He had a parting glass with the fat man

It must not be supposed that in informing Gebb of these details in
connection with a long-forgotten crime, Parge gave the exact context
of the newspaper reports. He used them rather as notes to refresh his
memory, and detailed the somewhat barren information in a
conversational manner, adding, suppressing, and amplifying evidence in
the way most necessary to convey a clear idea of the case to his
hearer. Yet at the conclusion of his reading, or rather narrative,
Gebb was not satisfied. To him the case seemed incomplete.

“I know a good deal of what happened before the murder,” he said
bluntly, “but very little about the crime itself.”

“You know all that was reported in the newspapers,” replied the fat
man, casting the heavy book on the table with some irritation.

“Probably; but now I wish to know such details as were not given to
the public You can supply them.”

“Certainly! Ask what you like, and I’ll answer. You’ll arrive at an
understanding of the case soonest that way.”

Gebb remained silent for a few minutes, and watched Parge lighting his
pipe. Then he asked suddenly, “Do you believe that Dean is innocent of
this Kirkstone Hall crime?”

“No!” replied Parge, deliberately, “I don’t.”

“On what grounds?”

“On the grounds of his defence.”

“H’m!” said Gebb, with an astonished look; “those are queer grounds on
which to doubt a man.”

“Well, Absalom, you can judge for yourself. Dean declared that he was
innocent.”

“They all do; and no doubt, having regard to this new crime, he said
that Miss Gilmar was guilty.”

“No, he did not accuse her. He ascribed the crime to Laura.”

“What! to the sister?”

“Yes! the mean hound, to the woman he was about to marry. Is not such
a foul accusation enough to make you believe the wretch to be guilty?”

“Not quite,” rejoined Gebb, dryly; “a man may be a blackguard without
being a murderer. Besides, this Laura seems to have been weak–in
fact, half-witted; so Dean might have had some grounds for his belief.
However, if you can recall his defence, I shall be in a better
position to judge.”

“Briefly,” replied Parge, “his defence was as follows. He declared
that he was left alone with Kirkstone in the Yellow Boudoir, or rather
smoking-room, about half-past ten o’clock.”

“Who left him and Kirkstone alone?”

“The ladies. They accompanied the two from the drawing-room, and
chatted with them for a few moments before saying good night.”

“What!” cried Gebb, suspiciously, “in spite of the disturbed
atmosphere of the house, and the quarrelling?”

“Yes! there existed, it seemed, a kind of armed neutrality, and,
notwithstanding the situation, the quartet were civil enough to one
another.”

“I have my doubts about so improbable a situation,” said Gebb, shaking
his head. “Well, and what took place after the ladies retired?”

“Kirkstone and Dean quarrelled over the marriage. Kirkstone, it
seemed, began to taunt Dean about his attentions to Miss Gilmar. Dean
turned round, and declared that he was not attached to Miss Gilmar;
nor, for the matter of that, to Laura. Both women, he said, were in
love with him, and he could marry either without consulting Kirkstone.
He furthermore swore that if Kirkstone insulted him any more, he would
marry Laura without her brother’s consent, and refuse to pay the
money.”

“And no doubt at this point Kirkstone lost his temper,” suggested
Gebb.

“So Dean declared; and the quarrel reached such a pitch that Dean—-”

“Killed Kirkstone,” finished Gebb, quickly.

“No,” replied Parge; “he denied that. He left the room, according to
his own story, about eleven o’clock, and retired to his bedroom.
Shortly before midnight, when he was considering how to act, Ellen
Gilmar knocked at his door and said that Kirkstone wanted to see him
in the smoking-room. Dean descended and found Kirkstone dead. At first
he was tempted to give the alarm; but reflecting on the quarrel, which
must have been overheard by some of the servants–a fact afterwards
proved–and finding that the knife with which the crime had been
committed was his own, he fled back to his room. Then Miss Gilmar came
to see what had occurred–found the dead body, and gave the alarm. She
accused Dean of being the murderer, because she had left Kirkstone
alive when she brought the message, and afterwards found him dead when
Dean fled from the room.”

“But how did Dean implicate Laura?”

“He declared that he had given her the bowie-knife at her own request
to prune some plants with in the conservatory.”

“Now, that is ridiculous!” cried Gebb.

“Of course it is; and a further proof of his own guilt Ladies don’t
use bowie-knives to prune plants. Dean, however, stated that he left
Kirkstone alive when he first retired to his room. Miss Gilmar stated
that her cousin was not dead when she conveyed the message to Dean: so
for the defence it was maintained that between the time Miss Gilmar
left Kirkstone and the time Dean returned to the Yellow Room for the
second visit, Laura must have killed her brother with the bowie-knife,
which she had obtained two days previously from Dean.”

“But why should Laura kill her brother?”

“Because, as prisoner’s counsel argued, it was probable that after the
last conversation, Kirkstone fancied that Dean might not pay the money
if the marriage came off, so he resolved to stop it by exercising his
influence over Laura while there was yet time. Laura, so Dean
declared, must have revolted and killed Kirkstone in a moment of
uncontrollable anger.”

“Still, why should she bring the knife into the smoking-room if she
committed the crime on the impulse of the moment?”

“Dean did not–could not–explain that point,” replied Parge, with
contempt; “all his defence was that he gave Laura the bowie-knife,
that he left Kirkstone alive in the Yellow Boudoir about eleven, and
that when summoned by Miss Gilmar he found the man dead. Also, that he
held his tongue because he was afraid of being accused, as there had
been a quarrel between himself and Kirkstone.”

“I don’t wonder he was afraid,” said Gebb, thoughtfully; “and in any
case his defence was extremely weak. What evidence did the prosecution
bring forward?”

“Miss Gilmar was their principal witness, as she was the last person
to see Kirkstone alive. She denied any knowledge of the bowie-knife;
but stated that she had come downstairs to prevent further
quarrelling. Kirkstone was alone, but asked her to request Dean to
come back to the Yellow Boudoir. She went up to Dean’s room and asked
him. At first he refused, but later on consented. It was twenty
minutes between the time Miss Gilmar left Kirkstone alive and Dean
found his dead body. One point of the evidence against Dean was that
blood was found on his shirt-cuff. He explained this away by stating
that he had felt Kirkstone’s heart to see if any life remained, and so
got his cuffs soiled with the blood from the wound.”

“What did Laura say to Dean’s accusation?”

“She denied it altogether. But it was the horror of thinking that the
man she loved deemed her capable of such a foul crime which was one of
the causes to bring about her death.”

“She was half-witted, you say?” said Gebb, after a pause.

“No!” replied Parge, sharply. “I don’t say so. She was weak-witted and
soft-natured, but, as I truly believe, perfectly sane. I see that you
think she might have killed her brother in a fit of insane rage. Well,
that was Dean’s defence; or at least part of it. But Laura, when in
the witness-box, declared that after leaving Dean and her brother in
the Yellow Boudoir she had not left her room all night; and in this
statement she was supported by Miss Gilmar. Now you can see for
yourself, Gebb, that Dean was rightfully convicted.”

“Well,” said the detective, reflectively, “it looks like justice; but
it may not be so. For my part, knowing what I do of women, I should
not be at all surprised to learn that Miss Gilmar was the guilty
person.”

“Some people suggested as much at the time,” said Parge, in no wise
disturbed by this suggestion. “But I did not believe it then, and I
don’t now. What possible motive could she have?”

“Quite as feasible a motive as the one ascribed to Laura,” replied
Gebb. “Did not Kirkstone threaten to turn her out-of-doors? Was it not
his intention to deprive Miss Gilmar of Dean by marrying him to Laura?
And did he not try to induce Laura to revoke her will in favour of the
housekeeper? Oh, there are plenty of motives.”

“But when do you suggest she committed the crime?”

“Why, between the time Dean left the Yellow Room and returned to it
again. I dare say she had a row with Kirkstone on her own account, and
killed him, then went up to Dean with a lying message to implicate him
in the matter.”

“But,” objected Parge, again, “why should she accuse Dean? He was the
man she loved.”

“Yes; but he did not love her, and no doubt since she was old and
ill-favoured, he showed his dislike to her advances too plainly. I
fancy that it was a case of a woman scorned, and that Miss Gilmar
revenged herself by accusing Dean. However, this is all theory,” added
Gebb, with a shrug, “and, as such, is worth little. Dean was condemned
on Miss Gilmar’s testimony, and, no doubt, intended to kill her if he
could escape. Although,” added the detective, inconsequently, “I don’t
believe he did.”

“Why not?” said Parge, emphatically. “He did escape, and I believe he
did kill her. As sure as I sit here, it was Dean who strangled that
wretched woman.”

“Humph! Humph!” said Gebb, perplexed. “I’m not certain.”

“I am, Absalom. Why, she expected to meet with a violent death at his
hands. That was why she left Kirkstone Hall, and concealed herself in
these various lodgings under several false names. Besides, as I read
in the papers, she constantly consulted fortune-tellers as to whether
she would die by violence: a behaviour which showed how lively were
her fears.”

“That is all very well,” admitted Gebb, “but there was no struggle:
there was wine drunk; a cigarette smoked by the murderer: and Miss
Gilmar let him wander about the room. What does all this prove? That
she knew her visitor and trusted him. She could not, and would not,
have trusted the man who had sworn to kill her.”

“He might have gone to her disguised as a fortune-teller,” suggested
Parge.

“That is rather an imaginative suggestion,” said Gebb, smiling. “By
the way, when did Dean escape?”

“Towards the end of ’93; and you say yourself that Miss Gilmar began
her wanderings in that year.”

“Quite so; and I admit that she fled to escape Dean’s vengeance, but I
am not so certain that he killed her. Remember, the diamonds were
stolen; so it may be a vulgar murder for robbery, after all.”

“No,” said Parge, sticking obstinately to his point. “Dean killed her
out of revenge, and stole the diamonds to provide himself with the
means of escape. Have you been round the pawnshops?”

“Not yet; but every pawnbroker has been warned. Also, I have sent
detectives over to Amsterdam and to Paris to watch if the diamonds
turn up.”

“Very good,” said Simon, with a nod; “if Dean tries to pawn the jewels
you’ll catch him.”

“I don’t believe the thief is Dean.”

“I do; and also that he killed Miss Gilmar. Well, and what do you
intend to do now?”

“Go down to Kirkstone Hall and see the original of the Yellow
Boudoir.”

“Good! And afterwards?”

“Interview the solicitor who conducted the defence for Dean.”

“You mean the barrister.”

“No, I don’t; I mean the solicitor. Who was Dean’s solicitor?”

“Mr. Prain, of 40, Bacon Lane. You won’t get anything out of him,
Absalom,” said Parge, warningly. “He’s as close as wax.”

“Who was Dean’s counsel?” asked Gebb, ignoring the hint.

“Clement Basson,” replied Parge; “you’ll induce him to talk
freely–for a drink.”

“Oh! he is dissipated?”

“In a sort of way. A Bohemian barrister: ruined his career through
love of pleasure. Has had a few briefs, but not enough to pay, and
lives on a small income.”

Gebb noted this nutshell biography in his pocket-book, and prepared to
take his departure. He had a parting glass with the fat man, and after
promising to advise him of all that took place in connection with the
case, he left the house.

“And tell me!” cried Parge after him, obstinate to the last; “tell me
when you find Dean.”

When Gebb left Parge he intended to go down to Norminster with as
little delay as possible and look over Kirkstone Hall. There he hoped
to learn further details of Miss Gilmar’s life, and to ascertain, if
possible, whether she had other enemies besides the man she had
condemned to lifelong imprisonment. Owing to her grasping disposition
and penurious mode of life, it was probable that she had been
extremely unpopular, and it might be that amongst those who disliked
her might be found one who had carried the feeling so far as to kill
her.

On considering the circumstances of the case Gebb could not bring
himself to believe that Dean was the assassin. All the same he was
anxious to ascertain the hiding-place of the convict, and make certain
of his innocence of this second crime; with the first, which was
before his time, he had nothing to do.

On second thoughts, however, the detective judged it would be wiser to
call on Mr. Prain beforehand, and learn his opinion on the matter.
Also, Gebb wished to discover why the solicitor had not come forward
to identify the body of Miss Gilmar. From the description of the
Yellow Boudoir, so often referred to in the papers, he must have been
aware that the so-called Miss Ligram was none other than Ellen Gilmar.
If so, why had he not assisted the police to trace the woman’s past
history? It was mainly to elucidate this point–which might be an
important one in solving the mystery–that Gebb called at the office
in Bacon Lane.

Mr. Prain proved to be a small, lean-faced man, with a sharp pair of
eyes and a hard-looking mouth. He was neatly and spotlessly dressed in
the plainest fashion, and his office, a somewhat dingy place, was as
clear and trim as himself. When Gebb sent in his card Mr. Prain had
only to glance at the name to know that his visitor was the Scotland
Yard detective, and told the clerk to show him in at once. It was with
his hard little face set like a mask that Prain received the officer
of the law, for he had quite expected sooner or later to receive such
a visit, and was not unprepared.

“You wish to see me, Mr. Gebb?” said the solicitor, in a low crisp
voice.

“Yes, sir; about a case you dealt with twenty years ago.”

“Oh! Then you have no questions to ask about the case of to-day?” said
Prain, composedly, and he darted a sharp look at his visitor to see
how the shot told.

“Do you know my errand?” asked Gebb, somewhat uncomfortably, for he
was by no means pleased to find that the little solicitor was prepared
for his reception, and could not conceive why it should be so.

“Yes, Mr. Gebb, I do. If you had not called on me, it is probable that
I should have paid you a visit.”

“It is two weeks since the crime was committed, Mr. Prain; so you have
had ample time to call.”

“No doubt,” returned Prain, dryly, “but it so chanced that I was
abroad in Italy. However, when I saw the description of the Yellow
Boudoir I hastened back at once.”

“You guessed by the description of the yellow room that the murdered
woman was Miss Gilmar.”

“I did! But may I ask how you found it out?”

“An ex-detective told me. He traced her identity by the same means as
you did. But for his recollection of the room I should have known
nothing.”

“Oh! So the Yellow Boudoir gave Parge the clue,” said Prain,
thoughtfully.

“Yes! But how did you guess that I referred to Parge?”

“He was the detective employed by the prosecution to hang my client;
but he did not succeed, for Dean still lives.”

“Ah, does he? Do you know where he is to be found?” asked Gebb,
sharply.

“No!” replied Prain, shaking his head. “I know that he escaped about
four years ago, and that Miss Gilmar, out of fear of him, left
Kirkstone Hall lest he should kill her; I know no more.”

“You know one thing at least,” retorted Gebb, astonished at the
coolness of the man, “that Dean killed Miss Gilmar.”

“I deny that,” said Prain, sharply; then after a pause, he added, “Do
you know why I came back to England on reading about her death?”

“No, I do not! How should I?”

“And why I intended to call on you?”

“No! You’ll have to answer your own questions, Mr. Prain.”

“Then I’ll tell you,” said the solicitor, slowly. “I wish to find out
if Miss Gilmar left a confession behind her stating why, and how, she
killed John Kirkstone; it was for that reason I returned so quickly.”

“Miss Gilmar kill Kirkstone?” cried Gebb, thinking of his own
suspicions. “Why, even your unhappy client did not accuse her.”

“My unhappy client, as you call him, was a fool,” retorted Prain,
coolly; “he thought that Laura Kirkstone was guilty, whereas I am sure
that the housekeeper killed her master. But I could not bring the
crime home to her, and Dean was condemned to penal servitude on
account of a murder which I am certain he did not commit. When I heard
of his escape I thought he might find out Miss Gilmar and make her
confess. He always intended to escape, if possible, for that purpose.”

Gebb thought for a moment. “Perhaps he killed her, after all, because
she would not confess,” said he, with some hesitation.

“No,” replied Prain. “Dean was wild and wasteful, and, between you and
me, Mr. Gebb, not altogether as well-behaved as he might have been,
but I am sure he was not the man to commit a murder. Believe me, he is
as innocent of this second crime as he was of the first.”

“Well,” said Gebb, thoughtfully, “I have my doubts regarding his guilt
in both cases. I agree with you, going by the story told to me by
Parge, that Miss Gilmar killed Kirkstone, but who killed Miss Gilmar?”

“Some unknown person, for the sake of the diamonds,” returned Prain,
promptly.

“The diamonds?”

“Yes. Miss Gilmar took possession of Laura Kirkstone’s jewels, and
amongst them were some valuable diamonds. I read in the papers that
Miss Gilmar wore those diamonds nightly, and that when her dead body
was discovered the diamonds were gone.”

“True enough,” replied Gebb, “It might be a case of robbery, as you
say. But if the murderer tries to dispose of those diamonds by sale or
pawning, I’ll be able to catch him.”

“I may tell you,” said Prain, after some reflection, “that the most
valuable of Laura’s jewels was a diamond necklace, which I see by the
reports in the papers was stolen by the murderer. Now, that necklace
was given to Laura by Dean, and Miss Gilmar had no right to it.”

“But how could Dean, who was almost bankrupt, afford to give Laura a
diamond necklace?”

“The necklace was a family jewel,” said the solicitor, quickly; “and I
have a description of it. This I shall have copied and give it to you;
it may assist you to trace the necklace.”

“And thereby snare the murderer,” answered Gebb. “Thank you, Mr.
Prain; the description you speak of will be very serviceable. And now
I wish to ask you a few questions about Miss Gilmar, if you don’t mind
replying to them?”

“Why should I mind?” retorted Prain, raising his eyebrows.

“Parge gave me to understand yon were as close as wax,” said Gebb,
pointedly. “I use his own words.”

Prain shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t deny it,” he said quietly. “Why
should I? Twenty years ago I was trying to save Dean from being
hanged, while Parge was doing his best to place the rope round the
man’s neck. Naturally, I was on my guard, and refused to tell Parge
all I knew. Your position is a different one, Mr. Gebb; as, with me,
you desire to learn the name of Miss Gilmar’s murderer. I am quite at
your service, and you can ask me what you please.”

“Thank you. Then tell me who inherits Miss Gilmar’s property?”

“Do you mean her real or personal estate?” asked Prain.

“Both,” replied Gebb, promptly.

“Well, then, you must know that the Kirkstone estates were entailed;
but the entail ended with that first murder.”

“So I heard from Parge, Mr. Prain. In the male line.”

“Yes, in the male line. Afterwards, by the will of the Kirkstone who
bought them, and who lived some hundred and fifty years ago, they pass
on through the female line. Now, the male line died out with John
Kirkstone, so that the estates passed by the will to the female line,
represented by Laura. When she died Ellen Gilmar inherited through her
mother, who was Kirkstone’s aunt on the paternal side. Now that Miss
Gilmar is dead the estates pass to John Alder, a barrister, who
inherits through his mother, a distant cousin of the Kirkstones. If he
died Edith Wedderburn would inherit.”

“Who is she? Another cousin?”

“Yes. Even more distant than Alder. She is now at Kirkstone Hall,
looking after it for Miss Gilmar, who placed her there. So far as the
personal estate is concerned Miss Gilmar can leave it by will to
whomsoever she pleases.”

“Have you the will?”

“Yes. But I can’t open it save in the presence of those likely to
inherit: Miss Wedderburn and Alder–in short, the relatives.”

“Whom do you think the money is left to?”

“It’s not my place to say,” said Prain, with sudden stiffness.

Gebb saw that the little solicitor knew the contents of the will, but
he was bound by professional etiquette, and could not disclose them.

“Well,” he said, covering his disappointment with a cough, “we may
leave that out of the question. Tell me about Miss Wedderburn.”

“I have told you,” replied Prain, sharply. “She is the caretaker of
Kirkstone Hall, and is very poor.”

“Is she very pretty?”

“Extremely pretty.”

“Ho! ho!” said Gebb, in a jocular tone; “in that case she must have
lovers.”

“She has two,” answered Prain, dryly. “One is John Alder.”

“What! the heir?”

“Yes! If she marries him she will still be mistress of Kirkstone Hall.
But she won’t,” said Prain, rubbing his chin with a vexed air, “for
the simple reason that she likes her other lover better.”

“Who is the other lover?”

“An artist called Arthur Ferris. He is poor, but handsome.”

“Good looks won’t make the pot boil,” said Gebb, sententiously. “Well,
I’m not particularly anxious for further information about her love
affairs. What I wish to know is, if Miss Wedderburn corresponded with
Miss Gilmar.”

“I can’t tell you that: I don’t know.”

“Do you think Miss Wedderburn is aware of her cousin’s death?” said
Gebb, putting the question in another form.

“It’s improbable, as she would have written to me on the subject had
she known. By the way, is the body buried?”

“Of course; it is two weeks since the murder.”

“True, I forgot,” said Prain, thoughtfully. “I wonder if Alder knows
about her death.”

“He can’t know, unless he traced her by the Yellow Boudoir.”

“Oh, Alder doesn’t know much about that room and its crime, as he
belongs to the younger generation, and the story is almost forgotten.
However, I’ll write to him on the subject. It is necessary that he
should learn his position as speedily as possible, if only on account
of the will.”

“That is your own concern,” said Gebb, rising. “Still you might
arrange for me to have an interview with him, as he might throw some
light on the subject.”

“I fail to see how he can,” said Prain, raising his eyebrows. “Miss
Gilmar never corresponded with him during her travels. If any one will
know about her, it will be Miss Wedderburn.”

“Ah! I’m going down to see her,” said Gebb, putting on his hat. “I’ll
have a look at the original of the Yellow Boudoir at the same time.”

“I say,” said Prain, as the detective moved towards the door.

“Well!” replied Gebb, turning.

“If you see Edith, ask about her lover.”

“Which of them, Alder or Ferris?” said Gebb, stolidly.

“Don’t mention the name of either,” repeated Prain slowly, “but ask
about her lover. Then–well, you’ll see what will come of your
question.”

The detective gazed steadily at the solicitor.

“What do you mean?” he demanded, struck by the significance of the
man’s words and look.

“You’ll find that out when she answers.”

“How will she answer?” demanded Gebb, quite mystified.

“Ah!” said Prain, with a long breath, “you ask and see.”