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.
"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!"