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The Silver Bullet written by Fergus Hume who was a prolific English novelist. This book was published in 1903. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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The Silver Bullet
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE IN THE PINE WOOD
CHAPTER II. DE MORTUIS NIL NISI MALUM
CHAPTER III. THE VERDICT OF THE JURY
CHAPTER IV. AT BEORMINSTER
CHAPTER V. THE THEORY OF MRS. MARSH
CHAPTER VI. "THE CHANGELING"
CHAPTER VII. A NINE DAYS' WONDER
CHAPTER VIII. A CURIOUS DISCOVERY
CHAPTER IX. HERRICK IS SUSPICIOUS
CHAPTER X. THE SECRET WRITINGS
CHAPTER XI. SETTLING DOWN
CHAPTER XII. SECOND-SIGHT
CHAPTER XIII. THE WOOING OF ROBIN JOYCE
CHAPTER XIV. THE CONFESSION OF BESS
CHAPTER XV. ROBIN JOYCE EXPLAINS HIMSELF
CHAPTER XVI. BESS THE DETECTIVE
CHAPTER XVII. UNEXPECTED EVIDENCE
CHAPTER XVIII. PART OF THE TRUTH
CHAPTER XIX. DON MANUEL'S RECOLLECTIONS
CHAPTER XX. THE REVD. PENTLAND CORN
CHAPTER XXI. ANOTHER MYSTERY
CHAPTER XXII. A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD
CHAPTER XXIII. THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
CHAPTER XXIV. THE STORY OF FRISCO
CHAPTER XXV. SIDNEY SPEAKS OUT
CHAPTER XXVI. THE TRUTH
CHAPTER XXVII. A FINAL SURPRISE
"We had better lie down and die," said Robin peevishly. "I can't go a step further," and to emphasise his words he deliberately sat.
"Infernal little duffer," growled Herrick. "Huh! Might have guessed you would Joyce." He threw himself down beside his companion and continued grumbling. "You have tobacco, a fine night, and a heather couch of the finest, yet you talk as though the world were coming to an end."
"I'm sure this moor never will," sighed Joyce, reminded of his cigarettes, "we have been trudging it since eight in the morning, yet it still stretches to the back-of-beyond. Hai!"
The pedestrians were pronouncedly isolated. A moonless sky thickly jewelled with stars, arched over a treeless moor, far-stretching as the plain of Shinar. In the luminous summer twilight, the eye could see for a moderate distance, but to no clearly defined horizon; and the verge of sight was limited by vague shadows, hardly definite enough to be mists.
The moor exhaled the noonday heats in thin white vapour, which shut out from the external world those who nestled to its bosom. A sense of solitude, the brooding silence, the formless surroundings, and above all, the insistence of the infinite, would have appealed on ordinary occasions to the poetical and superstitious side of Robin's nature. But at the moment, his nerves were uppermost. He was worn-out, fractious as a child, and in his helplessness could have cried like one. Herrick knew his friend's frail physique and inherited neurosis: therefore he forebore to make bad worse by ill advised sympathy. Judiciously waiting until Joyce had in some degree soothed himself with tobacco, he talked of the common-place.
"Nine o'clock," said he peering at his watch; "thirteen hour's walking. Nothing to me Robin, but a goodish stretch to you. However we are within hail of civilization, and in England. A few miles further we'll pick up a village of sorts no doubt. One would think you were exploiting Africa the way you howl."
He spoke thus callously, in order to brace his friend; but Joyce resented the tone with that exaggerated sense of injury peculiar to the neurotic. "I am no Hercules like you Jim," he protested sullenly; "all your finer feelings have been blunted by beef and beer. You can't feel things as I do. Also," continued Robin still more querulously, "it seems to have escaped your memory, that I returned only last night from a two day's visit to Town."
"If you will break up your holiday into fragments, you must not expect to receive the benefit its enjoyment as a whole would give you. It was jolly enough last week sauntering through the Midlands, till you larked up to London, and fagged yourself with its detestable civilization."
Joyce threw aside his cigarette and nervously began to roll another. "It was no lark which took me up Jim. The letter that came to the Southberry Inn was about—her business."
"Sorry old man. I keep forgetting your troubles. Heat and the want of food make me savage. We'll rest here for a time, and then push on. Not that a night in the open would matter to me."
Joyce made no reply but lying full length on the dry herbage, stared at the scintillating sky. At his elbow, Herrick, cross-legged like a fakir, gave himself up to the enjoyment of a disreputable pipe. The more highly-strung man considered the circumstances which had placed him where he was.
Two months previously, Robin Joyce had lost his mother, to whom he had been devotedly attached: and the consequent grief had made a wreck of him. For weeks he had shut himself up in the flat once brightened by her presence to luxuriate in woe. He possessed in a large degree that instinct for martyrdom, latent in many people, which searches for sorrow, as a more joyous nature hunts for pleasure. The blow of Mrs. Joyce's death had fallen unexpectedly, but it brought home to Robin, the knowledge—strange as it may sound—that a mental pleasure can be plucked from misfortune. He locked himself in his room, wept much, and ate little; neglected his business of contributor to several newspapers, and his personal appearance. Thus the pain of his loss merged itself in that delight of self-mortification, which must have been experienced by the hermits of the Thebiad. Not entirely from religious motives was the desert made populous with hermits in the days of Cyril and Hypatia.
Herrick did not realize this transcendental indulgence, nor would he have understood it, had he done so. Emphatically a sane man, he would have deemed it a weakness degrading to the will, if not a species of lunacy. As it was, he merely saw that Robin yielded to an unrestrained grief detrimental to his health, and insisted upon carrying him off for a spell in the open air. With less trouble than he anticipated, Robin's consent was obtained. The mourner threw himself with ardour into the scheme, selected the county of Berks as the most inviting for a ramble; and when fairly started, showed a power of endurance amazing in one so frail.
Jim however being a doctor, was less astonished than a layman would have been. He knew that in Joyce a tremendous nerve power dominated the feebler muscular force, and that the man would go on like a blood-horse until he dropped from sheer exhaustion. The collapse on the moor did not surprise him. He only wondered that Robin had held out for so many days.
"But I wish you had not gone to London," said Herrick pursuing aloud this train of thought.
"I had to go," replied Joyce not troubling to query the remark. "The lawyer wrote about my poor mother's property. In my sorrow, I had neglected to look after it, but at Southberry Junction feeling better, thanks to your open air cure, I thought it wise to attend to the matter."
Then Joyce went on to state with much detail, how he had caught the Paddington express at Marleigh—their last stopping place—and had seen his lawyer. The business took some time to settle; but it resulted in the knowledge that Joyce found himself possessed of five hundred a year in Consols. "Also the flat and the furniture," said Robin, "so I am not so badly off. I can devote myself wholly to novels now, and shall not have to rack my brains for newspaper articles."
Herrick nodded over a newly-filled pipe. "Did you sleep at the flat?"
"No, I went up on Tuesday as you know, and slept that night at the Hull Hotel, a small house in one of the Strand side streets. Last night, I joined you at Southberry."
"And it is now Thursday," said Herrick laughing. "How particular you are as to detail Robin. Well, Southberry is a goodish way behind us now and Saxham is our next resting place. Feel better?"
"Yes, thanks. In another quarter of an hour, I shall make the attempt to reach Saxham. But we are so late, I fear no bed——"
"Oh, that's alright. We can wake the landlord, I calculate we have only three miles."
"Quite enough too. By the way Jim, what did you do, when I left you?"
In the semi-darkness Herrick chuckled. "Fell in love!" said he.
"H'm! You lost no time about it. And she?"
"A daughter of the gods, divinely tall; dark hair, creamy skin, sea-blue eyes the figure and gait of Diana, and—"
"More of the Celt than the Greek," interrupted Joyce, "blue eyes, black hair, that is the Irish type. Where did you see her?"
"In Southberry Church, talking to a puny curate, who did not deserve such a companion. Oh, Robin, her voice! Like an Eolian harp."
"It must possess a variety of tones then Jim. Did she see you?"
Herrick nodded and laughed again. "She looked and blushed. Beauty drew me with a single hair, therefore I thrilled responsive. Love at first sight Robin. Heigh-ho! never again shall I see this Helen of Marleigh."
"Live in hope," said Joyce, springing to his feet. "Allons, mon ami."
The more leisurely Herrick rose, markedly surprised at this sudden recuperation. "Wonderful man. One minute you are dying, the next skipping like a two year old. Hysterical all the same," he added as Joyce laughed.
"Those three miles," explained the other feverishly, "I feel that I have to walk them, and my determination is braced to breaking point."
"That means you'll collapse half way," retorted the doctor unstrapping his knapsack. "Light a match. Valerian for you my man."
Robin made no objection. He knew the value of Valerian for those unruly nerves of his, at present vibrating like so many harp-strings, twangled by an unskilful player. His small white face looked smaller and whiter than ever in the faint light of the match; but his great black eyes flamed like wind-blown torches. The contrast of Herrick's sun-tanned Saxon looks, struck him as almost ludicrous. Joyce needed no mirror to assure him of his appearance at the moment. He knew only too well how he aged on the eve of a nerve storm. For the present it was averted by the valerian; but he knew and so did Herrick, that sooner or later it would surely come.
"We must get on as fast as possible," said Herrick, the knapsack again on his broad back. "Food, drink, rest; you need all three. Forward!"
For some time they walked on in silence. Robin was so small, Dr. Jim so large, that they looked like the giant and dwarf of the old fairy tale on their travels. But in this case it was the giant who did all the work. Joyce was a pampered, lazy, irresponsible child, in the direct line of descent from Harold Skimpole. If Jim Herrick must be likened to another hero of romance, Amyas Leigh was his prototype.
The shadows melted before them, and closed in behind, and still there was nothing but plain and mist. At the end of two miles a dark bulk like a thunder-cloud, loomed before them. It stretched directly across their path. "Bogey," laughed Robin.
"A wood," said the more prosaic Jim, "this moor is fringed with pine-woods: remember the forest we passed through this morning."
"In the cheerful sunshine," shuddered Joyce. "I don't like woodlands by night. The fairies are about and goblins of the worst. Ha! Yonder the lantern of Puck. Oberon holds revel in the wood."
"Puck must be putting a girdle round the earth then Robin," said Herrick and stared at the white starry light, which beamed above the trees.
"Hecate's torch," cried Joyce, "a meeting of witches," and he began to chant the gruesome rhymes of the sisterhood, as Macbeth heard them. "The scene is a blasted heath too," said he.
By this time the moon was rising, and silver shafts struck inward to the heart of the pines. The aerial light vanished behind the leafy screen, as the travellers came to a halt on the verge of the undergrowth.
"We must get through," said Dr. Jim, "or if you like Robin, we can skirt round. Saxham village is just beyond I fancy."
"Let us choose the bee-line," murmured Joyce. "I want a bed and a meal as soon as possible. This part of the world is unknown to me. You lead."
"I don't know it myself. However here's a path. We'll follow it to the light. That comes from a tower of sorts. Too high up for a house."
With Herrick as pioneer, they plunged into the wood, following a winding path. In the gloom, their heads came into contact with boughs and tree-trunks but occasionally the moon made radiant the secret recesses, and revealed unexpected openings. The path sometimes passed across a glade, on the sward of which Joyce declared he saw the fairies dancing: and anon plunged into a cimmerian gloom suggestive of the underworld. No wind swung the heavy pine-boughs; the wild creatures of the wood gave no sign, made no stir: yet the explorers heard a low persistent swish-swurr-swish, like the murmur of a dying breeze. It came from no particular direction, but droned on all sides without pause, without change of note. Herrick heard Robin's hysterical sob, as the insistent sound bored into his brain. He would have made some remark; but at the moment they emerged into a open space of considerable size. Here, ringed by pines, loomed a vast grey house, with a slim tower. In that tower burned the steady light outshining even the moon's lustre. But what was more remarkable still, was the illumination of the mansion. Every window radiated white fire.
"Queer," said Robin halting on the verge of the wood, "not even a fence or a wall: a path or an outhouse. One would think that this was an inferior Aladdin's palace dropped here by some negligent genii. All ablaze too," he added wonderingly; "the owner must be giving a ball."
"No signs of guests anyhow," returned Herrick as puzzled as his companion. "H'm! Queer thing to find Versailles in a pine wood. However it may afford us a bed and a supper."
It was certainly strange. The circle of trees stopped short of the building at fifty yards. On all sides stretched an expanse of shorn and well-kept turf, pathless as the sea. In its midst the mansion was dropped—as Joyce aptly put it—unexpectedly. A two-storey Tudor building, with battlements, and mullioned windows, terraces and flights of shallow steps: the whole weather-worn and grey in the moonlight, over-grown with ivy, and distinctly ruinous. The dilapidated state of the house, contrasted in a rather sinister manner with the perfectly-kept lawn. Also another curious contrast, was the tower. This tacked on to the western corner, stood like a lean white ghost, watching over its earthly habitation. Its gleaming stone-work and sharp outlines showed that it had been built within the last decade. A distinct anachronism, which marred the quaint antiquity of the mediæval mansion.
"He must be an astrologer," said Joyce referring to the owner, "or it may be that the tower is an inland pharos, to guide travellers across that pathless moor. A horrible place," he muttered.
"Why horrible?" asked Dr. Jim as they crossed the lawn.
Robin shuddered, and cast a backward glance. "I can hardly explain. But to my mind, there is something sinister in this lonely mansion, ablaze with light, yet devoid of inhabitants."
"We have yet to find out if that is the case Robin. Hullo! The door is open," and in the strong moonlight they looked wonderingly at each other.
The heavy door—oak, clamped with iron—was slightly ajar. Herrick bent upon consummating the adventure, pushed it slightly open. They beheld a large hall with a tesselated pavement, and stately columns. Between these last stood black oak high-backed chairs upholstered in red velvet: also statues of Greek gods and goddesses, holding aloft opaque globes, radiant with light. A vast marble staircase with wide and shallow steps, sloped upwards, and on either side of this, from the height of the landing fell scarlet velvet curtains, shutting in the hall. The whiteness of the marble, the crimson of the draperies, the brilliance of the light; these sumptuous furnishings amazed the dusty pedestrians. It was as though, on a lonely prairie, one should step suddenly into the splendours of the Vatican.
"The palace of the Sleeping Beauty," whispered the awe-struck Robin. "Who can say romance is dead, when one can stumble upon such an adventure."
Herrick shared Robin's perplexity: but of a more practical nature, he addressed himself less to the romance than to the reality. Seeing no one, hearing nothing, he touched an ivory button, that glimmered a white spot beside the door. Immediately a silvery succession of sounds, shrilled through the—apparently—lonely house. "Electric bells, electric light. The hermit of this establishment is up-to-date."
"He is also deaf, and has no servants," said Joyce impatiently after a few minutes had passed. "Has a Borgian banquet taken place here? The guests seem to be dead. Hai! the whole thing is damnable."
"Don't let yourself go," said the doctor roughly squeezing the little man's arm, "wait and see the upshot."
Again and again they rang the bell, and themselves heard its imperative summons: but no one appeared. Then they took their courage in both hands, and stepped into the house. Passing through the crimson curtains, they found themselves in a wide corridor enamelled green, with velvet carpet and more light-bearing statues. On either side were doors draped with emerald silk. Herrick led the way through one of these, for Joyce, rendered timorous by the adventure would not take the initiative.
In the first room, an oval table was set out for a solitary meal. The linen was bleached as the Alpine snow, the silver antique, the crystal exquisite, the porcelain worth its weight in gold. An iridescent glass vase in the centre was filled with flowers, but these drooped, withered and brown. The bread also was stale, the fruits were shrivelled from their early freshness. Magnificently furnished and draped, the room glowed in splendour, under innumerable electric lights. But the intruders had eyes only for that sumptuous table, with its air of desolation, and its place set for one. Anything more sinister can scarcely be conceived.
"No one has sat down to this meal," said Herrick lifting the covers of the silver dishes, "it has stood here for hours, if not for days. Let us see if we can find the creature for whom it was intended."
"Perhaps you expect to find the Beast that loved Beauty, since you call him a creature," said Robin hysterically. "Here is wine."
Dr. Jim went to the sideboard, whereon were ranged decanters of Venetian glass containing many different vintages. Passing over these he selected a pint bottle of champagne. "We must make free of our position," he said, unwiring this, "afterwards we can apologise."
"Ugh!" cried Robin as the cork popped with a staccato sound in the silence. "How gruesome; give me a glass at once Jim."
"I don't know if it is good for you in your present state," replied the doctor brimming a goblet, "however the whole adventure is so queer, that an attack of nerves is excusable. Drink up."
Robin did so, and was joined by Jim. They finished the bottle, and felt exhilarated, and more ready to face the unknown. Again Herrick led the way to further explorations. Adjacent to the dining-room, they discovered a small kitchen, white-tiled and completely furnished. "Our hermit cooks for himself," declared Dr. Jim, eying the utensils of polished copper. "This is not a servant's kitchen: also it is off the dining-room."
Robin made no reply, but followed his friend, his large eyes becoming larger at every fresh discovery. They entered a drawing-room filled with splendid furniture, silver knick-knacks, costly china, and Eastern hangings of great price. There was a library stored with books in magnificent bindings, and with tables piled with latter-day magazines, novels and newspapers. "Our hermit keeps himself abreast of the world," commented Jim.
Then came a picture gallery, but this was on a second storey and lighted from the roof. Treasures of art ancient and modern glowed here under the radiance of the light, which illuminated every room. A smoking-room fashioned like a ship's cabin: a Japanese apartment, crammed with the lacquer work, and stiff embroideries of Yeddo and Yokahama; a shooting gallery; a bowling alley; a music room, containing a magnificent Erard. Finally a dozen bedrooms furnished with taste and luxury. To crown all they discovered a gymnasium fitted up completely even to foils and boxing gloves: and a huge bathroom. This last was throughout of white marble, with a square pool of water in the centre. "What a pond to bathe in!" cried Jim enviously, for he was hot and dusty. "Our hermit is an ancient Roman; he understands how to enjoy life. Come along Robin!"
But by this time they had explored almost the whole of the wonderful house. There remained the back premises, but on entering, they found nothing but darkness and dirt, squalor and coldness. The hermit's attention to his mansion stopped short at the servant's door. "And I don't believe he has any servants," declared Joyce. "How the deuce does he keep all this clean?"
The doctor shook his head. He hardly knew what to say. The situation was beyond him. A palace in the wilderness, with an open door inviting thieves! Crammed with treasures, brilliant with light, uninhabited, deserted. Was there ever anything so wonderful? He had to pinch himself to make sure that he was awake. "We have got into the world of the fourth dimension: the fairy-land of the Arabian Nights. What do you think Joyce?"
"I think we had better climb up to the tower," said Robin with unusual common sense, "It is the only place we have left unexplored. There is a light there too; Aladdin may be aloft."
Herrick shook his head. "He would have heard the bell. However come along. We must find someone."
With some difficulty they discovered the staircase leading to the tower. It was narrow but straight, and not so steep as might have been expected. At the top Herrick—leading as usual—was confronted by a closed door of plain deal. It was not locked however, and having knocked without receiving a reply he opened it. Joyce at his heels peeped over his shoulder and beheld a small square room with windows on all four sides, and a large central globe burning in the ceiling. In contrast to the rest of the house, this room was absolutely bare. Blank walls, Chinese matting on the floor, a camp bedstead in one corner, a deal table without a covering in another, and two cane chairs. No anchorite could have had a more ascetic cell.
Herrick took in the scene at a glance, took in also, its—to him—central feature, the body of a man lying face downwards, near the bed. Joyce saw the corpse also, and remained at the door, shaking and white.
"Murder or suicide?" Jim asked himself as he turned over the dead.
That, which had once been a man, was in evening dress. In the finest of linen and jewellery, the most immaculate of clothes, it lay under the scrutinising eye of Dr. Herrick. A lean evil face, with a hook nose, scanty grey hair cut short and a long moustache carefully trimmed. The left hand gripped a revolver; the shirt front over the heart was covered with blood, and a stream, coagulated and black, streaked the matting.
"In God's name?" cried Joyce not daring to enter, "what is it?"
"It was once the owner of this house I suppose," said Herrick grimly. "Now, it is a piece of carrion. Suicide apparently. Dead over twenty-four hours. Shot through the heart. A steady hand to do that. H'm, left-handed too. Is it suicide, or murder? Here's a damnable discovery to cap the adventure," said Dr. Jim gravely.
From the doorway came a gasp, a tittering laugh. Jim had just time to spring forward when Joyce lunged into his arms. The long expected nerve-storm had come at last.
"And sunsets fire, the Saxham spire,My guide post unto heaven."
So sang midway in the last century a local poet, who died long since and passed, poems and all, into oblivion. But the famous spire in its copper sheathing still catches the sunlight, and glows in the centre of Saxham, a veritable pillar of fire. Those natives who have emigrated, enlisted as soldiers, taken situations in London and elsewhere, shipped before the mast, as some have done, always remember church and spire. The children recall its ruddy blaze when they read Exodus.
Saxham was not a large place. It might have contained a couple of hundred inhabitants, probably less, and these principally agricultural labourers. They worked on the farms and estates which dotted the vast alluvial plain stretching to Beorminster. As the city, like that one mentioned in the Bible, is set upon a hill, the twin towers of the cathedral and Bishop Gandolf's spire can easily be seen from Saxham. But the villagers prefer their own spire and their own parson, rarely venturing the three miles to Beorminster. Those who do go, always return to their beloved hamlet, more convinced than ever as to the superiority of their birthplace. A sturdy stubborn set of rustics, these men and women of Saxham.
The topography of the country as set down in Herrick's map, showed that Saxham was almost the centre of the district, taking Beorminster as the real navel. The great plain was covered with many such hamlets, each clustering round its parent church; but Saxham was the nearest to the city. Far away on the other side was smoky Irongrip the manufacturing town; almost in sight of Marleigh and Heathcroft. Then sixteen miles across Southberry Heath (which Herrick and Joyce had so wearily trodden on the previous night) Southberry Junction roared with perpetual traffic for here, the great main line tapped the local railways which converged from all points. The pine-woods, sheltering Saxham from the chill winds of the moor, also barred it from the outside world, as Southberry was considered to be. Saxham, with its neighbouring hamlets, claimed to belong solely to Beorminster. The folk would have called themselves autochthonous, had they known of such a word and its meaning.
The plan of the village was simple. In its centre was a genuine village green, with a quincunx of immemorial elms. From this ran four streets through the mass of houses, until they passed beyond them altogether and out into the country. On one side stands St. Edith's church in a nest of trees; on the other 'The Carr Arms' an inn of undoubted antiquity. The remaining two sides are occupied by rows of mediæval-looking houses, inhabited by those whom Saxham calls "the best people," by which is meant the tradesmen. There was no doctor or lawyer and the rector representing the gentry in the village itself, dwelt on its outskirts. The country people lived outside the village on their estates and visited it only on business; and as there were no Radicals in Saxham, these were looked upon as more than mortal.
Under the red tiled roof of 'The Carr Arms,' Robin Joyce was still sleeping the next morning when the green was filled with excited people talking of the murder—so they called it. The events of the previous night had so shaken the nerve of the little man, that it was all Herrick could do to get him out of that ghastly mansion, and down to the inn. Dr. Jim, rousing the landlord, had told his story and after seeing Robin to bed, had turned in himself. What did it matter to him, that the great house was still ablaze in the pine-wood, still filled with precious things, and its doors and windows open to thieves? He was too tired almost to think, and the moment his head was on the pillow, he fell into a heavy dreamless slumber, which lasted until ten the next morning.
From this much-needed rest, he was awakened by Napper, the landlord, a burly man, with a ruddy face suggestive of beef and beer in large quantities. In no very pleasant humour, Jim sat up, to demand with a growl and an adjective what was wanted. On being informed that Mr. Inspector Bridge of Beorminster waited to see him, the events of the night came back on his still drowsy brain with a rush. Thoroughly awakened, he promised to be down in half an hour, and forthwith tumbled into the largest cold bath Napper could provide. After a douche, and ten minutes' gymnastics, the Doctor hurried into a clean shirt and his homespun suit. While he dressed he meditated on the fact that Napper had lost no time in telling the police what had happened. In a few minutes he looked into Robin's bedroom, and finding his companion still in an exhausted slumber, he went downstairs alone, to face the officer.
Inspector Bridge was a tall lean man with a serious face, and—what was surprising taken in conjunction with his funereal looks—a jocular manner. The man's humour lurked in his eyes—a grey pair of twinklers, which belied the turned-down corners of his mouth. His movements were slow, his tone was brisk and businesslike. Rather a contradictory personality Herrick thought, and concluded that Bridge resembled nothing so much as an undertaker out for a holiday. His profession would thus account for the solemnity and slowness, and the holiday explain his brisk jocularity.
This incongruous officer considered the young man with a pursed-up mouth and a humorsome eye. He saw that Herrick was a gentleman, and this opinion being confirmed—in the Inspector's mind—by the sight of a signet ring, he treated him with more deference than he had been prepared to show. Napper's report of the pedestrians had led Bridge to infer that they were of the genus "tramp."
"Good morning sir," began the Inspector genially. "I have come to see you about this murder of Colonel Carr. My card—Mr.—Mr.—"
"Dr. Herrick," said Jim, glancing at what he profanely called the official ticket. "Have you breakfasted Mr. Inspector? If not, or if you have—it really doesn't really matter—take the meal with me. I must eat before I can talk."
Bridge was only too willing, and Herrick went up several degrees in his good opinion. "Napper can cater excellently," said he rubbing his hands. "I have often tested his hospitality."
Dr. Jim privately thought that the Inspector was not averse to testing anyone's hospitality: but the man seemed decent enough, and Herrick was sufficiently worldly-wise to make himself agreeable to Jack-in-Office. In another half hour the two were seated in a pleasant parlour before a well-spread table. Bridge performed wonders in the way of eating. How he could remain lean with such an appetite, was a wonder to Jim. But the doctor himself was not far behind, and between the two of them, they swept the table clean. Then Herrick lighted his pipe, ensconced himself in a chintz-covered arm-chair near the window, and prepared to answer the Inspector's questions before asking several of his own.
At the out-set Bridge detailed, all that had been done up to that moment. Three policemen were looking after "The Pines" (so was the house called), and guarding the dead; a doctor was expected from Beorminster to inspect the body; the Coroner to attend to the inquest; and the relatives of the deceased had been notified. Then Mr. Inspector put Herrick through a stiff examination, and took down all he said. When the officer was quite satisfied and his note-book was full, Jim proceeded to make enquiries on his own account. The strangeness of the whole affair, roused his curiosity, and—as Bridge pleasantly observed,—he showed marked symptoms of "detective fever." This was the first time Jim had stumbled across the disease.
"The dead man was called Colonel Carr?" asked Dr. Herrick, crossing his legs.
The Inspector nodded. "A well-known county name," said he, "Wilfred Lloyd Carr. You can see it in Burke's Landed Gentry. But what you will not see," added Bridge with a dry cough, "is the name he was known by hereabouts,—wicked Colonel Carr sir. That is what every man woman and child called him, not without reason Doctor."
"H'm! It does sound as though he had a bad reputation."
"Bad sir," echoed the Inspector not without pride, "a regular out and out rip. But that he belonged to the gentry, he would have been through my hands I can tell you. And to think of him being murdered. I ain't astonished, no I ain't astonished. He was too wicked to die in his bed as the Christian he wasn't."
"Why do you say he was murdered?" asked Jim alertly. "The revolver was in his hand. Looks like suicide to me,—at the first glance of course."
Bridge laughed grimly and shook his head. "Colonel Carr was the last man in the world to take his own life sir,—too much afraid of the burning pit for that. I examined the body this morning, and I say—murder. Certainly my examination was cursory. But if he had shot himself through the heart, the linen over it would have been scorched. There is no mark of powder not even a singe. No sir, that shot was fired at a long range. If you did not alter the position of the body Dr. Herrick, I should say that the shot had been fired from the door."
"I did not alter the position of the body Mr. Inspector. I merely turned it over, and replaced it. H'm! Murder you say. And the assassin placed the revolver in the dead hand to hint at suicide. Clever man or woman Mr. Inspector. Which?"
"Lord knows," replied Bridge rubbing his grey hair. "The Colonel had heaps and heaps of enemies I can tell you. Whether man or woman, I do not know. But I'll tell you one thing Dr. Herrick, whosoever fired the shot knew the Colonel excellently well."
"I see what you mean. The assassin knew that his victim was left-handed."
"Right sir. You've hit it. Now," added Bridge meditatively, "could it have been Frisco?"
"Frisco. Who is he or her?"
"Frisco was the servant of Colonel Carr," explained the Inspector, "and as great a mystery as his master; San Francisco, he called himself, and that I take it is the name of a town. The wicked Colonel shortened it to Frisco for short. Yes! Frisco might have killed him!"
"If you would only give me a concise biography of Carr, I should be less in the dark Mr. Inspector."
"Oh, you'll hear plenty of stories about him,—none of them creditable. But to put all you need know at present into a nut-shell, I can only say that the wicked Colonel returned here from foreign parts ten years ago. He built that tower, and shut himself up to live the life of a recluse. He brought Frisco with him, and the two inhabited that house all alone. No one thought of going near it."
"Ah! That is why the crime was not discovered earlier."
"Certainly Doctor. The milkman, the baker, and the butcher, were always instructed to leave their goods in a porch at the side of the house. In that porch," added Bridge, "we have found two days provisions. To-day is Friday, last night when you discovered the body was Thursday, and the provisions for that day and Wednesday were untouched."
"H'm! So Carr was alive on Tuesday!"
"I believe doctor, that he was murdered on Tuesday night. According to Napper, Frisco, was drinking here on that evening, and spoke ill of his master. Carr must have been alive then. If Frisco killed him, he would leave Saxham on Tuesday night, therefore the provisions for Wednesday and Thursday would not be taken in."
"Did not the baker and the rest suspect anything, when they found two day's provisions untouched?"
"Lord bless you, no sir," said Bridge jovially. "The wicked Colonel was that queer, that nothing he did seemed strange."
"Well!" said Jim after a pause. "From what you tell me, it seems likely that this man Frisco knows something of the murder, if he did not commit it himself. Can't you find him?"
"There is no sign of the man sir."
"What about his appearance?"
"A stout sailor, that's what he looked like," said Bridge reflecting, "red hair and blue eyes, an American way of speaking, and a cross on his forehead right above the nose."
"A cross! What do you mean?"
"A scar sir; a criss-cross slash with a knife. Frisco said he got it in South America. But I don't rightly know how. Frisco could be secret if he liked, even in his cups, and he could drink rum by the bucket."
"Have you set the detectives after him?"
"Not yet. I am waiting until the inquest is held. It takes place to-day at 'The Pines.' You will be there Dr. Herrick, and your friend?"
"Certainly. But my friend can tell you no more than I can. If I were you though Mr. Inspector, I should certainly seek out this Frisco man at once. What is his real name?"
"I don't know nor anyone else sir. He was a mystery I tell you. As to looking him up, I like to do things in an orderly manner. First the inquest and all the available evidence sir. Then we shall see."
Herrick shrugged his broad shoulders. It was not his business to instruct Bridge, but it seemed to him foolish to delay hunting for this mysterious Frisco. The man might be innocent, but on the face of it there appeared to be a strong suspicion against him. Men do not disappear without some reason; and as Frisco was gone, leaving a dead body behind him, it looked as though terror had winged his heels. His reasons could resolve themselves into only one of two things. Either he had murdered his master himself, and had fled to avoid the consequences, or he knew who had committed the crime and, intimidated by the assassin, had made himself scarce.
While Herrick was turning over the situation in his own mind, a knock came to the door, immediately afterwards a girl entered. She was a slip of a thing, who looked about nineteen, slim and well-set up. Her face was oval and thin, and burnt red by wind and sun. Herrick had never before seen hair of such a glorious red; it resembled ruddy gold, and was wreathed in burnished coils round her well-shaped head. This young lady had eyes of a sapphire blue, and a firm-set mouth. Dressed in a navy serge plainly made, with a linen collar, a brown leathern belt, and gauntlet gloves, she looked trig and neat. A girl likely to be passed over in a crowd until one looked into her wonderful eyes. The soul that looked out of them proved she was a woman of no common intelligence. Her manner was refined and well-bred. She was remarkably cool, and after a shrewd glance at Herrick, addressed herself to the Inspector.
"I beg your pardon for interrupting you," she said in a brisk but not unmusical voice, "this inquest Mr. Inspector?"
"It takes place at 'The Pines' this afternoon Miss Endicotte," replied Bridge who seemed to know her well. "But surely Miss you will not attend."
"Certainly Mr. Bridge. I do the copy for the Chronicle. Besides, poor Colonel Carr was my friend, and I want to hear the truth about his death."
Herrick looked sharply at the only person he had heard speak sympathetically of the dead man. "There lives some soul of good in all things evil," he quoted, and a flash of the girl's teeth showed that she perfectly understood.
"Oh, I know that everyone speaks ill of the Colonel," said she a trifle sadly, "he was bad enough, no doubt. Yet, your quotation applies to him more than the gossip about him would lead you to suppose." Here she glanced at Bridge. Not so much to emphasise the fact that he talked ill of the dead, as to invite an introduction. Bridge was quick to see her real meaning.
"This is Dr. Herrick, who found the body," said he, "and this lady, doctor is Miss Bess Endicotte, who reports for the Beorminster Weekly Chronicle."
Jim was a trifle surprised and disappointed to find that this charming young lady occupied such a position, though why he should have been either he could not explain even to himself. However he bowed with a smile, and received the same courtesies in return. Miss Endicotte's eyes rested approvingly on his splendid figure. "This is what I call a man," they seemed to say, but with her tongue she uttered quite different sentiments.
"I am glad to meet you Dr. Herrick," she said gracefully, "you must tell me all about your discovery,—that is, you do not mind my making copy out of you."
"Not at all," responded Herrick eagerly, "I am accustomed to be made copy of. My friend Mr. Joyce, who is at present upstairs asleep, is a literary man. I am quite hand and glove with the guild I assure you."
"In that case we must be friends," said Miss Endicotte frankly. "Mr. Joyce was with you last night?"
"Unfortunate yes Miss Endicotte. He is a nervous man, and not strong. I am sorry to say that the terrible sight upset him. All the good I hoped he would obtain from this walking tour has disappeared."
"Are you on a walking tour?" asked Bridge who was putting on his cap.
"Yes! For the last fortnight we have been tramping over the country. The last place we stopped at was Southberry. Then we crossed the Heath to stumble on this disagreeable adventure. Why do you smile Miss Endicotte?"
The girl flushed a trifle. "I have heard of you!"
"Of me," Jim stared, "but I am not known in this part of the country my dear lady. Have we met before? Somehow, your face seems familiar?"
"It would be more familiar were I two inches taller and had dark hair," said Miss Endicotte with an amused look, "if you will stare at—"
"Ah!" interrupted Jim eagerly, "I remember now. The lady I saw talking to the little curate in Southberry church! —"
"Was my sister," replied the girl. "When you mentioned Southberry, I remembered that she mentioned how you stared at her, and described your appearance. Then I recognised you."
"I hope your sister did not think me rude," said Jim rather confused, "but the fact is, she is so—"
"I know," interrupted Miss Bess composedly. "Ida is accustomed to admiration. But this is not business," she added turning to Bridge, "Well what's to be done now Mr. Inspector?"
"Nothing can be done until the inquest is held," he replied going towards the door. "But I recommend you Miss Bess, to interview this gentleman. He can tell you much that will be of interest to your readers."
The Inspector slipped out with a laugh, and Miss Endicotte turned her sparkling eyes on Dr. Herrick. "I hope you won't think me a nuisance," she said, hesitating, "but if you could. —"
"Only too pleased," said Jim placing a chair. "What is it you wish to know Miss Endicotte?"
"All about yourself and your friend, and the walking tour, and the discovery." Thus far she rattled on blithely, but then flushed, and stammered. "Please do not think me rude," she murmured, "in my present capacity I am simply a machine for the Beormister Chronicle. If you do not wish to tell me anything—"
"I have not the slightest objection," replied Jim laughing. "Do you object to my smoking? I can answer your questions better if I smoke."
"Please do," cried Miss Endicotte eagerly. "I am used to it. My brother Frank is never without a pipe in his mouth."
"Your brother and I should get on well together then," said Herrick artfully, not that he wanted to meet the brother so much as the beauty-sister of Southberry Church, "however—this interview!"
Miss Bess—as the Inspector called her, pulled out a pocket-book, and became the reporter at once. She was versed in her profession and put the shrewdest of questions. All the same she appeared to be nervous at times, and Herrick guessed that it was the innately refined woman struggling with the necessary obstrusiveness of the bread-winner. However he did his best to put her at her ease, and told his story as concisely as possible.
"My name is James Calthorpe Herrick," he said. "I am a doctor, supposed to be practising in West Kensington, London. My friend Joyce was one of my patients—is I should say. He lost his mother and fell ill—by the way you need not put that down Miss Endicotte. All you need let your readers know is, that Mr. Joyce and myself have been on a walking tour, and stumbled—as I said before, on the Pines, and the body." After which statement Herrick detailed the arrival at the lighted house, the exploration and the discovery.
Miss Endicotte put all this down, and promised to amplify it in such a manner that it would not trench upon Herrick's private affairs. Then he asked the girl about Colonel Carr. She was rather reticent on the subject.
"I do not feel that I am justified in speaking of the matter," she said shaking her head, "all I can say is that Colonel Carr was better than his reputation. From what I can gather he was murdered. Well, he expected to be—that is—" she broke off and flushed.
"He expected to be murdered!" Herrick looked keenly at her.
"Hush," said Miss Endicotte with a glance at the door. "I have no right to say that. It is a long story, and not very clear. If you remain in Saxham, if we become better acquainted, I might—how long do you stay?"
"It all depends upon my friend," replied Herrick his curiosity at fever-heat with these hints, "he is ill I am afraid. I must go up and see him now. We shall meet again I hope."
"I think so. I shall be at the inquest. And you?"
"Of course. I must give evidence. Joyce also if he is well enough. By the way Bridge mentioned some relatives of Carr's. Who are they?"
"Mrs. Marsh and her son," said the girl with some reluctance, "they live in the Bishop's Close at Beorminster. It will be a great shock to them, although they were not on good terms with the Colonel."
"Will they be at the inquest?"
"Mr. Marsh will be there but his mother is very ill. She caught cold a day or two ago, and is now in bed with a sharp attack of pneumonia."
"Troubles never come singly," said Herrick sententiously, "by the way, the suspicions of Bridge about Frisco?—"
"I am sure he is innocent," cried Miss Endicotte flushing. "Frisco was bad, but he loved the Colonel. He would not have killed him. I—I—" she suddenly shook her head, checked herself, and walked out of the room. Herrick stared. Was it possible that this charming girl knew the truth?
Robin woke calmer after his rest. The nervous excitement had passed away, but the reaction had left him as weak as a child. He looked shrivelled up and pale when Herrick saw him. At once the doctor sat down to feel the little man's pulse, which was slow and faint.
"You must stay in bed to-day," ordered the doctor replacing his watch. "I shall send you up some strong soup. Sleep as much as you can, that is the best thing to pull you round."
"Should I not get up to look after this business with you?"
"There is no need. The police have taken charge of the Case. Your evidence is exactly the same as mine, so I shall represent you at the Inquest."
"Is there to be an inquest?" asked Joyce with languid interest.
"Certainly! This afternoon at the house. From what Inspector Bridge told me it would seem that Colonel Carr was shot on Tuesday night."
"Is the dead man's name Colonel Carr?"
"Yes! Wicked Colonel Carr. From all accounts he was one of the worst."
"Why did he commit suicide?"
"He did not, if Bridge is to be believed. He insists that the man was shot—perhaps by his servant, who has vanished. However we shall hear all that is to be heard this afternoon."
A colour crept into the wan cheek of Joyce. "I should like to get up and hear all about it," said he, "there might be material for a story."
"You can hear details later on. At present you must stay in bed, until we return to Town."
"What about our walking tour?"
"I have decided to cut that short," replied the doctor, "this adventure has given me a distaste for the trip. In a day or so, when you are rested we will return to London. My practice is small but I must attend to it."
"And what about me Jim?"
"Well!" reflected Herrick, "you are now well enough off not to make work an imperative necessity. I think you should go abroad for a time, and do nothing, until you are quite yourself. Explore Italy or Spain, and don't do a stroke of work. Change of scene and company will make you your old self again in a short time."
"Never, never!" moaned Joyce. "I shall never get over her death."
"Nonsense! Don't give way Robin. You must be a man—"
"It was so sudden," pleaded Robin piteously.
"I know. Didn't I attend her! But apoplexy always ends suddenly. Your mother was a stout woman and took no exercise. That fit might have been expected; I warned her often. You know I am sorry for your loss Robin; but sorrow will not bring back the dead. You have your part to play in the world, so you must put this grief behind you. If I talk a little brutally, you must excuse me. To a man of your temperament, sympathy is the worst thing possible."
In Herrick's hands Joyce was more or less of a child, so he submitted—rather against his will—to remain in bed, while his friend went forth to hear the news. As might have been guessed Robin employed his solitude in gloating over his sorrow. This weakness he did not dare to reveal to Jim, fearing lest he should be lectured again. Still, he could not but acknowledge to himself that Herrick's advice was sensible.
Meantime the doctor made a tour of the village. The villagers, swarming like bees in the excitement of the moment, recognised a stranger, and guessed that this was one of the two gentlemen said to have discovered the body. Hence Herrick found himself the subject of considerable curiosity, but was not molested or accosted in any way, until he met with a clergyman. This was on the outskirts of the village, where a gorse-covered common stretched up to the pine wood surrounding the house of Colonel Carr. The parson seemed to have been wandering on the waste land, for he appeared suddenly at Herrick's elbow like a ghost. Probably he had seen the stranger coming and had just stepped out from behind a bush.
"You are Dr. Herrick?" he asked nervously.
Jim signified that he was. "I am, addressing the vicar?" he hazarded.
"The rector," corrected the other. "I am Mr. Pentland Corn. You will excuse my breaking in on your meditations," he continued, "but I guessed that you were the finder of the body of our late lamented friend."
"Humph! From all I have heard, there is very little lamentation over the Colonel's death."
"Scandal and evil tongues," replied Mr. Corn rather tautologically, "Carr had his good points."
"That is what Miss Endicotte says."
"Indeed! I was not aware that you knew Miss Endicotte?"
"She came to the inn this morning to see Inspector Bridge about this—"
"Wait!" said the Revd. Pentland in a hurry, "some mistake. Miss Bess is the journalist. Her elder sister Miss Ida is the head of the family. The nominal head I should say, since Miss Bess manages everything."
The rector smiled as he spoke, and Herrick on account of that smile took rather a fancy to him. The Revd. Pentland Corn—wonderful name—was something under forty; and looked more like a soldier than a parson. He had a smart soldierly figure, wore a moustache, and his hair cropped close. But for his clothes, Herrick would have taken him for a military man. He looked pale, there were dark circles under his eyes, and he seemed to be labouring under considerable stress of emotion. Perhaps the death of Carr had been too much for him. Yet after the first remark he shirked the subject and talked of the Endicottes.
"That is the proper name of the family," said Corn hurriedly, "a very old family in these parts. But Miss Bess calls her collective brothers and sisters 'The Biff's.'"
Dr. Jim smiled. There seemed to be something fascinating about the name, something characteristic of the girl he had met at the inn. "The Biff's," he repeated laughing outright, "and how is that derived from the high sounding name of Endicotte?"
"It is not derived from that at all Dr. Herrick. It is simply the initials of the family. There are five of them. Bess, Ida, Frank, Flo, and Sidney."
"I see; Biff's! Ha! Ha, how amusing. Do they live near here?"
"A quarter of a mile away, at the back of my house. Sidney is my pupil and a strange boy he is. But I have no business to tell all these things to a stranger," added Corn in confusion.
"Anything you say to me is perfectly safe," replied Herrick pleasantly. "I think Miss Bess a clever young lady."
"And as good as she is clever."
"A great friend of the late Colonel's I believe," said Jim.
Pentland Corn moistened his dry lips. "He was kind to her," was his reply delivered in a faint voice. "You will excuse my emotion Dr. Herrick but I am rather shaken by this death. Usually we are free from crime, and for this to happen in my parish! It is terrible.
"You knew Colonel Carr well?"
"Very well. I tried to win him from his evil ways. But he was cut off in the midst of his sin. Oh, it is awful. Yet I liked him. He was a good friend to me on one occasion. The reason I stopped you, was to ask if you met anyone in the house last night."
"No one. Myself and my friend hunted all over it. The servant bolted, I have been told."
"Frisco has certainly disappeared," responded Corn looking at the ground, "but I do not think he is the guilty person. He was devoted to the Colonel."
"Then why did he run away?"
"Ah! Who can say! There was a mystery in Colonel Carr's life Mr. Herrick, which I fear will never be cleared up. You will be at the Inquest?"
"Yes. It takes place at three this afternoon. And you sir?"
"No! I shall not be there. I cannot bear to—but that is neither here nor there," broke off Corn hurriedly, "tell me, was the house alight?"
"Every room was lighted. It blazed like a palace in the wood."
"Colonel Carr's whim. He surrounded himself with the most beautiful things and installed the electric light. Water power you know," added the rector rather inconsequently. "I expect the wheel was going constantly for the two days before the body was discovered."
Herrick recollected the murmur in the wood, and now guessed that it came from the waterfall, which turned the wheel for the dynamos. There was no doubt that Colonel Carr surrounded himself with every comfort. "Did he ever have guests to stay with him?" he asked.
The rector made a gesture of surprise. "If you had known Colonel Carr you would not ask such a question. He hated his fellow-mortals."
"Then why had he so many bedrooms?"
"I cannot tell you. But I am certain that he never had anyone to stay in the house. I have been in it once or twice myself, and Miss Bess has paid a visit. But no other person has ever entered."
"Humph! Quite a mystery. What about Marsh?"
"Ah I expect you heard of him from Miss Bess. He is a great friend of the Biffs. Stephen Marsh will inherit the Colonel's property I expect."
"What relation was he to Carr?"
"His nephew. But the two never spoke. They hated each other."
"Mrs. Marsh then is the Colonel's sister?"
"Oh, dear me no. The present Mrs. Marsh is only step-mother to Stephen. A violent terrible woman with Italian blood in her veins. It was she I think who put Stephen against his uncle."
"She is very ill I hear. Pneumonia."
"Dear me," said Corn startled, "why she was at my house on Tuesday! But it was raining when Stephen came for her. I expect she got a chill then."
"No doubt. At all events she is seriously ill now I understand."
"Ha!" said the rector and looked down again. "I wonder if any doctor will attend her. She has quarrelled with them all. Well, there is no more to be said Dr. Herrick. By the way, if I have talked freely, you must excuse me for doing so. I have a reason. Some day I hope to tell it to you. Are you stopping here for long?"
"A day or so. I am on a walking tour with my friend Mr. Joyce. We return shortly to London. Good-day Mr. Corn."
"Good-day," replied the rector raising his hat, and slipped away into the gorse bushes like a ghost.
Herrick walked on somewhat puzzled. What was the meaning of this frank speech, to a stranger. The parson looked smarter and more of a man of the world than many serious minded people would have approved of. Yet he had talked, to say the least of it, in a most indiscreet manner. Moreover he had promised (quite unnecessarily) to explain his reason for doing so to the doctor. What did it all mean? "Does he know something, as well as Miss Bess?" thought Herrick returning to the inn. "Both of them seem to have a better opinion of Colonel Carr, than the rest of the people. Humph! I seem to be surrounded by mysteries here. Well. We shall see what the inquest will do."
Robin proved more fractious than Herrick expected. He was most anxious to be present at the inquest: but in the end over-ruled by the stronger will of his friend, he consented to remain where he was. The doctor walked by himself to the Pines, and was received by Inspector Bridge who introduced him to the Coroner, and to Dr. Tiler, who had examined the body. After some discussion, Bridge collected a jury of mixed villagers and Beorminster citizens. After these had inspected the body, the witnesses were called.
Herrick gave evidence of his discovery, of the position of the body, and of the condition of the house. He was followed by Tiler, who declared that in his opinion Carr had been shot on Tuesday night (going by the condition of the body). He flouted the idea of suicide.
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