Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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BLAKE looked up from his work as a visitor came rushing into his room unannounced.
"Hallo, Seymour!" he began, and stopped short, "Great Scott, man! What on earth's the matter with you. You're shaking all over, and look as it you hadn't had a decent night's sleep tor a month."
The man addressed as Seymour sank into a chair with a groan.
"My confounded stepbrother has turned up again!" he said laconically.
Blake gave vent to a low whistle.
"The dickens he has!" he said. "I thought he was safely packed away in the Argentine, or Colombia; and with anything like decent luck someone should have found an excuse for shooting him before now. Let me see. He forgot his name was Gerald and not George, and acquired a habit of signing cheques on your account, didn't he?"
"I honored the cheques to avoid a scandal, and packed him off. Now he's come back!"
"Well, you kept the forgeries, I suppose? Threaten to expose him if he doesn't clear out."
"I have, but he only laughed at me. He knows I daren't do it. I'm to be married in a month and if there was a scandal——" He finished the sentence with a gesture of despair.
"It was the news of my intention to marry that brought him back," he continued, after a pause. "You see, it I do, his last slight chance of coming into the property vanishes. And that's not the worst of the matter, either. I believe he does not intend to let me live long enough to be married. I've had a couple of narrow shaves already."
Blake's eyes hardened.
"Tell me," he said briefly.
"The first was the other day, when we were pottering about after rabbits. I had laid down my gun and was handling one of the ferrets. Gerald was just behind me, and the under-keeper was close by, but out of sight on the other side of the warren. Suddenly something, I couldn't tell you what, made me look round sharply, and I distinctly saw Gerald draw back his hand from my gun. He was as quick as lightning, but I saw him. When I picked the gun up, the safety-catch had been slipped.
"Had I not turned my head in the nick of time, I should have been a dead man inside a couple of seconds. The gun was pointing straight at me, and I would almost certainly have kicked it, and it would have been reckoned as another fatal accident through carelessness.
"The second attempt was yesterday, at luncheon time. I caught him putting something in the salt-cellar at my end of the table. He was a trifle disconcerted when he found I had seen him, but he kept his head, and a few moments later he managed, by an apparently clumsy movement, to knock the salt-cellar off the table and upset its contents on the floor. Later I collected a couple of spoonfuls from the debris after he had left the room, and examined them, Have you a good microscope here? Here's some of the stuff, which I have brought with me."
He produced a small screw of paper from a waistcoat pocket and handed it over. Blake took it and set the microscope on a table near the window.
"You're right," he said gravely, after a careful inspection. "I've been on the West Coast too often to mistake that deadly poison when I meet it. We must catch him red-handed the next time, and, what's more, we must get a confession out of him. It won't be easy."
THEY reached Rodminton about five, and one of the first persons they saw was Gerald Seymour himself. He came strolling down the drive to meet them, with a gun under his arm.
"Heard you'd wired for the dogcart," he said nonchalantly, with a nod to his brother, and glanced enquiringly at Blake.
Seymour introduced the two men, and, leaving the groom to look after the cart, they all three walked slowly towards the house.
Blake, whilst joining in the conversation, was mentally summing the man up. Gerald Seymour, for his part, clearly knew Blake by reputation, and equally clearly divined the purpose for which he had been invited down.
Blake spent the next two days in idle enjoyment—watching. On the morning of the third he wrote a few letters, and Gerald Seymour, who was also watching, walked to the village post office with him. Blake fully appreciated the attention, and whilst buying his stamps gave his companion every opportunity to examine the addresses on the envelopes.
At luncheon time the next day Blake received a telegram recalling him to town on urgent business, and the name at the end of the wire was not one which had appeared on any of the three envelopes.
"What's the next up-train?" asked Blake, "Two-thirty, is it? I ought to be able to catch it if I hurry."
Both men saw him off at the station—his host in hopes of dissuading him at the last moment, Gerald Seymour to make perfectly sure that he did actually go by the train, which was an express.
But Gerald Seymour had overlooked one fact which Blake had ascertained in Bradshaw before receiving his telegram, and that was that the 2.30 express stopped for just two minutes at Mendesley Junction, only twelve miles away, to connect with a small local line.
There he got out, went straight to the nearest inn, and went to bed.
A little before seven that evening George Seymour got a wire from London—
RETURNING TO-MORROW EARLY. BLAKE.
—and this wire his stepbrother, who was keeping a sharp look-out, managed to get a glimpse of.
AT eight Blake ate a frugal dinner, after ordering a trap to be ready to take him back to the vicinity of Rodminton.
A mile from the house he dismissed the trap and continued his way on foot. There was no moon, and it was just ten when he reached the rose-garden on the south side of the house.
There were lights in the smoking-room and in the servants' wing, which formed a separate part of the building, but the rest was in darkness.
Blake went up to a little side door, drew a key from his pocket, and turned it in the lock. The next instant he was standing in the dark, silent corridor. Moving quickly, but cautiously, he went up the stairs to the gallery round the hall, off which were situated most of the principal bedrooms.
George Seymour's was on the left-hand side, in the corner; it was a small room, really intended for a dressing-room, a larger one, which he used as a private sanctum and for writing letters in, opening off it.
Gerald Seymour's room was on the far side of the gallery. Blake slipped into the sanctum and waited. The room itself was in darkness, and there were thick curtains across the recessed window, which, he could use in case of emergency.
It was a little before eleven when he heard voices on the stairs, and heard both men saying "Good-night" to the butler, who was sitting up for them in case they wanted anything.
Gerald Seymour especially seemed in the best of spirits, and in front of the servant, at any rate, showed himself possessed of more than brotherly affection. His brother replied, rather curtly, and, when he entered his bedroom, Blake heard him lock the door behind him. The door between the two rooms was, as Blake knew, invariably kept locked also, with the key on the bedroom side. So George Seymour might think himself reasonably secure for the night. Blake, however, had, unknown to him, removed the key of the intervening door early in the morning, and it was even now reposing in his pocket. Also, Gerald Seymour was cunning beyond the ordinary.
Blake noted that his friend's step was listless and heavy, and that he yawned frequently as he undressed, At last the faint gleam of light through the key-hole of the door vanished, and Blake heard the bed creak as Seymour flung himself into it. Ten minutes later, a slow, regular, stertorous breathing proclaimed that he was sleeping heavily.
An hour passed, two hours, and then a sudden click, so faint as to be almost inaudible, brought Blake to the intervening door, alert and tense. But for the breathing of the sleeper, the silence was so intense it might almost have been something tangible.
Blake's eye was at the keyhole, and presently some dark form, looming indistinctly, passed softly between him and the window- blind in the room beyond.
He judged from the sounds, faint though they were, that the intruder had approached the bed and was examining its occupant. Then he heard a window being softly closed, and the next instant a faint hissing noise, but the regularity of the sleeper's breathing never altered.
The low hissing continued monotonously, and at last, after about five minutes, Blake opened the intervening door and slipped quietly in. He made straight for the outer door of the bedroom, re-locked it, for it had been left on the latch, and slipped the key into his pocket. As he did so, there came a stilled exclamation from somewhere out of the darkness, and a sudden rush.
He evaded the rush by stepping quickly on one side, and smiled grimly to himself as he heard a frantic wrenching and tugging at the handle.
"I assure you it isn't the faintest use," he said coolly. "Both the outer doors are locked, and both the keys are in my pocket. You're hopelessly trapped, so the best thing you can do is to turn off the gas and throw open all the windows. There are the stone flags of the terrace thirty feet below, so I haven't the slightest fear of your risking a jump."
"You cursed, sneaking spy!" said Gerald Seymour thickly, and came padding across the floor towards him. Blake measured his distance as well as he could in the darkness, and hit out. The distance was sufficiently accurate, and the man dropped like a log.
Blake left him on the floor, turned off the escaping gas, and flung all the windows wide.
Then he set to work to pommel and shake George Seymour back into consciousness. By the time he had done so the room was sufficiently clear of the reek of gas for him to strike a light with safety; and the would-be murderer was scowling in the corner, very white.
Mr. Seymour blinked and yawned as Blake dashed some cold water over his face.
"What's up? I don't understand," he said dully.
"Only a third attempt," said Blake; "but this time we've caught our man red-handed. Fling on a dressing-gown and come into the other room, You, too," he added curtly to the culprit. "Go in front of me, and keep your hands raised till I've time to search you."
This he did, and produced from the pocket of his smoking- jacket a pair of slender, long-nosed pliers, which he flung on the table after glancing at them and nodding.
"IT'S this way," he explained to his host. "Yesterday, if you remember, I suggested to you after luncheon to take this precious relation of yours for a drive. With the groom up behind he couldn't play any tricks, so you were safe, and I wanted him out of the way. I searched his rooms thoroughly, though, frankly, I gave him credit for not leaving anything of much importance about. Still, he did leave something. I found a small screwdriver, almost a new one, at the back of the wash-stand drawer. It was more or less carefully hidden behind a cardboard soap-box. I examined it carefully, and found indications of soft brass marks on the end of it. Through the glass one or two small ragged fragments of brass were visible. They set me thinking. I confined my attention to your rooms and his for any likely- looking brazen object, and at last I found it. The gas-bracket in your room is of brass, and the screw of the tap bore recently- made scratches on the under side; also, the tap itself worked suspiciously loosely. Then I remembered that, placed quite openly in the fellow's dressing-case, I had seen a small box of sulphonal powders. Harmless enough in themselves, yet their owner didn't strike me as a man needing sleeping draughts.
"Briefly, I expected his scheme to be this. He meant to contrive, somehow or another, to introduce one of the powders, probably in the form of a solution, into your final whisky-and- soda. Then, after waiting for a couple of hours or so till you had dropped into a deep sleep, he intended to enter your room, turning the key from the outside with these pliers, and turn on the gas. In twenty minutes the room would have been full, and you would have been dead as a doornail.
"In the morning you would have been discovered, not by him, but by one of the manservants, dead in your bed, suffocated, with both doors locked on the inside. At the inquest it would have seemed that you had been careless in turning off the gas, the tap being loose.
"Having got so far, I had myself sent a bogus telegram, to leave him a fair field, and took a quiet rest at Mendesley. I was pretty sure that my last wire, announcing my return for tomorrow, would set him to work tonight, for though he would know that, on my return, I should be morally sure he was the murderer, it would have been quite impossible to prove it. I took a few precautions to make sure of being able to get into the house unobserved, and this is the result."
"What do you propose to do now?"
"This," said Blake grimly, taking a heavy hunting-crop from the rack; "and when I've done with him we'll make him write out a confession, and kick him out. I assure you there'll he no scandal."