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Trent's Last Case By E. C. Bentley Characters: 13040

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


In the only comfortably furnished room in the offices of the Record, the telephone on Sir James Molloy's table buzzed. Sir James made a motion with his pen, and Mr. Silver, his secretary, left his work and came over to the instrument.

'Who is that?' he said. 'Who?... I can't hear you.... Oh, it's Mr. Bunner, is it?... Yes, but... I know, but he's fearfully busy this afternoon. Can't you... Oh, really? Well, in that case-just hold on, will you?'

He placed the receiver before Sir James. 'It's Calvin Bunner, Sigsbee Manderson's right-hand man,' he said concisely. 'He insists on speaking to you personally. Says it is the gravest piece of news. He is talking from the house down by Bishopsbridge, so it will be necessary to speak clearly.'

Sir James looked at the telephone, not affectionately, and took up the receiver. 'Well?' he said in his strong voice, and listened. 'Yes,' he said. The next moment Mr. Silver, eagerly watching him, saw a look of amazement and horror. 'Good God!' murmured Sir James. Clutching the instrument, he slowly rose to his feet, still bending ear intently. At intervals he repeated 'Yes.' Presently, as he listened, he glanced at the clock, and spoke quickly to Mr. Silver over the top of the transmitter. 'Go and hunt up Figgis and young Williams. Hurry.' Mr. Silver darted from the room.

The great journalist was a tall, strong, clever Irishman of fifty, swart and black-moustached, a man of untiring business energy, well known in the world, which he understood very thoroughly, and played upon with the half-cynical competence of his race. Yet was he without a touch of the charlatan: he made no mysteries, and no pretences of knowledge, and he saw instantly through these in others. In his handsome, well-bred, well-dressed appearance there was something a little sinister when anger or intense occupation put its imprint about his eyes and brow; but when his generous nature was under no restraint he was the most cordial of men. He was managing director of the company which owned that most powerful morning paper, the Record, and also that most indispensable evening paper, the Sun, which had its offices on the other side of the street. He was, moreover, editor-in-chief of the Record, to which he had in the course of years attached the most variously capable personnel in the country. It was a maxim of his that where you could not get gifts, you must do the best you could with solid merit; and he employed a great deal of both. He was respected by his staff as few are respected in a profession not favourable to the growth of the sentiment of reverence.

'You're sure that's all?' asked Sir James, after a few minutes of earnest listening and questioning. 'And how long has this been known?... Yes, of course, the police are; but the servants? Surely it's all over the place down there by now.... Well, we'll have a try.... Look here, Bunner, I'm infinitely obliged to you about this. I owe you a good turn. You know I mean what I say. Come and see me the first day you get to town.... All right, that's understood. Now I must act on your news. Goodbye.'

Sir James hung up the receiver, and seized a railway timetable from the rack before him. After a rapid consultation of this oracle, he flung it down with a forcible word as Mr. Silver hurried into the room, followed by a hard-featured man with spectacles, and a youth with an alert eye.

'I want you to jot down some facts, Figgis,' said Sir James, banishing all signs of agitation and speaking with a rapid calmness. 'When you have them, put them into shape just as quick as you can for a special edition of the Sun.' The hard-featured man nodded and glanced at the clock, which pointed to a few minutes past three; he pulled out a notebook and drew a chair up to the big writing-table. 'Silver,' Sir James went on, 'go and tell Jones to wire our local correspondent very urgently, to drop everything and get down to Marlstone at once. He is not to say why in the telegram. There must not be an unnecessary word about this news until the Sun is on the streets with it-you all understand. Williams, cut across the way and tell Mr. Anthony to hold himself ready for a two-column opening that will knock the town endways. Just tell him that he must take all measures and precautions for a scoop. Say that Figgis will be over in five minutes with the facts, and that he had better let him write up the story in his private room. As you go, ask Miss Morgan to see me here at once, and tell the telephone people to see if they can get Mr. Trent on the wire for me. After seeing Mr. Anthony, return here and stand by.' The alert-eyed young man vanished like a spirit.

Sir James turned instantly to Mr. Figgis, whose pencil was poised over the paper. 'Sigsbee Manderson has been murdered,' he began quickly and clearly, pacing the floor with his hands behind him. Mr. Figgis scratched down a line of shorthand with as much emotion as if he had been told that the day was fine-the pose of his craft. 'He and his wife and two secretaries have been for the past fortnight at the house called White Gables, at Marlstone, near Bishopsbridge. He bought it four years ago. He and Mrs. Manderson have since spent a part of each summer there. Last night he went to bed about half-past eleven, just as usual. No one knows when he got up and left the house. He was not missed until this morning. About ten o'clock his body was found by a gardener. It was lying by a shed in the grounds. He was shot in the head, through the left eye. Death must have been instantaneous. The body was not robbed, but there were marks on the wrists which pointed to a struggle having taken place. Dr Stock, of Marlstone, was at once sent for, and will conduct the post-mortem examination. The police from Bishopsbridge, who were soon on the spot, are reticent, but it is believed that they are quite without a clue to the identity of the murderer. There you are, Figgis. Mr. Anthony is expecting you. Now I must telephone him and arrange things.'

Mr. Figgis looked up. 'One of the ablest detectives at Scotland Yard,' he suggested, 'has been put in charge of the case. It's a safe statement.'

'If you like,' said Sir James.

'And Mrs. Manderson? Was she there?'

'Yes. What about her?'

'Prostrated by the shock,' hinted the reporter, 'and sees nobody. Human interest.'

'I wouldn't put that in, Mr. Figgis,' said a quiet voice. It belonged to Miss Morgan, a pale, graceful woman, who had silently made her appearance

while the dictation was going on. 'I have seen Mrs. Manderson,' she proceeded, turning to Sir James. 'She looks quite healthy and intelligent. Has her husband been murdered? I don't think the shock would prostrate her. She is more likely to be doing all she can to help the police.'

'Something in your own style, then, Miss Morgan,' he said with a momentary smile. Her imperturbable efficiency was an office proverb. 'Cut it out, Figgis. Off you go! Now, madam, I expect you know what I want.'

'Our Manderson biography happens to be well up to date,' replied Miss Morgan, drooping her dark eyelashes as she considered the position. 'I was looking over it only a few months ago. It is practically ready for tomorrow's paper. I should think the Sun had better use the sketch of his life they had about two years ago, when he went to Berlin and settled the potash difficulty. I remember it was a very good sketch, and they won't be able to carry much more than that. As for our paper, of course we have a great quantity of cuttings, mostly rubbish. The sub-editors shall have them as soon as they come in. Then we have two very good portraits that are our own property; the best is a drawing Mr. Trent made when they were both on the same ship somewhere. It is better than any of the photographs; but you say the public prefers a bad photograph to a good drawing. I will send them down to you at once, and you can choose. As far as I can see, the Record is well ahead of the situation, except that you will not be able to get a special man down there in time to be of any use for tomorrow's paper.'

Sir James sighed deeply. 'What are we good for, anyhow?' he enquired dejectedly of Mr. Silver, who had returned to his desk. 'She even knows Bradshaw by heart.'

Miss Morgan adjusted her cuffs with an air of patience. 'Is there anything else?' she asked, as the telephone bell rang.

'Yes, one thing,' replied Sir James, as he took up the receiver. 'I want you to make a bad mistake some time, Miss Morgan-an everlasting bloomer-just to put us in countenance.' She permitted herself the fraction of what would have been a charming smile as she went out.

'Anthony?' asked Sir James, and was at once deep in consultation with the editor on the other side of the road. He seldom entered the Sun building in person; the atmosphere of an evening paper, he would say, was all very well if you liked that kind of thing. Mr. Anthony, the Murat of Fleet Street, who delighted in riding the whirlwind and fighting a tumultuous battle against time, would say the same of a morning paper.

It was some five minutes later that a uniformed boy came in to say that Mr. Trent was on the wire. Sir James abruptly closed his talk with Mr. Anthony.

'They can put him through at once,' he said to the boy.

'Hullo!' he cried into the telephone after a few moments.

A voice in the instrument replied, 'Hullo be blowed! What do you want?'

'This is Molloy,' said Sir James.

'I know it is,' the voice said. 'This is Trent. He is in the middle of painting a picture, and he has been interrupted at a critical moment. Well, I hope it's something important, that's all!'

'Trent,' said Sir James impressively, 'it is important. I want you to do some work for us.'

'Some play, you mean,' replied the voice. 'Believe me, I don't want a holiday. The working fit is very strong. I am doing some really decent things. Why can't you leave a man alone?' 'Something very serious has happened.' 'What?'

'Sigsbee Manderson has been murdered-shot through the brain-and they don't know who has done it. They found the body this morning. It happened at his place near Bishopsbridge.' Sir James proceeded to tell his hearer, briefly and clearly, the facts that he had communicated to Mr. Figgis. 'What do you think of it?' he ended. A considering grunt was the only answer. 'Come now,' urged Sir James. 'Tempter!'

'You will go down?'

There was a brief pause.

'Are you there?' said Sir James.

'Look here, Molloy,' the voice broke out querulously, 'the thing may be a case for me, or it may not. We can't possibly tell. It may be a mystery; it may be as simple as bread and cheese. The body not being robbed looks interesting, but he may have been outed by some wretched tramp whom he found sleeping in the grounds and tried to kick out. It's the sort of thing he would do. Such a murderer might easily have sense enough to know that to leave the money and valuables was the safest thing. I tell you frankly, I wouldn't have a hand in hanging a poor devil who had let daylight into a man like Sig Manderson as a measure of social protest.'

Sir James smiled at the telephone-a smile of success. 'Come, my boy, you're getting feeble. Admit you want to go and have a look at the case. You know you do. If it's anything you don't want to handle, you're free to drop it. By the by, where are you?'

'I am blown along a wandering wind,' replied the voice irresolutely, 'and hollow, hollow, hollow all delight.'

'Can you get here within an hour?' persisted Sir James.

'I suppose I can,' the voice grumbled. 'How much time have I?'

'Good man! Well, there's time enough-that's just the worst of it. I've got to depend on our local correspondent for tonight. The only good train of the day went half an hour ago. The next is a slow one, leaving Paddington at midnight. You could have the Buster, if you like'-Sir James referred to a very fast motor car of his-'but you wouldn't get down in time to do anything tonight.'

'And I'd miss my sleep. No, thanks. The train for me. I am quite fond of railway travelling, you know; I have a gift for it. I am the stoker and the stoked. I am the song the porter sings.'

'What's that you say?'

'It doesn't matter,' said the voice sadly. 'I say,' it continued, 'will your people look out a hotel near the scene of action, and telegraph for a room?'

'At once,' said Sir James. 'Come here as soon as you can.'

He replaced the receiver. As he turned to his papers again a shrill outcry burst forth in the street below. He walked to the open window. A band of excited boys was rushing down the steps of the Sun building and up the narrow thoroughfare toward Fleet Street. Each carried a bundle of newspapers and a large broadsheet with the simple legend:

MURDER OF SIGSBEE MANDERSON

Sir James smiled and rattled the money in his pockets cheerfully. 'It makes a good bill,' he observed to Mr. Silver, who stood at his elbow.

Such was Manderson's epitaph.

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