Chapter XXI. In London Again
 

"Then the sudden change in the police attitude towards Eric," said Isobel, "is not due to any discoveries which you or Inspector Gatton have made at Friar's Park?"

"That I cannot say," I replied. "We have made certain discoveries as I have already told you, but whilst they distinctly point to some criminal whose identity is not yet fully established, unfortunately I cannot say that in a legal sense they clear Coverly."

Isobel, as I had thought at the first moment of our meeting, looked very tired and had that pathetic expression of appeal in her eyes which had hurt me so much when first it had appeared there on the morning after the tragedy. She was palpably ill at ease, and I had small cause to wonder at this. Although a veiled paragraph (in which I thought I could detect the hand of Gatton) had appeared in the press on the previous day, briefly stating that evidence had been volunteered by Sir Eric Coverly which had led to an entirely new line of police inquiry, the item of news--which had naturally excited wide-spread interest--had never been amplified. Amid the alarms and excursions which had terminated my visit to Upper Crossleys, Gatton I supposed had forgotten to refer to this matter; but I did not doubt that the paragraph was an inspired one issued from Scotland Yard.

My friend's object in circulating this statement was not by any means evident to me, but as I expected to see him later that day I hoped to be able to obtain from him some explanation of his new tactics.

Many hours had elapsed since, with the flames of the burning Bell House reddening the night behind me, and throwing into lurid relief the fir-groves surrounding Dr. Damar Greefe's mysterious stronghold, I had been borne along the road towards London. That Gatton had hoped for much from a detailed search of the Eurasian's establishment, I knew, for I had not forgotten his anger at the appearance of the flames above the tree tops which had told of the foiling of his plans.

Under cover of the conflagration the cunning Eurasian had escaped. Every possible means had been taken to intercept him, and whilst Gatton, inspired by I know not what hopes, had hastened to the burning Bell House, I had set out in the police car in pursuit of Dr. Damar Greefe accompanied by Detective-Sergeant Blythe--upon whom, apparently, the onus of the fiasco rested.

In despite of these measures, the hunted man had made good his retreat; and Blythe and I had entered the outskirts of London without once sighting the car in which Dannar Greefe had fled.

No communication reached me on the following morning, and I found myself, consumed with impatient curiosity, temporarily out of touch with Gatton. Then, shortly after mid-day, came a telegram:

"Endeavor induce Sir Eric come to your house eight to-night. Will meet him there. Gatton."

Welcoming any ground for action--since to remain passive at such a time was torture--I called at once at Coverly's chambers. He was out. But I left an urgent written message for him, and in the hope of finding him with Isobel, hurried to her flat. He had not been there that day, however; and now I could only hope that he would return to his rooms in time to keep the appointment. For that Gatton had some good reason for suggesting the meeting I did not doubt.

Gatton and I were now agreed that Dr. Damar Greefe, if not directly responsible for the death of Sir Marcus, at least had been an accessory to his murder. At any rate he had shown his hand; firstly, in the attempted assault upon myself by his Nubian servant and secondly, by the devilish device whereby he had propelled some sort of gas projectile (for this we now knew it to have been) from the tower of Friar's Park into my room at the Abbey Inn. I had, then, become obnoxious to him; he evidently regarded my continued existence as a menace to his own.

Two explanations of his attitude presented themselves: one, that my inquiries had led me daily nearer to the heart of the mystery; or, two, that the doctor's mysterious associate, the possessor of the green eyes, had adopted an attitude towards myself which the Eurasian had counted sooner or later as certain to compromise him. In short, whilst it was sufficiently evident to me that these mysterious people residing at Upper Crossleys were the criminals for whom New Scotland Yard was searching, no definite link between their admittedly dangerous activities and the crime we sought to unravel, had yet been brought to light.

On the other hand, whilst it was not feasible to suppose that any relationship existed between Sir Eric, the new baronet, and the Eurasian, or the woman associated with the Eurasian, I was quite well aware that, equally, there was no evidence to show that such an association did not exist.

I longed to be able to offer some consolation to Isobel, who at this time was passing through days and nights of dreadful apprehension; but beyond imparting to her some of my own personal convictions, I was unable to say honestly that the complicity of Coverly in the murder was definitely and legally disproved.

"If only he would break his absurd silence," she said suddenly. "This ridiculous suspicion which still seems to be entertained in some quarters would be removed of course; but his every act since the night of the tragedy has only intensified it."

She sat facing me on the settee, her hands locked in her lap, and:

"Do you refer to any new act of his," I asked, "with which I am not at present acquainted?"

She nodded slowly.

"Yes," she said; "but I can only tell you in confidence, for it is something which Inspector Gatton does not know."

"Please tell me," I urged; "for you are aware that I have no other object but the clearing of Coverly in the eyes of the police and the public."

"Well," she continued, with hesitation, "last night he lodged with me a copy of a declaration which he assured me cleared him entirely. But he imposed an extraordinary condition."

"What was that?" I asked with interest.

"It was only to be used in the event of the worst happening!" she said.

"What do you mean? In the event of his being put on trial for murder?"

Isobel nodded.

"I suppose so," she said sadly; "it seems madness, doesn't it?"

"Absolute madness!" I agreed. "If he is in a position to establish an alibi why not do it now and be done with the whole unsavory business?"

"That is exactly what I pointed out to him, but he was adamant on the matter and became dreadfully irritable and excited. I did not dare to press the point, so of course--" She shrugged her shoulders resignedly.

Was it a selfish joy, I wonder, which possessed me as I noted the restrained impatience with which Isobel spoke of Coverly? I suppose it was, and perhaps it was even indefensible; yet I record it, desiring to be perfectly honest with myself and with others. Nevertheless, in the near future I was to regret the sentiments which at that moment I entertained towards Coverly. But how was I to know in my poor human blindness that his innocence would soon be established in the eyes of the world by other means than the publication of the statement which he had so strangely placed with Isobel?

Since, excepting the telegram, no communication, had reached me from Gatton, I could only assume that he had discovered nothing in the ruins of the Bell House of sufficient importance to justify a report. Doubtless he had reported to New Scotland Yard, but that his discoveries, if any, had not resulted in an arrest, was painfully evident.

My latest contribution to the Planet had been in the nature of a discursive essay rather than an informative article, although I had enlivened it with some account of my experiences at Upper Crossleys. But at the moment that I had set pen to paper I had realized the difficulty of expressing, within the scope of a newspaper contribution, the peculiar conditions which ruled in that oddly deserted village. And at Gatton's request I had been most guarded in my treatment of the two abortive attempts made upon my own life by the Eurasian doctor.

The appeal in Isobel's eyes, as I have said, was very difficult to resist, but after all I had little substantial consolation to offer; and in the circumstances I shall be understood, I think, when I say that it was with an odd sense of relief that I finally took my departure from her flat. To long for the right to comfort a woman as only a lover may do, and to suspect that this sweet privilege might have been his for the asking, is a torture which no man can suffer unmoved.

Anticipating, almost hourly, a further message from Gatton, I went first to the Planet offices, but although I lunched at the club and returned later, no news reached me there; whereupon, I proceeded to my cottage. As I walked down the high-street of the onetime village, passing that police-box at which (so far as my part in it was concerned) the first scenes of the drama actually had been laid, I was seized with wonder on reflecting that all these episodes, strange and tragic, had been crowded into so short a space of time.

An officer was on duty there as on the night when I had first made acquaintance with the green eyes of the woman of mystery; but I did not know the man and I walked on deep in meditation, until, arriving at the Red House, other and dreadful reflections were aroused by the sight of that deserted building.

There were no spectators to-day, for the first excitement aroused by the crime had begun to subside, and I did not even notice a constable posted there. Whereby I concluded that the investigations at the Red House had been terminated and that no more was hoped for from an examination of those premises.

Coates was awaiting me as I entered my cottage with the news that Inspector Gatton had telephoned an hour before from Crossleys, confirming his telegram and stating that he would call immediately he arrived in London. This was stimulating, and I only regretted that I had not been at home personally to speak to him. Then:

"Sir Eric Coverly also rang up, sir," continued Coates, "at about three o'clock and said that he would be calling this evening at eight in accordance with your request."

I looked at the military figure standing bolt upright just within the doorway.

"Good. Is that all?" I asked.

"That was all the message, sir," he reported.

I walked into the study in a very thoughtful mood, and from the open window contemplated that prospect of tree-lined road, now for ever to be associated in my mind with the darkest places in the tragedy in which I had so strangely become involved.

Gatton, I knew, entertained a theory that the selection of the Red House for the dreadful purpose for which it had been employed, was not the result of any mere accident, but was ascribable to the fact that the place was conveniently situated from the point of view of the assassin. In short, he had an idea that the London headquarters of the wanted man, whom we had now definitely invested with the personality of Dr. Damar Greefe, was somewhere within my immediate neighborhood!

It was a startling conclusion and one which rested, as I thought, upon somewhat slender premises; but nevertheless I found it disquieting. And recognizing how the more sinister manifestations of that singular green-eyed creature (whom I could never think of as a woman, nor indeed regard as anything quite human) were associated with darkness--a significantly feline trait--I confess to a certain apprehension respecting the coming night. This apprehension was strengthened no doubt by my memories of Gatton's last words as I had been on the point of setting out from Upper Crossleys.

"With their Friar's Park base destroyed, Mr. Addison," he had said, "they will be forced to fly to that other abode, at present unknown, from which I believe they conducted the elaborate assassination of Sir Marcus. The only alternative is flight from the country, and the mechanism of the C.I.D. having been put into motion, this we may regard as almost impossible--especially in view of the marked personality of Dr. Damar Greefe. Of course," he had added, "they may have some other residence of which we know nothing but I incline to the idea that they will make for London."

That the published paragraph relating to Eric Coverly's alleged evidence was in some way associated with this theory of Gatton's I knew, but of the soundness of his theory I had yet to learn.

Since (as Isobel had that day informed me) the document lodged with her was a profound secret from all, Carton's inspired paragraph could have been no more than a shot in the dark; and the fact that it had hit the mark one of those seeming coincidences which sometimes rest upon mere chance, but which rested, in this case upon a process of careful reasoning. The Inspector was certain, as I was certain, of Coverly's innocence, and he had credited him with an alibi because he knew that if he would but consent to break his inexplicable silence, he was in a position to establish one. Why he had forestalled Coverly I knew not.

I made a poor and hasty dinner, for I was too excited to eat, and returning to the study, I crossed to the bookcase and took down Maspero's "Egyptian Art." I idly glanced again through those passages which Gatton had copied into his note-book--the passages relating to the attributes of Bast, the cat-goddess. My mind rested particularly, I remember, upon the line, "she plays with her victim as with a mouse."

Stifling a somewhat weary sigh, I returned the book to its place and lingered looking out of the open window into the deepening dusk. Mentally my mood was a restless one, but it did not reflect itself physically; for I stood there leaning against the window whilst a procession of all the figures associated with the "Oritoga mystery" raced through my mind.

And presently as I stood there contemplating a mental image of the Eurasian doctor, I heard the telephone bell ring. The sound aroused me in a moment, and walking out into the little ante-room in which the instrument was placed, I took it up--anticipating Coates, who had immediately come in from the garden where he was engaged at the time.

"Hello!" I said.

A voice with which I was unfamiliar, a man's voice speaking rather thickly, replied:

"Is that Mr. Addison?"

"Yes."

"I have just arrived from Crossleys with Inspector Gatton. He requests me to ask you to meet him by the police-box at the corner of the high street immediately."

"Very good," I said. "I will come."

"And," continued the voice--"could you spare Coates with the car for an hour?"

"Certainly," I replied. "For what do you want him?"

"If he will take the car to Denmark Hill Station and be there by a quarter past eight," continued the voice, "Detective-Sergeant Blythe will meet him. There is a large box," he added, "which Inspector Gatton wishes to have taken to your house."

"Very well," I said. "Coates will start in ten minutes' time, and I will come along immediately to meet Inspector Gatton."

I replaced the telephone upon the little table and went out into the garden, whither my man had returned.

"Coates," I said, "get out the Rover."

Coates immediately ceased his gardening operations and stood upright in an attitude of attention.

"Very good, sir."

"You will just have time to get ready at the garage and return here to admit Sir Eric Coverly at eight o'clock. I am going out, now, to meet Inspector Gatton. But inform Sir Eric that I shall be back in a few minutes. Show him into the study and make him comfortable. You will then proceed in the Rover to Denmark Hill Station. You will meet there a man with a box--a detective from Scotland Yard who will make himself known to you. His name is Blythe. You have to bring the box back here."

"Very good, sir," repeated Coates.

And as he entered the house he was already stripping off the old shooting jacket which he wore in the garden. For my part I slipped a light top-coat over my somewhat untidy house attire, and taking my hat and a stick, stepped quickly out along the road in the direction of the village street. A brisk walk brought me to the little sentry-box under the trees. But Gatton was not to be seen. Indeed, with the exception of several ordinary pedestrians who were obviously returning from the city to their homes (all of whom I scrutinized, thinking that Coverly might come this way) and the constable on duty at the point, there was no one about who looked in the least like either of my expected visitors.

Having waited for some ten minutes unavailingly, I spoke to the man in the box.

"Good evening, constable," I said; "I expected to meet a friend here--Inspector Gatton, of Scotland Yard--you may know him?"

"I know of him quite well, sir," answered the constable, "and should recognize him if I saw him. But he has not been here this evening."

"You have seen no one hanging about who might have been sent by him?"

"No one, sir."

"Strange," I muttered; then: "My name is Addison, constable," I said, "and if any one should ask for me will you direct him to proceed to my house?" And I gave the man instructions respecting its whereabouts.

"I will," answered the constable; and wishing him "good night," I retraced my steps, curious respecting the matter, but not apprehensive as I well might have been--and with no glimmering of the ghastly truth penetrating to my mind.