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Matters of vital importance to some people whom already we have met, and to others whom thus far we have not met, were transacted in a lofty and rather bleak looking room at Scotland Yard between the hours of nine and ten A. M.; that is, later in the morning of the fateful day whose advent we have heard acclaimed from the Tower of Westminster.
The room, which was lighted by a large French window opening upon a balcony, commanded an excellent view of the Thames Embankment. The floor was polished to a degree of brightness, almost painful. The distempered walls, save for a severe and solitary etching of a former Commissioner, were nude in all their unloveliness. A heavy deal table (upon which rested a blotting-pad, a pewter ink-pot, several newspapers and two pens) together with three deal chairs, built rather as monuments of durability than as examples of art, constituted the only furniture, if we except an electric lamp with a green glass shade, above the table.
This was the room of Detective-Inspector Dunbar; and Detective- Inspector Dunbar, at the hour of our entrance, will be found seated in the chair, placed behind the table, his elbows resting upon the blotting-pad.
At ten minutes past nine, exactly, the door opened, and a thick- set, florid man, buttoned up in a fawn colored raincoat and wearing a bowler hat of obsolete build, entered. He possessed a black mustache, a breezy, bustling manner, and humorous blue eyes; furthermore, when he took off his hat, he revealed the possession of a head of very bristly, upstanding, black hair. This was Detective-Sergeant Sowerby, and the same who was engaged in examining a newspaper in the study of Henry Leroux when Dr. Cumberly and his daughter had paid their second visit to that scene of an unhappy soul's dismissal.
"Well?" said Dunbar, glancing up at his subordinate, inquiringly.
"I have done all the cab depots," reported Sergeant Sowerby, "and a good many of the private owners; but so far the man seen by Mr. Exel has not turned up."
"The word will be passed round now, though," said Dunbar, "and we shall probably have him here during the day."
"I hope so," said the other good-humoredly, seating himself upon one of the two chairs ranged beside the wall. "If he doesn't show up." . . .
"Well?" jerked Dunbar--"if he doesn't?"
"It will look very black against Leroux."
Dunbar drummed upon the blotting-pad with the fingers of his left hand.
"It beats anything of the kind that has ever come my way," he confessed. "You get pretty cautious at weighing people up, in this business; but I certainly don't think--mind you, I go no further-- but I certainly don't think Mr. Henry Leroux would willingly kill a fly; yet there is circumstantial evidence enough to hang him."
Sergeant Sowerby nodded, gazing speculatively at the floor.
"I wonder," he said, slowly, "why the girl--Miss Cumberly-- hesitated about telling us the woman's name?"
"I am not wondering about that at all," replied Dunbar, bluntly. "She must meet thousands in the same way. The wonder to me is that she remembered at all. I am open to bet half-a-crown that you couldn't remember the name of every woman you happened to have pointed out to you at an Arts Ball?"
"Maybe not," agreed Sowerby; "she's a smart girl, I'll allow. I see you have last night's papers there?"
"I have," replied Dunbar; "and I'm wondering" . . .
"If there's any connection?"
"Well," continued the inspector, "it looks on the face of it as though the news of her husband's death had something to do with Mrs. Vernon's presence at Leroux's flat. It's not a natural thing for a woman, on the evening of her husband's death, to rush straight away to another man's place" . . .
"It's strange we couldn't find her clothes" . . .
"It's not strange at all! You're simply obsessed with the idea that this was a love intrigue! Think, man! the most abandoned woman wouldn't run to keep an appointment with a lover at a time like that! And remember she had the news in her pocket! She came to that flat dressed--or undressed--just as we found her; I'm sure of it. And a point like that sometimes means the difference between hanging and acquittal."
Sergeant Sowerby digested these words, composing his jovial countenance in an expression of unnatural profundity. Then:--
"The point to my mind," he said, "is the one raised by Mr. Hilton. By gum! didn't Dr. Cumberly tell him off!"
"Dr. Cumberly," replied Dunbar, "is entitled to his opinion, that the injection in the woman's shoulder was at least eight hours old; whilst Mr. Hilton is equally entitled to maintain that it was less than one hour old. Neither of them can hope to prove his case."
"If either of them could?" . . .
"It might make a difference to the evidence--but I'm not sure."
"What time is your appointment?"
"Ten o'clock," replied Dunbar. "I am meeting Mr. Debnam--the late Mr. Vernon's solicitor. There is something in it. Damme! I am sure of it!"
"Something in what?"
"The fact that Mr. Vernon died yesterday evening, and that his wife was murdered at midnight."
"What have you told the press?"
"As little as possible, but you will see that the early editions will all be screaming for the arrest of Soames."
"I shouldn't wonder. He would be a useful man to have; but he's probably out of London now."
"I think not. He's more likely to wait for instructions from his principal."
"Certainly. You don't think Soames did the murder, do you?"
"No; but he's obviously an accessory."
"I'm not so sure even of that."
"Then why did he bolt?"
"Because he had a guilty conscience."
"Yes," agreed Sowerby; "it does turn out that way sometimes. At any rate, Stringer is after him, but he's got next to nothing to go upon. Has any reply been received from Mrs. Leroux in Paris?"
"No," answered Dunbar, frowning thoughtfully. "Her husband's wire would reach her first thing this morning; I am expecting to hear of a reply at any moment."
"They're a funny couple, altogether," said Sowerby. "I can't imagine myself standing for Mrs. Sowerby spending her week-ends in Paris. Asking for trouble, I call it!"
"It does seem a daft arrangement," agreed Dunbar; "but then, as you say, they're a funny couple."
"I never saw such a bundle of nerves in all my life!" . . .
"I suppose," he said, "it's the artistic temperament! If Mrs. Leroux has got it, too, I don't wonder that they get fed up with one another's company."
"That's about the secret of it. And now, I shall be glad, Sowerby, if you will be after that taxi-man again. Report at one o'clock. I shall be here."
With his hand on the door-knob: "By the way," said Sowerby, "who the blazes is Mr. King?"
Inspector Dunbar looked up.
"Mr. King," he replied slowly, "is the solution of the mystery."
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