Chapter VIII. Robin Goes to Mary
 

The house telephone, standing on the long and gracefully designed desk with its elaborately lacquered top, whirred. Mary started from her reverie in her chair by the fire. By the clock on the mantelshelf she saw that it was a quarter past eight. She remembered that once her mother had knocked at her door and bidden her come down to dinner. She had refused the invitation, declining to unlock the door.

She lifted the receiver.

"That you, Mary?"

Robin was speaking.

"May I come up and see you? Or would you rather be left alone?"

His firm, pleasant voice greatly comforted her. Only then she realized how greatly she craved sympathy. But the recollection of Bude's story suddenly interposed itself like a barrier between them.

"Yes, come up," she said, "I want to speak to you!"

Her voice was dispirited,

"I don't want to see him," she told herself as she replaced the receiver, got up, and unlocked the door, "but I must know!"

A gentle tap came at the door. Robin came in quickly and crossed to where she stood by the fire.

"My dear!" he said and put out his two hands.

Her hands were behind her back, the fingers nervously intertwining. She kept them there and made no sign that she had observed his gesture.

He looked at her in surprise.

"This has been terrible for you, Mary," he said. "I wish to God I could make you realize how very, very much I feel for you in what you must be going through...."

The phrase was formal and he brought it out irresolutely, chilled as he was by her reception. She was looking at him dispassionately, her forehead a little puckered, her eyes a trifle hard.

"Won't you sit down," she said. "There is something I wanted to say!"

He was looking at her now in a puzzled fashion. With rather feigned deliberation he chose a chair and sat down facing the fire. A lamp on the mantelpiece--the only light in the room--threw its rays on his face. His chin was set rather more squarely than his wont and his eyes were shining.

"Mary,"--he leant forward towards her,--"please forget what I said this afternoon. It was beastly of me, but I hardly knew what I was doing...."

She made a little gesture as if to wave his apology aside. Then, with her hands clasped in front of her, scanning the nails, she asked, almost casually:

"What did you say to Hartley Parrish in the library this afternoon?"

Robin stared at her in amazement.

"But I was not in the library!" he answered.

The girl dropped her hands sharply to her side.

"Don't quibble with me, Robin," she said. "What did you say to Hartley Parrish after you left me this afternoon in the billiard-room?"

He was still staring at her, but now there was a deep furrow between his brows. He was breathing rather hard.

"I did not speak to Parrish at all after I left you."

His answer was curt and incisive.

"Do you mean to tell me," Mary said, "that, after you left me and went down the corridor towards the library, you neither went in to Hartley nor spoke to him!"

"I do!"

"Then how do you account for the fact that, almost immediately after you had crossed Bude in the hall, he heard the sound of voices in the library?"

Robin Greve stood up abruptly.

"Bude, you say, makes this statement?"

"Certainly!"

"To whom, may I ask?"

He spoke sharply and there was a challenging ring in his voice. It nettled the girl.

"Only to me," she said quickly, and added: "You needn't think he has told the police!"

Very deliberately Robin plucked his handkerchief from his sleeve, wiped his lips, and replaced it. The girl saw that his hands were trembling.

"Why do you say that to me?" he demanded rather fiercely.

Mary Trevert shrugged her shoulders.

"This afternoon," she said, "when I told you of my engagement to Hartley, you began by abusing him to me, you rushed from the room making straight for the library where we all know that Hartley was working, and a few minutes after Bude hears voices raised in anger proceeding from there. The next thing we know is that Hartley has ..."

She broke off and looked away.

"Mary,"--Robin's voice was grave, and he had mastered all signs of irritation,--"you and I have known one another all our lives. You ought to know me well enough by now to understand that I don't tell you lies. When I say I haven't seen or spoken to Hartley Parrish since lunch this afternoon, that is the truth!"

"How can it be the truth?" the girl insisted. "Horace and Dr. Romain were both in the lounge-hall, Bude was in the hall, the other menservants were in the servants' hall. You are the only man in the house not accounted for, and a minute before Bude heard these voices you go down the corridor towards the library. I can understand you wanting to keep it from the police, but why do you want to deceive me?"

"Mary," answered the young man sternly, "I know you're upset, but that's no justification for persisting in this stupid charge against me. I tell you I never saw Parrish or spoke to him, either, between lunch and when I saw him lying dead in the library. I am not going to repeat the denial. But you may as well understand now that I am not in the habit of allowing my friends to doubt my word!"

Mary flamed up at his tone.

"If you are my friend," she cried, "why can't you trust me? Why should I find this out from Bude? Why should I be humiliated by hearing from the butler that he kept this evidence from the police in order to please me because you and I are friends? I am only trying to help you, to shield you ..."

"That will do, Mary," he said. "No, you must hear what I have to say. If you insist on disbelieving me, you must. But I don't want you to help me. I don't want you to shield me. I shall make it my business to see that Bude's evidence is brought before the detective inspector from Scotland Yard who is being brought down here to handle the case ..."

"A detective from Scotland Yard?" the girl repeated.

"Yes, a detective. Humphries is puzzled by several points about this case and has asked for assistance from London. He is right. Neither the circumstances of Parrish's death nor the motive of his act are clear. Bude's evidence is sufficient proof that somebody did gain access to the library this afternoon. In that case...."

"Yes...."

"In that case," said Greve slowly, "it may not be suicide...."

Mary put one hand suddenly to her face as women do when they are frightened. She shrank back.

"You mean...."

He nodded.

"Murder!"

The girl gave a little gasp. Then she stretched out her hand and touched his arm.

"But, Robin," she spoke in quick gasps,--"you can't give the police this evidence of Bude's. Don't you see it incriminates you? Don't you realize that every scrap of evidence points to you as being the man that visited Mr. Parrish in the library this afternoon? You're a lawyer, Robin. You understand these things. Don't you see what I mean?"

He nodded curtly.

"Perfectly," he replied coldly.

"Bude will do what I tell him," the girl hurried on. "There is no need for the police to know...."

"On the contrary," said the other imperturbably, "it is essential they should be told at once."

The girl grasped the lapels of his coat in her two hands. Her breath came quickly and she trembled all over.

"Are you mad, Robin?" she cried. "Who could have wanted to kill poor Hartley? Why should you put these ideas into the heads of the police? Bude may have imagined everything. Now, you'll be sensible, promise me...."

Very gently he detached the two slim hands that held his coat. His mouth was set in a firm line.

"We are going to sift this thing to the bottom, Mary," he said, "no matter what are the consequences. You owe it to Parrish and you owe it to me...."

The telephone trilled suddenly.

Robin picked up the receiver,

"Yes, Bude," he said.

There was a moment's silence in the room broken as the clock on the mantelpiece chimed nine times. Then Robin said into the telephone:

"Right! Tell him I'll be down immediately!"

He put down the receiver and turned to Mary.

"A detective inspector has arrived from London. He is asking to see me. I must go downstairs."

Mary, her elbows on the mantelpiece, was staring into the fire. At the sound of his voice she swung round quickly.

"Robin!" she cried.

But she spoke too late.

Robin Greve had left the room.