The Herapath Property - Joseph Smith Fletcher - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1921

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Joseph Smith Fletcher

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Excerpt: "This was the third week of Selwood’s secretaryship to Jacob Herapath. Herapath was a well-known man in London. He was a Member of Parliament, the owner of a sort of model estate of up-to-date flats, and something of a crank about such matters as ventilation, sanitation, and lighting. He himself, a bachelor, lived in one of the best houses in Portman Square; when he engaged Selwood as his secretary he made him take a convenient set of rooms in Upper Seymour Street, close by. He also caused a telephone communication to be set up between his own house and Selwood’s bedroom, so that he could summon his secretary at any hour of the night. Herapath occasionally had notions about things in the small hours, and he was one of those active, restless persons who, if they get a new idea, like to figure on it at once. All the same, during those three weeks he had not once troubled his secretary in this fashion."

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About
Chapter 1 - JACOB HERAPATH IS MISSING
Chapter 2 - IS IT MURDER?
Chapter 3 - BARTHORPE TAKES CHARGE

About Fletcher:

Joseph Smith Fletcher (7 February 1863 - 30 January 1935) was a British journalist and writer. He wrote about 200 books on a wide variety of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. He was one of the leading writers of detective fiction in the "Golden Age". Fletcher was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, son of a clergyman. He was educated at Silcoates School in Wakefield. After some study of law, he became a journalist. His first books published were poetry, and he then moved on to write numerous works of both historical fiction and history, many dealing with Yorkshire. He was made a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In 1914 he wrote his first detective novel and went on to write over a hundred, latterly featuring private investigator, Ronald Camberwell. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1 JACOB HERAPATH IS MISSING

This was the third week of Selwood's secretaryship to Jacob Herapath. Herapath was a well-known man in London. He was a Member of Parliament, the owner of a sort of model estate of up-to-date flats, and something of a crank about such matters as ventilation, sanitation, and lighting. He himself, a bachelor, lived in one of the best houses in Portman Square; when he engaged Selwood as his secretary he made him take a convenient set of rooms in Upper Seymour Street, close by. He also caused a telephone communication to be set up between his own house and Selwood's bedroom, so that he could summon his secretary at any hour of the night. Herapath occasionally had notions about things in the small hours, and he was one of those active, restless persons who, if they get a new idea, like to figure on it at once. All the same, during those three weeks he had not once troubled his secretary in this fashion. No call came to Selwood over that telephone until half-past seven one November morning, just as he was thinking of getting out of bed. And the voice which then greeted him was not Herapath's. It was a rather anxious, troubled voice, and it belonged to one Kitteridge, a middle-aged man, who was Herapath's butler.

In the act of summoning Selwood, Kitteridge was evidently interrupted by some person at his elbow; all that Selwood made out was that Kitteridge wanted him to go round at once. He dressed hurriedly, and ran off to Herapath's house; there in the hall, near the door of a room which Herapath used as a study and business room, he found Kitteridge talking to Mountain, Herapath's coachman, who, judging by the state of his attire, had also been called hurriedly from his bed.

"What is it, Kitteridge?" demanded Selwood. "Mr. Herapath ill?"

The butler shook his head and jerked his thumb towards the open door of the study.

"The fact is, we don't know where Mr. Herapath is, sir," he answered. "He hasn't slept in his bed, and he isn't in the house."

"Possibly he didn't come home last night," suggested Selwood. "He may have slept at his club, or at an hotel."

The butler and the coachman looked at each other—then the coachman, a little, sharp-eyed man who was meditatively chewing a bit of straw, opened his tightly-compressed lips.

"He did come home, sir," he said. "I drove him home—as usual. I saw him let himself into the house. One o'clock sharp, that was. Oh, yes, he came home!"

"He came home," repeated Kitteridge. "Look here, sir." He led the way into the study and pointed to a small table set by the side of Herapath's big business desk. "You see that tray, Mr. Selwood? That's always left out, there, on that table, for Mr. Herapath every night. A small decanter of whiskey, a syphon, a few sandwiches, a dry biscuit or two. Well, there you are, sir—he's had a drink out of that glass, he's had a mouthful or so of sandwiches. Oh, yes, he came home, but he's not at home now! Charlesworth—the valet, you know, sir—always goes into Mr. Herapath's room at a quarter past seven every morning; when he went in just now he found that Mr. Herapath wasn't there, and the bed hadn't been slept in. So—that's where things stand."

Selwood looked round the room. The curtains had not yet been drawn aside, and the electric light cast a cold glare on the various well-known objects and fittings. He glanced at the evidences of the supper tray; then at the blotting-pad on Herapath's desk; there he might have left a note for his butler or his secretary. But there was no note to be seen.

"Still, I don't see that there's anything to be alarmed about, Kitteridge," he said. "Mr. Herapath may have wanted to go somewhere by a very early morning train——"

"No, sir, excuse me, that won't do," broke in the butler. "I thought of that myself. But if he'd wanted to catch a night train, he'd have taken a travelling coat, and a rug, and a bag of some sort—he's taken nothing at all in that way. Besides, I've been in this house seven years, and I know his habits. If he'd wanted to go away by one of the very early morning trains he'd have kept me and Charlesworth up, making ready for him. No, sir! He came home, and went out again—must have done. And—it's uncommonly queer. Seven years I've been here, as I say, and he never did such a thing before."

Selwood turned to the coachman.

"You brought Mr. Herapath home at one o'clock?" he said. "Alone?"

"He was alone, sir," replied the coachman, who had been staring around him as if to seek some solution of the mystery. "I'll tell you all that happened—I was just beginning to tell Mr. Kitteridge here when you come in. I fetched Mr. Herapath from the House of Commons last night at a quarter past eleven—took him up in Palace Yard at the usual spot, just as the clock was striking. 'Mountain,' he says, 'I want you to drive round to the estate office—I want to call there.' So I drove there—that's in Kensington, as you know, sir. When he got out he says, 'Mountain,' he says, 'I shall be three-quarters of an hour or so here—wrap the mare up and walk her about,' he says. I did as he said, but he was more than three-quarters—it was like an hour. Then at last he came back to the brougham, just said one word, 'Home!' and I drove him here, and the clocks were striking one when he got out. He said 'Good night,' and I saw him walk up the steps and put his key in the latch as I drove off to our stables. And that's all I know about it."

Selwood turned to the butler.

"I suppose no one was up at that time?" he inquired.

"Nobody, sir," answered Kitteridge. "There never is. Mr. Herapath, as you've no doubt observed, is a bit strict in the matter of rules, and it's one of his rules that everybody in the house must be in bed by eleven-thirty. No one was ever to sit up for him on any occasion. That's why this supper-tray was always left ready. His usual time for coming in when he'd been at the House was twelve o'clock."

"Everybody in the house might be in bed," observed Selwood, "but not everybody might be asleep. Have you made any inquiry as to whether anybody heard Mr. Herapath moving about in the night, or leaving the house? Somebody may have heard the hall door opened and closed, you know."

"I'll make inquiry as to that, sir," responded Kitteridge, "but I've heard nothing of the sort so far, and all the servants are aware by now that Mr. Herapath isn't in the house. If anybody had heard anything——"

Before the butler could say more the study door opened and a girl came into the room. At sight of her Selwood spoke hurriedly to Kitteridge.

"Have you told Miss Wynne?" he whispered. "Does she know?"

"She may have heard from her maid, sir," replied Kitteridge in low tones. "Of course they're all talking of it. I was going to ask to see Miss Wynne as soon as she was dressed."

By that time the girl had advanced towards the three men, and Selwood stepped forward to meet her. He knew her as Herapath's niece, the daughter of a dead sister of whom Herapath had been very fond; he knew, too, that Herapath had brought her up from infancy and treated her as a daughter. She was at this time a young woman of twenty-one or two, a pretty, eminently likeable young woman, with signs of character and resource in eyes and lips, and Selwood had seen enough of her to feel sure that in any disturbing event she would keep her head. She spoke calmly enough as the secretary met her.

"What's all this, Mr. Selwood?" she asked. "I understand my uncle is not in the house. But there's nothing alarming in that, Kitteridge, is there? Mr. Herapath may have gone away during the night, you know."

"Kitteridge thinks that highly improbable," replied Selwood. "He says that Mr. Herapath had made no preparation for a sudden journey, has taken no travelling coat or rug, or luggage of any sort."

"Did he come in from the House?" she asked. "Perhaps not?"

Kitteridge pointed to the supper-tray and then indicated the coachman.

"He came in as usual, miss," he replied. "Or rather an hour later than usual. Mountain brought him home at one o'clock, and he saw him let himself in with his latch-key."

Peggie Wynne turned to the coachman.

"You're sure that he entered the house?" she asked.

"As sure as I could be, miss," replied Mountain. "He was putting his key in the door when I drove off."

"He must have come in," said Kitteridge, pointing to the tray. "He had something after he got in."

"Well, go and tell the servants not to talk, Kitteridge," said Peggie. "My uncle, no doubt, had reasons for going out again. Have you said anything to Mr. Tertius?"

"Mr. Tertius isn't down yet, miss," answered the butler.

He left the room, followed by the coachman, and Peggie turned to Selwood. "What do you think?" she asked, with a slight show of anxiety. "You don't know of any reason for this, do you?"

"None," replied Selwood. "And as to what I think, I don't know sufficient about Mr. Herapath's habits to be able to judge."

"He never did anything like this before," she remarked. "I know that he sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and comes down here, but I never knew him to go out. If he'd been setting off on a sudden journey he'd surely have let me know. Perhaps——"

She paused suddenly, seeing Selwood lift his eyes from the papers strewn about the desk to the door. She, too, turned in the same direction.

A man had come quietly into the room—a slightly-built, little man, grey-bearded, delicate-looking, whose eyes were obscured by a pair of dark-tinted spectacles. He moved gently and with an air of habitual shyness, and Selwood, who was naturally observant, saw that his lips and his hands were trembling slightly as he came towards them.

"Mr. Tertius," said Peggie, "do you know anything about Uncle Jacob? He came in during the night—one o'clock—and now he's disappeared. Did he say anything to you about going away early this morning?"

Mr. Tertius shook his head.

"No—no—nothing!" he answered. "Disappeared! Is it certain he came in?"

"Mountain saw him come in," she said. "Besides, he had a drink out of that glass, and he ate something from the tray—see!"

Mr. Tertius bent his spectacled eyes over the supper tray and remained looking at what he saw there for a while. Then he looked up, and at Selwood.

"Strange!" he remarked. "And yet, you know, he is a man who does things without saying a word to any one. Have you, now, thought of telephoning to the estate office? He may have gone there."

Peggie, who had dropped into the chair at Herapath's desk, immediately jumped up.

"Of course we must do that at once!" she exclaimed. "Come to the telephone, Mr. Selwood—we may hear something."

She and Selwood left the room together. When they had gone, Mr. Tertius once more bent over the supper tray. He picked up the empty glass, handling it delicately; he held it between himself and the electric light over the desk; he narrowly inspected it, inside and out. Then he turned his attention to the plate of sandwiches. One sandwich had been taken from the plate and bitten into—once. Mr. Tertius took up that sandwich with the tips of his delicately-shaped fingers. He held that, too, nearer the light. And having looked at it he hastily selected an envelope from the stationery cabinet on the desk, carefully placed the sandwich within it, and set off to his own rooms in the upper part of the house. As he passed through the hall he heard Selwood at the telephone, which was installed in a small apartment at the foot of the stairs—he was evidently already in communication with some one at the Herapath Estate Office.

Mr. Tertius went straight to his room, stayed there a couple of minutes, and went downstairs again. Selwood and Peggie Wynne were just coming away from the telephone; they looked up at him with faces grave with concern.

"We're wanted at the estate office," said Selwood. "The caretaker was just going to ring us up when I got through to him. Something is wrong—wrong with Mr. Herapath."


Chapter 2 IS IT MURDER?

It struck Selwood, afterwards, as a significant thing that it was neither he nor Mr. Tertius who took the first steps towards immediate action. Even as he spoke, Peggie was summoning the butler, and her orders were clear and precise.

"Kitteridge," she said quietly, "order Robson to bring the car round at once—as quickly as possible. In the meantime, send some coffee into the breakfast-room—breakfast itself must wait until we return. Make haste, Kitteridge."

Selwood turned on her with a doubtful look.

"You—you aren't going down there?" he asked.

"Of course I am!" she answered. "Do you think I should wait here—wondering what had happened? We will all go—come and have some coffee, both of you, while we wait for the car."

The two followed her into the breakfast-room and silently drank the coffee which she presently poured out for them. She, too, was silent, but when she had left the room to make ready for the drive Mr. Tertius turned to Selwood.

"You heard—what?" he asked.

"Nothing definite," answered Selwood. "All I heard was that Mr. Herapath was there, and there was something seriously wrong, and would we go down at once."

Mr. Tertius made no comment. He became thoughtful and abstracted, and remained so during the journey down to Kensington. Peggie, too, said nothing as they sped along; as for Selwood, he was wondering what had happened, and reflecting on this sudden stirring up of mystery. There was mystery within that car—in the person of Mr. Tertius. During his three weeks' knowledge of the Herapath household Selwood had constantly wondered who Mr. Tertius was, what his exact relationship was, what his position really was. He knew that he lived in Jacob Herapath's house, but in a sense he was not of the family. He seldom presented himself at Herapath's table, he was rarely seen about the house; Selwood remembered seeing him occasionally in Herapath's study or in Peggie Wynne's drawing-room. He had learnt sufficient to know that Mr. Tertius had rooms of his own in the house; two rooms in some upper region; one room on the ground-floor. Once Selwood had gained a peep into that ground-floor room, and had seen that it was filled with books, and that its table was crowded with papers, and he had formed the notion that Mr. Tertius was some book-worm or antiquary, to whom Jacob Herapath for some reason or other gave house-room. That he was no relation Selwood judged from the way in which he was always addressed by Herapath and by Peggie Wynne. To them as to all the servants he was Mr. Tertius—whether that was his surname or not, Selwood did not know.

There was nothing mysterious or doubtful about the great pile of buildings at which the automobile presently stopped. They were practical and concrete facts. Most people in London knew the famous Herapath Flats—they had aroused public interest from the time that their founder began building them.

Jacob Herapath, a speculator in real estate, had always cherished a notion of building a mass of high-class residential flats on the most modern lines. Nothing of the sort which he contemplated, he said, existed in London—when the opportunity came he would show the building world what could and should be done. The opportunity came when a parcel of land in Kensington fell into the market—Jacob Herapath made haste to purchase it, and he immediately began building on it. The result was a magnificent mass of buildings which possessed every advantage and convenience—to live in a Herapath flat was to live in luxury. Incidentally, no one could live in one who was not prepared to pay a rental of anything from five to fifteen hundred a year. The gross rental of the Herapath Flats was enormous—the net profits were enough to make even a wealthy man's mouth water. And Selwood, who already knew all this, wondered, as they drove away, where all this wealth would go if anything had really happened to its creator.

The entrance to the Herapath estate office was in an archway which led to one of the inner squares of the great buildings. When the car stopped at it, Selwood saw that there were police within the open doorway. One of them, an inspector, came forward, looking dubiously at Peggie Wynne. Selwood hastened out of the car and made for him.

"I'm Mr. Herapath's secretary—Mr. Selwood," he said, drawing the inspector out of earshot. "Is anything seriously wrong?—better tell me before Miss Wynne hears. He isn't—dead?"

The inspector gave him a warning look.

"That's it, sir," he answered in a low voice. "Found dead by the caretaker in his private office. And it's here—Mr. Selwood, it's either suicide or murder. That's flat!"

Selwood got his two companions inside the building and into a waiting-room. Peggie turned on him at once.

"I see you know," she said. "Tell me at once what it is. Don't be afraid, Mr. Selwood—I'm not likely to faint nor to go into hysterics. Neither is Mr. Tertius. Tell us—is it the worst?"

"Yes," said Selwood. "It is."

"He is dead?" she asked in a low voice. "You are sure? Dead?"

Selwood bent his head by way of answer; when he looked up again the girl had bent hers, but she quickly lifted it, and except that she had grown pale, she showed no outward sign of shock or emotion. As for Mr. Tertius, he, too, was calm—and it was he who first broke the silence.

"How was it?" he asked. "A seizure?"

Selwood hesitated. Then, seeing that he had to deal with two people who were obviously in full control of themselves, he decided to tell the truth.

"I'm afraid you must be prepared to hear some unpleasant news," he said, with a glance at the inspector, who just then quietly entered the room. "The police say it is either a case of suicide or of murder."

Peggie looked sharply from Selwood to the police official, and a sudden flush of colour flamed into her cheeks.

"Suicide?" she exclaimed. "Never! Murder? That may be. Tell me what you have found," she went on eagerly. "Don't keep things back!—don't you see I want to know?"

The inspector closed the door and came nearer to where the three were standing.

"Perhaps I'd better tell you what we do know," he said. "Our station was rung up by the caretaker here at five minutes past eight. He said Mr. Herapath had just been found lying on the floor of his private room, and they were sure something was wrong, and would we come round. I came myself with one of our plain-clothes men who happened to be in, and our surgeon followed us a few minutes later. We found Mr. Herapath lying across the hearthrug in his private room, quite dead. Close by——" He paused and looked dubiously at Peggie. "The details are not pleasant," he said meaningly. "Shall I omit them?"

"No!" answered Peggie with decision. "Please omit nothing. Tell us all."

"There was a revolver lying close by Mr. Herapath's right hand," continued the inspector. "One chamber had been discharged. Mr. Herapath had been shot through the right temple, evidently at close quarters. I should say—and our surgeon says—he had died instantly. And—I think that's all I need say just now."

Peggie, who had listened to this with unmoved countenance, involuntarily stepped towards the door.

"Let us go to him," she said. "I suppose he's still here?"

But there Selwood, just as involuntarily, asserted an uncontrollable instinct. He put himself between the door and the girl.

"No!" he said firmly, wondering at himself for his insistence. "Don't! There's no need for that—yet. You mustn't go. Mr. Tertius——"

"Better not just yet, miss," broke in the inspector. "The doctor is still here. Afterwards, perhaps. If you would wait here while these gentlemen go with me."

Peggie hesitated a moment; then she turned away and sat down.

"Very well," she said.

The inspector silently motioned the two men to follow him; with his hand on the door Selwood turned again to Peggie.

"You will stay here?" he said. "You won't follow us?"

"I shall stay here," she answered. "Stop a minute—there's one thing that should be thought of. My cousin Barthorpe——"

"Mr. Barthorpe Herapath has been sent for, miss—he'll be here presently," replied the inspector. "The caretaker's telephoned to him. Now gentlemen."

He led the way along a corridor to a room with which Selwood was familiar enough—an apartment of some size which Jacob Herapath used as a business office and kept sacred to himself and his secretary. When he was in it no one ever entered that room except at Herapath's bidding; now there were strangers in it who had come there unbidden, and Herapath lay in their midst, silent for ever. They had laid the lifeless body on a couch, and Selwood and Mr. Tertius bent over it for a moment before they turned to the other men in the room. The dead face was calm enough; there was no trace of sudden fear on it, no signs of surprise or anger or violent passion.

"If you'll look here, gentlemen," said the police-inspector, motioning them towards the broad hearthrug. "This is how things were—nothing had been touched when we arrived. He was lying from there to here—he'd evidently slipped down and sideways out of that chair, and had fallen across the rug. The revolver was lying a few inches from his right hand. Here it is."

He pulled open a drawer as he spoke and produced a revolver which he carefully handled as he showed it to Selwood and Mr. Tertius.

"Have either of you gentlemen ever seen that before?" he asked. "I mean—do you recognize it as having belonged to—him? You don't? Never seen it before, either of you? Well, of course he might have kept a revolver in his private desk or in his safe, and nobody would have known. We shall have to make an exhaustive search and see if we can find any cartridges or anything. However, that's what we found—and, as I said before, one chamber had been discharged. The doctor here says the revolver had been fired at close quarters."

Mr. Tertius, who had watched and listened with marked attention, turned to the police surgeon.

"The wound may have been self-inflicted?" he asked.

"From the position of the body, and of the revolver, there is strong presumption that it was," replied the doctor.

"Yet—it may not have been?" suggested Mr. Tertius, mildly.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. It was easy to see what his own opinion was.

"It may not have been—as you say," he answered. "But if he was shot by some other person—murdered, that is—the murderer must have been standing either close at his side, or immediately behind him. Of this I am certain—he was sitting in that chair, at his desk, when the shot was fired."

"And—what would the immediate effect be?" asked Mr. Tertius.

"He would probably start violently, make as if to rise, drop forward against the desk and gradually—but quickly—subside to the floor in the position in which he was found," replied the doctor. "As he fell he would relinquish his grip on the revolver—it is invariably a tight grip in these cases—and it would fall—just where it was found."

"Still, there is nothing to disprove the theory that the revolver may have been placed—where it was found?" suggested Mr. Tertius.

"Oh, certainly it may have been placed there!" said the doctor, with another shrug of the shoulders. "A cool and calculating murderer may have placed it there, of course."

"Just so," agreed Mr. Tertius. He remained silently gazing at the hearthrug for a while; then he turned to the doctor again. "Now, how long do you think Mr. Herapath had been dead when you were called to the body?" he asked.

"Quite eight hours," answered the doctor promptly.

"Eight hours!" exclaimed Mr. Tertius. "And you first saw him at——"

"A quarter past eight," said the doctor. "I should say he died just about midnight."

"Midnight!" murmured Mr. Tertius. "Midnight? Then——"

Before he could say more, a policeman, stationed in the corridor outside, opened the door of the room, and glancing at his inspector, announced the arrival of Mr. Barthorpe Herapath.


Chapter 3 BARTHORPE TAKES CHARGE

The man who strode into the room as the policeman threw the door open for him immediately made two distinct impressions on the inspector and the doctor, neither of whom had ever seen him before. The first was that he instantly conveyed a sense of alert coolness and self-possession; the second that, allowing for differences of age, he was singularly like the dead man who lay in their midst. Both were tall, well-made men; both were clean-shaven; both were much alike as to feature and appearance. Apart from the fact that Jacob Herapath was a man of sixty and grey-haired, and his nephew one of thirty to thirty-five and dark-haired, they were very much alike—the same mould of nose, mouth, and chin, the same strength of form. The doctor noted this resemblance particularly, and he involuntarily glanced from the living to the dead.

Barthorpe Herapath bent over his dead uncle for no more than a minute. His face was impassive, almost stern as he turned to the others. He nodded slightly to Mr. Tertius and to Selwood; then he gave his attention to the officials.

"Yes?" he said inquiringly and yet with a certain tone of command. "Now tell me all you know of this."

He stood listening silently, with concentrated attention, as the inspector put him in possession of the facts already known. He made no comment, asked no questions, until the inspector had finished; then he turned to Selwood, almost pointedly ignoring Mr. Tertius.

"What is known of this in Portman Square, Mr. Selwood?" he inquired. "Tell me, briefly."

Selwood, who had only met Barthorpe Herapath once or twice, and who had formed an instinctive and peculiar dislike to him, for which he could not account, accepted the invitation to be brief. In a few words he told exactly what had happened at Jacob Herapath's house.

"My cousin is here, then?" exclaimed Barthorpe.

"Miss Wynne is in the larger waiting-room down the corridor," replied Selwood.

"I will go to her in a minute," said Barthorpe. "Now, inspector, there are certain things to be done at once. There will, of course, have to be an inquest—your people must give immediate notice to the coroner. Then—the body—that must be properly attended to—that, too, you will see about. Before you go away yourself, I want you to join me in collecting all the evidence we can get on the spot. You have one of your detective staff here?—good. Now, have you searched—him?"

The inspector drew open a drawer in the front desk which occupied the centre of the room, and pointed to some articles which lay within.

"Everything that we found upon him is in there," he answered. "You see there is not much—watch and chain, pocket articles, a purse, some loose money, a pocket-book, a cigar-case—that's all. One matter I should have expected to find, we didn't find."

"What's that?" asked Barthorpe quickly.

"Keys," answered the inspector. "We found no keys on him—not even a latch-key. Yet he must have let himself in here, and I understand from the caretaker that he must have unlocked this door after he'd entered by the outer one."

Barthorpe made no immediate answer beyond a murmur of perplexity.

"Strange," he said after a pause, during which he bent over the open drawer. "However, that's one of the things to be gone into. Close that drawer, lock it up, and for the present keep the key yourself—you and I will examine the contents later. Now for these immediate inquiries. Mr. Selwood, will you please telephone at once to Portman Square and tell Kitteridge to send Mountain, the coachman, here—instantly. Tell Kitteridge to come with him. Inspector, will you see to this arrangement we spoke of, and also tell the caretaker that we shall want him presently? Now I will go to my cousin."

He strode off, still alert, composed, almost bustling in his demeanour, to the waiting-room in which they had left Peggie—a moment later, Selwood, following him down the corridor, saw him enter and close the door. And Selwood cursed himself for a fool for hating to think that these two should be closeted together, for disliking the notion that Barthorpe Herapath was Peggie Wynne's cousin—and now, probably, her guardian protector. For during those three weeks in which he had been Jacob Herapath's secretary, Selwood had seen a good deal of his employer's niece, and he was already well over the verge of falling in love with her, and was furious with himself for daring to think of a girl who was surely one of the richest heiresses in London. He was angry with himself, too, for disliking Barthorpe, for he was inclined to cultivate common-sense, and common-sense coldly reminded him that he did not know Barthorpe Herapath well enough to either like or dislike him.

Half an hour passed—affairs suggestive of the tragedy of the night went on in the Herapath Estate Office. Two women in the garb of professional nurses came quietly, and passed into the room where Herapath lay dead. A man arrayed in dismal black came after them, summoned by the police who were busy at the telephone as soon as Selwood had finished with it. Selwood himself, having summoned Kitteridge and Mountain, hung about, waiting. He heard the police talking in undertones of clues and theories, and of a coroner's inquest, and the like; now and then he looked curiously at Mr. Tertius, who had taken a seat in the hall and was apparently wrapped in meditation. And still Barthorpe Herapath remained closeted with Peggie Wynne.

A taxi drove up and deposited the butler and the coachman at the door. Selwood motioned them inside.

"Mr. Barthorpe Herapath wants both of you," he said curtly. "I suppose he will ask for you presently."

Kitteridge let out an anxious inquiry.

"The master, sir?" he exclaimed. "Is——"

"Good heavens!" muttered Selwood. "I—of course, you don't know. Mr. Herapath is dead."

The two servants started and stared at each other. Before either could speak Barthorpe Herapath suddenly emerged from the waiting-room and looked round the hall. He beckoned to the inspector, who was talking in low tones with the detective, at a little distance.

"Now, inspector," he said, "will you and your officer come in? And the caretaker—and you, Kitteridge, and you, Mountain. Mr. Selwood, will you come in, too?"

He stood at the door while those he had invited inside passed into the room where Peggie still sat. And as he stood there, and Selwood wound up the little procession, Mr. Tertius rose and also made as if to join the others. Barthorpe stopped him by intruding himself between him and the door.

"This is a private inquiry of my own, Mr. Tertius," he said, with a meaning look.

Selwood, turning in sheer surprise at this announcement, so pointed and so unmistakable, saw a faint tinge of colour mount to the elder man's usually pale cheeks. Mr. Tertius stopped sharply and looked at Barthorpe in genuine surprise.

"You do not wish me to enter—to be present?" he faltered.

"Frankly, I don't," said Barthorpe, with aggressive plainness. "There will be a public inquiry—I can't stop you from attending that."

Mr. Tertius drew back. He stood for a moment staring hard at Barthorpe; then, with a slight, scarcely perceivable bow, he turned away, crossed the hall, and went out of the front door. And Barthorpe Herapath laughed—a low, sneering laugh—and following the other men into the waiting-room, locked the door upon those assembled there. As if he and they were assembled on some cut-and-dried business matter, he waved them all to chairs, and himself dropped into one at the head of the table, close to that in which Peggie was sitting.

"Now, inspector," he began, "you and I must get what we may as well call first information about this matter. There will be a vast amount of special and particular investigation later on, but I want us, at the very outset, while facts are fresh in the mind, to get certain happenings clearly before us. And for this reason—I understand that the police-surgeon is of opinion that my uncle committed suicide. With all respect to him—I'm sorry he's gone before I could talk to him—that theory cannot be held for an instant! My cousin, Miss Wynne, and I knew our uncle far too well to believe that theory for a single moment, and we shall combat it by every means in our power when the inquest is held. No—my uncle was murdered! Now I want to know all I can get to know of his movements last night. And first I think we'll hear what the caretaker can tell us. Hancock," he continued, turning to an elderly man who looked like an ex-soldier, "I understand you found my uncle's body?"

The caretaker, obviously much upset by the affairs of the morning, pulled himself up to attention.

"I did, sir," he replied.

"What time was that?"

"Just eight o'clock, sir—that's my usual time for opening the office."

"Tell us exactly how you found him, Hancock."

"I opened the door of Mr. Herapath's private room, sir, to pull up the blinds and open the window. When I walked in I saw him lying across the hearth-rug. Then I noticed the—the revolver."

"And of course that gave you a turn. What did you do? Go into the room?"

"No, sir! I shut the door again, went straight to the telephone and rang up the police-station. Then I waited at the front door till the inspector there came along."

"Was the front door fastened as usual when you went to it at that time?"

"It was fastened as it always is, sir, by the latch. It was Mr. Herapath's particular orders that it never should be fastened any other way at night, because he sometimes came in at night, with his latch-key."

"Just so. Now these offices are quite apart and distinct from the rest of the building—mark that, inspector! There's no way out of them into the building, nor any way out of the building into them. In fact, the only entrance into these offices is by the front door. Isn't that so, Hancock?"

"That's quite so, sir—only that one door."

"No area entrance or side-door?"

"None, sir—nothing but that."

"And the only tenants in here—these offices—at night are you and your wife, Hancock?"

"That's all, sir."

"Now, where are your rooms?"

"We've two rooms in the basement, sir—living-room and kitchen—and two rooms on the top floor—a bedroom and a bathroom."

"On the top-floor. How many floors are there?"

"Well, sir, there's the basement—then there's this—then there's two floors that's used by the clerks—then there's ours."

"That's to say there are two floors between your bedroom and this ground floor?"

"Yes, sir—two."

"Very well. Now, about last night. What time did you and your wife go to bed?"

"Eleven o'clock, sir—half an hour later than usual."

"You'd previously looked round, I suppose?"

"Been all round, sir—I always look into every room in the place last thing at night—thoroughly."

"Are you and your wife sound sleepers?"

"Yes, sir—both of us. Good sleepers."

"You heard no sound after you got to bed?"

"Nothing, sir—neither of us."

"No recollection of hearing a revolver shot?—not even as if it were a long way off?"

"No, sir—we never heard anything—nothing unusual, at any rate."

"You heard no sound of doors opening or being shut, nor of any conveyance coming to the door?"

"No, sir, nothing at all."

"Well, one or two more questions, Hancock. You didn't go into the room after first catching sight of the body? Just so—but you'd notice things, even in a hurried glance. Did you notice any sign of a struggle—overturned chair or anything?"

"No, sir. I did notice that Mr. Herapath's elbow chair, that he always sat in at his desk, was pushed back a bit, and was a bit on one side as it were. That was all."

"And the light—the electric light? Was that on?"

"No, sir."

"Then all you can tell us comes to this—that you never heard anything, and had no notion of what was happening, or had happened, until you came down in the morning?"

"Just so, sir. If I'd known what was going on, or had gone on, I should have been down at once."

Barthorpe nodded and turned to the coachman.

"Now, Mountain," he said. "We want to hear your story. Be careful about your facts—what you can tell us is probably of the utmost importance."