“One librarian talks about a million pounds and vanishes,” murmured Fleming thoughtfully, “and his successor is murdered.” “I had no idea it was such an exciting trade,” Kerrigan observed, but the detective paid no attention to him. He was staring at the carpet and frowning. Kerrigan waited. At last Fleming looked up with a grin ...
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* An idb eBook *
A. G. MACDONELL
PRINTED IN THE
A Million Pounds
Murder at the Manor
Sparring for Position
The Second Murder
The Sampler Clue
The Missing Book
Warm Work at Chiswick
The Shakespeare Clues
The Third Murder
A Game of Poker
The Duke gets in
Kerrigan “contra mundum”
A Million Pounds
THE SHAKESPEARE MURDERS
One fine spring morning Peter Kerrigan was strolling casually along the Euston Road in the direction of King’s Cross. He saw a small man in a black felt hat coming towards him in a great hurry. The next moment a loiterer, who had been leaning against the rails and staring at the sky, lurched forward and bumped awkwardly into the small man and picked his pocket. Kerrigan, who took an interest in everything connected with his fellow-creatures, could not help admiring the dexterity with which the lounger had extracted the leather wallet and slipped it into his own coat-pocket. The next moment Kerrigan himself bumped awkwardly into the lounger, neatly removed the stolen wallet and, after many profuse apologies, turned round and walked briskly after the little man in the black felt hat.
It was all done on the spur of the moment. There was no particular reason for going out of his way to befriend a total stranger, except that Kerrigan was in a mood of general benevolence towards mankind. It was a lovely morning; he had backed three winners the day before; the state of his exchequer was prosperous owing to an amazing run on the red at a select little club off Grosvenor Square a few weeks earlier; he was wearing a new suit; and there was no pastime he enjoyed so much as stealing from thieves. “It’s not that I do it on high moral grounds,” he used to explain, “but simply because thieves never prosecute.”
So when he saw the unfortunate little man being robbed of his wallet, the temptation to recapture the swag was irresistible.
Whistling as gaily as any butcher’s boy, Kerrigan marched along in the wake of the owner of the swag, and after they had turned a couple of corners he felt that it would be quite safe to examine the contents of the wallet. There was always a chance that it might contain a thousand pounds or the Koh-i-noor diamond; on the other hand, the seedy little man, who was in such a hurry, hardly looked the type that carries riches about with him.
The wallet contained no money, but only a miscellaneous collection of used-up railway tickets, bus tickets, a card of admission to the Reading-Room of the British Museum made out in the name of Harrison Hone, a photograph or two, and a letter dated six weeks earlier. The words “a million pounds” caught Kerrigan’s eye as he was about to put the letter back, and he immediately unfolded it and read it. It ran:
“Dear Harry,—This is written in great haste. A wonderful thing has happened to me, and before long I shall be worth at least a million pounds. You may hear strange things about me in the near future, but do not worry. I shall be all right, and when I have completed the transaction we will both be immensely rich men. And then what times we’ll have. And what books we’ll buy. And what drinks we’ll drink. Give my love to Hilda and my nephews.—Yours affectionately,
“P.S.—‘Go, bid the soldiers shoot,’ eh, old chap?”
Kerrigan whistled. “Worth a million pounds,” he murmured. “This is a matter which needs investigating. I wonder why he wants the soldiers to shoot. Never mind, I’ll find that out later.”
He quickened his stride till he overtook the man in front, and then, bowing politely, he remarked, “Your wallet, sir, I think?”
The little man turned round and blinked rapidly at Kerrigan, and then at the wallet, and finally said, with a little stammer:
“Oh, thank you very much. Thank you very much indeed. Yes, it’s mine. I must have dropped it. Thank you.”
“Please don’t mention it,” replied Kerrigan affably, “I hope nothing of value has dropped out of it.”
“There is nothing of value in it, I’m afraid,” replied the other with a frank smile that Kerrigan rather liked. It converted the man’s face in a moment from being nervous, harassed, and middle-aged into an almost schoolboyish simplicity and candour. The next moment the smile vanished from under the brown, straggly moustache, and the careworn expression came back.
“But all the same,” he went on, “I’m very grateful to you for your kindness.” He put the wallet back into his breast pocket, murmuring something about “wondering how on earth he had managed to do such a foolish thing,” and then held out a thin, bony hand. Kerrigan had to think rapidly. Another instant, and it would have been the end of the interview. And he was interested in that million pounds. He glanced at his watch.
“What do you say to celebrating the recovery of your property with a little beer?” he inquired. “It is past half-past eleven; the taverns are open; a little judicious purchase of ale would harm neither of us, I fancy.”
“Not for me, I thank you all the same,” replied the other nervously. “The truth is, that I very rarely indulge in alcohol. Indeed I may say that I am practically a total abstainer.”
“Very well. You drink milk and I’ll support the Trade. Come on.”
The little man hesitated and then said:
“Very well, sir. But it is only fair to tell you that I—er—unfortunately left all my money on the piano—”
“That’s all right,” said Kerrigan, “I’m full up to the ears with cash. Come along. I never ordered milk before in a tavern, but we live and learn. I wonder if they’ll try to throw me out. It will be a novel experience.”
He led his still hesitating companion into an adjacent public-house, and with a mixture of easy courtesy and familiarity accosted the brilliant damsel who presided at the counter.
“A very good morning to you, mademoiselle, and perhaps you would oblige me with a large can of ale and, if you stock such a commodity, a glass of milk. You stock it?”
“Very well. A glass for my friend here, and,” he lowered his voice, winked, and jerked his head almost imperceptibly towards his companion, “slip a spot of Jamaica into it.”
The damsel was as experienced as she was brilliant, and Kerrigan convoyed his new friend to a table in the corner of the room and set down in front of him a large glass of rum and milk. The practically total abstainer took a large and hasty gulp at the milk and broke into a violent paroxysm of coughing which lasted for almost a minute. The brilliant lady laughed openly, and winked at Kerrigan, who returned the greeting with expert rapidity.
“What curious milk,” the little man succeeded in saying at last, “it tastes all queer and hot.”
“It’s the Pasteur treatment,” replied Kerrigan. “They use it in all public-houses nowadays.”
“I had no idea of that,” said the other doubtfully. “I used to study Pasteurisation a good deal in the old days—”
“Oh, it’s all changed since then,” interrupted Kerrigan hastily. “This is the very latest thing.”
“It certainly has an attractive taste. But I think it requires to be sipped rather than taken in draughts.”
“That’s right. Stick to sips and you can’t go wrong. And now to business, Mr. Hone.”
“But—but—what business? And how do you know my name?” The little man looked round wildly. Possibly vague recollections of having read stories about people being decoyed into public-houses by strangers and then robbed and even murdered, flashed through his mind.
Kerrigan lowered his voice to a whisper.
“Have you heard from John?”
Mr. Hone started so abruptly that some of his Pasteurised milk was upset on the table.
“No,” he replied, “I wish to God I had.” Then he made a pathetic effort to pull himself together, and went on. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. And—er—if you don’t mind, I think I’d better be moving on now. I’m in rather a hurry.”
Peter Kerrigan assumed an air of portentous seriousness and said, “I’m on your side.”
The little man gazed at him forlornly.
“Do you mean—” he began, and then stopped.
“Yes,” replied Kerrigan, “I mean all that and a bit more. I know a good deal more about John than you think.”
“Then do you know where he is now?” wailed Mr. Hone. “He’s been away for six weeks, and I’m getting so anxious about him.”
“Six weeks! Is it as long as that? I shouldn’t have thought it was more than four.”
“It was six weeks yesterday.”
“And not a word from him?”
“Not a word. Not a line. Not even a telegram.”
“Not even a telegram. That’s bad,” he observed, shaking his head. “That’s very bad.”
“I’m so afraid he may have done something foolish,” said Mr. Hone in a despairing voice. “John was always the reckless one of the family. And when I got his letter—” He broke off again and peered suspiciously at Kerrigan.
The latter nodded reassuringly and said:
“The one about the million pounds. Yes, I know. Go on.”
But Mr. Hone was obviously very far from being reassured. The Pasteurised milk was mounting to his head, and was beginning to endow him with a fair amount of truculence. He looked rather like a mildly pugnacious rabbit.
“How do you know about it?” he demanded. “What do you know about it? Who are you, anyway? I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is Carkeek,” replied Kerrigan without hesitation. “I am a private inquiry agent.”
“But why should you inquire, even privately, into my brother’s affairs?”
“Because I am representing an interested party,” answered Mr. Carkeek. “Some one,” he added, “whose name I cannot divulge. But I can assure you it is a man of the very highest standing.”
This puzzled Mr. Hone, and his truculence gave way to a petulant bewilderment.
“It’s all very mysterious,” he announced, “and very tiresome. Six weeks ago I don’t suppose there were two quieter or more placid lives being led in the whole of England than mine and my brother’s. I was at work at my lectures, and he was at work in his library. And now my brother has vanished in search of a million pounds, and I’m all of a muddle. Do you know, Mr. Carkeek,” he concluded with desperate earnestness, “I’m even beginning to lose the thread of some of my lectures. Lectures, mind you, that I’ve been giving word for word for the last fifteen years. If it goes on like this, I shall be getting into trouble. Perhaps even getting the sack. And then where should I be, with a wife and two small boys to support?”
Kerrigan signed to the brilliant lady for another pair of drinks and answered cheerfully:
“Oh, you’ll be able to support them on your share of the million pounds.”
“I wish I knew what to do,” murmured the little man with a wistful sigh. “I ought to do something, but I don’t know what. I’m so—so unused to this sort of thing.”
“Why not tell me the whole story?”
“There isn’t anything to tell. My brother has vanished. And I don’t know what to do about finding him. I don’t even know if I ought to do anything. My brother is very peculiar. He is liable to fits of very bad temper. He is very unlike me in many ways.”
“Where has your brother vanished from?”
“From where he was working.”
“And where was that?”
But the rabbit was becoming pugnacious again. Mr. Hone drained off his glass and stood up.
“I’m going now,” he observed a trifle thickly. “Thank you very much for your hospitality. Your most kind hospitality—and your most kind return to me of my pocket-book. Greatly obliged to you, Mr. Carkeek. Good-bye ol’ fellow. Good-bye.”
Kerrigan saw that nothing more was to be learnt about the disappearing brother and the million pounds, so he shook hands with the slightly inebriated lecturer, watched him depart a little unsteadily, and then followed him unobtrusively to a shabby house in the shabby lane off Gower Street, Bloomsbury, into which Mr. Hone admitted himself with a fumbling latch-key.
Peter Kerrigan was a young gentleman of about thirty-five who had lived by his wits since the early age of eleven. His father had been a good-looking, fascinating Irish waster, who had left Connemara for the good of Connemara late one night in a violent hurry, to the public annoyance and secret relief of the Royal Irish Constabulary which had always had a soft side for Terence Kerrigan. From Liverpool to Glasgow, and from Glasgow to New York, and from New York back to Hamburg, and from Hamburg to Petersburg, had been the outline of Terence Kerrigan’s travels, until in about 1892 he married a beautiful Latvian girl and settled down to live in the neighbourhood of the docks of Riga. The result of the marriage was the one son, Peter, who played with the riff-raff of the waterside and learnt to swear fluently in twelve languages. Terence Kerrigan found vodka very much to his liking, and gradually discovered that he could live on a pennyworth of bread to an intolerable deal of it. His friends and acquaintances also discovered that vodka increased the natural fieriness of his Irish temper, and brawls became an everyday occurrence in the Irishman’s life. Finally, when Peter was eleven years old, Terence and the beautiful Latvian Mrs. Kerrigan were both killed in a violent stabbing affray in a dockside tavern in Riga. For the next eight years the lad supported himself, in various ways—some legal, some dubious, and some unquestionably illegal. On the outbreak of war, he happened to find himself in London and enlisted in an Irish infantry regiment. His peculiar talents and his fluency in languages, his repertoire of which had by now risen from twelve to eighteen, soon became so evident even to British Major-Generals (and if a thing is evident to a British Major-General it is probable that it is evident to other people as well) that he was transferred to the Intelligence Branch and dispatched to the fringe of Scandinavia nearest to Germany. From there he drifted to Russia, Siberia, Persia, Caucasia, Asia Minor, and Syria, and was the hero of many exploits and escapades, both creditable and discreditable, before the signature of the Peace Treaties sent him back to his civilian pursuits. By the time he was thirty-five he had acquired a very considerable knowledge of the ways of the world. He had learnt his way about the shady quarters of a good many large cities, and he collected an almost unequalled circle of shady acquaintances. If he had been given to boasting, which he was not, he could have boasted truthfully that he was personally known to a corrupt politician, a corrupt policeman, and a corrupt magistrate in three-quarters of the capitals of Europe. He was famous in the underworld of many countries for his openhanded generosity, his loyalty to friends, his versatile method of gaining a livelihood, his free-lance independence of gangs, organisations, bosses, and vendettas, and he was universally respected for his remarkable skill in taking care of himself.
He was about five feet ten inches tall, with square shoulders and long arms; his hair was brown and curly and his eyes blue.
After following the nervous but stimulated lecturer to the house off Gower Street, Peter Kerrigan made a note of the address, hailed a taxi, and drove home to lunch. Home, at this period in the adventurer’s career, was a flat in Grosvenor House; funds being plentiful, he was doing himself luxuriously. As he drove, and afterwards as he lunched, he considered the affairs of Mr. Hone and his vanished brother. The question to be answered was, “Is it worth while following the matter up?” If Kerrigan had been hard up, he would not have dreamt of wasting five minutes over such a vague, nebulous business. But, situated as he was, with a comfortable nest-egg tucked away in the Grosvenor House branch of the Westminster Bank, and time being no object, it was just possible that a little diversion might be obtained from an investigation into the mysterious absence of the hot-tempered librarian. It all hinged on that phrase about the million pounds. Was it to be taken literally or was it a figure of speech? Did it mean, “I have a business deal on hand which will result in my netting the sum of one million golden sovereigns, which, carefully invested, will produce a yearly income of fifty thousand golden sovereigns?” Or did it mean, “I’ve a chance of making some money which will make me into a regular millionaire compared with what I’ve been making so far?” If the former was the correct version, then the matter was well worth investigating. Peter Kerrigan’s ambition in life was to lay his fingers on a pile sufficiently large for him to be able to cut all the dubious and all the definitely illegal branches of his activities. And a good slice out of a million pounds would do the trick nicely.
But if the second version was correct, then the game was not worth twopence. Kerrigan had no idea of the amount of salary a librarian was likely to earn—he had, indeed, only the vaguest idea of what a librarian did, or why librarians existed at all—but he was fairly certain that a few hundreds would make a librarian feel like a millionaire. And he was not interested in hundreds. The librarian and his lecturing brother could keep them, so far as he was concerned. But a million! That was a very different story. By the time Kerrigan had reached the Stilton cheese, he had made up his mind to devote a day or two to the matter.
The first step was comparatively simple. At nine o’clock next morning, dressed in a shabby blue suit and an old bowler hat, and carrying a small brown handbag, he repaired to Gower Street and took up a post at the corner of that intellectual thoroughfare, and Mr. Hone’s dingy lane. His argument was that the lecturer must come out to deliver his lecture. He surely could not cram the people who listened to him—even if they only amounted to a handful—into the small house which he had let himself into the day before. Again, Kerrigan knew very little about lecturers and their habits, but he felt instinctively that they did not ply their trade in poky little houses in back streets. His instinct was right. At twenty minutes past nine Mr. Hone came down the steps of his house. With one hand he clutched a large flat portfolio, with the other he tugged nervously at his straggly moustache. He looked even more careworn and harassed than on the day before. Kerrigan wondered if two glasses of rum and milk had given him a headache.
Mr. Hone pattered past the watcher, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the ground, and a few minutes later Kerrigan was ringing the bell of Number Twenty-seven. The lady of the house herself opened the door. She too bore unmistakably the marks of poverty and struggle. In happier circumstances she would have been comely, even pretty, but an incessant battle against adversity had made her careless of appearances. The mere task of living absorbed all her energies.
“Gas, Light, and Coke Company, madam,” said Kerrigan briskly. “Meter inspection.”
“Our meter was inspected yesterday,” replied Mrs. Hone, showing no disposition to admit the official.
“All the meters in this district were inspected yesterday,” replied Kerrigan unabashed, “but there was a fire last night at our office, and all the records were lost. So we’ve got to do it all over again.”
Mrs. Hone gave way before this convincing explanation, coupled as it was with Kerrigan’s most disarming smile, and pointed to the meter in the passage.
“Very well. There it is.”
“We’ve also to inspect the gas-jets throughout the house, madam,” went on the inspector. “There have been several cases of serious gas-poisoning lately, owing to faulty jets.”
“Is that thrown in free, or do we have to pay extra for it?”
“Thrown in free, madam.”
Mrs. Hone’s thin features relaxed into a faint smile as she said:
“Well, that’s something anyway,” and she stood back for Kerrigan to enter.
The only room in the house that was of the slightest interest was the small dining-room which obviously was used as day-nursery, study, and sitting-room as well. In one corner there was a small roll-top desk, and Kerrigan, during the couple of minutes in which he was left alone in the room, glanced hastily at the papers, letters, envelopes, and memoranda that lay upon it. One envelope immediately caught his eye, for it was written in the same shaky scrawl as the letter about the million pounds had been. The writing was quite unmistakable. Kerrigan stuffed the envelope in his pocket, and turned to examine the photographs on the mantelpiece. These consisted either of snapshots or of the ghastly family groups that were turned out with such pride by the photographers of twenty and thirty years ago. There was one that interested Peter, for it was obviously the wedding group of Mr. and Mrs. Hone, and the best man was simply a larger edition of the bridegroom. As the same figure appeared in several other groups, and also in several of the snapshots, and as there was no other man except the lecturer himself, who appeared more than twice upon the mantelpiece, it was a fairly safe conclusion that the best man was brother John, the librarian, with his eyes upon a million pounds. Kerrigan added one of the snapshots to the envelope in his pocket, and, seeing nothing else that was likely to be of use to him, left the house.
As soon as he was well away from the neighbourhood of Gower Street, he pulled the envelope out of his pocket and examined the post-mark. It was Bicester, and the date, so far as he could decipher it, seemed to be about two months earlier. The writing interested him. It was shaky and straggly, and bore the unmistakable appearance of having been written by a very palsied hand. At the same time, it was the writing of an educated man. Here and there were letters which were beautifully formed, and the Greek “E’s” and the bold capitals could never have been written by a product of the board schools.
“A literary gent who has taken to the bottle,” was Kerrigan’s verdict, as he carefully replaced the envelope in his pocket and signalled to a passing taxi.
“Did you ever hear of a town called Bicester?” he asked the driver.
“Yes, sir. Buckinghamshire. Can’t drive you there, sir, without a fill-up of petrol.”
“Can you drive me to the station that would take me there?”
“Yes, sir. Paddington.”
“Paddington it is then. And first drift round to Grosvenor House so that I can get the ancestral tails and topper.”
Peter Kerrigan’s knowledge of England was almost exclusively confined to London and one or two of the seaports. The rural Midlands were something quite new to him, and he sat in the corner of his carriage, entranced by the endless succession of green meadows, flower-laden hedges, and leafy woods. It was so peaceful and undisturbed, so utterly different to the swift, hard, ruthless kaleidoscope of men and women and events that he was accustomed to.
But as the miles were reeled off and, according to the map on the carriage wall, the train was rapidly approaching Bicester, Kerrigan began to get puzzled. There was no change in the quiet countryside. It was still meadows and woods and isolated cottages. At any moment he expected that the train would plunge into a seething, swarming, black industrial area. And he kept on hoping that it would. For this rural placidity was not the sort of surroundings in which a million pounds could be picked up, nor was it the sort of place in which business men would be likely to gather to plan vast secret coups of finance. “You couldn’t be secret in a country like this,” he reflected, “every one knows where every one else is, and what every one else is doing.”
And when the train drew up at the almost deserted platform of Bicester Station, and Peter got out and gazed at the sleepy little town shimmering in the midday heat, he felt half inclined to take the next train back to London. Either it was a pure chance that the letter had been posted at Bicester, on a week-end visit, perhaps, or on a holiday—or else the librarian had not meant more than a few pounds when he so glibly and impressively used the word “million.”
But as it was nearly lunch-time and no trains to London were due to arrive for a couple of hours, he decided to stroll into the town, look round, have lunch, show the snapshot to one or two people on the chance of a lucky recognition, and then if nothing had happened, to return quietly in the afternoon.
A citizen of the town directed him to the Angel Hotel, as being a suitable place for a gentleman to obtain a meal, and Peter Kerrigan strolled, hands in pockets, in that direction. It was a warm, drowsy day, and Bicester seemed to be rather a drowsy place. But Kerrigan found it extremely interesting.
It was quite unlike anything he had met in England before. It was so sleepy and so placid, and yet at the same time so quietly prosperous in appearance. Nothing had ever happened here and nothing ever would happen here. That was the impression he got. As for picking up a million pounds, it was even more fantastic than it had seemed in the train. Kerrigan smiled at the thought of the wild-goose chase that had brought him down to the heart of rural England in search of financial adventure and profit, and the next moment he turned in to the lounge of the Angel Hotel.
After a few preliminary exchanges on the subject of the crops, the past hunting season, and the prospects of the next hunting season, with the landlord, Kerrigan asked casually:
“Did you ever meet a man in these parts called Hone?”
The landlord looked at him queerly and replied:
“Yes, I did meet a man called Hone, and I should like to meet him again. He owes me three pounds fourteen shillings, and I’ve about as much chance of ever seeing that money as I have of flying to the moon.”
“Is that the man?” asked Kerrigan, producing the photograph.
“That’s the man,” replied the landlord after a brief scrutiny. Then he looked at Kerrigan knowingly and winked. “I’ll lay six to four that I can guess your profession, sir, if you give me three shots.”
“I’ll take you in sixpences,” said Kerrigan, who could never resist a bet.
The landlord leant across the bar and said in a loud stage whisper, “Bailiff or Detective or Solicitor.”
Peter Kerrigan saw that he had stumbled on a piece of luck which ought to be followed up, and he solemnly laid a florin upon the counter.
“You win,” he remarked, “and allow me to tell you that you’re a pretty shrewd chap.”
“Pretty shrewd, pretty shrewd,” exclaimed the triumphant landlord. “And which of the three are you, sir?”
“Ah! Now you’re asking,” parried Kerrigan with a laugh; “but I’ll tell you this. If you help me to find Hone, I’ll help you to get your three pounds fourteen shillings back.”
“Come right in,” said the landlord, opening the door of his private room.
“This Mr. Hone,” he proceeded, when they were comfortably installed in arm-chairs, “had some sort of job at the big house here—”
“Whose big house?”
“Lord Claydon’s place, outside Bicester. You’ve heard of Lord Claydon’s place? It’s called Marsh Manor. Never heard of it? Well, you do surprise me! It’s a couple of miles out, on the way to Aylesbury. It’s the biggest place in the district. This man Hone worked there—sort of secretary, I suppose.”
“It might have been. He looked a learned sort of fellow in some ways. Wore spectacles and always had a book under his arm. But mind you, in other ways he looked like a wrong ’un. Drank a lot of whisky—that’s what he owes the money for—and had a look about the eyes as if he’d been at it for some time. Man of fifty or thereabouts. Shifty expression on his face, if you know what I mean. Still, he was a good customer. That’s why I gave him the credit. And now he’s skipped out and owes me three pounds fourteen. A real wrong ’un, that’s what he’s turned out.”
“Do you know why he left?”
“Not an idea.”
“How long was he there?”
“About eighteen months, I should say.”
“Have they got a new man in his place?” inquired Kerrigan.
“I’m told so. But I’ve not seen him.”
“Do you happen to know anything about Hone? I mean, what his plans were, or what he was likely to turn to after he left here?”
“No. He wasn’t a talkative man, even when he’d had a few drinks.”
Kerrigan pondered. The landlord did not seem to know very much that was of use, except the one fact that Hone had worked for Lord Claydon. A visit to Marsh Manor seemed to be the next move. The landlord assured him that Lord Claydon was at home, and as entertaining a party of friends; he also informed Kerrigan that he himself was the owner of a car which he hired out at very moderate charges, and that the hotel had accommodation also at a very moderate rate in the event of the young detective (or bailiff or solicitor) wishing to stay the night.
Kerrigan accepted both car and accommodation, and in a few minutes was driving himself out towards Marsh Manor in an ancient and rattly Ford.
It was impossible to miss the entrance to the Manor. A wide semicircle of iron gates was supported on massive pillars of grey stone and surmounted by a huge coat-of-arms, also in grey stone, while an ancient half-timbered lodge was hidden behind a couple of gigantic plane trees. The avenue ran through a grass park for half a mile and then vanished into an impenetrable screen of woods. The Manor itself was invisible from the road and only a thin column of smoke, ascending into the air above the trees, showed that a house was there at all.
Peter Kerrigan drove boldly through the imposing gateway, quite unawed by its magnificence, and rattled and clanked up to the front door of the Manor, a large, square, yellow Georgian building. As he drew up with a piercing shriek from the brakes of the car, he got an unpleasant surprise which made him hastily alter his plans. He had intended to announce himself as a detective from Scotland Yard, but when he saw a policeman standing on the top of the steps which led up to the door, he decided that this would be a little indiscreet. He therefore hastily adjusted his outlook to that of a solicitor, tried to assume a portentously solemn appearance, and dismounted from the car. The policeman eyed his approach coldly and, on the top step, interposed his massive person between Kerrigan and the front door, and inquired his business.
“I am a solicitor,” began the young man smoothly, “and I wish to speak to Lord Claydon for a minute or two.”
“If you will give me your card, sir, I will take it in.”
Kerrigan, who never travelled without a varied supply of calling-cards to meet varied emergencies, produced one on which was printed “Mr. Algernon Phipps, Y201 Albany, London, W.1. Almack’s, Bucks, Boodles.” It was not the card he would have selected for a family solicitor, but he had been taken unawares, and the production of half a dozen cards and the selection of a suitable one would have aroused a certain amount of justifiable suspicion.
The policeman examined it and then handed it to another policeman who was stationed in the hall. Kerrigan was longing to know what they were doing at the Manor, but decided not to risk a direct question. Policemen were apt to resent direct questions.
The next moment the last man in England that he wanted to see came out of the house, holding the card in his hand. It was Inspector Fleming, of Scotland Yard, and he and Inspector Fleming had known each other for a good many years.
The Inspector smiled and held out a hand.
“Hullo, Kerrigan,” he said. “Just the sort of place you would go and turn up in. Half a moment.” He turned to the policeman. “Where’s this man Phipps?” he asked.
“There he is, sir.”
“Excuse me,” intervened Kerrigan blandly, looking over Fleming’s shoulder at the card. “There is a misunderstanding. I see that I have by mistake sent in the wrong card. How foolish of me!”
“What’s the game this time, my lad?” asked the detective with another smile.
“He said he was a solicitor, sir,” put in the policeman with an aggrieved air. He felt that somehow or other he had been “put upon” by the plausible stranger.
“When you know this gentleman as well as I do,” replied Fleming, “you’ll know that he’s capable of saying anything. Come inside, Kerrigan; I want a word with you.” He led the way into a large hall and drew the young man across to a sofa. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “I’ve got a very special reason for wanting to know.”
“I’ll tell you the truth, Fleming,” replied Kerrigan after a moment’s hesitation, “and the truth isn’t a thing I would tell to every one.”
“No, I’m sure of that,” put in Fleming drily.
“Come, come, laddie, none of that. Just concentrate on listening for a bit. I came down here to discover the whereabouts of a certain Mr. John Hone, until six weeks ago librarian to the gent who owns this shack.”
“And why did you want to know his whereabouts?”
Again Kerrigan hesitated and finally he said:
“I heard from his brother that he thought he was likely to make a large sum of money in the near future.”
“Ah! That’s just what I wanted to know.”
“You had no idea, Kerrigan?”
“Straight, I hadn’t.”
“I see. And is that all you can tell me?”
“Absolutely all, Fleming. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have worried about the thing at all, because I’d got such vague information to go on, only it happens that I’ve got plenty of leisure just now and I thought I might glance at it.”
“I see. And how did you propose setting about finding Mr. John Hone?”
“I intended to ask old Lord What’s-his-name, the lad who owns the spot. I thought he might know something. And I thought I might try to have a word with the new librarian, if there is such a party.”
“There was such a party until last night,” replied Fleming.
Kerrigan got excited.
“You don’t mean to tell me that another of them has skipped out?” he said.
“Not skipped out,” said the Inspector. “Murdered. The librarian was murdered in the library some time during the night.”
“One librarian talks about a million pounds and vanishes,” murmured Fleming thoughtfully, “and his successor is murdered.”
“I had no idea it was such an exciting trade,” Kerrigan observed, but the detective paid no attention to him. He was staring at the carpet and frowning. Kerrigan waited. At last Fleming looked up with a grin.
“The last time you and I met professionally,” he remarked, “was in the matter of that murder in Earlscourt and the North of England forgers.”
“As a direct result of your being allowed to do what you liked, the boss of the forgers got clear away with his life and liberty, and you got clear away with a whole sack of forged pound-notes. By the way, how did you manage to get them changed?”
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