Authors: Ianthe Jerrold
“I say, you have been busy, Hembrow,” said John admiringly. “Have you crowded anything else into your morning of glorious life?”
“Went to interview Shirley,” said Hembrow. “But I found her out, and the caretaker at the flats had no idea where she was likely to be. It appears she lives alone. I shall go back this evening, when I was told I should probably find her in.”
“May I come with you, Inspector? I should like to see the lovely Pandora.”
“Lovely or not,” said Hembrow grimly, “I should like to know why she paid that flying visit to Madox Court last night.”
“The queer thing about this case so far,” said Christmas thoughtfully, “is that all these mysterious visitors were well out of the way before the murder took place. Pandora Shirley left the court at ten minutes to eight and the Oriental gentleman, as old Greenaway calls him, met Steen and Merewether in Greentree Road soon after eight o'clock. Yet Gordon Frew was alive at nine, when Merewether went up to his flat. Of course our mysterious Oriental may have returned, and so, for that matter, may Miss Shirley, butâ”
“Mr. Christmas,” interrupted Hembrow slowly, “would you mind telling me what you know of Dr. Merewether?”
Christmas looked at his friend's face and was surprised at the gravity he saw there.
“Merewether?” he repeated vaguely. “Whyâbut surely you can't imagine that Merewether”
“Well, Mr. Christmas,” said Hembrow heavily, “it's a very queer thing that Dr. Merewether should be so positive he saw the deceased alive at nine o'clock. Because our doctor, Dr. Hallet, who examined the corpse, has told me that there's no manner of doubt at all that the deceased died before nine o'clock, and no manner of doubt at all that Dr. Merewether was either mistaken or lying.”
Christmas said nothing for a moment. He seemed to see again the sweat upon Merewether's forehead, the shaking of his hands, as he stood upright after laying the corpse back in its chair. He wished that this memory would not insist upon obtruding itself between him and the protest Hembrow's suggestion forced out of him.
“If that is so, it is a queer thing, certainly,” he agreed. “But not so queer a thing as the suggestion that Merewether could have had anything to do with the crime, Inspector. Why, the thing's fantastic to anyone who knows him!”
“Have you known him long, Mr. Christmas?”
“I first met him at Newtree's studio about eighteen months ago. He's a friend of Newtree's rather than mine. That is to say, although he is a friend of mine, he is not the sort of man with whom one quickly grows intimate.”
“No?” commented Hembrow impassively.
“I'll tell you all I know, of course, which isn't much. He has a practiceânot too flourishingâin Swiss Cottage somewhere, and has had it about four years, I believe. He's unmarried, and lives with his only sister. He's thirty-seven, and I believe he took his degree at University College. He attended Gordon Frew during an attack of influenza and bronchitis last April, but otherwise I don't think he knew the man at all. Frew wanted a doctor, and not having been long in England hadn't got one, and Newtree put him on to Merewether. It was purely by chance that Merewether was called in, and the two men were certainly strangers then...”
Hembrow, who had been listening with attention, nodded gravely.
“And is that all you can tell me, Mr. Christmas? I thought from the way you spoke up for him that the doctor was a friend of yours.”
“Well, so he is,” replied Christmas rather testily, “but one doesn't know the past history of all one's friends. And one doesn't have to know Merewether very intimately to know that he's the last man in the world to be mixed up in anything shady.”
Hembrow eyed him gloomily.
“It's a pity you feel that way about it, Mr. Christmas, if I may say so. It doesn't do to feel personal about these things. One has to have an open mind at this game.”
“But, Hembrow,” objected John, “what possible reason could there be for Merewether to lie about having seen Frew alive at nine o'clock? For if your man is right, Frew died about eight o'clock, and in that case it can't have been Merewether who killed him. For Merewether came to Madox Court with Sir Marion Steen at about half-past eight, and went straight into Newtree's flat. And even conceiving it possible that he had paid an earlier, secret visit to the Court, what reason can he have had for wishing to make us believe that Frew was alive at nine o'clock? The murder had to be discovered soon, in any case. And being a doctor he would surely have known that his statement would be contradicted. The whole thing seems so purposeless!
Hembrow shrugged his shoulders.
“Our business at present is to find out facts, not invent theories,” he reminded John. “But of course there are plenty of theories to fit the fact that Dr. Merewether was lying. There's the theory of his being an accessory, forÂ
instance. But, as I say, our business at present is with facts. And whatever the reason may be, the fact seems to be that Dr. Merewether was lying.” Hembrow looked up keenly at John's troubled face. “Didn't you think yourself, Mr. Christmas, that he was a bit excited last night, for a medical man? Ah, I can see you did!”
There was a pause, and then the Inspector added gravely:
“And there's another thing, Mr. Christmas. What makes you think Dr. Merewether had never met the deceased before Mr. Newtree introduced them last April?”
“As a matter of fact,” responded Christmas, “Merewether told me so himself, one day when I met him at Newtree's after he had been in to see Frew.”
“Well,” said Hembrow, “it's a funny thing, Mr. Christmas, but I've just seen a copy of the deceased's will. It's a queer will altogether, and the queerest thing in it is the clause which makes Dr. Merewether the residuary legatee.”
“What?” asked John, hardly able to believe his ears.
“Yes,” said the Inspector, unmoved. “There are one or two legacies of bronzes and so on to museums and national collections. But the most important clause reads: â I leave the remainder of my possessions to my medical adviser, Dr. George Merewether, who so unselfishly refrained from turning my serious illness this April into a fatal one.'”
There was a silence, then:
“Good Lord!” ejaculated John. “What an extraordinary way of putting it!”
“Yes,” agreed Hembrow calmly. “Especially if he'd never seen Dr. Merewether before Mr. Newtree called him in.”
Christmas said nothing for a moment. Once again the memory of Merewether's tortured face swam before his eyes, coming between him and the faith which his liking for the man prompted.
“Well,” he said at last with a sigh, “the will, at any rate, is a fact which must be accepted. Did the lawyers have anything to say about it?”
“Frew didn't have a lawyer, in the ordinary way. It seems he just drew up the will himself, and took it to a firm in Bedford Row to know whether it would stand, and having been told that it was perfectly legal, though rather unusual in wording, signed it there and then. The lawyer never saw him before or since, and knows nothing about him.”
“The queer thing is,” remarked Christmas thoughtfully, “that nobody seems to know anything about him. Had he
relations or intimate friends?”
“He had a father and a mother and a sister and a brother,” replied Hembrow. “I found the records in Somerset House all right, so we know that the name he went under was his own, which is something. He was born in a village in Northumberland in 1871. His father and mother are both dead, and his sister is marriedâ”
“As we're dealing only with proved facts, Inspector, may I say that I don't see that the records at Somerset House can be said to prove that Gordon Frew went under his own name? All they prove is that a man named Gordon Frew existed. A quibble, I know, but I can't resist the
“You are quite right, Mr. Christmas. But the records taken in conjunction with one or two other facts that have come to my knowledge prove the identity pretty conclusively. You'll see that presently. I've got a visit to pay now to an antique-dealer in West Kensington, and if you care to come with me, I shall be very pleased to have your company.”
“Not in a very prosperous way of business, it seems,” commented Inspector Hembrow, as he and Christmas walked along a street in West Kensington that became grimier, shabbier and more depressing at every step.
“Well, it isn't exactly Bond Street, certainly,” murmured Christmas, glancing up at the tall, narrow houses with their bleared windows and dirty lace curtains that hid from the eye but not from the imagination a host of pitiful squalid lives. “I wonder what sort of antiques get sold in a place like this? And who buys them? But perhaps before we get to Henneker Mews things will have brightened up a bit and taken unto themselves another coat or so of paint.”
“Here we are,” said Hembrow, coming to a stop at a side crossing, and looking up at the name Henneker Mews fastened to the grimy wall of a corner, shop. “And there is the place we're looking for.”
He pointed across the road to where a little way down an indiscriminate collection of second-hand furniture was standing outside a low shop front, and a pile of dirty volumes on a table bore out the claim of the shop-keeper painted above his window: “Lionel Steen, Antique Dealer. Books Bought and Sold.”
“Hullo!” said John, studying this announcement. “Do you think this is one of Sir Marion's financial ventures, Hembrow?”
The Inspector laughed.
“I shouldn't think so, Mr. Christmas. They say everything Sir Marion touches turns into gold. And I shouldn't think there was much of that commodity lying round here. Steen's a fairly ordinary name, though Sir Marion's certainly not an ordinary man.”
Henneker Mews was a small cul-de-sac of mean houses that seemed to have gathered together in furtive conclave round three sides of a rectangle. One or two grubby children played in the middle of the road that never felt the wheels of traffic, and a little girl walked slowly along the pavement dragging a stick across the iron paling of the leafless gardens.
Hembrow and Christmas crossed the road and made their way to the second-hand shop, eyeing the commonplace battered furniture and the muddled windows with some interest.
“I suppose,” said John, “that once in a blue moon some article of value may pass through a place like this on its way to a collector's rooms.” He looked critically at the heterogeneous collection of jetsam in the window.
Hembrow smiled grimly.
“Quite often, I should say, Mr. Christmas. But they don't go into the window.”
A small bowed man with a mild and careworn face was coming diffidently towards the door, threading the piled up articles inside the shop with an ease born of long practice. Squeezing himself between an immense mahogany chest of drawers and a table piled with the chipped remains of an important-looking dinner service, he arrived in the doorway and, looking anxiously at the two men, asked sadly:
“Is there anything I can show you, gentlemen?”
“Mr. Lionel Steen?” asked Hembrow.
The little man bowed. He had sad brown eyes rather like those of a timid monkey under the arched furrows on his high bald forehead.
“Was it this table you were looking at, gentlemen? I can let you have it for fifteen shillings.”
It was plain to understand why Mr. Lionel Steen, Antique Dealer, had not prospered in his interesting business. He looked sadly at the table in question as though he regretted its existence, and there was a note of apology in his gentle voice.
“It's a nice table,” he added on a dubious note.
“I am Inspector Hembrow of Scotland Yard,” said Hembrow mildly, “and I should like a word with you, Mr. Steen.”
The little dealer blinked mournfully up at the stalwart detective. Christmas thought that his lips twitched sharply under his ragged grey moustache.
“Certainly, sir. Will you please to step this way?”
They made their way into the dark interior of the shop where the damp and musty smell of rotting wood and long undisturbed dust strove with the sharp tang of some highly flavoured dish cooking in the back room. Mr. Steen led them through into the kitchen, where a tall, untidy, black-browed woman was manipulating a frying-pan over a small gas stove.
“My wife,” he remarked. “Emily, my dear, this is Inspector Hembrow come to see us.”
Having thus, as it were, cast Hembrow upon the mercy of his better half, he drifted away to an obscure corner of the ill-lit room and stood scratching his chin and gazing pensively at the three others with his melancholy, mildly-astonished eyes.
Christmas, closely watching the woman's face, saw every line in it slacken and then draw tight at Hembrow's name. She blinked and thoughtfully prodded at the fish in the pan before she said quietly at last:
“Good morning, sir,” and waited for him to state his business.
“We have met before, Mrs. Steen,” said Inspector Hembrow amiably.
Mrs. Steen turned her head and gave him a long, considering stare.
“Not to my knowledge, sir.”
“It was a good many years ago,” said the detective, waiving the matter. “And has nothing to do with my visit this morning. You have had business dealings, I understand, with a certain Mr. Gordon Frew, of 5 Madox Court, St. John's Wood.”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Steen with a look of mild surprise. “Mr. Frew bought one or two little things from us in September, if I remember rightly. And we have orders to let him know if anything interesting in the way of small curios comes into our hands. It doesn't often happen,” she added with perfect good humour, “as I suppose you can judge by the look of our windows.”
Hembrow hid his surprise at her use of the present tense, and asked: