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Chapter 35

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« on: March 12, 2023, 11:06:53 am »

WHEN Jane arrived home she found the flat empty save for the servants. Walker told her that Mrs. Wells had left five minutes after Jane. She had sent for a cab in a great hurry and had ordered the driver to take her to Waterloo Station.

"Has Mr. Clifton come in?"

"No, madam."

"Nor telephoned."

"No, madam."

There was nothing to do but to wait. In less than half an hour she had a companion to share her vigil.

"I thought I'd come in," said Bourke in his casual way. "Peter not at home?"

"No; he's gone for a walk in the park---he just went out. You must have just missed him."

Mr. Bourke smiled.

"Kipling, wasn't it, who wrote that bit about Judy O'Grady and the colonel's lady being sisters under their skins? How often have I, as a young officer, meant to pinch some bright lad, only to be told by his wife that he'd just gone out, when all the time he was hiding in the cellar!"

"Peter's not hiding in the cellar," she said hotly. "He has nothing to hide for---you haven't come to arrest him?"

Bourke shook his head. "I've come for a quiet evening," he said. There was not evidence of sarcasm in his voice. "There's something about Carlton House Terrace that's very soothing. It's the opulence of it, the extravagance of living on land that's worth a million pounds a foot, that puts me to sleep. Have you been out, Mrs Clifton?"

"No," she said boldly, "except to post a letter."

He gazed at the ceiling thoughtfully. "I'm trying to think whether there's a pillarbox in Knowlby Street," he said half to himself, scratching his chin. "I think there may be."

"You must think I'm an awful liar," she said ruefully.

"It's the duty of every wife to lie about her husband," said the unmoral Bourke. "I didn't see you myself, but one of my men did. You were driving in cab PC 97581. The driver's name is Leany and he lives in Grayside Mews. You know my methods, Watson?"

This was Mr Bourke's stock jest, and never failed to amuse him.

"I want to show you something," she said, suddenly remembering the paper which was still outspread on the library table.

He followed her, and for five minutes stood gazing down at the two paragraphs that could be read in one.

"That's the bit I didn't know," he said, with such satisfaction that he seemed to be taking credit for his ignorance. "Good Lord, what a ramp! If I'd had the courage of my convictions I'd have taken Wells yesterday."

"Wells? Did he commit the murder?"

"Both of 'em," said Bourke. "He's probably committed a dozen. Most big murderers do, and I hand it to Wells---he's big."

"Have you arrested him?"

He shook his head.

"Are you going to?"

He shook his head again.

"But why not?" she asked, staggered.

"Because," said Mr Bourke oracularly, "there's nothing that a judge and a hangman can do that Mrs Untersohn hasn't already done."

He felt his arm gripped and put out his hand to hold her.

"Steady, my young friend," he said in his rumbling, kindly way.

"Is he---dead?" she whispered.

Bourke nodded. "Shot dead."

"I heard---the shots. And it was Mrs Untersohn---you're sure?"

"Absolutely. She had the pistol in her hand when she came downstairs, and she hasn't been a bit reticent about it. A German pistol, a very interesting exhibit."

Donald Wells dead! It was incredible. He had been there that afternoon, standing where the detective was standing. She shook her head.

"I can't believe it."

It was at this point that Peter came in. He looked askance at the detective, scarcely looked at his wife at all. "Did you enjoy your walk?" asked Mr. Bourke calmly.

"Yes." The answer was curt and did not encourage further questioning.

"Cab driver managed to get out of London, I suppose?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I just wondered," said Bourke. And then: "What I've got to say I'm going to say before your wife, Clifton. Some time ago you offered me a lot of money and I refused it. I told you that no man could serve two masters, and that was a trite sort of thing to say, but, like all trite things, true. Since then I've been serving three and I find they're rather a lot. I haven't any conscience but I've a very strong sense of duty; and because I've a strong sense of duty I'm handing in my resignation to the Chief Commissioner to-night---don't interrupt me except to say 'Hear, hear'. It will make a little difference to my pension. I'm going to tell you that I can't afford to drop even a pound a week. I've been living in daily dread that somebody, Rouper or another clever lad, would find out what I've been doing, in which case I should have left the Yard without any pension and had twelve months in Wormwood Scrubbs thinking over what might have been. But I'm lucky, just as you're lucky, Clifton; and if you send me a handsome present the day I leave the Yard, I'm warning you that I shall accept it. I'm not asking for it: in a sense I'm entitled to it. I've no false shame, no false modesty, no false anything, but, as I say, I can't serve two masters, and that's why I'm clearing out of the Yard!"

"You shall have----" began Peter fervently. Mr. Bourke raised his hand.

"Don't mention the sum: it might make me lightheaded," he said. "I did think of offering you my services as a minder, but I've got an idea that you've married a lady who can look after you very well indeed. With these few words I'll take my leave."

"Why are you doing this?" asked Peter. "You never gave me any warning. I know I might have ruined your career, but now----"

"It's the cab driver and not being able to talk about him that's made me decide," said Bourke cryptically.

For a long time after he had gone neither spoke. "I'm sorry I didn't answer you when you called to me," said Peter at last, "but the fact is----"

"Please don't talk about it," she said. And then, for some astounding reason, they drifted into a discussion of trivialities: the layout of Le Touquet, the horses that Peter was going to buy at the December sales. They were drifting towards a state of mental exhaustion when Bourke returned.

"Sorry to bother you." He was profusely apologetic, which meant that he had every reason for coming back. "I've found the missing sheets."

"Radlow's?" asked Peter quickly.

"That's right."

He produced from his hip pocket a paper folded in four, and neither Peter nor the girl asked where they had been procured. Too well they knew that, two hours before, they had been in Donald Wells's pocket.

He handed them to Peter, who read in silence. The first two pages told him what he had discovered that day: the marriage of Alexander Welerson with his cousin.

The lady never quite recovered from the death of her husband, and her own unhappy demise probably did much to bring about Mr. Welerson's dementia. She was ill for a long time, and it was during that period, whilst she was yet alive, that in one of those curious fits of mania with which I as his lawyer have been familiar for many years, he contracted a marriage with a girl named Untersohn, who had been a cook or a housemaid in his employ. For two years before his wife's death Alexander Welerson had been leading this double life, and a child was born to him which I fear must have inherited the dread malady which brought his father to ruin. From the first Mr. Welerson was passionately fond of his wife's little son, and in his sane moments he was in the habit of lamenting to me the duplicity he was practising. He had made his wife promise that in no circumstances should the boy believe that he was not his son, and to this end he charged me that I should keep secret the date of his marriage and withhold from his son's inspection a copy of the marriage certificate. I have reason to believe, however, that all these facts were later in the possession of Basil Hale or Untersohn, who was conducting investigations on behalf of Dr. Cheyne Wells. Whether or not this is so is conjectural. I have no exact information on the subject . . .

Peter finished reading and handed the paper to the girl by his side.

"My theory is that Wells got to know this statement was going to be made in writing," said Bourke. "If you remember, somebody called Radlow up at the house that afternoon. The first time he was sleeping; the second time he answered himself, and was quite under the impression that he was talking to Peter. The caller was, without any question, Wells himself. As soon as he knew that the statement was to be made, he improvised his little plot. He must have been at Longford Manor when he rang up. He understood Peter's habits; knew all about his practice of smoking cigarettes when he was travelling alone by car. It was the simplest thing in the world to dope the cigarettes, and this he did. He was waiting for him on the road; as soon as he saw the car draw into the side and stop---Peter would do this mechanically, before he lost consciousness---he got into the machine, gave him two jabs with the needle and drove him to Sydenham. Remember it was a wet, rainy night, and to make assurance doubly sure, if he were stopped by a traffic policeman, I think he strapped Peter into an upright position. I found the strap on the floor, you remember, Mrs. Clifton. He went there deliberately to kill the old man, and to leave Peter to bear the blame. The timing of it, the cunning of it, were diabolically clever. Probably he expected the statement to be ready for him. He had warned him that Peter was calling. But he surprised Radlow in the act of writing and shot him.

"The murder of Hale was probably less premeditated. Hale, by his crazy conduct, was jeopardising the great plan, which was to have Peter certified so that the gang should administer the estate."

Bourke shook his head.

"A dazzling scheme! One of the best that's ever been conceived by the mind of man. I can't leave you this, but you'll probably remember it."

He folded the paper, put it in his pocket, paused for a moment at the door and raised his hands.

"That's the last you'll see of me to-night," he said.

Another long period of silence followed his departure. And then Jane took her courage in both hands, went up behind where Peter was sitting, and laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Peter," she said, "did my father get away?"

He nodded.

"I hope so," he said.

Another little interregnum of quietness, and then:

"He was the Clever One, wasn't he?"

Peter nodded again.

"Yes. I'm sorry, old girl---I knew it, of course, the moment I found those etchings of mine on the benches by the side of the press. He had evidently been down to make a printing, put the plates on the bench and had forgotten them; and when I accidentally found the room and saw those plates I nearly swooned."

She did not answer, but he sought for her hand and held it.

"He is brilliant; for years he has been building up this organisation, finding his agents through Blonberg, who was a blind. As a moneylender he got into touch with queer people. He knew of Mrs. Untersohn's grievance when she came to borrow money from him, and got acquainted with Hale in the same way. And then, by an odd coincidence, Wells found me."

"Who told you all this?" she asked in a low voice.

"He did."

She got up quickly.

"I'll be back soon," she said, not looking round.

He waited for an hour before the empty fire-grate, smoking steadily till the room was a haze of smoke, and at the end of the hour she came back. She was in her kimono, and he could scarcely see that she had been weeping.

She perched herself on the arm of his chair and dropped her head upon her husband's shoulder.

"Now let's talk about something else," she said.


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