A Complete Novelette
by T. S. Stribling
Author of "Fombombo," "The Refugees," etc.
UNFORTUNATELY Professor Henry Poggioli, American psychologist and unprofessional investigator of crimes, did not observe the precise minute or from exactly what direction the gentleman with the drooping blond mustache came out on the piazza of Bay Mansion Hotel in Bridgetown, Barbados. Either of these data would have been of incalculable assistance later to Mr. Poggioli in his investigation of the mysterious murder or suicide of Oswald Hemmingway. Because if the gentleman came out of the hotel itself, that meant one thing; if he had hurried from the cricket ground along Beckles Road and had entered Bay Mansion grounds by the postern gate, that meant quite another. But when, or whence he came lay completely outside the American's mental record, unless indeed, one included his subconscious which is supposed to keep a sleepless tab on every nervous impulse of the whole sensorium; but that, of course, lay quite outside the practical politics of Poggioli's usable, everyday experience.
As a matter of fact the psychologist sat brooding over a depressing, highly colored tragedy which he had just witnessed in Haiti, and in which he had taken a minor, but painful rôle.
He was aroused from this melancholy reverie by a peculiarly ingratiating odor. His thoughts slowly returned to the present, bringing an impression that some woman had come out on the veranda, possessed of some new and delicate incense which she was burning, probably for the midges. He looked up and saw the gentleman with the blond mustache leaning over, elbows on knees, nursing a cigar in his forefingers while he upheld his chin with his thumbs. The fellow stared fixedly through the grove of mango trees which shaded the hotel grounds, evidently facing a keen self-reproach on some count or other.
At that moment Poggioli's thoughts were diverted by the crowd from the cricket game beginning to flow back down Beckles Road into Bay Street. Some lined themselves up in the shade of the mangoes to await the mule tram car which serves Bridgetown; others with inveterate English pedestrianism started walking on down town through the glaring white dust of the thoroughfare. Over the crowd hung a tense shocked atmosphere which held quite different spiritual overtones from the usual English reserve after a cricket game. Just then three companions—in the uniform of the Wanderers' Club came trotting with grim faces down Beckles Road to the corner of Bay Street. They stopped, stared down the brilliant thoroughfare, and such was the silence that Poggioli heard one of them say to his
"Yonder come the bobbies now."
A second player answered—
"Do you think Cap McGabe did it?"
"Makes no difference whether he did or not, we can't have a story like this coming out about our club."
Poggioli turned to his companion on the porch because he had an impression that the fellow had just come from the game and knew all about what the players were discussing.
"What's happened at the match?" he asked sharply.
The man with the blond mustache turned and apparently observed Poggioli for the first time.
"Seems to have been an accident of some kind."
The fellow's pronunciation was not the broad gargling Barbadan, but was crisper; English, undoubtedly, possibly a native of Kent.
"Weren't you there?"
The gentleman pulled at his mustache, which was yellow in the center from tobacco smoke.
"No, I wasn't there."
The American was vaguely surprized at the answer.
"I had an impression you were."
Here a police detachment came hurrying up Bay Street and around the corner. At the same time two or three of the guests of the hotel entered the postern gate off Beckles Road. They got to the piazza at rather a brisker pace than the climate commended. As they passed Poggioli, he asked the group in general what had occurred at the cricket game. A younger man paused just before entering the hotel door.
"Chap named Hemmingway bumped off at the bath house."
"Murdered?" asked the American sharply.
"Don't know whether he did it himself or somebody did it for him. I'm cutting away because I don't like to be around when the police begin taking names—dragging you to court—besides I don't know a thing about it. If I did it would be different." And the youngish gentleman passed inside leaving Poggioli and his companion to assimilate this startling information.
THIS new tragedy coming on top of the American's somber reflections gave the psychologist a thrill of dismay. He got up from his seat nervously, and in default of any other listener addressed the blond gentleman.
"I'd give a month's salary not to have been on this island when this occurred."
The man with the mustache came out of his meditation to look curiously at Poggioli.
"How can it affect a completely detached American like you?"
"Somehow or other I'll be dragged into this investigation."
"Because I am a psychologist. People seem to think I can unravel crimes."
"Why no—that is, no more than any other layman with a somewhat analytical mind."
The gentleman with the blond mustache pondered a moment, then asked with that sharp upward tilt with which the English twirl the end of their questions:
"May I inquire if your name happens to be Poggioli?"
"Yes, I'm he. I don't believe I recall—"
"No, you don't. Cheswick is my name. I saw a notice of your arrival in the Bridgetown Times day before yesterday. They tooted you up pretty stiff, human sleuth, a kind of A. Conan Doyle hero."
The gentleman's pale, inscrutable blue eyes rested on Poggioli with some curiosity, and perhaps some amusement
"Yes, I saw that. The captain of the ship gave the reporter all that stuff," explained Poggioli defensively.
"Perhaps you gave some of it to the captain?" another sharp upward twirl.
Poggioli thought he caught in this a certain flavor of impudence.
"I was not talking for publication."
A pause. The blond gentleman removed his cigar, saw it was out and as he made preparations to relight it, continued—
"Don't you like to—er—exert your talents?"
"Well—no, I don't," admitted Poggioli.
"You don't enjoy—what is it—analysis?"
"I like theoretic analysis," delimited the American. "I enjoy an abstract problem. If some one would bring me all the data and say, 'Here it is, what happened?' I'd like such a problem, but when human lives depend upon your efforts, very often brilliant men, your friends, and then see them—"
"Hanged?" inquired the gentleman in an odd tone.
"No, trapped and murdered," stated Poggioli hotly, thinking of his Haitian adventure. "I tell you, the detection of crime is a —— occupation. A man who follows it will become a monster. I, for one, will never again engage in the trade or sport of man-hunting. That's why I say I wish I had never come to this island."
"You feel keenly on the point," observed the blond gentleman philosophically. "Well, eschew this vile trade, Mr. Poggioli, shake its dust from your skirts. Certainly you are under no moral or legal obligation to turn into—what did the paper call you, a human sleuth?"
"That's exactly what I am going to do."
At this moment the crowd in Bay Street were somewhat disturbed by a ragged woman pushing her way toward the hotel gate; a little later she hurried up the graveled path under the mangoes. She was half sobbing as she came, and was one of the most wretched looking creatures Poggioli had ever seen. She was thin; her clothes were filthy and hung upon her in rags; her hair disheveled and dirty. She came unsteadily up the path, as if struck by the tropic sun. As she approached the piazza she looked miserably at the two men on the veranda.
"Masters," she said in a shaken whine, "may I be so bold as to ask if either of you kind gentlemen could tell me where I can find Mr. Poggioli."
Cheswick made a gesture with his cigar,
"That's Mr. Poggioli."
"Master," wailed the woman turning to the American. "I was advised to come to you. They said if ever a gentleman could work a poor boy out of a bad case, it would be you. I haven't any money, Master, but I'll give you an order for my wages at the sugar mills."
"Madam," interposed Poggioli, rather at sea amid these wailing complaints, "may I ask who you are?"
"I'm the Widow McGabe."
"What do you want, Mrs. McGabe?"
"I want you to loose my son, Cap, from the bobbies. You know he didn't kill young Oswald Hemmingway, my master. Why should he? Certainly it is reported he treated my daughter illy. But is that enough for my boy to murder him? He was always a gentle lad, for all his strength and activity. I told him when he got on the team with the gentlemen, 'Son,' says I, 'this will bring ye bad luck, a boy the likes of you playing cricket with the gentlemen.' But he says, 'They pay me, I am a professional.' But I says, 'It's not according to nature, the son of a red-leg on a team with the heir of Sir Alexander Hemmingway, some bad luck—'"
Here the old hag's interminable, weepingwas interrupted by three negro policemen, wearing the queer, girlish sailor hats and white blouses of the Barbadan police, who came out of Beckles Road with a wiry youth among them.
Mrs. McGabe burst into a passionate, almost grotesque grief.
"There he goes, my poor boy Cap, on his way to the gallows for defending the honor of his sister, though he didn't do it a-tall, more likely he killed hisself, as some say. But master if you'll look into it; just step and see who it was, if you please, and tell the Bobbies who to arrest. They read about you in the Times and sent me to you—"
The woman had turned and was staring after the black policemen as they moved down the dusty road with the cricket player in their midst. When they passed out of sight, Mrs. McGabe slumped down on the hotel step in a sort of syncope of grief.
Mr. Cheswick continued sitting impassively stroking his blond down-curved mustache with the yellow stains in the center. In an interval in the woman's noises he glanced at the American and said with a certain faint satire, or perhaps a faint brutality in his voice—
"Mr. Poggioli, your premonition was justified. Publicity did it. Unless a modern Sherlock Holmes wants to go on with his—what do you call it—monstrous trade of man-hunting, he really oughtn't to advertise himself in the papers."
Poggioli disregarded Mr. Cheswick's observation, and began a sort of explanatory argument with the woman that he could be of no assistance to her son.
"I'm not a lawyer, Mrs. McGabe. If your son really committed this rash act—"
"But is it reasonable, master, that poor Cap would strike down a gentleman who played cricket with him?"
"You suggested it yourself."
"That was by way of telling you what I heard them say!"
"What you need is a good lawyer—"
Mr. Cheswick interrupted to growl at the woman—
"Be off with you! Go to Holt and Logan, solicitors, on Cheapside, they'll take the order for your wages."
The hag looked hopelessly at Cheswick, then back at Poggioli, then took herself off with the air of one who has suffered unending misfortune and poverty.
Her manner somehow touched Poggioli; perhaps Cheswick's harshness had something to do with it. At any rate he hesitated, then followed Mrs. McGabe out into the road. Not until she turned to latch the gate did she see him, then she gasped out:
"Oh master, will you help me?"
"I'll go down and listen to the preliminary investigation," said Poggioli, moved again in spite of himself. "I'm afraid I can't be of much service to you."
"Thank ye, master, when you look at my poor boy you'll see he didn't do it. You can tell the judges who did."
THE two fell in with the crowd which flowed down Bay Street in the wake of the black policemen and their prisoner, the hag looking at Poggioli with a beatific expression through her tears, as if a saint had come down to help her in her trouble.
The walk was disagreeable enough. Hot white dust was over their shoes and swirled up in the air with the tramp of the cricket crowd. The high walls beside the road cut off the trade wind which swayed the tree-tops overhead. The whole thoroughfare was a long breathless solarium.
As the two hurried along, gradually gaining on the main body of pedestrians, Poggioli mopped his face, rather vexed at himself for being led by sympathy into this investigation. The affair promised no complication whatever. An ordinary criminal had committed an ordinary crime. There was nothing in it calling for those delicate and subtle inductions which entertained and moved Poggioli.
In the midst of these reflections the hag at his side gasped:
"Yonder they are, master, starting across the bridge!"
The American looked where the harbor of Bridgetown narrows into an inner harbor called the "Carenage." Across this a long pontoon bridge baked in the sunshine. The Carenage was a forest of masts, jammed with schooners and small freighters loading molasses, sugar and cotton. The vessels were so thick, a man could have walked from one shore to the other by stepping from deck to deck.
As Poggioli watched the negro policemen take their prisoner across the bridge, he grew more and more averse to becoming mixed up in the vulgarity of the case. He walked a little more slowly, casting about in his mind for some words with which to end, politely, his relations with this woman. At that moment, Mrs. McGabe suddenly stared and gasped.
"La, there he goes!"
Poggioli looked around just in time to see the cricket player jerk loose from the negroes, seize the handrail of the bridge and make a headlong dive over it.
All three policemen grabbed at him, but he tore out of their hands and fell, apparently, on to the decks of the crowded vessels. However, as the police remained staring emptily downward, he must have fallen between decks into the murky water of the Carenage. A shout of excitement went up from the crowd. Everybody rushed to the rail to stare. A shock went through Poggioli. He turned to the woman.
"My ——, he's drowned himself!"
Mrs. McGabe's face was brightened with a crude joy.
"Drowned hisse'f!" she exulted. "He's got away!"
"Sure he has, master, a lad's gone for good when he gets under the boats in the Carenage!"
Poggioli looked blankly at this novel asylum for escaped prisoners.
"When can he get out?"
"Oh, the bobbies will keep him hiding in the water for two or three days, maybe a week. But one of these dark nights he'll slip out. I thank you very much, master, for what you've done. You've a kind heart, but I won't need you no more unless the bobbies ketch him agin."
She bobbed a queer awkward curtsy, then deserted Poggioli and the next instant ran to the rail herself shouting—
"Keep hid, Cap! There's a bobbie on the fourth scow from the bank. Cut away, Laddie!"
The tragedy of the murder was lost in this queer, rather farcical escape. Everybody was laughing now. Poggioli himself was relieved at his sudden deliverance from a stupid undertaking.
Then the fact that he had dreaded this very simple problem struck the psychologist as an odd reaction, and as he stood peering into the Carenage he began an introspective analysis to know exactly why he had been so averse to aiding a poor wretch of a woman whose son was in jeopardy. Presently, he discovered the reason. The problem held no possibility of a tour de force of induction. The Bridgetown paper had acclaimed him as a wizard, but chance had flung him a dull, commonplace crime which no amount of talent could twist into something dramatic and startling. That was what had repelled him. He had wanted to perform in a theatrical rôle before Bridgetown. What had delayed his steps at Mrs. McGabe's side was his vanity.
When Poggioli realized this he was amazed and disgusted with himself.
"What a cad I am!" he thought.
But back of his self-contempt persisted this feeling of relief that he had not been forced to appear before the Barbadan public with a dull performance.
IN THE midst of this curious and unflattering analysis, a somewhat sardonic voice called out:
"There he is, Sir Alexander. That's Mr. Poggioli, the American gentleman who has attracted such favorable comment in the papers."
Poggioli turned and saw, what was very uncommon in Bridgetown, a big English automobile which had whispered up behind him. It was a brougham. On the driver's seat sat a negro chauffeur in livery. The front seat was unoccupied; in the rear sat Mr. Cheswick and a thin, elderly man, with iron-gray hair and the finely graved face of an aristocrat. This gentleman now wore the pale, strained look which accompanies a sharp and sudden grief. Mr. Cheswick stepped out of the car.
"Mr. Poggioli," he began ceremoniously, "may I introduce Sir Alexander Hemmingway?" Whether Cheswick reversed the natural order of the introduction out of confusion or ignorance or sarcasm, Poggioli could not be sure. "Sir Alexander drove to the hotel inquiring for you. I told him you had just walked down Bay Street, and he brought me along to point out such a celebrity."
Such ill-timed sarcasm before the grief-stricken father irritated Poggioli. He offered his hand to the peer.
"I will be too happy to serve you in any way I can, Sir Alexander," he said.
"And I'm glad to find you, Mr. Poggioli," replied the baronet in a moved tone. "You have landed in Bridgetown at a most opportune moment for us. I think you were sent here providentially to assist me and—er—my business associates in this hour of necessity."
"Your business associates," repeated the psychologist curiously.
"Yes, my associates." Here Sir Alexander turned to Cheswick with a "I thank you very much my man," at the same time drawing Poggioli into the rear seat with him.
Cheswick stood back and growled out something as the motor murmured forward across the bridge into Trafalgar Square.
"I assume," began the baronet, looking at Poggioli with his grief drawn face, "that you are a man of discretion, Mr. Poggioli—"
"Any confidences you care to make will naturally be guarded, Sir Alexander."
"Thank you. Then I will tell you point blank that I and the directors of the Imperial Bank of Barbados desire you to prove this young fellow, Cap McGabe, is the—" his thin face became more bloodless—"the murderer of my son, Oswald Hemmingway."
"That will require no effort, Sir Alexander. The fellow has practically confessed his crime. He's out there in the Carenage now somewhere under the vessels."
The baronet looked back at the waterfront, startled.
"Yes, I saw him break away from the police and leap over the handrail."
A look of extraordinary relief came into the banker's face.
"That—that's helpful, that's very good!"
Poggioli could see no cause for gratitude in this and sat looking at the gentleman curiously.
After a moment the baronet continued—"That will change somewhat the task we would like for you to perform, Mr. Poggioli."
"Naturally, you would like to have me assist in his recapture."
"No-o," said the baronet slowly, "we would now like for you to assist this McGabe in escaping from the Carenage and leaving Barbados permanently."
"You want me to help him escape!" echoed Poggioli in a lowered but amazed voice.
"Yes, we want him out of the island." Poggioli could not believe he had heard correctly.
"You want me to assist the murderer of your son in evading the police and flying from justice!"
The baronet shook his head.
"McGabe is not the murderer of my son."
"Then who is?"
"I think—I have only too good reasons to believe that he died of his own hand, Mr. Poggioli."
The American stared at his companion.
"Didn't you just ask me to assist in proving that McGabe had assassinated your son?"
"That was before I knew he had escaped. His flight is an admission of guilt. Now I ask you to help him get away so he may never come to trial."
Poggioli was on the verge of crying, "But I don't understand," when a certain ray of comprehension filtered into the enigma—the baronet's son was a suicide. Sir Alexander did not want the details of his death made public in a criminal trial.
The banker who was watching the American's face sighed heavily.
"I see you suspect the truth."
"Something about the bank?" insinuated Poggioli in a low voice.
"You have peculation in your mind," prompted the baronet.
"I can only surmise something of the sort."
"Well, we are not certain yet. We have already found out he has been plunging heavily on the New York stock exchange. My clerk, Hodges, got it from a friend of his at the cable office. He telephoned me at the Wanderers. He heard of Oswald's death sooner than I did. The manager telephoned to the bank at once, and then Hodges asked for me."
"Do you know how much he lost?"
"No, we are on our way now to the cable office for a record of his transactions."
"You think he used the bank's money in his speculations?"
Sir Alexander made a heavy gesture.
"My son had no private fortune of his own."
The car murmured on through Trafalgar Square with its monument to Nelson, its cab stands, its venders squatting around the boles of enormous tropical trees. It pursued its way up Broad Street where the smartest shops in Bridgetown possess dingy windows crisscrossed with iron bars so that they display nothing whatever. As Poggioli stared at these dull respectable shops, a thought struck him.
"Sir Alexander, doesn't it strike you as incongruous for your son to commit suicide just after winning a cricket game? It is very unnatural that he should have picked a moment filled with the elation of victory for such an act."
The baronet made a hopeless gesture.
"I had thought of that. I am sure he delayed this madness merely to assist his team mates in the hardest contest of the season. When it was over and won, then—" Sir Alexander made another movement of his hand—"to have done less would not have been cricket."
ON THE way to the cable office the brougham stopped at the Imperial Bank and picked up Hodges. As the fellow came out into the street and entered the car, the baronet inquired anxiously—
"Have you found out anything so far, Hodges?"
The clerk hesitated.
"Nothing definite, sir."
The baronet shook his head.
"That tells me you are on track of a shortage—it will be definite soon enough."
"We can only hope it won't, Sir Alexander," said the clerk in a low voice.
The banker did not press his man any further, but leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes as if in pain. Hodges was a sandy-colored man, with the reddish looking eyes of his type. He stared woodenly ahead of him out of respect for the baronet, and tried to touch Poggioli by whom he sat as slightly as possible. The American himself began planning some method to get Cap McGabe out of the island. The ethics of shouldering a murder off on an innocent man crossed his mind. He leaned and murmured this observation to Hodges. The clerk looked around with a certain surprize in his pinkish eyes.
"It would be best for him to go, sir," whispered Hodges. "He'd have to stand his trial which would be expensive. Then we don't know Mr. Oswald killed hisself. Cap might have done it after all. Then we can't have anything come out that would shake confidence in the bank, sir. Somebody's got to bear it."
This reply, with its implications spreading in every direction from sheer equivocation to the basic concern for the general practical welfare of Bridgetown, Hodges whispered off without a pause for reflection. The patness of it amazed the psychologist. It was less a studied reply than a racial reflex. It struck Poggioli as the most English attitude imaginable. He had a feeling that any Englishman would have said the same thing, phrased according to the culture of the speaker. Through Hodges, the British empire had whispered the answer in Poggioli's ear.
The brougham drew up silently before the cable office, and the three men passed into the heavy, stone building. Hodges knew the clerk in the office, a Mr. Dwight, and explained the situation in a few words. Dwight, a dark little man with perhaps a Welsh strain in him, went quickly to the files, thumbed through the recent dispatches with clerkly fingers and presently brought out the orders which Oswald Hemmingway had cabled to the brokerage firm of Johnson & Company in New York. He spread the file on a desk before Hodges and Poggioli.
The American glanced briefly at the yellow sheets which told the story of Oswald Hemmingway's downfall with telegraphic brevity. It was a series of orders to buy and sell different stocks. Hodges had brought some ledger paper and began making a digest of his friend's operations.
Sir Alexander who found this systematic accounting of his dead son's misfeasance too painful to endure, now said in a strained voice—
"I'll go back. Show me later what you find, Hodges."
Poggioli noticed the baronet's white face.
"Shall I bring you a glass of water?" he asked in alarm.
"No, I'm very well, thank you," and he walked unsteadily back to his motor.
The psychologist sat down again and returned his thoughts to the cablegrams. Again he realized he had before him an inadequate problem for the proper exertion of his talents. This was an ordinary case of embezzlement for the ancient reason. He began questioning Hodges in a low tone, not because he expected any development, but out of intellectual habit, as a hunter walks through a field kicking at coverts which he knows are empty.
"Did you know Mr. Hemmingway dabbled in stocks?"
"No, sir, I didn't know that he dabbled in stocks." Hodges' stress on the word invited further questioning.
"You knew he was inclined that way?"
"Well," said Hodges staying his pen from an entry. "All us young fellows in the street, sir, follow the stock reports. We say to each other at the club, 'Reading jumped five points' or in a big flurry, such as we've just had, 'Amalgamated hopped thirty-nine in two hours.' And none of us can help thinking, 'Five thousand pounds in this or that would have made us rich men.' It's a queer thing, sir, to see fortunes, motor cars, villas, wives and even private yachts, swing so easy back and forth in the stock reports, when a lucky shot of say five thousand pounds would bring 'em down; and us penned up there in the hot office handling fifty times that amount every day and getting twenty bob a week for it." Hodges blinked his pinkish eyes as if troubled by some passing mote, then resumed his steady regard of the American. "Of course, we wouldn't like you to mention such things outside. We bank employees aren't supposed to think of such things, sir. We can't have anything like that going on in our heads, sir, even if it does."
"Why no, certainly not," agreed Poggioli gravely.
At this point, Dwight, the cable operator, who had been casting glances at the two men now came around the counter to their table in the solicitous fashion of an underling whose curiosity is aroused.
"If there is anything further I can do for you gentlemen," he suggested in the lowered tone one uses in the presence of a tragedy.
"Thanks," mumbled Hodges without looking up.
"Quite a shock, Mr. Poggioli," pursued the cable dispatcher in vague sympathy, then he added, "I haven't been introduced to you, Mr. Poggioli, but I knew it was you. I knew Sir Alexander would have the finest talent he could get on a mystery like this."
"I'm afraid the mystery is not very deep," said the psychologist.
"Well—it does look simple," agreed the clerk, falling instantly in line with expert opinion, then after a moment he added diffidently, "still, it has its points."
"What are those?" inquired Poggioli more out of curiosity than anything else.
"We-ell—" Mr. Dwight scratched his sleek black head in an effort to crystallize his general feeling for the mystery he thought should he behind such a tragedy—"Mr. Oswald never did come here to the office and sign his own cablegrams; he always telephoned 'em in."
Poggioli nodded slightly.
"That was against our rules really," frowned Mr. Dwight, "you aren't supposed to telephone your messages, you're supposed to bring 'em in yourself and sign 'em yourself."
"Why did you permit Hemmingway to break the rules?"
"We were good friends. Then I knew it wouldn't do for a bank cashier to be seen too often around the cable office. A man in his position has got to keep up appearances. It's a duty he owes his bank."
"And then he paid me in an odd way," pursued Mr. Dwight hopefully.
"How, send you a check?"
"Oh no, sir," cried Mr. Dwight. "He wouldn't have checks coming to the bank from the cable company. That would have led to questions at once. No, he just mailed me a five-pound note with nothing else in the envelope, just the note, and phoned me what was coming. 'Let me know when it's used up, Dwight' he said, 'and another's coming.' But he never did use his first remittance quite up. I've got it in my desk in an envelope. Show it to you."
Mr. Dwight hurried around behind his counter moved by that human eagerness to exhibit any relic of a tragedy and thus help reconstruct its impression. In half a minute he was back with the envelope which he handed to Poggioli.
The psychologist opened it and took out the five-pound note. He glanced at the pure white paper and flourishing black script. It was quite new. Apparently, it had never been folded except to place it in its present envelope. The only stain on it was a bluish smudge in the corner. It really corroborated the theory that Oswald had sent the money to the telegrapher, if so simple an act needed corroboration.
"Came straight out of the bank," observed the psychologist.
"What I don't understand," mused Dwight, scratching his head diffidently with the tip of one finger, "is how this spot came there." He pointed at it. "I—er—wondered what you would make of that?"
His faintly embarrassed stress on the "you" bespoke a layman presuming to make suggestions to a great criminal expert. Poggioli understood well enough the workings of the telegrapher's mind. Dwight expected every stain and streak to be filled with an intricate meaning, which Poggioli's subtlety would make clear. This was the clerk's reaction from reading the elaborately constructed fiction of the modern detective stories. The psychologist suppressed a smile.
"I daresay some fellow with dirty fingers owned this bill."
Dwight was crestfallen.
"Yes, sir, but—er—" then he continued with British persistence in his fanciful idea. "But you see, sir, that's its first folding. It was folded by Mr. Oswald, himself, a bank cashier. Now did you ever in your life know a bank cashier to have dirty fingers, sir? No, you never did, they don't have 'em, sir."
"That's a fact," agreed Poggioli good-humoredly.
HE WAS amused at the little telegrapher staring there so avid for a mystery to develop in his office. Fate had given him a glimpse of a great criminal expert, and Dwight wanted him to unravel then and there, for his amazement, out of a single stain, on a bank note, one of those complicated woofs of crime which had so often beguiled his leisure through the pages of his favorite shilling shocker.
He began again still more timidly—
"I have a magnifying glass, Mr. Poggioli—" when Hodges interrupted to say—
"Most extraordinary series of investments I ever heard of, Mr. Poggioli."
Mr. Dwight gave up his thrill with a cheated feeling and went slowly back around his counter to his work.
The American looked from the note to the sheet of figures Hodges had collated.
"What's odd about it?"
"Oswald Hemmingway had the most amazing run of bad luck you can imagine. If it had been reversed he would have been a millionaire today."
Poggioli leaned over the paper. Hodges continued:
"The poor boy made every buy exactly at the peak of prices, and every sell in the center of the trough. Now look at this. Compare the hourly prices on the stock exchange list with his cablegrams. Here, at one o'clock, Oswald sold International Oil at forty-seven; two hours later it was fifty-five, and an hour later fifty-six when he bought. He lost eleven points. Or take his deal in B. & Q. Ltd. He bought at nine o'clock at seventy-two. The hourly quotations read, 72-71-72-70-68-65, when he sold. The poor chap played a bull market right in the middle of a bear raid."
"Do all his buys and sells meet with the same sort of disaster?" asked Poggioli curiously.
"Every single one; he didn't make a penny in all his operations."
"How many sells and buys did he make?"
"Eighteen in three days."
"In a perfectly erratic market?"
"Yes, sir, the flurry in New York stock during the last two weeks; nobody really had it in hand, sir."
The American pondered and fished for his cigaret case, an action habitual with him when he started thinking.
"Hodges, that's an extraordinary sequence."
"That's what I was saying, sir."
"It is not only extraordinary, but I should say for sheer undirected fortuity, it is impossible, that is practically impossible."
"I don't see why you say it is impossible, sir; he did it, here it is."
"Mathematically impossible, I mean. It is just as unlikely to bet eighteen times and lose every time as it would be to bet eighteen times and win every time. That is the equivalent in roulette of red coming up eighteen times in succession."
"You can see for yourself," began Hodges tapping his sheet.
"I said if it were undirected. The probabilities of such a series of losses may be obtained roughly by multiplying two by itself for eighteen times. The chances are one in two hundred and sixty-two thousand that such a thing would not occur—if it were undirected."
Even Hodges began to grasp the implication by this time. He looked at the American.
"Blime me, but you are not saying Mr. Oswald meant to lose are you?"
Poggioli made no reply, but leaned over the table, studying the sheet.
"How much were his losses?"
"I figure up only five hundred pounds," puzzled Hodges. "But I suppose I must be wrong; that's too small an amount for Oswald Hemmingway to do a thing like that over."
"You mean approximately five hundred pounds?"
"No I mean five hundred pounds precisely, to a penny."
Poggioli shook his head, and made that gentle clicking sound with his tongue against his upper teeth which signifies pity, or gentle shame, or sympathy; indeed an oddly varied gamut of gentle emotions.
"I can hardly believe Oswald would do such a thing over a five-hundred-pound loss," repeated Hodges blankly.
"Odd, odd," agreed Poggioli. Then he added briskly, "Well, that's the information we came after. We might as well return to the bank."
"Right you are, sir."
Hodges folded his papers and stored them carefully in his pocket.
As they walked out Mr. Dwight followed them to the door. Even if his splotch on the bank note had been neglected, this last conversation about the probability of losses held a certain flavor of mystery. It would have been more to the point if Poggioli had used his magnifying glass on the note and had said, "The murderer of Oswald Hemmingway is a tall dark man with a club foot who has seen service in the Punjab," but what he had heard was something. Just then it occurred to Mr. Dwight that the Colonial banks of Barbados never imported English bank notes. They use a West Indian currency, struck especially for them. He went flying after Poggioli with this information.
The psychologist received it somewhat absently.
"But they do use regular English currency do they not?"
"Yes, but they don't import it, and this note was new, absolutely new except for the stain."
"So it couldn't possibly have come out of the bank, sir."
"You are right."
"So there must be a very great mystery here after all, sir!" ejaculated Mr. Dwight excitedly.
Poggioli moved on away nodding his head at the clerk, but to be perfectly truthful he was occupied neither with this clew of the unusual currency nor his clew of mathematical probabilities. Both of these facts were stored away in appropriate mental niches to be used later, but just at this moment he was moved by a sort of dawning elation that there was something in the covert after all. He was going to have his game, an aristocratic melodrama of mental brilliancy to spread before the Barbadian public. The psychologist walked along the hot respectable street of Bridgetown with a light gay feeling; and this gaiety, he realized, was based on his vanity. He smiled at himself and murmured audibly—
"What a cad I am!"
"Pardon?" ejaculated Hodges looking around at him interrogatively.
"I said," repeated Poggioli still smiling, "there is no such thing as art for art's sake; that saying is a sham and a humbug; art is for approbation's sake, to show people how wonderful we are."
Mr. Hodges closed one pinkish eye insinuatingly.
"Right you are, sir. It's not every clerk could have done as I did, sir—tipped off a great detective with a clew—eh?"
Hodges's thoughts evidently were running along the same lines as Poggioli's, only with more naïvete.
HAD the Imperial Bank of Barbados been located in London or New York, its furnishings would have been described by the simple word "marble," but in the dusty sunstruck port of Bridgetown the only adjective which could properly qualify the Imperial's grandeur is the polysyllable marmoreal. For the force of adjectives, like gravitation, the speed of light and the beauty of women, is relative.
The marmoreal interior of the Bank of Barbados, when Poggioli entered it was in a state of extreme disturbance. This too, was relative. In New York any patron would have said the bank was functioning with oiled precision. The queues of depositors and withdrawers were approaching their respective windows. A floorman piloted the uninitiated to the windows tagged with their initials. But, for example, the teller in Window K-L, instead of being posted exactly in the center of his cage, had dislodged himself through some emotional stress, and now stood some six inches to one side and twelve inches to the rear, so that he could peer back into the marmoreal interior of the bank for any new symptoms of the investigation going on therein. The floorman himself, in stout respectable uniform, so far forgot himself as to glance backward, or to peer around his convoy in an effort to see who was entering the door. Now that would have been efficiency in New York, but in ultra-English Bridgetown, it was chaos. In short the morale of the Imperial Bank of Bridgetown was shot to pieces.
When Poggioli entered, the floorman actually deserted a client, and hurried to the psychologist.
"They're waiting for you in the directors' room, Sir," he whispered huskily. "Mr. Hodges will show you in. You're to come at once, Sir."
The fellow somehow gave Poggioli the impression that he had once been a cabman but had had reverses.
AFEW moments later Hodges bowed Poggioli into a room, entered himself, placed his sheets of paper on a table before the baronet and retired.
Sir Alexander arose and formally drew up a seat for his guest, then picked up his clerk's report with unsteady fingers. After a single glance he lowered the sheet with a long expiration and a shake of his head.
"This settles the matter, Mr. Poggioli, the clerks have found a shortage in my son's accounts, five hundred pounds. His losses set out in this sheet balance exactly with the shortage."
"That's an extremely small sum to produce so violent a reaction in a young man of your son's position, Sir Alexander."
"I had thought of that. It was not the amount, Mr. Poggioli. He knew my strong sentiment against stock gambling. His remorse had much to do with it."
"But wasn't it several days between his losses and his death?"
"Remorse is a cyclical emotion, Sir Alexander. Within four days a normal man of your son's age would have dropped his self-destructive impulse.
"He was a young man of great determination."
"Nevertheless, depression and recuperation lie back of determination and control it."
"I can't see where your speculations are leading, Mr. Poggioli, my son—is dead."
The American who was more nearly thinking aloud at this point than conducting a conversation turned to the practical end of the problem.
"The shortage you speak of, was it difficult to trace?"
"No, very simple."
"Your son had made no elaborate effort to cover it up?"
"None at all. He had simply made out his ticket for cash withdrawn."
"For five hundred pounds."
"What was the date of the ticket?"
The banker replaced his glasses on his high thin nose, picked up his memorandum.
"April the eleventh."
"And the stock transactions took place on April thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth?"
"Yes, he evidently withdrew the money with the intention of speculating."
"Doesn't it strike you as extraordinary that he should foretell to a penny the amount he would lose in his gambling?"
The baronet removed his glasses and drew a dry hand across his eyes.
"He evidently deposited this with his broker in New York and drew against it until it was gone."
"That's impossible," pointed out the American, "because money in bulk can not reach America in four days from Barbados, and it has not been cabled to New York."
Sir Alexander, his wits dulled by grief, was still evidently unaware of whither the psychologist's argument tended.
"Did your son have a financial rating in Dun or Bradstreet?"
"Then the natural course for him to have pursued would have been to gamble first and draw on the bank for his losses afterward. To my mind it's against all law of behavior for a man to draw out five hundred pounds and then apparently speculate with the greatest care to lose precisely that amount."
The banker looked his astonishment.
"Mr. Poggioli, I am accepting you as an expert in your profession. But frankly, I do not understand why you suggest my son intended to lose five hundred pounds."
"I do not believe your son did it."
"I gathered that much. But why do you think any one speculated carefully to lose five hundred pounds?"
"Because the reports there before you show that unless these losses were intentional three almost impossible coincidences occurred simultaneously; a stock gambler who lost on every speculation for eighteen times in succession; the second coincidence is that these losses should total up precisely with an amount of money already predetermined; the third is, after these two impossible events had coincided, then your son's emotional recuperative cycle should not have functioned within the space of four days. When three improbabilities pile upon each other like that, Sir Alexander, I decline to believe any of them."
"Then what do you believe?" cried the baronet, his voice edged with excitement.
"I think the person who manipulated these carefully planned losses had some powerful motive for losing. It looks as if it were arranged purely to give the color of suicide to your son's death."
"Then you think he was murdered after all?" asked the peer in a low tone, his face growing even paler than it was.
"This theory is further upheld by the fact that the trading orders were not placed in the cable office by your son in person, they were telephoned in against the rules of the company."
The banker stared at the psychologist.
"Then who did it?" he gasped.
"I can't say."
AT THIS moment came a tap on the door and Hodges entered.
"Some gentlemen of the cricket club to see you, sir."
"Let them come in Hodges; will you wait here, Mr. Poggioli, and see what these gentlemen have to say?"
The psychologist made a gesture of assent, and a moment later four men entered the door.
As they came forward, Poggioli was surprized to see Mr. Cheswick among them. Cheswick performed the introductions. The other three men were Messrs. Jones, Wilberforce and Santee. They were of different types, but all three held the sunburnt, outdoor quality of cricket players. When the baronet asked what he could do for them, the youth named Jones made a little bow and began what evidently was a prepared address.
"Sir Alexander, we are a committee from the Wanderers Cricket Club to which your son Oswald belonged. We have come to see you, sir, on a mission of a very intimate nature. We have come to make a request of you, which will call upon you for a—we can only say, sir—a very great generosity, a far more than usual generosity."
The baronet looked at the four men lined stiffly before him.
"May I hear the nature of your request, gentlemen?"
"We would like if possible, sir, to keep the name of the Wanderers Club out of the tragedy which has just occurred, Sir Alexander." Here Jones caught his breath apparently at his own effrontery, then hurried on. "The Wanderers Club is a very old institution, sir. Our charter dates back to 1712 when the Prince of Wales visited our island on the frigate Indomitable. His Highness was gracious enough to make us an address at the founding of our club."
"Yes," said the baronet in a bleak voice, "I am acquainted with those facts."
"Since that time," went on Mr. Jones, "no legal action has ever originated in the Wanderers Club. No doubt within the space of two hundred years there have been provocations. Sir Alexander, but up until now everything has been arranged without publicity. We have always been a club of gentlemen, sir, devoted to the sport of cricket."
Mr. Jones ceased speaking. The baronet drew a deep sigh and for several moments sat looking at the men before him.
"What course of action have you to suggest, gentleman?" he asked at length.
"We await your decision entirely, Sir Alexander, the whole resources of the club, both physical and moral, are at your disposal."
"I don't doubt your good will, but I can't see any possible use I can make of your offer."
Mr. Jones took a step nearer and lowered his voice.
"We had thought of two possible courses of action, Sir Alexander."
The cricket player glanced significantly at Poggioli.
"He is my confidential adviser in this matter," said the baronet.
"Very well, sir. Our first hope is that you will permit us simply to expel the criminal from Barbados and never permit him to return."
"Could the club do that?"
"We will take it upon ourselves, sir."
The baronet pondered a moment.
"And the other alternative?"
Jones hesitated again.
"Two of our members meant to accompany the miscreant from Barbados and see to it that he is settled away from here. At a pinch, sir—" here the speaker's voice went lower still, "at a pinch, he would never arrive at his destination—another case of suicide—"
Sir Alexander made a gesture of repulsion.
"That is unthinkable."
"We felt so, too," echoed Jones in relief.
"However, I would like to know that the assassin of my son is no longer in Barbados."
"That is very, very generous, sir," thanked Jones evidently moved, and the other three echoed, "Very generous. We will answer for his permanent removal from the island."
"I—I think if—if Oswald were alive—" the baronet ceased speaking to control the emotion which threatened his composure.
The four Wanderers nodded slightly to signify that they too believed the dead youth, if he were alive would approve this course.
The baronet regained his self-possession and suggested in a gray voice—
"You will have to spirit him out from under the surveillance of the police."
"That will be done, sir."
"I would suggest that you work with Mr. Poggioli, here. He represents my interest in the matter."
"We will be proud to cooperate with such a distinguished criminologist," assured Jones.
"Then I will leave the details of the matter in your hands," the baronet leaned back in his chair with a deep sigh, perhaps from the strain such a concession made upon his charity.
As Poggioli followed the men out, he glanced back at his employer with a feeling that here indeed was a gentleman of peculiar worth and dignity.
THE committee and Poggioli retired to one of the waiting rooms in the bank to work out the details of their plan to banish Oswald Hemmingway's assassin. As they seated themselves around a small table, Poggioli turned curiously to Cheswick.
"I didn't know you were a member of the Wanderers?"
"I am not," explained Mr. Cheswick at once. "I was at the club talking this matter over with Mr. Jones. He was regretting the unfortunate publicity of the matter, the first in the history of the club, and I suggested some arrangement like this might be made with Sir Alexander; he's a very fine gentleman."
"You suggested it!"
Poggioli was faintly surprized at the idea originating outside the club members.
"Yes, I had heard of some such arrangements being made in other places. I even suggested that I might escort the criminal to some designated port, as I am leaving this island in a few days. However," he added, glancing around the group, "I would not be responsible for his remaining there."
Here Jones, Wilberforce and Mr. Santee agreed at once that this would be beyond his rôle.
"Then the only thing left for us to do," proceeded Mr. Cheswick, stroking his yellow mustache, "is to arrange the details of McGabe's deportation."
This was the first time McGabe's name had been mentioned openly at the meeting.
"What sort of fellow is this McGabe?" queried the psychologist.
"He is what is called here in Barbados a 'red leg,'" replied Jones. "The 'red legs' are descendants of white criminals who were banished from England to Barbados back in the seventeenth century. They were sold as slaves to the gentlemen colonists of the island. They were called 'red legs' because their owners clothed them in kilts and their legs sunburned."
Poggioli nodded slowly.
"I see, criminality is inherited in the McGabe family. The grandfather was banished to Barbados, the grandson is banished from Barbados."
There was a moment's silence at this stark unrolling of destiny.
"It's enough to make a man sorry for the rotter," ejaculated Santee.
The American sat meditating if it were possible for Cap McGabe to have sent the fraudulent cable orders.
"Is this young fellow well educated?" he inquired.
"I doubt if he knows his three 'R's'," said Santee. "He is in our club as a professional."
"I see he is one of those shrewd untutored fellows—"
Santee looked at Jones.
"He never impressed me that way, did he you, Jones?"
"Not at all," agreed Jones. "He was just a wiry lad with a batting eye. Why did you think he might be clever, Mr. Poggioli?"
"Perhaps Mr. Poggioli has already discovered something we don't know?" suggested Cheswick, looking keenly at the psychologist.
"Oh no," hastened Poggioli. "I am simply groping after McGabe's character. His escape from the police in the Carenage struck me as a tour de force."
"It was not original," smiled Jones, "that's been done several times."
"It seems to me," interposed Cheswick, "that we are more interested in the question: Will McGabe resist our effort to deport him? However, I am not criticizing any question asked by an expert."
"He probably wouldn't resist if he were approached right," said Jones.
"If it's a matter of diplomacy you'd be a good man to approach him," suggested Poggioli.
"I don't want to go by myself," retreated Jones at once.
"Cheswick and Wilberforce could go along since they are to accompany him from the island," planned Santee.
"How are you going to arrange about his passport?" inquired Cheswick.
"How are you going to find him at all?" added Santee.
"And him under the surveillance of the police?" concluded Wilberforce.
Poggioli saw that the committee expected him as an expert to answer these questions.
"I hope some of these details will work themselves out as we get into the problem," answered the psychologist.
"One thing's sure," interposed Jones, "all of us men can't go down to the harbor and interview McGabe, that would be too conspicuous. I think Mr. Poggioli is the man."
"Hear! Hear!" agreed Mr. Santee, nodding his head decisively.
"Certainly," agreed Cheswick with a slight drawl and a pull at his yellowed mustache, "there is no use in us laymen intruding on the almost uncanny powers of a master mind—did you gentlemen read the notice with which the Times honored Mr. Poggioli?"
"That very fact," agreed Jones simply, "will give him the entrée with the harbor police. He can go anywhere without suspicion."
"That's a fact," seconded Wilberforce. "Just let Mr. Poggioli see McGabe and make arrangements for the three of us to leave Barbados together."
"Gentlemen," demurred the psychologist with a grave smile, "this matter of evading the police and the passport regulations—I don't want to incriminate myself, even for so worthy an object as protecting the name of an old cricket club."
"We don't want you actually to do anything at all," assured Cheswick at once. "You are the master mind, the consulting hijacker or scofflaw, to use an Americanism. There is no penalty attached to thinking up evasions of the law, Mr. Poggioli, provided you don't do it yourself; otherwise every lawyer would be clapped into Bridewell at once."
Upon the formulation of these plans, Mr. Santee glanced at his watch, and observed that practise would begin in thirty minutes. Thereupon the meeting adjourned. The men passed out of the bank into the street. The psychologist went one direction, Mr. Cheswick another, while the three cricketeers hailed a cab and drove off to their club to resume practise at the ancient and honorable game of cricket.
POGGIOLI for his part moved slowly down the hot dusty street past the solid respectable shops, his mind full of the loose ends of his problem. The salient misfit in the situation seemed to be Cap McGabe. If Cap were the ignorant loutish fellow the Wanderers described, his was not the brain back of the false stock orders. The stock losses themselves puzzled Poggioli. Why should exactly five hundred pounds enter into the criminal combination? Oswald Hemmingway had checked this amount from the bank. Why had he withdrawn it, and what had he done with it?
Poggioli fished patiently for an answer to these questions. He moved on down Broad Street toward Trafalgar Square and perhaps meant to go on to the Carenage where Cap McGabe was in watery hiding, but at the end of two blocks he did a slow about face and started back to the bank. He had no conscious reason for doing this. He was moved by some inner impulse which did not even trouble to explain itself to his conscious mind. The vulgar would have put it that Poggioli "had a hunch" that there was something more to be discovered at the bank. To be more exact, the hunch had Poggioli. He moved slowly back up through the hotly illuminated dullness of Bridgetown, gazing steadfastly at certain mental objects: The five hundred pounds withdrawn from the bank, the speculative losses which balanced the five hundred—It occurred to Poggioli that five hundred pounds was a sum large enough to tempt an ordinary man to almost any crime, whereas to a baronet's son it would be mere spending money. Oswald Hemmingway might well have wagered that whole amount on one cricket game and thought little of it. Abruptly, this last reflection stood out in Poggioli's mind in rubric. It startled him. And the next moment the explanation of the whole riddle flashed upon him bringing a feeling of immense relief. It was as simple as lending an umbrella on a rainy day. Oswald Hemmingway had meant to gamble on the cricket match. He had withdrawn the money from the bank some days beforehand so as to avoid the suspicion of his father who opposed gambling. Then some person discovered he had this money, and knew that he would carry it on his person to the game. The unknown then had worked out elaborate stock losses tallying to a penny with the amount Oswald had withdrawn, and so suggested suicide. After the game was over, and before Hemmingway had paid his debts, this unknown person had stabbed the youth in the bathhouse, rifled his clothes in the confusion caused by the murder, and had escaped. There was more than a touch of the improbable in this theory, but when a man has only one horse he cannot choose his steed.
The moment this solution popped into Poggioli's mind he automatically rejected Cap McGabe as the possible murderer. He believed such complications were beyond the brain of a "red-leg." Then, sliding from one theme into another without any obvious connection, Poggioli found himself trying to recall when it was, and from exactly what direction Mr. Cheswick had entered the piazza of Bay Mansion Hotel. Had he come out of the hotel itself, or entered through the side gate from Beckles Road? The American had no clear-cut reason to suspect Mr. Cheswick, but the fellow seemed to have the brain and a cold sardonic temperament which might work up such a complex crime. If he could only remember whether Cheswick came out of the hotel or through the postern gate—
The American began trying to review just what were his impressions as he sat on the hotel porch in the opening movement of this tragedy. He recollected that he had been thinking of Haiti, and had smelled a peculiar fragrance—
At this point Poggioli really seemed to catch again that odd aroma and glanced up. He was not surprized to see Mr. Cheswick himself standing not far from him, looking at him with a faint equivocal smile on his ruddy face and with a cigar stuck in the yellowed part of his blond, downcurved mustache.
"So you didn't go to the docks after all," observed Cheswick, removing his cigar, looking at the end and beginning an automatic fumbling for his matchbox to relight it.
"No. I was mulling over the details of our problem so I thought I would take a turn back and have all my questions at my tongue's end to ask McGabe when I saw him."
Poggioli really thought that was why he had come back. It sounded reasonable, and two-thirds of the time a man has to guess at his own motives as if he were an arrant stranger to himself.
"Now that's a coincidence," mumbled Mr. Cheswick, relighting his cigar and talking around it in a muffled tone. "For I, too, was walking along chewing on this proposition when it suddenly popped into my head that you knew something else about McGabe—or about Hemmingway—or something—"
Mr. Cheswick removed his cigar, now fully lighted, and waved it vaguely.
"Knew something about what?"
"Those questions you were asking in the bank about McGabe—was he educated, was he a cunning fellow—it just struck me you must have something back of that?"
"Why, no-o." Poggioli shook his head slowly.
"Come now, why should you ask if McGabe was cunning if you didn't have some sort of evidence to make you think he was cunning?"
Mr. Cheswick stuck his tobacco into his mouth again; its perfumed smoke drifted up and caused him to close one pale eye so that he now stood with one eye closed and the other stretched wide in a sort of grotesque interrogation.
"Come," he pursued, "confess; you threw the other boys off the track easy enough because they were thinking about cricket, but not me. I was thinking the same thing you were. What new thing have you found out?"
Poggioli began laughing.
"You take a deep interest in this case to be a rank outsider, Mr. Cheswick."
The blond gentleman's highly colored face went a shade pinker.
"I don't see I'm such an outsider. I have a moral reason for wanting to know any—er—new information."
The droll way men invent reasons for their actions reimpressed itself upon Poggioli for the hundredth time. He laughed with more amusement than ever.
"What is your moral reason, Mr. Cheswick?"
"Why, —— it, if I'm to escort McGabe out of this country, I ought to know the full case against him. I am, you might say, his executioner."
Poggioli laughed more heartily than ever.
"Nobody is sure you are going to escort him out of the country."
"Certainly I have to find him first."
Poggioli stopped laughing but continued with an amused smile on his face.
"I'm sorry I haven't anything new against him. You are like all the rest of the fellows, seem to think I'm a magician. If I inquire if a man is tall, short, dull or keen, you think that is the clew to the maze. It's all because of that confounded article in the Times. They tooted me up as a sleight-of-hand performer who can run his hand into an empty bag—" here Poggioli made a reaching gesture, "and pull out a murderer!"
Here Poggioli caught Cheswick's lapel and mimicked holding him up to an audience.
Mr. Cheswick's cigar tumbled out of his mouth. He stared for a moment at the American with wide pale eyes, then burst into great laughter.
"I'll be swizzled if you aren't more of a card than I thought. Why ——, do you know for the moment, I fancied—"
Mr. Cheswick did not have opportunity to say what for the moment he fancied; he stopped laughing with disconcerting abruptness, and looked soberly toward the bank.
Poggioli glanced around and saw Sir Alexander and Hodges standing on the top of the bank steps. Hodges was pointing and said.
"Yonder he is, sir."
The next moment the banker beckoned the psychologist. Both the American and Cheswick went up. Sir Alexander addressed them in agitated tones.
"Gentlemen, we have found the five hundred. The bank has lost nothing, nothing at all!"
The American stared as his theory of the crime fell abruptly to pieces.
"Found the five hundred!" he repeated blankly.
The baronet clenched his fists with almost an hysterical gesture.
"Oh my —— yes! The uncertainty, the suspense, the tragic mystery that surrounds my poor dead boy—"
Mr. Cheswick was getting out another cigar.
"I think the best thing we can do," he said with his eyes on his case, "is to go in and have a look at the five hundred they found."
WHEN the men entered the bank they found the paying teller had discovered the missing money, a package of Bank of England notes stuck away in a corner inside the vault. Outside of the package, in Oswald Hemmingway's handwriting was the sentence—"Do not place in circulation, O. H."
The baronet stood wiping his eyes, looking at the notes spread out on a table.
"This clears Oswald of any action unbecoming to a banker and a gentleman."
"I wish he had made a notation why the notes should not be returned to circulation," said the paying teller.
Poggioli bent over the bills scrutinizing them.
"They are not counterfeited or raised?"
"Hodges is investigating that point now," said the banker.
Mr. Cheswick stood twisting his yellowed mustache.
"It is possible, Sir Alexander, that these notes are entirely disconnected with your son's tragedy."
The baronet shook his head.
"I can't think that. Yet what connection can there be between a sum of money retired from circulation and Oswald's death?"
Cheswick who stood staring at the money asked suddenly.
"Sir Alexander, will you sell me one of these notes?"
"I want to take it to the wharf, try to find Cap McGabe and confront him with it."
"You can take as many as you like without purchase."
"No," demurred Cheswick drawing out a wallet of colonial currency, "to exchange money is no loss to either of us; then if I should happen not to return it, you would be whole."
The banker made an assenting gesture.
Mr. Cheswick riffled over the notes.
"I'll take this one. It has a spot on it so I won't get it mixed with the other money in my purse."
Poggioli glanced at the note in question and saw a bluish smudge near its center. Apart from this smudge the paper appeared perfectly new, without even a crease to mark its crispness.
As Mr. Cheswick took the note, Poggioli stared at it with a feeling of retarded recognition. The blond gentleman stowed it away and bowed himself out of the bank, saying he would go and find McGabe. Not till he was gone did the American recall the bank note at the cable office marked with a similar smudge. A nervous spasm caught his throat. He made a movement to rush out of the bank and catch Cheswick up, but a second impulse held him back to the table where he made a hurried examination of the rest of the notes. Certainty seized the American that somehow the bluish spot formed a clew to the mystery and Cheswick knew it. Then, for a moment, Poggioli was astonished that Cheswick wanted a clew. While these thoughts chased through his head he was turning the reverse sides of the notes with nervous rapidity. By good luck he found another faint bluish smudge on an edge. His relief at this find answered his question. The smudge was a clew. Cheswick had purchased the note to obliterate his own tracks. The American picked out the other stained note with a feeling of narrow escape.
"I'll take this one, Sir Alexander," and he reached in his pocket to pay for it.
The baronet made a gesture.
"No, take it along."
Poggioli murmured his thanks and hurried to the full light of a window to examine the note to which Mr. Dwight, hours earlier, had directed his attention.
As he did so Hodges came into the room with a circular letter he had found in the files.
"This is what we were after, Sir Alexander," he said in an excited voice. "I've found the numbers of the notes."
"What has happened to them?"
"They were stolen from the Bank of England on the third of January. We received this look-out circular about two months ago. Its corner was crimped down, sir, as you see."
The baronet took the sheet which rattled in his hand.
"Oswald did that, to refer to it quickly."
"My unfortunate son!"
"But why didn't he report the stolen money at once!" cried Hodges. "Why did he simply retire it?"
Poggioli interrupted their speculations.
"Mr. Hodges," he requested, "have you a magnifying glass?"
The clerk brought one and the American bent down to a careful scrutiny of the stain.
It seems a pity that Mr. Dwight of the cable office could not have seen him at the moment.
The stain itself, however, was not very dramatic. It was simply dirt, a touch of clay. Poggioli assembled two or three particles on the white paper and ran the back of his thumb nail over them; they made a soft streak—a stain of blue clay.
This was as informing as would have been a sparrow track, a rain drop or the leaf of any tree. He could turn anywhere in wood or field, in mine or on mountain top and find clay.
Poggioli straightened up in keen frustration. His clew pointed in any direction he cared to look; an obsequious clew!
The American had no clear-cut idea of what he had expected to find. A finger-print, perhaps; one of own finger-prints possibly. It suddenly occurred to Poggioli that the other note did have on it one of Mr. Cheswick's finger-prints, and the fellow had leaped to rescue this betraying sign.
Ideas now rushed rapidly in on the American.
"Hodges," he called, "was that five hundred pounds all that was stolen from the Bank of England according to your circular?"
"Bless you, no!" cried the clerk. "Here's the list, sir. It tots up fifty thousand pounds."
"A quarter of a million dollars! Now there, gentlemen, at last, is a sufficient incentive for murder!"
"What do you mean?" cried the baronet.
"I mean the man who murdered your son has a fortune of fifty thousand pounds in stolen bank notes hidden somewhere. He is traveling through the remote provinces trying to sell these bulletined notes by the little so nothing will be suspected. Oswald cashed a few, discovered the notes were stolen, and the thief murdered him before he revealed his discovery."
A pallor spread over the baronet's thin face. "Certainly, how simple it is! Who do you suppose did it—not—McGabe."
"I'm going down to the dock this moment and work out the details with Cheswick."
"But wait! Wait!" cried the banker, "Mr. Cheswick is a—er—"
"Yes, sir, what is it?"
The banker's eyes were wide. He looked into Poggioli's face and stammered.
"Perhaps you have a better grasp of the situation than I."
THE American left the bank and went legging it down through the hot street on the lookout for Mr. Cheswick. He hurried to Trafalgar Square and stared up and down the waterside out over the forest of masts in the Carenage. He strained his attention over the myriad figures that swarmed the waterside. The place worked like a formicary. The hopelessness of finding any particular man in the crowded sun-shot jam forced itself upon the American. Also it told him how safe was Cap McGabe in his waterlogged retreat.
As Poggioli moved up and down the hot wharf, squinting his eyes and rather hopeless of finding any one he knew, he heard his name shouted in the din. He looked around and saw Wilberforce and Mr. Santee hurrying to him through the crowd. When they drew near, Santee called—
"We've been looking everywhere for you; thought you were down here hours ago!"
"I'm looking for Cheswick," explained Poggioli in a tone which invited their cooperation.
"He's not here!" cried Wilberforce.
"Where is he?"
"We met him in a motor going out Bay Street as we came in from the club. He said he was going out to look at Codrington College."
"Look at what?" echoed Poggioli in amazement.
"Codrington College," repeated Mr. Santee. "He said he wanted to see it before he left Barbados. You know it's one of our show places; the oldest university in the West Indies. It was founded in 1710; two years older than our cricket club."
Poggioli was struck dumb. For a bank robber and a murderer, in the midst of an effort to escape suddenly to turn tourist and motor off to admire the ivied walls of an old college; that was too much for the American. He stood blinking his eyes.
"Did he say when he was coming back?"
"Said he would meet us here about four; for us to go right ahead and make arrangements with McGabe."
Both Wilberforce and Santee seemed to think this the most natural thing in the world for Cheswick to do. Poggioli had a sinking sensation that he had seen his last of Mr. Cheswick. He suspected that the fellow had sensed the suspicion in which he was held; as no doubt he had. The American brought his harassed thoughts back to the subject in hand.
"How have you fellows got on with your search for Cap McGabe?"
"We've got feelers out for him."
"A Captain Dorgan on a schooner out there," Santee nodded toward the Carenage, "saw Cap, and chucked him a bite to eat. Said if he saw him again he would appoint an hour for him to meet us."
"And then what'll we tell him?"
"We'll tell him there's a slaver called the Laughing Lass lying just outside the harbor. She's sailing for Santo Domingo up our east coast tonight. I thought we could run McGabe onto the schooner as a nigger laborer."
"How'll you do that?"
Mr. Santee grinned and drew out of his pocket a box of shoe polish.
"Black him up. If the harbor police see us taking him out, they'll think he's a nigger. I've arranged with a waterman to take us out at four-thirty."
"If you can meet McGabe."
By this time Poggioli had fallen in with his two acquaintances and the three walked down to the wharf, got aboard a schooner, crossed her deck to another, and so from one boat to another, picked their way to Captain Dorgan's vessel out in the Carenage. In the unobstructed sunshine, tar boiled out of the seams of the decks; an odor of bilge water, of sugar, of oakum and the sea saturated the hot air. Noises of clicking capstans, creaking sails, chanting sailors and shouting negroes assailed their ears.
As they clambered from vessel to vessel Mr. Santee explained what a slave ship was; a schooner which transported negro labor from one island in the West Indies to another without the formality of passports; for indeed such wholesale shipping of labor was against the British laws.
"It seems," observed Poggioli, fishing out his handkerchief to mop his face, "that we are continually running afoul of the law at every turn."
Mr. Santee glanced his surprize.
"Certainly, these matters have to be arranged. Barbados is one of the most densely populated spots on earth. We have thousands and thousands of negro laborers who have got to be jobbed around or they'll starve. There isn't work enough here. The British labor laws are merely a theory that follows actual practise more or less closely. Just here it is a little wide. Parliament may eventually revise the statutes to make them fit."
This English notion of arranging law to fit conduct surprized Poggioli who was accustomed to the American idea of arranging human life to fit some theory. It struck him that both systems were rather like shoes; an old pair of shoes and a new pair of shoes. His reflections were cut short by Mr. Santee calling out—
"Cap'n Dorgan on deck!"
THE three men had come to a schooner, the Laughing Lass of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As Santee shouted, a short, stocky, sandy-haired sailor turned out of a hammock which was swung under a canvas stretched over the after deck of the vessel. This fellow stood rubbing his eyes and blinking as he watched the three men climb over his rail and come aboard.
"Here he is!" called Santee with the exuberance of one exhibiting a curiosity.
"Don't say so!" ejaculated the captain, stretching his eyes to wake himself, then he lifted a hand in salute to Poggioli.
"They tell me, sir, you're a great detective. I daresay you're something fancy with a pistol, or throwing a knife, sir."
The college professor hardly knew how to answer such a burst of admiration. Evidently Captain Dorgan had drawn his conception of a detective from the "Old Sleuth" series.
"Did you ever see McGabe again?" queried Poggioli.
"Yes, I told him to be here at four."
"Did he say he would?"
"Said he'd listen for the ships' bells, sir."
"None of the police have been nosing around your boat?" inquired Wilberforce.
"A nigger dressed up like a girl come aboard. When I saw he was a man, I told him I'd pipe him if I needed him."
Everybody laughed. Santee glanced at his watch.
"Well, all we've got to do is to wait here and see if he shows up."
He glanced around at his companions who agreed wordlessly that was all there was to do. The three men moved automatically back to the shade of the canvas. Here they seated themselves on a coil of rope, a cask, and Captain Dorgan found Poggioli a canvas covered folding stool, then he sat down in his hammock.
The American began trying to fathom Cheswick's last move. Thinking was difficult with the other men talking, and the sun beating the canvas overhead until it felt like a stove radiating heat. Reflections from the water fell on the underside of the canvas and drew upon it wavering designs of light. The light circled or marched in rows or fell into tremulous confusion. Drops of sweat trickling down inside of Poggioli's clothes felt like crawling insects. The heat pressed down on the American's skull like the thumb of a giant. Poggioli blinked the sting of perspiration out of his eyes and thought doggedly of Codrington College; Cheswick's visit to Codrington College. Presently an explanation filtered into his heat-drugged brain. Cheswick had made that as an excuse to go and bring the rest of his stolen banknotes aboard the schooner preparatory to leaving the country.
The American shook the stuffiness out of his head and planned what to do. He must get in touch with some of the harbor police and seize Cheswick when he reappeared with the notes. That would be a sharp, sensational end to the man-hunt. The melodrama appealed to Poggioli even under a Barbadan sun.
Captain Dorgan arose from his hammock and said he would go below for the makings of a gin swizzle. At that moment from over the harbor came a myriad of little ringing double taps of the bells of many vessels. A little later the reflections on the underside of the canvas awning fell into a wild flurry; with it came a soft plashing below. Instead of going down into his cabin, Dorgan turned to the rail with the low observation.
Wilberforce strode to the rail and stood in the white flame of the sun.
"That you, Cap?" he called down softly.
"Cap, we've seen the old man; we've got you off."
"Have you, sir."
"Provided you are willing to clear out of Barbados."
"Leave the island."
Came a silence broken by a faint plashing, then a dubious—
"Where to, sir?"
"We've got a passage for you on a slave ship going to Santo."
"With niggers?" sharply.
"That's the only way you can get away and the police not see you."
The man in the water evidently chewed on this. The enmity between the red-legs and the negroes had begun when both were slaves in the Barbadan sugar fields, and time had only strengthened the rancor between them.
"I wouldn't want to go with the niggers, sir—after being a gentleman in a gentleman's cricket club."
Poggioli stepped to the rail. He looked down but could see nothing as the fugitive kept himself covered by the schooner's overhang.
"It will be a lot better than soaking here in the Carenage, Cap; you'll be with the schooner for three or four days, then you'll be turned loose in Santo a free man."
The top of a head and two eyes floated cautiously out in the oily water and looked up the side of the Laughing Lass.
"Who are you?" asked Cap suspiciously.
"The man your mother employed to look after your case. That was the best I could do; make those arrangements with Sir Alexander."
The eyes stared up strickenly at Poggioli.
"I didn't kill Mister Oswald, I'll swear I didn't."
Poggioli made a gesture.
"I've thought that over, this is the easiest way out for you."
Mr. Santee took up the conversation.
"Cap, here's a box of shoe polish. Catch it and black your face. If the police see you they'll think you're a nigger."
The red-leg was humiliated; after a lifelong feud with the negroes to become one of them!
"You can wash off on the schooner. She's standing outside the harbor now. We'll have a water-man pick you up in a dory in about half an hour. You swim to the stern of that steamer that lies right across the Carenage from the customs house; we'll come by and pick you up. Black your face."
Santee dropped the blacking. The water-soaked figure caught the polish and the next moment, with a faint swirl, vanished from sight. The lights under the canvas leaped to and fro in silent fury.
POGGIOLI straightened up with a sun-ache in his temples. He must go at once and get the police. He was framing an excuse to get away from his companions when he looked through the glare of sunshine and saw Mr. Cheswick making his way toward them. He climbed from vessel to vessel evidently in high good humor. He mopped his face and waved his handkerchief at the men.
Then Poggioli was dismayed to see that Cheswick had no baggage.
Santee answered his friend's gaiety with a responsive wave.
"Everything's all arranged!" he called.
Cheswick stroked his mustache with his handkerchief.
The three men were deserting the Laughing Lass without ceremony, hurrying to join Cheswick.
"How'd you like Codrington?" cried Santee.
"Very, very much!" pæned Cheswick.
"Ever been there before?" asked Wilberforce.
A certain impishness entered Poggioli's aching head.
"Which did you consider the most beautiful building, Mr. Cheswick?"
"What points did you admire especially?"
The blond gentleman scratched his head.
"Well, I especially admired—er—the memorial window to Sir Philip Easton, and then over in the chapel I thought the old mahogany stalls very, very lovely."
Poggioli glanced at Santee and Wilberforce to see if Mr. Cheswick was describing actualities. They were nodding their heads. He was.
Mr. Cheswick actually had made a pilgrimage to Codrington. The man's conduct subscribed to no rationale whatsoever.
Santee came back to the business in hand.
"We have arranged for you and Wilberforce to get to Santo Domingo with McGabe on a slaver, she sails at four thirty." He glanced at his watch. "And we've only twenty minutes to go."
"Righto!" cried Cheswick in a great mood. "Let's get to the pier!"
The four men hurried across the boats, jumped ashore and started almost at a trot for the dory pier.
It suddenly struck Poggioli that these men were going to slip right out of his hands, and there was no way to stop them. As they approached the pier half a dozen black boatmen came running shouting the names of their dories—
"The Majestic, masters!" "The Titanic!" "Princess Mary will set you over, gentlemen!"
One fat doryman laughed and shouted in the grotesque gargling English peculiar to the West Indian negro—
"Dem gen'lemen, done ingage de Mauretania half hour ago!"
The Mauretania was a brightly painted dory with white canvas upholstering on the seats. Poggioli's heart sank as he saw his companions hurry down the steps of the pier to the dory. Everything seemed quite lost. Just then Mr. Cheswick hesitated.
"By the way, does it happen that this nigger ship is going to sail around the coast to Bathsheba?"
Santee said she was.
"Fine!" cried the blond gentlemen. "I have a little baggage I really ought to get aboard with me. If you will indulge me by letting me take the train to Bathsheba, I'll get aboard tomorrow morning when the schooner reaches that port."
"Certainly," cried Wilberforce, "I'll be on the lookout."
"Righto!" cried Cheswick.
Santee, Poggioli and Cheswick stood on the pier and waved Wilberforce off. The trio watched the dory pull away and stop under the stem of the freighter that lay just across from the custom house. There something was pulled into the Mauretania. It might have been a sack. It lay flat down in the bottom of the dory under the beating sun. It was such a trifling detail in the torrid animation of the harbor that nobody could have observed it except the three men on the pier.
THAT night Poggioli went around to the police station on Coleridge Street and asked for a plain-clothes man to stand watch on Bathsheba wharf on the following day. At first the police sergeant demanded bruskly enough the reason for such an unusual request, but when he discovered he was addressing Mr. Poggioli he became at once respectful, not to say obsequious.
"Yes, sir, I've heard of you; read about you in the Times. I'd take it as a great privilege to cooperate with such a distinguished criminologist. There will not only be a man down there, Mr. Poggioli, I'll be there myself. All you'll have to do, sir, is simply give me the tip who you want pinched, air, and I'll pinch 'em. You needn't be known in it at all."
This appealed to Poggioli as being the ideal procedure for a criminal investigator; the planning brain while other men applied the physical force. Poggioli had the Latin aristocrat's dislike for all violent physical contacts which has sublimated even their personal encounters to the finical but deadly aloofness of dueling.
The plan put him in high spirits and sent him walking briskly through the night to his hotel. Once or twice a wonderment came to him as to what could have prompted Mr. Cheswick to make his excursion to Codrington College. Could the thief have buried his banknotes in the campus of that ancient institution? Such a disposal would possess unexpectedness. On the other hand, Mr. Cheswick might have visited the old seat of learning out of a traveler's curiosity. His visit to Codrington probably could not be linked up with the stolen banknotes.
WHEN Poggioli reached Bay Mansion Hotel, he found the guests sitting on the dimly illuminated piazza talking of the tragedy. The psychologist saw Mr. Cheswick, and threaded the groups to ask him when the early morning train started for Bathsheba. Then he went on up to his bedroom. It struck Poggioli as rather a salty thing that he should be asking Cheswick about the train schedule which would land the fellow, if everything went right, on the gallows.
Next morning the professor awoke with a certain feeling of imminent adventure which he seldom before had experienced. Borne on the wings of this stimulation he hurried through his bath, then down to the breakfast room where a lazy black boy spread before him a sweet lemon, coffee, rolls and fried flying fish.
At this hour the breakfast room was deserted and the psychologist asked the boy if Mr. Cheswick had come down. He had not. Poggioli looked at his watch, then sent the boy up to wake his—he hesitated in his thoughts between "friend," "traveling companion" and "victim."
The boy went up and in a few minutes came back down with the news that Mr. Cheswick was not in his room, that he must have gone to the beach for an early dip.
It was getting train time. The American deserted the remnants of his breakfast and hurried down to the beach to look for his—he decided on the term "man." Then he recalled that police officers, detectives, sheriffs, etc., etc., always used the word "man." Looking for their "man"; catching their "man"; hanging their "man"—a loathsome euphemism by which they disguised their treacherous trade!
ON THE beach, only a fat old man and two Barbadian women were bathing. Just as he saw there was no Mr. Cheswick visible, he heard the distant rattle of a tram on Bay Street. He turned and went sprinting back to the thoroughfare which he reached in time to swing aboard and ride down-town.
At any other time than this he would have enjoyed the slow village-like progression of the mule car; the jingling bells, the lush trees leaning their green branches over the walls, the upright palms, the bland light of early morning in which lingered the perfume of a tropical night as delicately sweet as the memory of a tryst with a woman. Ordinarily he would have been charmed.
This morning all the poetry was lost in a growing uneasiness in regard to Mr. Cheswick. Poggioli looked over the crowded tram, full of negroes going to work, seeking his "man's" face. Cheswick was not on the car.
The mules jingled along. The black passengers laughed and talked noisily after the manner of their kind. The ride was interminable. Poggioli could not decide whether to go on and catch the train for Bathsheba or to drop off down-town and institute a search for Cheswick here in Bridgetown. The obstacle was, if he found Cheswick without the notes, he would have no proof of his guilt. He decided he would go on and risk Cheswick being on the train.
Just before the tram passed over the bridge at the Carenage, Poggioli dropped off the running-board and ran across Fairchild Street to the station. A small army of negroes were being sucked into the depot for the morning train. The American darted in among them, got to the ticket window, bought a first-class ticket and hurried out to the train where he got a seat by a window to scrutinize the crowd as it climbed aboard up and down the line of cars.
The train itself was a very tiny affair, but slightly larger than the toy railroads children ride at street fairs in America. Ahead, the engine was whistling like a peanut roaster. The little coaches filled rapidly. Evidently the little thing meant to be off in a pair of minutes.
As Mr. Cheswick continued not to appear, uneasiness wound up in Poggioli more and more, like the spring of an alarm-clock. He was on the point of jumping off when the little train made a lunge, the cars moved, then went clicking off up the little two-foot track at quite a brisk gait.
As soon as the train was out of town the dusty white Barbadian landscape began a slow turn-table effect outside the car window. Everything was white; the fences dividing the dusty white fields of sugar cane; the stone cottages, bungalows and negro huts; old-fashioned windmills which flapped their white sails on the horizon like great lazy birds too languid to fly. Now and then the train passed a park of great mahogany trees, their profound green filmed with white dust. Seated back in the grove Poggioli would glimpse the white walls or roof of a venerable old English manor; the eminently respectable country seat of some ultra English Barbadian aristocrat, like Sir Alexander Hemmingway. An amazing folk, the English; nobody quite like them in the world. Poggioli wondered, where was Cheswick?
The continual white glare pained the American's eyes and he turned back inside the coach to avoid it. Then he observed to his seat mate in a vaguely complaining voice.
"They build absolutely everything on this island of white stone."
This seat mate, now that Poggioli looked at him was an old gentleman with white whiskers, russet face, tempery nose and high-cut nostrils. He regarded Poggioli, evidently astonished and incensed at being addressed in a public conveyance,
"Certainly," he replied stiffly, "this island is formed of white coral rock. We are hardly wealthy enough to import colored stone to build ornamental fences around our sugar fields for the delectation of American tourists."
This typically British reply, with its quietly acid way of telling the other fellow to go to the ——, shut up Poggioli for a few minutes.
A little later, with American persistency, he made another effort to engage the old war-horse. He said something about the shocking murder that had been committed on the cricket grounds. The old gentleman observed that all murders were shocking in Barbados, he didn't know how they were regarded in America. After that Poggioli remained silent.
The little train rattled on amid the hot, blanched scenery. It stopped at half a dozen stations; folk got on and off; everywhere Poggioli strained his attention over these movements of the crowds, hoping Cheswick had gone ahead to take the train at some station beyond Bridgetown, but he saw nothing of him. In about an hour and a half the train ran into Bathsheba. There Poggioli and his gruff seat-mate both got out. The old gentleman set off at a stout walk, for his home, where no doubt he was a loving husband and a tender father. The English are a wonderful people.
The American himself, unfortunately, had no such decision of purpose. He stood for a moment on the asphalt driveway outside the railway station, orienting himself on this new town. It was a characteristic English watering place. Big rooming houses lined the boulevard, and still higher up on an acclivity stood a fashionable hotel with an English ensign floating from a tall flagpole. Down below, on the right-hand side, looking northward, lay the harbor with a few old piers thrust out into the liquid turquoise of the ocean. Northward beyond the piers curved the long pure-white arc of the beach, spotted here and there with the reds and greens of parasols and bathing-suits.
It seemed to Poggioli that this brilliantly white beach was a very focussing of the whole blanched island of Barbados. It shrilled at the psychologist that Barbados was white. It italicised the fact so persistently that a certain curious notion filtered into Poggioli's head that this fanfare of white was not purely objective, that it held some private and particular meaning for him and him alone.
He moved along slowly, staring at it, pondering the color, wondering what conceivable connection this whiteness had with Oswald Hemmingway's murder. The association seemed, as the saying goes, right on the tip of his tongue, but eventually it eluded him. He had the miserable feeling that something in his head softly closed. Whatever was on the threshold of recognition sank into the limbo of the unconscious. The beach became simply an ordinary stretch of white coral sand, and a queer depression of spirit settled over Poggioli.
He moved on somberly down the wharf for the simple part he was about to play. He would await the arrival of the Hercules. Then, when Cheswick attempted to board her with a bag, he would have him arrested. If, on the other hand, Cheswick did not come, then Wilberforce and McGabe would sail on to Santo. The unfortunate red-leg would be rusticated through no crime of his own, while the real thief and murderer would escape. English justice would make a characteristic bungle, but over the whole affair would hang a certain drab veil of respectability.
Poggioli spat and climbed down a flight of ancient wooden steps full of landings and turns that led from the level of the driveway down between two tall rooming houses, over one back yard, around another and so to the level of the beach and piers.
ON THE sand were a number of little fishing boats, left careened by the outgoing tide. A browned fisherman sat under the shade of a boat repairing his net with the endless patience of his tribe. Poggioli approached this fellow and asked when the Hercules was expected in. The fisherman paused in the midst of a small but intricate knot.
"The Hercules, sir? P'raps you mean the Albatross?"
"No, the Hercules; she's due from Bridgetown today sometime," repeated the American uneasily.
The old fellow shook his head.
"You must mean the Albatross, sir; she runs from here to Bridgetown every other day."
"The Hercules," explained Poggioli, "is a slaver. She's bound to Santo with a cargo of negroes."
The seamed face became full of comprehension.
"I see, she's in no reg'Iar trade. Then she won't come in the harbor here, naturally, sir. You know it's against the law, exporting labor wholesale. We couldn't have her coming right into port taking on niggers. That wouldn't be right, sir. No, I say let everything be done decent and respectable—"
"But how the —— does she get her passengers!" cried Poggioli, thoroughly impatient at this rambling homily.
"Why she picks 'em up along the coast, sir."
"No especial place?"
"None in partic'lar, sir. The niggers go out to her in jack boats in a decent underhand sort of way."
"Where is she now?"
"I fancy she's just over the horizon there, tacking up and down the coast till she gets her men, sir."
"And where can I see the small boats coming in and going out?" asked the American, anxiously.
"Not here in Bathsheba, naturally. We couldn't have nothing like that right under our eyes, sir. But if you'd tramp up and down the coast, say five or six miles, sir, you might happen to see a jack boat going out loaded with niggers, or coming in empty. If you did it would probably be bound for the Hercules, or just getting back from her."
Mr. Poggioli, who had been stooping involuntarily to peer into his informant's face, now straightened and stared up and down the white strand with a lost feeling. Cheswick might be anywhere. The psychologist was seized with an irrational notion that at this moment Cheswick was somewhere along the coast, escaping to the Hercules with his loot. But the sheer whiteness seemed to weave a maze in which no fugitive could ever be found. Then a certain tenuous suggestion from the color itself filtered once more into the American's mind. He framed a question to the fisherman.
"By the way, friend, in all this white scenery, do you happen to know whether there is any clay near here?"
The old fellow removed his pipe and fell into thought. With an ordinary laborer's disconnectedness, it did not strike him as odd for a man to inquire about slave ships one moment and clay the next.
"Clay, sir? You've come to a bad island for clay. Precious little here. Now if you'd care for sandstone, sir—"
"No, it's clay—blue clay."
The old man thought again.
"Blue clay, blue clay—since you mention it, I do bear in mind a little outcrop of blue clay down at the crab coves, sir. You might get enough to daub a cooking-place with, but if you want to make brick—"
A little thrill of exultation shot through Poggioli.
"Where are the crab coves?" he snapped.
The old man pointed down toward the south.
"About two miles down the beach. You'll know 'em by a thicket of sea grape growing around 'em. You can't miss 'em."
This last sentence was wasted as Poggioli already had turned and was dashing down the white sand at a pace which he could not possibly hold for two miles. Whatever the old fisherman thought of a tourist who began talking of slavers and started on a dead run at the mention of blue clay, Poggioli never found out.
The psychologist was thinking how simple was the clue of the blue stains, now that the solution had struck him. Cheswick had hidden his notes in the crab caverns, buried no doubt in the clay. In getting the five hundred pounds out, he had stained a note or two. It was this simple reasoning that had been stirring in his mind back up on the driveway. Now it flooded him with a great elation. Presently his failing legs in the hot morning sunshine slowed him down much to his impatience. The run became a trot, then a hurried walk down the linen whiteness of the sand.
He wanted to run again. It seemed to Poggioli that each instant was allowing Cheswick to escape. It was an absurd feeling, but as Poggioli hurried down the sinuous, bi-colored stretch of white beach and blue sea, it seemed that Cheswick was escaping over and over again. So long as Poggioli could see nothing except the dazzling empty perspective of white and blue, Cheswick continued his momentary escapes. Then far out across the water, the American caught the flicker of a small boat's sail. That stabilized his fancy and pegged Cheswick to an exact position. The boat was something definite to race against. Poggioli had either a good deal of time to spare, or he was already too late. He stopped his leaden trot and stared at the distant fleck of canvas. It was either coming or going, he couldn't tell which. At every beat of his heart the sail vibrated up and down. He mopped his face, blinked the sweat from his stinging eyes, and peered with face screwed up against the glare. If the small boat was outbound, then he must turn and hurry back to Bathsheba, notify the police sergeant and get a revenue launch to the Hercules. If the boat was inbound, he would get down to the beach, hide in the sea grapes and verify his own deductions.
THE American eventually decided the boat was coming in. He started down the beach where he could see the gray-green sea-grapes painted on the lower slopes of the cliffs.
As he hurried forward, he began to be anxious lest some one on the boat should see his dark form against his white background. Certainly unaided eyes could not pick him up at this distance, but seafaring men usually have binoculars. No doubt those faraway boatmen were scannng the coast for Cheswick, or at least for bearings to locate the cavern of the crabs. The sea grape thicket was about a quarter of a mile distant, and he made a last run for it.
This last dash Poggioli made on sheer doggedness. The boat was coming rapidly in. Poggioli flung all his strength into getting across that last stretch of hot white sand. He finished with a drumming heart and flung himself prone on the ground in the edge of the thicket. He gasped for breath through a dry mouth. His legs felt paralyzed. Face and clothes were drenched with sweat. He swallowed slime. He lay with his head limp in the crook of his elbow and the sunlight pulsed red through his closed eyelids. But he was happy. He had worked the whole thing out so cleverly; a series of bungles, it is true, but after all, all reasoning is a series of trials and errors. There is no compulsive logic holding any two human propositions together. The feel of logic is merely our reaction to sequences. Berkely was right and Kant wrong. Great reasoners are simply lucky guessers—or inspired gropers. He himself had groped in this tangle from one hypothesis to another and now here he was with verity arrived at, which was, concretely, a quarter of a million dollars in bank notes. It was one of the happiest moments of Poggioli's life.
He opened his eyes, shook his head, then lifted himself cautiously to get the exact position of the boat. As he did so a voice in the thicket snarled—
"Poggioli, do you want your —— empty head blown off?"
The psychologist was struck to stone in a half risen posture. Then he peered slowly around and presently made out the shape of Mr. Cheswick among the bushes some twenty or thirty feet distant. The thing he could see most clearly was the glint of a drawn pistol; the murderer's clothes were of the same dull gray as the grape branches.
"No-o, I don't," stuttered Poggioli in a whisper, reallzing for the first time that he was pursuing a bank robber, a murderer and a desperate man.
"Then lie back down, one dead man's enough on a job like this."
So the feliow had a conscience. Poggioli subsided again on his belly, deeply grateful for that fact. He supposed he would not be killed. He wondered what Cheswick would do with him to prevent his return to Bathsheba; shanghai him possibly; a voyage on the slaver—
He lifted his head slowly and peered at Cheswick among the cross hatching of the sea grape stems. It seemed to him that he was seeing the man for the first time; a naked foe of all men.
Even in the midst of his danger a kind of understanding of such a gusty, wanton, salty existence crept into Poggioli's chameleon mind. The imbecility of his own approach amazed him, but in the same breath explained itself to him in the highly complimentary terms a man's own mind always explains itself. It was simply because he was a sublimated intellect, and pure intelligence has never yet felt fear or taken a precaution. Only the animal emotions in man make him defensive and crafty. Pure cognition never has a queasy moment; it knows everything and avoids nothing. There idiot and sage meet—Archimedes slaughtered in Syracuse while drawing circles in the sand.
Even while this analysis ran through his mind, the psychologist was speculating on what Cheswick would do with him; take him aboard the Hercules; bind him and leave him in the cavern until the schooner was clear of the island; or possibly, after all, kill him.
In the midst of this gristly speculation the keel of a boat grated on the sand below. Poggioli remained motionless, staring with his whole sensorium alert. Now he could hear some one from the boat pushing his way up among the small growth.
Even in his own jeopardy this little circumstance hit him as odd. It was, in fact, faintly contradictory to his own dilemma. It is not correct psychology for a boatman to leave his boat and grope among bushes for his passenger. An intimation that he had made some strange and fundamental error began to move in Poggioli. He lifted his head and stared through the bushes with wide speculative eyes.
The man from the boat pushed on through the sea grapes and apparently disappeared in the earth. He passed abruptly out of sight and hearing. For some ten minutes came a silence. Then as a curious and amazing hypothesis began to dawn on the American came a renewed rustle in the bushes. The next instant, Mr. Cheswick launched out of his hiding. Came an explosion of blows, curses, snarls. Poggioli leaped to his feet to see two men fighting among the bushes. As he jumped up they went down, rolling and crashing under the gray cover. Poggioli hurried toward them and out of the uproar he heard Mr. Cheswick pant—
"Grab his gun, quick, Poggioli! He'll kill himself—or me!"
For the fraction of an instant the American hesitated, the Latin in him loathing the physical contact, next moment he plunged under the foliage and his head and shoulder came squarely upon Wilberforce and Cheswick grappling on the ground. Cheswick was straining Wilberforce's arm up from his pocket. The psychologist gripped this upstretched arm, whipped around and caught it in the crotch of his leg with a scissors hold. This left Cheswick a free hand. He jerked handcuffs from his pocket and snapped one on Wilberforce's left, then he maneuvered the other loop up to the hand Poggioli held, and the outlaw was manacled. Cheswick then ran a deft hand over the outside of Wilberforce's clothes, located a pistol and removed it. Then he got up, walked a few steps back up in the bushes and picked up a tin container full of bank notes.
"Now," he puffed, and with the same breath gave a short laugh, "you can let him up, Poggioli."
The American professor got up off the prisoner, filled with a just indignation.
"Why in the didn't you—"
Cheswick's mustache gave a downward quirk.
"I didn't like what you said on the hotel porch; a detective's occupation being the most in the world; and then if I had confided in you, you might have published it in the Times—"
Poggioli was angrier than ever. He brushed the white sand from his clothes, then he did the same for Wilberforce, who couldn't assist himself. On Wilberforce's garments were two or three smudges of blue clay.
Mr. Cheswick sent the negroes in the long boat back to the Hercules, then the three men began a stolid silent tramp back to Bathsheba to make the afternoon train to Bridgetown. Mr. Cheswick wore a fixed, detestable grin under his yellowed mustache.
ON THE following day an article appeared in the Bridgetown Times as a follow-up of the Hemmingway tragedy. It bore a ten-point caption which extended across two columns; which is the equivalent in Bridgetown to full-page streamers in New York. The headlines ran:
MASTER MIND UNRAVELS MURDER
DEDUCING HIS WHOLE CLEW FROM STAIN ON
BANK NOTE AMERICAN SHERLOCK HOLMES
BRINGS MURDERER TO GALLOWS.
Professor Henry Poggioli, the celebrated American criminologist who is spending a few days in Barbados, once more exhibited his uncanny powers of deduction in bringing to justice one of the cleverest rogues and the most bloodthirsty murderer our island empire has ever known. The story of the arrest of one Charles Wilberforce reads more like a romance from the pen of A. Conan Doyle than a recountal of sober fact.
After the tragic death of Oswald Hemmingway yesterday, circumstances suggested that young Hemmingway had committed suicide after some heavy losses in stock speculation. Mr. Poggioli went to the cable office and was shown simply a five-pound note with a clay stain upon it, and by a series of the most ingenious inductions announced not only that Mr. Hemmingway was murdered, but gave a complete description and the whereabouts of the murderer.
In an interview today, Mr. Dwight, an employee of the cable company, made the following statement—
"He glanced at the stained note and immediately remarked, 'This stain was not made by Oswald Hemmingway because all bank cashiers have clean hands.' He then took the report prepared by Mr. Hodges, and proved mathematically that the person speculating in the name of Oswald Hemmingway had intended to lose five hundred pounds, no more and no less. This established the fact that some interested person was attempting to cast the shadow of suicide over young Hemmingway's death."
In an interview, Mr. Hodges of the Imperial Bank then took up the narrative so replete with intellectual marvels. Said Hodges—
"Professor Poggioli then told me that we would probably discover the amount of these speculative losses tucked away in some comer of our bank in either counterfeit bank notes or stolen currency. When I asked his reason he explained—
"'Because some man has tried to swindle young Oswald, who found him out after Oswald had advanced the fellow five hundred pounds in West Indian money in exchange for the vitiated currency.'
"I asked him who had done this.
"'Without doubt some member of the cricket team to which Oswald belonged. The culprit evidently begged young Hemmingway to postpone any legal action about the bogus money until after a certain important game of cricket which was about to be played. Through patriotism to his club, Oswald agreed to this. Then the criminal set about laying a basis of suicide with forged cablegrams upon which to murder his team-mate with impunity. The fact that Oswald was slain in the bath house immediately after the game bore out this deduction.'"
The police sergeant, Mr. O'Brien, was interviewed and furnished the next link in the processes of this master mind. Says O'Brien:
"The question then was, which player had killed Oswald Hemmingway. We suspected a young man who lives here in Bridgetown, but this wizard of crime said—
"'No, we will allow the criminal to declare himself.'
"'How will you accomplish that?' I asked.
"'By pretending this member under suspicion is about to be deported, and requesting some other member of the club to accompany him from the island.'
"This was done, and Wilberforce fell into the trap instantly. The police were then about to seize the criminal when the great savant interposed:
"'Wait,' he said, 'this fellow could hardly have stolen only five hundred pounds; that is too small an amount to justify a murder. The residue is somewhere on the island.'
"'Where is it?' I inquired.
"For answer Professor Poggioli returned to the stained banknote. 'This is a white coral island,' he said, 'and it is not likely that blue clay can be found in many parts of it. Send this note with the day on it to the professor of geology at Codrington College and he will inform you where such outcrops can be found.'
"This was done; a certain Scotland Yard man, who had been on trail of the missing banknotes for a number of months being the one actually to take the banknote to Professor Getty, instructor in geology in Codrington. Professor Getty located three outcrops of such clay in the island of Barbados; two were inland and one was in the cavern of the crabs near Bathsheba."
Here the Scotland Yard man, whose name is withheld by request, gave to the representative of the Times the following interview:
"Professor Henry Poggioli is the most remarkable investigator of crimes it has ever been my fortune to meet. We have nothing like him in Scotland Yard. When he first glimpsed me on the piazza of the Bay Mansion hotel, he observed that I was a detective by a false blond mustache I was wearing, and he immediately told me that he had a very low opinion of the ordinary detective, such as I regret to say I am. When he sent me with the stained banknote to Professor Getty and I learned that the money which I had been vainly trying to recover for the Bank of England for three months was buried in the cavern of the crabs, I said at once, 'I'll go dig it up.'
"Professor Poggioli stopped me. 'No,' he objected, 'you would have a herculean task to move all the clay in those caverns, make your brain do the work of your hands.'
"'How?' I inquired.
"'Let Wilberforce dig it up for you. Go and conceal yourself at the mouth of the cavern and allow Wilberforce to come and dig it up. As he comes out, leap on him and arrest him with the money in his possession.'
"This was done with the happy result of Wilberforce's capture and incarceration in Bridgetown gaol."
Captain Dorgan of the Laughing Lass, a Nova Scotia schooner now lying in the Carenage, assured the reporter that he had never seen a pistol shot of such expertness as Professor Poggioli. He said the American gave an amazing demonstration in the harbor and he understood that Poggioli once had been a cowboy and had fought Indians, or redskins, in the American west, near Sioux City, a village belonging to the fierce Iowa tribe.
Sir Alexander Hemmingway of Norman Hall, St. Michael Parish, the bereaved father of the murdered youth, was interviewed. He said:
"Amazing, subtle, a superman. I am thankful a divine providence directed his footsteps here to clear my son's memory."
PROFESSOR POGGIOLI read the above account thoughtfully several times. At the end of the third perusal he remembered all the above events happening practically as they were printed by the enterprising reporter of the Times.
When Poggioli had first returned from Bathsheba to Bay Mansion hotel, he was in a very depressed state; and was fully resolved to leave Barbados on the next steamer south. However, after reading this report, which he conceded as practically correct from start to finish, he purchased a number of copies of the paper to send home to friends, and decided to remain a few weeks longer in the pleasant, sunny island of Barbados.