Part 3 out of 6
"Do you think Hill's story is true?" Rolfe asked Inspector Chippenfield,
as they left the Camden Town Police Station and turned in the direction
of the Tube station.
"We'll soon find out," replied the inspector. "Of course, there is
something in it, but there is no doubt Hill will not stick at a lie to
save his own skin. But we are more likely to get at the truth by
threatening to arrest him than by arresting him. If he were arrested he
would probably shut up and say no more."
"And are you going to arrest Birchill?"
"For the murder?" asked Rolfe.
"No; for burglary. It would be a mistake to charge him with murder until
we get more evidence. The papers would jeer at us if we charged him with
murder and then dropped the charge."'
"Do you think Birchill will squeak?"
"On Hill?" said the inspector. "When he knows that Hill has been trying
to fit him for the murder he'll try and do as much for Hill. And between
them we'll come at the truth. We are on the right track at last, my boy.
And, thank God, we have beaten our friend Crewe."
Inspector Chippenfield's satisfaction in his impending triumph over Crewe
was increased by a chance meeting with the detective. As the two police
officials came out of Leicester Square Station on their way to Scotland
Yard to obtain a warrant for Birchill's arrest, they saw Crewe in a
taxi-cab. Crewe also saw them, and telling the driver to pull up leaned
out of the window and looked back at the two detectives. When they came
up with the taxi-cab they saw that Crewe had on a light overcoat and
that there was a suit-case beside the driver. Crewe was going on a
journey of some kind.
"Anything fresh about the Riversbrook case?" he asked.
"No; nothing fresh," replied Inspector Chippenfield, looking Crewe
straight in the face.
"You are a long time in making an arrest," said Crewe, in a
"We want to arrest the right man," was the reply. "There's nothing like
getting the right man to start with; it saves such a lot of time and
trouble. Where are you off to?"
"I'm taking a run down to Scotland."
The inspector glanced at Crewe rather enviously.
"You are fortunate in being able to enjoy yourself just now," he said
"I won't drop work altogether," remarked Crewe. "I'll make a few
"About the Riversbrook affair?"
With the murderer practically arrested, Inspector Chippenfield permitted
himself the luxury of smiling at the way in which Crewe was following up
a false scent.
"I thought the murder was committed in London--not in Scotland," he said.
"Wrong, Chippenfield," said Crewe, with a smile. "Sir Horace was murdered
in Scotland and his body was brought up to London by train and placed in
his own house in order to mislead the police. Good-bye."
As the taxi-cab drove off, Inspector Chippenfield turned to his
subordinate and said, "We'll rub it into him when he comes back and finds
that we have got our man under lock and key. He's on some wild-goose
chase. Scotland! He might as well go to Siberia while's he's about it."
With a warrant in his pocket Inspector Chippenfield, accompanied by
Rolfe, set out for Macauley Mansions, Westminster. They found the
Mansions to be situated in a quiet and superior part of Westminster, not
far from Victoria Station, and consisting of a large block of flats
overlooking a square--a pocket-handkerchief patch of green which was
supposed to serve as breathing-space for the flats which surrounded it.
Macauley Mansions had no lift, and Number 43, the scene of the events of
Hill's confession, was on the top floor. Inspector Chippenfield and Rolfe
mounted the stairs steadily, and finally found themselves standing on a
neat cocoanut door-mat outside the door of No. 43. The door was closed.
"Well, well," said the inspector, as he paused, panting, on the door-mat
and rang the bell. "Snug quarters these--very snug. Strange that these
sort of women never know enough to run straight when they are well off."
The door opened, and a young woman confronted them. She was hardly more
than a girl, pretty and refined-looking, with large dark eyes, a pathetic
drooping mouth, and a wistful expression. She wore a well-made indoor
dress of soft satin, without ornaments, and her luxuriant dark hair was
simply and becomingly coiled at the back of her head. She held a book in
her left hand, with one finger between the leaves, as though the summons
to the door had interrupted her reading, and glanced inquiringly at the
visitors, waiting for them to intimate their business. She was so
different from the type of girl they had expected to see that Inspector
Chippenfield had some difficulty in announcing it.
"Are you Miss Fanning?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Then you are the young woman we wish to see, and, with your permission,
we'll come inside," said Inspector Chippenfield, recovering from his
first surprise and speaking briskly.
They followed the girl into the hall, and into a room off the hall to
which she led the way. A small Pomeranian dog which lay on an easy
chair, sprang up barking shrilly at their entrance, but at the command of
the girl it settled down on its silk cushion again. The apartment was a
small sitting-room, daintily furnished in excellent feminine taste. Both
police officers took in the contents of the room with the glance of
trained observers, and both noticed that, prominent among the ornaments
on the mantelpiece, stood a photograph of the late Sir Horace Fewbanks in
a handsome silver frame.
The photograph made it easy for Inspector Chippenfield to enter upon the
object of the visit of himself and his subordinate to the flat.
"I see you have a photograph of Sir Horace Fewbanks there," he said, in
what he intended to be an easy conversational tone, waving his hand
towards the mantelpiece.
The wistful expression of the girl's face deepened as she followed
"Yes," she said simply. "It is so terrible about him."
"Was he a--a relative of yours?" asked the inspector.
She had come to the conclusion they were police officers and that they
were aware of the position she occupied.
"He was very kind to me," she replied.
"When did you see him last? How long before he--before he died?"
"Are you detectives?" she asked.
"From Scotland Yard," replied Inspector Chippenfield with a bow.
"Why have you come here? Do you think that I--that I know anything about
"Not in the least." The inspector's tone was reassuring. "We merely want
information about Sir Horace's movements prior to his departure for
Scotland. When did you see him last?"
"I don't remember," she said, after a pause.
"You must try," said the inspector, in a tone which contained a
suggestion of command.
"Oh, a few days before he went away."
"A few days," repeated the inspector. "And you parted on good terms?"
"Yes, on very good terms." She met his glance frankly.
Inspector Chippenfield was silent for a moment. Then, fixing his fiercest
stare on the girl, he remarked abruptly:
"Birchill?" She endeavoured to appear surprised, but her sudden
pallor betrayed her inward anxiety at the question. "I--I don't know
who you mean."
"I mean the man you've been keeping with Sir Horace Fewbanks's money,"
said the inspector brutally.
"I've been keeping nobody with Sir Horace Fewbanks's money," protested
the girl feebly. "It's cruel of you to insult me."
"That'll about do to go on with," said Inspector Chippenfield, with a
sudden change of tone, rising to his feet as he spoke. "Rolfe, keep an
eye on her while I search the flat."
Rolfe crossed over from where he had been sitting and stood beside the
girl. She glanced up at him wildly, with terror dawning in the depths of
her dark eyes.
"What do you mean? How dare you?" she cried, in an effort to be
"Now, don't try your tragedy airs on us," said the inspector. "We've no
time for them. If you won't tell the truth you had better say nothing
at all." He plunged his hand into a _jardiniere_ and withdrew a
briar-wood pipe. "This looks to me like Birchill's property. Keep that
dog back, Rolfe."
The little dog had sprung off his cushion and was eagerly following the
inspector out of the room. Rolfe caught up the animal in his arms, and
returned to where the girl was sitting. Her face was white and strained,
and her big dark eyes followed Inspector Chippenfield, but she did not
speak. The inspector tramped noisily into the little hall, leaving the
door of the room wide open. Rolfe and the girl saw him fling open the
door of another room--a bedroom--and stride into it. He came out again
shortly, and went down the hall to the rear of the flat. A few minutes
later he came back to the room where he had left Rolfe and the girl. His
knees were dusty, and some feathers were adhering to his jacket, as
though he had been plunging in odd nooks and corners, and beneath beds.
He was hot, flurried, and out of temper.
"The bird's flown!" were his first words, addressed to Rolfe. "I've
hunted high and low, but I cannot find a sign of him. It beats me how
he's managed it. He couldn't have gone out the front way without my
seeing him go past the door, and the back windows are four stories high
from the ground."
"Perhaps he wasn't here when we came in," suggested Rolfe.
"Oh, yes, he was. Why, he'd been smoking that pipe in this very room. She
was clever enough to open the window to let out the tobacco smoke before
she let us in, but she didn't hide the pipe properly, for I saw the smoke
from it coming out of the _jardiniere_, and when I put my hand on the
bowl it was hot. Feel it now."
Rolfe placed his hand on the pipe, which Inspector Chippenfield had
deposited on the table. The bowl was still warm, indicating that the pipe
had recently been alight.
"He must have been smoking the pipe when we knocked at the door, and
dashed away to hide before she let us in," grumbled the inspector. "But
the question is--where can he have got to? I've hunted everywhere, and
there's no way out except by the front door, so far as I can see. Go and
have a look yourself, Rolfe, and see if you can find a trace of him. I'll
watch the girl."
Rolfe put down the little dog he had been holding, and went out into the
hall. The dog accompanied him, frisking about him in friendly fashion.
Rolfe first examined the bedroom that he had seen Inspector Chippenfield
enter. It was a small room, containing a double bed. It was prettily
furnished in white, with white curtains, and toilet-table articles in
ivory to match. A glance round the room convinced Rolfe that it was
impossible for a man to secrete himself in it. The door of the wardrobe
had been flung open by the inspector, and the dresses and other articles
of feminine apparel it contained flung out on the floor. There was no
other hiding-place possible, except beneath the bed, and the ruthless
hand of the inspector had torn off the white muslin bed hangings,
revealing emptiness underneath. Rolfe went out into the hall again, and
entered the room next the bedroom. This apartment was apparently used as
a dining-room, for it contained a large table, a few chairs, a small
sideboard, a spirit-stand, a case of books and ornaments, and two small
oak presses. Plainly, there was no place in it where a man could hide
himself. The next room was the bathroom, which was also empty. Opposite
the bathroom was a small bedroom, very barely furnished, offering no
possibility of concealment. Then the passage opened into a large roomy
kitchen, the full width of the rooms on both sides of the hall, and the
kitchen completed the flat.
Rolfe glanced keenly around the kitchen. There were no cooking appliances
visible, or pots or pans, but there was much lumber and odds and ends, as
though the place were used as a store-room. Presumably Miss Fanning
obtained her meals from the restaurant on the ground floor of the
mansions and had no use for a kitchen. The room was dirty and dusty and
crowded with all kinds of rubbish. But the miscellaneous rubbish stored
in the room offered no hiding-place for a man. Rolfe nevertheless made a
conscientious search, shifting the lumber about and ferreting into dark
corners, without result. Finally he crossed the room to look out of the
window, which had been left open, no doubt by Inspector Chippenfield.
The mansions in which the flat was situated formed part of a large
building, with back windows overlooking a small piece of ground. The
flat was on the fourth story. Rolfe looked around the neighbouring roofs
and down onto the ground fifty feet below, but could see nothing.
He withdrew his head and was turning to leave the room when his attention
was attracted by the peculiar behaviour of the dog, which had followed
him throughout on his search. The little animal, after sniffing about the
floor, ran to the open window and started whining and jumping up at it.
Rolfe quickly returned to the window and looked out.
"Why, of course!" he muttered. "How could I have overlooked it?
Inspector," he called aloud, "come here!"
Inspector Chippenfield appeared in the kitchen in a state of some
excitement at the summons. He carried the key of the front room in his
hand, having taken the precaution to lock Miss Fanning in before he
responded to the call of his colleague.
"What is it, Rolfe?" he asked eagerly.
"This dog has tracked him to the window, so he's evidently escaped that
way," explained Rolfe briefly. "He's climbed along the window-ledge."
Inspector Chippenfield approached the window and looked out. A broad
window-ledge immediately beneath the window ran the whole length of the
building beneath the windows on the fourth floor, and, so far as could be
seen, continued round the side of the house. It was a dizzy, but not a
difficult feat for a man of cool head to walk along the ledge to the
corner of the house.
"I wonder where that infernal ledge goes to?" said Inspector
Chippenfield, vainly twisting his neck and protruding his body through
the window to a dangerous extent to see round the corner of the building.
"I daresay it leads to the water-pipe, and the scoundrel, knowing that,
has been able to get round, shin down, and get clear away."
"I'll soon find out," said Rolfe. "I'll walk along to the corner and
"Do you think you can do it, Rolfe?" asked the inspector nervously. "If
you fell--" he glanced down to the ground far below with a shudder.
"Nonsense!" laughed Rolfe. "I won't fall. Why, the ledge is a foot broad,
and I've got a steady head. He may not have got very far, after all, and
I may be able to see him from the corner."
He got out of the window as he spoke, and started to walk carefully along
the ledge towards the corner of the building. He reached it safely,
peered round, screwed himself round sharply, and came back to the open
window almost at a run.
"You're right!" he gasped, as he sprang through. "I saw him. He is
climbing down the spouting, using the chimney brickwork as a brace for
his feet. If we get downstairs we may catch him."
He was out of the kitchen in an instant, up the passage, and racing down
three steps at a time before the inspector had recovered from his
surprise. Then he followed as quickly as he could, but Rolfe had a long
start of him. When Inspector Chippenfield reached the ground floor Rolfe
was nowhere in sight. The inspector looked up and down the street,
wondering what had become of him.
At that instant a tall young man, bareheaded and coat-less, came running
out of an alley-way, pursued by Rolfe.
"Stop him!" cried Rolfe, to his superior officer.
Inspector Chippenfield stepped quickly out into the street in front of
the fugitive. The young man cannoned into the burly officer before he
could stop himself, and the inspector clutched him fast. He attempted to
wrench himself free, but Rolfe had rushed to his superior's assistance,
and drew the baton with which he had provided himself when he set out
from Scotland Yard.
"You needn't bother about using that thing," said the young man
contemptuously. "I'm not a fool; I realise you've got me."
"We'll not give you another chance." Inspector Chippenfield dexterously
snapped a pair of handcuffs on the young man's wrists.
"What are these for?" said the captive, regarding them sullenly.
"You'll know soon enough when we get you upstairs," replied the
inspector. "Now then, up you go."
They reascended the stairs in silence, Inspector Chippenfield and Rolfe
walking on each side of their prisoner holding him by the arms, in case
he tried to make another bolt. They reached the flat and found the front
door open as they had left it. The inspector entered the hall and
unlocked the drawing-room door.
The girl was sitting on the chair where they had left her, with her head
bowed down in an attitude of the deepest dejection. She straightened
herself suddenly as they entered, and launched a terrified glance at the
"Oh, Fred!" she gasped.
"They were too good for me, Doris," he responded, as though in reply to
her unspoken query. "I would have got away from this chap"--he indicated
Rolfe with a nod of his head--"but I ran into the other one."
He stooped as he spoke to brush with his manacled hands some of the dirt
from his clothes, which he had doubtless gained in his perilous climb
down the side of the house, and then straightened himself to look
loweringly at his captors. He was a tall, slender young fellow of about
twenty-five or twenty-six, clean-shaven, with a fresh complexion and a
rather effeminate air. He was well dressed in a grey lounge suit, a soft
shirt, with a high double collar and silk necktie. He looked, as he stood
there, more like a dandified city clerk than the desperate criminal
suggested by Hill's confession.
"Come on, what's the charge?" he demanded insolently, with a slight
glance at his manacled hands.
"Is your name Frederick Birchill?" asked Inspector Chippenfield.
The young man nodded.
"Then, Frederick Birchill, you're charged with burglariously entering
the house of Sir Horace Fewbanks, at Hampstead, on the night of the 18th
"Burglary?" said Birchill "Anything else?"
"That will do for the present," replied the inspector. "We may find it
necessary to charge you with a more serious crime later."
"Well, all I can say is that you've got the wrong man. But that is
nothing new for you chaps," he added with a sneer.
"Surely you are not going to charge him with the murder?" said the girl
The inspector's reply was merely to warn the prisoner that anything he
said might be used in evidence against him at his trial.
"He had nothing whatever to do with it--he knows nothing about it,"
protested the girl. "If you let him go I'll tell you who murdered
"Who murdered him?" asked the inspector.
"Hill," was the reply.
Doris Fanning got off a Holborn tram at King's Cross, and with a hasty
glance round her as if to make sure she was not followed, walked at a
rapid pace across the street in the direction of Caledonian Road. She
walked up that busy thoroughfare at the same quick gait for some minutes,
then turned into a narrow street and, with another suspicious look around
her, stopped at the doorway of a small shop a short distance down.
The shop sold those nondescript goods which seem to afford a living to a
not inconsiderable class of London's small shopkeepers. The windows and
the shelves were full of dusty old books and magazines, trumpery curios
and cheap china, second-hand furniture and a collection of miscellaneous
odds and ends. A thick dust lay over the whole collection, and the shop
and its contents presented a deserted and dirty appearance. Moreover, the
door was closed as though customers were not expected. The girl tried the
door and found it locked--a fact which seemed to indicate that customers
were not even desired. After another hasty look up and down the street
she tapped sharply on the door in a peculiar way.
The door was opened after the lapse of a few minutes by a short thickset
man of over fifty, whose heavy face displayed none of the suavity and
desire to please which is part of the stock-in-trade of the small
shopkeeper of London. A look of annoyance crossed his face at the sight
of the girl, and his first remark to her was one which no well-regulated
shopkeeper would have addressed to a prospective customer.
"You!" he exclaimed. "What in God's name has brought you here? I told you
on no account to come to the shop. How do you know somebody hasn't
"I could not help it, Kincher," the girl responded piteously. "I'm
distracted about Fred, and I had to come over to ask your advice."
"You women are all fools," the man retorted. "You might have known that
I would read all about the case in the papers, and that I'd let you
hear from me."
"Yes, Kincher," she replied humbly, "but they let me see Fred for a
few minutes yesterday at the police court and he told me to come over
and see you. Oh, if you only knew what I've suffered since he was
arrested. Yesterday he was committed for trial. I haven't closed my
eyes for over a week."
"So you attended the police-court proceedings?" said Kemp. And when the
girl nodded her head he went on, "The more fool you. I suppose it would
be too much to expect a woman to keep away even though she knew she could
do no good."
"I knew that, Kincher, but I simply had to go. I should have died if I
had stayed in that dreadful flat alone. I tried to, but I couldn't. I got
so nervous that I had to put my handkerchief into my mouth to prevent
myself from screaming aloud."
"Well, since you are here you had better come inside instead of standing
there and giving yourself and me away to every passing policeman."
He led the way inside, and the girl followed him to a dirty, cheerless
room behind the shop which was furnished with a sofa-bedstead, a table,
and a chair. It was evident that Kemp lived alone and attended to his own
wants. The remains of an unappetising meal were on a corner of the table,
and a kettle and a teapot stood by the fireplace in which a fire had
recently been made with a few sticks for the purpose of boiling a kettle.
Bedclothes were heaped on the sofa-bedstead in a disordered state, and in
the midst of them nestled a large tortoise-shell cat.
"Sit down," said Kemp. There was an old chair near the fireplace and he
pushed it towards her with his foot. "What's brought you over here?"
The girl sank into the chair and began to cry.
"I can't help it, Kincher," she said. "I don't know what to say or do.
Fancy Fred being charged with murder! Oh, it's too dreadful to think
about. And yet I can think of nothing else."
"Crying your eyes out won't help matters much," replied the
The girl did not reply, but rocked herself backwards and forwards on the
chair. She sobbed so violently that she appeared to be threatened with an
attack of hysteria. Kemp watched her silently. The cat on the
sofa-bedstead, as if awakened by the noise, got up, yawned, looked
inquiringly round, and then with a measured leap sprang into the girl's
lap. She was startled by his act and then she smiled through her sobs as
she stroked the animal's coat.
"Poor old Peter!" she exclaimed. "He wants to console me! don't you,
Peter? I say, Kincher, I wish you'd give me Peter; you don't want him.
Oh, look at the dear!" The cat had perched himself on one of her knees
to beg, and he sawed the air appealingly with his forepaws. "I must give
him a tit-bit for that." She eyed the remains of the meal on the table
disdainfully. "No, Peter, there is nothing fit for you to
eat--positively nothing. Why, he understands me like a human being," she
continued in amazement as the huge cat dropped on all fours and
deliberately sprang back to the sofa-bedstead. "I say, Kincher, you
really want a woman in this place to look after you. It's in a most
shocking state--it's like a pigsty."
Kemp made no reply but continued to watch her. Her tears had vanished and
she sat forward with her dark eyes sparkling, one hand supporting her
pretty face as she glanced round the room.
"Have you a cigarette?" she asked suddenly.
Kemp went into the shop and came back with a packet of cheap cigarettes.
The girl pushed them away petulantly.
"I don't like that brand," she said; "haven't you anything better?"
The man shook his head.
"No? Then here goes--I must have a smoke of some sort." She stuck one of
the cheap cigarettes daintily into her mouth. "A match, Kincher! Why, the
box is filthy! You must have a woman in to look after you, even if I have
to find you one myself."
"I don't want any woman in the place," retorted Kemp. "There is no peace
for a man when a woman is about. But let us have no more of this idle
chatter. What's brought you over here? I suppose it's about Fred."
"Poor Fred!" The girl looked downcast for a moment, then she tossed her
head, puffed out some smoke, and exclaimed energetically, "But he's not
guilty, Kincher, and we'll get him off, won't we?"
"Not merely by saying so," replied Kemp. "But you'd better tell me how it
came about that he was arrested for the murder. The police gave away
nothing at the police court. Bill Dobbs was down there and he told me
they let out nothing, except that their principal witness against Fred is
that fellow Hill. I always knew he'd squeak. I told Fred to have nothing
to do with the job."
The girl's eyes flashed viciously. She tossed the cigarette into the
fire-place and straightened herself.
"That's the low, dirty scoundrel who committed the murder," she
exclaimed. "He ought to be in the dock--not Fred."
"Was Fred up there that night?" asked Kemp.
"At Riversbrook, or whatever they call it."
"He told me he didn't go."
"It's because he was up there that the police have arrested him," said
the girl. "Hill gave him away. Oh, he's a double-dyed villain, is Hill.
And so quiet and respectable looking with it all! He used to let me in
when I went to Riversbrook, and let me out again, and pocket the
half-crowns I gave him. And I like a fool never suspected him once, or
thought that he knew anything about Fred coming to the flat. He didn't
let it out till the night Sir Horace quarrelled with me. Sir Horace found
out about--about Fred--and when I went up to see him as usual, he told me
that he had finished with me and he called Hill up to show me out. 'Show
this young lady out,' he said in that cold haughty voice of his, and the
wily old villain Hill just bowed and held the door open. He followed me
down stairs and let me out at the side door. There he said, 'I'll escort
you to the front gate, if you will permit me, miss. I usually lock the
gate about this time.' I thought nothing of this because he had come with
me to the front gate before. He followed me down the garden path through
the plantation till we reached the front gate. He opened the gate for me
and I said 'Good night, Hill,' but instead of his replying 'Good night,
Miss Fanning,' as he usually did, he hissed out like a serpent, 'You tell
Birchill I want to see him to-morrow, and I'll come to the flat about 9
o'clock. Tell him an old friend named Field wants to see him. Don't
forget the name--Field!' Then he locked the gate and was gone before I
could speak a word.
"I gave Fred his message next morning--I wish to God that I hadn't," she
continued. "I asked Fred not to keep the appointment, but he insisted on
doing so. He said that he and Field had been good friends in the gaol,
and that Field had told him that if he ever got on to anything he would
let him know. He seemed quite pleased at the idea of meeting Field again.
I told him to beware that Field wasn't laying a trap for him, but he
wouldn't listen to me.
"Sure enough, Field--or Hill as he calls himself now--did come over
that evening and I let him in myself. I took him into the sitting-room
where Fred was, and I sat down in a corner of the room pretending to read
a book so that I could hear what our visitor had to say. But the cunning
old devil whispered something to Fred, and Fred came over to me and asked
if I'd mind leaving them alone for half an hour. I didn't mind so much
because I knew I could get it all out of Fred after Hill had gone.
"He remained shut up with Fred for nearly two hours and then I heard Fred
letting him out of the front door. Fred came in to me, and I soon got the
strength of it all from him. What do you think Hill had come for? To get
Fred to burgle Sir Horace's house! And Fred had agreed to do it. I cried
and I stormed and went into hysterics, but he wouldn't budge--you know
how obstinate he can be when he likes. He said that Hill had told him
there was a good haul to be picked up. Sir Horace was going to Scotland
for the shooting, and the servants were to be sent to his country house,
so the coast would be clear. Hill was to leave everything right at
Riversbrook on the afternoon of the 18th of August, and he was to come
across to the flat and let Fred know.
"Hill came, as he promised, but as soon as he came in I could see that
something had happened. The first words he said were that Sir Horace had
returned unexpectedly from Scotland. I was glad to hear it, for I thought
that meant that there would be no burglary. I said as much to Fred, and
he would have agreed with me, but that devil Hill was too full of
cunning. 'Of course, if you're frightened, we'd better call it off,' he
said. Fred had been drinking during the day, and you know what he's like
when he's had a little too much. 'I was never frightened of any job yet,'
he said, 'and I'd do this job to-night if the house was full of rozzers,'
Hill pretended that he wasn't particular whether the thing came off or
not that night, but all the while he kept egging Fred on to do it. Oh, I
can see now what his game was. In spite of all I could do or say, it was
arranged that Fred should go over, and see if it was quite safe to carry
out the job. Hill said he thought Sir Horace was going out that night,
and wouldn't be home until the early morning. About 9 o'clock Fred went
off, leaving Hill and me alone in the flat together. How I wish now that
I had killed him when I had such a good chance.
"We sat there scarcely speaking, and heard the clock strike the hours.
After midnight I began to get restless, for I thought something must have
happened to Fred. Hill said in a low voice: 'It's time Fred was back.'
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when I heard Fred's step
outside, and I ran to let him in. He came in as white as a sheet. 'Fred,'
I cried as soon as I saw him, 'there's some blood on your face.'
"He didn't answer a word until he had taken a big drink of whisky out of
the decanter. Then he said in a whisper: 'Sir Horace Fewbanks has been
murdered!' 'Murdered!' cried Hill, leaping up from his chair--he can act
well, I can tell you--'My God, Fred, you don't mean it!' 'He's dead, I
tell you,' replied Fred fiercely. I thought, and at the time I suppose
Hill thought, that Fred had shot him either accidentally or in order to
escape capture. He seemed to guess what we were thinking, for he swore
that he had had nothing to do with it--Sir Horace was dead on the floor
when he got there.
"He told us all that had happened. When he got to Riversbrook he found
lights burning on the ground floor. He jumped over the fence at the side
and hid in the garden. He was there only a few minutes when he saw the
lights go out. Then the front door was slammed and a woman walked down
the garden path to the gate."
"A woman!" exclaimed Kemp.
"Yes, a woman. Why not? She had been to see Sir Horace. One of his
Society mistresses. I'll bet it was on her account that he came back from
"What time was this?" he asked with interest.
"About half-past ten," replied the girl.
"And this woman--this lady--turned out the lights and closed the
"So Fred says. Of course he thought Sir Horace had done it, but he found
out later that Sir Horace was dead."
"I can't understand it," said Kemp. "What was she doing there? If she
found the man dead, why didn't she inform the police? No, wait a minute!
She'd be afraid to do that if she was a Society woman."
"It might be her who killed him," said the girl.
"Does Fred think that?" asked Kemp, looking at her closely.
"Fred doesn't know what to think," she replied. "But it must have been
this woman or Hill who killed him. I feel sure myself that it was Hill."
"This woman puzzles me," said Kemp thoughtfully. "She must have been a
cool hand if she went round turning out the lights after finding his dead
body. About half-past ten, you said?"
"That is as near as Fred can make it."
"Go on with your story," he said. "I'm interested in this. You were
saying that Fred saw the lights go out, and then this woman came out of
the house and walked away."
"Well, Fred got into the house through one of the windows at the
side--the one Hill had told him to try," continued the girl. "But first
of all he waited about half an hour in the garden, so as to give Sir
Horace time to go to sleep. He was able to find his way about the house
as Hill had given him a plan. He felt his way upstairs and finding a door
open he went into the room and flashed his electric torch. By its light
he saw Sir Horace Fewbanks lying huddled up in a corner with a big pool
of blood beside him on the floor. He felt him to see if he was dead. The
body was quite warm, but it was limp. Sir Horace was dead. Fred says he
lost his nerve and ran for it as hard as he could. He rushed down stairs
and out of the house and got back to the flat as fast as he could.
"The three of us sat there shaking with fear and wondering what to do.
Hill was the first to recover himself. In his cunning plausible way, he
pointed out that it was altogether unlikely that suspicion would fall on
Fred or him. All we had to do was to keep quiet and say nothing; then
we'd have no awkward questions put to us. It was his suggestion that we
should send an anonymous letter to Scotland Yard telling them Sir Horace
had been murdered. That would be much better, he said, than leaving the
body there until he went over and found it when he had to go over to
Riversbrook to take a look round, in accordance with the instructions
that had been given him when Sir Horace went to Scotland. Knowing what he
did, he was afraid that if he was allowed to discover the body and inform
the police, he would let something slip when the police came at him with
their hundreds of questions. We printed the letter to Scotland Yard, each
one doing a letter at a time. Hill took it with him, saying he would post
it on his way home.
"When he left, Fred and I sat there thinking. Suddenly it came to me as
clear as daylight that Hill had committed the murder, and had fixed up
things so as to throw suspicion on Fred. He must have known Sir Horace
was coming back from Scotland that night, and he had laid in wait for him
and shot him. Then he had come over to my flat in order to persuade Fred
to carry out the burglary, and direct suspicion to Fred for the murder,
if the police worried him. I told Fred what I thought, but he only
laughed at me and said I was talking nonsense. But I was right, for a
week afterwards the police came and arrested Fred at the flat."
"How did they get him?" asked Kemp.
"I saw them coming along the street from the window, and I pointed them
out to Fred. He tried to get away through the kitchen window along the
ledge and down the spouting. He almost got away, but one of the
detectives saw him before he reached the ground, and they dashed down
stairs and got him in the street. Next day I saw in the papers that Hill
had made an important statement to the police, and this had led to
Fred's arrest. Hill is the murderer, Kincher. The cunning, wicked,
treacherous villain told the police about Fred being up there. He wants
to see Fred hang in order to save his own neck." The girl's voice rose
to a shriek, and she sprang to her feet with blazing eyes. "Kincher,"
she cried, "you've got to help me put the rope round this wretch's neck.
Do you hear me?"
Kemp's impassivity was in marked contrast to the girl's hysterical
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Fred wants you to get up an alibi for him. He sent me over to ask you to
arrange it without delay. He wants you and two or three others to swear
that he was over here on the night of the murder. That will be sufficient
to get him off."
"Not me," said Kemp, shaking his head decidedly. "I won't do it; it's too
risky. The police have too many things against me for my word to be any
good as a witness. I'd only be landing myself in trouble for perjury
instead of helping Fred out of trouble. He ought to have got an alibi
ready before he was arrested. I told him at the inquest that he ought to
look after it, and he swore he'd not been up there on the night of the
murder. It is too late to do anything in the alibi line now. I don't know
anybody I could get to come forward and swear Fred was in their company
that night--there is a difference between fixing up a tale for the police
before a man's arrested, and going into the witness box and committing
perjury on oath."
He spoke in such an uncompromising tone that the girl saw it was useless
to pursue the matter further.
"Suppose I went to the police and told them that Hill is the murderer?"
Kemp shook his head slowly.
"There is only your word for it that Hill killed him," he said. "It
doesn't look to me as if he did, when he went over to your flat and told
Fred that Sir Horace had come back from Scotland. If he had killed him he
would have let Fred go over without saying a word about it."
"That was part of his cunning," said the girl. "If he had said nothing
about Sir Horace's return, Fred would have suspected him when he found
the dead body. I'm as certain that Hill committed the murder as if I had
seen him do it with my own eyes."
Kemp shrugged his shoulders as though realising the uselessness of
attempting to combat such a feminine form of reasoning.
"Didn't Fred say that the body was warm when he touched it?" he asked.
She meditated a moment over this evidence of Hill's innocence.
"Well, if Hill didn't kill him, the woman Fred saw leaving the house must
have done so," she declared.
"There is something in that," said Kemp. "Look here, we've got to get
Fred a good lawyer to defend him, and we must be guided by his advice as
to what is the best thing to do. He knows more about what will go down
with a jury than you do."
"I paid a solicitor to defend him at the police court," said the
girl, "but the money I gave him was thrown away. He said nothing and
"That shows he is a man who knows his business," replied Kemp. "What's
the good of talking to police court beaks in a case that is bound to go
to trial? It's a waste of breath. The thing is to see that Fred is
properly defended when the case comes on at the Old Bailey. We want
somebody who can manage the jury. I should say Holymead is the man if you
can get him. I don't know as he'd be likely to take up the case, for he
don't go in much for criminal courts--and yet it seems to me that he
might. You ought to try to get him, at least. He used to be a friend of
your friend Sir Horace, so if he took up the case it would look as if he
believed Fred had nothing to do with the murder. It would be bound to
make a good impression on the jury."
"Wouldn't he be very expensive?" asked the girl.
"Not so expensive as getting hanged," said Kemp grimly. "You take my
advice and have him if you can get him. Never mind what he costs, if you
can raise the money. You've got some money saved up, haven't you?"
"Yes, I've nearly L200. Sir Horace put L100 in the Savings Bank for me on
my last birthday. And the furniture at the flat is mine. I'd sell that
and everything I've got, for Fred's sake."
"That is the way to talk," said Kemp. "You go to this solicitor you had
at the police court, and tell him you want Holymead to defend Fred. Tell
him he must brief Holymead--have nobody else but Holymead. Tell him that
Holymead was a friend of Sir Horace Fewbanks's and that if he appears for
Fred the jury will never believe that Fred had anything to do with the
murder. And I don't think he had, though he did lie to me and swear he
hadn't been up there that night," he added after a moment's reflection.
"There is one link in the chain missing," said Rolfe, who was discussing
with Inspector Chippenfield, in the latter's room at Scotland Yard, the
strength of the case against Birchill.
"And what is that?" asked his superior.
"The piece of woman's handkerchief that I found in the dead man's hand.
You remember we agreed that it showed there was a woman in the case."
"Well, what do you call this girl Fanning? Isn't she in the case? Surely,
you don't want any better explanation of the murder than a quarrel
between her and Sir Horace over this man Birchill?"
"Yes, I see that plain enough," replied Rolfe. "There is ample motive for
the crime, but how that piece of handkerchief got into the dead man's
hand is still a mystery to me. It would be easily explained if this girl
was present in the room or the house when the murder was committed. But
she wasn't. Hill's story is that she was at the flat with him."
"When you have had as much experience in investigating crime as I have,
you won't worry over little points that at first don't seem to fit in
with what we know to be facts," responded the inspector in a patronising
tone. "I noticed from the first, Rolfe, that you were inclined to make
too much of this handkerchief business, but I said nothing. Of course, it
was your own discovery, and I have found during my career that young
detectives are always inclined to make too much of their own discoveries.
Perhaps I was myself, when I was young and inexperienced. Now, as to this
handkerchief: what is more likely than that Birchill had it in his pocket
when he went out to Riversbrook on that fatal night? He was living in
the flat with this girl Fanning: what was more natural than that he
should pick up a handkerchief off the floor that the girl had dropped and
put it in his pocket with the intention of giving it to her when she
returned to the room? Instead of doing so he forgot all about it. When he
shot Sir Horace Fewbanks he put his hand into his pocket for a
handkerchief to wipe his forehead or his hands--it was a hot night, and I
take it that a man who has killed another doesn't feel as cool as a
cucumber. While stooping over his victim with the handkerchief still in
his hand, the dying man made a convulsive movement and caught hold of a
corner of the handkerchief, which was torn off." Inspector Chippenfield
looked across at his subordinate with a smile of triumphant superiority.
"Yes," said Rolfe meditatively. "There is nothing wrong about that as far
as I can see. But I would like to know for certain how it got there."
Inspector Chippenfield was satisfied with his subordinate's testimony to
"That is all right, Rolfe," he said in a tone of kindly banter. "But
don't make the mistake of regarding your idle curiosity as a virtue.
After the trial, if you are still curious on the point, I have no
doubt Birchill will tell you. He is sure to make a confession before
he is hanged."
But it was more a spirit of idle curiosity than anything else that
brought Rolfe to Crewe's chambers in Holborn an hour later. Having
secured the murderer, he felt curious as to what Crewe's feelings were on
his defeat. It was the first occasion that he had been on a case which
Crewe had been commissioned to investigate, and he was naturally pleased
that Inspector Chippenfield and he had arrested the author of the crime
while Crewe was all at sea. It was plain from the fact that the latter
had thought it necessary to visit Scotland that he had got on a false
scent. It was not Scotland, but Scotland Yard that Crewe should have
visited, Rolfe said to himself with a smile.
Crewe, in pursuance of his policy of keeping on the best of terms with
the police, gave Rolfe a very friendly welcome. He produced from a
cupboard two glasses, a decanter of whisky, a siphon of soda, and a box
of cigars. Rolfe quickly discovered that the cigars were of a quality
that seldom came his way, and he leaned back in his chair and puffed with
"Then you are determined to hang Birchill?" said Crewe, as with a cigar
in his fingers he faced his visitor with a smile.
"We'll hang him right enough," said Rolfe. He pulled the cigar out of his
mouth and looked at it approvingly. Though the talk was of hanging, he
had never felt more thoroughly at peace with the world.
"It will be a pity if you do," said Crewe.
"Because he's the wrong man."
"It would take a lot to make me believe that," said Rolfe stoutly. "We've
got a strong case against him--there is not a weak point in it. I admit
that Hill is a tainted witness, but they'll find it pretty hard to break
down his story. We've tested it in every way and find it stands. Then
there are the bootmarks outside the window. Birchill's boots fit them to
the smallest fraction of an inch. The jemmy found in the flat fits the
mark made in the window at Riversbrook, and we've got something
more--another witness who saw him in Tanton Gardens about the time of the
murder. If Birchill can get his neck out of the noose, he's cleverer than
I take him for."
Crewe did not reply directly to Rolfe's summary of the case.
"I see that they've briefed Holymead for the defence," he said
after a pause.
"A waste of good money," said the police officer. Something appealed to
his sense of humour, for he broke out into a laugh.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Crewe.
"I was wondering how Sir Horace feels when he sees the money he gave
this girl Fanning being used to defend his murderer."
"You are a hardened scamp, Rolfe, with a very perverse sense of humour,"
"It was a cunning move of them to get Holymead," said Rolfe. "They think
it will weigh with the jury because he was such a close friend of Sir
Horace--that he wouldn't have taken up the case unless he felt that
Birchill was innocent. But you and I know better than that, Mr. Crewe. A
lawyer will prove that black is white if he is paid for it. In fact, I
understand that, according to the etiquette of the bar, they have got to
do it. A barrister has to abide by his brief and leave his personal
feelings out of account."
"That's so. Theoretically he is an officer of the Court, and his services
are supposed to be at the call of any man who is in want of him and can
afford to pay for them. Of course, a leading barrister, such as Holymead,
often declines a brief because he has so much to do, but he is not
supposed to decline it for personal reasons."
"His heart will not be in the case," said Rolfe philosophically.
"On the contrary, I think it will," said Crewe. "My own opinion is that,
if necessary, he will exert his powers to the utmost in order to get
Birchill off, and that he will succeed."
"Not he," said Rolfe confidently. "Our case is too strong."
"You've got a lot of circumstantial evidence, but a clever lawyer will
pull it to pieces. Circumstantial evidence has hung many a man, and it
will hang many more. But a jury will hesitate to convict on
circumstantial evidence when it can be shown that the conduct of the
prisoner is at variance with what the conduct of a guilty man would be. I
don't bet, but I'll wager you a box of cigars to nothing that Holymead
gets Birchill off."
"It's a one-sided wager, but I'll take the cigars because I could do
with a box of these," said Rolfe. "You might as well give them to me now,
"No, no," said Crewe with a smile. "Put a couple in your pocket now,
because you won't win the box."
"Of course, I understand, Mr. Crewe, why you say Birchill is the wrong
man. You feel a bit sore because we have beaten you. I would feel sore
myself in your place, and I don't deny that we got information that put
us on Birchill's track, and therefore it was easier for us to solve the
mystery than it was for you."
"I'm not a bit sore," said Crewe. "I can take a beating, especially when
the men who beat me are good sportsmen." He bowed towards Rolfe, and
that officer blushed as he recalled how Inspector Chippenfield and he
had agreed to withhold information from Crewe and try to put him on a
"I wish you'd tell me what you consider the weak points of our case
against Birchill," asked Rolfe.
"Your case is based on Hill's confession, and that to my mind is false in
many details," said Crewe. "Take, for instance, his account of how he
came into contact with Birchill again. This girl Fanning, after a quarrel
with Sir Horace, came over to Riversbrook with a message for Hill which
was virtually a threat. Now does that seem probable? The girl who had
been in the habit of visiting Sir Horace goes over to see Hill. No woman
in the circumstances would do anything of the sort. She had too good an
opinion of herself to take a message to a servant at a house from which
she had been expelled by the owner, who had been keeping her. How would
she have felt if she had run into Sir Horace? It is true that Sir Horace
left for Scotland the day before, but it is improbable that the girl who
had quarrelled with Sir Horace a fortnight before knew the exact date on
which he intended to leave. And how did Hill behave when he got the
message? According to his story, he consented to go and see Birchill
under threat of exposure, and he consented to become an accomplice in the
burglary for the same reason. Sir Horace knew all about Hill's past, so
why should he fear a threat of exposure?"
"Hill explained that," interposed Rolfe. "He pointed out that, though Sir
Horace knew his past, he couldn't afford to have any scandal about it."
"Quite so. But could Birchill afford to threaten a man who was under the
protection of Sir Horace Fewbanks? Would Birchill pit himself against Sir
Horace? I think that Sir Horace, knowing the law pretty thoroughly, would
soon have found a way to deal with Birchill. If Hill was threatened by
Birchill, his first impulse, knowing what a powerful protector he had in
Sir Horace Fewbanks, would have been to go to him and seek his protection
against this dangerous old associate of his convict days. According to
Hill's own story, he was something in the nature of a confidential
servant, trusted to some extent with the secrets of Sir Horace's double
life. What more likely than such a man, threatened as he describes,
should turn to his master who had shielded him and trusted him?"
"I confess that is a point which never struck me," said Rolfe
"Now, let us go on to the meeting between Hill and Birchill," continued
Crewe. "This girl Fanning, discarded by Sir Horace, because he'd
discovered she was playing him false with Birchill, is made the
ostensible reason for Birchill's wishing to commit a burglary at
Riversbrook, because Birchill wants, as he says, to get even with Sir
Horace Fewbanks. Is it likely that Birchill would confide his desire for
revenge so frankly to Sir Horace's confidential servant, the trusted
custodian of his master's valuables, who could rely on his master's
protection--the protection of a highly-placed man of whom Birchill stood
admittedly in fear, and whom he knew, according to Hill's story, was
unassailable from his slander? What had Hill to fear, from the threats of
a man like Birchill, when he was living under Sir Horace Fewbanks's
protection? All that Hill had to do when Birchill tried to induce him,
by threats of exposure of his past, to help in a burglary at his master's
house, was to threaten to tell everything to Sir Horace. Birchill told
Hill that he was frightened of Sir Horace Fewbanks, the judge who had
"Then Birchill's confidence in Hill is remarkable, any way you look at
it. He sends for Hill, whom he had known in gaol, and whom he hadn't seen
since, to confide in him that it is his intention to burgle his
employer's house. He rashly assumes that Hill will do all that he wishes,
and he proceeds to lay his cards on the table. But even supposing that
Birchill was foolish enough to do this--to trust a chance gaol
acquaintance so implicitly--there is a far more puzzling action on his
part. Why did he want Hill's assistance to burgle a practically
unprotected house? I confess I have great difficulty in understanding why
such an accomplished flash burglar as Birchill, one of the best men at
the game in London at the present time, should want the assistance of an
amateur like Hill in such a simple job."
Rolfe looked startled.
"Hill says he wanted a plan of the house and to know what valuables it
"And has it been your experience among criminals, Rolfe, that a burglar
must have a plan of the place he intends to burgle, and that to get this
plan he will give himself away to any man who can supply it? A plan has
its uses, but it is indispensable only when a very difficult job is being
undertaken, such as breaking through a wall or a ceiling to get at a room
which contains a safe. This job was as simple as A B C. And besides, as
far as I can make out, Birchill knew--the girl Fanning must have
known--that Sir Horace would be going away some time in August and that
the house would be empty. Did he want a plan of an empty house? He would
be free to roam all over it when he had forced a window."
"He wanted to know what valuables were there," said Rolfe.
"And therefore took Hill into his confidence. If Hill had told his
master--even Birchill would realise the risk of that--there would be no
valuables to get. Next, we come to Sir Horace Fewbanks's unexpected
return. According to Hill's story, he made some tentative efforts to
commence a confession as soon as he saw his employer, but Sir Horace was
upset about something and was too impatient to listen to a word. Is such
a story reasonable or likely? Hill says that Sir Horace had always
treated him well; and according to his earlier statement, when he
permitted himself to be terrorised into agreeing to this burglary, he
told himself that chance would throw in his way some opportunity of
informing his master. And he told you that Birchill, mistrusting his
unwilling accomplice, hurried on the date of the burglary so as to give
him no such opportunity. Well, chance throws in Hill's way the very
opportunity he has been seeking, but he is too frightened to use it
because Sir Horace happens to return in an angry or impatient mood.
"Let us take Birchill's attitude when Hill tells him that Sir Horace has
unexpectedly returned from Scotland. Birchill is suspicious that Hill
has played him false, and naturally so, but Hill, instead of letting him
think so, and thus preventing the burglary from taking place, does all
he can to reassure him, while at the same time begging him to postpone
the burglary. That was hardly the best way to go about it. Let us
charitably assume that Hill was too frightened to let Birchill remain
under the impression that he'd played him false, and let us look at
Birchill's attitude. It is inconceivable that Birchill should have
permitted himself to be reassured, when right through the negotiations
between himself and Hill he showed the most marked distrust of the
latter. Yet, according to Hill, he suddenly abandons this attitude for
one of trusting credulity, meekly accepting the assurance of the man he
distrusts that Sir Horace Fewbanks's unexpected return from Scotland on
the very night the burglary is to be committed is not a trap to catch
him, but a coincidence. Then, after drinking himself nearly blind, he
sets forth with a revolver to commit a burglary on the house of the
judge who tried him, on Hill's bare word that everything is all right.
Guileless, trusting, simple-minded Birchill!
"Hill is left locked up in the flat with the girl; for Birchill, who has
just trusted him implicitly in a far more important matter affecting his
own liberty, has a belated sense of caution about trusting his unworthy
accomplice while he is away committing the burglary. The time goes on;
the couple in the flat hear the clock strike twelve before Birchill's
returning footsteps are heard. He enters, and immediately announces to
Hill and the girl, with every symptom of strongly marked terror, that
while on his burglarious mission, he has come across the dead body of Sir
Horace Fewbanks--murdered in his own house. Mark that! he tells them
freely and openly--tells Hill--as soon as he gets in the flat. Allowing
for possible defects in my previous reasoning against Hill's story,
admitting that an adroit prosecuting counsel may be able to buttress up
some of the weak points, allowing that you may have other circumstantial
evidence supporting your case, that is the fatal flaw in your chain:
because of Birchill's statement on his return to the flat no jury in the
world ought to convict him."
"I don't see why," said Rolfe.
Crewe fixed his deep eyes intently on Rolfe as he replied:
"Because, if Birchill had committed this murder, he would never have
admitted immediately on his returning, least of all to Hill, anything
about the dead body."
"But he told Hill that he didn't commit the murder," protested Rolfe.
"But you say that he did commit the murder," retorted the detective.
"You cannot use that piece of evidence both ways. Your case is that this
man Birchill, while visiting Riversbrook to commit a burglary which he
and Hill arranged, encountered Sir Horace Fewbanks and murdered him. I
say that his admission to Hill on his return to the flat that he had come
across the body of Sir Horace Fewbanks, is proof that Birchill did not
commit the murder. No murderer would make such a damning admission, least
of all to a man he didn't trust--to a man who he believed was capable of
entrapping him. Next you have Birchill consenting to a message being sent
to Scotland Yard conveying the information that Sir Horace had been
murdered. Is that the action of a guilty man? Wouldn't it have been more
to his interest to leave the dead man's body undiscovered in the empty
house and bolt from the country? It might have remained a week or more
before being discovered. True, he would have had to find some way of
silencing Hill while he got away from the country. He might have had to
resort to the crude method of tying Hill up, gagging him, and leaving him
in the flat. But even that would have been better than to inform the
police immediately of the murder and place his life at the mercy of Hill,
whom he distrusted."
"Looked at your way, I admit that there are some weak points in our
case," said Rolfe. "But you'll find that our Counsel will be able to
answer most of them in his address to the jury. If Birchill didn't
commit the murder, who did? Do you deny that he went up to Riversbrook
"The letter sent to Scotland Yard shows that some one was there besides
the murderer. If Birchill was there and helped to write the letter--and
so much is part of your case--he wasn't the murderer. In short, I believe
Birchill went up there to commit a burglary and found the murdered body
of Sir Horace."
"Do you think that Hill did it?" asked Rolfe.
"That is more than I'd like to say. As a matter of fact I have been so
obtuse as to neglect Hill somewhat in my investigations. In fact, I
didn't know until I got hold of a copy of his statement to the police
that he was an ex-convict. Inspector Chippenfield omitted to inform me of
"I didn't know that," said Rolfe, without a blush, as he rose to go. "He
ought to have told you."
When Rolfe left Crewe's office he went back to Scotland Yard. He found
Inspector Chippenfield still in his office, and related to him the
substance of his interview with Crewe. The inspector listened to the
recital in growing anger.
"Birchill not the right man?" he spluttered. "Why, of course he is. The
case against him is purely circumstantial, but it's as clear as
"Then you don't think there's anything in Crewe's points?" asked Rolfe.
"I think so little of them that I look upon Birchill as good as hanged!
That for Crewe's points!" Inspector Chippenfield snapped his fingers
contemptuously. "And I'm surprised to think that you, Rolfe, whose
loyalty to your superior officer is a thing I would have staked my life
on, should have sat there and listened to such rubbish. I wouldn't have
listened to him for two minutes--no, not for half a minute. He was trying
to pick our case to pieces out of blind spite and jealousy, because we've
got ahead of him in the biggest murder case London's had for many a long
day. A man who jaunts off to Scotland looking for clues to a murder
committed in London is a fool, Rolfe--that's what I call him. We have
beaten him--beaten him badly, and he doesn't like it. But it is not the
first time Scotland Yard has beaten him, and it won't be the last."
"I suppose you're right," said Rolfe. "But there's one point he made
which rather struck me, I must say--that about Birchill telling Hill he'd
found the dead body. Would Birchill have told Hill that, if he'd
committed the murder?"
"Nothing more likely," exclaimed the inspector. "My theory is that
Birchill, while committing the burglary at Riversbrook, was surprised by
Sir Horace Fewbanks. It is possible that the judge tried to capture
Birchill to hand him over to the police, and Birchill shot him. I believe
that Birchill fired both shots--that he had two revolvers. But whatever
took place, a dangerous criminal like Birchill would not require much
provocation to silence a man who interrupted him while he was on business
bent, and a man, moreover, against whom he nursed a bitter grudge. In
this case it is possible there was no provocation at all. Sir Horace
Fewbanks may have simply heard a noise, entered the room where Birchill
was, and been shot down without mercy. Birchill heard him coming and was
ready for him with a revolver in each hand. You've got to bear in mind
that Birchill went to the house in a dangerous mood, half mad with drink,
and furious with anger against Sir Horace Fewbanks for cutting off the
allowance of the girl he was living with. He threatened before he left
the flat to commit the burglary that he'd do for the judge if he
interfered with him."
"That's according to Hill's statement," said Rolfe.
Inspector Chippenfield glanced at his subordinate in some surprise.
"Of course it's Hill's statement," he said. "Isn't he our principal
witness, and doesn't his statement fit in with all the facts we have been
able to gather? Well, the murder of Sir Horace, no matter how it was
committed, was committed in cold blood. But immediately Birchill had done
it the fact that he had committed a murder would have a sobering effect
on him. Although he bragged before he left the flat for Rivers-brook
about killing the judge if he came across him, he had no intention of
jeopardising his neck unnecessarily, and after he had shot down the judge
in a moment of drunken passion he would be anxious to keep Hill--whom he
mistrusted--from knowing that he had committed the murder. But he was
fully aware that Hill would be the person who'd discover the body next
day, and that if he wasn't put on his guard he would bring in the police
and probably give away everything that Birchill had said and done. So, to
obviate this risk and prepare Hill, Birchill hit on the plan of telling
him that he'd found the judge's dead body while burgling the place. It
was a bold idea, and not without its advantages when you consider what an
awkward fix Birchill was in. Not only did it keep Hill quiet, but it
forced him into the position of becoming a kind of silent accomplice in
the crime. You remember Hill did not give the show away until he was
trapped, and then he only confessed to save his own skin. He's a
dangerous and deep scoundrel, this Birchill, but he'll swing this time,
and you'll find that his confession of finding the body will do more than
anything else to hang him--properly put to the jury, and I'll see that it
is properly put."
Rolfe pondered much over these two conflicting points of view--Crewe's
and Inspector Chippenfield's--for the rest of the day. He inclined to
Inspector Chippenfield's conclusions regarding Birchill's admission about
the body. The idea that he had assisted in arresting the wrong man and
had helped to build up a case against him was too unpalatable for him to
accept it. But he was forced to admit that Crewe's theory was distinctly
a plausible one. Though it was impossible for him to give up the
conviction that Birchill was the murderer, he felt that Crewe's analysis
of the case for the prosecution contained several telling points which
might be used with some effect on a jury in the hands of an experienced
counsel. Rolfe had no doubt that Holymead would make the most of those
points, and he also knew that the famous barrister was at his best in
attacking circumstantial evidence.
That night, while walking home, the idea occurred to Rolfe of going over
to Camden Town after supper to see if by questioning Hill again he could
throw a little more light on what had taken place at Doris Tanning's
flat the night Sir Horace Fewbanks was murdered. Hill had been
questioned and cross-questioned at Scotland Yard by Inspector
Chippenfield concerning the events of that night, and professed to have
confessed to everything that had happened, but Rolfe thought it possible
he might be able to extract something more which might assist in
strengthening what Crewe regarded as the weak points in the police case
against Birchill. Rolfe had every justification for such a visit, for,
though Hill had not been arrested, he had been ordered by Inspector
Chippenfield to report himself daily to the Camden Town Police Station,
and the police of that district had been instructed to keep a strict eye
on his movements. Inspector Chippenfield did not regard his principal
witness in the forthcoming murder trial as the sort of man likely to
bolt, but if he permitted him for politic reasons to retain his liberty,
he took every precaution to ensure that Hill should not abuse his
Rolfe lived in lodgings at King's Cross, and, as the evening was fine and
he was fond of exercise, he decided to walk across to Hill's place.
As he walked along his thoughts revolved round the murder of Sir Horace
Fewbanks, and the baffling perplexities which had surrounded its
elucidation. Had they got hold of the right man--the real murderer--in
Fred Birchill? Rolfe kept asking himself that question again and again. A
few hours ago he had not the slightest doubt on the point; he had looked
upon the great murder case as satisfactorily solved, and he had thought
with increasing satisfaction of his own share in bringing the murderer to
justice. He had anticipated newspaper praise on his sharpness: judicial
commendation, a favourable official entry in the departmental records of
Scotland Yard, with perhaps promotion for the good work he had
accomplished in this celebrated case. These rosy visions had been
temporarily dissipated by the conversation he had had with Crewe that
morning. If Crewe had not succeeded in destroying Rolfe's conviction that
the murderer of Sir Horace Fewbanks had been caught, he had pointed out
sufficient flaws in the police case to shake Rolfe's previous assurance
of the legal conviction of Birchill for the crime. The way in which Crewe
had pulled the police case to pieces had shown Rolfe that the conviction
of Birchill was by no means a foregone conclusion, and had left him a
prey to doubts and anxiety which Inspector Chippenfield's subsequent
depreciation of the detective's views had not altogether removed.
The little shop kept by the Hills was empty when Rolfe entered it, but
Mrs. Hill appeared from the inner room in answer to his knock. The
faded little woman did not recognise the police officer at first, but
when he spoke she looked into his face with a start. She timidly said,
in reply to his inquiry for her husband, that he had just "stepped out"
down the street.
"Then you had better send your little girl after him," said Rolfe,
seating himself on the one rickety chair on the outside of the counter.
"I want to see him."
Mrs. Hill seemed at a loss to reply for a moment. Then she answered,
nervously plucking at her apron the while: "I don't think it'd be much
use doing that, sir. You see, Mr. Hill doesn't always tell me where he's
going and I don't really know where he is."
"Then why did you tell me that he had just stepped out down the street?"
asked Rolfe sharply.
"Because I thought he mightn't be far away."
"Then, as a matter of fact, you don't know where he is or when
he'll be back?"
Her prompt and uncompromising reply indicated that she did not want him
to wait for her husband.
"I think I'll wait," said Rolfe, looking at her steadily.
Daphne appeared at the door of the parlour which led into the shop and
her mother waved her back angrily.
"Go to bed this instant, miss; it's long past your bedtime," she said.
It was obvious that Mrs. Hill retained a vivid recollection of how
disastrous had been Daphne's appearance during Inspector Chippenfield's
first visit to the shop.
"Perhaps your little girl knows where her father is," said Rolfe
"No, she doesn't," replied Mrs. Hill with some spirit. "You can ask her
if you like."
Rolfe was suddenly struck with an idea and he decided to test it.
"I won't wait--I've changed my mind. But if your husband comes in tell
him not to go to bed until I've seen him. I'll be back."
"Yes, sir," she replied.
"Do you think he was going to Riversbrook?" he asked.
The woman flushed suddenly and then went pale. She knew as well as Rolfe
that her husband was strictly forbidden, pending the trial, to go near
the place of his former employment, and that the police had relieved him
of his keys and taken possession of the silent house and locked
"No, sir," she replied, with trembling lips, "Mr. Hill hasn't gone
"How can you be certain, if he didn't tell you where he was going?"
"Because it's the last place in the world he'd think of going to," gasped
Mrs. Hill. "Such a thought would never enter his head. I do assure you,
sir, Mr. Hill would never dream of going over there, sir, you can take my
word for it."
Rolfe walked thoughtfully up High Street. Was it possible that Hill had
gone to his late master's residence in defiance of the orders of the
police? If so, only some very powerful motive, and probably one which
affected the crime, could have induced him to risk his liberty by making
such a visit after he had been commanded to keep away from the place.
And how would he get into the house? Rolfe had himself locked up the
house and had locked the gates, and the bunch of keys was at that moment
hanging up in Inspector Chippenfield's room in Scotland Yard. But even as
he asked that question, Rolfe found himself smiling at himself for his
simplicity. Nothing could be easier for a man like Hill--an
ex-criminal--to have obtained a duplicate key, before handing over
possession of the keys. Rolfe had noticed with surprise when he was
locking up the house that the French windows of the morning room were
locked from the outside by a small key as well as being bolted from the
inside. Hill had explained that the late Sir Horace Fewbanks had
generally used this French window for gaining access to his room after a
Rolfe looked at his watch. It was nine o'clock. He decided to go to
Hampstead and put his suspicions to the test. It was quite possible he
was mistaken, but if, on the other hand, Hill was paying a nocturnal
visit to Riversbrook and he had the luck to capture him, he might extract
from him some valuable evidence for the forthcoming trial that Hill had
kept back. And Rolfe was above all things interested at that moment in
making the case for the prosecution as strong as possible.
Rolfe walked to the Camden Town Underground station, bought a ticket for
Hampstead, and took his seat in the tube in that state of exhilarated
excitement which comes to the detective when he feels that he is on the
road to a disclosure. The speed of the train seemed all too slow for the
police officer, and he looked at his watch at least a dozen times during
the short journey from Camden Town to Hampstead.
When Rolfe arrived at Hampstead he set out at a rapid walk for
Riversbrook. It was quite dark when he reached Tanton Gardens. He turned
into the rustling avenue of chestnut trees, and strode swiftly down till
he reached the deserted house of the murdered man.
The gate was locked as he had left it, but Rolfe climbed over it. A late
moon was already throwing a refulgent light through the evening mists,
silvering the tops of the fir trees in front of the house. Rolfe walked
through the plantation, his footsteps falling noiselessly on the pine
needles which strewed the path. He quickly reached the other side of the
little wood, and the Italian garden lay before him, stretching in silver
glory to the dark old house beyond.
Rolfe stood still at the edge of the wood, and glanced across the moonlit
garden to the house. It seemed dark, deserted and desolate. There was no
sign of a light in any of the windows facing the plantation.
The moon, rising above the fringe of trees in the woodland which skirted
the meadows of the east side of the house, cast a sudden ray athwart the
upper portion of the house. But the windows of the retreating first story
still remained in shadow. Rolfe scrutinised these windows closely. There
were three of them--he knew that two of them opened out from the bedroom
the dead man used to occupy, and the third one belonged to the library
adjoining--the room where the murder had been committed. The moonlight,
gradually stealing over the house, revealed the windows of the bedroom
closed and the blinds down, but the library was still in shadow, for a
large chestnut-tree which grew in front of the house was directly in the
line of Rolfe's vision.
Rolfe remained watching the house for some time, but no sign or sound of
life could he detect in its silent desolation. "I must have been
mistaken," he muttered, with a final glance at the windows of the first
story. "There's nobody in the house."
He turned to go, and had taken a few steps through the pinewood when
suddenly he started and stood still. His quick ear had caught a faint
sound--a kind of rattle--coming from the direction of the house. What was
that noise which sounded so strangely familiar to his ears? He had it! It
was the fall of a Venetian blind. Instantaneously there came to Rolfe
the remembrance that Inspector Chippenfield had ordered the library blind
to be left up, so that when the sun was high in the heavens its rays,
striking in through the window over the top of the chestnut-tree, might
dry up the stain of blood on the floor, which washing had failed to
efface. Somebody was in the library and had dropped the blind.
Rolfe hurriedly retraced his steps to the edge of the plantation, and
raced across the Italian garden, feeling for his revolver as he ran. Some
instinct told him that he would find entrance through the French windows
on the west side of the morning room, and thither he directed his steps.
He pulled out his electric torch and tried the windows. They were shut,
and the first one was locked. The second one yielded to his hand. He
pulled it open, and stepped into the room. Making his way by the light of
his torch to the stairs, he swiftly but silently crept up them and turned
to the library on the left of the first landing. The door was closed but
not locked, and a faint light came through the keyhole. Rolfe pushed the
door open, and looked into the room. A man was leaning over the dead
judge's writing-desk, examining its contents by the light of a candle
which he had set down on the desk. He was so engrossed in his occupation
that he did not hear the door open.
"What are you doing there?" demanded Rolfe sternly. His voice sounded
hollow and menacing as it reverberated through the room.
The man at the desk started up, and turned round. It was Hill. When
he saw Rolfe he looked as though he would fall. He made as if to
step forward. Then he stood quite still, looking at the officer with
"Hill," said Rolfe quietly, "what does this mean?"
The butler had regained his self-composure with wonderful quickness. The
mask of reticence dropped over his face again, and it was in the smooth
deferential tones of a well-trained servant that he replied:
"Nothing, sir, I just slipped over from the shop to see if everything
was all right."
"How did you get into the house?"
"By the French window, sir. I had a duplicate key which Sir Horace
"And I see you also have a duplicate key of the desk. Why didn't you give
these keys up with the others to Inspector Chippenfield?"
"I forgot about them at the time, sir. I found them in an old pocket this
evening, and I was so uneasy about the house shut up with a lot of
valuable things in it and nobody to give an eye to them that I just
slipped across to see everything was all right."
"You came here after dark, and let yourself in with a private key after
you had been strictly ordered not to come near the place? You have the
audacity to admit you have done this?"
"Well, it's this way, sir. I was a trusted servant of Sir Horace's. I
knew a great deal about his private life, if I may say so. I know he
kept a lot of private papers in this room, and I wanted to make sure
they were safe--I didn't like them being in this empty house, sir. I
couldn't sleep in my bed of nights for thinking of them, sir. I felt
last night as if my poor dead master was standing at my bedside, urging
me to go over. I am very sorry I disobeyed the police orders, Mr. Rolfe,
but I acted for the best."
"Hill, you are lying, you are keeping something back. Unless you
immediately tell me the real reason of your visit to this house tonight I
will take you down to the Hampstead Police Station and have you locked
up. This visit of yours will take a lot of explaining away after your
previous confession, Hill. It's enough to put you in the dock with
Hill's eyes, which had been fixed on Rolfe's face, wavered towards the
doorway, as though he were meditating a rush for freedom. But he
"I've told you the truth, sir, though perhaps not all of it. I came
across to see if I could find some of Sir Horace's private papers which
"How do you know there are any papers missing?"
"As I said before, Mr. Rolfe, Sir Horace trusted me and he didn't take
the trouble to hide things from me."
"You mean that he often left his desk open with important papers
scattered about it?"
"And you made a practice of going through them?"
"I didn't make a practice of it," protested Hill. "But sometimes I
glanced at one or two of them. I thought there was no harm in it, knowing
that Sir Horace trusted me."
"And some papers that you knew were there are now missing. Do you
"When did you see them last?"
"Just before Inspector Chippenfield came--the morning after the body was
discovered. You remember, sir, that he came straight up here while you
stayed downstairs talking to Constable Flack."
"Do you mean to suggest that Inspector Chippenfield stole them?"
"Oh, no, sir, I don't think he saw them. Sir Horace kept them in this
little place at the back of the desk. Look at it, sir. It's a sort of
Rolfe went over to the desk, and Hill explained to him how the hiding
place could be closed and opened. It was at the back of the desk under
the pigeonholes, and the fact that the pigeonholes came close down to the
desk hid the secret drawer and the spring which controlled it.
"What was the nature of these papers?" asked Rolfe.
"Well, sir, I never read them. Sir Horace set such store by them that I
never dared to open them for fear he would find out. They were mostly
letters and they were tied up with a piece of silk ribbon."
"A lady's letters, of course," said Rolfe.
"Judging from the writing on the envelopes they were sent by a lady,"
Rolfe breathed quickly, for he felt that he was on the verge of a
discovery. Here was evidence of a lady in the case, which might lead to a
startling development. Perhaps Crewe was right in declaring that Birchill
was the wrong man, he said to himself. Perhaps the murderer was not a
man, but a woman.
"And who do you think stole them?" he asked Hill.
"That is more than I would like to say," replied the butler.
"Are you sure they were in this hiding place when Inspector Chippenfield
took charge of everything?"
"Yes, sir. I dusted out the room the morning you and he came to
Riversbrook together, and the papers were there then, because I happened
to touch the spring as I was dusting the desk, and it flew open and I saw
the bundle there."
"Why didn't you tell Inspector Chippenfield about the papers and the
"That is what I intended to do, sir, if he didn't find them himself. But
when I had found they had gone I didn't like to say anything to him,
because, as you may say, I had no right to know anything about them."
"When did they go: when did you find they were missing?"
"When Inspector Chippenfield went out for his lunch. I looked in the desk
and found they had gone."
"Who could have taken them? Who had access to the room?"
"Well, sir, Mr. Chippenfield had some visitors that morning."
"Yes. There were about a dozen newspaper reporters during the day at
various times. There were Dr. Slingsby and his assistant, who came out to
make the post-mortem: Inspector Seldon, who came to arrange about the
inquest, and there was that man from the undertakers who came to inquire
about the funeral arrangements. But none of these men were likely to
take the papers, and still less to know where they were hidden. In any
case, no visitor could get at the desk while Mr. Chippenfield was in the
room. And he is too careful to have left any visitor alone in this
room--it was here that the murder was committed."
"He left one of his visitors alone here for a few minutes," said Hill in
a voice which was little more than a whisper.
"Which one?" asked Rolfe eagerly.
"Who was she?"
"Oh!" Rolfe's exclamation was one of disappointment. "She is a friend of
the family. She came out to see Miss Fewbanks--it was a visit of
"Yes, sir," said the obsequious butler. "She was a friend of the family,
as you say. She was a friend of Sir Horace's. I have heard that Sir
Horace paid her considerable attention before she married Mr.
Holymead--it was a toss up which of them she married, so I've been told."
Rolfe saw that he had made a mistake in dismissing the idea of Mrs.
Holymead having anything to do with the missing papers. "Do you think
that she stole these letters--these papers?" he asked. "Do you think she
knew where they were?"
"While she was in the room, Inspector Chippenfield came rushing
downstairs for a glass of water. He said she had fainted."
"Whew!" Rolfe gave a low prolonged whistle. "And after she left you took
the first opportunity of looking to see if the papers were still there,
and you found they were gone?"
"What made you suspect Mrs. Holymead would take them?"
"Well, sir, I didn't suspect her at the time. I just looked to see if
Inspector Chippenfield had found them. I saw they had gone, and as I
couldn't see any sign of them about anywhere else I concluded they must
have been taken without Inspector Chippenfield knowing anything about it.
The reason I came over here to-night was to have another careful look
round for them."
Rolfe was silent for a moment.
"What would you have done with the papers if you had found them?" he
"I would have handed them over to the police, sir," said the butler, who
obviously had been prepared for a question of the kind.
"And what explanation would you have given for having found them--for
having come over here in defiance of your orders from Inspector
"The true explanation, sir," said the butler, with a mild note of protest
in his voice. "I would have told Inspector Chippenfield what I have
already told you. And it is the simple truth."
Rolfe was plainly taken back at this rebuke, but he did not reply to it.
"In your statement of what took place when Birchill returned to the flat
after committing the murder, he said something about having seen a woman
leave the house by the front door as he was hiding in the garden--a
fashionably dressed woman I think he said."
"Yes, sir, that was it."
"Do you believe that part of his story was true?"
"Well, sir, with a man like Birchill it is impossible to say when he is
telling the truth, and when he isn't."
"There was no lady with Sir Horace when you left him that night when he
returned from Scotland?"
"I think you said he was in a hurry to get you out of the house, and told
you not to come back?"
"That is what I thought at the time, sir."
"Well, Hill," said Rolfe, resuming his severe official tone; "all this
does not excuse in any way your conduct in coming over here and
forcing your way into the house in defiance of the police; opening this
desk, and prying about for private papers that don't concern you. The
proper course for you to adopt was to come to Scotland Yard and tell
your story about these missing papers to Inspector Chippenfield or
myself. However, I don't propose to take any action against you at
present. Only there is to be no more of it. If you come hanging about
here again on your own account, you'll find yourself in the dock beside
Birchill. Hand me over the duplicate key of the door by which you came
in, and also the key of the desk which you had still less right to have
in your possession. Say nothing to anyone about those papers until I
give you permission to do so."
The day fixed for the trial of Frederick Birchill was wet, dismal, and
dreary. The rain pelted intermittently through a hazy, chilly atmosphere,
filling the gutters and splashing heavily on the slippery pavements. But
in spite of the rain a long queue, principally of women, assembled
outside the portals of the Old Bailey long before the time fixed for the
opening of the court. At the private entrance to the courthouse arrived
fashionably-dressed ladies accompanied by well-groomed men. They had
received cards of admission and had seats reserved for them in the body
of the court. Many of them had personally known the late Sir Horace
Fewbanks, and their interest in the trial of the man accused of his
murder was intensified by the rumours afloat that there were to be some
spicy revelations concerning the dead judge's private life.
The arrival of Mr. Justice Hodson, who was to preside at the trial,
caused a stir among some of the spectators, many of whom belonged to the
criminal class. Sir Henry Hodson had presided at so many murder trials
that he was known among them as "the Hanging Judge." Among the spectators
were some whom Sir Henry had put into mourning at one time or another;
there were others whom he had deprived of their bread-winners for
specified periods. These spectators looked at him with curiosity, fear,
and hatred. Mr. Holymead, K.C., drove up in a taxi-cab a few minutes
later, and his arrival created an impression akin to admiration. In the
eyes of the criminal class he was an heroic figure who had assumed the
responsibility of saving the life of one of their fraternity. The eminent
counsel's success in the few criminal cases in which he had consented to
appear had gained him the respectful esteem of those who considered
themselves oppressed by the law, and the spectators on the pavement might
have raised a cheer for him if their exuberance had not been restrained
by the proximity of the policeman guarding the entrance.
When the court was opened Inspector Chippenfield took a seat in the body
of the court behind the barrister's bench. He ranged his eye over the
closely-packed spectators in the gallery, and shook his head with
manifest disapproval. It seemed to him that the worst criminals in London
had managed to elude the vigilance of the sergeant outside in order to
see the trial of their notorious colleague, Fred Birchill. He pointed out
their presence to Rolfe, who was seated alongside him.
"There's that scoundrel Bob Rogers, who slipped through our hands over
the Ealing case, and his pal, Breaker Jim, who's just done seven years,
looking down and grinning at us," he angrily whispered. "I'll give them
something to grin about before they're much older. You'd think Breaker
would have had enough of the Old Bailey to last him a lifetime. And look
at that row alongside of them--there's Morris, Hart, Harry the Hooker,
and that chap Willis who murdered the pawnbroker in Commercial Road last
year, only we could never sheet it home to him. And two rows behind them
is old Charlie, the Covent Garden 'drop,' with Holder Jack and Kemp,
Birchill's mate. Why, they're everywhere. The inquest was nothing to
"Kemp must be thanking his lucky stars he wasn't in that Riversbrook job
with Fred Birchill," said Rolfe, "for they usually work together. And
there's Crewe, up in the gallery."
"Where?" exclaimed Inspector Chippenfield, with an indignant start.
"Up there behind that pillar there--no, the next one. See, he's looking
down at you."
Crewe caught the inspector's eye, and nodded and smiled in a friendly
fashion, but Inspector Chippenfield returned the salutation with a
"The impudence of that chap is beyond belief," he said to his
subordinate. "One would have thought he'd have kept away from court after
his wild-goose chase to Scotland and piling up expenses, but not him!
Brazen impudence is the stock-in-trade of the private detective. If
Scotland Yard had a little more of the impudence of the private
detective, Rolfe, we should be better appreciated."
"I suppose he's come in the hopes of seeing the jury acquit Birchill,"
"No doubt," replied Inspector Chippenfield. "But he's come to the wrong
shop. A good jury should convict without leaving the box if the case is
properly put before them by the prosecution. Crewe would like to triumph
over us, but it is our turn to win."
But Inspector Chippenfield was wrong in thinking that Crewe's presence
in court was due to a desire for the humiliation of his rivals. Crewe
had spent most of the previous night reading and revising his summaries
and notes of the Riversbrook case, and in minutely reviewing his
investigations of it. Over several pipes in the early morning hours he
pondered long and deeply on the secret of Sir Horace Fewbanks's murder,
without finding a solution which satisfactorily accounted for all the
strange features of the case. But one thing he felt sure of was that
Birchill had not committed the murder. He based that belief partly on
the butler's confession, and partly on his own discoveries. He believed
Hill to be a cunning scoundrel who had overreached the police for some
purpose of his own by accusing Birchill, and who, to make his story more
probable, had even implicated himself in the supposed burglary as a
terrorised accomplice. And Crewe had been unable to test the butler's
story, or find out what game he was playing, because of the assiduity
with which the principal witness for the prosecution had been "nursed"
by the police from the moment he made his confession. Crewe bit hard
into his amber mouthpiece in vexation as he recalled the ostrich-like
tactics of Inspector Chippenfield, who, having accepted Hill's story as
genuine, had officially baulked all his efforts to see the man and
question him about it.
He had come to court with the object of witnessing Birchill's behaviour
in the dock and the efforts of any of his criminal friends to communicate
with him. As a man who had had considerable experience in criminal trials
he knew the irresistible desire of the criminal in the gallery of the
court to encourage the man in the dock to keep up his courage.
Communications of the kind had to be made by signs. It was Crewe's
impression that by watching Birchill in the dock and Birchill's friends
in the gallery he might pick up a valuable hint or two. It was also his
intention to study closely the defence which Counsel for the prisoner
intended to put forward.
It was therefore with a feeling of mingled annoyance and surprise that
Crewe, looking down from his point of vantage at the bevy of
fashionably-dressed ladies in the body of the court, recognised Mrs.
Holymead, Mademoiselle Chiron and Miss Fewbanks seated side by side,
engaged in earnest conversation. Before he could withdraw from their view
behind the pillar in front of him, Miss Fewbanks looked up and saw him.
She bowed to him in friendly recognition, and Crewe saw her whisper to
Mrs. Holymead, who glanced quickly in his direction and then as quickly
averted her gaze. But in that fleeting glance of her beautiful dark eyes
Crewe detected an expression of fear, as though she dreaded his presence,
and he noticed that she shivered slightly as she turned to resume her
conversation with Miss Fewbanks.
His Honour Mr. Justice Hodson entered, and the persons in the court
scrambled hurriedly to their feet to pay their tribute of respect to
British law, as exemplified in the person of a stout red-faced old
gentleman wearing a scarlet gown and black sash, and attended by four of
the Sheriffs of London in their fur-trimmed robes. The judge bowed in
response and took his seat. The spectators resumed theirs, craning their
necks eagerly to look at the accused man, Birchill, who was brought into
the dock by two warders. The work of empanelling a jury commenced, and
when it was completed Mr. Walters, K.C., opened the case for the
Mr. Walters was a long-winded Counsel who had detested the late Mr.
Justice Fewbanks because of the latter's habit of interrupting the
addresses of Counsel with the object of inducing them to curtail their
remarks. This practice was not only annoying to Counsel, who necessarily
knew better than the judge what the jury ought to be told, but it also
tended to hold Counsel up to ridicule in the eyes of ignorant jurymen as
a man who could not do his work properly without the watchful correction
of the judge. But Mr. Walters, whose legal training had imbued in him a
respect for Latin tags, subscribed to the adage, _de mortuis nil nisi
bonum_. Therefore he began his address to the jury with a glowing
reference to the loss, he might almost say the irreparable loss, which
the judiciary had sustained, he would go so far as to say the loss which
the nation had sustained by the death, the violent death, in short, the
murder, of an eminent judge of the High Court Bench, whose clear and
vigorous intellect, whose marvellous mastery of the legal principles laid
down by the judicial giants of the past, whose inexhaustible knowledge
drawn from the storehouses of British law, whose virile interpretations
of the principles of British justice, whose unfailing courtesy and
consideration to Counsel, the memory of which would long be cherished by
those who had had the privilege of pleading before him, had made him an
acquisition and an ornament to a Bench which in the eyes of the nation
had always represented, and at no time more than the present--at this
point Mr. Walters bowed to the presiding judge--the embodiment of legal
knowledge, legal experience, and legal wisdom.
After this tribute to the murdered man and the presiding judge, Mr.
Walters proceeded to lay the facts of the crime before the jury, who had
read all about them in the newspapers.
With methodical care he built up the case against the accused man,
classifying the points of evidence against him in categorical order for
the benefit of the jury. The most important witness for the prosecution
was a man known as James Hill, who had been in Sir Horace Fewbanks's
employ as a butler. Hill's connection with the prisoner was in some
aspects unfortunate, for himself, and no doubt counsel for the defense
would endeavour to discredit his evidence on that account, but the jury,
when they heard the butler tell his story in the witness box, would have
little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the man Hill was the
victim of circumstances and his own weakness of temperament. However much
they might be disposed to blame him for the course he had pursued, he was
innocent of all complicity in his master's death, and had done his best
to help the ends of justice by coming forward with a voluntary confession
to the police.
Mr. Walters made no attempt to conceal or extenuate the black page in
Hill's past, but he asked the jury to believe that Hill had bitterly
repented of his former crime, and would have continued to lead an honest
life as Sir Horace Fewbanks's butler, if ill fate had not forged a cruel
chain of circumstances to link him to his past life and drag him down by
bringing him in contact with the accused man Birchill, whom he had met in
prison. Sir Horace Fewbanks was the self-appointed guardian of a young
woman named Doris Fanning, the daughter of a former employee on his
country estate, who had died leaving her penniless. Sir Horace had deemed
it his duty to bring up the girl and give her a start in life. After
educating her in a style suitable to her station, he sent her to London
and paid for music lessons for her in order to fit her for a musical
career, for which she showed some aptitude. Unfortunately the young woman
had a self-willed and unbalanced temperament, and she gave her benefactor
much trouble. Sir Horace bore patiently with her until she made the
chance acquaintance of Birchill, and became instantly fascinated by him.
The acquaintance speedily drifted into intimacy, and the girl became the
pliant tool of Birchill, who acquired an almost magnetic influence over
her. As the intimacy progressed she seemed to have become a willing
partner in his criminal schemes.
When Sir Horace Fewbanks heard that the girl had drifted into an
association with a criminal like Birchill he endeavoured to save her from
her folly by remonstrating with her, and the girl promised to give up
Birchill, but did not do so. When Sir Horace found out that he was being
deceived he was compelled to renounce her. Birchill, who had been living
on the girl, was furious with anger when he learnt that Sir Horace had
cut off the monetary allowance he had been making her, and, on
discovering by some means that his former prison associate Hill was now
the butler at Sir Horace Fewbanks's house, he planned his revenge. He
sent the girl Fanning to Riversbrook with a message to Hill, directing
him, under threat of exposure, to see him at the Westminster flat.
Hill, who dreaded nothing so much as an exposure of that past life of his
which he hoped was a secret between his master and himself, kept the
appointment. Birchill told him he intended to rob the judge's house in
order to revenge himself on Sir Horace for cutting off the girl's
allowance, and he asked Hill to assist him in carrying out the burglary.
Hill strenuously demurred at first, but weakly allowed himself to be
terrorised into compliance under Birchill's threats of exposure. Hill's
participation in the crime was to be confined to preparing a plan of
Riversbrook as a guide for Birchill. Birchill said nothing about murder
at this time, but there is no doubt he contemplated violence when he
first spoke to Hill. When Hill, alarmed by his master's return on the
actual night for which the burglary had been arranged, hurried across to
the flat to urge Birchill to abandon the contemplated burglary, Birchill
obstinately decided to carry out the crime, and left the flat with a
revolver in his hand, threatening to murder Sir Horace if he found him,
because of his harsh treatment--as he termed it--of the girl Fanning.
"Birchill left the flat at nine o'clock," continued Mr. Walters, who had
now reached the vital facts of the night of the murder. "I ask the jury
to take careful note of the time and the subsequent times mentioned, for
they have an important bearing on the circumstantial evidence against the
accused man. He returned, according to Hill's evidence, shortly after
midnight. Evidence will be called to show that Birchill, or a man