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« on: August 22, 2023, 08:41:14 am »

2 - 4

AS our taxi-cab drew up at the entrance gates of Cheverdale Lodge a private car, driven by a chauffeur in livery, came alongside it, and from it stepped Mr. Francis Craye, looking very grave and carrying a bundle of papers. He came straight to Doxford, with a single sharp word.

‘Well?’

‘Well---what, sir?’ asked Doxford, staring at the questioner.

‘Is that the same woman---the woman who called on Hannington?’ asked Craye. ‘Have you ascertained anything?’

‘There’s no doubt about it, sir! Miss Hetherley identified her at once.’

‘But I understood that Miss Hetherley said she couldn’t identify her! Miss Hetherley, you may remember, said that the woman was so closely veiled when she called on Hannington that she never saw her face!’

‘Exactly, sir---but Miss Hetherley identified her by other means and circumstances. She recognized certain things the woman wore---her gown, her coat, her ear-rings. Miss Hetherley is positive on the point. I don’t think there’s the least possible doubt that it’s the same woman. And, according to the medical men, she’d been killed in exactly the same way that Hannington was.’

‘Anything to show by whom?’

‘We’ve evidence that a strange man was seen leaving the flats about two o’clock this morning. Whether he was the murderer we don’t know. Only one person saw him---the caretaker---and she only got a glimpse of his back as he vanished through the front door, and couldn’t possibly identify him from the bit she saw of him.’

Craye looked from one to the other of us as if in perplexity.

‘Is that the only clue you’ve got?’ he asked. ‘What the caretaker saw?’

‘If you can call it a clue,’ replied Doxford, ‘yes.’

‘Nothing to show any motive?’

‘Whatever motive there was, sir, it wasn’t robbery,’ said Doxford. ‘The woman had a lot of money, French and English, lying about, all untouched; she’d some fairly valuable jewellery, too. But we came up to make a report to Lord Cheverdale, sir---hadn’t you better come in and hear it.’

Craye nodded, and moved towards the house: we walked alongside him.

‘I’ve got some fresh information myself,’ he remarked as we neared the front door. ‘About Hannington’s movements, last night. You shall hear it when you’ve reported to Lord Cheverdale. By-the-way, did you ascertain anything about the woman---who she was, where she came from, what she called herself?’

‘No more than that she took a furnished flat in Little Custom Street two or three weeks ago, was believed to have come from abroad, and called herself Mrs. Clayton,’ replied Doxford. ‘But you’ll hear all details---they’re few enough!---in what we say to his lordship. Then, Mr. Craye, we’ll be glad to hear your news. News is scarce enough, so far!’

‘Mine’s not much, Inspector,’ said Craye. ‘A mere detail---but it suggests something to me.’

We found Lord Cheverdale in his business room: Paley was with him. He listened eagerly and with a sort of queer impatience while Chaney, at Doxford’s invitation, gave him a concise but exact account of everything that had happened to us from our leaving Cheverdale Lodge to our return. As the story went on his eagerness and impatience seemed to increase.

‘Now, what, what, what do you make of this?’ he burst out at the end. ‘Haven’t you found any clue? Haven’t you any explanation? Haven’t you anything to suggest? What do you say about it---all of you, any of you?’

‘It’s scarcely time yet to say anything, my lord,’ replied Doxford. ‘We can only give your lordship the bare facts, so far. Our people down there are, of course, carrying out the most careful investigations---finger-prints, and all that sort of thing, and later on----’

‘Yes, yes, yes, but meanwhile---dear me!’ continued Lord Cheverdale, interrupting himself. ‘I never knew such a business! My editor murdered in my own grounds, within a stone’s throw of my front door---this unfortunate woman similarly murdered, the same night, in her own room---good God! how do I know that I may not be the next victim? But tell me---are you sure, positively sure, that the woman you have seen dead is the woman who called on Hannington yesterday afternoon?’

‘Miss Hetherley is certain of it, my lord,’ replied Doxford. ‘Miss Hetherley identified her at once---without any hesitation.’

Lord Cheverdale sat bolt upright in his chair, staring from one to the other of us and drumming the tips of his fingers on the table before him.

‘What’s it all mean?’ he exclaimed. ‘What does it all mean?’

Doxford motioned to Craye, who had been whispering to Paley.

‘I understand that Mr. Craye has something to tell, my lord,’ he said. ‘Perhaps he’ll tell it now.’

Lord Cheverdale turned on his business manager.

‘Yes, yes, let me have it, Craye!’ he said hastily. ‘Anything that will throw some light on this ghastly business! Like living in a thick fog, and not a gleam of light anywhere. What is it---what is it?’

‘Not very much,’ replied Craye, quietly. ‘But as I have said already to these gentlemen, it suggests something to me. It’s just this---I told you, this morning,’ he went on, turning to Doxford, Chaney and myself, ‘that I have a flat in Whitehall Gardens. It is, of course, a bachelor establishment. I keep one man-servant, a sort of valet and general utility man. I mention this in order to explain that last night, when I was out, dining here with Lord Cheverdale, my man was out, too---it was his weekly night out. Now, at these particular flats in Whitehall Gardens we have just got a new hall-porter, who is as yet unfamiliar with people who call there. This man told me this afternoon, just before I came up here, that at about ten o’clock last night a gentleman, who, from his description, I feel certain was Hannington, called and went up in the lift to the floor---second---in which my flat is situated. He came down again in a few minutes and asked the hall-porter if he knew where I was?---he wanted, he said, to see me particularly, and must find me, if possible. The hall-porter told him that he had seen me go out, had, in fact, got a cab for me at seven o’clock, but had no idea where I had gone, though he believed, to dine out somewhere. The gentleman then asked if the hall-porter knew anything of the whereabouts of my valet? All the hall-porter could say on that point was that he knew my valet had gone out, too. On that the gentleman went away. Now, as I have already said, I have no doubt whatever that this gentleman the hall-porter spoke of was Hannington. And I have formed a certain opinion.’

‘Yes?’ said Doxford. ‘And---it’s what, Mr. Craye?’

‘Yes, yes!’ echoed Lord Cheverdale. ‘Let’s have it---let’s have it by all means, Craye! Anything that will throw light----’

‘I don’t know that it will throw any light,’ said Craye, quietly. ‘But it’s this: Putting all the facts together as we now know them, I think that the woman who called herself Mrs. Clayton, when she called on Hannington yesterday afternoon, communicated some intensely important political information to him and at the same time placed in his hands papers of equal importance---in brief, I think she was a political agent of some sort. I think that Hannington, after considering the information he had received, and knowing that I am Lord Cheverdale’s business manager, and also knowing that his lordship, unfortunately, is not in the best of health just now, determined to see me first, and set off to my flat for that purpose. Failing to find me, he came along here to see Lord Cheverdale. And the rest---you know.’

‘And---all this is akin to my colleague, Windover’s theory---you think he was waylaid in the grounds here, Mr. Craye?’ said Doxford. ‘All a planned job?’

‘That’s more for you than for me,’ replied Craye. ‘My private opinion is that the woman had been carefully watched and followed, probably from abroad; that she was followed to the Sentinel office, and that from the moment he left the Sentinel office Hannington was watched, too. But I think more than that---I think that these people took no chances. They not only followed Hannington, but, having a very good idea of where he would turn with his secret and the papers the woman had entrusted to him, they posted men to be in readiness for him in Lord Cheverdale’s grounds. Also, they took no chance about the woman. From what you have just told Lord Cheverdale,’ he continued, turning to Doxford, ‘can there be any doubt as to what these people were after, in both cases? I am not a detective. I know nothing about your methods or your way of looking at things; I am merely a business man, accustomed to dealing with matters in, I hope, a business-like and common-sense way. Now, can any man doubt what the motive, the object, in both these murders was? I take it it was a two-fold object---first, to silence the possessors of a secret; second, to obtain possession of documents in which that secret was revealed. I understand that Hannington went about with his pockets stuffed with papers; he hadn’t a paper on him when the police examined his clothing after his death. You tell me, too, that the dead woman’s flat had been searched from top to bottom---for what? Not for money---for papers, documents! To me the thing seems absolutely clear! What do you say, Paley?’

The private secretary looked up from the blotting-pad on which he had been drawing scrolls and figures while Craye talked.

‘I can’t think of anything that could be clearer,’ he said in his usual cool tones. ‘We are face to face with the agents of one of these secret political organizations. I have no doubt of that---never had any doubt, from the beginning.’

Lord Cheverdale, still drumming his fingers on the table, looked anxiously from one to the other of us.

‘What’s to be done?’ he asked anxiously. ‘What can be done?’

Doxford got up: Chaney and I followed his example.

‘You can rely on me, my lord, to do all that men in my position can do,’ said Doxford. ‘The case is difficult.’

Chaney added a similar assurance on behalf of me and himself, and he, Doxford and I went out. It may give some indication of what we were thinking when I say that we drove away and eventually separated without one further reference to the case.

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