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Chapter 24: The Uncut Diamond

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« on: May 27, 2023, 12:06:45 pm »

IT was easy to see that Parkapple attached some extraordinary importance to the finding of that receipt. Without any delay he went off to the room to which Fewster’s dead body had been carried, and presently came back carrying the suit of clothes of which the woman had just divested him. Laying these garments on the table in the parlour, he began to go through them himself, examining every pocket in coat, waistcoat, and trousers with great care. First he removed and laid in order all the contents; then he literally turned the pockets inside out. There was nothing in the pockets but the things he took from them; he began, then, to examine those. A pocket-book---nothing; a purse---nothing; nothing, at any rate, in the shape of the thing he wanted, which, of course, was a mere scrap of flimsy paper. Parkapple began to look serious, and even perturbed.

“Likely he’d put it away in some drawer when he came home with it,” suggested Macpherson. “He’d no doubt have a place for receipts, and would put it in there at once; he seems to have been a man of methodical and tidy habits. Ye’ll be for considering the finding o’ this bit paper an important thing, Mr. Parkapple?”

Parkapple replied, somewhat testily, that what he was doing showed that he did. Bidding us not to touch the things on the table, he turned to an old-fashioned writing-desk that stood in a corner of the room and began to examine that. In its top drawer he found a lot of papers, and a file of receipts---tradesmen’s bills, and that sort of thing---but not what he wanted. Clearly, the neat arrangement of things in that drawer proved Fewster’s orderliness---but there was no receipt for the registered packet. Still, Parkapple went on looking for it; under his instructions we began to help. We examined every drawer and box in the place; we looked into every ornament on the chance that he might have popped the bit of paper aside in that way; we eventually ransacked every corner of the house, and I, personally, inspected every scrap of torn-up stuff in a waste-paper basket, while Preece even took the coals and wood out of the parlour grate to see if Fewster had thrown the receipt away in there. We were at the job for the better part of three hours, and at the end of that time we had found nothing. And at last Parkapple gave up the search as a bad job, and turned to the rest of us with a shake of his head that had something enigmatical about it.

“Never expected to find it!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I only wanted to make sure. Of course, it’s just what I expected. Stolen!”

We all looked at him in astonishment. He shook his head again, pointing towards the kitchen.

“You know what that woman drew our attention to, Preece, when we came in here this morning?” he said. “That the key of the back door is missing. Well, she’s been coming here for years---ever since Fewster came to live here---and she’s never known that key to be missing before. She’s dead certain it was in the lock, inside, yesterday afternoon---it was her custom, she says, to lock the kitchen door from the inside when she went away, and to leave by the front door. Well, when she comes this morning, after finding her employer dead, she goes to the kitchen door, and finds it locked, but the key not in the lock. She goes outside---the key’s not there. We’ve pretty well tooth-combed this house in searching for that receipt, and we haven’t come across the key. What’s the inference? That somebody came here last night, probably after Fewster’s death, found the receipt for the registered packet lying about, took it, went out by the back door, locked it from outside, and took the key away.”

“For what reason do you think, Mr. Parkapple?” asked Macpherson.

Parkapple shrugged his shoulders.

“Might be with the idea of returning,” he said. “The front door, as you’ll see if you go and look at it, is only secured by a latch-lock. Now, Mrs. Singleton says that there used to be two latch-keys, of which she’d one and Fewster the other. Fewster lost his, some time ago, and never replaced it: he used to go in and out by the back door. Whoever it was that came here last night---and I’m sure somebody did!---he may have had fears of being interrupted, and, noticing that he couldn’t get in again at the front door, have taken the key of the back with him, intending to come back later on. Anyway, I feel sure that somebody was here, and that, whoever he was, he stole that receipt, and there’s only one thing for me to do, and I must do it at once. I must get off to Brighton to see about the packet that Fewster sent there, to be called for. I only hope I’m not too late. How far is it, by road, Preece?”

“Twenty miles!” answered Preece. “And you can get a car here in the village---a good one.”

“All right---that’s the next thing,” said Parkapple. “But first”---he turned to the drawer of the writing-desk and picked up a cheque-book which lay on top of a pile of papers---“I just want to look at this---an idea’s struck me. Look at this!” he continued, after turning the book over. “Here’s a somewhat significant entry! See this counterfoil---it refers to a cheque drawn in favour of self for five hundred pounds! What should Fewster want with cash to that extent---here?”

Preece pointed to the date on the counterfoil.

“That’s the same date, the Monday that Chissick was found murdered!” he said. “Do you think there’s any connection?”

“According to what Captain Trace there heard last night,” observed Parkapple, with a dry smile, “I should say there was! It’s my impression that the money which Fewster drew with the cheque of which this is the counterfoil found its way, there and then, into Halkin’s pockets! That’s about it! Well---I’m going off to Brighton, at once. You must see to everything here, Preece. Now, where do I find the car you spoke of just now?”

While he was putting on his coat, which he had taken off during the search, and Preece was telling him where the man lived who had a car for hire, Mrs. Singleton came into the room. She held out her right hand, in the palm of which lay something the exact like of which I had never seen—an object, about the size of a small bean, which looked, to me, like some sort of pebble, except that within it there seemed to be, deep down, a curious light or radiance. But Parkapple knew what it was, and he seized on it with a sharp exclamation.

“Good Lord!” he muttered. “Where did you get this?”

“It was lying on the floor of the bedroom, sir,” said Mrs. Singleton. “Just in front of the cupboard by the bedside. Mrs. Pilch found it just now, tidying up the room.”

Parkapple held the find out to the rest of us, turning it over with his finger.

“That’s a diamond!” he said. “In the rough! I’ve seen plenty in my time. Unpolished, uncut, you know. You see, there’s an interior radiance in it. That dull film over the outside is called, technically, the ‘Nyf’---a sort of outer skin. Feel how intensely hard it is! And a good size too!---if all the rest of ’em are like that. . . .” He nodded significantly, and put the stone carefully away in his purse. “Well, that’s another reason why I should be off. The rest of those things, my friends, are to be found at Brighton post office---unless I’m too late!”

Macpherson buttonholed him as he was leaving the room.

“Man!” he said solemnly. “Although you’ve no confessed it, you’ve come round to the theory that I put before you in the beginning of our acquaintance---that all this springs out of the black affair of two-and-forty years ago! Is it not so?”

“Something of that sort, Mr. Macpherson, something of that sort!” agreed Parkapple. “I’ll give you all credit, and compliment you too, when we’ve got it over. But time’s precious, so let me go.”

Macpherson let him go, and soon after he had gone, he, Trace, and I left Fewster’s body and house to Preece, and went homeward; my two elders suddenly remembering that, save for the cups of tea and dry biscuits I had taken to them early in the morning, they had not yet broken their fast. Macpherson was full of talk, and of self-appreciation; things were turning out as he had anticipated.

“There’s little doubt in my mind how this affair has worked out,” he said, as we sat over our late breakfast. “When yon young Dan Welgrave was murdered all those years ago, whoever murdered him, Flinch or Charlesworth, or both, placed the diamonds they found on him in yon old Cape Town tobacco-box under the tree on the hill-side up there below the mill. Through many a queer channel, through those channels---twisting and winding and black they were!---that we heard of from Pyker and Cushion, the news came along at last to Chissick. I think Chissick got it, somehow or other, when he was having his deal with Kest for the bit of land. I think Chissick murdered Kest. Tom here is a sound sleeper---it’s me that’s well acquaint with that fact, for hard work have I had to get him out of bed many’s the time in the days when he wore an apron and sold currants and raisins---and I think he never heard Chissick and Kest in talk in that mill, nor saw the beginning of the fracas which ended in Chissick’s sticking a knife in the other man’s throat. Aye, I think Chissick murdered Kest---I do think that!”

“And who murdered Chissick, do you think, Macpherson?” asked Trace. “You’ll have settled that in your mind, no doubt?”

“I’m no so sure about that as I am about the other,” admitted Macpherson. “It may have been Trawlerson. It may have been Fewster. But certain I am of this---Chissick found those diamonds when he did his bit digging in yon new shed, and somebody knew that he’d found them. And I’m assured, too, of another thing---whoever murdered Chissick did it for the diamonds, and---dead sure!---the diamonds found their way, sharp and speedy, into Fewster’s hands. Fewster?---aye, the man’s dead, and, as yon detective said, it’s likely he carried secrets with him---dark ones!”

“One of the queerest things about this business,” remarked Trace, after a pause, “in its latest developments, anyway, is the almost simultaneous disappearance of Halkin and Trawlerson. I’ve wondered, Macpherson, if those two can have been in collusion over this affair?”

“There’s the possibility,” said Macpherson cautiously. “But my idea is that Halkin was in some way privy to these affairs---he may have been in collusion with Fewster; nay, would seem to ha’ been because of the money evidence---and that Trawlerson got to know of it. I think Trawlerson’s dogging Halkin! Halkin’s off, and Trawlerson’s on his track, thinking, no doubt, that Halkin had the diamonds. And, man!---from what I’ve observed o’ the fellow, yon Trawlerson is the sort that would dog and dog and dog and dog a man till he ran him down! Look how he stuck to these parts like a leech after he first came here! Look how he haunted yon hill-side till the mere aspect o’ the place seemed strange without the presence of his figure, perched on a rock, or stravagin’ about under the trees. He’s a sleuth-hound, yon man, and I ha’ no doubt that he’s after Halkin!”

“It may be,” said Trace, “but there’s this seems pretty certain. If Parkapple’s theory is right, Macpherson, and some man entered Fewster’s house yesterday evening and picked up the receipt for the registered packet, that man must be one of two---it’s either been Halkin or it’s been Trawlerson. For---we don’t know of any other person that’s ever come within range of suspicion. But what licks me is---how has Trawlerson, whose description has been very widely circulated, and who has now been missing since the day of Chissick’s death, managed to evade arrest? Where is he? And---for the matter of that, though he hasn’t been so long away---where’s Halkin?”

But we were to hear something about Halkin before afternoon set in. About one o’clock Mrs. Halkin came to Trace’s door; his housekeeper brought her into the parlour, where we were all three still engaged in interminable discussion. She had a dirty-looking envelope in her hand.

“Captain Trace!” she said, without preface. “I’ve had a letter from Halkin. And as there’s talk going on in the village about him, and people are saying this, that, and the other, I’ve just let it be known that I have---he has faults, has Halkin, but he’s not running away from justice, as some are saying. And he’s sent money.”

“Where did he write from?” asked Trace.

Mrs. Halkin drew a sheet of common-looking, very inferior notepaper from the envelope and, extracting something that was folded in it, passed it over.

“I have no objection to anybody seeing it,” she said. “You can read it with pleasure. There’s not much, but it explains.”

Macpherson and I looked over Trace’s shoulder. There was no address. The date was that of the previous day. The letter was short. It merely stated that Halkin was negotiating for a very good job as permanent gardener at a country-house near Chelmsford, and was going to see the place that afternoon: he would write again when he had made his arrangements. In the meantime he sent his wife a ten-pound note, to be going on with.

Trace handed this letter back to Mrs. Halkin, and asked if he might see the envelope. When he got that into his hand, he silently indicated the postmark to Macpherson and me as we leaned over his shoulders. I saw at once what he meant. The letter had been posted in London early the previous morning.

“Perhaps you’d like your ten-pound note changing, Mrs. Halkin?” suggested Trace as he gave her back the envelope. “I can do it for you---I’ve plenty of change in the house.”

When the woman had gone away, Trace turned to us, fingering the ten-pound note. He gave Macpherson a significant glance.

“That’s a damned clever dodge of Halkin’s,” he said, “but not clever enough! Halkin wrote that letter with the idea of being able to prove that he was in London yesterday. No doubt he was---in the morning! But he posted his letter before noon---and he’d plenty of time to come down here, to some wayside station, in the early evening, and to make his way to Fewster’s, after dark. I believe, now, that Halkin and Trawlerson are in partnership in this affair. And now I’m going to find out something else---over the telephone.”

He went out, in the direction of the post office, and was away a considerable time. When at last he came back he still had the ten-pound note in his hand, and he waved it at Macpherson.

“There!” he said triumphantly. “I’ve been on the ’phone with the manager of Fewster’s bank in town. You see this note which I changed for Mrs. Halkin? Well---it’s one of a series of ten-pound notes paid out to Fewster when he drew that £500!”

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