The Yellow Streak by Valentine Williams
Chapter VI. The Letter
The great drawing-room of Harkings was ablaze with light. The cluster of lights in the heavy crystal chandelier and the green-shaded electric lamps in their gilt sconces on the plain white-panelled walls coldly lit up the formal, little-used room with its gilt furniture, painted piano, and huge marble fireplace.
This glittering Louis Seize environment seemed altogether too much for the homely Inspector. Whilst waiting for Mary Trevert to come to him, he tried several attitudes in turn. The empty hearth frightened him away from the mantelpiece, the fragile appearance of a gilt settee decided him against risking his sixteen stone weight on its silken cushions, and the vastness of the room overawed him when he took up his position in the centre of the Aubusson carpet. Finally he selected an ornate chair, rather more solid-looking than the rest, which he drew up to a small table on the far side of the room. There he sat down, his large red hands spread out upon his knees in an attitude of singular embarrassment.
But Mary Trevert set him quickly at his ease when presently she came to him. She was pale, but quite self-possessed. Indeed, the effort she had made to regain her self-control was so marked that it would have scarcely escaped the attention of the Inspector, even if he had not had a brief vision of her as she had stood for that instant at the library door, pale, distraught, and trembling. He was astonished to find her cool, collected, almost business-like in the way she sat down, motioned him to his seat, and expressed her readiness to tell him all she knew.
The phrases he had been laboriously preparing--"This has been a bad shock for you, ma'am"; "You will forgive me, I'm sure, ma'am, for calling upon you at a moment such as this"--died away on his lips as Mary Trevert said:
"Ask me any questions you wish, Inspector. I will tell you everything I can."
"That's very good of you, ma'am, I'm sure," answered the Inspector, unstrapping his notebook, "and I'll try and not detain you long. Now, then, tell me what you know of this sad affair ..."
Mary Trevert plucked an instant nervously at her little cambric handerchief in her lap. Then she said:
"I went to the library from the billiard-room ..."
"A moment," interposed the Inspector. "What time was that?"
"A little after five. The tea gong had gone some time. I was going to the library to tell Mr. Parrish that tea was ready ..."
Mr. Humphries made a note. He nodded to show he was listening.
"I crossed the hall and went down the library corridor. I knocked on the library door. There was no reply. Then I heard a shot and a sort of thud."
Despite her effort to remain calm, the girl's voice shook a little. She made a little helpless gesture of her hands. A diamond ring she was wearing on her finger caught the light and blazed for an instant.
"Then I got frightened. I ran back along the corridor to the lounge where the others were and told them."
"When you knocked at the door, you say there was no reply. I suppose, now, you tried the handle first."
"Oh, yes ..."
"Then Mr. Parrish would have heard the two sounds? The turning of the handle and then the knocking on the door? That's so, isn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose so ..."
"Yet you say there was no reply?"
"No. None at all."
The Inspector jotted a word or two in his notebook as it lay open flat upon the table.
"The shot, then, was fired immediately after you had knocked? Not while you were knocking?"
"No. I knocked and waited, expecting Mr. Parrish to answer. Instead of him answering, there came this shot ..."
"I see. And after the shot was fired there was a crash?"
"A sort of thud--like something heavy falling down."
"And you heard no groan or cry?"
The girl knit her brows for a moment.
"I ... I ... was frightened by the shot. I ... I ... don't seem able to remember what happened afterwards. Let me think ... let me think ..."
"There, there," said the Inspector paternally, "don't upset yourself like this. Just try and think what happened after you heard the shot fired ..."
Mary Trevert shuddered, one slim white hand pressed against her cheek.
"I do remember now," she said, "there was a cry. It was more like a sharp exclamation ..."
"And then you heard this crash?"
The girl had somewhat regained her self-possession. She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief quickly as though ashamed of her weakness.
"Now," said Humphries, clearing his throat, as though to indicate that the conversation had changed, "you and Lady Margaret Trevert knew Mr. Parrish pretty well, I believe, Miss Trevert. Have you any idea why he should have done this thing?"
Mary Trevert shook her dark head rather wearily.
"It is inconceivable to me ... to all of us," she answered.
"Do you happen to know whether Mr. Parrish had any business worries?"
"He always had a great deal of business on hand and he has had a great deal to do lately over some big deal."
"What was it, do you know?"
"He was raising fresh capital for Hornaway's--that is the big engineering firm he controls ..."
"Do you know if he was pleased with the way things were shaping?"
"Oh, yes. He told me last night that everything would be finished this week. He seemed quite satisfied."
The Inspector paused to make a note.
Then he thrust a hand into the side-pocket of his tunic and produced Hartley Parrish's letter.
"This," he said, eyeing the girl as he handed her the letter, "may throw some light on the affair!"
Open-eyed, a little surprised, she took the plain white envelope from his hand and gazed an instant without speaking, on the bold sprawling address--