The Judgment House by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXV. Wherein the Lost is Found
In a moment the great surgeon was seated, looking reflectively round him. Soon, however, he said brusquely, "I hope your friend Jigger is going on all right?"
"Yes, yes, thanks to you."
"No, no, Mr. Stafford, thanks to you and Mrs. Byng chiefly. It was care and nursing that did it. If I could have hospitals like Glencader and hospital nurses like Mrs. Byng and Al'mah and yourself, I'd have few regrets at the end of the year. That was an exciting time at Glencader."
Stafford nodded, but said nothing. Presently, after some reference to the disaster at the mine at Glencader and to Stafford's and Byng's bravery, Mr. Mappin said. "I was shocked to hear of Mr. Fellowes' death. I was out of town when it happened--a bad case at Leeds; but I returned early this morning." He paused, inquiringly but Ian said nothing, and he continued, "I have seen the body."
"You were not at the inquest, I think," Ian remarked, casually.
"No, I was not in time for that, but I got permission to view the body."
"And the verdict--you approve?"
"Heart failure--yes." Mr. Mappin's lip curled. "Of course. But he had no heart trouble. His heart wasn't even weak. His life showed that."
"His life showed--?" Ian's eyebrows went up.
"He was very much in society, and there's nothing more strenuous than that. His heart was all right. Something made it fail, and I have been considering what it was."
"Are you suggesting that his death was not natural?"
"Quite artificial, quite artificial, I should say."
Ian took a cigarette, and lighted it slowly. "According to your theory, he must have committed suicide. But how? Not by an effort of the will, as they do in the East, I suppose?"
Mr. Mappin sat up stiffly in his chair. "Do you remember my showing you all at Glencader a needle which had on its point enough poison to kill a man?"
"And leave no trace--yes."
"Do you remember that you all looked at it with interest, and that Mr. Fellowes examined it more attentively than any one else?"
"Well, I was going to kill a collie with it next day."
"A favourite collie grown old, rheumatic--yes, I remember."
"Well, the experiment failed."
"The collie wasn't killed by the poison?"
"No, not by the poison, Mr. Stafford."
"So your theory didn't work except on paper."
"I think it worked, but not with the collie."
There was a pause, while Stafford looked composedly at his visitor, and then he said: "Why didn't it work with the collie?"
"It never had its chance."
"Some mistake, some hitch?"
"No mistake, no hitch; but the wrong needle."
"The wrong needle! I should not say that carelessness was a habit with you." Stafford's voice was civil and sympathetic.
"Confidence breeds carelessness," was Mr. Mappin's enigmatical retort.
"You were over-confident then?"
"Quite clearly so. I thought that Glencader was beyond reproach."
There was a slight pause, and then Stafford, flicking away some cigarette ashes, continued the catechism. "What particular form of reproach do you apply to Glencader?"
"That sounds reprehensible--and rude."
"If you were not beyond reproach, it would be rude, Mr. Stafford."
Stafford chafed at the rather superior air of the expert, whose habit of bedside authority was apt to creep into his social conversation; but, while he longed to give him a shrewd thrust, he forbore. It was hard to tell how much he might have to do to prevent the man from making mischief. The compliment had been smug, and smugness irritated Stafford.
"Well, thanks for your testimonial," he said, presently, and then he determined to cut short the tardy revelation, and prick the bubble of mystery which the great man was so slowly blowing.
"I take it that you think some one at Glencader stole your needle, and so saved your collie's life," he said.
"That is what I mean," responded Mr. Mappin, a little discomposed that his elaborate synthesis should be so sharply brought to an end.
There was almost a grisly raillery in Stafford's reply. "Now, the collie--were you sufficiently a fatalist to let him live, or did you prepare another needle, or do it in the humdrum way?"
"I let the collie live."
"Hoping to find the needle again?" asked Stafford, with a smile.
"Perhaps to hear of it again."
"Hello, that is rather startling! And you have done so?
"I think so. Yes, I may say that."
"Now how do you suppose you lost that needle?"
"It was taken from my pocket-case, and another substituted.
"Returning good for evil. Could you not see the difference in the needles?"
"There is not, necessarily, difference in needles. The substitute was the same size and shape, and I was not suspicious."
"And what form does your suspicion take now?"
The great man became rather portentously solemn--he himself would have said "becomingly grave." "My conviction is that Mr. Fellowes took my needle."
Stafford fixed the other with his gaze. "And killed himself with it?"
Mr. Mappin frowned. "Of that I cannot be sure, of course."
"Could you not tell by examining the body?"
"Not absolutely from a superficial examination."
"You did not think a scientific examination necessary?"
"Yes, perhaps; but the official inquest is over, the expert analysis or examination is finished by the authorities, and the superficial proofs, while convincing enough to me, are not complete and final; and so, there you are."
Stafford got and held his visitor's eyes, and with slow emphasis said: "You think that Fellowes committed suicide with your needle?"
"No, I didn't say that."
"Then I fear my intelligence must be failing rapidly. You said--"
"I said I was not sure that he killed himself. I am sure that he was killed by my needle; but I am not sure that he killed himself. Motive and all that kind of thing would come in there."
"Ah--and all that kind of thing! Why should you discard motive for his killing himself?"
"I did not say I discarded motive, but I think Mr. Fellowes the last man in the world likely to kill himself."
"Why, then, do you think he stole the needle?"
"Not to kill himself."
Stafford turned his head away a little. "Come now; this is too tall. You are going pretty far in suggesting that Fellowes took your needle to kill some one else."
"Perhaps. But motive might not be so far to seek."
"What motive in this case?" Stafford's eyes narrowed a little with the inquiry.
"Well, a woman, perhaps."
"You know of some one, who--"
"No. I am only assuming from Mr. Fellowes' somewhat material nature that there must be a woman or so."
"Or so--why 'or so?'" Stafford pressed him into a corner.
"There comes the motive--one too many, when one may be suspicious, or jealous, or revengeful, or impossible."
"Did you see any mark of the needle on the body?"
"I think so. But that would not do more than suggest further delicate, detailed, and final examination."
"You have no trace of the needle itself?"
"None. But surely that isn't strange. If he had killed himself, the needle would probably have been found. If he did not kill himself, but yet was killed by it, there is nothing strange in its not being recovered."
Stafford took on the gravity of a dry-as-dust judge. "I suppose that to prove the case it would be necessary to produce the needle, as your theory and your invention are rather new."
"For complete proof the needle would be necessary, though not indispensable."
Stafford was silent for an instant, then he said: "You have had a look for the little instrument of passage?"
"I was rather late for that, I fear."
"Still, by chance, the needle might have been picked up. However, it would look foolish to advertise for a needle which had traces of atric acid on it, wouldn't it?"
Mr. Mappin looked at Stafford quite coolly, and then, ignoring the question, said, deliberately: "You discovered the body, I hear. You didn't by any chance find the needle, I suppose?"
Stafford returned his look with a cool stare. "Not by any chance," he said, enigmatically.
He had suddenly decided on a line of action which would turn this astute egoist from his half-indicated purpose. Whatever the means of Fellowes' death, by whomsoever caused, or by no one, further inquiry could only result in revelations hurtful to some one. As Mr. Mappin had surmised, there was more than one woman,--there may have been a dozen, of course--but chance might just pitch on the one whom investigation would injure most.
If this expert was quieted, and Fellowes was safely bestowed in his grave, the tragic incident would be lost quickly in the general excitement and agitation of the nation. The war-drum would drown any small human cries of suspicion or outraged innocence. Suppose some one did kill Adrian Fellowes? He deserved to die, and justice was satisfied, even if the law was marauded. There were at least four people who might have killed Fellowes without much remorse. There was Rudyard, there was Jasmine, there was Lou the erstwhile flower-girl--and himself. It was necessary that Mappin, however, should be silenced, and sent about his business.
Stafford suddenly came over to the table near to his visitor, and with an assumed air of cold indignation, though with a little natural irritability behind all, said "Mr. Mappin, I assume that you have not gone elsewhere with your suspicions?"
The other shook his head in negation.
"Very well, I should strongly advise you, for your own reputation as an expert and a man of science, not to attempt the rather cliche occupation of trying to rival Sherlock Holmes. Your suspicions may have some distant justification, but only a man of infinite skill, tact, and knowledge, with an almost abnormal gift for tracing elusive clues and, when finding them, making them fit in with fact--only a man like yourself, a genius at the job, could get anything out of it. You are not prepared to give the time, and you could only succeed in causing pain and annoyance beyond calculation. Just imagine a Scotland Yard detective with such a delicate business to do. We have no Hamards here, no French geniuses who can reconstruct crimes by a kind of special sense. Can you not see the average detective blundering about with his ostentatious display of the obvious; his mind, which never traced a motive in its existence, trying to elucidate a clue? Well, it is the business of the Law to detect and punish crime. Let the Law do it in its own way, find its own clues, solve the mysteries given it to solve. Why should you complicate things? The official fellows could never do what you could do, if you were a detective. They haven't the brains or initiative or knowledge. And since you are not a detective, and can't devote yourself to this most delicate problem, if there be any problem at all, I would suggest--I imitate your own rudeness--that you mind your own business."
He smiled, and looked down at his visitor with inscrutable eyes.
At the last words Mr. Mappin flushed and looked consequential; but under the influence of a smile, so winning that many a chancellerie of Europe had lost its irritation over some skilful diplomatic stroke made by its possessor, he emerged from his atmosphere of offended dignity and feebly returned the smile.
"You are at once complimentary and scathing, Mr. Stafford," he said; "but I do recognize the force of what you say. Scotland Yard is beneath contempt. I know of cases--but I will not detain you with them now. They bungle their work terribly at Scotland Yard. A detective should be a man of imagination, of initiative, of deep knowledge of human nature. In the presence of a mystery he should be ready to find motives, to construct them and put them into play, as though they were real--work till a clue was found. Then, if none is found, find another motive and work on that. The French do it. They are marvels. Hamard is a genius, as you say. He imagines, he constructs, he pursues, he squeezes out every drop of juice in the orange.... You see, I agree with you on the whole, but this tragedy disturbed me, and I thought that I had a real clue. I still believe I have, but cui bono?"
"Cui bono indeed, if it is bungled. If you could do it all yourself, good. But that is impossible. The world wants your skill to save life, not to destroy it. Fellowes is dead--does it matter so infinitely, whether by his own hand or that of another?"
"No, I frankly say I don't think it does matter infinitely. His type is no addition to the happiness of the world."
They looked at each other meaningly, and Mappin responded once again to Stafford's winning smile.
It pleased him prodigiously to feel Stafford lay a firm hand on his arm and say: "Can you, perhaps, dine with me to-night at the Travellers' Club? It makes life worth while to talk to men like you who do really big things."
"I shall be delighted to come for your own reasons," answered the great man, beaming, and adjusting his cuffs carefully.
"Good, good. It is capital to find you free." Again Stafford caught the surgeon's arm with a friendly little grip.
Suddenly, however, Mr. Mappin became aware that Stafford had turned desperately white and worn. He had noticed this spent condition when he first came in, but his eyes now rediscovered it. He regarded Stafford with concern.
"Mr. Stafford," he said, "I am sure you do not realize how much below par you are.... You have been under great strain--I know, we all know, how hard you have worked lately. Through you, England launches her ship of war without fear of complications; but it has told on you heavily. Nothing is got without paying for it. You need rest, and you need change."
"Quite so--rest and change. I am going to have both now," said Stafford with a smile, which was forced and wan.
"You need a tonic also, and you must allow me to give you one," was the brusque professional response.
With quick movement he went over to Stafford's writing-table, and threw open the cover of the blotter.
In a flash Stafford was beside him, and laid a hand upon the blotter, saying with a smile, of the kind which had so far done its work--
"No, no, my friend, I will not take a tonic. It's only a good sleep I want; and I'll get that to-night. But I give my word, if I'm not all right to-morrow, if I don't sleep, I'll send to you and take your tonic gladly."
"I promise, my dear Mappin."
The great man beamed again: and he really was solicitous for his new-found friend.
"Very well, very well--Stafford," he replied. "It shall be as you say. Good-bye, or, rather, au revoir!"
"A la bonne heure!" was the hearty response, as the door opened for the great surgeon's exit.
When the door was shut again, and Stafford was alone, he staggered over to the writing-desk. Opening the blotter, he took something up carefully and looked at it with a sardonic smile.
"You did your work quite well," he said, reflectively.
It was such a needle as he had seen at Glencader in Mr. Mappin's hand. He had picked it up in Adrian Fellowes' room.
"I wonder who used you," he said in a hard voice. "I wonder who used you so well. Was it--was it Jasmine?"
With a trembling gesture he sat down, put the needle in a drawer, locked it, and turned round to the fire again.
"Was it Jasmine?" he repeated, and he took from his pocket the letter which Lady Tynemouth had given him. For a moment he looked at it unopened--at the beautiful, smooth handwriting so familiar to his eyes; then he slowly broke the seal, and took out the closely written pages.