The Starvel Hollow Tragedy
In which an empty grave yields silent but eloquent proof of murder
What has happened so far: A gloomy house in one of the most deserted spots of the Yorkshire moors is burned to the ground. Three bodies are found in the ruins, presumably those of the owner, Simon Averill, a miser, Roper, his attendant, and Roper's wife.
Ruth Averill, niece of the miser and the other member of the household, was visiting friends at the time of the tragedy.
A. small sum in gold sovereigns, is found in Averill's safe after the fire but the major portion of his fortune, known to have been in notes, is charred beyond recognition. One of the notes known to have been in the safe appears in circulation. Inspector French, of New Scotland Yard, is called in. He finds the contents of the safe to be charred newspapers, and learns that the mysterious note has been passed by Whymper, a young architect, who is in love with Ruth Averill.
Whymper refuses to discuss the case but tells enough to send French to a village in France whither Whymper says he went on an errand for Averill. French finds nothing at the French village but subsequently discovers a confession in Roper's safety box, signed by Dr. Philpot, Averill's physician, and stating that the latter had murdered his wife. This document French proves to be a forgery. He, then, interviews Philpot who declares that Roper had used the document for blackmail. Further investigation of Whymper's trip to France indicates that Roper had used Whymper as an innocent tool for the passing of bank notes stolen from Starvel Hollow.
FRENCH felt that he might very well believe Whymper’s statement. Not only had Whymper’s manner changed and borne the almost unmistakable impress of truth, but the story he told was just the kind of story French was expecting to hear. No tale that he could think of would have better suited Roper’s purpose: to make this young fellow change stolen bank notes the possession of which he could not account for. The more French thought it over in detail, the more satisfied he felt with it. It was true that there were two minor points which he did not fully understand, but neither would invalidate the tale, even if unexplained. Of these the first was: Why had Roper asked Whymper to wait three weeks before going to France? And the second: If the young man was as enamoured of this girl as he pretended to be, why had he not proposed to her so as to be in a proper position to offer her his protection?
A little thought gave him the answer to the first of these problems. Evidently no suspicion must fall on Whymper other than through the notes. If he were to rush away directly the tragedy occurred, any general suspicion which might have been aroused might be directed towards him for that very reason. That would be no test of the safety of passing the notes. But if three weeks elapsed before he made a move, suspicion must depend on the notes alone.
With regard to the second point French thought he might ask for information.
“I don’t want to be unnecessarily personal, Mr. Whymper, but there is just one matter I should like further light on. You were, I understand you to say, anxious to marry this young lady and desired to protect her from trouble with Mme. Blancquart. If that were so,
FREEMAN WILLS CROFTS
would it not have been natural for you to propose to her and to obtain the right to protect her?”
“By Heaven, I only wish I had! It might have come out all right. But, Inspector, I have been a coward. To be strictly truthful, I was afraid. I’ll tell you just what happened. After the tragedy I was very much upset by this whole affair. And it made me awkward and selfconscious with Miss Averill to have to keep secret a thing which concerned her so closely. I tried not to show it in my manner, but I don’t think I quite succeeded. I think my manner displeased her. At all events she grew cold and distant, and—well! there it is. I didn’t dare to speak. I was afraid I would have no chance. I thought I would wait until I found something out about her father. Then when this began to seem impossible, I determined to risk all and speak, but then you came threatening me with arrest for theft. I couldn’t propose until that was over. And the question is, is it over now? Are you going to arrest me or how do I stand?”
“I’m not going to arrest you, Mr. Whymper. You have given me the explanations I asked for, and so far I see no reason to doubt your story. I am glad you have told me. But though I believe you, I may say at once that I believe also the whole thing was Roper’s invention. Why did he not show the letter he alleged
Theodore Averill had written?” “I don’t know. I assumed there was something further in it which Mr. Averill wished to keep from Roper and me.” French shook his head. “Much more likely it didn’t exist and he wanted to save the labor and risk of forging it. Now, Mr. Whymper, there is only one thing to be done. You or I, or both of us together must go to Miss Averill and ask her the truth. I do not mean that we must tell her this story. We shall simply ask her where her father lived, and where she was born. Records will be available there which will set the matter at rest.”
Whymper saw the commonsense of this proposal, but he said that nothing would induce him to ask such questions of Miss Averill. It was, therefore, decided that French should call on her and make the inquiries.
Ruth was at home when French reached the Oxleys, and she saw him at once. French apologized for troubling her so soon again, and then asked some questions as to the possible amount of petrol and paraffin which had been at Starvel on the night of the fire. From this he switched the conversation on to herself, and with a dexterity born of long practice led her to talk of her relatives. So deftly did he question her, that w7hen in a few minutes he had discovered all he wished to know she had not realized that she had been pumped.
In answ7er to his veiled suggestions she told him that her father’s name was Theodore Averill, that he had lived at Bayonne, w7here he had held a good appointment in the wine industry, and that he had married a French lady w7hom he had met at Biarritz. This lady, her mother, had died when she was born and her father had only survived her by about four years. On his death she had come to her uncle Simon, he being her only other relative. She was born in Bayonne and baptized, she believed, by the Anglican clergyman at Biarritz. Her father was a member of the Church of England and her mother a Hugenot.
“This,” French said when, half an hour later, he was back in the vestry room of the old church, “will lead us to certainty. I will send a wire to the Biarritz police and have the records looked up. Of course, I don’t doubt Miss Averill’s word for a moment, but it is just conceivable that she might have been misled as to her birth. However, we want to be absolutely sure.”
He wired that evening and it may be mentioned here that in the course of a couple of days, he received the following information:—
1. Mr. Theodore Averill was a wine merchant and lived at Bayonne.
2. Mr. Averill and Mlle. Anne de Condillac had been married in the English church at Biarritz on the 24th of June, 1905.
3. Mrs. Averill had died on the 17th of July, 1906, while giving birth to a daughter.
4. This daughter, whose name was Ruth, was baptized at the Anglican church Biarritz, on the 19th of August, 1906.
5. Mr. Theodore Averill had died on the 8th of September, 1910, his little four-year-old daughter then being sent to England.
So that was certainty at last. Roper was the evil genius behind all these involved happenings. He, it was who had got Ruth away from the doomed house: he had sent Whymper off to pass the stolen notes so that he might learn if their numbers were known: he had mur-
non Averül; he had stolen the notes from the ad murdered his wife; he had burned the house, AU « ow clear—except the one point at which French, ; with exasperation, was again brought up. What retied to Roper’’ What blunder had lie made? he died? And again: where was the money? Was
As inch went down to the police station to tell Kent he might withdraw his observation on W - - determined chat next morning he would begin lous and detailed search of the ground surthe ruins in the hope of finding the answer to
But next morning French instead found himself contemplating with a growing excitement a new idea which suddenly, like the conventional bolt from the blue, had flashed across the horizon of his vision.
For some reason he had been unable to sleep on that night on which he had completed his proof that the Whymper incident had been engineered by Roper. French, as a rule, was a sound sleeper: he was usually too tired on getting to bed to be anything else. But on the rare occasions when he remained wakeful he nearly always turned the circumstance to his advantage by concentrating on the difficulty of the moment. His brain at such times seemed more active than normally, and more than one of his toughest problems had been solved during the hours of darkness. It was true that lie frequently reached conclusions which in the sober light of day appeared fantastic and had to be abandoned, but valuable ideas had come so often that when up against a really difficult case he had thankfully welcomed a sleepless night in the hope of what it might bring forth.
On this occasion, when he had employed all the conventional aids to slumber without effect, he turned his attention to the one problem in the Starvel Hollow tragedy which up to now had baffled him: the cause of Roper’s fate. How had the man come to lose his life?
What terrible mistake had he made? How had Nemesis overtaken him? French felt he could see the whole ghastly business taking place, excepting always this one point. And the more he thought of it, the more difficult it appeared. It seemed almost incredible that so clever a man should have blundered so appallingly.
He had asked himself these questions for the hundredth time, when there leaped into his mind an idea so startling that for a moment he could only lie still and let his mind gradually absorb it. Roper’s death seemed the incredible feature of the case, but was this a feature of the case at all? Had Roper died? What if his death was a fake, arranged to free him from the attentions of the police so that he might enjoy without embarrassment the fruits of his crime?
DRENCH lay trying to recall the details of a paragraph he had read in the paper a year or two previously and wondering how he had failed up to the present to draw a parallel between it and the Starvel Hollow affair. It was the account of the burning of a house in New York. After the fire it was found that a lot of valuable property had disappeared and further search revealed the remains of two human bodies. Two servants were believed to have been in the house at the time, and these bodies were naturally assumed to have been theirs. Afterwards it was proved—French could not remember how—that the two left in the house had planned the whole affair so as to steal the valuables. They had visited a cemetery, robbed a grave of two bodies, conveyed these to the house, set the place on fire and made off with the swag. Had Roper seen this paragraph and determined to copy the Americans? Or had the same idea occurred to him independently?
How Roper might or might not have evolved his plan was, however, a minor point. The question was— had he evolved and carried out such a plan? Was he now alive and in possession of the money?
It was evident there were two possible lines of inquiry, either of which might give him his information.
The first was the definite identification of the body which had been found in the position of Roper’s bed. Was there any physical peculiarity about Roper which would enable a conclusion to be reached as to whether this body was or was not his? It was true that the remains had been examined by Dr. Emerson and unhesitatingly accepted as Roper’s, but the doctor had had no reason for doubt in the matter and might, therefore, have overlooked some small point which would have led to a contrary conclusion.
The second line of inquiry was more promising. If Roper had carried out such a fraud he must have provided a body to substitute for his own. Had he done so, and if he had, where had this body been obtained?
Here was an act which, French felt, could not have been done without leaving traces. Roper had proved himself a very skilful man, but the secret acquisition of a dead bódy in a country like England was an extraordinarily difficult undertaking, and of course the more difficult an action was to carry out, the greater were the chances of its discovery. Proof or disproof of his theory would be quickly forthcoming.
Hour after hour, French lay pondering the matter, and when, shortly before daylight, he, at last, fell asleep, he had laid his plans for the prosecution of his new inquiry.
DTE BEGAN by calling on Dr. Emerson. The doctor was writing in his consulting room when French was shown in, and he rose to greet his visitor with old-fashioned courtesy.
“Sorry for troubling you again, doctor,” French began with his pleasant smile, “but I wanted to ask’you a question. It won’t take five minutes.”
“My dear sir, there is no hurry. I’m quite at your
Continued on page 22
C~'v~%€'d `ror~ pd~Jt~ 20
"Very good or you, Dr. Emerson, I'm sure. It's really a matter more of idle curiosity than a serious inquiry. I was thinking over that Starvel affair, and 1 wondered how you were able to identify the bodies. It was a phrase in the evidence that struck me. 1 gathered that you said that the bodies of each of che three occupants of the house were tying on the sites of their respective beds. 1 should tike to ask if that was stated from definite identification of the remains, or if it was merely a reasonable and justifiable assumption?”
"If that is what you read, I am afraid I have not been correctly reported. I certainly never said that the body found at each bed was that of the owner of the bed. That they were so 1 have no doubt: from every point of view I think that is a reasonable and justifiable assumption, to use your own phrase. But actual identification was quite impossible. It is rather an unpleasant subject, but fire, especially such a furnace as must have raged at Starvel, destroys practically all physical characteristics.”
"But you were able to cell the sex and age of the
"The sex and approximate age, yes. Given a skeleton or even certain bones, that can be stated with certainty. But that is a very different thing
"1 thought 1 was right,” French declared. "I had always heard that was the result of fire, and therefore was puzzled. Identification of burnt remains has, however, been frequently established from rings or jewelery, has it not?”
"Certainly, though there was nothing of the kind in the instance in question. Indeed, such identification would have been almost impossible in any case. In that intense heat gold rings or settings would have melted and the stones themselves would have dropped out and would only be found by an extraordinarily lucky chance.”
"Quite so. I agree. Well, I'm glad to know I was right. We Yard Inspectors are always on the lookout for first-hand information.”
So the first of the three lines of inquiry had petered out. The bodies were unidentifiable, and therefore so far as that was concerned, his theory might be true or it might not.
As he strolled slowly back to the hotel, French considered his second clue: the provision by Roper of a body to take the place of his own.
From the first the difficulty of such a feat had impressed French, and as he now thought of it in detail, this difficulty grew until it seemed almost insurmountable.
Where could bodies be obtained?
Only surely in one of three ways : from a medical institution, from cemetery, and by means of murder.
With regard to the first of these three, it was true that bodies were . used for medical purposes, for dissection, for the instruction of students. But they' were not obtainable by outside individuals. French thought that it would be absolutely impossible for Roper to have secured what he wanted from such a source. So convinced of this was he that he felt he might dismiss the idea from his mind.
Could then the remains have been obtained from a cemetery?
Here again the difficulties, though not quite so overwhelming, were sufficiently great as almost to negative the suggestion. Of one thing French felt convinced; that neither Roper nor any other man in Roper's position could have carried out such an enterprise singlehanded. One or more confederates would have been absolutely necessary. To mention a single point only, no one person would have had the physical strength to perform such a task. No one person, furthermore, could have taken the requisite precautions against surprise or discovery, tor --n.d or.e person have carried out the needful
•ort arrangements between the cemetery and
oo.e subject, as French thought out its details, was m ués ort o ably gruesome and revolting. But so interested vas ne ¡n its purely intellectual side—as a problem for which a solution must be found—that he overlooked the norror of the actual operations. For him the matter was or.e of pure reason. He did not consider the human emotions involved except in so far as these
might influence the conduct of the actors in the terrible drama.
Assuming then that the remains had not been procured from a cemetery, there remained but one alternative murder! Some unknown person must have been inveigled into that sinister house and there done to death, so as to provide the needful third body! If Roper were guilty of the Starvel crime as French now understood it, it looked as if he must have been guilty of a third murder, hitherto unsuspected.
Here was food for thought and opportunity for inquiry. Who had disappeared about the time of the tragedy? Was any one missing in the neighborhood? Had any one let it be known that he was leaving the district or going abroad about that date? Instead of being
at the end of his researches, French was rather appalled by the magnitude of the investigation which was opening out in front of him. To obtain the necessary information might require the prolonged activities of a large staff.
He was anxious not to give away the lines on which he was working. He decided, therefore, not to make his inquiries from Sergeant Kent at the local station, but to go
to Leeds and have an interview with the chief constable.
Accordingly, unconsciously following the example of Oxley and Tarkington several weeks earlier, he took the 3.30 train that afternoon and two hours later was seated in Chief Constable Valentine’s room at police headquarters. The old gentleman received him very courteously, and for once French met some one who seemed likely to outdo him in suavity and charm of manner.
“I thought, sir, my case was over when I had cleared up the matter of the bank notes passed to Messrs. Cook in London,” French declared as he accepted a cigarette from the other’s case, “but one or two rather strange points have made me form a tentative theory which seems sufficiently probable to need going into. In short
--” and he explained with business-like brevity his
ideas about Roper with the facts from which they had sprung.
The chief constable was profoundly impressed by the recital, much more so than French would have believed possible.
“It’s a likely enough theory,” he admitted. “Your arguments seem unanswerable and I certainly agree that the idea is sufficiently promising to warrant investigation.”
“I’m glad, sir, that you think so. In my job, as you know, there is always the danger of being carried away by some theory that appeals because of its ingenuity, while overlooking some more commonplace explanation that is much more likely to be true.”
“I know that, and this may, of course, be an instance. I am glad, however, that you mentioned your theory to me. It is an idea which should be kept secret, and I shall set inquiries on foot without giving away the Starvel connection.”
“Then, sir, you can’t recall any disappearances about the time?”
“I can’t. And I don’t expect we shall find any. Do you?”
“Well, I was in hope that we might.”
Major Valentine shook his head.
“No, Inspector; there I think you’re wrong,” he said with decision. “If Roper really carried out these crimes, he’s far too clever to leave an obvious trail of that kind. We may be sure that if he inveigled some third person to the house and murdered him, a satisfactory explanation of the victim’s absence was provided. You suggested it yourself in your statement. The man will ostensibly have left his surroundings, never to return. If he was a native he will have gone to America or some other distant place. If he was a visitor he will have left to return home. Somehow matters will have been arranged so that he will disappear without raising suspicion. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes, sir, I certainly do. But it’s going to make it a hard job to trace him.”
“I know it is. If he lived in a large town it will be so hard that we probably shan’t succeed, but if he came from the country or a village the local men should have the information.” “That is so, sir. Then I may leave the matter in your hands?” “Yes, I’ll attend to it. By the way, where are you staying?” French told him, and after some desultory discussion, took his leave and caught the last train back to Thirsby. He was partly pleased and partly disappointed by his interview. He had hoped for the co-operation of the chief constable, but Major Valentine had gone much further than this. He had really taken the immediate further prosecution of the investigation out of French’s hands. French was therefore temporarily out of a job. Moreover, French had the contempt of the Londoner and the specialist for those whom he was pleased to think of as ‘provincial amateurs.’ And yet he could not have acted otherwise than as he had. The organization of the police with all its ramifications was needed for the job, and the chief constable controlled the organization.
NEXT morning after he had brought his notes of the case to date, French left the hotel, and walking in the leisurely, rather aimless fashion he affected in the little town, approached the church. It had occurred to him that he would spend his enforced leisure in an examination of the cemeteries in the immediate district, to see if any local conditions would favor the operations of a body-snatcher.
Owing to the renovation, the church gate was open and French, passing through, turned into the graveyard sur-
Continued on page 24
rounding the picturesque old building. It also was old—■ .d an i comt letely idled with graves. As French leisurely strolled round che paths, he could not find a single vacant lot. Even on the wall of the church itself there were monuments, one of which bore the date 1573 and none of which was later than 1800. Though the place was carefully tended there were no signs of recent interments, and French was not, therefore, surprised to learn from one of the workmen that there was a new cemetery at the opposite end of the town. He stood looking round, considering the possibilities of grave robbing. The church was almost in the centre of the town and the graveyard was surrounded on all sides bv uses In ’ >nt was the old High Street, fenced off by a tali iron railing and with a continuous row of houses and shops opposite. The other three sides were bounded bv a six-foot wail, the two ends abutting on the id A Ugh Street
id y A Ugh Street uul . a narrow Lut again with ts opposite rought iron both Church Far
French examined the place, the more certain he became that the robbery of a grave by less than three or four persons was an absolute impossibility. However, he saw the sexton and made sure that both gates were locked on the night in question.
He next paid a similar visit to the new cemetery. Here the difficulties were not quite so overwhelming as it was farther from the town and much less overlooked. At the same time even here they were so great as to make theft practically impossible.
In the afternoon he tramped to the only other cemetery in the district that of a village some three miles north-east of Starvel. But again his investigations met with a negative result and he definitely put out of his mind the theory that Roper had robbed a grave.
For two days he kicked his heels in Thirsby, hoping against hope that he would hear something from Major Valentine and wondering whether he should not go back to London, and then he accidentally learned a fact which gave him a new idea and started him off on a fresh line of investigation.
As a forlorn hope it had occurred to him that he would call again on Rath Averill to inquire whether she would think of any one who might have visited Starve! after she left for York. He did not expect an affirmative reply, but he thought the
inquiry would pass the time as profitably as anything.
Ruth, however, had known of no one.
•We never had a visitor, Mr. French,” she went on, "rarely or ever. Except those three or four calls of Mr. Whymper's, of which I told you, I don’t think a single person had come to the place for a year. Why should
"I: must have been lonely for you,” French said
"I* was lonely. I didn't realize it at the time, except just after coming back from school, but now that I have plenty of people to speak to I see how very lonely it was.”
"You didn’t feel able to make confidants of the Ropers? Of course.” French went on hastily, “I know they were ■ servants, but still many servants are worthy of the fullest confidence.”
Ruth shook her head.
"No, I didn't feel that I could make friends with o-.cher. It was not in the least because they were servants. 5oms of the cottagers were even lower socially, and yet the-,were real friends. But there was something recellent about 'he Ropers, or at least, I thought so. I was never baccy with either of them. And yet both were kind and attentive and ail that. Of course, there was Mr. GilesHe was always friendly, and I enjoyed helping him -o'h his insects. But I didn’t really see a great deal of
~felt sorry for the young girl, as he thought of the unhaccy life she must have led.
I chink I understand how you feel,” he returned c-c.'ly. • Personality is a wonderful thing, is it not? I' is suite intangible, hut one recognizes it and acts on it lnssinsttvely. And that Mr. Giles whom you mentioned. Who is he. if 1' is not an impertinent question?”
“Oh, he is dead,” Ruth answered sadly and with some surprise in hen tones. “Did you not hear about him?
He lived close to Starvel -at least, about half a mile away but his cottage was the nearest house. He was dreadfully delicate and, 1 am afraid, rather badly off. He was wounded in the War and was never afterwards able to work. He was interested in insects and kept bees. He collected butterflies and beetles and wrote articles about them. Sometimes 1 used to help him to pin out his specimens. He taught me a lot about them.”
"And you say lie died?”
"Yes, wasn’t it tragic? The poor man died just at the time of the Starvel affair. It was too terrible. When I came back from York 1 found he had gone too.”
French almost leaped off his seat as he heard these words. Was it possible that in 1 is careless, half-interested inquiries he had blundered on to the one outstanding fact that he needed? Could it be that Mr. Giles’ death represented Roper’s search for a body? That he was his third victim?
Crushing down his eagerness French did his best to simulate a polite and sympathetic interest.
“How terrible for you, Miss Averill!” he said with as real feeling in his tones as he could compass. “One shock added to another. Tell me about it, if it is not too painful a recollection.”
“Oh no, I’ll tell you. He fell ill a few days before I went to York—influenza, Mrs. Roper thought, but he must have been fairly bad as he had Dr. Philpot out to see him. Both the Ropers were certainly very good to him. They went up and nursed him, for the woman who usually looked after him had not time to stay with him for more than an hour or so in the day. I went up and sat with him occasionally, too. On the morning I went to York he seemed much worse. I called on my way into Thirsby and he was lying without moving and was terribly white and feeble looking. His voice also was very faint. He just said he was comfortable and had everything he wanted. Mrs. Roper said that if he didn’t soon get better she would send Roper in for Dr. Emerson. Dr. Philpot, I should explain, had just gone down with influenza.”
“And what was the next thing you heard?”
“Why,” Ruth made a little gesture of horror, “the. next thing I knew of it was that we met the funeral. It was awful. It was the second day after the fire. I wanted to go out and see Starvel, and Mrs. Oxley drove me out in their car. When we were coming back, just as we reached the point where the Starvel road branches off, we saw a funeral coming in along the main road. It was trotting and we waited to let it pass on. Mr. Stackpool—that’s the vicar—and Dr. Emerson were there and they told us whose it was. Of course, we joined them. Poor Mr. Giles. I was sorry for him. But nothing could have been done. Dr. Emerson said he became unconscious the same day
that I saw him, and passed away without suffering. That was something to be thankful for at least.”
“Indeed, yes,” French agreed with feeling. “I wonder if I haven’t heard about Mr. Giles. He was a very tall old man, wasn’t he, and walked with a stoop?”
“Oh no, he wasn’t specially tall or old either. Just medium height and middle age, I should say. Nor did he walk with a stoop. You must be thinking of someone else.”
“I suppose, I must,” French admitted, and as soon as he reasonably could he took his leave.
THAT he now held in his hand the solution of the mystery he no longer doubted. He would have wagered ten years of his life that this Giles’ remains had been taken from the wreck of Starvel and interred under the name of John Roper. Such a supposition, moreover, was consistent with the medical evidence.
Dr. Emerson had stated at the inquest that the third body was that of a man of middle height and middle age. This, of course, had been taken as applying to Roper, but it might equally apply to Giles. It was certainly a lucky thing for Roper’s scheme that a person so suitable for his diabolical purpose should happen to live so near to the scene of the crime. Or more probably, it was this very fact that had suggested the idea of the substitution to Roper.
But if Giles had been murdered, what about Dr. Emerson’s certificate? In this wretched case the solution of one problem only seemed to lead to another. French felt that he had still further work before him ere he could begin the second stage of his case—the search for Roper. Lost in thought he returned to the Thirsdale Arms for lunch.
TO INQUIRE of a fully fledged and responsible medical man whether he has or has not given a false death certificate, without at the same time ruffling his feelings is an undertaking requiring a nice judgment and not a little tact. As French once again climbed the steps to Dr. Emerson’s hall door early that same afternoon, he felt that the coming interview would tax even his powers of suave inquiry. In a way of course, it didn’t matter whether the doctor’s feelings were ruffled or not, but both on general principles and from a desire to prevent his witness becoming hostile, the detective was anxious to save the other’s face.
“How are you, doctor? Here I am back to worry you again.” French began pleasantly as he was shown
in to the consulting-room. They chatted for a few moments and then French went on: “I wanted to ask you in confidence about an acquaintance of Miss Averill’s, a Mr. Giles who died recently. You knew him?”
“I attended him. I attended him for some years until Dr. Philpot came, then he took him over as well as most of my other country patients. I am not so young as I was and the arrangement suited us both. He died while Dr. Philpot was ill, and I went out and gave the necessary certificate.”
“So I gathered, and that’s why I came to you. What a curious coincidence it was that this man should pass away at the very time of the fire! That all four of Miss Averill’s closest acquaintances should die at practically the same time is, you must admit, as strange as it is tragic.” Emerson looked at his visitor curiously.
“Strange enough and tragic enough, I admit,” he answered, “but such coincidences are not infrequent. It is my experience that coincidences which would be deemed too remarkable for a novel constantly occur in real life.”
“I quite agree with you. I have often said the same thing. Mr. Giles was an invalid, was he not?”
“Yes, from what he told me the poor fellow had a rather miserable life. He was always delicate, and when he volunteered in 1914, he was rejected because of his heart. As the war dragged on the authorities became less particular and in 1917 he was re-examined and passed for foreign service, wrongly, as I think. However, that’s what happened. He went to France and in less than a month he was in hospital, having been both gassed and wounded. As a result his heart became more seriously affected. Even five years ago he was in a state in which death might have occurred from a suddfen shock, and myocarditis is a complaint which does not improve as
Continued on page 54
Continued from page 24
the years pass, especially with a lowered vitality.”
“Then it was myocarditis he died of?” “Yes. He had an attack of influenza on the previous Thursday. When Dr. Philpot got laid up and asked me to take his patients over he told me he had seen Mr. Giles and that he was in a bad way. The influenza made an extra call on the poor man’s heart which, no doubt, hastened his end, but the actual cause of death was myocarditis.”
“Does this disease leave any infallible signs after death? I mean, can a doctor say definitely from the mere inspection of the remains that death was due to it and to no other cause? Don’t think me impertinent in asking. I told you we inspectors were always out after firsthand information.”
Dr. Emerson raised his eyebrows as if to indicate delicately that the question was perhaps not in the best taste, but with only the slightest hint of stiffness he replied:—
“In this case the question does not ¡ arise. This man -was in a serious condition of health; his heart might have failed at any moment. Moreover, he was suffering from influenza, which puts an extra strain on the heart. Dr. Philpot gave it as his opinion that he would not recover. When, therefore, I learned that he had died suddenly I was not surprised. It was only to be expected. Further, when I examined him he showed every sign of death from heart failure.”
“But that is just the point, doctor. Excuse my pressing it, but I really am interested. For my own information I should like to know whether these signs i that you speak of were absolutely peculiar to a death from heart disease. I understood, please correct me if I am wrong, but I understood that only an autopsy
could really establish the point beyond question.”
Dr. Emerson hesitated.
“These are very peculiar questions,” he said presently. “I think you should tell me what is in your mind. It seems to me that I am equally entitled to ask how the death of Mr. Giles affects the cause of the Starvel fire?”
French nodded, and drawing forward his chair, spoke more confidentially.
“You are, doctor. I had not intended to mention my suspicion, but since you have asked me, I’ll answer your question. I will ask you to keep what I am about to say very strictly to yourself, and on that understanding I must tell you that I’m not connected with an insurance company: I’m an inspector from Scotland Yard. Certain facts which I do not wish to go into at present have led me to suspect that Mr. Giles may have been murdered. I want to make sure.”
Dr. Emerson stared as if he couldn’t have believed his ears, and his jaw dropped.
“God bless my soul!" he cried. “Murdered? Did I hear you say murdered?” “Yes,” said French, “But I am not sure about it. It is only a suspicion.”
“A pretty nasty suspicion for me, after my certificate! But you couldn’t be right. The very idea is absurd! Who could have murdered such a harmless man, and badly off at that!”
“Well, I think it might be possible to find a motive. But if you don’t mind, I’d really rather not discuss what may prove to be a mare’s nest. However, you see now the object of my questions. I want to know the possibilities from the medical point of view. Perhaps you will tell me about that autopsy?”
Dr. Emerson was manifestly disturbed
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by French’s suggestion. He moved uneasily in his chair and gave vent to exclamations of scepticism and concern. "Of course," he went on, "I’ll tell you everything l can, and 1 needn’t say I most sincerely hope y our suspicion is unfounded. You are perfectly correct on the other point. Only an autopsy can establish beyond question the fact of a death from myocarditis. If 1 had had the slightest doubt in Mr. Giles’ case 1 should have required one before giving a certificate. But 1 had no doubt, and with all due respect to you 1 have none now.”
"You may be right, doctor. I’ll tell you as soon as I know myself. In the meantime thank you for your information and not a word to a soul.”
'pRFNCIl left the house with a deep
satisfaction filling his mind. Dr. Emerson’s admission was what he had hoped for and it very nearly banished his last remaining doubt. But he felt that he ought to get Dr. Philpot’s views also. Philpot had seen the man before death and his evidence would certainly be required if the matter went further.
Accordingly, he turned in the direction of the younger man’s house, and a few minutes later was entering a consultingroom for the second time that day.
"Good-afternoon, doctor,” he said, with his usual cheery smile. “I’ve come on my old tack of looking for information. But it’s a very simple matter this time: just one question on quite a different subject.”
Dr. Philpot was looking changed: old and worn and despondent. French was rather shocked at his appearance. He was sitting forward in his chair, hunched over the fire, with his head resting in his hands and a look of brooding misery on his features. He looked like a man upon whom a long expected blow had at last fallen; a man at the end of his tether, who dees not know which way to turn for relief. And then, somewhat to French’s surprise, the cause came cut.
“Of course, of course,” the other murmured, rousing himself as if from an evil dream. “If you want to know anything from me ask it now, for I’m leaving the town almost at once.”
French was genuinely surprised.
“Leaving the town?” he repeated.
“You don’t mean--? Do you mean for
“For good, yes. And I don’t want ever to see the cursed place again. But it’s my own fault. I may as well tell you, for you’ll hear it soon enough. I have failed.”
“Financially, you mean?”
Ihilpot glanced at his visitor with sombre resentment.
“Financially, of course. How else?” he growled. “It was never a land flowing with milk and honey, this place, but for the last few months my position has been getting more and more impossible. The only things I get plenty of are bills—bills everywhere, and no money to meet them. I’ve struggled and fought to keep my end up, but it has been no good. When I came, I couldn’t afford to buy a practice, and though I’ve not done so badly owing to Dr. Emerson’s giving up his more distant patients, I haven’t built up quickly enough and my little capital couldn’t stand the strain. Another three or four years and I might have got my head above water.” He made a gesture of despair. “But there it is and complaii ing won’t help it.”
French’s natural reaction was to show sympathy with any one in trouble, and he could not help feeling sorry for this doctor, who had made a mess of his life and who now, nearing middle age, was going to have to begin all over again. But when he remembered what the landlord of the Thirsdale Arms had told him of the man’s gambling proclivities, his sympathy was somewhat checked. To continue gambling when you know that your indulgence is going to prevent you paying your just debts is but a short way re-
moved from theft. Of course, French did not know how far the landlord’s story was true, so it was with relief that he reminded himself that he was not Philpot’s judge, and that his business was simply to get the information he required as easily and pleasantly as he could.
“I am exceedingly sorry to hear what you say,” he declared gravely, and he was not altogether a hypocrite in making his manner and tone express genuine regret. "It is a terrible position for any one to find himself in and I can well understand how you feel. But, though bad, you must not consider it hopeless. Many a man has passed through a similar trouble and has come out on top in the end.” \
Philpot smiled faintly.
“I appreciate your kindness,” he answered. “But don’t let us talk about it. I told you in order to explain my departure and because you would hear it in any case. But if you don’t mind, I would rather not speak of it again. You said something about a question, I think?” “Yes, but first I must ask just this. You say you are leaving here. Suppose through some unexpected development in this Starvel case you are wanted to give evidence. Can I find you?”
“Of course, I am going to a friend in Glasgow who says he can find me a job. I shall be staying with Mrs. Macintosh, of 47 Kilgore Street, Dumbarton Road.” French noted the address.
“Thanks. I do not think I shall want you, but I should be remiss in my duty if I failed to keep in touch with you. The other question is about a friend of Miss Averill’s, a man named Giles, who died about the time of the fire. I wish you would tell me what he died of.”
Dr. Philpot looked at him in surprise. Then something approaching a twinkle appeared in his eye.
“Hullo! Another—er—unexpected development? Is it indiscreet to inquire?” “It is,” French answered, “but I’ll tell you because I really want my information. It may be a very serious matter, Dr. Philpot, and I am mentioning it in strict confidence only. I have certain reasons to suppose that Mr. Giles may have been murdered and I want to get your views on the possibility.”
Dr. Philpot’s astonishment at the announcement was quite as marked as that of his confrere, but he made less effort to conceal his scepticism.
“My dear Inspector! You’re surely not serious? Giles? Oh come now, you don’t expect me to believe that? What possible motive could anyone have for doing such a thing? ”
French did not explain the motive. He said he didn’t claim infallibility and admitted he might be wrong in his theory. He was simply collecting facts and he wanted any the other could supply.
“Well,” Philpot declared, “these are the facts so far as I know them.” He crossed over to an index, and rapidly looking through it, withdrew a card. “This is the man’s record. He was seriously ill to begin with: he had a heart affection which might have killed him at any moment. I have attended him for years and his disease was growing worse. His life, in fact, was precarious. That is your first fact.
“The second is that during the week before his death he developed influenza. I went out and saw him on Friday. I believed that his days were numbered, and I expected to hear of his death at any time. He did die, if I remember correctly, on the following Tuesday. I did not see him then, as I was myself down with ’flu, but Dr. Emerson saw him and he can tell you if his death was natural. I don’t know, Inspector, what you are basing your opinion on, but I can say with certainty that I shall be surprised if you are right.” “It is your outlook on the matter which mest strongly supports my suspicion,” French rejoined: “yours and Dr. Emerson’s, for I have seen him and his is the same. He was expecting that Mr. Giles would'"die from his disease, consequently when he did die he assumed
that the disease was the cause. Perfectly naturally, mind you: I’m not criticizing him. But my point is that his preconceived idea made him less critical than he might otherwise have been.”
“Ingenious, no doubt, but to me unconvincing. However, it is not my affair,. but yours. Is there any other question that you wish me to answer ?” French rapidly reflected. He thought that there was nothing more. Between these two men he had got what he wanted.
“I don’t think there is, doctor,” he returned. “I’m afraid your information hasn’t helped me on much, but after all it was facts that I wanted. I’ll not detain you any longer. Allow me just to say that I hope your present difficulties will he short-lived and that you may soon settle down satisfactorily again.”
"NTO, as far as the medical testimony ^ was concerned, his theory about Giles’ murder might well be true. Dr. Emerson had really been very lax and yet,, French, imagined, most medical men in similar circumstances would have acted as he had done. ' But whether that was so or not, Emerson had jumped to conclusions and had signed the death certificate without having really taken any trouble to ascertain the cause of death. And this, if necessary, he could be made to admit in the witness box.
French saw that only one thing would settle the matter. Giles’ coffin must be opened and the contents examined.
To obtain the necessary powers from the Home Office was a simple matter in London, where the request could be put through direct from the Yard. But here in Yorkshire it must come from the local authorities. French decided, therefore, that his proper course would be to put the additional facts that he had learned before Major Valentine and let that officer see to the rest. It was not a matter upon which he cared to telephone or write, so having made an appointment by wire, he once again took the afternoon train for Leeds.
“I believe, sir, that I have found where that third body was obtained,” he began, as he took his seat for the second time in the chief constable’s room. “It is, of course, only theory, indeed, you might almost say guess-work, but I think it works in. The nearest inhabitant to Starvel, a man living alone, died on the night before the fire.” French went on to relate in detail what took place and to give his views thereon.
The chief constable heard him in silence, and then sat for some moments thinking the matter over.
“I’m afraid I don’t feel so sanguine about it as you seem to,” he said at last. “At the same time I agree that the matter must be settled by an examination of the coffin. But I shall be surprised if Giles’ body is not found within it.”
“It may be, sir, of course,” French admitted. “But I’m glad you agree that we should make sure. In that case there is no object in delay. Will you obtain the necessary exhumation order, or is there anything you wish me to do?”
“No, I’ll see to it. You may arrange with Kent to get the work done. Let Kent arrange for a magistrate to be present. A representative will be required from the Home Office, of course?” “I’m afraid so, sir.”
“Then you may expect the order in a day or two. I shall be very much interested to hear the result. It will be impossible to keep the affair quiet?”
“I’m afraid so. There will be too many concerned in it.”
“Quite. Well, you must get up some tale about it. What are you going to
“I haven’t thought yet, sir. I’ll dish out something when the time comes.” When French reached Rellifield on his return journey he found Oxley on the platform.
“You been travelling also, Inspector?”
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Oxley greeted him. "I’ve just been to Penrith for the day. These connections always make me curse. They’re all arranged to and from Leeds, hut people going to or from the north have to kick their heels here for the best part of an hour each way.”
“Can’t please everybody, Mr. Oxley,” French remarked tritely.
“You think not?” Oxley smiled. “Well, how’s the case?”
“Nothing doing for the moment. I was in seeing Dr. Philpot this morning. He seems in a had way, poor fellow.”
Oxley looked grave.
“It’s a bad case, I fear.” He glanced round and his voice sank. “From what I’ve heard and by putting two and two together I shouldn’t wonder if he’ll only pay two or three shillings in the pound. All gone to the bookies, or nearly all. You know, Inspector, between ourselves, when a man’s in debt all round, as he is, it’s not just the game to go putting his last few pounds on horses.”
“It’s a fact, Mr. Oxley. Of course, one must remember that the gambler plunges in the hope of pulling something off. If he had had some bits of luck he might have put himself square.”
“That’s true, and you can imagine any one taking the risk. If he wins his whole trouble is over, while if he loses he is little the worse. He may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. But you haven’t told me how the case is getting on.”
It was natural enough that Oxley should be interested in his investigations, but French thought he pushed his curiosity a little too far. On this occasion it taxed even his skill to put the solicitor off without unpleasantly plain speaking, but he managed it at least and the talk drifted into other channels. Oxley was in his usual state of rather boisterous good humor, and before the train stopped at Thirsby he regaled French with the gossip of the district and told a number of the highly flavored stories in which his soul delighted.
rT'WO days later the exhumation order came, and that same night shortly after twelve o’clock a little party emerged from the local police station, and separating at the door, set off by various routes in the direction of the cemetery. Inspector French walked down the High Street with Dr. Laming, the Home Office representative, Sergeant Kent with Colonel Followes, the local magistrate from whom French had obtained the warrant for Whymper’s arrest, went via Cross Lane, while a sturdy policeman armed with tools disappeared down a parallel street.
The night was dark and cloudy, with a cold, southwesterly wind, which gave promise of early rain. There was a thin crescent moon, though its light penetrated but slightly through the pall of cloud. The men shivered and turned up their collars as they faced the raw, damp air.
The five met within the gates of the cemetery, which were opened to them by the caretaker and relocked behind them. Two gravediggers were in attendance. In the darkness and silence the little company moved off, and led by the caretaker, crossed the ground towards its north-easterly corner.
The place was very secluded. It lay on the side of a gently sloping hill whose curving bulk screened it from the town. It was tastefully laid out and well kept, but to the little party, with their minds full of their gruesome mission, it seemed eerie and sinister. The shrubs and bushes, which French had so much admired on his previous visit, now presented shadowy and menacing forms which moved and changed their positions as the men passed on. Presently a beam from an acetylene bicycle lamp flashed out and the caretaker called a halt.
“This is it,” he said in a low voice, pointing to the long narrow mound of a grave.
Silently the two gravediggers advanced and stretching a tarpaulin on the grass
alongside the mound, began to remove the sods. Then they dug, first through dark soil and then through yellow, which they heaped up in a pyramid on the tarpaulin. They worked steadily, but a whole hour had passed before with a dull thud a spade struck something hollow.
“We’re down at last,” the caretaker said, while the diggers redoubled their efforts.
Gradually the top of the coffin became revealed and the men, undermining the walls of their excavation, worked the clay out from round the sides. Presently all was clear.
As the interment had taken place only some two months earlier the coffin was still perfectly sound. Raising it was therefore an easy matter. Ropes were lowered and passed through the handles, and with a steady pull, the sinister casket came away from the clay beneath and in a few seconds was lying on the grass beside the hole. French, holding his electric torch to the brass plate, could read the inscription: Markham Giles, died 14th September, 1926. Aged 36.
Meanwhile the sturdy policeman had come forward with a screwdriver, and was beginning to withdraw the screws holding down the lid. Everyone but the case hardened Home Office official felt a thrill of excitement pass over him as the fateful moment approached. Only Dr. Laming and French had before taken part in an exhumation, and the feelings of the others were stirred by the gruesome nature of the operations and thoughts of the ghastly sight which they expected would soon meet their eyes. With French it was different. He was moved because his reputation was at stake. So much depended for him on what that raised lid would reveal. If he had put all concerned to the trouble and expense of an unnecessary exhumation, it would count against him. He found it hard to stand still and to preserve a suitable attitude of aloofness while the constable slowly operated the screwdriver.
At last the screws were removed and the lid was carefully raised and lifted clear. And then the eyes which had been bulging with anticipated horror, bulged still more with incredulous amazement. There Was no sign, of Markham Giles’ body or any other!: Instead, thé coffin was halffiiil of dark, peaty earth; and when this earth was sifted nothing was found embedded in it.
•The sight produced varying emotions in the onlookers. The uninitiated broke into exclamations of wonder: French felt such a wave of satisfaction sweep through him that he could have shouted in his delight: Dr. Laming contented himself with a quick glance and a murmur of “One for you, French. Congratulations.” All felt that they had assisted in a unique experiment, the result of which had triumphantly vindicated the authorities.
This, then, was the end of the mystery. The conclusion which French had reached by analysis and deduction had been tested and had proved" .true^ and that proof established $||^e|l|nd the : same time the whole of tb®*ÉÍéf8Plu his line of reasoning. Roper was guilty of one öf the most diabolical plots ever conceived in the mind of a criminal. He had allowed nothing to stand in his way. He had sacrificed the lives of no less than three people in order that he might, with the greater security, steal his employer’s money. Every part of his devilish scheme was made clear, except one—his present whereabouts. French determined that he would immediately begin to trace him and that nothing would induce him to stop until he had succeeded.
When French had breakfasted he went to see the undertaker who had conducted Giles’ funeral, and there he received some information which still more firmly established the theory he had evolved.
“The whole arrangements,” explained Mr. Simkins, the proprietor,in the course of the conversation, “were carried out to Mr. Roper’s orders. Mr. Roper said that
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Mr. Giles had had an idea he mightn’t get over the attack, and he had handed him the money for his funeral, asking him to see to it as he had no relative to do it. There were twelve pounds over when the ground was bought, and Mr. Roper handed the money to me and told me to do the best I could with it. He said he thought the best plan would be to get the body coffined that afternoon—it was a Wednesday—and have the funeral on the Friday. He said the doctor thought the coffining should be done as soon as possible, and while the day of the interment didn’t really matter, Friday would suit as well as any. That was the reason he gave for the arrangement, for you know, sir, in inexpensive funerals at such a distance, we generally do the coffining just before the funeral and so make the one journey do. But that was the way it was done.”
“I understand,” French continued. “Mr. Giles died on the Tuesday, the coffining was done on the Wednesday, and the funeral took place on the Friday. That right?”
“That’s right, sir.”
It seemed to French that the undertaker’s statement demonstrated the sole remaining steps of Roper’s plan so completely that every detail of that hideous night now stood revealed in all its ghastliness. He had not only murdered Markham Giles, but he had arranged that the body should lie coffined in the lonely house on the night of the major tragedy. On that night he and probably Mrs. Roper must have opened the coffin, taken out the remains, replaced them with the proper weight of earth, and once more screwed down the lid. A small handcart such as French had noticed in the unburnt outhouse at Starvel would serve to convey the remains to the Hollow, where they were to be used in such a terrible way to bolster up the deception.
Truly, it was a well-thought-out scheme! And how nearly had it succeeded! But its success would be short-lived. With set teeth and frowning brow French vowed to himself that he would not rest until he had the monster who had done this deed safely under lock and key.
But French was at heart too sound a man to waste time in day-dreaming while there was work to be done. He had pulled off a coup and had every reason to be pleased with himself, but he had not completed his case.
As he went over, point by point, all that he knew of the missing man, he saw that there were two matters upon which he should obtain further information before starting his search. Roper’s statement to the undertaker was capable of verification. Had Dr. Emerson stated that Giles’ body required to be coffined without delay? If Roper had lied on this point, it would still further confirm the case against him. The second matter was a search of Giles’ cottage. It was not a hopeful line of inquiry certainly, but it could not be neglected. Some clue to the tragedy might be forthcoming.
First, then, it was necessary to see Dr. Emerson, and a few minutes later French was seated once again in his consultingroom. The doctor greeted him anxiously.
“I’m glad you called, Inspector,” he exclaimed. “I was going up to the hotel to look for you. This is a terrible development.”
“You’ve heard then, Dr. Emerson?”
“Just this moment. I met Kent and he told me. It is an amazing affair, almost incredible. What does it all mean, Mr. French? Can you understand it?”
“I am afraid, sir, it means what I said on my last call; that Mr. Giles was murdered.”
Dr. Emerson made an impatient gesture.
“But good gracious, man, that doesn’t explain it! Suppose he was murdered: where is his body? Have ÿou a theory?”
French hesitated. He felt tempted to disclose his suspicions to this old man, whose interest and good faith were so
self-evident. But his habit of caution was too strong.
“I have a theory, Dr. Emerson,” he answered, “but so far it is only a theory and I don’t like to discuss it until I am reasonably sure it is true. I shall know in a short time and then I will tell you. In the meantime perhaps you will excuse me. But I want to ask you one more question. Roper saw you, about the funeral arrangements?”
“Yes. He said that Giles had given him some money for the purpose and that he would see that the best use was made of it.”
“You thought it necessary, I understand, to have the coffining done without delay?”
Dr. Emerson looked up sharply.
“ƒ thought it necessary? Certainly not. You’re mistaken there.”
“Is that so?” French returned. “I thought you had told Roper that it must, be hurried on. You didn’t?”
“Never. I never even discussed the matter with him. I never thought of it. As a matter of fact there was no need to depart from the usual procedure.” “That’s all right, doctor. Now there is one other point. Let us assume that mur' der was committed. I want you to tell me from the appearance of the body how that murder might have been done. If you are able to do so it might lead me to a clue.”
Emerson sprang to his feet and began pacing the room.
“Merciful powers! That’s a nice question to ask me, after my giving a certificate of death from myocarditis!” he exclaimed.
“I know, doctor.” French spoke soothingly. “But none of us is infallible, and if you made a mistake it’s only what every one does at one time or another. Your reasons for giving the certificate were very convincing, and if they were not sound in this case it is only because this case is one in a million. Don’t worry about the certificate. Instead, just sit down and recall the appearance of the body and see if you can think of another cause of death. If you’re not able to give a definite opinion we can still get something by elimination. I take it, for example, the man’s skull was not battered in nor his throat cut? That limits the affair. You see what I mean?”
“Oh, I see right enough, and naturally I’ll give you all the help I can. But tell me first, have you found the body?”
“No, nor have I the faintest idea where to look. That will be my next job, I suppose. I don’t even say it’s murder. But it may be, and if you can answer my question it might be a considerable help.” Dr. Emerson thought for some moments.
“Well,” he said at last, “I must admit that murder is possible, though I don’t for a moment believe death occurred otherwise than as I said. As to possible methods, there were no obvious wounds on the body and violence in the literal sense is therefore unlikely. A sharp blow over the heart or on the stomach might have caused heart failure without leaving physical marks, but in such a case the features would have looked distressed. For the same reason death from the shock of a sudden fright or start may be ruled out. It is, of course, true that certain kinds of poison might have been administered. A whiff of hydrocyanic acid gas would cause almost instantaneous death and produce the same appearance as death from natural causes. An injection of cocaine would do the same where there was heart disease, and there are other similar agents. But in these cases the difficulty of the average man in obtaining the substances in question and also in knowing how to use them if obtained, is so great that I think they might all be ruled out. No, Inspector, amazing as your discovery seems, I cannot think you are right in assuming murder.”
“But,” thought French, though he did
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not put his thought into words, “if the man you suspect spent the best years of his life as male nurse in a medical institution, these difficulties pretty well vanish.” But he concealed his satisfaction, and, instead, simulated disappointn ent.
“That seems very reasonable, doctor, I must admit. At the same time I shall have to put inquiries in hand as to whether any one recently tried to obtain cocaine or those other things you have mentioned. Of course, I don’t say that necessarily I am right in my ideas.”
“I don’t think you are right, though I confess I’m absolutely lost in amazement about that coffin. Come now, Inspector, you must know more than you pretend. Are your ideas hopelessly confidential?” French shook his head, then said, “I can tell you, doctor, that I know nothing more than I have already mentioned. I may have a surmise, but you will agree that I could not repeat mere surmises which might also be slanders against perfectly innocent persons. If I find that my theories seem to have a basis on fact I may ask for your further help, but at
present, I see no signs of that. You’ll agree that I’m right?”
Emerson admitted it, and after some further conversation French took his leave. So far everything was going satisfactorily. Each new fact, which he learned, tended to strengthen his theory. And incidentally and unexpectedly he had come on another piece of evidence, circumstantial of course, but none the less strong. According to Dr. Emerson, the murder was most likely to have been committed by methods which Roper alone, of all the people that French could think of, had the knowledge and the ability to employ. French’s satisfaction was intense as he noted the cumulative effect of his discoveries. By this method of cumulative circumstantial evidence he was accustomed to find suspicion grow to certainty and certainty to proof.
So much for the first of the two inquiries French had set himself to make. There remained the investigation of the late Markham Giles’ cottage, and after a snack of early lunch at the hotel, he started out along the Starvel road.
To be continued