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Title: Crime and Mr. Campion

Date of first publication: 1937

Author: Margery Allingham (1904-1966)

Date first posted: Sep. 28, 2018

Date last updated: Sep. 28, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180948

This ebook was produced by: Al Haines, Jen Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Margery Allingham





Doubleday & Company, Inc.


All of the characters in this book are fictitious,

and any resemblance to actual persons,

living or dead,

is purely coincidental.

Copyright 1934, 1936, 1937 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.

All Rights Reserved

Printed in the United States of America

Death of a Ghost







To H. J. Allingham This Book Is Respectfully Dedicated

by His Industrious Apprentice

LAFCADIO, John Sebastian, R.A., b. 1845, d. 1912. Painter. Entered studio of William Pakenham, R.A., 1861. Lived in Italy, 1865-1878. First exhibited Royal Academy, 1871; A.R.A., 1881; R.A., 1900; m. 1880, Arabella Theodora, d. of Sir J. and Lady Reid of Wendon Parva, Sussex. One son, John Sebastian, b. 1890. Killed in action, 1916. Best known works include: “The Girl at the Pool” (Nat. Gallery), “Group in Sunlight” (Tate), “Belle Darling” (Louvre), “Portraits of Three Young Men” (Boston), “Meeting of the Magi” and “Satirical Portrait” (Yokohama), etc., etc., also Loan Collection of forty works destroyed in Moscow, 1918. Cf. The Life and Work of Lafcadio, Vols. 1, 2, & 3, Max Fustian; The Victorian Iconoclast, Mrs. Betsy Fragonard; The Moscow Tragedy, Max Fustian; Lafcadio the Man, Max Fustian; Biographie d’un maître de peinture à l’huile, Ulysses Lafourchardière; Weitere Bemerkungen zur Wahl der Bilder von John Lafcadio, Gunther Wagner.

—Weber’s Who’s Who in Art


LAFCADIO, J., see Charles Tanqueray, Letters to (Phelps, 15/-)

—Dent’s Dictionary of Authors


“LAFCADIO, . . . the man who saw himself the first painter in Europe and whom we who are left recognize as the last.”

—K.J.R. in The Times, April 16, 1912

1  :  Interior with Figures

There are, fortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.

The assassination of another by any person of reasonable caution must, in a civilized world, tend to be a private affair.

Perhaps it is this particular which accounts for the remarkable public interest in the details of even the most sordid and unintellectual examples of this crime, suggesting that it is the secret rather than the deed which constitutes the appeal.

If only in view of the extreme rarity of the experience, therefore, it seems a pity that Brigadier General Sir Walter Fyvie, a brilliant raconteur and a man who would have genuinely appreciated so odd a distinction, should have left the reception at Little Venice at twenty minutes past six, passing his old acquaintance Bernard, bishop of Mould, in the doorway, and thus missing the extraordinary murder which took place there by a little under seven minutes.

As the general afterwards pointed out, it was all the more irritating since the bishop, a specialist upon the more subtle varieties of sin, did not appreciate his fortune in the least.

At twenty minutes past six on the preceding day, that is to say exactly twenty-four hours before the general passed the bishop in the doorway, the lights in the drawing room on the first floor of Little Venice were up and Belle herself (the original “Belle Darling” of the picture in the Louvre) was seated by the fire talking to her old friend Mr. Campion, who had come to tea.

The house of a famous man who has been dead for any length of time, if it is still preserved in the condition in which he left it, is almost certain to have a museum-like quality if it has not achieved the withered wreaths and ragged garlands of a deserted shrine. It is perhaps the principal key to Belle’s character that Little Venice in 1930 was as much John Lafcadio’s home as if he were still down in the studio in the garden fighting and swearing and sweating over his pigments until he had thrashed them into another of his tempestuous pictures, which had so fascinated and annoyed his gentle and gentlemanly contemporaries.

If Belle Lafcadio was no longer the Belle of the pictures, she was still Belle Darling. She had, so she said, never had the disadvantage of being beautiful, and now, at two months off seventy, ample, creased, and startlingly reminiscent of Rembrandt’s portrait of his mother, she had the bright quick smile and the vivacity of one who never has been anything but at her best.

At the moment she was wearing one of those crisp white muslin bonnets in which Normandy peasants delighted until fifty years ago. She wore it with the assurance that it was unfashionable, unconventional, and devastatingly becoming. Her black gown was finished with a little white filet round the neck, and her slippers were adorned with shameless marquisite buckles.

The room in which she sat had the same lack of conformity to any period or scheme. It was a personal room, quite evidently a part of someone’s home, a place of strange curios but comfortable chairs.

L-shaped, it took up the entire first floor of the old house on the canal, and although nothing in it had been renewed since the war, it had escaped the elegant banalities of Morris and the horrors of the Edwardian convention. It was Belle’s boast that she and Johnnie had never bought anything unless they had liked it, with the result that the deep Venetian red damask curtains, although faded, were still lovely, the Persian carpet had worn silky, and the immense overmantel which took up all one narrow end of the room and which was part of a reredos from a Flemish church had grown mellow and at one with the buff walls, as things do when accustomed to living together.

What was odd was that the sketch of Réjane by Fantin-Latour, the casual plaster study of a foot by Rodin and the stuffed polar bear presented to Lafcadio by Jensen after the 1894 portrait should also live together in equal harmony, or for that matter the hundred and one other curios with which the room was littered: yet they did, and the effect was satisfying and curiously exciting.

Mrs. Lafcadio’s visitor sat opposite her, an unexpected person to find in such a room or in such company. He was a lank, pale-faced young man with sleek fair hair and horn-rimmed spectacles. His lounge suit was a little masterpiece, and the general impression one received of him was that he was well bred and a trifle absent-minded. He sat blinking at his hostess, his elbows resting upon the arms of his chair and his long hands folded in his lap.

The two were friends of long standing, and the conversation had waned into silence for some moments when Belle looked up.

“Well,” she said with the chuckle which had been famous in the ’nineties, “here we are, my dear, two celebrities. Isn’t it fun?”

He glanced at her. “I’m no celebrity,” he protested fervently. “Heaven forbid. I leave that to disgraceful old ladies who enjoy it.”

Mrs. Lafcadio’s brown eyes, whose irises were beginning to fade a little, smiled at some huge inward joke.

“Johnnie loved it,” she said. “At the time of Gladstone’s unpopularity after the Gordon business Johnnie was approached to make a portrait of him. He refused the commission, and he wrote to Salmon, his agent: ‘I see no reason to save Mr. Gladstone’s face for posterity.’ ”

Campion eyed her contemplatively. “There’s always a new Lafcadio story about this time of year,” he said. “Do you invent them?”

The old lady looked demurely at the handkerchief in her hand.

“No,” she said. “But I sometimes improve on them—just a little.” She became suddenly alert. “Albert,” she said, “you haven’t come here on business, have you? You don’t think someone’s going to steal the picture?”

“I sincerely hope not,” he said in some alarm. “Unless, of course, that supersalesman Max is planning a sensation.”

“Max!” said Mrs. Lafcadio and laughed. “Oh, my dear, I’ve had a sweet thought about him. His first book about Johnnie, which came out after the Loan Collection in Moscow was lost, was called The Art of John Lafcadio, ‘by one who knew him.’ His eighth book on Johnnie came out yesterday. It’s called Max Fustian Looks at Art—‘a critical survey of the works of John Lafcadio by Europe’s foremost critic.’ ”

“Do you mind?” said Mr. Campion.

“Mind? Of course not. Johnnie would have loved it. It would have struck him as being so funny. Besides, think of the compliment. Max made himself quite famous by just writing about Johnnie. I’m quite famous, just being Johnnie’s wife. Poor dear Beatrice considers herself famous just being Johnnie’s ‘Inspiration,’ and my blessed Lisa, who cares less about it than any of us, really is famous as Clytemnestra and the Girl at the Pool.” She sighed. “I think that probably pleases Johnnie more than anything.” She looked at her visitor with a half-apologetic grimace. “I always feel he’s watching us from somewhere, you know.”

Mr. Campion nodded gravely. “He had the quality of fame about him,” he said. “It’s amazing how persistent it is. If I may say so, regarded from the vulgar standpoint of publicity, this remarkable will of his was a stroke of genius. I mean, what other artist in the world ever produced twelve new pictures ten years after his death and persuaded half London to come and see them one after the other for twelve years?”

Belle considered his remark gravely. “I suppose it was,” she agreed. “But you know, really, Johnnie didn’t think of it that way. I’m perfectly certain his one idea was to fire a Parthian shot at poor Charles Tanqueray. In a way,” she went on, “it was a sort of bet. Johnnie believed in his work, and he guessed that it would boom just after his death and then go completely out of favour—as of course it did. But he realized that as it was really good it would be bound to be recognized again eventually, and he guessed that ten years was about the time public opinion would take.”

“It was a wonderful idea,” the young man repeated.

“It wasn’t in his will, you know,” said the old woman. “It was a letter. Didn’t you ever see it? I’ve got it here in the desk.”

She rose with surprising agility and hurried across the room to a big serpentine escritoire, and, after pulling out one untidy drawer after another, finally produced an envelope which she carried back in triumph to the fireplace. Mr. Campion took the curio reverently and spread out a sheet of flimsy paper scribbled over in Lafcadio’s beautiful hand.

The old lady stood beside him and peered over his shoulder. “He wrote it some time before he died,” she said. “He was always writing letters. Read it aloud. It makes me laugh.”

Belle darling,” read Mr. Campion. “When you return a sorrowing widow from the Abbey, where ten thousand cretins will (I hope) be lamenting over some marble Valentine inscribed to their hero (don’t let old Ffolliot do it—I will not be commemorated by nigger-bellied putti or unibreasted angels)—when you return, I want you to read this and help me once again as you have ever done. The oaf Tanqueray, to whom I have just been talking, is, I discover, looking forward to my death—he has the advantage of me by ten years—to bask in a clear field, to vaunt his execrable taste and milk-pudding mind unhampered by comparison with me. Not that the man can’t paint; we Academicians are as good as beach photographers any day of the week. It’s the mind of the man, with his train of long-drawered village children, humanized dogs, and sailors lost at sea, that I deplore. I’ve told him that I’ll outlive him if I have to die to do it, and it has occurred to me that there is a way of making him see the point of my remark for once.

In the cellar I shall leave twelve canvases, boxed and sealed. In with them is a letter to old Salmon, with full particulars. You are not to let them out of your hands for five years after the date of my death. Then I want them sent to Salmon as they are. He will unpack them and frame them. One at a time. They are all numbered. And on Show Sunday in the eleventh year after my death I want you to open up the studio, send round invitations as usual, and show the first picture. And so on for twelve years. Salmon will do all the dirty work, i.e., selling, etc. My stuff will probably have gained in value by that time, so you’ll get the crowd out of mere curiosity. (Should I be forgotten, my dear, have the shows for my sake and attend them yourself.)

In any case old Tanqueray will have an extra twenty-two years of me hanging over his head, and if he outlives that, good luck to him.

Many people will try to persuade you to open the packages before the date appointed, urging that I was not of sound mind when I wrote this letter. You, who know that I have never been of sound mind in the accepted sense of the term, will know how to treat any such suggestion.

All my love, my dear. If you see a strange old lady not at all unlike the late Queen, God bless her, mingling with the guests on the first of these occasions—it will be my ghost in disguise. Treat it with the respect it will deserve.

Your husband, Madame,

John Lafcadio.

“(Probably the greatest painter since Rembrandt.)”

Mr. Campion refolded the letter. “Did you really see this for the first time when you returned from his funeral?” he demanded.

“Oh, dear me, no,” said Mrs. Lafcadio, tucking the envelope back into the drawer. “I helped him write it. We sat up one night after Charles Tanqueray and the Meynells had been to dinner. He did all the rest, though. I mean, I never saw the pictures packed, and this letter was sent to me from the bank with the rest of his papers.”

“And this is the eighth year a picture has been shown,” said Mr. Campion.

She nodded, and for the first time a hint of sadness came into her faded brown eyes. “Yes,” she said. “And of course there were many things we couldn’t foresee. Poor old Salmon died within three years of Johnnie, and some time later Max took over the Bond Street business from his executors. And as for Tanqueray, he barely lasted eighteen months longer than Johnnie.”

Mr. Campion looked curious. “What sort of man was Tanqueray?” he said.

Mrs. Lafcadio wrinkled her nose. “A clever man,” she said. “And his work sold more than anyone else’s in the ’nineties. But he had no sense of humour at all. A literal-minded person and distressingly sentimental about children. I often think that Johnnie’s work was unspoilt by the conventions of the period largely because he had a wholly unwarrantable dislike of children. Would you like to come down and see the picture? All’s ready for the great day tomorrow.”

Mr. Campion rose to his feet.

As she tucked her arm through his and they descended the staircase she looked up at him with a delightfully confidential smile.

“It’s like the mantelpiece in the Andersen story, isn’t it?” she whispered. “We are the china figures. We come alive on one evening of the year. Tomorrow afternoon we shall retaste our former glory. I shall be the hostess, Donna Beatrice will supply the decorative note, and Lisa will wander about looking miserable, as she always did, poor creature. And then the guests will go, the picture will be sold—Liverpool Art Gallery this time, perhaps, my dear—and we shall all go to sleep again for another year.”

She sighed and stepped down onto the tiled floor of the hall a little wearily.

From where they stood they could see the half-glass door to the garden, in which stood the great studio which John Lafcadio had built in ’eighty-eight.

The door was open, and the famous view of the “master’s chair,” which was said to be visible to the incoming guest once he stepped inside the front door of the house, was very clear.

Belle raised her eyebrows. “A light?” she said, and added immediately, “Oh, of course, that’s Tennyson Potter. You know him, don’t you?”

Mr. Campion hesitated. “I’ve heard of him, and I’ve seen him at past private views, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually met him,” he said.

“Oh, well, then—” She drew him aside as she spoke, and lowered her voice although there was not the remotest chance of her being overheard. “My dear, he’s difficult. He lives in the garden with his wife—such a sweet little soul. I mean, Johnnie told them they could build a studio in the garden years ago when we first came here—he was sorry for the man—and so they did. Build a studio, I mean, and they’ve been here ever since. He’s an artist; an engraver on red sandstone. He invented the process, and of course it never caught on—the coarse-screen block is so like it—and it blighted the poor man’s life.” She paused for breath and then rushed on again in her soft voice, which had never lost the excited tone of youth. “He’s having a little show of his engravings, as he calls them—they’re really lithographs—in a corner of the studio as usual. Max is angry about it, but Johnnie always let him have that show when an opportunity occurred, and so I’ve put my foot down.”

“I can’t imagine it,” said her escort.

A gleam came into Mrs. Lafcadio’s eyes. “Oh, but I have,” she said. “I told Max not to be greedy and to behave as though he was properly brought up. He needs his knuckles rapped occasionally.”

Campion laughed. “What did he do? Hurl himself at your feet in an agony of passionate self-reproach?”

Mrs. Lafcadio smiled with a touch of the most innocent malice in the world.

Isn’t he affected?” she said. “I’m afraid Johnnie would have made his life unbearable for him. He reminds me of my good grandmother: so covered with frills and furbelows that there’s no way of telling where they leave off. As a child I wondered if they ever did, or if she was just purple bombazine all the way through. Well, here we are. It’s a darling studio, isn’t it?”

They had crossed the narrow draughty strip of covered way between the garden door of the house and the studio, and now entered the huge outside room in which John Lafcadio had worked and still entertained. Like most buildings of its kind it was an unprepossessing structure from the outside, being largely composed of corrugated iron, but inside it still reflected a great deal of the magnificent personality of its owner.

It was a huge airy place with a polished wood floor, a glass roof, and two enormous fireplaces, one at either end. It was also bounded on the northern side by a low balcony, filled in below with cupboards composed of linenfold panelling rescued from a reconstructed farmhouse in the ’nineties. Above the balcony were five long windows, each about twelve feet high, through which was a magnificent view of the Regent’s Canal. Behind the fireplace nearest the door was a models’ room and lavatory, approached by a small archway at the extreme western corner below the balcony.

The skeleton of the room, which is always in evidence in a building of the kind, was far more massive than is usual and effectually removed the temporary air of church hall or army hut.

At the moment when Belle and Campion entered, only one of the big hanging electric lamps was lit, so that the corners of the room were in shadow. There was no fire in the grate opposite the door, but the big old-fashioned stove in the other fireplace at the near end of the room was going, and the place was warm and comforting after the chilly garden.

Out of the shadows the famous portrait of Lafcadio by Sargent loomed from its place of honour over the carved mantel. Of heroic size, it had all the force, truth, and dignity of the painter’s best work, but there was an unexpected element of swashbuckling which took the spectator some time to realize as a peculiarity of the sitter rather than of the artist. In his portrait John Lafcadio appeared a personage. Here was no paint-ennobled nonentity; rather the captured distinction of a man great in his time.

It is undeniably true, as many critics have pointed out, that he looked like a big brother of the Laughing Cavalier, even to the swagger. He was fifty when the portrait was painted, but there was very little grey in the dark red hair which galloped back from his forehead, and the contours of his face were youthful. He was smiling, his lips drawn back over very white teeth, and his moustache was the moustache of the Cavalier. His studio coat of white linen was unbuttoned and hung in a careless bravura of folds, and his quick dark eyes, although laughing, were arrogant. The picture has of course become almost hackneyed, and to describe it further would be superfluous.

Belle kissed her hand to it. She always did so, and her friends and acquaintances put the gesture down to affectation, sentimentality, or sweet wifely affection according to their several temperaments.

The picture of the moment, however, stood on an easel on the left of the fireplace, covered by a shawl.

Mr. Campion had taken in all this before he realized that they were not alone in the room. Over in the far corner by the stove a tall thin figure in shirtsleeves was hovering before a dozen or so whitewood frames arranged on a curtain hung over the panelling of the balcony cupboards.

He turned as Mr. Campion glanced at him, and the young man caught a glimpse of a thin red melancholy face whose wet pale eyes were set too close together above the pinched bridge of an enormous nose.

“Mr. Potter,” said Belle, “here’s Mr. Campion. You two know each other, don’t you? I’ve brought him down to see the picture.”

Mr. Potter put a thin cold hand in Mr. Campion’s. “It’s very fine this year—very fine,” he said, revealing a hollow voice of unutterable sadness, “and yet—I don’t know: ‘fine,’ perhaps, is hardly the word. ‘Strong,’ perhaps; ‘dominating’; ‘significant.’ I don’t know—quite. ‘Fine,’ I think. Art’s a hard master. I’ve been all the last week arranging my little things. It’s very difficult. One thing kills another, you know.” He sent a despairing glance into the corner whence he had come.

Belle coughed softly. “This is the Mr. Campion, you know, Mr. Potter,” she said.

The man looked up, and his eyes livened for an instant. “Not the—Oh, really? Indeed?” he said and shook hands again. His interest faded immediately, however, and once more he glanced in misery towards the corner.

Campion heard the ghost of a sigh at his elbow, and Belle spoke.

“You must show your prints to Mr. Campion,” she said. “He’s a privileged visitor, and we must take him behind the scenes.”

“Oh, they’re nothing, absolutely nothing,” said Mr. Potter, in agony; but he turned quite brightly and led them over to his work.

At first sight of the array Mr. Campion began to share Mr. Potter’s depression.

Red sandstone does not lend itself to lithography, and it seemed unfortunate that Mr. Potter, who evidently experienced great difficulty in drawing upon anything, should have chosen so unsympathetic a medium. There was, too, a distressing sameness about the prints, most of which appeared to be rather inaccurate and indefinite botanical studies.

Mr. Potter pointed out one small picture depicting a bowl of narcissi and an inverted wineglass.

“The Duke of Caith bought a copy of that, once,” he said. “It was the second year we started this posthumous-show idea of Lafcadio’s. That was 1923. It’s now 1930: it must be seven years ago. That one has never gone again. I’ve put in a copy every year since. The picture business is very bad.”

“It’s an interesting medium,” said Mr. Campion, feeling he was called upon to say something.

“I like it,” said Mr. Potter simply. “I like it. It’s a strain, though,” he went on, striking his thin palms together like cymbals. “The stones are so heavy. Difficult to print, you know—and shifting them in and out of the acid is a strain. That one over there weighed thirty-seven pounds in the stone, and that’s quite light compared with some of them. I get so tired. Well, let’s go and look at Lafcadio’s picture. It’s very fine; perhaps a bit hot—a bit hot in tone, but very fine.”

They turned and walked down the room to where Belle, who had removed the shawl from the picture, was fiddling with an indirect-lighting device round the frame.

“This is Max’s idea,” she said, shaking herself free from the tangle of flex. “People stay so late, and it gets so dark. Ah, here it is.”

Immediately the picture sprang into prominence. It was a big canvas, the subject the trial of Joan of Arc. The foreground was taken up with the dark backs of the judges, and between their crimson sleeves one caught a vision of the girl.

“That’s my wife,” said Mr. Potter unexpectedly. “He often painted her, you know. Rather fine work, don’t you think? All that massing of colour. That’s typical. Great quantities of paint, too. I used to say to him—in joke, you know—‘It’s lucky you make it yourself, John, or you’d never be able to afford it.’ See that blue on her scarf? That’s the Lafcadio blue. No one’s got that secret yet. The secret of the crimson had to go to help pay the death duties. Balmoral and Huxley bought it. Now any Tom, Dick, or Harry can get a tube for a few shillings.”

Belle laughed. “Both you and Linda do so begrudge anyone having the secret of his colours. After all, the world’s got his pictures; why shouldn’t it have his paint? Then they’ll have the copy and the materials, and if they can’t do it, too, then all the more honour to Johnnie.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Potter, “remember Columbus and the egg. They could all make it stand up after he’d shown them how to crack it at one end. The secret was simple, you see, but Columbus thought of it first.”

Belle grinned. “Albert,” she said, “as one of the busiest investigators of our time, has the real significance of the Columbus story ever dawned on you?”

Mr. Campion indicated that it had not.

“That the egg was boiled, of course,” said Belle and went off laughing, the white frills of her bonnet trembling.

Mr. Potter looked after her. “She doesn’t change,” he remarked. “She doesn’t change at all.” He turned back to the picture. “I’ll cover it up,” he said. “Lafcadio was a chap you didn’t mind waiting upon. He was a great man, a great painter. I got on with him. Some people didn’t. I remember him saying to me, ‘Potter, you’ve got more sense in your gluteus maximus than old Charles Tanqueray has in the whole of his own and his damned art committee’s heads put together.’ Tanqueray was more popular than Lafcadio, you know, with the public; but Lafcadio was the man. They all see it now. His work is fine—very fine. A bit hot in tone—a bit hot. But very, very fine.”

He was still muttering this magic formula when Mr. Campion left him to rejoin Belle in the doorway. She took his arm again as they went into the house.

“Poor Tennyson Potter,” she murmured. “He’s so depressing. There’s only one thing worse than an artist who can’t draw and who thinks he can, and that’s one who can’t draw and knows he can’t. No one gets anything out of it then. But Johnnie liked him. I think it was all the stones he uses. Johnnie was rather proud of his strength. He used to enjoy heaving them about.”

Her remarks were brought to a sudden end, as they came into the hall, by the appearance at the top of the stairs of an apparition in what Mr. Campion at first took to be fancy dress.

“Belle!” said a feminine voice tragically. “You really must exert your authority. Lisa—Oh, is that someone with you?” The vision came down the stairs, and Campion had time to look at her. He recognized her as Donna Beatrice, a lady who had caused a certain amount of flutter in artistic circles in 1900.

In 1900, at the age of thirty, she had possessed that tall beauty which seems to have been a peculiarity of the period, and she had descended upon the coterie which surrounded Lafcadio, a widow with a small income and an infinite capacity for sitting still and looking lovely. Lafcadio, who could put up with anything provided it was really beautiful, had been vastly taken by her, and she was referred to as “his Inspiration” by those romantic feather-brained people who were loath to be uncharitable and at the same time incapable of understanding the facts.

There were two superstitions connected with Donna Beatrice. One was that in the days when everyone was chatting about the beautiful peacock strutting so proudly about the studio, she had approached Mrs. Lafcadio and, in that sweet vacant voice of hers, had murmured: “Belle darling, you must be Big. When a man is as great as the Master, no one woman can expect to fill his life. Let us share him, dear, and work together in the immortal cause of Art.” And Belle, plump and smiling, had patted one of the beautiful shoulders and whispered close to one of the lovely ears: “Of course, my dear, of course. But let us keep it a secret from Johnnie.”

The other superstition was that Lafcadio had never allowed her to speak in his presence; or, rather, had persuaded her not to by the simple expedient of telling her that her pinnacle of beauty was achieved when her face was in repose.

For the rest, she was an Englishwoman with no pretension at all to the “Donna” or the “Beatrice,” which she pronounced Italian fashion, sounding the final e. Very few knew her real name; it was a secret she guarded passionately. But if in Lafcadio’s lifetime she had been content to remain beautiful but dumb, on his death she had developed an unexpected force of character inasmuch as she had shown very plainly that she had no intention of giving up the position of reflected glory which she had held so long. No one knew what arguments she had used to prevail upon Belle to permit her to take up her residence in the house, but at any rate she had succeeded, and now occupied two rooms on the second floor, where she continued her hobby of manufacturing “art” jewelry and practising various forms of semi-religious mysticism to which she had lately become addicted.

At the moment she was dressed in a long Florentine gown of old-rose brocade, strongly reminiscent of Burne-Jones but cut with a curtsey to Modernity, so that the true character of the frock was lost and it became an odd nondescript garment covering her thin figure from throat to ankle. To complete her toilet she had draped a long pink-and-silver scarf across her shoulders, and the two ends rippled behind her with the untidy grace of a nymph on the cover of Punch.

Her hair was frankly 1900. Its coarse gold strands had faded, and there were wide silver ribbons amongst them, but the dressing was still that of the Gibson Girl, odd in a convention not old enough to be romantic.

An incongruous note was struck by a black cord running from beneath her hair to a battery on her chest, for her hearing, never good, had declined with the years, and she was now practically stone deaf except when equipped with this affront to her vanity.

Round her neck was a beaten-silver chain of her own making, hanging to her knees and weighted by a baroque enamel cross. She was a figure of faintly uncomfortable pathos, reminding the young man irresistibly of a pressed rose, a little brown about the edges and scarcely even of sentimental value.

“Mr. Campion?” A surprisingly hard bony hand was thrust into his. “You’ve been seeing the picture, of course?” The voice was soft and intentionally vibrant. “I was so thrilled when I saw it again after all these years. I remember lying on the chaise-longue in the studio while the Master painted it.”

She dropped her eyes on the name, and he had the uncomfortable impression that she was about to cross herself.

“He liked to have me near whilst he was painting, you know. I know now that I always had a blue aura in those days, and that’s what inspired him. I do think there’s such a lot in Colour, don’t you? Of course, he told me it was to be a secret—even from Belle. But Belle never minds. Dear Belle.” She smiled at the other woman with a mixture of affection and contempt.

“Do you know, I was discussing Belle with Dr. Hilda Bayman, the Mystic. She says Belle must be an old soul—meaning, you understand, that she’s been on the earth many times before.”

Campion gave way to the embarrassment which Donna Beatrice’s mystic revelations invariably produced upon her more acute acquaintances. Pampered vanity and the cult of the Higher Selfishness he found slightly nauseating.

Belle laughed. “I love to hear that,” she said. “A dear old soul, I always hope. A sort of Old Queen Cole. Has Linda come in yet? She went to see Tommy Dacre,” she continued, turning to Campion. “He came back from Florence last night, after three years at mural work. Isn’t it tragic? The students used to paint cathedral ceilings; now they paint cinema roofs.”

Donna Beatrice’s still beautiful face adopted a petulant expression.

“I really don’t know anything about Linda,” she said. “It’s Lisa I’m worrying about. That’s why I wanted to see you. The creature simply refuses to wear the Clytemnestra robe tomorrow. I’ve had it let out. She ought to defer a little to the occasion. As it is, she simply looks like an Italian cook. We always look like our minds in the end—Belle, what are you laughing at?”

Mrs. Lafcadio squeezed Mr. Campion’s arm. “Poor Lisa,” she said and chuckled again.

Two bright spots of colour appeared on Donna Beatrice’s cheekbones.

“Really, Belle, I hardly expect you to appreciate the sacredness of the occasion,” she said, “but at least don’t make my task more difficult. We’ve got to serve the Master tomorrow. We’ve got to keep his name green, to keep the torch alight.”

“And so poor Lisa’s got to put on a tight purple dress and leave her beloved kitchen. It seems a little severe. You be careful, Beatrice. Lisa’s descended from the Borgias on her mother’s side. You’ll get arsenic in your minestrone if you tease her.”

“Belle, how can you! In front of a detective, too.” The two bright spots in Donna Beatrice’s cheeks deepened. “Besides, although Mr. Campion knows it, I thought we’d agreed to keep Lisa’s position here a secret. It seems so terrible,” she went on, “that the Master’s favourite model should degenerate into a cook in his household.”

Belle looked discomfited, and an awkward moment was ended by a peal on the front-door bell and the almost instantaneous appearance of Lisa herself at the kitchen door.

Lisa Capella, discovered by Lafcadio on the slopes outside Veccia one morning in 1884, had been brought by him to England, where she occupied the position of principal model until her beauty passed, when she took up the household duties for Belle, to whom she was deeply attached. Now, at the age of sixty-five, she looked much older, a withered, rather terrible old woman with a wrinkled brown face, quick, dark, angry eyes, and very white hair scraped back from her forehead. She was dressed completely in black, the dead and clinging folds which enveloped her only relieved by a gold chain and brooch.

She shot a sullen, vicious glance at Beatrice, sped past her on noiseless, felt-slippered feet over the coloured tiles, and swung the front door open.

A rush of cool air, a little dank from the canal, sped down the hall to meet them, and instantly a new personality pervaded the whole place as vividly and tangibly as if it had been an odour.

Max Fustian surged into the house, not crudely or noisily, but irresistibly, and with the same conscious power with which a successful actor-manager makes his appearance in the first act of a new play. They heard his voice, deep, drawling, impossibly affected, from the doorway.

“Lisa, you look deliriously macabre this evening. When Hecate opens the door of Hell to me she will look like you. Ah, Belle darling! Are we prepared? And Donna Beatrice! And the sleuth! My salutations, all of you.”

He came up out of the shadow to lay one very white hand affectionately on Belle’s arm, while the other, outstretched, suggested an embrace which included Mr. Campion, Donna Beatrice, and the stealthily retreating Lisa.

When one considered Max Fustian’s appearance it was all the more extraordinary that his personality, exotic and fantastic as it was, should never have overstepped the verge into the ridiculous. He was small, dark, pale, with a blue jowl and a big nose. His eyes, which were bright and simian, peered out from cavernous sockets, so dark as to appear painted. His black hair was ungreased and cut into a conventional shock which had just sufficient length to look like a wig. He was dressed, too, with the same mixture of care and unconventionality. His double-breasted black coat was slightly loose, and his soft black tie flowed from beneath his white silk collar.

He had thrown his wide black hat and black raincoat onto the hall chest as he passed and now stood beaming at them, holding the gesture of welcome as one who realizes he has made an entrance.

He was forty, but looked younger and appreciated his good fortune.

“Is everything ready?” The indolent weariness of his voice had a soporific quality, and he swept them down to the studio again before they had realized it.

Potter had gone, and the place was in darkness. Max switched on the lights and looked round with the quick, all-seeing glance of a conjuror surveying his paraphernalia. A frown spread over his forehead, and he returned to his hostess.

“Dear Belle, why do you insist on those nauseating lithographs? It degrades the occasion into a church bazaar.” He pointed contemptuously to the unfortunate Mr. Potter’s display. “The fancywork stall.”

“Really, Belle, I think he’s right.” Donna Beatrice’s low singsong voice was plaintive. “There’ll be my little table over here with the Guild’s jewelry upon it, and really I think that’s enough. I mean—other people’s pictures in his studio—it’s sacrilege, isn’t it? The vibrations won’t be right.”

Looking back upon that evening in the light of after events, Mr. Campion frequently cursed himself for his lack of detachment. Seen in retrospect, after the tragedy, it seemed to him impossible that he could have spent so long in the very heart of the dormant volcano without hearing the rumblings of the eruption to come. But on that evening he noticed nothing save that which passed upon the surface.

Max had disregarded his ally’s efforts and continued to look interrogatively at Mrs. Lafcadio.

Belle shook her head at him as though he had been a naughty dog, and glanced round the studio.

“The floor looks very nice, don’t you think?” she said. “Fred Rennie scrubbed it, and Lisa polished it.”

Max shrugged his shoulders, a gesture almost contortionate, but having made his protest he gave way gracefully. Next instant he was himself again, and Campion, watching him, realized how he had managed to insinuate himself into the position of Lafcadio’s entrepreneur.

He strode down the room, flipped the shawl from the painting, and stood back enraptured.

“Sometimes Beauty’s like the Gorgon’s head. One’s spirit turns to stone, beholding it,” he said. His voice was startlingly unaffected, and the contrast lent the extravagant phrase a passionate sincerity which startled everyone, including, it would seem, Max Fustian. To Mr. Campion’s amazement the little dark eyes suddenly suffused with tears.

“We must all vibrate to green when we think of the picture,” said Donna Beatrice with paralyzing idiocy. “Beautiful apple green, the colour of the earth. That shawl is so helpful, I think.”

Max Fustian laughed softly. “Green is the colour for money, isn’t it?” he murmured. “Suffuse the picture with a green light and it’ll sell. Well, I have done my part. Tomorrow everyone will be here: soldiers, poets, fat mayors buying for their cities, the intelligentsia, diplomats—the ambassadors are coming, I heard tonight—and of course the Church.” He flung out his hand. “The Church, big-bellied, purple-gowned.”

“The bishop always comes,” ventured Belle mildly. “Dear man, he used to come before there were any pictures.”

“The press,” Max Fustian swept on, “and the critics, my colleagues.”

“Leashed in like hounds, no doubt,” said Belle, who was growing restive. “Don’t let me forget to put a shilling in the meter or the whole place will be in darkness after six. I wish we’d never had it put in for that wretched dancing class during the war.”

Donna Beatrice caught her breath noisily. “Belle, you promised never to mention that again. That was almost blasphemy.”

Belle sniffed quite definitely. “Johnnie’s stock was down, we were very short, and the money was useful,” she said. “And if I hadn’t had the meter put in we should never have been able to pay the electric-light bills so soon. And now—” She broke off abruptly. “Oh, Linda! My dear, how pale you look!”

They turned round immediately as John Lafcadio’s granddaughter strode down the room towards them. The daughter of Belle’s only son, killed at Gallipoli in 1916, was, according to Donna Beatrice, “definitely Aries.”

Upon expansion this term proved to mean something uncomplimentary, a daughter of the Sun, a young soul and pertaining to some lowly plane in the astrological cosmos. To the unenlightened eye she was a strongly made, tempestuous young woman of twenty-five who bore a notable resemblance to her grandfather.

She had the same coarse tawny hair, the same wide mouth and high cheekbones. She was beautiful only by the most modern standards, and her restless violent personality was apparent in every movement. She and Belle understood one another, and a tremendous affection existed between the two. The others were all a little afraid of her, save perhaps Mr. Campion, who had many strange friends.

At the moment her pallor was almost startling, and her eyes beneath her thick brows were burning with nothing less than ferocity. She nodded to Campion and shot a frosty, barely civil glance at Max and Donna Beatrice.

“Tom is in the hall,” she said. “He’s just coming. He’s brought some photographs of his stuff for the Puccini library. They’re very fine. I suppose you didn’t think so, Max?”

The challenge was gratuitous, and Belle’s old eyes flickered anxiously as they had done on private-view days long ago.

Max smiled. “Dacre has all the elements of a great man,” he said. “But he should stick to his medium. In tempera he can express himself. There are times when he reminds me of Angelica Kaufmann.”

“The panels for the library are in tempera.”

“Oh? Really? I saw a photograph of a figure piece. I thought it was a poster for a mineral water.” Max’s tone had a leisurely spitefulness that was masterly. “I saw the model, too. He brought her back from Italy with him. In imitation of Lafcadio, I suppose.”

The girl swung round on him, unconsciously adopting the odd angular posture, with one hip thrown out, so beloved by the moderns. Her pallor had increased. It was evident that an explosion was imminent, and Belle interposed.

“Where is the man, anyway?” she demanded. “I haven’t seen him for three years, and he’s a very old friend of mine. I remember when he came in here as a little boy, so prim, so solemn. He told Johnnie just what he thought of one of his pictures, and Johnnie put him across his knee and spanked him for his impudence—his mother was so angry. But Johnnie altered the picture afterwards.”

Donna Beatrice tittered politely at this reminiscence of John Lafcadio’s disgraceful behaviour as the victim of it came into the room.

Thomas Dacre, a man of great ability, thirty-seven years old, unrecognized and obsessed by his own shortcomings, resembled a battered, careworn edition of the Apollo Belvedere in horn-rimmed spectacles. He was one of that vast army of young men who had had five all-important years cut out of their lives by the war, and who bitterly resented the fact without altogether realizing it. Dacre’s natural disbelief in himself had been enhanced by severe shell-shock, which had left him capable of making any sacrifice to the furtherance of his creature comforts. His engagement to the tempestuous Linda had surprised everyone at its announcement just before his departure for Italy, but it was supposed that these two unhappy spirits had found mutual solace in each other’s charity.

He came up to Belle, who greeted him with that delight which was half her charm.

“My dear, I am glad to see you. I hear you’ve done so well. Have you brought the photographs? Johnnie always predicted you’d be a great man.”

He flushed: Belle was irresistible. But, immediately ashamed of his pleasure, he shrugged his shoulders and spoke ungraciously.

“I’m a cinema-house decorator,” he said. “Ask Max. He knows good commercial work when he sees it.”

But Belle was indefatigable. She slipped her arm through the newcomer’s.

“Tell me all about it,” she said. “Did you stay at the old studio in San Gimignano? And is poor old Theodora still alive? Isn’t her cooking atrocious? Do you know, Johnnie made one of her children eat up every bit of the omelette she once sent up for our supper. And of course the wicked old thing had to nurse the poor little mite all the next day.”

This unconventional sidelight on the character of a great man was suitably received, but Max was not willing to lose command of the stage for long. With his little dark eyes flickering mischievously, he glanced at the girl, who had lit a cigarette and was surveying her grandfather’s picture with the critical but unbiased gaze of a fellow craftsman, and turned again to Dacre.

“How does the lovely Rosa-Rosa take to London?” he enquired. “Such a romantic name, madame. Rosa-Rosa.”

“Your new model?” said Belle, still concentrating on the younger man.

He nodded. “One of the Rosinis. Do you remember them? She’s a bastard, I think, by a German. Extremely modern in shape. The Teutonic streak gives her an extraordinary flatness. I’ve used her for nearly a year now. Her feet are ugly.”

Belle, who had listened to this somewhat technical description with complete understanding, nodded her white headdress sagely.

“All the Rosinis have little, stubby feet. You don’t remember Lucrezia? There was a great fuss about her thirty years ago. She claimed to be descended from Del Sarto’s model, but she grew tired very easily and wouldn’t work.”

“You must have found the girl very useful,” drawled Max with another glance at Linda, “since you bring her home despite the official business of permits and so on.”

Dacre looked at him with lazy surprise. “Of course the girl’s very useful,” he said stiffly. “A reliable model who isn’t hideous or temperamental is the most difficult thing in the world to get hold of. This girl sits like a rock.”

“What an extraordinary addition to the ménage in Drury Lane. How does the estimable D’Urfey respond to the lady’s charms?” Max seemed to be deliberately offensive, and again he shot that sidelong glance at Linda.

Suddenly she seemed to become aware of it.

“Rosa-Rosa is the most beautiful creature I ever saw,” she said with dangerous quietness. “She’s got the figure of a John gipsy and the face of a fiend. Both Matt and Tom are hysterical about the things she says. And you’re a nasty little sneaking, trouble-mongering mongrel.

She strode over to him and caught him a savage blow with the back of her hand which brought out a red mark on his sallow cheek. The attack was so sudden and unwarranted, and betrayed her so utterly, that the shocked silence in the great room lasted until she had disappeared through the doorway.

It was then and only then that Mr. Campion caught a glimpse of something dangerous beneath the surface of this odd pantomime rehearsal performed in such solemn deference to the fancy of a dead man.

Max laughed sulkily and pulled the cover over the painting so that his back was turned to the company. Dacre looked after the girl, his forehead knotted with fury. Donna Beatrice remarked “Aries, Aries” with that sublime complacency known only to those who have the happy conviction that they are not as other men, and Belle, her lips pursed into a little grimace of pity and her faded brown eyes shiny with tears, murmured deprecatingly, “My dear—oh, my dear!”

2  :  Show Sunday

In the great days of the ’nineties, when Art and the Academy were synonymous in the public mind, the Sunday before sending-in day was a festival. In every studio in the kingdom was held a solemn exhibition of those works intended for the Selection Committee’s delectation. Since it was so often the first and last time that the pictures were ever exhibited anywhere, the gatherings served a useful purpose, and while much tea and sherry was consumed many technical mysteries were discussed.

The death of this pleasant custom marked the end of an era, and it says much for Max Fustian’s powers of showmanship that he managed to turn the annual affair at Lafcadio’s studio into a minor social event and to create in it one of the little ceremonies which mark the very beginning of the Season.

To the press it was a yearly blessing, provoking the first fanfare before that hardy set piece, the opening of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Lafcadio, always in advance of his time, was still a good deal too modern for “Constant Reader” and “Paterfamilias,” and the element of surprise connected with the yearly picture and its subsequent purchase by the inevitable public body or philanthropist made it one of those sure-fire newspage-column headings comparable with the arrival of the Cambridge crew at Putney or the Birthday Honours List.

On a Sunday in March 1930, therefore, the dusty windows of the dusty yellow houses of Swallow Crescent reflected some of the glories of their past in the parade of automobiles parked against the plump stone balustrade of the canal.

Little Venice ceased to look merely shabby and became interestingly Bohemian, as in its doorway Fred Rennie, magnificently unself-conscious in his leather apron and crimson shirtsleeves, stood to receive the guests.

Fred Rennie was yet another denizen of Lafcadio’s remarkable garden. Rescued as a child from a fever-infested canal boat by the painter, he had been taken into the household as a colour mixer. His somewhat sketchy education he had received from Lafcadio himself, and he served the great man devotedly, grinding up the colour and experimenting with new mediums in the grand manner of centuries before. The old coach house at the end of the garden had been turned into a little laboratory, and in the room above it Fred Rennie lived and slept.

When Lafcadio died, disdaining the offers from several paint firms, he had remained with Lisa to form the domestic staff of Little Venice.

Even his service in the war had not uprooted him. For female society he depended upon the canal boats, so that his attachments were necessarily of a transitory nature. His life was peaceful, and it is probable that he enjoyed these annual ceremonies more than anyone save Max Fustian himself.

His costume was Donna Beatrice’s idea, since the picturesque rags he had worn in Lafcadio’s studio as a child were scarcely suitable for state occasions.

For the rest, he was a little, wiry person with thick dark hair, quick eyes, and hands stained and bitten with acid.

He greeted Mr. Campion as a friend. “We’re very full now, sir,” he murmured deferentially. “A good many more than last year, I should say.”

Campion passed on down the wide hall and would have gone on to the studio had not someone plucked at his arm in the dark corner by the basement stairs.

“Mr. Campion. Just a minute, sir.”

It was Lisa, Lisa bad-tempered and uncomfortable in a shiny purple gown only too evidently let out at the seams. In the shadow, with her dark eyes glittering at him, he caught a glimpse of her as she must have appeared that morning on the slopes of Veccia. But the next moment she was the old wrinkled Italian woman again.

“You come up to see Miss Linda?” The foreign intonation turned the remark into a question. “Mrs. Potter’s with her in her room. Mrs. Lafcadio told me to look out for you and to ask you to persuade her to come down. There are not enough people to greet. Donna Beatrice cannot leave her little jewelry table.”

The contempt in the last words was indescribable. Lisa’s opinion of Donna Beatrice defied thought, much less print.

Mr. Campion, whose rôle of universal uncle brought him many strange commissions, accepted this one without a thought, and with a word to Lisa he hurried up the six flights of stairs to the third floor, where, in one of the little attics under the slates, Linda had her studio.

The uncarpeted room with its uncurtained windows smelt vilely of oil paint, and the usual paraphernalia of a work studio as opposed to the show variety was heaped about the floor.

Linda Lafcadio was leaning on her elbows at one of the windows looking down at the canal.

Mrs. Potter stood in the centre of the disordered room. She was a little, dowdy woman with iron-grey bobbed hair, capable hands, and an air of brisk practicalness which stamped her at once as one of those efficient handmaids-of-all-work to the arts who are capable of undertaking any little commission from the discovery of a Currier & Ives to the chaperoning of a party of society-girl students across Europe. She was an expert embroideress, a connoisseur of bookbinding, and supported herself and, it was said, her husband by sundry art classes at fashionable day schools and a few private students.

She looked at Mr. Campion uncertainly, and he introduced himself.

“I know what you’ve come to say. You want me to come down,” she said, before he could get in a word of explanation. “Belle wants me. I was the model for this picture, you know—I don’t like to think how many years ago. Well, I’ll leave you to talk to Linda. Try and persuade her to come down. After all, we don’t want to let anything spoil today, do we? So grateful to you, Mr. Campion.”

She bustled off, leaving a tang of schoolmistress in the air.

As Linda did not move, Mr. Campion looked for somewhere to sit down.

Displacing a heap of paint rags, an ashtray, a bottle of glue, and a small plaster cast, he spread a handkerchief over the seat of the only chair the room contained and settled himself. He sat there for some time looking inoffensive but hopelessly out of place. As the owner of the room did not move he took a wallet from his breast pocket and extracted a newspaper cutting. Adjusting his spectacles, he began to read aloud:

DEAD HAND SPEAKS AGAIN. Today, in a little old forgotten corner of our wonderful London, the ghost of a great artist, thought by some to be the greatest artist of our time, entertains the glass of fashion and the mould of form for the eighth time in a twelve-year programme. Ambassadors, prelates, society matrons will all vie with one another in discussing John Lafcadio’s new picture, which comes to us across the gulf of the years.

Are you embarrassed when you meet a duchess? It may be your lot to rub shoulders with the nobility, or yours may be a humbler station, but, in whatever circle you move, you should be prepared at any moment to meet the most trying of social ordeals. What would you say if Royalty spoke to you, for instance? Would you stand tongue-tied, or break into hysterical laughter, thus wasting for ever a golden opportunity never to be—Oh, I beg your pardon; I’m in the wrong column. This is all about a free booklet. Let me see; where were we? Peeking in at a certain hotel in the Strand, I found Lady Gurney laughing heartily over her husband’s adventures in the East.

There was still no sign from the figure in the window. He threw the cutting away disgustedly.

“There’s nothing else on that,” he said. “Should I sing, perhaps?”

There was a long silence after he had spoken, and presently she turned round and came towards him. He was startled by her appearance. Her pallor of the preceding night had gone, and a livid hue had taken its place. Her eyes looked dangerous, her mouth unnaturally firm, and her whole body stiffened and unnatural.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said. “What are you here for?”

She did not wait for his answer, but walked across the room, and, taking up a palette knife, began to chip little flecks of colour off a partially finished canvas on the easel. She paid minute attention to the damage she was doing, her face very close to the knife.

Mr. Campion, who recognized this symptom, bounded to his feet and caught her by the shoulders.

“Don’t be a fool,” he said sharply. “And for heaven’s sake don’t make an exhibition of yourself.”

The unexpected vigour of this attack had the desired effect. Her hands dropped to her sides.

“What’s up?” he said, more kindly. “Tommy?”

She nodded, and for an instant her eyes were honestly angry and contemptuous.

Mr. Campion sat down again. “Serious?”

“It wouldn’t be, if I wasn’t such a fool.”

She spoke savagely, and her despair was evident.

“You haven’t seen her,” she said, after a pause, “have you?”

“Who? The model?” Mr. Campion felt he was coming to the root of the matter.

Her next remark startled him.

“It’s the hopeless interference of people who don’t even understand the facts which is making me hysterical,” she said. “Claire Potter has been trying to explain for the last half hour that in her opinion models are barely human and it doesn’t follow that just because a man brings one back from Italy he’s in love with her. As if that came into it! If Tommy had fallen in love with Rosa-Rosa the situation would be very simple, and I shouldn’t feel so much like murdering him as I do now.”

She walked over to a cupboard and, after rummaging in its untidy depths, returned with a sketchbook.

“Look at that,” she said.

Mr. Campion turned over the pages, and his casual interest suddenly deepened. He sat up and readjusted his spectacles. “I say, these are very fine,” he said. “Where did you get them?”

She jerked the book from his hand. “Tommy,” she said, “before he went away. And now he’s doing stuff that would disgrace a magazine cover. Do you realize he’s brought that girl over here to make wrappers for patent medicines? Don’t you see? he’s thrown everything away. It looked like madness when he gave up oils to go in for tempera. Now it’s just suicidal, turning to this sort of thing.”

Mr. Campion, who had been impressed by the sketches, could see this point of view, but could not work himself up into the quivering state of indignation which she had achieved. After all, in a cold world it seemed that if the fires of high art had died down in a man’s heart a taste for commerce was not to be deplored. He said as much.

She turned on him, blazing. “Quite,” she said. “I’ve got nothing against commercialism. But it puts a man on a different plane. It’s insufferable of him to expect the same sacrifices. If he hadn’t brought Rosa-Rosa over, the whole thing would probably never have arisen—at least, not violently.”

“If I may say so,” said Mr. Campion quietly, “I don’t quite see how Rosa-Rosa comes into this.”

“You’re extraordinarily dense,” said the girl. “He married her first, of course. How d’you think he got her into England for keeps otherwise? That’s what Max was getting at last night. That’s why I hit him. As I say, if Tommy had been in love with her it wouldn’t have been so bad.”

Here was a grievance that even Mr. Campion could understand.

“I see,” he said weakly.

She came towards him, looking for an instant like a passionate untidy child.

“Can’t you understand that if he’d gone on doing his own sort of stuff it wouldn’t have mattered? I wouldn’t have been insulted last night when he suggested that we should all three set up house together. The trouble of getting this girl into England permanently would have been a sufficient reason for his marriage, but if he simply needs her for commercial work he’s not worth it. Oh, I wish to God he was dead!”

Campion felt that it was impossible not to sympathize with her, even if her point of view was not altogether his own. One thing remained clear: her grievance was not imagined.

“Don’t mention it to Belle,” she said quickly. “She’d be furious, and it wouldn’t do any good. Belle’s very conventional.”

“So am I,” said Campion, and a long pause ensued. “Look here, I’d better go down,” he said at length. “I don’t see that there’s anything I can say about this bad business, but if there’s anything I can do you’ve only got to point it out.”

She nodded absently, and he thought she had returned to the window, but before he had reached the first landing she caught up with him, and they went down together.

As they reached the hall the constant stream of incoming visitors had thinned and was now jostled by a secondary stream coming out. Mr. Campion and the girl were held up on the staircase by two old gentlemen who had taken possession of the bottom stair for a moment of conversation.

Noticing the young people hovering behind them, the acquaintances shook hands hastily, and Brigadier General Sir Walter Fyvie hurried out while Bernard, bishop of Mould, strode down the hall into the studio.

3  :  Murder at the Reception

The evening mist rising up from the canal had grown perceptibly thicker, Campion noticed as he walked behind the bishop down the asphalt path, and the studio lights were blazing. Lisa had drawn the curtains over the tall windows to shut out the melancholy yellow sky, and the grateful heat and scented air of the crowded studio was comforting after the dankness of the garden.

The reception was drawing slowly to a close. The majority of the guests had gone, but the big studio was still alive with chatter and polite laughter.

Max had every reason to be satisfied with his organization. The gathering had been the most brilliant of its kind. The ambassador and his satellites were still hovering about the picture, which dominated the room, and there was a fair sprinkling of personages among the lesser social and artistic fry.

No one could doubt that the gathering was an Occasion. It seemed impossible that Lafcadio himself should not be there striding about, welcoming his friends, overwhelming in his size and magnificence.

But if it was a triumph for Max, it was also one for Belle. She stood in the centre of the studio greeting her guests, her black velvet frock severe and simple as ever, but her peasant bonnet of crisp organdie sewn with Valenciennes.

The bishop went up to her with outstretched hands. They were very old friends.

“My dear lady,” he said, his famous voice rumbling like the organ in his own cathedral in his efforts to lower it a little. “My dear lady, what a triumph! What a triumph!”

Mr. Campion gazed round the room. It was evident that he would not be able to get near Belle for some time. He caught sight of Donna Beatrice, a startling vision in green and gold, talking psychomancy to a bewildered-looking old gentleman whom he recognized as a scientist of world-wide distinction.

In the background, unnoticed and forlorn, he espied the melancholy Mr. Potter, whose eyes turned ever and again with shuddering agony to the dismal display of prints upon the curtain.

He heard Linda catch her breath, and he turned to see her gazing across the room. He followed her glance and caught sight of Tommy Dacre leaning by the table where the jewelry made by Donna Beatrice’s protégées, the Guild of Women Workers in Precious Metals, was displayed. He was standing with his back to the table, half sitting on the edge of it, in fact. He was carelessly dressed, but had taken the precaution of conforming to the costume permitted by popular superstition to the artist.

By his side was a girl, a girl so striking, even startling, in her appearance that Campion recognized her immediately as the cause of the passionate resentment in the breast of the elemental young woman at his side. Rosa-Rosa looked less like an Italian than one would have thought possible. She had a curious angular figure whose remarkably well-developed muscles showed through her thin grey dress.

Rosa-Rosa’s frizzy yellow hair was parted in the centre and hung obliquely round her head. Her face was beautiful but fantastic. She had the dark mournful eyes and arched brows of a Florentine Madonna, but her nose was long and sharp and her lips thin and finely curled. Like all natural models she moved very little and then only to drop from one attitude into another, which she held with remarkable faithfulness.

At the moment she was listening to Dacre, who was chatting to her in Italian, his head thrown back, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and his black hat crushed under one arm.

She was leaning forward, her chin tilted slightly, her weight supported on one foot, her arms hanging at her sides. It was an arrested movement, perfect in its way and utterly unexpected and striking.

She looked, Campion thought, less like a human animal than an example of decorative art.

Linda walked across the loom towards them, and Campion followed her. Dacre’s smile vanished as he caught sight of the girl, but he did not look embarrassed, and as a layman Campion wondered afresh at the oddities of the artistic temperament.

He was introduced to Rosa-Rosa, and as he spoke to her he understood some of Linda’s fury. Rosa-Rosa had another of the perfect model’s peculiarities; she was unbelievably stupid. She had been trained not to think, lest her roving fancy should destroy the expression she was holding. For the best part of her life, therefore, her mind remained a complete blank.

“I’ve brought Mr. Campion to admire the exhibits,” said Linda.

Dacre slipped off the table and turned round lazily to survey its display.

“I’m minding them for Donna Beatrice,” he said. “She wanted to toddle off and chat to her friends. I don’t know if she’s afraid someone’ll walk off with this junk—kleptomaniacs, and that sort of thing. Pretty terrible stuff, isn’t it?”

They stood looking down at the handiwork of the industrious Guild of Women Workers in Precious Metals, and the depression induced by the contemplation of the useless and the unlovely descended upon them.

“Modern design approached from the outside by the eighteen-ninety mentality can be rather terrible, can’t it?” said Dacre, indicating a pair of table-napkin rings in enamelled silver.

Rosa-Rosa pointed to a pair of lapis lazuli earrings.

“Attractif,” she said.

“Don’t touch,” said the man, pushing her away as though she were an overeager child.

She rewarded him with a blank stare and relapsed into a pose, indicating respectful submission.

Mr. Campion felt Linda quivering at his side. The situation was very trying.

“What do you think of the pièce-de-résistance?” said the girl. She indicated a pair of scissors with slender blue blades some nine inches long and handles so encrusted with chunks of coral and cornelian that it seemed impossible they could ever be used.

“Toys,” said a voice behind them. “Rather stupid toys.”

Max hovered for an instant behind Campion. “You should be looking at the picture, my friend. I am afraid it is going out of the country. I cannot say any more just now—you understand? But—in your ear—the sum was fantastic.”

He sped off again, and they had the satisfaction of seeing him waylaid and captured by Donna Beatrice.

“Flatulent little tuft hunter,” said Dacre, looking after him.

Rosa-Rosa endorsed this remark with a gesture of startling and violent vulgarity which took them all completely by surprise.

Dacre reddened and admonished her sharply in her own language. She did not look crestfallen but merely bewildered, and stepped back a little.

Linda was still looking at the scissors. “It’s a pity to waste steel like that,” she said. “The blades are beautiful.”

Again the young man in the horn-rimmed spectacles had an inkling of danger in the wind. It was nothing in the girl’s tone—of that he was certain; but a wave of alarm passed over him for no apparent reason. Mr. Campion was not a person given to psychic experiences, and the phenomenon irritated him, so that he put it hastily from his mind. But the impression had been there, and it had been very strong.

His thoughts were diverted at this point by a guffaw from Dacre.

“Max is in the toils,” he said. “Look.”

The scene he indicated was amusing. Donna Beatrice was talking volubly to Max Fustian. Knowing her, Mr. Campion shuddered to think of the matter of her discourse. It was evident that her victim could not escape.

Linda, who had been watching them steadily, laughed contemptuously.

“She’s telling him all about the time in the Turkish bath when she was likened to the Rokeby Venus. That’s all there is to it, but it goes on for hours. Once she’s on the subject you can’t stop her, and today Max can’t even be rude to her to any good purpose because she’s taken off her ear thing. She always does on state occasions, so that she’s as deaf as an egg and about as intelligent.”

“I think,” said Rosa-Rosa with the naïveté of a child, “I shall now go to the water closet,” and went off, leaving them all a little embarrassed.

Mr. Campion caught sight of Belle standing in the middle of the room unattended for the moment, and seized the opportunity to pay his respects.

“Oh, my dear,” she said, clutching at his arm and speaking with that charming trick of hers which gave each newcomer the impression that he and he alone was the reason for the gathering, “I’m so glad you’ve come. Isn’t it a crush? I’m so tired. Wouldn’t Johnnie have loved it? Look at him up there, smiling all over his face.” She nodded her bonnet at the Sargent portrait. “I do hope he’s not tormenting Charles Tanqueray at some heavenly peephole.”

She paused for breath and, leaning heavily on his arm, gazed round anxiously at the visitors.

“There’s whisky and soda on the balcony,” she murmured. “I think Max has got a cocktail bar there, too. I’m not supposed to approve. I don’t know whether I do or not. I can’t get over the feeling that gin’s so vulgar. It always was when we were young. But now, since it’s come into money, as it were, I suppose it’s all right. Look at the dear old bishop,” she continued practically in the same breath, “standing over there. Doesn’t he look a dear? Don’t breathe a word to a soul—but his bootmaker pads his gaiters just a little bit. I know, because he came to dinner here one night and got his feet so wet I made him take them off. He sat in front of my fire with a quilt over his knees. We talked about sin, I remember.”

“John Lafcadio should be very grateful to you,” said Mr. Campion. “It’s a very brilliant gathering.”

She sighed, a little murmur of satisfaction, and her faded brown eyes twinkled.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It makes me feel thirty-five again. Everyone here—everyone admiring Johnnie. It’s all going smoothly; everyone being polite, very silly, and very flattering.”

As the last word left her lips there was a faint whir over their heads and every light in the studio went out, leaving the brilliant assembly in complete darkness save for the faint glow from each fire. Belle’s grip on Mr. Campion’s arm tightened involuntarily.

“The shilling in the meter!” she murmured huskily. “Oh, Albert, I forgot it!”

The immediate effect of the sudden darkness was such as is usual in such emergencies: there was the familiar pause in the conversation, the startled giggle of some half-wit female; somebody whispered and someone else stumbled over something. And then politeness reasserted itself and conversation went on only a little more quietly than before.

Mr. Campion felt in his pockets. “I’ve got one,” he said. “Leave it to me.”

He set off, crossing the room cautiously. The majority of people had the intelligence to stand still, but there were a few who moved about, aimlessly it seemed.

Campion found his way to the little doorway under the balcony with some difficulty; he also experienced some delay because Mr. Potter, who had grown tired of standing beside his “lithographs,” had placed a chair for himself with its back against the door.

It was while Campion was removing this obstruction that he noticed some commotion on the far side of the room, somewhere near the jewelry table. He thought nothing of it then and hurried into the cold concrete passage within, where, with the aid of his cigarette lighter, he located the meter and inserted the shilling.

As he came up into the once more brilliantly lighted room he became aware again of the disturbance near the table, and for an instant the wild notion came to him that some sort of smash-and-grab raid had taken place. The next moment he saw that it was a case of faintness. One or two people had gathered round a figure doubled up beside the table. The rest of the guests were studiously taking no notice of the incident, and, miraculously, it seemed, a long queue had already formed to take leave of Belle.

Max, flustered a little by the incident but keeping his head admirably, was assisting the old lady, and Donna Beatrice was making her way towards the door to shake hands with her acquaintances after they had parted from Belle.

Lisa and Fred Rennie were among the group by the table, and even as Mr. Campion looked he saw Rennie bend down and hoist a figure up before taking him out to the models’ room through the little door from which Campion had just emerged. That young man, seeing nothing else that he could do, joined the queue.

The business of saying farewell seemed to be an interminable affair, and the queue moved very slowly.

He had allowed his attention to wander, and it must have been a good seven minutes later, when he had moved up some six feet or so in the line, that he became aware of Lisa staring at him intently as though she would force his attention by sheer personal magnetism. As soon as she caught his eye she beckoned to him furiously.

He stepped out of the line and hurried over to her. She led him over to the little door under the balcony, her bony fingers biting into his arm. Once they were out of sight he turned to her enquiringly and was startled by her appearance. The little woman in the tight purple dress was staring at him, her yellow face a mask of horror. When she spoke, her lips moved stiffly and her voice was strangled.

“It was young Mr. Dacre,” she said. “He’s dead. And the scissors—oh, Mr. Campion, the scissors!” The young man put his arm about her as she tottered towards him.

4  :  “Not I!

The steady stream of departing guests flowed slowly out of the studio. A gloom had descended upon the gathering, although the majority had no idea at all that anything unusual had happened; much less that one of their number now lay dead in the little models’ room behind the panelling, surrounded by a terrified group and guarded by a bewildered doctor.

The atmosphere was rather one of cold inhospitality than horror, as though the lights had never regained their former brilliance and the occasion had been disappointing.

Nevertheless probably everyone save the immediate members of the household and Mr. Campion might have left the house without being aware of the tragedy at all had it not been for Rosa-Rosa, who suddenly burst through the little doorway under the balcony, screaming.

The noise she made attracted everyone’s attention, and her appearance did the rest.

Her training had made her face expressive, and now she presented a picture of such exquisite terror that it was impossible to disregard it. Her yellow hair, crimped like a Botticelli angel’s, hung stiffly round her face; her eyes, widened to their utmost, were black pits of fear, and her wide mouth was drawn up into a blue O in her pallid face.

Santa Maria! Madri di Dio! È morto! Cosa posso fare? Il mio marito è morto—ucciso!

The shrill Italian ended and she began to shout in English: “Murdered! Murdered! Right through the stomach. They did it with the scissors.”

It took Max just those three seconds to get across the room and seize the girl by the arms, while the shocked silence in the room deepened into a growing perception of horror.

Max spoke to the girl softly and volubly in her own language. She began to sob noisily, great gulping animal sounds which whipped the already jolted nerves of the company to the point of agony.

A few of the die-hard school of manners clung to their standards and talked together quietly, affecting not to have noticed this second disturbance, while they edged as unobtrusively as possible towards the exit.

But the majority forgot themselves sufficiently to stand silent and agape, watching the girl as Max led her firmly back to the door under the balcony.

These were rewarded by the unusual spectacle of Sir Gordon Woodthorpe, that eminent society physician who had been present at the reception, hurrying out of the little concrete passage, his elegant white hair dishevelled and two patches of crimson burning in the sides of his throat, while he licked his lips feverishly, a nervous habit that had persisted since childhood.

He hurried over to Belle, who was standing in her place by the door, superbly gallant and unruffled in the nightmare crisis. He spoke to her for some moments, and even the die-hards looked curiously in their direction.

After the first few moments Sir Gordon appeared to be arguing with the old lady, offering, it appeared, to take a duty from her shoulders, but she repulsed him gently. Taking his arm, she leant heavily upon it and raised her voice, which was still clear and soft in spite of her age and emotion.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she began, and then her voice quivered and she stood looking at them, her old mouth trembling slightly.

There was silence instantly. The moment was one of drama, and those minds which had hastily dismissed Rosa-Rosa’s outburst as a regrettable, hysterical, or drunken incident suddenly wheeled round to face the half-formed fear which had secretly assailed them all.

“My dears,” said Belle piteously, “something very terrible has happened. There has been—well—there has been an accident.”

Her voice was trembling unashamedly, and her unconscious use of the endearment made her announcement very real and her appeal very personal. She went on, still leaning heavily on the doctor’s arm, while they listened to her breathlessly with that sinking of the heart and faint sense of nausea which always comes just before the worst is told.

“A young man who was with us here a few minutes ago is now dead. He died in here when the lights were out. Sir Gordon feels that—that no one should leave until the police have come.”

She looked round her appealingly, as though imploring them to understand. It was odd what an impressive figure she was, this plump old lady in the high white bonnet and the long black dress.

“Of course I can’t order you to stay if you want to go,” she went on. “That would be absurd. In the circumstances I can only appeal to you. I can’t tell you any more. This is all I know myself.”

She finished, and Sir Gordon, very conscious of his responsibility and the position in which he stood as Belle’s champion, escorted her to a chair on the far side of the room.

Another old woman, Lady Brain, a friend of Belle’s of long standing, hurried over to her, and Sir Gordon, forgetting to excuse himself, turned with a sigh of relief to the door under the balcony, skilfully avoiding the eye of acquaintances who would have waylaid him.

There were many peculiarities about the murder at Little Venice. Not the least of these lay in the quality and variety of intelligences who shared its first shock.

There are in England an average of about one hundred and fifty murders a year. The majority of these are of a simple and sordid nature, and the aggregate brain power of those present at their discovery is as a rule something less than normal.

But here in Little Venice at the time of the crime was gathered together a collection of people all notable in varying degrees, the majority recruited from the successful professional classes. Once the existence of the tragedy had percolated and the shock had been assimilated, the reaction was ordinary enough inasmuch as the male half of the gathering formed itself into a group of grave-faced important-voiced personages anxious to cling together and protect their womenfolk, while the said womenfolk hung back and, with the natural secrecy of their kind, chattered in little groups with lowered eyes and voices.

As soon as it was established that the victim of the tragedy was a young man scarcely known, even by sight, to anyone, the peculiarities of this particular gathering began to assert themselves.

In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred Belle’s hearers had taken the sense of her words rather than their literal meaning; that is to say, they realized that a murder had taken place, moreover a mysterious murder and in their own immediate proximity, and with the exception of two or three rare and somewhat unnatural souls each man and woman began to consider the affair as it most nearly touched himself.

Some were appalled by the thought of the notoriety entailed, others were shamefacedly excited by it, and immediately wires were jerked, wheels began to turn, and fifty little comedies were enacted.

The sturdy, brown-skinned, and rather stupid young equerry to the ambassador, whose eyes had snapped while Belle was speaking and whose brain was quick to seize the possibilities of any situation, permitted himself the thought that if only some foolish policeman could be persuaded to forget himself for a moment and offer an ill-advised question to His Excellency, quite a little insult could be worked up and an unpleasant incident averted only by the brilliance and tact of His Excellency’s equerry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room a soldierly man whose unobtrusive polish and sharp intelligence had made him invaluable to the Foreign Office stood watching the ambassador’s equerry and reflecting that a timely telephone call to headquarters must certainly be arranged somehow, and that meanwhile every conceivable means must be employed to get the ambassador and his equerry out of the house before any fool policeman had a chance to put his foot in it. He began therefore to move unobtrusively towards the door.

At the far end of the narrow concrete passage, standing beneath the very meter into which he had so lightheartedly dropped a shilling only fifteen minutes before, Mr. Campion hesitated. On his right was the door of the models’ room from which he had just come, and the recollection of the scene within was still clear in his mind. It had been very stuffy and dusty. The dressing table was dismantled, and the green-covered couch had looked dingy, like the furniture in a secondhand shop. It was upon this couch that the body still lay.

Mr. Campion, in spite of his long association with crime, was not callous enough to be entirely unmoved by the spectacle of a young man suddenly dead.

He was human enough also to consider his own position. Very few people knew much about Mr. Campion. In the first place, that was not his name. The majority of his friends and acquaintances knew vaguely that he was the younger son of some personage, who had taken up the adventurous calling of an unofficial investigator and universal uncle at first as a hobby and finally as a career. His successes were numerous, but for the best reasons in the world he remained in the background and avoided publicity like the plague.

There were some who insisted that he was in reality a member of Scotland Yard’s vast army of unobtrusive agents whose work is done entirely behind the scenes, but Mr. Campion himself would have denied this vigorously. The fact remained, however, that he had many friends at Scotland Yard.

At the moment he was in a quandary. He was in the house of friends. Obviously it was his duty to do what he could. He knew enough of English law and English justice to realize that in a case of murder the pursuit is relentless and the punishment unavoidable.

He had no doubt in his mind concerning the author of the crime. He could see Linda now in his mind’s eye as she had turned from the window and come towards him. Temporary insanity, of course.

Rapidly he considered the chances of there being insufficient proof. The handles of the long narrow-bladed scissors still protruded from the grey pull-over. Sir Gordon Woodthorpe had been intelligent enough not to attempt to remove the weapon before the arrival of the official doctor.

The useless ornate handles presented no flat surface, so that the chances of their retaining fingerprints were remote. Nevertheless it would all be very difficult.

He was shocked when he thought of Linda. She was just the wild emotional type who might easily succumb to a sudden impulse. It was amazing that she had waited until the darkness.

Of course, even if the best happened and the matter were dropped for lack of evidence, she would have to be put under restraint.

He passed his hand over his forehead. It was damp, and he felt cold. God, what a terrible thing to have happened! Poor Belle. Poor Linda. Poor tragic, insufferable young blackguard lying dead in the next room.

There was the model, too, who had probably been in love with him. Lisa was quietening her now, speaking harshly in her own language, bright startled tears on her withered cheeks.

Mr. Campion checked himself. Something must be done immediately before some bobby off the beat made matters even more difficult. He remembered that the telephone was on the landing and that the door on his left led into the garden. Inspector Stanislaus Oates was the man to get hold of; the shrewdest and at the same time most kindly member of the Yard.

It was Sunday afternoon; therefore he would probably be at home. Campion remembered the number as he ran: Norwood 4380.

Within the studio the atmosphere was becoming unbearable. There were sporadic silences which hung heavily over the great room. One or two people were becoming hysterical. No one complained openly, largely out of deference to Belle, who with remarkable fortitude and typical good sense remained where she was, knowing that her presence alone prevented an open demonstration.

Mr. Campion came in so unobtrusively that his reappearance was not noticed, and he spoke to Belle for some moments unobserved.

“I’ve been on to Inspector Oates of Scotland Yard,” he murmured. “It’s quite all right. He says he’s coming round right away, but that meanwhile there’s no point in keeping this crowd here. After all, everybody came by invitation, and anyone who was particularly anxious to escape after—well—after the lights were turned on again could easily have done so. I saw twenty or thirty people go myself.”

He did not look at her as he spoke. He could not bring himself to face her warm brown eyes swimming in tears.

She took his arm and drew herself up.

“I’ll tell them,” she said.

She moved over towards the door, a solitary figure, very brave and very lonely standing beneath the portrait of her smiling husband.

Gradually the whispered talk died away and all eyes were turned to her enquiringly. She opened her mouth to speak, but words failed her, and, stepping to the door, she pulled it open and stood clinging to the handle, waiting.

The steady stream began again, moving a little more quickly than before.

The old woman stood erect, shaking hands mechanically, smiling wanly at the murmured words of commiseration and regret, looking exactly what she was, a very gallant old lady.

Mr. Campion conquered his impulse to remain by her side. There were other things to be done. He disappeared through the door under the balcony, slipped out into the garden by the back way, and by entering the kitchen door in the basement escaped collision with the departing guests.

He guessed there must be a back staircase, and he found it and reached the landing outside Linda’s studio without encountering a soul. He stood listening outside the door. Everything within was silent.

Campion was no fool. Linda had been in an unbalanced nervous condition that afternoon, and he had no illusions concerning her probable state of mind at the present moment. He went in prepared to meet a lunatic.

He knocked, and, receiving no response, opened the door quietly and stepped into the darkness.

“Linda,” he said softly.

There was no reply, and he felt round the door for the switch. As the room leapt into sight he realized that, save for himself, it was empty.

He was just going out again when a door on the other side of the room opened and the girl came out. She was still pale, but seemed remarkably composed. She laid a finger on her lips when she saw him.

“Hush,” she whispered. “Rosa-Rosa’s here in my room, asleep. I’ve given her an enormous bromide. She won’t wake for a long time.”

Mr. Campion was prepared for the worst, and her words sent a thrill of horror down his spine.

“Good God, Linda! What have you done?”

The words were forced from him, and he shot past the girl into the little bedroom beyond.

Rosa-Rosa, her face red and swollen with tears, lay on the bed sleeping naturally enough. Campion went over to her, scrutinized her face, and touched her wrist as it lay upon the coverlet. When finally he straightened himself and turned, Linda was standing in the doorway regarding him, a puzzled expression gradually deepening to horror in her eyes.

When he went out into the little studio she followed him and touched his arm.

“What did you mean?” she demanded breathlessly.

Campion looked down at her, and his pale eyes behind his spectacles were troubled.

“What did you mean?” the girl insisted.

He passed his hand over his forehead. “I don’t know what I thought, Linda.”

She caught hold of the cupboard door to steady herself.

“Albert,” she said, “you don’t think that I killed Tommy, do you?”

When he did not answer she drew back from him, her eyes starting with terror.

“Albert, you don’t think I’m insane!”

When he remained silent, she put her hand up to her mouth as though to stifle a cry.

“What shall I do?” she said huskily. “What shall I do?”

She suddenly stepped forward and caught him by the shoulders.

“I loved Tommy—at least I suppose I did. And I was angry with him. But not as angry as that—not mad. I’d moved away from him when the lights went out. I was at the other end of the table. I heard someone moving in the darkness, and I heard him go down, though I didn’t realize what had happened then, of course. Oh, Albert, you do believe me, don’t you? You do—you do believe me?”

Campion looked down at her. The world was reeling. This was the last development he had expected, the last eventuality for which he had been prepared. He looked down into her face, saw the agonized appeal in her eyes, and spoke truthfully.

“I do, old dear,” he said. “Heaven help me, I do.”

5  :  Inspector Oates

Inspector Oates, sitting in the library at Little Venice, a pad of scribbling paper in front of him, bore a gloomy expression upon his cold, rather weary face. He had spent a trying three hours. There may be Scotland Yard detectives who enjoy wringing secrets from unwilling witnesses and placing their fingers unerringly upon the most likely suspect late on a Sunday evening, but Stanislaus Oates was not among them. He had found the whole business very tedious, very distressing, and probably auguring a lot of trouble.

His last witness was now on his way from the drawing room, where the family had assembled, and Mr. Oates was quite anxious to see him, so that when the door opened and a uniformed constable put his head in to say that Mr. Campion was outside he pushed the pad away from him and looked up with interest.

Albert Campion wandered into the room looking his usual vacant, affable self. If there was a hint of anxiety in his eyes it was hidden by the spectacles.

The inspector regarded him solemnly, and Campion was reminded of very much the same scene in a headmaster’s study many years before. There had been the same feeling of apprehension, the same air of calamity.

“Well?” said Oates, using very much the same inflection that old “Buggy” had chosen, and very nearly the same words. “How did you manage to get mixed up in all this? You’ve got a nose for crime. Sit down, won’t you?”

The fact that Mr. Campion and Inspector Oates were old friends never obtruded itself when there were business matters at hand.

For the first two or three minutes the proceedings were positively formal, and Campion’s alarm increased.

“Oates,” he said, “you’re behaving as though it were all over, bar the arrest. Is it?”

Oates shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m afraid so,” he said. “It seems very clear, doesn’t it? I’m afraid it’s going to be awkward for you, a friend of the family and that sort of thing. Still,” he went on more cheerfully, “we’ve got to collect the evidence. I don’t think we’ve got anything conclusive enough for a conviction. No one saw her do it, you know.”

Mr. Campion blinked. The sudden fulfilment of a fear, however much expected, always comes as something of a shock. He leant back in his chair and regarded the inspector gravely. “Oates,” he said, “you’re on the wrong horse.”

The inspector looked at him incredulously.

“And you’ve known me all these years!” he said. “You’ve known me all these years, and you make a deliberate attempt to impede me in the course of my whatever it is.”

“Duty,” said Mr. Campion helpfully. “No. You’ve known me long enough,” he went on, “to realize, I hope, that I have no conscience in these matters at all. Conscience doesn’t come into it. If I believed that Linda Lafcadio killed her fiancé and I thought any good purpose could be served by throwing dust in your eyes, I should do so if I could.”

The inspector grunted. “Well, we know where we are, don’t we?” he said pleasantly. “How did you know I’d found out that the girl did it?”

“Well, it’s the easiest theory,” said Campion. “Not wishing to give offense, Stanislaus. You’re always hot on the easiest scent.”

“You won’t offend me,” said the inspector, bridling. “But because you’ve been lucky enough to come across a few really interesting cases you expect to have the same experience every time.”

Something in Mr. Campion’s manner had made him slightly uncomfortable, however. In the last case they had worked on together, Mr. Campion’s fantastic theory had been correct, and the inspector, who was a superstitious man in spite of his calling, had begun to regard his friend as a sort of voodoo who by his mere presence transformed the most straightforward cases into tortuous labyrinths of unexpected events.

“Look here,” he said persuasively, dropping entirely the headmaster manner, “a passionate, slightly unbalanced girl goes to meet her fiancé off a boat train. She finds he’s brought a beautiful young Italian home with him and afterwards discovers that they are married. The young blackguard cheerfully proposes that they shall set up a ménage-à-trois, which she very properly refuses. The young man comes to a party. She happens to be standing by him, driven insane by jealousy, when the lights go out. Those damned scissors are near her hand. What a filthy weapon, Campion! Did you see ’em? They opened a bit in the heart itself. Killed him instantly, of course. Let me see, where was I? Oh, yes. Well, she was in the dark. She sees her weapon, sees her opportunity. Then she just loses her head and there you are. What could be plainer, what could be clearer than that? It’s so simple. In France, you know, she might get off. It’ll be insanity as it is, I expect.”

Mr. Campion regarded his friend steadily. “You know you’d never get a conviction on that,” he said. “It isn’t even circumstantial. You’ve got a possible motive, but that’s all.”

The inspector looked at him uncomfortably. “I told you I didn’t think there was enough evidence,” he said. “I did say that, didn’t I?”

Mr. Campion leant forward. “Leaving the girl out of it for the moment,” he said, “what do you actually know? Have you got any fingerprints on the scissors? Could the blow have been driven home by a woman? Wasn’t it very clever of the murderer to take a single shot in the dark and drive the scissors straight into the man’s heart?”

Stanislaus Oates rose to his feet. “If you’re going to set up as counsel for the defense—” he began.

“I should be doing you a singular service, my dear peeler. Why take an unprofitable theory to your heart just because it happens to be the first one you think of?—or you knew a case once where the same sort of thing happened? Were there any fingerprints?”

“Did you see the scissors?” countered the inspector, and as Mr. Campion nodded he shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, well, then, you know. Of course there weren’t. I never saw such stupid things in my life. Absolute waste of good steel.”

Mr. Campion blinked. He had heard a phrase very much like that before, and the scene when Linda and he had stood talking to Dacre and his amazing wife returned to him vividly. Just for an instant his belief in Linda wavered, but, as he recalled the episode in her little studio only a few hours before, his conviction returned.

“Well, that’s disposed of,” he said cheerfully. “How about the blow? Could it have been struck by a woman?”

“I’ve had all that out with Sir Gordon Woodthorpe and old Benson, our man.” The inspector’s gloom was returning. “It was a most extraordinary blow, Campion. How anybody struck it in the dark, I don’t know. It’s practically the only sort of knife wound that would kill a man instantly—that is, before he had time to make any sound. It entered the body just under the point of the breastbone and went straight up, skewering the heart completely. The scissors were broad enough and thick enough to destroy the organ at once. I don’t see how anyone could have done it intentionally. I mean, I don’t see how anyone could have been sure that it would come off just like that. Both doctors admitted they wouldn’t have been anywhere near certain of bringing it off themselves. I suppose artists know a good deal about anatomy, but even so she had diabolical luck.”

“Are you sure a woman could have done it?” ventured the younger man.

“Well”—the inspector spread out his hands—“my mother couldn’t have done it, and I don’t suppose yours could. But these modern kids are as muscular as boys. The blow was a hefty one—I admit that—but it wasn’t in the kick-of-a-horse class. And you know, Campion”—he lowered his voice—“there’s insanity in the family, isn’t there?”

“Insanity? Certainly not. I’ve never heard of any. You’re on the wrong tack here completely, Stanislaus.”

The inspector considered a moment before continuing. He sat down at the table and rubbed his moustache the wrong way, an irritating habit he possessed.

“That woman who lives in the house, is she an aunt or something?” He consulted his notes. “Here you are: Harriet Pickering, alias Donna Beatrice. I realized she was going to keep me up half the night if I was going to get even the more ordinary facts from her, so I left it till later. Well, she’s a perfectly ordinary hysterical type, there’s no doubt about that. Very near the edge of mania, too, I should say. You must know the woman I mean—wears an acoustic device,” he went on testily, catching sight of Campion’s blank face. “I couldn’t manage her, so I turned her over to the doctors. She told me a cock-and-bull story about seeing lights round my head. Seeing lights round the victim’s head. Something to do with indigo and the viler emotions. She seemed to be in fancy dress, too. She may not be certifiable, but—well, she’s not quite compos mentis, poor soul. That was one of the things I wanted to ask you. Who is she? And what is she doing here?”

Mr. Campion did his best to give the inspector a brief outline of Donna Beatrice’s career as he knew it, during which Oates’s eyes widened and his moustache seemed to be in danger of being rubbed off altogether.

“Really!” he said at last. “Lafcadio’s Inspiration? I didn’t know he was that sort of man at all.”

“He wasn’t,” said Mr. Campion. “I doubt if he ever treated the lady with anything but the utmost propriety.”

“Oh, well, then, there’s your insanity,” said the inspector easily. “The whole household is definitely queer. There’s that cook who used to be a model, and those funny people who live in a shed in the garden. Bohemia’s one thing, but this has a respectable veneer. I think you’ll find that there’s insanity somewhere. All round, if you ask me.”

“What about Mrs. Lafcadio?” Campion ventured.

The inspector smiled. “I wasn’t counting her,” he said. “There’s something very attractive about the real McCoy when you meet it. I told her she ought to go and lie down. It’s been a shock, I’m afraid. I want you to go and prepare her for something worse soon. I think we shall have to detain the girl.”

“You’ll be making a very silly mistake if you do, on a par with the time when you nearly arrested Uncle William in Cambridge.”

The inspector was silent for a little while.

“If you want to get rid of that moustache, why don’t you shave it?” said Campion.

The inspector laughed and dropped his hand.

“Oh, well,” he said, “it all falls back on routine in the end. That man Rennie seems an intelligent sort of person. I’m getting a list of the guests from him. We shall take a statement from each of them, and you never know, something may turn up. But I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it this time. The girl had the motive, and she had the opportunity. I know that’s not conclusive, but it’s nine points out of the ten. Will you go to the old lady, Campion, while I see Rennie? Oh, by the way, you didn’t see anything, did you? I haven’t had a statement from you. Where were you when it happened?”

“In the passage, putting a shilling in the meter.”

“Of course!” said the inspector bitterly. “Probably the one trained observer in the party out of the room at the psychological moment.”

He walked over to the door with Campion.

“You see, that meter is another thing,” he said. “No one could have arranged for that light to go out just then. It all points to an impulsive, insane gesture that happened to come off. You work on the line of insanity; you’ll find it there somewhere.”

“If you detain that girl you’ll never prove anything against her,” said Campion, his hand on the door knob.

“That’s the trouble,” said the inspector. “Without conclusive evidence we shouldn’t be able to get a conviction, but the whole world would believe she’s guilty.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Mr. Campion and went out.

6  :  The Gesture

Mr. Campion went slowly upstairs to the drawing room reflecting that the situation was impossible. He dreaded the meeting with the family. Belle, he knew, looked to him for comfort, and in the circumstances he had very little to offer her.

The cold air of calamity had permeated the whole household. The atmosphere of the hall was chill and yet curiously stuffy.

They would have to be warned of the inspector’s intention—he realized that—and there was the question of insanity, too. The longer he considered his task the less he was attracted by it.

He pushed open the door of the drawing room and went in. They were all there save Linda and Rosa-Rosa. Belle sat in her usual chair by the fire just as she had done on the evening before, when she had been chatting so happily to Campion. She was very grave now, but there was no sign of weakness on her face. Her hands were folded in her lap, and she stared down into the fire, her mouth screwed into a small grimace of pity.

Lisa was crying softly, huddled up on a low chair by Belle’s side. At least it seemed that she was crying, for she dabbed her little black eyes with a big white handkerchief from time to time.

On the opposite side of the hearth, Donna Beatrice, the only one of the party who had changed her dress, sat swathed in black georgette, a silver chatelaine hanging from her girdle and a great silver cross round her neck.

Max strode up and down the room impatiently. Like Donna Beatrice he had been quick to see the dramatic possibilities of the affair, and whereas he did not actually “make copy” out of them he obviously got a modicum of satisfaction out of the drama. At worst it seemed to mean that something else was happening on the little stage which he made his life. The vital question whether the scandal would affect Lafcadio’s reputation advantageously or adversely also confronted him.

As the young man came in he glanced at Campion carelessly and made him a helpless gesture. If he had said, “It’s too terribly trying, isn’t it? But emergencies do occur,” he could not have conveyed his thought more clearly.

Donna Beatrice’s greeting was more sensational, and Campion remembered with sudden satisfaction that her real name was Harriet Pickering. She rose from her chair.

“Your aura,” she said. “Your aura . . . You looked like a flame coming into the room, a vigorous cosmic flame.”

Lisa made some muttered protest in her own language, and Belle put out a hand to soothe her.

Donna Beatrice sank down again.

“The vibrations in this house are terrible,” she continued. “The air is full of evil spirits crowding upon one another. I can feel them oppressing me, wearing me down. It’s all very well for you, Lisa. They pass you by. But I’m attuned to the higher consciousness, and I know we’re all in danger. The evil act has set millions of vibrations going. We must be very strong. I must be very brave.”

Belle dragged her eyes from the fire and let her mild gaze rest upon the other woman.

“Harriet,” she said, “don’t enjoy it.”

It was the first ill-natured remark any of them had ever heard her make, and the rebuke was all the more effective.

Max permitted a smile to pass over his face, Lisa ceased to sniff, and Donna Beatrice herself made a noise like a startled hen. Then with tremendous conscious dignity she reasserted herself.

“Belle darling, you should lie down. This terrible thing is getting on all our nerves. I can stand it because I’m an old spirit. I’ve probably gone through this sort of experience in other incarnations many times before.”

Belle, who realized that for chronic hysteria there is no cure, ignored her and stretched out a hand to Campion.

“Come and sit down, my dear,” she said. “Tell me, whom are they going to arrest?”

Campion looked at her sharply. Her shrewdness was always surprising him. He saw that they were all looking at him, waiting for his news. He realized that he was their only friend, their only personal link with that terrifying organ of justice, the Police.

Mr. Campion had faced many dangers in his time and had come unscathed through many adventures, but at this moment he was desperately uncomfortable. He cleared his throat.

“Look here, Belle,” he said, still holding her hand, “this is rather an awkward question, but do you know anyone who was at the reception or—” he hesitated—“anyone in the house who is liable to uncontrollable fits of fury? I mean, have there ever been violent incidents in the past? Not verbally violent, you know, but—well, has anybody ever done anything almost dangerous?”

Whatever reply he expected, the immediate results of his question were startling in the extreme. A wail of mingled anguish and terror sounded in his very ear, and Lisa, her face ashen, rose from her seat and stumbled blindly out of the room. There was a blast of chilly air as the door swung open and the little click which the catch made as it closed to echoed forlornly in the silent room.

“Lisa also appears to be a recipient of the higher consciousness,” Max drawled, nettled into impoliteness, while Donna Beatrice caught her breath sharply and Belle’s hand tightened over Mr. Campion’s.

Donna Beatrice shrugged her shoulders.

“So it’s come out at last,” she said. “When I first saw the scissors I knew there was something strange about them. Something repelled me slightly when I touched them. I might have known—I might have known!”

Campion looked at Belle. His eyes were sharp behind his spectacles, and his manner had authority.

“I think you ought to tell me,” he said. “What is it?”

Belle seemed loath to speak, but Donna Beatrice sailed in with an eagerness that was frankly uncharitable.

“Some years ago,” she said, “Lisa made a wholly unwarrantable attack on me down in the studio. It was the outcome of ungovernable fury.”


Belle stretched out her hand.

“Oh, nonsense! You can’t hide things like that. Mr. Campion’s asked for the truth, and now he shall have it. After all, it’s only fair to ourselves. If you get a young, unbalanced soul to deal with, you must protect yourself in a practical manner.”

Mr. Campion was listening patiently, and even Max had paused in his perambulations and now stood behind Belle’s chair watching Donna Beatrice’s placid face wearing its smug expression. She was very conscious of her audience and told her story with a simulation of hesitancy which they found unbearably irritating.

“It was when the Master was alive,” she began, dropping her eyes as usual on the name. “Lisa was just beginning to lose her beauty—all traces of beauty, I mean. She confided to me that she was worried about it, and I tried to help her by telling her of the beauty of the spirit. Of course, I was inexperienced then or I should have recognized her as the young soul she is, incapable of benefiting in that way. Anyhow, the poor creature lost her temper and made an attack upon me. I’ve had to remind her of it since, several times. I made no complaint at the time because the Master was anxious that I shouldn’t, but I’ve never forgotten it. I put up my arms to shield my face, and I had a cut quite a quarter of an inch deep right across both my forearms. I can show you the scar on my left arm now. She was trying to disfigure me, you see.”

Mr. Campion looked at her in amazement. It seemed impossible that she could realize the full gravity of the accusation she made.

“That’s what she was thinking of when she ran out of the room,” the woman continued. “It’s understandable, isn’t it?”

Belle peered at Mr. Campion anxiously.

“It’s twenty-five years ago,” she said. “Quite twenty-five years ago. I thought we’d all forgotten it. Johnnie was so upset at the time, and poor Lisa was so penitent. Need it all be brought up again now?”

Mr. Campion looked reassuring. “I don’t think so,” he said. “After all, it is rather different, isn’t it?”

Donna Beatrice pointed a long, white finger at him.

“I know we must be charitable,” she said. “And I realize that we must do the right thing. But there’s something Belle hasn’t told you, something that I consider very significant. You see, Lisa happened to have attacked me with a pair of scissors. She had them in her hand at the time.”

“Oh, Beatrice!” The reproach in Belle’s voice was bitter. “How could you!”

Mr. Campion remained unimpressed. He thought he could imagine almost any woman in the situation which Donna Beatrice had described being moved to stop that excruciatingly stupid voice with whatever weapon came to hand. He shook his head decidedly.

“No,” he said. “Inspector Oates is not particularly interested in Lisa.”

“Of course he’s not,” said Donna Beatrice. “He’s not interested in anyone, I hope. It’s perfectly obvious that poor misguided Dacre committed suicide. I told the inspector there were angry dull brown and indigo rays round the boy’s head last night. Read what all the authorities say about dull brown and indigo rays. I don’t suppose even the inspector is going to question the authority of men like Kunst and Higgins. Dull brown and indigo rays mean violence, depression, and a lowering of the cosmic tone. A perfectly simple case of suicide. After all, that’s the only charitable way to look at it.”

“You saw the rays?” said Max, fixing her with a dark, unwavering eye. “Are you prepared to swear in court that you actually saw coloured rays of light encircling young Dacre’s head any time in your life?”

Donna Beatrice’s gaze wavered for an instant, but not for long.

“Yes,” she said exasperatingly. “I can see rays round all your heads now. There are too many dark colours in your own aura, Max.”

He continued to look at her with gloomy irritation. Then he bowed ironically.

“Dear lady, you are superb,” he murmured and turned away with an exaggerated gesture of exasperation.

But Donna Beatrice was equal to any treatment of this sort. “Don’t flounce, Max,” she said.

Belle seemed to be oblivious of the exchange. Her old brown eyes had grown introspective, and her lips moved ruminatively. Suddenly she turned to Campion.

“My dear,” she said, “I’ve got to be told some time or other, haven’t I? What is it? Whom do they suspect? Linda?”

Mr. Campion squeezed the hand which still rested in his own.

“It’s only some batty idea Stanislaus has,” he said lamely. “There’s nothing to worry about, of course.”

Belle nodded. She was not listening to him. “Oh, dear,” she said piteously. “Oh, dear.”

Both Max and Donna Beatrice were startled out of their respective poses by this development.

“Linda?” ejaculated Lafcadio’s Inspiration. “Oh, how wicked! How dreadful! Oh, Belle, we must do something. Oh, oh, how wicked!”

Max confronted Campion. He looked less affected and more human than the young man ever remembered seeing him before.

“Another Scotland Yard blunder?” he enquired bitterly.

Having plunged into the trouble, Mr. Campion struck out.

“Well,” he said, “there’s the motive, you know. It’s ridiculous, of course, but Dacre having married Rosa-Rosa like that did suggest to the inspector—” He paused without finishing the sentence.

“Dacre married to the little model?” exploded Donna Beatrice. “Oh, how dreadful! Oh, poor Linda! I understand how she felt. Poor girl! Ought I to go to her?”

Both Max and Campion seemed to be moved by a single thought, for they started simultaneously as though they would detain the good woman by force if necessary.

Belle allowed a stern expression to creep into the lines of her face.

“Don’t be a fool, Harriet,” she said. “We must pull ourselves together and think what’s best to be done. Of course, there’s no question that the poor child is innocent, but not everyone knows her as well as we do. Albert, my dear, what shall we do?”

Donna Beatrice began to sob. The refined sniffing which is perhaps the most irritating sound in the world heightened the tension in the room until it was unbearable. Belle was trembling. Campion could see her struggling to keep back her tears and forcing herself to think consecutively.

Max had been temporarily forgotten, so that when he spoke, his exaggerated drawl startled them all.

“My dear people,” he said, “don’t disturb yourselves. I see this matter must be cleared up immediately, and if you’ll permit me to use the phone, Belle, I think everything will be satisfactorily arranged.”

He moved over to the instrument, an extension from the hall, with his old self-conscious swagger, and, sitting down before it, dialled a number.

They listened to him as people always do listen to telephone conversations, that half-permitted eavesdropping which is irresistible.

“Hullo, is that you, Mrs. Levy? This is Max Fustian. Could I have just a word with Isidore?”

He paused and glanced back at them with a reassuring smile.

Campion recollected that Isidore Levy was the astute, thickset gentleman who assisted in the management of Max Fustian’s Bond Street business.

“Hullo, is that you, my dear boy? Listen. I haven’t much time. You must send Miss Fischer to the Picasso show. She knows my views. She must do my article this week. Now listen . . .”

He went on, evidently ignoring some muffled question from the other end of the wire.

“The American—you know who I mean—will probably come in tomorrow. Show him the Degas only. You understand? Nothing else. Only the Degas. You must attend the Leamington Castle sale without me. Our top price is fifteen thousand; not a penny more. . . . We shouldn’t get it back—don’t argue—we shouldn’t get it back.”

He paused, listening, and when he spoke again his tone was so casual that the words were barely formed, and it occurred to Campion that the man was labouring under some tremendous excitement.

“Yes,” said Max Fustian into the telephone. “Yes, I shall be away. For two or three days; perhaps longer. . . . What? Something important? Yes, in a way. I suppose so.”

He lifted the phone and looked over it at the puzzled group round the fire. When he was satisfied that he held their attention he devoted himself once more to the instrument. His hand was shaking, and his little dark eyes danced.

“My friend, my friend, why so importunate? . . . Very well, then; I don’t know when I shall come back. . . . I say my return is problematic. . . . Yes. You see, I’m just going down to a lugubrious policeman in Lafcadio’s dining room.”

He looked up and spoke half to the room, half to the phone. “I’m going to confess to a murder. That’s all.”

7  :  Confession

“So you killed the deceased deliberately, Mr. Fustian? Well, now, perhaps you wouldn’t mind sitting down and telling us clearly and concisely in your own words just exactly how you did it and why.”

The inspector’s slow voice sounded startlingly matter-of-fact in the room, which still tingled and vibrated with the dramatic eloquence of Max Fustian’s announcement. Oddly enough the drama became more intense, more serious, the difference between the real thing and a play, and the constable sitting at one end of the long mahogany table, his helmet placed carefully in front of him, breathed heavily as he waited, pencil poised, to take down from dictation.

Apart from the inspector and the self-accused man the room also contained Mr. Campion, lounging carelessly against the bookcase, his fair head bent and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.

The light seemed irritatingly bad and the atmosphere of the room cold and unventilated.

Max was excited, not to say exalted. There were feverish spots of colour in his sallow cheeks, and his eyes were unusually bright.

“You wish me to make a formal confession, I take it, Inspector? Well, that’s perfectly in order. My name is Max Nagelblatt Fustian. I am forty years of age—”

“That’s all right, Mr. Fustian.”

Once again the inspector’s patient, unemotional voice supplied a genuine note in Max’s histrionics.

“We know all that. I shan’t cast this into statement form until after we’ve got the facts. It’s very important to take a thing like this quietly. We don’t want any mistakes at the beginning. If you start off right it’s easier for everybody in the end. Don’t go too fast, because Bainbridge here will be taking it down. Think before you speak. What happens afterwards is nearly always based on what you said at the beginning, and a word spoken now will carry more weight than a dozen tomorrow morning. Now then, just start from where you made up your mind to kill the other gentleman.”

Max regarded the grave-faced, slow-speaking policeman with contempt and exasperation. As an appreciative audience the inspector was a failure.

“I resent this official attitude,” he burst out. “Can’t you see I’m trying to help you? If I hadn’t chosen to come forward you’d still be floundering. I made up my mind to kill young Dacre last night. I was not sure when or how, but last night when I heard that insufferable young idiot had married the girl Rosa-Rosa and had insulted Miss Lafcadio I decided that the man should be done away with. My motive was purely altruistic. I am one of those people who are blessed, or cursed, with a nature which has to interfere. If I see a thing that needs doing I do it.”

He was striding up and down the room as he spoke, throwing off the short, explosive sentences with the transparent conceit of a child.

The inspector watched him gravely, and the constable scribbled without once lifting his head. Mr. Campion appeared to be lost in thought.

“I had no time to lay my plans carefully. The opportunity came and I took it. From the beginning the scissors fascinated me. When the lights went out I saw my opportunity. The rest was simple. I went quietly across the room, picked up the scissors, struck the blow. The boy grunted and went down like a pig. The dagger was still in my hand. I wiped the handle, dropped it on the body and moved away. It was really very simple. I think that’s all I can tell you. Would you like me to come with you at once? There’s a cab rank on the corner. Perhaps Mr. Campion would be so kind as to tell Rennie to fetch one.”

The inspector grunted.

“All in good time, Mr. Fustian,” he said mildly. “You must let us have our own way a little, you know. There’s just one or two things we shall have to ask. Just read what the gentleman said about the actual stabbing, Bainbridge.”

The constable, looking undignified and very young without his helmet, cleared his throat and read the sentences without punctuation or expression:

“ ‘I went quietly across the room picked up the scissors struck the blow the boy granted and went down like a pig the dagger was still in my hand I wiped the handle and dropped it on the body.’ ”

“Ah,” said the inspector. “The word’s ‘grunted,’ Bainbridge, in the second line. ‘Grunted and went down like a pig.’ ”

“Thank you, sir,” said the constable and made the correction.

“Yes, well,” said the inspector, “that’s all right as far as it goes. Now, Mr. Fustian, supposing this was the scissors. Would you hold it, please?”

He picked up a long, round ruler from the inkstand and handed it gravely to the man.

“Now you, Mr. Campion, would you come and be the deceased, please. The man Dacre was sitting on the edge of the table where the jewelry was exhibited; leaning on it, I take it, supported partly by his hands. Now would you take up that position, please, Mr. Campion?”

Mr. Campion came forward obligingly and took up the position the inspector indicated. It was some moments before the inspector was satisfied, but at length he stepped back and returned to Max.

“Now, Mr. Fustian, would you demonstrate with the ruler, please, exactly how you struck the blow?”

“But this is ridiculous—insufferable.” Max’s voice was high-pitched with exasperation. “I’ve confessed. I stand before you self-accused. What more do you want?”

“Just a matter of routine, sir. We want to do everything right. It saves a lot of trouble in the end. Now, just go over it exactly as you did it in the studio in the dark. You walked over to him. We’ll assume you’ve picked up the scissors.”

Max was staring at the man, his eyes glittering. He was trembling with excitement and uncontrolled temper, and for a moment it seemed as if he would forget himself entirely and resort to physical violence. However, he pulled himself together and with a superb shrug of his shoulders permitted himself his famous crooked smile.

“Oh, well,” he said, “if you want to play games, why not? Look very closely and I’ll show you just how the horrid murder was done.”

He gripped the ruler, raised his arm above his head, and brought it down within an inch of Campion’s waistcoat.

“There you are,” he said. “Perfectly simple. Straight through the ribs and into the heart. Very pretty blow, really. I think I’m rather pleased with it.”

The inspector’s nod was noncommittal.

“Just once again, please,” he said.

Max complied, all his old contemptuous amusement returning. “I raised my hand, thus, and brought it down with all my strength.”

“Did you feel any resistance?” said Oates unexpectedly.

Max raised his eyebrows. “Well, I-I felt the slight resistance of the waistcoat cloth, and I think I touched a bone, but really it happened so quickly . . . I’m afraid I haven’t your prosaic mind, Inspector.”

“Very likely not, Mr. Fustian.”

There was no underlying tartness in Oates’s tone.

“What did you do then—after you felt the resistance of the bone, I mean?”

“Then I felt the man fall. Then—oh, let me see—then I wiped the handle of the scissors on my handkerchief and dropped them on the body. Then I moved away. Anything else I can tell you?”

Oates considered. “No,” he said at last. “No, I think that’s all, Mr. Fustian. Perhaps you will sit down.”

“Really, is all this hanging about necessary?” Max’s drawl was becoming plaintive. “After all, this is a nerve-racking business for me, Inspector, and I should like to get it over.”

“So would we all, Mr. Fustian.” Oates was gently reproving. “But then it’s a serious business. Murder’s a capital charge, remember, and, as I say, we don’t want to make any mistakes at the beginning. Hand me that note, will you, Bainbridge? Thank you. Now, you went across the room in the dark and picked up the scissors. The failure of the lights was a complete accident. It came as a surprise to everyone. There’s no question on that point. We have evidence to show that you were standing talking to Miss Harriet Pickering when the lights failed, at approximately a distance of fifteen feet from the table where the deceased was leaning. We have three separate statements to show that. According to your story you went over and picked up the scissors.

“Well, we won’t question that. Wait a minute, sir,” he continued, waving aside Max’s excited outburst. “You then tell us—and we’ve been very careful over this point; you’ve shown us and you’ve described it—that you raised your hand above your head and brought the weapon down, noticing the resistance of the tough cloth of the deceased’s waistcoat and a slight resistance which you thought must be caused by the blades glancing off a bone.

“Now that brings us to another point. The blow which killed Thomas Dacre was an upward thrust delivered very scientifically. As the deceased was wearing a woollen pull-over and not a waistcoat, there was very little resistance offered to the blow by the clothing. The weapon entered the body just below the lower rib and went straight up into the heart, causing almost instantaneous death.”

Max was sitting very stiff and white in his chair, his bright eyes fixed upon the inspector’s face. Oates remained slightly preoccupied and perfectly grave.

“Now, to return to your statement, sir. You then removed the weapon, wiped the handle, and dropped it on the body. I query this because the weapon remained in Dacre’s body until the police surgeon took it out. Also, the handle was not wiped.

“I think that’s all, except for the matter of the motive. We have a great many murders every year, most of them committed for obvious reasons, some of them very sound reasons. The altruistic murderer is rare, and of course I couldn’t say what the chances of your being one were until we have the evidence of the police doctor as to the state of your mind. But I’m prepared to forego the trouble of instituting an enquiry of that sort in the present instance. I don’t think it’s necessary in view of the discrepancies I’ve already mentioned.”

Max regarded him narrowly. “Do I understand that you are refusing to accept my confession?” he said icily.

Oates folded the constable’s notes and fitted them into his pocketbook before he replied. Then he glanced up. His rather tired eyes were as mild as ever.

“Yes, Mr. Fustian,” he said. “That’s about it.”

Max said nothing, and after an interval the inspector went on speaking. He was very quiet, very friendly, and unexpectedly authoritative.

“Now look here, Mr. Fustian,” he said, “you may as well understand our position. We’ve got to get at the truth. No doubt you did what you did for the best reasons in the world. You thought a young lady was about to be arrested, and you thought you’d do her a good turn. Very likely you thought we were making a silly mistake and didn’t care what you did to stop us giving unnecessary pain. I appreciate your motives, and I think you’ve done a very nice thing, in a way, but you must see that you’re only wasting our time and your own and not really helping things forward at all.

“Oh, I may as well mention, too, before you go, that in Miss Harriet Pickering’s evidence she states that she was talking to you throughout the entire time that the lights were out, so you see your gesture was doomed to failure from the beginning. Good evening. I’m sorry this should have happened like this, but you see how it is.”

There was a moment or two of silence after the inspector had finished speaking, and then Max rose slowly to his feet and went out of the room without uttering a word. They heard his brisk pattering footsteps disappearing down the corridor.

The inspector nodded to the constable, who picked up his helmet and went out.

Mr. Campion and his friend exchanged glances.

“A bad show,” ventured the younger man.

The inspector grunted.

“There’s one born every minute,” he said. “I don’t like that type, though. Exhibitionists they’re called, aren’t they? It leaves us with our original problem. There isn’t anything to be gained from it at all. I shall give the girl twenty-four hours yet, in case something turns up. Now I think I’d better get back and make my report. A nice thing to happen in the middle of a Sunday afternoon!”

Mr. Campion lit a cigarette.

“It’s an incomprehensible business,” he said. “As you say, the only person in the world who could have had any conceivable reason for killing so insignificant a person as young Dacre was the girl, and I assure you she’s innocent. I’d stake my last bob on it.

“Of course,” he added hopefully, “the whole thing might have been an accident. I mean, there’s always the possibility that Dacre was not the man the murderer intended to kill. After all, there’s an element of chance about the whole affair; the blow being struck in the dark and going straight home and that sort of thing.”

“Oh, it’s a stunner,” said the inspector gloomily. “I knew that as soon as I heard the telephone bell going this afternoon.” He spoke savagely and as one who believed in premonitions. He tapped the papers in his hand.

“From the statements here you’d think we’d come to a lunatic asylum. There’s only two or three concise stories among the lot. That woman Potter was as good as anyone. She seemed to have her wits about her. But her husband was the vaguest thing on earth. D’you know, Campion, I sometimes wonder how some of these fellows manage to keep alive. God knows it’s hard enough to earn a living when you’ve got all your wits about you. But these blokes don’t die. Someone looks after ’em.”

Campion accompanied the inspector to the front door, and as they passed through the hall the object of Oates’s gloomy conjectures hurried out of the dining room to meet them. Mr. Potter’s red unhappy face wore an even more wretched expression than usual, and his eyes were frightened.

“Oh, I say, you know, I would like to go back to my studio,” he said. “I don’t see any point in hanging about here any longer. It’s all very sad and awkward, I know, but we must live. I mean, life’s got to go on, hasn’t it? I can’t do any good here.”

He was half in and half out of the dining-room doorway as he spoke, and twice he glanced apprehensively over his shoulder back into the room during his short speech. He was so palpably alarmed and preoccupied that both men instinctively glanced past him.

What they saw was completely unexpected. Lying upon the hearth rug and cutting into the picture made by the angle of the door was a pair of feet encased in sensible brown shoes.

The inspector walked into the room, sweeping aside Mr. Potter’s tentative and ineffectual gestures of protest.

“That’s all right, Mr. Potter,” he said. “I see no reason why you shouldn’t go back to your studio now. It’s only in the garden, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, that’s right.” Mr. Potter was still dancing in front of the policeman in an attempt to screen the object on the floor.

His efforts were completely fruitless, however, and Campion, who had followed Oates, found himself looking down at Mrs. Potter lying upon her back, her face crimson and her sleek hair disordered. She was breathing stertorously, and her eyes were closed.

Mr. Potter gave up all attempts at deception with a rather pathetic little shrug of his shoulders, and then, as the silence became oppressive, “It’s my wife,” he said apologetically. “The shock’s been too much for her, you know. She feels things very deeply. These—these masterful women sometimes do.”

“You’d better get her to bed,” said the inspector casually. “Can you manage?”

“Oh, yes, yes. It’s nothing.” Mr. Potter was already motioning them towards the door. “Good night.”

“Good night,” said Oates. “Are you coming, Campion?”

As they walked down the steps to the street, the older man glanced at his friend.

“Did you see that?” he said. “That was a funny thing, wasn’t it? Now I wonder what that means.”

The younger man’s friendly face wore a faintly puzzled expression. “I didn’t go very near her,” he said, “but it looked to me as if—”

“Oh, she was drunk, all right,” said Oates. “Didn’t you see the decanter on the sideboard? She must have taken pretty well a tumblerful neat to put her out like that. Some people do, you know. It’s a form of drugging. But what for, I’d like to know? What’s she got on her mind that she can’t bear to think about? There’s something very odd about all this, Campion. Well, well, I wonder now.”

8  :  Little Things

The affair at Little Venice might have lingered on at this stage in its development until it became a tabooed subject at Scotland Yard and a worn-out scandal in Bayswater, had it not been for the conversation which the grave-faced man from the Foreign Office held with his department.

The dictates of diplomacy being of considerable importance in those days of conferences, the Home Secretary took action, and the press became oddly disinterested in the murder. A discreet inquest was followed by a quiet funeral, and the remains of Thomas Dacre were deposited in Willesden Cemetery without further attention from the police.

Lafcadio’s household quietened down and might never again have emerged from its seclusion had it not been for the startling, utterly unexpected tragedy which was the second murder.

A little over three weeks after Dacre’s death, when Inspector Oates had ceased to sigh with relief for the intervention of the powers that be, Mr. Campion was seated in his own room in the flat at Bottle Street when Linda called.

She came in hurriedly, her coat clinging to her lean young figure. She looked modern and distinctive, and once again he was reminded that the tempestuous Lafcadio was her grandfather. There was the same faint air of rebellion about her, the same nonchalance, the same frank consciousness that she was a privileged person.

She was not alone. Her companion was a young man of her own age. Campion found himself liking him even before the introductions had been effected.

He was not unlike the girl herself, loosely but strongly built, wide of shoulder and narrow of hip, with faded hair, a big characterful nose, and shy dancing blue eyes.

He seemed delighted to see Campion and favoured the room with the frankly approving stare of a friendly child.

“This is Matt D’Urfey,” said Linda. “He used to share a hovel with Tommy.”

“Yes, of course. I’ve seen your pen drawings about, haven’t I?” Campion turned to the visitor.

“Very likely,” said D’Urfey without pride. “I must live. I say, I like your flat.”

He wandered across the room to look at a small Cameron over the bookshelf, leaving Linda to continue the conversation. She did this at once, plunging immediately into the matter on her mind with her usual directness.

“Look here, Albert,” she said, “about Tommy. There’s something very queer going on.”

Campion glanced up at her shrewdly, his pale eyes suddenly grave behind his spectacles.

“Still?” he enquired, adding, “I mean, anything fresh?”

“Well, I think so.” Linda’s tone kept a touch of its old defiance. “Of course you may pooh-pooh the whole thing, but you can’t get away from the facts. That’s why I’ve brought Matt along. I mean, look at Matt; he’s not the person to imagine anything.”

The recipient of this somewhat doubtful compliment glanced over his shoulder and smiled delightfully, returning immediately to the etching, which he evidently enjoyed.

“My dear girl,”—Campion’s tone was soothing—“I haven’t heard the facts yet. What’s up?”

“There aren’t any actual facts. That’s what’s so infuriating.” Her big grey-green eyes above the wide cheekbones were suddenly suffused with helpless tears.

Campion sat down. “Suppose you tell the sleuth all about it,” he suggested.

“I want to. That’s why I’ve come. Albert, whoever killed Tommy is not content with stealing his life. They’re just obliterating him as well, that’s all.”

Mr. Campion had a gentle, kindly personality and was possessed of infinite patience. Gradually he calmed the girl and got her to tell her rather curious story.

“The first things that disappeared were those drawings of Tommy’s that I showed you on the day of the private view,” she said. “You remember them. They were in that cupboard in the studio. About a dozen or fourteen. Just sketches, most of them, but I’d kept them because they were good. I went to get them out last week because I wanted to have a little show of Tommy’s work somewhere—nothing ambitious, you know, just a few things of his in one of the small galleries. I didn’t want him to just fade away utterly, you see, because he—he—well, he had something, didn’t he?”

Her voice, never very steady, threatened to break, but she controlled herself and went on:

“First of all I found my drawings had gone. I turned the place out and raised hell generally, but they’d just vanished. They’ve gone as completely as if they’d never existed. And then, of course, I couldn’t get a gallery.”

She paused and regarded Campion earnestly.

“Can you believe that there isn’t a single small gallery in London to be had for love or money to exhibit Tommy’s work? It isn’t even as though times were good and money was floating around. It’s a conspiracy, Albert, a wretched, measly, mean effort to stamp Tommy out of the public mind for ever.”

Mr. Campion looked uncomfortable.

“My dear girl,” he said at last, “don’t you think the—well, the unfortunate circumstances of young Dacre’s death may have something to do with it? After all, I know the good gallery folk aren’t all renowned for good taste, but don’t you think they feel they don’t want to lay themselves open to any accusation of sensation-mongering? Why not leave it for a year or so and let him burst on the world without any unpleasant associations?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

“Perhaps so,” she said. “That’s what that little beast Max says. Still, that’s only a half, only a quarter, of the whole thing. You see, Albert, it isn’t only my drawings that have vanished. All his work, everything he ever did, is going. Someone hated him so much that they don’t want anything he possessed to remain.”

Matt, who had given up contemplating the walls, lounged back to Linda’s side.

“I thought it was rather odd that anyone should burgle the hovel,” he remarked. “I mean, what had Tommy got? Nothing but his paints and a spare shirt. Nothing of mine was touched. Thank God,” he added piously.

“Burglary?” enquired Campion.

“Good Lord, yes. Hasn’t Linda told you? I thought that’s why we came.” Mr. D’Urfey seemed astonished. “The night before last, when I was down at the Fitzroy, some lunatic walked into the hovel and removed every single thing Tommy possessed. His clothes, one or two old canvases, all his paints, brushes, and other paraphernalia. Rather queer, wasn’t it? I was glad to get rid of the stuff in a way—other people’s junk, you know—but I thought it was odd, so I mentioned it to Linda, and since all the poor chap’s stuff is vanishing she thought we’d better come along.”

Mr. Campion listened to this somewhat extraordinary announcement with interest. “When you say all his stuff is vanishing, what do you mean?” he enquired.

“Just that,” said Linda. “Seigal’s in Duke Street had a few of his drawings, and just after he died they displayed them in that small box case on the left of the door. You know they haven’t much window space. Well, the whole box was taken, stolen, some time in the lunch hour when the street was pretty well deserted. No one saw them go. Then there were the contents of his studio in Florence. Someone bought the lot within twenty-four hours of his death. I wrote the people last week and got their reply yesterday.”

She hesitated and went on awkwardly:

“He owed quite a lot, and they were glad to accept any offer for the stuff he left behind. They didn’t seem to know who the man was. I’ve wired them for full particulars, but I haven’t had any reply yet.”

Mr. Campion sat on the arm of his chair, his long, thin legs stretched out in front of him.

“This is very odd,” he said. “About the—er—hovel burglary. You say nothing but Dacre’s stuff was taken?”

“Oh, well, they lifted an old overall of mine,” said D’Urfey casually, “but the rest was all his. That wasn’t so difficult, as a matter of fact,” he went on frankly. “Dacre was a tidy bloke anyway, and he’d only just returned, so most of his stuff was stacked up in a corner of the studio, hardly any of it unpacked. What made me think it was a bit queer,” he continued, evidently making a much longer speech than was his wont, “was why anyone should come to the hovel. It’s perfectly simple to walk into, of course, but why should anyone do it?”

“Where,” enquired Mr. Campion, “is the hovel?”

“Christian Street. It turns off the wrong end of Shaftesbury Avenue,” said Mr. D’Urfey promptly. “It’s that smelly little road on the right, opposite the Princess Theatre and parallel with Drury Lane. The hovel is two top rooms in the house over the rag-and-bone shop. The stink has worn off by the time you get to the top, or you’ve grown used to it—I’ve never been sure which,” he added frankly. “It’s not bad. No sanitation, but central and all that. Anyone could walk in and move out my entire estate at any time, of course, but no one ever does. Why should they?”

“No one saw any stranger go up, I suppose, on the day of your burglary? The people underneath, for instance?”

“No. Mrs. Stiff lives on the floor below. She’s a flower girl in Piccadilly, and she was out all the evening. The rag-and-bone shop closes at five, and the place is pitch dark after eight. We’re not very hot on street lamps in our district—the kids smash ’em—so anyone could have come in. Still, it doesn’t matter, but it’s funny, isn’t it?”

Mr. Campion considered. Linda was regarding him sombrely, but Mr. D’Urfey’s dancing eyes had already strayed to a Currier & Ives which had taken his fancy, and he moved over to get a closer view.

Campion framed a delicate question.

“There is Dacre’s wife,” he ventured at last. “Might not she have felt that his things were her property?”

“Wife?” Matt left his print unwillingly. “Oh, Rosa-Rosa. I forgot. Yes, we thought of her at once. I looked her up, but she doesn’t know a thing about it. In fact she’s livid about his trunk going. Apparently there’s a pair of stays in it that he refused to let her wear. She was very fond of them. She’s very dense, you know, but these things were heirlooms as far as I could make out. Did you understand her, Linda?”

“Rosa-Rosa did not take Tommy’s things.” The girl spoke with the quiet conviction which quenches all argument. There was a pause. “I don’t know why I’ve come to you, Albert. I don’t know what I expect you to do,” she burst out suddenly. “But something queer is happening; something I don’t understand.”

Her strong brown hands fluttered in an odd, helpless gesture. “Do you know, I can’t think of anything in the world I can lay my fingers on that he ever possessed—not a scrap of drawing, not a paintbrush.”

Campion rose to his feet and patted her shoulder.

“I think I can alter that for you,” he said, a tinge of satisfaction in his voice. “I’ve got a drawing of Dacre’s in the next room. You can have it if you like.”

He hurried out, to return almost immediately with a big flat brown-paper parcel which he set down on the desk.

“I’m afraid I ought to confess that I did a bit of sharp buying myself,” he said, snipping the string. “I phoned Max Fustian at his office on the day after the—er—private view and told him that I’d seen some of Dacre’s work and was very impressed with it. He went round to Seigal’s, I suppose, for when I got to his gallery he had half a dozen to show me. I bought one, and as I was off to Paris that afternoon they kept it and didn’t send it round until yesterday. I haven’t opened it yet. I like it immensely. It’s the head of a boy, a Spaniard, I think.”

On the last word he brushed back the brown paper and revealed a strip of plywood packing within.

“Here we are,” he went on, lifting it up and removing the layers of tissue, “all mounted and everything—”

His voice trailed away on the last word, and a startled exclamation escaped the girl, for the pristine mount was empty, and, although they searched the parcel again and again, of the “Head of a Boy” by Thomas Dacre there was no sign whatever.

9  :  Salesmanship

“My dear fellow, fantastic! Positively fantastic!”

Max Fustian strode up and down the luxurious carpet which covered the floor of the principal salon of his exquisite little gallery and offered this opinion with a wealth of gesture.

The Salmon Galleries in Bond Street had been redecorated when he took them over, and now they were a fitting tribute to his taste and his business acumen. Save for a few carefully displayed pictures, Mr. Fustian’s stock-in-trade was kept delicately in the background, and the unwary visitor might imagine that he had inadvertently strayed into the private house of some fabulously wealthy personage whose taste was so elegantly refined that it had almost reached the point of negation.

The soundproof walls shut out all noise from the street, and, in the hushed atmosphere common to art galleries, cathedrals, and banks, Max’s melodious drawl sounded less out of place than it had done in Belle’s drawing room.

Mr. Campion leant upon his stick and watched the man with interest.

“Well, I thought I’d tell you, you know,” he said half apologetically, since it seemed to be committing sacrilege to mention anything so vulgar as the contents of a brown-paper parcel in such a rarefied atmosphere.

“My dear Campion, of course.” Max was magnificently condescending. “I’ve sent for the man who does our packing. No drawing in the mount, you say? It’s fantastic. But then, you know, extraordinary things are happening in connection with that wretched boy’s death; the wildest things. I had an amazing experience myself. I’ll tell you about it. If you’ve seen Linda—poor child! how decorative she is in her grief—you know about Seigal’s case of drawings. Really, until this morning I thought you were the last man in London, possibly in the world, to have a specimen of Dacre’s work.”

With the movement of a ballet dancer he swooped down upon a beautifully chased steel box, the only object on an exquisitely figured walnut table, which in turn shared with two William and Mary chairs the privilege of being the only furniture in the room.

Mr. Campion refused an Egyptian cigarette which looked odd, unpleasant, and possibly of enormous value.

“You agree with Linda, then, that someone’s trying to stamp Dacre’s work out of existence?” he ventured.

Max raised his eyebrows and spread out his long white hands.

“Who can tell?” he said. “Nothing’s impossible, you know, Campion. Personally, I’m not inclined to bother about it. Dacre had talent, you know, but then who hasn’t in these days? He was one of thousands—thousands! Talent is not enough, Campion. The modern connoisseur wants genius. Poor Dacre! Poor, mediocre Dacre! Only his death made him interesting.”

Mr. Campion grinned. “That’s a distinction he shares with quite a lot of painters,” he ventured.

The other man’s little bright black eyes flickered for an instant.

“How exquisitely true,” he said. “But I suppose we ought to be grateful to Dacre that at least his death was genuinely interesting. All his work vanishing like this, it’s quite romantic. My own experience was interesting. I didn’t admire Dacre’s work, you know, but there was a little thing—just a study of a hand—a little thing of no value at all, but it pleased me. There was something in the line, something—how shall I say?—enlightened, you understand. I had it framed rather charmingly. A new idea of my own: the moulding was carved from stone. It’s exceptionally right for certain pencil drawings. The greys blend. I had it hanging in my dining room just above a rather lovely stripped Stuart bread cupboard.”

He paused and held a gesture which Mr. Campion took to indicate that he was visualizing a pleasing scene.

“It was a conceit of mine,” he went on, sublimely unconscious of any impression but the one he intended, “to keep a certain coloured rose in a pewter jar a little to the left of the picture. It formed a little group, broke the line, and pleased me. The other night when I came into my flat I realized at once that someone had been there. Just little things altered, you know—a chair not quite in alignment, a cushion on the wrong end of the sofa—just little things that offend one’s eye. Although nothing was actually in disorder, you understand, I knew at once that someone had been through the place, and I hurried into my bedroom.

“There was the same story. Just little things altered. The moment I entered the dining room the thing hit me in the eye. The pewter jar with the rose was set directly beneath the picture. I hurried over, and there was the empty frame. The drawing had been taken out quite skilfully.

“I don’t mind admitting to you, Campion, that at first I was inclined to suspect Linda, although how she could have got into my flat, I don’t know. But after seeing her and talking to her I realized, of course, that she didn’t know anything and was just as puzzled as I was. The whole thing’s absurd, isn’t it?”

“The drawing had gone?” said Mr. Campion, who seemed to be afflicted with a sudden stupidity.

“Completely.” Max waved his hands in the air. “Just like that. Ridiculous, isn’t it?”

“Amazing,” said Mr. Campion bluntly.

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a sallow, somewhat scared-looking child in a travesty of one of Max’s own suits.

“This is Mr. Green, who packs our pictures,” said Max with the air of one introducing a rare and privileged creature. “You’ve heard of our difficulty, Mr. Green?”

The boy looked bewildered. “I can’t understand it, Mr. Fustian. The drawing was all right when I packed it.”

“You’re sure it was there?” Max fixed the young man with a bright, beady eye.

“There, sir? Where, sir?”

“I mean,” said Max with gentle force, “I mean, my dear Mr. Green, that you’re certain there was a drawing in the mount which you so carefully packed and sent to Mr. Campion?”

The boy’s sallow cheeks flushed. “Well, naturally, sir. I’m not barm—I mean, I’m sure it was there, Mr. Fustian.”

“There you are, Campion.” Max turned to his visitor with the gesture of a conjuror removing the black cloth.

Campion turned to the boy.

“What happened to the parcel after you had packed it? Was it delivered straightway?”

“No, sir. I understood you didn’t want it delivered at once, and so it stood on the rack in the room downstairs where we make tea for about a week.”

“The room where you make tea, Mr. Green?” asked Max coldly.

The child, who, Campion decided, could not be more than fourteen, wriggled painfully. “Well, the room where we wash our hands, sir,” he muttered.

“In the staff cloakroom?” said Max in cold astonishment. “Mr. Campion’s beautiful drawing stood on the rack in the staff cloakroom for almost a week? Surely, Mr. Green, that was a mistake?”

“Well, it had to stand somewhere,” said the wretched Mr. Green, goaded into revolt by this mixture of injustice and the inexplicable.

“I see,” said Max coldly. “Then at any time during the week anyone could have tampered with Mr. Campion’s beautiful drawing. That will do, Mr. Green.”

Mr. Green departed miserably, and Max returned to Mr. Campion with a rueful gesture.

“One’s staff!” he said. “One’s staff!”

Mr. Campion smiled politely, but his pale eyes behind his spectacles were thoughtful. On the face of it this new development in the affair at Little Venice was frankly bewildering. At first he had been inclined to suspect Linda of a disordered imagination. Then the thought had occurred to him that some price-forcing conspiracy might be afoot. But although there are many collectors who will buy up all the pictures of a painter tragically dead, there were surely few who would go to the lengths of committing burglary and appropriating old clothes.

On the other hand, in his own surroundings Max was inclined to be a more comprehensible person than he had appeared in Lafcadio’s home. His somewhat extraordinary line of conversation sounded less bizarre in the gallery.

Mr. Campion, who had the wit to make a study of men without considering himself a connoisseur of humanity, began to regard him with new interest. The inspector, he felt, had not done him justice.

It was at this point in his reflections that Mr. Isidore Levy, plump and intelligent, came hurrying up to murmur a few words to Max.

Campion saw the little black eyes light up.

“He’s come, has he?” he said. “I’ll be with you immediately.”

Mr. Campion hurried to make his excuses. In the past few moments he had become aware of a suppressed excitement in the gallery, an air of momentous happening.

“I’ll come back later,” he said. “Or perhaps you’d phone me?”

“My dear fellow, don’t go.” Max’s tone was obviously genuine. “I have a client.” He lowered his voice. “Sir Edgar Berwick—yes, the politician. He rather fancies himself as an authority on Flemish art.”

He slipped his arm through Campion’s and led him down the room away from the door, talking softly.

“It’s really rather amusing. He wants to make a presentation to his local art gallery, and I think I have something that will interest him. Come along; you must hear it. It’s part of your education. I insist. And besides,” he added with sudden naïveté, “I’m better with an audience. You’re a student of psychology, aren’t you? Here’s an interesting example for you.”

When he followed Max into the smaller salon which formed the other showroom of the gallery, Campion saw at once that salesmanship had already begun. The high narrow room with its top lights and stripped-pine panelling had been prepared for the contest. The picture stood at the far end of the room on an easel, and the only other touch of pure colour was provided by a long velvet curtain draped graciously over a second doorway. By happy chance or ingenious design, the vivid blue in the picture was echoed in this hanging. The effect was very pleasant.

When Mr. Campion entered unobtrusively behind Max, Sir Edgar was already standing before the picture, his grey head bent. He was an oldish man, large and remarkably dignified. His skin was pink and his natural expression belligerent. At the moment he looked important and extremely wise. He also appeared to be aware of the fact.

Mr. Campion, while feigning interest in a screenful of early German engravings, had leisure to observe the greeting. Max, he reflected, was superb. He approached his somewhat pompous client with just the right mixture of deference and friendliness and then stood beside him in silence, looking at the picture with somewhat self-conscious satisfaction, patently aware that he saw it as an expert and as no ordinary man.

Sir Edgar remained so long in contemplation that Mr. Campion had time to get a glimpse of the picture itself and all the others in the gallery before the interview continued.

He was not a judge of oils, but he could see from where he stood that the piece was a Flemish interior in the Jan Steen manner. It represented a christening party in a pleasant, clean-looking room where many little comedies were taking place. The painting seemed to be in good condition apart from a rather serious crack straggling across one corner.

At length, when Mr. Campion had completed his circle of the gallery and was back again at the colour prints, Sir Edgar stirred and turned to Max.

“Interesting,” he pronounced. “Definitely interesting.”

Max seemed to shake himself out of a trance. He dragged his eyes away from the canvas and permitted a faint enigmatic smile to pass over his countenance.

“Yes,” he said softly. “Yes.”

The superb noncommittal of this opening gambit over, silence again ensued. Sir Edgar squatted down on his august heels and peered through a small glass at the texture of the paint on the very bottom of the canvas.

Presently he rose to his feet and spoke brusquely:

“Can we have it out of the frame?”

“Of course.” Max raised a hand, and magically two assistants in baize aprons, one of them the ubiquitous Mr. Green, appeared, the beautiful old frame was removed, and the picture, looking surprisingly less important, relinquished naked to Sir Edgar’s little glass.

Then followed a minute examination of the canvas, back and front, interspersed by little grunts and muttered technicalities from the two combatants.

Presently the frame was restored and they took up their old positions in front of the easel, Sir Edgar a little pinker and a trifle dishevelled from his exertions, Max quieter, more enigmatic, than ever.

“No signature and no date,” said the amateur.

“No,” said Max. “Only internal evidence.”

“Of course,” the other agreed hastily. “Of course.”

And once again there was silence.

“There’s no mention of this christening piece in the catalogue of Steen’s work,” Sir Edgar ventured at last.

Max shrugged his shoulders. “In that case there’d hardly be a question,” he said and laughed a little.

Sir Edgar echoed his laugh. “Quite,” he agreed. “It’s indubitably the right period.”

Max nodded. “We have only the picture to go upon,” he said, “and of course doubts naturally crowd into the mind. But there are little touches which you as an expert must recognize, Sir Edgar; that curious cross-grained canvas, that sitting figure in the foreground. Very like Steen himself. Interesting how those men went in for self-portraiture.

“Of course,” he added, shrugging his shoulders, “I know no more than you. As I told you, it came into my hands in a perfectly orthodox way. I bought it at Theobald’s in January. I paid fourteen hundred and fifty for it. I bought it after examining it very closely, you understand, and I backed my own judgment. I can’t tell you whether it’s a genuine Steen. I don’t know. I’m inclined to think not. After all, a piece of luck like that doesn’t happen these days. Not to me, at any rate. A signed Steen was sold in the same sale for two thousand seven hundred pounds, and A. T. Johnson, who bought that picture, ran me up to fourteen-fifty for this.

“But of course,” he went on with a sudden gesture which swept aside anything so uninteresting as money, “there’s the picture itself. This little group here, for instance”—his long fingers described an airy circle—“there’s spirit and jollity there. There’s something quite indescribable. Don’t you notice it?”

“Oh, I do.” Sir Edgar was plainly impressed. “I do. In fact I’m inclined to go further than you, Fustian. You were always overcautious. The drawing of the child, that little piece of drapery, that suggests Steen to me.”

“Yes,” said Max casually. “Yes. Or a pupil.”

“A pupil?” Sir Edgar considered this contingency and shook his head. “But,” he went on, feeling perhaps that he had gone too far, “as you say, we can’t be sure.”

“No,” said Max. “No. There’s a mention in the first catalogue of a picture called ‘The First Birthday.’ If the child were older—but no. Even supposing the early chroniclers had not been too accurate, I fancy the production of a new find of that name would call into question a picture of that name in the Viennese collection.”

Sir Edgar produced his glass once again and peered long and thoughtfully at the child.

“Well, Fustian,” he said, “I’ll let you know definitely. Fifteen hundred, you say? In the meantime I’ll get you to put it on one side for me.”

Max hesitated and then, with the air of one making a decision, produced what Mr. Campion suddenly felt must be the master stroke of this ordeal by innuendo.

“Sir Edgar,” he said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve been thinking this matter over while we’ve been standing here, and I tell you frankly that I do not think it is a Steen. On the face of it I can’t sell it with any kind of guarantee. It’s charming, it’s like—it’s very like—but in the absence of external evidence I don’t think I can commit myself to such a pronouncement. No, no. Leave it at that. I don’t think it is a Steen.”

Sir Edgar’s bright, rather greedy blue eyes smiled.

“Officially,” he murmured.

Max permitted himself a deprecatory grimace.

“No, I won’t even say that,” he said. “I’m afraid you must let me make it quite definite. I don’t think it is a Steen. But I shall sell it to you for fifteen hundred, or I shall put it back in the sale room with that reserve.”

Sir Edgar laughed and polished his glass carefully with his handkerchief before replacing it in his pocket.

“Cautious,” he said. “Too cautious, Fustian. You ought to stand for Parliament. Put it on one side for me.”

Mr. Campion drifted into the other salon. The interview, he understood, was at an end.

Max returned after some minutes, quietly elated. His small black eyes were supremely happy, and although he did not directly refer to the interview which had passed, Campion felt that he was to understand that it had been a triumph.

They parted with many protestations of regret on Max’s part and a reckless promise that the “Head of a Boy” should be recovered though it lay at the end of the earth.

Mr. Campion wandered off down Bond Street. His mind was uneasy. The affair of the Dacre drawings was odd and irritating, but he was aware that the root of the uncomfortable impression chipping at his mind lay not here. Rather, it was something that had happened during the last few minutes, something which his unconscious mind had seized and was trying to point out to him.

In sheer annoyance he forced himself to think of something else.

10  :  The Key

When Mr. Campion went to call on Belle three days after his visit to the Salmon Galleries his interest in the murder was still mainly academic.

The police, embodied by the inspector and his sergeant, had their own cut-and-dried views of the case. These had become crystallized in their minds by the cessation of the investigation, and their curiosity was appeased.

Campion, on the other hand, was convinced afresh every time he saw Linda that she had had nothing to do with the killing of Dacre and also that she was not hiding anything.

For him the question remained, and as he walked up the staircase to the drawing room he felt strange in the old house. It was as though he were visiting it for the first time and noticing something uncanny about it, something inhospitable, as though the very walls were hugging themselves away from him with jealous secrecy.

The drawing room looked much the same as usual, however. A fire had been lighted against the chilly spring weather, and Belle sat in her low chair beside it, her plump hands held out to the blaze. As soon as Campion saw her he experienced his first feeling of animosity towards the murderer.

In the few weeks since the affair Belle had aged. She looked thinner and more fragile than before. There was a droop in the muslin of her bonnet and another at the corner of her mouth. Her brown eyes were more faded, and her welcome, although warm, was a trifle tremulous.

They were careful not to mention the business in those first minutes when they sat together by the hearth and waited for Lisa to bring tea, but its presence was very obvious, and even the grand bravura of John Lafcadio’s trophies scattered round the room seemed to have lost its magic beside the piece of violent, sordid reality which had invaded their fastness.

When Lisa, the tea, and the inevitable Donna Beatrice arrived together, the skeleton could be kept decently in the cupboard no longer. Indeed, Donna Beatrice drew it forth with a flourish and the same air of self-righteous courage with which some people disclose the more disgusting details of their ailments.

“Mr. Campion,” she said, thrusting her surprisingly strong hand into his own, “you don’t regard us as social lepers, at any rate. As soon as I came into the room I was aware of a strong blue aura over here in the corner by Belle, and I said to myself, ‘Well, here’s a friend at any rate.’ ”

Mr. Campion, who had forgotten her rainbow complex, was taken aback.

“Not at all,” he murmured unsuitably and rose to assist Lisa in the matter of the tea table. The old Italian woman shot him a sly, grateful smile from under her yellow lids, an expression immediately followed by a most expressive glare of hatred directed at the unsuspecting “Inspiration,” who had seated herself in the high Stuart chair across the hearth.

Donna Beatrice was still dramatizing the situation on National Theatre lines. Her heavy black velvet, chased silver cross, and fine lace handkerchief were almost traditional. Belle’s kind brown eyes rested on her a little wearily.

“No news, no developments. The secret grows oppressive,” Donna Beatrice remarked with relish as she accepted a cup of tea. “Tell me, Mr. Campion, have the police really dropped the case, or are they just crouching, watching, waiting to spring?”

Mr. Campion glanced at Belle for support, which she gave him generously.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Beatrice, if you don’t mind,” she said plaintively. “I’m growing old. I don’t want to think of unpleasant things.”

“Always a weakness, Belle dear,” said the irrepressible Inspiration with intentional gentleness. “But if you say so, well change the subject. Tell me, Mr. Campion, do you think the trend of modern art shows degeneracy or a leaning towards the primitive?”

Half an hour later, when Campion was wondering why, with a murderer at large in Little Venice, Donna Beatrice should have escaped killing, Max arrived.

He made his usual entrance, kissed Belle’s hand, bowed to the younger lady, all but chucked Lisa under the chin, and seemed a little put out to see Campion.

“Tea, Lisa,” he said. “Tea, that vulgar little stimulant we sip to soothe our afternoons. Bring me tea.”

With his arrival the talk steered onto more general subjects, and Donna Beatrice was eclipsed.

“Linda spends a great deal of her time with the boy D’Urfey,” Max remarked suddenly. “I met them going out together just now when I came in from my call on Claire Potter.”

“He seemed a nice boy,” said Belle. “He reminds me of poor Will Fitzsimmons before he became famous.”

Donna Beatrice made a gesture. “Isn’t that typical of Belle?” she said. “I’m afraid I’m more squeamish. Linda’s infatuation for the friend of her murdered fiancé seems too much like morbidity for me.”

Belle’s eyes hardened.

“My granddaughter is neither morbid nor infatuated,” she said with sudden vigour, and Max, who had opened his mouth, shut it again with the words unspoken.

Mr. Campion found himself growing more interested in Max. The man was not merely an empty poseur, and he felt he could begin to understand how he had carved a niche for himself in contemporary letters without having any especial gift. His was a tortuous, subtle brain, unexpectedly mobile and adroit.

Glancing at him now, lounging gracefully on a settee, his small dark face with its blue jowl and lively eyes turned towards the fire, Campion found him a most arresting personality.

“I trust the outcome of your masterly piece of salesmanship was successful the other afternoon?” he enquired.

Max turned to him lazily, but his smile showed him to be pleased.

“Eminently, thank you,” he said. “The deal went through without another word.”

Campion turned to Belle. “I had the privilege of seeing Fustian sell an old master the other afternoon,” he said. “A most exciting experience. Tell me,” he added, glancing back at the indolent figure on the settee, “how much doubt was there about the authenticity of that thing?”

“None whatever.” The drawl was very pronounced. “None in the world.”

Belle looked up sharply.

“What picture was it?” she enquired.

“Nothing to interest you, dear lady.” Max seemed anxious to let the question drop. “A conversation piece in the Steen manner, that’s all.”

His casualness had not deceived the old woman, however. She leant forward, her eyes fixed upon him.

“Not a christening scene?”

Max avoided her glance at first, but presently he laughed and looked into her eyes.

“There was a child in it,” he admitted.

“And a lot of blue and a kneeling figure in the foreground?” Belle persisted.

Max shot a glance at Campion.

“I confess to all these,” he said, laughing.

Mrs. Lafcadio sat back in her chair, her eyes round, and reproachful, a flush in her wrinkled cheeks.

“Max, that’s very disgraceful,” she said. “Very disgraceful indeed. Poor old Salmon would turn in his grave if he knew about it—he’s probably doing it now. Really, my dear, that’s dishonest!”

“But my adorable Mrs. Lafcadio,”—Max was still smiling—“you don’t understand. I never for one moment suggested that the christening scene was a genuine Steen. Campion must bear me out—I told my client very definitely that in my opinion it was not a Steen. I sold it on the strict understanding that I could give no guarantee of any kind. I said that in front of witnesses, didn’t I, Campion?”

Mr. Campion was spared replying by Belle, who continued in the same impulsive way.

“That picture,” she said, “as you must know very well, Max, was painted by old Cornelius van Pipjer. Surely you remember his widow? She used to live in the Cromwell Road. Johnnie and I were so sorry for her. I remember her dying quite well. It’s some years ago, of course, because Linda’s father wasn’t born.”

Max smiled faintly. “It’s an old picture, then, anyway,” he said.

For a moment Belle’s eyes clouded, and then she too smiled.

“I forget how old I am,” she said. “Yes, of course, poor Hester van Pipjer was before any of your time. But I remember that picture. There were half a dozen of them, and Johnnie made Salmon buy them. Van Pipjer was a copyist, but that one picture was an original in the Steen manner. Van Pipjer himself would never part with it, but when he died and his widow was so desperately poor, Johnnie made Salmon buy the pictures. I remember, poor dear, he was very cross at having to pay as much for the original as the copies. He could sell the copies, you see, for what they were, but a single picture by an unknown artist in the manner of a master was hardly worth anything at all. Still, Mrs. van Pipjer was very glad of the money. I remember how she cried when she saw it, poor thing.”

Max continued to smile, mischievously now, his eyes dancing.

“Dear Belle—what a gift!” he said. “You touch everything with the fairy finger of Romance. Can’t you see her, Campion? The old Dutch widow weeping, the corner of her apron held to her eye, while my portly predecessor in the frock coat of munificence slips the golden guineas into the bosom of her dress!”

“Max, you won’t get out of it that way.” Belle shook her head at him angrily. “Besides, old Salmon would never think of slipping guineas into anyone’s dress, although he certainly did wear a frock coat. But Mrs. van Pipjer never wore an apron, and if she had and was weeping into it, it would have been impossible to put money down her chest. But that’s not the point. How much did you get for that picture?”

Mr. Campion looked the other way.

Max closed his eyes. “Fifteen,” he said.

“Guineas?” demanded Belle, a little mollified.

“Hundreds,” said Max.

“Fifteen hundred? Oh, Max, I won’t have you here. I’m disgusted.”

Donna Beatrice laughed a little enviously. “Very clever of Max, I think,” she said.

“Don’t encourage him.” Belle was furious. “Oh,” she added inconsequentially, “what a boon that money would have been to Hester! She had such a pretty daughter—in consumption, I remember.”

Max burst out laughing. “Belle, you exquisite period piece,” he said. “You do me wrong. I told my client that in my opinion the picture was not a Steen.”

“Then why did he pay fifteen hundred pounds for it?”

“Because,” said Max superbly, “the man was a pompous imbecile who imagined that I could be wrong.”

“I suppose you suggested that it was a contemporary picture?” persisted Belle.

“I suggested nothing,” said Max. “He did all the talking. Isn’t that so, Campion? He certainly said it was painted on canvas contemporary with Steen, and I agreed with him. So it was. Your friend van Pipjer must have had a stock of old canvases. Very useful.”

Belle’s muslin bonnet quivered in the warm air.

“You’re very clever, Max,” she said, “but you’re not good.”

Max’s reply to this summing up of his character was typical. He slipped onto one knee at her side and burst into a torrent of words.

“Let me explain, dear lady. You’re judging me unheard. If you had seen the man, you’d have agreed with me. You would have been my ally. You’d have convinced him it was a Steen, sold it for three thousand pounds, and spent the money on Hester van Pipjer’s descendants. And you’d have been right.”

He threw out his arm.

“There was this man, an overfed, self-important ignoramus with a ridiculous little glass—the sort of thing the detective in a farce might use—crawling about on my floor talking about the texture and the pigment as though he knew what the words meant. Why was he doing it?”

He sprang to his feet and strode down the room, working himself into a passion of eloquence, his eyes blazing with righteous fire.

“He was attempting to get an important picture cheap to present to the Art Gallery in a beastly town whose underfed millions he hopes to represent in Parliament. By this ostentatious gift he intends to impress the undereducated snobs on the local town council while the shivering children of the poor who subscribe to the rates and taxes are not interested in pictures at all. They want food. Do you know what I intend to do with that fifteen hundred pounds, Belle? I shall buy a motorcar. This fellow’s rival candidate owns a factory which employs hundreds and thousands of men. I shall buy one of his cars, and the money which my idiot client should have spent on the poor children of his constituency will go back to them after all, with the picture thrown in.”

He finished his peroration, one hand thrown out expressively.

The silence which followed this somewhat extraordinary argument was broken by a ladylike and ridiculous “Hear, hear, Max!” from Donna Beatrice.

“I agree with Max entirely,” she said. “Too many people imagine they know something about Art.”

Belle raised her eyebrows. “It seems to me,” she said, “that two blacks make a white and there’s a very expensive motorcar thrown in somewhere.”

Mr. Campion alone was silent. He was assimilating the facts he had just heard and comparing them with the interview he had witnessed in the Salmon Gallery. It seemed to him that he was on the verge of a very startling and important idea.

He and Max left together soon afterwards and walked through the Crescent to a taxi rank on the railway bridge. It was raining and unusually dark for the time of year. Max appeared to be in high spirits. He strode along jauntily, his immense black hat set at an angle. Its brim was so wide that Campion, who towered above him, could not see his face beneath its shadow.

“The memory of the old!” Max remarked. “The coincidence, too! Extraordinary, wasn’t it? Quite an instructive afternoon.”

Campion was thinking furiously. The idea which had been nibbling at the back of his mind ever since he had turned out of the Salmon Gallery and walked down Bond Street suddenly became clear, and its significance sent an unaccustomed thrill down his spine.

What he had noticed subconsciously at the Salmon Gallery was an unmistakable family likeness between Max’s story to the politician and his confession to Inspector Oates.

Apart from the obvious difference of emotional tone, the points of resemblance were striking: the apparent frankness, the flamboyancy, the whole-hearted courage, the completeness of the job. The other side of the picture-selling episode he had heard, and now a thought seized and bewildered him. What if there was another side to the confession? What if that, too, had been an essay in the second degree of subtlety?

He glanced down at the figure at his side, walking down the deserted London street, and experienced the odd physical phenomenon so aptly described as “the blood running cold.” The more he thought about it the more clear it became. Max’s confession had been altogether too easily discounted by the inspector. It was the confession of the hysterical and affected egotist Max appeared to be at first sight, and which the inspector still supposed him.

Mr. Campion now knew more than the inspector. He knew that Max was not a negligible idiot; moreover there seemed a reasonable chance that he was one of those strange, slightly crooked brains who not only take the courageous path but blind themselves to danger and truth alike. As Campion saw it now, Max’s confession might very well have been a doubly ingenious lie, and if so the truth was terrifying.

He was aroused at this point in his reflections by a taxi pulling up beside them and Fustian’s solicitous enquiry if he desired a lift.

Campion made his excuses, and Max entered the vehicle and was driven away. Mr. Campion stood in the rain looking after the cab until it disappeared from sight, momentarily stricken by what he could only regard as a species of revelation.

In the taxi Max removed his hat and lay back and laughed a little.

For some time he remained content in the contemplation of his own cleverness, but after a while he frowned and his bright black eyes narrowed. He was thinking of Mrs. Potter.

11  :  Before the Fact

On the morning of the Thursday on which she died, Mrs. Potter rose a trifle earlier than was her wont because there was so much to do.

She climbed out of the bed, which was a divan by day, and stood for a moment thinking. Her nightdress, copied from a figure on a Grecian plate, was surmounted by a pathetically warm and ugly bed jacket, comforting her throat and arms which the linen draperies neglected.

Her iron-grey hair was tousled and her face very pale. She had slept badly.

Mr. Potter had already risen and had retired to the lean-to shed behind the scullery in which he bit and printed his lithographs. He was safe for another hour at least.

His wife dressed mechanically, nervous lines wrinkling her forehead.

The studio was draughty and not very comfortable, so that its air of careful unconventionality was a little sad. The Chianti-bottle and Roman-shawl school of decoration now suggested less of the vie-de-bohème than the set for an amateur production of Trilby, and the romantic makeshifts and picturesque squalor so brave in youth were in the middle age merely disheartening.

Claire Potter hurried, arraying herself in a Russian overall for housework. It was William’s day at Blakenham, the school in Chelmsford which was optimistic enough to employ him as a visiting art master. He had to be “got off” in time.

In her efforts to set aside the one vital and terrible thought which had haunted her nights and days for the past three weeks, Mrs. Potter forced herself to consider the duties of the day. There were the tickets for the Roman Guild’s water-colour show to be sent up to the committee for distribution. Then the efforts of the Gipsy Sketch Club had to be marked and a hurried criticism scribbled on the back of each; arch little criticisms they would be: “Tone values! Careful!”—or “That broken wash again! Avoid viridian.”

Claire Potter took them very seriously, which, since she was paid for them, was to her credit and very nearly constituted an excuse.

When the bed had been draped into its striped homespun blanket and the pillows thrust into their daytime slips and piled into one corner to give a “touch of colour” to the room, Mrs. Potter made her toilet at the scullery sink.

She had never identified herself with the unwashed movement and performed her ablutions carefully, finishing off her face with rice powder, which she packed herself and sometimes sold in pretty, hand-painted boxes.

She moved deftly and methodically, the only way of doing anything in the face of so many domestic inconveniences, although on this particular morning much of her wonted brisk efficiency was absent.

She paused for a time, a wave of sudden heat sweeping up her backbone and over her head, leaving her scalp tingling and her eyes feeling sticky and uncomfortable. She had lived in a world of small things for so long that the intrusion of something really large hardly registered on her conscious mind, but it had a curious physical effect upon her.

She took her brushes out of the turpentine, cleaned them carefully before preparing breakfast, but she dropped the whole handful of them and upset the jar at the sound of a footstep outside the studio door.

She was angry when she remembered it was probably Lisa or Fred Rennie leaving the Morning Post, which came to the Lafcadio front door.

It was some time before she could bring herself to look at the paper. She was the last person in the world to indulge in premonitions, but the restless, terrified feeling which had been slowly increasing all through the week seemed to have become insupportable this morning. It was as though she felt the breath of disaster on her cheek.

She snatched up the paper at last and scanned the news columns, an ever-growing sense of relief spreading over her as no familiar name caught her eye.

She turned back resolutely to the work of the day. There was so much to do and so little time. It was a terrible life. When one was really artistic, it did seem a pity that one should have to spend one’s whole time working.

She began to think of Italy, of a little village up in the hills behind San Remo, where one could prop up one’s easel beside the church and sit in the shadow and enjoy the lighting. It was all so clean and clear and courageous; the colours straight out of the tube.

She repeated this to herself aloud as though she found a particular comfort in it. If it weren’t for William, and their dreadful poverty, and the never-ending round of things to do, she would go back to that village.

Just for an instant, when she was spreading the peasant cloth over the old English gate-legged table, an impulse seized her to go, to go at once, to leave everything and fly precipitately. But this outcome of an instinct for self-preservation was unfortunately hastily set aside.

She would think about it, perhaps. If her nerve failed her she might try it in the autumn. As it was, she must see Fred Rennie about some paint. And there was Miss Cunninghame coming at half past three for her lesson. The day was going to be a rush.

There had been times when Mrs. Potter had enjoyed Thursday. She liked being busy, she liked the air of importance which being secretary to the Roman Guild gave her, and she enjoyed pointing out to the refined and wealthy Miss Cunninghame exactly where that good lady’s rather dated taste had let her down.

But today it was different.

Mr. Potter returned from the shed at the moment when the kippers were set on the table.

Mrs. Potter looked at him as though she were seeing him for the first time as he came in at the doorway, and it occurred to her forcibly that he was of no possible help to her in her terrible situation. She had never had a great opinion of him and, looking at him now in this new cold light, she wondered how on earth they had ever come to marry. Surely it must have been obvious in those halcyon days thirty years ago at St. Ives that the burden which that sad-faced youth had carried in his soul was not genius but a gloomy conviction of his lack of it.

All this was particularly sad because Mr. Potter was very happy. He was collarless, his old canvas trousers bagged at knee and seat, and his feet thrust into heelless Turkish slippers were bare. But he was joyful. The wretchedness had almost completely vanished from his face, and he waved a damp piece of jap paper at his wife in something akin to triumph.

“A beauty,” he said. “A beauty. Claire, my dear, that last stone is a corker. I’m afraid I’m a little dirty. The ink, you know. But look at it! You couldn’t get that feeling on ordinary stone. Sandstone’s a new and important medium. I’ve always said so, and this is going to prove it.”

He pushed the crockery out of the way and set the print down upon the tablecloth, leaving an inky thumb smear upon the linen.

The sight of this blemish was the first blot on Mr. Potter’s morning, and he dropped his hand over it hastily, glancing at his wife out of the corners of his eyes.

Somewhat to his relief, she was not looking at him but staring out of the window, an expression on her face that he did not remember having seen there before. She looked almost afraid, almost gentle.

For some reason which he did not understand, this phenomenon delighted him. He plucked at her sleeve.

“Look,” he said. “It’s good, isn’t it? I was going to call it ‘A Bit of Old Bayswater,’ but I think I might have something a bit more modern than that, since it’s come off. There’s the railway bridge, you see. It’s come out beautifully, hasn’t it? Those nice shadows there.”

She still did not speak, and he continued to gloat over the lithograph.

“I thought I’d frame it and hang it over there, instead of the Medici print. After all, an original’s better than a reproduction any day.”

“Oh, William, don’t be silly. Get on with your breakfast. I’ve got such a lot to do.”

Mrs. Potter flicked the print onto the divan and put the food back in front of her husband.

“Oh, be careful, my dear. It’s not dry. Such a beautiful print. It’s taken me all the morning.”

Despair was creeping back into Mr. Potter’s tone, and as he sat down meekly now and pecked at his kipper, which had grown cold and unappetizing, he looked old and neglected and rather dirty.

Mrs. Potter ate her breakfast as though she would have disliked it had she thought about it. Once again the frightened expression which made her look gentle deceived her husband, and, after a sly glance to see that his print was all right, he leant forward.

“Are you well, Claire? You’ve seemed nervous and not quite the thing ever since the reception.”

To his surprise she turned on him with quite unwarranted vigour.

“That’s not true. I’m perfectly all right. The reception has got nothing to do with it, anyway. Hurry. You’ve got to catch the ten-thirty at Liverpool Street.”

“All right.” Mr. Potter’s gloom had completely returned. “I’m sorry I’ve got to go today,” he said. “I would have liked to make one or two more prints. Mrs. Lafcadio would like one, I know. It’s deadly work, teaching,” he went on. “It’s difficult enough teaching people who want to learn, but those boys aren’t a bit keen. It makes it very difficult.”

Mrs. Potter made no reply, but sipped her coffee from the filtre glasses they had brought from Belgium and quite evidently did not think of him at all.

Mr. Potter’s glance stole round again to the lithograph.

“It’d look very nice over there,” he said. “The light’s good and it’s interesting. I think I shall frame it and hang it up if you don’t mind, my dear.”

“I don’t want it there, William. I’ve taken a lot of trouble over this room. I receive my pupils here, and it’s important to me that it should be kept just so.”

Mrs. Potter found that it relieved her feelings to be so definite. Moreover, this question of the decoration of the room was an old bone of contention between them, and she always prided herself upon never permitting her personality to be overshadowed by her husband’s. The fact that this was a rather superfluous precaution never seemed to occur to her.

In the ordinary way Mr. Potter gave up without a struggle, but today he was flushed with triumph, emboldened by success.

“But, my dear,” he said gently, “there are people who like my pictures. Someone might come in and see it and want to buy a copy. The Duke of Caith bought one once, remember. He liked it.”

“William, be quiet. I can’t stand it.”

Mrs. Potter’s tone was so hysterical and so unlike herself that her husband was silenced and sat regarding her in open-mouthed bewilderment.

The rest of the meal passed in silence, and after it Mr. Potter shambled back to his shed with his precious print, his old despondent self again.

At a quarter to ten he departed for his school, and as his wife saw his untidy, unhappy figure wandering out of the garden gate, his lank hair tufting under his hat and his brown-paper parcels of drawings flapping under his arm, she knew that she would not see him again until seven o’clock. She waved to him perfunctorily.

Had she realized that she would never see him again it is doubtful whether her adieu would have been much more cordial. From his wife’s point of view, Mr. Potter was an impossible person.

The Roman Guild tickets and the Gipsy sketches, combined with a modicum of housework, kept Mrs. Potter busy until just on one o’clock, when she went over to Fred Rennie’s for a tube of flake white.

The lower part of the converted coach house, where the Lafcadio secret colours were still prepared, had much of the alchemist’s laboratory about it. Fred Rennie was no chemist, and he did his work in the curious elementary fashion which he had learnt from the painter.

The whole place was indescribably untidy, and the chances of any thief stealing the process were ludicrous. Only Rennie knew his way about the littered benches where poisons, food, and quite valuable pure colour were littered in small screws of dirty brown paper. Rows of old jam jars contained valuable mixtures, and the smell of medium was overpowering.

Fred Rennie was at work, and he looked up and smiled at her as she came in.

Rennie did not like Mrs. Potter. He considered her nosy and officious and suspected her of trying to buy paint from him at less than cost price, which was in point of fact quite justified. He had an elementary sense of humour, and Mrs. Potter disliked him because he had no deference as far as she was concerned and was inclined to treat her as an equal.

Getting out the flake white entailed a certain amount of furniture-shifting before he could reach the great press at the far end of the room where his completed products were kept.

While his back was turned, Mrs. Potter moved to the bench on which he had been working and peered at the paraphernalia spread out upon it, not because she was particularly interested but because it was her habit to peer at other people’s work. Indeed, the movement was mechanical and her mind very far away, still obsessed by its stupefying secret, so that she came to herself with a start to find Fred Rennie holding out a great brown-paper bag full of white powder. She saw his leering cockney face behind it.

“Take a pinch,” he said.

Somewhat taken aback by this familiarity, she spoke sharply: “What is it?”

“Arsenic,” said Fred Rennie and laughed till he was nearly sick. He was an uncouth person.

He gave her the flake white, was firm in their usual argument about the price, and when she went off he congratulated himself for having snubbed her for her curiosity.

Mrs. Potter had very little time for lunch. The shop in Church Street which sold her pen paintings phoned her when she came in from Rennie’s shed, and she spent a busy hour packing up, pricing, and getting off a consignment of table centres.

When she came in again and took in the parcel of wood blocks from Salmon’s which had been left with Rennie, there was only fifteen minutes to spare before Miss Cunninghame was due. She made herself a cup of Bovril in the scullery and settled down by the window in the studio to drink it. It was the first quiet time she had had since breakfast. Yet she found herself thinking it was too long.

In the ordinary way she could keep her mind happily occupied by thinking of little things, but lately she had been forced not to think at all. Whenever she let her mind loose it reverted to the one subject which was taboo, the one thing she dared not consider, this impossible and awful thing which had descended upon her and made everything in which she was interested seem negligible by comparison.

It was with a sense of relief that she heard the latch of the garden gate and Miss Florence Cunninghame’s soft heavy feet on the brick.

She thrust the empty cup out of sight and rose to meet her visitor with a travesty of her bright professional smile.

Miss Cunninghame was a very fair specimen of her type. She was plump, ladylike, elderly, and quite remarkably without talent. Her tweed coat and skirt, silk blouse and pull-on hat might have belonged to any provincial schoolmistress. She had money of her own and an insatiable passion for painting water-colours.

As a person she was not very nice. Her blue eyes were set a little too closely together, and her mouth had small vertical creases round it which made it look as though it drew up on a string. It was her habit to bring her sketches every fortnight to Mrs. Potter for criticism and advice. She had a great portfolio of them now, having just returned from an orgy of painting near Rye.

“Glorious weather,” she said in a faint, rather affected voice. “I painted the whole time. The colouring is so beautiful down there. There was quite a crowd of us.”

Mrs. Potter felt suddenly helpless, an experience she never remembered knowing before in a similar situation, but the fine weather and colour near Rye and Miss Cunninghame’s sketches seemed to have become inexplicably silly.

Her visitor stripped off her brown kid gloves and set about unpacking the portfolio with the eagerness of a child preparing a surprise.

Mrs. Potter felt her eyes glazing as she watched, and when the dozen or so green landscapes, horrible in their wet similarity, were spread out in front of her on the table she could hardly force herself to say the right things, to remember the well-worn words and phrases, the right inflections of surprise and gratification for which her visitor waited and would eventually pay her.

When the first excitement of showing her drawings had passed, Miss Cunninghame’s blue eyes took on a more determined light and she sat down, quite frankly preparing to gossip.

“No more news?” she said, lowering her voice and leaning forward confidentially. “I mean,” she went on hastily, “last time I was here it was just after the—the affair. Don’t you remember? You were very upset, and I only stayed for ten minutes or so. You poor thing, you did look ill. You don’t look very much better now,” she went on, eyeing her victim appraisingly. “I’ve been away, so I haven’t heard much. The newspapers have been very quiet, haven’t they? But my friend Miss Richards, whose brother is in the Foreign Office, tells me that the police have dropped the whole affair. Is that true?”

Mrs. Potter sank down in a chair opposite Miss Cunninghame, not because she wanted to talk but because her knees would no longer support her. She knew her forehead was damp under her fringe, and wondered how long this dreadful physical reaction to the thoughts she would not permit herself to face would last.

Miss Cunninghame went on with the dreadful eagerness of one who has broken the ice of a difficult subject.

“You haven’t heard, I suppose? The police are very inconsiderate, aren’t they? I’ve always understood that. It must have been very terrible for you,” she added in a blatant attempt to flatter her hearer into a confidence. “You knew him quite well, didn’t you? Was he ever a pupil of yours?”

“Dacre?” said Mrs. Potter. “Oh, no. No, I never taught him anything.” She might have added that that would have been impossible, but her instinct was to keep very quiet, to say nothing. It was as though she were standing in the middle of a stream of traffic and her only hope was to remain still.

Something that was almost a smile of satisfaction broke through Miss Cunninghame’s imperfect mask of sympathy.

“I mean, the inquest was so funny, wasn’t it?” she said. “I didn’t go, of course, but the reports in the newspapers were so vague. There was one thing I was going to ask you. They said he was married. I always understood that he was engaged to Miss Lafcadio. But perhaps I was mistaken.”

Mrs. Potter forced herself to speak. “They were engaged once,” she said, “but it all blew over. Before he went to Italy, you know.”

“Oh, I see.” Miss Cunninghame nodded and pursed the lips which pursed so easily. “Of course,” she went on suddenly, her mild blue eyes widening alarmingly, “he was murdered, wasn’t he? Oh, forgive me for using that word, but I mean he was stabbed. But I see that perhaps you don’t want to talk about it. Perhaps it’s too painful.”

The mild eyes seemed to have become positively devilish. Mrs. Potter wondered if the beads of sweat had rolled down under her fringe. The chattering old gossip seemed to have become a fiend possessed of super-human insight in the power to wrest truth from its well.

Mrs. Potter defended herself weakly. “It was a great shock,” she said. “I know nothing about it.”

“But of course you don’t,” laughed Miss Cunninghame, a little nettled. “Of course you don’t, my dear, or else you wouldn’t be sitting here, would you? I only wondered. Of course I did hear—or at least I gathered from something Miss Richards let slip—that there was some business about an ambassador.

“Not that he had done it, you know, but that—well, that he was there. Miss Richards thought,” she went on, lowering her voice, “that it might be—well, Bolshevists, you know. Not quite intentionally, you know, but for propaganda, like the suffragettes. One does hear such extraordinary things.

“I suppose,” she went on in a last attempt to get something intelligent out of her informant, who had become wooden-faced and dumb with sheer, unmixed, stultifying fear, “I suppose you haven’t any idea?”

“No,” said Mrs. Potter dully. “I haven’t any idea.”

When Miss Cunninghame had packed up her drawings and stood ready to go, having already stayed a little over her time, she made a final effort.

“Poor Mrs. Lafcadio!” she said. “She’s so old. What a shock for her! It’s so terrible, it being left like this with nobody really knowing.”

Mrs. Potter gripped the door handle.

“Yes,” she said unsteadily. “Nobody really knowing. That’s the awful part.”

“That’s what I say,” said Miss Cunninghame brightly and went.

Left to herself, Mrs. Potter glanced at the clock. It was half past four. William would not return until seven, and until then she was free. There was no need to prepare a meal. At a quarter to seven Belle would come down the garden path and ask them both to dinner: “As you’re so busy on Thursdays, my dear, I’m sure you haven’t had time to get anything ready.”

Belle had done this every Thursday for nearly six years now. The invitation sounded spontaneous every time, but it had become a tradition, and there was no reason to suppose that this day would be unlike any of the others, were it not for that awful feeling of impending danger pressing down upon her.

As she stood irresolute, her eyes wandered across the room and rested on something standing there, but she drew them away from it. That was not the way. She must pull herself together and not think.

Suddenly everything in the room became startlingly clear. She saw it as though she had never seen any of it before. The fact that it was the last time that she would ever stand and look round this little room, so full of its pathetic mementos of past affectations, was, of course, unknown to her, but the fact remained that she saw it all in relief. Every piece of furniture, every picture, every drapery stood out clear from its neighbour.

It was while she remained there wondering at this phenomenon that the telephone bell began to ring.

12  :  What Shall We Do?

It was Belle who found the body; sweet, friendly old Belle with her white Breton cap aflutter from the breeze in the garden and her skirts held up a little to escape the dewy grasses on the sides of the path.

She paused for a moment on the Potter step to break off a dead rose hip left over from the autumn on the rather straggly seven-sister tree which grew over the porch.

Then, mildly surprised at receiving no answer to her knock, she went round to the scullery door, which stood open. “Claire, my dear,” she called. “Claire, are you busy? May I come in?”

Her voice fluttered round the little building and was silent, and after waiting expectantly for a moment or so she went in and passed through to the studio.

Claire Potter lay face downward on the divan, her arms limp and her features mercifully covered by the cushions. Her small compact figure in its art overall mingled so well with the homespun blanket that for a moment Belle’s eyes failed to distinguish it, and she stood looking round the room, faintly disappointed to find it deserted.

She had decided to sit down to wait, avoiding the exertion of a second visit, when the body on the divan caught her eye, and her whole attention was focused upon it, as if its shape had been defined by thick black lines.

A quick intake of breath preceded her sharp exclamation: “Claire! I didn’t see you, my dear. What’s the matter?”

Claire Potter’s body lay limp and flat, like a heap of clothes. Belle went over to it, her puckered face colouring with motherly concern.

“Aren’t you well, child? Claire!”

She laid a hand upon the flaccid, unresisting shoulder and attempted to rouse the piteous thing in the art overall.

“Come, dear. Come, Claire. Sit up.”

Beneath the old woman’s frail strength the body lifted a little, and for an instant the face which had once been Mrs. Potter’s was exposed. Blue skin, distended eyes, and terrible, parted lips, they all showed clearly against the raucous orange of the cushions.

Belle’s old fingers released their hold, and the face disappeared again in the pillows.

The woman standing in the studio straightened herself. The movement was very slow. Her face was pale and her gentle brown eyes oddly expressionless. For some seconds she remained irresolute. Then she began to move with remarkable determination and agility.

She glanced round the studio, noted that the place seemed to be in normal good order, and then, stepping gently out of deference to that odd superstition that the dead sleep lightly and so must be preserved from noise, she went out into the scullery again.

The small mirror over the sink shocked her with its reflection of a tottering, white-lipped old woman in a dishevelled bonnet of lawn, and she stopped resolutely to compose herself.

At all costs, for everyone’s sake, there must be no fuss, no painful scene. No one else must be subjected to the shock of seeing unexpectedly that terrible, terrible face. Poor Claire! Poor, clever, practical Claire!

In a moment or so she imagined she had forced herself to look more or less normal, and she continued steadily about the things she had to do.

From the scullery door she could see down the path to Rennie’s shed.

“Fred,” she called softly. “Fred, come here a moment.”

She had fancied that her voice was normal, but the man shot up from his bench and came hurrying towards her, the liveliest concern in his face.

“Why, ma’am, what is it?” he demanded, catching her arm to support her.

Belle looked up at him and remembered disconcertingly in the midst of the crowding fears and sorrows in her mind that the first time she had seen him he had been a ragged, dirty child of five crying for his mother at her knee.

“What is it, ma’am?” he repeated urgently. “Are you ill at all?”

His concern for herself at such a time irritated the old lady, and she became briskly practical.

“Come in here, where we can’t be seen from the house,” she said, stepping back into the scullery, and continued as he followed her in wonderingly, “Mrs. Potter is in the studio. I’ve just found her. She’s dead.”

“Dead?” said the man, his jaw dropping open. “Are you sure, ma’am?”

Belle shuddered and was ashamed of herself for the reaction. “Yes,” she said simply. “Go in, but don’t disturb her, poor soul.”

Fred Rennie returned, his dark face grave and his forehead puckered.

“You must come into the house, ma’am,” he said. “It’s not right for you to have had to see that. Not at all right. You must lie down. Put your feet up,” he added rather helplessly.

“Rennie, don’t be a fool.” Belle’s authority returned. “There are several things to be done. Poor Potter will be home at seven, and we can’t let him go in there. First of all we must get a doctor.”

“That’s right, ma’am. We must tell someone. No need for Miss Beatrice to know at once.”

“Certainly not,” said Belle, adding involuntarily, “Fred, I’m glad your master’s not alive.”

The man nodded gravely. “It would have worried him,” he said and went on after a pause. “Better have her own doctor. He lives down in the Crescent. Shall I phone him?”

Belle hesitated. “No, I don’t think so. Donna Beatrice might hear you, and I don’t want the household alarmed.”

“There’s Mrs. Potter’s own phone in the studio.”

Belle shook her head. “No. It’s not quite respectful in front of the dead. Besides, I think nothing in that room ought to be disturbed, not even in the slightest.”

“Not disturbed?” he began and broke off abruptly as the significance of her words sank into his mind. “Why, ma’am, you don’t mean to say that you think she . . . that is, you don’t mean that her death wasn’t natural, that there’s been another . . .”

He stopped, not caring to use the word.

“I don’t know what I think,” said Belle. “You’d better go and fetch the doctor. Bring him back with you.”

“But I can’t leave you here, ma’am.”

“Rubbish!” she said. “Do as you’re told.”

But when Rennie had departed, walking with suspicious nonchalance until he was once past the garden gate and then taking to his heels like the proverbial bringer of bad news, Belle thought of Mr. Campion.

She went quietly down the garden path and called to Lisa.

“Lisa,” she said, “I want you to stand on Mrs. Potter’s doorstep. Don’t let anyone go in until I come back.”

On the phone in her own house Belle was studiously noncommittal, but to Mr. Campion, sitting up in his flat in Bottle Street, her message came like a frantic appeal for help.

“Albert,” she said, “is that you, my dear? I’ve had such trouble getting on to you. I wonder if you could come over and see me? Yes, now. At once. No, no, nothing is exactly wrong. Nothing to get alarmed about, actually. But I should be very grateful if you could come soon. Albert, listen. Take a taxi.”

It was the last three words which convinced Mr. Campion that something was seriously amiss. Like many people of her generation, Belle regarded taxicabs as telegrams, measures of emergency.

“I’ll be over right away,” he said and heard her gentle sigh of relief.

As Belle hung up the receiver, Donna Beatrice came to the top of the stairs.

“Whom were you talking to?” she asked suspiciously.

“Campion,” said Belle truthfully. “He’s coming over to talk to me.”

Miraculously, Donna Beatrice was satisfied, and Belle went down the staircase to the garden again.

Lisa came out of the porch as her mistress appeared. Her skin was very yellow, and her bright black eyes looked scared. “I went in,” she said without preamble.

“Oh, Lisa!”

One old woman eyed the other.

“How did she die?”

“I don’t know. I’m waiting for the doctor.”

“I will wait also,” said Lisa, and they were both in the little scullery when Rennie returned with assistance.

Young Dr. Fettes was a quiet, square young man with bushy black hair growing low down over his forehead and the gift of looking blank without appearing foolish. During his seven or eight years of general practice he had not quite grown used to the amazing complacency with which the relations of his patients put their responsibilities gratefully onto his shoulders, as if his medical degrees carried with them a species of omnipotence together with a thorough knowledge of the world.

He surveyed the three anxious people in the scullery now, their frightened eyes resting on him trustingly, and wondered regretfully what past generation of supermedicos had engendered the superstition. Mercifully they saw nothing on his face but the comforting stamp of authority. He was a doctor.

He knew them all slightly, which made it easier, and when Belle explained that Potter was down at his school and would not return until seven he went in to see that which had once been Mrs. Potter.

Lisa accompanied him. She was firm on this point, and Belle relinquished the unpleasant duty gratefully.

Rennie brought a chair from the shed for his mistress and stood by her side like a sentinel throughout the gruesome business.

From the scullery doorway a bright corner of the studio was visible. Its brightness was intentional, with heaped shawls and Chianti bottles and painted poppy heads. Belle could not look at it, but sat like a girl and twisted her wedding ring round and round to keep herself from crying.

Campion found her like that, sitting on the kitchen chair, her head bent and her old fingers turning in her lap. She lifted her head as he came up, and he stopped and kissed her involuntarily and slipped his hand over hers.

“What is it?”

She told him in a soft hushed voice which sounded old and pathetic, and he listened with horror creeping up his backbone.

“You found her first?”


“You’re sure she was dead?”

“Oh—oh, yes. Yes, my dear. Quite dead. Poor, poor, busy Claire!” She swayed forward a little as she spoke, and he caught her.

She refused to go into the house, however.

“The doctor will want to see me,” she said. “He told me to stay.”

Dr. Fettes came into the scullery at last, was introduced to Campion, whose name he recognized, and began to ask questions.

“Mrs. Lafcadio,” he said, betraying a very faint Scots accent, “when you went into the studio and found the—the lady, did you move anything at all?”

“No.” The old woman spoke unhesitatingly. “Nothing at all, except—her. I lifted her up, saw her face, and came out here.”

“I see. You didn’t by any chance open the windows? Or the doors maybe?”

“No.” Belle was puzzled. “No, I didn’t.”

“How long would it be after you found Mrs. Potter that this fellow here came round for me?”

“Five minutes . . . ten at the outside.”

“Really!” The young doctor frowned and finally gave up the indirect method of enquiry for one better suited to his temperament.

“I’ll be frank with you, Mrs. Lafcadio. You didn’t notice a smell of gas when you came in?”

Belle looked bewildered.

“Gas? Why, Doctor, you don’t think that she . . . I mean . . .”

“You didn’t notice a smell of gas in the room, did you?”

“No.” She shook her head. “No. I didn’t notice anything in the least unusual. The windows were just like they are now, I think; I didn’t notice.”

The young doctor sighed.

“Well,” he said at last, “it’s half after six now. Maybe I’d better wait and see Mr. Potter.”

Belle touched his sleeve. “That poor man won’t be able to help you much,” she said. “He’s been out all the day, and this shock will unnerve him terribly.”

Dr. Fettes considered. He knew Mr. Potter and had no illusions concerning that gentleman’s capabilities whether under nervous strain or no. He also knew that the Potters lived as it were under Lafcadio patronage, and being uncertain of the exact path which etiquette dictated wisely chose the easier.

“Frankly, Mrs. Lafcadio,” he said, “I can’t give a certificate in this case. There’ll have to be an inquest.”

Belle nodded. She made no other comment.

Campion took the situation in hand, and Fettes, who knew his name and had heard all the gossip concerning the first mysterious death at Little Venice, was glad enough to permit him to do so.

Belle was persuaded to return to the house with Lisa to look after her, and Campion phoned Inspector Oates.

He made the call from the house, leaving the doctor to keep an eye on the studio where the body lay.

“The room is practically untouched,” he said. “I thought you’d probably like to come along right away. Yes, I’ve got the doctor here. . . . He doesn’t seem to know . . . talks about gas.”

Stanislaus’s usually weary voice sounded brisk, almost excited.

“Good for you, Campion. Hold everything till I get there. I knew something like this would happen. Is the girl about?”

Mr. Campion passed a hand over his forehead.

“Look here,” he said, “I can’t argue over the phone.”

“You don’t have to,” said Oates, who seemed to be positively elated by the gruesome news. “I’ll be over in ten minutes.”

He rang off.

13  :  Police Work

While the discovery that Linda was away in Paris and had been there for several days pursuing her own line of investigation shook the inspector’s conviction of her guilt in the second outrage at Little Venice, it did not completely dispel it by any means. He was set back rather than defeated, and retained an official reticence until the facts should be assembled and his theory triumphantly proved.

Dr. Fettes repeated his opinion that Mrs. Potter’s death was due to asphyxia and refused to say more until after the post-mortem.

Belle retired to the house with Lisa, and the forlorn little studio was left in charge of the police.

Mr. Campion was there, silent, observant, and marvellously unobtrusive, while the dreadful formalities were accomplished.

In the beginning Oates was nearly as cheerful as his personality permitted. Here, experience told him, was an example of premeditated crime, which was nearly always handled successfully by police machinery.

The murder—for he had already made up his mind it was a murder—was going to be subjected to the fullest floodlight of police scrutiny, and Inspector Oates considered that without undue optimism he could count on its success.

As the details sorted themselves out, however, there was born in his mind the faint beginnings of that bewilderment and irritation which so exasperated him afterwards.

He was compelled to agree with the doctor that Mrs. Potter had been asphyxiated without signs of violence, without a foreign body in the throat, and apparently without gas.

For perhaps half an hour, while the photographers and fingerprint experts were at work, things were at a deadlock.

Into the inspector’s optimism crept a note of truculence, and as each ordinary avenue of enquiry proved barren in turn, his expression of hearty self-assurance became more rigidly fixed and less convincing.

Fred Rennie came in for a careful cross-examination as one of the last people to have seen Mrs. Potter alive, but beyond a careful and fairly accurate account of the purchase of the flake white they could get nothing from him.

The first light on what was fast becoming the inexplicable arrived when plain-clothesman Downing, who had been left on guard outside the studio, caught Lisa in the act of rinsing out the cup from which Mrs. Potter had drunk her midday Bovril, after he had observed the old Italian woman retrieve it surreptitiously from a clump of spear grass in the flower bed.

He brought the woman and the suspected vessel, now practically clean and of no use whatever as evidence, triumphantly before the inspector.

Lisa stood just inside the doorway, the light from the hanging bulbs shining on her face. She made an extraordinary, unforgettable picture, the flushed policeman standing at her side. Her bright black eyes glowed from out the network of yellow wrinkles which formed her face and succeeded in giving her the appearance of incalculable guile, whereas acute alarm was probably her only emotion.

The inspector surveyed her black-clad funereal figure with mistrust. When he spoke, however, his tone was friendly.

“Miss Capella and I know one another,” he said. “We met before—some weeks back.”

Lisa nodded, and her misleading black eyes flickered with something which might have been malignant satisfaction but which was in point of fact mere recognition.

“Yes,” she said. “At the other murder.”

“Murder?” Oates pounced on the word. But Lisa seemed unaware of any admission. She stood looking at him, helplessness and stupidity alike masked by that baffling exterior.

“What makes you think Mrs. Potter was murdered?”

“I saw her face. She did not die naturally. Dead people do not look like that when they die naturally.”

“Oh, you saw her face, did you?” said the inspector, sighing. “That was when you came in for the cup, I suppose? That cup.”

He pointed to the rather ridiculous pottery mug which P. C. Downing still held so confidently, but if he hoped for any dramatic collapse from the old woman, Lisa was a disappointment.

“Yes, when I got the cup,” she agreed, moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue, her eyes flickering maddeningly.

“Ah!” The inspector was almost embarrassed by such a wealth of admission. “You don’t deny, then, that you took the cup from this room after Mrs. Potter was dead and attempted to wash it out?”

The triumphant note in his voice seemed suddenly to warn Lisa that the conversation was not merely an idle chat. She shut her mouth hard, and her eyes became dull and completely expressionless.

The inspector repeated his question.

Lisa threw out her hands expressively.

“I do not talk any more,” she said.

After several hopeless attempts to make this statement untrue, Oates turned to Campion.

“You know her,” he said. “Make her understand she can’t go as far as this without explaining more fully.”

But, once alarmed, Lisa was not easily soothed, and it was not until fifteen minutes later that she showed any further signs of being able to speak at all.

At last, however, she conceded a few hesitating replies:

“I came in when Mrs. Lafcadio went indoors to phone. It was then I saw Claire Potter’s face. . . . Yes, I saw the cup, too. . . . Yes, it was then I put it in the flower bed.”

“Why?” the inspector demanded.

“Because I did not wish to go into the house then. Mrs. Lafcadio had told me to wait by the studio. I did not want anyone else to go in the studio.”


“Because Mrs. Potter was dead.”

Inspector Oates sighed. Campion intervened.

“Why did you take the cup away, Lisa?”

The old woman hesitated. Her eyes were alive again, darting painfully from side to side.

“I saw it there,” she said unexpectedly, pointing to the occasional table beneath the window on the lower shelf of which Claire had thrust her cup when Miss Cunninghame arrived. “And I took it to clean.”

“But why, Lisa? You must have had a reason for doing such a thing at such an extraordinary time.”

The old woman turned upon him.

“I had,” she said with totally unexpected vigour. “I thought perhaps there was poison in the cup and that she had died from it and that there would be trouble. So I washed the cup that there might not be any more unhappiness in the house.”

The inspector was regarding her with fascinated eyes, while upon the face of P. C. Downing there was something approaching wonderment and joy.

Mr. Campion persisted anxiously.

“You must explain.”

“I do not talk any more.”

“But you must. Don’t you see, if you don’t explain, these gentlemen will naturally think it was you who put the poison in the cup if any was there?”

“I?” Lisa was plainly horrified. “Why should I?”

Oates took a step forward.

“That’s what we want to know.”

Lisa began to cry. She sank down on the nearest chair and wept unrestrainedly. It was all very uncomfortable.

The task of persuading the truth out of her seemed to have devolved upon Campion, and he tried again.

“Who do you think would poison Mrs. Potter, Lisa?”

“No one. No one. I only washed out the cup in case.”

“Oh, but come, Lisa, that’s not true. You were fond of Mrs. Potter—”

“I was not.” The tearful vehemence was alarming. “She was a fool. A domineering woman. A great fool.”

“Well, then,”—Mr. Campion mopped his forehead—“you liked her, you knew her well. If any—any outsider had poisoned her, you would like him to be caught. Is that true?”


“Well, then, you must tell us who you thought had poisoned the cup.”

“I didn’t think he had done it . . . I didn’t . . . I didn’t . . . I only washed out the cup in case. When I saw her dead I remembered him coming in and I thought . . .” Her sobs increased, and she became speechless.

Campion and Oates exchanged glances, and the inspector snorted with relief. It was coming at last, then.

“There, there,” he said foolishly, patting her shoulder. “You’d better tell us the truth, you know. There’s no use hiding anything in a business like this. Whom did you see coming in?”

Lisa’s sobbing became hysterical.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see anyone. I won’t speak.”

Oates’s grip on her shoulder tightened, and he shook her gently. “You pull yourself together. Come on, out with it. Whom did you see coming into this studio?”

The voice of authority had its effect. Lisa began to mutter tearfully:

“I don’t know anything. I only saw him come in and go out again, and afterwards when I saw her dead I wondered . . .”

“Yes, yes, we know.” The inspector spoke impatiently. “But who?”

Lisa raised her drowned eyes to his.

“Mr.—Mr. Potter,” she said. “Her husband. For six years now he’s caught the five-thirty from Chelmsford, arrived at Liverpool Street at a little before half past six and come home by seven, and so when today I saw him come in at five and go out again in a minute or two I guessed something was going to happen.”

The inspector, who had been jotting down facts in a small, untidy notebook, nodded to his subordinate.

“Get on to Enquiries, and find out the number of the school at Chelmsford, and ask if Mr. Potter left early today. Don’t say who you are, of course.”

While this operation was in progress, Lisa was questioned closely in the matter of times. She was inclined to be sullen and unhelpful at first, but Oates revealed himself the soul of tact and patience and presently almost succeeded in pinning her down.

“It was a quarter to five by the kitchen clock when I saw Miss Cunninghame go,” she said slowly. “The clock is fifteen minutes fast, so that would be half past four. Then I heard the gate go again, and I looked out to see if it was the fishmonger, and I saw that it was Mr. Potter. It was five o’clock then, because I looked at the clock. I was afraid for a moment, you see, that it was seven o’clock and I had got muddled with the time.”

“Then if the clock said five it was really a quarter to, since the clock was fast?” said Oates, writing.

“No. It was five then, because when Miss Cunninghame went I knew it must be half past four, so I altered the clock. It was then I might have got muddled in the time.”

“Quite,” said Oates dryly and altered his notes. “How long was Mr. Potter in the studio here?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t look at the clock again, but I think about ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes. How did he go out? Was he in a hurry?”

Lisa began to weep again. Finally, however, she nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “That was what I noticed. He crept like he was afraid of being seen. That’s why I washed the cup.”

Downing returned from the telephone, his manner betraying respectfully suppressed excitement.

“Mr. Potter has not been at Blakenham all today, sir,” he said. “They received a telegram at ten o’clock this morning to say he was confined to his bed.”

The inspector grimaced.

“I see,” he said slowly. “I see.”

There was a silence after he had spoken, and it was in that silence that Mr. Potter opened the garden gate and, striving to step naturally and with carefree decision, crossed the path and entered the studio.

He stood in the doorway and blinked at the astonishing sight of so many people in his home, as yet not distinguishing the separate personalities and the possible significance of their presence.

He looked much as Mr. Campion first remembered seeing him. His thin red face with its enormous nose and watery eyes was melancholy even in its surprise. Also he was quite startlingly untidy. His tufty hair burst from beneath his hat, his hastily gathered papers were in painful imminence of descending to his feet in chaos, and one long refractory shoelace straggled behind him dangerously.

Yet, Campion noticed with growing concern, there was a new note in the general air of frustration and despair which was his general atmosphere: the high thin note of alarm.

It became more and more insistent as he looked from one face to another: the weeping Lisa, staring at him like a dog beseeching forgiveness, the stolid doctor, the excited plain-clothesman, Campion, and the curious inspector.

They waited for him to make the first movement, and when it came it was so natural, so utterly typical and in character, but at the same time so horrible in the circumstances, that they all felt the chill.

Mr. Potter, having taken in each face, looked beyond them to the scullery.

“Claire,” he called. “Claire, we have visitors.” He returned to the stricken company. “Sorry no one here,” he said, relapsing into his habitual helpless mumble. “Very awkward for you . . . awkward all round. I suppose you want to see my wife? She’ll be here in a moment . . .”

The plain-clothesman shifted his position, and as his bulk moved, the sheet-covered form on the bed came into view.

Mr. Potter stared at it. All the watery redness of his face seemed to rush into his huge nose, making it grotesque and absurd. His small eyes, which were set so closely beside the pinched bridge, grew round and foolish like a frightened child’s.

He started across the room towards it, and Campion caught his arm. “No,” he said. “No, not yet. Wait.”

Mr. Potter turned to him, the incredulity in his eyes growing until it seemed they must become blank.

“Is that my wife?”

The words were whispered. Campion felt some of the choking horror of nightmare.

Is that my wife?

He had not repeated the question, but the piteous, affected little room seemed to vibrate with it.

Campion nodded.

Mr. Porter glanced at the others. Lisa’s unbridled weeping was the only sound.

“Claire?” said Mr. Potter in a voice in which amazement, disbelief, and despair were all inextricably mingled. “Claire?”

He broke away from Campion and went to the divan. To their unutterable relief he did not try to pull back the sheet. He bent down and felt the cold arm through the linen.

“Dead,” he said suddenly and stepped back. “Claire dead.”

He moved round the room and stood with his back to them. They saw him tall and oddly held in the yellow light.

“Dead,” he said again in the most matter-of-fact tone they had ever heard him use.

Then the mass of papers and his battered hat slipped to the ground, and Dr. Fettes leapt forward to catch the man as he toppled over.

“It’s the shock,” said the young doctor, tugging at the limp collar. “It’s the shock.”

14  :  Ravellings

“I really don’t know when I’ve been so upset.”

Miss Cunninghame, pink with excitement and an underlying sense of outrage at tragedy treading so near, made the announcement as though it were an important confidence.

“I really don’t know when.”

Inspector Oates sat forward on the broad Chippendale chair, his head on one side like a terrier at a rabbit hole. Mr. Campion was stationed a little behind him. The inspector never knew quite why he always invited the pale young man to accompany him on this sort of expedition in defiance of edict and etiquette alike, but the fact remained and so did Mr. Campion.

The small front suburban room in which they talked was a reflection of Miss Cunninghame’s gentility and modestly sufficient means. Its white paint, shining brass, Morris chintz, and good furniture were tasteful, old-maidish, and intensely ordinary. Only the appalling water-colours in the narrow gilt frames were individual.

Miss Cunninghame went on talking.

“Of course,” she said, the light of self-preservation creeping into her eyes, “Mrs. Potter was not a friend of mine. I mean, we were never intimate, we never talked. I took a few lessons from her from time to time because she seemed such a capable person, and then her background attracted me. John Lafcadio still lives in that little colony—or did,” she added dubiously, as though even that eminent ghost would hardly survive this last upheaval.

The inspector remained quiet and alert, and Miss Cunninghame was shamed into further speech.

“So you see,” she finished lamely, “I hardly knew her . . . Poor soul!”

“She didn’t confide in you?” Oates seemed disappointed.

“Oh, no . . .” It seemed for a moment that Miss Cunninghame would leave well alone, but the inspector’s air of expectancy had its reward. “I thought she seemed very odd this afternoon,” she said suddenly. “But if she was going to meet her death so soon afterwards, poor creature, that’s hardly to be wondered at.”

“Odd?” enquired Oates, ignoring his informant’s somewhat confused deductions.

Having committed herself, Miss Cunninghame did not draw back.

“Definitely odd,” she declared. “I told her she looked ill, and she was almost angry. Also she was stupid.”

The inspector’s head straightened. It almost seemed to Campion that his ears pricked forward.

“When you say stupid, did it seem to you that she was dazed—drugged, I mean?”

Miss Cunninghame’s eyes opened very wide.

“Drugs?” she said. “You don’t say that she . . . Well, really, if I had ever guessed—”

“Oh, no, no.” The inspector was very patient. “No. I’m only trying to get at the probable cause of Mrs. Potter’s death. The doctors have not yet decided the actual cause, and as you were the last person to see her alive, as far as we know, we are naturally anxious to hear how she seemed to you.”

“I was the last person? Was I really? Oh!” Miss Cunninghame’s momentary thrill of importance was suddenly damped by a new and disturbing thought. “An inquest! I shan’t be called—oh, Inspector, I shan’t be called to give evidence? I couldn’t—I didn’t know her—”

“We’re not sure of anything yet,” said Oates mendaciously. “Suppose you tell me all you can now.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Anything.” Campion found Miss Cunninghame’s pathetic terror a little nauseating. “Well, she was odd. Distinctly vague. Not herself at all. I tried to get her to talk to me about the—the other trouble—crime, I mean. I was sorry for her, and I thought she might be comforted.”

Miss Cunninghame glanced guiltily at the inspector, but the omnipotent, all-seeing powers with which she credited the police were not evinced, and she hurried on:

“It was then that she seemed stupid. She heard what I said—just a few leading, quite kindly questions, but she was quite, quite blank. I left her at half past four. She didn’t come to the door. I went out alone, but she was all right because I heard the phone ring.”

The inspector, who had relapsed into melancholy as he realized there was nothing really definite here, suddenly revived.

“You heard her phone ring at half past four?” he said, getting out his notebook.

At the sight of this evidence of officialdom Miss Cunninghame grew visibly flustered, but she repeated the fact slowly, as though she were dictating to a spelling bee.

“I heard her phone bell ring at half past four as I was going out . . . I also had the impression that she went to answer it,” she went on more quickly, “but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t stop to listen, of course.”

“Of course,” agreed the inspector.

“But I would have done,” said Miss Cunninghame with deliberate moral courage, “had I known what was going to happen.” Oates, rather nonplussed at this announcement, paused awkwardly.

“But there, I couldn’t know, could I?” said Miss Cunninghame. “I only saw she was worried. And now, Inspector, I needn’t give evidence, need I? I’m really very upset. After all, if we weren’t friends I’ve visited her for several years, and I was only talking to her about my paintings this afternoon. Death,” she added, with the satisfaction of one who knows herself to be right, “is a very dreadful thing.”

“Yes,” said the inspector. “Yes, it is.”

Mr. Campion and the policeman walked back together through the dusty squares of stolid mansions now reduced to tenements which streak their dreary way from Maida Vale to Bayswater. Oates seemed anxious to talk, a most unusual circumstance, and Campion was more than ready to listen.

“Funny type, that old woman,” he remarked. “I only seem to meet ’em in murder cases. They manage to wriggle out of everything else. The world’s full of uncharitable people,” he said irrelevantly.

“She has told us two things,” said Campion.

Oates nodded. “(A) Mrs. Potter was worried to the point of being uninterested in the old cat, and (B) she had a telephone call about half past four. The first may or may not mean a thing. The other we may be able to follow up, which may lead us a step further.”

He turned to Campion. “It’s funny, isn’t it?”

“What’s funny?”

“The whole darn thing. The two cases one after the other like this. When you phoned me this afternoon I thought we should have it straight in an hour. Homicidal mania on the girl’s part. These descendants of famous men are often a bit unbalanced. But now, d’you know, I’m not so sure.”

Campion forbore to comment, and the inspector went on, his grey face with its shrewd, kindly eyes grave and absorbed: “Did that woman strike you as an exaggerator or the reverse? I mean, how worried do you think Mrs. Potter was?”

“Suicide?” enquired Campion dubiously.

“Well, I wondered. There’s no evidence either way yet, of course. We don’t even know the cause of death. I hate theorizing. It’s always silly. Still, it’s as well to keep an open mind.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Campion, and his eyes became foolish as the idea which had been rankling in the back of his head ever since the tragedy stood out in all its absurdity.

“Of course,” muttered the inspector, striking viciously at some railings with his folded evening paper, “there’s that chap Potter. It was nice of Mrs. Lafcadio to take him in and pop him into bed like that. He’ll be ready to talk in the morning. We ought not to think, even, until we’ve heard what he has to say.”

“Both Lisa and the school can’t be lying,” said Mr. Campion.

“No,” said Oates. “No, that’s right. I’m not losing sight of that. He was up to something.” He paused and eyed his friend. “If that first remark of his when he came in was fake,” he said, “I’ll resign.”

This promise, as it happened, was never carried out because, of course, Mr. Potter had been acting at the time, which was certainly remarkable.

The inspector idled on.

“That Italian woman Lisa,” he said. “A bad witness, but honest, I should say, although you can’t ever be sure. She’s probably right when she talks of poison. If the P.M. doesn’t tell us about that, though, the Home Office analyst will. Amazing chaps, Campion. They bob up in court and swear to the millionth of a grain. Often right, too.”

Campion shrugged with distaste.

“Poison,” he said. “Bad method at the best.”

“Um,” said the inspector, eyeing him. “A knifing and maybe a poisoning. Italians about. It’s worth considering.”

“Lisa?” Mr. Campion’s expression was of complete incredulity.

“No, no, I’m not saying anything. I’m not even thinking. I’m just letting my mind run on. I find it pays sometimes. There’s that wife of Dacre’s—an extraordinary kid. D’you know who she is?”

“Who? Rosa-Rosa?”

“Yes. One of the Rosinis, my boy. She’s a niece or something of old Guido himself. She’s staying at the store now in Saffron Hill. What do you know about that!”

“I don’t see how being first cousin to a race gang connects one with the death of a respectable lady in Bayswater,” said Campion.

“Nor do I,” said the inspector, sniffing, “but it’s worth bearing in mind.”

Mr. Campion opened his mouth to speak, changed his mind, sighed, and walked on in silence.

“Out with it,” said the inspector without looking round.

Campion shook his head.

“It’s wild,” he said, “and yet—”

“Oh, let’s have it. We’re having an orgy of idiocy, anyway. We’re here, or rather I’m here, to investigate facts, not to daydream, yet we’ve been happily speculating for the last half hour like a couple of amateurs. So why not go the whole hog? What’s on your mind?”

Mr. Campion considered Max Fustian and the ideas which had crossed his mind concerning him.

“No,” he said at last. “It’s too vague for anything. It was a sort of odour of an idea I had concerning the murder of Dacre, but it doesn’t fit in with this new affair at all.”

“Motive,” said Oates vehemently. “That’s the only way to connect these two affairs. Find the motive and you find the man—or woman.”

“Murder and suicide, then?” suggested Campion.

Oates shrugged.

“Maybe. I hardly think so, though. Then again, what’s the motive for the murder? I tell you what, though,” he went on, brightening suddenly. “If this is a poisoning we’ll get our bird. The Dacre business was spontaneous—impulsive. Anyone could or might have done it. But this is a different caper. This, if it is murder, is premeditated and thought out. It’s not natural for there to be two killers running loose in one family at a time, therefore the odds are on it being the same person, and I don’t believe there’s a man alive to pull off the two.”

That was the inspector’s second mistake.

Campion said nothing, and Oates strode on faster.

“Motive,” he repeated. “We’ll get at her—or him—whoever it is, that way.”

They reached the canal and turned into the Crescent. The mock stone planes of Little Venice looked sad and shabby in the lamplight. The splendours of Show Sunday had gone, leaving it melancholy. The blinds were drawn, contrary to custom, and the front door was closed. The house was in trouble.

A flashy little car outside gleaming expensively enhanced the shabbiness of the house.

“Whose?” enquired the inspector, nodding towards the shining toy.

“Max Fustian’s.” Campion’s tone was wondering.

Oates laughed shortly. “Come to confess again, no doubt.”

“I . . . I wonder,” said Mr. Campion.

15  :  As It Happened

Mr. Campion knew that Max Fustian had killed Mrs. Potter as soon as he saw him that evening.

He did not arrive at this conclusion by the decent process of quiet, logical deduction, nor yet by the blinding flash of glorious intuition, but by the shoddy, untidy process halfway between the two by which one usually gets to know things.

When he saw the man standing on Belle’s hearth rug, his swarthy face pale to blueness, his quick eyes exultant and his breath a little short, Campion regarded him and thought, “Well, he did it.” And afterwards, “God knows why . . . or how.”

The other occupant of the room at the moment was Donna Beatrice. The inspector was conferring with the harassed Dr. Fettes downstairs while Belle was in the kitchen comforting the conscience-stricken Lisa.

The Chosen Apostle of the Higher Urge was dramatizing this new situation but halfheartedly. She sat far back in her chair, her shoulders hunched and her cold eyes stupid.

“Claire!” she repeated to herself. “Claire!” And at intervals, “So practical. So utterly the last person.”

Max met Campion’s eyes and nodded to him with superb condescension.

“How extremely lucky you were able to come to Belle’s assistance so soon, my dear Campion,” he said.

The liquid affectation in his voice sounded a little more pronounced to the young man’s sensitive ear.

“When I dropped in myself about an hour ago she told me you had been very kind,” Max continued with the same new, insufferable superiority. “I’ve been congratulating myself that I obeyed the impulse to come on here from Meyer’s. One dare not ignore these presentiments.”

For the first time Campion noticed that Max was in gala dress. His morning clothes were miraculously cut; the broadcloth gleamed with silky elegance.

“Meyer’s?” he enquired.

“Private view of the Duchess of Swayne’s pastels,” said Max briefly. “Delicate, you know. Genuine feeling. Selling like hot cakes.”

Campion sat down and looked at him. For the first time in his life he felt unequal to the situation and afraid of giving himself away.

Max was more than merely confident; he was elated. Triumph and something that was surely satisfaction glowed beneath his decent veil of sympathetic grief. Campion felt at a loss.

“He’s got away with it. He knows he’s safe.” The thought which was no more than a nebulous irritant at first slowly grew to a certainty in his mind.

Max went on to talk about the tragedy.

“Terrible,” he said. “Terrible. One of the most useful of women. One cannot assimilate it somehow.”

He sighed with genuine regret.

Campion raised his eyes to find the man regarding him impudently. There was no hiding it; Max was the master of the hour.

“Useful!” said Donna Beatrice, sitting up. “Through all the horror, that’s the word I’ve been searching for. Claire was useful.”

“Poor Potter,” said Campion lamely. “He’s badly cut up, I’m afraid.”

He broke off awkwardly. Max was looking at him and smiling. His head was a little on one side, and his heavily drawn mouth drooped at one end with what was, unmistakably, tolerant amusement.

Outrage, combining as it does shock, anger, reproach, and helplessness, is perhaps the most unmanageable, the most demoralizing, of all the emotions. Campion pulled himself together with difficulty and strove consciously to survey the man in front of him with true impartiality, but the thought which stuck most obstinately in his mind was that Max was very sure of himself and must consider himself absolutely safe.

Donna Beatrice copied Max’s smile, but without meaning, and the effect was rather horrible.

Voices on the stairs ended the nightmare, and Campion rose as the inspector and Belle came in.

It was a tottery little old woman who peered round the room from under her white bonnet. The Belle Darling whom Lafcadio had loved, protected, and leant upon was beaten to her knees by the deluge of horror poured down upon her. Campion looked at her, and there rose up in his heart genuine ruthless hatred which took possession of him and gave him back the poise and confidence which had temporarily deserted him. Belle was leaning on the inspector, who looked as nearly humanly concerned as Campion had ever seen him.

“Sit down, ma’am,” he said, using the old-fashioned form of address. “Don’t worry. Leave that to us. We’ll see to everything.”

He caught sight of his friend with relief.

“I’ve got to go down to the mor—I’ve got to go with Dr. Fettes,” he said. “He’s waiting for me. I’ll leave Mrs. Lafcadio with you. See you tomorrow.”

He nodded casually to Max, ignored Donna Beatrice, and was gone.

Belle permitted herself to be led to her chair by the fire. Max did not move from the hearth, and Campion was shocked to find that it required an absurdly vigorous effort to prevent himself from kicking the exquisite little figure out of the way. From that moment, however, Belle required all his attention.

“Albert,” she whispered, beckoning him to come closer, “listen.”

He dropped down beside her chair, and she laid a little plump hand on his shoulder.

“I’m worried for Linda. If that child comes home to—to this, after the other shock . . . you see what I mean? See she stays in Paris or else is told before she comes to the house.”

He put up his hand and held hers where it was on his shoulder. “I will,” he said. “Leave everything to us. You heard what the inspector said. Leave everything to us.”

Belle’s brown eyes grew slowly blurred, and the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Oh, my dear, if I could. If only I could.”

“Well, why not, Belle?” Campion was as earnest as he had ever been. The vacuity had vanished from his face, leaving him unexpectedly capable.

Her grip on his shoulder tightened.

“Albert,” she whispered. “Oh, my dear, for pity’s sake find out and stop it.”

His eyes met hers through her tears.

“I will,” he said quietly. “I will. I promise, Belle.”

Max did not seem to hear this conversation, or if he did he was not interested. He had moved over to the corner cupboard and was examining the useless ivory baton once presented to Wagner.

The following morning, when the inspector came, Campion was still in the house, having taken up his quarters in Linda’s little suite.

Oates sat down on the window ledge, gathering the skirts of his raincoat about him. He was brisk and practical.

“The inquest is fixed for twelve o’clock,” he said. “Only formal evidence, and a postponement. There’s no need for either of us to turn up. I’m waiting for Fettes to see Potter before I put him through it. Care to come?”

Campion signified his grateful acceptance of the favour and enquired after Belle.

“In bed, I hope,” said the inspector. “I got Fettes to insist on it. Then he can trot down to the court and swear that neither she nor Potter is in a fit state to give evidence. There’s no point in dragging that poor old lady through the tiresome business again. What’s the matter with you, by the way? You look all het up.”

To Campion the night had brought no counsel. He was still undecided on his course of action and never remembered finding himself in a similar quandary. The situation in which he was at once so certain in his mind and so utterly devoid of concrete evidence was mercifully new. Of one thing alone he was sure: the time to confide in the inspector had not yet arrived.

“I’m all right,” he said. “A bit puzzled, that’s all.”

“You should worry!” Oates spoke grimly. “There’s hell blowing up in the department. Orders are to get it all cleared up and over quickly. Imagination is a wonderful thing. I wish that darn doctor would turn up.”

In the end Dr. Fettes phoned to say that the P.M. had taken him all night and if he was to get to the inquest on time he could not visit Little Venice first. However, his assistant, Dr. Derrick, a sandy-haired young man with a blue suspicious eye, arrived and pronounced Mr. Potter fit for examination.

Campion and the inspector went into the faded spare bedroom which had housed so many famous folk in the great days when Lafcadio was a lion.

Campion was prepared for a painful experience, but even so the sight which Mr. Potter presented as he sat up in the big Italian bed, propped by the glistening pillows, had in it that element of the unexpectedly shocking which is the very essence of embarrassment.

The natural redness of his face had gone, leaving it a network of tiny red veins, so that his skin looked like crackleware. His eyes had shrunk and become paler, as if they threatened to disappear altogether, and his mouth was loose and piteous. He looked old and frightened to stupidity.

The inspector stood regarding him gravely, and for some seconds it seemed that the man in the bed had not noticed the intrusion. Suddenly he glanced up.

“The suggestion that I killed my wife is absurd,” he said. He spoke without vehemence or, it seemed, much personal feeling.

Oates cleared his throat. “What put such an idea into your head, Mr. Potter?” he began cautiously.

For a moment the washed-out eyes rested on the policeman’s grey face with contempt.

“I’ve been listening to Lisa,” he said shortly. “No point now in beating about the bush. No time for conventions, manners, affectations. Too many affectations in my life, anyway. Too many in everybody’s life. It’s all no good—rotten stuff.”

The inspector shot a sidelong glance at Campion.

“It’s very unfortunate that Miss Capella should have been able to get in to you,” he said sternly. “She will probably get into serious trouble.”

If he hoped to shake the man in the bed out of his uncompromising mood by this threat he was disappointed. Mr. Potter, normally the kindest of men, shrugged his shoulders. “I really can’t help it,” he said. “I can’t help anything. I should like to be left alone.”

“Now, Mr. Potter,”—Oates’s tone became conciliatory—“I do realize that it must be most painful for you to talk now, but the matter is urgent. There are several questions I want to put to you and an explanation I must have. In trying to help you yesterday Miss Capella raised a question which must be cleared up—do you understand?”

The question was an afterthought, for Mr. Potter had turned away and was staring out of the window at the speeding sky.

Oates repeated the words, and the figure in the bed moved. He looked at his tormentors and with an obvious effort strove to concentrate.

“I am alone,” he said suddenly. “I am quite free. I can go where I like, do what I like. I wish I were dead.”

There was complete silence after he had spoken. Campion felt breathless, and the inspector’s eyes contracted. It was very terrible. Oates deliberated. Finally he shook his head.

“I must know,” he said. “Why did you send a telegram yesterday morning to the headmaster of Blakenham to say you were in bed, ill?”

Mr. Potter looked at him vaguely for a full minute before replying.

“Other things were important,” he said at last, and then very painstakingly, as though he were treading on new ground: “Nothing that was important then is important now. Nothing at all is very important now. It was for some trifling reason—I had a lithograph print I was pleased about.” Mr. Potter seemed astonished as he remembered. “I wanted to show it to someone. I was mad.”

“Where did you go?” Oates prompted.

“To Bill Fenner’s studio in Putney. We spent all day talking and looking at stuff. I was playing truant, like a child. As if it mattered!”

“When did you come back?” demanded Oates, making a mental note of the name and district. “When you saw me—all of us?”

“Yes—yes, I think so.” The effort of recollection was clearly difficult, and Mr. Potter’s forehead was furrowed for a moment until his eyes suddenly widened and he looked at the inspector blankly.

“No, of course,” he said. “Of course, it was yesterday. I came back before, that’s how it happened. I understand now.”

“You came back before?”

“Yes. About five o’clock. Does it matter?”

The inspector sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Try to remember it exactly, sir,” he said. “I know it’s difficult.”

“No,” said Mr. Potter unexpectedly. “No, it’s very clear, although it seems a long time ago.” He sat very still, and his face worked helplessly. “I saw her and I didn’t know,” he said. “My poor Claire, I didn’t know.”

“You saw her?” The inspector’s quiet voice gently forced the man to keep to the story.

“She must have been dead then,” whispered Mr. Potter. “When I came in the first time, I saw her lying there, the glass at her feet, and I didn’t know. Even then . . .” His voice trailed away.

The inspector’s eyes snapped.

“The glass at her feet? We found no glass.”

“I washed it out and put it back in the cupboard,” said Mr. Potter simply.

“Why?” There was something very like stupefaction in the inspector’s face.

“More affectation,” said Mr. Potter. “Another thing that didn’t matter. Polite fiction. It’s all silly trumpery stuff . . . no real point in it.”

“Why did you wash out the glass?” the inspector persisted.

“It was Thursday,” said Mr. Potter. “At a quarter to seven on Thursdays, Mrs. Lafcadio always comes . . . came . . . down to the studio to ask my wife and me to dinner. I knew it was no use trying to rouse poor Claire, but I thought if Mrs. Lafcadio did not see the glass the evidences of—of my wife’s condition would not be so apparent. So I sluiced it out and replaced it in the cupboard. Then, as there seemed nothing else I could do, I hurried out, hoping no one had seen me. I see now how idiotic it was. It didn’t matter what I did.”

The inspector, who had taken out his notebook now, sat, his pencil poised and an odd expression in his eyes. Campion caught his thought, and the recollection of the curious scene in the dining room after the reception came back to him.

He saw the bright interior, the straight brown legs in the sensible shoes sticking out across the picture framed by the doorway, and Mr. Potter’s nervous attempts to keep the inspector and himself outside. The whole mystery concerning the man’s early visit to the studio became suddenly clear.

The inspector braced himself. To officials facts are facts and must be treated as such.

“When you saw Mrs. Potter how did she look? Where was she?”

“She was lying face downward on the divan, half sitting, her body twisted so that her face was hidden.” Mr. Potter spoke with a sort of wonder, as though his mind were concerned with essential things far removed from the trivial matters he related.

“Weren’t you surprised to see her like that?”

Mr. Potter roused himself with an effort.

“I couldn’t have told you this yesterday,” he said, “because yesterday it seemed a serious matter, but now it seems so small. My wife frequently drank enough alcohol in one draught to render her completely unconscious for some time. I think it took effect very quickly. It was a form of drugging, I suppose. If anything upset her too much . . . I mean, if she suddenly found she could not bear anything . . . she used to do that. I remember it worried me. I was frightened by it and . . . God forgive me . . . shocked. It seems ridiculous now. Why shouldn’t she?”

“So when you saw Mrs. Potter lying on the divan you thought she was . . . you thought that was what had happened and were not alarmed?”

Oates was speaking with unexpected gentleness, and it occurred to Campion that he must share his own curious feeling that Mr. Potter was living in a new stark world in which there were very few familiar landmarks.

“Yes,” said Mr. Potter. “I thought she was drunk.”

“So you took the glass away so that Mrs. Lafcadio should not see it, possibly examine it, and guess what was the matter?”

The man in the bed laughed. It was a strange sound, having in it nothing of the melodramatic but a percentage of pure derision.

“Yes. Asinine.”

“Why did you wash the glass?”

“I—” Mr. Potter looked at his persecutor, and unexpectedly his eyes brimmed over with tears. “We had an arrangement about the incidental housework. We each washed up and tidied up as it occurred. I rinsed out the glass naturally and stood it on the shelf to drain. I couldn’t put it away dirty.”

“I see,” said the inspector hastily and busied himself with his notebook.

“Well,” he said at last, “where was the bottle?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come, Mr. Potter, where was it usually kept?”

“I don’t know.” The inspector’s victim had the disconcerting air of speaking the literal truth about something in which he was not interested. “I never found out. It used to worry me. Good God, the things that used to worry me! I’ve been mad. I used to hunt when she was out. It was all so tidy—it should have been easy. I never found anything. Yet whenever she wanted it I used to find her like that. It’s gone on for years.”

“Years?” Campion and the inspector felt they were peering in at a secret. The vision of the tragic, ineffectual husband protecting his masterful wife in his small, worried way seemed indecent, sad, and to be covered.

“Not so much at first, of course, but often lately.”

“She did it only when she was upset?”

“Oh, yes. She was very strong. She never let it take hold of her. It was only when things got too bad.”

“I see.” The inspector rose. “Thank you for your information, Mr. Potter. It has been very valuable. I shall try not to bother you any more than I can help. By the way, did your wife ever consult a doctor about this—er—habit of hers?”

“A doctor? No, I don’t think so.” Mr. Potter seemed mildly surprised. “She and I were the only people who knew about it, I think, although the others must have guessed, and she did not consider it important at all. I used to worry.”

“What was it?” enquired Oates. “Whisky?”

“I don’t know, I never saw it. I told you.”

“Most extraordinary,” commented the inspector. “Where did she buy it?”

“I don’t think she did buy it.”

Mr. Potter made this extraordinary announcement with the same air of detachment which had characterized him throughout the interview.

Inspector Oates paused halfway across the room.

“Where did it come from, then?”

“I told you, I don’t know,” said Mr. Potter with patient disinterest. “Lately, whenever my wife was distressed I used to find her unconscious, usually with a glass by her side, but although I hunted everywhere I never found any supply. On one occasion I found her in the dining room at this house—you were there, I remember—but that was the only time. Apart from that it was always in the studio. I don’t think she bought any alcohol, because it is expensive, you know, and our resources were so very small that it would have been impossible for her to spend even a few shillings without my knowing. We were impossibly poor. That seemed to matter very much, too. Oh, dear God, I am tired.” He lay back and closed his eyes.

Campion and the inspector went out. The younger man wiped his forehead and stretched as though his clothes had become tight.

The inspector sighed.

“It’s things like that that make me believe in capital punishment,” he said briefly. “We’ll get this bird, Campion, and we’ll string him up.”

16  :  That Was on the Sunday

“Nicotine,” said the inspector, displaying his copy of the analyst’s report, “one of the most pernickety poisons in the world, specially prepared by Providence, no doubt, to delay police officers in the execution of their duty.”

Campion and the inspector were in the library at Little Venice. It was the morning of the Sunday following the Friday on which they had interviewed Mr. Potter.

In the circumstances it seemed to Mr. Campion that the Home Office chemists had been unusually expeditious, and he said so.

“I thought they were liable to take six weeks on a job like this,” he remarked.

“Not when the whole department is up in the air.” The inspector spoke succinctly. “We all want this thing cleared up before the press decides to scream itself into a fit. Unfortunately all we seem to be able to do is to create a lot of excitement all round. In this instance it’s done a bit of good. Those beggars can do with a bit of hustling. Still, it’s interesting, isn’t it? The nicotine, I mean. It’s getting fashionable just now, yet up to a few years ago there was only one known instance of it being used criminally.[1] Know anything about it?”

“Not much,” said Campion. “A small dose is fatal, isn’t it?”

Tardieu records a case in which Count Bocarmé and his wife were convicted of murdering M. Fougnies by administering the alkaloid which Bocarmé manufactured himself. Vide: L’Étude Méd. Lect. sur l’Empoisonment.

“Ten to twenty milligrams of the alkaloid does the trick in three to five minutes—paralyzes the respiratory system among other things.” Oates spoke savagely. “I saw the stuff in the lab last night—I always sweat these things up as I go along. You’d be surprised how much I know about arsenic,” he added with apparent irrelevance. “Criminals ought to stick to arsenic. These fancy poisons let us in for no end of trouble. Still, this nicotine is colourless, volatile stuff which goes yellow if you leave the cork out, and if you keep it long enough it goes solid. That’s practically all I learnt on the subject from our boys.”

Campion was looking at the report.

By applying the Stas-Otto process to the contents of the stomach we isolated 14.80 milligrams Alkaloid Nicotiana Tabacum,” he read. “Yes, well, that’s clear enough. It ought to be simple to trace the source, once you get your lists of suspects. You can’t go and buy this muck by the pint, I take it.”

The inspector glanced at the younger man curiously, and when he spoke his voice was weary.

“Anyone can buy a box of cigars,” he said.

“A box of cigars?” Mr. Campion’s pale eyes widened. “Can the alkaloid be extracted easily?”

“As far as I can see, yes.” Oates was very grave. “In fact, I gather that either of us with very little knowledge and practically no unusual paraphernalia could get enough trouble out of a box of Havanas to keep the analysts busy for months, so, although we shall consider the question of source with our customary thoroughness, I don’t expect much help in that direction. We’re up against brains, Campion. It may make it more interesting, but it’s putting years on my age.”

Mr. Campion hesitated and opened his mouth as though to speak, but thought better of it, and Oates did not notice him.

“Come on,” he said. “We’ll go down to that damn studio. We’ve got no business here, anyway. I seem to have been using this room as an office ever since the crime. Mrs. Lafcadio doesn’t resent it, either. Bless her! Now and again she sends me a cup of tea!”

The two men went through the hall and down the staircase to the garden door.

The Potter studio was forlorn and deserted save for the plain-clothesman encamped in the tiny porch.

The inspector unlocked the door and they went in.

Without the dignity of tragedy the room looked smaller than when Campion had first seen it. The atmosphere was close and smelt abominably of damp, although the place had been unoccupied so short a time. While it was not actually untidy, the bookshelves and the side tables had a slightly ruffled appearance, betraying a recent search amongst their contents.

Oates stood looking round him in mild exasperation.

“There you are,” he said. “Nothing at all. Not a sign of a bottle or a flask in the whole outfit. Not a trace of alcohol in the place.”

“Could she have got it from the house in a glass?” Campion spoke without much enthusiasm, and the elder man shrugged his shoulders.

“And put the stuff in herself? Well, she might, but I don’t think so. Hang it all, what did she get the nicotine out of? There’s not a phial, not a pill bottle, nothing that might have contained it. Besides, someone must have seen her go into the house—Lisa, for instance, whose window looks straight out on this doorway.”

Campion nodded absently. “You’ve made a thorough job of it, I suppose?”

“Well, I had Richardson and Miss Peters. You know ’em, don’t you?”

Campion had a vision of the stout, lazy-looking man with the delicate hands and the sharp, inquisitive eyes, followed by the tiny, birdlike woman whose hands moved so quickly yet so methodically through drawers and tableloads of litter. The legend concerning them was that they were relations of the Recording Angel whom nothing ever escapes.

“That settles it, then,” he said. “There’s nothing here.”

“I know that.”

“They found no alcohol and no poison?”

“Poison!” The inspector spoke explosively. “My good boy, this garden is lousy with poison. Rennie has about two stone of pure white arsenic to start with. There’s a quart and a half of dilute hydrochloric acid in the shed behind the scullery—Dutch mordant. Potter used it in his lithography. Then we found spirits of salt over the sink, to say nothing of a small chemist’s shop of patent medicines, all of which seemed pretty dangerous to me. But not a sign of the sort of stuff we were looking for.”

“It’s the choice of poisons that makes it so obviously murder, I suppose?” said Campion slowly. “Now you’ve spotted it.”

“Exactly,” Oates cut in. “If that young doctor hadn’t been particularly honest, or even if he hadn’t had his suspicions aroused by the Dacre business, it’s a hundred to one he’d have called it heart failure—which is always true up to a point, when you come to think of it—issued a certificate and left it at that. Someone was being clever, darn clever, let’s hope a bit too clever by half.”

Campion sat down in the chair by the window table. He was so much more thoughtful than usual that Oates glanced at him sharply. He did not press for confidences, however, but contented himself by observing that the fingerprint people had found nothing of interest.

“The deceased’s own prints were all over the phone,” he observed. “By the way, that woman Cunninghame stuck to her tale about the phone bell she heard as she left that afternoon, so as a matter of routine I traced the call. It’s hardly evidence. These exchange folk aren’t reliable. How can they be? But apparently this number was called from a public box somewhere about that time. There was some hitch in the connection at first, and the supervisor was called. She got through to this exchange—that’s how I was able to trace it at all. I saw both girls, but they couldn’t help me much. They fixed the time, though. Four thirty-one. It bears out Miss Cunninghame but gets us no further.”

“Where was the callbox?”

“Clifford Street.—What’s the matter? Tell you anything?”

Campion was sitting up in his chair staring ahead of him. Presently he took off his spectacles. “Look here, Stanislaus,” he said, “I’d better tell you. Max Fustian killed Mrs. Potter.”

The inspector regarded him for a full twenty seconds.

“Think so?” he said at last.

“I’m sure of it.”

“Got any proof?”

“Not a trace.”

Oates hurled his cigarette stub into the empty fireplace.

“What’s the good of that?” he demanded.

“It’s a comfort to me,” said Mr. Campion.

The inspector lit another cigarette. “Let’s have the whole thing,” he said. “It’s mainly second sight, I suppose?”

Campion rose to his feet and, without hesitating to lay himself open to a charge of disordered imagination, related to the listening policeman all the little details and scraps of suspicion which have been here set down. When he had finished, Oates rubbed his moustache dubiously.

“I like you, Campion,” he said at last. “You’ve got nerve. I follow you, all right, but if I may say so it’s rather a case of an angel treading where even the fools fear to rush in. You’ve got no evidence at all.”

“I know.”

“Precious little in the way of definite suspicion.”

Mr. Campion paused halfway across the room.

“That’s what’s so infuriating, Oates. Yet I’m sure. Don’t you see it’s only the cold facts themselves which point away from him?”

“I don’t know what more you want,” said the inspector glumly. “Still, I see what you mean. There’s nothing more deceptive than facts. You find that out in the witness box, God knows. However, let’s consider your yarn about the first murder. I concede your point that for an intelligent man Max Fustian’s confession was suspiciously ridiculous if he wanted it to be believed. But the facts, my boy, the facts! What about his alibi?”

Campion glanced shrewdly at his friend.

“I wonder,” he said. “When you interviewed Donna Beatrice did you ask her what they were talking about when the lights went out?”

Oates scowled. “I did, and I got a full account for my pains. Some awful interminable anecdote about a loony in a Turkish bath who mistook Miss Beatrice for a picture—that woman’s mental, Campion.”

“It was a long story?” the young man suggested.

“It was.”

“Did Donna Beatrice strike you as a person who would let anyone else get a word in edgeways?”

The inspector shook his head.

“It’s no good, Campion,” he said. “If you’re trying to tell me that Fustian slipped off as soon as the lights went out and left the woman talking, and came back again without her twigging, you’re wasting your time and mine.”


“Because it’s not possible. Think of it. You’re holding forth to me in the dark. Wouldn’t you know if I was there or not?”

“How could I tell?”

“Well, damn it, man, you’d hear me breathing for one thing, shifting about, coughing perhaps or grunting as I tried to get a word in. If I moved off, even if I crept away, you’d hear me. Of course you would.”

Campion nodded. “I know,” he said awkwardly. “But she wouldn’t. I only remembered the other day. She’s as deaf as an egg without that contraption she wears, and she took it off for the party. Don’t you see, she wouldn’t hear a thing and it was very dark.”

The inspector sat up. “Took it off? What for?”

“Vanity, I suppose.”

“Well, I’m damned!” Oates leant back in his chair, and for a moment he was silent.

“There’s no solid evidence, though,” he said at last. “No case—nothing we could have taken to court even if that business was reopened. As I said at the time, it was the impulsive, spontaneous nature of that knifing which licked us at the outset. The luck was all on his side. This, thank God, is premeditated. That gives us an equal chance.”

“You agree with me, then?”

“I? Good heavens, no. I’ve got an open mind. I suspect everyone and no one until I get proof.” Oates grinned as he spoke. “The old official attitude is a great stand-by. Got any more revelations up your sleeve?”

Campion remained serious.

“I can’t guess at the motive,” he said slowly. “In Max Fustian’s life young Dacre and Mrs. Potter were surely the most unimportant people on earth.”

“To get back to facts,” said Oates without rudeness, “where was Fus—this suspect of yours between four-thirty and five o’clock last Thursday?”

“Where he took the trouble to tell me he was,” said Campion. “At Meyer’s Art Gallery, enthusing over a duchess’s pastels. Old Meyer is by way of being a friend of mine, and I dropped in to see him yesterday. He was very full of his private view and told me all I wanted to know without any prompting. Max came into the gallery about five-and-twenty to five. Meyer noticed the time because it was so late. He’d been expecting him all the afternoon. The exhibition shut at half past six, but Max stayed on chatting to Meyer until nearly seven. Then they both went out and had a drink. Meyer was very gratified but a trifle surprised by the great man’s condescension, I fancy. Max does not usually behave so graciously.”

“Miss Cunninghame left here at four-thirty,” observed the inspector. “Fustian entered Meyer’s at five-and-twenty to five and stayed there for a couple of hours, by which time Mrs. Potter was dead, discovered, and we had arrived. That only gives him the five minutes between four-thirty and four thirty-five to get busy in. Not long enough to do anything, my boy.”

“Long enough to phone,” said Campion.

“How d’you mean?”

Campion sat forward in the chair he had resumed.

“When Miss Cunninghame left here at four-thirty she heard the phone bell ring. You traced that call and found that it came from a box in Clifford Street. Max entered Meyer’s gallery at four thirty-five. Meyer’s gallery is in Clifford Street, and there’s a callbox twenty yards down the road—the only one in the street.”

“That’s not evidence.”

“I know it’s not, but it’s suspicion. Dozens of people may have seen him in the callbox. He was looking pretty conspicuous, you remember. Besides, practically everyone round there knows him by sight. It ought not to be difficult to find witnesses.”

“What’s this leading to?” The inspector’s interest was genuinely aroused. “Suppose we do prove that the phone call she had came from him—which won’t be easy, by the way—what then? Did he poison her over the telephone? You’ve been reading thrillers again.”

The pale young man in the horn-rimmed spectacles remained unusually serious.

“This bit is pure theory,” he said, “but I’m open to bet anything you like it’s true. Look here, we know from our own observation and from Potter himself that when Mrs. Potter was suddenly confronted by a crisis she used to pour a tumblerful of neat whisky down her throat and pass out. We know that Potter thought that had happened this time. He said so. Suppose it had happened.”

“But her usual supply of liquor had the addition of a small quantity of alkaloid nicotine?”


“It’s worth thinking about,” Oates conceded cautiously. “She received her shock, or whatever it was, over the phone, the telephoner relying upon her to react to it in the usual way and so fix the moment of the murder at a time when the murderer had a watertight alibi. It’s not bad, Campion.”

“I think that’s how it happened.” Campion spoke softly. “After all, think of it. It all worked out so neatly. Mrs. Potter was bound to be in at four-thirty because Miss Cunninghame was due to leave at four-fifteen and always stayed over her time by ten minutes or so. Then Potter was away—the only day in the week he was always out—so the woman could take the stuff and die alone. Of course he couldn’t hope for Potter to come in early and wash out the glass, but he could expect that Fettes would diagnose heart failure or acute alcohol poisoning.”

“It’s neat,” said the inspector. “Very neat. And it sounds feasible. But it’s too full of holes, and pure hypothesis anyway. How did he get the nicotine into the spirit, or, having done so, how did he know that she wouldn’t take the stuff before he rang up?”

Campion considered.

“I think the answer to that last question is that the poisoned spirit had not been in her possession very long,” he said at last. “Even Max, who’s the most optimistic soul on earth, wouldn’t risk her taking it too soon. Therefore the answer to the first question is that he got the stuff here some time on Thursday.”

“Was he here on Thursday?”


“Or during the week?”

“No. I admit all this, but after all she was a secretive woman. It might have come by post. He might almost have given it to her in town. There are so many possibilities here that we can’t work ’em all out. That’s why I join with you in feeling that our only hope is to find the container, the thing that originally held the stuff.”

The inspector glanced round the little room.

“We’ll find it,” he said with sudden decision. “We’ll find it. Until then I reserve judgment. But it’s a glimmer, my boy, it’s a definite glimmer. Come on. We’ll search this darn place ourselves.”

The inspector revealed a thoroughness which surprised Campion, although he had not the neatness of the trained police searchers. Every piece of furniture in the overcrowded room was carefully examined, every loose floorboard prized up, every conceivable corner where a hidden cupboard might have been concealed laid bare.

The living room, the scullery, and the shed without all went through this gruelling examination by turns. Again and again Campion found himself confronted by little domestic secrets of the Potter household, little economies, little slovenlinesses which he felt were private and which brought home unbearably the pathos of the tragedy. However unlovable a character Mrs. Potter had been, her destroyer had also annihilated a home which without her became a desolate collection of rubbish.

They refused Belle’s kindly offer of lunch and worked on until half past three in the afternoon, when their work ended. Hot, dishevelled, and defeated, they smoked a cigarette in the untidy room.

“We’re sunk,” said the inspector. “I’m glad I made sure myself, though. You can see for yourself that Richardson and Miss Peters were right. There’s nothing here.”

Regretfully Campion agreed, and they were still sitting in despairing silence when Lisa knocked at the door.

“Mrs. Lafcadio says you must have some tea,” she said, planting a tray on the table. “As you wouldn’t come in, I’ve brought it down.”

She stayed to pour out for them, and Campion was acutely aware of her bright inquisitive eyes peering first at the disordered room and then at themselves.

Idly he went over ground already explored.

“After Mrs. Potter died and before I arrived, no one but you and Mrs. Lafcadio and Fred Rennie came in here at all?” he enquired.

“I have told you, no,” said Lisa with some dignity. “I have also told you,” she added, nodding to the inspector.

He smiled at her wearily as he returned his teacup to the tray. “You have, Miss Capella,” he said. “Until you’re tired, I’m afraid.”

Campion frowned. “Someone must have come,” he said. “Someone must have come—to the door only, perhaps. That’s it, Lisa. Did someone come to fetch anything at that time? Anything at all?”

“I have told you,” the old woman began brusquely. “No one came except the boy from the art gallery.”

Both men sat staring at her. The inspector’s hand was halfway to his lips, the cigarette hanging from his fingers, while Campion sat up stiffly, his face completely expressionless. Not unnaturally Lisa was taken aback by the sensation she had created. Two spots of colour appeared in her yellow cheeks.

“It was nothing,” she said. “He often comes at that time. I gave him the blocks and he went. I didn’t let him see inside the studio, of course. It was when Mrs. Lafcadio had gone to telephone.”

The inspector pulled himself together. His eyes were hard and concentrated on the woman’s face.

“I ought to have heard of this before,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. When exactly did the boy come?”

Lisa’s dark eyes were frightened.

“Mrs. Lafcadio had gone to telephone,” she repeated. “I had just come in here and seen Mrs. Potter. There was a knock. I was startled, I think. I went to the door. When I saw who it was I was glad it was only the boy. I told him to wait. I shut the door so he wouldn’t see anything. Then I got the blocks. They were wrapped up in their cloth, and I gave them to him and he went away. That is all.”

“All right,” said Oates soothingly. “All right. What were the blocks?”

“Wood blocks—wood engravings.” Lisa found the inspector’s ignorance very disconcerting. She began to speak very clearly, as though to a foreigner, which indeed he was. “Big heavy squares of wood. She cleaned and printed them for him.”

“For whom?”

“For Mr. Max. I am telling you. His boy came for them. I gave them to him.”

The inspector looked at Campion, his face twisted into a travesty of a smile. “She gave them to him,” he said.

17  :  The Slack Cord

“Sebastiano Quirini? Why, my dear, his engravings were quite lovely.”

Belle looked up as she spoke, and for a moment her eyes lost the dull, weary expression which Campion had grown to dread in them.

They were in the drawing room again, sitting by the fire, whose comfort had become a necessity since the second tragedy although the spring was not a cold one.

Campion and the inspector, having decided that Mr. Potter was better not disturbed unless it became absolutely necessary, had come to Belle for information.

“I believe it was a sort of secret,” she said, “so you mustn’t let anyone know. Max discovered nearly fifty of Quirini’s old wood blocks in Paris when the Société des Arts Anciens was sold up. It was a very old business, you know. They dealt in antiques as well as pictures, and their warehouse in the Centre had not been cleared for years. When they started to turn it out before the building was pulled down, they found all sorts of things, I believe. Anyway, there was quite a sensation at the time. It’s very long ago.

“However, that’s all beside the point. Max picked up these Quirinis, all quite black and clotted with ink, some of them nearly ruined. He had one or two cleaned and found out what they were.”

Oates was still looking puzzled, and Campion explained.

“They’re the solid chunks of boxwood on which the artist engraved the picture,” he said. “They’d vary in size and thickness considerably. The picture was made by pressing a piece of fine paper, or silk sometimes, on the inky surface of the graved wood. Mrs. Potter melted the old ink out and reprinted them, I suppose, Belle?”

The old lady nodded. “Claire was very clever at that sort of thing,” she said, her eyes softening. “Very patient and painstaking. Wood engraving is not difficult to print, you know, but it takes time and a lot of care. Max will miss poor Claire.”

The inspector’s eyelids flickered.

“Did she do much for him, ma’am?”

“Oh, so many things.” Belle shook her head at the recollection of Claire Potter’s many activities. “She worked much too hard. There are quite a number of little confidential jobs in the picture world,” she went on, smiling faintly at the inspector. “Little things like this that require absolute integrity as well as skill. You see, Max wanted to get the Quirinis all ready at once, so that he could have a show of them all together and perhaps start a little fashion for them. So much depends on fashion: it seems very silly, but there it is.

“Claire had nearly finished them. She had been at work for two years.”

“Two years?” The inspector was startled.

“Oh, yes. It was a long job, you know, and some of the blocks were in very bad condition. She did so many other things, too.”

Oates glanced at Campion.

“She didn’t keep these things in the studio, then?”

“All of them?” said Belle. “Oh, dear, no. They were much too bulky and too precious. Max used to send them down to her—one or two at a time—his boy would fetch one lot and bring another. I remember seeing him often—such a funny little grown-up boy. I wish children never had to work. The blocks were always wrapped up in a green cloth. Claire always had the second lot waiting for him, all packed and ready. She was most particular about them. No one was allowed to touch them except herself. I remember once being in the studio when they arrived, and I offered to unpack them for her, but she quite snapped at me. Poor Claire! It was so unlike her that I was quite surprised. She was most conscientious. The blocks were always kept packed up. They used to stand on the bookshelf in their cloth. Max paid her very badly, I’m afraid, but she never complained.”

She sighed and looked down at her plump little hands. “She was very kind to me always,” she said, and added unexpectedly, “that poor, helpless, silly man, too. No one to look after him now. She took care of him. The pity of it! The dreadful, wasteful pity of it!”

They were silent, and the moment was relieved by the arrival of Lisa with a message from Donna Beatrice.

That good lady, finding herself temporarily eclipsed by other, more important matters, had promptly taken to her bed on the ancient principle that if one cannot command attention by one’s admirable qualities at least one can be a nuisance.

Somewhat grudgingly Lisa announced that Donna Beatrice was asking for Belle.

“She has not eaten,” she said. “She refuses to take anything unless you are there. Shall I leave her until tonight?”

“Oh, no,” said Belle, getting up. “I’ll come. Poor soul,” she remarked apologetically to Campion, “she’s hysterical. It’s very naughty of her. She makes herself so unpopular.”

She went out, and Lisa followed. Campion and the inspector were left alone.

“She never let anyone unpack those wood blocks except herself,” said Oates, taking out his notebook. “Max paid her very badly but she never complained. She did a great deal for him, confidential work. What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking,” said Campion slowly, “that it is more than possible that Max had been in the habit of aiding and abetting Mrs. Potter in her unfortunate weakness for some time—months, perhaps even years. Underpaying her and keeping her happy that way. When the occasion arose, it was simplicity itself to poison her. It was probably so easy that he couldn’t resist the temptation.”

Oates sighed. “It looks like it,” he agreed, “and if so we’ll never get him. If the corpse conspires to shield the murderer, where are you! A couple of these wood blocks wrapped in tissue and baize would make a parcel large enough to hold, say, a flat half pint, I take it?”

“Oh, quite, I should say. It’s ingenious, Oates.”

“Darn ingenious,” agreed the inspector. “But all conjecture, Campion. Based on strong suspicion, but all conjecture. Not a ha’porth of evidence in the lot. I’ll see the boy, of course. That reminds me: Rennie says that when Mrs. Potter was out on the afternoon of the crime he took in a green-baize parcel secured by a strap from Salmon’s and left it in her porch. Why did the boy call again in the evening? There’s a chance I may get something out of the kid without disturbing Fustian, which is the last thing to be done at this juncture. Come on, Campion, we’ll get on with it. Nothing more here at the moment.”

Campion next saw the inspector at noon on the following day in his own chilly room at Scotland Yard.

Oates looked up as the young man came in, and he hailed Campion with even more enthusiasm than usual.

“I’ve seen the boy,” he said, plunging into the business without preamble. “Caught him at the gallery first thing before anyone else arrived. He’s an odd little object—name of Green.”

“I think I’ve seen him at the shop.”

“Have you? Oh, well, then, you know him. That’s him—funny kid. Not too happy in his job, I fancy. Still, he didn’t say so. Campion . . .”


“I think you’re right.”

“Really? What did you get?”

Oates flipped over the pages of the ragged little book in which he kept his notes.

“The boy bears out all the other evidence, of course. He used to take those green-baize parcels backwards and forwards at irregular intervals. He usually got out to Bayswater in the evening because it was the last thing he had to do and it was a long way. There were two of them, by the way—two bits of baize and two straps, I mean—so that one parcel was always waiting for him when he brought the other.”

“Did he ever see them packed at the gallery end?” said Campion.

“No. I particularly enquired about that. He was not even sure what they contained. Apparently Fustian has a habit of cooking up minor mysteries in the firm. He seems to have impressed the kid with the idea that he’s a sort of art-world genius, a great financier pulling strings and starting hares and all the rest of it. These parcels were simply given to Green by Fustian, who packed them himself and who told him that they were very valuable and to be treated with great care. The boy seems to have felt that he was a privileged person to be allowed to touch the things at all. He’s a simple-minded little beggar.”

“Is that all?” Campion sounded disappointed.

“No, not quite. I explained to him, of course, that I was just checking up on all the people who had been to the studio during the day—you must tell ’em something, you know—and he volunteered the information that it was most unusual for him to call at the studio twice on one day and that it had happened because of a mistake of Fustian’s. Apparently Green came down with one parcel on the lunch hour, and collected the other, which had been left with Rennie. This alteration in the usual time was because that evening he had to meet the five fifty-eight train at Victoria to collect some prints from Paris. The prints were on silk, and they had to be seen through the customs.

“When he arrived back at the gallery after the lunch hour, Max sent for him and explained that he had put the wrong contents in the parcel, and therefore when the kid had completed his mission at Victoria he was to go straight on to the studio and ask for the parcel back. Are you following?”

Campion nodded. His eyes were half closed behind his spectacles.

“When the kid got to Victoria the prints had not come. It took him some little time to discover this—about twenty minutes in all, he thinks. Then he went to the studio, arriving there about seven. Lisa gave him the parcel and he took it back to the gallery.”

The inspector paused and regarded his friend.

“When he got there Max was waiting for him. The boy was surprised to see him and more surprised still when, after enquiring if he saw Mrs. Potter and receiving the reply that he had not but that Lisa had given him what he wanted, Max gave him a couple of bob. Then the kid went home, and that’s all he knows.”

“Extraordinary,” said Campion.

“Interesting,” said the inspector, still consulting his notes. “Oh, by the way, one other little thing: I asked the kid if he knew what was in the parcels. He said no, but after a while, as we got matey, I could see there was something on his mind, and presently he came out with it. About three weeks ago he dropped one of those darn parcels he was taking to Mrs. Potter on the tube stairs. He didn’t like to open it to see if any damage was done, and in fear and trembling he took it on. He said he didn’t get into any trouble, as he expected to, but when he handed the thing in he noticed the green cloth was quite wet. I pressed him, but he hadn’t noticed anything else.”

Campion sat up. “So we were right,” he said.

“Yes,” said Dates. “As far as we’re concerned, the mystery’s solved, but we can’t say so. Exasperating, isn’t it?”

“There’s not enough evidence for an arrest?”

“Enough! There’s none at all.”

The inspector rose to his feet and stood looking out of the window.

“Another unsolved mystery, that’s what the papers say,” he remarked. “In all my experience I remember only one murder case in which the police didn’t know whom they wanted. We haven’t got enough here even to have him up and question him. He’s licked us. While we were deciding if the corpse was poisoned or not, he was downstairs in the cloakroom of his gallery washing out the bottle.”

“If only Potter hadn’t washed out the glass,” said Campion.

Oates considered. “I’m not sure about that,” he said at last. “On the face of it I admit it looks as though that were the intervention of Providence on the wrong side, but was it? Suppose Potter had behaved like any ordinary sane person on finding his wife. Had a look at her, found she was dead, sent for the doctor and told him the whole story about the whisky drugging. It’s ninety-nine to a hundred he’d have diagnosed heart failure and alcohol poisoning and we shouldn’t have come into it. It was only the mystery at the beginning that put us onto it at all.”

Mr. Campion was still digesting these reflections when Oates spoke again.

“Nothing,” he said. “Not a thing on him. He’s got away with it.”

“What are you going to do? Drop it?”

“Good Lord, no!” The inspector looked shocked. “You ought to know more about police procedure than that. We shall go on snuffling about like an old terrier on a stale scent. We shall write each other coldly disapproving letters from department to department. We shall tell each other the facts in confidence and go on worrying round a little less week by week. Then something else will turn up and we shall all be very busy and this will get crowded out.”

The young unhappy face of Dacre as he lay in the little robing room in Lafcadio’s studio; Mr. Potter standing with his back to the shrouded figure of his wife; Belle sitting in the scullery twisting her fingers; these things passed in front of Mr. Campion’s eyes, and he looked up.

“At least you can find the motive,” he said bitterly. “Couldn’t you get him on that?”

“Motive and doubtful circumstantial evidence isn’t enough,” said the inspector gloomily, “much less the mixture of conjecture and suspicion we’ve cooked up. Besides, there may not be a motive.”

“What d’you mean?” The words had crystallized a fear which Campion had been fiercely refusing to recognize.

The inspector met his eyes for an instant. “You know what I mean. Nothing sufficient, not a sane motive.”

Mr. Campion studied the carpet. “You suggest—”

“Look here,” cut in the inspector, “I admit it’s a disturbing thought, but you know as well as I do that when a chap of that age and type suddenly becomes a killer it means something’s gone radically wrong with his sense of proportion. The cleverer he is the later we get him.”

“Then you don’t think we can do anything now?” Campion’s tone was lifeless.

“No,” said the inspector. “No, my boy, he’s been too neat. We must wait.”

“Wait? Good God, what for?”

“Next time,” said Oates. “He won’t stop at this. They never do. The question is, who is going to annoy him next?”

18  :  Dangerous Business

The coroner was an honourable man, but he was also sensible, with a natural distaste for publicity.

When the court resumed after the postponement, Mrs. Potter’s sad little corpse was sat upon by a dozen interested but busy people who, after all the available evidence had been placed before them, brought in a sane but not very satisfactory open verdict.

They found that the deceased had met her death by poisoning by nicotine, but that there was insufficient evidence to show if it were self-administered or no.

The testimony of the tremulous Miss Cunninghame concerning her friend’s behaviour on the last afternoon of her life did much to dispel the jury’s doubt from the public mind at least, and, as there is hardly anything which the average man finds so dull and depressing as a tale of suicide, the whole business faded gently into obscurity.

The press, which has a gift amounting to second sight for detecting an unsatisfactory story when the first ripe buds are laid upon the editorial table, had relegated the yarn to the final news columns as soon as the customary outcry against police inefficiency had grown stale, and the authorities counted themselves blessed.

Campion and the inspector alone recognized the situation for what it was, and as the sensation died away and the atmosphere of Little Venice subsided once more into a false peace the younger man at any rate experienced the sensations of a maiden lady who sees the burglar’s boots below the curtain as the last of the neighbours troop back to their homes after the false alarm.

He haunted the house for the next few weeks, drifting in on every conceivable excuse. Belle was always pleased to see him, while Donna Beatrice welcomed him with the thirsty affection of a performer for her audience. Mr. Potter remained in his room most of the time, a new uncouth creature with a secret life. Dr. Fettes shook his head over him.

The optimism of a healthy mind is indefatigable, however, and, as time went on, even Campion began to see the events here recorded from that detached distance so often miscalled true perspective.

The gentle procession of ordinary life swept them all along, and it began to seem as unlikely that violence would ever again assail Lafcadio’s household as it had done on that Saturday evening when he and Belle had discussed the morrow’s reception.

When the first trumpet of alarm came so crudely, therefore, it carried with it an element of shock.

Max put forward his ingenuous suggestion to the Lafcadio legatees with all the elaboration and hot air with which he usually invested business matters.

He phoned one morning, made an appointment for three o’clock, arrived at a quarter to four, and addressed the little gathering as if they had been a board meeting.

Donna Beatrice, Lisa, Belle, and the impatient Linda sat and listened to him in the drawing room. Mr. Potter, the only other member of the household, and D’Urfey, who was almost one, were excluded at Max’s own suggestion.

The old room, with its comfortable decorations and faded curios, was very gracious and mellow in the afternoon sunlight streaming in from over the canal. Belle sat in her usual chair by the fire, Lisa at her side and Linda hunched up on the rug, while Donna Beatrice took the chaise-longue and prepared to enjoy herself.

Max took the floor, his small, graceful figure heightened by importance. His naturally picturesque appearance was considerably exaggerated by his latest sartorial fad, consisting somewhat astonishingly of a fully coloured Victorian fancy waistcoat. This gallant vestment was without question a thing of beauty. Its shades of mauve, old gold, and green were elegantly blended, and its workmanship lovely enough to account for its preservation, but on Max’s attenuated form, beneath his flowing tie and in conjunction with his magnificently cut if somewhat loose new spring suit, it smacked altogether too much of affectation and the very peculiar, and even Belle, who took a childish pleasure in bright things, regarded its exuberance with doubt.

Linda, contemplating him sombrely from beneath her tawny brows, reflected that during the past month or so Max’s conceit and overemphasis had become noticeably worse. Now and again there was a distinct touch of well-simulated foreign accent in his drawling utterances, and his swagger was becoming Irvingesque.

Looking at him posturing in the dusty sunlight, it occurred to her that it was really remarkable that he should not appear very ridiculous. She thought also that this was certainly not the case. Max Fustian’s old strength, a passionate belief in his own magnificence and a force of personality which thrust this illusion upon all he met, had increased with the other eccentricities until the electric atmosphere which emanated from him was frankly disturbing. His opening remark was typical of this new super-affectation.

“My dear ladies,” he said, regarding them as though they were at least partial strangers and not people he had known for twenty years, “we have something to face. John Lafcadio’s great memory, which I myself have done so much to preserve, has been desecrated. It will take all my powers, all my skill, to put him back where he belongs. To do this I shall require your co-operation.”

“Ah!” said Donna Beatrice with gratified idiocy.

Max shot a patronizing smile in her direction and continued in the same oratorical vein.

“Lafcadio was a great painter,” he said. “Let us never forget that. A great painter. This calamity, this petty blot upon his household, this little smirch across his memory, must not be allowed to make any one of his admirers forget that. A great painter.”

Lisa was listening, her quick dark eyes fixed upon his face in the fascinated stare of imperfect comprehension.

Linda, on the other hand, showed signs of restiveness and would have spoken had not Belle’s plump hand upon her shoulder counselled her to be still.

Max continued, his head thrown back, the phrases falling lazily from his lips.

He had perched himself upon the arm of the great chair which Lafcadio had always pronounced, without any foundation at all, a part of the belongings of Voltaire. The faded crimson tapestry made a background for Max’s eccentric figure and lent it some of its own gracious magnificence.

“Of course,” he said easily, “you all realize that it will be impossible to continue the pretty Show Sunday conceit in future years. That amusing little idea has ended unfortunately. Lafcadio’s beautiful work must never enter that tainted studio again. You will probably leave this house, Belle. The name must be preserved from notoriety. That is most important.”

Belle sat upon her chair and regarded her visitor in mild astonishment. Waving her unuttered comment aside, Max went on with supreme confidence.

“I have given the matter quite a considerable amount of thought,” he confessed, with a little condescending smile at the group on the rug. “As I am undoubtedly mainly responsible for bringing Lafcadio before the public, I naturally feel it my duty to do what I can to save the rest of his work from any contamination by this wretched little scandal.”

“Quite,” said Donna Beatrice faintly.

Max nodded briefly at that portion of the room in which she sat. He appeared to be enjoying himself.

As she sat looking at him, Belle’s brown eyes seemed to grow larger and more dense in colour, but she made no sound, and only the gentle pressure of her hand on Linda’s shoulder increased slightly.

“My plans are these,” said Max briefly. “My name has been too long linked to John Lafcadio’s for me to allow any private considerations to deter me from coming to his rescue at a time like this.”

He had dropped the impossible artificiality of manner with which his opening remarks had been made, but a new matter-of-fact didacticism was if anything even more offensive. “At considerable personal inconvenience, therefore, I shall take the remaining four Lafcadio canvases to New York this autumn.”

He made the announcement bluntly and continued without waiting to see if his audience agreed with him.

“Although times are bad, I think with my powers of salesmanship I can expect to sell one or perhaps even two canvases. The echoes of the distressing affairs in this house will have died down over there by that time, if they ever reach so far. After New York I shall take the remaining works to Yokohama, perhaps returning to Edinburgh with any that are left. I realize, of course, that I am taking a risk, but I am willing to do this as a last tribute to the man whose genius I have established.”

He paused triumphantly with a wave of his long hands.

Belle remained perfectly silent, but Donna Beatrice leant forward, her thin face flushed, her necklace jangling.

“Dear Max,” she said, her voice shaking with self-conscious sweetness, “keep his name green. Keep the Master’s torch alight.”

Max returned the pressure of her thin fingers and released them perfunctorily.

“The only reason I come to you at all,” he remarked, slipping gracefully into the great chair, “is that written consent to break the terms of the present arrangement must be given by you, Belle, before I can take the canvases abroad. I have the documents with me. You sign them and I’ll make all the necessary arrangements.”

Donna Beatrice rose with a rustle and glided gracefully to the serpentine bureau in the corner.

“Sit here, Belle dear,” she said. “His desk.”

Mrs. Lafcadio did not seem to have heard her, and Max laughed softly and went over to her.

“Dear Belle!” he said. “Aren’t you going to thank me? I wouldn’t do so much for any other painter in the world.”

When the habitually even-tempered suddenly fly into a passion, that explosion is apt to be more impressive than the outburst of the most violent amongst us.

Belle Lafcadio rose in the full dignity of her seventy years. Bright spots of colour burned in her crumpled cheeks.

“You preposterous little puppy,” she said. “Sit down!”

The use of the old term of contempt was unexpectedly effective, and if Max did not obey her at least he slipped back involuntarily, his brows contracting.

“My dear lady—” he protested, but Belle was aroused, and Lisa and Donna Beatrice, who both remembered the last time Belle lost her temper some twenty years before, were silent.

“Listen to me, my boy,” she said, and her voice was the vigorous, resonant thing it had been in her thirties. “Your conceit is turning your head. This is not a subject we talk about as a rule because politeness and kindness forbid it, but I see that the time has come for a little truth. You are in the position you occupy now because you have had the intelligence to cling to Johnnie’s coat tails. I admire your intelligence in clinging, but don’t forget the motive power is his, not yours. You’ll do what you can to save his pictures! You’ve been mainly responsible for bringing his name before the public! Upon my soul, Max Fustian, you want your ears boxed.

“Johnnie left instructions about his pictures. For eight years I’ve obeyed those instructions, and for the remaining four I shall do the same, please God. If no one buys them, if no one comes to the parties, it doesn’t matter. I know what Johnnie wanted, and I shall do it. Now go away, and don’t let me see you for at least six weeks or I’ll take the whole thing out of your hands. Be off with you.”

She remained standing, breathing a little faster than usual and the colour still burning in her cheeks.

Max gaped at her. Her resistance was a thing he had obviously never considered. Gradually, however, his equanimity returned.

“My dear Belle,” he began stiffly, “I make every allowance for your age and the disturbing time through which you have passed, but—”

“Really!” said the old lady, her brown eyes positively flashing. “I never heard such monstrous impudence in all my life. Will you be quiet, sir! I have told you, no. The present arrangement holds. My husband’s pictures remain in this country.”

“Oh, Belle dear, is this wise? That angry red cloud in your aura! Max is so clever about business, don’t you think—” Donna Beatrice’s mild protest from the chaise-longue ceased abruptly as Belle glanced at her.

Mrs. Lafcadio smiled politely.

“Beatrice dear,” she said, “I wonder if you’d mind going to another room for a moment. I see this is to be a business talk. Lisa, my child, you can go downstairs now. Bring tea, in fifteen minutes. Mr. Fustian will not be staying.”

“Vivid crimson and indigo,” muttered Donna Beatrice maddeningly. “So dangerous. So harmful to the Higher Consciousness!”

But she went all the same, rustling from the room like a startled bird. Lisa followed her, and as the door closed after them Belle glanced down at her granddaughter.

“I want to do what Johnnie told me to, Linda,” she said. “You and I are the only people concerned. What do you think? If we lose a little money, does it matter?”

The girl smiled.

“They’re your pictures, sweet,” she said. “You do what you like. You know how I feel. Somehow I don’t really care very much. If you don’t want them to go away, that settles it as far as I’m concerned.”

“Then not in my lifetime,” said Belle. “While I live I shall do what we arranged all those years ago.”

“Criminally absurd,” Max declared. “Sheer stupidity. My dear Belle, even though you are Lafcadio’s widow you mustn’t presume on your position too much. Those pictures belong, not to you, but to the world. As Lafcadio’s executor in Art I insist: they must be sold as soon as possible, and our only hope is in the other great capitals. Don’t let obstinate sentimentality degrade the work of a man you obviously never appreciated.”

His voice had risen, and in his anger his movements had lost their studied grace and become oddly childish.

Belle sat down in her chair. The old room which still breathed the presence of the turbulent Lafcadio seemed to range itself around her. She looked at the man coldly. Her anger had passed and taken with it all that radiating warmth and friendliness which made her what she was. In its place a new and unexpected Belle was revealed: a woman still strong enough to set her face implacably at anything of which she disapproved, still shrewd enough to see flattery for its tawdry self, and still sufficiently rich in friends to be able to choose.

“Max,” she observed unexpectedly, “you must be over forty. I am over seventy. If we were both thirty years younger, as I feel we ought to be to make this disgraceful exhibition even faintly excusable, I should send for Lisa to put you in a cab and send you home. You mustn’t come to people’s houses and be rude. You make yourself ridiculous in the first place. Also they dislike it. You may go now. I want the remaining four cases which my husband left sent back here unopened within a week.”

He stood looking at her.

“Are you really going to make that colossal blunder?”

Belle laughed. “Silly, pompous little man,” she said. “Go away now and send the pictures back, and don’t behave as if I were a Lyceum audience.”

Max was angry now. His skin was very sallow, and the little muscle at the point of his jaw twitched ominously.

“I have to warn you, you are making a very serious mistake. To take the works out of our hands is a serious step.”

“Bless the man!” said Belle in exasperation. “If Johnnie were here I don’t like to think what would happen to you. I remember a man coming here once and behaving about as badly as you have done this afternoon, and Johnnie and McNeill Whistler threw him in the canal. If you don’t go this instant I’ll send for Rennie and have it done again.”

Max retreated. He was livid, and his small eyes snapped dangerously. Halfway across the room he paused and looked back. “This is your last chance, Mrs. Lafcadio,” he said. “Shall I take the pictures abroad?”


“Nothing will make any difference?”

“Only my death,” said Belle Lafcadio. “When I’m dead you can all do what you like.”

The words were spoken with peculiar spirit, and Mr. Campion, arriving on one of his many visits, heard them with all their significance as he came up the stairs.

He hurried forward to see who their recipient might be and was confronted by Max striding out of the doorway, his face contorted with uncontrollable rage.

19  :  The End of the Thread

“My dear, I must be getting old.”

Belle patted her muslin headdress into position as she spoke. She was standing in front of the small oval mirror with its frame of white Dresden flowers which hung over the gilt console table between the two windows. She remained surveying herself, while the roar of Max’s acceleration died away in the street below.

In actual fact she looked considerably younger than of late. The clash had brought out some of her old fire, and there was a trace of the “Belle Darling” of the Louvre in her quick smile as she turned to nod at Campion, who had just entered.

After the greeting she returned to the mirror.

“I like these bonnets,” she remarked. “They make me look so clean, don’t you think? Old women often look so mothy, put away for the summer without being brushed. That little whippersnapper, my dear! He talked to me as if I were a case of senile decay living on the parish.”

Mr. Campion looked apprehensive.

“You behaved like a lady, no doubt?” he ventured.

“Not in the least,” said Belle with satisfaction. “I washed my hands of him, absolutely, irrevocably. Johnnie and I never put up with people when we really disliked them, and I’m not going back on the habit of a lifetime. I have taken the rest of the Lafcadio business out of Master Fustian’s hands. I’ve told him he takes those pictures abroad over my dead body.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mr. Campion.

Belle laughed, but Linda, who had not spoken since Max left, regarded the young man thoughtfully. The old lady reseated herself.

“Now I want a cup of tea,” she said. “Touch the bell, Linda, child.”

Five minutes later, as they sat round sipping out of the famous crackleware cups mentioned in so many books of reminiscence, the sensation of calamity which had returned to Mr. Campion as he came up the staircase burst into his fullest mind.

Max in the drawing room, Max at a reception, or in the gallery, might be a ridiculous, overexaggerated poseur; but there was another Max, a Max as yet unseen, but who, when reconstructed from the facts gathered about him, was certainly no person for a hot-headed old lady to offend.

Altogether it was not a very comfortable meal. Belle was stimulated and frankly pleased with herself. Linda remained unaccountably silent. Donna Beatrice sulked in her room, refusing to appear, and Lisa hovered round the tea tray, a gloomy, nerve-racked ghost.

Yet the presence of John Lafcadio was still apparent.

If he had been forgotten in the storm which had burst over his house, as soon as it had subsided he had returned to his former importance.

For the first time in his life Mr. Campion was faintly irritated by that flamboyant, swashbuckling shade. Its presence conveyed an air of confidence and protection which was naturally not genuine. In spiritual dangers and mental pitfalls John Lafcadio’s memory might be a tower of strength to his household, but in physical attack it was hardly so effective.

The appearance of Matt D’Urfey was a welcome diversion. He put his head round the door, a picture of mild reproach.

“I’ve been hiding in your studio,” he said to Linda. “I didn’t know you were all feeding. Is the conference over?”

“My dear,” said Belle, fussing shamelessly, “come and sit down at once. Linda dear, you haven’t looked after him.”

Looking at the newcomer, Mr. Campion felt again a liking for this naïve, friendly spirit who regarded the world as an odd sort of party upon which he had dropped in by mistake.

He sat down by Linda and received the tea which Lisa handed him as his right, like a child or a puppy which has been overlooked and discovered just in time.

Even with his advent Linda did not become talkative. She sat looking into the fire, her elbow resting on her knee and her shabby painter’s hand playing idly with her coarse, wild curls.

Suddenly she rose to her feet.

“When you’ve finished eating, Matt,” she said, “come back to my studio. I want to talk to you.”

She took a cigarette from the box on the table, lit it, and went off to her room with a nod and a smile at Belle.

D’Urfey stayed until he had finished his repast, neither hurrying nor being deliberately slow, but when he had finished he returned his cup and plate politely to Lisa, smiled engagingly at Mrs. Lafcadio, and rose to his feet.

“I’ve got to go and talk to Linda now,” he said and went off.

Belle looked after him.

“Just like Will Fitzsimmons before he made his name,” she said. “Success brought that man down to earth. He began thinking in terms of money and finally died of depression.”

Campion grimaced. “What an outlook for D’Urfey!”

The old lady shook her head.

“I don’t think so. Have you seen his work?”

“Does Linda like him?”

“Very much, I think.” Belle seemed complacent about the suggestion. “They’d have a very happy, untidy sort of existence together, which is after all the main thing. She would have been miserable with poor Dacre. Love so seldom means happiness.”

Mr. Campion was still reflecting upon this facet of the tragedy when Linda reappeared.

She looked a little more dishevelled than usual, and there was a note of underlying authority and purpose in her voice which Campion had not heard there before.

“Albert,” she said, “I wonder if you’d mind coming upstairs for a moment.”

“Anything wrong?”

“Good heavens, no. Why should there be? I only want to show you some drawings.”

Her tone, although it was evidently intended to be so, was not particularly reassuring.

Belle nodded in response to Campion’s unspoken question.

“Run along, my dear,” she said. “I won’t come with you. I’ve grown very tired of pictures. All painters’ wives feel like that in the end.”

Linda led Campion up to her little studio where he had found her on the day of the reception. It was in much the same state of chaos now, and as he came into the room the recollection of Mrs. Potter, briskly practical, came back vividly to his mind.

Matt D’Urfey was sitting on the window sill, his hands in his pockets, the expression in his china-blue eyes that of the intelligent but detached spectator.

Linda turned to him.

“I think I shall show him,” she said.

“Very well,” said D’Urfey.

“You think it’s an idea, don’t you?”

“Yes, I think so.” In spite of his words, D’Urfey did not seem particularly convinced either way.

Campion’s curiosity was whetted.

“What’s up?” he enquired.

Linda went to her famous cupboard, which was believed in the family to contain somewhere in its depths everything which had ever been mislaid in the house, and produced a brown-paper parcel. She brought it to the table, swept aside a miscellaneous collection of paintbrushes, pots of paint, bottles of varnish, odd reels of cotton, and other débris, and proceeded to unpack it.

Campion looked over her shoulder.

What he saw was a careful pencil study of a woman’s figure in a ragged blouse, a basket in her arms and a curious, half-horrified, half-eager expression on her face. Apart from the fact that the model had clearly been Mrs. Porter, he saw nothing unusual about it, except that the draughtsmanship was exceptionally fine.

He looked up to find Linda peering at him.

“Notice anything?” she enquired.

“No,” said Mr. Campion. “Not particularly, I mean. What is it? A study for an oil?”

Linda sighed. “Wait a minute.”

More rummaging in the cupboard produced an old number of The Gallery. She turned over the illustrated pages impatiently and finally pounced on the sheet she sought.

This was a full-page reproduction of an oil painting, showing the crowd round the Cross in modern dress. In the foreground was the completed figure from the sketch.

It did not take even Mr. Campion, who was an amateur in these matters, long to decide that.

Linda turned the magazine round so that he could read the descriptive paragraph upon the opposite page:

We reproduce here the seventh of the Lafcadio pictures, unveiled in London in March last. This work, which is perhaps in some ways the most disappointing of the whole collection of posthumous pictures left by John Lafcadio, R.A., is nevertheless well up to the standard of that brilliant technician’s later work. It has been purchased by the Warley Trust for the Easton Art Gallery and Museum.

“Now do you see what I mean?”

Mr. Campion picked up the study.

“Is this your grandfather’s? I thought all his stuff was preserved somewhere.”

“So it is,” said Linda. “Sit down. When I was in Rome this time I came back through Paris. I told you I hadn’t been very successful in finding any of Tommy’s stuff. Someone had been round before me and cleared off everything. But when I was in Paris for a few days it occurred to me that he might have given a sketch or two to old D’Epernon, who keeps a filthy little café in Montparnasse. I looked him up. He lets lodgings as well, and Tommy used to take a room there whenever he came up from Rome.”

Mr. Campion nodded to show that he was still attentive, and she hurried on.

“D’Epernon hadn’t got a thing, but the wineshop people over the way were more helpful and finally fished this out. Apparently they had a daughter whom Tommy used to flirt with. He gave her this sketch as a parting present. I bought it and brought it home. Now do you see what I’m driving at?”

Mr. Campion had the uncomfortable sensation that he was being very stupid.

“How did Dacre get hold of it in the first place?” he demanded. “Did you give it to him?”

Linda picked up the magazine.

“You’re not very intelligent,” she said. “Look here. This picture, Grandfather’s seventh posthumous exhibit, was solemnly unpacked at the Salmon Galleries just before Show Sunday last year. It wasn’t supposed to have been touched or the original seals broken before that date. By that time Tommy had said good-bye to the wineshop girl for over six months and she herself was safely married and living in Aix with her husband, who’s a baker or something. Her parents assured me that they’d had this sketch in the house for over eighteen months.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Campion, on whom the truth was slowly beginning to dawn. “Where is all this leading?”

“You’ll see,” said Linda grimly. “Look at the paper this sketch is drawn on.” She held it up to the light. “See the watermark? That’s Whatman Fashion Surface, slightly rough. That paper wasn’t manufactured until about seven years ago. I remember it coming out when I was a student.”

“Which would argue,” put in D’Urfey from the window sill, “that Daddy Lafcadio didn’t make the drawing.”

Campion frowned. “You’re sure Dacre couldn’t have seen your grandfather’s picture at some period before it was officially opened?”

“And copied it, you mean? I don’t think so. The pictures were kept in the cellar at Salmon’s. Max made quite a fetish of them. He’d hardly let a student see them, and no one else. Oh, Albert, don’t you see what I’m driving at?”

Mr. Campion regarded her mildly through his enormous spectacles. “You’re suggesting, I suppose,” he said slowly, “that Dacre painted the picture?”

“I’m not suggesting,” said Linda. “I’m telling you.”

Mr. Campion rose slowly to his feet and stood looking out at the canal. His face was completely expressionless, and he appeared to be looking at something far away in the mist on the opposite bank.

“If this is true,” he said at last, “it explains . . . well, quite a number of things.”

Linda shot an appraising glance at him and was clearly about to speak, but a second thought occurred to her and she stood fingering the drawing meditatively.

Mr. Campion roused himself from his reverie.

“It’s rather a dangerous yarn, isn’t it?” he said with an attempt at his old levity. “I mean, I shouldn’t go spreading it around. It might get you into a lot of trouble. There is probably some perfectly innocent explanation, anyway.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But, my dear girl, how can you be sure?” Campion snapped the question intentionally. “I should keep very quiet about it if I were you.”

The girl regarded him coolly, and he noticed, as one often notices irrelevant things in times of stress, that her eyes were quite green save for the little flecks of brown in them. She was really astoundingly like Lafcadio himself.

“I should keep quiet—I have, for two or three weeks—if I didn’t think the time had come to talk. You see, Albert, I’m as sure as anybody can be sure that the seventh picture, which the Warley Trust bought last year, was painted by Tommy, and I’m open to bet that if there are any Lafcadios left in the Salmon cellars at least three of them were painted by Tommy, too.”

“My dear girl, you mustn’t make unfounded suggestions like this.” Mr. Campion was shocked.

Matt D’Urfey, who had given up listening to the conversation and had been pottering with some drawings of Linda’s in a corner, now returned to it to some purpose.

“Have you told him about Lisa?” he enquired.

Mr. Campion spun round.

“What are you two hiding?” he demanded. “Believe me, it’s most dangerous at this stage.”

Linda looked up at him.

“So you’ve guessed, too, have you?” she said. “I did, but not until this afternoon, and that’s why I decided to talk to you. We don’t want Max getting his teeth into Granny, do we?”

Her remark was so unexpected and echoed his own thoughts so completely that for a moment Mr. Campion was silenced. Finally he took the girl by the arm.

“What do you know about this business?” he said urgently. “What’s this yarn about Lisa? That woman runs through this affair like a squib. You never know where she’s going to explode next.”

“Lisa’s all right,” said the girl carelessly. “She’s very simple, though. People don’t seem to realize that. She doesn’t think like ordinary people. She’s never had occasion to. She was a complete peasant when she came here. I don’t suppose she knew more than a hundred words in any language. She doesn’t mean to be secretive. She just doesn’t know what’s important and what isn’t. When I came back from Paris I got her up here one night and made her remember quite a lot of things. She told me something which explains everything. You see, Grandfather didn’t leave twelve pictures; he left eight. Lisa knows, because she helped him to seal them up.”

Mr. Campion took off his spectacles and polished them. An enormous knot in the skein was unravelling before his eyes.

“It was very difficult to get it out of her,” the girl went on. “It took endless questioning. But as far as I could gather, this is what happened: The year before Grandfather died—that is, in nineteen-eleven—Belle was very ill. She had rheumatic fever, and when she recovered she went down to stay at San Remo with the Gillimotts. He was a poet, and she painted. Funny, nervy people, I believe. Belle was down there for about six months, and it was during that period that Grandfather packed up the pictures and put the whole scheme in order. So Belle saw some of the pictures, and some she didn’t. Mrs. Potter had seen them, because she was hovering about as usual. Old Potter was away somewhere, teaching, probably, in Scotland, and Lisa remained to look after the house. Grandfather was very secretive about the whole business. Everybody put that down to his age, whereas of course the old boy had a perfectly sound reason for keeping it all so dark.”

She paused.

“There’s one point you’ve got to understand,” she said at last. “It may strike you as hard to credit, but it seems perfectly logical and natural—to me, at any rate. And it’s this: The main reason why Grandfather did the thing at all was to get his own back on Charles Tanqueray. He really hated Tanqueray, and he left the pictures to discourage him. He wanted to leave a lot. He wanted to sound as if he were going to be in the limelight for a long time. He only had eight canvases he could spare, and so he labelled those ‘1924,’ ‘1925,’ and so on. But the last four parcels were fakes. Lisa says, as far as she remembered, one contained a kitchen tray, and one of the others a big cardboard sign advertising beer. Just anything, you see. The Victorians had that sort of humour, you know. It wasn’t lunacy. He was that sort of old boy—a buffoon of a person.

“Lisa told me all this quite solemnly,” she went on. “Apparently she promised him to keep quiet and helped him nail up the packing cases and couldn’t understand what he was so amused about. She said he was in tremendously good humour when they’d finished and made her drink a whole bottle of Lafite with him.”

“But the hoax was certain to be found out,” said Campion.

“Of course it was,” said Linda impatiently.

She seemed to share some of her grandfather’s enthusiasm for the scheme.

“But that wasn’t the point. Don’t you see, Tanqueray was younger than Grandfather, and it had occurred to him that his hated sparring partner was only waiting for the Lafcadio demise to set up unpersecuted as the Grand Old Man of the art world. Grandfather gave him ten years to cool his heels, with the infuriating knowledge that at the end of that time Lafcadio was going to return with a spectacular stunt which would keep him in the public eye not for one year only but for another twelve. The fact that he had only eight canvases and hadn’t the energy or the time to paint any more—he was portrait-painting right up to the time of his death, you know—made him slip in the faked packing cases for the last four years. I daresay he reckoned that eighteen years would about see the end of old Tanqueray. He overestimated it, poor darling. Tanqueray didn’t live to see the first picture. Have you got that far?”

Mr. Campion signified that he had. The tangle was unravelling fast.

“Well, now,” said Linda, “the rest is a sort of guess, I know, but it fits in perfectly. Some years ago someone at Salmon’s—and I think it’s pretty obvious who—had a peep into the packing cases and hit upon the obvious swindle. After all, as far as the authenticity of a picture is concerned, preconceived ideas are half the battle. If the fake’s good enough you’d be surprised at the authorities who get taken in. Here was everything all ready. Everybody knew there were twelve Lafcadio pictures, everybody expected twelve Lafcadio pictures. Even if one of them was howlingly indifferent, why should anyone think that Lafcadio hadn’t painted it? Whatever it was like, it was worth its price. Lafcadio’s reputation was made. One dud, or even four, couldn’t hurt it much.”

“Quite,” said Mr. Campion, who found these revelations very enlightening.

“Four years ago, before Tommy went to Rome, he took an extraordinary holiday. Matt’ll tell you about it. He completely disappeared for about ten months. No one heard from him; no one saw him. At that time he was trying to be a portrait painter, very much in the Lafcadio manner. When he came back he gave up oils suddenly and went to Rome to study tempera.”

“He got the Prix de Rome, didn’t he?” said Campion.

“No. He didn’t. That’s the point. He got the other one, the Chesterfield Award, and Max was adjudicating that year.”

Mr. Campion was silent for a moment, setting these facts in order in his mind.

“Where was Mrs. Potter when Dacre was on his mysterious holiday?” he enquired.

Linda nodded at him approvingly.

“You’re shrewder than I thought,” she said without discourtesy. “Quite remarkably, that period corresponds exactly with the time when Mrs. Potter had what was, as far as I can gather, the one stroke of luck in the whole of her life. She got a commission to go curio-hunting in middle Europe and was away for ten months. I never heard of anything she brought back. She was supposed to be moving around the whole time, and so no one wrote to her, nor did she reply. You know how casual people like us do that sort of thing. She did her curio-hunting for Max, of course. So you see she knew all about it, which probably accounts for . . . well, for everything.”

“What about the last picture?” said Campion. “The Joan of Arc one.”

“Oh, that’s genuine. It was clever of Max, wasn’t it, mixing the dud in with the others? There was a certain amount of criticism of last year’s effort, and so this year out comes the genuine thing again.”

“But look here,” protested Campion, still bothered by the technicalities, “surely an expert could tell the difference? There’s the paint, for one thing. And hang it all, the genius of the man. That couldn’t be faked.”

“You’re talking like an amateur,” said Linda. “Don’t put too much faith in experts. They’re only human. As for the rest, it was perfectly simple for Mrs. Potter to get hold of the Lafcadio paint. She was always begging little tubes of this and that from Rennie, anyway. The question of genius doesn’t come into it. I’ve told you there was a certain amount of criticism of the seventh picture, but nobody thought of questioning its authenticity. It wasn’t bad enough for that. As a matter of fact it was very good. Grandfather might easily have painted it. He didn’t turn out a masterpiece every time.

“The question of technique is the most difficult of all. That had to be copied, of course. I think Tommy copied it deliberately. I think he was paid to. I’ve told you he used to imitate—or shall we say be influenced by?—Lafcadio, anyway. And he was particularly clever in oils. Really I don’t see why he shouldn’t have done it. In fact I’m perfectly certain he did do it.”

“It would explain—” began Campion.

“It does explain,” the girl corrected him. “One of the things it explains is why Tommy suddenly chucked up oils. It was part of the bargain, you see. If ever the question of authenticity arose in future years, one of the first questions everybody would ask would be who had painted the damn things. And if there was a competent painter very much in Max’s pocket, who worked very like Lafcadio, the answer wouldn’t be far to seek, would it? So Tommy had to give up oils. I’ll never forgive Max for that.”

“There are other things that’ll take a bit of forgiving,” pointed out Mr. Campion.

The girl flushed.

“I know,” she said. “I haven’t assimilated all that yet. The full explanation of the whole ghastly business only occurred to me when Max and Belle were having that row this afternoon. That was why I decided to tell you all this. I didn’t realize you knew already. Something’s got to be done before Max takes Belle at her word. He’s got four pictures, remember; three duds and one good one. He knows his one real chance to dispose of them—and they’re worth anything up to ten thousand pounds apiece—is to take them abroad and sell them before the hoo-ha dies down. It’s a good selling tale, you know: ‘to be disposed of quietly because of scandal.’ ‘All hush-hush, but the genuine thing, my dear boy.’ ”

Mr. Campion pulled himself together.

“You must keep quiet,” he said. “That’s the main thing. Let one breath of this get about and we may lose him, if nothing else happens.”

“You can trust me,” said Linda grimly.

“And D’Urfey?”

Linda regarded the affable, blue-clad figure with affection. “It wouldn’t occur to him to talk,” she said. “He’s too lazy, for one thing.”

“Not at all,” said Mr. D’Urfey with dignity. “It’s just not my affair, that’s all.”

“You’ll do something, Albert?” Linda persisted. “You didn’t see Max’s face when he left Belle this afternoon. I did. He looked insane.”

But Mr. Campion had seen and had formed his own opinion.

He went to see the inspector.

20  :  A Nice Little House

“Yes, well, there you are,” said the inspector, kicking the fire, which in spite of its brightness did not take the chill out of his grim little office. “There’s the whole story. We know nearly everything now. But what can we do?”

Mr. Campion looked as nearly excited as the inspector had ever seen him. He sat on the visitor’s chair set out in the middle of the square of dingy carpet, his hat on the floor by his side and his hands folded across the knob of his stick.

“You can’t leave it here, Stanislaus,” he said earnestly. “The man’s a menace, a sort of malignant germ which may produce an epidemic at any moment.”

Oates rubbed his short moustache.

“My dear fellow, I don’t want you to think I’m not interested,” he said. “I am. We all are here. We’ve had conference after conference about this case. Your information completes a fascinating story. I can’t promise to act upon it immediately because there’s not a ha’porth of concrete evidence in the whole yarn. I needn’t point that out to you; you know it as well as I do. You’re not an amateur in the sense that you’re a beginner. You must see the thing as we do here.”

Mr. Campion was silent. In his heart he had known that some such answer must meet his demands, but he could not rid himself of the growing conviction that the matter was urgent.

“It would be most unfortunate for all concerned if a scandal about the Lafcadio paintings broke now,” he said at last. “But if it meant that you could put that fellow under lock and key, then frankly I shouldn’t hesitate.”

“Good heavens!”—Oates was inclined to be querulous—“that was the first thing that came into my head, naturally. That’s why I’ve been questioning you so carefully about this latest discovery. But as far as I can see, the only thing you have which looks faintly like proof is the figure study for the picture on recently made paper. What does that amount to in all conscience? Nothing at all. Fustian’s only got to say that he gave the boy permission to see the pictures, confessing to a little irregularity, you see, and the mainstay of the whole case is swept away. It’s not enough, Campion. There’s no one more eager than myself to get an arrest. I’m badgered on all sides to make one. But one blunder now and we should lose him for ever. We’ve got to be canny. We’ve got to wait.”

Mr. Campion rose to his feet and walked over to the window, where he stood looking down into the yard below.

“I feel it’s urgent,” he said obstinately.

“I agree.” The inspector came and stood beside him. “Can’t you persuade the old lady to go away somewhere or make her let the fellow have his own way? Meanwhile we’ve got our eye on him. Don’t make any mistake about that. If he breaks the law in any way whatsoever—if it’s only a motoring offense—we shall be down on him. And if he makes any serious attempt upon anyone, we’re not unprepared this time and we shall get him.”

He hesitated, his brow wrinkling.

“If Mrs. Lafcadio does succeed in getting those four cases from Fustian, I very much suspect that at least three of them will contain the original junk which the old man packed. But if by chance Fustian should be foolish enough to send the three fake pictures, and she can detect them—really detect them, I mean; not just personal-opinion stuff—she might possibly be able to hotch up some sort of case against him, though on what grounds I’m not quite sure. She’d have to go into that with a lawyer. However, in my opinion that’d be a dangerous proceeding in the present situation. As I think I’ve said before, when a man of that age suddenly takes to murder it means that there’s a spanner in his mental machinery and God knows when he’s going to stop. But then you know that, and that’s probably why you came to me today.”

“Yes,” said Campion soberly. “That’s why I came.”

The inspector walked over to the desk, where he stood idly digging a pen into a piece of blotting paper before he spoke again.

“Thinking it over,” he said, “I believe our only avenue of attack at the moment is through the pictures. There are one or two blanks we haven’t filled in yet, you see. One is why Fustian should choose to kill Dacre when he did and not before the boy went to Rome at all . . . that looks like blackmail to me. And two, why was it, exactly, that Mrs. Potter came in for hers?”

“I don’t think we shall ever know that,” said Mr. Campion. “I don’t think it matters. I think it’s fairly obvious that she was with Dacre while he did the work for Max, serving as general factotum, model, and guardian, I should think. But whether he killed her because she guessed he had murdered Dacre or because she had threatened to give the game away about the pictures, I don’t see that we can ever tell. Personally I incline to the former.”

He looked at his friend helplessly.

“I’m at a dead end, Stanislaus,” he said. “Manhunting isn’t my métier. It’s a job for the police. I do see that you’re hampered. If this fellow does it again, you’ll get him. You’ve only got to watch him until he makes the attempt and fails or succeeds. I’m in a slightly different predicament. I want to stop him attempting.”

“Then concentrate on the pictures,” said Stanislaus Oates. “Concentrate on Dacre. And that reminds me; I meant to mention it, but your story put it clean out of my mind. That Rosini girl, the little Italian he married: early on in this business I got the police of the Saffron Hill district to keep an eye on that bunch and let me know if anything unusual occurred. I had no special reason for this, you understand. It was just part of the ordinary routine. We like to keep an eye on anyone connected with a murder case, however remotely. I’d forgotten all about it, as a matter of fact, but this morning I had word that the erstwhile Mrs. Dacre, who seems to have an odd circle of friends, has been in the habit of going off for week-ends to the country with a whole crowd of them. It says on the report, ‘Alleged destination some property left to Mrs. Dacre by her husband.’

“There is nothing remarkable about this, of course,” he continued, “and so I didn’t hear about it, but last week-end there appears to have been some sort of shindy, for the party returned to London in the small hours of Sunday morning looking as though it had taken part in a pitched battle. That’s all the information we have at present. It may be nothing at all, of course, but it sounded odd, so I mentioned it. Did Dacre have any property?”

“None I ever heard of,” said Campion.

He picked up his hat.

“I think I shall see Rosa-Rosa,” he said. “You’ve no objection, I suppose, Stanislaus?”

“Oh, Lord, no. Be discreet, of course—but I needn’t tell you that. And don’t worry, my boy. That man’s being watched at every step. I hope for everybody’s sake that he doesn’t make an attack on the old lady, but if he does we’ll get him.”

In the doorway Campion paused.

“Stanislaus,” he said, “do you think that if you’d known as much as you know now you would have had a chance in ten thousand of saving Mrs. Potter?”

Inspector Oates was an honest man. He shrugged his shoulders.

“Perhaps not. But that was very ingenious,” he said.

“Ingenuity seems to be a peculiarity of Mr. Max Fustian’s,” said Campion and went away uncomforted.

At six o’clock that evening he set out upon his search for Rosa-Rosa. For obvious reasons he did not want to visit her in her uncle’s delicatessen store on Saffron Hill, but he had a very shrewd idea where to look for her.

He started off down Charlotte Street with every hope of finding her at the Robespierre, and as soon as he turned into the side entrance of that most odd of all London pubs and pressed through the red-plush curtains which divided the outer bar from the holy of holies within he caught sight of her, seated on one of the shabby leather sofas in the corner by the fire.

The place was not crowded. Barely half a dozen men sat on the high stools round the bar, and the sketch-covered walls and coloured-paper-flecked ceiling were not yet obscured by a haze of tobacco smoke.

The largest party in the room was Rosa-Rosa’s own. It consisted of four young men, among whom Campion recognized the sharp-featured Derek Fayre, the cartoonist, whose bitter, slightly obscene drawings appeared occasionally in the more highbrow weeklies. The others were unknown to him, although he was vaguely aware that he had seen the effeminate young man with the side whiskers on the stage at one of the Sunday shows.

The round man with the pointed beard and the real horn spectacles was a stranger, as was also the young Italian with the black eye who sat on Mrs. Dacre’s left and held her hand.

Rosa-Rosa had not altered. Even the fact that her head was framed by an enlarged photograph of the 1920 Robespierre children’s outing did not lessen the bizarre modernity of her extraordinary appearance.

She wore no hat, her strange immobile features were expressionless, and her yellow hair stuck out flat from the top of her head like the curls in conventional bas-relief.

Campion’s immediate problem, which was one of introduction, was settled for him instantly.

As he stood hovering, glass in hand, the girl caught sight of him.

“Hello,” she said. “I met you when my husband was murdered. Come and sit here.”

This greeting, which was uttered at the top of her harsh, high-pitched voice, made a little stir in the room. The people round the bar paused to glance at her curiously, but the plump, capable woman who was serving did not bat an eyelid. Evidently the tragedy in Rosa-Rosa’s home life was no news to her.

The plump young man made room for Campion at the table. Rosa-Rosa evidently regarded him as an old friend, and he settled down with his beer, the legs of his chair almost in the fireplace as he squeezed in on her right.

After her welcome, introductions seemed superfluous, and the conversation went on where it had left off.

“My uncle is taking me to his lawyer,” said Rosa-Rosa, who appeared to be in the middle of a story. “When we go to the police court we shall raise hell. I will show that stinker!”

“What will you do, Rosa-Rosa?” said Fayre, smiling. There was something bantering in his tone, as if he were persuading her to perform.

“I will do this.”

With one of her lightning changes into electric vivacity Rosa-Rosa did her trick, which consisted of a graphic and vulgar pantomimic display, rendered all the more vivid by the contrast with her natural immobility.

Mr. Campion was a little startled. It was evident that Rosa-Rosa’s lack of English was no deterrent to her powers of expression.

“Dirty little beast!” said Fayre, laughing. “I’d like to see you do that all day.”

“Get on with the story,” commanded the young man with the beard with weary resignation. “I suppose we must hear it.”

Rosa-Rosa stuck out a long thin tongue at him and beckoned to the barman.

When the question of further refreshment had been settled, the Italian boy cuffed her gently.

“It’s your cottage, isn’t it?” he prompted.

Rosa-Rosa choked into her glass.

“My husband who was murdered gave it to me,” she declared as soon as she recovered. “Before we came from Italy he told me it was mine. ‘We will live there and be happy,’ he said.”

“You loved your husband, didn’t you?” said Fayre, still with the smile and as though he spoke to some clever animal.

Again Rosa-Rosa underwent one of her startling changes. She drooped, she crumpled, her body sagged, even her hair seemed to wilt. Her dejection was not so much exaggerated as epitomized.

She threw her arms out wide and remained very still, her chin resting on her breast.

“I loved him,” she said.

It was an extraordinary exhibition; rather horrible, Mr. Campion thought.

Fayre glanced at him.

“Extraordinary, isn’t it?” he said. “She does it every time. Carry on, Rosa-Rosa. Nothing’s very clear in my mind except that your husband, whom you loved,”—he mimicked her grotesquely—“left you a cottage in his will. You went down once or twice and had a few disgusting parties. The second—or was it the third?—visit was interrupted very naturally by outraged neighbours, who were caretaking for the real landlord. Your uncle—disgraceful old basket—is getting in a shark lawyer, and when you get hold of the landlord, poor beggar, you’re going to go like this—” He imitated her first gesture and rose to his feet. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “I met my wife today and she said she might be coming home. If she’s there when I get back I’ll bring her along.”

“Some hopes,” said the man with the side whiskers as soon as the cartoonist was out of earshot. “Does he always talk like that to create an impression, or is it genuine?”

“Eve did marry him and did leave him,” said the fat man with the beard languidly. “I don’t feel his attitude towards it matters very much. Come, Rosa-Rosa, have you finished or is there more of this house-property idyll?”

Mrs. Dacre sat eyeing him sulkily. Then she smiled and began to swear appallingly in Saffron Hill English.

The fat man frowned with distaste.

“Horrible,” he said. “Nasty, bad girl. Dirty. The management will throw you out on the street if you talk like that. Your difficulty seems very simple. Prove the will and claim your property.”

“Fat beast!” said Rosa-Rosa venomously. She had noticed the cold eye of the lady behind the bar upon her, however, and lowered her voice.

“My husband made no will,” she said. “He was murdered.”

“Oh, God, how we know that!” said the actor, without bitterness. “Still, if he didn’t make a will it’s probably not your cottage. Why worry? Come and live in King’s Cross. It’s much more central and not nearly so insanitary.”

Rosa-Rosa looked shocked. “When a husband dies, everything that was his becomes the fortune of his wife,” she said. “It is my cottage. My husband and I were going to live there, but he was murdered.”

“That’s nothing to be proud of,” said the fat man.


“I say it’s not clever to be married to a man who was murdered,” persisted the young man. “Unless you did it, of course. Did you do it, by the way?”

Rosa-Rosa gave her alibi, and this, too, Mr. Campion felt, was part of a performance which these feckless folk put her through whenever they saw her. His own curiosity about the cottage was thoroughly aroused, however, and he took a hand in the questioning.

“Where is this house?” he enquired.

“At ’Eronhoe. When I have seen my uncle’s lawyer you shall come down to a party.”

“Don’t you go,” said the slender young man from the stage. “It’s miles away from anywhere, and the neighbours throw bricks at one. Look at that man’s eye.”

“Is it the Heronhoe in Sussex?” said Campion, making a guess.

The Italian boy answered him.

“No. It’s in Essex. Near Halstead. I drove my cousin down there with some of our friends. We went several times. But on Saturday when we arrived the place was all shut up. People from the village were there. They wouldn’t let us in.”

“Very extraordinary,” said Mr. Campion encouragingly.

“Most,” said the boy, his solemn face with its one discoloured eye ridiculously solemn. “They said the owner was in London. We were cold, don’t you know, and we’d got plenty to drink on board. We had a bit of a fight. Some of the boys got angry, the girls screamed, and the people came for us with sticks and dogs. We drove the car into ’em. Laid one bloke out. I don’t think he was hurt. Anyway,”—he smiled engagingly—“we didn’t wait to see. We came away. Perhaps they were right. Maybe it’s not hers.” He laughed at the prospect. “We tore the place up a bit,” he said reminiscently. “They were good parties.”

Rosa-Rosa had been listening to this recital, her head thrust forward between the two men and every line of her angular body expressing interest.

“It is my cottage,” she said vehemently. “My husband gave me a little picture of the house when we were in Italy.”

“A snapshot,” explained the cousin. “It had the address on the back. That’s how we found the place. It was furnished, but no one was there, so we broke in.”

“A very stupid thing to do if you didn’t know the place was yours,” commented the bearded young man, who appeared to be bored to tears by the whole history.

Rosa-Rosa spat at him calmly.

“Stinkin’ fat,” she said pleasantly. “It is mine because my husband’s things are there. All his drawings everywhere. My husband was a great painter. If he had not been murdered we should be very rich. On the day he died he told me so. We were to go down to the cottage and he was to paint four pictures like the others.”

“What others?” enquired the man with the side whiskers.

Rosa-Rosa shrugged.

“I don’t know. That’s what he told me.”

Mr. Campion took a deep breath.

“Are you sure they are your husband’s drawings—the ones in the cottage?” he enquired.

“Oh, yes, they are my husband’s. There are heaps—so high. Two big cupboards full.”

“Heronhoe.” Mr. Campion did not speak the word aloud, but it was printed indelibly upon his mind. “I wish you luck, Mrs. Dacre,” he said. “You won’t go down for some time, I suppose?”

“Not till she’s seen the lawyer,” put in the cousin.

His eyes had strayed to a red-headed girl seated at the side of the room, but he now tore his attention back to the topic which was evidently the principal subject of talk in the Rosini family.

“Afterwards we shall go back and see those country boys. Heh! It was a good fight. Bottles and everything. Not a flattie for miles. When we find out who the wet is who says he owns it there’ll be a better fight still.” Mr. Campion glanced through the shining window at the murky sky. He rose to his feet. Through the conflicting hopes and alarums in his mind the Italian’s soft, thoughtful drawl reached him:

“It’s a nice little house.”

21  :  A Day in the Country

It was not so much the prospect of committing a burglary which disturbed Mr. Campion, as he steered his aged Bentley through the winding lanes of that part of Essex which is almost Suffolk, as the problem of the exact address where his project was to take place.

He had located Heronhoe on a survey map, but as he knew neither the name of the cottage nor its owner, its discovery promised a certain amount of difficulty.

It was for this reason that he had chosen to arrive in the daylight and had curbed his impulse to set off at once after hearing Rosa-Rosa’s story.

He timed his departure from London at six o’clock the following morning, and it was nearly ten when he arrived at the village, having lost his way several times.

The tidy little main street, as compact and picturesque as the set for a musical comedy, lay fresh and bright in the spring sunlight. The air was chilly but sparkling. There was a crisp, invigorating wind. The fat, bursting buds on the chestnuts were wet and cold and radiant. It was altogether as fine a day for a felony as Mr. Campion had ever known.

He pulled up at the White Lion, a big, straggling hostelry which took up more than its fair share of the southern side of the street, and succeeded in persuading the landlord to admit him at least to the Commercial Room.

Wm. Pudney, according to the minute board over the doorway, was permitted by a gracious government to dispense wines, spirits, and tobacco, and, by immemorial custom, food, to all who should pass, but at ten o’clock in the morning he seemed disinclined to do any of these things for the pale young man with the rakish motorcar.

Mr. Campion was not drawn to Mr. Pudney. He was a spare, pink, youngish man with a masterpiece of an accent which betrayed at once both his ambitions in this direction and his complete lack of the ear by which to attain them.

“Me mother,” said Mr. Pudney at last, “will find you somethin’ to eat in the pentry. You may sit in the Commercial Lounge.”

He led the way to a chamber of horrors on the right of the bar. This room smelt faintly of beer and strongly of oilcloth. The decorative scheme was, properly enough, in keeping with the atmosphere and achieved its devastating effect by lace curtains and vast enlarged photographs of past phases of the Pudney ménage, helped out here and there with cheap mahogany and coloured-glass ornaments.

Mr. Campion felt that the White Lion, commercialism, and Mr. Pudney were not good mixers. He attacked the problem on hand, therefore, without loss of time.

“Many visitors this way?” he enquired artlessly, attacking the limp bacon and anemic egg which Mr. Pudney’s mother had found in the pantry.

“Not motorists,” said the landlord with disdain. “We’re not very keen on motorists litterin’ up our beautiful countryside. Trippers lower any place.”

In self-defense Mr. Campion ventured the information that he was going to Ipswich to see his father.

“He’s in the Church,” he added as a grace note to the fable.

“Reely?” Mr. Pudney showed surprising respect. “I thought you was a commercial. You’ll pardon me, sir, but we get so many persons round here takin’ orders for this and that and demoralizing the cottage people.”

Mr. Campion graciously accepted the apology, and Mr. Pudney became chatty.

“We have the cycle club ’ere in the summer,” he said modestly. “Me mother does quite a lot of caterin’ then. Toppin’ chaps they are; nothin’ tripperish about them. Very tidy fellows. Never leave so much as a bottle about.”

“Good,” said Mr. Campion absently.

“We had a party of hikers once,” continued Mr. Pudney. “Very intellectual persons, all of them—and there’s the hunt, of course, in winter. That’s very nice, but we don’t tolerate common trippers from London. The village boys set the dogs on them.”

It was borne in on Mr. Campion that Heronhoe was eminently unsuitable as a site for a week-end cottage for Rosa-Rosa.

“Really? Have they ever actually set the dogs on anyone?” he enquired.

Mr. Pudney eyed him sharply.

“There was very unregular behaviour at Spendpenny last Saturday night, I ’ear,” he said at last. “Quite a fracas.”

“Oh? Is Spendpenny a house?”

“Oh, dear me, no.” Mr. Pudney’s contempt was magnificent. “It’s a dirty little old place, a labourer’s dwelling. Some people came down and behaved shockin’ly—very common persons. The caretakers in the next cottage couldn’t do anything with them, so they got some villagers down there on Saturday and when the persons came there was quite a fight.”

“Where is this dreadful place?” enquired Mr. Campion with ghoulish interest.

“Down Pope’s Lane. That little path on the left just through the village. It’s never had a nice name. An artist had it once.”

Campion raised his eyebrows.

“Very lowerin’ to the locality,” said Mr. Pudney, adding darkly, “artists mean models.”

“Quite,” said Mr. Campion sagely, and paying his exorbitant bill he went away in his car to turn down Pope’s Lane.

The cottage Spendpenny, named after some improvident past owner, lay a good half mile down a steep lane whose banks were heightened by great walls of elder and ash. It was a postcard cottage with a roof like the back of a camel, and boarded walls which had once been tarred but were now mellowed by thirty years’ weather to the comfortable greenness of the country verger’s frock coat.

As far as Mr. Campion could see, as he drew up in the lane, there were no other houses round about. Spendpenny lay under a fold in a green meadow. The wild patch of garden before the door was still brown with the dead spears of last year’s weeds, but the perennial polyanthi and an occasional tulip showed among the ruin.

He had no doubt that this was the cottage he sought. The small wooden gate to the lane was smashed, the newly splintered wood showing yellow against the grey-green of its surface. Moreover, the place itself had an air of desertion, while there were yet ragged curtains at the small square windows, and the grass-grown path was tramped flat.

The loneliness of the countryside descended upon him as he stepped over the ruin of the gate, for like many travellers used to much wilder country he could recognize the peculiar emptiness of the green meadows and the tiny hidden lanes; an emptiness different from the cold freshness of virgin soil, since it is the emptiness of desertion, of the unfurnished room or the forsaken camp.

He stood for a moment looking at the cottage and then stepped forward, his lank figure casting a very small shadow in the bright cold sunlight.

When he was halfway down the path he stopped abruptly. The cottage door had opened with a clatter. For an instant the figure within was indistinct in the shadow. Then it moved out onto the cobbled step.

“My dear fellow,” said Max Fustian, “but how delightful!”

The immediate thought which came into Mr. Campion’s mind was typical of him. It occurred to him that the emotion of pure surprise was rare, and that when it did come it cleared the consciousness of everything else. But this was obviously no time for introspection. Max was coming to meet him.

Max in tweeds, with his hands dirty and shreds of cobweb in his hair, was in many ways a more fantastic figure than Max in his black hat and fancy waistcoat. The crofters’ cottages produce many opulent, not to say exotic, weaves, and Max in heather pink and green plus-fours looked as though he were in fancy dress.

“How nice of you to drop in,” he said. “Come inside. The house is obscenely dirty, and I’m afraid there’s nothing to drink, but at least there’s a chair.”

It occurred to Mr. Campion that he ought to say something.

“Are you the landlord?” he enquired, somewhat baldly, since they were the first words he had spoken.

“Of such as it is, yes,” said Max lightly as he led the way into the main room of the dwelling, a low, brick-floored apartment sparsely furnished and incredibly dusty. Much of the furniture was broken, and there were quantities of beer bottles about.

“I’m looking for a cottage,” said Campion, without hope or even particular intention of sounding convincing. “They told me in the village that this was empty, so I came along.”

“Naturally,” said Max happily. “Do sit down.”

He was evidently tremendously pleased with himself, and his visitor had the impression that his own unexpected arrival was not of the least consequence to him. Campion experienced a sense of futility. He looked at the man and wondered what on earth he could possibly be thinking.

Anyone less like the popular conception of the murderer some weeks after the crime, it was difficult to imagine, yet he experienced the uncomfortable conviction that if he should suddenly say: “Look here, Fustian, you killed Dacre and Mrs. Potter, didn’t you?” Max would smile and reply airily: “Yes, I know I did. My dear fellow, what can you do about it? Think about something else.”

It was an impossible situation.

Max had produced a case of yellow Cyprian cigarettes, and when Campion begged leave to stick to Virginian he shrugged his regret and lit one himself.

“I don’t know if this place would suit you, my dear boy,” he said. “It’s very remote and quite devastatingly insanitary. But come and look over it. Look in every hole and cranny.”

Campion raised his eyes without turning his head, and for a dizzy moment he thought Max had given himself away, but the bickering smile had vanished from the wide mouth and Max was his elated self again.

“I keep this place to lend to artists,” he said. “It’s so fantastically lonely the beggars simply have to work. There’s a wash house out at the back that I converted into a studio. Come along. There’s just this one room down here and a scullery. What a hovel, Campion, what a hovel!”

He led the way to a cupboard staircase and clambered up the awkward way to the two small rooms above, Campion following.

Here the disorder was incredible, and Max shuddered.

“I’ve had uninvited visitors,” he explained. “I lent this place to Dacre years ago, and that monstrous little slut of his, Rosa-Rosa Rosini, seemed to imagine it belonged to him. Anyway, I heard from the Ravens, the good peasants who keep an eye on the house for me, that someone had been here, and I came down to find out that ‘Mrs. Dacre had come to take possession.’ She seems to have brought half the rabble of Clerkenwell with her. However, you can see the rooms.”

He turned, and they went down again. Crossing through the minute scullery, they went out into the weed-grown yard and entered the studio.

The fine old wash house had been very simply converted. The warm rose brick floor, coppers, and big open fireplace had been left, and the big north light let into the tiles and a wooden platform at one end of the place were the only alterations as far as Campion could see.

There were two great presses, part of Victorian giant wardrobes, on either side of the fireplace, and the doors of these hung open, revealing them to be empty.

“Charming, isn’t it?”

The elaborate drawl at his side drew Campion’s attention from the tragic cupboards.

“Very nice,” agreed Campion.

“Not cold,” said Max unexpectedly. “Not a bit cold. Look at the fireplace.”

Mr. Campion’s eyes followed the sweep of the graceful hand and rested upon the ruin of his hopes.

The immense fireplace was of the early cavern variety, consisting of a square hole cut at the base of the chimney and furnished with a huge iron basket for the fire itself.

The whole square was a mass of fluttering grey and black paper ashes, still warm, it would seem from the faint heat exuded by the chimney.

“Destroying something?” enquired Campion.

Max met his eyes. He was frankly happy.

“Everything,” he said. And then, dropping his voice so that he spoke in a stage whisper, half serious, half bantering, “All my sins, my friend. All my sins.

“When would you like to take possession of the place?” he went on more normally. “Five shillings a week. You pay the Ravens. You can’t grumble at that, my dear boy. If you take up painting I’ll lend it to you. Come along and give me a lift to the Ravens’ cottage down the lane. I left my car there and came over by the fields.”

Mr. Campion went meekly.

On the London Road Max’s new sports car shot away from the old Bentley at something over eighty, for Mr. Campion drove soberly, almost cautiously. As he sat he thought.

The last straw of evidence which might possibly have led to Fustian’s arrest had been destroyed, possibly less than an hour before he himself had arrived. Moreover, he had undertaken to rent a white elephant. The honours of the day lay with Max.

That evening, however, he received a note from Fustian making what seemed to Campion an astoundingly naïve suggestion. He said he had been thinking it would be nice if they should drink a cocktail together some time.

22  :  Invitation

“I’ve told Belle, Mr. Campion, I’ve told Belle over and over again that she must compose her Higher Consciousness, bring herself in tune with the Cosmic Universe, and then her aura will return to its natural blue and rose and everything will be quite all right.”

Donna Beatrice delivered herself of this somewhat remarkable confession of imbecility and sat back in the high brocade chair before Belle’s bedroom window and smiled up into the strong sunlight as if she placed herself on an equal footing with it as a human comforter.

Belle sat up in her small Dutch bed, a shawl round her shoulders and a crisp muslin bonnet on her head. The coverlet was strewn with letters.

Campion, who sat in the doctor’s chair, shook his head at her flaming cheeks and overbright eyes.

“You get some sleep,” he said. “Clear the room of all visitors and refuse to see anyone. Wash your hands of the whole business. Forget it.”

Belle glowered at him like a fat, rebellious baby.

“Not you, too, Albert!” she said. “I did think I’d get a little intelligence from you. Old Dr. Pye has been here talking like that—silly prim little man! We always call him Mince Pye, and I nearly told him so this morning, only I thought he probably wouldn’t have enough French to see the joke, even if his humour rose to the occasion. I don’t want to stay in bed. What’s a temperature? We never bothered about them when I was a girl. I want to go down to that gallery and fetch those pictures. I won’t be treated like a doddering, drooling old half-wit by a posturing little ninny who ought to be spanked.”

“I can’t stay in the room with such an aura,” said Donna Beatrice faintly. “It stifles me.”

She made a dignified exit, sighing heavily just before she closed the door behind her.

“Thank God for that!” said Mrs. Lafcadio truculently. “The woman’s a fool.”

“Why don’t you get rid of her?” enquired Campion not unreasonably.

“For good?”

“Yes. Send her right away. It must be very trying to live with a lady of—er—her convictions.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that.” For a moment it was the old Belle who peered out from beneath the organdie. “She’s old, poor darling. This is her life. Johnnie gave her a false conception of herself, and she’s been living up to it rather misguidedly ever since. When he died he said, ‘Belle, darling, look after that damn fool Beatrice for me. She was so lovely once.’ No, I mustn’t send her away, but I’m glad she’s gone out of the room. Now, Albert, you tell them that I’m quite all right and bring your car and we’ll go down to Bond Street and take those canvases away. Johnnie wouldn’t have hesitated.”

“No, Belle, you can’t do that.” Mr. Campion was embarrassed. “Look here, you leave it to the lawyers and meanwhile get some sleep. If not, you know, you’ll die.”

“Rubbish,” said Mrs. Lafcadio. “If Johnnie were here we’d get the pictures, sell them for what we could, and go away to Capri until the money was spent. I should lie in the sun and listen to him telling the story and improving it.”

She was silent for a moment or two, and then she laughed.

“Second childhood, my dear. I do know how different it is now I’m old, but I forget when I get cross. Now, Albert, advise me. What shall I do?”

She leant back among the pillows, and the colour gradually faded from her cheeks, leaving her pale and exhausted.

“I can’t leave everything to the lawyers,” she said plaintively, “because they say leave it alone. You see, the whole thing is in such a muddle. Johnnie thought I should be dealing with old Salmon, who was a pet, so he didn’t bother much about the legal aspect of the business, and now they’ve come to examine it they find that Max and I are both responsible for the things. He can’t do anything without me, and I can’t do anything without him. It’s all so annoying.”

“You’re still very angry with Max?”

Mrs. Lafcadio was silent for a moment while her lips moved ruminatively and her eyes grew dark again.

“Yes, I am,” she said. “Yes, definitely. Very, very cross.”

“What are you thinking of doing?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know at all. If he takes the pictures out of the country I shall have to proceed against him, I suppose, and that’s such a lengthy business and such a nuisance.”

“You just want things to go on as they are, then?” said Campion. “I mean, you’re really only anxious that the pictures should stay in England and be shown every year as Lafcadio wished?”

“Yes.” She nodded emphatically. “Albert, my dear, you see to it. You speak to Max. You make him do what I want. I never want to see the man’s hideous little face again, but I give you full powers to act for me. You see to it. Linda is worse than useless. She advises me to let him have his own way.”

In view of everything, this was a somewhat awkward mission, and Mr. Campion could hardly fail to recognize it.

There is an optimistic belief widespread among the generous-hearted that the average human being has only to become sufficiently acquainted with another’s trouble or danger to transfer it to his own shoulders not merely unhesitatingly but gladly. The fact remains, of course, that the people who say to themselves, “There is real danger here, and I think it had better confront me rather than this helpless soul before me” are roughly divided into three groups.

There are the relatives, and it is extraordinary how the oft-derided blood tie decides the issue, who, moved by that cross between affection and duty, perform incredible feats of self-sacrifice.

Then there are those misguided folk, half hero, half busybody, who leap into danger as if it were the elixir of life.

And finally there is a small group of mortals who are moved partly by pity and partly by a passionate horror of seeing tragedy slowly unfolded before their eyes, and who act principally through a desire to bring things to a head and get the play over, at whatever cost.

Mr. Campion belonged to the last category.

“All right,” he said slowly. “All right. I’ll see to everything.”

“Oh, my dear! Thank you so much. I can just go to sleep then and know that everything will be all right and the pictures will stay here in England?”

He nodded. Having reached a decision, he felt much easier in his mind about the whole business. He rose.

“You go to sleep now and I’ll see to things. It may take a day or two, so don’t worry.”

“Of course I won’t.”

Belle was very weary, but there was still a gleam of amusement in her eyes.

“He is an odious little beast, isn’t he, though?” she said coaxingly.

“I think you underestimate him, at that.”

“Do you? Oh, I’m so glad. I didn’t like to feel I’d made a fuss about nothing, especially after so much dreadful trouble in the house.”

As he reached the door she called after him:

“Did you read his evidence in the Stoddart case yesterday? He was an expert witness for the defense, you know.”

He had read the case—everyone in London seemed to have done so—but he let her repeat the story.

“The prosecution said: ‘Mr. Fustian, you were called in, I understand, by the defendant to give, as it were, a counsel’s opinion,’ ” came the faint voice from the pillows. “And the little mannikin smiled and said: ‘I’m afraid you underrate me, Sir James. I was called in as a judge.’ I think he’s mad, don’t you?”

“Very likely,” said Campion absently. “Very likely. Good-bye, Belle. Sleep well.”

Mr. Campion sat before the telephone in his own room in Bottle Street for some time, considering, before he drew the instrument towards him and called Max Fustian.

It was now a full week since he had visited Spendpenny, and he had not yet replied to the note he had received on reaching home after that excursion.

As he had hoped, Max was in the Gallery, and, after giving his name to a minion and waiting for some considerable time, he heard the famous voice, rendered, it would seem, even more soft and liquid by the phone.

“My dear Campion, how nice to hear from you! What can I do?”

Campion gave Belle’s message simply and without excuse.

There was silence from the other end of the wire until he had finished. Then a soft, affected laugh reached him.

“My dear fellow,” said Max Fustian, “must you mix yourself up in that musty business? It’s really a matter for experts, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know that I have any opinion,” said Campion cautiously. “I only know that I have been commissioned by Mrs. Lafcadio to prevent the pictures leaving the country.”

“Such a charming, stupid woman,” sighed the voice over the wire. “I suppose that in your new capacity you take up the same uncompromising attitude that she affects?”

“Yes,” said Campion, adding with unnecessary deliberation, “over my dead body.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I say you take them out of England over my dead body.”

There was an infinitesimal pause. Then the gentle laugh reached him again.

“How conscientious, Campion! We must meet.”

“I should like it.”

“Of course. Well, we shall see each other at the Cellini Society’s party tomorrow. We can fix something then.”

“The Cellini Society?” enquired Campion.

“But of course—the cocktail party to celebrate the new life by Lady du Vallon. Urquhart has done the illustrations, and the White Hart Press have turned out an exquisite book. Haven’t you had your card? I’ll send you one at once. I shall get there about six-thirty.”

“Fine,” said Campion, and added with intentional deliberation, “By the way, Fustian, you needn’t trouble about the Dacre drawing. The ‘Head of a Boy,’ you know. I have one.”

“Really?” The voice was plainly cautious now, and Campion persisted:

“Yes. A most interesting little thing. A study for a big oil. There’s a sketch of the whole picture in the corner—a crowd round the Cross. I recognized it at once.”

“I should like to see it.”

“You shall,” promised Campion airily. “You shall. See you tomorrow.”

23  :  Night Out

Campion left the inspector and went down to Brook Street for the cocktail party.

It had been in full swing for some time when he arrived, and it was a weary servant who led him up the marble stairs with the wrought-iron balustrade and jettisoned him into the green-panelled double drawing room with the exquisite ceiling and the Georgian sconces.

The noise was terrific.

The theory that the art of conversation has died out in modern times is either a gross misrepresentation of the facts or an Olympian criticism of quality alone. Three quarters of the gathering seemed to be talking loudly, not so much with the strain of one trying to capture an audience, but with the superb flow of the man who knows all creation is trying to hear him.

Lady du Vallon, a crisp little woman with sharp eyes and red elf-locks, rustled across in her burnt-sienna tea gown to shake hands perfunctorily and pass him on with a murmur which might have been his name or a good-natured “Look after this” to a lonely-looking man who happened to be standing near.

This individual did not speak at all, but contented himself by looking gratified and leading the way through the gesticulating throng to the cocktail bar.

Mr. Campion accepted a dry Martini from a scowling barman and looked about for Max. His guide, having accomplished his duty, had disappeared, and the next time Campion saw him he was at the entrance again, and it occurred to him that he was probably his host.

Fustian did not seem to have arrived, and he was looking about for a convenient corner in which to stand, for the eddying mass about him was a trifle tempestuous for a lone rock, when he saw Sir Gervaise Pelley, the Cellini authority, standing a few feet away behind a bank of famous stage folk.

The great man looked a little pensive, but his eye flickered as he sighted his acquaintance, and they waded towards each other.

“In an awful hole,” he muttered as he came up. “Look.”

He half opened his hand, held surreptitiously low at his side, and Campion caught sight of a handkerchief loosely enwrapping a mass of sticky broken glass.

“Ice cream plate,” he muttered. “Don’t know what to do with it.”

“Put it in someone’s pocket,” Campion suggested helpfully.

Sir Gervaise looked round gloomily.

“There seem to be only women near enough,” he said.

In the end it was Campion who took the handkerchief and handed it to the barman in exchange for a couple of cocktails.

Disembarrassed, Sir Gervaise became his old truculent self again.

“Don’t know who everybody is,” he said, staring with unconscious offense at the nearest celebrity. “This isn’t much like the usual Cellini Society show. Very different. I want to see a copy of the book, by the way, and I hear there are some very fine exhibits downstairs. Shall we go along?”

Campion excused himself on the plea that he was waiting for Fustian, and the announcement seemed to dismiss for ever any claims he might have had to Sir Gervaise’s interest.

Once more he was left alone. He observed several acquaintances in the crowd but did not go out of his way to speak to them, since he was concentrating on the interview ahead.

The talk continued at fever pitch all round him. Old Brigadier General Fyvie was bellowing his latest mot, which seemed to be something about a daring escape from the British Legion; and a little rhyme, “God in His loving arms enfold us—Contrary to the belief of the Huxleys, Julian and Aldous,” was going the rounds.

No one seemed to be mentioning the book, and he never discovered its title, but he saw at least two famous publishers and one rather sad-looking critic.

Unexpectedly, he came upon Rosa-Rosa clinging to the arm of a very famous painter whose tongue was quite as much paragraphed as his brush. He was exhibiting the girl as though she were an unusual type of pet and obtaining the same sort of notice for her. She did not see Campion, but swept on, large-eyed and strange-looking in her bright clothes.

The amount of energy, vivacity, and sheer personal force discharged in a single room impressed Campion again, as it always did at these functions, and he wondered idly how long the walls and ceiling and battered carpets would tingle after everyone had gone.

He found himself waiting for Max in very much the same mood as one waits for a train to an unknown destination: with doubts and impatience. There was too much gin in the cocktails, he decided, and reflected that the fault was a common one among unprofessional mixers, the outcome, no doubt, of a horror of appearing economical.

It was very late, and although one or two people seemed to be leaving they did not keep pace with the late arrivals, and the crowd was growing thicker than ever.

Max came at last, pausing to speak to the servant in the passage so that he should make his entrance alone and not in the midstream of a file of guests.

He stood for a moment framed by the great doorway with its beautiful moulding and sculptured cornice.

A number of people turned to look at him, and for an instant something like a hush swept that portion of the room. If it was not quite the silence of delighted or respectful recognition, at least it showed a momentary interest and curiosity, for he was a picturesque figure.

Campion, who had taken up a position by the far window where he could command the door, had a clear view of him.

He was wearing a grey lounge suit, rather light for the season, and a new and dazzling waistcoat. The MacDonald tartan in silk, a little faded, mercifully, but still brave and gay enough in all conscience, was fastened across Mr. Fustian’s slender middle with onyx buttons. His dark face, long hair, and mercurial bearing saved him, perhaps, from looking an ordinary bounder, but they increased his oddity considerably.

His hostess recognized him and fluttered over, and Max, enjoying his little sensation, made the most of it.

Their conversation seemed to be common property, and Campion listened, as did most other people within earshot.

Lady du Vallon had not struck him as being a fool when he first saw her, and now, as she went up to Max, hand outstretched, he had no reason to change his opinion. Only the informed seemed to take Max seriously.

“How very very nice of you to come!” she said, allowing him to kiss her hand without embarrassment.

“Absurd, my dear Erica.” Max waved away her gratitude self-consciously and added, with the air of one announcing a delightful surprise: “I’ve read the book!”

The lady’s expression was suitably humble and shyly glad.

“Really? Oh, Mr. Fustian, that’s too nice of you. I really didn’t expect that. I do hope you weren’t too disappointed.”

“Not at all.” The Fustian drawl had reached the point of becoming indistinct. “I found it quite adequate. Even more—dignified. I congratulate you. You have only to work to be a second Vasari. I think I may say that.”

“Vasari? The historian? Er—do you think so?”

For a moment something approaching polite bewilderment flickered in Lady du Vallon’s bright grey eyes.

“I’ve said so,” said Max grandly.

The conceit of the man was never more apparent, and someone who felt it must be intentionally exaggerated laughed audibly, only to look uncomfortable when no one else smiled.

Lady du Vallon, who knew that she had only written a monograph on the goldsmith to knit some fifty or sixty woodcuts into a book, clearly felt a little at sea, but she was a woman of courage.

“I always saw you in that rôle, Mr. Fustian,” she said, taking the bull by the horns. “As Vasari, you know.”

“I? Oh, no, dear lady. Not Vasari.” Max smiled.

In his tartan waistcoat the man looked like a barrel-organ monkey, Campion reflected.

“I see myself more as a patron of the arts—a Medici, shall we say. Lorenzo de’ Medici.”

He laughed, and his embarrassed audience were glad to join in with him and turn back to their own more human and more interesting conversations.

“And yet the damn feller gets away with it!” muttered old Fyvie to Campion as he passed. “Can’t understand it. Something fishy somewhere.”

Max was still chattering to his hostess with a wealth of gesture but in a lower tone and not so publicly as before, while a thin, shy young man had joined the group. This was Urquhart, the cutter of the woods, and Max was evidently much employed.

As Campion waited he watched the exotic little figure and considered him.

He was puny, ridiculously dressed, insufferably or laughably conceited according to one’s temper, and yet there was hardly a soul in the crowded room who would willingly offend him. Moreover, he had murdered two human beings in the past three months; one impulsively in an insane fit of hatred, and one in cold blood after considerable preparation. Also he had got clean away with both crimes. Looking at him now, it seemed quite impossible.

Mr. Campion considered murder.

The chief deterrent to private killing, he reflected, was probably the ingrained superstitious fear of the responsibility of ending a human life, but in a man of Max’s inordinate conceit this objection could no doubt be swept away by being decided a necessity.

Then, nearly if not quite as strong a deterrent was the fear of apprehension, but here again sufficient conceit and belief in one’s powers might easily make one insensible to this second terror also.

The third difficulty, of course, was the practical side of the business.

Concerning the murder of Dacre, Mr. Campion was inclined to think that the astonishing luck attending that affair was one of those tragic chances whose results are even more far-reaching than might be at first supposed. If ever a beginner received encouragement, he thought grimly, Max had certainly not lacked it. The impulsive stab in the dark had come off with fantastic ease, and in the consequent enquiries not even suspicion had ever really touched the killer.

Fustian’s second essay, on the other hand, the murder of Mrs. Potter, had been ingeniously carried through, ruthlessly and without a slip, but, Campion realized suddenly, the actual details had been no more neat and ingenious than those of a hundred delicate business intrigues which Max must have carried out in his time.

In fact, once the two main objections to murder had been overcome the rest required merely that subtlety and lightness of touch of which Max was admittedly a master.

Campion frowned. As a possible third victim he found the subject extraordinarily interesting.

It was at this moment that he noticed that Max had left his hostess. He went over to join him.

Fustian greeted him effusively.

“My dear fellow!” he murmured. “My dear fellow, what an impossible crush! No room to breathe or move or talk. Why do we come to these herdings of the little brains!”

He spoke affably and loud enough to be heard by all his more immediate neighbours, who shot him resentful or contemptuous glances according to their humour.

At the same time he was forging through the throng. Mr. Campion partook of another cocktail while Max demanded sherry and, after some little delay and trouble all round, obtained it.

He was in excellent spirits, chatting and nodding graciously to everybody whether he knew them or not. Mr. Campion got the impression that he must be almost universally disliked. His affectations seemed to have broadened to the point of farce, and there were people about who laughed at him openly.

He was standing, glass in hand, his head thrown back, surveying the throng and commenting on it as though he were watching it through a microscope, when Bee Birch, the militant painter of athletes, came up with fire in her eye and a magazine in her hand.

She was a picturesque figure herself in her puce stuff dress and outrageous sailor hat lying flat on her soft grey hair. The tales of her battles were many, and her habit of never leaving a thought unsaid was the terror of her hostesses.

She descended upon Max like a very nice war horse and thrust the open magazine at him.

“Fustian, did you write this disgusting piece of effete snobbery?” she demanded.

Campion, who was wedged in by the bar and Max himself, saw that the magazine was the current issue of Life and Letters, and the article was headed “The Coarse in Paint, by Max Fustian.” Moreover, there was a photograph of him, very dark and dramatic.

It seemed as if a certain amount of unpleasantness must ensue, but Max was unruffled.

“Dear Miss Birch,” he murmured. “Of course I shall be delighted.”

And then, before anyone realized quite what he was about, he had set down his glass and taken an enormous gold pencil from the pocket of his dreadful waistcoat, signed the photograph with a flourish, and handed the paper back to her with the hint of a bow.

Rendered completely speechless with indignation, Miss Birch stood silent, and, seizing Campion’s arm, Max made an unhurried but purposeful getaway.

“We must discuss our business over dinner. I insist,” he said as they came down the stairs together. “One can’t talk in a bear garden like that. I can’t drink a sherry these days without getting a crowd around me.”

Campion glanced at him sharply, but he was apparently perfectly serious.

“We must drop in at my flat first,” he went on. “Between ourselves, I want to change my waistcoat. Then we’ll go on to Savarini’s. I have a table there.”

Mr. Campion did not demur. He wondered how Max was thinking of killing him. Savarini’s sounded safe enough.

The flat in Baker Street proved to be one of those luxury apartments on the top floor of a giant block.

The room into which Max conducted him, with a murmured apology for his absent man and a languid comment on the servant problem generally, had much of the ascetic elegance of the Bond Street gallery: that is to say, it only just escaped being definitely bare. Its lovely stripped-pine walls were decorated by a single Matisse over the fireplace, and the plain pale green carpet was reflected more ethereally still in the slightly domed ceiling.

Campion seated himself in one of the two chairs as big as Austin Sevens on either side of the hearth, while his host slid back a part of the panelling to reveal a small bottle cupboard.

“If you don’t mind, my dear fellow, I’ll stick to sherry,” he said, his fingers moving deftly among the paraphernalia of refreshment. “But I have an excellent cocktail here, my own invention. You must try it.”

Mr. Campion felt a fool.

“I don’t think I will, if you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ve been drinking all the afternoon.”

“Really? Oh, but I know you’ll change your mind. You needn’t be afraid. I know what these home-made concoctions are so often like, but I assure you I’m an expert. I shan’t give you the recipe. I guard that most—most jealously.”

On the last word he shook a few drops of poisonous-looking green stuff from a bitters bottle into a minute shaker and fastened it up.

“There,” he said a moment or so later as he filled a glass and poured out a sherry for himself.

Campion, leaning back in the Gargantuan chair, wondered at himself and his host. The chances of a man poisoning one in his own flat were remote, of course, but in so serious an issue the most unlikely eventualities were worth considering.

Max was still talking. His drawl was less noticeable, his guest thought, and his languor had given place to vivacity.

“Now the cherry,” he said. “This is the one cocktail in the world in which the cherry is an integral part.”

“I don’t like cherries,” said Campion feebly.

“You’ll adore this one. This cherry,” said Max firmly and with an inflection which gave his guest an uncomfortable sensation, “is like no other you have ever tasted—or ever will.”

He took a stick with a red blob on the end of it from some recess in the cupboard and dropped it gently into the glass.

“There, my friend,” he said, placing the potion in Campion’s hand. “If you’ll excuse me I’ll leave you to enjoy it while I change my waistcoat for something a little less festive.”

Campion sat looking at the glass, conviction of the complete unreality of the whole scene creeping over him.

He reproached himself for undue jumpiness, for seeing innuendoes in innocent remarks. Nevertheless, he did not drink from the glass in his hand but, removing the cherry stick with its burden still attached, sniffed the contents cautiously.

It seemed perfectly normal; a little odd in colour, perhaps, but otherwise very much the ordinary flavoured gin which he had been drinking all the evening.

He was about to replace the cherry when a fleck of white upon it caught his attention. He set the glass down and examined the fruit.

Its secret became obvious almost at once. The hole where the stone had been was now filled with a greyish white paste which certainly did not look wholesome.

Campion stared at it, and his emotion was at least half disappointment. The whole ridiculous business was so unbelievably crude. Was this the man who had engineered the death of Mrs. Potter? It seemed hardly credible.

He wondered what exactly the stuff was and what symptoms his host might expect him to show when he returned.

He emptied the contents of the glass in the back of the fire and watched it blaze. Most of it was spirit, anyway, he reflected. The cherry he placed carefully in an old envelope from his pocket and stowed it in his wallet.

Max could hardly be hoping him to die in the flat, he decided, however much his methods might have deteriorated.

He was still contemplating the amazingly puerile attack when it occurred to him that more than likely Max had no conception of the completeness of his own discovery. He must know now that the authenticity of the later Lafcadios was under suspicion, but he probably had no idea that his part in the deaths in the household had been traced.

In this case was the present attempt so childish after all? Campion shuddered to think of the concoctions he had thoughtlessly swallowed down in the houses of acquaintances.

The subtlety might come later—in the disposal of the body, no doubt. Or perhaps it was one of those slow-working things; a culture, even, although that would be difficult for anyone but a doctor to obtain. It would be interesting to see what Max intended to do next.

Max intended to go to Savarini’s, that latest love of the moneyed intelligentsia. That was evident as soon as he returned.

He had changed not only his waistcoat, but his whole suit for a set of darker garments, and seemed very happy.

“Did you like it?” he enquired, picking up the glass. “Not very much, perhaps?” he added, as his guest hesitated. “You don’t like bitters? I do myself. They seem to give to a drink what minor disappointment gives to life, just that touch of the unsatisfactory which makes it worth ones going on. It’s nearly half past eight. I must apologize. You must be positively starving.”

Savarini’s was crowded, as usual, and at the little tables, under the famous ceiling painted by Du Parc, sat many who had been at the cocktail party. Campion recognized at least a dozen people, including young Farquharson, the shipping heir, dining with a party. He looked hard at his friend and harder at his friend’s friend, and raised his eyebrows questioningly. There was a lot of the snob about young Farquharson.

Max himself had something of a royal entry. Preceded by Joseph, the pontifical head waiter with the sabre cut, he strutted among the crowded tables, nodding at every face turned towards him.

Evidently it was to be a special occasion. The table in the alcove of the farthest window was reserved for them, and as they settled down on the upholstered bench they had a complete view of the whole restaurant. Joseph himself superintended their meal, which appeared to have been ordered beforehand. Mr. Campion decided that perhaps after all he was not expected to die at the dinner.

Max was speaking in his new rôle of the perfect host.

“I took the precaution of leaving the food to our good maître, my dear Campion. We’re to taste the Cantonetti tonight, and to appreciate it one must eat the right things with it. This is to be a gourmet’s meal, a fitting prelude to the discussion of the Lafcadios.”

Campion expressed his willingness to enjoy whatever Joseph should set before them and enquired about the Cantonetti. The name was vaguely familiar to him, but he could not place it.

“The Cantonetti?” Max appeared suitably shocked. “My dear Campion, the greatest gastronomic discovery of the age. The one wine our generation has given to the civilized world. Of course in Rumania, the place of its birth, it has been known for generations, but the disastrous effect of old-fashioned transport ruined it completely. The coming of the aëroplane has altered all that.”

He beckoned Joseph, who, Campion was grieved to see, was positively hovering.

“Has the Cantonetti arrived?”

“Quite safely, Mr. Fustian, by Monsieur Savarini’s private plane.”

“And it has been kept at sixty-five?”

“Sixty-five degrees exactly, Mr. Fustian.”

Max nodded his gracious approval. “Bring it,” he said. “We’ll have it with the omelette.”

Joseph sped away like one of his own service boys, and Mr. Campion tried to remember. Among the odd information in the back of his mind there was the word “Cantonetti.” It was a red wine, he fancied, and the particular possession of a great family, and there was something odd about it, some anecdote, something mildly funny. He gave it up. Whatever it was it had escaped him entirely.

The dinner arrived, and Mr. Campion privately decided that the cherry in his pocket contained some poison with a delayed action; a botulistic culture, no doubt, or one of the fungus poisons. There were mushrooms in the omelette, which strengthened this idea.

Yes, of course, that was it; one of the fungus poisons. How extremely ingenious, and particularly unpleasant. Also, incidentally, how very hard on poor old Savarini.

He eyed Max thoughtfully as a waiter slid the delectable gold-and-black mass onto his plate.

“You like cèpes, I hope?” enquired his host with something that was surely more than ordinary interest.

Campion decided to play.

“Very much indeed,” he said, and Max seemed pleased.

The omelette was just in situ, as it were, when a small procession walked up the room to their table.

Joseph came first, dignified and intent, his eye glassy and his bearing superb. Behind him, and in pathetic imitation, strode a small boy bearing a tray on which stood two beautiful glasses. They were fully ten inches high and lily-shaped, with long, slender pedestals and curved lips.

Finally came the Savarini wine waiter, a solemn portly soul, carrying a broad flat basket lined with vine leaves. In the basket reposed the bottle.

Mr. Campion, the most modest of men, was slightly embarrassed by this homage so publicly paid to his stomach.

Joseph made the uncorking an occasion.

The bottle was frankly enormous, and with its dusty sides swatched in a napkin the size of a cot sheet it was probably sufficiently ostentatious even for Max.

“You are prepared for it, Mr. Fustian?” the head waiter murmured, smiling, as he poured a little of the thick crimson stuff into the host’s glass and filled his guest’s to the lily’s brim.

“We’ve been in training all day,” said Max happily. “Haven’t we, Campion?”

If four or five cocktails constituted a training for anything, Mr. Campion supposed he had.

He nodded, and Max raised his now full glass.

“Your health, my dear Campion,” he said.

The young man smiled. The toast might have been more appropriate, he thought.

They breathed, savoured, and drank, Joseph still standing before them to give the moment its due solemnity.

The wine was remarkable. Campion found himself astonished. So much preparation he had feared could only herald a minor disappointment, but this vintage seemed not only to excuse but even to merit any amount of palaver.

It was heavier than the wines of Bordeaux; deeper in colour and more soft, but without the weight of a Burgundy, and although completely different from either was yet without eccentricity to alarm the palate.

Mr. Campion, who knew the strong vintages of Spain and the odd wines of the East, found himself unable to think of anything with which to compare it. It was really a discovery, and he gave Max due credit.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” His host leant back, a gleam of pure pleasure in his little dark eyes. “The secret is to drink it. Don’t sip it like Tokay, but drink it like the divine draught it is.”

It seemed such excellent advice that Mr. Campion took it, reflecting that the fungus poisoning could hardly be expected to take effect for another two or three hours at least.

The Cantonetti was admirably foiled by the tournedos and afterward by a curious savoury mess of sweetbreads and chicken liver, and it was not until the end of the third glass when Joseph was superintending the presentation of the flat oat biscuits and the little round red cheese of the Danubian plain that Campion noticed anything odd about himself.

His first indication that he was not perfectly normal was the fact that when Max mentioned Lafcadio for a moment he had the greatest difficulty in remembering who that eminent painter might be.

He pulled himself together. The Cantonetti was evidently much more potent than its sisters of France. He felt irritated with himself and glanced at Max, who had drunk considerably more of the stuff. Mr. Fustian was obviously perfectly sober and was surveying the world with the gracious tolerance of one who has dined wisely quite as much as well.

Mr. Campion jibbed at a word and fluffed it badly, and alarm seized that part of his brain which is the last to succumb to alcohol or anesthetic.

He wondered wildly if he had been drugged in the restaurant, but one glance at Joseph reassured him. That monument of dignity would never connive at anything which might harm the prestige of the beloved business in which he was reputed to have a considerable share.

Besides, he decided furiously, he was not drugged: he was drunk, and moreover he was rapidly becoming more and more deeply sunk into that unenviable state.

Cantonetti. He stared at the bottle. Something about Cantonetti was coming back to him. Now it was gone again. Something—something mildly funny. He knocked over his empty lily goblet and laughed to see the little splinters of fine glass sticking in the cheese.

He pointed out the joke to Max, who laughed, too, tolerantly and with graceful good humour.

And then suddenly Campion was ashamed of himself and angry that he had broken the glass, and he put his napkin over the cheese and tried to change the subject and talk about pictures. Only he couldn’t think of the names of any artists except a man with an unpronounceable name of whom Max had never heard.

He ate a wheat biscuit, and for an instant his mind cleared. He remembered everything, the cocktail, the cherry in his pocket, and the whole ghastly business. He glanced sharply at Max and saw that he was looking at him narrowly.

He felt suddenly cold. It had dawned on him at last. The second degree of subtlety again. The old trick which had Fustian’s characteristic all along. He had meant his ridiculous poisoned cherry to be discovered: he had laid particular stress on it and had gone out of the room so that it would be discovered, and his victim, poor beast, put off the scent for the real attack.

The real attack lay somewhere in the Cantonetti. Campion wished he could remember. The whole of the main restaurant had become indistinct. He was aware of vast planes of misty, chattering ghosts to whom, he supposed fatuously, he was as invisible as they to him.

Max he knew. Max was just beside him. There was something that Max was going to do that he did not like. He could not remember what it was. It was something that he must stop him from doing. It was all very sad and difficult. He ate another biscuit.

Out of the gaily-coloured fog which seemed to have enveloped the table he caught a glimpse of Joseph’s face. He felt like laughing at it because it had no body and because it looked so worried. It was saying something to Max to which Campion would have liked to listen but found it difficult because the waiter was speaking so indistinctly. He caught one or two phrases.

“He did not take you seriously, Mr. Fustian—the strongest head cannot stand it if . . .”

Max was saying something now. He seemed to be apologizing.

“Of course I had no idea—he gave me his word . . .”

Once again Mr. Campion became himself, but only for a moment, for the absorbent powers of one small biscuit are not great.

Although his vision was still impaired, the scattered phrases he had heard made sense and awakened his memory.

The Cantonetti.

Old Randall talking about the Cantonetti—most marvellous stuff in the world if you haven’t had any spirit within twenty-four hours. If you’ve had any, though, or especially if you’ve had any gin—then, oh, my hat!

Campion broke into a sweat. The world was beginning to fade again.

“If you’ve had any gin—”

Was the mixture a poison? Hardly. Savarini’s would hardly risk it.

Confound this idiotic tendency to laugh unreasonably. No—that was it—Randall had said it made one tight but not ordinarily tight. Mr. Campion fancied he had said “gloriously tight,” or was it “fantastically tight”? Well, he was fantastically tight now, and Max was going to do something to him. What was it? Oh, what was it? Max was going to—Good God, Max was going to kill him!

He stared at Max now, Max grotesque and misshapen with a yellow haze round him. He looked so ridiculous like that that Mr. Campion could not think of anything else. He laughed uproariously.

Max echoed him, and so did the people behind the curtain of coloured lights. Everybody laughed like anything. It was all very jolly.

Campion flew out of the restaurant, a most exhilarating experience. His feet did not touch the ground, but he hit the top of a chair once with his knee and knocked it over. No one minded. Everyone was so happy, nearly as happy as himself. They were all giggling except Joseph. Joseph’s face was gloomy and shocked, and very humorous floating about without its body.

Max was there close beside him, but not flying. Max was walking rather fast, bobbing up and down and knocking into one, but he was happy, too, and did not care.

Only once Campion remembered what it was that Max was going to do, and that was when in the foyer he suddenly saw young Farquharson’s face not a foot from his own. The startled expression on the familiar face sobered him, and he clutched at the man’s arm as though it were the proverbial straw, and which of course it very well might have been.

“I’m—I’m in danger,” he said seriously, and Farquharson’s face split into a smile.

“I know you are, old boy,” he said. “In danger of falling down if you don’t look out.”

Then Max was there again, silly Max in his comic clothes. Mr. Campion roared with laughter at him and flew on.

Outside it was lovely.

The wet streets shone as the lamps raced by. All connections with the sordid trappings of earth deserted Mr. Campion. He was a disembodied spirit, and Max was his mortal guide.

Of course there were amusing incidents. There was the time when Max lurched against him and he fell over on a street refuge, and a policeman helped to pick him up and told him to be careful. And there was the man at the embassy who told him he wouldn’t like it inside because everyone would be in evening dress and laughed when he offered to take off his waistcoat.

There was the excruciatingly humorous moment when his aunt’s butler in Grosvenor Square did not recognize him at first and rushed away and shut the door when he did.

By and by the glory diminished. Campion realized that he was walking, and not walking too well, either. Then he noticed his hands were filthy from the refuge incident and he had lost his gloves.

He became increasingly aware of Max about this time. Max was hurrying, he fancied. He was not talking so much, either. Mr. Campion began to distrust Max. At the back of his mind there was something that warned him not to like Max. Something most unpleasant about the fellow; he couldn’t remember at all what it was.

They were in a darker part of the town now. There were not nearly so many lovely dancing lights. It was familiar, though. Very familiar.

Max spoke.

“Now we must go to see that girl in Watford,” he said clearly.

“No,” said Mr. Campion definitely.

“In Bushey, then.”

“In Bushey, but not Watford,” agreed Mr. Campion indistinctly and for some reason which he could not bother about. “How will you get to Bushey? You don’t know, do you?”

Max’s voice was different, more compelling. It seemed to Mr. Campion that it was hardly a voice at all but rather the promptings of his own mind.

“No,” he said foolishly. “No, I don’t know.” The remark seemed at the moment to sum up a great tragedy.

“Ask,” said the voice again. “Ask at the club.”

This wonderful suggestion seemed to solve all Mr. Campion’s troubles. Then, marvel of marvels, there was the club right in front of him.

He staggered to the steps and had great difficulty in climbing up them. Max was no longer with him. But the idea was still fixed in his mind: how to get to Bushey? How the hell to get to Bushey?

He put it to old Chatters, sitting in his box, his newspaper on his knee.

But Chatters was stupid and seemed to want him to go away, although he did not say so. Puffins was a rotten club, he decided. A rotten, stuffy club.

He went out again and fell down the steps, and Chatters came and helped him up, but the fool was not clear about the way to Bushey but wanted to call a taxi and send him home.

There were no taxis, though, and Mr. Campion got away from him and wandered down the road into the dark, and then Max was there again.

Mr. Campion did not like him, and said so, and Max suddenly seemed very anxious to hurry. He gave him a drink from his brandy flask, which was kind and generous of him and showed Mr. Campion that he was at heart a decent fellow.

In the hurry Mr. Campion had to think about walking, which had become increasingly difficult because the pavements now gave beneath his feet as if they were mounted on swaying piles.

They came back to the lights, which did not please him so much now, since their motion was giddy rather than the delirious speeding onward which they had affected before. Also, there were more people about. The theatre crowds filled the streets uncomfortably, and they and the unsteady pavements made progress unpleasant.

Suddenly he was aware of a familiar smell. It was the hot used air belching out of a tube station. The vast bright mouth seemed to suck the crowd down and himself and Max along with it.

In the doorway of the lift some inner sense warned him of impending danger, and he stood still, swaying unhappily, but the crowd thrust him on and supported him with its vast sides throughout the descent, which was like the descent into hell.

Afterwards, too, it swept him along giddily down the steep path to the iron trellis which parted wide open before its stream like the gates of a surrendering city.

Max was on his left, holding his arm, and a vast man in a tweed cap fought his way on the other side.

The crowd was so great that they missed the first train, which thundered out of the tunnel. In fact, Max dragging on his arm prevented Mr. Campion from attempting to catch it, and they, with all those in their immediate vicinity, moved forward to the edge of the platform to wait for the next.

Meanwhile, another lift load of homing playgoers had been jettisoned onto the narrow way behind them, and the centre of the long platform was a solid mass of straining people.

In front of the exits, at intervals where the doors of the trains were estimated to pause, were short iron railings made for such occasions, little barriers to prevent outgoing passengers from being forced back into the train by the sheer weight of the incoming mass, but Campion and his guide avoided this protection and stood midway between two barriers on the very edge of the granite. Before them yawned the track with the raised live rail in the centre and the curving poster-covered wall beyond.

Campion was giddy. The world reeled and swayed like a plane in bumpy air. His intense physical discomfort was intensified by the heat and the breathing, rustling crowd like some great weary animal behind him.

Yet his wretchedness was not all of the body. His subconscious mind was struggling to tell him something, to warn him of something. It made him feel futile and afraid.

Max nudged him.

“Look at that poster. Can you see it?”

He raised his heavy eyes from the track at his feet and stared in front of him.

An insurance firm had commissioned an artist to draw a series of rounded doorways, one inside the other, stretching, it seemed, to infinity. An inscription, The Arches of the Years, sprawled across the design, but even the lettering had been drawn to heighten the illusion. The first T was at least a couple of feet high, and the last s only just readable. The curve of the wall increased the oddly inviting effect, and unconsciously the drunken man swayed towards it.

“Can you count the arches?” Max whispered and slipped behind him, the better to indicate what he meant by pointing over his shoulder.

Campion had to move forward a little to make room for him, and Max’s place was instantly filled by another traveller forced from behind. He seemed to move instinctively, since he did not take his eyes from the evening paper he held.

Count the arches. Count the arches. Count the arches. Mr. Campion tried.

One, two, three, and three more, and three more and four, and—One and two more and three and six . . . twelve, thirteen, fourteen—One again, one and two—

He stretched out his hand to help him to count. From the distance came the roar of the train.

One and two and five more and . . . One—

People farther down the platform were looking at him, some laughing, some nervous.

One arch again, and two . . . he must get closer.

The train was screaming now; nearer and nearer and nearer.

One and two and three more . . . He was almost amongst them now—

Campion saw the train, saw the great eye in the cab, saw the whole fiendish business, the devilry of the second degree of subtlety; saw the faces in the witness box, Farquharson, the policeman, the butler, old Chatters. “He was certainly drunk.” “He fell down.” “He was not himself.” “He was trying to get to Bushey.

He staggered back and met resistance; more than resistance—force.

The man was pushing him. He was falling. Someone screamed . . .

A great weight struck him in the stomach and jerked him up. It was the arm of the man with the newspaper. The train passed him like a monster and screamed and stood still. There was commotion behind him. Max. Max and a screaming crowd. Max in the arms of the man with the cloth cap.

In all his mental vicissitudes Mr. Campion had never remembered the subject of his morning’s chat with the inspector—the plain-clothesmen who had been following him patiently ever since he had left Scotland Yard.

24  :  In the Morning

“Almond paste,” said Inspector Oates. “That’s what it is, almond paste. What a clever, clever devil!”

He was standing by the desk in the sitting room at Bottle Street, prodding a sticky cherry with a nail file.

It was past two in the afternoon of the following day, and he had already spent half an hour in the flat.

Mr. Campion was himself again in all but one particular: his naturally affable temper had undergone a complete change, and it was a bitterly angry man who confronted his friend.

“Now you know everything,” he said shortly. “I’ve told you my story, and you have your men’s reports, I suppose.”

A faint smile passed over, the inspector’s face.

“I have,” he said. “One day you shall see them, but not now. You wouldn’t appreciate them. In honest P. C. English the history of your night out makes good reading, especially the beginning. There’s quite a lot you seem to have missed yourself. You were tight.”

“Tight!” said Mr. Campion with disgust.

The inspector did not smile.

“If ever you get nearer to Death than you were last night you’ll be able to steal his scythe,” he said seriously. “Harris says the train brushed his sleeve when he caught you, and the resistance from behind was extraordinary. For a moment, he says, he thought he must go over with you. That chap Fustian—”

He shook his head as words failed him.

“He beat me,” said Mr. Campion briefly. “Beat me with all the cards in my hand. I was taken in by that fake poisoning, taken in by the old second-degree-of-subtlety trick. It didn’t dawn on me until I was too hopelessly tight to do anything except make a fool of myself.”

“Beat you?” enquired the inspector. “You’re alive, aren’t you? Harris and Richards were there, weren’t they, even if you had forgotten them? You were dragged out from under a train, and Fustian is under arrest. What more do you want?”

“Under arrest, is he?” Mr. Campion brightened. “What charge?”

“Attempted murder. That’s enough to go on with.”

Campion sat down.

“I’m still a little vague,” he said apologetically. “But frankly, on the face of the evidence, I don’t see how you dared do that. As far as I can see, the case must resolve into my word against his. The fact that I had a couple of plain-clothesmen trailing me shows that I had the idea in my head all day. It seems to me that his solicitor could make out a very good case against me for attempting to frame him. He’s beaten us again, Stanislaus. Don’t you see it?”

“Well, he’s been charged,” said Oates obstinately. “He came up before Mr. Masters this morning, and now he’s detained. I want you to come down and see him.”

“But damn it, man,”—Mr. Campion was still irritable—“unless you tell the whole story, which is impossible, there won’t be any earthly reason apparent to explain why I had the idea he was out after my blood. As for witnesses of the actual pushing, we all know the value of police evidence in a question of that sort, and as for independent testimony I should think practically everyone on that platform was shoving the man in front of him.”

The inspector did not comment on this disquieting argument.

He put the remains of the cherry back into its envelope and pocketed it.

“I may as well have this analyzed,” he remarked. “But I think there’s no doubt about its being non-poisonous, if not particularly wholesome. Are you coming down to see him? We’ve got him at the Yard at the moment.”

“The Yard? Whatever for?”

“After coming up this morning he wanted to make a statement, and what with one thing and another it seemed the best place to take him.”

The inspector seemed to be intentionally uncommunicative.

“A statement! Good heavens, has he made a statement?” Campion was becoming bewildered. “What sort of a statement?”

“A long one.”

“Look here, Stanislaus, are you telling me that he’s confessed?”

“Not exactly. At least, I don’t know.”

Mr. Campion’s ill temper increased.

“What’s the matter with you this morning?” he demanded. “You’re as secretive as a green detective on his first case.”

Oates remained affable.

“It’s afternoon now,” he observed. “Come along down and see Fustian.”

Campion rang for his hat and gloves.

“I don’t want to see him,” he said. “It may be childish, but I feel so vicious that I doubt if I shall be able to keep my hands off him.”

“We’ll risk that,” said the inspector. “Come along.”

They went out, and ten minutes later, in a long, concrete-lined corridor lined with many small and heavy doors, they passed a little, hurrying man with a hooked nose and gold pince-nez. He looked both pale and startled, and, shooting a glance at Campion, would have passed by with his policeman guide had not Oates stopped him.

He was J. K. Pendle, the solicitor. Campion recognized him and felt resigned. Max had a legal loophole, and it looked as though he had already found it.

“All right, Mr. Pendle.” Oates was finishing a murmured conversation. “In my office upstairs in ten minutes.”

He returned to Campion. Just before they reached a door near the end of the row, before which a large, helmetless police constable sat on a ridiculously inadequate chair, two men, conversing animatedly but in low tones, came out. Campion thought he recognized one of them, but the name had escaped him.

Oates had a few minutes’ chat with the newcomers, and as Campion drew away he heard his own name and the phrase “responsible for bringing the charge.”

“I see.” The man whose name and calling he had forgotten looked after him with the same half-curious, half-secretive expression which had characterized Mr. Pendle’s glance. Then he lowered his voice and went on talking earnestly to the inspector.

“All right, sir.” Oates spoke clearly. “I shan’t be a moment. In ten minutes, then, in my office. Mr. Pendle is already there.”

Mr. Campion turned to the inspector as he came up.

“Do you know, Stanislaus, I don’t think I’ll see him after all,” he said. “I still feel unreasonable. What good can it do, anyway?”

The inspector did not seem to hear.

He signalled to the constable, who had risen at their approach, and the door was unfastened.

Mr. Campion was still angry. The emotion of personal hatred, which is after all practically unknown among sophisticated folk, had descended upon him, making him ashamed. Slowly he went in to his enemy.

Max was the first thing he saw, the first and the only thing. Campion was naturally observant, and training had intensified this attribute so that whole scenes were wont to photograph themselves on his mind in minute detail, but on this occasion he saw but one thing only, one thing lifted out of its surroundings.

He never knew what the room was like. The heavily barred window, the two men in white coats sitting silent in the shadows, the protected light were all lost upon him. He did not see them.

From the floor all that remained of Max Fustian smiled slyly at him with drooling lips.

Mr. Campion stood very still. His anger dropped from him. In its place came the strange horror which is purely instinctive, a primitive terror of that which is not a right thing.

The creature spoke, soft, slurred, meaningless sounds delivered with awful, secret confiding.

The inspector took Campion’s arm and led him into the passage again.

“Sorry to spring it on you,” he said apologetically. “He’s worse than he was when I left. They found him when they took him some food to the cells this morning. He was truculent last night, so they left him there to cool his heels. He was only taken before the magistrate because they thought he was foxing. He wasn’t quite like he is now, of course, but pretty bad. He says he’s Lorenzo de’ Medici. Says he’s known it for some time.”

Mr. Campion did not speak.

“They’re like that, you know,” the inspector went on slowly. “As long as all goes smoothly they get away with it, but as soon as they come up against something they can’t sweep aside, a police-station cell for instance, they go over the edge and—there you are.”

Mr. Campion wiped his face. He had remembered now who the man in the passage was.

“What will happen?” he asked unsteadily.

“Infirmary—Pentonville—remanded until fit to plead. Waiting for the ambulance now,” said Oates briefly. “There’s his statement, you see. Five thousand words of it. It took them all the morning to get it down. He confesses to everything: your murder, too, incidentally, and also instigating the assassination of Girolamo Riario, a prince of Romagna—but that was in the fifteenth century.”

“When he recovers,” said Mr. Campion, “will you press the charge?”

Oates shook his head.

“He won’t recover. Did you see old Braybridge just now? He’s been in to see him. He was very guarded, of course—all these specialists are—but he said ‘undoubtedly genuine mania,’ and I saw his face. Fustian will get worse and worse and finally curl up and die. I’ve seen scores of ’em.”

“But it’s so quick,” Campion muttered. “Yesterday—”

“Yesterday he was a genius,” put in the inspector, “and today he’s a lunatic. Well, there’s not all that amount of difference, is there? Besides, it’s not so sudden as you seem to think. I’ve had his partner, Isidore Levy, down here this morning. Poor little chap, he was worried out of his life. He told us Fustian had been growing more and more peculiar for some time. Apparently he used to drop his affectations in private, but lately he kept them up always. There have been other things, too. Only yesterday he went to a party in a scarlet tartan waistcoat. What could be madder than that?”

Campion glanced over his shoulder at the closed door, and there was something very honest in the expression in his eyes.

“He was my dearest enemy,” he said gravely, “but I wouldn’t have wished that for him.”

The inspector smiled.

“No, old boy,” he said affectionately. “No, I didn’t believe you would.”

25  :  Good-bye, Belle

Some days after Max Fustian died in a prison infirmary, and the Crescent was dusty and littered with autumn leaves, Mr. Campion went to visit Mrs. Lafcadio.

They stood in the great studio and looked at the picture which had been returned from Salmon’s and hoisted into position over the fireplace.

It was a cool, dark interior, the figures subdued and the lighting superb.

Belle nodded at it, her white bonnet reflecting the light from the gallery windows.

“Such a nice picture!” she said. “He meant it to be the last to be shown. I remember him painting it quite well, in Spain. I always liked it.”

“What will you do with it?” said Campion. “Keep it?”

“I think so.” The old lady spoke gently. “There’s been such a lot of trouble through this Show Sunday idea of Johnnie’s. Poor Johnnie! His ideas always brought trouble. Next year he and I must have our party alone with Lisa and poor Beatrice.”

Mr. Campion hesitated. He was on delicate ground.

“Did you see the—the other three?” he enquired at last.

“No,” said Belle. “Mr. Levy and Mr. Pendle and Inspector Oates told me about them, and I quite understood. They’re still at Salmon’s, I suppose.”

She paused, her faded brown eyes troubled and her wrinkled lips pursed up.

“I heard he was dead,” she said suddenly.

Campion realized that she was deliberately avoiding Max’s name and did not mention it himself.

“Yes,” he said. “A bad business, Belle. I’m sorry you had to know about it.”

She did not seem to hear him, but went on talking in the same quiet voice:

“The inspector hinted that Tommy Dacre was trying to blackmail him, and he lost his temper, saw his chance, and killed the poor boy. I didn’t think Tommy would have blackmailed anyone, did you? He was so nice as a child.”

Campion shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t suppose he looked upon it as blackmail,” he said cautiously. “As far as we can find out from Rosa-Rosa and—and the confession, Dacre had been paid for the four pictures he had done and had finished his scholarship. He needed money and simply announced that he was going to paint another four pictures at the same price and in the same cottage. That’s how it happened. If—if his murderer hadn’t had an opportunity to hand at that moment, it would never have occurred.”

“And Claire?” said Belle, her lips working. “Poor, clever Claire, how did she offend?”

Campion frowned.

“Ah, she was a more serious menace to him,” he said. “She knew everything, you see. She had been a confidante in the picture-faking and had taken care of Dacre in the cottage. She guessed and let the man see she guessed, probably on that day he came to see you and told us about the Van Pipjer. Her nerve seems to have gone to pieces, so when she got a telephone message from him telling her that the police were making dangerous enquiries she did exactly what he hoped she would do, and so she died.”

Belle folded her hands over the little cretonne workbag she carried, and for a moment she did not speak.

“Her poor man!” she said at last. “Poor Claire’s poor man! He’s just beginning to take a little interest in his work again. It’s actually a little better, I think; just a little, so that’s something for him. But oh, Albert, the wickedness—the dreadful wickedness and the waste!”

She turned away from the picture, but, before they went out, paused before another. The portrait of Lafcadio smiled down at them. “The Laughing Cavalier’s Big Brother”: again Campion was struck by the resemblance.

There was the same bravura, the same conscious magnificence, the same happy self-confidence.

A thought occurred to him, and he glanced down at Belle, to find her looking up at him.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she observed.

“No,” he said. “I mean, I’m sure you don’t.”

“I do.” Belle was laughing. “You’re thinking of the seventh picture, the one the Easton Museum bought, aren’t you? None of the facts have been published, and you’re wondering what I’m going to do.”

The young man looked startled. The thought had been in his mind.

Mrs. Lafcadio opened her cretonne bag.

“This is a secret,” she said and handed him a slip of paper. Campion glanced at it curiously.

It was a receipt for four thousand, two hundred pounds, seventeen shillings and ninepence from a very famous artists’ charity. The date particularly interested him.

“This is nearly two years old,” he said wonderingly. “Oh, Belle, you knew!”

Mrs. Lafcadio hesitated.

“I knew Johnnie hadn’t painted the crowd round the Cross,” she said. “I didn’t see the picture until the party, as it happened, because I was in bed until the very morning, and then I was too busy to look at it closely. When I did see it properly, it had already been sold and everyone was chattering and praising it. I didn’t realize what had happened. It never occurred to me to doubt the Gallery.”

Mr. Campion was still puzzled.

“Whom did you doubt, then?” he said, not unreasonably.

Mrs. Lafcadio glanced up at the Sargent.

“Johnnie,” she said. “My bad old Johnnie. I thought it was a pupil’s effort. Johnnie would have laughed so—hoaxing them all like that—all the clever, pompous people.”

“So you said nothing?”

“No. I thought perhaps I wouldn’t. So I sent every penny I received to a charity, and I made a rule that in future I was to see the pictures before anyone else. Of course the one this year was genuine, so I thought the last was one of Johnnie’s naughtinesses and I tried to forget it.”

“How did you tell?” enquired Campion curiously.

“That the seventh picture was not genuine?” Mrs. Lafcadio’s brown eyes were bright like a bird’s.

“Because of the child on the shoulder of the figure in the foreground. I never understood the technique of painting. I’m no expert. But Johnnie never painted a child on a grown-up’s shoulder in his life. It was one of his private fetishes. He didn’t care even to see it. There’s a mention of it in one of his letters to Tanqueray, that dreadful book which everyone said was in such bad taste. He says somewhere: Your disgusting habit of painting sentimental, elderly yokels supporting their bulbous and probably insanitary offspring on their shoulders repels me. Whenever I see a bloated child carried thus, its head exalted above its father’s, I want to tear it down and dust that portion of its anatomy which is always so adequately but unbeautifully covered in your pictures with the sole of my boot.”

“I see,” said Mr. Campion. It seemed the only comment in the face of such irrefutable proof.

“He wasn’t altogether a kindly person,” Belle remarked.

“Who? Tanqueray?”

“No—noisy old Lafcadio,” said the painter’s wife. “But he loved my little John. Poor little John.”

Campion had never heard her mention Linda’s father before, and now she did not dwell upon the subject.

“Never tell about the seventh picture, will you?” she said. “After all, what does it matter? Oh, dear life, what do all these pictures really matter?”

Mr. Campion promised on his oath.

As they walked up the covered way to the house, he looked down at her.

“Well, is everything all right now?” he asked.

She nodded and sighed.

“Yes, my dear,” she said. “Yes. And thank you. Come and see me sometimes. I shall be lonely without Linda.”


“She and Matt were married at Southampton on Monday. I had a card yesterday,” said Mrs. Lafcadio placidly. “They found that separate cabins on the boat to Majorca would cost so much more than a special license, and they’re set on painting down there, so they married. It seems very sensible.”

Mr. Campion took his leave. Belle came to the door with him and stood on the steps, plump and smiling, her crisp bonnet flickering in the breeze.

When he turned at the corner to look back, she was still standing there, and she waved a little pocket handkerchief to him.

When he was out of sight she came in and closed the door.

She pulled the mat straight with the heel of her buckled shoe and trotted down the hall. At the kitchen door she paused and looked in.

“Beatrice and Mr. Potter are out tonight, so you and I will have something easy, Lisa,” she said.

Sí, sí,” said the old woman, without looking round from the stove. “Sí, sí.

Belle closed the door softly and went up to the drawing room. The yellow evening sun was streaming in, mellowing the faded Persian rugs and caressing the upholstery of the Voltaire chair.

The old lady went over to the bureau and, taking a small key from a chain round her neck, unlocked a narrow drawer under the writing flap.

It slid open easily, and from its green-lined depths she lifted out a small unframed canvas.

She seated herself and propped the little picture up on the desk.

It was a self-portrait of John Lafcadio, painted in the impressionist technique only appreciated in a much later day. It showed the same face which smiled so proudly from Sargent, but there was a great difference.

John Lafcadio’s famous beard was here only suggested, and the line of his chin, a little receding, was viciously drawn in. The lips were smiling, their sensuous fullness overemphasized. The flowing locks were shown a little thin and the high cheekbones caricatured.

The eyes were laughing, or at least one of them laughed. The other was completely hidden in a grotesque wink.

It was cruel and revealing, the face of a man who was, if half genius, also half buffoon.

Belle turned it over. Written across the back in the painter’s enormous hand was a single phrase:

Your secret, Belle darling.

The old lady returned to the portrait. She touched her lips with her forefinger and pressed it on the painted mouth.

“Oh, Johnnie,” she said sadly. “Such a lot of trouble, my dear. Such a lot of trouble.”


Flowers For The Judge






To My Publishers This Book Is Respectfully Dedicated



In criminal trials it is not customary for witnesses to remain in court during that part of the hearing which precedes their own testimony, but in Rex v. Wedgwood in 1931 in point of fact they did.

1  :  Damp Dynamite

The story of the little man, sometimes a stockbroker, sometimes a tea merchant, but always something in the City, who walked out of his suburban house one sunny morning and vanished like a puff of grey smoke in a cloudless sky, can be recalled by nearly everyone who lived in Greater London in the first years of the century.

The details vary. Sometimes it was the inquisitive lady at Number Ten who saw him go by, and the invalid propped up in the window of Number Twelve who did not; while the letter which he was about to post was found lying pathetically upon the pavement between the two houses. Sometimes the road was bounded by two high walls, with a milkman at one end and the unfortunate gentleman’s wife on her door-step at the other. In this version the wife was kissed at the garden gate and waved at from halfway down the oddly bordered road, yet the milkman saw neither hide nor hair of his patron then or afterwards.

All the stories have their own circumstantial evidence. Only the main fact and an uncomfortable impression are common to all. A man did disappear and there were reasons for supposing that he did so in no ordinary fashion. Also, of course, he never returned.

Most people know of someone who lived in the next street to the hero or victim of the tale, but the ancient firm of Barnabas and Company, publishers since 1810 at the Sign of the Golden Quiver, never referred to the story because the little man had been their junior partner on that morning in May, nineteen hundred and eleven, when he bade a polite “Good morning” to his housekeeper at his front door in the Streatham Crescent, turned out into a broad suburban road and never passed the tobacconist on the corner, but vanished as neatly and unobtrusively as a raindrop in a pool.

At the time there was a certain excitement in the grand Queen Anne house in the cul-de-sac at the Holborn end of Jockey’s Fields which bore the sign of the Golden Quiver, but, when it was discovered that the ledgers were still truthful and that Mr. John Widdowson, the other partner, was quite prepared to carry on while his cousin remained disintegrated or in the fourth dimension, the natural conservatism of the firm reasserted itself and the whole disturbing affair was decently forgotten.

However, although a wonder may degenerate into a funny thing after the proverbial nine days and may well become nothing but an uneasy memory after twenty years, the odd disappearance of Tom Barnabas in nineteen eleven created a sort of precedent in the firm, so that in the curious paradoxical way in which the mind works no one thought very much of it when in nineteen thirty-one Paul R. Brande, one of the directors, did not show up for a couple of days.

Gina Brande sat on the couch before the fire in her big sitting room in the top flat on the Sunday evening after Paul went. “Shop tea” was in progress. This function was part of the Barnabas tradition. On Sunday evenings all through the winter it was the custom of the cousins and Miss Curley to meet together to take tea and hold an inquest on the Sunday papers. Sometimes outsiders were present; perhaps a privileged author or visiting American or, on rare occasions, old Caldecott, that patriarch of agents who had known the Old Man.

When Paul had brought Gina back from New York and the firm had recovered from the shock of having a woman and a foreigner on the door-step, she had taken over the responsibility of providing the fire and the meal for the gatherings from John’s aged housekeeper and the meetings had moved up from the flat below. It was typical of the two principal directors of the firm that they should have snapped up the lease of the house next door to the office, converted its unsuitability into three flats at considerable expense, and had settled down to live in the Holborn backwater, each convinced that they should or could desire no more.

John Widdowson, managing director, senior cousin, and son of the Old Man’s eldest sister, took the centre flat as befitted his position, although in size it would have better suited Paul and Gina, who were quartered above.

The ground floor and basement had been more or less wished upon Mike Wedgwood, the youngest cousin and junior director. Barnabas, Limited did things like that in the holy conviction that through minor discomforts their dignity and prestige were upheld.

The tea party was almost at an end, and as yet no one had referred to Paul. The general feeling seemed to be that the gathering was very peaceful without his crimson-faced didacticism.

Gina had folded herself on the big white sofa with its deeply buttoned back and exaggerated curves. As usual, she looked odd and lovely and unexpected amid that sober gathering.

When Pavlov, the décor man, spoke of her as “the young Bernhardt,” he did her a little less than justice. Her small-boned figure, tiny hands and feet, and long modern neck would have disappeared into nothingness in the corsets and furbelows of the ’eighties. Her head was modern, too, with its wide mouth, slanting grey eyes and the small straight nose whose severity was belied by the new coxcomb coiffure which Lallé had created for her and which brought her dark chestnut hair forward into a curl faintly and charmingly reminiscent of the “bang” of the last century.

She was wearing one of her own dresses. The firm, or rather John Widdowson in the person of the firm, had not countenanced his cousin’s wife continuing her career in England, and she now only designed for herself, and sometimes for Pavlov, in a strictly dignified and semi-amateur way.

The narrow gown, in a heavy dark green and black silk, accentuated her foreignness and her chic, which was so extraordinarily individual. At the moment she looked a little weary. John’s weekly diatribe against the firm of Cheshunt, who flooded the book market with third-, fourth-and fifth-rate novels and advertised the figure of their mighty output with bland self-satisfaction, had seemed even a little longer and heavier than usual.

Curley sat in the corner by the fire. Her plump hands were folded on her knee and her very pale blue eyes were quiet and contemplative behind her spectacles.

Miss Florence Curley was easily the least distinguished-looking person in the room. Her iron-grey hair was not even tidy and her black velvet dress was of that variety of ill-cut, over-decorated and disgracefully expensive garments which are made in millions for the undiscerning. Her shoes were smart but looked uncomfortable, and she wore three rings which had obviously been her mother’s. But Curley was the firm. Even John, glancing at her from time to time, hoped devoutly that she would outlast him.

Long ago she had been the Old Man’s secretary, in the days when a lady typist was still a daring innovation, and, with the tradition of female service and unswerving loyalty to the dominant male still unshattered behind her, she had wedded herself to the firm of Barnabas, Limited as to a lover.

Thirty years later she loved the business as a son and a master. She knew more about its affairs than a roomful of ledgers, and understood its difficulties and cherished its triumphs with the insight of a first nurse.

In the office she was accepted as a benevolent and omniscient intelligence which was one of the firm’s more important assets. Outside the firm she was feared, respected and faintly resented. Yet she looked a rather stupid, plain old woman sitting there by the fire.

It was very warm in the room, and John rose to his feet.

“I shall go back to it, I think, Gina,” he said. “Tooth’s new one is an odd sort of jumble, but I want to finish it. I’m having him up tomorrow.”

John always spoke of “having authors up” when he meant that he had invited them to an interview. It was a traditional phrase of the Old Man’s.

Miss Curley stirred. “Mr. Tooth is a very self-opinionated young man, Mr. Widdowson,” she ventured, and added, with apparent irrelevance: “I saw him lunching with Phillips of Denver’s last week. They were at school together, I think.”

John, who followed her line of thought, turned round.

“It’s not as good as his first book,” he said defensively.

“Oh, no. It’s not,” Miss Curley agreed. “Second books never are, are they? Still, I think he’s got something in him. I shouldn’t like to see him leave us. I don’t like Denver’s.”

“Quite,” said John, dry to the point of curtness. “I’ll finish it,” he added. “It may be just possible.”

He moved over to the door, an impressive, interesting-looking person with his tall, slender figure, little dried-up yellow face and close-cropped white hair.

On the threshold he paused and looked back.

“Where is Paul? Do you know, Gina? Haven’t seen him since Thursday. Off to Paris again, I suppose.”

There was a moment’s awkward pause, during which Curley smiled involuntarily. Paul, with his hustle methods, his bombast and his energy, while infuriating his cousin contrived to amuse her. John’s remark was his first direct reference to the Tourlette biography affair, and everyone in the room recalled Paul’s excited, unconvincing voice rising above the din at the September cocktail party:

“I tell you, my dear fellow, I was so thrilled, so absolutely annihilated, that I just rushed off down to Croydon and got a ’plane—didn’t even remember to snatch a bag or tell Gina here—simply fled over there and bought it!”

The fact that the Tourlette biography had proved of about the same interest to the British and American publics as the average first book of free verse, and that Barnabas, Limited had dropped a matter of five hundred pounds on the transaction, lent point to the comment.

Gina stirred. All her movements were very slow, and she turned her head with graceful deliberation before speaking.

“I don’t know where he is. He hasn’t been home since Thursday.”

The quiet voice with the unexpected New England accent betrayed no embarrassment or resentment at either the question or the fact.

“Oh, I see.” John also did not seem surprised. “If he comes in tonight you might tell him to drop in and see me. I shall be reading all the evening. I’ve had a most extraordinary letter from Mrs. Carter. I wish Paul would learn not to enthuse to authors. It goes to their heads and then they get spiteful if a book doesn’t sell.”

His voice died on a plaintive note and the door closed softly behind him.

Ritchie began to laugh, a dry little cackle of which nobody took the least notice. He was out of the circle, leaning back in a chair in the shadows, a quiet, slightly melancholy or, if one felt sentimental, pathetic figure.

Ritchie Barnabas, brother of the transported Tom, was the only cousin who had received no share of the business under the Old Man’s will. He had been younger in nineteen hundred and eight, of course, but not so young as Mike, who had been a baby, nor so young as Paul, who was still at school, nor even so very much younger than John himself. His own explanation of this mystery was never sought, but a clause in the will which charged the beneficiary cousins to “look after” Richard Barnabas threw some light on the Old Man’s opinion of this nephew.

It was characteristic of the firm, and perhaps of publishing generally, that they fulfilled this charge by supplying Ritchie with a small room at the top of the building, a reasonable salary and the title of “The Reader.” He shared the work with some twenty or thirty clergymen, maiden ladies and indigent schoolmasters scattered all over the country, but his was the official post and he lived in a world of battered manuscripts on which he made long and scholarly reports.

Like some thin and dusty ghost he was often seen on the stairs of the office, in the hall, or tramping home with long flapping strides through the network of gusty streets between the sacred cul-de-sac and his lodgings in Red Lion Square.

No one considered him and yet everyone liked him in the half-tolerant, half-condescending way with which one regards someone else’s inoffensive pet.

Every year he was granted three weeks’ holiday, and on these occasions he was never missed. Only the increasing height of the piles of manuscript in his dusty room bore witness to the genuineness of his absence.

There was a vague notion among the junior members of the staff that he spent these holidays reading in his lodgings, but no one was interested enough to find out. The cousins simply said and thought “Where’s Ritchie? Oh, on holiday, of course . . .” and dismissed him for the more important matter that was always on hand.

There had been from time to time sentimental young women, although these were not encouraged in the firm, who saw in Ritchie a romantic and mysterious figure with some secret inner life too delicate or possibly too poetic for general expression, but always in time they gave up their investigations. Ritchie, they discovered, had the emotional outlook of a child and the mind of a schoolboy. He was also not even particularly unhappy.

Now, when he had finished laughing, he rose and walked over to Gina.

“I shall go too, now, my dear,” he said, smiling down at her with the mildest of blue eyes.

There was a minute pause, and he added charmingly:

“A delicious tea.”

Gina’s grey eyes narrowed as she smiled back at him.

“Sweet person, Ritchie,” she said, and gave him her hand.

He took it for a moment, and then, after nodding to Curley, grinned broadly at Mike, whom he had always liked, and wandered off to find the door.

The three who were left smiled after he went out, but in a most kindly way. The warm silence remained unbroken for some time. Outside the first waves of the fog were creeping down from the park, but as yet its chill dirtiness had not penetrated into the gracious room.

Miss Curley sat in her corner, placid and apparently lost in thought. Those who knew her were used to Curley “staring through them” and her habit was a time-honoured joke in the office. She found it very useful. Her faded blue eyes were difficult to see behind the gold-rimmed spectacles, and it was, therefore, never easy to be sure whether they were focused upon one or not.

At the moment she was looking at Mike with steady inquisitiveness.

Michael Wedgwood was the son of the Old Man’s youngest and favorite sister. His place in the firm had been assured to him since his childhood. He had been barely seven years old at the time of his uncle’s death.

As she watched him Miss Curley reflected that his early training might easily have spoilt him altogether. A little boy brought up in cold blood to be a fitting member of any old-established publishing firm, let alone Barnabas, Limited, might have turned out to be a prig or a crank or worse. But there had been mitigating circumstances. The firm had suffered during the war and the Old Man’s fortune had been very much divided, so that although the young Michael had been to the right schools he had never had quite enough money, and, in Miss Curley’s opinion, there was a sobering quality in poverty greatly to be prized.

Mike had missed the war by a few months and had been actually in training at school when the Armistice was signed. Looking at him, sprawled out in the deep armchair opposite her, Curley wondered if he had not always just missed the big things. Until now she had seen him as an unscathed, untried sort of person. He was twenty-eight or nine, she supposed; kindly polite, good-looking, dependable and quiet; but, although she had understood his popularity, hitherto he had always seemed to her to be a slightly unsatisfactory being. It was as though all the vital part of him had been allowed to atrophy while his charm, his ease and his intelligence had occupied his full stage.

Curley’s faded eyes did not blink. He was certainly good-looking. In his full manhood he had more of the Old Man’s size and dignity than any of the cousins. The Barnabas features were there, too, the bright, sharp dark eyes, the strong characterful nose and the thin sensitive mouth. Curley’s heart warmed towards him.

Now that the suspicions she had entertained for the past few weeks had virtually become a certainty, he had gained tremendously in interest for her, and, curiously, had also gone up considerably in her estimation.

She stole a glance at Gina, resting superb and quiet upon the high-backed couch.

“She doesn’t know for certain yet.” Curley’s thoughts ran placidly on. “He’s been careful not to say anything. He wouldn’t, of course. People don’t nowadays. The passions frighten them. They go on fighting them as though they were indecent. So they are, of course. So are lots of things. But the Old Man—” her lips curled in a faint reminiscing smile, “—he’d have got her. It wouldn’t have been nice, his cousin in the firm, but he’d have got her. That was where he was different from these nephews.”

Curley’s old mouth pouted contemptuously as she considered them: John with his irascibility, his pomposity and his moments of sheer obstinacy; Paul lathering and shouting and making an exhibition of himself; and now the dark horse Mike, who had never really wanted anything before. Would any of them go out bald-headed for their desires, sweeping away obstacles and striding over impossible barriers to attainment, to get clean away with it in the end as the Old Man had done time and time again? Curley did not think so.

Mike was leaning back, his head partly in the shadow, so that only sometimes when the fire flickered was his face visible. Curley felt that he was very careful of his expression on these occasions.

Gina did not glance in his direction, but she was aware of him. Curley knew that by the studied calm, by the odd suggestion of tension which anybody but her, one of the most unemotional of women, must have found unbearable.

They were “in love,” then. A ridiculous but illuminating phrase, Miss Curley reflected, suggesting “an uncomfortable state.” It was a very awkward thing to have happened to either of those self-possessed, intelligent young people. Mike had been woken up under his skin, Miss Curley saw with satisfaction. The fever was upon him all right. It showed painfully through his ease and politeness, turning him from a slightly austere personality into something infinitely more appealing and helpless, and at the same time somehow shameful.

Of the girl Curley was not so sure. Her poise was extraordinary. The older woman speculated upon her possible attitude towards her husband. Of course she could hardly entertain much affection for him. There might possibly be somewhere in the world a woman thick-skinned enough to be able to ignore the series of small exposures which was Paul’s life, but not Gina. His fake enthusiasms and windy lies, which were always being found out, his unconvincing braggartry—surely no physical passion could counteract the blast of these upon a sensitive intelligence.

Besides, what consideration did Paul give Gina? His mind was fully occupied in the hopeless and, in the circumstances, ridiculous task of putting himself over big. Where did she think he was now, for instance? Rushing off on some wild-goose chase, throwing his importance at the head of some dazzled scribbler, to return on the morrow drunk with enthusiasm for his own cleverness, only to be sobered and left sulky by the common sense of his elder cousin.

No. If Gina had ever loved him, a possibility which Curley was inclined to doubt, she could not possibly do so now.

Her reflections and speculations were cut short by an intrusion into the warm paper-strewn sanctuary. At a glance from Gina, Mike had leapt to answer the flat buzzing of the door-bell. There was the murmur of polite greetings in the hall and he returned with the newcomer.

Curley knew of Mr. Albert Campion by repute alone and was therefore quite unprepared and a little shocked when he came wandering in behind Mike. His slender, drooping figure, pale ingenuous face and sleek yellow hair were rendered all the more indefinite by the immense and unusually solid horn-rimmed spectacles he chose to affect.

“Party over?” he enquired regretfully, casting an eye over the dismantled tea-table and scattered chairs. “What a pity!”

He shook hands with Curley and Gina, and sat down, crossing his long thin legs.

“No tea? No party? It must be business then,” he chattered on, smiling affably. “Cheap, clean and trustworthy, fifteen months in last place and a conviction at the end of it. Detective work of all kinds undertaken at short notice.”

He paused abruptly. Curley’s eyes were upon him in frozen disapproval.

Mr. Campion had the grace to look abashed. Gina came to his rescue.

“You haven’t met Mr. Campion before, have you, Curley? He gets some people down, but most of us grow used to him in time.”

“It’s an affliction,” said the pale young man, with engaging embarrassment. “A form of nervousness. Think of it as a glass eye and it won’t bother you any more.”

Curley was only partly disarmed. The world in which she lived was besprinkled with consciously funny young men, most of them ill-mannered nincompoops. The difference between the newcomer and the average specimen dawned upon her slowly. In every case the flow of nonsense was in the nature of a protective covering, she knew, but here it was the reality which was different. Mr. Campion had more than poverty of intelligence to hide.

Meanwhile he was still talking.

“As an American, Gina, you have a thrill coming to you. We are on the eve of a real old London particular, with flares in the streets, bus-conductors on foot leading their drivers over the pavements into plate-glass windows, and blind beggars guiding city magnates across the roads for a small fee. It’s pretty bad in the Drury Lane vicinity now. I’m wallowing in old-world romance already.”

Mike shrugged his shoulders and his dark eyes twinkled lazily.

“I hope you enjoy it,” he said. “As a motorist, its romance leaves me cold. You’ll hate it, Gina. It has the same effect upon the skin and clothes as a train journey from Paris to the south in midsummer.”

“I see. Just another little British trick to entertain the foreigner.”

The girl spoke absently, and for the first time Mr. Campion saw that the constraint in the atmosphere was not due to Miss Curley’s presence alone.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” he said cheerfully, “the Professor is here. The ballon she is about to mount. Bring out your misfortunes. Lost anything, Gina?”

There was a moment’s awkward silence, and whereas Miss Curley’s astute mind took in the whole situation, Mr. Campion, who was not in possession of the facts, perceived that he had made a gaffe. Mike glanced at Gina imploringly. Miss Curley leant forward.

“If you three want to talk business, my dear, I’ll get my things.”

Gina hesitated, and a faintly deeper colour spread over her face. It was the first trace of embarrassment to destroy her poise, and was all the more expressive because of its restraint.

“It’s not exactly that, Curley,” she said. “I don’t know—you might be able to help us in a way—and yet—”

She broke off deliberately. Miss Curley leant back in her chair.

“I’ll stay,” she said firmly. “It’s about Paul, isn’t it? He’ll turn up, my dear. He always does. All the cousins like to disappear now and again. It’s quite a tradition in the family.”

She had broken the ice completely, and there was a hint of relief in Mike’s laugh.

“A sort of affectation,” he murmured. “Good old Curley! You see through us all, don’t you?”

Miss Curley eyed him. “I see,” she said dryly.

“Wait a minute for Mastermind to catch up,” said Mr. Campion protestingly. “What’s happened to Paul?”

Gina turned slowly towards him, two bright spots of colour in her face.

“I suppose it’s just foolishness,” she said, “but I asked Mike to get you to come over for a sort of unofficial talk. Paul hasn’t been around since last Thursday, and after all, he does live here—and—and—”

“Quite,” said Campion, hurrying to the rescue. “I see your point perfectly. Whereas it’s one thing to call in the police, it’s quite another to pretend you haven’t noticed your husband’s absence for three days.”

“Exactly.” She looked at him gratefully and went on talking, the hint of pride in her soft lazy voice making it extraordinarily appealing. “I suppose some wives would have gone haywire by this time, but with me—I mean with us—it’s different. We—well, we’re post-war people, Albert. Paul leads his own life, and so do I, in a way.”

She paused wretchedly, only to hurry on again, forcing herself at her fences.

“What I’m trying to say is, there’s nothing really unusual in Paul going off for a day or two like this without thinking to tell me, but I’ve never known him to stay away quite so long without my hearing even indirectly of him, and this morning I felt I ought to—well—just mention it to somebody. You do understand it, don’t you?”

“Ye-es,” said Mr. Campion a little dubiously.

The heavy white lids closed over the girl’s eyes for a moment.

“It’s not unheard of,” she said, half defiantly. “Lots of people do the same sort of thing in our crowd. He may be anywhere. He may turn up tonight or tomorrow or next week, and I shall feel a fool for making such a fuss.”

“Let me get this straight.” Mr. Campion’s precise voice was as friendly as any in the world. “I take it the dear fellow may easily have gone to a cocktail do, drifted on to an all-night binge with some of the gang, and finished up with a hang-over at a week-end house-party.”

“Yes,” said the girl eagerly, anxious, it seemed, to convince herself. “Or he may have rushed over to Paris about this exhibition scheme he’s so keen on. But even so, I don’t see why he should have taken so long about it.”

Mr. Campion pricked up his ears. “Is that the rare manuscript exhibition at Bumpus’s in February?” he enquired.

Mike rose to give Gina a light. “Yes. Paul’s putting his weight into it. It’s going to be a stupendous affair. Practically the whole of the Leigh Collection will be on view.”

“But not The Gallivant, I suppose?” murmured the visitor, venturing Miss Curley’s disapproving stare.

“No, I’m afraid not.” Mike seemed genuinely regretful. “Paul put up the suggestion, I believe, but John vetoed it promptly. The firm of Barnabas is hanging on to its past.”

The Gallivant, that precious manuscript of Congreve’s unpublished play, set down by his own hand and never printed even in his unsqueamish age, had come into the possession of the firm of Barnabas very early in its dignified career. There had been something vaguely unsavoury in the story of its acquisition, some unpleasant business of the gift of a few pounds to a starving antiquary, but that was ancient history and half forgotten.

The present grievance, shared by scholars and collectors alike, was the fact that, through a certain Puritan streak in Jacoby Barnabas, the late Old Man himself, the manuscript was never permitted to be copied or even read. John respected his uncle’s wishes, and it remained therefore one of the firm’s assets only.

“Too bad,” said Mr. Campion aloud, and forgot The Gallivant as he returned to the main subject. “No line on Paul anywhere at all, then?” he said slowly. “You don’t know where he went on Thursday night, for instance?”

Gina shook her head. “No. As a matter of fact, I expected him home that evening. We—er—we had some things to discuss, and I arranged a quiet meal here for seven-thirty. When he didn’t show up by nine o’clock I got peevish and went out.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Campion was studying her face. “When you say you went out—you didn’t go to look for him?”

“Oh, no, of course not.” Her cheeks were flaming. “I phoned down to Mike and we went off to the Academy to see the revival of ‘Caligari.’ ”

Something made Mr. Campion glance at his friend. He caught the man with the visor up and a warning light flashed through his brain.

Mr. Campion was old-fashioned enough to take the marriage contract seriously, but he was also sufficiently sophisticated to know that the nicest people fall in love indiscriminately and that while under the influence of that pre-eminently selfish lunacy they may make the most outrageous demands upon their friends with no other excuse than their painful need.

It suddenly occurred to him that what Gina probably needed most was a reliable and discreet enquiry agent capable of handling divorce, and was on the point of telling her so in the friendliest of fashions when he was saved from the blunder by a remark from Miss Curley.

“Where do you think he is, Gina?” she said baldly. “Running round the lovely Mrs. Bell?”

Once again Gina flushed, but she laughed as she spoke:

“No, Curley, I know he’s not. As a matter of fact, I phoned this morning and asked her if he was down there. Oh, no, if it was only something like that it would be simply my own affair, wouldn’t it? I mean it would be quite unpardonable of me to discuss it like this. No, I can’t think where he is. That’s why I’m telling someone. I mean, I’m all right. I can amuse myself. I can come down on Mike to take me around.”

She smiled shyly at the other man.

“Of course,” he said abruptly. “You know that. At any time.”

“Oh, my hat!” reflected Mr. Campion, just as Miss Curley had done. “A genuine passion. She hasn’t even been told.”

His interest in the affair promptly revived.

“I say,” he began diffidently. “I don’t want to be inquisitive, but I must ask this. Any row between you and Paul?”

“No.” Her slanting grey eyes met his squarely. “None at all, at the moment. That’s another thing that made me wonder. I saw him for a moment in the office on Thursday afternoon. He’d been lunching with Caldecott and he said then that he’d come here for dinner and we’d talk. No one seems to have seen him after four. He wasn’t in his room when Miss Netley took some letters for him to sign just before five. I know that because she phoned me on Friday morning to ask if she should do them herself, as they ought to go off. John phoned to ask where he was, too. He was offended with Paul for being ‘so damned offhand,’ as he called it.”

She paused, a little breathless, and sat up on the couch, the glowing end of a cigarette between her fingers as she glanced round for an ashtray.

Mike rose and came towards her, his cupped hand held out.

“I’ll take it—and chuck it in the fire,” he said hastily.

She drew back in surprise. “Not like that. It’ll burn you,” she protested.

He did not speak, but nodded to her, his whole body expressing urgency and unconscious supplication. It was a ridiculous incident, so trivial yet curiously disquieting.

Bewildered and half amused, the girl dropped the burning fragment into the hand and Campion glanced away involuntarily so that he might not see the man’s satisfaction at the pain as he carried the stub over to the fire.

The return of John Widdowson a moment later restored the trend of general thought. Gina’s faithful charwoman, who had returned to do the tea things, had met him on the staircase and admitted him with her key. He nodded to Campion and glanced across at Curley.

“That book of clippings on The Shadow Line Fellowes sent us, Miss Curley; do you know where it is? It was a rather ornate little red thing, if I remember. What did we do with it? Send it back?”

Miss Curley considered. Somewhere neatly pigeonholed in her mind was the information. It was this gift for relatively unimportant detail which had made her so valuable in her youth, and now in her age her skill was a fetish.

“It’s on a shelf with a lot of other miscellany on the right of the doorway in the strong room,” she said at last, not without a certain pride.

Mike, who caught Mr. Campion’s expression of polite astonishment, hastened to explain.

“The strong room is a bit of an anachronism these days,” he said. “It’s a sort of fortified basement in the cellar at Twenty-three and dates from the days when authors insisted on being paid cash down in gold. We haven’t much use for it now, so it’s used as a junk cupboard for odds and ends we don’t want to lose—addresses and that sort of thing. It’s a very fine affair. Tin-lined walls in the best Victorian style.”

“All very interesting,” said John dryly. “Would you like to run round there and get that folder?”

Mike hesitated. The older man’s tone had been unnecessarily peremptory and he was in the mood to resent it.

“I’ll get it for you, Mr. Widdowson. I know just where it is.” Curley was already on her feet.

“Rubbish, Curley. I’ll get it. The key’s in your desk as usual, isn’t it? All right. I shan’t be a moment.”

Mike strode out of the room and John sat down in the chair he had vacated.

“Fog’s getting very thick,” he remarked, leaning forward to jab unceremoniously at the fire.

At sixty-three, John, the eldest of the cousins, was as forceful a personality as he ever had been. Campion, leaning back in the shadows, had opportunity to consider him. A spoilt child of his profession, he decided. A little tyrant nurtured in his uncle’s carefully prepared nursery. Still, he had met his battles and had fought and won them. Not a weak face, by any means.

Conversation became desultory. Curley never expanded in John’s presence, and Gina was lost in her own unhappy thoughts. Mr. Campion did his best to keep the ball rolling, but without great success, since his peculiar line in small talk was hardly appreciated by the elder man. Long silences were bound to occur, and in the last of these they heard Mike’s quick steps in the passage outside.

Just for a moment a wave of apprehension touched them all. It was swiftly gone, but the sight of the young man with the red and gilt folder in his hand was somehow reassuring.

Campion might have fancied that he was unduly jumpy had it not been for John, who, after peering at his cousin inquisitively, enquired abruptly:

“What’s the matter? Seen a ghost?”

They all glanced at the newcomer. His dark face was a little paler than usual and he was certainly breathless. However, he seemed genuinely surprised.

“I’m all right. A bit out of training, that’s all. Fog’s getting very thick outside.”

John grunted, and, taking his folder, trotted out again. Campion took up the main conversation where it had left off and spoke reassuring words.

After a while Miss Curley left, and presently Mr. Campion followed, leaving Gina and Mike by the fire. Campion had reflected upon the peculiarities of other people’s lives and had dismissed Gina and her truant husband from his mind by the time he turned in just after midnight, so that it came with all the more of a shock to him when Miss Curley dragged him from his bed at ten o’clock the following morning with a startling story.

“Miss Marchant, one of the typists, found him, Mr. Campion.” Her voice was unnaturally businesslike over the phone, and he had a vision of her, hard, cool and practical in the midst of chaos. “I sent her down to get an address file as soon as I got here, about half an hour ago. The door was locked. I gave her the key from my desk. She screamed from the basement and we all rushed down to see Mr. Paul lying there. Can you come over?”

Mr. Campion put a question and she answered it testily, as though irritated by his obtuseness.

“Yes, the strong room. Mike got the folder from it last night. Yes, the same room. Oh, and Mr. Campion—” she lowered her voice—“the doctor’s here. He seems to think the poor man’s been dead for some days.”

Again Campion put a query, and this time Miss Curley’s reply did not sound irritable. Her tone was awful, rather.

“Right in the middle of the room, sprawled out. No one could have opened that door without seeing him.”

2  :  Funeral Arrangements Later

There are moments which stand out in clear detail in the recollection of an hour of horror. They are seldom dramatic, and those who are haunted by them are sometimes puzzled to discover why just they and none other should have been singled out by the brain for this especial clarity.

Neither Mike Wedgwood nor Miss Curley ever forgot the instant when the doctor looked up from his knees and said half apologetically:

“I’m afraid we shall have to move him after all. I can’t possibly see here.”

It may have been that the bounds of their capacity for shock had been reached and that his words coincided with the moment immediately before the first degree of merciful callousness descended upon them and they were able to begin again from a new level. But at any rate, the scene was photographed indelibly upon their minds.

The extraordinarily untidy room stood out in every detail. They saw with new eyes its lining of dusty junk-packed shelves, only broken at the far end where an old-fashioned green and black safe replaced the cooking range which had once been there. They saw the heavy table which took up nearly the whole of the centre of the room, heaped high with books and files and vast untidy brown-paper parcels.

They were even aware of the space beneath it; that, too, fully occupied by flimsy wooden boxes whose paper contents would have overflowed had it not been for the books piled carelessly on top.

The fog, which enveloped the city and now crept into every corner, hung about the air like smoke, giving the single swinging bulb a dusty halo. The body lay upon its back, the head in the shadow of the table ledge and the sagging legs and torso sprawled out towards the doorway where they stood.

The doctor rose stiffly to his feet and faced them. He was a short man, grizzled and of a good age, but still spruce, and his little eyes were shrewd beneath his fierce brows. In contrast with his sombrely smart clothes his bare forearms, muscular and very hairy, looked slightly indecent.

“Where can we take him?” he enquired.

Miss Curley, who took it for granted that the question was addressed to her, considered rapidly. Space at Twenty-three was restricted. In the basement, besides the present room, there were only the packers’ hall at the end of the passage, the stock room, or the little washroom next door, none of them suitable resting-places for a corpse. Upstairs the amenities were even less inviting, since the business of the day had begun and the staff was already hysterical.

She glanced at the table.

“If we move those things on to the floor and spread a sheet on the table you’ll be right under the light, Doctor,” she said. “I’ll get a better bulb.”

The little medical man looked at her curiously. He knew Paul had been a director, and although he did not expect office employees to have quite the same attitude towards a dead man as a family might have adopted, he was surprised to find an absence of the general tendency of laymen to get the body to the most comfortable place possible at the earliest moment. Aloud he said he thought Miss Curley’s a most sensible suggestion.

Mike stepped into the room, avoiding the piteous thing upon the floor, and began to shift the dusty papers to the ground on the opposite side.

The place was dry from the furnace on the other side of the passage, with occasional icy draughts from the door into the yard. Mike worked like a man in a nightmare, his tall thin figure and deep-lined sensitive face looking curiously boyish and despairing.

The doctor bent down once again, and as he worked he grunted to himself at intervals and made little breathing sounds.

Miss Curley returned with a new electric light bulb and a pair of sheets borrowed from Mike’s own flat next door. Her face was grim and she moved with a suppressed energy which made the doctor look at her sharply, but Curley was all right as long as she kept going.

It was she who superintended the changing of the bulb, a feat which Mike performed with unwonted clumsiness, and she who spread one sheet over the table and stood ready with the other, waiting for the doctor to move.

The two men glanced at each other. Mike was younger and considerably stronger, but he was very pale and there was sweat upon his forehead.

Doctor Roe spoke briskly. His calm was very comforting. Thirty-five years of general practice had built up an impersonal yet friendly shell which quite concealed the rather inquisitive, ordinary little man inside.

“I’ll take the shoulders, Mr. Wedgwood,” he said. “If you would grip the feet, now. That’s right—just above the ankles. Are you ready? Now then . . .”

Mike looked down at the square-toed brown shoes. They were familiar. They were Paul’s. This dreadful helpless thing lying on the dusty floor was Paul himself. Only the physical effort of lifting steadied him. Deliberately he forced his eyes out of focus so that he should not see his cousin’s face. Miss Curley’s expression was quite enough.

“That’s right,” said the doctor. “Ah!”

And afterwards, when he looked up and saw them:

“Perhaps you’d care to wait for me outside? This—ah—isn’t a very pleasant business.”

In the stone corridor outside the door Mike gripped the iron banisters of the staircase which ran up beside him and hung there for a moment, his crisp shorn head pressed against the stone.

“God, Curley, this is awful,” he said at last. “Where the hell is John?”

“He’s coming.” Miss Curley’s voice was sharp. “I sent round word to him as soon as I’d phoned the doctor. The woman said he’d been up half the night reading and wasn’t dressed yet, but that he’d come over right away. It’s a terrible thing. I haven’t sent anyone to tell Gina yet.”

“Gina? Of course—I say, Curley, I’ll do that. Later—not now. She might come down and see him . . .”

He broke off.

Miss Curley’s sympathy for him returned and the softer emotion crowning the fear nearly undid her. She took off her spectacles and dabbed at her eyes petulantly.

Mike was silent, his brows drawn down so that his eyes seemed deep sunken and darker even than usual.

At the top of the staircase on the floor above somebody paused and a greyer shadow thickened against the wall over their heads.

“Miss Curley! Oh, Miss Curley.”

A girl’s voice, tremulous with its owner’s effort to appear unconcerned, floated down to them.

“Mr. Tooth is here.”

“Put him in the waiting room, Miss James. Put every visitor in the waiting room.”

Mike spoke before Miss Curley could open her mouth and footsteps above pattered away.

The doctor came out in what seemed an extraordinarily short space of time. They pounced on him, besieging him with questions, and as he washed his hands in the little toilet next to the strong room he talked to them over his shoulder.

“He’s been dead about three days, I should say. Very difficult to be more accurate once the period of rigor mortis has passed. But I put three days as the minimum. How odd he should not have been found before.”

For the first time Miss Curley noticed that his eyes were sharp and curious under his fiery brows, and unconsciously she spoke defensively.

“This room is very seldom used, Doctor. It’s virtually a safe, you know. It’s really extremely lucky that we found him this morning.”

“But he must have been missed,” the doctor persisted. “Surely his wife . . . ?”

“Mr. Brande was a man of very uncertain habits.” Miss Curley had not meant to interrupt with such chilling asperity, and Mike attempted to come to the rescue with clumsy friendliness.

“We had begun to wonder where he was. We were only talking of it last night. No one thought of looking in there, naturally.”

He stopped abruptly and as clearly as though he had proclaimed it aloud it became obvious that a startling recollection had occurred to him. He grew suddenly crimson and stared at Curley, who did not meet his eyes. The doctor regarded them both with interest.

“I see,” he said hastily. “I see. And now, Mr. Wedgwood, is there any heating apparatus down here at all?”

Mike looked bewildered. “How do you mean? Do you want a fire? There’s the main coke furnace under the staircase here if—”

“That’s what I’m asking you,” interrupted the doctor shortly. “Let’s have a look at it.”

Together they inspected the central-heating system and the stove built into the tiny cellar-like cupboard under the staircase.

The doctor asked a great many questions and measured the distance between the cellar and the strong-room door with ridiculously exaggerated strides.

To Curley, who was only bearing up under the shock with great difficulty, the performance seemed absurd.

“But how did it happen, Doctor?” she demanded impatiently. “How did he die? That flush on his face—it’s very unusual, isn’t it? How did it happen?”

“That, madam,” said the little man, eyeing her with a pomposity which was oddly disquieting, “I am attempting to decide.”

On the whole, it was very fortunate that John should have arrived at that particular moment. He came running down the stairs, his head held slightly on one side and his excellently cut clothes looking out of place in the draughty dinginess of the basement.

He brushed past Mike and Miss Curley and shook hands perfunctorily with the doctor.

“Where is he?” he demanded.

Although no one who actually saw him during those first five minutes could possibly have doubted that John was genuinely shaken by his cousin’s death, a catalogue of his words and actions would have been misleading. He moved towards the door of the strong room with little, jerky, birdlike steps, paused for a moment on the threshold and peered in at the sheeted figure on the table.

He made no attempt to enter but stepped back sharply after a second’s contemplation, beating his long ivory hands softly together, cymbal fashion.

“Terrible,” he said shortly. “Terrible. We must get him out of here. We must get him home.”

Mike recognized that tone of quiet authority. When John spoke like that his commands were automatically carried out. The younger man turned to him.

“Gina doesn’t know yet,” he said. “Let me warn her, at least. Give me five minutes.”

“All right. But he can’t stay here, poor fellow.”

Both cousins had completely forgotten the doctor, and his diffident demur came as a surprise to them.

“Mr. Widdowson,” he ventured, “I hardly know whether I can advise—”

“My dear sir—” John turned upon him with raised brows, “—he can’t stay here in the office, in the strong room. Can you give me any valid reason why he should not be moved?”

The doctor hesitated. He had no story ready, no actual ground on which to stand. It was a situation in which the stronger personality was bound to triumph. Mike mounted the staircase.

“Give me five minutes to tell her,” he said over his shoulder.

As for Miss Curley, she hurried up to her office and phoned Mr. Campion.

Gina was pottering in the big living room, clad in a severe man-tailored pyjama suit, when the woman admitted her visitor. She looked up from the hearth rug, where she was sorting her morning’s correspondence, when he entered, and his vision of her, kneeling there in the warm navy blue suit, was the only lovely thing in all that day. He remembered afterwards that her red mules made little blobs of color on the white rug and her face turned to his was radiant with sudden pleasure.

“Mike, my pet! How nice to see you. Too early for some coffee? I’m just going to have some.”

Conscious that the charwoman was hovering behind him, he hesitated. All the old insufferable phrases crowded into his mind: “Gina, my dear, you must prepare yourself for a shock.” Or, “I have bad news, I’m afraid.” Or, “Gina, something terrible has happened.”

Now that the moment had come they stuck in his throat and he was only conscious of her sitting there smiling at him, sane and lovely and adorable by a fire.

“He would like some, Mrs. Austin, please.” Gina smiled at the woman and waved her hand to the sofa. “Sit down, animal, and don’t stand there goggling at me. What’s the matter? Can’t we go to the Athertons this afternoon after all? Good heavens, it doesn’t matter. Don’t look like that.”

Mike sat down heavily and raised his eyes to hers.

“Paul’s dead,” he said.

She had been in the act of placing a couple of envelopes in the flames when he spoke, and now her arrested movement, the shoulder half turned, the head bent, was more expressive than any sound she could have uttered. He dropped down on the rug beside her and put a hand on the small woollen back.

“Gina, I didn’t mean to say it like that. Oh, my God, I am a fool!”

She turned to him at once. Her face was very pale, her eyes wide and dark.

“Tell me,” she said quietly. “How did it happen? A car smash?”

“No.” He paused. She was so close to him.

Presently he heard himself talking in a guarded unnatural way which he was unable to correct.

“He’s been at Twenty-three the whole time. They’ve only just found him. They’re going to bring him up here. You—you had to be told, you see.”

“But of course I had to be told.” Her deep soft voice had sharp edges. “Mike, what’s happened? Was it suicide?”

“I—we—we don’t know.”

“But why should he? Why? Oh, Mike, why should he? We hadn’t even quarrelled. He had no reason, surely. Surely, Mike?”

“Hold on, old dear.” The man was gripping her shoulder tightly and she leant back into the crook of his arm.

Mrs. Austin set the coffee tray down on the table behind the sofa with a clatter and stood looking over it at them with the shrewd glance of a mendicant pigeon. Things were happening! She had been thinking they must get a move on for some time now, but if a man ignored his wife, well, he was asking for trouble; that was her opinion.

Gina became aware of her. She moved quietly to her feet.

“My husband is dead, Mrs. Austin,” she said. “They don’t know how it happened.”

The full arc of Mrs. Austin’s knitted bosom swelled. Her long face with its festoon of chins grew blank and she emitted a long thin sound midway between a scream and a whistle.

“No!” said Mrs. Austin. “Here,” she added hastily, clattering with the coffee-jugs, “you drink this, dear. You’ll need it.”

Gina sat in the big white chair, and sipped the coffee obediently, while the other woman stood before her and watched her face. Mike glanced at the woman wonderingly. Hitherto Mrs. Austin had been a mechanism to open doors in his life. Now she had miraculously become a personality.

It was as though a shadow had taken substance.

“Will they be bringing him up here, dear?” she demanded, and behind her ill-contrived sorrow Mike detected an awful secret glee.

Gina looked at Mike. He was still poised awkwardly, half kneeling on the rug at her feet.

“They are coming now, aren’t they?” she said.

He got up stiffly. “Yes—yes, they are. But look here, Gina, there’s no need for you to do anything, unless you want to, of course. I mean—”

He broke off helplessly, the situation beyond him.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Austin, her little green-grey eyes fixed on him with dreadful understanding, “I think I take your meaning, sir. Oh, well, there’s no need for the poor lady to see her husband for a bit. I’ll do all the necessary.”

She crossed over to the girl and laid a kindly crimson hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t you worry, dear. Don’t you worry at all.”

Mike felt himself gaping at her with fascinated horror. There was a ghastliness about this practical side of death which overtopped the sum of frightfulness which had confronted him in that short morning. Mrs. Austin was kind; sympathy and friendliness oozed from her every pore; and yet she was enjoying the tragedy with all the shameful delight of the under-entertained.

He glanced at Gina. She was thinking, her face white, her eyes dark and blank.

He found himself feeling that she ought to cry and yet being relieved that she did not. He knew it would never occur to her to adopt any conventional attitude. The sudden loss of Paul could hardly be a great emotional tragedy, but it was naturally a tremendous shock.

He was looking at her, trying to divine her thoughts, when Mrs. Austin touched his sleeve.

“I’d like a few words with you outside, sir, please,” she said, and before the elaborate solemnity which scarcely veiled the exuberant curiosity which consumed her he was helpless. He followed her meekly.

The fog was not yet at its worst, but the streets were as dark as at midnight and the waves of bitter, soot-laden air softened and blurred the edges of familiar objects until London was like an old brown lithograph chalked by a man with no eye for detail.

In the basement at Twenty-three John had taken charge of the proceedings, the doctor hovering ineffectually at his side. One of the smaller packing tables had been taken off its trestles and upon it the sheeted body of Paul Brande now lay. Under John’s supervision the whole affair was being managed very decently.

Old Dobson, the chief packer, a bull-necked individual with arms like the forelegs of a cart horse and a red rim round his head where a cap had sat, took the head of the improvised stretcher, while the foot was supported by a Mr. Peter Rigget from the Accounts Department. Mr. Rigget had somehow appeared upon the staircase at the critical moment and, much to his delight, had been invited to assist. He was a squat, insignificant-looking young man, long in the body and short in the leg, with a solidarity which would become fleshy in a few years. It was his misfortune that he looked like the popular conception of the less attractive black-coated worker, even to the pink sensitive nose and the very shiny gold pince-nez. In a rather futile effort to combat this disadvantage he wore his very black hair en brosse, and, to his eternal credit, spent much of his spare time in the Regent Street Polytechnic Gymnasium hardening his muscles.

With a certain amount of assistance from the doctor, therefore, he was quite able to manage the task for which he had angled.

Mr. Rigget had been waiting to get into the heart of the excitement downstairs ever since his sensitive perceptions had got wind of it less than three minutes after the discovery of the body, for it was a tragic fact that, in spite of his struggles against his destiny, Mr. Rigget remained what he had been born and reared to be, an inquisitive, timid, dishonorable person with a passion for self-aggrandizement which was almost a mania.

“Not through the street.” John made the statement sound like an edict. “We shall have to go the back way, through the garden and into the basement at Twenty-one. We can’t have a crowd in front of the office. Are you ready?”

Not for the first time during the past ten minutes the doctor shot a curious glance at the elegant, elderly head of the firm. John Widdowson’s complete preoccupation with his own particular aspect of the tragedy, and his utter disregard for any sort of pretence at conventional grief, was something unique in his experience.

He found it all the more puzzling because he did not know the man well and did not realize that it was the outcome of lifelong habit and was nothing to do with the unusual circumstances.

The procession moved off out into the yard through the narrow door between the strong room and the furnace cellar. Once in the fog the picture became macabre. The massive Dobson was blurred and transfigured into a shadow of heroic size, while Peter Rigget, bending forward under the weight, became foreshortened and spread out into something dwarfish and deformed.

The white burden between them widened and narrowed at every new angle which its path dictated, and the folds of the sheet hung limply in the cold still air.

They went down the stone way between the garage and the loading shed and turned sharply to the right, negotiating a little-used gate in the wall with difficulty.

Their progress through the other house was even more awkward, and both John and the doctor were forced to lend every assistance as they struggled and panted up the seven flights of stairs.

Mrs. Austin admitted them with red-eyed reverence as long as the door was open and whispering efficiency as soon as it was shut. She and the doctor understood each other instantly, and for the first time that morning the professional man received that mixture of awe and clumsy but well-meant assistance to which his long professional life had accustomed him.

“Mrs. Brande’s quite laid out, poor thing,” Mrs. Austin announced in a stage whisper, adding with ambiguous sentimentality, “Mr. Wedgwood’s with her, comforting her as only he can. I’ve told him not to let her come out for a minute or two.”

John looked at the woman as though he wondered what rather than who she was, and followed Dobson and Peter Rigget into the spare room, where nearly all the best linen had been set out by Mrs. Austin because a doctor was coming.

Dobson left at once, glad to go, but Peter Rigget lingered until bidden sharply by his employer to return to work.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Austin turned back the sheet.

John went out of the room. He felt he could not possibly be of any assistance, and he found the situation disagreeable.

Mike had only escaped from Mrs. Austin when the knock at the door heralded bigger game. He and Gina had barely spoken when John came in. He stood eyeing their questioning faces absently for a moment, his mind clearly upon other things, but as he sat down he addressed the girl.

“We brought him up, Gina, because he couldn’t possibly stay down there.”

“But of course not. Of course not,” she said, her deep voice rising a little. “What’s the matter with you all? Of course they must bring him to his home. I’ll go to him.”

Mike stood in her path and she looked up at him.

“You’re not protecting me, you’re frightening me,” she said, and swung round to John. “Where did it happen, John? Where has he been all this time?”

“In the strong room.” He still spoke impersonally, his mind preoccupied.

“In the strong room?” The girl repeated the words as though she doubted her senses. “But I thought that place was kept locked; locked from the outside and the key in Curley’s desk.”

John blinked at her. “It’s all very terrible, I admit, my dear, but there are so many things to think of besides details.”

Gina sat down suddenly. The change in her face was extraordinary. She looked haggard, blue-shadowed and years older.

“Mike,” she said unsteadily, “you were down there last night.”

“In the strong room? Were you really, Mr. Wedgwood? You must excuse me, but this is very curious indeed, isn’t it?”

Little Doctor Roe stepped forward from the doorway, where he had been hesitating for the past few moments.

“Doctor, this is Mrs. Brande.” John’s voice was gently reproving.

The little man was pulled up short. He looked uncomfortable.

“Er—quite, quite; I see. Er—may I say how extremely sorry I am, madam? I am afraid you must have had a very great shock.” Doctor Roe’s best professional manner was to the fore as he pressed Gina’s hand, but he returned to Mike immediately.

“You went down to the strong room last night?” he repeated.

“Yes, Doctor, I did.” Mike’s tone sounded over-friendly in his eagerness to explain. “Yes, I did. I went down for a folder for my cousin. I took the key out of the desk where it is always kept, unlocked the door, found the book, relocked the place and put the key back and hurried up here. I was only in there for a second but I—I didn’t see anything.”

There was a long pause. The doctor’s eyes had become like John’s, veiled and introspective.

“Well,” he said after what seemed an interminable silence, “there will be certain formalities, you understand.” He coughed.

“Formalities?” John looked up. “I don’t quite understand. What was the cause of death, Doctor?”

The professional man hesitated. “I shouldn’t like to commit myself just now,” he murmured at last. “My opinion will be tested by post-mortem before the inquest.”

“Inquest?” John stiffened. “Really? Surely that’s not necessary in a case like this?”

The authoritative tone somehow saved the question from sounding absurd.

The little doctor stood like a Trojan on the one piece of ground he knew to be firm.

“Mr. Widdowson,” he said, “I did not attend your cousin before his death. I am not at all sure how he died and I am afraid I must refuse to grant a certificate.”

“And what exactly does that mean?” John’s tone was, if anything, slightly contemptuous.

The doctor looked profoundly uncomfortable.

“The case will automatically come under the cognizance of the Coroner as an uncertified death,” he said slowly. “I—er—I am afraid I can do nothing more.”

He still hovered, his eyes beneath their heavy brows interested and bright.

Gina pulled herself together with an effort.

“Doctor,” she said, “I think I will go to my husband. Will you come with me, please?”

She moved quickly out of the room, the little man at her heels.

Mike strode restlessly up and down. The cousins were not communicative as a family and a crisis did not loosen their tongues. John remained silent for some considerable time. Finally he said:

“Inquest, eh? How extremely like Paul—flamboyant to the end.”

Mike stared at him, but he went on in a perfectly normal tone:

“Ring down to Miss Curley, will you? Tell her to come up here herself and bring a notebook.”

Mike hesitated, opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it and went out obediently. He had just finished phoning in the little booth at the far end of the hall when the doctor and Gina came out of the spare room. He hung back to wait for her.

The little man was all kindliness.

“Leave it all to me, Mrs. Brande,” he said, holding her hand. “I quite understand. The shock has been very great. Don’t worry. Leave it all to me.”

It passed through Mike’s mind that Gina was like that. There was something essentially feminine about her, something that inspired a spirit of protection in the most unlikely breasts. However, there was nothing shrinking about her as she came hurrying down the corridor towards him.

“Oh, Mike, what has happened?” she demanded. “What are you and John doing? What are you hiding?”

“Hiding? My dear girl—” Mike was aghast. “You must forgive old John,” he went on hastily. “He’s much more knocked up than he shows, and after all, the firm does mean such a lot to him that he can’t help thinking of it even at a time like this.”

The girl placed her hand on his arm and looked up into his eyes.

“Mike,” she said, “I do believe you actually mean all this rubbish. My dear, don’t you see, the doctor won’t give a certificate. He’s not satisfied. How could he be in the circumstances? How could you be? How could I be? I’ve asked him to report to the Coroner. He was obviously going to anyway. Oh, Mike, are you listening to me? Do you understand?”

“I only know that this ghastly thing has happened to you, of all people,” he said. “Look here, Gina, don’t get alarmed. We’ll fix it somehow so that you don’t have to go to the damned inquest.”

The girl passed her hand over her forehead.

“Oh—oh, dear God!” she whispered, and crumpled at his feet.

Mike carried her into her bedroom.

It was over three quarters of an hour later when Mr. Rigget came creeping up the stairs. John held up his hand warningly as Mrs. Austin showed the excited young man into the room. It was one of John’s peculiarities that he regarded himself as the undisputed owner of any room in the two buildings, and the fact that he was now using his bereaved cousin-in-law’s studio as an office did not strike him as being in any way unfitting or extraordinary.

“. . . suddenly at his place of business, Miss Curley,” he was saying. “Funeral arrangements later. That’s for the Times, Morning Post and Telegraph. The other paragraph Mr. Pelham can send out to the places he best thinks fit. Mr. Rigget, what do you want?”

The final phrase was uttered in such a complete change of tone that Miss Curley started violently. But Peter Rigget was not quelled. For one of the few times in his life he was the bearer of important news.

“Mr. Widdowson,” he burst out, “there are two men at the office asking for you. I slipped out through the garden and came up the back way to warn you.”

“To warn me?” John eyed the young man with a nice admixture of distaste and astonishment. “What are you talking about? What two men?”

“Well, sir,” said Mr. Rigget flatly, cheated of his drama, “one of them’s a Coroner’s Officer and the other is a plain-clothes man. They only send the plain-clothes man, sir, when it’s—serious.”

3  :  Design for an Accident

Mr. Campion sat in the waiting room at the Sign of the Golden Quiver and reflected philosophically that it is often the fate of experts to be called in and left in a corner. The young woman who had admitted him had been very firm: he was to wait.

As he sat in the shadow of the mahogany mantelpiece and sniffed the leather and tobacco-scented air he regarded the room with interest. There are publishers whose waiting rooms are like those on draughty provincial railway stations; others that resemble corners of better-class bookshops, with the wares tastefully displayed; and still others that stun by their sombre magnificence and give the odd impression that somebody very old and very rich is dying upstairs: but the waiting room at Twenty-three expressed the personality of Barnabas, Limited and was solid and comfortable and rather nice, like the dining room of a well-fed mid-Victorian household.

Mr. Campion caught himself glancing at the polished side tables and supposing that the silver had gone to be cleaned. Apart from a few early editions in a locked glass and wire-fronted cupboard there was not a book in the place.

A portrait of Jacoby Barnabas, the uncle of the present directors, hung over the mantelpiece in a grand baroque frame. Head and shoulders were life size, and it was evident from a certain overpainting in the work that the artist had striven with some difficulty for a likeness.

It showed a strong, heavily boned man of sixty odd with the beard and curling white hair of a Victorian philanthropist, but the light eyes set deeply in the fine square head were imperious and very cold and the small mouth was pursed and narrow amid the beautiful fleecy whiteness of the beard. A grim old boy, thought Mr. Campion, and turned his attention to the other visitor, who stood stiffly on the other side of a centre table which ought to have had a silver epergne upon it.

He was a fat young man with a red face, who looked less as though he had a secret sorrow than a grievance which was not going to be a secret very long. He regarded Mr. Campion with what appeared to be suppressed hatred, but as soon as the other ventured to remark inanely that it was a nice foggy day he burst out into the spasmodic but more than eager conversation of one who has been in solitary confinement.

Mr. Campion, who thought privately that all young persons who voluntarily shut themselves up half their lives alone, scribbling down lies in the pathetic hope of entertaining or instructing their fellows, must necessarily be the victims of some sort of phobia, was duly sympathetic. Moreover, his curiosity concerning the business downstairs was fast becoming unbearable and he was glad to have something to crowd it out of his mind.

The fat young man flung himself down in a chair.

“I’m waiting to see Mr. Widdowson,” he said abruptly. “I usually see Brande, but today I’ve got to go to the Headmaster. They’re all infernally casual, aren’t they? I’ve been here half an hour.”

In view of all the circumstances Mr. Campion did not know quite what to say, but his silence did not worry the other man, if indeed he noticed it at all.

“I expect Brande will be down in a moment,” he went on explosively. “Do you know him? A nice chap. Very enthusiastic. Gets all het up about things. He’s made a lot of difference to this place since he left the army. He was in the States for a bit, you know, and then came back and started putting a bit of pep into this mausoleum.”

He paused again but only for breath. Since neither of them even so much as knew the other’s name Mr. Campion found him quite extraordinarily indiscreet, but he recognized the symptoms and understood that people who are forced to spend long periods alone can rarely chat non-committally. The fat young man’s tongue was running away with him again.

“Brande married an American, you know,” he said accusingly. “Extraordinarily pretty girl, I believe. It seems a pity they don’t . . .” He broke off hastily and rose to his feet again, glaring at Campion this time as if he had discovered him trying to surprise him into a confidence.

Mr. Campion looked comfortingly blank and as the other retired to a corner, crimson with rage and confusion, he rose himself and, wandering across to the heavily curtained windows, peered through them into the fog.

“I wonder where Brande is,” said the plaintive voice behind him after a pause.

Mr. Campion stiffened and controlled the insane impulse to say, “There goes his body, anyway. Looks a fishy little procession, doesn’t it?” and turned back into the room just as the door opened and a girl came in.

She was neither particularly good to look at nor possessed of an arresting personality, but she caught Mr. Campion’s interest at once. She was small and very dark and affected the coiffure of a medieval page and a small straight blue serge dress with a white collar and cuffs. The effect aimed at was a twelve-year-old schoolgirl but the result was ruined by the maturity of her face, hands and neck. She smiled at the fat young man.

“Oh, Mr. Tooth,” she said, “I’m so sorry you’ve been kept waiting. I’m afraid Mr. Widdowson won’t be here today. He’s been called away. Would you mind very much if we wrote you?”

Mr. Tooth grew red and then pale with indignation and Mr. Campion was inclined to sympathize with him.

“I’ll go in and see Mr. Brande, then,” said Mr. Tooth with dignity. “He’s not engaged, is he?”

“Oh, no, he’s not engaged, but I’m afraid you can’t see him.” There was a quality in the girl’s voice which was hard to define. She was enjoying the situation, certainly, but she was not bursting to come out with the news. Rather, she was being unduly secretive about it. Mr. Campion was interested. Why should the staff of Barnabas, Limited have decided to try to keep Paul’s death a secret? The death of a man is a hopeless thing to hide from his friends; after all, it is no little peccadillo or temporary embarrassment from which he may be expected to recover and afterwards prefer not to have discussed.

“Miss Netley, is there anything wrong?” Mr. Tooth had caught the savour of unrest in the air and Campion watched the girl. She did not look in the least confused.

“Well, he won’t be here today,” she said, not so much evasively as tantalizingly. “I’m so sorry.”

A great desire to get to the heart of the trouble downstairs passed over Mr. Campion and unobtrusively he moved to the door. Mr. Tooth he dismissed from his mind. Their interests, he felt, did not meet. But there was something very curious about Miss Netley, something about her personality which was peculiar. He made a mental note of her name.

The wide entrance hall at Twenty-three was of a very simple plan and Mr. Campion had no trouble in locating the basement stairs. He sauntered through the gloomy shadows and stepped slowly down the first flight. He did not move furtively and at the first sound of his shoes upon the stone there was a warning cough from below and three men in packers aprons slid out of a doorway below him and made for their own domain. The first two walked with their faces averted and the third glanced sharply but ineffectually at the young man’s grey figure in the fog.

“Door not even locked, and plenty of visitors. The police will be pleased,” murmured Mr. Campion as he wandered on towards the scene of the trouble which had been so neatly pointed out to him.

In the entrance to the strong room he paused. The retreating packers had not thought to switch off the light and the whole scene lay before him, inviting him to examine it. It was not difficult to see where the body had lain, especially as he had Miss Curley’s telephoned description of its discovery firmly fixed in his mind.

The bare table puzzled him at first but it did not take a very acute mind to reconstruct roughly what had happened after the body had been found.

As Mr. Campion glanced at the heterogeneous collection of books and papers which Mike had heaped upon the floor his sympathy for any police detective who might come after him grew more intense. Since so much damage had already been done he had no hesitation in entering the room. One more set of footprints in the dust, he decided, could do little harm.

The construction of the place interested him immensely. It was clear that it had at one time been part of the kitchens of the house and its subsequent alterations had done something to enhance the dungeon-like qualities of the domestic offices of the eighteenth century.

The walls appeared to be lined first with some sort of metal and then with asbestos, while the window which had been immediately on the right of the doorway had been bricked up and covered by the shelves which ran all round the walls.

Mr. Campion sniffed the air. It was still stuffy, in spite of the open door, yet, as it seemed impossible that a room of its size could have been left entirely without ventilation, he took the opportunity of examining the outside wall.

Yet fog had penetrated even here and he could not understand it at first until his search was rewarded by the discovery of a tiny iron grating let into the wall directly beneath one of the lower shelves, where a brick had been displaced. The two centre bars of the grating had been broken, leaving a ragged hole some two inches in diameter.

At this hole Mr. Campion looked very thoughtfully. By squatting down on his heels he found that he could peer through the broken ventilator into some half-lit chamber beyond, which he erroneously decided was the loading shed.

He spent some time considering the shelf below the ventilator and restrained with difficulty his impulse to touch the papers thereon.

When at last he straightened his back and continued round the room his face was much graver than usual and narrow vertical lines had appeared between his eyebrows.

At the far end of the room, between the safe and the table, the chaos was indescribable, but, looking at it, Campion was inclined to think that it was the outcome of years of untidiness rather than the result of one frenzied five minutes indulged in by any hasty or excitable person.

It passed through his mind that the term “businesslike” rarely applied to business people. There are degrees of muddle to be found in the offices of old established firms which transcend anything ever achieved in a schoolboy’s locker.

The strong room at Twenty-three seemed to have become simply one of those useful places where nothing is ever cleaned up, so that anything deposited therein may reasonably expect to remain in safety until it is again needed.

All the same, it occurred to him as he looked round that the amount of odds and ends which three generations of Barnabas directors had considered worth keeping was distressing when viewed in the bulk.

The safe, he decided, could well be the centrepiece in any museum which an enterprising burglars’ guild might establish for the edification of junior members. It was massive enough in all conscience and looked as if it had been built to withstand shell-fire, but it opened with a key, a large key if the size of the highly decorated hole could be taken as a guide.

He was still looking at it when hasty footsteps pattered down the passage and the door leading out into the yard banged. Feeling a little guilty but not really deterred, Mr. Campion continued his tour.

Lying on a dusty parcel of manuscript on the shelf nearest the table he came upon an anachronism. It was a bowler hat, nearly new and only very slightly dusty. Turning it over gingerly he saw the initials “P.R.B.” inside, and on the floor below was a neatly rolled umbrella.

Mr. Campion’s frown deepened. The problem as he saw it had certainly a great technical interest, apart from its personal side. A man, dressed for the street, found dead in his own strong room, the door locked on the outside, four days after he had disappeared, presented a situation provoking thought.

Campion took another look at the ventilator and wished he might see the body.

A few minutes later he was examining the door of the room and had just decided that at no time had the lock been forced or picked when the pattering feet returned, this time from the courtyard. There was a rush of bitter air as the door swung open and next moment somebody paused and looked in at him.

Mr. Rigget and Mr. Campion exchanged glances.

For some seconds Mr. Rigget hesitated, torn between a desire to see what was going on upstairs and an inclination to investigate Mr. Campion’s unexpected presence. He took stock of the stranger carefully, his eyes round and excited behind his glittering pince-nez.

He decided almost immediately that Mr. Campion was not a detective. Mr. Rigget’s knowledge of detectives was small and his opinion bigoted. A thrilling alternative occurred to him and he came forward ingratiatingly.

“Could I help, I wonder?” he suggested, lending the offer a tinge of the underhand. “I shouldn’t want my name mentioned at first, of course, but if there’s anything you want to know . . . ?”

He broke off promisingly, adding a moment later as Campion’s expression did not change:

“You’re a journalist, of course?”

“There’s no ‘of course’ about it,” said Mr. Campion. “What’s on the other side of this wall?”

“A—a garage,” said Mr. Rigget, startled into speech.

Mr. Campion’s eyebrows seemed in danger of disappearing.

“How many cars?”

“Only one. Mr. Wedgwood keeps his Fiat there. Why?”

Mr. Campion ignored the question. Instead he snapped out another.

“Who are you?”

Neither his tone nor manner fitted in with Mr. Rigget’s idea of the jolly, hard-boiled journalist he had seen so often on the films. He grew crimson.

“I have a position here,” he said stiffly.

“Fine,” said Mr. Campion heartily. “Toddle along and keep it up.”

“You are a journalist, aren’t you?” said Mr. Rigget, now considerably alarmed.

“Certainly not.” Campion looked astonished by the suggestion.

“But you’re not a detective. It wasn’t you who came in with the Coroner’s Officer just now.”

“Ah! He’s here at last, is he?” said the pale young man with interest. “Splendid! Good morning.”

“Shall I tell him you’re waiting?” Mr. Rigget’s slender pink nose quivered as he caught a glimpse of this exciting chance to visit, if only for a moment, the heart of the enquiry.

“No,” said Mr. Campion. “It wouldn’t be true.” And, brushing past his would-be informant, he moved quietly out of the room and mounted the stairs.

Mr. Rigget stood irresolute. Some instinct told him that it would not be wise to follow immediately. Moreover, the sense of mingled shame and apprehension, inevitable aftermath of a too hastily seized conclusion, was upon him. The scene of the trouble, on the other hand, was not a healthy spot in which to linger with the police in the house. In default of any other retreat Mr. Rigget shut himself in the washroom.

Mr. Campion hurried up the stairs. His face was unusually blank and there was a strained expression in his pale eyes. He had made a discovery, or at least he had unearthed a possibility which, if it should prove to be substantiated by other facts, was going to lead to serious trouble.

At the top of the stairs he hesitated. His next step presented difficulties. He was not at all sure of his own place in the proceedings. Miss Curley had invited him to the house presumably on her own initiative; therefore he was not working with the police but in the interests of his friends. In view of everything Mr. Campion was inclined to wonder what their interests would prove to be.

However, his curiosity overrode his caution and he considered the best means of getting the information he needed.

He was still hesitating in the fog-laden hall, wondering if he should take the bull by the horns and go up to Gina’s flat, when he caught sight of a shadowy figure drifting down the stairs from the floor above. Ritchie, of course; Mr. Campion had forgotten him. He stepped forward, his hand outstretched.

“Mr. Barnabas,” he began, “I don’t know if you remember me—”

The tall, loosely built man paused abruptly and a pair of astonishingly mild blue eyes peered into Campion’s own.

“Yes,” he said. “I do. You’re a friend of Mike’s, aren’t you? Albert Campion. You’re the man we want. You’ve heard, of course?”

Campion nodded. The sense of shock and regret which he had missed in the office was here very apparent. Ritchie looked haggard and the bony hand he thrust into Campion’s own shook.

“They’ve only just told me,” he said. “One of the secretaries came up to my room. I was reading. I didn’t dream . . . Mike went down there last night, you know.”

He paused and passed his hand through his tufty grey hair.

“Twenty years ago . . .” he added unexpectedly. “But it was May then . . . none of this awful fog about.”

Mr. Campion blinked. He remembered now the other’s habit of flitting from subject to subject, linked only by some erratic thought process at which one could only guess. However, he had no time to study Ritchie Barnabas’s eccentricities at the moment. There was something very important that he had to find out at once.

“Look here,” he said impulsively, “I’m at a great disadvantage. I really haven’t any business here at all, but I do want a few words with someone who has seen the body. Do you think—I mean, could you possibly . . . ?”

Ritchie hesitated. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said at last, adding abruptly, his eyes fixed anxiously upon Campion’s like a dog who is attempting to talk: “The body . . . that was the terrible part of it then. . . . Nothing . . . not a sign. Poor young Paul!” And afterwards, in an entirely different tone: “A mild day it was, inclined to be misty. But no fog like this.”

He turned away and had gone halfway up the stairs again when he paused and finally returned.

“Go upstairs to my room,” he said. “It’s right at the top of the house. Forgive me for not thinking of it before.”

He went off again, only to turn at the landing to look back.

“I’ll meet you there,” he said. “Come up now.”

Mr. Campion found his way to Ritchie’s office with some difficulty. It lay at the very top of the house and was approached by a small staircase set behind the panelling of a larger room. Campion discovered it only by accident, having caught a glimpse of the swinging door as he put his head into the last room on what had at first appeared to be the top floor.

The office itself was a fitting place for its owner. It was very small and was built round an old-fashioned brick chimney, to which it seemed to cling for support. Apart from two dilapidated chairs huddled close to the minute fireplace, the whole place was a mass of manuscripts. They jostled and sat upon each other in tall unsteady piles rising up to meet the sloping ceiling.

A little window through which the fog now looked like a saffron blanket held up to the light filled one alcove, and, save for this and the glow from the fire, the place was in darkness.

Campion found the switch and a dusty reading lamp on the mantelpiece shot into prominence.

He sat down to wait. After the chill downstairs the room felt warm and musty, the air spiced with the smell of paper. It was a very personal place, he decided; like an old coat slipped off for a moment regretfully.

He had barely time to let its unexpected charm take hold of him when Ritchie returned. He came scrambling up the staircase like some overgrown spider, his long thin arms and legs barking themselves recklessly on the wooden walls.

“She’s coming,” he said. “Won’t be a moment. Had to powder her face. Too bad . . . a child, Campion . . . only eighteen. Very pretty . . . typist or something. Good family . . . been crying . . . making statement.”

He sat down.

Mr. Campion, who had deduced that he was not talking about Miss Curley, had an inspiration.

“You’ve got hold of the girl who found him?”

Ritchie nodded. “Terrible experience! Glad to get away from them all. Nice girl.”

He brought a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one thoughtfully. He had replaced the package when, with a word of apology, he produced it again and forced a rather battered cigarette upon Campion.

“You knew Paul well?” he said. “Poor fellow! Poor fellow! You didn’t? Oh, I see. . . . Well, it’s a shock for everybody. It must be. . . . Dead three days, they say. Can’t have been. Mike was there last night. Doctors don’t know, do they?”

Mr. Campion was slowly getting used to this somewhat extraordinary method of conversation. He had experienced this jerky chatter before, but in Ritchie’s case the man had a disconcerting way of fixing one with his gentle blue eyes with an earnestness which was somehow pathetic. It was evident that he wanted to be understood, but found speech very difficult.

In spite of his preoccupation with the pressing matter on hand, Campion noticed that the elder man used long sweeping gestures, completely meaningless in themselves, and he began to understand why the intolerant Jacoby Barnabas of the portrait in the waiting room had found this particular nephew so unsatisfactory.

Although he was still obviously very shaken, Ritchie seemed more at ease now that he was back in his own little room. He glanced about it, caught Mr. Campion’s eye and smiled shyly.

“Been here twenty years, reading,” he said.

Campion was taken off his guard.

“No remission for good conduct?” he said involuntarily.

Ritchie looked away, and for the first time the younger man was aware of something not quite frank about him.

“Get away sometimes,” he said. “Week or two now and again. Why not . . . ? Must live.”

His tone was so nearly angry that Campion almost apologized. He had the uncomfortable impression that the man was hiding something.

He put the idea from him as absurd, but the impression remained.

Ritchie was puffing furiously at his cigarette, his long thin fingers with their enormous knuckles gripping the little flattened tube clumsily.

“Strong personality,” he said, his blue eyes once again fixed on Campion’s face. “Moved very quickly . . . did foolish things. But to be found dead . . . terrible! Have you ever been in love?”

“Eh?” said Mr. Campion, completely taken aback.

“Don’t understand it,” said Ritchie with a wave of a long bony arm. “Never did. Paul didn’t love Gina. Extraordinary. Mike’s a good boy.”

Campion was sorting out the possible relations between these disjointed ramblings when there was a movement on the stairs below and Ritchie got up.

“Miss Marchant,” he said.

He disappeared for a moment, to return almost at once with a very pretty girl. She had been crying, and was still near tears. As he caught sight of her Mr. Campion was inclined to agree with Ritchie’s sympathetic outburst. It certainly did seem a shame that this little yellow-haired girl with the big frightened eyes and demure, intelligent face should have been subjected to what must have been a very unpleasant experience.

Ritchie was already performing the introductions. He was less jerky and more at his ease when speaking to the girl, and there was a gentleness about him which was very attractive.

“Sit down,” he said, taking her by the hand and leading her into the room. “This is Mr. Campion, a very clever man, not a policeman.”

He peered down into her face and evidently thought he saw tears there, for he pressed a large white pocket-handkerchief into her hand without any explanation.

“Now,” he said, squatting down between them on the dusty boards, “tell him.”

Campion leant forward. “I’m awfully sorry to trouble you, Miss Marchant,” he said. “It must be most unpleasant for you to go all through this again. But you would be doing me and Mr. Barnabas a very great service if you’d answer one or two questions. I won’t keep you long.”

The girl made a rather pathetic attempt at a smile.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m glad to get away from them all. What do you want to know?”

Mr. Campion approached his point gingerly. It was not going to be easy.

“When you went down to the strong room this morning,” he began, “did Miss Curley give you the key or did you take it out of her desk?”

“I—I took it. It was hanging on a little hook screwed into the underside of the flap at the back. It always hangs there.”

“I see. And you just took it and went straight downstairs?”

“Yes. But I’ve told all this to the Coroner’s Officer.” Her voice was rising, and Mr. Campion stretched out a soothing hand.

“I know,” he said. “And it’s really very kind of you to tell it to me again. When you unlocked the door and went in, what did you do?”

The girl took a deep breath.

“I switched on the light,” she said. “Then I’m afraid I screamed.”

“Oh, I see. . . .” Mr. Campion was very grave. “You saw him at once?”

“Oh, yes. He was just inside the door. My foot nearly touched his foot. When I turned on the light I was looking straight down at him.”

Ritchie nodded at her, and with a wave of a flail-like arm encouraged her to use the handkerchief he had just lent her. There was something so extremely comic in the gesture that just for an instant laughter crept out behind the tears in the round eyes.

Mr. Campion proceeded cautiously.

“Look here,” he said very gently, “this is going to help a lot. Try not to think of the man you found as someone you’ve seen in the office, someone you’ve worked for; think of him just as a thing, a rather ugly sight you’ve been called upon to look at. What struck you most about him when you first saw him?”

Miss Marchant pulled herself together. Mr. Campion had been speaking to her as though she were a child, and she was a modern young woman of eighteen.

“His colour,” she said.

Mr. Campion permitted himself a long intake of breath.

“He was pink,” said the girl. “I didn’t think he was dead, you see. I thought he’d fallen down in a fit—apoplexy or something. I went up to him and bent down, and then I saw he was dead. He was bright, bright pink, and his lips were swollen.”

“And was he lying quite naturally?” said Mr. Campion, anxious to lead her away once the vital fact had been ascertained.

Miss Marchant hesitated. “I think so. He was on his back and stretched out, his hands at his sides. It wasn’t—nice.”

“Terrible!” said Ritchie earnestly. “Terrible! Poor girl! Poor Paul! All frightful . . .”

He hurled his cigarette stub into the fire and searched frantically for another, hoisting his gaunt body from side to side as he fought with his pockets.

Miss Marchant glanced at Mr. Campion.

“That’s all,” she said. “I ran out and told Miss Curley and the others after that.”

“Naturally.” Campion’s tone was soothing and friendly. “Where was the hat?”

“The hat?” She looked at him dubiously for a moment, her brows wrinkled. “Oh, his bowler hat . . . of course. Why, it was there on the ground, just near him.”

“Near his head or near his hand?” Mr. Campion persisted.

“Near his shoulder, I think . . . his left shoulder.” She was screwing up her eyes in an effort of recollection.

“How was it lying?”

Miss Marchant considered. “Flat on its brim,” she said at last. “I remember now. It was. I caught sight of the round black mound out of the corner of my eye and I wondered what it was at first. His umbrella was there too, lying beyond it, where it must have fallen when he fell.”

She shuddered involuntarily as the picture returned to her, and looked younger than ever.

“On the left?” laboured Mr. Campion. “On your left?”

“No, his left. I told you. The side furthest from the table.”

“I see,” said Mr. Campion, and his face became blank. “I see.”

Ritchie shepherded Miss Marchant to the floor below. When he came back his mild blue eyes rested upon Campion eagerly.

“Clearer?” he enquired, and added abruptly: “Sounds like gas, doesn’t it?”

Mr. Campion regarded the other man thoughtfully. It had been slowly dawning upon him for some time now that Ritchie’s disjointed phrases and meaningless gestures were disabilities behind which a mind resided. However, this last shrewdness was unexpected.

“Yes,” he said slowly. “It does. Carbon monoxide, in fact. Of course one can’t possibly tell for certain without taking a blood test but Miss Marchant’s description does indicate it. Besides, it fits in damnably with one or two things I noticed downstairs.”

Ritchie heaved a sigh of relief. “Garage next door to the strong room,” he remarked. “Fumes must have percolated somehow. Accident. Poor Paul. . . .”

Mr. Campion said nothing.

Ritchie clambered into the chair Miss Marchant had vacated and sat poring over the fire, his immense bony hands held out to the tiny blaze.

“Carbon monoxide,” he said. “How much of it will kill?”

Mr. Campion, who had been reflecting upon the problem for some time, gave a considered opinion.

“I’m not sure of the exact proportion,” he said, “but it’s something very small . . . just over four per cent in the atmosphere in some cases, I believe. The trouble with the stuff is that it’s so insidious. You don’t realize you’re going under until you’ve gone, if you see what I mean. The exhaust of a car is pretty nearly the pure stuff.”

Ritchie nodded sagaciously. “Dangerous,” he said. “No ventilation down there with the door shut.”

“. . . And locked.” The words were on the tip of Mr. Campion’s tongue, but he did not utter them.

Ritchie continued. “Shouldn’t have been there,” he said. “Paul always poking about out of hours. Silly fellow . . . sorry he’s dead.”

The last remark was not put in as an afterthought. Every line of Ritchie’s gaunt body indicated his regret, and his tone was as expressive as the most elaborate speech.

“I didn’t know him well,” said Campion. “I met him at most four or five times.”

Ritchie shook his head. “Difficult chap,” he remarked. “Great egoist. Too dominant. But good fellow. Impulsive. Not in love with Gina. Dreadful accident.”

Mr. Campion’s mind wandered to the little grating under the shelf in the strong room, and presently, when he and the other man went down the stairs together, it was still in his thoughts.

Ritchie was frankly overcome by the horror of the accident. The locked door and the time of death were both points that he had evidently shelved as minor details, while the significance of the position of the hat and umbrella had escaped him entirely.

As they crossed the hall, two policemen in plain clothes came up from the basement. Campion recognized one of them as Detective-Sergeant Pillow of the special branch. The man glanced up as he passed, and nodded, satisfaction in his little black eyes.

As Campion caught sight of the curious burden he carried, his heart missed a beat. Carefully wrapped round the middle with a dark handkerchief, its ends looped into drooping bows and its protected centre clasped in the Sergeant’s stubby hand, was a length of rubber tubing such as is sometimes used for the improvisation of a shower-bath. Sergeant Pillow carried it as though it were his dearest possession.

4  :  Relations

To Gordon Roe, Esq., Surgeon.


To wit.


By virtue of this my Order as one of His Majesty’s Coroners for the County of London you are hereby required to be and appear before me and the jury on Tuesday the ninth day of February at eleven o’clock in the forenoon at the Court in the Parish of St. Joan’s, Holborn, and then and there to give evidence on His Majesty’s behalf touching the death of Paul Redfern Brande and to make or assist in making a post-mortem examination of the viscera of the Head, Chest and Abdomen of the body of the said Paul Redfern Brande without an analysis and report thereon at the said inquest. And herein fail not at your peril.

Dated the second day of February, 1931.

P. J. Salley,


Doctor Roe patted his pocket absently as he entered the hall of Gina’s flat on the Friday following the discovery of Paul Brande’s body and the Coroner’s summons crackled responsively. The little doctor was following the anxious Mrs. Austin down the passage to the studio with a certain amount of curiosity.

“I really think you ought to have a look at her, Doctor.” The charwoman spoke in a hushed voice and without looking round as she ploughed over the thick carpet in her soft shoes. “Not a mite of sleep she hasn’t had. You can see it in her face. I said to her I said, ‘You have the doctor, dear. After all, he can’t make you worse nor what you are at present.’ And she said to me, ‘I think I will, Mrs. Austin.’ ‘Lie down,’ I said, but she wouldn’t, and there she is sitting in front of the fire like a lily.”

Her speech lasted until they reached the door, but just before she entered she laid a plump, damp hand upon his own and looked up at him, a gleam of conspiratorial excitement in her eyes.

“Have they found out anything yet?”

Doctor Roe coughed. “I really don’t know, Mrs. Austin,” he said pleasantly. “I’m not a policeman, you know. Now where is our patient?”

Mrs. Austin raised her eyebrows, and, with many ostentatious precautions against noise, tiptoed heavily into the room.

“Here’s the doctor, dear,” she said in a sepulchral whisper which might well have given her employer a heart attack had their entry been really quiet.

Gina was sitting in one of the big white armchairs in a tailored black wrapper which contrasted with the pallor of her face and the brilliance of her eyes and hair. She made a pathetic attempt at a smile.

“I’m glad to see you, Doctor,” she said. “Won’t you sit down? That’ll do, Mrs. Austin.”

That good lady left the room, making it plain that she did so against her better judgment. Doctor Roe remained upon his feet. His professional personality inclined to heartiness and was seen at its best astride a hearth rug.

“Well, now, Mrs. Brande,” he said, “what’s the trouble? Not sleeping, eh? Well, of course, that’s not to be wondered at, but you can help yourself much better than anyone else can, you know. You need courage, young lady, great courage. Any other symptoms? Eating well?”

Gina leant forward, her small white hands clasped together, her elbows resting on her knees.

“Doctor,” she said, “what’s happened about my husband?”

The little medical man stiffened, and something that was half alarm, half resentment, flickered in his eyes.

“I came here to discuss your health, Mrs. Brande,” he said warningly.

“Oh, Doctor . . .”—the soft New England accent slurred the words—“. . . I don’t mean to offend you. I don’t understand professional etiquette and that sort of thing, but can’t you see that the thing that’s making me ill is not knowing what’s going to happen—what is happening. What are the police doing? Why was the inquest on Tuesday adjourned for seven days? What do they expect to learn from the post-mortem?”

“My dear lady . . .” Doctor Roe’s voice conveyed that his sense of decorum was outraged . . . “I’m a medical practitioner. I’m not a detective. You sent for me to ask advice about your health, and I’m prepared to give it to you. I can see you want sleep and I can prescribe something that will see to that. But I don’t know anything about your other trouble, and if I did I couldn’t discuss it. It would be most improper.”

“But even if you’re a doctor, you’re human.” The girl’s voice was quivering. “Don’t you see you’re the only person who knows what the police are thinking? Just imagine my position. . . . My husband disappeared ten days ago. Four days later he was found dead. Without any warning, without any explanation, the police arrived. My husband’s body was taken away. I was summoned to appear at an inquest the next day. It lasted five minutes at the outside. My cousin-in-law gave evidence of identification, and the Coroner adjourned for seven days. I’ve been subpœnaed for the second part of the inquest, and of course I shall go. Yet when I went out yesterday I was followed.”

She paused, and the nervous tension behind her eyes was vivid and painful.

“If only they said something!” she said. “If only they told me! It’s being kept in the dark that’s getting on my nerves. Why are they watching me? Why should they think that I might run away? What’s happening?”

Doctor Roe was not entirely impervious to the appeal of a very pretty woman, but there is perhaps no professional man who must protect himself more carefully than the physician.

“I’m very sorry for you,” he said quite genuinely, “but I can’t tell you anything about the police. They have their own methods and go about their affairs in their own mysterious way.”

He frowned and looked slightly uncomfortable. Doubtless the recollection of his unpleasant morning’s work with the police surgeon in the mortuary had returned to him. But he pocketed his sympathy. Some things were safe, others were not. He attempted to be consoling and at the same time noncommittal.

“I shouldn’t worry,” he said. “You have yourself to think of now, you know, and we mustn’t have your health letting you down. Let me have your wrist, please.”

He felt her pulse and compared it with his watch.

“A little excited,” he announced, “but not seriously. I’ll send you round something to make you sleep. You’ll feel very much better in the morning. This period of suspense is very trying, I know, but you must try and pull yourself together. You’ve had a very great shock—a very great shock indeed—and your grief has naturally worn you down?”

The inquisitive soul which lurked behind the physician in Doctor Gordon Roe prompted the faint question contained in the last remark, and the girl responded to it without thinking.

“It’s not grief,” she said. “Not real grief. I’m sorry for Paul, but I was not in love with him.”

Doctor Roe started. Even his most mischievous and unworthy hopes had not included a statement quite so damaging. He was both shocked and frightened by it.

“Come, come, you don’t mean that, Mrs. Brande,” he said peremptorily. “You’re overwrought.”

The girl looked at him in surprise for a moment and then her nerves seemed suddenly to fail her altogether.

“How horrible you all are!” she said explosively. “If I’d said that before my husband died you wouldn’t have thought anything of it—no one would—and yet it’s just as true now as it was then. Now I’ve only got to say that I didn’t love my husband and you look at me as though you thought I’d murdered him.”

Doctor Roe was panic-stricken.

“I—I must protest. Really!” he murmured into his collar, and made for the door, from which he summoned Mrs. Austin. “Get your mistress to bed,” he ordered so sharply that she wondered whether he had divined that she had listened outside the door, and, having done what he considered was his duty, made his escape.

Meanwhile in a small flat over the police station in Bottle Street, Piccadilly, Mr. Campion was sitting at his desk attempting to write letters and at the same time to take a comparatively intelligent share in a conversation which he was holding with someone in the room next door.

“It’s goin’ to be a nasty case,” a thick, inexpressibly melancholy voice announced bitterly. “Anyone can see that with ’alf an eye. You keep out of it. You don’t want to get notorious. The way your name’s been gettin’ about lately you’re a positive publicity ’ound.”

“I resent that,” said Mr. Campion, writing “hound” irrelevantly in the midst of a note to his bank manager and crossing it out again. “These people are my friends, you know.”

“All the more reason you want to keep away,” said the voice, adopting this time a flavour of worldly wisdom. “Friends’ll ask you to do things what strangers would never dare. It’s a sex crime, I suppose you know that?”

“What?” said Mr. Campion. He had removed his spectacles, which somewhat obscured his vision when writing, but now he replaced them and laid down his pen.

“Sex crime,” said the voice from within. “You’ve bin pretty lucky so far keepin’ out of that sort of degradation, but you won’t look so pretty trailin’ about with the mud of the cheap Press all over you. I couldn’t associate meself with you after that, for one thing. You’ll lose all your old friends.”

“Lugg,” said Mr. Campion sternly. “Come in here.”

There was a rumble in the other room as though a minor earthquake had disturbed it, and, preceded by the sound of deep breathing, Magersfontein Lugg surged into the room.

His girth was increasing with the years and with it his melancholy. He had also achieved a certain sartorial elegance without losing his unconventionality in that direction. At the moment he was clad in what appeared to be the hind legs of a black elephant, a spotless but collarless boiled shirt and a black velvet jacket.

His employer surveyed him coldly. “The vie de bohême, I see,” he observed. “How are the tiny hands?”

Mr. Lugg shook his head ponderously. “Turn it aside with a light word if you like,” he said mournfully, “but here we are, all respectable, nice, good class and the first nasty eruption that breaks out you’re in it up to the neck.”

“Where did you get that coat?”

“ ’Ad it made for me,” said Mr. Lugg, with intent to snub. “It’s a gentleman’s ’ouse coat and very smart. All the wear just now. I bought it because I see in the paper that a certain important relative of yours is not too well, and if anything ’appened to ’im and you were suddenly called to take your place in the world I should like to be prepared.”

“Yes, well, of course, you’re revolting,” said Mr. Campion, getting up. “Ten years ago you climbed up the side of a three-story house with the agility of a monkey, let yourself through a skylight, opened a safe and got away as clean as a whistle and now look at you. You couldn’t steal a bag of sweets from a two-year-old in a pram.”

“I shouldn’t want to, I hope,” said Mr. Lugg, with dignity. “Besides,” he added, lowering his puffy white lids over his little black eyes and achieving a superbly virtuous expression, “them things all belong to the past. It’s the future we’ve got to think of, and that’s why I do ’ope you’ll steer clear of anything with a nasty flavour. It looked very bad in the evening newspapers and not at all the sort of thing you want to get our names mixed up with.”

“You’ve gone soft, Lugg,” said Campion, with regret. “I haven’t given you enough work lately. I don’t think there’s much in this case for you, either.”

“I’m glad to ’ear it.” Mr. Lugg was positive. “When they was all talking about it at the club, discussin’ the details, I said to myself, ‘I do ’ope I keep out of this.’ It isn’t even as though we’re on the side of the police.”

Mr. Campion perched himself on the edge of the desk and wrapped the folds of his thin and rather dilapidated silk dressing-gown around his bony form.

“When you say ‘the club,’ do you mean that pub in Wardour Street?” he enquired.

A wooden expression crept into Mr. Lugg’s face.

“No. I don’t go there any more. I took exception to some of the members. Very low type of person, they were. If you want to know, I go to a very quiet, respectable little place in a mews up Mayfair way. There are several nice people there in me own line of business.”

“Gentlemen’s gentlemen, I suppose?” said Mr. Campion sarcastically.

“Exactly,” agreed Mr. Lugg belligerently. “And why not? A nice superior class of person I meet and I hear all the gossip.”

“I’m disgusted with you.” Campion sounded genuine. “You make me sick. I’ve a good mind to sack you.”

“You try,” said Mr. Lugg, with a return of his old fire. “I’d like to know where you’d be—as helpless as a babe unborn. I’ve trained you not to be able to do without me. You drop the case and we won’t say anything more about it. Nothin’ could be fairer than that.

“After all,” he went on persuasively as he noticed no sign of capitulation in Mr. Campion’s expression, “once sex rears its ugly ’ead it’s time to steer clear. You know that as well as I do.”

Mr. Campion’s mystified expression deepened.

“You’re not trying to be funny?” he suggested.

“Do I ever try to be funny?” said Mr. Lugg, with justifiable reproach. “It’s not a funny subjec’.”

Campion stirred. “Where did you get this—this sex idea?” he said. “I thought the papers were very reticent. They must be, of course, the law of libel being what it is.”

“Readin’ between the lines,” said Mr. Lugg darkly. “Libel or no libel, if you reads the newspapers properly it’s always clear what’s ’appened. It’s not what they say: it’s the way they say it.”

Campion frowned. “There’s a lot of truth in that, unfortunately,” he observed. “After your little mug between the lines, what do you deduce?”

“The wife did it, of course. They published ’er photograph. Did you see it? Nice-lookin’ little bit—just the type.”

Mr. Campion shuddered. “Lugg, you’ve done it this time,” he said. “Get out.”

Before the vigour of the command Mr. Lugg was abashed.

“No offence, Cock,” he said hastily. “I don’t know anything about the inside story. I’m only tellin’ you how it appears to the man in the street. That’s what you want to know, isn’t it?”

Campion was silent for a moment, a slightly less vacuous expression than usual upon his pale, inoffensive face.

“I know these people, Lugg,” he said at last. “They’re all right, I tell you. Charming, straightforward, decent people. Mrs. Brande is one of the most delightful women I’ve ever met, and yet you see, apart from the tragedy of losing her husband, her portrait appears in the newspapers and the opinion in the Mayfair pubs is that she did him in.”

Mr. Lugg was rebuked, but it was not his temperament to admit the fact.

“The tragedy of losin’ ’er ’usband?” he said contemptuously. “That’s good, that is! Hadn’t the fellow been missin’ since the Thursday and was found dead in the office next door on the Monday? That’s not my idea of a nice lovin’ wife. Lets ’er old man be missin’ three or four days and doesn’t say a word.”

“She sent for me,” said Mr. Campion.

“Ho, she did, did she?” Lugg was interested. “That makes all the difference. Still, it didn’t come out in the Press, did it? So how was I to know, or anybody else? Who do you think done it?”

Mr. Campion passed his hand over his fair hair and his eyes clouded.

“I don’t know, Lugg,” he said. “I don’t know at all. I’m on the inside, you see, and yet you and your pals at the club have fixed the guilt already.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Lugg, “and I shouldn’t be at all surprised if we wasn’t right. Outsiders see most of the game, you know. You mark my words,” he went on, gathering confidence, “before we know where we are up’ll crop some nice young fellow she’s ’ad her eye on. There’ll be the motive and—there you are!”

Mr. Campion’s reply was silenced by the trilling of the front-door bell. Lugg pressed his tongue against the back of his front teeth and emitted a clucking sound expressing both annoyance and resignation.

“What a time for anyone to come visitin’,” he said.

Moving across the room, he opened the bottom drawer of a bureau and took therefrom, to Mr. Campion’s horror, a remarkable contraption consisting of a stiff collar with a black bow tie attached. With perfect solemnity and a certain amount of pride, Mr. Lugg fastened this monstrosity round his neck by means of a button at the back, and moved ponderously out of the room, leaving his employer momentarily speechless.

Mike came into the room unannounced. The last two or three days had made a great difference in his appearance. His shorn black curls seemed to have receded a little and the skin over his forehead looked taut and lined. The old sleepy expression was still lurking in his eyes, but there was anxiety there also.

“I had to come round,” he said abruptly. “I want to see you.” He paused and glanced hesitantly at the sepulchral figure behind him, and Campion took the hint.

“That’s all right, Lugg, please,” he said.

The old ex-burglar raised his eyebrows. “I shall be in the kitchenette, sir, if you should require me,” he said in so affected a voice that Campion gaped.

Mike was in no condition to notice extraneous details, however. As soon as he was alone he threw himself down in one of the deep chairs by the fire and sighed.

“This is damned awful, Campion,” he said. “Losing old Paul’s bad enough, but you can’t imagine what it’s been like this week. We haven’t been able to call ourselves our own. Gina seems to be going to pieces altogether. Is there any way of finding out what the police have in their minds? I know you’ll do your best for us. Have you found out anything?”

Mr. Campion, who was employed with a cocktail-shaker at the cabinet on the other side of the room, spoke over his shoulder.

“I went down to Scotland Yard,” he said, “but Stanislaus Oates is on leave, and Tanner and Pillow, the men in charge of your business, were quite polite, but they weren’t giving anything away. However, I shouldn’t worry. Old Salley, the Coroner, is a good scout; a fierce old boy, rather abrupt, but hasn’t held the office all this time without learning a thing or two. Have the police been round much since the postponement?”

“Round much . . . !” Mike groaned. “They’re living in the office. We’ve all made statements till we’re black in the face. Gina had a beastly experience, too. I persuaded her to go out a bit—sitting indoors brooding was doing her no good. She had a luncheon date with the Adelaide Chappel woman—the soprano. They went down to Boulestin’s, and afterwards Madame Chappel had to go to Cook’s, of all places. She always books through them, apparently, and she was off to Belgrade to sing in a concert there. Gina had nothing better to do, and went with her. She got the impression she was being followed, and actually saw a detective enquiring about her from a clerk. Since then there’s been a man outside the flat. It’s damnable, Campion, absolutely damnable! Why shouldn’t she turn up at the inquest? Why shouldn’t any of us? What have the police got up their sleeves?”

Mr. Campion handed his guest a cocktail before he spoke.

“What about all these statements you’ve been making?” he said. “I suppose they’ve been questioning you on your original essay dictated to the Coroner’s Officer?”

“Have they not!” Mike spoke explosively. “I’ve gone over all that a dozen times, and so has Gina, to say nothing of poor old Curley and the poor little beast who found the body. They come to see us every day. This morning they were on a new track.”

He drank the cocktail without tasting it and his eyes were fixed anxiously on Campion.

“They ask questions the whole time,” he said, “but they never tell you anything. Today it was all the Thursday night stuff. Can you remember what you did last Thursday night—not yesterday, but the week before?”

Campion pricked up his ears. “Thursday night?” he said. “Did they ask everybody?”

“Oh, rather! I asked Pillow—a funny little chap, Campion, a sort of good-class head gardener, the last person on earth to be a detective—if they’d fixed the time of death, but he wouldn’t say anything. Simply smiled surreptitiously.”

Mr. Campion sat down on the edge of the opposite chair.

“Did he ask you about any special time on Thursday?”

“Yes. Between eight and nine o’clock. You’ve never heard such a tedious business. The whole office went through it. Poor Curley was nearly off her head. John couldn’t remember where he was and she had to hunt up engagement books and phone through to inquisitive friends and business acquaintances. Finally it transpired that he was at the dinner given by the Quill Club to Lutzow, the psychologist. The secretary remembered him arriving at ten to eight and he didn’t get back till eleven or twelve. Curley herself appears to have been in a Tube train on the Morden line. I was out until ten to nine. Gina was alone in the flat waiting for Paul. All simple ordinary activities, but difficult to remember when you’re asked suddenly. Frankly, what’s worrying me is that as far as I can see there’s an ordinary explanation for the poor chap’s death. The carbon monoxide must have soaked into the room and gassed him. The explanation of the locked door I suggested to Pillow was something like this: I think he went down there, let himself in, and left the key in the lock. The door swung to, and someone else, one of the employees, saw the key in the lock, turned it and took it upstairs and put it back in its place. Now they’re probably too frightened to admit it.”

Mr. Campion considered. “What did Sergeant Pillow say to that?”

Mike shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, you know what these policemen are! They’re so darned clever. He said he’d look into it, and went on questioning me.”

“How’s your cousin taking it?” Mr. Campion put the question mildly.

“Who? John?” Mike permitted himself a faint smile. “He’s quite fantastic. Simply doesn’t realize that anything’s up. Treats the police as though they were literary agents he’d never heard of, and spends his spare time thinking out little obscure paragraphs to send to the newspapers explaining why the funeral has been delayed. John’s only thinking about Barnabas, Limited. He’s believed so long that its reputation is sacred that he doesn’t recognize a scandal when it comes along. He’s had all the staff in crêpe bands, if you please, and has made arrangements for a very quiet and respectable funeral at Golders Green on the day after the inquest.”

Campion replenished the empty glass.

“Mrs. Brande doesn’t mind all these details taken off her hands, of course,” he ventured.

“Gina? Oh, no.” Mike spoke bitterly. “I think Gina always realized that Paul belonged to the firm much more than to her. He—well, he neglected her in an impossible fashion, you know.”

He lowered his eyes as he spoke and busied himself lighting a cigarette.

Mr. Campion did not speak, and after a pause the other man went on.

“Paul wasn’t a subtle soul at all,” he said, “and he had the disconcerting habit of working himself into a fever to get hold of beautiful things and then forgetting all about them. It was the same with everything. He didn’t appreciate the things he had.”

Mr. Campion heaved a piece of coal into the centre of the blaze.

“As much as you might have done?” he suggested softly.

Rather to his surprise, Mike’s dark eyes met his own squarely.

“That’s the trouble,” the younger man said quietly.

“How far has it gone?” enquired Mr. Campion.

“Not at all, thank God.” Mike spoke fervently. “She’s not particularly interested in me. I’ve just been about and we’ve naturally gone around together, but that’s all. You don’t understand Gina, Campion. No one does. I hope to heaven we can keep her out of this.”

Mr. Campion was silent. For a moment he was aware of forces and counter-forces beneath the surface of the quiet lives surrounding Barnabas, Limited. There were revelations to come, he knew, some of them hideous, some of them piteous and others fantastic in their unexpectedness. He also knew that the man in front of him did not dream that once the searchlight of police and Press was turned upon them there could be nothing hidden, nothing protected, and that beneath the glare little intimate things would stand out in unnatural prominence.

Aloud he said: “You ought to have married years ago, Mike.”

The other man stirred. “I’m damned glad I didn’t. Things are complicated enough as they are. Forget it and shut up about it. I don’t know why I come to you, blethering about my secret affairs when there’s open trouble to discuss. Hullo, who’s this?”

His last remark was occasioned by the sound of a woman’s voice in the hall. They had not heard her ring, and when Lugg showed the black-clad figure into the room a moment later they were taken by surprise.

“Gina! What are you doing here?” Mike rose to his feet and went towards her. All trace of his nerviness of a moment before had vanished. He had himself well in hand, Mr. Campion noticed approvingly.

Gina stared at him without a word of greeting and turned abruptly to Campion.

“You didn’t mind me coming, did you?” she said hastily. “I’m going mad sitting up alone in the flat, wondering what the police are thinking. I even sent for the doctor, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. Albert, what are they going to do on Tuesday?”

“Talk and talk and talk for hours, and write it all down by hand in the copybook,” said Mike easily. “Look here, suppose you come and sit down in this expensive-looking chair and let Campion give you a White Lady.”

She turned to him and her wide grey eyes searched his face anxiously. He met her scrutiny smiling.

“Things are going to be all right,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about. You look very fine. Did you design all that white collaretting? What d’you call it—a jabot or a bertha?”

“Mike, I can’t bear it,” she said, turning away from him. “Albert, tell me, what’s happened?”

She sat down in the chair as she spoke and her pale face was raised to Campion’s appealingly.

“He doesn’t know any more than we do, Gina, but he says the Coroner is a wise old boy who isn’t likely to make mistakes.”

Mike spoke soothingly and pulled another chair forward and sat down in it between them. The girl seized at the straw of comfort.

“Still, people do make mistakes, don’t they?” she said slowly. “To the police things look different, worse than they are. I could see that when I was interviewed by Inspector Tanner last night. I told him something, and I could see as he wrote it down that he thought—well, that he thought about it in a different way from the one in which it happened.”

“Tell us about it.” Campion handed her a glass as he made the suggestion.

She hesitated, and some of the colour returned to her face.

“It doesn’t seem so important now,” she said. “I’m behaving very badly, I’m afraid.”

“Let’s have it.”

“Well—” Gina cleared her throat, “—I didn’t know you were going to be here, Mike. It’s something you don’t know about, and you’ll probably be surprised or shocked, but there was my side to it, and it wasn’t all my fault.”

She hesitated again, and the two men watched her as she sat there, so small and fragile in her sophisticated clothes.

“The Inspector was asking me about Thursday night. I told him Paul and I were going to discuss something over a meal and that I waited in for Paul until nine o’clock, when I phoned Mike and asked him to take me out.”

She paused and her eyes met Campion’s gravely.

“The Inspector asked me what Paul and I were going to talk about, and I told him. When he heard, he seemed to think it important. It was only an impression I got, of course, and yet . . .”

“What were you going to discuss with your husband?”

Campion saw the danger signal before he heard her confirming words.

“A divorce. I’d been trying to get Paul to give me one for some time,” she said.

“A divorce?” Mike’s whisper seemed to fill the room.

She turned slowly round to him.

“Don’t,” she said. “Don’t! No reproaches—not now. I’m just telling you what I told the Inspector.”

A tremor passed over the younger man’s face and it occurred to Campion that she did not realize her injustice.

“The Inspector was very interested,” Gina went on. “He asked me if we’d spoken of it before, and I told him we had, lots of times, and that Paul wouldn’t hear of it. But on the Wednesday I went to see a solicitor and that brought matters to a head. I knew where I stood. I knew I was tied to Paul if he—he—wouldn’t desert or beat me, so I begged him to have an evening at home so that we could discuss it.”

“You told the Inspector all this?” Mike’s voice was very quiet.

“He got it out of me,” she said helplessly. “Does it matter, Albert, does it matter? Will it make any difference?”

Mr. Campion rose to his feet. His face was very grave.

“I don’t think so,” he said at last, hoping his voice carried conviction. “You weren’t quite alone in the flat when you were waiting for Paul, were you? I mean your woman was there to serve dinner?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Gina spoke carelessly. “Mrs. Austin was there until eight o’clock.”

“Eight o’clock?” Mr. Campion’s brows were rising.

She nodded. “I couldn’t keep the woman all night,” she said. “When Paul was a whole hour late for our conference and the dinner was spoiled, I told her I didn’t care when he came in and I sent her off.”

“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Campion, and, after a little pause, again, “Oh, dear!”

5  :  Inquisition

It is perhaps not extraordinary that the mixture of anxiety, irritation and excitement typical of the backstage of amateur theatricals is nearly always reproduced at the moment when a family sets off for a public performance, be it wedding, funeral, or, as in this case, inquest.

John had arrived, already dressed for the ordeal, at Gina’s flat no later than half past eight in the morning of Tuesday, the 17th. By a quarter to nine he had phoned Mike three times and had upbraided the startled Mrs. Austin because Curley had not yet appeared.

Gina very wisely kept to her own room and left him to rampage up and down the studio.

When Curley came, pink and breathless with the exertion of climbing the stairs, he pounced upon her with a grunt of relief.

“We’ve got to be there in less than an hour,” he said. “We don’t want to be late. Let me see, there’s Scruby to come yet. Hang the fellow! I told him to be punctual. You told him, Miss Curley, over the telephone. We were all to meet here at nine o’clock. I thought I’d made that quite plain.”

Miss Curley, who was making frantic and futile efforts to tuck her wispy grey curls under the tight headband of her fashionable but unbecoming tricorne, was apologetic.

“He has a long way to come, Mr. Widdowson. He lives out at Hampstead, you know. Don’t you remember, I told you he said we weren’t to wait for him, but he’d meet us at the court.”

John sank down in a chair, placing his speckless bowler on a table within arm’s reach.

“Well, I suppose as a lawyer he knows well enough it doesn’t do to be late for court proceedings,” he said. “But I should have liked him to have been here. Miss Curley, go and ring down to Mike. Tell him we’re all waiting. No one seems to realize the publicity involved in an affair of this sort, and not at all the right sort of publicity for a firm of our standing. I was fond of Paul, as you know, Miss Curley, but this final piece of sensationalism makes it very difficult for one to respect his memory as one would have liked.”

“Oh, well, he won’t do it again,” said Miss Curley absently, and then, realizing the impropriety and inanity of the remark grew crimson with confusion.

To her relief John did not appear to have heard. He was entirely absorbed with his own angle on the tragedy.

“It’s holding up everything. There’s three quarters of the Spring list to come out and the Autumn one not half made up,” he observed. “Still, we must put all that behind us now. We’ve all got to be calm and courageous. We must see this thing through with dignity and then we must bury our grief and get on with the work.”

He seemed to be much more at ease after he had delivered this little homily and Miss Curley suspected that he had been saving it for a larger audience which had not materialized. She glanced at him curiously. He was getting older than she had thought, she decided, and wondered why it was that the cares of a firm aged a man so much more unattractively than the cares of a family. There was a great deal that was positively inhuman about John.

“Mr. Wellington rang up yesterday,” she said, drawing on her short black suède gloves bought for the occasion, “and he asked me in confidence whether I thought you’d mind if he made an attempt to get into the public part of the court today. He wanted to make it very clear that he was not going after copy, but simply as an old friend of yours and Mr. Paul’s.”

The mention of the distinguished author’s name seemed to cheer John immensely.

“Oh, not at all, not at all. I hope you told him not at all,” he said. “Like to feel we had friends there. It did go through my mind that we might ask one or two people, but it didn’t seem our prerogative, so to speak.”

Miss Curley looked at him sharply, but there was no shadow of a smile upon his deeply lined, yellow little face.

“I wore a band,” he said. “I think we all ought to wear bands, don’t you? Mourning’s out of fashion I know, nowadays, but it looked well, I thought. I told Mike about it.”

Miss Curley was growing calmer. There was something extraordinarily soothing about John’s attitude towards the terrifying business. At night, when she went home and she had a little leisure to think of the facts, she found herself growing frightened of the disaster which had overtaken them, but back in John’s presence the habit of a lifetime reasserted itself and she found herself adopting his attitude against her better judgment.

When the Dresden clock on Gina’s mantelpiece chimed the quarter John could bear it no longer.

“We must go,” he said. “It may take us several minutes to find a cab at this hour of the morning. We don’t want to be late. Getting about in London is very difficult.”

Miss Curley hesitated. “It couldn’t possibly take us more than ten minutes on foot, Mr. Widdowson,” she said. “The court’s only just round the corner. And, anyway, there’s a cab rank at the end of Bedford Row.”

“All the same, I wish you’d ask Mrs. Brande to come in here at once.” John was fidgeting. “As for Mike, I don’t know what the boy’s up to. With so many Press people about we can’t afford to make a bad impression.”

When Miss Curley was out of the room he rose to his feet and walked over to the long mirror on the far side of the room and stood there for a moment, surveying himself critically. No one who saw him could have dreamed for a moment that he regarded himself as anything but the Head of the Firm. His poise and stance proclaimed it. He was faultlessly dressed in a dark suit and overcoat, upon which the crêpe band was only just visible. His short grey hair was clipped to a point at which it would seem that its growth was discouraged and his perfect hat completed the picture.

He looked, as he hoped, a distinguished public man, shaken, but not bowed, by private grief.

He turned away from the mirror as Gina and Miss Curley entered. It did not occur to him for a moment to apologize for having commandeered her room for the family meeting place. Instead he regarded her critically and on the whole with approval.

Her black clothes suited her. They were smart yet very severe. The only touch of softness was the crisp white ruff at her throat, and to this he took exception.

“I don’t know that I should wear that, Gina,” he said. “It’s very nice, my dear, very becoming, but I don’t know whether it’s quite the thing for an occasion of this sort. Let me see how you look with it off.”

The girl stared at him. Her face was drawn and colourless and her eyes had receded until there were dark hollows where they should have been. She looked ill and on the verge of collapse.

She plucked at the ruff obediently, but the touch of its crispness against her fingers seemed to steady her. She stared at him coldly.

“Don’t be absurd, John. I’m not going to appear on the stage. Leave me alone—for God’s sake, leave me alone!”

The man was obstinate, but like others of his generation he had a horror of nerves in women.

“Just as you like, my dear,” he said coldly. “Just as you like. But I do think you’d look better without it.”

“What the hell does it matter what she wears?”

Mike spoke from the doorway, where he had just appeared.

John fixed his younger cousin with a disapproving stare.

“There’s no need to lose your temper,” he said stiffly. “I’m only trying to think what would be wisest and most dignified for us all to do. We share a common misfortune and we are going to share a common ordeal.”

Mike swallowed his temper. “That’s all right, John,” he said. “But you might remember that Paul was Gina’s husband.”

“Paul was my cousin and my partner,” said John, with dignity.

There was a pause and Miss Curley seized it.

“I think we should all go down now, Mr. Widdowson,” she ventured. “It’ll take us two or three minutes to get down to Bedford Row.”

Mrs. Austin put her head round the door, and they stared at it not without justification, since it was adorned by all the rakish splendour of Mrs. Austin’s “Best that had once belonged to a titled lady.”

“I think I’ll slip along now, M’m, if you don’t mind,” she said. “I don’t want to be late.”

Gina turned to her eagerly. “Mrs. Austin, I’ll come with you. We’ll go together.”

She moved unsteadily across the room and the charwoman put an arm round her.

“That’s right, duck,” she said. “You come along with me. You’ve lost your ’usband and there’s nobody else but me in this room that knows what that means.”

And with this Parthian shot she swept the girl out into the passage.

“Gina’s gone mad. . . . Stop her, Mike. Who is that woman? Where are they going?”

John was halfway out of the door before Mike detained him.

“They’re going to the inquest,” he said wearily. “We’re all going to the inquest. Hundreds of people are going to be there—it’s not just our show. And now for God’s sake come along.”

Miss Curley touched his arm. “I think Mrs. Brande should come with us,” she said.

The boy looked at her curiously. “Oh, let her go,” he said. “She’s escaped from this family, Curley. Let her go with her friends.”

In the end they all straggled down Bedford Row together, Gina and Mrs. Austin stumbling along in front and John, in high dudgeon, stalking between them and Mike and Curley, who brought up the rear. They arrived at the court with fifteen minutes to spare.

There were still remnants of the last week’s fog hanging about the city and the court seemed to have trapped more than its fair share. To Gina at least the whole place seemed to be filled with a thick brown mist, through which the faces of people she knew and did not know loomed out towards her and peered at her questioningly, only to disappear again in the general maelstrom.

She avoided Mike and clung to Mrs. Austin, whose grim determination to assert herself and whose contempt for the police and all their works made her a very comforting pillar on which to lean.

Mike and Curley remained side by side. The old woman’s shrewd eyes took in every detail. She saw the Press benches were crowded and had the presence of mind to nod to the immaculately dressed Mr. Wellington, who was doing his best to look sympathetic at a distance of twenty feet.

John had buttonholed old Scruby, the firm’s solicitor, and was talking to him rather than listening to what he had to say, as was his custom.

Scruby was a little skeleton of a man with sparse white hair that had yellow lights in it. At the moment he was peering at his client with protuberant pale blue eyes. As his practice largely consisted of libel and copyright he felt somewhat out of his element in the present situation and was doing his best not to say so. Mike, catching sight of the two of them, experienced a sense of sudden irritation well-nigh unbearable.

Scruby evidently had an inkling of the seriousness of the situation, but it was quite beyond him to impress his fears upon John, whose principal concern seemed to be the probable newspaper reports.

A pale young man with horn-rimmed spectacles, accompanied by an enormous person in a long black overcoat, sidled into the back of the court. Mr. Lugg and Mr. Campion were not on speaking terms that morning. No open rupture had occurred, but each, it seemed, thought it better not to intrude himself upon the other’s private thoughts.

The inquest began in an unorthodox way. Mr. Salley addressed the jury. His voice, like his appearance, which was small and fierce, was unexpected. It was deep and very quiet, with a quality of naturalness which took Gina by surprise. He was like the best type of country doctor, she decided; blunt and straightforward and obviously completely without fancies of any sort.

His first words to the jury provoked furious activity at the Press table. He leant over his desk and his sharp eyes ranged over the seven embarrassed-looking citizens.

“Before you hear the evidence in this case,” he said, “perhaps it would be as well if I defined your duty to you. I do this because possibly some of you may be under a misapprehension concerning this important matter, due to recent misleading criticisms of Coroners and Coroners’ juries which have appeared in the Press.

“In the laws of England your duties are specifically laid down. There can be no question about them. They are clear and rigid.

“First of all let me repeat the oath which you took before me on this day one week ago. I must ask you to listen carefully and judge for yourselves what is the meaning of these very plain words.”

He paused and they blinked at him owlishly. Taking a card from his desk he peered at it through his spectacles.

“This is your oath,” he said, “listen to it—understand it. ‘I swear by Almighty God that I will diligently enquire and a true presentment make of all such matters and things as are here given me in charge on behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King touching the death of Paul Redfern Brande, now lying dead, and will, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, a true verdict give according to the evidence and the best of my skill and knowledge.’

“There,” he said, throwing down the card. “You have each of you repeated these words and I now ask you to consider to what you stand pledged. When the evidence has been set before you the law will demand of you that you answer several questions, and I think it would be as well if I told you now what those questions will be.

“Firstly, you will be required to state who the deceased was. Then how and where he died and afterwards how he came by his death.”

He paused and regarded them steadily.

“This will constitute the first part of your verdict. But afterwards, and it is this point to which I want to call your attention because there has been much mischievous and misleading rubbish talked and written about it, you may possibly be called upon to answer another question. There is set down in Halsbury’s Laws of England, a book whose authority cannot be questioned, the following incontrovertible decree. It is there stated that if the jury find that the deceased came by his death by murder or manslaughter those persons whom they find to have been guilty of such an offence, or of being accessories before the fact of murder, must be pointed out. It is the jury’s responsibility, and they are in duty bound, if they know the persons guilty, to say their names.”

Everybody in court save the seven people to whom these sober words were addressed seemed to be more than startled by them. The jury merely looked uncomfortable and cold. In the back of the court Mr. Lugg nudged Mr. Campion.

The Coroner had not quite finished.

“I wish to make it clear that this duty of yours does not apply in any particular or special way to the case you are about to hear today. It is your general duty. It is the duty of all Coroners’ juries and I have called attention to it because I have found so much misapprehension on the subject, not only among the public, but even among members of the legal profession.

“Now we will hear the first witness.”

6  :  By These Witnesses

Gina shrank back in her seat and waited for a merciful unreality to settle over the proceedings. In the past embarrassing or even harassing situations had always had for her this mitigating quality. Today, however, it was absent.

Instead the reverse seemed to have taken place. Faces seemed clearer, their less pleasing qualities emphasized, while each spoken word appeared to be charged with underlying menace.

The Coroner and the jury took on a Hogarthian quality, and those witnesses whom she knew resembled brilliantly cruel caricatures of themselves.

She tried to disassociate herself from it all, and to look upon the enquiry as though it were a play, but it was not possible even when she forced her eyes out of focus and persuaded her ears to hear only meaningless unrelated sounds.

Presently she found herself listening intently to Miss Marchant giving evidence about the discovery of the body. The Coroner was taking her gently through her written statement, but his tone became peremptory at the point where the actual appearance of the corpse was mentioned, warning her that any display of nerves which she might have contemplated would not be received sympathetically.

The fair-haired girl stepped down, relieved and a little nettled, the colour in her demure face heightened and her blue eyes embarrassed. The jury looked studiously disinterested.

The two doctors followed, one after the other. Consequential little Doctor Roe bustled forward, giving everyone in the court the impression that he wished to appear in a great hurry. Gina stirred uneasily. Was this awful clarity to be the peculiarity of the whole enquiry? In other circumstances Doctor Roe’s hurry might have passed as genuine, but here in court it seemed monstrously overdone, his self-importance and his vanity painfully obvious.

The repetition of his statement already made to the police went slowly on, the Coroner interpolating an occasional question and writing down the replies with unhurried calm.

Gina tried to fix her mind on the evidence, but the mannerisms of the man, his love of the Latin cherished by his profession, his unction and gratification at his own importance obtruded themselves and all but eclipsed his information.

The Coroner kept him only a very short time, and the police doctor, a wholly unexpected person called Ferdie, appeared upon the stand.

Doctor Ferdie was a Scot from Dundee, and thirty years of work in London had not robbed him of his accent. He was a vast, untidy old person draped in elephant-grey clothes which managed to convey that there was something extraordinary about their cut without being actually peculiar in any definable particular. His face was seamed and rucked like the bark of an oak and from out its mass of indentations two very bright and knowing blue eyes peered at the world.

He cocked an eye at the Coroner with the confiding air of a trusted expert confronting an old client and the whole court became alive.

Preliminaries, the names and addresses of witnesses who had attested to Doctor Ferdie that the body of Paul Redfern Brande was the body of Paul Redfern Brande and not any spare corpse which might have been lying around at the time; the little matter of the warrant for examination and the address of the mortuary were all disposed of with perfunctory speed, and the doctor passed on to the external appearances of the body indicative of the time of death.

“The body was that of a well-nourished pairson,” he remarked, his bright inquisitive eyes fixed upon the Coroner. “Not sae lean an’ not sae stout. Just ordinary, ye see. There was no death stiffening, or, as ma colleague Doctor Roe here would put it, rigor mortis. I examined the body carefully, and in my opeenion death had taken place within three to five days.”

He paused and added confidentially:

“There were certain signs, ye see.”

The Coroner nodded comprehendingly and turned to his personal notes.

“The man was last seen alive on Thursday afternoon, January the twenty-eighth; that is to say, somewhere between ninety-four and ninety-five hours before you saw him,” he began at last. “In your opinion would the condition of the body be consistent with the suggestion that his death took place within an hour or so of his disappearance?”

Doctor Ferdie considered, and Gina found her heart beating suffocatingly fast.

“Ah, it might,” he said at last. “It might indeed. But I couldn’t commit myself, ye see. There were definite signs of the beginning of decomposition and in ordinary condeetions these do not appear until after the third day. But I wouldn’t go further than that.”

“Quite.” The Coroner seemed satisfied, and after he had written for some moments he looked up again. “In regard to these ordinary conditions, you have said that the deceased was a well-nourished person of normal weight.”

“Ah, he was,” Doctor Ferdie agreed. “A healthy normal pairson.”

“I see. Did you examine the room where the body was found?”

“I did.”

“Was there anything about it which might have hastened or retarded the natural decomposition of the body?”

“No. It was a cool dry room, very badly ventilated, but otherwise nothing extraordinary.”

“I see.” The Coroner glanced at the jury, who made a visible effort to appear more intelligent. “Would the coolness hurry the termination of the period of death stiffening?”

The doctor cocked an eye again and spoke to the jury rather than to the Coroner.

“No, ye see, it would rather tend to prolong it.”

“Death might easily have taken place between eighty-eight and eighty-four hours before you saw him, then?”

“Ah, it might.” The Scotsman hesitated. “I’d say it was very probable.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” The Coroner wrote again. “Now, as to the cause of death . . .”

Doctor Ferdie cleared his throat and launched into a careful and extremely delicate description of the colour of the face and chest, followed by a technical account of the autopsy which he and Doctor Roe had performed.

Gina’s head began to swim. The brutality of the facts related in the soothing Scotch voice produced in her a sense of outrage.

She turned her head and caught a glimpse of Mrs. Austin. The woman was watching her with kindly but almost hungry eyes.

“Feel faint, duck?” she whispered hopefully.

Gina shook her head and passed her tongue over her dry lips. Mrs. Austin seemed disappointed.

Doctor Ferdie was still talking.

“It’s lairgely a question of the colour of the bluid, ye see. I applied Haldane’s test, and in my opeenion there was between forty and fifty per cent of carbon monoxide in the bluid. I took a test-tube containing a one per cent solution of the bluid to be examined. Then in a second tube I put a solution of normal bluid of like strength. Then I took a third tube an’ . . .”

On and on it went, the details explained with endless patience to the seven self-conscious individuals whose acute embarrassment had given place to a sort of settled discomfort.

By the time Doctor Ferdie left the stand there could have been no reasonable doubt in anybody’s mind that Paul Redfern Brande had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and no very great question but that he had done so within eight hours of his last appearance in the office.

The doctor lolloped back to his seat and the Coroner’s Officer, a plump uniformed person with a sternly avuncular manner, produced the next witness.

At the back of the court Mr. Campion sat up as Miss Netley walked hesitantly forward. Her schoolgirl affectation was enhanced today and she looked little more than fourteen in her severe blue jacket and sailor hat.

She gave her evidence in a very low voice, but her timidity did not quite ring true, and even Mr. Lugg’s sympathetic expression faded into one of doubt as her plaintive answers reached him.

The Coroner was very gentle with her, and she smiled at him confidingly as he helped her through her very simple tale. It transpired that she had been Paul’s secretary and that so far as anybody knew she had been the last person to see him alive.

“You say Mr. Brande went out of the office at about half past three of the afternoon of Thursday, the twenty-eighth of last month, and that was the last time you saw him alive? Is that so?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you say here”—the Coroner went on, tapping the statement upon his desk—“that when Mr. Brande went out he seemed to be excited. Suppose you tell the jury what you meant by that?”

Miss Netley blushed painfully.

“I don’t know, sir,” she stammered at last. “He just seemed to be excited.”

Some of the Coroner’s tenderness vanished.

“Was he pleased or worried? Alarmed? Anxious about something?”

“No, sir. He was just—excited.”

Mr. Campion pricked up his ears. There it was again, that same indefinable thing he had noticed about the girl before. She wanted to be tantalizing and did not mind appearing a fool in order to achieve that end.

“How did you know he was excited?” the Coroner suggested.

Miss Netley considered.

“He moved as though he was,” she said at last.

Mr. Lugg nudged his employer and made an expressive depreciatory gesture with his thumb, an indication which in the days of his vulgarity would have been accompanied by the succinct expression “Out her!”

The Coroner breathed deeply through his nose.

“You just knew by the way he moved that he was excited?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Coroner returned to facts.

“How did you know it was half past three when Mr. Brande went out?”

“Because,” said Miss Netley, “the afternoon post comes at five-and-twenty minutes past three.”

“And the post had just come when Mr. Brande went out?”

“Yes, sir.” Her expectancy was as evident as if she had expressed it in words.

The Coroner looked up.

“Did anything come by the post for Mr. Brande?”

“Yes, sir. One letter.”

“Did you see it?”

“I saw it was addressed to him and I handed it to him,” she said. “It was marked ‘Personal.’ ”

The court began to sit up and even the police looked interested.

“After Mr. Brande had read the letter, did he decide to go out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did he tell you where he was going?”


“Did he say when he was coming back?”


“Did he say anything at all?”

“No, sir.”

The Coroner sighed.

“You are here to give us all the help you can, Miss Netley,” he said sternly. “To return to this excitement you noticed in Mr. Brande; had it anything to do with the letter?”

The girl considered.

“It may have had,” she said. “I noticed it after he had read the letter. He got up hurriedly, put on his hat and coat and went out.”

“What did he do with the letter?”

“He put it in the fire, sir.”

“And that’s all you know about this business?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Coroner glanced at the written page in front of him.

“All you can tell us, then, is that a letter came for your employer at five-and-twenty minutes past three on the twenty-eighth, that it was marked ‘Personal,’ and that after he had read it he thrust it in the fire, put on his hat and coat and went out and was never seen again alive as far as you know?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ve taken a great deal of time to tell us that, Miss Netley. You’re not hiding anything, are you?”

“Hiding anything, sir?” The big dark eyes grew round and shocked. The small mouth trembled. The years dropped away from the girl until she looked a child. “Of course not, sir.”

“All right. You may sit down.”

Miss Netley returned to her seat with all eyes upon her and Mr. Campion wondered. She was not quite the ordinary notoriety-seeker, and once again he made a mental note of her name.

The next witness was Detective-Inspector Tanner. He was tall, thickset, and the possessor of a figure predestined to wear a uniform. His face was expressionless, but forbidding in structure, while his light blue eyes looked shrewd and obstinately honest. He gave his evidence in a flat careful voice, obviously different from the one in which he usually spoke. He made his statement with the awful conviction of the slightly inhuman, while the Coroner nodded to him from time to time and wrote it all down.

In the beginning it was the same story told from yet another angle. Gina glanced restlessly round the court and was startled to catch Mike’s eyes resting upon her. He looked away abruptly, but she had seen and turned back to the witness, her body suddenly cold.

Mrs. Austin leant against her.

“Bear up, dear,” she murmured.

The Inspector was making a great point of the fact that the body had been moved by the doctor after its discovery. Doctor Roe was recalled and stated amid much self-conscious protestation that the step had been necessary, or so he had been assured by Miss Curley and Mr. Michael Wedgwood.

Having successfully shifted the blame from his own shoulders to theirs, he bustled back to his seat and the Inspector was recalled.

As soon as he reappeared a tremor of interest passed through the whole court. The Press men scribbled vigorously and Mr. Lugg leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the Barnabas party seated in front of him.

“After I and my colleague, Sergeant Pillow, had taken statements from the witnesses present on the premises at Number Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard, I made a detailed search of the said premises.”

The flat voice droned out the words like a child reciting.

“In the room where the deceased was discovered I noticed a small ventilator beneath one of the shelves which surround the room. The ventilator is situated three feet from the ground and five and a half feet from the ceiling. This ventilator is not easily observed by anyone entering the room because it is hidden by the projection of the shelf beneath which it is situated. I and my colleague removed the ventilator from its position and took it to headquarters as evidence.”

There was a sensation as the ragged piece of iron was produced and solemnly handed round to the jury.

“I observed,” Inspector Tanner continued, “that two of the centre bars of the ventilator had been recently broken. The sharp metal edges were bright and there were signs indicative of force having been used upon them. I also noticed a quantity of soot of a certain nature sprayed over the papers and other debris on the lower shelf beneath the ventilator. My colleague and I then examined the lock of the door of the room and found that it had not been tampered with in any way. We then traced the outside wall of the building and discovered that the ventilator gave into a garage used by the directors of the firm. In the garage was a twenty-horse-power Fiat car, number PQ 348206, which we subsequently discovered belonged to Mr. Michael Wedgwood, junior partner in the firm of Barnabas, Limited and first cousin to the deceased.

“Continuing our search, we entered the building next door, known as Twenty-one, Horsecollar Yard, where the residences of Mr. Michael Wedgwood, Mr. John Barnabas and the deceased are situated. Among some miscellany in the passageway outside the heating plant of these premises we found a length of rubber pipe, eight feet three inches in length and one and a half inches in diameter. As far as we could ascertain it had once formed part of a shower-bath apparatus, but did not appear to have been used for this purpose for some considerable time. One end of the pipe had been hacked off recently and the other end, which was fitted with a nozzle designed to fit over a water tap, had been considerably stretched and mutilated.

“This pipe was black with soot on the inside and the nozzle end showed signs of burning.”

He paused again and the length of tubing was passed round.

The inference was obvious and the Inspector proceeded to show how the cut end of the tube had passed through the ventilator and was able to point out the indention some six inches from the end where it had been held by the ends of the broken bars.

Gina closed her eyes. It seemed to her for a moment that everyone was staring not at the exhibit but at herself. She dared not look at Mike. At her side Mrs. Austin was breathing heavily, her eyes snapping with excitement.

The Coroner took the Inspector over his statement very carefully.

“In your opinion, Inspector, this pipe was passed through the ventilator recently?” he suggested.

The Inspector stated that in his opinion there was no possible doubt whatever about the matter; he went on to say that the other end of the pipe had been tested in connection with the end of the exhaust pipe on the Fiat and finished up by producing that part of the car.

The jury stared at these three component parts and on their faces there appeared a gleam of something that could only be called satisfaction.

The Inspector stepped down and for a moment the court was full of whispers. Old Mr. Scruby was talking to John with an animation and authority quite foreign to his nature. Two or three reporters slipped out of their places and Mr. Lugg turned to Campion triumphantly.

“What did I tell you?” he murmured. “Here it comes.”

Mr. Salley restored order and the next witness was thrust forward. He was a small square person with a large head, respectable clothes and innocent baby-blue eyes. It transpired that his name was Henry Cecil Pastern and that he had an expert knowledge of central-heating plants.

He made his statement with machine-gun rapidity.

“On the evening of the twenty-ninth of last month, at the invitation of Detective-Inspector Tanner, I made a detailed investigation of the boiler situated in the basement of the premises known as Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard. It is a type of stove well known to me and when I examined it I found no defect of any kind whatsoever. Nor did I find evidences of any repairs having been made to it at any time. The stove is a comparatively new stove, not more than eighteen months installed. I do not see how any water gas or carbon monoxide gas could have escaped from it into the basement at any time.”

Careful and scrupulously fair questioning by the Coroner made it clear to the jury and the court that Mr. Pastern knew perfectly well what he was saying and that even if his words had a slightly official flavour they did in fact represent his true and honest opinion.

It was during the interval after this evidence that Gina caught sight of Ritchie leaning forward in his seat, a bewildered expression upon his face. The sight of him almost made her laugh. He was so hopelessly out of place. So were they all, John, Curley and certainly poor Mr. Scruby. She found herself wishing desperately that it would end. It was a nightmare which had gone on too long.

The midday adjournment came unexpectedly. Miss Curley came bustling over, consternation on her plain plump face and her tricorne thrust unbecomingly to the back of her head.

“I’ve got to go with Mr. John and Mr. Scruby. They want to talk,” she said breathlessly. “Will you be all right, my dear?”

“No one shall touch an ’air of ’er ’ead while I’m beside ’er,” said Mrs. Austin valiantly but unnecessarily.

Gina was amazed at herself. One part of her mind was half irritated, half amused by the banality of the woman. But there was another which was timidly grateful for her support.

As she came out of the court clinging to Mrs. Austin’s arm she caught a glimpse of Ritchie mooching along, his hands in his pockets, his chin thrust out, and his lean, rangy figure looking unexpectedly distinguished. He did not see her but wandered over to Mr. Campion, who was standing in the lobby with a funereal individual whose face was only vaguely familiar to her.

The two women came out into bright sunlight completely unaware of the extraordinary picture they presented. Gina, with her hair sleeked beneath her Schiaparelli hat and her severe black suit clinging to her exquisitely fashionable figure, made a contrast with Mrs. Austin’s exuberant Sunday Best which was positively arresting.

For a moment they stood hesitating, startled by the staring group on the pavement and the battery of cameras thrust mercilessly into their faces.

Glancing round her wildly, Gina suddenly saw Mike.

He was standing on the fringe of the crowd, his face turned towards her. As their eyes met he made an involuntary step forward, but immediately afterwards, as though a sudden recollection had occurred to him, he turned away and made off down the road at an exaggerated pace.

Somebody in the crowd laughed hysterically and Mrs. Austin gripped her firmly by the arm.

“If you ask my opinion,” she said firmly, “what you want is a small port.”

7  :  The Lying Straws

The woman came forward to the stand self-consciously, constraining her natural gait into little mincing steps and holding her large hands, exaggerated by impossibly ornate gloves, in an affected position neither comfortable nor becoming.

John Widdowson turned to Mr. Scruby.

“Who’s this?” he demanded with the startled expression of an author at rehearsal finding an unexpected character in his play. “I’ve never seen her before.”

“Ssh,” said Mr. Scruby apprehensively as the Coroner’s glance shot towards them.

John gobbled in silence and the witness took her place.

She was a large woman, asthmatic and unhealthy-looking, with a white face, a pursed mouth, and gold pince-nez looped to her ear with a small chain. She wore a cheap black fur coat much too small for her and had filled up its deficiency in front with a heavily frilled blouse. She gave her evidence in tones of staggering refinement.

For a moment she was so absorbed by her unusual prominence and a delicacy either real or assumed that she did not hear the Coroner when he asked her name, but was at length prevailed upon to inform the court that she was Mrs. Rosemary Ethel Tripper, that she lived in the basement flat at Number Twenty-five, Horsecollar Yard, and that her occupation was assistant caretaker with her husband of the two blocks of offices, Numbers Twenty-five and Twenty-seven. She also took the oath.

Once again the sense of outrage crept over Gina. She realized that the police were under no compulsion to broadcast their affairs, but when those affairs were so very intimately her own it seemed unnecessarily cruel to have kept her so much in the dark.

At the Coroner’s request Mrs. Tripper cast her mind back both to her statement and the evening of the twenty-eighth.

“I had been to the pictures with a lady friend,” said Mrs. Tripper with the air of one recounting an interesting social experience. “I parted with her at the end of the street—at about five minutes to seven o’clock, I should say it was—and then I entered my flat and went straight into the kitchenette, where I made myself a cup of tea.

“Going into the bedroom to change my shoes, a habit I have had from a girl, I suddenly said to myself, ‘Why, there’s that car started up!’ ”

She paused triumphantly and the Coroner coughed.

“Perhaps you’ll explain to us, Mrs. Tripper,” he said, “what exactly you meant by that?”

Mrs. Tripper was taken off her balance.

“I was referring to the car in the garage at Number Twenty-three,” she said sharply, her refined accent temporarily deserting her. “Although we can’t hear the car in the daytime, of course, because of the traffic, any time after six o’clock the Crescent is so quiet you could hear a pin drop and of course you can hear the car then, because the walls are so thin—I often say it’s a disgrace.”

“The Crescent?” said the Coroner enquiringly.

The faint colour flowed into Mrs. Tripper’s pale face.

“Well then, the Yard,” she said defiantly. “Horsecollar Yard. It’s really a crescent.”

“I see,” said the Coroner and bowed his head over his papers. “What time was it exactly, Mrs. Tripper, when you thought you heard the car start up?”

“I heard it start up at ten minutes past seven,” said Mrs. Tripper. “I left my friend at five minutes to. Five minutes to walk up the street, five minutes to make myself a cup of tea, and five minutes to go into the bedroom.”

“Five minutes to go into the bedroom?” enquired the Coroner in some astonishment.

Once again Mrs. Tripper was put off her stride.

“Well, let’s say five past seven I heard the car,” she temporized.

“Are you sure you heard the car start up soon after you came in?” said the Coroner with some asperity.

“Yes, I did. I heard it as plain as anything when I was in the bedroom after I’d had my cup of tea.”

“I see. And how long did you stay in the house?”

“Till about half past seven,” said Mrs. Tripper promptly. “And the car was running all the time. It was running when I went out. I noticed it because I said to myself, ‘It’s bad enough to hear that engine being turned on and off, without having it running in your ear the whole time,’ and I meant to speak to the janitor at Twenty-three about it.”

“You say about half past seven, Mrs. Tripper—” the Coroner was very gentle. “Could you be more exact?”

“Well, I think it was half past seven. Anyway I left the house and went down to wherever I was going, and when I got there it was ten minutes to eight—because I saw the clock.”

“Where was this?”

Once again Mrs. Tripper flushed.

“It was a shop in Red Lion Street—a fried-fish shop, if you must know. It was very foggy and I hadn’t been able to get about to do my ordinary shopping, and I knew my husband would like something hot for his supper and so I thought I might as well try some of their more expensive pieces. Some of these places are very high class, and the Red Lion shop is very nice indeed.”

“Quite, quite,” said the Coroner, rather taken aback by the vehemence of her confession. “You went straight to the fried-fish shop when you left your house and you arrived there at ten minutes to eight?”

“Yes, I did.”

It was quite evident that Mrs. Tripper was torn between the desire to acquire kudos by admitting to a knowledge of interesting facts and irritation at having to disclose the more humble activities of her private life.

“And when I returned,” she went on triumphantly, “the car was still running. I heard it turned off at ten minutes to nine or thereabouts.”

The Coroner leant forward across the desk.

“I feel these times are important, Mrs. Tripper,” he said. “I wonder would it be possible for you to cast your mind back and think of any concrete fact by which you can fix them? For instance, are you quite sure that it was not half past eight, or even a quarter past nine, when you heard the car turned off?”

Mrs. Tripper’s narrow black eyes behind her gold pince-nez snapped.

“I’ve told you there was a clock,” she said. “Haven’t I? I stood talking in the shop a little while and suddenly I looked up and saw it was a quarter to nine. ‘Oh, dear!’ I said. ‘My husband comes in for his supper at nine,’—he goes down to the club on Thursdays—‘and I must get home,’ I said. I remember saying it. I hurried off and I got home at ten minutes to, as far as I can judge.”

The Coroner returned to his notes.

“I see that it took you twenty minutes to get from your home to the fried-fish shop, Mrs. Tripper, and only five minutes to get back . . .”

Mrs. Tripper’s mouth set obstinately.

“That’s all I can tell you,” she said. “I hurried back and as far as I can judge it was ten minutes to, because my husband came in just as I’d got everything on the table, and he’s always punctual. I came in at the door, I listened, and I heard the car still running. Then just as I was saying something to myself about it, off it went.”

As she stepped down off the stand a sigh passed round the court and the jury whispered together.

Gina felt that she was crouching in her seat. She dared not think ahead. In her heart she felt there was nothing to be gained by thinking. There was a slow inexorable quality about this enquiry. Nothing could deter it. It was simple, brutal and unescapable.

She was still dithering when she heard her own name called, but for the first time, as she walked to the stand, she felt the longed-for sensation of remoteness. A wall of apathy seemed to have descended between her and the nightmare around her. Faces became vague and indistinct, voices heard from afar off.

She gave her name, her address and the fact that she was Paul’s wife with a calm detachment which passed for extreme self-possession. Her voice was soft and carefully modulated and she held herself rigidly.

She repeated the oath calmly, unconsciously imitating the lack of expression of the Coroner’s Officer.

The Coroner became a nonentity, a questioning machine, gentle and not at all unpleasant. He took her quietly through her statement. She remembered making it, remembered signing it, but only in an impersonal far-off way as though it had not been of very great interest.

“I last saw my husband at two o’clock on the afternoon that he disappeared. It was only for a few minutes. I went into his office and caught him, as he had returned early from lunch. We had a short conversation. Then I went back to my flat. I never saw him again alive.”

She was completely unaware of the impression she was creating.

The average British crowd is quick to admire beauty, especially in distress, but there is a curious streak in the temperament which makes it distrust the quality of smartness, especially when it is allied, however remotely, to something questionable or suspicious.

The fact that she was a foreigner told in her favour naturally—foreigners may be forgiven for having chic—but her calm weighed heavily against her. Widows should weep and emotional display is not only expected but demanded of them.

The questioning continued.

“You say in your statement, Mrs. Brande, that you expected your husband to come home to dinner at half past seven and that you waited for him until nine, at which time you rang up your husband’s cousin, Mr. Michael Wedgwood, who took you to see a film. Were you not worried when your husband did not appear for dinner?”

She repeated the word. “Worried? No. I don’t think so. I was annoyed.”

It occurred to her that she might explain that Paul was always late for appointments with her, that his neglect of her, his indifference to her feelings, had rendered her completely impervious to the sensation of alarm where he was concerned, but she did not want to explain. It seemed so unnecessary to go into details to all these stupid gaping people, who could never be expected to understand. She held her tongue.

The Coroner went on.

“You say that when you went to see your husband in his office that afternoon you had something very particular to ask him. What was it?”

“I wanted to impress upon him that he must dine with me that evening, because I wanted to talk to him.”

It appeared to occur to the Coroner that she was making no effort to help herself and he bent forward.

“Mrs. Brande,” he said, “how long have you been married?”

“Four years.”

“Would you say your marriage has been a happy one?”

“No,” she said, more vehemently than she intended. “No, I don’t think it was.”

There was excitement in the court and John would have risen had not Mr. Scruby held him down. The Coroner pursed up his lips.

“Perhaps you’d like to amplify that, Mrs. Brande,” he said. “This is a court of enquiry, you know, and we want to arrive at the truth. Did you quarrel with your husband?”

“No,” she said. “We were indifferent to one another.”

As soon as she had spoken she was sorry. The publicity of the whole business struck her again, but not forcibly enough to make her angry. She was past anger.

The Coroner sighed and his manner became a little less friendly.

“Mrs. Brande,” he said, “you made this statement voluntarily to the Inspector and the Coroner’s Officer, I understand?”

“Of course,” she said stiffly. “I had nothing to hide.”

“She’s a cool one.” The court’s comment was almost audible.

“Of course not,” the Coroner agreed. “You say in your statement that you were particularly anxious to confer with your husband on the evening of the twenty-eighth because you wanted to persuade him to help you to get a divorce?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You do not wish to add anything to that statement now?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

The Coroner looked at her under his eyebrows. He had seen many frightened women and to him her reaction was not incomprehensible, but his duty was to enquire and she was not helpful.

“Why were you so anxious to talk to him about it at that particular time, Mrs. Brande?”

“It is all in the statement,” she said wearily. “I told Inspector Tanner that I had visited a solicitor and found out exactly how I was placed. I realized that I could not get a divorce from my husband unless he assisted me.”

There was an audible murmur in the court and little Mr. Scruby bounded to his feet. The Coroner acceded to his request that he might be allowed to question the witness and Gina became aware of the little man staring at her anxiously across the crowded room.

“Had you had any violent quarrels with your husband upon this subject, Mrs. Brande?”

“No, of course not,” she said in some surprise. “It was only that we saw really very little of each other and I wanted Paul to consider my point of view.”

Mr. Scruby sat down, not at all sure that he had been of any real assistance. The Coroner returned to the statement.

“You say you had ordered dinner in your flat for half past seven. Were you alone?”

“No. I had my charwoman, Mrs. Austin, with me.”

“I see. And you waited for your husband until nine o’clock?”

“Yes, until almost nine.”

“Was your charwoman with you then?”

“No. I let her go about eight o’clock. I saw no point in keeping her after that.”

“You were pretty sure your husband would not come then?”

“I thought it extremely unlikely.”

“Yet you waited for him yourself?”

“Yes. I hoped, you see.”

The jury stirred. This was more like it.

“And at nine o’clock, or nearly nine o’clock—eight fifty-five, to be exact—you rang up Mr. Michael Wedgwood in the flat below and suggested that you go out together? The rest of the evening you spent in a picture palace?”

“Yes. That is true.”

There was a long pause while the Coroner wrote.

“Now,” he said at last, “were you in the habit of ringing up Mr. Wedgwood and suggesting that he should take you out?”

She hesitated. Something odd about the question warned her to be careful, but there was no time for adroit manœuvring, even had she been capable of it.

“Yes,” she said. “I was. We have been about a good deal together.”

Mr. Campion felt the hair on his scalp rising and Mr. Lugg granted him a single reproachful glance.

“You were very great friends?”

“Yes. We are.”

“Are you lovers, Mrs. Brande?”

She stared at him, hardly believing that she had heard the words. She was so completely taken aback that for a moment she was silent and during that instant of stupefaction her anger, and indignation were transmuted into helplessness. The old apathy reclaimed her.

“No,” she said evenly.

“You are not shocked by the suggestion?”

She opened her mouth to protest violently but thought better of it.

“It is too utterly ridiculous,” she said and the proud quiet words were momentarily convincing.

A few unimportant questions followed and she was allowed to step down. She walked to her seat with the eyes of the whole court upon her, but it was not until she saw Mrs. Austin’s sympathetic but horribly knowing face raised to hers that she realized quite what had happened.

Panic seized her. What had she said? What were they all driving at? The blood drained out of her face and Mrs. Austin caught her arm.

“Put your head between your knees,” she whispered. “Shall I get you out?”

Gina had sufficient strength to shake her head and to turn her eyes resolutely towards the desk. She knew that John was staring at her angrily and in imagination she could see the startled little face of Mr. Scruby by his side.

Mike was the next witness.

The jury were wide awake now and their interest was not assumed. They had completely forgotten their own prominence and were absorbed by the story being unfolded so lucidly before them.

Gina did not take her eyes from Mike’s face during the whole of his evidence. She felt she was seeing him for the first time. He was extraordinarily handsome, with the tall, lank Barnabas figure and the crisp curls shorn tightly to his head.

To those who knew him he betrayed his nervousness. He spoke with a drawl not natural with him and the ease of his stance was assumed.

His written statement was necessarily brief. He admitted helping the doctor to move the body on to the table and afterwards up to the flat, and gave a brief account of his cousin’s position and activities in the firm.

The Coroner questioned him about the strong room. Evidence that had been given by other witnesses concerning its use was confirmed by him and he repeated that the car in the garage belonged to him.

“The yard gates are kept locked,” he said, “but not the garage itself. I never considered there was any need for that.”

The Coroner returned to the question of the strong room.

“I see in your statement, Mr. Wedgwood,” he said, “that you admit to having visited the strong room on the night of the thirty-first, three days after your cousin’s disappearance and on the evening before the discovery of his body.”

The excitement at this point was intense and the Coroner had to enforce silence.

Mike’s lank form seemed to be leaning back upon the air and his drawl became more pronounced.

“That is so,” he said.

“Will you describe exactly what you did upon that occasion? It is all written down, I know, but I should like to hear it from you again.”

Mike complied. He described how he had left the flat on Sunday night, had gone into the darkened office, taken the key from its usual place, opened the strong room and taken the folder which John had needed from its shelf, and had come away, locking the door behind him.

The Coroner seemed puzzled and he took the young man through the story again and again. Finally Mike’s evidence was interrupted while Miss Curley and Miss Marchant were called to describe the exact place in which the body was found.

When the Coroner returned to Mike again his tone was peremptory.

“Can you offer any explanation why you did not see the body of your cousin on Sunday night?” he said.

“I’m sorry, I can’t. It wasn’t there. Or, if it was, I didn’t see it.”

Mike’s exasperation was not unmixed with defiance. The Coroner dismissed the matter for the time being and went back to the Thursday night.

“Mr. Wedgwood,” he said, “will you tell us what you did from three o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday the twenty-eighth until you answered the telephone at nine o’clock and went out to a picture palace with Mrs. Brande?”

Mike stiffened slightly and when he spoke his tone was defensive.

“I worked in my office all the afternoon,” he said slowly. “My secretary was there the whole time. I left about half past five, intending to go to a cocktail party, and because it was slightly foggy and I was early I decided to walk. The house I intended to visit was in Manchester Square, but before I reached it I changed my mind and decided that I would go on walking.”

He paused. The Coroner was looking at him and the seven pairs of eyes from the jury benches watched him narrowly.

“Yes?” said the Coroner.

“Well, I went on walking,” said Mike lamely. “I had various things on my mind and I wanted to think them out. I went on walking until about half past eight. Then I got on a bus and came home.”

The Coroner’s pen traced idle designs on the blotting paper in front of him.

“Half past five till half past eight,” he said. “That’s three hours. It’s a long time to walk on a foggy winter night, Mr. Wedgwood. Can you tell us where you went, exactly?”

“Yes. I went down to the far end of Westbourne Grove. I walked down Holborn, Oxford Street, Edgware Road, Praed Street, and Bishop’s Road. Then I turned back and I went up one of those long terraces to the Park, I cut through from Lancaster Gate to Hyde Park Corner and came up Piccadilly. I went up Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road and I took a bus at St. Giles’s Circus. It’s a long way and I was not walking fast.”

“Did you stop anywhere? Speak to anyone?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Well, can you tell us, Mr. Wedgwood, why you went to Westbourne Grove? Had you any purpose in going there?”

A faint smile passed over the man’s expressive face.

“Yes, I had, vaguely. I meant to visit a shop there. There’s a little secondhand jeweller’s and curio shop about halfway down the right-hand side. I don’t know the name of it. When I got there it was shut. It was Thursday anyway—I’d forgotten that.”

The Coroner was inclined to be impatient.

“You must see that this is a very unsatisfactory story,” he said testily. “You say you walked nearly four miles to visit a shop and found it shut. Had you any particular purpose in going to that shop?”

“No, not really. I mean, nothing urgent.” Mike seemed unduly embarrassed. “I thought I might find something of interest there, I have done so before.”

“Some piece of jewellery?”

“Well, yes.”

“I see.” The Coroner paused significantly. “Well, then, when you found the shop was shut you walked back for no other reason than that you wished to walk?”

“That is so.”

“And it was cold and slightly foggy—not a pleasant night for walking?”

“No, it wasn’t. But I didn’t really mind about that. I had things on my mind and wanted to work them out.”

“Those things, I see, Mr. Wedgwood, were private affairs which have no bearing on this case?”

“They were business matters,” said Mike briefly and unconvincingly.

“When you returned home to Horsecollar Yard what did you do?”

“I went down through my own flat, out of the back door, through the gate in the wall to the garage behind the office, and started my car.”

The court gasped.

“Why did you do that?”

“The fog had cleared a little and I thought it would probably be quite bright in the country. I thought I would go out somewhere by myself for a run round.”

“You were tired of walking?” observed the Coroner dryly.

“Yes, I was.”

“According to your evidence, Mr. Wedgwood, you had nothing to eat all this time . . .”

“No. I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to be by myself.”

“And so you started up the car?”

“Yes. I always do that. I let her run for a little while, five or ten minutes at the outside, before I take her out into the traffic in the cold weather. I find she runs much more easily.”

“And then?”

“Then I remembered that the key of the yard gates was in my coat in the flat. I went up to get it. While I was there Mrs. Brande rang up and explained that Paul had not returned and I suggested that we should go out somewhere. As it was too late for a theatre we went to a film. Before I went up to fetch Mrs. Brande I returned to the garage and switched off my car engine. I estimate it had been running seven minutes.”

“I see.” The Coroner cleared his throat. “Now there are just one or two questions I want to ask you concerning this statement. When Mrs. Brande told you that her husband had not returned and that he was two hours late for an appointment, weren’t you alarmed? Didn’t you wonder what had happened to him?”

“No. Paul was like that. He was a most erratic person. Neither Gina—I mean Mrs. Brande—nor we at the office ever knew when he was going to turn up.”

The Coroner wrote.

“But on the Sunday, Mr. Wedgwood, when you were having tea—with others—at Mrs. Brande’s flat, didn’t you wonder then what had happened to your cousin?”

“I did. I thought he had stayed away rather a long time, but I wasn’t worried. As I say, my cousin was unreliable.”

“Well, then, one other point. You say you were getting your car out, intending to crawl through the fog until you got to the open country, because you wanted to be by yourself. And yet as soon as Mrs. Brande phoned you you suggested you should take her out to see a film? How do you explain that?”

Mike shrugged. “I don’t explain it,” he said. “I’m just telling you what happened.”

“Mr. Wedgwood, is there a love affair between you and Mrs. Brande?”

“Certainly not.”

“You have never at any time treated her in any way other than as your cousin’s wife?”


“You realize you are on oath?”

“I do.”

“Very well. Will you stand down, please.”

Much to everybody’s astonishment, including her own, the next witness was Mrs. Austin.

She swept forward, a fine belligerent figure, skirts and streamers flying, and after climbing into position turned and surveyed the court, Coroner and police with self-possessed hostility.

She gave her name as Mrs. Dorothy Austin; her age (which was unasked) as forty-two; and an address in Somers Town.

“I’ve been visiting my lady, Mrs. Brande, for nearly four years now,” she explained, “and if anybody knows her I do.”

The Coroner looked up and smiled.

“We will stick to your statement as much as possible, Mrs. Austin,” he murmured. “You say here that you were in the habit of arriving at Mrs. Brande’s flat at eight o’clock every morning, that you stayed until twelve and returned again to cook and wash up after the evening meal if necessary.”

Mrs. Austin concurred.

“I don’t see anything wrong in that,” she said.

“No, no, of course not. Now, during your visits to the flat you have had an opportunity of studying your employer and her husband. Would you say their married life was a happy one?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” said Mrs. Austin vehemently. “If my husband had treated me as Mr. Brande treated my lady I’d have left him long ago. It was only her sweet nature that made her put up with him as long as she did.”

From the back of the court Gina looked at the woman imploringly, but there was no way of stopping that well-meaning tongue or forcing a little enlightenment into that shortsighted mind. Mrs. Austin imagined herself a counsel for the defence and already saw her name large in the newspaper as the champion of the downtrodden wife.

Pleasant, sturdy Sergeant Pillow looked down his nose. When he had taken her statement it had seemed to him almost a pity that she should have been so very much “in the mood,” but after all the truth was the truth and the more easily it came out the better for everyone.

The Coroner had hardly any need to speak at all. Mrs. Austin not only remembered her statement but was quite willing to amplify it.

“They never came to blows—I will say that for them,” she said, “but I often think it’s a pity they didn’t. The way he neglected her! Half the time he wasn’t there at all and the other half he didn’t notice she was there. No one could blame her if she went out a bit with Mr. Mike. A lady’s got to have someone to take her about. She can’t sit up like a sparrow on a housetop, not going anywhere. It’s more than human nature can stand.”

The Coroner interrupted the flow.

“Mrs. Austin,” he said, “you say that you rarely stayed at the flat later than nine o’clock in the evening and never arrived there before eight o’clock in the morning. You are therefore not in a position to say whether, in the absence of Mr. Brande, Mr. Wedgwood ever stayed in the flat at night?”

“Well, of all the minds!” she began indignantly, but was silenced by the Coroner.

“You must answer me ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Did you ever know for a certainty that in the absence of Mr. Brande Mr. Wedgwood had stayed in the Brandes’ flat overnight?”

“No,” said Mrs. Austin, choked by the constraint put upon her. “But if he had I wouldn’t have blamed him—or her, and that’s the truth.”

“That’ll do,” said the Coroner. “Now you were in the room, I understand, when Mr. Wedgwood came to tell Mrs. Brande that her husband was dead. I want you to describe that scene a little more fully than it is set down here. You admitted Mr. Wedgwood to the flat at about tea o’clock on Monday morning, the first of February. Do you remember that?”

“As clearly as the night my husband died,” said Mrs. Austin a little unnecessarily.

“Very well. Now before Mr. Wedgwood arrived you saw your mistress?”

“Of course I did. I’d been running in and out of her room all the morning.”

“At that time Mr. Brande had been missing for three days and four nights. Did Mrs. Brande seem worried?”

Mrs. Austin considered.

“Not exactly worried. I think she was relieved to be without him. One of us passed the remark that it was strange he hadn’t come in.”

“It did not occur to you that any harm might have befallen him?”

A ray of recollection flickered over Mrs. Austin’s broad face.

“Now I come to think of it, I did say when I brought in her morning tea, ‘I see the master’s not back. I wonder if he’s been runned over.’ ”

“Ah. And what did Mrs. Brande say to that?”

“Oh, she turned over on her side and said, ‘No such luck,’ or something like that.”

Anyone of a more sensitive nature than the worthy Mrs. Austin must have noticed the tremendous sensation she was providing. The Coroner picked her up.

“When you say things like this, you must realize what they mean,” he said severely. “Did Mrs. Brande use the actual words ‘No such luck’ in reply to your suggestion that her husband had been run over and killed?”

Mrs. Austin looked abashed.

“I think her actual words were, ‘No, there’s no escape that way.’ I took it to mean ‘No such luck.’ ”

“You’re sure of these words, Mrs. Austin? Are you—yes or no?”

“Yes, I am. ‘No, there’s no escape that way’—that’s what she said.”

“And after that no mention of Mr. Brande was made?”


“You say you remember Mr. Wedgwood coming to the flat at ten o’clock that morning very distinctly. Will you describe it, please?”

“There was a ring at the bell,” said Mrs. Austin dramatically. “I was just going to make some coffee, but I popped off my apron and opened the door. There stood Mr. Mike, white as a sheet, his hands twitching, his eyes starting out of his head. I knew at once something was up.”

“Not unnaturally.” The Coroner opened his mouth to say the words, but thought better of them. Instead he wrote down “Seemed greatly agitated” and put a further question.

“I see that you took Mr. Wedgwood into the room where your mistress was kneeling by the fire in pyjamas. Do you remember what she said?”

“Yes. She said, ‘Mike, my pet, I’m glad to see you,’ and asked him if he’d have some coffee. Her face lit up—she looked quite different.”

“Then you went out of the room?”

“Yes, to make the coffee.”

“And when you came back, what did you see then?”

“They were clinging together,” said Mrs. Austin, with sentimental relish. “Clinging together on the hearth rug like a couple of children. Of course, when they heard me they sprung apart—as was only natural, me being an older person—and my lady said, ‘My husband’s dead, Mrs. Austin.’ ‘No!’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. I give her some coffee quick. Then we all had some coffee and Mr. Wedgwood told us that they was bringing the body up. I made him come out and give me all the details so I should know what to get ready. As soon as he could he slipped back to her.”

“Then you can’t tell us any more about the conversation which took place between them after the death had been discovered,” said the Coroner firmly. “Can you tell us what effect the news had upon your mistress? Did she seem surprised?”

“Surprised? She was horrified! I never saw such a change in anyone in all my life. One moment she was a bright laughing girl, not a care in the world except Mr. Brande’s neglect and mental cruelty to her, and the next she was a drawn haggard woman, as you might say.”

“Yes, but was she surprised?”

“She was thunderstruck, if you ask me,” said Mrs. Austin.

Mr. Scruby, who jumped up some little time before and had only just succeeded in catching the Coroner’s eye, begged to be allowed to put a question.

“When you say your mistress was in pyjamas, Mrs. Austin,” he said, “do you mean her night clothes?”

The woman stared at him. “No, I don’t,” she said. “It’s a new fashion. Little serge romper suits. Ladies wear them in the morning about the house. Very nice and respectable, they are, something after the style of a naval uniform.”

“Thank you.” Mr. Scruby sat down amid a titter of laughter and Mrs. Austin’s appearance in the limelight came to an end.

She went back to her seat bursting with pride.

“I showed ’em,” she said, sitting down beside Gina. “They didn’t get much change out of me—nosy parkers!”

Gina said nothing.

The last witness was so well known to the whole of the Barnabas group that they stared at him in astonishment in this new setting. He was a little wizened person, very spruce and smart, but so nervous that he was almost incoherent. He gave his name as William Robert Dyke and explained that he was the janitor in charge of Twenty-one and Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard, and had been in the employment of Messrs. Barnabas, Limited for twenty years.

He identified the piece of rubber tubing reluctantly as part of an old shower-bath attachment which he had saved some years before when it had been thrown out of Mike’s flat during a spring-cleaning. Thinking that it might come in useful at some time or other, he had hung it over a large nail on the wall of the cupboard next to the furnace at Number Twenty-one, where a great deal of other odds and ends were stored. The cupboard had no door and its contents were easily visible to anyone and everyone who passed in and out of the building by the basement garden exit.

On the morning of Friday, the twenty-ninth, the day after the deceased had disappeared, he had noticed it lying upon the floor beside the other rubbish and had picked it up. He thought it looked a little dirty, but had not examined it carefully, simply replacing it upon its nail and forgetting it until the Coroner’s Officer questioned him about it on the following Monday morning.

And there, with astonishing abruptness, the larger part of the enquiry came to an end.

Gina sat quite still. She did not want to look about her. Miss Curley tried to catch her eye, to give her a timidly reassuring nod, but the younger woman did not stir nor did she ever raise her eyes from her white-gloved hands folded tightly in her lap.

John and Mr. Scruby were conversing animatedly in whispers while Mr. Campion leant back in his seat, his arms folded and an even more vacuous expression than usual upon his face.

Outside the later editions of the evening papers were being unfolded at windy street corners by excited youths. Home news was scarce and the “Strong-Room Mystery Inquest” was a godsend.

Much had been made of the morning’s disclosures and a photograph of Gina and Mrs. Austin leaving the court appeared on the front page of each paper.

Inside the courtroom the sense of drama was growing. It had been by no means a tedious inquisition and now there was breathlessness in the air as the Coroner began to sum up. From beginning to end he was scrupulously fair. His deep, matter-of-fact voice lent no hint of theatricality to his oration, but rather brought a salutary commonplaceness into the business, reminding his hearers that they were enquiring into the death of a man of no less or more importance than themselves.

He dissected the evidence of the various witnesses, but was careful to make no comment.

“Let me quote to you from a very old and respected book,” he said at last, leaning across his desk and addressing the jury intimately. “I refer to Burke’s Justice. There these words are set down for our instruction. I will read them to you.

“ ‘It is peculiarly the province of the jury to investigate and determine the facts of the case. They are neither to expect nor should they be bound by any specific or direct opinion of the Coroner upon the whole of the case, except so far as regards the verdict, which in point of law they ought to find as dependent and contingent upon their conclusions in point of fact. The verdict should be compounded of the facts as detailed to the jury by the witnesses and of the law as stated to them by the court.’ ”

He looked up from his book.

“I have told you the law. You know what you must do and what questions you must answer. You may now consider your verdict.”

The jury retired and were gone only fifteen minutes. When they returned the foreman was perspiring and the faces of the others were studiously blank. On ascertaining that they were agreed Mr. Salley put the first question, his pen poised.

“Who do you find the deceased was?”

The foreman, his voice squeaky and breathless with discomfort, spoke hurriedly.

“We find, sir, that he was Paul Redfern Brande, of Twenty-one, Horsecollar Yard, of this parish.”

“How do you find that the deceased met his death?”

“Sir, we find that he met his death by poisoning from carbon monoxide gas.”

“Where do you find that he died?”

“In the strong room in the basement at his place of business at Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard, of this parish, on the twenty-eighth day of January in this year.”

The Coroner wrote rapidly.

“Do you find how he came by his death?”

“Yes, sir. We find that he was murdered wilfully and with malice aforethought.”

There was a long pause and the court was unnaturally silent. The reporters waited like greyhounds in the traps and Inspector Tanner sat up, his ears pricked.

The quiet voice of the Coroner continued.

“That is the first part of the verdict. We now come to the final question, about which you already know. You have declared that the deceased was murdered. If you know who is guilty of this terrible offence it is your duty to say his name. From the evidence which you have heard, do you find anyone so guilty? Remember, you must speak from the certainty in your hearts and not from any suspicion, but if you have that certainty it is your bounden duty to speak. Do you find anyone guilty of the murder of Paul Redfern Brande?”

“Yes, sir, we do.” The foreman’s voice squeaked ridiculously as his nervousness robbed him of his breath.

“Then will you say his or her name?”

The foreman gulped.

“We find that Michael Wedgwood did wilfully murder his cousin Paul Redfern Brande.”

Gina’s head fell forward and she sank against the woman at her side.

John struggled to his feet, his dignity forgotten in his astounded horror.

The Coroner went on evenly.

“Do you find anyone guilty of being accessory before the fact of murder?”

“No, sir.” The foreman mopped his dripping forehead. “We find no one guilty of being accessory before or after the fact.”

8  :  Presumed Innocent

Since the arrest which he had just made was not technically legal until the Coroner had finished with the jury’s formalities and had signed the warrant, Inspector Tanner was content to wait patiently in a corner of the anteroom while John and Mr. Scruby monopolized his prisoner.

Mike stood looking at the two elderly men with unseeing eyes. He was pale and the lines on his face had deepened, leaving the skin taut and his skull oddly apparent, but his body had not lost its ease or his manner its natural lazy calm.

The sudden catastrophe seemed to have burnt up over him like the flare of a new gas mantle, leaving him visibly the same but stricken with a new vulnerability.

As though conscious of this he held himself mentally apart from the others, whose thoughts and words were still protected.

John was frankly hysterical. Little pinkish pouches had appeared in the loose flesh beneath his jaw and his eyes were flickering.

“We must keep our heads,” he was saying, his long bony fingers gripping Mr. Scruby’s arm with painful pressure. “We must keep our heads. It’s a monstrous mistake—we know that. The Coroner has exceeded his powers and in due course he will be reprimanded and removed, but meanwhile the publicity involved is terrible. No compensation can make up for it.”

“Mr. Widdowson, Mr. Widdowson.” Mr. Scruby’s timid voice was imploring. “This is not the time. We must talk later when we can see what is best to be done. Now we have only a few moments and I want to assure Mr. Wedgwood that we shall leave no stone unturned to defend him at his trial. You will receive a visit from someone at my office to discuss the defence,” he hurried on, speaking directly to Mike. “Rest assured that we shall do everything in our power.”

Mike was vaguely aware of an anxious, sympathetic face raised to his and he nodded to it gratefully.

John gaped at them both. The pouches in his neck quivered and his lips moved helplessly.

“But it was an accident. Obviously an accident. I know it was an accident.”

“Doubtless,” said Mr. Scruby dryly, and added with unexpected briskness: “It now remains for us to prove it. I do not know at this juncture, of course, what line the defence will take. That is for Counsel to decide.”

John sat down suddenly on the bench which ran round the dirty pale green walls. He looked very old.

Mr. Scruby eyed him thoughtfully for a moment and returned to Mike.

“I need hardly advise you not to discuss your—ah—your situation with anyone at all until I or someone from my office can see you,” he murmured. “Keep as cheerful as you can and——”

He broke off abruptly and swung round. The Inspector was interviewing someone at the door. After a considerable amount of whispering he stepped back to admit Mr. Campion, and behind him Gina and Miss Curley.

The Inspector was sympathetic.

“They’ll clear off in a little while,” he said confidentially to Campion. “You told your man to take the car round to the back of Chequers Street, did you? That’s right. You’ll be able to get the ladies away quite comfortably in a minute or two. It’s these newspaper photographers, not the crowd, today. The crowd won’t come until the trial.”

His voice flattened and died as he became aware that they were all listening to him. He returned to his corner and presently, as Sergeant Pillow came to relieve him, went down to the courtroom for the warrant.

Mr. Scruby had stepped aside as the newcomers entered and now, his mild eyes unexpectedly shrewd, he watched the meeting between Gina and Mike. No woman, however lovely, is really improved in appearance by any of the tragic emotions, but to some a certain interestingness is lent by crisis. Now that the worst had come Gina had achieved a cold poise and an almost porcelain hardness in her face which gave her features a new decision. She looked at Mike and their eyes met steadily.

Mr. Campion and Miss Curley were firing remarks at John, practically speaking, at random, and Mr. Scruby was the only frank observer of the meeting.

For a moment Gina’s lips moved, hovered over words, rejecting them unspoken. Finally she said the one thing which her brain had refused to consider ever since the discovery of the body. The words were jerked out of her, her voice unnatural.

“It’s happened then,” she said.

For an instant the man’s self-possession wavered and the nakedness of his heart was exposed. The expression rushed back into his eyes and incredulity mingled with the other emotion there. He recovered immediately, however, and for the first time since the verdict a smile appeared upon his wide mouth.

“The vanity of the woman!” he said, and turned away.

The damage was done. The colour poured into the girl’s face, her poise was destroyed and she stood awkwardly, suddenly looking very young and gawky.

There was a moment of acute discomfort and then the door opened once more, and Sergeant Pillow rose to admit a telegraph boy with an envelope for John.

The old man tore it open with hands that trembled uncontrollably and, because it was his habit to do so at the office, read the message aloud.

Astounded have not been informed. Incalculable harm may result incomprehensible neglect. Do nothing till arrive. Barnabas.

John looked up, genuine astonishment in his eyes.

“God bless my soul! Cousin Alexander,” he said. “I never thought—No, no answer, boy. Miss Curley, give him sixpence.”

Mr. Scruby came forward dubiously.

“Alexander Barnabas, the counsel?” he enquired, and there was no telling whether there was reverence or sheer apprehension in his tone.

John blinked at him. “Yes, my cousin. My uncle’s only son. Took silk a good few years ago now. Great man in criminal cases, I believe. Great reputation—”

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Scruby gently, “I know him,” and there was a little silence.

It was broken by the return of Inspector Tanner.

“You can get the ladies away comfortably now, sir,” he said meaningly, and Mr. Campion, who saw that there was nothing to be gained by waiting, turned to Gina enquiringly.

She went with him willingly, almost eagerly, and Miss Curley followed after leaving a whispered message with the Sergeant for John, who had begun to talk to Mr. Scruby again, and a friendly handclasp with Mike.

In the doorway Gina hesitated without looking back, and the man under arrest, glancing up, caught a last glimpse of her small black figure, her head bent and the soft arc of her chestnut hair showing under her black hat.

At one of the back doors of the court Mr. Lugg sat proud and disapproving in the shining glory which was Mr. Campion’s new Lagonda. He sprang out with an agility astonishing in one of his bulk and bundled the two women somewhat unceremoniously into the back.

“Now let’s sheer off before we’re seen,” he said in a husky undertone to his employer.

Mr. Campion, who had the same idea but for less selfish reasons, slid in behind the wheel and the great car moved away.

When they were held up in a traffic jam in Holborn he glanced over his shoulder.

“I’m going to take you back to my flat for half an hour or so, Gina, if you don’t mind,” he said. “These Press photographers are tenacious beggars, and you don’t want to run into a battery of them waiting on your door-step.”

The girl did not answer, but Miss Curley’s voice, brisk and practical, came from the darkness of the hood.

“I’m so glad you thought of it, Mr. Campion,” she said. “It had been on my mind. Of course, I hadn’t liked to suggest it.” And in a lower voice they heard her add: “Keep your head well down, my dear. You’ll feel better.”

“I’m all right,” said Gina, and her voice sounded unutterably weary.

The person who did not approve of the suggestion was Mr. Lugg. Mr. Campion caught a glimpse of his face reflected in the windscreen and smiled in spite of himself.

It was a dark, wet night and they were caught in the home-going rush, so that it took them some considerable time to reach Bottle Street.

There the lights were subdued and shed little puddles of radiance on the streaming pavements. Campion took Gina’s arm and steered her towards the brightly lit entrance beside the police station. Miss Curley followed him and Lugg put the car away.

As Campion and the two women came up the staircase to the small hall on the second landing which contained Campion’s front door, a woman rose from the chair which was the only furniture in the minute passageway and stepped forward.

Her appearance was vaguely familiar to Campion, and he had the impression that he had seen her somewhere recently. She was not a usual type and he was struck by something indefinable about her which he could only describe to himself as passive rather than active grief. She was middle-aged and, although smartly dressed, had none of Gina’s essential style. It occurred to him that she belonged to the category known to his father’s generation as “handsome women.” She came forward timidly.

“I don’t know if you’re Mr. Campion,” she said, “but if you are, could I speak to you for a minute?”

Her voice came as a surprise. Without being actually vulgar or uneducated, its refinement was not quite genuine.

Mr. Campion took out his key.

“Why, yes, of course. In just one moment,” he said, and unlocked the door.

Miss Curley took Gina inside and as the light from the inner hall fell upon the girl’s face Campion heard a smothered exclamation from his unknown visitor. He turned round to find her looking after Gina, an embarrassed and defeated expression in her eyes.

“That’s Mrs. Brande, isn’t it?” she said. “I didn’t recognize her at first, in this light. I’m sorry I bothered you, Mr. Campion. Good evening.”

She was halfway across the passage to the stairs before she had finished speaking, and Mr. Campion was puzzled.

“Won’t you leave your name?” he said rather idiotically.

“No, no, it doesn’t matter. I made a mistake. It doesn’t matter in the least.”

Her voice came back to him as she clattered down the staircase in her high-heeled black patent shoes. Looking over the banisters he saw her fox fur flopping up and down on her plumpish shoulders as she hurried.

Slightly bewildered, he went into the flat and put a question.

Gina looked up from the depths of his big armchair.

“Yes, I saw her,” she said wearily, “but I didn’t know her. I’ve never seen her before in my life. What did she want?”

“Goodness knows,” said Mr. Campion.

9  :  The Daring Young Man

On any other occasion and in any other circumstances the spectacle of Mr. Lugg in his latest rôle, serving afternoon tea to one of the principals in a cause célèbre, might easily have delighted Mr. Campion; but as it happened, such is the perversity of fortune, he found it irritating.

The change which had occurred to Gina in the anteroom of the court still persisted. The agitation and ill-suppressed terror of the last few days had now given place to a weary, broken weakness a thousand times more pathetic.

Miss Curley, on the other hand, had reacted by becoming an intensified edition of her normal self. Campion suspected her of being extra busy and efficient so that she might not have time to think. All the same, it was a difficult gathering and John’s arrival was a relief.

He came in, scowled at Lugg, sat down in the chair which Campion had vacated on rising to welcome him, and announced querulously that he would like a cup of tea.

Lugg served him ungraciously, the expression in his little black eyes intimating clearly that he did not like his manners and was quite prepared to subject him to a course of instruction if the opportunity arose.

Having averted this danger by banishing Lugg, Campion glanced enquiringly at his new visitor.

Mr. Widdowson was fast recovering from his hysteria of earlier in the afternoon. The pink pouches had disappeared from his gills and his eyes were cold and steady.

“I’ve been talking to Scruby,” he began peremptorily, his thin, academic voice raised a little above its normal tone, “and he agrees with me, of course, that the police are making a fantastic mistake. Apparently the Coroner is strictly within his rights, although Scruby feels he may come in for considerable censure. However, that’s not the point. What we have to think about now is the best way of clearing up the ghastly business satisfactorily.”

Mr. Campion eyed the man and wondered if it could be possible that even now he had not realized the full gravity of the position.

John leant back in his chair.

“I think Scruby feels that the police used the inquest to avoid shouldering full responsibility for the arrest,” he announced. “He didn’t say so in as many words, of course, but that’s what I understood.”

Gina had shrunk back into her chair and he appeared to notice her for the first time.

“We shall need you, Gina,” he observed, pointing a long bony finger at her. “Scruby wanted me to impress it upon you that you’re likely to be a very important witness.”

She did not speak, and he evidently did not expect her to, for he returned to Campion.

“Scruby feels with me that an independent investigation on behalf of the family is absolutely necessary,” he said slowly. “Time, you see, is going to be short.”

Mr. Campion, who had drawn up a small, hard chair, now sat upon it and blinked at his client, his pale eyes vague behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.

“I’m sure Mr. Campion will do all he can to help Mike,” put in Miss Curley so hastily that he smiled at her.

“Of course he will. Of course.” John brushed aside the interruption irritably. “Now, Campion, we all know Paul’s death was an accident. What I ask you to do is to prove it to the satisfaction of the most unintelligent member of the police and Press.”

Mr. Campion rose. Wandering across the room, he took up a position of vantage, his hands in his pockets and his body supported by the edge of the desk.

“I say, I do hope you won’t mind my saying it,” he began gently, “but you’re making a most unfortunate mistake, you know.”

John stared at him. The quiet authority in the casual voice was unexpected.

Mr. Campion continued diffidently.

“I don’t want to alarm you all, but frankly, you know, I’ve a tremendous respect for the police. They’re about as good at their jobs as people ever get. Their occasional mistakes are the exceptions which prove the rule. They aren’t trying anything out, or shelving any responsibility, or anything like that. I’m afraid it’s much more devastating. You see, they feel they’ve got an open-and-shut case and so they’re dealing with it in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. It’s rather revolting when you see it from our present angle, I know, but there you are. . . .”

Mr. Widdowson appeared to be temporarily silenced, and it was Gina who spoke, her voice husky.

“Albert, you don’t think Mike killed Paul, do you?”

“No, old dear,” said Mr. Campion, “but somebody did. Don’t let’s lose sight of that.”

There was a long pause. Miss Curley moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue, a regular movement more nervous than feverish.

“Moreover, someone murdered him very neatly indeed.” Campion sounded apologetic when he spoke again. “And in spite of that the method has been detected already. That’s another point I don’t think we should miss. Our astute friends Tanner and Pillow aren’t so very inefficient. They’ve dogged that much out all right, although they didn’t get on the scene until the body had been moved and the most appalling mess made of the strong room. They’re not fools and they’re not dishonest. They don’t want to arrest an innocent man, believe me. That’s every policeman’s nightmare. But on the other hand, they do want to do their job decently. Someone has murdered Paul and they’re employed to catch him and stop him doing it to anybody else.”

John sat up slowly and turned the full force of his famous disapproving eye upon Campion.

“You seem to be a very outspoken young man,” he observed.

Mr. Campion appeared to be embarrassed.

“It’s a very outspoken business,” he said. “Do you still want me to have a look round?”

“Albert, you must.” Gina had risen. The pallor of her face was accentuated and her mouth quivered uncontrollably. “I do see the danger. I’ve seen it all the time. It’s been haunting me ever since that dreadful Monday morning. You must find out that Mike couldn’t have locked the strong-room door and put the key away. You must find out why he didn’t say he’d seen Paul when he went down there on Sunday—because he must have been there—and you must find out what he was really doing before I phoned him on Thursday night.”

Her voice ceased abruptly and she stood holding out her hand to him, an involuntary gesture oddly appealing. He looked at her gravely.

“I’ll do all I can,” he promised.

John rose. “I know it was an accident,” he said, and there was conviction in his tone. “If you want to oblige me, Campion, you’ll prove it. Get to the bottom of the mystery and you’ll find I’m right. Now, Gina, you’re to come back with me. I want you in the house when Cousin Alexander arrives.”

The girl rose obediently. A lifetime of authority had endowed John with a gift for it.

“An accident,” he repeated firmly as he shook hands with Campion in the hall, adding naïvely: “Terrible publicity. Good night.”

Gina clutched Campion’s hand; her lips were trembling.

“Let me know what’s happening, won’t you—please,” she whispered.

John was halfway to the staircase and she glanced over her shoulder at him, dropping her voice to a whisper.

“Albert, will they open his letters there?”

Campion met her eyes.

“I shouldn’t write if I were you,” he said earnestly.

“I see.” Her voice died away and the dullness returned to her eyes. “Good-bye, and thank you.”

Campion watched her until she disappeared and then went slowly back into the sitting room. He had forgotten Miss Curley, and now the sight of her sitting quietly in an armchair, her hat slipping back until it looked like a three-cornered halo and her near-sighted eyes thoughtful behind her pince-nez, startled him. He smiled at her guiltily.

“I thought I had better stay to tell you that I’ll give you all the help I can,” she said. “Mr. Widdowson is really terribly grateful to you for taking up the case, but of course he’s worried just now. The shock has been tremendous, for one thing. But I thought I’d like to tell you that if you care to examine any room in the office or get access to any papers I’ll see that you can do it without interference.”

“I shall hold you to that,” he said gratefully, and added impulsively: “I’m not really the sensitive soul you seem to think.”

She sighed. “Well, as long as you’re not . . .” she said. “Mr. Widdowson does give offence quite unconsciously at times. It’s being in the office so long, I suppose.”

And then, to his consternation, her voice broke and she began to cry.

“I’m all right—I’m all right,” she said, waving him away with one hand and dabbing at her eyes with the other. “I don’t know what made me so stupid. It’s the suddenness of it all, I suppose, although I’ve woken up in terror of something very like it every night this week. Mr. Campion, why didn’t they arrest her as an accomplice?”

Before this mixture of muddled thought and penetration Mr. Campion found himself a trifle bewildered, but he answered the direct question.

“Gina came out very well on the stand,” he said cautiously. “Besides, there’s no direct evidence of an affair—no letters or anything. The charwoman was pretty damaging, but it was fairly obvious she’d go to pieces in cross-examination.”

“But there’s no direct evidence against Mike,” Miss Curley protested. “It’s all circumstantial.”

He nodded gloomily. “I know. But there’s a devil of a lot of it. I rather fancy that Salley has been stewing up for a row with his critics for some time and is spoiling for a show-down. You see,” he went on gently, “the police evidently believe not only that they’re right, but that they’re obviously right.”

Miss Curley’s moist eyes darkened reflectively.

“I’ve known Mike ever since he was a child,” she said, “and I don’t think—”

She paused and he regarded her quizzically.

“Are you sure?”

The old woman looked up at him.

“Men in love are not quite normal,” she said. “I’ve seen it over and over again. But I don’t—I can’t think Mike would kill Paul. And, anyway,” she added triumphantly, “if he had he wouldn’t have done it like that.”

Campion brightened. “That’s what I’m banking on,” he said.

Lugg put his head round the door.

“Bloke outside,” he remarked, and then, catching sight of Miss Curley, started visibly. “I thought you had gorn, madam,” he remarked when he had recovered his composure, and straightening up announced with remarkable change of personality: “A gentleman is waiting in the hall, sir. Would you see ’im?”

“Of course,” said Campion, slightly ashamed of his old friend. “Do drop that accent, it’s getting on my nerves.”

A spiteful expression appeared in Mr. Lugg’s small black eyes and he surpassed himself.

“Very blinking good, sir,” he said, and stalked out.

Ritchie came in, stooping unconsciously to avoid the lintel.

“Gina gone?” he enquired. “Oh, hello, Miss Curley. Thought I’d come and see you, Campion. Been down to the place with some of Mike’s things—pyjamas, toothbrush, comb, and so on. Still got to live, wash, eat, poor chap. It’s a mistake, Campion.”

He dropped into a chair as he spoke and his pale blue eyes regarded the younger man with that questioning, inarticulate expression which Campion had seen there before.

“Got to find out who did it,” said Ritchie. “Must.”

Miss Curley rose and held out her hand.

“Don’t forget,” she repeated, “if there’s anything you want to see in the office, come to me.”

Campion showed her out and on the steps she looked up at him.

“You’re a good boy to help us,” she said suddenly, and patted his arm.

Campion went back to Ritchie, who had drawn up to the fire and was gloating over it like some huge but benevolent spider trying to get warm.

“Cousin Alexander,” he remarked, without turning round. “Eloquent—dramatic.”

Campion took his mind off the immediate problem for a moment to consider Alexander Barnabas, K.C. The grand old man had been comparatively quiet for a month or so, he reflected. He could not remember seeing his name about since the Shadows trials in the summer. In view of the circumstances, he regretted that he had never seen the barrister in the flesh, although photographs of that magnificent head were familiar enough and the very mention of his name brought recollections of dramatic cross-examinations and sensational speeches.

Sir Alexander’s history was stormy. Although he was Jacoby Barnabas’s only son, he had avoided publishing and taken to the law, with his father’s full consent and approval, and had made his name as a junior in the great days of Marshall Hall before the bar had followed stage into a quieter and less rhetorical style. After taking silk his practice had grown and he had been greatly sought after as a leader, until the unfortunate quarrel with the Judge in the Leahbourne case had done his reputation irreparable damage.

However, although it was still felt that his temper was not to be trusted, his triumphal return in the Dallas trial had restored him to popular, if not academic, favour, and he was now considered a fine showy counsel for the defence in sensational criminal trials and was often briefed by solicitors whose clients were backed by a newspaper.

Campion thought he understood Mr. Scruby’s apprehension. A remark from Ritchie recalled his attention.

“Thought of something. Ought to mention it.”

The man had turned in his chair and was looking up anxiously.

“Hose pipe—car exhaust—locked room—all that, not original,” he blurted out at last. “Plagiarism. All in a book.”

“In a book?” enquired Mr. Campion, a trifle mystified.

A vigorous nodding affirmed the question.

“Book called Died on a Saturday. Most of it in there. Read it myself. Recognized it in court.”

“Who published it?”

Ritchie’s face lengthened. “Us. Ten—twelve months ago. Not much of a sale.”

Mr. Campion was looking at him anxiously.

“Who read this book besides you?—in the office, I mean?”

Ritchie’s tremendous bony shoulders hunched in a shrug.

“Anyone. Handled by Mike’s department.”

“Are you saying that Mike brought out a book describing the method of murder which was used to kill Paul less than a year ago?” Campion demanded, aghast.

Ritchie’s wretchedness increased.

“Fifteen months perhaps,” he suggested.

Mr. Campion passed his hand over his sleek yellow hair and whistled.

Ritchie was silent for some moments, his awkward figure twisted over the arm of his chair.

“Somebody did it,” he said at last. “Evidence showed that.”

Campion looked down at him.

“What’s your private opinion?” he enquired unexpectedly. “You were much closer to it all than I was. Who did it?”

Ritchie shook his ponderous head.

“Anyone,” he murmured, and added with a sigh and a flail-like gesture: “No one.”

Mr. Campion pursued his private thoughts.

“That Miss Netley, tell me about her.”

Ritchie wrinkled his nose and achieved a masterpiece of pantomimic disapproval.

“Affected girl,” he said. “Silly. Sly. Superior. Little snob. Stupid clothes.”

“Anything else?”

The other man hesitated.

“Don’t know much. Only seen her about. Fond of the ballet. Has a Post Office Savings Book. Arch,” he added in triumph. “That’s it—she’s arch. Don’t like her.”

He rose to go shame-facedly, evidently feeling that he had not been very helpful in the cause, for he shook hands earnestly and, his blue eyes peering beseechingly into Campion’s own, made a long and for him coherent speech.

“Do what you can, Campion, Mike’s a good fellow—decent fellow. Never hurt a soul. Kind fellow—kind. Pleasant, friendly to me. Couldn’t possibly get anything out of it. If we don’t find out who killed affected ass Paul they’ll hang Mike—kill him. Stop it, there’s a dear chap.”

After he had gone Mr. Campion sat at his desk and scribbled idly on the blotting-paper. He had no illusions concerning the task in front of him. Events had moved more swiftly than he had contemplated and the need for urgency was great.

Suddenly the thought which had been playing round the edges of his conscious mind so irritatingly for some time past came out into the open. He reached for the telephone directory and got on to Miss Curley just as she had entered her home in Hammersmith.

She heard his question with surprise.

“Mr. Tom Barnabas?” she echoed. “The one who—who disappeared?”

“That’s the man.” Campion’s voice sounded eager. “What sort of person was he? What was he like?”

Miss Curley cast her mind back twenty years.

“A nice man,” she said at last. “Good-looking, inclined to be reserved, but very odd. Why?”

“Odd?” Campion seized upon the word. “In what way?”

Miss Curley laughed, but when she spoke her words had a flavour of the macabre.

“He could walk upstairs on his hands,” she said.

10  :  Twenty Years After

It was wet and bitterly cold, with sludge on the pavement and dark grey blankets in the sky, when Mr. Campion walked thoughtfully down Nemetia Crescent, Streatham, and tried to imagine it as it had been on a May morning twenty years before.

To his relief, there was no sign of any recent building operations, and, although the neighbourhood had gone down a little, he suspected, there was no evidence of any structural alteration.

It was a melancholy little enclosure, a half hoop of flat-fronted houses looking out across a strip of wet tarmac at a bank of dilapidated shrubs.

He found the house out of which Tom Barnabas had walked on May the eighth, nineteen hundred and eleven, and stood in the rain looking at it. Dingy lace curtains covered the windows and a fly-blown black card in the transom over the unexpectedly nice door announced in silver letters that there were apartments within.

Mr. Campion passed on and turned the corner at the end of the Crescent. To his relief he saw that the deserted road in front of him tallied exactly with the description Miss Curley had given. A wall over six feet high and completely blank ran down the whole length of the road on the side nearest the Crescent, while on the other a row of little villas recessed from the road by overgrown gardens straggled down to the trams and the main street.

Campion paused and let his imagination dwell upon the facts of the story as he knew them.

It had been about nine o’clock in the morning. Mr. Barnabas had come striding from his house in the Crescent, had turned the corner, and was apparently marching on to the little tobacconist’s at the end of the street, where it was his custom to stop and pick up a copy of the Times and the Standard, when unfortunately he stepped into the fourth dimension or was the victim of spontaneous combustion or some sort of accident to an atom.

The tobacconist’s was still there. A row of newspaper boards decorated the far end of the wall, in spite of the rain. Mr. Campion wandered on, pausing now and again in spite of the weather and reflecting upon the few facts he had been able to glean that morning from the files of a newspaper.

For May 8th, 1911, the prophets had predicted fair to fine weather, warm temperature and slight mist. There had been an air smash in the Paris to Madrid race on the day before, when Monsieur Train had crashed at Issy, killing himself and seriously injuring Monsieur Monis, Premier of France, who had been present to see him start. The Court was just out of mourning for Edward VII, the Imperial Conference was opening the following day, and Freeman (J.) had been bowled by Hobbs for twenty-one in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and Prince George.

The information was not very helpful. The world, in fact, seemed to have been going on in much the same way as ever. And since it is always easier to believe in a miracle which happened twenty years ago than in one of yesterday morning, Mr. Campion felt his suspicions aroused.

He looked at the wall. There was no way of telling what was on the other side. It might have hidden a pool, a back garden, or fairyland itself.

He walked on to the newspaper and tobacconist’s shop. As he entered it his spirits rose. This stuffy little room with its doorway narrowed to the verge of the impassable by ancient paper-racks filled with brightly coloured periodicals, its acrid smell of newsprint, its two counters, one piled high with papers and the other decorated with every known brand of tobacco grouped round an immense pair of shining scales, could not have altered for forty or fifty, much less twenty, years.

He stood hesitating on the square foot or so of floor space for some moments before he realized that he was not alone in this sanctuary of smoke and light literature.

Over the paper department there was a species of canopy composed of yet more periodicals clipped into wire frames, and in the narrow opening between this and the counter he caught sight of two very bright eyes peering at him from out a pepper-and-salt wilderness of hair and whisker.

“Paper or a nice box of cigarettes, sir?” said a voice at once friendly and a trifle pert.

Mr. Campion bought both and had the satisfaction of seeing the remainder of the man as he came running out of his lurking place to attend to the tobacconist’s side of his business.

He was very small, spry and compact, and his feet, which were tiny, were thrust into old sheep-skin slippers which flapped as he walked.

“Haven’t seen you about here before, sir?” he enquired. “Moved into the district?”

“Not yet,” said Mr. Campion cautiously.

“No offence meant and none taken, I hope,” said the old man, running all the words together until they formed a single apologetic sound. “Only I saw you wandering up and down the road just now and it came into my head that you might be looking for lodgings. This part isn’t what it used to be, but I could put you on to several nice respectable women who’d look after you very well. Perhaps you’d like a widow, now?” he finished, his little bright eyes watching Campion with the inquisitive yet impersonal interest of a sparrow.

“Not at present,” said Mr. Campion, who had a literal mind. “As a matter of fact, I came down here on a sort of sentimental errand. A friend of mine disappeared, or is supposed to have disappeared, walking along this street.”

Tremendous interest appeared at once on the small face.

“I believe you’re referring to my phenomenon,” he said. “I always call it mine, although it wasn’t really. I just happened to be there. Now that was a funny thing, if you like.”

“Do you remember it?”

“Remember it? Wasn’t I in this very shop?” The little man seemed hurt. “Wasn’t it me who gave interviews to all the newspapers?—or would have done, only they didn’t believe me. It was hushed up really. Did you know that? In my opinion, sir,” he went on, eyeing Mr. Campion with portentous solemnity, “that was the most important thing that ever happened to me in all my life. And, luck being what it is—” he spread out his hands and hunched his shoulders in a gesture of resignation, “—I turned me back on it.”

“Infuriating,” murmured Mr. Campion sympathetically.

“It was,” said his informant and, returning to his position behind the paper counter, leant across it and took a deep breath. “I didn’t always talk about this,” he began. “My name’s Higgleton, by the way.”

“How d’you do?” said Campion pleasantly.

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” complied Mr. Higgleton, with grace, and plunged into his story. “It was on a Monday—no, a Tuesday morning, I think it was. Or it may have been a Thursday—I can’t really remember—but I can see it as plain as daylight. I didn’t talk about it much at the time because—well, you know what people are. Once you start seeing things that other people know can’t have happened, you’re apt to get the reputation of being a little bit queer.”

“Fanciful,” suggested Mr. Campion.

“Exactly. But I remember that Wednesday morning as though it was yesterday. Only it was May then, not February like it is now. It was a beautiful clear morning, bright sunlight—we didn’t have summertime then, so there was no hanky-panky—just a bright clear summer’s day. This place is very pretty in the summer, though you might not think so. When there’s leaves on those trees over there you can’t see the houses. There were more trees in those days. It was when the children kept getting run over that they had one or two of ’em down. The children couldn’t see the road from the gardens because of the trees and they used to run out and—there you are, as the saying is.”

“I suppose that’s why no one saw Mr. Barnabas from the houses?” said Mr. Campion.

“Barnabas!” said Mr. Higgleton, pouncing on the name. “That’s it! That’s it! Couldn’t remember it for a moment, although it was on the tip of me tongue. That’s why I was hedging about. Oh, I knew him as well as I know—you, I was going to say. Used to come in here every day for his papers. He was an ornament to the neighbourhood. I don’t know what his business was; it was something in the City. But he used to turn out to it as though he was going to a—” Mr. Higgleton paused and searched in his mind for a simile.

“Ball?” suggested Mr. Campion idiotically.

His new friend glanced at him reproachfully.

“Well, not exactly a ball, but a wedding. City gentlemen used to dress more tastefully then than they do now. You probably wouldn’t remember it very well, but they did. Silk hats and tail coats and fancy trousers were all the go, and a nice pair of yellow gloves to top everything off.”

“And was Mr. Barnabas dressed like that when he disappeared?” said Mr. Campion.

“He was. A very well-dressed man indeed was Mr. Barnabas. I can see him now—in me mind’s eye, of course—silk hat, nicely brushed, gold-topped cane and spats. A big handsome man he was, too, and very nicely spoken.”

“How did it happen?” The question escaped Mr. Campion involuntarily.

“In the twinkling of a hand—like that!” said Mr. Higgleton, and snapped his fingers.

He had an odd trick of pausing after he had made an announcement and surveying his listener with a wide-eyed expression, as though inviting him to join in a wonder.

Mr. Campion, who had liked him from the start, began to feel a positive affection for him.

“I’ll show you how it happened,” said Mr. Higgleton, and, running out from behind the counter, he planted himself on the door-step. “Now here am I—see,” he said over his shoulder, “standing on the corner of the street. It’s nine o’clock in the morning, but I’m not so busy as all that, and I’m just standing here taking a deep breath of the ozone.”

He gulped a lungful of rain-soaked, soot-laden air, and glanced at Campion for approval.

“Well, I see Mr. Barnabas turn the corner of the street down there.”

He waved his hand in the direction of Nemetia Crescent.

“Now I know it is him—there’s no doubt about that. (My eyes are better than what they are now, it being twenty years ago.) And I watch him coming up the street for a bit. There he is, striding along in the sunlight swinging his cane, looking as calm and happy as you please.

“Well, when he’s about fifty yards away I say to meself, ‘I’d better get his papers.’ So I turn back into me shop like this,” he trotted back to the counter and picked up a couple of newspapers which he thrust under Campion’s nose. “There they are—see? Then I hurry back to the door and—” he stopped, and peered up and down the street, ventured out into the rain, and finally returned, bewilderment expressed in every line of his features, “—not a sign of him,” he said. “Street empty all ways. You could knock me down with a wave of the hand, as the saying has it.

“ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘he’s vanished!’ And he had, too.”

Again the look of wonder.

“Of course you’ll say,” he continued after a silence which Mr. Campion had not liked to break, “that he must have snapped into a trot and run past the shop. But he couldn’t have done. I wasn’t in here above five seconds. Besides, the constable who was standing on the corner saw him go. One minute he was there and one minute he wasn’t. In the middle of the pavement about fifteen yards from this shop, just along by the wall there, he disappeared and was never seen by mortal eye again.”

“Top hat, gold-headed cane and all?” said Mr. Campion.

“Yellow gloves and spats,” said Mr. Higgleton. “Clean as kiss yer hand.”

“I’d like to have met the policeman.” Mr. Campion sounded wistful.

“So you should have. I’d have taken you round myself if he hadn’t retired and gone to live in the country. Somewhere Norfolk way he is. But he drops in here now and again when he comes to town. He was here as little as two years ago. Next time I see him I’ll tell him you’re interested and perhaps he’ll let you have his side of the story. His name’s on the tip of me tongue, but I’ve forgotten it.”

Mr. Higgleton thought for a while but to no purpose.

Mr. Campion expressed his thanks and made an attempt to leave, but he was not to get away so easily.

“I don’t like to pretend I know what happened because I don’t,” said his new friend, skilfully edging between him and the exit. “But then funny things do happen. There was a man in that house over there—you can see it if you stand on the step—who ran off with every servant-girl his wife had in the course of twelve years. Every single one of them!”

This time the expression of wonder was a little overdone.

“She fetched him back one week and off he’d go with the new girl the next.”

“What happened in the end?” said Mr. Campion, interested in spite of himself.

“Cut his throat on a golf-course in Scotland,” said Mr. Higgleton. “And then there was the woman with the snakes.”

“Really?” murmured Mr. Campion, moving adroitly to the right and gaining six inches in his progress to the door.

“She used to live in this house at the back of mine, on the other side,” said Mr. Higgleton frantically. “Her garden used to run down behind mine and finish up alongside this wall. Of course, she left before the war, but at one time her place was alive with ’em. She used to breed ’em and train ’em. Some of them were very clever, I believe, but I never liked them.”

He sighed. Mr. Campion was going to get away; he could see it.

“If ever that police sergeant should drop in, sir, perhaps you’d like me to give him your name?” he ventured, breathless with defeat.

“That’s very kind of you.” Campion drew a card from his wallet and Mr. Higgleton took it and placed it with great care behind a jar of tobacco on the shelf at the back of the shop. “Any time you want to know anything about this district,” he said wistfully, “you’ll come to me, won’t you?”

Mr. Campion felt a cad.

“I certainly shall,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

“It’s been a pleasure, sir,” said Mr. Higgleton truthfully, and Campion went down to the High Street to find a cab, convinced in spite of his stern belief in the material that something very odd indeed had happened to Tom Barnabas twenty years before.

When he arrived back at Bottle Street he was still absorbed by the past and the urgent message from the present head of the firm of Barnabas and Company, Limited, demanding his immediate attendance at Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard, brought him back to the problem of the moment with uncomfortable conviction that he had spent an unprofitable morning.

He arrived at the office at a little after two o’clock and was shown at once into John’s big room on the ground floor, where a conference was in progress. Before he entered the room, while he was still in the hall, the sonorous voice from within warned him what to expect, and he did not come upon Cousin Alexander altogether unprepared.

The first thing he saw upon entering the room was the back of John’s head and the arc of his forehead. He was leaning back in his chair, which had been turned away from the door, and appeared to be entranced or even stupefied by the spectacle confronting him.

On the hearth rug Sir Alexander Barnabas stood in one of his more famous attitudes, and Campion had the full benefit of his commanding presence. He was a big man, tall and heavy, with a magnificent physique and a great head surmounted by a mass of iron-grey curls parted sleekly down the middle and brushed up at the sides so that, whether by accident or design, one was almost deceived into thinking that his barrister’s wig was a fixture.

His face was handsome in an orthodox way and its clean-shaven mobility had a trick of emphasizing the slightest inflection in its owner’s voice with appropriate expression.

At the moment he was radiating authority. One long graceful hand was upraised to drive home some point while the other rested behind his broad, dark-coated back.

“There is no question of that,” he was saying. “Ab-so-lute-ly no question.” And Mr. Campion was quite convinced that, whatever the subject of conversation might be, there could indeed be absolutely no question about it.

At Campion’s entrance John pulled himself out of the stupor into which he had fallen and performed the introduction.

Mr. Campion was aware of a personage condescending to do a great honour. Two immense fingers rested in his hand for a second, and then he was dismissed to the realm of unimportant things and Cousin Alexander’s melodious voice took up the thread of his discourse once again.

“We must have an acquittal,” he said. “Complete and unconditional acquittal with no stain left upon the boy’s character. I shall work for that and I shall achieve it.”

Mr. Campion sat down on the edge of a chair in the far corner of the room and listened politely. Miracles seemed to be the order of the day.

“But you must understand, John,” the Counsel continued firmly. “The case against Mike is very strong. Circumstantial evidence can be very deadly indeed. At the moment Michael is in a position of the gravest danger.”

Mr. Campion pulled himself together with a jerk. The effect of so powerful a personality at close range was disconcerting. When Sir Alexander spoke of gravity one automatically thought of international crises and in his mouth the word “danger” had the shrill insistence of a fire alarm.

John attempted to speak, but was answered before a word had left his mouth.

“I have seen the boy,” said Cousin Alexander, “and I am convinced of his innocence. Innocence,” he repeated and stared at Campion, who found himself feeling like a rabbit caught in the glare of a headlight. “Innocent.” Sir Alexander again dropped his voice to a whisper. “I heard his statement. Only an innocent man would have dared to make such a damaging confession. Why did he admit he had no alibi? Because he was telling the truth. Because he was innocent.”

His glance swept round the room.

“Can’t you see what happened?” he went on passionately. “Are you blind? Or does the very nakedness of truth offend your modesty? Imagine it. . .”

His voice had become persuasive, his excitement passing as rapidly as it had arisen.

“Think of the story he told the police. Think of the damaging history of that fatal night, related as simply as a child might have told it, a child not only innocent, but so guileless as to believe that not for a moment would its innocence be called into question.”

Mr. Campion settled back in his chair and reflected how much more bearable drama was when it had a little art to help it along. On the witness-stand Mike had presented a depressing tale, but in Sir Alexander’s hands his story became an exhilarating experience if not in particularly good taste. Meanwhile the great man was off again filling the room with melodious but overpowering sound.

“The Coroner demanded to know where Mike was between the hours of five and nine in the evening, hours which have since proved to be critical in the history of this terrible case. What did the boy do? Did he invent a history of little alibis to be broken down one by one by a pitiless police enquiry? Or did he tell the truth? ‘I walked,’ he said. ‘I walked alone through the London streets, amid thousands of my fellow men, not one of whom will come forward to bear me witness. I was unknown to them—a stranger. I was alone.”

“Yes, but what was he doing?” said John irritably, the paralyzing quality of Cousin Alexander’s peroration having apparently passed over his head. “What purpose could he possibly have had in wandering about like that?”

Just for a moment the great man seemed to have been taken off his balance. He was evidently not used to interruptions, for his eye wavered and when he spoke again there was a reproving quality in the beautiful voice which had very little to do with art.

“If you will have patience,” he said, “I will tell you. Mike is a young man and he committed a crime which, although reprehensible, is one of those misfortunes which overtake young men in spite of themselves. He fell in love with another man’s wife. But he did not tell her so. He stood by and saw her neglected and tyrannized over by a man who did not realize her worth. From beginning to end their association was innocent. It does not follow that because of this restraint his passion was any the less real. An evening came when he knew the woman he loved was going to have a long interview with the man to whom she was bound by every legal and moral tie which our civilization has devised. Imagine him—”

The sonorous voice took on a hushed quality that Mr. Campion, who felt he was listening to the truth in dramatized form, found a little shocking.

“Imagine him sitting at his desk early in the evening of that cold January day. He was due to attend some literary function where a great deal of rubbish, some of it witty, some of it not, would be bandied from mouth to mouth, while in the very house in which he lived, in the very room two floors above that in which he slept, the woman whose being was the very core of his existence was talking to the man against whom she was completely defenceless, the man to whom the law gave every conceivable right in her, the man from whom she could not escape and from whom he dared not protect her.

“Do you see him there?” he went on, fixing Campion with a steely blue eye strangely reminiscent of the portrait in the waiting room. And then, in an even quieter voice: “I do. He cannot work, he does not want to go to the witty gathering whose chatter cannot save him from himself, nor can he go to his own home because he knows that in the room upstairs she is talking to his rival, her husband.

“What more natural for him, then—” the voice became musical as its rich tones played over the euphonious words, “—than to feel he must get away? Even his car is denied him: the fog is too thick. So he walks. He takes refuge in the time-honoured escape which men of every age and every generation have used to soothe their troubled spirits.

“He walks through London, through the crowds, thinking of her, trying to reason with himself, no doubt: trying to wrest himself from the cloying embraces of the pitiless emotion which consumes him.”

John attempted to rise to his feet at this juncture, but was subdued by the famous eye.

“The little shop in Bayswater,” said Cousin Alexander. “A secondhand jewellery store. A little place of curios, sentimental trifles scarcely of any value. He went there to buy her something, so engrossed in his thoughts that he forgot the day, forgot that it was a Thursday afternoon, upon which the keeper of the shop took his holiday and closed the shutters over the little trinkets, bidding lovers and their ladies wait until the morrow.”

He paused, evidently feeling that he was navigating a dangerous stretch, and his keen eyes appraised their discomfort.

“He turned back. He walked on through the wet, cold streets. He did not notice they were wet, he did not notice they were cold; he was thinking of her, he was thinking of the woman. When he reached his home he had still come no nearer his goal, he had still not thrashed out his problem. It remained as large, as terrifying, as piteous, as wearying as ever before. He still felt the need of escape.”

The great voice quivered and boomed, and at such close quarters was well-nigh pulverizing.

“What did he do? He saw the night was clearer. He thought of his car. He thought of the cool roads, the open fields, little remote villages—freedom, solitude. He went round to the garage and because it was his habit, because he wanted complete obedience from his car, he switched on the engine, intending to let it run for a while so that the cylinders should be warm, the oil moving smoothly and evenly.

“And at that time he was completely unaware that his car had been, or was going to be, used by some enemy to destroy the very man to whom the woman he loved was tied. Unfortunately for him he did not take the car straight out of the garage. Instead he remembered the key of the yard gate and went to his lonely little flat to fetch it.

“Imagine the thoughts which must have come into his mind as he entered that room and realized that she was above him, closeted, so he thought, remember, with the husband who neglected and had no respect for her.

“Then, just as he was about to take the key, what happened? The telephone bell rang and he heard her voice. He went down, turned off the car, and these two young people went out together. Is that the sort of man who would have gone to see a moving picture if he knew that down in the strong room beneath the office, in the very house next to the one in which he was going to sleep that night, a man lay suffocated to death? Of course not! It is not feasible.”

He allowed the last word to die away and then quite surprisingly dropped his artificial manner and became a different sort of person altogether.

“That’s the truth, you know,” he said. “That’s what happened.”

John pulled a crisp white handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead.

“I think you’re right about Mike,” he said. “You convinced me.”

A smile, pleased and schoolboyish, appeared upon Cousin Alexander’s handsome face.

“It’s effective, isn’t it?” he said, including Campion in the question. “Awfully effective, and true. But we can’t possibly use it.”

Mr. Campion said nothing. A purely academic consideration concerning the importance of technique in all phases of modern life had sprung unbidden to his mind.

“Not use it?” said John in exasperation.

“Oh, no, we couldn’t use it.” Sir Alexander was quite definite. “Not in this case, not in London. It’s not suitable. We simply must not admit any love at all. In law love is suspicious. Bendex—he’s going to be one junior and is devilling for me at the moment—points out that that is absolutely without question, and I see that he’s right. I was only telling you privately why I know Mike’s innocent. We’ll think of something else. But that’s the truth of that point, I’m sure of it. Who is that?”

The final remark was made with a trace of his old manner and both John and Mr. Campion turned towards the door, through which faint sounds, as of a slight scuffle, reached them.

“Come in,” said John peremptorily and, the handle turning abruptly, the door burst open and Mr. Rigget was precipitated into the room.

It was evident at once that something more than the business of the Accounts Department had occasioned his sudden appearance. He was neat, as usual, but considerably more pink and clearly a little above himself. He was also breathless.

At the sight of the K.C. he wavered and for a moment it seemed as though his determination would desert him, but a glimpse of John’s stony face seemed to pull him together.

“I thought it my duty to come to you at once, sir,” he said in a squeaky rush, his eyes snapping behind his pince-nez and his phraseology oddly stilted. “I reached the decision to tell something of which I had become cognizant to the police only this morning and now that I have done so I thought it would be only fair to tell you as well.”

He stood for a moment wavering. John was looking at him as though he were some particularly unpleasant species of life, repellent but not dangerous.

Cousin Alexander, on the other hand, was staring over his head, no doubt considering Truth from yet another angle. Mr. Campion alone remained politely interested.

From pink Mr. Rigget became crimson and a dappling of sweat appeared upon his forehead.

“I’ve just told Sergeant Pillow about the quarrel I heard,” he said sulkily. “It was on the Wednesday morning before the Thursday on which Mr. Paul was killed. The door between Mr. Paul’s rooms and the File Copy Office was ajar and I didn’t like to shut it.”

Cousin Alexander bent his gaze upon the wretched man for the first time.

“Eavesdropping?” he enquired blandly.

“I happened to hear certain words,” said Mr. Rigget indignantly. “And,” he added, a suggestion of a snarl appearing for a fleeting instant across his mouth with the surprisingly white teeth, “I thought it was my duty to repeat them to the police.”

“Get out!” said John, suddenly losing his temper. “Get out! Get straight out of the Office.”

“Wait a minute.” Cousin Alexander’s voice had become pleasant again. “Let’s hear what this gentleman has to say. You’ve come here to help us, haven’t you? That’s extremely kind of you. My cousin appreciates it. What did you hear when the door was ajar? First of all, who was speaking? You were sure of the voices, were you?”

“Yes, I was,” said Mr. Rigget, considerably taken aback by this mercurial change in the magnificent-looking old gentleman in front of him. “Besides, I’d seen Mr. Paul and Mr. Mike when I went through the room first.”

“Mr. Paul and Mr. Michael . . .” said Cousin Alexander soothingly. “And what were the words you heard?”

“Well, they’d stopped talking when I went in first,” said Mr. Rigget truculently, “and then I suppose they thought the door was shut so they went on with their quarrel.”

“Or conversation,” murmured Sir Alexander pleasantly. “And then what?”

Mr. Rigget swung round on John. There was intense satisfaction upon his ignoble face.

“Mr. Paul said, ‘You mind your own damned business, Mike. She’s mine and I’ll manage my own life in my own way.’ ”

There was complete silence in the room after he had spoken and he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had achieved a sensation.

“And did you hear anything else?” Cousin Alexander’s voice was cloying.

“Yes,” said Mr. Rigget, blushing to the roots of his black hair. “He said, ‘Make love to her if you want to—God knows I’m not stopping you.’ ”

“And then?”

“I didn’t hear any more,” said Mr. Rigget. “I came out then. But I could see what Mr. Mike was thinking.”

“That’s not evidence,” said Cousin Alexander.

11  :  Fuse Cap

After a tedious magisterial hearing Michael Wedgwood was committed for trial and on the afternoon before the day on which he was to appear at the Old Bailey Mr. Campion, with Ritchie at his side, steered the Lagonda through the traffic in New Oxford Street. It was one of those warm blowy days when every street corner is a flower garden presided over by a stalwart London nymph still clad in the wools and tippets of winter and the air is redolent with an exciting mixture of tar, exhaust and face powder.

However, neither of the men in the big car was in the mood to appreciate the eternal hopefulness of spring. Ritchie was talking, curbing his gestures with considerable difficulty because of the confined space.

“Want you to see her,” he said. “Don’t like her like this. It’s getting her down, Campion. She’s fond of him, you know. Loves him and probably feels responsible. Women always take responsibility. It’s a form of vanity. Can’t help it. Natural with them.”

His anxiety seemed to have loosened his tongue and the fact that he now considered Campion an old friend made him more coherent.

“Bound to get him off, don’t you think?” he added, cocking a wistful eye at the young man beside him. “Terrible experience anyway. All terrible,” he went on, waving a tremendous arm between Mr. Campion’s eyes and the windscreen. “All this. All these people. They’re all in prison. All miserable. All slaves. All got to work when they don’t want to, eat when they don’t want to, sleep when they don’t want to. Can’t drink until someone says they may. Can’t hide their faces, got to hide their bodies. No freedom anywhere. I hate it. Frightens me. Knew a man once who chucked it. I couldn’t.”

“It’s a feeling one does get sometimes,” Mr. Campion conceded.

“I always feel like it,” said Ritchie and hesitated on the brink of some further confidence but thought better of it and was silent.

They found Gina sitting by the open window in the big studio and Campion, who had not seen her for some weeks, was shocked by the change in her. She was harder, more sophisticated, older. Nervous exhaustion had been replaced by general deterioration. She looked less chic, less graceful, less charming.

Her greeting was artificial and it was not until he had been sitting on the big white sofa for some minutes that she suddenly turned to him with something of her old genuineness.

“It was good of you to come,” she said. “I’m not going to cry or do anything silly and I shall be perfectly composed in the witness-box. It’s not hearing from him,” she added, her defences suddenly collapsing. “No mental contact at all. He’s just gone. He might be dead.”

The natural embarrassment which the confidence might have engendered was swept away by the relief which Campion felt at seeing that her artificiality went no deeper. This was only a warning then of the damage which might be done to her and had not the awful finality of the accomplished fact.

“You—you haven’t found out what really happened? I know you haven’t. You’d have told me, of course. But haven’t you got just an inkling—haven’t you got a clue? When I asked John he said something about a new witness. Can’t you tell me about that? Or is it all a secret, like everything else?”

The mixture of bitterness and pleading in her deep voice was disturbing. Mr. Campion wished in his heart that he had better news for her.

“The new witness may be useful,” he said. “His name’s Widgeon. I had an awful job getting hold of him. He didn’t want to talk but when he realized how much depended on it he shelved his private considerations like a sportsman and came out with all he knew. He’s employed by the Tolleshunt Press people. They’ve got a small office on the second floor of Number Twenty-one. Apparently he got tight at lunch on the Thursday and it took him all the afternoon to sober up, so that he came to himself about five with a splitting headache and all the afternoon’s work on his hands. So he stayed behind and did it and was still hard at it between six and nine, when Mrs. Tripper was making herself cups of tea and coming home from pictures and trotting along to the fried-fish shop.”

He paused and smiled at her encouragingly.

“His story is that he heard the car start up soon after six—he can’t say how soon—and that the engine was running continuously until eight or thereabouts, and that he didn’t hear it again until ten to nine, when it ran for only a short time.”

“But that lets Mike out! That bears out Mike’s story!”

For the first time during the interview a faint tinge of colour appeared in her pale cheeks and she seemed to take new life.

Campion looked uncomfortable.

“It bears out his story,” he said, “but it doesn’t let him out. He can’t establish his alibi between six and the time you phoned him, remember.”

“I see,” she said. She sank back again, her slender body in the sleek, man-tailored gown lifeless and pathetic.

“It’ll help,” said Campion, anxious to be reassuring. “Apart from fixing in the jury’s mind that the whole thing probably happened on the Thursday, it refutes the evidence of the Tripper woman, or muddles it at any rate.”

“And you’ve discovered nothing else?”

“Nothing of value,” he confessed. “There’s been so little to go upon. Usually in these things you can get your teeth in somewhere and worry the whole thing out, but in this business there hasn’t been a gripping place. I had great hopes of Miss Netley, but either she can’t talk and simply tried to look as though she could out of vanity, or else there’s no earthly reason why she should and she doesn’t want to.”

“Netley,” said Ritchie and, getting to his feet, walked out of the room.

His exit was so abrupt that they both looked after him. Gina’s eyes were wet when she returned to Campion.

“He’s been so kind,” she said. “I used to think he was inhuman, a sort of creature; not a lunatic, you know, but, well, just not quite a right thing; but since—since Paul died he’s been the only person who’s behaved normally, to me at any rate. He’s genuinely sorry for me and terrified for Mike. The others, John and even dear old Curley and Mrs. Austin and the doctor and all the other normal people who I always thought were ordinary and real, and who I expected to have ordinary human reactions, have their own points of view so strongly that they have no room for mine or Mike’s. D’you know, John’s only thinking about the publicity and the firm, and Curley follows him. Mrs. Austin’s thinking about her personal appearance. It’s as though she was going on the stage . . .”

Mr. Campion looked sympathetic.

“They’re in it, you see, old dear,” he said. “It’s touched their lives.”

She nodded gloomily. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything terrible close to,” she said. “I haven’t shown up very well to myself.”

There was a silence which Mr. Campion did not like to break and presently she spoke again.

“John brought that man he calls Cousin Alexander up here. I got hysterical and they sent a doctor to me. I didn’t mean to but he just wasn’t human as far as I was concerned. He was like an author planning a book or a play. They talked about hostile witnesses and witness for the defence not as though they were people but as though they were stray ideas, little pieces of construction.”

“Sir Alexander is convinced that he’ll get an acquittal,” said Campion.

“I know.” Her voice became strident. “Insufficient evidence! And what good’ll that be? I talked all this out with Ritchie and he was as appalled as I was when he realized it. Don’t you see an acquittal will only save Mike’s life? The great damage is done.”

She leant forward, her intelligent face turned to him and her eyes very steady.

“Don’t you see,” she said, speaking carefully, as though he were a child, “if they acquit him without finding the man who did the murder everyone will always believe that Mike did it, and if ever he is seen speaking to me that’ll prove it from their point of view.”

“I suppose what other people think matters?” said Mr. Campion weakly.

“Of course it matters,” she said angrily. “It becomes the truth. What everybody thinks is the truth.”

Mr. Campion was silent, knowing from experience that a discourse on ethics is rarely comforting to anyone in genuine distress.

“Somebody must have done it,” she said. “Who was it? I’ve gone over it again and again so often that I sometimes think I shall go mad and imagine I did it myself. It was someone clever enough to think of arranging an accident, someone who had no idea how clever the police are. Albert, it wasn’t Mike, was it?”

“No,” said Mr. Campion quietly but with complete conviction. “It wasn’t Mike.”

She laughed unsteadily.

“When you’re alone thinking, you believe anything.”

Her voice died on the last word and she turned round. The door clattered open and Ritchie returned. Because of his excitement he was clumsier than ever and he lurched across the room dangerously.

“Any good?” he enquired, dropping something into Mr. Campion’s lap.

Mr. Campion turned over the battered cardboard-backed book in some astonishment.

“Post Office Savings Bank?” he said. “Whose is it?”

“Girl Netley’s.” Ritchie seemed tremendously pleased with himself. “Might be interesting. Never know. Often thought it funny she brought it to the office. Keep bank books at home, not lying about.”

“Where did you get it from?” Mr. Campion turned over the pages carefully.

“Out of her bag,” said Ritchie without hesitation or attempt at mitigation. “Can’t be conventional at a time like this.”

Mr. Campion made no comment. Something in the book had attracted his attention and he sat for some considerable time turning over the pages and comparing entries.

“Thrifty kid,” he said at last. “She saves ten bob a week regularly, every Saturday. There it is. It goes back nearly a year. Handed in at the same office just down the road here in Holborn. There were several sums paid in at Christmas—that’s presents, I suppose—and she took out three pounds then too. I’m afraid it doesn’t tell us much about her, unless—Hello! What’s this?”

Gina rose to look over his shoulder while Ritchie leant back in his chair, his long hands dropping over the arms and his eyes mild and inquisitive, like a dog who has brought a parcel and is content to see his master open it.

Mr. Campion ran a finger down a paying-in column and traced certain entries across the page to the circular stamp which showed at which office the deposits had been made.

“These can’t all be birthdays,” he said. “They’re funny amounts, too; so irregular. A pound on October the twenty-second last year, paid in at St. James’s of all places. Ten shillings in the middle of the first week in November at the same place. Then there’s just the ordinary ten shillings until December the first, when she paid two pounds in at the St. Martin’s Lane office. Then nothing odd until January, and then there’s quite a lot. Three pounds on the tenth, another three pounds on the thirteenth, two pounds on the seventeenth, then three again on the twentieth and—I say—five pounds on the twenty-ninth. That was the day after Paul disappeared. I wonder . . .”

He turned over the pages and his frown deepened.

“And there’s nothing since. That’s odd in a way.”

“Source of blackmail dead,” suggested Ritchie crudely.

Mr. Campion did not scout the suggestion openly.

“It’s not very much for blackmail,” he murmured. “Eighteen pounds odd all told. It’s the paying-in places that strike me as being odd. They’re all over the shop. Only the first two alike. Of course, we’re catching at straws now, you know. This doesn’t prove anything. It may mean absolutely nothing. Still, it’s worth looking up.”

He closed the book and slipped it into his pocket.

“I think I’ll go across and have a word with her.”

“Say I took it if you have to,” said Ritchie recklessly.

“God forbid.” Mr. Campion spoke piously and left them.

In spite of the fact that he had become a familiar figure at Twenty-three during the last few months, custom insisted that he should be shown into the waiting room and there left to kick his heels until the person whom he sought should be discovered and delivered to him.

He was standing with his back to the door, surveying the portrait of Jacoby Barnabas afresh, when Miss Netley came in. She went to meet him, a smile upon her lips and the same smug secretiveness in her eyes which he had noticed at their first meeting.

“Here again, Mr. Campion?” she said pleasantly but with the faintest suggestion of amusement in her tone. “I thought perhaps you’d brought us a manuscript!”

Mr. Campion’s smile was wholly charming.

“That’s what I call intuition,” he said. “Look at this.”

He had the satisfaction of seeing her complaisance vanish as she caught sight of the little brown book in his hand. Her round eyes lost their ingenuous expression and her colour vanished.

“It’s mine,” she said. “Where did you get it? Thank you for returning it.”

“Ah, but I’m not returning it,” murmured Mr. Campion and she gaped at him.

“I’ve never heard such impudence in all my life,” she burst out finally. “How dare you! Where did you get it anyway?”

“Took it,” said Mr. Campion and put the book back in his pocket.

Miss Netley trembled. “It’s outrageous!” she said unsteadily. “It’s illegal, it’s—it’s stealing!”

“Of course it is,” he agreed. “Let’s go and tell Inspector Tanner all about it, shall we? He’s a policeman.”

She drew back from him, her lips sulky, her eyes narrowed and frightened.

“What do you want to know? I can’t tell you anything.”

Mr. Campion sighed with relief. They taught them to be quick-witted in offices, he reflected.

“I thought we might have a chat,” he said.

“I’ve told the police everything—absolutely everything.”

“About the murder? Yes, of course you have,” he said, wondering how long they were going to be left alone in peace in the waiting room. “Let’s talk about yourself.”

Her suspicion increased.

“I don’t understand.”

Mr. Campion leant on the large table which filled the centre of the room. His expression was vague to the point of idiocy and his eyes looked guileless behind his spectacles.

“I hate to sound inquisitive and my question may sound a little in bad taste,” he began, “but however much one’s upset by a death one has to face facts, hasn’t one? I do hope you won’t think it impertinent of me to ask if your financial position has been very much upset by Mr. Paul Brande’s death? It is frightfully inquisitive, I know, but I would be really obliged if you’d tell me.”

She looked relieved and he saw at once that he was on a wrong tack.

“Well, I haven’t lost my job, if that’s what you mean,” she said. “What other difference could it make?”

“None, of course. If you’re staying on that’s all right.” Mr. Campion covered his tracks but her interest had been aroused.

“Just exactly what are you getting at?” she demanded.

He took the bank book out of his pocket, looked at it thoughtfully, and replaced it again.

“You told the police exactly what happened when Mr. Paul Brande got a letter by the afternoon post on the Thursday that he disappeared. You haven’t remembered anything else since, have you?”

“I’ve told it all, every single word, over and over again.”

There was an edge to her voice which warned him to be careful. He smiled at her brightly.

“You’ve got awfully strong nerves, haven’t you?” he said. “Let’s go into his old office and—just go through it. Please don’t think I’m being a nuisance, but I would like to know just exactly what happened. It’ll fix the picture in my mind, you see.”

Miss Netley looked at him witheringly but the retort which rose to her lips did not come and without a word she led him up to the first floor and into the big comfortable room, a little too preciously furnished for an office, in which Paul had worked.

Mr. Campion sat down at the desk after placing his hat and stick carefully on a side table.

“Now,” he said, “where were you when the letter came?”

Still sullen, and looking her contempt, Miss Netley seated herself at the typewriter in the corner.

“Now,” said Mr. Campion, “I suppose the boy brought the letter in, gave it to you and you handed it to Mr. Brande?”

She bowed her head. It was evident that she did not trust herself to speak. Mr. Campion tore open an imaginary envelope, exhibiting much pantomimic skill.

“Now,” he demanded briskly, “what do I do now?”

“Mr. Paul got up,” said Miss Netley, indicating that she was not going to play, “scrunched up the paper and envelope and threw them into the fireplace.”

“Like that?” said Mr. Campion, hurling an imaginary ball from him violently.

“No,” she said unwillingly. “Just casually.”

“And it burned?” he enquired, his eyes resting on her quizzically.

“It did.”

“All of it? Every scrap of it?”

“Every tiny bit.”

“You looked to see?”

She met his eyes defiantly. “After he had gone, yes, I did.”

“We’re getting on,” said Mr. Campion cheerfully. “Now I get up, don’t I? And I seem excited? What happens? Do I get red and seem a little flustered? Do I take up my hat and stick and make for the door without a word or a glance in your direction? Or do I say something?”

The girl hesitated. She seemed to be considering her course of action.

“No,” she said at last, grudgingly. “Mr. Paul asked me if a parcel had come.”

“Oh, did he? What did he say? Can you remember his actual words?”

“He said”—she still spoke unwillingly—“ ‘Has that parcel come from Fortnum and Mason’s yet?’ ”

“Fortnum and Mason’s? And what did you say?”

“I said, ‘No, Mr. Brande, I don’t think it has.’ And he said, ‘Oh, well, it doesn’t matter,’ and went out without it. And now I hope you’re satisfied.”

“Well, it’s a crumb,” said Mr. Campion. “It’s a crumb. Ten bob here, a pound there. Two pounds and five pounds—it all tells up, doesn’t it?”

He stopped abruptly. If he had meant to terrify her he could not have been more successful. She was staring at him, her eyes wide and her lips open.

“What do you know?” she said huskily.

“Much more than you’d think.” Mr. Campion spoke cryptically and he hoped convincingly. “Let’s get back to Mr. Paul. You said the parcel hadn’t come and then what happened?”

“I told you. He said it didn’t matter. ‘It does not matter,’ he said. ‘I will go without it.’ Then he went out and shut the door and I never saw him again.”

“Splendid!” said Mr. Campion. “You’re not a good witness, you know, but it makes a lot of difference when you try. Now what happened to the parcel? Did it ever come?”

“Yes. It came about an hour after he left. I put it in that cupboard over there.”

“Is it still there?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t looked.”

“Then shall we look now?” he suggested.

She got up, sauntered across the room and jerked open the cupboard.

“Yes,” she said. “There it is.”

“Bring it here,” said Mr. Campion. “I wouldn’t have you for a secretary as a gift.”

Miss Netley reddened and opened her mouth to speak. A single unprintable epithet left her lips and then, as he looked completely shocked, she strode over to her typewriter and burst into tears.

Campion examined the parcel. There seemed to be nothing in any way extraordinary about it and he loosened the string. Inside was a square box, tastefully ornamented and containing two pounds of crystallized Cape gooseberries.

He sat looking at them in their green and pink sugar jackets, his head slightly on one side and his eyes puzzled.

“Who was the lady?” he enquired at last.

Miss Netley wiped her eyes.

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you do. Ten bob—two pounds—”

She laughed. “You’re wrong. I knew you were wrong.”

Her watery-eyed triumph was vindictive.

“Well, I know now,” said Mr. Campion mercilessly. “Come on, I want the address.”

“I don’t know it.”

He had the uncomfortable impression that she was telling the truth.

“Look here, young woman,” he said severely, “an accident of nature has given you a certain amount of intelligence. Believe me when I tell you that now is the time to use it. Think! Pull your scattered little wits together. Get it into your head that now is the time to talk.”

This sudden ferocity from the hitherto mild young man had the desired effect.

“There was a telephone number he used to ring up sometimes,” she admitted. “He used to send me out of the room and then just as I was going I would hear him give the number.”

“Well, then, out with it, for the love of Mike,” said Mr. Campion, using the expression unconsciously.

“Maida Vale 58423. Now I can’t tell you any more. I can’t—can’t! I don’t know any more.”

“Maida Vale 58423,” said Mr. Campion, scribbling the number on the blotter in front of him. “All right. You clear off now and get your face washed.”

“What about my book? You can’t keep my book.”

“I should trust me with it for a day or two,” said Mr. Campion. “I might put something in it. You never know.”

A stifled scream escaped the girl. He had a vision of her, white and trembling, and then the door banged behind her. Enlightenment dawned in Mr. Campion’s pale eyes.

“So that’s how he did it,” he said and pulled the telephone towards him.

He heard the bell ringing in the far-off room for some time before a voice answered him.

“Yes? Maida Vale 58423. Who is it, please?”

Mr. Campion was puzzled. It was a woman’s voice and it was familiar, but he could not place it. Completely in the dark, he proceeded cautiously.

“I say, I’m afraid you’ll think it frightfully odd of me ringing up like this,” he began. “I wonder if it would be too much to ask you if I could come along and see you? It really is important and I wouldn’t take up more than ten minutes of your time.”

“Do you know the address?” whispered the voice. “It’s Thirty-two, Dorothy Studios, Denbigh Road, Kilburn. You open the garden gate and come down the steps.”

“Splendid. I’ll be right along,” he said, completely startled. “My name’s Campion, by the way.”

“Yes, I know. I’ve been expecting you. My name’s Teddie Dell.”

Mr. Campion hung up the receiver slowly.

He was very conscious of the fact that he had never heard either the name or the address in his life before.

12  :  Somebody Died

Mr. Campion saw the studio as soon as he pushed open the gate in the blank wall behind the huge margarine-coloured block of flats and came out on to the iron staircase high above the untidy strip of sunken garden.

It sat opposite him in the grass, trying to look like a country cottage and succeeding in suggesting a garden suburb. Its four tall windows faced south and the back of the flats and had diamond panes. The skylight had been leaded over.

There was a trimness about the whole building and a preponderance of bright colours which conveyed a personality childish or at least uneducated. The paint was green, the curtains blue, the window sills and step red-ochred, while a ridiculous little green dog kennel stood beside the door. It looked extraordinarily clean and new in the dinginess of Kilburn and no more in bad taste than a painted Noah’s Ark, which it resembled.

It was six o’clock and not yet dusk, although the sun had gone in. The flats and studio appeared to be deserted and there was a quiet evening melancholy upon the scene.

Mr. Campion went slowly down the iron staircase and, picking his way over the grass, tapped with the brass knocker which bore a relief of Worcester Cathedral and had come from Birmingham via Bruges.

An excited yapping from within answered him, followed by a woman’s voice admonishing the dog. Then the door opened.

“Come in,” said Teddie Dell.

Enlightenment came to Mr. Campion as he recognized the woman who had been waiting for him outside the Bottle Street flat when he had come home from the inquest with Gina and Curley. She looked bigger and older in her indoor clothes. Her fairish hair was dressed close to her head and was cut in a thin unfashionably curled fringe, while her strong capable body was sturdy and unsuitably dressed in a very smooth blue skirt and a very frilly blouse.

There was a suggestion of strength about her face also, with its square jawbone and thick cream skin, its good teeth and wide-set blue-grey eyes.

“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I’ve been wondering if I ought to ring you. Come in and sit down and have a cigarette.”

The over-carefulness of her pronunciation struck him again, but her self-possession was unconscious and superb.

The dog was frantic with delight at his arrival and danced round him noisily in spite of his mistress’s rebuke. He was a small smooth-haired yellow mongrel, spry and wiry on thin legs. Campion put out a hand and he offered a paw instantly. Campion took it and laughed.

“George, don’t be a fool. Lie down! He’s absurd, isn’t he?”

The woman was laughing as she spoke and Campion glanced up to see that her eyes were swimming. She turned away to the mantelshelf and brought back cigarettes and matches, waiting on her visitor with the complete lack of self-consciousness of a nurse or a teashop waitress.

He found himself fumbling for a case to offer her at the moment when she held a lighted match to his cigarette.

The room in which they stood reflected the outside of the building. The floor was covered with imitation red and grey tiles and shone like a ship’s deck. The dark oak furniture was ordinary and unpretentious. There was a divan under the windows and a comfortable chesterfield, flanked by two chintz-covered easy chairs by the fire.

Teddie Dell drew up the largest and most comfortable chair.

“Sit down,” she said, indicating it, and he obeyed her.

Mr. Campion, the most unassuming of men, did not imagine for a moment that her solicitude for his comfort, her tacit acceptance of the fact that his ease was all-important, was due in any way to his personal charm. Teddie Dell, he realized, was behaving as she always had and always would behave, since she belonged to that most ill-used sisterhood, some of them wives, some of them mothers, and all of them lovers, who really believe that there is in the mere quality of manhood something magnificent and worthy to be served.

“You were pointed out to me at the inquest and I heard you were interested in the case,” she said, seating herself opposite him and holding one hand up to the fire to shield her face from the blaze. “I didn’t want to go to the police for obvious reasons. He wouldn’t have liked it and she’s only a kid, isn’t she, and mixed up with nice people who don’t understand this sort of thing. So I went round to your place. When I saw her come up with you I thought I’d better slip off. She’s never heard of me, you see.”

Mr. Campion nodded. He was wondering irrelevantly what Teddie Dell thought she meant by “nice people.”

“It’s been on my mind,” she continued. “He came here when he left the office on the Thursday and the police don’t know that. I wanted to ask someone about it and find out if it was any good me telling. He kept me a secret from his family for fourteen years and I didn’t see any point in it all coming out now if it wouldn’t help.”

“Fourteen years?” said Mr. Campion involuntarily.

Her eyes rested upon him for a moment.

“We met in the war, in France,” she said. “I’ve had this place since ’23.”

Her glance left his face and travelled round the yellow walls and there was an indefinable expression in her eyes.

“I never thought he’d marry,” she went on abruptly. “But he was right: it didn’t make any difference. That’s why I was sorry for the kid. That’s no marriage for a girl. I suppose she got hold of the young cousin and egged him on and teased him till he went out of his mind—although I don’t know why they think he did it. My dear old boy had a lot of other enemies—ooh, he had a temper——!”

She broke off. Her eyes were a blank and her mouth very hard.

Mr. Campion looked at the dog, who lay upon the hearth rug, his nose between his paws and his ears cocked. Gradually he became aware of other things: a small silver golf trophy on the dresser and a pair of slippers, grey with age and long discarded, stuffed behind the coal-box, which was also a fireside seat.

“Was Mr. Brande here very long on the Thursday?”

He put the question diffidently but the woman gave him her whole attention at once.

“No, he couldn’t stay. That often happened. He was such a busy man. I suppose they’ll miss him at the office. He held the business together, didn’t he?”

She spoke wistfully and for a moment Mr. Campion was able to take the impulsive, excitable, slightly ridiculous Paul at the dead man’s own valuation. The woman was still speaking.

“We were going to have a bit of dinner and then he was going to read. We didn’t go out much together since he got so well known. I didn’t ask him to take me; I’m not a fool. But he came in just about four and said he couldn’t stay, so I made him a cup of tea and he went. I wondered why he didn’t ring up on the Sunday, but on the Monday I saw the papers.”

Her voice wavered on the last word but she controlled it magnificently, out of deference, Mr. Campion felt, to the presence of a stranger.

“Do you know where he went when he left here?” he enquired.

“I know where he said he was going and there was no point in him lying. Besides, he never did to me. We knew each other too well. He said, ‘I’m so sorry I can’t stay, Ted. I’ve got to go down to fetch a key from Camden Town of all places, and then I’ve got to dash back and slip into the British Museum.’ I asked him if there was any chance of him dropping in later but he said, ‘No luck, I’m going to be busy tonight. I’ll ring you Sunday.’ ”

Her voice ceased and she moved her position slightly so that her face was in the shadow. Mr. Campion felt he dared intrude no more.

“It’s been very kind of you,” he began awkwardly. “I’ll let you know, of course, if I think you ought to come forward, but it’s quite possible that it won’t be at all necessary—if you don’t want to.”

She got up, raising herself wearily as if her bones were unusually heavy.

“Why should I?” she said. “It’s not as if he were ill. He’s dead.”

The dog rose and yawned and stretched himself, only to lie down again, his nose between his forepaws. The room was growing dark and the fire-light flickered over the bright floor and was reflected in some little bits of brass on the dresser. There was comfort in the place and an utterly unbearable sense of waiting. Mr. Campion hurried.

Teddie Dell escorted him to the door.

“I’ll keep in touch with you,” he promised and paused. Paul had not died penniless and Campion had a strong sense of justice. “Forgive me if I am saying the wrong thing,” he ventured, “but are you all right for cash?”

She smiled and there were so many varying emotions in her expression that he only understood that she appreciated his thoughtfulness.

“Better let her have it,” she said. “There isn’t much. He spent like a lunatic. It would be charity too. I haven’t any rights.”

She was silent for a moment and he had a very vivid impression of her, square and sturdy in her little painted home, the dog peering round her skirts.

“We loved each other,” she said and her voice was as proud and forlorn as high tragedy itself.

Mr. Campion came away.

13  :  A Craftsman of Camden Town

“Would it be possible, Lugg,” enquired Mr. Campion delicately, “for you to forget for a moment this respectability to which you are not accustomed and delve into the past?”

Mr. Lugg, who was taking off his collar because it was only his employer whom he had admitted, kept his back turned to the speaker and his attention fixed upon the drawer into which he was tucking this badge of refinement. The white roll of fat at the back of his neck looked smug and obstinate. Mr. Lugg had not heard.

“I suppose if I asked you to come off it,” Mr. Campion began sarcastically.

Mr. Lugg swung round, his small black eyes unconvincingly innocent.

“I shouldn’t understand what you meant,” he said placidly, and returned to the drawer. “Some of the fellows down at the Mews wear butterfly collars and some wear straight,” he observed over his shoulder. “I ’aven’t made up me mind for good yet. Butterflies let yer neck through, but they’re apt to look untidy.”

Mr. Campion made no response to this implied question. Instead he put another.

“Lugg,” he said, “if a man who had something to hide went to Camden Town to get a key, who would he go to?”

Surprise took Mr. Lugg unawares.

“Lumme,” he said, “old Wardie Samson! He’s not still at it, is ’e? Must be well over a ’undred. I remember ’im in my dad’s day.”

This family reminiscence was cut short by what was no doubt a recollection of the rigid society of the hostelry in the “Mews.”

“A very low person,” said the new Mr. Lugg. “Dishonest, reely.”

“Do you know him?”

Lugg wriggled uncomfortably.

“I visited ’im as a lad with my father,” he said at last, “but I shouldn’t think ’e was the party to which you was referrin’.”

“Well, take off that awful coat and get in the car, which is downstairs,” said Mr. Campion. “We’re going to see him.”

“Not me.” Mr. Lugg was defiant. “I’ll give you ’is address if you like, but I’m not coming with you. It’s more than me reputation’s worth. You never know ’ow a thing like this might tell two or three years hence when your relation ’as gorn the way all good relations should go and you and me are established in our rightful place. What sort of a position should I be in if one of the ’ousemaids, or per’aps another gentleman who’s come up in the world, should say, ‘Surely I saw you in Camden Town, Mr. Lugg?’ What sort of position should I be in then?”

“Even if I become a Duke,” said Mr. Campion brutally, “the chances of you becoming a respectable person are remote—or at any rate, I shouldn’t count on it. Come on. Hurry.”

Before the authority in the tone Mr. Lugg’s defiance turned to pathos.

“What’s the good of me tryin’ to better meself if you keep draggin’ me down?” he said. “I’ve put the old life be’ind me. I’ve forgot it, see?”

“Well, this is where you do a spot of remembering,” insisted Mr. Campion heartlessly. “And don’t spoil everything by trying to impress your old pal with your new vulgarity, you fat oaf.”

Mr. Lugg bridled. “That’s a bit too thick, that is,” he said. “You’re destroying my ambition, that’s about what you’re doing. Mucking up me perishin’ soul, see? All right, I’ll come with you.”

They drove for some time in silence, but as the wealthier parts of the city were left behind and they slid into the noisy poverty of the Hampstead Road some of Mr. Lugg’s gloom deserted him.

“It’s like old times, isn’t it?” he observed.

Campion accepted the olive branch.

“We’ve got a delicate job ahead,” he said. “I suppose your friend Wardie would give away a client if he was dead?”

“Wardie doesn’t give anything.” Lugg spoke reminiscently. “Doesn’t know the meanin’ of the word ‘tick’ either. Still, we can but try ’im. I ’aven’t seen ’im for ten years, remember.”

“When you were a lad,” said Mr. Campion unkindly.

“When I was one of the lads,” said Mr. Lugg, whose spirits were soaring. “ ’E was a clever old bloke, Wardie,” he continued. “Give ’im an impression one day and in a little while ’e’d drop you a line and down you’d go to find a better key than the original. ’E did name plates, too—not for the same people. Only one thing aginst ’im, ’e was slow. Lumme, ’ow slow that man was! So busy making snide ’e never ’ad time for honest work. Used to make lovely ’alf-crowns. Made ’em out of the tops of soda-water siphons. That metal’s just the right weight, y’know.”

Mr. Campion showed polite interest. “Was he pinched?”

“Wardie? No. He was too careful. ’E never passed ’em. Wouldn’t let any of ’is relations ’andle ’em either. Used to sell ’em—so much a gross—to one of these lads in the Ditch. ’E’s a handy man, if you take me. I’m surprised at ’im still working, especially for outsiders. It’s round ’ere, guv’nor. Better leave the car at a garridge. It’s no good parkin’ it. We don’t want to turn up to Wardie’s lookin’ like bloomin’ millionaires. Might give ’im ideas.”

They left the car and continued on foot. For one who professed to have left this particular world behind him Mr. Lugg found his way among the maze of small streets with remarkable precision.

“ ’Ere we are,” he said at last. “Now, look casual but not ’alf-witted. I don’t want ’im to think I’ve turned up with a Killarney.”

Mr. Campion, who in the course of a long association had come to realize that living up to Mr. Lugg was an impossibility, remained much as usual and they paused in the narrow, dusty little road littered with paper bags and kitchen refuse while Lugg went through an elaborate pantomime of noticing a small shop some few doors down on the opposite side.

“Why, there’s Mr. Samson’s joint!” he said, with theatrical astonishment. “I wonder if ’e’s still alive? I’d better go and look ’im up. Just the same! The ole place ’asn’t changed since I was a boy.”

At first sight the Samson emporium was not impressive. It consisted of a very narrow door and a small window. Both were incredibly dirty and, while one revealed an even dingier interior, the other displayed a collection of old iron ranging from nails to the back of bedsteads, a notice which announced that shoe leather could be purchased within, and a quantity of cheap new razor blades. There was also, Mr. Campion noticed, a hank of bass, two large bales of twine and a skein of very thick elastic labelled “For Catapults.” This last was crossed out very lightly and “Model Aëroplanes” substituted in wavering pencil.

With the nonchalance of a loiterer observing a policeman, Mr. Lugg lounged into the shop, beckoning Mr. Campion to follow him with a jerk of his shoulder.

It took them some moments to accustom their eyes to the darkness. The atmosphere, which was composed of a nice blend of rust, leather and Irish stew, took a bit of assimilating also, and Campion felt his feet sink into a sand of dust and iron filings.

There was a movement in the shop, followed by a snuffling, and presently a bright young man with a white face, dusty yellow hair and an enquiring manner sauntered towards them. Mr. Lugg showed surprise.

“Business changed ’ands?” he asked suspiciously. “I come reely to enquire after an old friend, Mr. Samson.”

The young man eyed Mr. Lugg from the toes of his boots to the top of his hat.

“One of the old brigade, aren’t yer?” he said cheekily, his narrow blue eyes astute and appraising.

Mr. Lugg was momentarily taken off his balance.

“ ’Ere, what’re you gettin’ at?” he said, taking a menacing step forward. “When I want any lip from two penn’orth of string-bag I’ll ask for it.”

In spite of a certain flabbiness induced by high life, Mr. Lugg was still a formidable opponent, and he was not alone. The young man retreated.

“Gran’dad’s in the back,” he said. “If you’ll tell me your name I’ll go and see if he remembers you.”

“Gran’dad?” said Mr. Lugg, a repulsively sentimental smile appearing on his great white face. “Don’t tell me you’re little Alfie? Not little Alfie what I danced up an’ down on my knee?”

“Charlie,” said the young man, without enthusiasm.

“Charlie! That was it. Rosie’s boy—little Rosie. ’Ow’s your mother, son?”

“ ’Aven’t seen ’er since she went off with a rozzer,” said the young man, with that complete carelessness which is more chilling than any rebuke. “I’ll go and tell Gran’dad. What’s yer name?”

“Just tell ’im Maggers is ’ere,” said Lugg, who was beginning to enjoy himself for the first time, Mr. Campion felt, for years.

“Shall I come with you?”

“No. You stay ’ere,” said Charlie, with the first show of animation he had yet exhibited and disappeared into the darkness.

Mr. Lugg chuckled in a fatherly fashion.

“I remember ’im being born,” he said, with inexplicable pride. “ ’Ear what e called me?—‘Old Brigade!’ That’s ’cos ’e knows I’m after a key. ’Is pals use oxy-acetylene. Nasty dangerous stuff. When that come on the market I knew my time was over.”

“ ’E’ll see yer. Come on.”

Charlie did not emerge from the shadows to make this announcement and they groped forward in the direction of his voice. After passing through a living room, into which the iron filings had percolated in the course of years, and which was apparently the fountainhead of the Irish stew, they came quite unexpectedly into the bright light of day. Their way led across a minute yard, dirty to a degree unknown by most users of the word, and into a small shed festooned with old bicycle tyres.

Seated at a bench was a large blank-faced old man, bald as an egg and clad in a very loose shirt and surprisingly tight trousers whose original colour could only be surmised. The round face was at once mild and cunning and possessed the serenity of a Buddha.

“Wardie!” said Mr. Lugg, enraptured, adding a little inopportunely: “I thought you was dead.”

The old man smiled enigmatically as he held out a hand, and it occurred to Mr. Campion that he was deaf.

“Afternoon, gentlemen,” he said, and his voice had a husky, secretive quality.

Lugg deserted Campion. He went round the back of the bench and seated himself beside the old man.

“I’m Maggers, Wardie,” he said, thrusting a mighty arm round the other man’s shoulders. “You remember me. I’m the fellow what was sweet on yer second daughter—the one what died. I’m coming back to yer, aren’t I?”

“Lugg,” said the old man suddenly. “Young Lugg.”

They shook hands again solemnly and with great sentiment.

“Can you ’ear me?” said Mr. Lugg, rumbling into one of the great ears.

“Course,” said the old man. “ ’Eard you all the time. Didn’t know oo you were. Oo’s yer friend?”

“Young fellow I go round with,” said Mr. Lugg shamelessly. “You know me, Wardie: I wouldn’t tell you wrong. Me and my pal we want a bit of ’elp from you.”

He cocked an eye at his employer.

“You tell ’im, Bert.”

Mr. Campion explained his business as well as he could.

“It’s about a key,” he said. “Lugg and I wondered if you could tell us anything about a key which a man picked up down here in Camden Town on Thursday, the twenty-eighth of January last. It’s a long time ago, I know, but I thought you might remember. He was a well-dressed fellow, forty-fiveish, dark, and spoke well.”

Wardie Samson shook his large round head.

“I don’t know anything about keys,” he said. “We don’t sell ’em.”

Lugg burst into a roar of unnatural laughter.

“You’re takin’ Bert for a ’tec!” he said. “That’s a good one, that is! Old Bert a split! That’ll be one to tell the boys!”

Wardie’s inflamed and rheumy eyes shifted nervously.

“Can’t tell yer about a key,” he said. “Don’t know.”

Mr. Campion took a chance.

“It’s private information I want,” he said. “I’m willing to pay for it and I’ll give you any assurance you like that you will never be questioned about it again. I am a detective, if you like, but I’m not a police detective. I’m not interested in your business, and all I want is a description, or, better still, a mould, of a key which the man I am interested in had made in this district. That’s all I want. After I walk out of this shop you can swear blindly you’ve never seen me before. Lugg won’t act as a witness.”

The old man, who had been watching Campion carefully throughout this recital, seemed impressed.

“What date did you say, guv’nor? The twenty-eighth of January? Seems to me I read an interestin’ bit in the paper about a gentleman who got his on that day. It wouldn’t be him you was interested in, would it?”

“That’s the ticket,” said Mr. Lugg heartily. “Now you’re bein’ sensible. We’re just blokes oo’ve come to an old pal for a bit of ’elp. As for that chap, ’e can’t buy anything off you again, can ’e? ’E’s in ’is box.”

Mr. Samson seemed to have decided that his visitors were on the level, but he retained his caution of voice and expression, which seemed to be habitual.

“I sent ’im a letter telling ’im it was ready and ’e come down right away. Said ’e’d destroyed the letter for ’is own sake.”

He cocked an eye at Campion, who nodded reassuringly.

“He had. We came to you by chance. Have you destroyed the impression?”

The old man nodded and seemed to debate within himself for a moment or so. Then, with a glance at Lugg that was almost affectionate, he opened a small drawer in the bench in front of him and, after rummaging in it for some time, produced a large, old-fashioned key. He threw it down in front of Campion.

“Always make two for luck,” he said, and the faintest suggestion of a smile flickered for an instant round his mouth.

Another search in the drawer produced a dirty envelope. “Paul R. Brande,” he spelt out awkwardly. “Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard, Holborn, W.C.1.”

Mr. Campion took the key and Lugg waved him out of the shed.

“Me and Wardie will fix this little matter up between us,” he said magnificently.

Mr. Campion waited in the filth of the yard for some considerable time, and Lugg finally appeared.

“Three pound ten,” he said. “I know it’s a lot, but you ’ave to pay for these things.”

Mr. Campion parted with the money and presently, with the key safely stowed in his pocket, he once more approached the garage where the car was parked. As they settled down and Campion turned the Lagonda out into Hampstead Road Lugg nudged him.

“ ’Ere’s thirty-five shillings that belongs to you,” he said. “I did a split with Wardie. It’s the worst of these dishonest people. They always expect you to live down to ’em.”

14  :  The Damned

Even if Mr. Lugg was as hurt as he looked when his employer dropped him at the corner of Regent Street, at least he refrained from referring to himself as a “worn-out glove,” an unsuitable simile of which he was very fond, having, so he said, read it somewhere and thought it “the ticket.”

Campion went on alone to Horsecollar Yard. He had no desire to discuss his afternoon’s work with Gina, and was wondering how he could get into Number Twenty-three without disturbing her, John, or an inquisitive policeman when he observed a familiar figure striding out of the cul-de-sac.

Ritchie Barnabas possessed a striking appearance at all times, but, seen at a reasonable distance in the lamp-lit dusk of a spring evening, he presented a spectacle of fantasy. He lolloped along at a great pace, each knee giving a little as it took his weight, and his great arms flapping about him like the wings of an intoxicated crow.

He pulled up with a jerk which almost overbalanced him as the Lagonda slid to a standstill at his side and thrust an anxious face into Campion’s own.

“The key of the office?” he repeated after the younger man had made the request. “Certainly. Let you in myself. All the cousins and Miss Curley have keys. John’s out, anyway. Gone to see Alexander.”

All the time he was speaking he watched Campion’s face with the eager but diffident curiosity of a child. The other man found himself apologizing.

“If I had anything definite I’d tell you,” he said, “but at the moment I’ve only got an idea, supported by two or three dubious facts.”

Ritchie nodded humbly and his blue eyes blinked trustingly at his friend. He opened the front door of Twenty-three and hesitated.

“Wait for you?” he enquired hopefully.

“I shouldn’t.” Unconsciously Mr. Campion spoke in that firm but regretful tone with which one tries to persuade a strange and friendly dog not to accompany one home.

“All right,” Ritchie agreed sadly. “Lock up behind you. Good night.”

He strode off, to return at once.

“Only live in Red Lion Square, you know address,” he murmured. “There if wanted. Any hour.”

He went off again, successfully this time, and Mr. Campion set about his investigations, blessing the idiosyncrasy of the firm of Barnabas which made them elect to have their offices cleaned out in the early morning instead of at night.

It was practically dark indoors, and the big untidy rooms looked unfamiliar in the gloom; nor were they particularly silent. The ticking of clocks, the stir of papers in a draught and the vibrations of the nearby Underground railway combined to make the place sound alive.

Anxious not to advertise himself, Campion did not turn on the lights, but relied upon his torch. He went up to Miss Curley’s room, a neatly kept glass-and-panelling cubicle built round one window in the typists’ office. The strong-room key hung upon its hook on the inside of the old-fashioned desk. As soon as he handled it one of Mr. Campion’s minor theories collapsed gently, to be replaced by a sense of misgiving and a wholly unwarrantable suspicion of the innate honesty of Wardie Samson.

He compared the two keys as they lay side by side on the desk in the gleam of his torch. Apart from the fact that they were both of the ordinary or old-fashioned type and were both over four inches long, it would have been difficult to find two such instruments more dissimilar. The key of the strong-room door was long and slender with three wards, but the key which Wardie Samson had made for luck was squat and heavy and had that curious unsatisfactory appearance which is peculiar to old-fashioned patent devices which have never been really successful.

Mr. Campion turned it over thoughtfully and an idea occurred to him. Placing both keys in his pocket, he went slowly downstairs. It was growing darker and the well of the front hall, which had no windows to admit the gleam from the street lamps, was completely black.

Because it is natural to keep quiet in the dark, Mr. Campion trod gently. At the top of the stone staircase leading down into the basement he paused to listen. His quick ears had detected something that was not one of the ordinary night noises and his interest quickened. It did not come again, however, and he went on.

On the landing, where the stair turned to face the basement wall, he paused abruptly, extinguishing his torch. Below him, at the end of the Passage, a thin angle of light gleamed in the darkness. The strong-room floor was ajar and there was a light within, a fact which might not have been so very astonishing even out of office hours had he not carried the only official key in his pocket.

Campion advanced cautiously, feeling his way down the shallow worn stone steps. His foot had just touched the concrete floor of the passage when the angle vanished as the light in the room went out.

He stood motionless, listening. The silence was uncanny and he hesitated to use the torch until he knew more of the situation. An unarmed man with a torch is an admirable target.

He was some half-dozen yards from the door and the basement was less disturbed by vibrations and draught-disturbed papers than the rest of the building, yet he could hear nothing. There was not a breath, not a rustle, not even the almost undetectable whisper of a well-oiled hinge. It was a paralyzed silence, not altogether natural.

Mr. Campion did not consider himself a nervous man, but neither was he sufficiently thick-skinned to let the piquancy of the situation pass by him. Someone, presumably with a guilty conscience and possibly with a gun, was aware of his presence and was waiting for him.

Campion stood quite still, holding his breath lest any sound should reveal his exact position.

The silence continued.

It came to an end at last, and in so unnerving a fashion that all his preparation was wasted. At the moment when he had decided that he must breathe deeply or burst, a yell so loud that its nature or even its origin was indeterminate sounded within a few feet of his ear and practically at the same time something apparently demoniacal struck him in the chest, knocking the torch out of his hand and most of the breath from his body.

There is to most of us a secret savage satisfaction in receiving a blow that one knows that one can repay with interest. As Campion staggered back against the wall beside the staircase his left came in contact with something that was hard enough to be a man’s head. He heard a grunt and deep breathing and, as the knee came up to catch him in the stomach, he threw his arms round it, hurling his weight forward so that he went down on top of his unknown adversary.

During the next few seconds he had little time for speculation, but he became aware that he was fighting something human, since it was clothed, and of an iron hardness and ferocity which suggested a hank of steel rope temporarily possessed by a fiend.

Campion had some experience of catch-as-catch-can fighting. During his adventurous life he had enjoyed scraps in most stratas of society, so that he was aware that the Queensberry rules have many variations, but that evening in the pitch-dark basement he received an education.

The unseen creature bit, clawed, sobbed and pummelled, interspersing this unconventionality with occasional scientific blows. Campion was temporarily outclassed and was only relieved that his enemy had no weapon.

He was lying upon his face with a teetering, kicking thing trying to force him through the concrete floor when his groping hand caught an iron banister and he dragged himself up and let out with his right, the full weight of his body behind the blow.

It dawned upon him then, as he felt the wet chin go back under his fist, that he was fighting with a man in terror. The sobbing ceased and something thudded satisfactorily at his feet. Campion shook himself and waited, but there was no further sound from the floor. He moved unsteadily down the passage and, after a considerable delay, discovered the switch.

The first thing he saw as his surroundings leapt into view was a reflection of his own face in the mirror which hung just inside the open door of the little washroom. It was not a reassuring spectacle.

He did not stop to examine the damage, but swung round just in time to see a tousled object creeping furtively towards the stairs.

Mr. Campion leapt upon it, caught it by the remnants of what had once been a collar, and jerked back its head.

Shivering, whimpering, his face covered with blood and tears, cowered a star witness for the Crown, Mr. Peter Rigget.

Campion gaped at him and let him go. He dropped to the floor, crawled into a sitting position on the bottom step of the staircase, and wept. Never an irritable man, Mr. Campion felt himself excused in the exhibition of a little impatience. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped some of the blood off his face.

“What in the name of all that’s holy do you think you’ve been doing?” he enquired.

Mr. Rigget continued to blubber. Presently he stopped and his head fell forward on his chest. Campion bent over him, his eyebrows raised. But Mr. Rigget had not fainted. He was asleep.

Campion was not surprised. He had seen the same thing happen before when great physical exertion had been allied to the emotional upheaval. Since it is a natural phenomenon, only occurring to young people in exceptional health, Mr. Campion felt unreasonably angry with Mr. Rigget.

He left him where he was and retired to the washroom, where, with the door open, he could keep an eye upon the heavily breathing figure at the foot of the stairs.

A wrenched shoulder, a cut over the left eye, and four weals left by tour fingernails travelling from his right temple to the top of his collar seemed to be his principal injuries. His clothes were in ribbons. There was a piece missing from the sleeve of his jacket which could only have been bitten away, and there was blood all over him.

He cleaned himself up as best he could and felt better after his head had been under the cold tap for a minute or two.

He let Mr. Rigget sleep for half an hour, and woke him by pouring a jug of cold water over his head. The puffed eyes opened sleepily and closed again.

Campion raised the stocky little body which was in such surprisingly good condition, and dragged it into the washroom, where he repeated his treatment until Mr. Rigget showed signs of returning life and intelligence.

“All right?” Campion enquired when once again the blue eyes looked out clearly from beneath their battered lids.

Mr. Rigget said nothing. He turned his back on Mr. Campion and began to wash his hands.

“I think we’d better have a chat, don’t you, having been properly introduced?”

Still Mr. Rigget was silent. His hands seemed to require a lot of attention.

“What were you doing down here? You’ll have to explain to somebody, you know. You’d better tell me.”

Mr. Rigget was trembling violently, but no sound left his lips and he went on washing his hands.

Campion leant forward, turned off the tap and threw him a towel.

“Come on,” he said, taking the other man by the arm. “We’ll go into the strong room.”

Mr. Rigget remained perfectly still. He was staring straight in front of him, his face pink where it was not discoloured and his eyes narrowed to pin-points.

Mr. Campion choked down his growing irritation.

“Since that face of yours is going to create a scandal in the witness-box, anyway, we may as well have the whole truth,” he said. “And by the way, next time you go leaping on people in the dark don’t lose your head, or you’ll find yourself landed with a corpse which has been the victim of a murderous attack. Keeping yourself fit is all very well, but you don’t want to turn yourself into a dangerous machine every time you get the wind up.”

Mr. Rigget’s trembling increased and suddenly, with an effect which was completely unnerving, he began to pray aloud. Mr. Campion took him by the shoulders and shook him.

“Pull yourself together!” he said firmly. “Don’t try to mesmerize yourself. You need your brain at the moment. Use it.”

Mr. Rigget relaxed cautiously.

“Where are you going to take me?” he demanded.

“Nowhere,” said Campion. “We’re going to stay here.”

Mr. Rigget shuddered and glanced at the strong room.

“Not in there. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything. I’m not really as bad as I look—at least I am, only I can’t help it. Oh, God, I’m so tired!”

Mr. Campion sighed.

“My car’s outside,” he said. “I’ll take you back to the flat.”

Peter Rigget seemed agreeable to this suggestion, and they had started down the passage when he remembered the strong-room door and went back to it. To Mr. Campion’s intense interest he thrust his hand into his tattered pocket, drew out a slender three-ward key identical with the one which Campion himself had borrowed from Miss Curley’s desk, locked the door and returned.

“I’m tired,” he said again.

He dropped to sleep in the back of the car, and Campion had to wake him again when they arrived at Bottle Street. Lugg, curious and openly appalled at his employer’s condition, went down obligingly to put the car away and Campion and his captive were alone.

In the bright light of Mr. Campion’s comfortable room Peter Rigget made a pathetic and embarrassing spectacle. His pince-nez were gone, and his normally thin sensitive nose was no longer thin, and his puffy red wrists stuck out some three inches from his torn shirt-cuffs.

Mr. Campion, who knew a great deal about exhaustion, gave him some food, which he ate eagerly, swallowing great hunks of bread and lump sugar as though he realized instinctively how great was his need of them.

Gradually his unnatural lassitude disappeared, leaving him weary, but otherwise normal. Mr. Campion sat opposite him.

“Still feel like talking?” he enquired pleasantly.

Mr. Rigget looked at the ground. He was young, Campion decided, younger than he had thought; twenty-five or six at the most.

“I’m not a nice chap,” he said. “I can’t help it. I fight against it, but my instincts are all wrong. I keep letting myself down.”

A dreadful sincerity in the statement robbed it of its humour and made it merely embarrassing. Mr. Rigget appeared to be speaking the simple truth from the depths of a resigned rather than a contrite heart.

“I’ve been educated,” he went on, “but it hasn’t altered me. I’m a cad. I’m dirty.”

“Let’s get back to the strong room, shall we?” suggested Mr. Campion gently. “You’ve got a key, I see.”

Mr. Rigget shuddered. “I had it made. It was so easy. They ought not to put temptation in your way like that. I know I’m rotten, but I was tempted. Fancy leaving the key there where anybody could get it! I took it home with me for a week-end in the summer and had another one made. Nobody noticed. Nobody asked any questions. Even the man at the shop believed me when I said it was the key of my own front door. I live with my people. They’re very respectable. This is going to break them. They’ve educated me and made me a better class than they are, and now I’ve disgraced them.”

He spoke sullenly and with a sort of masochistic satisfaction.

“Been using the key pretty regularly?” Mr. Campion enquired.

The young man stirred. “Fairly often. Whenever I could stay behind. There wasn’t much in there. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t take anything. I only turned things over. They didn’t keep anything valuable there. It’s a sort of junk room.”

“What was the idea?” Mr. Campion sounded merely curious, even friendly.

“I’m nasty,” said Mr. Rigget, raising very blue eyes bright with tears to his inquisitor’s face. “I just wanted to see if there was anything interesting there—something that might be useful. You don’t understand me. I’m not ordinary. I’m not decent. I haven’t got any instincts against prying into other people’s affairs. Most firms are dirty, and I wanted to find out anything I could.”

Mr. Campion had an inspiration.

“Like little evasions of income tax?” he suggested.

A secretive, rather repulsive smile appeared on Mr. Rigget’s swollen lips.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing. Only I couldn’t find any books or anything. They didn’t keep ’em there. I suppose they’re in the safe. Or more probably the important ones’d be at the bank,” he added gloomily. “You’re shocked, aren’t you?” He looked at Campion resentfully. “You ought to be if you’ve got the right instincts. But I’m not. I used to try to be, but I’m not. I’m dirty and mean and low and underhand, and all the things they educate you not to be.”

It was all very distressing. Mr. Rigget’s excellent accent and obvious misery made him well-nigh unbearable.

“Did you ever get the safe open?” Mr. Campion found himself trying to put the question so casually that it would not sound offensive.

“Oh, no, I didn’t touch the safe! That’s criminal. I haven’t done anything criminal.”

Mr. Rigget uttered the word as though it were blasphemous.

“I’ve had the key in my hand, I admit that, but I’ve never used it.” He writhed in his chair. “I’ve got a key of the safe, I may as well admit that, but I’ve never used it. I swear I’ve never used it! I daren’t do anything criminal. I want to, but I’m afraid to. That’s the sort of chap I am. I ought never to be in the sort of job I’m in. I’m only educated. I haven’t got any instincts.”

Mr. Campion realized that he was confronted by a serious modern sociological problem, but he decided that it was far too large to tackle, especially at the moment. He concentrated on the keys. Producing the instrument which Wardie Samson had made “for luck,” he handed it to the man whom he was trying not to think of as his victim.

“That’s it! Where did you get it? It was in my collar drawer, locked up at home. Mother didn’t know it was there, nor did Father, nor did anyone. Oh, God, you’ve been to them! They know about me. I’ll never dare to go home now. I never want to see them again.” Peter Rigget trembled on the verge of hysterics.

“This is my key,” said Mr. Campion firmly. “It’s nothing to do with your key. Pull yourself together.”

Mr. Rigget wiped the tears angrily from his eyes and squared his powerful shoulders.

“I give way,” he said unexpectedly. “That’s weak. That shows I’m all wrong. I’ve been hiding myself up ever since I was a kid, but it’s coming out now. You can’t alter your instincts. You are what you are born to be, whatever you learn. If I’d been brave I’d have told what I knew on the Friday night, but I didn’t want anybody to know I’d been down there. I was glad,” he added, his voice rising. “I was glad it had happened, and I knew about it. I was glad there was going to be trouble. It made me feel excited and important.”

It occurred to Mr. Campion that what Mr. Rigget really needed was some sort of reverse process of psychoanalysis. To know the truth about oneself, if it were both unpleasant and incurable, must be a variety of hell, he decided. He became quite sorry for him, but there was obviously much to be learnt.

“When you say the Friday night, was that the evening after Mr. Brande disappeared?”

Mr. Rigget nodded. “I got a fright when I saw him. Afterwards I was pleased. I knew he was there, you see. I knew he was there all the week-end.”

Mr. Campion sat up, but Mr. Rigget was too engrossed in his own unfortunate reactions to life to notice any added interest in his hearer.

“I stayed behind on Friday. It’s easier on Fridays. People go home earlier and don’t notice you’re hanging about. I shut myself in the washroom with the light out until they’d all gone—I did that tonight, and then I let myself out and unlocked the strong-room door with my own key and went in. I didn’t see the body at first. It wasn’t by the door where they found it. It was lying crumpled up in a corner beside the safe, hidden from the door by a lot of boxes and things under the table.”

He hesitated.

“That’s where I got my key of the safe,” he explained at last. “It was in the lock and the safe door was open. I thought the key might be useful, so I shut the door and turned it. I was frightened, of course, but I was excited, too. I never liked Mr. Paul.”

Mr. Campion sat enthralled. He did not like to break the thread of the story, but at the same time the man’s attitude towards his important discovery was incomprehensible.

“You were terrified, I suppose?” he ventured.

“No,” said Mr. Rigget. “I wasn’t frightened because he was dead—I made sure he was dead. I’d have been more frightened if he’d been alive.”

He caught Mr. Campion’s expression and attempted to excuse himself.

“It wasn’t anything to do with me, I hadn’t killed him. I didn’t think he had been killed then. I thought he’d just fallen down in a fit. I was frightened they’d catch me by the safe and think I’d opened it. I ought not to have taken the key of the safe. That’s criminal, really. But I didn’t use it. I never used it. I didn’t bring it tonight because I thought I might use it and I wanted to put the temptation behind me. I took the other key, too,” he went on, averting his eyes. “It was in the lock when I pushed mine in and it fell out on the floor on the inside. I picked it up and when I went out I put it back in Miss Curley’s desk after I’d locked the door.”

“Why on earth did you do that?” Campion demanded in astonishment.

Mr. Rigget was silent for some seconds and the sulkiness on his face increased in intensity.

“Well, I thought I ought to leave the door locked in case someone had tried it earlier in the day and had looked for the key and found it wasn’t there. Then I thought they’d have to get him out some time, and I thought they’d probably smash the lock. Then my own key that I’d had made wouldn’t fit any more. I’m mean!” he burst out passionately. “I do things like that. I’m always thinking of myself and how to save myself trouble—little petty things like that.”

Mr. Campion’s face was very severe.

“Look here,” he demanded, “do you realize that Mike Wedgwood has been arrested and is going to be tried for his life largely on the evidence that Brande was found dead in a room locked on the outside? Now, according to your story, the dead man was in a room locked on the inside. You must see the difference.”

Mr. Rigget shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t anything to do with me, as far as I saw. I’ve told you, I’m selfish, I’m narrow, I’m mean.”

Mr. Campion ignored the last part of his remark.

“You say when you found the body on the Friday night it was lying in a corner so that no one entering the door could see it immediately?”

“I didn’t see it until I went over to the safe.”

“But, good heavens!” exploded Mr. Campion. “Don’t you see, you’re corroborating Wedgwood’s story? Didn’t you follow the inquest?”

Mr. Rigget leant back in his chair. He looked exhausted.

“It wasn’t any affair of mine,” he said stubbornly.

“Had you got a grudge against Wedgwood?”

“No.” Mr. Rigget’s sullenness increased. “I didn’t have much to do with him. I tell you,” he said, his voice breaking, “you think I’m a beastly filthy little twip, don’t you? Well, I am! That’s what I keep telling you. I am and I can’t help it. I know I’m being an unspeakable cad not to own up to what I did, to get him off. I know I am: that makes it worse.”

“Why did you go back there tonight?”

Mr. Rigget’s wretchedness would have been distressing on any less momentous occasion.

“I shall get the sack when the trial’s over,” he muttered. “You were there that day when I went to Mr. Widdowson and Sir Alexander and told them about the quarrel I’d overheard. They daren’t sack me now, but as soon as the trial’s over they will—unless I can get something on them first. That’s why I was hunting for something that I could use.”

“Yes, well,” said Mr. Campion, with disgust, “I don’t think much of an education which taught you that tampering with a safe was criminal but didn’t mention blackmail.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be blackmail,” murmured Mr. Rigget. “It would only be something I could just mention. All this is going to come out now, isn’t it?”

“Some of it’ll have to.”

“How d’you know I shan’t kill myself?” Mr. Rigget spoke cunningly.

Mr. Campion looked at him. “You poor little beast, you might,” he murmured. “That’s why I’m going to take you over to Scruby immediately.”

Mr. Rigget shrank back in his chair.

“I’m a witness for the Crown. You can’t tamper with me. You can’t persuade me to say anything I don’t want to. I’ve been talking to you as I’ve never talked to anybody else, but I’m not going to do it in court.”

Mr. Campion got up heavily.

“I shouldn’t worry so much about coming clean,” he said. “Ever heard of Nemesis? Come on.”

15  :  Night Shift

Those who live in that ghostly part of London which is the most crowded square mile by day and the most deserted by night insist that at three o’clock in the morning it is as peaceful as a country churchyard, and that there the black rats dance a leisurely saraband down the centres of the glossy streets.

Mr. Campion’s hurrying footsteps made sharp echoes on the pavements as he strode through the unsavoury alley which is Red Lion Passage and came out into the shabby comfort of the square.

Most of the flat houses had been converted into offices long ago. Standing back from the road, they turned blank eyes to the street lamps and only a single brightly lit third-floor window twinkled at him mellowly through the budding plane trees in the dusty centre garden.

He made for it and was rewarded. Ritchie was evidently a man of his word and was sitting up. Having no desire to wake the whole house, Mr. Campion paused on the edge of the pavement and pitched a halfpenny expertly into the centre of the lighted pane.

Immediately a somewhat fantastic silhouette appeared at the sash, waved reassuringly and vanished.

Campion wandered up to the door, and it opened before him with so little delay that he experienced a slight shock of astonishment.

“Slide down the banisters?” he enquired facetiously.

Ritchie did not answer, and Campion, who could not see his face, received the disquieting impression that he was disconcerted. It was a ridiculous incident and passed at once. Ritchie’s great hand caught his arm and forced him up the dark staircase of the house which had seen much better days.

“People asleep,” his host confided in a whisper which was like a roar of the wind in a turret. “Only kind to be quiet.”

It was a long way up, but the older man moved at a great rate and Mr. Campion came thankfully and a trifle breathlessly into the bed-sitting-room which was Ritchie’s home.

It was a huge apartment with a very high ceiling, some two feet below which a shelf had been constructed round all four sides of the room. This ledge was the most striking feature of the place, and first caught a visitor’s attention, since it evidently contained practically all Mr. Richard Barnabas’s worldly possessions. Books, clothes and manuscripts were there stacked together neatly, albeit a trifle dustily, and were, of course, extraordinarily inaccessible.

What furniture the room contained was huddled together along the darkest wall, as though space were restricted. The wash-stand stood at the end of the iron bedstead, rubbing elbows uncomfortably with a minute dressing-table.

The rest of the room was virtually bare, the floor covered with several layers of dust under-felting. A small gas fire burned in the grate and a single folding armchair was drawn up before it.

“Sit down. Rather stand—sit all day.”

A sweeping but completely meaningless gesture of one arm accompanied the hospitality, and Mr. Campion, who was beginning to understand his friend, obeyed meekly.

He was about to drop into the chair when he caught sight of something among the corduroy cushions and retrieved it in some astonishment. It was a spangled black tulle frill which immediately suggested to Mr. Campion a sentimental relic of a lady in tights dancing upon a fin de siècle stage.

If he showed surprise it was nothing to the effect the discovery had upon Ritchie. For a moment he stood gaping, utter consternation on his face, and then, whipping the furbelow out of Campion’s hand, he thrust it for want of a better hiding place under the pillow on the iron bedstead.

“Never ask,” he commanded, bright spots of colour appearing in his thin cheeks and his blue eyes unexpectedly belligerent. “Never ask.”

Mr. Campion, who was tired and had by no means recovered from his encounter with the athletic Mr. Rigget, began to wonder if he himself were not a trifle light-headed. However, Ritchie was still regarding him truculently and he hastened to reassure him.

“Of course not,” he said, with dignity.

There was a pause, during which Ritchie seated himself upon the floor, rucking his long awkward legs beneath him with extraordinary dexterity. His excitement evaporated and his eyes became mild and friendly, albeit a trifle worried.

Mr. Campion blinked. The vision of a youthful Ritchie and a lady in spangled tights provided a bizarre note in the sober business of the evening and he reflected what an odd, attractive, simple soul his host was. Ritchie glanced at Campion.

“Been fighting?” he observed.

Campion gave him a rough outline of his evening’s adventure.

“I roused poor old Scruby and left Rigget with him,” he finished at last. “It means a flutter among the legal gents tomorrow, I’m afraid, but that can’t very well be helped. The important thing is that the little rat’s story contains two pieces of new evidence: one that Paul was murdered, the key being on the inside of the strong-room door, and the other that the body was moved after rigor mortis had passed and probably Mike went down to the strong room on Sunday night.”

He paused and Ritchie regarded him owlishly from the ground. Campion continued.

“I rather thought that something like that last had happened when I first heard about the hat. A man doesn’t set his hat upon the floor and then lie down carefully beside it to die. But there was no proof, you see. Everything had been so mucked about by the time the police arrived that they were hampered on all sides.”

Ritchie nodded his comprehension.

“New evidence important?” he enquired. “Vital? Mean release?”

“Oh, no, I’m afraid not.” Mr. Campion succumbed to the impulse to explain things gently to Ritchie. “It’ll weaken the case, of course, but Mike must stand his trial. You see, to do everybody justice, Mike is the obvious person to have killed Paul. He had opportunity, he admits to going to the garage and starting the car, the shower tube had belonged to him, he had bought and read a book describing the method of murder in detail, and in the police opinion he had a motive.”


Mr. Campion bowed his battered head.

“The degrees of familiarity between the sexes in ordinary social life differ from clique to clique and class to class more than anything else,” he pointed out. “It’s practically the only subject on which the authorities are consistently muddled. I’m afraid police circles are inclined to be prurient-minded and lawyers worse.”

“Understandable,” said Ritchie unexpectedly. “Always having unfortunate experiences.”

Mr. Campion continued his dissertation.

“That’s the positive legal case, roughly. But then there’s all the negative evidence, which only counts in the back of people’s minds. Someone killed Paul, someone killed him intentionally and ingeniously. That someone apparently killed him between six in the evening, when the office went home, and nine in the same evening, when Mike turned off his engine and both Mrs. Tripper and my new friend Widgeon noticed the noise had ceased. That someone had access to either Twenty-three or Twenty-one, because it was only through either of these houses that the car could be reached. That someone either knew that Paul would be in the strong room at that particular time or inveigled him into the place. That someone knew of the hose pipe and therefore also knew the back entrance at Twenty-one. The only people who could have known and done all these things are Mike, you, Gina, John, Curley and the janitor—or possibly Paul himself, although it seems an idiotic way to commit suicide. And, anyway, in that case who moved the body?”

“Might be others,” said Ritchie dubiously. “If Rigget stayed behind why not others? Girl Netley. Rigget himself. Anyone in the office?”

“Well, let’s hope so,” said Mr. Campion cheerfully. “Otherwise Mike and Gina are very unfortunately placed. Everyone else has an alibi.”

He leant back in his chair and removed his spectacles as Ritchie’s eyes watched his face.

“Miss Curley left the office on the Thursday evening at half past five and went to Peter Robinson’s to have her hair shampooed. She left there at six and hurried on to the cocktail party which Mike should have attended in Manchester Square. At seven-thirty she left and went on to dinner at Rule’s with Miss Betcherley of Blenheim’s literary agency, and at eight-fifty she caught a Tube train to Hammersmith.”

He paused and smiled.

“Then there’s you. You left the office early and came back here, where you collected your landlord—”

“Landlady’s husband,” corrected Ritchie in the interests of strict accuracy.

“—And went to the circus at Olympia,” continued Mr. Campion imperturbably, “where you stayed until ten-thirty. John left his office at five and went to his club, where he was recognized and where he had a business interview. He returned to his flat and dressed for the evening with his usual deliberation and attention to detail. His housekeeper waited upon him the whole time. At seven-forty he went off in a taxi to the Dorchester for the Quill Club dinner, at which he spent the evening. The janitor left the office at six sharp and went off with some pals to the Holborn Empire. In fact, everyone behaved normally except Mike, who went walking, an exercise he hardly ever takes.”

His voice died away and he regarded Ritchie steadily.

“Do you realize,” he demanded suddenly, “that whoever killed Paul must have stood by and let that car pump gas into the strong room for at least an hour, probably an hour and a half? It wouldn’t take long to put Paul under, of course, but the murderer must have gone on with the treatment for some considerable time to make sure of death. That’s why these alibis are so very convincing.”

Ritchie was silent. He sat upon his feet, rocking gently before the fire, his eyes hidden.

“No motives,” he murmured almost, it seemed to Mr. Campion, regretfully. “No motives either.”

“All the same,” Campion put in hastily, “it’s not a strong case against Mike, and all that row the Coroner came in for will prejudice both Judge and Jury in his favour. He’s almost certain to get off.”

Ritchie shook his head gloomily.

“Not good enough. Stigma all his life. In love—can’t marry. Poor fellow!”

He was quiet for a full minute, his huge bony hands twitching in little indeterminate gestures. Suddenly he sat up and Campion was surprised by the purpose and vigour in his tone.

“Got to prove who did it. Only way. Where now?”

Mr. Campion glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past four.

“I came to get your key to Twenty-three again,” he said. “I’m going to burgle the safe. Like to come?”

“Yes,” he said simply, and Campion grinned at him, despite his weariness.

They accomplished their short eerie walk without mishap and let themselves in through the big Queen Anne door at Twenty-three during that darkest moment of the night when the street lamps suddenly go out half an hour before the dawn.

“Can see in the dark,” Ritchie remarked unexpectedly as he piloted Campion across the pitch-black hall to the top of the basement stairs. “Not like day, of course, but fairly well. Ten steps down to the landing and then twelve.”

They reached the strong-room door and Campion unlocked it with Mr. Rigget’s cherished key. There was something ghostly about the chaotic little apartment, and Mr. Campion found his mind, which was not used to such fancies, dwelling upon the crumpled body which had lain for so many hours among the dusty boxes by the safe and on the murderer who must have returned and dragged the helpless thing out to the clear space by the door at a time when the ravages of death were beginning to show.

There was no sign of Mr. Rigget’s activities. His little inquisitions had been performed with the greatest discretion. Campion turned his attention to the safe and was glad that Lugg was not with him to express an opinion on a firm which entrusted anything of value to such an antiquated contraption. Ritchie divined his thoughts.

“Cupboard really,” he observed apologetically. “Safe cupboard. Valuables at the bank.”

Mr. Campion inserted the squat key which Mr. Samson had made for luck and mastered within a minute or two the simple arrangement of turns and half turns which shot back extremely heavy bolts. The door, which must have weighed a quarter of a ton at the lowest estimation, swung back, and Mr. Campion and Ritchie peered into the steel recess within.

At first sight the contents were not enlightening. Two or three half-calf ledgers, two small notebooks containing addresses, and a file of letters were neatly arranged upon the lower shelf. And that was all, save for a package neatly wrapped in green baize and tied with pink tape.

Mr. Campion took it out carefully and unpacked it on the table which Mike had cleared to receive Paul’s body. Inside the baize wrapping was a well-made blue leather case designed to look like a book and very beautifully gilded. Examination proved that it had no lock, but pulled out in two pieces like a card-case and contained a slender manuscript.

Gallivant,” Ritchie remarked, looking over Campion’s shoulder. “Never examined it. Uncle Jacoby Barnabas very strict. Thought it indecent. Would have destroyed it but for the value. John carries on tradition. Probably dull.”

Campion turned back the thin octavo sheets, which were unbound save for the faded ribbon tied about the centre of the bundle. The brown ink made a spidery but decipherable pattern on the soft rag paper. He read a line or two.

Gagewell: ‘O Sir, since Lady Frippet hath a bee in her bonnet, you must allow if the bee’s not a queen the bonnet is at least à la mode.’ ”

“Clean bit,” said Ritchie, with that complete simplicity which was the mainspring of his personality. “Nothing to help us there. Valuable, of course. Wrote it himself, in his own hand. Insured. Stands at twenty thousand pounds in the balance-sheet.”

Mr. Campion raised his eyebrow.

“Along with the office freehold and the printing plant at Gravesend?” he suggested.

“That’s right,” the older man agreed. “Best place for it. Never liked the classics. Put it away.”

Campion was some little time repacking the treasure, and Ritchie wandered over to the safe.

“Nothing else,” he observed, without turning round. “What are we looking for?”

“Whatever it was that made Paul go to the trouble of getting a key to the safe made for him,” Campion explained as he tied the pink tape round the green baize once more and stowed it away in the safe. “There’s only one official key to this elegant invention, I suppose. Who keeps it?”

“Head of the firm,” said Ritchie. “Another tradition. Explains why there’s nothing much kept in it.”

“I see. That means that John had the original key?”

Ritchie considered.

“Probably Curley,” he said at last. “One or the other. Only a fetish.”

Mr. Campion took off his spectacles and perched himself on the edge of the table.

“It seems very careless to keep The Gallivant there,” he began. “I should have thought the insurance johnnies might have objected to a thing like that.”

Ritchie’s eyes clouded.

“Ought to go back to the bank,” he agreed. “Fact is, this dreadful business—death, murder, trial, and so on—has probably put the whole thing out of their minds. Very likely haven’t been down here since. Can’t blame them.”

“Oh, it’s usually kept at the bank, is it?” said Campion, pricking up his ears. “When was it put in here? Do you know?”

Ritchie’s discomfort increased.

“Before Christmas. Silly business. Curley annoyed. Couldn’t really blame her.”

Mr. Campion was patient. Ritchie’s cryptogrammic replies were tantalizing, and he was thankful for everybody’s sake that the well-meaning, inarticulate soul had not been subpœnaed for the morrow’s trial.

After a certain amount of persuasion Ritchie amplified his story.

“Nothing in it,” he said wretchedly. “Paul made an ass of himself over The Gallivant. Wanted to lend it to rare-manuscript exhibition. Up against tradition at once. Grand old firm’s vulgar classic. Wouldn’t do. Old-fashioned. Stupid. But John and Curley had last word. Paul not content—silly fellow. Tried to get it from bank manager. Being partner, succeeded. Curley saw messenger who brought it. Went to John. John furious, backed her up. Gallivant put in safe.”

Mr. Campion was bewildered. It seemed incredible that such a little domestic quarrel in the firm could have any connection with the grave issues at stake. He was silent for some moments, considering. John, he knew, had a fanatical pride in the honour of the firm; Miss Curley might easily have hidden depths of prudery; and Paul certainly seemed to have made a nuisance of himself all round. But compared with the scandal which had burst about their ears the public burning of The Gallivant by the police—an eventuality, after all, unlikely, since authors dead over a hundred years are permitted great license on the principle, no doubt, that their work has had time to air—would have been negligible, unless—? An idea occurred to him and he looked up, a startled expression in his pale eyes.

“Look here, I’ll have to wander off now, Ritchie,” he said. “I’ve been rather late for the bus all along, but I believe I’m catching up with it now. I shan’t be down at the Old Bailey at the beginning this morning, but I’ll come along later. Keep an eye on Gina, but don’t tell her anything.”

“No,” said Ritchie, with the obedience of a child, and Campion, looking at him affectionately, wondered how much of the mystery about him he saw and what, if anything, he thought of it.

It was half past six on a cold spring morning, with drizzle in the air, when they parted, and Mr. Campion went home to bathe and shave, since it was too early to begin his day’s business. He also took the opportunity to submit himself to a patching process, of which Mr. Lugg was a past master. The spectacle of that mournful figure, clad solely in a pair of trousers, standing upon a bath mat at seven-thirty in the morning, a minute pair of surgical scissors in one enormous hand and an even smaller strip of sticking-plaster in the other, was one of those experiences that Mr. Campion frankly enjoyed.

He was sorry that they were not on conversational terms. Mr. Lugg was the victim of a two-way complex. His newer self revolted at the unpleasant publicity with which he saw his employer’s name surrounded as the trial progressed, while his elder spirit was deeply hurt that Campion should have enjoyed a scrap in which he had not been permitted to take part.

“There you are,” he said at last, stepping back from his handiwork. “Now I’ve wasted my time on you making you look like a gent again, go and smear yourself with society filth. Roll in it like a dawg—but don’t ask me to clean yer. Mud sticks closer than them patches I’ve put on your dial.”

“Mud of the soul?” enquired Mr. Campion affably.

“You know what I mean,” said Lugg warningly. “And if we ’ad that charwoman I’ve ben thinking of I’d drive ’ome me contemp’ in the way I was brought up to, even if I ’ave learnt spittin’s not quite the thing.”

Mr. Campion dressed in silence. At nine o’clock he was waiting outside the door of a little office on the third floor of a building in St. Martin’s Lane.

Ex-Detective-Inspector Beth found him there when he came heavily up the stairs to open the little private enquiry office he had established on his retirement.

“Can’t get my assistant to turn up before half past, Mr. Campion,” he explained as he unlocked the door. “My word, if I had him in the Force for half an hour!”

He paused, enquiry on his round good-natured face.

“Surely we can’t do anything for you, can we? Well, well, I thought they even took in your laundry work down at the Yard these days.”

“Working a little light humour into the act, I see,” said his visitor approvingly. “ ‘Divorce with a laugh’ and ‘Blackmail made fun’? It’s not a bad idea. However, unfortunately, there’s nothing very amusing about the small commission I am about to entrust to you at the moment. It is merely odd.”

He took a limp brown bank book from his pocket and, opening it, entered into some careful instructions. The ex-inspector was puzzled.

“If it was a case of impersonation—someone taking it out—I could understand it,” he said. “But who cares who pays money in?”

“I do,” said Mr. Campion, who was very tired. “I’m a very proud young fellow, and I like to know where my money’s coming from.”

Beth turned the book over.

“Since when have you been called Dora Phyllis Netley?” he enquired suspiciously.

Campion leant forward confidentially.

“You must let a man have his secrets,” he murmured. “Get on to it and let me have a report tonight.”

“Tonight? What do you think we are?” protested his host.

“Private and enterprising. I read it on the door,” said Mr. Campion, and hurried away.

It was just after ten when he reached the British Museum, and he paused for a moment at the foot of the great soot-stained granite flight of steps to feel in his breast pocket. His weariness was making him absent-minded, and just for a moment he could not remember if on changing his clothes he had slipped into his pocket a wallet containing a page of The Gallivant which he had stolen so shamelessly from beneath Ritchie’s very nose. It was there, however, and he went on thankfully.

Time at the Museum is given the treatment it deserves from the custodians of the treasure of historic man, and Mr. Campion’s godfather, Professor Bunney, did not arrive until late, so that the morning was considerably advanced when the tall pale young man in the horn-rimmed spectacles at last came out between the granite columns.

Mr. Campion walked slowly, accustoming himself to an idea. His godfather had been most helpful and he now knew without a possibility of doubt that the manuscript of The Gallivant in the blue leather box, which was insured for twenty thousand pounds and appeared in the balance-sheet of the famous firm of Barnabas, Limited as representing that sum, was certainly not, however genuine its contents might be, penned by the hand of Wm. Congreve, Dec. 1729, nor was the paper on which it was written manufactured one year earlier than 1863.

16  :  The Fourth Chair

One of the unexpected things about the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey is that it is perfectly new. The carving above the Judge’s chair, where the great sword hangs, is not an old carving, and the light oak of the contraption so like a Punch and Judy show, which is the witness-box, is not worn by the nervous hands of a thousand testators but retains some of the varnished brightness of the cabinet-maker’s shop.

This newness might perhaps destroy some of the court’s undeniable impressiveness were it not for one significant difference between this particular new room and others of the time.

Here ancient things have been replaced not by copies vulgarly disguised to appear old, nor yet by new things different in design and purpose from the old out of deference to the changing manners and customs which have altered the surface of life during the past five hundred years, but by new things replacing those worn out in a room where customs and manners do not change and where the business conducted is not concerned with the surface but with that deeply set, unchangeable streak embedded in the rock of civilization which is crime.

Miss Curley sat beside Gina in the block of seats at the back of the court which is reserved for witnesses and, looking about her, wondered if Mike had been properly fed in Pentonville.

The two women were wedged in a corner some three rows from the front. Gina, at Cousin Alexander’s hinted instigation, had succeeded in making herself look almost dowdy. Certainly she appeared very young and very tragic, the high collar of her black coat shadowing her pale, distinctive face.

Immediately before them in the well of the court was the enormous dock, looking as large as and not at all unlike a very superior sheep pen in a country market.

Three chairs, the one in the middle a little in front of the others and directly facing the judicial desk, stood lonely and inadequate in the midst of the expanse.

Beyond was Counsels’ table, already littered with papers and glasses of water, with the jury and witness-boxes and the Press table on its left and the solicitors’ table and the bank of expert witnesses on its right.

Farther away still were the clerks’ desks, directly beneath the dais and facing into the well.

Last of all was the Bench itself.

The seven chairs on the dais were equidistant and all very much alike, since the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London are entitled to sit. They each had high leather backs emblazoned with the city arms and managed to look impressive even when unoccupied.

The fourth chair fascinated Miss Curley. It stood between the carved columns, the state sword, hilt downward, immediately above it, while before it, at the wide desk, a little clerk was arranging sheaves of paper.

The court was full of people. The witness benches were crammed and the public gallery over the solicitors’ table seemed in danger of bursting and jettisoning its load into the dock. Press and solicitors’ tables were full and junior counsel and the clerks were clustering round their own headquarters. Everyone was talking. Men in gowns hurried to and fro with papers, their shoes squeaking noisily on the wood. Now and again a late arrival was thrust into a seat in the witness benches by a fatherly official clad in what appeared to be some sort of police uniform augmented by a beadle’s gown.

The jury, ten men and two women, looked on at the preparations like an absurdly small audience at an amateur theatrical show which had got completely out of hand and swamped the auditorium. They looked apprehensive and painfully uncomfortable and the foreman, an elderly man with pince-nez and a bald head, mopped his face repeatedly although the morning was inclined to be cold.

John sat at the solicitors’ table oddly in the picture, his round head held slightly on one side and his long thin neck sticking stiffly out of his elegant grey collar.

Ritchie was behind Gina and his expression of frightened disgust as he noticed each new evidence of human bondage was pathetic or comic according to the onlooker’s fancy. He showed no signs of fatigue, but his gentle eyes were anxious and his enormous bony hands fidgeted on his knees.

Among the legal broiling circulating round the court with a familiarity which proclaimed it their own fishpond there was a certain amount of pleasurable anticipation. A cause célèbre at the Old Bailey is bound to have its moments. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lumley, affectionately called “Lor Lumme” by his admirers in the best legal, police and criminal circles, still preserved sufficient humanity in his omnipotence to lose his temper on occasions and there was a persistent rumour, utterly unfounded, that he cherished a personal antipathy towards Sir Alexander Barnabas.

Then, in accordance with the custom at poisoning trials at the Old Bailey, the Attorney-General himself, Sir Montague Brooch, was appearing for the Crown and was leading Sir Andrew Phelps, with Jerome Fyshe and Eric Battersby as juniors.

There were rumours of last-minute trouble with important witnesses and altogether the prospects looked good.

Gina sat trembling.

“I’m going to see him—I’m going to see him—I’m going to see him—I’m going to see him—”

The words made a singsong pattern completely without meaning in her brain, neither conveying nor expressing any thought at all, but providing a deadening chatter which prevented her from thinking.

Miss Curley sat forward, straining her eyes to see Counsels’ table. Something was happening and she could see flickers of amusement appearing on dark faces beneath blue-white periwigs.

A clerk entered, laden with an assortment of paraphernalia which he proceeded to arrange. First a dark cushion was placed carefully on a chair, then a portfolio laid reverently on the table and round it a little ring of oddments carefully set out. Miss Curley discerned a pile of exquisite cambric handkerchiefs, a bottle of smelling salts, another of sal volatile, a box of throat pastilles and a glass of water.

There was a long pause. The clerk stepped back and gazed expectantly at the doorway behind him. His interest was not unnaturally echoed by those about him and finally, when everyone in the court was aware that somebody of importance was about to enter, a little door swung open, there was a rustle of an old silk gown, a glimpse of a grey-blue wig, and then, looking like a middle-aged Apollo in fancy dress, Cousin Alexander swept up to the table and sat down.

Miss Curley waited for the Attorney-General and, disappointed, had allowed her eyes to wander back to Cousin Alexander and away again before she suddenly caught sight of him at the same table and wondered if he had been there all the time.

The big hand of the court clock reached the half hour and there was a sudden silence, followed by a mighty rustle as everybody rose. The door on the right of the dais opened and an old gentleman in red appeared.

The squad of wigs bowed, looking slightly comic as black, brown and even pink heads appeared for an instant beneath the queues as necks were bent.

The Judge returned the bow as he settled himself, not in the fourth chair beneath the sword but in the one beside it, and the untidy little clerk rearranged his papers. The position brought him nearer the jury and the witness-box and farther from Counsel, and the change was probably pure pernicketiness and the desire to break the symmetry of the design.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lumley, was a large old man with the drooping jowls and bald bony eyesockets of a bloodhound. His upper lip was shaven but he affected a square of close-clipped white hair about as big as a piece of confetti in the centre of his lower one, which gave him a slightly sporting appearance. He was over seventy and forced from time to time to use eyeglasses, which he wore on a wide black ribbon.

As he sat in his high leather chair his scarlet robe fell sleekly with deep wine-coloured shadows over his heavy form, and his square wig, which was brown and inclined to look as though it were made of the bristles usually fashioned into carpet brooms, overshadowed his face.

In his hand he held a formal bouquet, the nosegay dating from the time when the air of the courtroom was not so hygienic as modern cleanliness has made it and a handful of flowers and herbs was at least some barrier between a fastidious gentleman and the plague.

After a pause, he seemed to remember it suddenly, for he leant forward and placed it carefully in the tumbler of water on his desk, where it stood for the remainder of the day looking like a motif from a Tudor tapestry or a chapter end for Alice in Wonderland.

Meanwhile there was a whispering hush over the room, and presently, from somewhere below the court, the sound of a door banging heralded the arrival of the prisoner.

Gina was unfamiliar with the geography of the place and Mike’s sudden appearance from the well staircase in the bottom right-hand corner of the dock almost unnerved her. He came up slowly between two warders, whose care of him was that of hospital attendants. They were both square, short-legged men, considerably his senior, and they patted him and murmured what must have been encouraging words as he towered above them in the vast and shining sheep pen below the dome.

Miss Curley caught her breath. She had not seen him since his arrest and was unprepared for the change in him. He did not look particularly ill. His features were finer and his pallor made his eyes look darker, but his crisp shorn head was grey and, as he stood facing the Judge with his back directly to her, she saw the wide bones of his shoulders hunched under his coat.

She stole a glance at Gina. The girl was crying, angry, indignant tears hovering on the fringe of her lashes, and Miss Curley, who was liable to unexpected flashes of feminine intuition, realized that, whatever her other thoughts and emotions might be, Gina wept because his hair was grey.

She looked away abruptly. An entirely new personality had taken charge of the proceedings. The Clerk, who until now had been just another dark-faced, grey-wigged person sitting at a desk directly beneath the Judge’s dais, had risen to his feet and revealed himself to be an unexpectedly distinguished man with a deep, cultured voice and a casual manner which robbed his words of their formality without over-emphasizing their meaning.

“Michael Wedgwood, you are charged for that you, on the twenty-eighth day of January, nineteen thirty-one, at London, murdered Paul Redfern Brande. You are also charged on a Coroner’s inquisition with murder. How say you, Michael Wedgwood? Are you guilty or not guilty?”

As the last word left his lips he sat down again with a great rustle of papers and there was a pause until one of the warders nudged his prisoner gently.

“Not guilty.”

Mike’s voice was unexpectedly loud and infused a note of tension into the friendly, businesslike atmosphere of the court. He remained upon his feet while the Clerk turned his attention to the business of swearing in the jury, and Lord Justice Lumley raised that part of his face where his left eyebrow should have been and remarked affably:

“You may sit down. The only time you have to stand in this court is when you are receiving sentence or when I address you.”

He had a pleasant rumbling voice with a slight squeak in it at commas, which did nothing to detract from the magnificent oddity of his appearance or his unshakable dignity which clothed him as surely as his robe.

The jury being sworn, a proceeding conducted with the neatness and efficiency of a first-class acrobatic turn, the Clerk addressed them as they sat wriggling before him, twelve busy citizens with troubles enough of their own.

He sat down at last and bent over his desk and, while Miss Curley trembled, the Attorney-General rose to open the case for the prosecution.

Montague Brooch was a little crow of a man. His silk gown enveloped him and his wig gave his face an even sharper, beakier appearance than it possessed without it. In repose he was inclined to look insignificant, and few would remark him, if even for his ugliness, but the moment he opened his mouth he became a personality that was as unforgettable as it was utterly charming.

“May it please Your Lordship, Members of the Jury—”

The voice was virile yet confiding, attractive, deferential and pleasing in the extreme.

“—the charge against the prisoner, as you have heard, is murder. I must, I am afraid, open to you with a story of considerable detail, and, while it is not without its difficulties, it must, I think, show a very serious case indeed against the prisoner.”

For the first time since the arrival of Cousin Alexander upon the scene Miss Curley felt genuinely afraid. Until now she had accepted John’s valuation of the famous man without question and had allayed all her qualms for Mike’s eventual safety by a recollection of that handsome, sanguine figure with the face of a hero and the confidence of a Harley Street specialist. But here was a real adversary. Cousin Alexander’s charm was definable and all the more vulnerable because of it, but the personality of Montague Brooch was not capable of analysis and had a disconcerting habit of confusing itself with clear and reasoned argument, so that it was his thought and not the man one most remembered.

Miss Curley glanced at John now and saw him sitting forward in his chair, his head held on one side and his cold eyes fixed unwaveringly upon the little crow with the sweet voice who spoke so convincingly, and at the same time somehow so regretfully, of the crime. There was no way of telling his thought but Miss Curley fancied that he was disconcerted.

Behind her Ritchie was breathing heavily and down in the other witness benches she caught a glimpse of Mrs. Austin’s broad back and untidy hair.

“. . . Now what happens on the Sunday night? On January the thirty-first you will hear that quite fortuitously, and when in the company of friends, the accused is asked to go down to the room where, it is the Crown’s case, he knew the body lay. . . .”

To Gina the Attorney-General was just a voice repeating facts she already knew and had heard proved over and over again until their significance was lost upon her.

To her the one reality was Mike himself, sitting directly in front of her. She could see his grey head and the short hairs at the nape of his neck and her throat contracted until the pain of it alone seemed sufficient to suffocate her.

There was not complete silence in the court while the speech went on. To Miss Curley’s surprise there seemed to be no rule against whispering, and clerks, with great armfuls of papers and noisy shoes, tiptoed about.

Cousin Alexander, looking tremendously important and more handsome than any man over fifty has any right to be in his immaculate wig and bands, was rustling his papers, conferring with his juniors and polishing his glasses with a great flourish of the topmost handkerchief.

“. . . Let me take the next stage. Doctor Ferdie arrives. He agrees with Doctor Roe as to the cause of death and together these two men make a very careful autopsy. . . .”

The delightful voice played over the unpleasant words, giving them just sufficient emphasis. Miss Curley found herself listening with detached interest. At the inquest the central figure had been the dead man but here Mike had taken his place and the story was told afresh from a new angle.

It occurred to Miss Curley, who had known Paul and had been amused by him, that he was easily the least important person in the whole story and that his personality alone did not emerge in the dreadful résumé of the manner of his dying. She could not see the public gallery and even if she had been able she would not have recognized Teddie Dell.

“. . . Inspector Tanner visited the strong room, where you have heard the body lay, and, after making a careful survey of the room and its environs, discovered a most ingenious device, of which he will tell you. . . .”

Miss Curley, having located Doctors Ferdie and Roe in the benches behind the solicitors’ table, was looking about for Inspector Tanner in the seats behind her when a large elderly man at her side turned round and, seeing her placid friendly face, whispered huskily:

“Makes you think, don’t he? I remember him in a stuff gown.”

Miss Curley gave the remark the conventional smile it needed and wondered who he was. There were a great many people in the benches whom she had never seen before and next time the stranger confided his admiration of Counsel to her with a muttered, “What a way with him!” she ventured to whisper back.

“Are you a witness?”

“No. Come in to watch.”

He did not volunteer any information concerning the method by which he had obtained a seat and Miss Curley eyed his pleasant face, whose only striking feature was enormous eyebrows, covertly and reflected that it was difficult to generalize and that he was not at all the type she would have suspected of morbid curiosity.

Meanwhile, Sir Montague had spoken for the best part of an hour and his gentle voice was apologizing to Judge and Jury.

“. . . I have little more to say now. You will hear in detail every part of the tragic and abominable story I have outlined to you. But there are a few points which I should like to put into your minds at this stage. It is usual to look for a motive in any crime and, although in this case you will not find a motive which you, or I, I hope, would think adequate, I think you will see that it is more than possible that the accused had a motive sufficient for him. I must admit to you that the Crown has no direct evidence of immoral relations between the murdered man’s wife and the accused. It may be that when you see Mrs. Brande you will decide that she is not the sort of woman whose principles are those which would permit her to stoop to that sort of irregularity, but you will hear on her own submission that she was a neglected wife, and the accused has admitted in his statement, which I have read to you, that he was in the habit of spending much of his time with her and that in fact at the very moment when, as I shall prove to you, her husband was lying dead in a basement room in the house next door, he took her to a cinema, bringing her back afterwards to the flat which she shared with her husband and returning immediately, I have no doubt, to his own home in the same building.

You will also hear from Mrs. Austin, the honest woman who attended to Mrs. Brande’s household work, of the scene which she witnessed when the accused came to break the news of Paul Brande’s death to Mrs. Brande.

Mrs. Austin came into the room to find them on the hearth rug, ‘clinging together,’ as she so graphically puts it. You may feel that this is not evidence of immoral relations and I would reiterate that the Crown does not allege immoral relations, but it does insist that there was deep friendship between the accused and Mrs. Brande, dating over a period of some years and increasing in intensity as Mrs. Brande’s husband increased in his neglect.

At what point, if any, a deep affection cherished by a young and virile man for a beautiful and virtuous woman some years his junior may grow into an overwhelming passion, in the grip of which his moral fibre is broken down utterly, it is for you to consider. The Crown is not dealing with conjecture. The Crown merely contends that a deep affection was entertained by the accused for Mrs. Brande.

Mrs. Brande will tell you that she had visited a solicitor some days before her husband’s death and had learned from him that there was no way open to her to obtain a divorce save through her husband’s cruelty or through his co-operation. She will also tell you that the accused knew nothing of this, and indeed that he had no idea that any such project had entered her head. You must believe what you see to be the truth. If you believe that a deep friendship existed between these two you may think that it is improbable, even impossible, that any woman should keep such an important matter from such an intimate friend who saw her every day. If there was nothing but friendship between them, why should she hide it? If there was more, might it not have been even at the accused’s suggestion that she approached the solicitor?

However, you will hear that Mr. Brande would not consider a divorce and that it was to discuss this very matter, and to make his strong views known to his wife, that he had arranged to meet her on the very evening that he met his death, an appointment which he never kept. . . .”

Miss Curley stirred in her seat. Gina was rigid, her cheeks pallid and her lips compressed. A woman in the gallery craned her neck to catch a glimpse of her.

Gradually the speech came to an end. The Attorney-General’s voice had never lost its gentle and impartial reasonableness and now it became even more soothing, even more deferential, than before.

It has been necessary to address you at this length because you must know exactly what the facts are in this story, the burden of which the Crown will attempt to prove. If you feel, as I feel you must, that the evidence leads you to the conclusion beyond all reasonable doubt that this man, in order to marry his cousin’s wife, did kill his cousin on the night of January the twenty-eighth in this year, you will have no hesitation in doing your duty.

If, however, you find there is insufficient direct evidence to make you so sure, and that you have a reasonable doubt, then again you will have no hesitation in doing your duty.

The case is a difficult one. All the Crown will do is to set out the facts on which you must rely. This is not a case in which you will be concerned with any possible verdicts such as manslaughter. A murder has been done and it is for you to decide if it was committed by the accused. If it was, if the Crown proves to you, as I believe it will, that this man did what he is charged with doing, then it is a crime utterly foul and unpardonable. His cousin had done him no wrong. At worst he had neglected his own wife. And yet, if you so find it, he sent him slowly and insidiously to his death with a callousness which no rigour of the law can equal.

If you think it is fairly proved against this man that he so murdered his cousin, then it will be your duty to send him to his account.

He paused, bowed to the Judge, and sat down.

And then, while the court was still tingling, a police photographer bobbed up in the Punch and Judy witness-box, and began to testify as to photographs taken in connection with the crime.

A surveyor had taken his place and was painfully describing the survey of the ground floors and garden of Twenty-three and Twenty-one which he had made, and had produced plans and had sworn to them, when Miss Curley’s neighbour turned to her.

“Shan’t come back. Nothing more of interest today. Fireworks tomorrow,” he confided in a warm whisper. “They’ll adjourn in a minute.”

“Adjourn?” murmured Miss Curley, who already saw Mike on the scaffold. “What for?”

Her neighbour gaped at her as at a lunatic.

“Lunch, of course,” he said.

17  :  Mr. Campion’s Case for the Defence

Ritchie was standing in the huge multi-coloured marble hall at the Old Bailey, which had the smell of a public library and was full of people who talked together with that peculiar excited anxiety almost always reserved for other people’s troubles, when Mr. Campion found him and led him to one side.

He was obviously shaken by the experience of the morning and it was some time before Campion, who was tired, could be sure that he was getting his full attention.

“There won’t be anything more of interest today,” Campion repeated slowly and with emphasis. “I want you to come away with me now and give me a hand. It’s important.”

“Leave the court?” said Ritchie, his gentle eyes blinking at his friend.

“Yes, if you would.” Mr. Campion was very patient. “I’ve seen Sir Alexander and Miss Curley will look after Gina. Are you coming?”

The sweet air, or it may have been the sweet freedom, of Newgate Street, revived Ritchie’s powers of speech. He strode along to the car park talking with what was for him lucidity and volubility.

“Awful, Campion!” he shouted. “Ghastly! Jolly things like fancy dress, boxes for seats, coloured robes and policemen all made horrible and frightening. Like a serious harlequinade. Mike’s grey. Hair’s grey. Two men in delightful clothes arguing for his life. Like a game . . . rules . . . places to stand. Felt ill. Sick. Wanted to spew. Frightened, Campion.”

The young man in the horn-rimmed spectacles was silent. The project he had in hand was a delicate one and he required co-operation. It seemed to him best in the circumstances to allow Ritchie’s startled wits to reassort themselves without assistance.

As they climbed into the car and waited to slip out into the slothful stream of traffic Ritchie sighed and shook himself.

“Like a dream,” he said. “Absurd, like a dream. They’ll hang him, Campion. That fellow with the voice is cleverer than Cousin Alexander. That’s what counts.”

By the time they reached Ludgate Hill he was better and his companion, recognizing in him a worried edition of his normal self, thought it safe to broach the subject in hand.

“You get on very well with Mrs. Peel, don’t you?” he enquired.

“John’s housekeeper? Known her for years. Nice old body. Why?”

“She doesn’t like me,” explained Campion regretfully. “She didn’t like to trust me in the flat. Afraid I was going to pinch the ormolu clock with the china figures. That’s why I had to come and get hold of you.”

He paused and concentrated on his driving, wondering how far Ritchie’s perception would lead him and with what results.

The elder man did not seem to perceive at all. He acquiesced quietly and they drove on in silence. It was warm and sunny when they arrived at the cul-de-sac and Twenty-one seemed to be deserted. Twenty-three was not closed but there was little sign of activity and the Morris sign of the Golden Quiver swung disconsolately in the light breeze.

“Mrs. Peel,” remarked Mr. Campion as he sprang out of the car and came round to help Ritchie with the door, whose simple mechanism had defeated him, “thinks I am (A) a thief and (B) the police. You are coming with me to dispel both these delusions. Do you think you can do it?”

“Dear good intelligent woman,” Ritchie observed, apparently in answer to the question. “Kind. Always liked her.”

She stood in the dark entrance hall of John’s flat when they presented themselves at the door a few minutes later and surveyed them with belligerent beady eyes, like some large elderly beetle surprised in its tree-trunk home.

She had a harsh unpleasing voice and when she said, “Back again?” Mr. Campion could not help feeling some of the shame which she intended to stir in him.

Ritchie stood looking at her helplessly for a moment and then, either by accident or design, achieved a master-stroke.

“No lunch, Peely . . . cocoa . . . bread and butter . . . anything,” he murmured. “Campion and me, tired, hungry, want to sit down.”

Mrs. Peel led the way into the dining room, grumbling as she went. Her brown serge dress hitched at the back, revealing untidy ankles, but her sparse hair was groomed and dressed to a neatness which suggested that each separate strand knew its duty in emergency and was determined to make up for its scarcity of companions.

As they sat waiting for food at the heavy mahogany table in the dark book-lined room with the thick curtains and half-drawn Venetian blinds, Mr. Barnabas made a very curious remark.

“Pity about the food, Campion. Know how you feel. Old shibboleth, though. Couldn’t be helped.”

Mr. Campion’s eyebrows rose and he shot his friend a single penetrating glance which completely destroyed for an instant the habitual vacuity of his expression, but Ritchie said no more and presently rose from his chair and opened a window, which Mrs. Peel promptly closed as soon as she returned with bread, butter, Gorgonzola and two cups of weak unpalatable cocoa.

“That two grown men with money in their pockets can’t look after their creature comforts in a town of this size is extraordinary,” she remarked angrily, but as she looked only at Ritchie as she spoke Mr. Campion realized with relief that he was accepted, if ignored.

He even ate the horrible meal, Mrs. Peel waiting upon him as if he had been a six-year-old, buttering his bread and cutting him small chunks of odoriferous cheese.

“Been to the trial,” Ritchie mumbled into his cocoa cup.

Mrs. Peel made an indignant sound like a French railway engine.

“That murder! I never heard such utter nonsense in all my born days. It was an accident. Mr. John told me so himself.”

“Were you here on the night it happened?” Mr. Campion ventured.

The woman turned round and looked at him.

“Well, of all the questions!” she exclaimed. “Of course I was. What are you trying to insinuate? That I was turning on the gas in the office? No. I was in this flat the whole time. At four o’clock I began to lay out Mr. John’s clothes and when he came in at five-thirty I went to my room and sat with the door open, so that I could hear when he called me.”

“And did he call you?”

Mr. Campion’s face expressed polite interest.

“Of course he did,” she said impatiently. “If Mr. John could dress by himself I should think he was ill. He called me to turn on the bath and when it was ready I told him so and went back to my room.”

Campion was silent for some time and his eyes were thoughtful. He was forming the next question carefully when she answered it unbidden.

“The murder wasn’t the only accident that happened that night,” she observed in the tone of one mentioning a genuine trouble in the midst of a discussion on imaginary ills. “When I knocked on Mr. John’s bedroom door to tell him the bath was ready he didn’t hear me and all the time I thought he was having his bath he was in here. He sat down for a moment and must have dozed off. Anyway, he didn’t hear me and at a quarter to seven I hear him come out of the bathroom in a fine rage. He had been to see if the bath was ready and had found it lukewarm. I had to hot it up for him. In the end he didn’t go into that bath until seven o’clock and of course he wouldn’t hurry himself—never would, not if the house was afire. And finally he went off to his dinner at a quarter to eight, dressed nicely but not shaved. He hadn’t, I know, because I looked at his brush and it was dry. That shows you how accidents happen.”

“Yes,” agreed Mr. Campion with a solemnity quite out of keeping with the circumstances. “Yes, that’s exactly what it does do.”

“Well, then,” said Mrs. Peel and began to clear away with a great clatter.

Mr. Campion rose to his feet.

“Where is the bathroom?” he enquired.

The woman stared at him, her brows raised into acute angles on her wrinkled forehead and a flush spreading upward over her face.

“I never did!” she said at last. “Really! Oh, all right . . . the second door across the passage. There is a clean towel there.”

A few minutes later when Ritchie entered the old-fashioned bathroom with the big copper geyser and the enormous antiquated bath he found Mr. Campion leaning out of the window. The younger man drew in his head and straightened his back. Ritchie took his place.

A fire escape sprawled its ungainly way up the back of the elegant old house and one green-painted iron landing stage abutted on to the wall less than two feet below the sill over which he leant. He looked at it for a moment and then stepped back and he and Mr. Campion eyed each other. Ritchie was first to speak.

“Talk,” he said urgently. “Downstairs.”

Mrs. Peel made it clear that she was glad to see the end of them, if indeed, as she very much doubted, it was the end. She also mentioned that something for nothing was a very common quarry in her experience, but that since Mr. Ritchie was a relation she did not see that she was entitled to begrudge the cocoa. She also wished them a very good afternoon.

Ritchie led Campion downstairs to the ground floor and let himself into Mike’s domain.

“Mike gave it to me,” he explained, observing Campion’s eyes on the latchkey. “Had to fetch him some clothes when they took him to that place. He won’t mind us here. Good fellow, Mike. Grey hair, poor chap.”

He waved his friend towards a dusty armchair in the sitting room which they both knew well and perched himself opposite on the edge of the table, where he sat with his long arms swinging and his shaggy head held up alertly.

“Know now?” he asked anxiously and for the last time the younger man surprised the dog-like, enquiring expression in his face. “Clear?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Mr. Campion and sighed.

Gallivant only a copy?”

Although he put the words as a question Ritchie seemed to have very little doubt as to the answer and Campion wondered afresh at his extraordinary mixture of shrewdness and simplicity. Aloud he said:

“They think the stuff itself may be genuine, but it’s not the original manuscript. It’s probably a copy made sometime in the last half of the last century.”

“Uncle Jacoby,” observed Ritchie blandly. “All prudish Victorians secretly dirty. Probably had it made for private reading. Like him, rather. Funny old man. What happened to Paul?”

Mr. Campion leaned back in his chair. He looked very tired but his eyes were bright and intelligent.

“Paul was too energetic,” he said slowly, and added apologetically, “You’ll have to forgive me if I take my time, but I’ve learnt the story the wrong way round.”

“Tell it that way. Begin at the end.”

“I don’t know the end,” said Mr. Campion. “That’s the trouble.”

Ritchie sat silent and expectant and presently Campion went on.

“Paul made himself a nuisance in the firm for four years, ever since he returned from America,” he said. “In that time he seems to have got on the nerves of most people in publishing generally. Then he was bitten by the idea of exhibiting The Gallivant and, of course, there were excellent reasons why the manuscript should not be shown in a place where interfering people might ask awkward questions about the age of the paper and the quality of the ink, not to mention the authenticity of the handwriting. So he was stopped, but, being an enquiring and obstinate beggar, it dawned upon him that there was probably something fishy about the precious manuscript and he decided to examine it. He got the bank to give it up, but again he was stopped from looking at it and the manuscript was put in the safe. Whether that was done with malice aforethought I don’t know, but I rather think so, for the safe key was left in his way long enough for him to take an impression of it and from that time on a pretty close watch was kept on Paul’s activities and the watcher was paid small sums for her trouble.”

He paused and Ritchie nodded comprehendingly.

“The day came,” continued Mr. Campion, “when the watcher reported that a letter had arrived which had made Paul dash off in excitement. It was a letter from Wardie Samson, for which he and his observers had waited. It was a signal for action.

“This is what happened to Paul. He came back to Twenty-three just after six o’clock, when he knew the place would be closed, let himself in and went up to Curley’s desk, where he got the key of the strong room. He then went down to the basement. His new key fitted the safe, but the arrangement of turns and half turns got him bothered because he was nervous and in a high state of excitement. He had just got the safe door open when he was disturbed by footsteps in the yard outside. I imagine that a characteristic cough warned him, quite intentionally, that the newcomer was the one particular person he did not wish to find him there and I think he behaved quite normally and in the way the murderer foresaw he would behave, and not like that hysterical maniac Peter Rigget, who lost his head and went berserk.”

Ritchie looked interested but so completely in the dark that Campion wondered if he could possibly be following this complicated reconstruction.

“Paul locked himself in and turned out the light,” Campion continued. “He knew, or thought he knew, that he had the only key of the strong room, so that he was safe from the intruder, and as long as no chink of light showed anywhere there was no reason at all why anyone should suspect the place was occupied.

“In the dark he crept away from the door and waited for the other man to go. But the newcomer remained. He went into the garage and started the car and Paul, not sure if the back door was standing open, dared not slip out, even if he wanted to. Personally I think he decided to wait until the other man had gone. Probably he imagined that Mike was with him. Anyway, whatever he thought, it did not occur to him that carbon monoxide fumes were pouring into the unventilated room through the rubber pipe pushed through the grating in the opposite wall.

“He noticed the smell of exhaust gas, of course, but since he could hear the car and probably guessed there was an air brick leading into the garage somewhere he thought nothing of it.

“Within five minutes he was drowsy and sat down, I think by the safe. Five minutes later he was unconscious, and after the best part of an hour, when the murderer returned and switched off the engine, he was dead.”

“Murderer returned?”

Mr. Campion looked up.

“Yes,” he said. “In the interim he went back to his home by the way he had come, found his bath was cold, blew up his housekeeper, had the bath heated again and bathed. When he had finished he put on his underclothes and trousers, probably, under a dressing-gown, and went out once more through the bathroom window, down the fire escape, through the door in the garden wall, switched off the car, threw the rubber tubing in at the basement door as he returned, then finished his dressing and went out to dinner, unfortunately not having had time to shave.

“I’m open to bet that he wore gloves not because of fingerprints, but so that he should not dirty or burn his hands.”

There was a long silence. Ritchie was rocking himself slowly backwards and forwards.

“Not dozing in dining room, watching street for Paul to go into Twenty-three,” he said at last. “Wouldn’t have been seen on fire escape from street at other end of yard. Foggy all that week. Risky, Campion.”

“Risky!” Mr. Campion caught his breath. “It was so risky that no one who did not imagine himself a species of god about the place would have thought of it, much less attempted it. Mike might have come home earlier, although, of course, he was supposed to be at the cocktail party. But anyone might have gone into the garage to see why the car was running. Hang it! Even a policeman might have enquired. . . . Besides, Paul might not have stayed there. He might have come out at the very beginning and asked him what the hell he thought he was up to.”

“Wouldn’t have mattered,” Ritchie observed. “He’d have won. He’d have told Paul to mind his own business and go away. Paul would have gone. Strong personality . . . strict, you know . . . authoritative.”

Mr. Campion remained thoughtful.

“On Sunday he must have been getting restive when he sent Mike down to the strong room,” he said quietly. “He sent him to get a folder, expecting him to find the door locked and the key missing and so start the excitement which would lead to the finding of the body. It would have been a weak move if Mike had found Paul. As it turned out, of course, it complicated the issue tremendously. Mike didn’t see the corpse and came back as though nothing had happened. That must have jolted our man considerably. So afterwards, probably late at night, he went down there himself, dragged the body into a prominent position, and, after placing the hat by its side, left it for Miss Marchant to find in the morning. He couldn’t very well leave the door locked on the inside, so he put the key back in Miss Curley’s desk.

“It’s a mad sort of crime, so mad that it came off. It was the man’s mental make-up which made it possible. All murderers are a little crazy. The people who get away with incredible things are those who never look round the subject, but just go straight ahead and make for their objective with blinkers on. It’s like the drunk who walks across the parapet. He only knows he wants to get to a window next door, sees a straight path and takes it, oblivious of the ten-story drop on either side of him.”

“John . . .” said Ritchie. “Obvious really.”

“Obvious?” enquired Mr. Campion, his professional pride stirring in its latent bed.

“From the beginning,” said Ritchie placidly. “John said he knew it was an accident. John’s not a fool. Got a logical mind. Reasonable, except where personal infallibility is concerned. If he knew it was an accident he must have arranged it himself: everyone else thought it was a murder. Queer chap . . . law of his own. Terrible for Mike.”

“Not too good for Paul,” murmured Mr. Campion dryly. “But that’s not the question at the moment. The trouble is I can’t prove this story. It depends too much on your friend Mrs. Peel, and even if she could be persuaded to tell the same yarn in the witness-box what should we have then? A case against John just about as strong as the one they’ve already got against Mike. The police wouldn’t consider it. Why should they?”

Ritchie sat silent for a long time. Finally he looked at the younger man, his mild blue eyes dark and pained.

“Terrible for Mike,” he repeated. “Caught, imprisoned, killed.”

“No,” said Campion hastily. “He’ll be acquitted. I’m sure of it. If I wasn’t I’d be at the Yard now doing anything I could, making a fool of myself probably. I’m banking on an acquittal. Anyway, there’ll be the appeal. That’s not the point. Unfortunately in an imperfect world acquittal does not mean that a man is proved innocent to the satisfaction of the people with whom he has got to live.”

“What shall we do?”

Ritchie invited a command and Mr. Campion made up his mind. He rose and walked over to Mike’s desk.

“I think we’ll leave a note,” he said.

Taking an envelope from a pigeon-hole, he addressed it to John, adding briefly: “With Mr. Campion’s compliments.”

Inside he placed the folded page from the copy of The Gallivant and the key of the safe which he had received from Mr. Rigget. Together he and Ritchie carried the missive upstairs and left it with Mrs. Peel.

18  :  In Reply to Your Letter

Their visit to John’s flat and subsequent conversation had taken much longer than either Ritchie or Mr. Campion had dreamed, and when they met Gina and Miss Curley on the door-step of Twenty-one they were astounded to learn that the court had adjourned for the day.

Miss Curley was grimly capable, keeping her head with a conscious effort. Gina was silent and, had it not been for a glazed expression in her eyes, might have appeared sullen. Her chestnut hair warmed the whiteness of her skin and her mouth was resolute.

“She must eat,” said Miss Curley in an undertone to Ritchie. “You come up with me and talk to her until I find something.”

Gina looked at Campion.

“They’re making a strong case,” she whispered. “Even John’s beginning to see it now. He stayed behind to speak to Cousin Alexander. It all fits in so horribly the way they put it.”

“Wait till you hear the defence,” said Campion, with forced cheerfulness. “The prosecution is always convincing till you hear the defence. Don’t worry.”

She looked at him as though he had said something absurd, smiled mechanically and passed on up the stairs, Miss Curley following her. Ritchie turned to Campion.

“Better go,” he said. “Poor girl!”

There was a pause in which he seemed to be struggling for words. Campion thought he had never seen such intensity of feeling in a face before.

“To escape,” said Ritchie suddenly. “Escape, Campion. Escape all . . . this.”

A great wave of a flail-like arm included, as far as his hearer could judge, the civilized world and all that lay within it.

Mr. Campion made no direct reply. Apart from the fact that no one could ever be quite sure what Ritchie was talking about, there seemed to be no comment upon such passionate feeling which would not be an impertinence.

“Good-bye,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

“To-morrow,” said Ritchie, and in his mouth the word had the bitterness of eternity.

Mr. Campion went home. Age, he reflected, was beginning to tell on him, and, since he was a person not given to self-consideration, it came to him with all the force of a major discovery that nearly thirty-five and nearly twenty-five are two very different kettles of fish where nervous stamina and the ability to do without sleep are concerned.

He was so depressed by the thought that he decided to go to bed immediately upon arriving at Bottle Street, and would have done so had it not been for the visitor who awaited him.

Ex-Inspector Beth rose from his chair in the sitting room and grinned as his host came in.

“Didn’t expect to see me here, did you?” he said. “And with the goods.”

“No,” said Campion truthfully. “I did not.”

“He’s bin ’ere for an hour talking about ’imself, until you’d think ’e was still a flattie,” observed Mr. Lugg, who had wandered in from the next room, collarless and in his house coat.

“Oh, I have, have I? Well, no one would think you were still a cat burglar,” countered the ex-inspector spitefully.

“No, I’ve bettered meself,” said Lugg, with ineffable complacency. “I’m a house gentleman now.”

“What’s the report?” cut in Mr. Campion, who was not in the mood for cross-talk. “Anything definite?”

The visitor became businesslike immediately.

“Pretty good, Mr. Campion, pretty good. As far as I can ascertain, nearly all the amounts paid into the bank book since December last, and not handed in at the Holborn post office, were paid in by an elderly gentleman. Is that what you expected?”

“Only ‘nearly all’?” enquired Campion, with interest.

“All those I could ascertain,” said the Inspector firmly and with reproach. “There are five instances in which the assistant remembered, because he or she thought it queer; two doubtfuls; and one plain rude and unhelpful.”

“Any description of the man?”

“Fair.” The ex-inspector consulted his notes. “Tall, thin, sixty-ish, well-dressed, yellow face—that’s some person’s word alone—quiet, stranger to each office. Any good?”

“Good enough,” said Mr. Campion. “Good enough for my own information. No good as evidence.”

“I don’t see why not.” The inspector was hurt. “Some of them remember him clearly. The idea of him doing it tickled ’em. You know what these youngsters are nowadays.”

“Oh, it’s not your end. That’s fine.” Campion spoke soothingly. “It’s the information received. That’s the part of the story I couldn’t pin down.”

Ex-Inspector Beth’s large face assumed a puzzled expression. He had never been a man who liked to see good work wasted, and he now mentioned the fact in passing.

“For information received, was it?” he continued. “That makes it darker still to me. I can’t see at all what you’re driving at, Mr. Campion. The amounts were so small. If there was any hanky-panky you’d imagine they’d have been paid in cash.”

Campion sat down. He felt the ex-inspector was entitled to an explanation, but had never felt less like making one in his life.

“Beth,” he demanded, “have you ever met a woman who conveyed interesting information without actually saying it?”

“Hinting?” enquired the inspector dubiously.

“No, not exactly.” Campion hesitated, looking for the word. “A woman who gossiped to the point,” he said at last. “She knows, and you know, that she’s telling you something, and yet for reasons of discipline or dignity or discretion neither of you ever admits to the other that you are interested or she is informing. See what I mean?”


Beth nodded sagaciously and Mr. Campion, finding it easier than he had expected, went on.

“Now suppose you want to reward such a woman. You want to encourage her and yet you don’t want to commit yourself by giving her money in her hand. You can’t trust her not to come out into the open with a direct question if you leave a pound note on her typewriter.”


“Well, suppose she sees your difficulty and one day you find her Post Office Savings Bank Book lying in your room. It may have been a mistake; it may not. What is to prevent you paying a pound or two in at an unfamiliar post office? If she likes to query it you know nothing about it. If she accepts the cash and it encourages her, well, you’re on the same footing as you were before. You’ve never come off your pedestal. You’ve never descended to a familiar word. You’ve done it and yet you haven’t done it.”

“And if an old ex-policeman goes round asking questions?” murmured the practical Inspector Beth.

“Ah,” agreed Mr. Campion, “but I don’t think you’re the sort of man who would imagine that possible. You’re a conceited beggar. You think your dignity gives you a special pass to ignore enquiring policemen and all their works. It’s your own personal dignity in relation to the woman who is your employee which counts with you. That’s the sort of man you are.”

“Oh, am I?” said the ex-inspector. “Well, in that case, Mr. Campion, you can take it from me that I might do abso-bally-lutely anything. What a tale! If you’ll pardon a professional question, how did you get on to it?”

“She’s that sort of woman,” said Mr. Campion, and Beth was satisfied.

It was half an hour later before Campion got rid of him. Lugg was in lordly mood and in the vein for a bout with an old sparring partner, while the ex-inspector evidently had time to waste. Eventually, however, he departed and Campion was thinking affectionately of his bed when the telephone summoned him to his feet again.

“Hello, is that you, Campion?” The dry precise voice sent a thrill through him. “John Widdowson here. I got your note.”

“Oh, yes?” Campion heard his own voice studiously noncommittal.

“You made a most natural mistake.” The tone was conciliatory, but by no means ingratiating. “You’ve discovered the manuscript in the safe is a copy, of course. I don’t think anyone knew that except myself. I congratulate you. It was made for my uncle many years ago and for reasons of extra-special safety I put it in the place of the real play, so that if there should be any attempt at theft I should be doubly protected. You follow me?”

“Perfectly.” Campion’s inflection was unmistakable.

“Good. Well, what I want to say is this. I feel that since you have made the discovery and it has evidently led you to a mistaken conclusion, I naturally very much want you to see the real manuscript, so that any—ah—unfortunate surmises you may have made can be contradicted. That’s quite reasonable, isn’t it?”

Mr. Campion’s tired brain considered the concrete evidence he had gathered against the man at the other end of the wire and found it nil. He had no doubt that John Widdowson could have murdered his cousin, and in his heart he believed he had done so, but he realized that if the real Gallivant was still in the firm’s possession the motive he had so carefully reconstructed was gone, and if there was no motive the strongest part of the case fell to the ground.

John was still speaking.

“I want you to see that manuscript and I want you to see it at once, so that you can concentrate on finding the truth. Mike’s life is in danger. We’ve got to move quickly before these imbeciles decide to hang him. I’m in conference with Sir Alexander now. He’s hopeful, I may tell you, but he realizes that it’s going to be a hard fight. We’re grateful for Rigget, Campion, but it’s not enough.”

There were urgency and anxiety in the voice not unmixed with a hint of reproof, and Mr. Campion found himself shaken by that rarest of the emotions, honest astonishment.

John went on.

“I’m a little irritated, naturally. Although I do see exactly how the misapprehension arose. You are a friend of poor Mike’s, but you don’t know me. We will say no more about that. I admit that were I unable to produce the genuine manuscript my own position might very well be open to question. I see that now, although it certainly gave me a shock when you pointed it out. I want you to see the real manuscript, Campion.”

“I should like to.” Campion sounded annoyed, in spite of himself.

“You must. You must see it at once. I want all your energies concentrated on Mike’s trouble. Will you give me your promise that you’ll settle this point tonight?”

Mr. Campion’s weariness had given place to bewildered resignation.

“Yes, of course. I want to see it.”

“You’ll be able to recognize it, you think?”

“I think so.”

“Splendid. It’s not in a very inaccessible spot, thank God, but one of the safest I know, one where I keep things when I want them protected from the inquisitiveness of my own family. Do you know our Paul Jones premises?”

“No,” said Campion, who felt like a child waiting to see what would happen next.

“They’re in the phone book, of course.” John was clearly trying to keep civil in the face of crass idiocy, and finding it difficult. “Eighty-seven, Parrot Street, Pimlico. It’s a large building. Take a cab. Any driver will know it. I can’t come with you myself, unfortunately, because I shall be closeted with Sir Alexander into the small hours. But I want you to go at once. You can’t do anything useful while you’re still on a wild-goose chase. You see that?”

Mr. Campion found himself thinking, quite unpardonably, that he had never been treated as a blundering employee before and that the experience was refreshing, stimulating and probably good for the soul. Aloud he said:

“All right. I’ll go.”

“You’d be behaving like a young ass if you didn’t,” said the voice, with some asperity. “I’ll telephone to the caretaker to admit you on your card. He won’t know where the manuscript is, of course. You’ll have to find that yourself from what I tell you now. It’s very simple. The last room on the fourth floor, that is to say, at the top of the building, is the directors’ office. The room number is forty-five. If you forget it the caretaker will show you. In the room is a carved desk—oak or ebony, I forget which—and in the left-hand top drawer you will find the key of the cupboard. Open it, and the manuscript is in a newspaper parcel on the second shelf with two or three others. My uncle always kept it like that. His contention was that no one would look for it there or recognize it if they found it, and when he gave over he passed the tip on to me. Lock up after you, of course.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Campion meekly.

“I shall expect you to phone me later in the evening to tell me you’re satisfied, and, perhaps—” the cold authoritative voice betrayed a hint of condescending amusement, “—to apologize. I’ll phone the caretaker immediately. Oh, wait a moment; Sir Alexander may want to speak to you.”

There was a considerable pause while, presumably, Cousin Alexander was fetched from another room, and then the magnificent voice rumbled over the wire.

“That you, Campion? I’m sorry, but I must have John here for some time yet. Terribly sorry, my dear fellow, but anxious times, you know—anxious times. Good night.”

Before Mr. Campion could reply he had gone and John had taken his place again.

“Go along and satisfy your mind, my boy,” he said. “You’ll know where you are then. As soon as you clear the line I’ll ring Jenkinson. He’ll be waiting for you. Good-bye.”

Mr. Campion hung up the receiver and walked slowly back across the room. Standing by the window, looking down into the lamp-lit street, he tried to sort out thought from instinct and wished he were not so incredibly tired. That afternoon he had been sure of John’s guilt. Even now, when he considered his painfully forged chain of half-facts, he could not believe that it was composed entirely of unrelated coincidences; and yet, if John were innocent, could he possibly have made any more reasonable move than the present one? On the other hand, if he were guilty, what could he hope to gain by the production of yet another faked manuscript, or even no manuscript at all?

There was one other alternative, and Campion considered it in cold blood. In the course of an adventurous career he had received many invitations which had subsequently proved to be not at all as innocent as they at first appeared, and the common or garden trap was not by any means unknown to him. And yet, in cold blood, the absurdity of such a suggestion in the present case was inclined to overwhelm every other aspect.

While he was still wavering there returned to his mind a maxim often expounded by old Sergeant McBain, late of H Division: “If you think it’s a frame, go and see. Frames is evidence.”

Mr. Campion put on his coat and had reached the front door when another thought occurred to him, and rather shame-facedly he returned to his desk and, taking a little Webley from its drawer, slid it into his pocket.

Leaning back in a taxi cab nearly fifteen minutes later he surveyed Parrot Street, Pimlico, with interest. It was a long dingy road lined with solid slabs of Georgian housing, intersected by occasional side streets or great yawning gaps where demolition and rebuilding were in progress. Office staffs had long ago displaced the comfortable families for whom the houses were built, and at eight o’clock in the evening Parrot Street was a gloomy and deserted thoroughfare.

Number Eighty-seven was a dishevelled building. Its windows were dirty and uncurtained and here and there patches of plaster had chipped away, showing the brick beneath. One of its immediate neighbours had been taken down and huge wooden joists supporting the structure along one side did not add to its distinction. Altogether it was not a likely sister for the elegant Twenty-three, Horsecollar Yard.

The explanation, of course, was the old one. Like hairdressing and hotel-keeping, Publishing is forced to be class-conscious, and just as front-rank restaurateurs are sometimes known to have smaller, cheaper establishments tucked away in the back streets, where, under less dignified names, money is made and odds and ends used up without waste, so sometimes distinguished publishing houses have humbler sisters where less rare but equally filling mental dishes are prepared and distributed.

Messrs. Paul Jones, Ltd. published children’s picture-books, light love stories of the cheaper sort, translations, and a vast quantity of reprints, and were kept alive by the possession of some twenty or thirty copyrights of the great Fairgreen Fields’ earlier works, which they republished at three and six, half a crown, one and three, one shilling, ninepence, sixpence, and fourpence simultaneously and over a period of years, without ever, apparently, overlapping or saturating any of that fine “blood” writer’s many markets.

The firm was owned by Messrs. Barnabas, without being in any way affiliated to them socially, and was run by a separate staff.

The taximan pulled up outside the dilapidated doorway and Mr. Campion got out. The dirty transom showed a faint light in the entrance hall, and as soon as he knocked the door was opened by a woman as untidy and disheartened as the house itself.

“Me husband’s hurt his foot,” she said before he had time to open his mouth, “and I said for him not to move himself now he was got comfortable. I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

She looked up at him with a confiding leer which showed gappy teeth in pale gums.

A wail from the lighted doorway at the far end of the passage indicated that she was not in attendance upon her husband alone.

“I’m coming!” she shouted in a voice surprisingly raucous after her husky conversation tone. “See to ’im, Dad, do!”

Mr. Campion gave her his card, and she took it under the bulb to read.

“That’s right,” she said, with idiotic but ingratiating surprise. “Campion. That was the name Mr. Widdowson said. Shall I keep this, sir? D’you know where to go? It’s Room Forty-five, right at the top of the ’ouse.”

She glanced abjectly at the dusty wooden staircase and back again.

“I can turn on the ’all lights from ’ere,” she added, and rubbed her hands on the back of her skirt.

Mr. Campion looked down at her.

“How long ago did your husband hurt his foot?” he enquired unexpectedly.

“Week last Monday. One of the van boys let a box down on ’im—clumsy young monkey! Mr. Widdowson said surely it was well by now. I didn’t ’alf tell ’im off over the phone. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘ ’e’s not an idol, Mr. Widdowson.’ ”

She spoke without heat or humour, and her tired face turned towards the stairs again. In the back room the baby roared.

“I’ll come up with you if you like,” she said.

Suddenly Campion laughed.

“Don’t bother. Is the door locked?”

“Oh, no, sir. We’re always here, you see. There’s only this entrance and the one at the back which we use. Nobody could get in. You’ll go up, then?”

“I will. I’ll see you when I come down.”

“Thank you, sir.” He saw her quick hopeful smile and she wiped her hands again. “I’ll just turn on the lights.”

The beautiful staircase, which had been a Georgian housewife’s pride and responsibility and was now a danger trap to van boys and caretakers, was flooded with dusty light as Campion set foot upon it.

The premises at Eighty-seven were even less attractive inside than out. The two lower floors were used as a warehouse and stretched out behind over what once had been a garden in vast ramifications of the book-producer’s trade. The very air was thick with dust and the sweet, acrid smell of ink.

Campion went up slowly, his hand on the Webley. In spite of his conviction that the idea of attack was absurd, he took no risks. His senses were alert and he walked with quiet springy steps.

He was not disturbed. The rows of greasy doors on each landing were silent and no creaking board, either behind or above him, answered the tread of his own feet.

It was a long way up. He climbed steadily on, pausing only once to look down the well to the hall, small and far away below.

The fourth floor was a little cleaner than the rest of the house. One or two of the doors had been freshly painted, throwing the shabbiness of the walls into painful prominence, and there was a strip of floor-covering of sorts down the centre of the passage.

Outside room number forty-five he paused and stood for a moment, listening. The silence was everywhere. Very gently he tried the handle. It turned easily and the door swung open, revealing an apartment only faintly lit by the light from the street lamps below.

With his left hand, his gun in his right, he shone his torch round the room. It was unoccupied and appeared to be in normal order.

A glance at the light fixtures assured him that there was nothing untoward in that direction, and he turned over the switch.

It was a big room, comfortably furnished with that particular brand of red Turkey carpet which is to the City office what the bowler hat is to the City clerk, a bookcase, a few chairs and the desk of which John had spoken. The walls were covered with show-cards, book jackets and galleys of advertisements.

Mr. Campion looked for the cupboard door and saw two, one beside the desk, the other behind it. They were both used as notice boards, the wooden panelling being particularly suitable for the reception of drawing-pins. The miscellany hanging there told him little more than the date, several publication fixtures for books of which he had never heard, and the details of the train service to Chelmsford.

He did not hurry. In the back of his mind something was warning him of impending danger. Looking about him, the instinct seemed ridiculous, and he remembered that he was tired and probably jumpy.

He went over to the desk unwillingly and pulled open the first drawer on the left-hand side. It contained at first sight nothing more remarkable than a tin of biscuits and a pair of gloves, but after removing these cautiously he saw a key with a piece of string through the ring lying half under the paper with which the drawer was lined.

He took it out and looked at it suspiciously, but it was quite ordinary and of no particular interest in itself.

Feeling foolish but still puzzled, he carried it over to the door behind the desk.

It fitted the lock, but he did not get the door open until he realized with a wave of self-dislike that it opened outwards and was not even locked. He thrust it open and stepped back, taking out his torch once more.

The cupboard proved to be a cloak-room containing an incredibly dirty wash-basin and a row of clothes-hooks, upon one of which a dilapidated umbrella hung dejectedly.

He came out and went over to the other door. Once again he fitted the key in the lock, the old sense of danger assailed him, and he swung round to face the landing, but all was silent and dirty and ordinary as before.

Then, from far below, he heard a little angry sound, thin, high and furious. Mrs. Jenkinson’s baby was protesting violently at some parental indignity. It was too much. Mr. Campion cursed himself for his hysteria, his cowardice and his approaching age. He turned the bolt over and pulled the handle.

The jamb did not move and he remembered it probably opened outwards. He tried it gently, but it was stuck and he drew himself back to throw his shoulder against it.

That miraculous sense which is either second sight or the lightning calculation of the subconscious mind, which nothing escapes, arrested him, and, changing his mind on the instant, he pulled his gun and kicked the door open, police fashion.

For a moment it still stuck and then shattered open sickeningly and he stood overbalancing, shuddering horror fighting with the realization of a certainty.

There was nothing there at all; only the wide sky threadbare with stars and fringed with a million chimney-pots, and, far, far below him in the cool darkness, the jagged stone foundations of the house that had been next door.

19  :  Under the Sword

Miss Curley cleared her throat, pushed her hat a little further on to the back of her head, and wondered rather helplessly if the truth could be any more apparent after five days’ talk, when it seemed to be so hopelessly hidden after one and a half.

At her side Gina sat immobile. All through the day she had preserved the same aloof expression. Her eyes were no longer dazed, but had assumed instead a settled coldness. Miss Curley was anxious about her.

In the luncheon recess she had taken the girl to a city restaurant and had made her eat, but she had done so without interest and had not talked.

Even John’s absence, the non-appearance of Ritchie, and the unaccountable desertion of Mr. Campion had passed her by as unworthy of comment and only once, when Mike had been brought back into the dock, had she shown by a single quickening glance the least sign of interest in the proceedings.

Miss Curley’s other neighbour, on the contrary, was evidently not only following, but enjoying, the case. He had reappeared at the morning session as eager as a child at a play, and Miss Curley, a patient, tolerant woman, had gradually become used to his muttered commentary.

The afternoon was very warm for the time of the year, and the sun shone on the dome, making the court comfortable and bright. Lord Lumley leant back in his high leather chair, his scarlet robe catching the sunlight and the colour flickering on the lenses of his eyeglasses. Before him the eternal bustle of the court continued.

Cousin Alexander sat in his place, his silk gown shining and his eyes eloquent, ready at any moment to leap up and pounce upon a witness.

The first three sessions of the enquiry had established much of the Crown case and the Attorney-General had reason to be pleased with the way events were shaping. The jury now fully understood the mechanics of the crime. They had examined the hose pipe, seen the photographs of the strong room and garage, and had heard the medical evidence.

They had also heard Mrs. Austin do her well-meaning damnedest, and Mrs. Tripper had repeated her story of the running car engine.

At the moment the red-headed and vivacious Roberta Jeeves, author of Died on a Saturday, was giving her evidence, struggling between the desire to escape all responsibility and a certain shy pride in having invented a murder which would work.

She had, she said, no idea whether Mr. Michael Wedgwood had read her book or not. It did happen sometimes that a publisher did not read every book he sponsored.

Was that not usually only in the case of well-established authors? Fyshe put the question innocently.

Miss Jeeves reluctantly supposed it would be, and Counsel begged leave to enquire if Miss Jeeves considered that she had been a well-established author at the time of the publication of Died on a Saturday.

Miss Jeeves confessed with not unnatural irritation that she had no idea.

Fyshe asked humbly if it were true that in view of the complicated mechanics of the device described and the faithfulness with which they had been executed in real life Miss Jeeves had felt it her duty to call the attention of the police to her book.

Miss Jeeves, holding strong views on the subject of coincidence, was fairly embarked upon a dissertation upon them when she was gently and courteously stopped by the Judge.

Cousin Alexander did not cross-examine.

Miss Curley stirred and smiled nervously in reply to her unknown neighbour’s wink and nod of appreciation. She looked round the court again. Until now she had believed that court proceedings were tedious beyond all bearing and that the greatest ordeal participators had to face was one by ennui, but so far the effect of cumulative drama had never faltered and always just in front of her there had been that strong wide back of the young man she knew, who might be going to die.

Others might find the technicalities of doctors and central-heating experts dull, but to Miss Curley every word was of vital importance, every point reached her, and every time the jury whispered together her heart contracted painfully.

Miss Jeeves having returned to her seat, there was a rustle at Counsels’ table. Fyshe sat down and the Attorney-General rose to examine as Peter Rigget stepped into the box.

His slightly dilapidated appearance was not enhanced by the green reading light which, shining down upon his papers, was reflected up into his face. He looked puffy because of Mr. Campion, unhealthy because of the light, and thoroughly vindictive, which was his own affair.

Miss Curley, who knew nothing about his secret self-deploration, had no sympathy for him at all.

“Strong case,” whispered the man at her side. “Now they’re coming to it . . .”

Miss Curley wondered if it was her imagination or that a new excitement was, in fact, growing in the big bright room. The Lord Chief Justice looked as placid as before, but there was certainly a rustle among the clerks and the jury leant forward to see the witness better.

It was evident at once that Mr. Rigget was aware of his importance. He even permitted himself a sickly nervous smile, which was rendered frankly horrific by the green light reflected in his glasses.

Cousin Alexander noticed the little man’s self-satisfaction with grim approval.

Miss Curley glanced at Gina. The girl was very still, her eyes fixed upon the silent figure in the dock. It occurred to the older woman that she was praying.

The Attorney-General began gently in his softest, most ingratiating tone, and Mr. Rigget made his opening statement happily.

“I am an accountant employed by Messrs. Barnabas. I have known the accused and the deceased for about two years, ever since I came to work in the office. On January the twenty-seventh I went into the deceased’s room at the office and on into the book-file room, which leads off it. When I entered the room the two men were talking. They ceased when they saw me, but when I went into the little office they continued their conversation.”

“Was the door open or shut?”


“Could you hear what was said?”


“Can you repeat what you overheard, word for word?”

“I can.”

“Is it not extraordinary that you should remember a chance conversation so clearly?”

“No, because it was an extraordinary conversation.”

“Will you repeat it?”

Mr. Rigget considered and began in a slightly affected voice.

“Mr. Paul, the deceased, said: ‘You mind your own damned business, Mike. She’s mine. I’ll manage my own life in my own way.’ And then after a pause he said: ‘Make love to her if you want to. God knows I’m not stopping you.’ ”

“Did you hear any more?”

“No. I came out then and they stopped talking.”

“Did you see both men?”

“Of course.”

“How close to them were you?”

“I passed quite close to Mr.—to the accused, within two feet.”

“Did you notice anything about him?”

“He was very white. His hands were clenched. He looked as if he could—he looked very angry.”

“Had you ever seen him like that before?”

“I had never seen him like that before.”

Miss Curley’s neighbour nudged her.

“They’ll get him,” he whispered jubilantly, and then, as she turned to him, coughed apologetically into his handkerchief and reddened round the ears.

Cousin Alexander rose majestically and scattered a sheaf of papers to the floor with the sleeve of his gown. While Mr. Rigget’s attention was still distracted by the incident he put his first question.

“Some time before you entered the employment of Messrs. Barnabas, Limited, you were employed by Messrs. Fitch and Sons, paper merchants, were you not?”

Mr. Rigget started violently.


“Is it true that after you left them you gave evidence for the prosecution in an action brought against that firm by the Inland Revenue Department and were rewarded by that Department for information received?”

The Attorney-General sprang up and protested violently, and for the first time real heat was infused into the chill argument which had taken place between the two Counsels. Lord Lumley blinked at Cousin Alexander.

“I confess I don’t see the purpose of such a question, Sir Alexander,” he rumbled mildly.

Cousin Alexander bowed.

“I will not press it, My Lord,” he said virtuously, and Mr. Rigget was sufficiently ill-advised to smile.

“Are you an accountant?”

“I am.”

“Have you very little to do with the book publishing side of Messrs. Barnabas’ business?”

“I suppose I have.” Mr. Rigget spoke grudgingly.

“Is it true you do not know even the titles of all the books they publish?”

“No, not all,” said Mr. Rigget nervously.

“Is it true that you did not know, for instance, that in January Messrs. Barnabas acquired the rights of an autobiography entitled My Own Life, by Lady Emily Trumpington?”


“Did you or did you not?”

Cousin Alexander’s chill eyes suddenly reminded Mr. Rigget of the portrait in the waiting room.

“I may have heard of it.”

“Did it occur to you then or does it occur to you now that what you really overheard the deceased say on the occasion when you were ‘over-hearing’ in the next office was: ‘You mind your own damned business, Mike. She’s mine. I’ll manage My Own Life in my own way,’ meaning, of course, the author, Lady Trumpington, is my client and I will manage her book—that is to say, I will publish her book—in my own way.”

“No,” said Mr. Rigget, turning a dull brown in the green light. “No. I thought he was talking about his wife.”

“You thought . . . !” began Cousin Alexander, apparently temporarily overwhelmed by the iniquity of fools, but recovering himself with pretty dignity. “What made you think that he was talking about his wife?”

“Well,” said Mr. Rigget uncomfortably, “there had been a bit of talk in the office about Mrs. Brande and the accused carrying on, and I naturally thought—”

His voice trailed away.

“A bit of talk.” Cousin Alexander’s tone rose melodiously. “A bit of talk in the office. Tittle-tattle among the employees. A’s wife has been seen with B, and so when A and B talk heatedly it must be about Mrs. A. Is that how you reasoned, Mr. Rigget?”

“I—I may have done.”

Lord Lumley leant forward.

“When you heard the words ‘my own life,’ did they sound like the title of a book? Were they said with equal emphasis on each word, or on one or two words only?”

The quiet affable question brought the whole tricksy business back to earth again, out of the realms of cleverness into the quiet line of enquiry the results of which should determine if Mike was to hang by the neck until he was dead.

Mr. Rigget dithered while the court held its breath.

“I can’t remember,” he said at last, and the ready tears which were such a constant source of embarrassment to him crept into his eyes.

Cousin Alexander let the admission sink in before he tackled the next stage of his enquiry.

“You have told us that you cannot remember the inflection on the words ‘my own life,’ ” he said quietly. “Are you sure that you remember the words ‘make love to her if you want to, God knows I’m not stopping you’? You are sure you heard them?”

“I am sure.”

“Did the accused say anything at all while you were in the inner office?”


“Are you saying that you heard him say nothing?”

“I heard nothing.”

“Might he have whispered?”

“No. I should have heard him if he had.”

“Were you listening carefully?”

“I was.”

“Were you remembering everything you heard?”


“And yet you are not sure if the deceased was talking about his own life or the title of a book.”

“That’s your suggestion,” sneered Mr. Rigget.

“Yes, it is,” said Cousin Alexander, with lightning heat. “And it is also my suggestion that in order to convince yourself that you had heard Mr. Brande talking about his wife, you imagined the second part of the statement.”


Cousin Alexander took a deep breath.

“Consider those two remarks, first side by side and then concurrently. Do you think they could have been made by the same man, the same man in the same mood and on the same point? Are they not directly contradictory? ‘I’ll manage my own married life in my own way; make love to my wife if you want to.’ Taken together, do they not sound absurd?”

“I heard it,” said Mr. Rigget obstinately.

“I suggest,” said Cousin Alexander, “that you thought you heard it.”

“No, I heard it.”

“Is it possible, Mr. Rigget, that you may have been mistaken in what you heard?”

There was a blessed quality of moral absolution in the word “mistaken,” and Mr. Rigget fell for it.

“Perhaps,” he said, and Cousin Alexander sighed.

“Do you like the accused?—or rather, is it true that you bear no grudge against him?”

“I hardly know him.”

“Yet you knew the intimate affairs of his life. You knew he had been ‘carrying on’ with Mrs. Brande.”

“I had heard it.”

“Do you think now that you may have been mistaken?”

“I had heard it.”

“May it have been untrue?”

“It may.”

Cousin Alexander began to enjoy himself. His elation, which had been slowly growing ever since Mr. Rigget had entered the box, was shared by all those whose personal feelings were not harrowed by the case. Throughout the last part of the cross-examination people had been coming into the room. Barristers from other courts slipped in unobtrusively and the undercurrent of whispers which broke out in every pause became a natural part of the proceedings.

Miss Curley was stirred by the excitement of it all, in spite of herself. She could not help reacting to the general animation which had arisen so suddenly. It frightened her. She felt that it was at moments like these when mistakes were made, but she could feel the exhilaration and her neighbour was quite frankly beside himself with delight.

There was so much movement going on all round the room that she did not notice that the Attorney-General had left the court. It was Gina who called her attention to the fact.

“Where’s Sir Montague Brooch gone?” she whispered. “A note was brought in to him and he hurried out. Did you see? Where’s Albert Campion? They’ll need him, won’t they? Something’s happening.”

Miss Curley realized with a shock of self-reproach that the different atmosphere in the court had not registered upon the girl. Gina was concerned only with the truth and the man in the dock. Cousin Alexander’s dexterities had passed her by.

“I don’t notice anything,” she whispered back, and before she had time to consider the suggestion Cousin Alexander began again.

“We will leave for a moment the question of what you do and do not remember, Mr. Rigget,” he said graciously, “what you are sure you heard and what you cannot remember if you heard, and go on to something which happened so short a while ago that I am sure you will have no difficulty in calling it to mind. I put it to you that you visited the strong room where the deceased was found after office hours on the ninth of this month on the eve of this trial. Did you or did you not?”

Mr. Rigget’s glance turned nervously towards the prosecution and he saw for the first time that Sir Montague Brooch was not present. Sir Alexander was still waiting.

“Did you or did you not?”

“I may have done.”

“Come, come, Mr. Rigget, that’s no answer to a perfectly straightforward question. It is now Thursday. Did you on Tuesday night go down to the strong room of the office where you are employed after office hours?”

Again Mr. Rigget looked round helplessly, and this time even Miss Curley was aware that something untoward was afoot. Cousin Alexander’s junior tugged his gown and slipped a note into his hand, and at the same time the Clerk, who had been in conference for some minutes with Fyshe, rose and whispered to the Judge.

Mr. Rigget, finding himself temporarily forgotten, said “Yes” sulkily, and the whole court waited.

“ ’Ullo? ’Ullo?” murmured Miss Curley’s unknown neighbour expressively, and at the same time Gina caught the older woman’s hand.

“I told you something had happened. What is it? More evidence against Mike? I can’t bear it, Curley, I can’t bear it!”

“Hush, dear, hush,” said Miss Curley, patting the hand she held and moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue.

Cousin Alexander bustled out of court and his junior rose to take his place. The Clerk still stood whispering and Lord Lumley, looking more like a very old and very wise bloodhound than ever, sat forward, his head on one side. Now and again he nodded gravely and sometimes put a muttered question, which was answered by more whispered volubility from the Clerk.

The junior for the defence repeated Cousin Alexander’s last question and received the same sulky reply from Mr. Rigget, but its importance was lost. The jury were whispering heatedly, and only the little group in the dock sat stolidly silent, waiting.

“While you were there, what did you do?”

“I looked for things.”

“Were you on the firm’s business?”


“Did anyone from the office know you were there?”

“They may have done.”

Mr. Rigget’s eyes were snapping. He saw his opportunity and was taking it. The junior had no terrors for him, and he saw his chance to deny the truth of the statement he had made in Mr. Scruby’s office. He supposed he could get that respected firm of solicitors and the odious Mr. Campion into the devil of a row if he played his cards carefully.

Looking up, he saw Mike’s eyes resting upon him, and he turned away hastily from that pale unhappy face.

“Will you tell the court what was the nature of the business on which you were engaged in the strong room at that unlikely hour?”

The fact that the court was certainly not listening to anything Mr. Rigget might have to tell unnerved the young barrister and the question lacked authority.

“I was looking up some royalty accounts for our department,” said Mr. Rigget mendaciously, and remembered suddenly that perjury is a crime.

“Had you any authority to do that?”

“No, but I like to do my job thoroughly.”

The whispered conversation at the bench had ceased, and now Sir Andrew Phelps was talking to the Clerk.

The cross-examination went on its desultory way.

“While you were there were you disturbed?”

“Yes, I was. I was set upon and nearly killed.”

“Did you not attack the man who discovered you there?”

“No, he attacked me.”

“You must be more explicit. Did your assailant come straight into the room and hit you?”

The quiet voice from the bench at his side startled Mr. Rigget out of his wits. Under cover of the mysterious upheaval which seemed to have distracted the entire court, he had been happily chirruping on. Now it was as though God had stretched out a great finger and pinned an impudent sparrow to the gate. He gasped.

“No. I went out to see who it was, and he hit me then.”

Counsel continued.

“Did you turn on the light?”

“No, I ran out into the passage in the dark.”

Mr. Rigget’s face grew rigid after he had spoken. His eyes blinked piteously and he trembled, waiting for the next question.

It was a very long time in coming, and at last he looked up in sheer desperation, only to see the Attorney-General and Cousin Alexander back at the table again. Both men seemed slightly excited. There was a flush on Sir Montague Brooch’s thin dark cheekbones and Cousin Alexander was forcing a smile, which was clearly not genuine. There was a pause. The Attorney-General looked at the Judge, and when His Lordship nodded to him imperceptibly he rose.

“My Lord—” the beautiful voice was a little thin, “—in view of certain circumstances which have arisen, and of which I understand Your Lordship is already aware, it is the intention of the prosecution to call no further evidence.”

Before the words were finally out of his mouth, Cousin Alexander was on his feet beside him. Even in that moment of bewilderment it flashed through Miss Curley’s mind that his agility was extraordinary for his age and weight. An usher signalled Mr. Rigget out of the box, and was too startled to notice whether he obeyed.

“My Lord,” said Cousin Alexander, “in view of my learned friend’s decision, it is my duty to demand a verdict from the jury.”

Mr. Rigget was still in the box, forgotten and too terrified to move.

The Lord Chief Justice cleared his throat and tapped gently with his eyeglasses upon the vivid sleeve of his robe.

“Yes, Sir Alexander,” he said in a quiet unemotional voice which temporarily robbed, for Miss Curley at least, his words of their momentous meaning. “I think that is a very proper request.”

He turned to the jury, where they sat gaping at him like a double row of somebody’s stupid relations, and addressed them simply.

“Members of the Jury, as you have just heard, certain circumstances have arisen which have caused the prosecution to decide to call no further evidence in this case. That means the Crown does not press the charge against the accused. Therefore it is my duty to direct you to find the prisoner not guilty and to acquit him of the charges which have been brought against him. Do you understand?”

There was a mutter in the jury-box, too confused and hasty to be dignified by the word “consultation,” and the foreman stumbled to his feet with a nervous nod.

“We have—I mean we do, My Lord. Not guilty, My Lord.”

As the jury writhed and murmured, overcome with delight and relief, the Judge addressed the prisoner. Mike rose stiffly to his feet. He looked young, broken, and inexpressibly alone in the great bare dock. The Judge’s voice was very kind.

“Michael Wedgwood, you have been found not guilty of the charges brought against you. You may go.”

The young man stood quite still. The whispering around him turned into a roar, and Cousin Alexander hurried over to him.

“ ’S’truth,” said the man next to Miss Curley, as they rose while the Judge made his stately exit, his flowers in his hand, “what’s happened now?”

Gina clutched Curley’s arm.

“I want to get out!” she said wildly. “I want to get out!”

Miss Curley put her arm round Gina’s shoulders and they were swept by an excited throng to the doorway. Mike was surrounded, she saw, and it occurred to her that it would be better if the two young people did not leave the court together.

What’s happened? Why? What’s happened? The question overtopped all the other crowding thoughts racing through her bewildered mind. Mike free—no need for Gina to give evidence—what’s happened?—where are they all?—what’s happened?

Over her shoulder she had her last glimpse of the court, the empty bench, the sword, the coats-of-arms, the excited throng, wigs, bands and silk gowns shining in the sunlight under the dome, and the witness-box with Mr. Rigget still inside it, peeping out like a bewildered green parrot in a cage.

What’s happened?

They came out into Newgate Street, running almost, with the weight of the crowd behind them. The sun shone in their eyes and the hubbub of the traffic surged about them.

What’s happened? With the return from the slightly Alice in Wonderland atmosphere of the court to the sturdy matter-of-factness of a London afternoon the question became urgent.

“What’s happened?” The words themselves were on her lips when Gina stopped abruptly on the pavement. “Look!” she said huskily.

An old man in a ragged raincoat, who wore three out-of-date hospital flags in his cap, was leaning against a brilliant pillar-box, an apron of newspaper bills slung round his waist.



Miss Curley’s eyes let her down. She took the paper the old man proffered her and fumbled with it blindly.

“What’s happened?”

Gina’s voice sounded very harsh and far away.

Miss Curley was aware of a red, unshaven Cockney face and two very bright sparrow eyes looking at her with kindly curiosity.

“There it is, lady, right on the first page. It happened this morni