Chapter IV. Between the Desk and the Window
 

Hartley Parrish's library was a splendid room, square in shape, lofty and well proportioned. It was lined with books arranged in shelves of dark brown oak running round the four walls, but sunk level with them and reaching up to a broad band of perfectly plain white plasterwork.

It was a cheerful, comfortable, eminently modern room, half library, half office. The oak was solid, but uncompromisingly new. The great leather armchairs were designed on modern lines--for comfort rather than for appearance. There were no pictures; but vases of chrysanthemums stood here and there about the room. A dictaphone in a case was in a corner, but beside it was a little table on which were set out some rare bits of old Chelsea. There was also a gramophone, but it was enclosed in a superb case of genuine old black-and-gold lacquer. The very books in their shelves carried on this contrast of business with recreation. For while one set of shelves contained row upon row of technical works, company reports, and all manner of business reference books bound in leather, on another were to be found the vellum-bound volumes of the Kelmscott Press.

A sober note of grey or mole colour was the colour scheme of the room. The heavy pile carpet which stretched right up to the walls was of this quiet neutral shade: so were the easy-chairs, and the colour of the heavy curtains, which hung in front of the two high windows, was in harmony with the restful decorative scheme of the room.

The massive oaken door stood opposite the window overlooking the rosery--the window through which Horace Trevert had entered. Parrish's desk was in front of this window, between it and the door in consequence. By the other window, which, as has been stated, looked out on the clipped hedge surrounding the Pleasure Ground, was the little table with the Chelsea china, the dictaphone, and one of the easy-chairs. The centre of the room was clear so that nothing lay between the door and the carved mahogany chair at the desk. Here, as they all knew, Parrish was accustomed to sit when working, his back to the door, his face to the window overlooking the rosery.

The desk stood about ten feet from the window. On it was a large brass lamp which cast a brilliant circle of light upon the broad flat top of the desk with its orderly array of letter-trays, its handsome silver-edged blotter and silver and tortoise-shell writing appurtenances. By the light of this lamp Dr. Romain, looking from the doorway, saw that Hartley Parrish's chair was vacant, pushed back a little way from the desk. The rest of the room was wrapt in unrevealing half-light.

"He's there by the window!"

Horace was whispering to the doctor. Romain strode over to the desk and picked up the lamp. As he did so, his eyes fell upon the pale face of Hartley Parrish. He lay on his back in the space between the desk and the window. His head was flung back, his eyes, bluish-grey,--the narrow, rather expressionless eyes of the successful business man,--were wide open and fixed in a sightless stare, his rather full mouth, with its clean-shaven lips, was rigid and stern. With the broad forehead, the prominent brows, the bold, aggressive nose, and the square bony jaw, it was a fighter's face, a fine face save for the evil promise of that sensuous mouth. So thought the doctor with the swift psychological process of his trade.

From the face his gaze travelled to the body. And then Romain could not repress an involuntary start, albeit he saw what he had half expected to see. The fleshy right hand of Hartley Parrish grasped convulsively an automatic pistol. His clutching index finger was crooked about the trigger and the barrel was pressed into the yielding pile of the carpet. His other hand with clawing fingers was flung out away from the body on the other side. One leg was stretched out to its fullest extent and the foot just touched the hem of the grey window curtains. The other leg was slightly drawn up.

The doctor raised the lamp from the desk and, dropping on one knee, placed it on the ground beside the body. With gentle fingers he manipulated the eyes, opened the blue serge coat and waistcoat which Parrish was wearing. As he unbuttoned the waistcoat, he laid bare a dark red stain on the breast of the fine silk shirt. He opened shirt and under-vest, bent an ear to the still form, and then, with a little helpless gesture, rose to his feet.

"Dead?" queried Trevert.

Romain nodded shortly.

"Shot through the heart!" he said.

"He looked so ... so limp," the boy said, shrinking back a little, "I thought he was dead. But I never thought old Hartley would have done a thing like that ..."

The doctor pursed up his lips as if to speak. But he remained silent for a moment. Then he said:

"Horace, the police must be informed. We can do that on the telephone. This room must be left just as it is until they come. I can do nothing more for poor Hartley. And we shall have to tell the others. I'd better do that myself. I wonder where Greve is? I haven't seen him all the afternoon. As a barrister he should be able to advise us about--er, the technicalities: the police and all that ..."

Rapid footsteps reverberated down the corridor. Robin Greve appeared at the door. The fat and frightened face of Bude appeared over his shoulder.

"Good God, Doctor!" he cried, "what's this Bude tells me?"

The doctor cleared his throat.

"Our poor friend is dead, Greve," he said.

"But how? How?"

Greve stood opposite the doctor in the centre of the library. He had switched on the light at the door as he had come in, and the room was flooded with soft light thrown by concealed lamps set around the cornice of the ceiling.

"Look!" responded the doctor by way of answer and stepped aside to let the young man come up to the desk. "He has a pistol in his hand!"

Robin Greve took a step forward and stopped dead. He gazed for an instant without speaking on the dead face of his host and rival.

"Suicide!"

It was an affirmation rather than a question, and the little doctor took it up. He was not a young man and the shock and the excitement were beginning to tell on his nerves.

"I am not a police surgeon," he said with some asperity; "in fact, I may say I have not seen a dead body since my hospital days. I ... I ... know nothing about these things. This is a matter for the police. They must be summoned at once. Where's Bude?"

Robin Greve turned quickly.

"Get on to the police station at Stevenish at once, Bude," he ordered. "Do you know the Inspector?"

"Yessir," the butler answered in a hollow voice. His hands were trembling violently, and he seemed to control himself with difficulty. "Mr. Humphries, sir!"

"Well, ring him up and tell him that Mr. Parrish ... Hullo, what do all these people want?"

There was a commotion at the door. Frightened faces were framed in the doorway. Outside there was the sound of a woman whimpering. A tall, dark young man in a tail coat came in quickly. He stopped short when he saw the solemn faces of the group at the desk. It was Parrish's man, Jay. He stepped forward to the desk and in a frightened sort of way peered at the body as it lay on the floor.

"Oh, sir," he said breathlessly, addressing Greve, "what ever has happened to Mr. Parrish? It can't be true ..."

Greve put his hand on the young man's shoulder.

"I'm sorry to say it is true, Jay," he answered.

"He was very good to us all," the valet replied in a broken voice. He remained by the desk staring at the body in a dazed fashion.

"Who is that crying outside?" Greve demanded. "This is no place for women ..."

"It's Mrs. Heever, the housekeeper," Bude answered.

"Well, she must go back to her room. Send all those servants away. Jay, will you see to it? And take care that Lady Margaret and Miss Trevert don't come in here, either."

"Sir Horace is with them, sir, in the lounge," said Jay and went out.

"I'll go to them. I think I'd better," exclaimed the doctor. "I shall be in the lounge when they want me. A dreadful affair! Dreadful!"

The little doctor bustled out, leaving Greve and the butler alone in the room with the mortal remains of Hartley Parrish lying where he had fallen on the soft grey carpet.

"Now, Bude," said Greve incisively, "get on to the police at once. You'd better telephone from the servant's hall. I'll have a look round here in the meantime!"

Bude stood for an instant irresolute. He glanced shrewdly at the young man.

"Go on," said Robin quickly; "what are you waiting for, man? There's no time to lose."

Slowly the butler turned and tiptoed away, his ungainly body swaying about as he stole across the heavy pile carpet. He went out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. He left Greve sunk in a reverie at the desk, gazing with unseeing eyes upon the dead face of the master of Harkings.

That sprawling corpse, the startled realization of death stamped for ever in the wide, staring eyes, was indeed a subject for meditation. There, in the midst of all the evidences of Hartley Parrish's meteoric rise to affluence and power, Greve pondered for an instant on the strange pranks which Fate plays us poor mortals.

Parrish had risen, as Greve and all the world knew, from the bottom rung of the ladder. He had had a bitter fight for existence, had made his money, as Greve had heard, with a blind and ruthless determination which spoke of the stern struggle of other days. And Robin, who, too, had had his own way to make in the world, knew how the memory of earlier struggles went to sweeten the flavour of ultimate success.

Yet here was Hartley Parrish, with his vast financial undertakings, his soaring political ambitions, his social aims which, Robin realized bitterly, had more than a little to do with his project for marrying Mary Trevert, stricken down suddenly, without warning, in the very heyday of success.

"Why should he have done it?" he whispered to himself, "why, my God, why?"

But the mask-like face at his feet, as he bent to scan it once more, gave no answer to the riddle. Determination, ambition, was portrayed on the keen, eager face even in death.

With a little hopeless gesture the young barrister glanced round the room. His eye fell upon the desk. He saw a neat array of letter-trays, costly silver and tortoise-shell writing appointments, a couple of heavy gold fountain pens, and an orderly collection of pencils. Lying flat on the great silver-edged blotter was a long brown envelope which had been opened. Propped up against the large crystal ink-well was a letter addressed simply "Miss Mary Trevert" in Hartley Parrish's big, vigorous, and sprawling handwriting.

The letter to Mary Trevert, Robin did not touch. But he picked up the long brown envelope. On the back it bore a printed seal. The envelope contained a document and a letter. At the sight of it the young man started. It was Hartley Parrish's will. The letter was merely a covering note from Mr. Bardy, of the firm of Jerringham, Bardy and Company, a well-known firm of solicitors, dated the previous evening. Robin replaced letter and document in their envelope without reading them.

"So that's it!" he murmured to himself. "Suicide? But why?"

All the letter-trays save one were empty. In this was a little heap of papers and letters. Robin glanced through them. There were two or three prospectuses, a notice of a golf match, a couple of notes from West End tradesmen enclosing receipts and an acknowledgement from the bank. There was only one personal letter--a business communication from a Rotterdam firm. Robin glanced at the letter. It was typewritten on paper of a dark slatey-blue shade. It was headed, "ELIAS VAN DER SPYCK & Co., GENERAL IMPORTERS, ROTTERDAM," and dealt with steel shipments.

Robin dropped the letter back into the tray and turned to survey the room. It was in perfect order. Except for the still form lying on the floor and the broken pane of glass in the window, there was nothing to tell of the tragedy which had been enacted there that afternoon. There were no papers to hint at a crisis save the prosaic-looking envelope containing the will, and Parrish's note for Mary. The waste-paper basket, a large and business-like affair in white wicker, had been cleared.

Robin walked across to the fireplace. The flames leapt eagerly about a great oak log which hissed fitfully on top of the glowing coals contained in the big iron fire-basket. The grate was bare and tidy. As the young man looked at the fire, a little whirl of blue smoke whisked out of the wide fireplace and eddied into the room. Robin sniffed. The room smelt smoky. Now he remembered he had noticed it as he came in.

He stood an instant gazing thoughtfully at the blazing and leaping fire. He threw a quick glance at the window where the curtains tossed fitfully in the breeze coming through the broken pane. Suddenly he stepped quickly across the room and, lifting the reading-lamp from the table, bore it over to the window which he scrutinized narrowly by its light. Then he dropped on one knee beside the dead body, placing the lamp on the floor beside him.

He lifted the dead man's left hand and narrowly examined the nails. Without touching the right hand which clasped the revolver, he studied its nails too. He rose and took the gold-mounted reading-glass from the desk and scrutinized the nails of both hands through the glass.

Then he rose to his feet again and, having replaced lamp and reading-glass on the desk, stood there thoughtfully, his brown hands clasped before him. His eyes wandered from the desk to the window and from the window to the corpse. Then he noticed on the carpet between the dead body and the desk a little ball of slatey-blue paper. He bent down and picked it up. He had begun to unroll it when the library door was flung open. Robin thrust the scrap of paper in his pocket and turned to face the door.