Chapter XXIII. Inspector Aylesbury Cross-Examines
 

"Oh, I see," said Inspector Aylesbury, "a little private confab, eh?"

He sank his chin into its enveloping folds, treating Harley and myself each to a stare of disapproval.

"These gentlemen very kindly called to advise me of the tragic occurrence at Cray's Folly," explained Colin Camber. "Won't you be seated, Inspector?"

"Thanks, but I can conduct my examination better standing."

He turned to Paul Harley.

"Might I ask, Mr. Harley," he said, "what concern this is of yours?"

"I am naturally interested in anything appertaining to the death of a client, Inspector Aylesbury."

"Oh, so you slip in ahead of me, having deliberately withheld information from the police, and think you are going to get all the credit. Is that it?"

"That is it, Inspector," replied Harley, smiling. "An instance of professional jealousy."

"Professional jealousy?" cried the Inspector. "Allow me to remind you that you have no official standing in this case whatever. You are merely a member of the public, nothing more, nothing less."

"I am happy to be recognized as a member of that much-misunderstood body."

"Ah, well, we shall see. Now, Mr. Camber, your attention, please."

He raised his finger impressively.

"I am informed by Miss Beverley that the late Colonel Menendez looked upon you as a dangerous enemy."

"Were those her exact words?" I murmured.

"Mr. Knox!"

The inspector turned rapidly, confronting me. "I have already warned your friend. But if I have any interruptions from you, I will have you removed."

He continued to glare at me for some moments, and then, turning again to Colin Camber:

"I say, I have information that Colonel Menendez looked upon you as a dangerous neighbour."

"In that event," replied Colin Camber, "why did he lease an adjoining property?"

"That's an evasion, sir. Answer my first question, if you please."

"You have asked me no question, Inspector."

"Oh, I see. That's your attitude, is it? Very well, then. Were you, or were you not, an enemy of the late Colonel Menendez?"

"I was."

"What's that?"

"I say I was. I hated him, and I hate him no less in death than I hated him living."

I think that I had never seen a man so taken aback, Inspector Aylesbury, drawing out a large handkerchief blew his nose. Replacing the handkerchief, he produced a note-book.

"I am placing that statement on record, sir," he said.

He made an entry in the book, and then:

"Where did you first meet Colonel Menendez?" he asked.

"I never met him in my life."

"What's that?"

Colin Camber merely shrugged his shoulders.

"I will repeat my question," said the Inspector, pompously. "Where did you first meet Colonel Juan Menendez?"

"I have answered you, Inspector."

"Oh, I see. You decline to answer that question. Very well, I will make a note of this." He did so. "And now," said he, "what were you doing at midnight last night?"

"I was writing."

"Where?"

"Here."

"What happened?"

Very succinctly Colin Camber repeated the statement which he had already made to Paul Harley, and, at its conclusion:

"Send for the man, Ah Tsong," directed Inspector Aylesbury.

Colin Camber inclined his head, clapped his bands, and silently Ah Tsong entered.

The Inspector stared at him for several moments as a visitor to the Zoo might stare at some rare animal; then:

"Your name is Ah Tsong?" he began.

"Ah Tsong," murmured the Chinaman.

"I am going to ask you to give an exact account of your movements last night."

"No sabby."

Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat.

"I say I wish to know exactly what you did last night. Answer me."

Ah Tseng's face remained quite expressionless, and:

"No sabby," he repeated.

"Oh, I see," said the Inspector, "This witness refuses to answer at all."

"You are wrong," explained Colin Camber, quietly. "Ah Tsong is a Chinaman, and his knowledge of English is very limited. He does not understand you."

"He understood my first question. You can't draw wool over my eyes. He knows well enough. Are you going to answer me?" he demanded, angrily, of the Chinaman.

"No sabby, master," he said, glancing aside at Colin Camber. "Number- one p'licee-man gotchee no pidgin."

Paul Harley was leisurely filling his pipe, and:

"If you think the evidence of Ah Tsong important, Inspector," he said, "I will interpret if you wish."

"You will do what?"

"I will act as interpreter."

"Do you want me to believe that you speak Chinese?"

"Your beliefs do not concern me, Inspector; I am merely offering my services."

"Thanks," said the Inspector, dryly, "but I won't trouble you. I should like a few words with Mrs. Camber."

"Very good."

Colin Camber bent his head gravely, and gave an order to Ah Tsong, who turned and went out.

"And what firearms have you in the house?" asked Inspector Aylesbury.

"An early Dutch arquebus, which you see in the corner," was the reply.

"That doesn't interest me. I mean up-to-date weapons."

"And a Colt revolver which I have in a drawer here."

As he spoke, Colin Camber opened a drawer in his desk and took out a heavy revolver of the American Army Service pattern.

"I should like to examine it, if you please."

Camber passed it to the Inspector, and the latter, having satisfied himself that none of the chambers were loaded, peered down the barrel, and smelled at the weapon suspiciously.

"If it has been recently used it has been well cleaned," he said, and placed it on a cabinet beside him. "Anything else?"

"Nothing."

"No sporting rifles?"

"None. I never shoot."

"Oh, I see."

The door opened and Mrs. Camber came in. She was very simply dressed, and looked even more child-like than she had seemed before. I think Ah Tsong had warned her of the nature of the ordeal which she was to expect, but her wide-eyed timidity was nevertheless pathetic to witness.

She glanced at me with a ghost of a smile, and:

"Ysola," said Colin Camber, inclining his head toward me in a grave gesture of courtesy, "Mr. Knox has generously forgiven me a breach of good manners for which I shall never forgive myself. I beg you to thank him, as I have done."

"It is so good of you," she said, sweetly, and held out her hand. "But I knew you would understand that it was just a great mistake."

"Mr. Paul Harley," Camber continued, "my wife welcomes you; and this, Ysola, is Inspector Aylesbury, who desires a few moments' conversation upon a rather painful matter."

"I have heard, I have heard," she whispered. "Ah Tsong has told me."

The pupils of her eyes dilated, as she fixed an appealing glance upon the Inspector.

In justice to the latter he was palpably abashed by the delicate beauty of the girl who stood before him, by her naivete, and by that childishness of appearance and manner which must have awakened the latent chivalry in almost any man's heart.

"I am sorry to have to trouble you with this disagreeable business, Mrs. Camber," he began; "but I believe you were awakened last night by the sound of a shot."

"Yes," she replied, watching him intently, "that is so."

"May I ask at what time this was heard?"

"Ah Tsong told me it was after twelve o'clock."

"Was the sound a loud one?"

"Yes. It must have been to have awakened me."

"I see. Did you think it was in the house?"

"Oh, no."

"In the garden?"

"I really could not say, but I think that it was farther away than that."

"And what did you do?"

"I rang the bell for Ah Tsong."

"Did he come immediately?"

"Almost immediately."

"He was dressed, then?"

"No, I don't think he was. He had quickly put on an overcoat. He usually answers at once, when I ring for him, you see."

"I see. What did you do then?"

"Well, I was frightened, you understand, and I told him to find out if all was well with my husband. He came back and told me that Colin was writing. But the sound had alarmed me very much."

"Oh, and now perhaps you will tell me, Mrs. Camber, when and where your husband first met Colonel Menendez?"

Every vestige of colour fled from the girl's face.

"So far as I know--they never met," she replied, haltingly.

"Could you swear to that?"

"Yes."

I think that hitherto she had not fully realized the nature of the situation; but now something in the Inspector's voice, or perhaps in our glances, told her the truth. She moved to where Colin Camber was sitting, looking down at him questioningly, pitifully. He put his arm about her and drew her close.

Inspector Aylesbury cleared his throat and returned his note-book to his pocket.

"I am going to take a look around the garden," he announced.

My respect for him increased slightly, and Harley and I followed him out of the study. A police sergeant was sitting in the hall, and Ah Tsong was standing just outside the door.

"Show me the way to the garden," directed the Inspector.

Ah Tsong stared stupidly, whereupon Paul Harley addressed him in his native language, rapidly and in a low voice, in order, as I divined, that the Inspector should not hear him.

"I feel dreadfully guilty, Knox," he confessed, in a murmured aside. "For any Englishman, fictitious characters excepted, to possess a knowledge of Chinese is almost indecent."

Presently, then, I found myself once more in that unkempt garden of which I retained such unpleasant memories.

Inspector Aylesbury stared all about and up at the back of the house, humming to himself and generally behaving as though he were alone. Before the little summer study he stood still, and:

"Oh, I see," he muttered.

What he had seen was painfully evident. The right-hand window, beneath which there was a permanent wooden seat, commanded an unobstructed view of the Tudor garden in the grounds of Cray's Folly. Clearly I could detect the speck of high-light upon the top of the sun-dial.

The Inspector stepped into the hut. It contained a bookshelf upon which a number of books remained, a table and a chair, with some few other dilapidated appointments. I glanced at Harley and saw that he was staring as if hypnotized at the prospect in the valley below. I observed a constable on duty at the top of the steps which led down into the Tudor garden, but I could see nothing to account for Harley's fixed regard, until:

"Pardon me one moment, Inspector," he muttered, brusquely.

Brushing past the indignant Aylesbury, who was examining the contents of the shelves in the hut, he knelt upon the wooden seat and stared intently through the open window.

"One-two-three-four-five-six-seven," he chanted. "Good! That will settle it."

"Oh, I see," said Inspector Aylesbury, standing strictly upright, his prominent eyes turned in the direction of the kneeling Harley. "One, two, three, four, and so on will settle it, eh? If you don't mind me saying so, it was settled already."

"Yes?" replied Harley, standing up, and I saw that his eyes were very bright and that his face was slightly flushed. "You think the case is so simple as that?"

"Simple?" exclaimed the Inspector. "It's the most cunning thing that was ever planned, but I flatter myself that I have a good straight eye which can see a fairly long way."

"Excellent," murmured Harley. "I congratulate you. Myopia is so common in the present generation. You have decided, of course, that the murder was committed by Ah Tsong?"

Inspector Aylesbury's eyes seemed to protrude extraordinarily.

"Ah Tsong!" he exclaimed. "Ah Tsong!"

"Surely it is palpable," continued Harley, "that of the three people residing in the Guest House, Ah Tsong is the only one who could possibly have done the deed."

"Who could possibly--who could possibly----" stuttered the Inspector, then paused because of sheer lack of words.

"Review the evidence," continued Harley, coolly. "Mrs. Camber was awakened by the sound of a shot. She immediately rang for Ah Tsong. There was a short interval before Ah Tsong appeared--and when he did appear he was wearing an overcoat. Note this point, Inspector: wearing an overcoat. He descended to the study and found Mr. Camber writing. Now, Ah Tsong sleeps in a room adjoining the kitchen on the ground floor. We passed his quarters on our way to the garden a moment ago. Of course, you had noted this? Mr. Camber is therefore eliminated from our list of suspects."

The Inspector was growing very red, but ere he had time to speak Harley continued:

"The first of these three persons to have heard a shot fired at the end of the garden would have been Ah Tsong, and not Mrs. Camber, whose room is upstairs and in the front of the house. If it had been fired by Mr. Camber from the spot upon which we now stand, he would still have been in the garden at the moment when Mrs. Camber was ringing the bell for Ah Tsong. Mr. Camber must therefore have returned from the end of the garden to the study, and have passed Ah Tsong's room--unheard by the occupant--between the time that the bell rang and the time that Ah Tsong went upstairs. This I submit to be impossible. There is an alternative: it is that he slipped in whilst Ah Tsong, standing on the landing above, was receiving his mistress's orders. I submit that the alternative is also impossible. We thus eliminate Mr. Camber from the case, as I have already mentioned."

"Eliminate--eliminate!" cried the Inspector, beginning to recover power of speech. "Do you think you can fuddle me with a mass of words, Mr. Harley? Allow me to point out to you, sir, that you are in no way officially associated with this matter."

"You have already drawn my attention to the fact, Inspector, but it can do no harm to jog my memory."

Harley spoke entirely without bitterness, and I, who knew his every mood, realized that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Therefore I knew that at last he had found a clue.

"I may add, Inspector," said he, "that upon further reflection I have also eliminated Ah Tsong from the case. I forgot to mention that he lacks the first and second fingers of his right hand; and I have yet to meet the marksman who can shoot a man squarely between the eyes, by moonlight, at a hundred yards, employing his third finger as trigger- finger. There are other points, but these will be sufficient to show you that this case is more complicated than you had assumed it to be."

Inspector Aylesbury did not deign to reply, or could not trust himself to do so. He turned and made his way back to the house.