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First published in The Novel Magazine, #148, July 1917

Collected in Paul Beck, Detective, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-14

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"Paul Beck—Detective,"
Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929, with "A Dog's Death"



M. McDonnell Bodkin

Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).

Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.

Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."

...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).

Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.

"HAVE you seen my cigar-case anywhere?" Beck asked his wife. "I want to fill it."

"It's on the dressing-table upstairs, but I'm lazy. Will this do? I have filled it."

Dora Beck held out an ordinary brown leather case, opening like a book; it was rimmed with silver, and had the initials "R.C." in silver on it. Beck smiled as he took it from her hands.

"You sly little thief!" he said. "You got that out of the old tin box of 'relics.' You're fishing for a story."

"Is there a story in that old cigar-case? It looks a commonplace old thing."

"Look at it carefully." He put it back into her hands. "Do you find any points about that cigar-case?"

Her bright eyes searched it as a bird searches the ground for a seed.

"The silver rim on the right-hand side is not riveted."

"Good for you! Anything else?"

"The leather is thicker on that side than on the other."

"Right again. Anything else?"

She did not answer in words, but she pushed back the unriveted rim and found, in the space between two thin sheets of leather, a folded paper.

"Don't!" said Beck, as she was about to pull it out. "It would spoil the whole story if you read that paper."

"Tell it, tell it!"

Mr. Beck gravely examined the case and selected and lit a cigar.

"The thing is out of place here, Dora," he said, glancing round the cosy room. "You see those stains on the leather? Turn it to the light. Those are stains of human blood. I picked up that case from the grass where a man lay dead, his face pock-marked with a charge of small shot."

His wife shuddered at this dismal exordium, but curiosity still held her.

"Murdered?" she whispered.

"Wait a bit and let me begin at the beginning. The beginning, so far as I was concerned, was at Colonel Everard's place, 'Ardmore,' in Cumberland, more than a dozen years ago. We were a shooting-party of five—the Colonel and his daughter Nina, Lord Duneven, Jack Lonsdale, and myself. Bob Coverly turned up a few days later.

"Luckily the shooting was good, the kind I like, for the company was not particularly sociable. There were no battues nor big drives, you understand, no sitting on a stool at the corner of a wood, waiting for the birds to come out and be shot. It was just an honest tramp over a wide, rough country, and an interesting mixed bag if you contrived hold your gun straight. I had most of the shooting from first. Lord Duneven and Jack Lonsdale were after other game, and were as jealous of each other as two untrained setters."

"Who were they?" asked Dora. "What were they like?"

"Well, Lonsdale was just a young squire from the neighbourhood. His lands ran with the Colonel's; we often crossed the boundary in our shoots. He was a fine, upstanding young fellow, not too clever, and had the reputation of being the best landlord in the country. Lord Duneven, as you know, or ought to know, was one of the richest peers in the realm. He had come in for the property quite unexpectedly by the sudden death of an uncle and two cousins. His name before that was Raymond Loward. He had been a captain in the Hussars, and had resigned his commission just before or just after he came into the peerage—people couldn't tell which, and his lordship didn't enlighten them. Now you know them both."

"Yes; but why were they jealous?"

"They were both head over ears in love with Miss Nina Everard."

"And you?" asked Dora with her hand on his arm.

"Oh, I hadn't a look in! The father wanted his lordship, and the girl wanted Jack Lonsdale, and I was left out in the cold. She just treated me as a sensible elder brother; it's a wicked way nice women had of treating me all their life."

"Except one."

"Except one. Before I was three days in the house Miss Nina told me of her grievances. 'I was as good as engaged to Mr. Lonsdale,' she said. 'He hadn't spoken and I hadn't spoken, but we both knew, before Dad got this foolish notion into his head. It is not so much the title Dad cares about, but the fact that Lord Duneven was in the army. Dad loves the army, and Jack hates it; soldiering is just murdering made easy, he says, and I agree with him. Dad never breathes a word to me about it; if he did it would be all right—if he were another kind of father who ordered and blustered I would know what to do.'

"She walked up and down the drawing-room where we were sitting—a dainty, fiery little Amazon in a trim, tailor-made frock. She was just spoiling for a fight.

"'But Dad has never asked me to do a thing I didn't like in all my life. He just looks, and I know what he wants and hate the thought of disappointing him. But he'll get out of it—don't you think so? He'll get out of it, Mr. Beck?'

"'Let us hope so.'

"'And you'll help me all you can? I'm sure you will!' I didn't know what she meant by that.

"That's the way things were when Bob Coverly turned up. It was Lord Duneven who introduced him—they had been in the same regiment, it seemed, and his father, old Colonel Coverly, had been a pal of our Colonel's, which made his welcome doubly warm. A bright-eyed, clever, harum-scarum young fellow he seemed, full of life and fun. Lord Duneven was particularly civil to him, but somehow I got the notion that he wasn't particularly fond of him all the same. Lonsdale hated him frankly from the first, but that wasn't surprising, for Coverly just as frankly fell in love with Miss Nina.

"He made the pace hot from the start, and shouldered Lord Duneven out of the way. I was surprised his Lordship let himself be shouldered so easily, while Lonsdale held his ground and glowered. Miss Nina played with them all three and enjoyed herself, I do believe, although she complained to me she was broken-hearted.

"Then, as will happen now and again, this light comedy ended in sudden tragedy.

"We had started out, all four, each carrying his own bag, for a long day's rough shooting, while Miss Nina, in spite of all entreaties, stayed at home to play tennis with her father, who was a fine performer for his age. Almost at the door I parted company with the other three, and went off in the opposite direction. They kept together for some little time and then separated, each choosing a beat of his own.

"It was so late in the evening when I got back to the house with a full bag that I had only just time to bath and dress before dinner. When I came down I found, to my surprise, that Coverly had not yet returned. Neither Duneven nor Lonsdale could give any account of him; neither had seen him after they parted company a mile or so from the house. After waiting for about half-an-hour we went to dinner without him. When we had finished he was still missing.

"The hours drifted slowly by; we were all vaguely uneasy, but Miss Nina was the most troubled of the party. Lonsdale, she told me, the day before had had a violent quarrel with Coverly for which she was responsible, and I fancy she instinctively connected the quarrel in some way with Coverly's mysterious disappearance. However, there was nothing to be done but wait, as a search was impossible; there was no moon, and the night was as black as pitch. It was not hard to find comforting theories to account for his absence.

"'He was always a wholly irresponsible person,' Duneven said; 'there is no knowing what he may he up to.

"Nina suggested that he might have hurt himself—sprained his ankle or something—and put up at some cottage. Neither the Colonel nor Lonsdale made any suggestions but both looked anxious.

"One little incident, though trifling in itself, is worth mentioning. As the men went out from the dining-room Lonsdale dropped his handkerchief. It was by the merest accident that I noticed it, for I was in front of him. But out of the corner of my eye I saw Duneven, who was behind him, pick it up and put it in his own pocket."

"Thought it was his own, I suppose," said Dora.

"Perhaps," said Beck, "perhaps not.

"Next morning we tried to pretend there was nothing to be frightened about. It was, perhaps, for this reason that we took our guns and a couple of dogs when we set out to hunt for Coverly, making believe to ourselves that we would shoot after we found him. But there was no disguising the fact that both Duneven and Lonsdale were far more jumpy than the night before. Duneven's clean-shaven handsome face was always pale; this morning it was almost ghastly. Lonsdale, too, was yellow under the tan, and his frank brown eyes had a hunted look in them. Though a big athletic chap, he walked as a rule as lightly as a deer; but this morning he lurched along like a ploughman stumbling over the rough ground.

"About a mile from the house a little black cocker put up a hare about fifty yards away, and Duneven fired the second the brown fur showed in front of the black head. The hare rolled over dead, but there was a dismal howl—a dismal, human, howl—from the cocker, as he fell kicking among the ferns.

"Lord Duneven, the cleanest and neatest shot I had ever met, had hit his own dog—the sportsman's one unpardonable crime! Here was a case of nerves and no mistake. Miss Nina cried out, and his lordship cursed, as, gun in hand, he ran to where the dog lay. For a moment he bent over him to examine the wound, then we heard the report of the second barrel; he had put the poor brute out of pain. I noticed that there were smears of blood on his lordship's fingers as he came back to us.

"Another mile or so of the open and we came to the woods, where we spread out like a fan, a hundred yards or so apart, and moved on more slowly, examining every foot of the ground as we went.

"I was on the extreme left and a hundred yards from Miss Nina, who was next in order. Birds got up all round us in the most tantalising fashion, woodcocks and pheasants. I could have knocked over half-a-dozen cock to my own gun, but after Duneven had killed the dog another shot was fired.

"Away about a quarter of a mile to my left, a tall, dead tree rose out of the close undergrowth, with white bare spikes of branches, and on the highest spike a big black lump of a raven was perched.

"There something sinister in pose of the heavy motionless brute of a bird that sent a shiver down my back. Without a word to the others I stole off quietly in the direction of the spinney. I guessed what I should find there, and I guessed right. The raven knew his business.

"Pushing my way through the close tangle of hazel and thorn bushes, I came to a little opening in the very thick of the spinney; there lay poor Coverly on his back, stone dead. It was a ghastly sight; the poor devil's face and eyes were pierced and ploughed with a full charge of shot.

"I suppose I should have shouted at once for the others, but I did nothing of the kind. I wanted a good look round first to find what things could tell me.

"Oh, I know that feeling!" said Dora. "One can't resist it."

"I didn't, anyway. The man, as I told you, lay flat on his back, the eyes wide open, and one arm doubled under his body.

"My first thought was that he must have shot himself by accident. His gun had been thrown from his hand a dozen feet away as he fell. I picked it up and found there was a cartridge in each barrel. Besides, if he had shot himself the charge would have gone through him like a bullet, but his whole face was riddled by the spread of the shot. I knew that the gun that had killed him had been fired a score of yards away, or more.

"'Accident?' I asked myself, and the answer came promptly.


"The dead man's pockets had been rifled hastily, recklessly—some of them had been actually turned inside out, but, strangest thing of all, nothing had been stolen. A diamond pin was safe in his tie, his watch hung by its chain from the button-hole of his waistcoat, his purse and cigar-case—this identical cigar-case—lay upon the grass. The watch was gold, the purse well filled. A little distance away was a green leather letter case, the lining slit open and torn to ribbons.

"Here was something at last. The murderer didn't want money; he wanted papers, and he failed to find them, for the tattered case told plainly the tale of his disappointment. A man would hardly have risked murder without a reasonable hope of finding what he wanted. Where were the papers? The answer was under my eyes. If they were anywhere they were in the cigar-case.

"When you found that paper this morning, Dora, you had nothing to go on. I guessed it was there, and in less than a minute it was in my hands. When I had read it, I knew, almost to a certainty, who had shot Bob Coverly and had afterwards rummaged in the dead man's pockets.

"At the last moment, just as I turned away to call the others, by merest accident I caught sight of a wounded woodcock a yard or two from the corpse, crouched close to the ground and almost invisible in a patch of withered ferns. The poor little devil was instinctively trying to save the few hours of agonized and hopeless life that was left in him. His wing and both his legs were broken; he must have lain just where he had fallen. But he told me one all important fact about the killing of Coverly.

"I put the bird out of pain and dropped him in the pocket of my shooting-coat, and, with the cigar-case and paper safe in another pocket, I broke my way out of the thicket.

"Outside, the ground sloped away to the horizon and I could see far over a lovely country sleeping peacefully in the flood of morning sunshine. Two of the party were rounding a wood's edge more than a quarter of a mile off. I waved my handkerchief over my head and shouted, and they started to run.

"The first up was Nina, pale and panting, with terror in her beautiful eyes.

"'What is it, Mr. Beck?' she gasped out. 'Have you found him? Oh, I'm sure you've found him and he is dead!' At the last words her voice sank into a moan. 'He is dead!' She would have gone past me into the wood, but I stopped her.

"'No, no, you mustn't pass! It's an ugly sight for a woman's eyes. Yes, the poor fellow is dead.'

"The girl was trembling all over, and I thought for a moment she was about to faint, but she pulled herself together, biting her underlip till the blood came.

"'Oh, I don't want to see him!' she wailed. 'I couldn't bear to see him. I'm so sorry. It was all my fault.'

"She stumbled away a few paces from the thicket and sat down on a green hummock as the others came running up—Lonsdale first, Lord Duneven and Colonel Everard close behind.

"When they looked in my eyes they did not need to be told what I had found. Silently they followed me through the brambles and silently looked on the hideously disfigured face of the dead man. The quivering branches shook a shower of golden sunshine over the moss and ferns of the little glade; in a tree close by a robin piped melodiously. The dead man lay there, a ghastly blot on the beauty of the scene.

"'Murdered,' said Colonel Everard, pointing to the purse and watch and rifled pocket.

"'No, no!' protested Lonsdale. 'Don't say that, Colonel.'

"Lord Duneven was silent, but his eyes were full of horror.

"The first to get back his composure was the Colonel; he had looked on many a dead man in his day. Very gravely and tenderly he covered the poor, battered face with his handkerchief and turned to me.

"'Beck,' he said, 'what should we do about this? You should know what is right. I put myself entirely in your hands.'

"'The first thing is to get Miss Everard home; she has utterly broken down. No,' I said as Lonsdale moved in her direction, 'not you; her father is best. You will come back for us with the motor, Colonel. There is a road a few hundred yards from here. We must get the body quietly to the house as soon as we can.'

"For nearly an hour we waited for his coming on the green slope outside the thicket in the pure air and sunshine, our minds dark with the horror close at hand. During that long wait not ten words were spoken. Duneven took a cigar from his case and smoked moodily; Lonsdale walked to and fro, his hands deep in his pockets, his eyes on the ground. 'You don't really think it was murder, Beck?' he said at last.

"I was glad that the hum of the motor relieved me from the necessity of replying.

"'Here they come!' I cried, starting to my feet. 'Let us carry him out to the road to meet them.'

"We got poor Coverly safely upstairs to his own room without anyone seeing him except the butler, whom Colonel Everard had bound to silence. Five minutes later I had a terrible interview with Miss Nina, who sent her maid to say she must see me at once. She was waiting for me in her boudoir, and the moment I came in she locked the door but left the key in the lock. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were shining, her whole body trembling; it was plain she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"'You won't give him away?' she broke out hysterically.

"'Give whom away?'

"'Oh, you know—you know! Mr. Lonsdale. Don't look at me like that! I know it was my fault—I drove him wild! I'm the most miserable girl alive; I never want to see his face again! But you will save him, Mr. Beck? Promise me that you will save him?'

"'Do you think that Lonsdale shot poor Coverly?' I began.

"'No, I don't, I don't!' she cried. 'How dare you suggest such a thing? I don't know what I am saying. He is innocent, of course, quite innocent—he could never be so cruel, and you will get him off, won't you? All my hope is in you!'

"From the bottom of my heart I pitied her, but I did not tell her what I knew.

"'I have promised your father,' I said, 'that I will find the guilty man if I can. If Lonsdale is innocent he is in no danger.'

"'Oh, he is innocent, he is innocent!' she protested, and flung herself on a couch sobbing as if her heart would break. I did not answer, but turned the key in the door and crept quietly away.

"The three men were in the room where the corpse lay, Colonel Everard close to the bed, Lonsdale and Lord Duneven standing a little apart and now and again glancing furtively at each other. Already they must have felt that the dark shadow of suspicion rested on both. They had gone out that day with guns in their hands; so far as was known no one else carried a gun in that neighbourhood; they had parted from Coverly not far from where the body was found. It seemed almost that one of the two had shot him. If one was to be cleared, the other was to be convicted. No wonder they stood apart and scowled at each other.

"I guessed that the same thought was in the Colonel's mind, and that already his suspicion pointed to Lonsdale. Coverly was Duneven's friend; he had brought him to the place; he had gone out of his way to be extra civil to him since he came. Lonsdale and Coverly had been constantly bickering.

"But if the suspicion was in the Colonel's mind it found no vent in his voice or manner as he turned to me when I came into the room after my painful interview with his daughter.

"'Beck,' he said, 'this business is entirely in your hands. What do you propose we should do?'

"'Could you keep the police off for a few days? I think I see my way plain enough now.'

"'My God, man, what do you mean by that?'

"'That I know who fired the shot that killed poor Coverly, and I want a couple of days to prove it.'

"'There is no shirking the fact,' broke in Lord Duneven brusquely, almost rudely, 'that Lonsdale and I are both under suspicion. I am anxious to facilitate Beck's investigation in every way I can; I am sure Lonsdale will say the same.' I thought there was a hint of a sneer in the last few words. 'Do you want to search me, Mr. Beck, or my room?'

"'For form's sake, it might be as well.'

"He turned his pockets inside out as Coverly's had been turned. Of course I found nothing compromising in them. But on the right sleeve of his coat, an inch or two from the cuff, there was a large, brown stain about the size of a half-crown, unmistakably blood. On the left were two smaller stains.

"'Oh, I noticed that!' he said carelessly. 'I must have got them when I shot that poor wretch of a dog this morning. You remember?'

"'Yes, I remember.'

"Lonsdale submitted to be searched with a very bad grace; he seemed much less comfortable under examination than Lord Duneven; but there was no sign of blood on him anywhere.

"'You would like to search my room?' said Lord Duneven as lightly and pleasantly as he might have said 'Have a cigar!' There wasn't a trace of offence in his voice. Lonsdale said nothing. The Colonel, who was standing next the door, opened it, and we all came out on the landing.

"I had just a glimpse—I don't think any of the others saw it—of poor little Nina's pale frightened face at the half-opened door in the corridor above, but it popped back instantly, as I have seen a little white rabbit pop back into its burrow.

"The two bedrooms were together on the same floor, and I took Duneven's first, as the suggestion had come from him. But it was a make-believe business altogether. I expected to find nothing in the least suspicious in Duneven's room, and I found nothing. He was something of a fop, that's what the room told me, with gold-backed hairbrushes, a voluminous wardrobe, and a vast amount of tasteful and costly jewellery. But it told me no more. All the same, I made an exhaustive search, for I wanted the excuse to do the same thing in Lonsdale's room, where I did expect to find something incriminating."

"Why, I thought——" broke in Dora, in a tone of great surprise.

"You thought that Lonsdale was innocent," concluded Mr. Beck. "That shows the danger of jumping to rash conclusions, my dear."

Dora regarded him curiously for a moment, but she said nothing.

"Lonsdale's room was not so tidy nor so luxurious as Duneven's; for one thing he had not brought his own man with him. He sat silent on the bed while I searched and Duneven stood at the door vainly trying to look unconcerned. The Colonel watched with undisguised eagerness.

"I was searching in earnest this time, though I did not anticipate much trouble in finding what I wanted to find. There was a symmetrical row of boots under the dressing-table, and near the centre one of the dress shoes was out of its place, as if it had been taken up and put down hastily. I picked it up and examined it. Yes, I had hit the bull's-eye first shot. Packed tight into the toe of the shoe was a white handkerchief. I drew it out and shook it open, and showed it all smeared with blood.

"You can fancy, Dora, with what a shock this startling discovery came to the three men in the room. Lonsdale jumped from the bed trembling with rage or fear; it was hard to tell which.

"'It's a damned trick!' he shouted. 'I never put it there. It's the cursed hanky-panky of someone!" He glanced furiously from me to Duneven. 'If you think for a moment——'

"Here Colonel Everard interposed quietly. He was very pale and stern, and I knew from his face that he had no longer the smallest doubt of Lonsdale's guilt.

"'Beck,' he said, 'isn't it usual to give some caution in these cases? I think Mr. Lonsdale ought in fairness to be cautioned.'

"'I don't care a curse about your cautions,' persisted Lonsdale; 'why should I? I'm innocent. It was the murderer, whoever he was, who stuffed the handkerchief into my shoe.' This time he looked straight at Duneven, who met his eyes defiantly.

"'We had better send for the police,' said Colonel Everard.

"'One moment, sir,' I interposed; 'you promised to leave this matter in my hands. There is no danger that Lonsdale will try to escape.'

"'Why should I try to escape,' he growled, 'when I am innocent?' He sat down on the bed again and folded his arms tightly across his broad chest. He had got his temper under control.

"'It would be utter madness on his part,' I agreed, 'and there is one thing I would like to be quite sure of before the police are called in—that the stains on the handkerchief are human blood.'

"'But I thought——' broke out Duneven and the Colonel together. Duneven pulled himself up sharply, and the Colonel finished the sentence. 'I thought no one could tell.'

"'They couldn't at one time, Colonel, but they can now; quite lately an infallible test has been discovered. They can tell the particular blood of every animal; they can tell human blood from any animal's except an ape's, which is a score for Darwin. The test is an easy one; anyone can apply it.'

"'Can you?'

"'Why certainly! I have applied it half-a-dozen times. I have only to wire to London to my friend Professor McTeeny to send me on in sealed bottles some of the serum of a man's blood. He keeps it on tap in his laboratory, and I shall be able to determine the bloodstains on the handkerchief and the stains on Duneven's coat. In fairness to Lonsdale we must not forget that.'

"'But you have no doubt in your mind?' the Colonel asked in an undertone.

"'Not the faintest doubt, since I found the handkerchief; that was final. All the same I want proof, and by to-morrow I hope to have proof that will make denial impossible.'

"'I don't care what proof you get,' said Lonsdale doggedly; 'I don't care what blood it is, you'll get no confession from me.'

"My wire to McTeeny was sent at once. You must have heard of McTeeny, Dora; everyone has heard of him—the best man at microscope or microbes in the three kingdoms.

"While I waited for the serum I coaxed the blood out of the handkerchief and out of the coat-sleeve with a little salt and water, and put the red fluid into two small bottles, ready for the test when the post came next day. McTeeny didn't disappoint me; two small bottles arrived neatly packed with two small test tubes ready for immediate use.

"We agreed that the test should take place in the Colonel's study, and Nina insisted on being present with the others. A change had come over her—a great change—and I felt certain that she had had a word in private with Lonsdale and had accepted his assurance of innocence. She was still very pale, but she no longer trembled and her face was full of courage. She stood beside the table facing Lonsdale, and I saw every now and again that as their eyes met she smiled reassuringly. She at least had full faith in him. Her father, too, saw this; there was a pained look on his face, but he did not interfere. He was waiting for the proofs.

"Like a chemical lecturer, I stood at the head of the table with my four little glass bottles and my two test tubes. I was anxious that everyone should understand the experiment for themselves.

"'This,' I said, holding up a little bottle in each hand, 'is the serum of human blood, and this of dog's; the man's is in my right hand, the dog's in my left. In those two other bottles I have the blood I got from Lord Duneven's coat-sleeve and from Lonsdale's handkerchief.

"Then I poured the serum into the test tubes that stood before me on the table and held them up in my hands.

"'Now,' I went on, 'I will add a drop or two of the blood to each. The blood from the coat-sleeve I will put into the human serum, and the blood from the handkerchief into the dog's. Let me tell you beforehand what will happen. If the blood is not from the same animal as the serum it will colour the mixture red; if it is the same, it will sink to the bottom in a dark powder, leaving the mixture clear. You understand, Colonel? The sleeve stain goes into the human serum, and the handkerchief into the dog's.'

"'It is perfectly plain,' said the Colonel.

"I let a drop or two of the red liquid fall from the two bottles into the test tubes.

"'We must wait for about half-an-hour,' I said, 'for the result.'

"There was dead silence in the room. All eyes were fixed on the two test tubes and the muddy liquid in them. I had a good look at the faces as I waited. Lonsdale had got close to Nina on the same side of the table, and I guessed that their hands were clasped. There was no fear in his face as his eyes met hers. If the man were guilty he carried it off superbly.

"Nearer to the tubes Duneven sat, and on his face there was a look of intelligent, half-amused curiosity, as at some interesting performance. But the Colonel's face was grim as death; he looked as a judge looks when he puts the black cap on. In his mind there was no shadow of doubt.

"Slowly, slowly, the minutes went by. Twenty minutes passed without a change, then gradually, so gradually that the eye could not follow the process, the liquid in both tubes began simultaneously to clear.

"Again I looked at the Colonel, and saw doubt and wonder in his eyes. Lonsdale did not at first appear to realise the full import of what was happening, so absorbed was he in the girl at his side. Duneven still affected the same attitude of amused curiosity, but I could see that his lips were quivering.

"As the minutes went by, in each tube dark dust slipped slowly down to the bottom of the glass, leaving the upper surface absolutely clear.

"'Is it quite certain,' the Colonel asked under his breath, 'there can be no mistake?'

"'As certain,' I said, 'as the sun is shining through that window. It proves conclusively that the blood on the handkerchief was a dog's and the blood on the coat sleeve was a man's—the blood of Coverly, whom Lord Duneven shot in the thicket.'

"'It's a lie,' broke out Lord Duneven furiously, 'a palpable, preposterous lie! You want to get Lonsdale off. Why should I shoot poor Coverly? He was my friend. Everyone knows he was my friend. What do I care for your conjuring tricks with bottles and glasses? The thing is a lie on the face of it.'

"'Easy a bit,' I said gently. 'I saw you pick up Lonsdale's handkerchief when he dropped it last night—the same handkerchief that I found afterwards in his shoe stained with dog's blood. It was a neat trick of yours to shoot the dog to account for the blood stains on your coat-sleeve and at the same time to pass suspicion on to Lonsdale.'

"'Why should I do it?' he persisted. 'Men do not commit murder with no motive.'

"'Are you sure there was no motive? When you shot Coverly, when you turned his pockets inside out, when you ripped up his pocket-book, why didn't you search his cigar-case? The paper was there.'

"Never had words a more startling effect. His raised hand fell to his side, his mouth dropped half-open, and he stared at me with terror in his eyes.

"'I found this paper in a secret pocket in Coverly's cigar-case,' I said briskly, and handed it to the Colonel. 'You might read it aloud, Colonel.'

"It was the Colonel's turn to stare. He looked as if he could scarcely believe his eyes, but he pulled himself together and read:

"'In the presence of Colonel Coverly and my brother officers I hereby acknowledge that I have been found cheating at cards. I pledge myself for the future to play no game of chance or skill for any stakes, great or small, and I will forthwith resign my commission as captain.

"'This confession is to be retained in the hands of Colonel Coverly as a guarantee that I will fulfil my pledge.'

"The confession was signed by Raymond Loward and countersigned as witnesses by Colonel Coverly and Major Lobdil.

"'The rest is not hard to guess,' I said, when Everard had done reading. 'On the death of Colonel Coverly the paper must somehow have fallen into the hands of his son, and the young scamp blackmailed Duneven.'

"'He made my life a burden,' groaned Duneven, 'but I didn't murder him. I confess I searched for the paper when he was dead—why shouldn't I? But I didn't shoot him on purpose. You won't believe me, of course—no one will believe me—but I won't give the hangman a chance.'

"He whipped a pistol out of his breast-pocket and turned it to his forehead. I was only just in time to grip his wrist with my left hand and wrench the weapon from him with my right.

"'Drop it, you fool!' I shouted, though the pistol was in my own hand at the moment. 'Of course I believe you! I know it was an accident. A yard from the corpse I found the woodcock you killed with the same shot that you killed Coverly with. You did a meaner thing than murder when you tried to shift the guilt on Lonsdale, but you are not a murderer.'

"The reaction from utter despair broke him down completely. He dropped limp and helpless into a big chair and sobbed with short, harsh gasps.

"But there was no pity nor relenting in the face of Colonel Everard. In his heart I am sure the old gentleman considered cheating at cards a worse offence than murder, and the trick with the handkerchief was the limit. He glanced across the room, where his daughter had come boldly close up to Lonsdale, and smiled a blessing on them.

"'What are we to do next?' he asked, after a pause.

"'Have an inquest, sir,' I said, 'to-morrow, if possible; the sooner we get it over and done with the better. I don't suppose you want any scandal about this business, nor more newspaper talk than can be helped. The law has no hold on Duneven; it was a pure accident that he shot Coverly when he fired at the woodcock. That's as clear as daylight. He has only to tell the coroner and jury the truth. I don't suppose he'll want to say anything about the dead man's pockets, and I don't see why any of us should; it would only confuse things. The whole business should be over in twenty minutes after the swearing-in of the jury and the inspection of the body.'

"I was a true prophet. The inquest was over in less than twenty minutes. The jury found a verdict of death by accident, with condolence for Lord Duneven, who, the papers said, 'seemed to be greatly overcome while giving his evidence of the unfortunate occurrence.'

"I never saw Lord Duneven again; he was killed a few months later in a railway accident. But I shot two years later over Colonel Everard's preserves with Jack Lonsdale. The Colonel declared that the work was too rough for an old grandfather, and he stayed at home to beat his young married daughter at tennis."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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