Chapter XXVII. An Inspiration

Inspector Aylesbury had disappeared when I came out of the hall, but Pedro was standing there to remind me of the fact that I had not breakfasted. I realized that despite all tragic happenings, I was ravenously hungry, and accordingly I agreed to his proposal that I should take breakfast on the south veranda, as on the previous morning.

To the south veranda accordingly I made my way, rather despising myself because I was capable of hunger at such a time and amidst such horrors. The daily papers were on my table, for Carter drove into Market Hilton every morning to meet the London train which brought them down; but I did not open any of them.

Pedro waited upon me in person. I could see that the man was pathetically anxious to talk. Accordingly, when he presently brought me a fresh supply of hot rolls:

"This has been a dreadful blow to you, Pedro?" I said.

"Dreadful, sir," he returned; "fearful. I lose a splendid master, I lose my place, and I am far, far from home."

"You are from Cuba?"

"Yes, yes. I was with Senor the Colonel Don Juan in Cuba."

"And do you know anything of the previous attempts which had been made upon his life, Pedro?"

"Nothing, sir. Nothing at all."

"But the bat wing, Pedro?"

He looked at me in a startled way.

"Yes, sir," he replied. "I found it pinned to the door here."

"And what did you think it meant?"

"I thought it was a joke, sir--not a nice joke--by someone who knew Cuba."

"You know the meaning of Bat Wing, then?"

"It is Obeah. I have never seen it before, but I have heard of it."

"And what did you think?" said I, proceeding with my breakfast.

"I thought it was meant to frighten."

"But who did you think had done it?"

"I had heard Senor Don Juan say that Mr. Camber hated him, so I thought perhaps he had sent someone to do it."

"But why should Mr. Camber have hated the Colonel?"

"I cannot say, sir. I wish I could tell."

"Was your master popular in the West Indies?" I asked.

"Well, sir--" Pedro hesitated--"perhaps not so well liked."

"No," I said. "I had gathered as much."

The man withdrew, and I continued my solitary meal, listening to the song of the skylarks, and thinking how complex was human existence, compared with any other form of life beneath the sun.

How to employ my time until Harley should return I knew not. Common delicacy dictated an avoidance of Val Beverley until she should have recovered from the effect of Inspector Aylesbury's gross insinuations, and I was curiously disinclined to become involved in the gloomy formalities which ensue upon a crime of violence. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to remain within call, realizing that there might be unpleasant duties which Pedro could not perform, and which must therefore devolve upon Val Beverley.

I lighted my pipe and walked out on to the sloping lawn. A gardener was at work with a big syringe, destroying a patch of weeds which had appeared in one corner of the velvet turf. He looked up in a sort of startled way as I passed, bidding me good morning, and then resuming his task. I thought that this man's activities were symbolic of the way of the world, in whose eternal progression one poor human life counts as nothing.

Presently I came in sight of that door which opened into the rhododendron shrubbery, the door by which Colonel Menendez had come out to meet his death. His bedroom was directly above, and as I picked my way through the closely growing bushes, which at an earlier time I had thought to be impassable, I paused in the very shadow of the tower and glanced back and upward. I could see the windows of the little smoke- room in which we had held our last interview with Menendez; and I thought of the shadow which Harley had seen upon the blind. I was unable to disguise from myself the fact that when Inspector Aylesbury should learn of this occurrence, as presently he must do, it would give new vigour to his ridiculous and unpleasant suspicions.

I passed on, and considering the matter impartially, found myself faced by the questions--Whose was the shadow which Harley had seen upon the blind? And with what purpose did Colonel Menendez leave the house at midnight?

Somnambulism might solve the second riddle, but to the first I could find no answer acceptable to my reason. And now, pursuing my aimless way, I presently came in sight of a gable of the Guest House. I could obtain a glimpse of the hut which had once been Colin Camber's workroom. The window, through which Paul Harley had stared so intently, possessed sliding panes. These were closed, and a ray of sunlight, striking upon the glass, produced, because of an over-leaning branch which crossed the top of the window, an effect like that of a giant eye glittering evilly through the trees. I could see a constable moving about in the garden. Ever and anon the sun shone upon the buttons of his tunic.

By such steps my thoughts led me on to the pathetic figure of Ysola Camber. Save for the faithful Ah Tsong she was alone in that house to which tragedy had come unbidden, unforeseen. I doubted if she had a woman friend in all the countryside. Doubtless, I reflected, the old housekeeper, to whom she had referred, would return as speedily as possible, but pending the arrival of someone to whom she could confide all her sorrows, I found it almost impossible to contemplate the loneliness of the tragic little figure.

Such was my mental state, and my thoughts were all of compassion, when suddenly, like a lurid light, an inspiration came to me.

I had passed out from the shadow of the tower and was walking in the direction of the sentinel yews when this idea, dreadfully complete, leapt to my mind. I pulled up short, as though hindered by a palpable barrier. Vague musings, evanescent theories, vanished like smoke, and a ghastly, consistent theory of the crime unrolled itself before me, with all the cold logic of truth.

"My God!" I groaned aloud, "I see it all. I see it all."