Chapter XVII. A Fresh Clue
 

"Oh!" cried the girl, "you frightened me! You frightened me! What do you want here ... in this horrible room?"

She was trembling. One slim hand plucked nervously at her dress. Her breath came and went quickly.

"I saw the curtain move. I thought it was the wind at first. But then I saw the outline of your fingers. And I imagined it was he ... come back ..."

"Miss Trevert," said the boy abashed, "I must have frightened you terribly. I had no idea it was you!"

"But why are you hiding here? How did you get in? What do you want in this house?"

She spoke quickly, nervously. Some papers she held in her hand shook with her emotion. Bruce Wright stepped to the desk and turned the bulb of the reading-lamp down into its normal position.

"I must apologize most sincerely for the fright I gave you," he said. "But, believe me, Miss Trevert, I had no idea that anybody could gain access to this room. I climbed in through the window. Bude told me that the police had taken away the key ..."

The girl made an impatient gesture.

"But why have you come here?" she said. "What do you want?"

The boy measured her with a narrow glance. He was young, but he was shrewd. He saw her frank eyes, her candid, open mien, and he took a rapid decision.

"I think I have come," he answered slowly, "for the same purpose as yourself!"

And he looked at the papers in her hand.

"I used to be Mr. Parrish's secretary, you know," he said.

The girl sighed--a little fluttering sigh--and looked earnestly at him.

"I remember," she said. "Hartley liked you. He was sorry that he sent you away. He often spoke of you to me. But why have you come back? What do you mean by saying you have come for the same purpose as myself?"

Bruce Wright looked at the array of letter-trays. The marble paper-weight had been displaced. The tray in which it had lain was empty. He looked at the sheaf of papers in the girl's hand.

"I wanted to see," he replied, "whether there was anything here ... on his desk ... which would explain the mystery of his death ..."

The girl spread out the papers in her hand on the big blotter.

She laid the papers out in a row and leant forward, her white arms resting on the desk. From the other side of the desk the boy leant eagerly forward and scanned the line of papers.

At the first glimpse his face fell. The girl, eyeing him closely, marked the change which came over his features.

There were seven papers of various kinds, both printed and written, and they were all on white paper.

The boy shook his head and swept the papers together into a heap.

"It's not there?" queried the girl eagerly.

"No!" said Bruce absent-mindedly, glancing round the desk.

"What isn't?" flashed back the girl.

Bruce Wright felt his face redden with vexation. What sort of a confidential emissary was he to fall into a simple trap like this?

The girl smiled rather wanly.

"Now I know what you meant by saying you had come for the same purpose as myself," she said. "I suppose we both thought we might find something, a letter, perhaps, which would explain why Mr. Parrish did this dreadful thing, something to relieve this awful uncertainty about ... about his motive. Well, I've searched the desk ... and there's nothing! Nothing but just these prospectuses and receipts which were in the letter-tray here. They must have come by the post yesterday morning. And there's nothing of any importance in the drawers ... only household receipts and the wages book and a few odd things like that! You can see for yourself ..."

The lower part of the desk consisted of three drawers flanked on either side by cupboards. Mary Trevert pulled out the drawers and opened the cupboards. Two of the drawers were entirely empty and one of the cupboards contained nothing but a stack of cigar boxes. One drawer held various papers appertaining to the house. There was no sign of any letter written on the slatey-blue paper.

The boy looked very hard at Mary.

"You say there was nothing in the letter-tray but these papers here?" he asked.

"Nothing but these," replied the girl.

"You didn't notice any official-looking letter on bluish paper?" he ventured to ask.

"No," answered the girl. "I found nothing but these."

The boy thought for a moment.

"Do you know," he asked, "whether the police or anybody have been through the desk?"

"I don't know at all," said Mary, smoothing back a lock of hair from her temple; "I daresay Mr. Jeekes had a look round, as he had a meeting with Mr. Parrish's lawyer in town this afternoon!"

She had lost all trace of her fright and was now quite calm and collected.

"Do you know for certain whether Mr. Jeekes was in here?" asked Bruce.

"Oh, yes. The first thing he did on arriving last night was to go to the library."

"I suppose Jeekes is coming back here to-night?"

No, she told him. Mr. Jeekes did not expect to return to Harkings until the inquest on Tuesday.

Bruce Wright picked up his hat.

"I must apologize again, Miss Trevert," he said, "for making such an unconventional entrance and giving you such a fright. But I felt I could not rest until I had investigated matters for myself. I would have presented myself in the ordinary way, but, as I told you, Bude told me the police had locked up the room and taken away the key ..."

Mary Trevert smiled forgivingly.

"So they did," she said. "But Jay--Mr. Parrish's man, you know--had another key. He brought it to me."

She looked at Bruce with a whimsical little smile.

"You must have been very uncomfortable behind those curtains," she said. "I believe you were just as frightened as I was."

She walked round the desk to the window.

"It was a good hiding-place," she remarked, "but not much good as an observation post. Why! you could see nothing of the room. The curtains are much too thick!"

"Not a thing," Bruce agreed rather ruefully. "I thought you were the detective!"

He held out his hand to take his leave with a smile. He was a charming-looking boy with a remarkably serene expression which went well with close-cropped golden hair.

Mary Trevert did not take his hand for an instant. Looking down at the point of her small black suede shoe she said shyly:

"Mr. Wright, you are a friend of Mr. Greve, aren't you?"

"Rather!" was the enthusiastic answer.

"Do you see him often?"

The boy's eyes narrowed suddenly. Was this a cross-examination?

"Oh, yes," he replied, "every now and then!"

Mary Trevert raised her eyes to his.

"Will you do something for me?" she said. "Tell Mr. Greve not to trust Manderton. He will know whom I mean. Tell him to be on his guard against that man. Say he means mischief. Tell him, above all things, to be careful. Make him go away ... go abroad until this thing has blown over ..."

She spoke with intense earnestness, her dark eyes fixed on Bruce Wright's face.

"But promise me you won't say this comes from me! Do you understand? There are reasons, very strong reasons, for this. Will you promise?"

"Of course!"

She took Bruce's outstretched hand.

"I promise," he said.

"You mustn't go without tea," said the girl. "Besides,"--she glanced at a little platinum watch on her wrist,--"there's not another train until six. There is no need for you to start yet. I don't like being left alone. Mother has one of her headaches, and Horace and Dr. Romain have gone to Stevenish. Come up to my sitting-room!"

She led the way out of the library, locking the door behind them, and together they went up to the Chinese boudoir where tea was laid on a low table before a bright fire. In the dainty room with its bright colours they seemed far removed from the tragedy which had darkened Harkings.

They had finished tea when a tap came at the door. Bude appeared. He cast a reproachful look at Bruce.

"Jay would be glad to have a word with you, Miss," he said.

The girl excused herself and left the room. She was absent for about ten minutes. When she returned, she had a little furrow of perplexity between her brows. She walked over to the open fireplace and stood silent for an instant, her foot tapping the hearth-rug.

"Mr. Wright," she said presently, "I'm going to tell you something that Jay has just told me. I want your advice ..."

The boy looked at her interrogatively. But he did not speak.

"I think this is rather important," the girl went on, "but I don't quite understand in what way it is. Jay tells me that Mr. Parrish had on his pistol a sort of steel fitting attached to the end ... you know, the part you shoot out of. Mr. Parrish used to keep his automatic in a drawer in his dressing-room, and Jay has often seen it there with this attachment fitted on. Well, when Mr. Parrish was discovered in the library yesterday, this thing was no longer on the pistol. And Jay says it's not to be found!..."

"That's rather strange!" commented Bruce. "But what was this steel contraption for, do you know? Was it a patent sight or something?"

"Jay doesn't know," answered the girl.

"Would you mind if I spoke to Jay myself?" asked the young man.

In reply the girl touched the bell beside the fireplace. Bude answered the summons and was despatched to find Jay. He appeared in due course, a tall, dark, sleek young man wearing a swallow-tail coat and striped trousers.

"How are you, Jay?" said Bruce affably.

"Very well, thank you, sir," replied the valet.

"Miss Trevert was telling me about this appliance which you say Mr. Parrish had on his automatic. Could you describe it to me?"

"Well, sir," answered the man rather haltingly, "it was a little sort of cup made of steel or gun-metal fitting closely over the barrel ..."

"And you don't know what it was for?"

"No, sir!"

"Was it a sight, do you think?"

"I can't say, I'm sure, sir!"

"You know what a sight looks like, I suppose. Was there a bead on it or anything like it?"

"I can't say, I'm sure, sir. I never gave any particular heed to it. I used to see the automatic lying in the drawer of the wardrobe in Mr. Parrish's room in a wash-leather case. I noticed this steel appliance, sir, because the case wouldn't shut over the pistol with it on and the butt used to stick out."

"When did you last notice Mr. Parrish's automatic?"

"It would be Thursday or Friday, sir. I went to that drawer to get Mr. Parrish an old stock to go riding in as some new ones he had bought were stiff and hurt him."

"And this steel cup was on the pistol then?"

"Oh, yes, sir!"

"And you say it was not on the pistol when Mr. Parrish's body was found?"

"No, sir!"

"Are you sure of this?"

"Yes, sir. I was one of the first in the room, and I saw the pistol in Mr. Parrish's hand, and there was no sign of the cup, sir. So I've had a good look among his things and I can't find it anywhere!"

Bruce Wright pondered a minute.

"Try and think, Jay," he said, "if you can't remember anything more about this steel cup, as you call it. Where did Mr. Parrish buy it?"

"Can't say, I'm sure, sir. He had it before ever I took service with him!"

Jay put his hand to his forehead for an instant.

"Now I come to think of it," he said, "there was the name of the shop or maker on it, stamped on the steel. 'Maxim,' that was the name, now I put my mind back, with a number ..."

"Maxim?" echoed Bruce Wright. "Did you say Maxim?"

"Yes, sir! That was the name!" replied the valet impassively.

"By Jove!" said the boy half to himself. Then he said aloud to Jay:

"Did you tell the police about this?"

Jay looked somewhat uncomfortable.

"No, sir."

"Why not?"

Jay looked at Mary Trevert.

"Well, sir, I thought perhaps I'd better tell Miss Trevert first. Bude thought so, too. That there Manderton has made so much unpleasantness in the house with his prying ways that I said to myself, sir ..."

Bruce Wright looked at Mary.

"Would you mind if I asked Jay not to say anything about this to anybody just for the present?" he asked.

"You hear what Mr. Wright says, Jay," said Mary. "I don't want you to say anything about this matter just yet. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Miss. Will that be all, Miss?"

"Yes, thank you, Jay!"

"Thanks very much, Jay," said the boy. "This may be important. Mum's the word, though!"

"I quite understand, sir," answered the valet and left the room.

Hardly had the door closed on him than the girl turned eagerly to Bruce.

"It is important?" she asked.

"It may be," was the guarded reply.

"Don't leave me in the dark like this," the girl pleaded. "This horrible affair goes on growing and growing, and at every step it seems more bewildering ... more ghastly. Tell me where it is leading, Mr. Wright! I can't stand the suspense much more!"

Her voice broke, and she turned her face away.

"You must be brave, Miss Trevert," said the boy, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Don't ask me to tell you more now. Your friends are working to get at the truth ..."

"The truth!" cried the girl. "God knows where the truth will lead us!"

Bruce Wright hesitated a moment.

"I don't think you have any need to fear the truth!" he said presently.

The girl took her handkerchief from her face and looked at him with brimming eyes.

"You know more than you let me think you did," she said brokenly. "But you are a friend of mine, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Bruce, and added boldly:

"And of his too!"

She did not speak again, but gave him her hand. He clasped it and went out hurriedly to catch his train back to London.