Chapter XIX. Mr. Manderton Lays His Cards on the Table
 

The detective's manner had undergone some subtle change which Robin, watching him closely as he came into the room, was quick to note. Mr. Manderton made an effort to retain his old air of rather patronizing swagger; but he seemed less sure of himself than was his wont. In fact, he appeared to be a little anxious.

He walked briskly into the sitting-room and looked quickly from Bruce to Robin.

"Mr. Greve," he said, "you can help me if you will by answering a few questions ..."

With another glance at Bruce Wright he added:

"... in private."

Bruce, obedient to a sign from Robin, said he would ring up in the morning and prepared to take his leave. Robin turned to the detective.

"There are some of your men, I believe," he said coldly, "watching this house. Would it be asking too much to request that my friend here might be permitted to return home unescorted?"

"He needn't worry," replied Manderton with a significant smile. "There's no one outside now!..."

They watched Bruce Wright pass into the hall and collect his hat and coat. As the front door slammed behind him, the detective added:

"I took 'em off myself soon after seven o'clock!"

"Why?" asked Robin bluntly.

Mr. Manderton dropped his heavy form into a chair.

"I'm a plain man, Mr. Greve," he said, "and I'm not above owning to it, I hope, when I'm wrong. For some little time now it has struck me that our lines of investigation run parallel ..."

"Instead of crossing!"

"Instead of crossing--exactly!"

"It's a pity you did not grasp that very obvious fact earlier," observed Robin pointedly.

Mr. Manderton crossed one leg over the other and, his finger-tips pressed together, looked at Robin.

"Will you help me?" he asked simply.

"Do you want my help?"

Mr. Manderton nodded.

"Allies, then?"

"Allies it is!"

Robin pointed to the table.

"It's dry work talking," he said. "Won't you take a drink?"

"Thanks, I don't drink. But I'll have a cigar if I may. Thank you!"

The detective helped himself to a cheroot from a box on the table and lit up. Then, affecting to scan the end of his cigar with great attention, he asked abruptly:

"What do you know of the woman calling herself Madame de Malpas?"

Robin pursed up his lips rather disdainfully.

"One of the late Mr. Parrish's lady friends," he replied. "I expect you know that!"

"Do you know where she lives?" pursued the detective, ignoring the implied question.

"She's dead."

A flicker of interest appeared for an instant in Mr. Manderton's keen eyes.

"You're sure of that?"

"Certainly," answered Robin.

"Who told you?"

"Le Hagen--the solicitor, you know. He acted for this Malpas woman on one or two occasions."

"When did she die?"

"Six or seven months ago ..."

"Did Jeekes know about it?"

"Jeekes? Do you mean Parrish's secretary?

"It's funny your asking that. As a matter of fact, it was through Jeekes that I heard the lady was dead. I was in Le Hagen's office one day when Jeekes came in, and Le Hagen told me Jeekes had come to pay in a cheque for the cost of the funeral and the transport of the body to France."

"This was six or seven months ago, you say? I take it, then, that any allowance that Parrish was in the habit of making to this woman has ceased?"

"I tell you the lady is dead!"

"Then what would you say if I informed you that Mr. Jeekes had declared that these payments were still going on ..."

Robin shrugged his shoulders.

"I should say he was lying ..."

"I agree. But why?"

"Whom did he tell this to?"

"Miss Trevert!"

"Miss Trevert?"

Robin repeated the name in amazement.

"I don't understand," he said. "Why on earth should Jeekes blacken his employer's character to Miss Trevert? What conceivable motive could he have had? Did she tell you this?"

"No," said Manderton; "I heard him tell her myself."

"Do you mean to tell me," protested Robin, growing more and more puzzled, "that Jeekes told Miss Trevert this offensive and deliberate lie in your presence!"

"Well," remarked Mr. Manderton slowly, "I don't know about his saying this in my presence exactly. But I heard him tell her for all that. Walls have ears, you know--particularly if the door is ajar!"

He looked shrewdly at Robin, then dropped his eyes to the floor.

"He also told her that Le Hagen and you were in business relations ..."

Robin sat up at this.

"Ah!" he said shortly. "I see what you're getting at now. Our friend has been trying to set Miss Trevert against me, eh? But why? I don't even know this man Jeekes except to have nodded 'Good-morning' to him a few times. Why on earth should he of all men go out of his way to slander me to Miss Trevert, to throw suspicion ..."

He broke off short and looked at the detective.

Mr. Manderton caressed his big black moustache.

"Yes," he repeated suavely, "you were saying 'to cast suspicion' ..."

The eyes of the two men met. Then the detective leaned back in his chair and, blowing a cloud of smoke from his lips, said:

"Mr. Greve, you've been thinking ahead of me on this case. What you've told me so far I've checked. And you're right. Dead right. And since you're, in a manner of speaking, one of the parties interested in getting things cleared up, I'd like you to tell me just simply what idea you've formed about it ..."

"Gladly," answered the barrister. "And to start with let me tell you that the case stinks of blackmail ..."

"Steady on," interposed the detective. "I thought so, too, at first. I've been into all that. Mr. Parrish made a clean break with the last of his lady friends about two months since; and, as far as our investigations go, there has been no blackmail in connection with any of his women pals. Vine Street knows all about Master Parrish. There were complaints about some of his little parties up in town. But I don't believe there's a woman in this case ..."

"I didn't say there was," retorted Robin. "The blackmail is probably being levied from Holland. A threat of violence was finally carried into effect on Saturday evening between 5 and 5.15 P.M. by some one conversant with the lie of the land at Harkings. This individual, armed with an automatic Browning of the same calibre as Mr. Parrish's, shot at Parrish through the open window of the library and killed him--probably in self-defence, after Parrish had had a shot at him ..."

"Steady there, whoa!" said Mr. Manderton in a jocular way clearly expressive of his incredulity; "there was only one shot ..."

"There were two," was Robin's dispassionate reply. "Though maybe only one was heard. Parrish had a Maxim silencer on his gun ..."

Mr. Manderton was now thoroughly alert.

"How did you find that out?" he asked.

"Jay, Parrish's man, came forward and volunteered this evidence ..."

"He said nothing about it when I questioned him," grumbled the detective.

Robin laughed.

"You're a terror to the confirmed criminal, they tell me, Manderton," he said, "but you obviously don't understand that complicated mechanism known as the domestic servant. No servant at Harkings will voluntarily tell you anything ..."

Mr. Manderton, who had stood up, shook his big frame impatiently.

"Explain the rest of your theories," he said harshly. "What's all this about blackmail being levied from Holland?"

Then Robin Greve told him of the letters written on the slatey-blue paper and of their effect upon Parrish, and of the letter headed, "Elias van der Spyck & Co., General Importers, Rotterdam," which had lain on the desk in the library when Parrish's dead body had been found.

Manderton nodded gloomily.

"It was there right enough," he remarked. "I saw it. A letter about steel shipments and the dockers' strike, wasn't it? As there seemed nothing to it, I left it with the other papers for Jeekes, the secretary chap. But what evidence is there that this was blackmail?"

"This," said Robin, and showed the detective the sheet of blue paper with its series of slits. "Manderton," he said, "these letters written on this blue paper were in code, I feel sure. Why should not this be the key? You see it bears a date--'Nov. 25.' May it not refer to that letter? I found it by Parrish's body on the carpet in the library. I would have given it to you at Harkings, but I shoved it in my pocket and forgot all about it until I was in the train coming up to town this morning."

Mr. Manderton took the sheet of paper, turned it over, and held it up to the light. Then, without comment, he put it away in the pocket of his jacket.

"If Parrish killed himself," Robin went on earnestly, "that letter drove him to it. If, on the other hand, he was murdered, may not that letter have contained a warning?"

"I should prefer to suspend judgment until we've seen the letter, Mr. Greve," said the detective bluntly. "We must get it from Jeekes. In the meantime, what makes you think that the murderer (to follow up your theory) was conversant with the lay of the land at Harkings?"

"Because," answered Robin, "the murderer left no tracks on the grass or flower-beds. He stuck to the hard gravel path throughout. That path, which runs from the drive through the rosery to the gravel path round the house just under the library window, is precious hard to find in the dark, especially where it leaves the drive, as at the outset it is a mere thread between the rhododendron bushes. And, as I know from experience, unless you are acquainted with the turns in the path, it is very easy to get off it in the dark, especially in the rosery, and go blundering on to the flower-beds. And I'll tell you something else about the murderer. He--or she--was of small stature--not much above five foot six in height. The upward diagonal course of the bullet through Parrish's heart shows that ..."

Mr. Manderton shook his head dubiously.

"Very ingenious," he commented. "But you go rather fast, Mr. Greve. We must test your theory link by link. There may be an explanation for Jeekes's apparently inexplicable lie to the young lady. Let's see him and hear what he says. The grounds at Harkings must be searched for this second bullet, if second bullet there is, the mark on the tree examined by an expert. And since two bullets argue two pistols in this case, let us see what result we get from our enquiries as to where Mr. Parrish bought his pistol. He may have had two pistols ..."

"If Parrish used a silencer," remarked Robin, quite undisconcerted by the other's lack of enthusiasm, "and my theory that two shots were fired is correct, there must have been two reports, a loud one and a muffled one. Miss Trevert heard one report, as we know. Did she hear a second?"

"She said nothing about it," remarked the detective.

"She was probably asked nothing about it. But we can get this point cleared up at once. There's the telephone. Ring up Harkings and ask her now."

"Why not?" said Mr. Manderton and moved to the telephone.

There is little delay on the long-distance lines on a Sunday evening, and the call to Harkins came through almost at once. Bude answered the telephone at Harkings. Manderton asked for Miss Trevert. The butler replied that Miss Trevert was no longer at Harkings. She had gone to the Continent for a few days.

This plain statement, retailed in the fortissimo voice which Bude reserved for use on the telephone, produced a remarkable effect on the detective. He grew red in the face.

"What's that?" he cried assertively. "Gone to the Continent? I should have been told about this. Why wasn't I informed? What part of the Continent has she gone to?"

Mr. Manderton's questions, rapped out with a rasping vigour that recalled a machine-gun firing, brought Robin to his feet in an instant. He crossed over to the desk on which the telephone stood.

Manderton placed one big palm over the transmitter and turned to Robin.

"She's gone to the Continent and left no address," he said quickly.

"Ask him if Lady Margaret is there," suggested Robin.

Mr. Manderton spoke into the telephone again. Lady Margaret had gone to bed, Bude answered, and her ladyship was much put out by Miss Trevert gallivanting off like that by herself with only a scribbled note left to say that she had gone.

Had Bude got the note?

No, Mr. Manderton, sir, he had not. But Lady Margaret had shown it to him. It had simply stated that Miss Trevert had gone off to the Continent and would be back in a few days.

Again the detective turned to Robin at his elbow.

"These country bumpkins!" he said savagely. "I must go to the Yard and get Humphries on the 'phone. He may have telegraphed me about it. You stay here and I'll ring you later if there's any news. What do you make of it, Mr. Greve?"

"It beats me," was Robin's rueful comment. "And what about the inquest? It's for Tuesday, isn't it? Miss Trevert will have to give evidence, I take it?..."

"Oh," said Mr. Manderton, picking up his hat and speaking in an offhand way, "I'm getting that adjourned for a week!"

"The inquest adjourned! Why?"

There was a twinkle in the detective's eye as he replied.

"I thought, maybe, I might get further evidence ..."

Robin caught the expression and smiled.

"And when did you come to this decision, may I ask?"

"After our little experiment in the garden this morning," was the detective's prompt reply.

Robin looked at him fixedly.

"But, see here," he said, "apparently it was to the deductions you formed from the result of that experiment that I owe the attentions of your colleagues who have been hanging round the house all day. And yet you now come to me and invite my assistance. Mr. Manderton, I don't get it at all!"

"Mr. Greve," replied the detective, "Miss Trevert tried to shield you. That made me suspicious. You tried to force my investigations into an entirely new path. That deepened my suspicions. I believed it to be my duty to ascertain your movements after leaving Harkings. But then I heard Jeekes make an apparently gratuitously false statement to Miss Trevert with an implication against you. That, to some extent, cleared you in my eyes. I say 'to some extent' because I will not deny that I thought I might be taking a risk in coming to you like this. You see I am frank!..."

The smile had left Greve's face and he looked rather grim.

"You're pretty deep, aren't you?" was his brief comment.