"GRIFFITHS, of the Newcastle Constabulary, has the case in hand," said Mr.
Dyer; "those Newcastle men are keen-witted, shrewd fellows, and very jealou_f outside interference. They only sent to me under protest, as it were, because they wanted your sharp wits at work inside the house."
"I suppose throughout I am to work with Griffiths, not with you?" said Mis_rooke.
"Yes; when I have given you in outline the facts of the case, I simply hav_othing more to do with it, and you must depend on Griffiths for an_ssistance of any sort that you may require."
Here, with a swing, Mr. Dyer opened his big ledger and turned rapidly over it_eaves till he came to the heading "Troyte's Hill" and the date "Septembe_th."
"I'm all attention," said Loveday, leaning back in her chair in the attitud_f a listener.
"The murdered man," resumed Mr. Dyer, "is a certain Alexande_enderson–usually known as old Sandy–lodge-keeper to Mr. Craven, of Troyte'_ill, Cumberland. The lodge consists merely of two rooms on the ground floor, a bedroom and a sitting-room; these Sandy occupied alone, having neither kit_or kin of any degree. On the morning of September 6th, some children going u_o the house with milk from the farm, noticed that Sandy's bed-room windo_tood wide open. Curiosity prompted them to peep in; and then, to thei_orror, they saw old Sandy, in his night-shirt, lying dead on the floor, as i_e had fallen backwards from the window. They raised an alarm; and o_xamination, it was found that death had ensued from a heavy blow on th_emple, given either by a strong fist or some blunt instrument. The room, o_eing entered, presented a curious appearance. It was as if a herd of monkey_ad been turned into it and allowed to work their impish will. Not an articl_f furniture remained in its place: the bed-clothes had been rolled into _undle and stuffed into the chimney; the bedstead–a small iron one–lay on it_ide; the one chair in the room stood on the top of the table; fender an_ire-irons lay across the washstand, whose basin was to be found in a farthe_orner, holding bolster and pillow. The clock stood on its head in the middl_f the mantelpiece; and the small vases and ornaments, which flanked it o_ither side, were walking, as it were, in a straight line towards the door.
The old man's clothes had been rolled into a ball and thrown on the top of _igh cupboard in which he kept his savings and whatever valuables he had. Thi_upboard, however, had not been meddled with, and its contents remaine_ntact, so it was evident that robbery was not the motive for the crime. A_he inquest, subsequently held, a verdict of 'willful murder' against som_erson or persons unknown was returned. The local police are diligentl_nvestigating the affair, but, as yet, no arrests have been made. The opinio_hat at present prevails in the neighbourhood is that the crime has bee_erpetrated by some lunatic, escaped or otherwise and enquiries are being mad_t the local asylums as to missing or lately released inmates. Griffiths, however, tells me that his suspicions set in another direction."
"Did anything of importance transpire at the inquest?"
"Nothing specially important. Mr. Craven broke down in giving his evidenc_hen he alluded to the confidential relations that had always subsiste_etween Sandy and himself, and spoke of the last time that he had seen hi_live. The evidence of the butler, and one or two of the female servants, seems clear enough, and they let fall something of a hint that Sandy was no_ltogether a favourite among them, on account of the overbearing manner i_hich he used his influence with his master. Young Mr. Craven, a youth o_bout nineteen, home from Oxford for the long vacation, was not present at th_nquest; a doctor's certificate was put in stating that he was suffering fro_yphoid fever, and could not leave his bed without risk to his life. Now thi_oung man is a thoroughly bad sort, and as much a gentleman-blackleg as it i_ossible for such a young fellow to be. It seems to Griffiths that there i_omething suspicious about this illness of his. He came back from Oxford o_he verge of delirium tremens, pulled round from that, and then suddenly, o_he day after the murder, Mrs. Craven rings the bell, announces that he ha_eveloped typhoid fever and orders a doctor to be sent for."
"What sort of man is Mr. Craven senior?"
"He seems to be a quiet old fellow, a scholar and learned philologist. Neithe_is neighbours nor his family see much of him; he almost lives in his study, writing a treatise, in seven or eight volumes, on comparative philology. He i_ot a rich man. Troyte's Hill, though it carries position in the county, i_ot a paying property, and Mr. Craven is unable to keep it up properly. I a_old he has had to cut down expenses in all directions in order to send hi_on to college, and his daughter from first to last has been entirely educate_y her mother. Mr. Craven was originally intended for the church, but for som_eason or other, when his college career came to an end, he did not presen_imself for ordination–went out to Natal instead, where he obtained some civi_ppointment and where he remained for about fifteen years. Henderson was hi_ervant during the latter portion of his Oxford career, and must have bee_reatly respected by him, for although the remuneration derived from hi_ppointment at Natal was small, he paid Sandy a regular yearly allowance ou_f it. When, about ten years ago, he succeeded to Troyte's Hill, on the deat_f his elder brother, and returned home with his family, Sandy was immediatel_nstalled as lodge-keeper, and at so high a rate of pay that the butler'_ages were cut down to meet it."
"Ah, that wouldn't improve the butler's feelings towards him," ejaculate_oveday.
Mr. Dyer went on: "But, in spite of his high wages, he doesn't appear to hav_roubled much about his duties as lodge-keeper, for they were performed, as _ule, by the gardener's boy, while he took his meals and passed his time a_he house, and, speaking generally, put his finger into every pie. You kno_he old adage respecting the servant of twenty-one years' standing: 'Seve_ears my servant, seven years my equal, seven years my master.' Well, i_ppears to have held good in the case of Mr. Craven and Sandy. The ol_entleman, absorbed in his philological studies, evidently let the reins sli_hrough his fingers, and Sandy seems to have taken easy possession of them.
The servants frequently had to go to him for orders, and he carried things, a_ rule, with a high hand."
"Did Mrs. Craven never have a word to say on the matter?"
"I've not heard much about her. She seems to be a quiet sort of person. She i_ Scotch missionary's daughter; perhaps she spends her time working for th_ape mission and that sort of thing."
"And young Mr. Craven: did he knock under to Sandy's rule?"
"Ah, now you're hitting the bull's eye and we come to Griffiths' theory. Th_oung man and Sandy appear to have been at loggerheads ever since the Craven_ook possession of Troyte's Hill. As a schoolboy Master Harry defied Sandy an_hreatened him with his hunting-crop; and subsequently, as a young man, ha_sed strenuous endeavours to put the old servant in his place. On the da_efore the murder, Griffiths says, there was a terrible scene between the two, in which the young gentleman, in the presence of several witnesses, made us_f strong language and threatened the old man's life. Now, Miss Brooke, I hav_old you all the circumstances of the case so far as I know them. For fulle_articulars I must refer you to Griffiths. He, no doubt, will meet you a_renfell–the nearest station to Troyte's Hill, and tell you in what capacit_e has procured for you an entrance into the house. By-the-way, he has wire_o me this morning that he hopes you will be able to save the Scotch expres_o-night."
Loveday expressed her readiness to comply with Mr. Griffiths' wishes.
"I shall be glad," said Mr. Dyer, as he shook hands with her at the offic_oor, "to see you immediately on your return–that, however, I suppose, wil_ot be yet awhile. This promises, I fancy, to be a longish affair?" This wa_aid interrogatively.
"I haven't the least idea on the matter," answered Loveday. "I start on m_ork without theory of any sort–in fact, I may say, with my mind a perfec_lank."
And anyone who had caught a glimpse of her blank, expressionless features, a_he said this, would have taken her at her word.
Grenfell, the nearest post-town to Troyte's Hill, is a fairly busy, populou_ittle town–looking south towards the black country, and northwards to low, barren hills. Pre-eminent among these stands Troyte's Hill, famed in the ol_ays as a border keep, and possibly at a still earlier date as a Drui_tronghold.
At a small inn at Grenfell, dignified by the title of "The Station Hotel," Mr.
Griffiths, of the Newcastle constabulary, met Loveday and still furthe_nitiated her into the mysteries of the Troyte's Hill murder.
"A little of the first excitement has subsided," he said, after preliminar_reetings had been exchanged; "but still the wildest rumours are flying abou_nd repeated as solemnly as if they were Gospel truths. My chief here and m_olleagues generally adhere to their first conviction, that the criminal i_ome suddenly crazed tramp or else an escaped lunatic, and they are confiden_hat sooner or later we shall come upon his traces. Their theory is tha_andy, hearing some strange noise at the Park Gates, put his head out of th_indow to ascertain the cause and immediately had his death blow dealt him; then they suppose that the lunatic scrambled into the room through the windo_nd exhausted his frenzy by turning things generally upside down. They refus_ltogether to share my suspicions respecting young Mr. Craven."
Mr. Griffiths was a tall, thin-featured man, with iron-grey hair, but so clos_o his head that it refused to do anything but stand on end. This gave _omewhat comic expression to the upper portion of his face and clashed oddl_ith the melancholy look that his mouth habitually wore.
"I have made all smooth for you at Troyte's Hill," he presently went on. "Mr.
Craven is not wealthy enough to allow himself the luxury of a family lawyer, so he occasionally employs the services of Messrs. Wells and Sugden, lawyer_n this place, and who, as it happens, have, off and on, done a good deal o_usiness for me. It was through them I heard that Mr. Craven was anxious t_ecure the assistance of an amanuensis. I immediately offered your services, stating that you were a friend of mine, a lady of impoverished means, wh_ould gladly undertake the duties for the munificent sum of a guinea a month, with board and lodging. The old gentleman at once jumped at the offer, and i_nxious for you to be at Troyte's Hill at once."
Loveday expressed her satisfaction with the programme that Mr. Griffiths ha_ketched for her, then she had a few questions to ask.
"Tell me," she said, "what led you, in the first instance, to suspect youn_r. Craven of the crime?"
"The footing on which he and Sandy stood towards each other, and the terribl_cene that occurred between them only the day before the murder," answere_riffiths, promptly. "Nothing of this, however, was elicited at the inquest, where a very fair face was put on Sandy's relations with the whole of th_raven family. I have subsequently unearthed a good deal respecting th_rivate life of Mr. Harry Craven, and, among other things, I have found ou_hat on the night of the murder he left the house shortly after ten o'clock, and no one, so far as I have been able to ascertain, knows at what hour h_eturned. Now I must draw your attention, Miss Brooke, to the fact that at th_nquest the medical evidence went to prove that the murder had been committe_etween ten and eleven at night."
"Do you surmise, then, that the murder was a planned thing on the part of thi_oung man?"
"I do. I believe that he wandered about the grounds until Sandy shut himsel_n for the night, then aroused him by some outside noise, and, when the ol_an looked out to ascertain the cause, dealt him a blow with a bludgeon o_oaded stick, that caused his death."
"A cold-blooded crime that, for a boy of nineteen?"
"Yes. He's a good-looking, gentlemanly youngster, too, with manners as mild a_ilk, but from all accounts is as full of wickedness as an egg is full o_eat. Now, to come to another point–if, in connection with these ugly facts, you take into consideration the suddenness of his illness, I think you'l_dmit that it bears a suspicious appearance and might reasonably give rise t_he surmise that it was a plant on his part, in order to get out of th_nquest."
"Who is the doctor attending him?"
"A man called Waters; not much of a practitioner, from all accounts, and n_oubt he feels himself highly honoured in being summoned to Troyte's Hill. Th_ravens, it seems, have no family doctor. Mrs. Craven, with her missionar_xperience, is half a doctor herself, and never calls in one except in _erious emergency."
"The certificate was in order, I suppose?"
"Undoubtedly. And, as if to give colour to the gravity of the case, Mrs.
Craven sent a message down to the servants, that if any of them were afraid o_he infection they could at once go to their homes. Several of the maids, _elieve, took advantage of her permission, and packed their boxes. Mis_raven, who is a delicate girl, was sent away with her maid to stay wit_riends at Newcastle, and Mrs. Craven isolated herself with her patient in on_f the disused wings of the house."
"Has anyone ascertained whether Miss Craven arrived at her destination a_ewcastle?"
Griffiths drew his brows together in thought.
"I did not see any necessity for such a thing," he answered. "I don't quit_ollow you. What do you mean to imply?"
"Oh, nothing. I don't suppose it matters much: it might have been interestin_s a side-issue." She broke off for a moment, then added:
"Now tell me a little about the butler, the man whose wages were cut down t_ncrease Sandy's pay."
"Old John Hales? He's a thoroughly worthy, respectable man; he was butler fo_ive or six years to Mr. Craven's brother, when he was master of Troyte'_ill, and then took duty under this Mr. Craven. There's no ground fo_uspicion in that quarter. Hales's exclamation when he heard of the murder i_uite enough to stamp him as an innocent man: 'Serve the old idiot right,' h_ried: 'I couldn't pump up a tear for him if I tried for a month of Sundays!'
Now I take it, Miss Brooke, a guilty man wouldn't dare make such a speech a_hat!"
"You think not?"
Griffiths stared at her. "I'm a little disappointed in her," he thought. "I'_fraid her powers have been slightly exaggerated if she can't see such _traight-forward thing as that."
Aloud he said, a little sharply, "Well, I don't stand alone in my thinking. N_ne yet has breathed a word against Hales, and if they did, I've no doubt h_ould prove an _alibi_ without any trouble, for he lives in the house, an_veryone has a good word for him."
"I suppose Sandy's lodge has been put into order by this time?"
"Yes; after the inquest, and when all possible evidence had been taken, everything was put straight."
"At the inquest it was stated that no marks of footsteps could be traced i_ny direction?"
"The long drought we've had would render such a thing impossible, let alon_he fact that Sandy's lodge stands right on the graveled drive, withou_lower-beds or grass borders of any sort around it. But look here, Mis_rooke, don't you be wasting your time over the lodge and its surroundings.
Every iota of fact on that matter has been gone through over and over again b_e and my chief. What we want you to do is to go straight into the house an_oncentrate attention on Master Harry's sick-room, and find out what's goin_n there. What he did outside the house on the night of the 6th, I've no doub_ shall be able to find out for myself. Now, Miss Brooke, you've asked me n_nd of questions, to which I have replied as fully as it was in my power t_o; will you be good enough to answer one question that I wish to put, a_traightforwardly as I have answered yours? You have had fullest particular_iven you of the condition of Sandy's room when the police entered it on th_orning after the murder. No doubt, at the present moment, you can see it al_n your mind's eye–the bedstead on its side, the clock on its head, the bed- clothes half-way up the chimney, the little vases and ornaments walking in _traight line towards the door?"
Loveday bowed her head.
"Very well, Now will you be good enough to tell me what this scene o_onfusion recalls to your mind before anything else?"
"The room of an unpopular Oxford freshman after a raid upon it by undergrads,"
answered Loveday promptly.
Mr. Griffiths rubbed his hands.
"Quite so!" he ejaculated. "I see, after all, we are one at heart in thi_atter, in spite of a little surface disagreement of ideas. Depend upon it, by-and-bye, like the engineers tunneling from different quarters under th_lps, we shall meet at the same point and shake hands. By-the-way, I hav_rranged for daily communication between us through the postboy who takes th_etters to Troyte's Hill. He is trustworthy, and any letter you give him fo_e will find its way into my hands within the hour."
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when Loveday drove in through th_ark gates of Troyte's Hill, past the lodge where old Sandy had met with hi_eath. It was a pretty little cottage, covered with Virginia creeper and wil_oneysuckle, and showing no outward sign of the tragedy that had been enacte_ithin.
The park and pleasure-grounds of Troyte's Hill were extensive, and the hous_tself was a somewhat imposing red brick structure, built, possibly, at th_ime when Dutch William's taste had grown popular in the country. Its frontag_resented a somewhat forlorn appearance, its centre windows–a square o_ight–alone seeming to show signs of occupation. With the exception of tw_indows at the extreme end of the bedroom floor of the north wing, where, possibly, the invalid and his mother were located, and two windows at th_xtreme end of the ground floor of the south wing, which Loveday ascertaine_ubsequently were those of Mr. Craven's study, not a single window in eithe_ing owned blind or curtain. The wings were extensive, and it was easy t_nderstand that at the extreme end of the one the fever patient would b_solated from the rest of the household, and that at the extreme end of th_ther Mr. Craven could secure the quiet and freedom from interruption which, no doubt, were essential to the due prosecution of his philological studies.
Alike on the house and ill-kept grounds were present the stamp of th_mallness of the income of the master and owner of the place. The terrace, which ran the length of the house in front, and on to which every window o_he ground floor opened, was miserably out of repair: not a lintel or door- post, window-ledge or balcony but what seemed to cry aloud for the touch o_he painter. "Pity me! I have seen better days," Loveday could fancy writte_s a legend across the red-brick porch that gave entrance to the old house.
The butler, John Hales, admitted Loveday, shouldered her portmanteau and tol_er he would show her to her room. He was a tall, powerfully-built man, with _uddy face and dogged expression of countenance. It was easy to understan_hat, off and on, there must have been many a sharp encounter between him an_ld Sandy. He treated Loveday in an easy, familiar fashion, evidentl_onsidering that an amanuensis took much the same rank as a nurser_overness–that is to say, a little below a lady's maid and a little above _ouse-maid.
"We're short of hands, just now," he said, in broad Cumberland dialect, as h_ed the way up the wide stair case. "Some of the lasses downstairs took frigh_t the fever and went home. Cook and I are single-handed, for Moggie, the onl_aid left, has been told off to wait on Madam and Master Harry. I hope you'r_ot afeared of fever?"
Loveday explained that she was not, and asked if the room at the extreme en_f the north wing was the one assigned to "Madam and Master Harry."
"Yes," said the man; "it's convenient for sick nursing; there's a flight o_tairs runs straight down from it to the kitchen quarters. We put all Mada_ants at the foot of those stairs and Moggie herself never enters the sick- room. I take it you'll not be seeing Madam for many a day, yet awhile."
"When shall I see Mr. Craven? At dinner to-night?"
"That's what naebody could say," answered Hales. "He may not come out of hi_tudy till past midnight; sometimes he sits there till two or three in th_orning. Shouldn't advise you to wait till he wants his dinner–better have _up of tea and a chop sent up to you. Madam never waits for him at any meal."
As he finished speaking he deposited the portmanteau outside one of the man_oors opening into the gallery.
"This is Miss Craven's room," he went on; "cook and me thought you'd bette_ave it, as it would want less getting ready than the other rooms, and work i_ork when there are so few hands to do it. Oh, my stars! I do declare there i_ook putting it straight for you now." The last sentence was added as th_pened door laid bare to view, the cook, with a duster in her hand, polishin_ mirror; the bed had been made, it is true, but otherwise the room must hav_een much as Miss Craven left it, after a hurried packing up.
To the surprise of the two servants Loveday took the matter very lightly.
"I have a special talent for arranging rooms and would prefer getting this on_traight for myself," she said. "Now, if you will go and get ready that cho_nd cup of tea we were talking about just now, I shall think it much kinde_han if you stayed here doing what I can so easily do for myself."
When, however, the cook and butler had departed in company, Loveday showed n_isposition to exercise the "special talent" of which she had boasted.
She first carefully turned the key in the lock and then proceeded to make _horough and minute investigation of every corner of the room. Not an articl_f furniture, not an ornament or toilet accessory, but what was lifted fro_ts place and carefully scrutinized. Even the ashes in the grate, the debri_f the last fire made there, were raked over and well looked through.
This careful investigation of Miss Craven's late surroundings occupied in al_bout three quarters of an hour, and Loveday, with her hat in her hand, descended the stairs to see Hales crossing the hall to the dining-room wit_he promised cup of tea and chop.
In silence and solitude she partook of the simple repast in a dining-hall tha_ould with ease have banqueted a hundred and fifty guests.
"Now for the grounds before it gets dark," she said to herself, as she note_hat already the outside shadows were beginning to slant.
The dining-hall was at the back of the house; and here, as in the front, th_indows, reaching to the ground, presented easy means of egress. The flower- garden was on this side of the house and sloped downhill to a pretty stretc_f well-wooded country.
Loveday did not linger here even to admire, but passed at once round the sout_orner of the house to the windows which she had ascertained, by a careles_uestion to the butler, were those of Mr. Craven's study.
Very cautiously she drew near them, for the blinds were up, the curtains draw_ack. A side glance, however, relieved her apprehensions, for it showed he_he occupant of the room, seated in an easy-chair, with his back to th_indows. From the length of his outstretched limbs he was evidently a tal_an. His hair was silvery and curly, the lower part of his face was hidde_rom her view by the chair, but she could see one hand was pressed tightl_cross his eyes and brows. The whole attitude was that of a man absorbed i_eep thought. The room was comfortably furnished, but presented an appearanc_f disorder from the books and manuscripts scattered in all directions. _hole pile of torn fragments of foolscap sheets, overflowing from a waste- paper basket beside the writing-table, seemed to proclaim the fact that th_cholar had of late grown weary of, or else dissatisfied with his work, an_ad condemned it freely.
Although Loveday stood looking in at this window for over five minutes, no_he faintest sign of life did that tall, reclining figure give, and it woul_ave been as easy to believe him locked in sleep as in thought.
From here she turned her steps in the direction of Sandy's lodge. As Griffith_ad said, it was graveled up to its doorstep. The blinds were closely drawn, and it presented the ordinary appearance of a disused cottage.
A narrow path beneath over-arching boughs of cherry-laurel and arbutus, immediately facing the lodge, caught her eye, and down this she at once turne_er footsteps.
This path led, with many a wind and turn, through a belt of shrubbery tha_kirted the frontage of Mr. Craven's grounds, and eventually, after much zig- zagging, ended in close proximity to the stables. As Loveday entered it, sh_eemed literally to leave daylight behind her.
"I feel as if I were following the course of a circuitous mind," she said t_erself as the shadows closed around her. "I could not fancy Sir Isaac Newto_r Bacon planning or delighting in such a wind-about-alley as this!"
The path showed greyly in front of her out of the dimness. On and on sh_ollowed it; here and there the roots of the old laurels, struggling out o_he ground, threatened to trip her up. Her eyes, however, had now grow_ccustomed to the half-gloom, and not a detail of her surroundings escaped he_s she went along.
A bird flew from out the thicket on her right hand with a startled cry. _ainty little frog leaped out of her way into the shriveled leaves lying belo_he laurels. Following the movements of this frog, her eye was caught b_omething black and solid among those leaves. What was it? A bundle–a shin_lack coat? Loveday knelt down, and using her hands to assist her eyes, foun_hat they came into contact with the dead, stiffened body of a beautiful blac_etriever. She parted, as well as she was able, the lower boughs of th_vergreens, and minutely examined the poor animal. Its eyes were still open, though glazed and bleared, and its death had, undoubtedly, been caused by th_low of some blunt, heavy instrument, for on one side its skull was almos_attered in.
"Exactly the death that was dealt to Sandy," she thought, as she groped hithe_nd thither beneath the trees in hopes of lighting upon the weapon o_estruction.
She searched until increasing darkness warned her that search was useless.
Then, still following the zig-zagging path, she made her way out by th_tables and thence back to the house.
She went to bed that night without having spoken to a soul beyond the cook an_utler. The next morning, however, Mr. Craven introduced himself to her acros_he breakfast-table. He was a man of really handsome personal appearance, wit_ fine carriage of the head and shoulders, and eyes that had a forlorn, appealing look in them. He entered the room with an air of great energy, apologized to Loveday for the absence of his wife, and for his own remissnes_n not being in the way to receive her on the previous day. Then he bade he_ake herself at home at the breakfast-table, and expressed his delight i_aving found a coadjutor in his work.
"I hope you understand what a great–a stupendous work it is?" he added, as h_ank into a chair. "It is a work that will leave its impress upon thought i_ll the ages to come. Only a man who has studied comparative philology as _ave for the past thirty years, could gauge the magnitude of the task I hav_et myself."
With the last remark, his energy seemed spent, and he sank back in his chair, covering his eyes with his hand in precisely the same attitude as that i_hich Loveday had seen him over-night, and utterly oblivious of the fact tha_reakfast was before him and a stranger-guest seated at table. The butle_ntered with another dish. "Better go on with your breakfast," he whispered t_oveday, "he may sit like that for another hour."
He placed his dish in front of his master.
"Captain hasn't come back yet, sir," he said, making an effort to arouse hi_rom his reverie.
"Eh, what?" said Mr. Craven, for a moment lifting his hand from his eyes.
"Captain, sir–the black retriever," repeated the man.
The pathetic look in Mr. Craven's eyes deepened.
"Ah, poor Captain!" he murmured; "the best dog I ever had."
Then he again sank back in his chair, putting his hand to his forehead.
The butler made one more effort to arouse him.
"Madam sent you down a newspaper, sir, that she thought you would like t_ee," he shouted almost into his master's ear, and at the same time laid th_orning's paper on the table beside his plate.
"Confound you! leave it there," said Mr. Craven irritably. "Fools! dolts tha_ou all are! With your trivialities and interruptions you are sending me ou_f the world with my work undone!"
And again he sank back in his chair, closed his eyes and became lost to hi_urroundings.
Loveday went on with her breakfast. She changed her place at table to one o_r. Craven's right hand, so that the newspaper sent down for his perusal la_etween his plate and hers. It was folded into an oblong shape, as if it wer_ished to direct attention to a certain portion of a certain column.
A clock in a corner of the room struck the hour with a loud, resonant stroke.
Mr. Craven gave a start and rubbed his eyes.
"Eh, what's this?" he said. "What meal are we at?" He looked around with _ewildered air. "Eh!–who are you?" he went on, staring hard at Loveday. "Wha_re you doing here? Where's Nina?–Where's Harry?"
Loveday began to explain, and gradually recollection seemed to come back t_im.
"Ah, yes, yes," he said. "I remember; you've come to assist me with my grea_ork. You promised, you know, to help me out of the hole I've got into. Ver_nthusiastic, I remember they said you were, on certain abstruse points i_omparative philology. Now, Miss–Miss–I've forgotten your name–tell me _ittle of what you know about the elemental sounds of speech that are commo_o all languages. Now, to how many would you reduce those elemental sounds–t_ix, eight, nine? No, we won't discuss the matter here, the cups and saucer_istract me. Come into my den at the other end of the house; we'll hav_erfect quiet there."
And utterly ignoring the fact that he had not as yet broken his fast, he ros_rom the table, seized Loveday by the wrist, and led her out of the room an_own the long corridor that led through the south wing to his study.
But seated in that study his energy once more speedily exhausted itself.
He placed Loveday in a comfortable chair at his writing-table, consulted he_aste as to pens, and spread a sheet of foolscap before her. Then he settle_imself in his easy-chair, with his back to the light, as if he were about t_ictate folios to her.
In a loud, distinct voice he repeated the title of his learned work, then it_ub-division, then the number and heading of the chapter that was at presen_ngaging his attention. Then he put his hand to his head. "It's the elementa_ounds that are my stumbling-block," he said. "Now, how on earth is i_ossible to get a notion of a sound of agony that is not in part a sound o_error? or a sound of surprise that is not in part a sound of either joy o_orrow?"
With this his energies were spent, and although Loveday remained seated i_hat study from early morning till daylight began to fade, she had not te_entences to show for her day's work as amanuensis.
Loveday in all spent only two clear days at Troyte's Hill.
On the evening of the first of those days Detective Griffiths received, through the trustworthy post-boy, the following brief note from her:
"I have found out that Hales owed Sandy close upon a hundred pounds, which h_ad borrowed at various times. I don't know whether you will think this fac_f any importance.–L. B."
Mr. Griffiths repeated the last sentence blankly. "If Harry Craven were pu_pon his defence, his counsel, I take it, would consider the fact of firs_mportance," he muttered. And for the remainder of that day Mr. Griffiths wen_bout his work in a perturbed state of mind, doubtful whether to hold or t_et go his theory concerning Harry Craven's guilt.
The next morning there came another brief note from Loveday which ran thus:
"As a matter of collateral interest, find out if a person, calling himsel_arold Cousins, sailed two days ago from London Docks for Natal in th_Bonnie Dundee?_ "
To this missive Loveday received, in reply, the following somewhat length_ispatch:
"I do not quite see the drift of your last note, but have wired to our agent_n London to carry out its suggestion. On my part, I have important news t_ommunicate. I have found out what Harry Craven's business out of doors was o_he night of the murder, and at my instance a warrant has been issued for hi_rrest. This warrant it will be my duty to serve on him in the course of to- day. Things are beginning to look very black against him, and I am convince_is illness is all a sham. I have seen Waters, the man who is supposed to b_ttending him, and have driven him into a corner and made him admit that h_as only seen young Craven once–on the first day of his illness–and that h_ave his certificate entirely on the strength of what Mrs. Craven told him o_er son's condition. On the occasion of this, his first and only visit, th_ady, it seems, also told him that it would not be necessary for him t_ontinue his attendance, as she quite felt herself competent to treat th_ase, having had so much experience in fever cases among the blacks at Natal.
"As I left Waters's house, after eliciting this important information, I wa_ccosted by a man who keeps a low-class inn in the place, McQueen by name. H_aid that he wished to speak to me on a matter of importance. To make a lon_tory short, this McQueen stated that on the night of the sixth, shortly afte_leven o'clock, Harry Craven came to his house, bringing with him a valuabl_iece of plate–a handsome epergne–and requested him to lend him a hundre_ounds on it, as he hadn't a penny in his pocket. McQueen complied with hi_equest to the extent of ten sovereigns, and now, in a fit of nervous terror, comes to me to confess himself a receiver of stolen goods and play the hones_an! He says he noticed that the young gentleman was very much agitated as h_ade the request, and he also begged him to mention his visit to no one. Now, I am curious to learn how Master Harry will get over the fact that he passe_he lodge at the hour at which the murder was most probably committed; or ho_e will get out of the dilemma of having repassed the lodge on his way back t_he house, and not noticed the wide-open window with the full moon shinin_own on it?
"Another word! Keep out of the way when I arrive at the house, somewher_etween two and three in the afternoon, to serve the warrant. I do not wis_our professional capacity to get wind, for you will most likely yet be o_ome use to us in the house.
Loveday read this note, seated at Mr. Craven's writing-table, with the ol_entleman himself reclining motionless beside her in his easy-chair. A littl_mile played about the corners of her mouth as she read over again th_ords–"for you will most likely yet be of some use to us in the house."
Loveday's second day in Mr. Craven's study promised to be as unfruitful as th_irst. For fully an hour after she had received Griffiths' note, she sat a_he writing-table with her pen in her hand, ready to transcribe Mr. Craven'_nspirations. Beyond, however, the phrase, muttered with closed eyes–"It's al_ere, in my brain, but I can't put it into words"–not a half-syllable escape_is lips.
At the end of that hour the sound of footsteps on the outside gravel made he_urn her head towards the window. It was Griffiths approaching with tw_onstables. She heard the hall door opened to admit them, but, beyond that, not a sound reached her ear, and she realized how fully she was cut off fro_ommunication with the rest of the household at the farther end of thi_noccupied wing.
Mr. Craven, still reclining in his semi-trance, evidently had not the faintes_uspicion that so important an event as the arrest of his only son on a charg_f murder was about to be enacted in the house.
Meantime, Griffiths and his constables had mounted the stairs leading to th_orth wing, and were being guided through the corridors to the sick-room b_he flying figure of Moggie, the maid.
"Hoot, mistress!" cried the girl, "here are three men coming up th_tairs–policemen, every one of them–will ye come and ask them what they b_anting?"
Outside the door of the sick-room stood Mrs. Craven–a tall, sharp-feature_oman with sandy hair going rapidly grey.
"What is the meaning of this? What is your business here?" she said haughtily, addressing Griffiths, who headed the party.
Griffiths respectfully explained what his business was, and requested her t_tand on one side that he might enter her son's room.
"This is my daughter's room; satisfy yourself of the fact," said the lady, throwing back the door as she spoke.
And Griffiths and his confrères entered, to find pretty Miss Craven, lookin_ery white and scared, seated beside a fire in a long flowing robe de chambre.
Griffiths departed in haste and confusion, without the chance of _rofessional talk with Loveday. That afternoon saw him telegraphing wildly i_ll directions, and dispatching messengers in all quarters. Finally he spen_ver an hour drawing up an elaborate report to his chief at Newcastle, assuring him of the identity of one, Harold Cousins, who had sailed in th_Bonnie Dundee_ for Natal, with Harry Craven, of Troyte's Hill, and advisin_hat the police authorities in that far-away district should be immediatel_ommunicated with.
The ink had not dried on the pen with which this report was written before _ote, in Loveday's writing, was put into his hand.
Loveday evidently had had some difficulty in finding a messenger for thi_ote, for it was brought by a gardener's boy, who informed Griffiths that th_ady had said he would receive a gold sovereign if he delivered the letter al_ight.
Griffiths paid the boy and dismissed him, and then proceeded to read Loveday'_ommunication.
It was written hurriedly in pencil, and ran as follows:
"Things are getting critical here. Directly you receive this, come up to th_ouse with two of your men, and post yourselves anywhere in the grounds wher_ou can see and not be seen. There will be no difficulty in this, for it wil_e dark by the time you are able to get there. I am not sure whether I shal_ant your aid to-night, but you had better keep in the grounds until morning, in case of need; and above all, never once lose sight of the study windows."
(This was underscored.) "If I put a lamp with a green shade in one of thos_indows, do not lose a moment in entering by that window, which I wil_ontrive to keep unlocked."
Detective Griffiths rubbed his forehead–rubbed his eyes, as he finishe_eading this.
"Well, I daresay it's all right," he said, "but I'm bothered, that's all, an_or the life of me I can't see one step of the way she is going."
He looked at his watch: the hands pointed to a quarter past six. The shor_eptember day was drawing rapidly to a close. A good five miles lay betwee_im and Troyte's Hill–there was evidently not a moment to lose.
At the very moment that Griffiths, with his two constables, were once mor_tarting along the Grenfell High Road behind the best horse they coul_rocure, Mr. Craven was rousing himself from his long slumber, and beginnin_o look around him. That slumber, however, though long, had not been _eaceful one, and it was sundry of the old gentleman's muttered exclamations, as he had started uneasily in his sleep, that had caused Loveday to open, an_hen to creep out of the room to dispatch, her hurried note.
What effect the occurrence of the morning had had upon the househol_enerally, Loveday, in her isolated corner of the house, had no means o_scertaining. She only noted that when Hales brought in her tea, as he di_recisely at five o'clock, he wore a particularly ill-tempered expression o_ountenance, and she heard him mutter, as he set down the tea-tray with _latter, something about being a respectable man, and not used to such "going_n."
It was not until nearly an hour and a half after this that Mr. Craven ha_wakened with a sudden start, and, looking wildly around him, had questione_oveday who had entered the room.
Loveday explained that the butler had brought in lunch at one, and tea a_ive, but that since then no one had come in.
"Now that's false," said Mr. Craven, in a sharp, unnatural sort of voice; "_aw him sneaking round the room, the whining, canting hypocrite, and you mus_ave seen him, too! Didn't you hear him say, in his squeaky old voice:
'Master, I knows your secret–'" He broke off abruptly, looking wildly round.
"Eh, what's this?" he cried. "No, no, I'm all wrong–Sandy is dead an_uried–they held an inquest on him, and we all praised him up as if he were _aint."
"He must have been a bad man, that old Sandy," said Loveday sympathetically.
"You're right! you're right!" cried Mr. Craven, springing up excitedly fro_is chair and seizing her by the hand. "If ever a man deserved his death, h_id. For thirty years he held that rod over my head, and then–ah where was I?"
He put his hand to his head and again sank, as if exhausted, into his chair.
"I suppose it was some early indiscretion of yours at college that he kne_f?" said Loveday, eager to get at as much of the truth as possible while th_ood for confidence held sway in the feeble brain.
"That was it! I was fool enough to marry a disreputable girl–a barmaid in th_own–and Sandy was present at the wedding, and then—" Here his eyes close_gain and his mutterings became incoherent.
For ten minutes he lay back in his chair, muttering thus; "A yelp–a groan,"
were the only words Loveday could distinguish among those mutterings, the_uddenly, slowly and distinctly, he said, as if answering some plainly-pu_uestion: "A good blow with the hammer and the thing was done."
"I should like amazingly to see that hammer," said Loveday; "do you keep i_nywhere at hand?"
His eyes opened with a wild, cunning look in them.
"Who's talking about a hammer? I did not say I had one. If anyone says I di_t with a hammer, they're telling a lie."
"Oh, you've spoken to me about the hammer two or three times," said Loveda_almly; "the one that killed your dog, Captain, and I should like to see it, that's all."
The look of cunning died out of the old man's eye–"Ah, poor Captain! splendi_og that! Well, now, where were we? Where did we leave off? Ah, I remember, i_as the elemental sounds of speech that bothered me so that night. Were yo_ere then? Ah, no! I remember. I had been trying all day to assimilate a dog'_elp of pain to a human groan, and I couldn't do it. The idea haunte_e–followed me about wherever I went. If they were both elemental sounds, the_ust have something in common, but the link between them I could not find; then it occurred to me, would a well-bred, well-trained dog like my Captain i_he stables, there, at the moment of death give an unmitigated currish yelp; would there not be something of a human note in his death-cry? The thing wa_orth putting to the test. If I could hand down in my treatise a fragment o_act on the matter, it would be worth a dozen dogs' lives. so I went out int_he moonlight–ah, but you know all about it–now, don't you?"
"Yes. Poor Captain! did he yelp or groan?"
"Why, he gave one loud, long, hideous yelp, just as if he had been a commo_ur. I might just as well have let him alone; it only set that other brut_pening his window and spying out on me, and saying in his cracked old voice:
'Master, what are you doing out here at this time of night?'"
Again he sank back in his chair, muttering incoherently with half-closed eyes.
Loveday let him alone for a minute or so; then she had another question t_sk.
"And that other brute–did he yelp or groan when you dealt him his blow?"
"What, old Sandy–the brute? he fell back–Ah, I remember, you said you woul_ike to see the hammer that stopped his babbling old tongue–now didn't you?"
He rose a little unsteadily from his chair, and seemed to drag his long limb_ith an effort across the room to a cabinet at the farther end. Opening _rawer in this cabinet, he produced, from amidst some specimens of strata an_ossils, a large-sized geological hammer.
He brandished it for a moment over his head, then paused with his finger o_is lip.
"Hush!" he said, "we shall have the fools creeping in to peep at us if w_on't take care." And to Loveday's horror he suddenly made for the door, turned the key in the lock, withdrew it and put it into his pocket.
She looked at the clock; the hands pointed to half-past seven. Had Griffith_eceived her note at the proper time, and were the men now in the grounds? Sh_ould only pray that they were.
"The light is too strong for my eyes," she said, and rising from her chair, she lifted the green-shaded lamp and placed it on a table that stood at th_indow.
"No, no, that won't do," said Mr. Craven; "that would show everyone outsid_hat we're doing in here." He crossed to the window as he spoke and remove_he lamp thence to the mantelpiece.
Loveday could only hope that in the few seconds it had remained in the windo_t had caught the eye of the outside watchers.
The old man beckoned to Loveday to come near and examine his deadly weapon.
"Give it a good swing round," he said, suiting the action to the word, "an_own it comes with a splendid crash." He brought the hammer round within a_nch of Loveday's forehead.
She started back.
"Ha, ha," he laughed harshly and unnaturally, with the light of madnes_ancing in his eyes now; "did I frighten you? I wonder what sort of sound yo_ould make if I were to give you a little tap just there." Here he lightl_ouched her forehead with the hammer. "Elemental, of course, it would be, and—"
Loveday steadied her nerves with difficulty. Locked in with this lunatic, he_nly chance lay in gaining time for the detectives to reach the house an_nter through the window.
"Wait a minute," she said, striving to divert his attention; "you have not ye_old me what sort of an elemental sound old Sandy made when he fell. If you'l_ive me pen and ink, I'll write down a full account of it all, and you ca_ncorporate it afterwards in your treatise."
For a moment a look of real pleasure flitted across the old man's face, the_t faded. "The brute fell back dead without a sound," he answered; "it was al_or nothing, that night's work; yet not altogether for nothing. No, I don'_ind owning I would do it all over again to get the wild thrill of joy at m_eart that I had when I looked down into that old man's dead face and fel_yself free at last! Free at last!" his voice rang out excitedly–once more h_rought his hammer round with an ugly swing.
"For a moment I was a young man again; I leaped into his room–the moon wa_hining full in through the window–I thought of my old college days, and th_un we used to have at Pembroke–topsy turvey I turned everything—" He brok_ff abruptly, and drew a step nearer to Loveday. "The pity of it all was," h_aid, suddenly dropping from his high, excited tone to a low, pathetic one,
"that he fell without a sound of any sort." Here he drew another step nearer.
"I wonder–" he said, then broke off again, and came close to Loveday's side.
"It has only this moment occurred to me," he said, now with his lips close t_oveday's ear, "that a woman, in her death agony, would be much more likely t_ive utterance to an elemental sound than a man."
He raised his hammer, and Loveday fled to the window, and was lifted from th_utside by three pairs of strong arms.
"I thought I was conducting my very last case–I never had such a narrow escap_efore!" said Loveday, as she stood talking with Mr. Griffiths on the Grenfel_latform, awaiting the train to carry her back to London. "It seems strang_hat no one before suspected the old gentleman's sanity–I suppose, however, people were so used to his eccentricities that they did not notice how the_ad deepened into positive lunacy. His cunning evidently stood him in goo_tead at the inquest."
"It is possible" said Griffiths thoughtfully, "that he did not absolutel_ross the very slender line that divided eccentricity from madness until afte_he murder. The excitement consequent upon the discovery of the crime may jus_ave pushed him over the border. Now, Miss Brooke, we have exactly ten minute_efore your train comes in. I should feel greatly obliged to you if you woul_xplain one or two things that have a professional interest for me."
"With pleasure," said Loveday. "Put your questions in categorical order and _ill answer them."
"Well, then, in the first place, what suggested to your mind the old man'_uilt?"
"The relations that subsisted between him and Sandy seemed to me to savour to_uch of fear on the one side and power on the other. Also the income paid t_andy during Mr. Craven's absence in Natal bore, to my mind, an unpleasan_esemblance to hush-money."
"Poor wretched being! And I hear that, after all, the woman he married in hi_ild young days died soon afterwards of drink. I have no doubt, however, tha_andy sedulously kept up the fiction of her existence, even after his master'_econd marriage. Now for another question: how was it you knew that Mis_raven had taken her brother's place in the sick-room?"
"On the evening of my arrival I discovered a rather long lock of fair hair i_he unswept fireplace of my room, which, as it happened, was usually occupie_y Miss Craven. It at once occurred to me that the young lady had been cuttin_ff her hair and that there must be some powerful motive to induce such _acrifice. The suspicious circumstances attending her brother's illness soo_upplied me with such a motive."
"Ah! that typhoid fever business was very cleverly done. Not a servant in th_ouse, I verily believe, but who thought Master Harry was upstairs, ill i_ed, and Miss Craven away at her friends' in Newcastle. The young fellow mus_ave got a clear start off within an hour of the murder. His sister, sent awa_he next day to Newcastle, dismissed her maid there, I hear, on the plea of n_ccommodation at her friends' house–sent the girl to her own home for _oliday and herself returned to Troyte's Hill in the middle of the night, having walked the five miles from Grenfell. No doubt her mother admitted he_hrough one of those easily-opened front windows, cut her hair and put her t_ed to personate her brother without delay. With Miss Craven's strong likenes_o Master Harry, and in a darkened room, it is easy to understand that th_yes of a doctor, personally unacquainted with the family, might easily b_eceived. Now, Miss Brooke, you must admit that with all this elaborat_hicanery and double dealing going on, it was only natural that my suspicion_hould set in strongly in that quarter."
"I read it all in another light, you see," said Loveday. "It seemed to me tha_he mother, knowing her son's evil proclivities, believed in his guilt, i_pite, possibly, of his assertions of innocence. The son, most likely, on hi_ay back to the house after pledging the family plate, had met old Mr. Crave_ith the hammer in his hand. Seeing, no doubt, how impossible it would be fo_im to clear himself without incriminating his father, he preferred flight t_atal to giving evidence at the inquest."
"Now about his alias?" said Mr. Griffiths briskly, for the train was at tha_oment steaming into the station. "How did you know that Harold Cousins wa_dentical with Harry Craven, and had sailed in the _Bonnie Dundee_?"
"Oh, that was easy enough," said Loveday, as she stepped into the train; "_ewspaper sent down to Mr. Craven by his wife, was folded so as to direct hi_ttention to the shipping list. In it I saw that the _Bonnie Dundee_ ha_ailed two days previously for Natal. Now it was only natural to connect Nata_ith Mrs. Craven, who had passed the greater part of her life there; and i_as easy to understand her wish to get her scapegrace son among her earl_riends. The alias under which he sailed came readily enough to light. I foun_t scribbled all over one of Mr. Craven's writing pads in his study; evidentl_t had been drummed into his ears by his wife as his son's alias, and the ol_entleman had taken this method of fixing it in his memory. We'll hope tha_he young fellow, under his new name, will make a new reputation fo_imself–at any rate, he'll have a better chance of doing so with the ocea_etween him and his evil companions. Now it's good-bye, I think."
"No," said Mr. Griffiths; "it's _au revoir_ , for you'll have to come bac_gain for the assizes, and give the evidence that will shut old Mr. Craven i_n asylum for the rest of his life."