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Chapter 28 PAGES FROM THE PAST

  • Before the solicitor and his companions could seat themselves at the tabl_hereat the former's preliminary explanation had been made, Mr. Wraythwait_ot up and motioned Avice to follow his example.
  • "Carfax," he said, "there's no need for me to listen to all that you've got t_ell Mr. Brereton—I know it already. And I don't think it will particularl_nterest Miss Harborough at the moment—she'll hear plenty about it later on.
  • She and I will leave you—make your explanations and your arrangements, an_e'll join you later on."
  • He led the way to the door, beckoning Avice to accompany him. But Avice pause_nd turned to Brereton.
  • "You feel sure that it is all right now about my father?" she said. "You fee_ertain? If you do——"
  • "Yes—absolutely," answered Brereton, who knew what her question meant. "And—w_ill let him know."
  • "He knows!" exclaimed Carfax. "That is, he knows that Mr. Wraythwaite is here,
  • and that everything's all right. Run away, my dear young lady, and be quit_appy—Mr. Wraythwaite will tell you everything you want to know. And now, m_ear sir," he continued, as he shut the door on Wraythwaite and Avice an_ustled back to the table, "there are things that you want to know, and tha_ou are going to know—from me and from these two gentlemen. Mr. Stobb—Mr.
  • Leykin. Both ex-Scotland Yard men, and now in business for themselves a_rivate inquiry agents. Smart fellows—though I say it to their faces."
  • "I gather from that that you have been doing some private inquiry work, then?"
  • said Brereton. "In connexion with what, now?"
  • "Let us proceed in order," answered Carfax, taking a seat at the head of th_able and putting his fingers together in a judicial attitude. "I will ope_he case. When Wraythwaite—a fine fellow, who, between ourselves, is going t_o great things for Harborough and his daughter—when Wraythwaite, I say, hear_f what had happened down here, he was naturally much upset. His firs_nstinct was to rush to Highmarket at once and tell everything. However,
  • instead of doing that, he very wisely came to me. Having heard all that he ha_o tell, I advised him, as it was absolutely certain that no harm could com_o Harborough in the end, to let matters rest for the time being, until we ha_ut the finishing touches to his own affair. He, however, insisted on sendin_ou that money—which was done: nothing else would satisfy him. But now arose _eeply interesting phase of the whole affair—which has been up to now kep_ecret between Wraythwaite, myself, and Messrs. Stobb and Leykin there. To i_ now invite your attention."
  • Mr. Carfax here pulled out a memorandum book from his pocket, and havin_itted on his spectacles glanced at a page or two within it.
  • "Now," he presently continued, "Wraythwaite being naturally deeply intereste_n the Kitely case, he procured the local newspapers—Norcaster and Highmarke_apers, you know—so that he could read all about it. There was in those paper_ full report of the first proceedings before the magistrates, and Wraythwait_as much struck by your examination of the woman Miss Pett. In fact, he was s_uch struck by your questions and her replies that he brought the papers t_e, and we read them together. And, although we knew well enough that w_hould eventually have no difficulty whatever in proving an _alibi_ i_arborough's behalf, we decided that in his interest we would make a fe_uarded but strict inquiries into Miss Pett's antecedents."
  • Brereton started. Miss Pett! Ah!—he had had ideas respecting Miss Pett at th_eginning of things, but other matters had cropped up, and affairs had move_nd developed so rapidly that he had almost forgotten her.
  • "That makes you think," continued Carfax, with a smile. "Just so!—and wha_ook place at that magistrates' sitting made Wraythwaite and myself think.
  • And, as I say, we employed Stobb and Leykin, men of great experience, to—jus_ind out a little about Miss Pett. Of course, Miss Pett herself had given u_omething to go on. She had told you some particulars of her career. She ha_een housekeeper to a Major Stilman, at Kandahar Cottage, Woking. She ha_ccupied posts at two London hotels. So—Stobb went to Woking, and Leyki_evoted himself to the London part of the business.
  • "And I think, Stobb," concluded the solicitor, turning to one of the inquir_gents, "I think you'd better tell Mr. Brereton what you found out at Woking,
  • and then Leykin can tell us what he brought to light elsewhere."
  • Stobb, a big, cheery-faced man, who looked like a highly respectable publican,
  • turned to Brereton with a smile.
  • "It was a very easy job, sir," he said. "I found out all about the lady an_er connexion with Woking in a very few hours. There are plenty of folk a_oking who remember Miss Pett—she gave you the mere facts of her residenc_here correctly enough. But—naturally—she didn't tell you more than the mer_acts, the surface, as it were. Now, I got at everything. Miss Pett wa_ousekeeper at Woking to a Major Stilman, a retired officer of an infantr_egiment. All the time she was with him—some considerable period—he was mor_r less of an invalid, and he was well known to suffer terribly from some for_f neuralgia. He got drugs to alleviate the pain of that neuralgia from ever_hemist in the place, one time or another. And one day, Major Stilman wa_ound dead in bed, with some of these drugs by his bedside. Of course a_nquest was held, and, equally of course, the evidence of doctors and chemist_eing what it was, a verdict of death from misadventure—overdose of the stuff,
  • you know—was returned. Against Miss Pett there appears to have been n_uspicion in Woking at that time—and for the matter of that," concluded Mr.
  • Stobb drily, "I don't know that there is now."
  • "You have some yourself?" suggested Brereton.
  • "I went into things further," answered Mr. Stobb, with the ghost of a wink. "_ound out how things were left—by Stilman. Stilman had nothing but hi_ension, and a capital sum of about two thousand pounds. He left that tw_housand, and the furniture of his house, to Miss Pett. The will had bee_xecuted about a twelvemonth before Stilman died. It was proved as quickly a_ould be after his death, and of course Miss Pett got her legacy. She sold th_urniture—and left the neighbourhood."
  • "What is your theory?" asked Brereton.
  • Mr. Stobb nodded across the table at Carfax.
  • "Not my business to say what my theories are, Mr. Brereton," he answered. "Al_ had to do was to find out facts, and report them to Mr. Carfax and Mr.
  • Wraythwaite."
  • "All the same," said Brereton quietly, "you think it quite possible that Mis_ett, knowing that Stilman took these strong doses, and having a pecuniar_otive, gave him a still stronger one? Come, now!"
  • Stobb smiled, rubbed his chin and looked at Carfax. And Carfax pointed t_tobb's partner, a very quiet, observant man who had listened with a sl_xpression on his face.
  • "Your turn, Leykin," he said. "Tell the result of your inquiries."
  • Leykin was one of those men who possess soft voices and slow speech. Invite_o play his part, he looked at Brereton as if he were half apologizing fo_nything he had to say.
  • "Well," he said, "of course, sir, what Miss Pett told you about her posts a_wo London hotels was quite right. She had been storekeeper at one, and linen-
  • keeper at another—before she went to Major Stilman. There was nothing agains_er at either of those places. But of course I wanted to know more about he_han that. Now she said in answer to you that before she went to the first o_hose hotels she had lived at home with her father, a Sussex farmer. So sh_ad—but it was a long time before. She had spent ten years in India betwee_eaving home and going to the Royal Belvedere. She went out to India as _urse in an officer's family. And while she was in India she was charged wit_trangling a fellow-servant—a Eurasian girl who had excited her jealousy."
  • Brereton started again at that, and he turned a sharp glance on Carfax, wh_odded emphatically and signed to Leykin to proceed.
  • "I have the report of that affair in my pocket," continued Leykin, more softl_nd slowly than ever. "It's worth reading, Mr. Brereton, and perhaps you'l_muse yourself with it sometime. But I can give you the gist of it in a fe_ords. Pett was evidently in love with her master's orderly. He wasn't in lov_ith her. She became madly jealous of this Eurasian girl, who was under-nurse.
  • The Eurasian girl was found near the house one night with a cord tightl_wisted round her neck—dead, of course. There were no other signs of violence,
  • but some gold ornaments which the girl wore had disappeared. Pett wa_ried—and she was discharged, for she set up an _alibi_ —of a sort tha_ouldn't have satisfied me," remarked Leykin in an aside. "But there was _ueer bit of evidence given which you may think of use now. One of th_itnesses said that Pett had been much interested in reading some book abou_he methods of the Thugs, and had talked in the servants' quarters of how the_trangled their victims with shawls of the finest silk. Now this Eurasian gir_ad been strangled with a silk handkerchief—and if that handkerchief coul_nly have been traced to Pett, she'd have been found guilty. But, as I said,
  • she was found not guilty—and she left her place at once and evidently returne_o England. That's all, sir."
  • "Stobb has a matter that might be mentioned," said Carfax, glancing at th_ther inquiry agent.
  • "Well, it's not much, Mr. Brereton," said Stobb. "It's merely that we'v_scertained that Kitely had left all he had to this woman, and that——"
  • "I know that," interrupted Brereton. "She made no concealment of it. Or,
  • rather, her nephew, acting for her, didn't."
  • "Just so," remarked Stobb drily. "But did you know that the nephew had alread_roved the will, and sold the property? No?—well, he has! Not much time lost,
  • you see, after the old man's death, sir. In fact, it's been done about a_uickly as it well could be done. And of course Miss Pett will have receive_er legacy—which means that by this time she'll have got all that Kitely ha_o leave."
  • Brereton turned to the solicitor, who, during the recital of facts by the tw_nquiry agents, had maintained his judicial attitude, as if he were on th_ench and listening to the opening statements of counsel.
  • "Are you suggesting, all of you that you think Miss Pett murdered Kitely?" h_sked. "I should like a direct answer to that question."
  • "My dear sir!" exclaimed Carfax. "What does it look like? You've heard th_oman's record! The probability is that she did murder that Eurasian,
  • girl—that she took advantage of Stilman's use of drugs to finish him off. Sh_ertainly benefited by Stilman's death—and she's without doubt benefited b_itely's. I repeat—what does it look like?"
  • "What do you propose to do?" asked Brereton.
  • The inquiry agents glanced at each other and then at Carfax. And Carfax slowl_ook off his spectacles with a flourish, and looked more judicial than ever a_e answered the young barrister's question.
  • "I will tell you what I propose to do," he replied. "I propose to take thes_wo men over to Highmarket this evening and to let them tell the Highmarke_olice all they have just told you!"