Mrs. Butler came down to dinner that night. She was more cheerful than I had yet seen her, and she had changed her mournful garments to something a trifle less depressing. With her masses of fair hair dressed high, and her face slightly animated, I realized what I had not done before—that she was the wreck of a very beautiful woman. Frail as she was, almost shrinkingly timid in her manner, there were times when she drew up her tall figure in something like its former stateliness. She had beautiful eyebrows, nearly black and perfectly penciled; they were almost incongruous in her colorless face.
She was very weak; she used a cane when she walked, and after dinner, in the library, she was content to sit impassive, detached, propped with cushions, while Margery read to the boys in their night nursery and Edith embroidered.
Fred had been fussing over a play for some time, and he had gone to read it to some manager or other. Edith was already spending the royalties.
"We could go a little ways out of town," she was saying, "and we could have an automobile; Margery says theirs will be sold, and it will certainly be a bargain. Jack, are you laughing at me?"
"Certainly not," I replied gravely. "Dream on, Edith. Shall we train the boys as chauffeurs, or shall we buy in the Fleming man, also cheap."
"I am sure," Edith said aggrieved, "that it costs more for horse feed this minute for your gray, Jack, than it would for gasolene."
"But Lady Gray won't eat gasolene," I protested. "She doesn't like it."
Edith turned her back on me and sewed. Near me, Mrs. Butler had languidly taken up the paper; suddenly she dropped it, and when I stooped and picked it up I noticed she was trembling.
"Is it true?" she demanded. "Is Robert Clarkson dead?"
"Yes," I assented. "He has been dead since Sunday morning—a suicide."
Edith had risen and come over to her. But Mrs. Butler was not fainting.
"I'm glad, glad," she said. Then she grew weak and semi-hysterical, laughing and crying in the same breath. When she had been helped up-stairs, for in her weakened state it had been more of a shock than we realized, Margery came down and we tried to forget the scene we had just gone through.
"I am glad Fred was not here," Edith confided to me. "Ellen is a lovely woman, and as kind as she is mild; but in one of her—attacks, she is a little bit trying."
It was strange to contrast the way in which the two women took their similar bereavements. Margery represented the best type of normal American womanhood; Ellen Butler the neurasthenic; she demanded everything by her very helplessness and timidity. She was a constant drain on Edith's ready sympathy. That night, while I closed the house—Fred had not come in—I advised her to let Mrs. Butler go back to her sanatorium.
At twelve-thirty I was still down-stairs; Fred was out, and I waited for him, being curious to know the verdict on the play. The bell rang a few minutes before one, and I went to the door; some one in the vestibule was tapping the floor impatiently with his foot. When I opened the door, I was surprised to find that the late visitor was Wardrop.
He came in quietly, and I had a chance to see him well, under the hall light; the change three days had made was shocking. His eyes were sunk deep in his head, his reddened lids and twitching mouth told of little sleep, of nerves ready to snap. He was untidy, too, and a three days' beard hardly improved him.
"I'm glad it's you," he said, by way of greeting. "I was afraid you'd have gone to bed."
"It's the top of the evening yet," I replied perfunctorily, as I led the way into the library. Once inside, Wardrop closed the door and looked around him like an animal at bay.
"I came here," he said nervously, looking at the windows, "because I had an idea you'd keep your head. Mine's gone; I'm either crazy, or I'm on my way there."
"Sit down, man," I pushed a chair to him. "You don't look as if you have been in bed for a couple of nights."
He went to each of the windows and examined the closed shutters before he answered me.
"I haven't. You wouldn't go to bed either, if you thought you would never wake up."
"Well, it's true enough. Knox, there are people following me wherever I go; they eat where I eat; if I doze in my chair they come into my dreams!" He stopped there, then he laughed a little wildly. "That last isn't sane, but it's true. There's a man across the street now, eating an apple under a lamppost."
"Suppose you are under surveillance," I said. "It's annoying to have a detective following you around, but it's hardly serious. The police say now that Mr. Fleming killed himself; that was your own contention."
He leaned forward in his chair and, resting his hands on his knees, gazed at me somberly.
"Suppose I say he didn't kill himself?" slowly. "Suppose I say he was murdered? Suppose—good God—suppose I killed him myself?"
I drew back in stupefaction, but he hurried on.
"For the last two days I've been wondering—if I did it! He hadn't any weapon; I had one, his. I hated him that day; I had tried to save him, and couldn't. My God, Knox, I might have gone off my head and done it—and not remember it. There have been cases like that."
His condition was pitiable. I looked around for some whisky, but the best I could do was a little port on the sideboard. When I came back he was sitting with bent head, his forehead on his palms.
"I've thought it all out," he said painfully. "My mother had spells of emotional insanity. Perhaps I went there, without knowing it, and killed him. I can see him, in the night, when I daren't sleep, toppling over on to that table, with a bullet wound in his head, and I am in the room, and I have his revolver in my pocket!"
"You give me your word you have no conscious recollection of hearing a shot fired."
"My word before Heaven," he said fervently. "But I tell you, Knox, he had no weapon. No one came out of that room as I went in and yet he was only swaying forward, as if I had shot him one moment, and caught him as he fell, the next. I was dazed; I don't remember yet what I told the police."
The expression of fear in his eyes was terrible to see. A gust of wind shook the shutters, and he jumped almost out of his chair.
"You will have to be careful," I said. "There have been cases where men confessed murders they never committed, driven by Heaven knows what method of undermining their mental resistance. Yon expose your imagination to 'third degree' torture of your own invention, and in two days more you will be able to add full details of the crime."
"I knew you would think me crazy," he put in, a little less somberly, "but just try it once: sit in a room by yourself all day and all night, with detectives watching you; sit there and puzzle over a murder of a man you are suspected of killing; you know you felt like killing him, and you have a revolver, and he is shot. Wouldn't you begin to think as I do?"
"Wardrop," I asked, trying to fix his wavering eyes with mine, "do you own a thirty-two caliber revolver?"
I was startled beyond any necessity, under the circumstances. Many people have thirty-twos.
"That is, I had," he corrected himself. "It was in the leather bag that was stolen at Bellwood."
"I can relieve your mind of one thing," I said. "If your revolver was stolen with the leather bag, you had nothing to do with the murder. Fleming was shot with a thirty-two." He looked first incredulous, then relieved.
"Now, then," I pursued, "suppose Mr. Fleming had an enemy, a relentless one who would stoop to anything to compass his ruin. In his position he would be likely to have enemies. This person, let us say, knows what you carry in your grip, and steals it, taking away the funds that would have helped to keep the lid on Fleming's mismanagement for a time. In the grip is your revolver; would you know it again?"
He nodded affirmatively.
"This person—this enemy finds the revolver, pockets it and at the first opportunity, having ruined Fleming, proceeds humanely to put him out of his suffering. Is it far-fetched?"
"There were a dozen—a hundred—people who would have been glad to ruin him." His gaze wavered again suddenly. It was evident that I had renewed an old train of thought.
"For instance?" I suggested, but he was on guard again.
"You forget one thing, Knox," he said, after a moment. "There was nobody else who could have shot him: the room was empty."
"Nonsense," I replied. "Don't forget the warehouse."
"There is no doubt in my mind that he was shot from there. He was facing the open window, sitting directly under the light, writing. A shot fired through a broken pane of one of the warehouse windows would meet every requirement of the case: the empty room, the absence of powder marks—even the fact that no shot was heard. There was a report, of course, but the noise in the club-house and the thunder-storm outside covered it."
"By George!" he exclaimed. "The warehouse, of course. I never thought of it." He was relieved, for some reason.
"It's a question now of how many people knew he was at the club, and which of them hated him enough to kill him."
"Clarkson knew it," Wardrop said, "but he didn't do it."
"Because it was he who came to the door of the room while the detective and you and I were inside, and called Fleming."
I pulled out my pocket-book and took out the scrap of paper which Margery had found pinned to the pillow in her father's bedroom. "Do you know what that means?" I asked, watching Wardrop's face. "That was found in Mr. Fleming's room two days after he left home. A similar scrap was found in Miss Jane Maitland's room when she disappeared. When Fleming was murdered, he was writing a letter; he said: 'The figures have followed me here.' When we know what those figures mean, Wardrop, we know why he was killed and who did it."
He shook his head hopelessly.
"I do not know," he said, and I believed him. He had got up and taken his hat, but I stopped him inside the door.
"You can help this thing in two ways," I told him. "I am going to give you something to do: you will have less time to be morbid. Find out, if you can, all about Fleming's private life in the last dozen years, especially the last three. See if there are any women mixed up in it, and try to find out something about this eleven twenty-two."
"Eleven twenty-two," he repeated, but I had not missed his change of expression when I said women.
"Also," I went on, "I want you to tell me who was with you the night you tried to break into the house at Bellwood."
He was taken completely by surprise: when he had gathered himself together his perplexity was overdone.
"With me!" he repeated. "I was alone, of course."
"I mean—the woman at the gate."
He lost his composure altogether then. I put my back against the door and waited for him to get himself in hand.
"There was a woman," I persisted, "and what is more, Wardrop, at this minute you believe she took your Russia leather bag and left a substitute."
He fell into the trap.
"But she couldn't," he quavered. "I've thought until my brain is going, and I don't see how she could have done it."
He became sullen when he saw what he had done, refused any more information, and left almost immediately.
Fred came soon after, and in the meantime I had made some notes like this:
1. Examine warehouse and yard.
2. Attempt to trace Carter.
3. See station agent at Bellwood.
4. Inquire Wardrop's immediate past.
5. Take Wardrop to Doctor Anderson, the specialist.
6. Send Margery violets.