The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
April 13, 2024, 07:36:31 pm
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Chapter 24

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: Chapter 24  (Read 13 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 4165

View Profile
« on: January 30, 2023, 06:22:33 am »

ROLFE was spending a quiet evening in his room after a trying day's inquiries into a confidence trick case; inquiries so fruitless that they had brought down on his head an official reproof from Inspector Chippenfield.

Rolfe had left Scotland Yard that evening in a somewhat despondent frame of mind in consequence, but a brisk walk home and a good supper had done him so much good, that with a tranquil mind and his pipe in his mouth, he was able to devote himself to the hobby of his leisure hours with keen enjoyment.

This hobby would have excited the wondering contempt of Joe Leaver, whose frequent attendance at cinema theatres had led him to the conclusion that police detectives—who, unlike his master, had to take the rough with the smooth—spent their spare time practising revolver shooting, and throwing daggers at an ace of hearts on the wall. Rolfe's hobby was nothing more exciting than stamp collecting. He was deeply versed in the lore of stamps, and his private ambition was to become the possessor of a "blue Mauritius." His collection, though extensive, was by no means of fabulous value, being made up chiefly of modest purchases from the stamp collecting shops, and finds in the waste-paper-baskets at Scotland Yard after the arrival of the foreign mails.

That day he had made a particularly good haul from the waste-paper-baskets, for his "catch" included several comparatively good specimens from Japan and Fiji. He sat gloating over these treasures, examining them carefully and holding each one up to the light as he separated it from the piece of paper to which it had been affixed. He pasted them one by one in his stamp album with loving, lingering fingers, adjusting each stamp in its little square in the book with meticulous care. He was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not hear the ascending footsteps drawing nearer to his door, and did not see a visitor at the door when the footsteps ceased. It was Crewe's voice that recalled him back from the stamp collector's imaginary world.

"Why, Mr. Crewe," said Rolfe, with evident pleasure, "who'd have thought of seeing you?"

"Your landlady asked me if I'd come up myself," said Crewe, in explaining his intrusion. "She's 'too much worried and put about, to say nothing of having a bad back,' to show me upstairs."

"I've never known her to be well," said Rolfe, with a laugh. "Every morning when she brings up my breakfast I've got to hear details of her bad back which should be kept for the confidential ear of the doctor. But she regards me as a son, I think—I've been here so long. But now you are here, Mr. Crewe—" Rolfe waited in polite expectation that his visitor would disclose the object of his visit.

But Crewe seemed in no hurry to do so. He produced his cigar case and offered Rolfe a cigar, which the latter accepted with a pleasant recollection of the excellent flavour of the cigars the private detective kept. When each of them had his cigar well alight, Crewe glanced at the open stamp album and commenced talking about stamps. It was a subject which Rolfe was always willing to discuss. Crewe declared that he was an ignorant outsider as far as stamps were concerned, but he professed to have a respectful admiration for those who immersed themselves in such a fascinating subject. Rolfe, with the fervid egoism of the collector, talked about stamps for half an hour without recalling that his visitor must have come to talk about something else.

"I've got a small stamp collection in my office," said Crewe, when Rolfe paused for a moment. "It belonged to that Jewish diamond merchant who was shot in Hatton Gardens two years ago. You remember his case?"

"Rather! That was a smart bit of work of yours, Mr. Crewe, in laying your hands on the woman who did it and getting back the diamond."

Crewe smiled in response.

"The Jew was very grateful, poor fellow. He died in the hospital after the trial, so she was lucky to escape with twelve years. He left me a diamond ring and a stamp album that had come into his possession."

"I should like to see it," said Rolfe eagerly. "It is more than likely that there are some good specimens in it. The Jews are keen collectors. If you let me have a look at it, I'll tell you what the collection is worth."

"You can have it altogether," said Crewe. "I'll send my boy Joe round with it in the morning."

"Oh, Mr. Crewe, it's very good of you," said Rolfe, with the covetousness of the collector shining in his eyes.

"Nonsense! Why shouldn't you have it? But I didn't come round here solely to talk about stamps, Rolfe. I came to have a little chat about the Riversbrook case. How are you getting on with it?"

"Why, really," said Rolfe, "I've not done much with it since, since—"

"Since Birchill was acquitted, eh! But you are not letting it drop altogether, are you? That would be a pity—such an interesting case. Whom have you your eye on now as the right man?"

Rolfe, who thought he detected a suspicion of banter in Crewe's remarks, evaded the latter question by answering the first part of Crewe's inquiry.

"Why hardly that, Mr. Crewe. But the chief is not very keen on the case. Birchill's acquittal was too much of a blow to him. He reckons that nowadays juries are too soft-hearted to convict on a capital charge."

"It's just as well that they are too soft-hearted to convict the wrong man," said Crewe.

"Yes; you told me from the first that we were on the wrong track," was the reply. "I haven't forgotten that and the chief is not allowed to forget it, either. All the men at the Yard know that you held the opinion that we had got hold of the wrong man when we arrested Birchill, and he has had to stand so much chaff in the office, that he's pretty raw about it." Rolfe spoke in the detached tone of a junior who had no share in his chief's mistakes or their attendant humiliation, and he added, "That's once more that you've scored over Scotland Yard, Mr. Crewe, and you ought to be proud of it." He glanced covertly at Crewe to see how he took the flattery.

"So you've done very little about the case since Birchill was acquitted?" was his only remark.

"I've been so busy," replied Rolfe, again evading the question, and avoiding meeting Crewe's glance by turning over the leaves of his stamp album. "You see, there has been a rush of work at Scotland Yard lately. There is that big burglary at Lord Emden's, and the case of the woman whose body was found in the river lock at Peyton, and half a dozen other cases, all important in their way. There has been quite an epidemic of crime lately, as you know, Mr. Crewe. I don't seem to get a minute to myself these times."

"Rolfe," said Crewe drily, "you protest too much. You don't suppose that after coming over here to see you that I can be deceived by such talk?"

Rolfe flushed at these uncompromising words, but before he could speak Crewe proceeded in a milder tone.

"I don't blame you a bit for trying to put me off. It's all part of the game. We're rivals, in a sense, and you are quite right not to lose sight of that fact. But as a detective, Rolfe, your methods lack polish. Really, I blush for them. You might have known that I came over here to see you to-night because I had an important object in view, and you should have tried to find out what it was before playing your own cards,—and such cards, too! You're sadly lacking in finesse, Rolfe. You'd never make a chess player; your concealed intentions are too easily discovered. You must try not to be so transparent if you want to succeed in your profession."

Crewe delivered his reproof with such good humour that Rolfe stared at him, as if unable to make out what his visitor was driving at.

"I don't know what you are talking about, Mr. Crewe," he said at length.

"Oh, yes, you do. You know I'm speaking about your latest move in the Riversbrook case, which you've been so busy with of late. And I've come to tell you in a friendly way that once more you're on the wrong track."

"What do you mean?" asked Rolfe quickly.

"Why, Princes Gate, of course," replied Crewe cheerily. "You don't suppose that a fine-looking young man like yourself could be seen in the neighbourhood of Princes Gate without causing a flutter among feminine hearts there, do you?"

"So the servants have been talking, have they?" muttered Rolfe.

"They have and they haven't. But that's beside the point. What I want to say is that you're on the wrong track in suspecting Mrs. Holymead, and I strongly advise you to drop your inquiries if you don't want to get yourself into hot water. She's as innocent of the murder of Sir Horace Fewbanks as Birchill is, but you cannot afford to make a false shot in the case of a lady of her social standing, as you did with a criminal like Birchill."

At this rebuke Rolfe gave way to irritation.

"Look here, Mr. Crewe, I'll thank you to mind your own business," he said. "It's got nothing to do with you where I make inquiries. I'll have you remember that! I don't interfere with you, and I won't have you interfering with me."

"But I'm interfering only for your own good, man! What do you suppose I'm doing it for? I tell you you're riding for a very bad fall in suspecting Mrs. Holymead and shadowing her."

Crewe's plain words were an echo of a secret fear which Rolfe had entertained from the time his suspicions were directed towards Mrs. Holymead. But he was not going to allow Crewe to think he was alarmed.

"If I'm making inquiries about Mrs. Holymead, it's because I have ample justification for doing so," he said stiffly.

"And I tell you that you have not."

"Prove it!" exclaimed Rolfe defiantly.

Crewe produced from his pocket a revolver and a lady's handkerchief, and handed them to Rolfe without speaking.

Rolfe's embarrassment was almost equal to his astonishment as he examined the articles. In the handkerchief with its missing corner, he speedily recognised something for which he had searched in vain. He had never confided to Crewe the discovery of the missing corner in the dead man's hand, and therefore the production of the handkerchief by Crewe considerably embarrassed him. He longed to ask Crewe how he had obtained possession of the handkerchief, but he could not trust his voice to frame the question without betraying his feelings, so he picked up the revolver and examined it closely. Then he put it down and again gave his attention to the handkerchief, bending his head over it so that Crewe should not see his face.

"You do not seem very astonished at my finds, Rolfe," said Crewe quizzically. "Perhaps you've seen these articles before?"

"No, I haven't," said Rolfe, still avoiding his visitor's eye.

"Well, the torn handkerchief is not exactly new to you," said Crewe. "You've got the missing part; you found it in Sir Horace's hand after he was murdered."

"You're too clever for me, and that's the simple truth, Mr. Crewe," said Rolfe, in a mortified tone. "I did find a small piece of a lady's handkerchief in his hand, and here it is." He produced his pocket-book and took out the piece. "How you found out I had it, is more than I know."

"Mere guess-work," said Crewe.

Rolfe shook his head slowly.

"I know better than that," he said. "You're deep. You don't miss much. I wish now that I had told you about that bit of handkerchief at the first. But Chippenfield and I wanted to have all the credit of elucidating the Riversbrook mystery. I hunted high and low to get trace of this handkerchief, but I couldn't. And now you've beaten me, although you couldn't have known at first that there was such a thing as a missing handkerchief in the case. I hope you bear me no malice, Mr. Crewe."

"What for, Rolfe?"

"For not telling you about the handkerchief, after I found this piece in Sir Horace's hand."

"Not in the least," said Crewe. "Why should you have told me? I don't tell you everything that I find out. It's all part of the game. That piece of the handkerchief was a good find, Rolfe, and I congratulate you on getting it. How did you come to discover it?"

"I was trying to force open the murdered man's hand, and I found it clenched between the little finger and the next. Of course it was not visible with his hand closed. Chippenfield, who missed it, didn't half like my discovery, and all along he underestimated the value of it as a clue."

"Well, he has had to pay for his folly."

"He has, and serves him right," replied Rolfe viciously. "He's the most pig-headed, obstinate, vain, narrow-minded man you could come across." It occurred to Rolfe that it was not exactly good form on his part to condemn his superior officer so vigorously in the presence of a rival, so he broke off abruptly and asked Crewe how he came into possession of the revolver and handkerchief.

Crewe's reply was that he had obtained these articles under a promise of secrecy from some one who had assured him that Mrs. Holymead had no connection with the crime. When he was at liberty to tell the story as it had been told to him, Rolfe would be the first to hear it.

"Mrs. Holymead had no connection with the crime?" exclaimed Rolfe impatiently. "Perhaps you don't know that the morning after the murder was discovered she went out to Riversbrook and removed some secret papers from the murdered man's desk—papers that he had been in the habit of hiding in a secret drawer?"

"Yes, I know that," said Crewe.

"Well, doesn't that look as if she knew something about the crime?"

"Not necessarily."

"Well, to me it does. What were these secret papers? They were letters, I am told."

"I believe so. And you, Rolfe, as a man of the world, know that a married woman would not like the police to get possession of letters she had written to a man of the reputation of Sir Horace Fewbanks."

"I admit that her action is capable of a comparatively innocent interpretation, but taken in conjunction with other things it looks to me mighty suspicious. In Hill's statement to us he told us that on the night of the murder, Birchill when hiding in the garden waiting for the lights to go out before breaking into the house, heard the front door slam and saw a stylish sort of woman walk down the path to the gate."

"That was not Mrs. Holymead," said Crewe.

"How do you know? If it was not her, who was it? Do you know?"

"I think I know, and when I am at liberty to speak I will tell you."

"Then there is a third point," continued Rolfe. "Look at this handkerchief you brought. I saw a handkerchief of exactly similar pattern at Mrs. Holymead's house when I called there."

"Wasn't that the property of her French cousin, Mademoiselle Chiron?"

"Yes, she dropped it on the floor while I was there. But it is probable the handkerchief was one of a set given her by Mrs. Holymead."

"Quite probably, Rolfe. But scores of ladies who are fond of expensive things have handkerchiefs of a similar pattern. You will find if you inquire among the West End shops, that although it is a dainty, expensive article from the man's point of view, there is nothing singular about the quality or the pattern."

"Perhaps so," said Rolfe, "but the possession of handkerchiefs of this kind is surely suspicious when taken in conjunction with her removal of the letters. I wish I could get hold of that infernal scoundrel Hill again. I am convinced that he knows a great deal more about this murder than he has yet told us, and a great deal more about Mrs. Holymead and her letters. I've had his shop watched day and night since he disappeared, but he keeps close to his burrow, and I've not been able to get on his track."

"I'd give up watching for him if I were you," said Crewe, as he flicked the ash of his cigar into the fireplace. "You're not likely to find him now. As a matter of fact, he has left the country."

"Hill left the country?" echoed Rolfe. "I think you are mistaken there,
Mr. Crewe. He had no money; how could he get away?"

Crewe selected another cigar from his case and lighted it before answering.

"The fact is, I advanced him the money," he said. "Technically it's a loan, but I do not think any of it will be paid back."

Rolfe stared hard at Crewe to see if he was joking.

"What on earth made you do that?" he demanded at length. "Hill may be the actual murderer for all we know."

"Not at all," was the reply. "Before I helped him to leave England I satisfied myself that he had absolutely nothing to do with the murder. He does not know who shot Sir Horace Fewbanks, though, of course, he still half believes that it was Birchill. When I got in touch with him after his disappearance he was in a pitiable state of fright—waking or sleeping, he couldn't get his mind off the gallows. There were two or three points on which I wanted his assistance in clearing up the Riversbrook case, and I promised to get him out of the country if he would make a clean breast of things and tell me the truth as far as he knew it. He made a confession—a true one this time. I took it down and I'll let you have a copy. There are a few interesting points on which it differs materially from the statement he made to the police when you and Chippenfield cornered him."

"What are they?" asked Rolfe.

"In the first place the burglary was his idea, and not Birchill's," replied Crewe. "After the quarrel between Sir Horace and the girl Fanning, he went out to her flat and suggested to Birchill that he should rob Riversbrook. Hill's real object in arranging this burglary was to get possession of the letters which Mrs. Holymead subsequently removed, but he did not tell Birchill this. His plan was to go to Riversbrook the morning after the burglary and then break open Sir Horace's desk and open the secret drawer before informing the police of the burglary. To the police and Sir Horace it would look as though the burglar had accidentally found the spring of the secret drawer. With these letters in his possession Hill intended to blackmail Sir Horace, or Mrs. Holymead, without disclosing himself in the transaction.

"When Sir Horace returned unexpectedly from Scotland on the 18th of August, Hill had just removed the letters from the desk, being afraid that when Birchill broke into the house he might find them accidentally. He was naturally in a state of alarm at Sir Horace's return. He tried to get an opportunity to put the letters back as Sir Horace might discover they had been removed, but Sir Horace dismissed him for the night before he could get such an opportunity. Then he went to Fanning's flat and told Birchill that Sir Horace had returned. Birchill was in favour of postponing the burglary, but Hill, who had possession of the letters, and did not know when he would get an opportunity to put them back, urged Birchill to carry out the burglary. He assured Birchill that Sir Horace was a very sound sleeper and that there would be no risk. In order to arouse Birchill's cupidity and to protect himself from the suspicions of Sir Horace regarding the letters, he told Birchill that he had seen a large sum of money in his possession when he returned, and that this money would probably be hidden in the secret drawer of the desk, until Sir Horace had an opportunity of banking it. He told Birchill to break open the desk, and explained to him how to find the spring of the secret drawer."

"What a damned cunning scoundrel he is," exclaimed Rolfe, in unwilling admiration of the completeness of Hill's scheme. "Don't you think, Mr. Crewe, that, after all, he may be the actual murderer—that he told you a lot of lies just as he did to us? Holymead in his address to the jury made out a pretty strong case against him."

"No one knows better than Holymead that Hill did not commit the murder," said Crewe. "Hill is an incorrigible liar, but he has no nerve for murder."

"Did he put the letters back?" asked Rolfe. "He told me that Mrs. Holymead stole them the day after the murder was discovered. But he is such a liar—"

"I believe he spoke the truth in that case," said Crewe. "He told me he put the letters back in the secret drawer the night after the murder, when he went to Riversbrook to report himself to Chippenfield. He put them back because he was afraid that if the police found them in his possession, they would think he had a hand in the murder. His idea was to remove them from the secret drawer after the excitement about the murder died down, and then blackmail Mrs. Holymead, but she acted with a skill and decision that robbed him of his chance to blackmail her."

"How did you get hold of the cunning scoundrel?" asked Rolfe. "I've had his wife's shop watched day and night, as I've said. I made sure he would try to communicate with her sooner or later, but he didn't."

"It was Joe who found him," said Crewe. "I knew you were watching Mrs. Hill's shop, so it was superfluous for me to set anybody to watch it. Besides, I didn't think Hill would visit his wife or attempt to communicate with her, for he would think that the police, if they wanted him, would be sure to watch the shop. I tried to consider what a man like Hill would do in the circumstances. He had no money—I knew that—and, so far as I was able to ascertain, he had no friends who were likely to hide him. Without friends or money he could not go very far. Finally it occurred to me that he might be hiding somewhere in Riversbrook—either in that unfinished portion of the third floor, or in one of the outbuildings. He knew the run of the rambling old place so well. Have you ever been over it carefully? No. Well, there are several good places in the upper stories where a man might conceal himself. I put Joe on the job, and after watching for several nights Joe got him. Hill had made a hiding place in the loft above the garage. It appears that he subsisted on the stores that had been left in the house; he was able to make his way into the main building through one of the kitchen windows. He was on one of these foraging expeditions when Joe discovered him—emaciated, dirty, and half demented through terror of the gallows."

"So that is how you got him!" said Rolfe. "I never thought of looking for him at Riversbrook. Sometimes I am inclined to agree with you that he had no nerve for murder. But an unpremeditated murder doesn't want much nerve. He might have done it in a moment of passion." Rolfe was endeavouring to take advantage of Crewe's communicative mood and to arrive by a process of elimination at the person against whom Crewe had accumulated his evidence.

"It was not Hill," said Crewe. "The murder was committed in a moment of passion, and yet it was far from being unpremeditated."

"You are trying to mystify me," said Rolfe despairingly.

"No; it is the case itself which has mystified you," replied Crewe.

"It has," was Rolfe's candid confession. "The more thought I give it, the more impossible it seems to see through it. Was Sir Horace killed before dusk—before the lights were turned on? If he was killed after dark, who turned out the lights?"

"He was killed between 10 and 10.30 at night," said Crewe. "The lights were turned out by the woman Birchill saw leaving the house about 10.30. But she was not the murderer, and she was not present in the room, or even in the house, when Sir Horace was shot. She arrived a few minutes too late to prevent the tragedy. Turning out the lights was an instinctive act due to her desire to hide the crime, or rather to hide the murderer."

"How do you know all this?" asked Rolfe, who had been staring at Crewe with open-mouthed astonishment.

"That woman was not Mrs. Holymead," continued Crewe. "I had a visit to-day from the woman who did these things, and as evidence of the truth of her story she brought me the revolver and the handkerchief."

"What did she come to you for?" asked Rolfe, with breathless interest. "What did she want?"

"She came to me to make a full confession," said Crewe, in even tones.

"A confession!" exclaimed Rolfe. "She ought to have come to the police. Why didn't she come to us?"

Crewe smiled at the puzzled, indignant detective.

"I think she came to me because she wanted to mislead me," he said.

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy