The Yellow Streak by Valentine Williams
Chapter XV. Shadows
Robert Greve stood for an instant in silence by the window of his rooms. His fingers hammered out a tattoo on the pane. His eyes were fixed on the windows of the chambers across the court. But they did not take in the pleasant prospect of the tall, ivy-framed casements in their mellow setting of warm red brick. He was trying to fix a mental photograph of a letter--typewritten on paper of dark slatey blue--which he had seen on Hartley Parrish's desk in the library at Harkings on the previous afternoon.
Prompted by Bruce Wright, he could now recall the heading clearly. "ELIAS VAN DER SPYCK & Co., GENERAL IMPORTERS, ROTTERDAM," stood printed before his eyes as plainly as though he still held the typewritten sheet in front of him. But the mind plays curious tricks. Robin's brain had registered the name; yet it recorded no impression of the contents of the letter. Beyond the fact that it dealt in plain commercial fashion with some shipments or other, he could recall no particular whatever of it.
"But where did you get hold of this sheet of paper?" Bruce Wright's voice broke in impatiently behind him. "I'm most frightfully interested to know ..."
"Found it on the floor beside Parrish's body," answered Robin briefly. "There was a letter, too, on the same paper ..."
"By Gad!" exclaimed the boy eagerly, "have you got that too?"
Robin shook his head.
"It was only your story that made me think of it. I had the letter. But I left it where I found it--on Parrish's desk in the library ..."
"But you read it ... you know what was in it?"
Robin shrugged his shoulders.
"It was a perfectly straightforward business letter ... something about steel shipments ... I don't remember any more ..."
"A straightforward business letter," commented the boy. "Like the letter I read, eh?..."
"Tell me, Bruce," said Robin, after a moment's silence, "during the time you were with Hartley Parrish, I suppose these blue letters came pretty often?"
Young Wright wrinkled his brow in thought.
"It's rather difficult to say. You see, there were three of us besides old Jeekes, and, of course, these letters might have come without my knowledge anything about it. But during the seven months I worked with H.P. I suppose about half a dozen of these letters passed through my hands. They used to worry H.P., you know, Robin ..."
"Worry him?" exclaimed Robin sharply; "how do you mean?"
"Well," said Bruce, "Parrish was a very easygoing fellow, you know. He worked every one--himself included--like the devil, of course. But he was hardly ever nervy or grumpy. And so I was a bit surprised to find--after I had been with him for a time--that every now and then he sort of shrivelled up. He used to look ... well, careworn and ... and haggard. And at these times he was pretty short with all of us. It was such an extraordinary change from his usual cheery, optimistic self that sometimes I suspected him of dope or some horror like that ..."
Robin shook his head. He had a sudden vision of Hartley Parrish, one of his long, black Partagas thrust at an aggressive angle from a corner of his mouth, virile, battling, strong.
"Oh, no," he said, "not dope ..."
"No, no, I know," the boy went on quickly. "It wasn't dope. It was fear ..."
Robin swung round from the window.
"Fear? Fear of what?"
The boy cast a frightened glance over his shoulder rather as if he fancied he might be overheard.
"Of those letters," he replied. "I am sure it was that. I watched him and ... and I know. Every time he got one of those letters in the bluish envelopes, these curious fits of gloom came over him. Robin ..."
"I think he was being blackmailed!"
The barrister nodded thoughtfully.
"Don't you agree?"
The boy awaited his answer eagerly.
"Something very like that," replied the other.
Then suddenly he smashed his fist into the open palm of his other hand.
"But he wouldn't have taken it lying down!" he cried. "Hartley Parrish was a fighter, Bruce. Did you ever know a man who could best him? No, no, it won't fit! Besides ..."
He broke off and thought for an instant.
"We must get that letter from Harkings," he said presently. "Jeekes will have it. We can do nothing until ..."
His voice died away. Bruce, sunk in one of the big leather armchairs, was astonished to see him slip quickly away from the window and ensconce himself behind one of the chintz curtains.
"Here, Bruce," Robin called softly across the room. "Just come here. But take care not to show yourself. Look out, keep behind the curtain and here ... peep out through this chink!"
Young Wright peered through a narrow slit between the curtain and the window-frame. In the far corner of the courtyard beneath the windows, where a short round iron post marked a narrow passage leading to the adjoining court, a man was standing. He wore a shabby suit and a blue handkerchief knotted about his neck served him as a substitute for the more conventional collar and tie. His body was more than half concealed by the side of the house along which the passage ran. But his face was clearly distinguishable--a peaky, thin face, the upper part in the shadow of the peak of a discoloured tweed cap.
"He's been there on and off all the time we've been talking," said Robin. "I wasn't sure at first. But now I'm certain. He's watching these windows! Look!"
Briskly the watcher's head was withdrawn to emerge again, slowly and cautiously, in a little while.
"But who is he? What does he want?" asked Bruce.
"I haven't an idea," retorted Robin Greve. "But I could guess. Tell me, Bruce," he went on, stepping back from the window and motioning the boy to do the same, "did you notice anybody following you when you came here?"
Bruce shook his head.
"I'm pretty sure nobody did. You see, I came in from the Strand, down Middle Temple Lane. Once service has started at Temple Church there's not a mouse stirring in the Inn till the church is out. I think I should have noticed if any one had followed me up to your chambers ..."
Robin set his chin squarely.
"Then he came after me," he said. "Bruce, you'll have to go to Harkings and get that letter!"
"By all means," answered the boy. "But, I say, they won't much like me butting in, will they?"
"You'll have to say you came down to offer your sympathy, ... volunteer your services ... oh, anything. But you must get that letter! Do you understand, Bruce? You must get that letter--if you have to steal it!"
The boy gave a long whistle.
"That's rather a tall order, isn't it?" he said.
Robin nodded. His face was very grave.
"Yes," he said presently, "I suppose it is. But there is something ... something horrible behind this case, Bruce, something dark and..and mysterious. And I mean to get to the bottom of it. With your help. Or alone!"
Bruce put his hand impulsively on the other's arm.
"You can count on me, you know," he said. "But don't you think ..."
He broke off shyly.
"Don't you think you'd better tell me what you know. And what you suspect!"
"Yes," he said, "that's fair. I suppose I ought. But there's not much to tell, Bruce. Just before Hartley Parrish was found dead, I asked Miss Trevert to marry me. I was too late. She was already engaged to Hartley Parrish. I was horrified ... I know some things about Parrish ... we had words and I went off. Five minutes later Miss Trevert went to fetch Parrish in to tea and heard a shot behind the locked door of the library. Horace Trevert got in through the window and found Parrish dead. Every one down at Harkings believes that I went in and threatened Parrish so that he committed suicide ..."
"Whom do you mean by every one?"
Robin laughed drily. "Mary Trevert, her mother, Horace Trevert ..."
"The police, too?"
"Certainly. The police more than anybody!"
"By Jove!" commented the boy.
"You ask me what I suspect," Robin continued. "I admit I have no positive proof. But I suspect that Hartley Parrish did not die by his own hand!"
Bruce Wright looked up with a startled expression on his face.
"You mean that he was murdered?"
"But how? Why?"
Then Robin told him of the experiment in the library, of the open window and of the bullet mark he had discovered in the rosery.
"What I want to know," he said, "and what I am determined to find out beyond any possible doubt, is whether the bullet found in Hartley Parrish's body was fired from his pistol. But before we reach that point we have to explain how it happened that only one shot was heard and how a bullet which apparently came from Parrish's pistol was found in his body ..."
"If Mr. Parrish was murdered, the murderer might have turned the gun round in Parrish's hand and forced him to shoot himself ..."
"Hardly," said Robin. "Remember, Mary Trevert was at the door when the shot was fired. Your theory presupposes the employment of force, in other words, a struggle. Miss Trevert heard no scuffling. No, I've thought of that.. it won't do ..."
"Have you any suspicion of who the murderer might be?"
Robin shook his head decidedly.
"Not a shadow of an idea," he affirmed positively. "But I have a notion that we shall find a clue in this letter which, like a blithering fool, I left on Parrish's desk. It's the first glimmer of hope I've seen yet ..."
Bruce Wright squared his shoulders and threw his head back.
"I'll get it for you," he said.
"Good boy," said Robin. "But, Bruce," he went on, "you'll have to go carefully. My name is mud in that house. You mustn't say you come from me. And if you ask boldly for the letter, they won't give it to you. Jeekes might, if he's there and you approach him cautiously. But, for Heaven's sake, don't try any diplomacy on Manderton ... that's the Scotland Yard man. He's as wary as a fox and sharp as needles."
Bruce Wright buttoned up his coat with an air of finality.
"Leave it to me," he said, "I know Harkings like my pocket. Besides I've got a friend there ..."
"Who might that be?" queried the barrister.
"Bude," answered the boy and laid a finger on his lips.
"But," he pursued, jerking his head in the direction of the window, "what are we going to do about him out there?"
"Him?" he said. "Oh, I'm going to take him out for an airing!"
Robin stepped out into the hall. He returned wearing his hat and overcoat. In his hand were two yale keys strung on a wisp of pink tape.
"Listen, Bruce," he said. "Give me ten minutes' start to get rid of this jackal. Then clear out. There's a train to Stevenish at 3.23. If you get on the Underground at the Temple you ought to be able to make it easily. Here are the keys of the chambers. I can put you up here to-night if you like. I'll expect you when I see you ... with that letter. Savvy?"
The boy stood up.
"You'll have that letter to-night," he answered. "But in the meantime,"--he waved the blue sheet with its mysterious slots at Robin,--"what do you make of this?"
Robin took the sheet of paper from him and replaced it in his cigarette-case.
"Perhaps, when we have the letter," he replied, "I shall be able to answer that question!"
Then he lit a cigarette, gave the boy his hand, and a minute later Bruce Wright, watching through the chink of the curtain from the window of Robin Greve's chambers, saw a lanky form shuffle across the court and follow Robin round the angle of the house.
Robin strode quickly through the maze of narrow passages and tranquil, echoing courts into the Sabbath stillness of the Strand. An occasional halt at a shop-window was sufficient to assure him that the watcher of the Temple was still on his heels. The man, he was interested to see, played his part very unobtrusively, shambling along in nonchalant fashion, mostly hugging the sides of the houses, ready to dart out of sight into a doorway or down a side turning, should he by any mischance arrive too close on the heels of his quarry.
As he walked along, Robin turned over in his mind the best means for getting rid of his shadow. Should he dive into a Tube station and plunge headlong down the steps? He rejected this idea as calculated to let the tracker know that his presence was suspected. Then he reviewed in his mind the various establishments he knew of in London with double entrances, thinking that he might slip in by the one entrance and emerge by the other.
In Pall Mall he came upon Tony Grandell, whom he had last seen playing bridge in the company dugout on the Flesquieres Kidge. Then he had been in "battle order," camouflaged as a private soldier, as officers were ordered to go over the top in the latter phases of the war. Now he was resplendent in what the invitation cards call "Morning Dress" crowned by what must certainly have been the most relucent top-hat in London.
"Hullo, hullo, hullo!" cried Tony, on catching sight of him; "stand to your kits and so forth! And how is my merry company commander? Robin, dear, come and relieve the medieval gloom of lunch with my aunt at Mart's!"
He linked his arm affectionately in Robin's.
Mart's! Robin's brain snatched at the word. Mart's! most respectable of "family hotels," wedged in between two quiet streets off Piccadilly with an entrance from both. If ever a man wanted to dodge a sleuth, especially a grimy tatterdemalion like the one sidling up Pall Mall behind them ...
"Tony, old son," said Robin, "I won't lunch with you even to set the board in a roar at your aunt's luncheon-party. But I'll walk up to Mart's with you, for I'm going there myself ..."
They entered Mart's together and parted in the vestibule, where Tony gravely informed his "dear old scream" that he must fly to his "avuncular luncheon." Robin walked quickly through the hotel and left by the other entrance. The street was almost deserted. Of the man with the dingy neckerchief there was no sign. Robin hurried into Piccadilly and hopped on a 'bus which put him down at his club facing the Green Park.
He had a late lunch there and afterwards took a taxi back to the Temple. The daylight was failing as he crossed the courtyard in front of his chambers. In the centre the smoke-blackened plane-tree throned it in unchallenged solitude. But, as Robin's footsteps echoed across the flags, something more substantial than a shadow seemed to melt into the gathering dusk in the corner where the narrow passage ran.
Robin stopped to listen at the entrance to his chambers. As he stood there he heard a heavy tread on the stone steps within. He turned to face a solidly built swarthy-looking man who emerged from the building.
He favoured Robin with a leisurely, searching stare, then strode heavily across the courtyard to the little passage where he disappeared from view.
Robin looked after him. The man was a stranger: the occupants of the other chambers were all known to him. With a thoughtful expression on his face Robin entered the house and mounted to his rooms.