Call Mr. Fortune/The Nice Girl
THE NICE GIRL
SOME are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. That was Dr. Reginald Fortune's trouble. He had become a specialist, and, as he told anybody who would listen, thought it an absurd thing to be. For he was interested in everything, but not in anything in particular. And it was just this various versatility of mind and taste which had condemned him to be a specialist. Obviously an absurd world.
The Criminal Investigation Department, solicitors, and others dealing with those experiments in social reform which are called crimes, by continually appealing to his multifarious knowledge and his all-observant eye, turned Dr. Reginald Fortune, general practitioner at Westhampton, into Mr. Fortune of Wimpole Street, specialist in—what shall we say?—the surgery of crime. And Reggie Fortune, though richer for the change, was not grateful. He liked ordinary things, and any day would have gladly bartered a murder for a case of chicken-pox. This accounts for his unequalled sanity of judgement.
Reggie was in that one of his clubs which he liked best, because no member of it knew anything about his profession. He had just completed an animated discussion on the prehistoric art of the French Congo, and was going out, when the tape machine buzzed and clicked at his elbow, and he stopped to look.
"Murder of Sir Albert Lunt," said the tape and, "Oh, my aunt!" said Reggie. The tape continued the conversation thus: "Sir Albert Lunt, the well-known mining magnate, was found dead this afternoon in the deer park of his estate at Prior's Colney, Bucks. The body was discovered by an employee, in circumstances which suggested foul play. A medical examination led to the conclusion that the deceased had been shot. The local police have the case in hand, and search is being actively prosecuted for——" Words failed the tape, and it relapsed into a buzz.
Reggie stared at it with gloomy apprehension. "I believe the beggars get murdered just to bother me," he was reflecting, when a jovial tea-merchant (wholesale—that club is a most respectable club) clapped him on the shoulder, and asked what the news was. "They only do it to annoy because they know it teases," said Reggie, and held up the tape.
"Albert Lunt!" said the tea-merchant, and whistled. "Well, he won't be missed!"
"Don't you believe it," Reggie groaned, and went out.
Upon his way home the passionate interest which the world, expressing its emotions on newspaper placards, took in Sir Albert Lunt was heaped upon him. When he let himself in, his factotum, Samuel Baker, was hovering in the hall.
"Oh, don't look so alert, Sam. It's maddening," Reggie complained.
Samuel Baker grinned. "You'll want all the papers, sir?"
"I suppose so!"
"I'm getting each edition as they come along, sir. Would you like a photograph of Sir Albert?"
"Go away, Sam." Reggie waved at him. "Go quite away, Sam. Do you know one reason why many fellows get murdered? It's because other fellows can't live up to them."
As he changed, Reggie looked through the papers. They were eloquent upon Sir Albert Lunt. His career, even when treated with the delicacy due to those who die rich, was a picturesque subject. Sir Albert Lunt, with his surviving brother Victor, had gone out to South Africa in the early days of diamonds. His first vocation was discreetly veiled. Some references to his life-long passion for sport reminded the knowing of the story that he and his brother had been in the front rank of the profession which works with three cards, the thimble, and the pea. Sir Albert, always in close alliance with Victor, had come out into daylight in the second stage of the diamond fields, when the business man was following in the steps of lucky adventurers. It had been Sir Albert's habit through life to appear in the second stage of things. The polite newspaper biographies called this prudence and sound judgement. He had always been fortunate in reaping other people's harvests. There were strange tales of his devices at Kimberley and Johannesburg, and just a hint of a clash with Cecil Rhodes, in which Rhodes had said what he thought of the Brothers Lunt with a certain gusto.
So ways that were dark and tricks that were anything but vain in Kimberley and Johannesburg made Albert Lunt a millionaire. He was not satisfied. South Africa was too small for him. Or was it too hot for him? He had spread his "operations" round the world. He was "interested" in some Manchurian tin and the copper belt of the Belgian Congo. "One of our modern Empire builders," as the evening papers sagely said.
How Sir Albert came by his title was a problem left in decent obscurity. Much was said of the magnificence of his life in England, his rococo palace not quite in Park Lane, his pantomime splendours at Prior's Colney—the ball-room which was in the lake, and the dining-room which was panelled in silver. The knowing reader could divine that Sir Albert had lived not only blatantly but hard and fast.
"Yah," said Reggie Fortune.
Just as he was putting on his coat, Sam arrived with a photograph of Sir Albert, and Reggie sat down to it. A plump man of middle height, rather loudly dressed; a long, heavy face, rather like a horse's, but with protruding eyes—commonplace enough. It was only the expression which made Reggie examine the fellow more closely. Under the photographic smirk was a look of insolence and conceit of singular force. The man who owned that would never allow any creature a right against him. Behold the secret of Sir Albert Lunt's success. And "Oh, Peter, I don't wonder some one murdered the animal," said Reggie. "Justifiable porcicide."
On which he went off to dinner with his sister, who had married a man in the Treasury, and gave him the pleasant somnolent evening you would expect.
When he came back there were two telegrams waiting for him.
Number one: "Was called in to Lunt case. Desire consult you. Lady Lunt also anxious your opinion.—Gerald Barnes."
Number two: "Desire consult you Lunt case. Please see me Prior's Colney morning.—Lomas."
Reggie whistled. "Let 'em all come," said he.
Gerald Barnes had been house surgeon when Reggie was surgical registrar at St. Simon's Hospital, and had gone into practice somewhere in Buckinghamshire. The Hon. Stanley Lomas was the head of the Criminal Investigation Department.
"Have they had a scrap?" Reggie smiled to himself. "Lots of zeal at Prior's Colney. Sam! The car after breakfast. We'll go and see life." And he went to bed.
But in the morning, just as he was finishing breakfast, he was told that Nurse Dauntsey wanted to see him and said it was most urgent. Nurse Dauntsey was at St. Simon's Hospital and had a partiality for Reggie, who (quite paternally) liked her for being gentle and kindly and pretty. A trim figure, a pair of honest grey eyes, a wholesome complexion, and an engaging red mouth were the best of Nurse Dauntsey's charms, but there was a simplicity about her which commended them. "Types of English Beauty—Third Prize, Nurse Dauntsey," somebody said once. And it was felt to be just.
On this morning Nurse Dauntsey's nice face was troubled, and she had lost her usual calm. "Oh, Mr. Fortune, will you help me?" She rushed at Reggie. "It's the Lunt case."
"Now what in wonder have you to do with the Lunt case?"
Nurse Dauntsey blushed. "I'm engaged, Mr. Fortune," she said.
"Well, he's a very lucky man. And I hope you're a lucky girl."
"Oh, I am," said Nurse Dauntsey, with conviction. "He has been arrested. They say he murdered Sir Albert Lunt. Mr. Fortune, you will help us?"
"Who in creation is the lucky man? "
"His name is Vernon Cranford. He's a mining engineer. Oh, he's been everywhere. He's a born explorer, you know. He discovered a copper mine in Portuguese East Africa, one of the richest mines in the world. He came home last year and told Sir Albert Lunt about it, and Sir Albert sent him out to show the place. There was a sort of expedition, you know. And then, somehow, on the way up country Vernon was left behind. The other men tricked him. And when he got back to Mozambique he found that the other men had claimed the place was theirs. They had—what do you call it?—secured the concession, the rights in it. Wasn't it a shame? Vernon was just furious. I don't know quite how it happened. He only came back on Monday. I know he thought it was Sir Albert Lunt's fault. He said he was going to see him and have it out with him. He was going to see him yesterday. And then, last night, I had this note from him." She held it out, then couldn't bear to let it out of her hands, and so read it to him.
"'Dear Jo—You mustn't worry. Lunt's been found shot, and the police have pinched me. Take it easy and go slow, and we'll comb it all out—Yours, V."
Nurse Dauntsey gazed at Reggie with very big eyes.
"Sounds as if he knew his own mind," Reggie murmured. "And all this bein' thus, you want me to take up the case. Why?"
Nurse Dauntsey was startled. "But to get him off, of course—to defend him."
"Yes. But don't let's be previous. Speakin' frankly, did he do it?"
Nurse Dauntsey stood up. "I am engaged to him, Mr. Fortune," she said with dignity.
"Quite. That's the best thing I know about him. But I don't know much else."
"And I am sure he's not guilty."
"That kind of man, is he?"
"Just that kind of man," said Nurse Dauntsey, and her eyes glowed. "He couldn't do anything that wasn't fair and clean."
"Then he'd better have a solicitor. Do you suppose he's got one?"
"He'd never think of such a thing."
"Make him have Moss and Gordon. Ask for Donald Gordon, and say I sent you."
"But I want you, Mr. Fortune. You know there's no one like you."
"I blush. We both blush." Reggie smiled at her. "Well, nurse, two other people have called me into the Lunt case." Nurse Dauntsey cried out, and her nice face was piteous. "Take it easy and go slow, as V. Cranford says. I'm going down to Prior's Colney now to find out who I'm acting for. Oh, my dear girl, don't cry. I'm guessing it may be you. Now you be a good girl, and take Donald Gordon to him."
Nurse Dauntsey held out her hands. "Oh, Mr. Fortune, don't go against him," she cried.
Safe in his car, Reggie communed with himself. "She's a lamb. But disturbing to the intellects. Well, well. I'll have to make Brer Lomas sit up and take notice."
It was a clear cold morning of early spring, and Reggie shrank under his rugs. He had no love for east winds. He thought that there should be a close time for murders. He was elaborating a scheme by which the murder and the cricket seasons should be conterminous, when, at about twenty-five miles from London, they passed a horrible building. It was some distance from the high road, perched on the top of a small hill. It was of very red brick and very white stone, so arranged as to suggest the streaky bacon which might be made of a pig who had died in convulsions. It was ornate with the most improbable decorations, colonnades, battlements, a spire or so, oriel windows, a dome, Tudor chimneys, and some wedding-cake furbelows.
Reggie writhed and called to his factotum, who was sitting beside the chauffeur. "Sam, who had that nightmare?"
"That must be Colney Towers, sir. Mr. Victor Lunt's place."
Reggie groaned. "And Victor yet lives!"
A mile or two farther on they ran into a village which, before ruthless fellows stuck garden-city cottages on to it, must have been placid and pretty. The car drew up at an honest Georgian lump of red brick which bore the plate of Dr. Gerald Barnes.
Gerald Barnes was a ruddy young man who looked and dressed like a farmer. "I say, this is very decent of you. Jolly day, isn't it?" he bustled.
"Have you a fire, Barnes—a large fire? Put me on it," said Reggie. "And don't be so cheerful. It unnerves me." Still in his fur coat, Reggie planted himself in front of the consulting-room hearth. "Now, what do you want me for?"
"Well, it's not so much me, though I'd like your opinion. It's more Lady Lunt. Medically speaking, it's a pretty straight case. Lunt was shot in the chest and the bullet lodged in the spine, •38 revolver bullet. So there's not much doubt about the cause of death, what? But there are one or two odd things. The right thumb seems to be sprained. There's a nasty wound over the left eye—seems to have been made by a blow."
"Sounds messy. Where do I come in?"
"Why, I don't quite see my way through it. If a fellow had a pistol ready to use, why bash the beggar? It's a futile sort of wound too, nasty mess, but not dangerous. But you'd better see the body, Fortune."
"Oh, let me thaw. So Lady Lunt's not satisfied with the police?"
"No, by Jove, she isn't. I say, Fortune, how did you know that?"
"Genius, just genius. And what's Lady Lunt like?"
"Well, you know, she isn't quite a lady. And yet she is in big things. He married her about ten years ago, somewhere on the Continent. But she's English. She was a dancer or singer or something. Pretty low class, I believe. She was awfully handsome—big, dark, dashing type. She hasn't kept her looks, but she's still striking. She was pretty rowdy at first—went the pace like he did. He was an awful old bounder, you know. But for a good while now she's been different—quiet and serious—looking after things down here, good work on the estate—that sort of thing. She quietened him down too, but he was pretty bad. I think she was getting him in hand slowly, but she must have been having a rotten time for years."
"And what does Lady Lunt want now?"
"I'm hanged if I know," said Barnes, after some hesitation. "She thinks there's more in it than the detectives see, and she's not satisfied about this arrest."
"Now go easy. Two other people have called me in, and I don't know who I'll act for. So don't spoil anybody's game. Lomas wired for me——"
"Lomas! So Scotland Yard isn't so mighty cocksure."
"Did Lomas seem so? Rude fellow. And then there's V. Cranford."
"Cranford's got to you already! He's lost no time."
"Oh, he's in very good hands. Now let's take a walk. You'll show me where Lunt was killed, and I'll have a look at him." Reggie shed his fur coat and became brisk.
It was his bailiff who had found Sir Albert Lunt, taken the news to the house, and telephoned for Gerald Barnes. Sir Albert Lunt had been walking back from his home farm across the park, which was an undulating stretch of turf over chalk, broken here and there by some fine beeches and coverts of gorse and bramble. A gravel path ran straight from the home farm to the main chestnut avenue. Barnes halted at a place where the turf was trampled in half-frozen footprints. Reggie looked round him. "Humph! Well out of sight of any house. Nobody heard the shot?"
"Nobody noticed it. It's a good way from the house, you see, and a mile from the farm. A shot or so—what's that in the open country? You often hear a gun somewhere."
"Quite. Where's that path go to?" Reggie pointed to a track across the turf diverging from the gravel.
"That? Oh, over to Victor Lunt's place. His park—he calls it a park too, but it's a small affair—almost joins this, you know."
"Well, well, let's see the body," Reggie yawned, and they marched on to Prior's Colney.
It had once been a comely place in a staid eighteenth-century fashion. "Oh, my only aunt!" Reggie groaned. "Looks like your grandmother put into the Russian ballet." It was loaded with excrescences of contorted ornament still raw and new against the mellow solemnity of the original homely house.
A motor-car stood at the door. While they were detaching hats and sticks in the hall, they could hear some one being told that Lady Lunt was not leaving her room. Then, being shown out, came a bulky man muffled in a fur coat with a big Astrakhan collar. He had a large head and a long face of unhealthy complexion. Across the forehead from right eyebrow to hair was a red furrow. He had prominent, pale eyes.
"Who is the sportsman with the scratched face?" Reggie said, as the door shut on him.
"Oh, that's Victor Lunt. Been inquiring after Lady Lunt, I suppose."
"Bright and brotherly," Reggie murmured.
There appeared briskly a man of grave and military aspect, who was presented to Reggie as Radnor Hall, Sir Albert Lunt's secretary. Radnor Hall (in a faintly American accent) was very glad to see Mr. Fortune; hoped for Mr. Fortune's company to lunch; after which, Lady Lunt was most anxious to see Mr. Fortune.
"I want to see the body," Reggie said gruffly.
So to the body he was taken, and saw that Gerald Barnes was right enough: there could be no doubt of the cause of death. A pistol bullet, fired from some little distance, had entered the chest and lodged in the spinal vertebrae. Sir Albert Lunt might not have died on the instant. He could not have lived long. But that mortal wound was tiny. What made the dead man look horrible was the gash in his forehead and the bruise round it. And over that Reggie frowned and pondered. "Showy, isn't it, very showy?" he complained. Such a hurt a man might get by falling on a stone. But Sir Albert Lunt had fallen on his back on the turf. If some one had hit him with a stone or some such jagged thing—but why should any man take a stone who had a pistol and was not afraid to use it? "If there was any sense in it, I'd say it was a fake," Reggie grumbled.
He gave up the wounds at last and moved round the body.
"Oh, you're looking at the wrong hand," Barnes said.
"Am I though?"
"Yes, this is the one where the thumb's sprained—the right hand."
"Well, you know, he seems to have been busy with his hands. What did you make of this?"
Barnes came to look. The fingers of the left hand were bent towards the thumb as if the dead man had been plucking at something.
"Not much in that, is there?"
"What was he wearing?"
"Rough brown overcoat—brown tweeds."
"Oh, ah!" Delicately Reggie extracted from the stiff fingers some little curly, black tufts.
"Well, that's queer," Barnes said. "Looks like a nigger's hair."
"You know you've got imagination." Reggie put the stuff very carefully in his pocket-book. "Some oppressed nigger from the compounds at Johannesburg—came all the way to Prior's Colney for vengeance—threw a stone at him—shot him—and then butted him. Thorough fellow, very thorough."
"What is it, then?" Barnes said sulkily.
"Seek not to proticipate. Hallo!"
The interruption was the Hon. Stanley Lomas, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, dapper and debonair.
"Ah, Fortune, good man. Why didn't you ask for me? I'm at the inn in the village."
"That's very haughty of you. Why not in the house? Have you put Lady Lunt's back up? Or has she put up yours?"
"Oh, best to have a free hand, don't you know? Well, what do you make of it?" Reggie shrugged. "Curious features, what? What I want to know is, was that blow on the head before the shot or after?"
"What you want is not a surgeon, it's a clairvoyant. Anyway, you don't want me. You've got your man."
"Have I?" Lomas put up his eyeglass. "You mean Cranford? Now how did you know about Cranford?"
"Sorry, Lomas. Nothing doing. I'm the independent expert this time."
Lomas frowned. "My dear fellow! Oh, my dear fellow! Unless you're acting for some one, you've no business here, don't you know?"
"I'm acting for some one all right—for V. Cranford."
"Hallo! You've made up your mind?" Barnes cried.
Lomas dropped his eyeglass. "Ah! Well, well. Things must be as they may, what? It's a pity. Afraid you've made a bad break this time, Fortune. It's a straight case."
"I wonder," Reggie said.
"My dear fellow, I'd hate you to be at a disadvantage." Lomas seemed suddenly to have become older, paternal, protective. "Well—it's not strictly official—but I may tell you we've found the pistol. It was in Cranford's rooms."
"A Smith-Southron •38? Fancy! I don't suppose there's more than half a million of them in circulation. It's a good gun. I've got one myself somewhere."
"My dear fellow!" Lomas was young and jaunty again. "Why try to bluff me? Lunt was killed by a particular kind of pistol. And we find the particular man to whom all suspicion points owns one of these pistols. It's quite simple, don't you know?"
"Yes, oh, yes, 'Doosid lucid, doosid convincing.' But I wonder why you want to convince me?"
That was the first skirmish over the Lunt case, and Reggie, Gerald Barnes discreetly excusing himself, ate a little tête-à-tête lunch with Radnor Hall—not in the silver panelled dining-room. When the servants were gone, "I don't want to hear anything under false pretences, Mr. Hall," Reggie explained. "I shall act in this case for Cranford."
"Is that so?" Radnor Hall rubbed his back hair. "I guess I'll take you right in to Lady Lunt."
Lady Lunt stood in front of the fire with a cigarette in her mouth. She was a big woman, a little flat of figure and gaunt of face, but still handsome. She thrust a hand on Reggie, gripped his hand, and shot a "Glad to see you," at him. Reggie was sorry he could not act for Lady Lunt, but had to consider that Cranford had the first claim on him. "I don't mind," she cried. It seemed her habit to be explosive. "If you're against the police, that's good enough for us. Eh, Radnor?"
"Sure," said Radnor Hall, who was watching Reggie closely.
"I want you to hear what we've got to say about the case," the lady explained. "We think it matters."
"Quite a lot," said Radnor Hall. Lady Lunt nodded at him, and he began. "You see, Mr. Fortune, Sir Albert left everything to Lady Lunt." Reggie murmured that it was very natural. "As Lady Lunt regards the proposition, it's up to her to see that justice is done about the murder."
"Justice, see?" Lady Lunt broke in vehemently. "And not have some poor devil hanged because the police think he's an under dog and don't count."
Radnor Hall frowned at her. "Mr. Fortune will realize when we make the position clear."
"Sorry, Radnor. You go on." Lady Lunt threw her cigarette away and dropped into a chair.
"Well, sir, to commence." Radnor Hall smoothed his black hair. "This firm never was Albert Lunt. It was Lunt Brothers. The late Sir Albert he was sure master. He put in the git up and git. But quite a lot of the head work came from Mr. Victor Lunt. And lately, Sir Albert having largely relapsed into living on his rents, Mr. Victor Lunt has had considerable control. Now, sir, speaking as man to man, I would wish to say that the methods of Lunt Brothers have been complex—highly complex. I conjecture that in early days Albert and Victor were both out for scalps. But in my time, Sir Albert having mellowed, largely mellowed—under prosperity and certain influences——"
"Oh, don't blether, Radnor," Lady Lunt exploded.
"Well, Mr. Fortune, Sir Albert has lately showed a tendency to more conservative methods of finance. Mr. Victor Lunt has gone on putting in his sharp head work. There has been friction, sir—some friction. Now in this affair of Cranford's—without prejudice, I would like to say that Mr. Cranford has been hardly used by Lunt Brothers."
"He's been damnably cheated," said Lady Lunt.
"There's a point of view," said Radnor Hall. "Lady Lunt had put her point of view to Sir Albert. Well, sir, the Cranford case was largely handled by Mr. Victor Lunt. I wouldn't say Sir Albert disavowed the methods used. But he considered Mr. Victor was taking too much control. Words passed. And we find Sir Albert shot. That's the proposition, Mr. Fortune."
Reggie smiled. Reggie put the tips of his fingers together and over them looked very blandly at the military face of Radnor Hall. "Your view is that Sir Albert was murdered by his brother Victor," he said.
Lady Lunt started and looked at Radnor Hall.
Radnor Hall gave no sign of surprise. "Pitch up another, doctor," he smiled back. "No, sir. Your guess, not mine. I'm giving out facts."
"Oh, cut it out, Radnor," said Lady Lunt.
"Well, well." Reggie surveyed her benignly. "And so Sir Albert's death leaves Victor in control of the firm?"
"Sir Albert's share comes to me," Lady Lunt said. "Five-eighths. I'm master now."
"A responsibility," Reggie murmured. "If I understand one cause of quarrel between the brothers was that Victor resented your influence, madame, which Sir Albert encouraged you to use? "
"Yes, that's the proposition," said Radnor Hall.
"You know it's not," Lady Lunt cried. "They both hated me to meddle."
"Is that so?" Reggie said dreamily. "And you were asking me to find out who murdered Sir Albert?"
"No, I wasn't," Lady Lunt flashed at him. "I was asking you to save this poor boy Cranford."
"Ah well, let's hope it's the same thing." Reggie stood up. "I can play about in the park, I suppose? Many thanks."
And he did play about in the park till dusk, and when he went back to London, Sam, the factotum, was not with him.
In the evening Donald Gordon rang him up. Donald Gordon thought Cranford was a bit of a tough, but was going to act for him. It would be a fruity case. He had arranged a consultation with Cranford at the prison to-morrow, and hoped Reggie would be there. What did Reggie think of the case? "Rotten," said Reggie, and rang off.
The fact is that from first to last the Lunt case annoyed him. He never saw his way through it, and has always called it one of his failures. The one thing which he did, he will tell you, was to grasp that the police were mucking it—to divine that whoever killed Sir Albert and however he—or she—did it, it was not a simple, common bit of pistolling. He was right about nothing else. His apology is that he has no imagination.
At this stage he was prepared to believe anything. When he went gloomily to bed it was with the conviction that if he were Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department he could make it—or fake it—into a hanging matter for "any one of the bally crowd". The unknown Cranford, the enigmatic Victor, Lady Lunt, Radnor Hall, you could put each of them in the dock—or several of them together. Lady Lunt stood to gain most by the death—or perhaps Radnor Hall—what were her relations with Radnor Hall? Cranford had the worst quarrel with the dead man—or perhaps brother Victor. In favour of Cranford was only the oddity of the business, and nice Nurse Dauntsey . . . a lamb. . . . Comfortable visions of her sent him to sleep.
Seen in the gaunt room at the prison, the unknown Cranford came up to expectation. He was a dark fellow, lean and powerful, with a decisive jaw. The little Jewish solicitor, Donald Gordon, became nervous before him. "Miss Dauntsey says I'm devilish obliged to you, doctor," said Cranford sharply. "So I am. You understand I admit nothing."
"That's the best way," the little Jew lisped.
But Cranford told his story and admitted a good deal. He had offered his discovery of copper to Lunt Brothers, and been sent out to Mozambique with a party of their men. On the way up country he had gone out of camp to shoot for the pot. Out of the bush came a native spear and broke in his thigh. By the time he struggled back to camp, there was no camp. The party had gone on with the food and the baggage, his baggage too, in which was the map of his copper belt. He was left wounded and alone in the bush. After some desperate days he struggled into a native village, and lay there a month before he could travel. When he came back to Mozambique he found that Lunt Brothers were enrolled as the owners of all the copper belt.
He sailed for England. There was in him, he confessed—no, proclaimed—the single purpose of getting his own back from Sir Albert Lunt. And so his first day in England took him to the office of Lunt Brothers. Victor Lunt received him. Victor Lunt had been civil, even sympathetic, but had nothing to offer. Victor Lunt admitted that they had jumped his claim, did not conceal that the trick had been planned by Sir Albert Lunt, agreed that Cranford had been damnably swindled; but gave him no hope that Sir Albert Lunt would do anything.
"You didn't kill Victor, anyway?" Reggie said.
"Victor? Poor beast, there's nothing to him. He's all talk," said Cranford. "Albert ran that show. Victor as good as told me so. Said he was just a clerk in Albert's office. So I told him a few things about Albert. Poor devil, he was in a funk. He got cold feet. Said I had better go right on to Albert. Albert was down at Prior's Colney. Would I go to Albert? I would so. And I did."
"Yes. By train. You got to Colney Road Station 12.20," Reggie said. "You came back by the 2.5."
"That's so." Cranford stared at him. "You know something, doctor. I walked up to Prior's Colney. Flunkey said Albert was out. I walked back and caught the 2.5."
There was silence for a moment. Then the little Jew said, "That's the story. You'll have to tell it in the witness-box, you know."
"Can do," said Cranford.
"That's nice," the little Jew lisped. "Now you know some fellow will ask you—don't you tell me if you don't want—did you murder Albert Lunt?"
"I did not, sir."
The little Jew rubbed his hands. "That's nice, ain't it, doctor? That gives us a free hand." He got up. "Well, doctor, any questions?"
"I wonder what coat you were wearing, Mr. Cranford?" Reggie said.
"Coat? Brown raincoat. Devilish cold it was too. Only coat I've got. I've not had time to fit out for an English spring."
"Quite. We'll carry on, then." Reggie got up too. "It's shaping all right, Mr. Cranford. Shouldn't worry."
"Not me. Tell Miss Dauntsey," Cranford said.
Outside in their car, "What's the verdict, doctor?" Gordon said.
"He's telling the truth," Reggie said.
"Fancy!" And they became technical.
On the day of the inquest Reggie went down to Prior's Colney, but the inquest he did not attend. The Hon. Stanley Lomas noticed that, and remarked on it with surprise to Donald Gordon. It was the one thing in a successful day which gave Mr. Lomas concern. But at the close of that day Mr. Lomas, going back to the inn for his car and his tea, found Reggie eating buttered toast. "I envy you. Fortune, don't you know." Lomas sat down beside him.
"Oh, Mr. Lomas, sir," Reggie mumbled. "Go along with you."
"I envy your stomach," Lomas explained, put up his eyeglass and surveyed the buttered toast more closely. "O Lord! And after a bad day too! You've heard the verdict. What? Wilful murder against Cranford."
"And all is gas and gaiters. And hooroar for Scotland Yard. And you shall pay for my tea."
"It was the pistol did for him you know." Lomas smiled as a man who can afford to smile.
"Hidden dangers, snares unknown. I've found the real pistol, old thing. Good-bye."," Lomas," Reggie murmured. "Soon our schooldays will be done. Cares and sorrows lie before us, Lomas.
Lomas caught him up outside. "I say, Fortune. Without prejudice—what's your line?"
"Seek not to proticipate," Reggie smiled. "This gentleman is paying for my tea, Mary. You would be so hasty, you know."
Mr. Lomas drank whisky-and-soda.
That was the second skirmish in the Lunt case.
The general action was fought at the assizes. The interest in it began with the cross-examination of Victor Lunt. Victor Lunt, called for the prosecution, made a good impression. He looked harassed and in ill-health, affected as a good brother should be by a brother's death. But he had command of himself, proved that he had brains as well as the heart displayed by his dull eye and flabby face, he was lucid and to the point. He showed no malice against Cranford. Cranford had called on him on the morning of the murder, complained bitterly of his treatment by Sir Albert Lunt, used violent language about Sir Albert, demanded to know where Sir Albert was, and gone away. Such was Mr. Lunt's evidence in chief.
Then arose a small and pallid barrister with a priggish nose. He would ask Mr. Lunt to carry his mind back to some earlier transactions. So the story of the expedition to Mozambique was brought out and, such was the simplicity of the priggish little man, the harassed mouth of Mr. Lunt was made to explain that Lunt Brothers had annexed Cranford's discovery, and that the expedition of Lunt Brothers had left him to die in the bush.
"Are you justifying the murder?" said counsel for the Crown.
"You will understand my friend's uneasiness, gentlemen," says the little barrister, and pinned Mr. Lunt to the statement that it was Sir Albert who had planned this iniquitous scheme. "And when Cranford had gone, Mr. Lunt, of course you warned your brother at once this desperate fellow was on his track. No? Curious. Yet you went down in your motor to your own house at Colney Towers, not much more than a mile away. You reached the house between 12 and 12.30? Perhaps? Oh, don't begin to forget things now. What did you do then? "
As far as he remembered Mr. Lunt took a stroll.
"On your oath—did you not go and meet your brother?"
Mr. Lunt (who had sat down) started up to deny it. He had not gone outside his own park.
"Would it surprise you to hear that on the path from your house to Sir Albert's there were found next day fresh footprints which your boots fit?" Mr. Lunt often walked that way. "What clothes were you wearing?" Mr. Lunt could not remember. He went as he was. "You don't deny you were wearing a coat with an Astrakhan collar?" Mr. Lunt could not say—he had such a coat—he did often wear it. "Very well. And, as you were saying, you have had quarrels with your brother about the policy of the firm?"
"Not quarrels, no," Mr. Lunt protested eagerly, and struggled to explain them away.
"On the day after the murder you had a large scratch on your forehead which was not there before the murder?" Mr. Lunt could not remember the scratch. Anybody might have a scratch. He was let go. And the jury looked at each other.
After lunch, first witness for the defence, came Lady Lunt to say that the scheme to trick Cranford had been Victor's, and that on many subjects there were bitter quarrels between Victor and Albert. Radnor Hall corroborated. Reggie followed, and brought the crisis of the battle.
Mr. Fortune, eminent in his profession, had examined the body. Clutched in the left hand were some black tufts—fragments of Astrakhan. When he visited the scene of the crime he had found on the brambles close by other tufts of Astrakhan. He had traced recent footprints which corresponded exactly to the size of a pair of Mr. Albert Lunt's boots. He produced measurements and casts. In the depths of one of the neighbouring coverts he had found a Smith-Southron •38 magazine pistol, from which three shots had been fired. And a vigorous cross-examination could do nothing with these facts. Then came other witnesses to prove that Victor Lunt had been wearing Astrakhan, and Cranford a raincoat.
Last witness for the defence—Cranford himself. Last question for the defence—"On your oath, did you murder Albert Lunt?"
"On my oath, no."
The once-confident counsel for the Crown went delicately now. It was plain enough that he thought his case did not justify him in pressing the prisoner hard. "When you were told Albert Lunt was out you made no further attempt to see him. Why? "
"I thought it was a plant. I thought the two of them were putting me off."
"So you went straight back to town?"
"Yes. I caught the 2.5. You know that." Counsel for the Crown gave it up.
A speech of sledgehammer logic from the priggish little barrister, exhibiting Cranford as a man much wronged, and Victor Lunt as the villain of the piece—a speech the more effective from its studied absence of passion. A summing up from the judge dead against Victor Lunt. A quick verdict of Not Guilty. Cheers in court. Nurse Dauntsey crying and laughing and feeling blindly for Reggie Fortune's hand.
In the corridor outside, "That's a case, my boy, that's a case." The little Jew solicitor jumped and gurgled. "Some sensation! What, Mr. Lomas, some sensation in the Yard."
"Baddish break, Lomas. 'Zeal, all zeal, Mr. Easy,'" Reggie grinned.
"Why the devil couldn't you give it me?" Lomas thrust by in a hurry. "Get on, Bell—get on." Superintendent Bell, his lieutenant, shook his head at Reggie.
That night after dinner a card was brought in to Reggie Fortune. "For God's sake see me," was scrawled above "Mr. Victor Lunt." Reggie went down to his consulting-room.
Victor Lunt was in distress. The fat face which in the morning had been pale was now crimson and sweating. He breathed heavily; he seemed swollen.
"You must expect nothing from me, Mr. Lunt. I have done with your case," Reggie said.
"You'll hear what I've got to say. You must hear my side, doctor. It was you who set them on me. My God, there may be a warrant out for me any moment. Doctor, for God's sake—you don't want to send me to the gallows. I never did it. I swear I never did."
"I have said nothing but the truth about what I found. The facts are the facts, Mr. Lunt. Defend yourself against them. I can do nothing for you."
"But the facts lie, doctor. God love you, you wouldn't go to hang an innocent man. I'll tell you the truth, by God I will."
Reggie sat down. "I can't take up your case, Mr. Lunt. I am committed. Anything you tell me is at your own risk. If you can convince me that you're innocent it's my duty to do what I can for you. But I advise you to hold your tongue."
"Don't you see?" Victor Lunt was almost screaming. "If they hang me it's you that's done it. Will you listen now?"
"Go on, sir."
Victor Lunt mopped his face, tried to speak, and stuttered. "I did go out that day." The words came in a half-articulate rush. "I wanted to see what Cranford had done to Bert. And in the park I found Bert lying shot. He had a pistol in his hand."
"Do you want me to believe he shot himself?" Reggie frowned.
"O God, I don't know. I swear it's the truth, doctor. He was lying there shot with a pistol in his hand. When I bent over him he grabbed at me. "You swine," he said, and he lifted his hand to shoot. Then I bashed his face with a stone. But he shot and it cut my head. That was the scratch, doctor. My God, you do see things. I grabbed the pistol and wretched it away from him."
"The sprained thumb," Reggie muttered.
"Then I heard the death-rattle." Victor Lunt shuddered, and again he could not command his speech. "I lost my head, doctor. I ran away. I chucked the pistol away. I don't know what I did. Doctor, I swear it's God's truth." He started up. "What do you mean to do now?"
For Reggie sat silent looking at him. "If it's the truth, Mr. Lunt, I advise you to tell it."
"It is the truth. Don't you know it's the truth? O God!"
"I am not God, Mr. Lunt."
Victor Lunt screamed. Two men had come into the room. "Mr. Victor Lunt? I am Superintendent Bell. I hold a warrant——" Victor Lunt fell upon the hearth.
They rushed at him, dragged him out of the fire. . . . "Apoplexy," Reggie said. "I thought it was coming." The detective's eyebrows asked him a question. Reggie shook his head.
"This warrant won't run," said Superintendent Bell. "What was he doing here, sir?"
"Asking for mercy," Reggie said. "He's taking the case to a higher court. I wonder. I wonder."
And that night Victor Lunt died. . . .
A few days afterwards Reggie gave a little dinner to Cranford and Nurse Dauntsey, and Nurse Dauntsey in a shy evening-frock was adorably happy. And in due time, "Have another peach," Reggie said.
"Do you want to see me blush, Mr. Fortune?" But she took another.
"You can do pleasant things with the stones—he loves me, he loves me not."
"It's not interesting any more," said Nurse Dauntsey, and looked demure.
"I'm off to British Columbia next week," Cranford announced.
"Alone?" said Reggie, with his eye on Nurse Dauntsey.
"This year, next year," Nurse Dauntsey counted. "May I have five peaches, Mr. Fortune?"
"I'm sure you know what's good for you. So you're dropping the Mozambique copper claim, Cranford?"
"Lady Lunt offered to turn it over to me. I couldn't touch it."
"Of course not," said Nurse Dauntsey.
"Good thing for me Victor Lunt didn't stand his trial," Cranford said.
"Yes. It would have kept you in England." Reggie lit a cigar.
"I should have had to tell the whole story." Reggie stared at him. "Yes. That's the proposition, sir. It was the case you put up against him got me off."
"I put up nothing," Reggie cried. "Everything I had against Victor was true, and he knew it was true. That's what broke him. He had a queer story of his own though," and Reggie told them Victor Lunt's version of the crime. "I've wondered how much of that was true. He wanted me to believe Albert committed suicide, you see. And that's impossible."
"Maybe it was all true," Cranford said. "Poor beggar. He went through it."
"I didn't feel merciful," Reggie said. "Whatever was the way of it, he meant to get his brother murdered. He worked you up and sent you off to do it. He meant the murder. No, I didn't feel merciful. And yet—I wonder."
"I always meant to put you wise," Cranford said. "You'll pardon me. I couldn't afford to give anything away. And I told you no lies. I didn't murder Albert Lunt. But I killed him. Fair and clean, sir. On my soul it's as good a bit of work as ever I did. He was a yellow dog. It was up to me to wipe him out. This is the way of it, doctor. When they said he wasn't at Prior's Colney I laid to wait for him, and then I saw him coming across the park. I met him and I told him off. I had it all cut out. He had to have his chance, though he gave me none. I had two guns. One for him, one for me. I offered him the pick, and he snatched and fired at me while I had the other gun by the muzzle. He was sure trash. Then he put in another miss and I stretched him. That's my tale, sir."
"And it's just as well you didn't try it on a jury," Reggie said.
Cranford started up. "Mr. Fortune, sir, I'm considerably in your debt. But if you call me a liar——"
"Oh, no, no."
"D'you call me a coward, then? I would have it all out if Victor had come to trial."
"You've run straight," Reggie said.
"I sure have," Cranford fumed.
"Do sit down, dear," said Nurse Dauntsey in her nice, gentle voice.
On her Reggie turned. "And you knew all the time!" He shook his head at her.
"Yes, of course, Mr. Fortune." She looked surprised.
"Cranford, my congratulations," said Reggie. "Never trust a really nice girl unless you're marrying her. Perhaps you knew that."