Chapter XXIV. An Official Move

We reentered the study to find Mrs. Camber sitting in a chair very close to her husband. Inspector Aylesbury stood in the open doorway for a moment, and then, stepping back into the hall:

"Sergeant Butler," he said, addressing the man who waited there.

"Yes, sir."

"Go out to the gate and get Edson to relieve you. I shall want you to go back to headquarters in a few minutes."

"Very good, sir."

I scented what was coming, and as Inspector Aylesbury reentered the room:

"I should like to make a statement," announced Paul Harley, quietly.

The Inspector frowned, and lowering his chin, regarded him with little favour.

"I have not invited any statement from you, Mr. Harley," said he.

"Quite," returned Harley. "I am volunteering it. It is this: I gather that you are about to take an important step officially. Having in view certain steps which I, also, am about to take, I would ask you to defer action, purely in your own interests, for at least twenty-four hours."

"I hear you," said the Inspector, sarcastically.

"Very well, Inspector. You have come newly into this case, and I assure you that its apparent simplicity is illusive. As new facts come into your possession you will realize that what I say is perfectly true, and if you act now you will be acting hastily. All that I have learned I am prepared to place at your disposal. But I predict that the interference of Scotland Yard will be necessary before this enquiry is concluded. Therefore I suggest, since you have rejected my cooperation, that you obtain that of Detective Inspector Wessex, of the Criminal Investigation Department. In short, this is no one-man job. You will do yourself harm by jumping to conclusions, and cause unnecessary trouble to perfectly innocent people."

"Is your statement concluded?" asked the Inspector.

"For the moment I have nothing to add."

"Oh, I see. Very good. Then we can now get to business. Always with your permission, Mr. Harley."

He took his stand before the fireplace, very erect, and invested with his most official manner. Mrs. Camber watched him in a way that was pathetic. Camber seemed to be quite composed, although his face was unusually pale.

"Now, Mr. Camber," said the Inspector, "I find your answers to the questions which I have put to you very unsatisfactory."

"I am sorry," said Colin Camber, quietly.

"One moment, Inspector," interrupted Paul Harley, "you have not warned Mr. Camber."

Thereupon the long-repressed wrath of Inspector Aylesbury burst forth.

"Then I will warn you, sir!" he shouted. "One more word and you leave this house."

"Yet I am going to venture on one more word," continued Harley, unperturbed. He turned to Colin Camber. "I happen to be a member of the Bar, Mr. Camber," he said, "although I rarely accept a brief. Have I your authority to act for you?"

"I am grateful, Mr. Harley, and I leave this unpleasant affair in your hands with every confidence."

Camber stood up, bowing formally.

The expression upon the inflamed face of Inspector Aylesbury was really indescribable, and recognizing his mental limitations, I was almost tempted to feel sorry for him. However, he did not lack self- confidence, and:

"I suppose you have scored, Mr. Harley," he said, a certain hoarseness perceptible in his voice, "but I know my duty and I am not afraid to perform it. Now, Mr. Camber, did you, or did you not, at about twelve o'clock last night----"

"Warn the accused," murmured Harley.

Inspector Aylesbury uttered a choking sound, but:

"I have to warn you," he said, "that your answers may be used as evidence. I will repeat: Did you, or did you not, at about twelve o'clock last night, shoot, with intent to murder, Colonel Juan Menendez?"

Ysola Camber leapt up, clutching at her husband's arm as if to hold him back.

"I did not," he replied, quietly.

"Nevertheless," continued the Inspector, looking aggressively at Paul Harley whilst he spoke, "I am going to detain you pending further enquiries."

Colin Camber inclined his head.

"Very well," he said; "you only do your duty."

The little fingers clutching his sleeve slowly relaxed, and Mrs. Camber, uttering a long sigh, sank in a swoon at his feet.

"Ysola! Ysola!" he muttered. Stooping he raised the child-like figure. "If you will kindly open the door, Mr. Knox," he said, "I will carry my wife to her room."

I sprang to the door and held it widely open.

Colin Camber, deadly pale, but holding his head very erect, walked in the direction of the hallway with his pathetic burden. Mis-reading the purpose written upon the stern white face, Inspector Aylesbury stepped forward.

"Let someone else attend to Mrs. Camber," he cried, sharply. "I wish you to remain here."

His detaining hand was already upon Camber's shoulder when Harley's arm shot out like a barrier across the Inspector's chest, and Colin Camber proceeded on his way. Momentarily, he glanced aside, and I saw that his eyes were unnaturally bright.

"Thank you, Mr. Harley," he said, and carried his wife from the room.

Harley dropped his arm, and crossing, stood staring out of the window. Inspector Aylesbury ran heavily to the door.

"Sergeant!" he called, "Sergeant! keep that man in sight. He must return here immediately."

I heard the sound of heavy footsteps following Camber's up the stairs, then Inspector Aylesbury turned, a bulky figure in the open doorway, and:

"Now, Mr. Harley," said he, entering and reclosing the door, "you are a barrister, I understand. Very well, then, I suppose you are aware that you have resisted and obstructed an officer of the law in the execution of his duty."

Paul Harley spun round upon his heel.

"Is that a charge," he inquired, "or merely a warning?"

The two glared at one another for a moment, then:

"From now onward," continued the Inspector, "I am going to have no more trouble with you, Mr. Harley. In the first place, I'll have you looked up in the Law List; in the second place, I shall ask you to stick to your proper duties, and leave me to look after mine."

"I have endeavoured from the outset," replied Harley, his good humour quite restored, "to assist you in every way in my power. You have declined all my offers, and finally, upon the most flimsy evidence, you have detained a perfectly innocent man."

"Oh, I see. A perfectly innocent man, eh?"

"Perfectly innocent, Inspector. There are so many points that you have overlooked. For instance, do you seriously suppose that Mr. Camber had been waiting up here night after night on the off-chance that Colonel Menendez would appear in the grounds of Cray's Folly?"

"No, I don't. I have got that worked out."

"Indeed? You interest me."

"Mr. Camber has an accomplice at Cray's Folly."

"What?" exclaimed Harley, and into his keen grey eyes crept a look of real interest.

"He has an accomplice," repeated the Inspector. "A certain witness was strangely reluctant to mention Mr. Camber's name. It was only after very keen examination that I got it at last. Now, Colonel Menendez had not retired last night, neither had a certain other party. That other party, sir, knows why Colonel Menendez was wandering about the garden at midnight."

At first, I think, this astonishing innuendo did not fully penetrate to my mind, but when it did so, it seemed to galvanize me. Springing up from the chair in which I had been seated:

"You preposterous fool!" I exclaimed, hotly.

It was the last straw. Inspector Aylesbury strode to the door and throwing it open once more, turned to me:

"Be good enough to leave the house, Mr. Knox," he said. "I am about to have it officially searched, and I will have no strangers present."

I think I could have strangled him with pleasure, but even in my rage I was not foolhardy enough to lay myself open to that of which the Inspector was quite capable at this moment.

Without another word I walked out of the study, took my hat and stick, and opening the front door, quitted the Guest House, from which I had thus a second time been dismissed ignominiously.

Appreciation of this fact, which came to me as I stepped into the porch, awakened my sense of humour--a gift truly divine which has saved many a man from desperation or worse. I felt like a schoolboy who had been turned out of a class-room, and I was glad that I could laugh at myself.

A constable was standing in the porch, and he looked at me suspiciously. No doubt he perceived something very sardonic in my merriment.

I walked out of the gate, before which a car was standing, and as I paused to light a cigarette I heard the door of the Guest House open and close. I glanced back, and there was Paul Harley coming to join me.

"Now, Knox," he said, briskly, "we have got our hands full."

"My dear Harley, I am both angry and bewildered. Too angry and too bewildered to think clearly."

"I can quite understand it. I should become homicidal if I were forced to submit for long to the company of Inspector Aylesbury. Of course, I had anticipated the arrest of Colin Camber, and I fear there is worse to come."

"What do you mean, Harley?"

"I mean that failing the apprehension of the real murderer, I cannot see, at the moment, upon what the case for the defence is to rest."

"But surely you demonstrated out there in the garden that he could not possibly have fired the shot?"

"Words, Knox, words. I could pick a dozen loopholes in my own argument. I had only hoped to defer the inevitable. I tell you, there is worse to come. Two things we must do at once."

"What are they?"

"We must persuade the man on duty to allow us to examine the Tudor garden, and we must see the Chief Constable, whoever he may be, and prevail upon him to requisition the assistance of Scotland Yard. With Wessex in charge of the case I might have a chance. Whilst this disastrous man Aylesbury holds the keys there is none."

"You heard what he said about Miss Beverley?"

We were now walking rapidly along the high road, and Harley nodded.

"I did," he said. "I had expected it. He was inspired with this brilliant idea last night, and his ideas are too few to be lightly scrapped. If the Chief Constable is anything like the Inspector, what we are going to do heaven only knows."

"I take it, Harley, that you are convinced of Colin Camber's innocence?"

Harley did not answer for a moment, whereupon I glanced at him anxiously, then:

"Colin Camber," he replied, "is of so peculiar a type that I could not presume to say of what he is capable or is not capable. The most significant point in his favour is this: He is a man of unusual intellect. The planning of this cunning crime to such a man would have been child's play--child's play, Knox. But is it possible to believe that his genius would have failed him upon the most essential detail of all, namely, an alibi?"

"It is not."

"Of course it is not. Which, continuing to regard Camber as an assassin, reduces us to the theory that the crime was committed in a moment of passion. This I maintain to be also impossible. It was no deed of impulse."

"I agree with you."

"Now, I believe that the enquiry is going to turn upon a very delicate point. If I am wrong in this, then perhaps I am wrong in my whole conception of the case. But have you considered the mass of evidence against Colin Camber?"

"I have, Harley," I replied, sadly, "I have."

"Think of all that we know, and which the Inspector does not know. Every single datum points in the same direction. No prosecution could ask for a more perfect case. Upon this fact I pin my hopes. Where an Aylesbury rushes in I fear to tread. The analogy with an angel was accidental, Knox!" he added, smilingly. "In other words, it is all too obvious. Yet I have failed once, Knox, failed disastrously, and it may be that in my anxiety to justify myself I am seeking for subtlety where no subtlety exists."