Call Mr. Fortune/The Sleeping Companion
THE SLEEPING COMPANION
BIRDIE screamed like a sea-gull and leapt on to the stage. The audience rumbled the usual applause, and Dr. Reginald Fortune put up his opera-glasses. He considered himself a connoisseur in the art of music halls, and Birdie Bolton was unique and bizarre. She was no longer young, and had never been pretty. A helmet of black hair, a gaunt face which never smiled, a body as lean as a boy's, which sometimes slouched and sometimes jerked—such were her charms. She wore nothing much above the waist but diamonds, and below it barbaric flounces in a maze of colour. She began to sing in a voice wildly unfit for the strange creature she looked—a small, sweet voice—and what she sang was a simple ditty about her true love forsaking her. And then she went mad. There was a shrieking chorus—can you imagine a steam whistle playing ragtime?—and a dance of weird, wild vehemence. The lean body was contorted a dozen ways at once, the long white arms whirled and stabbed. She seemed to be a dozen women fighting, and each of them a prodigy of force. It was not a pretty dance, but it had meaning.
Birdie sank down panting on her crazy rainbow flounces and nodded at the audience which thundered at her. Dr. Reginald Fortune shut up his opera-glasses. "She's a bit of a wonder, you know," he said to the naval lieutenant who was his companion.
"It's a wild bird," the lieutenant agreed, and as the rest of the revue was merely frocks and the absence of frocks they went off to supper.
In the morning, which was Sunday, Birdie Bolton came to see Dr. Reginald Fortune. It was her remarkable creed that she could not live in a noise, and so for years she had owned a house in the still rural suburb of Westhampton where Reggie and his father practised. The elder Dr. Fortune at first looked after her, but when Reggie came on the scene Miss Bolton, declaring with her usual frankness that she liked her doctors young, turned herself over to him.
By daylight Miss Bolton dressed, and even overdressed, the part of a brisk British spinster. She was very tailor-made and severely tweedy, and thus looked leaner than ever. But her eyes retained a gleam of devilment.
"You gave us a great show last night," Reggie said.
"Were you in front?" said Miss Bolton, and made a face. "Oh, Lord! Sorry. I was rotten."
Reggie understood that his professional interest was required.
"What's the trouble?" he said cheerfully.
"That's your show," said Miss Bolton. "Put me through it."
The conversation then became confidential and dull upon the usual themes of a medical examination. At last, "Well, you know, we don't get to anything," Reggie said. "This is all quite good and normal. What's making you anxious?"
"Dreams," said Miss Bolton. "Why do I have dreams? I never dreamed in my life till now."
"What sort of dreams?"
"Oh, any old sort. Bally rot. One night it was a motor-bus chivvying me on the stage. One night May"—May Weston was her companion—"May would keep parrots in the bathroom. Then I hear a noise and wake up and there isn't any noise."
"Do you have this every night?"
"Snakes! Not much. Now and again. But I say, doc, it's not fair. I don't drink and I don't drug. But I'll be seeing pink rats if this goes on."
"Is there anything worrying you just now?"
Was it possible that Miss Bolton blushed? Reggie could not be sure. "You're a bright boy, doc. Be good!" She shook hands and gripped like a man. The big emerald she always wore ground into his fingers. "Birdie, the strong girl. Bye-bye," she laughed.
On the next morning Reggie was just out of his bath when he was told that Miss Bolton's housekeeper had rung up. Miss Bolton had had an accident and would he go at once. "Tell Sam," said Reggie, and jumped into his trousers. Samuel Baker, a young taxi-driver whose omniscient impudence had persuaded Reggie to enlist him as chauffeur and factotum, had the car round and some sandwiches inside it by the time Reggie, was downstairs. Neither he nor Reggie lost time.
Normanhurst, Miss Bolton's house, stands by itself in an acre or so of garden, and is in the mid-Victorian or amorphous style. As Reggie jumped out of the car, the housekeeper opened the door. She was a brisk, buxom woman; she looked, and perhaps was, just what a housekeeper ought to be.
"What's wrong, Mrs. Betts?" Reggie said.
"It's very serious, sir. This way, please." She led the way to Birdie Bolton's boudoir, stopped, took a key from her apron pocket, and unlocked the door.
"Hallo!" Reggie said.
"I'm afraid you're going to have a shock, sir," said Mrs. Betts, and opened the door for him.
Reggie went in. The sunlight flooded Birdie Bolton's face, which was white. She lay on a sofa. She was in evening dress. There was an open wound in one side of her throat, and from it a red line lay across her bare shoulder, down her arm, to a purple stain on the carpet.
Reggie went across the room in two strides and bent over her. She had been dead for hours.
"Who found her, Mrs. Betts?"
"The upper housemaid, sir. She's been having hysterics ever since."
"Bah! Was the room just like this?"
"No, sir. Miss Weston was asleep in that chair."
"What?" Reggie stared. The mistress murdered and the companion placidly asleep by her side—perhaps that would not have startled his calm mind. But he knew May Weston, and had written her off as a dull, simple creature—a cushion of a girl.
"Miss Weston was asleep in that chair," the housekeeper repeated. "I saw her myself. I came in, sir, when Amelia—when the housemaid screamed. Miss Weston was in evening dress too. She didn't wake at the screaming either—just stirred. I went to her and shook her, and 'Miss Weston,' I said, 'whatever's this?' I said, and she woke up and looked round her, sort of heavy, and she saw Miss Bolton lying there and the blood, and she screamed out, 'I did it—oh, I did it,' and she looked at me very queer and she fainted." Mrs. Betts stopped and stared at Reggie, waiting for him to express horror.
"So what did you do with her?" said Reggie. Mrs. Betts swallowed. "I had her carried to her room. Dr. Fortune," she said with dignity. "I am told she's come to and been crying."
"Well, that's natural, anyway," said Reggie.
"Natural, indeed!" Mrs. Betts tossed her head.
"And what did you do next, Mrs. Betts?"
"I had nothing touched, sir. I locked up the room. And I telephoned to you and the police."
"I'm sure you behaved admirably, Mrs. Betts," Reggie murmured.
Mrs. Betts was appeased. "I could hardly bear it, sir. Such a sweet, good mistress as she was. A perfect lady with all her little ways, as you know, sir. And that Miss Weston! So soft and quiet as she seemed. I don't mind saying, sir, I felt as if I was stone. Oh!" She shuddered and shook. "Vicious, I call it."
Reggie was looking round the room. "I suppose it is murder, sir?" said Mrs. Betts in a tone that suggested she would like to have the hanging of Miss Weston.
"I suppose it is," Reggie said. He crossed to the chair in which Miss Weston had been found sleeping and picked up from the floor close by a pair of scissors and a pointed bodkin with an ivory handle. Both were clotted with blood. Ugly things.
"Ah!" Mrs. Betts said. "That's what did it. Put 'em down, sir. I left them there by her chair for the police to see."
"You think of everything, Mrs. Betts," said , and put them down and went back to the body of Birdie Bolton.
That stab in the throat, it was "not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door"; it was a small wound to be mortal. A small neat wound which had rare luck to slit the jugular vein. Reggie looked back at the bodkin and the scissors. He noticed that Mrs. Betts had gone out.
There were other wounds. In half a dozen places the pallid shoulders and breast had bled. No one of these gashes was serious. They were just such as might be expected of those unhandy weapons, scissors and bodkin. It was that neat, lucky stroke at the throat which determined the fate of Birdie Bolton. The minor wounds suggested a struggle with some one in a passion, and that Miss Bolton had struggled Reggie found other evidence. The black evening dress had been dragged from one shoulder and torn, and there on that right shoulder were the blue marks of a hand that had gripped. Reggie's examination became more minute.
Two men bustled in. A hand tapped Reggie's shoulder. "Now, sir, if you please."
Reggie stood up and confronted a pompous, portly little man.
"I am Dr. Fortune," Reggie said. "Miss Bolton was a patient of mine."
"Was," said the little man, with emphasis. "She is a case for an expert now, Dr. Fortune."
"That's why I was examining her," said Reggie sweetly.
The little man laughed. "A general practitioner is not much use to her now. Rather beyond you, isn't it? "
"Well, I've not made up my mind," Reggie said.
"Don't worry. Don't worry." He waved Reggie off, but Reggie did not go. "You'll only be in our way, you know. We'll let you know if we want you at the inquest. Just for formal evidence." Still Reggie did not move. "I am the divisional surgeon, sir," said the little man loudly.
"I was wondering who you were," Reggie murmured.
The little man swung round. "We'll have the room cleared, inspector," he said.
The detective inspector, who looked more like a policeman than seemed possible, strode heavily forward. "Hope you're not meaning to give trouble, doctor," he frowned. "Or I'll have to take steps."
"Fancy!" Reggie said. "Well, look where you're going." He walked across to the window and looked out at the roses.
"Clear out, please." The inspector followed him.
"Zeal, all zeal," Reggie murmured, and went.
There were two doors to the room. He did not use that by which they had come, but the other. He happened to know that it opened into Birdie Bolton's bedroom.
There was some one in the bedroom. A startled dark face peeped round the screen by the bed. It belonged to a smart lady's maid.
"Dear me, I thought this was the passage," Reggie said.
"It is Miss Bolton's bedroom—poor Miss Bolton." The maid had a slight foreign accent.
"Of course it is. And you're her maid, of course. Flora, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. Yes, doctor. Ah, you have seen Miss Bolton! You cannot do anything—no?"
"Miss Bolton is dead, Flora."
"I was so fond of her," Flora sighed.
"Well, I liked her. I suppose you heard nothing last night?"
"Ah, no. She have sent me to bed. And I sleep so sound."
Reggie nodded. "It's a bad business, Flora. Take me to Miss Weston's room, will you?"
"Miss Weston! Ah!" Flora said, with tragic intensity.
"H'm. You think she——"
"I do not think. I feel," Flora said.
"It's a bad habit. Well——"
And Flora led the way. She was a plump woman of some age, but still comely enough in a dark, heavy fashion.
A tap at a door. "It is the doctor, Miss Weston," from Flora. A sullen voice, "You can come in," and in Reggie went.
May Weston was a squalid sight. Her natural prettiness, the prettiness of fresh youth, the bloom of pink and white, the grace of full, soft line had all gone from her. She lay a shapeless heap on her bed, her evening dress still on and all crushed and crumpled and awry, her yellow hair half down and tousled, her face of a bluish pallor.
"What do you want?" She stared at Reggie heavily.
"Well, this won't do, will it?" Reggie smiled cheerfully and sat down beside the bed. "So why are you like this?"
"Haven't you heard?" she cried.
"I've heard and seen," Reggie said. " I can't do any more there. But perhaps I can here." He began to feel her pulse.
"I'm not ill."
"Well, you never know." He let her wrist go and bent over her. "Sleep rather sound, don't you?"
"Oh!" She shuddered. "Why do you look at me like that?"
Reggie bent suddenly closer, and as suddenly sat up again. Then he laughed. "Like what, my dear?"
She stared at him and her lip quivered. "You—you! Oh, do you think I can be mad?"
Reggie shook his head. "Let's begin quite at the beginning. Let's preserve absolute calm. You dined with Miss Bolton last night alone? After dinner you went to her boudoir? That would be about nine? "
"Yes, yes. Mr. Ford came just after the coffee."
"Ah! And who is Mr. Ford?"
May Weston blushed abundantly. "We—he has been here a good deal," she stammered. "Oh, Dr. Fortune, it isn't his fault."
"Young or old, rich or poor—what is he?"
"Of course he's young. I suppose he's rich. His father makes engines or something in Leeds, and he is in the London office."
"Sounds solid," Reggie agreed. "And why does Mr. Ford call at nine p.m.?"
Miss Weston's blushes were renewed. "He has been very often," she said, and wrung her hands. "I shall have to tell, doctor, shan't I? Yes. He met Miss Bolton once at supper and then he used to come here."
"Ah! Good-looking fellow, is he?"
"Oh, yes. He is very big and handsome."
"And Miss Bolton liked him. Well, well." Reggie understood now why poor Birdie Bolton had been dreaming dreams of nights.
"Yes," said May Weston faintly. "Oh, it's a shame! But I must tell. She thought he came to see her, but——"
"But it was really to see you. Now, let's get back to the coffee."
"He came last night. We were so gay. Miss Bolton—oh, poor Birdie!"
"We can't undo that, my dear. Let's do what we can for her. Did he stay late?"
"Rather. I don't know. I was sleepy. But Birdie was so gay. And then—and then he went away and Birdie began to talk about him. I don't know how it happened. She said something—and I felt I just had to tell her—I told her he had proposed to me. And then she was furious. Oh, have you ever seen her in one of her rages? She was terrible. She said dreadful things. And I—I felt as if I couldn't do anything at all. I was dazed and faint and just sat. I know she hit me."
"I saw the bruise," Reggie said gently, looking at the blue mark on her neck.
"Then she stormed out of the room, and—oh, doctor, I don't know—perhaps I fainted—it was as if I was all lead in that chair. I thought I was asleep. And then it was like a horrible, horrible dream—I saw her being killed. She was on the sofa, and some one was hitting at her. Oh, doctor, did I do it? Was it a dream? Did I really do it?"
"You saw—or you dreamed—who was it struck her in your dream?"
"Oh, I don't know. It was just like a dream when you can't tell. I know it was Birdie. But was it me killed her?"
The door was flung open. The detective inspector strode in. "May Weston?" He was more the policeman than ever.
Reggie stood up. "How civil you are!" he said.
"You make yourself very busy, don't you?" The inspector glared. "Don't you interfere with me. May Weston—I shall charge you with the murder of your mistress, Birdie Bolton. Get up off that bed now."
"He's forgotten the rest of his part—'anything you say may be used in evidence against you,' Miss Weston. So you'll say nothing, please."
The inspector grew red and puffed, and advanced upon Reggie. "Here, you—you clear out of this. You're obstructing me in——"
"Is it possible?" Reggie drawled. "Well, it isn't necessary, anyway." and he left the inspector still swelling.
It is fair to him to add, what he has since protested, that he never liked May Weston. Pussy-cat is his name for her, and he is not fond of cats.
From her room he went to the telephone in the hall, and there the inspector, still rather flushed, found him again.
"And what might you be doing now, if you please?" said the inspector, with constabulary sarcasm.
"Oh, I'm talking to Miss Bolton's solicitors. Hadn't you thought of talking to Miss Bolton's solicitors?"
"Never you mind what I thought of. Don't you use that telephone again. I won't have it."
"Oh, yes, you will. Now I'm going to talk to Superintendent Bell." The inspector was visibly startled. For Superintendent Bell was near the summit of the Criminal Investigation Department. "Any objection? No? How nice of you. . . ." He conferred with the telephone, and at length: "Dr. Fortune. Yes. Oh, is that you, Bell? So glad. I wish you'd come along here, Normanhurst, Westhampton. One of my patients murdered. No, not by me. Quite unusual case. Yes, it is the Birdie Bolton case. The inspector in charge is such a good, kind man. Sweet face he has. You'll come right on? So glad." Reggie put down the receiver and smiled upon the puzzled inspector. "That's that," he said, and went out. Samuel, the chauffeur, put away his picture paper. "I want my camera," Reggie said, and Samuel touched his hat and drove off. Reggie sauntered into the garden.
Normanhurst, as you know, is a low, spreading house of a comfortable Victorian dowdiness. There are—don't count the attics—only two stories. It is old enough to be quite covered with climbing plants—ivy on the north, roses and a wisteria on the other sides. Birdie Bolton's bedroom and boudoir looked to the south, and were on the ground floor. On the north of the house is the approach from the high road, a curling drive through a shrubbery. Birdie Bolton's rooms looked out upon a rose-bed and a big lawn. About her windows climbed a big Gloire de Dijon. The roses beneath were of the newer hybrid teas, well cultivated, well chosen, and at their best—a fragrant pomp of red and gold. "How she loved 'em, poor soul," Reggie thought, and began to feel sentimental. That singular emotion was interrupted by the sound of a motor-car. He went back to the front of the house to meet it.
A big car was drawing up. It contained two people—a uniformed chauffeur and a large young man who jumped out, rather clumsily, before the car stopped. He had the good looks of a hero of musical comedy, but an expression rather sheepish than fatuous, and a pallid complexion.
"I think you are Mr. Ford." Reggie came close to him. "I am Dr. Fortune. Miss Bolton was a patient of mine. I hardly expected to see you so soon."
"Miss Weston sent for me, sir." Mr. Ford recoiled, for Reggie's face was very close to his.
"Did she, though!" Reggie murmured. "Did she really?" Miss Weston had forgotten to tell him that. Pussy-cat!
"Well, Flora telephoned for her. She said something terrible had happened, and Miss Weston wanted me. I say, doctor, what has happened?"
"Jolly kind of Flora," Reggie said. "Well, Mr. Ford, Miss Bolton has been murdered."
"My God!" said Mr. Ford, and became livid.
"And Miss Weston has been charged with the murder."
"Oh, my God!" Mr. Ford said again. "Oh, damn!" and put his hand to his head. "Here, let me go to her."
"I don't mind," said Reggie, and Mr. Ford plunged into the house.
Reggie remained on the steps waiting for fresh arrivals. The chauffeur moved his car on out of the way, descended, and behind a laurustinus lit a cigarette. Reggie, who never smoked them, sniffed disapproval and began to fill a pipe.
A taxi-cab drove up, and out of it bounced a plump little man whose coat looked as if he wore stays.
"I am Dr. Fortune," Reggie said.
"And I'm Donald Gordon, doctor," said the little man, who was emphatically a Jew. "Moss and Gordon." It was the name of Miss Bolton's solicitors. "Many thanks for letting us know. Poor, dear Birdie. She was a peach. Let's have all the facts, please." He had an engaging lisp.
"There's a detective inspector inside. Like a bull in a china-shop."
"Had some," said Mr. Donald Gordon. "Come on, doctor. Hand it out."
"Well, let's see the flowers," Reggie said, and walked him into the garden and began to tell him all that you know.
"So he's pinched Miss Weston, has he?" the little Jew lisped. "He's a hustler."
"Oh, I expect he's arrested Ford too, by now. Me and you in a minute. He's a zealous fellow. By the way, Gordon, who is Ford?"
"Yes. He's a dark horse, ain't he? I only met him once, doctor. You could see poor old Birdie was sweet on him."
"Oh, so Miss Weston was telling the truth about that."
"Why, didn't you believe her, doctor?"
"D'you know, I wonder if I believe anything I've heard in this house."
"Like that, is it?" Gordon lisped.
"Just like that," said Reggie. A gravity had come over the perky little Jew, which he found very engaging.
Mr. Gordon nodded at him. "Birdie was the one and only," he said, and Reggie nodded back.
"Nice flowers, doctor," a new voice said. Reggie turned to see the square stolidity of Superintendent Bell, greeted him heartily, introduced Mr. Gordon. "Am I de trop, as the French say?" said Superintendent Bell. "No? Thought it might be a council of war."
"Oh, is it war?" Reggie said.
"Well, you know, you've quarrelled with Inspector Mordan." The Superintendent shook his head at Reggie.
"I wouldn't dare. He quarrelled with me."
"Such a pity." The Superintendent smiled and rubbed his hands. "I ought to tell you, doctor, I quite approve of everything that Inspector Mordan has done."
"Splendid force, the police," Mr. Gordon lisped. "Wonderful force. So forcible."
"Including the arrest of Miss Weston?" Reggie asked. "Well, well. Any one else you'd like to arrest?"
"Any one you suggest, doctor? Now I ask you—what would you have done?"
"Oh, I'm not in the force."
"We do have to be so careful," the Superintendent sighed. "That's a handicap, that is. I wonder why you wanted me, doctor?"
"I'm frightened of your inspector. He's not chatty. I want to photograph the body."
The Superintendent turned to Gordon. "It's a taste, you know, that's what it is. He likes corpses. Speaking as man to man, doctor, are you working with us?"
"That's very handsome. Yes. Inspector Mordan, he has a kind of a manner, as you might say. I'll speak to him. Is there anything you'd like to tell me, doctor?"
"Nice flowers, aren't they?" Reggie nodded to the rose-bed under Birdie Bolton's window. It was minutely neat.
"Look as if they'd been brought up by hand," said the Superintendent, but he looked at Reggie, not the roses. "Anything queer, sir?"
"There's that," Reggie said. He pointed to a spray of the Gloire de Dijon beside the window. It bore a bud; it had been broken, and the bud was limp and dead.
"That wasn't broken last night," said the Superintendent.
"No. That's what's interesting," said Reggie, and turned away.
At the door and in the drive there was some congested traffic. Mr. Ford's big car still waited. Reggie's humbler car had come back with his camera. The taxis of Mr. Gordon and Superintendent Bell took up more room. And yet another taxi was trying to get to the steps.
"Who's this, Superintendent?"
"I dare say it'll be for Miss Weston."
"Taking her to Holloway at once? Well, well. I dare say it's all for the best."
But Miss Weston was not to go without a noise. Mr. Ford saw to that. At the head of the stairs he conducted an altercation with Inspector Mordan in which defiance, abuse, and profane swearing were his chief arguments. It was beastly stupid and it was damned impudence to arrest Miss Weston, and it was also beastly impudence and damned stupid, and so forth. In the midst of which the wretched girl was shepherded by two detectives downstairs.
"My God, you might as well arrest me!" Mr. Ford cried, in final desperation.
"Perhaps I will," said the Inspector heavily, and glowered at him.
Mr. Ford paled and drew back. On the stairs below Miss Weston stopped and turned. "Oh, Edmund, don't," she said. "They can't hurt me. You know they can't."
Superintendent Bell drew Reggie aside.
"Think that throws any light?" Reggie said.
"Well, not a searchlight," said the Superintendent.
Miss Weston was driven off. Mr. Ford, looking dazed, came slowly downstairs, and to him went Gordon.
"Better get her a solicitor, you know," Gordon said.
By Jove, that's it!" Mr. Ford cried, and plunged out.
The Inspector and the Superintendent exchanged glances and looked at Gordon.
"Why did you put him on to that, sir?" said the Superintendent.
"Professional feeling, dear boy," Gordon smiled. "Nice girl, ain't it? I fancy my firm are Miss Bolton's executors, and I fancy that bird is sole legatee."
The Superintendent pursed his lips. The Inspector laughed. "It grows, don't it, sir? Just grows," he said.
"I would like to get on," Reggie yawned.
"That's right," said the Superintendent, and took the Inspector aside.
Mr. Gordon, following Reggie to the boudoir, was distressed by the sight of the dead body, and said so. Reggie went on with his photography—first the stab in the throat, then the minor wounds, then the bruise on the shoulder. At which last Inspector Mordan found him.
"Taking the wrong side, aren't you?" he sneered.
"Oh, I'm taking all sides. Ever try it?" Reggie said.
"Well, have you done, doctor?" the little Jew broke in. "Can't we have her covered up?"
"I'll have the body removed, sir. If the doctor has quite done." said the Inspector.
And so at last the body of Birdie Bolton was taken away to the mortuary, and Mr. Gordon, much relieved, flung open the windows and turned to his business, the secretaire and its papers. He worked quickly. . . . "Nothing there but love-letters. Wonder where she kept her will?"
"There's a safe in the bedroom, I think," Reggie said.
"You bet there is. She had all her jewels in the house, I know, and she had some good stuff, poor old girl. Well, come on; here's her keys."
They went into the bedroom, and the little Jew made for the safe. Reggie wandered across the room. It was a parquet floor with Persian rugs on it. He shifted one by the bedside. There was a small dark stain on the floor still not dry. An exclamation from Gordon made him turn. Gordon had the safe open, and the safe, but for some papers in disorder, was empty.
"Not one bally bangle left!" Gordon cried. "Not a sparkle of the whole outfit! Remember that ruby and diamond breastplate! Remember her pearls! And the stuff that Indian Johnny gave her! My hat! Somebody's had a haul." A spasm crossed his face. "I say, doctor, you were here when I opened the safe!"
"I was here," Reggie said stolidly. "I wasn't surprised." The little Jew gasped. "You remember that emerald she always wore? It wasn't on the dead body."
"Oh, God!" said Gordon, and with unsteady hands turned over the papers. "That's her script. More or less all there, I should say. Where's the will? I know she had her will. Drew it myself."
"What's that?" Reggie said.
The one untidy thing in that very tidy room, a paper lay by the fireplace. Gordon picked it up. "Here we are! Yes, 'May Grace Weston, my companion.' That's the document. Crumpled up and torn!" He whistled. "As if Birdie was destroying it and then—biff!"
"Just as if she'd been destroying it," Reggie agreed.
"That puts the lid on, don't it!" said the little Jew. "Miss Weston—oh, lor, there's a soft kid if you ever had one. Just shows you you never know with girls, doctor. Girls, girls, girls! Well, we'd better tell these bally policemen."
So Inspector Mordan, vastly to his satisfaction, was told, and Superintendent Bell, appearing from nowhere, heard, and agreed to search the house for the stolen jewels. "You gentlemen come too, please." He cocked an eye at Reggie.
"Want to keep me under observation?" Reggie grinned back.
"Want you to identify what we find," said the Inspector.
"You'll find something all right," said Reggie.
But he showed little interest in the search, mooning after their men in and out of servants' bedrooms and yawning in corners. Inspector Mordan had gone straight to Miss Weston's room, and from it he came glowing with triumph. He called for his Superintendent, he collected Reggie and Gordon. "You gentlemen happen to recognize that?" He opened his big hand and showed the ring with the big emerald which Birdie Bolton had loved.
"That's it," Gordon cried. "That's Birdie's. Coo! What a stone, ain't it?"
"In Weston's room," the Inspector proclaimed, "on the floor; just under the bed, in Weston's room."
"Only that and nothing more?" Reggie murmured.
"Yes, where's the rest, Mordan?" said Superintendent Bell.
The Inspector smote his thigh. "By George, I see it! I let that rascal Ford see the wench alone. He's gone off stuffed with the swag."
"That's a thought," Reggie admitted, and the Superintendent lifted an eyebrow at him. "You ought to have Ford watched. No, I mean it. If I was you, Inspector, I'd have his place watched night and day."
The Inspector was visibly gratified. "I know my business, thank you," he said. "I say, doctor—it is growing, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes, as if it was forced," Reggie smiled.
"What do you mean?" The Inspector flushed.
"You see, you're so witty, Mordan," said the Superintendent.
"And that's that," Reggie yawned. "You don't really want me any more. Good-bye. Oh, Inspector—I don't want you to be disappointed. The murder wasn't done in that room where you found the body. Good-bye!"
"Wasn't done——" The Inspector stared after him. "Good Lord, he's mad!"
"Better get him to bite you, Mordan," said the Superintendent.
That party did not meet again till the day of the inquest. Before the court met, Superintendent Bell called on Reggie and found him in a bad temper. This was unusual, and equally unusual in the Superintendent's experience was a pallor, a certain tension, across Reggie's solid, amiable face. A civil question about his health brought a snappish answer. It seemed to the Superintendent that Dr. Fortune had been making a night of it.
"Well, what is it?" Reggie snarled. "Got anything to tell me?"
"I've been rather disappointed," the Superintendent said meekly.
"More fool you. I told you to watch Ford."
"That's it, sir. Were you pulling my leg?"
"Oh, damn it, man, this is serious! Miss Bolton was a patient of mine. I don't let any one but me kill my patients."
"Very proper, I'm sure," the Superintendent agreed. "But we have watched him, doctor. Nothing doing."
"Set a man to stand on his doorstep, I suppose. What's the good of that?"
"As you say," the Superintendent agreed. "We've picked up one thing, though. Just before the murder his father turned him down for wanting to marry this girl Weston. He hasn't a penny except from his father. That might have made him desperate—him and the girl. It does grow, you know, doctor."
"Queer case," Reggie grunted. "Going to the inquest? Sorry I can't drive you down. My chauffeur's taking a day off."
So they walked to the coroner's court, and on the way Superintendent Bell used his large experience in the art of extracting confidences in vain. But Reggie mellowed, perceptibly mellowed, as he baffled Superintendent Bell.
The court was crowded to its last inch. The coroner was conscious of his importance, and made the most of it in a long harangue. The divisional surgeon was more pompous than ever, and made it a point of honour to use terms so technical that all his evidence had to be translated to the jury, and the coroner and he argued over the translation.
"What a life, ain't it?" Mr. Gordon murmured in Reggie's ear.
At last came what the evening papers called "Dramatic Evidence": the housemaid who had found the body and had hysterics over again as she described it; Mrs. Betts, who had found May Weston sleeping beside it, waked her, and heard her say, "I did it—oh, I did it!"
"Sensation in Court" was the cross-head for that. The coroner looked over his glasses at the jury, and the jury muttered together, and May Weston came into the box. With the manner of a chaplain at an execution the coroner warned her that she need not give answers that would incriminate her. "I want to tell you everything," she said. She was very pale in her black, and listless of manner, but quite calm.
What she told was the queer story she had told Reggie, but she was not allowed to tell it her own way. The coroner badgered her with continual questions designed to make the queerness of it seem queerer. He made her nervous, confused her, frightened her. "You bother me so that I don't know if I'm telling the truth or not," she quavered.
Then, in the language of the newspapers, "another sensation." Mr. Ford, large and red, started up and roared, "I ought to be there, sir. Let her alone. I ought to be there."
Reggie put his head between his hands and bowed himself, groaning.
Every one else was much excited by Mr. Ford. He was pulled down in his seat. The coroner rebuked him with awful majesty. The foreman of the jury wanted to know if he would be called. The coroner pronounced that the court would most certainly require Mr. Ford to explain himself—and came back to May Weston.
"The fool that he is; he's done the trick, though," Reggie muttered to Mr. Gordon, and Gordon nodded and grinned. For after this interruption the coroner handled May Weston much more gently, almost indulgently, as a good man sorry for a woman's weakness. And he was soon done with her.
"Any questions?" He looked at the lawyers. Reggie bent forward and whispered to the solicitor appearing for Miss Weston.
That large, bland man stood up. "Now, Miss Weston, about that coffee." He had his reward. Every one in the court, and Miss Weston not least, stared surprise at him. Slowly he extracted from her (she seemed bewildered at each question) the whole history of that after-dinner coffee. Coffee had been brought to the boudoir just before Mr. Ford came; no one but she had expected Mr. Ford; another cup was brought for Mr. Ford; Mr. Ford and she had both drunk their coffee. Miss Bolton—why, no, Miss Bolton had not. Miss Bolton had been very gay, and in doing a few steps of a dance had upset her coffee.
"No more questions, sir." The large solicitor sat down smiling.
The coroner was visibly unable to understand him, and made a great business with his papers. It was now long after tea-time. "I suppose we shan't finish to-day, gentlemen?" the coroner suggested.
"Quite impossible, sir," said the large solicitor cheerfully. "I have some long medical evidence. Dr. Fortune, Miss Bolton's physician. The first medical man who saw the lady. The first medical man who saw Miss Weston."
The court rose. Reggie, with Gordon at his heels, went out by the solicitor's door and found Superintendent Bell waiting for him. "Now are you playing the game, doctor?" said Superintendent Bell sadly.
"For keeps," Reggie laughed. "Come and dine with me. Bring Mordan. He's so genial."
"We do have to take these little things so seriously," the Superintendent murmured.
But a party of four, the Superintendent and the large Inspector, Reggie and the little Jew, packed themselves into a taxicab and drove into town. Reggie was full of elegant conversation. He grew iris, and told them all about iris, with appendices on the costumes in revue.
Once or twice Superintendent Bell tried to turn his attention to serious subjects. Vainly. At last Inspector Mordan broke out with, "I say, doctor, what's the wheeze about the coffee?"
"The Inspector touches the spot. Care not, all will be known ere long. There's a jolly little iris from the Himalayas——" Reggie returned with enthusiasm to horticulture.
"Where are you taking us, doctor?" said the Superintendent. The taxi, which had for some little time been running through the city, seemed to intend coming out on the other side—a locality promising no good dinner. As he spoke, it turned into Liverpool Street Station.
"Liverpool Street, by George!" the Inspector said. "This is a bean-feast. Going to take us to Epping Forest, doctor?"
"We may have to go farther," Reggie said, and Gordon laughed.
"Are you in this, sir?" The Inspector turned on him.
"Professional secret, dear boy."
Reggie led the way to the station dining-room. "I don't know the cook. But let's hope for the best. A tirin' day, and active evening. Strength is what we need. Strength without somnolence. Salmon, I see. Lamb chops, I would add. One of your younger ducks would comfort me. Do you sleep after Burgundy, Inspector? A warm night, as you say. Larose is a genial claret. Let us all be genial."
"Well, you're a bit supercilious," the Inspector complained.
"How can you say so? I am keeping all the glory for you. Glory on ice. All ready for Inspector Mordan. So gather you roses while you may. Talking of roses, what do you think of the hybrid Austrian briers?" He explained what he thought of them to a silent audience, sliding gracefully into an appreciation of salmon eaten at Waterford, at Exeter, and at Berwick. Few are the men who will not talk about food. The detectives produced much valuable experience of bourgeois cookery, and the dinner went merrily. In its later stages Reggie became silent and watched the clock. He seemed to grudge Inspector Mordan his cheese, and as soon as it was swallowed made a move.
"Well, doctor, I did think we should have had some coffee," the Inspector chuckled.
But Reggie was already making for the door. By the door stood his chauffeur looking for him. Reggie beckoned impatiently to the detectives and followed the chauffeur out. He led them to the main line departure platforms. It was near the time of the Harwich boat-train. A dark, wiry man was registering some luggage for Amsterdam. By his side stood a veiled woman of full figure. Both he and she carried suit-cases. As the man turned round he bumped into Reggie, who was looking the other way, and seemed to have some difficulty in disentangling himself. He glared at Reggie and hurried away. The woman was ahead of him.
Reggie grabbed Superintendent Bell. "See that pair. Take them both. Picking my pocket. Get the bags."
Bell and Mordan hurried after the pair. Bell tapped the man's shoulder, and he jumped round.
"I thought so. You'll come with me to the station, my man," said Superintendent Bell, with admirable calm.
"What is it?" the man cried. His accent was slightly foreign. "What station? What do you mean?"
"You know all right," said the Superintendent. "I am Superintendent Bell of Scotland Yard."
"I do not know at all," the man protested. "What do you want with me?"
The woman saw Reggie. She hissed something to the man in a foreign argot, and turned to run. The Superintendent laid hold of her. Inspector Mordan closed with the man. The Inspector was large and brawny, but at the end of a moment he was on his back and the man making off. Reggie dived for his legs in the manner of Rugby football, and they went down together.
The railway police came on the scene. The man was handcuffed, and he and the woman and the two detectives packed into a cab. Reggie and Gordon followed in another to the police-station in Old Jewry.
When they arrived, the two prisoners were already in the charge-room and the woman was protesting vehemently, to the great edification of the uniformed inspector at the desk and a plain-clothes friend of his, and the embarrassment of Superintendent Bell and Inspector Mordan. It was an outrage. Why did they assault her and her husband? Why? They were respectable people. She would not endure it.
"Oh, Flora, Flora!" Reggie shook his head at her.
The woman whirled round on him. "You! Ah, it is you, then, the doctor. You are a traitor. You are a wicked villain. I spit upon you." And she did. The man said something to her in the strange foreign argot they seemed to use between themselves, and she was silent.
The plain-clothes man came forward grinning. "Why, Bunco! It is my dear old pal, Bunco! What have they got you for now, old thing?" The man scowled. Dusty and bruised from the scuffle and in the ignominy of handcuffs, he had still a certain arrogant dignity. He was well made for all his slightness, and the strength which had upset Mordan showed in his poise. It was a dark, aquiline face with a good brow, but passionate and cruel.
"What is the charge, doctor?" said Superintendent Bell.
"Oh. On the seventh instant—murder of Wilhelmina, otherwise Birdie Bolton," Reggie drawled. "Better search them."
"It is a lie!" Flora screamed; and continued to scream.
Reggie and Gordon were smoking in another room when Bell and Mordan came back with the results of the search. A suit-case was put on the table, opened, and seemed to be full of light, a mass of jewels.
"Can you identify, gentlemen?" Mordan said.
Superintendent Bell laid on the table a sheath knife. An unusual knife, rather long, rather narrow, rather stiff. "I'll identify that," Reggie said, and took it up. "That's the thing that killed her!"
"Coo!" said Mr. Gordon. "You've got a real head, doctor. This is Birdie's bunch all right. Swear to those rubies anywhere."
"Who's the man?" said Reggie.
Superintendent Bell sat down with a bump. "He asks me that." He appealed to the company. "I put it to you. He asks me that! The woman—she's Miss Bolton's maid, of course. But the man——"
"Oh, he's Ford's chauffeur. I told you to watch Ford. But you only sat on the steps of his flat. You've given me a lot of trouble, you know. I was up all last night. Chauffeur doesn't sleep in, of course. But who is he?"
"We call him Bunco in the Force," said the Superintendent meekly. "He's a jewel thief. Quite in the front of the profession. American-Austrian, I think. I believe Nastitch is his name—Alexander Nastitch or Supilo."
"Croat, I think," Reggie said. "This knife—they use 'em down that way."
"Coo! Tell us something you don't know," said the little Jew.
Reggie laughed. You may have noticed that he had his vanities. He passed his cigar-case round. "Where will I begin?" said he.
"At the beginning, please." Mordan grinned.
"The Inspector touches the spot as ever. Well, it hasn't been quite fair. I had the start of you. On the day before the murder Birdie Bolton consulted me. She hadn't been sleeping well. Heard noises at night. Now you see your way, don't you? No? Dear, dear. And I showed you that broken rose! Well, well. These two beauties. Flora and Nastitch, I suppose they got their situations to have a go for the jewels. Nastitch, as Ford's chauffeur, would have an excuse for hanging round the house and a car to use. He's had the car out of the garage till the small hours several times. I think he got in by the window last week—more than once, perhaps. And each time poor Birdie stirred. Better for her if she hadn't, poor girl. But they didn't mean murder, bless 'em. So they chose to drug her. There was morphia in that coffee. As you heard to-day, Birdie didn't drink hers. Another rotten chance. So May Weston went to sleep while Birdie was storming at her. Birdie raged off to her room. Whether she got out that will and tore it, we'll never know. It may have been Flora's little game. Nastitch came in, reckoning she was sure to be sound, and Flora was with him, I think. Birdie was very wide awake. There was a struggle and he stabbed her. He's a hot-tempered devil, as you saw to-day."
"This is all very pretty, doctor, but it ain't all evidence," Mordan said.
"You're so hasty. When she was dead, they took her into the boudoir where the Weston girl was asleep. They laid her on the couch and stabbed at her with her scissors and the bodkin. Filthy trick. That was what May Weston saw in the opium dream. Then I suppose they cleared the safe, and Nastitch went off. Flora annexed the emerald ring. Her perquisite, I suppose. Now, you shall have your evidence. When I came to the body, I saw those scissors never did the business. Ever tried killing anybody with scissors, Inspector? Poor game. No. We wanted something like this." He fingered the knife affectionately. "Just like this. Also somebody had left his mark on Birdie—a queer hand—a hand that wasn't quite all there—long fingers with no top joint. Did you notice Mr. Nastitch's left hand?"
The detectives looked at each other.
"That was in a burglary in New York," said the Superintendent. "He escaped out of a window, and a constable smashed his hand on the sill."
"So I photographed the wound and the bruise. Well, when I saw Weston, I saw she had really been drugged. Contracted pupils, bluish pallor. Morphia. Same symptoms in Ford. Why should they drug themselves and not drug Birdie? That ruled them out. Also, I surprised Flora in Birdie's bedroom doing something by the bed. When I browsed round afterwards I found a wet bloodstain under a clean rug. When Flora knew the Weston girl was arrested and the jewels had been missed, she chucked the ring into Weston's room. While you were searching the house, I drifted into Miss Flora's room. Several medicine bottles about. One of 'em empty. That had carried a strong solution of morphia. So I set my chauffeur to watch for Flora. And that night she went off to the lodgings of Nastitch. She's been buzzing round ever since. Well?"
"Well, sir, it's a good thing you didn't take to crime," said Superintendent Bell.
"Oh, that's much harder," said Reggie.