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HE gazed at the brass plate beside the door while he got his breath back, for, although hardly entitled to be called a middle- aged man, he was not in good condition, and mountaineering up the stone staircase—it had felt like that by the time he faced the brass plate—to the third floor of number thirty-seven, Little Oakfield Street, after turning off from the Haymarket and finding at his destination that there was no lift in the Georgian building, had taxed his wind as well as his leg-muscles. Gold- rimmed spectacles assisted his over-prominent greenish-grey eyes to take in the inscription on the plate: his forehead inclined more to the Neanderthal type than to the genus homo sapiens, although that former type is said to be extinct; his nose was decidedly Roman, over a partly indecisive and partly cruel mouth, which was to some extent camouflaged by a nicotine- stained yellow moustache: that is to say, the moustache was nicotine-stained in the middle and yellow as regards its lip- corner hinterlands, where it straggled untidily; and he had a receding chin of the kind usually but erroneously described as weak.
Hours: 10 to 5
Saturdays: 10 to 12.30
said the brass plate. Under it was tacked a visiting card, reversed to display its blank side, on which had been neatly written in ink—"Initial Consultation—Two Guineas," a reminder at which the now-not-so-breathless caller frowned horribly. Then he took out a handkerchief, removed his soft, brown felt hat, and mopped his unusually-shaped forehead and the bald patch on the top of his skull, an island of pinkness from which waves of dark-brown hair, slightly streaked with grey, receded to surge about his ears and down the back of his neck. For the day was warm for early November, though wet, and the rainproof coat that covered his badly-fitting tweed suit down to his knees was fleece-lined.
Restoring both hat and handkerchief to their places, he tried his breath, and found that it was nearly normal again. Then he thumbed the bell-push beside the brass plate, with the air of one who has determined to take the plunge, even though he have to deposit two guineas before coming up to breathe.
He smiled ingratiatingly at the girl who opened the door. Many people smiled like that at her, mostly without visible result as far as she was concerned. Her deep blue eyes, set in a face of which the features were piquantly irregular, and capable of great expressiveness as were her tempting lips, were now totally unrevealing—it was a poker face that the caller saw—and her eyes were level with his own, though he stood five feet eight. Realising that, as an investment, his smile yielded no interest, he locked it away behind a facade of business-like calm, and tendered a card, on which as she took it the girl read:
Mr. Adolph Kleinert.
"By appointment. It is eleven o'clock," he said.
"Yes," she assented. "Will you come in, Mr. Kleinert?" Observant, as was part of her purpose here, she reflected as she led the way along the corridor that there was a flavour of foreignness about his speech. It did not amount to an accent, but was a mere flavour, as if he had learned English very completely rather than grown up in it. She took him past an open doorway on the right of the corridor which revealed a secretarial desk with comfortable chair and shelves of files on the wall behind the chair (neither he nor any other caller could tell that all but four of those files were empty, or that his rather charming guide spent most of her time in that room, reading novels and other literature in the absence of anything else to do) and mutely invited him to enter the room next door, where the desk was distinctly managerial, the swivel chair behind it and armchair at the side for interviewees luxurious, and the feel of the dark green carpet reminiscent of the ground under a pine forest in its elasticity.
"The principals of the firm are out at present, Mr. Kleinert, I am sorry to say," the girl told him. "Our Mr. Green, who should have been here, has been summoned to his father's side. Could you wait a few minutes? I am sure he will be back very soon."
"I will wait, then, thank you," said Mr. Kleinert. "I trust it is nothing which will prevent Mr. Green or other principals from undertaking the commission which it is my hope to entrust to him—or them?"
"I am quite unable to say," she assured him, and again, in his precise and rather stilted speech, noted the flavour of foreignness rather than accent. "If you care to give me particulars, it might save some time. I mean, my position here enables me to determine whether we care to undertake any of the commissions offered to us."
"In that case—" he bowed as he spoke—"I shall be happy to reveal my object in communicating with the firm and making this appointment to your so-charming and capable self, madam."
She went to the swivel chair at the desk and seated herself. "Do sit down, then, Mr. Kleinert," she invited—and, as there was only the one other chair in the room, did not trouble to indicate where he should sit. "You wrote, us I believe, from a place called Snoddlesdon."
"In Kent." He put his hat down beside the armchair after seating himself in it—and sinking much lower than he had anticipated.
"On a branch line?" she inquired, with a thought of a riotous comedy that her father still remembered with joy.
"It is on a branch line," Mr. Kleinert admitted. His tone implied that there was nothing derogatory about being on a branch line, and he would defend Snoddlesdon to the last gasp but one against any such imputation. Possibly to the last gasp of all, if necessary.
"And in what way do you think we could be of use to you?" she pursued, since he showed no sign of stating the object of his call.
"I am troubled—by nothing," he said, and the normal placidity of his expression—if it were normal—gave place to a look of fear, as if for a time he had been free of a disturbing memory, which now returned to mar his peace. And his hands on the chair-arms clenched to fists.
"In that case," the girl said quietly, and giving no hint of her belief that she had to deal with one mentally deranged, "I shall be pleased to take the two guineas which the firm invariably charges for an initial consultation, and we will waive a second fee of the kind when you come to tell us you are troubled by something."
"The two guineas—yes." He took out a wallet and extracted three notes, which he laid on the desk by leaning forward and reaching up from his sunken luxury. "That is eight shillings change, please. But the nothing is something, madam. It is a—shall we say?—a haunting, a nothing that is a conviction of a theft which will be, but is not yet. A theft of the great work of my life, which shall be done on me before the work is complete. And I seek protection from the theft."
"Not from the police?" She changed her mind about him before putting the question. He was sane as herself, but obsessed by fear.
He shook his head. "The police? Bah! What shall I tell them? That I fear a theft somewhen, and I do not know when? What will they do? For if I tell them as I tell you it is a nothing, a nothing which is in my mind and is not for any other to see, they will say this bloke is balmy, and if there is a theft we will catch the thief—perhaps! I do not go to the police, for I know that is what they will say."
She drew a pad of paper toward herself as she sat, and took up a pencil from the massive bronze tray on the desk, but did not write.
"Can you give me any particulars, Mr. Kleinert?" she asked. "Of the sort, I mean, that might in some way justify your belief in this nothing of yours? And tell me exactly what you want us to do, too."
"It is that your firm shall send some responsible member—not yourself, madam, though if it were normal circumstance it would give me great pleasure to welcome you at Snoddlesdon. Some strong man, responsible and highly intelligent, who shall be all with me—with me all the time, until I have finished my great work and am assured of my reward. That I may have peace in which to finish my great work."
"You can hire that type of attendant from the corps of commissionaires, Mr. Kleinert," she said coldly. "I am afraid—"
"Madam, excuse me that I interrupt," he broke in. "In the summer of the year there was a friend of mine who was in Shropshire, and he tell me of a place called Nightmare Farm, where a Mr. Green who is of the firm of Gees made quiet that which was unquiet. And then I see the advertisement of the firm of Gees, which say the firm will undertake anything from mumps to murder. This nothing of mine, it is not mumps and it is not murder, and it is not anything like that which is said by some people to have been at Nightmare Farm. But it is to me a fear, and I would have someone like that Mr. Green to guard until I finish my great work, to guard me and to guard the work. Else, I think there is to be the theft, and that must not be of so great a work."
The flavour in his speech that she had noted was now, in his grown and rather excited earnestness, almost an accent. Almost, but not quite. His name bespoke one nationality, but he was too Latin for it, she decided. Or Slavonic, perhaps. She reflected through a long pause.
"What you say alters our attitude," she remarked at last. "But the question of remuneration remains. Our terms may not appeal to you."
"That, madam, I had already considered," he said, with evident relief over having made her change her view of him. "I would suggest a commission. A small initial fee, that your member of the firm may not reject to accept to do what I wish, and then a commission."
"Commission on what?" she demanded practically.
"On the great work, which I shall sell when it is complete," he explained. "For I understand, and your member of the firm who shall undertake to do the guarding, he too shall understand—it is for such a one as did the work at Nightmare Farm to guard the great work till it is finished, and me. Until it is sold, finished. And then I can afford the commission, which shall be ample to reward the work."
"And if you do not sell this—whatever it is?" she suggested.
"Then there is still the initial fee—twenty-five pounds for each month of the work that is for your member of the firm to do. For if I do not sell, it is because he fail, and if he fail the pay is small."
"And the amount of the commission, Mr. Kleinert?"
"I think it shall be ten per cent, when the great work is sold."
"Yes, but—" she shook her head impatiently—"ten per cent on—?"
"I think thirty, or perhaps forty thousand pounds," he told her.
"Ye-es." She betrayed neither surprise nor disbelief. "And how long will it be before this great work of yours is finished and the sale completed? How long, that is, before you pay the commission?"
"I think perhaps six more weeks. Five, perhaps six more weeks."
"And you would give us—the firm—an undertaking to pay a commission of ten per cent on whatever sum you realise?"
"But yes, madam. For you see, I am not now rich, but if I obtain thirty perhaps forty thousand pounds for the great work, then ten per cent is to me the bite of the bug—no, of the flea, it should be. And the man I want shall be such a one—the one, perhaps—as him who did what he did at Nightmare Farm, though this I would have him guard from me and from the great work is not in any way like that which he made quiet there. It is quite different, not at all like. Yet it must be such a man that I want, and to him, if he guard so that I make the sale, I pay the ten per cent. Willingly, for it is better to pay ten per cent to receive thirty perhaps forty thousand pounds, than to receive nothing because I do not pay enough to assure perfect guarding. Also, by that way I make him of interest to do the guarding. If I say—'I give you five hundred pounds to do it'—then he take the five hundred pounds and whistle when the theft is made, for he have his money. This way, he have his money only when I have mine, and so shall he exert himself to the utmost bound, and make the guarding perfect."
"Yes, it sounds reasonable," she reflected. The thirty thousand part of it might also be true, but she had her doubts. "And what, Mr. Kleinert, is the nature of this life work of yours?"
"What is your position in this firm of Gees?" he countered.
"I am the firm's secretary," she informed him, "but I don't see that my position has anything to do with what I just asked you."
"Madam, it has much. I can disclose only so little as is necessary of the identity of my work to a principal of the firm, the one who shall agree to do the work I shall require of him."
"You will wait to see him? Mr. Green may be back at any time, now."
"I will go to eat the lunch, and recall again," he said, consulting a gold watch which he took from his vest pocket. "For as you have so unerringly distinguished, Snoddlesdon is on a branch line, and thus it is—also the railway station is of mileage from where I reside—thus it is that I begin to travel quite early to come at this place to the appointment of eleven o'clock, and now the inner man demands response to his emptiness. At three this afternoon I will return."
He picked up his hat, and at the third forward lurch succeeded in rising to his feet. Then he pointed to the notes he had put on the desk.
"Of change, madam, eight shillings," he said. "Also, if the firm of Gees shall see fit to undertake this guarding, shall it not be that the two guineas is of a part of the first month's pay?"
"It shall not," she dissented firmly. "This is a consultation fee, Mr. Kleinert. We are consulting specialists, not hire- purchase inquiry agents. If you will come to the other room, I will give you your eight shillings change and a receipt for the consultation fee."
"Madam," he said meekly as he followed her out to the corridor, "I bow in acquiescence to your most superior decision."
General Sir George Green, a soldierly, leanly alert figure of a man yet in spite of his sixty-five years, stood in the library of his house in Dawgeley Square—it was one of the few houses in that historic square that, so far, had not been pulled down to make room for an expensive human-rabbit warren with all modern conveniences within and the semblance of a jail without. Facing the general stood his son, also leanly alert in bearing, but possessed of unusually large hands and feet and, instead of such finely-cut features as characterised his father, a face that some people might term ugly, but all must concede was pleasantly so. The elder man looked rather ruffled, the younger quite unconcerned.
"And that's the fourth agent I've had to discharge at a minute's notice, Gordon," the general attempted to conclude what had at times been almost—on his part—an intemperately heated discussion. "The estate, I warn you, is all I shall have to leave you at my death, for my life interest in your mother's property does not come on to you, and my pension dies with me. You will not be able to keep on this house, and unless something is done about the estate, you will not be able to retain that."
"Even so, I can't feel really perturbed, father," the younger said.
"One of the few surviving herds of aurochs in the country, and lands that have been ours for centuries, and you are not perturbed!" the general exclaimed, and restrained himself from other comment.
"I mean, father, not to the extent of doing as you say, which with the winter coming on amounts to daubing myself in Shropshire mud to the ears. Only to think of it gives me cold shivers. And there must be such a bird as an honest estate agent somewhere, surely."
"I think the species became extinct with the dodo and the great auk," the general said bitterly. "But that is not altogether the point. You had the upbringing of any boy of your class, and when you came down from Cambridge you had the choice of the professions—and turned your back on all of them! Instead, sorely against my wish, you became a policeman—and even over that, when I could have brought influence to bear, I believe, to put you on the way to at least an assistant- commissionership, you walked out of the force at the end of two years—"
"Couldn't stand the discipline—ought to have gone for the army," the son interposed. "Only, they've no use for brains like mine, there."
"Don't flatter yourself that you have any, and don't interrupt me!" his father commanded sharply. "Before you grew old enough to disregard my wishes entirely, I took care that you should learn the rudiments of estate management and farming, in the hope that you would have sufficient pride in the family name and position to take over the estate. Instead, what do you do? Dismiss yourself from the police force at the end of two years, insert these preposterous, abominable, utterly loathly, catchpenny ticklers for suburban minds, in the personal columns of papers that lie on the table in my club! Yes, in my club! 'Consult Gees for everything from mumps to murder.' Mumps to murder! Arrr-h! And play snakes and ladders in a back street off the Haymarket and call it an office, with a girl who might do better in the Gaiety chorus to pick up the dice if you drop them! All this, while the estate goes to pieces up in Shropshire for lack of efficient management. Is there no way of rousing you to understand that you're a Shropshire Green?"
"I haven't gone into it thoroughly, father," Gees—as his intimates knew him—answered. "There may be—but I've got a man coming to my office to see me at eleven, and it's now twenty past—"
"Office be damned!" the general interrupted fiercely. "Look here, Gordon! This is my last attempt at persuading you to give up that folly of yours and take over management of the estate."
"I'm very grateful to you for the promise, father—"
"Because," the general interrupted to proceed with his evidently unfinished exordium, "unless you comply with my wishes this time, the estate goes to your cousin. I'm determined on it."
"Well, Bill's got a wife who can give garden parties and preside at flower shows and open jumble sales and all that sort of thing," Gees said serenely, "and I'm a one-hat, so maybe it's all for the best. Father I really must hit the trail and give that guy the once-over—"
"Stop using American slang!" the general roared at him. "I will not tolerate those loathsome perversions of the English language in my house! Get out of my sight! Get back to your pretty secretary! Marry the damned girl, but never tell your children they're Shropshire Greens! Teach 'em to sing Yankee Doodle with a twang, and for heaven's sake get out of this house and keep out of it! I've finished with you!"
"Coming back at three, eh?" Gees leaned in the doorway of his secretary's office and gazed at her as she sat behind her desk. "Did you manage to explain my absence in a soothing way, Miss Brandon?"
"I told him you had been called to your father's side," she said. "I didn't like to say bedside, because you said nothing about his being ill after he'd rung you this morning."
"He's in fine form, as a matter of fact," Gees told her. "Busy, too. Going to alter his will in Cousin Bill's favour for the umpteenth time—the money he wastes on that solicitor of his! There must be a stack of his wills about as high as the Nelson column, by this time. All or nearly all because I will not go and choke myself in Shropshire mud. Suggested I should either close down or marry you, Miss Brandon."
"It would be possible to close down," she remarked coldly.
"The retort crushing—you couldn't have made it more effective. Miss Brandon, the firm has got to make some money. Fifty pounds from Cumberland, somewhere about two hundred net from my Shropshire activities—and that's all, since you and I put the twelve thousand out of the Kestwell case in the safe behind the wardrobe, and you put the Rolls-Bentley on order for me. Did this guy Kleinert appear to be wallowing in kale, did you discern?"
"Appear to—?" She looked a puzzled question at him.
"Appear to exude mazuma," he explained. "You know, did he look like his roll had a healthy bulge? Would you say he was worth socking on the kop for his wad? Was he well-heeled? Could we play him for ten grand or thereabouts? Can we make money out of him?"
"He spoke of offering ten per cent of thirty to forty thousand pounds," she said—distantly and coldly, her manner a comment on his series of slang phrases.
"Did he, though?" Gees commented gravely. "Sounds as if he thinks he can play me for a sucker. Did he give you the low-down on it?"
"The what?" she asked sharply.
"The essential facts, then. Sorry, Miss Brandon. I was trying out on you a few phrases that I thought might amuse my father, the next time I see him. How much detail did you get out of this Kleinert? Because, if there's any possibility of his meaning that, he's the client I've been asking Providence to roll up those stairs as far as the bell-push."
Entering the room, he offered his cigarette case, and she took one. "He explained, up to a point," she said.
"Let us travel to that point—got a light? Yes. Now, Miss Brandon—" he seated himself on the edge of her desk—"weigh out the info. I mean, tell me all Kleinert told you."
FROWNING thoughtfully, Gees stubbed out his second cigarette- end in his secretary's ash-tray. As he looked at her, he ceased to frown: his choice of a secretary always struck him as evidence of remarkably good judgment when he looked at her: she had been the seventh in the series of applicants for the post that he had interviewed, and the first to return a flat and final negative to his suggestion that he should kiss her—and, he knew, the refusal still held good.
"Hul-lo!" He discerned a ring on the third finger of her left hand. It must have been there all the morning, he decided, but up to now she had kept that finger out of sight. "Miss Brandon, will you fetch the lucky feller here some time, so I can congratulate him?"
Hastily, she dropped the hand below desk level. "Thank you, Mr. Green," she said demurely. "He is a—a bank clerk."
"Sacred mackerel!" he ejaculated helplessly. "I believe there are estimable ones, though, quite estimable, in fact. And when do I have to lose you and train somebody else to sit here and read novels because I can't find work enough to keep her busy?"
"It will be—be a long engagement, Mr. Green."
"I'm very glad to hear it. Not that I—Oh, well, you know, Miss Brandon! I'd hate you to think I—you've been such a mainstay and all that sort of thing. It makes me cheerful even to look at you. And to think of somebody else in here is—well, it's just poisonous!"
"Thank you very much, Mr. Green. It will be quite a year."
"Oh, well, much may happen in that time. Bank clerks get run in for embezzlement sometimes, and there's bus accidents and men going into banks with guns and doing hold-up—there was a bank clerk got shot dead quite recently. Not that I want to discourage you, but I hate the idea of losing you. Now about this Kleinert—have you got his letter handy? The original one making the inquiry, I mean?"
Rising, she turned and took down one of the files from a shelf behind her chair, and opened it to display two letters inside. Gees took them both, and gave them a thorough scrutiny.
"Snoddlesdon, Kent," he mused aloud. "Never heard of it. Always looked on Kent as a suburb of London, where speculators build rows of nasty houses, and city blokes buy 'em on the uneasy-payment system and catch colds in 'em. Also I believe the pursuit of hops is a Kentish sport, somewhere between the rows of houses. Kent, eh?"
"Pursuit, Mr. Green?" his secretary queried reprovingly.
"Pursuit, Miss Brandon. Hops grow so fast that the Kentish men have to chase 'em and turn 'em back out of Sussex. Or used to, before it became all suburb and full up with Jerry houses. There may be some hops left yet, even. Snoddlesdon way, perhaps. I don't like this chap's handwriting a bit. His e's are secretive and his c's are deceitful—and it's nearly three o'clock, too. How did he strike you?"
"Not very favourably," she answered. "And that thirty to forty thousand pounds. He seemed too glib over it. I doubt it."
"And your feminine intuition has never been at fault yet, except—Oh, well, there are really estimable bank clerks, I know, but this one's extraordinarily lucky. Yes, we'll drop the subject, Miss Brandon—I can see it in your eye that you'll give notice if I don't. Kleinert, and heard of Nightmare Farm, eh? Sounds as if we might be up against the sub-natural again, in which case—Gosh, that's him! I'll go along and look managerial, and switch the microphone on for you to take down his tale of woe." Rising to his feet, he clicked a switch on the side of her desk—the wire which connected it with the microphone concealed in his own desk, directly opposite the armchair which callers occupied, was hidden under the floor-coverings of both rooms.
Kleinert, ushered to Gees' room by Miss Brandon, bowed in response to Gees' invitation to enter and seat himself, and then deposited his hat beside the armchair and, as before, sank into the upholstery.
"Sorry to have missed you this morning, Mr. Kleinert," Gees told him. "You must have gone out just as I came in. My absence was quite unavoidable. My father, you know. Very serious."
"I offer my sympathy, Mr. Green. Is it that he will recover?"
"Oh, yes! He'll get over it. But a sharp attack—more alarming than painful. You understand, of course. Don't let's talk about it, though. My secretary has told me all you told her, including your munificent offer of twenty-five pounds a month for my services."
"You are the Mr. Green who made quiet what was unquiet at Nightmare Farm, the occurrence of which my friend tell me not long since?" Kleinert asked—rather too complacently, Gees thought.
"I am that Mr. Green," he answered.
"And you say the twenty-five pounds a month is munificent?"
"So munificent, Mr. Kleinert, that until you double it—and pay the first month in advance—we can't begin to talk."
"Double it? In advance?" Kleinert echoed, aghast and staring.
"Indubitably," Gees told him. "This firm's reputation, of which you already know a little, is a guarantee of the service you will get from us—of our ability to fulfil any commission we undertake. On the other hand, I don't know you from a roll of wallpaper. Agree to put down fifty pounds as evidence of your ability to fulfil your obligations, agree also to a binding legal document in respect of ten per cent commission on the sale of your great work—your life work, you called it, I understand—ten per cent commission to be paid me out of the proceeds of the sale on the day that you receive your payment, and I am at your service!"
Kleinert considered it for awhile. Blinked over it, in fact.
"For that, you will agree all your service, all yourself, to me, until the sale is of completeness?" he asked at last.
"I will agree that you shall have the use of my brains, and of my strong right arm with the left thrown in if need arises, on the understanding that you ask nothing of me except what is absolutely honest," Gees told him. "If it's a crook proposal, you are two guineas down, Mr. Kleinert, and we part without tears—on my side, anyhow."
"It is quite honest." Kleinert sighed. "Quite honest," he repeated.
"State it, then," Gees bade. "What do you want me to do?"
"To guard—but I will tell you of the nature of that which I thought it so better not to tell your so charming secretary until I was assured you shall consider to accept what I would have you to do," Kleinert stated, all in one breath. "It is colour, Mr. Green."
"Colour," Gees echoed solemnly.
"Chalk," said Kleinert, as unenlighteningly as before.
"Chalk," Gees echoed, as solemnly as before.
"I tell you." Kleinert made waggly movements with his hands. "But first, Mr. Green, what is chalk? Tell me—what is chalk?"
"Well, I've always looked on it as chalk," Gees admitted thoughtfully. "I may be wrong, of course, but that was my impression."
"There was the aniline colour," Kleinert said, as if he despised anilines. "The English chemists discover the anilines in coal tar, and make the colour. The German chemists develop all the discovery—the English originate, and the German develop—so always. But chalk, Mr. Green, I ask you what it is, and you do not say. It is millions and millions of marine lives, sinking to the bottom of the sea, solidified by the weight of millions and millions more which sink afterward, till it is hard, like rock. White, too, a white that can be made so pure it is a dazzlement with strong light. And in pure white, there are all the colours of the spectrum, if you will know how to take them out, to take the particle which absorb all but the red light, and give him out, or to take all but the blue light, and give him out, or to take all but the yellow light, and give him out. Then you take so much of one particle, and so much of another, and you blend for the combination—and all the time you have the brilliance, the purity like to that white which is a dazzlement when the light is strong. Aniline? Pah! When the chalk colour is come, the aniline is finish—back number. Colour is this my life work, colour like not any colour known in the world, but the rainbow herself in all her glory given into the hand of man. Because it is from the sun and the sea the origins of this colour come, and what is so pure as the sea, so strong as the sun? The million forms of marine life that go to make the chalk, they have live in the sea, many of them soak in the sun before they sink to make the chalk, and the process it divide the white into the colours of the spectrum, and the colour it is like I say, a colour you do not see elsewhere in all the world."
"You mean—you have done this?" Gees asked.
"I hold all that colour in my hand, till I sell," Kleinert affirmed.
"But surely—a process like that is too costly to compete with anilines?" Gees protested. "I know little enough about them—"
"It is cheaper!" Kleinert almost shouted. "Even now the great American corporation, the Harten-Blomberg Inc—and I am a simple man and do not know who is Inc—the great corporation make experiment to see if all I claim is true—only, lest they steal from me, I do not give them the formula which fix. They make experiment, and they see the colour, but for five minute, ten minute, and then it fade. For if I should give them the final formula, which make so that the particles do not resolve back to the white of the purified chalk, then perhaps they steal all and do not pay me anything. All but that I send them, and I tell them forty thousand pounds is the price for the formula by which the colour is fixed, for thus they do not cheat me. They make the plant and see the colour, and in a month, five weeks, perhaps, they send the representatives to treat for the final formula, if they are satisfied that with this the aniline is finish. So in five weeks, six weeks, it is all concluded, and for that time I pay you ten per cent of perhaps forty thousand pounds, or perhaps I take thirty thousand pounds, if it be that they will not give any more. You come to Snoddlesdon with me, and I show you the most wonderful colour you have ever seen—but not fixed. That part I hold for this Harten-Blomberg, or perhaps for Inc, if they send him, to take when he have been bound hand and foot to pay the price if the fixing hold the colour as he see it before it fade."
"And what do you want me to do?" Gees asked, interested in spite of himself by the other's earnest—apparent—genuineness.
"That you shall come to Snoddlesdon with me. That from sunset until I sleep you shall be with me, because of something which tell me I shall not sell the colour as I plan, or it shall be stolen from me, the final formula for fixing, in the time between sunset and when I sleep."
The fear Miss Brandon had seen in this man's eyes came back to them as he spoke his request. Gees had not observed it before, but he could see it plainly, now. And it altered Kleinert, made of him a shrinking, cringing being, rather pitiable, Gees thought.
"Who knows of this? Who is to do the stealing?" he asked.
Kleinert's mouth opened as if to answer, and closed again as if the man were fearful of self-betrayal as well as of something else. He swallowed two or three times, moistened his lips with his pale tongue, and eventually answered—indirectly.
"Mr. Green, you are that one who go to Nightmare Farm and make quiet that which was unquiet, I have been told. So it is that you know there are things which some people would say are not at all. You will say such things do not want money, nor to steal it, and perhaps it is so, yet I know you are the man who can hold my mind at peace until Harten-Blomberg or Inc come, and all is done. You say at the worst they will not come. Very well, you shall have the cheque for fifty pounds, so it will be to you not loss. For now I see you I read you, and you are the man. So I pay the fifty pounds. That is at the worst. Then you say, he is cheat, he do not pay the ten per cent, but you shall make the lawyer make the document so if I am cheat you shall arrest me. And for the time that I pay you to be at Snoddlesdon with me, you shall guard me from a nothing, and I think you who have made quiet that which was unquiet will know that a nothing can be of more fear than a thing."
"I'll take it," Gees said. "When do we begin?"
"I write now the cheque. You see on it the address of the bank, and you telephone so the manager tell you is it good. And you ring again and make the lawyer come to make the draft for the document, and you shall say what words you wish the document to say. If it can be that all is arrange to-day, then you shall come to Snoddlesdon with me."
His eagerness was almost childish, the flavour of his way of speech very nearly indeed an accent, yet Gees could not determine his nationality, any more than could Miss Brandon, from the form and pronunciation of his English; his obvious fear of that nothing of which he spoke was almost obliterated by hope, and he took out a pocket cheque book.
"Better sit here to write it," Gees said, "and I'll ring my solicitor from the next room. But I shall not be able to get away till to-morrow at the earliest. I'm the head of the firm, you know."
"The business you shall settle with the other members—but yes," Kleinert agreed. "So you shall get the solicitor to come to make the agreement for the ten per cent of what I shall obtain from Harten-Blomberg or from Inc, and so soon as it is ready I shall sign it and you shall come to Snoddlesdon. And you play the game of chess?"
"I have played," Gees admitted. "Do you want that included in the contract, then?"
"Not to be a condition, but I hope you will play the chess with me."
"I see. Sort of relaxation for winter evenings. By the way, have you any letter or anything from these Harten-Blomberg people about you at present? If so, I should like to see it."
Kleinert put down his cheque book on the desk, and took out a large leather wallet from which he extracted a folded paper. Unfolding it, Gees saw that it was a long typescript letter from the Harten-Blomberg Corporation of Chicago, addressed to Adolph Kleinert of Snoddlesdon, and that its contents confirmed the story Kleinert had told, with reservations. "If the results are in accordance with your statements," the writer had said, "and if the final formula which you are at present retaining is indeed the fixative you assert it to be, which of course we must prove for ourselves by such tests as we consider adequate, then we shall be happy, dear sir, to communicate further with you."
If, Gees reflected as he went to Miss Brandon's room to use her telephone, Kleinert's cheque were a good one, then he himself would be fifty pounds to the good, whatever else came of this strange commission. But, before getting in touch with solicitor or bank or anybody of that sort, he dialed a number from memory and listened.
"Quennell's Inquiries? Yes. Mr. Quennell, please... That you, Quennell? Mr. Green, of Gees Agency, speaking. Yes. Look here, Quennell. Take down the name and address. Adolph Kleinert, Snoddlesdon, Kent. Snoddlesdon—I'll spell it for you—" and he did. "Yes, repeat back for safety... Right. Now pull all your wires hard, and let me know by four to-morrow if you've got anything against the gentleman. Then make it thorough, and let me have a complete report on him in plain envelope and all unsuspicious-looking, by, say, Monday next—a week to-day. As complete as you can by that time. Send that report to me care of him at Snoddlesdon—I'm going to stay there with him.... Yes. If there's anything else I'll let you know... Thanks, Quennell—that's all for now—good- bye."
He put the receiver back. "Miss Brandon, did you get all that of his about colour and chalk—all of it?"
"All," she answered. "He must have been talking directly at the microphone—it came through to the earphones perfectly."
"Good! Get on with the transcript right away. I'm going to ring Harland and get him to come round to draft an agreement right now. It looks as if Kleinert is the man I've been trying to contact by thought-waves, the guy with the kale we need to make our bazoo toot. It's odd to think that my respected progenitor and myself should both be shouting for our solicitors on the same day, but there it is. He about something that amounts to nothing, and I about nothing that amounts to something—fifty pounds, anyhow, by the look of it."
"For a month, Mr. Green," she reminded him.
"M'yes," he admitted. "Well, twelve pound ten a week would make even a bus conductor think twice. You ring Harland and tell him what I want—to come round at once and take particulars for the draft, and I'll get back to Kleinert in case he's got more to tell me. Then make a transcript of his colour scheme for me, please."
"It shall be done, Mr. Green."
"So shall Kleinert—I'll get back to him."
He returned to his own room.
At near on five o'clock the next afternoon, Miss Brandon went into Gees' bedroom, which was immediately across the corridor from the room in which he had interviewed Kleinert, and, without undue strain on her muscles, pushed aside the big wardrobe which occupied most of one wall, and which moved easily on its castors. In the wall was revealed a square on which the patterned paper was obviously separate from that surrounding it, and with a paper-knife the girl levered at one side of the square, whereupon it swung out on hinges and revealed the door of a fairly large safe, which had been built into the wall.
Now, from one of Gees' dress shoes, she shook out a key, with which she opened the safe door. Inside she placed a document on which she had witnessed Kleinert's signature a half-hour earlier, and then she locked the safe again, put the key back in the toe of the shoe, closed the panel, and replaced the wardrobe. The document apportioned to Gregory George Gordon Green ten per cent of all and any sums received by Adolph Kleinert as proceeds of the sale of a process for the production of colour, as described in the attached schedule, to the Harten-Blomberg Corporation, Inc, of Chicago, U.S.A., or proceeds received by the said Adolph Kleinert in respect of the sale of the said process to any other purchaser or purchasers whatsoever. It was, in fact, not merely a watertight agreement, but an air-tight one as well.
Now, having done this, and not feeling like reading nor having anything else to do, Miss Brandon sat at her desk till five- thirty, when she prepared to lock up and go home. First, she took off the ring which under Gees' questioning she had attributed to a bank clerk, and put it in her handbag with a rather rueful smile as she reflected that in all probability she would not need it again for a month. Then—
But the rest of her preparations, and where she went on leaving the office, are of no consequence.
SOMEWHERE behind the Rolls-Bentley, in a world which contained roads of a reasonable width, electric lighting, and similar amenities, was Westerham. The long car had nosed its way down the once-considered-steep hill, turned toward Sevenoaks, and then at Kleinert's direction had turned off to the south, in quest of heaven, apparently, and strait was the way that led thereto. But, before Gees could congratulate himself, the radiator had sought the nether shades: Kleinert had directed a turn to the left, another to the right, left again, and then had come a series of bends so frequent and bewildering that it appeared as if the front number plate were trying to look at the petrol tank—or so Gees felt.
Sevenoaks was—where was Sevenoaks? Where was any known point, now? Were they near Ashford, Headcorn, Tonbridge, or some hidden Avernus where missing men lie bound? With hood and side- curtains up, only two semi-circular patches on the wind-screen where the tandem wipers flickered to yield sight of the narrow ways, and a drizzle from a sky the colour of a lemon sole's back to mask all the distances, Gees' usually good sense of direction was so far at fault that he did not know whether the next bend would reveal Battle Abbey or Margate pier.
An unduly early twilight had stolen down to wrap this wet bewilderment of narrow ways, dripping copses, lank wayside grass, and puddle-dotted metalling in deeper mystery. Kleinert peered through his wiped patch of glass as the Rolls-Bentley nosed from bend to bend with no noise but that of the hard tyres on the untarred ways and ever and again a splash in a puddle. From time to time he directed—"Turn right by the tree there," or "We go left, when we have passed the next gate," and they switchbacked up, dipped, found transient level, passed lone pubs and incurious cottage windows, pillar-boxes into which it seemed that only ultra-optimistic fools would ever drop letters, gateways giving access to hidden haunts of opulent ease, white slave traffickers, religious recluses—anything at all! Such a land, threaded together by such tortuous and impossibly narrow ways, might hold men, devils, angels, Mohammedan houris or hags brewing potions for a Sabbath. Thor himself might be waiting round the next bend to smite the radiator with his hammer, or Freya might reach out lovely hands and appeal to be borne beyond reach of the Nibelung brood. And, spectacled, peering through his gold-rimmed lenses and through his half-moon of clear wind- screen, Kleinert directed "Right" and "Left" until Gees hated him with a rancorous hate.
"We'd better stop at the next pub—if ever we come to it—and buy a ham," he observed savagely, as he switched on his side lamps.
"Ham?" Kleinert queried, and turned his head to stare momentarily at his companion, as if for comprehension of the remark. "But I have ham at my home, Mr. Green. Good ham."
"If we find a pub and buy another, it'll last till we get to yours," Gees explained. "That is, if we're lucky."
"It is but two miles more," Kleinert said. "By the corner of the cottage on the left, when it come in sight, you turn to the left. And then it is slow, very slow, for the road is downhill and wind a little, and so you come to Snoddlesdon. I am through the village."
"Not yet," Gees demurred grimly. "You mean we go through the village—if ever we find it—to get to your place?"
"It is so," Kleinert agreed. "There is a dark brown gate, open, and you drive through the gate. Do not stop for ham, Mr. Green."
"And how on earth do you know all the twists of these roads—heaven forgive me for calling 'em that?" Gees inquired morosely.
"In the summer, there is a bus, a little bus, and I travel much by the bus," Kleinert explained. "In the winter months, there is no bus."
"The driver having gone into a home for nervous wrecks," Gees suggested, and, having reached a cottage, turned left and just missed grazing the corner of the wooden fence on his near side, and dropping his off front wheel into the wayside ditch.
"I do not know," Kleinert said seriously. "I think there would be more than the one driver for the bus, but I have not observe him close."
"And now that home will be crowded with bus drivers," Gees remarked.
"Why?" Kleinert asked, with evident interest.
But, occupied as he was over letting the car down a tolerable imitation of a funicular railway bed, with drippings from overhanging trees plunking on the stretched canvas of the hood and sounding like drum-taps by imps gleeful over a fresh arrival in Hades, Gees let that question pass. He switched on his headlights and saw a sign beside the road, an oblong plaque exhibiting a gate and the words—"level crossing", and beyond it experienced a mid-Channel sensation and knew that, as usual, the sign lied, for the crossing was no more level than are the rocks off Land's End.
Red eyes, flashing at him from either side from the crossing gates, indicated that trains sometimes wandered this way after dark; he had a glimpse of a spidery wooden footbridge and a board away to the left bearing the word SNODDLESDON in black on a white backing. There were three lamps on posts, too, palely glimmering, and the outline of a squat building of which for an instant the roof shone wetly in reflections from his lights. Then on the left appeared a narrow sidewalk, tarred to asphaltishness and extremely up-to-date by comparison with the ways he had endured to arrive here, and privet fences with little gates, guarding dripping shrubs which half-hid lighted windows—there were at least eight houses behind the line of privet, and then the hedge was missing, while on an open oblong of gravel stood a signpost bearing words that Gees read before his ray had passed them—
THE DRAKE AND GANDER
TOLLITS' FINE ALES
and a brick frontage in which an open doorway was flanked on either side by cheerful red blinds drawn down over lighted windows. Two more houses behind privet beyond this invitation to wayfarers, and then no more sidewalk, only wet trees nearly meeting over a resumption of the narrow way that led to mystery—Kleinert's abode, perhaps.
On the right of this which was evidently Snoddlesdon—that is, facing the houses—an open green, with a glint of water so far from the road as to be little more than a suggestion. With all this evidence of a humanity that chose to remain invisible behind him, Gees glanced at his hunch- shouldered, spectacled, peering companion.
"Straight on?" he inquired. Not because there appeared any alternative to straight on, but Kleinert looked as if he needed rousing.
"Straight on, Mr. Green," he answered, "and beyond the first bend you see a dark brown gate open and drive through it. So you will come to my house, and before you after you have passed the front door there will be a two open doors of what was the small barn when the house was a farm, and so you shall drive the car inside the barn, and when we go in I will tell Mrs. Butt you wish the ham. I think she said there would be leg of mutton for the dinner, but you say you wish the ham."
"That ham," Gees told him, "was for emergency rations. Don't ask me to explain, but by all means try me with mutton."
"That is the dark brown gate, on the left," said Kleinert.
Mrs. Butt proved to be rather under average woman's height, and she had no ankles. Her massive legs fitted straight on to her feet, which, to render the straightness over them still more noticeable, were on the small side. But that was all the straightness there was about her figure, and her curves were not merely generous, but lavish. She wore antique and voluminous black with a blue-and-white checked apron to defend it, and a smile of the sort once characterised by an advertising genius as the smile that won't come off. The main curves of her face were of a ruddy hue, and from among them her bright, beady little dark eyes looked out with everlasting inquisitiveness. Her perpetual shortness of breath she explained by—"Me husband's got asthma"—as if she had caught it from him, when Gees, turning to face her in the room to which she had shown him, suggested that the stairs might have winded her. He phrased the suggestion sympathetically and nicely, of course.
"And the bathroom is where?" he inquired.
"Bathroom?" she echoed, as if he might have asked the location of the musicians' gallery in the banqueting hall. "Lor' bless my soul, sir, there ain't no such thing as that! Bathroom!"
"Well, what are we going to do about it?" he demanded, and clicked back the hasps of his suit-case on what, he divined, was a feather bed.
"The kittle's on, sir. I'll bring you up a jug o' hot."
"Yes, but—" He broke off. Even at fifty pounds and ten per cent of problematic commission, the idea of existing for a month without a bath was an absurdity. "I want a bath, Mrs. Butt," he almost wailed.
"Well, sir," she said dubiously, "there's a tin bath in the scullery, an' if I was to light the copper fire when I come to do me big clean Fridays. I mean, Mr. Kleinert said you'd be stoppin' some weeks—" She left the suggestion unfinished, and gazed at him hopefully.
"Suppose you let me have that tin bath in here—over in the corner there," he proposed, "and put two buckets of cold water alongside it every night, and empty it in the morning. I don't want hot baths."
"I could do that, sir," she agreed, very dubiously, "though what they'll say when they come to empty the cesspool—"
"Do you mean to tell me there's no main drainage here?" he demanded, and realised anew that he was committed to at least a month of this place—unless he broke his agreement and fled.
She explained various things, and agreed to the tin bath in his room, which would have to be placed on what she called "seeks" because of the mess. Also to the daily supply of two buckets of water. And she ended with a sentence which Gees was to know well before all was done.
"What with me own, and this, I has me 'ands full."
The house, Gees decided, was anything between one and two centuries old. The floor of his large room sagged toward the middle, and was springy to the tread: later, he saw the oaken beams which supported the flooring, warped by the weight resting on them, but still sound. The wall-paper was a faded atrocity of parrots, roses, and lilies, and the furniture betrayed the depths to which the minds of Victorian designers had sunk. The washstand was marble-topped, the dressing-table of tortured mahogany, and there was an armchair upholstered in slithery horsehair. After trying the bed (this was later that night) Gees got out, unmade it, and pulled the feather bed on to the floor, deciding that it was better to sleep uneasily on a lumpy mattress than to be suffocated in billows of clinging stuffiness. For light, he had two candles in tall sticks, which he moved from the dressing table to the washstand, because of the draught from window to door. There was an entirely different and aggressive upward draught from the openings between the floorboards: near the dressing table, it made his legs quite cold. The fact that the casement was stuck and, short of using a crowbar or some other strong lever, could not be opened was, he decided, of no importance whatever.
His brief toilet made, he took one of the candlesticks to light the way along a short corridor in which were two doors—his room was at the inner end of the corridor from the staircase—and down to the low-ceilinged room in which he knew he would find his host. There he found a table laid for two, a big coal fire recently lighted, and on the hearthrug in front of the fire Kleinert, his legs wide apart and his hands behind his back, displaying none of the fear with which he had told of his nothing the day before, but looking almost perky.
"I hope you find your room comfortable, Mr. Green?" he asked politely.
"Comfortable is hardly the word," Gees assured him, with well- simulated enthusiasm. "I have never seen anything like it."
"Those feather bed," Kleinert observed complacently. "It is a great invention, those feather bed. Of a unique warmth, the feather bed."
"You furnished the place yourself?" Gees inquired, reflecting, as he surveyed his host, that the man was capable even of that.
"I take it as it stand," Kleinert told him. "The people before—it was a small farm, and now another farmer add the land to that which he already have and do not want the house. I take it as it stand."
"Without a bathroom," Gees ventured to point out.
"Yes, there is no bathroom." A fact, evidently, to be accepted, not resented. Almost an advantage, by his way of accepting it.
"And main drainage hasn't got here yet," Gees added.
"I do not take baths," Kleinert said, as if he did not mind keeping discussion on that point alive, but considered mention of main drainage indelicate.
Mrs. Butt, breathing heavily, entered at that point with a dish under a metal cover, which she placed in front of the pair of carvers on the table. The two men stood silent until she returned with two vegetable dishes and hot plates for the meal. These deposited, she turned from the table to address Kleinert, defensively.
"Sprouts was out of the question, Mr. Kleinert, so there's parsnips," she announced. "What with me own, and this, I has me 'ands full."
And she went out, while Kleinert invited Gees to seat himself, and then in grave silence carved the leg of mutton from which Mrs. Butt had removed the cover. Carved plenteously, and passed the plate.
"We shall eat always simply, but there will be enough," he promised. "I shall entertain you as I entertain myself if I am alone."
Gees dispensed potatoes and parsnips. "And in return?" he asked.
"In return?" Kleinert took his plate back. "I do not understand."
"Why, you want me to do something in return?" Gees questioned.
"In return, Mr. Green, you companion me after it begin to grow dark until I am ready for sleep—I am at most times ready for sleep very late. In the day, I have my work, and you shall do what you will here—not elsewhere, but here. And in the time of darkness—I have told you, I fear theft of my life work, and the thieves do not come by day, but by night. After Mrs. Butt is gone, when but for you I should be alone."
He gobbled mutton, as if no more explanation were necessary.
"And that's all you want?" Gees asked incredulously.
"I think, now you are here, Mr. Green," Kleinert answered when he had swallowed enough mutton to be capable of speech again, "it is all I shall ask. For in being here you keep away the thief—the thieves."
That final alteration from singular to plural, Gees noted, was hurried and very emphatic, as if Kleinert had made a slip and were desperately anxious to amend it. He stoked mutton again hastily and copiously as alternative to further explanation, and perhaps in vain hope of concealing the fear which had, for the minute, returned to his eyes.
"The thief would be more likely to come by night, of course," Gees remarked deliberately, and slightly stressing the word "thief."
Kleinert stopped chewing to stare at him, but he busied himself with all that was on his plate, and ignored the stare.
"I have said that which I wish," Kleinert observed coldly, and resumed chewing, cutting himself another mouthful the while. "It is not needed that there should be any more discussion, Mr. Green."
The month that had already yielded fifty pounds was very young, as yet, Gees reflected, abstaining from more discussion. That there was something out of the ordinary, not to say fishy, about Kleinert and his "life work," he—Gees—began to feel convinced: in a week's time he would get Quennell's report on the man, and meanwhile he might find other sources of information here. Snoddlesdon would contain a parson, almost certainly, and there might be a doctor too, while beyond question there was the Drake and Gander. And Kleinert meant to let his guardian loose during the daytime, evidently.
They finished their assault on the mutton with no more speech, Gees being determined that he would not renew the conversation, and Kleinert, who took a second helping which altogether spoilt the appearance of the joint, seeming quite content to gorge meat without talking. Mrs. Butt, judging her moment by instinct and catching Kleinert in the act of taking his final mouthful, removed the joint and vegetables and replaced them by a soggy concoction of eggless custard, sliced cake, and plum jam which she said was trifle, and then announced before departing—
"The kittle's on the stove, Mr. Kleinert, an' I'll clear away in the mornin' as usual, if you don't mind, while I get along an' see to me husband an' Jimmy. What with them, and this, I has me 'ands full."
Without waiting for a reply, she departed, breathing audibly for some seconds after she had left the room. Then, while Kleinert spooned up a plateful of trifle—Gees had declined it, and wound up on bread and cheese—the front door slammed, and Gees heard or imagined Mrs. Butt panting on her way to the dark brown gate.
"And now—" Kleinert pushed back his chair and rose—"you told me that you do play the game of chess, Mr. Green."
"That is so," Gees agreed. "Where do you wish to play?"
"Why, here, of course." Kleinert appeared surprised by the query.
"With that table in that state?" He nodded at the wreckage of trifle, the gob of spilled custard and jam beside Kleinert's empty plate, and all the desolate untidiness their meal had left.
"So she always leave it—why not?" Kleinert inquired. "And there is but this fire. The other room, which was the parlour when the people from whom I take the place as it stand live here—there is no fire."
"We can't sit here with the table like that," Gees expostulated.
"She will not stay to clear the table," Kleinert said. "She have her hands full, and there is not any other to come to do the work."
"Then a spot of exercise is indicated," Gees told him.
Opening the door of the room, he looked out to darkness, and remedied it by lighting the candle he had brought down from his bedroom. With this he found the open doorway of the kitchen, and, leaving the candle on the already littered dresser, returned and piled up plates and all the rest of the dining table's contents, to carry them out. Three trips disposed of the lot, while Kleinert stood frowning over this departure from established custom and warming his hands and posterior at the fire.
"Chess, I think you said," Gees remarked, arriving at the hearthrug after having closed the door, and observing that the old gate-leg mahogany table, severely plain and thus in sharp contrast with the ugly remainder of the room's furniture, was rather a fine piece.
Kleinert angled his chair between the table and the fire, and pulled the one on which Gees had sat to a corresponding angle.
"Thus," he said, "we shall be at ease, and warm. The pieces and the board are on the top of the sideboard, Mr. Green."
Nothing loth, Gees fetched the set and board and set them out. He had played the game intermittently from boyhood, and, during his two years in the police force, had come against players of no mean skill, for there every form of mental and physical activity is encouraged. For the first game, Kleinert had white, and he opened with king's knight's pawn, with an air of confidence that proved him a player. Two hours later, Gees laid his king down on the board.
"Your three remaining moves are obvious," he said. "Another?"
"But yes." Kleinert sounded almost gleeful. "Mr. Green, I know as I first see you, you are the man, and now I know the fifty pound for the month it is not too much. I have not find anyone to play chess like you since I was... yes, it is the white to you, for the next."
At midnight, Gees got up to replenish the fire for the second time while his antagonist studied the board. At a quarter to two in the morning, Kleinert pushed back his chair and wiped perspiration from his low forehead with the back of his hand.
"This game is to you," he said. "But two more moves—I see there is no escape. One to me, one to you, and I am so exhaust I play no more to-night. To-morrow, yes. To-night I sleep, and slee-ep, and slee-eeep like I have not sleep for many nights. It is very good. I did not see when you sacrifice the bishop—I did not see the trap. It is very good. If you like whisky before you go to bed, there is whisky in the sideboard. I myself do not need it to-night, but there is whisky."
"I don't need it either, thank you," Gees said.
Later, after he had got rid of the feather bed and settled himself on the lumpy mattress, he wondered as he found comfort for his hip bone whether Kleinert had needed whisky as an anodyne until to-night, and, still more, wondered what it was that the man so obviously feared.
DAYLIGHT, yes, but of a peculiar quality, Gees observed as he turned in bed to face the window next morning, and then sat up in response to a knock on his door. "Come in!" he called.
"I'm puttin' the hot water jug down here, sir," Mrs. Butt's voice announced through the panels, and then her breathing and footfalls receded and faded out on the staircase.
Thereupon Gees got out of bed and, ascertaining that it was already well past eight o'clock, took in the jug. A glance at the window showed him a white woolliness that accounted for the strangeness of the light: tiny tufts of the woolliness seeped in through crevices and dissipated to wraiths and damp nothingness, and the numb stillness that fog always brings impressed itself on his sense. He shaved, managed a bath of sorts with the two buckets of water Mrs. Butt had placed as he had requested the night before, without overmuch splashing on to the "seeks" on which the oval galvanised iron bath stood, and then dressed in tweeds and pullover and went down to find Kleinert again warming himself on the hearthrug and the table laid for breakfast.
"You sleep well?" Kleinert inquired politely, by way of greeting.
"I don't remember anything about it," Gees answered—quite truthfully, in spite of the lumpy mattress.
Kleinert puzzled over the reply, and apparently gave it up. "There is fog," he announced, eyeing the laid table.
"I had a vague idea there might be something of the sort, when I saw it coming in through my window," Gees concurred.
"There is fog," Kleinert insisted with earnest gravity.
Then Mrs. Butt brought in a covered dish, put it down and, removing the metal cover, disclosed five fried eggs, two mounds of nicely crisped bacon, and a hillock of fried potatoes. Kleinert moved to his chair and seated himself, and took up a spoon and fork as she went out.
"I have three eggs," he announced. "Always I have three eggs. If you wish three eggs, she will fry another."
"Two will be plenty for me, thank you," Gees assured him.
"We shall eat always simply, but there will be enough," he promised, exactly as he had done the night before. He scooped two of the eggs and one of the mounds of bacon on to a plate, and with the spoon cut the potato hillock exactly in halves. And he managed to achieve a grossness in his way of doing it, and to spatter hot fat on the tablecloth.
"One spoonful of those potatoes will be enough for me," Gees warned him in time, "and about half that amount of bacon, thank you."
Whereupon Kleinert took back half the mound without comment, passed the plate, and helped himself by holding the dish over his own plate and sliding all its contents from dish to plate by means of the spoon.
"That way," he explained, "they do not get cold before we eat."
He was licking the last of his third egg off his straggly moustache when a cackling noise sounded to them from outside the room, and Gees looked across at the closed door. He had been looking anywhere rather than at his host in the act of breakfasting.
"It is Jimmy," Kleinert said rather indistinctly, because he had just taken a mouthful. He swallowed audibly. "Mrs. Butt ask me if she may bring Jimmy sometimes in the morning, because he is of weak intellect and is not to be too much alone. He do not do any harm, Jimmy."
By the time breakfast was over, Gees felt he had made a mistake in not insisting on a hundred pounds instead of fifty for a month of meals with a man like this. He lighted himself a cigarette—Kleinert had already started a black cigar which he had lighted with an old-fashioned fusee—and got up from the table to regard the window and nothing but whiteness beyond it. Then he saw that Kleinert too was looking out, and in the man's eyes was the fear he had evinced when talking of his nothing.
"It was like that," he whispered. "Yes, like that."
"What was like what?" Gees asked, in a matter-of-fact way.
Kleinert's sudden, frightened stare at him revealed not only that the question was totally unexpected, but that he knew he had betrayed himself more than he wished by the remark. Then an almost animal cunning declared itself in his eyes, but did not quite displace his fear.
"I speak of the fog," he said. "Often it is like this. If I had known there would be the fog like this, I would not have taken this house as it stand, as I did. For I think in the fog perhaps the thieves come, and so though it is not now night I wish you to be with me while there is the fog. Perhaps by noon it go away. And for the now, the chess?"
"At this time of day?" Gees asked incredulously. "Hardly, I think."
"But I have you to come here that I may occupy my mind," Kleinert half-pleaded. "So I may not think of the—so I may occupy my mind."
"Very well," Gees said. "But instead of chess—which I've no wish to play again till this evening, if then—what about showing me something of this life-work of yours? Those colours? I've an interest in them now, you know—a ten per cent interest. To pass the time till the fog lifts and gives me a chance to see something of Snoddlesdon."
"There is in Snoddlesdon nothing to see," Kleinert dissented with unnecessary energy. "And the colour—I shall show him to you perhaps to-morrow or the next day, but not while there is fog. No."
"Then what about a look over this interesting old house?"
"It is of not great interest to me," Kleinert said, as Mrs. Butt entered and began clearing the table, "but if you will that I shall show you, it is to pass the time, and I show you—yes."
Mrs. Butt, moving with unusual rapidity in spite of her curves and shortness of breath, had piled a metal tray with practically all that the table had contained, and achieved finality by nesting the glass butter-dish between the teapot lid and the top of the hot water jug. She took a heavy breath and reached out to lift the tray.
"Let it alone, Mrs. Butt—I'll take it out for you," Gees bade.
"Well!" She stood back to pant at him. "An' clearin' the table for me last night, too! This is a treat. Though what with me own, and this, I has me 'ands full. Thank you, sir—thank you!"
She followed him out to the kitchen, where no sign of the preceding night's debris on the dresser remained, and a hydrocephalus lad in an old serge suit far too small for him, vacuous-looking and with pendent lower lip—he might have been anything between ten and fifteen years old and was obviously overgrown—turned from the old-fashioned range to glance vacantly at the stranger and then give his mother a wide grin.
"Yes, sir—on the dresser, please. That's right, Jimmy, you keep on bein' a good boy, an' I'll let you help me to wipe up. He's a good boy, sir, my Jimmy. Don't never give me no trouble, he don't, but with a fog like this I don't like to leave him at 'ome alone, because he might go wanderin' out, an' since Mr. Lisle got hisself drownded—"
"It will not be of interest that Mr. Green should know why I let you bring Jimmy when you come to work here, Mrs. Butt," Kleinert interrupted sharply from the kitchen doorway. "You shall now come with me, Mr. Green, since you say you wish that I shall show you the house, and I shall show."
"I'm sure I'm very sorry, sir," Mrs. Butt said meekly.
"Nothing to be sorry about," Gees told her. "Here, Jimmy—" he held out a shilling, which the lad took in timid silence—"your mother can tell you what to do with it. And I think there's a suit of clothes at my flat that she might make fit you if I get it sent here next time I write. What do you think of the idea, Mrs. Butt?"
"Oh, sir, it would be good of you! Though I've got no right to expect—thank you, sir, an' I'm sure I could shorten the sleeves an' legs if you was to be so good. He do grow so, do Jimmy! An' what with me own, and this—thank the gentleman nicely, Jimmy, for the shillin'."
"Wu-wu-white pup-pup-penny!" Jimmy bubbled, gazing at it happily.
"I shall show you the house, Mr. Green," Kleinert snapped impatiently from the doorway. "The mutton shall be cold to-night, Mrs. Butt, with roasted potatoes, and to-morrow night curry if there is left enough. To-day for the lunch you put the cold chicken which I have not eaten, and the ham. Mr. Green tell me last night he wish the ham."
By that time Gees had got past Kleinert and through the doorway, feeling certain that, in the matter of hot or cold water in his room or any other reasonable service he might require, he had Mrs. Butt in his pocket, so to speak. He waited, and his host preceded him past their living-room to a door corresponding to that of Gees' bedroom above, and thrust it open, gesturing an invitation to enter.
"That woman, already she talk too much, and you do not give her the encouragement to talk more," he said. "Always she is telling me that her hands are full. This room the people which was here before say is the parlour. Like all the rest, I take it as it stand."
Its dimensions were those of the bedroom above, Gees saw as he entered, and the beams supporting the ceiling were less than a foot higher than his head as he stood. He scratched one with his fingernail, and, under the whitewash with which some vandal had defiled the beam, revealed smooth oak, almost black with age. Kleinert looked at the flakes of whitewash on the floor, and shook his head.
"So long since the water-paint was put on, it should be done again," he observed. "Not by me. Soon, I shall leave this place, when Harten-Blomberg or perhaps Inc have come and buy my life work."
Taking the room "as it stand" evidently meant buying everything it contained, Gees reflected as he took in its furnishing. The previous owners had left everything, even to antimacassars on the horse-hair-covered armchairs—a pair, of the same family as the one in Gees' bedroom—white china dogs guarding a mantelshelf on which were A Present From Margate in the form of a gaily-coloured sauce-boat, two nests with stuffed goldfinches standing on their edges, each under a glass shade and rather moultish as regards plumage, a pair of cut-glass lustre candlesticks, and a small, bird's-eye-maple-framed portrait of a gentleman, elderly, with a hangman's fringe of beard over an old-fashioned stock, and cheeks apparently rouged, for in the early days of photography they inclined to overdo their tinting. There was also a black marble clock with the glass and minute hand missing, and a bent and rusted hour hand stuck out diagonally from its face. And all filmed in dust: the goldfinches were visible, certainly, but under a cloud.
Moths had patterned a railway junction and eked a goods yard on the dusty maroon-and-black woollen cover of the claw-legged centre table, but had admitted defeat over the horsehair of a sofa on which, by the angle to which its upholstery had been stuffed, nobody would willingly sit. Once-white lace curtains partly masked the fog without. Footprints on the dusty carpet which covered all the floor showed how one had gone to the window from the doorway and returned. On the wall over the sofa was a bird's-eye-maple-framed representation of Abraham about to offer up a villainous-looking Isaac on a high, three-legged stool by means of a billhook, and, at right angles to this engraving, a Greek-profiled Jael in an empire frock knelt beside a Sisera in full armour of thirteenth-century pattern and with the nail driven not only through his head, but through his helmet as well, and looked particularly satisfied with herself as she poised the hammer for yet another swipe.
"I do not use this room," said Kleinert in the doorway.
"I wonder why not?" Gees reflected pensively.
"It is, of course, a good room," Kleinert admitted, "but the one is enough for the time I stay here. And with that one, and to cook and to keep clean also upstairs, Mrs. Butt she has her hands full."
"Yes. I wonder what Sisera did with his beard when he pulled that visor down," Gees mused aloud. "The artist ought to have tucked it in under the breastplate. Well, Sisera should worry, not me." He backed out from the room. "Any more good rooms downstairs, Mr. Kleinert?"
"There is no more," Kleinert assured him. "For that which we use, and this, they are all that the other people used for themselves. For there is the kitchen you have seen, and a scullery very large, and one room with wooden shelves round on which are still milk pans, which they did use for a dairy, and the floor is of brick and quite cold, so that room is no use to me. Also I would not use it because Mrs. Butt tell me already she has her hands full, even if it were of use."
"Then where do you do this life work of yours?" Gees asked.
"It was a bedroom, but they do not furnish it. So I take it for the great work. You see, Mr. Green, you are at one end of the passage upstairs, and the door of that room is at the other end. In the middle is where I sleep on the one side, and a bedroom which is not used on the other. And that is all the house, so there is not much to show."
He finished the statement in the doorway of the living-room, as Gees decided to term it, and made for the hearthrug to take his normal stance there. Evidently he did not mean to show any more, for the time.
"And now, the chess?" he inquired, rather timidly.
"I think not, till to-night," Gees dissented. "If you look outside, you'll see the fog's thinning. It's not much more than a thick haze, in fact. I can see shrubs out there, and a hint of sunshine breaking through as well. I'll go and have a look at the car after putting up that world's record to get here yesterday, and then stroll out for a breath of fresh air. Can't stick in here doing nothing all day, you know."
"There is the chess," Kleinert observed yet again.
"What with me own, and this," Gees retorted. "If we do two more games to-night, and they're anything like the ones we had last night, it'll be quite enough for my limited intellect," he concluded severely.
Kleinert considered the statement as he warmed himself.
"If you must go," he said eventually, "there is a very good walk on which you may return for the lunch without hastening too much. As you leave the dark brown gate which come to this place, you turn to the left along the road, and so you go uphill slowly, not steep as when we come down to the railway crossing. Two miles, and you reach Godwinsford, which is another village, and if antiquity is of interest to you there is a mound behind the church which it is said is a Saxon barrow."
"With the wheel missing," Gees surmised. "I must certainly have a look at it. Turn to the left outside the gate. Is that all?"
"If the road should be straight, you shall keep straight," Kleinert told him, "but it is not. You keep the road for two miles."
"Good enough." He glanced at his wrist watch. "Ten o'clock already. I expect I'll be back by one or thereabouts."
"Now the fog is gone, I do not mind," Kleinert said, but with a note of dubiety as he gazed toward the window, beyond which the overgrown, untidy garden grew more distinct every moment, and pale sunlight filtered down on its mess of dead stalks and weeds.
Whether he minded or no, Gees reflected as he went out to the barn into which he had driven the car, it was necessary to get away from him for a little while. With that conviction he opened up the locker in the back of the Rolls-Bentley and took out cleaning materials, including a chamois leather which he soaked in a level-full rain water butt at the corner of the house and then wrung out. A quarter of an hour or so of careful work on cellulose and plating removed most of the mess of yesterday's drive, and then he hung his cloths and chamois on nails in the barn wall to dry and set forth, to turn right, not left, on emerging from the gateway. Godwinsford could wait: he wanted to explore Snoddlesdon.
A half-mile or so of gentle descent along the narrow, tree- bordered lane brought him to sight of the village green, which opened out to his left, and revealed a large pond or small mere, enclosed, except for a space where cattle might drink, by two lines of horizontal wooden railing spaced on four-foot uprights, the drinking place being some fifty yards back from the road and the farthest railings backed nearly on to a copse of hazel and holly—nearly, because from where Gees first saw the water a path went round the back of the mere (if so small a sheet of water might be given the name) and on to where two houses fronted the green. They were ordinary, two-storeyed, red-brick picked out in white structures, with bay windows downstairs and slate roofs, standing about fifty yards apart. Another path from them was visible toward the station—when he first saw them, Gees was still a little above their level, and so was able to see both paths. Directly ahead of him was the stretch of sidewalk he had seen last night, two houses behind privet on his side of the Drake and Gander, and eight beyond it. One of the eight, though, appeared to be a small terrace composed of more than one dwelling. There was, too, a very narrow lane that had escaped his notice in the darkness, running back past the station side of the inn to give access to more houses and a squat-steepled church. A train composed of engine, three antiquated-looking coaches, a horse-box and small brake van, chuffed over the unlevel crossing as he stood at gaze, almost lost itself among hazel clumps, and suddenly and unaccountably became an invisible clattering. Unaccountably, that is, until Gees discerned a black hole in the hillside among the hazel bushes. Snoddlesdon sat in a basin of which all the sides but this from which he was now approaching it were steep hills, and that tunnel entrance from which smoke still wavered was the train's only possible means of exit from the village in its present direction.
No wonder the village suffered from fogs.
A smallish, shirt-sleeved man, with a face composed of reddish wrinkles about a decidedly red nose, finished shaking a piece of coconut matting and put it down inside the doorway of the Drake and Gander as Gees came abreast the inn and turned toward it.
"Is it opening time yet?" Gees inquired cheerfully.
"We-ell-ll," the other responded, with no doubt at all, really, in the long-drawn syllable. "I reckon five minutes either way ain't likely to be took much notice of, if so be as you'd like a drop."
"Could you make that drop the size of a pint, Mr. Adeney?"
"Well, if you ain't a notion' one, mister! True, it's up there f'r anyone to see, spirits an' bacca as well as beer. I reckon I'll be happy to draw you a pint. Like a tankard, would ye?"
"A tankard would round off my joy," Gees assured him.
James Adeney, licensee, led the way into a bar room of normal village inn type and content, even to the dart board on the wall of varnished pine planks, and ensconced himself behind the bar to draw a pint of Tollits' fine ale from an eighteen-gallon cask which reposed on trestles and was flanked by rows of bottles and shelves of glasses. He deposited the filled tankard on the bar, and took up Gees' half-crown.
"I don't recollect seein' you round here afore, mister," he remarked.
"Which is no reflection on your eyesight," Gees declined the gambit. "Have one on me before you punish that till, won't you?"
"Thankye, sir—" He advanced to the title on the strength of this generous offer from a stranger—"if you don't mind my having a short gin an' pep. Too much beer give me the wind, mostly."
"Then make it gin and pep by all means," Gees invited. "A nice, quiet little place, you appear to have here."
"Not too bad." The landlord mixed his drink. "'On't never be no different to what it is now, I reckon. Lord Blagbury see to that."
"As how?" Gees inquired. "What has he to do with it?"
"Own pretty much everything, 'ceptin' Stagg's bit o' ground he got his cottage on. Stagg's our shoemaker, an' he own his place."
"Socialist, or communist?" Gees asked, and took up his tankard.
"Why, how'd you know, sir? Red-hot socialist, he is."
"All shoemakers are," Gees said gravely. "It's the leather, I always think. A sort of thorn in this Lord Blagbury's side, eh?"
"Not him, but the agent—it's him who don't get on wi' Stagg," the landlord explained. "All the rest, they sign when they take their houses to preserve the aymenities—that's what it say in the leases or however they take 'em—to preserve the ahmenities of Snoddlesdon. I'm never quite sure whether it's ay or ah, that word, sir."
"Whether it's—Oh, yes, I see. And what are these amenities?" He pronounced the word with its accent normally placed.
"Well, not to use any dwellin' house for purposes o' trade of any sort, not to exhibit no signs of no sort whatsoever, not to do this nor that, all soundin' pretty fierce but not meanin' no more'n to live peaceably an' not try to kick up a shindy. While Stagg, he put up a big sign for teas in his front garden all summer, but since he put up over it a gre't red flag with a hammer an' reap-hook on it, which they say is the new Russian flag, he don't get no customers. Only make Lord Blagbury's agent use cuss words. Did you say ay or ah, sir?"
"Neither," Gees told him, and raked in his change and pocketed it. "Remarkably good beer, this. But you get tourists and sightseers in summer, of course? Crowds on the village green, eh?"
"Not so's you'd notice any difference, sir," Adeney demurred. "Last summer there was one lot tried it in a big motor, a sherrybang, it was, come from Godwinsford way an' stopped here. Marked 'Private' an' got a strip o' linen along the side which said 'In quest of rural England.' Eighteen of 'em, there was, the funniest lookin' people you ever see. Spectacles like owls, an' these here—plus fours, they call 'em. Four wimmen there was, too, an' I tell you they were sights. They come questin' in here, an' quested off a fresh eighteen-gallon cask like winkin', they did—how them four wimmen did put it away! Et all the bread an' cheese I'd got, too, an' I believe they'd 'a done in another eighteen gallon if it wasn't that it was closin' time, an' the agent, Mr. Paul, was out on the green nearly black in the face at sight o' that sherrybang. The driver'd had three pints by knock-out, an' he drove 'em across the railway an' got halfway up the hill, an' then stuck, wi' the back o' the sherrybang stove in against the bank, an' he couldn't go neether back ner forrid. Rare owd day out f'r Snoddlesdon, that was, wi' these here rural Englanders reelin' about the hill half-slewed, an' the driver sobbin' over bein' stuck, an' the agent, Mr. Paul, that is, tellin' all heaven what Lord Blagbury'd think o' sherrybangs in Snoddlesdon, which the roads forbids 'em, till somehow they got one o' Farmer Jornder's steam plough traction engines an' hauled the sherrybang to the top o' the hill wi' the plough cable. That was a day, that was."
"It sounds good to me," Gees remarked. "Let's do this again, only make mine a half-pint, this time. Fine beer, this."
"Tollits' brew better stuff'n most," the landlord agreed. "If you don't mind, sir, I'll make it gin an' pep again."
"Make it what you like," Gees urged him, and put down a shilling, quite certain that he was getting his money's worth. "Is that enough?"
"Penny change, sir—I'll just get 'em, though, first."
The sound of a car engine outside drew Gees' attention to the window momentarily, and, over the perforated metal screen of the lower half, he saw a dingy canvas hood-top. Then there entered a very large, red-faced, cheerful-looking man in gaiters, breeches, and a gabardine jacket of pre-war cut, who stamped noisily up to the bar as far as he could get from Gees, leaned forward, and slapped down a half-crown.
"Well, me little sunshine!" he exclaimed heartily. "A double rum, an' I'll punish the water jug meself—not much. Enough water about, I reckon. Fog too—gotter drown the fog somehow."
"You're right, Mr. Jornder." The landlord put down Gees' half- pint and his own drink, collected the shilling and put down a penny, and then took down bottle and glass and measure and poured the rum. "It's funny, now, but we was just mentionin' you as you come in."
"An' what had you to say about me?" Farmer Jornder inquired, regarding Gees with a definite abatement of cheerfulness.
"'Tweren't so much about you as the sherrybang which yo'r steam plough engine hauled up the hill when they got stuck last June," Adeney explained. "This gen'leman was askin' about tourists."
"No time for 'em," said Jornder. "Ha!" He gave one bark of amusement. "That there driver'd 'a kissed me when he see the engine—till I told him it'd corst him four pound to git him outer his mess. Wanted to fight me then, he did. I said to him—'Look heer,' I said, 'if I was to hit you jest once, they'd be pickin' up the bits down on Romney Marsh nex' day,' I said. An' theer was a owd gentleman jest like a codfish paid the four pound an' never turned a hair. Not a hair, he di'n't."
"That was a day, that was," Adeney observed pensively.
"So's this, if only it'd howd dry f'r a few more," Jornder said with a sort of impatient irritation. He drank nearly all his rum and pocketed his change. "If only it'd keep fine f'r three or four days, I'd git my winter wheat in. Land like it is now, it dobble up too much for drillin'. They'd be f'river stoppin' to clean, an' then miss half the drills through dobblin' up. Look like I'll niver git that wheat in."
"I did hear Mr. Smollett got all his in a fortn't back," Adeney observed. "Afore the rain got properly started, that was."
"I got no time f'r gentlemen farmers," said Jornder, with a glance that included Gees in his own total abnegation of time. "New-fangled, ruinin' good land wi' patent this an' patent that. No time at all, I ain't."
"But Mr. Smollett got his winter wheat in," Adeney persisted meekly.
"Well, let him harvest it at Christmas." Jornder finished his drink and slapped the glass down on the bar. "An' good mornin' to ye," he added, and stamped out with another glance of hatred at Gees.
"Owd-fashioned sort," Adeney remarked as, outside, the car engine roared to life and the canvas hood disappeared. "Got that steam plough tackle, an' till motor tractors come along he was allus talkin' about progress an' all that, but di'n't seem to git far with it. They say anyone what take up wi' threshin' tackle or steam plough-in' bound to come to grief at the finish, but I dunno. If Farmer Jornder jest used good drink, steddy lettin' it use him an' goin' f'r double rums this time o' day—well, I got to make a livin', so I'd best not talk too much."
"I've heard that before about steam tackle," Gees observed.
"Aye, an' it ain't done him no good," Adeney asserted.
"I wonder whether you know anyone about here named Lisle?" Gees asked, remembering how Kleinert had cut off Mrs. Butt's mention of the man of that name who had "got hisself drownded." There had been something in the incident that had fixed it in Gees' mind.
"Lisle? Why, yes," Adeney said slowly, and regarding his customer with new, intent interest. "Mrs. Lisle live across the common."
"Not Mr. Lisle?" Gees persisted, not too interestedly.
"He got drowned in a fog, last Febrivery, it was," Adeney told him. "Now she's a widder. Miss Phyllis live with her, an' Miss Ireen got some sorter job in London an' come down week-ends. Though they do say she oughtenter live heer at all, what wi' these fogs an' things. An' if he hadn't got drowned, she wouldn't, neether. I know by what he said."
"Why, how is that?" Gees asked, and took a sip at his half- pint.
"Good health, sir." Adeney followed suit with his gin and pep. "I don't say no more'n iverybody know, like I did at the inquest when I indentified the body to save them pain—held heer, it was. Night afore he was drowned, he come in heer—nice, free-speakin' gentleman, he was. Come off the train from London that night, he had. 'Adeney,' he says to me—theer was half- a-dozen in heer heerd him, too. 'Adeney,' he says, 'gimme a bottle o' yure best dry sherry to take home wi' me,' he says. 'All my troubles is over,' he says, 'an' we're goin' to the Riveera next winter,' he says, on account o' the doctor sayin' Mrs. Lisle oughtenter live the winter in Snoddlesdon. An'—'Ow,' I says, 'I'm glad to hear it, Mr. Lisle,' I says, an' he says—'Yes, Adeney,' he says, 'an' you're goin' to see colours like you never seen afore,' he says. An' I says—' 'Ow,' I says. 'What colours might they be, Mr. Lisle, sir?' I says. An' he jest larfed, an' he says—'Chalk,' he says, an' walked out. Not another word but jest that. Larfed, he did, an'—'Chalk,' he says, an' walked out with the bottle o' sherry under his arm an' that little suit case, brown leather thing it was, he useter carry when he went to London. An' the next night—it all come out at the inquest—the next night he started off in a blind white fog to go up the road to where that Kleinert live, an' never got there. Body found in the water on the common, where he tried to take the path behind the pond an' blundered through the railin', broke it down blunderin' against it, an' it's deep that side. Dead rotten, that railin' was. They put a new one up, but too late to save him, poor gentleman. Yes, the widder an' daughter live in the same house where he walked out of, that night, an' it happened."
"Going to Kleinert's, eh?" Gees queried thoughtfully.
"He were. That Kleinert were in with him over somethin' or other. Useter go to see him, an' he'd go to see Kleinert—some sort o' invention or other it was said to be. I dunno. The widder said the invention was Mr. Lisle's, an' Kleinert said it was his, an' they do say she'd 'a gone to law if she could 'a proved anything against Kleinert. I dunno the rights of it. Why, how come you to inquire about it like this?"
"Merely that I'm staying with Kleinert," Gees answered.
For nearly a minute Adeney stared at him with dropped jaw. Then, very resolutely, he turned to his till, opened it, and took out a shilling and four pennies, which he slapped down on the bar.
"Price o' two gins an' peps," he said, in an altered, harsh tone. "Sorry, mister, I don't drink wi' you. I was mistook."
"I will oblige you by taking the money," Gees said. He swept it into his hand and, knowing quite well that the situation was past retrieving—beside which he had learned all he needed—he walked out from the inn and back toward Kleinert's.
BEYOND the possibility of scrutiny from the lower windows of the Drake and Gander Gees came to a halt. His wrist watch informed him that he had nearly an hour and a half to spare before returning to lunch with Kleinert, and Adeney had told him enough to set him thirsting to know more. With the tall privet hedge at his back, he gazed across the common at the two houses, in one of which Mrs. Lisle and her daughter lived: if he were to get their version of the dispute between them and Kleinert about this discovery of the extraction of colours from chalk, he had no time to spare: Adeney's judgment on Kleinert and any who associated with him was evidence enough of how the widow and her daughter would greet one who to their knowledge, was staying with the man. He must anticipate that knowledge, somehow.
And Adeney, past question, would spread the news that the stranger in the village was staying with Kleinert: by nightfall at latest, everybody would know. Probably they would have known by that time, even if Gees had not been so indiscreet about it in the Drake and Gander, for, obviously, Mrs. Butt's capacity for withholding information was negligible. Problem number one—in which of the two houses did Mrs. Lisle and her daughter Phyllis reside? Problem number two, was an instant frontal attack advisable? As to the first problem, the easiest solution was a call at either of the two houses, a fifty-fifty chance of striking the right one first, and, for that, Gees favoured the one on the left as he faced them, nearer of the two to the mere. He could not have accounted for the preference: it was a hunch and no more, he would have said. Problem number two—well, learn a little more of the village, first.
There was precious little to learn, though. He turned back toward the level crossing and, passing the inn frontage, observed that all eight of the dwellings beyond it were neat Victorian or Edwardian structures—pre-war, in any case, with their red brick solidities nicely weathered. The first he passed was double-fronted and bay-windowed, like the two across the common, and boasted an aspidistra between the curtains in its left-hand bay—an "art" pot in a bamboo tripod contained this botanic offering to the gods of antimacassars and Spode-filled whatnots. Next was a similar house with a wood-backed brass plate on its neat iron gate, and Gees read the legend on the plate—"T.A. Bourne, M.D., F.R.C.S. Surgery Hours: 9 to 11." Then came a three-doored frontage, its strips of front garden divided by the prevailing privet, and a tablet over the middle section announced it as—"Jubilee Terrace, 1897."
"Inevitably," said Gees to himself, and, reaching the third section, saw the window filled with bottles of sweets, cards of pencils, and the like, while over the door was a board declaring that Sarah Arum was licensed to sell tobacco here at Snoddlesdon Post Office, which dealt in telegrams and postal orders. A red bicycle showed that the delivery of telegrams was well abreast of modern needs, and a redder letter-box in the wall beside the door declared its age by its cast-iron front, on which the letters "V.R." appeared in relief over the slit. It appeared quite a good letter-box in other respects. Gees moved along a step or two, and then a projecting sign beside the board over the door, almost invisible because edgeways on to him until he moved, told him that you may telephone from here. And, backing until he was opposite the gate, he decided that he would. Just a few words with Eve Madeleine.
The bell on Sarah Arum's front door said Ping-ng-ng! and Gees saw before him an ordinary passageway and an open door on the left. Entering there, he found a three-foot space for customers in front of an aggressive odour of Cheddar cheese and a waist- high counter of which the far end was protected by a wire grille for some six feet of its length. The rest of it, save for a space sufficient to one customer at a time, was laden with skeins of wool, bacon, carded pocket-knives, a pile of men's socks, cardboard boxes, the two-thirds of a Cheddar cheese that had already introduced itself, some few of the famous fifty-seven varieties both in glass and canware, a plate of sausages, and a shirt with two collars thrown in, tacked on a card and priced at four-and-six. Shelves at the back supported old-fashioned grocer's canisters, a treacle barrel with a basin under its tap, boxes of cigarettes and packet tobaccos, and placards of impossibly beautiful and rather daringly attired houris who drew attention to the fact that certain cigarettes, teas, meat extracts, and other commodities were of surpassing merit. There was one ravishing vision with ideas of her own about the display of underwear who sat cross legged on a cloud of cigarette smoke and—
Sarah Arum—Gees decided it was the postmistress herself—intervened between him and those lovely legs. Ample-busted and tight at the waist, with a cameo brooch protecting a large area of her throat and securing her mouse-grey silk—or possibly rayon—blouse, and with grey hair as tightly confined as her waist, she gazed at him through horn- rimmed spectacles in a fashion that made him feel his association with Kleinert was already known in this emporium—until he recollected that she was in a sense a post office employee.
"I want a telephone call to London, please," he asked.
"Dial O in the box in the corner there," Sarah informed him coldly. "The operator will get your number and tell you when to insert the coins."
From where he stood, the box in the corner was invisible, being recessed in the wall in front of the wire grille. He found it, proceeded as instructed, and saw Sarah Arum regarding him intently from behind her grille as he waited after inserting his coins. Lest the sound-proofing of the box should fail him—Sarah looked avidly eager to learn this stranger's business—he prayed while "Yarp-Yarp!" repeated itself at his ear, and his prayer won response. For a customer, a girl attired all in black, entered, and Sarah had to leave him to his telephoning and move out from behind the grille to serve the newcomer.
"Yarp-Yarp!" went on. The girl at the counter was well- dressed, not so tall as Eve Madeleine by an inch or more—Gees had got into a habit of estimating feminine heights by that of his secretary, but did not realise the fact—and dark as to hair and eyes. Tragic eyes, rather: she looked as if the banal phrase, "highly strung" applied to her, as it does not in the case of so many neurotics over whom it is used. A very sensitive girl, this, and a dreamer: the full face was better than the profile; an attractive face, with those soft brown eyes. Somewhere in her twenties, about Eve Madeleine's age, or a bit younger—
"Yarp-Yarp—Yarp—click! Gees Agency speaking. Who are you?"
"Morning, Miss Brandon. Gees this end, too. Any news?"
"Morning, Mr. Green. Sorry I was so long answering—one of those flag-day collectors at the door. Nothing worth troubling you over, merely some inquiries which I have turned down. It must have been a trying journey for you yesterday, wasn't it?"
"Yesterday, Miss Brandon? Great snakes and little mackerel! Of course, it was only yesterday I left civilisation! Feels like last year already. Now something for you to do. Go through my clothes, and take out the dark-grey cloth suit with the double greenish stripe—faint stripes, they are. I don't think you've ever seen me wearing it, but you'll find it hung behind my tails in the wardrobe. Got that?"
"Dark grey suit with faint double stripe—yes, Mr. Green."
"Hanging behind the dress coat. Pack it and send it by post to me care of Kleinert, Snoddlesdon. No, though, not to me. Address it to Mrs. Butt, Snoddlesdon. Mrs. Butt—water-butt, any old butt. Got that?"
"Will that be enough address?" she asked.
"Miss Brandon, this isn't Manchester. Plenty address. Mrs. Butt, Snoddlesdon, Kent. I take oath there is only one Snoddlesdon, and that's enough, too. Now the next. Lisle—" he spelt the name out—"drowned here last February. Look it up—I can't tell you what date, because I don't know myself. Lisle, drowned last February at Snoddlesdon. Copies of all Kent papers reporting the inquest, and any further proceedings or reports of the drowning prior to the inquest, to reach me here by post to-morrow morning—you've got all the afternoon for it. Got that?"
"Yes, Mr. Green."
"By the way, Miss Brandon. Send those papers poste restante, Snoddlesdon, not care of Kleinert. He's not to know I'm getting them."
"Yes, I understand."
"Also, get on to Quennell's Inquiries and ask for Quennell himself. Tell him not to wait till Monday if he's got anything on Kleinert, but to send me what he's got and keep at it for more. Also to investigate this Lisle and see if he can find out anything about his past history, profession, whereabouts from childhood—everything he can. All clear?"
"You have made it all quite clear, Mr. Green."
"Yes, I'm pretty good at that sort of thing. Thank you very much, Miss Brandon, that's all for the present. I'll call for the papers to-morrow morning. All Kent and any London papers reporting anything at all about either the drowning itself, the inquest, or particulars of the man."
"Yes, I quite understand." She sounded rather impatient over it.,
"I thought you would. That's all, Miss Brandon—good- bye."
He replaced the receiver, congratulating himself over having got all his instructions into a three-minute call. But then, Eve Madeleine—bless her!—had brains, like himself. Congratulating both over that undoubted property, he emerged from the telephone box in time to hear the Ping-ng-ng! of the front door bell announce the departure of the girl in black, and to see Sarah Arum sidling to get behind the grille again—too late! Her expression indicated her realisation of being too late, being one of grievous disappointment, studiously restrained in accordance with the best traditions of female post office employees.
With a cool "Good morning, thank you" to which Sarah made no reply, he went out from the emporium and took deep breaths to rid his system of the attar of cheese he had perforce inhaled. On the sidewalk, about to explore farther in the direction of the level crossing, he came to an abrupt halt and stood staring at the girl in black, already nearly a third of the way across the common and going toward the two houses at its far side. She had gone toward the station to get on to the path, rather than soak her footwear in the wet grass immediately opposite the post office, Gees saw and deduced. In black, going that way—Phyllis Lisle!
He set off with long strides, to intercept her before she could get to her home. Only a fool, he told himself, would let such a chance slip.
Ethically—he thought it all out as he strode across the squelching, sodden common toward the girl—he was Kleinert's man, paid in advance for a month of the oddest sort of service—attendance—let Kleinert or any others call it what they liked. But—but!—he, Gees, had stipulated at the outset and made clear that his contract should be over nothing that was not honest, and with the knowledge he had gained this morning he was on the verge of being convinced that Kleinert had deceived him on that point, and was as free of honesty as of a sense of humour. Just the sort of man, in fact, who would not hesitate to rob the widow and the fatherless. And, since Kleinert set him free during hours of unfogged daylight, there was nothing in the contract to prevent him from learning all he could about these rival claims to the discovery of how to extract colours from chalk and make thirty to forty thousand pounds out of the sale of patent or other rights. Unless he got the complete low-down on the situation, his ten per cent of the kale might go up the flume, he told himself. Therefore—and here was his chance!
"Miss Lisle, I believe?"
She stopped to face him at the words—they were still a good hundred yards distant from the nearer of the two houses by the mere—and gazed up at him inquiringly, composedly.
"I am afraid I don't know you," she answered, with cold reproof.
"That's my loss," he said, and smiled. "I'm most anxious to have a talk to you, Miss Lisle, about your father's discovery of colour from chalk—in your own interest, let me assure you at once."
"I—but who are you?" she demanded, still more coldly.
"My name is Green," he answered. "I have seen enough of a man named Kleinert to have grave doubts of his bona fides, and heard enough of your father's claims to feel certain there is at least something in them. I'm being absolutely frank with you about it. To be franker still, Kleinert has promised me ten per cent of what he expects to make on the sale of rights in this discovery very shortly, and I don't want dishonest money. Which is why I have taken the liberty of accosting you like this."
"But—why, I've never even seen you before!" she exclaimed.
"No, you haven't," he agreed. "But do you know that Kleinert is planning to sell this process for not less than thirty thousand pounds, and is offering me ten per cent of that sum when he gets it?"
"Selling—offering—" she echoed in helpless, incredulous amazement. Then, with sudden suspicion—"What are you doing, then? Why does he offer to share with you? And why do you come to me?"
"Because, since I got here, I've grown more and more inclined to believe that Kleinert's is not a square deal," he answered slowly and incisively. "His ten per cent would amount to three thousand pounds—four thousand, if he gets all he's asking—and I want money as much as most people, but I like it clean, Miss Lisle. If, as I begin to believe, your father had more right to this process than Kleinert, then I don't want his money. I'd rather help you and your mother to get what's due to you, although I've signed on for a month of Kleinert's company."
"Signed on?" she echoed again. "You mean, to help him sell the process for thirty thousand pounds, as you say he's doing?"
"No, merely to keep him company because he appears to have an idea someone is going to steal the secret from him. Who or how, I haven't the slightest idea, yet—I'm telling you all he's told me about it. To stay with him, keep with him except when there's clear daylight, guard him, as he put it. I'm offering you the chance to convince me that his deal is not an honest one, and if you can do it, I'd rather help you and your mother to get what belongs to you than share crooked profits."
She thought over it, facing him with the string bag containing her purchases from Sarah Arum pendent from her hand. Her brown eyes studied his face, and he met her gaze fearlessly while he waited for her decision.
"I don't know," she said at last. "Whether you—I don't know."
"Me, you mean," he suggested. "Of course you don't. But look at it another way, Miss Lisle. Assuming that your father had more right to this process than Kleinert, you've lost everything, haven't you?"
"Lost?" She seized on the word, bitterly. "We were on the edge of success—everything my mother needs—"
She broke off, her lips quivering with recollection of what might have been compared with what was.
"Quite so, Miss Lisle—I understand," Gees said earnestly. "Now, if you take me at face value—and that isn't asking much—if you assume I'm trying to get at the truth about this and act on it, in your interests if I get evidence that Kleinert is robbing you and your mother, what more can you possibly lose? At least you stand a chance of gaining something, while if you turn me down and walk away now even that chance goes west. Don't you see? I've stopped you because I want facts, for my own sake. If Kleinert's money is going to be dirty and dishonest, I don't want it, and if he's robbing you I'll turn on him and risk whether I get anything at all out of it in addition to an easy conscience. If you're sure of the justice of your case, you can't lose anything, and may win."
Again she pondered, and this time gazed across at her home, at the surrounding hills, at the ground before her—anywhere but at him.
"What do you want of me—of us, then?" she asked eventually.
"I jumped at you like this," he answered, "because I wanted to get in first over telling you that I'm staying with Kleinert at present, before anyone else could come along with the news and turn you against me. For this present, all I want is for you to know that I'm quite willing to turn on him and act for you as soon as I'm sure he's wronging you over this. I've got some information due to arrive by post to-morrow morning, and want to digest and tabulate it in my mind, for a start. Then, if you will, to get all the facts you—or your mother—can give me. You for preference, because I don't want to be seen at your house, yet, in case Kleinert gets suspicious of me and turns me out."
"But you'll be seen talking to me here," she objected.
"Quite possibly. If he hears of it, any man of my size can explain picking on the most attractive girl for miles round and scraping acquaintance with her to ask innocent questions about the lay-out of the village and things like that. I can, anyhow, if he questions me about it."
"But—" she smiled faintly at his description of her—"if you say you don't want to come to the house, and not be seen with me again—"
"It seems fairly easy, to me," he said in the pause in which her eyes questioned him. "To keep me from nosing round Snoddlesdon and possibly hearing something not to his advantage, Kleinert recommended me this morning to take a walk to a place called Godwinsford. Do you know it?"
"Quite well," she answered. "About two miles beyond his house."
"Yes, so he told me. Told me, too, that there's a Saxon barrow somewhere behind the church there. Now supposing—let me see! Supposing you went for a walk as far as that barrow to- morrow afternoon, I suppose there's an inn where we could have tea, isn't there, while I question you about all the points I want you to make clear?"
"Not in Godwinsford—and supposing it's raining?" she suggested.
"In that case, you'll find me in my car not half a mile beyond Kleinert's dark brown gate, and the hood of the car will be up to keep you dry—keep me dry too. And if we can't have tea in Godwinsford, it's not the only village in Kent, unless things have altered since I left London yesterday. What do you say, Miss Lisle?"
She nodded assent. "I'll trust you," she said. "We are to meet half a mile beyond Kleinert's gate to-morrow afternoon—"
"At three o'clock, if that time will suit you," he interrupted. "And only meet there if it's raining. If fine, look for a Rolls-Bentley open four-seater with the hood down somewhere near that Saxon barrow at Godwinsford, and then you can add to what I've learned between now and then, and possibly finish my case against Kleinert—which'll mean I've got to hand him back fifty pounds, little as I like the idea."
"But why should you?" she asked, gazing straight at him again.
"I dunno," he answered, and smiled at her. "Except for a—Oh, well, call it an idiosyncrasy, or a kink, or just plumb foolishness. It's what he paid me in advance for a month of trying not to watch him eat his meals, and believe me the job is worth all that. But I can't hold on to his money if I'm going to ditch him. I wouldn't like myself, if I did."
"You shall see me at three to-morrow, Mr.—Green, you said?"
"Green it is," he assured her. "I'm immensely grateful to you, Miss Lisle. As things stand, I'm due to avoid watching Kleinert eat eighty-six more meals, and every one you knock off the list is extra cause for my gratitude. Three o'clock to-morrow, wet or fine, and place according to weather. Now I'll go and get through another meal with him."
Looking back as he returned to the road, he saw that his hunch had not misled him; Phyllis Lisle entered the left-hand house of the two.
Lunch was ready on the table, and Kleinert on the hearthrug gazing at it, when Gees entered the living-room. The chicken of which Kleinert had made mention to Mrs. Butt consisted of one leg and the skeleton of a carcase, but there was plenty of ham and a jar of pickled onions.
"You see the Saxon barrow?" Kleinert inquired solicitously.
"No wheel," Gees answered laconically.
"Wheel?" Kleinert echoed uncomprehendingly. "You see the barrow?"
"I don't care whether it's Saxon or post-Epstein, no barrow's any use without a wheel," Gees insisted gravely.
"I think you do not go to see the barrow, or go to Godwinsford," Kleinert accused. "Else, you know it is a Saxon barrow, an old barrow."
"Quite so, it is," Gees agreed, "and the church isn't much different from other churches in Kent—but I expect you've never been inside the church. That east window, now. Something like an east window!"
"I have not myself been inside the church," Kleinert admitted, and abandoned all questioning as to whether Gees had or had not been to Godwinsford.
"I want to run over there in the car to-morrow afternoon," Gees told him. "No garage in this village, evidently, and I want petrol."
Kleinert frowned as he tried to remember something, and failed. "I have twice been to Godwinsford since I take this house as it stand, and I do not see any garage there for you to get the petrol," he said.
"Ah, but you don't drive a car, you see," Gees pointed out. "It's not till you run the risk of an empty tank that you know how to nose out garages, and I don't think I've got much more than a gallon left. Now where's Mrs. Butt? I telephoned for that suit for her Jimmy." He felt that the sooner he got off the subject of Godwinsford and the possibility of his not having been there, the safer it would be.
"Mrs. Butt go when she have finish her work in the morning, and she do not come again till six of the evening," Kleinert said. "But—"
"That ham looks good, to me," Gees interrupted, "and a walk like I've had this morning makes me all cannibalish. Do we start?"
Kleinert advanced, seated himself, and took up the carvers. "You are a strange man, Mr. Green," he said gravely. "You think you will like some of the chicken with the ham? I thought there would be more chicken." He eyed the remains, and then Gees, rather wistfully.
"Plain ham, for me," Gees told him, and saw his face light up with anticipation as he advanced the carvers past that miserable carcase to slice off ham and yet more ham before annexing the chicken for himself.
"That's plenty for me, thank you," Gees stopped him.
He took his plate and put it down. Kleinert carved ham for himself largely, and then took the chicken by the drumstick and lifted it on to his plate. When he had cleaned off all the bones, he licked his fingers comparatively free of all that had adhered to them, and wiped them and his greasy chin and moustache on his handkerchief before beginning on his slices of ham. And, Godwinsford forgotten, he beamed at Gees, friendlily.
"We shall eat always simply, but there will be enough," he said.
"And this afternoon?" Gees queried. "What do you do usually?"
"It is good to sleep a little after lunch," Kleinert answered. "I think, if to-morrow you say you go again to Godwinsford, you stay here this afternoon, Mr. Green. Also if it is fog to-morrow afternoon I do not wish you to go to Godwinsford then, nor for me to be alone if at any time it is fog. Only when it is clear weather I do not mind."
"I wouldn't want to drive myself, in a fog," Gees admitted, and inwardly questioned how to get in touch with Phyllis Lisle again if for any reason he did not see her on the morrow. Write to her and post the letter from Godwinsford or somewhere outside Snoddlesdon, perhaps.
"There is books, if you do not wish to sleep," Kleinert observed, and nodded at the bookcase on the wall opposite where he sat with his back to the fire. "To-morrow, or some time when you wish, I show you the colours. Not this afternoon, because I think I sleep after lunch."
"You are not working on the process now?" Gees asked.
"It is all finished. I wait now for Harten-Blomberg, or Inc, who make experiment for themselves and then come to buy the fixing formula. Then, I get the payment, and you get the ten per cent commission."
But, on even the little he already knew, Gees felt very doubtful as to whether all that programme would be carried out.
The bookcase yielded unexpected treasures. There were two volumes, the boards of their covers detached from the perished leather backs, of Aphra Behn's works, and as he opened one of them Gees tried and failed to remember whether Pope or Dryden were responsible for the couplet which defined her work—
"The stage how loosely doth Astraea tread,
Who fairly puts her characters to bed."
Bawdy stuff it was, too, even for the period in which it belonged. Then there was Watson's Theological Institutes in four volumes, and after a glance at the first volume Gees took down a very early edition of Robinson Crusoe and, untroubled by Kleinert's catarrhal snoring—he had seen the man eat, and the snoring was a mere circumstance by comparison—settled in the most comfortable chair he could find to the company of the Sallee pirates and the boy Xury until he too succumbed to the warmth of the fire, and found himself in a lug-sail boat with Phyllis Lisle being seasick over the side (Kleinert's snoring accounted for that, he decided when he wakened) and Miss Brandon holding the tiller. He called her Eve Madeleine to her face, and she instantly put the tiller hard over and gave notice to leave at the conclusion of the voyage, and he wakened and put more coal on the fire. Kleinert snored on.
Toward sunset, clouds banked up into the sky from the south- west, and dusk came early. Kleinert, wakening, lighted the Aladdin paraffin lamp while yet enough of daylight remained for Gees to continue reading the small print of Defoe's masterpiece, and took a new box of his smelly fusees from the sideboard drawer to light one of his black cigars, with which he brooded silently, his gaze on the glowing fire, while Gees went on reading in the absence of anything better to do. At a few minutes past six Mrs. Butt arrived, brought in a second Aladdin lamp which she placed unlighted on the sideboard, and retired to the kitchen. Gees puzzled over that second lamp: he had been too tired on arrival the day before, and too engrossed in chess after dinner, to observe whether there had been a second lamp then, but he was inclined to believe there had. If so, it had remained unlighted until he had gone up to his room, but, since he had been first to go, he did not know whether Kleinert had made any use of it. Mrs. Butt's way of placing it indicated that she was used to bringing it in as a part of her evening work.
She laid the table and brought in cold mutton and roast jacket potatoes. By the time Kleinert had taken his second carving, all hope of curry with what remained on the bone, for the following night's dinner, had been utterly destroyed. Again Gees took to bread and cheese while his host polished the trifle dish, again he cleared the table rather than sit with the remains of their meal on it, and again set out the chessmen for Kleinert, who insisted on taking white for the initial game—Gees accepted his ruling placidly—and led off with king's knight's pawn.
It was an opening of which Gees had had no experience, and he played pawn to king's fourth in reply instead of attempting to follow his opponent's opening in any way. Kleinert looked disconcerted: their second game the preceding night had taught him that Gees was not a player to be regarded lightly, and he thought long before supporting his opening by advancing king's rook's pawn to third. Gees began a variant of Blackburne's trap, but, since Kleinert had white, was a move behind with it. They settled to just such a strenuous fight as that of the second game of the preceding night, and over an hour went by.
"Check," said Gees. A rather innocuous check, easily and soundly countered by interposing a bishop between the white king and Gees' queen, with, obviously on sight, no other advantageous move. But Kleinert did not make the obvious move: he bent over the board, as if studying it, and shivered, though the fire beside which the two of them sat afforded quite as much warmth as Gees cared to experience.
Did it, though? For now it began to appear that the fire was not burning quite so well; the little, leaping flames from the gaseous coal gave place to tiny jets of smoke, and the red coal dulled. A chill entered the room and grew to cold dankness, and the numb, dead silence of fog enveloped the room—encurtained all the house, perhaps, though here no sound from outside was to be expected at this hour. But the cold and damp were those of fog in the room, though Gees could see all things clearly. The cause of this odd sensation was viewless, and yet Gees got from it an impression that there was some third living entity in the room with them.
"The other lamp!" Kleinert's voice was unrecognisable, like that of a man speaking from some enclosed space, hollow and not quite echoing in its quality. "The other lamp—please light the other lamp!"
Then Gees got up and, going over to the sideboard, took the shade and chimney off the second Aladdin lamp, though the one on the table gave plenty of light, and, removing the mantle, got the wick alight. He replaced mantle, chimney, and shade, and came back to the table. There were drops of sweat on Kleinert's sloped, low forehead, he saw, and other drops ran down the man's cheeks and went "Pat!" on the bare mahogany of the table. Slowly the mantle of the second lamp grew incandescent, and the light in the room grew more brilliant, and all the time Kleinert sat like stone, and sweated like porous, sodden stone, while Gees, standing quite near the dull deadness of the fire, knew that he felt very cold.
As slowly as it had begun, the strange experience ended. Slowly the fire came back to normal brightness, slowly the impression of fog, the chill, and the numb silence passed. Kleinert reached out his hands over the table as might a blind man, upsetting the chessmen on the board and thus spoiling all that was left of the game. Then he stood up, his eyes narrowed and his teeth set as he glared over at where the second lighted lamp now gave as great a brilliance as its fellow.
"I will not!" he ground out fiercely from behind his clenched teeth, his hands gripped to hard fists over the table. "No! I will not!"
He fell into his chair again, rather than sat down, and lay back with his eyes closed, breathing heavily while Gees stood over him, watchful and wondering what one should do in a fit of this kind—if fit it were. He did nothing, and after a long interval Kleinert opened his eyes and looked up like a man wakening from sleep after a nightmare.
"It is gone," he whispered. "Yes—two is one too many, and it is gone. I think I will have the whisky, Mr. Green. In the sideboard—the whisky—will you please get me the whisky from the sideboard?"
Gees brought him the bottle—there were two glasses and a jug of water on a tray on the sideboard, and he brought them too. Kleinert half-filled a tumbler and drank the dose neat, in one go, while Gees poured himself a moderate tot, added water, and sipped, standing before the fire. Kleinert, his empty glass in his hand, gazed at the table and the disordered chess board, and then round and up at his companion.
"Yes," he said, "it is in time I have you to come here to be with me, Mr. Green. For to face that alone—no. Also—" the expression of animal cunning Gees had seen on his face before appeared there—"the thieves. It is at such time they may come—it is of them I am most in fear. Yet this too—it is of the house, which is very old. A haunting of some bad thing, is it not called? And this is not the first."
"You're quite sure it belongs to the house?" Gees asked, knowing full well that the man was lying. "Not to—well, say, the fog?"
"Fog?" Kleinert almost shouted the word. "How should it be of the fog? It is of the house, I say, a bad haunting of the house."
"Like no haunting I've ever heard of," Gees observed soberly. He finished his drink and put the glass on the table. "I shall be interested in studying it a bit more carefully when it comes again."
"When—but it is not to study!" Kleinert protested, with the fear in his eyes that Gees was beginning to know so well. "It is I tell you not to study. It is the nothing of which I tell you, the one that make me fear thieves of my great work. A nothing, a quite nothing, and so there can be no study, for you cannot study nothing. Nor do I have you to study it. You companion me, and so guard me, but you do not study."
Gees shrugged, but made no reply. Kleinert drew the chess board toward himself and shook his head as he looked at the tumbled pieces.
"That game is not to reconstruct," he said, and taking out his handkerchief, wiped his face: his voice was all but normal again, now, only a slight uncertainty remaining to mark the strain he had endured. Despite everything he knew and guessed—and the meals he had seen the man eat—Gees had to admire his courage, then.
"No, I'm afraid not," he agreed. "Too many pieces."
"We play again, and you shall have white," Kleinert promised munificently. "I think that game would have been to you, if we had ended it."
The fire burned quite normally again, the atmosphere of the room had no chill left in it—all was as if that odd experience, and the sense of a third presence here with them, had not been. Kleinert set up the pieces, and turned the board for Gees to take white.
"It is your move, Mr. Green," he said.
They played. It appeared to Gees that his opponent spun out the game, delayed longer than he needed over each of his moves. By one o'clock in the morning he was cornered, forced to resign, and he nodded as if well satisfied with the result.
"Now we play the other game," he suggested.
"It's one o'clock already," Gees pointed out.
"It is of no matter. I wish that we play the other game."
With a little grimace Gees began setting up black for himself, although he had won. At first he made up his mind to lose quickly and get it over, but the game took hold on him as it will on one to whom chess is a worthwhile pastime, and he lost himself in it. When at long last Kleinert brought off a brilliantly unexpected checkmate, Gees saw that it was just on four o'clock and the fire had burned low.
"And that's finish, for this round," he said with decision. "Not another move, let alone another game. I've had enough."
"I think it is enough," Kleinert said, with a note of doubt.
He rose, went to the sideboard, and took up the second lamp. "You will please extinguish that lamp after I have gone and you light your candle, Mr. Green," he bade, as he went toward the door.
While he had been alone here, Gees reflected, he must have left one of the lamps to burn out, or at least burn on until Mrs. Butt arrived in the morning, after he had taken the other to light him to bed. Else, why the two lamps?
EXCEPT for the absence of fog, Gees' second morning at Kleinert's was a repetition of the first. Kleinert wolfed his three eggs, half Gees' mound of bacon as well as his own, and all but a spoonful of the hillock of potatoes, and then wound up on bread and butter and marmalade and lighted one of his black cigars with a fusee. Mrs. Butt cleared the table—Gees let her carry the tray herself, deciding that he would not make a habit of saving her the trouble—and gave no sign of having received the suit Miss Brandon had promised to send. She might have left home before the post arrived, and, thinking of the parcel of newspapers which should be waiting at the post office for him, Gees turned from the window, where he had been eyeing the grey, sunless sky and dead stalks in the garden quivering in a breeze that rendered fog unlikely, and addressed Kleinert, who occupied the hearthrug while he smoked thoughtfully.
"What time does the post generally arrive?" he asked.
"I do not expect letters, for this week," Kleinert told him. "If there are letters for you, they will be inside the front door."
A visit to the doormat revealed one letter addressed to G.G.G. Green, Esq., care of Kleinert, and Gees pocketed it for future perusal, knowing that it was from Quennell's Inquiries. The envelope was postmarked—"Snoddlesdon, 8.15 A.M.," which answered his query to Kleinert, and told him that Mrs. Butt had left home before the arrival of the suit, if it had reached here by the same post. He returned to the living room.
"Not any letters?" Kleinert inquired.
"One for me, from London—that's all."
"If I thought there would be any, I would go to look," Kleinert said. "It is from your office about other business—yes?"
"So much so, that I must take a walk as far as the post office," Gees answered.
"I have stamps, and Mrs. Butt will post your letter when she go," Kleinert told him, rather eagerly.
"Mrs. Butt hasn't got a telephone, nor have you," Gees dissented.
"You would telephone your office, then?" Kleinert asked, eyeing him.
"Nowhere else," Gees answered.
"Nowhere—but yes, I understand. You mean you telephone only the office—yes. Then if you take your car, and go to Godwinsford for the petrol this morning—though I do not recollect any garage for the petrol at Godwinsford—but if you take the car and go there, you may also telephone from there, and thus you catch the two birds with the one stone and do not need to go to Godwinsford in the afternoon."
"I'm going to walk to the post office here this morning," Gees retorted decidedly. "A spot of leg-stretching is indicated in the interests of health, Mr. Kleinert, and it's me for it, one time."
Kleinert gave him no reply. He went out, and turned toward the village, to come on Jimmy just as he sighted the green and the two houses at its far side. The imbecile was standing in the middle of the narrow road, staring with widely-opened mouth at the branches of a tree, and he took no notice whatever of Gees. Near the first of the houses on the right two small boys were playing, but as Gees approached they stilled to stare at him, and then took to their heels and disappeared in the narrow lane beyond the Drake and Gander. As they vanished, one of them shouted something about—"Man from Kleinert's." Two men of farm-labourer type, standing before the inn and talking together, ostentatiously turned their backs to Gees as he passed, and, when he entered the post office, Sarah Arum, serving a woman of the village with packet sugar, tried to freeze him with a stare for which she revealed her teeth in a snarl, and the woman she was serving shrank away toward the post-office end of the counter as if fearful of contagion, and turned her back toward him.
"That'll be sixpence ha'penny, Mrs. Tuson," said Sarah, and then, resuming her stare at Gees, she altered her tone to cold harshness. "Yes? What do you want?"
"Letters, newspapers, or parcels, addressed to Green, here," he answered composedly.
Ignoring her other customer for the time, Sarah went behind the grille, took a package of newspapers from some receptacle under it, and, returning, slapped the package down on the counter. "There!" she said, with a sort of vicious satisfaction. "And that's all there is."
"Thank you," said Gees, and, taking up his package, he went out, understanding fully that Kleinert was not the most popular man in Snoddlesdon, and that James Adeney must have enlightened the village as to where the stranger was staying. Unless Mrs. Butt had been talking.
Either; or both, but more probably Adeney was responsible for this attitude on the part of all whom Gees had so far encountered, he decided, and dismissed the matter from his mind as negligible, for the present. Of more importance was the problem of finding some place where he could digest the information in these papers and in Quennell's letter, without Kleinert knowing anything about it. The Drake and Gander was as good as closed to him, for Adeney was the sort of man who would take pains to render him uncomfortable if he tried to read in the bar. He might possibly go back and study his budget in the barn, but if Kleinert came—
The railway station, of course! There would be a waiting room of some sort, or at the worst he could stand in the booking office. He went toward the level crossing, and, turning into the station yard, entered the tiny booking office. A door leading off from it was labelled—"Ladies' Waiting Room," but there appeared to be no general waiting room. Gees went out to the vacant platform in vain, and returned to seat himself on a comfortless bench under a flamboyant poster which advertised ocean cruises with such warmth that he could almost feel the sun on the back of his neck as he put his package of papers down and opened Quennell's letter to see what he could learn, first, concerning Kleinert.
Adolph Kleinert, second son, said the report, of Heinrich Kleinert, a Bavarian who had married Anitra Galesczki, daughter of a Polish nobleman, after taking out naturalisation papers in England, and by her had had two sons, the elder having been killed in the Great War—fighting on the English side, of course. Prior to the war, Heinrich Kleinert had undertaken the editing of the Library of International Technology, a series of works, mainly of foreign origin and translated to English, which were now nearly all out of date, but had served as textbooks for students of chemistry, electrical and civil engineering, physiology, surgery, optics, and in fact nearly all practical sciences. Heinrich Kleinert had committed suicide in 1919, in a fit of depression attributed to knowledge of his unpopularity through being of German origin. Adolph, his younger son, had been privately educated, principally by his father, it appeared, and had eventually taken a B.Sc. Lond., and obtained a post as laboratory assistant in National Anilines, Limited, being appointed to the firm's Birmingham branch under the supervision of one Robert Lisle, M.Sc. in charge of the Birmingham laboratories of the firm. This Lisle had resigned his post very suddenly, having considered himself unfairly treated by his employers in connection with some important discovery he had made and they had annexed without remunerating him beyond his normal salary. He had severed his connection with the firm two and a half years ago, being then fifty-eight years of age, and, without seeking any other employment, had gone with his wife and two daughters to live at Snoddlesdon, in Kent. There he had been accidentally drowned in February of this present year. A more detailed report on him would follow in a day or two.
To revert to Adolph Kleinert. After Lisle had resigned his post in National Anilines, Kleinert's work under the new chief had been so unsatisfactory that, although he had been some years with the firm, he had been summarily dismissed. There was no imputation of dishonesty on his part: he had merely spat in the face of the new laboratory chief in response to criticism of his slackness and lack of interest in his work. He too had gone to Snoddlesdon, and two months after Lisle's arrival there had taken a three-year lease of a disused farmhouse, which he obtained at a very low rental, on the outskirts of the village. Miss Eve Brandon, secretary to Gees Agency, had informed Messrs Quennell's that Mr. Green himself was at present carrying out investigations in Snoddlesdon: if he wished them supplemented, Messrs Quennell's would be happy to trace Adolph Kleinert's activities—if any—during his residence in the village, and they awaited instructions on the point.
"Go on waiting," Gees said, and, refolding and pocketing the report, took up and was about to examine the package of newspapers, but paused at the entry from the platform side of a man with a long-handled soft broom. The intruder was an elderly, very thin being with a straggly, grey-streaked brown beard, who said—"Good mornin', sir" to Gees quite civilly, and then, making one stroke with his broom, clouded the waiting room with dust and set himself coughing so much that he had to stop work.
"Hey! What's the essential design in this?" Gees demanded sharply.
The sweeper leaned on his broom-handle as he ceased coughing, and gazed at his questioner though the now-subsiding accumulation of a life-time or two.
"I beg ye pardon, sir?"
"Don't," Gees snapped. "It's out of stock. Have you got special orders to come in here and smother me?"
"It's got to be swep', sir," the sweeper half-apologised. "Stationmaster gimme the order—it's got to be swep'."
"When was it last swept?" Gees demanded peremptorily.
"Well, sir, I don't rightly know. Generly, ye see, sir, I do the shuntin' an' 'tend to the signal lamps an' that like. This is Joe's job generly, but he bein' laid up, the station-master said—"
He broke off as the ticket window snapped open, and a harsh voice sounded from beyond it—
"Get on with your work, Butt! Don't stand there idling."
"Not in here!" Gees barked, just as imperiously. "Keep that broom still, Butt!" For, he divined, the station-master had recognised the stranger who was associated with Kleinert, and meant to drive him out.
The sweeper—or non-sweeper, for the time being—stood puzzled by these conflicting orders, and the door of the office swung open to reveal a stout, short, red-faced man in railway uniform coat and trousers. He had piggish little eyes which he directed at Gees.
"And who the devil do you think you are, to stop employees of the company from doing their work?" he fired out angrily.
"A close personal friend of the traffic superintendent of this line, if that means anything to you," Gees answered serenely.
The stationmaster's mouth opened wide, and the quality of his stare altered. Then he closed his mouth again, and swallowed audibly.
"Close—personal—this room has got to be swept," he managed to protest. "The station premises gotter be kept clean."
"You should have thought of that before Joe went sick—before he was born, I mean," Gees told him. "I'll admit this station is a disgrace to the line, and I shall take care Sir Lionel hears about it, too." He read the traffic superintendent's name on a placard of regulations opposite his seat, and created him a knight by inspiration. "But until the next train has gone, that broom does no more work in here."
With an air of no doubt whatever over the finality of his command, he began tearing the cover from his package of papers. For about half a minute the stationmaster stood irresolute in his doorway, and then he said: "All right, Butt, you can get on with them lamps till the next train's gone out," and, withdrawing himself, closed his door. Then Gees put his hand in his pocket and took it out again with a shilling displayed between his finger and thumb, which he held out toward the sweeper—husband, almost certainly by his way of coughing, to Mrs. Butt, and Gees foresaw that the man might yet prove a source of information.
"Thank ye, sir," said Butt, taking the coin and glancing rather fearfully at the closed ticket window. "I'm sure I'm sorry, sir."
"That's all right," Gees assured him. "Have one on me with this."
"Thank ye, sir, I'm sure." And, touching his peaked cap, Butt went out with his broom, and Gees unfolded the first paper that came to hand.
Under the heading—"Inquest at Snoddlesdon" he read how the body of Mr. Robert Lisle, a respected resident of Snoddlesdon, had been discovered shortly after dawn of the morning following his failure to return to his home, he having set out in a dense fog after telling his wife that he intended paying a call on a Mr. Adolph Kleinert, who was and had been for some time working under his directions in connection with a new colour process which the deceased was hoping to perfect. The body had been first seen in the pond on the common, not far from where the railings had been broken down, by James Pettit, the local constable.
James William Pettit of the county constabulary, residing at 3, Jubilee Terrace, Snoddlesdon, deposed that at 8.15 on the night preceding his discovery of the body Miss Phyllis Lisle had come to his house and reported that her father, Robert Tynwald Lisle, had left his home, intending to visit Adolph Kleinert, who lived about half a mile distant along the Godwinsford road, at as nearly as she could tell ten minutes to six. The deceased had said that he would certainly be back home within an hour, and probably in less time, as his wife was ailing and he had promised to return to her as soon as he possibly could. There was a dense fog at the time, and by eight o'clock Mrs. Lisle, suffering from a bad attack of bronchitis, had grown so much worse through anxiety over her husband that at her request her daughter had consented to go to the constable's house and ask him to try to find her father. He had accompanied her, though with difficulty, owing to the fog, to Mr. Kleinert's house, where Mr. Kleinert had told them that he had been expecting Mr. Lisle, but thought he must have postponed his visit on account of the fog. They had then returned to Miss Lisle's home, going by way of the path that skirted the back of the pond on the common at Miss Lisle's request, because her father was in the habit of going to Mr. Kleinert's by way of that path. The fog was then so dense that, although they passed within a couple of yards of the railings surrounding the pond, they could not see anything of them, and only managed to keep to the path by the light of the constable's belt lamp. He had gone up to Mrs. Lisle's room, where she was in bed, and tried to reassure her by telling her that Mr. Lisle had probably lost his way and, finding it impossible to get back home in the fog, had taken shelter in some house in the village and would return as soon as he could. It was impossible to search for him, as Miss Lisle had agreed before the witness left her. He had then made his way back to Jubilee Terrace, not without difficulty, although he had his belt lamp to help him in keeping on the path toward the station.
With the first of the dawn he, witness, had begun to search, although the fog was still rather dense. He had gone along the path behind the pond, and had seen the railings broken down—
THE CORONER: In what state were those railings, witness?
WITNESS: Rotten, sir. The wood crumbled if you picked at it.
Proceeding, the witness said that he began looking carefully along the edge of the pond, and at a distance of about four yards from the post at the left end of the breakage saw the body of Mr. Lisle. He wrenched off another rail, and succeeded in getting the body to the side of the pond, when he drew it out, laid it on the bank, and went first to Doctor Bourne, to inform him of the tragedy, and then to the Drake and Gander, whence James Adeney, the licensee of the inn, took a wide board to serve as stretcher, and went with him to take the body to Mr. Lisle's home.
Theodore Anthony Bourne, M.D., medical practitioner of Snoddlesdon, deposed to having gone to the Lisles' home in consequence of information he had received from Constable Pettit, and having broken the news of the tragedy to Miss Phyllis Lisle, and at her request to Mrs. Lisle, who was at that time a patient of his. Subsequently Pettit and Adeney had arrived bearing the body, and the witness had examined it and determined that the deceased had met his death by drowning. A slight bruise in the region of the solar plexus was, in the opinion of the witness, caused by the deceased having blundered on to the railings in the fog, and, unfortunately, so far stunned himself as to lose consciousness for a few seconds and fall forward into the pond—
THE CORONER: Could the contusion be the result of a blow?
WITNESS: It could, but I see no reason to suppose that it is.
THE CORONER: You are of opinion that this unfortunate gentleman's death is due to accident and nothing else?
WITNESS: Nothing else whatever, sir.
THE CORONER: What evidence of the cause of death did the body reveal?
WITNESS: The state of the lungs points undoubtedly to death by drowning. No other contributory cause of any kind.
James Adeney, licensee of the Drake and Gander, Snoddlesdon, who had identified the body as that of Mr. Lisle, said that at Constable Pettit's request he had procured a wide plank on which to place the body and had gone with Pettit to carry the body to Mr. Lisle's home, at a short distance from the scene of the tragedy. By a short distance he meant about two hundred yards. He agreed that the distance from the broken railings to the nearest house, which happened to be Mr. Lisle's, was too great for any cry for help or any other sound to have been heard, since the fog would have had a deadening effect on all sounds. He had not taken enough notice to say if there were any footprints anywhere near the broken railings, but did not think there would be, since most probably the long and rather thick dead grass would not yield them. He knew Mr. Lisle as a pleasant-spoken gentleman, respected by everybody, and only the night before the tragedy Mr. Lisle had come into his bar for a bottle of sherry—
At this point the witness was requested to stand down. Constable Pettit, recalled, said that he had not noticed any footprints either at the time of discovering the body or when with Adeney he had removed it. Since then, so many people had gone to view the spot that it would be useless to search, for the ground was trampled by all sorts of footprints radiating in all directions from the point where the railings were broken.
Adolph Kleinert, of Snoddlesdon, describing himself as a retired Bachelor of Science, said that he had been intimately associated with the deceased over a process for the production of colour, on which they had both been working since the witness had come to Snoddlesdon—
THE CORONER: Did you say you are a British subject, witness?
WITNESS: Yes. My father was Bavarian by birth, but naturalised in this country long before I was born, and my mother was a Polish noble lady. If I do not speak the English so colloquially as perfectly, it is because I am educated by my father for the greater part. I am born British subject, and my brother die for England in the war.
THE CORONER: And Mr. Lisle employed you to work on this process?
WITNESS: Say rather that I employed him.
At this point Miss Phyllis Lisle, present with her sister Miss Irene Lisle, cried out loudly—"That is a lie!"
The coroner, reproving her while sympathising with her over her father's death, pointed out to her that she must not interrupt the proceedings in that manner, but could give evidence later, if she wished. She was then led sobbing from the room by her sister.
THE CORONER: Witness, you say that you employed Mr. Lisle to work on this process. The process is yours, you claim?
WITNESS: So much mine as it is his. Moreover, it is not yet complete. Until there is a method of fixing the colour which we have discovered to produce, it is of no use. The colour is not now permanent.
THE CORONER: Where did you and Mr. Lisle work on this process?
WITNESS: At the house where I live. For there is need of a small engine which is worked by petrol to generate the electricity we require, and Mr. Lisle say he cannot have the engine to work in his house because the noise will be harm to his wife who is not well. Also he have not a room to spare which is so large to take the engine and the storage batteries and the dynamo we require for the process. Also he cannot have the petrol in his house because of the limit of the insurance. Me, I do not have any wife, and I do not have any insurance, at my house.
At this point some laughter among the audience was instantly checked by the coroner, who threatened at any recurrence to clear the room.
THE CORONER: How long have you and the deceased been working on this process together, witness?
WITNESS: We begin it—I should say I begin it—when we are both employed by National Aniline, before he leave there.
THE CORONER: Did he leave National Aniline first, or did you?
WITNESS: He leave, and then I leave.
THE CORONER: And did he then suggest that you should join him here at Snoddlesdon, and again work together on your process?
WITNESS: He say he think I do better to come here, if I take that house which I did take as it stand.
THE CORONER: In fact, you came here at his request?
WITNESS: He say he think I should come here.
THE CORONER: Yet you state—on oath, remember—that you employed him, not that he employed you. The employee tells his employer where he is to live to carry on his work. Is that the case?
WITNESS: He tell me he is already here, and so I come.
THE CORONER: To employ him. Did you pay him a salary?
WITNESS: We work together.
THE CORONER: Answer the question! Did you pay him a salary?
WITNESS: No. It is all to be arranged when the process is complete and we have it ready to sell. It is not yet so ready, not complete.
THE CORONER: Not when you only have it ready for sale, but when both of you have it ready, you say. "We have it ready." Do you still assert that the deceased was a mere employee of yours?
WITNESS: We work together, but the process is mine.
THE CORONER: I am inclined to think, witness, from the series of replies you have given me, that Miss Lisle has some grounds for her outburst in court. That, however, is rather outside the scope of this inquiry, which is to determine the cause or causes by which this unfortunate gentleman came to his death. Now, the night before last—that is, the night on which he left home and did not return—what happened so far as you were concerned?
WITNESS: That night, he say he come to see me—that he tell me the morning of the day, when he have come to my house and we work together, and before the lunch he go back to his home because Mrs. Lisle she is not well. He say he spend the afternoon with her, and leave her with Miss Lisle in the evening while he come to me again about half-past six to know what progress I make about the fixing of the colour, and then go back to have his dinner at his home. But at six o'clock Mrs. Butt who cook for me come and say there is very bad fog, and she do not find it easy to come at my house. So then I look out and see it is very bad fog indeed, and I do not think Mr. Lisle will come to see me till the morning because of the fog. Then some later after I have my dinner, and I do not look to see what is the time, Miss Lisle and the policeman come to inquire, and I tell them Mr. Lisle have not been to see me, and they go away again. In the morning I learn that Mr. Lisle is drowned. That is all.
THE CORONER: You did not leave your home that evening—the evening in which Mr. Lisle was due to call on you, and the policeman and Miss Lisle came to inquire for him?
WITNESS: I do not leave my home. The fog is too bad for me to leave my home. Mrs. Butt, she find me there when she come at six as always she come at six to cook. I am there all that evening.
Samantha Gwendoline Butt, of Snoddlesdon, wife of a railway employee at Snoddlesdon station, deposed that on the evening in question she went as usual to cook dinner for Mr. Kleinert, for whom she also cooked breakfast and laid lunch before leaving in the mornings—the coroner had to check her inclination to add her circumstances and family history to her evidence. That evening, she might have been a minute or two late in arriving because of the fog, which was in her opinion the worst she had ever experienced in Snoddlesdon. On entering the room in which Mr. Kleinert usually had his meals, she found him dozing in front of a large fire, but while she was laying the table he wakened sufficiently for her to tell him her opinion of the fog and receive his orders for the next day's meals. He wanted her to procure some tripe. At this point the witness was bidden stand down, the coroner observing that Mr. Kleinert's tastes in food were not relevant to the inquiry.
Miss Phyllis Lisle, who gave her evidence in scarcely audible tones and was evidently under great stress of emotion, deposed that her father had left home, saying that he must see Kleinert that evening and make certain that the storage batteries were fully charged for work on the fixing process the next day, at about ten minutes to six by their sitting-room clock. She could not state the position of the clock hands with absolute exactness, but it was about ten minutes to six. The clock was usually five minutes fast by station time, and was so that evening to the best of her knowledge. She was certain it was not slow, as her father went to London frequently and, if the clock were allowed to be slow, he might miss the only good train of the morning. He saw to the clock and made certain that it was never slow, though whether he had done anything to it that day or the day before the witness was unable to say. At that point she broke down altogether and, sobbing bitterly, was conducted from the room by her sister and Constable Pettit. The coroner observed that he could see no object in giving her pain by asking for more evidence from her, and that all the story of the tragedy appeared now to have been elucidated by the evidence which had been submitted.
After a brief summing up, which was virtually a recapitulation of the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death, adding a rider drawing attention to the state of the railings round the pond, which in the interests of all in Snoddlesdon demanded instant attention by the parish authorities. Mr. Bernard Paul, agent for Lord Blagbury, promised that new railings should be provided and erected, and associated himself with the coroner and members of the jury in offering deepest sympathy to the family so tragically bereaved.
There was a considerable amount of boo-ing as Mr. Kleinert emerged from the Drake and Gander after the verdict had been recorded, but the presence of Constable Pettit acted as restraint on those who were of opinion that Mr. Kleinert ought to be ducked in the shallow part of the pond, and he proceeded to his home without interference of any kind.
AFTER ascertaining that the account of the inquest he had read was more complete than those in the other papers—Miss Brandon had so placed it that he would come on it first for that reason, probably—Gees scanned the two pre-inquest accounts of the discovery of Lisle's body, found that they added nothing to his knowledge, and then tore out the full report and crumpled the rest of the papers in the empty grate opposite the ticket window. As he held his lighter under the edge of the undermost and saw flame begin to grow, a click announced the reopening of the ticket window, and the stationmaster's red face and piggy eyes were visible as Gees stood up over his conflagration and looked round. At first he thought the official mind had worked round to doubt about that personal friendship with Sir Lionel, but then recollected that it was near on the time at which, on the preceding day, he had seen a train leave the station and vanish in a tunnel. Evidently the stationmaster was waiting—vainly, so far—to sell tickets.
The newspapers, aided by Gees' toe, burned down to black refuse, and he stamped them out of recognition before going out and turning back toward Kleinert's. Opening time for the Drake and Gander had come, and there before the inn stood Farmer Jornder's ripe old car, Jornder himself, and two more men in converse until they saw Gees. Then Jornder boo-ed, the sound being just such as a hungry cow might have produced, and one of the other men called jeeringly before Gees had quite got out of sight—
"Look like it take more'n one to rob the widder an' orphans, now."
A second later, a stone whizzed over his head and dropped on the far side of the road from him, ricochetting on to the grass of the common. Ignoring the demonstration of his unpopularity as a guest of Kleinert's, he kept on his way, followed by no more missiles of any kind.
Evidently, and almost incredibly, they accused Kleinert of no more than intended robbery of the colour process. Yet, on thinking it over, Gees found that it was not incredible at all. If he had had no more than the inquest had revealed to guide him to a judgment on Kleinert, he would have concluded that the man was a nasty piece of work, as the coroner too had obviously decided, but there was nothing whatever to connect him with Robert Lisle's death. Doctor Bourne had attributed the bruise on the body to contact with the railings, which had broken under the impact: reasonable enough, too. Samantha Gwendoline Butt—Gees rolled that name round his tongue joyously, in spite of the subject he was considering—had told of a Kleinert dozing in front of his fire while Lisle had been drowning in the pond—or mere, or whatever one called it. Nobody had remarked that Lisle had left home at a quarter to six, if that clock by which he had been timed out had been five minutes fast as usual, and that Mrs. Butt would for her own sake minimise her lateness in arriving at Kleinert's that evening. Why should they remark these things? There had been no footprints nor signs of struggle by the broken railings, nothing to indicate other than that Lisle had missed his way in the fog and darkness, slipped or stumbled against the rotten railings, and so come by his end in the pond. Kleinert had incurred odium as attempting to lay claim to the fruits of Lisle's work, but, with the absence of evidence of any sort whatever, it would be a very dangerous thing for anyone to suggest that he had been responsible for Lisle's death.
Living with the man as he was, knowing of the strange fear of which Kleinert was seldom free, and having shared with him the uncanny experience of the preceding night, Gees knew himself in a different position from anyone else, able to judge with far greater—not knowledge itself, but combination of facts and impressions which prompted him to investigation, and to the attempt to get evidence—of what kind he could not yet determine—which would bring the man to book for what was almost certainly the cause of his fears, and of that visitation of last night.
A period of dry-cleaning on the car, and the restoration of his cleaning outfit to its place, brought lunch time reasonably near; Gees ran the car back out from the barn to the road, and backed it in again as far as the front door of the house, and then switched off and went in. Kleinert eyed him with unease as he entered the living room.
"You have been a long while to telephone," he accused.
"Quite so," Gees agreed easily, "but I didn't stop at that. I went for a walk in addition to calling at the post office, as I told you I should. Also I've been spending some time on the car before coming in. Also someone threw a stone at me as I came past the inn."
"Throw a stone?" Kleinert sounded delighted over it.
"Unless the stone got up and came at me of its own accord."
"Unless—yes—no. It was not like that, I know. So it is I tell you do not go to the village if you want anything, but go to Godwinsford instead. For in the village they are all like that, because I am not of rude habit like them. They do not like me, and they will not like you. You do not talk to anybody in the village—no?"
"I do not," Gees answered with decision. He had talked to Butt and the stationmaster at the station, not in the village. "And if looks had any killing ability, that woman at the post office would have made dead meat of me. No chance of talking to any of 'em."
"It is good," Kleinert said incautiously. "I mean, Mr. Green, you go to Godwinsford if you require to telephone or anything else, for this village is of rude people, and you do not try to talk to them, hein?"
"Very rude," Gees answered. "Conversationally considered, quite impossible. In fact, I wouldn't think of trying to be sociable."
"I am glad you say so. Godwinsford is better, for everything."
For lunch, there was canned salmon and the ham with which Gees had already made acquaintance. Since he declined the salmon, Kleinert emptied the dish on to his own plate, gobbled the lot, and then caught up with his guest in ham content, without troubling to get himself a clean plate. Later, the black cigar and fusee appeared, and he settled himself by the fire after heaping it with coals for the afternoon.
"So small a sleep we have last night I think I take a little sleep now," he announced. "Also, Mr. Green, if you will go to Godwinsford for the petrol early, you will so much earlier be back with me."
"No hurry," Gees pointed out. "It's barely two o'clock yet."
"But it must not be that you are not here when darkness begin," Kleinert urged with more than a trace of anxiety. "It was agreed that you are with me for all of the darkness, because of the thieves."
"Don't get het up," Gees urged. "If I leave in an hour, I can still do the four miles there and back long before dark."
Kleinert gazed at him apprehensively, and then, realising that since it was not raining Phyllis Lisle would anticipate having to walk all the way to Godwinsford, and that Kleinert making up for last night's lack of sleep was not likely to see her pass the house, Gees decided that by driving a little way along the road and then waiting he would get at least an extra half-hour with her, and that even so there would be none too much time in which to discuss all the points he wanted to raise.
"Just to soothe your troubled feelings, I'll get going right now," he promised. "Sleep peacefully—I'll be back long before dark."
"Before the darkness begin!" Kleinert called after him as he went out from the room.
"Aye," he said as he seated himself at the driving wheel. "Before the darkness begin, Kleinert—and what shall be the end of that darkness no living man ever found out yet."
The road to Godwinsford, he decided after he had gone about a quarter of a mile, had been originally designed as a track for snakes suffering from spinal curvature. One of the very abrupt bends put him face to face with a short, grassy track that terminated at a gate giving access to a meadow, and, passing the road end of the track, he braked to a standstill, and then reversed the car in so that he faced toward Snoddlesdon, able to see anyone rounding the bend, and well out of sight of Kleinert's. Then he took out the report of the inquest he had kept and went over it again, taking mental notes of points on which he wanted to question Phyllis Lisle—if she had not repented of her promise to meet him.
After he had got through nearly half an hour of alternate study of the sheet of newspaper and querying whether the girl would turn up, she appeared, clad all in black as before, with a black-fur-trimmed coat over her frock and a little black velour hat on her dark, silky hair. Gees got out, opened the near side door for her, and then resumed his seat at the wheel.
"No rug, Miss Lisle," he told her. "Sorry—I haven't got one."
"I'm quite warm enough, thank you," she assured him. "What a lovely car! But I didn't expect to find you here since it isn't raining."
"We get more time, so, and it looks to me as if we shall need it," he explained, and drove out to the road and turned toward Godwinsford. "Do you mind if I get right down to the object of your meeting me, get you to give me all the information you can, beginning now?"
"I don't," she answered frankly. "That is, if you'll tell me first exactly why you want me to tell you anything, and what you think of doing if I tell you all I can. Naturally, I've thought over you and what you said when you stopped me yesterday. I haven't told my mother even that I've met you, and she expects me back before dark—we don't keep any servant, you know. And my mother—this place is not good for her."
"Then why stay in it?" he asked.
"For one thing, she always hopes—doesn't want to lose sight of Kleinert, though there is nothing we can do to—to get what belongs to us. For another, it's cheap here, and we've only just enough to live on."
"All clear," he said practically. "Now, as to what I want to do. I'll put the whole thing on a plain business footing, shall I?"
"If you wish—if you'll explain what you mean," she agreed.
"Have a look at this, first." He handed her a card, and again used both hands on the wheel while he hooted for another blind bend.
Consult Gees for everything
From Mumps to Murder!
Initial Consultation: Two Guineas
"Do you mean you belong to that firm?" she asked.
"I am that firm," he assured her. "Gregory George Gordon Green—Gees. Me. I, I mean. Don't bother about the two guineas—I'm consulting you, not you me. Now, on a business footing—Kleinert expects to make thirty to forty thousand pounds by selling this colour discovery, and has signed an agreement to pay me ten per cent—three to four thousand pounds—as soon as the sale is completed. In return, that is, for services which he cannot specify, because they're too fantastic to put on paper. Standing between him and what he calls his nothing is what it amounts to—in other words, being with him at the times when he expects visitations that might drive him mad if he were alone. You can't put that sort of thing on paper, but I've got him tied down by an agreement that renders my ten per cent quite safe as soon as he gets his money. Is that part of it all clear to you, Miss Lisle?"
"Quite," she answered. "What is also clear is that your idea of a business footing is some way of compensating yourself for the loss of three or four thousand pounds if you break this agreement with Kleinert."
"Nobly guessed, Miss Lisle!" he assured her. "That is, up to a point. I've got to that point, and it is that I won't touch one penny of any money Kleinert might rake in, and intend to hand him back the fifty pounds I've already had on account when he and I part brass rags. I don't want that parting to happen yet, though, for I'm only at the beginning of what I see as a very tough case indeed. Tell me, now, of what do you accuse Kleinert—of what would you accuse him?"
"Theft," she answered unhesitatingly. "The theft of my father's greatest discovery. But with my father dead, and absolutely nothing left to prove the final discovery his, accusing Kleinert is useless."
"What final discovery?" Gees asked her.
"The process for fixing the colours," she answered. "It was over that he was going to see Kleinert the night he was drowned. We believe, but are not sure, that he took the formula or whatever it was with him. We believe that, but there was no trace of it when the—on his body."
"I see. In what form would it have been, do you know?"
"In a smallish book covered in limp black leather—a note-book he could carry in his coat pocket, one with ruled pages. We have four of those note-books, carrying up to within a fortnight of his death—that is, carrying all the particulars of his work on the colour process up to that time. I don't understand most of it, because it's mostly algebraic formulae. There are a lot of little rough drawings, too. The fifth book, begun a fortnight before his death, was not with the others, and it has altogether vanished. With your telling me yesterday that Kleinert is arranging to sell the complete process, I begin to believe he got hold of that note-book. Though, if so, why he didn't sell before—"
"Easy—Oh, easy!" Gees exclaimed, interrupting her. "He dared not sell at once, because if he did the theft would be too obvious. This interval—he'll claim that he's done the final work on the process in it, and therefore he's the genius who evolved the whole thing. Here, this must be Godwinsford! What do we do about it? What about tea?"
"You won't get any here," she told him. "If you keep straight on, two more miles will bring you to the main Tonbridge road, though."
"And it'll sprout good pull-ups for people like us," he prophesied. "Also there may be a filling station or two in bud, if not in full flower at this time of year. Straight on it is—no, corkscrew on, call it. Never mind. Revenons à nos Kleinert. You're being really helpful, Miss Lisle, and my ten per cent is receding at the rate of Halley's comet."
"We shouldn't think of accepting your help without compensating you for anything you might lose," she pointed out coldly.
"To put you quite at your ease, Miss Lisle, you wouldn't get it on any other terms," he answered. "Not that I think of staggering you by taking anything like what Kleinert offered. Merely reasonable reward for anything I may do, incidentally to uncovering Kleinert's dirty work."
"His theft of the process, you mean?" she asked.
"No." He spoke very gravely. "Murder."
"But—but that was shown at the inquest to be impossible," she demurred. "He was asleep by his fire. Mrs. Butt said—" She broke off.
"We'll come to that part of it later," he advised. "Now let me take you through all I want to know, and don't get emotional over any of it, but for your own sake and your mother's tell me all you can. For a beginning, now, what was your father like?"
"He was—well, my sister always said he was the stage figure of an absent-minded scientist, the kind that would bring a beetle or a frog out of his pocket and wonder how long it had been there—though that was an exaggeration, of course. A genius, without doubt, and with some of the eccentricities of genius. He'd neglect everything for his research work, and—and over that he was sometimes a trial to my mother. One of the kindest-hearted men who ever lived, and incapable of thinking evil of anyone. He could never understand why we all hated Kleinert long before there was any trouble over this process, and—and one of the reasons for all the work being done at Kleinert's place was because mother wouldn't have the man come near us. He tried to make love to my sister, not in a nice way, and my mother simply jumped at the chance of keeping him out by having all the plant put up at his place instead of ours. My father couldn't understand our attitude: Kleinert was interested in the things that interested him, and that was enough to make him overlook any other—attributes of character, I suppose you'd call them."
"I'd hate to tell you all I'd call them, in Kleinert's case," Gees remarked. "What sort of man was your father physically, Miss Lisle?"
"Physically?" She reflected over it for some seconds. "About my height—not any taller. Slenderly built, and not a strong man. He used to wear a little brown beard—he was not so dark as I am. My sister, Irene, is quite fair, but then my mother was—"
"That'll do," Gees interrupted her. "I've got the point I wanted." Emerging from the narrow way, he turned the car toward Tonbridge. "I'm orienting myself by this drive, in more ways than one," he added. "Next point—I've got a newspaper account of the inquest in my pocket, and it opens by saying that Kleinert was working under your father's directions on this process, and then indicates in the evidence either that your father was working under Kleinert's directions, or else they were equal partners in the experiments or what have you. How do you account for it? For the difference between the opening and the evidence, I mean?"
"It must have been the newspaper reporter," she said. "He saw my sister after the inquest, and she told him the truth."
"The truth being what?" he asked.
"We came to Snoddlesdon from Birmingham," she answered, "after my father had thrown up his post there because he was not satisfied with the way he had been treated. He and my mother had spent their honeymoon at Godwinsford, and—it was summer then, and summer when we came, and Snoddlesdon can be very lovely in summer. We had no idea the situation would be so bad for my mother in winter, seeing it as it was then. My father saw that house we live in, to let, and took it, and we moved in. He had already got some way with the colour process, even then, and had let Kleinert know what he was doing. We hadn't been a month in Snoddlesdon when Kleinert turned up one week-end and suggested that my father should let him help in the investigations. In the interests of science, he said—and my father believed him! My father was like that, you see. He'd trust anyone, being utterly honourable himself."
"And Kleinert installed himself there within a month," Gees remarked.
"No, not then. He went away—I think, though, my father told him then of the empty farmhouse where he lives now. He came back after about another month, took that house, and began coming to our place. It was then he began trying to make love to my sister, who loathed him as my mother and I did too. There was a scene when my father suggested putting up the engine and all the rest in one of our rooms, and then it was arranged that everything should be at Kleinert's and the work should be done there—the practical work that needed plant, I mean, because my father made his notes and did his calculations and all of what he called the essential research at home. The engine and dynamo and all the rest were for experiment to check his researches and prove them. It was only for that experimental work he had to go to Kleinert's—"
"By way of the path at the back of the pond," Gees interposed.
"Yes, always, because as he said it was one side of a triangle instead of the two he would have had to walk if he went to the left of the pond instead of by that path," she agreed. "And the night he was drowned I looked out as he was leaving the house and said it didn't look safe to go, but he laughed and said he knew every inch of that path so well he could go blindfolded to Kleinert's by it, and there were the railings round the pond as well to guide him if he got off the path, and bushes the other side of it. And he said, too, that he had to go, because if the batteries were not well up he couldn't check his certainty of having perfected the fixing process, as he meant to do next day. He was in high spirits over it, and told me that by Christmas we'd all be in summer sunshine, in Egypt or anywhere else we liked, and forget there was such a thing as a Snoddlesdon fog. He was quite sure—"
She broke off as Gees pulled up at a wayside filling station, and uttered—"Ten of Shell" at the bareheaded youth who came alongside.
"Quite sure, eh?" Gees asked her, taking out a pound note to pay for his filling, and watching his petrol gauge as the electric pump whizzed and the pointer crept across the face of the gauge.
"Quite. It was all finished, he said," she told him.
He paid for the petrol, got his change, and drove on. "Tea is our next anchorage," he observed, "and—yes, that'll do, I think."
He drew in before a wayside sign, and they got out and entered a not too modern house, where he ordered China tea from the elderly, businesslike woman who came to serve them, and moved tea table and chairs nearer to a cheerful fire while the woman went to get the tea.
"What a cosy sort of room!" the girl observed. "Do you know this place, Mr. Green, or is it just luck?"
"Never seen it before," he answered. "All I know about it is that it isn't 'Ye Olde' with an 'e' on the end. Never trust 'Ye Olde,' wherever you find it. Keep away from it, on principle."
"I think I like you," she remarked after seating herself.
"Sentiment reciprocated in one go," he assured her. "Have a cigarette, won't you? So will I. Light—and we're prepared to face the worst: Do you happen to like craffets?"
"Like what?" she asked, gazing hard at him.
"Mumpins, then," he amended. "It says here—" he handed her a menu card off the table—"they've got 'em. Two each, I think, all buttery. Extra butter, that is. Madam—" he addressed the woman, who returned with a tray containing all the tea things except pot and hot water jug—"we will have two crumpets each, please, and a double allowance of butter on them. Swimming in butter, in fact—never mind the expense."
"Very good, sir," she said, and withdrew.
"But one will be enough for me," the girl protested.
"Excellent—I get three, that way. Back to business, now. That clock—ten minutes to six, you said, and usually five minutes fast. Was it five minutes fast that night, can you remember?"
She shook her head. "I'm not sure. My father wound it, and everything. Kept it right, I mean. It always gained a little."
"Gained how much? What is a little?"
"One or two minutes a week, not more."
"Safe to assume it would not be less than five minutes fast, eh?"
"Yes, I think so. My father always kept it a little fast."
"All clear. It's growing, Miss Lisle. Now the other end, Mrs. Butt. What can you tell me about her—anything at all?"
"Yes. Her husband works on the railway, and she's a terrible gossip. Used to be, rather. They have an imbecile son named Jimmy—James, I suppose. She went to work for Kleinert soon after he came here—almost immediately after he came here, in fact. The first winter after we got here, her husband was laid up for five or six weeks with asthma, and she had a very hard time indeed. My father helped her, a little, and I took things to them sometimes. Doctor Bourne got Jimmy into some sort of institution, because Mrs. Butt couldn't look after him and her sick husband too, and still more because they were so terribly poor and in danger of not having enough food. As soon as she could, Mrs. Butt went to see Jimmy, and brought him back home. She said if she had to starve she would never let him go to any institution again—and they came very near starving too, when her husband fell ill again at the beginning of last winter. But she managed somehow, and everyone who knew of it admired her for the way she kept on her work at Kleinert's and managed to care for the two of them as well, somehow—I don't know how she did it, but I did a little nursing there, looking after the sick man until my mother was too ill to spare me any more. Then came my father's death, and after that people began to ostracise Mrs. Butt because she kept on working for Kleinert. Most unfairly, because she daren't leave off. Her husband might fall ill again at any time, and his sick pay is not enough for the three of them, while there's no work in the village that she could get to compensate her for the loss of what Kleinert pays her."
Tea and crumpets, arriving, interrupted her recital. She poured the tea, and Gees, eating butter-dripping crumpet with epicurean joy, reflected over the story she had so far told.
"What sort of chap is this Doctor Bourne?" he asked at last.
"Oh, just an average sort of country doctor. Middle- aged—his hair is quite grey, and he's got a grey walrus- type moustache, too. Gruff-voiced, and very dogmatic in his manner."
"Yes, it fits—it all fits," Gees mused aloud. "Miss Lisle, I always call Eve Madeleine a pearl of great price, and you're another."
"That—you mean your wife?" she inquired.
"Much better than that—my secretary," he explained. "She's Miss Brandon when I'm talking to her—I'd never dare call her Eve Madeleine to her face, because I know she'd give notice if I did. But that doesn't stop me from thinking of her as Eve Madeleine, which is on her insurance card. Just got engaged to a bank clerk—Oh, what have you! Now I'm going to ask you a thoroughly nasty question, Miss Lisle, and beg you not to take offence at it, because it bears directly on your problem."
"I'll try to answer it," she assured him.
"Here it is then. How many glasses out of that bottle of sherry he brought home the night before, or any other sort of alcoholic drink, had your father taken before he set out to go to Kleinert's and didn't return home? The night he was drowned, I mean. How many?"
"I understand," she said, her eyes downcast. "Three."
"Sorry—I had to ask it. And you and your mother naturally assumed that as the reason for his blundering into the railings, and therefore didn't want the tragedy investigated too closely. Did you see anything of Kleinert between your father's death and the inquest?"
"Yes, he came with crocodile condolences. I saw him."
"Did he say anything about—well, sherry?"
"He asked me exactly what you have just asked," she said.
"And you told him exactly what you have just told me?"
"No. I told him to leave the house at once."
"Another nasty question, Miss Lisle. Was your father in the habit of taking enough sherry—or anything alcoholic—to render it noticeable to other people—to Kleinert, for instance?"
"Certainly not!" She put energy into the reply. "That evening, he was very much above himself, elated over having—as he put it—made our fortunes, and he and I had a glass apiece to drink to the future all this was to mean for us. Then we went up to my mother's room, and he drank a second glass with her—I had never known him take more than one glass, before. And then, just before he went out, he said because the night was so cold and foggy, and the sherry so warming—but he wasn't in any way intoxicated by it. I mean he walked quite steadily, and it was only a slight difference in his voice that—that made it noticeable. And as I say, I'd never known him take more than one glass of anything."
"Yet Kleinert asked you how much he'd had?"
"Yes. Why, though? Why do you stress it so?"
"Because, by asking that, Kleinert goes a long way toward proving that he saw and spoke to your father that night. Miss Lisle. If as you say your father had never till then had enough alcohol to be noticeable, why should Kleinert think of such a thing, if he hadn't seen your father in that state—that is, seen him after he went out of the house into the fog?"
"If he—yes, though, I see." She stared hard at him. "Mr. Green, what a perfectly wonderful man you are! To think of that, I mean."
"Are you going to eat that other mumpin?" he demanded.
"No—and it isn't that," she answered.
"Then I am. I hate waste, nearly as much as I hate Kleinert."
"You really, actively hate him?"
"Actively, passively, and in all intermediate moods. But be of good cheer, Master Ridley. We have this day lighted such a fire under Kleinert and all his works—well, it'll make him come unstuck, I'd say."
"Then what are you going to do next?" she asked eagerly.
"Finish this cruffin, and get back to him before dark," he answered. "Who were the police in charge of this case—apart from Pettit, I mean?"
"There was an Inspector Gainsford who came and asked some questions of me—of other people too, I believe. But—but over the sherry, you understand, I tried to persuade him it must have been an accident. I didn't want questioning and that brought out at the inquest."
"Naturally. Playing beautifully into Kleinert's hand. Whitewashing Kleinert to some extent, talking to the inspector, eh?"
"I'm afraid I did," she confessed. "We were—I was all upset."
"And now G stands for Gregory George Gordon Green, and glory too."
"It also stands for gratitude," she said.
"Rub that one out till I've done something," he advised. "It might stand for goat and mean me, yet. I haven't really begun—haven't laid out a plan, yet. I hope Jimmy's suit got there, though."
"Jimmy's—?" She looked the rest of the question at him.
He smiled. "Making friends, Miss Lisle," he explained mystifyingly. "More than ever important now, in the light of all you've told me. Because I want the other end of that clock of yours—the one that was kept five minutes fast all the time, and Jimmy's suit is going to help, I believe. A trifling deed of kindness designed to facilitate the supply of bath water in the first place, and now to be devoted to higher ends."
She smiled and shook her head. "Must you be so oracular?" she asked.
"If I didn't," he said, "you'd understand exactly what I mean by what I say, and the purpose in life of every oracle is to prevent just that. If you knew what I'm going to do, you might go and do it yourself, and then the departure of Othello's occupation would be a pale circumstance compared with mine. Self- preservation is the first law of the great game of doing the other fellow in the eye. To wit, Kleinert."
She reflected over it. "I wonder, why did he employ you?" she asked. "You say that your being with him has shown you more than anyone else has seen. If so, why does he let you be with him to see so much?"
"Quite simple, that," Gees answered. "Because he couldn't stand it alone any longer, and had to get someone in to see him through."
"But why you? Why the confidential agent, as you call yourself?"
"Equally easy. Kleinert somehow got to hear of something I did earlier this year at a place called Denlandham, in Shropshire. There's a farm there, Nightmare Farm, it got to be called, because it was home of some particularly dangerous kind of elementals. No, I don't believe in ghosts either, but there these elementals were. I rendered them powerless—at a price, but I did it."
"You mean—you were paid a price for doing it?" she asked.
"I paid the price myself, with others," he said grimly.
"I don't understand, Mr. Green. You did this, and paid for doing it?"
"There was a girl I loved, and she loved me," he said, in a steady, hard way. "Before those things had been rendered quite powerless, as a revenge on me for robbing them of both their power and their home, they killed her, using a human being of whom they had taken possession to do it. That's why I say I paid, and others who loved her paid too."
"Forgive me for asking you, please," she begged quickly.
"No need—the sting has gone out of it," he told her. "I think sometimes she is still with me, helping in the way it is given them to help, though we may not sense them clearly once they have gone beyond life as we live it. That's not oracular talk, but a part of my belief."
"Just as—yes, but you won't wish to talk about it, I know. But you say Kleinert called you to help him because of that. You mean he is faced by elementals, then? Because of what he has done?"
Gees shook his head. "No," he answered. "Kleinert is troubled by remorse. Not the sort that leads to repentance and restitution—he hasn't any sense of humour, which means he hasn't any sense of proportion, and therefore I don't think he'll ever get as far as repentance. Remorse—and that may take many forms. I think it is what prompted him to come to me, knowing my reputation as a ghost-layer."
"Do you mean that in his case it takes the form of a ghost?"
"I wouldn't call it that," he answered reflectively. "No. Say an agent of remorse himself makes himself evident—he did last night, and I felt him, too. Kleinert defied him—mind, I saw nothing, heard nothing, but felt a nothing—Kleinert had called it that, too—a nothing which was more terrible than any something could be. I think it was trying to make him turn back from the way he is going, to compel him by fear to do what he would never do from a sense of right. I think, too, he has faced it and defied it before, alone, but realised that he couldn't keep up his defiance without support, and so called me in."
"Has he asked you to lay it—to prevent it from troubling him?"
"Not yet. Last night's was only a brief visitation—quite probably some of the experiences of it that he had while he was alone there were much worse. I noticed that his defiance was the end of last night's trouble, and he may think my presence weakens the nothing enough for him to stand it—until he has put this deal through and left there."
"But why should leaving there make any difference?" she queried. "Surely a thing like this you describe—a nothing, you call it, isn't bound anywhere in space, or limited to the house he lives in?"
"Not limited to that—no," he agreed. "I gather from your way of talking about it that you've studied this subject a bit?"
She shook her head. "Very little. It—you see—" she looked full at him, her dark eyes very grave in their expression—"it isn't a subject one can study. Something one realises by instinct, or not at all. I'm supposed to be clairvoyant, but I don't use the gift—if gift it is. Because—I did try once—it takes too much out of me, and the experience was rather terrifying. We are surrounded by good, I know, but by evil too, and probing in that direction opens channels to evil. So I found it, and because of that I left it alone. But I know—some things—by instinct, call it if you like. And when you say a nothing like this may not trouble him when he leaves that house, I don't understand it, if it is as you assert caused by remorse, or an agent of remorse."
"I can see I'd better tell you my theory, Miss Lisle," he said. "Mind, it is only a theory, but I'm very much strengthened in it by what you have told me this afternoon. I believe, and now have some grounds for the belief, but hope to get more—that Kleinert is guilty not only of the very worst form of theft, but of murder as well."
"Of my father," she asserted, not asked.
"Of your father—and that he possessed himself of that note-book containing the final stage of the colour process. That he kept quiet about it until recently, to make it appear that he had been working there and had perfected that final stage himself. That as long as he kept quiet, did nothing, he was left alone. That as soon as he moved to bring off this sale of the complete process, your father began trying to compel him to restore to you and your mother and sister all that belongs to you."
"You really believe that, Mr. Green?"
"He loved you, didn't he?" he asked in reply.
"Loved my mother, most. But all his life was—well, for us."
"As I thought. And now in that other life he's permitted to watch over you, use certain means to help you—but evil is strong, and he has not been able to break down Kleinert's strength, yet."
"Mr. Green, if all this is so, why did Kleinert take the risk of calling you in? Surely he must have seen the danger to himself in it?"
"He reasoned, I think, that there are not many men who wouldn't stifle their consciences and work in with him for three to four thousand pounds," he explained. "The average inquiry agent, as I appeared to be, is generally glad to turn a penny without looking to see if the underside of it after turning is honest. I happen to—well, say that I suffer from nerves, if you like. I've got a kink in my mentality. Gosh, it'll be all I can do to get back in time, we've talked so long and so nicely! I'll get a bill, and we'll tear the earth up."
He sought the proprietress, settled with her, and returned.
"Quite ready, Mr. Green, but—I want to tell you. You shall not lose. I promise—my mother would promise too, if she were here—you shall not lose by this, if all comes right for us."
"No, I shall win," he answered. "Win quiet sleep instead of bad dreams, and the feeling that I can shake hands with an honest man and not tremble. That's worth more than I could ever get out of Kleinert. Come on—let's go. I mustn't upset him in any way, yet."
AT the bend of the road where Gees had waited for her, Phyllis Lisle got out, and, standing beside the car, put a last question.
"Mr. Green, if it is as you believe, and my father is permitted to watch over us in the way you say, what makes you think Kleinert will be safe from him as soon as he leaves Snoddlesdon?"
"For one thing," he answered, "once Kleinert has completed his deal and got the money in his hands, it wouldn't be any use troubling him—if he won't make reparation now, he certainly won't then. For another thing, your father was—is—attached to your mother and you, not to Kleinert. If he's permitted to keep near any human beings, he'll keep near you, because love is the strongest compelling force there is."
She gazed at him for some seconds, and then held out her hand. "It has been a wonderful afternoon, for me," she said. "Most wonderful of all, I've got back hope, such as I haven't known since my father's death. I am grateful to you, Mr. Green."
"Don't waste good gratitude on nothing," he advised, "and I'd say, too, don't tell your mother anything yet, because there isn't anything to tell. I'll be glad if you'll look for me here at the same time the day after to-morrow, and walk on to Godwinsford on the chance of my being there if I'm not here. Can you do that without too much trouble?"
"Gladly," she assented. "Three o'clock, the day after to- morrow."
"Two-thirty here, or three at Godwinsford. Now I'll make holes in the air getting to Kleinert before he blows up, for it's not so light as it was. Mumpets again day after to-morrow—good- bye, Miss Lisle."
He drove on, and, turning in by the dark brown gate, saw Kleinert standing at the living room window and gazing out anxiously. He left the car in the barn, closed the doors on it, and went to the house and into the living room, where Kleinert, his Aladdin lamp already alight and an enormous fire in the grate, had retreated to the hearthrug.
"I said, before it begin to get dark, Mr. Green," he said severely.
"Can you explain why you tried to break my blessed neck?" Gees demanded, still more severely, and resolved that, if there were to be war, he would carry it out of his own territory.
"Break your blessed neck?" Kleinert repeated, aghast at the accusation. "But I have not touch your neck, Mr. Green! Not once touch it!"
"Two miles past Godwinsford, I found myself on the main Tonbridge road," Gees said acidly. "When I drove you here from London the day before yesterday, you told me to make for Westerham, and then landed me and the car in Hampton Court maze after it had been struck by forked lightning and spread all over Kent, mostly endways up. If I were not the next best driver to Malcolm Campbell the verdict on both of us would be death by plumb foolishness. Whaddye mean by it, risking a valuable car and a still more valuable me like that?"
"But I do not understand," Kleinert protested. "We come by the way of the bus that go in summer, and we do not want to go to Tonbridge. Also we did not go to Hampton Court. I have never been to Hampton Court, but I am sure we did not go there to come here. Also I do not risk the car, for you drive it, and it is the way of the bus that go in summer."
"Do you mean to tell me you don't know there's a real road, instead of lanes tied in knots and stood on end, two miles the other side of Godwinsford?" Gees demanded, still more incisively.
"I do not think I tell you anything," Kleinert retorted, with sulky frigidity. "You come back here after it begin to get dark, though I say you shall come back before it begin to get dark. You use so strange talk about Hampton Court and somebody I do not know that you call Malcolm Campbell that the half of it I do not understand, and you say I tried to break your blessed neck. We do not go to Hampton Court when we come here, I do not know anybody named Malcolm Campbell, I do not try to break your blessed neck, and there was no reason for us to go to Tonbridge. We come here—it was agreed that you come here, and you driv e me here. And there is not any need for any inquest, for nobody is dead. The half of what you say I do not understand, and I think I do not understand all of it. But—" his tone softened—"you companion me as it was agreed, and I think it was because of you the nothing which warn me of thieves and yet bring fear with it do not make so much trouble last night, so I forgive you all things, Mr. Green, and after dinner we play the chess, hein?"
"Do not make so much trouble last night, eh?" Gees queried, gazing at him interestedly. "Is it generally worse than that, then?"
"It do not often come," Kleinert said. "Three and perhaps four of the times it come it is worse, once much worse. As if I should be choked from my breath, that time. It is an evil haunting of the house. I shall be glad when I am finished with this house, after Harten-Blomberg or Inc come and buy the process, so I can go from the house."
"Why wait here for them at all?" Gees asked.
"Because all things to demonstrate the process is here," Kleinert explained. "Things which cost money, and if I shall go elsewhere, perhaps I do not find a place so cheap as this to hire, also to move all the things cost money, and there must be a big room to demonstrate with them, and if there is insurance I cannot keep the petrol for the engine."
"When are you going to give me a demonstration—you as good as promised you would?" Gees reminded him. "How about to- morrow morning?"
"If there is no fog, I shall give you one to-morrow morning," Kleinert promised. "Not if there is fog, though." He looked out at the deepening dusk that began to mask the draggled vegetation of the untended garden, and then went to the window and drew the curtains across it.
"What difference does fog make, then?" Gees asked curiously.
"To me, not to the process," Kleinert answered, returning to the hearthrug. "For if there should be fog, the nothing which haunt the house will come into that room, as it come here last night."
Returning from the window, he seated himself in his armchair and gazed at the fire, his lips drawn to a thin, determined line. Reading his thoughts to some extent, Gees reflected that the way in which he accepted this "nothing", and, in getting someone to bear him company here, sought what he saw as the most rational, common-sense way of neutralising its power, was characteristic of the man. Proof was so far wanting, but without it Gees was certain that in utter, selfish negation of normal principle, Kleinert had robbed, almost as certainly had murdered, to get control of the colour process. Thus he had set out on a path, and would follow it to its end, hauntings notwithstanding. He had, evidently, no fear of material consequences of his crimes: Snoddlesdon believed him guilty of the theft, but could prove nothing, and nobody but Gees suspected him of the murder. So far, he believed he had bought Gees with that fifty pounds and agreement to pay ten per cent of his ultimate gains. He could, with Gees, brave out the "nothing" until his scheme had fructified, and probably did not yet look beyond that point—or, if he did, saw thirty or forty thousand pounds in his possession, and nothing else. He was quite ruthless, quite free of compunction for the widow and girls he had robbed of Robert Lisle's discovery—and of Lisle himself too!
An incomprehensible character. But then, Gees reflected, all characters were that, if one had opportunity to analyse them.
Robinson Crusoe afforded light relief until six o'clock—Kleinert did not read, but sat gazing into the fire—and then sounds from the kitchen announced the arrival of Mrs. Butt. Looking at his watch, Gees saw that she had arrived on time, and he resumed reading. Some twenty minutes later she entered the room, breathing hard as usual, and proceeded to lay the cloth and get out table furniture for dinner. And she beamed at Gees when, closing his book, he stood up on the hearthrug.
"The suit's come by post, Mr. Green, an' it's lovely," she said.
"Glad to hear it," he answered, and yawned.
"To-morrer, I dessay, I can cut down the legs an' sleeves, an' move the buttons," she added, "an' then Jimmy'll be nice an' warm for the winter. He do grow so, I shan't move the buttons too much."
"You can always move them back," Gees reminded her.
"Yes, sir. Nex' year, I reckon I'll have to move 'em back. But it's a lovely suit, an' I do thankye for it, sir. An' Butt arsked me to tell you, sir—"
But then, seeing Gees with his finger to his lip, and stern admonition to silence in his eyes as he stood with his back to Kleinert, she refrained from repeating what Butt had said.
"What is it that he would tell?" Kleinert inquired interestedly.
"To say he's glad too that Jimmy will be warm for the winter—wasn't that it, Mrs. Butt?" Gees prompted her.
"Yes, sir, that's what it was," she confirmed him gladly. "Because by the time he's done with his clo'es, there ain't nuthin' left that'd do for Jimmy. That railway work do wear 'em out so."
"Oh, your husband is on the railway, is he?" Gees inquired.
"Yes, sir." Having finished with the table, she stood, breathing hard at him, to answer. Kleinert listened interestedly.
"And whereabouts do you live, Mrs. Butt?"
"Nex' to Mrs. Tuson's, sir."
"And whereabouts does Mrs. Tuson live?" he persisted.
"It's in Telfer's lane, sir, the one that go up behind the Drake and Gander," she explained. "Mrs. Tuson's is the second house along, an' ours is the nex'. Lived there ever since I was married, I have."
"Perhaps you will now go and make ready the dinner, Mrs. Butt," Kleinert intervened rather sourly. "Already it is nearly half past six."
She went out, breathing a little more audibly than before, and Gees, still with his back to his host, lighted himself a cigarette.
"Always that woman talk too much," Kleinert said resentfully. "Why is it that you must ask her where she live? Is it of consequence?"
"To her, I expect," Gees answered negligently. "I merely wondered how far she had to come to her work—twice a day. It makes a difference if she has far to come, especially if there is fog."
"I think this is the worst place for fog I have seen," Kleinert said. "So often there is fog here and not in other places."
"Which goes to prove it the best place for fog, not the worst," Gees pointed out, and turned toward the fire.
"The best—" Kleinert reflected over it—"but I see how you mean it is the best. Yet always, Mr. Green, you are twisting the words so the meaning is different, and it is not easy to follow how you mean them. And why must you give that woman the clothes like that?"
"I didn't," Gees told him. "I haven't any that would fit her."
"Fit—again you twist the words!" Kleinert exclaimed sadly. "But you give the suit to her—you have it send to her, is it not?"
"I gave it to Jimmy—can't imagine her in it, even with the legs and sleeves cut down. Not enough room across the bust, I'd say."
"But it is to her you cause the suit to be sent," Kleinert insisted.
"My mistake," Gees remarked. He seated himself and opened Crusoe again. "I expect it'll get to Jimmy eventually, though. I haven't got enough imagination to visualise her wearing it, somehow."
Kleinert frowned over the reply, shook his head, and gave it up as beyond him. Presently Mrs. Butt breathed in with the second Aladdin lamp, which she placed on the sideboard as before. Breathing her way out again, from behind Kleinert's back she bestowed on Gees an outsize in winks, and then went her way and closed the door on herself. But already an aroma had entered, and Kleinert lifted his chin to sniff.
"It is sprouts," he murmured happily. "She have the sprouts."
She had, also, a five-pound or thereabouts joint of rolled rib of beef, roast potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding, as became evident when she entered again with the tray, and made a second trip with a forgotten gravy boat. On this second visit she paused apologetically.
"They didn't send no 'orse-reddish, sir," she said.
"That is very bad." Kleinert had already turned to the table to carve. "You shall tell the man when he come in the morning there must be the horse-radish for the beef. I command the horse- radish with the beef, and so it must be. It is very bad, Mrs. Butt."
"Yes, sir, I'll tell him. Though what with me own, and this, I has me 'ands full." And she went out quickly to avoid further reproof.
Kleinert carved normally and plenteously for his guest, and then cut off gobbets for himself from the fat end of the joint, after he had partly unrolled it. He buried all his own ration under a mountain of sprouts, ranged roast potatoes round the edge of his plate, crowned the green pile with a blanketing slab of Yorkshire pudding, and poured gravy over it so generously that dribbles ran on to the tablecloth. He scraped up most of the spilled liquid with his knife, managed to convey it to his mouth without cutting either his lips or his tongue, and then set to work on the loaded plate as if he had starved for a year or two.
"We shall eat always simply, but there will be enough," he announced, after accomplishing a certain amount of devastation.
"So I think I heard you say, some time or other," Gees replied, and kept his eyes averted from his host's activities. "Where do you get your supplies—meat and groceries and coals and things?"
"All things I get from Godwinsford—the carts bring them in the mornings," Kleinert answered, after swallowing like a cockerel with an unusually large crust in its throat. "Mrs. Butt bring the milk and the butter and the eggs, and I do not ask where she get it. All other things I have from Godwinsford. I would not buy in this village of rude people."
Probably, Gees reflected, because the rude people declined to sell to him. He finished his helping, and declined a second, while Kleinert cut himself another couple of gobbets of meat, took the rest of the potatoes, cleaned out the sprouts dish and gravy boat, and began afresh. The joint was reduced to half its size when he pushed his plate away and took a long breath, just as Mrs. Butt brought in a suet pudding and a tin of treacle. Kleinert stopped for no more long breaths, but got busy again while Gees solaced himself with bread and cheese.
Mrs. Butt looked in just as they finished, and then entered.
"Thought I might as well stop an' jest clear away, sir." She addressed the explanation to Gees, not to Kleinert. "Seein' as how you seem to like the table cleared, the way I find things in the mornin's."
"That's very good of you," he told her, and realised that the suit for Jimmy was already beginning its work. Kleinert, scowling at the fire toward which he had turned his chair, made no comment on the innovation.
"Not a tall, sir," she said cheerfully, "though what with me own, and this, as I told Mr. Kleinert when I first come 'ere—"
"You have also told me many times since," Kleinert barked at her.
"I'm sure I'm very sorry, sir," she apologised.
"I wish that you do not talk so much," Kleinert said harshly. "I hire you not to talk when you come here, but to cook and work for me."
"Yes, sir." Very humbly indeed, and she took out the loaded tray.
Gees made no comment, but added a very black mark indeed to the debit side of an account he was mentally keeping. After Mrs. Butt had finished clearing the table, Kleinert went to the sideboard, lighted the second Aladdin lamp, and returned to his chair with the chessmen and board.
"We shall play again?" he asked hopefully.
"Might as well," Gees assented coldly and without enthusiasm.
Kleinert set out the pieces and turned the board. "There!" he said, with joy over his own magnanimity, "I give you white for the beginning."
The conventional pawn to king's fourth for opening, and they settled to a game that, after two strenuous hours, lost Kleinert his queen, after which the end was swift. Again they began, and midnight came and passed. A half-hour more, and Gees saw that he had his man cornered. Kleinert dwelt long on a critical move, defence with knight or bishop—
And the fire grew dull, ceased to radiate heat.
Expectant, this time, and knowing more or less what to expect, Gees registered his own sensations while he watched the man opposite him. He knew, less than a minute after, his first perception of the coming of the nothing, that they were not alone in the room. Another living entity, perhaps more than one, was with them, visiting Kleinert, and paying no heed at all to him—perhaps ignorant even of his presence there. He was outside the weird drama, a spectator, and negligible to the actors.
Kleinert's hands lay on the bare table, one on each side of the chessboard, and slowly they clenched to fists, the knuckles whitening with the strain. Sweat dripped from the man's face, twisted as it was in an agony, and his breath rattled in his throat, while the brilliant light of the two lamps dimmed, and cold like that emanating from wet, half-frozen clay pressed in, filled the room, and forbade movement—almost forbade connected thought. Silence grew to a ringing in the ears—they were wrapped in it as if in deadening wool, and in the failing, dimming light there grew a haze that was presently a swirling series of ropy vapours, curling and twisting about the lamps as if sent to obscure their light. And Kleinert, rigidly still, sat and sweated while the cold and the dimness grew, his eyes staring down at the chessboard more and more fearfully, bulging more and more like those of a man being strangled. Gees wanted to get up, to go to him and lift him—anything to end this horror of oppression—but found that he could not move. Nothing held him: perhaps it was the nothing that held him: all he knew was that he tried to move and could not, while moment by moment Kleinert looked more and more like strangled death, save that he went on sweating.
Time ceased: they sat in the eternity of cold hell, and its devils held them fixed and still. Now the dank cold was an icy solidity binding them, pressing on them from every side, and the light of the lamps was no more than glimmer from two different points in the wreathing fog that thickened and grew more and more tangible, misty ropes that wound round and round Kleinert where he sweated, tying him in his separate hell, strangling—was that the death rattle in his breath?
He was on his feet, his face twisted not in fear, but in maniacal fury. Then he crashed down senseless on the hearthrug, and as Gees, free to move again, knelt beside him, the fog in the room thinned, the lights burned more normally, and some warmth came out from the piled coals of the fire. The awesome rattling breath gave place to normal inhalations of a man exhausted by hard effort, and Gees got up and went to the sideboard for the whisky and glasses and water jug.
Returning, he poured a half-tumbler of whisky and knelt again as Kleinert rolled over from his back to lie on his side and look up. A hand reached up, and Gees put the glass in it and helped to guide it to the prone man's lips, lifting his head with the hand left free. Kleinert drank the spirit as if it were water, and slowly got to his feet to seat himself at the table again, limply exhausted.
"I will have more whisky, please," he asked in a whisper.
Gees half-filled the tumbler again and put it on the table beside the chessboard. Kleinert groped for it as might a blind man, and at that Gees moved it so that his fingers could close round it. He lifted it and drank off the second dose, put the glass down on the table, and took out his handkerchief to wipe his face of the sweat still on it.
"Still it is cold," he said, his voice strengthened to a little more than a whisper, now. "It is the cold that is so terrible, but you are here and so I fight. If it was not that you are here, I think perhaps I could not fight. It is a nothing that haunt the house, an evil haunting I must fight when it come. You will not go from me? I have paid you, and if there is need again I will pay you—you will not go from me?"
"I'm finding it far too interesting to think of going," Glees said.
"Interest?" Surprise strengthened Kleinert's voice still more. "You say a thing so much—so much of Niffelheim is of interest?"
"It felt as if it came from there," Gees remarked thoughtfully.
"It is of the house, an evil haunting of the house."
He stared at Gees with set, determined face, as if he would defy him to controvert the statement. Hell itself, he seemed to say, should not bar him from the gain at which he aimed. Then, as if dismissing the whole experience, he pointed at the chessboard.
"It was to be my move," he said. "I think it was to be my move."
"Quite so, it was," Gees agreed, and knew as he spoke that he had no easy task before him, Kleinert would deny as he would defy: the case against him must be made very strong, for past question he would face it as he had twice faced his nothing, with such strength as is in few men.
Light and warmth were in the room again, now. Accepting the fact that Kleinert meant to ignore what had passed, Gees turned to the game again, and at half-past two forced his opponent to resign.
"That is good, Mr. Green. This night you win both the games. I do not think we play any more, so you will please turn out the other lamp after you have light your candle. In the afternoon of to-morrow I shall make the demonstration of the colours for you to see."
He took the lamp from the table, and went off to bed.
The next morning Gees was wakened by the steady thudding of a petrol engine, and vibration, equally with the sound, told him that it was in the house and not far off from his room. A steady series of tiny ripples on his bath water gave further evidence of its nearness, and as he went along the short corridor he heard the sound more distinctly from the left-hand door of the two he had to pass, the one giving access to a room that looked out on the back of the house, opposite Kleinert's bedroom. All through breakfast, and on through the morning in which Gees realised that he had nothing to do, for the time, the sound persisted and Kleinert absented himself, probably in the room with the engine.
Sound and vibration alike had ceased when they sat down to lunch off what was left of the preceding night's joint. At breakfast, Kleinert had said nothing about the engine, and Gees had evinced no curiosity. Now, however, Kleinert condescended to explain.
"There was not so much current in the batteries, Mr. Green," he said, "and I tell you last night that this afternoon I make the demonstration for you to see. For thus I test the plant, and also myself, to make the demonstration when Harten-Blomberg or Inc come to buy the process from me. And there is no fog, so this afternoon I make the demonstration."
"Is it much of a business?" Gees inquired, with but a faint show of interest. He had decided on apparent lack of comprehension as his line.
"Not so great. It is very simple to make the colour from the chalk, for else there would be too great cost to compete with the aniline colour. I do not show you the fixing process, for that is for nobody to see until Harten-Blomberg come, or perhaps Inc. And you must gaze quick at what I show you, for without the fixing the colours fade swiftly." He made this explanation after he had totally spoilt the look of the joint of beef, and wound up on cold suet pudding and treacle. Never in his life had Gees seen anyone gorge food, especially meat, as did this man. Kleinert moved his chair toward the fire, and lighted one of his black cigars: the odour of the fusee pervaded the room for awhile.
"I smoke the cigar, and then we go for the demonstration," he said complacently—as if last night's terrible experience had never been, Gees reflected.
"After, a little sleep will be good, hein?"
"You'll know better about that after you've had it," Gees answered.
After considering the reply, Kleinert gave it up as beyond him.
"To-night," he remarked after a silence, "we have the pork. The leg of pork, roasted, and some more sprouts. Sprouts are very good for the blood—yes. There is much chlorophyll in sprouts—yes."
"Then you stacked up a pile of chlorophyll, last night," Gees said.
Gazing hard at him, Kleinert considered that statement, and let it pass as needing no reply. He turned his spectacled eyes toward the fire.
"I have heard that the cannibals say the flesh of the pig is very like the flesh of man," he observed. "I have not yet taste the flesh of man, but I like the flesh of the pig better than any other."
"Synthetic cannibalism, call it," Gees suggested thoughtfully.
"No, I am not cannibal," Kleinert dissented, as if, even if he were, adverse criticism would be misplaced. "I like pork, that is all."
"Therefore, I've got to like it too," Gees remarked. "Q.E.D."
"That is at the end of some of the problems of Euclid," Kleinert informed him. "It is Latin for 'Which was to be demonstrated.' But if you do not like the pork there is still a little beef—not much, but I think it is enough. Or perhaps when you say those letters you mean it is time that I make the demonstration of the colour for you, hein?"
"No hurry," Gees said. "When you feel like it."
"We shall go now. Then I can come back for the little sleep."
The room to which he led the way, occupying all the back half of the first floor except that part taken up by half of Gees' end room, was easily the largest in the house, and had two windows, both looking out toward the back. Under them, and for the whole length of that back wall, were two wide shelves, on which were bits of enclosed mechanisms, with endless-band conveyors running from under one to the top of the next, if one looked at them in order from the outer end of the room where the engine, coupled to a dynamo, stood on a big iron base-plate. It was a small engine, of two or three horsepower, Gees estimated, and he noted a dog- clutch by which the dynamo drive could be disconnected—Kleinert went and pushed the clutch out, freeing the dynamo from the engine drive, immediately on entering the room. Along the inner wall, on both sides of the doorway, were ranged tiers of accumulators: here, evidently, was an ordinary petrol-driven electric lighting set, adapted to provide energy for the mechanical devices on the shelves under the windows, and the whole gave the impression of being no more than large model size, a demonstration set to indicate what a full- sized plant could accomplish.
There were six of the mechanisms on the lower shelf, and four on the one above it. Overhead wires came down from the storage battery set to the mechanism nearest the engine, and from that on they were all coupled to each other electrically, the four along the top shelf being evidently first in order, and the six below following on, by the wiring. The conveyor drives were similarly coupled, but were arranged to be driven by the engine, and, after Kleinert had disconnected the dynamo, he fixed a belt drive for these conveyors, each of which was a belt fitted with little cups, apparently of porcelain, arranged to drop their contents into hoppers at the top of each piece of mechanism, and to take those contents from a funnellike vent at the bottom of each mechanism to carry it on to the next. Thus, whatever was fed into the mechanism on the top shelf nearest the engine, would eventually come out from the vent of the works nearest to the engine on the lower of the two shelves, assuming that all the conveyor bands did their work properly and that nothing got jammed while the transit of whatever was put in was in progress.
From the corner of the room near the engine Kleinert took up an ordinary, large biscuit tin, and, removing the lid, invited Gees to look inside. A glance was enough to tell that it contained very fine white powder—very white indeed, as well as very fine.
"I sift a little in your hand," Kleinert offered, canting the tin. "You do not be afraid. It is chalk, nothing else. Purified and bleached—you do not know that it is possible to bleach chalk, hein? And it is ground to a great fineness, that in colour it may make the solution easily in water, or oil, or spirit, or what you will for the solvent."
"Water colour, oil colour, spirit colour—any old colour," Gees suggested, rubbing the stuff on his palm and finding it like finest flour.
"So," said Kleinert. "Now I show you." He swung the flywheel of the engine, starting it, and instantly the conveyor bands all began moving. He pushed in a vulcanite-handled switch that made the final connection between the storage accumulators and the set of mechanisms, at which the one nearest the engine set up a high, singing note, and another, somewhere on the lower shelf, began a loud, clock-like clicking. Between them, these two and the engine drowned any sounds the others may have made.
Kleinert took a table-spoon from the top shelf, scooped up a spoonful of the dazzlingly white chalk from the tin, and emptied it into the hopper of the mechanism on the top shelf nearest the engine. He put the tin down on the floor, replaced its lid, and turned to Gees.
"You may follow it in the little cups until it finish," he shouted above the noises in the room. "At there—" he pointed at the final mechanism of the series—"you shall look quick, before the colour fade."
Already the powdered chalk, apparently unaltered, was seeping down from the vent of the first, whining thing into the porcelain cups, and being carried along to the hopper through which it must pass for the next stage of its treatment. Watching, Gees saw it fed from vent to hopper in thimblefuls, and saw too, that some mechanism over each vent was so arranged that the stuff came down only when a cup was ready to receive it—there was no spilling, no waste. And until, following from one bit of mechanism to the next, he reached the ninth as powder began sifting down into the little porcelain cups for conveyance to the final processing device, there had been no change in that dazzlingly white powder, so very white that the glaze of the porcelain appeared greyish against it. But now a change was visible: the powder was more transparent than white, with an odd, semi-luminous transparency that shone in the cups.
There were three switches in a row on the last enclosed mechanism, and Kleinert closed the left-hand switch and pushed an egg-cup under the final vent. Half a minute or less after the conveyor began feeding the transparent powder in, down came perhaps a teaspoonful of red dust, and Kleinert snatched away the egg-cup, handed it to Gees, put another egg-cup in place, opened the left-hand switch and closed the middle one. Another half- minute, and down came yellow powder. Again he handed the egg-cup to Gees, and put a third egg-cup under the vent, in time to receive blue powder after he had opened the middle switch and closed the right hand one. In turn he handed that egg-cup to Gees, and then let the rest of the powder run, vivid blue, on to the shelf, apparently to empty the series of mechanisms, for he took no more interest in them, but turned to Gees.
"Now you look quick," he shouted, "for the colours are not fixed, and very soon they fade. The red—you see what a red. There is no other colour like these colours. No man see other colour like these."
It was true, Gees knew. Just as the white of the chalk had greyed the porcelain of the cups by contrast, so these colours outshone any he had seen in his life for vividness and intensity. The red was dazzling, almost luminous in its redness: the blue was heaven multiplied by n, and the yellow an opaque sunlight. They were beyond belief, all three, such colours as would make an artist put his soul in pawn, infinitely pure, infinitely brilliant, beautiful to the point of unreality.
Then, as Kleinert stopped the engine and disconnected the belt that drove the ten devices by which the colours had been produced, Gees saw with aching dismay that they were fading. He found that he wanted to keep the delight of gazing at them, to drown himself in colour that in its intensity was of more than earthly beauty, but now the three egg-cups held only ordinary red and yellow and blue powders. Faded colours—for they changed very quickly—and now they were soft suggestions of colour, now not even colour, but a greyish white. He put the egg-cups down on the shelf and looked along at the things that had wrought this transient change in the powdered chalk. Each one was enclosed in metal casing: what had gone on within them was beyond his knowledge.
"And the final process—the fixing?" he asked.
"Simple," Kleinert answered. "There is a catalyst. He—I have difficulty to find the catalyst, but it is found. I have experiment, fix the colour, and still I have it, all three of the colour. A little, a very little, but it do not fade. In sunlight or in any light, in any solvent, it do not fade, but stay, like these you first see. Months it stay and do not fade, in heat and in cold—I try it all ways, and it do not fade. But that I do not demonstrate—only this that you have seen."
"Harten-Blomberg—they have seen this?" Gees asked.
"I send them all the ten sets of plans, so they make this set for themselves. Also to bleach and purify the chalk for the process," Kleinert said. "They try for themselves—I think they try to find the catalyst for the fixing, but if they try for a thousand years they do not find it. It is very simple, as all this is simple, but they do not find it. So they will come to me, to buy it, the Kleinert colour that shall make end of the anilines—make end of all colours but these."
The claim was justifiable, Gees felt. No man, having seen these colours, would ever desire others. They were more than colours—they were miracles, lures to make one gaze and go on gazing at such marvellous beauty. No wonder that Lisle, feeling that the fixing process was complete, had been elated when he set out on the walk that ended in death!
"And you say this is no more costly than producing anilines?"
"You have that plant, in a bigness," Kleinert answered. "Such bigness as you wish. And you have the current to actuate the ten changers, and the engine or what you will to feed from the one to the other. You purify and bleach and grind fine the chalk, and you put it in. The ten things, the changers, they do all the rest—once the plant is made, you see how little current and how little power there is needed for colour like no other colour that you see. The catalyst and the fixing process, that too is cheap—the Kleinert colour shall paint the world!"
For a period of seconds Gees knew an almost insane desire to take this thief and murderer by the throat and strangle him. He had made one slip, only one, in what he had said. "He—I have difficulty to find the catalyst," he had said, and by that had confessed that Lisle, not himself, had sought and found it. And now he would put his name to Lisle's work! For months he had had specimens of the fixed colours, by his own confession, and had not moved to make the discovery public or to sell it, because he dare not give grounds for even suspicion that it had been in his possession for so long, since the night when Lisle had died.
"I have seen enough," Gees said after a long pause.
"There is no more to see," Kleinert told him, "for the fixing process I will not show until Harten-Blomberg or Inc come to buy it. And to them I will show only the colours that I have fixed and kept, until they have made the agreement to pay the price. Then I will show how the fixing is done, and I have the money and you have your ten per cent."
They went back to the living room—and, when they went out from this home of the colour process, Gees noticed that Kleinert did not lock the door. Significant, that. There was nothing in the room that needed special guarding, therefore where was the note-book covered in limp black leather? Destroyed, perhaps? Or hidden, somewhere—not in that room?
Down in the living room, Kleinert composed himself in his chair to sleep. Gees went to the window and looked out.
"I'm going out for a walk," he announced.
"You are going for a walk?" Kleinert echoed, as if his guest had proposed turning somersaults over the house, committing arson, or some other freak dictated by imbecility.
"I am going for a walk," Gees repeated. "I'll be back long before it begins to get dark, so don't get goofy over it."
He went out, ignoring Kleinert's eager plea that he should not be away until after it had begun to get dark.
"Damn you, that's superfluous!" he said to himself. "I've already said it."
FOUR note-books, each containing ruled paper and bound in limp black leather: each, too, of pocket size, and all four in possession of the Lisles. Very nearly, but not quite proof that Robert Tynwald Lisle had been the discoverer of this process that revealed the colours of Eden itself: most probably he had used them as a scientist will use paper for his notes, merely putting down the stages of his process without laying claim to originality in his statements and formulae and drawings: just such notes, in fact, as a student might jot down at lectures, unsigned, and inadmissible that the discovery was Lisle's and his only. Kleinert, faced by those books, might claim that Lisle had made the notes under his supervision, even under his direction, and who should deny the claim in a way that would prove it the he Gees felt it would be?
But, according to Phyllis Lisle, there was a fifth note- book—had been a fifth, rather, containing the particulars on which Kleinert was attempting to sell the process. On what it had contained he had worked to produce the specimens of fixed colours which he admitted he had had in his possession for months, to prove their durability. Gees believed that Lisle had gone out with that fifth note-book in his pocket on the fatal night, and, since it had not been found on the recovered body, that Kleinert had taken it, had murdered Lisle to get it. It seemed that the dead scientist had recorded all the stages of his discovery in these five books, probably carrying each one in turn as he advanced toward completion of his work, and laying it aside when full, to pocket the next and fill it in turn. Question, was that fifth note-book still in existence, or had Kleinert copied or memorised its contents, and then destroyed it?
Thinking over that question, turning it over and over in his mind as he walked along the road toward Snoddlesdon that Friday afternoon, Gees decided that the chances were about even of the book still being in existence. A methodical being, Kleinert had already reasoned that he was immune from any effective accusation of having stolen Lisle's work, and obviously had altogether dismissed from his mind any possibility of being accused of murdering Lisle. He might have had the sense to destroy the note- book as possible evidence of having committed the murder, but against that, feeling that suspicion of such a thing was impossible, he might have kept the book. He would not have destroyed it until after he had produced the specimens of fixed colours, certainly, lest in copying its contents he might make some minute slip and thus lose the fruits of his crime. He could hardly have produced those specimens until after the inquest, which had cleared him of any complicity in Lisle's death—and after that, he might reason, there was nothing to prevent him from keeping the book until he had sold the process to Harten-Blomberg or some other buyer. Your murderer is always an optimist over things of that sort: the whole danger of murder as a profession, Gees reflected, is that there is no training for it, as in the profession of burglary, fraud, and like crimes. Lacking experience in his occupation, the murderer is perforce an utter amateur, and thus makes mistakes, such as leaving traces of the sort to which this book, if still in existence, belonged.
"Yes," Gees reflected, "there ought to be a school for murderers—and I know quite a few lay-figures they could train on, too."
Then an idea occurred to him, just as he emerged to sight of the common and the house where Phyllis Lisle and her mother lived. He stood for awhile gazing at the house, and then looked back along the road, which curved so that he could see only half the distance he had come from the dark brown gate. There was nobody in sight: Kleinert was probably by this time—near on four o'clock—snoring over his fire, and in any case it was most unlikely that he would risk a walk in the direction of Snoddlesdon, whose very rude inhabitants threw stones even at his guest, and might duck him in the pond if they could get hold of him.
Nobody in sight, in that direction or in any other. Gees turned on to the path Lisle had known so well, and advanced toward the railings surrounding the pond. Some of the posts had evidently served their purpose for years, and a few of the railings, too, were old. Lord Blagbury's agent had seen that new wood was put in where necessary, after the tragedy, but had not gone in for complete renewal. Walking on, Gees found that at the back of the pond, as one looked toward the road, the path was within five or six feet of the railings, while on the other side it was bounded by hazel bushes so closely that by reaching out one could touch their stems. Lisle had been right: under normal circumstances, and going carefully, he could have kept to this path in the densest fog that ever wrapped a landscape—and the fools at that inquest had not realised it! Sunken in the grass as it was, the path itself was a guide.
It was impossible, now, to determine the point at which Lisle's body had crashed down the old rotted railings to fall into the water. He had been unconscious, then, Gees decided, though not dead—the state of the lungs, Doctor Bourne had said, was evidence that drowning and nothing else had been the cause of death. Unconscious, but with his lungs in working order—yes. And too far out in deep water, by the time he recovered consciousness, to get to the bank and scramble out: moreover, if he had regained consciousness, in the dense fog he would not know in what direction the bank was in relation to his own position.
Probably, though, he had sunk, filled his lungs, and drowned almost instantly.
Two hundred yards from the nearest house, his own—this would be the spot, Gees estimated, between these two posts. Even in the still, clear air of this afternoon, normal voices would be inaudible to anyone in that house: if the door were closed, and windows too, as almost certainly they had been that night, even a shout for help would have gone unheard, and Gees did not think Lisle had had any chance to shout for help or for anything else. Kleinert had waited for him—where? Just here, or nearer the house, where the path was at greater distance from the railings, and from the hazel copses too?
Rather nearer, of course, for he would want to know when Lisle set out to walk along the path. Not within sight of the front door, for to accomplish that he would have had to be within a yard or two of the door, since he had been waiting in what Mrs. Butt had described as the worst fog she had ever known, even in Snoddlesdon. No, but within sound of the door's opening and closing. Allowing for the deadening effect of fog, say twenty or thirty yards away from the front gate which, open now, had probably been open that night too. At this time of the year, and in February too, grazing cattle had been taken off the common: it was so sodden and marshy that their hooves would do too much damage during the winter months. Thus there was no need for the Lisles to close their gate until summer dried the ground and grazing cattle or sheep came back.
Thirty to twenty yards away, perhaps even nearer. Advancing, Gees eyed the ground carefully, though it was not likely, at this length of time after the tragedy, that he would find anything connected with it. But his police experience had taught him to miss no chances, and thus he cast an inquiring gaze at every tussock of the coarse, browned grass on either side of the path. Dead stuff now, it would rot down during the winter, and its stalks would fertilise the soil for next year's growth. Nature was a marvellous economist, wasting none of her products.
Abruptly, at a distance from the front gate of the Lisles' house that he estimated as nearer forty of his paces than twenty, Gees turned aside from the path toward a hazel clump, and stood looking down at a big, coarse-bladed tussock of grass. Evidence at the inquest had told of morbid sightseers trampling the ground in all directions in the vicinity of the broken railings, but the tramplers had not come so near the Lisles' house as this, in all probability. Village folk, a sense of delicacy, or possibly Constable Pettit, had restrained them from approaching too near the bereaved relatives, and here, so sheltered by the big tussock as to have endured all the rains and winds and sunshine of the months and yet retain identity, was such evidence as Gees had been seeking. Half-hidden by the grass, useless, and therefore left where they had fallen, even if they had been seen by others, were an empty fusee box and the rotted stumps of five—no, six fusees, Gees found when he pushed at the grass with his foot and uncovered the sixth. Again he pushed, and the dead stalks almost covered in the rotted box, its faded label still plain enough to be identified with the fusees Kleinert always used, and covered, too, all but two of the mouldering fusee stems, on which the browning near the striking end went to prove that they had all been used.
Foolishly, Kleinert had smoked at least one of his black cigars while he waited. Gees had noted how, even when smoking by his own fire, Kleinert had had to keep on drawing to keep the cigar alight, and if he mused too long over anything had had to light it again. How much more, in the dampness of the fog, would the cigar have gone out and needed relighting! Six times, unless the man had waited long enough to smoke two cigars. With incredible carelessness, he had dropped his fusees and his empty box, and with equally incredible lack of perception those who had investigated the tragedy had either not seen these pieces of evidence of his having waited here, or, seeing, had attached no importance to the sight—in all probability had not connected the box and stalks of fusees with Kleinert. Would Constable Pettit even know that Kleinert used fusees to light his cigars? Would Inspector Gainsford, assuming that he had made some sort of survey of the ground, have questioned over it? Again, had the inspector made any survey at all? The Lisles, mother and daughters, had probably begged that the proceedings might be made as brief as possible, and had lulled any possibility of suspicion, for at that time they could not have known that Kleinert intended stealing the process. The first hint of that had appeared at the inquest, when Phyllis had accused Kleinert of lying, and even then, apart from the disappearance of the fifth note-book, there had been nothing to reveal his intent, while they had not suspected that he had stolen the note-book, then. They had probably thought that it would turn up in the house.
The fusees and box had lain here undetected all this time: they were less noticeable, more overgrown, now, than they had ever been, and Gees decided to leave them in situ. If he removed or even disturbed them, they would not constitute evidence of the case he wanted to make against Kleinert, while here, if he got other evidence, they would be damning, unless Kleinert could produce evidence of having waited at this spot at some other time than that night. Gees felt certain that nobody else, even in such a village as Snoddlesdon, used fusees. They were as out of date as honesty in politics, home-made bread, or hay in the Haymarket.
So that was that, one possible step along the way that should—might not, but should—end with an early- morning meeting between Kleinert and the hangman, There were more steps to be taken yet, for this discovery by itself was nothing, and Gees felt no compunction over hoodwinking Kleinert while he went on with the case. When he analysed his own feelings, he found that he had no reluctance at all over being in the society of one whom he knew, now, was a murderer, and even felt a certain interest in the thought that he had to watch the man eat more meals, yet. It was a horrid sight, but henceforth it would have a sort of fascination, the morbid and almost if not quite sadistic attractiveness that once made executions such popular spectacles, and still draws crowds to see a boxer battered into bloody unconsciousness by his stronger opponent.
The next step, Gees reflected, consisted in making Kleinert reveal (a) whether the fifth note-book of Lisle's series was still in existence, and (b) where, if it were, he kept it, all without letting him know that such information was being sought. Assuming that, as was highly probable, all five note-books were identical in binding and outward appearance, it ought to be fairly easy to make a man like Kleinert reveal his secret without arousing more of his suspicions than could be lulled afterward.
Were all the note-books of the same type, though? Querying this, Gees gazed at the Lisles' house hopefully. If only Phyllis would come out! He did not want to go to the house, for its frontage was open to sight of nearly all the village, and any visit he might make would be seen, and might get to Kleinert's knowledge in some way. Further to that, he hoped Phyllis was keeping her own counsel and not taking her mother into her confidence over this new move against Kleinert: he was in touch with Phyllis and could always impress on her the need for entire reticence until the moment to strike had been reached: not being in touch with Mrs. Lisle, he could not be sure of her silence over anything she might learn. Best to keep away from the house.
He waited awhile, but Phyllis did not appear. Then, realising that the sun must be about to set behind the greyness of the sky, he gave the fusee box and stems one last look, praying that no other might come this way to disturb them, and, turning about, went back to Kleinert's.
With ample demonstration of his claim that he liked pork, the slices he had carved for himself swimming in apple sauce, and a Jungfrau of sprouts as witness of his desire for chlorophyll, Kleinert emptied the gravy-boat on the crest of the mountain and then took about a tablespoonful of mustard on to the side of his plate. Until the appearance of dinner, he had been moody and silent, but as he gorged he grew more cheerful and alert, and, stopping to pile his plate a second time, he spoke.
"You have walked to Godwinsford this afternoon, Mr. Green?"
"Not all the way there," Gees answered, truthfully enough. "Those colours—how do you account for their exceptional brilliance?"
"I think—I talk it over with the man Lisle when I have him to work for me—I think, and he say too, that there is included in those colour some of both the infra and of the ultra rays. For the human eye it is unable to see the infra and ultra rays of the spectrum, as perhaps you know. The photographic plate, it see some of them, and thus you get the impossible photographs of the spiritualists. The plate record the rays which the unaided human eye is incapable of seeing."
"Might be possible to get a photograph of that nothing of yours, then," Gees suggested. "What about getting a camera and flashlight?"
"I would not, and you shall not!" Kleinert even delayed starting on his second plateful to negative such a suggestion with all the vigour, short of shouting, that he could put into his voice. "I will not have the photograph taken in this room, or anywhere that the nothing assert itself. I do not wish to see it, and no other shall see it. It is as I tell you an evil haunting of this house, and not to be seen."
Gees abandoned the point, and felt sorry that he had raised it. "So you believe there are invisible rays in these chalk colours?" he asked.
"Both the ultra and infra rays are in all colours that are made," Kleinert answered, "but the colours themselves are not so pure, so perfect as these of the chalk. It is that these colours of the chalk emit all the rays of each colour, from the very margin where the infra rays leave off to the very margin where the ultra rays begin. So for the first time in the history of the world you see the full colour, complete as it should be. As if there were no atmosphere to intervene you would see perfect colour in the solar corona when there is eclipse—though, if there was no atmosphere to intervene, you would see the corona all the time, without the eclipse to be total and hide the sun itself."
He committed verbal suicide, then, lest that second helping of pork should cool, and by the way he plastered each mouthful with mustard Gees decided that he must have some sort of proofed lining to his throat and aesophagus. Not until the plate was empty did he speak again.
"Monday, I think the American mail come," he said, "and I think too there will be a letter from the Harten-Blomberg Inc corporation. I think they write to say when some man come to see and test the fixing process."
"You mean, they've had time to test out the preceding processes and make sure the colours are obtainable as you claim?" Gees suggested.
"So." Kleinert leaned back while Mrs. Butt placed a jam roly- poly before him, and licked his lips at sight of it. "For I send them all the plans for the apparatus, and they write and ask for particulars of the setting up—more particulars, because I give them first what I think is enough. Then it is nearly two months ago I send them the more particulars they ask, and so there is now all the time they need to make the tests. I think they try to find the fixing process, to steal all from me, but I know that they cannot do. In all the process they already have is no need for a catalyst, nor will they think one is needed for the fixing, the final process. For the need is not easily apparent."
"I'd say they'd try for it," Gees remarked, merely to egg his host on, and possibly to reveal yet more of Lisle's part in the discovery.
"They can try." Having taken half the roly-poly on to his plate, Kleinert was busy with it, but, having lost a good deal of his vigour in dealing with the pork, he was just able to talk as he ate. "It is of three elements, each in definite proportion, and moreover there is needed a certain temperature, without which even the correct proportions of the elements of the catalyst are of no use. So, I say, they may try."
"You and Lisle must have put in a good deal of work," Gees said.
But, frowning, Kleinert refused to be drawn on that point. "Since the catalyst may be used over and over and over, and the plant of which you see the miniature to do a little may be used until it is worn out, and there is need only for the electric current and the transport of the powder from the one piece of plant to the next, it is cheaper to make colour from chalk than to make aniline colour," he declared. "I know the aniline is by- product, but for it too there must be the process. And if any man see the aniline at his best and then see this, there is no choice between them. Nor between this and colour from any other base."
He looked at the rest of the roly-poly on the dish, and, evidently with regret, let it stay there and pushed back his chair.
"To-morrow, for the lunch," he said. "Also there will be the pork cold and the beef cold. For Sunday we have the goose. I shall tell Mrs. Butt in the morning that we have the goose, and the man shall come with it from Godwinsford to deliver to-morrow afternoon. I like the goose much more than I like the duck, because the slices are so much bigger."
"Goose, then, by all means," Gees agreed.
"We shall eat always simply, but there will be enough," Kleinert stated, just as earnestly as if he were propounding something entirely new. Then he lighted another black cigar with another fusee—and the box from which he took his light, Gees noticed, was identical in shape and the design on its top with that which lay out on the common.
"We shall again play the chess?" he asked genially.
"Undoubtedly we shall again play the chess," Gees assented.
He was about to propose first clearing the table, when Mrs. Butt entered with a tray and began on the plates and dishes. Having begun this service, she evidently meant to keep it up, possibly in the hope of another discarded suit or overcoat as reward. But Gees felt that he had other views: if she wanted any more cast-offs, she must earn them in other ways than this of table-clearing. On Monday, perhaps, or even as far ahead as Tuesday. Sunday afternoon would not be a good time to go and interview her at that house next to Mrs. Tuson's, for there would be too many potential stone-throwers about, then, while on week- days they would be at work and therefore beyond good aiming distance.
He stood by the sideboard, waiting until she should have finished clearing to bring the chessmen and board to the table. In its way, a well-built piece of furniture, this sideboard, though the low-relief carving of the front and top spoilt it as far as appearance went. Idly, as he waited, he pulled open the right-hand drawer over the cupboard part, and saw cutlery and spoons on a baize lining within. He closed the drawer again, and Kleinert's voice sounded, with an anxious note in it.
"There is the knives and other things. You do not open the other drawer. I think it is locked. Always I keep it locked."
He got up and came across the room to make sure by a pull at the handle of the drawer, and nodded satisfaction.
"It is as I think locked," he said. "Now we play the chess."
Returning to the now cleared table with board and men, Gees felt fairly certain that he knew where to look for Lisle's fifth note-book. Kleinert, evidently dismissing the drawer from his mind, spoke to Mrs. Butt as she was about to leave the room with her second tray-load.
"To-morrow morning, when the man from Godwinsford come, Mrs. Butt, you will order a goose. It shall have plenty of meat on the breast, a large goose, and there shall be the stuffing of the sage and the onion, also you shall again make the apple sauce, and the sprouts."
"Supposin' there ain't any sprouts, sir?" she asked.
"Then you shall get the parsnips. There is much nutriment in parsnips. But if it may be, you shall get the sprouts, because of the chlorophyll. There is much chlorophyll in sprouts."
"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Butt, and, panting, she went out with the tray.
By half-past one in the morning, with two more games to Gees' credit, Kleinert declared himself ready to go to bed. It was evidently one of his nothing's off nights, but he took the Aladdin lamp up with him, all the same.
DISTASTE, and possibly a trace of suspicion blended in with it, showed in Kleinert's expression as he gazed at Gees over Saturday's cold pork lunch, after hearing that his guest intended to take the car out.
"But why?" he demanded. "It is not good weather, not sunshine. Why should you go out in the car, on such a day as this?"
"Because the car might like a spot of exercise," Gees told him.
"But that is foolish talk." He frowned, and sounded almost angry over it. "If you say you go for a walk, I understand perhaps you think it is necessary to go for a walk, for the sake of the health. But the car—there is no exercise and no health to sit in a car and drive."
"You come out with me and see," Gees invited—recklessly, since he wanted nothing less than that Kleinert should accompany him.
"No, I do not come out with you. Nor do I see why you go in the car, though you talk foolishly about it needing exercise."
"All right!" Gees retorted, harshly. "Please yourself whether you come out or no. If you want me to come back here after going out, keep a civil tongue in your head, and don't question so much over what I do."
Kleinert stared at him open-mouthed. As he was then eating pork, his open mouth was not a pleasant sight. He closed it, swallowed very audibly, cut himself another mouthful, and then spoke—
"But I have paid you already the fifty pounds for the month."
"You can have a cheque for the whole amount here and now," Gees snapped. "If I had cash on me, you could have that, if you want it."
"But—Mr. Green!" He sounded badly perturbed, not to say alarmed. "I do not want the money back. I want that you should stay with me till Harten-Blomberg or Inc come and buy the process. It is for that I engage you. Twice you have been with me when the nothing come, and so you know how much I need that you do not break the agreement—especially the second time that the nothing come, you must surely know how much I need you to be with me. For if you are here I have the strength to resist, but not if you are not here. So much you who make quiet that which was unquiet at Nightmare Farm must understand!"
"Oh, maybe," Gees answered, with apparent carelessness. He had got his man on the run, and did not intend to lose his advantage. "My point is that I don't need you, nor your money enough to put up with this damned pestering over where I go and how I go in my spare time. Stop it, and I'll come back. Keep it up, and I put down a cheque for fifty pounds and don't come back. Now you take the floor again."
"I do not want the floor," Kleinert almost wailed. "I did not ask for the floor. All I ask is that you shall stay with me for all the hours of dark, as it was agreed when I give you the fifty pounds."
"Then are you going to let up on bothering about what I do in all the hours of light?" Gees demanded. "If so, I'll come back this afternoon."
"You shall if you will take the car," Kleinert promised almost humbly. "I shall not question that you take the car instead of walk, not to-day nor on any other day you say you take the car instead of walk. If you say the car need exercise, then perhaps you are right, though I do not think so. I will keep that thought to myself, and you shall take the car. Anything you ask, so you are here for the hours of darkness."
"I, for my part, promise not to desert Mr. Micawber, until something turns up," Gees said, more peaceably.
"Again you use language I do not understand," Kleinert complained, "Who is this Micawber of which you speak? He is not in Snoddlesdon, no?"
"He is a figure of speech," Gees said solemnly. "My nothing, call him, but quite harmless. No—" he hastened to add, seeing the Kleinert was about to speak—"don't question any more, or I shall breeze off into more incomprehensible allusions, and you'll walk up the wall and lay an egg. Just leave it, sleep peacefully, and expect me back before it begins to get dark. And don't get my goat by questioning what I do as much as you have been doing. You'll only lose by it."
"If you come back before it begin to get dark, I shall be satisfied and shall not ask if you take the car or do not take the car," Kleinert promised. "It is only that it seem strange to me you take the car."
"Your way of eating may seem strange to me, but I don't comment on it," Gees retorted. "I couldn't, adequately," he added after a pause.
Kleinert thought that over, shook his head over it, and evidently gave it up. Or perhaps be feared to invite another threat of leaving altogether if he questioned any more. However that might be, he spoilt the appearance of the roast leg of pork without further conversation, settled after the meal to his cigar by the fire, and said nothing at all when Gees eventually went out to take the car and wait for Phyllis Lisle.
She appeared punctually at the spot where he had waited for her the first time, and he greeted her with no reference to the object of this meeting, settled her in the seat next himself, and drove off toward Godwinsford with no more than a remark on the absence of rain.
"Does this mean you have no news for me?" she asked, just before they rounded the last bend before coming to sight of Godwinsford.
"I'm afraid it does," he answered. "Afraid, too, that I may want you to meet me several more times before I have any definite news to give you. For this afternoon, there's only one thing to make the meeting worth while—apart from the relief of getting away from Kleinert for a time and the pleasure of seeing you, I mean. Only one strictly business reason."
"And that is—?" she asked, as Godwinsford appeared before them.
"Those note-books you told me your father kept," he answered. "I want to know, first, if you can tell me, whether they were all exactly the same in outward appearance. Could you mistake one for another, until you opened it and looked at what he had written in them?"
"Why, yes," she said without hesitation. "He used the same sort of book for years, one that he could carry in his coat pocket—he made his notes at any time they occurred to him. I've seen him take the book out of his pocket in the middle of a meal, and mother would have to remind him we were at table, because he'd forget everything once he had the book open and his fountain pen or pencil in his hand. They were all alike."
"All black leather covers? You're quite sure the one that got lost was black like the rest, and couldn't be distinguished from them?"
"Quite sure. He used to buy them by the half-dozen."
"Can you remember whether the cover of that lost one was worn badly, or new-looking, or had anything to make it distinguishable from the rest? I want to be quite sure on that point, before trying something."
"I should say there was no difference whatever, as far as the cover was concerned," she said. "That limp black leather doesn't show wear easily, and after only a very little use it loses all its newness. Gets a sort of—well, almost a flabby appearance, you know. And that one was no different from the others, I feel sure. He'd used it about a fortnight or three weeks, though I can't be sure exactly how long it was between his finishing the fourth of them and his death. Not more than three weeks."
With Godwinsford behind, Gees turned on to the Tonbridge road as before. "That's what I wanted to hear you say, Miss Lisle," he told her. "Now I want you to pick me out one of the four note- books you still have, and if there's any choice at all choose the one most like what you think would be the appearance of the lost one. Meet me with it at Godwinsford, not where I picked you up to-day, at three to-morrow, can you?"
"I can—yes," she agreed slowly. "But won't you explain why you want it, please? I—I know nothing of what you're doing, you see."
"I do see, but leave it to me," he answered, and drew in to the side of the road to pull up outside the place where they had had tea before. "Not that you wouldn't approve of what I'm doing, for I feel sure you would—and will, when I'm able to tell you the whole story. But at present I'm feeling my way. The way, I hope, that will bring Kleinert to the punishment he deserves, and get back for you all that belongs to you and your mother. And your sister, of course."
"I wonder what Irene will think when I tell her," she reflected aloud, as Gees, having got out, opened the car door for her.
"Tea and mumpins," he said, "and I'll comment on that remark when we get inside. Will you go ahead and order, please? I can see I'd better put this hood up, for it's already beginning to speck rain at us."
He joined her by the fireplace of the tea room, and, as before, moved the table nearer to the fire. "Did you order four?" he asked.
"Yes. Was that right?" She smiled at him as she asked it,
"Very, if you remembered to tell her about the extra butter."
"But I didn't," she said. "I don't think it's too late, though."
"Don't trouble. Probably our Hebe will remember it."
Hebe looked into the room. "You will like extra butter, sir?" she inquired, advancing no more than her head through the doorway.
"We would," Gees told her. "Thank you for thinking of it."
"And I nearly said—think you for thanking of it," he observed after the woman's head had disappeared and the door had closed again.
"Probably she wouldn't have noticed if you had," the girl said.
"I'm glad the chance was denied her. That woman looks capable of noticing anything. Miss Lisle—" his tone changed to seriousness—"you spoke just now of telling your sister about this. Must you?"
"I don't see how I can avoid it," she answered. "She'll have arrived home by the time I get back—she comes down for week-ends, you know—and she's sure to ask where I've been."
"Couldn't you tell her you've met me, and miss out the why?"
"And then—where did I meet you, who are you, where are you staying—and the answer to that would simply force me to explain the rest. Even so—well, you can guess what she or my mother would think of any man after hearing he was staying at Kleinert's."
"Umm-m!" He thought over it, without further comment.
"And she'll have to know eventually," she pointed out. "That is, if anything comes of this—of whatever it is you're planning to do."
"Which doesn't sound as if you had much faith in me," he remarked.
She looked him squarely in the face. "I have all the faith in the world," she said gravely. "Otherwise, I should not have met you this second time. I believe you have both the ability and the will to carry out all you say you will do—more than you have told me, Mr. Green."
"Well, that's good hearing, anyhow," he observed. "Thank you for putting it so nicely, too. Ah! blessings on the man who invented cruffins, and still more on the one who discovered how good they are with extra butter." Hebe had appeared again, with the tea and a covered dish. "It's a good world, in spots. Is that chair near enough to the fire?"
"Quite." She seated herself and poured the tea, while he removed the cover from the dish. "You take the top one while I finish with this. Two lumps for you, isn't it?"
"Make it three, please. Well—" the door had closed on their attendant—"by all appearances, there's no way out of giving your sister the low down on my skullduggery—it's all right, Miss Lisle, only a spot of practice in Americanese I indulge in at times, to make sure of being able to amuse my father when I see him. But do you think you can convince her I'm on the level, as you appear to be convinced yourself?"
"I think so," she answered, with a note of doubt.
"Which sounds as if you didn't think so at all," he rejoined. "I know it's likely to be a bit difficult, if you tell her I'm staying with Kleinert. Sort of red rag to—no, though, we'll wash out that simile, I think. What I mean is, I remember your telling me that Kleinert tried to make love to her, so she'll start with a prejudice against. Not that I'd let that worry me as long as she doesn't try to upset this particular apple-wagon. It would be a horrible pity if she did."
"Why—how could she do any harm?"
"I don't know," he answered thoughtfully. "Kleinert appears to be living as a soft of recluse, as far as I can see, but I don't know what contacts he makes or may make, and if one word got to his ears about what I'm doing in my spare time away from him—if he had the slightest idea of my meeting you like this, my name would be Walker as far as he's concerned, and half my chance of getting at the real facts of your father's death would be gone. That means I'd stand very little chance of proving that the colour process is your father's property—yours, now he's dead. Kleinert might make his sale and absquatulate with the money without parting with that ten per cent to me, and we'd all be sorry."
"Of course," she remarked, rather ironically.
"I mean, all of us except Kleinert," he amended, and took a second crumpet. "Can you put it to your sister as I put it to you, that you've nothing to lose by letting me play my hand, and possibly thirty thousand pounds, which is the least Kleinert expects from the sale, to gain?"
"I will put it to her in that way," she promised. "I see no way out of telling her, because I'm not a good liar, and I shall have to explain why I was not at home this afternoon when she arrived. I didn't think of that when I arranged to meet you again—at least, not until you had left me the day before yesterday. In fact, I didn't give it much thought till you raised this question of my telling her."
"And now you've no idea how she'll take it," he suggested.
"Say rather that I shall have difficulty in convincing her I'm wise in meeting you as I have done," she said, and smiled at him. "You see, Mr. Green, Irene's temperament is entirely different from mine. I live very largely by intuition, and confess that I accepted you as what you claimed to be, almost as soon as you spoke to me. I do accept and believe in you, and don't question in the least that you are working for us."
"And your sister?" he asked.
"First question, how long have I known you, or where did I meet you. Then, what have I apart from your own word that you are what you claim to be. Then, since you are living with Kleinert, how can I possibly be such a fool as to believe one word you say. Then, am I not a ten times greater fool for letting a strange man who admits that he is living with Kleinert even so much as speak to me. Then, your saying that we have nothing to lose by meeting you, and helping you in any way I can, may be altogether wrong, and you may be working to spoil our last chance of ever benefiting by my father's discovery. Finally, that I'm an utter idiot for ever having anything to do with you, and I've got to stop it."
"Umm-m! Quite a sympathetic personality, that sister of yours."
"Don't misjudge her on what I've said, please," she begged. "She was hurt far more deeply than I was over all we lost last February. It hardened her, embittered her—not only my father's death, but the material loss of all we had hoped. You see, this place—where we live—is definitely bad for my mother, who ought never to spend a winter in England, as Doctor Bourne told me. Instead of all we hoped, Irene has to hold the post she has in London, and contribute out of what she earns to the upkeep of our home. And she hates Kleinert terribly, much more than either my mother or I do. She'd suspect anyone who so much as knows him in any way, let alone lives in the same house with him as you are doing."
"I don't wonder at it," he remarked seriously. "Feeling like that about it, too, it's impossible to tell what she may do when you tell her as you say you must. I dunno. And there's precious little time to think it over or plan anything. I suppose she'll jump into top gear and start questioning you about where you've been, as soon as she sees you?"
"I don't see how I'm to avoid it," she admitted.
"Well, what about that last mumpet?"
"I don't want it. Have it by all means, if you wish."
"It's not so much a wish as a yearn." He took the crumpet on to his plate. "Let me consider for a few seconds, Miss Lisle."
He finished eating, took the fresh cup of tea she poured for him, and produced cigarettes, all in silence. When they had lighted up and turned their chairs from the table toward the fire, he spoke.
"I've made a plan of action, of sorts. That is, I've got things shaped consecutively in my mind. One, two, three—and you're four—sources of information, apart from Kleinert himself. He comes last, and with him the need for one of those note-books. That means, I don't want it quite yet, and still I'd like to have it in case my plan suddenly alters itself. In case, say, that your sister gave the show away and I had to jump out of Kleinert's suddenly. That being so, I'll be near the church at Godwinsford at three to-morrow on the chance of your turning up with the note-book, and if you don't appear by, say, four, I'll turn up there or else wait for you on the road on Monday, as to- day. We'll leave it like that while you get you sister's reaction, I think."
"Yes, and I'll be there to-morrow if possible," she agreed. "But—but why not wait for me as you did to-day? It's a mile and a half less, and I might manage the little time it takes to get that far."
"Quite so," he said, "and every rustic in Snoddlesdon will be taking his Sunday afternoon walk, and the stone that missed me when I passed the Drake and Gander might not miss this wind screen. Safety glass is expensive stuff, too. Said stone might also miss me and hit you, or we might both get hit. I think we'll make it Godwinsford, if you don't mind, for Sunday afternoon. Monday is different—rustics go to work."
"They wouldn't throw stones if I were there," she objected.
"They might make enough shemozzle to get to Kleinert's ears," he pointed put. "So far, we've been lucky—nobody has seen you meet me—that is, nobody from Snoddlesdon—as nearly as I can tell. I'd hate to break that spell of luck through a spot of carelessness."
She thought it over. "I'll come to Godwinsford to-morrow, if possible," she promised. "If not, I'll meet you on Monday as you say. My sister will be back in London, then, and needn't know I'm meeting you."
"You really anticipate difficulties, then?" he asked.
"I'm afraid I do. If you knew her, you'd understand."
"In that case, I'll pay the bill and let you get back to face the difficulties. Try to impress on her that there is a chance, if she will only keep quiet, and she can do no good by not keeping quiet."
He smiled at her as, grave and thoughtful in expression, she settled herself in the car and he closed the door on her before taking his seat at the wheel.
"Don't worry too much, Miss Lisle. There's a way out of even this wood, in spite of the bit of undergrowth that seems to be hiding it."
She smiled as he turned the car about and began the return journey.
"Irene wouldn't be even a little amused if she heard herself described as a bit of undergrowth," she remarked. "She's taller than I am, too. I wish you could meet her and tell her everything yourself."
"At the worst, I could get to London and back in a day and do that," he said. "One other thing, now I'm able to ask you. It's just occurred to me. There's a very good electric lighting plant at Kleinert's, but it isn't used for that. It was obviously installed to run a model set for demonstrating this colour process. By whom, do you know?"
"By my father, I expect," she answered.
"Can you prove that, though?"
"I don't see how I could. He never talked to us about the details of what he was doing, or what he got in the way of apparatus for his work. I never heard him mention an electric lighting set."
"You know he wanted to put an engine and other things in your own house, though, and eventually it was decided to put them at Kleinert's?"
"Yes. I told you about that. But I don't know where they came from, or anything about them. We never saw them, I know."
"You don't know whether your father paid for them?"
"No, I've no idea. He spent a lot of money on his experiments, always did. In fact we—we had to economise a good deal, sometimes."
"I see. Big cheques going out, eh?"
"It was for us!" she insisted earnestly. "We never grudged it, because we all knew he cared nothing for money for himself, and it was all—after he left the aniline company—all meant to make the fortune that was to take us out of Snoddlesdon, give my mother all she needed. He was—you couldn't find a more unselfish man, anywhere."
"Taken as read, Miss Lisle. But—big cheques, perhaps. Do you think you could find out for me if he paid out a big cheque, a hundred or so, about the time that plant was put in at Kleinert's?"
"I don't see how I could," she said, after thought over it.
"Because, if you could," he pointed out, "you'd go a long way toward establishing your claim to the colour process by proving that your father was responsible for the provision of the plant to demonstrate the process. Could you get hold of his pass book and look for a cheque of that size, or a couple or more to the same payee to make up a hundred or thereabouts? It would appear in the pass book, you know."
"Yes, but I don't know even if the pass book has been kept," she admitted. "I do know that a lot of papers were burnt after the estate had been proved—things the solicitors sent back and my mother said were no more use. The pass book may have been among them. If it were among his papers when she went through them, I don't think she'd keep it."
"Foiled again, just like the other villain," he commented thoughtfully. "Well, I'll have to search for that at the other end, for I don't believe even an absent-minded scientist would pay for a plant to demonstrate another man's discovery, and if we can prove the plant to be your father's property, that in itself will go a long way toward making Kleinert climb trees and gibber. All right, I'll attend to it in another way, maybe at the same time that I go to London to see your sister."
"You would do that, then?" she asked.
"Not till I gather from anything you tell me that there's need for it," he answered. "That will come clear when I see you next, either to-morrow or Monday afternoon. I'll drop you at the same place to-day, and hope for the best as far as she's concerned. It doesn't in the least matter what she says or thinks, remember, as long as Kleinert doesn't get to suspecting me of suspecting him, or learns that I'm in touch with you. If he does, a good deal more goose that I'm likely to eat to-morrow is badly overdone, and I've got to look for fresh lodgings."
"You'd have to try hare," she remarked as they passed through Godwinsford. "You wouldn't get any in Snoddlesdon, after being with him."
"Unless—but no. Samantha Gwendoline already has her hands full," he said. "At least, so I have been given to understand."
"I don't understand," she objected. "What name did you say?"
"It's the name of the lady who, I hope, will help to do for Kleinert in a far different way from the one in which she is doing for him now," he answered. "And that's such a horribly complicated sentence that I shall probably run this car off the road if you ask me to explain it. This is nearly where I drop you, and—I'm very grateful indeed to you for meeting and helping me the way you do, Miss Lisle."
"Your own words—don't waste good gratitude," she advised as he eased speed on the bend where he had waited for her. "I'm glad to meet and talk to you, even apart from what you're doing for us."
"So far, nothing at all. I'll be there at three to-morrow, and if you're not, then here at two-thirty Monday. Good-bye till then."
And, leaving her, he drove on to Kleinert's. His entry evidently wakened Kleinert, who sat up by the fire and took off his spectacles to rub his eyes while he yawned cavernously, repeatedly, and noisily.
"You are back quite early," he said at last.
"The car enjoyed it," Gees told him. "Since it's still full daylight, do you mind if I have another look at that room upstairs?"
"No, I do not mind, if you wish to look. But you shall not try to uncover any of the changer mechanisms on the shelves, for the covers are fixed, and if you try to remove them you perhaps break the mechanisms."
"I promise not to touch a thing," Gees said.
"Then you may go to look. I myself do not wish to go with you."
Past any question, the fifth note-book was not concealed anywhere in that room, Gees reflected as he went up the stairs. Entering the room, he went straight to the petrol engine, and found the makers' nameplate on it. He copied on to the back of an envelope—"Hamworthy Engineering Co., Ltd., Poole, Dorset. 39777." The dynamo bore the name "Crompton-Parkinson," and he had enough mechanical knowledge to see that the connection between the two was by friction clutch, not by a dog-clutch as he had decided in seeing Kleinert disconnect it. With these as all the particulars he needed, he went down to the living room again.
"You have seen all you wish to see?" Kleinert asked—rather timorously, for obviously he still bore in mind Gees' threat of leaving him.
"Quite all, thanks," Gees answered amiably.
"You think to look to see if all the colour is now gone from the powder, and it come white as when I put it in, hein?"
"That's about the size of it. And on what you showed me, even without the fixing process, that plant sure packs a wallop," Gees told him.
"How shall it pack, when it deliver the powder after it is changed to the colours?" Kleinert asked puzzledly. "And what is a wallop?"
"There is Nether Wallop, and Middle Wallop—whether there's an Upper Wallop I've never discovered," Gees answered with perfect gravity. "Places of renown, all of 'em—both, I mean. That is, if I mean anything. Generally, I don't, when I speak, though sometimes I do. And the packing part of it is syllogistic, more an absquatulation than a segashuation. And now, having explained everything, I'm going to read Crusoe till dinner time. Defoe was a great chap, I'll tell the world."
"But you have not explained," Kleinert objected, utter bewilderment in his gaze. "I do not understand any of what you say."
"Didn't you understand when I said I was going to read?"
"Yes, that alone I understand. Not anything else."
"Well, I can't both talk and read, and I intend to read. As long as you understand that, the rest of it has got boloney beaten to a frazzle, and a Trappist monk hasn't got anything on me till dinner time!"
"But—!" Kleinert began, and stopped.
"Trappist, I said," Gees insisted. "They never talk."
And he seated himself and began reading.
"ON the Sunday," Kleinert explained after breakfast the next morning, "Mrs. Butt come only once, and to-day is Sunday. She say that on this day her husband is at home, and she have her hands full."
"I can well believe it," Gees assured him.
"Thus she do not go now, but stay all the morning," Kleinert pursued solemnly, "and we have the big meal in the middle of the day. In the evening, since she is not here, I get the food from the kitchen myself for the meal that I have then. She leave it all ready."
"For another big meal," Gees observed, and, looking out, saw that it was raining steadily, and the garden appeared more draggled than ever.
"For such a meal as we have in the middle of the day on week- days," Kleinert amended. "There will be some little cold pork, and the goose that is left after we have the meal in the middle of the day, also the ham is not finished. We shall eat simply, but there will be enough."
"It sounds like giving simplicity ten yards in the hundred and then romping home," Gees observed, with pensive gravity.
"I say, there will be enough," Kleinert insisted. "For I tell Mrs. Butt to make the sultana pudding so big that we do not eat it all at mid-day, and we have what is left cold in the evening. I am most careful that there shall be enough, Mr. Green, always most careful."
"Cold sultana pudding, eh?" Gees commented reflectively. "That being the case, I'm going to sit by the fire and read all the morning, and turn out the car for a spot more exercise some time this afternoon."
Mindful of the result of previous questioning as to the car's need of exercise, Kleinert let that statement pass unchallenged, and went upstairs, probably to clean up after the colour demonstration, for Gees heard him moving about in the room which contained the engine and plant. He himself took the opportunity of inspecting the sideboard thoroughly, since Mrs. Butt was busy in the kitchen, and for the first time since his arrival he had the living room entirely to himself.
Already he knew what the two cupboards and the right-hand drawer contained, but he inspected both cupboards again, and decided that, among other things, Kleinert kept his supply of fusees in the left-hand, locked drawer, for, although Gees had seen him take out a box from the sideboard, none were visible in either cupboard or in the baize-lined drawer where the cutlery and plated ware were stored. The left-hand drawer, locked, remained so, though Gees tried every key in his possession in the lock. Remembering Kleinert's anxiety over it, he decided that it contained more important things than fusees. It could wait, though.
Rather listlessly, he tried the bookcase again, having finished Defoe's masterpiece before dinner the preceding night. Both Rasselas and Paul and Virginia, that parent of all "Blue Lagoon" stories, failed to attract him, as did a Compleat Gardener and a volume of Spurgeon's sermons. The space left when he removed the sermons, though, disclosed that other books had been placed flat against the back of the case, behind those visible and with backs outward, and he took out enough of these latter to get at the hidden treasure, all so dusty as to indicate that, when Kleinert had taken the house "as it stand," he had known nothing of this.
Treasure it was, but both Rasselas and the sermons must have blenched at contact with it. The steel-engraved illustrations to an Ars Amoris, with text in French though the title was in such bad Latin, defied description. There was a French translation of Apuleius' Golden Ass, also with illustrations of hair-raising indecency, and the pictures of Celebrated Courtesans in what Gees described to himself as "hotted-up English" were considerably hotter than the text of the book, though that rendered imagination a mere futility. He replaced them, covered them in again as he had found them, and dusted off his hands before taking from the top shelf The Art of Polite Conversation, by A Gentleman of Quality, with which he retreated to his chair by the fire. At the best, it might prove amusing: at the worst, he could try some of its precepts on Kleinert and, as they say in America, get his reactions.
For a time, though, he sat thoughtful over the occupants of this house to whom the bookcase had belonged before Kleinert appeared here. Who were they—what was the type of mind that had hidden blatant pornography behind sermons and works of old- fashioned respectability? The bookcase was somehow typical of Kleinert, who, behind his stodgy seriousness and apparent harmlessness (for no man could appear less given to evil of any kind, on sight) concealed his real character of murderer and thief of the worst sort.
Gees gave it up, and opened his choice at the beginning. In five minutes or less he was lost in it and gurgling with delight at the unconscious humour its author had put in every paragraph. He came back to earth only when Mrs. Butt entered to lay the table for the midday meal, and then reverted to his treasure until Kleinert, none too clean after his morning upstairs, ostentatiously sharpened the carving knife before beginning operations on the goose before him. Then, rather reluctantly, Gees replaced the book and drew his chair up to the table.
"You have been reading?" Kleinert asked—much as the author of the book indicated one should ask, to open polite conversation.
"No," Gees answered gravely, "I've been standing on my head all the morning. You might have seen that when you came in."
"But you were reading." Kleinert even stopped carving to stare as he voiced the protest.
"If you know it, why ask?" Gees retorted.
"I think I do not talk to you," Kleinert said, and sighed as he resumed his work on the goose. "I ask perhaps what is not a necessary question, that we may talk pleasantly, and you reply to tell me a thing which is manifestly impossible. I think you have the tongue in the cheek too much when you answer the question I ask you."
"I assure you, it's flat in the middle of my mouth," Gees said.
"I am a lonely man who do not have much chance to talk to people," Kleinert declared, with intense self-pity, "and at first I like to talk to you, because it is pleasant sometimes to talk. But you—you distort the meanings, always. You have not the sympathy I deserve."
"I'll try to get you all you deserve, when the chance shows up," Gees promised. "Meanwhile, whether I deserve it or no, I don't want any more goose than that, thank you. Else, there'll be no room anywhere for my tongue when I start eating, and I'll have to park it round the back of my neck, which according to the Q.E.D. merchant is absurd."
"To have the tongue in the cheek is an English figure of speech," Kleinert asserted with some spirit as he carved for himself—and went on carving. "I have often heard it, and you too must often have heard it. Thus when you twist what I say and tell me it is flat in the middle, I say youhave the tongue in your cheek."
"Are you accusing me of being fitted with two tongues?" Gees asked.
"It is helpless to talk to you!" Almost he sobbed the statement. "I do not accuse anything, lest you say again that you go and leave me. I do not say anything more, but eat the goose, and you shall exercise the car, do what you will, if you are with me when it begin to get dark."
Having helped himself to potatoes, he buried everything on his plate under sprouts as usual, and set to work, gloomily enough at first, but with cheerfulness showing more sign of returning after every mouthful. But he studiously refrained from further speech, in all likelihood feeling that he had invited enough trouble for this present session.
At last, with the goose almost wrecked and only half the large sultana pudding left, he turned to the fire and lighted his usual cigar. Gees looked out again, and saw rain falling as it had fallen since dawn.
"You will certainly exercise the car rather than yourself," Kleinert ventured, noting the direction of his guest's gaze.
"There's a spot of wisdom in that remark," Gees conceded graciously. "The car wants fresh air, and it shall have it, at all costs."
"But how can a car need fresh air?" Kleinert, greatly daring, asked.
"I said wants, not needs," Gees pointed out. "I may want to get blind drunk and set fire to this house, but I don't need to do either. No, I've no intention of setting fire to the house, so don't accuse me of it. In fact, I'll get out of this before the argument starts."
"You will return before it begin to get dark," Kleinert pleaded.
"And bring back a new record," Gees promised. "That one's worn scratchy. Sleep peacefully—I'll be seeing you."
He escaped to the barn, though it was then barely two o'clock. But with this rain falling, none of the inhabitants of the village would take Sunday afternoon walks: Kleinert would sleep as usual, and there was no need to make Phyllis Lisle walk all the way to Godwinsford, if she turned out to meet him with the note-book to-day. He put up his side-curtains: the talc would get specked and clouded in the rain, and would prevent anyone from recognising either himself or a passenger. By five minutes past two he had backed out from the dark brown gateway and, turned toward Snoddlesdon, set off for the point where the common began. There he turned about and, just out of sight from the houses of the village, composed himself to wait until half-past three if necessary, but no longer. It would be equivalent to waiting till four o'clock at Godwinsford, a good half-hour's walk or more distant from this point.
Seated at the wheel and faced toward Godwinsford, he fell to musing on Kleinert. The vast seriousness of the man, his utter lack of a sense of humour, and apparent inability to comprehend any but the most simple and forthright statements of fact. Even if he got his thirty thousand pounds or more, could such a man ever get any fun out of life? Had he any sense at all of the enormity of his crimes, any consciousness of the wrong he had done and still was doing to those two girls and their mother? He appeared satisfied with himself, and even after those two visits by his "nothing" gathered his wits together again and turned to chess, unaffected, apparently, by what he had done, as long as he could evade material consequences. That immaterial punishment, or threat of punishment, was no more to him than is a whipping to a schoolboy—less than that, in fact, since the schoolboy usually takes care to avoid another whipping by mending his ways. Kleinert obstinately refused to amend.
Or—the thought came to Gees then—was he innocent after all? Was the process his discovery, not Lisle's, and had Lisle been accidentally drowned, as the inquest verdict declared him? But the "nothing." On that alone Gees returned his verdict, spoke it aloud.
"Guilty as hell," he said with conviction.
"Who is?" a voice on the other side of the talc inquired, and he turned his head to see two waterproofed figures on the grass that had rendered their approach silent. He got out at once, and faced them.
"I was thinking aloud, of Kleinert, Miss Lisle," he explained. "I was thinking of him so thoroughly, in fact, that I didn't hear you come alongside the car. Do get in, won't you, and—" He looked at her companion, and saw red-gold hair under her dripping hat, and blue eyes that gave him as cold a look as their owner could summon up.
"I don't think we'll get in, Phyllis," she said. "The little play was obviously staged for our benefit. Altogether too opportune."
"And why would I use language like that in your sister's hearing?" he demanded, giving her back all the dislike she showed him.
"To make the pretence more effective, I suppose," she retorted.
"You'd better get back home, Miss Lisle," he remarked. "Otherwise, you stand a good chance of getting wet. And I'm still asking the Miss Lisle I know if she'd like to get into the car and keep dry."
"Irene, you're not playing fair!" Phyllis accused stormily. "I told you—suggested you should come with me and see for yourself, but I didn't—Mr. Green—" she turned to him—"I apologise most humbly for my sister's rudeness, and I will get into the car, thank you."
She went round to the near side, and Gees followed and opened the door for her. As she entered, her sister laid a hand on his arm.
"Mind, I'm going to the village policeman to report you, if you dare to drive away from here with my sister in the car," she said.
"Oh, don't be such an utter fool, woman!" He turned on her to fire out the words with vicious emphasis. "Your sister's of age and her own mistress, so don't try penny-ante threats on me! If you haven't enough sense to try to get back what's been robbed from your murdered father, she has, and nothing you say or do will stop either her or me from trying. Get in there!" He opened the back door. "Satisfy yourself that her acquaintance with me is for this purpose and no other, and don't think for one moment I'd abduct the two of you. Get in!"
She got in, without a word, and Gees slammed the door on her and went round to take the wheel. By the time he got there, she had the door open again and was trying to get past Phyllis's restraining hand and arm, but he started the car with a jerk that threw her back into the seat and slammed the door at the same time, and Phyllis, nearly thrown over the back of the seat next him, recovered and seated herself.
"Stop this car at once!" Irene almost screamed.
"When I've lammed some sense into you," Gees retorted, "and that whether it means going non-stop to London or Land's End. I'm not particular. Neither you nor anyone else calls me a liar and gets away with it. You got in of your own will, and you'll get out by mine."
"I got in because you looked like murdering me if I didn't," she said, with bitter, stinging emphasis.
"Your mistake," he told her. "There's only one murderer in Snoddlesdon to my knowledge, and I'm not him. Instead, I'm after him, living with him to get him, as your sister knows. Now, Miss Lisle, if I apologise for treating you rough, will you go so far as to have tea with your sister and me and give yourself a chance to judge whether I'm straight or no? Or do I keep on driving till the petrol gives out, somewhere about three hundred miles the other side of the Kent border?"
"Please, Irene," Phyllis added. "If I'd known you were going to behave as you have, I'd never have come to meet him to- day."
"It seems that I haven't much choice," Irene said bitterly.
"You've none at all, if that's the way you take it," Gees told her over his shoulder. "I apologise for bad language and everything else. Now will you come to tea with us?"
"Yes, then," she answered, "but that doesn't mean I'm going to believe what you tell me. It's all too specious for me."
"That's Godwinsford, that was," Gees observed coolly, having ignored the limit signs to fire the car through the village at something over fifty miles an hour. "You hop out and order six—" he spoke the request to the girl beside him—"and do not forget the extra butter."
"Six?" she asked. "But supposing—"
"Then you'll have to eat two, and I'll stack away the other four," he said, as she did not end the question. "Four's my limit, I'm afraid."
"We can leave one, if necessary," she said, as he emerged to the main road, where he turned toward Tonbridge and depressed the accelerator, feeling the magnificent response of the car until he saw his destination ahead.
Outside the tea house he got out and opened both doors for the two girls. Phyllis gave him a smile, but Irene emerged like an offended queen, and followed her sister into the house while Gees fiddled aimlessly with the buttons on the dash to give them some time to talk. Eventually he joined them in the room he knew, and moved the table as usual.
"Do sit down, won't you, Miss Lisle," he invited Irene.
"I've never been so insulted in my life," she said, and did not move.
"Haven't you?" he asked solicitously. "I thought I'd apologised about that, some time ago. I have, though."
"What do you mean?" she demanded sharply.
"I landed him one between the eyes, and managed to get in a left to the point of the jaw before he dropped," he said reminiscently. "When he waked up, he apologised for calling me a liar, and I've never been able to decide whether he did it because he was convinced I wasn't, or whether he thought he'd get another dose of the same treatment if he didn't. It was a man who called me a liar then, you see, not a woman. I was in the police force at the time."
"In the police force?" she echoed incredulously. "Phyllis, you never told me he'd been in the police force!"
"Because I didn't know, my dear," Phyllis told her, with that sort of sweetness with which a woman dispenses her most catty cattishness. "Mr. Green has been far too busy getting information that will help him to prove Kleinert murdered father to tell me the story of his life. So far, you know, this is the third time I've met him, and we've had no time to exchange personal reminiscences, I'm afraid."
Irene turned on him. "How are you going to prove to me that you're genuine—that you're doing what you claim?" she demanded.
"Prove to you?" he echoed, as if almost staggered by the question. "Why on earth should I go to the trouble of proving either that or anything else to you, Miss Lisle? Surely you don't think I've got time to waste on any such absurdity? I've something far more important to your mother and sister, and to you too, to keep me busy trying to prove."
"Do you mean you've brought me here, and offer no bona fides whatever?" she almost stormed at him.
"I mean exactly that," he answered. "You can walk back if you like, but it's raining. Better let me drive you. Swear at me all you like, and I'm not worried, but don't think I'll take the trouble to prove anything whatever to you. Time alone can do that, and I won't try."
"But what have you done—what are you doing?" she insisted.
"I've driven here from Snoddlesdon, and I'm waiting for tea and crumpets," he answered imperturbably. "So is your sister. I advise you, rather hopelessly, now I begin to know you, to do the same."
"That's silly talk," she said contemptuously. "You tell us you believe Kleinert to be a murderer, and you live in the same house with him!"
"Can you suggest a better way of getting proof of what he has done? I've made him believe that for ten per cent of all he's going to make, I'm capable of shutting my eyes to any criminality, and I've got some of the evidence I want already. I don't ask anyone else to live there."
"Do be reasonable, Irene!" Phyllis pleaded.
But Irene turned her back on them both and went to the window to gaze out at the sodden landscape and shining stretch of road before the house, just as their attendant genius entered with teapot, hot water jug, and covered dish of crumpets. When she had gone, the girl turned from the window and came back to the table. Irresolutely, she looked at the dish from which Gees had removed the cover, at her sister, and lastly at him. Then, for what reason neither of the other two could tell, she reached her decision and spoke it, not easily—
"I'm sorry, Mr. Green," she said.
"Spoken like a perfect gentleman." He held out his hand to her, and she took it. "They pack a whale of a crumpet here. Try one."
"Thank you, I will." She took the chair he indicated, and Phyllis too sat down and began pouring tea, while Gees gave each of them a crumpet and took two for himself.
"To keep the under one hot," he explained. "In addition, I'm learning all the bad table manners there are, and must show off my knowledge."
Then Phyllis reached down beside her for her bag, opened it, and took out a small package which she handed across to Gees.
"The object of my meeting you to-day, before I forget it," she said.
Removing the wrapper, he saw one of the note-books she had described. Gazing at it, Irene said nothing. Probably she felt she had already said enough, though obviously she recognised the book. Gees re-wrapped it and slipped it into his coat pocket, and nodded at Phyllis.
"With this, I'll find if he has the fifth of the series, and where he keeps it if he has," he told her. "Thank you for bringing it."
"I don't see—" she began, and stopped.
"He will, though," he said. "See me with it in my hand, and if I know anything at all of him, he'll accuse me of having stolen it from him. Then I shall raise Cain over being accused of anything of the sort, and he'll rush to a certain locked drawer where I'm pretty sure he keeps the one he's got, to make sure it's there. All this is on the assumption that he hasn't copied the contents and destroyed it."
"But he'd suspect you of plotting against him at once," Irene pointed out. "The fact of your having one of the note-books that he must know you could only have got from us would tell him."
Gees nodded concurrence, and accepted her complete reversal of opinion as to his genuineness without comment other than an approving smile.
"Quite right," he said, "which is why that little trick comes last, after I've got everything else I can against him. But I wanted your sister to hand me one of the books as soon as possible, because I never know when Kleinert may begin to suspect, and if he turns me out suddenly I want to make sure whether he's got that other book—and get it from him too, in that case—before I leave the place. Otherwise, there are several things to come before that little bit of play- acting."
"Such as—?" Having sat down with her unfastened waterproof still on, she half-rose now to rid herself of it as she questioned.
"Helping you off with that," Gees answered, and acted as he spoke. "Then, there's that second crumpet on my plate, and driving back in the rain and playing chess with Kleinert this evening—Oh, an awful lot!"
"You mean you're keeping it all to yourself?" she asked, frowning.
"You can't have read many mystery stories," he reproved her. "If you had, you'd know that the best detectives always keep everything to themselves, and have a show-down in the last chapter that puts them in a perfect blaze of glory. My blaze is going to turn fire brigades out."
"I hope they turn the hose on you," she observed quietly.
"There are two more crumpets to go," he said. "Will you have one?"
"I will," she answered, and held her plate.
He put the crumpet on it. "That's my magnanimity," he remarked, "a truly generous response to your horrid wish. Now will you please tell me which of you two is the elder?"
"I am," Irene answered. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because I want to ask your sister whether she'll have the remaining crumpet, and don't know whether she's Miss Lisle or Miss Phyllis."
"You know now," Phyllis put in, "and I will not, thank you."
"Good!" He took it himself. "I get my normal ration. Do you mind my asking whereabouts in London you work, Miss Lisle?"
"Not in the least," she answered, and said no more.
"I see," he remarked, after waiting vainly. "One question at a time, to save misunderstandings. Where do you work, then?"
"Quite near the British museum. I'm secretary to a consulting analyst of the same name as yourself—Mr. Gregory Green."
"Uncle Gry!" he exclaimed softly. "Cousin Bill's father, and Bill's just become heir to the Shropshire property for the umpteenth time, if my father's signed the new will yet. Well, well, well!"
"Do you mean—is he really your uncle?" she demanded.
"My father's always given me that impression," he answered. "We're not exactly enthusiastic about meeting each other, which is why I've not seen you before, I expect. You might even say there's a coolness."
"Then you are the mumps to murder man," she accused.
"It's quite a good slogan," he protested earnestly.
"That's not Mr. Gregory Green's description of it," she demurred.
"I know. Explosiveness in middle age and later is a family attribute of the Shropshire Greens. I wonder whether I shall develop it?"
"Why wonder?" she inquired. "The way you frightened me into your car proves that you've got it already."
"I believe you're right," he said interestedly. "I remember, now, I blew up when Kleinert kept pestering me about these absences of mine, and it tamed him wonderfully when I threatened to leave him to it."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" she asked.
"Cultivate it, of course," he answered with decision. "Family tradition and all that sort of thing—look how useful it is, too! But I've got to get back, sorry as I am to break up this party. Can I hope to see you again next week-end, in case there's anything definite to report?"
"Yes." She turned to her sister. "You can arrange it, Phyllis."
He helped the two of them on with their coats, donned his own, and left them while he went to pay the bill. When he returned to the room, Phyllis stood gazing out from the window and did not face about, while her sister smiled at him, standing by the table with her waterproof opened to reveal the fine lines of her neck and, with that smile, a very attractive face indeed. She was a different being from the one who had come on him when he sat in the car and spoke his condemnation of Kleinert.
"All ready to go, Miss Phyllis?" he asked cheerfully.
"Quite." She turned about, then. "I hope—I hope all this will soon be over. It—somehow it brings things back, far too much."
"When you've got your mother away to sunshine and new health, you'll cease to regret the way you had to go to get to that point," he said.
"Yes, of course. Thank you for reminding me. But somehow, to- day is—" She moved toward the door without ending it.
"And you're sure you will bring us into our own?" Irene, beside Gees as he followed her sister, gazed up at him to put the question.
"I may be nearer the answer to that question next week-end," he told her gravely.
"Several fire brigades, and all the hoses they have turned on you!" she exclaimed, preceding him out toward the car.
"After the sort of bath I have to be content with at Kleinert's, a shower might not be a bad idea," he conceded.
He opened the back near side door for her. Phyllis had already annexed the seat beside the driver's place.
THERE was a line of clouded yellow in the clouds over the sunset, and the rain had ceased, when Gees opened both near-side doors of his car to set down his passengers, two bends on the Godwinsford side of Kleinert's. Irene waited till her sister had got out, and then, taking Gees' offered hand as she stepped down from under the hood, straightened herself and, still holding his hand, looked full at him.
"Am I quite forgiven?" she asked.
"If your father had spanked you a bit more when you were small, you would never have needed forgiveness for anything," he answered, and at the reply she withdrew her hand hastily. "Nor do you need it now," he added. "Your suspicions were quite natural, and I was lucky not to get the same sort of reception when I thrust myself on your sister."
"Then that's all right," she said lightly. "I shall look forward to seeing you again next week-end, Mr. Green, and hearing your news."
"And you and I, Miss Phyllis—" he turned to her—"haven't made any arrangements yet. I think—I've got a Butt end to chew over, and one or two other things. Let me see, now. Monday—shall we say Wednesday, same place and time, unless you hear from me sooner?"
"Two-thirty here, or three at Godwinsford," she assented.
"That's it. If it isn't, I'll let you know somehow."
Reaching Kleinert's, he backed the car through the gateway, past the frontage of the house, and into the barn, and observed Kleinert looking out interestedly from the living room window as he passed. When he entered, Kleinert was back on the hearthrug, cheerful and prepared to talk.
"I am glad you are back so soon, Mr. Green. While you are away and after I wake, I make ready the table for the night meal, you see." He waved his hand to indicate jetsam of goose, cold pork, a survival of ham, and all necessities for the evening session, including the cold half of sultana pudding. "You have enjoyed the exercise of the car—yes?"
"I feel a new man," Gees assured him. "By dinner time, I expect, I shall be able to leave nothing but bones of that goose."
Kleinert's jaw dropped in dismay, and he recovered it with an effort.
"But—but it is usual for you to have the small appetite, Mr. Green, especially when the meal is cold," he pointed out. "And there is so much more meat than you think on the bones of the goose. The back, much meat on the back. You will leave a little for me?" He ended up on a wistful note, and added to it a look of sorrowful pleading.
"Well, a little," Gees conceded. "There's the ham, of course."
Kleinert's face brightened wonderfully, and he nodded approval.
"You should know, Mr. Green, I have been remembering some of the things you say, thinking of their meanings, and I see you mean to be funny, not to have the tongue in the cheek at me. But it is difficult for me who learn the English from my father and much more talk German with him to understand the English funniness, so perhaps sometimes when you mean to be funny you will explain, hein? So I may understand, hein?"
"If ever I'm guilty of making a joke, I'll explain it," Gees promised, "even though the joke is wrecked, I'll explain fully."
"Aha!" Kleinert laughed briefly. "So you make the joke—you say to be guilty of making the joke, and so you make it, hein?"
"And put whiskers on it," Gees informed him. "That's another joke. Thousands of people must have smiled feebly when they heard it for the first time. I got past the weeping stage about it while I was still in long clothes, and now it leaves me cold. If I tried to explain all that we'd never get to bed to-night, so we'll pass it without comment."
"But yes," Kleinert agreed gladly, "and since you say you are left cold I will put more coal on the fire. I think so much rain make the cold, for I too think the room is not too warm, nor warm enough."
Determined on making himself agreeable, it appeared impossible that he could be guilty of such crimes as Gees attributed to him. One with no suspicion of him would have seen him now as quite a likeable sort of man, a host bestirring himself with genuine desire to render his guest comfortable, and the carefully-laid table was evidence that he meant to spare no effort. He stoked the fire thoroughly, nodded at it as might a genial devil intent on roasting lost souls and enjoying himself over it, and then, rubbing his hands with satisfaction, turned to Gees.
"So you shall not be left cold any more," he announced. "That is, unless the nothing come to make the room cold for awhile, for that I cannot neutralise. But if it come, since you are here it come only for a little while, and then go again, defeated as it shall be till it come no more to make cold in the room and so nearly choke me."
"Why, then—does it get you by the throat?" Gees asked curiously.
"No, it is not of the throat. It is as if that cold fill all my lungs, when it come, and I distil no oxygen for the lungs, but the breath is pained, suffocating—not to be explained. A great, terrible pain, and then unconsciousness. You have seen the unconsciousness, when you give me the whisky into my hand, which otherwise I could not see."
He was, Gees divined, reciting the symptoms of drowning. The last doubt of his guilt passed, then: his "nothing" tortured him with the pains itself had endured, while last February's blinding fog had masked its death struggle in the pond on the common.
"If it were not that you are here," Kleinert added, "I think by this time it would have killed me some night that it come. Thus when you spoke of going, not to come back, it made me fear, because I do not know of any other man who would endure to be with me after he have experienced the nothing once. Only you, who know how to make quiet that which is unquiet. You help me to defeat the nothing until it do not come any more. Of all deaths there are, I would not die like that."
"I think I can promise you that you shall not," Gees told him. "I'll help all I know to prevent this nothing from killing you."
"That is good," Kleinert said, and beamed at him. "Presently there will be no nothing, but it will know it is quite defeated and will go away. And I shall sell the colour process to Harten- Blomberg or to Inc, and you shall have your ten per cent, and we shall be quite happy."
"And what could be fairer than that?" Gees queried. "Lovely, I call it. All drinks on the house, first aid provided, and no charge for broken glasses. What could be fairer than that?"
Kleinert puzzled over it, and shook his head.
"I think again you make the joke," he observed eventually, "but it is much too complicated joke—I do not request you to explain. To-night is Sunday, and always I put the bottle of Braunberger to go with the meal in the evening. We drink the Braunberger, but we do not break the glasses. I do not wish that we break the glasses."
"You drink the Braunberger," Gees amended. "Me, I've got a teetotal fit." He felt that, though he could eat the food that Kleinert provided, he could not drink wine in company with the man. The difference was subtle, but it was there, nevertheless. "We'll go halves in what's left of the goose, and you shall have all the Braunberger."
"As you wish," Kleinert agreed. "It is of the best of the Rhine wines, and I think perhaps you like it. But it shall be as you wish, and if you do not have any I will drink the bottle."
He kept that promise. As a consequence, and in the absence of his nothing, he lost one game of chess quite cheerfully by eleven o'clock, and then declared himself ready for bed. As, however, he took a half-tumbler of whisky before going up, the Aladdin lamp waved in his grasp as he went out toward the staircase. He made the trip without accident, and Gees watched him disappear into his room and close the door with such vigour as to shake all the house.
"I wonder what he'll request for breakfast, the morning of the hanging?" Gees soliloquised as he lighted his candle.
When, in accordance with what appeared to be an unvarying routine, Kleinert settled for his afternoon sleep by the fire, and Gees threw a cigarette end among the flames and stood up, Kleinert cast a somnolent glance at the drizzle of rain visible through the window.
"You will exercise the car, and not yourself?" he inquired.
"I think myself," Gees dissented. "It's not as wet as it might be, and a good, stiff walk appears to be indicated. About an hour of it."
"That is good. You will be back before it begin to get dark, so."
Getting into his rainproof before setting out, Gees felt he would like to offer odds on the exact remark his host would make under given conditions. The one he had just heard, and that other about living simply and there being enough, turned up with unvarying precision, and, as in the case of the whiskered joke, he had got past resenting either of them, and now simply ignored them. He set off briskly—it was then near on three o'clock—and turned toward Snoddlesdon.
There was a full afternoon ahead of him. As a beginning, he entered the post office and, totally ignoring Sarah Arum and the rather shrunken but still extremely potent cheese on the counter, entered the telephone box. Sarah's hostility to one who trafficked with Kleinert was so strong that she did not even attempt to eavesdrop, but kept away from the post office section, and at the other end of the counter.
"Yes, Gees also here, Miss Brandon," he told his secretary after hearing her voice. "A couple of commissions for you. Take 'em down."
"All ready, Mr. Green," she answered.
"First then, look in the telephone book and see if the Hamworthy Engineering Company, of Poole, Dorset, have a London office. If not, go to Poole. Get me any particulars you can of the sale of an electric lighting set bearing their name plate on the engine and the number of the engine, 39777. Repeat back that number, please, and the name of the firm. Hamworthy Engineering Company, Poole, Dorset."
She complied, and he nodded as if she could see him.
"Got it. As additional check, the dynamo belonging to the set is by Crompton-Parkinson, hyphen between the two names. Got that?"
"Dynamo by Crompton-Parkinson," she repeated.
"Good! Now, Miss Brandon, if that set were sold to anyone other than Kleinert or Lisle—Robert Lisle—find the buyer, and get all particulars of when and to whom he sold it. In fact, trace it to Snoddlesdon, and most particularly find out who paid for it to come here. And that will be all about that. Is it all clear?"
"You want to know who bought the electric lighting set to have it installed in Snoddlesdon, either new or secondhand."
"That's exactly my trouble. Get the information and have it waiting for me—I expect to be seeing you in a day or two. Now the other job. Get, by any means you can, the address of the head office of Harten-Blomberg, Incorporated, of America—the people with whom Kleinert is trying to trade. Put through a personal telephone call to Samuel Blomberg, the president of the corporation, and ask him what representative, if any, he is sending over here to investigate, buy, or in any way get busy in connection with the Kleinert process for the production of colours. Ask him when that representative is likely to arrive, and by what boat, and have that information waiting for me with the other."
"I'll put the call through as soon as you ring off, Mr. Green."
"Quite so. That'll just fit in with the difference in American time. Make it a personal call, and take as many minutes as you need to get full information. If Samuel isn't available, ask for Earle W. Blomberg. His name was on that letter Kleinert had from them, too."
"Samuel or Earle W. Blomberg. Yes, Mr. Green."
"And that will be all for to-day, thank you, Miss Brandon, as they say in the best department stores. Expect to see me some day this week. Now you can get busy putting that American call in. Good-bye."
"Which will stop her from going out to tea with that infernal bank clerk," he told himself as he ignored Sarah Arum again on his way out from the place. "That is, if they happened to let him off for tea."
He entered the narrow, rutted lane beside the inn, and, passing the second house, saw peering out from its front window the woman who had shrunk away from him as if he had been a plague-carrier, when he had gone to the post office to get his package of newspapers Sarah had addressed the woman as Mrs. Tuson, he remembered. Next her cottage was a squat little two- storeyed house at the back of a garden devoted to Brussels sprouts on the one side, and parsnips on the other—a small heap of recently-dug parsnips lay near the side hedge, washed clean by the rains. It appeared that Mrs. Butt took sprouts to Kleinert's when she or her husband had time to pick them, and produced parsnips when both were too busy for sprout-collecting. Gees went along the puddly path between the two vegetable- producing areas, knocked, and waited, but won no response. He took out his pocket-knife, and beat a paint-destroying tattoo on the door, at which footsteps and audible breathing announced the approach of Mrs. Butt, who opened to reveal herself with a sacking apron in place of the one she wore at Kleinert's, and her bare arms flecked with lather above her very clean, still wet, and soap-wrinkled hands. Behind her in the room to which the doorway gave direct access Jimmy stared vacuously in his old suit: the new one had not yet been altered for him, Gees decided. Amazement showed in Mrs. Butt's eyes as she stared at her caller.
"Bless my soul, Mr. Green! Nuthin' wrong up there, is there?"
"Nothing whatever," he assured her. "I thought I'd just call."
"Do come in, sir." She stood back to give him entry. "Not but what the place ain't fit to be seen—Jimmy, wipe your nose, dear, do—it bein' me washin' day, sir, an' what with this and Mr. Kleinert's, I has me 'ands full, an' how I'm to dry the things with this rain—it do make the kitchen so damp dryin' 'em in front o' the fire. Will you take a seat, sir? I'm sure I'm sorry you should find me in this mess."
"Nothing whatever to worry about, Mrs. Butt," he assured her. A glance round this front room assured him that it was perfectly clean and well-kept. "I don't want to stop you from necessary work, either, so if you'll just go back to the wash-tub or whatever it is, I'll come along and talk to you there, the little I want to say now I have got here."
"Oh, but I couldn't think of it, sir," she protested.
"You needn't," he said. "Just carry on, and realise that I'll feel a good deal happier that way than interrupting your work. Now come along and get busy again. That washing's got to get done, I know."
He moved forward, and with a final—"Well, sir, since you say so" of half-hearted protest, she led the way through to her steamy kitchen and tin bath of sud-soaked garments. Gees lighted himself a cigarette, and Jimmy, in the kitchen doorway, looked the imbecile he was.
"Now just carry on," Gees bade. "If I feel I'm interrupting your work, I simply can't talk. Go right ahead, Mrs. Butt."
"Well, sir, it's very good of you, but I'm all flustered, like."
"Unfluster, then, and scrub away like blazes," he advised. "Then I'll start asking you what I want to know, not before."
"Since you sez so, sir." She plunged her arms into the tub, rescued a cake of soap, and began rubbing at something large and formless.
"That's the stuff to give 'em," he encouraged her, and leaned against her scrubbed deal dresser while he smoked. "I've got a particular reason for coming to see you, Mrs. Butt, as you may guess from my turning out in the rain like this. To ask you something I couldn't possibly ask you at Kleinert's. Have you any idea what it can be?"
"No, sir." She stopped rubbing for a few seconds to stare at him in a puzzled way. "I can't think of anything—anything at all."
"No. But, you know, it may be difficult to take your mind back to any particular day or time, unless something happened that day or time to fix it in your mind. In that case, you remember everything clearly. As, for instance, the nineteenth and twentieth of last February."
"Nineteenth—" For a few seconds she stood quite still, holding in both hands the thing she had been rubbing in the lather. Then she relaxed her hold, dropping it back with a "Plop!" in the suds, and her hands fell to her sides, while with paling face she stared at him.
"Oh!" she gasped, fearfully.
"I thought so," he said, and flicked ash from his cigarette. Jimmy, in the doorway leading to the other room, appeared to concentrate all his attention on that cigarette and the bluish smoke that emanated from it as Gees held it between his fingers after drawing a lungful.
"Wha-what is it, sir?" Mrs. Butt asked, in little more than a whisper.
"That's what I want to know," he answered, very quietly. "The inquest was on the twentieth, you will remember. I've studied your evidence quite carefully, and checked it against some other things I know. Do you remember what you said at the inquest, Mrs. Butt?"
"I—I think so, sir." She was recovering from her initial fright, he saw, and now wiped her hands on her sacking apron, evidently with intent to postpone work at the washtub until this far more serious business was settled. She glanced at Jimmy with a blend of anxiety and love in her gaze, and Gees felt that he could read all her thoughts, then.
"Yes," he said. "That being so, and I feel perfectly sure you can remember it all, I want you to consider me for the present as a different sort of coroner from the one who questioned you then. A rather more inquisitive sort of chap, perhaps. Can you imagine me as that?"
"I can—I can try, sir." By the way she moistened her lips after replying, it appeared that she foresaw what was coming.
"Yes, I want you to try—try to remember everything, too. Just tell me, now, exactly what happened that night as far as your knowledge of it goes. From the moment you left this house until you got back to it—don't leave out the weather, the time, or anything you remember."
"Well, sir—" she spoke slowly, nervously—"I don't think there ever was a worse fog in Snoddlesdon'n what there was that night. My husband was home with his asthma, settin' by the fire in the other room, because he dasn't lay down because o' his breathin'. An' he said to me, the fog was so bad—'If I was you,' he said, 'I shouldn't go a tall to-night.' But I knew Mr. Kleinert hadn't got nuthin' cooked for his supper, an' so I went. That thick, it was, I had to grope me way along an' hunt for his gate to find the place. But I did find it—"
"What time did you arrive there?" Gees interposed.
"It'd be a minute or two after six, sir. Not exactly six as it should of been, but a minute or two after. A minute or two, not more."
"A minute or two, in the worst fog you have ever known in Snoddlesdon—yes. Now what happened when you got there."
"I found Mr. Kleinert dozin' over the fire, sir, but he woke up when he see me, enough to talk a bit an' tell me Mr. Lisle had been comin' to see him that night, but he didn't expect he would on account of the fog. Though he said Mr. Lisle might be a bit late on account of the fog, an' might still get to see him. Mr. Lisle didn't get there, sir. I cooked Mr. Kleinert his dinner an' then come back here, because o' my husband's asthma, an' havin' to look after both him an' Jimmy, and Mr. Kleinert's work, too, I has me 'ands full I do assure you, sir."
"That is all you can tell me of what happened in connection with Mr. Kleinert and Mr. Lisle, from the time of your leaving this house that night, and the time of your return here?" Gees asked.
"I don't see what else I could tell you, sir," she answered rather perplexedly. "Yes, I think that's all, sir."
"All," he repeated gravely. "Now, Mrs. Butt, will you swear before Almighty God that what you have just told me concerning the night of the nineteenth of February is the truth and nothing but the truth?"
"O-o-o-o-o-oh!" It was not an exclamation, but a long-drawn, fearful breath that he heard. She twisted her hands almost convulsively, grasping at the sacking apron, and then reached out and held on to her washtub stool for support as she stared at him.
"It's quite simple," he told her. "Just hold up your right hand, like this, and say—'I swear before Almighty God'—"
"No! Don't ask me to do that, sir!" She screamed the interruption, and Jimmy fled back into the other room to hide himself. "Jimmy—Jimmy, my darlin'!" she called. "It's all right, Jimmy, the gentleman ain't goin' to hurt you. Jimmy—my boy! Come here, Jimmy!"
He appeared again, timorously, and held on to a doorpost while, a drooling, unreasoning thing in the clothes that revealed half of his forearms and calves, he stared alternately at his mother and at Gees.
"No, I'm not going to hurt you, Jimmy," Gees encouraged him, "nor your mother either, if I can avoid it. But now, as that very inquisitive coroner, Mrs. Butt, I'm going to test the story you fear to swear is the truth—and your refusal to swear is one very telling point indeed. For a start, now, what does Kleinert pay you to work for him?"
"Wha-what do he pay me, sir?" she echoed fearfully.
"That's what I asked you. How much does he pay you?"
"A—a—pup-pound a week, sir."
"Yes. Then there are things like sprouts, and parsnips, and milk and eggs and butter, I understand. You make a certain profit on them, naturally. Shall we call it twenty-five shillings a week altogether?"
"Ye-yes, sir. I think it'd be that, altogether."
"Very useful indeed, with a husband suffering from asthma and a boy very much in need of your care and unable to earn his own living. You are a very good worker indeed, and one must have sympathy with your efforts to keep both your husband and the boy in comfort. Supposing you lost your work at Kleinert's, could you get any other like it?"
"No, sir, I couldn't. It's been salvation for me, these last two years. I dunno what I'd a-done without it, I reely don't."
"No. I thought not. Therefore I'm going to put a case to you. Supposing Kleinert instructed you exactly what to say at the inquest, and went over and over it with you until he was sure you wouldn't make any mistake or contradict yourself when the coroner questioned you?"
"Supposin' he—" She spoke only the two words, and fear came back to her eyes as she stared, comprehending what he meant.
"Did he do that?" Gees demanded incisively.
"Ye-yes, sir." The reply came after a very long pause indeed.
"Yes, I felt sure he did. Did he tell you that if you didn't do exactly as you told him, you'd lose your job at his house?"
"And you knew you had to do as he told you, or see Jimmy dragged off to an institution again and your husband short of the comforts he needed, to say nothing of being half-starved yourself?"
"Of course. Now the truth. What time did you get to Kleinert's that night? Half-past six? A quarter to seven, after groping to find his gate, and losing yourself in the fog once or twice?"
"It wasn't more'n a quarter-past, sir."
"Some different from your minute or two past, that, Mrs. Butt. Lots of things can happen in a quarter of an hour, you know. Where was Kleinert when you got to the house? The truth, mind! Where was he?"
"He—I caught up with him at the gate, sir. He—he went in the same time as I did, an'—an' told me what to say when we got in."
"How did he explain being out in a fog like that?"
"He—he said he'd been lookin' for Mr. Lisle, sir, but couldn't see nuthin' of him nowhere. He said he thought Mr. Lisle was sure to come, an' was afraid somethin' must of happened to him. An' he said if anything had happened to him, there'd sure to be a inquest, an' if there was I was to say what he told me to say, when they asked me."
"He instructed you to tell the story you did tell at the inquest?"
"Ye-yes, sir. I—I didn't see that it'd do any harm, ne yet that it'd do any good if I said anything else, only then I knew from what he said to me I'd lose me job. He was real fierce about that, an' frightened me, what wi' Jimmy an' me husband on me hands like they was then. Both of 'em on me 'ands, just then, an' me sorry as I was for Miss Phyllis—Miss Lisle, that is—because she'd been so good to us till her mother got worse. I dasn't lose me job at Mr. Kleinert's."
"No, naturally. Well, Mrs. Butt, that's a far different story from the one you originally told. Would you swear to the truth of this new story you've told me in place of what Kleinert instructed you to say?"
"Yes, sir. Gladly I would, if I had to."
"You will be called on to swear to it, I assure you. Also, I've got to warn you. If one word of that story gets out, either in Kleinert's hearing or anywhere else, until you are called on to tell it as evidence in place of the one you told, can you guess what will happen?"
"No, sir." She waited, wonderingly, but he did not speak. Then—"What will happen, sir?"
"You will be arrested and put in prison, and how long you'll stay there is more than I can tell. As an accessory, probably some years. Just one word of what you have said to me to-day is enough to put you there, if you speak it, and neither I nor anyone else can save you. Keep it to yourself, and I think I can see that you don't suffer in any way. Do you understand quite clearly what I mean?"
"Yes, sir. Not a word shall pass me lips. An'—an' I ain't goin' to lose me job at Mr. Kleinert's, am I?"
"You'll keep that job, as far as I know, just as long as he stays in that house," Gees told her. "So you needn't fear about that."
"No, sir. I shan't say a word to anybody, neither."
"Does your husband know anything about this?" Gees asked abruptly.
"I told him that night Mr. Kleinert'd told me what to say if anything did happen to Mr. Lisle, an' he said I'd better do it like Mr. Kleinert said. We didn't know then as Mr. Lisle got drowned in the pond."
"No. Well, not one word to your husband of what you have told me. Not a word of my having questioned you like this. Can you promise that?"
"Yes, sir—if I must."
"It's that or jail for you."
"I shan't say a word to him, sir."
"Nor give any indication, when you see me at Kleinert's, that I've ever come here to see you or asked you anything. Remember that, too."
"Now, if I were you, I'd forget all about it and get on with that washing. Here's another shilling for Jimmy—good- afternoon, Mrs. Butt."
THE silence in the room was so profound that a bit of coal, falling from the back of the piled fire into its cavernous, glowing heart, did not so much rustle as crash to its destruction. Kleinert, white for this present game, had castled on the queen's side and, unduly intent on developing his own attack, had ignored black's almost-masked advance toward his position so long that he found himself now a move behind in putting up an efficient defence. His situation was critical, though not yet dangerous, and after long consideration he had reached out, his hand hovering over the pieces as he finally made up his mind, and had lifted a knight and moved it, saving himself for the time. Then Gees considered the altered problem, leaning toward the board with his chin in the palm of his cupped left hand and his elbow on the table.
From mere profundity the silence grew to intensity. The white knight that Kleinert had moved appeared to be leering, its horse's head to be more evilly human than mere animal. Gees withdrew his elbow from the table and sat up, knowing that some other than Kleinert and himself was here in the room. The stillness was that of a watchful presence.
"It is come again," said Kleinert.
In a different way, though, from that of the other two appearances—if the presence of an invisibility can be called an appearance. Yet now, as then, it appeared to other senses than that of sight: to the sense of feeling in that, as they two sat very still, they were no longer in the world of normality, but raped into a place apart where was no warmth, no kindness, but relentless scrutiny and judgment by nothing, Kleinert's nothing: to the sense of hearing in that the silence which clung about them was more than a silence, for it was a pressure definitely shutting all outer sounds away, and masking, altering Kleinert's voice for the four words he spoke, so that it was as if he had uttered them on one side of a great, still plain while Gees sat at its other side, and they sounded very faintly though quite distinctly, still, tiny little words, each separated by a long interval from the one that followed. The effect was fantastic: that which watched had taken the four-word sentence, examined it as it was examining both speaker and listener, and handed each word on separately, as pleased its will.
No warmth, yet this time no cold either. A negation of warmth that was not even a chill, but numbness, like that of a cramped limb in which the blood has ceased to circulate. Something more terrible than any cold, for after complete numbness comes the agony of returning circulation, and Gees' brain, which was all of him that remained conscious of sensation, knew that the agony was to come. No kindness, for this which pressed on and numbed feeling and sound was for this visitation a vast, inconsiderate curiousness, holding the two on whom it was intent much as a slip or smear is held in a slide under the eyepiece of a microscope, viewing them with no more regard for their feelings than if they had been dead matter. It wanted to know: whatever its gain of knowledge might mean to them concerned it in no way, and they might live or die, suffer or enjoy, it was all one to this emotionless intelligence, invisible eye that saw through flesh to mind and spirit, probed in the deepest recesses of will and thought as if bent on ascertaining and proving—what?
Out of the corner of his eye Gees saw that the very fire was still. No little flames leaped from the gaseous coals, no smoke emanated, nor did any heat radiate out toward him. This nothing had bidden all things be still, and still they were, even the fire and air in the room. Kleinert moved no more than might a stone carving, nor did he sweat under the ordeal of this scrutiny. They both were being judged: weighed, measured as to thought, motive, strength of will. Valued, call it, at their worth not in time, but in eternity itself—this still separateness in which they had been put for assessment was an eternity, a timeless-ness in which they were taken out from time as from sound or the power to feel. Almost idly Gees wondered whether the watch on his wrist had stopped, but, he knew, if moving eyes or wrist to find out had meant the difference between life and death, he could not have moved. The silence held him, literally and completely, and prevented movement.
There was rage in Kleinert's eyes, but no fear. And slowly, behind his spectacles, the gaze of those eyes shifted: he was granted freedom to keep sight of... what? Turned in his head at first to gaze almost toward the door of the room, his eyes traversed it, at no more speed than if they had been focussed on an ant crawling horizontally along the wall facing him as he sat. Now he was gazing at the blank stretch of wall, now at the left edge of the glass-doored bookcase. Slowly, so slowly, he saw something or nothing cross the front of the bookcase to its middle of wooden door framings, go on over the right-hand door's glass, pass beyond the edge of the case to the wall, and descend a little—it was easy for Gees, seated as he was, to see the direction of that draggingly-changing gaze. A little downward along the wall, to the left edge of the sideboard. Across the strip of low-relief carving, moving more slowly now, as if near some goal steadily sought. On to the left-hand drawer—moving yet more slowly—halfway across the drawer—
It was the yell of a fiend rather than the shout of a man. So suddenly and quickly did Kleinert move that there was but a fraction of a second between the end of his session of fixity and the crash of the whisky bottle, that had been standing at his elbow, against the sideboard front. And, with the incredible swiftness of that movement, Gees felt that he himself was free to move again. Whatever had held him gripped had gone away, and it was too late, even, for fear.
There was a slight froth about Kleinert's lips, and blood on the lower lip where he had bitten it. He breathed like a man who had put all his strength into some great effort until utterly exhausted.
"What did you see?" Gees asked—weakly, knowing that he too was near on exhaustion, though his breath was normal.
"The devil that come to steal," Kleinert whispered between his panting breaths, and dropped into the chair from which he had risen to throw the bottle. "Oh, that thing that haunt the house is an evil haunting!"
"Like what?" Gees asked again.
"You did not see. You cannot see." They were emphatic affirmations, not questions, and Gees wondered how the man knew that he had not been able to see their inquisitor. "An evil haunting, I tell you!"
"Like what?" He repeated the question, insistently.
"How shall I tell you? How shall anyone describe a haunting? Like a devil. Like a very cold devil. The eyes of glass that see and yet do not look, that hate and yet do not feel. A very cold devil, I say."
"I wonder—" Gees got on his feet, and found he could both stand and walk without difficulty—"whether that whisky warmed him any? I'll get another bottle, if you don't mind. I feel I'd like some."
"Ach!" Kleinert ground out. "I believe in hell itself you would make some joke, so little do you have regard for this haunting."
"It's quite probable." Gees went to the sideboard and took out a bottle. "Unless jokes are prohibited there, that is."
He returned and, opening the bottle, poured himself a tot. "You too?" he asked, poising the bottle over the second glass.
"Give me much," Kleinert answered. "Much," he repeated when the glass was half-filled, and Gees almost filled it for him.
"I like the courage that you have," he said, and, bending his head toward the table, tilted the glass to drink without lifting it, his hand trembling so that his teeth clattered against the glass. "Yes," he added, when he had drunk half the whisky and felt able to take up the glass and drink normally, "I like the great courage that you have."
"Kind of you to say so, I'm sure." Gees swigged his tot without adding water, and poured himself a second, larger dose.
"I think you are the only man which would not go away when the nothing have come only once," Kleinert averred. "It is a great courage."
"Reminds me—I want to go to London to-morrow," Gees remarked.
"You go?" Kleinert looked alarmed. "But you come back?"
"Before it begin to get dark I come back—I believe that is the correct phrasing," Gees said, and Kleinert relaxed and sighed audible relief. "Leave here after breakfast—back about four o'clock."
"And if there is fog you will not go?" Kleinert asked anxiously.
"Not if there's really bad fog—no. But there won't be any fog while this rain keeps on and Jornder's wheat keeps out of the ground."
Kleinert looked as if he would have liked to question about that wheat, but refrained. He nodded at the chessboard.
"I do not think we finish that game, Mr. Green. I give it you, for I think you would win it if we played to the end. It is nearly midnight, and so I will go to bed. You will extinguish the second lamp after you have lighted your candle—yes?"
"I will extinguish the second lamp after I have lighted my candle," Gees promised. Here, he felt, was another remark on the recurrence of which he would not mind giving odds.
For a little while after Kleinert had gone he sat over the fire, which was burning quite normally again, now. How did Kleinert know that there would not be a second visitation, any evening? How did he know that, whatever it was he had seen, he only could see it? "Eyes of glass that see and yet do not look, that hate and yet do not feel. A very cold devil." A drowned devil—or, more likely, drowned man?
Whatever it might be, it had come here to-night to ascertain, not to seek revenge. It had studied the two human beings in the room, and then—and then—had it gone to make certain that Lisle's fifth note-book was safely locked away in the left- hand drawer of the sideboard?
"Good morning, Miss Brandon." With no more to herald his arrival than the turning of his key in the Yale lock of the outer door, Gees walked into his secretary's room at about half-past eleven on Tuesday morning. "Hul-lo!" he added, staring at her ringless left hand. "Have they jugged your bank clerk? I mean, is the engagement off?"
"It's—no—not off," she answered confusedly, and hid the hand by withdrawing it behind the edge of her desk.
"The ring is, though," he pointed out. "Sorry—I've got no right to be inquisitive about it, I know. All's well at the bank, I hope?"
"The—one of the stones seemed loose." She sounded not quite composed, yet, and coloured very nicely indeed, he thought.
"Soak it in water and see if it'll swell," he advised. "Anyhow, that's not why I've come to town. How are the inquiries getting on?"
"Oh, very much as usual. Nothing worth putting before you while you're busy on this case. But there was a telephone call from a Miss Irene Lisle yesterday. She gave her name before I told her you were not here, and then asked me not to tell you who had rung."
"Which you promptly do. Sound—very sound, Miss Brandon. She's the elder of two beautiful maidens, and I'm not sure yet whether I ought to fall in love with her or her sister. But that's neither here nor there. Who bought that engine? Did you manage to find out?"
"Mr. Robert Lisle, for delivery at Snoddlesdon. The Hamworthy Engineering Company have a London office, in Victoria Street. I went there, and a director of the company gave me all the information I wanted."
"He would, seeing as it's you. How did Lisle pay—by instalments?"
"Half when he placed the order, and half on delivery, by cheques on his own account. He also made inquiries about steel stampings and light castings, I was told, and was recommended to the Macquisten-Gerrard Company of Birmingham. He wanted to construct a set of models, he said."
"M'yes. I've seen that set, working. You might get on to Macquisten-Gerrard and find out whether and what he got from them and how he paid for his stuff—if he placed his order with them. No hurry—quite probably I can complete all I want without that information, but it'll be as well to have it handy just in case. Now Blomberg—what about him? Did you manage to talk to either Samuel or Earle?"
"To Samuel. I had four minutes, and the conversation was as clear and distinct as mine to you—wonderful. He told me he couldn't understand our calling him—I told him it was on behalf of Mr. Kleinert—he couldn't understand it, because he'd written last week to tell Mr. Kleinert that his nephew, Earle W. Blomberg, is crossing by the Queen Mary and due to land this week—Thursday, I think he said. I told him I thought the letter must have miscarried somehow, and he asked if he should cable a confirmation, but I told him it wasn't necessary, since I was ringing on Mr. Kleinert's behalf and would let him know as soon as he came in."
"Splendid! Jesuited the lie beautifully—don't forget to tell Kleinert when he does come in, will you? Now take a Marconigram to Earle W. Blomberg, aboard the Queen Mary, and let's get that off one time. As follows." He waited while she got out note-book and pencil.
"On arrival in London, please call at Gees, 37, Little Oakfield Street, Haymarket, before proceeding to Snoddlesdon. Important developments Kleinert colour process render this essential. Communicate if necessary with Gees at this address not Kleinert Snoddlesdon. Urgently necessary in your own interests that you comply."
"And the signature?" she asked, looking up at him.
"None," he answered. "Duplicate it by cable to Samuel Blomberg, at the Harten-Blomberg American offices, and add that duplicate has been wirelessed to Earle Blomberg. Wait a bit, though! Hold that till to-morrow afternoon, Miss Brandon, and send it then. Earle Blomberg'll come through London to get to Kent, and he'll stop off here out of sheer curiosity, if for no other reason. Then you'll put before him all I've got to tell you before I go back, and tell him to get in touch with me, not Kleinert, when he arrives at Snoddlesdon, because I'm representing the real owners of the process. Kleinert murdered Lisle in order to steal it, and I hope to have him jugged by the time Earle Blomberg gets here. We will now get on to that. First, take a formal statement, type me two copies, and keep the triplicate. Go ahead. Statement made by Samantha Gwendoline Butt in the presence of Gregory George Gordon Green and Inspector Gainsford—leave a blank for him to fill in his first name—on—date it for Thursday. Now wait a bit."
He thought, arranging the form and wording of the statement, and then began dictating. Five minutes later he drew a long breath.
"That's one, Miss Brandon. Now a letter to Inspector Gainsford, care of Constable Pettit, 3, Jubilee Terrace, Snoddlesdon, Kent, and mark it very urgent please forward instantly in large capitals. Yes. Take the text of it, now—"
Will you please make a point of being at Snoddlesdon at 3 P.M. on Thursday afternoon next? You will see a Rolls-Bentley car with touring body outside Jubilee Terrace, and I shall be inside the car, waiting to give you information that will lead to an arrest in the village in respect of a crime over which bail is never granted. You had better warn Constable Pettit to hold himself in readiness to go with you to make the arrest. I will furnish full particulars when I see you at Snoddlesdon, and, in case you wish to know whether this is a leg-pull or no, cast your mind back to the case of the Kestwell murders and the part I played in bringing the murderers to justice.
"Type that on our headed paper, Miss Brandon, and I'll sign it for you to get off to-day. Now another, to Doctor T. A. Bourne, Snoddlesdon. Dated to-day from here, as before, text as follows—
I wish to interview you at your residence on Thursday afternoon next, and will call during the afternoon, accompanied by a police inspector who will be conversant with the object of my visit. We shall not call before three o'clock, or after four. Will you be so good as to hold yourself at our disposal during that hour, or leave word at what time after four o'clock we can see you?
"And I think that'll be all for the moment. So if you'll just get that lot typed off—how long will it take you, on a rush estimate?"
"If I have them ready before going to lunch?" she inquired in reply.
"Admirable. Houses on fire are streets behind us. Now I'll do a spot of telephoning, and if I do go out I'll be back before lunch to do the signing. Get the letters done first—that one to Gainsford ought to get to Pettit first post to-morrow, and Snoddlesdon is so far into the wilds that it ought to have days and days to do it."
He turned to go, but faced about in the doorway of the room.
"Before you get busy, Miss Brandon—that telephone call. The one from Miss Irene Lisle, I mean. What time yesterday did you get it?"
"About eleven o'clock in the morning," she answered.
"Umm-m! Particulars of the conversation, please?"
"I took the receiver off, and a lady's voice asked for Mr. G.G.G. Green. Quite automatically, for the moment forgetting you were away, I said—'Just one second, please. Who is speaking?' She answered 'Miss Irene Lisle. Put me through to him, please,' and sounded rather elated about something, I thought. Then I remembered that you had a Mr. Robert Lisle connected with this Kleinert case, and quite possibly wouldn't want me to tell anyone of that name where you were or what you were doing, so I delayed a few seconds and then said—'I'm sorry, Mr. Green is not in the office just at present.' She asked when you would be in, and I told her I was sorry I could give her no information whatever about you. Then she said—'Please don't tell him I rang up—don't give him my name,' but I made no promise not to tell you. She repeated the request, I said something evasive—I forget exactly what—and then she rang off."
Frowning as he reflected over it, he took out his cigarette case and advanced into the room again to offer it to her.
"I won't have one just now, thank you, Mr. Green."
"No? I will, though." He took a cigarette from the case. "Y'know, Miss Brandon, she's the elder of Robert Lisle's two daughters, and I had quite a little shemozzle with her on Sunday afternoon. And now this. I think I'd better make up my mind to fall in love with the other sister. This one's too deep, and yet not quite deep enough. I'll have a word with her, just to convince her that life is real if not earnest."
He went to his own room and looked up Gregory Green's telephone number, dialled it, and waited. Irene Lisle, he knew by the voice, answered—"Gregory Green, consulting analyst. Who is speaking, please?"
"Morning, Miss Lisle," he said blandly. "From my office here in London, not from Snoddlesdon nor from the crumpet shop. Does that remove the final doubt, or have you time to come round here and see for yourself that the mumps to murder merchant is the one you met on Sunday?"
"But—but—Mr. Green!" She sounded bewildered. "You mean—you mean because I rang you up yesterday morning? When I found you were not there, I asked somebody—your secretary, I expect—not to tell you I'd rung you. It is because of that you've rung me, I suppose?" Her voice indicated regained composure as she put the final question.
"Just that," he answered. "You know, you hoodwinked that chap you met on Sunday very well indeed. By the time you bade him good-bye, you had him quite convinced that you believed him to be me—the mumps to murder me, I mean. And now you turn on him like this. I'm surprised."
"But—but I hadn't the slightest doubt," she protested earnestly. "I—I thought you might be coming to London yesterday, or—or some time, and perhaps you wouldn't mind either telling me—if you had anything to tell—or meeting me if there were anything I could tell you. Really that was all, Mr. Green. I wasn't doubting in the least."
"Oh, well, that's all right, then," he said. "Sorry—my mistake. No, there's no news of any sort, yet. End of the week, I think."
"And how long are you staying in London, Mr. Green?" He heard a distinctly friendly, not to say inviting, note in the question.
"Buzzing off back one time," he answered without hesitation. "I only came up to sweep a few loose ends together and get 'em all tied in knots. Also to warn a few fire brigades to get their hoses ready."
"But you know I was only joking when I said that," she pleaded.
"Quite so. See you Sunday, if nothing in connection with the case develops to prevent it, and I can let you know all developments then. Sorry I misunderstood your ringing me. Good- bye for the present, Miss Lisle—I'll tell your sister I had a word with you."
He replaced the receiver without giving her time to reply, and put out his tongue at the instrument as he leaned back in his chair.
"Yah!" he exclaimed softly. "I'll fall in love with Phyllis. She's worth ten of you, easily."
Miss Brandon lunched, that day, at the Brasserie Universelle in Piccadilly Circus, in company with a young man—younger than herself, apparently—whose physiognomy revealed him a relative of hers, and probably a close one at that. The irregularity of features that rendered her piquantly attractive did no such service for him: perhaps he lacked the play of expression which was one of her assets—or rather, failed to make good use of it. He was not so much unattractive as undistinguished-looking: with the girl, a first glance almost invariably provoked a second: in the youth's case, one glance was enough for most people.
"So he caught you without it on?" he suggested, toward the end of the meal. "You'd got it with you, I suppose?"
"Of course I had it with me!" she retorted, "but I tell you he simply opened the door and charged into my room. I didn't expect him."
"But you had some explanation, hadn't you?" he inquired.
"My dear Clement, I may be your sister, but I'm not quite a fool. Of course I had an explanation. I told him one of the stones was loose."
"Well!" he said, rather irritably. Her reference to the possible implications of their relationship had nettled him.
"It was your suggestion, in the first place," she accused.
"I only made it as a joke," he retorted. "Oh, for Pete's sake, go and fling your arms round the blighter's neck and tell him to wake up."
"That's on the edge of smoking-room talk," she said coldly.
"No, Eve—I didn't mean it that way," he half-apologised. "Position's simple, old porpoise. Here you go and take this job, and promptly lose your head over the feller, all unbeknown to him, and then get all expansive and tell little brudderkins all about it. Little brudderkins proffers valuable advice. To wit, catch him on the hop after that disastrous business of the girl who got killed at Denlandham, make him see you're it—as you are, and I'm damned proud of you, too—and he'll fall for you. And somehow it seems to have missed fire, which means you're either too shy or else you've given yourself away and put him off."
"I'm perfectly certain I haven't given myself away!" she exclaimed.
"Very well, then. You're too much the frozen secretary, the business mechanism, and that's all he can see. Trouble is, old gurnard, he's taking you for granted all the time. You're there, and there you are. He just doesn't notice you, except as the other half of the typewriter mechanism. I thought that ring would have broken him down, too."
"It was an utterly silly idea," she said derisively.
"You didn't seem to think so," he pointed out. "You went and bought the blinkin' ring, anyhow—and then left it off at a critical moment!"
"It doesn't matter whether I leave it off or not," she said.
"Oh, yes, it does, old skate," he dissented. "The fact that he noticed it wasn't there proves it does. Now I still say it was a good idea. He knows now that some other chap values you—not as a secretary, but as a huggable proposition—no, let me finish! But the way he looks at it now, you're booked. Eve, old halibut, we've got to kill this bank clerk. There's no way out of it. He's got to be slaughtered, and you turn up all desolate with grief and make mistakes in typing."
"Won't do." She shook her head decidedly. "He'll want to know the how of it. You can't fool Gregory George Gordon Green all the time."
"Well, all you've got to do is to sit tight," he advised. "You're much too upset to talk about it or to tell him any more than—yes, a road smash. Bank clerk got wiped out in a road smash. He'll have too much decency to ask the bloke's name, you'll get a day off for the funeral, and if he weighs in with a wreath we can send it to the waifs and strays or something. And you on the grief tack ought to put him on his knees—it'll mean a spot of black, but you look well in black. Go all widowish and quiet, and he'll fall like a ton of bricks."
"And then, supposing all goes well?" she demanded.
"Oh, yeah! I've got that all weighed up, old mackerel. You confess it was all a wheeze, and there wasn't any bank clerk, only you did want him to understand you weren't just a piece of machinery, but a living, breathing, lovely gurrl. And by that time, old sprat, he'll have fallen for you so thoroughly he'll forgive you anything short of shop-lifting, by what you've told me about him."
"Clement," she said severely, "you're the most immoral brother any sister ever had. But I think I must kill that bank clerk."
SINCE it was still full daylight when Gees drove the Rolls- Bentley into the barn and, after closing the doors on it, made his way into the living room, Kleinert nodded and smiled a welcome at him.
"You have been to your office and back, and all is well?" he asked.
"Quite well," Gees answered, and, drawing back his chair from the huge fire over which Kleinert had been sitting, lighted a cigarette.
"Ah!" Kleinert took out his leather case and box of fusees, and lighted one of his black cigars. "Then for the one day the car have plenty of exercise. You drive yourself by Godwinsford?"
"I drive myself by Godwinsford," Gees assented. "As a matter of curiosity, now, why do you always use those smelly fusees to light your cigars, when matches are so much cheaper and handier?"
Kleinert looked at the glowing end of his cigar. "I do not know," he answered, "except that it is the habit. Always my father used the fusees, and always I use the fusees since I begin to smoke with his permission. Always. It is the habit. I cannot tell you more why I do it."
"Buy 'em by the dozen, eh?" Gees inquired thoughtfully.
"They come to me from London, from the place where I always buy the cigars. By the gross of boxes, they come, so always I have plenty. To-day I smoke and smoke, much. It is strange how the habit form itself quickly. To-day I have my meal at noon alone, and so soon have the habit of you being here for the meal with me form itself, I feel quite lonely, and it feel strange to have the meal alone again."
"Once your Harten-Blomberg man gets here, you'll soon be changing all your habits," Gees prophesied, gazing into the fire.
"Not so soon," Kleinert dissented. "And so pleased am I to see you come back, until now I do not tell you. There is a letter come to me after you have gone to-day, which is from the Harten- Blomberg Corporation, and it say that Earle W. Blomberg is coming and will come here to see me either on Friday or Saturday. That he is now on his way."
"Sooner than you anticipated, isn't it?" Gees asked.
"No, not any sooner. When I tell you I want to engage you for the month or perhaps two months, I think then he will come about this time. But then he must prove for himself the final process before the corporation think to buy. He must be sure the fixing of the colour is permanent, which is not to be determined in a day. I think if he make tests, then in a month he will be sure, even if he do not believe the test colours I made and put in trial for him to see when he get here."
"And how did you fix those tests? What sort of tests?"
"In the room where I sleep, I have six cards with the fixed colours painted on them," Kleinert explained. "Each one is dated. The twentieth of March, I date them all, for on that day I test the final process for myself, mix the catalyst and fix the colours. Then I make the water-colours, such as the artists use. I make the three primaries, and also the orange, and the green, and the purple, and paint them on the cards. They stand in the light against my window since that time, and the colour is as when I paint it on the cards. Also I make the oil colours, with linseed oil and turpentine, but for that I use only the three primaries like you see unfixed before they fade. I paint it on to three roofing slates, paint so fine and pure that the artist who work in oil colours may use it, and so cheap that it may be used for painting houses or anything that need to be painted. There is a ladder at the back of the house, and if you go up that ladder you see the three slates on the roof, pinned to the other slates of the roof. Each one is dated the twentieth of March, when I paint them, and on the red slate the date is in yellow, on the yellow slate it is in blue, and on the blue slate it is in red. The day before I come first to see you at your office I go up the ladder to inspect, and the colours are so fresh as the day I paint them on, though they have had the rain and the frost and the sun all the time."
"Fairly conclusive," Gees observed.
"To one who believe," Kleinert agreed. "But perhaps this Earle W. Blomberg will not believe, but make the tests for himself. Thus I say, you may yet take meals with me for another six weeks or even two months before I have the money and pay you the ten per cent I agree to pay. It is not a small sum I ask for the process, and he will be careful."
"Naturally. I would myself, in his place."
"But now I ask you, Mr. Green—how is it that there are earls in America. For I thought it is a great democracy, and no earls."
"They're so short of 'em that they make 'em by christening," Gees explained. "Just as your father might have christened you Earle A. Kleinert, if he'd felt like it. You'd have had to buy your own coronet."
"I think I would look well in a coronet," Kleinert said complacently. "But if I call myself an earl it would not make me a real earl, hein?"
"Nothing could make you other than what you are," Gees told him.
"No. Therefore I will not think to call myself earl or buy the coronet, though perhaps, when it is known that I am the one who discover the Kleinert colour process, I shall be made a real earl."
"No doubt you'll get properly rewarded for what you've done," Gees said. "If I can help you to get the reward in any way, count on me."
"That is very good of you, Mr. Green. If I should ask other service of you after the sale is completed, I shall of course pay for that service, other than the ten per cent I have already promised to pay."
He brooded over it, happily, and gazed into the fire, possibly seeing a picture there of himself taking his seat in the House of Lords. Gees left him to it: the beginning of his reward was not far distant, now. He had no inkling of it, no fear of discovery of his crime, but was as he sat there an utter negation of the belief that a murderer is never free of the fear of consequences. So far, even when faced by his nothing, as he called it, he had shown no fear. Rage over the haunting by that presence, yes, but Gees had detected no fear in the man.
Later, he ate roast leg of mutton and parsnips with his usual gusto. Mrs. Butt, both in laying and clearing the table, gave Gees more than one anxious glance, but, noting that he and his host talked as usual—Gees a trifle more affably, if anything—appeared reassured by the time she disappeared for the evening. Chess followed. Kleinert, in great form, won two games by midnight, and became very genial over his victories.
"I play well, to-night," he said. "You also play very well, Mr. Green, but perhaps the long day of exercise for the car have made you a little tired. And the nothing is quite defeated, you see. The last time it come and I throw the bottle at it shall be the last time of all, I think, because you are here. If I should be alone here again, it would come, but two is too much—it have not sufficient strength against two as against one. So it do not come any more, and I go to bed, now. You will please extinguish the second lamp after you have light your candle."
He went off with the Aladdin lamp after uttering the formula. Gees sat on awhile by the fire, thinking, unable to avoid a twinge of remorse as he reflected on what he was about to do. The man trusted him so completely, was so certain of him. It was irrational, this feeling of compunction for a murderer and thief, yet there it was.
A sensation, familiar, now, came to him—had Kleinert's nothing come to reprove his weakness? For he saw that the fire was dulled, stilled, and the air grew dank as if it had been filtered through wet clay and made earthily cold, while the pressure of silence he had felt before grew about him. Something—somebody—was in the room with him, a questing presence, invisible, but part of this tangible silence.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered. "He shall not escape."
Again the fire burned normally. He looked at his watch, and saw that Kleinert had been gone half an hour—and it had seemed less than a minute, or more than a year, that the presence had been in the room. Now it was too late for fear: he lighted his candle, extinguished the Aladdin lamp and, making his way up to bed, heard Kleinert snoring as he passed along the corridor. Evidently the nothing had come to question him, Gees, and had been satisfied with his reply.
Phyllis Lisle seated herself beside Gees on Wednesday afternoon, and he turned out from the grassy trackway toward Godwinsford. The day was rainless, the air still and chill, a promise of winter, and the sky a uniform grey. Leaves drifted and fluttered down from the trees to join their browned or in some cases only yellowed fellows already fallen.
"And the news is—?" the girl asked.
"Well, I had a word with your sister yesterday," he answered.
"With Irene?" she queried eagerly. "But what about, Mr. Green?"
"She'd rung me at my office the day before," he explained, "and like you I wanted to know what it was about. She was merely anxious, I think. For news, just as you are, and I told her she'd know more next Sunday."
"Poor Irene!" Phyllis uttered the comment when Godwinsford had been passed, and the car was nearing the main Tonbridge road.
"Why poorer than you or your mother?" he inquired.
"Temperamentally," she explained. "So eager for life, so easily hurt by it. Not self-sufficient, if you understand what I mean."
"Quite well. Yes. And you are self-sufficient, yourself?"
"Oh, no! I don't claim anything of the sort, Mr. Green. I have a fairly full life looking after my mother and the house, but it's not all I ask of life. I suppose every normal woman hopes for love and marriage and her own home. Surely complete self- sufficiency in any woman points to incompleteness of character. That—'It is not good for man to live alone' applies to both sexes, don't you think?"
"If you admit that, why are you pitying your sister?" he demanded.
"Because she's far more capable of being hurt by her surroundings than she should be," she answered. "The—last February—the disappointment of it, quite apart from my father's death, meant so much to her. She's hated her life, ever since. The monotony of work, the very few pleasures she gets. Naturally, after our expectations."
"Why don't you hate your life, then?"
"I—I don't know," she answered vaguely. "I suppose because it hasn't occurred to me that I might. Or perhaps because it's so much more interesting than Irene's. There's the garden, and my mother, and the sense of being at home, and books, and concerts on the wireless—so much that Irene hasn't got. A room in a hostel all the week can't be the same, and she saw release and then saw it vanish again. No wonder she's eager over this reappearance, and rang you to find out about it."
"The explanation fits." He drew in at the usual place. "Now will you buzz in and order for us, please? I'll put up hood and side-curtains, because it's too cold to keep the car open—for you, not for me. I'll be along inside two wiggles of an elephant's trunk."
He joined her by the fire in the tea room. "Lucky it's this time of year," he remarked. "We wouldn't get this place to ourselves in summer as we do now. Before I give you any more news, Miss Lisle, I want you to give me some. You have no proof whatever that your father bought the lighting set or any of the other stuff set up at Kleinert's, eh?"
"None whatever," she answered decidedly.
"Didn't you try to get proof, or to get somebody else to get proof for you, after your father's death—knowing, I mean, what the colour process might mean to all of you if you sold it?"
"Mother went to London in March and saw our solicitor," she answered. "She put the whole case before him, as far as we knew it—and that wasn't much. You see, my father always kept his experiments and research work to himself, and we knew hardly anything of what he was doing till the evening before his death—not the night he was drowned, but the one before it. Then he told us he'd completed the work, and that it was going to mean fortune for us—and I wrote and told Irene the next morning. He was so absolutely sure. But even then he told us no details, only said that he had to make experiments at Kleinert's to prove himself finished—to prove to himself that what he already knew was right. He'd finished all the theoretical work, he meant, and I think had it in the note-book that disappeared, the fifth of the series. Mother told the solicitor all this, and like you he wanted proof of what she told him. He told her that even then it would be expensive to make good our claim, because Kleinert and father had worked together, as she had to admit, and without father's word it would be very difficult to disprove that Kleinert was not the originator of the process. Unless we could produce some tangible evidence, more than our mere statements that my father claimed to us that he had done it and Kleinert had only worked under his directions. And we couldn't produce anything, as my mother knew."
"You could have proved, then, that the plant at Kleinert's was installed there at your father's expense," he pointed out.
"We didn't know what there was at Kleinert's or who had installed it," she objected. "My father never told us what he had put there, and naturally neither Irene nor I, nor my mother, ever went to see while my father was alive. Kleinert wouldn't have let us in if we had gone, after he was dead—after my father's death, I mean, of course."
"Clears that point," he remarked. "Name and address of this solicitor, please? I'd better have them as part of your case."
She gave them, and he put them down, just as tea and crumpets arrived. They seated themselves and began, as usual.
"I think this is the last time we shall come here," Gees remarked after a period of reflection. "I've got the case complete, now."
"You've what?" she asked incredulously.
"Some time to-morrow afternoon," he pursued, ignoring the question, "I shall probably call at your house. I shall have with me, I think, a certain Inspector Gainsford, whom I think you know. One of us will question you—or both of us will—and I want you to answer as frankly as you have answered the questions I've asked you since we first met."
"You mean—?" She gazed at him earnestly, intently.
"I mean, if we all play our parts properly, Kleinert will sleep behind bars to-morrow night," he answered. "Which reminds me—that Mrs. Butt. I'm not quite sure what will happen to her, but I think she'll be let off—won't be charged and imprisoned. If so—if they let her remain at liberty, I wonder—you see, she's been so dependent on Kleinert, which is the principal reason he wasn't brought to justice immediately after the inquest on your father. This arrest is going to rob her of half her means of livelihood, or thereabouts. And I wonder about her."
"She shall not suffer, if we have means to prevent it," Phyllis promised without hesitation. "Her devotion to her idiot boy is a wonderful instance of mother love, and we should make up any loss she may suffer."
"Good! What with me own, and this—"
She did not question the incomplete remark, and he finished his last cup of tea and lighted cigarettes for them both in silence that she refrained from breaking, since she saw he was reflecting over things.
"Yes, about as complete as I can make it," he observed, wakening from his reverie. "That being so, Miss Lisle, we'll start back, now."
"We shall never be able to repay you!" she exclaimed abruptly.
"Oh, yes!" he demurred. "That's easy enough."
She shook her head and smiled at him. "I didn't mean materially, Mr. Green, and you know it. You see, I've got to know you better, now, and it's no use trying to hide your real self behind materialism, with me. It's the motive behind what you are doing that I see."
"We'll start back, as I said," he observed after another pause. "I'm glad you see eye to eye with me about Mrs. Butt. Those patient lives of the poor—they make me wonder whether I ought to run a Rolls-Bentley, sometimes. And she'd pawn her soul for Jimmy—has pawned it, too."
She did not question the assertion. They were silent on the way back, and until she got out from the car at the usual place.
"To-morrow, Mr. Green," she said then. "To-night I shall tell my mother all I know, so she won't be so surprised to see you and the inspector. I haven't told her anything at all, up to the present."
"And you don't know such a lot to tell her, now," he observed.
She laughed. "Your blaze of glory shall be quite safe," she said.
Kleinert was in good form, that night. He watched Gees set out the chessmen after Mrs. Butt had cleared the table—for the last time, except for breakfast, Gees reflected—and delivered himself of a long and evidently carefully thought-out dissertation about fatigue in metals, which he managed to relate to the car's need for exercise and past doubt regarded as a joke, since he guffawed loudly as he ended it.
"And you shall have white for the first game," he promised. "We shall play perhaps many more games, or perhaps we shall not, since this Earle W. Blomberg come to buy the process so soon. Perhaps he will not take so long to make his tests, and we do not need to stay here. If it is like that, you shall stay with me just so long as you like, Mr. Green, for the friendship that I wish always to show you in the future."
"O.K. by me," Gees said, and moved pawn to king's fourth.
"The O.K. I know," Kleinert remarked, "but how shall it be by you? For if it go by it must be past, and we speak now of the future, after Earle W. Blomberg come to buy the process, is it not?"
"You're quite sure he's going to buy it without any trouble?" Gees inquired. "Supposing you can't make a deal with him—what then?"
"Why should he make the voyage, if not to buy it?" Kleinert asked in reply, with utter confidence. "If the Harten-Blomberg Inc corporation mean not to buy, would they send to see me one whose name is on the board of the directorate of the corporation? No, but he come to buy."
"Then it's O.K. by him," Gees remarked indifferently.
"Aha! But now I begin to see how you make the joke," Kleinert said gleefully. "O.K. by him because he buy. I am learning the joke, you see, and to find out how you make it. But you have moved. I move, now."
He advanced pawn to queen's fourth, and Gees promptly took it. An innovation, this, to Kleinert, and he studied long before he replied with pawn to king's third. They settled to strenuous battle, fairly even players as regards skill, and at its end another game was begun. In spite of rather careless disregard of Kleinert's well-planned attacks, Gees won both games. It may have been that his opponent's mind was partly occupied over Earle W. Blomberg's impending arrival and its possibilities.
"We do not play any more," he announced. "Always, whatever happen, we play the two games and no more. And for the most of the games you win. I must be more careful."
"Over that, you're too late," Gees thought but did not say, as Kleinert took the Aladdin lamp and repeated his formula about extinguishing the other one. Following him, Gees reflected that, if all went well, he had carried that lamp up to his room for the last time.
HALF an hour of strenuous work, following on Thursday's midday meal, brought the chromium and cellulose of the Rolls-Bentley into showroom condition. A glance through the living room window assured Gees that Kleinert was peacefully asleep by the fire, and then he turned out with the car, passing the dark brown gate at five minutes to three by the clock on his dash. At one minute short of the hour, abreast Jubilee Terrace, he braked in to the kerb, and saw an outsize in police constables meditating, and taking no notice whatever of the car or its driver, outside the gateway of number three. Since the clock on the dash kept very good time indeed, Gees was able to note that the gate of number three opened at exactly three o'clock, and to take stock of the man who emerged and came toward him.
A slenderly-built, active sort of man, not in uniform, but wearing a lounge suit of brown tweed, not too well-cut, and a brown, soft felt hat with too small a brim. He looked intelligent; the set of his lips denoted a hard, aggressive temperament, and his brown eyes contradicted the lips. He gazed at Gees steadily, not too friendlily.
"Inspector Gainsford, I believe," Gees remarked.
"I am. You are the Mr. Green who wrote asking me to come here." It was an assertion, and a hostile one at that—not a question.
"Quite so, I did. Did you ever hear of an Inspector Horace Tott, of the special branch, Mr. Gainsford?"
"Naturally I've heard of him," Gainsford retorted. "What has that to do with your asking me to come to Snoddlesdon to- day?"
"Nothing much, really. Except that over the Kestwell murderers, of whom you may have heard, I stole quite a packet of Tott's thunder. I'm not in the least anxious to do that in this Snoddlesdon case." He reached out and thrust open the near side door of the car. "Come round and get in, so you can sit down while we talk," he invited.
"Oh, no!" Gainsford demurred. "I want to know about this arrest you wrote about, not waste time talking. I'm not here for amusement."
"You may be mistaken about that." Leaving the car door open, Gees took out his cigarette case and offered it. "Have one," he invited.
"I tell you, I'm not here for amusement!" Gainsford exclaimed sharply. "Get on with what you've got to tell me, if anything."
"Well, I'll have one myself," Gees observed calmly, and, taking one, flicked his lighter, drew, and exhaled. "I was in the police force two years myself, which was how I first met up with Inspector Tott," he pursued. "Later, over that thunder-stealing, I had to impress on him that he couldn't frighten me. Neither can you. I'm here to make you a presentation of a complete case, and then you can take that large man standing there and make the arrest. But I'll make the presentation in my own way, either to you or somebody else. Now come and sit down while we talk. I happen to have something to show you that bears on the case."
For a few seconds Gainsford stood irresolute, and then he went by the back of the car to its near side and got in.
"All right," he said, "since you insist. But I must warn you that you're not making a very good impression on me for a start."
"Which worries me just as much as a mosquito bothers an alligator," Gees responded. "You, I believe, were in charge over a case of drowning that happened here last February—a Mr. Robert Lisle. Remember it?"
"Perfectly," Gainsford answered. "Accidental drowning."
"No, murder," Gees dissented. "Will you have a cigarette now?"
"Don't be a fool, man!" Gainsford exclaimed.
"I'd have betted on that as your reaction," Gees observed. "You might tell that large man there he won't be wanted for another hour or two. We've several things to do before you take him along with you."
"Will you stop telling me what to do and get on with your story?" Gainsford exclaimed angrily. "That is, if you've got any story to tell. The inquest on Lisle was conclusive enough—utterly conclusive, in fact, as you'd have known if you'd been here to hear the evidence."
"That's how it seems to you," Gees said in a quiet, reflective way. "Naturally, too, you don't want that verdict of accidental death upset, because it would reflect on you. But I don't think it will, in this case. In your position, I don't see how you could have uncovered the evidence I've got. You'd have had to be in my position to do it."
"How much more preamble—or have you anything to tell at all?" Gainsford demanded impatiently. "I can take care of my position."
"You may find the job a strain on you, yet," Gees informed him. "As a start, now, have you ever seen anyone use old- fashioned fusees to light pipes, or cigarettes, or cigars, round about here?"
"Fusees went out with crinolines, and you know it," Gainsford retorted. "What on earth have they to do with what you're saying?"
"A lot, since I'm talking about them," Gees retorted imperturbably. "A lot more, because the man who murdered Lisle invariably lights his cigars with them. He used six while he was waiting to commit the murder."
"Oh, yeah?" Gainsford sounded both angry and disgusted. "I think I'll get out of this car. You've been reading too many cheap sleuth stories for my liking—the gifted amateur who knows better than the professional police. You're my first experience of one."
"Aye. I hope for your sake I'm the last. Just cast your eye over this before you get out. It won't take you more than a minute or two."
He produced a script of single-spaced typing. Gainsford took it and looked at the heading, then turned to the end and shook his head.
"What the devil are you giving me?" he demanded. "It's not signed."
"Quite right. I thought you might like to go through it before we go along and get it signed—get her to read and approve it, and then sign it in the presence of us as witnesses. Then it'll serve as a groundwork for Crown counsel in the assize case. Just look it over, will you?"
In utter scepticism, Gainsford began reading. But his expression changed as he read, and at the end he turned to stare at Gees.
"How did you get hold of this information?" he demanded sharply.
"I've been living in Kleinert's house since—let me see! Since last Tuesday week, and it feels like a year or two. That appears to me the main plank of the case, but there are a few laths and scantlings I'd like to hand on to you as well, before you go after him."
"But why—what was his motive?" Gainsford asked.
"Thirty thousand pounds," Gees answered solemnly. "I'll give you the whole low-down piece by piece. Lisle discovered a colour process which appears to be worth that sum, and Kleinert hasn't quite finished stealing it, even yet. Shall we go along and get this stuff read and signed, for a start? You'd better have all I've got to give you before going after Kleinert, just to make you really anxious to go."
"But—but this." Gainsford tapped the script he still held. "What made her talk, after all this time—if she did actually say this?"
"I did it, with my little cast-off suit," Gees answered. "I cannot tell a lie, except when it seems useful. If you'll let me drive you along there, we shall find the lady at home. She won't give you any trouble, but I'd like you to deal as gently with her as you can."
"If she owns to this, she's committed perjury," Gainsford pointed out. "She's liable to arrest as accessory after the fact."
"Committed perjury under threat and duress, or whatever the phrase is," Gees pointed out in turn. "It's in that statement, if you read it carefully. And the public prosecutor won't thank you for putting her in the dock when he wants her as witness. What about going along to her?"
"All right, we will." Gainsford leaned across him to call out—"Oh, Pettit, I shan't want you quite yet, but remain in your home."
"Very good, sir." Constable Pettit saluted and went along his garden path as the car began to move—backward, until it was opposite the frontage of the Drake and Gander, when Gees sent it forward again and turned in to the narrow lane to draw up abreast Mrs. Butt's.
Samantha Gwendoline herself opened the door to them, and turned very white as she recognised Gainsford, who still carried the paper Gees had handed him. Jimmy, sighting over his mother's shoulder the unprecedented spectacle of a car in the lane, went to the window to gaze at it, and there remained.
"It's all right, Mrs. Butt," Gees told her encouragingly. "We've just come to get you to read over and sign the facts of what you told me when I looked in on your washing day. Nothing to worry about."
He entered, and Gainsford followed him. Then he took back the paper.
"I think we'll all sit down, Mrs. Butt. Now you sit there—" he indicated an old-fashioned elbow chair by the fireplace—"and I want you to read this to us and tell us if I've got it all correct. As nearly as possible, I've put down what you told me, but we want to be certain I haven't made a lot of mistakes. Here you are. Now sit down and read it to us, and tell me if I've got anything wrong."
She took the paper, and, after a wondering stare at them both, comprehended all that he was asking, and without reply went and seated herself as he had bidden. Then she looked at the script in her hand.
"Samantha Gwendoline Butt, of Telfer's Lane, Snoddlesdon," she read slowly. "Yes, that's right, sir. But I ain't a good reader, though I do sometimes read the paper to me 'usband when he's laid up wi' the asthma. Do you want me to read it all aloud to you, sir?"
"That's exactly what we've come to hear you do," Gees told her. "We want you to read it slowly, and see if it's just what you would say if you were asked to tell the truth. If it's wrong anywhere, tell us."
"Yes, sir, I'll try," she promised, and, after a pause, began—
"Statement by Samantha Gwendoline Butt, married woman, residing at Telfer's Lane, Snoddlesdon, Kent, made in the presence of Gregory George Gordon Green, of 37, Little Oakfield Street, London, and of Inspector Gainsford of the Kent County Constabulary, on the—"
"Wait a bit," Gainsford interposed. "This won't hold as a statement. You're putting the words into her mouth, with that."
"Do we want it to hold?" Gees asked. "Don't you realise that it's nothing but a summary of the evidence she'll give quite willingly under examination as a witness for the Crown? I know perfectly well this can never be put in, nor had I any idea that it should be when I compiled it for her to read and sign. It's for your and counsel's benefit."
"Carry on, then," Gainsford said, and glanced at his watch.
"Go on with the second paragraph, Mrs. Butt," Gees bade.
She read, after another pause of staring at him, with obvious respect for one who could argue with and almost dictate to Inspector Gainsford. Slowly, and with appreciation of what she was reading—
"Mr. Adolph Kleinert came to live at Snoddlesdon about two and a half years ago, and engaged me to work for him as cook and general servant at one pound a week. By the sale of vegetables and other things to him I make up the amount to about twenty-five shillings a week. My husband suffers from asthma which prevents him from working at times during the winter, and during his illnesses I have to provide extra comforts for him. I also have a son incapable of working and dependent entirely on his parents for support, and only the money I have earned from Mr. Kleinert has enabled me to keep my home as I have done since Mr. Kleinert came to live here.
"I work at Mr. Kleinert's every morning, and go to his house at six o'clock every evening to see to his dinner, except on Sundays. On the evening of the nineteenth of February of this year there was a dense fog. I started as usual to go to Mr. Kleinert's that evening, but owing to having to grope my way through the fog did not arrive at Mr. Kleinert's house until a quarter past six or a little later. As I was going in at the gateway Mr. Kleinert caught up with me. He told me he was expecting Mr. Lisle to call and see him, and had been out to look for Mr. Lisle, but could see nothing of him in the fog, and expected he had given up coming on account of it. We entered the house, and then Mr. Kleinert told me that it was possible something might have happened to Mr. Lisle, and that, if anything had happened, there would be an inquest.
"He told me he did not know if I should be called as a witness, but if I were called I must say what he told me to say. If I did not do this, he threatened to discharge me from his employment. I was frightened at the idea of losing what he paid me, as at the time my husband was suffering from one of his attacks of asthma and I had to care for him as well as for my son, and I promised to do as Mr. Kleinert asked.
"He told me that, if called as a witness, I must say nothing about his catching up with me at the gateway outside the house, but must say that when I went into the house at six o'clock or two or three minutes later, not a quarter past six which was the actual time when he caught up with me by the gate, I must say that I found him dozing by the fire in his living room, and he had to wake up before he could talk to me. I said that in evidence at the inquest, and did not tell the truth as I am telling it now. I did not know, when I made that promise to Mr. Kleinert, that anything had happened to Mr. Lisle. Mr. Kleinert made me go over and over the story about finding him asleep by the fire until he was sure I should not make any mistakes or contradict myself in it if called as a witness. The truth, to which I will swear in evidence now, is that Mr. Kleinert was not asleep by his fire, but was out in the fog and caught up with me in his gateway while I was on my way to his house, as stated here. I have read every word of this statement aloud, and sign it in the presence of the witnesses whose names appear under mine."
She looked up, and met Gainsford's cold, accusing gaze.
"Do you understand all of what you have been reading?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she answered. "I didn't know I was doin' no harm, at the time, an' I dasn't lose the job at Mr. Kleinert's, not anyhow."
"Are you prepared to repeat every word of that statement in a court of law, and swear to it as the truth and nothing but the truth?"
"Yes, sir. It's what I told Mr. Green when he come here to see me before. He's put it in his words, but I'll swear it's true."
He uncapped a fountain pen and thrust it at her. "Put your initials at the bottom of the first sheet—here," he bade. "Then sign at the end of the typing on the second sheet—your full name. Take it to the table to do it. Then watch while Mr. Green and I sign as witnesses."
Outside the house, with the statement signed and witnessed and in his pocket, he waited while Gees got into the car.
"I'll go along on foot and turn Pettit out," he announced.
"Why?" Gees asked as he pressed the self-starter button.
"Why, to go and arrest Kleinert, of course," Gainsford answered.
"Oh, yeah?" Gees gibed. "On this and nothing else?"
"Why—what else have you?" Gainsford demanded irritably.
"Lots. Climb in, and we'll make another call. Two more, in fact."
Gainsford eyed him for some seconds as if about to argue over it, but finally got into the car. Since there was no room in the lane for turning about, Gees backed out, and turned on the road to face toward Kleinert's. He drove as far as the limit of the common, and stopped.
"Little walk for us," he remarked. "This is the other end of the path behind the pond that Lisle used to get to Kleinert's. Let's go."
Leaving the car, he led the way along the path until he came to the tussock where he had found the fusees and box. He pointed down at them, undisturbed since he had last seen them, and Gainsford looked down.
"As I found and left them," Gees said. "This must have been where Kleinert waited for Lisle to come out and be killed on the night of February nineteenth—evening, rather, since it was a quarter to six when he left the house. Miss Phyllis Lisle will tell you how he always looked after the clock by which she timed him, always kept it a bit fast so as not to miss his train when he went to London, and that clock said ten minutes to six when he left the house alive for the last time. Not that you need worry too much about the extra five minutes. Kleinert's arriving at his gate just after Mrs. Butt—that is, at fully a quarter past six that night—gave him plenty of time to wait at the edge of the pond and make quite sure Lisle was fully drowned, quite dead. But that box and the fusees. I'm prepared to testify that I've known Kleinert near on a fortnight now, and he always smokes black cigars, and never by any chance lights a cigar with anything but an old-fashioned fusee—and the labels on his fusee-boxes are the same kind as that one you're looking at now. He might have stood on this spot long enough to strike six fusees and throw a box away, at some other time than that night. If so, it's up to him to tell why when he elects to give evidence in his own defence. It will be more difficult to disprove than to prove that all six of those fusees down there were lighted at the same time."
"I'll get the earth under them and the tuft of grass lifted and put in a box just as they are," Gainsford promised. "What next—how long did you say you'd known Kleinert, though?"
"He first came to see me in London last Monday week—wanted me to come here and keep him company till he'd put his theft through. I drove him down here on the Tuesday, and I've been keeping him company since."
"A fast worker, aren't you?" Gainsford inquired.
"I dunno. I've had exceptional opportunities. He came to me because he knew I was a professional ghost-layer—I can tell you about that part of it later, though. I meant to go straight on from here for you to interview Miss Phyllis Lisle, but we're keeping the good Doctor Bourne waiting—I booked him to wait between three and four, so we'd better take him next. And mind, I'm handing it all over to you, stepping back gracefully and letting you have all the thunder and noises off, except for what comes out when I'm called on for evidence. Then, believe me, I'm spilling a pailful. Let us go and rack the doc."
"Over his evidence at the inquest, you mean?" Gainsford suggested as, turning back from the tussock, they went toward the road.
"I've heard he's a trifle dogmatic," Gees answered indirectly, "so you can save yourself a bit on that evidence he gave. We'll try, anyhow."
They covered the rest of the distance to the doctor's house in silence, Gainsford apparently rather gloomy as he thought over the prospect of turning accidental death into murder at this length of time after the event, and that not through his own investigations, but at the prompting of an utter outsider. A maidservant admitted them to Doctor Bourne's consulting room and surgery combined, and there Bourne entered to them, a shaggy- moustached, grey-headed man with rather too-prominent eyes, and anything but a bedside manner. He stared at them suspiciously.
"Well, inspector?" he demanded.
"I asked for this interview," Gees said blandly.
"I know you did." Bourne shot a hostile glance at him. "I'm asking you, inspector, what is the object of this visit, since it's obviously not a professional matter. That is, not for one of my profession."
"Mr. Green asked for the interview, as he's just told you," Gainsford said. "He also asked me to accompany him here."
Bourne gave Gees a longer stare. "Be so good as to tell me what you want, Mr. Green," he bade curtly. "I've already waited in half an hour."
"Sorry, but I couldn't estimate the time exactly," Gees told him. "Inspector Gainsford and I have more than one call to make, in addition to this, over the murder of Mr. Robert Lisle here last February."
"What's that you say?" Bourne got out, obviously staggered by it.
"The murder of Mr. Robert Lisle," Gees repeated. "I made a point of saying it very distinctly, too. According to your evidence at the inquest, you examined the body, Doctor Bourne."
"I did. And I testified then as I should testify now, that there was absolutely no sign of violence. Mr. Lisle's death was due to drowning, and to nothing else. The state of the lungs—"
"Wait one moment, please," Gees interposed silkily. "Absolutely no sign of violence, you say. What about the bruise in the region of the solar plexus, which you saw and mentioned in your evidence?"
"Yes. Caused by striking his chest on the railing, which gave way at the impact, and he fell into the pond and was unable to get out again."
"A bruise in the region of the solar plexus—yes. Of what extent was that bruise, doctor?" Gees demanded. "Did it stretch right across the chest, or was it just in the middle, a small bruise?"
"It was in the middle, almost circular, and not more than two inches in diameter, as nearly as I can recollect it—"
"Mark that, inspector," Gees interrupted again. "Almost circular, and not more than two inches in diameter. Pack it away in your brain, and keep it for later use—I'm witness that Doctor Bourne described the bruise as of that shape and size and position, and not stretching right across the chest. Now, doctor, I'll provide all the life-saving apparatus to fish you out of that pond, and be waiting on the bank with a cheque for five hundred pounds made out to you, if you can fall against any of the railings round it and make a bruise over your solar plexus of that shape and size. In full daylight, too, not in a fog at night."
"Are you trying to tell me—?" Bourne began angrily, and stopped.
"Exactly. No, though, I'm not trying at all. I'm telling you that bruise must have been and was made by violence. It was struck by means of a stone, a half-brick, the end of a knobbly stick—anything of the sort—with the object of rendering Mr. Robert Lisle unconscious while he could be carried to the edge of the pond and thrust against a rotten rail with force enough to smash it and drop him into twelve to fifteen feet of icy cold water. A small, slight man, not over strong, is my description of him—the one given me by his daughter, I mean. Do you agree?"
"Yes, he was not a strong man," Bourne said. "But—"
"What about earning that five hundred pounds?" Gees asked.
"But it's ridiculous!" Bourne broke out. "Everyone liked the man, respected him—he was rather absent-minded, but I'm perfectly certain he had no enemies, either here or elsewhere. He was not the man to make any. Of course I don't want your five hundred pounds!"
"A bruise in the middle of the chest, almost circular, and not more than two inches in diameter," Gees repeated. "Just remember that as hard as you can, inspector. Better put it down, I think."
"Oh, put it down by all means!" Bourne said caustically as Gainsford took out a note-book and pencil. "Much good may it do you!"
"Considerably more than it's likely to do you, I'd say," Gees retorted with equal causticism. "Absolutely no sign of violence—I think I'd miss adding that to my evidence at the trial, if I were you. Crown counsel, most of 'em, have a nasty way of getting under your skin if they spot any apparent contradictions. Well, we'll be seeing you."
He led the way out with no further remark, and, on the sidewalk outside the house, paused and stood thoughtful.
Gainsford, a changed man from the one who had come out from Pettit's house to him, waited patiently, and after a minute or so Gees nodded complacently.
"Blithering idiot!" he remarked. "It must have been one hell of a welt, too, to raise any bruise at all in the time before he died in the water, and that fool passed it up! What with that and Mrs. Butt's tale about Kleinert, you hadn't a chance of spotting anything."
"The family didn't want anything spotted," Gainsford said sadly.
"No, and that's our next port of call. Yours, I mean," he amended, with a glance up at the sky. "It'll begin to get dark long before you finish there, and I'll have to get back to Kleinert—I'll explain all that later. Will you follow the rest through as I planned it?"
"Considering all you're giving me, I certainly will," Gainsford assented unhesitatingly. "You want me to go to the Lisles' place?"
"Ask for and interview Miss Lisle—Miss Phyllis Lisle. The other one won't be there. Get out of her all she can tell you about her father's note-books, especially the missing fifth note- book. Get also—but go gently over this—how he drank three glasses of sherry that last evening of his life, how she'd never seen him drink more than one glass of anything alcoholic at one time until then, and how Kleinert asked, the next day, about his being under the influence of drink when he went out at a quarter to six. To frighten them into shutting up and not wanting any questions at all asked as to how he left the house, do you see?"
"Yes, I get it," Gainsford said. "It worked, too, the way those girls begged me to cut the inquest on the accident as short as I could make it. Oh, yes, I see the idea in Kleinert's mind! Is that all?"
"The time—his keeping that clock five minutes or so fast," Gees answered thoughtfully. "Anything else that occurs to you, if it does. She may bring out a point or two that have slipped my memory for the time being. Oh, about having all the machinery installed at Kleinert's instead of in Lisle's own house. Get her to tell you about the colour process, as far as she knows about it. I can fill in the gaps."
"That's going to take some time," Gainsford said dubiously.
"Much better that it should. I'd say, six-thirty for your arrival time at Kleinert's—with Pettit, of course. And to clinch another point, that of the missing note-book of which you'll get full particulars from Miss Lisle, will you follow my lead over the arrest itself?"
"I don't quite get that," Gainsford half-questioned.
"Like this," Gees told him. "Lisle always carried one of those note-books when he was working on anything, according to what his daughter told me. The fifth of a series vanished on the night of his death, and I'm morally certain Kleinert still has it. I've got one that looks exactly like it, and thought of making him reveal where his is hidden by displaying mine. But now, if you and Pettit wait under the window nearest the front door of Kleinert's house—you know where he lives, though? Yes—" as Gainsford nodded, "I thought you would. Well, wait under the window—don't get there till a quarter-past six, to keep clear of Mrs. Butt—and wait till about half-past, as near as I can arrange it. Then you'll hear one hell of a shemozzle going on in that room, and at that you can go and rap on the door as if you meant to break it in and grab Kleinert just as suits you. But not before six-thirty, mind."
"And the special reason for it?" Gainsford asked.
"To see if I can make him give himself away by producing that similar note-book and refusing to let him see it. Egg him on, taunt him about it—I've no scruples over doing it, for there's no getting away from the fact that he's a dirty murderer, and if I can get anything to repeat in evidence—there's no telling what he might say, for inside that book is the whole motive for the murder, the key to Lisle's colour process."
"Have it your own way, then," Gainsford agreed slowly. "But you're running a considerable risk, aren't you? If he knows you suspect, I mean. He may go for you, attempt to put you past giving evidence."
"I'm not badly scared." Gees smiled as he said it. "Tell Miss Lisle I'm sorry I couldn't get along with you. Six-thirty, when you hear Cain being raised behind the only lighted window in Kleinert's house frontage. Not earlier than six-thirty. I'll be seeing you."
He went along toward the car, while Gainsford struck off across the common, heading directly for the Lisles' house.
WITH an audible sigh Phyllis Lisle turned back from the window of the first-floor front room of her home, and went to the bed in which Mrs. Lisle lay. The sick woman looked up at her inquiringly.
"They're going away again," she said. "They stopped between here and the pond, along the path, and Mr. Green pointed out something to the inspector. Then they stood and talked for a little while, and I thought they meant to come on here. But now they've gone back to the road."
"Do you mean—after all you've told me—?"
Mrs. Lisle began, and stopped. She breathed audibly as she looked up at her daughter.
"No, darling, you needn't lose hope. I shouldn't have told you anything unless I had been absolutely certain myself," Phyllis said. "Mr. Green told me he would come here with the inspector, and probably they want to go somewhere else first. It is all right, dear."
She stood beside the bed, and gazed out from the window. Presently she saw the two men waiting before Doctor Bourne's front door.
"Yes, as I thought. They've gone to interview the doctor, now. Then I expect they'll come here. I think I ought to heat the bronchitis kettle for you again, don't you?"
"Not yet, Phyllis. Why should they want to see Doctor Bourne?"
"I don't know, except that he gave evidence at the inquest. Yes, that would be it. I told you the car went first to Mrs. Butt's and they went in there. They're seeing everyone who gave evidence, by the look of it, and then coming here. And the inspector—don't you see, mother dear? He wouldn't take all that trouble unless he believed what Mr. Green has told him. They'll come here next, I'm sure."
"And then—even then," the sick woman said, with a note of hopelessness. "All the appalling publicity of a murder trial, the horror of dragging all that happened last February to light again, our names in the papers over it—and for what, except that Kleinert may get punished?"
"Not may, but will," Phyllis insisted. She sat down on the bed, but was careful to place herself so that she had a view through the window of Doctor Bourne's front door. "And then, as I told you, Kleinert meant to get at least thirty thousand pounds for the colour process. We shall get it, and you'll go away where you can forget you ever saw such a thing as a bronchitis kettle, as the doctor told me you ought."
"Phyllis, what did he tell you?" Mrs. Lisle demanded anxiously.
"Just that, mother darling, and nothing else to alarm yourself over. Just that this place doesn't suit you, and is mainly responsible for the illness—and I wouldn't have told you that if I hadn't been absolutely certain everything is coming right, and we're going to leave it."
"Fairy gold, Phyllis—fairy gold," Mrs. Lisle said reprovingly.
"No—treasury notes, darling, and they don't change back. I know, from what Mr. Green has told me. We shall have them, dear."
"I can't believe it, Phyllis. What sort of man is this Mr. Green?"
"Tall, and ordinary-looking at first, except that he's got very big hands and feet. Nice hands, though. And tremendously alive—somehow you can't help trusting him. I couldn't, at least. Rather an idealist inside him, I think, but he's always trying to conceal it under an odd and sometimes rather funny way of talking. Like telling me he'd be with me in two wiggles of an elephant's trunk. Things like that."
"He sounds rather irresponsible, to me," her mother half- complained.
"I'm going to get you some tea, dear." Phyllis got up off the bed. "They're still at the doctor's, so there's plenty of time."
She went out from the room and downstairs. When she returned with the tray, she lost no time in pouring a cup for her mother.
"And there's the bread and butter," she said, putting a plate down on the counterpane. "Now—" she moved over to the dressing table and began patting and pulling her hair into shape—"I shall have to leave you, darling, because the inspector is just coming across the common alone, straight here. If it had been Mr. Green alone, I might have thought Inspector Gainsford had given it up, but he's not coming to see us for nothing. So I'll go and talk to him, and then come and tell you everything he tells me." She turned toward the bed. "Do I look fit to captivate a police inspector, mother darling? Really enslave him?"
Mrs. Lisle made no reply. With a glance at Gainsford crossing the common, to assure herself that she still had time, Phyllis went to the bedside and put her arm round her mother's shoulders.
"I can't help feeling happier, because it means a different life for you," she said. "Look past the ugly part of it, mother, into the better future that's going to begin for us very soon—I want you to feel happier too. All that father wanted for you, all he worked to give you—it is going to be yours now, all of it. I know."
With a kiss she went down, in time to open the front door to Inspector Gainsford within two seconds of his knocking.
"Good afternoon, Miss Lisle. I've just been seeing a Mr. Green, who told me he knows you and asked me to apologise because he couldn't call here with me. To ask you a few questions, if you don't mind. We've got to reopen the subject of your father's death last February."
"Do come in, inspector," she invited. "Mr. Green has told me something of what he has been doing, and I'll gladly tell you anything I can that might help. And perhaps you'd like a cup of tea."
"I'd like it very much, thank you, and there's time for it, too. This Green's a hustler, but he's been in the police force himself, he tells me. And I've got till six o'clock or thereabouts. In here, Miss Lisle?" For she had indicated the open doorway of a room.
"Yes—the only fire, except in my mother's room. She's ill with bronchitis, so I'll do all the talking you need. Just find a chair for yourself, smoke—do anything you like, and I'll fetch the tea."
Entering, he saw a framed photograph of Robert Lisle in the middle of the mantel, and as he gazed at it remembered Bourne's description of the bruise on Lisle's chest. He took out his note- book to read the words he had written at Gees' suggestion.
"Yes," he said to himself, "and if I'd had the sense to examine that bruise myself, instead of taking his word for it and being persuaded by these women about how it happened, I shouldn't be up against it like this now." And he slapped the note-book closed and pocketed it as Phyllis Lisle entered with the tea tray and put it down, on the table.
"Now what do you want me to tell you, inspector?" she asked.
Kleinert, wakening as Gees entered the living room, sat up, began one of his vast, uncovered yawns, and in the middle of it belched noisily.
"Ah!" he said. "That will be the cold jam tart we have in the middle of the day. I think Mrs. Butt do not put enough carbonate of soda in the crust, so it make the wind on the stomach for me."
"Supposing you got that thirty thousand pounds." Gees moved over toward the window as he spoke. "You couldn't possibly eat more than you do now. Or could you? It seems to me you already go the limit."
"Now, we eat simply, but there is enough," Kleinert said, considering the problem with deliberate gravity. "No, I do not think I could eat more, but we shall not live so simply, then. I will have the foie gras and the caviare, and many kinds of wurst and kraut, and always the Braunberger and other of the wines I like to drink every day with the food. And perhaps I shall marry. There is a certain girl I would marry, and if I have that money she will then be willing to marry me."
"You've got nice, simple tastes," Gees observed. "In fact, I think you're what I should call a Stoic hedonist. With just a touch of the Nietzschean overman about you. Enough to flavour the hedonism, say."
"I have not yet studied the philosophies," Kleinert admitted, "but when I have the money perhaps I will study them. For it is necessary that one do not let the mind atrophy, and the philosophies make good study, when there is no more necessity to study for the money."
"So far, then, you've had to concentrate on money?" Gees asked.
"Otherwise, should I be in a place like this?" Kleinert asked in reply. "Always I have had to work. I save a little money for when I come here to—to finish the work on the colour process, and there is a little come to me from my father, the small royalties that his books still bring. But not much, not very much. Always I have to work."
"Got rich relations, I suppose," Gees encouraged him to go on talking about himself, and turned back from the window toward the fireplace.
"I have no relations at all in this country," Kleinert said. "Not any relations at all, in this country. There may be cousins in Bavaria, for I know my father had a brother, but of them I know nothing. The war divided him altogether from his brother, and of my cousins I have never heard, if indeed there are cousins. And of my mother's people I do not know anything, for when she married my father they were angry and would not know her any more. So there are no relations at all, rich or poor."
"Perfect example of an orphan, in fact," Gees observed. "But in the matter of friends, now. You've got some tucked away somewhere, eh?"
"Once, I seduced a girl," Kleinert told him. "Except for that, I do not make any friends. And I do not know what become of the girl."
Abruptly, Gees went back to the window and looked out. In spite of the tenseness of this situation for him, or perhaps because of it, Kleinert's idea of friendship upset his gravity, for the time.
He felt in his pocket. The note-book Phyllis Lisle had given him was there—he had to convince himself that he had really taken it out from the locker at the back of the car and pocketed it in readiness for the scene he meant to make. Over an hour to wait, yet, and he must give no sign of restlessness. Gainsford would be questioning Phyllis Lisle—
"It is time to light the lamp," Kleinert behind him said. "Will you please light the lamp for me? The matches are with it."
Turning to comply, Gees saw that Kleinert had got out a cigar and was about to light it with one of his fusees. An odd habit, that, with matches in the room. A connoisseur would as soon light his cigar from a stick of burning sulphur as with a fusee: perhaps through early association Kleinert liked the flavour, though.
"To-night, we have the steaks—Mrs. Butt grill the steaks," he announced as Gees replaced the chimney on the lighted lamp. "And the sprouts. Always as well as the potatoes I like the green vegetables, because of the chlorophyll which prevent the arteries from hardening. And in the sprouts there is very much chlorophyll, I know."
He sat gazing at the fire, inhaling smoke from his cigar, contemplative and content. That he could inhale cigar smoke went to prove his lungs in good condition: Gees eyed him as he sat: incapable though he might be of any sustained effort, he had strength enough for sudden, brief exertion, such as that of rendering Lisle unconscious by one tremendous blow. Lisle had been a smaller man, too, and slight...
"I think we should have the curtains over the window now, Mr. Green, and perhaps you put them over it. I am a little relaxed to-night, not possessing great energy. I think it is now that I am certain Earle W. Blomberg come to buy the colour process, all my mind relax, and thus my physical organism also relax. For so the mind react on the body."
"Sans peur et sans reproche," Gees quoted as he drew the curtains.
"What is that you say?" Kleinert asked interestedly.
"It was said of a knight of old time," Gees answered, coming back toward the fireplace. "Without fear and without reproach. He had nothing to fear and nothing with which to reproach himself—or rather, he feared nothing. One of those jokers who used to ride about putting things straight for widows and fatherless children, if anyone had done 'em in the eye. Just for fun, you know, liked that sort of thing. Chivalry, they called it. Expensive sort of amusement it must have been."
He lifted his wrist to look closely at the seconds hand of his watch. No, the watch had not stopped. How to make time pass—
"Of that age of chivalry I have when I was much younger read a little," Kleinert said. "Not much, for it was of no use in my studies, but a little, for recreation. I think in that age all the philosophies of the ancient world had been forgotten, and the principles of life as we live to-day had not been discovered. Now, there are institutions and societies for these widows and others who then would work on the emotion of foolish people, and so there is no need for chivalry any more."
"No need whatever," Gees agreed gravely, and with intense interest in this enunciation of Kleinert's principle of life.
"No man do except as please himself," Kleinert declared thoughtfully. "That knight of whom you speak, who did not fear and did not reproach himself, he did what he did because it pleased him. It was the age of foolishness, but he was not a fool, that knight. He put himself as it would be said in this age in the limelight, and I think he would make much money out of it. Or land, which in that age was money."
"And so I was wrong, and it wasn't an expensive amusement," Gees observed. "Well, maybe." He glanced at his watch again.
"As for me, I do not fear, and I do not reproach myself with anything," Kleinert stated earnestly. "That which I agree to do, I do—as when I shall pay the ten per cent to you. I am very honourable."
"There's no doubt whatever about that," Gees assured him.
"I am glad you so well understand my character," Kleinert said, with an air of conscious and almost pious rectitude.
Since, with that, he appeared content to resume his contemplation of the fire, and possibly of the future of foie gras, caviare, wursts and krauts and all the rest that he saw pictured in its depths, Gees went to the bookcase and returned with the work of that Gentleman of Quality who might have given even Bayard points on behaviour. But it failed to grip, now: its didactic stupidity was no longer farcical, but boring. After an age or two Gees sighed relief as he heard Mrs. Butt clattering with pans in the kitchen: the worst of the waiting was over, now, and when presently she entered to lay the table, as oblivious as was Kleinert of the fact that that meal would never be eaten, he knew his time was at hand. He got up, replaced the book in the case, and returned to the hearthrug to stand gazing into the fire until Mrs. Butt left the room.
Kleinert looked up at him. "You are a little restless," he said.
"Maybe." It was time, now. Gees turned his back on the fire, went to the sideboard, and stood for nearly a minute in front of the left-hand drawer. Then he faced about, appearing to scrutinise the cover of the black note-book he had taken from his coat pocket.
"Ach!" Kleinert sprang up from his chair. "Restless, did I say? You would steal from me, hein?" He moved away from the fire, into the room, but the table was between him and Gees.
"Steal from you?" With a blend of anger and incredulity. "Here, what the hell are you talking about, man? What do you mean, steal?"
"The book—my little black book. Give it back to me!"
"I'm only going to look at it, man. What the devil makes you think I want to steal it? Why on earth should I steal a little black book?"
"No! You shall not open it!" He made a move, but Gees, moving, too, kept the full of the table between them while he made as if to open the book. "You shall not, I say! For in it is the great secret of the colour process, and it is mine. Stand still and give it to me!"
"Oho! The great secret of the colour process, eh? Then—"
"Stand that I may take it from you!" Kleinert almost screamed, and snatched up the carving knife to poise it, ready to throw.
"Put that damned knife down!" Gees shouted with all the power of his lungs. "Put it down, I say! Can't you hear me, blast you?"
Hard on his last word came a thunderous knocking on the front door of the house. Gees slipped the book back in his pocket as Kleinert relaxed in momentary alarm, the hand holding the knife falling at his side.
"All right—I'll go and see who it is," Gees offered.
"You shall not!" Again Kleinert poised the knife. "Mrs. Butt may go. You shall stay here and give me back my book that you steal!"
"Put that infernal knife down, I tell you!" Again he used all his lung power. "What's the idea? Another murder?"
Kleinert's mouth opened, and the knife thudded from his hand to the floor. Then the door of the room was flung inward, and Inspector Gainsford leaped at him to grasp his arm before he could move.
"Adolph Kleinert, I am a police inspector and I arrest you and charge you with having murdered Robert Lisle on the nineteenth of February of this year. And I warn you that anything you may say in answer to the charge may be taken down and produced as evidence against you."
Ever after, Gees could recall to his mind that scene as a tableau in which all the figures, including himself, remained posed and silent for a very long time. Kleinert was first to move. He turned his head from staring amazedly at the inspector, to look at Gees.
"Ach! I see! Swinehound!" he grated out.
"Quite so," Gees answered rather shakily. "And I've caught the swine." Then he held up the little black book, but at that Kleinert ground his teeth with rage, and said nothing.
Handcuffed, and thoroughly searched, Kleinert sat in his usual chair under supervision of Constable Pettit.
"Nothing in the way of exhibits except that book you've got, I think?" Gainsford half-questioned as he looked at Gees.
"That's not the one you want," Gees told him. "I got this from Miss Lisle, one of the four her father had filled and laid aside—I expect she told you all about them and the fifth which was on him the night he left the house—the nineteenth, I mean. That one you'll find here—" he indicated the left-hand sideboard drawer—"but I expect you'll have to break it open. Unless—those keys you took off him, perhaps."
In absolute silence Kleinert watched while the inspector tried key after key, and at last found one that fitted and opened the drawer.
"Mind if I look in there?" Gees asked, as Gainsford took out and held up the little black book, fifth of Lisle's series.
"Not in the least. You appear to be conversant with all the case, and—yes, I'll have one of those boxes of fusees. We can lock the rest in the drawer. What's that you've got there, though?"
Gees had taken out a flat tin box, which he carried to the table to open, nearer to the light. Inside lay six four-ounce medicine bottles, corked, and filled with coloured fluids. There were also three lever-lid tins capable of holding six to eight ounces apiece. Gees examined the bottles first and then the tins, finding each one labelled and bearing no more than the date—"March 20th."
"Not quite relevant to the case, I think," he remarked, and replaced the lid on the box. "Take 'em if you like, but I shouldn't."
"All right. What are they—inks?"
"Specimens of the colour process results, but dated over a month after Lisle's death. No. I think that book is your only exhibit from here. Have you had time to dig out that exhibit on the common?"
"You bet," Gainsford answered laconically.
"Good. I was a bit uneasy over the chance of its being disturbed. And now where do you lodge your man for the night?"
"Maidstone, of course. The car should be at Pettit's any minute, now. I rang for it from the post office before coming on here."
"Having stacks of faith, eh? Well, you won't want me, I hope?"
"I—well, no. It'll be merely the formal charge read over, and in the morning nothing but evidence of arrest—by me—and remand."
"Inspector." They both started and looked round as Kleinert spoke, and then saw that tears were running down his cheeks. "There is steak—Mrs. Butt she cook the steak to-night. Might I not have the steak before you go with me to Maidstone, and the sprouts—all that she cook?"
"It won't make such a lot of difference—he's got to eat somewhere to-night," Gainsford reflected aloud. "All right—stop weeping. But I'm neither taking the handcuffs off nor trusting you with a knife. We shall cut the meat up for you, and stand over you, too."
"That shall be as you wish. I know it is of no use to controvert the word of the law, and until I am acquitted of this monstrous charge will behave as you would have me. For I have no fear and no self-reproach, being quite innocent and in all ways honourable."
"You can save that up for the trial," Gainsford advised drily.
"And I'll get," Gees put in, "wishing neither to eat nor sleep in this house again. You know where to find me when you want me."
Gainsford held out his hand. "Man, you're slick!" he said. "I won't try to say the rest. See you again soon, though."
"And I, Mr. Green—" Kleinert spoke as Gees laid his hand on the door handle—"I forgive you for this great wrong you have done to me."
Gees went out without answering, first to get his things from his room, and then to turn out the Rolls-Bentley. He paused for a moment at thought of the demonstration plant, but then went on. Gainsford, knowing the house would be empty, would set a guard over it.
"Sorry to trouble you at this time of night, Miss Lisle."
"Please don't talk like that, Mr. Green. Have you—has the inspector—I mean, what has happened? Can you tell me, please?"
"All has gone according to plan. The American man is due at my office to-morrow or Saturday, to see about buying the colour process, I think. If he doesn't, somebody else will, so you can set your mind at rest about it, though it may take quite a while—some weeks, or even months. But with your permission I'll see it through for you."
"Oh, Mr. Green! Will you really?"
"O.K. Leave it to me. I'll consider it part of the Kleinert case."
"And—and Kleinert?" she asked hesitatingly. "You haven't told me, you know."
"Kleinert," he said gravely, "is just beginning the journey that ends on a scaffold, as far as this life is concerned. Good- night, Miss Lisle."
"But you're not going back to his place to sleep?" she protested.
"Most decidedly I'm not," he answered. "I'm heading for London."
"London? Mr. Green, there's my sister's room all ready, if you'll accept the use of it. You're doing so much for us, you know."
"And that's very good of you, but I'd rather make London," he answered. "If that Yankee turns up early, I shall be on hand to greet him. See you again very soon, Miss Lisle—really good- night, this time."
And with a smile and a handshake he went back to his car, standing opposite Constable Pettit's house and faced toward Godwinsford.
MISS BRANDON had had only just time to remove her hat and coat, and make those small but absolutely necessary adjustments to hair, face, and lips that every woman makes, when the outer door bell rang and, instead of sitting down to finish the novel she had been reading, she went to the door, and found herself faced by a tall, fair, very good-looking girl who eyed her with, very evidently, no feelings of warm friendship.
"I want to see Mr. Green, please," the caller stated.
"Yes. Would you mind telling me your name?" Miss Brandon asked.
"You may tell him—" majestically—"Miss Lisle wishes to see him."
"Come in, please, Miss Lisle, and I'll see if Mr. Green is disengaged. Will you wait in here, please?" She indicated her own room doorway.
Gees, then enjoying his final cup of coffee and the best cigarette of the day, frowned and shook his head over his secretary's announcement.
"Better push her into my room, I suppose, and I'll see what she wants," he said. "Tell her I'll be along presently. If Mr. Blomberg rolls up before she goes, come and tell me and then entertain him in your room while I fire her out—and you'd better shut yourself in with him to prevent her from seeing him as she goes to the door."
He sat on in placid reflection until he had finished the cigarette. Then, stubbing it out, he went to the room he used as his own office, and faced Irene Lisle, who offered her hand with her most engaging smile.
"I am glad to see you again, Mr. Green, and I haven't had to wait till Sunday for it after all," she said. "My sister rang up to tell me the news, and I felt I must get time off to come and hear the details."
"Sorry, there aren't any," he answered, releasing her hand. "Do sit down, won't you. Details, eh? Well, you ought to have gone to Maidstone in time for the opening of the police court there—though even then you wouldn't have got much in the way of details. Kleinert's being merely fetched up before the beaks for evidence of arrest, and then he'll be remanded—for a week, almost certainly. And that's all."
"But—but from what my sister said, Mr. Green—" she sounded rather embarrassed as she seated herself in the big armchair—"you told her you were going to try and sell the colour process for us."
"M'yes, I suppose that is another detail," he admitted thoughtfully. "Since you appear to know it already, though, I needn't hand it out."
"But—you see—I am the elder sister," she pointed out.
"Oh, gosh!" he exclaimed. "I mean, the point clean slipped my mind. Well, you go right ahead, Miss Lisle. The joker from America with some idea of perhaps thinking about buying it is due to arrive here any time, and I'll put him straight in touch with you, shall I? I'm terribly sorry, you know. It didn't strike me that you'd like to do the trading."
"No, no, I didn't mean that!" she protested rather desperately. "I shall be delighted to let you do it, and wouldn't for the world interfere with anything you're doing for—for us. Please don't think it."
"Well, why the—I don't quite get this, yet," he owned, frowning.
"Well, that I am the elder sister," she insisted, rather impatiently.
"Which reminds me—never mind, though," he said. "Point at issue is—do you want me to handle this American for you, or don't you?"
"Of course I do—we all do," she answered, very earnestly.
"Now I've got it. I've committed the unpardonable crime, gone ahead on your sister's say-so without asking your permission. And yet you want me to go ahead. I'll have to consider this problem from all angles——"
"Don't make fun of me like that!" She was on her feet again, an angry light in her eyes. "I came round here to tell you how much I value all you have done and are doing, and you—you—you won't see!"
"Maybe my sight's a bit weakened," he confessed. "I've been living with a murderer for some few days, and he was a man, Miss Lisle, who had not the slightest sense of proportion, which is the same as saying he had no sense of humour whatever. Which rather lifted my sense of humour out of all proportion, if you can get the paradox. I mean it's made me a perfect hog for essentials, and probably till I recover my balance I shall forget about the non-essentials. My fault, of course. I apologise." He tried, with very little success, to look penitent.
"Do you keep your tongue in your cheek permanently?" she demanded with abrupt asperity.
"Beyond claiming that tongue as my own personal property, I decline to make any statement," he answered. "You might—but no."
"Might what?" She gazed straight into his eyes, coldly, angrily.
He shook his head. "We're getting nowhere," he said. "An apology merely provokes a question about the storage of my tongue."
"You'd just said that my permission to act for us was a non- essential," she accused. "Coupled the apology with that."
"Well, isn't it, now you've said you want me to act?" he demanded.
"I—but—Oh, you're impossible!" she declared angrily.
"Very well. Then I'd better withdraw altogether from the case."
"You mean you won't act for us with this American?"
"Oh, that's not all, by a long way!" he answered. "There's Kleinert still to be tried, mainly on the evidence I collected. If I withdraw—"
"You couldn't be so utterly despicable!" she interrupted fiercely.
"Oh, couldn't I? You don't know the depths to which I can descend, once I start. Don't forget I still hold Kleinert's signed agreement to pay me ten per cent of what he makes out of the colour process—"
"Mr. Green!" She clutched his arm with both hands. "You can't! Think of what this means to my mother—to me—to all of us! You can't do it, I tell you! You know the man's a murderer. Oh, I only came here to see you, to talk to you—perhaps because I thought I liked you, and you—I'll do anything, say anything you ask, if only—"
"Let it ride," he bade, interrupting her fearful harangue. "I'll stand by the Lisle family till there's skating where Kleinert will land up at the finish—land down, I mean. The whole trouble, you see, was that I wasn't properly brought up. Not that I don't know the difference between an orange stick and aromatic firewood, but I've no use for shibboleths. When your sister told me to go ahead, I just planned to go ahead. I ought, of course, to have insisted on an interview with your mother and got her permission. She's the immediate beneficiary, and can cut you clean out of any benefits, if she likes, or your sister either. D'you see? You've no standing at all, really, nor have I, lacking a document signed by your mother authorising me to act for her. I've just missed all that out, both acting and believing in good faith."
She had dropped her hands from his arm long before he had finished his explanation. At its end she looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
"Will you forgive me, please, Mr. Green?" she asked.
"Not till I see need for it," he answered. "Now have a cigarette and don't bother any more about it. Consider we're friends, eh?"
"Please." She took the cigarette, and a light, and then unashamedly wiped her eyes. "I'm such an awful fool," she explained.
"In that case, I rather like fools," he observed. "Yes, Miss Brandon?" He turned with the question as the door opened.
"Your appointment, Mr. Green," she said. "You told me to remind you."
"So I did! I'll be along one time. Miss Lisle—" as the door closed again—"the next time we meet, I may have some real news for you. Don't dump that cigarette—you've got three flights of stairs to walk down, and I abhor waste. Those cigarettes cost a bob for twenty."
She smiled up at him, invitingly. "Are you ever serious?" she asked.
"Watch me deal with an income-tax assessment," he answered. "But I really must throw you out, now. Will you promise to go quietly?"
"Meekly." She preceded him out to the corridor and along toward the outer door. Miss Brandon's door was closed, he observed.
"Wise child, though I'd hate to describe you as meek if I were filling in a form." He opened the outer door. "I won't part with the old catchword about coming up and seeing me some time, because I'd probably be out when you came up. But I'll be seeing you."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Green. Very much!"
"And don't tell Uncle Gry you've been to see me, unless you want the sack one time. He and I don't embrace if we happen to meet."
"I'll remember. Good-bye, and I'm terribly grateful to you."
He watched her down to the second floor and then closed the door.
"It's 'I,' not 'we,' " he said to himself. "Well, well, well!"
Then he entered Miss Brandon's room, and faced a well-built, clean-looking man of about his own age, who held out a hand to him.
"Mr. Green, I believe. A wireless I got on the boat—from you, wasn't it? I came right along here to get the dope on it."
"Why, sure," Gees responded. "Come along to my room, will you?"
He led the way, and produced cigarettes after his caller had seated himself. "You don't sound as American as I thought you would," he remarked. "I hope you had a good crossing."
"It was rather like being in an up-town apartment," Blomberg said. "No pep to it. I think I'll go back in a ship, not a sky- scraper."
"Staying over here long?" Gees inquired negligently, tapping the ash off his cigarette into the tray on his desk as if it were the most important thing he had ever done or thought of doing.
"Well, I guess that depends on a lot of things," Blomberg answered. "This Mr. Adolph Kleinert, now. Where do I contact him, Mr. Green?"
"In Maidstone jail," Gees answered calmly. "I had the pleasure of starting him on his way there yesterday evening. I didn't go, myself."
"Say, what are you giving me?" Blomberg, considerably perturbed, inquired.
"Nothing," Gees answered as imperturbably as ever. "I'm sitting here to sell, Mr. Blomberg, not give, and I have a hunch that you've crossed the pond to buy. Kleinert is no longer in a position to sell."
"But—but what's he been doing?" Blomberg demanded.
"Oh, nothing much," Gees told him. "Merely murdering a Mr. Robert Lisle, who discovered how to produce colours from chalk. I've seen the colours, by the way, and know the chalk colour process is going to be the only means for the production of colour, once it gets going. There's no question about that. Kleinert murdered this Mr. Robert Lisle to get possession of the process, and very nearly got away with it. Not quite, as it happened. And now I'm the vendor, if anyone's buying."
"You mean you're the owner?" Blomberg took a long time to ask it.
"Acting for the owner, say. For Robert Lisle's widow, that is."
"She is the owner, then? Have I got it right now?"
"To a certain extent, Mr. Blomberg. Kleinert, as I have told you, was arrested yesterday evening for the murder of Mr. Robert Lisle last February, when he stole from Lisle the particulars of the fixing process for these chalk colours—the final stage. He sent your firm plans and instructions for all the rest of the process, so that you could assure yourselves that the colours are all he claimed for them—but without that final stage you couldn't render them permanent. Your firm tried it out, found that the colours will displace everything else on the market, for every use there is for colours, and now you've come to buy. Yes?"
"I guess that's the size of it," Blomberg admitted.
"Very well, then. For the present, though, all I can sell you is an option to buy any rights in it that you want, and no more."
"How come?" Blomberg asked, in a puzzled way.
"Like this," Gees told him. "The formula and particulars of the fixing process for the colours are all contained in a little black leather covered note-book, the fifth of a series in which Robert Lisle recorded all his work on the process. That fifth note-book will be exhibit A in the case of Rex v. Kleinert, and till the case is finished neither I nor anyone else can get it. So what have you, and then some."
"Yes, I get it," Blomberg said slowly. "But you can sell an option, you say. Before we come to that, Mr. Green, can you work this process yourself? Do you know enough to produce the colours?"
"If you mean you want me to give you a complete demonstration, no. I'm not a chemist, nor a physicist, or what have you. I could see there was a thing that's going to sweep the world, the biggest discovery ever made in connection with colours, but I can't demonstrate it. Apart from Kleinert, who'll never demonstrate anything but a short way out of life, I don't know who could. No. If you want to prove the fixing process before buying, you've got to give guarantees that will satisfy me before you see the inside of that little black book and test for yourself."
"Do you mean there's nobody but Kleinert who knows what the fixing process actually is?" Blomberg asked, with a certain eagerness.
"I mean exactly that," Gees told him. "As a check on that, if you care to take up an option for American rights in the process, I can introduce you to Mrs. Robert Lisle, widow of the murdered man, and to both her daughters. Except for Kleinert, they were the only three people who knew anything about Lisle's researches, and they're utterly ignorant of the details of the process. They're no more chemists than I am—not so much, in fact, and utterly incapable of demonstrating anything to you."
"And you tell me this Robert Lisle worked alone at it—hadn't got any laboratory staff, nor anything of that sort?"
"Except for Kleinert, he worked entirely alone. He put up his plant for experiments at the house where Kleinert lived, and let Kleinert assist him in his experiments. Nobody else knew anything about them."
"I begin to see," Blomberg said. "And then—but didn't the widow make some claim? How did Kleinert get away with it?"
"Simply because he murdered Lisle the night after Lisle had finished his work on the fixing process. Lisle went out in a fog to go to Kleinert's to test his own work by a demonstration—test his own theoretical work, I mean. Kleinert stunned and drowned him, and took possession of the note-book containing the formula and particulars of the fixing process, and then sat on it till he got in touch with you. If you want that in more detail, you'd better attend Kleinert's trial for the murder. You'll get it in full, then, and see how I come into it, too."
"Yeah, I get it pretty clearly, now," Blomberg admitted. "But you said American rights. I don't want American rights. I want world rights in it, sole rights, and proof as far as you can give it that the secret isn't known to anyone else whatever, if we buy at all."
"Then you'll have to wait till after Kleinert is hanged," Gees answered. "With that, and the little black book number five, you'll own the secret. I don't know it, and I'm sure nobody else does."
"Sure that little black book won't get copied, are you?"
"Dead sure. It's locked away in the possession of the police, and all they're interested in is getting a conviction against Kleinert. They don't need the contents of the book for that, only for Lisle's widow or daughter to identify it as the fifth of the series containing his formulae and particulars for the process. As the one he had on him the night he was murdered—Kleinert's motive for committing the murder."
"I get it," Blomberg said yet again. "And this option you're talking about. World rights, sole rights. An option to cover till I can take over that little black book you're talking so much about, to make sure nobody is going to step in ahead of the Harten-Blomberg corporation. How much are you going to want for an option like that, Mr. Green?"
"One thousand pounds," Gees answered promptly. "It will be an option entitling you to buy the Lisle process for the production of colours from chalk, the rights in the process to be completely yours, at a price to be agreed within—let me see! Yes, within six weeks of the conviction of Adolph Kleinert on the charge of having murdered Robert Lisle."
"Gee-whiz! Five thousand dollars, or thereabouts!" Blomberg said doubtfully. "That's some figure, Mr. Green, for only an option."
"And it's some process, I'll tell the world," Gees retorted. "Take it or leave it. There's National Anilines and a few other firms in this country. There are all the big German aniline people. And you want to cut them all out, want world rights. One thousand pounds, to form part of the purchase price if you eventually take up the option, and non-returnable if you don't. Take it or leave it, that's the figure."
"I'll take it," Blomberg said. "Show me proof that you're entitled to make the deal on behalf of the owners, and we'll draw up the option on those terms. You sign it, and I hand you the cheque."
"O.K. by me," Gees agreed. "But to get proof of my competence to act, I've got to get a regular power of attorney. I can get my solicitor to come along with me, and get that fixed to-day. Look me up at this time to-morrow and have your cheque ready, will you?"
"I sure will," Blomberg answered heartily. "Y'know, I rather take to you. You appear to be a slick guy, all right."
"Curious, the police inspector had the same opinion," Gees remarked thoughtfully. "Look here, Mr. Blomberg, what about coming right along with me and seeing Mrs. Lisle and her daughter while I get the power of attorney? I can drive you and the solicitor, Kent's a pleasant county, and you can have a look at Kleinert's demonstration plant and samples of the fixed colours that he put on test as far back as last March. I can see you're on the level, and if Mrs. Lisle and her daughter feel things are beginning to move for them, they'll be on the up and up."
"Why, sure thing, Mr. Green! I guess it won't hurt me to see a bit of this country of yours. I'm your man for it."
Gees put a foot on his buzzer, and Miss Brandon appeared.
"Miss Brandon, I want you to get on to Cranmer and tell him he's either got to come himself for the day, down into Kent, or else send me somebody, at once, capable of drawing up a power of attorney when we get there and seeing it executed in proper form. And if the lady I interviewed this morning blows in or rings up, I'm not in and you don't know a thing. That's all. Make Cranmer get a move on, please."
"My Lord. Members of the jury.
"The case which I am about to summarise to you, before calling evidence in proof of every statement that I shall make, is one of cold-blooded, brutal murder. The motive for that murder, pecuniary gain. Here is no crime of passion, nor was any wrong which might invite your sympathy done to the murderer, but a deliberate, unprovoked attack, designed to clear the way to a life of wealth and ease for the murderer as committed. How nearly the man now in the dock before you came to enjoying all that he planned to gain, the evidence will reveal to you.
"Before calling that evidence, I will briefly summarise the facts of the case, that, as it proceeds, you may grasp the story as a whole.
"A little over three years ago—I will interrupt myself to say that all essential dates will be given in the course of the evidence—a little over three years ago, a Mr. Robert Tynwald Lisle, a scientist, resigned from the post he was then holding as head of the laboratories of a firm called National Anilines, and went with his wife and two daughters to live at Snoddlesdon, a Kentish village, where he devoted himself to researches into a process for the production of colours from chalk. A process which, as Mr. Earle W. Blomberg, a member of a great colour-producing firm in America, will testify is, thanks to Mr. Lisle's discovery, of very great commercial value indeed. Mr. Lisle's researches went on until the nineteenth of February last, by which time he was able to tell his wife and daughters that he had completed the process, and that fame and fortune were his at last. To tell them, but not to substantiate the telling, for on the night of the nineteenth of February he was drowned, and what had become of the essential, final part of his process they did not know. He told them he had completed the process: that was all.
"Now, some two months after his arrival in Snoddlesdon, there arrived in the village one Adolph Kleinert, now in the dock before you, but until just before his arrival an assistant in the laboratories of National Anilines, where Mr. Robert Lisle had been the head. After Mr. Lisle's resignation, Kleinert had neglected his work rather badly. Eventually, reproved for his conduct, he spat in the face of Mr. Lisle's successor. A month prior to that spitting, he had come to Snoddlesdon at the week- end, and after his dismissal he went there permanently, taking up his abode at a farmhouse that he hired at a nominal rental, almost. He proposed to work as assistant to Mr. Lisle over these researches into the colour process. Mrs. Lisle and her daughter disliked the man exceedingly, so it was arranged that he should not come to their house, but all experimental and testing work in connection with the process should be done at the farmhouse where Kleinert now lived. A room in that house still contains the plant which, at Mr. Lisle's expense and under his directions, was installed there. As to the ownership of that plant, Mr. Vincent Ashford of the Hamworthy Engineering Company will tell you that Mr. Robert Lisle ordered, gave instructions for the delivery of, and paid for an electric lighting set to be installed in Kleinert's house, and Mr. Edward Holmes of the Macquisten-Gerrard Company will testify that Mr. Robert Lisle ordered, paid for, and instructed as to delivery at Kleinert's house of various steel castings, stampings, and the like which formed the plant for experimental production of the colours from chalk.
"I stress this point, and call evidence in support of it, because I want to prove to you beyond any reasonable doubt that Mr. Robert Lisle, not the man in the dock before you, was the originator and owner of the process. Further evidence to this exists in the form of five little note-books covered in limp black leather, four of which have all the time remained in possession of Mrs. Lisle since her husband's death, and the fifth of which was recovered from Kleinert's possession at the time of his arrest for the murder of Mr. Robert Lisle. The formulae and notes in all these books are in Mr. Lisle's handwriting, and they also contain drawings, most of which relate to the steelwork purchased by Mr. Lisle from the Macquisten-Gerrard Company. Mr. Earle Blomberg will testify to you that these five books contain everything necessary for the production of colours from chalk by Mr. Lisle's process, and that the fifth, which was recovered from Kleinert, is the vital one of the five, containing as it does particulars without which the other four are valueless.
"I will take you on, now, to an inquest held at Snoddlesdon on the twentieth of last February, at which Constable Pettit deposed to searching for Mr. Robert Lisle in consequence of information received from Miss Phyllis Lisle, daughter of the deceased man, the preceding night. Constable Pettit found and recovered the body from a pond on Snoddlesdon Common. A path led round the back of this pond, and by that path Mr. Lisle had set out to go to Kleinert's house in a dense fog, the evening before—that is, the evening of February the nineteenth.
"Doctor Bourne, of Snoddlesdon, called as witness, deposed that he had examined the body, and death was due to drowning. You will hear Doctor Bourne tell you that he found on the deceased man's chest a bruise over the solar plexus—that is, where a blow would cause unconsciousness—but both Miss Phyllis and Miss Irene Lisle had assured him that Mr. Lisle had, for the first time since they could remember, taken no less than three glasses of sherry before setting out, and they were certain that he must have caused that bruise when he fell against the rotted railing which gave way so that he fell into the pond and was drowned. These two ladies also saw Inspector Gainsford, who was in charge of the inquest proceedings, and in great distress begged him to curtail all evidence as much as possible, because they were quite sure their father had struck his chest against the rail and so stunned himself, and in the dense fog, even if he had recovered consciousness in the water, had been unable to see the bank to clamber out again. They were absolutely certain that his death was the result of an accident, and for their ailing mother's sake wanted as little as possible said about it. Inspector Gainsford, being a sympathetic sort of man, did his best for them. There was nothing to arouse his suspicions, and, unfortunately, he took Doctor Bourne's word as to the bruise being accidentally caused by striking the railings round the pond. One wonders, now, why the doctor was not suspicious of a bruise forming so quickly between the time of the impact and Lisle's death: the urgent solicitations of the Misses Lisle appear to have warped his professional judgment. However, you will hear what he has to say for himself when he comes to give evidence before you.
"Adolph Kleinert was called, and deposed that he had been expecting Mr. Lisle to call on him, but had thought that the dense fog would postpone the call till the next morning. He had been dozing by his fire when a Mrs. Butt, who cooked and generally looked after his needs, had arrived at a minute or two past six and told him of the fog as soon as he wakened enough to understand what she was saying. Mrs. Butt, apparently called more for the purpose of testifying that there had been a fog than for any other purpose, stated that she had found Mr. Kleinert dozing by his fire at a minute or two past six, and that he had told her Mr. Lisle had probably put off his visit on account of the fog.
"Miss Phyllis Lisle, who had previously broken out to declare Kleinert a liar when he had given evidence to the effect that the colour process was his discovery, not her father's, was the last witness called. She told how her father had left home to go by way of the path behind the pond to Kleinert's, at about ten minutes to six by a clock which her father always kept about five minutes fast so as not to miss his train when he wanted to go to London. That is, he left the house at about a quarter to six. Even so, with Mrs. Butt's deposition that she had found Kleinert dozing by his fire, as he had said, at a minute or two past six, there was no possibility of Kleinert being concerned in Lisle's death—no reasonable possibility, that is. No suspicion attached to anyone, and the inquest terminated with a verdict of accidental death and a promise by a Mr. Paul to have the rotten railings replaced by sound ones, so that the path behind the pond should be safer in future.
"Now I must take you forward to the last Monday in September last, when Adolph Kleinert, now in the dock before you, called at the office of Mr. Gregory George Gordon Green, who prefers to call himself Gees on his business card, for fairly obvious reasons—four of them—and stated to Gees, as I will call him for convenience, that he wanted a man of his sort, that is, a confidential agent worthy of complete trust, to come and five with him at Snoddlesdon until he, Kleinert, had completed the sale of a colour process which he had discovered. Questioned by Gees, Kleinert said it was a process for the production of colours from chalk, and gave particulars of Robert Lisle's process. He said that he was haunted by what he called a nothing, and feared theft of the process before he could sell it. Eventually Gees agreed to bear him company at Snoddlesdon, took a fee of fifty pounds for his first month's duty as companion, and drew up an agreement by which, when Kleinert sold the process, he was to pay over to Gees ten per cent of the purchase price. On the Tuesday, Gees drove himself and Kleinert to Snoddlesdon, and took up residence in Kleinert's house. Let me say before I forget it that Gees returned that fifty pounds, and it is probably now forming some part of the retainer of my learned friend who appears for the defence.
"Concerning Gees' experiences in that house, he will tell you that he saw and felt enough to convince him that Kleinert either was or believed himself haunted, but only in the hours of darkness or during periods of fog. At liberty to do as he liked in clear daylight, Gees made a few inquiries. He heard at the village inn that Mr. Robert Lisle had bought sherry there on the evening of the eighteenth of February, and had then declared he was on the eve of a fortune in consequence of his work on chalk. Gees also learned that Kleinert was very unpopular indeed, and there was an impression that he had stolen Lisle's discovery from the widow and daughters. Then Gees got in touch with Miss Phyllis Lisle, and, questioning her, as she will tell you in evidence, got nearer to the actual facts, though not yet near enough. He will tell you that he then believed Kleinert guilty not only of theft of the process, but of murder as well, and knew that his mere belief was not enough. He must get proof before he could take any action. Having spent two years in the police force before setting up his confidential agency, he knew a little about police work, to say the least of it.
"Kleinert, in addition to paying an initial fifty pounds, had bound himself to pay Gees ten per cent of the price of the process, as soon as he had sold it. When I tell you that he expected to make from thirty to forty thousand pounds by the sale, and that ten per cent would thus be between three and four thousand pounds, you will understand that Gees' belief in Kleinert's guilt must have been strong to cause him to take action against the man who was employing and would pay him.
"He did take action. He went on seeing Miss Phyllis Lisle for the purpose of learning all he could from her. He inspected the scene of Robert Lisle's death, though with scant hope of finding anything bearing on the crime at that length of time, nearly eight months after the tragedy. But, half concealed by a big tuft of grass, within thirty to forty yards of Lisle's front gate, he found an empty fusee box and the stalks of six burned fusees—the old-fashioned, smelly things smokers once used and hardly anyone has so much as seen, let alone used, nowadays. But Gees had noticed that Kleinert always used them to light his cigars, never used ordinary matches. A representative of Messrs Rolls and Bateman, tobacconists, will inform you and produce orders from Kleinert to show that his firm supplied Kleinert with his cigars, and with fusees by the gross of boxes at a time, and exhibit B in the case, consisting of earth containing the tuft of grass, with the empty box and fusee stalks partly under it, will prove to you that that empty box is the same brand as those supplied to Kleinert. Six fusees, all in the same place, point to a long period of waiting there. My learned friend appearing for the defence may be able to produce evidence to show that Kleinert waited within forty yards of Lisle's house at some time other than the night of the nineteenth of last February, but I doubt it. That he did wait there, the six fusees and empty box go to prove, and I tell you that he waited until Lisle came to him in the fog, when he stunned the unfortunate man by a blow over the solar plexus, and carried him—Lisle was a slightly built lightweight, as evidence will be produced to tell you—carried him along to the edge of the pond, and threw him against the rotted railings, breaking them down and precipitating the victim into the pond, where Kleinert waited on the bank until sure that Lisle was drowned, before proceeding home to await the inquest.
"But the time, you will ask. How could he do it in the time, since it was a quarter to six when Lisle left his house, and only a minute or two past the hour when Mrs. Butt found Kleinert dozing by his fire? Gees pondered this. He had made friends, in a way, with Mrs. Butt, and now he descended on her at her home. By assuming greater knowledge than he actually had, he got from her the confession that she had not told the truth at the inquest on Robert Lisle. She had not found Kleinert dozing by his fire at two or three minutes past six. Owing to the fog, the worst she had ever experienced in Snoddlesdon, as she has already testified and will testify again to you, she had not reached Kleinert's house until fully a quarter past six, and perhaps even later than that. Kleinert had caught up with her at the gate leading to the house, she will tell you. He had told her that he expected Mr. Lisle to call on him, but probably Mr. Lisle would not turn out in the fog. Still, supposing he did, something might happen to him, and then there would be an inquest. Mark that, members of the jury, when Mrs. Butt tells you it in evidence as Kleinert's statement to her, less than half an hour after Lisle had drowned in the pond! Not that Lisle might be injured, or lost in the fog, but that there would be an inquest. And, if Mrs. Butt were called in evidence at that inquest, Kleinert had a tale he wanted her to tell in place of the truth. At that time, the wage she earned from Kleinert and her husband's sick pay were all she had for the support of that sick husband and an idiot son, and she dared not do other than what Kleinert ordered. He coached her in that story of arriving at a minute or two past six and finding him dozing by the fire until he was sure she was word-perfect in it, and threatened her with instant dismissal if she did not tell it at the inquest. You will hear her state this in evidence in the course of this case, and must decide for yourselves whether she is now telling the truth or no. Since it is a confession of having committed perjury at the inquest, I fail to see what she has to gain if this story is untrue. She risked at least her liberty in ever making it, but, in view of the way in which Kleinert played on her love for her husband and son to make her perjure herself, I may say that no action against her is contemplated.
"With her story, Gees felt it was time for him to move. He did move, very thoroughly. He proved to his own satisfaction that the colour process was discovered by Robert Lisle, and not by Kleinert. You ask how he did this, of course. Simply by getting in touch with the Hamworthy Engineering Company and with the Macquisten-Gerrard Company and finding out that Lisle had paid for all that was necessary to make experiments and prove the process step by step. Then there were the four note-books in possession of the Lisles. He got from Miss Phyllis Lisle one of those note-books, convinced as he was that Kleinert had stolen the missing one at the time that he committed the murder, and making as sure as he could that the one he obtained was exactly like it. He hoped Kleinert had not destroyed that fifth note- book, hoped too that by displaying it he would cause Kleinert to disclose where the fifth was hidden—and he had a pretty good idea that it was in a locked drawer of the sideboard in Kleinert's farmhouse. But he gave up the idea of displaying his duplicate, and instead got in touch with Inspector Gainsford. The two of them interviewed Mrs. Butt and together got from her a repetition of her story as to Kleinert having coached her in a false statement at the inquest. They went together to look at the empty box and fusee stalks which the inspector subsequently had dug up, grass and earth and all, to form exhibit B in this case. They interviewed Doctor Bourne, and Gees offered him five hundred pounds if he could contrive to fall into the pond in a way that would produce such a bruise as he described to them and in the course of his evidence here will describe to you. They arranged that Gees should go back to Kleinert's as usual, while Inspector Gainsford interviewed Miss Phyllis Lisle and obtained from her confirmation of Lisle's ownership of five note-books, one of which was missing: of her own and her sister's anxiety to curtail the inquest proceedings as much as possible, mainly because of those three glasses of sherry her father had taken before setting out for Kleinert's on the fatal evening, and all she could remember of her father's claim that he had discovered the colour process. With that, Inspector Gainsford picked up Constable Pettit, and proceeded to Kleinert's to make the arrest.
"Gees, as I have said, had arrived some time before these two. At about half-past six, he displayed the note-book Miss Phyllis Lisle had entrusted to him. Kleinert instantly became furious and accused him of stealing the little book which contained the final, vital particulars of the process—"the great secret of the colour process" were his words for it. He had already demonstrated all but that vital, final part, for Gees to see for himself, on Lisle's plant installed in the farmhouse. He threatened Gees with a carving knife to make him give up the book—and at that point Inspector Gainsford and Constable Pettit entered the room. Gainsford made the arrest, and in the sideboard drawer, which he had to unlock with keys taken from Kleinert, found the missing fifth note-book, exhibit A in this case. Miss Phyllis Lisle is evidence that the four preceding books have been in her and her mother's possession until she handed one of them to Gees, and that fifth book itself is eloquent evidence, in that every word written in it is in the same handwriting as appears in the other four. It was to get possession of that book, and thus render himself able to claim the colour process as his own after a discreet interval of time, that the man in the dock before you foully and brutally murdered Robert Lisle on the nineteenth of February last.
"Now, as to the motive for this crime. You may be already asking yourselves—since the discovery was so obviously Robert Lisle's work, why did not his widow or daughters come forward and claim it? To which the reply is that without the fifth note-book, which Kleinert very foolishly kept instead of destroying, they could not claim that Lisle had completed the process. They could prove by means of the four note-books in their possession that he had carried it up to a certain point, but Mr. Earle Blomberg will tell you that, if only carried to that point, it is valueless, merely an experiment for producing pretty but useless colours, since they begin to fade within a few minutes of being produced. The fifth note-book tells how to fix those colours, render them permanent and unfading, and, if Kleinert had only destroyed it after making himself master of its contents, he could have claimed that the crowning work on the process was his, not Lisle's, and that therefore it was his property. That book, together with Mrs. Butt's evidence, will be mainly instrumental in securing for him the punishment he deserves.
"Again you may ask—is not this rather a fantastic story? Does it not belong more to the realm of fiction than to that of sober fact? Is it credible that this discovery is of such value that a man will commit murder to get possession of it? The reply to that will be presented to you by Mr. Blomberg, who will produce letters to show that Kleinert offered the process to the Harten-Blomberg Corporation of America in return for the sum of forty thousand pounds—and many a murder has been committed for a far less sum than that. Yes, you may say, Kleinert asked that sum as payment for rights in the process, but could he get it? In reply to that, Gees, or Mr. Green, will tell you that he holds a power of attorney from Mrs. Lisle, empowering him to transact all necessary business in the sale of the process, and that, acting on that power of attorney, he has granted to the Harten-Blomberg Corporation an option to purchase sole rights in the process, not at Kleinert's valuation of it, but for no less than fifty thousand pounds, it being understood that the contents of the fifth note-book shall remain inviolate and be known only to such persons as the Harten-Blomberg Corporation may see fit to communicate them. Further to that, I can tell you and Mr. Blomberg will state in evidence that he has already paid one thousand pounds for the option alone, and will forfeit that sum to Mrs. Lisle if his corporation do not eventually buy the process from her.
"My lord, and members of the jury, I have outlined this case as nearly as I have been able in narrative form, not confining myself to the order in which witnesses will be called to support the narrative. Neither now, nor in any concluding speech which I may think is necessary to complete the case for the Crown, will I indulge in pleading or rhetoric. Let the facts alone speak. I am quite content with the effect they will produce on your minds, quite certain as to your verdict.
"Now, as first witness in the case, I call Gregory George Gordon Green."
A THIN drizzle of rain dulled the chromium and cellulose of the Rolls-Bentley as it stood before the living room window. The garden beyond the car, as Gees looked out, was even more desolate in appearance than when Kleinert had lived here, its untended vegetation rotted down, and the young green shoots of spring not yet visible. At a sound behind him Gees turned back, and saw that Mrs. Butt had entered.
"D'you like some tea or somethin' while you're waitin', sir?"
"No, thank you," he answered. "My callers are about due, now."
"Y'know, sir, I never did think I'd ever light that there fire again, but we never do know what's goin' to 'appen, do we?"
"The only two certainties are death and the income tax demand note," he said gravely. "A spot more coal on it, now you are here, I think."
"Yes, sir," and she went to the fireplace and took the shovel to comply. It was a new, small fire, not like Kleinert's great warmths.
"And how are things, Mrs. Butt?" Gees inquired.
"Well, sir, I can't complain. Godwinsford suits me 'usband a lot better'n this place ever did, an' 'is job is better'n the one he 'ad on the railway, a lot better. An' 'is asthma don't trouble 'im like it used. Miss Lisle's been very good to us. It was 'er 'eard of the job, p'raps you know, sir. Got it for 'im, she did, reely. An' Jimmy don't give no trouble. 'E's a good boy, my Jimmy. Though what with 'im, and me 'usband, I 'as me hands full."
"Inevitably," Gees commented. "Now that'll be which of 'em? Gainsford, I expect. Will you go and throw him in here, Mrs. Butt?"
She went out, and, as Gainsford entered the room, put her head in to say—"It was Mr. Gainsford, sir," and disappeared.
"A welcome statement of the obvious," Gees remarked as he offered his hand. "Glad to see you, Gainsford. How are you?"
"Oh, chirpy, you know, Mr. Green. Quite chirpy."
"Splendid. And you've brought the goods, I hope?"
Gainsford took from his breast pocket and held out a small, black leather covered book, and, as Gees took it, he saw that it still bore a label inscribed—"Exhibit A."
"Got it on your signature, Mr. Green, and I don't mind saying I'm damned glad to get rid of it. I hope it's the last time I ever have to carry anything worth fifty thousand pounds about with me."
"Not negotiable, though," Gees pointed out. "That is, except in one quarter. And now, since I asked you to get it and make this trip at this particular time—well, call it expenses."
Gainsford took the slip of paper that Gees offered him, unfolded it, and then held it out and shook his head. It was a five pound note.
"Oh, no, Mr. Green!" he said. "This is the first chance of a talk I've had since the trial, and there wasn't much chance to talk to you there, either. Apart from anything else, I'm glad to be able to thank you for all you did, and the way you did it."
"Nice of you," Gees remarked, "but I guess there's a Mrs. Gainsford and a lot of little Gainsfords tucked away somewhere. Put it on them if you don't want it for yourself, and call it a day. And I was glad you came out of the case with bouquets, for it certainly wasn't your fault that Kleinert got away with the inquest as he did."
"Well, it's very good of you, Mr. Green," Gainsford put the note away. "For my part, I'm glad to see as I did by the papers that you got a good share of the thunder, even though you didn't steal any of mine. That agency of yours must be flourishing now, I'd say."
"I don't think Eve Madeleine gets through quite as many novels as she used," Gees replied mystifyingly.
"I don't quite get that," Gainsford said.
"No. Well, never mind. It wasn't only for the book I asked you to come along, though. I hope to complete a transaction here to- day, and there may be a spot of signing I'd like a responsible man like you to witness. The blinkin' Yank is a trifle late—no, though, here he is. Daimler hire, by gum!" He observed the big car drawn up in rear of his own. "Two men and—hullygee! A sledge hammer! I call you to witness, inspector, I ain't done nuthin' to deserve that!"
Mrs. Butt went to the door to admit Earle W. Blomberg, who looked very cheerful as he entered the living room, and the two—evidently mechanics—who followed him in. Gees shook hands with him.
"You'll remember Inspector Gainsford, I expect?"
"I sure do," Blomberg assented, and shook hands with Gainsford in turn. "I've fetched these guys to help on that demonstration set you told me about. But say, hasn't anyone else turned up here?"
"So that's why you fetched a sledge hammer, is it?" Gees queried. "No, the victim is not here. We're the lot."
"Then it look likes things have not gone according to plan," Blomberg said. "Well, maybe there's time, yet. But now what about things? Did you get hold of that fifth book of the series?"
"Ready to produce after you've had your demonstration—and in exchange for the cheque you told me you'd bring," Gees answered. "But I don't think the demonstration will work. There isn't an ampere in the accumulators, they want filling with distilled water, and the engine won't start. So what have you, or thereabouts."
"Guess I'm not worried," Blomberg said. "Where's the set?"
"In a room upstairs. Need I tell you again that it won't work?"
"Not unless you feel you must," Blomberg answered. "Let's go see it. C'mon, you fellers. There may be a job for you to do."
Gees led the way, and Gainsford brought up the rear of the little procession. In the big back room upstairs, Blomberg took a long look at the demonstration set, the engine, dynamo, and accumulators.
"I'm buying, Mr. Green," he said. "You throw this lot in with the little black book, don't you?"
"If you feel like wanting it," Gees agreed.
"Yeah. But I'll give you the lighting set back. All I want is them ten little chaps on the shelves." He nodded at the ten little pieces of enclosed mechanism. "Except, when I've taken them, I want you to put your hand on your heart an' say there's not a soul living, now Kleinert's walked his last walk—not a soul living that could reconstruct them ten things or work the colour process."
"Except your people—you made a duplicate of that set, I expect."
"We sure did. Apart from us, I mean. Nobody else knows."
"I can assure you, on my word of honour, that I don't know," Gees told him. "Since the other four books, except for the one I borrowed, have never been out of Mrs. Lisle's possession since her husband's death, and since the only person he ever admitted to his confidence over the process was Kleinert, you buy the whole secret if you buy at all."
"That goes with me, and I buy. Now, you chaps, disconnect them ten things and get 'em off the shelves. Pile 'em in a heap on the floor."
"You mean you don't want any demonstration?" Gees asked, as the two men advanced and began work with tools they took from their pockets.
"Nope," Blomberg answered. "We built that set, like you said. Only we found we could combine the first four into two, so there's only eight processes instead of ten. Likewise I got all the plans back from the Macquisten-Gerrard people, so they can't rebuild even the bits if anyone knew how to put 'em together. Yeah, I guess it's our secret."
"When you've paid for it," Gees reminded him.
"The cheque's in my pocket, signed and ready," Blomberg said.
They waited, and presently the ten little metal cases were neatly stacked on the floor of the room in front of the petrol engine.
"Good enough," Blomberg said. "Never mind about them conveyor belts or anything but the machines. Now, you with the sledge. Smash 'em up, pound the lot to hell. Get busy—they're my property."
After a pause of incredulity the man with the sledge hammer complied, and dealt the pile a series of blows that set the floor and walls quivering. Eventually Blomberg held up his hand and looked at the result of his man's work, a little pile of bent and shattered and unrecognisable metal and vulcanite. He nodded grave approval.
"The man that could reconstruct that lot and produce colours from chalk with it may be livin' on Mars," he observed. "I'm dead certain he don't exist on this earth. Now, Mr. Green, I'm rather up a stump. I want book number five, which clinches the deal, and for that I am empowered to hand you the certified cheque of the Harten-Blomberg Corporation for the agreed amount, said cheque made out to Mrs. Lisle as we agreed when we talked this over in your office. But, unfortunately, there are two cheques, and I've only brought one, which is for forty-four thousand pounds sterling, and not a cent more. The other ain't here."
"Six thousand short," Gees said. "I'm not parting with the book on that, Mr. Blomberg. You agreed fifty thousand."
"Five thousand short, not six," Blomberg objected. "You had one thousand for the option, which was to be part of the price if I bought."
Standing silent as he pondered the situation, and quite determined not to hand over the black note-book for anything short of the agreed price, Gees heard the front door of the house close. Blomberg heard it too, and moved toward the door of the room.
"C'mon down," he bade. "I guess that's the other cheque."
He led the way. Mrs. Butt emerged from the living room, and he was first to enter. Gees heard him ask—"Oh, honey, I sure am glad you got here! What's the delay?"—and saw Phyllis Lisle with both her hands held in Blomberg's as she looked up at him.
"The train was late," she answered. "I couldn't—why, Inspector Gainsford!" For he had followed the others into the room. "There's nothing wrong, is there?"
"Not that I know of, Miss Lisle," he answered. "I'm a mere spectator to-day, not an active party. And if I might indulge in a trifle of American, I'll tell the world it's some show."
"But there's a deficiency in the gate money," Gees remarked.
"Nary defish," Blomberg assured him. "Phyllis and I staged this little show, and all that's gone wrong is a late train. All right, now, and she's got the other cheque. It was her mother's idea, for a start. If you'll produce the little black book, we'll fix things." He took a wallet from his pocket, and extracted a cheque. "Have a look at that, too. Forty-four thousand sterling, all in order, because a man don't start his married life by doing the dirty on his mother-in-law. Phyllis here would comb my hair if I did, I guess. Hand him the other, honey, and let me get my hands on that book."
The girl produced another cheque and handed it to Gees. He read it, and then offered it back to her, but she shook her head.
"No, I'm not taking that," he said. The cheque was made out to "G. G. G. Green, Esq.," and was for five thousand pounds.
"You are," she said firmly. "It's my mother's wish that you should. But for you, Kleinert would have had every penny paid for the colour process, and my mother would still be living in this air that's poison to her, instead of—she went to the pictures with me last night, Wilbur."
"Did she, honey? She'll be tangoing in night clubs soon, unless you and me get married quick and get back to good old Chi with her. Say, Mr. Green, you got the full price now, and can pass that big one on to Phyllis to take along to her mother. And what about the little book?"
"Well, it's more than generous of your mother, Miss Lisle," Gees said. "Here's the book, Blomberg—and here's your mother's cheque, Miss Lisle." He handed over both articles.
"And since it's all in the family, I guess we don't need receipts, any of us," Blomberg observed. He turned the pages of the little book, and then, moving over to the fireplace, dropped it in among the reddest coals and stood to watch it burn.
"Here, what are you doing?" Gees shouted.
"'T's all right," Blomberg said calmly. "I've paid for it."
"Yes, but—what about the vital part of the colour process?"
"Oh, boy!" Blomberg said, "we got brains in America as good as you got here, I guess, though I'll own none of 'em ever stumbled on Robert Lisle's colour process, nor would. But when Kleinert sent us all but the fixing process, the Harten-Blomberg chemists got busy, and before I put that book to burn I saw the catalyst formula, exactly the same as our fellers got out, temperature and all. So I don't want that book."
"Then why buy it?" Gees asked, puzzled. "If you already had the whole of the process, why buy it?"
"So's nobody else can ever have it," Blomberg answered. "I got the specimens Kleinert made and dated and that box of colours you handed me, the one he'd kept, and now the Harten-Blomberg Corporation can kill the lot. Maybe some grandson of mine can take it out of the safe next century and reckon to work it. Till then, it stops."
"D'you mean you won't make these colours?" Gees demanded incredulously. "Man, that's criminal! You're killing the most beautiful things I've ever seen—or ever will see, in the way of colours."
"Yeah?" Blomberg half-questioned. "Mr. Green, the Harten- Blomberg is a three-million-dollar corporation, producing colours from normal sources and employing near on a thousand skilled and unskilled men. We are just one corner. There's the German fabriks and the French and English companies, aniline producers and all the rest—millions and millions of capital and thousands and thousands of workers—and this process, if we worked it, would upset industry and throw men out of employment all over the world. It can't be done. Samuel Blomberg has said it shall not be done, and it won't. That's why I crossed the pond. I've talked it out with Phyllis and her mother, and they agree with me. It just can't be done, and Harten-Blomberg will not do it. We are not paying all that fifty thousand, either. A word to the other producers as to what we've got and what we could do with it, and what we paid for it, and we'll levy a sort of—I'm not calling it blackmail, because it's not that. Whitemail, say. It's up to the industry to pay to save itself, not up to Harten- Blomberg only. See, big boy?"
"I don't see," Gees persisted. "You're killing beauty."
"Maybe we are, but we're keeping one heck of a lot of men at work and seeing they get their meal tickets on pay day. That's my point."
After a pause Gees shrugged. "Oh, well!" he said, rather acidly. "Anyhow—" he recovered his normal manner—"I congratulate you on obviously taking back with you what will prove of far greater value than even the colour process, and—Miss Lisle—I hope you will be just as happy as you deserve, in which case you'll be the happiest woman in the States. Please tell your mother I'm sincerely grateful to her, will you? I understand she's going to America with you."
"On the Queen Mary," Blomberg put in. "I'd rather gone back in a ship, but it's Phyllis's say-so, for that trip."
"Wilbur, you didn't say you didn't want to go by the Queen Mary," Phyllis pointed out. "I will tell my mother, Mr. Green, but it's we who are grateful to you, and always will be."
"Say, honey," Blomberg said abruptly, "if Mr. Green will excuse us, I guess we'll hum along. This place appears to me to have a chill about it, somehow, which ain't too good for you, I guess."
It was true—Gees recognised the chill. Not such as he had known when Kleinert had been in the room, not of such numbing intensity. Yet there was a cold presence with them, an invisibility that to his sense questioned, sought, was not quite satisfied...
Gainsford shivered suddenly. "Mr. Blomberg is right," he said. "The room certainly does feel cold. I hadn't noticed it before."
"I'm quite ready," Gees concurred. "We'll go, and Mrs. Butt can lock up."
Had Robert Lisle been alive, he knew, he would never have let Blomberg nor anyone else kill his life's work.
Though Kleinert had paid the penalty for his crime, Lisle was not satisfied.
"It's your father, I think, Mr. Green. General Green, he said."
"Pass him along, Miss Brandon. I'll deal with him."
General Sir George Green entered the room, gazed at his son standing behind the desk, and, very evidently, tried the pile of the carpet with his feet and approved it as something out of the ordinary.
"Morning, father. You'll find that chair quite comfortable. I must warn you before you say a thing that my fee for an initial consultation is two guineas. Do sit down, and then I can, too."
The general looked hard at him, and did not sit down.
"This—er—this business of the man Kleinert, Gordon."
"The late Kleinert," Gees corrected him. "It's a month since they hanged him, and the tumult and the shouting are both dead too. I assure you that chair is quite comfortable."
"Possibly. The affair seems to have shown that you—er—you have a certain amount of brains, though the press exaggerates everything, I know. But—er—also I am glad to see that that infernal mumps to murder advertisement of yours no longer appears."
"No need," Gees told him. "The press has exaggerated so much that Eve—my secretary, I mean—is so busy she can't read even one novel a day, now. At least, I've seen the same one on her desk two days running. Inquiries from all over the place."
"A—er—yes. I think I will sit down." He lowered himself into the armchair. "Confound it, what is this? A disappearing trick? All right, Gordon, I merely sat much further down than I expected to do. But that advertisement. May I take it that you will not renew it?"
"Not for the present, certainly."
"I have come to ask you not to renew it at all," the general said.
"Well, well! I might get something else in the alliterative line. 'Give your griefs to Gees,' or 'Come to the Capable Consultant' or even—well, never mind. For the present I'm not advertising."
"And I trust, if you ever do again, you will compile the advertisements in a way that will not make me shudder every time I take up a newspaper in my club. In that hope, and—er—realising that over this Kleinert case you appear to have justified your existence for the first time in your life—"
"Have a heart, father!" Gees interrupted. "You forget the Kestwell case, surely."
"I do not forget anything, and I must ask you to have the goodness not to interrupt while I am talking," the general retorted sharply. "As I say, you appear to have justified your existence, and therefore I am thinking of altering my will again. I don't see why my brother Gregory's son should benefit through my demise, and—er—I intend, subject to your refraining from those disgraceful advertisements, to bequeath the Shropshire estate and practically everything else to you."
"Well, that's very nice indeed of you, father, and long may I be kept out of 'em. But I'd like to make a suggestion, if you don't mind. It is that you should keep both wills—don't leave 'em in the family deed box at the solicitor's, but keep 'em both yourself. Then, when you feel yourself about to shuffle out of this mortal bother, you can burn either Bill or me, and the other one gets the goods. Otherwise, with a new will every six months or thereabouts, first Bill and then me, and then Bill again, that solicitor will get all the kale in cost of wills."
"Get all the what?" the general inquired incisively.
"Money, father," Gees said meekly.
"That was not the word you first used!" his father snapped. "And I am perfectly capable of managing my own affairs, thank you. But do not let us quarrel, now I have climbed those infernal stairs and see you in this place of yours, with that exceedingly charming secretary."
"Eve Madeleine? Oh, yes, she's decorative as well as useful. One must maintain a decent shop window, you know. Oh, come in!" He called the last words in answer to a knock on the door. "Yes, Miss Brandon?"
"Miss Lisle, Mr. Green. Shall I send her away?"
"Yes—no, though. In your room, is she?"
"Yes. I told her I'd see if you were in."
"All right—you stay here and I'll go along and see her. You won't mind Miss Brandon being in here for a minute or two, father?"
"Delighted, I'm sure." With an effort the general got out of the armchair as Gees, closing the door, went to Miss Brandon's room.
"Well, Miss Lisle." He noted that she was dressed far differently from the style she had affected when he had last seen her. "I thought you'd have started for the States by this time. How are you?"
"Oh, very well indeed, thank you," she answered as she shook hands. "I should have been to see you before, but we were so busy over the wedding and everything. I simply couldn't. And I'm not going to the States at all. I saw mother and Phyllis—and Wilbur, of course—off on the Queen Mary, and now I've got my own little flat just opposite South Kensington station. And I'm giving a flat-warming party next Monday evening, and came to ask if I could count on you."
"Monday evening." He appeared to reflect over it. "I'm afraid I can't manage that, Miss Lisle—"
"Oh, but you must!" she interrupted. "I've counted on you more than anyone else, looked forward so much to seeing you again. A cocktail party beginning at six, but if you could come in later—I do so want to talk to you and tell you how grateful I am for all you've done."
He shook his head. "'Fraid it can't be done—I shall not be in London on Monday, so you see it's quite impossible."
"Oh, I am sorry! When can you come and see me, then?"
"I'm so terribly busy these days, that's the trouble. Are you on the telephone, by any chance?"
"Not yet. I've only just moved in, you see. But it's being installed—I've filled in the form and signed it."
"Splendid. You send me one of those cards the post office people fix for you as soon as you've got it in, and then I can ring up and let you know. Now you really must excuse me. I've broken off in the middle of a most important interview specially to come and see you, and mustn't leave my client for another moment. Do forgive me and go meekly, and don't forget to send me that card when your telephone's in."
"You're quite sure you can't get there on Monday?"
"It's absolutely impossible. I'm very sorry, but it is. Good- bye, Miss Lisle, I do appreciate your looking me up like this."
Closing the outer door on her, he went almost noiselessly along the corridor, and heard his father's voice.
"But, my dear girl! A bank clerk! And you Jim Brandon's niece, you tell me! Well, I suppose you know what you're doing—you young people of to-day will do as you please. Your father was a very great friend of mine, years ago, and I should be sorry to see his daughter—but it's no business of an old fogey like me, of course. Well, my dear child, I can only wish you every happiness, and at the same time hope you may stay here yet awhile to keep that scamp of a son of mine—"
Then Gees opened the door and walked in.
"Ah, here you are, Gordon! I was just congratulating your very charming secretary on her engagement. Daughter of one of my greatest friends, I find. Mind you treat her well as long as she condescends to work here with you."
"I'll make a point of it, father. Miss Brandon, if that Miss Lisle shows up here again, tell her I've got a job in the rolling mills at the North Pole, turning out snowballs for the export trade. Tell her anything on earth except that I'll see her."
"I'll make a note of it, Mr. Green."
"And I will make my way down those stairs," the general said. "Do not forget about that advertisement, Gordon. I am seeing my solicitor to-day, and—er—I congratulate you on your conduct in this Kleinert case."
"Ah! The usual stack." Gees gazed at the pile of opened letters on Miss Brandon's desk. "Between parents and beautiful damsels, we're a trifle held up this morning. Anything special?"
Miss Brandon looked up at him. "I feel like sending the whole lot back without troubling you over them," she answered.
"Then do so by all means," he bade. "We've made five thousand two hundred and fifty pounds this year, and it isn't Christmas time yet. Also I have great faith in your judgment, Miss Brandon, except over your failing to tell me that my father knew yours."
"I don't see why it should interest you," she said coldly. "I came here to work as a machine, the other half of your typewriter. I leave my personal affairs outside this office."
"That being so, you can decline all those inquiries for me. Type my name and initial 'em, please—no, initial 'em for Gees, not my name. I'll be out for the rest of the day."
He went along to his bedroom, and stood musing for a minute or so.
"What the devil's wrong now?" he asked himself. "If that blasted bank clerk has been upsetting her, I'll get hold of him somehow and wring his infernal neck. And she's one of those Brandons the old man knows, and I never guessed it. Bank clerk—Oh, hell! Not even a manager! She's much too good for that."
Seated at her desk, Miss Brandon gazed idly at the pile of inquiries, and, smiling slightly, reflected that she would appear on the morrow without the ring. Gees would be sure to notice its absence, and she could tell him the engagement was broken off. Then—
She did not know. But, by the look she had seen on his face when she had spoken of being the other half of his typewriter, he was beginning to show signs of waking up.