Part 4 out of 4
He ruminated a moment and then said, in such a fashion that March
could hardly tell if he were changing the subject or no:
"It's hard at first to believe that a fellow like Herries, who had
pickled himself in vice like vinegar, can have any scruple left. But
about that I've noticed a curious thing. Patriotism is not the first
virtue. Patriotism rots into Prussianism when you pretend it is the
first virtue. But patriotism is sometimes the last virtue. A man
will swindle or seduce who will not sell his country. But who
"But what is to be done?" cried March, indignantly.
"My uncle has the papers safe enough," replied Fisher, "and is
sending them west to-night; but somebody is trying to get at them
from outside, I fear with the assistance of somebody inside. All
I can do at present is to try to head off the man outside; and I
must get away now and do it. I shall be back in about twenty-four
hours. While I'm away I want you to keep an eye on these people and
find out what you can. Au revoir." He vanished down the stairs; and
from the window March could see him mount a motor cycle and trail
away toward the neighboring town.
On the following morning, March was sitting in the window seat of
the old inn parlor, which was oak-paneled and ordinarily rather
dark; but on that occasion it was full of the white light of a
curiously clear morning--the moon had shone brilliantly for the
last two or three nights. He was himself somewhat in shadow in the
corner of the window seat; and Lord James Herries, coming in hastily
from the garden behind, did not see him. Lord James clutched the
back of a chair, as if to steady himself, and, sitting down abruptly
at the table, littered with the last meal, poured himself out a
tumbler of brandy and drank it. He sat with his back to March, but
his yellow face appeared in a round mirror beyond and the tinge of it
was like that of some horrible malady. As March moved he started
violently and faced round.
"My God!" he cried, "have you seen what's outside?"
"Outside?" repeated the other, glancing over his shoulder at the
"Oh, go and look for yourself," cried Herries in a sort of fury.
"Hewitt's murdered and his papers stolen, that's all."
He turned his back again and sat down with a thud; his square
shoulders were shaking. Harold March darted out of the doorway into
the back garden with its steep slope of statues.
The first thing he saw was Doctor Prince, the detective, peering
through his spectacles at something on the ground; the second was
the thing he was peering at. Even after the sensational news he had
heard inside, the sight was something of a sensation.
The monstrous stone image of Britannia was lying prone and face
downward on the garden path; and there stuck out at random from
underneath it, like the legs of a smashed fly, an arm clad in a
white shirt sleeve and a leg clad in a khaki trouser, and hair of
the unmistakable sandy gray that belonged to Horne Fisher's
unfortunate uncle. There were pools of blood and the limbs were
quite stiff in death.
"Couldn't this have been an accident?" said March, finding words at
"Look for yourself, I say," repeated the harsh voice of Herries, who
had followed him with restless movements out of the door. "The
papers are gone, I tell you. The fellow tore the coat off the corpse
and cut the papers out of the inner pocket. There's the coat over
there on the bank, with the great slash in it."
"But wait a minute," said the detective, Prince, quietly. "In that
case there seems to be something of a mystery. A murderer might
somehow have managed to throw the statue down on him, as he seems to
have done. But I bet he couldn't easily have lifted it up again.
I've tried; and I'm sure it would want three men at least. Yet we
must suppose, on that theory, that the murderer first knocked him
down as he walked past, using the statue as a stone club, then
lifted it up again, took him out and deprived him of his coat, then
put him back again in the posture of death and neatly replaced the
statue. I tell you it's physically impossible. And how else could he
have unclothed a man covered with that stone monument? It's worse
than the conjurer's trick, when a man shuffles a coat off with his
"Could he have thrown down the statue after he'd stripped the
corpse?" asked March.
"And why?" asked Prince, sharply. "If he'd killed his man and got
his papers, he'd be away like the wind. He wouldn't potter about in
a garden excavating the pedestals of statues. Besides--Hullo, who's
that up there?"
High on the ridge above them, drawn in dark thin lines against the
sky, was a figure looking so long and lean as to be almost spidery.
The dark silhouette of the head showed two small tufts like horns;
and they could almost have sworn that the horns moved.
"Archer!" shouted Herries, with sudden passion, and called to him
with curses to come down. The figure drew back at the first cry,
with an agitated movement so abrupt as almost to be called an antic.
The next moment the man seemed to reconsider and collect himself,
and began to come down the zigzag garden path, but with obvious
reluctance, his feet falling in slower and slower rhythm. Through
March's mind were throbbing the phrases that this man himself had
used, about going mad in the middle of the night and wrecking the
stone figure. Just so, he could fancy, the maniac who had done such
a thing might climb the crest of the hill, in that feverish dancing
fashion, and look down on the wreck he had made. But the wreck he
had made here was not only a wreck of stone.
When the man emerged at last on to the garden path, with the full
light on his face and figure, he was walking slowly indeed, but
easily, and with no appearance of fear.
"This is a terrible thing," he said. "I saw it from above; I was
taking a stroll along the ridge."
"Do you mean that you saw the murder?" demanded March, "or the
accident? I mean did you see the statue fall?"
"No," said Archer, "I mean I saw the statue fallen."
Prince seemed to be paying but little attention; his eye was riveted
on an object lying on the path a yard or two from the corpse. It
seemed to be a rusty iron bar bent crooked at one end.
"One thing I don't understand," he said, "is all this blood. The
poor fellow's skull isn't smashed; most likely his neck is broken;
but blood seems to have spouted as if all his arteries were severed.
I was wondering if some other instrument . . . that iron thing, for
instance; but I don't see that even that is sharp enough. I suppose
nobody knows what it is."
"I know what it is," said Archer in his deep but somewhat shaky
voice. "I've seen it in my nightmares. It was the iron clamp or prop
on the pedestal, stuck on to keep the wretched image upright when it
began to wabble, I suppose. Anyhow, it was always stuck in the
stonework there; and I suppose it came out when the thing
Doctor Prince nodded, but he continued to look down at the pools of
blood and the bar of iron.
"I'm certain there's something more underneath all this," he said at
last. "Perhaps something more underneath the statue. I have a huge
sort of hunch that there is. We are four men now and between us we
can lift that great tombstone there."
They all bent their strength to the business; there was a silence
save for heavy breathing; and then, after an instant of the
tottering and staggering of eight legs, the great carven column of
rock was rolled away, and the body lying in its shirt and trousers
was fully revealed. The spectacles of Doctor Prince seemed almost to
enlarge with a restrained radiance like great eyes; for other things
were revealed also. One was that the unfortunate Hewitt had a deep
gash across the jugular, which the triumphant doctor instantly
identified as having been made with a sharp steel edge like a razor.
The other was that immediately under the bank lay littered three
shining scraps of steel, each nearly a foot long, one pointed and
another fitted into a gorgeously jeweled hilt or handle. It was
evidently a sort of long Oriental knife, long enough to be called a
sword, but with a curious wavy edge; and there was a touch or two of
blood on the point.
"I should have expected more blood, hardly on the point," observed
Doctor Prince, thoughtfully, "but this is certainly the instrument.
The slash was certainly made with a weapon shaped like this, and
probably the slashing of the pocket as well. I suppose the brute
threw in the statue, by way of giving him a public funeral."
March did not answer; he was mesmerized by the strange stones that
glittered on the strange sword hilt; and their possible significance
was broadening upon him like a dreadful dawn. It was a curious
Asiatic weapon. He knew what name was connected in his memory with
curious Asiatic weapons. Lord James spoke his secret thought for
him, and yet it startled him like an irrelevance.
"Where is the Prime Minister?" Herries had cried, suddenly, and
somehow like the bark of a dog at some discovery.
Doctor Prince turned on him his goggles and his grim face; and it
was grimmer than ever.
"I cannot find him anywhere," he said. "I looked for him at once,
as soon as I found the papers were gone. That servant of yours,
Campbell, made a most efficient search, but there are no traces."
There was a long silence, at the end of which Herries uttered
another cry, but upon an entirely new note.
"Well, you needn't look for him any longer," he said, "for here he
comes, along with your friend Fisher. They look as if they'd been
for a little walking tour."
The two figures approaching up the path were indeed those of Fisher,
splashed with the mire of travel and carrying a scratch like that of
a bramble across one side of his bald forehead, and of the great and
gray-haired statesman who looked like a baby and was interested in
Eastern swords and swordmanship. But beyond this bodily recognition,
March could make neither head nor tail of their presence or
demeanor, which seemed to give a final touch of nonsense to the
whole nightmare. The more closely he watched them, as they stood
listening to the revelations of the detective, the more puzzled he
was by their attitude--Fisher seemed grieved by the death of his
uncle, but hardly shocked at it; the older man seemed almost openly
thinking about something else, and neither had anything to suggest
about a further pursuit of the fugitive spy and murderer, in spite
of the prodigious importance of the documents he had stolen. When
the detective had gone off to busy himself with that department of
the business, to telephone and write his report, when Herries had
gone back, probably to the brandy bottle, and the Prime Minister had
blandly sauntered away toward a comfortable armchair in another part
of the garden, Horne Fisher spoke directly to Harold March.
"My friend," he said, "I want you to come with me at once; there is
no one else I can trust so much as that. The journey will take us
most of the day, and the chief business cannot be done till
nightfall. So we can talk things over thoroughly on the way. But I
want you to be with me; for I rather think it is my hour."
March and Fisher both had motor bicycles; and the first half of
their day's journey consisted in coasting eastward amid the
unconversational noise of those uncomfortable engines. But when they
came out beyond Canterbury into the flats of eastern Kent, Fisher
stopped at a pleasant little public house beside a sleepy stream;
and they sat down to eat and to drink and to speak almost for the
first time. It was a brilliant afternoon, birds were singing in the
wood behind, and the sun shone full on their ale bench and table;
but the face of Fisher in the strong sunlight had a gravity never
seen on it before.
"Before we go any farther," he said, "there is something you ought
to know. You and I have seen some mysterious things and got to the
bottom of them before now; and it's only right that you should get
to the bottom of this one. But in dealing with the death of my uncle
I must begin at the other end from where our old detective yarns
began. I will give you the steps of deduction presently, if you want
to listen to them; but I did not reach the truth of this by steps of
deduction. I will first of all tell you the truth itself, because I
knew the truth from the first. The other cases I approached from the
outside, but in this case I was inside. I myself was the very core
and center of everything."
Something in the speaker's pendent eyelids and grave gray eyes
suddenly shook March to his foundations; and he cried, distractedly,
"I don't understand!" as men do when they fear that they do
understand. There was no sound for a space but the happy chatter of
the birds, and then Horne Fisher said, calmly:
"It was I who killed my uncle. If you particularly want more, it
was I who stole the state papers from him."
"Fisher!" cried his friend in a strangled voice.
"Let me tell you the whole thing before we part," continued the
other, "and let me put it, for the sake of clearness, as we used to
put our old problems. Now there are two things that are puzzling
people about that problem, aren't there? The first is how the
murderer managed to slip off the dead man's coat, when he was
already pinned to the ground with that stone incubus. The other,
which is much smaller and less puzzling, is the fact of the sword
that cut his throat being slightly stained at the point, instead of
a good deal more stained at the edge. Well, I can dispose of the
first question easily. Horne Hewitt took off his own coat before he
was killed. I might say he took off his coat to be killed."
"Do you call that an explanation?" exclaimed March. "The words seem
more meaningless, than the facts."
"Well, let us go on to the other facts," continued Fisher, equably.
"The reason that particular sword is not stained at the edge with
Hewitt's blood is that it was not used to kill Hewitt."
"But the doctor," protested March, "declared distinctly that the
wound was made by that particular sword."
"I beg your pardon," replied Fisher. "He did not declare that it
was made by that particular sword. He declared it was made by a
sword of that particular pattern."
"But it was quite a queer and exceptional pattern," argued March;
"surely it is far too fantastic a coincidence to imagine--"
"It was a fantastic coincidence," reflected Horne Fisher. "It's
extraordinary what coincidences do sometimes occur. By the oddest
chance in the world, by one chance in a million, it so happened that
another sword of exactly the same shape was in the same garden at
the same time. It may be partly explained, by the fact that I
brought them both into the garden myself . . . come, my dear fellow;
surely you can see now what it means. Put those two things together;
there were two duplicate swords and he took off his coat for
himself. It may assist your speculations to recall the fact that I
am not exactly an assassin."
"A duel!" exclaimed March, recovering himself. "Of course I ought
to have thought of that. But who was the spy who stole the papers?"
"My uncle was the spy who stole the papers," replied Fisher, "or who
tried to steal the papers when I stopped him--in the only way I
could. The papers, that should have gone west to reassure our
friends and give them the plans for repelling the invasion, would in
a few hours have been in the hands of the invader. What could I do?
To have denounced one of our friends at this moment would have been
to play into the hands of your friend Attwood, and all the party of
panic and slavery. Besides, it may be that a man over forty has a
subconscious desire to die as he has lived, and that I wanted, in a
sense, to carry my secrets to the grave. Perhaps a hobby hardens
with age; and my hobby has been silence. Perhaps I feel that I have
killed my mother's brother, but I have saved my mother's name.
Anyhow, I chose a time when I knew you were all asleep, and he was
walking alone in the garden. I saw all the stone statues standing in
the moonlight; and I myself was like one of those stone statues
walking. In a voice that was not my own, I told him of his treason
and demanded the papers; and when he refused, I forced him to take
one of the two swords. The swords were among some specimens sent
down here for the Prime Minister's inspection; he is a collector,
you know; they were the only equal weapons I could find. To cut an
ugly tale short, we fought there on the path in front of the
Britannia statue; he was a man of great strength, but I had somewhat
the advantage in skill. His sword grazed my forehead almost at the
moment when mine sank into the joint in his neck. He fell against
the statue, like Caesar against Pompey's, hanging on to the iron
rail; his sword was already broken. When I saw the blood from that
deadly wound, everything else went from me; I dropped my sword and
ran as if to lift him up. As I bent toward him something happened
too quick for me to follow. I do not know whether the iron bar was
rotted with rust and came away in his hand, or whether he rent it
out of the rock with his apelike strength; but the thing was in his
hand, and with his dying energies he swung it over my head, as I
knelt there unarmed beside him. I looked up wildly to avoid the
blow, and saw above us the great bulk of Britannia leaning outward
like the figurehead of a ship. The next instant I saw it was leaning
an inch or two more than usual, and all the skies with their
outstanding stars seemed to be leaning with it. For the third second
it was as if the skies fell; and in the fourth I was standing in the
quiet garden, looking down on that flat ruin of stone and bone at
which you were looking to-day. He had plucked out the last prop that
held up the British goddess, and she had fallen and crushed the
traitor in her fall. I turned and darted for the coat which I knew
to contain the package, ripped it up with my sword, and raced away
up the garden path to where my motor bike was waiting on the road
above. I had every reason for haste; but I fled without looking back
at the statue and the body; and I think the thing I fled from was
the sight of that appalling allegory.
"Then I did the rest of what I had to do. All through the night and
into the daybreak and the daylight I went humming through the
villages and markets of South England like a traveling bullet, till
I came to the headquarters in the West where the trouble was. I was
just in time. I was able to placard the place, so to speak, with the
news that the government had not betrayed them, and that they would
find supports if they would push eastward against the enemy. There's
no time to tell you all that happened; but I tell you it was the day
of my life. A triumph like a torchlight procession, with torchlights
that might have been firebrands. The mutinies simmered down; the men
of Somerset and the western counties came pouring into the market
places; the men who died with Arthur and stood firm with Alfred. The
Irish regiments rallied to them, after a scene like a riot, and
marched eastward out of the town singing Fenian songs. There was all
that is not understood, about the dark laughter of that people, in
the delight with which, even when marching with the English to the
defense of England, they shouted at the top of their voices, 'High
upon the gallows tree stood the noble-hearted three . . . With
England's cruel cord about them cast.' However, the chorus was 'God
save Ireland,' and we could all have sung that just then, in one
sense or another.
"But there was another side to my mission. I carried the plans of
the defense; and to a great extent, luckily, the plans of the
invasion also. I won't worry you with strategics; but we knew where
the enemy had pushed forward the great battery that covered all his
movements; and though our friends from the West could hardly arrive
in time to intercept the main movement, they might get within long
artillery range of the battery and shell it, if they only knew
exactly where it was. They could hardly tell that unless somebody
round about here sent up some sort of signal. But, somehow, I rather
fancy that somebody will."
With that he got up from the table, and they remounted their
machines and went eastward into the advancing twilight of evening.
The levels of the landscape were repeated in flat strips of floating
cloud and the last colors of day clung to the circle of the horizon.
Receding farther and farther behind them was the semicircle of the
last hills; and it was quite suddenly that they saw afar off the dim
line of the sea. It was not a strip of bright blue as they had seen
it from the sunny veranda, but of a sinister and smoky violet, a
tint that seemed ominous and dark. Here Horne Fisher dismounted once
"We must walk the rest of the way," he said, "and the last bit of
all I must walk alone."
He bent down and began to unstrap something from his bicycle. It was
something that had puzzled his companion all the way in spite of
what held him to more interesting riddles; it appeared to be several
lengths of pole strapped together and wrapped up in paper. Fisher
took it under his arm and began to pick his way across the turf. The
ground was growing more tumbled and irregular and he was walking
toward a mass of thickets and small woods; night grew darker every
moment. "We must not talk any more," said Fisher. "I shall whisper
to you when you are to halt. Don't try to follow me then, for it
will only spoil the show; one man can barely crawl safely to the
spot, and two would certainly be caught."
"I would follow you anywhere," replied March, "but I would halt,
too, if that is better."
"I know you would," said his friend in a low voice. "Perhaps you're
the only man I ever quite trusted in this world."
A few paces farther on they came to the end of a great ridge or
mound looking monstrous against the dim sky; and Fisher stopped with
a gesture. He caught his companion's hand and wrung it with a
violent tenderness, and then darted forward into the darkness. March
could faintly see his figure crawling along under the shadow of the
ridge, then he lost sight of it, and then he saw it again standing
on another mound two hundred yards away. Beside him stood a singular
erection made apparently of two rods. He bent over it and there was
the flare of a light; all March's schoolboy memories woke in him,
and he knew what it was. It was the stand of a rocket. The confused,
incongruous memories still possessed him up to the very moment of a
fierce but familiar sound; and an instant after the rocket left its
perch and went up into endless space like a starry arrow aimed at
the stars. March thought suddenly of the signs of the last days and
knew he was looking at the apocalyptic meteor of something like a
Day of judgment.
Far up in the infinite heavens the rocket drooped and sprang into
scarlet stars. For a moment the whole landscape out to the sea and
back to the crescent of the wooded hills was like a lake of ruby
light, of a red strangely rich and glorious, as if the world were
steeped in wine rather than blood, or the earth were an earthly
paradise, over which paused forever the sanguine moment of morning.
"God save England!" cried Fisher, with a tongue like the peal of a
trumpet. "And now it is for God to save."
As darkness sank again over land and sea, there came another sound;
far away in the passes of the hills behind them the guns spoke like
the baying of great hounds. Something that was not a rocket, that
came not hissing but screaming, went over Harold March's head and
expanded beyond the mound into light and deafening din, staggering
the brain with unbearable brutalities of noise. Another came, and
then another, and the world was full of uproar and volcanic vapor
and chaotic light. The artillery of the West country and the Irish
had located the great enemy battery, and were pounding it to pieces.
In the mad excitement of that moment March peered through the storm,
looking again for the long lean figure that stood beside the stand
of the rocket. Then another flash lit up the whole ridge. The figure
was not there.
Before the fires of the rocket had faded from the sky, long before
the first gun had sounded from the distant hills, a splutter of
rifle fire had flashed and flickered all around from the hidden
trenches of the enemy. Something lay in the shadow at the foot of
the ridge, as stiff as the stick of the fallen rocket; and the man
who knew too much knew what is worth knowing.