Chapter XXV. The Reading of the Riddle
 

In uttering those words Herr Schulz seemed suddenly to become loose-limbed and easy. His plethoric rigidity of manner vanished, and, though he spoke with a brisk air of authority, there was a jovial ring in his voice which instantly inspired confidence. With the change the illusion supported by his appalling clothes was broken and he looked like a man dressed up for charades.

"Are you--English?" asked Robin in astonishment.

"Only in this room," was the dry reply, "and don't you or our friend, the doctor, here forget it. You'll both take whisky? Three fingers will do you good, Mr. Greve, for I see you've had a roughish time this morning. Say when!"

He spurted a siphon into three glasses.

"Before we go any farther," he went on, "perhaps I had better identify myself--to save any further misunderstandings, don't you know? Do either of you gentlemen happen to know a party called Dulkinghorn? You may have heard of him, Mr. Greve, for I can see you have been in the army ..."

"Not Ernest Dulkinghorn, of the War Office?" asked Robin.

"The identical party!"

"I never met him," said Robin. "But I was at the War Office for a bit before I was demobilized and I heard fellows speak of him. Counter-espionage, isn't he?"

"That's right," nodded Herr Schulz. "You can read his letter to me introducing Miss Trevert."

He handed a sheet of paper to Robin.

DEAR SCHULZ [it ran], Victor Marbran's push appear to be connected with Hartley Parrish, who has just met his death under suspicious circumstances. You will have read about it in the English papers. Miss Trevert was engaged to H.P. and has a letter from Elias van der Spyck and Company which she found on Parrish's desk after his death. I should say that the Marbran-Parrish connection would repay investigation.

Yours

E. DULKINGHORN

P.S. The letter is, of course, in conventional code.

P.P.S. Don't frighten the life out of the Trevert girl, you unsympathetic brute!

Robin read the letter through to the end.

"Then Mary Trevert has this letter from Rotterdam which we have been hunting for!" he cried. "Have you seen it?"

Herr Schulz shook his head.

"Miss Trevert called here this morning," he said, "when I was out. She gave her letter to Frau Wirth, my housekeeper, with her card and address. Frau Wirth was cleaning the plate on the front door and, a moment after Miss Trevert had gone, a fellow appeared and said he was a friend of Miss Trevert who had made a mistake and left the wrong letter. My housekeeper is well trained and wouldn't give the letter up. But she made the fatal mistake of telling the fellow exactly what he wanted to know, and that was who the letter was addressed to. 'The letter is addressed to Herr Schulz,' said this excellent woman, 'and if there's any mistake he will find it out when he opens it.' And with that she told him to clear out. Which, having got all he wanted, he was glad enough to do!"

"What was this chap like?" asked Robin.

The big man shrugged his shoulders.

"I can teach my servants discretion," he replied whimsically, "but I can't teach 'em to use their eyes. Frau Wirth could remember nothing about this fellow except that he wasn't tall and wore a brown overcoat ..."

"Jeekes!" cried Robin, slapping his thigh. "He must have been actually coming away from your place when I met him ..."

"And who," asked the big man, reflectively contemplating the amber fluid in his glass, "who is Jeekes?"

In reply Robin told him the story of Hartley Parrish's death, his growing certainty that the millionaire had been murdered, the mysterious letters on slatey-blue paper, and Jeekes's endeavor to burke the investigations by throwing on Robin the suspicion of having driven Parrish to suicide by threats. He told of his chance meeting with Jeekes in Rotterdam that morning, his adventure at the Villa Bergendal, his finding and rescue of Mary Trevert, and their escape.

Herr Schulz listened attentively and without interruption until Robin had reached the end of his story.

"There's one thing you haven't explained," he said, "and that's how Miss Trevert came to walk into the hands of these precious ruffians ..."

"There, perhaps, I can help you," said the doctor from behind one of Herr Schulz's rank cigars; "I have it from Miss Trevert herself. Some one impersonating you Mr.--er, ahem,--Schulz--telephoned her this morning, after she had left her letter of introduction here, asking her to come out to lunch at your country-house. She suspected nothing and went off in the car they sent for her ..."

"By George!" said the big man thoughtfully; "I suspected some game of this kind when I heard of the attempt to get at that letter of introduction. If I only could have got hold of Marbran this morning ..."

"Marbran!" said Robin thoughtfully. "When I read Dulkinghorn's letter just now I thought I had heard that name before. Of course--Victor Marbran! That was it! I remember now! He knew Hartley Parrish in the old days. Parrish once said that Marbran would do him an injury if he could. Who is Marbran, sir?"

All unconsciously he paid the tribute of 'sir' to Herr Schulz's undoubted habit of command.

"Victor Marbran," replied the big man, "is Elias van der Spyck & Co., a firm which made millions in the war by trading with the enemy. In every neutral country there were, of course, firms which specialized in importing contraband for the use of the Germans, but van der Spyck & Co. brought the evasion of the blockade to a fine art. They covered up their tracks, however, with such consummate art that we could never bring anything home to them. In fact, it was only after the armistice that we began to learn something of the immense scope of their operations. There was a master brain behind them. But it was never discovered. It strikes me, however, that we are on the right track at last ..."

"By Jove ...!" exclaimed Robin impressively. "Hartley Parrish!..."

The big man raised a hand.

"Attentions!" he interposed suavely. "The chain is not yet complete. I wonder what this van der Spyck letter of Miss Trevert's contained that made Victor Marbran and the secretary chap so desperately anxious to get hold of it. For you understand, don't you?" he said briskly, turning to Robin, "that they were after that and that alone. And they risked penal servitude in this country to get it ..."

Robin nodded.

"To save their necks in another," he said.

"I have the letter here," mildly remarked the doctor from his corner of the room. "Miss Trevert gave it to me!"

He produced a white envelope and drew from it a folded square of slatey-blue paper. In great excitement Robin sprang forward.

"You're a downy bird, Doctor, I must say," he remarked, "fancy keeping it up your sleeve all this time!"

He eagerly took the letter, spread it out on the table, and read it through whilst Herr Schulz looked over his shoulder.

"Code, eh?" commented the big man, shaking his head humorously. "If it beats Dulkinghorn, it beats me!"

From his note-case Robin now drew a folded square of paper identical in colour with the letter spread out before them.

"I found this on the carpet beside Parrish's body," he said. "Look, it's exactly the same paper ..."

Behind the tortoise-shell spectacles the big man's eyes narrowed down to pin-points as he caught sight of the sheet which Robin unfolded and its series of slits.

"Aha!" he cried--and his voice rang out clear through the room--"the grill, eh? Well, well, to think of that!"

He took the slotted sheet of paper from Robin's hands and laid it over the letter so that it exactly covered it, edge to edge and corner to corner. In this way the greater part of the typewriting in the letter was covered over, and only the words appearing in the slots could be read. And thus it was that Robin Greve, Herr Schulz, and Dr. Collingwood, leaning shoulder to shoulder, read the message that came to Hartley Parrish in the library at Harkings....

ELIAS VAN DER SPYCK & CO.

GENERAL IMPORTERS

ROTTERDAM Rotterdam 25th Nov.

Codes
A.B.C.
Liebler's

Personal

Dear Mr. Parrish,

Your favour of even date to hand and contents noted. The last delivery of steel was to time but we have had warning from the railway authorities that labour troubles at the docks are likely to delay future consignments. If you don't mind we should prefer to settle the question of future delivery by Nov. 27 as we have a board meeting on the 30th inst. While we fully appreciate your own difficulties with labour at home, you will understand that this is a question which we cannot afford to adjourn sine die.

Yours faithfully,

pro ELIAS VAN DER SPYCK & CO.

"'The last ... warning,'" Robin read out, "'if you don't ... settle ... by Nov. 27 ... you ... die ...!'"

He looked up. "Last Saturday," he said, "was the 27th, the day that Parrish died ..."

"The grill," remarked the big man authoritatively, "is one of the oldest dodges known to the Secret Service. It renders a conventional code absolutely undecipherable as long as it is skilfully worded, as it is in this case. You send your conventional code by one route, your key by another. I make no doubt that this was the way in which van der Spyck & Co. transacted their business with Hartley Parrish. They simply posted their conventional code letters through the post in the ordinary way, confident that there was nothing in them to catch the eye of the Censor's Department. The key might be sent in half a dozen different ways, by hand, concealed in a newspaper, in a parcel ..."

"So this," said Robin, pointing at the letter, "was what caused Hartley Parrish to make his will. It would lead one to suppose that it was what induced him to commit suicide were not the presumption so strong that he was murdered. But who killed him? Was it Jeekes or Marbran?"

Herr Schulz pitched his cigar-stump into an ash-tray.

"That," he said, "is the question which I am going to ask you gentlemen to help me answer. You will realize that legally we have not a leg to stand on. We are in a foreign country where, without first getting a warrant from London, we can take no steps whatever to run these fellows in. To get the Dutch police to move against these gentry in the matter of the assault upon Miss Trevert would waste valuable time. And we have to move quickly--before these two lads can get away. I therefore propose that we start this instant for the Villa Bergendal and try, if we are not too late, to force Marbran or Jeekes or both of them to a confession. That done, we can hold them if possible until we can get the Dutch police to apprehend them at the instance of Miss Trevert. Then we can communicate with the English police. It's all quite illegal, of course! You have a car, I think, Mr. Greve! You will come with us, Dr. Collingwood? Good! Then let us start at once!"

Robin intervened with a proposal that they should call en route at his hotel to see if there were any telegrams for him.

"Manderton knows I am in Rotterdam," he explained, "and he promised to wire me the latest developments in the enquiry he is conducting."

"Miss Trevert should be fully recovered by this," put in the doctor; "apart from a little sickness she is really none the worse for her disagreeable experience. If there was anything you wanted to ask her ..."

"There is," said Robin promptly. "Her reply to one question," he explained, turning to Herr Schulz, "will give us the certainty that Parrish was murdered and did not commit suicide. It will not delay us more than five minutes to stop at her hotel in passing, We will then call in at my place. We should be at the Villa within half an hour from now ..."

"Gentlemen," said Herr Schulz as they prepared to go, "I know my Mr. Victor Marbran. You should all be armed."

Robin produced the pistol he had taken from Jeekes. Herr Schulz slipped a Browning pistol into the breast-pocket of his jacket and, producing a long-barrelled service revolver, gave it to the doctor.

"There are three of them, I gather, counting the chauffeur," commented the big man, pulling on his overcoat, "so we shall be equally matched."

Darkness had fallen upon Rotterdam and the lights from the houses made yellow streaks in the water of the canal as the car, piloted by Robin, drove the party to Mary Trevert's hotel.

They found the girl, pale and anxious, in the lounge.

"Well, now," cried the doctor breezily, "and how are you feeling? Did you take my advice and have some tea?"

"What has happened?" asked the girl; "I have been so anxious about you ..."

Her words were addressed to the doctor, but she looked at Robin.

"Mary," said Robin, "we are very near the truth now. But there is one thing you can tell us. It is very important. When you heard the shot in the library at Harkings, did you notice any other sound--before or after?"

The girl paused to think.

"There was a sort of sharp cry and a thud ..."

"I know. But was there anything else? Do try and remember. It's so important!"

The girl was silent for a moment. Then she said slowly:

"Yes, there was, now I come to think of it. Just as I tried the door--it was locked, you know--there was a sort of hiss, harsh and rather loud, from the room ..."

"A sort of hiss, eh? Something like a sneeze?"

"Yes. Only louder and ... and ... harsher!"

"Now, answer me carefully! Was this before or after the shot?"

"Oh, before! Just as I was rattling the doorhandle. The shot broke in upon it...."

Robin turned to Herr Schulz, who stood with a grave face by his side.

"The silencer, you see, sir!" he said. Then to Mary he added: "Mary, we are going off now. But we will be back within the hour and...."

"Oh, Robin," the girl broke in, "don't leave me alone! I don't feel safe in this place after this morning. I'd much rather come with you...."

"Mary, it's quite impossible...." Robin began.

But the girl had turned to a table and taken from it her hat and fur.

"I don't care!" she exclaimed wilfully; "I'm coming anyhow. I refuse to be left behind!"

She smiled at Herr Schulz as she spoke, and that gentleman's rather grim face relaxed as he looked at her.

"I'm not sure I wouldn't say the same!" he remarked.

The upshot of it was that, despite Robin's objections, Mary Trevert accompanied the party. She sat on the back seat, rather flushed and excited, between Herr Schulz and the doctor, while Robin took the wheel again. A few minutes' drive took them to the big hotel where Robin had booked a room. They all waited in the car whilst he went to the office.

He was back in a minute, an open telegram in his hand.

"I believe I've got in my pocket," he cried, "the actual weapon with which Hartley Parrish was killed!"

And he read from the telegram:

"Mastertons gunsmiths sold last July pair of Browning automatics identical with that found on Parrish to Jeekes who paid with Parrish's cheque."

The message was signed "Manderton."

At that moment a man wearing a black bowler hat and a heavy frieze overcoat came hurrying out of the hotel.

"Mr. Greve!" he cried as Robin, who was back in the driving-seat, was releasing the brake. "Did you have the wire from the Yard saying I was coming?" he asked. "Probably I beat the telegraph, though. I came by air!"

Then he tipped his hat respectfully at Herr Schulz.

"This is Detective-Inspector Manderton, of Scotland Yard, sir," said Robin.

The big man beamed a smile of friendly recognition.

"Mr. Manderton and I are old friends," he said. "How are you, Manderton? I didn't expect you to recognize me in these duds ..."

"I'd know you anywhere, sir," said the detective with unwonted cordiality.

"Have you got your warrant, Manderton?" asked Herr Schulz.

"Aye, I have, sir," replied the detective. "And I've a colleague from the Dutch police who's going along with me to effect the arrest ..."

"Jeekes, eh?"

"That's the party, sir, charged with wilful murder.... This is Commissary Boomjes, of the Rotterdam Criminal Investigation Department!"

A tall man with a short black beard had approached the car. It was decided that the whole party should proceed to the Villa Bergendal immediately. Manderton sat next to Robin and the Dutch police officer perched himself on the footboard.

"And where did you pick him up, I'd like to know?" whispered Manderton in Robin's ear with a backward jerk of the head, as they glided through the brightly lit streets.

"D'you mean the doctor?" asked Robin.

"No, your other friend!"

"Miss Trevert had a letter to him. Something in the Secret Service, isn't he?"

Mr. Manderton snorted.

"'Something in the Secret Service,'" he repeated disdainfully. "Well, I should say he was. If you want to know, Mr. Greve, he's the head!"