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The Herapath Property By J. S. Fletcher Characters: 12078

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

is it murder?

It struck Selwood, afterwards, as a significant thing that it was neither he nor Mr. Tertius who took the first steps towards immediate action. Even as he spoke, Peggie was summoning the butler, and her orders were clear and precise.

"Kitteridge," she said quietly, "order Robson to bring the car round at once-as quickly as possible. In the meantime, send some coffee into the breakfast-room-breakfast itself must wait until we return. Make haste, Kitteridge."

Selwood turned on her with a doubtful look.

"You-you aren't going down there?" he asked.

"Of course I am!" she answered. "Do you think I should wait here-wondering what had happened? We will all go-come and have some coffee, both of you, while we wait for the car."

The two followed her into the breakfast-room and silently drank the coffee which she presently poured out for them. She, too, was silent, but when she had left the room to make ready for the drive Mr. Tertius turned to Selwood.

"You heard-what?" he asked.

"Nothing definite," answered Selwood. "All I heard was that Mr. Herapath was there, and there was something seriously wrong, and would we go down at once."

Mr. Tertius made no comment. He became thoughtful and abstracted, and remained so during the journey down to Kensington. Peggie, too, said nothing as they sped along; as for Selwood, he was wondering what had happened, and reflecting on this sudden stirring up of mystery. There was mystery within that car-in the person of Mr. Tertius. During his three weeks' knowledge of the Herapath household Selwood had constantly wondered who Mr. Tertius was, what his exact relationship was, what his position really was. He knew that he lived in Jacob Herapath's house, but in a sense he was not of the family. He seldom presented himself at Herapath's table, he was rarely seen about the house; Selwood remembered seeing him occasionally in Herapath's study or in Peggie Wynne's drawing-room. He had learnt sufficient to know that Mr. Tertius had rooms of his own in the house; two rooms in some upper region; one room on the ground-floor. Once Selwood had gained a peep into that ground-floor room, and had seen that it was filled with books, and that its table was crowded with papers, and he had formed the notion that Mr. Tertius was some book-worm or antiquary, to whom Jacob Herapath for some reason or other gave house-room. That he was no relation Selwood judged from the way in which he was always addressed by Herapath and by Peggie Wynne. To them as to all the servants he was Mr. Tertius-whether that was his surname or not, Selwood did not know.

There was nothing mysterious or doubtful about the great pile of buildings at which the automobile presently stopped. They were practical and concrete facts. Most people in London knew the famous Herapath Flats-they had aroused public interest from the time that their founder began building them.

Jacob Herapath, a speculator in real estate, had always cherished a notion of building a mass of high-class residential flats on the most modern lines. Nothing of the sort which he contemplated, he said, existed in London-when the opportunity came he would show the building world what could and should be done. The opportunity came when a parcel of land in Kensington fell into the market-Jacob Herapath made haste to purchase it, and he immediately began building on it. The result was a magnificent mass of buildings which possessed every advantage and convenience-to live in a Herapath flat was to live in luxury. Incidentally, no one could live in one who was not prepared to pay a rental of anything from five to fifteen hundred a year. The gross rental of the Herapath Flats was enormous-the net profits were enough to make even a wealthy man's mouth water. And Selwood, who already knew all this, wondered, as they drove away, where all this wealth would go if anything had really happened to its creator.

The entrance to the Herapath estate office was in an archway which led to one of the inner squares of the great buildings. When the car stopped at it, Selwood saw that there were police within the open doorway. One of them, an inspector, came forward, looking dubiously at Peggie Wynne. Selwood hastened out of the car and made for him.

"I'm Mr. Herapath's secretary-Mr. Selwood," he said, drawing the inspector out of earshot. "Is anything seriously wrong?-better tell me before Miss Wynne hears. He isn't-dead?"

The inspector gave him a warning look.

"That's it, sir," he answered in a low voice. "Found dead by the caretaker in his private office. And it's here-Mr. Selwood, it's either suicide or murder. That's flat!"

Selwood got his two companions inside the building and into a waiting-room. Peggie turned on him at once.

"I see you know," she said. "Tell me at once what it is. Don't be afraid, Mr. Selwood-I'm not likely to faint nor to go into hysterics. Neither is Mr. Tertius. Tell us-is it the worst?"

"Yes," said Selwood. "It is."

"He is dead?" she asked in a low voice. "You are sure? Dead?"

Selwood bent his head by way of answer; when he looked up again the girl had bent hers, but she quickly lifted it, and except that she had grown pale, she showed no outward sign of shock or emotion. As for Mr. Tertius, he, too, was calm-and it was he who first broke the silence.

"How was it?" he asked. "A seizure?"

Selwood hesitated. Then, seeing that he had to deal with two people who were obviously in full control of themselves, he decided to tell the truth.

"I'm afraid you must be prepared to hear some unpleasant news," he said, with a glance at the inspector, who just then quietly entered the room. "The police say it is either a case of suicide or of murder."

Peggie looked sharply from Selwood to the police official, and a sudden flush of colour flamed into her cheeks.

"Suicide?" she exclaimed. "Never! Murder? That may be. Tell me what you have found," she went on eagerly. "Don't keep things back!-don't you see I want to


The inspector closed the door and came nearer to where the three were standing.

"Perhaps I'd better tell you what we do know," he said. "Our station was rung up by the caretaker here at five minutes past eight. He said Mr. Herapath had just been found lying on the floor of his private room, and they were sure something was wrong, and would we come round. I came myself with one of our plain-clothes men who happened to be in, and our surgeon followed us a few minutes later. We found Mr. Herapath lying across the hearthrug in his private room, quite dead. Close by--" He paused and looked dubiously at Peggie. "The details are not pleasant," he said meaningly. "Shall I omit them?"

"No!" answered Peggie with decision. "Please omit nothing. Tell us all."

"There was a revolver lying close by Mr. Herapath's right hand," continued the inspector. "One chamber had been discharged. Mr. Herapath had been shot through the right temple, evidently at close quarters. I should say-and our surgeon says-he had died instantly. And-I think that's all I need say just now."

Peggie, who had listened to this with unmoved countenance, involuntarily stepped towards the door.

"Let us go to him," she said. "I suppose he's still here?"

But there Selwood, just as involuntarily, asserted an uncontrollable instinct. He put himself between the door and the girl.

"No!" he said firmly, wondering at himself for his insistence. "Don't! There's no need for that-yet. You mustn't go. Mr. Tertius--"

"Better not just yet, miss," broke in the inspector. "The doctor is still here. Afterwards, perhaps. If you would wait here while these gentlemen go with me."

Peggie hesitated a moment; then she turned away and sat down.

"Very well," she said.

The inspector silently motioned the two men to follow him; with his hand on the door Selwood turned again to Peggie.

"You will stay here?" he said. "You won't follow us?"

"I shall stay here," she answered. "Stop a minute-there's one thing that should be thought of. My cousin Barthorpe--"

"Mr. Barthorpe Herapath has been sent for, miss-he'll be here presently," replied the inspector. "The caretaker's telephoned to him. Now gentlemen."

He led the way along a corridor to a room with which Selwood was familiar enough-an apartment of some size which Jacob Herapath used as a business office and kept sacred to himself and his secretary. When he was in it no one ever entered that room except at Herapath's bidding; now there were strangers in it who had come there unbidden, and Herapath lay in their midst, silent for ever. They had laid the lifeless body on a couch, and Selwood and Mr. Tertius bent over it for a moment before they turned to the other men in the room. The dead face was calm enough; there was no trace of sudden fear on it, no signs of surprise or anger or violent passion.

"If you'll look here, gentlemen," said the police-inspector, motioning them towards the broad hearthrug. "This is how things were-nothing had been touched when we arrived. He was lying from there to here-he'd evidently slipped down and sideways out of that chair, and had fallen across the rug. The revolver was lying a few inches from his right hand. Here it is."

He pulled open a drawer as he spoke and produced a revolver which he carefully handled as he showed it to Selwood and Mr. Tertius.

"Have either of you gentlemen ever seen that before?" he asked. "I mean-do you recognize it as having belonged to-him? You don't? Never seen it before, either of you? Well, of course he might have kept a revolver in his private desk or in his safe, and nobody would have known. We shall have to make an exhaustive search and see if we can find any cartridges or anything. However, that's what we found-and, as I said before, one chamber had been discharged. The doctor here says the revolver had been fired at close quarters."

Mr. Tertius, who had watched and listened with marked attention, turned to the police surgeon.

"The wound may have been self-inflicted?" he asked.

"From the position of the body, and of the revolver, there is strong presumption that it was," replied the doctor.

"Yet-it may not have been?" suggested Mr. Tertius, mildly.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. It was easy to see what his own opinion was.

"It may not have been-as you say," he answered. "But if he was shot by some other person-murdered, that is-the murderer must have been standing either close at his side, or immediately behind him. Of this I am certain-he was sitting in that chair, at his desk, when the shot was fired."

"And-what would the immediate effect be?" asked Mr. Tertius.

"He would probably start violently, make as if to rise, drop forward against the desk and gradually-but quickly-subside to the floor in the position in which he was found," replied the doctor. "As he fell he would relinquish his grip on the revolver-it is invariably a tight grip in these cases-and it would fall-just where it was found."

"Still, there is nothing to disprove the theory that the revolver may have been placed-where it was found?" suggested Mr. Tertius.

"Oh, certainly it may have been placed there!" said the doctor, with another shrug of the shoulders. "A cool and calculating murderer may have placed it there, of course."

"Just so," agreed Mr. Tertius. He remained silently gazing at the hearthrug for a while; then he turned to the doctor again. "Now, how long do you think Mr. Herapath had been dead when you were called to the body?" he asked.

"Quite eight hours," answered the doctor promptly.

"Eight hours!" exclaimed Mr. Tertius. "And you first saw him at--"

"A quarter past eight," said the doctor. "I should say he died just about midnight."

"Midnight!" murmured Mr. Tertius. "Midnight? Then--"

Before he could say more, a policeman, stationed in the corridor outside, opened the door of the room, and glancing at his inspector, announced the arrival of Mr. Barthorpe Herapath.

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