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Chapter 4 THE PINE WOOD

  • Brereton, standing back in the room, the cigar which Cotherstone had jus_iven him unlighted in one hand, the glass which Lettie had presented to hi_n the other, was keenly watching the man who had just spoken and the man t_hom he spoke. But all his attention was quickly concentrated on Cotherstone.
  • For despite a strong effort to control himself, Cotherstone swayed a little, and instinctively put out a hand and clutched Bent's arm. He paled, too—th_udden spasm of pallor was almost instantly succeeded by a quick flush o_olour. He made another effort—and tried to laugh.
  • "Nonsense, man!" he said thickly and hoarsely. "Murder? Who should want t_ill an old chap like that? It's—here, give me a drink, one of you—that's—_it startling!"
  • Bent seized a tumbler which he himself had just mixed, and Cotherstone gulpe_ff half its contents. He looked round apologetically.
  • "I—I think I'm not as strong as I was," he muttered. "Overwork, likely—I'v_een a bit shaky of late. A shock like that——"
  • "I'm sorry," said Garthwaite, who looked surprised at the effect of his news.
  • "I ought to have known better. But you see, yours is the nearest house——"
  • "Quite right, my lad, quite right," exclaimed Cotherstone. "You did the righ_hing. Here!—we'd better go up. Have you called the police?"
  • "I sent the man from the cottage at the foot of your garden," answere_arthwaite. "He was just locking up as I passed, so I told him, and sent hi_ff."
  • "We'll go," said Cotherstone. He looked round at his guests. "You'll come?" h_sked.
  • "Don't you go, father," urged Lettie, "if you're not feeling well."
  • "I'm all right," insisted Cotherstone. "A mere bit of weakness—that's all. No_hat I know what's to be faced—" he twisted suddenly on Garthwaite—"what make_ou think it's murder?" he demanded. "Murder! That's a big word."
  • Garthwaite glanced at Lettie, who was whispering to Bent, and shook his head.
  • "Tell you when we get outside," he said. "I don't want to frighten you_aughter."
  • "Come on, then," said Cotherstone. He hurried into the hall and snatched up a_vercoat. "Fetch me that lantern out of the kitchen," he called to th_arlourmaid. "Light it! Don't you be afraid, Lettie," he went on, turning t_is daughter. "There's naught to be afraid of—now. You gentlemen coming wit_s?"
  • Bent and Brereton had already got into their coats: when the maid came wit_he lantern, all four men went out. And as soon as they were in the garde_otherstone turned on Garthwaite.
  • "How do you know he's murdered?" he asked. "How could you tell?"
  • "I'll tell you all about it, now we're outside," answered Garthwaite. "I'_een over to Spennigarth, to see Hollings. I came back over the Shawl, an_ade a short cut through the wood. And I struck my foot agains_omething—something soft, you know—I don't like thinking of that! And so _truck a match, and looked, and saw this old fellow—don't like thinking o_hat, either. He was laid there, a few yards out of the path that runs acros_he Shawl at that point. I saw he was dead—and as for his being murdered, well, all I can say is, he's been strangled! That's flat."
  • "Strangled!" exclaimed Bent.
  • "Aye, without doubt," replied Garthwaite. "There's a bit of rope round hi_eck that tight that I couldn't put my little finger between it and him! Bu_ou'll see for yourselves—it's not far up the Shawl. You never heard anything, Mr. Cotherstone?"
  • "No, we heard naught," answered Cotherstone. "If it's as you say, there'd b_aught to hear."
  • He had led them out of his grounds by a side-gate, and they were now in th_hick of the firs and pines which grew along the steep, somewhat rugged slop_f the Shawl. He put the lantern into Garthwaite's hand.
  • "Here—you show the way," he said. "I don't know where it is, of course."
  • "You were going straight to it," remarked Garthwaite. He turned to Brereton, who was walking at his side. "You're a lawyer, aren't you?" he asked. "I hear_hat Mr. Bent had a lawyer friend stopping with him just now—we hear all th_its of news in a little place like Highmarket. Well—you'll understand, likely—it hadn't been long done!"
  • "You noticed that?" said Brereton.
  • "I touched him," replied Garthwaite. "His hand and cheek were—just warm. H_ouldn't have been dead so very long—as I judged matters. And—here he is!"
  • He twisted sharply round the corner of one of the great masses of limeston_hich cropped out amongst the trees, and turned the light of the lantern o_he dead man.
  • "There!" he said in a hushed voice. "There!"
  • The four men came to a halt, each gazing steadily at the sight they had com_o see. It needed no more than a glance to assure each that he was looking o_eath: there was that in Kitely's attitude which forbade any othe_ossibility.
  • "He's just as I found him," whispered Garthwaite. "I came round this rock fro_here, d'ye see, and my foot knocked against his shoulder. But, you know, he'_een dragged here! Look at that!"
  • Brereton, after a glance at the body, had looked round at its surroundings.
  • The wood thereabouts was carpeted—thickly carpeted—with pine needles; they la_everal inches thick beneath the trunks of the trees; they stretched right u_o the edge of the rock. And now, as Garthwaite turned the lantern, they sa_hat on this soft carpet there was a great slur—the murderer had evidentl_ragged his victim some yards across the pine needles before depositing hi_ehind the rock. And at the end of this mark there were plain traces of _truggle—the soft, easily yielding stuff was disturbed, kicked about, upheaved, but as Brereton at once recognized, it was impossible to trac_ootprints in it.
  • "That's where it must have been," said Garthwaite. "You see there's a bit of _ath there. The old man must have been walking along that path, and whoeve_id it must have sprung out on him there—where all those marks are—and whe_e'd strangled him dragged him here. That's how I figure it, Mr. Cotherstone."
  • Lights were coming up through the wood beneath them, glancing from point t_oint amongst the trees. Then followed a murmur of voices, and three or fou_en came into view—policemen, carrying their lamps, the man whom Garthwait_ad sent into the town, and a medical man who acted as police surgeon.
  • "Here!" said Bent, as the newcomers advanced and halted irresolutely. "Thi_ay, doctor—there's work for you here—of a sort, anyway. Of course, he'_ead?"
  • The doctor had gone forward as soon as he caught sight of the body, and h_ropped on his knees at its side while the others gathered round. In the adde_ight everybody now saw things more clearly. Kitely lay in a heap—just as _an would lie who had been unceremoniously thrown down. But Brereton's shar_yes saw at once that after he had been flung at the foot of the mass of roc_ome hand had disarranged his clothing. His overcoat and under coat had bee_orn open, hastily, if not with absolute violence; the lining of one trouser_ocket was pulled out; there were evidences that his waistcoat had bee_nbuttoned and its inside searched: everything seemed to indicate that th_urderer had also been a robber.
  • "He's not been dead very long," said the doctor, looking up. "Certainly no_ore than three-quarters of an hour. Strangled? Yes!—and by somebody who ha_ore than ordinary knowledge of how quickly a man may be killed in that way!
  • Look how this cord is tied—no amateur did that."
  • He turned back the neckcloth from the dead man's throat, and showed the other_ow the cord had been slipped round the neck in a running-knot and fastene_ightly with a cunning twist.
  • "Whoever did this had done the same thing before—probably more than once," h_ontinued. "No man with that cord round his neck, tightly knotted like that, would have a chance—however free his hands might be. He'd be dead before h_ould struggle. Does no one know anything about this? No more than that?" h_ent on, when he had heard what Garthwaite could tell. "Well, this is murder, anyway! Are there no signs of anything about here?"
  • "Don't you think his clothing looks as if he had been robbed?" said Brereton, pointing to the obvious signs. "That should be noted before he's moved."
  • "I've noted that, sir," said the police-sergeant, who had bent over the bod_hile the doctor was examining it. "There's one of his pockets turned insid_ut, and all his clothing's been torn open. Robbery, of course—that's wha_t's been—murder for the sake of robbery!"
  • One of the policemen, having satisfied his curiosity stepped back and began t_earch the surroundings with the aid of his lamp. He suddenly uttered a shar_xclamation.
  • "Here's something!" he said, stooping to the foot of a pine-tree and pickin_p a dark object. "An old pocket-book—nothing in it, though."
  • "That was his," remarked Cotherstone. "I've seen it before. He used to carr_t in an inner pocket. Empty, do you say?—no papers?"
  • "Not a scrap of anything," answered the policeman, handing the book over t_is sergeant, and proceeding to search further. "We'd best to see if there'_ny footprints about."
  • "You'd better examine that path, then," said Garthwaite. "You'll find n_rints on all this pine-needle stuff—naught to go by, anyway—it's too thic_nd soft. But he must have come along that path, one way or another—I've me_im walking in here of an evening, more than once."
  • The doctor, who had exchanged a word or two with the sergeant, turned t_otherstone.
  • "Wasn't he a tenant of yours?" he asked. "Had the cottage at the top of th_hawl here. Well, we'd better have the body removed there, and some one shoul_o up and warn his family."
  • "There's no family," answered Cotherstone. "He'd naught but a housekeeper—Mis_ett. She's an elderly woman—and not likely to be startled, from what I'v_een of her."
  • "I'll go," said Bent. "I know the housekeeper." He touched Brereton's elbow, and led him away amongst the trees and up the wood. "This is a strang_ffair!" he continued when they were clear of the others. "Did you hear wha_r. Rockcliffe said?—that whoever had done it was familiar with that sort o_hing!"
  • "I saw for myself," replied Brereton. "I noticed that cord, and the knot o_t, at once. A man whose neck was tied up like that could be thrown down, thrown anywhere, left to stand up, if you like, and he'd be literall_elpless, even if, as the doctor said, he had the use of his hands. He'd b_nconscious almost at once—dead very soon afterwards. Murder?—I should thin_o!—and a particularly brutal and determined one. Bent!—whoever killed tha_oor old fellow was a man of great strength and of—knowledge! Knowledge, min_ou!—he knew the trick. You haven't any doubtful character in Highmarket wh_as ever lived in India, have you?"
  • "India! Why India?" asked Bent.
  • "Because I should say that the man who did that job has learned some of th_ndian tricks with cords and knots," answered Brereton. "That murder'_uggestive of Thuggeeism in some respects. That the cottage?" he went on, pointing to a dim light ahead of him. "This housekeeper, now?—is she the sor_ho'll take it quietly?"
  • "She's as queer a character as the old fellow himself was," replied Bent, a_hey cleared the wood and entered a hedge-enclosed garden at the end of whic_tood an old-fashioned cottage. "I've talked to her now and then when callin_ere—I should say she's a woman of nerve."
  • Brereton looked narrowly at Miss Pett when she opened the door. She carried _allow candle in one hand and held it high above her head to throw a light o_he callers; its dim rays fell more on herself than on them. A tall, gaunt, elderly woman, almost fleshless of face, and with a skin the colour of ol_archment, out of which shone a pair of bright black eyes; the oddity of he_ppearance was heightened by her head-dress—a glaring red and yello_andkerchief tightly folded in such a fashion as to cover any vestige of hair.
  • Her arms, bare to the elbow, and her hands were as gaunt as her face, bu_rereton was quick to recognize the suggestion of physical strength in th_uscles and sinews under the parchment-like skin. A strange, odd-looking woma_ltogether, he thought, and not improved by the fact that she appeared to hav_ost all her teeth, and that a long, sharp nose and prominent chin almost me_efore her sunken lips.
  • "Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Bent?" she said, before either of the young me_ould speak. "Mr. Kitely's gone out for his regular bedtime constitution—h_ill have that, wet or fine, every night. But he's much longer than usual, and——"
  • She stopped suddenly, seeing some news in Bent's face, and her own contracte_o a questioning look.
  • "Is there aught amiss?" she asked. "Has something happened him? Aught that'_erious? You needn't be afraid to speak, Mr. Bent—there's naught can upset o_righten me, let me tell you—I'm past all that!"
  • "I'm afraid Mr. Kitely's past everything, too, then," said Bent. He looke_teadily at her for a moment, and seeing that she understood, went on.
  • "They're bringing him up, Miss Pett—you'd better make ready. You won't b_larmed—I don't think there's any doubt that he's been murdered."
  • The woman gazed silently at her visitors; then, nodding her turbaned head, sh_rew back into the cottage.
  • "It's what I expected," she muttered. "I warned him—more than once. Well—le_hem bring him, then."
  • She vanished into a side-room, and Bent and Brereton went down the garden an_et the others, carrying the dead man. Cotherstone followed behind the police, and as he approached Bent he pulled him by the sleeve and drew him aside.
  • "There's a clue!" he whispered. "A clue, d'ye hear—a strong clue!"