Chapter X
 

Francis met Shopland one morning about a week later, on his way from Clarges Street to his chambers in the Temple. The detective raised his hat and would have passed on, but Francis accosted him.

"Any progress, Mr. Shopland?" he enquired.

The detective fingered his small, sandy moustache. He was an insignificant-looking little man, undersized, with thin frame and watery eyes. His mouth, however, was hard, and there were some tell-tale little lines at its corners.

"None whatever, I am sorry to say, Mr. Ledsam," he admitted. "At present we are quite in the dark."

"You found the weapon, I hear?"

Shopland nodded.

"It was just an ordinary service revolver, dating from the time of the war, exactly like a hundred thousand others. The enquiries we were able to make from it came to nothing."

"Where was it picked up?"

"In the middle of the waste plot of ground next to Soto's. The murderer evidently threw it there the moment he had discharged it. He must have been wearing rubber-soled shoes, for not a soul heard him go."

Francis nodded thoughtfully.

"I wonder," he said, after a slight pause, "whether it ever occurred to you to interview Miss Daisy Hyslop, the young lady who was with Bidlake on the night of his murder?"

"I called upon her the day afterwards," the detective answered.

"She had nothing to say?"

"Nothing whatever."

"Indirectly, of course," Francis continued, "the poor girl was the cause of his death. If she had not insisted upon his going out for a taxicab, the man who was loitering about would probably have never got hold of him."

The detective glanced up furtively at the speaker. He seemed to reflect for a moment.

"I gathered," he said, "in conversation with the commissionaire, that Miss Hyslop was a little impatient that night. It seems, however, that she was anxious to get to a ball which was being given down in Kensington."

"There was a ball, was there?" Francis asked.

"Without a doubt," the detective replied. "It was given by a Miss Clara Bultiwell. She happens to remember urging Miss Hyslop to come on as early as possible."

"So that's that," Francis observed.

"Just so, Mr. Ledsam," the detective murmured.

They were walking along the Mall now, eastwards. The detective, who seemed to have been just a saunterer, had accommodated himself to Francis' destination.

"Let me see, there was nothing stolen from the young man's person, was there?" Francis asked presently.

"Apparently nothing at all, sir."

"And I gather that you have made every possible enquiry as to the young man's relations with his friends?"

"So far as one can learn, sir, they seem to have been perfectly amicable."

"Of course," Francis remarked presently, "this may have been quite a purposeless affair. The deed may have been committed by a man who was practically a lunatic, without any motive or reason whatever."

"Precisely so, sir," the detective agreed.

"But, all the same, I don't think it was."

"Neither do I, sir."

Francis smiled slightly.

"Shopland," he said, "if there is no further external evidence to be collected, I suggest that there is only one person likely to prove of assistance to you."

"And that one person, sir?"

"Miss Daisy Hyslop."

"The young lady whom I have already seen?"

Francis nodded.

"The young lady whom you have already seen," he assented. "At the same time, Mr. Shopland, we must remember this. If Miss Hyslop has any knowledge of the facts which are behind Mr. Bidlake's murder, it is more likely to be to her interest to keep them to herself, than to give them away to the police free gratis and for nothing. Do you follow me?"

"Precisely, sir."

"That being so," Francis continued, "I am going to make a proposition to you for what it is worth. Where were you going when I met you this morning, Shopland?"

"To call upon you in Clarges Street, sir."

"What for?"

"I was going to ask you if you would be so kind as to call upon Miss Daisy Hyslop, sir."

Francis smiled.

"Great minds," he murmured. "I will see the young lady this afternoon, Shopland."

The detective raised his hat. They had reached the spot where his companion turned off by the Horse Guards Parade.

"I may hope to hear from you, then, sir?"

"Within the course of a day or two, perhaps earlier," Francis promised.

Francis continued his walk along the Embankment to his chambers in the Temple. He glanced in the outer office as he passed to his consulting room.

"Anything fresh, Angrave?" he asked his head-clerk.

"Nothing whatever, sir," was the quiet reply.

He passed on to his own den--a bare room with long windows looking out over the gardens. He glanced at the two or three letters which lay on his desk, none of them of the least interest, and leaning back in his chair commenced to fill his pipe. There was a knock at the door. Fawsitt, a young beginner at the bar, in whom he had taken some interest and who deviled for him, presented himself.

"Can I have a word with you, Mr. Ledsam?" he asked.

"By all means," was the prompt response. "Sit down."

Fawsitt seated himself on the other side of the table. He had a long, thin face, dark, narrow eyes, unwholesome complexion, a slightly hooked nose, and teeth discoloured through constant smoking. His fingers, too, bore the tell-tale yellow stains.

"Mr. Ledsam," he said, "I think, with your permission, I should like to leave at the end of my next three months."

Francis glanced across at him.

"Sorry to hear that, Fawsitt. Are you going to work for any one else?"

"I haven't made arrangements yet, sir," the young man replied. "I thought of offering myself to Mr. Barnes."

"Why do you want to leave me?" Francis asked.

"There isn't enough for me to do, sir."

Francis lit his pipe.

"It's probably just a lull, Fawsitt," he remarked.

"I don't think so, sir."

"The devil! You've been gossiping with some of these solicitors' clerks, Fawsitt."

"I shouldn't call it gossiping, sir. I am always interested to hear anything that may concern our--my future. I have reason to believe, sir, that w e are being passed over for briefs."

"The reason being?"

"One can't pick and choose, sir. One shouldn't, anyway."

Francis smiled.

"You evidently don't approve of any measure of personal choice as to the work which one takes up."

"Certainly I do not, sir, in our profession. The only brief I would refuse would be a losing or an ill-paid one. I don't conceive it to be our business to prejudge a case."

"I see," Francis murmured. "Go on, Fawsitt."

"There's a rumour about," the young man continued, "that you are only going to plead where the chances are that your client is innocent."

"There's some truth in that," Francis admitted.

"If I could leave a little before the three months, sir, I should be glad," Fawsitt said. "I look at the matter from an entirely different point of view."

"You shall leave when you like, of course, Fawsitt, but tell me what that point of view is?"

"Just this, sir. The simplest-minded idiot who ever stammered through his address, can get an innocent prisoner off if he knows enough of the facts and the law. To my mind, the real triumph in our profession is to be able to unwind the meshes of damning facts and force a verdict for an indubitably guilty client."

"How does the moral side of that appeal to you?" his senior enquired.

"I didn't become a barrister to study morals, or even to consider them," was the somewhat caustic reply. "When once a brief is in my mind, it is a matter of brain, cunning and resource. The guiltier a man, the greater the success if you can get him off."

"And turn him loose again upon Society?"

"It isn't our job to consider that, sir. The moral question is only confusing in the matter. Our job is to make use of the law for the benefit of our client. That's what we're paid for. That's the measure of our success or failure."

Francis nodded.

"Very reasonably put, Fawsitt," he conceded. "I'll give you a letter to Barnes whenever you like."

"I should be glad if you would do so, sir," the young man said. "I'm only wasting my time here ...."

Francis wrote a letter of recommendation to Barnes, the great K.C., considered a stray brief which had found its way in, and strolled up towards the Milan as the hour approached luncheon-time. In the American bar of that palatial hotel he found the young man he was looking for--a flaxen-haired youth who was seated upon one of the small tables, with his feet upon a chair, laying down the law to a little group of acquaintances. He greeted Francis cordially but without that due measure of respect which nineteen should accord to thirty-five.

"Cheerio, my elderly relative!" he exclaimed. "Have a cocktail."

Francis nodded assent.

"Come into this corner with me for a moment, Charles," he invited. "I have a word for your ear."

The young man rose and sat by his uncle's side on a settee.

"In my declining years," the latter began, "I find myself reverting to the follies of youth. I require a letter of introduction from you to a young lady of your acquaintance."

"The devil! Not one of my own special little pets, I hope?"

"Her name is Miss Daisy Hyslop," Francis announced.

Lord Charles Southover pursed his lips and whistled. He glanced at Francis sideways.

"Is this the beginning of a campaign amongst the butterflies," he enquired, "because, if so, I feel it my duty, uncle, to address to you a few words of solemn warning. Miss Daisy Hyslop is hot stuff."

"Look here, young fellow," Francis said equably, "I don't know what the state of your exchequer is--"

"I owe you forty," Lord Charles interrupted. "Spring another tenner, make it fifty, that is, and the letter of introduction I will write for you will bring tears of gratitude to your eyes."

"I'll spring the tenner," Francis promised, "but you'll write just what I tell you--no more and no less."

"Anything extra for keeping mum at home?" the young man ventured tentatively.

"You're a nice sort of nephew to have!" Francis declared. "Abandon these futile attempts at blackmail and just come this way to the writing-table."

"You've got the tenner with you?" the young man asked anxiously.

Francis produced a well-filled pocketbook. His nephew led the way to a writing-table, lit a cigarette which he stuck into the corner of his mouth, and in painstaking fashion wrote the few lines which Francis dictated. The ten pounds changed hands.

"Have one with me for luck?" the young man invited brightly. "No? Perhaps you're right," he added, in valedictory fashion. "You'd better keep your head clear for Daisy!"