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BRADSHAW TAKES HOBSON IN HAND
WILLIAM L. BRADSHAW had made a friend of the detective. He had, indeed, made a friend of every person with whom he came in contact, being gifted with a calmly persuasive manner which inspired confidence in all men, not to mention women. A reckless prodigality in the matter of half-crowns, too, caused the villagers to imagine that the millennium was imminent, if not already in their midst. So far as Hobson was concerned, he took special pains to establish good relations, because he saw that the detective was endowed with infinite capabilities, though wrapped in the red-tape of Scotland Yard.
The American was deeply interested in the mystery of Lord Arncliffe's death. The sentimental aspect appealed little to him, since he had never set eyes on his relative. But it was clear that influences had been at work which had caused great injury to his own personal prospects. Lord Arncliffe would certainly have taken the claims of so near a relative into consideration in disposing of his wealth, had not the fact of the existence of a nephew been kept from him.
It was impossible to avoid the doubt that Edith might have been responsible, at least for the suppression of Bradshaw's letters. Yet, from the first, the hard-headed American had resolutely refused to regard her as guilty in the smallest degree. There was a mystery, and that mystery he intended to solve. In all his friendly visits to the Hall he had kept his eyes open for the slightest clue tending to throw light upon the subject. The first thing essential was to win the trust of the detective, and now he had so far succeeded that the inspector was installed in his private sitting-room at the " Fisherman's Rest," ready to discuss developments and to impart his latest theories.
The quaint old room, with its carved wainscoting and its time-ensabled beams, exercised a restful influence over the nervous American. After he had pushed a tray laden with whisky and cigars — cigars which were real Havanas and not doped imitations — across the table to the detective, he sat for a long time silently meditative, with something of that red-Indian imperturbability which seems to be the natural inheritance of men born in the great new land.
Hobson was quiet too. He was not a waster of words, nor was it part of his policy to hurry any man's thoughts. At length Bradshaw took his cigar from between his lips.
"Partner," he said, "you are weeping over the wrong grave."
The other looked at him with an expression of blank inquiry.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Bradshaw, testily, "can't you understand plain language? You are barking up the wrong tree."
"But what the dickens do you mean?" asked Hobson, still only half comprehending.
"Well, now, you are wasting your time trying to fasten things on to that poor little girl, Edith Holt, when you know she is the last person in the world to have committed so cold-blooded a crime. There is the business of that check for three hundred pounds she says the old man gave her —"
"I withdraw that," interrupted Hobson, hastily. "I have every reason now to believe that Lord Arncliffe did give her the money. But there is something inexplicable in connection with those letters of yours. It is all very well for the young lady to say she never had the least idea of inheriting Lord Arncliffe's money; but let us suppose, for the sake of our inquiry, that she did know the terms of his will. She, or some one acting in her behalf, might very well decide to put him away before your arrival on the scene caused him to change his mind. Probably he would have treated her handsomely in any case; yet I do not think there can be much doubt you would have been the heir instead of Miss Holt."
"Neither do I," agreed Bradshaw, "but that does not prove Miss Holt to be a fraud. There is something in that girl's face —"
"I know," smirked Hobson, with an insufferable wink. "She is a perfect little angel to look at, and her soul is mirrored in her eyes. Bless you! I know ladies who are doing their 'ten years penal' at this moment who could give Miss Holt points —"
"Sometimes you talk like a perfect idiot," broke in Bradshaw, speaking with icy deliberation. "You British policemen are not taught anything, except the regulation of traffic. You do that well enough, I'll admit, but when it comes to a delicate case like this you are not in the same catalogue as the French detectives, or, as far as that goes, the American. Why, man alive, a New York headquarters sleuth would have discovered the murderer a week ago; and, unless he coughed up handsomely, would have delivered him to the inexorable clutches of the law, there to be held until the jury disagreed on the twenty-first appeal, and most all the interested parties were dead."
"That is all very pretty, Mr. Bradshaw," was the self-sufficient reply; "but if you come down to real results, I think you will find that English detectives score more successes in the long run than all your Frenchmen or Americans put together. If we find a woman with her head cut off, we don't look up the antecedents of the two-year old baby, simply because be is the most unlikely person to have committed the crime. As a rule, the most likely person is the person, and anyway, I am not such a 'perfect idiot' as to allow myself to be thrown off the scent by the simpering of a pretty face."
"Say," exclaimed the American in accents of deepest disgust, "you give me a pain in the neck. I have met poisonously bad women with pretty faces, but they have not taken in any man worth a cent. You want to read up Lombroso, my friend — you should study criminology in its physiological and physiognomical aspects. Show me that Miss Holt's head is too flat and her eyes too close together, that her ears are pointed, that the angle of her jaw is too wide or too narrow — show me even that her mouth is too large or too small — confound you!— and I will say: 'Let us by all means watch Miss Edith Holt.' "
"I must admit that she is an uncommonly fine girl," growled Hobson. "And I don't mind the further admission to you, sir, that I am not quite so sure as I was even about her complicity in the affair. As I told you, I am quite satisfied regarding the three hundred pounds. And I am pretty well certain, too, that she had nothing to do with the attack on Aingier. At the same time, there is something very queer about it all, and more than once I have been near arresting her upon my own responsibility."
"And a pretty pickle you would be in when she was proved innocent."
"I know that," and the detective's instant candor revealed his deadly earnestness. "That is what held me back. It would have been a grand feather in my cap to convict a woman with forty thousand a year, but if I had failed there would have been an end to the career of yours truly. Still, you see I must make some move. It does not redound to my credit that the murder of a man like Lord Arncliffe should remain a mystery, and if I don't clear it up the authorities will supersede me for a certainty."
"There was not any money stolen when Aingier was attacked?" asked the American, irrelevantly.
"Not a halfpenny, so far as we can make out. The only thing missing was an account book, on which he was working. And — there you are again — Miss Holt knew all about Lord Arncliffe's accounts. If there was anything wrong, it is only reasonable to suppose her to be the person most interested in suppressing the tell-tale figures."
"Well," continued Bradshaw, still apparently without reference to the subject under discussion, "I have been spending quite a lot of my time lately in the bar down-stairs. I do not mean the parlor, but right among all the horny-handed sons of toil who come here to measure their wages against Jones's beer. They are quite an interesting lot of men and remarkably fond of strong drink."
"So they are, but I don't think you will pick up much information from those yokels."
"Perhaps not. Anyway, a chap they call Leigh, a sort of poacher and never-work, seems to have struck it pretty rich lately. The old landlord tells me that this fellow used not to have two cents to rub together, and was always cadging from some one or other. Now he has taken to setting up drinks for the crowd and changing gold right and left."
"Ah!" exclaimed Hobson, with a nod of comprehension. Here was a situation which came within his province. "We will just keep an eye on this gentleman who has become rich so suddenly. I can see, sir, you have got the makings of a first-class detective in you. Of course, it would be easy enough for the young lady to bribe a fellow like that to do any sort of crooked work."
"Why in thunder can't you leave the young lady out of your calculations?" cried Bradshaw with renewed impatience. "If she is guilty, you can always lay your hands on her when the proper time comes. Judging by the way you are going on, you will end by letting the real murderer slip through your fingers."
"I suppose I shall have to telegraph to the Yard for another man," said Hobson, ruefully. "I hate to do it. You get a case like this all cut and dried, with only one little thing lacking to make the chain of evidence complete. And then a new man comes along, hits on the clue by accident, and takes all the credit while you have done all the work."
"Still, you have the local policeman to help, haven't you?"
"Don't talk to me about the local policeman!" exclaimed the Scotland Yard official, in tones of intense disgust. "Fox is his name; it ought to have been Goose. The night Aingier was attacked I found some splendid footprints on the soft ground outside the study window, and I set Fox to keep guard over them until I could take a proper cast. It appears that Fox had heard of taking a cast too — read it in 'Sherlock Holmes' or somewhere — and when I returned I found he had saved me the trouble. He sent for some plaster of Paris, he did, and poured it, thin as pea-soup, all over the ground. Of course, when you are dealing with soft dry ground you must oil it very carefully before doing anything else — and the result was that the impressions Mr. Fox got might have been made by anything from Man Friday to an elephant. No, sir; the less we have to do with P. C. Fox the better."
"See here," said Bradshaw, "I have nothing particular to occupy me just at present, and I fancy I would like to take a hand in the game myself. Supposing I were to take care of this 'got-rich-quick' gentleman?"
"Well, sir," said Hobson, doubtfully, "it is rather against the rules of the force to have anything to do with amatoors, but as a special favor to you —"
"Oh, come off the fence, and don't talk that kind of nonsense to me!" interrupted Bradshaw. "So far as I can gage the situation you want to secure all the credit for this business and any dollars attached to it — and you don't care tuppence who gets hanged in the process. Anyway, the thing interests me, and I am going to see it through. And, believe me, Hobson, I am not worrying any whether it is according to the rules of the force or not. Have another drink?"
The whisky was good, and the quietly expressed determination of Bradshaw unanswerable, so Hobson helped himself discreetly and awaited the developments which he fancied lay behind this offer of help.
It appeared strange that a detective of his standing at Scotland Yard — for he was unquestionably regarded as the star man of the Criminal Investigation Department — should discuss things so freely with a comparative stranger. But the American had quietly intimated to him that he was prepared to hand over a handsome reward — without any undesirable publicity and entirely apart from Lord Arncliffe's strange bequest — should Hobson succeed in securing the conviction of Lord Arncliffe's murderer. The police regulations abound with vexatious restrictions in the matter of fees, or personal remuneration, and five hundred pounds passing as a mere private matter between gentlemen was a sum of money not to be thrust aside with lofty indifference.
Bradshaw did not give any further opening, so Hobson resumed the conversation.
"There is another point," he said, "which requires a good deal of explanation. This Dr. Lester, who headed the scientific expedition sent to West Africa by Lord Arncliffe, arrives here on a fishing excursion. By some extraordinary lack of knowledge he was not aware that his patron lived in the neighborhood. We may note, in passing, that Dr. Lester is a very eminent authority on poisons. Now, on the very day of Lord Arncliffe's death, Dr. Lester and Miss Holt are admittedly found together by young Warren. They pretend to be strangers, and tell some cock-and-bull story about an otter and a trout."
"Did you say you were Irish?" asked Bradshaw suddenly, with a disconcerting smile.
"Well, sir, you know what I mean. Who is to say that Miss Holt and the doctor were really strangers — that they were not, as a matter of fact, old lovers? I have had my eyes pretty wide open, as you may imagine, and if those two are not sweet on each other, I will eat my hat."
"That may or may not be true," said the American, shortly. Somehow, the suggestion of an understanding between Edith and George Lester was not particularly pleasing to him. "Anyway, Dr. Lester is a sure-enough white man, and everybody knows that he has only just returned from the Ashantee swamps. If that is the best you can do, go and place your head under the pump in the yard, my good Hobson."
"All very well," returned the detective, somewhat ruffled at last by the repeated aspersions on his intellectual capacity. "It is not impossible, nevertheless, that the meeting by the trout stream was not the first one. If it was, they have gone ahead with remarkable rapidity. Young Warren says —"
"Did it ever strike you to devote a little more attention to Mr. Harry Warren?" interrupted Bradshaw. "There is something very queer about that interesting person."
"Oh, nonsense, sir!" cried Hobson. "He is the sort of man you will find by the hundred in the rural districts of England — not overburdened with brains, and with a little of the atmosphere of the stable about him. But he is not of the type which makes a cunning murderer."
"I know all about the type," Bradshaw assured him. "I have read about them. They always break their necks riding to hounds. But what I have particularly noticed is that Mr. Warren has taken up a special branch of toxicology. I will bet you any reasonable sum that he is in the parlor down-stairs right now, experimenting on himself with brandy high-balls — 'B-and-S,' I think you call them. Now, I don't know how long Mr. Warren has been making himself a martyr to science, but I am willing to swear he has not been going his present gait for much more than a week or two, because there is no man living who could stand it."
"I am afraid it is not a habit of which he has the monopoly," was Hobson's reply.
"Hobson, I do believe that a week's steady talk with you would do me a world of good. It would clear my ideas. What I am trying to say is that there is something strange in the coincidence of Warren's sudden outbreak of intemperance following so closely on the beginning of all those troubles at the Hall. I have made considerable inquiries in a quiet way, and I hear that although he was not, perhaps, exactly a temperate man, yet there was nothing marked in his dissipation until the last few weeks. I do not know how it strikes you, but it appears to me to be a toss-up between an uneasy conscience and a coward's attempt to gain courage. Keep an eye on Warren! It may be helpful."