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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Herapath Property By J. S. Fletcher Characters: 12491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

the taxi-cab driver

Mr. Tertius bought a copy of the newspaper, and standing aside on the pavement, read with much interest and surprise the story which Triffitt's keen appetite for news and ready craftsmanship in writing had so quickly put together. Happening to glance up from the paper in the course of his reading, he observed that several other people were similarly employed. The truth was that Triffitt had headed his column: "Mysterious Death of Mr. Herapath, M.P. Is It Suicide or Murder?"-and as this also appeared in great staring letters on the contents bills which the newsboys were carrying about with them, and as Herapath had been well known in that district, there was a vast amount of interest aroused thereabouts by the news. Indeed, people were beginning to chatter on the sidewalks, and at the doors of the shops. And as Mr. Tertius turned away in the direction of Portman Square, he heard one excited bystander express a candid opinion.

"Suicide?" exclaimed this man, thrusting his paper into the hands of a companion. "Not much! Catch old Jacob Herapath at that game-he was a deuced deal too fond of life and money! Murder, sir-murder!-that's the ticket-murder!"

Mr. Tertius went slowly homeward, head bent and eyes moody. He let himself into the house; at the sound of his step in the hall Peggie Wynne looked out of the study. She retreated into it at sight of Mr. Tertius, and he followed her and closed the door. Looking narrowly at her, he saw that the girl had been shedding tears, and he laid his hand shyly yet sympathetically on her arm. "Yes," he said quietly, "I've been feeling like that ever since-since I heard about things. But I don't know-I suppose we shall feel it more when-when we realize it more, eh? Just now there's the other thing to think about, isn't there?"

Peggie mopped her eyes and looked at him. He was such a quiet, unobtrusive, inoffensive old gentleman that she wondered more than ever why Barthorpe had refused to admit him to the informal conference.

"What other thing?" she asked.

Mr. Tertius looked round the room-strangely empty now that Jacob Herapath's bustling and strenuous presence was no longer in it-and shook his head.

"There's one thought you mustn't permit yourself to harbour for a moment, my dear," he answered. "Don't even for a fraction of time allow yourself to think that my old friend took his own life! That's-impossible."

"I don't," said Peggie. "I never did think so. It is, as you say, impossible. I knew him too well to believe that. So, of course, it's--"

"Murder," assented Mr. Tertius. "Murder! I heard a man in the street voice the same opinion just now. Of course! It's the only opinion. Yet in the newspaper they're asking which it was. But I suppose the newspapers must be-sensational."

"You don't mean to say it's in the newspapers already?" exclaimed Peggie.

Mr. Tertius handed to her the Argus special, which he had carried crumpled up in his hand.

"Everybody's reading it out there in the streets," he said. "It's extraordinary, now, how these affairs seem to fascinate people. Yes-it's all there. That is, of course, as far as it's gone."

"How did the paper people come to know all this?" asked Peggie, glancing rapidly over Triffitt's leaded lines.

"I suppose they got it from the police," replied Mr. Tertius. "I don't know much about such matters, but I believe the police and the Press are in constant touch. Of course, it's well they should be-it attracts public notice. And in cases like this, public notice is an excellent thing. We shall have to hear-and find out-a good deal before we get at the truth in this case, my dear."

Peggie suddenly flung down the newspaper and looked inquiringly at the old man.

"Mr. Tertius," she said abruptly, "why wouldn't Barthorpe let you come into that room down there at the office this morning?"

Mr. Tertius did not answer this direct question at once. He walked away to the window and stood looking out into the square for a while. When at last he spoke his voice was singularly even and colourless. He might have been discussing a question on which it was impossible to feel any emotion.

"I really cannot positively say, my dear," he replied. "I have known, of course, for some time that Mr. Barthorpe Herapath is not well disposed towards me. I have observed a certain coldness, a contempt, on his part. I have been aware that he has resented my presence in this house. And I suppose he felt that as I am not a member of the family, I had no right to sit in council with him and with you."

"Not a member of the family!" exclaimed Peggie. "Why, you came here soon after I came-all those years ago!"

"I have dwelt under Jacob Herapath's roof, in this house, fifteen years," said Mr. Tertius, reflectively. "Fifteen years!-yes. Yes-Jacob and I were-good friends."

As he spoke the last word a tear trickled from beneath Mr. Tertius's spectacles and ran down into his beard, and Peggie, catching sight of it, impulsively jumped from her seat and kissed him affectionately.

"Never mind, Mr. Tertius!" she said, patting his shoulders. "You and I are friends, too, anyway. I don't like Barthorpe when he's like that-I hate that side of him. And anyhow, Barthorpe doesn't matter-to me. I don't suppose he matters to anything-except himself."

Mr. Tertius gravely shook his head.

"Mr. Barthorpe Herapath may matter a great deal, my dear," he remarked. "He is a very forceful person. I do not know what provision my poor friend may have made, but Barthorpe, you will remember, is his nephew, and, I believe, his only male relative. And in that case--"

Mr. Tertius was just then interrupted by the entrance of a footman who came in and looked inquiringly at Peggie.

"There's a taxi-cab driver at the door, miss," he announced. "He says he would like to speak to some one about the news in the paper about-about the master, miss."

Peggie looked at Mr. Tertius. And Mr. Tertius quickly made a sign to the footman.

"Bring the man in at once," he commanded. And, as if to lose no time, he followed the footman into the hall, and at once returned, conducting a young man who carried a copy of the Argus in his hand. "Yes?" he said, clos

ing the door behind them and motioning the man to a seat. "You wish to tell us something! This lady is Miss Wynne-Mr. Herapath's niece. You can tell us anything you think of importance. Do you know anything, then?"

The taxi-cab driver lifted the Argus.

"This here newspaper, sir," he answered. "I've just been reading of it-about Mr. Herapath, sir."

"Yes," said Mr. Tertius gently. "Yes?"

"Well, sir-strikes me as how I drove him, sir, this morning," answered the driver. "Gentleman of his appearance, anyway, sir-that's a fact!"

Mr. Tertius glanced at Peggie, who was intently watching the caller.

"Ah!" he said, turning again to the driver, "you think you drove either Mr. Herapath or a gentleman of his appearance this morning. You did not know Mr. Herapath by sight, then?"

"No, sir. I've only just come into this part-came for the first time yesterday. But I'm as certain--"

"Just tell us all about it," said Mr. Tertius, interrupting him. "Tell us in your own way. Everything, you know."

"Ain't so much to tell, sir," responded the driver. "All the same, soon's I'd seen this piece in the paper just now I said to myself, 'I'd best go round to Portman Square and tell what I do know,' I says. And it's like this, sir-I come on this part yesterday-last night it was. My taxi belongs to a man as keeps half a dozen, and he put me on to night work, this end of Oxford Street. Well, it 'ud be just about a quarter to two this morning when a tall, well-built gentleman comes out of Orchard Street and made for my cab. I jumps down and opens the door for him. 'You know St. Mary Abbot's Church, Kensington?' he says as he got in. 'Drive me down there and pull up at the gate.' So, of course, I ran him down, and there he got out, give me five bob, and off he went. That's it, sir."

"And when he got out, which way did he go?" asked Mr. Tertius.

"West, sir-along the High Street, past the Town Hall," promptly answered the driver. "And there he crossed the road. I see him cross, because I stopped there a minute or two after he'd got out, tinkering at my engine."

"Can you tell us what this gentleman was like in appearance?" asked Mr. Tertius.

"Well, sir, not so much as regards his face," answered the driver. "I didn't look at him, not particular, in that way-besides, he was wearing one of them overcoats with a big fur collar to it, and he'd the collar turned high up about his neck and cheeks, and his hat-one of them slouched, soft hats, like so many gentlemen wears nowadays sir-was well pulled down. But from what bit I see of him, sir, I should say he was a fresh-coloured gentleman."

"Tall and well built, you say?" observed Mr. Tertius.

"Yes, sir-fine-made gentleman-pretty near six feet, I should have called him," replied the driver. "Little bit inclined to stoutness, like."

Mr. Tertius turned to Peggie.

"I believe you have some recent photographs of Mr. Herapath," he said. "You might fetch them and let me see if our friend here can recognize them. You didn't notice anything else about your fare?" he went on, after Peggie had left the room. "Anything that excited your attention, eh?"

The driver, after examining the pattern of the carpet for one minute and studying the ceiling for another, slowly shook his head. But he then suddenly started into something like activity.

"Yes, there was, sir, now I come to think of it!" he exclaimed. "I hadn't thought of it until now, but now you mention it, there was. I noticed he'd a particularly handsome diamond ring on his left hand-an extra fine one, too, it was."

"Ah!" said Mr. Tertius. "A very fine diamond ring on his left hand? Now, how did you come to see that?"

"He rested that hand on the side of the door as he was getting in, sir, and I noticed how it flashed," answered the driver. "There was a lamp right against us, you see, sir."

"I see," said Mr. Tertius. "He wasn't wearing gloves, then?"

"He hadn't a glove on that hand, sir. He was carrying some papers in it-a sort of little roll of papers."

"Ah!" murmured Mr. Tertius. "A diamond ring-and a little roll of papers." He got up from his chair and put a hand in his pocket. "Now, my friend," he went on, chinking some coins as he withdrew it, "you haven't told this to any one else, I suppose?"

"No, sir," answered the driver. "Came straight here, sir."

"There's a couple of sovereigns for your trouble," said Mr. Tertius, "and there'll be more for you if you do what I tell you to do. At present-that is, until I give you leave-don't say a word of this to a soul. Not even to the police-yet. In fact, not a word to them until I say you may. Keep your mouth shut until I tell you to open it-I shall know where to find you. If you want me, keep an eye open for me in the square outside, or in the street. When the young lady comes back with the photographs, don't mention the ring to her. This is a very queer business, and I don't want too much said just yet. Do as I tell you, and I'll see you're all right. Understand?"

The driver pocketed his sovereigns, and touched his forehead with a knowing look.

"All right, sir," he said. "I understand. Depend on me, sir-I shan't say a word without your leave."

Peggie came in just then with a half a dozen cabinet photographs in her hand. One by one she exhibited them to the driver.

"Do you recognize any of these?" she asked.

The driver shook his head doubtingly until Peggie showed him a half-length of her uncle in outdoor costume. Then his eyes lighted up.

"Couldn't swear as to the features, miss," he exclaimed. "But I'd take my 'davy about the coat and the hat! That's what the gentleman was wearing as I drove this morning-take my Gospel oath on it."

"He recognizes the furred overcoat and the soft hat," murmured Mr. Tertius. "Very good-very good! All right, my man-we are much obliged to you."

He went out into the hall with the driver, and had another word in secret with him before the footman opened the door. As the door closed Mr. Tertius turned slowly back to the study. And as he turned he muttered a word or two and smiled cynically.

"A diamond ring!" he said. "Jacob Herapath never wore a diamond ring in his life!"

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