Merriton stood at the study window, looking out, and pulling at his cigar wit_n air of profound meditation. Upon the hearth-rug Doctor Bartholomew, clad i_aggy tweeds, stood tugging at his beard and watched the man's back wit_indly, troubled eyes.
"Don't like it, Nigel, my boy; don't like it at all!" he ejaculated, suddenly, in his close-clipped fashion. "These detectives are the very devil to pay. Get
'em in one's house and they're like doctors—including, of course, my humbl_elf—difficult to get out. Part of the profession, my boy. But a beastl_uisance. Seems to me I'd rather have the mystery than the men. Simpler, anyway. And fees, you know, are heavy."
Merriton swung round upon his heel suddenly, his brows like a thunder cloud.
"I don't care a damn about that," he broke out angrily. "Let 'em take ever_enny I've got, so long as they solve the thing! But I can't get away fro_t—I just can't. Hangs over me night and day like the sword of Damocles! Unti_he mystery of Wynne's disappearance is cleared up, I tell you 'Toinette and _an't marry. She feels the same. And—and—we've the house all ready, you know, everything fixed and in order, except _this_. When poor old Collin_isappeared, too, I found I'd reached my limit. So here these detectives are, and, on the whole, jolly decent chaps I find 'em."
Doctor Bartholomew shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Have it your own way, my boy." But what he really _did_ say was:
"What are their names?"
"Young chap's Headland—George or John Headland, I don't remember quite which.
Other one's Lake—Gregory Lake."
"H'm. Good name that, Nigel. Ought to be some brains behind it. But I neve_id pin my faith on policemen, you know, boy. Scotland Yard's made so man_istakes that if it hadn't been for that chap Cleek, they'd have ruine_hemselves altogether. Now, he's a man, if you like! Pity you couldn't ge_him_ while you're about it."
The impulse to tell who "George Headland" really was to this firm friend wh_ad been more than a father to him, even in the old days, and who had made _oint of dropping down upon him, informally, ever since the trouble over Dacr_ynne's disappearance, took hold of Nigel. But he shook it off. He had give_is word. And if he could not tell 'Toinette, then no other soul in th_niverse should know. So he simply tossed his shoulders, and, going back t_he window, looked out of it, to hide the something of triumph which ha_tolen into his face.
Truth to tell, he was obsessed with a feeling that something _was_ going t_appen, and happen soon. The premonition, to one who was not used to suc_hings, carried all the more conviction. With Cleek on the track—anythin_ight happen. Cleek was a man for whom things never stood still, and hi_mazing brain was concentrated upon this problem as it had bee_oncentrated—successfully—upon others. Merriton had a feeling that it was onl_ matter of time.
Then, just as he was standing there, humming something softly beneath hi_reath, the cavalcade, headed by Cleek and Mr. Narkom, rather grim and silent, reached the gateway. Behind them—Merriton gave a sudden cry which brought th_octor to his side—behind them three men were carrying something—somethin_ulky and large and wrapped in a black oilskin tarpaulin. And one of the me_as Headland's servant, Dollops! He recognized that, even as his inne_onsciousness told him that his "something" was about to happen now.
"Gad! they've found the body," he exclaimed, in a hoarse, excited voice, fairly running to the front door and throwing it open with a crash that ran_hrough the old house from floor to rafters, and brought Borkins scuttling u_he kitchen stairs at a pace that was ill-befitting his age and dignity.
Merriton gave him a curt order.
"Have the morning-room door thrown open and the sofa pulled out from agains_he wall. My friends have been for a walk across the Fens, and have foun_omething. You can see them coming up the drive. What d'you make of it?"
"Gawd! a haccident, Sir Nigel," said Borkins, in a shaky voice. "'Adn't _etter tell Mrs. Mummery to put the blue bedroom in order and 'ave plenty of
'ot water?… "
"No." Merriton was running down the front steps and flung the answer back ove_is shoulder. "Can't you use your eyes? It's a body, you fool—a body!"
Borkins gasped a moment, and then stood still, his thin lips sucked in, hi_ace unpleasant to see. He was alone in the hallway, for Doctor Bartholomew'_at figure was waddling in Merriton's wake.
He put up his fist and shook it in their direction.
"Pity it ain't your body, young upstart that you are!" he muttered beneath hi_reath, and turned toward the morning room.
Meanwhile Merriton had reached the solemn little party and was walking bac_eside Cleek, his face chalky, the pupils of his eyes a trifle dilated wit_xcitement.
"Found 'em? Found 'em _both_ , you say, Mr. Headland?" he kept on repeatin_ver and over again, as they mounted the steps together. "Good God! What _trange—what a peculiar thing! I'll swear there was no sight nor sign of the_hen I've tramped over the Fens dozens of times. I don't know what to make o_t, I don't indeed!"
"Oh, we'll make something of it all right," returned Cleek, with a sharp loo_t him, for there was one thing he wanted to find out, and he meant to do tha_s soon as possible. "Two and two, you know, put together properly, alway_ake four. It's only the fools of the world that add wrong. If you'd had a_uch practice as I've had in dealing with humanity, you'd find it was an ever- increasing astonishment to see the way things dovetail in… . Who's this, b_he way?"
He jerked his head in the direction of the doctor, who had stopped at the foo_f the steps and waited for them to come up to him.
"Oh, a very old friend of mine, Mr. Headland. Doctor Bartholomew. Has a ver_ig practice in town, but a trifle eccentric, as you can see at first glance."
Cleek sent his keen eyes over the odd-looking figure in the worn tweeds.
"I see. Then can you tell me how he finds time to run down here at leisure an_isit you? Seems to me a man with a big practice never has enough time to wor_t in. At least, that has been my experience of doctors."
Merriton flushed angrily at the tone. He whipped his head round and me_leek's cool gaze hotly.
"I know you're down here to investigate the case, but I don't think there'_ny reason for you to start suspecting my friends," he retorted, his eye_lashing. "Doctor Bartholomew has a partner, if you want to know. And als_e's supposed to be retired. But he carries on for the love of the thing. Bes_an ever breathed—remember that!"
Cleek smiled to himself at the sudden onslaught. The young pepper-pot! Yet h_iked him for the loyal defence of his friend, nevertheless. There were al_oo few creatures in the world who found it impossible to suspect those who_hey cared for, and who cared for them.
"Sorry to have given any offence, I'm sure," he said, smoothly. "None wa_eant, right enough, Sir Nigel. But a policeman has an unpleasant duty, yo_now. He's got to keep his eyes and his ears open. So if you find mine ope_oo far, any time, just tip me the wink and I'll shut 'em up again."
"Oh, that's all right," said Merriton, mollified, and a trifle shamefaced a_he outburst. Then, with an effort to turn the conversation: "But think o_indin' 'em both, Mr.—er—Headland! Were they—very awful?"
"Pretty awful," returned Cleek, quietly; "eh, Mr. Lake?"
"God bless my soul— _yes_!" threw in that gentleman, with a shudder. "No_hen, boys, if you don't mind—" He took the attitude of a casual acquaintanc_ith his two assistants who helped to bear the burden. "Come along inside.
This way—that's it. Where did you say, Merriton? Into the morning room? Al_ight. Ah, Borkins has been getting things ready, I see. That couch is a broa_ne. Good thing, as there are two of 'em."
" _Two_ of 'em, sir?" exclaimed Borkins, suddenly throwing up his hands, hi_yes wide with horror. Mr. Narkom nodded with something of professiona_riumph in his look.
"Two of 'em, Borkins. And the second one, if I don't make any mistake, answer_o the description of James Collins—eh, Headland?"
Cleek gave him a sudden look that spoke volumes. It came over him in a flas_hat Narkom had said too much; that it wasn't the casual visitor's place t_now what a servant who was not there at the time of his visit looked like.
"At least—that's as far as I can make out from what Sir Nigel told me of hi_he other day," he supplemented, in an effort to make amends. "Now then, boys, put 'em there on the couch. Poor things! I warn you, Sir Nigel, this isn'_oing to be a pleasant sight, but you've got to go through with it, I'_fraid. The police'll want identification made, of course. Hadn't you better
'phone the local branch? Someone ought to be here in charge, you know."
Merriton nodded. He was so stunned at the actuality of these two men's deaths, at the knowledge that their bodies—lifeless, extinct—were here in his mornin_oom, that he had stood like an image, making no move, no sound.
"Yes—yes," he said, rapidly, waving a hand in Borkins's direction. "See tha_t's done at once, please. Tell Constable Roberts to come along with a coupl_f his men. Very decent of these chaps to give you a hand, Mr. Lake. That'_our man, Dollops, isn't it, Headland? Well, hadn't he better take 'e_ownstairs and give 'em a stiff whisky-and-soda? I expect the poor beggar_ave need of it."
Cleek held up a silencing hand.
"No," he said, firmly. "Not just yet, I think. They may be needed for evidenc_hen the constable comes. Now… ." He crossed over to where the bodies lay, an_ently removed the covering. Merriton went suddenly white, while the doctor, more used to such sights, bit his lips and laid a steadying hand upon th_ounger man's arm.
"My God!" cried Sir Nigel, despairingly. "How did they meet their death?"
Cleek reached down a finger and gently touched a blackened spot upon Wynne'_emple.
"Shot through the head, and the bullet penetrated the brain," he said, quietly. "Small-calibre revolver, too. There's your Frozen Flame for you, m_riend!"
But he was hardly prepared for the event that followed. For at this statement, Merriton threw a hand out suddenly, as though warding off a blow, took a ste_orward and peered at that which had once been his friend—and enemy—and the_ave out a strangled cry.
"Shot through the head!" he fairly shrieked, as Borkins came quietly into th_oom, and stopped short at the sound of his master's voice. "I tell you it'_mpossible— _impossible_! It wasn't my shot, Mr. Headland—it couldn't hav_een!"