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5 - The Swimming-Pool

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Author Topic: 5 - The Swimming-Pool  (Read 23 times)
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« on: August 23, 2023, 11:30:12 am »

5 - 1

WE found Lord Cheverdale alone: he sat at the head of his dinner-table in solitary state, a dish of walnuts and a decanter of port before him. He seemed to be in more genial and expansive mood than we had hitherto found usual with him and sent his butler for more port and glasses. Indeed, he appeared somewhat pleased to have company.

‘Had to dine alone to-night,’ he said, with a grin that seemed to spring from some thought that struck him as humorous. ‘Daughter staying with friends, and Paley away for a day or two on business of his own. Any news?’

‘We have a good deal to tell your lordship,’ replied Chaney. He waited until the butler had discharged his office and gone away, and then bent towards our employer with an air that suggested secrecy. ‘A great deal!’ he continued. ‘And we are very anxious that whatever we tell should be treated by our lordship in absolute confidence.’

‘No other ears than mine, eh?’, suggested Lord Cheverdale.

‘No other ears than your lordship’s,’ assented Chaney. ‘Your lordship has employed our confidential services, and we are most particular that whatever we now tell your lordship should not be repeated to anyone. The fact is,’ he continued, ‘we have secured most important evidence, and while we are bound to reveal it to your lordship, as our employer, we feel that it would be highly dangerous to the success of our plans if any third party knew of it.’

‘Yes, yes!’ said his lordship. ‘Understand exactly---not a word to anybody!’

‘Not even, if your lordship pleases, to your secretary, Mr. Paley,’ remarked Chaney. ‘When we say no one, we mean no one!’

‘Yes, yes---quite so!’ said Lord Cheverdale. ‘Well, now, where have you got to?’

Chaney set to work on his story. He had a natural gift of telling a clear, consecutive story in plain and lucid language, without waste of words. Lord Cheverdale, because of his business training was a good listener; I could see from the expression of his keen old eyes and his characteristically hard and grim lips that he was following every point. And Chaney made his points in sequence---the discovery of the marriage certificate of Frank Crowther and Alice Holroyd; the enquiries of Milthwaite, Mentone, Monte Carlo, and Paris, and their result; the probabilities that the murders of Hannington, Mrs. Crowther, or Clayton, Mrs. Goodge and the Hindu student were the work of the same hand; and finally that we felt convinced that Crowther was either the actual murderer or had some hand in the murders. But one thing Chaney did not tell Lord Cheverdale: the story of the tattooed serpent or dragon found round Crowther’s arm---that, for reasons of his own, he kept to himself.

Lord Cheverdale, keeping a strict silence till the end of Chaney’s report, broke it with a sharp question.

‘Who do you suppose this man Crowther to be?’

Chaney shook his head.

‘My lord, we have nothing on which to found any supposition!’ replied Chaney, keeping back any suspicions he might have. ‘We don’t know who he is!’

Lord Cheverdale put the tips of his fingers together and assumed a judicial attitude. I could see that his naturally acute wits were working.

‘You have no doubt that the woman who called herself Mrs. Clayton at Little Custom Street was, in reality, Mrs. Crowther, formerly Alice Holroyd?’ he asked.

‘None!’ said Chaney.

‘You ascertained that Alice Holroyd was well known to Hannington when he was on the Milthwaite Observer and she was employed at the Angel Hotel there?’

‘That we ascertained, beyond question.’

‘That explains why Mrs. Crowther, formerly Alice Holroyd, visited Hannington at the Sentinel office, eh?’

‘We think it’s an ample explanation, my lord. She went to seek his aid.’

‘In what?’

‘As we’ve told your lordship, she’d recognized her missing husband in a man of whom she’d had a momentary glimpse in Paris. We think she went to Hannington to ask him to help her to find this man in London. Probably the man---Crowther---is now a man of wealth and position. These adventurers, my lord, have strange ups and downs.’

Lord Cheverdale tapped the table in front of him.

‘Hannington and the woman were murdered---probably by the same hand---within an hour or two of each other!’ he said. ‘That means that the man you’re thinking of---let’s suppose it was Crowther---had found out that the woman had told her story to Hannington, and that Hannington might let it out to the world. How had the man found it out?’

‘That, my lord, is, of course, a mystery,’ replied Chaney. ‘We don’t know how he had found it out. But there’s the fact that----’

Lord Cheverdale lifted a finger.

‘A moment! Hannington, you remember, was murdered in my grounds. Evidently he was on his way to me. Why should he come to me with this business?---which was not of public interest.’

‘Pardon me, my lord, but it may have been of public interest,’ said Chaney. ‘My own particular theory is this. I think the man Crowther, in the course of the up-and-down career which all adventurers have, is now probably a well-to-do-man, and possibly a public man, or employed in some important capacity. I think, too, that since his desertion of his wife, he has probably contracted a bigamous marriage. If Hannington knew this, he, as a newspaper editor, would feel it a matter of public interest and would naturally want to consult you about it---as being proprietor of his paper.’

Lord Cheverdale thought in silence for a few minutes.

‘You think that Hannington, through his conversation with Mrs. Crowther, found that her missing husband was a man of some importance and known to him?’

‘Yes!’

‘Now, why do you think that Hannington set off to see me about it?’

‘I can answer that at once, my lord! I think that Hannington knew that your lordship also knew the man!---knew of him.’

‘Knew of him, perhaps---knew him, I doubt! I have a very small circle of acquaintances. He may be, as you say, a public man. But to turn back---how, during that evening, did the man---again let’s call him Crowther---how did Crowther find out that his wife had been to Hannington?’

‘Mrs. Crowther may have been watched, my lord. And---there may have been an accomplice.’

Lord Cheverdale rose from his chair and began to pace the room.

‘It comes to this,’ he said, after a pause. ‘Your theory is that Hannington and Mrs. Crowther were murdered because they knew a secret which would, if divulged, have upset all Crowther’s schemes; that Mrs. Goodge was afterwards murdered because she recognized Crowther, and that Mehta, the young Hindu gentleman, was murdered because he appeared on the scene at the moment of Mrs. Goodge’s murder. Is that it?’

‘That, my lord, is it, or about it,’ replied Chaney.

‘But you have evidence as to the appearance of the man seen by Mrs. Goodge, and afterwards by other people,’ remarked Lord Cheverdale. ‘A man of middle height, in dark clothing, black slouch hat, white muffler----’

‘Your lordship will pardon me for interrupting you to point out that nobody, nobody whatever, can say that he or she has seen this man!’ said Chaney. ‘I mean---nobody has seen his face, or, at least, only the top of it! He has always been so muffled up that not one of the people who have been questioned can say whether he is dark or fair, or even if he is clean-shaven or bearded!’

Again Lord Cheverdale paced the room, thinking.

‘There must be somebody who knows something!’ he said at last. ‘Somebody---somewhere!’

‘Exactly, my lord!’ agreed Chaney. ‘There always is somebody who knows a lot in these cases. But the difficulty is to get such people to come forward!’

‘I’m a rich man,’ observed his lordship. ‘I can make it worth anybody’s while to tell. Would it be of use to offer a reward?’

‘It might,’ replied Chaney.

‘Let it be done, then,’ said Lord Cheverdale. ‘You can draw up the offer. How would you put it?’

‘That ought to be very carefully considered, my lord,’ answered Chaney. ‘What I should suggest is that nothing whatever is said about the murder part of the business. There’s an official police notice out for that already. What I should suggest is that we advertise for information as to the whereabouts, at present, of Frank Crowther, at one time resident in Milthwaite, and who was married at Milthwaite Registry office to Alice Holroyd.’

‘Where would you put such an advertisement?’ enquired Lord Cheverdale.

‘In the Times, the principal London dailies, and in the leading provincial newspapers,’ replied Chaney.

‘Offering a reward?’ asked his lordship.

‘I shouldn’t mention any particular amount, my lord. It will be sufficient to say that a handsome reward---to be agreed upon---will be paid to anyone giving the information we ask for. I daren’t say,’ continued Chaney, ‘that this will produce any result, but it’s a way of finding Crowther. Somebody may know something about him.’

‘Let it be done---see to it at once,’ said Lord Cheverdale. ‘Do whatever seems best to you. Of course, you know, your theories aren’t those of the official lot at Scotland Yard---oh, dear me, no! They still stick to the political murder idea---only more so since that poor caretaker woman and the Hindu were murdered. They’re convinced of it!’

‘The official police, my lord, don’t know what we know,’ remarked Chaney, quietly. ‘We shall have to tell them sooner or later, but at present they aren’t in possession of our information. No one is but your lordship. And your lordship will remember our bargain as to secrecy?’

‘Oh, yes, yes, yes!’ agreed Lord Cheverdale. ‘Bargain’s a bargain with me. Don’t quite understand your reason for secrecy, but never mind---get on with it!’

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