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Our Library => Rees and Watson - The Hampstead Mystery (1916) => Topic started by: Admin on January 30, 2023, 06:19:08 am

Title: Chapter 23
Post by: Admin on January 30, 2023, 06:19:08 am
AS GABRIELLE finished her story, she cast a quick glance at Crewe's face as though seeking to divine his decision. But apparently she could read nothing there, and with an imperious gesture she exclaimed:

"You will do what I ask now that I have exposed my secret—my shame to you—and told everything? You will save Madame Holymead from being persecuted by these police agents?"

"I must ask you a few questions first."

The contrast between the detective's quiet English tones and the Frenchwoman's impetuous appeal was accentuated by the methodical way in which Crewe slowly jotted down an entry in his open notebook. Her dark eyes sparkled in an agony of impatience as she watched him.

"Ask them quick, monsieur, for I burn in the suspense."

"In the first place, then, have you any—"

"Hold, monsieur! I know what you would ask! You would say if I have any proofs? Stupid that I am to forget things so important. I have brought you the proofs."

She fumbled at the clasp of her hand-bag, as she spoke, and before she had finished speaking she had torn it open and emptied its contents on the table in front of Crewe—a dainty handkerchief and a revolver.

"See, monsieur!" she cried; "here is the handkerchief of which I told you. It is that which the judge seized when I tried to stop the blood flowing in his breast—look at the corner and you will see that a little bit has been torn off by his almost dead hand. And the revolver—it is that which I picked up on the floor near him. I have had it locked up ever since."

Crewe examined both articles closely. The revolver was a small, nickel-plated weapon with silver chasing, with the murdered man's initials engraved in the handle. It had five chambers, and one of the cartridges had been discharged. The other four chambers were still loaded. Crewe carefully extracted the cartridges, and examined them closely. One of them he held up to the light in order to inspect it more minutely.

"Did you do this?" he asked: "Have you been trying to fire off the revolver?"

"No, no, monsieur," she exclaimed quickly. "I would not fire it, I do not understand it. I have been careful not to touch the little thing that sets it going."

"The trigger," said Crewe. He again studied the cartridge that had attracted his attention. It had missed fire, for on the cap was a dint where the hammer had struck it. He placed the four cartridges on the table and turning his attention to the handkerchief examined it minutely. It was one of those filmy scraps of muslin and lace which ladies call a handkerchief—an article whose cost is out of all proportion to its usefulness. Gabrielle, who was watching him keenly as he examined it, exclaimed:

"The handkerchief—a box of them—were given me by Sir Horace because he knew I love pretty things."

She laid a finger on the missing corner, which might indeed have been torn off in the manner described. A scrap of the lace was missing, and it was evident that it had been removed with violence, for the lace around the gap was loosened, and the muslin slightly frayed.

"You say that the corner was torn off when you wrenched the handkerchief from the dead man's hold?" said Crewe. "But it was not found in his hand by the police or anyone else. And he was not buried with it, for I examined the body carefully. What became of it?"

Gabrielle looked at him quickly as though she suspected some trap.

"You would play with me," she said at length. "What became of it? Why, you must surely know that the police of Scot—Scotland Yard have it. The police agent who called on Madame had it. What is his name—Rudolf?"

"Rolfe?" exclaimed Crewe. "Has he got it?"

"Yes," she replied. "He did not show it to me, but I saw it nevertheless. I dropped my handkerchief when I spoke at the telephone and Monsieur Rolfe picked it up. Quickly he studied my handkerchief—not this one, monsieur, but one of the same kind—and from his pocket-book he took out the missing piece that was in the dead man's hand and he studied them side by side. He thought I did not see—that my back was turned—but I saw in the mirror which hung on the wall. Then, when I finished my telephone, he bowed and said, 'Your handkerchief, mademoiselle.' It was not so badly done—for a clumsy police agent."

She was not able to recognise how keen was Crewe's interest in her statement, but she saw that she had pleased him.

"It is because of this that he will come again," she continued. "It is because of this that he would question Madame Holymead. And then what will happen? I do not know. The police make so many mistakes—blunders you English call them. Would they arrest her with their blunders? That is why I come to you to ask you to save her."

"May I have the revolver and the handkerchief?" asked Crewe. "I will take great care of them."

"They are at your disposal, for you will use them to confront the police agent."

Crewe again examined the articles in silence before taking them to his secrétaire and locking them up in one of the pigeon-holes. Then he turned to Gabrielle, whose large luminous eyes met his unhesitatingly. She even smiled slightly—a frank engaging smile, as she remarked:

"And now, monsieur, any more questions?"

Crewe smiled back at her.

"You have told a remarkable story, mademoiselle, and corroborated it with two important pieces of evidence, which are in themselves almost sufficient to carry conviction," he said. "But the Scotland Yard police are a suspicious lot, and it is necessary for me to have further information in order to convince them—if I am to help you as you wish."

Gabrielle flashed a look of gratitude at Crewe. She understood from his words that he believed her story and was disposed to help her, although the police of Scotland Yard might prove harder to convince than him.

"Bah! those police agents—they are the same everywhere," she exclaimed. "They deal so much with crime that their minds get the taint, and between the false and true they cannot tell the difference. Que voulez-vous? They are but small in brains. With you, the case is different. You have it here—and there." She touched her temples lightly with a finger of each hand. "Proceed, monsieur: ask me what questions you will. I shall endeavour to answer them."

"You said that as you were hiding behind the curtains on the stairway landing, Pierre, your husband, rushed down past you. You are quite sure it was he?"

"Of that, monsieur, unfortunately there is no doubt. I saw his face quite distinctly when he passed me, and when he turned round."

"The light would be shining from behind, and would not reveal his face very closely," suggested Crewe.

"Nevertheless, monsieur, it was quite sufficient for me to see Pierre clearly. His head was half-turned as he ran, as though he was looking back expecting to see the judge rise up and punish him for his dreadful deed, and I saw him en silhouette, oh, most distinctly—impossible him to mistake. I called softly—'Pierre!' just like that, and he turned his face right round, and then with a cry he disappeared along the path."

"About what time was this?"

"The time—it was half-past ten, for that was the time I was to be there according to the letter the judge sent me."

"But are you sure it was half-past ten? Weren't you early? Wasn't it just about ten o'clock?"

"No, monsieur," she replied sadly. "If it had been ten o'clock I would have been in time to save the life of my lover—to prevent this great tragedy which brings grief to so many."

Crewe looked at her sharply, and then nodded his head in acquiescence of the fact that much misery would have been averted if she had been in time to save the life of Sir Horace Fewbanks.

"When you went into the room, Sir Horace Fewbanks, you say, was lying on the floor, dying. Whereabouts in the room was he?"

"If he had been in this room he would have been lying just behind you, with his head to the wall and his feet pointing towards that window. He struggled and groaned after I went in, and altered his position a little, but not much. He died so."

Crewe rapidly reviewed his recollection of the room in which the judge had been killed. Once again Gabrielle's statement tallied with his own reconstruction of the crime and the manner of its perpetration. If the murder had been committed in his office the second bullet would have gone through the window instead of imbedding itself in the wall, and the judge would have fallen in the spot where she indicated.

"And where was the writing-desk from where you got your letters?" was Crewe's next question.

"It was over there—almost by that—your little bookcase there."

She pointed to a small oaken bookstand which stood slightly in advance of the more imposing shelves in which reposed the portentous volumes of newspaper clippings and photographs which constituted Crewe's "Rogues' Library."

"Now we come to the letters. You took them from the secret drawer in the desk. Why did you remove them?"

"Because I would not have the police agents find them, for then they would want to know so much."

"And what did you do with them?"

"Monsieur Crewe, I destroyed them. When I got home I burnt them all—I was so frightened."

"You mean you were frightened to keep them in your possession after the judge was killed?"

"Yes. What place had I to keep them safe from prying eyes? So, monsieur, I burnt them all—one by one—and the charred fragments I kept and took into the Park next day, where I scattered them unobserved."

"And what became of the letter you wrote to Sir Horace Fewbanks at Craigleith Hall, asking him to come to London and save you from your husband's persecutions?"

She looked at him earnestly in the endeavour to ascertain if he had laid a trap for her.

"Sir Horace destroyed it in Scotland, I suppose, if the police did not find it."

"Strange that he should have kept all your other letters so carefully and destroyed that one. Perhaps it was in his pocket-book that was stolen."

"I do not know. What does it matter? It has gone." She shrugged her shoulders lightly and indifferently.

"Do you know who stole the pocket-book?"

"No, monsieur. I thought it was stolen in the train."

"That is the police theory," replied Crewe. "But let that go. Have you, since the night of the murder, seen anything of Pierre?"

"Monsieur, I have not. It is as though the earth has him swallowed. He keeps silent with the silence of the grave."

"He is wise to do so," responded Crewe. "Now, mademoiselle, I have no more questions to ask you. Your confidence is safe; you need be under no apprehensions on that score."

"I care not for myself, Monsieur Crewe, so long as Madame Holymead is freed from the persecutions of the police agents," replied Gabrielle, rising from her seat as she spoke. "If, after hearing my story, you could but give me the assurance—"

"I think I can safely promise you that Mrs. Holymead will not be troubled with any further police attentions," said Crewe, after a moment's pause.

Gabrielle broke into profuse expressions of gratitude as she turned to go.

"For the rest then, I care not what happens. I am—how do you say it—I am overjoyed. Je vous remercie, monsieur, I beg you not, I can find my way out unattended."

But Crewe showed her to the stairs, where again he had to listen to her profuse thanks before she finally departed. He watched her graceful figure till it was lost to sight in the winding staircase, and then he turned back to his office. In the outer office he stopped to speak to Joe, who, perched on an office-footstool, was tapping quickly on the office-table with his pen-knife, swaying backwards and forwards dangerously on his perch in the intensity of his emotions as he played the hero's part in the drama of saving the runaway engine from dashing into the 4.40 express by calling up the Red Gulch station on the wire.

"Joe," said Crewe, "I'll see nobody for an hour at least—nobody. You understand?"

Joe came out of the cinema world long enough to nod his head in emphatic understanding of the instructions. In his own room Crewe pulled out his notebook and once more gave himself up to the study of the baffling Riversbrook mystery, in the new light of Gabrielle's confession.

Part of her story, he reflected, must be true. She had produced Sir Horace's revolver, and, still more important, a handkerchief which he had clutched in his dying struggles. It was obvious that she or some other woman had been at Riversbrook the night of the murder, and in the room with the murdered man before he died. That tallied with Birchill's statement to Hill that he had seen a woman close the front door and walk along the garden path while he was hiding in the garden. Crewe, recalling Gabrielle's description of the room, came to the conclusion that it was probably she who had been with the judge in his dying moments. No one but a person who had actually seen it could have described the room with such minuteness.

She had been in the room, then. For what object? For the reasons stated in her confession? Crewe shook his head doubtfully.

"She evaded the trap about the pocket-book, but she made one bad mistake," he mused. "The letters in the secret drawer were taken away, and I have no doubt were burnt as she says. But were they her letters? Was Sir Horace her lover? At any rate, she did not get hold of them in the way she said. They were not taken away on the night Sir Horace was murdered, for the simple reason that they were not in the secret drawer at the time."