Chapter IX. Mr. Manderton
 

A quality which had gone far to lay the foundations of the name which Robin Greve was rapidly making at the bar was his strong intuitive sense. He had the rare ability of correctly 'sensing' an atmosphere, an uncanny flair for driving instantly at the heart of a situation, which rendered him in the courts a dexterous advocate and a redoubtable opponent.

Now, as he came into the lounge from the big oak staircase, he instantly realized that he had entered an unfriendly atmosphere. The concealed lights which were set all round the cornice of the room were turned on, flooding the pleasantly snug room with soft reflected light. A little group stood about the fire, Bude, Jay, Hartley Parrish's man, and a stranger. Jay was engaged in earnest conversation with the stranger. But at the sound of Greve's foot upon the staircase, the conversation ceased and a silence fell on the group.

Greve's attention was immediately attracted towards the stranger, whom he surmised to be the detective from Scotland Yard. He was a big, burly man with a heavy dark moustache, straight and rather thin black hair, and coarse features. He looked a full-blooded, plethoric person with reddish-blue veins on his florid face, and a heavy jowl which over-feeding, Robin surmised, had made fullish. He was very neatly dressed in his black overcoat with velvet collar carefully brushed, his natty black tie with its pearl pin, and well-polished boots. His black bowler hat, with a pair of heavy dogskin gloves, neatly folded, lay on the table.

"This Mr. Greve?"

Bude and Jay fell back as Robin joined the group. The detective bent his gaze on the young barrister as he put his question, and Robin for the first time noticed his eyes. Keen and clear, they were ill-suited, he thought, to the rather gross features of the man. By right he should have had either the small and roguish or the pale and expressionless eyes which are habitually found in individuals of the sanguine temperament.

The detective had a trick of dropping his eyes to his boots. When he raised them, the effect was to alter his whole expression. His eyes, well-open, keenly observant, in perpetual motion, lent an air of alertness, of shrewdness, to his heavy, florid countenance.

"That is my name," said Robin, answering his question. "I am a barrister. I have met some of your people at the Yard, but I don't think...."

"Detective-Inspector Manderton," interjected the big man, and paused as though to say, "Let that sink in!"

Robin knew him well by repute. His qualities were those of the bull-dog, slow-moving, obstinately brave, and desperately tenacious. His was a name to conjure with among the criminal classes, and his career was starred with various sensational tussles with desperate criminals, for Detective-Inspector Manderton, when engaged on a case, invariably "took a hand himself," as he phrased it, when an arrest was to be made. A bullet-hole in his right thigh and an imperfectly knitted right collar-bone remained to remind him of this propensity of his. His motto, as he was fond of saying, was, "What I have I hold!"

"Well, Mr. Greve," said the detective in a loud, hectoring voice, "perhaps you will be good enough to tell me what you know of this affair?"

Robin flushed angrily at the man's manner. But there was no trace of resentment in his voice as he replied. He told Manderton what he had already told Humphries: how he had gone from the billiard-room across the hall and down the library corridor to the side-door into the grounds, intending to have a stroll before tea, but, finding that it was threatening rain, had returned to the house by the front door.

The detective scanned the young man's face closely as he spoke. When Robin had finished, the other dropped his eyes and seemed to be examining the brilliant polish of his boots. He said nothing, and again Robin became aware of the atmosphere of hostility towards him which this man radiated.

"It is dark at five o'clock?"

Manderton turned to Bude.

"Getting on that way, sir," the butler agreed.

"Are you in the habit, sir,"--the detective turned to Robin now,--"of going out for walks in the dark?"

Greve shrugged his shoulders.

"I had been sitting in the billiard-room. It was rather stuffy, so I thought I'd like some air before tea!"

"You left Miss Trevert in the billiard-room?"

"Yes!"

"Why?"

Greve put a hand to his throat and eased his collar.

"The gong had sounded for tea," the detective went on imperturbably; "surely it would have been more natural for you to have brought Miss Trevert with you?"

"I didn't wish to!"

Mr. Manderton cleared his throat.

"Ah!" he grunted. "You didn't wish to. I should like you to be frank with me, Mr. Greve, please. Was it not a fact that you and Miss Trevert had words?"

He looked up sharply at him with contracted pupils.

"You took a certain interest in this young lady?"

"Mr. Manderton,"--Robin spoke with a certain hauteur,--"don't you think we might leave Miss Trevert's name out of this?"

"Mr. Greve," replied the detective bluntly, "I don't!"

Robin made a little gesture of resignation.

"Before the servants...."

"Come, come, sir," the detective broke in, "with all respect to the young lady and yourself, it was a matter of common knowledge in the house that she and you were ... well, old friends. It was remarked, Mr. Greve, I may remind you, that you looked very upset-like when you left the billiard-room to"--he paused perceptibly--"to go for your stroll in the dark."

Robin glanced quickly round the group. Jay averted his eyes. As for Bude, he was the picture of embarrassment.

"You seem to be singularly well posted in the gossip of the servants' hall, Mr. Manderton!" said Robin hotly.

It was a foolish remark, and Robin regretted it the moment the words had left his mouth.

"Well, yes," commented the detective slowly, "I am. I shall be well posted on the whole of this case, presently, I hope, sir!"

His manner was perfectly respectful, but reserved almost to a tone of menace.

"In that case," said Robin, "I'll tell you something you don't know, Mr. Manderton. Has Bude told you what he heard after I had passed him in the hall?"

Interest flashed at once into the detective's face. He turned quickly to the butler. Robin felt he had scored.

"What did you hear?" he said sharply.

Bude looked round wildly. His large, fish-like mouth twitched, and he made a few feeble gestures with his hands.

"It was only perhaps an idea of mine, sir," he stammered,--"just a sort of idea ... I dare say I was mistaken. My hearing ain't what it was, sir...."

"Don't you try to hoodwink me," said Manderton, with sudden ferocity, knitting his brows and frowning at the unfortunate butler. "Come on and tell us what you heard. Mr. Greve knows and I mean to. Out with it!"

Bude cast a reproachful glance at Robin. Then he said:

"Well, sir, a minute or two after Mr. Greve had passed me, I went back to the hall and through the open door of the corridor leading to the library, I heard voices!"

"Voices, eh? Did you recognize them?"

"No, sir. It was just the sound of talking!"

"You told Miss Trevert they were loud voices, Bude!" Robin interrupted.

"Yes, sir," replied the butler, "they were loudish in a manner o' speaking, else I shouldn't have heard them!"

"Why not?"

The detective rapped the question out sharply.

"Why, because the library door was locked, sir!"

"How do you know that?"

"Because Miss Trevert and Dr. Romain both tried the handle and couldn't get in!"

"Ah!" said Manderton, "you mean the door was locked when the body was found! Now, as to these voices. Were they men's voices?"

"Yes, sir, I should say so."

"Why?"

"Because they were deep-like!"

"Was Mr. Hartley Parrish's voice one of them?"

The butler spread out his hands.

"That I couldn't say! I just heard the murmur-like, then shut the passage door quickly ..."

"Why?"

"Well, sir, I thought ... I didn't want to listen...."

"You thought one of the voices was Mr. Greve's, eh? Having a row with Mr. Parrish, eh? About the lady, isn't that right?"

"Aren't you going rather too fast?" said Robin quietly.

But the detective ignored him.

"Come on and answer my question, my man," he said harshly. "Didn't you think it was Mr. Hartley Parrish and Mr. Greve here having a bit of a dust-up about the young lady being engaged to Mr. Parrish?"

"Well, perhaps I did, but...."

Like a flash the detective turned on Robin.

"What do you know about this?" he demanded fiercely.

"Nothing," said Greve. "As I have told you already, I did not see Mr. Parrish alive again after lunch, nor did I speak to him. What I would suggest to you now is that upon this evidence of Bude's depends the vitally important question of how Mr. Parrish met his death. Though he was found with a revolver in his hand, none of us in this house know of any good motive for his suicide. I put it to you that the man who can furnish us with this motive is the owner of the voice heard by Bude in conversation with Mr. Parrish, since obviously nobody other than Mr. Parrish and possibly this unknown person was in the library block at the time. And I would further remark, Mr. Manderton, that, until the bullet has been extracted, we do not know that Mr. Parrish killed himself..."

"No," said the detective significantly, "we don't!"

He had dropped his eyes to the ground now and was studying the pattern of the hearth-rug.

"You say you heard no shot?" he suddenly asked Robin.

"No!"

"No one other than Miss Trevert, I gather, heard the shot?"

"That is so!"

Mr. Manderton consulted a slip of paper which he drew from his pocket.

"Inspector Humphries," he said, "has drawn up a rough time-table of events leading up to Mr. Parrish's death, based on the evidence he has taken here this evening. You will tell me if it tallies."

He read from the slip:

5 P.M. Bude sounds the gong for tea.

5.10 Mr. Greve passes Bude in the hall and goes down the corridor leading to the library. Mr. Greve states he went straight out by the side door into the gardens.

The detective looked up from his reading.

"At 5.12, let us say, Bude comes back from the servants' quarters to the hall and hears voices from the library. He closes the passage door. Is that right?"

Bude nodded.

"It would be about two minutes after I saw Mr. Greve the first time," he agreed.

"Very well!"

The detective resumed his reading.

5.15 P.M. Miss Trevert goes to fetch Mr. Parrish in to tea. She finds the library door locked. Tries the handle and hears a shot.

5.18 (say) Miss Trevert comes into the lounge hall and gives the alarm.

"Now, sir," said Mr. Manderton briskly, "I should like to ask you one or two further questions. Firstly, how long were you out on your stroll in the dark?"

"I should think about two or three minutes."

"That is to say, if you left the house by the side door at 5.10, you were back in the house by 5.13."

"Yes, that would be right," Robin agreed.

"And what did you do when you came in?"

"I went up to my room to fetch a letter for the post."

"Miss Trevert heard the shot fired at 5.15. Where were you at that time?"

"In my bedroom, I should say. I was there for a few minutes as I had to write a cheque...."

"And where is your bedroom?"

"In the other wing above the billiard-room."

"Hm! A pistol shot makes a great deal of noise. It seems strange that nobody in the house should have heard it."

Here Bude interposed.

"Mr. Parrish, sir, was very particular about noise. He had the library door and the door leading from the front hall to the library corridor specially felted so that he should not hear any sounds from the house when he was working in the library. That library wing was absolutely shut off from the rest of the house. It was always uncommon quiet...."

But the detective, ignoring him, turned to Robin again.

"I have been round the house," he said. "It does not seem to me it ought to take you three or even two minutes to walk from the side door to the front door. I should say it would be a matter of about thirty seconds!"

"Excuse me," Robin answered quickly, "I didn't say I went straight from the side to the front door. I went through the gardens following the path that leads to the main drive. There I turned and came back to the front door."

"And you assert that you heard nothing?"

"I heard nothing."

"Neither the 'loud voices' which the butler heard within two minutes of your leaving the house nor the shot fired five minutes later?"

"I heard nothing."

Mr. Manderton examined the toes of his boots carefully.

"You heard nothing!" he repeated.

The door opened suddenly and Dr. Romain appeared. With him was the village practitioner and Inspector Humphries.

Dr. Redstone carried in his hand a little pad of cotton wool. He bore it over to the fireplace and unwrapping the lint showed a twisted fragment of lead lying on the bloodstained dressing.

"Straight through the heart and lodged in the spine," he said. "Death was absolutely instantaneous."

The detective picked up the bullet and scrutinized it closely.

"Browning pistol ammunition," observed Humphries; "it fits the gun he used. There's half a dozen spare rounds in one of the drawers of his dressing-room upstairs."

Mr. Manderton drew Inspector Humphries and Dr. Redstone into a corner of the room where they conversed in undertones. Bude and Jay had vanished. Dr. Romain turned to Robin Greve, who stood lost in a reverie, staring into the fire.

"A clear case of suicide," he said. "The medical evidence is conclusive on that point. A most amazing affair. I can't conceive what drove him to it. Why did he do it?"

"Ah! why?" said Robin.