Chapter XXVI. The Figure in the Doorway
 

The rain was coming down in torrents and the night was black as pitch when, leaving the lights of Rotterdam behind, the car swung out on to the main road leading to the Villa Bergendal. Thanks to a powerful headlight, Robin was able to get a good turn of speed out of her as soon as they were clear of the city. As they slowed down at the gate in the side road Herr Schulz tapped him on the shoulder.

"Better leave the car here and put the lights out," he counselled. "And Miss Trevert should stay if the doctor here would remain to look after her ..."

"You think there'll be a scrap?" whispered the doctor.

"With a man like Marbran," returned the Chief, "you never know what may happen ..."

"Zere will be no faight," commented the Dutch police officer in lugubrious accents, "my vriends, ve are too laite ..."

But the Chief insisted that Mary should stay behind and the doctor agreed to act as her escort. Then in single file the party proceeded up the drive, Robin in front, then the Dutchman, after him the Chief, and Mr. Manderton in the rear.

They walked on the grass edging the avenue. On the wet turf their feet made no sound. When they came in view of the house, they saw it was in darkness. No light shone in any window, and the only sound to be heard was the melancholy patter of the rain drops on the laurel bushes. When they saw the porch looking black before them, they left the grass and stepped gently across the drive, the gravel crunching softly beneath their feet. Robin led the way boldly under the porch and laid a hand on the doorknob. The door opened easily and the next moment the four men were in the hall.

As Robin moved to the wall to find the electric light switch, a torch was silently thrust into his hand.

"Better have this, sir," whispered Manderton. "I have my finger on the switch now, but we'd best wait to put the light up until we know where they are. Where do we go first?"

"Into the sitting-room," Robin returned.

Switching the torch on and off only as he required it, he crept silently over the heavy carpet to the door of the room in which that morning he had come upon Mary. Manderton remained at the switch in the hall whilst the other two men followed Robin through the door.

The room was in darkness. It struck chill; for the fire had gone out. The beam of the torch flitting from wall to wall showed the room to be empty.

"I don't believe there's a soul in the house," whispered the Chief to Robin.

"Ve are too laite; I have said it!" muttered the Dutchman.

"There is another room leading out of this," replied Robin, turning the torch on to the blue curtain covering the door leading into the office. "We'll have a look in there and then try upstairs. Manderton will give us warning if anybody comes down ..."

So saying he drew the curtain aside and pushed open the door. Instantly a gush of cold air blew the curtain back in his face. Before he could disentangle himself the door slammed to with a crash that shook the house.

"That's done it!" muttered the Chief.

The three men stood and listened. They heard the dripping of the rain, the soughing of the wind, but no sound of human kind came to their ears.

"The place is empty," whispered the Chief. "They've cleared ..."

"It is too laite; I have said it." The Dutchman spoke in a hoarse bass.

"We'll go in here, anyway," answered Robin, lifting up the curtain again. "They may have heard us and be hiding ..."

He opened the door, steadying it with his foot. The curtain flapped wildly round them as they crossed the threshold. The broad white beam of the electric torch swung from window to desk, from desk to safe.

"The door over there is open," exclaimed the Chief; "that's the way they've gone."

Suddenly he clutched Robin's arm.

"Steady," he whispered, "look there ... in the doorway ... there's somebody moving ... quick, the torch!"

The light flashed across the room, blazed for an instant on a window-pane, then picked out a man's form swaying in the doorway. He had his back to the room and was rocking gently to and fro with the wind which they felt cold on their faces.

"It's only a coat and trousers hanging in the door ..." began Robin.

Then, with a suddenness which pained the eyes, the room was flooded with light. The Dutch detective stepped from the electric light switch and moved to the open door.

"Too laite!" he cried, shaking his head; "have I not tell you?"

Suspended by a strip of coloured stuff, the body of Mr. Jeekes dangled from the cross-beam of the door. The corpse oscillated in the breeze, silhouetted against an oblong of black sky, turning this way and that, loose, unnatural, horrible, and, as the body, twisting gently, faced the room, it gave a glimpse of startling eyes, swollen, empurpled features, protruding tongue.

Without the least trace of emotion the black-bearded detective picked up a rush-bottom chair and gathering up the corpse by its collar hoisted it up without an effort so that the feet rested on the chair. Then, producing a clasp-knife, he mounted the chair and, with a vigorous slash, cut the coloured strip which had been fastened to a staple projecting from the brickwork above the door on the outside of the house.

He caught the body in his arms and laid it face upwards on the matting which covered the floor. He busied himself for an instant at the neck, then rose with a twisted strip of coloured material in his hand.

"His braces," he remarked, "very common. The stool what he has stood upon and knocked avay, she lies outsaide! My vriends, ve are too laite!"

The doctor, fetched in haste by Manderton, examined the body. The man had been dead, he said, for several hours. Mary remained in the hall with Manderton while Robin and the Dutch detective went over the house. There was no trace either of Marbran or of the chauffeur. In the two bedrooms which showed signs of occupation the beds had been made up, but the ward-robes were empty.

"Marbran's made a bolt for it," said Robin, coming into the office where he had left the Chief, "and taken everything with him ..."

"I gathered as much," answered that astute gentleman, pointing at the fireplace. A pile of charred paper filled the grate. "There's nothing here, and I think we can wipe Mr. Victor Marbran off the slate. I doubt if we shall see him again. At any rate we can leave him to the tender mercies of our black-bearded friend here. As for us, I don't really see that there is anything more to detain us here ..."

"But," remarked Robin, looking at the still figure on the floor, the face now mercifully covered by the doctor's white handkerchief, "surely this is a confession of guilt. Has he left nothing behind in writing? No account of the crime?"

"Not a thing," responded the Chief, "and I've been through every drawer. Even the safe is open ... and empty!"

"But how does it happen then," asked Robin, "that Marbran has legged it while Jeekes here ..."

"Marbran left him in the lurch," the Chief broke in decisively. "I think that's clear. While you were upstairs with our Dutch friend, I went through the dead man's pockets. He had no money, Greve, except a few coppers and a little Dutch change. He had not even got a return ticket to London. Which makes me think that Master Jeekes had left old England for good."

"Another thing that puzzles me," remarked Robin, "is how Jeekes knew that Miss Trevert had a letter to you, sir? Or, for a matter of that, how he knew that she had gone to Rotterdam at all?"

"That's not hard to answer," said Mr. Manderton, who had just entered the room. "On Sunday night Jeekes rang up Harkings from his club and asked to speak to Miss Trevert. Bude told him she had gone away. Jeekes then asked to speak to Sir Horace Trevert, who told him that his sister had gone to Rotterdam. Jeekes takes the first available train in the morning, recognizes Miss Trevert on the way across, and tags her to her hotel in Rotterdam. The next morning he follows her again, shadows her to Sir ... to this gentleman's rooms, and there, as we know, contrived by a trick to see to whom she had a letter."

"But why did he not attempt to get the letter away from her as soon as she arrived? Miss Trevert never suspected Jeekes. She might have shown him the letter if he'd asked her for it ..."

The detective shook his head sagely.

"Jeekes was pretty 'cute," he said. "Before letting the girl know he was in Rotterdam, he wanted to find out what she wanted here and whom she knew. Remember, he had no means of knowing if the girl suspected him or not ..."

"So he devised this trick of impersonating Mr. Schulz on the telephone, eh?"

"Bah!" broke in the Chief; "I bet that was Marbran's idea. Look at Jeekes's face and tell me if you see in it any feature indicating the bold, ingenious will to try a bluff like that. I never knew this fellow here. But I know Marbran, a resolute, undaunted type. You can take it from me, Marbran directed--Jeekes merely carried out instructions. What do you say, Manderton?"

But the detective had retired into his shell again.

"If you will come to Harkings with me the day after to-morrow, sir, I shall hope to show you exactly how Mr. Parrish met his death ..."

"No, no, Manderton," responded the Chief; "I can't leave here for a bit. There are bigger murderers than Jeekes at liberty in Holland to-day ..."

The detective slapped his thigh.

"I'd have laid a shade of odds," he cried merrily, "that you were watching the gentleman at Amerongen, sir ..."

"Tut, tut, Manderton," said the Chief, raising his hand to silence the other; "you run on too fast, my friend! I wish," he went on, changing the subject, "I could be with you at Harkings to-morrow to witness your reconstruction of the crime, Manderton. You'll go, I suppose, Greve?"

"I certainly shall," answered the barrister, "I have had some experience of criminals, but I must say I never saw one less endowed with criminal characteristics than little Jeekes. A strange character!..."

The Chief laughed sardonically.

"Anyway," he remarked, "he had a damn good notion of the end that befitted him ..."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a still, starry night. The Flushing boat stood out of harbour on a calm sea. The high arc lamps threw a blue gleam over the deserted moles and glinted in the oily swell lapping the quays. From the fast-receding quayside the rasping of a winch echoed noisily across the silent water. On the upper deck of the mail-boat Robin Greve and Mary Trevert stood side by side at the rail. They had the deck to themselves. Above their heads on the bridge the captain stood immobile, a square black figure, the helmsman at his elbow. Otherwise, between the stars and the sea, the man and the girl were alone.

Thus they had stood ever since the mail-boat had cast off from the quay. Robin had made some banal attempt at conversation, urging (but without much sincerity) that, after her experiences of the day, the girl should go to her cabin and rest. But Mary Trevert had merely shaken her head impatiently, without speaking.

Presently he put his arm through hers. He felt against his wrist the warm softness of her travelling-coat, and it seemed to him that, though the girl made no sign, some slight answering pressure met his touch. So they leaned upon the rail for a space watching the water fall hissing from the vessel's side as the steamer, jarring and quivering, met the long steady roll from the open sea.

Then Mary Trevert spoke.

"Robin," she said gently, "I owe you an apology ..."

Robin Greve looked at her quickly. But Mary had her eyes fixed seaward in contemplation of a distant light that flared and died with persistent regularity.

"My dear," he answered, "I've only myself to blame. When you told me you were going to marry Hartley Parrish, I should have known that you had your reasons and that those reasons were good. I should have held my tongue ..."

This time the girl stole a glance at him. But now he was gazing away to the horizon where the light came and went.

"All this misunderstanding between us," he went on, "came about because of what I said in the billiard-room that afternoon ..."

The girl shook her head resolutely.

"No," she answered, "it was my fault. I'm a proud devil, Robin, and what you said about Hartley and ... and ... other women, Robin, hurt and ... and made me angry. No, no, don't apologize again. You and I are old enough friends, my dear, to tell one another the truth. You made me angry because what you said was true. I was selling myself, selling myself with my eyes open, too, and you've got a perfect right never to speak to me again ..."

She did not finish the sentence but broke off. Her voice died away quaveringly. Robin took her hand in his.

"Dear," he said, "don't cry! It's over and done with now ..."

Mary shook herself with an angry gesture.

"What's the good of telling me not to cry?" she protested tearfully; "I've disgraced myself in my own eyes as well as in yours. If you can't forget what I was ready to do, I never shall ..."

Very gently the young man turned the girl towards him.

"I'm not such a prig as all that," he said. "We all make mistakes. You know I understand the position you were in. Parrish is dead. I shall forget the rest ..."

Slowly the girl withdrew her hands from his grasp.

"Yes," she said wearily, "you will find it easy to forget!"

She drew her fur closer about her neck and turned her back on the sea.

"I must go down," she said. And waited for the man to stand aside. He did not move and their eyes met. Suddenly, like a child, she buried her face in her arm flung out across his chest. She began to sob bitterly.

"That afternoon ... in the billiard-room ..." she sobbed, "you will forget ... that ... too ... I suppose ..."

Robin took her face in his hands, a hot, tear-stained face, and detached it from the sheltering arm.

"My dear," he said, "I shall have to try to forget it. But I know I shan't succeed. To the end of my life I shall remember the kiss you gave me. But we are farther apart than ever now!"

There was a great sadness in his voice. It arrested the girl's attention as he dropped his hands and turned back to the rail.

"Why?" she said in a low voice, without looking up.

"Because," replied the young man steadily, "you're rich now, Mary ..."

The girl looked up quickly.

"Will men ever understand women?" she cried, a new note in her voice. She stepped forward and, putting her two hands on the young man's shoulders, swung him round to face her.

"I'm as poor as ever I was," she said, "for Hartley Parrish's money is not for me ..."

"Mary!" exclaimed the young man joyfully.

"Robin Greve," cried the girl, "do you mean to tell me you'd stand there thinking I'd accept money made like that ..."

But now she was in his arms. With a little fluttering sigh she yielded to his kiss.

"Oh, the man on the bridge!..." she murmured with her woman's instinct for the conventions.

"Come behind the boat, then!" commanded Robin.

And in the shadow of a weather-stained davit he kissed her again.

"So you'll wait for me, after all, Mary?"

"No," retorted the girl firmly. "We'll read the Riot Act to Mother and you must marry me at once!"

The wind blew cold from the North Sea. It rattled in the rigging, flapped the ensign standing out stiffly at the stern, and whirled the black smoke from the steamer's funnels out into a dark aerial wake as far as the eye could reach. With a gentle rhythmic motion the vessel rose and fell, while the stars began to pale and faint grey shadows appeared in the eastern sky. Still the man and the girl stood by the swaying lifeboat and talked the things that lovers say. Step by step they went over their thoughts for one another in each successive phase of the dark tragedy through which they had passed.

"And that van der Spyck letter," asked Robin; "how did you get hold of it? I've been wanting to ask you that ever since this afternoon ..."

"I found it in the library," replied the girl, "on the desk. It had got tucked away between two letter-trays--one fits into the other, you know."

"I wondered how Jeekes had come to miss it," said Robin. "But when was this?" he added.

"On Sunday afternoon."

"But what were you doing in the library?"

The girl became a little embarrassed.

"I knew Mr. Manderton was suspicious of you. I heard him telephoning instructions to London to have you watched. So I thought I'd go to the library to see if I could find anything which would show what they had against you exactly. And I found this letter. Then I noticed some one hiding behind the curtains, and, as I had the letter in my hand, I hid it in my dress. When I discovered that Bruce Wright was after it too, I pretended I had found nothing ..."

"But, darling, why?"

"I wanted to make sure for myself why you had sent Bruce Wright, for I guessed he had come from you, to look for this letter. So I thought I'd go to Rotterdam to investigate ..."

Robin laughed affectionately.

"Surely it would have been simpler to have given the letter to the police ..."

Mary gave him a look of indignant surprise.

"But it might have incriminated you!" she exclaimed.

At that Robin kissed her again.

"Will men ever understand women?" he asked, looking into her tranquil grey eyes.