Merriton leapt forward suddenly, and it was with difficulty that Cleek coul_estrain him from seizing the butler round the throat.
"Gently, gently, my friend," interposed Cleek, as he neatly caught Merriton'_pthrown arm. "It won't help you, you know, to attack a possible witness.
We've got to hear what this man says, to know whether he's speaking the trut_r not—and we've got to go into his evidence as clearly as we go into yours… .
You're perfectly right, Doctor, I _am_ a policeman, and I'm down here for th_xpress purpose of investigating this appalling affair. The expression of you_ace so plainly said, 'What right has he to go meddling in another man'_ffairs like this?' that I was obliged to confess the fact, for the sake of m_elf-respect. My friend here, Mr. Lake, is working with me." At this he gav_orkins a keen, searching look, and saw in the man's impassive countenanc_hat this was no news to him. "Now then, my man, speak out. You tell us yo_eard that revolver-shot when your master fired it from his bedroom. Where ar_our quarters?"
"On the other side of the 'ouse, sir," returned Borkins, flushing a trifle.
"But I was up in me dressing gown, as I'd some'ow thought that something wa_miss. I'd 'eard the quarrel that 'ad taken place between Sir Nigel and poo_r. Wynne, and I'd 'eard 'im go out and slam the door be'ind 'im. So I wa_eeping me ears peeled, as you might say."
"I see. Doing a bit of eavesdropping, eh?" asked Cleek, and was rewarded by a_ngry look from under the man's dark brows and a sudden tightening of th_ines about his mouth. "And what then?"
"I kept about, first in the bathroom, and then in the 'all, keeping my ear_pen, for I'd an idea that one day things would come to a 'ead between 'em.
Sir Nigel had taken Mr. Wynne's girl and—"
"Close your lying mouth, you vile beast!" spat out Merriton, vehemently, "an_on't you dare to mention her name, or I'll stop you for ever from speaking, whether I hang or not!"
Borkins looked at Cleek, and his look quite plainly conveyed the meaning tha_e wished the detective to notice how violent Sir Nigel could be on occasions, but if Cleek saw this he paid not the slightest heed.
"Speak as briefly as you can, please, and give as little offence," he cut in, in a sharp tone, and Borkins resumed:
"At last I saw Sir Nigel and the Doctor and Mr. West come up the corrido_ogether. I 'eard 'em bid each other good-night, saw the Doctor go into 'i_oom, and Mr. West return to the smoking-room, and 'eard Sir Nigel's key tur_n 'is lock. After that there was silence for a bit, and all I 'ears was 'i_oving about and muttering to 'imself, as though 'e was angry about something.
Then, just as I was a-goin' back to me own room, I 'eard the pistol-shot, an_ips back again. I 'eard 'im say, 'Got you—you devil!' and then withou_aitin' for anything else, I runs down to the servants' 'all, which i_irectly below the smoking room where the other gentlemen were talking an_moking. I peers out of the window, upward—for it's a half-basement, a_erhaps you've noticed, sir—and there, in the light of the moon, I see Mr.
Wynne's figure, crouched down against the gravel of the front path, and makin'
funny sorts of noises. And then, all of a sudden, 'e went still as a dea_an—and 'e _was_ a dead man. With that I flies to me own room, frightened hal_ut of me wits—for I'm a peace-lovin' person, and easily scared, I'_fraid—and then I locks meself in, sayin' over and over to meself the words,
'He's done it! He's done it at last! He's murdered Mr. Wynne, he has!' An_hat's all I 'ave to say, sir."
"And a damned sight too much, too, you liar!" threw in Merriton, furiously, his face convulsed with passion, the veins on his temple standing out lik_hipcords. "Why, the whole story's a fake. And if it _were_ true, tell me ho_ could get Wynne's body out of the way so quickly, and without any on_earing me, when every man in that smoking room, from their own words, an_rom those of the doctor here, was at that moment straining his ears for an_ossible sound? The smoking room flanks straight on the drive, Mr.—er—Headland—" He caught himself up just in time as he saw Cleek's almos_mperceptible signal, and then went on, his voice gaining in strength and fur_ith every word: "I'm not a giant, am I? I couldn't have lifted Wynne _alive_nd with his own assistance, much less lift him dead when he'd be a good sigh_eavier. Why, the thing's a tissue of lies, I tell you—a beastly, underhanded, backbiting tissue of lies, and if ever I get out of this thing alive, I'l_how Borkins exactly what I think of him. And why you should give credence t_he story of a lying servant, rather than to mine, I cannot see at all. Woul_ have brought you here, you, a man whose name—" And even in the excitemen_hich had him in its grip Nigel felt Cleek's will, powerful, compelling, preventing his giving away the secret of his identity, preventing his tellin_hat it was the master mind among the criminal investigators of Europe whic_as working on this horrible affair.
He went on, still in a fury of indignation, but with the knowledge of Mr.
Headland's true name still locked in his breast. "Did I bring you here as _riend and give you every opportunity to work on this strange business, t_ave you arraign me as a murderer? Do not treat me as a suspect, Mr.
Detective. I am not on trial. I want this thing cleared up, yes; but I am no_ere to be accused of the murder of a man who was a guest in my own house, b_he very man I brought in to find the true murderer."
"You haven't given me time to say whether I accuse you or not, Sir Nigel,"
replied Cleek, patiently. "Now, if you'll permit me to speak, we'll take u_his man's evidence. There are gaps in it that rather badly want filling up, and there are thin places which I hardly think would hold water before a judg_nd jury. But he swears himself a witness, and there you are. And as fo_elieving his word before yours—who fired the shot, Sir Nigel? Did he, or di_ou? I am a representative of the Law and as such I entered your house."
Merriton made no reply, simply held his head a little higher and clasped th_dge of the table more firmly.
"Now," said Cleek, turning to the butler and fixing him with his keen eyes.
"You are ready to swear that this is true, upon your oath, and knowing tha_erjury is punishable by law?"
"Yes, sir." Borkins's voice was very low and rather indistinct.
"Very well. Then may I ask why you did not immediately report this matter t_he rest of the party, or to the police?"
Something flashed across Borkins's face, and was gone again. He cleared hi_hroat nervously before replying:
"I felt on me honour to—Sir Nigel, sir," he returned at length. "A man stand_y his master, you know—if 'e's a good one; and though we'd 'ad words before, I didn't bear 'im no malice. And I didn't want the old 'ouse to come t_isgrace."
"So you waited until things looked a little blacker for him, and then decide_o cast your creditable scruples to the wind?" said Cleek, the queer littl_ne-sided smile travelling up his cheek. "I take it that you had had what yo_erm 'words' since that fatal date?"
Borkins nodded. He did not like this cross-examination, and his nervousnes_as apparent in voice and look and action.
"H'm. And if we put that to one side altogether can you give me any reason wh_ should believe this unlikely story in place of the equally unlikely one tha_our master has told me—knowing what I do?"
Borkins twitched up his head suddenly, his eyes fear-filled, his face turne_uddenly gray.
"I—I—What can you know about me, but that I 'ave been in the employment o_his family nearly all my life?" he returned, taken off his guard by Cleek'_emark. "I'm only a poor, honest workin' man, sir, been in the same place nig_n to twenty years and—"
"And hoping you can hang on another twenty, I dare say!" threw in Cleek, sarcastically. "Oh, I know more about you, my man, than I care to tell. But a_he moment that doesn't enter into the matter. We'll take that up later. No_hen, there's the revolver. Doctor, you should be useful here; if you will us_our professional skill in the service of the law that seems trying to embroi_our friend. I want you to examine the head wound, please—the head wound o_he man called Dacre Wynne, and, if you can, remove the bullet that is lodge_n the brain. Then we shall have a chance to compare it with those remainin_n Sir Nigel's revolver."
"I—can't do it, Mr. Headland," returned Doctor Bartholomew, firmly. "I won'_end myself to a plot to inveigle this poor boy, to ruin his life—"
"And I demand it—in the name of the Law." He motioned to Petrie and Hammond, who through the whole length of the inquiry had stood with Dollops, beside th_oorway. They came forward swiftly. "Arrest Doctor Bartholomew for treatin_he Law with contempt—"
"But, I say, Mr. Headland, this is a damned outrage!"
Cleek held up a hand.
"Yes," he said, "I agree with you. But a very necessary one. Besides"—h_miled suddenly into the seamed, anxious face of the man—"who knows but tha_ullet may prove Sir Nigel's innocence? Who knows but that it is not the sam_ind as lie now in this deadly little thing here in my hand? It lies with you, Doctor. Must I arrest him now, and take him off to the public jail to awai_rial, or will you give him a sporting chance?"
The doctor looked up into the keen eyes bent upon him, his own equally keen.
He did not know whether he liked this man of the law or not. Something of th_an's personality, unfortunate as had been its revelation during this pas_rying hour, had caught him in its thrall. He measured him, eye for eye, bu_leek's never wavered.
"I've no instruments," he said at last, hedging for time.
"I have plenty—upstairs. I have dabbled a little in surgery myself, whe_ccasion has arisen. I'll fetch them in a minute. You will?"
The doctor stood up between the two tall policemen who had a hand upon eithe_houlder. His face was set like a mask.
"It's a damned outrage, but I will," he said.
Dollops was gone like a flash. In the meantime Cleek cleared the room. He sen_erriton off to the smoking room in charge of Petrie and Hammond, and Borkin_ith them—though Borkins was to be kept in the hallway, away from his master'_ouch and voice.
Cleek, Mr. Narkom, and the doctor remained alone in the room of death, wher_he doctor set to his gruesome task. Outside, Constable Roberts's burly voic_ould be heard holding forth in the hall upon the fact that he'd been after _oacher on Mr. Jimmeson's estate over to Saltfleet, and wasn't in when the_ame for him.
And the operation went quietly on… .
… In the smoking room, with Hammond and Petrie seated like deaf mutes upo_ither side of him, Merriton reviewed the whole awful affair from start t_inish, and felt his heart sink like lead in his breast. Oh, what a fool h_ad been to have these men down here! What a fool! To see them wilfull_rumping up a charge of murder against himself was—well, it was enough to mak_ny sane man lose hold on his reason. And 'Toinette! His little 'Toinette! I_e should be convicted and sent to prison, what would become of her? It woul_reak her heart. And he might never see her again! A sudden moisture pricke_t the corners of his eyes. God!—never to call her _wife_!… How long wer_hose beasts going to brood in there over the dead? And was there not a chanc_hat the bullet might be different? After all, wasn't it almost impossibl_hat the bullet _should_ be the same? His was an unusual little revolver mad_y a firm in French Africa, having a different sort of cartridge. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry didn't have one—couldn't afford it, in the first place… .
There was a chance—yes, certainly there was a _chance_.
… His blood began to hammer in his veins again, and his heart beat rapidly.
Hope went through him like wine, drowning all the fears and terrors that ha_talked before him like demons from another world. He heard, with throbbin_ulses, approaching footsteps in the hall. His head was swimming, his fee_eemed loaded with lead so that he could not rise. Then, across the space fro_here Cleek stood, the revolver in one hand and the tiny black object that ha_ested in a dead man's brain in the other, came the sound of his voice, speaking in clear, concise sentences. He could see the doctor's grave fac_ver the curve of Mr. Narkom's fat shoulder. For a moment the world swam. The_e caught the import of what Cleek was saying.
"The bullet is the same as those in your revolver, Sir Nigel," he said, concisely. "I am sorry, but I must do my duty. Constable Roberts, here is you_risoner. I arrest this man for the murder of Dacre Wynne!"