THE JADE GOD
MR. JARRAD, who was a tall man with observant eyes and impassive face, fingered a bowl on the mantelpiece.
“One six inch Delft, slightly chipped in two places,” he drawled.
Another man, younger, slighter, and lacking Mr. Jarrad’s somewhat world weary manner, looked up from a large book spread open on the table.
“In two places,” he repeated in a mechanical way. Mr. Jarrad put his ear to the clock. “One black marble time-piece, apparently in good order, complete with key. Keyhole somewhat scratched.”
A Novel Length Story Complete in this Issue
“Somewhat scratched,” came the echo.
“Comparing this room with about three thousand others I have inventoried’ ” hazarded Mr. Jarrad, “I rather like it.”
The young man laid down his pen. “I thought you were past liking anything in this line.”
“Two pewter candlesticks, all feet bent. No, I’m thankful for what I don’t see. Ever think how much people are run by things?”
“No, I haven’t. As a matter of fact they’re not.” Mr. Jarrad grunted. “Matter of fact they are. You think again. The getting together of things may make jobs for you and me, but it is the finish of half the entire number of what we call civilized women.”
“It’ll never finish my woman,” said the young man, with a smile. “We haven’t got any to speak of.”
His companion nodded approvingly. “You keep like
that, and you’ll do. It’s the accumulation of things that makes life drag, and anchors folks’ souls as well as their bodies. First of all, when a girl is married, she starts collecting things. Children may come, but that makes no difference and she goes on collecting. What is remarkable is that half of them are not ornamental, and about three quarters of them are never used. That makes no difference either and she goes on. At middle age they’ve got her. The odds are that she’s surrounded by them. They may be carved wood from Burmah, Birmingham brass from Egypt, bamboo furniture from India, assegais from Africa, deer heads from Scotland, elephants’feet from Ceylon—all as ugly as ugliness can be, and yet she thinks that is what makes home. After a while she dies—the new generation comes along—holds up its hands—throws it all out—and begins to do the same thing over again.”
HAVING delivered himself of these sentiments, Mr.
Jarrad gave a smile. His face, though shrewd, had no trace of cynicism. Forty years spent in estimat-
ing the value of other peoples’ property, had produced in his mind rather a curious effect. He now judged his fellow man by the things he owned and apparently treasured. Experience enabled him to form an excellent appraisal of any individual by merely walking through his house. And if the job bored him, he never disclosed it.
“Now these things,” he went on with a wave of the hand, “are good and not too numerous. They belong to Thursby, who bought the place from Mr. Millicent, the former owner. Mrs. Thursby isn't the kind to collect such as this,” he touched a bit of lacquer with what almost amounted to a caress. “Ever hear about this house?”
Dawkins, the younger man, shook his head.
“Mr. Millicent died very suddenly in this very room. They found him at that desk—young man, too. In perfect health in the morning and apparently without an enemy in the world. At ten o’clock in the evening, he was found lying across that desk with a wound in his throat, big enough to put your hand into!”
“Who?” said Dawkins, startled.
Mr. Jarrad shrugged his shoulders. “That's what the coroner tried to find out—and failed. No proof against anyone. No strange characters about—no clues— nothing to hang an arrest on. It’s never been cleared up to this day. Mrs. Millicent sold the place at once to the Thursbys, but she finds it too lonely, so they’re renting. That’s how your client happens to be here.”
Dawkins glanced about uncomfortably. “It’s a queer old place, anyway. Isn’t haunted is it?”
“Never heard a whisper, and that's the sort of thing you can’t keep quiet.”
“I wonder,” said the young man thoughtfully, “if my client knows about this.”
Mr. Jarrad’s brows went up. “In our business it does not concern us what our clients may or may not know.” He paused, while his gaze wandered round the room, then peered under the clock, lifted a picture and examined the wall behind it, and finally drew a finger across the surface of the mantel.
“Condition, I should say, is excellent.”
Dawkins got up and made an inspection on his own account. It suddenly seemed that he had been taking what Jarrad said too much for granted.
"Only fair, 1 should say.”
Jarrad made a little noise in his throat. “I’m sorry you disagree. Do we arbitrate?”
Dawkins nodded. “Of course.”
The older man felt in his pocket, produced a coin, and flipped it into the air.
“Heads,” said Dawkins.
“It’s tails,” said Jarrad contentedly, make a note of that will you?”
Dawkins turned to the table—and stopped short. Just inside the door was standing a middle-aged woman, regarding them with grim attention. She had a square, sallow face, tight lips, a long thin nose and large black eyes in which smouldered a dull fire. Her general air was one of distinct animosity. Jarrad turned slowly, and, seeing her, gave a slight start. In the short silence that followed they both felt increasingly uncomfortable, and wondered how long she had been there.
“Mr. Derrick is just coming up the drive,” she said. Jarrad rubbed his hands with relief. “Excellent,” he answered, “excellent. My colleague and I have just completed our work. It may interest you as housekeeper, Miss Perkins, to learn that we find the house in admirable condition.” He threw this out with a fervent hope that his last procedure had escaped detection.
“That woman has been here since Mr. Millicent first came. She was here when he died, she stayed with the Thursbys and I don’t mind betting she’ll stay with your clients too. What keeps her in such a lonely place, I don’t know.”
Dawkins did not answer. He was conscious that since the history of the room had been unfolded, it felt rather oppressive. The noiseless appearance of Perkins was suggestive of something he did not understand. He experienced a sudden longing for more light and air. Then quick steps sounded in the hall, and Derrick entered. Jarrad assumed an attitude of professional dignity.
“Good morning, sir. My colleague and I have just finished our work. You will find everything in excellent order. \ ou may rest assured that your interests have been well looked after.”
rYERRICK, a tall young man with restless eyes, did not seem much impressed and nodded casually. After a little pause, the others went out. A moment later Mrs. Derrick came in, short, alert, businesslike. Her husband looked at her with a smile.
“Well, here we are.”
‘Yes, and isn’t it an awful feeling? When will the Thursbys be here?”
He^ glanced at his watch. “They should be here
I want to speak to her about that maid. Did you notice her?” The voice lifted a little.
‘‘Yes—do you want her?”
I don t exactly know. She rather gives me the creeps.”
“What’s the matter, old thing?”
She gave a little comfortless laugh. “I can’t exactly saY r ^ s Ibis house—and all the rest of it.”
Why were you so keen on it?”
Derrick looked about, as though he saw something more than furniture and pictures. “I really don’t know. But I was and I am. I took a fancy to this room especially.”
She surveyed the old panelling, the oak floors, the b’g fireplace, the massive desk—all the possessions of the departed Millicent, whose portrait dominated the room. “There’s nothing unusual about it, is there?”
“I’m not so sure. Yes, I think there is.”
Her brows wrinkled. “Jack, we might as well be perfectly honest at the very start. We were tired of a flat in town. We passed this place in the car, saw the sign and you fell a victim at once. In consequence, we stretched everything to come here and gratify your fancy, though it s really more than we should have attempted. You’ve got to admit that.”
Derrick grinned. “I do—go on.”
“Well, it’s the same with that maid. She’ll want more than we can really afford to pay—just another luxury we 11 have to live up to. In a lonely place like this, has to give top wages.”
“How much does she ask?”
I don’t know. I’m almost afraid to enquire.”
“I wonder,” said Derrick slowly, “whether we’ve taken the house, or the house has taken us.”
She glanced at him helplessly. “The result is the same in any case, isn’t it?”
He shook his head. “I’m not so sure.”
MRS. DERRICK regarded the placid features in the big frame above the mantel. “I wonder who that is—certainly not one of the Thursbys. Jack, you seem to have one of your queer fits tc-day.”
“Matter of fact I do feel a bit queer, but there’s no anxiety in it. It’s just the preliminary quiver to settling down. I’ve a feeling that we were meant to come here.” She smiled indulgently. They had been married only a year and were very happy. She had married him because he was different from all the others. Now she was just beginning to find out how different he was. An arm rested caressingly on her shoulder, then Derrick seated himself on the corner of the big desk.
“I think we’re going to be jolly happy and comfortable here, and I’ll certainly get a lot of work done.” He laughed contentedly, then suddenly jerked up his hand and regarded it strangely.
“What is it?” she said curiously.
He stared at the desk, shook his head with some confusion and examined his fingers.
“Don’t know,” he said awkwardly. “Writer’s cramp, perhaps.”
“But you have never complained of it before. I’ll save up and get you a typewriter.”
The mood passed as quickly as it came. “Look here, Mary; we’ve taken this house—and we’re in for it— whatever that means. Don’t take all the starch out of me to begin with. Do—you—want—that—maid?”
She was about to answer, when there came a knock at the door, and Perkins entered.
“If you please, madam, Mr. and Mrs. Thursby are coming up through the garden.”
Mrs. Derrick nodded. “Please bring them in here. And, Perkins—”
“It—it doesn’t matter now. I’ll see you afterwards.” The maid went out, and Derrick glanced curiously at his wife. “What’s up?”
She blinked and pulled herself together. “I don’t know. That girl made me feel a little odd. What an extraordinary expression she has.”
THE Thursbys came in, at once reducing the atmosphere to normal. Mr. Thursby was short, brisk and obviously unimaginative. He dressed rather loudly, and spoke in a sharp staccato. He was eloquent of business prosperity. Mrs. Thursby, his feminine counterpart, reflected his success. She bad a rcund, plump
A NOVEL IN ONE ISSUE
THE JADE GOD,” Alan Sullivan’s entrancing story, which is published complete in this issue, will be the forerunner of other full length novels that will be published in a single issue from time to time. It is an innovation in Canadian magazine journalism in which MacLean's takes a modest pride.
face, stubby and equally plump fingers, red cheeks and a high pitched voice. The firelight fell on her glossy furs. It struck Derrick that they were both trying to conceal bow glad they were at having unloaded the house on someone else.
“How do you both do,” she said cheerfully. “Isn’t it odd to come in here and find someone else sitting on one’s own chairs? I do hope you like the house.”
Mrs. Derrick smiled. “It’s a good deal larger than we realized at first, but it seems very comfortable. My husband has quite fallen in love with it. The things in it are charming.”
“That’s good, but as a matter of fact I didn’t choose one of them.”
“I picked up the place just as it stood,” remarked. Mr. Thursby complacently. “We were motoring past and saw the sign. Took a fancy to it, and bought it next day. I’m not one to haggle about price.”
“So we took it over with the servants—just as they stood.” chimed in his wife. “The only trouble was that most of them stood too much—in fact, all of them except Perkins.”
Mrs. Derrick glanced up. “Really?”
“She’s no beauty,” volunteered Thursby genially, “but she’s a whale for work. How do you like the place, Mr. Derrick?”
“Very much. According to my wife I’m the guilty party in taking it. This room appeals to me especially.”
Mr. Thursby shot a swift glance at the plump lady on the sofa, who shook her head ever so slightly. Then his eye rested for a fraction of a second on the features over the mantel, as though asking the late owner whether he
desired any publicity, and received apparently the same
“It is a good room,” he agreed.
“Didn’t you use it much?”
A/fRS. THURSBY gave a little shiver. “It’s very •I’-*queer, but do you know we never cared for it. I like something brighter than old wood and old pictures. Never cared for leather myself.”
Mrs. Derrick concealed her surprise. “I’d like to have a talk with you for a moment about Perkins, if you don’t
Thursby laughed. “Your wife is as practical as mine, so I’ll take the opportunity, Mr. Derrick, of showing you one or two things about the place that might be useful.” The men went out, and Mrs. Thursby glanced a little uncomfortably at her hostess.
“I don’t know that I can really tell you so very much.” “May I ask how long you have had her? I’d really be grateful for anything you can tell me.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Thursby, “we had her while we were in the house, which was two years.”
“Do you know anything of her before that?”
“No, we found her here. She was with Mrs. Millicent before that.”
“And you found her quite satisfactory?”
“She is absolutely clean and superior, very superior.” Mrs. Derrick smiled again. “I’m just wondering if she isn’t too much so for us. We live very quietly.” The other woman scrutinized her with utter frankness, then shook her head. “I’ve an idea she’ll like you a good deal better than she seemed to like me. She made no pretence of that.”
“She seems very respectful.”
“She’s the sou! of respect, but too reserved for me. I like a bit of a brush with my servants now and again. It clears the air.”
Mrs. Derrick conquered a smile. “Were her references good?”
“I never asked for any. I hadn’t the cheek. She was here in charge when we came in to inspect the house, and I got a sort of idea that she must go with it. I never even saw Mrs. Millicent.”
“Who is Mrs. Millicent?”
RS. THURSBY’S eyes sought the portrait that hung immediately over her head. She seemed to be
regretting something she had let slip. When she spoke it was with a reluctance that she gradually overcame in the interest of her subject.
“We bought the place from them. Mr. Millicent died here—very suddenly.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, in this very room.” Mrs. Thursby warmed a little, as though it was good to reflect that it was now someone else’s room. “Mrs. Millicent put the house on the market at once. He was found at that desk—by Perkins I’m told.”
“I wish I’d known that,” said Mrs. Derrick thoughtfully.
“Would it have made any difference?”
“Not to my husband, but I don’t want him to know now. I hope Mr. Thursby won’t say anything.”
The stout woman laughed. “They are probably talking about central heat and garden mould. Any way, that’s how we found Perkins, and I must say she has kept the house spotless. Just the same I used to feel like telling. her to shout it out and not be so quiet. And I know she never liked me.”
“Well, you asked me, so I’m telling you. She’d sooner have things old and dull like this, while I like ’em new and shiny. I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s why she’s willing to stay.”
“It helps so much to have someone who knows the house,” murmured Mrs. Derrick.
“It’s a queer house,” said the other woman impulsively. “You don’t think it’s haunted?”
Much to her surprise, Mrs. Thursby only made a gesture of dissent. “No, we’ve never been bothered by anything like that. We hear a bit of creaking now and then, but only when.the central heat is on”. She paused, then added quite frankly, “I think you’ll do for Perkins. •Just don’t take any notice of her, and everything will be alright.” She hesitated a moment. “You know it’s queer that we should both be motoring past this place, both see the sign and both take it. You haven’t been married very long, have you?”
“No—just a year. My husband writes, and is busy on a novel now. We were looking for some quiet spot where he would not be disturbed.”
“You’ll find it quiet enough here,” said Mrs. Thursby significantly.
VTOICES were heard in the hall, and Derrick entered ’ with his landlord. He wa3 unusually animated, as though Beech Lodge had unfolded unexpected attrac-
“Now I’ll know what to go about at once,” he said cheerfully. “Mr. Thursby has shown me everything.”
His wife nodded. “How very kind. It’s time for/tea.” Mrs. Thursby rose mountainously. “I’m awfully sorry, but we won’t be able to stay.”
“Thanks, just the same,” put in her husband hastily, “but as a matter of fact we have to be back in town within the hour, and we must hustle along. If you’re ready Helen, we’ll start now'. Good-bye, Mrs. Derrick. I hope you’ll be comfortable. I’ll be passing next w'eek and will look you up.”
It was all so abrupt that Mrs. Derrick was a little startled. “Can’t you really stay?
Tea is ready now.” She rang the bell.
“We’d love to,” Mrs. Thursby assured her,
“but it’s quite impossible. We’ll look forward to it next time.”
Derrick glanced at his visitors, puzzled.
It struck him that the manner of their departure was unaccountably hasty. Then he observed that the door had opened, and Perkins stood motionless on the threshold.
“You rang, Madam?”
Mrs. Derrick nodded. “Mr. and Mrs.
Thursby are going now.”
Perkins disappeared into the hall, followed by Derrick and his visitors. Mrs. Derrick looked after them with a touch of wonder.
The whole thing had been queer and unnatural.
Why were they so anxious to leave? The excuse had sounded hollow. Presently she heard the horn of Thursby’s car, then the dwindling note of its engine. When Derrick came back, she ordered tea, and looked at him expectantly. The fire was low and the room seemed unnaturally cold. Derrick rubbed his hands.
“Well, that’s done, and I’ve nothing more CO learn about Beech Lodge. Thursby has spent more money here than I realised at first, it any rate, here we are in full possession.”
“That ’s just what I feel,” she said thoughtfully.
“Did you decide about Perkins?”
Some unknown influence drew Mrs. Derrick's gaze to the portrait above the mantel.
¡‘I think I’ll keep her—if she’ll stay.”
Derrick nodded. “I thought you would.
Ihe’s an uncommon woman.”
“I wonder if she’s too uncommon,” murmurid his wife.
rHE door opened as she spoke and Perkins came in with the tray. The two glanced at each other, and vatched her silently. The long, deft, fingers seemed to inger over Mrs. Derrick’s silver, as though the touch of t gave a definite pleasure, and moved with a sort of deiberate precision. It w as difficult to imagine a woman ike this making a mistake. Then she went out, as silnt as themselves. As the door closed, Derrick made .n involuntary movement.
“What is it, Jack?”
He laughed. “I don’t know. Seems to me there’s omething queer about everything.” He paused. “Don’t mu feel it?”
His wife did not answer at once. She already knew nough of her husband’s imaginative nature to realise that f he learned that the late owner of Beech Lodge had ome to an end very suddenly in this very room, it would 5ad his mind far from his present work and fill it with lictures she would find it hard to disperse. She must :eep that from him at all costs.
“1 had quite a talk with Mrs. Thursby,” she said casally. “It was mostly about Perkins.”
“What did she tell you?”
“That Perkins made her feel almost like an intruder,” he laughed.
Derrick put down his cup. “Do you know I can nagine that. A good many people would feel that ray about the Thursby couple. It’s their property, but I egan to feel that way myself. But it’s different with s. We were expected.”
“Don’t be absurd, Jack. By whom?”
“By Perkins,” he chuckled. “Who else?”
“Jack,” she protested, “you’re rambling.”
“I may be—but I’m right.”
“How could anyone who didn’t know us expect us?” He glanced at her seriously. “Did you never have a irious sensation that you were doing things for the se>nd time?”
“No,” he said gravely, “I’m not, I can’t explain , and I’ve an idea in the back of my head that these lings are not meant to be explained. 1 felt It the minie we came here.”
“Nonsense! We saw the house—we liked it, especUy you—we decided we couldn’t afford it—and of mrse we took it. What has a servant or anyone else > do with that?”
“And don’t forget that we saw Perkins when we saw
the house. What do you suppose?” he asked reflectively, “keeps a woman like that in a place like this—miles from anywhere?”
“It’s generally a young man; and if you go on building up fantastic ideas, we’ll soon be sorry we came here.” She gave a little laugh. “It ought to be a wonderful place to work in. More tea?”
“What did Mr. Thursby talk about?”
“Mostly roses and furnace grates.” He broke off, and looked at her with an expression at once sudden and intense. “I say, did anyone die in this room quite recently?”
“What do you mean?” she stammered.
“Just that. I’m perfectly certain someone did.”
“Mrs. Thursby said that—that—”
“Yes,” he demanded impatiently.
“That Mr. Millicent, the former owner, died here about two years ago,” she whispered.
Derrick stared at the portrait. “That’s it,” he nodded, “and that’s Millicent.”
“Jack, what’s the matter with you?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing whatever, only that that portrait has been trying to tell me something, ever since wp came into the house. Now I’ve got it.” “But how on earth do you know?” she asked nervously. “Can’t tell you—must have heard it somewhere. No I didn’t.” He paused, stammering, “I know—that’s all.”
MARY DERRICK felt utterly confused. She was a practical girl with a healthy aversion to anything that might tend to upset the run of ordinary life. Imagination had never made her uncomfortable. But now she experienced a sudden distaste for her new surroundings. It would be difficult, she decided, foi Jack to be normal here.
“I don’t believe I’m going to like this house after all,” she hazarded.
He laughed outright. “Buck up, old thing, and you must’nt mind if I wander a bit. Here we are, and it’s too late to take exceptions after signing a year’s lease.” “It seems to me,” she said doubtfully, “that you've been in a sort of half world ever since we got here. Now I must settle this matter of Perkins so see if you can't find something cheerful in the garden.”
He kissed her, and walked toward the door. Halfway there he spoke over his shoulder.
"If I might suggest, when you’re talking to Perkins, it would be a good idea to just imagine this house without her. I’ll send her up.”
Mrs. Derrick sat for a moment deep in thought. What was there to be anxious about after all? Jack’s fanciful mind had unearthed something about which he must have learned very soon in any case. The fact of Millicent’s death could mean nothing to the new tenants, and the air was now' clear. The house was charming and well arranged, and they had leased it on surprisingly favourable terms. She felt piqued w'ith herself at having been upset, and determined to take less notice, in future, of her husband’s whimsical ideas. Then she looked up and saw Perkins.
“You sent for me, madam?” she asked.
\ fRS. DERRICK glanced at her brightly. Perkins -LVA was about forty, and appeared never to have been young. There wras no trace of expression on the sallow' face and but for an occasional gleam in the dark eyes she might have been an image. Mrs. Derrick wondered what sort of a private life was led by a woman who looked like this. But the fact remained that she wras extremely competent.
“I’ve had a chat with Mrs. Thursby about you, Perkins, and it was very satisfactory.”
“So, if you’d like to stay, I’ll be very glad to have you.” Perkins’ lips moved ever so slightly, and the faintest trace of amusement flitted over the blank features.
“I alw'ays stay, madam,” she said slowly.
Mrs. Derrick stared at her. “I don’t quite understand?” “I stayed w'ith Mrs. Millicent, and even w'ith Mrs. Thursby—and I’m willing to stay with you.”
This announcement was made with such calm decision that Mrs. Derrick found herself for a moment robbed of speech. The woman seemed neither friendly nor hostile. Her manner suggested that whether Mrs. Derrick came or went, she herself would always be there. The former had an odd sensation of being weighed in the balance by a house parlourmaid.
“Then it comes to a matter of wages,” she said uncertainly.
Perkins’ eyes wandered to the portrait over the mantel. “That will be alright, madam.” “I don’t quite understand, Perkins.”
“I meant that I don’t ask high wages.” Mrs. Derrick, though still puzzled, breathed a sigh of relief. “I think it’s an important thing—for both sides. Will forty pounds be satisfactory?”
Perkins nodded, as though glad to get the matter settled. “Yes, madam, quite.”
There was a little pause, w'hile her new mistress searched Perkin’s uncommunicative face for some spark of animation. It struck her now, that this woman seemed as much a portion of the house as did carpets and furniture.
“Is there anything you wish to ask about your duties?”
Perkins indulged in a ghost of a smile suggesting that she knew more about them than Mrs. Derrick.
Mrs. Derrick shifted her ground.
“Is this house very old?”
“This room is about two hundred
“You seem very fond of the place.”
Perkins looked about with the expression of one who knows exactly what they will see. “I have been here for eight years, madam and perhaps the place has got fond of me.” ,,
“I’m afraid I don’t understand how that could be. “No, madam, it doesn’t matter.”
Mrs. Derrick suddenly remembered w'hat Mrs. Thursby had said about wanting to tell Perkins to shout out whatever was in the back of her head. The thing began to be understandable now, and it made her strangely restless.
“Did you never get lonely here?”
“I was never alone, madam,” said Perkins gravely. Mary Derrick shivered in spite of herself.^ “Youyou don’t mean to say that you saw' them!
The black eyes rounded with surprise. “Saw what, madam?”
“Ghosts, of course. You can’t be talking about anything else.”
“There are no .ghosts here, madam.”
“Then w'hat on earth do you mean by saying that you are never alone?”
Perkins made a little gesture. “I’m sorry I was foolish. Sometimes I say things without thinking. You see
Mrs. Thursby never asked me that sort of question.” Mrs. Derrick pulled herself together. “You’re quite right, Perkins, and it doesn’t matter. I suppose it’s being in a strange house that makes one curious about, things of no importance. When you've put away the tea things, come upstairs. I want to show you about the linen. And for goodness sake don’t fill your head with fancies about never having been alone.”
PERKINS opened the door for her. then stood morionless, surveying the room with a strange expiession in her eyes. It vas panelled to the ceiling, with oak that had taken on the soft tones of age. In the middle o one wall, a French window opened onto the lawn, wi i heavy curtains that she now drew close. In tin near corner stood a large flat-topped desk, already with Derrick’s manuscript. She moved tow.in a
as in a dream, laid a hand on the smooth sut an. 1 ” ’ bent over it, searching, it seemed, for something she tope
ted to its secrets so soon? Some of it was true, but how much? Who was Millicent? How did he die? Hewai still in a maze of doubt, when a knock sounded at door, and Jarrad entered, hat in hand, followed by Daw-
“I beg your pardon for disturbing you, sir, but ir checking over our work, I find that my colleague ha¡ omitted to make one entry concerning that desk. It examining it, I noted a slight stain which does not appea: on our record. With your permission I’ll show it Mr. Dawkins.”
“Certainly,” said Derrick mechanically. “Dt whatever you like.” Somehow he was not in thi least, surprised.
Jarrad reverentially lifted.a pile of manuscript and, putting on his glasses, bent close to the leathe surface.
Dawkins stood attentively at his elbow.
“There, my young friend,”he said, with an accen of modulated triumph. “That’s what I referred to It is not my habit to neglect small things. It’s dul and faint, I admit, but there it is.”
Dawkins scrutinized, nodded with a touch o apology, and made an entry in the long thin book Jarrad turned to Derrick.
“Do you know, sir, that there’s not one man in ¡ hundred who would have detected that stain, would make bold to say that though you’ve sat at that desk you’ve not spotted it yourself. Good night, sir, and thank you. We’ll be of no furthe trouble now.”
As their steps died out, Derrick looked for him self. He saw a faint blotch of irregular shape, that had apparently been subjected to hard rubbing. II was a discolour of no particular hue. And, as hf gazed, he knew without a shadow of doubt that i' had been made two years previously by the life blood of Henry Millicent.
A WEEK passed at Beech Lodge, and Derrick vainly tried to settle down to work. In spite of all his efforts, progress seemed impossible. Ideas were elusive, and, when they came, were displaced by a strange, underlying conviction, that his nove was, for the present at any rate, not the most important thing in life. He acquired a peculiar liking for the study dominated by Millicent’s big desk and sat there for hours, fingering his pen anc grasping at thoughts that continually evaded him. At the end of the week he became convinced that there was something the dead man wanted him tc do.
But of this he said nothing to his wife. Mary Derrick was too practical, he concluded, to harbour any such imaginings. Her days were spent in settling down, and he agreed to all her arrangements except with regard to the study. That room, he stipulated, must be left as they found it. And when he carried the point, it seemed the portrait of Millicent assumed a pleased expression.
It was at eight o’clock in the evening, and he was at the desk, trying as usual to collect his thoughts, when Mary looked up from the book on her lap. She had been staring at it for some moments with-! out reading a line.
“Jack,” she said suddenly.
He put down his pen with a little sigh of relief. “What is it, old thing?”
“Tell me something—tell me quite honestly.” “It’s no effort to be honest with you. What is it?”
She looked thoughtfully into the leaping fire, then turned with a quick bird-like motion he knew and loved.
“How’s the book going?”
“Not particularly well, but I don’t feel that its going to suffer in the long run.”
“Isn’t this as good a place for work as you expected?” “Yes, quite. But it’s a new atmosphere, and I have to get hold of it—that’s all.”
“Then you haven’t had any second thoughts about the house?” she said curiously.
He nodded. “Yes, a lot of them. I suppose you've been too busy to think.”
“No,” she said. “I haven’t. Are yours all pleasing
Derrick laughed a little. He wanted time to think. It was most important that Mary should never know that Perkins, however competent she might be, could not in any sense be called a normal person. He was quite confident that no revelations would be made to his wife; so after all there was no reason why things should not go on smoothly enough. The rest, whatever it might be, was on the knees of the gods.
“Why shouldn’t they be pleasing?” he parried.
“I was just wondering.”
“Is anything the matter?” ,
“Nothing—and everything.” She got up restlessly, and balanced herself on the arm of his chair. “I almost feel as though we’d made an awful mistake in taking Beech Lodge.”
He felt a touch of apprehension, but laughed it off. “You’re only a bit lonely, and,” he paused imperceptibly,
she might not find. Presently she straightened, and turned on the portrait an extraordinary look of inquiry. The picture might have been alive, so keen was her regard, so expectant of an answer.
The room was nearly dark now, but she did not turn on the light, and, in the shadow she moved from place to place with here and there a lingering touch to furniture and woodwork as though bestowing some inarticulate caress. Finally she halted directly under the portrait, and bent her head in an attitude of profound thought. She was standing thus when the hall door opened, and Derrick’s whistle sounded cheerfully. outside. At that, Perkins crossed the room swiftly, and busied herself with the tray.
He came in, stood by the mantel and watched her silently.
“Do you want to work now, sir?”
He nodded. “Yes, I think I will,” then, suddenly. “How did you know I wanted to
Perkins smiled, a queer, twisted snrle, the first he had ever seen on that ageless face.
“I thought perhaps you might, sir.”
of inanimate things, a belief shared by (he blank faced woman who stood so motionless before him. Suddenly he was assured that here was the lock, if he could only find the key.
“You’re not afraid?” she said quietly, "it’s no usejf you are.”
He shook his head impatiently, scanning books, pictures, the ancient panelling, the heavy oak floor.
“You believe that all this has sucked in, year after year,
SHE TOOK out the tray, and, returning in a moment, readjusted the curtains. He did not speak, but followed every noiseless movement, feeling rested and soothed by the very way she went about he' work. It gave him an extraordinary feeling of confidence in something — he knew not what. Presently he sat at the desk and fingered his manuscript.
“Shall I make up the fire, sir?”
“No thank you it’s warm enough. But you might turn on another light.”
Perkins moved slowly toward a switch. “Have you really seen this room by firelight, sir:”
He looked up curiously, for it came into his mind in that instant that a room such as this should look unusually well with a flickering gleam dancing on the old oak.
“I say, you might make up the fire after all. That’s rather a good suggestion.”
Perkins obeyed. Derrick stood in the corner behind the desk, and watched the effect. He found it fascinating. The room took on a strange, ghostly beauty, and the shadows were populous with unimagined things, that changed even as he stared. The place seemed tenanted with reminders of the past, and ceased to be a room. It was a palace of dreams.
“By George!” he said under his breath.
“What do you think of it, sir?” Perkins was half invisible, and he started violently.
“It’s—it’s wonderful. I knew there was something about this room. I felt it the minute I stepped inside. How old is it?” he asked curiously.^
“It has no age,” was the grave answer.
Derrick looked at her for a moment before speaking, but he did not seem surprised. “I thought you’d say that. Who else has felt it?”
“Only Mr. Millicent, since I’ve been hera.”
“Ah, so that’s it. Was this his favourite room, too?”
“That is his desk, where you are standing. He was found there.”
Derrick felt no touch of surprise. “I think I knew that. But why did you stay after it happened?” he asked.
Perkins took a long breath. “It—they would not let me go. I went once for a week, but I had to come back.” She stared about at well remembered things, and seemed to signal that she acknowledged their potency.
Derrick looked at the littered desk, then straight in her face. “Do you mind talking like this? Most people wouldn’t understand it at all.”
“No, it makes me happier. You see I could never find any person who did understand since Mr. Millicent passed.” She hesitated. “The house has been amused for the last two days.”
“How?” demanded Derrick, startled.
“At the men who came to take the inventory. They were such children in comparison.” She glanced again at the portrait. That s Mr. Millicent, he was very like you. He told me that he began to understand when he was a child. Things commenced to talk to him when he was in the nursery. Mrs. Derrick doesn’t believe in this at all, does she?”
“How do you know?”
“I can’t tell—but I know. She thinks I’m a little mad. and that’s why I’m willing to stay and not worry about wages.”
He did not answer, being too conscious that here, in Beech Lodge, was a mystery that must be for him alone to solve. How else should he have come to this lonely spot. Somewhere behind the black eyes of Perkins lay the key. Millicent was staring down at him, and it seemed that from the picture came a faint petition for help—or was it revenge? Added to all this was his own secret belief in the mysterious influence
something from mortality, till, in time, wood and stone become greater than wood and stone, and radiate back again the wisdom and courage and love and evil they have so long surrounded. You believe all this?”
As he spoke, her eyes opened wide and filled with a strange, wild light. Her lips moved inaudibly. She seemed transformed, from a servant into a priestess officiating at some mystic shrine.
“Wisdom—and courage—and love—and evil,” he heard in an awed whisper. “Yes—yes—that’s it. Last time it. was evil. Evil was the strongest.”
“From whom?” he said sharply.
She shook her head. “Wait. You’re not. ready yet— nothing is ready, but it will be soon. That’s why you
Derrick experienced a curious sensation of having lost all physical weight. He saw Perkins, and could feel his own body, but everything else seemed to have lost significance. Then he caught his own voice.
“So this air is full of that which can never die or disappear, and may save or destroy as it is written?”
“How else could it be?”
“Invisible—but not a ghost; speaking—but with no voice; strong—but casting no shadow?”
Perkins covered her face, bent her head—and vanished. He stared after her, his features transfigured with wonder. It was unreal—yet enormously real. What kind of a house was this, that he should have been admit-
“perhaps I’ve been selfish in dragging you out here for the sake of that confounded novel.”
She shook her head. “It isn’t that, and now I’m going to say something perfectly ridiculous. I’m getting conscious of things that.—"She broke off in confusion. "Tell me,” he said gently.
"It’s hard to tell you without seeming an utter fool, and somehow I can’t put it any other way. But it’s just things that I’ve never been conscious of before. Jack, they seem to threaten me.”
He looked at her seriously. This was very unlike the practical Mary he knew so well. And while he looked, there seemed to settle over him an influence from the ancient room, warning him that on no account must he be false to that in which he himself believed.
“If the place doesn’t agree with you, we’ll chuck it,” he said slowdy.
She sent him a whimsical smile that he found very appealing. “We can’t do that, Jack, and you know it’s out of the question. Here we stay till your novel is finished. I’m sorry it doesn’t go as well as you’d like.”
“It will,” he said doggedly. “I believe I’m just on the edge of something big.”
“While your wife feels that she is on the edge of something deep,” repeated Mary reflectively, and went back to her book.
SHE was soon lost in the story, and Derrick was struggling with an opening chapter, when the heavy curtains that hung over the French window stirred ever so slightly. There was no sound, save the turning of a leaf and the scratch of Derrick’s pen. The fire puttered its companionable song. The curtains parted till there was a narrow slit, a few inches long, and through this emerged a man’s fingers, short, broad and strong. Then the gap widened, and a face became visible.
A tumbled mass of black hair surmounted a low forehead, beneath which moved eyes that were dark and restless. It was a man of about forty, with tanned skin, broad features, a large mouth and an expression at once furtive and malignant. No part of his body was visible and the face hung there, framed in dark fabric like a threatening mask. The restless eyes searched the room, and rested on its occupants with a look in which surprise mingled with a brutal amusemeftt. There was no fear in the face, but rather an expression suggesting that this stranger, who travelled by night, was making up his mind on some vital matter. Then the lips widened in a repulsive grin, the face disappeared, and there drifted into the silent room the faintest possible sound from without. It was all over, like some baleful dream.
Derrick looked up sharply. "Who was that?”
His wife stared at him. She had heard nothing. “Where, Jack?”
His brows wrinkled. “Was there anyone here just now?”
“Not a soul,” she said nervously.
“Who should there be?”
“That’s odd,” he murmured. “I had an extraordinary feeling we were not alone. Dreaming as usual,” he added with a comforting laugh.
X/JARY DERRICK turned pale.
•*-’-1 She had been trying hard to put queer thoughts of queer things out of her head, and nearly succeeded. But this was a bolt from the blue. Suddenly she darted to the bell, and rang violently. Derrick looked on, wondering.
“What’s the matter, old girl?”
“Don’t you understand?” she said shakily, “I want to see someone who isn’t just ourselves.” She covered hereyeslike afrightened child. “Jack,
Jack, what is the matter with me?”
His arm was round her, when t here came a tap at the door, and Perkins entered, her face as blank as ever.
“You rang, madam?”
Mrs. Derrick controlled herself with a mighty effort, and looked straight into those basilisk eyes.
“Yes. Will you please bring me a —a handkerchief from my room."
Perkins gave one of her slow nods, and disappeared. Mrs. Derrick laughed nervously, and turned to her husband.
“Jack, when she comes-back say something that will keep her for a moment, say anything at all.”
“You’re not very complimentary to my powers of entertainment,” he chuckled.
“It’s not that I want,” she said, slowly, “it's protection.”
“Great Scott! From what?”
“I don’t know,” she quavered, “but somehow you seem
to be in it. I wish that woman would make a noise— just for once.”
As she spoke, Perkins entered as silently as before. Mrs. Derrick steadied herself and took the handkerchief. Her husband glanced up.
“I say, Perkins, the garden is running wild, and I must get a man at once. Do you happen to know of anyone available?”
“I don’t know any person in the village, sir."
“Did Mr. Thursby take over Mr. Millicent’s gardener?’
“No, sir, he left.”
“When?” said Derrick curiously.
“Three days after Mr. Millicent died," she answered, slowly.
“But why should he do that,” put in Mary swiftly.
Perkins glanced involuntarily at the portrait. “I do not know, madam.”
“Do you happen to know where he is now?” queried Derrick.
“No one has heard of him to this day, sir.”
Mary got up with more than her customary decision. “Jack, I’m going to bed. Perkins, will you please come upstairs for a moment.”
rXERRICK followed her with his eyes but said noth-
' ing. When he was alone, he seated himself again at the desk, and stared musingly at his manuscript. It seemed now that everything he had written was thin and unprofitable. His hand clasped the edge of the desk as though to draw from its solid frame some inspiration that so far had escaped him. Then his glance wandered, as it often did now, to Millicent’s portrait. He scanned the face so like his own, feeling quite unmistakably, that what had once been Millicent was now close by. Was that what Perkins meant when she told his wife that she was never alone? What could Millicent mean to Perkins? It appeared after a few moments that the painted lips began to move. What was it Millicent was trying to say?
“What have you absorbed,” murmured Derrick, half aloud, “and what is it you are trying to tell me? Have you left no imprint on the books your fingers have touched? You suffered here—it is written in the air,” here Derrick began to write the words he spoke, “and you believed with me that we are not the masters of things, but that they dominate us without our knowing it. Things — mere things—we cry it when we are children, till at the end it hurts to let go.”
He was still puzzling when Perkins' soft knock sounded at the door. She came in, her face full of a mysterious knowledge.
“If you please, sir, the gardener is at the door.” “What gardener?” he demanded, curiously. “You just said you didn’t know of any.”
“It’s Mr. Millicent’s gardener,” she replied, steadily. Derrick stared at her. “What does he want?”
"He wants to know if you will take him on in his old “How extraordinary!"
Perkins made no answer. She stood quite motionless, a baffling expression on her sallow features, and, stare as he might, there was no penetrating the veil of mystery that hung round her. At the moment, she looked capable of any action, however strange or unnatural. She was an embodiment of something that defied his shrewdest analysis.
“Where has this man been for the last two years?”
“He did not say, sir.”
“Was he satisfactory to Mr. Millicent?”
She nodded. “Mr. Millicent said he was the best-gardener in the country.”
“Then from what you know you think it would be a good thing to take him on?”
“If you want a garden like Mr. Millieent’s?”
“Send him in,” said Derrick shortly.
'T'HE man entered a moment later, the man whose A face had peered through the curtains only half an hour before. He was very broad, dressed in loose and badly worn tweeds and walked with a lurch that suggested a seafaring trade. Round his neck was twisted a coloured handkerchief. His hands were thick and knotted, and every motion spoke of great physical strength. Twisting his cap, he made a sort of salute, and glanced swiftly about the room. It struck Derrick that he missed something, but no flicker of interest was visible on the weatherbeaten features. This was the man who had disappeared three days after Millicent’s mysterious death. What brought him back now?
“What is your name?”
“Martin, sir, John Martin.” The voice was deep and had a throaty tone.
“Perkins tells me you were in Mr. Millicent’s service.” “For five years, sir.”
“And you left three days after Mr. Millicent died. How did that happen—were you discharged?”
A dull flush rose in the battered face. “You might just as well ask me why Mr. Millicent died three days before I went, sir.”
Derrick nodded with apparent carelessness. “Perhaps that’s fair enough. Where do you come from now?” “America, sir.” The man fumbled in his pocket, “would you be wanting to see my passport?”
“No—not now, at any rate, but there are certain things I must know before considering taking you into my service.”
Martin nodded. “That’s fair enough.”
“What I want to get clear is why you left the country.”
“Got a sister in America, sir; and I was that upset that I couldn’t stick it out here. He was always good to me, was Mr. Millicent, from the day I came.”
There was a little break in the deep voice that suggested a depth of feeling not to be expected beneath so rough an exterior. If it was acting, thought Derrick, it was good acting, But Martin’s face was about as promising as that of Perkins, so far as concerned any prospect of revelations. The new master of Beech Lodge decided that the matter must be approached deliberately. It might be a question of weeks—or months. Then the strangeness of the situation came over him with redoubled intensity!
“How is it, do you suppose, that you happened to turn up here within a week of my coming? The house has been occupied for the last two years, but you strike the village practically when I do.”
Martin scratched his head. “Dunno, sir.”
“Had you any particular reason for coming back from America now?” The man glanced at him uneasily. The question seemed to have sot up a train of thought that brought with it a certain discomfort. He stammered, hesitated and finally flung out his answer as though he did not expect it to bo taken seriously. In fact he hardly took it seriously himself.
“Things sort of hinted at it, sir. That’s all 1 can say. Matter of fact there ain’t any special reason. I was doing well enough in America, when something got. at me to come back. Maybe I was a fool to come.’
“You just had to come?” asked Derrick quickly.
“I ain’t given to feelings likt' that, but since you say it —yes, I reckon I had to come.”
Derrick felt a strange thrill of triumph. The non-
understandable factor was at work here. The thing to which in the last week he had yielded so completely. It had stretched invisible but potent arms across three thousand miles and haled this shifty eyed man back to a tiny Surrey village. Why should that have been done, if not at the demand of the dead Millicent, whose quiet features looked down on his remembered room? And at the thought of Millicent, Derrick’s heart gave a little throb of excitement. He looked Martin full in the face.
"Who found Mr. Millicent?”
Martin dropped his cap. When he recovered it, all the blood in the strong body seemed to have climbed to his
"Miss Perkins found him,” came a husky reply.
"Found him where?” If Martin was lying, the fact would be revealed now.
The man pointed. “At that desk.
Martin eagerly, “and I • looked down, his lips
“That’s fair enough,” answerer havn’t got any wife—now.” II pressed tight.
Derrick wondered for a moment w hat kind of woman it had been, who dared life with a man apparently as truculent as this one.
“Any children?” he asked after a pause.
"And there was no trace of the thing that had killed him?”
“Not that 1 or anyone else could find.” “You were at the inquest, of course?” Martin sent him a defiant stare. “Yes, I was there, Mr. Derrick, and what’s more not a soul said a word against me.”
“Mr. Mill'cent,” said Derrick slowly, then sharpened his voice “is just behind
The man started violently and made a harsh noise down in his throat. Forcing himself to turn, he saw the portrait, and his face became overcast with anger.
"By God, but you frightened me,” he said thickly.
“Is that a gcod likeness?” Derrick’s tone was almost careless.
The other man seemed suddenly ashamed, and made an awkward gesture of relief. “Yes-that’s him alright. Looks like you, sir, don’t he?”
“Where were you at the time?”
Martin straightened up. “Is this another inquest, Mr. Derrick? I came here to try and get my old job.”
“And you’ll answer my questions, if you really want it —besides you are clear of it, aren’t you?”
“Well,” said Martin truculently, “I was in the vegetable garden behind the lodge, getting water for my kitchen. It was quite dark, and I heard Perkins running down from the house and calling at the top of her voice. I ran back with her, and found Mr. Millicent.. Then I ran for the doctor. When the doctor got here, he said Mr. Millicent had been dead for an hour. And that’s all I know,” he concluded doggedly.
Derrick nodded. “That’s practically what I’ve heard elsewhere.” He sat for a moment plunged in thought, then felt in his pocket, got up and moved to the door.
“Sit down a minute, will you. I’ve left my tobacco upstairs.”
“Then I suppose you can begin work to-morrow?”
“Yes, I’m ready and anxious for that,” Martin paused, fingering his cap. “Might I sleep in the lodge to-night, sir? I’ve got my bundle outside.”
Derrick glanced at him curiously. The request sounded natural enough, but there reached him, it seemed from the surrounding walls, a silent message.
“The lodge is cold and damp. I think you’d better find something in the village. Why do you want to sleep there?”
“I’m a poor man, Mr. Derrick.”
Derrick shook his head. “Let it stand till to-morrow— then you can move in. I’ll see you after breakfast.”
MARTIN balanced himself on the edge of a chair and glanced furtively about. Presently he leaned forward and listened intently. In another moment he got up, stole on tiptoe to the door and put his ear to the keyhole. Satisfied, apparently, that he was safe, he moved noiselessly across the floor, darting a look at the portrait as he passed, and stood beside the big desk. Here his hands became immediately busy and his thick fingers passed rapidly over its surface, with the touch of a blind man feeling in his eternal night. Near one particular spot, he explored with swift attention, maintaining a constantly alert guard against surprise.
But another pair of eyes surveyed this silent drama. The curtains that concealed the French window had been drawn over so slightly, at a point some five feet above the ground. Through the gap, and secure from discovery, Derrick was watching every move. It was not tobacco he sought when he went out, but the opportunity to see what manner of man this was, when he believed himself unobserved. The stage was set now as before, but another actor had the lead, one who had gone to his post, swiftly and without question, guided by that to which he was now learning to yield. This scrutiny lasted but a few seconds. A moment later , when the door opened, Martin was back in his chair, lie got up as Derrick entered.
“If you want that job." he said, filling his pipe with extreme deliberation, “I’m Inclined to give it to you.” “Thank you. sir,” said Martin. "I’ll do my best.” Derrick looked up with a queer smile." “Wt haven’t discussed the matter of wages yet. What I’m going to offer may not seem enough to a man who has been working in America.”
The gardener shook his head with decision. "It isn’t so much the wages I’m thinking about as my old job."
“Then what would you say to two and a half guineas a week and the lodge. You find yourself in everything except wood and vegetables. By the way, I take it that you’re not married.”
TTE RANG, while Martin stood motionless, with the -*■ same baffling expression on his dark face. Having got what he came for, he still seemed remote and uncontent. Then Perkins entered, like a sallow ghost. Derrick experienced a curious thrill at seeing these two together. Somewhere between them lay the thing he pursued. He was convinced of that.
“Perkins, I have engaged Martin, who will commence work to-morrow. You may go now, Martin.”
The gardener made the same awkwrard salute. He did not look at Perkins, nor she at him.
“Goodnight, sir,” he mumbled, and went out.
Derrick’s eyes narrowed. “Perkins, will you come here, please, when you have locked up.”
He stood for an instant, regarding the portrait as though to ask whether he was doing the wise thing. In the middle of this reverie, the maid came in, standing with her arms folded.
“I’d like to feel sure, Perkins, that from what you know of Martin I’ve done the right thing in engaging him. It really doesn’t affect you, but—”
He broke off short. Perkins was staring at him with the strangest expression possible, and he was instantly sure that by this act he had drawn nearer to the essential mystery of Beech Lodge. Perkins, Martin and this eloquent room were now inextricably involved. Out in the garden—or even in the hall, the air was not vibrant as it was here, nor did the spirit of the murdered man seem to cry aloud for vengeance. But here, the very silence was full of mystical voices, all demanding retribution.
“It w as meant that Martin should come back, and that, you should engage him,” said Perkins slowly. “I do not know any more than that. You could not help it.”
He was about to protest that this was absurd, when suddenly he became convinced that it was not. Perkins had stated a simple fact, and her look suggested that this was as far as she proposed to go at the moment. Then one of those baffling messages reached him out of space.
“How long had Mr. Millicent been dead when you found him?” he demanded abruptly.
Two faint spots of colour appeared on the sallow
cheeks, and the eyes took on a sullen defiance.
“Who told you that I found him.”
“Martin,” said Derrick smoothly.
The thin lips tightened. “The doctor got here hai an hour later. He examined Mr. Millicent and said tha he had been dead for about an hour.”
“And you found him at the desk,” he persisted.
“Did Martin tell you that too, Mr. Derrick?” sh whispered breathlessly.
He shook his head. “That doesn’
“But it matters a great deal wha Martin says,” she protested. Her ham went nervously to her breast, and ther were lines in her face he had never’see before.
“Were you and he long in this room tc gether?”
“No,” she said tremulously, "Onl for a moment.”
Derrick’s voice, which, in spite of hinr self had risen a little, now dropped to it ordinary pitch.
“What puzzles one is that nothing t any importance seems to have disappearet Even his papers were undisturbed.”
She did not answer, and it seemed tha she was afraid to ask how it was that h knew these things. But Derrick coul not have told her that. He was onl; aware that they were true. Followed little silence.
“Was it hard to get that stain reduced? He flung the question at her like a missilt At that, the control of Perkins wa shaken. She stared first at him, then a the desk, as though its wooden frame ha found accusing speech. His breath cam faster, and he knew that he was nearei nearer to the truth.
“Are there no secrets from you?” sh muttered.
“I think it must have returned after got here,” he went on. “My fingers found it first, whe I wasn’t looking, but the inventory man saw it before did. It is there now—and” he concluded impressively “Martin found it too.”
Her fingers twisted themselves in an ecstasy of appr* hension. “Why did he come back?” she quavered.
“He had to,” said Derrick gravely, “they all have to. She nodded mutely, as one blinded by a sudden trutl then moved, unsteadily to the desk, and stood starin at the faintly visible stain. After a moment she put ot an uncertain hand. Derrick saw how strong it was, hoi claw-like. She did not touch the discoloured leather, bt leaned over it, her eyes dark with memories. When sh spoke it was as though to some one far away.
“I wonder if that’s always the way. Is the whol world full of stains like this, stains that only go deep* and deeper, however you try to rub them out?”
“They cannot be effaced,” said Derrick grimly. “Oç only rubs them further in.”
“And Martin is here to-night!” The words seemed Í come from her very soul.
Derrick reached for his pipe.
His brain was ablaf
with the conviction that not much more was necessary t prove the theory that for weeks had been broadening | his imagination. These two held the key between the® “It is most probable,” he said, “that Martin is in tfl cottage at this moment. He thinks that I believe that h is in the village.”
“He started for the village,” she protested swiftly. “Perhaps—but I don’t think that he will go as far fri the house as that. Is Mrs. Derrick in bed?”
Perkins was ghastly pale. “N-no, sir,” she stammei “She is reading in her room.”
“Then please ask her to come down.”
Perkins went out after a look like that of an animal^ a trap. Derrick sucked at his pipe, and went back o^j the last half hour, piecing together the fragments hoped to build into a completed structure of evide; Then, as happened so often, his eyes wandered to portrait of Millicent. *
“Is it all right,” he half whispered, “you whom I h®v never seen, and never will see? I don’t know why I’r doing it—so it must be right. We’re both moving in üb same mysterious land—but only for a little longer. The you can sleep—sleep. And till then there is no peace fa
“Jack,” sounded a voice at the door, “who on earth ar you talking to?”
He started, then laughed awkwardly. “Hullo, Mary-
to myself, I suppose.”
“But why do you do that?”
He stepped forward, and took her by the arm. want you to help me to do something for that chap,” h
pointed to the portrait.
“Jack, you’re wandering!” She laughed uncomfortably “There’s no reason in you at all.”
He shook his head. “I admit that I sound ridiculous-
but I’m not. I never was more sane in my life.”
“Then how could you do anything for a dead man you never knew?” She looked slowly about the room, and put a hand on his arm as though seeking protection. “Jack, I feel like leaving this house to-morrow. Nothing has been natural since we came. I can’t get settled in the most ordinary way, and you are drifting about as you never have before. What is it? Tell roe—for I must
“You mustn’t think of leaving,” he said quickly. ‘'We’ll both be perfectly happy soon, and there’s only one way in which you can help, but that’s all important. Don’t be surprised at anything —back me up in all I do—take it all for granted. Just assume that everything is meant —as indeed it is—like our coming here.”
She regarded him with wide-eyed anxiety. “Life seems to have become such a strange thing during the last few days,” she answered uncertainly. “Something is affecting us that never reached us before. I don’t see it, and I can’t understand what it is, but in a queer way we don’t seem to live for ourselves any longer.”
HE WAS comforting her, and the cloud had lifted a little, when the front door bell rang, and, a moment later they heard an exclamation from Perkins. Then the maid appeared, a mysterious light in her baffling eyes. “Mrs. Millicent, madam.”
Mary stared at her husband. “Ask Mrs. Millicent to come in,” she said shakily, “Jack, what does it all mean?” “It means,” he answered under his breath, “that I’m moving further into that half-world where lies a great discovery. The search was saddled on me w'hen we took this house. And it means, too, that you must keep tight hold of familiar things and not worry about the others. Steady, old thing, here’s your visitor.’
Mrs. Millicent came in as he spoke, a small, slight woman who was doing her best to conceal her agitation.
Her face, pale and worn, betrayed an underlying tension.
She wore a black dress and heavy coat, and even as she made her apologies for this intrusion, her gaze travelled nervously about the remembered room. Mrs. Derrick caught an imperative signal from her husband,
“I’m afraid you’ll think I’m taking a great liberty at such an hour,” began the little woman in a thin sweet voice, but what has happened is that I’ve been motoring wúth my brother and his car has broken down just beyond the house. He has walked on to the village for a horse to pull it in, and I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind if I came in and waited here.”
Derrick pushed forward a chair. “Of course not. We should have been hurt if you had not come in. I hope there’s not much damage done.”
“And that you are not hurt,” put in his wife quickly.
“Thank you—only the car.
We don’t know what that amounts to.” She paused, and an odd expression crept over the delicate features. “Isn’t it strange that it should happen just here?”
“Since it had to happen, I’m glad it was here. Won’t you have something hot? You must be half frozen?”
“Nothing, thank you^Tvery much, I’m really quite all right.
The car will probably be back in a little while. How long have you had the house?”
“Just a week. We’re really very new comers.”
“I hope you like it and don’t find it too old fashioned?”
“We like it very much indeed,” put in Derrick hastily.
it now. She really makes the house possible for us.” Derrick took a long breath. “There’s another of your old retainers who has turned up, Mrs. Millicent.”
“Yes? Who can that be?”
The little woman stiffened, and a shadow' of fear rested on the pale face. “John Martin,” she w'hispered.
“Who is he?” demanded Mary suddenly. “You hadn’t said anything about it.”
“I was just going to tell you when Mrs. Millicent came in—a man who used to work here.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand at all.”
“Martin used to be our gardener,” volunteered Mrs. Millicent, with a world of memories in her voice.
Derrick took a sw'ift look at the wan face. He was now quite assured that the presence of this woman was all part of the web that invisible fingers were weaving around Beech Lodge. Viewless powers were at work, and populated the seemingly empty air of this lonely mansion There was no escapr.-g them.
“I’m afraid,” he said very gently, “that we are heading toward something that you will shrink from discussing and must give you pain.”
She met his sympathetic gaze with a gentle fortitude that wras infinitely touching. “I have seemed to know that ever since the car broke down. I felt it when I opened the ga'te. How strange everything seems to-night —or perhaps you do not feel it as I do. It is two years now since I left Beech Lodge, and when I came in I had made up my mind not to speak of what is past. But now it has become unnatural not to do so.” She paused and bent a lingering gaze on the portrait. “It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.”
“If I did not feel that I was meant to help,” said Derrick quietly, “I would not take the liberty of asking questions.”
Mrs. Millicent nodded understandingly, and Mary, with a gesture of sudden comprehension got up and stood close to the little woman’s chair.
“Jack, perhaps there is something Mrs. Millicent would like to say about this man,—something she may think you ought to know.”
“I have a queer conviction that your husband know's a good deal already—for instance that Martin left the country three days after—after it happened.” “Yes,” said Derrick, “I know that.”
“Well, we had had him for some years previously. He came, as it happens, a week or so after Perkins turned up and betw een them both it seemed that our domestic troubles were over. He lived in the lodge, and never gave any trouble. We found him an excellent gardener, in fact our roses soon became famous. He seemed to become very fond of my husband and followed him about with those threatening features that it seems were not threatening at a’ . His appearance used to frighten and confuse me—but 1 don’t think that the thought of me ever entered his head. And I know my husband trusted him completely. Then about three years ago I began to notice a change. There w'as no falling off in his work, but his face had an accusing look as though something in connection with my husband had hurt him. Neither of us understood that. It seemed almost that the man was jealous, but of w'hat we could not imagine. He had enough for his needs, did not drink and there w'as no person dependent on him."
“And nothing was ever discovered to connect him with your husband’s death?” asked Derrick evenly.
“No—never Mrs. Millicent spoke with the least quiver in her voice. “It was Perkins who came in here about ten o clock and found him. It seems she had come down stairs to get something, for she was only half dressed, and looked in here as she passed, the door being partly
Mrs. Millicent nodded. “I’m glad of that.” She stole another glance about the room, and gave a wistful smile. “When I had got all these things together, I began to think that I had created something of an atmosphere, and—and it w'as hard to leave it.”
“My husband is specially fond of this room,” said Mrs. Derrick sympathetically.
“It used to be our favourite room.”
The two younger people glanced at each other. It seemed there was nothing to be said that would not hurt. Mrs. Millicent w'as sitting wdth her hands folded, yielding visibly to the atmosphere she herself had created. It was just as though she had lived there without interruption, gone out for an hour and turned again home. The Derricks felt like birds of passage, resting only for a night. Presently Mrs. Millicent raised her head and smiled sadly.
“I see that you already know.”
Derrick nodded. “We did not know till after we took the house.”
“But you should have been told! Some people w'ould not like a house w ith a history like this one.”
“It does not affect us,” he assured her—and instantly knew that this was not the case.
“I was so surprised when Perkins opened the door. I never dreamed that she would still be here.”
Mary Derrick seized the opportunity. “Did you have her long, Mrs. Millicent?”
“Yes,* for a good many years, and never had such a servant. She was devoted to mÿ—to my husband,” Mrs. Millicent glanced again at the portrait and w'ent valiantly on. “I wanted her to come with me when I sold the house, but persuasion was no use. I couldn’t understand it.”
“I don’t understand her staying in such a lonely place either,” said Mary, “but I’m too thankful to bother about
open. When she reached me she was dazed with fear, then ran for Martin who was at the lodge. At least.” here the speaker’s expression changed slightly, “she maintains that she found him there. Hut it had been all over for at least half an hour.
Derrick, who had been listening with intense interest, got up and paced the room restlessly. “Mrs. Millicent, I know I can help you must let me help.” Unaccustomed excitement was in his voice.
“In what?” she asked nervously.
He pointed to Millicent’s calm features. “That man cannot rest till this has been all cleared up. I believe 1 can find him rest, and you were brought here to help me."
'T know that now,” she admitted faintly.
The telephone sounded, and he picked up the receiver. “It’s for you, Mrs. Millicent.”
“Then it’must be my brother. Is that you, Peter?”
The others heard the metallic rasp of a man’s voice, and a little wrinkle deepened in Mrs. Millicent’s smooth forehead.
“That really doesn’t matter in the least, and anything will do for to-night. Yes, I remember the place quite well. How long will the car take to repair?”
Another rasp. Anxiety seemed to filter in over the wire. “Really! Are you sending for me?”
Derrick glanced at his wife, and shook his head.
“Mrs. Millicent” he said, “a moment—please.”
“We both insist that you stay here for the night. You know there’s plenty of room. It’s all part of the same plan. It was meant that you should spend to-night in Beech Lodge.”
She looked up as though fascinated, and he took the receiver from her yielding grasp.
“Mr. Derrick is speaking,” he said crisply, “and my wife and I both insist that Mrs. Millicent stays with us to-night. We have plenty of room and will not hear of her leaving. There’s no fit place in the village—as I expect you’ve discovered, and we will be very glad to see you
Another pause, while the invisible man declared that he would be quite comfortable where he was.
“Well, all right. We’ll take good care of her. But look here, there’s plenty of room in the lodge, if you don’t mind my gardener being in the next room. Right ho— perhaps it’s hardly worth while, but you’d better join us for breakfast.”
He hung up the receiver and nodded contentedly, while Mary made a welcoming gesture.
“I’m so glad you’re staying,” she said. “From what I’ve seen of the village, it’s quite impossible. But you mustn’t take my husband too seriously,” she went on, with an attempt at gaiety. “I stopped doing that soon after we were married. ” She rang the bell. “It will seem quite natural to have Perkins looking after you again. She distributes a very silent kind of comfort.”
"As a matter of fact.” smiled Derrick, “we never see anything being done—things seem to do themselves. Did you ever find out what Perkins really thought about?” Mrs. Millicent shook her head and just then the door opened.
“Perkins,” said Mary, “will you please get the spare room ready.”
“It is ready, madam.”
Derrick stroked his chin. He was not in any way surprised. Mrs. Millicent stole a glance at her hostess, and there passed between the two women a swift glance of understanding. This was the old Perkins, unchanging and unchangeable.
“You must be exhausted—would you like to come up
Mrs. Millicent nodded, “Yes, please. Good-night, Mr. Derrick.” She paused to see that Perkins was out of hearing, then added, “I’ll try and do everything I can.”
HE LOOKED after them, his brows pulled down. The powers unseen were at work now. It was something more than coincidence that these two, mistress and man, should appear in almost the same hour. Martin had been exonerated by the law, but not in the heart of the bereaved woman. How much did Perkins know? She it was who discovered death in Beech Lodge.
This reverie was interrupted by a man’s voice in the hall, and a moment afterwards, Perkins appeared in the doorway.
“A policeman, sir.”
“What does he want?” asked Derrick puzzled.
“To see you, sir.”
“Bring him in.” Derrick felt a little breathless.
Entered a big figure in blue. The man touched his helmet.
“Beg pardon, sir, for coming in at this time of night, but I was passing the lodge just now and happened to walk round it to see that all was as it should be. There was a light in the back room.”
Derrick had a little thrill of satisfaction. Things were beginning to work out faster than he expected.
“You needn’t wait, Perkins.”
The woman disappeared after a swift glance at the constable’s face, and the latter waited till he heard the door close before speaking again.
"Knowing the lodge had not been occupied since Mr. Thursby left, 1 took a look through the window.”
“That was quite right, offk “There was a man inside, with a queer face. He was staring.”
sir a middle aged man, itting on the floor-—and
“Staring at w'hat?” “At nothing, sir. He was thick set and all burned with the sun as though he had come off the sea. It was his eyes that took me most. He had black hair, and was an ugly seeming customer allround. But I thought I’d better see you before I pulled him in.”
Derrick nodded. “I’m glad you did. How long have you been on duty in this village?”
“Matter of a year and a half now, sir.”
“But you knew, of course, that this was Mr. Millicent’s house?”
“Yes, sir, we all know that.”
“But I don’t suppose you know’ anything personally about Mr. Millicent’s death?”
The constable shook his head. “I only know what I’ve heard from other members of the force.”
“Well I had heard nothing of it at all up to a week ago but now I’m beginning to feel as though I knew a good deal. What does the sergeant think about it?”
“I’m not supposed to say anything about that, sir.” Derrick reflected. “No, perhaps you’re right there. Is this the first time you have been in this house?”
“Yes, the very first.”
“Well, Mr. Millicent was found dead at this desk with a wound in his neck. That’s his portrait.”
The constable indulged in a long stare. “Harmless looking gentleman, I should say. What about that fellow in the lodge, sir?”
“That man is Mr. Millicent’s gardener—or was up to the time of the murder,” said Derrick slowly. I have engaged him to work for me.”
The constable’s mouth opened wide. “Why, the sergeant thinks—” he broke off, then, lost in astonishment, regarded Derrick with dawning admiration. “By George, sir, but you’re a wise one. There’s not many who would have done that.”
Derrick smiled grimly. “I may be on the right track and I may not, but I’m going to make a push for it. Mrs. Millicent was in that car that broke down just outside the house an hour or two ago. That is something more than a mere accident—at least so it seems to me. There is a good deal more to it, and I’m only getting the bits pieced together. So don’t disturb our friend in the lodge. Do you think the sergeant would drop in and see me during the next day or two?”
“If you’re on the track of the man who killed Mr. Millicent, sir, the sergeant would walk twenty miles to see you. He talks about that case all day—and dreams of it all night.”
“Then I’d be glad if he could come in say tc-morrow morning about ten—or—better—I’ll walk into the village myself and see him.”
The constable straightened up and made a salute “You’ll be a welcome visitor, sir.—Good-night. I’ll slip past the lodge without disturbing our friend.”
He went out, moving quietly for so big a man. Derrickpictured him stepping lightly past the lodge and dwindling down the hedge bordered road. He felt strengthened by the thought that the sergeant would take the trail with him, and wondered why he had never considered this before. Martin, as he expected, had not been able to shake off the mysterious influence that brought him back, and, daring his new master’s displeasure, was alone with his memories where Perkins was supposed to have found him on the fateful night.
BEECH Lodge was now as silent as the tomb, and it struck Derrick that this was the time to work. He got out his papers and seating himself at the big desk, thoughtfully traced the outlines of the irregular discoloured patch. Tc-night it seemed fresher than usual, and it created for him the terror there must have been in Perkins face while she scrubbed frantically at the accusing stam. But whom did that stain accuse that she should be so anxious to obliterate it? She was in her room now, and probably asleep, but there remained of her nevertheless some mystical element that kept her constantly in mind. He wondered if Mrs. Millicent were asleep too, and whether the thought of murder ran through her dreams.
IT WAS in the middle of a pool of utter silence that he saw the door move, and open slightly. There was no voice, but only that slowly widening crack, and his hair began to prickle. From where he sat he could just see fingers that grasped the handle, then a w'hite clad shoulder. It was Perkins!
She moved in, her lips parted, one hand held out, as though feeling in the dark. She was only half dressed, and wore a loose wrapper. Her black hair hung loose, her feet were bare and her face was as of one wrho sees unspeakable things. The open eyes held a sort of glassystare in which there was a great question—but no fear. She came forward like an uncaptured spirit, feeling gently along the panelled wall, a creature of body and flesh—yet animated by some purpose beyond human ken. The blank gaze rested for an instant on Derrick’s motionless figure, passed to contemplation of the portrait, then fastened on the desk itself. Such was her look that he stepped swiftly from his seat and stood half shrouded in the heavy curtain by the French wdndow. Perkins did not seem to know he was there. She swayed for a second, then leaning forward, sank to her knees beside the desk.
“Master,” she pleaded, her arms across the vacant chair, “Master, where are you now? Not here where you used to be. Why did you go? It is all empty and dead without you—it is all dead—all dead.”
The voice died out like a wail in the night. The trembling lips were placed close to the dark stain, where they rested for a moment in mute caress, while the blind fingers wandered unseeingly in the empty air. Then with a sigh, broken and dejected, she moved to the portrait, made a slow gesture of farewell, and so slipped to the door.
Derrick stood immovable, with new light flashing through his brain, till, by degrees, the essential meaning of it all captured his imagination.
“And the next thing,” he whispered, tensely, “is to link my truculent gardener into the chain that Perkins is weaving.”
BEECH LODGE lay about two miles from Bamberley, a Surrey village, whose thatched roofs and narrow cobbled streets had escaped the improving finger of progress. Bamberley was, in fact, just as it had always been in the memory of the oldest inhabitant. A village green, a low roofed public-house, two or three diminutive shops, perhaps fifty cottages, a dozen more pretentious dwellings—and then the encircling fields. But because Bamberley was the most important of four adjoining villages, the police headquarters of that utterly rural district were comfortably housed immediately in the middle of it, where three cross roads provided the main attractions of life. Derrick, as he strolled along next morning, thought he had never seen anything half so peaceful.
The sergeant greeted him with undisguised interest, and lost no time in getting to the point. They talked in his tiny private office, which seemed filled with the man’s bulk. It was obvious that he felt an added sense of responsibility when Derrick asked whether he might read over the official documents in the Millicent case.
“The point is, sir, that I have no authority to tell you anything whatever unless you satisfy me that you can produce supplementary evidence that has a direct bearing on the case.”
Derrick nodded. “I quite agree with you there, and will begin with a question. Do you believe in the theory that when a crime has been committed, the criminal.
-wherever he may be, is constantly reminded of it by his •own mental processes?”
‘‘There are too many instances of that to doubt it.” “And do you believe in coincidences?”
“That again is something that has played a big part in our work—too big to be laughed at.”
“And you know, of course, that Mr. Millicent’s gardener turned up on the very day that Mrs. Millicent came to Beech Lodge since she sold the house?”
“Constable Peters told me that when he reported this morning.’
“Can you guess what brought him from America?” The inspector smiled. “There might be several rea-
“As a matter of fact there is but one. He had to come. He told me so.”
“Why had to?”
“Think it over. Would an innocent man have felt that?”
The inspector stared at his own massive boots. “Anything else, Mr. Derrick?”
“You knew, of course, that the maid, Perkins, who is our maid now, walks in her sleep?”
The big man looked at him sharply. “You’ve unearthed a good deal in the course of a few days, sir. No—I never heard that before.”
“Or that the desk at which Mr. Millicent was found dead is of particular interest to them both?”
“Isn’t a statement like that carrying it pretty far?”
“I would not make it, were I no’ sure. They have both examined it, thinking they were alone and unobserved.” The inspector got up, moved deliberately to the dim' inutive window, and, with his hand folded behind his back, stood surveying the verdant expanse of Bamberley Green. Derrick examined the thick neck and round skull. No great ability here, no quick imaginative brain, but rather one of the bulldog type, for whom it was hard to let go and impossible to forget. Then two other faces swam into his brain.
'T'HE inspector turned. “Under the circumstances I A will tell you what transpired at the inquest. You •evidently have suspicions, and—quite unofficially I don’t mind saying I have them too. It is best not to mention any names in this connection.”
He took down a large leather-bound volume with well thumbed pages on which were pasted envelopes, each containing records of some case. Without consulting any index, he laid it open on the table. It seemed from the way in which he extracted the Millicent document that this had been frequently done before. Then he cleared his throat and began soberly enough.
Mrs. Millicent. It was, of course, most important not to destroy the slightest clue that might have been left, so very careful measurements were made of the exact position of the body before it was taken to his room. Then the study was sealed, and a constable placed on guard till the inquest. That was held two days later—the day before the funeral.”
“And what about the outside of the house—was that examined?”
“Nothing much could be done till next morning, when w"e found no tracks or sign of any kind. My own conclusion then, and it has not been changed since, was that the blow was struck by some member of the household. Mind you, this is all unofficial.”
“And the inquest revealed nothing?”
“I was just coming to that. The witnesses were narrowed to four—Mrs. Millicent, Dr. Henry, Perkins and Martin. I think we’d better take what Mrs. Millicent said first.”
“It was a very simple story. Mr. Millicent was fifty five, and most of their life had been spent at Beech Lodge. He had, she said, a comfortable income, which would have been larger if he had not got into the habit of speculating. But she really knew very little about his affairs. He had no enemies, to her knowledge. He was worried about money at the time 6f his death, and left matters so involved that she was obliged to sell the place at once. There had been no hard words with any one of their staff. No stranger had been at the house that day so far as she knew.”
“Was anything missed after the murder,” asked Derrick curiously.
The inspector unfolded a sheet of brown paper about a foot long.
“This is a drawing of a paper knife, made by Mrs. Millicent, which her husband always used. It has not been seen since that evening.”
Derrick took it eagerly, and saw the outline of a murderous looking weapon. “That’s a Malay creese.”
“Yes, Mr. Millicent got it in the east, and seemed to attach some sentimental value to it. You can see what chance an unprotected man would have against a thing like that.”
Derrick did not answer at once, but scrutinized . the deadly curve of the six inch blade.
“Did anything else disappear at the same time?”
“One thing more, which Mrs. Millicent could not draw. It was a small jade image, three inches high, used for a paper weight.”
A light began to dance in Derrick’s eyes.
“Was that always on the desk as well?”
The inspector nodded “An ugly looking thing, from alii can hear, but Mr. Millicent would not allow it to be touched.”
“There was no concealment about this?”
“None whatever. It was there for everyone to see. As a matter of fact the thing was so repulsive that no one in the house wanted to touch it, except Perkins—who dusted it.”
“Then from all of this you must have concluded that the murder was committed by some one who did not come there with the intent to kill?”
"Yes—all the evidence points to that, but on the
He was interrupted by the stopping of a car at the station door. Mrs. Millicent had resumed her journey, and paused to say thank you. Derrick went out, was introduced to her brother, and received the little woman’s thanks. Then she sent him a wistful glance.
“Can I be of any use?”
“Not yet—but soon—perhaps.” He hesitated. “The light is getting clearer, but I must follow it in my own way,” he added under his breath.
She seemed content with that, and the car moved off, leaving him a vision of a small pale face and eyes that must have spent many a sleepless night. He went back into the tiny office more determined than ever.
“There are some questions I want to ask, but perhaps you might tell me what other evidence was given first.”
WHATEVER doubts the inspector might have had at the outset about the justification of this procedure, had long disappeared. The unfathomed crime at Beech Lodge lay on his soul with accusing weight. He knew that the memory of it would never leave him till the mystery was unravelled, and until this visit of the new tenant, there seemed little chance that the thing would ever be solved. Now he looked at Derrick with growing respect.
“The next witness was Perkins, the parlour maid. She had been in Mrs. Millicent’s service for six years, age thirty eight and unmarried. On the night in question she was on her way upstairs from the servants hall, and passed the study. There had been no noise of any kind, that she was aware of, for the past hour. The study door was ajar, and, glancing in, she noticed that all the lights were out except the one on the desk, and that Mr. Millicent was leaning forward in what seemed to be a curious way. She knocked, and, getting no answer went in. Mr. Millicent, still in his chair, was bent forward over the desk, his head on one side, and a savage wound in his neck, from which the blood had poured in a small pool. She says that she screamed, and when he
“At ten fifteen, on the night of October, two years ago, I was summoned to Beech Lodge by the groom pf Doctor Henry, who had just been called to the house by Martin, Mr. Millicent’s gardener. I reached the house at ten thirty, and found Mr. Millicent dead, with a wound in his neck. Dr. Henry had very wisely left things quite undisturbed, and ■ven Mr. Millicent’s body rad not been moved more han enough for a very hort examination of the ivound.”
“Were Perkins and Martin n the room with you at his time?” asked Derrick ,‘venly.
“No—only the doctor and
did not answer she ran upstairs to Mrs. Millicent, without having touched him or anything else. Mrs. Millicent then hurried to the room, and Perkins raced to the gardener’s lodge where she found Martin. He started for Dr. Henry at once and arrived back in the doctor’s cart. Then the groom came in for me.”
“Did Perkins admit to having missed anything from the desk?”
“Yes—she mentioned the paper knife, but did not speak of the jade image till Mrs. Millicent brought the point up.”
“Then I take it that Mr. Martin did not see the body till he returned with Dr. Henry?” “That is his evidence also 1 ’•
“And Mrs. Millicent staved with her husband till the doctor got there?"
“Yes —of course.”
“So that the only time left unaccounted for is the period between the moment when he was stabbed and the instant at which Perkins found him?
“How long was that?"
"Better take the doctor's evidence. He testifies that from the condition of the body life could not have been extinct for more than one hour.”
“That leaves half an hour in which anything might have happened. It all narrows down to what did hap-
The inspector pushed out his lips. “That's it. Now you’ve arrived at the place I did-and where I’ve stuck
“Then perhaps we’d better take what Martin had to say, before I ask any more questions?”
“Yes. Martin had'nt much to say. He was at the pump behind the lodge, when Perkins got there. Mr. Millicent had no horse at the time, and he ran all the w ay to Dr. Henry’s house, which is about two hundred yards past this office. Martin had been sitting in his kit«hen, and would not have heard anyone pass the lodge. There had been no dispute with Mr. Millicent, w ho discussed the garden with him that afternoon. He,too,admitted missing the paper knife when his attention was called to it.”
“What was his manner while he was giving evidence?” “A bit surly, ah he always is. He’s not the man to look one straight in the face.”
“And the weather that night?”
“A slight drizzle that had been going on all day. The drive w as soft, and would have shown any fresh tracks— at least that's what we decided.”
Derrick nodded. “Only one or two more questions. Do you imagine there is any link or understanding of any kind between Perkins and Martin. They are both mysterious in their manner, and can there be any reason you can think of for their both being in service in a lonely place like Beech Lodge?”
The inspector stroked a massive chin. “That’s one of those coincidences you spoke of?”
“Yes, if you couple it with the presence of a character like Perkins, who will not leave the house under any circumstances, and apparently does not care what wages she earns. Martin jumped at two and a half guineas a week, w hich is not much as wages go now.”
“I’ll admit that they almost cettainly know a good deal more than we’ve been able to get out, but,” here the big man shook his head, “what we lack is evidence. You can’t make an accusation on anything else—much less an arrest.”
“Do you think it possible that that wound could have been inflicted by a woman?” asked Derrick slowly. “Not unless she w-ere in a blazing fury.”
“And there was only one man within half a mile or so at the time?” persisted the other, “a man who cleared out across the ocean till it seemed reasonableto assume that the affair had been nearly forgotten.”
“Then what would you call real evidence?” There was a little lift in the voice.
“The discovery of the paper knife or that image,” said the inspector doubtfully, then added with a smile. “You don’t happen to have come across anything of the kind?”
Derrick put his hand in his pocket. “Was it at all like this?” He laid a small dark green object on the table.
The blood rushed suddenly to the inspector’stemples. “My God, sir,” he whispered, “where did you find that?”
'T'HE thing on the desk was a diminutive Buddha, about three and a half inches high. Carved from a single block of jade, the light seemed to penetrate its cloudy depths in waves of creamy green. The base was about two inches square, and supported a tiny block on which the god sat, clothed in flowing robes. The hands were folded, the head bent slightly forward, and on the face rested an expression of utter malignity. Even as he stared, a chill ran through Derrick’s body, and he glanced at the inspector to determine whether he, too, was not under this seemingly evil emanation. But the big man only stared and stared.
I don t think it’s much use to try and tell you what led up to the finding of this,” began Derrick slowly, but it is something of wdiich I have been increasingly conscious ever since taking the house. There was nothing of what you could call evidence to prove that it existed at all, and in spite of what you say I can’t see that it is really evidence now. It was usually on Millicent’s desk, and was discovered not to be there shortly after he was killed. The assumption is that it was removed during that half hour about which we can say nothing.”
“I’d like to confront Perkins with that, and see what would happen,” put in the inspector sharply.
Derrick shook his head. "I’ve never studied your profession, but you’d get about as much out other as you would out of that image. I haven’t had that woman under observation for a week for nothing. Her face is a mask. Her mind is a foreign country so far as we are concerned.”
The inspector leaned forward confidentially. “You’re right, there’s no doubt of that, but what do you propose to do next?”
“I haven’t got far enough to be able to say. Do you now agree that there are elements in the case which have not yet been considered at all?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you’ll also agree that of the two ways of approaching it, the inductive method is the only one to be considered.”
The inspector looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow you there.”
“It’s this,” said Derrick patiently. “You either work down from established facts, and gradually eliminate the points that don’t apply, or you work up from something you assume in the first place, and gradually add to it as you proceed. That’s the method I propose to fol-
“And what do you start with?”
“That, not knowing who the murderer is, we assume one. He did his work between nine-thirty and ten at night. He did not come with any murderous intent, unless—and this must be carefully considered—he knew that there was on Mr. Millicent’s desk a w eapon suitable for his purpose. He knew about the image, and, more than that, believed that it had something to do with his act that would weigh against him. Therefore he concealed it. The place in which he did conceal it could only be known to one who was well acquainted with the house, better in fact than Mrs. Millicent herself. That the image should have remained there undisturbed for these two years, points to the absence of the criminal for that period.” Derrick paused. “Are you with me so far?”
“Go on, sir.” said the inspector tensely.
“Well, add to that the characteristics of Perkins, the fact that she is desolate apparently, over the death of her master, that she believes—as I am beginning to believe myself—that inanimate things can and do radiate a mysterious influence under given conditions—then build up in your mind some purely imaginary state of affairs under which Millicent could have met his death—and fit all these things into it. If they won’t go, keep on building others till yoti get one in which they all dove-tail. The betting is a hundred to one that that is the real solution. Good-morning, inspector, and many thanks.” He paused on the doorstep. “By the way, do you know where I could get a couple of pounds of plaster of Paris?” “Nowhere nearer than the next village, sir,” was the puzzled answer.
MOW if you take a young man of a highly imaginative ^ nature, whose mind is continually on an exploration for new sensations, and plunge him into a situation that is clothed with grimness and mystery, there will be inevitably set up a series of reactions such as Derrick had experienced for the past week. All thought of his own work had disappeared. This was his work. He had no doubt of it. The call of it was irresistible, and he began to perceive that it might be the stepping stone to the most successful thing he had ever written. As for Mary, he was assured that she stood in no danger, being convinced that she was far outside the orbit of the present drama. At the same time, it would be an error in tactics to tell her too much. He was deliberating just how much it was wise to say, when he arrived at the lodge. Glancing along the hedge-bordered lane, he saw a curious figure some hundred yards away.
It was that of an elderly man in weatherbeaten clothes, who stooped as he walked, and supported himself on a stick cut evidently by the road side. He could not have been more than fifty, so bright were his eyes, but animpression of age was given by the whiteness of his beard and hair. His skin was a dark olive, his nose hooked like a raven’s beak, a dirty shirt was open at the neck, where a thin gold chain showed yellow against the swarthy flesh. Derrick, who stood watching, experienced a strange thrill as he approached. It seemed that something invisible but enormously potent moved down the road with him. Presently he halted, and turning his piercing eyes on the tenant of Beech Lodge, made a sweeping gesture of salutation. Simultaneously, he swung forward a tightly knotted pack.
“Good-morning, sir, will you buy some trinkets from a wandering pedlar. Cheap, sir, cheap—I’m giving them awray now, trade is that bad.” He spoke in a curious sing-song voice that had in it a strange, outlandish lilt.
Derrick nodded. “Where do you come from?” “Anywhere south of the line—it’s all the same tome. Singapore, Borneo, Bengal, the Cape, Central America— I’ve seen them all. But there’s no place like this, sir —except in winter.” He shivered a little as he spoke. “What have you got.”
The pack was unrolled on the w>et grass. Inside lay a long strip of silk. Opening this the stranger revealed chains, bangles, semi-precious stones, bits of cleverly carved ivory all the paraphernalia of the eastern petty trader. He showed them, one after the other, pattering of the Sunda Islands, the Molluccas, Bali Lombok and a host of oriental places whose names fell from his lips with accustomed fluency. There was no doubt about his knowing the East.
“Here’s a bit of hammered tin from Kuantan in Pa-, hang—you don’t get much of that work nowadays. This gold bangle is from Berak, and you can have it for ten shillings. Better buy it, sir—it’s worth more than that for the gold alone. I wouldn’t offer it if I weren’t footsore. Got to have somewhere to sleep to-night.” While he spoke, the piercing eyes moved swiftly from Derrick, to roam curiously about the neighborhood, and it suddenly struck the latter that this man knew very w ell where he was. Derrick’s hand closed over the image in his pocket.
“Ever been here before?”
The lean, brown fingers hung motionless over the trinkets. “Not me—there’s nothing to bring one of my kind here. Better take this bangle. There’s twenty pennyweights of gold in it.”
Derrick shook his head. “I don’t w-ant anything of that kind. Where are you heading for?”
“Where ever trade is good. Tell you what, sir, I’m a poor man, and I’ll give you this bangle for a bite of food and leave to sleep in one of the outhouses to-night. No lady would turn up her nose at this, sir.”
Derrick hesitated, while a wild thought flashed through his brain. The thing was, of course quite unjustifiable, but he had a lurking sensation that like other strange occurrences it was meant to be. It was not trinkets he wanted, and was increasingly convinced that trinkets had never brought this stranger to the gates of Beech Lodge. The stars in their courses pointed to something else.
“What’s your name? You speak good English, but you’re not English, are you?”
“Name of Blunt, sir. My father was English, and my mother a Malay woman. I’m all for getting back there as soon as I can make it. This country is' too cold for me.”
“Well,” said Derrick deliberately, “I have no objection to your sleeping in the lodge, if my gardener is willing. You can see him about that, if you like.”
The dark eyes gave a sudden glint “That’s real good of you, sir. Don’t you take any trouble, I’ll find him myself. Here, you’d better take the bangle now.” He held out the yellow circlet.
Derrick was about to refuse, but on an impulse he could not explain, he took the thing and slipped it in beside the jade image. “You’ll find the gardener just behind the lodge,” he said.
The pedlar nodded quickly, and moved up the drive toward a break in the hedge. Derrick stood irresolute for an instant, then it seemed that some invisible force pushed him gently ahead. He stepped quickly, and made no noise. Reaching the garden gate, he slid behind a sheltering tree. At that moment Martin, who was bending over his spade, looked up and saw the stranger.
TT was all over in an instant. He made a little gesture in which amazement and fear were grotesquely blended. His lips moved, but no sound came. His eyes protruded, and he swayed uncertainly, with a curiously elephantine uncouthness. Then, catching sight of Derrick’s half concealed figure, he made an extraordinary noise in his throat, and turned again to his work. So far as the master of Beech Lodge could determine, the pedlar had given no sign whatever. Derrick came forward with a manner of complete indifference.
“Martin, this man has asked if he might sleep on the place to-night, and I told him I had no objections to his being in the lodge if it’s all the same to you. His name is Blunt.”
The gardener’s face had become rigidly impassive and of a pale yellow colour. Looking first at his master, then at the ground and not at all towards the stranger, he moistened his dry lips.
“Name of Blunt, sir? That’s all right. I’ll look after
Derrick walked slowly to the house, deep in thought. There was another factor now to be dealt with, and in an odd w-ay it was not altogether unexpected. A triangle had been formed with the dead man in the middle and an undeciphered personality at each corner. His first instinct was to report thé new arrival to the inspector, but on second thought he shook his head. It seemed that destiny was arranging all these things without any extraneous aid. Too much had already happened to be attributed to mere coincidence. The sight of Mary waving to him from her bedroom window brought him sharply back to earth. What was a woman doing in a pass like this? He ran upstairs, closed the door, and dropped the bangle into her hands.
“It’s perfectly lovely, Jack, but where on earth did you get it?”
“A travelling pedlar gave it to me just now by the lodge for a night’s shelter.”
“How ridiculous! Tell me really. You know you can’t afford it.”
He laughed. “As a matter of fact I can afford it. How' did Mrs. Millicent seem when she left you?”
“She said she was perfectly well—and felt rather queer, Continued on page 56
The Jade God
Continued from page 18
“She said she was perfectly well— and felt rather queer, which is not much to be wondered at considering the conversation last night. It was the reverse of cheerful. Now, tell me the truth about this bangle.”
“I have,” he said quietly. “Did Mrs. Millicent mention her husband again before she went?”
“No, but she stood looking at his portrait for ever so long with a sort of wonder in her eyes. It was wonder, rather than sadness, and she didn’t seem really depressed when she left. Come along, Jack, that has nothing to do with this bangle.”
“It has, though,” he answered gravely. Tome down stairs, I want to talk to you.
There was that in his tone which made her look up quickly. “Oh.” Her voice changed at once. “Would you mind talking here, for I’m not awfully fond of
He nodded. “We’ll start with this bangle and work back.”
Some twenty minutes later she had the gist of the story. But of the discovery of the Jade Image he said not a word. Thp.t was a thing apart, and too fraught with ominous portent to be revealed, even to her. He told her quite frankly that under all the circumstances he had rather that she went away for a few days. So much might happen at any moment. And it was then that Mary Derrick, with a rather pale face, but very resolute eyes, stood up and shook her head.
“Ican’thelp feeling you’ve been rather a fool over all this. Jack, and tied a lot of unimportant things together into a big bundle that you think is going to produce something wonderful when you untie it. But anyway, I know quite certainly that till this is off your mind you won’t be able to dream of anythingelse.so whether it’s foolish or not I’m going to stay here and see it through. Who is going to look after the house while you’re doing
detective work? Do you want to leave it to Perkins?”
^ “No,” he grinned, “I most emphatically
She was undeniably nervous, but mustered up the ghost of a smile. “Then it seems to me that this is a time when a girl should stick to her husband. Is there anything I can do?”
“Just go on as though nothing were happening.”
“And you, Jack—you’re not going to do anything dangerous?”
“No, I’m only going to pull a few! strings and watch things happen. If; any help is needed, I have the inspector.”
An hour later, he looked up from the lunch table and took a swift glance at Perkins. The woman’s face was more mask-like than ever, but there was that in eyes and manner which betrayed the presence of fear. She moved about, a perfect servant, and he marvelled at her outward composure, being assured that before her mental vision was a swarthy face, a white beard and the lean brown hands of the pedlar. The stage was set now, and he waited breathlessly for the curtain to go up.
That afternoon, having first made certain that he was screened from peering eyes, he spent an hour with a mass of plaster of Paris, finally evolving an excellent duplicate of the jade image, from which he made a workman-like cast. Testing its weight, he dug a hole in the base, and inserted shot till the two balanced on the letter scales. The final touch was to rub the thing with moist earth. And all this time it seemed that the portrait of the dead man looked on with mute approval. Then, locking the study door, and after a quick scrutiny of the lawn, he approached the wood panelling beside the mantel.
A foot on the left of the stone facing and three feet above the floor, was a practically imperceptible joint. Pressing this the panel yielded, and there was revealed a dusty recess, some six inches wide and
of considerable depth. The space was traversed by a shelf at half its height, and the back was formed by the rough brick in the main wall of the chimney. After an instant of strained listening. Derrick put the plaster image on the shelf, and pushed back the panel. It came to its seat with a slight click. Then, sliding the jade original into his pocket, he put on his cap and strolled toward the lodge.
IT WAS now quite clear that the mission of the dark-eyed pedlar was not to sell trinkets along winding English lanes. He had come, like the others, at some mysterious call, indistinguishable to the outer world. That call was, in some subtle fashion, linked with the image that dangled heavily at Derrick’s side. He had read of the strange powers attributed in the East to certain objects, that for years accumulated an increasing potency, and exercised a malignant sway over life and fortune. That Millicent had been for some time in the Orient was well known, and it was more than probable he had delved into the occult problems that exist wherever the palm groves meet the sea. It would be a nàtural pursuit for a man with a mind as imaginative as
As to the image itself, Derrick now felt a growing conviction that from it there had spread the subtle influence dominating the study. The Thursbys had realized it, and even Mary’s practical spirit became restless under its viewless touch. What Perkins claimed as the voice of ïnan'mate things, with a strange wild earnestness that carried him off his feet, was nothing more or less than the spell of this mysterious god, whose creamy fingers rested so stiffly on his rigid and miniature knees. The thing to determine was, how and by whom it had come to Beech Lodge, in what manner it had brought about the death of Millicent, and what mandate it had for those who stood within its malevolent reach. And the end, Derrick was convinced, lay not far off.
Approaching the lodge, he heard voices, and stepped close against the high hedge that bordered the garden. Martin and the pedlar were in the kitchen, of which the window was open, and even at this distance it was evident that high argument prevailed. Coming as close as he dared, Derrick listened intently— and understood not a word.
THE men were talking in an unintelligible argument, their tones jerky and ragged with excitement. Martin, it seemed, was on the defensive. He got in a word here and there in the stream of jargon, shooting it out with a sullen defiance, in which fear was ever present. Derrick heard his own name, then Millicent’s and Thursby’s in an odd liquid lingo. Buddha was spoken of frequently, but not with the respect usually accorded that deity. In the middle of it all, Martin swore a great English oath, the pedlar answered with one word that sounded like the hiss of a snake—and there fell a silence. Derrick stepped quickly back on to the drive and strolled toward the gates. He had heard enough to clench his fingers round the jade image.
As he passed the lodge, Martin came to the door. His face was of a curiously mottled color and betrayed signs of great tension. He saw Derrick, and, pulling himself together, assumed an air of complete indifference. The latter beckoned.
“What do you make of that chap, Martin?”
“Dunno exactly what to make of him, sir. Queer sort of pedlar, I should say.” “Ever been in the east yourself?” asked Derrick carelessly.
“I sailed the Indian Ocean before I came to work for Mr. Millicent.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Does this fellow speak anything except English?” “I’ve just been trying him with some Hindustanee, but that beats him.”
“Did you see the inside of his pack?” Martin shook |his head. “He won’t trouble to show that to the likes of me.” Derrick laughed. “You never can tell, and I’d have a look at it if I were you. By the by, I think you’d better keep an eye on him to-night. I fancy he wouldn’t mind picking up anything portable that took his fancy, especially,” he added thoughtfully, “anything that happened to be in his own line.”
MARTIN touched his cap. His eyes had narrowed to mere slits, and over his face dropped that baffling negation which might mask anything. He was racking his brain to determine just howmuch this master of his might know—or suspect. Such at least was the expression he wore, and Derrick marked it contentedly.
“You see,” he continued, “we’re a long way from anywhere here, and your responsibility is all the greater. If you don’t fancy the pedlar for the night, I’ll send him along to the village now,” he made a step as though to carry out the suggestion.
“That’s all right, sir,” put in Martin hastily, “he’s a harmless old man with not strength enough in him to hurt a cat —I’ll stand good for him till to-morrow.” He raised his voice a little, so that the words were perfectly audible at some distance. Simultaneously, Derrick saw a blind stir slightly at an open window in the lodge. Matters had so far gone just as he proposed. Then, raising his own voice, he looked straight into Martin’s shifty eyes.
“You remember that talk we had-about Mr. Millicent’s death the first night you came to see me?”
“Yes, sir,” came the grudging answer. “Has anything occurred to you in the matter since then?”
“What could occur, sir?”
“Don’t know, I’m sure, but sometimes when one comes back to a well known place, the mind takes a twist and turns up something forgotten till then. Your guest for to-night has started me thinking that perhaps some one of that description was hanging about when Mr. Millicent was killed.”
“For God’s sake don’t talk that way, sir,” Martin’s face was working desperately, and he glanced apprehensively over his shoulder.
“There’s no harm done that-f-can see,” said Derrick cheerfully, “and it maybe as well to let our friend know that we’re not asleep. I wouldn’t trust him too far.” The man winced as though struck. .“If there’s anything you want to say about Mr. Millicent, sir,” he half whispered, “couldn’t we go a few steps up the drive?” “What’s the matter with you, Martin? Suppose this fellow does hear what we say, it doesn’t affect him. He can’t know anything about it—can he?”
Martin shook his head in confusion. “Of course not—but—”
“Did I ever ask you whether there was anything missed after Mr. Millicent died?’ “No, sir, and if you had—”
“I always thought that was the strangest part of it,” interrupted Derrick, “and even the thing that killed him disappeared. No motive has ever occurred to you?” Martin’s lips said “no,” but hardly a sound came from them.
“I had a chat the other day with a man who was on the case, and he told me that something was missed, and has never been seen since.”
“Never heard of that,” murmured Martin thickly.
“It was a thing that had been picked up in the East years before.”
The man turned a ghastly yellow. “For God’s sake, Mr. Derrick, don’t talk like that here!”
AS MARTIN said this, his glance was again drawn to the lodge window as though by a mesmeric power. He had apparently ceased to feel anything save a hideous fear, and, massive though his frame was, he began to sway slowly where he stood. His face took on an expression not so much of guilt as of being overtaken by some menacing destiny from which there was no escape. Derrick felt a fleeting pang of pity for this torture, then reflected grimly that Martin was but one corner of the deadly triangle. In the same instant he was overcome by a sensation of the grotesqueness of the whole situation that he, an ordinarily normal citizen of a quiet country neighborhood, should be caught up so inextricably in a stranger’s problem. Was it all some phantasy or period of lightmindedness from which he would presently awake and be sane again? But, in apparent answer, there came what seemed to be a faint tinglefromthe thinghidden in hisclenched hand. It was real—all real, and destiny was at work in Beech Lodge. Then, suddenly, with his fingers strangely wfarm from the cold jade, the next move became clear.
“I wonder,” he said slowly, “if the
thing that was missed from Mr. Millicent’s desk could have been at all of this sort.” He took the Buddha from his pocket, and balancedit openly in his hand. “Of course,” he added, staring hard at Martin, "you can’t tell me, because you never heard of it”
The gardener’s figure seemed to shrink visibly, and his black eyes protruded. The blood rushed in a mottled flood to his temples, while his fingers clasped and unclasped mechanically, the sinews standing out like cords.
"God!” he said thickly, “God!” then stared over his shoulders.
F ■'ROM the lodge door moved the figure of the pedlar, his eyes preternaturally bright. Martin saw him coming, and made a little helpless gesture that seemed ridiculous in so massive a man. Gone was the weary limp that heralded his approach a few hours previously. The head was erect, the bent shoulders straight, and the lithe body took on the springy contours of youth. Instinctively Derrick stepped back a pace, while his fingers tightened round Buddha’s clouded base. But it was at Derrick and not at Buddha that Blunt looked first.
“Excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help hearing you say that someone had been killed here. Might I ask how long ago?” The audacity of the thing made Derrick blink. What Martin thought could not be deciphered, so intently were his eyes fixed on the other man’s face, and for a second he appeared to have forgotten the image. There was an instant of silence, then Derrick’s heart gave a little leap. He perceived that he was hunting big game, and it behooved him to keep his head.
“The matter can’t interest you, can it?” Blunt’s lips formed an inscrutable smile but his gaze was blank as sea water.
“Might fiappen that I could be of use, sir. Seer, a bit of that sort of thing in the East.”
“But this,” said Derrick slowly, “was not the usual kind of death. There are no
“There ain’t many deaths of what you might call the usual kind where I come from—and there is most always a clue of some sort if you know where to look.” Blunt’s glance rested indifferently on the image, and over Martin’s face crept a shade of admiration.
DERRICK saw this, and it stiffened his resolve, The game—big game— was afoot now. It was one against two, and shortly, he was convinced, it would be one against three. Perkins would take her place without hesitation—and prove, perhaps, the most elusive of them all.
“I hardly see how a stranger could detect at first sight what skilled observers have failed to discover after much study,” replied Derrick stolidly.
“And against that there’s such a thing as looking at some object for so long a time that after a while you don’t see it at all. Now that carving you got in your hand—I would bet that often you don’t know whether it’s in the room or not, you’re that used to it being there. Same with clues—it’s the new comer who gets them, not the dog that has been on the trail so long that his nose is dead.”
He hesitated a moment,“Might as well let me try it, sir.”
The master of Beech Lodge laughed good humouredly, “At anyrate you can’t do any harm by having a look at the room—eh, Martin, what do you say? Blunt is in your charge, and you’re responsible for him while he’s on the grounds.” Martin twisted his lips in a vain effort to speak coherently. It seemed that the reminder of responsibility was almost too much. He sent the pedlar a covert glance in which fear and respect were strangely mingled, and when he looked at his master there was something imploring in his eyes, as though he begged not to be drawn further. And in that moment Derrick thought that Martin was a more honest man than ever before. Then the expression passed, and the face was a mask once more.
“That’s just as you think, sir,” he muttered.
DERRICK turned thoughtfully to Blunt. “You can come up if you like in about an hour. Better have Martin with you. Martin, you can bring this man to the study at four o’clock. By the way, do you want any details of this murder before you come, for, if so,
Martin knows a good deal more than I do. Better pump him.” . n
i don’t want to know anything, sir. “Well, if vou should, and Martin gets stuck, you can find out from Perkins up at the house.”
“Who might Perkins be?”
“The maid who was here when Mr. Millicent was killed,—she found him.” Blunt’s expression did not change in the slightest. “I won’t bother her, and look here, sir, if you doubt my faith, you can take my pack till y ou’^ satisfied I’m straight, and what’s more,” here he glanced casually at the Buddha. “I’ve a leaning for that sort of thing you’ve got there. If any bit of work in my pack lakes your eye, I’ll make a trade for it.” He said this with an admirably assumed indifference, but Derrick was aware that Martin’s face now wore a look of breathless anxiety. These two were treading delicately.
“It doesn’t belong to me, but, since you know the East, what do you think of it.” Derrick stretched out his hand, and deliberately dropped the Buddha into the pedlar’s palm.
A 'SLIGHT quiver ran through the lean form, and the bright eyes became suddenly cloudy with emotion. Derrick jumped to the conclusion that the thing which had drawn this swarthy man from the distant Orient, now lay within his hungry grasp. It was a moment when nerves and muscles were tense for action. And between them stood Martin, a pawn in the play, divided by fear and undisguisable awe. But Blunt remained master of himself.
“It’s from Indo China,” he said slowly, “up north of the Bay of Bengal, and, I reckon, about five hundred years old. These things drift down into the^ Malay country pretty often—but they’re not supposed to.”
“Matter of fact the spirit of Buddha don’t like it—at least that’s what they say where I’ve been. Happen to know, sir, if this thing ever brought any bad luck to the man that owned it?”
“No,” said Derrick smoothly, “why should it?”
Martin made an uncontrollable gesture, but the pedlar seemed unmoved. “Talk of the East—that’ s all—and perhaps it ain’t worth much in England. Buddha is a queer bird, they say, and gets hold of folks without their knowing it. There was one image I saw in a Burmese temple that just dared me to steal it, and I would if it had been guarded by about a hundred priests. It was just about the size of this—and cut out of jade too. I saw an empty stand close by where the other one had been. There was hell when I asked what had happened to it, but I itched to swipe the one that was left.”
Derrick looked up. “Why was that?” “They said that it was a sort of link between what you saw and didn’t see and that it took the lid off things you couldn’t understand any other way. Indo China is stuffed full of places where you hear that sort of thing. I guess there’s nothing else to talk about.” His voice lifted a little. “I’d be glad to buy that thing from the owner just on the off chance—if I could. I’ll make it worth your while, sir.”
“I don’t know whether the owner puts any value on it or not, but I’ll find out,” said Derrick carelessly, and strolled on with Buddha safe back in his pocket. The light was beginning to dawn.
ONCE out of sight of the gates, he struck along the winding road, and, coming to a lane, turned off across the fields. Ten minutes later he had entered Beech Lodge from the rear without detection by anyone. Seating himself at the desk, he rang the bell, and before the faint tinkle had died away, Perkins was at the door. He motioned her to a chair, which she took after a quick nervous glance.
“I want to ask you something more about Martin,” he said evenly, “that is if you can tel] me anything of his history before he came to Mr. Millicent.” “Why do you ask me, sir?’
“I have no one else to enquire from, and you occupy just the same confidential position here now that you have for years. You’re aware that I’m doing what I can to clear up this mystery over Mr. Millicent’s death?”
She nodded, gravely, without speaking.
“Then do you think there’s any eonjfc nection between that death and the arr® val here of this pedlar?” He dropped t)>É question in a manner suggesting that hi; was floundering in the dark and making, helpless hazards at the truth. ThefooÇj well played, would render service now*;
“I’m afraid 1 can’t help much,” shl said in a half whisper.
He looked straight into the passionles* eyes. “And yet you must know so mucM more than I do. The voice of a dead! man is sounding now in this room -3 asking for vengeance. Can’t you heaK it?”
The hard faced woman shivered a little as he spoke, and Derrick had a sweeping conviction that -he was nearer the truth than ever before. There w as mystery down at the lodge, but the key of the closed door was within this unresponsive breast.
“He was good to you, I’m told,” went! on the steady voice, “and it seems that you were devoted to him. Is six years of confidence forgotten so soon?”
“Don’t,” she said brokenly, “don’t.”
“Two men are coming to this roomin half an hour. Of one I know but little, and nothing about the other. The first was here two years ago,” here Derrick leaned forward and stared at her intently, “Was the other here also?”
He shot out these last words in a voice; so sharp and imperative that the woman quailed visibly. Her fascinated eyes were fixed on him in a brilliant stare that he began to find strangely hypnotic. It seemed that she was receding imperceptibly from his reach, leaving behind her only a baffling intelligence that dared him to follow if he could. When she spoke, it was as though from a great distance in which she felt immune from further probing.
“Martin was alone when I found him that night—as I told you before.”
“And Blunt,” he persisted. “Has he been here before—ever?”
“I am not Blunt’s keeper,” she pained.
“Blunt made me an offer for something this afternoon,” he continued, as though her answer was all sufficient.
She looked at him silently. WThat a fool the roan was after all.
Derrick felt in his pocket, where a curious throb suddenly seemed to animate the jade image, and set it gently on the
“The offer was for this,” he said quietly.
In the next second he snatched it away. Perkins, springing forward with convulsive strength, had laid her nervous grip on the Buddha, while her eyes blazed with an insensate cupidity. Foiled in her purpose, she began to tremble, while her gaze darted from Derrick to the image, then to the desk, as though in search of some invisible object. In that moment she ceased to be a woman and became a demon urged by some driving force, terrible in its desire. Even while he watched, the force paused and slackened. The wild light faded from her eyes, the tense figure slowly straightened, the face marvellously reassumed that masklike blankness to which he was so accustomed, and there stood before him the former Perkins, silent, mysterious and remote. She swayed a little as though from the storm that had passed through her, then, with her hands hanging limp at her side, waited for what might come
“Does Martin want it too—like yourself and Blunt?” he asked deliberately.
She shook her head slowly, her lips pressed tight.
“Then what is this thing?”
BUT even while he spoke the certain knowledge came to him that here in these emerald depths lay that which passed man’s understanding. This tiny god exemplified something for which there was no explanation. It mattered not how or when or why. The fact was potent enough. He did not expect Perkins to make reply, nor did she. It was not till after a moment of stinging silence that her voice sounded.
“Where did you find it?”
“It found me,” said Derrick steadily, “Can you understand that?”
She nodded, her eyes still wide. “And it has been here all the time?”
“For two years—and I do not know how much longer.”
“It was not on his dssk when—” she broke off in utter confusion.
Derrick stiffened. “When what?”
“When I found him,” she whispered faintly.
Something impalpable beckoned a mystical finger to his imagination, and it was clear that he must determine how far this disordered mind would go.
The grim unreality of the hour surrounded him like a cloak. If Perkins were mad, ¡ why should he not be a little mad too. j They would understand each other better then. In a few minutes there would be others to reckon with.
“Go on,” he said. “What more?” “There is only one thing more.” Her voice sounded hollow and toneless. He ; perceived that she was moving again to that mysterious distance that so long had baffled him.
“What is that?”
“Death,” she breathed, and disappeared j like a ghost into the hall.
Derrick’s lips were dry as he looked j after her. “Whose?” he murmured, with ! a sudden tightening in his breast. Then he reached for the telephone.
TWO minutes later, the inspector at !
Bamberley commandeered a passing car, and set but post haste for Beech Lodge. He got out a little distance off, and pushing through a hedge, made his way cautiously toward the rear of the house, with vivid memories of his last i visit to this mysterious residence. Not seriously impressed by all that Derrick had said, he now admitted that it would be like an amateur’s luck to succeed j where wiser men had failed.
And as for Derrick, having given his message, he was rather overwhelmed at the thought that he had a quarter of an j hour left in which to finish his move. Certain things had been established but they were not in any way co-related as yet. Perkins’ confession was only enough to make him feel sure that she knew far more than he had succeeded in bringing out. If indeed she were not present at the moment of Millicent’s death, Derrick was convinced that there was no mystery about it in her mind. Secrecy was writI ten on her face, and defiance moved in her eyes. As to Martin, there existed equal doubt. The man was a liar—this much was proved. The image had for him the same mesmeric influence that it exerted on the others. Was it not possible that this was the force that drew him across three thousand miles of deep i sea water to the shady walks and sleepy walls of Beech Lodge? Could it be possible also, that for some hidden reason Perkins was screening this man with the furtive eyes? What about that half hour which elapsed between the moment of death and that of Perkins’ discovery— and did she discover it at all? Why should the life of an inoffensive man be snuffed out in any case, a man seemingly without enemies who raised no pretence of defence?
Brooding unprofitably over these problems, Derrick’s mind travelled on to the coming of the pedlar. Did he merely i happen to wander along the winding road that led past Beech Lodge? The picture of Martin’s face put that possibility out of court. No sooner were the two alone, than strange tales cf strange days had been revived in a strange tongue. The shadow of the jade god fell over them both. But if the god was a fearsome thing, wrenched from a jungle i and the hands of worshipping priests, ¡ and had in its emerald breast that which brought disaster—as it had to Millicent ¡ —why should it arouse the covetous | hunger of the man who called himself Blunt?
PUZZLING over this, his thoughts pitched back to his own discovery a few hours previously, when the eyes of Millicent’s portrait seemed to draw him out of his chair and signal him to stand by ¡ the mantle. He had done this quite 1 automatically, and without asking why. Then, and equally without explanation, he had found the hidden panel, just as his fingers had mysteriously tingled when they rested on the place where I Millicent’s blood once spread its crimson pool. And, all through, there had been no element of surprise. He appeared ! to be following the dictates of an j intelligence wiser and stronger than his ! own. If this was the work also of the | jade god, to what ultimate climax did it point?
The only thing to do now—and in this conclusion he mysteriously reinforced— i was the one he was doing. To assemble
I all the agents in the grim drama on the stage of two years ago, and believe that : the invisible force which was now so j potently active would bring down the I curtain with inflexible justice. Then I peace would reign again at Beech Lodge.
Came a tap at the French window,
! and the sharp rim of a peaked cap was visible just inside thé frame. He gave a sigh of relief, and stepped out noiselessly. The inspector was flatt ened against the wall in a vain effort to minimize his bulk, and his eyes were unusually bright “Got here as soon as I could, sir, but I’m afraid your back hedge suffered a bit. Where are they now?”
Derrick glanced at his watch. “The reception should begin in about five minutes.”
“Are you armed, sir?”
“Never thought of that, but I don’t believe it’s necessary. You can attend to that end of it. Mind you, I’m not at all sure anything’s going to happen. Have you any record of a person like Blunt being here before?”
Derrick shrugged his shoulders. “Can you see that image on the desk?”
“Then what you’ve got to look out for principally is that no one gets away with it. Stay where you are, and don’t move, unless they try that game. If they do, grab the one who’s got it. I take it that you’re willing to be guided by me for a little while longer?”
The inspector nodded grimly. “I’ll follow anyone who can lead me to the man wh~ killed Mr. Millicent.”
THE faint tinkle of a door bell sounded distantly and the inspector moved back. The light was dwindling, and grey shadows began to envelop Beech Lodge. Up in her bedroom, Mary Derrick waited breathlessly, and shivered when she heard the click of a lock and low voices in the hall. Derrick was at his desk now, outwardly calm, but charged with a vast curiosity. The jade god occupied its old station, and he glanced at Millicent’s portrait as though demanding to know whether all was in order. But Millicent seemed in an odd way disappointed. What could he mean by that?
A tap at the door, and Perkins’ level voice announced that Martin and Blunt waited admittance. Then she looked not at her master but at the Buddha. Whatever emotion it aroused, she gave no sign, and he marvelled at her self repression.
“All right. Bring them in—and, Perkins, you might stay in the room while they are here.”
A flicker of surprise moved across her face, then she nodded, with the ghost of a smile. It struck him that the smile was a little satirical and cruel. In the next moment Martin and Blunt entered, their caps in their hands. Derrick leaned back in his chair. The curtain was up
“Blunt,” he said with deliberate distinctness, “this is the room in which the murder took place just two years ago. Mr. Millicent was found dead in this chair where I sit. This jade thing used to stand in front of him. The weapon that killed him has disappeared. No strangers are known to have been near the place at the time. No motive is known for the crime, and no clues were left. Now does anything suggest itself to you?” The bright eyes never left his face. Martin stood motionless, casting furtive looks at the pedlar, then at the Buddha. He, too, seemed to have reduced his feelings to control, but there was a nervous twitch in his broad, strong fingers he could not quite master. Perkins was staring at Blunt as though daring him to speak out. The gaze of the latter travelled slowly round the room, mentally photographing its minutest detail. If he had been here before, it was all amazingly well done. The portrait of Millicent was scrutinized mutely, and finally the French window.
“Was that door locked at the time?” he asked after a long pause.
Derrick turned to Perkins. “Was it?” “Yes,” she said briefly.
“And the front door?”
Perkins made a gesture of assent. “What are you trying to get at?” Martin broke in, his voice rough and threatening.
For answer the pedlar turned on him a pair of glittering eyes, whereat the gar-
dener blinked and was silent. The very air seemed ominous.
"This room is the same as it was then?” ■■ \Vh;d do you mean.” said Derrick. ‘ Are things'in the same place? That’s what 1 mean.”
\ slight sound escaped from Perkins, and her nostrils dilated. Derrick intercepted a meaning glance at Martin.
"1 don’t know never thought of that. Are they, Perkins?”
"No.” she whispered.
“What change is there?”
“The desk was in that corner,” she said faintly, “and facing the window. The screen was on the other side of the fireplace, opposite the sofa.” She got this out with a strange look at Martin as though beseeching him to realize that she could not help it.
“Then anyone sitting at the desk could not see the door without turning?” put in Derrick sharply.
She shook her head.
Into his mind flashed the memory of that half hour, still unexplained.
THE pedlar moved a shade nearer the desk. His eyes were now half closed, and the olive features had smoothed out as though under the touch of a dream. The silence began to throb, and instinctively Derrick glanced at the jade god. Beech Lodge was yielding to the mysterious east. Then Blunt began to speak in a half chant that was without colour or inflection, his voice sounding clear but distant and carrying with it a nameless note of power.
“I see a place far off, large and poorly lighted. People move there but make no sound, and strange smells are in the air. To this place comes a man from across the sea with much money. When he goes, he goes not empty handed, and leaves sorrow and anger behind him, and there is one who once inhabited this place who is not seen any more.”
The voice trailed out uncertainly, and a shudder ran through the pedlar’s body. His head was moving with a slowrythmic sway.
“Go on,” said Derrick tensely.
“The first one comes again to his own land, and tries to shake off memories of the distant place, but he could not do this. The thing that he had taken would not let him. Time went on, but always he dreamed of it, and could not forget. He feared it—and loved it. He found that it gave a voice to things that otherwise could not speak. It was a tongue for the dumb.”
DERRICK started. The mist was clearing a little now. His eyes wandered to Perkins. She, too, was under the spell, and being carried away by some invisible stream. It was only Martin whose furtive eyes had not changed. His face was lined with a great fear. Derrick saw this and thankfully remembered the man crouched against the wall outside.
“Go on,” he repeated.
“Others heard that voice, and they too loved and desired this thing. It was always like that from the very first. Love and hate and fear and courage were all wrapped up in it. For five hundred years it sucked in all that the hearts of men could feel. And because of this it was greatly treasured in the place where it belonged. But only those on whom the spirit of Buddha rested might know how great it was, and only to them could it find a tongue for that which had no speech. When they perceived this, it was dearer to them than even life, and, once having it, death followed if they lost it.”
Something in the unbroken monotone captured the brain of Derrick, and under its mesmeric influence the room began to swim. He became slowly conscious that after all it was not so important that the mystery of Millicent’s death should be unravelled. What did he owe Millicent in any case? Why waste his time on another man’s affairs—especially a man whom he could not really serve—and demoralize his own mind with an unsought tragedy. Mary would approve of his view, and it suddenly became clear that, in fairness to her, he must drop the matter at once. Then Blunt’s voice sounded
“So death came into this room, following the steps of the doomed. There was not any escape, and there could be none. More than this—death is not far away now.” The pedlar waited for an instant.
t'en leaned slightly toward Martin.
When the god calls, the next to die must hear him, no matter how far distant.” Perkins was standing as though turned to stone,and Derrick’s breath camefaster. There fell a stinging silence. Martin made a strange noice in his throat—and—suddenly Blunt leaped forward. With the swiftness of light he traversed the six feet to the desk and in the next second had grasped the image. At the touch of it, an amazing energy seemed to flow through his body, and he shot like a stone from a catapult across the room toward the French window. Before Derrick had time to shout, came a splintering of glass and wood, and the lithe figure was halfway to the hedge that bordered the lawn, pursued by the panting inspector who emitted a bull-like roar of helpless astonishment.
OBLIVIOUS of the others, Derrick ran out and took up the chase. He had nearly caught the inspector when there sounded directly ahead a sharp whistle, followed by a shrill, half human cry and the sound of a struggle.
The inspector slackened his pace. “That’s Burke, the constable,” he grunted thickly. “I left a message that he was to come out here at once and station himself behind the house. He’s got our friend now—and a good job, too.” “We’d better hurry up—he may need help,” Derrick broke into a run.
The inspector merely quickened his walk. “Not him, with a man that size. You can make your charge now, and we’ll take him down to Bamberley at once.” “Charge? By George, I’ve nothing to charge him with!”
The officer pulled up. “I suppose he smashed that door by request, eh ? Hasn’t he got anything with him?” Derrick laughed outright, “I’d clean forgotten—he has that image.” What he did not tell the inspector was that since the image had gone he felt immeasurably younger. He didn’t want the thing back now at any price.
“That’s plenty to hold him for a while—theft and damage to property. If I were you, sir—”
He broke off at a shout from the constable, then hurried on. Ploughing through a patch of bushes they came upon the two. The pedlar was on the ground, the constable bending over him with a troubled face. He saluted as the inspector hurried up.
“Don’t know what to make of this. The fellow ran straight into my arms, and put up quite a fight. When I got this thing away from him, he spun round on his toes, and put something into his mouth —then went for me again, but as soon as I got a grip on him he crumpled up. Now he looks as though he was dead. I didn’t use any unnecessary force.”
The inspector stooped, and slid a red hand inside the ragged shirt.
“Did he say anything?”
“Not a word.”
DERRICK knelt beside the prone figure. A sickly colour was already stealing over the pedlar’s features and the half opened eyes were glazed and sightless. His body, so lately animated by that amazing vigour, seemed to have crumpled up into a soft mass. Close by lay the jade god, its tiny, malignant face sneering up from the wet grass. The master of Beech Lodge saw it, and shuddered. Then a shadow fell hard by and looking up, he saw Martin, a grim satisfaction in the furtive eyes. It shot through Derrick’s mind that this might mean Martin’s freedom. The inspector bent on the new comer a long stare.
“Give the constable a hand to take this man round to the cottage.” Sagging in the middle, they carried him off by legs and shoulders. Passing the house, Derrick saw Mary’s white face at their bedroom window, and waved a cheery signal that all was well, but he did not see that Perkins was standing transfixed with a sort of ecstatic joy in her thin lips. When the motionless body had been deposited on the floor of the cottage kitchen, Derrick turned to the inspector.
“Nothing—till we get Dr. Henry here. Had this man any possessions?”
Martin picked a tightly knotted pack out of the corner. “That’s all he brought •—trinkets and suchlike. I guess there isn’t much else, he didn’t carry what you call luggage.”
The officer fingered the thing without opening it, and sent Derrick aswift glance.
“With your permission, sir, and since this man has been in this house, I’d like to make a little search. I don’t doubt your gardener’s word, but it’s better for him that I do.”
“That’s all right so far as I’m concerned,” blurted Martin, not waiting for his master’s reply.
Something in his eagerness gave Derrick a feeling of unexplainable relief, and it was not till presently that he realised what this confidence meant—which was nothing more than that he was on the wrong trail. Had Martin been guilty his voice would have lacked a certain ring of truth now noticeable in manner as well as words.
“Martin,” he said thoughtfully, “will you leave the inspector and myself alone for a minute?”
The gardener nodded with the air of one who has nothing to fear and went out. They watched him cross the drive, and stand, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, staring down the road. Derrick glanced at the officer.
"While you are making this search I would like the constable to stay in front of the house—also he might assure Mrs. Derrick that everything is quite all right.”
They were alone a moment later, and the inspector looked at him contentedly.
“I expect we’ve got the same thing in mind, sir?”
“One needn’t dig any deeper to find the man who killed Mr. Millicent.”
Derrick surveyed the limp figure. “I suppose not, but it’s queer that a man of this description could pass through the district without being noticed. That beard is a regular signboard.”
“Didn’t you notice?” smiled the inspector, then, leaning over, gave the beard a sudden and strong jerk.
It came away in his hand, revealing a thin face and wide, firm mouth, the face of a man not over thirty-five. The jerk had partly opened the lips, and they sent out a mocking grin, suggesting that it was nothing to Blunt what they did now. Derrick turned away.
“What about that pack?”
It was unrolled on the floor beside its late owner, revealing only the things Derrick had already seen. The pockets were empty save for a knife and a few coins. There was absolutely nothing to connect Blunt with suspicion. The big man made a grimace.
“Drawn a blank there—now we’ll have a look round the house. How long did you say, sir, that Martin had been with you. Eight days now, isn’t it?”
“That’s all, and he brought everything on his back—or nearly so. You won’t get much here.”
THE inspector was pulling open one after the other the drawers of a small bureau, and found that Blunt’s personal property was in truth scanty. He paused at the bottom one, his fingers grasping the pull.
“Matter of fact, while we’re sure this is the man who, held the knife,” here he glanced at the lean, brown face, “we can’t prove it without'dragging truth out of the others. Do you suppose we will?” He did not wait for an answer, but jerked open the bottom drawer. In one corner was a dirty shirt.
“Your man ain’t what you’d call a particular person in his housekeeping. Look at this!”
He lifted the thing between thumb and finger and shook it gently. There came a dull knock—a clatter on the floor— a gasp from Derrick—and a knife with broad, curved blade and strangely carved handle slid across the bare floor and came to rest touching the lifeless arm. The big man drew in his breath with a great gust, and stood glowering.
“Call in your gardener,” he whispered. “Derrick pulled himself together, and, not trusting his nerve to speak, tapped at the window. Martin turned at the sound and moved slowly toward the cottage. The inspector put a hand in his pocket, stepping a little to one side of the entrance. Martin had no sooner crossed the threshold than a grasp of iron fastened on his shoulder.
“John Martin, I arrest you for complicity in the murder of James Millicent and anything you say now may be used against you!”
A quarter of an hour later, Derrick was walking slowly and wearily toward the
house, to be met halfway up the drive by J his wife. She greeted him with a tremJ ulous affection that told only too plainly j how much the strain had affected her, * and at sight of her anxious face he was j smitten with remorse. She asked no j questions, but only looked at him as i though at one rescued from great danger., I Presently he drew a long breath of relief. ¡ “Don’t say a word about it till we’ve ; had some tea, then I’ll tell you all you ! want to know.”
“But is everything safe now, Jack?” “Yes,” he smiled, “unless you’re afraid [, of Perkins.”
She caught gratefully at the lightness j of his tone. “The only thing I’m afraid ¡ of is that there won’t be enough tea. You must need it pretty badly.”
“I do,” he confessed.
They sat in the study, where the por! trait of Millicent presided over the dainty | table. Mary watched him consume cup after steaming cup till at last he heaved a long sigh and leaned back contentedly.
“You’ve saved my life, old thing; now just how much do you want to know? I suppose you noticed that Perkins looked happier than we’ve ever seen her look before?”
“Yes, I did, and I’m wondering why.” “One reason is that the pedlar person has handed in his checks, and the other that our mutual friend and gardener is now in the strong hands of the Jaw.”
“Were they both guilty?” she said astonished.
“Presumably yes—at least so far as we know yet,” he went back to the events of the morning, and brought the story down to the discovery of the knife in Martin’s drawer. And at that she was more amazed than ever.
“But you say that Martin made no objections when the inspector told him that the house was going to be searched?”
“I don’t think he could have realised j what kind of a search it would be,” said Derrick sleepily.
“And he left that thing, which was j enough to hang him, simply hidden under j a shirt? If Martin is as shrewd as he j looks he wouldn’t be so stupid.”
“It wasn’t laid under, but was rolled up in a shirt. If the inspector hadn’t shaken it out we would never have found j it at all.”
She shook her head doubtfully. “I suppose I’m very stupid, but I can’t see it like that. It’s not the action of a guilty j man. You say that the pedlar had been in the house for some hours?”
“And how do you think they got on after you left them?”
“I don’t fancy there was much love lost,” Derrick grinned, reminiscently. “In fact they hated eacn other like poison—probably through mutual suspic-
“Why do you think the pedlar asked whether this room was arranged as when Mr. Millicent was killed?”
“I’ve been puzzling about that. It’s a point that never occurred to me, and the inspector did not mention it, though he must have known.”
“But what made the pedlar think it might have been different?” she persisted.
He glanced at her swiftly. “It’s your idea that he had been there before?”
She nodded. “You’re too late, Jack— you’ve missed your man. That knife came from the pedlar’s pack into Marj tin’s drawer. Why, I don’t know—but you can probably guess. Then you’ve | got to add to that what he said about the ! image.” She stared at Buddha’s scowling features, and gave a little shudder.
“I wish you’d get rid of that thing. It haunts me now.”
“I can only send it over to Mrs. Milli-
“No,” she said quickly, “don’t do that. Mrs. Millicent must never know it has been found. Isn’t it strange to think that just for a few minutes those three were in that room together—as they must have been two years ago. What a picture must have been in their eyes!”
“But the room wasn’t the same,” he objected.
EVEN while he spoke there flashed i into his mind one illuminating I thought.
“By George!” he said involuntarily,
“I believe you’ve hit it.”
“Hit what, Jack?”
“It is held by those who have made a | study of crime,” he said slowly, “that !
the consciousness of his deeds continually revives in the mind of the criminal, pictures of the scene in which they took place. It is a strange, automatic process that he cannot interrupt or prevent. These pictures come at the most unexpected times and in the midst of any surroundings, however remote, like a film that constantly flickers before his mind’s
6 “Go on!” she whispered breathlessly.
“With these pictures there comes something elsea voice that calls him back, as though to take part in the picture again. The combination of the two is generally irresistible. So now," he paused for a thoughtful moment, and stared at the portrait as though for guidance, “if I recreate the scene exactly as it was two years ago, there should be definite results.”
“But there’s only Perkins left, Jack,” she put in dubiously. “It’s not easy to surprise that woman.”
“Suppose Martin were with her.”
Mary’s brows went up. “That might—”
The sharp call of the telephone cut off the rest, and Derrick walked over to the instrument with an odd sense of anticipation.
The inspector’s voice came in heavily, and as Derrick listened a look of blank amazement crept over his face.
The voice went on implacably, while he put in quick, broken, questions that gave Mary a definite thrill of fear. Finally he came slowly back and stood looking down at her with an extraordinary expression.
“The inspector says that Blunt has got away.”
She stared at him blankly. “But Blunt is dead.”
“It seems not. He was taken to the station in Bamberley, and there was no life in him. The inspector examined his body, but found no marks, and it was left in a cell. Dr. Henry could not be got at till late to-night. His pack is in the station now, and all the police in the district have been notified as far as pos-
“Does Martin know anything about it?” she whispered.
“I assume not. The inspector didn’t
She glanced nervously at the close curtains. “Jack—he’ll come back!”
“For that,” she pointed to the jade god.
“I hope so,” he said grimly. “We’ll be ready for him.”
“And Perkins doesn’t know either?”
“Of course not. Great Heavens, Mary if—”
He stopped abruptly, with a sudden vision of what might now come to pass. He pictured the blank faced woman and Martin confronted with one called back from the dead, one whose limp body they had seen carried away. What powers of concealment could resist this? Again he built up the triangle, with mystery at each corner, and Millicent in the middle. His brain worked furiously for a few moments.
I THINK you’re right,” he said after a pause, “Blunt must come back. He can’t help it while that image is here. Martin must come too. It’s the last scene in the last act. We’ve got Perkins—who knows nothing except that the pedlar is to her mind out of the way for good. Do you see now what we have to do?”
“Only partly. What is it Jack?” “This room must be just as it was when Millicent died—desk in the right place, screen where it was before—in fact an absolute reproduction. One light on the desk, as they tell me there was—in fact everything exactly the same.” “But you cannot bring back Mr. Millicent,” she whispered faintly. -
Derrick looked hard into her eyes. “I’ll play Mr. Millicent!”
Her hands went to her breast. “Jack, you mustn’t. It’s too awful. Suppose —suppose it were to happen over again. I won’t let you do that,” she clung to him protesting.
“It’s all right, old thing, and we can leave it to the inspector and the rest of them to see that nothing does happen. I’ll stage it for nine fifteen, which is the time it actually happened before. Now don’t be alarmed when I tell you it’s a moral certainty that the pedlar person
is within a few hundred yards of Beech Lodge at this very minute. The devil can’t help it, but just to make things sale I’ll put our friend in his berth till he’s needed—then fix matters with the inspector.”
Opening the panel before her astonished eyes, he slipped in the Buddha. The dark wood closed with a slight click.
“There’s not time now to tell you how 1 happened to find this but I will to-morrow. Millicent really put me on to it, though I don’t understand how. I said just now that Perkins did not know that Blunt had come to life again. Well she doesn’t yet, but I’ve an idea he’ll let her know somehow or other. I haven’t the faintest conception of how she stands with Martin, but it seems that it’s these two on one side, and the Pedlar on the other. The whole scheme is built on that assumption, and all three of them are circling round that thing behind the panel. Now I’m going to get on to the inspector.”
HE TALKED over the telephone for several moments, while she listened tensely The inspector, harassed by the fact of Blunt’s escape fell in readily with the proposal. Anything was worth trying now. Presently Derrick hung up the receiver.
“He will bring Martin up at once, ard trust to getting into the house without being seen by the gentleman who is somewhere near here at present. He agrees with that, and feels that his capture would not necessarily lead to anything definite. As for Perkins, she—”
The door opened, and Perkins stood on the threshold.
“Dinner is served, madam,” said a low voice.
Mary Derrick nodded jerkily, and, linking arms, they went into the dining room with a forced gaiety. Perkins’ face was as mask-like as ever, but a few minutes later Derrick found opportunity to send his wife a warning glance.
“She knows already,” he signalled. Mary semaphored assent, and from that he diverted their talk into channels that led far from Bamberley. But it was, at the best, a silent meal. The shadow of that which was to come hung over them, and they knew that Ferkins was well aware, that in the gloom outside lurked somewhere a motionless figure biding his appointed time. Toward the end of the meal, Derrick caught the slightest sound in the hall. Perkins apparently did not hear it. He made a gesture to his wife.
“We shall not want any coffee to-night, Perkins,” she said.
“Very good, madam.”
“And I shall probably be out for an hour or two. You needn’t wait up. Dr. Henry is going to hold an inquest in the village, and I won’t be back till after
Perkins nodded, and the faintest gleam appeared in the sullen eyes.
“Very good, sir?”
They went back to the study, and Derrick shut the door carefully behind him. Listening a moment at the keyhole, to make sure he extinguished the light and felt his way across to the French window. Mary shrank against the wall, and waited breathless. Then the Curtain was pulled noiselessly aside, there sounded the faint rasp of a lock, and two figures stepped in from the night. The curtain was redrawn, and the light switched on. The inspector stood mountainously, one hand grasping Martin’s shoulder, while in the other glinted a revolver. He slid the weapon into his pocket, and produced a small parcel.
“Here you are, sir.”
Derrick nodded and laid it on the desk. Then he turned to Mary.
“XTOWr, dear, comes your part of it.
lx i’m going out—for as long as it takes to get round to the back of the house. While I’m out, you are to go upstairs to your room, taking Perkins with you. Ring for her as usual, and when she enters stand so that there will be no excuse for her entering the room. When you get upstairs manage somehow to give her enough to do to keep her busy for half an hour. That will take us to nine fifteen—then your part, of it is done. Understand—quite?”
She nodded bravely, though her lip quivered, and she looked not at her husband but at the dogged figure of Martin. The man’s face was expressionless, and
she marvelled at his composure. Her fingers trembled as Derrick went into the hall, where presently she heard the rattle of a stick and a banging door. A moment later Perkins answered her summons, and the two moved upstairs. The inspector’s grip slackened a trifle as she disappeared.
“Don’t you stir a hair,” he murmured significantly into Martin’s ear.
The gardener stared at him silently. There was no fear in his look, but only a vast, mute wonder. Then the furtive eyes half closed, and he relapsed into immobility. Two minutes later the curtain parted like a dream, and Derrick tip-toed in.
“All right so far, and I hope I wasn’t seen,” he said under his breath.
“I’m betting you were, sir. I’ve got three men within a hundred yards of the house.” He, too, spoke in a husky whisper.
“I wonder where our friend is keeping himself.”
The words had hardly left his lips when there drifted in the muffled hoot of a barn owl. The inspector looked up and grinned.
“He’s somewhere on the premises, they’ve just spotted him.”
Derrick breathed quickly. “Then we’d better get to work. Martin, just where did that desk stand two years ago as you remember it?”
The gardener pointed, a slow light coming into his face. He began to understand now, but his refuge was, as always, silence.
The inspector handed Derrick the revolver. “You take this, sir, and Martin and I will do the moving. Come on, my friend.”
THEY went at it, treading like cats.
Martin moved as though under a spell. The desk was lifted bodily, and placed in its old position. Then the screen and sofa. While it was being done the two exchanged gestures instead of speech. Derrick stood, outwardly calm, but his heart beat with increasing rapidity. In a quarter of an hour the room stood as Millicent’s dying eyes had seen it last.
“And the lights,” said Derrick. Martin pointed to the one on the desk. “No others?”
The man shook his head.
“That’s as I found it myself,” whispered the inspector. “Your clothes are right too—dark blue—looks black in this light.”
“You’ve got it in your pocket,” murmured the big man.
Derrick took out the parcel, and unrolled the Malayan creese, whose deadly blade took on a cold glitter. Martin saw it all now, and made an involuntary gesture. Then he turned, and looked into the barrel of a revolver. Even this did not seem to frighten him, and he appeared almost to deliberate which kind of death might be most acceptable. Derrick laid the thing amongst his papers, and, opening the panel took out the jade god. At that Martin drew in his breath with a sharp hiss, and stared long at the secret corner, his face full of astonishment. Then he gave a slow, hopeless nod as though resigned to the worst.
."Better get set, sir,” whispered the inspector warningly.
Derrick took a long breath, and seated himself at the desk, the image in front of him, the creese a little on one side. The inspector’s hand stole out toward the switch, and instantly the room was plunged in half gloom, save where the old panelling glowed softly by the fireplace close to the single light. The man in the chair leaned limply forward, his arms outstretched, his neck twisted and one cheek resting on the dark leather. “Is that about it, Martin?”
The gardener made a queer sound in his throat.
“That’s it,” he answered huskily, “as near as—as death can be.”
The two figures melted away behind the screen. Martin made no expostulation, and the inspector was now convinced that it was Blunt after all and not his prisoner who in the end would face the charge of murder. Stranger things had happened. Could Martin indeed have come back at all, in spite of Derrick’s theory, had there been blood on his hands? What else could explain his seeming docility, this readiness to aid in setting the trap? The big man reflected contentedly that when the affair became public his own
part of it might mean much for the future. Mr. Derrick was not the one to collar all the credit.
Moments passed, punctuated only by the sputtering of the fire. To all intent Beech Lodge was plunged in a profound slumber. A little wind moved drearily outside, and woke a stir in the bushes. Then still more faintly came the hoot of a barn owl. The blood rushed to Derrick’s tern pies.
Presently, he became aware of light steps in the hall, so light that they were but the shadow of sound. He dared not look up. but something told him that a hand was on the door. Simultaneously it opened a fraction, and a breath of draught reached him. The fire muttered a little louder.
No sound came from the screen. There were more in the room now. He knew that. His wonder was stilled by a gasp from a woman, and a strange, lowcry in a man’s voice. Then, flying feet crossed the study floor with inconceivable swiftness, and Perkins flung herself beside the chair. He felt the clasp of frenzied arms, and heard the tones of unutterable anguish.
“Master, master! What is it? Speak to me—you’re not dead. I didn’t mean to do it. I was asleep—don’t you understand? It was all in a dream—and when I woke up you were dead. Speak to me —for God’s sake speak to me!”
There followed an instant during which Derrick found himself unable to move. Perkins was crouching on the floor beside him, her body shaking violently, her face buried in her hands. Then the screen crashed over, and Martin darted out. Kneeling beside the woman he put his arms round her.
“Don’t you go on like that lass. It’s only a plant. You didn’t do it at all.”
Perkins climbed shakily to her feet still gripped in overpowering emotion. Her eyes were glazed and she stared first at Martin, then toward the door where Blunt’s slim figure was flattened against the wall. All the torture of the damned was in that look. Her lips parted, and a wild look leaped into her face. Then with a motion of incredible swiftness, she seized the creese, and plunged in into her breast.
“Lass—lass!” groaned Martin and sank to the floor beside her.
WHAT happened then, happened very quickly. The inspector blew a whistle, and men burst in at door and window. Martin did not even look up when Blunt was hand-cuffed, but remained in an abyss of grief from which it seemed impossible to rouse him. The inspector stooped over Perkins, and putting his great head to her breast, waited for what appeared to be an age. Then he got to his feet with an unmistakeable gesture. It was all over.
“I’ll take charge now, Mr. Derrick,” he said gravely. “Robbins and Henderson, you get these men to the station right away, and stay with them till you’re relieved. As for this poor woman, sir, I’ll leave a constable with her till morning, if you don’t mind her being here— or, what’s better—we’ll take her to the lodge since no one will be there. I’ll take that knife with me for safe keeping.” Martin heaved himself up, and clutched at the officer’s arm. “Don’t do that,” he implored hoarsely. “Don’t do that, for God’s sake. Let me stay with
The big man stared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t leave her in the lodge with anyone but Vne.” His face was strangely distorted, and there was an agony of appeal in his tones. “I’ll never ask you anything else.”
“The inspector frowned. “What is Perkins to you?”
“My wife!” groaned Martin, then burst into throttling sobs.
There was silence for an instant. The man who grasped Blunt, moved into the hall without a word from the pedlar, who had, it seemed, no thought of resistance. Then Derrick glanced up, and saw Mary’s white face. She too looked at Martin and what lay beside him. and turned to her husband breathlessly.
“Jack, I heard what he said. You must ask the inspector to permit that. Don’t you understand?” She swayed a little, then knelt for a moment beside the still form. “One woman amongst all these men,” she whispered. "Oh, the poor
“That’ll be all right, ma’am,” the in-
i spector broke in gruffly "but there will I be a man outside till morning. Now we’d ¡letter get down there. Martin, will you ?” he glanced at the body.
Martin nodded. With infinite tenderj ness he picked up his wife as though she ! had been a child, and, staring straight ahead, strode into the hall. The inspector waited till he was out of sight, and drew a red hand across his brow.
“Phillips,” he said to the third man, “You stay where you are till relieved.” The constable stationed himself near the desk, and the inspectorsent Derrick an enquiring glance.
“What about that image thing, sir, had I better take it, too?”
Derrick shook his head. “I think I’ll keep it till you need it.” There followed a pause, while through both their brains ran the swift wonder of that evening. “Anything more to suggest?” he added.
“It worked, did that plan of yours, sir,” hazarded the big man respectfully. “But who would ever have thought it! And as for that poor woman, why—” He put a significant finger to his forehead.
“Look here,” said Derrick suddenly, “what are you going to do next?” “Inquest, probably the day after tomorrow, and the commitment of these two for trial.”
“Trial for what?”
“Housebreaking, and possible complicity in the murder. What else?”
“Martin did not break into this house— I sent for him.”
“That’s true, sir, but you can’t very well say that for the other fellow.” The inspector looked puzzled.
“And if I should not lay a charge against the other fellow, what then?”
The big man blinked. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Do you think,” asked Derrick seriously, “that there’s the remotest chance of proving anything against these two?” “There’s a good working chance. It depends a great deal on the jury.” Derrick shook his head. Look here— I particularly ask that no charge be laid until I’ve had a talk with Martin. I admit—and you must admit too—that our suspicions were misplaced. We heard a confession of the act from lips where we never expected to find it. The discovery was made as a matter of chance—and we guessed wrongly from the start.”
“You did the guessing, Mr. Derrick.” “Very well—and I’ll take the blame for it. But, as a result, you have cleared up the mystery of Mr. Midicent’s death. Don’t forget that. So far as outside is concerned I’m merely an onlooker. I congratulate you, inspector. It should mean promotion.”
The other man indulged in a slow smile. “That’s very good of you, sir. It certainly ought to help.”
“It should, especially if nothing is said about Blunt’s escape a few hours ago.”
The inspector sniffed. “That proved not to be important. Just what is it you’d like to see done?”
“But very little. I’d like to have a chat with these two at the station tomorrow morning before you take any other steps. Will ten o’clock suit?” “That’s very simple, sir, and I’ll see to it. You’re quite all right here to-night?” Derrick breathed a long sigh of relief. “There’s nothing left to go Wrong now. I'll just put Buddha back where he be-
A moment later the heavy steps died out on the drive, and he went upstairs to find Mary waiting, wide eyed. She was shaken but not terrified, and hewaslthankiul for her fortitude. The shadow of death lay once more over Beech Lodge, but this time it was a storm that cleared the murky air and brought a promise of fair weather. They felt this already.
“We won’t talk about it to-night, will we, Jack?” she said unsteadily, with her head on his shoulder.
“Not a word,” he assured her. “We’ve boui had enough for one day.”
If I said that I felt both shocked and free, would you know what I meant?” she whispered.
He nodded. “Now leave it with Martin till to-morrow and go to sleep,” he commanded.
T'HE sun was bright and the air clear A when he walked into Bamberley next morning. The inspector had come back early to the cottage, which was
now empty. Martin, following his wife, found the pedlar apparently none the worse. There had been no chance to talk, and, turning the thing over in his slow mind, it seemed that from the truth there was the least to be feared.. When Derrick entered the little station there was something in the face of the handcuffed man he had never seen before.
“Do you want Blunt here while you question the prisoner?” asked the inspector. “I’ll answer for it that nothing has been fixed up between them over night.” Derrick felt oddly assured that the pedlar’s presence would make no difference.
“Yes, I think so—if there’s no objection.”
Blunt was brought in with a clink of metäl. He seemed now not more than forty, and in only the brightness of his eyes was there a reminderof the former man. He glanced not at all at Martin, but sent • Derrick a long, steady stare. There was no fear about him either. The inspector took down the big book containing the records of the Millicent case and nodded ponderously.
“Well, Martin,” began Derrick slowly, “my wife and I are more sorry than we can say about what happened last night, but we don’t understand why we might not have known,” he hesitated a little “—known about your wife. Under all the circumstances I am not here to examine you. I only ask whether now you do not think it wise to speak out.”
The man regarded him with unfathomable eyes, and again there was no fear. Then he stole a look at the pedlar. The latter nodded slightly, while his lips wreathed in a grim smile. Martin took a long breath, and began in a deep voice rough with emotion.
“You’ve been straight with me, Mr. Derrick, so I’m going to play the game with you. Blunt, here,” he dwelt for a second on the name, “can check me up if I get off the track. The whole thing started more than eight years ago when we were up country in Burmah.”
“Who do you mean by we?”
My wife and me and Mr. Millicent. That was before he was married. I was doing a bit of trading in the North Shan States off the head waters of the Irrawaddy—been there for about three years and getting ready to pull out. Ever been in those parts?”
Derrick shook his head.
“Then don’t go. Folks get mad out there after a while. It’s the jungle dees it, smell of the orchids like a woman’s breast, air that heavy and thick you could cut it with a knife like cheese, butterflies as big as your hat that seem drunk with the scent of millions of pulpy flowers. Most every one is either drunk or mad in the jungle—but they don’t know it. Anyway, Mr. Millicent came down to the Shan States from still further north, and stopped at my place. I was away at the time. What happened I don’t know, but—”
He broke off, twisted his thick fingers together, stared first at the inspector, then at Derrick, and went on in broken
“It wasn’t till a year afterwards that I found out what happened. When I got back my wife was gone, leaving no word. Mind you she had been three years in the jungle, begging me to take her out. But trade was good, and I hung on. The natives told me about Mr. Millicent having been there, but they didn’t know his name. I started down to Rangoon, and all the way along the river heard stories of an Englishman who had robbed a temple up in the Mong Mountains. At Rangoon I just missed two steamers for England.
It was a year later when I found Beech Lodge. I had traced every passenger on those two boats. You can’t guess what it’s like to go hunting a wife who has been a bit off her head and run away with a man you never saw?”
“No,” said Derrick slowly, “I can’t.” “Well, when finally I found them I learned the truth. It wasn’t Mr. Millicent, at all, but that damned image that caused it—the jade god and jungle madness. Mind you, the natives believed in the thing, and whatever had got into her blood made her believe in it, too. At anyrate the fact that Mr. Millicent had it, anchored her wherever he was. She couldn’t get away if she wanted to. Millicent never knew—I believe that— and married not long afterwards. Then my wife went to him as servant, just to be near him. Mad—yes, she was mad enough
—God help her. Did you ever notice her eyes?”
‘‘Often—we all did.”
“Then I needn’t explain much more. When I found her, I applied for the job of gardener—and got it, but I wrasn’t any more my wife's husband than one of my own shrubs. The jade god had her for his own. And back of that I knew there were those in the Mong Mountains who would never rest till they got him back again. That was always in my head. Meantime, she seemed to move further and further away from me, and I knew that—that she was more and more in love with Millicent—but she meant nothing to him.”
“Why didn’t you tell Mr. Millicent the truth?”
“She would have gone clean mad if I had—and that meant the asylum,” said Martin hopelessly. “Can’t you see the life I led? Millicent was always straight with me, and no man ever had a better master. If he’d been the other kind of man I’d never have stood for it. But I was always waiting—waiting. That lot in the Mong Hills would never give it up—I knew that. Then came the night when the thing happened.”
He broke off in distress. Blunt stared at his handcuffs then looked up suddenly.
“You people are getting the truth. I’ll give you my bit afterwards. Go on, Martin.”
“I was out behind the cottage at the pump, when she came running down like a crazy woman, screaming that she had had a dream and when she woke up there was a knife in her hand and Mr. Millicent was dead. She had the knife then, and I knew in a minute what had happened and got it away from her. She talked like one wakened out of deep sleep. I stowed the thing away, and told her it was only a dream, and that I would straighten it out. Then I ran up to the house with her and found Mr. Millicent, just as she said.”
The voicefaltered, and he sent Derrick a pathetic gianee. “What would you have done, sir, had you been me?”
“Much the same, Martin. Go on.” “Well, here was this poor mad woman who did not really know that she had committed any crime. She only knew that she had found the man she loved better than anything on earth dead with a wound in his neck. I managed to get it into her head that she must break the news to Mrs. Millicent, then came down to the cottage again. Her mind seemed all dazed, but finally she got that into her brain, and I sneaked back. I reckon you know the rest of that, night. Since then I’ve kept my mouth shut. Do you blame me?”
Derrick glanced at the inspector who had been sitting motionless, a pencil balanced in his big fingers. Blunt did not stir a muscle. His expression suggested that tales of death were nothing new to him, and Derrick instantly guessed that he was thinking of the jade god. “What else, Martin?”
“The inquest and all that. After it was over I knew by my wife’s face that I was nothing more to her, and never would be. Her mind had gone wandering after Millicent. I could not find the image, nor could she, and right away it was clear that if I stayed I might let out something. So I started for America, but before I went I knew that nothing would drive her away from Beech Lodge while that damned god was there. I worked my way about the States, till one day something called me back to England, and I came hot foot. And the minute I reached the house I knew the god was still there.” At this Martin put his face between his hands, while his great shoulders began to heave.
“I think I understand,” said Derrick quietly,“and when you gothereyoufound that you were nothing more to her than before?”
Martin pulled himself together. “That’s it,” he replied, with a queer glance of gratitude, “Nor even as much. It didn’t matter if I was alive or not, but I felt that infernal image stronger than ever, and when Mrs. Millicent came along I knew the thing was at work
“Yes—I felt it too.”
Martin nodded. “I saw that you did, though you were all in the dark. Then Blunt happened in, searching for it, and you know the rest. When my woman came in last night to the study and saw things just as they had once been, she
thought she had just waked up again, and I hadn’t time to stop her. My God, Mr. Derrick, did you know what was coming?”
“I had a fixed belief that something would happen,” said Derrick frankly, then paused and turned to the inspector. “Is there anything you want to ask him?” “No, sir, it’s all as clear as day now— except,” he jerked his chin at Blunt, “what this man has to say. I see now how that knife happened to be in the cottage. Come along, Blunt, out with it.”
“I’ve nothing to take back,” began the pedlar in a clear voice, “but pick any holes in it you like. I come from the Mong Mountains, where I was born. My father was an Englishman, but I never saw him. When the image was taken the priests sent for me, and my work began. It took me years to find Martin—years till yesterday. Then I knew I had found what I sought. The woman saw me, and she knew too. This thing which is in your house,” he glanced swiftly at Derrick, “must go back. God lives in that stone, and sacrifices must be made in front of him. Do what you will with me—it does not matter. If I do not return, others will come in search just so long as the image calls for that it can never have in this country. The woman killed the man because the god bade her. She could not help it. But this is omy the beginning of blood which will run again soon if Buddha stays in your keeping.” The voice lifted dominantly, and the pedlar’s features took on a look of menacing prophecy. “What do the children of to-day know of the wisdom that dwelt in the Mountains of Mong when England was peopled by naked savages? They are like infants with their toys. So if you do not give me the god, then make an end of me quickly, so that my people may make ready another messenger— who will not ask, but take. This man and the woman who killed have but done what it was written they should do at the will of Buddha.”
SILENCE fell in the little room. The inspector’s eyes were half closed as though he were peering at visions hitherto unguessed. A cart creaked in the distance, but that did not lift an abiding sensation that the hand of the immortal East had fallen on the village of Bamberley. Martin did not move, and the pedlar sat, his wrists manacled, his lean fingers clasped and a look of intense abstraction on his dark,smooth face. Derrick felt extraordinarily impotent, and made an indefinite gesture.
“Inspector,” he said after a long pause. “I make no charge against Martin.” The big man came suddenly to himself, felt in his pocketandproduced a key. There was a click of steel. Martin stood up a free man.
“You might go back to the cottage now,” Derrick looked him full in the eyes.
Martin shook himself like a wet dog, said one sibilant word of farewell to the pedlar and vanished. His deliberate step was still audible, when the inspector fastened an enquiring eye on Blunt.
“What about this man, sir? Ain’t going to come down so easy on him, are you?” .
“I take it that the only charge is housebreaking?”
“That’s true, but—”
“And the only damage is to that French window?”
“That’s for you to say, sir.”
“Then I make no charge against this man either if you are willing to keep him in detention as a witness till to-morrow morning, then get his undertaking never to enter England again.”
“It isn’t exactly regular, sir, but—” “The reason is that by to-morrow morning he will have no reason for staying here,” said Derrick significantly,“Doyou agree to this, Blunt?”
The pedlar gazed at him blankly, and nodded. He knew what Derrick meant.
The master of Beech Lodge walked slowly home. There was but one thing left to do now. He felt unexplainably younger and happier. Mary met him at the door with a question in her gray
“Jack, do you know that Martin is at work in the garden?”
“Yes, I hoped he would be, poor devil.” “Then it’s all over so far as you are concerned?”
¡ "And what about the other man?” “He leaves England to-morrow, never to come back.”
“I’m thankful for that."
He sent her a keen glance. “Do you ! mind coming into the study for a while.
! I want to talk to you?”
“Can’t we stay out here in the sun?”
I she asked nervously. “I’m afraid I’ll i never like the study now.”
“Just for this time. I rather want you
At that she nodded dubiously. He threw open the shattered window, gave the portrait a swift look and began to
At the end of a half hour Mary had the j whole story. She listened, her lips parted,
I her fair, young face a picture of changing I emotion. Pity, fear and wonder were in I her eyes as they travelled from Millicent’s i desk to the panel, then down to where a woman of mystery had so lately lain.
“Jack,” she whispered, “poor Perkins must have lived in a sort of hell.”
“She did, without question. It was I the continuation of what Martin called j the jungle madness. Blunt has it too. That’s why he’s leaving England. I never told you,” he went on with a curious lift in his voice, “that it was beginning to touch me.”
“But that’s impossible, Jack,” she countered quickly “You've never seen the jungle.”
He shook his head. “Eve changed my views of what’s impossible lately. Blunt was probably right when he said that we were like infants compared to some of those eastern peoples. The spirit of the jungle has been in this house for years. Millicent brought it with him. “What do you mean?” she whispered. He got up, and pressed the hidden spring. From the shadowed recess the jade Buddha peered out. He took the thing in his hand and stared at it thoughtfully.
“I mean this. There is ample proof that it exercises a strange power over certain minds and imaginations. It is the object of awe amongst thousands we have never seen, and never will see. It has brought men half round the world, and there are others waiting the call to follow. Just so long as it exists there will be theft and crime and murder and pain. And that’s why it must exist no longer.” Mary was on her feet. “What are you going to do,” she asked apprehensively. “That is Mrs. Millicent’s.”
“Em going to rid Beech Lodge of jungle fever,” he said grimly, and, laying the image on the hearth, took a small hammer out of a drawer.
“You mustn’t. Jack,” she expostulated, and caught at his arm?
But Mary was too late. The hammer, driven with all the strength of Derrick’s j wrist, fell fair on the malignant head. There was a shivering sound as of tinkling glass, and the image dissolved into mottled green fragments. One of these caught Derrick’s thumb and beaded itwith blood.
“Evil to the very end,” he laughed. “That’s the best bit of work Eve done for a long time. As a matter of fact, old thing, I was beginning to see visions and dream dreams myself. Perkins was getting me mesmerized, being what the Americans call ‘locoed’ herself. Now the Augean stables are clean, and I can settle down to work.”
But for all he said, though he went on chatting cheerfully for some time, Mary was unconvinced.
“Em afraid, Jack, I can’t shake this off the way you do. I will never come in here without seeing that poor woman, and I'm dreadfully depressed to think that we’ve got this awful place for a whole year. Do you wonder that Mrs. Thursby, to say nothing of Mrs. Millicent,
I could not live in it?”
Derrick glanced at the wreckage on the hearth. He was content with Beech Lodge now, even more content than when i first he surveyed the panelled walls of Millicent’s study, but he wondered j whether he too would be able to banish j the grim picture so lately spread in this ! ancient room.
S THE days passed there set in a certain reaction. He found that he had so far yielded to mysterious influence that now the invisible touch was difficult to shake off. Blunt was out of England, and on his way back to the hills of Mong. Blunt also knew that .the jade god had ceased to exist, for the inspector told him so before he started on foot through the
brown fields of Bamberley. But it was not till a week later, when Thursby’s big car rolled up the drive that the Derricks got a real breath of fresh air. Mrs. Thursby was greatly excited. Her husband looked a little sheepish.
“My dear,” said the former explosively to Mary Derrick, “what a perfectly awful tíme you must have had. We were in France when we read of it, and now when I think of that woman Perkins, it gives me the shivers.”
“Matter of fact,” added Thursby, with a glance at Millicent’s portrait, “we didn’t tell you about the other case because it didn’t seem necessary. I reckoned that so far as you were concerned ignorance was bliss. The agents thought so too.”
“Perhaps it was,” said Derrick dryly. “1 understand that woman now,” put in Mrs. Thursby, “for of course she was mad. Fancy living with her for two years. Fancy a mad person bringing in your tea every morning. What made her mad, Mr. Derrick?”
“There was insanity in her family.” “Well,” she said reflectively, “that was the only thing the matterwith Beech Lodge a crazy housemaid. I wish I’d known that before.”
“Why?” asked Mary curiously.*
“Ed never have let it. We’ve taken another place now by the month, and already found out that we don’t like it at all.”
Derrick laughed. “It doesn’t happen that you’re in the market for Beech lodge does it?”
She glanced at him swiftly. “That’s a funny idea, but I don’t know. Are we,
Light began to dawn on the Derricks. The reason of this visit was now quite plain. Mary made a little secret signal.
“Em only joking of course,” said her husband, “having just moved in at very co siderable expense, it’s rather foolish to talk of moving out again, isn’t it?” Thursby pushed out his lips. “Oh, I don’t know. Circumstances alter cases. I learned long ago, for instance, that when my wife gets a premonition that something is going to happen it most always does. If she said that she had a feeling that we were coming back to Beech Lodge I’d bet on it.”
Derrick chuckled. “Aren’t you reckoning without your host?”
“That’s just what my wife would leave me to do.” He paused. “I wonder what Mrs. Millicent thought of all this?”
“She came here the day after it happened, and feels as we do.”
“That it’s a sort of release for Perkins and everyone else?” put in Mrs. Thursby quickly. “That’s the only way to look
Mary nodded. “When do you expect to go back to France?”
Mrs. Thursby’s plump hand made a gesture. “I shouldn’t be surprised if that depended on you.”
The other woman took a long breath. “My dear, it’s no use beating about the bush any longer. Just eight days ago and a few hours after we had taken this other place—which I say quite frankly we don’t like—I suddenly wanted to come back to Beech Lodge. I never thought at all of that dreadful woman, she didn’t seem to matter any longer, and when I told my husband what was the matter with me, he only laughed and said the idea was absurd.”
“Is that why you went to France?” asked Mary curiously.
“Yes, it is. My husband thought I needed a change—at least so he said. But that wasn’t it.”
“No,” said Thursby, “not exactly.” “Well,” she resumed, “no sooner had we got to France than we read about what happened here. Then I knew what was the matter with me. It was just as though that dreadful woman had whispered that she was out of the way now, and I might come back.” The stout lady paused, with an odd expression on her round face, and glanced about, nodding slowly. “So now I do want to come if it can be arranged conveniently. That’s up to my husband and yours. It’s not a matter of money so far as I am concerned.”
SHE leaned back with an expression announcing that on this subject she had emptied her mind. Thursby’s hands were deep in his pockets, and he stared across the smooth lawn. Mary Derrick signalled again, this time with a
ecision that left no possibility of doubt 5 to what she desired.
“Suppose we took a walk round the arden?”, said Derrick.
Thursby turned and nodded. When he two men had disappeared, Mrs. 'hursby heaved a contented sigh.
“That’ll be all right—if it suits you. 'ell me, did you think it very queer hat I said about Perkins when I was ere?”
“Yes, I think I did, but I kept her beause there was no one else available.” “Well, of course, I don’t know the is and outs of it, but I felt that neither f us had much to do with her staying, lowever I’ve got a jewel of a girl now rho’ll go anywhere. I suppose if our ääpective husbands agree there’ll have to e another inventory taken.”
“We haven’t had time to do much amage, yet.” smiled Mary. “That Yench window was broken, but it has een repaired.” She paused and somehing drew her eyes to the hearth. There’s that jade image.” she added ineertainly.
“What jade image? I never saw one
“Look in the fireplace.”
The stout woman stooped, and picked ip an emerald splinter. “It isn’t ours, •ut what lovely stuff. My dear, don’t hrow that away. Jade is worth a small ortune now, and very fashionable. There’s enough here to make a gorgeous lecklace.”
The thought of the remodelled Buddha dth his cold fingers round her throat ave Mary an involuntary chill. “I eally don’t want it,” she protested, “and lesides it must belong to Mrs. Millicent. fes, I know it does, so there will be a bill or dilapidations.”
Mrs. Thursby swept the fragments nto her bag. “If you found it in the louse it belongs tous, so don’t worry .bout the dilapidations. We bought leech Lodge as it stood with all it conained. And don’t say anything about t to my husband. I’ll give him a suririse in about a month. Here they come low. I think it’s all arranged.”
The Thursbys rolled away a quarter of in hour later, and as the big car dwindled lown the drive Derrick slipped his arm nto that of his wife and gave a contented igh.
“It’s notsobad.old thing, foramonth’s vork. He pays all our moving expenses md five hundred pound for the cancellaion of the lease. You know we had the iption of taking it for several years. More han that he has a cottage in Surrey we :an get at a knock-down price—which lounds just the thing. You didn’t say a word about Mrs. Millicent, did you?” She told him about the jade fragments, ind he nodded with relief. “It’s just as veil. The thing is theirs legally, and Mrs. Millicent would not have it near 1er in any case. You remember when I showed her that panel?”
Before Mary’s eyes moved the picture |>f the little woman as she sat with claspid hands listening to the unravelling of ¡he mystery of her husband’s death. There had been no complaint, no abandonment of grief, but only a great wistful wonder. It explained so much that fhe had never understood before. His strange ways, his nervousness that gradually undermined his business ability so fhat he turned to speculation with disastrous results, the masklike face of Perkins as she attended the shrine of which her master was the unconscious priest. Then, after an eloquent silence, she had tared long at the portrait and whispered hat he was happier now. And remembering all this it seemed that Mrs. Millicent would not want that jade image.
EXACTLY three weeks after he had completed the inventory of the contents of Beech Lodge, Mr. Jarrad, accompanied by Mr. Dawkins, stood again in the panelled study. He had approached the house with an admirable manner in which professional dignity was blended with obvious knowledge of all that had happened in the meantime. Mr. Dawkins, impressed by the air of the older man, was becomingly táciturn. There had been opportunity to talk a good deal on the way down from London. Now the inventory book was opened, and laid on Millicent’s desk. Mr. Jarrad took out a large handkerchief and blew his nose as though he enjoyed it. He had ascertained that Mr. and Mrs. Derrick were uot, and that the cook was safely back in
the kitchen. The morning was fine and
“I don’t know,” he said with a touch of unction, “when I’ve heard of a case exactly like this. Here we are, paid to do exactly the same thing over again just because a foolish woman killed herself. We’ve both seen houses that were enough to make any sensitive woman commit suicide, but,” here he glanced round approvingly, “they were not houses like this. Do you happen to remember a remark I made about ‘things’ when we were here last?”
“I do,” said Dawkins, “and what’s more I’ve been thinking of it ever since."
“Well, these are not the kind of things to make one tired of life. In fact, I don’t know when I’ve seen a room I like better. Mrs. Millicent’s work of course—all of it.”
“Why do you suppose that woman killed Mr. Millicent?” put in Dawkins thoughtfully.
Mr. Jarrad smiled. “Why do you suppose a woman does anything?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ve only been married a year.”
“Then you know more now than you will in ten. The appearance of that woman suggested that she might do anything, if you remember. If the cause was what it usually is—jealousy—I only wonder why she waited so many years. There’s a lot of queer things about it—for instance that foreigner who shammed dead, then slid out of the station where he was under arrest.”
“What was he doing here?”
“Might as well ask why Mr. Millicent’s gardener came back as if he wanted to put his head into the noose,” answered Mr. Jarrad sententiously. “Might as well ask why my client wants this house so badly, having just let it for a term of years. Might as well ask a heap of things that will never be answered— and I don’t know but what it’s as well in the long run. What we don’t know won’t hurt us so long as we keep on not knowing it. Now how about the contents of this room?”
“Stuff’s the same, but differently arranged, that’s all.”
Mr. Jarrad strolled across to the desk, and adjusted his glasses. He peered for a moment, then frowned.
“That’s odd, very odd.”
“You remember that stain I pointed out. Well I can’t see it at all now.” Dawkins turned a few leaves of the inventory book. “Here it is—a post entry. Large, irregular stain on leather desk top, nearly effaced. Right ho, let’s have a look.” He, too, peered, then stood up with an exclamation.
“You must have mesmerized me into seeing it before. It’s not there now. Initial this erasure, will you! What’s
“Look here,” said Jarrad, “let’s count the books and articles of furniture, pass upon the general condition of the room and call the thing a go. Your clients are not the kind that give me any worry.” Dawkins nodded, and began the recital, reading from the book in a rapid sing-song voice as though he were chanting the creed of the inventory man.
“General condition excellent,” he concluded.
Jarrad shook his head. “I don’t agree to that. Look at this mantle!”
He drew a finger across the smooth surface, leaving a faint trail, where the dust had been displaced.
“Couldn’t do that last time I tried. No, the place is not as well kept as it was before. Condition fair, I should say, at the best.”
Dawkins sniffed, and made an investigation for himself. “Perhaps you’re right. I suppose Mrs. Derrick is a little short of help. ‘Condition fair.’ Anything else?” Jarrad stared at the hearth. “Yes— there is. One fireplace tile split. You have no note of that, I think?”
“Nothing,” said Dawkins, “just let me check it.”
He was bending over the hearth, when Derrick came in. Jarrad made a dignified bow.
“We have just completed, this room, sir, and the only damage we find is to this hearth. It’s a small matter, but nothing is too small for us to note. Perhaps you remember when it happened, as it is evidently quite recent?”
Derrick stared at the cracked tile. “Yes,” be said slowly. “I shall always remember that.”