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Trent's Last Case By E. C. Bentley Characters: 63815

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


An old oaken desk with a deep body stood by the window in a room that overlooked St. James's Park from a height. The room was large, furnished and decorated by some one who had brought taste to the work; but the hand of the bachelor lay heavy upon it. John Marlowe unlocked the desk and drew a long, stout envelope from the back of the well.

'I understand,' he said to Mr. Cupples, 'that you have read this.'

'I read it for the first time two days ago,' replied Mr. Cupples, who, seated on a sofa, was peering about the room with a benignant face. 'We have discussed it fully.'

Marlowe turned to Trent. 'There is your manuscript,' he said, laying the envelope on the table. 'I have gone over it three times. I do not believe there is another man who could have got at as much of the truth as you have set down there.'

Trent ignored the compliment. He sat by the table gazing stonily at the fire, his long legs twisted beneath his chair. 'You mean, of course, he said, drawing the envelope towards him, 'that there is more of the truth to be disclosed now. We are ready to hear you as soon as you like. I expect it will be a long story, and the longer the better, so far as I am concerned; I want to understand thoroughly. What we should both like, I think, is some preliminary account of Manderson and your relations with him. It seemed to me from the first that the character of the dead man must be somehow an element in the business.'

'You were right, Marlowe answered grimly. He crossed the room and seated himself on a corner of the tall cushion-topped fender. 'I will begin as you suggest.'

'I ought to tell you beforehand, said Trent, looking him in the eyes, 'that although I am here to listen to you, I have not as yet any reason to doubt the conclusions I have stated here.' He tapped the envelope. 'It is a defence that you will be putting forward-you understand that?'

'Perfectly.' Marlowe was cool and in complete possession of himself, a man different indeed from the worn-out, nervous being Trent remembered at Marlstone a year and a half ago. His tall, lithe figure was held with the perfection of muscular tone. His brow was candid, his blue eyes were clear, though they still had, as he paused collecting his ideas, the look that had troubled Trent at their first meeting. Only the lines of his mouth showed that he knew himself in a position of difficulty, and meant to face it.

'Sigsbee Manderson was not a man of normal mind,' Marlowe began in his quiet voice. 'Most of the very rich men I met with in America had become so by virtue of abnormal greed, or abnormal industry, or abnormal personal force, or abnormal luck. None of them had remarkable intellects. Manderson delighted too in heaping up wealth; he worked incessantly at it; he was a man of dominant will; he had quite his share of luck; but what made him singular was his brainpower. In his own country they would perhaps tell you that it was his ruthlessness in pursuit of his aims that was his most striking characteristic; but there are hundreds of them who would have carried out his plans with just as little consideration for others if they could have formed the plans.

'I'm not saying Americans aren't clever; they are ten times cleverer than we are, as a nation; but I never met another who showed such a degree of sagacity and foresight, such gifts of memory and mental tenacity, such sheer force of intelligence, as there was behind everything Manderson did in his money-making career. They called him the "Napoleon of Wall Street" often enough in the papers; but few people knew so well as I did how much truth there was in the phrase. He seemed never to forget a fact that might be of use to him, in the first place; and he did systematically with the business facts that concerned him what Napoleon did, as I have read, with military facts. He studied them in special digests which were prepared for him at short intervals, and which he always had at hand, so that he could take up his report on coal or wheat or railways, or whatever it might be, in any unoccupied moment. Then he could make a bolder and cleverer plan than any man of them all. People got to know that Manderson would never do the obvious thing, but they got no further; the thing he did do was almost always a surprise, and much of his success flowed from that. The Street got rattled, as they used to put it, when it was known that the old man was out with his gun, and often his opponents seemed to surrender as easily as Colonel Crockett's coon in the story. The scheme I am going to describe to you would have occupied most men long enough. Manderson could have plotted the thing, down to the last detail, while he shaved himself.

'I used to think that his strain of Indian blood, remote as it was, might have something to do with the cunning and ruthlessness of the man. Strangely enough, its existence was unknown to any one but himself and me. It was when he asked me to apply my taste for genealogical work to his own obscure family history that I made the discovery that he had in him a share of the blood of the Iroquois chief Montour and his French wife, a terrible woman who ruled the savage politics of the tribes of the Wilderness two hundred years ago. The Mandersons were active in the fur trade on the Pennsylvanian border in those days, and more than one of them married Indian women. Other Indian blood than Montour's may have descended to Manderson, for all I can say, through previous and subsequent unions; some of the wives' antecedents were quite untraceable, and there were so many generations of pioneering before the whole country was brought under civilization. My researches left me with the idea that there is a very great deal of the aboriginal blood present in the genealogical make-up of the people of America, and that it is very widely spread. The newer families have constantly intermarried with the older, and so many of them had a strain of the native in them-and were often rather proud of it, too, in those days. But Manderson had the idea about the disgracefulness of mixed blood, which grew much stronger, I fancy, with the rise of the negro question after the war. He was thunderstruck at what I told him, and was anxious to conceal it from every soul. Of course I never gave it away while he lived, and I don't think he supposed I would; but I have thought since that his mind took a turn against me from that time onward. It happened about a year before his death.'

'Had Manderson,' asked Mr. Cupples, so unexpectedly that the others started, 'any definable religious attitude?'

Marlowe considered a moment. 'None that ever I heard of,' he said. 'Worship and prayer were quite unknown to him, so far as I could see, and I never heard him mention religion. I should doubt if he had any real sense of God at all, or if he was capable of knowing God through the emotions. But I understood that as a child he had had a religious upbringing with a strong moral side to it. His private life was, in the usual limited sense, blameless. He was almost ascetic in his habits, except as to smoking. I lived with him four years without ever knowing him to tell a direct verbal falsehood, constantly as he used to practise deceit in other forms. Can you understand the soul of a man who never hesitated to take steps that would have the effect of hoodwinking people, who would use every trick of the markets to mislead, and who was at the same time scrupulous never to utter a direct lie on the most insignificant matter? Manderson was like that, and he was not the only one. I suppose you might compare the state of mind to that of a soldier who is personally a truthful man, but who will stick at nothing to deceive the enemy. The rules of the game allow it; and the same may be said of business as many business men regard it. Only with them it is always wartime.'

'It is a sad world,' observed Mr. Cupples.

'As you say,' Marlowe agreed. 'Now I was saying that one could always take Manderson's word if he gave it in a definite form. The first time I ever heard him utter a downright lie was on the night he died; and hearing it, I believe, saved me from being hanged as his murderer.'

Marlowe stared at the light above his head and Trent moved impatiently in his chair. 'Before we come to that,' he said, 'will you tell us exactly on what footing you were with Manderson during the years you were with him?'

'We were on very good terms from beginning to end,' answered Marlowe. 'Nothing like friendship-he was not a man for making friends-but the best of terms as between a trusted employee and his chief. I went to him as private secretary just after getting my degree at Oxford. I was to have gone into my father's business, where I am now, but my father suggested that I should see the world for a year or two. So I took this secretaryship, which seemed to promise a good deal of varied experience, and I had let the year or two run on to four years before the end came. The offer came to me through the last thing in the world I should have put forward as a qualification for a salaried post, and that was chess.'

At the word Trent struck his hands together with a muttered exclamation. The others looked at him in surprise.

'Chess!' repeated Trent. 'Do you know,' he said, rising and approaching Marlowe, 'what was the first thing I noted about you at our first meeting? It was your eye, Mr. Marlowe. I couldn't place it then, but I know now where I had seen your eyes before. They were in the head of no less a man than the great Nikolay Korchagin, with whom I once sat in the same railway carriage for two days. I thought I should never forget the chess eye after that, but I could not put a name to it when I saw it in you. I beg your pardon,' he ended suddenly, resuming marmoreal attitude in his chair.

'I have played the game from my childhood, and with good players,' said Marlowe simply. 'It is an hereditary gift, if you can call it a gift. At the University I was nearly as good as anybody there, and I gave most of my brains to that and the OUDS and playing about generally. At Oxford, as I dare say you know, inducements to amuse oneself at the expense of one's education are endless, and encouraged by the authorities. Well, one day toward the end of my last term, Dr Munro of Queen's, whom I had never defeated, sent for me. He told me that I played a fairish game of chess. I said it was very good of him to say so. Then he said, "They tell me you hunt, too." I said, "Now and then." He asked, "Is there anything else you can do?" "No," I said, not much liking the tone of the conversation-the old man generally succeeded in putting people's backs up. He grunted fiercely, and then told me that enquiries were being made on behalf of a wealthy American man of business who wanted an English secretary. Manderson was the name, he said. He seemed never to have heard it before, which was quite possible, as he never opened a newspaper and had not slept a night outside the college for thirty years. If I could rub up my spelling-as the old gentleman put it-I might have a good chance for the post, as chess and riding and an Oxford education were the only indispensable points.

'Well, I became Manderson's secretary. For a long time I liked the position greatly. When one is attached to an active American plutocrat in the prime of life one need not have many dull moments. Besides, it made me independent. My father had some serious business reverses about that time, and I was glad to be able to do without an allowance from him. At the end of the first year Manderson doubled my salary. "It's big money," he said, "but I guess I don't lose." You see, by that time I was doing a great deal more than accompany him on horseback in the morning and play chess in the evening, which was mainly what he had required. I was attending to his houses, his farm in Ohio, his shooting in Maine, his horses, his cars, and his yacht. I had become a walking railway-guide and an expert cigar-buyer. I was always learning something.

'Well, now you understand what my position was in regard to Manderson during the last two or three years of my connection with him. It was a happy life for me on the whole. I was busy, my work was varied and interesting; I had time to amuse myself too, and money to spend. At one time I made a fool of myself about a girl, and that was not a happy time; but it taught me to understand the great goodness of Mrs. Manderson.' Marlowe inclined his head to Mr. Cupples as he said this. 'She may choose to tell you about it. As for her husband, he had never varied in his attitude towards me, in spite of the change that came over him in the last months of his life, as you know. He treated me well and generously in his unsympathetic way, and I never had a feeling that he was less than satisfied with his bargain-that was the sort of footing we lived upon. And it was that continuance of his attitude right up to the end that made the revelation so shocking when I was suddenly shown, on the night on which he met his end, the depth of crazy hatred of myself that was in Manderson's soul.'

The eyes of Trent and Mr. Cupples met for an instant.

'You never suspected that he hated you before that time?' asked Trent; and Mr. Cupples asked at the same moment, 'To what did you attribute it?'

'I never guessed until that night,' answered Marlowe, 'that he had the smallest ill-feeling toward me. How long it had existed I do not know. I cannot imagine why it was there. I was forced to think, when I considered the thing in those awful days after his death, that it was a case of a madman's delusion, that he believed me to be plotting against him, as they so often do. Some such insane conviction must have been at the root of it. But who can sound the abysses of a lunatic's fancy? Can you imagine the state of mind in which a man dooms himself to death with the object of delivering some one he hates to the hangman?'

Mr. Cupples moved sharply in his chair. 'You say Manderson was responsible for his own death?' he asked.

Trent glanced at him with an eye of impatience, and resumed his intent watch upon the face of Marlowe. In the relief of speech it was now less pale and drawn.

'I do say so,' Marlowe answered concisely, and looked his questioner in the face. Mr. Cupples nodded.

'Before we proceed to the elucidation of your statement,' observed the old gentleman, in a tone of one discussing a point of abstract science, 'it may be remarked that the state of mind which you attribute to Manderson-'

'Suppose we have the story first,' Trent interrupted, gently laying a hand on Mr. Cupples's arm. 'You were telling us,' he went on, turning to Marlowe, 'how things stood between you and Manderson. Now will you tell us the facts of what happened that night?'

Marlowe flushed at the barely perceptible emphasis which Trent laid upon the word 'facts'. He drew himself up.

'Bunner and myself dined with Mr. and Mrs. Manderson that Sunday evening,' he began, speaking carefully. 'It was just like other dinners at which the four of us had been together. Manderson was taciturn and gloomy, as we had latterly been accustomed to see him. We others kept a conversation going. We rose from the table, I suppose, about nine. Mrs. Manderson went to the drawing-room, and Bunner went up to the hotel to see an acquaintance. Manderson asked me to come into the orchard behind the house, saying he wished to have a talk. We paced up and down the pathway there, out of earshot from the house, and Manderson, as he smoked his cigar, spoke to me in his cool, deliberate way. He had never seemed more sane, or more well-disposed to me. He said he wanted me to do him an important service. There was a big thing on. It was a secret affair. Bunner knew nothing of it, and the less I knew the better. He wanted me to do exactly as he directed, and not bother my head about reasons.

'This, I may say, was quite characteristic of Manderson's method of going to work. If at times he required a man to be a mere tool in his hand, he would tell him so. He had used me in the same kind of way a dozen times. I assured him he could rely on me, and said I was ready. "Right now?" he asked. I said of course I was.

'He nodded, and said-I tell you his words as well as I can recollect them-attend to this. "There is a man in England now who is in this thing with me. He was to have left tomorrow for Paris by the noon boat from Southampton to Havre. His name is George Harris-at least that's the name he is going by. Do you remember that name?" "Yes," I said, "when I went up to London a week ago you asked me to book a cabin in that name on the boat that goes tomorrow. I gave you the ticket." "Here it is," he said, producing it from his pocket.

'"Now," Manderson said to me, poking his cigar-butt at me with each sentence in a way he used to have, "George Harris cannot leave England tomorrow. I find I shall want him where he is. And I want Bunner where he is. But somebody has got to go by that boat and take certain papers to Paris. Or else my plan is going to fall to pieces. Will you go?" I said, "Certainly. I am here to obey orders."

'He bit his cigar, and said, "That's all right; but these are not just ordinary orders. Not the kind of thing one can ask of a man in the ordinary way of his duty to an employer. The point is this. The deal I am busy with is one in which neither myself nor any one known to be connected with me must appear as yet. That is vital. But these people I am up against know your face as well as they know mine. If my secretary is known in certain quarters to have crossed to Paris at this time and to have interviewed certain people-and that would be known as soon as it happened-then the game is up." He threw away his cigar-end and looked at me questioningly.

'I didn't like it much, but I liked failing Manderson at a pinch still less. I spoke lightly. I said I supposed I should have to conceal my identity, and I would do my best. I told him I used to be pretty good at make-up.

'He nodded in approval. He said, "That's good. I judged you would not let me down." Then he gave me my instructions. "You take the car right now," he said, "and start for Southampton-there's no train that will fit in. You'll be driving all night. Barring accidents, you ought to get there by six in the morning. But whenever you arrive, drive straight to the Bedford Hotel and ask for George Harris. If he's there, tell him you are to go over instead of him, and ask him to telephone me here. It is very important he should know that at the earliest moment possible. But if he isn't there, that means he has got the instructions I wired today, and hasn't gone to Southampton. In that case you don't want to trouble about him any more, but just wait for the boat. You can leave the car at a garage under a fancy name-mine must not be given. See about changing your appearance-I don't care how, so you do it well. Travel by the boat as George Harris. Let on to be anything you like, but be careful, and don't talk much to anybody. When you arrive, take a room at the Hotel St Petersbourg. You will receive a note or message there, addressed to George Harris, telling you where to take the wallet I shall give you. The wallet is locked, and you want to take good care of it. Have you got that all clear?"

'I repeated the instructions. I asked if I should return from Paris after handing over the wallet. "As soon as you like," he said. "And mind this-whatever happens, don't communicate with me at any stage of the journey. If you don't get the message in Paris at once, just wait until you do-days, if necessary. But not a line of any sort to me. Understand? Now get ready as quick as you can. I'll go with you in the car a little way. Hurry."

'That is, as far as I can remember, the exact substance of what Manderson said to me that night. I went to my room, changed into day clothes, and hastily threw a few necessaries into a kit-bag. My mind was in a whirl, not so much at the nature of the business as at the suddenness of it. I think I remember telling you the last time we met'-he turned to Trent-'that Manderson shared the national fondness for doings things in a story-book style. Other things being equal, he delighted in a bit of mystification and melodrama, and I told myself that this was Manderson all over. I hurried downstairs with my bag and rejoined him in the library. He handed me a stout leather letter-case, about eight inches by six, fastened with a strap with a lock on it. I could just squeeze it into my side-pocket. Then I went to get the car from the garage behind the house.

'As I was bringing it round to the front a disconcerting thought struck me. I remembered that I had only a few shillings in my pocket.

'For some time past I had been keeping myself very short of cash, and for this reason-which I tell you because it is a vital point, as you shall see in a minute. I was living temporarily on borrowed money. I had always been careless about money while I was with Manderson, and being a gregarious animal I had made many friends, some of them belonging to a New York set that had little to do but get rid of the large incomes given them by their parents. Still, I was very well paid, and I was too busy even to attempt to go very far with them in that amusing occupation. I was still well on the right side of the ledger until I began, merely out of curiosity, to play at speculation. It's a very old story-particularly in Wall Street. I thought it was easy; I was lucky at first; I would always be prudent-and so on. Then came the day when I went out of my depth. In one week I was separated from my toll, as Bunner expressed it when I told him; and I owed money too. I had had my lesson. Now in this pass I went to Manderson and told him what I had done and how I stood. He heard me with a very grim smile, and then, with the nearest approach to sympathy I had ever found in him, he advanced me a sum on account of my salary that would clear me. "Don't play the markets any more," was all he said.

'Now on that Sunday night Manderson knew that I was practically without any money in the world. He knew that Bunner knew it too. He may have known that I had even borrowed a little more from Bunner for pocket-money until my next cheque was due, which, owing to my anticipation of my salary, would not have been a large one. Bear this knowledge of Manderson's in mind.

'As soon as I had brought the car round I went into the library and stated the difficulty to Manderson.

'What followed gave me, slight as it was, my first impression of something odd being afoot. As soon as I mentioned the word "expenses" his hand went mechanically to his left hip-pocket, where he always kept a little case containing notes to the value of about a hundred pounds in our money. This was such a rooted habit in him that I was astonished to see him check the movement suddenly. Then, to my greater amazement, he swore under his breath. I had never heard him do this before; but Bunner had told me that of late he had often shown irritation in this way when they were alone. "Has he mislaid his note-case?" was the question that flashed through my mind. But it seemed to me that it could not affect his plan at all, and I will tell you why. The week before, when I had gone up to London to carry out various commissions, including the booking of a berth for Mr. George Harris, I had drawn a thousand pounds for Manderson from his bankers, and all, at his request, in notes of small amounts. I did not know what this unusually large sum in cash was for, but I did know that the packets of notes were in his locked desk in the library, or had been earlier in the day, when I had seen him fingering them as he sat at the desk.

'But instead of turning to the desk, Manderson stood looking at me. There was fury in his face, and it was a strange sight to see him gradually master it until his eyes grew cold again. "Wait in the car," he said slowly. "I will get some money." We both went out, and as I was getting into my overcoat in the hall I saw him enter the drawing-room, which, you remember, was on the other side of the entrance hall.

'I stepped out on to the lawn before the house and smoked a cigarette, pacing up and down. I was asking myself again and again where that thousand pounds was; whether it was in the drawing-room, and if so, why. Presently, as I passed one of the drawing-room windows, I noticed Mrs Manderson's shadow on the thin silk curtain. She was standing at her escritoire. The window was open, and as I passed I heard her say, "I have not quite thirty pounds here. Will that be enough?" I did not hear the answer, but next moment Manderson's shadow was mingled with hers, and I heard the chink of money. Then, as he stood by the window, and as I was moving away, these words of his came to my ears-and these at least I can repeat exactly, for astonishment stamped them on my memory-"I'm going out now. Marlowe has persuaded me to go for a moonlight run in the car. He is very urgent about it. He says it will help me to sleep, and I guess he is right."

I have told you that in the course of four years I had never once heard Manderson utter a direct lie about anything, great or small. I believed that I understood the man's queer, skin-deep morality, and I could have sworn that if he was firmly pressed with a question that could not be evaded he would either refuse to answer or tell the truth. But what had I just heard? No answer to any question. A voluntary statement, precise in terms, that was utterly false. The unimaginable had happened. It was almost as if some one I knew well, in a moment of closest sympathy, had suddenly struck me in the face. The blood rushed to my head, and I stood still on the grass. I stood there until I heard his step at the front door, and then I pulled myself together and stepped quickly to the car. He handed me a banker's paper bag with gold and notes in it. "There's more than you'll want there," he said, and I pocketed it mechanically.

'For a minute or so I stood discussing with Manderson-it was by one of those tours de force of which one's mind is capable under great excitement-points about the route of the long drive before me. I had made the run several times by day, and I believe I spoke quite calmly and naturally about it. But while I spoke my mind was seething in a flood of suddenly born suspicion and fear. I did not know what I feared. I simply felt fear, somehow-I did not know how-connected with Manderson. My soul once opened to it, fear rushed in like an assaulting army. I felt-I knew-that something was altogether wrong and sinister, and I felt myself to be the object of it. Yet Manderson was surely no enemy of mine. Then my thoughts reached out wildly for an answer to the question why he had told that lie. And all the time the blood hammered in my ears, "Where is that money?" Reason struggled hard to set up the suggestion that the two things were not necessarily connected. The instinct of a man in danger would not listen to it. As we started, and the car took the curve into the road, it was merely the unconscious part of me that steered and controlled it, and that made occasional empty remarks as we slid along in the moonlight. Within me was a confusion and vague alarm that was far worse than any definite terror I ever felt.

'About a mile from the house, you remember, one passed on one's left a gate, on the other side of which was the golf-course. There Manderson said he would get down, and I stopped the car. "You've got it all clear?" he asked. With a sort of wrench I forced myself to remember and repeat the directions given me. "That's OK," he said. "Goodbye, then. Stay with that wallet." Those were the last words I heard him speak, as the car moved gently away from him.'

Marlowe rose from his chair and pressed his hands to his eyes. He was flushed with the excitement of his own narrative, and there was in his look a horror of recollection that held both the listeners silent. He shook himself with a movement like a dog's, and then, his hands behind him, stood erect before the fire as he continued his tale.

'I expect you both know what the back-reflector of a motor car is.'

Trent nodded quickly, his face alive with anticipation; but Mr. Cupples, who cherished a mild but obstinate prejudice against motor cars, readily confessed to ignorance.

'It is a small round or more often rectangular mirror,' Marlowe explained, 'rigged out from the right side of the screen in front of the driver, and adjusted in such a way that he can see, without turning round, if anything is coming up behind to pass him. It is quite an ordinary appliance, and there was one on this car. As the car moved on, and Manderson ceased speaking behind me, I saw in that mirror a thing that I wish I could forget.'

Marlowe was silent for a moment, staring at the wall before him.

'Manderson's face,' he said in a low tone. 'He was standing in the road, looking after me, only a few yards behind, and the moonlight was full on his face. The mirror happened to catch it for an instant.

'Physical habit is a wonderful thing. I did not shift hand or foot on the controlling mechanism of the car. Indeed, I dare say it steadied me against the shock to have myself braced to the business of driving. You have read in books, no doubt, of hell looking out of a man's eyes, but perhaps you don't know what a good metaphor that is. If I had not known Manderson was there, I should not have recognized the face. It was that of a madman, distorted, hideous in the imbecility of hate, the teeth bared in a simian grin of ferocity and triumph; the eyes.... In the little mirror I had this glimpse of the face alone. I saw nothing of whatever gesture there may have been as that writhing white mask glared after me. And I saw it only for a flash. The car went on, gathering speed, and as it went, my brain, suddenly purged of the vapours of doubt and perplexity, was as busy as the throbbing engine before my feet. I knew.

'You say something in that manuscript of yours, Mr. Trent, about the swift automatic way in which one's ideas arrange themselves about some new illuminating thought. It is quite true. The awful intensity of ill-will that had flamed after me from those straining eyeballs poured over my mind like a searchlight. I was thinking quite clearly now, and almost coldly, for I knew what-at least I knew whom-I had to fear, and instinct warned me that it was not a time to give room to the emotions that were fighting to possess me. The man hated me insanely. That incredible fact I suddenly knew. But the face had told me, it would have told anybody, more than that. It was a face of hatred gratified, it proclaimed some damnable triumph. It had gloated over me driving away to my fate. This too was plain to me. And to what fate?

'I stopped the car. It had gone about two hundred and fifty yards, and a sharp bend of the road hid the spot where I had set Manderson down. I lay back in the seat and thought it out. Something was to happen to me. In Paris? Probably-why else should I be sent there, with money and a ticket? But why Paris? That puzzled me, for I had no melodramatic ideas about Paris. I put the point aside for a moment. I turned to the other things that had roused my attention that evening. The lie about my "persuading him to go for a moonlight run". What was the intention of that? Manderson, I said to myself, will be returning without me while I am on my way to Southampton. What will he tell them about me? How account for his returning alone, and without the car? As I asked myself that sinister question there rushed into my mind the last of my difficulties: "Wh

ere are the thousand pounds?" And in the same instant came the answer: "The thousand pounds are in my pocket."

'I got up and stepped from the car. My knees trembled and I felt very sick. I saw the plot now, as I thought. The whole of the story about the papers and the necessity of their being taken to Paris was a blind. With Manderson's money about me, of which he would declare I had robbed him, I was, to all appearance, attempting to escape from England, with every precaution that guilt could suggest. He would communicate with the police at once, and would know how to put them on my track. I should be arrested in Paris, if I got so far, living under a false name, after having left the car under a false name, disguised myself, and travelled in a cabin which I had booked in advance, also under a false name. It would be plainly the crime of a man without money, and for some reason desperately in want of it. As for my account of the affair, it would be too preposterous.

'As this ghastly array of incriminating circumstances rose up before me, I dragged the stout letter-case from my pocket. In the intensity of the moment, I never entertained the faintest doubt that I was right, and that the money was there. It would easily hold the packets of notes. But as I felt it and weighed it in my hands it seemed to me there must be more than this. It was too bulky. What more was to be laid to my charge? After all, a thousand pounds was not much to tempt a man like myself to run the risk of penal servitude. In this new agitation, scarcely knowing what I did, I caught the surrounding strap in my fingers just above the fastening and tore the staple out of the lock. Those locks, you know, are pretty flimsy as a rule.'

Here Marlowe paused and walked to the oaken desk before the window. Opening a drawer full of miscellaneous objects, he took out a box of odd keys, and selected a small one distinguished by a piece of pink tape.

He handed it to Trent. 'I keep that by me as a sort of morbid memento. It is the key to the lock I smashed. I might have saved myself the trouble, if I had known that this key was at that moment in the left-hand side-pocket of my overcoat. Manderson must have slipped it in, either while the coat was hanging in the hall or while he sat at my side in the car. I might not have found the tiny thing there for weeks: as a matter of fact I did find it two days after Manderson was dead, but a police search would have found it in five minutes. And then I-I with the case and its contents in my pocket, my false name and my sham spectacles and the rest of it-I should have had no explanation to offer but the highly convincing one that I didn't know the key was there.'

Trent dangled the key by its tape idly. Then: 'How do you know this is the key of that case?' he asked quickly.

'I tried it. As soon as I found it I went up and fitted it to the lock. I knew where I had left the thing. So do you, I think, Mr. Trent. Don't you?' There was a faint shade of mockery in Marlowe's voice.

'Touché,' Trent said, with a dry smile. 'I found a large empty letter-case with a burst lock lying with other odds and ends on the dressing-table in Manderson's room. Your statement is that you put it there. I could make nothing of it.' He closed his lips.

'There was no reason for hiding it,' said Marlowe. 'But to get back to my story. I burst the lock of the strap. I opened the case before one of the lamps of the car. The first thing I found in it I ought to have expected, of course, but I hadn't.' He paused and glanced at Trent.

'It was-' began Trent mechanically, and then stopped himself. 'Try not to bring me in any more, if you don't mind,' he said, meeting the other's eye. 'I have complimented you already in that document on your cleverness. You need not prove it by making the judge help you out with your evidence.'

'All right,' agreed Marlowe. 'I couldn't resist just that much. If you had been in my place you would have known before I did that Manderson's little pocket-case was there. As soon as I saw it, of course, I remembered his not having had it about him when I asked for money, and his surprising anger. He had made a false step. He had already fastened his note-case up with the rest of what was to figure as my plunder, and placed it in my hands. I opened it. It contained a few notes as usual, I didn't count them.

'Tucked into the flaps of the big case in packets were the other notes, just as I had brought them from London. And with them were two small wash-leather bags, the look of which I knew well. My heart jumped sickeningly again, for this, too, was utterly unexpected. In those bags Manderson kept the diamonds in which he had been investing for some time past. I didn't open them; I could feel the tiny stones shifting under the pressure of my fingers. How many thousands of pounds' worth there were there I have no idea. We had regarded Manderson's diamond-buying as merely a speculative fad. I believe now that it was the earliest movement in the scheme for my ruin. For any one like myself to be represented as having robbed him, there ought to be a strong inducement shown. That had been provided with a vengeance.

'Now, I thought, I have the whole thing plain, and I must act. I saw instantly what I must do. I had left Manderson about a mile from the house. It would take him twenty minutes, fifteen if he walked fast, to get back to the house, where he would, of course, immediately tell his story of robbery, and probably telephone at once to the police in Bishopsbridge. I had left him only five or six minutes ago; for all that I have just told you was as quick thinking as I ever did. It would be easy to overtake him in the car before he neared the house. There would be an awkward interview. I set my teeth as I thought of it, and all my fears vanished as I began to savour the gratification of telling him my opinion of him. There are probably few people who ever positively looked forward to an awkward interview with Manderson; but I was mad with rage. My honour and my liberty had been plotted against with detestable treachery. I did not consider what would follow the interview. That would arrange itself.

'I had started and turned the car, I was already going fast toward White Gables, when I heard the sound of a shot in front of me, to the right.

'Instantly I stopped the car. My first wild thought was that Manderson was shooting at me. Then I realized that the noise had not been close at hand. I could see nobody on the road, though the moonlight flooded it. I had left Manderson at a spot just round the corner that was now about a hundred yards ahead of me. After half a minute or so, I started again, and turned the corner at a slow pace. Then I stopped again with a jar, and for a moment I sat perfectly still.

'Manderson lay dead a few steps from me on the turf within the gate, clearly visible to me in the moonlight.'

Marlowe made another pause, and Trent, with a puckered brow, enquired, 'On the golf-course?'

'Obviously,' remarked Mr. Cupples. 'The eighth green is just there.' He had grown more and more interested as Marlowe went on, and was now playing feverishly with his thin beard.

'On the green, quite close to the flag,' said Marlowe. 'He lay on his back, his arms were stretched abroad, his jacket and heavy overcoat were open; the light shone hideously on his white face and his shirt-front; it glistened on his bared teeth and one of the eyes. The other... you saw it. The man was certainly dead. As I sat there stunned, unable for the moment to think at all, I could even see a thin dark line of blood running down from the shattered socket to the ear. Close by lay his soft black hat, and at his feet a pistol.

'I suppose it was only a few seconds that I sat helplessly staring at the body. Then I rose and moved to it with dragging feet; for now the truth had come to me at last, and I realized the fullness of my appalling danger. It was not only my liberty or my honour that the maniac had undermined. It was death that he had planned for me; death with the degradation of the scaffold. To strike me down with certainty, he had not hesitated to end his life; a life which was, no doubt, already threatened by a melancholic impulse to self-destruction; and the last agony of the suicide had been turned, perhaps, to a devilish joy by the thought that he dragged down my life with his. For as far as I could see at the moment my situation was utterly hopeless. If it had been desperate on the assumption that Manderson meant to denounce me as a thief, what was it now that his corpse denounced me as a murderer?

'I picked up the revolver and saw, almost without emotion, that it was my own. Manderson had taken it from my room, I suppose, while I was getting out the car. At the same moment I remembered that it was by Manderson's suggestion that I had had it engraved with my initials, to distinguish it from a precisely similar weapon which he had of his own.

'I bent over the body and satisfied myself that there was no life left in it. I must tell you here that I did not notice, then or afterwards, the scratches and marks on the wrists, which were taken as evidence of a struggle with an assailant. But I have no doubt that Manderson deliberately injured himself in this way before firing the shot; it was a part of his plan.

'Though I never perceived that detail, however, it was evident enough as I looked at the body that Manderson had not forgotten, in his last act on earth, to tie me tighter by putting out of court the question of suicide. He had clearly been at pains to hold the pistol at arm's length, and there was not a trace of smoke or of burning on the face. The wound was absolutely clean, and was already ceasing to bleed outwardly. I rose and paced the green, reckoning up the points in the crushing case against me.

'I was the last to be seen with Manderson. I had persuaded him-so he had lied to his wife and, as I afterwards knew, to the butler-to go with me for the drive from which he never returned. My pistol had killed him. It was true that by discovering his plot I had saved myself from heaping up further incriminating facts-flight, concealment, the possession of the treasure. But what need of them, after all? As I stood, what hope was there? What could I do?'

Marlowe came to the table and leaned forward with his hands upon it. 'I want,' he said very earnestly, 'to try to make you understand what was in my mind when I decided to do what I did. I hope you won't be bored, because I must do it. You may both have thought I acted like a fool. But after all the police never suspected me. I walked that green for a quarter of an hour, I suppose, thinking the thing out like a game of chess. I had to think ahead and think coolly; for my safety depended on upsetting the plans of one of the longest-headed men who ever lived. And remember that, for all I knew, there were details of the scheme still hidden from me, waiting to crush me.

'Two plain courses presented themselves at once. Either of them, I thought, would certainly prove fatal. I could, in the first place, do the completely straightforward thing: take back the dead man, tell my story, hand over the notes and diamonds, and trust to the saving power of truth and innocence. I could have laughed as I thought of it. I saw myself bringing home the corpse and giving an account of myself, boggling with sheer shame over the absurdity of my wholly unsupported tale, as I brought a charge of mad hatred and fiendish treachery against a man who had never, as far as I knew, had a word to say against me. At every turn the cunning of Manderson had forestalled me. His careful concealment of such a hatred was a characteristic feature of the stratagem; only a man of his iron self-restraint could have done it. You can see for yourselves how every fact in my statement would appear, in the shadow of Manderson's death, a clumsy lie. I tried to imagine myself telling such a story to the counsel for my defence. I could see the face with which he would listen to it; I could read in the lines of it his thought, that to put forward such an impudent farrago would mean merely the disappearance of any chance there might be of a commutation of the capital sentence.

'True, I had not fled. I had brought back the body; I had handed over the property. But how did that help me? It would only suggest that I had yielded to a sudden funk after killing my man, and had no nerve left to clutch at the fruits of the crime; it would suggest, perhaps, that I had not set out to kill but only to threaten, and that when I found that I had done murder the heart went out of me. Turn it which way I would, I could see no hope of escape by this plan of action.

'The second of the obvious things that I might do was to take the hint offered by the situation, and to fly at once. That too must prove fatal. There was the body. I had no time to hide it in such a way that it would not be found at the first systematic search. But whatever I should do with the body, Manderson's not returning to the house would cause uneasiness in two or three hours at most. Martin would suspect an accident to the car, and would telephone to the police. At daybreak the roads would be scoured and enquiries telegraphed in every direction. The police would act on the possibility of there being foul play. They would spread their nets with energy in such a big business as the disappearance of Manderson. Ports and railway termini would be watched. Within twenty-four hours the body would be found, and the whole country would be on the alert for me-all Europe, scarcely less; I did not believe there was a spot in Christendom where the man accused of Manderson's murder could pass unchallenged, with every newspaper crying the fact of his death into the ears of all the world. Every stranger would be suspect; every man, woman, and child would be a detective. The car, wherever I should abandon it, would put people on my track. If I had to choose between two utterly hopeless courses, I decided, I would take that of telling the preposterous truth.

'But now I cast about desperately for some tale that would seem more plausible than the truth. Could I save my neck by a lie? One after another came into my mind; I need not trouble to remember them now. Each had its own futilities and perils; but every one split upon the fact-or what would be taken for fact-that I had induced Manderson to go out with me, and the fact that he had never returned alive. Notion after notion I swiftly rejected as I paced there by the dead man, and doom seemed to settle down upon me more heavily as the moments passed. Then a strange thought came to me.

'Several times I had repeated to myself half-consciously, as a sort of refrain, the words in which I had heard Manderson tell his wife that I had induced him to go out. "Marlowe has persuaded me to go for a moonlight run in the car. He is very urgent about it." All at once it struck me that, without meaning to do so, I was saying this in Manderson's voice.

'As you found out for yourself, Mr. Trent, I have a natural gift of mimicry. I had imitated Manderson's voice many times so successfully as to deceive even Bunner, who had been much more in his company than his own wife. It was, you remember'-Marlowe turned to Mr. Cupples-'a strong, metallic voice, of great carrying power, so unusual as to make it a very fascinating voice to imitate, and at the same time very easy. I said the words carefully to myself again, like this-' he uttered them, and Mr. Cupples opened his eyes in amazement-'and then I struck my hand upon the low wall beside me. "Manderson never returned alive?" I said aloud. "But Manderson shall return alive!"'

'In thirty seconds the bare outline of the plan was complete in my mind. I did not wait to think over details. Every instant was precious now. I lifted the body and laid it on the floor of the car, covered with a rug. I took the hat and the revolver. Not one trace remained on the green, I believe, of that night's work. As I drove back to White Gables my design took shape before me with a rapidity and ease that filled me with a wild excitement. I should escape yet! It was all so easy if I kept my pluck. Putting aside the unusual and unlikely, I should not fail. I wanted to shout, to scream!

'Nearing the house I slackened speed, and carefully reconnoitred the road. Nothing was moving. I turned the car into the open field on the other side of the road, about twenty paces short of the little door at the extreme corner of the grounds. I brought it to rest behind a stack. When, with Manderson's hat on my head and the pistol in my pocket, I had staggered with the body across the moonlit road and through that door, I left much of my apprehension behind me. With swift action and an unbroken nerve I thought I ought to succeed.'

With a long sigh Marlowe threw himself into one of the deep chairs at the fireside and passed his handkerchief over his damp forehead. Each of his hearers, too, drew a deep breath, but not audibly.

'Everything else you know,' he said. He took a cigarette from a box beside him and lighted it. Trent watched the very slight quiver of the hand that held the match, and privately noted that his own was at the moment not so steady.

'The shoes that betrayed me to you,' pursued Marlowe after a short silence, 'were painful all the time I wore them, but I never dreamed that they had given anywhere. I knew that no footstep of mine must appear by any accident in the soft ground about the hut where I laid the body, or between the hut and the house, so I took the shoes off and crammed my feet into them as soon as I was inside the little door. I left my own shoes, with my own jacket and overcoat, near the body, ready to be resumed later. I made a clear footmark on the soft gravel outside the French window, and several on the drugget round the carpet. The stripping off of the outer clothing of the body, and the dressing of it afterwards in the brown suit and shoes, and putting the things into the pockets, was a horrible business; and getting the teeth out of the mouth was worse. The head-but you don't want to hear about it. I didn't feel it much at the time. I was wriggling my own head out of a noose, you see. I wish I had thought of pulling down the cuffs, and had tied the shoes more neatly. And putting the watch in the wrong pocket was a bad mistake. It had all to be done so hurriedly.

'You were wrong, by the way, about the whisky. After one stiffish drink I had no more; but I filled up a flask that was in the cupboard, and pocketed it. I had a night of peculiar anxiety and effort in front of me and I didn't know how I should stand it. I had to take some once or twice during the drive. Speaking of that, you give rather a generous allowance of time in your document for doing that run by night. You say that to get to Southampton by half-past six in that car, under the conditions, a man must, even if he drove like a demon, have left Marlstone by twelve at latest. I had not got the body dressed in the other suit, with tie and watch-chain and so forth, until nearly ten minutes past; and then I had to get to the car and start it going. But then I don't suppose any other man would have taken the risks I did in that car at night, without a headlight. It turns me cold to think of it now.

'There's nothing much to say about what I did in the house. I spent the time after Martin had left me in carefully thinking over the remaining steps in my plan, while I unloaded and thoroughly cleaned the revolver using my handkerchief and a penholder from the desk. I also placed the packets of notes, the note-case, and the diamonds in the roll-top desk, which I opened and relocked with Manderson's key. When I went upstairs it was a trying moment, for though I was safe from the eyes of Martin, as he sat in his pantry, there was a faint possibility of somebody being about on the bedroom floor. I had sometimes found the French maid wandering about there when the other servants were in bed. Bunner, I knew, was a deep sleeper. Mrs. Manderson, I had gathered from things I had heard her say, was usually asleep by eleven; I had thought it possible that her gift of sleep had helped her to retain all her beauty and vitality in spite of a marriage which we all knew was an unhappy one. Still it was uneasy work mounting the stairs, and holding myself ready to retreat to the library again at the least sound from above. But nothing happened.

'The first thing I did on reaching the corridor was to enter my room and put the revolver and cartridges back in the case. Then I turned off the light and went quietly into Manderson's room.

'What I had to do there you know. I had to take off the shoes and put them outside the door, leave Manderson's jacket, waistcoat, trousers, and black tie, after taking everything out of the pockets, select a suit and tie and shoes for the body, and place the dental plate in the bowl, which I moved from the washing-stand to the bedside, leaving those ruinous finger-marks as I did so. The marks on the drawer must have been made when I shut it after taking out the tie. Then I had to lie down in the bed and tumble it. You know all about it-all except my state of mind, which you couldn't imagine and I couldn't describe.

'The worst came when I had hardly begun my operations: the moment when Mrs Manderson spoke from the room where I supposed her asleep. I was prepared for it happening; it was a possibility; but I nearly lost my nerve all the same. However....

'By the way, I may tell you this: in the extremely unlikely contingency of Mrs. Manderson remaining awake, and so putting out of the question my escape by way of her window, I had planned simply to remain where I was a few hours, and then, not speaking to her, to leave the house quickly and quietly by the ordinary way. Martin would have been in bed by that time. I might have been heard to leave, but not seen. I should have done just as I had planned with the body, and then made the best time I could in the car to Southampton. The difference would have been that I couldn't have furnished an unquestionable alibi by turning up at the hotel at 6.30. I should have made the best of it by driving straight to the docks, and making my ostentatious enquiries there. I could in any case have got there long before the boat left at noon. I couldn't see that anybody could suspect me of the supposed murder in any case; but if any one had, and if I hadn't arrived until ten o'clock, say, I shouldn't have been able to answer, "It is impossible for me to have got to Southampton so soon after shooting him." I should simply have had to say I was delayed by a breakdown after leaving Manderson at half-past ten, and challenged any one to produce any fact connecting me with the crime. They couldn't have done it. The pistol, left openly in my room, might have been used by anybody, even if it could be proved that that particular pistol was used. Nobody could reasonably connect me with the shooting so long as it was believed that it was Manderson who had returned to the house. The suspicion could not, I was confident, enter any one's mind. All the same, I wanted to introduce the element of absolute physical impossibility; I knew I should feel ten times as safe with that. So when I knew from the sound of her breathing that Mrs. Manderson was asleep again, I walked quickly across her room in my stocking feet, and was on the grass with my bundle in ten seconds. I don't think I made the least noise. The curtain before the window was of soft, thick stuff and didn't rustle, and when I pushed the glass doors further open there was not a sound.'

'Tell me,' said Trent, as the other stopped to light a new cigarette, 'why you took the risk of going through Mrs. Manderson's room to escape from the house. I could see when I looked into the thing on the spot why it had to be on that side of the house; there was a danger of being seen by Martin, or by some servant at a bedroom window, if you got out by a window on one of the other sides. But there were three unoccupied rooms on that side; two spare bedrooms and Mrs. Manderson's sitting-room. I should have thought it would have been safer, after you had done what was necessary to your plan in Manderson's room, to leave it quietly and escape through one of those three rooms.... The fact that you went through her window, you know,' he added coldly, 'would have suggested, if it became known, various suspicions in regard to the lady herself. I think you understand me.'

Marlowe turned upon him with a glowing face. 'And I think you will understand me, Mr. Trent,' he said in a voice that shook a little, 'when I say that if such a possibility had occurred to me then, I would have taken any risk rather than make my escape by that way.... Oh well!' he went on more coolly, 'I suppose that to any one who didn't know her, the idea of her being privy to her husband's murder might not seem so indescribably fatuous. Forgive the expression.' He looked attentively at the burning end of his cigarette, studiously unconscious of the red flag that flew in Trent's eyes for an instant at his words and the tone of them.

That emotion, however, was conquered at once. 'Your remark is perfectly just,' Trent said with answering coolness. 'I can quite believe, too, that at the time you didn't think of the possibility I mentioned. But surely, apart from that, it would have been safer to do as I said; go by the window of an unoccupied room.'

'Do you think so?' said Marlowe. 'All I can say is, I hadn't the nerve to do it. I tell you, when I entered Manderson's room I shut the door of it on more than half my terrors. I had the problem confined before me in a closed space, with only one danger in it, and that a known danger: the danger of Mrs. Manderson. The thing was almost done; I had only to wait until she was certainly asleep after her few moments of waking up, for which, as I told you, I was prepared as a possibility. Barring accidents, the way was clear. But now suppose that I, carrying Manderson's clothes and shoes, had opened that door again and gone in my shirt-sleeves and socks to enter one of the empty rooms. The moonlight was flooding the corridor through the end window. Even if my face was concealed, nobody could mistake my standing figure for Manderson's. Martin might be going about the house in his silent way. Bunner might come out of his bedroom. One of the servants who were supposed to be in bed might come round the corner from the other passage-I had found Célestine prowling about quite as late as it was then. None of these things was very likely; but they were all too likely for me. They were uncertainties. Shut off from the household in Manderson's room I knew exactly what I had to face. As I lay in my clothes in Manderson's bed and listened for the almost inaudible breathing through the open door, I felt far more ease of mind, terrible as my anxiety was, than I had felt since I saw the dead body on the turf. I even congratulated myself that I had had the chance, through Mrs Manderson's speaking to me, of tightening one of the screws in my scheme by repeating the statement about my having been sent to Southampton.'

Marlowe looked at Trent, who nodded as who should say that his point was met.

'As for Southampton,' pursued Marlowe, 'you know what I did when I got there, I have no doubt. I had decided to take Manderson's story about the mysterious Harris and act it out on my own lines. It was a carefully prepared lie, better than anything I could improvise. I even went so far as to get through a trunk call to the hotel at Southampton from the library before starting, and ask if Harris was there. As I expected, he wasn't.'

'Was that why you telephoned?' Trent enquired quickly.

'The reason for telephoning was to get myself into an attitude in which Martin couldn't see my face or anything but the jacket and hat, yet which was a natural and familiar attitude. But while I was about it, it was obviously better to make a genuine call. If I had simply pretended to be telephoning, the people at the exchange could have told at once that there hadn't been a call from White Gables that night.'

'One of the first things I did was to make that enquiry,' said Trent. 'That telephone call, and the wire you sent from Southampton to the dead man to say Harris hadn't turned up, and you were returning-I particularly appreciated both those.'

A constrained smile lighted Marlowe's face for a moment. 'I don't know that there's anything more to tell. I returned to Marlstone, and faced your friend the detective with such nerve as I had left. The worst was when I heard you had been put on the case-no, that wasn't the worst. The worst was when I saw you walk out of the shrubbery the next day, coming away from the shed where I had laid the body. For one ghastly moment I thought you were going to give me in charge on the spot. Now I've told you everything, you don't look so terrible.'

He closed his eyes, and there was a short silence. Then Trent got suddenly to his feet.

'Cross-examination?' enquired Marlowe, looking at him gravely.

'Not at all,' said Trent, stretching his long limbs. 'Only stiffness of the legs. I don't want to ask any questions. I believe what you have told us. I don't believe it simply because I always liked your face, or because it saves awkwardness, which are the most usual reasons for believing a person, but because my vanity will have it that no man could lie to me steadily for an hour without my perceiving it. Your story is an extraordinary one; but Manderson was an extraordinary man, and so are you. You acted like a lunatic in doing what you did; but I quite agree with you that if you had acted like a sane man you wouldn't have had the hundredth part of a dog's chance with a judge and jury. One thing is beyond dispute on any reading of the affair: you are a man of courage.'

The colour rushed into Marlowe's face, and he hesitated for words. Before he could speak Mr. Cupples arose with a dry cough.

'For my part,' he said, 'I never supposed you guilty for a moment.' Marlowe turned to him in grateful amazement, Trent with an incredulous stare. 'But,' pursued Mr. Cupples, holding up his hand, 'there is one question which I should like to put.'

Marlowe bowed, saying nothing.

'Suppose,' said Mr. Cupples, 'that some one else had been suspected of the crime and put upon trial. What would you have done?'

'I think my duty was clear. I should have gone with my story to the lawyers for the defence, and put myself in their hands.'

Trent laughed aloud. Now that the thing was over, his spirits were rapidly becoming ungovernable. 'I can see their faces!' he said. 'As a matter of fact, though, nobody else was ever in danger. There wasn't a shred of evidence against any one. I looked up Murch at the Yard this morning, and he told me he had come round to Bunner's view, that it was a case of revenge on the part of some American black-hand gang. So there's the end of the Manderson case. Holy, suffering Moses! What an ass a man can make of himself when he thinks he's being preternaturally clever!' He seized the bulky envelope from the table and stuffed it into the heart of the fire. 'There's for you, old friend! For want of you the world's course will not fail. But look here! It's getting late-nearly seven, and Cupples and I have an appointment at half-past. We must go. Mr. Marlowe, goodbye.' He looked into the other's eyes. 'I am a man who has worked hard to put a rope round your neck. Considering the circumstances, I don't know whether you will blame me. Will you shake hands?'

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