Chapter XII. Mr. Manderton is Nonplussed
 

Horace Trevert walked abruptly into Mary's Chinese boudoir. Lady Margaret and the girl were standing by the fire.

"Well," said Horace, dropping into a chair, "he's gone!"

"Who?" said Lady Margaret.

"Robin," answered the boy, "and I must say he took it very well ..."

"You don't mean to tell me, Horace," said his mother, "that you have actually sent Robin Greve away ...?"

Mary Trevert put her hand on her mother's arm.

"I wished it, Mother. I asked Horace to send him away ..."

"But, my dear," protested Lady Margaret.

Mary interrupted her impatiently.

"Robin Greve was impossible here. I had to ask him to go. I suppose he can come back if ... if they want him for the inquest ..."

Lady Margaret was looking at her daughter in a puzzled way. She was a woman of the world and had brought her daughter up to be a woman of the world. She knew that Mary was not impulsive by nature. She knew that there was a wealth of good sense behind those steady eyes.

In response to a look from his mother, Horace got up and left the room.

"Mary, dear," said the older woman, "don't you think you are making a mistake?"

The girl turned away, one slim shoe tapping restlessly against the brass rail of the fireplace.

"My dear," her mother went on, "remember I have known Robin Greve all his life. His father, the Admiral, was a very old friend of mine. He was the very personification of honour. Robin is very fond of you ... no, he has told me nothing, but I know. Don't you think it is rather hard on an old friend to turn him away just when you most want him?"

There was a heightened colour in the girl's face as she turned and looked her mother in the face.

"Robin has not behaved like a friend, Mother," she answered. "He knows more than he pretends about ... about this. And he lets me find out things from the servants when he ought to have told me himself. If he is suspected of having said something to Hartley which made him do this dreadful thing, he has only himself to thank. I did try to shield him--before I knew. But I'm not going to do so any more. If he stays I shall have the police suspecting me all the time. And I owe something to Hartley ..."

Her mother sighed a soft little sigh. She said nothing. She was a very wise woman.

"Robin left me to go to the library ... I am sure of that ..." Mary went on breathlessly.

"Why?" her mother asked.

The girl hesitated.

Then she said slowly:

"You and I have always been good pals, Mother, so I may as well tell you. Robin had just asked me to marry him. So I told him I was engaged to Hartley. He went on in the most awful way, and said that I was selling myself and that I would not be the first girl that Hartley had kept ..."

She broke off and raised her hands to her face. Then she put her elbows on the mantel-shelf and burst into tears.

"Oh, it was hateful," she sobbed.

Her mother put her arm round her soothingly.

"Well, my dear," she said, "Robin was always fond of you, and I dare say it was a shock to him. When men feel like that about a girl they generally say things they don't mean ..."

Mary Trevert straightened herself up and dropped her hands to her side. She faced her mother, the tear-drops glistening on her long lashes.

"He meant it, every word of it. And he was perfectly right. I was selling myself, and you know I was, Mother. Do you think we can go on for ever like this, living on credit and dodging tradesmen? I meant to marry Hartley and stick to him. But I never thought ... I never guessed ... that Robin ..."

"I know, my dear," her mother interposed, "I know. Perhaps it doesn't sound a very proper thing to say in the circumstances, but now that poor Hartley is gone, there is no reason whatsoever why you and Robin ..."

The Treverts were a hot-tempered race. Lady Margaret's unfinished sentence seemed to infuriate the girl.

"Do you think I'd marry Robin Greve as long as I thought he knew the mystery of Hartley's death!" she cried passionately. "I was willing to give up my self-respect once to save us from ruin, but I won't do it again. I'm not surprised to find you thinking I am ready to marry Robin and live happy ever after on poor Hartley's money. But I've not sunk so low as that! If you ever mention this to me again, Mother, I promise you I'll go away and never come back!"

"My dear child," temporized Lady Margaret, eyebrows raised in protest at this outburst, "of course, it shall be as you wish. I only thought ..."

But Mary Trevert was not listening. She leant on the mantel-shelf, her dark head in her hands, and she murmured:

"The tragedy of it! My God, the tragedy of it!"

Lady Margaret twisted the rings on her long white fingers.

"The tragedy of it, my dear," she said, "is that you have sent away the man you love at a time when you will never need him so badly again ..."

There was a discreet tapping at the door.

"Come in!" said Lady Margaret.

Bude appeared.

"Mr. Manderton, the detective, my lady, was wishing to know whether he might see Miss Trevert ..."

"Yes. Ask him to come up here," commanded Lady Margaret.

"He is without--in the corridor, my lady!"

He stepped back and in a moment Mr. Manderton stepped into the room, big, burly, and determined.

He made a little stiff bow to the two ladies and halted irresolute near the door.

"You wished to see my daughter, Mr. Manderton," said Lady Margaret.

The detective bowed again.

"And you, too, my lady," he said. "Allow me!"

He closed the door, then crossed to the fireplace.

"After I had seen you and Miss Trevert last night, my lady," he began, "I had a talk with Mr. Jeekes, Mr. Parrish's principal secretary, who came down by car from London as soon as he heard the news. My lady, I think this is a fairly simple case!"

He paused and scanned the carpet.

"Mr. Jeekes tells me, my lady," he went on presently, "that Mrs Fairish had been suffering from neurasthenia and a weak heart brought on by too much smoking. It appears that he had consulted, within the last two months, two leading specialists of Harley Street about his health. One of these gentlemen, Sir Winterton Maire, ordered him to knock off all work and all smoking for at least three months. He will give evidence to this effect at the inquest. Mr. Parrish disregarded these orders as he was wishful to put through his scheme for Hornaway's before taking a rest. Mr. Jeekes can prove that. In these circumstances, my lady...."

"Well?"

Lady Margaret, in her black crÍpe de chine dress, setting off the silvery whiteness of her hair, was a calm, unemotional figure as she sat in her lacquer chair.

"Well?" she asked again.

"Well," said the detective, "the verdict will be one of 'Suicide whilst of unsound mind,' and in my opinion the medical evidence will be sufficient to bring that in. There will not be occasion, I fancy, my lady, to probe any farther into the motives of Mr. Parrish's action...."

"And are you personally satisfied"--Mary's voice broke in clear and unimpassioned--"are you personally satisfied, Mr. Manderton, that Mr. Parrish shot himself?"

The detective cast an appealing glance at the tips of his well-burnished boots.

"Yes, Miss, I think I may say I am...."

"And what about the evidence of Bude, who said he heard voices in the library...."

Mr. Manderton gave his shoulders the merest suspicion of a shrug, raised his hands, and dropped them to his sides.

"I had hoped, my lady," he said, throwing a glance at Lady Margaret, "and you, Miss, that I had made it clear that in the circumstances we need not pursue that matter any further...."

Lady Margaret rose. Her dominating personality seemed to fill the room.

"We are extremely obliged to you, Mr. Manderton," she said, "for the able and discreet way in which you have handled this case. I sometimes meet the Chief Commissioner at dinner. I shall write to Sir Maurice and tell him my opinion."

Mr. Manderton reddened a little.

"Your ladyship is too good," he said.

Lady Margaret bowed to signify that the interview was at an end. But Mary Trevert left her side and walked to the door.

"Will you come downstairs with me, Mr. Manderton," she said. "I should like to speak to you alone for a minute!"

She led the way downstairs through the hall and out into the drive. A pale sun shone down from a grey and rainy sky, and the damp breeze blowing from the sodden trees played among the ringlets of her dark hair.

"We will walk down the drive," she said to the detective, who, rather astonished, had followed her. "We can talk freely out of doors."

They took a dozen steps in silence. Then she said:

"Who was it speaking to Mr. Parrish in the library?"

"Undoubtedly Mr. Greve," replied the man without hesitation.

"Why undoubtedly?" asked the girl.

"It could have been no one else. We know that he left you hot to get at Mr. Parrish and have words with him. Bude heard them talking with voices raised aloud...."

"But if the door were locked?"

"Mr. Parrish may have opened it and locked it again, Mr. Greve getting out by the window. But there are no traces of that ... one would look to find marks on the paint on the inside. Besides, a little test we made this morning suggests that Mr. Greve spoke to Mr. Parrish through the window...."

"Was the window open?"

"Yes, Miss, it probably was. The fire had been smoking in the library. Mr. Parrish had complained to Bude about it. Besides, we have found Mr. Parrish's finger-prints on the inside of the window-frame. Outside we found other finger-prints ... Sir Horace's. Sir Horace was good enough to allow his to be taken."

The girl looked at the detective quickly.

"Were there any other finger-prints except Horace's on the outside?" she asked.

Mr. Manderton shook his head.

"No, Miss," he answered.

They had reached the lodge-gates at the beginning of the drive and turned to retrace their steps to the house.

"Then we shall never know exactly why Mr. Parrish did this thing?" hazarded Mary.

Mr. Manderton darted her a surreptitious glance.

"We shall see about that," he said.

There was menace in his voice.

Mary Trevert stopped. She put her hand on the detective's arm.

"Mr. Manderton," she said, "if you are satisfied, then, believe me, I am!"

The detective bowed.

"Miss Trevert," he said,--and he spoke perfectly respectfully though his words were blunt,--"I can well believe that!"

The girl looked up quickly. She scanned his face rather apprehensively.

"What do you mean?" she asked, "I don't understand...."

"I mean," was the detective's answer, given in his quiet, level voice, "that when you attempted to mislead Inspector Humphries you did nobody any good!"

The girl bent her head without replying, and in silence they regained the house. At the house door they parted, Mary going indoors while the detective remained standing on the drive. Very deliberately he produced a short briar pipe, cut a stub of dark plug tobacco from a flat piece he carried in his pocket, crammed the tobacco into his pipe, and lit it. Reflectively he blew a thin spiral of smoke into the still air.

"He told me about that fat butler's evidence," he said to himself; "he put me wise about that window being open; he gave me the office about the paint on the finger-nails of Mr. H.P."

He ticked off each point on his fingers with the stem of his pipe.

"Why?" said Mr. Manderton aloud, addressing a laurel-bush.