Chapter XXVIII. The Death of Hartley Parrish
 

"For Miss Trevert."

Thus, in Jeekes's round and flowing commercial hand, the document began:

Last Statement of Albert Edward Jeekes, made at Rotterdam, this twenty-first Day of January, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and...

Mr. Bardy, the solicitor, to whom, by common consent, the reading of the confession had been entrusted, raised his eyebrows, thereby letting his eyeglass fall, and looked round at the company.

"Pon my soul," he remarked, "for a man about to take his own life, our friend seems to have been the coolest customer imaginable. Look at it! Written in a firm hand and almost without an erasure. Very remarkable! Very remarkable, indeed!..."

"Hm!" grunted Mr. Manderton, "not so uncommon as you suppose, Mr. Bardy, sir. Hendriks, the Palmers Green poisoner, typed out his confession on cream inlaid paper before dosing himself. But let's hear what the gentleman has to tell us...."

This was the last digression. Thenceforth Mr. Bardy read out the confession to the end without interruption.

For Miss Trevert:

Madam,

I slew, but I am not a murderer: I Killed, but without deliberation.

Victor Marbran has gone and left me to meet a shameful death. But I cannot face the scaffold. As men go, I do not believe I am a coward and I am not afraid to die. But the inexorable deliberation of justice appals me. When I have written what I have to write, I shall be hangman to myself. My pistol they have taken away.

Victor Marbran has abandoned me. He had prepared everything for his flight. Even if the law can indict him as the virtual murderer of Hartley Parrish, the law will never lay hands on him. Victor Marbran neglects no detail. He will never be caught. But from the Great Unknown for which I shall presently set out, I shall stretch forth my hand and see that, here or there, he does not escape the punishment he merits for bringing down shame and disgrace upon me.

Just now he bade me stay in the office and finish burning the papers in his desk. He promised he would take me with him to a secure hiding-place which he had made ready for some such emergency as this. I believed him and, unsuspecting, stayed. And now he has slipped away. He is gone and the house is empty. I cannot follow him even did I know where he has gone. I have only a very little money left and I am tired. Very tired. I feel I cannot support the hue-and-cry they will raise. Everything is still about me. The quiet of the country is very soothing. To die like this, with darkness falling and no sound but the rustling rain, is the better way ...

Hartley Parrish was the man behind the great syndicate which systematically ran the British blockade of Germany in the war. He financed Marbran and the international riff-raff of profiteers with whom Marbran worked. Parrish supplied the funds, often the goods as well,--at any rate, until they tightened up the blockade,--while Marbran and the rest of the bunch in neutral countries did the trading with the enemy.

Parrish was a deep one. I say nothing against him. He was a kind employer to me and I played him false, for which I have been bitterly punished. To have swindled Victor Marbran--I count it as nothing against him, for that heartless, cruel man is deserving of no pity ...

Parrish was the heart and soul, brains and muscle of the syndicate. He lurked far in the background. Any and every trail which might possibly lead back to him was carefully effaced. He was secure as long as Marbran and one or two other big men in the business kept faith with him. Now and then, when the British Intelligence were too hot on the trail, Parrish and Marbran would give away one of the small fry belonging to the organization and thus stave off suspicion. They could do this in complete safety, for so perfect was their organization that the small fry only knew the small fry in the shallows and never the big fish in the deep ...

But Hartley Parrish was in Marbran's hands. They stood or fell together. Parrish knew this. But he was a born gambler and insanely self-confident. He took a chance with Marbran. It cost him his life.

All payments were made to Parrish. He was treasurer and banker of the syndicate. Money came in by all sorts of devious routes, sometimes from as far afield as South or Central America. Parrish distributed the profits. Everything was in his hands.

By the time the armistice came, the game had got too hot. All the big fish except Marbran had cleared out with their pile. But Marbran, like Parrish, was a gambler. He stuck it out and stayed on.

Parrish played fair until the war was over. The armistice, of course, put an end to the business. But some months after the armistice a sum of 150,000 was paid to Parrish through a Spanish bank in settlement, Marbran told me, for petrol indirectly delivered to the German Admiralty. Parrish pouched the lot. Not a penny did Marbran get.

Parrish and Marbran were old friends. They were young men together on the Rand gold-fields in the early days. In fact, I believe they went out to South Africa together as penniless London lads. But Marbran hated Parrish, though Parrish had, I believe, been his benefactor in many ways. Marbran was fiercely envious of the other because he realized that, starting with an equal chance, Parrish had left him far behind. Everything that Parrish touched prospered, while Marbran was in perpetual financial straits. He was Parrish's equal in courage, but not in judgment.

Parrish calculated that Marbran would not dare to denounce him. He had always taken the lead in their schemes and he affected to disregard Marbran altogether. So he left the latter's letters unanswered and laughed at his threats. He was quite sure that Marbran would never risk losing his pile by giving Parrish away, for they were, of course, both British subjects and both in it together ...

Marbran always distrusted Parrish, and long before the breach came, he picked on me to act the spy on my employer. I, too, was born a gambler, but, like Marbran, I lacked the lucky touch which made Parrish a millionaire. Speculation proved my ruin. I have often thanked my God on my bended knees--as I shall do again to-night before I pass over--that my insane folly has ruined no one but myself ...

Already, when Hartley Parrish engaged me, I was up to the neck in speculation. Up to that time, however, I had managed to keep my head above water, but the large salary on which Parrish started me dazzled me. I tried a flutter in oil on a much larger scale than anything I had hitherto attempted, with the result that one day I found myself with a debt of nine hundred pounds to meet and no assets to meet it with. And I was two hundred pounds in debt to Hartley Parrish's petty cash account, which I kept.

It was Victor Marbran who came to my rescue. Parrish had sent me over to Rotterdam to fetch some papers from Marbran. At this time I knew nothing of Parrish's blockade-running business. Parrish never took me into his confidence about it and the whole of the correspondence went direct to him through a number of secret channels with which I only gradually became acquainted behind his back.

I had met Marbran several times in London and also at Rotterdam. It had struck me that he had formed a liking for me. On this particular visit to Rotterdam Marbran took me out to dinner and encouraged me to speak about myself. He was very sympathetic, and this, coupled with the wine I had taken, led me to open my heart to him. Without giving myself away, I let him understand that I was in considerable financial difficulties, which I set down to the high cost of living as the result of the war.

Without a word of warning Marbran pulled out his cheque-book.

"How much do you want," he asked, "to put you straight?"

Nine hundred pounds, I told him.

He wrote the cheque at once there at the table. He would advance me the money, he said, and put me down for shares in a business in which he was interested. It was a safe thing and profits were very high. I could repay him at my leisure.

In this way I became a shareholder in Parrish's blockade-running syndicate. The return I was to make was to spy on my employer and to report to Marbran the letters which Parrish received and the names of the people whom he interviewed.

Of course, Marbran did not propose this plan at once. When I took leave of him that night, I remember, I all but broke down at the thought of his unsolicited generosity. I have had a hard life, Miss Trevert, and his seeming kindness broke me all up. But I might have known.

I cashed Marbran's cheque and put back the two hundred pounds I had taken from the petty cash account. But I went on speculating. You see, I did not believe Marbran's story about the shares he said he would put me down for. I thought it was a charitable tale to spare my feelings. So I plunged once more in the confident hope of recovering enough to repay my debt to Marbran.

A month later Marbran sent me a cheque for one hundred pounds. He said it was the balance of fifteen hundred pounds due to me as profits on my shares less the nine hundred pounds I owed him and five hundred pounds for my shares. But my speculations had by this time gone wrong again, and I was heartily glad presently to receive a further cheque for two hundred pounds from Marbran. From that time on I got from Marbran sums varying between one hundred and fifty pounds and five hundred pounds a month.

When Marbran made me his shameful offer, I rejected it with indignation. But I was fast in the trap. Marbran explained to me in great detail and with the utmost candour the working of the Parrish syndicate. He let me know very plainly that I was as deeply implicated as Parrish and he. I was a shareholder; I had received and was receiving my share of the profits. In my distress and shame I threatened to expose the pair of them. Had I known the source of his money, I told him, I should never have accepted it. At that Marbran laughed contemptuously.

"You tell that yarn to the police," he sneered, "and hear what they say!"

And then I realized that I was in the net.

I make no excuses for myself. I shall make none to the Great Judge before whom in a little while I shall appear. I had not the moral force to resist Marbran. I did his bidding: I continued to take his money and I held my peace.

And then came the breach between Parrish and Marbran. I was the cause of it. But for me, his trusty spy, Marbran would have known nothing of this payment of 150,000 which Parrish received from Spain, and this tragedy would not have happened. God forgive me ...

Marbran appealed to Parrish in vain. What he wrote I never knew, for, shortly after, Parrish quietly and without any explanation took the confidential work out of my hands. I believe he suspected then who Marbran's spy was. But he said nothing to me of his suspicions at that time ...

Finally, Marbran came to London. It was on Tuesday of last week. I had been up in Sheffield on business, and on my return I found Marbran waiting for me at my rooms.

He was like a man possessed. Never before have I witnessed such an outburst of ungovernable rage. Parrish, it appears, had declined to see him. He swore that Parrish should not get the better of him if he had to kill him first. I can see Marbran now as he sat on my bed, his livid face distorted with fury.

"I'll give him a last chance," he cried, "and then, by God, let our smart Alec look out!"

This sort of talk frightened me. I knew Marbran meant mischief. He was a bad man to cross. I was desperately afraid he would waylay Parrish and bring down disaster on the three of us. I did my utmost to put the idea of violence out of his mind. I begged him to content himself with trying to frighten Parrish into paying up before trying other means.

My suggestion seemed to awaken some old memory in Marbran's mind.

"By Gad, Jeekes," he said, after a moment's thought, "you've given me an idea. Parrish has a yellow streak. He's scared of a gun. I saw it once, years ago, in a roughhouse we got into at Krugersdorp on the Rand. Damn it, I know how to bring the yellow dog to heel, and I'll tell you how we'll do it ..."

He then unfolded his plan. He would send Parrish a last demand for a settlement, threatening him with death if he did not pay up. The warning would reach Parrish on the following Saturday. Marbran would contrive that he should receive it by the first post. As soon as possible thereafter I was to go to Parrish boldly and demand his answer.

"And you'll take a gun," Marbran said, peering at me with his cunning little eyes, "and you'll show it. And if at the sight of it you don't get the brass, then I don't know my old pal, Mister Hartley Parrish, Esquire!"

The proposal appalled me. I knew nothing of Hartley Parrish's "yellow streak." I knew him only as a hard and resolute man, swift in decision and ruthless in action. Whatever happened, I argued, Parrish would discharge me and there was every prospect of his handing me over to the police as well.

Marbran was deaf to my reasoning. I had nothing to fear, he protested. Parrish would collapse at the first sign of force. And as for my losing my job, Marbran would find me another and a better one in his office at Rotterdam.

Still I held out. The chance of losing my position, even of being sent to gaol, daunted me less, I think, than the admission to Parrish of the blackly ungrateful role I had played towards him. In the end I told Marbran to do his dirty work himself.

But I spoke without conviction. I realized that Marbran held me in a cleft stick and that he realized it, too. He wasted no further time in argument. I knew what I had to do, he said, and I would do it. Otherwise ...

He left me in an agony of mental stress. At that time, I swear to Heaven, Miss Trevert, I was determined to let Marbran do his worst rather than lend myself to this odious blackmailing trick, my own suggestion, as I bitterly remembered. But for the rest of the week his parting threat rang in my ears. Unless he heard by the following Sunday that I had confronted Parrish and called his bluff, as he put it, the British police should have word, not only of Parrish's activities in trading with the enemy, but of mine as well.

It was no idle threat. Parrish and Marbran had put men away before. I could give you the names ...

It is quite dark now. It must be an hour since Greve took you away. Soon he will be back with the police to arrest me and I must have finished by then, finished with the story, finished with life ...

Last week I worked at Parrish's city office. I told you how he kept me off his confidential work. On Saturday morning I went round to the house in St. James's Square to see whether Marbran had really sent his warning. Archer, my colleague, who was acting as confidential secretary in my stead, was there. Parrish was at Harkings, he told me. Archer was going down by car that morning with his mail. It included two "blue letters" which Archer would, according to orders, hand to Parrish unopened.

These "blue letters," as we secretaries used to call them, written on a striking bluish paper, were the means by which all communications passed between Parrish and Marbran on the syndicate's business. They were drafted in conventional code and came to Parrish from all parts of Europe and in all kinds of ways. No one saw them except himself. By his strict injunctions, they were to be opened only by himself in person.

When Archer told me that two "blue letters" had come, I knew that Marbran had kept his word. Though my mind was not made up, instinct told me I was going to play my part ...

I could not face the shame of exposure. I was brought up in a decent English home. To stand in the dock charged with prolonging the sufferings of our soldiers and sailors in order to make money was a prospect I could not even contemplate.

I thought it all out that Saturday morning as I stood at the dressing-table in my bedroom by the open drawer in which my automatic pistol lay. It was one given me by Parrish some years before at a time when he thought we might be going on a trip to Rumania ...

I slipped the pistol into my pocket. I felt like a man in a dream. I believe I went down to Harkings by train, but I have no clear recollection of the journey. I seemed to come to my senses only when I found myself standing on the high bank of the rosery at Harkings, looking down upon the library window.

Outside in the gardens it was nearly dark, but from the window fell a stream of subdued light. The curtains had not been drawn and the window was open at the bottom. Parrish sat at the desk. Only the desk-lamp was lit, so that his face was in shadow, but his two hands, stretched out on the blotter in front of him, lay in a pool of light, and I caught the gleam of his gold signet ring.

He was not writing or working. He seemed to be thinking. I watched him in a fascinated sort of way. I had never seen him sit thus idly at his desk before ...

My brain worked quite lucidly now. As I looked at him, I suddenly realised that I had a golden opportunity for speaking to him unobserved. The gardens were absolutely deserted: the library wing was very still. If he were a man to be frightened into submission, my sudden appearance, following upon the receipt of the threatening letter, would be likely to help in achieving this result.

I walked softly down the steps to the window. I stood close up to the sill.

"Mr. Parrish," I said, "Victor Marbran has sent me for his answer."

In a flash he was on his feet.

"Who's there?" he cried out in alarm.

His voice shook, and I could see his hand tremble in the lamplight as he clutched at the desk. Then I knew that he was badly frightened, and the discovery gave me courage.

"Are you going to settle with Marbran or are you not?" I said.

At that he peered forward. All of a sudden his manner changed.

"What in hell does this mean, Jeekes?"

His voice quavered no longer. It was hard and menacing.

But I had burnt my boats behind me now.

"It means," I answered boldly, "that you've got to pay up. And you've got to pay up now!"

In a couple of quick strides he was round the desk and coming at me as I stood with my chest pressing against the window-sill. His hands were thrust in his jacket pockets. His face was red with anger.

"You dawggorn dirty little rathole spy,"--he spat the words at me in a low, threatening voice,--"I guessed that lowdown skunk Marbran had been getting at some of my people!"

His voice rose in a sudden gust of passion.

"You rotten little worm! You'd try and bounce me, would you? You've come to the wrong shop for that, Mr. Spying Jeekes ..."

His manner was incredibly insulting. So was the utter contempt with which he looked at me. This man, who had trembled with fear at the unknown, recovered his self-control on finding that the menace came from the menial, the hireling, he despised. I felt the blood rush in a hot flood to my head. I lost all self-control. I screamed aloud at him.

"There's no bounce about it this time! If you don't pay up, you know what to expect!"

I had been holding my pistol out of his sight below the window-ledge, but on this I swung it up and levelled it at him.

He sprang back a pace, the colour fading on the instant from his face, his mouth twisted awry in a horrid paroxysm of fear. Even in that subdued light I could see that his cheeks were as white as paper.

But then in a flash his right hand went up. I saw the pistol he held, but before I could make a movement there was a loud, raucous hiss of air and a bullet whistled past my ear into the darkness of the gardens. How he missed me at that range I don't know, but, seeing me standing there, he came at me again with the pistol in his hand ...

And then you, Miss Trevert, cried out, "Hartley," and rattled the handle of the door. Your cry merged in a deafening report. Parrish, who was quite close to me, and advancing, stopped short with a little startled exclamation, his eyes reproachful, full of surprise. He stood there and swayed, looking at me all the time, then crashed backwards on the floor. And I found myself staring at the smoking pistol in my hand ...

It was your scream that brought me to my senses. My mind cleared instantly. I knew I must act quickly. The house would be alarmed directly, and before that happened, I must be clear of the grounds. Yet I knew that before I went I must do something to make myself safe ...

I stood at the window staring down at the dead man. His eyes were terrible. Like a suicide he looked, I thought. And then it flashed across my mind that only one shot had been heard and that our pistols were identical and fired the same ammunition. The silencer! The silencer could save me. With that removed, the suicide theory might pass muster: at any rate, it would delay other investigations and give me a start ...

In a matter of a second or two I believe I thought of everything. I did not overlook the danger of leaving finger-prints or foot-marks about. I had not taken off my gloves, and my boots were perfectly dry. In climbing into the room I was most careful to see that I did not mark the window-sill or scratch the paintwork ...

I stood beside the body and I caught the dead man's hand. It was fat and soft and still warm. The touch of it made me reel with horror. I turned my face away from his so as not to see his eyes again....

I got the silencer. Parrish had shown it to me and I knew how to detach it....

I went back through the window as carefully as I had come in. And I pushed the window down. Parrish would have done that, I thought, if he had meant to commit suicide. And then my nerve went. The window frightened me. The blank glass with the silent room beyond;--it reminded me of Parrish's sightless gaze. I turned and ran....

I did not mean to kill. As there is a God in ...

On that unfinished sentence the confession ended.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Bardy put the bundle of manuscript down on the desk and, dropping his eyeglass from his eye, caught it deftly and began to polish it vigorously with his pocket handkerchief. As no one spoke, he said:

"That's all. It ends there!"

He looked round the circle of earnest faces. Then Horace Trevert crossed to the desk.

"Robin," he said, and held out his hand, "I want to apologize. I ... we ... behaved very badly ..."

Robin grasped the boy's hand.

"Not a word about that, Horace, old boy," he said. "Besides, Mary is putting all that right, you know!"

"She told me," replied Horace; "and, Robin, I'm tremendously glad!"

"Mr. Greve!"

Robin turned to find Mr. Manderton, large and impressive, at his elbow.

"Might I have a word with you?"

Robin followed the detective across the room to the window.

Mr. Manderton seemed a trifle embarrassed.

"Er--- Mr. Greve," he said, clearing his throat rather nervously, "I should like to--er,--offer you my congratulations on the remarkably accurate view you took of this case. I should have been able to prove to you, I believe, but for this curious interruption, that your view and mine practically coincided. It has been a pleasure to work with you, sir!"

He cast a hasty glance over his shoulder at the other occupants of the room, who were gathered round the desk.

"I'm not a society man, Mr. Greve," he added, "and I have a lot of work on my hands regarding the case. So I think I'll run off now ..."

He broke off, gave Robin a large hand, and, looking neither to right nor to left, made a hurried exit from the room, taking Inspector Humphries with him.

"Now that we are just among ourselves"--the solicitor was speaking--"I think I may seize the opportunity of saying a word about Mr. Parrish's will. Miss Trevert, as you know, is made principal legatee, but I understand from her that she does not propose to accept the inheritance. I will not comment on this decision of hers, which does her moral sense, at any rate, infinite credit, but I should observe that Mr. Parrish has left directions for the payment of an allowance--I may say, a most handsome allowance--to Lady Margaret Trevert during her ladyship's lifetime. This is a provision over which Miss Trevert's decision, of course, can have no influence. I would only remark that, according to Mr. Parrish's instructions, this allowance will be paid from the dividends on a percentage of his holdings in Hornaway's under the new scheme. I have not yet had an opportunity of looking further into Mr. Parrish's affairs in the light of the information which Mr. Greve obtained in Rotterdam, but I have reason to believe that he kept his interest in Hornaway's and his--ahem!--other activities entirely separate. If this can be definitely established to my own satisfaction and to yours, my dear Miss Trevert, I see no reason why you should not modify your decision at least in respect of Mr. Parrish's interest in Hornaway's."

Mary Trevert looked at Robin and then at the solicitor.

"No!" she said; "not a penny as far as I am concerned. With Mother the case is different. I told her last night of my decision in the matter. She disapproves of it. That is why she is not here to-day. But my mind is made up."

Mr. Bardy adjusted his eyeglass in his eye and gazed at the girl. His face wore an expression of pain mingled with compassion.

"I will see Lady Margaret after lunch," he said rather stiffly.

Then the door opened and Bude appeared.

"Luncheon is served, Miss!"

He stood there, a portly, dignified figure in sober black, solemn of visage, sonorous of voice, a living example of the triumph of established tradition over the most savage buffetings of Fate. His enunciation was, if anything, more mellow, his demeanour more pontifical than of yore.

Bude was once more in the service of a County Family.

THE END