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E. CHARLES VIVIAN

CIGAR FOR INSPECTOR HEAD

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First published by Ward, Lock & Co., London, 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-03-24
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"Cigar for Inspector Head," Ward Lock & Co., London


TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER I. — MAINLY TESTAMENTARY

"MR. GARRATT to see you, sir."

The young man who had been looking out from the window of the big room, which faced on to one of the residential squares of London's West-end, turned in response to the maid's announcement, and in the movement revealed the lithe alertness of a trained athlete. He was tall and pleasantly ugly, dark-haired and brown-eyed, and the momentary, yet keen gaze of his eyes passed from the door and the woman holding it to the fireplace. He threw his half-smoked cigarette—it was a long shot from where he stood—in among the glowing coals, and then followed it as far as the hearthrug in a leisurely fashion.

"Come in, Garratt."

A middle-aged man, responding to the invitation, appeared as a portly figure in a well-cut morning coat suit, with a clean-shaven, mobile face and his scalp beginning to show through the thinned hair on the top of his head. He looked like an actor, but was one of the best-known and cleverest art and antique dealers in London. He was, too, a scrupulously honest man, and the phrase "vetted by Garratt" was synonymous with a guarantee from Christie's. There was significance in the fact that, as he entered the room and the maidservant closed the door, he cast a look round the apartment itself before turning to greet its owner: it was a mere, brief glance; yet, as the other man knew, it was practically an inventory.

"Yes," said Garratt's glance, "they are still all there." The head of the Virgin by Michelangelo; the almost priceless pieces of Chinese jade in a glass-fronted cabinet by themselves; the two cups Cellini had wrought; the golden quetzal bird that Cortes had sent to Spain as part of the royal share of Aztec spoils, and other things of like rarity and beauty, treasures which their owner chose to have about him in this room, still unburgled, untouched. And that owner, nodding a friendly greeting, getting out his cigarette case.

"Good, morning, Sir Denis."

"Do sit down, Garratt. Cigarette? No? Well, I will. I want to talk to you—another commission. Have you seen the Times this morning—seen that Ward Keller is dead, I mean?"

"To be quite frank, Sir Denis, I haven't had time to give more than a glance at any paper, yet." Garratt seated himself in the armchair Sir Denis Kingsward had indicated for him, and the younger man perched himself on the arm of the chair opposite, so that he looked down at the dealer. "But Ward Keller is dead, is he?"

"It's just the usual obituary announcement. The funeral is at Carden, to-morrow. I want you to go down, because I want the first choice out of Keller's collection. It's practically certain that the contents of the will will be made known after the funeral—to those benefiting by it, that is—and it's fairly obvious that Keller's nephew, young Bertram Davis, will inherit."

"I should say probable rather than obvious," Garratt commented reflectively. "Old Keller must have known what Davis is, and he'd be just as likely to leave everything to a museum."

"No." It was a very decided negative. "I know a little about Ward Keller—I met him twice, and heard a good deal about him as well. He hated museums more than he could possibly dislike his nephew, and to the best of my knowledge there is no other possible heir. And this Davis is a drunken young waster, almost certain to want to sell, possibly as much as I want to buy. So if you go down—"

He broke off, flicked the ash off his cigarette into the fender, and looked questioningly at Garratt, who nodded assent in a slow, meditative way. There was a doubt in the gesture.

"I can't see young Davis as Keller's heir, Sir Denis," he said. "Of course I'll go to Carden for you—"

"If it comes to that, can you see me as the owner of the Kingsward collection?" The interruption had a tinge of amusement in it.

Garratt looked at the man before him, a bronzed, healthy being, just entering on his thirties, and in appearance essentially an outdoor man, not the type one would associate with art collections or antiques. But, knowing him, the dealer smiled a little.

"It's different, Sir Denis. I know you're proud of all your father left you, an enthusiastic amateur, one might say, and—if I may make the remark to your face—you've got knowledge and taste, as well as the money to back them. So I'm pleased to act for you, at any time."

"This time, for instance," Kingsward suggested. "I'll treasure the compliment, for I've never caught you saying more than you mean."

"I don't, usually," Garratt answered rather drily. "But I don't know much about this collection of Keller's. From all I've heard, he hoarded, and never displayed anything he had. I'll just go down when you think fit, and carry out your instructions—"

"Which will have to be fairly comprehensive," Kingsward interrupted again. "Very few people know anything definite about Keller's collection, but it happens that a distant connection of mine, a Miss Grey, was the old man's secretary for the last three years of his life. I've never met her, but I knew her father, and he told me a good deal. He died about six months ago, and this daughter of his told him a good deal about Keller's treasures that he passed on to me. He had fine tastes, and knew my interest in things of this sort."

"As do a good many other people," Garratt commented.

"Possibly, but since being swindled once I've never bought without coming to you for your opinion first, if there were any question of authenticity, so we'll take that as read. Keller, you must know, was eccentric to the last degree, and a detestable old devil as well, on the two occasions I met him. He built 'The Strong Box,' as he named his house at Carden, to hold his collection. It is a strong box, too, as perhaps you know, and as nearly safe as a place can be made."

"Not like this." Garratt smiled as he made the observation.

"Oh, I know you've told me about fifty times how unsafe my treasures are here." Kingsward laughed a little as he spoke. "Think again, Garratt—this room faces on to a London square, with a policeman practically always in sight, and it's on the second floor. Every piece I keep here is known to dealers all over the world—unsaleable by any thief. If the quetzal there were melted down, the gold in it wouldn't be worth fifty pounds at the outside. Nothing here is worth a burglar's risk, so forget it, and let's consider the Keller collection."

"Well, yes, Sir Denis," Garratt agreed, "since it's your reason for asking me to call and see you this morning. You were saying—about this Strong Box. A unique place, I believe."

"Unique it is—there have been two or three descriptions of it in newspapers, as an example of burglar-proofing. He had it built with the idea of keeping his treasures available to himself—and out of sight and reach of everyone else. First, in the very middle of the house, a real strong box of a room, concrete and steel, with no windows and only one door. Three feet of space all round separate this room from an outer casing, also of concrete and steel, top, bottom, and all four sides, making it a box inside a larger box. And round that all the other rooms of the house are built, forming an outer defence for that double-walled strong room in the middle."

"Which sounds not quite so eccentric as clever, to me," Garratt observed. "But double walls can be drilled through, even if they are Concrete and steel, or the doors might be forced. And in the heart of the country as this place is, if a thief gained access—"

"Wait, though," Kingsward interrupted. "Ward Keller had an artesian boring made, and put in his own pumping plant. When the door of his strong room has been closed, and the door of the outer casing also closed, water is pumped into the three-foot space surrounding the inner room, so that it is entirely enclosed in a jacket of three feet of water. And instead of a lock to each door, in the inner and outer walls, he had a ball-valve arrangement which ensures that the pressure of the water acts as a lock—it is utterly impossible to open either door until the water has been run off. And if any outsider did manage to force the outer of those two doors, he would be merely drowned in the entrance hall of the house, or else washed along it and flung out through the front doorway by the water pressure. So you see it's not merely useless trying to drill walls or force doors to get into that strong room—it's an utter impossibility."

"Unless our problematic thief let the water out first," Garratt suggested. "He might do that, surely."

Kingsward shook his head. "The inlet and outlet of water are both controlled by a key," he explained, "and the controls actuated by that key are in Ward Keller's bedroom. Harrington and French, the hydraulic engineers, constructed all the mechanism to Ward Keller's orders. His key has to be inserted in the controls and turned to five letters in turn on a combination dial—there were photographs published of it—and only ward Keller knew the combination! So you see, whatever he chose to keep in that inner room was—and still is—as safe as human ingenuity could make it. Quite safe, in fact."

"It seems so," Garratt admitted thoughtfully. "And now, Sir Denis, if I may ask, what is in that inner room?"

"Many things—very many things, since it is generally known that Ward Keller spent nearly two hundred thousand pounds on art treasures of all kinds, from first to last, and practically everything he bought is in there. But only four items interest me particularly—enough, that is, for me to ask you to go down and see what you can do about them."

"And those four?" Garratt asked again.

"One," Kingsward said, "is a small statue of Aphrodite by Phidias, which will probably be valued at more than I can afford to pay, since only one other piece of his work is extant. Next, there is Octavian's emerald, the one supposed to be a portrait of Cleopatra—cut to represent a woman's head and neck, in any case, and a world-known treasure. Then there is the Carian Ariadne—you know that and the emerald by repute, of course—and the fourth item I want is a Cretan urn—the Minoan urn, it's called—that some agent of Keller's must have stolen for him, since it has never been in an open market and is still unvalued. It and the Aphrodite are the best pieces in his collection."

"And everything hidden away in a concrete strong room," Garratt commented musingly. "A Minoan urn—I've heard of the other three you mention, of course, but I don't know that."

"No, it's hidden away as you say—but ward Keller was like that. He wanted to gloat over everything he had, and to keep it all from other people's eyes. A miser in art, one might call him."

"Yes. Octavian's emerald, and the Carian Ariadne—"

"Garratt, I can almost see your mouth watering over the thought of them! Now I want you to go to Carden to-morrow, and first of all get in touch with Miss Grey. She's the distant connection of mine who was Ward Keller's secretary, as I've told you. I'll give you a letter to her, explaining, and though she's never met me she'll know the Kingsward collection—her father will have told her about it before he died. Probably through her you'll be able to get in direct touch with Bertram Davis, who is practically certain to inherit nearly everything."

"Only practically, Sir Denis?" Garratt smiled as he put the query.

"Certainly enough for me, or I wouldn't commission you to go," Kingsward retorted. "And he'll want to sell. The old man locked up nearly everything he had in that collection, lived for it and in it, and Davis is not the sort of man to value the things. He'll want to turn them into money as soon as he can lay hands on them. And I want those four items, if there's any possibility of getting them."

"To make the Kingsward collection the finest private accumulation of its kind in the world," Garratt observed. "But what about probate?"

"We shall have to wait for that, I know. But if you can get a written promise out of Bertram Davis for the Minoan urn, say—its value is quite undetermined as yet, since it has never been in the open market—but if you can get a written promise, and advance him a sum on account to clinch the deal, I'll leave it to you to suggest a price. I want that urn, I want Octavian's emerald, and the Carian Ariadne. The Phidias I hardly hope to get at a price within my means."

"And the limits to which you are prepared to go?" Garratt asked.

Kingsward held out to him a sheet of paper. "My figures for all four," he said. "The absolute limit. Take this with you."

Garratt took the paper, and frowned and shook his head as he looked at it. "You might get the emerald, Sir Denis," he remarked. "The urn—I don't know, not having seen it. The Ariadne—well, perhaps. And as for the Aphrodite, one might as well try to put a price on the Venus of Milo. But I'll do my best over all four."

"I felt sure you would. Thanks awfully, Garratt. I shall make a point of remaining at home here tomorrow from three o'clock onward, and you can put a call through from Carden to tell me what luck you have. I don't expect ever to get the Phidias, but see what you can do toward tying Bertram Davis down, and getting me the other three. He can anticipate probate in all but the actual delivery of the goods, once Ward Keller's will has been read."

Garratt rose to his feet. "I'll put a London call through, Sir Denis, and tell you as soon as I have anything to report," he promised.


EARLY in the next afternoon Mr. Garratt stepped out from the train at Westingborough, a thriving industrial town of some ten thousand souls, set in the midst of a district almost entirely agricultural in character, and owing its prosperity to the Nevile dye works, which in turn depended in great measure on certain peculiar qualities inherent in the waters of the River Idleburn, on which the town was situated. Mr. Garratt, having ascertained that there was no train by the branch line from Westingborough to Carden till five o'clock, and that the village was nearly ten miles distant, sought advice with regard to speedier means of transport and, rejecting the hourly bus service, found that Parham's garage in Market Street would turn him out a hire car at a reasonable figure. So to Parham's he went, and almost immediately found himself on his way to—he hoped—an interview with Bertram Davis and a lien on certain items in the Ward Keller collection.

For the first few miles, the road kept roughly parallel with the River Idleburn, and then came the long ascent of Condor Hill, beyond which, the driver informed his passenger, Carden village lay at the foot of a corresponding descent. The view from the top of Condor Hill was one that brought hundreds of motorists and motor-cyclists to the spot in summer, but to-day, with a biting October wind rendering the sunshine a mere illusory reminder that there existed such a condition as warmth, Mr. Garratt had the view to himself as the car passed over the summit and Carden appeared in the valley beneath and before him.

Of more account to him than the view, he saw—though reduced by distance to the apparent dimensions of a match-box—a vehicle which was unmistakably a hearse emerge from a short carriage drive and make its slow progress toward the village church, followed by one saloon car only. He saw, too, at the inner end of the drive from which these two conveyances emerged, a square, grey house, two-storied, and even uglier than the Georgian mansions of which more than one specimen had met his gaze when he looked out from the luncheon-car of the train on his way from London to Westingborough. The mansions had had their pretensions to a certain architectural style: this grey house looked like a crate of some sort dropped down on the landscape, and, contrasting as it did with the brick and tile or thatch of Carden's picturesque dwellings, was incongruous, an insult to its setting. A smoky-chimneyed factory in the grounds of a stately Norman castle would not have appeared more grotesque, and Mr. Garratt felt that his artistic sensibilities were outraged by the blot that Ward Keller, evidently, had dropped in the midst of Carden's rustic attractiveness. Then, as his car descended the hill, pine woods between it and the village intervened, leaving visible only the neat, red-brick outlines of the Carden Arms, and some nearer houses fronting on to the village street. And, Mr. Garratt reflected, if one might judge by the hearse and one following car, Ward Keller's funeral was as strictly utilitarian and devoid of style or ornament as his house had appeared—a mere matter of putting a body underground with one car-load of people to see that the job was properly done. It was no more than that: the village itself, evidently, yielded no mourners for this resident's passing, nor displayed any interest in him.

In that final conclusion the art dealer was quite right. Carden had had no use for Ward Keller, and in fact had disliked one whom it could only regard as a sour, misanthropic old recluse. Equally, though it had seen less of the dead man's nephew, Bertram Davis, the village disliked him, a sneering, would-be superior young man with all his uncle's disagreeable qualities, and none of the older man's brains. Bertram had paid occasional visits to Carden as his uncle grew older, rather in the manner of a vulture waiting for a sick bull to die and keeping intermittent watch over it.

Now, the young man knew, his watch was over, and his reward at hand. He sat, while Mr. Garratt descended Condor Hill, in the back of the saloon that followed the hearse. He had come down from London to attend his uncle's funeral, and was smiling cheerfully over the event, which, he anticipated, came as an end to his hitherto unending monetary embarrassments. His pasty, puffy face and bloodshot eyes indicated a series of very late and bibulous nights, and, when he turned his head to address the man seated beside him, his breath was alcoholically odorous. His eyes were set much too close together under a thin crop of silky, flaxen hair: his lips were too thin, and altogether he looked, as he was, a mean being, not devoid of the astuteness generally termed cunning, and utterly self-indulgent if not actually vicious.

Beside him sat Lucas Barton, the lean, tall, middle-aged but still intensely energetic solicitor from Westingborough who had had charge of all Ward Keller's legal business for the past twenty years. A keen man of business, this Barton, a connoisseur of ports and sherries, reputed to possess the best cellar within a twenty-mile radius of his home—and there were old mansions in the district, like Castel Garde and High Ridge, which rendered the reputation no small thing.

Opposite Barton sat Edward Bland, the dead man's valet and confidential servant—if such a term could be applied to the servitor of a man who had given nobody his complete confidence—and the only one who displayed any sign of regret over the old eccentric's death. Bland was well over sixty: his clean-shaven, purplish face was composed to an expression of sad resignation. He had known and served Ward Keller for many years, and this break-up of the remote sort of intimacy that had existed between master and man was a grief to the man: he was too old to begin service again under another master; Keller's death had left him as aimless as a rudderless boat set adrift.

There was one other, a girl rather than a woman, in the car. Lynette Grey, Ward Keller's secretary during the last three years of his life, faced Bertram Davis as she sat, by compulsion, not by choice, for Barton had bidden her take that place. She was of slightly more than average height, grey-eyed, brown-haired, inconspicuous while her features were—as now—in repose, and in fact quite an ordinary-looking person on such an occasion as this. But in animation she could be very attractive, and, as five minutes' talk with her would render patent, was a girl of more than normal abilities. No grief over Ward Keller's death had made her a member of this funeral party: she had carefully and patiently done her duty as secretary to the dead man, but had disliked him all the time.

She had not actively hated her employer, for her relations with him had not been close enough to induce such a feeling—Ward Keller had let no man nor woman see beyond his mind into his heart, after a favourite sister had died and left him no interest in his life but the thirst to collect and hide art treasures. She had merely disliked the old man, served him faithfully, and now hoped that this journey behind his corpse would end all her need for remembering that such a one had existed. She was here at Lucas Barton's request: Barton had told her that his dead client had left instructions to the effect that she was to be asked to attend his funeral and subsequent recital of the terms of his will, and she had complied with the request into which the solicitor had modified those instructions.

Thus, while Mr. Garratt descended Condor Hill, halted at the Carden Arms, and ordered an early tea there after having ascertained that Miss Grey was a member of the funeral party, Lynette listened to the splendid, age-hallowed phrases of the burial service, cast her little bit of earth on the top of the coffin, and then with the other three drove back to the Strong Box, where Barton was deputed to state the contents of Ward Keller's will in accordance with old custom. Only the three who had accompanied him to and from the grave were present to learn the disposal of the estate, and, of the three, Bertram Davis appeared the only interested party: Lynette was indifferent, Bland gloomily sad.

They entered the house by means of a plain doorway, closed by an iron door which was silenced into its concrete setting by stout rubber strips at the sides and top and bottom—it was virtually an air-tight fitting. Within was a narrow, gloomy, oblong hall, and Barton led the way across it to a plain, square room on the left side, an apartment furnished more as an office than as one designed for normal occupation. It had been Ward Keller's dining-room, and gave evidence of the man's austerity of life. Like him it was forbidding, resolute, and cold, designed to one end, and regardless of all but that end.

Barton took his stand at the end of the small, aggressively square and sharp-edged dining table, on which he put down a few papers, while the other three, Davis leading, went to the fireplace and waited there before the big coal fire which Bland had heaped high before the coffin had been taken out from the house. The chill October afternoon rendered such a fire welcome to them all, though the atmosphere of the house suggested that natural warmth was an impossibility within its walls at any season. It was passing strange that the man who had designed this habitation, a morbidly intense lover of beauty in art, should have been content to house his possessions in so grim a setting.

Lynette Grey managed to get Bland between herself and Davis. She liked the—presumable—heir to Ward Keller's estate even less than she had liked his uncle, and, apart from that, his whisky-tainted breath was vilely repellent, as was his grin of covetous anticipation.

"My client," Barton began rather ponderously, glancing at each of his three auditors in turn, "left instructions that his funeral was to be conducted as I have arranged, and as it has been carried out. After that I was to assemble you, Miss Grey, you, Mr. Davis, and you, Mr. Bland, to hear the terms of his will stated in this room. His instructions were very precise. So much so, that I am bidden to omit the preamble of the will, and outline to you its provisions in so far as they affect yourselves, and one other who is not present here to-day."

He paused, put on a pair of pince-nez, and took up the top document from the little pile he had laid on the table. As he unfolded the paper, he glanced again at each of the three in turn.

"I will tell you, briefly, the provisions of the will," he said. "After that, I will hand you each a copy of the document, and you may peruse it for yourselves at leisure. To begin with, you, Miss Grey, are named jointly with me as an executor of the will, and to each of us the deceased bequeaths the sum of two hundred pounds for our services in that capacity."

"But he never asked me to be an executor!" the girl protested.

"You are so named," Barton told her. "You can object, of course, since the provision was made without your knowledge and consent."

"No, I do not object," she answered. Two hundred pounds, she realised, meant a fair competence while she sought another secretarial post, and she was in no position to refuse such a bequest.

Barton gave her a little bow, and with it a frosty little smile.

"To you, Mr. Bland," he pursued, "the testator bequeaths the sum of one thousand pounds, free of death duties and all other imposts, as a token of gratitude for long and faithful service. He makes the stipulation that you shall stay in this house pending the arrival here of his residuary legatee, and shall hold yourself at that legatee's disposal. That, in plain English, means that you are to remain here until his heir takes possession of the house, and act as caretaker."

"I won't keep you long, Bland," Bertram Davis interposed with a grin. It was an ugly, sneering sort of grin, too.

"I'm sure I'll be glad to do anything Mr. Keller would have wished me to do, sir," Bland said respectfully, ignoring Davis' remark. "No man could ask for a better master than he was to me. If he wanted me to stop on, I'll stop on, as long as he says there."

Barton inclined his head in acknowledgment, and resumed:

"To you, Mr. Davis—'to my nephew, Bertram Davis,' the wording is," he proceeded, "the testator bequeaths the sum of forty pounds sterling, in order that the said Bertram Davis may get blind drunk twelve times, if his inclination is still in that direction as heretofore, may pay all such fines as may be imposed on him for drunkenness, and may purchase such quantities of aspirin tablets as he shall feel necessary after his potations, or, alternatively, he may use the residue of the bequest to procure any other palliatives that he may prefer. And the testator earnestly trusts that, after his twelfth drunk, the said Bertram Davis may be placed in an inebriates' home or otherwise subjected to such restraint as is compatible with enforced decency. But the testator utterly declines to contribute to the support of the said Bertram Davis, either under restraint or at liberty. The sum of forty pounds is to be regarded as a charge on the estate and paid immediately, and I have the cheque here ready for you, in accordance with the testator's instructions. He placed the sum in my hands after signing his will, to be handed to you when the bequest was made known by me."

A silence of utter stupefaction lasted for many seconds, and in it a smile grew on Bland's face. At last Bertram spoke—

"Are you—is this a joke, Barton?" he demanded angrily.

"It is all the provision made for you in Ward Keller's will," the solicitor answered coldly. "As I have told you, I have a copy which you may take and read for yourself—together with the cheque for forty pounds which ranks as a charge on the estate, to be paid to-day."

There followed another long silence, and again Davis broke it.

"The old bastard!" he grated out wrathfully.

"Eh, you useless young devil!" Bland growled threateningly. "One more word from you like that against the master——"

"Quiet, Bland!" Barton commanded crisply. "And you too, Davis, do ill to speak in such a way of a man just laid in his grave. I am instructed to communicate to you the remaining provisions of the will. Please keep silence while I do so."

"But—but it's damned outrageous—" Davis began again.

"Keep silence, I tell you!" Barton thundered at him. "Respect this lady's presence, even if you have no respect for the dead!"

As such men will, Davis cowered at the aspect of the man before him and kept silent, for the time, while Barton spoke on—

"When all charges on the estate have been met, the residue is bequeathed unconditionally to Percival Keller, illegitimate and only son of Mary Keller, the dearly-loved sister of the testator, and to any issue of his body. If, at the time of the testator's death, the said Percival Keller should be already deceased, or if he should die without issue, then the residue of the estate is to pass unconditionally to Lynette Ethelwyn Grey, as a reward for services faithfully and uncomplainingly rendered, and in order that the aforesaid Bertram Davis may be prevented from enjoying any benefit other than the forty pounds with which he is hereby enjoined to get blind drunk twelve times, pay such fines as he may incur in the process, and purchase such amounts of aspirin or other palliatives as he may find necessary."

Almost, but not quite, Barton smacked his lips over this final proviso. Davis had already hinted that he had a solicitor pal in London who would take care of all his legal affairs when he had entered into his inheritance: Barton would have been either more or less than human if he had not enjoyed the young wastrel's discomfiture.

"I'll fight it!" Davis growled determinedly. "The old fool was utterly mad when he made that will. I'll fight it!"

"In that case," Barton observed drily, "I shall have great pleasure in acting on behalf of Miss Grey and Mr. Percival Keller."

"Yes, you would!" Davis began storming again. "I am his heir, not a damned illegitimate rotter he happened to remember when—"

"Quiet!" Barton thundered out, and the silencing invective echoed back into the room from the low-ceiled, gloomy hall. "I have here a copy of the will for you, together with the cheque I have made out in accordance with the testator's instructions, and I trust, Mr. Bertram Davis, that in presenting you with those two papers I may hope to see and hear no more of you. Fight the provisions of the will if you like, but in that case save your forty pounds. You will need far more than that sum to pay the costs you will incur before a verdict is given against you, as it inevitably will be."

"You might think so!" Davis sneered.

Barton ignored him. "Miss Grey," he said, "I have here a copy of the will for you to peruse, if you wish. And if you are going to Westingborough now, I shall be very happy to give you a lift there."

"Thanks very much, Mr. Barton," she answered, "but I'm staying on at my rooms here in Carden for the present, and will just go back there, now. I suppose, since I am a joint executor, you will wish to see me?"

"I will let you know," he promised. "There will be signatures—quite a few things requiring your attention as well as mine. Remember that any expenses you may incur are chargeable against the estate. If you'd be so good as to come over to Westingborough and see me at my office—may I say to-morrow? What time would suit you?"

"Any time you like. I have nothing to do, at present."

"Then we'll say three o'clock to-morrow, shall we?"

"I will be there at three," she promised.

A little later, turning away from the Carden Arms and toward the village street after she had come out from the drive in front of the Strong Box, she found herself accosted by a middle-aged, pleasant-looking man who told her his name was Garratt, and who asked her, in a manner that she could not resent, if she had a few minutes to spare.


CHAPTER II. — BLAND IS NOT AFRAID

STUDYING a time table, a week after he had sent Garratt to Carden in the hope of securing the items of the Keller collection that he wanted, Sir Denis Kingsward came to the conclusion that he would spend more time waiting about than actually travelling, if he went to Carden by train. The branch line from Westingborough that served the village made its profit out of carrying farm produce and supplies—if it made any at all—and passengers were a secondary consideration. So Kingsward gave up the idea of a rail journey, and turned out his sports saloon to drive himself in quest of his desire.

He knew, through Garratt, that Miss Grey was an executor of Ward Keller's will, and that Bertram Davis had been disinherited, though it was not until after probate of the will had been granted that the actual terms under which Davis received his forty-pound legacy formed subject matter for a host of newspaper paragraphs. Lynette had told Garratt that the estate had been left to another nephew, but had given no further information except that she was one of the executors. She did not know how much she was at liberty to reveal, and Lucas Barton was not at hand at the time to tell her.

Now, remembering his own friendship with the girl's father during that father's lifetime, Kingsward counted on bringing himself to her notice, and learning more than Garratt had been able to discover for him. If, through her, he eventually managed to get in touch with the heir and secure a lien on even one of the four things he wanted—the Minoan urn, for preference—he would consider that the trip had justified itself. Ward Keller had once let him see the urn, and his collector's soul had gone out to it.

He put up at the Carden Arms, engaging a room for the night, for the prospect of making the return journey that day did not appeal to him. When he pulled in to the forecourt of the hotel, there was a thin, chill rain driving down before a south-west wind, and the thought of facing such weather all the way back to London, and peering along the wet road by the light of his head lamps, was one that he put aside as soon as it occurred to him. Thus he signed the register as requested by Cortazzi, the proprietor of the hotel, who deciphered the signature, rubbed his hands, and thanked the god of innkeepers that he had one guest in his establishment, and a titled one at that. His was for the most part a seasonal trade, dependent on summer vacationists with a taste for fishing: Kingsward, coming at this time of the year, was a fluke, and might portend other arrivals.

"Mees Grey, your lordsheep?" Cortazzi answered his guest's query. "Zat will be ze Mees Grey who was in ze Strong Box—yes-no? She live at ze farmhouse a leetle way down ze road—Longlands Farm, zey call eet. I send for Mees Grey for your lordsheep?"

"You do not," Kingsward told him decidedly. "And stop calling me that—plain 'sir' is all you need call me. I'll have an early tea here in the lounge, and then go and call on Miss Grey. Whereabouts is this Longlands Farm, can you tell me?"

"Oh, yes, plain sir! You just pass ze gate going up to ze Strong Box, a leetle way along, and Longlands Farm is ze next 'ouse."

"A little way along where—in which direction?"

Cortazzi gestured along the road outside, away from Condor Hill and in the direction of the village. "Zere, plain sir," he said. "I order ze tea, zen I show you ze gate zat go up to ze Strong Box, myself. Eet ees ze next 'ouse after zat gate, plain sir."

"Can't you call me 'sir' in a normal way?" Kingsward demanded with visible irritation. "Are you an utter fool, man?"

"I mus' be," Cortazzi said mournfully, "else I would not live in zis country—like ze uzzers. I get ze tea—sir."

Kingsward, seating himself before the big and very acceptable fire in the lounge, laughed to himself: his host had had the best of it, he felt. And, on such a day as this, one born under Italian skies might be forgiven for thinking all people who endured an English climate fools: it was decidedly not an afternoon for driving back to London, while there was this comfort and warmth as an alternative.

Since the gate of the Strong Box appeared as less than a quarter of a mile distant, when Cortazzi pointed it out, Kingsward garaged his car and walked in search of Miss Grey, past Ward Keller's essay in squat ugliness set about fifty yards back from the road, to the first house beyond, a weathered old residence behind which showed outbuildings and thatched cornstacks. Lynette herself, fully attired for outdoor purposes, and with plentiful traces of the day's rain and some of the mud from the roads on her coat and serviceable hat, opened the front door of the farmhouse to the caller, and, holding the door handle in uninviting fashion, looked out at him.

"It is Miss Grey," he said, raising his hat. "I've come down from London to see you. When it's convenient, that is." Her decidedly frosty look at him, more than her outdoor garb, prompted him to speak the afterthought: she appeared unaccountably hostile, he felt.

"I'm afraid I don't know you," she responded, very coolly.

"Kingsward—Denis Kingsward, my name is," he explained. "I recognised your likeness to your father at once, though you and I have not met before. Might I have a talk with you—about the Keller collection? I'm an amateur collector myself, and interested in it."

She stood back a pace. "Come in, Sir Denis," she invited, very coldly indeed. "I have only just come from Westingborough, myself."

She led him through the brick-floored, chilly front room of the old farmhouse to a smaller room at the side, through the window of which the grim, prisonlike outline of the Strong Box was visible at a short distance. In the room itself he saw a good fire with an armchair beside it, tea for one set out on the table with the teapot in the fender, and a typewriter on a side table.

"Now what can I do for you, Sir Denis?" the girl inquired.

He gave her a long, quizzical look, and sought in his mind for some reason for her obvious hostility towards him.

"We're relations," he reminded her at last, ignoring her query.

"Distant connections," she amended.

"Well?" A trace of impatience emphasised the monosyllable. "What is the grievance? I don't recall having affronted you."

"Of course not!" she retorted, with ironic coldness.

"Well, how could I, since we've never met before?"

"I'll tell you," she answered. "I came back here from Westingborough by bus—that is, as far as the other side of Condor Hill. The bus was full, and at the foot of the hill—on the far side—a lame man hailed it. Since nobody else moved, I got out and let him have my seat, knowing I should have to walk the rest of the way in the rain. Halfway up the hill you came along in a beautiful saloon car, and carefully dropped both wheels into a big puddle as you were passing me, splashing me with mud from head to foot. I'd just got most of it off when you knocked, and if you expect a warm welcome after that—"

She paused, gazing full at him in angry accusation.

"Now I know how anarchists are made," he reflected aloud, sadly. "Miss Grey, I'm more than sorry. On my word of honour I didn't see you—didn't see anyone, coming up the hill. I should never have dreamed of passing you without offering you a lift, let alone splashing you. I was day-dreaming all the way, and a bit weary after driving down from London on such a day. Do try to forgive me, please!"

She considered it, and noted the anxious expression in his brown eyes—nice, friendly eyes! After a few seconds she relaxed to a smile: her father had known and liked this man, she remembered.

"Won't you sit down, Sir Denis?" she invited. "And perhaps you'd like some tea, if I get out another cup."

"That sounds like real forgiveness," he said cheerfully, and decided to refrain from telling her that he had just had tea at the Carden Arms. He waited while she took a cup and saucer and plate from a china shelf by the door, and then at her gesture took the armchair, so that he faced her between the table and the fire.

"And now, the Keller collection," she suggested, when he had refused food of any kind and expressed his preference for a cigarette with his tea. "You said you wished to see me about it."

"On account of your having been employed by Ward Keller," he told her frankly. "I sent a man down a week ago—you may remember him, a man named Garratt. He reported to me that you told him Bertram Davis inherits practically nothing from his uncle, and so has no power to dispose of the contents of this Strong Box. I happen to be interested in certain items of the collection, so I made up my mind to come down and see you, make inquiries for myself."

"Yes, I remember Mr. Garratt questioning me after the funeral," she admitted. "And you, Sir Denis? What exactly is your interest?"

"Simply that Keller was a unique and also lucky collector of certain sorts of things, and managed to get hold of a few items that I crave. Now, since this Davis is out of it, I thought you might tell me whom to approach. To enable me to anticipate dealers, I mean."

She shook her head. "You would have to go to Canada," she said. "The estate is left—there is no harm in my telling you, but I must ask you to regard it as a confidence till the will has been proved—the estate is left to another nephew, Percival Keller, a son of my late employer's sister. He went to Canada over ten years ago, and is now, or was until very recently, a real estate agent in London, Ontario. But he is either closing up his business there, or has already closed it up, to come home and take over all his uncle left him."

"On his way home already," Kingsward observed reflectively.

"Or soon will be," she amended. "My co-executor, Mr. Barton of Westingborough, cabled him—Mr. Ward Keller made me one of the executors of his will and left me a small legacy. You see"—she smiled at him—"I am being quite frank about it all."

"In fact"—he smiled too—"I couldn't have come to a better source of information. Disappointing information, though."

"Which is not my fault, is it?" she observed.

"No," he agreed reflectively, "and meeting you at last compensates very largely for the disappointment."

"Surely it's rather early in our acquaintance to say things like that?" she queried coolly. "Besides, you might have met me sooner."

"I might?" He looked surprised over it. "When?"

"On the far side of Condor Hill—instead of splashing me."

"But I thought that was forgiven!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, quite forgiven. But, seriously, I can't help you, Sir Denis. Mr. Barton sent a long cable to this Percival Keller, who cabled back that he wanted some money for the journey over, and would settle up his business in London, Ontario, and come home as soon as possible. Mr. Barton cabled him a thousand Canadian dollars, and he acknowledged receipt of them and said he would cable again from Quebec and give us his date of sailing. In a month or five weeks, he said. But we have no address for him in Quebec, so you can't get in touch with him till we hear again—or possibly till he gets here, even."

"Another five or six weeks—near on the end of November," Kingsward surmised, and held out his teacup, which she refilled. Then he lighted her a cigarette.

"Say six weeks," he added.

"Anything between five and seven," she assented.

"Yes." He reflected over it, gazing into the fire. Lynette studied his profile, and decided that she liked him.

"You are keen on antique things, Sir Denis?" she asked at last.

"Very—when they're beautiful as well. Aren't you?"

She nodded as he looked up at her. "Things like the Ariadne," she said, "and that emerald portrait of Cleopatra. I feel sure it must be her face, though I know the subject of the portrait is considered doubtful. But—the wisdom in it, and beauty too!"

"I wonder—you're an executor, you told me," Kingsward said rather diffidently. "I wonder if I might see the collection? To-morrow—I'm staying the night at the hotel. Perhaps, if it's not asking too much of you—just to show me round—" He paused, questioningly.

"Until Percival Keller returns, nobody can see it," she told him. "It seems that nobody knows the combination that unlocks the water controls, now Mr. Ward Keller is dead, and Mr. Barton, in his cable to Percival Keller, asked for permission to have the strong room opened, since we must get valuation for probate. The engineers who built it will have to open it, when Percival Keller arrives."

"Why not before?" Kingsward queried. "You can't get the will proved till the estate has been valued. Why wait for him?"

"He said most definitely that it must wait till he arrived, in his reply to Mr. Barton's cable," she explained. "And Mr. Barton told me to-day that the engineers who designed the room and its outer shell will have to send a man, one who can make the controls work and give us access. And Percival Keller says it must wait for him to see done."

"Why do you want a special man, though?" he asked. "Surely the water can be tapped and drained away by some local man, a plumber or someone of the sort, when the time comes?"

"Not without flooding the house," she answered. "Mr. Ward Keller very carefully had the room constructed so that the water could not be drained away except by means of the controls. And as nearly as we know, he never communicated the combination that locks and unlocks those controls to anyone, so the makers must open the room."

"Well," Kingsward observed thoughtfully, "it appears that this Percival Keller will find his property quite safe when he gets here, even if the house is left to take care of itself since the old man's death. I can't imagine a burglar taking the risk of tackling it."

"But it isn't left to itself," she assured him. "Bland, Mr. Keller's old manservant, still lives there and acts as caretaker."

"All alone?" he asked in surprise.

"All alone," she repeated. "It was a condition in the will, in connection with the thousand pounds Mr. Keller left the old man—that he should stay in the house and hold himself at the disposal of the—the residuary legatee, the will said."

"Which will be this Percival Keller—the mystery-man from the wide, open spaces. Two-gun Percy, probably, when he arrives. So it's quite impossible for me to see the collection?"

"Quite, Sir Denis, all but a few things not in the strong room."

He smiled at her and shook his head. "Your father called me just Denis," he remarked. "It had a more friendly sound."

"That was before you inherited the title," she pointed out.

"But we're related to each other!" he protested.

"Merely distant connections, as I told you before."

"Lynette, please call me Denis. I shall feel much happier."

"What—the first time we've met?" she demanded incredulously.

"You've been charitable over everything else," he insisted. "Forgiving me for splashing you, treating me to tea here, telling me all you can about Wild-West Percy—everything but, in fact. And it's such a compact little name—look at the breath you'll save!"

She laughed. "I'll see," she promised.

"Which means it's settled," he said cheerfully. "Now I wonder—no, though, it's raining too hard. Harder than when I came in here."

"Too hard for what?" She half-turned to look out through the window, and saw the gloomy day beginning to darken toward night.

"I was going to ask if I might see this Strong Box—if you'd show me round it, as I suppose you can, being an executor of the will. To-morrow morning, perhaps—would you? Before I go back to London."

"Now, if you wish," she assented. "I don't mind the rain in the least. And Mr. Barton wants me over at Westingborough again to-morrow morning, so I couldn't take you over the house then."

"Which means I can look forward to the pleasure of driving you, instead of splashing you as I go. May I, Lynette?"

"Westingborough is not on the road to London from here," she pointed out. "It takes you a long distance out of your way."

"Quite possibly, but I came that way, and it's the way I want to go back if it means driving you where you want to go. So may I?"

She smiled at him as she inclined her head in assent.

"I shall be very grateful, Sir Denis," she answered. "The buses take so long over the journey, and bump so abominably. Now, if you'll wait a minute, I'll tell Mrs. Goldsworthy—my landlady, that is—to clear away the tea things, and then I'll put on a waterproof and take you to the Strong Box. There isn't more than a half-hour of daylight left."

He waited, and presently they set out in the rain.

"You planned everything very well," he remarked as they approached the gateway before the Strong Box. "Three minutes or thereabouts from door to door. Useful, being so near, on days like this."

"Or on dark nights," she agreed. "Mr. Keller was very exacting at times. And Mrs. Goldsworthy mothers me very nicely. I'm not in love with the idea of leaving Carden, but I suppose I must."

Kingsward opened the gate and followed her along a wide, gravelled drive some thirty yards in length, which opened out in front of the Strong Box to an oval stretch in which a car could be turned about. The front of the house looked prison-like, with its deeply-set, plain sash windows, behind every one of which showed a strong iron grille. The door, Kingsward saw, was either iron-sheathed or of solid iron. He stood back to observe this gloomy, uninviting habitation as the girl rang the bell, and frowned at what he saw.

"So you had to work behind bars, here," he observed.

"The grilles slide back into recesses, when the rooms are in use," she explained. "Bland has closed them all, being here alone—with something like two hundred thousand pounds worth of valuables in the house. I should close them too, if I were in his place."

As she ceased speaking, the heavy door swung slowly open, with absolutely silent movement. Bland, standing just within, eyed Kingsward curiously, but made no move to admit either him or his guide. The man's neat but rather rusty suit of black emphasised the purplish tinge of his shiny, clean-shaven face as he stood there, a guardian almost as grim and forbidding as the strange house itself.

"Good afternoon, Bland," Lynette said cordially. "This is Sir Denis Kingsward, who asked me if he might see over the house—the parts of it that might interest a collector of antiques, that is."

Bland drew back, then, holding the door wide. "Certainly, miss," he answered. "Mr. Keller used to mention the Kingsward collection, I remember. But the strong room itself is closed, you know."

"I do know," she agreed, and entered, gesturing to Kingsward to follow her. Bland, who had switched on the electric light in the low-ceiled, gloomy hall, waited only just long enough for both their entrances, and then shut the door and locked it.

Before the wall at the inner end of the hall, in which was a door that looked as strong as this of the main entrance, Kingsward saw three bronzes, evidently Chinese in origin, and representing a seated Buddha with a dragon on each side of him. The old servant switched on a light immediately over the three, which stood revealed then as magnificent pieces, but suited rather to a museum than to a private house. Lynette directed Kingsward's attention to the door behind the Buddha as he advanced to inspect the figures. "There is the outer door of the strong room," she said. "Beyond it is three feet thickness of water, and then the inner wall with another door giving access to the strong room itself. If this outer door of the two could be forced, hundreds of tons of water would rush into the hall before one could get away."

"We won't force it, then," he said gravely. "And you"—he turned to Bland—"live here all alone, now?"

"All alone, sir," the man confirmed him, placidly.

"Umm-m! Aren't you a little afraid of it?"

"Not in the least, sir." Bland smiled slightly at the question, as if he considered it quite superfluous. "Where could you find a safer place? Long before a door or window could be forced, sir, I should be at the telephone and the police would be here. The master planned it all, and he made sure it should be safe."

"It's eerie, though," Kingsward said reflectively. "I wouldn't care to—" He did not end the sentence: stepping forward, he looked more closely at one of the bronze dragons, and then at the Buddha.

"Ming dynasty, all three pieces." Lynette, beside him, spoke.

He gave her a quick, appraising glance. "You know something about the things here, then?" he suggested.

"I had to know," she answered. "Mr. Keller insisted on it,"

"Are there many things visible—things like this?" he inquired.

She shook her head. "The best—and by far the greater part of the collection too—are all in there." Again she pointed at the iron door behind the Buddha. "A few small things are in the room he used as a library, where I used to work. Oh, and a fourth century codex in uncial Greek that he bought not long before he died. He gave fifteen hundred pounds for it, and New York offered him two thousand, but he wouldn't sell. That's still in the library, isn't it, Bland?"

"Still there, miss," the old man answered.

He was like a watch dog, a quiet, well-trained and perfectly-mannered guardian of these treasures and their housing, observant of every move that either of the two might make.

"I'm afraid codices don't interest me overmuch," Kingsward remarked, "but I'd like to see what is in the library, all the same."

Lynette led the way, and Bland followed the pair into a large, long room, book-lined everywhere except where the fireplace broke the line of one long wall; its doorway was opposite that of the dining-room. Kingsward, entering, paused before a beautiful reading desk or lectern of wrought iron with bronze ornaments, on which, opened to display two pages of black-letter text with initials blazing in gold and colours, lay an old manuscript missal.

"The stand is Italian," Lynette said, "and I don't think it is of any great value. The missal came from Avignon, and is quite perfect. It was his last purchase, less than three months before he died."

"A thing like that hardly ought to lie open there," Kingsward observed. "Those illuminated letters should be under glass, surely."

"It is as the master left it," Bland said, with harsh reproof.

Kingsward gave him a brief glance, and made no reply: the watch-dog had growled, for this stranger had spoken against something the master had done. Here was a rare, unshakeable loyalty, Kingsward knew.

"I wonder if I might see the mechanism that controls the strong room doors," he asked, turning to Lynette. "Not with any intent to get inside the room, of course, but just as a matter of curiosity."

Bland emitted an odd sound: it might have been a cough, or a suppressed chuckle, or a groan. "You might try for a year, sir," he said. "The master put it past any outsider's power to get into that room. If you care to come this way—you'd better come up too, miss."

He led them along a passage that went out from the back of the entrance hall, running parallel with the outer shell of the strong room, and ending in a narrow staircase which led to the first floor, where another heavy door gave access to the apartment in which Ward Keller had slept. It was bare and comfortless, as all that Kingsward saw of the house appeared: these narrow corridors and sharply-angled, solid-seeming rooms were all utterly forbidding, and he felt chilled by their dungeon-like oppressiveness, for it was that rather than austerity. The house was fireproof as well as practically thief-proof, but that any man should choose to live in such a place seemed incredible. No prison could have been less congenial, and Ward Keller's lifelong craving to amass beautiful and costly things rendered his house a paradox, utterly at variance with its contents.

Bland switched on a light as they entered the bedroom, and, going to a small wooden door set flush in the wall by the head of the bed, opened it and revealed a large, glass-covered dial of lacquered brass, before which lay a long, curiously shaped key. Beneath the dial, and between two stout iron pipes which supported it and went down into the thickness of the wall, was a small brass plate in which a keyhole was visible. Bland took up the key and held it for these two visitors to see, after which he fitted it in the keyhole and withdrew it again.

"Two complete alphabets, there," he said, nodding at the glazed dial. "The master knew the five letters that unlock the controls, but he never, told anyone what they were. I say"—there was a gleam of insane fierceness in his eyes as he gazed at Kingsward—"he never told anyone what they were! I told him before he died that he ought to let somebody else know, but he just smiled and, shook his head. And now nobody knows, and the strong room door is shut—fast shut!"

There was a species of triumph in that final assertion, gloating satisfaction that Kingsward was quick to note. He questioned inwardly whether Ward Keller had just smiled and shaken his head, or whether he had told this strange old servitor the secret of the controls.

"Till Percival Keller comes to take over," Kingsward suggested.

"Till Mr. Percival comes," Bland assented, with a respectful gravity that contrasted with his former expression. "Eh, the young—the young! He'll no more than scatter all the master gathered, I'm thinking, and the house'll be left desolate!"

It was not other than desolate now, Kingsward reflected but did not say. He looked at the big dial and saw that, as Bland had remarked, two complete alphabets were engraved on the lacquered brass face, one running clockwise around the outer edge, and another reversed within its circle. And, in the silence that followed the old man's pathetic lament over "the master's" treasures and their probable scattering, there sounded a steady "drip-drip-drip" of water, somewhere.

"There's a leak, surely," Kingsward said.

"No," Bland answered. "As long as that sound went on, the master knew everything was all right, when he slept here. If it had stopped, he'd know there was something wrong—but it never did stop while the strong room was shut, and it still goes on. It's as it should be."

"A weird thing to sleep by," Kingsward observed. "And you're not afraid to live here alone?" He reverted to the fact, for the eerie, prison-like silence of the house was growing utterly repugnant to him, developing a fearsome, hateful quality.

"No, sir, I'm not afraid," Bland said. "It is so very safe, here."

"Oh, safe enough!" Kingsward agreed, with a touch of impatient irony in the comment. "I wouldn't care to stay a night alone here, all the same. Safety in the material sense is not everything."

He felt Lynette's hand clutch arm, as if she, too, might have an impression of old Ward Keller leering at them from a corner of the room, even in his astral separateness rejoicing that no eye other than his own could gaze on the treasures he had amassed.

"The master wanted me to stay," Bland said, as if the fact were all-sufficient. "And I'm not afraid."

After he had closed the door before the dial and locked the bedroom door behind him, led the way down to the ground floor. Lynette pointed out some other of Keller's acquisitions in the dining-room, across the entrance hall from the library, and then at Kingsward's suggestion she went with him out to the rainy dusk, and Bland silently closed the iron door into its rubbered setting. They heard the lock click as they turned to go down the drive together.

"It's the most depressing prison I've ever entered," Kingsward said.

"I've never found it riotously cheerful," the girl agreed.

"And you had to work there! But one thing strikes me—he must have spent an enormous amount, from first to last. As you probably know, my grandfather originated the Kingsward collection, when prices were far lower than they are now. Keller bought the whole of his, I understand, in the last thirty years."

"He spent nearly all he had on it," she assented. "After he had bought the missal, he said to me one day that he had just six hundred a year left to live on, and if he found anything else he couldn't resist buying, he would have to dispense with me. He lived for the things he bought and hid away there, and for nothing else."

"I wouldn't go to such lengths," Kingsward said decidedly. "I like my beautiful possessions, but I like life too. And now, when this Percival Keller gets back, all there is in that jail will probably be scattered to the four winds. That is, unless Percival inherits the old man's tastes, and is a totally different type from Bertram Davis."

"Bertram would certainly have scattered the collection if it had been left to him," she said with conviction. "This Percival has yet to appear, but since he sold up everything in Canada, I think he would hardly be content to live on six hundred a year—with the contents of the strong room alone estimated at nearly two hundred thousand pounds. He may, of course, but I hardly think he will."

Kingsward opened the gate giving access to the road, and she went out. "Do you know him, then?" he inquired.

"I've never seen him—I don't think anybody here knows him," she answered. "There's a photograph of him as a schoolboy, taken together with one of Bertram Davis—he was about twelve years old when it was taken, and I believe he stayed here then with his uncle. And another photograph he sent over before I came to work here—it's six or seven years old, I believe. On the mantelpiece in the library, a big, strong looking man with a little pointed beard. Mr. Barton told me he went to Canada more than ten years ago. Bertram would know him—they were at school together, for a little while. This uncle—Ward Keller—had charge of everything for both of them till they come of age, and arranged for them both to be educated. He was guardian of them both."

"You've no great opinion of Davis," Kingsward observed.

She shook her head. "He came here a few times while I was working as Mr. Keller's secretary," she said, "and I believe they had a great quarrel, the last time he was here. In any case, it was after that visit that Mr. Keller made his final will and disinherited Bertram, according to what Mr. Barton has told me. Yesterday Bertram came and asked me if he might take away a silver photograph frame that he said belonged to him, and I went with him to the Strong Box and let him take it, after I had telephoned Mr. Barton. It was only worth a pound or two, and Mr. Barton said he might have it."

"Hardly worth coming all this way, one would think—that is, if he came from London after it," Kingsward commented. "Then that old man—Bland. It's a queer kettle of fish altogether. I seem to see old Bland knowing the combination that will let him into the strong room, and sitting there gloating, with old Ward Keller's wizened face grinning over his shoulder among those priceless treasures—"

"Ah, don't!" she broke in. "It's not daylight now."

"I'm sorry, Lynette. But we're out in a sane world, here."

She paused, her hand on the gate before the farmhouse. "Now, I've told you everything I can," she said. "More than I ought for all I know, since the will is not yet proved—"

"In absolute confidence," he interrupted to assure her. "Lynette, will you let me know when Percival Keller arrives here? Ring or wire me, the day he gets here—or before, if you're sure?"

She nodded. "I will, if you give me your address," she promised.

"Will you do one thing more for me? Quite an easy thing?"

She smiled at him. "Not before you tell me what it is," she said.

"Come and dine with me at the hotel to-night. I can give you the address then, and by the look of things I've got the whole place to myself, while apparently you're all alone here too. Most depressing for us both. And you can tell me then, too, what time you'd like me to drive you to Westingborough to-morrow morning."

She hesitated, glancing toward the house.

"I don't think—no, I don't think I could," she said.

"You know you can if you like! Think of me all alone in that big dining-room. Dinner's at seven-thirty, and I'll come and call for you in time for a cocktail first. Please, Lynette!"

"Yes, then, I will. And—and—thank you... Denis."


CHAPTER III. — PERCIVAL KELLER ARRIVES

THE resident staff of the Strong Box, while Ward Keller lived, had consisted of Bland and one maidservant, but Lucas Barton had paid off the maid, the day after the funeral, and from that day onward Bland did his own shopping in Carden. The village tradesmen all observed and probably regretted the fact that they no longer had to render weekly accounts such as Bland, acting on behalf of his eccentric master, had paid with clockwork regularity as long as that master lived.

Now, the old man would lock his front door—or rather, Percival Keller's front door—and go along the village street with a string shopping bag, every morning. He bought bacon and eggs and the incidentals of his solitary housekeeping at the grocer's; from the baker, he took one small loaf of bread every other day; on Saturdays, he bought a steak or a bit of mutton from the butcher. And, from the day early in October which witnessed Ward Keller's funeral, these were Bland's only purchases: no milkman was asked to deliver at the Strong Box, for the solitary buyer obtained tins of condensed milk with his other requirements from the grocer, while, since there was ample store of coal, and of petrol for the lighting and pumping plant, he placed no orders of that kind. And he absolutely refused to gossip.

He was, naturally, an object of interest in the village. Ward Keller, recluse, and reputed to posses things of enormous value in his queer dwelling, had been a perpetual source of speculation among Carden's chatterers: Bland, living utterly alone and keeping quite apart from everyone after his master's death, was an equally mysterious figure. A representative of the Westingborough Sentinel tried to interview him, but was told, not over-politely, to mind his own business and refrain from nosing around. Bertram Davis, putting up at the Carden Arms for a night, the day before Kingsward came to make acquaintance with Lynette Grey, had fared no better than the reporter. Bland declined to admit him to the Strong Box, or to give him any information as to when Percival Keller was expected to arrive, and then closed the front door on him. He had had to go to Lynette for the silver photograph frame which, according to him, his uncle had always promised should be his, and which, now that Ward Keller was dead, he wanted to take away. Lynette, after telephoning Lucas Barton and getting his assent, since the thing was of no great intrinsic value, had gone with Bertram to the Strong Box and—incidentally—assured herself that he went off with nothing other than the frame.

Having secured it, Bertram took the bus over to Westingborough—this was the day before Kingsward arrived at Carden—and went to see Barton in his office. The solicitor, prepared to be coldly hostile, was agreeably surprised when Bertram was shown in to him, for this was not the debauched young wastrel who had tried to make a scene at the reading of his uncle's will, but a sober young man—Bertram in good fettle looked considerably less than his thirty-five years—who, before stating the object of his call, apologised for his conduct on the day of the funeral, and, as far as might be, explained it.

"If you think it over, Mr. Barton," he said earnestly, "you'll realise it was natural for me to be upset—I'm most sincerely sorry I used such language, though. But I'd expected Uncle Ward to leave me—well, if not everything, a competence. And the insulting way he hurled that forty-pound cheque at me through you—it was enough to make any man in my position angry, I think."

"Possibly," Barton conceded, "but I've seen the proverb about dead men's shoes proved too many times. And now, Mr. Davis, what can I do for you? You've given up the idea of contesting the will, I hope?"

"Why, of course I have," Bertram assented. "As soon as I cooled down enough to think, I could see I'd merely made a fool of myself. No, but about my cousin Percival. We were at school together for a part of our young days, as perhaps you remember. I should like to meet him when he arrives, if I could find out when that will be."

"Ah, yes!" Barton observed drily. The dispossessed, he surmised, hoped to get something out of the one in whose favour he had been ousted. "Well, I don't see why you should not get in touch with him. You two appear to be Mr. Ward Keller's only surviving relatives—the only two he mentioned to me as relatives, in any case. I had a cable from your cousin to-day to tell me he would be in Quebec in about a fortnight's time and would let me know his date of sailing later."

"So he doesn't know that yet?" Bertram observed.

"Not yet—no. Only that he will travel by C.P.R.—there is a regular service by that line, I believe."

"Ye-es," Bertram reflected dubiously, "but it's not certain when he will come over, is it?"

"Allowing him a week or ten days in Quebec, if you call at the Strong Box, say, at the end of November—six weeks from now—you will almost certainly find him there."

"If he can bring himself to live in such a place," Bertram commented, as doubtfully as before. "I'd never think of doing so."

"He will be compelled to spend a certain amount of time there," Barton pointed out. "By his instructions, Miss Grey and myself are to defer opening the strong room until he arrives, and as he is the only beneficiary as far as its contents are concerned, I am complying with his instructions, although it means holding up probate. Apparently he wants to see the room opened, though he must realise that we can get no valuation for probate while it remains closed as it is."

"Of course not," Bertram agreed, "I never thought of that."

"So you will almost certainly find him there," the solicitor concluded, "in another five or six weeks—six at the outside."

"He'll let you know what boat he's coming on, I suppose?"

"Quite possibly," Barton conceded cautiously. "I think he will."

"I thought, perhaps, I might meet him," Bertram suggested rather diffidently. "Just let him feel I don't grudge him his fortune."

"Probably he would appreciate it," Barton said, as cautiously as before. Inwardly, he began to question what was Bertram's little game.

"I—I hope so, if I do." The aspiration sounded vague, as if Bertram's thoughts had already passed to something else. "It was an odd thing, my uncle making that Miss Grey a sort of eventual heiress, don't you think, Mr. Barton?"

"I think Miss Grey's chance of ever inheriting is exceedingly remote," the solicitor answered rather stiffly. "It is highly improbable that your cousin will remain unmarried, or die without leaving heirs. Apart from that, Mr. Ward Keller made Miss Grey contingent heiress to his estate in recognition of faithful and disinterested service, as was stated in the will, you may remember. A barren reward, perhaps, but a gesture. Yes, a gesture, one might term it."

He appeared rather pleased with his synonym for the barren reward: Bertram, on the other hand, looked anything but pleased, for he knew quite well that the gesture was designed to shut him out in the event of any untoward happening to his cousin Percival.

"What you might call an additional slap in the face for me," he remarked. "Well, Mr. Barton, thanks very much for letting me know about my cousin's movements, and I'll get in touch with you, if I may, in about three weeks' time to see if you can let me know the boat he intends to take. Will that be all right?"

"You need not trouble," Barton told him. "I have your address, and can send you a line as soon as I know myself."

"That's very good of you. I'd like to meet him on arrival, if I can. And—I saw Miss Grey to-day about some things of mine at the Strong Box, and forgot to ask her—do you know if she intends to stay on in Carden?"

"I really couldn't tell you." By the tone of the reply, Barton considered such a question indiscreet, if not impertinent.

"Of course, I might have asked her." He sounded a trifle regretful over the omission, and held out his hand. "Thanks very much, Mr. Barton. I won't waste any more of your time."

He went back to London that afternoon, and neither Carden nor Westingborough saw him again until Percival Keller arrived to take over his inheritance. Carden had its first signs of that arrival on the morning of the twenty-ninth of November, a day of high wind and, in the morning, storms of cold, sleety rain. During one such storm old Bland emerged from the Strong Box to do his shopping in the village, thereby giving notice by implication that Ward Keller's heir was about to arrive.

He bought a large loaf instead of a small one at the bakery, and, instead of putting his purchases from the grocer in his bag as usual, placed a very comprehensive order and asked for the goods to be delivered by noon. At the butcher's, he chose the best chicken in stock, a nice leg of mutton, and a pound and a half of the best beefsteak, all to be sent to the Strong Box before one o'clock. Thence he went on to the village greengrocer, from whom he procured as choice vegetables as the season would admit. And, before he got back from his round of purchases and put the meat and fowl away in the refrigerator, nearly everyone in Carden knew that Percival Keller would arrive that day.

The midday frequenters of the Greyhound Inn debated whether a travelled man like Percival would live at such a gloomy, sinister-looking place as the Strong Box, or whether he would have it pulled down and build a reasonable sort of house. They assessed his heritage, and ran it up to half a million before closing time. They decided that he must have a rare good appetite, cataloguing Bland's purchases from the butcher and forgetting about the refrigerator at the Strong Box. Since nobody in the village had seen Percival except in his short-trousered boyhood, they queried what sort of man he would be, and hoped, knowing something of Bertram Davis and his ways, that this other nephew of the old man would prove less of a rotter than Davis. They decided that Miss Grey had only stayed on at Longlands Farm in order to set her cap at Percival: else, what was she doing there? She didn't appear to be working now, and they could find no other reason for her remaining.

Thus the gossips, while the clouded afternoon drew on, a steady, driving rain replaced the intermittent storms of the day's earlier hours, and the wind rose to a roaring gale that gave promise of a wild night. Darkness had fallen when one of Parham's hire cars from Westingborough passed the Carden bus halfway down Condor Hill, and Lynette Grey, looking out from her sitting-room window at Longlands Farm before she drew the curtains for the night, saw the car's headlights flash as their ray swerved in a quarter-circle toward the frontage of the Strong Box. Percival Keller had arrived.

When, with the assistance of old Bland, Keller's baggage had been safely deposited inside the house, Percival came out to speak to the other occupant of the hire car, who, as might have been expected, was Bertram Davis. Since the two men had to raise their voices to make each other hear above the roar of the gale, the driver heard what conversation passed between them.

"I'll look round about half-past eight, then. So long, Val—you can see for yourself what the place is like, now."

"Not till it's light again," Keller answered dissentingly. "It's mighty good of you to meet me and pilot me through like this, though."

"Not a bit of it, old chap. By the way, if you don't feel like sleeping in this tomb of a place, just ring through to the Carden Arms and I'll book you a room. I mean to stay there till you're settled in."

"Mighty good of you, Bert—mighty good of you. I shall sleep here the night—I've slept in worse places. Expect you round again at eight-thirty, or thereabouts. It's going to be a pig of a night."

Then Davis ordered the driver of the car to take him back the short distance to the Carden Arms, where he took out his suitcase and paid off the man. As the car went away, he entered the hotel and told Cortazzi he would want dinner, and expected to stay for three or four nights. A maid took his suitcase up to the room he had booked.

Later, Cortazzi estimated the time of Davis' arrival as a little before half-past five. He could not tell to a minute or so, but it was a little before the half-hour, because it was about a quarter to six when a call came through on the telephone for Mr. Davis, who came down from his room in response to a summons and answered it. And Cortazzi was certain that, after the call, his lone guest—there was no other in the hotel that night—went up to his room, and did not come down again till dinner time.


LATER in the course of that same evening Superintendent Wadden, in his comfortable little home at Westingborough, placed his armchair so as to get the full benefit of the fire and the best light at the same time, and settled to the perusal of sundry catalogues in which were set forth the merits and prices of greenhouses, hothouses, heating apparatus, and other devices incidental to the science of gardening and market-gardening. For the superintendent had made up his mind—not for the first time, by any means—to retire from the police force, and devote his declining years to the propagation of tomatoes under glass. The project had been maturing in his thoughts for years, and he had now reached the stage of considering it in detail.

He was a fierce-eyed man who had run to fat, especially in the region of the neck, and, as fat men sometimes do, he blew, audibly, when he wished to express displeasure. This evening, he had shed his tight uniform coat and put on a comfortable old lounge jacket, and had exchanged his shoes for slippers with woolly linings. Now, having lighted his favourite pipe and settled himself comfortably in his easy chair, he heard the wind howling and rain rattling on the window panes as he reached for the first of the catalogues, and, blowing a brief gust, he prayed heaven to pity poor sailors on a night like this.

And the telephone bell rang.

Wadden sat erect in his chair and looked positively murderous. His wife, darning socks on the other side of the fireplace, held up a monitory finger, for she divined what her husband was about to say.

"Now, Henry!" she warned him. Then, encouragingly—"I'll see who it is. Quite likely it's Minnie, about that blouse pattern."

But, eyeing her as she returned from the instrument beside the hat stand near the front door, he knew it was not Minnie, before she spoke.

"It's Mr. Head, Henry. He wants to speak to you."

"Heaven have pity on poor policemen—any night!" Wadden prayed fervently as he put the catalogue down and rose from his chair. "Why didn't you tell him I was dead? He ought to be, ringing me at this hour. Just as I'd got comfortably settled, too!"

He went out to the tiny hall, and put the receiver to his ear.

"Yes, it's me, Head. Whaddye want, this time of night?"

"Trouble over at Carden, chief," the inspector's voice came back. "Two men killed at the Strong Box, old Keller's place. I've ordered out the big car, and rung Doctor Bennett to come with me."

"What is it—murder?" As he put the question, Wadden took out his watch and mentally registered the time as twenty minutes past eight: the habit of years prompted the movement.

"One murder, certainly," Head answered. "The other—Sergeant Denman, our new man over at Carden, is on the spot, and he rang me at eight-ten—the other appears at present to be a case of justifiable homicide. You see, chief, the young Keller who inherits the property got home there late this afternoon—that young Davis, the one who expected everything to be left to him, came down from London with this Keller, apparently. Davis booked in at the Carden Arms and had dinner there, leaving Keller alone in the Strong Box with the caretaker, who happened to be old Bland—perhaps you remember old Bland—"

"For heaven's sake get to the point, man!" Wadden shouted, interrupting. "You'll be reading me old Bland's birth certificate, next!"

"Bland," Head pursued unmovedly, since he divined the real cause of the superintendent's irritation, "appears to have admitted a man who said he wanted to see Mr. Percival Keller, at somewhere about seven o'clock, according to what Keller tells Denman about it—"

"Was this Davis there at the time?" Wadden broke in again.

"No. He was settled in at the Carden Arms, and knew nothing of this, having left Keller alone some while before it happened—"

"Carry on with Keller—never mind Davis, for the present."

"This caller, it appears, said he wanted to see Keller. At least, Bland opened the door of the dining-room, where Keller was at the time, and just had time to announce that a Mr. Finch had called, when Finch—if that was his real name—took out a big knife and stabbed Bland, getting him in the carotid artery just above the collar bone. Then he jumped into the dining-room to attack Keller, who promptly went for him and did him in. Got him by the throat and bashed his skull in on the sharp corner of the dining table, being a husky sort of Canadian settler with a grip of iron, apparently. So that second killing looks like justifiable homicide, if what Keller tells our sergeant is—"

"Did Keller know this man Finch?" Wadden interposed again.

"The sergeant says he asked Keller if he had any idea what Finch wanted with him, and Keller's reply was—'How the hell should I know? I never saw the man before in my life!' Which disposes of that."

"You're turning the big car out, you say?"

"Waiting here now for Jeffries to come round with it—and waiting for Doctor Bennett to get here too, of course."

"And that's all you've got. This chap calling himself Finch managed to get admitted to the Strong Box, killed Bland, and obviously meant to kill Keller as well, which would have left him alone except for corpses, and free to ransack the place. Has Denman any indication of where he hails from or how he got there?"

"There's a fast saloon car, Denman says, standing in front of the house. London registry. He drove there in it, by the look of things."

"Anything in the car to help in identifying him?"

"Nothing in it at all, with the exception of a lady's vanity case in a pocket in the near-side door. We can trace its owner by the registration numbers, of course. Denman has put through an inquiry for that, and there should be information by the time I get there."

"To tell you it's a stolen car—a pound to a penny on that. So the crook managed to get poor old Bland, and then Keller got him. Well, that saves the county the expense of a murder trial, and on the face of it we get away with no more than a pair of inquests. Quite simple, Head—and no glory in it for you, either. A dirty business, though."

"Yes. I thought I'd ring through and give you all Sergeant Denman had to give me, in case you'd wish to drive over with us."

"What—a night like this? You've got a nerve, Head!"

"Oh, I know it looks simple enough! Lots of things do, at first."

"Confound you, man! All right—all right. Tell Jeffries to stop outside and hoot, and I'll come and watch our pet sleuth do his stuff—meaning you, my lad! I'll have coat and shoes on by the time you get here. And don't make an all-night business of it when we get there, mind you! I meant to have an evening off, to-night."

"Sorry, chief. But it's better for you to be in charge, isn't it? And here's Jeffries with the car—I'll wait for Doctor Bennett, and then come round and pick you up. Five minutes or so—the doctor said he would come here at once, when I rang him. We'll be round for you."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure!" Wadden told him caustically, and blew an explosive gust at the receiver. "All right, Head."

He hung up and went back to his sitting room, where his wife had his shoes placed ready to put on, and his tunic and heavy overcoat hung over the back of a chair. He suppressed a remark as he kicked off his slippers and put on the shoes.

"Is it a serious case, Henry?" his wife inquired solicitously.

"No, what you might call merely jocular," he responded with morose dissatisfaction. "Why the devil didn't I retire last summer as I said I would? No, it's not a bit serious. Only two corpses in it, so far. A mere trifle, especially as one of 'em seems to be the sort we can spare easily enough. I always said somebody would have a shot at getting into the Strong Box and burgling it, sooner or later.

"Oh, it's old Mr. Keller's place at Carden, then?"

"Don't you worry about it, my dear. Just leave a good fire if you go up to bed before I get back, and leave me a full kettle on the hob, and the sugar and whisky out with a lemon. It's that sort of night, by the sound of it."

He heard three brief toots of a klaxon sound from outside the house, and buttoned his overcoat.

"That's them," he added. "Night-night, dear. Expect me back when you see me. And what a life!"


CHAPTER IV. — CIGAR FOR INSPECTOR HEAD

"IT'S what you might call a sticky mess," Wadden remarked.

He stood, then, in the oblong, box-like entrance hall of the Strong Box. Both lights were on, and Buddha, seated and masking the outer door of the central strong room, smiled placidly at the horribly blood-stained floor of the hall—it was of bare, uncarpeted parquet—at the body of Bland lying seven or eight feet from the dining-room doorway, and at the two groups of men, one near the library door, and the other, comprising Wadden, Inspector Head, Doctor Bennett, and Police-Sergeant Wells, whom Head had ordered out to accompany him from Westingborough, just inside the front doorway. Wadden scanned the other group briefly, and gestured to Sergeant Denman to step forward.

"We'll hear what you have to say first, sergeant," he bade. "You two gentlemen can wait in there"—he indicated the library door—"with Constable Sparkes. Now, sergeant—what's your report?"

"I was rung at seven-forty-five this evening, sir," the sergeant answered as Sparkes shepherded Bertram Davis and his companion into the library, and closed the door on them. "The caller was rather upset, by the sound of his voice. He said, first, there had been bloody murder at the Strong Box, and gave his name as Keller—Percival Keller, when I asked for it. I came here at once, picking up Sparkes on the way, and Mr. Keller let me in. It was then three minutes to eight. Mr. Keller told me a man named Finch had murdered old Bland here"—he pointed down at the body by the dining-room door—"and tried to murder him in the dining-room. He got this Finch down and killed him by battering his head against the sharp corner of the dining table. The body of Finch is in the dining-room, as Keller left it after killing the man. As soon as I had the outline of the crime, I rang through to Westingborough and got Inspector Head, and told him all I had ascertained. Then I waited here with Sparkes, as Mr. Head said he would be over as soon as he could turn out Doctor Bennett and a car. At eight thirty-two, sir, there was a knock at the door, and Sparkes answered it. Mr. Davis—Mr. Bertram Davis, he gives his name—was there, and he said he had come to call on Mr. Keller by appointment. Sparkes let him in, after referring to me. He was badly upset at the sight of Bland's body, but after a time, while we were waiting for Mr. Head to arrive, Mr. Keller showed him—showed Mr. Davis, that is—the body in the dining-room. And he said he knew the man as Finch."

"Davis knew the murderer?" Wadden exclaimed.

"He said so, sir. The face is rather badly cut across the eyes, where Mr. Keller struck the man's head on the edge of the dining table, but this Mr. Davis said he'd known Finch for some time in London, in connection with some night club—the Carmagnole, he said the place was called. I didn't take any detailed statement from him, sir—I thought it best to leave that to Mr. Head or you. I put a few questions to Mr. Keller, thinking you might wish to have a ground work to check up on, since there's no doubt he killed the man in there." He nodded towards the dining-room door.

"Quite right, Denman—quite right. Doctor, you might get busy on the bodies, if you don't mind, and take Bland's first—we'd better follow the order of the happenings. Denman here can show you the one in the dining-room, when you've finished analysing poor old Bland. Now, Denman, what did you ask this Mr. Keller, and what replies did you get?"

"Well, first of all, the time, sir. To begin with, he said it was before dinner when Bland let the man in, and when I wanted that more particularly he said he thought it was between a quarter and half-past seven, but couldn't be sure beyond that."

"And he didn't ring for police till seven forty-five," Wadden commented. "Mark that, Head. Half an hour after Finch was let in."

"He explained that, sir," Denman said. "He told me he was absolutely exhausted after the struggle with Finch, and cut his hand getting Finch's knife into a position where it couldn't be used, too. He said he'd been ten years or so in Canada, and didn't know the ways of this country very well—went out there as a youngster, he said. On top of that, when he did begin to think what he ought to do, he didn't know where to find the telephone, or even if there was one in the house, at first—"

"Where is the telephone?" Head interposed.

"There in the library, sir," Denman answered, pointing at the door.

"Right." It was Wadden who spoke again. "What else?"

"He told me he came down from London with Mr Davis, his cousin, getting here just after five, and expected Mr. Davis to lock him up here after dinner. And just after the half-hour, as I've already reported, Mr. Davis turned up and Sparkes let him in. Meanwhile I'd had a look over the car outside—the one Finch must have come in—and I telephoned London and asked for its registry and the name of the owner. They may ring through at any time now, and give us the particulars."

"Sound idea," Wadden commented. "Anything else?"

"No, sir. When Mr. Head said he'd come over at once, I simply waited for him to arrive. It struck me that this Davis was far more upset over the whole business than Mr. Keller. He seems to me rather a cool hand—Mr. Keller, I mean. The sort of man you'd expect after he'd been ten years in the colonies. Keeps fairly composed, and seems to hold the other one together, rather. I got the impression that Davis had been drinking pretty freely, when he first got here."

"Which is not unusual, if his record counts for anything," Wadden commented drily. "And Keller is the strong silent man, eh?"

"I didn't try overmuch to make him talk, sir," Denman answered.

"I think, chief, we'd better hear what he has to say first, eh?" Head inquired. "Have him out here and get his account."

"Obviously," Wadden assented. "Well, doctor?" He turned to Bennett, who emerged from the dining-room doorway. "Whaddye make of 'em?"

"The old man here," Bennett answered, indicating the body of Bland with professional composure, "was stabbed in the carotid artery just above the collar bone. He was helpless in fifteen seconds after the thrust, at the most, and dead in less than two minutes. There's very little blood left in his body, too, as this floor will tell you. The other, in there, appears to have made a devil of a fight of it, by the state of the room. Skull fractured at the back—the edge of the dining table could have caused the fracture—and there's a cut across his face in the region of the eyes which may have been made by crashing his head on to the table edge in the course of the struggle. And his left arm is dislocated at the shoulder joint."

"This Keller must be a sort of Hercules," Wadden observed.

"Not necessarily," the doctor said coolly. "With a particular hold on the arm—I think you've got a police grip that will dislocate or break a man's arm if he resists the pressure put on it."

"Yes, but you've got to catch him unawares to put it on," Wadden pointed out. "You don't use that in a rough-and-tumble."

"Well," Bennett responded, "I'd say that in a rough-and-tumble of the sort they appear to have had in that room, anything might happen."

"We'll have a look at it shortly," Wadden promised. "So the man died through a fracture of the skull, then?"

"No, by strangulation—the fracture was incidental, probably at the very moment of death, and possibly after. Both deaths are straightforward cases, and I've got all I want for medical evidence at the inquests. Do you want me here any more?"

"Might," Wadden admitted. "In any case, you came in our car."

"All right. You can move the bodies when you like. The times of death tally with Denman's report. I don't think there's anything else to tell you now. I'm all ready for the inquests, for my part."

He turned away as Wadden requested Sergeant Denman to summon Keller from the library, and went to the far end of the hall, where he stood eyeing the Buddha. Wadden glanced at Head.

"A plain case," he observed in a satisfied way.

"It looks like one," Head answered cautiously, "but we can't be sure, yet. Don't forget that Davis identified Finch. I don't like that, when you add to it that he reckoned on inheriting here, instead of Keller. I want to know more before considering it a plain case."

Then, following the sergeant out from the library, they saw a man of well over medium height, one who appeared anything between thirty and forty years of age, brown-haired, brown-eyed, and wearing a little, pointed beard in addition to a moustache. His skin was deeply bronzed, and he looked an athletic, muscular being, one accustomed to outdoor life. His tweed suit bore evidences of the severe struggle in which he had lately engaged; there was a large stain as of dried blood on his soft linen collar, and his right hand was heavily bandaged. Wadden, with an almost invisible gesture, handed him over to Inspector Head for questioning, and went, as if uninterested, to the dining-room to gaze in at the body lying there. But he returned before Head had proceeded far with his inquisition, and stood by Sergeant Wells.

"I am Inspector Head, from Westingborough," Head addressed the man. "Sergeant Denman here has told us how you rang him at seven forty-five to-night, in consequence of what had happened here—at least, I conclude you are the man who rang. First of all, may I ask your name?"

"Percival Gordon Keller—I guess you'll want it in full," Keller answered with a decided nasal twang. "That is, since I've got to answer for doing that murderer in. You're not going to arrest me, I hope? It was him or me, when he went for me after killing the old man."

"We'll leave that, for the present," Head told him, rather drily. "Do you mind telling me all you can of what happened here to-night? First of all, how you got here, and what you found on arrival?"

"I'll make it all snappy," Keller promised. "I got to London yesterday, and my cousin Bert—that's Davis, there in the library—he met the boat train and said he'd come down with me and show me round. I reckoned it was mighty good of him to take the trouble, and we fixed up for me to stay at his place last night and come down with him to-day, which gave us a chance to take a look at London—"

"What place of his was this?" Head interrupted.

"A flat he's got, somewhere off back of the Strand—I don't know the name of the street, and it don't matter, anyhow. He'll tell you, if you want to know. But I stayed there with him—he made me a shakedown—and this afternoon we caught the express to come down here. Took a car from Westingborough—Bert hired it special, on account of me having a lot of baggage and the big hill to come over before you come down into this place. Bert left me here—"

"At what time?" Head interposed again.

"Five to half-past—I'm not sure, exactly. Didn't look. Bland, poor old chap, had got my uncle's room ready for me, and said he'd turn me out a dinner, but he hadn't expected me to bring anyone down with me. Seemed as if he didn't like Bert overmuch—that's Davis, my cousin, y'know. So since Bert meant to put up at the hotel nearby in any case, he said he'd go along and have his dinner there, and then come back for the rest of the evening with me at half-past eight. Which he did, too. But all this had happened by the time he got back here, and the sight of it pretty much knocked him to a frazzle."

"Now come to what did happen," Head suggested.

Keller made a long pause before he answered. He lifted his bandaged right hand and looked at it—the bandage, apparently, consisted of two handkerchiefs—and then, glancing at Wadden and the two sergeants, impassive auditors of the inquisition, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he faced Head: evidently he was collecting his thoughts and arranging his story.

"I'll tell it as nearly as I can," he promised at last. "I was in the dining-room when I heard a car pull up outside—there was pretty considerable noise of the wind, but I heard the car. Then a knock at the door. I didn't go, naturally—that was Bland's job, I reckoned. I just got up—I'd been sitting at the table in there—and went to the window, drew the curtains, and looked out—"

"What time was this?" Head interposed, at that point.

Keller shook his head. "I can't say. Except that it was before half-past seven, because Bland said he'd give me dinner then. He'd laid the table while I was up in my room. That must have been about six o'clock, I'd think. Call it a quarter past seven when this man turned up and Bland let him in, though I'm not sure. I didn't look."

"Right," Head commented. "You looked out of the window, you say?"

"I looked out, and there was the car, with the lights switched off, and I thought it looked as if someone either wanted a long talk with me, or Bland, or else his battery was run down a bit. The door into the dining-room wasn't quite shut, and I heard this chap ask Bland if Mr. Keller had got here yet, but I didn't hear what Bland answered. I was still over by the window, then. And with no carpet or anything on the flooring in this hall, I could hear the two sets of footsteps as they came to the dining-room door, which Bland pushed open—"

"At about a quarter past seven," Head interposed again.

"That'll be it, I think," Keller assented, frowning slightly at the interruption. "But as I said, I'm not sure of the time."

"Carry on, then," Head suggested. "We've got to Bland and the other man in the hall, and you standing by the dining-room window."

"I came away from the window toward the door," Keller resumed. "Bland pushed the door inward, and I saw him. He said—'A Mr. Finch to see—' or—'A Mr. Finch—' I'm not sure how far he got with it, only that he said the name Finch. Then he choked, and I saw a hand at his throat from behind. He staggered back and seemed to collapse, and I saw the flash of a knife in another hand. Now I'll tell you, inspector, this queer place of my uncle's had got me all keyed up, jumpy, and quite possibly that made me more ready to expect something of the sort than I would have been in an ordinary way. And as Bland fell away, out of my sight from where I was standing, the other man—the one he'd called Mr. Finch—came at me with his knife in his hand. I'd nothing to meet it, but I'm pretty nippy in a tough corner, and I went for that hand with the knife in it, first. Got it, but he cut my right hand pretty badly while I was doing it. I bandaged that after, myself."

"Before you rang for the police," Head suggested.

"Well, naturally," Keller assented, smiling slightly, and for the two words the twang in his voice sounded more pronounced than ever. "It was bleeding all over the floor—pouring with blood. When I came to look at poor old Bland here—look at it, on the floor."

"It's practically impossible to tell whose blood is which, out here," Head observed. "You got hold of the knife, you say. And then?"

Keller shook his head. "It's no use asking me," he answered, "for I simply don't know. I realised that guy was out to get me, and realised too that poor old Bland was out, and on that things just went red. I can't remember how I got him down, can't tell you anything about that part of it, except I know I smashed his skull against the edge of the table and he went limp, and I lifted him and smashed him down again and then held on, in case he wanted to fight some more. But he didn't, and I came back to earth after a bit and knew he was dead, and what was I to do next? That's all I can tell of how I got him down."

Head nodded reflectively. It was a straight, coherent story: Keller had had nearly two hours to arrange its details for recital, though, and he would go over and over the incidents in his mind—it was not as if he stood over Finch's body, only just recovering from his berserk fury. A mad rage of that sort was conceivable, Head felt.

"Then you bandaged your hand, and rang for the police?" he suggested, while Bennett, possibly because of the mention of bandaging, turned from the Buddha and looked toward the group. Wadden and the police sergeant from Westingborough stood back from questioner and questioned, listening intently, as did Sergeant Denman, standing a pace or two back from Keller, and between Head and the library door.

"I don't know how long it was before I rang for the police," Keller answered a little less steadily—he seemed to be feeling the strain of his position, but quite suddenly, for he had given no indication of it while he told his tale. "I—yes, I bandaged my hand. Maybe—I think there's a bottle of whisky on the mantelpiece in the dining-room, so maybe you wouldn't mind if I had a tot. It's been hell for me to-night. And a smoke—you won't object if I have a smoke, will you?"

"Have anything you like," Head answered gravely. "Wells, go and get the whisky off the mantelpiece in the dining-room, and a glass and some water or soda, if you can find any there. Don't touch anything else—we haven't seen the body in there yet. You'd better let our doctor have a look at that hand of yours, Mr. Keller."

"No. Well, perhaps he might." Keller appeared to change his mind about it as he spoke. He fumbled with his undamaged left hand in the breast pocket of his tweed jacket, and produced a leather case. Holding it clumsily in the bandaged hand, he got it open, and revealed a row of cigars. "Perhaps you'd like one?" He offered the case to Head as he spoke, and saw Wadden eyeing it too.

"Thanks." Head took a cigar. "If you don't mind, I won't smoke it yet, though," he said, and put the cigar carefully away in his breast pocket, while Keller took a second from the case, bit off its end and, with the clumsy movements of a man using his left hand perforce, got the case back into his left breast pocket. Wadden struck a match and lighted the cigar for him as Bennett joined the group.

"Perhaps you'd like a cigar, too?" Keller suggested to Wadden.

The superintendent shook his head. "Not now, thanks," he answered. "A bit later, perhaps. There's a lot to see to, yet. Doctor, see what you make of the dressing of that hand, and you carry on, Head."

"Eventually, you rang the police, Mr. Keller?" Head suggested, as Bennett began unwinding the two handkerchiefs in which Keller's hand had been wrapped.

"Yes, and the sergeant there"—Keller nodded at Denman—"came along with this man—they were very quick getting here. Then—yes, sergeant, make it half a tumbler, and fill right up with soda. I want a bracer. Then the sergeant put a call through, and told me we'd have to wait till you—Inspector Head, he said—got here. Then Bert came in, and I pulled myself together to keep him from going entirely batty after he'd recognised the man in there as one he'd known. He confirmed that the name was Finch. I wanted him to go back to the hotel, but the sergeant said he was to stay here till you arrived, since he knew the man, and after that—well, I guess we just waited."

With his left hand he took the stiff drink Wells had mixed, and drained the contents of the glass in one long draught. Wells took back the empty glass and put it down on the bare parquet floor beside the whisky bottle and soda syphon, and Bennett examined the injured hand, unclasping the fingers to see the depth of the cut.

"You gripped that knife by the blade," he asserted.

"I don't know," Keller answered. "Most likely I did, though."

"Go and get my case out of the car, Wells," Bennett ordered. "This wound needs antiseptics and proper dressing, and even then—"

"What do you mean?" Keller demanded sharply. The note of fear in his voice was the first sign of emotion he had displayed, apart from that momentary weakening when he had asked for whisky and a smoke. Head, observing him closely, decided that he must be a man of tremendous strength of will as well as of splendid physique, since he was able to relate all his experiences so calmly after having done and endured so much, here in the Strong Box.

"I mean," Bennett said coolly, "that you'll be lucky if you keep the use of the fore and middle fingers of this hand. That knife blade went deep. I must make a proper dressing of it."

"Yes—yes." Keller's voice sounded less distinct, as an effect of the whisky he had gulped down. "And p'raps we could go into the library and park ourselves—there's no seats out here, and I begin to feel all in. What say, Inspector Head—do we adjourn into there?"

Head considered it, and caught Wadden's nod of assent.

"Yes," he said, as Wells returned from outside with the doctor's case. "Take the case in there, Wells"—he indicated the door on the right of the hall—"and we'll all go in. The body in the dining-room can wait for the present. Mr. Keller, I'm going to question Mr. Davis about his knowledge of this man Finch. Inside there, let Doctor Bennett dress your hand, but I want you to arrange yourself at the far end of the room while I tackle Davis down at the end near the door. Keep your back turned to Davis, and don't speak, except in answer to questions the doctor may put to you. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly clear, I guess." And Keller moved toward the library door. "He's a bit rattled, is Bert, but I'll leave him to you."

Bennett went with him, and the rest followed. Within the room Head saw Constable Sparkes standing before the empty grate, and wondered at the warmth of the apartment on such a night until he saw a central-heating pipe running along the side opposite the fireplace. Bertram Davis sat almost collapsed in appearance in an easy chair at the edge of the hearthrug, faced toward the door of the room, and gazed anxiously at Keller, but made no move to rise.

"Val, how much longer?" he begged piteously.

"We're coming to you now, Mr. Davis," Head answered before Keller could speak. "Doctor, it'll be best if you take Mr. Keller up there under the light to dress his hand, from what you say about it."

Davis, visibly cowering, watched from the chair as Head and Wadden filed in, the latter in uniform, and behind him the two police sergeants also uniformed. Bennett conducted Keller along to the far end of the room, so that the armchair back prevented Davis from seeing either of them while he remained seated, and there, having taken his case from Wells, the doctor got on with his task of dressing the hand.

"Now, Mr. Bertram Davis!" Head took his stand before the chair in which Davis cringed, and spoke quietly, yet with a definite note of menace in his tone. "How do you happen to be able to identify the body in the dining-room as that of a man named Finch?"

"I—I knew him," Davis stammered feebly, after a long pause.

"Oh, yes! We know that much already," Head assured him grimly. "I ask you how you knew him? What were your relations with him?"

"He—I go to the Carmagnole a lot," Davis answered shakily. "He was there. Bullfinch, they call him. I used to—"

He broke off at the ringing of the telephone bell. At the far end of the room, Keller faced about in response to the sound.

"I'll answer it," Head said, and stepped forward, beside the chair in which Davis sat, to the little shelf at the end of the fireplace on which the instrument stood. He took off the receiver and put it to his ear. A voice at the other end sounded to the rest of the men in the room as if a hen were clucking, but Head recognised it at once.

"Hul-lo, Terry!" he responded, with evident satisfaction. "Jerry at this end. What's put you of all people on to us?"

Inspector Terence Byrne, as he had announced himself with his first sentence, laughed at his end of the wire, cheerfully.

"In trouble again, are you, Jerry? Well, I happened not to have gone off home when a call came through about a car, and I overheard enough to know someone in the Westingborough district was inquiring—Carden, to be precise. So, thinks I, here's poor old cousin Jerry in trouble again, and—well, I didn't go home. Out of sheer goodness of heart I stopped on to help you out, Jerry. An Aston-Martin with a saloon body built on to it, it was given, and the registration numbers. I've got all the particulars—what d'you want to know about that car? It's not stolen, if that's your idea. Oh, no!"

"How do you know it's not?" Head snapped back.

"Because the Bullfinch is out with it—borrowed it this morning. And the man who could steal anything off the Bullfinch hasn't been born yet. If you've caught him with the car and got anything on him, I'll lick your boots when I see you next, Jerry."

"Well, assuming this is the same man, neither you nor I will ever have anything on him," Head responded. "The Bullfinch, if it is he, as appears to be the case, is lying dead at this moment within about twenty yards of me, Terry, in a house at Carden."

He saw Bertram Davis stiffen in the armchair as he himself ceased speaking. It appeared that Davis gained some sort of satisfaction out of the news of Finch's death—though he had known already that the man was lying dead in the dining-room. But he suddenly appeared more perky and assured, and sat easily instead of cringing in his chair.

"You don't say!" Byrne exclaimed from his London end of the wire. "I'll pass that for the moment, and you can come back to it later. The car, Jerry, belongs to Bella Gerrard, who runs the Carmagnole night club. At least, she and the Bullfinch ran it together, and now, by what you say, she'll have to carry on alone. I've just been on to her and learned that she lent the car to the Bullfinch this morning, and he went off in it, about eleven o'clock."

"Went off where?" Head demanded.

"Search me first, and then search the fair Bella," Byrne answered. "Only mark this, Jerry. When I told her the car had been found at a place called Carden, and as nearly as could be told at the time the man who'd taken it there had been killed, she just let out one screech and dropped the receiver—I heard it thud down on something as wooden as your head. But I thought the Bullfinch must have passed the car on to somebody else after borrowing it off her—I couldn't see him going out of civilisation into your wilds merely to get himself killed. Now I begin to see the point, from her point of view."

"You're a bit too pointed over it, Terry," Head cooed into the receiver. "But tell me more. You've interrupted my investigation most usefully, by the look of it—tell me more."

"The Bullfinch," Byrne proceeded, "was one of our pets. We knew he was the nucleus of various enterprises, criminal and partly so, but we could never get our hands on him. I've got—hold on a minute, though. You say you've got his body there—he's lying within twenty yards of you at this present moment?"

"I've just said that," Head answered, with a look round at Davis and then at Wadden. The latter understood that this end of the conversation was being made as unenlightening as possible. "But I wouldn't swear to the distance to a foot or two. Make it snappy, Terry."

"Don't get het up," Byrne remonstrated. "Miss if you remind me any more that I've already had six minutes, I'll put the whole weight of the Metropolitan police force on you—this is a priority call. Jerry, keep that corpse fresh. I've got a ticket-of-leave man at the end of a string, and I think I'll bring him down, since he was one of the little crowd we can tie up to the Bullfinch by a particular line. We may be able to make him talk, if I can persuade him the Bullfinch is really dead, and that would mean roping in some half-dozen gentlemen I'm aching to put my hand on. I'll find him and fetch him down, and heaven only knows how many cases you'll give me if you keep the corpse really fresh till he's identified it. The Bullfinch sat in the middle of a web, and as for the strands of the web—Oh, boy! Do you get me, Jerry? Mutual aid—that's what it is."

"Easily. We'll keep it on ice for you. When—to-morrow?"

"I'll be there. The express arriving at two o'clock—I know your trains. Meet me and my man—I've never yet had a real close-up of the Bullfinch, though I once saw him at a distance in the Carmagnole. He was of what you might call a retiring disposition. Meet the two o'clock, and I'll be on it."

"Failing other things of importance, I'll be there," Head promised. "Now what can you give me on it? Your call came into the middle of my investigation, and what you know may be useful. Give me all you can."

"Got you, Jerry. Careful man, mentioning no names in hearing of anyone at your end. Now listen. The Bullfinch—William Finch, and the nickname becomes obvious—he was head of a gang as I've said, and tried to import Chicago methods into England. Damned near did it, too. Ran the Carmagnole, which has been raided twice with practically no result, they being too careful. A chap named Bertram Davis got caught for concealing alcoholic liquor in the second raid—yes, I know he's connected with the place you call the Strong Box, where the car is now, so I give you that. Mixed up with the Bullfinch at the Carmagnole, and mixed up with him in other ways too, is Bella Gerrard, who owns the Aston-Martin and manages the club. Damned good car, Aston-Martin, Jerry. Very fast, and absolutely reliable."

"Never mind that—carry on with the human essentials," Head urged.

"Yes—oh, yes! Davis, of course. He got away from that second raid with a twenty-five pound fine and costs, and went on hanging round the Bullfinch. Owes him money, I believe, but am not sure. I think, but don't know, that he hung on to the Bullfinch because of Bella Gerrard—if you get hold of him, put him through the hoop about her. The Bullfinch borrowed the Aston-Martin from Bella this morning, from what she said, but he has so many men working for him that I thought he'd borrowed it for one of them, till you told me he'd been identified as dead down there. At least, I conclude he's been identified, from what you say. Now tell me, do you know where you can get hold of this Davis, since the Strong Box appears to be what you might call the point of departure over all this?"

"Don't worry," Head answered, mindful of Davis listening beside him. "On the spot, as you might say. Handy, anyhow."

"I get you. Man, it was a plant, with Davis in it, I have not finished, and if you cut in again I'll get you sacked! Go gently, Jerry, and you'll get Davis just where you want him. It would have been a stack of boodle if the Bullfinch had got safely away from the Strong Box, and Davis would have had his rake-off, you can bet. I know all about the water-jacketed room, but from what I've heard there's a few thousands lying about outside that, if he couldn't force a way into it. A pretty plot between the pair, but you've got to prove it."

"In that case, the principal actor aimed to wipe out two men," Head protested. "Is that feasible, for such a reward?"

"It's not like him, I own," Byrne answered, "but probably he reckoned on enough to justify it. What are the particulars with regard to the water-jacketed room? Would he be able to get in?"

"No. Inaccessible combination protection, and only the late owner knew how to work it. It couldn't be done."

"Umm-m! Sounds unlikely. The late owner must have told someone, or left a record somewhere. Has Davis been there since that late owner died—would he be able to work the combination?"

"I can't say. He has been here, I believe."

"Well, there you are! He and the Bullfinch concocted the plot—he gave the combination to the Bullfinch, and if all had gone well they could have split over a hundred thousand between them. Wouldn't that make it worth while to wipe out two men? You won't get Davis to own to it, of course, but how you work it is your pidgin. You say you have the Bullfinch lying there dead—is anyone listening in, Jerry?"

"Nobody. You've given me a line, and I'll act on it. See you to-morrow off the two o'clock down, eh?"

"I'll be there with my man, and it may be that I'll be grateful to you. With the Bullfinch dead, quite a few of his accessory fledglings may be willing to talk. I hope so, anyhow, and feel sure the one I'm fetching with me will know he's got to talk, and can talk, now there's nobody left alive to give him pain for acting Judas. It may mean quite a big haul, for me. See you to-morrow, Jerry, in any case."

"I'll either meet the train or have it met," Head promised. "If it's possible, I'll be there myself."

He hung up, and turned to resume his interrogation of Davis, who sat up in his armchair, now, expectantly and far more confidently. At the inner end of the room Bennett and Keller sat together, the doctor still busy over his bandaging. As Head replaced the receiver on its hook, Superintendent Wadden turned toward the door.

"Head," he said, "I'll go and have a look at whatever gory mess there is in that room across the hall. It occurs to me that we've been neglecting the body in there for quite a while."


CHAPTER V. — MAINLY CONCERNING A BULLFINCH

WITH a mere glance and the crooking of his forefinger superintendent Wadden intimated to Sergeant Wells that he wanted company for his inspection of the body in the dining-room, and the two went out, the superintendent closing the library door after ushering his sergeant into the entrance hall. There remained Doctor Bennett and Percival Keller seated together at the inner end of the library, Inspector Head, with Sergeant Denman just behind him, facing Bertram Davis, who sat in the armchair by the fireplace, apparently bracing himself to meet the interrogation that had been interrupted by the telephone call from London, and, standing as if on guard over the door, Constable Sparkes, diligently recording in his mind as much as he could of what was passing, in order that he might know how to act when he became an inspector.

Davis, although more assured and master of himself than he had appeared when Head had begun questioning him, still looked rather a pitiable wreck of a man. He was out of sight from where Bennett and Keller sat, the back of his chair being interposed between him and them.

"Now, Davis," Head began again, and Sparkes noted that the inspector no longer said "Mr. Davis," and drew his own conclusions, "what were your relations with this man Finch, whom you say you identified here?"

"I knew him," Davis replied sullenly. "In London," he added.

"Yes, you knew him." There was patient restraint in the comment. "When, where, and how? What was the nature of your acquaintance?"

A cry, almost a shriek of terror, and a resounding thwack at the far end of the room, where Bennett and Keller sat, saved Davis from replying, for the moment. Then Bennett, responsible for the thwack, looked up at Head and spoke in explanation—

"It was only a spider, Mr. Head. I've killed it."

"Sorry to squawk like that," Keller added apologetically. "Spiders always drive me mad—I simply couldn't help letting out a yell. I go frantic at the sight of one, every time. Always have done—it's all right, since the doctor's slaughtered the pesky thing. As long as there's no more I won't do it again."

It was an odd thing, Head reflected, that a man who had displayed almost iron self-control over seeing one man killed and himself killing another should lose his composure so completely over nothing more than a spider. For beyond question Keller had been really frightened: there had been no affectation in his cry of alarm, but genuine, unmistakable terror. After a second or two, the inspector turned again to resume his interrogation.

"I'm waiting, Davis," he said. "What was the nature of your acquaintance with this man Finch—Bullfinch, if you like that better?"

"Money, if you must know," Davis responded still more sullenly. "Though why my knowing him should make you insult me—"

"It was through your knowing him that he got here," Head interrupted. "I want to know how far you put him on to coming here."

"I didn't!" Davis sat up in the chair and almost shouted the denial. "I did nothing of the sort!"

"You anticipated inheriting your uncle's fortune," Head accused.

"Well, what about it?" Davis demanded angrily. "I had a right to expect it, hadn't I? Some of it, in any case."

"And you borrowed money off Finch on the strength of it," Head pursued, remembering what Byrne had just told him.

"What if I did? He knew when the old man let me down, because I told him. Told him I couldn't pay what I owed him, too."

"Told him your cousin, Mr. Keller, was heir to the estate instead of you, didn't you?" Head pursued sharply. "Did you tell him that?"

Davis nodded. "And suppose I did?" he demanded in reply. "I met Val, came down here with him, showed him I meant to be pals and owed him no grudge if the luck was his instead of mine—"

"Never mind that for the present," Head interrupted. "I want to know how much you told this Finch, and why you left Mr. Keller alone here after coming down from London with him, while you went to the Carden Arms and waited there till half-past eight. I want to know a good many things before you appear as witness at the inquest on Finch."

"You do, do you?" Davis summoned up courage to make a half-sneer of the query. "And supposing I don't tell you any of 'em? What then?"

"Then," Head answered sternly, "I shall arrest you here and now as accessory to the murder of Bland, and as accessory to the attempted murder of Mr. Percival Keller. So make up your mind about it!"

"Good God!" Davis whined, thoroughly frightened, now. "I never thought—all right, inspector. I'll answer as far as I know, anything and everything. I'm not accessory in any way. I'll answer you."

"Right! What do you know of this man Finch? Answer plainly, and keep nothing back. What do you know of him—all of it?"

"He was at the Carmagnole—Bella Gerrard's place. I go there a lot. I've known him a couple of years—more, now. He—he knew I was due to come in for the Strong Box and everything else when Uncle Ward died, and I borrowed money off him on the strength of it, several times. When I knew my cousin was to have everything, I told Finch I couldn't pay him till something turned up."

"Yes? How much money did you borrow from him?" Head asked.

"Seven thousand, altogether," Davis admitted reluctantly.

"And then had to tell him you couldn't pay any of it?"

Davis nodded, and swallowed once or twice. "Yes," he said.

"You told him everything had been left to Mr. Percival Keller?"

"Yes." The reply was less distinct than the one that had preceded it. Davis appeared to realise that he was being forced into admissions that might be dangerous to him.

"What else did you tell him?" Head demanded ruthlessly.

"Nothing—only that I couldn't pay. I couldn't, either."

"You didn't, by any chance, tell him that if Mr. Keller were put out of the way, you would be in a position to refund all Finch had lent you?" Head put the question slowly, and with ominous distinctness. But Davis shook his head at it.

"I didn't, because I wouldn't be in that position," he answered. "Whether Val lived or died, it made no difference to me. The old swine—my uncle—saw to that. He cut me out of his will entirely."

"Do you mean you don't inherit in the event of Mr. Keller's death?"

"I mean that. I'm altogether out of it, whatever happens."

"Did Finch know that?"

"How should I know? I didn't tell him, in any case."

"No, you wouldn't! Did you tell him when Mr. Keller was expected to arrive here—that he was due to-day?"

"I may have done."

"Never mind what you may or may not have done! Did you tell Finch when Mr. Keller was expected to arrive here from Canada?"

"No. I told him my cousin was taking over, and that he was in Canada. I don't remember telling him any more than that."

"When did you last see this man Finch?"

"The night before last—in his flat over the Carmagnole."

"And told him you expected to meet Mr. Keller off the boat train yesterday, didn't you?"

"No." But it was a sullen, indecisive negative.

"Did you tell him that, or no?" Head insisted sharply.

"I don't think so. I may have. We had a thick night."

"In which Finch pumped you, and got out of you that you expected your cousin to arrive yesterday, and intended to meet him?"

"I may have said I intended to meet him when he arrived. I've got no grudge against Val. I knew he might be useful to me."

"But you were desperately afraid of Finch, weren't you?"

"I'm not afraid of anyone!" Davis sat up defiantly, but only for a moment. "That is," he added, relaxing again, "I don't see why you should bully me like this. I'm telling you all you ask, aren't I?"

"Doing your damnedest to get away from the point all the time!" Head retorted disgustedly. "No, stay where you are!" He raised a monitory hand at Keller, who had risen and appeared about to approach, and at the gesture Keller seated himself again, facing Doctor Bennett. "Now, Davis, you were in Finch's power as regards money, weren't you?"

"Well, what if I was? Even if I did owe him seven thousand, he couldn't kill me over it. And it's a moral certainty he won't kill me over it now, since he's lying dead himself in that other room. Why should I worry, in either case?"

"Because—" Head risked a long shot—"Finch could keep you away from Bella Gerrard, unless you paid what you owed him in some way."

The gasping, inarticulate sound that Davis made proved that the shot had gone home. He sat up and took a deep, sharp breath.

"And you're a mere country inspector!" he observed after a long interval through which Head waited patiently. "You're—all right, then! Go on asking all you want to know, since you know that. Yes, he could have kept me away from Bella. But he's dead—he's dead!"

There was an inexplicable note of exultation in the repeated exclamation—inexplicable, Head felt, unless it were that Davis felt he could no longer be harried in regard to his debt to the dead man. Keller, from his end of the room, looked up in questioning surprise.

"He can't, now," Davis said. "And his seven thousand pounds—"

He broke off, staring before him as at a new vista of possibilities; Head watched him closely, and made another shot.

"Either way," he said quietly, "you were bound to win."

"What do you mean?" Davis asked fearfully.

"I mean this!" Head hurled his accusation at the man before him with ruthless, deliberate incisiveness. "You incited Finch to come down here and murder Percival Keller, because you were bound to win, either way. If Finch got caught, or killed as he has been, you were free of your debt to him, while if he had managed to kill your cousin and rob this place, you and he would share the spoils. I don't arrest you now, because you can't get away—you can't leave Carden, even, and there's no need to arrest you till I've got my evidence complete. I've got you, Davis, as surely as if I had you already in a cell—you were in league with Finch, arranged with him to leave your cousin alone in this house to-night, acted as decoy—"

"Inspector—Mr. Head?" It was Keller's voice, pleading, conciliatory, and he stood up beside Bennett, but made no move to advance across the room. "You've got Bert all wrong, I tell you. He may be a silly ass, and I guess he is, too, but he's done the decent by me, and you're pushing things a bit too far, now. I've heard all you've been asking him, and if he did let this guy in, it wasn't because he meant to do the dirty on me. I'm dead sure it'd be no more than his letting his tongue wag too frequent, and if that dead guy did pump him, it was without his knowing what it was for. If you're up against him, I'm going to defend him all the way. Damned silly, yes, but he didn't mean anything by it. I'm dead sure of that."

The defence was staggeringly unexpected, and leaving Davis alone for the moment while he gazed across at Keller, Head felt that he had gone too far, exposed his own hand too soon. But, with the obvious inference that Davis, either through a dangerously blabbing tongue or with deliberately murderous intent, was responsible for Finch's attempt at double murder and robbery, Keller's effort at shielding his cousin was utterly inexplicable. With a motion of his hand to indicate to Keller that he must sit down, Head reverted to questioning the man before him.

"There are times when a silly ass must be made to pay for his folly," he said quietly, "and this appears to be one of them. Now I want some facts out of you, Davis, on the assumption that you are guilty of no more than utterly brainless lack of reticence, as Mr. Keller appears to think. How many times since your uncle's death have you been here in Carden, and seen anyone connected with the Strong Box?"

"Once, since the funeral—apart from to-day, that is," Davis answered, evidently both puzzled and frightened by such a question.

"Did you have any talk alone with Bland on the day of the funeral?"

"No. I left with the rest. Why?"

"When did you again visit Carden and the Strong Box?"

"About a week after the funeral. But why—what has this—?"

"I'll do the questioning," Head interrupted. "On that second occasion, did you have any talk with Bland alone?"

"Only at the front door—he wouldn't let me in. I came down to get a silver photograph frame my uncle had always said I should have, and had to go to Miss Grey and get her to come with me and tell Bland I could take it. She's an executor under the will."

"You came all the way from London for no more than a silver photograph frame? Try again, Davis. What else did you come to get?"

"Only that frame, I tell you! It's a valuable one."

"Had it a photograph in it?"

"Yes." There was an appreciable interval before the reply.

"Whose photograph was it?"

"Val's—my cousin's. But it was years old—taken not long after he went to Canada. I came for the frame, not the photo."

"But it was a good likeness of him as he is now?"

"Not very. Yes, I suppose you'd know him by it."

"Where is that photograph now, Davis?" Head demanded ominously.

"I don't know—how should I? It was the frame I wanted."

"Did you take the photograph out of the frame?"

"Yes, and left it here on the mantel. In this room. Miss Grey was with me, and she saw me take it out and put it down."

"We'll leave that, for the present. You knew, of course, that your uncle confided the combination that unlocks the water controls to Bland before he died—that Bland knew it?"

"He didn't know it—I'll swear he didn't know it!" Davis replied with sudden excitement. "My uncle never told anyone what it was!"

"Your uncle told Bland—and Bland told you," Head persisted coolly.

"Inspector, I swear you're absolutely wrong about that. Bland did not know, so he couldn't possibly tell me! He didn't know!"

There was a ring of sincerity in the denial that puzzled the inspector. He shifted his ground to begin questioning again.

"When you came to get that frame, what parts of the house did you visit? You have already said the frame was on the mantel here."

"This room and no other, and Miss Grey was with me all the time. Bland came in here with us too—kept his eye on us all the time."

"Why did you tell Finch the combination?" Head fired out abruptly.

"Why did I—? Here, you're guessing, inspector, and you've guessed wrong, this time." A smile that was half a sneer appeared on the seated man's face as be looked up momentarily at his questioner. "I couldn't tell him what the combination was, because I didn't know it."

"Then what did you tell him when he asked you about it?" Head persisted, beginning his question before the last reply was ended.

"Nothing, because he didn't ask me about it," Davis retorted.

There was a note almost of satisfaction in these last two replies, Head observed. Again he shifted his ground, and began again.

"When did you last see Finch, Davis?"

"Night before last—I've told you that once." There was a sulky, less confident ring in Davis' voice, now.

"Where and when did you meet Mr. Keller on his arrival?"

"Euston—off the boat train. Yesterday when the train came in."

"How did you recognise him at the station?"

"That's easy! He's not altered a lot since we were at school together, except for his beard. I knew him at once, and he knew me."

"If by any chance you had missed him there, and Finch had been waiting for that train to come in, Finch could easily have recognised your cousin, couldn't he?"

"Recognised him? I don't see how he could."

"Why, by the photograph you came here to get, to hand on to Finch to make certain he could recognise your cousin if you were not there."

"I didn't come for the photograph—I came here to get the frame."

"Try that on someone else, Davis, not on me," Head advised cuttingly. "You're not the sort of man to spend three pounds and more on a railway journey for the sake of a thirty-shilling photograph frame—if it were worth that much. Where is that photograph now?"

"I don't know—I told you I left it here, on this mantelpiece."

"You took Mr. Keller to your flat for the night, I understand?" Again Head abandoned one line of questioning for another.

"Put him up for the night—yes. We did a show together—"

"And after that, you took him to the Carmagnole," Head interposed.

"I did nothing of the sort!" Again the ring of truth sounded in Davis' voice. "We did the show, and then I took him round in a taxi—gave him an idea of what London was like after ten years—he'd been ten years in Canada. What's the idea of all this, though?"

"What else did you do before you came down here with him?"

"Took him round a bit in the morning—he's here—he can tell you all about it if you don't believe me. And caught the two o'clock down, got here about half-past five. And that's all."

"Not quite. At what time, between your meeting Mr. Keller yesterday and his catching the two o'clock train to-day, did you introduce him to Finch or take him somewhere for Finch to see him?"

"I swear I didn't!" Again Davis sat up in angry excitement. "I never saw Finch while Val and I were together in London. Why—why should I do anything of the sort? What's the idea of it?"

"To give Finch a chance of seeing the sort of man he would have to tackle when he got into this house to-night," Head said deliberately.

Again Keller interposed. "Mr. Head," he said, rising to his feet, "aren't you playing my cousin up a bit too much? I've told you once he may have been silly and let his tongue run too fast when this guy Finch happened to be in hearing distance, but Bert's no crook, I know."

With a little gesture of disgust Head gave it up, for the time. If Keller had not been there, he knew, he might have frightened Davis into far more admissions than he had so far obtained, but these interventions on Keller's part appeared to put heart into the weaker man: at two critical points they had given him time to collect his thoughts, when, had he been alone, he might have so far broken down as to make some slip that would prove him definitely in league with Finch. That he had been acting in collusion with the man, Head felt certain, now. If, as Davis had alleged, he were not heir in the event of Keller's death, it was difficult to see what motive Finch could have had for attempting to murder Keller, when he might have come down here before Keller's arrival and completed his robbery with only one murder to precede it instead of two, and that an easy business. The plain case, as Wadden had called it, was rapidly assuming the aspect of a puzzle in which Davis was criminally, though not very actively, involved with Finch. But why had the pair waited for Keller to return, instead of acting before his return, with only Bland to oppose them?

While Head stood silent, Wadden entered the room again, alone: he had left Wells in the dining-room with Finch's body. Head turned and looked at him, but he, for his part, gazed along the room at Keller.

"You're a strong man, Mr. Keller," he said drily.

"You have to be, out west," Keller answered with composure. He rose to his feet and advanced to where Davis sat, his right hand neatly bandaged, now, while Bennett, having repacked the contents of his bag, snapped its hasp and followed toward the doorway, where he paused.

"Finished, Head?" Wadden inquired, in a casual, thoughtful fashion.

"For the present," Head answered. "Not so much finished as adjourned, though. Davis"—it was a sharp, abrupt adjuration, and Davis started violently as he sat—"we shall want you as a witness at the inquests to-morrow, so don't leave the Carden Arms in the morning. Mr. Keller, we shall want you too, of course. You'll get a notification of the time and place from one of our men in the morning."

Keller nodded a cold assent, and bent over the huddled figure of his cousin, who appeared half-collapsed, now, in the armchair.

"Buck up, Bert," he counselled hearteningly. "I'll stand by you." Then, straightening himself, he addressed Head. "Can I take it you've finished with both of us for to-night?" he asked stiffly.

"You can," Head answered, with equally cold formality.

"Then I'll go across to that hotel with Bert here as soon as I've got a few traps together, and pound my ear there. This place don't appeal to me as a shack for sleeping in, with two corpses littered round the floor. I guess we'll get going, Bert and me."

He went to the doorway and there paused, turning back—

"Come along up with me, Bert, while I pack a grip. This place is too ghosty and creepy altogether, and I'd hate to go up alone."

His feeling was, in a way, natural, and perhaps Davis' eagerness to accept the invitation was natural too. Bennett followed the pair out to the entrance hall, but Head stood still, and Wadden eyed him.

"Lost anything, Head?" the superintendent asked at last.

"Yes." There was a note of regret in the reply. "I don't know how much, yet. It was my own fault, saying either too much or too little, and also acceding to Keller's suggestion that he should come in here while I tackled Davis. He saved the man—for the time, that is. Well, they can't get far. Let's have a look at this man Finch."

With the last sentence he roused from reflection to activity, and crossed the hall to the dining-room with Wadden following him.

Sergeant Wells stood by the mantel in the room, facing a scene of utter confusion. A cloth had been pulled off the table, and round it on the floor lay pieces of shattered plates, and the knives and silver Bland had laid out for Percival Keller's dinner. Two chairs lay on their sides, the table itself had been pushed from its position in the middle of the room, and here and there on the parquet flooring were bloodstains, dried brown, now. Before the window a body lay, and Head went to look down at it and then kneel beside it.

The face was disfigured by a deep, diagonal cut that began above and to the side of the right eye, and came down to the point of the left cheek bone, a wound so violent as almost to have destroyed the right eye, and broken the man's nose. Bennett had turned the head over on to its left side, and it had stiffened in that position, showing the fracture at the back of the skull, the scalp having been torn to leave the bone bare where the skull had struck, most probably on the sharp edge of the table, since Wadden had already observed a corresponding mark there. On the dead man's throat were finger imprints, and his tongue was visible between his teeth: Keller had evidently strangled him, as the purplish, congested condition of his face showed, and the two wounds on the face and skull must have been made either very soon before or at the actual moment of death, for there was only a little blood exuded from either of them.

"That Keller must be a Hercules," Wadden observed.

Head made no reply for the moment. Bending over the prostrate figure, he opened the torn front of the shirt enough to admit of seeing inside the neckband, and there read, written in marking ink, the name—"W. S. Finch." Then he took the soft collar off the neckband of the shirt, and found the same name inscribed on it.

"Why?" Wadden inquired, as Head held up the collar and scrutinised it closely by the light of the pendent bulb directly above his head.

"Just an idea, chief. Quite possibly there's nothing in it."

He put the collar down beside the body, and gazed steadily at the dead face. A clean-shaven face, and, if one could make a mental reconstruction of it in a way that ignored the disfiguring cut, apparently a pleasant face. The left eye, uninjured and widely staring, was grey: the teeth were even and well-kept: the chin was square and resolute. Abruptly Head rose from his kneeling posture.

"Odd," he said, "but Mahon was a pleasant-looking man, and so were several other murderers. The face isn't always an index."

"If we hadn't had conclusive evidence of the Woodney Hall burglary, Scotty Todd's eyes were enough to make any jury let him off," Wadden observed. "I never saw a man with a more honest look than Scotty. Sometimes I think a real criminal type of face doesn't exist."

Head gazed down at the body. "There's not nearly so much blood as I should have expected," he said. "That—on the underclothing—that would be Keller's cut hand, eh? When he tried for a grip and tore the shirt, before he got his man by the throat and held on."

"Looks like it," Wadden assented.

"And when he did get his hold, it was with the left hand."

Wadden reached out and made a grab at the air with his left hand. "The right being cut too badly," he commented. "But it doesn't feel natural, and Keller's right-handed. You could see that by the way he used his left when he got the cigar-case out of his pocket."

"Ambidextrous over some things, possibly," Head suggested. He turned away from the body. "I've seen enough," he explained, "except the knife. Where's his knife—the one he used on poor old Bland?"

"I laid it on the mantelpiece. It was under the table."

Head went and looked at the weapon. It was a large, Norwegian fish knife, of the type in which the blade sheaths into a wooden handle. He took it up and felt the edge, and put it down again. Both handle and blade were heavily smeared with dried, brownish bloodstains.

"Now, chief, the pockets," he asked. "Who searched them?"

"I did. Bennett had left them for us. The usual odds and ends. Four pound ten in notes, eight shillings silver, and no coppers. A key-ring with three keys on it, all Yale-pattern, a pearl-handled pocket knife, a handkerchief with his three initials monogrammed on it, and a bookie's little pocket book of rules, giving W. Finch a fifty-pound limit of credit, and two envelopes addressed to him in London, with ha'penny stamps on them and bills inside. One is a garage account for eight pounds odd, and the other for cigars and wines and things supplied to that club, the Carmagnole, apparently. Want to see the lot? I've got 'em all, and got a list too—no, you've got the list, Wells. You'd better keep it for the present."

"I'll have the two envelopes, I think," Head said. "They're bills, you say, and tradesmen might tell me something I want to know. One other thing there should be, or two. Cigarette case, or pipe and pouch—and either matches or a lighter, of course."

"There's nothing of the sort. He was a non-smoker, by the look of it. No sort of baccy about him. A Barnardo book of matches, though."

Head stood reflecting over it, and the drawing-down of his brows indicated that he was engaged on some problem. Then he went and knelt beside the body again, bent down closely to the dead face, and scrutinised the teeth showing between the drawn-back lips. They were evenly set, unstained. Head drew down the lower lip to look at the gum, and did the same with the upper lip. He rose to his feet again.

"What's bitten you?" Wadden asked with some asperity.

But Head gazed at him in a dreamy, absent fashion, and went on gazing until Bennett, out in the entrance hall, coughed impatiently, and Sergeant Wells shifted his position before the mantel as if tired of standing there so long. Then Head came back to earth.

"Yes," he said, as if he had come to a decision, and again—"Yes, Chief, Bertram Davis is one of the lowest things on earth, and I think he'll be suspended over it by the time this ends, or at least put away where things of his kind don't trouble decent people—and that damned fool of a Keller tries to shield him! No, we don't arrest him yet, for I haven't a case, and getting one is not going to be the easiest thing on earth. There's one consolation—he can't get away from us."

Faced toward the doorway of the room, he saw Keller and Davis pass toward the front entrance of the house, Keller leading with a suitcase in his left hand, and his bandaged right hand thrust in the breast of his heavy, buttoned-up overcoat, the collar of which nearly concealed his chin and beard. Davis, also heavily overcoated, almost trotted after his cousin. But Keller paused to address Doctor Bennett, and Davis, realising that he was visible to Head in the dining-room, stepped forward smartly as if fearful of the inspector's gaze.

"Good night, doc. We're going to this hotel Bert's booked up at." Keller's voice was plainly audible in the dining-room. "You've done my hand up real swell. How long's it going to keep on being painful?"

("Real swell!" Head murmured to himself, dreamily.)

"Oh, I don't think you'll feel it much by to-morrow, after a good sleep," Bennett answered. "I shall have to come over here for the inquests, and I can take another look at it then—dress it again."

"Thanks vurry much, doc. It might have been my throat instead of my hand, if I'd been a bit slower. Inquest on me, instead of the guy in there. Do I leave the bodies and everything here to you?"

"To the police," Bennett amended. "Which reminds me—what about a key for them? They'll want to come in and out."

"Key's in the lock there," Keller answered. "I'll leave it all to them. Guess they'll be about to let me in, if I want to come after any of my things upstairs while they're winding this affair up. Now I guess we'll go—come on, Bert. Good night, doc, and thanks again."

"Good night, Mr. Keller," Bennett answered.

The front door, opening inaudibly, let in the sound of wind and rain, and then, as the door closed with equal silence, the noises of outer night were cut off. There remained a patter of rain on the panes of the dining-room window, and Head moved toward the doorway.

"Nothing more to do to-night, chief, I think."

"Midnight already—no," Wadden answered. "Denman had better keep the key and put Sparkes on watch, to see that nobody comes in to disturb things before you have your grand see round, as I suppose you will in the morning. I've told Wells to stay over here at Carden in case Denman wants someone for anything—or anyone for something. You can feed at the hotel in the morning, Wells, so as to be close on the spot, and render vouchers for what you're charged. I'll 'phone you through here, not at the hotel, about the inquests. Ten o'clock or later. Gosh, it's past midnight! No wonder the doctor's getting restless, and Jeffries'll be frozen, out there with the car all that time!"

"It's not cold, though it is such a wild night," Head observed. "And you've reminded me. There's that other car, the Aston-Martin from London. Sparkes had better keep a close eye on it till to-morrow."

"I'll instruct him, sir," Wells promised.

As Wadden turned to go out, they heard the telephone bell in the library ringing. Head crossed the hall hurriedly, and, entering the library, took off the receiver.

"Inspector Head gone home yet?" a voice inquired.

"He has not, Terry. What is it—have you any news for me?"

"Bella Gerrard got through to us, about her Aston-Martin, and sobbing on the wire, she was. Over the Bullfinch's sad end—I told her it was him, past any reasonable doubt. She's coming down to see you to-morrow, getting there first thing, which means about eleven, I'd say. I thought I'd notify you, if I could catch you there."

"Good for you, Terry, and I'll be ready for her. But if she reckons on taking the car away tomorrow—" He paused doubtfully, questioning whether they ought to let the car go so soon.

"That's up to you, but she's not worrying about the car, apparently. It's the demise of the Bullfinch that's got her down, and she rung us and asked for me to find out if I could tell her what chance there is of getting the body for burial. I told her, of course, that it was up to you and the relatives of the dead bird—there's probably a cowfinch twittering somewhere, though I never heard of one. Anyhow, she said she'd go down to Carden, and I recommended her to you as likely to do anything you could to help her."

"Good for you, Terry. But now I think of it, the lady isn't likely to give much away when she does get here. Look here—as a favour to me—will you see if you can get me any further lines on this Bertram Davis? He's owned to borrowing money from Finch, hanging round the Carmagnole club, and if I'm not badly mistaken he's deeply in love with this Bella Gerrard. You know night clubs better than anyone else I could get at, and you may get some lines on the man for me."

"Bertram—Davis. Right." Inspector Byrne was evidently scribbling the name down. "Did he drop any other points to you?"

"Expected to inherit old Keller's property, which consists mainly of the Keller art collection. His not inheriting, I'm very nearly certain, is the cause of all the trouble here to-night—he was in league with this Bullfinch all right, just as you said. But it will take some pinning on him. I hope, eventually, to put Bertram where inheriting property won't interest him, and that's why I want every line you can get on him. I've got to have far more than I've got at present."

"I'll put a few words out for you here and there, Jerry, out of pure affection, and let you know if I get anything."

"Good man! I'll be up in London in a day or two, probably, and then you can let me have what you have on him—to-morrow will be too soon, of course, when you come down here. And this is good news you've given me. By the way, is it Mrs. or Miss Gerrard?"

"Mrs., of course. They always are—though I don't believe she is in reality, and it's not her real name. But the married form gives more latitude."

"Now, Terry, you're getting coarse! And there'll be another murder here if I stop talking to you much longer. Many thanks to you."

"Loud cheers—sleep well," Byrne admonished, and cut off.

Head too hung up, and went out to the entrance hall, where Doctor Bennett, bag in hand, scowled at him and then looked at his own watch.

"If I'd had any idea it was going to be an all-night business, I'd have turned out my own car and come over in it," Bennett remarked.

"All finished now," Head assured him cheerfully. "Wells—and you too, Denman—don't let anyone interfere with that car outside under any pretext till you get permission from the superintendent or me. Let it stay where it is, and get a chain and padlock for the gate at the end of the drive, in case anyone tries to get away with the car. And set a watch over it from about six in the morning. It's important, and Sparkes or somebody must see that nobody goes near the thing."

"Very good, sir," Wells said stolidly.

Then Bennett, growing more and more impatient, drew back the bolt of the front door, which the wind drove inward as soon as it was released. A flurry of rain darkened the parquet for a yard or more inside the hall, and they heard the wind roaring evilly.

"What a night!" Wadden said.

"Yes," Head confirmed him gravely. "They couldn't have chosen a better one, from their point of view."

Wadden, about to follow the doctor out to the car, paused to stare.

"They?" he asked.

"Davis, as well as Finch," Head told him. "Chief, that man is guilty if ever a man was, and what gets me raw is his bringing Keller down here to be murdered. For that's what he did, and it's not his fault that Keller is still alive. He hoped he was bringing a man down here to his death, and I'm going to get him for it!"

There was strong determination in the final sentence. The two went out, then, leaving all in the house in charge of Wells and Denman. They heard the whirring of a self-starter actuating a cold engine, and then it gave place to the sound of the engine itself. Behind the big police saloon, in the forecourt of the Strong Box, stood Bella Gerrard's car, unlighted, and a long, low-built thing, with only its outline visible.

"Very fast, and absolutely reliable." Head quoted Byrne as he seated himself beside the superintendent. "Finch could see Keller off from London if he liked, and still be here in time."

But Wadden had other things in mind.

"I wonder whether that kettle's boiled dry?" he murmured.


CHAPTER VI. — KINGSWARD MAKES A CALL

AT about nine o'clock the following morning, Inspector Head drove himself over Condor Hill and down into Carden in the two-seater car he used for touring the district. The wind of the preceding day had given place to the lightest of breezes from the south-west, and pale sunlight followed on the night's rain. Things looked very different, the inspector reflected as he passed the Carden Arms, and from that he passed to musing over the difference between one's views of the night and of the next morning. Like all imaginative men, he was subject to impulses which might lead to over-hasty action, though as a general rule he controlled those impulses: but this morning, having slept but little and thus had time for thought, he was inclined to question whether he had not been too impulsive altogether in his judgments at the Strong Box.

He had disliked Percival Keller on sight: it was an instinctive feeling, and one for which he could not account, at first, but the man's apparently blind rage in the dining-room, and the way in which he had taken Finch by the throat and not only strangled him, but smashed his head and face as well, had intensified the dislike to real aversion. Finch, past question, had been a cold-blooded murderer, and Keller had described having seen him commit his murder, but still, to Head's mind, the result of the struggle in the dining-room had not been a clean killing. Now, he felt that he disliked Keller as much as he would have disliked Finch, had that miscreant been still alive, and felt, too, that he could not trust the man.

And he loathed Bertram Davis as one might a poisonous snake, but because of that very feeling was doubtful of his own judgment: was Davis a mere blabber who had unintentionally put Finch in the way of attempting to murder Keller, or had he been in league with Finch, trusting either to benefit by his cousin's death, or else in the event of Finch failing to kill Keller as he had failed, which latter result of the attempt relieved him, Davis, of the immediate obligation of paying his seven-thousand-pound debt to the man? If Davis were guilty of no more than a loose tongue, then Head knew he had done the poor fool an injustice in accusing him of complicity in Finch's crime: in the latter case, Davis deserved hanging, but it would be very difficult to get a case against him and bring him to justice.

It appeared to Head, now that he had had time to reflect, very unlikely that Davis would have allied himself with Finch and abetted the murders of both Bland and Keller, both of which Finch had certainly intended, if he, Davis, were not the heir to Ward Keller's estate in the event of Percival's death. It was to get information on that point that the inspector came over to Carden so early, leaving the arrangements for the double inquest, the multitudinous inquiries involved, and everything else of the kind, in Superintendent Wadden's care. Wadden was as keen as himself over getting particulars that would reveal the actual part Davis had played in the tragedy, but, unlike Head, he felt certain that the man was fool rather than knave, in spite of an early morning discussion which had nearly degenerated into argument, in which Head had put forward his views, backing them by the information Inspector Byrne had given him over the telephone at the Strong Box.

Glancing along the drive as he passed the grey, ugly structure, Head saw Constable Sparkes keeping meditative guard over the Aston-Martin, and no other signs of life. No smoke ascended from any of the chimneys: the sharply-square front of the place looked lifeless, and before it only the bonnet and radiator of Bella Gerrard's car showed, since Finch had backed it well over to the side of the forecourt before going to use his knife on Bland. The entrance gate, Head saw, was chained and padlocked as he had ordered. Sight of the car recalled to his mind Inspector Byrne's news that Bella Gerrard was coming to see him to-day: he had left instructions that, if she asked for him at Westingborough, she was to be sent on to Carden, since he did not intend to leave the place before going to meet Byrne at two o'clock.

He stopped his car by the gate of Longlands Farm, went up to the door, and knocked, since there was no bell-push. A middle-aged, comfortable-looking woman opened to him, and dropped him an unexpected, bobbing sort of curtsy. It appeared to him an unusual form of greeting, since he had never seen the woman before, to his knowledge.

"Is Miss Grey in, please?" he asked.

"If you'll just step inside, sir, I'll tell her," the woman answered. "I think she's expecting you to call."

The announcement set Head wondering as the woman went to the door at the side of the brick-floored room—for what reason could Miss Grey expect him? She had been Ward Keller's secretary, of course, which was his reason for being here to see her, and she might be still in touch with Bertram Davis over something connected with the estate—but why should she think a police inspector would call on her, even if the news of the Strong Box tragedy were already generally known?

Then, as she came hurrying out from her sitting-room toward him, a smile of almost eager welcome on her face until she saw clearly that this man was not the one she had expected to greet, he acquitted her of all knowledge of Davis and his doings. This girl was not the type that would have dealings with such a shoddy character: she looked far too straight and healthy-minded—and happy, too.

But her look of happiness gave place to one of perplexity as she checked her welcoming movement toward him, a well-dressed, well set-up figure of a man, but very evidently not the one she had anticipated.

"I—yes, what is it?" she asked. "Mrs. Goldsworthy said—"

She broke off abruptly, and Head smiled.

"You don't know me, Miss Grey," he said. "Inspector Head, from Westingborough. I've come over to see you because, I understand, Mr. Lucas Barton is away over the other side of the county and won't be back till mid-day to-day, and you, as the other executor of Mr. Ward Keller's will, may be able to give me some information that I need rather badly. In connection with the beneficiaries under the will."

"Why, certainly," she answered coldly. "Will you come in?"

She ushered him into the sitting-room in which Kingsward had had tea with her, and the table showed that she had only just finished breakfast. There she faced him again, and he saw her as quite self-possessed, but rather hostile, he felt.

"What is it you want to know, inspector?" she asked. "I suppose I ought to call you inspector? I don't know what the etiquette is, not having had much to do with police officers."

"Well, I'm used to it," he answered, smiling disarmingly. "As to what I want to know, I think there's a good deal you may be able to tell me, if you will. First of all, with regard to the disposal of Mr. Ward Keller's property, which I believe is worth a very considerable amount. To put it as plainly as possible—in the event of Mr. Percival Keller's death, who inherits? Can you tell me that, Miss Grey? I've already asked Barton's clerks, and find they won't give any information in his absence—they say they don't know, which I know is a legal form of refusal to tell, and I want to know at once, to help me in deciding on a line of action. So I came to see if you could help me."

"I could, but probate of the will has not been granted yet," she answered cautiously. "I don't know whether I am supposed to reveal the terms of the will before it is proved—to one who is not a beneficiary under it, I mean. Will you tell me why you want to know this? What is the urgency of your knowing it, I mean?"

"A wise question, Miss Grey," he observed. "I'll answer it, to prove to you I'm not asking out of mere curiosity. Last night, the old servant at the Strong Box, Bland, was murdered, and the man who murdered him tried to kill Percival Keller as well, but Keller killed him instead. Directly, that is not my motive for asking you this—"

"Bland murdered?" she interjected, and the question was a cry.

"Yes," he answered gravely. "I'm sorry if I shocked you by putting it so bluntly. And Percival Keller, it appears, killed his murderer."

"But I telephoned—" she began, and broke off there, as if she had been about to reveal something, but decided to keep it back.

Head waited, and saw her colour deepen under his intent gaze, but she gave no sign of ending the confession.

"Having said so much, Miss Grey, you'd better say the rest," he advised at last. "I'm forced to the conclusion that your telephoning has something to do with the Strong Box or someone connected with it, and everything connected with that place, however remotely, is my business, now. What and whom did you telephone regarding the Strong Box?"

"Not it, but Mr. Percival Keller," she answered. "There is nothing to prevent me from telling you, really. A week or so after Mr. Ward Keller died—about six weeks ago, that is—Sir Denis Kingsward came to see me with a view to finding out the best way of getting in touch with the heir to the estate, and I told him that I would let him know immediately Mr. Percival Keller arrived. I knew yesterday afternoon that Mr. Keller would be here to-day—all Carden knew it, I think, but my landlady told me. And yesterday afternoon I telephoned Sir Denis at his home in London, and he told me he would come here to-day to see Mr. Keller. My landlady mistook you for Sir Denis when she opened the door to you, and I thought he was very early."

"He would be, if he had come from London this morning," Head commented. "But what does Sir Denis Kingsward want with Mr. Percival Keller? What's his hurry to see him immediately on arrival?"

"To get first choice of some of the things in the collection," she explained. "He anticipates that dealers will come here and try to buy as soon as they know Mr. Keller is back, and wanted to see Mr. Keller before that happens. I don't know if you have heard of the Kingsward collection, supposed to be one of the best in private hands?"

"I'm afraid I've only heard about it vaguely," he answered. "Well, that disposes of your telephone call, and of Sir Denis Kingsward's interest. You've no idea how careful one has to be over tying up all the threads in a case, Miss Grey—even a straightforward looking case like this. Now, with your permission, I'll come back to my point. Supposing Mr. Percival Keller had been murdered last night, as well as poor old Bland, what would have happened to the estate? Would the other nephew, Bertram Davis have inherited it?"

"No," she answered. "I should."

"You?" He looked his surprise, and inwardly realised that another possible line of inquiry was opened up by the statement. "But—but surely you're no relation to Mr. ward Keller, Miss Grey?"

"No, I'm not, but he made me—I think Mr. Barton called it contingent residuary legatee—in the event of Mr. Percival Keller dying without leaving issue. 'Heirs of his body' was the term Mr. Barton used in explaining it to me, as carefully as if there were any chance of my ever inheriting. That is to say, Mr. Keller cannot will it away from me, apparently, except in favour of his own children. That, I think, was to prevent Mr. Bertram Davis from benefiting under the will in the event of his cousin not being alive to succeed or trying to leave the estate to him—it was to keep Mr. Davis out under any circumstances."

"The old man didn't like Davis, then?" Head suggested.

"Hated him, toward the end," she answered. "He used to have queer rages about Bertram, as he always called him, the last year I worked for him at the Strong Box. Used to rage to Bland—but he's dead, and Bland is dead too, now. Yes, he was determined Bertram should not benefit by his death, and stated it plainly enough in the will."

"But why did he make you contingent legatee, Miss Grey, if you don't regard that as an impertinent question?"

"'As a reward for services faithfully and uncomplainingly rendered,' was the wording of the will," she answered. "But since Mr. Percival Keller is still alive, and will probably marry and have children, I'm afraid I don't regard it as much of a reward."

"No—o," he breathed thoughtfully. "Now, leaving that altogether aside for the present, do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?"

"Certainly not," she acceded frankly. "But do sit down, inspector. I feel really shocked about poor Bland being killed."

She moved and seated herself at the table, and he too drew out a chair and sat down, facing her. Although she would have benefited more than anyone if Finch had succeeded in murdering Keller, Head already acquitted her of any complicity in the attempt: she was too transparently straight and sincere to come under suspicion.

"Naturally," he observed. "You knew the man, being secretary there and probably seeing him a good deal. Can you give me any idea of his relations with his master? Was his a position of trust, would you say, or was he merely an employee kept at a distance?"

"I think Mr. Keller trusted him as much as he trusted anyone," she answered. "Bland had been with him many years, I know."

"Do you think he trusted Bland to the extent of confiding to him the combination that would open the strong room?" Head asked.

"No. Wait, though! I'd almost forgotten, but your asking that makes me think—the day Sir Denis Kingsward wanted to look over the Strong Box, and I took him to show him round—"

"When was that?" Head interposed. "How long ago?"

"When he came here about six weeks ago," she explained.

"Yes, and you took him to show him over the place. And then?"

"Bland told him—Sir Denis said, in a joking kind of way, that he didn't mean to try forcing his way into the strong room, or something of the sort, and Bland told him he could try for a year if he liked. Then we went up to the room that had been Mr. Keller's bedroom to see the controls. Bland took us up, and while we were there he said that Mr. Keller had told nobody the five letters forming the combination. But the way he insisted on it was strange, or seemed strange to me. He was almost fierce about it, I thought, and I wondered then if by any chance Mr. Keller had told him, if he knew and meant to keep it to himself."

"You think he may have known?" Head insisted.

"I thought then it was very probable that he did know, but it passed from my mind, after, and I didn't think of it again till you asked this. Mr. Percival Keller had said that the room was to remain closed till he got here, and both Mr. Barton and I acquiesced in that, since he only is interested in the contents of the room—they belong to him, and if he chooses to delay valuation for probate it is his affair."

"I see. Now, Miss Grey, if Bland did know, would he communicate his knowledge to Bertram Davis, under any circumstances?"

She shook her head decidedly. "I'm certain he would not," she answered. "He was intensely loyal to his dead master, and knew that master had hated Mr. Davis. He wouldn't even let Mr. Davis into the Strong Box after Mr. Keller's death, until I went and told him why Mr. Davis wanted to go in, and went with him as an executor of the will."

"Bland himself hated Davis, then?" he suggested.

"Yes. He would have told Mr. Davis nothing, I'm certain."

"Now we'll come a step farther. Ward Keller, of course, would have had that five-letter combination engraved on his mind past any need of recording it on paper or anywhere, but if Bland got to know it in any way, almost certainly he would put it down. Now another step. You went to the Strong Box with Davis, on his allegation that he wanted a photograph frame. Was he in range of your sight all the time?"

"All the time," she confirmed him. "I kept with him."

"Well, he hasn't struck me as a man to be trusted out of sight, so far," Head commented. "Now where did he go, when he got inside there?"

"Straight to the library. The photograph frame he wanted was on the library mantelpiece, and he went there and took it."

"And the photograph of Percival Keller in the frame?"

"He took the photograph out. He said he wanted only the frame."

"Do you know where he put that photograph?"

"I think—" she hesitated, pondering. "I think he put it down on the mantelpiece. Wait a second! He said, just then, that there was a mouse under one of the armchairs. Bland turned the chair up to see, and there wasn't any mouse, because I looked too. It made Bland angry, being a reflection on his care of the room."

"Clever Bertram!" Head commented softly. "And then Davis came out of the room with the empty frame in his hand, and you forgot all about the photograph he had taken out—and put in his pocket!"

"He—yes, I see. The mouse was a pretext. But why should he?"

"Want the photograph, you mean? Never mind why, but he came for that and nothing else—or rather, he came for that and something else which came his way by accident, possibly. You know, I suppose, that there was no other photograph of Percival Keller in the place?"

"There is one of him and Mr. Davis, as schoolboys, in the dining-room," she dissented. "Hanging beside the mantelpiece there."

"Yes, but this was the only one of Percival Keller with any likeness to what he is to-day. Now a little theory, Miss Grey, for you to consider. If Bland knew that five-letter combination, he would put it down on paper. He was, you say, intensely loyal to Ward Keller, and so would probably transfer that loyalty to Ward Keller's heir. What more likely than that he would put his record of the combination somewhere near the photograph of that heir, so that the photograph would remind him to give the combination to the man who ought to have it, as soon as that man arrived and gave him the chance to hand it over?"

"It is a bare possibility," she admitted. "But I see where you wish to carry this theory, inspector. You are suggesting that when Mr. Davis distracted us about the imaginary mouse, to enable him to take the photograph—though I don't see why he wanted it—you suggest that he saw the paper with the five-letter combination on it lying on the mantel, and took that as well. But Bland would have been up in arms at once if he had missed it. He would have known that Mr. Davis was the only one beside himself who had been in a position to take it, and would have come to me or gone to Mr. Barton—"

"Davis had no need to take the paper with the five letters on it," Head interposed. "He wouldn't be such a fool as to give away his knowledge of the combination in that fashion. The man who could improvise that mouse to make you look away while he concealed the photograph is quite capable of remembering a sequence of five letters, don't you see? If Bland put the paper there, sight of it was enough."

"Why, yes." She thought it over, and then smiled at him. "Do you think of everything, inspector?" she asked after a silence. "It seems to me that you do, and I'm glad I was born without criminal instincts. But what use was either the photograph or the combination to Mr. Davis?"

He smiled in turn. "I'm afraid you'll have to leave that to me, for the present," he answered. "Now I'm coming to one more aspect of the case, and after that I won't trouble you any more. Just tell me this. If neither you nor Percival Keller existed, Bertram Davis would inherit Ward Keller's estate, wouldn't he?"

"I suppose so," she agreed doubtfully. "I know of no other relatives of Mr. Ward Keller. In fact, I believe Mr. Barton said definitely that there were none, apart from these two nephews."

"That being so, Master Bertram—" He broke off, and sat thoughtful for awhile, and she waited silently for the end of his cogitations.

"Miss Grey"—when he spoke again, he looked steadily at her—"I have to say something unpleasant, but you strike me as a lady with a good deal of common sense, and I feel convinced this is a thing that ought to be put before you plainly, and at once."

"Then by all means say it," she urged, rather trepidantly.

"Just this. Last night, an attempt was made to murder Mr. Percival Keller. It didn't succeed, and the would-be murderer of Keller is dead himself. But supposing another agent willing to make the attempt were found, and supposing he succeeded? You, then, would be the only obstacle separating the estate from any surviving relative of Ward Keller, wouldn't you? No—leave it—don't answer those questions, and for heaven's sake don't speak any names! I'm putting confidence in you in making this vague suggestion, relying on you not to tell a soul one word of what I've said—and said for your own sake, to put you on your guard. As I feel you ought to be, now."

She returned his gaze, and her eyes were steady and grave in expression as were his own. "Thank you very much, Inspector Head," she said. "I mean it—very, very much. I'm not afraid, but I shall take care, now, and—if I can do anything in return for your kindness—"

"You've already done it," he said as he rose to his feet. "I felt sure you would take it that way. Nine out of ten girls might have lost their heads with fear, but I felt sure you wouldn't. Remember, too, the possibility is very remote, while Percival Keller lives."

"I know," she answered, and smiled at him.

"Well, I think that's all," he remarked with an affectation of sudden briskness, "and I've a good deal to do to-day. Thank you very much for the information you've given me, Miss Grey."

She stood up and offered him her hand. "Any information I can give you at any time, I will," she promised. "As an executor of the will, you may wish to question me again. I shall always be glad to help you."

"I'll remember it, thanks," he said. "Now I'll get to my work—good-bye and thanks once again for the way you took my hint, as well as for what you've told me. And—it was a hint for you, but not definitely against anyone. Merely that it's best to be on your guard."

He went out, then, turning his car about, and drew in before the chained and padlocked gate of the Strong Box. As he went along the drive Constable Sparkes, ordered by Sergeant Denman to keep an eye on the Aston-Martin saloon till somebody turned up, appeared from behind the car and saluted respectfully.

"Have you got the key to that padlock, Sparkes?" Head asked.

"Yes, sir. The sergeant left it with me."

"Then you can take the chain off the gate. Anything to report?"

"Not in connection with this morning, sir. But I don't know if you'll think it important—I heard you questioning Mr. Keller last night, sir, about the time things happened here, and he put it at about a quarter-past seven, just as he did to Sergeant Denman. And the man Finch, it appears certain, came in this car. Well, you don't see many of this build of car about, not round here, anyhow, and I saw this same car pass the Greyhound, halfway down the street, at not later than ten minutes past six last night. And that's barely two minutes from here, in a car, since it's only five or six minutes on foot."

"That's most important, Sparkes—most important!" Head observed thoughtfully—very thoughtfully, in fact. "You're sure it was this same car, though? If so, it means a lot."

"Sure of it—for this reason, sir," Sparkes declared earnestly. "I was out in the street from about six till Sergeant Denman picked me up to fetch me along here, and that was the only car of any sort that passed me coming toward the Carden Arms and Condor Hill, though three went the other way, coming down the hill and going through the village toward Crandon. This one came from Crandon and toward the hill, and I could see one man inside it, driving slowly, as if looking for a particular road or house. I thought he meant to stop and ask me, but he went past, coming this way. And he had only side-lights on—not headlamps. And as I say, you could hardly mistake this car if you had a good look at it, as I had when it passed me."

"Not later than ten minutes past six?" Head asked reflectively.

"Not any later, sir. I didn't look to see what became of it, because I thought it was going up over the hill toward Westingborough. I'd come out of my cottage at just six o'clock and walked as far as the Greyhound, which is not more than five or six minutes from where I live, as you know, sir. I couldn't have been standing outside the window of the public bar more than two or three minutes when the car passed me—and I'd heard the church clock strike six just as I came out of my front gate into the road. That car passed me, I'd say, at eight minutes past six—ten minutes past would be the very latest."

"Yes. Yes." Head stood gazing dreamily at the car, digesting the information. Then he roused himself and turned to the constable.

"We will not produce this evidence of yours at the inquest to-day, Sparkes," he said. "Have you told Sergeant Denman?"

"Yes, sir, and he told me to report it to you."

"Was anyone else in the village street at the time, do you know?"

Sparkes shook his head. "I'd say not, sir. I didn't see anyone about, and as you may remember, it wasn't a night to turn a dog out into, let alone a human being. To the best of my knowledge, there was nobody at all moving in the street between six and half-past."

"Well, if you see Sergeant Denman before I do, tell him that this piece of information is not to be passed to anyone at all, for the present, and the fact that you saw the car is not to be mentioned at the inquest. I think I shall want it for later use."

"Very good, sir. I'll tell the sergeant."

"Go on keeping your eyes open, Sparkes, and you may find stripes disfiguring your sleeve, yet," Head promised. "Now hand me the key of this front door—yes, thanks. Where are the two bodies laid out?"

"Both in the outhouse round the side, there." He turned and gestured past the back of the car, alongside the house. "It's the first door you come to, facing the side wall. And Sergeant Wells said that except for moving 'em out, we were to leave everything exactly as it was, so things are just as you saw them last night."

"That's quite in order, thanks. Now you can unchain the gate."

He unlocked the front door and entered the Strong Box.


BY eleven o'clock, when Sir Denis Kingsward came over the top of Condor Hill in response to Lynette Grey's telephone call, Carden was buzzing from end to end with various and conflicting versions of the tragedy of the preceding night, and everyone who could spare the time, together with quite a number who could not but did, had congregated in the road before the gateway of the Strong Box. Just inside stood Sparkes, a veritable Cerberus short of two heads, patiently referring questioners to Inspector Head—which was quite safe, since Head remained invisible within the grey, formidable-looking house—and declining even to give information to the local representative of the Westingborough Sentinel and District Recorder, who knew he had the scoop of his life if only he could catch and hold somebody willing to talk and able to give details. But both Percival Keller and his cousin Bertram remained up in Keller's room at the Carden Arms—they had had their breakfast taken up to them there, and had not come down at all—and Sergeant Denman was no more communicative than the constable, but far more acid and abrupt in his totally uninformative replies to questions. The sergeant was busy the whole morning over a section of the jury list, and all he vouchsafed to the representative of the fourth estate was a sharply-barked sentence—

"Inquest at three o'clock this afternoon—at the Greyhound."

And, when the amateurish reporter wanted to know whose inquest was being held, and was there more than one, the sergeant merely made a gesture of impatience and hurried on his way with—"Too busy to talk about it now—you'll get it all if you turn up at the Greyhound."

Kingsward, having hooted a slow way through the groups discussing some dozen or more possible murders—all that the idlers knew with certainty was that Bland had been killed, somehow—glanced at the Strong Box and decided that he had better see Lynette first, not only because seeing her coincided with his inclination, but also that the policeman guarding the gate indicated some very unusual happening here, while the groups in the road proved that the whole village knew it. Ergo, Lynette would be able to say what had occurred, and also, possibly, when and where Percival Keller would be available—if at all.

So Kingsward reasoned, and stopped, as on his first visit, outside Longlands Farm gateway. As he got out from his car he found, between himself and the gate he wanted to open, a spectacled, anxious-looking little man with a closed note-book in his hand.

"I am the representative of the Westingborough Sentinel—my name is Haddock," the little man announced. "Are you Mr. Percival Keller?"

"I am not," Kingsward told him. "Have you got him anywhere, because I want him myself, if I can find him?"

"Now would I ask you if you were him if I had him?" the little man demanded with sorrowful exasperation.

"Possibly not, Mr.—Dr—Haddock. Since you can't produce him, can you tell me what has happened at that house there—the Strong Box?"

"I wish I knew!" Mr. Haddock sighed miserably.

"Well, since you don't, would you mind standing away from that gate?" Kingsward asked rather acridly. "I want to go in there."

Haddock jumped aside, dropping his note-book on the muddy sidewalk in his haste to comply, and Kingsward, ignoring both him and the book, and not a little irritated, entered by way of the gate. He had barely touched the door knocker before Lynette opened to him and stood back invitingly while he entered.

"I saw you, through my window," she told him. "But I'm afraid you have come for nothing—that is, for to-day."

"Lynette, I have not come for nothing, since you opened the door to me," he answered. "You really ought to know better than that."

She smiled momentarily, and shook her head ever so slightly. Kingsward felt that he had never seen a fairer picture than she made as she stood with eyes averted from him, silent and confused. But a door at the back of the room, leading to where Mrs. Goldsworthy could be heard gently humming a tuneless reminiscence, stood open.

"I—I'm very glad to see you, too," Lynette said, after a long silence, and half turned as if to lead the way to her sitting-room.

"But what did you mean when you said I had come for nothing?" Kingsward demanded. "I told you I should be here to-day when you telephoned. What is it, Lynette—isn't Keller here after all?"

"Yes, I think he's still here, but—there's been murder at the Strong Box—after I rang you yesterday afternoon, it appears—"

"Keller murdered?" he interrupted sharply.

"No." She led the way toward her sitting-room. "It was Bland, the old servant you saw there. And Mr. Keller, apparently, killed his murderer. Mr. Goldsworthy here has been warned to attend at the inquest at three o'clock this afternoon for jury service, so I'm afraid you won't be able to get in touch with Mr. Keller to-day about anything else."

He faced her by the table, remembering how he had had tea in this room on his first visit to Carden. "But why—how did it happen?" he asked. "Bland, of all people?"

She shook her head. "I've told you all I know," she said. "All the police inspector told me when he came to see me this morning."

"Bland dead—and the man who killed him too!" he observed, recovering from his initial surprise. "But why—Lynette, why should a police inspector want to see you? You weren't concerned in it, surely?"

"He—" she hesitated, and Kingsward waited rather anxiously—"he wanted some information that I, as Ward Keller's secretary, was able to give," she explained, deciding not to give him any hint of Head's warning that, since Percival Keller's life had been attempted, her own might be in danger. A full explanation would have involved a statement of her own position as contingent heiress to Ward Keller's estate, and she had no intention of revealing that contingency to Kingsward.

"I see," he said rather vaguely. "And Keller—yes, of course. It wouldn't be much use my trying to see him to-day. Well, Lynette"—he smiled at her—"the only thing is to stay down here and see if he's available to-morrow. How does that idea appeal to you?"

"It's for you to decide, of course," she answered demurely.

"Then I decide to stay. And it's just possible that you'll dine with me again this evening, and turn what might be a mere trip in connection with my hobby into a pleasure worth remembering, as you did somewhere about six weeks ago. Will you, Lynette?"

She hesitated, her gaze averted from him. He was a wealthy baronet, she knew, while she was merely Lynette Grey, on the look-out for another post as secretary as soon as Barton decided that he needed her here no more over the disposal of Ward Keller's estate. There was that in Kingsward's attitude which betokened more than a friendly interest in her: he had been a friend of her father, certainly, but...

While she stood hesitant, as to the wisdom of accepting the invitation yet knowing that she wanted to accept, Mrs. Goldsworthy gave a preliminary knock on the door and then opened it.

"A gentleman says he knows Sir Denis Kingsward is here, miss, and he'd like to see him. The one that called and asked for you just after breakfast, it is. What shall I tell him, miss?"

"Inspector Head!" Lynette exclaimed.

"Oh, just a policeman!" Mrs. Goldsworthy's tone expressed a mixture of disappointment and injury over having been misled as to the social status of the caller. "Shall I tell him to wait?"

"No." Lynette gazed gravely at Kingsward as she answered. "Show him in here, Mrs. Goldsworthy.

"I can go out while he talks to you, Sir Denis," she added as the woman went out to summon Head.

"You won't do anything of the sort!" he retorted determinedly. "I know no more than you do what a police inspector can want with me—"

"Just a question or two, Sir Denis," Head said from the doorway, entering the room in response to Mrs. Goldsworthy's bidding. "I saw Miss Grey this morning, and she told me you were interested in the Keller collection. Do you mind telling me if you were in this neighbourhood last night—in or anywhere near Carden?"

"If you'll tell me first why you want to know," Kingsward replied with some show of hostility, both in voice and gaze.

"That's very simple," Head answered placatingly. "Your car and another in which I'm deeply interested just now are the same make, Aston-Martins, and might be replicas of each other, and I merely want to know if your car were anywhere near this village last night—between six and eight o'clock, say. Call it between six and eight-thirty, rather."

"My car has not been near the village for weeks," Kingsward said. "Until this morning, that is. It was in London until I left in it a little over three and a half hours ago, and drove down here."

"Three and a half hours," Head commented gravely. "Well, sir, I can see you're still alive, and I hope everyone else on the road you took is alive too. So that's how long an Aston-Martin takes to get here from London—but not if I'm ever in one!"

"Perfectly safe and comfortable running," Kingsward assured him.

"I'll take your word for it, sir," Head told him. "I understand, from what Miss Grey told me, that you want to see Mr. Keller?"

"That is my reason for being here," Kingsward assented, with no hostility at all, now. He decided that he might like Head, if he knew the man better. "You don't mean you can put me in touch with him?"

"No, I don't," Head answered. "I think I'd better leave that to someone else—Miss Grey here, possibly, since she knows far more about the Keller collection and affairs than I do. But I don't think Mr. Keller will feel like talking about art collections to-day. Do you know him, sir, may I ask?"

"I don't," Kingsward admitted. "I haven't met him, yet."

"You know a Mr. Bertram Davis, possibly?" Head suggested.

"I—look here, inspector, are you going to turn this lady's room into a witness box with me as the witness? Because I don't—"

"I apologise to the lady," Head interposed with a little bow at Lynette, "and to you as well, Sir Denis. My trouble is that I have far more to do and more people to see to-day than I seem likely to manage, and that's what made me so rude. I do hope you'll forgive me, Miss Grey, and I'll see Sir Denis and have a talk with him later."

"If Sir Denis doesn't mind, I'm quite willing for you to ask him anything you wish to know here, Mr. Head," she assured him. "Mr. Head"—she turned to Kingsward to explain—"did me a very great service when he called to see me this morning, Sir Denis, and I told him I'd do anything I could to help him in connection with the Strong Box."

"Well, if that's so, inspector, carry on," Kingsward invited. "You were asking me—what was it, though?"

"Whether you know a Mr. Bertram Davis, a nephew of the late Mr. Ward Keller," Head explained patiently. "I'm slightly interested in him."

"So was I," Kingsward answered frankly, "until I found out through Miss Grey here that he was not to inherit Ward Keller's estate. You see, Mr. Head, I got in touch with the old man once or twice, and found that he'd never sell a thing, no matter what was offered. He was, as somebody once said of him, a miser in art, one who hoarded his possessions and kept them as dark secrets, hidden from everyone but himself. It was a kink in his mentality, I think. But Davis was his obvious heir, and a very different type—one who wanted money, not art treasures. So I kept myself informed with regard to him in anticipation of his uncle's death, and in the hope of striking a bargain with him before the dealers could get at him and make their own prices to me when I came to trade with them. All to no purpose, of course."

"You mean, since the other nephew inherits," Head commented. "Well, Sir Denis, murder was done at the Strong Box last night, and everyone who has any connection at all with what happened there is of interest to me to-day—I hope you'll understand if I put it no more plainly than that. I hoped you might be able to tell me something about Mr. Percival Keller, but it appears you can't. Now can you tell me anything at all about his cousin, Mr. Bertram Davis?"

"I conclude," Kingsward observed with a smile, "that you didn't really want to know about Keller at all, but do want to know about Davis? That he interests you more than Keller, in fact?"

"Yes, conclude that, if you like," Head said, with the air of one making a reluctant admission, and caught in a Machiavellian twist of diplomacy. "Do forgive me for this, won't you, Miss Grey?"

"Certainly," she answered readily. "If Sir Denis doesn't mind, I don't. I'm just as interested as I was when you questioned me, in fact. Interested in the way you lead one on, I mean."

"But this is not leading on," Head pointed out. "It's merely information about a man—anything that will help me to know him."

"Well," Kingsward said after a long pause, "Davis was—I met him only once, and then didn't exactly meet him. That sounds silly, I know, but the actual fact is that I went to a night club in London called the Carmagnole, with the idea of getting in touch with Davis and telling him my interest in the Keller collection—as a prospective buyer when I got the chance. It may appear to you, inspector, that I had no right to do such a thing in the old man's lifetime, but you may have heard that collectors have no consciences. I felt, if I knew Davis—" He paused rather awkwardly and looked for a moment at Lynette, who smiled in reply to the look.

"I don't see why not," Head remarked. "If you felt sure he was going to inherit, you were doing no harm to his uncle, surely?"

"No, but—it was as if I were hoping for that uncle's death. A feeling I had about it after. But I might have saved myself the effort of going to the Carmagnole, for all the good it was to me."

"You mean—?" Head inquired.

"I mean that Davis was too sodden drunk that evening to remember whom he met or what he said. I came away without speaking to him."

"It was a practice of his, I understand," Head commented.

"I have been told that his uncle—Ward Keller, that is—was his guardian till he came of age, arranged his education, and had charge of all his money in his minority," Kingsward stated. "His mother, the uncle's sister, left young Davis twenty-two thousand pounds, and it lasted him just three years. Then there was about three hundred a year tied up so that he couldn't get at the capital, but he simply mortgaged the income to moneylenders. Then he began borrowing, and is still at it, from what I have been able to learn of him."

"Borrowing," Head suggested, "from a certain William S. Finch."

"How do you know that?" Kingsward demanded with surprise.

"I might ask how you know so much about his career," Head responded, "instead of which I'll simply thank you for what you've told me. But Davis himself told me he's borrowed from Finch."

"My reason for knowing about him is that I wanted to know what would happen to the Keller collection when the old man died," Kingsward confessed. "Because of that, I had inquiries made from time to time."

"And found him an unmitigated rotter," Head suggested.

"Well"—Kingsward smiled—"I wasn't going to say it in so many words. But I wouldn't care to change reputations with him."

Head nodded in reply, and then looked at his watch.

"I'm very much obliged to you, Sir Denis," he said, "and especially for clearing up the point about your car, I hardly hoped you'd be able to give me anything definite about Davis—and you've not seen Percival Keller yet, since he arrived in London from Canada?"

"I've never seen him in my life, to my knowledge," Kingsward said.

"Would you like me to tell him that you want to get in touch with him, as soon as this business of the inquest and all the rest is finished?" Head asked. "You're hardly likely to see him before."

"I should be very grateful to you," Kingsward assented.

"Very good—I'll remember it. And, by Jove, I'd altogether forgotten something else!" Again he looked at his watch. "Miss Grey, as a special favour—I see you have a telephone there. May I use it?"

"Of course you may," she assented. "Shall we leave you to it?"

"Not in the least—don't bother about that." He went to the instrument, removed the receiver, and asked for Westingborough main police station. "I want to catch my superintendent there before he goes out," he explained. "It's not private in any way."

He got his connection, and they heard his message.

"Superintendent Wadden—that you, chief? Yes, it is. Look here, I'd altogether forgotten that Byrne said he was—yes, Inspector Byrne from London, my cousin—the one who talked to me last night. Yes. I'd forgotten he told me last night he was coming down on the two o'clock to-day, and I promised to meet him if I could. That will be the two o'clock arrival at Westingborough, not the two o'clock out from London. Yes. Yes. Chief, I've got both hands and my feet full here till the inquest starts, and simply can't get over there. If I look after everything at this end, will you meet Byrne and fetch him over? You'll be here a good half-hour before the inquest starts, even then. Yes. Yes. What's that? Oh, yes—identification for his own purposes at his end of the table. That's it. You'll meet him, then? Thanks, chief, that's all. Yes, both sitting pretty at the hotel—quite safe. Pick me up at the Strong Box on your way—Byrne will want to stop there for his identification. Right you are, chief, and many thanks—good-bye."

He hung up and turned toward Kingsward and Lynette.

"If I'd missed him, the other man would never have let me forget it," he said, "and the super was just on the point of going out, too. My best thanks, Miss Grey, and to you too, Sir Denis. I'll remember to tell Keller you'd like to see him about his curios."

He went out, leaving them together. Kingsward made a grimace.

"Curios!" he exclaimed disgustedly. "An Aphrodite by Phidias!"

"He seemed too busy to stop to think of the right word," Lynette observed. "But I like him. He was very nice to me this morning."

"Umm-m! Nice, was he?" Kingsward queried doubtfully.

"Nice isn't quite the right word. But I like him."

"The right words for things seem rather difficult to find," Kingsward observed. "Now, I think, we'll go back to where we were before he came in, and I'll do the cross-examining."

"You won't make it too cross will you?" she entreated demurely.

"Not if you manage to find the right word about dining with me to-night," he answered. "There's only one, and it's quite easy."

"But supposing Mr. Mead sees Mr. Keller and tells him you want to see him, and he does see you to-day?" she queried.

"What on earth difference does that make to your dining with me?" he inquired. "Seeing Keller won't stop me from eating."

"But if you see him to-day, you needn't stay the night in Carden," she pointed out. "Having got what you came for, you can go back to London this afternoon—as soon as you've seen Mr. Keller."

"Seeing Keller isn't going to give me all I want out of Carden," he retorted firmly, "and I'm not going back to London to-day, whatever happens. Now will you stop this business of evasion and tell me—do we dine together this evening, Lynette, or don't we?"

She looked up at him with happy laughter in her eyes.

"I think we do," she said.


CHAPTER VII. — THE GRIEF OF BELLA GERRARD

INSTEAD of returning to the Strong Box after his call on Kingsward at Longlands Farm, Head passed the gateway of the drive with no more than a glance at the frontage of the concrete house, and went on to the Carden Arms. There, in the lounge, he found Lucas Barton, hat in hand, apparently waiting for someone. Barton turned toward the door as the inspector entered, and then crossed toward him. "Morning, Mr. Head. They told me at my office that you had been inquiring for me before I got back this morning. Very early, in fact.

"It's true, but I got what I wanted from another source," Head told him. "You haven't come over here because of that, though?"

"Oh, certainly not!" The reply intimated that the solicitor considered it beneath his dignity to run about in consequence of police inquiries. But then he relaxed, possibly out of mere human curiosity.

"I'm here because of a telephone message from Mr. Percival Keller, who got here last night, he tells me, and became involved in a tragedy at the Strong Box—killed a man in self-defence, he said in his message. He wants me to represent him. Could you give me any of the facts of the case, inspector?"

"Except that beyond doubt Bland was murdered, and that Keller killed the man who murdered him, I can tell you nothing, Mr. Barton," Head answered. "The double inquest is being held at the Greyhound, opening at three o'clock, and I'm here to see both Keller and his cousin, Davis. They stayed here at the hotel last night."

"So Mr. Keller told me on the telephone," Barton remarked, as if the fact were worthy of comment. "I'm waiting to see him now."

"Meanwhile—until he turns up, that is—you are virtually principal executor of the late Mr. Ward Keller's will, I understand?"

"Miss Grey and I are executors," Barton admitted stiffly, and with evidently surprised distaste at the question.

"Yes," Head said, ignoring the other man's attitude, "which means that Miss Grey does what you tell her about things. Now do you mind telling me, Mr. Barton, how soon you can get that strong room opened?"

"Within a day or two," Barton answered, "but I don't see what business it can possibly be of yours when the room is opened, inspector."

"You don't, eh?" Head sounded totally unimpressed. "It happens to be very much my business, in view of what happened last night. Have you any inventory of the contents of that room?"

"A rather superfluous question. Of course I have an inventory."

"And when is it going to be opened?" Head persisted.

"Inspector"—Barton sounded theatrically magniloquent—"the opening of that room and valuation of its contents is solely a matter for the executors and heir of Mr. Ward Keller's estate—"

"And I tell you it's my business!" Head interposed sharply, "so come off that high horse and talk sense. I'm here on duty, not for pleasure. Unless you want me to take over and have the room smashed open in some way—when are you going to open it?"

"Since you insist—" Barton realised that he had to yield the point, and spoke with sullen reluctance—"I have been in communication with the firm who constructed the mechanism of the room, and they are sending a man to open it the day after to-morrow. I want it opened as soon as possible, to get valuation for probate. And as for smashing it open, inspector, it would take you more than two days to gain entry, let me tell you, while I should certainly institute proceedings for damage if you attempted anything of the kind."

"We are not impressed," Head retorted coolly. "I think I can wait till the day after to-morrow, and then I'm going to be there for the opening, and hope you find everything to coincide with your inventory. But I have doubts, as things stand now, as to whether you will."

"May I ask what that implication means?" Barton demanded.

"Not at present," Head answered. "Quite possibly I'm wrong, but forty-eight hours isn't long to wait. You have sent a message up for Mr. Percival Keller, I suppose—to tell him you're waiting?"

"That is so," Barton admitted shortly.

"Well, if you let me have a word with him first, I won't keep him more than a couple of minutes."

"Barton frowned. My time is valuable," he ventured to object.

Head smiled slightly: the irritated and pompous solicitor was trying to put him in his place, he knew. Just then he saw Keller, his bandaged hand thrust inside the front of his buttoned coat, descending the stairs with Davis following him. Barton had his back to the staircase, and so did not see the pair as they came down.

"Then charge the two minutes up to Mr. Keller," Head retorted. "I am going to speak to him first, whatever you think about it."

And, passing the now speechlessly furious man, he faced Keller with a cool little nod, ignoring Davis for the time.

"Morning, Mr. Keller. I've just been having a word with your solicitor over opening the strong room at your uncle's place, and told him, in view of all that's happened, that I intend to be present, to make certain that everything is in order."

"Vurry sensible of you, inspector," Keller replied coolly. "Come right along, if you feel like it. I don't object."

"I expected to see you over there this morning, rather earlier than this," Head observed.

"You would, too," Keller told him, "if it hadn't been for this darned hand of mine. The pain of it kept me awake mostly all night. That doctor made a mistake when he said it wouldn't hurt."

"Ah! I'm sorry to hear that. The inquest is at three this afternoon, and both you and Mr. Davis here will be wanted as witnesses. At the Greyhound Inn, which you'll find easily enough along the village street—Mr. Davis probably knows it, though. There's another small matter I'd like a word with you about, but your solicitor here is in a hurry, and it can keep till he's finished with you. Mr. Barton"—he turned as he spoke—"my two minutes are up. Here's your client."

There was almost, but not quite, contempt for both men in the introduction, but Head had his own reasons for it, apart from his resentment over Barton's assumption of his right to priority. As Barton greeted Keller with a warmth induced by the knowledge that a valuable client stood before him, and, more coolly, acknowledged Davis' presence, Head went to the fireplace at the other side of the lounge, where a mirror over the mantel gave him a view of all three men. Cortazzi, the hotel proprietor, who had dismissed the greater part of his staff for the winter months, was hovering to act as waiter at need. Head gestured to him, and he approached.

"A large tankard of bitter," Head ordered, and went on gazing into the mirror as the Italian hurried out by the service doorway.

Davis, the mirror showed, stood back from the other two, looking rather like a dog waiting to be called. For some time the conversation between Barton and Keller was inaudible to the inspector. Cortazzi returned with the tankard of beer, and Head took a small drink and put the vessel on the mantel over the fireplace. Then he caught a sentence.

"Some proof of identity, in addition to Mr. Davis' recognition of you," Barton said. "Documentary proof, if only as a matter of form."

"I guess that's what you call legal caution," Keller responded, and Head, looking into the glass, saw him smile. "Well, I dunno. What about my passport? Will it be good enough?"

"Yes, that would be conclusive," Barton assented.

"Right. I've got it on me. Bert—" Keller turned to Davis—"can you get the darned thing out of my pocket—left pocket? This hand's gone back on me altogether this morning—gone dead stiff."

Davis felt in the pocket and withdrew the passport, and at that Head turned and approached the group. "Let me see that," he bade.

Barton gave him an angry look. "Aren't you exceeding your authority, Inspector?" he demanded with angry sternness.

"Mr. Barton," Head answered coldly and incisively, "if you want a summons for obstructing me in the execution of my duty, just say so, and I'll get one issued. Now, Mr. Davis, hand me that passport!"

He took and examined the document. It bore the stamp of the British consulate at Chicago, and had been issued in January of the preceding year, he saw; the photograph of Keller was better than is usually the case with passport likenesses, but showed his little pointed beard as more neatly trimmed than it appeared now, possibly because its wearer had neglected it during his weeks of travelling to England from the middle of Canada. Head mentally checked the particulars, and found them in order. Profession, estate agent; domicile, London, Ontario; height, five feet eleven and a half inches; eyes, brown, and hair, dark brown. He handed the passport to Barton.

"Issued in Chicago, Mr. Keller," he commented.

"I was on a long visit to the States when my old one ran out," Keller explained. "They're real hot stuff on the American border, so I got it renewed before I went back home."

"Ah! Just so. Carry on, Mr. Barton—I've finished."

He went back to the fireplace and took another draught from his tankard. As he replaced it on the mantel, he caught the reflection of Davis' gaze at him in the mirror, and knew that, if ever there were fear visible in a man's eyes, he saw it in those eyes then. He went on gazing, and, as Davis turned his head away, felt that his own accusation of the man in the library at the Strong Box, only a few hours before, had been fully justified. Davis and Finch had been allied over the murder of Bland and attempted murder of Keller, to whom Davis appeared to cling, now. He had been the devil behind the machine in all that had happened at the Strong Box, and had known that he could not lose, no matter whether Finch or Keller were left alive.

But how prove his guilt? Keller, it seemed, would shield this contemptible cousin of his as completely as inexplicably, and, with Finch dead, there was nobody to testify under examination that the two had plotted together to put Keller out of the way and, probably, Miss Grey after him. Was there nobody, though? As if in reply to that mental query, Head realised later, the mirror showed him Cortazzi hurrying across the lounge to the outer door, where a woman was entering. She was small and slenderly built, and very graceful: golden hair showed from under her chic little hat, and framed a face of classically pure outline, a strikingly lovely face. As Cortazzi held the door for her, Davis turned to look and then started toward her, away from Barton and Keller in the middle of the lounge.

"Bella!" he exclaimed, as he took her hands and held them.

"Yes—Oh, Bert! You're here! Bert—" Her voice was tremulous with emotion, and Head saw her look up at Davis appealingly—"is it true? Is he dead, really?"

"It's quite true, Bella. I'm so sorry for you—quite true."

There, Head felt, as he faced about and took in the grouping, was answer to his mental question, proof that Finch and Davis had acted in concert—proof to him, though not the sort that he could adduce if he arrested and charged Davis here and now. He saw Barton and Keller, their conference interrupted by the woman's entry, stand staring at her and Davis, and saw that she took no notice of them. For a moment her gaze travelled to the solitary man before the fireplace, and then she turned to Davis again, pathetically imploring.

"I went—the place where they said it happened," she said, and her voice was fully audible to Head. "The car is there. Oh, Bert, it's all so terrible! They told me—the police there told me—I must see a Mr. Head, and I'd find you here. Do you know where Mr. Head is?"

"There!" Davis pointed toward the fireplace with a dramatic gesture, and Bella Gerrard gazed across the room.

It was all too dramatic, in some way, Head felt as she advanced toward him, Davis following a pace or two behind. She was too lovely: her deep blue eyes, innocent as those of a child, gazed into his with piteous appeal—it seemed incredible, though past question it was true, that this woman with her face of pure and innocent beauty could have been the associate of a man like Finch, and had been—in all probability still was—the moving spirit of the Carmagnole club. Had Wadden been right in saying that the criminal type of face did not exist, or was this Bella Gerrard an innocent, spirituelle being in reality, as she appeared? Her lustrous eyes gazed up at him.

"Are you Mr. Head?" she asked.

"I am," he answered gravely. "And your name, madam?"

"Gerrard—Mrs. Gerrard. But tell me—is it true that he is dead? That Mr. Finch is dead, I mean? I can't believe it!"

For a moment the grief in her almost sobbing question moved Head to sympathy with her, but then he remembered poor old Bland, struck down ruthlessly, and sympathy gave place to anger against the associate and almost certainly the mistress of the man who had done that ugly deed. He knew, then, that she was no more than playing for pity.

"Justifiably so, I fear, madam," he answered coldly.

"Can't you see how she's suffering?" Davis broke in hotly.

It appeared to Head, keeping watch as nearly as he could on everyone in the lounge, that Keller gave an almost imperceptible nod of approval. Then, as the inspector looked at Davis, the man seemed frightened at his own temerity, and averted his gaze.

"What is it you want to see me about, Mrs. Gerrard?" Head asked coldly, ignoring Davis altogether.

"About—he was always good to me—and I thought—perhaps you'd let me see him? And—and let me arrange for him to be buried—" she broke off, still gazing pathetically at him, as if unable to complete her request, and he took note of the dark rings about her eyes.

"For that," he said, "I think you would have to get in touch with his relatives. Since he is already dead, we are unable to try him as a murderer, and therefore we are not concerned with the disposal of—"

"Oh—please—please!" she sobbed, and bent her head, covering her eyes with her handkerchief, while Keller half-turned as if with some idea of interposing, but faced Barton again. By the entrance doorway Cortazzi stood, witness of the whole tense scene, silent, interested. As for the sobbing woman, Head had no pity for her. The initial impression her striking loveliness had made on him had passed, and he saw her only as the light-o'-love of a murderous criminal, and friendly—or more than friendly, for all he could tell—with Davis, waiting hound-like behind her, fearful of meeting Head's gaze.

"I can take you to see his body," he pursued coldly, "and what is more, will make you witness to its identity at the inquest this afternoon—"

But again she interrupted with a frightened cry—

"Oh, not that! Please—not that!"

"I'll identify him," Davis interposed again. "I knew him—I'll spare you that, Bella. It seems I've got to appear, anyhow."

Head frowned slightly. He saw Keller growing more and more restive over the woman's grief and his own treatment of her, but, since she had appeared, he was determined to make her a witness at the inquest; the fact that her car had been used was enough cause for summoning her.

"Possibly we shall be able to spare you that, Mrs. Gerrard, since Mr. Davis so kindly offers to officiate," he said with a glance at Davis. "Now, if you wish to see the body, and possibly the car that I understand is yours at the same time, I'll take you to where they are. But we can't let you take the car away, for the present."

"I'll—yes, please let me see him," she begged. "It was for that I—the car can wait—it was for that, and to make sure it was true, that I came here to-day. And they told me I had to ask you."

"Quite so," he rejoined coolly, and still unimpressed by her. "If you'll come over to the Strong Box with me—the place where the body now is—you can make an independent identification for my benefit. Then I can accept that of Mr. Davis for the inquest, to save you from testifying on the point, in all probability."

But he said nothing, for the present, with regard to calling her to testify to the ownership of the car and having lent it to Finch on the preceding day. For his own part, he wanted no more of the events at the Strong Box, or of their antecedent causes, revealed at the inquest than was necessary to get the two verdicts returned: the more he could keep back, he felt, the better chance he had of getting the case he wanted against Davis. Beyond a certain point to which he intended her evidence to go, this woman was better out of things for the present, he felt: if and when he wanted her, later, he could always lay hands on her through his cousin, Inspector Byrne.

He went with her to the doorway of the lounge, and there turned back toward Davis, who was following. "We don't want you," he said, and, as Davis stopped abruptly, opened the door and ushered Bella Gerrard out. Together they walked in silence past the augmented groups gazing at the front of the Strong Box from the road—until, as the pair approached, every one of the watchers transferred attention to the woman, the like of whom was seldom seen in Carden. For her part, she kept her head bent to evade scrutiny, and hurried so that Head had to increase his pace to keep beside her.

Sparkes admitted them to the drive, saluting Head as they entered, and they went on past Wells, on duty over the house for the present, and round to the outbuilding in which the two bodies had been placed. There another constable, imported from Westingborough for the day, kept guard, and saluted as Head approached with the woman.

"Open the door, and come in with us," Head bade

The man obeyed in silence, following them into the bare, chill, concrete-floored little building. The light from its window revealed two tables that had been brought out from the house to serve as biers here, and, on each table, a straight figure was outlined under a white sheet. Head gestured to Mrs. Gerrard to approach the nearer of the two tables, and drew back one end of the sheet, revealing the wounded, clean-shaved face of the body lying there.

"Do you identify this body, madam?" he asked formally.

"Yes, it's his," she whispered, as if fearful of speaking aloud.

"And the name of the man, in life?"

"Will—William Finch." Again she could only manage a whisper.

"You heard the name, constable?" Head put the query to the man coldly, comically. "If so, repeat it, please."

"William Finch, sir."

Then Bella Gerrard broke down. She clutched at Head's arm and clung to it with both hands, in frantic, unreasoning terror.

"Oh, take me out—take me out!" she screamed. "Cover it up—let me go away! Oh, I shall go mad if you don't!"

Half carrying, half leading her, Head got her outside, and the constable covered the dead face and emerged from the outhouse, closing and locking the door again. Gradually the woman recovered from her fit of utter terror, and sobbed quietly, still holding Head's arm.

"I—as soon as I can stop crying—will you take me back to the hotel?" she got out between her sobs. "I will—" she controlled herself as she spoke again, though Head could feel her trembling violently—"I will stop crying! Please—please take me back!"

He pitied her, then, so much so that, as they passed through the groups of watchers in the road, he shielded her from them as nearly as he could, and barked a sharp, angry negative at the Sentinel representative, who tried to question him. When they entered the hotel again, Barton and Keller had vanished, and only Davis and Cortazzi remained.

"Get one of your maids to attend to this lady, Cortazzi," Head ordered, and the hotel-keeper went out swiftly to comply. "Davis, do you know where Mr. Keller has gone?"

"In there." Davis, with no apparent resentment over the sharp contemptuous fashion in which he had been addressed, pointed to the door of a small writing room leading off from the back of the lounge. "He's conferring with old Barton, and doesn't want to be interrupted. Bella, let this maid take you up to my room, and lie down there for a bit. You look ready to collapse, and I won't disturb you in any way."

"Yes, thanks, I will, Bert," she answered, giving him a pathetically grateful smile, and, as the woman whom Cortazzi had summoned took her arm, Head released his hold on the other arm, having so far retained it because, as Davis had observed, she was not far from collapse. The two women went slowly up the staircase, and, ignoring both them and Davis, Head went to the fireplace and took his tankard down from the mantel, carefully facing the mirror which showed the room behind him.

"A bit flat, but I'd hate to waste it," he remarked, and finished the half-pint or so left, after which he replaced the tankard.

"What was that you said?" Davis demanded suspiciously.

"Nothing to interest you," Head answered with cool unconcern.

By means of the mirror he saw Davis go to the doorway and stand gazing out gloomily, his hands in his pockets: cogitating, probably, over the desirability of going over the hills and far away, out of the danger in which his part in the tragedy of the preceding night had placed him. An innocent-seeming part, on the face of it, but every minute increased Head's certainty that the man was as guilty as Finch had been, and the inspector chafed at his own inability to arrest and accuse. In this case, not for the first time in his career, he felt that events were dragging too slowly, and he himself was wasting time.

An illusion, he knew. He had to wait for the inquest and its verdict, and Bella Gerrard, by turning up so soon, had disposed of the problem of ultimate and final identification of Finch's body. Byrne had said that he was fetching a man with him who would be capable of identifying the corpse, but it was unnecessary, now, as far as proceedings here were concerned—Byrne was acting in his own interests, and neither he nor his man need enter into this case at all, unless he wished it. Then, glancing at his watch, Head saw that there was plenty of time to go over to Westingborough and meet Byrne off the two o'clock, but he decided to leave it to Wadden. It would be better to keep close touch here, with both Davis and Bella Gerrard on the spot.

He brooded, there by the fireplace. An odd being, Bella Gerrard. She had the face of a mediaeval saint, and a beautiful saint at that, yet she was apparently distraught with grief over Finch's death, and with a fear that seemed to outweigh the grief in presence of his body, though she knew quite well that the man was a murderer. Head had assumed before she arrived that it might be possible to extract some information with regard to Finch from her, but she had baulked him of that. She had got all she wanted in seeing Finch's body, and then had gone into hiding—with Davis' connivance. Keller had disappeared, and since he was with his man of law Head felt that he had no right to intrude on them: there remained Bertram Davis, who, the inspector felt sure, would only lie if he were subjected to any further questioning now, and was therefore useless. And there were a score of points in the case that demanded explanations: it was difficult to be patient.

Davis stood back from the doorway suddenly, and Head faced about, for the mirror had shown him Sir Denis Kingsward entering the lounge. Kingsward nodded in acknowledgment of Cortazzi's obsequious bow.

"I want a room—again," he said.

"Zis way, sir, if you please," Cortazzi answered, and retreated into the little cubby-hole with a wide-ledged half-door, on which lay the hotel register. "Ze name I know, sir, if you will please sign ze book. Eet shall be ze same room as ze last time, if you wish, sir."

"Yes, that will do. Is lunch ready yet?"

"Ten minutes, sir. I make you ze lunch especial."

"Not if it's going to make any delay. Oh, and I shall have a lady dining with me to-night, at seven-thirty."

"Vairy good, sir. I will tell ze cook to make ze dinner especial."

Kingsward put his fountain pen back into his pocket, and moved toward the fireplace with a nod of recognition at Head.

"I thought you were terribly busy, Inspector," he remarked.

"Interval for reflection, Sir Denis," Head answered. "I'm glad you came in before I left, because I can tell you now that your man Keller is in there with his lawyer—it's the younger one of the two, with a bandaged hand and a short, pointed brown beard, as you'll see when they come out." He indicated the door of the writing-room. "So if you care to introduce yourself and tell him what you want of him—"

He broke off suddenly, staring at Davis by the door, and his almost startling change of expression denoted something like consternation at first, but, as Kingsward watched him curiously, developed into a smile—a triumphant smile, Kingsward would have said. It was, possibly, the first time since he had exchanged uniform for private clothes that Head had let his face betray any of his thoughts.

"Yes?" Kingsward let his evident amusement appear in the query. "Thanks for the information, Inspector, but—when you were talking to Miss Grey and me, I'd have called yours a poker face. Now I change my mind about it, though."

"You may well, too," Head observed rather grimly. He turned, as if to go to the doorway and accost Davis, and then again faced Kingsward.

"Sir Denis," he said, "I take it that you intend to see Keller and try to arrange something with him before you go?"

"I do, if possible," Kingsward assented. "I came down her for that purpose. He'll be besieged by the dealers as soon as probate of the will is granted, and I want to anticipate them."

"Yes." Davis was looking out into the forecourt, and Head, unseen by him, put a finger to his lips as he glanced in that direction. Kingsward, comprehending the gesture, nodded silently.

"Will you do me a favour, Sir Denis?" The question was put in far too low a tone for Davis to overhear it.

"If I can." Kingsward kept his voice equally low.

"Let me know, roughly, the terms of any arrangement you make with Keller, before you go back to London. Can you do that?"

"I could, certainly. But why should I?"

"As a favour, I said," Head pointed out, and smiled. "You may take it that anything you tell me will be treated as absolutely confidential. As for my reason, Keller and that man there should be bitter enemies, after what happened last night—and they're not."

"But how does any arrangement I may make with Keller bear on that?" Kingsward queried with surprise. "I don't see how it could."

"I will say simply that that and nothing else, is my reason for asking this of you," Head told him, "and you must make what you like of it. And neither you nor I can tell what may come of your talk with Keller. Say that I want to know everything I can, about everybody in any way connected with the Strong Box, since murder has happened there. I leave it to you, Sir Denis—merely ask this of you."

"You shall know," Kingsward promised after a thoughtful pause. "I don't understand in the least why you want to know, but I'll make a point of seeing you and telling you what happens with Keller—or if anything happens at all—before I go back to London."

"I'm very grateful to you, sir," Head said. "Now, being satisfied over that, I'll leave you to tackle Keller when he comes out—if you can get him to talk ordinary business to-day."

He went out from the hotel, back toward the Strong Box. He had a packet of sandwiches in his car, and felt like making a meditative lunch, quite alone, rather than lunching at the hotel. The plain case, as Wadden had called it, had suddenly assumed an aspect the reverse of plain, and Head wanted time and solitude for the consideration of its newly-visible and rather startling complexities.


CHAPTER VIII. — MORE ABOUT THE BULLFINCH

"PLATFORM ticket, sir?" the collector at the barrier on Westingborough station platform asked politely.

Superintendent Wadden blew at him, very fiercely. "On duty!" he fired back, and passed on to the platform. "They'll want to charge me for wearing out the asphalt next," he observed to himself as he looked along the line and saw that the train was already signalled.

He blew again, at nobody in particular, and the express clanked round the curve and rumbled, with a shriek or two from its brake-blocks, to a standstill beside the platform. Wadden watched the hurrying passengers who were about to travel select their compartments, and the more leisurely arrivals from London alight and make for the barrier.

"All was bustle and confusion," he quoted to himself, "but if those old authors could have seen a few trains they'd have said it with trombones, methinks. Why the devil couldn't Head get here himself?"

He made no move toward finding the man he had come to meet, for, if Byrne were arriving by this train, a superintendent's uniform ought to be conspicuous enough. If Head were wrong, and Byrne meant to come by the later express which left London at two o'clock, then the man must find his own way about. He, Wadden, had to be at Carden for the inquest at three, and the police car would take half an hour to get there, with Condor Hill to climb.

But a tall, rather thin, and also melancholy-looking man, inconspicuously but well dressed, detached himself from the string of passengers headed toward the exit and, followed by another man who was not nearly so well-dressed and appeared to belong to the artisan class, approached the superintendent and held out his hand.

"Mr. Wadden—it must be," he said. "My cousin Head has told me a good deal about you. I conclude he couldn't get here himself?"

"Quite possibly he could, but wouldn't," Wadden responded as he shook hands. "Our Head's a peculiar devil when he's working on any case out of the ordinary. He asked me to meet you and take you over—and I'm glad of the chance of seeing you, Mr. Byrne. Head's told me all about you from time to time—rather holds you up as a model, I always feel. But don't tell him I told you so. Now if you'll come along, Mr. Byrne, I've got our car outside, and we'll drive over to the centre of excitement. You could get there by train, but you'd have to be a man of leisure, and the inquest starts at three."

They walked toward the exit. "You know, I suppose, that I've brought a man with me?" Byrne queried, as the one who had followed him from the train fell in behind him again.

"Head told me so," Wadden admitted. "Very kind of you, to bring someone to identify this Finch. But we've already identified him."

"But this is for my own purposes." Byrne delivered up his ticket, and turned to his man. "Follow on, Jim," he ordered, and caught up with Wadden again.

"My man is Smiler Jim, otherwise Jim Robbins," he explained. "We spoilt his smile to some extent with two years penal, and he only came out on good conduct about three months ago. I'd just found that I had enough to send him up again when this news of the Bullfinch's demise broke on me, and now Jim knows he can save himself at the expense of a few others of his kind, since there's no Bullfinch to take vengeance on him for doing it. Jim's one of the best housebreakers—or rather, flat-breakers—in his profession."

He got into the big police saloon, taking the back seat with Wadden, and directing Robbins to seat himself beside Jeffries, the constable who always acted as chauffeur on these occasions. And, before seating himself, he slid the glass partition closed before him, thus ensuring that Wadden and he could talk without being overheard by the two men in front. Jeffries looked round, and Wadden motioned him on. The car moved out from the station yard and set off for Carden.

"And the curious thing about it," Byrne said gravely, "was that every one of Smiler Jim's burglaries took place at the house or flat of one of the frequenters of the Carmagnole club. We could only prove one against him definitely, but in my own mind I credit him with seven victories over Mr. Chubb and Mr. Yale. You get me, superintendent?"

"Enough particulars were given away at that club to make this man's work easy," Wadden suggested. "And by our corpse, at that."

"Precisely," Byrne agreed. "And Smiler was only one—there were not less than five at work, I believe, but we've not been able to get the others, yet. Jim was the most successful of all till we laid him low, but I think there must have been at least four more of his kind. We traced up every case in which some rich young fool—women as well as men—got burgled under circumstances that pointed to a clever directing brain, and in every case except two the victims were members and regular frequenters of the Carmagnole club."

"Simply asking for it," Wadden observed gravely.

"Asking for it," Byrne assented. "There sat the Bullfinch and his lady, Bella Gerrard, both absolutely impeccable and from our point of view unassailable—we couldn't get a thing on them, for they were far too clever to give us a connecting link—and these men did the work. I did my best to get Jim to talk when we caught him, promised him half a kingdom and the princess if he would, but to no purpose. He told me it was more than his life was worth to say a word—he let that much drop, but no more, and went up for his two years."

"And your idea in fetching him here to-day?" Wadden inquired.

"Why, the others who worked for Finch," Byrne explained. "It was not because of them that Smiler wouldn't talk—honour among thieves never existed and never will. He dared not talk because of the Bullfinch, knowing as he does that there's more than one method of getting a man of his sort put out of the way. So when your man Denman rang last night, and it got through to me that you had Bella Gerrard's car and the man who borrowed it from her had been killed, I began to think. Then, when I knew that man was almost certainly the Bullfinch, I put the whole lot together and added it up, and the answer was Smiler Jim, splitting on his pals fearlessly and saving himself from going up again, since the brain of the combine was eliminated and the others wouldn't be in a position to come back at him for a few years or so."

"Unless Bella Gerrard—" Wadden suggested, and paused.

"She was the ornamental decoy," Byrne asserted. "I don't think the gang had much to do with her, and if Jim talks enough we may rope her in too. In any case, I determined to fetch him down here and make him identify the corpse, to prove to him that the Bullfinch is dead and there's nothing to prevent him from spilling the beans."

"Possibly," Wadden observed, with doubt in his voice. "I dunno."

Byrne gave him a soulful, melancholy look: another man might have smiled, but Inspector Byrne's smiles were rare events.

"You don't think I'd have taken the day off and brought Jim all this way, if I were not reasonably sure that he'd talk as soon as he knows the Bullfinch is defunct, do you?" he asked. "Jim knows he's got to go into retirement again if I feel like making him a guest of the country, and I'd practically made up my mind to lag him once more when the telephone call came last night. When I ran him to earth this morning, he metaphorically put up his hands till I told him why I wanted him. He knows now that his place will be in the witness box, not in the dock, if he's a good lad and does as I tell him, but nothing short of absolute certainty of Finch's death will unlock his talk-box. Therefore, here he is in front of us, going to be convinced."

"So you might call the Bullfinch—the late Bullfinch, I should say—a gangster?" Wadden suggested thoughtfully.

"Say an employer of highly skilled labour," Byrne amended. "It sounds better. He and Bella Gerrard ran the Carmagnole regardless—and they were careful to keep it well within the law, too, after we'd made two raids and caught nothing the first time and only two minor cases out of the second attempt. We couldn't even get the club struck off, they were so infernally careful, and they've been far more so of late, so we decided to give up raiding them. And these burglars, working obviously under information and direction from Finch, though we could never prove it, were only part of his activities."

"A busy man, was he?" Wadden inquired.

"Industrious," Byrne amended again. "He went in for shady finance, just and only just inside of the law—incidentally he burnt his fingers over it so badly about three months ago that he must have lost practically all he'd made. We all but had him in connection with the Darnley fire insurance case, but he slipped through our fingers. A clever devil, and a dangerous one. But he never came out into the open like this before, never undertook to carry a job through himself."

"I suppose, that's what got Head guessing," Wadden surmised. "Of course, I only heard his end of the conversation while you and he were talking last night, so I don't know what you told him. Look there!"

He pointed at a small car that had passed them. "I know that car—Parham's garage let it out for fast jobs. That's an agency man in it, or may I never lift another glass to my lips."

"Go on drinking," Byrne comforted him. "It was young Emmett, of Associated Press Services. The London lads have got wind of the event, and you'll have quite a few of them down on you. They're hazy as to what it's all about, so far. What did actually happen last night, now the dust has cleared away?"

"It's far from all cleared away yet, if there's anything in what Head said to me when we had a talk together first thing this morning," Wadden answered. "The only eye-witness of what happened is this Percival Keller, heir to old Ward Keller who used to live at the Strong Box at Carden. Did you ever hear of the place?"

"I read an account of it," Byrne admitted. "Claimed to be burglar-proof, I understood—though there's no such thing, of course."

"It's pretty nearly so. Finch—this is Keller's story, and Keller had only just got there from Canada an hour or two before things began to happen—Finch turned up and told the solitary old servant in the place, a man named Bland, that he wanted to see Keller. While Bland was showing him in to Keller, he suddenly whipped out a knife, stabbed Bland fatally, and then went for Keller. But Keller, being a sort of Hercules, managed to defend himself and ward off the knife, and as he says himself the sight of old Bland being killed like that made him see red, so instead of Finch getting him, he got Finch. Killed him there and then—strangled him and smashed his skull as well."

"Sounds like good scrapping," Byrne commented thoughtfully. "Finch was no puny infant, by what I knew of him."

"Which is—" Wadden inquired, as the car began the ascent of Condor Hill, and Jeffries changed gear to take the slope.

"Tall and built like an athlete, a strong man, I should say," Byrne answered. "Clean-shaven, and as nearly as I could tell a good looker, not in the least a criminal type. I never saw him at really close quarters, but that was the impression I got. He struck me as rather a cheerful-looking devil, but that may have been for club purposes."

"I got the same impression in looking at the body," Wadden admitted. "Keller managed to spoil the look of his face on the edge of the dining-room table while they were scrapping, but there was enough left to make me remark to Head that I didn't think him a criminal type."

"He began life as an actor," Byrne remarked, "and then fell up against Bella Gerrard, who was on the stage too at the time. They went in for cabaret stuff, and eventually set up the Carmagnole between them. Her face brought in the rich youngsters of the type the Bullfinch wanted—she's one of the loveliest, most innocent-looking things you ever saw, and about ten years older than you'd take her to be. He always kept well in the background—I've dropped in there quite a few times, and only saw him once, keeping back in a shadowed corner so as not to be noticeable, but keeping an eye on everything. He didn't stay even there till I could get near him. Knew who I was, and vanished in consequence. And he took no official part in the running of the club—in both our raids, Bella appeared and stood all the racket. And was she popular! They literally swarmed round her, all night and every night."

"Passing out the information the Bullfinch wanted," Wadden suggested.

"Leaking it," Byrne confirmed him. "He sat back, almost invisible, and collated everything that Bella got by simply looking round and smiling at the lads, and Jim here and his pals went out to order and roped in the dough. But we couldn't get proof, only inference, because so many members of the Carmagnole got burgled after drinking in there till their tongues came loose and wagged about their affairs."

"And at last the Bullfinch decided to try his own hand at a burglary," Wadden observed. "But a damned silly one, by the look of it."

"I'm not so sure about that," Byrne dissented. "Think it over, superintendent. He must have had advance information, though."

"I think, a man named Davis, by what Head says," Wadden explained.

"Bert Davis!" Byrne exclaimed. "Yes, the lad who was going to set London on fire when he inherited old Ward Keller's money. Obviously! Well, the Bullfinch got the lie of the land from Davis, and borrowed Bella's car. Went down last night—it was not the sort of night when country rozzers would be copying down the registration numbers of cars, unless they had some reason to suspect them of being out for no good. Bella could get all the particulars they wanted for the job out of Bert, since he's been mad about her ever since he first went to the Carmagnole. And Finch, hard up after his last bit of financial dirty work went wrong and stung him, determined to trust this to nobody else, but do it himself. A big job, and he thought it might be his last, quite possibly. There was enough in it for that."

"Yes, carry on with your theory," Wadden urged.

"He knew there were only those two men in the place—knew it from Bert," Byrne continued. "And with that pleasant face of his neither of them would expect to be attacked. Parked his car out of sight somewhere, and went to the house. It stands alone—I've seen photos and read the description, when the papers claimed it was burglar-proof—and the Bullfinch knew the old man kept stuff there estimated to be worth close on two hundred thousand pounds. A lot of it would be portable goods, and saleable in markets the Bullfinch would be sure to know. At something like fifty per cent. discount, possibly, but that would still leave him with the best part of fifty thousand pounds."

"But—two murders," Wadden objected.

"That wouldn't stop him, with the chance of carrying off anything up to a hundred thousand pounds worth of stuff," Byrne averred confidently. "They would appear easy murders, too, with practically no possibility of any outsider hearing or seeing, in a place like that. The old servant—no more trouble to a man like the Bullfinch than killing a rabbit, and if he could take Keller unawares, it was as good as done. He could take his own time over ransacking the place, probably get into that wonderful strong room with the combination lock that works the pumps, and after taking what he liked out of it he could get away with nobody the wiser. I saw the description of the house, as I told you, and once he got out with his stuff and locked the front door, and saw that all the window grilles were shut, the two bodies wouldn't be discovered till after he'd sold his stuff and got out of the country. And then, having carefully kept himself inconspicuous at the Carmagnole and everywhere else, he'd have taken some finding."

"M'yah," Wadden reflected. "Instead of which, he came up against a hefty bruiser from Canada, one devil of a scrapper, and suddenly found himself dead. Which, Head believes, leaves this Davis as an accessory to the business and due to swing, if we can only pin it on him. I hope Head does it, but have my doubts."

"Well"—the car was passing the Carden Arms as Byrne spoke—"that's Head's job and yours, I'm afraid, superintendent. All I want here is to confront Smiler Jim with the corpse and persuade him it's quite safe to blab, though I'll give you or Head any help I can if the chase of Davis leads you to London. And there is the Strong Box!" He gazed along the drive as Jeffries stopped the car. "A tough nut, if ever there was one, but the Bullfinch very nearly cracked it."

He got out and, as Wadden followed him, opened the front door of the car and spoke to the man seated beside Jeffries, a pale, delicate-looking being, but with eyes so furtive and closely-set that Wadden might have admitted him as evidence of the existence of a distinctively criminal type of humanity.

"Now, Jim," Byrne said gravely, "if you'll get out and come along with me, you can see for yourself that the Bullfinch will warble no more. And then you and I can have a heart-to-heart talk."


HAVING ordered coffee in the lounge of the Carden Arms at the conclusion of his lunch, Sir Denis Kingsward emerged from the dining-room and saw, standing by the fireplace as Head had stood an hour or more earlier, two men, one of whom had a short, pointed brown beard which he caressed with his uninjured left hand as he talked to his companion. The right hand, Kingsward noted, was bandaged and apparently out of use, for the time. A waiter appeared with coffee, and Kingsward directed him to a small table beside the fireplace, and followed.

"Mr. Keller, I believe?" he said to the bearded man.

"That's my name, stranger," Keller answered rather doubtfully, as if being accosted thus might be cause for suspicion—there would be pressmen looking for him, he knew. "But you've got the bulge on me, I guess. What's yours, if I might make so bold as to ask?"

"My name is Kingsward, and I own the Kingsward collection. Since I understand that you now own the Keller collection and might possibly be willing to sell some part of it, I thought it might be possible to treat with you without the intervention of dealers."

"Why, sure!" Keller responded, his attitude changing to one of keen interest. He glanced up at the clock on the mantel. "I happen to have an appointment for three o'clock, but it ain't two, yet, I see. What might you like to suggest about buying, Mr. Kingsward?"

"Sir Denis Kingsward, Val," his companion, Davis, interposed. "My cousin is only just back from Canada, Sir Denis," he explained.

"Sir Denis Kingsward—I'm sorry," Keller added.

"A natural mistake," Kingsward said, and smiled. "I know about the inquest, of course, and realise that it's going to put your name in all the papers, Mr. Keller. Which means that you'll have a swarm of dealers round you here before you can think—"

"Whereupon I'll go to ground and get Bert here to handle 'em—my cousin Bert, Sir Denis. He reckoned the old man would leave him the whole lot, but he don't bear me any grudge over my luck. I'm going to make Bert a sort of secretary, and he can handle these chaps when they turn up. I've been in real estate out west, and know what dealers are if they get on to you. None for mine, thanks all the same. But you come in on a different angle, I guess."

"If you mean I'm not out to buy for the purpose of selling again at a profit—yes," Kingsward answered. "I would like—do you mind my going into it, though, or would you rather wait?"

"Carry right on, Sir Denis," Keller invited heartily. "If it's a square deal, I'm open to trade. When I get the stuff, that is."

"That's understood," Kingsward agreed, pleased to note that the other man was willing to make things easy for him. "And you'll have to open that strong room, too, before we can come to any definite arrangement as to figures for anything I might buy—we can't be absolutely certain the things are in there, till it has been opened—"

"Don't you fret about that, Sir Denis," Keller interrupted. "I had a talk with my attorney this morning about that and other things, and everything the old man left me is there all right. We're getting the people who built the place to open it up pronto, and I tell you straight I'm selling right out as soon as the will is proved and I get possession. I'm not strong on high art as the old man was, and if you want to come in as a buyer, let's trade, by all means."

"My idea," Kingsward explained, "was to approach you with a view to getting a lien on certain articles in the collection—four articles, especially—and submitting them to valuation after the room had been opened, if you agree. If I put forward one expert valuer, and you select another, and the two of them submit to the opinion of a third expert in the event of their being unable to agree a figure, we should arrive at a fair estimate, I think. How does the idea appeal to you?"

"It's real swell," Keller assented. "But you said a lien, I think?"

"A definite lien on four items of the collection," Kingsward assented. "Octavian's emerald, Aphrodite by Phidias, the Carian Ariadne, and an urn from Crete—the Minoan urn, it's called."

"You'd like a hold over each of those four?" Keller asked.

"Exactly. Each one of them will run into four figures, I know, and in two cases the value may be set at five figures—I'm talking about sterling, Mr. Keller. Now to state my proposal quite frankly, it is that I put down, in return for your written undertaking to reserve the four articles for expert valuation and subsequent purchase by me, the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds in respect of each article. If, after valuation, I decide that I cannot afford to buy all four, then I am willing to forfeit the two hundred and fifty pounds covering each article I decline to buy—and you can then offer them in the open market. That will compensate you for any delay in selling."

Keller smiled. "Say, you're pretty keen, Sir Denis," he remarked. "It's O.K. by me, and you can take forty chances at that figure, if you feel like it. I'm all for a quick trade with a straight buyer."

"Well, if you like, I'll clinch that lien here and now," Kingsward offered. He could discern Keller's eagerness to "trade," and decided to take advantage of it to the fullest possible extent: his plan of independent expert valuation safeguarded him as far as he thought necessary, and in the event of one or more of the four articles being valued at a higher price than he wished to pay or felt himself able to afford, possession of the other two or three, in his opinion, would compensate fully for the loss of a two-hundred-and-fifty or even a five-hundred-pound deposit. Like all who suffer from the true collector's hunger, he set little value on money in comparison with additions to his collection, already one of the finest in existence.

"Right!" Keller agreed with decision. "There's one snag, though, Sir Denis—I can't sign anything till this hand of mine comes alive. I got round that all right with my attorney—say, how's this for fixing it? Bert here can draw up an agreement for us, and I'll get my attorney to witness my left-handed signature to make it all O.K. He'll be at that inquest for me, and he can come back here and fix it all up, with you on hand so you'll know you're safe on it. Then I hand you the agreement, you hand me your cheque, open, so Bert can deal with it or the attorney can fix it for me. What say—is it a whiz?"

"It suits me very well," Kingsward assented. It had just occurred to him that, with a lien on the Phidias, he could get his deposit back from Garratt or any other of a dozen dealers, if he were unable to afford the agreed price for it himself. And already he saw himself the owner of Octavian's emerald and the Minoan urn, and possibly the Ariadne too. He would, at least, have the hold he wanted on all four items.

"We'll fix it right now," Keller suggested. "That room there's a writing room—you come along with us, Bert, and Sir Denis can dictate to you how he thinks I ought to promise him first go at these things. Then as soon as old man Barton can witness my signature—he might get back here before the inquest, for all I know—then we can swap. You take the agreement, Sir Denis, and I'll take your cheque."

He led the way to the writing room, and there, when they had settled themselves and Davis had collected writing materials, Kingsward dictated the document which, he felt entitled to consider, gave him first option on the things he coveted:

In consideration of the sum of one thousand pounds, paid to me, Percival Keller, by Sir Denis Kingsward, Bart., I, the said Percival Keller, having had bequeathed to me by my uncle, Ward Keller, now deceased, four articles as enumerated in the subjoined schedule, hereby grant to the said Sir Denis Kingsward the sole right of purchasing the said four articles from me, on the terms here set forth, namely:—

The said sum of one thousand pounds, paid on receipt of this agreement duly signed by me, Percival Keller, is to be regarded as comprising four deposits, each amounting to the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds, in respect of payment to me of the price, subsequently to be agreed, for each of the four articles named in the subjoined schedule. Should the said Sir Denis Kingsward decide, after valuation of the four articles and agreement on their price, that he will not purchase any or all of them, then the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds which he has deposited in respect of each article not purchased shall be forfeited to me, Percival Keller, and the said Sir Denis Kingsward, by his acceptance of this agreement in return for the sum of one thousand pounds, agrees to waive all claim to each such sum of two hundred and fifty pounds. But it is hereby agreed between me, Percival Keller, and the said Sir Denis Kingsward, that I shall make no independent valuation of the four articles or of any one of them, and, in the event of his deciding to exercise his option to purchase, I shall grant him full facilities for so doing before I offer the said articles for sale elsewhere

As witness my hand this thirtieth day of November, 1934.

Schedule of the four articles forming the subject of the agreement:

A large carved emerald, known as Octavian's emerald, in the Keller collection.

An urn, discovered during excavations in Crete, known as the Minoan urn, in the Keller collection.

A statue of Aphrodite attributed to Phidias, also in the Keller collection.

A statue of Ariadne, known as the Carian Ariadne, also in the Keller collection.

"I don't know whether this is a legal document," Kingsward remarked after he had perused Davis' handwriting of the agreement, "but with your acceptance of my cheque it should be binding on us both."

"Suppose we call it a gentlemen's agreement," Keller suggested.

"Or say, rather, that I want to buy, and you want to sell," Kingsward suggested in turn, rather coolly. If he had found nothing else repellent about Keller, the way in which the man had used the word "gentlemen" was enough to make one dislike him. But then, Kingsward remembered, the old uncle had been a similar type of man, except that, on the two occasions on which Kingsward had met him, he had appeared even more detestable than this nephew.

"Wal," Keller said, "I guess that's about it, Sir Denis. I sure don't want any high art stuck round me, and you seem struck on it. So when I come back here after that inquest, I'll fetch my attorney along and he can witness me sign with you looking on, and then we'll swap my promise for your cheque. You'll be here then?"

"I am staying the night here," Kingsward answered.

"Then it's as good as done, now we've got the words written out already. Bert, we'd better be getting down to this Greyhound, wherever that is. The flatties'll have a down on us if we're late."

He went out, with Davis following him, and, as Head had noted earlier in the day, Kingsward noted now that Davis trotted after him—or almost trotted, since Keller's legs were long and moved quickly—rather after the fashion of a dog following his master.

A badly-bred, cringing sort of dog, though.


CHAPTER IX. — INQUEST—MINUS BYRNE

"NOW, Robbins, what do you make of it?"

"That's 'im all right, Mr. Byrne."

"Quite possibly," Byrne retorted drily, "but 'im might be anyone. Exactly who was that man, when he was alive?"

"It's the Bullfinch, Mr. Byrne. I meant that."

"A mere nickname, my smiling acquaintance. If you recognise that body, will you be so good as to tell me the name of the man, in life."

"'Is name was Finch, then, Mr. Byrne, and 'e used to live over that club—Bella Gerrard's place. Bill Finch—bullfinch. William Finch, I reckon it was, though I never heard 'im called nuthin' but just the Bullfinch. But that's 'oo it is, I know."

Byrne nodded to Head, who stood by the body on the table, the down-drawn sheet still gripped by one corner in his hand. At the gesture, Head drew the sheet up again, completely covering the body and face.

"Cut about the face, 'e is," Smiler Jim Robbins added, "but there ain't no mistakin' of 'im. Not likely, there ain't."

"You are perfectly certain, now, that the Bullfinch is dead, and therefore that he can't come back at you?" Byrne demanded.

"Yerss," Jim answered—but with a reluctant note in the reply, as if, realising to what he was to be subjected in the way of interrogation, now that the man he had feared no longer lived to prevent him from speaking, he wished he had not let himself in for this. "Dead men ain't got no come-back," he added, more stoutly.

"That being so—Jerry"—Byrne addressed Head—"can you lend me that car and a man to drive me back to Westingborough? Jim here and I can just catch the three o'clock up, if you do."

"But—hang it all, Terry! You've only just got here, and I want a long talk with you before you go," Head expostulated. "If you wait till this inquest is over, I'll run in to Westingborough with you—there'll still be time to catch the six-nineteen, non-stop all the way to London. I've been relying on a talk with you over this affair."

"It cannot be done, Jerry," Byrne said inflexibly. "While Wadden and I were on the way here, Emmett of the Associated passed us. Which means that Finch's death will be in all the late evening papers. If any of Jim's co-workers learn that I brought him down here, and that the Bullfinch is a corpse, before I can get at them, every rat I mean to trap as a result of this business will have gone down his hole, and believe me they'd take some digging out! I've got to get back ahead of the news that the Bullfinch has ceased warbling, or else my trip becomes worse than useless. Much worse—it becomes damaging to me."

"I see your point," Head remarked after a moment's reflection. "But when am I going to get a chance to talk to you over this?"

"I dunno—unless you like to come up to London and let us get together there. Why do you want it, though? You told me you've got Bella down here and Bert Davis as well. What more do you want?"

"Reliable sources of information, aren't they?" Head asked caustically. "And this is a far bigger thing than I've had time to tell you."

"Well, come up and see me some time," Byrne quoted from a film of some notoriety in its day. "Meanwhile, let me have that car, or my day is wasted and a good deal worse. I've simply got to strike while the iron sizzles, which means catching the three o'clock up and not a minute to spare then." He looked at his watch. "None too much time for it, either," he added, and touched Jim Robbins on the shoulder. "Come along, Jim," he bade. "You and I are going to have a nice, comfortable first-class compartment all to ourselves for the return journey, and by the time you get there you'll feel yourself pounds lighter with all the confession you'll have got rid of. That corpse is proof enough that Finch can't hurt you now—no come-back, as you said yourself."

He went out with his man, and Head, following, got alongside him as they walked down the drive toward the gate.

"Look here, Terry," Head urged. "You can put Robbins through his questioning here, in the library—have it all to yourself, with a telephone at your elbow to set things working at the other end—"

"Not on your life!" Byrne interjected. "I want to be at that other end to land my catch myself, and that means the three o'clock."

"Well, if you must—" Head opened the gate as he gave way, though with regret. "Jeffries—" he addressed the driver of the police saloon—"Inspector Byrne wants the three o'clock from Westingborough."

Jeffries glanced at the clock on the dash, and pushed his self-starter button. "It'll be a near shave, sir," he said.

"In you go, Jim," Byrne admonished. "In the back, this time, with me. See you some time, Jerry—sorry I can't stop for a talk with you now, but it means too much to me. I'm going to win some glory for myself over this, now Jim knows it's safe to talk. So long—right away!"

He closed the door of the saloon on himself. Jeffries backed the car into the gateway of the Strong Box, swung it about, and set off for the ascent of Condor Hill with his accelerator pedal bard down, for there was not a minute to waste if he were to land Byrne at Westingborough station in time for the three o'clock express. Inside the car, Byrne turned his mournful gaze on to his companion.

"Now, Jim," he urged gently, "the full story of the gang, please, unless you feel like going up for another three years or so. Names, where to find the owners of the names, and who took each job at the Bullfinch's orders. And if I haven't got the story in full by the time we reach the end of this trip, and also if I don't find it the straight griffin when I come to act on it, you'll go straight inside, and there'll be no bail when you're remanded for trial at the central criminal courts. So talk, Jim, and no half-larks."

After an irresolute pause, Smiler Jim began to talk. They caught the three o'clock express with about thirty seconds to spare, and Jim went on talking, with occasional promptings, all the way to London.


UNDER his tan, Percival Keller looked paler as he faced the coroner than Head had seen him in the lounge of the Carden Arms earlier in the day. The fingers of his uninjured hand twitched nervously from time to time, Head observed—he kept his bandaged right hand inside the front of his coat, so that only the edge of the bandage showed.

"Then we are to take it, Mr. Keller," the coroner suggested after Keller had begun his story, "that you were in the dining-room at the Strong Box, and Bland was outside the room preparing dinner for you, when this stranger knocked. At what time did he knock?"

"I think it would be between a quarter to seven and seven," Keller answered. "I'm not a bit sure of the time, though. My cousin and I got there about a quarter past five, he left me, and went to the hotel, after we'd fixed for him to come back at half-past eight to spend the rest of the evening with me—"

"Was there any reason why he should not stay and dine with you, instead of going to the hotel, since he had come here solely as company for you?" the coroner interrupted. "Why should he go to the hotel?"

"He wanted to fix him up a room," Keller explained, "and I didn't know what the old chap—Bland, that is—I didn't know what sort of a meal he'd put up for me. He was all alone there."

"Yes. And between six forty-five and seven you heard a knock?"

"Two knocks. Bland didn't answer the first one. I was going—"

"One minute, Mr. Keller. Sergeant Denman reports that you told him the visitor knocked at between seven and seven fifteen. Now you say it was between six forty-five and seven. Why the alteration in time?"

"Because I think now it might have been a bit earlier than I reckoned it at first. I'm no more than guessing, though—I didn't look at the time, and all I know is that it was before dinner time."

"I see. Well, you heard these knocks, at between six forty-five and seven fifteen, let us say. What happened then?"

"After the second knock, I was going myself to see who it was, but then I heard Bland go to the door—there's no carpet in the entrance hall, so footsteps sound middling plain there. I went on sitting in the dining-room—Bland had made me a good fire. The front door makes no noise at all except for the click of the bolt, and I heard this man ask Bland if he could see me. I didn't catch Bland's answer—his back must have been turned to the dining-room door. Then I heard footsteps again. Bland pushed the door, and I could see him. He said—'A Mr. Finch—' or—'A Mr. Finch to see—' He began the sentence and got as far as speaking the name, but only a word or two more after the name. I saw a hand come over from behind him and grip his throat, choking off the rest of what he would have said. I started up, and another hand came round from behind him with a knife in it—God, but it was ghastly!—and that knife went in just below Bland's neck, and the blood began to pour out, and Bland fell back as if he had been pulled away. All in a second or two—I hadn't time to more than begin to get up before it was all done, and I saw the man with the knife come at me."

There was dead silence throughout the big, crowded, first-floor room of the Greyhound, a stillness that lasted for the best part of a minute. Eventually the coroner broke it, as Keller did not resume his story after that dramatic mention of the man with the knife.

"What sort of man was this one with the knife?" he asked.

"About my own size, I'd say, and clean-shaven. Youngish-looking, and pretty well-dressed. I couldn't say much more than that."

"No, if he were coming at you with a knife in his hand. Tell the jury what you did about it, Mr. Keller."

"Well, sir, I've seen men killed, but that was an old man, a faithful old man, by what my cousin had told me. When he fell back, I saw the one who'd done it coming at me with a knife in his hand, as I've said, and—I just went for him. I felt it was life or death for me."

"You strangled him, and then battered his head in on the edge of the dining table," the coroner suggested. "Is that the case?"

"It's no use asking," Keller answered, closing his eyes momentarily. "I shall never quite remember what I did. I do remember seeing blood, but I didn't feel my cut hand, then. I couldn't feel anything clearly, couldn't see anything clearly, till I knew he was lying on the floor with me over him, and then I let go of his throat, because he didn't move. And I got up, and bandaged my hand, and by-and-by came properly to myself and knew I'd have to get the police in on it. Bland had shown me the telephone in the library—the room across the hall from where I was—and I went to it and asked for the police. The sergeant came with a man, and I let him in and told him what had happened. He rang somebody and I heard him give the numbers of a car outside, and then he rang again and asked for Inspector Head. And my cousin turned up—it must have been half-past eight by that time, because we'd agreed he was to come round then. I told him some of it—I was badly shaken up—but I remembered Bland had said the man's name was Finch, and I told him that. Then he said he knew a Finch, and the sergeant let him see the body after a bit, and he said it was the man he knew."

"Had you been with this cousin practically all the time since arriving in London—after he met the boat train, Mr. Keller?"

"I had. He was mighty hospitable, and I put up at his flat in London for the night, before coming down here with him."

"Can you recall if he mentioned this man Finch to you, at any time prior to your telling him Bland had spoken the name?"

"I don't recall it. I'm pretty sure he didn't."

"Did you recognise the man Finch in any way—had you seen him before he stabbed Bland and attacked you?"

"Never. The sergeant asked me that, last night."

"I put this question to you, Mr. Keller, because of the circumstances of the crime," the coroner explained. "It must be plain to you that the object of this attack on you two men was robbery, and that being so, it would have been much more simple for the robber to pay his visit before your arrival at the Strong Box, when he would have had only one old man to overcome, rather than wait for you to arrive before—"

"Easily explained, sir," Keller broke in. "Bert—my cousin, Bert Davis—told me on our way down that we might have trouble getting in at the Strong Box, because old Bland would never open the door to anyone after dark while he was there alone. Bland probably thought it was Bert—my cousin—come back, when he opened the door to Finch—"

"From which we are to assume," the coroner interposed in turn, "that Finch must have known the door would not be opened to him while Bland lived there alone, if he knocked after dark, and that he must await your return to gain entry, and overcome both of you."

"I guess that's so," Keller admitted with evident reluctance, "but he might have tried before and thought he'd have a second shot at it."

The coroner shook his head. "The car, I understand, is distinctive," he said. "I regard that explanation as extremely unlikely."

"Well, he might have selected last night for the job because it was stormy, and there wouldn't be anyone about," Keller suggested again. "Quite likely it was his first shot, and he didn't know I'd be there."

"Possibly, but there remains the possibility of his knowing definitely that he could not gain admittance while Bland was alone there, and his choosing the first night of your presence in the house seems to point to that explanation," the coroner said dissentingly. "Now to revert to the actual murder of Bland, and your action afterward. You attacked this man Finch in self-defence?"

"I guess I did. He was coming at me with a knife in his hand."

"You retained your hold on his throat after he had ceased to struggle—long enough to choke the life out of him?"

"I've told you—I just saw red and went for him. The next thing I realised was that he was dead. You don't think, when a thing like that is going on. It was life or death for me."

"Exactly. Members of the jury, have you any questions you wish to put to the witness?" The coroner looked at his dozen sworn listeners.

A series of head-shakings announced that nobody wished to question the witness. The coroner looked at the papers before him.

"You may stand down, Mr. Keller. Mr. Bertram Davis, please."

Davis went to the improvised witness stand and took the oath. The coroner, before beginning his examination, addressed the jury.

"We are concerned at present, members of the jury, with an inquiry into the circumstances under which Edward Thomas Bland came by his death, and the subsequent death of the man who appears to have killed him will form the subject of a separate inquiry. There must, as you may realise, be a certain duplication of evidence in these two cases. You will now hear what Mr. Davis has to say as to his knowledge of persons and events bearing on the death of Edward Thomas Bland."

There was a hint of dislike for Davis, and even of distrust of such evidence as he might give, in that final sentence. The coroner turned to his witness, who looked rather fearfully apprehensive.

"You met Mr. Percival on his arrival in London, Mr. Davis, entertained him at your flat and elsewhere, accompanied him from London to the house known as the Strong Box here at Carden yesterday afternoon, and arrived there at about five-fifteen. Is this correct?"

"Yes," Davis answered. He kept his eyes averted from his questioner, and appeared ill at ease even over such a simple question.

"Did Mr. Keller invite you to dine with him at the Strong Box?"

"He may have done so. I'm not sure. I think he did say something about it, but I knew there was only old Bland in the house."

"What did you arrange with Mr. Keller as to meeting again?"

"For me to come round to him after I'd had dinner at the Carden Arms. I wanted to get a room there for the night."

"At what time were you to come round to Mr. Keller?"

"Half-past eight, we said."

"Did you carry out this arrangement?"

"I did. I left the Carden Arms just before the half-hour—it's only about five minutes from the Strong Box." Davis was gaining confidence as the interrogation proceeded, and spoke more easily now.

"And what happened when you arrived at the Strong Box at eight-thirty or thereabouts? Who admitted you to the house?"

"A police sergeant. I asked him what had happened."

"What did he tell you?"

"That Bland was dead, and another man as well, and he couldn't tell me any more at the time. I asked him if I could see my cousin, Mr. Keller, and after a bit of hesitation he let me in. Val—my cousin, that is—was in the library, and he told me what had happened."

"What did he tell you had happened?"

"Told me that a man had stabbed Bland and then gone for him, and he'd killed the man, acting in his own defence."

"Did he tell you the other man's name?"

"Yes, he said Bland had called the man Finch."

"And what did you say to that?"

"I said I knew a Finch at the Car—in London."

"Did you request to see the body of this man Finch who had been admitted to the Strong Box in your absence?"

"No, my cousin suggested I should see it, in case it was the Finch I knew. Not that we thought it would be, but it might."

"Mr. Keller made this suggestion, you mean?"

"Yes. He's my cousin—there isn't any other."

"And you acted on his suggestion?"

"Yes. The sergeant let me go and see the body, and I recognised it as the man I knew in London—the Bullfinch, everybody called him."

"Ah! Then you knew this man quite well?"

"Pretty well. He ran a club called the Carmagnole."

"I suggest, witness, that you knew the man very well indeed?"

"In the sense that I go to the club—have gone to it—quite a lot. It was through that I got to know him."

"And met him there quite frequently?"

"Yes, pretty frequently. But he didn't show himself in the club much. He left that to his partner, Mrs. Gerrard."

"But you were sufficiently intimate with him to meet him frequently, you say. How was that, if he didn't show himself much in the club?"

"He—he had a flat on the top floor of the building—up over the club. I went up there with him sometimes."

"For drinks after hours, that is?" The coroner's tone was acidly cold as he made the suggestion.

"It was his flat—he could do what he liked in it," Davis responded sullenly. "I only went up there to see him sometimes."

"Did you borrow money from this man Finch?"

"I don't see what that's got to do with—"

"Never mind what you see or do not see!" the coroner interrupted sharply. "I ask you—did you borrow money off this man Finch?"

"Yes, then, I did," Davis answered, very sulkily indeed.

"Did you tell him that you would be a wealthy man when you inherited your uncle's estate, and that you would repay him then?"

"I might have told him that."

"Come, come, witness! Men who run night clubs do not lend money out of sheer goodness of heart. I put it to you—was there an understanding between you and this man Finch, to the effect that you were to repay him all you owed on inheriting your estate?"

"Yes," Davis owned, and the confession sounded as if dragged from him—as in fact it was. He was fast losing his confidence again, now.

"Did you subsequently tell Finch that your uncle had not left you his estate after all, but only a legacy of forty pounds, and that you were therefore unable to repay what you had borrowed from Finch?"

"I told him the old man had left it to my cousin instead of me."

"What attitude toward you did he adopt over that?"

"Well, I told him I'd pay as soon as I could, and didn't want him to turn me out of the club. He said he wouldn't."

"Regarded you, in fact as a pigeon with a few feathers still left, and let you go on singeing them in this Carmagnole club?"

"I don't see why you should insult me about it," Davis retorted.

"You will see quite a good deal before I have finished with you," the coroner told him cuttingly. "Now answer this question! Did Finch continue his friendship with you, after you told him you could not pay?"

"Yes, he did."

"Did he ask you questions about the Strong Box?"

"No—not that I remember."

"You are aware, I suppose, that a full description of the Strong Box as a burglar-proof residence has appeared in more than one paper?"

"Of course. It's a well-known place."

"Did you discuss it, or mention the valuable things kept there, with Finch, after you had been disinherited by Mr. Ward Keller?"

"He may have talked about it a bit to me."

"Did you know that Bland, as long as he was living there alone after Mr. Ward Keller's death, would admit nobody to the place after dark, for fear of an attempt at carrying off the valuables there?"

"I might have known it."

"Did you or did you not know it? Answer me plainly!"

"Yes, then—I knew it."

"Did Finch get this knowledge out of you?"

"No."

"You are on oath, witness—remember it! I put it to you now, that there were times in your conversations with Finch when you were so much under the influence of drink that you cannot remember all that he asked you, or what you replied to him?"

"Well, there weren't any such times," Davis retorted, but unconvincingly, and glancing round as if he meditated escape from this gruelling.

"On the occasion of a raid on this Carmagnole club, some time ago, were you one of the members whose names and addresses were taken, and the one who was subsequently fined for concealing a bottle of alcoholic liquor and endeavouring to controvert licensing regulations?"

"I was." There was sullen defiance in this reply.

"And were you, at the time of the raid, too drunk to stand?"

Davis made no reply at all to the accusation.

"I take it, since you do not deny this, that it is correct," the coroner went on. "Now, witness, having ascertained that Finch was able to learn all he wanted from you with regard to conditions at the Strong Box, we will come on to Mr. Percival Keller's arrival in London. Did you tell Finch when Mr. Keller was expected to return from Canada?"

"I can only remember telling him my cousin was in Canada."

"Then you discussed Mr. Keller with this man Finch?"

"I told him he was in Canada."

"And a good deal more! Prior to your cousin's arrival in London, where did you last see the man Finch, and when?"

"In his flat over the Carmagnole, the night before Val arrived."

"In Finch's own club, the night before Mr. Keller reached London?"

"No, he wasn't down in the club. I went upstairs to his flat."

"And saw him there?"

"Yes."

"Did you tell him your cousin was arriving the next day?"

"I don't remember."

"You were too intoxicated, in fact, to remember what you said?"

"I wasn't. We only had a few drinks together up there."

"I wonder if you realise, witness, that I am trying, little as I like the task, to get evidence from you which will show that you acted like a drunken fool in connection with this tragedy of Bland's death? To get you to show that you were not in collusion with Finch, and did not willingly give him the information that brought him here with intent to commit murder? Because, if the latter is the case, you become an accessory to the murder of Bland under circumstances which would prompt any jury to send you to execution. If, on the other hand, Finch pumped you as he pumped many other poor fools for his own purposes, we are reduced to regretting that such men as you exist, and at that must leave it. I speak thus strongly because I have knowledge of your character, and no fear that I am exceeding strict truth in connection with you. Now answer this question plainly. Did you tell Finch that you expected to meet your cousin at Euston, the day before yesterday?"

"Yes. He asked me, and I told him." Davis, thoroughly frightened, now, answered the question without hesitation. "I didn't think there was any harm in it, though—in my telling him, I mean."

"Did you tell him you expected your cousin to stay the night at your flat, and that you meant to accompany him here yesterday?"

"No, because I didn't know myself, then."

"Finch would be under the impression that Mr. Keller would come on to Carden alone, then, by what you told him?"

"I suppose he would. I don't know."

"But, through you, Finch had every opportunity of learning Mr. Keller's movements, as far as you yourself knew them?"

"I didn't see any harm in telling him what he asked me."

"No. He was the proprietor of a more or less reputable night club, and Mr. Keller was about to take up residence at a place of which the contents may be worth anything up to a hundred and fifty thousand pounds or even more. You saw no harm in it. You saw no harm in informing him that he could not get into that house after dark while Bland lived in it alone, but must wait for Mr. Keller's return to gain admittance. You saw no harm in giving him an opportunity of seeing you meet Mr. Keller at Euston, keeping track of Mr. Keller from then on, and following him to this place in a fast car on the day of his arrival here—following with intent to commit two murders! I do not say you knew this as his intent, for if I believed that, you would not be a free man for one minute longer. But I do say that you blabbed to this miscreant things which any man with one grain of sense would have kept from everyone, and it is for the police in charge of the case to determine to what extent you are culpable in connection with the murder of Bland. You may stand down, Mr. Davis, while I call a reputable witness. Doctor Bennett."

Bennett took the stand, while Davis retired and looked mutely and pleadingly at Keller. Then Keller did a surprising thing.

"Let it ride, Bert," he said. "You've been a fool, but I'll make a man of you yet if you hang on me. Just call it a day."

The words were clearly audible throughout the room. The coroner looked at Keller in blank amazement for a moment or two, and then turned to the examination of his witness, while Davis seated himself beside his cousin and hung his head so that nobody could see his face clearly.

Bennett's evidence took very little time, and, in dismissing him, the coroner glanced at his watch and shook his head.

"Time presses, ladies and gentlemen," he observed. "You members of the jury, are not here to apportion blame, but merely to determine the way in which this man, Edward Thomas Bland, came by his death—I may say was done to death. Sufficient evidence has been put before you to determine the circumstances of the man's death, and you may now deliver your verdict. I see no need to suggest that you retire to consider it, the evidence being so plain and conclusive."

Goldsworthy, the farmer of Longlands Farm, had been elected foreman of the jury. He collected suggestions in whispers, and then announced that they found that Edward Thomas Bland had been wilfully murdered by the man named Finch, whom Percival Keller had subsequently killed, but justifiably and in self-defence.

"Your verdict of wilful murder against William Finch shall be so recorded," the coroner commented, "but it is not in your power as yet to express any opinion as to how Finch came by his death, and will not be in your power until all available evidence concerning him has been heard. I propose, failing objections from any of you members of the jury, that you shall be sworn again and with me conduct this second inquiry, into the circumstances attendant on the death of—" he consulted his papers—"William Sturgess Finch. Do any of you object to this?"

No objection was voiced, and the twelve good men—and women—and true settled to hearing the evidence in this second case, after being sworn again. And, while the business of taking the oath was in progress, Wadden signalled to Head to come out of the room, and faced him in the little passageway beyond the top of the staircase.

"Why not bag your man?" he asked. "It's good enough."

"What have we?" Head rejoined ironically. "It wouldn't go past a magistrate for committal, with what came out here. Chief, Davis is acting a part, and doing it very cleverly, too. Besides, he can't run out of my reach. I can bag him when I'm ready."

"Aren't you ready now? It'll take you no time at all to get proof as to the very close inquiries he made about the Strong Box, the photograph he took away, and all the rest he did to enable him to pass on to Finch the conditions here. Bag him, and you've got his flat at your mercy, remember. And there's that about Bland letting nobody in after dark, together with his going to the hotel while Finch did the deed, and coming back to divide up the swag. The man's guilty as hell."

"I know he is, and he's not going to get away with it, either," Head asserted. "But I can take him when I want him—I can get a case, chief, that'll surprise you, if you'll give me a little time. We'll let Davis run loose for the present—come on, chief. I felt on thinking it over that I simply had to have Bella Gerrard and she's first witness—for identification. And she's going through it. I've given our coroner his points, and you can see the mood he's in by the way he went for Davis. We'd better go back, or we shall miss it."

They entered the court again in time to hear no more than the concluding sentence of the coroner's opening remarks, together with his order that Mrs. Isabel Gerrard should be called.

She had waited, with the landlady of the Greyhound Inn to keep her company, in a bedroom on the top floor of the inn, and now, summoned to appear, she entered and was shepherded by Sergeant Wells to the witness stand, where she took the oath and gave her name as Isabel Mary Gerrard, and her age as twenty-eight. Then the coroner took her in hand, very gently at first. Her fair, delicate beauty, and the allure of the fringe of veiling that shaded her eyes, made no impression at all on him, though the same could not be said of some others engaged in this inquiry, or spectators of it. She made a pathetic figure—and knew it!

"What is your real name, witness?" the coroner began pleasantly.

She gazed at him awhile in silence. Then—

"But—but—I have just given it," she protested.

"No, no—not that! Your real name, I asked?"

With a little shrug she yielded. "Mary Belinda Robbins," she said.

"Is that your married or maiden name?"

"My own name—my maiden name."

"We may take it, then, that you are a spinster, technically speaking. Is that the case, Miss Mary Belinda Robbins?"

"Yes."

"And what is your real age?"

"Thirty-six," she answered, only just audibly.

Head had suggested the questions, remembering how Byrne had told him that she passed as married, and Byrne's comment on the fact. And, not knowing whether her birth certificate had been already traced and examined, she dared not lie in answer to either question, though she knew that any sympathy her appearance may have evoked was utterly destroyed by her replies. For his part, the coroner knew that he had shaken her badly by his insistence—as he had wanted to shake her.

"At the request of Inspector Jeremy Head, Miss Robbins, and in his presence and that of a police constable, you identified a body which Inspector Head showed you to-day in—I believe—an outhouse adjacent to a residence named the Strong Box. Is this the case?"

"It is," she assented.

"Under what name did you identify this body—as that of whom?"

"As that of William Finch."

"Do you know this William Finch's place of residence?"

"Yes. Thirty-seven, Dallas Place, Shaftesbury Avenue, London." Her voice, soft and musical when she began her replies, now sounded altogether different: it had become harsh and defiant.

"Do you yourself reside at that address?"

"I gave it as my address. I manage the Carmagnole club there, and Mr. Finch lives—lived, I should say—in the top flat."

"Quite so, Miss Robbins, but you also gave us your name and age as entirely different from what they really are. I ask you now, not where you manage a club, but whether you reside at thirty-seven Dallas Place. Do you or do you not reside there, apart from managing a club?"

"Yes. I do."

"On which floor, Miss Robbins?"

"The—the top floor."

"Thank you." He appeared almost to purr with gratitude. "Were you intimately acquainted with the deceased man Finch?"

"He and I were joint proprietors of the Carmagnole club."

"A night club, I understand, that has twice been subjected to police raids, and at the resulting hearings you appeared and assumed full responsibility for any alleged irregularities in connection with the conduct of the club. Do you admit that this is the case?"

"I do."

"In other words, you twice shielded this man Finch from putting in an appearance at a police court. Do you admit that?"

"I took the responsibility because I was as much proprietor of the club as Mr. Finch, and he was not present when either of the raids took place. He left practically all the inside management to me, and as a general rule only did the buying for the club."

"While you did the selling—yes. Again I ask you, were you intimately acquainted with the deceased man Finch?"

"In a business way—yes."

"And in any other than a business way? I will explain, Miss Robbins, that I have no wish to pry into your personal life in any way that does not affect the subject of this inquiry. To put this quite plainly, were you sufficiently intimate with Finch to know of his friendship with, or his influence over, a man named Bertram Davis?"

She hesitated, in a quandary: she knew that, over the inquest on Bland, Davis had almost certainly been called to give evidence, but the handicap of not having heard that evidence left her in doubt as to what she should reply. She risked the truth, eventually.

"I—I knew they were—were great friends."

"Great friends—yes. Was Davis also a friend of yours?"

"Yes—yes. He—he was a friend of mine." She was still floundering in fear of contradicting anything Davis had already said.

"And he talked quite a good deal to you, as well as to Finch in your hearing, about this house known as the Strong Box, didn't he?"

"He did talk about it, to both of us, but I can't remember much of what he said. It—it didn't interest me much."

"Were you present when Finch questioned Davis about the Strong Box?"

"I—I believe I was, once or twice."

"Oh! You heard Finch question Davis on more than one occasion?"

"On a few—some—one or two occasions." She was floundering again, and desperately uneasy over the questions, now.

"A few occasions? How many times did you hear the subject discussed between the two men, since it appears to be more than once or twice?"

"I don't know. It may have been three or four times—or more than that, perhaps. I really can't say how many times."

"Did Davis answer Finch's questions freely, or no?"

"I—I don't know. I wasn't listening closely. I had to attend to the business of the club, not listen to what they said."

"In spite of which, you listened so closely as to remember now that the subject of the Strong Box was discussed between these two men on several occasions in your presence. Now tell me—did Davis volunteer information with regard to this place without being asked by Finch, after he had been disinherited by his uncle in favour of Mr. Keller, as you know happened to him?"

"I didn't hear him volunteer information, after that."

"Oh! Then you admit being sufficiently interested to know that Davis had been disinherited in favour of Mr. Keller?"

"Ye—yes. I—Oh, haven't I suffered enough to-day?"

The coroner shook his head at her, gravely.

"An old man, Miss Robbins, a faithful servant of his master," he said, "has suffered death at the hands of one who, you admit, has been an associate of yours, an intimate of yours, and apparently one whom you regard with great affection. A verdict of murder—I myself should not hesitate to term it foul murder of the most brutal kind—has been returned against that one, and I fear I can feel no sympathy for your suffering, Miss Belinda Mary Robbins. I ask you again, do you admit knowing that Davis had been disinherited, while he was maintaining his intimacy with Finch and frequenting this Carmagnole club?"

"I do," she answered, in little more than a whisper.

"And that Davis communicated information concerning the Strong Box to Finch on several occasions, in your presence?"

"Yes."

"Did you lend Finch your car, a fast sports car, for the purpose of driving to Carden yesterday with intent to commit murder?"

"I didn't know he meant to—to do that!"

"I have not accused you of knowing it. Did you lend him the car?"

"I—yes, I lent him the car. I had to lend it when he asked me. He—he gave it to me—as a present. I didn't know—didn't know he was coming here in it. I didn't know why he wanted it."

"Didn't he tell you that he was coming to Carden, even?"

"No. He—he just asked me if he could have the car, and I said he could. I—it wasn't a day for driving out, yesterday."

"You, under the name of Bella Gerrard, are the chief attraction of the Carmagnole club, are you not, Miss Robbins?"

"I—I managed it, if that's what you mean."

"It's not what I mean, but I will not press the question. You would hear a good deal of gossip, in your position at the Carmagnole club—I'll put it that way. Is that the case?"

"I—I did sometimes hear things said."

"Whom did Davis meet first at the club—Finch or you?"

"I—I think he met me first. Mr. Finch wasn't in the club much."

"Then you introduced Davis to Finch?"

"Yes."

"In that case, why say you think you met Davis before Finch met him? You know perfectly well you met him first, if you introduced him to Finch. And you mentioned, in introducing him, that he was a potentially wealthy man, being heir to a valuable estate, did you not?"

"I—I believe I did say something—"

"Miss Robbins, I'm perfectly sick of hearing what you thought you did and what you believe you said! Did you or did you not introduce Davis to Finch as heir to a valuable estate?"

"Yes, I did."

"That's all I want from you. You have, indirectly, given the jury a very fair idea of the character of the man who murdered Edward Bland, one on the look-out for young fools with money, whom you introduced to him as you found them available. Incidentally, you have also given us an opportunity of forming an estimate of your own character as manageress, proprietress, or whatever you choose to call yourself, of this night club known as the Carmagnole. Unless the jury wish to question you over any point in your evidence, you may stand down, but do not leave this room, in the event of my needing to call you again."

Since no juryman or woman volunteered a question, she stood down, and Sergeant Denman took her place on the stand.


CHAPTER X. — EXONERATED

THERE was, as the coroner had predicted, a great deal of duplication of evidence that had been given at the inquest on Bland, in this following inquiry into the circumstances attendant on the death of Finch. Keller, again reciting his story of the double tragedy, was pulled up as before by the coroner over his estimate of the time.

"As I have already pointed out to you, Mr. Keller," the coroner observed, "Sergeant Denman stated in the course of his evidence that he asked you the time at which this man Finch knocked at the door and was admitted by Bland, and you told him then that you were not certain of the time, but estimated it as in the region of a quarter past seven. You alter it now to between six-thirty and seven, and prefer us to regard this as your estimate of the time?"

"Yes," Keller answered, "because I've had time to reckon how long I took over things. My only certainty of time is that Bland said he'd fetch in dinner at half-past seven, and he hadn't fetched in dinner. I can see now, what with bandaging my hand as well as I could, and then sort of going back and wondering in a foggy sort of way what I was to do—I can see that I must have been a pretty long time asking myself what the—I mean, realising I'd got to get the police in. I know I hunted for some whisky to stiffen me up, feeling about all in as I did, before it struck me I'd have to get the police in."

"It was, then, about an hour after Bland let Finch in that you telephoned eventually for the police?"

"No, I wouldn't say as long as that. No. Half an hour, or a bit over the half. But not an hour, surely! I can only guess."

"If it were half an hour, Mr. Keller, or a little more, we must set aside the estimate of time you have given here twice to-day, and say Finch arrived at the Strong Box at or in the neighbourhood of a quarter-past seven, and not between half-past six and seven o'clock."

"Well, sir, it's up to you," Keller replied frankly and disarmingly.

"If you think that's correct, you'd better make it so. I wasn't in any state to check up anything with a stop-watch, and just don't know for sure what the time was, but merely guess at it."

"If I suggested that Finch knocked at the door of the Strong Box at a quarter-past six, say, how would you regard that as an estimate of the time?" the coroner asked in almost a casual manner.

"Then I'd say right off he didn't," Keller answered unhesitatingly. "Bert Davis didn't leave me till near on half-past five, and I went upstairs with Bland and spent some considerable time there before coming down into the dining-room. No, sir, it was later than that."

The coroner abandoned the point. Head had prompted the suggestion of a quarter-past six as the time of Finch's arrival, but had given no basis for it. He was holding back Sparkes' recognition of the Aston-Martin as the car he had seen in the village street at that time, as he was holding back other points he had gleaned in his second and very thorough investigation of the dining-room and other apartments at the Strong Box. For the present, he was anxious that Davis should not be frightened into leaving or attempting to leave Carden: he could see that Davis was leaning on Keller as on a rock on which he could rely, and he wanted that dependence maintained until he himself had completed the case he had promised Wadden. He had no doubt of completing it now.

While the coroner was still busy with Keller, Wadden took a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote at length. Then he passed his screed to Head, with a look that asked for approval of its contents. Head read—


Verdict of wilful murder returned here against William Finch to-day. Please lock and seal flat, 37, Dallas Place, Shaftesbury Avenue, tenanted by Finch, immediately, for examination by us.

Wadden, Superintendent of Police, Westingborough.


"You fill in the address," Wadden whispered, as Head nodded approval of the contents of the telegram. And, at that, Head took out a pencil and put the address at the top of the message, adding the words "Reply Paid." Then Wadden signalled to Constable Sparkes to approach, and handed the paper to him. With a nod of comprehension Sparkes went out from the room.

The inquest dragged on, rather tediously, by reason of the repetition of evidence already given in connection with the murder of Bland. Again the coroner took Davis over the details of his acquaintance with Finch, but elicited nothing new. Eventually came the summing up, in which the coroner gave his jury a concise Statement of the case as he saw it, pointing out that there was no evidence to show that Davis had been guilty of other than loose-tongued folly, probably while under the influence of drink. He appeared to regret being forced to that conclusion, and, finally, reverted to Keller's action.

"We are compelled to admit," he said, "that Mr. Percival Keller employed unnecessary violence in rendering Finch incapable of doing further harm, but you must remember, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that Mr. Keller saw death itself approaching him in the person of Finch, knew that the man had already stabbed Bland, and meant to attack him with the knife already stained with Bland's blood. In my opinion, it is not to be wondered at that Mr. Keller, as he phrases it, 'saw red,' and was almost unconscious of what he did until he realised that Finch was lying dead. You may now consider your verdict, ladies and gentlemen, and may retire for that purpose if you think it necessary."

But, as in the preceding case, there was no retirement. A few whispers, a few nods, and then Goldsworthy spoke:

"We find, sir, that Mr. Keller acted in self-defence, and as far as he's concerned it's a case of justifiable homicide. And I'm expressing the opinion of us all when I say he did well in ridding the earth of a man like Finch. He's in no way to blame over it."

"You find," the coroner interpreted, "that William Sturgess Finch met his death through the agency of Percival Keller, who acted solely in his own defence, and is therefore fully exonerated of all blame in respect of his act?"

"That's it, sir, and we commend Mr. Keller for what he did."

"Your verdict shall be so recorded," the coroner promised, but omitted to state whether the rider would also be placed on record.


"AND now, since you don't feel like bagging Davis for the present, what do we do about it next?" Wadden inquired of the inspector.

"I'm not quite sure," Head answered with grave reflectiveness. "I want to see, first of all, whether the fair Belinda hares off for London like a streak of lightning, or decides she's too prostrated by the events of the day to travel so far. She's still in there."

The two men stood outside the Greyhound, then. Emmett, the pressman, having ascertained that neither of them had anything to say, had left them to seek other sources of information for rounding off his story. He had kept a runner busy between the improvised courtroom and the telegraph office while the two inquests were in progress, and there was little doubt that, as Byrne had anticipated, the news of Finch's death would appear in the late editions of the evening papers in London.

Carden residents were filing away from the inn, without venturing to approach the two police chiefs of the district. Darkness had fallen completely by this time, for the inquests had taken the best part of three hours to complete. Percival Keller, with Davis still clinging to him almost as unfailingly as his own shadow, had gone off to the Carden Arms—Sparkes had reported the entry of the pair at the hotel, for Head had bidden him keep an unobtrusive eye on Davis.

"That club's done for," Wadden remarked abruptly.

"May be, and may not," Head rejoined. "If it's kept open, this business may be a good advertisement for it, with some people. But I'm not much interested—what I've got in mind is Finch's flat. If Bella hares off—she's too late for the six-nineteen up, and I don't see her coming to us and asking for her car to-night but if she streaks away like the devil, then there's evidence available at that flat of collusion between Davis and Finch, and she knows it and wants to destroy it. She was in this as much as Davis was, in my opinion. If she settles down at the Carden Arms for the night, then they've left everything all safe at the flat, and I needn't hurry off to London to-night to go over it. So I think we'll wait and ascertain what the gentle lady is going to do before making up our minds—before I make up mine, that is. I want you to let me handle this case all by myself, chief, if you can bring yourself to do such a thing."

"Carry on by all means," Wadden assented rather unamiably, "and if it's still unfinished while I'm growing tomatoes under glass, don't blame me. Head, that Davis is a prize fool if ever there was one!"

"You think so?" Head queried, in a way that implied a contrary opinion. "In what particular do you consider him one?"

"Oh, I don't doubt his guilt for a minute—I wish I felt as sure of you getting him as I do that he ought to be got," Wadden answered. "But he need never have identified Finch—need never have said that he knew the man at all. He could have stayed altogether outside the case, if he'd kept that fact dark instead of blabbing it—to Keller, in the first place. As it is, he's completely damned himself."

"Bertram Davis is a very clever man," Head dissented gravely. "A very clever man, chief. He knew what he was about."

Wadden reflected over it as they stood waiting. "Ah, I get you!" he exclaimed at last. "Of course, if he had kept it dark, and then Belinda Robbins had turned up and given away that Finch and Davis were friendly—yes, Keller having mentioned Finch's name to Davis last night, too. It'd have looked considerably uglier for him than it does now, even—and nobody could regard him as a really pretty figure in the case, even if you take the view the coroner put forward."

He thought over it. Head made no reply.

"Judas!" Wadden exclaimed at last. "Coming down here with Keller yesterday, leaving him at the Strong Box, and going off to the hotel to wait there while Finch murdered Keller, knowing his own skin would get no scratch. As rotten a Judas as ever drew breath!"

"Or," Head amended slowly, "to wait while Keller killed Finch."

"You mean—?" Wadden asked doubtfully.

"Finch killed by Keller—or even Finch caught by Keller after he had murdered Bland—saves Bertram Davis seven thousand pounds," Head pointed out. "That was the amount of his debt to Finch, and he's saved any pressure for payment for the present, at the least. On the other hand, assuming that Finch had killed Keller instead and got clear away, Bertram would get his share of the swag, being in it, wouldn't he? A winner in either Case, while Finch took all the risk."

"Quite so, the dirty hound! And there goes our fair lady, Head!"

For Bella Gerrard—or Belinda Robbins!—showed framed momentarily in the lighted doorway that gave access to the private rooms of the inn, and then, emerging, went along the village street toward the Carden Arms. The two men stood back in the shadows, and she did not observe them. Head nodded in a satisfied way.

"See you later, chief," he said. "She's my guide, for the present. If she makes tracks for London, I go too. If not, I'll leave that flat till to-morrow—it'll keep, after your telegram, and there are one or two points here in Carden I'd like to look over, first."

He turned away and followed Bella Gerrard—as she preferred to call herself—past the Strong Box, outside which Jeffries sat patiently waiting at the wheel of the police saloon, and across the forecourt of the Carden Arms. Standing outside, he saw the woman go to Cortazzi, who was in the lounge, and who, after an apparent question from her, escorted her to his little cubby-hole of an office and there pressed a bell-push while she signed the hotel register. Presently a maid appeared, and Bella went with her toward and up the staircase.

"Bless you, dear!" Head murmured to himself. "I should have hated to go to London to-night. Now let's see if there's anything doing."

He entered the lounge, which was tenanted now only by Cortazzi. The Italian had gone to the fireplace, where he stood gazing meditatively down at the glowing coals until he heard the door close behind the police inspector. Then he turned and advanced.

"Ah, Mr. 'Ead! You are come to eat to-naight?" he invited. "For if it be, I tell ze chef to make ze dinner especial for you."

"I'm not sure," Head answered cautiously. "Before I decide, come and have a glance at your register with me, will you? I want to see what arrivals you've had here lately."

"Everybody who sign is British subject," Cortazzi assured him anxiously. "I am vairy careful about zat, Mr. 'Ead. I make ze form for ze alien when he come, but he do not come, long taime."

"Oh, I haven't got a warrant for your arrest yet, Cortazzi," Head assured him, not very comfortingly, as he went to look at the register.

He gazed down at the opened pages. The third name down was that of Bertram Davis, and there was an interval of a fortnight between his signature and that of the preceding guest. He was in room twenty-one. Next, badly scrawled, was the left-handed record to testify that Percival Keller had engaged room number twenty. Under this was Kingsward, in room eleven, and lastly, with the ink not quite dry, Bella Gerrard had signed under that name, and, apparently in her own handwriting, there were inscribed the figures "22."

"Twenty-two," Head said thoughtfully.

"Ah! Ze number of ze room," Cortazzi said explanatorily at his elbow. "Ze lady ask, can I give her ze twenty-two, an' I tell her any room she laike, Eet is not ze season, now, for zen it is necessaire for people to book in advance. Now—any room zey want!"

Head nodded, but made no other comment.

"Twenty to twenty-seven," Cortazzi added, "zey 'ave ze good outlook, toward ze big 'ill. Vairy pretty, ze outlook from zem."

"I think I will eat, Cortazzi." He turned away abruptly from the register as he spoke. "I'll go and see what can be done about a wash and brush-up, and you can shake me a good dry martini and put it on the mantelpiece over there for me to find when I come back. And I want you to lay me a table all to myself in the dining-room."

"Sairtainly, Mr. 'Ead. As many table as you laike."

"Just one," Head ordered. "That corner table on the left of the doorway. Has anybody else got that, though?"

"Ze two gentlemen, Mr. Keller an' Mr. Davis, zey 'ave it," Cortazzi answered. "I ask zem to move if you like, Mr. 'Ead?"

"Don't bother them. Give me the table in the corner to right of the doorway—unless your other guest has already bagged that."

"No, 'e is by ze window. You 'ave zat table, Mr. 'Ead."

With which assurance Head went off for his wash and brush-up, and, returning to the lounge, found his dry martini ready on the mantel as he had requested. Cortazzi watched him take a first sip.

"Quite good," he remarked. "Moreish, in fact." And, standing faced toward the fire, he took a second and saw Kingsward, changed from day attire into a dinner jacket suit, descend the stairs.

He turned about. "Good evening, Sir Denis," he said.

"That's the second time you've made a sideboard of that mantelpiece, inspector, to my knowledge," Kingsward accused, looking at his watch. "In one day, too! You've finished work for the day, I conclude?"

"I have never finished for the day," Head assured him gravely. "May I invite you to join me? Cocktails taste much better in pairs."

"I'd be delighted, but I have an appointment," Kingsward said. "Later, perhaps, but you must excuse me for the present."

He went out, hatless and coatless. But it was a still, clear evening, and Longlands Farm, Head reflected, was not far away.

He turned to face the fire again. The mass of glowing coals was an aid to meditation, in some measure, or he thought it was, which amounted to the same thing. There was one bit of coal, cigar-shaped—no, though, not quite cigar-shaped. For on one end of it was a tiny stub, like the ring-holder at the end of a Norwegian fish-knife—and, as he gazed, the glowing piece fell with a faint rustle and broke in two. Cortazzi, standing just in front of his little office, roused himself and turned to the service doorway with a resolute air.

"I go to tell ze chef to make ze dinner especial," he announced, and went out, leaving Head quite alone in the lounge.

Then, at the very top of the mirror over the mantel, Head saw the reflection of a movement of some sort. Looking up, he saw Davis paused at the top of the staircase, halted as if about to descend, and as he watched the reflection Davis drew back, quite silently, and disappeared. An innocent man, Head thought to himself, would have come down fearlessly. Now, with that withdrawal on Davis' part, it would be interesting to see if Bella Gerrard came down to the dining-room, or had dinner taken up to her in room twenty-two.

He felt grimly amused at the situation. These—dastards, he termed them in his own mind—would deduce from his presence that in all probability they were not safe here, that he was watching them, and yet they dared not flee! Would Davis run straight back to Keller and tell him that the police inspector was here and he feared to go down to the lounge alone, or would he seek refuge with Bella Gerrard, and warn her? Of one thing Head was certain: they had committed themselves to a course of action in the last twenty-four hours, and now must maintain it. Any attempt at deviation would be disastrous—would be fatal, in fact, in the full sense of the word. They had undertaken an enterprise, and were committed to it, must see it through to its end. And he, Head, not they, knew what the end would be!

But he determined to complete his case, to bring it to the point that would admit of presenting it without a single flaw, before he moved to take open action. They could not get away—they dared not attempt to get away!—and in the meantime they could not divine his knowledge or foresee his plans. They could only suspect, and fear.

Now, while he stood waiting to see if Davis' reflection would reappear in the mirror, he saw the outer door opened, and Lynette Grey, cloaked and bareheaded and thus evidently dressed for dinner, entered, with Kingsward following her. They advanced only a little way into the room before Kingsward touched the girl's arm and halted to speak to her, at too great a distance for Head to overhear him. She appeared to assent to whatever proposal he made, and, leaving her to wait, Kingsward approached the fireplace, and Head faced about.

"I promised you, inspector, to let you know if I made any bargain with Keller," Kingsward said. "You may remember asking me?"

"If you've made one, you've been pretty quick about it, Sir Denis," Head rejoined. "But I'm dining here—you can tell me later." He glanced at the waiting girl as he made the suggestion.

"There's no time like the present," Kingsward observed tritely.

"But I'd like you to tell me all about it when you begin, if you don't mind," Head pointed out, "and if you'll forgive me for remarking on such a thing, you'd keep a lady waiting if you tried to do that now."

"Well, she knows about it, so there's no reason why I should keep her waiting, unless you have an objection to my telling you in her hearing," Kingsward said. "Dinner-time is still twenty minutes away."

"Then I suggest that we have that deferred pair of cocktails, and make it a trio while we are about it," Head remarked. "That is, if you and Miss Grey will condescend. I don't wish to presume—"

"After the Forrest case and a few other things!" Kingsward interrupted, and laughed. "You with a name known all over the country and equal to any at Scotland Yard—and Miss Grey remarked to me this morning that you had done her a good turn as well, though she didn't tell me what it was. I'll ask her to join us, and thanks for suggesting it."

He turned back to Lynette, while Head, who had a very definite motive for making the suggestion, pressed a bell-push, since Cortazzi had not yet returned to the lounge. The pair came over to the fireplace, and the girl gave Head a smile of greeting: she had unfastened her cloak, and in the blue dinner frock she wore, with slightly heightened colour in her face and her eyes shining with the pleasure of being with Kingsward again, she gave good reason for his wish to dine other than alone. Cortazzi hurried in, and waited expectantly.

"Sir Denis has told me what he wished to talk to you about, Mr. Head," Lynette said. "Or what you wanted him to tell you, rather."

"He also accepted my invitation to a cocktail, I believe," Head answered. "May we include you in the order—as a favour to me?"

She nodded a smiling assent. "Thanks—I'd love one."

"Dry martini—and what do you choose, Sir Denis?"

"Dry martinis all three, then," Kingsward suggested. "Miss Grey has dined here with me before, and we found them quite good then. But you've had yours already, inspector." He pointed to the empty glass.

"This is to wash that one down—three dry martinis, Cortazzi. And now, Sir Denis"—as Cortazzi went off—"what's your news?"

Kingsward felt in his pocket, and took out the document Davis had written at his dictation—but now it bore Percival Keller's left-handed scrawl as signature, while Lucas Barton had signed as witness. Head went carefully through the text, and scrutinised the signatures.

"Is Barton here?" he asked, looking up at Kingsward.

"Keller took him to his room," Kingsward explained, "when they came together from the inquest. In any case, when I went up to change, Keller saw me in the corridor and asked me if I'd care to come into his room and see his signature witnessed, and I went. Barton wanted to take the agreement away with him and get it made more legal, have it altered and copied out in his office, but Keller said he was satisfied with the present form if I was, and so he signed it as you see, and Barton signed as witness in my presence."

"You'll find a duplicate of that signature of Keller's in the hotel register, if you care to look," Head observed as Cortazzi approached with the cocktails and handed them round. "And you made the exchange as stated here—you gave him your cheque?"

"I did," Kingsward admitted. "It appeared to me that that was Keller's reason for avoiding the delay of altering the agreement—he wanted to get hold of the money as soon as possible."

"Probably," Head agreed reflectively. "Yes—if he's letting Lucas Barton act for him, he'd be lucky if he got an advance of a hundred on his inheritance before probate, let alone anything in the neighbourhood of a thousand. Especially since Barton had already advanced him a thousand dollars to bring him home from Canada. A useful little sum for him, this. Miss Grey, my best wishes, and to you too, Sir Denis."

He drank, and once again made a sideboard of the mantel.

"This document—you didn't write it yourself, did you, Sir Denis?" he asked, glancing at the agreement which he still held.

Kingsward shook his head. "My fist is not the most legible thing on earth," he answered. "Keller suggested this morning that his cousin Davis might write it at my dictation, and I agreed—though Keller himself suggested quite as much of the wording as I did."

"Ah! Then this is Davis' handwriting?" Head looked interested as he put the query, and again glanced at the document.

"The body of the agreement—yes," Kingsward assented.

"Now I want you to do me another favour, Sir Denis. Let me retain this paper till, say, the day after tomorrow, will you? I promise to keep it safely and return it to you either here or in London, as you choose, and not later than then, if you'll trust it to me."

Kingsward looked his surprise at the request, and hesitated over it for awhile, Then—"I don't see what good it can possibly be to you, inspector," he said, "but if you wish it, I'll entrust the thing to you for the next forty-eight hours, if you're sure you can call at my house in London and deliver it to me there."

"It shall be done," Head promised, and did not add that he would get a photostatic copy of this specimen of Davis' handwriting made for his own use. "I hope you'll forgive these dry details, Miss Grey, after coming out for a pleasant dinner with no thought of business to spoil it. But now I've something of interest to tell you, if Sir Denis will allow me. It concerns the warning I gave you this morning—no, don't go away, Sir Denis, for there's nothing secret about it as far as I'm concerned. You remember it, I expect, Miss Grey?"

"I am not likely to forget," she answered, "either the warning or your kindness in thinking to give it to me in the way you did."

"Well, you may forget it as soon as you like, and everything connected with it," he told her. "The need for caution of which I told you no longer exists. I can't explain, but I assure you it is so."

"No longer exists?" She appeared both puzzled and doubtful over it. "But—but—what has changed, Mr. Head? How can it—"

"Just take my word that the need no longer exists, and leave it at that," he bade. "You can, really. I wouldn't mislead you on anything so important—and likely to give me trouble too, as you may realise. You can forget that I warned you—forget all about it."

"Well, I suppose you know," she said, and smiled. "I don't."

"I do, as you observe—you'll see how I know, in a few days. And all this is Dutch to you, Sir Denis, far more than it is to Miss Grey. But now, while I have the chance of speaking to you—if I may, that is, for a minute or two more—about those things in the strong room at Keller's place. Did he give you any idea of when you could conclude the deal outlined in this remarkably quixotic agreement?"

"He did," Kingsward answered. "But why call it a quixotic agreement? It binds him just as much as it binds me, surely."

"Well, I'd hate to tie up a thousand pounds—if I had it—over four problematic pigs in a water-jacketed concrete poke. I'd prefer my pigs within grunting distance. Miss Grey can tell you my view as to whether old Mr. Ward Keller were actually the only person who knew the combination letters that give access to his strong room, so I won't go into that now—you can talk it over with her later. But do you mind my asking when and how you conclude the deal?"

"Barton, Keller tells me, has already been in touch with Harrington and French, the hydraulic engineers who constructed the strong room and its controls," Kingsward explained. "He has arranged with them for a man to come down to open it at any time on condition that they have a day's notice—let them know one day, and they will send their men down with the necessary equipment for unlocking and resetting the combination, the next day. It has to be a man who understands the mechanism and its intricacies, and they must have a day's notice to be sure of sending him. So Barton will ring them to-morrow morning, and I—where will you be the day after to-morrow, inspector?"

"Back here, I hope," Head answered.

"Then you can return that agreement to me here instead of in London, because Keller has promised to let me be present at the opening of the strong room, to assure myself that all four of the articles on that schedule are in the room, and at the same time to have them valued—if his valuer and mine can agree on the spot, that is. I'm getting my man, Garratt, to come down and value for me, and Davis, according to what Keller told me, is going to London to-morrow to get another expert to come and value on their side—value for Keller, that is. Then, as soon as the executors give permission"—he smiled at Lynette—"I can take away as many of the four as I can afford to buy at the agreed price. Three of them at least, I hope."

"It appears," Head said gravely, "that you'll have very little trouble over permission from one of the executors, Sir Denis."

Kingsward laughed. "I suppose Miss Grey told you," he said. "You appear to make a habit of knowing everything, though. And that's the gong—you are dining here, I conclude?"

"I am, eventually. At present, I'm merely Micawber, waiting for something to turn up—or come down. And Miss Grey will tell you I've detained you quite long enough, when you get into the dining-room."

"She will tell Sir Denis nothing of the sort," Lynette contradicted. "She's very grateful to you, Mr. Head, as you know."

"And hungry—or ought to be," he retorted. "Thanks very much to you both for joining me like this—I shall come in to dinner soon."

It was plain that he wished them to leave him, and Kingsward gave his arm to Lynette and took her into the dining-room. Head waited on by the fireplace for another ten minutes, and then, as he had anticipated, Keller and Davis came down the stairs together. Keller gave a perfunctory little nod in the direction of the fireplace as he turned toward the dining-room entrance, but Davis did not even glance at the solitary, meditative-looking man standing there. Head ignored the salutation, and, when they had gone in, went slowly after them and seated himself at his corner table.

Keller, as he had seen, appeared coolly indifferent to his presence here—he must have known the inspector's opinion of his admission of such a one as his cousin to intimacy. Davis, on the other hand, betrayed by his attitude that he was at heart a coward, and that neither Keller's influence nor any other could ever change him over it.

And in two days—less than two full days, now—the opening of the strong room would take place. Head had already made up his mind to be present at the occasion.


CHAPTER XI. — CERTAIN FORMALITIES

"WHICH I wish to remark," Kingsward said, gazing steadily across the dining table at his companion, and quite certain that neither of their voices could be overheard by anyone, "you are looking particularly charming to-night, Lynette."

"Thank you, kind sir," she answered demurely. "But why the which?"

"Why the—oh, yes, I see! Don't you know your Bret Harte?"

"Ah! The heathen Chinee, with ways that are dark and tricks that are vain. Yes, of course. And you're going to stay and see the strong room opened, to make sure your treasures are waiting for you?"

"They are not my treasures yet, and since Garratt is an honest man I doubt whether I shall get more than two of them. My banking account is not inexhaustible, and if I get three I shall think myself very lucky indeed. Two, yes, and three, vaguely perhaps."

"Which means a waste of five hundred pounds, or two hundred and fifty, according to what Mr. Head rightly called your quixotic agreement in the lounge just now."

"Not a waste!" he dissented with energy. "A chance to secure the things which I couldn't have got in any other way. Wouldn't you like to be there when the room is opened, Lynette? I can ask Keller."

She shook her head. "I hope never to go into the Strong Box again, after what has happened there," she answered. "It was always a dark tower to me—a place of gloom and grim unfriendliness—not that Mr. Ward Keller was unfriendly to me, but he was such an unlikeable personality, and I was always glad to get away from him. But now, after murder has been committed there—if I had my way, I'd have it all pulled down, and put all those beautiful things in some place where people could see them, instead of hiding them away like that."

"Agreed," he said. "And if I have any luck at all, two or three of them will join the Kingsward collection, and I never refuse anyone who asks to see it. Your father came to look it over a good many times—I wonder now that he never brought you with him."

"And why do you wonder that?" she inquired.

"Because you said enough the last time I was here to make me realise that you've got just as much love for beauty in art as I have—as your father had himself, too. Therefore you ought to have seen my collection before now—as I hope you will, soon."

"Many thanks for suggesting it," she said rather coolly. "Quite possibly I ought to have seen a good many things, but I'm a working girl, and not able to gratify many wishes of that kind, you should remember. People like you, Sir Denis, don't realise what it means to be tied down for five and a half days of every week, and get a fortnight's holiday once a year. It gives little chance of seeing things."

There was a trace of impatience, almost of bitterness, in the reminder, and Kingsward recollected how Frank Grey, this girl's father, had speculated unwisely in her childhood, and so deprived her of an income which would have rendered her independent of such work as she had been doing—and would be compelled to do again, apparently.

"That's true," he said gravely. "We don't realise—a good many things. But I told you, Lynette, that I was going to call you by your name, and you were to call me by mine. Why the formality?"

"Oh, just a feeling," she said vaguely. "It seems to fit better."

"But I want you to regard me as plain Denis," he urged.

She smiled, then. "That's quite easy," she rejoined.

His laugh was hearty enough to cause both Keller and Davis to gaze across the room at the pair, and Head, just entering from the lounge, also looked across at them as he seated himself in his corner.

"You can't possibly be formal again, after that," Kingsward observed. "I want to tell you, too, that I'm glad you're not doing your five and a half days a week just at present, because I'm staying here till the day after to-morrow, and not only because that strong room is being opened, either. You may call that just a pretext."

"A five-hundred-pound pretext, apparently," she commented.

"Oh, yes, but we needn't keep on remembering that. Supposing I tell you that you are far more of a reason than anything in that strong room for my staying three days here instead of going back to London and coming down again?"

"In that case," she answered without looking at him, "I should tell you that you have only seen me once before, and don't know anything about me, so it's an absurd reason."

"Once? What are you talking about, Lynette? Several times, when I was here before! And as far as that goes, how on earth am I to know anything about you if I don't go on seeing you? Besides, I know quite enough of you already to be glad of the pretext for staying here three days—and spending as much of them with you as you see fit to give me."

"If you look across the room," she said coolly, "you'll see that Inspector Head is directly facing us as he sits, and from the little I have seen of him and heard him say, I'm perfectly sure he misses nothing. And the way you're looking at me now has its implications."

"Well—what on earth—?" he began, and stopped. "I haven't the slightest objection to his seeing implications in the way I look at you. It's the way I want to look at you, Lynette."

"You being Sir Denis Kingsward, remember," she pointed out, "while I am the late Ward Keller's secretary. No. I have that objection."

He sat thoughtful over her words while a waiter changed their plates and served them. When the man had gone he spoke again.

"You're right, of course. But I didn't see it till you pointed it out. Lynette, will you come for a drive with me, to-morrow—I've got my car here, as you know? We can get out of sight of everyone who knows either of us, and then it won't matter how I look at you."

"Kind sir, I have to go and interview a prospective employer about another post to-morrow, so it's out of the question."

"And where do you go to see this prospective employer?

"To Bradford. He's a wool manufacturer."

"He would be—they all are, there. But let me drive you to Bradford and back—I was only staying here to-morrow because of you. Otherwise, I should have gone back to London to-day and come down again the day after to-morrow. And if you calculate the time it takes to get to a station at this end, wander about that smoky, miserable town at the other end to find your man, and then get back here, I can do the drive more quickly than you can make the journey by train. Let me drive you, and make it a day out together for us, Lynette?"

"Yes, then, I will, thanks. And the inspector is looking straight over at us. I like him—don't you?"

"Yes." He divined her intent in leading the conversation into an impersonal channel. "Which reminds me—would it be impertinent if I asked what was the mysterious warning he gave you, and then cancelled when we were talking to him in the lounge?"

"Merely not to wander about by myself too much, since murder was in the air, apparently," she answered, in a way that denoted her intent to explain no further. "Now, it seems, he's satisfied that murder is no longer in the air, and I can do as I like."

"Umph! Why warn you especially? Why not placard Carden and warn everyone in the place?" Kingsward inquired.

"But I was at the Strong Box, connected with it, and I am an executor of the will, too," she explained rather lamely. But she would not tell him the real reason, that, if Percival Keller had been killed the night before, she would have become Ward Keller's heiress.

"It doesn't seem reasonable to single you out specially over those two things," he remarked, "but I don't doubt that Head knows his business, and had his own reason for warning you. And to ask him that reason would be about as much use as trying to get a wooden god to do quadratic equations, if he didn't feel like telling it."

Lynette laughed at the simile. They talked on over their meal, and had reached the coffee and cigarette stage when Head got up and went out—Keller and Davis had already gone, then. Kingsward and Lynette emerged eventually to the lounge and found it unoccupied: they took chairs by the fire to talk of the girl's father and on other subjects until she looked up at the clock and rose to go.

"A lovely evening," she said. "I have enjoyed it, Denis."

"And hearing you call me that quite naturally is my reward," he answered. "Yet—quite a simple little evening, but it's meant a great deal to me. Now I'm going to see you to your door."

"But it's only a very little way, and I'm quite used to going about the village alone," she protested insincerely.

"Also it's rather late for a place like this, and there may still be a whiff of murder left in the air," he pointed out. "Don't argue about it, Lynette—you've got to be seen home."

He felt her grasp on his arm tighten a little as they passed the Strong Box gateway. There was no light nor sign of life about the squat, grim house at the far end of the drive when Kingsward glanced toward it. He divined that Lynette was glad of his escort, then.

Beyond the gateway, before they reached the entrance to Longlands Farm, a big evergreen shaded the path, and there Kingsward stopped.

"Lynette," he said as she looked up at him, "don't go to Bradford to-morrow. Let's make it just a drive out and back by our two selves, and leave smoky manufacturing towns alone, won't you?"

"But I must go there," she insisted. "I told you the reason."

"You need not go there, to-morrow or any other day," he said, "if you'll realise that I love you and want you to marry me—Lynette!"

"But—but you don't know me," she half-whispered.

"Enough to love you, dear—enough to be sure that the better I know you the more I shall love you. I've had all these weeks to think of you and look forward to seeing you, and now I know—now I see you again, have you with me again—tell me, dear!"

"I—I can't—" she began, and did not end it.

"You mean you don't care for me?"

"Can't—can't tell you how much—already... Denis—"

"And now"—it was nearly five minutes later when he spoke, and laughed too—"there's a policeman leaning over the Strong Box gate, and he'll tell Head all about us—we're silhouetted for him against the next street lamp. I don't care, darling—do you?"

"I'm so happy I don't care about anything," she answered rather breathlessly. "But—but we shall have all to-morrow, Denis—"

"All the to-morrows—seven days a week, not five and a half. And we will not go to Bradford to-morrow! I forbid you, dear."

"Denis—the policeman is still there!"

"That's his look-out—in two senses of the word. Darling, I've got to bid you good-night, policeman or no policeman."

Perhaps because he heard their voices, or possibly because he was a sympathetic soul, Constable Sparkes turned away just then, and went on eking out his lonely watch by patrolling the approach to the Strong Box. Kingsward and Lynette could hear his crunching footsteps on the gravel of the drive, and, except for themselves, nobody was visible in the whole length of the village street at that hour.

They took a very long time to decide on an alternative route to Bradford for the morrow's drive. Eventually, leaning on the gate again, Sparkes saw Kingsward approaching, alone and headed for the Carden Arms, and walking as briskly as a happy man should.

"Good night, sir," Sparkes said hopefully.

"Er—what's that?" Kingsward stopped and faced the gate, apparently rousing from a reverie. "Oh, yes—a very monotonous job you have here, constable. Just by way of—well, consolation, shall we say? It's a long time to morning, yet."

"Thank you very much, sir. Good-night, sir."


AT Westingborough, Lucas Barton entered his office at just after ten o'clock the next morning, and, since he had to pass through the clerk's office to get to his own inner sanctum, found Inspector Head apparently awaiting his arrival. Head, who had been seated and perusing an account of the preceding day's inquests in the morning paper, rose at Barton's entry, and found himself favoured with a cool little nod as the solicitor passed on his way to the inner door.

"I've been waiting for you to come in, Mr. Barton," Head remarked.

"Indeed!" It was a very frosty rejoinder. "I'm afraid you'll have to go on waiting for some time yet. I have other things to attend to."

He passed on to his inner office, closed the door on himself, and had just hung up his hat and coat when a knock sounded on the door. In response to his sharp "Come in!" Head stood before him.

"I told you to wait, inspector!" he said sternly.

"I'm well aware of it," Head answered, and stood with his back to the door, which he had closed again after entering. "I thought it best not to make a scene in front of your clerks—not for my sake, but for your own. I did not come here to wait—no, keep your hands off me! I'm not moving away from this door, and if you lay one finger on me I'll have you for assault! And leave that bell alone!"

For, baulked of getting at the door handle behind Head, Barton had moved toward his desk, as if to ring. Now he paused, staring, and saw a very angry and determined police inspector gazing at him.

"I shall report you, inspector, for insolence," he said sharply, "and see what can be done with regard to an action for trespass, too."

"That will be after I've got the information I came here to get from you," Head retorted with equal incisiveness. "Let me tell you, Mr. Barton, that your attitude of contempt for me will not pay you one little bit. In addition to your civil practice, you handle a good many cases in Westingborough court in the course of a year—other than civil cases. Until yesterday, I'd never come up against you in any way, but you attempted to obstruct me in my duty then, and you're trying to delay me over it this morning. I'd welcome your action for trespass, and be glad of answering the charge before the justices on the bench here. Bring the action, by all means."

"Will you tell me what you want, inspector?" Barton inquired in an altered tone. He knew well that he had been altogether too loftily contemptuous in the outer office, and knew, too, to which side Westingborough justices would incline if he brought any charge against Inspector Head. He had let his memory of yesterday carry him too far.

"Ordinary civility, for a beginning," Head told him.

"Take a seat." Barton gestured at a chair. "What can I do for you, in addition to that?"

"Simply give me the name and address of the firm that you have instructed to open the door of the inner room at the Strong Box to-morrow," Head answered, and remained standing. "That's all I've come to ask you, and it won't waste enough of your valuable time to justify my sitting down. If your head clerk had not refused the information, I should not be compelled to come to you for it."

"The firm is—" Barton sorted over some papers on his desk, and withdrew a letter—"Messrs. Harrington and French, and this is their address—in Kingsway, as you will see. This is only an acknowledgment, so you may take it with you and not trouble to return it."

"Thanks very much." Head took the paper. "Now I'll wish you good morning, and waste no more of your time."

"Very good, inspector, but may I ask five minutes of yours?"

"Certainly, if I can be of any use to you," Head answered, concealing his surprise at the request, but still remaining on his feet.

"Well—I've asked you to sit down, inspector, you know—with regard to the inquest—inquests, rather—yesterday. You are aware, I think, that I attended to watch Mr. Percival Keller's interests?"

"I am aware of it, Mr. Barton, and I saw you there."

"In connection with the coroner's examination of Mr. Bertram Davis, whom Mr. Keller regards with feelings of friendship," Barton pursued. "You remember, I expect, the course that examination took?"

"Quite well." Head smiled slightly, seeing the solicitor's intent in opening the subject, but not his purpose concerning it.

"Yes, of course. Obviously the coroner had no feeling—no personal feeling, I mean—in making his questions include such scathing comments on Mr. Davis. He was, it is not difficult to conclude, acting under instructions in his—I might say biased—method of questioning that particular witness."

"A coroner usually acts under instructions," Head observed, with a show of indifference, "just as a barrister does when he takes a case."

"It is equally easy," Barton pursued, taking no heed of the comparison, "to conclude whence those instructions emanated. I wonder if it has struck you, inspector, that with those totally unnecessary and slanderous imputations the coroner publicly pilloried Mr. Bertram Davis, in spite of the fact that Mr. Davis was only remotely and indirectly connected with the deaths at the Strong Box? That he has grossly exceeded his duty, in my opinion, and laid himself open to a civil action for slander, if Mr. Davis elects to take proceedings against him?"

"A coroner, as you well know, Mr. Barton," Head replied, "is not so rigidly bound by rules of procedure as those that govern a court of law, either civil or criminal. He has to act as both prosecution and defence, knowing quite well that the verdict of his court is not final as far as charges against any living person are concerned. Whether Mr. Payne-Garland exceeded his duty yesterday, grossly or otherwise, is a matter for argument—by counsel, of course, if any charge against him should arise out of the case. As to his acting on instructions, he is a fully responsible official, and not the type of man to take shelter by passing blame on to anyone else. But when you speak of a civil action for slander—well, it appears to me on a level with your proposed action against me for trespass in here. If you wish to know, I instructed Mr. Payne-Garland with regard to his examination of Davis, as I did for his subsequent examination of the woman who calls herself Mrs. Bella Gerrard. Either could sue for damages, I suppose, though as nearly as I know it would be an unheard-of species of action.

"Inspector," Barton announced weightily, "I propose, on behalf of my client, Mr. Percival Keller, to forward a verbatim report of the proceedings at both inquests to the proper quarter, together with detailed representations of the slanderous attacks made on these two persons. Mr. Keller feels that the treatment meted to his cousin was outrageous, and I must say, personally, that I entirely agree with him."

"He feels that the attack on the woman was outrageous, does he?" Head queried, with a satiric note designed to provoke a full reply.

But the solicitor was not to be drawn into admitting that Keller intended to act as champion for the woman as well as for his cousin. "Inclusion of the attack to which she was subjected," he said, "strengthens the case against Mr. Payne-Garland. And I tell you, inspector, without any personal animus whatsoever, that I am citing you in my representations as being responsible for the attacks on these two people. It was quite evident without your telling me that you, being in charge of this Strong Box case, put out inquiries which gave Mr. Payne-Garland the data on which to base his questions."

"I own quite frankly that his questions, in so far as they exposed the characters of those two people, were inspired by me," Head answered. "But I tell you equally frankly, Mr. Barton, and that also with no personal animus, that if you take this action on behalf of your client you will be making a grave mistake—a terrible mistake, and one that will do you serious professional injury in a very little time from now."

"I am simply carrying out instructions as received from my client," Barton said, with stiff distaste for the warning.

"And giving your case away to me in advance," Head pointed out.

"Within these four walls," Barton told him. "And in view of what my client has instructed me to do, I think it only right to tell you what I have told you. His interest lies in protecting these people against further attacks of the kind, not in retaliating on those who have already made such attacks. And I trust that, in telling you this, I am assuring myself that no more statements of the kind will be made!"

"Against them," Head half-questioned.

"Against them," Barton confirmed him.

"That is, both of them?" He made it fully a question, this time.

"Surely my client is entitled to act in defence of a lady's reputation, even if he has no personal interest in her," Barton urged.

"Oh, quite! Well, follow his instructions if you see fit, and if you think these two people are worth your making an attack on Mr. Payne-Garland, or on me—or on anyone! And if you do make the attack, you will be the one to get hurt. It won't affect either the coroner or me."

"Am I to take that as a challenge, inspector?"

"No, but as information given you for your own good, Mr. Barton. In giving it, I'm not trying to influence you by means of any reputation I may have gained in Westingborough or elsewhere, nor by anything whatever that is past. I'm giving it—within these four walls, as you reminded me just now—for the sake of what is to come."

"That statement," the solicitor said, with sudden, frigid aloofness, "is altogether too mysterious for me, I fear."

"Then it must remain so. You do as you like over this. And now, Mr. Barton, I came here intending to take up two minutes of your time, and it's spread out to twenty, I see. Many thanks for this letterhead, which gives me all I wanted. Now I'll say good morning."

He went out, walking briskly along Market Street and on to the main police station, where he ascertained that Superintendent Wadden was in his office, and entered. Back in the office he had left, Barton sat at his desk, half-puzzled, half-angry, as he realised that the inspector, instead of submitting to an attempt at putting him in his place, had actually indulged in a species of browbeating and made a success of it. But Head had seemed to speak with certainty when he spoke of "serious professional injury" resulting from the action which Percival Keller had instructed the solicitor to take, and which he, Barton, had agreed might be taken—though with usual legal caution he refrained from prophesying that such an action would be successful.

He devoted a few minutes to reflection, for he was not only an obstinate, pompous man by nature, but a cautious one as well. To-day, he noted mentally, was Thursday, and there was no need, as far as he could see then, to go near Keller again before to-morrow, Friday. He could then allege that his instructions with regard to taking action on Davis' behalf had not been quite definite enough, and then could spin out the business of getting a verbatim report of proceedings at the inquests until well on in the following week, and take another two or three days over drawing up the statement of complaint against Payne-Garland, the coroner, and getting Keller to approve his work. By that time, Head's mysterious reference to things to come might have materialised into something definite—sufficiently so, in any case, to show whether it were worth anyone's while to make representations on behalf of a man like Davis, who, as Barton knew well, was utterly undeserving of defence. Inspector Head, the solicitor felt sure, would not have spoken as he had, unless he were certain of his ground. And, on the face of it, he had been generous in uttering such a warning, in view of the contemptuous reception he had experienced there.

Head dropped into a chair at the end of Wadden's desk, on which stood the superintendent's mid-morning cup of coffee and plate of digestive biscuits. Head helped himself to a biscuit, broke it into pieces, and chewed at a fragment meditatively.

"Leave 'em alone!" Wadden commanded, and blew at him, but gently.

"My memory's going," Head remarked, with a note of regret.

"Other people's biscuits are bad for the memory," Wadden observed, and stirred his coffee. "What have you lost now?"

"I never had it," Head answered. "I was thinking of that photograph of Percival Keller that used to be at the Strong Box. There was that, and the probability of Davis knowing his way into the strong room, and I never said anything to Payne-Garland about either of them. Of course he took that photograph to show Finch, before they had the inspiration of Davis tacking himself on to Keller and coming down here with him. I think, as their plan stood originally, Davis was to keep out of sight, and Finch was to make sure Keller landed off the boat train and follow him down in the car. Then Davis saw that if Finch lost instead of winning, he'd be equally well off over it, and met Keller to ingratiate himself with him."

"Probably you'll find the photograph in Finch's flat when you go there to-day," Wadden suggested.

"Don't you believe it! Davis isn't such a fool as that."

"No?" Wadden took a biscuit. "Well, that's as maybe. Head, I've been thinking over that Miss Grey. Ultimate heiress to the Ward Keller property, if Percival Keller could be wiped out. Has it struck you that she's got the best motive of anyone for making a funeral?"

"It's not hit me hard enough to raise a bump," Head answered.

"Hers is a far stronger motive than Davis' for trying to get Percival bumped off," Wadden pursued. "In his case, if Finch had won, it'd have been burglary with murder aforethought, while with her it'd be walking in and taking possession. Are you quite happy about her?"

"Happy isn't the word. Say delighted. Besides, she's going to be Lady Kingsward before she gets much older, if things keep on as they started when she met him. No, they're not engaged or anything, but they had cocktails with me last night, and I don't know if you can still remember the look you used to have in your eyes when you were courting Mrs. Wadden—"

The telephone bell interrupted him.

"Answer it!" Wadden bade, and blew fiercely, pointing at the instrument. "And—phooo!—stop maundering about my indiscretions! Answer it, man! I'm going to drink my coffee."

Head grinned as he took off the receiver, and Wadden lifted his cup to his lips and sipped, glaring over the cup at his inspector.

"Who? Denman?" Head queried. "Yes—what is it, Denman?"

He listened, and then put his hand over the transmitter while he turned to Wadden, who put his cup down as Denman ceased speaking.

"Bella wants her car," he explained. "I've finished with it."

"Including possible finger-prints?" Wadden inquired.

"I've been over every last bit of it with a blower. He put gloves on before he touched it, and didn't take them off until he'd left it."

"Well, then, she'd better have it. It's no more use as evidence."

Head uncovered the transmitter and spoke again.

"There, Denman? Well, actually she can have the car. She wants to drive it back to London to-day, I suppose—is that the case?"

Denman confirmed the surmise. Mrs. Gerrard, as she preferred to be called, was at that moment waiting to take the car away, he said.

"Well, hold her up. Tell her there are formalities to be gone through—you have to render a report and get it confirmed, and then have to get a written order and have it countersigned by the lord chief justice and the second trombone player in Jack Payne's band—cook up any yarn you like to prevent her from taking the car away before one-thirty to-day. The real truth is that I'm going up to London by the twelve fifty-five express, and want to get there ahead of her."

"But even if I let her go almost immediately, sir—"

"Don't," Head interrupted him. "The Aston-Martin is a very fast car, Denman, so I want at least half an hour's start for safety. Not one minute before the half-hour. Just be official and argumentative and generally exasperating, or try the fatherly goodness and I'd-do-anything-for-you-if-I-could-but-I-can't business on her if you like that better, but hold her till half-past one. Then you can let her take the car away, but not a minute sooner."

"Very good, sir. I'll wear her out over it."

Head hung up, and took another of Wadden's biscuits.

"There is a luncheon car on the twelve fifty-five," the superintendent said severely, "and that's my biscuit!"

"Was," Head amended, and bit the biscuit. "Chief, I wonder if you could find me two large fellers that Davis won't recognise in civilian clothes—get 'em in from the district, not Westingborough men—and have them ready in plain clothes to-morrow morning. They should be reasonably intelligent, and also muscular."

"All our men are both muscular and intelligent," Wadden asserted. "To-morrow morning—yes. Borrow, and Collins, I think. They'll do?"

"Nicely," Head assented in a thoughtful way. "Yes. That's all, I think. Denman can take care that car doesn't leave till one-thirty, and I'd like to hear Bella thinking while he makes one excuse after another to hold her there."

"Giving the force a bad name—that's what you'll be doing if you aren't careful, my lad," the superintendent said severely. Then he snatched the biscuit plate away as Head reached out again.

"No, you don't! They're my biscuits! You go and buy yourself a bun if you're starving. Phooo!"


CHAPTER XII. — ON THE WAY TO LONDON

THAT necessary member of a civilised community, the local undertaker, had made a point of attending the double inquest at the Greyhound Inn, for there were two bodies that would eventually require his services, and, fulfilling as he did the requirements of corpses provided by Carden and the surrounding villages, he had no intention of letting a Westingborough firm get in ahead of him. But he could find nobody, then, to commission the burial of Finch's body. Wadden, approached by Mr. Vernon Liveright—as the undertaker was most inappropriately named—could give him no information on the point; Keller, when Liveright went to him over the burial of Bland's body, commissioned a fairly expensive funeral, but with regard to the burial of Finch he simply looked blank and shook his head. He had no idea whether the dead man had any relatives, but referred Liveright to his cousin Davis, who might possibly know something about it.

Davis, as he told the undertaker emphatically, knew nothing at all. He had to own to his acquaintance with Finch, but had never heard the latter mention any relatives. And, Liveright concluded as he gave it up, that second body was doomed to a pauper funeral, or possibly to no funeral at all, since a verdict of murder had been returned against the man. A plain coffin and a hole in unconsecrated ground—especially revolting, this, to an undertaker, who liked to see funerals conducted expensively, with plenty of mourning coaches following the hearse. It was very unlikely that any relatives would come forward, since nobody is anxious to claim relationship or even acquaintance with a murderer, either alive or dead. Liveright made no more inquiries.

But, in the course of the morning following the inquests, he found himself faced among the rolls of wallpaper, pots of paint, and other articles on show in his shop—for he officiated as cabinet-maker, joiner, and painter and decorator as well as undertaker—by the radiantly lovely and sadly misunderstood and maligned angel who had given evidence at the inquest. That is, Mr. Vernon Liveright regarded her as all this before she left his shop, though, having heard her give evidence, he was a trifle doubtful of her probity at the outset.

But he was a sentimental bachelor, and the heart that beat behind the fourfold, two-foot rule in his vest pocket may have accelerated its rate of pulsation a beat or two when Bella Gerrard faced him, gazed at him sadly with her wonderful, innocent, dewy blue eyes, and heard his deferential, oft-repeated query in this shop—

"Yes, madam? And what can I do for you?"

"I want to know—" she spoke hesitatingly, with a thrill of emotion in her softly-cadenced voice—"if I can arrange with you about the burial of Mr. Finch, who was killed at a house called the Strong Box. I must tell you, though, that I am not a relative of Mr. Finch, and have no authority except—except my own wish."

"Well, to tell you the truth, madam, I've been wondering who had—who could authorise a funeral," Liveright confessed. "I've canvassed everyone—I mean asked everyone I could think of, but nobody seems to know anything about him. You, I understand, madam, come from London too, and knew him there—I went to his inquest yesterday, naturally, and heard you give evidence about him. Do you happen to know if there are relations or anything of the sort, madam?"

She shook her golden head pathetically. "I never heard him mention any relations," she answered. "And—and it is my wish—because I knew him—he was my friend, you understand—" She broke off, then.

The frank, touching confession caused Liveright to begin to realise that this fair angel might have been cruelly treated at the inquest. One so lovely—and lovely in such a classically pure way, too—could not possibly merit the aspersions the coroner had made against her. And, by the way she dressed, she would order an expensive funeral for her dead friend; she would want it well done.

"You mean, madam, you'd like me to arrange the—the obsequies for you? You wish to take the responsibility for them?"

"If you would be so kind," she assented gratefully, and took a card from her handbag. "I have written down the particulars here."

He took the card and glanced at it, saw that it gave the dead man's name and date of birth, and, as if added by an afterthought, the words "In remembrance of." Again he gazed at her, sympathetically.

"Well, madam, you say you have no authority, but it's pretty sure the body will have to be buried. If you don't mind waiting a second or two, I'll get on to the telephone and see if I can learn of anyone else putting in a claim, as you might say. I won't keep you long."

He retired to his little office behind the shop, where, through the glass partition, he could see that lovely little woman waiting, and where he took off the telephone receiver and called Westingborough police station, asking for Superintendent Wadden. Instead, he got Inspector Head, who had not yet left the office—Wadden was at that moment finishing his coffee and biscuits, and resented any interruptions.

"Yes—who is it?" Head inquired.

"Is that Superintendent Wadden?" Liveright's voice came back.

"Inspector Head speaking—Mr. Wadden is engaged on important business, at present. Who is that speaking?"

"Liveright, undertaker, speaking. Yes, Liveright, Carden. Perhaps you could tell me what I want to know, Mr. Head, if I might trouble you for a minute or so. About the body of this man Finch. Mr. Keller has commissioned me to carry out a funeral for Bland, as soon as your people release the body for burial, and now there's a Mrs. Gerrard just called to see me—the one who was at the inquest yesterday—to know if she can take the responsibility of burying Finch's body."

"Hold on a minute," Head bade, and with his hand masking the transmitter passed the undertaker's information on to Wadden.

"I dunno." The superintendent shook his head. "We've no precedent for anything of this sort. I suppose he's entitled to a funeral of some sort—that verdict of yesterday doesn't prove him a murderer. It's only grounds for a trial, and you can't get it endorsed by a regular trial now the man's dead and can't plead. But if Liveright goes to the Reverend Ollyer and tries to get him to hold a service over the corpse—anyhow, that's his business. Meanwhile Belinda is no relation, obviously—Oh, hell!"

"It's the earth part that Liveright's asking about," Head observed.

"Yes, I know. Look here, to-day is Thursday, and he can't arrange his planting before Monday at the earliest, while there's no telling what you may dig up in London to-day. Tell him the pretty little thing has got to wait, and if she's really anxious to save the local authorities the cost of shoving him underground, she'd better get in touch with Liveright again late to-morrow. If nobody else wants the privilege, he can get on with the job, then. And if he tells her that and she goes off to-day, she's pretty sure to leave him an address, and then you'll have your chance of picking her up if you think you want her for anything—in connection with Davis, I mean."

Head turned to the telephone again.

"There, Liveright? Look here—tell the woman we know nothing, and no relatives have come forward to make inquiries. But in case any should, we can't authorise you to make any arrangements yet. Tell her to leave you an address where you can get in touch with her on Saturday, and you'll let her know then if anyone has put in a claim to take the responsibility. I should say nobody will, and since it saves expense to the local authorities and puts money in your pocket, we don't object to your accepting her commission. One thing, though. If she gives an address, telephone it through to me here as soon as she's out of hearing—and don't let her know you're doing anything of the kind! At once, because I'm leaving the office here shortly, and shall not be available again to-day. I shall wait for you to ring me."

"I'll ring as soon as I can," Liveright promised, and hung up.

He went out to his shop again, at which Bella put away the handkerchief with which she had been wiping her beautiful eyes.

"I'm very sorry, madam," the undertaker told her gently, "but it's impossible to get anything definite about it to-day. Something will have to be done, of course, between now and Saturday, and if you'll leave me an address, I'll let you know by then—send you a wire immediately I know myself. I should be most pleased to act on your behalf, and hope I may be in a position to do so."

"Oh, thank you for being so kind!" she exclaimed emotionally.

"And at what address can I wire you?" he asked.

"Fourteen, Shuter Street, Long Acre," she told him.

"Very good, madam. I'll let you know at the earliest possible moment. And I suppose—everything of the best, madam?"

"The best possible," she assented. "I will leave it all to you."

"Mourning coaches, madam?"

"One. And there will be one wreath. It will be sent here."

"Very good, madam. You may rely on me to carry out your wishes."

She gave him a momentary, faint smile as reward for his sympathetic desire to assist her, and then again her face became composed to an expression of pathetic resignation. Liveright ushered her out from the shop and put down on a piece of paper the address she had given him. She had been cruelly treated, yesterday; it was easy to see that she was suffering deeply, and with angelic patience, and, the undertaker reflected sadly, many a good woman set her heart on an unworthy object and endured anguish in consequence. Those lovely, deep blue eyes! And the angelic sweetness of her smile!

But, after a minute of two of such reflections, he remembered that Inspector Head was waiting, and hastened back into his little office to ring through and transmit to the inspector the address he had written down. He did not like doing it overmuch—she had suffered enough already, he felt. But it was best to be on the safe side.

Head inscribed the address in his note book, and went to his home to pack a suit case before making his way to the station in good time for the twelve fifty-five express up to London. He had three other addresses in the book already, in connection with the Strong Box case. Now it appeared that Bella, unable to get her car as yet, was whiling away time as best she could—she would have called at the undertaker's in any case, apparently, and probably had gone from there to make another attempt at getting her car. But Head knew, though she did not, that she could not take it away yet.


BELLA went from the undertaker's to the Carden Arms, since it was then barely midday, and Sergeant Denman had told her it would be no use going for the car again before twelve o'clock. Virtuous matrons, shopping in the village street, cast sour glances at the elegant little figure as it passed them, for not only had Bella been labelled at the inquest as a bad and dangerous woman, but she was better dressed than any Carden resident, and better looking as well! She disregarded their patent hostility, and passed into the hotel lounge, where Bertram Davis stood alone in an attitude of impatient restlessness, swaying on his feet rather like a tethered elephant, but, unlike the elephant, with both hands stuck deep into his trouser pockets and an ill-tempered frown on his face. He brightened a little at sight of Bella.

"Not gone yet, then?" he greeted her ineptly.

She sank into an armchair, wearily. "They won't let me take the car away," she answered. "I went to the police sergeant here, and he told me he'd have to get in touch with his superintendent before I could have it, and he couldn't get at the superintendent before twelve o'clock. So I'm to see him again then—he'll meet me at the Strong Box, he said, and if everything is in order I can take the car away. And I've been to the undertaker"—she raised her voice a little, for the benefit of possible listeners, though the lounge was empty except for herself and Pavis—"to see if they'd let me arrange about burying poor Mr. Finch, but I can't even do that. It seems there are all sorts of formalities, and the undertaker will let me know on Saturday or before whether I can order the funeral."

"Bury him here, I suppose?" Davis queried sympathetically. He, also, raised his voice to an unnecessarily loud pitch.

"He didn't—he never expressed any wish to me on the subject, so it had better be here," she answered. Just then Cortazzi came to the service doorway, and stood pensively regarding the two. Bella caught him gazing at her, and lowered her voice to its normal pitch.

"I shall lunch on the road, or not lunch at all till I get there," she said to Davis. "I hoped to have been away by eleven. In any case, I shall not stay to lunch here. You are alone, I see."

Davis espied Cortazzi. "My cousin has gone over to Westingborough, to see if his solicitor can arrange to cash a cheque for him," he said for the pensive Italian to hear. "It's rather a large cheque he got last night, and Barton told him on the telephone a little while ago that it should be possible to negotiate it—through Barton's own account, that is. So I'm waiting till he gets back."

A car drew up outside the hotel, and she observed it through the lounge window and rose to her feet. Its two occupants were merely a pair of inoffensive strangers who thought the hotel looked a likely place for lunch, but Bella had a strong objection to meeting strangers of any description, here in Carden. Her experience at the inquest had prejudiced her on the point, and she turned her back to the doorway.

"I think I shall go up to my room till twelve o'clock," she said.

"I was just on the point of going up when you came in," Davis told her, "and if you're going, there's no point in my staying down here."

Bella came down again, alone, at a minute or two before twelve, and set out for the Strong Box in the hope of getting the Aston-Martin released from the guardianship of Sergeant Denman and Constable Sparkes, and just at that time Superintendent Wadden, in his office at Westingborough, removed the receiver from his telephone and listened.

"Well, whaddye want now, Head?" he inquired.

"A set of finger-prints, chief—no, not to take with me. There's no time for that, if I'm to catch my train. But I want you to get a set off Finch's body at Carden, and have it ready for me when I get back either to-night or first thing to-morrow morning."

"I'll tell Denman. But what's the particular bee buzzing over your thatch, man? Three people have identified Finch, separately."

"Quite so, but you never can tell what use the prints might be, and we ought to have them. And if I get held up at the other end over anything—though I hope I won't—it might be too late by the time I get back. Will you make sure of a set for me?"

"All right, laddie—leave it to us. Anything else?"

"Nothing else, chief. I shall probably come back to-night, and run straight over to Carden in the morning. Keep the saloon in for me, will you, and tell Sergeant Wells I may want him with me?"

"All right—keep your damned old case to yourself! But what makes you so sure Davis will be there for you to arrest to-morrow morning?"

"That's all right, chief—he'll be there. So shall I, I hope."

"Here, what is your idea about finger-prints off the corpse?"

"Well, supposing Davis did take Keller up to Finch's flat in the course of their evening together in town? Have you forgotten that that flat is the principal reason for my going up to-day?"

"Carry on, Head—I'll kick myself round this office, so you needn't miss your train to come back and do it. Of course, if you find any finger-prints in addition to those matching the corpse's, and get Davis to-morrow morning and take a set of his as well—well, there we are and what have you! But if you don't get a move on, my lad, you'll miss that train, and I'll have to get Bella held some longer at Carden. Hustle, man, or you won't be in time to see it go out!"

"I've plenty of time, chief. Good-bye till tomorrow."

And as, at Westingborough, he hung up his receiver, Bella Gerrard at Carden faced Constable Sparkes in the forecourt of the Strong Box.

"I'm very sorry, miss," Sparkes told her, "but the Sergeant hasn't come back yet. He said he'd do his best to be back here by twelve o'clock, so I expect he won't be long now."

"Where is he?" she demanded, with visible impatience.

"Well, miss, I really couldn't tell you, not for certain, that is. I know he had a report about some poachers in the preserves at Woodney Hall this morning, and he might have had to go over there about it, but I don't think he did. He might be down at the Greyhound, settling things up there after yesterday, and he might be at the post office, telephoning the superintendent about this car of yours. You see, miss, me being on a job like this, and stuck here as I am, makes us short-handed, and there's several things the sergeant has to—"

"You don't know where to find your sergeant?" she interrupted his slow recital, with still more impatience evident in her tone.

"To tell you the truth, miss, I don't," Sparkes confessed sorrowfully, "but I know he won't keep you a minute longer'n he can help."

She gazed at the Aston-Martin, its cellulose and plating splashed and spattered from Finch's drive through the wild storm that had been raging when he drove to Carden. Then she went to the car.

"I'm very sorry, miss," Sparkes said, with rather a peremptory note in his voice, "but I can't let you so much as touch that car till the sergeant gets back That was my order about it, miss."

She faced about with anger in her eyes, and saw Sergeant Denman coming briskly along the drive. As soon as he addressed her, she realised that he also was full of grief, but helpless over it.

"I'm very sorry, miss," he told her, and she began to loathe the phrase, "but I can't get hold of the superintendent anyhow. The best I could get when I rang Westingborough was that they expected him back at his office any time before half-past twelve, and as soon as he comes in they'll tell him you're waiting and get him to ring through to me here. I can't let you take the car away till he gives permission for it to go, but they've promised to tell him directly he comes in."

"Where is he going to ring you?" she demanded.

"Here—at the Strong Box," he answered. "There's a telephone in the room they call the library, and we've still got the keys—I've got them, that is. So I'll go in—they may ring through at any minute, since it's past twelve already. P'raps you'd like to come in, miss, and sit down, instead of standing about outside here?"

"In there? No!" It was a very emphatic negative.

"Well, just as you like. I'll go in, miss, to be there when he rings me. I'm very sorry to keep you waiting about like this, but I've got to wait myself for the superintendent. It's not my fault."

She watched, dumbly, while he went to the front door and opened it with a key that he took from his pocket. Sparkes stood in wooden inanition beside the off-side door of the car, as if to intimate that there was no hope for her till Denman gave the word of release. Then she saw idlers pausing in the road to gaze along the drive at her, and at that went round to the other side of the car. The patient Sparkes followed, and mounted guard over the near-side door.

At five minutes short of the half-hour, with an access of angry colour in her fair cheeks, she went to the front door of the Strong Box and played with the heavy knocker as if it were a rivetter's hammer. After a brief interval Denman came to the door.

"I can't make it out, miss," he told her before she could speak, and his tone was humbly apologetic. "The superintendent doesn't seem to be at his home—I thought he might have gone there for a bit of an early lunch, but it appears he hasn't. I'll get through to the office again and hear if he's come in there yet, if you'll just wait."

Since he left both the front and library doors open, she could hear his voice. "Sergeant Denman speaking, about taking the car away from the Strong Box at Carden. Has Superintendent Wadden come in yet?"

But, naturally, she could not hear Wadden's reply.

"If you let that car go one minute before one-thirty, Denman, I'll skin you next time I come over there. When she looks like beginning to scratch your face, get her to write a receipt for it in your—no, in Sparkes' note-book. It'll divert her mind and help to pass the time, but keep it as a last resource. And don't ring me again till a quarter-past one. Tell her they've promised to give you a call the very instant I come in. You ring me at a quarter-past, and I shall still be on my way here and unavailable. Then I'll ring you just before half-past, and after that she can take the car and go at one-thirty as arranged. Is she playing either of you badly?"

"Not yet," Denman admitted, mindful of Bella listening.

"Well, keep her amused as well as you can. Good-bye, Denman."

The sergeant hung up, went to the front door, and translated the message he had received to Bella:

"He's not at his home, miss, and they're expecting him in at the station at any minute, now. They say he's sure to go there before going home to lunch, and they'll get him to ring me directly he comes in. I told 'em it was very urgent, and you were being kept waiting."

She had to accept the statement, made as it was with a respectful politeness that assured her Denman was doing his best for her. She went and looked at the car, longingly; she looked at Sparkes guarding it, at her wrist watch, at the closed gate between the far end of the drive and the road, and at the prison-like front of the square, squat house. Why had she not left the car altogether, since there was all this trouble and delay about it? She could just as well have gone back by train, and come down again on Saturday or Monday.

But it was too late for anything of the sort now. If she went to Westingborough for a train, she would have to wait there till four o'clock, while if they let her take the car away now she could be three-quarters of the way to London by that time, without unduly fast driving. She fretted the slow minutes away. At one o'clock Denman came to the front door to tell her that no message had yet come through: at a quarter-past he reappeared to tell her that he had just rung through again on her behalf, and the superintendent was sure to be in his office within the next five minutes or so. While she waited, she might write a receipt for the car in the constable's note-book, for he, Denman, was quite sure she could take it away as soon as he could get in touch with the superintendent, and if she wrote the receipt now it would save time. Meanwhile, he assured her, he was very sorry...

She wrote the receipt with the note-book supported on the front wing of the car, and with Sparkes watching her and breathing on the back of her neck; thus the tedium of a couple of minutes was relieved. Then, as far as she was concerned, time ceased to be, and eternity took its place. At thirty-one minutes past one Sergeant Denman emerged cheerfully from the front door of the Strong Box.

"All right, miss. The superintendent's turned up at last, and he says you can take it away. The receipt is all he wants from you."

His happiness over it was as fuel to her rage. She seated herself at the driving wheel with no word of thanks, and jammed in the starter button while Sparkes went solemnly along the drive to open the gate for her. A certain gentleman had tipped him a ten-shilling note the night before, merely for wishing him good night, but he knew he might hope for no tip from this pretty lady. She looked more like cursing him.

The starter whirred and whirred, and Bella glared at the petrol gauge, but it showed the tank as full in readiness for the return journey. Then she realised that she had overlooked switching on the ignition, which made her angrier still. She switched on, and the engine picked up instantly and sweetly, as a well-tuned engine should.

Furious, now, she depressed the clutch and slammed in gear, so utterly careless in her wrath as to neglect the fact that Finch had left the lever in position for reverse after backing the car away from the front door of the Strong Box. When she accelerated and let the clutch pedal up, the car slid rapidly backward until the high stone curb surrounding the forecourt, and separating it from the garden proper, made contact against the back wheels and stopped her with a jerk. At that she realised what she was doing, got into the second forward speed and, roaring the engine full out, shot forward with a spatter of loose gravel—since she swung the steering wheel almost instantly to full right lock—and went down the drive as if she had just crossed the starting line at Brooklands in quest of a ten-mile record.

She did not know, and neither Denman grinning at her nor Sparkes saluting respectfully as she braked to skidding to make the turn into the road realised, that in making impact with the curb at the edge of the gravel she had bent the back number plate up to a horizontal position against the rear tank, so that, viewed from behind as she drove, the car appeared to have no number plate in rear at all. Before either the constable or sergeant could discern this contravention of the law in respect of mechanically propelled vehicles, she had swung to the right, away from Condor Hill and directly toward the London road.

There was a certain dog in Carden street as she began to move: he had his first experience of a tornado, and, gaining the pavement in front of the village grocer's with a yelp, he slowly came to the conclusion that it was safer to continue hunting for fleas there than in the road. Beyond the village, where two roads fork, Bella made the mistake of taking the right-hand way, although she had carefully studied a map before leaving the Carden Arms. The error took her past Castel Garde and along a winding marsh road, adding a good eight miles to the total of her journey. She regained the main London road at the town called Crandon, and drove on, still an angry woman.

She was a good driver, and she had a very good car, but, all unknown to her, she was deficient of a visible back number plate, for the one she had bent up by running the car in reverse against the kerb at the Strong Box remained horizontal, which was equivalent to invisibility. Thus she fled southward, running the Aston-Martin at its top speed where the road permitted. Two o'clock came, three o'clock, four, four-thirty—and she came out to the Great North Road and knew that another fifty miles only lay between her and London.

The Carden police had delayed her shamefully: she should have been at her destination long before this, and would have been there if they had not fooled away the hours after her demanding the car from them.

South and south she fled, and the winter day grew twilit, neared darkness. She came down on Biggleswade like a falling star, burst through the town like a rocket stick, and went down on Baldock, roaring the engine all out. What had chanced in London in her absence?

Questioning, she shot through Baldock, headlights ablaze now. Gallantly the long, low car responded to her urging, and stole past furniture vans, slow-crawling little cars, big saloons, and now and then a "Green Line" road crocodile at which she had to hoot to announce her coming. Once or twice, with a vehicle coming toward her, she had to use all her skill to slide through between it and the one she wanted to pass, but strong determination goes far and fast, and she came down on Welwyn from the long hill to northward with the knowledge that her brakes would hold in any emergency, and shot up the slope to the north road bye-pass, where the added width gave her every chance to make speed, and, as she knew, a long, steady descent lay just ahead to give her impetus when she had rounded the bend at the top.

Down the slope, with her foot well down on the accelerator pedal, she made her own gale in the stillness of evening—and the driver of a police patrol car, judging her speed by the way the headlights of the overtaking car threw a bright ray from behind, made a glare abreast of him, and passed, lighting the road ahead, gazed at the fleeting black thing before him and thrust in his accelerator pedal. "No tail light—no number plate behind at all," he explained to his companion. "Doing a devil of a lick, too, but we'll catch it."

They chased it, past the turning toward the "garden city" which stands, a monument of ugliness in a dreary waste: past crossing after crossing, and ever the taillight-less oblong of blackness fled ahead of them, for an Aston-Martin is not overtaken easily, even by a specially tuned police car. They came, pursuer and pursued, on the lighted area of South Mimms, crossing like two gusts of desert wind, and drove headlong up the slope beyond—a six-litre Bentley saloon going Londonward fell behind them, and its chauffeur gasped at the mad pace of the two cars as they flashed by. For, by this time, Bella had realised that police were in chase of her, and was using all her wits to beat them to some point where the eel-like flexibility of the car she was driving would give her the opportunity of eluding them. On and on...

She concluded that Westingborough had set them on her track—that in her last talk with Davis in the hotel that day she had let fall some revealing sentence, and Cortazzi had passed it on to Head or Wadden, with this result. Now, she knew little beyond a mad desire to throw them off the pursuit, to escape.

Red lights shone against her at a crossing, and she shot them recklessly—better to be smashed than caught: a big Rolls nearly piled up on the banking of a corner by reason of her illegal crossing, but its magnificent brakes saved it, and there was no casualty. And now the lights of north London were shining ahead of her: a little farther on was Hendon, and in the maze of its traffic-loaded ways she felt sure of eluding the car that hung on behind so relentlessly.

But again another set of red lights challenged her, and with half a dozen cars crossing in the transverse green her nerve failed her. Miserably, reluctantly, she put her foot on the brake pedal and knew she had lost the race, lost liberty—everything!

The police car, overrunning the white line on the road, pulled to a standstill athwart the bonnet of the Aston-Martin, just as the lights before her changed to green and she hooted savagely for clear road—but the other car jammed her from moving. She was lost, she knew, and a peaked cap showed beside her, a pleasant, cheerful voice spoke, with no animus—

"Here! No tail light, no back number plate, and ignoring a danger signal. What about it, miss? You can't do that sort of thing, you know. We've been after you all the way from Welwyn."

She gasped with relief. It was nothing but a missing tail light!

"I'm terribly sorry, officer. I'm anxious to get to London as soon as possible—it's desperately urgent. And I'd no idea my tail light wasn't showing. It must be a defective bulb in the lamp."

"Defective or no, you've got no light, and by the look of it your back number plate is missing too. And what about shooting a red light at the last controlled crossing? I want to see your licence and insurance card, please."


CHAPTER XIII. — A FEW CALLS

CONTENT in the knowledge that Bella Gerrard would be fully two hours behind him when he reached London, Inspector Head made a meditative journey, with lunch on the train, and by four o'clock was in a taxi and on his way from the terminus to Kingsway, in quest of the offices of Messrs. Harrington and French. He was not to know, of course, that the mishap of the horizontal back number plate and consequent encounter with the police patrol sent Bella to a garage for repairs just outside Hendon, and delayed her the best part of two more hours, since she elected to wait for the number plate to be straightened after finishing with the police, instead of takings other means of transport to her destination. And the garage happened to be of that type where no hurry over work is in vogue: Again, before she got away, Bella wished she had left the car and gone on: it was not one of her lucky days.

The youthful-looking manager of the Kingsway offices of Messrs. Harrington and French, confronted in his office by Head, displayed keen interest when he learned that the Strong Box at Carden was the cause of the inspector's visit. He produced a box of cigarettes and invited Head to take a seat beside his desk.

"With regard to opening up that water-jacketed strong room to-morrow," Head explained. "You are sending a man, I understand?"

"Ah, yes! We're sending Tompkins down. Tomorrow afternoon he's due to get there, to begin work on it about three."

"One man, that is, and one only," Head suggested.

"Yes, but an expert at that kind of thing," the manager explained, and smiled. "He's not our man at all, really. Laceys', the people who adapted the combination mechanism to operate our pumping system, are lending him for the work. It seems curious that the old man should have taken the combination to the grave with him. But then, I met him over the construction of the vault—I remember his insisting that the water-space had to extend under the floor as well as round the sides and over the top, as if he thought somebody might tunnel under the house from outside and try to get up into the room. He was a real eccentric, if ever there was one—and a bad-tempered old crank, too."

"And your man for the opening is named Tompkins, eh?" Head said reflectively. "Could I get in touch with him to-day?"

The director consulted his watch and shook his head. "I'm afraid you're too late, Mr. Head, unless I could get a message to him and get him to come to you. Laceys' offices are in Queen Victoria Street, but Tompkins would be down at the works if he's not out on some work or other, and that's beyond Harlesden. I'll ring through, if you like."

"Thanks, if you don't mind," Head assented. The manager rang Laceys' offices and held on while they, apparently, got through to their works. Then he hung up and turned to Head.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Head, he's out, as I thought, and they say he won't come back to the works to-night. Practically all his work is of the kind he'll do at the Strong Box to-morrow—outside jobs where locks have gone wrong in some way, or people have lost their keys or something of the sort. Unless I find out where he lives for you—"

"No, don't trouble—I shouldn't have time to see him, probably, if you did get his address. But can you yourself get in touch with him before he leaves for Carden to-morrow?"

"Yes, I can do that. In connection with—with the crime at the Strong Box, I conclude? Does that mean that you suspect theft from the vault? I read the account of the inquests, and it appeared to me you had a strong suspicion against one of the witnesses."

"Well—" Head smiled—"theft from the vault would hardly be a combination lock expert's affair, would it? We'd try to fix it on the thief before your expert got there, I think. No, I want you merely to see Mr. Tompkins and tell him he will have the services of two assistants, who will meet him at Westingborough station. If he's to be at Carden at three, you've probably arranged for him to go by the train that gets to Westingborough at two. Is that the case?"

"It is so—we promised that he should get there by the express arriving at two, and go straight over to Carden and begin work. He knows the place, of course—it was he who adapted the mechanism of the combination to our water controls, in fact."

"Well, I want you to be so good as to see him before he starts, and ask him to look out for two assistants on the platform at Westingborough. Big, hefty men in ordinary clothes, and one of them will be carrying one of those wicker baskets that carpenters use to carry their tools—just for recognition, that is. Tell him he is to take them with him to Carden, and put up any excuse for them he likes."

"Two of your men, of course?" the manager suggested.

"Naturally," Head agreed. "How long will it take him to operate the mechanism that lets the water away for opening the strong room?"

"Not more than half an hour, I should think. Probably less."

"You haven't arranged for anyone to go over from Westingborough with him, I hope? That is to say, he's not being met at the station?"

"No. A Mr. Barton, a solicitor, gave us the order for opening—he consulted us about it some time ago, being an executor of the old man's estate and wanting to value for probate. He and the heir to everything, a Mr. Percival Keller, are to meet Tompkins at that hotel nearly next door to the Strong Box—the Carden Arms, it's called—and let him into the house to do the opening and readjust the combination."

"I see. In that case, he can merely introduce his two assistants to the extent of saying he's brought them with him, which will be true, and take them in with him. I want you to arrange that Tompkins comes down himself to see the doors opened, after operating the mechanism upstairs. Is it possible for him to do this?"

"Oh, yes! Once he sets the release valve open, he can come down to the doors. It's what he would do in any case, in fact."

"Well, then, his two assistants will come down with him. And he might give them a few little unnecessary orders while he's working on the mechanism, if anyone goes upstairs to witness the work there. He will find them quite intelligent, and not at all in his way."

The manager sat silent for a while, thinking it over.

"By Jove, I'd like to be there myself!" he remarked at last.

"I'm afraid I'm not in a position to issue invitations," Head told him. "But, the way I've outlined it to you, you can arrange with this Tompkins to make certain there is no hitch in including these two men in the party? I must have them there, somehow."

"Er—yes. I'll get hold of Tompkins for you in the morning and arrange it all with him. This Davis, of course—" he hesitated.

"Quite correct, sir—quite correct," Head assured him gravely. "Davis will be there, and he'll leave under escort. Hence the two men, but with no suspicion of their real purpose till it's time for them to act. You might impress that on Tompkins for me, if you will."

"It strikes me, inspector, you've got an eye for dramatic effect."

Head smiled again. "Many thanks for the compliment," he said. "I wish I could have seen this man Tompkins myself and saved you all this trouble, but I've other things to do, and want to go back to-night if it's in any way possible—"

"Leave it to me," the manager interrupted. "Among other things, inspector, this is going to be a wonderful advertisement for us. Our design of strong room, you know. Old Keller told us what he wanted and gave us the idea, but we had to do all the designing for him."

"Well, I'll leave it to you, sir. And now, before I go, do you mind if I get a call on your telephone, to save time?"

"Certainly! As many calls as you like."

But Head took only one, and by means of it assured himself that the key of Finch's flat would be waiting for him when he got to Dallas Place. After that, he took a friendly leave of the manager, who remembered him in connection with the Forrest case, and wished his visitor had had time to tell him all about the marvellous piece of mechanism which, fitted into a telephone instrument, had figured in that affair. But Head had no time to spare: he went out and secured another taxi, which took him on to Dallas Place and stopped at the entrance to the Carmagnole, an inconspicuous doorway with no more than a plain brass plate beside it to announce that the club was situated there.

The club premises, Head found, took up all the ground floor and basement of the building. A rather supercilious head waiter became obsequious when he saw the inspector's card, and informed his caller that they were just preparing for the evening as usual. Mrs. Gerard had telephoned them while on her way to London, and told them that the club was to carry on as if nothing had happened, and that she herself would be back some time during the evening. Thus everything was being arranged in readiness for seven o'clock, at which hour the club began dinners and other activities every night.

"Yes." Head digested this information, and summed up the head waiter as one who was concerned solely with the business of the club, and not likely to be cognisant of Finch's and Bella's other enterprises. "Now let me have a look at your stock of cigars," he asked.

"Cigars, sir?" The head waiter looked surprised at the request.

"I don't think I said either confetti or railway engines," Head retorted with some asperity. "I haven't got a whole evening to waste."

The man took him to a cabinet behind the bar, and, before examining it, he took from his pocket one solitary cigar, growing a trifle tired in appearance now, but with its band still intact and revealing the legend "Reina del Mar Perfecto." The head waiter shook his head as he read the label, gold lettering on a green background.

"No, sir, we don't stock them," he said. "That's a very expensive cigar, too. It'd run about eighteen pounds a hundred, I'd say."

"I'll just see what you've got in that cabinet," Head told him.

He examined the stacked boxes in the cabinet. There were Romeo and Juliets a-plenty, Coronas not quite so plentiful, and a few boxes of J. S. Murias, but of Reina del Mar not a sign. Closing the doors of the cabinet, Head took up his own cigar and returned it to his pocket. He looked thoughtfully at the laid dining tables in the room.

"Mr. Finch used to order the stock for the club, I understand," he said. "I suppose he came to you to find out what was wanted?"

"No, sir, to Mrs. Gerrard. She looked after all that. Mr. Finch didn't come into the club much, especially lately."

"How lately did he alter his habits over it?" Head inquired.

"I haven't seen him down here at all for the last five or six weeks," the man answered. "He had some gastric trouble, and was in bed up in his flat, I believe, most of the time. I didn't see him at all during that illness. I don't think he came down while it lasted."

"Who did see him?" Head demanded.

"Mrs. Gerrard, of course—she had to see him about the buying for the club, and tell him what was wanted. He kept all that in his own hands, always. And there was that old servant of his—at least, he used to say the man was an old servant—Robbins, his name was. He came in and out quite a lot while Mr. Finch was ill."

"You mean he came down here, as well as to the flat, to see Finch?"

"He only came down here a few times, to get things, sir. Took up four boxes of Coronas and a couple of bottles of whisky about a fortnight ago, so I judged Mr. Finch must be getting better, then."

"That would be four hundred cigars, I take it?"

"Yes, sir—they were hundred boxes."

Head took from his pocket the invoice for wines and spirits and cigars that Wadden had taken from Finch's pocket the night of the murder, and examined it. Delivery of the goods specified on it, he saw, had been made more than three weeks before.

"Robbins—an old servant, eh?" Head restored the invoice to his pocket. "You sounded rather doubtful about him."

"Well, sir—" the incomplete reply sounded still more doubtful.

"You're sure he took the whisky and cigars up to the flat?"

"Exactly my own thought at the time, sir! I'm not a bit sure. When he got outside the club front door, I don't know where he went. But he said he wanted the things for Mr. Finch, and when I told Mrs. Gerrard about it she said it was quite all right."

"She would," Head observed caustically. "Well, I think that's all for the present. I may see you again before I go."

He turned away, but then faced the man again.

"One moment. Gastric trouble, I think you said. Did he have a doctor attending on him, do you know?"

"I really couldn't tell you, sir. Mrs. Gerrard—" he broke off, leaving his questioner to fill in the blank as he would.

"Ah, yes! I shall have to see her about that. All right, thanks."

He went out from the club and took to the stairs leading to the upper floors of the building, then—it was an old residential house altered to its present uses, and there was no lift. At the top of the staircase a policeman was waiting, and, when Head showed his card and explained his errand, the man unlocked and opened the door of Finch's flat for him, and switched on a light in the tiny entrance hall.

"I'll go over it alone," Head told him.

He made a preliminary superficial examination of the flat, being careful to touch nothing, and using only the very tips of his fingers to turn door handles where necessary. There were, he found, a rather untidy sitting-room, a bedroom of sybaritic luxury, a small kitchen fitted electrically throughout, and a bathroom with electric heating for the bath. Having made his cursory survey of each room, Head returned to the bathroom and examined all toilet accessories there closely, paying special attention to a toothbrush and box of powder on the glass shelf under a large mirror which was set above the lavatory basin. Eventually he seated himself on the edge of the bath and meditated for quite a long time, his gaze roving round the room from shelf to shelf, from mirror to door, and from the bath itself to the lavatory basin. After that he became interested in the oilcloth-covered floor under the bath, and went down on his hands and knees to inspect it thoroughly. Then he gave it up and emerged to make a survey of the bedroom, but all that interested him there for the time was a pin tray, in which he found a couple of hairpins.

Once, he had had a case in which yellowish hairpins like these had interested him greatly, but in this affair he had no doubt as to the ownership of the things. If Bella could have gained access to the flat before him she would have removed these evidences of her presence, together with the pair of mules under the foot of the bedstead. The costly silk dressing gown on the door, of course, might have belonged to Finch, though it looked more like a woman's garment.

Head returned to the sitting-room, and noted that, although untidy, it appeared to have been arranged to some extent from a more pronounced untidiness. There was a large photograph of Bella in the middle of the mantel, and he went and scrutinised it thoughtfully for a minute or two. She was, without doubt, a very lovely woman.

He turned away with a movement that indicated decision and consequent action. Bringing in the suitcase he had packed for this investigation he took out certain articles and, fitting various pieces together, stood possessed of an apparatus worked by a rubber bulb and tube, with which he blew dust over every piece of furniture in the room that was capable of retaining a finger print. He missed nothing, even dusting the frame and glass of Bella's photograph with the blower when he came to the mantelpiece, but he drew blank. There was not a solitary print in all the room, except for his own finger tips recorded on the door handle and revealed by the powder.

He took his blower into the bedroom, and there again dusted fruitlessly. Hairbrush handles and everything else had been wiped off, by somebody wearing gloves, almost certainly. The kitchen fittings were equally innocent of visible traces of use—whoever had gone over the flat to remove possible finger-marks had been a conscientious worker.

Finally, the inspector took his apparatus into the bathroom—he had to renew the supply of powder, first, and had begun to fear that equally barren labour was his meed here, when, as he directed the blower at the glass shelf under the mirror and worked the bulb, lines sprang into being on the plain glass tumbler beside the box of tooth powder. With a feeling of elation Head took up the glass by extending two fingers apart inside it, and carried it carefully into the sitting-room, where he put it down on the cloth-covered centre table and directed the blower at it from every side. He got clear prints of three whole fingers on one side of the glass, and the ball of a thumb opposite them. With these distinctly lined in by the powder, he got a camera out of his suit case and called in the constable, who had been patiently waiting outside the flat.

"We'll take a few flashlights of this," he said, indicating the glass and then getting a flashlight apparatus out of his apparently inexhaustible suit case. "Can you work this thing if I hold the camera? The glass is not tall enough to stand the camera on the table, and I don't want to touch even the inside of the glass again till I've got a few shots of what there is on the outside."

"Yes, sir, I think I can work it all right."

Head got out the magnesium powder, and gave the man a few instructions, focussed the camera on the glass, and gave the word. He did this eight times, getting four pairs of photographs of the prints on the glass, each pair being taken from a different angle. Then, returning to the bathroom, he set his blower working again, but with no further result. Leaving the tumbler with finger-prints on it had, evidently, been a tremendous oversight, all the more serious since only the occupant of the flat or the one who had gone over it to remove all prints from its fitments—if they were not one and the same person—would have handled a bathroom tumbler. Which was it—Finch, or Robbins?

Then the inspector sought for papers of any kind, but found nothing more than half a dozen receipts from tradespeople in a cabinet drawer. The sitting-room grate explained the deficiency, for in it was a black, powdery mass that had once been paper, over the cinders of an extinct coal fire. Head's powder blower failed to reveal any traces of finger-prints on the fire-irons: the tumbler, and that alone, gave other than a negative result.

With his fingers inside the glass again so as not to disturb the prints, Head lifted it carefully into a cabinet drawer which he locked with the policeman looking on, after which he pocketed the key of the drawer and repacked his apparatus in his suit case.

"All finished for the present," he announced, "but I'll have just one telephone call before I go, to save time."

He had blown powder on the telephone receiver, and, in fact, all over the instrument, in the course of his search for finger-prints: now, ignoring the powder, he called a number and had himself put through to Inspector Byrne, who, he concluded, would be available at this hour. And, presently, he heard Byrne's voice in reply to his announcement of his identity, inquiring with mournful reproach:

"What do you want now, Jerry? Haven't I got work enough of my own to reduce my hours of ease? What's your trouble?"

"Nothing very special. Merely a line on your Smiler Jim."

"Jerry, my lad, I can't give you that line. Smiler is under my protection, since he's handed over to me three of his pals with enough evidence to get 'em five years apiece. I'm nursing him carefully."

"Come round here and have a word with me, Terry, and you'll change your mind. I promise you it's worth your while—come along."

"Here being where?" Byrne demanded. "You're too vague altogether. If you think I'm going to seek the wilds of Westingborough at this hour, let me tell you there is nothing doing—"

"No, no!" Head interrupted. "I'm speaking from the Carmagnole club. At least, I'll meet you in the club entrance when you get here."

"It's all right, then. Get hold of the head waiter and call him Fred—his name is Fred, by the way. Tell him I'm coming along, and I referred you to Fred, which means some of the loveliest old liqueur whisky that ever slithered over your palate and made you feel friends with everybody. I'll be round in a quarter of an hour, Jerry."

Head replaced the receiver and went out, and, after waiting while the constable locked the flat, proceeded downstairs to the club premises and inquired for Fred. The head waiter appeared: so far, he had no guests requiring his personal attention, for, though the club opened for the evening at seven, there were very few members who patronised it before eight o'clock. Fred's eyes questioned the inspector silently, while for his part Head scanned the place in vain for some sign of Bella: she should have been here before this, he knew, unless she had taken fright and meant to keep away from the club for the evening.

"Inspector Byrne is coming here to see me, Fred," Head explained. "He mentioned that you knew him, and I was to tell you."

"Come this way, sir," Fred invited cordially—far more cordially, in fact, than when Head had first interviewed him. "He'll know where to find you when he gets here. I hope everything is all right, sir?"

"As far as I know, everything is quite all right," Head assured him. "Mrs. Gerrard is coming back here to-night, isn't she?"

"She rang me through again about half an hour ago, sir. She said she'd be along some time during the evening, but had been held up on the road. Something went wrong with the car, I understood her to say."

"Some time during the evening, eh? Did she say what time?"

"No, sir. She inquired about Mr. Finch's flat—"

"What did she ask about the flat?" Head interposed hastily.

"Whether she could get into it. I told her she couldn't."

"Ah! You didn't tell her anything else, did you?"

"Well, sir, she asked if anyone was there, and specially whether you'd been there or happened to be there at the time—when she rang."

"Do you mean you told her I was there?" Head demanded wrathfully.

"I'm—I'm afraid I did, sir," Fred confessed, with contrition.

Head gave him a look, but refrained from verbal comment. He realised the enormity of his own blunder in not commanding silence with regard to his presence here. But he had anticipated that Bella, once she got the Aston-Martin out of Denman's charge at Carden, would have lost not a minute in getting back, and would not have stopped to telephone on the way. In that conjecture he was correct, but neither he nor she had foreseen that she would be held up for repairs at a garage on her way, and that for so long a time as to admit of twice telephoning the club before the car was ready for her to drive again.

"You see, sir," Fred added after a pause, "she mentioned you by name, so I thought she knew you might be here."

Before Head could reply, Inspector Terence Byrne entered the room and made his way to the table to which Fred had conducted his other visitor. Byrne made a mysterious pass in the air with one hand, at sight of which Fred retired hastily, returning with two glasses, each nearly half-filled with a yellow fluid, and a soda syphon. Byrne frowned at the syphon as he seated himself and gestured to Head to follow his example.

"You can remove that soda, Fred," he observed. "It's a mere insult to a beverage like this. Treat it reverently, Jerry."

They inhaled the aroma, and then sipped solemnly as Fred bore away the syphon. Byrne almost—but not quite—smiled as he put his glass down and gazed across the table at his cousin.

"Ordinary people don't get this when they come here," he said. "It only appears for state visitors, like me. I don't think he's got many bottles of it left, now. But—I don't know—your provincial palate may not have the delicacy necessary for full appreciation—"

"If you're on a night out, I'm not," Head retorted rather testily. Abruptly he signed to Fred, who stood watching at a little distance while the musicians tuned up for the evening on their stand, and kept the two police inspectors within his range of vision at the same time. Members of the club were beginning to trickle in, now, to the number of a score or more. Fred returned to the table and stood waiting.

"Who looked after Finch's flat for him?" Head inquired.

"Well, sir, Mrs. Gerrard—" Fred answered, and paused.

"No, no! Who was the charwoman, or whatever he employed?"

"None that I know of, sir. Not lately, that is. I believe the old servant, Robbins—I know he came in nearly every day."

"That's all, thanks, except that you can come and tell me if Mrs. Gerrard turns up or rings you again before we leave."

He turned to Byrne as the man went out of hearing again.

"And Bella's real name is Belinda Mary Robbins, Terry," he said.

"That was part of his confession, when I made him talk," Byrne answered. "His sister. But he wouldn't implicate her in any way to me. He gave three of his pals away cheerfully, but drew the line at dragging her into it. You said you wanted him, just now—why?"

"I want both him and Bella, but not yet," Head answered slowly. "As nearly as I can see, it's all got to be practically simultaneous, to prevent this end from giving any warning to Carden, or vice versa. That is to say, I don't want Jim and Bella till two o'clock or a bit later to-morrow—say three o'clock for safety. And I've got to be at Carden then. So I think I'll request your kind offices, Terry."

"Man, I tell you you can't have Jim!" Byrne protested. "I've promised him immunity, and it wouldn't do to go back on it."

"Immunity over your burglary cases—yes," Head agreed, and looked at Fred, who might or might not be fully out of hearing. Then he took out his note-book and handed it closed across the table to Byrne. "Have a look at the last two pages I've written in there," he invited. "Keep it well down, to prevent anyone else from seeing."

Holding the book down between himself and the table, and bending over it, Byrne turned the pages until he came to the first blank. Then he turned back a page, and almost instantly looked up in amazement, closing the book in his hand as he did so.

"Gosh, man!" he breathed. "You don't mean to say—?"

But Head held up a hand and checked him, glancing at Fred the while.

"I do mean to say, Terry. Remember this place may have odd acoustics, though. But now, perhaps, you see why I want both of them."

"I'll say I do! And of course you can rely on me for this end. Three o'clock to-morrow, I think you said. That will be when you get busy at your end of the table, I conclude?"

"Near enough. It will be too late then, in any case, to get a message through that might upset my scenario. Terry, I've got it all planned like the fourth act of a melodrama. You know where to lay your hands on Jim, I suppose, up to three to-morrow?"

Byrne nodded.

"It's a house in Shuter Street, off Long Acre. At least, he lives there in a usual way, and I'll see that he doesn't get out of our sight and reach till it's time for me to get him. He knows I've given him protection as a witness against his pals, and won't try to bolt. As nearly as he can tell, there's no reason for bolting."

Head frowned thoughtfully. "I don't know how you'll stand over this," he remarked. "Jim's evidence in your cases, I mean. It looks to me as if you might lose it altogether over my case."

"Don't you worry," Byrne advised confidently. "I'm perfectly certain Jim will be more anxious than ever to act Judas now—he'll sit up all night giving everything and everybody away, in the hope of sliding out from under. Your charge against him will make him ache to confess everybody else's sins to save paying for his own—"

"Shush!" Head interrupted, seeing Fred move a step nearer. "I think we'll give up talking over everything, here, for safety. Except, while I think of it, the number in that street you mentioned just now is fourteen. Am I right, or am I right?"

"Both," Byrne assured him. "Don't guess again."

"Well, that's about all, for now. I had an idea of going alone there to-night after I'd finished upstairs here, but it's cancelled, now." He looked at his watch.

"In eighty minutes, Terry, I board my train for Westingborough. This certainly is the whisky of my dreams, and you were quite right about putting soda in it being a crime. Now there's time for a spot of food together before I go for that train."

"I think I've got your idea, to revert for a second," Byrne said, "but are you quite wise? Many a slip, you know—and three o'clock to-morrow is a long way off. You're taking a bigger risk than I would."

"Quite possibly, but I'm taking it. Come along and let's eat somewhere, though. A table in the middle of the room, not up against a wall like this, and I'll tell you just why I'm taking the risk and convert you to my line of action. But I must catch that train, because I've got to have a roll of film developed before morning and get prints made from it. So let's go, now."

They went out, and turned into Shaftesbury Avenue.

"We'll try Oddenino's," Byrne suggested. "I don't know a better place for dining, and we can talk there. But still—"

"You'll see it as I do by the time I've told you everything," Head promised.


CHAPTER XIV. — A SPIDER, NON-EXISTENT

ONCE, in his capacity as master of the Westingborough pack, Lord Woodney had called at Longlands Farm to put right in consultation with Farmer Goldsworthy the matter of a root crop that had been damaged by the hunt, and on that occasion the nobleman had condescended to drink a glass of sherry after a settlement had been reached. For many days after the event, Mrs. Goldsworthy had talked of the honour done the old house, but now, having a real baronet to lunch with Lynette at the girl's invitation, the good woman found herself compelled to fly to gin and peppermint while the cooking was in progress, as antidote to the "spazzums," from which she alleged she always suffered if unduly excited. But, before putting the lunch on the table, she took a clove: fortunately for Kingsward, she did not breathe in his direction while in the vicinity of the table, and Lynette endured the whiff that came her way without remark. Fortunately for her, she caught only the one whiff.

Either despite or because of the gin and peppermint, it was an excellent lunch. Farmer Goldsworthy, to whom the goose descended after its appearance on Lynette's table, loosened his belt two holes as he pushed back his chair and declared that that was a rare bird, that was. And, for a sweet, his wife performed miracles with crab apples and blackberry jelly, while with the biscuits she served a cheese that she had made herself—and Kingsward praised it in her hearing!

Within a week, practically everybody in Carden knew the menu of that lunch, and knew, too, that Kingsward was a perfect gentleman. Not the stuck-up sort you have to be on your behaviour with all the time, but a real gentleman, such as you don't meet every day.

"A decent old lady," Kingsward observed, after Mrs. Goldsworthy had cleared the table and left him and Lynette to cigarettes over the fire. "She knows how to cook, too. But is there any special reason for your sitting over on that side of the fire, darling? There's plenty of room here, and we've had the width of the table between us till now."

She crossed over, and dropped down beside him on the hearthrug, so that, seated in the armchair, he could hold her comfortably against his knees with one arm, and stroke her hair with his other hand.

"I wish—" she said, and did not end the sentence. She was thinking of the Keller collection and its imminent dispersal, and, more particularly, of Octavian's emerald, which she had coveted since first seeing it. Her lover might acquire it, of course, but...

"So do I." He tilted her face up so that he could see her eyes, and bent to drop a kiss on her hair. "Do you know any reason why we shouldn't? I can't think of one."

"Shouldn't what?" she inquired.

"Get married, of course. I've nobody to consult, and apparently you are in the same position. I suppose I've got to go off to London again and leave you here for this once, but the prospect isn't my ideal of earthly bliss. Lynette, there's a great big house in London full of most wonderful things, but it hasn't got the most wonderful thing of all, and I know it's going to be a terribly lonely place without you. How much pity for a poor hermit have you got in that heart of yours?"

"Not any," she answered, smiling. "It's too full of something else, Denis, and you can have just one guess—"

After an appreciable interval he resumed his inquiry.

"Supposing we made it about the middle of next month, Lynette darling? I know you've got to get shoes and hats and all sorts of odds and ends, but that's a reasonable interval, and I do want you, my dear. It gives you a whole fortnight to get absolution for your sins—"

"Next month is next year—we're in December," she interrupted to point out. "And if you mean this month, it's far too soon. Denis, it's lovely, sitting here with you like this. I never thought—"

"Will you keep to the point?" he broke in in turn. "Never mind what you thought—I'm talking about the time ahead of us. You're just being provoking—I shall have to take a strong line with you, I can see. I've suggested the middle of December—now, why not then?"

They came to an agreement, eventually, on the first week in January. Then Kingsward, catching sight of the hands of his wrist watch on Lynette's shoulder, started up from his chair with an exclamation of dismay, and lifted her to her feet at the same time.

"Darling, I'm so sorry to rush, but they'll be there! And Keller told me I could be a witness to the opening. And—Oh, Lord! There'll be Garratt waiting and wondering what has become of me, and heaven only knows what going on in my absence! The Ariadne, Lynette! The Minoan Urn! All those things open to human view—darling, do come with me and see the strong room opened! I hate leaving you."

But she shook her head. "My dear, I should only see old Bland lying murdered on the floor, in my mind, and feel the horror of the place. And I gathered from Mr. Head that he expects something to happen when the room is opened—I know he believes Mr. Davis knew the combination to open it, and there might be—might be something you don't expect inside. Please, Denis—I'd rather wait here for you to come back."

He gave her a long look, both his hands on her shoulders, before he kissed her. "Lynette, shall I let them open it without me?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I want you to be there," she told him. "I want you to come back and tell me you've got everything you wish to get—perhaps more than the four things you've set your mind on—"

"As long as I'm sure of this fifth—the one I want most, Lynette."

"Denis, I'll tell you a secret. The one that wants you... My dear, the strong room is to be opened at three, and it's past three already! We'll have tea here when you come back—"

But it was a good ten minutes later when Kingsward knocked at the door of the Strong Box. Percival Keller himself opened the door, and held out a welcoming hand after closing it on his visitor.

"I reckoned you'd miss it, Sir Denis," he said nasally. "There's been three guys upstairs the last half hour, monkeyin' with the works. The head man counts on coming down to tell us he's fixed it, any minute, now. What you might call a great event, eh?"

Kingsward, voicing a brief assent, gazed round the entrance hall. Since it was a clouded afternoon, the lights had been switched on, and Buddha, before the outer door of the strong room, appeared to grin malevolently rather than in benediction on the men waiting before him. They included Garratt, who advanced and shook hands with his patron: a dried-up little man who, Garratt informed Kingsward, was valuing for probate, and whose valuation, the dealer added, Keller was prepared to accept for purposes of sale in conjunction with that of Garratt himself. At that Kingsward wondered a little, but, since the advantage was his, he refrained from remarking that probate value is in most cases a totally different thing from sale value, being cut down as low as possible to reduce death duties. If Keller chose to lose money in that way, it was his affair, and no buyer could be expected to point out to him the disadvantage of combining the two valuations.

There was Keller himself, perky and cheerful—and odious, Kingsward decided. There was Bertram Davis, looking more than ever like a dog at heel, and appearing to shelter close to his cousin, as if Keller could protect him from—what? And there was Lucas Barton, dryly aloof except when Keller spoke to him: to such a client, representing pickings for the solicitor from an estate of nearly a quarter of a million, it was impossible to be other than urbane, evidently.

"You don't have to wait long for your stuff now, Sir Denis," Keller remarked, as he stood close by Kingsward, faced toward Buddha.

"You've got to get probate through," Kingsward reminded him.

"I dunno. I thought I'd have a pow-wow with Barton here and Miss Grey, and see if we couldn't fix it between us for them to turn the goods over to you as soon as we've settled a figure. I don't want to wear my boots out down in this hamlet, and the more I can get fixed, the happier I'll be. And if you'd like to option anything else the same way when we open up, I'm agreeable. Get you fixed, and then I can go off and leave Barton to auction the rest for me."

"Then you intend to keep nothing?" Kingsward asked, in some surprise. It appeared to him that Keller was hurrying affairs, since he decided to dispose of all the strong room contained without seeing any of its contents.

"Not a damned thing," Keller said emphatically.

"I thought Inspector Head intended to be present to-day?" Kingsward questioned abruptly. He had just missed the inspector from the group.

"Maybe he did, but I shan't weep over his absence," Keller retorted, with evident distaste for the reminder. "Nor will Bert, here."

Kingsward made no further remark. The six men stood about the lighted hall, and it appeared to Kingsward that Davis would have hidden himself, if he could: the way in which he clung to Keller was ludicrous, though Keller himself appeared to take no notice of it. And, gazing toward the iron door behind Buddha from minute to minute, Kingsward remembered Lynette's words and inwardly questioned what the guarded, doubly locked room contained: was the opening of the doors to reveal some secret that Davis had kept hidden? Yet, surely, if Inspector Head still retained his suspicions of Davis, he would be here to-day, while, if there were more in the room than old Ward Keller had locked away there, some sinister evidence of Davis' guilt, then Davis would have kept away. Against that was his evidently utter dependence on his cousin: possibly he had longed to absent himself, but dared not leave Keller. Curious, that Keller should tolerate such a one, as he did: Kingsward glanced at him, and saw a man strong, outwardly composed, but undoubtedly tense with anticipation. It was natural: he was about to set eyes on fully two-thirds of his inheritance.

The six men stiffened to eager attention at the gurgling, glucking noise of running water, and Keller spoke, exultantly—

"They've done it! The guys upstairs have done it!"

The said guys came down: their footsteps sounded on the uncarpeted parquet floor of the narrow passage leading from the staircase to the hall, beside the outer wall of the strong room. Then they appeared, Tompkins, a little, beady-eyed man, leading, while behind him came his two large, stolid-looking assistants. He went to Keller.

"Found it, Mr. Keller," he said. "The combination was 'Dryad.' After we've opened up, it can be reset to any five letters you like. I got the pump working, and didn't stop to reset the combination."

"I'll choose my own, for the little time it'll be wanted," Keller answered. "How long before we can open the doors and get inside?"

"It takes seven and a half minutes exactly," Tompkins announced. "That is, it did when I first tested the working—when it was new. We may have to add another thirty seconds or so now, but you can see the plumb running up beside the door as the water drains away."

Keller stepped beyond the Buddha, close to the door, and Davis followed, as if he were fearful of losing sight of his cousin. From where they stood, the others could see a small blob of metal at the end of a fine wire, which had remained unnoticed until Tompkins drew attention to it, and which now crawled very slowly up the edge of the door. It was nearing the end of its travel, where the wire disappeared in the wall on a level with the top edge of the door.

"Cute arrangement," Keller observed.

There may have been a slight quiver in his voice, but some trepidation was to be expected from him, at that moment. Both he and Davis, behind the Buddha, were fixedly intent on the slow movement of the plumb, and now, as they watched, Tompkins' two assistants moved a little to the right, so that they screened both Keller and Davis from sight of the library door, since the Buddha did not quite intervene between it and the tall figure of Keller. But both he and Davis were too engrossed in watching the last inch or two of the plumb's slow progress to heed movement behind them.

Quite silently, as all doors moved in this house, the library door opened just far enough to admit of Inspector Head coming out to the hall, and closed again. And, noiselessly as the door had moved, Head crossed the hall until the Buddha screened him from sight of Keller and Davis. With his finger on his lip he shook his head fiercely at Kingsward, and Barton, observing the pantomime, kept silent too. The two valuers gave Head a glance apiece, but said no word: they, like Keller and Davis, were intent on the opening of the strong room.

Now the metal blob hung stationary at the level of the door's top, and the gluck and gurgle of running water ceased with a final swishing grunt. Then Tompkins spoke—

"You can open it now, Mr. Keller."

Keller laid hold on the knob, but before he could turn it another voice, quiet, almost nonchalant in its inflection, sounded to him—

"There's a big spider on your coat collar, Bullfinch."

With a yell of terror Keller leaped back, both hands lifted to clutch at his coat collar—and the two big men who had accompanied Tompkins on his errand seized each a lifted wrist, swung it down and behind the man, and thus they handcuffed him, while with a groan of utter fear Davis crouched like a monkey on the floor. Inspector Head stepped out from the cover of the Buddha and faced the manacled man, who, after the one terrified yell, had uttered no word.

"William Sturgess Finch," Head said clearly, "I arrest you and charge you with the murder of Edward Bland, and also with the murder of Percival Gordon Keller, in this house at about six-fifteen p.m. on Wednesday last, and I warn you that anything you may say in answer to the charge may be taken down and used as evidence against you."

Barton started forward, and stopped—he was first of the group of watchers to recover in any degree from the general stupefaction. Then, while one of the two plain-clothes men held Keller by the arm, Head reached down and jerked the cringing Davis to erectness.

"And I arrest you, Bertram Davis," he said, "and charge you with having acted as accessory both before and after the murders of Edward Bland and Percival Gordon Keller in this house, in that you were privy to the design to murder them, and that you knowingly and wilfully identified the body of Percival Gordon Keller as that of William Sturgess Finch after the murders had been committed. And I warn you that anything you may say in answer to the charge may be taken down and used as evidence against you."

He signed to the man who stood beside him, and who, at the gesture, went to Davis and gyved him. Then Davis almost shrieked—

"He did it! He planned it all! I didn't do anything! The Bullfinch there did everything, I tell you! Oh, let me go—let me go!"

"You shall go," Head said grimly, "and you too, Finch. Mr. Barton, you'd better take charge here, and arrange with Tompkins about closing that strong room again, for the present. March those two out, Collins and Borrow—Jeffries is waiting with the car in front of the Carden Arms, and we'll go straight over to Westingborough."

Preceding his men with their two captives, he went to the front door and opened it. Finch, with his hands manacled behind him, went steadily and without a word, but Davis struggled so violently that Constable Borrow had to drag him across the hall.

"Let me go!" he cried. "I'll tell everything! Let me go!"

Between them, Head and Borrow dragged the frantic man out from the doorway and along the drive. The heavy iron door swung slowly and silently until, pressed close against its rubbered jamb, it shut off both sound and sight of what passed without the house. Barton coughed dryly, and turned to the rather frightened-looking Tompkins.

"We had better open the doors and examine the contents of the strong room before we close it again, I think," he said. "Sir Denis, you will understand that there can be no valuation for sale purposes, now—nor even for probate, for that matter, at present."

"Of course," Kingsward assented. "This is—well, rather shattering. We shall not want you, Garratt."

"And I'm sorry to tell you, Sir Denis," Barton proceeded, "that I cashed your cheque for that man through my account, so you appear to have lost a thousand pounds."

"Yes," Kingsward said, as if the fact were of no moment. "But that inspector—what a man!"

"I feel compelled to agree with you," Barton said gravely.


THE upper windows of number fourteen, Shuter Street, Inspector Byrne noted afresh as he approached the building in company with two uniformed men, were embayed, so that any occupants of the flats into which the house was divided could look down and see him and his men approaching. But he knew Smiler Jim considered himself safe after having acted as informer, and pressed the bell-push over the tiny brass plate inscribed "Robbins, 1st Floor," with full confidence that Jim himself would appear in response to the summons. A plain-clothes man had already informed him that Jim was at home, having entered the house ten minutes prior to the inspector's appearance, after a mid-day session in the saloon bar at the corner of the street.

Byrne's confidence was justified, for in less than a minute after he had rung the door swung back, revealing Jim.

"Whom have you got upstairs, Robbins?" Byrne demanded without preface, before Jim could speak.

"Only Bella, Mr. Byrne. Why—what—I say, Mr. Byrne—"

For Byrne had reached out and taken him by the wrist, drawing him out toward the threshold of the doorway. Terror flashed into the man's eyes as he comprehended the implication of the inspector's grasp.

"You promised, Mr. Byrne!" His voice grew shrill and sharp with agonised appeal. "You promised me you wouldn't—"

"I have a warrant here," Byrne said steadily, "for your arrest, James Robbins, charging you with having acted as accessory—"

A sharp report from somewhere within the house interrupted him: it came as a bellowing, echoing roar down the narrow staircase, and for a second or more Byrne stood looking up without completing his indictment. Then he jerked Jim forward, out of the house, and toward the two uniformed men waiting behind him.

"Hold him, Barker," he ordered. "Handcuff him, too."

"Mr. Byrne!" Jim's voice was yet more shrill with terror. "That was Bella—she said she would, if you came after us. Looked out when you was comin' along the street, she did, an' got the pistol out—"

"Wait there with him, Barker," Byrne interrupted. "Come on up with me, Scott. Get a move on, man!"

He led the way up to the first floor, and found the door by which Robbins had emerged in answer to the bell's summons, standing half-opened. Byrne entered the flat, and made his way to the room overlooking the street. He saw Bella Gerrard lying face downward on the floor in front of a settee, and beside her lay a thirty-two calibre automatic pistol. She had shot herself cleanly behind the right ear, and, as Byrne knew when he knelt beside her, must have died instantly.

But he turned her over, and put a hand inside her corsage to feel her heart. There was no sign of movement there, and, laying her down gently, Byrne got on his feet and pointed with outstretched finger at a telephone instrument on a table at the end of the settee.

"You know whom to ring, Scott," he said. "Get on to that telephone at once, and stay here. She's quite dead. Half a second, first, though. We'll just lift her on to the settee."

Together they lifted the body and put it down, and Scott went to the telephone while Byrne straightened the dead woman's limbs and smoothed her clothing over her. Even as she lay, with the shocked expression that the method of her death had caused not yet faded out from her face, she was very lovely. And, more intuitive than her brother, she had known at sight of the men coming along the street, or at the sound of the bell when Byrne rang, that there was no escape for her. She had gone in fear from Carden, and had been in fear up to this hour: of the four who had planned two murders for the sake of Ward Keller's hoard, Finch alone had kept his nerve all the time.

"Take charge, Scott," Byrne ordered, "and wait till you get your ambulance here. She's cheated us, but we've got the other one."

He went down again, and faced Robbins outside the front door.

"I arrest you, James Robbins, and charge you with having acted as accessory—"

The phrasing of the charge was a repetition of that which Head had used to Bertram Davis in the Strong Box at Carden. Smiler Jim, totally unworthy of his nickname now, stared fearfully at his accuser as he listened, and then summoned up courage to reply—

"Mr. Byrne, could I—could I just see Bella before you take me away. My sister—could I, just once?"

The tears were running down his cheeks. Byrne hesitated, and then turned to the door, which still stood open. A dozen or more idlers had already gathered and stood round: at a little distance a taxi came crawling toward them, on its way to Long Acre.

"Stop that taxi and keep it here, Barker," Byrne ordered. "Come on, then, Jim, ahead of me up the stairs."

He followed, grasping the handcuffed man's arm all the way. They entered the flat, and Jim looked down on the dead woman on the settee.

"That's all, Mr. Byrne," he said, and Byrne, still holding his arm, drew him away. "Just to say good-bye to 'er, like. An' thank you for bein' so kind to me. I'll go quiet, now."

"To Westingborough," Byrne told him, "and you'll be formally charged there."

They went out, and entered the waiting taxi. Jim stared straight before him as the vehicle made its way through the streets.

"I wish I'd had the guts an' the chance to do it too, now," he said.


CHAPTER XV. — THE THREADS IN THE SKEIN

"I HOPE you'll forgive me for troubling you again so soon, Miss Grey. I called at the Carden Arms, and Cortazzi told me there that Sir Denis Kingsward wasn't in the hotel and hadn't gone out in his car, so I concluded I might find him here. Could I see him for a minute or two? I have a piece of good news for him."

Lynette stood back and opened the door wide.

"Do come in, Mr. Head," she invited. "We were talking about you."

He followed the girl into her sitting-room, and saw Kingsward standing with his back to the fire, on the hearthrug.

"What's that about good news for me?" Kingsward advanced and offered his hand as he spoke. "I overheard you saying something outside."

"Just—glad to see you again, Sir Denis—just that we have recovered nine hundred and forty pounds in notes out of the thousand Finch got in exchange for your cheque, so you won't lose as badly as you thought," Head answered as he shook hands. "Being over here again, I thought I ought to find you and tell you."

"That's very good of you," Kingsward said. "I'd written the whole amount off as a dead loss. But now you have got here, what about telling us both your news? We've been talking over yesterday afternoon, naturally, and asking each other just how you did it. Can you give us some idea of the mental processes, or ought I not to ask?"

"Well, seeing that Miss Grey is intimately connected with—" Head began, but she interrupted him hurriedly—

"Do sit down and let me give you a cup of tea, Mr. Head—that's quite a comfortable chair, and you can bring it nearer the fire if you like. Yes, please tell us how you found it all out—and never mind my connection—Sir Dennis knows I'm an executor. Do sit down, won't you, while I just get another cup out?"

Head waited till she had got the cup, and then they all seated themselves before the fire. For some reason of her own, Head realised as he stirred his tea thoughtfully, the girl did not wish him to reveal in Kingsward's hearing all that Percival Keller's death meant to her. The manner of her interruption had proved it.

"I'm tremendously grateful to you for your news, inspector," Kingsward remarked. "Now, if it wouldn't be detaining you too long—if you'd tell us how you found out Finch's identity and all the rest, we shall have never a wish left. Have you time—and will you tell us?"

"I've plenty of time, for once," Head confessed deliberately. "No, thanks, Miss Grey, I won't have anything to eat—just the tea. And—well, it was a conspiracy of four. Three of the conspirators are safely locked up on remand, and the fourth needs no locking up. And if I may put it that way, the dust has settled and I've time to breathe. And I know I can trust both of you."

He caught Lynette's smile of pleasure, and nodded for emphasis.

"Then you will tell us how you found out?" she asked.

"It began with a cigar," he answered in a meditative way. "My chief over at Westingborough—Superintendent Wadden, that is—sometimes tells me I've got too much imagination. He's of the old school, I ought to tell you, and one of the best men I know—he holds the force together in the district, and keeps everybody happy, while I merely unravel tangles when they occur—like this affair. Possibly he's right, and I have got too much imagination. Over that cigar, now. Finch, posing as Percival, offered it me when we went to the Strong Box the night of the murders, and I took it—and that imagination of mine instantly began working. It didn't seem right, to me."

"The imagination, or the cigar?" Kingsward asked, as Head paused and gazed thoughtfully at the fire.

"Hush-h-h!" Lynette reproved him.

"The cigar." Head looked at her and smiled again. "It was too good a cigar, somehow. I couldn't see him getting cigars of that brand on the steamer coming over, and if he had got them he'd have had to pay duty on them when he landed. He had a full case, five cigars, and that was wrong, too. If he'd come down with Davis in the train, as appeared the case since he was Keller, then, he'd surely have smoked one, at least. I knew he couldn't get the brand in Westingborough, and yet that case was stack full. It was wrong, to me."

"I wouldn't say you had too much imagination," Kingsward remarked interestedly. "It appears to me—but I'm interrupting you."

"We made our examination," Head proceeded. "The dead man was a non-smoker—and there again... As Finch, he was supposed to have been proprietor of the Carmagnole, a night club, and that type of man is hardly ever a non-smoker, while the live one, who should have come straight from the middle of Canada, smoked better cigars than he could afford. It occurred to me then that here might be a case of impersonation—with every opportunity for it—but Davis had identified the dead man as Finch, and I didn't see the plot these two and another pair had made, just then. All I could see was the possibility of Davis putting up another man as his cousin—and I was by no means sure of that. If so, I thought, the cousin had been put out of the way somehow, possibly not even dead, and the impersonator had been attacked by Finch and had killed him. It was a first-class puzzle, then."

"All through his offering you a cigar," Kingsward commented again.

"All through that," Head assented gravely. "An instinct, say. Or call it the incongruity of his having those cigars, if you like. But as I questioned this man I got a support for my instinct. Instead of talking like a Canadian—I've met Canadians, from time to time—he talked bad American, and that only intermittently. He kept on forgetting to maintain the pose, and even so it was no more than a bad imitation of the pose he ought to have adopted. It was not the real thing at any time, and was too varied to be quite natural."

"And yet you didn't arrest him then?" Lynette queried.

He smiled at her. "Why should I?" he asked in reply. "If he were an impostor, there could be only one reason for it—Ward Keller's estate. Having made away with Percival Keller, or perhaps not even killed him, for all I could tell then, this man had to go on with the imposture and trust to the sheer audacity of it to save him from discovery of his real identity. Once having embarked on that course, he was simply forced to go on with it, not only to get his reward in the shape of the estate, but to save himself from punishment for personating the real heir. His announcement of himself as Keller was a Rubicon—there was no going back. So I could afford to wait."

"Even though you knew," Kingsward observed.

"I didn't know," Head dissented. "What had I, when you come to solid evidence? I felt, too, that Davis would lead me to the truth of the whole affair, if I waited. Neither of them dared attempt to run away, but Davis, from my first sight of him, was a mortally scared man, as I could see. The other was different—iron-nerved from start to arrest, and after. A personality, the Bullfinch. Clever, ruthless enough to kill two inoffensive men within ten minutes, and steely enough to appear perfectly composed when I came an hour and a half later to investigate the deaths. He'd done more than the mere killing, too, but he had a flawless story, and told it perfectly, without one slip. I suppose one would, with life dependent on it."

He paused again to drink his tea. Lynette took the cup, and Head nodded at her inquiring look.

"If I may, thanks, with an extra lump of sugar," he assented. "I hope I'm not boring either of you, though."

"If you stopped now, I'd never forgive you," Kingsward told him, and Lynette, handing him the refilled cup, seconded with—"Please, Mr. Head, do go on. How you proved what you suspected."

"Yes," he assented thoughtfully. "It's so easy to suspect, but proof is not so easy. But one of those four conspirators was a woman, and I learned later that the fourth was her brother, who had already done a few burglaries on information supplied by Finch. She—Mrs. Gerrard, she called herself—came down and wanted to bury the body of the supposed Finch—Keller in reality—and identified it as Finch. Clinched the identification Davis had made, but at the same time gave me my first idea that the man personating Keller was Finch. Because, you see, she was not real—she over-acted. I'd learned that both she and Finch had been on the stage, and she acted to me that morning in the Carden Arms two days ago—it seems more than two days, somehow. But she overdid her part, and I knew she and Finch had been more than friendly. I saw her then as the third conspirator."

"And still you didn't arrest anyone," Kingsward observed.

"Again, why should I?" Head retorted. "I began to see very hazily that this was a very carefully worked-out plot, with three people in it, and Davis—I thought then—as the moving spirit. At one point I got hold of the fact—you know about this, Miss Grey—that Davis had got hold of the only photograph in the Strong Box of Keller as an adult—obviously as a guide to his impersonation. And I'll tell you now that Finch hid himself from everyone but those in the plot for weeks, stayed in his flat all the time, while he grew a beard to resemble the one Keller had worn when he landed at the Strong Box that night with Davis. Nobody but the other three in the plot saw him during those weeks."

"But the body had a clean-shaven face, surely!" Kingsward objected.

"How do you know that?" Head demanded.

"Mr. Goldsworthy was foreman of the jury at the inquest," Lynette explained before Kingsward could speak. "And that's what we have been talking about—Mr. Percival Keller's pointed beard."

"Yes, but—I'll tell you how I reconstruct the whole business of that night, though," Head said. "We shall never know exactly what happened, for Finch will never tell anything, though both Davis and the man Robbins will give anything away in the hope of mitigating their own punishment. Not that there's the slightest hope for either of them—but I'm wandering. The way I see it was that Finch got to the Strong Box about a quarter past six, knowing that Davis would have arrived there with Percival Keller about an hour before—as a matter of fact, Finch stopped on his way to ring through and ask for Davis at the Carden Arms less than half an hour after Davis booked in there, and then learned that Keller was alone with Bland at the Strong Box, and everything was ready for—"

"You even traced the telephone call?" Kingsward interjected.

"Nearly enough," Head answered. "It was recorded as a toll call from Crandon, which is Londonward from here, and the caller asked for Davis by name. Only Finch would have known he was there to make it worth while asking for him. Davis reported that all was ready—that he'd booked at the Carden Arms and arranged to go back to the Strong Box at half-past eight—Finch had to know what arrangements Davis had made with Keller, for the sake of his own impersonation of Keller after killing him. Their stories had to agree in every detail."

"By Jove, inspector, you've missed absolutely nothing!" Kingsward exclaimed. "Even to finding that a telephone call was made."

"It was an easy point," Head replied. "Then, to go on with my idea of what happened, Finch arrived, parked his car in front of the Strong Box—and that car was meant to be identified as one he had borrowed, so that Bella Gerrard, its owner, could be available to identify Keller's body as that of Finch. He knocked at the door, and was admitted by Bland. I think he took Bland by the throat almost at once—perhaps asked him first which room Mr. Keller was occupying, but no more—and the real Keller never heard Bland's or Finch's voice at all. Finch dragged Bland across the hall nearly to the dining-room door, and stabbed him there—Finch is an immensely strong man, remember. He opened the dining-room door, burst in on Keller, and overpowered him before he could get on his feet, probably. Killed him—all that was described at the inquest, with Finch describing his part as Keller's, and there's no need to harrow you with it."

"Carry on, inspector," Kingsward begged. "The transposition of the beard—what about that?"

"The murders," Head said, "were all over by six twenty-five at latest. Finch rang our sergeant here—as a matter of fact, he merely asked for police, and the operator here put him on to Sergeant Denman—at seven forty-five. One hour and twenty minutes after he had finished his murders, do you see? In that hour and twenty minutes he changed clothes with the body of Percival Keller, and shaved its face—"

"Do you mean you found traces?" Kingsward interposed again.

"I did not. The man was acting with life at stake, and he left not a solitary trace of any kind—I went over every room in the house very thoroughly, and found nothing at all. No, but you remember his hand was cut—the right hand, purposely cut to keep him from using a pen with it, but he did that cutting after he had finished making Keller's body impersonate him while he impersonated Keller. How do I know, you'll ask me now? Well, that hand is too badly injured to permit of his shaving a man with it, for one thing, and if he'd cut it during his struggle with Keller, as he said, there would have been far more blood on the suit he put on Keller's body when he changed clothes with it. And he made the exchange even down to underclothing—remember, he had to be thorough, since discovery meant death. He was thorough, too, even to the three identifications of Keller's body as his. Robbins has confessed how the four of them, Finch, Davis, Robbins himself, and Bella Gerrard who was really Robbins's sister—how they rehearsed every contingency over and over and over again in Finch's flat over the Carmagnole, during those weeks while the duplicate beard was growing. All four of them knew their parts perfectly, and were ready to face practically every form of emergency."

"Then what part did this man Robbins play?" Lynette asked.

"I think Bella insisted on his being included because he was her brother," Head answered. "But he came in very useful in another way. Finch knew Inspector Byrne, my cousin in London, had been aching for a chance to re-arrest Robbins, who was not long out of jail. He knew too, that if Byrne found out that he, Finch, was dead, he would try to get Robbins to give away certain other men whom Finch had helped to commit burglaries. And Finch wanted those men given away, wanted them sent to penal servitude, to prevent any possibility of their recognising and blackmailing him while he masqueraded as Percival Keller. Already the spoils had to be divided among four people as soon as probate of the will handed them over to Finch. Robbins was to have had ten thousand, Bella thirty thousand for herself, while Finch and Davis went halves in the rest—say seventy to eighty thousand each."

"Unless some one of the three blackmailed Finch for more," Kingsward suggested. "Or did he believe there was honour among them?"

"He had a far better safeguard than that," Head pointed out. "As soon as any one of them identified him as Keller by identifying Keller's body as his, that one was beyond the chance of blackmail. All three became accessories, equally guilty with Finch, by saying Keller's body was his, and if they betrayed him they destroyed themselves. He knew that, knew he had them all bound to him by the strongest of ties. I will say for him that he acted wonderfully, and never for one second lost his nerve within sight of anyone."

"Knowing it was death if he did," Kingsward remarked.

"Exactly. It would make him careful. Barton suspected nothing at all—Finch even had a forged passport all complete and perfect, with his own photograph in it as that of Percival Keller. I know there is one place in Hamburg and another in Stettin where you may buy a passport of any name and nationality if you wish—they make a regular trade of it, for the benefit of international crooks. He had one of those passports made, and put a false beard on his chin when he had the photograph taken, since his own was only just beginning to grow."

"I was wondering about his credentials," Kingsward remarked.

"Barton accepted him on the strength of the passport," Head explained. "I examined it, and found it apparently issued by the British consulate in Chicago, but we know now that no such passport was ever issued there. We know, too, from the application form for Percival Keller's original passport before he left this country, that his eyes were grey like those of the body at the Strong Box, not brown as Finch's are. We know—well, several things."

"Proofs?" Kingsward asked. "Against both him and Davis?"

"Davis and Robbins stand or fall with him," Head pointed out. "If that man is Finch, they must be guilty as accessories, for they both knew Finch quite intimately. As for him—well, I paid a visit to his flat. I found a tooth glass in the bathroom with a set of finger-prints on it—and it's not likely that any other than the occupant of the flat would use the one tooth glass in the bathroom. They were Finch's prints. I found a tin of powder for cleaning dental plates and artificial teeth, and our man under arrest has artificial teeth, while the dead man had a beautiful set of his own—Finch wouldn't know that when he set out to do his murders, or wouldn't think of the point. I found that, when he ordered supplies for the Carmagnole club he ordered two hundred and fifty of those very special cigars—but they didn't go into the club, and there was a half-empty box of them in a cabinet in his flat. They were for his own use only. And finally, we've had the head waiter of the club down to Westingborough to-day, to identify Finch as Finch. Finish!"

He turned as he sat and put the cup down on the table.

"We'll forgive him the pun, Lynette," Kingsward said. "But—knowing so much, and letting them remain free—" He paused, thinking it over while he gazed into the fire.

"As soon as I knew," Head pointed out, "I knew too that I could plan and carry out the arrest when and where I chose, since neither Finch nor Davis knew how much I knew—they dared make no move that might show them as scared, and betray them. I could carry on until I had my case complete and perfect and then—strike!"

"You certainly struck, yesterday afternoon," Kingsward observed.

"I wanted that ultimate betrayal of the man by himself—the trick of a non-existent spider on his coat collar," Head explained. "I'd seen him go frantic over a spider while his hand was being dressed, the night of the murders, and felt sure the idea of a spider crawling on him would make him lose his self-control. You were there to see how it worked, Sir Denis. And now I think I've talked quite long enough. But he should never have offered me that cigar."

"Still I don't see why he shouldn't have offered you one," Kingsward objected. "Why the mere offer should mean so much to you, I mean."

"I can't explain it, as I said before," Head answered. "But that cigar—it flashed on me even then that it wasn't Percival Keller offering me a cigar, and there was Davis almost shivering with terror all the time, convincing me that he had been up to some devilry, and it was inexplicable how he hung on to the other man, seemed to gain strength and confidence from him—still more inexplicable was the way that other man stood up for him when I proved him a double-faced cur."

"Well, you've certainly shown us all the mechanism of your work," Kingsward observed. "Lynette, perhaps Mr. Head might like another cup of tea. What do you think about it, Mr. Head?"

"No more, thanks," Head answered. "I've had two already. And I've been here a long while, too."

"It hasn't seemed long to us, I assure you," Kingsward remarked. "I might tell you, we two are going to be married in January."

"I had suspicion of that, but no proof," Head said drily.

Kingsward laughed. "I tried to make it earlier, but—" he said, and shook his head as a form of conclusion to the statement.

"Well, I congratulate you both," Head told them. "Especially you, Sir Denis. I think I will have that third cup after all, Miss Grey."

"But why him especially?" Lynette asked as she poured out the tea.

"Even if he had lost the whole thousand pounds," Head explained.

"But what's the connection?" Kingsward demanded. "You don't think I'd balance that against—against my happiness, do you?"

"I don't," Head said decidedly. "Even if you'd won Miss Grey and nothing else, you'd still be a big winner. And as it is—"

"Denis, dear, I'd better tell you now," Lynette interposed. "Mr. Head knows, since I had to tell him when he came here to question me."

"Here, what's this, inspector?" Kingsward demanded sharply.

"You tell him, Miss Grey," Head advised.

"It's—don't look so savage, Denis—it's just that I inherit the whole of Ward Keller's estate, now that Percival Keller is dead. I—it seemed difficult to tell you, knowing that you wanted—" she broke off, smiling at him.

"You inherit—?" Kingsward began confusedly, and stopped, staring from her to Head and back. "What the—?" Again he stopped.

Lynette crossed over to his chair and seated herself on its arm.

"Listen!" she commanded. "Mr. Barton came to see me this morning, and—and—the Strong Box and everything else is mine, he told me. So your wedding presents are to be the Ariadne and the Aphrodite, and the urn too. But I must keep Octavian's emerald for myself. It's such a lovely thing, and I've always wanted it!"

There was a pause through which Kingsward stared up at her wonderingly, as if unable to realize what he had heard. Then Inspector Head put down his empty teacup and rose to his feet.

"I must be going, Miss Grey," he said. "Sir Denis, I know what I'd do if I were you, in spite of me."

Kingsward did it, for Head had begun to walk toward the door. But Lynette called him as soon as she could get her voice, and he turned to face her again.

"We haven't thanked you half enough, Mr. Head," she said. "I especially, and you were so very kind to me."

Kingsward stood up, with his arm round her. "I know what we'll do, Lynette," he said. "We'll get him to come to our wedding."

"To keep an eye on the presents, sir?" Head queried with a smile.

"No," Kingsward answered gravely, "but as an honoured guest, and one we shall welcome at any time. What do you say, darling?"

"Yes. And if he comes to tea some time, as he has to-day—some time next year—you can show him our additions to the Kingsward collection. Because—everything I have will be yours, really."

Head faced the door again, hastily. "I really must go," he said firmly.

Lynette, he knew as he closed the door from the outside without looking round, had no chance to call him back again.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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