Mr Polton Explains, by R. Austin Freeman

Chapter 18

Thorndyke Administers a Shock

“I WONDER, sir,” said Polton, as the hour approached I for the arrival of our two visitors, “how we had better arrange the room. Don’t want it to look too much like a committee meeting. But there’s rather a lot of us for a confidential talk.”

“It isn’t so particularly confidential,” I replied. “If there are any secrets to be revealed, they are not Moxdale’s. He didn’t pose as a dead man. The deception was Haire’s.”

“That’s true, sir,” Polton rejoined with evident relief. “Still, I think I won’t make myself too conspicuous, as he may regard me as an outsider.”

The plan that he adopted seemed to me to have exactly the opposite effect to that intended, for, having arranged four chairs around the fireplace with a couple of small tables for wine and cigars, he placed a microscope and some trays of slides on the large table, drew up a chair and prepared to look preoccupied.

At eight o’clock precisely our visitors arrived, and, as I admitted them, I glanced with natural curiosity at “the deceased”, and was impressed rather favourably by his appearance. He was a good-looking man, about five feet nine or ten in height, broad-shouldered, well set-up, and apparently strong and athletic; with a pleasant, intelligent face, neither dark nor fair, a closely-cropped dark moustache and clear grey eyes. He greeted me with a friendly smile, but I could see that, in spite of Polton’s artful plans, he was a little taken aback by the size of the party, and especially by the apparition of Polton, himself; seated necromantically behind his microscope.

But Thorndyke soon put him at his ease, and, when the introductions had been effected (including “Mr. Polton, our technical adviser”), we took our seats and opened the proceedings with informal and slightly frivolous conversation.

“We should seem to be quite old acquaintances, Mr. Moxdale,” said Thorndyke, “seeing that I have had the honour of testifying to a coroner’s jury as to the cause of your death. But that sort of acquaintanceship is rather one-sided.”

“Yes,” Moxdale agreed, “it is a queer position. I come back to England to find myself the late Mr. Moxdale and have to introduce myself as a resurrected corpse. It is really quite embarrassing.”

“It must be,” Thorndyke agreed, “and not to you alone; for, since you have resigned from the role of the deceased, you have put on us the responsibility of finding a name for your understudy. But the inspector tells us that you can give us some help in our search.”

“Well,” said Moxdale, “it is only a guess, and I may be all abroad. But there was someone in that house when it was burned, and, as I was not that someone, I naturally ask myself who he could have been. I happen to know of one person who might have been there, and I don’t know of any other. That’s the position. Perhaps there isn’t much in it, after all.”

“A vulgar saying,” Blandy remarked, “has it that half a loaf is better than no bread. A possible person is at least something to start on. But we should like to know as much as we can about that person. What can you tell us?”

“Ah!” said Moxdale, “there is the difficulty. I really know nothing about Mr. O’Grady. He is little more than a name to me, and only a surname at that. I can’t even tell you his Christian name.”

“That makes things a bit difficult,” said Blandy, “seeing that we have got to trace him and find out whether he is still in existence. But at any rate, you have seen him and can tell us what he was like.”

“Yes, I have seen him — once, as I told you — and my recollection of him is that he was a strongly-built man about five feet nine or ten inches high, medium complexion, grey eyes, dark hair and moustache and no beard. When I saw him, he was wearing a black jacket, striped trousers, grey overcoat, and a light — brown soft felt hat.”

“That is quite a useful description,” said Blandy, “for excluding the wrong man, but not so useful for identifying the right one. It would apply to a good many other men; and the clothes were not a permanent feature. You told me about your meeting with him. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind repeating the account for Dr. Thorndyke’s benefit.”

“It was a chance meeting,” said Moxdale. “I happened to be in the neighbourhood of Soho one day about lunch-time and it occurred to me to drop in at a restaurant that Haire had introduced me to; Moroni’s in Wardour Street. I walked down to the further end of the room and was just looking for a vacant table when I caught sight of Haire, himself; apparently lunching with a man who was a stranger to me. As Haire had seen me, I went up to him and shook hands, and then, as I didn’t know his friend, was going off to another table when he said: “Don’t go away, Cecil. Come and take a chair at this table and let me introduce you to my friend, O’Grady. You’ve heard me speak of him and he has heard me speak of you.’

“Accordingly, as O’Grady stood up and offered his hand, I shook it and sat down at the table and ordered my lunch; and in the interval before it arrived we chatted about nothing in particular, especially O’Grady, who was very fluent and had a rather pleasant, taking manner. By the time my food was brought, they had finished their lunch, and, having got their bills from the waiter, settled up with him. Then O’Grady said: “Don’t let me break up this merry party, but Time and Tide, you know — I must be running away. I am glad to have had the pleasure of meeting you, Moxdale, and turning a mere name into a person.’

“With this he got up and put on his overcoat and hat — I noticed the hat particularly because it was rather a queer colour — and when he had shaken hands with me, he said to Haire, just as he was turning to go: “‘Don’t forget our little business on Thursday. I shall call for you at eleven o’clock to the tick, and I shall bring the stuff with me. Better make a note of the time. So long.’ and with a smile and a wave of the hand to me, he bustled away.

“When he had gone, I remarked to Haire that O’Grady seemed to be rather a pleasant, taking sort of fellow. He smiled grimly and replied: “‘Yes, he is a plausible rascal, but if you should happen to meet him again, I advise you to keep your pockets buttoned. He is remarkably plausible.’

“I tried to get him to amplify this statement, but he didn’t seem disposed to pursue the subject and presently he looked at his watch and then he, too, took his departure. That is the whole story, and there isn’t much in it excepting the date of the appointment. The Thursday referred to would be the fourteenth of April, and that, I understand, is the day on which Haire started for Dublin.”

“You say, you understand,” said Thorndyke. “Have you not seen the account of the inquest?”

“No. But Mr. Home, my solicitor, has given me a summary of it with all the material facts, including my own untimely decease. But I needn’t have said I understand, because I happen to know.”

“That Mr. Haire did start on that day?” Thorndyke queried.

“Yes. I actually saw him start.”

“That is interesting,” said Blandy. “Could you give us the particulars?”

“With pleasure,” replied Moxdale “It happened that on that day — or rather that night — I was starting for the South of France. I had left my luggage in the cloak-room at Victoria, earlier in the day, as I had some calls to make, and when I had done all my business, I strolled to Wardour Street and dropped in at Moroni’s for a late dinner or supper. And there I found Haire, who had just come in on the same errand. He was taking the night train for Holyhead, and as I was travelling by the night train to Folkestone, we both had plenty of time. So we made our dinner last out and we dawdled over our coffee until it was past ten o’clock. Then Haire, who had a heavy suit-case with him, said he thought he would take a taxi across to Euston, so, when we had paid our bills, we went out together to look for a cab. We found one disengaged in Shaftesbury Avenue, and, when Haire had put his suit-case inside, he called out ‘Euston’ to the driver, got in, said ‘good-night’ to me and off he went.”

“Did he say whether O’Grady had kept his appointment?” Thorndyke asked.

“He just mentioned that he had called. Nothing more; and of course I asked no questions.”

“You seemed to think,” said Thorndyke, “that the body that was found after the fire might be that of O’Grady. What made you think that?”

“Well, really,” Moxdale replied, “I hardly know. It was just an idea, suggested, I suppose, by the fact that O’Grady went to the rooms and I didn’t know of anybody else. I thought it possible that Haire might have let him use the rooms while he was away, as O’Grady lives out of town — somewhere Enfield way.”

The inspector looked dissatisfied. “Seems rather vague,” he remarked. “You were telling me some thing about a suspicion of blackmailing. Could you give us some particulars on that subject?”

“My dear Inspector,” exclaimed Moxdale, “I haven’t any particulars. It was just a suspicion, which I probably ought not to have mentioned, as I had nothing definite to go upon.”

“Still,” Blandy persisted, “you must have had some reasons. Is Haire a man who could be blackmailed?”

“That I can’t say. He isn’t a pattern of all the virtues, but I know of nothing that a blackmailer could fix on. And he is my cousin, you know. I think what raised the suspicion was the peculiar relations between the two men. They were a great deal together, but they were not really friends. Haire seemed to me to dislike O’Grady intensely, and I gathered from chance remarks that he let drop that O’Grady had got a good deal of money out of him from time to time. In what way I never knew. It may have been in the form of loans, but if not, it would rather look like blackmail.”

There was a short silence. Then Blandy, dropping his oily manner for once, said, rather brusquely:

“Now, Mr. Moxdale, you have suggested that the burned body might have been that of O’Grady. You have told us that O’Grady was in those rooms on the fourteenth of April, and you have suggested that O’Grady was blackmailing Haire. Now I put it to you that what you really suspect is that, on that day, Haire made away with O’Grady and concealed his body in the rooms.”

Moxdale shook his head. “I never suspected any thing of the kind. Besides, the thing wasn’t practicable. Is it likely that he would have gone off to Ireland leaving the body in his rooms?”

“You are not forgetting the fire,” Blandy reminded him.

“I don’t see that the fire has anything to do with it. Haire couldn’t foresee that someone would set his rooms on fire at that particularly opportune moment.”

“But that is precisely what he did foresee,” said Thorndyke. “That fire was not an accident. It was carefully prepared and started by a timing mechanism on a prearranged date. That mechanism was discovered and reconstructed by our colleague, Mr. Polton.”

The statement was, no doubt, a startling one, but its effect on Moxdale was beyond what I should have expected. He could not have looked more horrified if he had been accused of setting the mechanism himself.

“So you see,” Thorndyke continued, “that Haire is definitely implicated; and, in fact, the police are prepared to arrest him on charges connected with both the fire and the body.”

“Yes,” said the inspector, “but the trouble is that we have no photograph or any sufficient description by which to identify him.”

“Speaking of identification,” said Thorndyke, “we learn that his teeth are rather peculiar in appearance. Can you tell us anything about them?”

Moxdale looked distinctly uncomfortable at this question, though I could not imagine why. However, he answered, somewhat hesitatingly: “Yes, they are rather queer-looking teeth; as if they were stained by tobacco. But it isn’t tobacco-staining, because I remember that they were just the same when he was a boy.”

Having given this answer, he looked from Blandy to Thorndyke, and, as neither asked any further question, he remarked, cheerfully: “Well, I think you have squeezed me pretty dry; unless there is something else that you would like me to tell you.”

There was a brief silence. Then Thorndyke said in a very quiet, matter-of-fact tone: “There is one other question, Mr. Moxdale. I have my own opinion on the subject, but I should like to hear your statement. The question is, What made you go to Dublin after you had killed Mr. Haire?”

A deathly silence followed the question. Moxdale was thunder-struck. But so were we all. Blandy sat with dropped jaw, staring at Thorndyke, and Polton’s eyes seemed ready to start from their sockets. At length, Moxdale, pale as a corpse, exclaimed in a husky voice:

“I don’t understand you, sir. I have told you that I saw Mr. Haire start in a taxi for Euston.”

“Yes,” Thorndyke replied. “But at the moment when you saw Mr. Haire get into the cab, his dead body was lying in his rooms.”

Moxdale remained silent for some moments. He seemed completely overwhelmed; and, watching him, I saw that abject terror was written in every line of his face. But he made one more effort. “I assure you, sir,” he said, almost in a whisper, “that you have made some extraordinary mistake. The thing is monstrous. You are actually accusing me of having murdered my cousin!”

“Not at all,” replied Thorndyke. “I said nothing about murder. I referred simply to the physical fact that you killed him. I did not suggest that you killed him feloniously. I am not accusing you of a crime. I merely affirm an act.”

Moxdale looked puzzled and yet somewhat reassured by Thorndyke’s answer. But he was still evasive. It seems,” said he, “that it is useless for me to repeat my denial.”

“It is,” Thorndyke agreed. “What I suggest is that you give us a plain and truthful account of the whole affair.”

Moxdale looked dubiously at the inspector and said in a half-interrogative tone: “If I am going to be charged with having compassed the death of my cousin it seems to me that the less I say, the better.”

The inspector, thus appealed to, suddenly recovered his self-possession, even to the resumption of his smile; and I could not but admire the quickness with which he had grasped the position. “As a police officer,” he said, “I am not permitted to advise you. I can only say that if you choose to make a statement you can do so; but I have to caution you that any statement that you may make will be taken down in writing and may be used in evidence against you. That doesn’t sound very encouraging; but I may remind you that you are, at present, not charged with any offence, and that a statement made voluntarily in advance is more effective than the same statement made in answer to a charge.”

“And I,” said Thorndyke, “not being a police officer, may go farther and suggest that a statement may possibly obviate the necessity for any charge at all. Now, come, Mr. Moxdale,” he continued, persuasively, taking from his pocket a foolscap envelope,” I will make you a proposal. In this envelope is a signed statement by me setting forth briefly my reconstruction, from evidence in my possession, of the circumstances of Mr. Haire’s death. I shall hand this envelope to the inspector. Then I suggest that you give us a straight forward account of those circumstances. When he has heard your account, the inspector will open the envelope and read my statement. If our two statements agree, we may take it that they are both true. If they disagree, we shall have to examine the discrepancies. What do you say? I advise you, strongly, to give us a perfectly frank statement.”

The persuasive and even friendly tone in which Thorndyke spoke evidently made a considerable impression on Moxdale, for he listened attentively with a thoughtful eye on the speaker, and when Thorndyke had finished he reflected awhile, still keeping his eyes fixed on my colleague’s face. At length, having made up his mind, he said, with something like an air of relief: “Very well, sir, I will take your advice. I will give you a full and true account of all that happened on that dreadful day, suppressing nothing.”

He paused for a few moments to collect his thoughts and then continued: “I think I should begin by telling you that my cousin stood to gain four thousand pounds by my death if I should die before my uncle, Harold Moxdale.”

“We knew that,” said Blandy.

“Ah! Well, then, there is another matter. I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but the truth is that Haire was an unscrupulous rascal — a downright bad man.”

“We knew that, too,” said Blandy, “when we learned that he had set fire to the house.”

“Then I need not dwell on it; but I may add that he had a deep grudge against me for being the more favoured beneficiary of my uncle’s will. In fact, his jealousy had induced a really virulent hatred of me which was apt to break out at times, though we usually preserved outwardly decent relations.

“And now to come to the actual incident. I am the part proprietor of a sort of international trade directory and I do a good deal of the canvassing for advertisements, particularly in France. I live out at Surbiton and only go to the office occasionally. Now, a few days before the disaster — the eleventh of April, I think it was — I had a letter from Haire telling me that he was making a business trip to Dublin to try to arrange some agencies and suggesting that he should do some business for me at the same time. I wasn’t very keen, as I knew that I was not likely to see any of the money that he might collect. However, I agreed, and eventually arranged to meet him on the fourteenth, on which day I proposed to start by a night train for the South of France. He suggested that he should call for me at my office at half-past four, that we should have some tea and then go to his rooms to talk things over.

“In due course, he turned up at the office; I finished my business, took my bag, and went with him to some tea-rooms, where we had a leisurely tea, and we then went on to his rooms, which we reached about ten minutes to six. As we passed the entrance of the business premises, I saw a man standing just inside, and he saw us, too, for he called out ‘good evening’ to Haire, who returned his greeting, addressing him as Mr. Green; and it struck me that Mr. Green looked rather hard at me, as if he thought he recognized me. Then Haire opened the street door with his latch-key and conducted me up the stairs to the first-floor where he opened the door of his rooms with another latch-key, which looked like a Yale.

“Now, all the time that I had been with Haire, and especially at the tea-rooms, I had been aware of something rather queer in his manner; a suggestion of suppressed excitement, and he seemed nervous and jumpy. But when we got inside his rooms and he had shut the door, it grew much more marked; so much so that I watched him rather closely, noticing that he appeared restless and flustered, that there was a wild look in his eyes and that his hands were trembling quite violently.

“I didn’t like the look of him at all, and I don’t mind admitting that I began to get the wind up; for I couldn’t forget that four thousand pounds, and I knew that poor old Uncle Harold was in a bad way and might die at any moment. But he was not dead yet. There was still time for me to die before him. So I kept an eye on Haire and held myself in readiness in case he really meant mischief.

“But he nearly had me, after all. He had given me a list of the Dublin firms to look at, and, while I was reading it, he got behind me to look over my shoulder. Suddenly, he made a quick move and I felt him slip a noose of soft cord over my head. I was only just in time to thrust my right hand up inside the noose when he pulled it tight. But, of course, he couldn’t strangle me while my hand was there, and, seeing that, he made violent efforts to drag it away while I struggled for my life to keep hold of the noose.

“It was a horrible business. Haire was like a mad man. He tugged and wrenched at the cord, he clawed at me with his free hand, he kicked me and drove his knee into my back while I hung on for dear life to the noose. By degrees I worked round until I faced him, and tried to grab his arm with my left hand while he tugged with all his might at the cord. Then we began to gyrate round the room in a kind of hideous waltz, each pounding at the other with his free hand.

“At last; in the course of our gyrations, we collided with a chair, and he fell backwards on the seat with me on top of him, his head overhanging the seat and my left hand at his throat. When we fell, the whole of my weight must have been on that left hand, for it slid under his chin and thrust it violently upwards. And as his chin went up, I felt and heard a faint click; his head fell loosely to one side, and, in a moment, his grasp on the cord relaxed. For an instant or two his arms and legs moved with a sort of twitching motion, then he lay quite still.

“Cautiously, I picked myself up and looked down at him. He was sprawling limply across the chair, and a glance at his face told me that he was dead. Evidently, the sudden drive of my left hand had broken his neck.

“Shaken as I was, I drew a deep breath of relief. It had been a near thing. An instant’s hesitation with my right hand and I should now have been lying with blackening face and starting eyes and the fatal noose secured tightly around my neck. It was a horrible thought. Only by a hair’s-breadth had I escaped. Still, I had escaped; and now I was free of that peril for ever.

“But my relief was short-lived. Suddenly, I realized that, if I had escaped one danger, I was faced by another. Haire was dead; but it was my hand that had brought about his death. Who was to know that I had not murdered him? Very soon, relief gave way to alarm, alarm to panic. What was I to for my own safety? My first impulse was to rush out and seek a policeman; and that is what I ought to have done. But I dared not. As I took off the noose and held it in my hand, it seemed to whisper a terrible warning of what might yet befall me.

“Suppose I were just to steal away and say nothing to anyone of what had happened. Haire lived alone. No one ever came to his rooms. It might be months before the body should be discovered. Why not go away and know nothing about it? But, no; that wouldn’t do. Mr. Green had seen me enter the rooms and perhaps he knew who I was. When the body was found, he would remember that I had been with Haire the last time he was seen alive.

“I sat down with my back to the corpse and thought hard, trying to decide what I should do. But for a while I could think of no reasonable plan. The figure of Mr. Green seemed to block every way of escape. Suddenly, my wandering gaze lighted on the list of Dublin firms lying where I had dropped it. I looked at it idly for a few moments; then, in a flash, I saw a way of escape.

“Haire had intended — so he had told me — to start for Ireland that very night. Well, he should start — by proxy. The people whom he was going to call on were strangers, for he had never been in Dublin before. I would make those calls for him, announcing myself by his name and presenting his card. Thus Haire would make an appearance in Dublin, and that appearance could be cited as evidence that he was alive on that day. Then, when at some later date, his body should be found, it would be beyond question that he must have died at some time after his return from Ireland. My connection with his death would have disappeared and I could snap my fingers at Mr. Green.

“As soon as the scheme was clear in my mind I set to work to execute it; and as I worked, I thought out the details. First I stripped the corpse and dressed it in the pyjamas from the bed. Then, having thrown the bed-clothes into disorder, I placed the body half in the bed, half outside, with the head bent sideways and resting on the floor. The obvious suggestion would be that he had fallen out of bed and broken his neck — a mere accident implicating nobody.

“When I had folded his clothes and put them away tidily on a chair, I looked at my watch. It was barely twenty past six. The whole of this horrid drama had been played out in less than half an hour. I sat down to rest awhile — for it had been a strenuous affair while it lasted — and looked about the room to see that I was leaving no traces, but there were none, excepting my bag, and that I should take away with me. The Venetian blinds were lowered — I had noticed that when we came in-and I decided to leave them so, as that was probably how Haire was accustomed to leave them when he went away. So I sat and thought out the rest of my plan. The place was strangely quiet, for, by now Mr. Green and his people had apparently shut up their premises and gone away, and there was not a sound in the room save the solemn tick of the big clock in the corner.

“Presently I rose and began, at my leisure, to complete my preparations. There was no need for hurry. It was now only half-past six by the big clock, and I knew that the Holyhead express did not leave Euston until eight forty-five. I looked over an open bureau and took from it a few of Haire’s business cards and a little sheaf of his bill-heads. When I had stowed these in my bag, I had finished; and as all was still quiet, I picked up the bag, turned away with a last, shuddering glance at the grotesque figure that sprawled over the side of the bed, let myself out as silently as I could, and stole softly down the stairs.

“I need not follow the rest of my proceedings in detail. I caught my train and duly arrived in Dublin about seven o’clock the next morning. I went to a small private hotel — Connolly’s — where I wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘G. Haire, Billington Street, London’, and when I had washed and shaved and had breakfast, I went out and made the first of my calls, Brady & Co., where I stayed quite a long time gossiping with the manager. We didn’t complete any definite transaction, but I left one of Haire’s cards with some particulars written on the back. I made two more calls on that day, the 15th, and, during the next three days I visited several other firms, always leaving one of Haire’s cards. I stayed in Dublin until the 18th, which I thought was long enough to give the proper impression of a business tour, and, in the evening of that day, just before closing time, I made a second call at Brady’s, to impress myself on the manager’s memory. Then, having already settled up at the hotel, I went straight to the station and caught the 7.50 train which runs in connection with the Holyhead express. I arrived at Euston in the early morning, about 5.55, and took a taxi straight across to Victoria, where, after a wash and a leisurely breakfast, I caught the nine o’clock Continental train, embarking at Folkestone about eleven.

“After that I followed my usual route and went about my ordinary business, canvassing the Bordeaux district for renewals. But I didn’t complete the tour, for it happened that in an hotel at Bordeaux I came across a rather out-of-date copy of The Times, and, glancing through the legal notices, I was startled to see that of Home, Cronin & Home, announcing the death of my uncle. As this was some weeks old, I thought I had better pack up and start for home at once to get into touch with the solicitors.

“But I had to go warily, for I didn’t know what might have happened while I had been abroad. Had Haire’s body been discovered? And, if so, what had been done about it? These were questions that would have to be answered before I could safely present myself at Home’s office. I thought about it during the journey and decided that the first thing to do was to go and have a look at the house and see whether the Venetian blinds were still down; and if they were not, to try to pick up some information in the neighbourhood. So when I got to Victoria I put my bag in the cloak room and took a bus to Piccadilly Circus, from whence I made my way to Billington Street. I walked cautiously down the street, keeping a sharp look-out in case Mr. Green should be at his door, and avoiding the appearance of looking for the house. But my precautions were unnecessary, for, when I came to the place, behold! there was no house there! Only some blackened walls, on which the housebreakers were operating with picks.

“As I was standing gazing at the ruins, an idler approached me.

“‘Proper old blaze, that was, Mister. Flared up like a tar barrel, it did.’

“‘Ah!’ said I, ‘then you actually saw the fire?’

“‘Well, no,’ said he, ‘I didn’t see it, myself; but I heard all about it. I was on the coroner’s jury.’

“‘The coroner’s jury!’ I exclaimed. ‘Then there were some lives lost?’

“‘Only one,’ he replied; ‘and the queer thing was that he wasn’t the proper tenant, but just a stranger what had had the rooms lent to him for a few days. He was identified by a clay pipe what had his initials, C.M., scratched on it.’

“‘C.M.!’ I gasped. ‘What did those letters stand for?’

“‘Cecil Moxdale was the poor chap’s name; and it seemed that he had been smoking that pipe in bed and set the bed-clothes alight. Probably a bit squiffy, too.’

“Now, here was a pretty state of affairs. Mysterious, too. For the clay pipe wasn’t mine. I never smoke a pipe. But, obviously, my calculations had been completely upset, and I was in a pretty tight place, for my trip to Dublin had only introduced a fresh complication. I should have to announce myself as alive, and then the fat would be in the fire. For if the body wasn’t mine, whose was it? If the dead man was Haire, then who was the man in Dublin? And if the man in Dublin was Haire, then who the deuce was the dead man? It was a regular facer.

“Of course, I could have maintained that I knew nothing about the affair. But that wouldn’t do; for there was that infernal Mr. Green. No, I should have to make up some story that would fit the facts; and, turning it over in my mind, I decided to invent an imaginary person and let the police find him if they could. He must be virtually a stranger to me, and he must be sufficiently like me to pass as the man whom Green saw going into the rooms with Haire. So I invented Mr. O’Grady and told a pretty vague story about him — but I needn’t say any more. You know the rest; and now, Inspector, what about that statement that you have?”

Blandy smiled benignly, and, opening the envelope, drew from it a single sheet of paper; and when he had quickly glanced at its contents, he positively beamed. “Dr. Thorndyke’s statement,” said he, “is, in effect, a very brief summary of your own.”

“Well, let’s have it,” said Moxdale.

“You shall,” said Blandy, and he proceeded, with unctuous relish, to read the document.

“‘Summary of the circumstances attending the death of Gustavus Haire as suggested by evidence in my possession.

“‘Haire had planned to murder Cecil Moxdale, presumably, to secure the reversion of a bequest of four thousand pounds, and then, by means of a certain mechanism, to start a fire in the rooms while he was absent in Dublin. He prepared the rooms by filling them with inflammable material and planted certain marked, uninflammable objects to enable Moxdale’s body to be identified. On the 14th of April, he set the mechanism to discharge in the early morning of the 19th. At about six p.m. on the 14th he brought Moxdale to the rooms and attempted to murder him. But the attempt failed; and in the struggle which ensued, Haire’s neck became dislocated. Then Moxdale, knowing that he had been seen to enter the premises with Haire, and fearing that he would be accused of murder, decided to go to Dublin and personate Haire to make it appear that Haire was then alive. He started for Dublin in the evening of the 14th and remained there until the evening of the 18th, when he apparently returned to England.’

“That is all that is material,” Blandy concluded, “and, as your statement is in complete agreement with Dr. Thorndyke’s — which I have no doubt is supported by conclusive evidence — I, personally, accept it as true.”

Moxdale drew a deep breath. “That is a blessed relief,” he exclaimed. “And now what is to be done? Are you going to arrest me?”

“No,” replied Blandy, “certainly not. But I think you had better walk back with me to Head Quarters and let us hear what the senior officers propose. May I take your summary with me, Doctor?”

“By all means,” Thorndyke replied; “and make it clear that I am ready to produce the necessary evidence.”

“I had taken that for granted, Doctor,” said Blandy as he put the envelope in his pocket. Then he rose to depart, and Moxdale stood up.

“I am thankful, sir,” said he, “that I took your advice, and eternally grateful to you for having dissipated this nightmare. Now, I can look to the future with some sort of confidence.”

“Yes,” Thorndyke agreed, “I don’t think that you need feel any great alarm; and I wish you an easy passage through any little difficulties that may arise.”

With this, Moxdale shook our hands all round, and, when the inspector had done likewise, the two men moved towards the door, escorted by Polton.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06