Chapter III. The Green Image
 

"Yes," said Gatton, "I was speaking no more than the truth when I told them that you had special information which I hoped you would place at my disposal. Some of the particulars were given to me over the 'phone, you see, and I was glad to find you here when I arrived. I should have consulted you in any event, and principally about--that."

He pointed to an object which I held in my hand. It was a little green enamel image; the crouching figure of a woman having a cat's head, a piece of Egyptian workmanship probably of the fourth century B.C. Considered in conjunction with the figure painted upon the crate, the presence of this little image was so amazing a circumstance that from the moment when it had been placed in my hand I had stood staring at it almost dazedly.

The divisional surgeon had gone, and only the local officer remained with Gatton and myself in the building. Sir Marcus Coverly presented all the frightful appearance of one who has died by asphyxia, and although of course there would be an autopsy, little doubt existed respecting the mode of his death. The marks of violence found upon the body could be accounted for by the fact that the crate had fallen a distance of thirty feet into the hold, and the surgeon was convinced that the injuries to the body had all been received after death, death having taken place in his opinion fully twelve hours before.

"You see," said Gatton, "when the crate broke several things which presumably were in Sir Marcus' pockets were found lying loose amongst the wreckage. That cat-woman was one of them."

"Yet it may not have been in any of his pockets at all," said I.

"It may not," agreed Gatton. "But that it was somewhere in the crate is beyond dispute, I think. Besides this is more than a coincidence."

And he pointed to the painted cat upon the lid of the packing-case. I had already told him of the episode at the Red House on the previous night, and now:

"The fates are on our side," I said, "for at least we know where the crate was despatched from."

"Quite so," agreed Gatton. "We should have got that from the carter later, of course, but every minute saved in an affair such as this is worth considering. As a pressman you will probably disagree with me, but I propose to suppress these two pieces of evidence. Premature publication of clews too often handicaps us. Now, what is that figure exactly?"

"It is a votive offering of a kind used in Ancient Egypt by pilgrims to Bubastis. It is a genuine antique, and if you think the history of such relics is likely to assist the investigation I can give you some further particulars this evening if you have time to call at my place."

"I think," said Gatton, taking the figure from me and looking at it with a singular expression on his face, "that the history of the thing is very important. The fact that a rough reproduction of a somewhat similar figure is painted upon the case cannot possibly be a coincidence."

I stared at him silently for a moment, then:

"You mean that the crate was specially designed to contain the body?" I asked.

"I am certainly of that opinion," declared Inspector Heath, the local officer. "It is of just the right size and shape for the purpose."

Once more I began to examine the fragments stacked upon the floor, and then I looked again at the several objects which lay beside the crate. They were the personal belongings of the dead baronet and the police had carefully noted in which of his pockets each object had been found. He was in evening dress and a light top-coat had been packed into the crate beside him. In this had been found a cigar-case and a pair of gloves; a wallet containing L20 in Treasury notes and a number of cards and personal papers had fallen out of the crate together with the cat statuette. The face of his watch was broken. It had been in his waistcoat pocket but it still ticked steadily on where it lay there beside its dead owner. A gold-mounted malacca cane also figured amongst the relics of the gruesome crime; so that whatever had been the object of the murderer, that of robbery was out of the question.

"The next thing to do," said Gatton, "is to trace Sir Marcus's movements from the time that he left home last night to the time that he met his death. I am going out now to 'phone to the Yard. We ought to have succeeded in tracing the carter who brought the crate here before the evening. I personally shall proceed to Sir Marcus's rooms and then to this Red House around which it seems to me that the mystery centers."

He put the enamel figure into his pocket and taking up the broken board which bore the painted cat:

"You are carrying a top-coat," he said. "Hide this under it!"

He turned to Inspector Heath, nodding shortly.

"All right," he said, with a grim smile, "go out now and talk to the crowd!"

Having issued certain telephonic instructions touching the carter who had delivered the crate to the docks, and then imparting to the representatives of the press a guarded statement for publication, Inspector Gatton succeeded in wedging himself into my little two-seater and ere long we were lurching and bumping along the ill-paved East-end streets.

The late Sir Marcus's London address, which had been unknown to me, we had learned from his cards, and it was with the keenest anticipation of a notable discovery that I presently found myself with Gatton mounting the stairs to the chambers of the murdered baronet.

At the very moment of our arrival the door was opened and a man--quite obviously a constable in plain clothes--came out. Behind him I observed one whom I took to be the late Sir Marcus's servant, a pathetic and somewhat disheveled figure.

"Hello, Blythe!" said Gatton, "who instructed you to come here?"

"Sir Marcus's man--Morris--telephoned the Yard," was the reply, "as he couldn't understand what had become of his master and I was sent along to see him."

"Oh," said Gatton, "very good. Report to me in due course."

Blythe departed, and Gatton and I entered the hall. The man, Morris, closed the door, and led us into a small library. Beside the telephone stood a tray bearing decanter and glasses, and there was evidence that Morris had partaken of a hurried breakfast consisting only of biscuits and whisky and soda.

"I haven't been to bed all night, gentlemen," he began the moment that we entered the room. "Sir Marcus was a good master and if he was sleeping away from home he never failed to advise me, so that I knew even before the dreadful news reached me that something was amiss."

He was quite unstrung and his voice was unsteady. The reputation of the late baronet had been one which I personally did not envy him, but whatever his faults, and I knew they had been many, he had evidently possessed the redeeming virtue of being a good employer.

"A couple of hours' sleep would make a new man of you," said Gatton kindly. "I understand your feelings, but no amount of sorrow can mend matters, unfortunately. Now, I don't want to worry you, but there are one or two points which I must ask you to clear up. In the first place did you ever see this before?"

From his pocket he took out the little figure of Bast, the cat-goddess, and held it up before Morris.

The man stared at it with lack-luster eyes, scratching his unshaven chin; then he shook his head slowly.

"Never," he declared. "No, I am positive I never saw a figure like that before."

"Then, secondly," continued Gatton, "was your master ever in Egypt?"

"Not that I am aware of; certainly not since I have been with him--six years on the thirty-first of this month."

"Ah," said Gatton. "Now, when did you last see Sir Marcus?"

"At half-past six last night, sir. He was dining at his club and then going to the New Avenue Theater. I booked a seat for him myself."

"He was going alone, then?"

"Yes."

Gatton glanced at me significantly and I experienced an uncomfortable thrill. In the inspector's glance I had read that he suspected the presence of a woman in the case and at the mention of the New Avenue Theater it had instantly occurred to me that Isobel Merlin was appearing there! Gatton turned again to Morris.

"Sir Marcus had not led you to suppose that there was any likelihood of his not returning last night?"

"No, sir; that was why, knowing his regular custom, I became so alarmed when he failed to come back or to 'phone."

Gatton stared hard at the speaker and:

"It will be no breach of confidence on your part," he said, speaking slowly and deliberately, "for you to answer my next question. The best service you can do your late master now will be to help us to apprehend his murderer."

He paused a moment, then:

"Was Sir Marcus interested in some one engaged at the New Avenue Theater?" he asked.

Morris glanced from face to face in a pathetic, troubled fashion. He rubbed the stubble on his chin again and hesitated. Finally:

"I believe," he replied, "that there was a lady there who--"

He paused, swallowing, and:

"Yes," Gatton prompted, "who--?"

"Who--interested Sir Marcus; but I don't know her name nor anything about her," he declared. "I knew about--some of the others, but Sir Marcus was--very reserved about this lady, which made me think--"

"Yes?"

"That he perhaps hadn't been so successful."

Morris ceased speaking and sat staring at a bookcase vacantly.

"Ah," murmured Gatton. Then, abruptly: "Did Sir Marcus ever visit any one who lived in College Road?" he demanded.

Morris looked up wearily.

"College Road?" he repeated. "Where is that, sir?"

"It doesn't matter," said Gatton shortly, "if the name is unfamiliar to you. Had Sir Marcus a car?"

"Not latterly, sir."

"Any other servants?"

"No. As a bachelor he had no use for a large establishment, and Friars' Park remains in the possession of the late Sir Burnham's widow."

"Sir Burnham? Sir Marcus's uncle?"

"Yes."

"What living relatives had Sir Marcus?"

"His aunt--Lady Burnham Coverly--with whom I believe he was on bad terms. Her own son, who ought to have inherited the title, was dead, you see. I think she felt bitterly towards my master. The only other relative I ever heard of was Mr. Eric--Sir Marcus's second cousin--now Sir Eric, of course."

I turned aside, glancing at some books which lay scattered on the table. The wound was a new one and I suppose I was not man enough to hide the pain which mention of Eric Coverly still occasioned me.

"Were the cousins good friends?" continued the even, remorseless voice of the inquisitor.

Morris looked up quickly.

"They were not, sir," he answered. "They never had been. But some few months back a fresh quarrel arose and one night in this very room it almost came to blows."

"Indeed? What was the quarrel about?"

The old hesitancy claimed Morris again, but at last:

"Of course," he said, with visible embarrassment, "it was--a woman."

I felt my heart leaping wildly, but I managed to preserve an outward show of composure.

"What woman?" demanded Gatton.

"I don't know, sir."

"Do you mean it?"

A fierce note of challenge had come into the quiet voice, but Morris looked up and met Gatton's searching stare unflinchingly.

"I swear it," he said. "I never was an eavesdropper."

"I suggest it was the same woman that Sir Marcus went to see last night?" Gatton continued.

The examination of Morris had reached a point at which I found myself hard put to it to retain even a seeming of composure. All Gatton's questions had been leading up to this suggestion, as I now perceived clearly enough; and from the cousins' quarrel to Isobel, Eric's fiancee, who was engaged at the New Avenue Theater, was an inevitable step. But:

"Possibly, sir," was Morris's only answer.

Inspector Gatton stared hard at the man for a moment or so, then:

"Very well," he said. "Take my advice and turn in. There will be much for you to do presently, I am afraid. Who was Sir Marcus's solicitor?"

Morris gave the desired information in a tired, toneless voice, and we departed. Little did Gatton realize that his words were barbed, when, as we descended to the street, he said:

"I have a call to make at Scotland Yard next, after which my first visit will be to the stage-doorkeeper of the New Avenue Theater."

"Can I be of further assistance to you at the moment?" I asked, endeavoring to speak casually.

"Thanks, no. But I should welcome your company this afternoon at my examination of the Red House. I understand that it is in your neighborhood, so perhaps as you are also professionally interested in the case, you might arrange to meet me there. Are you returning home now or going to the Planet office?"

"I think to the office," I replied. "In any event 'phone there making an appointment and I will meet you at the Red House."