Who Else But She?
by S. Fowler Wright
WHO ELSE BUT SHE?
CHIEF INSPECTOR PINKEY was annoyed The crime (for he was disposed to agree with the view of the local police that the possibility of suicide could be eliminated) had been committed within a few minutes of 5 p.m. on Thursday last, and now it was 11-30 on Tuesday morning, and it was only an hour ago that the assistance of Scotland Yard had been solicited by the Chief Constable of Buckfordshire. Within ten minutes of that telephone conversation, Pinkey had been in a taxi for Paddington. Now he gazed at the high banks of the railway cutting, pleasant in October sunshine, as the express pulled easily up the Chiltern gradients, and wondered how many clues had been blurred or obliterated before he had been called in to clear up a puzzle which the local officers had been unwilling to consider beyond their powers.
Well, there was nothing new in that. He knew that it was of the first importance that he should stifle his annoyance and accept it cheerfully.
Any impatience on his part or affectation of superiority would make a difficult problem even harder than it must inevitably be. He must just put out of his mind all he had heard, all he had read, even all the possibilities that had entered his mind as he had thought it over during the last few days (anticipating that he would soon be travelling in this direction), and approach it with an open unprejudiced mind. That was always the safest way.
He got out at Ricksfield to change into the local train.
The village of Beacon's Cross lies about two miles from the station of that name. Inspector Pinkey remembered reading of this distance, and hoped that he would not be obliged to walk. Probably there would be a taxi. But you never could be sure at these little country stations. And he had a rather heavy bag.
It was with real gratitude, disposing him to an unusual geniality, that he was greeted by a tall man of somewhat military aspect, who introduced himself as Inspector Trackfield of the County Constabulary, and proposed that they should motor together to Bywater Grange.
"I'm driving myself," he added, "so that we can talk freely. There aren't many places where you can be equally certain that you couldn't be overheard."
Inspector Pinkey had a moment of wonder as to whether this local policeman really believed this to be a remark of unusual profundity. Was he anxious to show that the country constabulary are shrewder than is commonly believed in the metropolitan area?
"Yes," he said, in a rather drier voice than he had meant it to be, "when you've looked under the seat."
"Under the seat?" Inspector Trackfield had a moment of surprise. Then his face cleared. "Oh yes. I see. You don't mean that too literally. You mean when you've had a good look. Oh yes, of course."
By this time they were in the car.
The two officers exchanged platitudes upon the weather and the Cotswold Hills. Inspector Pinkey was too accustomed to the delicate operation of taking, over investigations from less experienced or less competent hands to feel any awkwardness, but he knew the importance of doing it in a tactful way. It was to open the subject rather than to gain information that he remarked:
"I understand that the inquest had been adjourned?"
But to Inspector Trackfield, remembering the unadvertised reason for that adjournment, it was an unpleasant question to hear, and many would have given it a shorter answer. Chief Inspector Pinkey could observe that Trackfield might be an obtuse, but he was an honest man. He said:
"Yes. . . You see, I told the Coroner yesterday. morning that we were about to arrest Lady Denton, and so he agreed to adjourn, sine die, in the usual way. After that, Sir Henry said he'd like to go over the evidence again before we committed ourselves finally, and then he said he wasn't quite satisfied and he'd decided to call you in.
"Sir Henry Titterton was the Chief Constable of Buckfordshire.
"The evidence against Lady Denton must have appeared fairly strong. You felt satisfied of her guilt?"
The answer came rather stiffly: "Obviously. I applied for a warrant for her arrest."
Inspector Pinkey thought silently: "And you are still convinced!" He reminded himself again of the necessity of keeping an open mind. It might be true, as the obvious often is - but not always. What he said was. "Going by the press photographs, she seems to be quite an attractive woman."
Inspector Trackfield agreed. Exceptionally. He added that she was very popular also.
"Not the sort you would expect to be guilty of such a crime?"
"Not in the least." Trackfield was quite frank about that. The experienced ears of the Scotland Yard officer caught a tone which suggested that, though the speaker had been resolved to arrest her, he had not been entirely insensible of the lady's charm. It was confirmed by the remark that followed, rather stolidly spoken :
"But you have to go on the evidence."
"That is an indisputable proposition, which makes it particularly important that the evidence should be considered by those who are most competent to handle it. . ." But at this point the conversation was interrupted by their arrival at Bywater Grange.
Inspector Pinkey had a busy day. He examined everyone whom he could find the faintest reason to examine, and did this with such tact and adroitness that he obtained not only a willing repetition of tales which had already been fully told, but even one or two additional details, the importance of which he was not yet able to estimate accurately. He took this evidence orally, maintaining an easy conversational tone, and the witnesses might have been surprised had they known how accurately he had recalled their words, as he had compared them later with the signed statements which the county police had secured already.
When evening came he retired to his own room - Lady Denton had offered him the hospitality of the Grange - to review the evidence that he had obtained.
First, there was the medical evidence and that of the post-mortem. It did not eliminate the possibility of suicide, but it rendered it extremely improbable. Sir David Denton had been shot while standing at his desk in the ground-floor study, facing the window, though some distance from it. He had been shot with the pistol which he kept in the top right-hand drawer of that desk. The drawer had been closed.
The bullet had entered under and a little behind the left ear, and had penetrated the brain in an upward and somewhat forward position. Sir Lionel Tipshift, who had conducted the post-mortem, advised that it was possible physically possible - for the wound to have been self-inflicted if the weapon had been held in the right hand, passed under the left arm, and pointed upward. Possible - but absurd.
The improbability had been increased by the fact that Sir David had been left-handed. Sir Lionel Tipshift expressed the opinion, with a self-confidence which may appear to have been well-grounded, that the shot had been fired by someone who had stood behind the murdered man. Most probably one who was known to him and could approach him thus without exciting suspicion. Someone also who had known where the pistol was kept and had been able to obtain or secrete it. A member of the household, if not of the family, was clearly indicated.
Sir Lionel thought it highly probable that the shot had been fired by someone considerably shorter than Sir David, who had been a tall man. Lady Denton fulfilled all these conditions. She was the only one who was freely and naturally admitted to her husband's study. She was a foot shorter than he She had been with him immediately after, if not at the moment that the shot was fired.
There was strong suspicion here, if not proof. And if she did not do it, who did?
As to that, there were possibilities, but they were not numerous. Sir David had been generally disliked. A mean-natured, suspicious, bad-tempered man, of a bullying habit. Everyone in the house appeared to have feared him except the cook and (perhaps) his wife.
A few days before the tragedy he had invaded the kitchen with some complaint, and the cook, a woman with a temper to equal his own, had threatened to lay a broom across his shoulders if he didn't clear out.
After that he had required his wife to dismiss her, which was scarcely surprising, but this she had stubbornly refused to do. There had been rows over this, and Lady Denton was known to have had a bruised arm. But with an obstinate defiance with which she occasionally varied her submissions, she had declined to give way. She had held stubbornly to her point that the kitchen was her domain and that Sir David should have kept out of it.
Inspector Pinkey had interviewed the cook. She had expressed her opinion of Sir David with much freedom and force of language, and it had not been favourable.
She did not profess to regret his end. She affirmed her conviction that he had committed suicide, and a good thing, too. Yet the Inspector decided without difficulty that he could eliminate the cook. Had Sir David been banged on the head with a flat iron in one of the back passages, it might have been a more doubtful matter.
Eliminating her, he disposed also of the two other female members of the staff. They were a housemaid and a kitchen-maid, and it appeared that they had been together in the kitchen when the shot was fired.
Apart from a conspiracy of guilt or concealment, the evidence of each was an alibi for the other two. Considering this and the inherent improbability-that they were concerned in the crime, the Inspector dismissed them from the list of those on whom suspicion might fall. Beyond that they could throw no light on the event. They were united in the suggestion of suicide, with the obvious intention of defending their mistress from all implication of murder, but it was not a point on which their opinions were of substantial value.
Besides the women, the inmates of the house had been two only - Lady Denton herself and Gerard Denton, a half-brother of the murdered man.
Lady Denton's account was simple and explicit. She had been in her own room, the door of which faced that of Sir David's study, when she had heard the shot. In a vague alarm, though without guessing what had occurred, she had crossed the hall, opened the study door, seen her husband sprawled on the floor with a revolver beside his hand, and had screamed for help, at which Gerard had come out of the library at the further end of the passage.
Gerard Denton's account agreed with this narrative. He had been reading in the library when he had heard the shot, though not very distinctly. The doors of Bywater Grange were thick and well fitted. He doubted whether he would have been sufficiently disturbed or curious to inquire the cause, but that he had been roused the next moment by an agonised scream from Lady Denton: "Gerard! Gerard!" and had run at once to her aid.
He told this tale clearly enough, though with some agitation of manner and perhaps a little over-assertion, which might be natural enough under the circumstances. Supported as it was by Lady Denton's account, it seemed to remove suspicion from him also, and concentrated it the more surely upon herself. He was evidently conscious of this, and, like the servants, he showed anxiety to assert her innocence. He dwelt on the note of surprise and horror which he had heard in her first scream. He agreed with Lady Denton that no one could have escaped by the study door and along the passage, after the shot was fired, without being seen either by her or him.
There remained the evidence of the gardener and his boy, and if credence were to be given to their account and to that of the inmates of the house, it appeared to demonstrate that no one had done it at all, which was absurd, or that it was a case of suicide, which Inspector Pinkey was very disinclined to believe.
The gardener was an old man, stiff with rheumatism and very deaf. He had been working on the drive, trimming the edges, out of sight of the study window, but in view of anyone who should approach or leave by the front entrances. The drive curved towards the house. It passed the study, which had a French window opening on to a narrow lawn. This window had been wide open.
The boy had been working on the drive also. He was nearer the house. He was in such a position at the bend of the drive that he could see the study window, while the gardener, who could not see it, could see him.
He was a boy slow of words, but of a perpetual grin. His lack of fluency was further impeded by the fact that, when Inspector Pinkey interviewed him, he was sucking a very large sweet. He said that he had heard the shot and had commenced to run to the window in the anticipation - perhaps "hope" would not be an unfair word - that "something was up." He had been called back by the gardener, and had reluctantly continued weeding until Mr. Gerard had appeared from the window, and questioned him as to having seen anyone come out previously.
Had he done so? No - no one. Except, of course, Mr. Gerard. When? When he said. How long after the shot was fired? Quite a time. Five minutes? Yes, perhaps. Perhaps not. Quite a time. Mr. Gerard had come straight to him to know whether he had seen anything. Then he had gone on to question Mr. Bulger.
Mr. Bulger had conhrmed this. He had not heard any shot, being far too deaf, but he had seen the young imp start to run up the drive, and had called him back. He always did try to run away if he was left out of sight for a moment. He had supposed that he was trying to slip round the house to talk to Mabel, as usual. Mabel was the kitchen-maid. The Inspector, who did not miss much, remembered having noticed that she also appeared to be inordinately fond of sweets, but these facts did not occur to him as being of any material significance, either separately or in combination - about which he was to learn his error before many hours had passed.
There was another line of investigation which Inspector Trackfield had explored already. That was in reference to Mr. Redwing, Sir David's late secretary. He had been dismissed two days before the murder - dismissed suddenly on an accusation of financial dishonesty, which he had strenuously denied, after a very violent scene.
He was still lodging at the Railway Station Hotel scarcely two miles away. Inspector Trackfield admitted that he had fixed on him at the first as the most probable culprit. It appeared that he had said in the hotel bar that he would never leave the district till he had had his rights. He had been to a local solicitor who had declined to take up the case.
The only difficulty in fixing the murder upon him was that he had not been there. On that point the evidence appeared to be absolute and impregnable. The landlady of the hotel and about a dozen other disinterested people would swear to that. Inspector Pinkey decided to make his own enquiries in that direction also but he recognised that it did not sound a very hopeful one.
As he thought over the result of his first day's investigations he was inclined to the opinion that he might have stayed in London without any disadvantage to the ends of justice. Everyone might agree that Lady Denton was an attractive woman and unlikely to be a murderess but as Inspector Trackfield had said you can't go against the evidence. And once again if she hadn't done it who had?
Inspector Pinkey sat at breakfast with Lady Denton. They were alone. Mr. Gerard was understood to be unwell and having his breakfast in bed.
Lady Denton herself recurred to the subject on which they had already had conversation the previous evening.
"If there's anything you haven't asked me I hope you won't hesitate, whatever it is, if you think it might help to clear up the mystery."
"May I ask your own opinion, if you have formed one, Lady Denton?"
She paused before she replied, and then said: "I can't say that I've got one definitely. I don't think he'd have done such a thing, and then I'm told that Sir Lionel says it wouldn't have been easy to do; and yet it seems the only solution."
She looked straightly at the Inspector as she said this. She had very beautiful eyes. She was a woman of fragile appearance, but with small, firm lips and a rounded but resolute chin. Not one, he thought who would have been bullied very easily, even by such as the dead man was said to have been. She added:
"I know everyone's discussing whether I did it myself and I half thought Inspector Trackfield meant to have me arrested before I heard you were coming. But, you see, I happen to know that I didn't. So in that way I'm in a better position to judge than anyone else, and if I'm more inclined to think it was suicide, it may be a natural consequence."
Inspector Pinkey felt an awkwardness to which he was unaccustomed as his hostess expressed so plainly the suspicion which she knew to be directed upon her. He said: "Well, you see, in these cases we have to begin by suspecting everybody. You can't really blame him for that. There was one other question I thought I should like to ask you. Did you know - I mean, was it generally known that the revolver was kept in the desk drawer?"
"Yes, I knew that. Others may have done. I can't say for sure. I expect Mr. Redwing did, as he had charge of Sir David's correspondence and kept his drawers straight."
"Yes. I expect he would. You see, they both had revolvers of the same pattern, but of course you knew that. . . I mean, he knew that Sir David had it, but I can't say whether he knew where it was kept "
The Inspector had already been informed of the existence of the two weapons. They were a pair of a rather old pattern and of a calibre somewhat unusual today. Inspector Trackfield had told him that Gerard Denton had readily admitted his ownership, and had produced the pistol from the bottom of a trunk. Its appearance was consistent with his statement that it had not been used for years. He said that he had no ammunition, and had never loaded it in his life.
The Inspector went on: "Do you know whether Sir David was in the habit of keeping it loaded?. . . In an unlocked drawer?"
"I don't really know. I shouldn't have thought it was loaded. I don't think he'd have been so careless. He might leave any of his drawers unlocked. He was very careless about that."
"And there was a box of cartridges in the same drawer?"
"There was a box of something at the back of the drawer. I don't really know more than that. I never thought about it particularly. No doubt that's what it was."
Inspector Pinkey had an interval of silence. He gave some attention to his breakfast. It was really excellent bacon. He also considered the answers that he had just received. If they were true - and they appeared to be readily and frankly given - he could eliminate her from the enquiry. What remained? Suicide or Gerard Denton? Neither proposition could easily be reconciled with the facts, as he knew them. He said:
"In accepting a theory of suicide in a doubtful case such as this, it may be of some assistance if we can discover a motive - even one which may seem inadequate to a normal person. It is one of our difficulties that we can discover none here. Sir David was in good health. We have the evidence of the post-mortem and of his own doctor, which you confirm. He appears to have had no financial troubles. Blackmail or some other complication of double living explains some cases, but we can learn of nothing of the kind here. His carelessness regarding keys, of which you have just told me, is consistent with the absence of such worries. I understand that his papers have disclosed nothing. His bank account has no unexplained debits. Only domestic unhappiness remains as a possible explanation of self-destruction. If you could tell me that there was such unhappiness, it might supply the motive for which we are seeking, though there would still be the difficulty of the shot coming from behind."
It was subtly put. She may or may not have seen that an affirmative answer might be held to inculpate herself quite as much as it would support a theory of suicide, but she showed no sign of resentment, neither did she reply. She took up his last point only.
"Sir Lionel Tipshift considers it possible, as I have understood?"
"Yes. . . But still, a motive of any kind - "
She was silent, and then said deliberately: "It is a matter which I would rather not discuss, even with you. It was between him and me."
He recognised that she meant what she said, and that he could not press it. Indeed, her refusal to reply was admission enough. Not that he really believed in suicide. He thought it absurd.
He said quickly: "How about his brother? Was he on good terms with him?"
"No. Nobody was."
"You mean, no one was on good terms with your husband?"
"Yes. It wasn't easy."
"Well," he said, as Lady Denton rose from the table, "motive or no motive, it looks as though it's suicide that it's got to be. . . I want to get back if I can this afternoon. I'll just have a stroll round before I go."
"I've told the servants to give you any information they can and to do anything you ask. I mayn't see you again if you're going as soon as that."
She shook hands with a slight but sufficient cordiality, and as she left the room Gerard Denton came in.
If the difference between brothers is sometimes a very wide one, it is reasonable to observe that that between half-brothers may be wider still. Gerard Denton was under-sized, furtive, ingratiating, handsome in a feminine way. The sort of man who would be very likely to have breakfast upstairs if there were any trouble on the ground floor. Inspector Pinkey recognised that.
Whether or not he were the sort who could be roused by any desperation of circumstances to remove trouble out of his way by violent, treacherous means might be less sure.
The Inspector knew that his brother's death was to his advantage, as it was to that of the widow also. Such facts should not be accepted as proofs or even as bare evidence in the scales of justice, but he thought somewhat cynically how frequently - how almost invariably - in cases of violent or suspicious deaths it would be found that those who were financial gainers were most closely around the scene.
In this case Gerard Denton gained control of a capital sum of which his brother had been trustee during his lifetime, the income only coming into Gerard's hands, and even that as a matter of discretion rather than right. There were marriage settlements also through which Lady Denton benefitted by her husband's death. So that it was not a matter of the laws of inheritance or the doubt of a favourable will. In both cases there would be a change from financial dependence upon a mean and domineering man to one of an affluent freedom.
But, so far at least as Gerard was concerned, there was Lady Denton's own evidence that he had come from the library to join her on the scene of the tragedy. If it were false, what possible motive could she have for concealing his guilt at the cost of the suspicion which was consequently directed upon her?
Gerard did not look very pleased when he encountered Inspector Pinkey. He thought he had allowed sufficient time for that infernal red-headed policeman to clear out. He couldn't think why Adelaide had allowed him to stay in the house at all. Surely there were barracks for such as he?
He tried with indifferent success to look the affability which he did not feel, but his ordeal was not prolonged. The inspector had talked to him yesterday. He was not a man to waste words. He returned nervous civilities with others which were more self confident but equally insincere.
Then he went out, as he had told Lady Denton that he had intended to do.
Chief Inspector Pinkey did not intend to go back on the afternoon train. He had altered his mind. He was having lunch with Inspector Trackfield, and if his face wore a somewhat self-satisfied smile, he had cause for complacency. He had made a discovery during the morning which might be capable of innocent explanation, but seemed more likely to be one of those threads by which the whole fabric may be unravelled.
It began with a casual remark he had overheard as he passed the kitchen that morning. That might be luck. But the idea which it had brought into his mind was the result of his own efficiency. His auditor recognised the superior brilliance of the Yard technique with a generous measure of praise which concealed some natural annoyance. He knew that, if this clue should prove as important as it promised to be, there would be reflections and comparisons made. And it was so easy to see now that he ought not to have accepted the boy's assurance so easily.
"I thought" Inspector Pinkey suggested "that you might like to come with me when I question him and then we'd follow it up together. Two heads are better than one, and so are two witnesses to whatever's said."
Inspector Trackfield said that he would be pleased to come. Perhaps willing would have been a truer word. It could not give him much pleasure to play second fiddle on his own ground. He quite understood that Pinkey was to do the investigation and it would be his part to stand by. But all the same it was his duty. And Pinkey deserved it too. He got up to come.
They found the boy planting out winter cabbages. He had something in his mouth that impeded speech. The cheerful grin on his face altered somewhat as the two officers approached but was in fairly good working order by the time they were near enough to observe.
"Tommy where did you get that pound note that you changed at Mr. Cobbin's shop last Friday night?"
"Me aunt sent it me."
The Inspector showed no surprise. That was the tale that had been told when the note was changed. He asked: "Was it the aunt over Maidenhead way or the one at Rochester?"
The boy looked up suddenly. He knew that the Inspector was pulling his leg. He had no aunts.
"Tommy, who gave you that note?"
"It mighta been anyone."
"It might have been Mr. Gerard."
"I told yer I picked it up."
"We didn't hear that. . . Now Tommy you just listen to me. You've told lies enough and another one might mean that you'll be locked up for the night. Why did Mr. Gerard give you that note?"
"I didn't say as he did."
"You didn't say that he didn't, which meant just the same. Had he ever given you one before?"
"Then why did he give you one on Friday afternoon?"
"He musta thought as he would."
"No doubt he did. And you were to keep your mouth shut as to what you'd seen. . . Did you see him shoot Sir David?"
"Acourse not. I were down the bend o' the drive."
"But you saw him come out through the window after he'd done it?"
"He come out to speak to me."
"Then he came out twice?"
The boy's silence was sufficient answer. "We'll have a bit more to say to you later, Tommy."
The two officers went on to the house. They desired to interview Mr. Gerard before he should be aware of the discovery which they had made.
Mr. Gerard Denton received his visitors with a surface of nervous affability which was too thin to conceal the antipathy which underlay it.
"We've come to see you again, Mr. Denton, because you made a mistake. You should have given him half a crown."
Mr. Gerard looked, and may have been, genuinely puzzled for a moment by this opening.
"If there's anyone I ought to give half a crown to - " he began vaguely.
"I mean the gardener's boy."
Comprehension came and confusion with it.
"I suppose I can give the boy what I choose."
Mr. Denton was aware, even as he uttered it, of the weak futility of the reply.
"It's not a question of what you choose to give the boy, but of what explanation you choose to give us. We've heard what he has to say."
There was a good-humoured grimness about Inspector Pinkey in these crises of pursuit, such as that of a butcher who enjoys his job. He was apt to become quick and even epigrammatic in retort. The little awkwardness which he had felt at breakfast, when his hostess had herself suggested that she might have been cast for the role of criminal, would have disappeared very quickly had he once decided to so regard her.
Inspector Trackfield, who up to this point had been a silent learner of the methods of the central organisation, which were reputed to be so superior to his own, thought it right to interpose the remark that Mr. Denton was not obliged to make any reply which would incriminate himself, but of course any explanation he could offer. . .
"The fact is, I got flustered. . . It was a silly thing to do."
The reply came in a somewhat more confident tone, responding to that of the warning he had received, but it was Chief Inspector Pinkey who resumed charge of the conversation.
"It's never wise to get flustered."
"I didn't mean that. I mean, it was silly to give; the boy any money."
"It was silly to give the boy as much as you did. He's never stopped sucking sweets since he got it. . . Do you mind telling us why you gave him any at all? It's only fair to tell you, Mr. Denton, that we've had his account of the matter."
"Because he'd seen me come out of the window just before, and I didn't want to be mixed up in it more; than I could help."
"He saw you come out through the window twice."
"Yes, but - "
"Then, the statement you have already made is untrue?"
"Yes, but - "
"Should you like an opportunity of amending that statement? Suppose you call at the police station at seven this evening. That'll be a quiet time."
He did not look for a reply, and Gerard Denton understood that it was an order rather than an invitation. The two officers turned to go.
Inspector Trackfield was inwardly rather surprised at the respite which this arrangement gave.
"You feel sure he'll come," he said, as they went down the drive.
Chief Inspector Pinkey was in a genial mood. He had some reason for that, having demonstrated his ability to the rural mind. He gave a ready explanation.
"Yes, he'll come sure enough. It's that or a bolt, and if he bolts now it's just like hanging himself. He'll spend the time making up some lie or other that'll do the job in another way."
"He'll try to get hold of the boy."
"Yes, but he won't succeed. That's partly why I put him off till evening. We'll take the boy back with us now and have his statement first. We needn't let him leave till Mr. Gerard's walked in. . . It's another matter when he'll walk out and where to."
The boy was still at work on the drive. He was sweeping now, in a final clearance, near the gate.
"Tommy," said Inspector Pinkey, "how long was it after the shot was fired that Mr. Gerard came out of that window? I mean the first time he came out."
There was a pause before the reply came. The boy seemed confused, or possibly afraid lest he might increase the depth of the pit into which he had fallen already. His eyes seemed to dodge those of the Inspector, to look past or beyond him. At last he said:
"It wasn't after, it was before."
As he said this Inspector Trackfield looked round, following the direction of the boy's glance. Gerard Denton stood a few yards behind them.
Whether it was that they had been absorbed in their own conversation, or through the noise of the boy's sweeping on the gravel drive, or that he had followed on slippered feet, or that he had trodden the grassy edging of the drive, or a combination of these circumstances, the fact remained that the vital question had been asked and answered with the boy under his own eye.
"Mr. Denton, you've no right - " Inspector Pinkey began angrily, and then checked himself. It was seldom, indeed, that he lost his self-control in such ways.
"I suppose I can walk in my own drive?"
The Inspector did not answer. He said to the boy. "You'd better put that broom down and come with us."
The two officers looked at each other, and up to the clock. It was 7.5.
"He's five minutes late," Inspector Trackfield remarked.
"There's nothing in that," his companion answered, from the wisdom of a more extended experience. "They mostly are. A little late, but not much. They're too nervous to come before they're obliged, and too nervous to stay longer away."
"If that boy's tale's true, it must have been Lady Denton - "
"The boy's lying about that. He daren't tell the truth with Gerard Denton looking on, and now he's too frightened to change his tale."
" - or suicide."
"It wasn't that. We'll give him till the quarter-past."
But Mr. Gerard Denton did not come, even though they gave him till the half past, and so, at last, the two officers rose to make their way to the Grange, leaving instructions that he should be detained if he should call before their return.
Lady Denton was at dinner. She said that they should be asked into the dining-room. She seemed a little surprised, even a little agitated, at this untimely invasion. But she asked them courteously if they would join her at the meal.
They said no to that. Could they see Mr. Denton? Was he not in?
"I think there must have been a misunderstanding," she replied. "He told me that he was seeing you at the police station this evening.
"Yes, but he didn't come."
"He's not usually very punctual. I expect you'll find he's there now."
"Could you say how long it is since he left the house?"
"He hasn't been in since just after tea. At least, I think not. He asked me to walk with him as he'd got something to tell me, so I went a little way, and then turned back. I understood that he was staying out till it was time for his appointment with you. But it wasn't clear. He seemed rather upset."
"Which way did he go?"
"He went a little way up the Highcombe Road - the old road - the one that goes over the hill."
Inspector Pinkey looked inquiry at his companion. He knew little of the local roads.
"He might have gone over the hill and come back through Longwater. It wouldn't take much over the hour at a steady pace."
They went back to the police station, but Gerard Denton was not there.
It was eleven next morning before they found him. He lay among the rough stones of the quarry pit with a smashed arm and a broken neck. It was not a fall that any man could survive, nor was it one that could have been an accident of the dark. Not, at least, to one who knew the road, as he must have done. There was a closed gate to pass, and a walk along the quarry edge which was a mere track. It led nowhere.
Chief Inspector Pinkey looked at the dead man as they carried him to the mortuary.
"Well." he said, "it's not how I like a case to end, though it saves trouble all round. He's made his statement now."
"I wonder," Inspector Trackfield said to himself. He recognised the ability with which the Scotland Yard expert had probed the dead man's lie, but he still had a little stubborn unwillingness to acquit the woman whom he would have arrested, and against whom he would now have been working up the case, had he been left to follow his own way.
But Chief Inspector Pinkey had no doubt. He had solved the problem, as he had been instructed to do, and there was just time to get back to the station for the midday train. Inspector Trackfield ordered the car.
Adelaide Denton lay in the moonlit room and looked up at the stars. She had been told by a psychologist that if anyone tries to put a matter aside, refusing to think of it, it may remain festering in the mind like a sore that is surface-healed; but that if it be boldly faced and considered, it will fade out in a natural manner. "There is nothing," he had said, "too terrible for a resolute mind to face it successfully; but it may be fatal to run away."
Well, she would face it. She would justify or condemn herself. She was not fond of running away.
A fortnight ago, she would not have thought it possible that such things could enter her life. She had been unfaithful to her husband two years earlier. But that was a buried thing. No one knew. No one suspected. The man was dead. She was not sorry now. Not in the least. She had never had any mental difficulty in facing that sin.
But she had been foolish, sentimentally foolish, to keep the letters. Foolish beyond words, She would admit that. But for that she would not have killed - have had to kill two men.
Even so, things might have not happened as they had if she had not discovered Redwing's dishonesty, and denounced him to her husband.
"You'll be sorry for this before you're through." Those had been his words to her as he had left the house, and after that she had found that the letters were gone.
She went over every incident in her mind, not seeing where she should have done differently, till she came to last Friday, when she had seen the postman drop the afternoon letters into the box. She had been just too late - a mere five seconds too late to take them from him. It had all hinged upon that. And among them had been the packet addressed to her husband in Redwing's unmistakable writing, the contents of which were so easy to guess, and which he must never see. She had seen the writing plainly through the small, round, glazed window of the letterbox, which would have been too small, even had she broken it, for the packet to come through.
But she could have broken the box. She saw that now. In any way, with any tool, at any cost of fantastic explanation afterwards. But, instead of that, she had tried to get David to give her the key. The revolver had been a last resort of panic. She had not meant to use it. It had been to give her courage, confidence that there was such a resort, though it would never come to that.
And could she have been expected to remember how that French window reflected at the one side, against the dark background of shrubs? He had seen, and another second would have been too late. . . There had been the ungovernable impulse of the instant's panic. . . The clumsy upward shot. . . She had not been used to the handling of firearms. It had been almost chance where the bullet went. . . Well, it would be no use thinking any more about that!
And so she came to last night. She had not known - had not guessed till Gerald had told her - the full peril in which she stood. How could she have told that he had been talking with David but a moment before she entered the room? That he had gone out by the window, and walked round to the library, as he often did, and scarcely reached it when he heard the shot and her scream?
If he had told that tale, and the boy had said the same, as no doubt he would, it would have been like a rope round her neck.
And he believed she did it. He had begged her to confess. Had said that, being a woman, it wasn't likely to be "the worst" for her. The worst for her! And the best would have been fifteen years in a prison cell!
Had she had the thought in her mind when she had led him to the quarry side? "Come this way, we can talk quietly here." Honestly she could not be sure when the thought had come. But at last he had made it an easy thing. He had naturally given her the inside of the narrow path. There was not room for two, unless one should be willing to be torn on the brambled hedge. And as he had talked in his agitation, he had not been overcareful of where he went.
Yet she would not fool herself about that. At the last, it had been deliberately done. She remembered the thought that it must not be done so that he could catch at her as he fell. And then it had been such an easy thing! She need not have pushed nearly as hard as she did. He would have overbalanced at a mere touch. She knew that now. And in ten seconds he must have been dead.
It had been far, far the best - you might call it the only way.