When Walters entered, Rand had his pipe lit and was walking slowly around th_oom, laying out the work ahead of him. Roughly, the earliest pieces were o_he extreme left, on the short north wall of the room, and the most recen_nes on the right, at the south end. This was, of course, only relativel_rue; the pistols seemed to have been classified by type in vertical rows, an_hronologically from top to bottom in each row. The collection seemed t_onsist of a number of intensely specialized small groups, with a large numbe_f pistols of general types added. For instance, about midway on the long eas_all, there were some thirty-odd all-metal pistols, from wheel lock t_ercussion. There was a collection of U.S. Martials, with two rows of th_egulation pistols, flintlock and percussion, of foreign governments, place_n the left, and the collection of Colts on the right. After them came th_ther types of percussion revolvers, and the later metallic-cartridge types.
It was an arrangement which made sense, from the arms student's point of view, and Rand decided that it would make sense to the dealers and museums to who_e intended sending lists. He would save time by listing them as they wer_ung on the walls. Then, there were the cases between the windows on the wes_all, containing the ammunition collection—examples of every type of fixed- pistol ammunition—and the collection of bullet-molds and powder flasks an_heel lock spanners and assorted cleaning and loading accessories. All tha_tuff would have to be listed, too.
"I beg your pardon, sir," Walters broke in, behind him. "Mrs. Fleming sai_hat you wanted me."
"Oh, yes." Rand turned. "Is this the whole thing? What's on the walls, here?"
"Yes, sir. There is also a wall-case containing a number of modern pistols an_evolvers, and several rifles and shotguns, in the room formerly occupied b_r. Fleming, but they are not part of the collection, and they are now th_ersonal property of Mrs. Fleming. I understand that she intends selling a_east some of them, on her own account. Then, there is a quantity o_mmunition and ammunition-components in that closet under th_orkbench—cartridges, primed cartridge-shells, black and smokeless powder, cartridge-primers, percussion caps—but they are not part of the collection, either. I believe Mrs. Fleming wants to sell most of that, too."
"Well, I'll talk to her about it. I may want to buy some of the ammunition fo_yself," Rand said. "So I only need to bother with what's on the walls, i_his room?… By the way, did Mr. Fleming keep any sort of record of hi_ollection? A book, or a card-index, or anything like that?"
"Why no, sir." Walters was positive. Then he hedged. "If he did, I never sa_r heard of anything of the sort. Mr. Fleming knew everything in this room.
I've seen him, downstairs, when somebody would ask him about something, clos_is eyes as though trying to visualize and then give a perfect description o_ny pistol in the collection. Or else, he could enumerate all the pistols of _ertain type; say, all the Philadelphia Deringers, or all the Alle_epperboxes, or all the rim-fire Smith & Wesson tip-back types. He had _emarkable memory for his pistols, although it was not out of the ordinar_therwise, sir."
Rand nodded. Any collector—at least, any collector who was a serious arms- student—could do that, particularly if he were a good visualizer and kept hi_tuff in some systematic order. At the moment, he could have named an_escribed any or all of his own modest collection of two hundred-odd pistol_nd revolvers.
"I was hoping he'd kept a record," he said. "A great many collectors do, an_t would have helped me quite a bit." He made up his mind to compile such _ecord, himself, when he got back to New Belfast. It would be a big help t_arter Tipton, when it came time to settle his own estate, and a man on who_he Reaper has scored as many near-misses as on Jeff Rand should begin t_hink of such things. "And how about writing materials? And is there _ypewriter available?"
There was: a cased portable was on the floor beside the workbench. Walter_howed him which desk drawers contained paper and other things. There was, Rand noticed, a loaded .38 Colt Detective Special, in the upper right-han_esk drawer.
"And these phones," the butler continued, indicating them. "This one is _rivate outside phone; it doesn't connect with any other in the house. Th_ther is an extension. It has a buzzer; the outside phone has a regular bell."
Rand thanked him for the information. Then, picking up a note-pad and pencil, he started on the left of the collection, meaning to make a general list an_ough approximation of value for use in talking to Gresham's friends tha_vening. Tomorrow he would begin on the detailed list for use in solicitin_utside offers.
Twenty-five wheel locks: four heavy South German dags, two singles and a pair; three Saxon pistols, with sharply dropped grips, a pair and one single; fiv_rench and Italian sixteenth-century pistols; a pair of small pocket or sas_istols; a pair of French petronels, and an extremely long seventeenth-centur_utch pistol with an ivory-covered stock and a carved ivory Venus-head for _ommel; eight seventeenth-century French, Italian and Flemish pistols. Ran_oted them down, and was about to pass on; then he looked sharply at one o_hem.
It was nothing out of the ordinary, as wheel locks go; a long Flemish weapo_f about 1640, the type used by the Royalist cavalry in the English Civil War.
There were two others almost like it, but this one was in simply appallin_ondition. The metal was rough with rust, and apparently no attempt had bee_ade to clean it in a couple of centuries. There was a piece cracked out o_he fore-end, the ramrod was missing, as was the front ramrod-thimble, bot_he trigger-guard and the butt-cap were loose, and when Rand touched th_heel, it revolved freely if sluggishly, betraying a broken spring or chain.
The vertical row next to it seemed to be all snaphaunces, but among them Ran_aw a pair of Turkish flintlocks. Not even good Turkish flintlocks; a pair o_he sort of weapons hastily thrown together by native craftsmen or importe_eady-made from Belgium for bazaar sale to gullible tourists. Among the fin_xamples of seventeenth-century Brescian gunmaking above and below it, thes_hings looked like a pair of Dogpatchers in the Waldorf's Starlight Room. Ran_ontemplated them with distaste, then shrugged. After all, they might have ha_ome sentimental significance; say souvenirs of a pleasantly remembered tri_o the Levant.
A few rows farther on, among some exceptionally fine flintlocks, all of whic_re-dated 1700, he saw one of those big Belgian navy pistols, circa 1800, o_he sort once advertised far and wide by a certain old-army-goods dealer for $6.95. This was a particularly repulsive specimen of its breed; grimy wit_ardened dust and gummed oil, maculated with yellow-surface-rust, th_rasswork green with corrosion. It was impossible to shrug off a thing lik_hat. From then on, Rand kept his eyes open for similar incongruities.
They weren't hard to find. There was a big army pistol, of Central Europea_rigin and in abominable condition, among a row of fine multi-shot flintlocks.
Multi-shot … Stephen Gresham had mentioned an Elisha Collier flintloc_evolver. It wasn't there. It should be hanging about where this post- Napoleonic German thing was.
There was no Hall breech-loader, either, but there was a dilapidated ol_etland. There were many such interlopers among the U.S. Martials: an Englis_unce-ball cavalry pistol, a French 1777 and a French 1773, a couple more $6.95 bargain-counter specials, a miserable altered S. North 1816. Among th_olts, there was some awful junk, including a big Spanish hinge-frame .44 an_ Belgian imitation of a Webley R.I.C. Model. There weren't as many Paterso_olts as Gresham had spoken of, and the Whitneyville Walker was absent. I_ent on like that; about a dozen of the best pistols which Rand remembere_aving seen from two years ago were gone, and he spotted at least twenty item_hich the late Lane Fleming wouldn't have hung in his backyard privy, if he'_ad one.
Well, that was to be expected. The way these pistols were arranged, th_bsence of one from its hooks would have been instantly obvious. So, as th_ood stuff had moved out, these disreputable changelings had moved in.
"You had rather a shocking experience here, in Mr. Fleming's death," Ran_aid, over his shoulder, to the butler.
"Oh, yes indeed, sir!" Walters seemed relieved that Rand had broken th_ilence. "A great loss to all of us, sir. And so unexpected."
He didn't seem averse to talking about it, and went on at some length. Hi_tory closely paralleled that of Gladys Fleming.
"Mr. Varcek called the doctor immediately," he said. "Then Mr. Dunmore pointe_ut that the doctor would be obliged to notify either the coroner or th_olice, so he called Mr. Goode, the family solicitor. That was about twent_inutes after the shot. Mr. Goode arrived directly; he was here in about te_inutes. I must say, sir, I was glad to see him; to tell the truth, I had bee_fraid that the authorities might claim that Mr. Fleming had shot himsel_eliberately."
Somebody else doesn't like the smell of that accident, Rand thought. Aloud, h_aid:
"Mr. Goode lives nearby, then, I take it?"
"Oh, yes, sir. You can see his house from these windows. Over here, sir."
Rand looked out the window. The rain-soaked lawn of the Fleming residenc_nded about a hundred yards to the west; beyond it, an orchard was beginnin_o break into leaf, and beyond the orchard and another lawn stood a half- timbered Tudor-style house, somewhat smaller than the Fleming place. A pat_ed down from it to the orchard, and another led from the orchard to the rea_f the house from which Rand looked.
"Must be comforting to know your lawyer's so handy," he commented. "And wha_o you think, Walters? Are you satisfied, in your own mind, that Mr. Flemin_as killed accidentally?"
The servant looked at him seriously. "No, sir; I'm not," he replied. "I'v_hought about it a great deal, since it happened, sir, and I just can'_elieve that Mr. Fleming would have that revolver, and start working on it, without knowing that it was loaded. That just isn't possible, if you'll pardo_e, sir. And I can't understand how he would have shot himself while removin_he charges. The fact is, when I came up here at quarter of seven, to call hi_or cocktails, he had the whole thing apart and spread out in front of him."
The butler thought for a moment. "I believe Mr. Dunmore had something lik_hat in mind when he called Mr. Goode."
"Well, what happened?" Rand asked. "Did the coroner or the doctor choke o_alling it an accident?"
"Oh no, sir; there was no trouble of any sort about that. You see, Dr. Yardma_alled the coroner, as soon as he arrived, but Mr. Goode was here already.
He'd come over by that path you saw, to the rear of the house, and in throug_he garage, which was open, since Mrs. Dunmore was out with the coupé. The_ll talked it over for a while, and the coroner decided that there would be n_eed for any inquest, and the doctor wrote out the certificate. That was al_here was to it."
Rand looked at the section of pistol-rack devoted to Colts.
"Which one was it?" he asked.
"Oh it's not here, sir," Walters replied. "The coroner took it away with him."
"And hasn't returned it yet? Well, he has no business keeping it. It's part o_he collection, and belongs to the estate."
"Yes, sir. If I may say so, I thought it was a bit high-handed of him, takin_t away, myself, but it wasn't my place to say anything about it."
"Well, I'll make it mine. If that revolver's what I'm told it is, it's to_aluable to let some damned county-seat politician walk off with." A though_ccurred to him. "And if I find that he's disposed of it, this county's goin_o need a new coroner, at least till the present incumbent gets out of jail."
The buzzer of the extension phone went off like an annoyed rattlesnake.
Walters scooped it up, spoke into it, listened for a moment, and handed it t_and.
"For you, sir; Mrs. Fleming."
"Colonel Rand, Carl Gwinnett, the commission-dealer I told you about is here,"
Gladys told him. "Do you want to talk to him?"
"Why, yes. Do I understand, now, that you and the other ladies want cash, an_on't want the collection peddled off piecemeal?… All right, send him up. I'l_alk to him."
A few minutes later, a short, compact-looking man of forty-odd entered th_unroom, shifting a brief case to his left hand and extending his right. Ran_dvanced to meet him and shook hands with him.
"You're Colonel Rand? Enjoyed your articles in the Rifleman," he said. "Mrs.
Fleming tells me you're handling the sale of the collection for the estate."
"That's right, Mr. Gwinnett. Mrs. Fleming tells me you're interested."
"Yes. Originally, I offered to sell the collection for her on a commissio_asis, but she didn't seem to care for the idea, and neither do the othe_adies. They all want spot cash, in a lump sum."
"Yes. Mrs. Fleming herself might have been interested in your proposition, i_he'd been sole owner. You could probably get more for the collection, eve_fter deducting your commission, than I'll be able to, but the collectio_elongs to the estate, and has to be sold before any division can be made."
"Yes, I see that. Well, how much would the estate, or you, consider _easonable offer?"
"Sit down, Mr. Gwinnett," Rand invited. "What would you consider a reasonabl_ffer, yourself? We're not asking any specific price; we're just taking bids, as it were."
"Well, how much have you been offered, to date?"
"Well, we haven't heard from everybody. In fact, we haven't put out a list, o_olicited offers, except locally, as yet. But one gentleman has expressed _illingness to pay up to twenty-five thousand dollars."
Gwinnett's face expressed polite skepticism. "Colonel Rand!" he protested.
"You certainly don't take an offer like that seriously?"
"I think it was made seriously," Rand replied. "A respectable profit could b_ade on the collection, even at that price."
Gwinnett's eyes shifted over the rows of horizontal barrels on the walls. H_as almost visibly wrestling with mental arithmetic, and at the same tim_rying to keep any hint of his notion of the collection's real value out o_is face.
"Well, I doubt if I could raise that much," he said. "Might I ask who's makin_his offer?"
"You might; I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. You wouldn't want me to publis_our own offer broadcast, would you?"
"I think I can guess. If I'm right, don't hold your head in a tub of wate_ill you get it," Gwinnett advised. "Making a big offer to scare awa_ompetition is one thing, and paying off on it is another. I've seen tha_appen before, you know. Fact is, there's one dealer, not far from here, wh_akes a regular habit of it. He'll make some fantastic offer, and then, whe_verybody's been bluffed out, he'll start making objections and findin_aults, and before long he'll be down to about a quarter of his origina_rice."
"The practice isn't unknown," Rand admitted.
"I'll bet you don't have this twenty-five thousand dollar offer on paper, ove_ signature," Gwinnett pursued. "Well, here." He opened his brief case an_xtracted a sheet of paper, handing it to Rand. "You can file this; I'll stan_ack of it."
Rand looked at the typed and signed statement to the effect that Carl Gwinnet_greed to pay the sum of fifteen thousand dollars for the Lane Fleming pistol- collection, in its entirety, within thirty days of date. That was an averag_f six dollars a pistol. There had been a time, not too long ago, when _istol-collection with an average value of six dollars, particularly one a_arge as the Fleming collection, had been something unusual. For one thing, arms values had increased sharply in the meantime. For another, Lane Flemin_ad kept his collection clean of the two-dollar items which dragged down s_any collectors' average values. Except for the two-dozen-odd mysteriou_nterlopers, there wasn't a pistol in the Fleming collection that wasn't wort_t least twenty dollars, and quite a few had values expressible in thre_igures.
"Well, your offer is duly received and filed, Mr. Gwinnett," Rand told him, folding the sheet and putting it in his pocket. "This is better than a_nwitnessed verbal statement that somebody is willing to pay twenty-fiv_housand. I'll certainly bear you in mind."
"You can show that to Arnold Rivers, if you want to," Gwinnett said. "See ho_uch he's willing to commit himself to, over his signature."