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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Herapath Property By J. S. Fletcher Characters: 11952

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

the pressman

The coachman, thus admonished, unconsciously edged his chair a little nearer to the table at which Barthorpe Herapath sat, and looked anxiously at his interrogator. He was a little, shrewd-eyed fellow, and it seemed to Selwood, who had watched him carefully during the informal examination to which Barthorpe had subjected the caretaker, that he had begun to think deeply over some new presentiment of this mystery which was slowly shaping itself in his mind.

"I understand, Mountain, that you fetched Mr. Herapath from the House of Commons last night?" began Barthorpe. "You fetched him in the brougham, I believe?"

"Yes, sir," answered the coachman. "Mr. Herapath always had the brougham at night-and most times, too, sir. Never took kindly to the motor, sir."

"Where did you meet him, Mountain?"

"Usual place, sir-in Palace Yard-just outside the Hall."

"What time was that?"

"Quarter past eleven, exactly, sir-the clock was just chiming the quarter as he came out."

"Was Mr. Herapath alone when he came out?"

"No sir. He came out with another gentleman-a stranger to me, sir. The two of 'em stood talking a bit a yard or two away from the brougham."

"Did you hear anything they said?"

"Just a word or two from Mr. Herapath, sir, as him and the other gentleman parted."

"What were they?-tell us the words, as near as you can remember."

"Mr. Herapath said, 'Have it ready for me tomorrow, and I'll look in at your place about noon.' That's all, sir."

"What happened then?"

"The other gentleman went off across the Yard, sir, and Mr. Herapath came to the brougham, and told me to drive him to the estate office-here, sir."

"You drove him up to this door, I suppose?"

"No, sir. Mr. Herapath never was driven up to the door-he always got out of the brougham in the road outside and walked up the archway. He did that last night."

"From where you pulled up could you see if there was any light in these offices?"

"No, sir-I pulled up just short of the entrance to the archway."

"Did Mr. Herapath say anything to you when he got out?"

"Yes, sir. He said he should most likely be three-quarters of an hour here, and that I'd better put a rug over the mare and walk her about."

"Then I suppose he went up the archway. Now, did you see anybody about the entrance? Did you see any person waiting as if to meet him? Did he meet anybody?"

"I saw no one, sir. As soon as he'd gone up the archway I threw a rug over the mare and walked her round and round the square across the road."

"You heard and saw nothing of him until he came out again?"

"Nothing, sir."

"And how long was he away from you?"

"Nearer an hour than three-quarters, sir."

"Were you in full view of the entrance all that time?"

"No, sir, I wasn't. Some of the time I was-some of it I'd my back to it."

"You never saw any one enter the archway during the time Mr. Herapath was in the office?"

"No, sir."

"All the same, some one could have come here during that time without your seeing him?"

"Oh, yes, sir!"

"Well, at last Mr. Herapath came out. Where did he rejoin you?"

"In the middle of the road, sir-right opposite that statue in the Square gardens."

"Did he say anything particular then?"

"No, sir. He walked sharply across, opened the door, said 'Home' and jumped in."

"You didn't notice anything unusual about him?"

"Nothing, sir-unless it was that he hung his head down rather as he came across-same as if he was thinking hard, sir."

"You drove straight home to Portman Square, then. What time did you get there?"

"Exactly one o'clock, sir."

"You're certain about that time?"

"Certain, sir. It was just five minutes past one when I drove into our mews."

"Now, then, be careful about this, Mountain. I want to know exactly what happened when you drove up to the house. Tell us in your own way."

The coachman looked round amongst the listeners as if he were a little perplexed. "Why, sir," he answered, turning back to Barthorpe, "there was nothing happened! At least, I mean to say, there was nothing happened that didn't always happen on such occasions-Mr. Herapath got out of the brougham, shut the door, said 'Good night,' and went up the steps, taking his latch-key out of his pocket as he crossed the pavement, sir. That was all, sir."

"Did you actually see him enter the house?"

"No, sir," replied Mountain, with a decisive shake of the head. "I couldn't say that I did that. I saw him just putting the key in the latch as I drove off."

"And that's all you know?"

"That's all I know, sir-all."

Barthorpe, after a moment's hesitation, turned to the police-inspector.

"Is there anything that occurs to you?" he asked.

"One or two things occur to me," answered the inspector. "But I'm not going to ask any questions now. I suppose all you want at present is to get a rough notion of how things were last night?"

"Just so," assented Barthorpe. "A rough notion-that's it. Well, Kitteridge, it's your turn. Who found out that Mr. Herapath wasn't in the house this morning?"

"Charlesworth, sir-Mr. Herapath's valet," replied the butler. "He always called Mr. Herapath at a quarter past seven every morning. When he went into the bedroom this morning Mr. Herapath wasn't there, and the bed hadn't been slept in. Then Charlesworth came and told me, sir, and of course I went to the study at once, and then I saw that, wherever Mr. Herapath might be then, he certainly had been home."

"You judged that from-what?" asked Barthorpe.

"Well, sir, it's been the rule to leave a supper-tray out for Mr. Herapath. Not much, sir-whisky and soda, a sandwich or two, a dry biscuit. I saw that he'd had something, sir."

"Somebody else might have had it-eh?"

"Yes, sir, but then you see, I'd had Mountain fetched by that time, and he told me that he'd seen Mr. Herapath letting himself in at one o'clock. So of course I knew the master had bee

n in."

Barthorpe hesitated, seemed to ponder matters for a moment, and then rose. "I don't think we need go into things any further just now," he said. "You, Kitteridge, and you, Mountain, can go home. Don't talk-that is, don't talk any more than is necessary. I suppose," he went on, turning to the inspector when the two servants and the caretaker had left the room. "I suppose you'll see to all the arrangements we spoke of?"

"They're being carried out already," answered the inspector. "Of course," he added, drawing closer to Barthorpe and speaking in lower tones, "when the body's been removed, you'll join me in making a thorough inspection of the room? We haven't done that yet, you know, and it should be done. Wouldn't it be best," he continued with a glance at Peggie and a further lowering of his voice, "if the young lady went back to Portman Square?"

"Just so, just so-I'll see to it," answered Barthorpe. "You go and keep people out of the way for a few minutes, and I'll get her off." He turned to his cousin when the two officers had left the room and motioned her to rise. "Now, Peggie," he said, "you must go home. I shall come along there myself in an hour or two-there are things to be done which you and I must do together. Mr. Selwood-will you take Miss Wynne out to the car? And then, please, come back to me-I want your assistance for a while."

Peggie walked out of the room and to the car without demur or comment. But as she was about to take her seat she turned to Selwood.

"Why didn't Mr. Tertius come into the room just now?" she demanded.

Selwood hesitated. Until then he had thought that Peggie had heard the brief exchange of words between Barthorpe and Mr. Tertius at the door.

"Didn't you hear what was said at the door when we were all coming in?" he asked suddenly, looking attentively at her.

"I heard my cousin and Mr. Tertius talking, but I couldn't catch what was said," she replied. "If you did, tell me-I want to know."

"Mr. Barthorpe Herapath refused to admit Mr. Tertius," said Selwood.

"Refused?" she exclaimed. "Refused?"

"Refused," repeated Selwood. "That's all I know."

Peggie sat down and gave him an enigmatic look.

"You, of course, will come back to the house when-when you've finished here?" she said.

"I don't know-I suppose-really, I don't know," answered Selwood. "You see, I-I, of course, don't know exactly where I am, now. I suppose I must take my orders from-your cousin."

Peggie gave him another look, more enigmatic than the other.

"That's nonsense!" she said sharply. "Of course, you'll come. Do whatever it is that Barthorpe wants just now, but come on to Portman Square as soon as you've done it-I want you. Go straight home, Robson," she went on, turning to the chauffeur.

Selwood turned slowly and unwillingly back to the office door as the car moved off. And as he set his foot on the first step a young man came running up the entry-not hurrying but running-and caught him up and hailed him.

"Mr. Selwood?" he said, pantingly. "You'll excuse me-you're Mr. Herapath's secretary, aren't you?-I've seen you with him. I'm Mr. Triffitt, of the Argus-I happened to call in at the police-station just now, and they told me of what had happened here, so I rushed along. Will you tell me all about it, Mr. Selwood?-it'll be a real scoop for me-I'll hustle down to the office with it at once, and we'll have a special out in no time. And whether you know it or not, that'll help the police. Give me the facts, Mr. Selwood!"

Selwood stared at the ardent collector of news; then he motioned him to follow, and led him into the hall to where Barthorpe Herapath was standing with the police-inspector.

"This is a newspaper man," he said laconically, looking at Barthorpe. "Mr. Triffitt, of the Argus. He wants the facts of this affair."

Barthorpe turned and looked the new-comer up and down. Triffitt, who had almost recovered his breath, pulled out a card and presented it with a bow. And Barthorpe suddenly seemed to form a conclusion.

"All right!" he said. "Mr. Selwood, you know all the facts. Take Mr. Triffitt into that room we've just left, and give him a résumé of them. And-listen! we can make use of the press. Mention two matters, which seem to me to be of importance. Tell of the man who came out of the House of Commons with my uncle last night-ask him if he'll come forward. And, as my uncle must have returned to this office after he'd been home, and as he certainly wouldn't walk here, ask for information as to who drove him down to Kensington from Portman Square. Don't tell this man too much-give him the bare outlines on how matters stand."

The reporter wrote at lightning speed while Selwood, who had some experience of condensation, gave him the news he wanted. Finding that he was getting a first-class story, Triffitt asked no questions and made no interruptions. But when Selwood was through with the account, he looked across the table with a queer glance of the eye.

"I say!" he said. "This is a strange case!"

"Why so strange?" asked Selwood.

"Why? Great Scott!-I reckon it's an uncommonly strange case," exclaimed Triffitt. "It's about a dead certainty that Herapath was in his own house at Portman Square at one o'clock, isn't it?"

"Well?" said Selwood.

"And yet according to the doctor who examined him at eight o'clock he'd been dead quite eight hours!" said Triffitt. "That means he died at twelve o'clock-an hour before he's supposed to have been at his house! Queer! But all the queerer, all the better-for me! Now I'm off-for the present. This'll be on the streets in an hour, Mr. Selwood. Nothing like the press, sir!"

Therewith he fled, and the secretary suddenly found himself confronting a new idea. If the doctor was right and Jacob Herapath had been shot dead at midnight, how on earth could he possibly have been in Portman Square at one o'clock, an hour later?

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