during two whole days. That makes me suspicious. What's he up to? Can you
throw a light on him, Peters?"
The journalist knew that he was being told peremptorily to cease prying.
He kicked Hart under the table.
"Hi!" yelled Wally. "What's the matter? Strike your matches on your own
shin, not mine."
"Peters is announcing that the discussion is now closed," said
"Very well. He needn't emphasize the warning by a hob-nailed boot. When
my injured feelings have recovered I'll discourse to you of strange folk
and stranger doings on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, and your stock
as an Argentine plutocrat will rise one hundred per cent, next time
you're badgered by a man who knows the country."
"Meanwhile, Robinson is hot-foot on the Elkin trail," laughed Peters.
"His face was a study to-day when the groom supplied details of the
"Furneaux wanted that transaction to be widely known," said Winter. "He
gave every publicity to it."
"Did he secure a bargain, I wonder?" said Grant.
"Oh, I expect so. He doesn't waste his hard-earned money, even for
But Winter was well aware of, and kept to himself one phase of the art
deal, at any rate. Furneaux had persuaded Siddle to fasten two bulky
packages with string!
He was shaving next morning when his colleague entered, spruce as ever in
attire, but looking rather weary. The little man flung himself at full
length on Winter's bed.
"Been up all night," he explained. "Chemical analysis is fascinating but
slow work--like watching a moth evolve from a grub. Had a fearful job,
too, to get an analyst to chuck a theater and attend to business. The
blighter talked of office hours. _Cre nom_! Ten till four, and an hour
and a half for lunch! Why can't we run _our_ show on those lines, James!"
Winter finished carefully the left side of his broad expanse of face.
"You came down by the mail, I suppose?" he said casually.
"What a genius you are!" sighed Furneaux. "If _I_ were trembling with
expectation I could no more put a banal question like that than swallow
the razor after I was done with it. You might at least have the common
decency to thank me for leaving you to gorge on rare meats and vintage
wines while I dallied with the deadly railway sandwich."
Winter scraped the other cheek, his chin, and upper lip.
"Shall I go to the bathroom first, or listen?" he inquired.
"Ah, well, I'm tired, and hiking these frail bones to bed till twelve, so
I'll give you a condensed version," snapped Furneaux. "Elkin 's illness,
begun by whiskey and over-excitement, developed into steady poisoning by
Siddle. The chemist used a rare agent, too--pure nicotine--easy, in a
sense, to detect, but capable of a dozen reasonable explanations when
revealed by the post-mortem. But Elkin wasn't to be killed outright, I
gather. The idea was to upset stomach and brain till he was half crazy.
As you can read print when it's before your eyes, I needn't go into the
matter of motive; Elkin's behavior supplies all details."
"How about the knots? Hurry! I hate the feeling of soap drying on my
"One running noose and twice two half hitches on each package."
"Good! Charles, we're going to pull off a real twister."
"_We!_ Well, that tikes it, as the girl said when her hat blew off with
the fluffy transformation pinned to it."
Winter rushed to the bathroom, and Furneaux crept languidly to bed.
Before going to Knoleworth, Mr. Franklin consulted with Tomlin as to a
suitable dinner, to which the other guests staying in the inn, namely,
Mr. Peters and the Scotland Yard gentleman--the little man with the
French name--might be invited. This important point settled, Mr. Franklin
caught an early train, and was absent all day, being, in fact, closeted
with Superintendent Fowler and a Treasury solicitor.
Furneaux was sound asleep long after twelve o'clock, and swore at Tomlin
in French when the landlord ventured to arouse him. Tomlin went
downstairs scratching his head.
"Least said soonest mended," he communed, "but we may all be murdered in
our beds if them's the sort of 'tecs we 'ave to look arter us."
However, he cheered up towards night. Ingerman, a lawyer, and some
pressmen, arriving for the inquest, filled every available room, and the
kitchen was redolent of good fare. All parties gathered in the
dining-room, of course, and Ingerman had an eye for Mr. Franklin's party.
The scraps of talk he overheard were nothing more exciting than the
prospects of a certain horse for the Stewards' Cup. Peters had the tip
straight from the stables. A racing certainty, with a stone in hand.
After dinner the financier was surprised when Furneaux approached, and
tapped him professionally on the shoulder.
"A word with you outside," he said.
Ingerman was irritated--perhaps slightly alarmed.
"Can't we talk here?" he said, in that singularly melodious voice of his.
"Better not, but I shan't detain you more than five minutes."
"Anything my legal adviser might wish to hear?"
"Not from me. Tell him yourself afterwards, if you like."
In the quiet street the detective suddenly linked arms with his
companion. Probably he smiled sardonically when he felt a telltale quiver
run through Ingerman's lanky frame.
"You've brought down Norris, I see?" he began.
"Meaning to make things hot for Grant tomorrow?"
"Meaning to give justice the materials--"
"Cut the cackle, Isidor. I know you, and it's high time you knew me.
Grant has retained Belcher. Ah! that gets you, does it? You haven't
forgotten Belcher. Now, be reasonable! Or, rather, don't run your head
into a noose. Grant had no more to do with the murder of your wife than
you had. Call off Norris, and Grant withdraws Belcher. Twig? It's dead
easy, because the Treasury solicitor will simply ask for another week's
adjournment, as the police are not ready to go on. In the meantime, you
pay off Norris, and save your face. Is it a deal?"
"Am I to understand--"
"Don't wriggle! The key of the situation is held by Belcher. Name of a
pipe! What prompting does Belcher need from me or anybody else after the
Bokfontein Lands case?"
"Isidor, this is the last word. I was at the funeral on Saturday, and met
your wife's mother and sister. They do love you, don't they?"
Ingerman died game.
"If I have your assurance that Mr. Grant is really innocent of Adelaide's
death, that is sufficient," he said slowly.
"Well, if it pleases you to put it that way, I'm agreeable. Which is your
road? Back to the hotel? I'm for a short stroll. Mind you, no wobbling!
Go straight, and I'll attend to Belcher. But, good Lord! How his eyes
will sparkle when they light on you to-morrow!"
Neither the redoubtable Belcher, nor the Bokfontein Lands, nor poor
Adelaide Melhuish's mother and sister may figure further in this
chronicle. The inquest opened at the appointed hour next day, and was
closed down again for a week with a celerity that was most disappointing
both to the jury and the general public. Of three legal luminaries
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