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Trent's Last Case By E. C. Bentley Characters: 51209

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


A painter and the son of a painter, Philip Trent had while yet in his twenties achieved some reputation within the world of English art. Moreover, his pictures sold. An original, forcible talent and a habit of leisurely but continuous working, broken by fits of strong creative enthusiasm, were at the bottom of it. His father's name had helped; a patrimony large enough to relieve him of the perilous imputation of being a struggling man had certainly not hindered. But his best aid to success had been an unconscious power of getting himself liked. Good spirits and a lively, humorous fancy will always be popular. Trent joined to these a genuine interest in others that gained him something deeper than popularity. His judgement of persons was penetrating, but its process was internal; no one felt on good behaviour with a man who seemed always to be enjoying himself. Whether he was in a mood for floods of nonsense or applying himself vigorously to a task, his face seldom lost its expression of contained vivacity. Apart from a sound knowledge of his art and its history, his culture was large and loose, dominated by a love of poetry. At thirty-two he had not yet passed the age of laughter and adventure.

His rise to a celebrity a hundred times greater than his proper work had won for him came of a momentary impulse. One day he had taken up a newspaper to find it chiefly concerned with a crime of a sort curiously rare in our country-a murder done in a railway train. The circumstances were puzzling; two persons were under arrest upon suspicion. Trent, to whom an interest in such affairs was a new sensation, heard the thing discussed among his friends, and set himself in a purposeless mood to read up the accounts given in several journals. He became intrigued; his imagination began to work, in a manner strange to him, upon facts; an excitement took hold of him such as he had only known before in his bursts of art-inspiration or of personal adventure. At the end of the day he wrote and dispatched a long letter to the editor of the Record, which he chose only because it had contained the fullest and most intelligent version of the facts.

In this letter he did very much what Poe had done in the case of the murder of Mary Rogers. With nothing but the newspapers to guide him, he drew attention to the significance of certain apparently negligible facts, and ranged the evidence in such a manner as to throw grave suspicion upon a man who had presented himself as a witness. Sir James Molloy had printed this letter in leaded type. The same evening he was able to announce in the Sun the arrest and full confession of the incriminated man.

Sir James, who knew all the worlds of London, had lost no time in making Trent's acquaintance. The two men got on well, for Trent possessed some secret of native tact which had the effect of almost abolishing differences of age between himself and others. The great rotary presses in the basement of the Record building had filled him with a new enthusiasm. He had painted there, and Sir James had bought at sight, what he called a machinery-scape in the manner of Heinrich Kley.

Then a few months later came the affair known as the Ilkley mystery. Sir James had invited Trent to an emollient dinner, and thereafter offered him what seemed to the young man a fantastically large sum for his temporary services as special representative of the Record at Ilkley.

'You could do it,' the editor had urged. 'You can write good stuff, and you know how to talk to people, and I can teach you all the technicalities of a reporter's job in half an hour. And you have a head for a mystery; you have imagination and cool judgement along with it. Think how it would feel if you pulled it off!'

Trent had admitted that it would be rather a lark. He had smoked, frowned, and at last convinced himself that the only thing that held him back was fear of an unfamiliar task. To react against fear had become a fixed moral habit with him, and he had accepted Sir James's offer.

He had pulled it off. For the second time he had given the authorities a start and a beating, and his name was on all tongues. He withdrew and painted pictures. He felt no leaning towards journalism, and Sir James, who knew a good deal about art, honourably refrained-as other editors did not-from tempting him with a good salary. But in the course of a few years he had applied to him perhaps thirty times for his services in the unravelling of similar problems at home and abroad. Sometimes Trent, busy with work that held him, had refused; sometimes he had been forestalled in the discovery of the truth. But the result of his irregular connection with the Record had been to make his name one of the best known in England. It was characteristic of him that his name was almost the only detail of his personality known to the public. He had imposed absolute silence about himself upon the Molloy papers; and the others were not going to advertise one of Sir James's men.

***

The Manderson case, he told himself as he walked rapidly up the sloping road to White Gables, might turn out to be terribly simple. Cupples was a wise old boy, but it was probably impossible for him to have an impartial opinion about his niece. But it was true that the manager of the hotel, who had spoken of her beauty in terms that aroused his attention, had spoken even more emphatically of her goodness. Not an artist in words, the manager had yet conveyed a very definite idea to Trent's mind. 'There isn't a child about here that don't brighten up at the sound of her voice,' he had said, 'nor yet a grown-up, for the matter of that. Everybody used to look forward to her coming over in the summer. I don't mean that she's one of those women that are all kind heart and nothing else. There's backbone with it, if you know what I mean-pluck any amount of go. There's nobody in Marlstone that isn't sorry for the lady in her trouble-not but what some of us may think she's lucky at the last of it.' Trent wanted very much to meet Mrs. Manderson.

He could see now, beyond a spacious lawn and shrubbery, the front of the two-storied house of dull-red brick, with the pair of great gables from which it had its name. He had had but a glimpse of it from the car that morning. A modern house, he saw; perhaps ten years old. The place was beautifully kept, with that air of opulent peace that clothes even the smallest houses of the well-to-do in an English countryside. Before it, beyond the road, the rich meadow-land ran down to the edge of the cliffs; behind it a woody landscape stretched away across a broad vale to the moors. That such a place could be the scene of a crime of violence seemed fantastic; it lay so quiet and well ordered, so eloquent of disciplined service and gentle living. Yet there beyond the house, and near the hedge that rose between the garden and the hot, white road, stood the gardener's toolshed, by which the body had been found, lying tumbled against the wooden wall, Trent walked past the gate of the drive and along the road until he was opposite this shed. Some forty yards further along the road turned sharply away from the house, to run between thick plantations; and just before the turn the grounds of the house ended, with a small white gate at the angle of the boundary hedge. He approached the gate, which was plainly for the use of gardeners and the service of the establishment. It swung easily on its hinges, and he passed slowly up a path that led towards the back of the house, between the outer hedge and a tall wall of rhododendrons. Through a gap in this wall a track led him to the little neatly built erection of wood, which stood among trees that faced a corner of the front. The body had lain on the side away from the house; a servant, he thought, looking out of the nearer windows in the earlier hours of the day before, might have glanced unseeing at the hut, as she wondered what it could be like to be as rich as the master.

He examined the place carefully and ransacked the hut within, but he could note no more than the trodden appearance of the uncut grass where the body had lain. Crouching low, with keen eyes and feeling fingers, he searched the ground minutely over a wide area; but the search was fruitless.

It was interrupted by the sound-the first he had heard from the house-of the closing of the front door. Trent unbent his long legs and stepped to the edge of the drive. A man was walking quickly away from the house in the direction of the great gate.

At the noise of a footstep on the gravel, the man wheeled with nervous swiftness and looked earnestly at Trent. The sudden sight of his face was almost terrible, so white and worn it was. Yet it was a young man's face. There was not a wrinkle about the haggard blue eyes, for all their tale of strain and desperate fatigue. As the two approached each other, Trent noted with admiration the man's breadth of shoulder and lithe, strong figure. In his carriage, inelastic as weariness had made it; in his handsome, regular features; in his short, smooth, yellow hair; and in his voice as he addressed Trent, the influence of a special sort of training was confessed. 'Oxford was your playground, I think, my young friend,' said Trent to himself.

'If you are Mr. Trent,' said the young man pleasantly, 'you are expected. Mr. Cupples telephoned from the hotel. My name is Marlowe.'

'You were secretary to Mr. Manderson, I believe,' said Trent. He was much inclined to like young Mr. Marlowe. Though he seemed so near a physical breakdown, he gave out none the less that air of clean living and inward health that is the peculiar glory of his social type at his years. But there was something in the tired eyes that was a challenge to Trent's penetration; an habitual expression, as he took it to be, of meditating and weighing things not present to their sight. It was a look too intelligent, too steady and purposeful, to be called dreamy. Trent thought he had seen such a look before somewhere. He went on to say: 'It is a terrible business for all of you. I fear it has upset you completely, Mr. Marlowe.'

'A little limp, that's all,' replied the young man wearily. 'I was driving the car all Sunday night and most of yesterday, and I didn't sleep last night after hearing the news-who would? But I have an appointment now, Mr. Trent, down at the doctor's-arranging about the inquest. I expect it'll be tomorrow. If you will go up to the house and ask for Mr. Bunner, you'll find him expecting you; he will tell you all about things and show you round. He's the other secretary; an American, and the best of fellows; he'll look after you. There's a detective here, by the way-Inspector Murch, from Scotland Yard. He came yesterday.'

'Murch!' Trent exclaimed. 'But he and I are old friends. How under the sun did he get here so soon?'

'I have no idea,' Mr. Marlowe answered. 'But he was here last evening, before I got back from Southampton, interviewing everybody, and he's been about here since eight this morning. He's in the library now-that's where the open French window is that you see at the end of the house there. Perhaps you would like to step down there and talk about things.'

'I think I will,' said Trent. Marlowe nodded and went on his way. The thick turf of the lawn round which the drive took its circular sweep made Trent's footsteps as noiseless as a cat's. In a few moments he was looking in through the open leaves of the window at the southward end of the house, considering with a smile a very broad back and a bent head covered with short grizzled hair. The man within was stooping over a number of papers laid out on the table.

''Twas ever thus,' said Trent in a melancholy tone, at the first sound of which the man within turned round with startling swiftness. 'From childhood's hour I've seen my fondest hopes decay. I did think I was ahead of Scotland Yard this time, and now here is the hugest officer in the entire Metropolitan force already occupying the position.'

The detective smiled grimly and came to the window. 'I was expecting you, Mr. Trent,' he said. 'This is the sort of case that you like.'

'Since my tastes were being considered,' Trent replied, stepping into the room, 'I wish they had followed up the idea by keeping my hated rival out of the business. You have got a long start, too-I know all about it.' His eyes began to wander round the room. 'How did you manage it? You are a quick mover, I know; the dun deer's hide on fleeter foot was never tied; but I don't see how you got here in time to be at work yesterday evening. Has Scotland Yard secretly started an aviation corps? Or is it in league with the infernal powers? In either case the Home Secretary should be called upon to make a statement.'

'It's simpler than that,' said Mr. Murch with professional stolidity. 'I happened to be on leave with the missus at Havley, which is only twelve miles or so along the coast. As soon as our people there heard of the murder they told me. I wired to the Chief, and was put in charge of the case at once. I bicycled over yesterday evening, and have been at it since then.'

'Arising out of that reply,' said Trent inattentively, 'how is Mrs. Inspector Murch?'

'Never better, thank you,' answered the inspector, 'and frequently speaks of you and the games you used to have with our kids. But you'll excuse me saying, Mr. Trent, that you needn't trouble to talk your nonsense to me while you're using your eyes. I know your ways by now. I understand you've fallen on your feet as usual, and have the lady's permission to go over the place and make enquiries.'

'Such is the fact,' said Trent. 'I am going to cut you out again, inspector. I owe you one for beating me over the Abinger case, you old fox. But if you really mean that you're not inclined for the social amenities just now, let us leave compliments and talk business.' He stepped to the table, glanced through the papers arranged there in order, and then turned to the open roll-top desk. He looked into the drawers swiftly. 'I see this has been cleared out. Well now, inspector, I suppose we play the game as before.'

Trent had found himself on a number of occasions in the past thrown into the company of Inspector Murch, who stood high in the councils of the Criminal Investigation Department. He was a quiet, tactful, and very shrewd officer, a man of great courage, with a vivid history in connection with the more dangerous class of criminals. His humanity was as broad as his frame, which was large even for a policeman. Trent and he, through some obscure working of sympathy, had appreciated one another from the beginning, and had formed one of those curious friendships with which it was the younger man's delight to adorn his experience. The inspector would talk more freely to him than to any one, under the rose, and they would discuss details and possibilities of every case, to their mutual enlightenment. There were necessarily rules and limits. It was understood between them that Trent made no journalistic use of any point that could only have come to him from an official source. Each of them, moreover, for the honour and prestige of the institution he represented, openly reserved the right to withhold from the other any discovery or inspiration that might come to him which he considered vital to the solution of the difficulty. Trent had insisted on carefully formulating these principles of what he called detective sportsmanship. Mr. Murch, who loved a contest, and who only stood to gain by his association with the keen intelligence of the other, entered very heartily into 'the game'. In these strivings for the credit of the press and of the police, victory sometimes attended the experience and method of the officer, sometimes the quicker brain and livelier imagination of Trent, his gift of instinctively recognizing the significant through all disguises.

The inspector then replied to Trent's last words with cordial agreement. Leaning on either side of the French window, with the deep peace and hazy splendor of the summer landscape before them, they reviewed the case.

***

Trent had taken out a thin notebook, and as they talked he began to make, with light, secure touches, a rough sketch plan of the room. It was a thing he did habitually on such occasions, and often quite idly, but now and then the habit had served him to good purpose.

This was a large, light apartment at the corner of the house, with generous window-space in two walls. A broad table stood in the middle. As one entered by the window the roll-top desk stood just to the left of it against the wall. The inner door was in the wall to the left, at the farther end of the room; and was faced by a broad window divided into openings of the casement type. A beautifully carved old corner-cupboard rose high against the wall beyond the door, and another cupboard filled a recess beside the fireplace. Some coloured prints of Harunobu, with which Trent promised himself a better acquaintance, hung on what little wall-space was unoccupied by books. These had a very uninspiring appearance of having been bought by the yard and never taken from their shelves. Bound with a sober luxury, the great English novelists, essayists, historians, and poets stood ranged like an army struck dead in its ranks. There were a few chairs made, like the cupboard and table, of old carved oak; a modern armchair and a swivel office-chair before the desk. The room looked costly but very bare. Almost the only portable objects were a great porcelain bowl of a wonderful blue on the table, a clock and some cigar boxes on the mantelshelf, and a movable telephone standard on the top of the desk.

'Seen the body?' enquired the inspector.

Trent nodded. 'And the place where it lay,' he said.

'First impressions of this case rather puzzle me,' said the inspector. 'From what I heard at Halvey I guessed it might be common robbery and murder by some tramp, though such a thing is very far from common in these parts. But as soon as I began my enquiries I came on some curious points, which by this time I dare say you've noted for yourself. The man is shot in his own grounds, quite near the house, to begin with. Yet there's not the slightest trace of any attempt at burglary. And the body wasn't robbed. In fact, it would be as plain a case of suicide as you could wish to see, if it wasn't for certain facts. Here's another thing: for a month or so past, they tell me, Manderson had been in a queer state of mind. I expect you know already that he and his wife had some trouble between them. The servants had noticed a change in his manner to her for a long time, and for the past week he had scarcely spoken to her. They say he was a changed man, moody and silent-whether on account of that or something else. The lady's maid says he looked as if something was going to arrive. It's always easy to remember that people looked like that, after something has happened to them. Still, that's what they say. There you are again, then: suicide! Now, why wasn't it suicide, Mr. Trent?'

'The facts so far as I know them are really all against it,' Trent replied, sitting on the threshold of the window and clasping his knees. 'First, of course, no weapon is to be found. I've searched, and you've searched, and there's no trace of any firearm anywhere within a stone's throw of where the body lay. Second, the marks on the wrists, fresh scratches and bruises, which we can only assume to have been done in a struggle with somebody. Third, who ever heard of anybody shooting himself in the eye? Then I heard from the manager of the hotel here another fact, which strikes me as the most curious detail in this affair. Manderson had dressed himself fully before going out there, but he forgot his false teeth. Now how could a suicide who dressed himself to make a decent appearance as a corpse forget his teeth?'

'That last argument hadn't struck me,' admitted Mr. Murch. 'There's something in it. But on the strength of the other points, which had occurred to me, I am not considering suicide. I have been looking about for ideas in this house, this morning. I expect you were thinking of doing the same.'

'That is so. It is a case for ideas, it seems to me. Come, Murch, let us make an effort; let us bend our spirits to a temper of general suspicion. Let us suspect everybody in the house, to begin with. Listen: I will tell you whom I suspect. I suspect Mrs. Manderson, of course. I also suspect both the secretaries-I hear there are two, and I hardly know which of them I regard as more thoroughly open to suspicion. I suspect the butler and the lady's maid. I suspect the other domestics, and especially do I suspect the boot-boy. By the way, what domestics are there? I have more than enough suspicion to go round, whatever the size of the establishment; but as a matter of curiosity I should like to know.'

'All very well to laugh,' replied the inspector, 'but at the first stage of affairs it's the only safe principle, and you know that as well as I do, Mr. Trent. However, I've seen enough of the people here, last night and today, to put a few of them out of my mind for the present at least. You will form your own conclusions. As for the establishment, there's the butler and lady's maid, cook, and three other maids, one a young girl. One chauffeur, who's away with a broken wrist. No boy.'

'What about the gardener? You say nothing about that shadowy and sinister figure, the gardener. You are keeping him in the background, Murch. Play the game. Out with him-or I report you to the Rules Committee.'

'The garden is attended to by a man in the village, who comes twice a week. I've talked to him. He was here last on Friday.'

'Then I suspect him all the more,' said Trent. 'And now as to the house itself. What I propose to do, to begin with, is to sniff about a little in this room, where I am told Manderson spent a great deal of his time, and in his bedroom; especially the bedroom. But since we're in this room, let's start here. You seem to be at the same stage of the inquiry. Perhaps you've done the bedrooms already?'

The inspector nodded. 'I've been over Manderson's and his wife's. Nothing to be got there, I think. His room is very simple and bare, no signs of any sort-that I could see. Seems to have insisted on the simple life, does Manderson. Never employed a valet. The room's almost like a cell, except for the clothes and shoes. You'll find it all exactly as I found it; and they tell me that's exactly as Manderson left it, at we don't know what o'clock yesterday morning. Opens into Mrs. Manderson's bedroom-not much of the cell about that, I can tell you. I should say the lady was as fond of pretty things as most. But she cleared out of it on the morning of the discovery-told the maid she could never sleep in a room opening into her murdered husband's room. Very natural feeling in a woman, Mr. Trent. She's camping out, so to say, in one of the spare bedrooms now.'

'Come, my friend,' Trent was saying to himself, as he made a few notes in his little book. 'Have you got your eye on Mrs. Manderson? Or haven't you? I know that colourless tone of the inspectorial voice. I wish I had seen her. Either you've got something against her and you don't want me to get hold of it; or else you've made up your mind she's innocent, but have no objection to my wasting my time over her. Well, it's all in the game; which begins to look extremely interesting as we go on.' To Mr. Murch he said aloud: 'Well, I'll draw the bedroom later on. What about this?'

'They call it the library,' said the inspector. 'Manderson used to do his writing and that in here; passed most of the time he spent indoors here. Since he and his wife ceased to hit it off together, he had taken to spending his evenings alone, and when at this house he always spent 'em in here. He was last seen alive, as far as the servants are concerned, in this room.'

Trent rose and glanced again through the papers set out on the table. 'Business letters and documents, mostly,' said Mr. Murch. 'Reports, prospectuses, and that. A few letters on private matters, nothing in them that I can see. The American secretary-Bunner his name is, and a queerer card I never saw turned-he's been through this desk with me this morning. He had got it into his head that Manderson had been receiving threatening letters, and that the murder was the outcome of that. But there's no trace of any such thing; and we looked at every blessed paper. The only unusual things we found were some packets of banknotes to a considerable amount, and a couple of little bags of unset diamonds. I asked Mr. Bunner to put them in a safer place. It appears that Manderson had begun buying diamonds lately as a speculation-it was a new game to him, the secretary said, and it seemed to amuse him.'

'What about these secretaries?' Trent enquired. 'I met one called Marlowe just now outside; a nice-looking chap with singular eyes, unquestionably English. The other, it seems, is an American. What did Manderson want with an English secretary?'

'Mr. Marlowe explained to me how that was. The American was his right-hand business man, one of his office staff, who never left him. Mr. Marlowe had nothing to do with Manderson's business as a financier, knew nothing of it. His job was to look after Manderson's horses and motors and yacht and sporting arrangements and that-make himself gene

rally useful, as you might say. He had the spending of a lot of money, I should think. The other was confined entirely to the office affairs, and I dare say he had his hands full. As for his being English, it was just a fad of Manderson's to have an English secretary. He'd had several before Mr. Marlowe.'

'He showed his taste,' observed Trent. 'It might be more than interesting, don't you think, to be minister to the pleasures of a modern plutocrat with a large P. Only they say that Manderson's were exclusively of an innocent kind. Certainly Marlowe gives me the impression that he would be weak in the part of Petronius. But to return to the matter in hand.' He looked at his notes. 'You said just now that he was last seen alive here, "so far as the servants were concerned". That meant-?'

'He had a conversation with his wife on going to bed. But for that, the manservant, Martin by name, last saw him in this room. I had his story last night, and very glad he was to tell it. An affair like this is meat and drink to the servants of the house.'

Trent considered for some moments, gazing through the open window over the sun-flooded slopes. 'Would it bore you to hear what he has to say again?' he asked at length. For reply, Mr. Murch rang the bell. A spare, clean-shaven, middle-aged man, having the servant's manner in its most distinguished form, answered it.

'This is Mr. Trent, who is authorized by Mrs. Manderson to go over the house and make enquiries,' explained the detective. 'He would like to hear your story.' Martin bowed distantly. He recognized Trent for a gentleman. Time would show whether he was what Martin called a gentleman in every sense of the word.

'I observed you approaching the house, sir,' said Martin with impassive courtesy. He spoke with a slow and measured utterance. 'My instructions are to assist you in every possible way. Should you wish me to recall the circumstances of Sunday night?'

'Please,' said Trent with ponderous gravity. Martin's style was making clamorous appeal to his sense of comedy. He banished with an effort all vivacity of expression from his face.

'I last saw Mr. Manderson-'

'No, not that yet,' Trent checked him quietly. 'Tell me all you saw of him that evening-after dinner, say. Try to recollect every little detail.'

'After dinner, sir?-yes. I remember that after dinner Mr. Manderson and Mr. Marlowe walked up and down the path through the orchard, talking. If you ask me for details, it struck me they were talking about something important, because I heard Mr. Manderson say something when they came in through the back entrance. He said, as near as I can remember, "If Harris is there, every minute is of importance. You want to start right away. And not a word to a soul." Mr. Marlowe answered, "Very well. I will just change out of these clothes and then I am ready"-or words to that effect. I heard this plainly as they passed the window of my pantry. Then Mr. Marlowe went up to his bedroom, and Mr. Manderson entered the library and rang for me. He handed me some letters for the postman in the morning and directed me to sit up, as Mr. Marlowe had persuaded him to go for a drive in the car by moonlight.'

'That was curious,' remarked Trent.

'I thought so, sir. But I recollected what I had heard about "not a word to a soul", and I concluded that this about a moonlight drive was intended to mislead.'

'What time was this?'

'It would be about ten, sir, I should say. After speaking to me, Mr. Manderson waited until Mr. Marlowe had come down and brought round the car. He then went into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Manderson was.'

'Did that strike you as curious?'

Martin looked down his nose. 'If you ask me the question, sir,' he said with reserve, 'I had not known him enter that room since we came here this year. He preferred to sit in the library in the evenings. That evening he only remained with Mrs. Manderson for a few minutes. Then he and Mr. Marlowe started immediately.'

'You saw them start?'

'Yes, sir. They took the direction of Bishopsbridge.'

'And you saw Mr. Manderson again later?'

'After an hour or thereabouts, sir, in the library. That would have been about a quarter past eleven, I should say; I had noticed eleven striking from the church. I may say I am peculiarly quick of hearing, sir.'

'Mr. Manderson had rung the bell for you, I suppose. Yes? And what passed when you answered it?'

'Mr. Manderson had put out the decanter of whisky and a syphon and glass, sir, from the cupboard where he kept them-'

Trent held up his hand. 'While we are on that point, Martin, I want to ask you plainly, did Mr. Manderson drink very much? You understand this is not impertinent curiosity on my part. I want you to tell me, because it may possibly help in the clearing up of this case.'

'Perfectly, sir,' replied Martin gravely. 'I have no hesitation in telling you what I have already told the inspector. Mr. Manderson was, considering his position in life, a remarkably abstemious man. In my four years of service with him I never knew anything of an alcoholic nature pass his lips, except a glass or two of wine at dinner, very rarely a little at luncheon, and from time to time a whisky and soda before going to bed. He never seemed to form a habit of it. Often I used to find his glass in the morning with only a little soda water in it; sometimes he would have been having whisky with it, but never much. He never was particular about his drinks; ordinary soda was what he preferred, though I had ventured to suggest some of the natural minerals, having personally acquired a taste for them in my previous service. He used to keep them in the cupboard here, because he had a great dislike of being waited on more than was necessary. It was an understood thing that I never came near him after dinner unless sent for. And when he sent for anything, he liked it brought quick, and to be left alone again at once. He hated to be asked if he required anything more. Amazingly simple in his tastes, sir, Mr. Manderson was.'

'Very well; and he rang for you that night about a quarter past eleven. Now can you remember exactly what he said?'

'I think I can tell you with some approach to accuracy, sir. It was not much. First he asked me if Mr. Bunner had gone to bed, and I replied that he had been gone up some time. He then said that he wanted some one to sit up until 12.30, in case an important message should come by telephone, and that Mr. Marlowe having gone to Southampton for him in the motor, he wished me to do this, and that I was to take down the message if it came, and not disturb him. He also ordered a fresh syphon of soda water. I believe that was all, sir.'

'You noticed nothing unusual about him, I suppose?'

'No, sir, nothing unusual. When I answered the ring, he was seated at the desk listening at the telephone, waiting for a number, as I supposed. He gave his orders and went on listening at the same time. 'When I returned with the syphon he was engaged in conversation over the wire.'

'Do you remember anything of what he was saying?'

'Very little, sir; it was something about somebody being at some hotel-of no interest to me. I was only in the room just time enough to place the syphon on the table and withdraw. As I closed the door he was saying, "You're sure he isn't in the hotel?" or words to that effect.'

'And that was the last you saw and heard of him alive?'

'No, sir. A little later, at half-past eleven, when I had settled down in my pantry with the door ajar, and a book to pass the time, I heard Mr. Manderson go upstairs to bed. I immediately went to close the library window, and slipped the lock of the front door. I did not hear anything more.'

Trent considered. 'I suppose you didn't doze at all,' he said tentatively, 'while you were sitting up waiting for the telephone message?'

'Oh no, sir. I am always very wakeful about that time. I'm a bad sleeper, especially in the neighbourhood of the sea, and I generally read in bed until somewhere about midnight.'

'And did any message come?'

'No, sir.'

'No. And I suppose you sleep with your window open, these warm nights?'

'It is never closed at night, sir.'

Trent added a last note; then he looked thoughtfully through those he had taken. He rose and paced up and down the room for some moments with a downcast eye. At length he paused opposite Martin.

'It all seems perfectly ordinary and simple,' he said. 'I just want to get a few details clear. You went to shut the windows in the library before going to bed. Which windows?'

'The French window, sir. It had been open all day. The windows opposite the door were seldom opened.'

'And what about the curtains? I am wondering whether any one outside the house could have seen into the room.'

'Easily, sir, I should say, if he had got into the grounds on that side. The curtains were never drawn in the hot weather. Mr. Manderson would often sit right in the doorway at nights, smoking and looking out into the darkness. But nobody could have seen him who had any business to be there.'

'I see. And now tell me this. Your hearing is very acute, you say, and you heard Mr. Manderson enter the house when he came in after dinner from the garden. Did you hear him re-enter it after returning from the motor drive?'

Martin paused. 'Now you mention it, sir, I remember that I did not. His ringing the bell in this room was the first I knew of his being back. I should have heard him come in, if he had come in by the front. I should have heard the door go. But he must have come in by the window.' The man reflected for a moment, then added, 'As a general rule, Mr. Manderson would come in by the front, hang up his hat and coat in the hall, and pass down the hall into the study. It seems likely to me that he was in a great hurry to use the telephone, and so went straight across the lawn to the window. He was like that, sir, when there was anything important to be done. He had his hat on, now I remember, and had thrown his greatcoat over the end of the table. He gave his order very sharp, too, as he always did when busy. A very precipitate man indeed was Mr. Manderson; a hustler, as they say.'

'Ah! he appeared to be busy. But didn't you say just now that you noticed nothing unusual about him?'

A melancholy smile flitted momentarily over Martin's face. 'That observation shows that you did not know Mr. Manderson, sir, if you will pardon my saying so. His being like that was nothing unusual; quite the contrary. It took me long enough to get used to it. Either he would be sitting quite still and smoking a cigar, thinking or reading, or else he would be writing, dictating, and sending off wires all at the same time, till it almost made one dizzy to see it, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch. As for being in a hurry over a telephone message, I may say it wasn't in him to be anything else.'

Trent turned to the inspector, who met his eye with a look of answering intelligence. Not sorry to show his understanding of the line of inquiry opened by Trent, Mr. Murch for the first time put a question.

'Then you left him telephoning by the open window, with the lights on, and the drinks on the table; is that it?' 'That is so, Mr. Murch.' The delicacy of the change in Martin's manner when called upon to answer the detective momentarily distracted Trent's appreciative mind. But the big man's next question brought it back to the problem at once.

'About those drinks. You say Mr. Manderson often took no whisky before going to bed. Did he have any that night?'

'I could not say. The room was put to rights in the morning by one of the maids, and the glass washed, I presume, as usual. I know that the decanter was nearly full that evening. I had refilled it a few days before, and I glanced at it when I brought the fresh syphon, just out of habit, to make sure there was a decent-looking amount.'

The inspector went to the tall corner-cupboard and opened it. He took out a decanter of cut glass and set it on the table before Martin. 'Was it fuller than that?' he asked quietly. 'That's how I found it this morning.' The decanter was more than half empty.

For the first time Martin's self-possession wavered. He took up the decanter quickly, tilted it before his eyes, and then stared amazedly at the others. He said slowly: 'There's not much short of half a bottle gone out of this since I last set eyes on it-and that was that Sunday night.'

'Nobody in the house, I suppose?' suggested Trent discreetly. 'Out of the question!' replied Martin briefly; then he added, 'I beg pardon, sir, but this is a most extraordinary thing to me. Such a thing never happened in all my experience of Mr. Manderson. As for the women-servants, they never touch anything, I can answer for it; and as for me, when I want a drink I can help myself without going to the decanters.' He took up the decanter again and aimlessly renewed his observation of the contents, while the inspector eyed him with a look of serene satisfaction, as a master contemplates his handiwork.

Trent turned to a fresh page of his notebook, and tapped it thoughtfully with his pencil. Then he looked up and said, 'I suppose Mr. Manderson had dressed for dinner that night?'

'Certainly, sir. He had on a suit with a dress-jacket, what he used to refer to as a Tuxedo, which he usually wore when dining at home.'

'And he was dressed like that when you saw him last?'

'All but the jacket, sir. When he spent the evening in the library, as usually happened, he would change it for an old shooting-jacket after dinner, a light-coloured tweed, a little too loud in pattern for English tastes, perhaps. He had it on when I saw him last. It used to hang in this cupboard here'-Martin opened the door of it as he spoke-'along with Mr. Manderson's fishing-rods and such things, so that he could slip it on after dinner without going upstairs.'

'Leaving the dinner-jacket in the cupboard?'

'Yes, sir. The housemaid used to take it upstairs in the morning.'

'In the morning,' Trent repeated slowly. 'And now that we are speaking of the morning, will you tell me exactly what you know about that? I understand that Mr. Manderson was not missed until the body was found about ten o'clock.'

'That is so, sir. Mr. Manderson would never be called, or have anything brought to him in the morning. He occupied a separate bedroom. Usually he would get up about eight and go round to the bathroom, and he would come down some time before nine. But often he would sleep till nine or ten o'clock. Mrs. Manderson was always called at seven. The maid would take in tea to her. Yesterday morning Mrs. Manderson took breakfast about eight in her sitting-room as usual, and every one supposed that Mr. Manderson was still in bed and asleep, when Evans came rushing up to the house with the shocking intelligence.'

'I see,' said Trent. 'And now another thing. You say you slipped the lock of the front door before going to bed. Was that all the locking-up you did?'

'To the front door, sir, yes; I slipped the lock. No more is considered necessary in these parts. But I had locked both the doors at the back, and seen to the fastenings of all the windows on the ground floor. In the morning everything was as I had left it.'

'As you had left it. Now here is another point-the last, I think. Were the clothes in which the body was found the clothes that Mr. Manderson would naturally have worn that day?'

Martin rubbed his chin. 'You remind me how surprised I was when I first set eyes on the body, sir. At first I couldn't make out what was unusual about the clothes, and then I saw what it was. The collar was a shape of collar Mr. Manderson never wore except with evening dress. Then I found that he had put on all the same things that he had worn the night before-large fronted shirt and all-except just the coat and waistcoat and trousers, and the brown shoes, and blue tie. As for the suit, it was one of half a dozen he might have worn. But for him to have simply put on all the rest just because they were there, instead of getting out the kind of shirt and things he always wore by day; well, sir, it was unprecedented. It shows, like some other things, what a hurry he must have been in when getting up.'

'Of course,' said Trent. 'Well, I think that's all I wanted to know. You have put everything with admirable clearness, Martin. If we want to ask any more questions later on, I suppose you will be somewhere about.'

'I shall be at your disposal, sir.' Martin bowed, and went out quietly.

Trent flung himself into the armchair and exhaled a long breath. 'Martin is a great creature,' he said. 'He is far, far better than a play. There is none like him, none, nor will be when our summers have deceased. Straight, too; not an atom of harm in dear old Martin. Do you know, Murch, you are wrong in suspecting that man.'

'I never said a word about suspecting him.' The inspector was taken aback. 'You know, Mr. Trent, he would never have told his story like that if he thought I suspected him.'

'I dare say he doesn't think so. He is a wonderful creature, a great artist; but, in spite of that, he is not at all a sensitive type. It has never occurred to his mind that you, Murch, could suspect him, Martin, the complete, the accomplished. But I know it. You must understand, inspector, that I have made a special study of the psychology of officers of the law. It is a grossly neglected branch of knowledge. They are far more interesting than criminals, and not nearly so easy. All the time I was questioning him I saw handcuffs in your eye. Your lips were mutely framing the syllables of those tremendous words: "It is my duty to tell you that anything you now say will be taken down and used in evidence against you." Your manner would have deceived most men, but it could not deceive me.'

Mr. Murch laughed heartily. Trent's nonsense never made any sort of impression on his mind, but he took it as a mark of esteem, which indeed it was; so it never failed to please him. 'Well, Mr. Trent,' he said, 'you're perfectly right. There's no point in denying it, I have got my eye on him. Not that there's anything definite; but you know as well as I do how often servants are mixed up in affairs of this kind, and this man is such a very quiet customer. You remember the case of Lord William Russell's valet, who went in as usual, in the morning, to draw up the blinds in his master's bedroom, as quiet and starchy as you please, a few hours after he had murdered him in his bed. I've talked to all the women of the house, and I don't believe there's a morsel of harm in one of them. But Martin's not so easy set aside. I don't like his manner; I believe he's hiding something. If so, I shall find it out.'

'Cease!' said Trent. 'Drain not to its dregs the urn of bitter prophecy. Let us get back to facts. Have you, as a matter of evidence, anything at all to bring against Martin's story as he has told it to us?'

'Nothing whatever at present. As for his suggestion that Manderson came in by way of the window after leaving Marlowe and the car, that's right enough, I should say. I questioned the servant who swept the room next morning, and she tells me there were gravelly marks near the window, on this plain drugget that goes round the carpet. And there's a footprint in this soft new gravel just outside.' The inspector took a folding rule from his pocket and with it pointed out the traces. 'One of the patent shoes Manderson was wearing that night exactly fits that print; you'll find them,' he added, 'on the top shelf in the bedroom, near the window end, the only patents in the row. The girl who polished them in the morning picked them out for me.'

Trent bent down and studied the faint marks keenly. 'Good!' he said. 'You have covered a lot of ground, Murch, I must say. That was excellent about the whisky; you made your point finely. I felt inclined to shout "Encore!" It's a thing that I shall have to think over.'

'I thought you might have fitted it in already,' said Mr. Murch. 'Come, Mr. Trent, we're only at the beginning of our enquiries, but what do you say to this for a preliminary theory? There's a plan of burglary, say a couple of men in it and Martin squared. They know where the plate is, and all about the handy little bits of stuff in the drawing-room and elsewhere. They watch the house; see Manderson off to bed; Martin comes to shut the window, and leaves it ajar, accidentally on purpose. They wait till Martin goes to bed at twelve-thirty; then they just walk into the library, and begin to sample the whisky first thing. Now suppose Manderson isn't asleep, and suppose they make a noise opening the window, or however it might be. He hears it; thinks of burglars; gets up very quietly to see if anything's wrong; creeps down on them, perhaps, just as they're getting ready for work. They cut and run; he chases them down to the shed, and collars one; there's a fight; one of them loses his temper and his head, and makes a swinging job of it. Now, Mr. Trent, pick that to pieces.'

'Very well,' said Trent; 'just to oblige you, Murch, especially as I know you don't believe a word of it. First: no traces of any kind left by your burglar or burglars, and the window found fastened in the morning, according to Martin. Not much force in that, I allow. Next: nobody in the house hears anything of this stampede through the library, nor hears any shout from Manderson either inside the house or outside. Next: Manderson goes down without a word to anybody, though Bunner and Martin are both at hand. Next: did you ever hear, in your long experience, of a householder getting up in the night to pounce on burglars, who dressed himself fully, with underclothing, shirt; collar and tie, trousers, waistcoat and coat, socks and hard leather shoes; and who gave the finishing touches to a somewhat dandified toilet by doing his hair, and putting on his watch and chain? Personally, I call that over-dressing the part. The only decorative detail he seems to have forgotten is his teeth.'

The inspector leaned forward thinking, his large hands clasped before him. 'No,' he said at last. 'Of course there's no help in that theory. I rather expect we have some way to go before we find out why a man gets up before the servants are awake, dresses himself awry, and is murdered within sight of his house early enough to be 'cold and stiff by ten in the morning.'

Trent shook his head. 'We can't build anything on that last consideration. I've gone into the subject with people who know. I shouldn't wonder,' he added, 'if the traditional notions about loss of temperature and rigour after death had occasionally brought an innocent man to the gallows, or near it, Dr. Stock has them all, I feel sure; most general practitioners of the older generation have. That Dr. Stock will make an ass of himself at the inquest, is almost as certain as that tomorrow's sun will rise. I've seen him. He will say the body must have been dead about so long, because of the degree of coldness and rigor mortis. I can see him nosing it all out in some textbook that was out of date when he was a student. Listen, Murch, and I will tell you some facts which will be a great hindrance to you in your professional career. There are many things that may hasten or retard the cooling of the body. This one was lying in the long dewy grass on the shady side of the shed. As for rigidity, if Manderson died in a struggle, or labouring under sudden emotion, his corpse might stiffen practically instantaneously; there are dozens of cases noted, particularly in cases of injury to the skull, like this one. On the other hand, the stiffening might not have begun until eight or ten hours after death. You can't hang anybody on rigor mortis nowadays, inspector, much as you may resent the limitation. No, what we can say is this. If he had been shot after the hour at which the world begins to get up and go about its business, it would have been heard, and very likely seen too. In fact, we must reason, to begin with, at any rate, on the assumption that he wasn't shot at a time when people might be awake; it isn't done in these parts. Put that time at 6.30 a.m. Manderson went up to bed at 11 p.m., and Martin sat up till 12.30. Assuming that he went to sleep at once on turning in, that leaves us something like six hours for the crime to be committed in; and that is a long time. But whenever it took place, I wish you would suggest a reason why Manderson, who was a fairly late riser, was up and dressed at or before 6.30; and why neither Martin, who sleeps lightly, nor Bunner, nor his wife heard him moving about, or letting himself out of the house. He must have been careful. He must have crept about like a cat. Do you feel as I do, Murch, about all this; that it is very, very strange and baffling?'

'That's how it looks,' agreed the inspector.

'And now,' said Trent, rising to his feet, 'I'll leave you to your meditations, and take a look at the bedrooms. Perhaps the explanation of all this will suddenly burst upon you while I am poking about up there. But,' concluded Trent in a voice of sudden exasperation, turning round in the doorway, 'if you can tell me at any time, how under the sun a man who put on all those clothes could forget to put in his teeth, you may kick me from here to the nearest lunatic asylum, and hand me over as an incipient dement.'

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