Chapter XXXIV. Merrifield Explains
 

Late that afternoon Marshall Allerdyke and Fullaway, responding to an urgent telephone call, went to New Scotland Yard, and were presently ushered into the presence of the great man who had been so much in evidence that day. The great man was as self-possessed, as suave, and as calmly cheerful as ever. And on the desk in front of him he had two small and neatly made up parcels, tied and sealed in obviously official fashion.

"So we seem to have come to the end of this affair, gentlemen," he observed as he waved his visitors to chairs on either side of him. "Except, of course, for the unpleasant consequences which must necessarily result to the men we caught to-day. However, there will be no consequences--of that sort--for one of them. Schmall has--escaped us!"

"Got away!" exclaimed Fullaway. "Great Scott you don't mean that!"

"Schmall committed suicide this afternoon," replied the chief calmly. "Clever man--in his own line, which was a very bad line. He was searched most narrowly and carefully, so I've come to the conclusion that he carried some of his subtle poison in his mouth--the hollow tooth dodge, no doubt. Anyway, he's dead--they found him dead in his cell. It's a pity--for he richly deserved hanging. At least, according to Merrifield."

"Ah!" said Fullaway, with a start. "According to Merrifield, eh? Now what may that mean? To find Merrifield in this at all was, of course, a regular shock to me!"

"Merrifield--just the type of man who would!--has made a clean breast of the whole thing," answered the chief. "He made it to me--an hour ago. He thought it best. He wants--naturally enough--to save his neck."

"Will he?" growled Allerdyke. "A lot of necks ought to crack, after all this!"

"Can't say--we mustn't prejudge the case," said the chief. "But that's his desire of course. He would tell me everything--at once. I had it all taken down. But I remember every scrap of it. You want to hear? Well there's a good deal of it, but I can epitomize it. You'll find that you were much to blame, Mr. Fullaway--just as that smart young woman, your secretary, was candid enough to tell you."

"Oh, I know--I know!" asserted Fullaway. "But--this confession?"

"Very well," responded the chief. "Here it is, then but you must bear in mind that Merrifield could only tell what he knew--there'll probably be details to come out later. Anyway, Merrifield--whose chief object is, I must also remind you, the clearing of himself from any charge of murder--he doesn't mind the other charge, but he does object to the graver one!--says that though he's been playing it straight for some time, ever since he went into Delkin's service, in fact--he'd had negotiations of a questionable sort with both Schmall and Van Koon before years ago, in this city and in New York. He renewed his acquaintance with Schmall when he came over this time with Delkin--met him accidentally, and got going it with him again--and they both resumed dealings with Van Koon--who, I may say, was wanted by Chilverton on a quite different charge. Schmall had set up a business here in the East End as a small manufacturing chemist--he'd evidently a perfect and a diabolical genius for chemistry, especially in secret poisons--and down there Merrifield and Van Koon used to go. Also, there used to go there the young man Ebers, or Federman--we'll stick to Ebers--who, from Merrifield's account, seems to have been a tool of Schmall's. Ebers, a fellow of evident acute perception, used to tell Schmall of things which his calling as valet at various hotels gave him knowledge--it strikes me that from what we now know we shall be able to trace to Schmall and Ebers several robberies at hotels which have puzzled us a good deal. And there is no doubt that it was Ebers who told Schmall of the two matters of which he obtained knowledge when he used to frequent your rooms. Mr. Fullaway--the pearls belonging to Miss Lennard, and the proposed jewel deal between the Princess Nastirsevitch and Mr. Delkin. But in that last Merrifield came in. He too, knew of it, and he told Schmall and Van Koon, but Ebers supplied the detailed information of what you were doing, through access, as Miss Slade said, to your papers--which you left lying about, you know."

"I know--I know!" groaned Fullaway. "Careless--careless!"

"Very!" said the chief, with a smile at Allerdyke "Teach you a lesson, perhaps. However, there this knowledge was. Now, Schmall, according to Merrifield, was the leading spirit. He had the man Lydenberg in his employ. He sent him off to Christiania to waylay James Allerdyke: he supplied him with a photograph of James Allerdyke, which Ebers procured."

"I know that!" muttered Allerdyke. "Clever, too!"

"Exactly," agreed the chief. "Now at the same time Schmall learned of Miss Lennard's return. He sent Ebers, who already knew and had been cultivating the French maid, down to Hull to meet her and bring her away with Miss Lennard's jewel-box. That was done easily. The Lydenberg affair, however, did not come off--through Lydenberg. Because, as we now know, James Allerdyke sent the Nastirsevitch jewels off to you, Mr. Fullaway. But there, fortune favoured these fellows Van Koon, for purposes of theirs, had taken up his quarters close by you--in your absence the box came into his hands. And--we know how the ingenious Miss Slade despoiled him of it!"

The chief paused for a moment, and mechanically shifted the two parcels which stood before him. He seemed to be reflecting, and when he spoke again he prefaced his words with a shake of the head.

"Now here, from this point," he continued, "I don't know if Mr. Merrifield is telling the truth. Probably he isn't. But I confess that, at present, I don't see how we're going to prove that he isn't. He strenuously declares that neither he nor Van Koon had anything whatever to do with the murder of Lisette Beaurepaire, Lydenberg, or Ebers. He further says that he does not know if Lydenberg poisoned James Allerdyke. He declares that he does not know if it was ever intended to poison James Allerdyke, though he confesses that it was intended to rob him at Hull. Schmall, he says, was the active partner in all this--he took all that into his own hands. According to Merrifield, he does not know, nor Van Koon either, if it was Schmall who went down to Hull and shot Lydenberg, or if Lydenberg was murdered by some person who had a commission for his destruction from some secret society--Lydenberg, he believed, was mixed up with that sort of thing."

"I know that, I think!" exclaimed Allerdyke.

"I daresay we all three know what we think," observed the chief. "Schmall seems to have had a genius for putting his tools out of the way when he had done with them. It was undoubtedly Schmall who took Lisette Beaurepaire to that hotel in Paddington and poisoned her; it was just as undoubtedly Schmall who took Ebers to the hotel in London Docks and got rid of him. But, I tell you, Merrifield swears that neither he nor Van Koon knew of these things, and did not connive at them."

"Did they know of them--afterwards?" asked Fullaway.

"Ah!" replied the chief. "That's what they'll have to satisfy a judge and jury about! I think they'll find it difficult. But--that's about all. Except this--that they were all three about to clear out when the enterprising Miss Slade turned up and told Schmall she'd got the Nastirsevitch jewels. That was a stiff proposition for them. But they were equal to it. For you see Miss Slade let him know that she was open to do a deal--for sixty thousand pounds! How were they to get sixty thousand pounds? Ah!--now came a confession from Merrifield which has already--for I've told him of it--made Mr. Delkin stare. Delkin, it appears, keeps a very big banking account here in London--so big, that his bankers think nothing of his drawing what we should call enormous cash cheques. Now Merrifield--you see what a clean breast he's made--admitted to me that he was an expert forger--so he calmly forged a cheque of Delkin's, drew sixty thousand in notes--and they had them on them--at least Merrifield had--when we took all three a few hours ago. Nice people, eh!"

There was a silence of much significance for a few minutes; then Allerdyke got up from his chair with a growl.

"I'd have given a good deal if that fellow Schmall had saved his neck for the gallows!" he muttered. "He's cheated me!"

"It's my impression," said the chief, "that if Miss Slade hadn't been so smart, Schmall would have cheated his two accomplices. He had what he believed to be the parcel containing the Nastirsevitch jewels in his possession, and he also had Miss Lennard's pearls locked up in his safe. We got those this afternoon, on searching his premises; Miss Slade gave us the real Nastirsevitch jewels from her bank. Here they are--both lots, in these parcels. And if you two gentlemen will go through the formality of signing receipts for them, you, Mr. Fullaway, can take her parcel to the Princess, and you, Mr. Allerdyke, can carry hers to Miss Lennard. And, er--" he added, with a quiet smile, as he rose and produced some papers--"you won't mind, either of you, I'm sure, if a couple of my men accompany you--just to see that you accomplish your respective missions in safety?"