Ernest Hornung.

The Crime Doctor



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"It's on Thursday!" he cried, as one in exquisite dread. "My God, I'm to be married on Thursday, and this is Sunday night! How can I toe the mark unless I get some sleep? And how can I sleep – "

"Leave that to me," said Dollar, cutting a pregnant pause as short as possible; "leave everything to me, and come straight up-stairs. I keep the room in constant readiness; you shall be fitted with pajamas, and I'll send a special messenger anywhere you like for whatever you may want in the morning. Come, my dear man! I am burning to give my Chamber of Peace a crucial test, because I know we shall all come out with flying colors!"

There was less confidence in the Doctor Dollar who ran down-stairs a little later and sat at his telephone with an urgent face. In another minute he had left the house, and in another two Mr. Topham Vinson was opening the door to him in Portman Square.

"I call this too bad of you," began the doctor, short of breath and shorter still of patience with his powerful friend.

"My dear fellow, I couldn't help it," vowed the Minister, with disarming meekness. "He would go straight to you, and just then I couldn't have rung you up without giving him away at this end."

"I can stay five minutes," said Dollar, looking at his watch, "to hear as much as you can tell me in the time of what I ought to have known before I saw your neurotic friend."

"Hasn't he told you all about himself?"

"Hardly a word worth anything in a case like this, where the cause matters more than the effect. Of course I could have insisted, but that might have finished him off for the night. I gather, however, that he's one of the First Lord's secretaries, but a friend of yours, on the brink of being married, and in more than the normal state about it, or something to do with it."

"I'll take your points in order," said Topham Vinson, who could be brisker than anybody when he chose. "George Edenborough is not only one of Stockton's secretaries, but the most private and most confidential of the crowd. I don't know about his being a friend of mine; I've been a friend to him for family reasons, and found him a nice enough fellow. But the girl he's going to marry – if they do marry – is one of us."

"If!" cried the doctor. "Do you mean to say she'd draw back in the last week?"

"She may not be able to help herself," was the grave reply. "George Edenborough is under a cloud that may burst at any moment."

"A sudden cloud?"

"Out of the blue for me. I only heard of it from Stockton on Friday night. But it's no new thing to him. He might have told me sooner, I think, seeing it was through me that Edenborough ever went to him."

"In some special capacity, I rather gather?"

"Yes; he can draw a bit – in fact, he's not a secretary at all except in name, but the First Lord's private draftsman. Stockton's a whale for details but a dunce at technicalities. What he likes is the thing on paper, as he sees it with his own eyes; so he makes his inspections with Edenborough and a sketch-block, illustrated notes are taken at every turn, and all sorts of impossible improvements worked out in subsequent collaboration.

I had that this evening from the boy himself. It will show you what chances he has had of giving things away – or – selling them!"

"Is it as bad as that?"

"Stockton swears it is. To me it's inconceivable. But he gives chapter and verse of at least one drawing that found its way across the North Sea early in the year. Edenborough admits that he either lost it or had it stolen from him. He seems to have been more careful – whichever way you look at it – during the summer. But this autumn the trouble has begun again. A dockyard sketch-map has flown the German Ocean, come home to roost by some means into which we'd better not inquire, and is pronounced by Stockton a bad imitation of one made for him by Edenborough six weeks ago."

"Why a bad imitation, I wonder?"

"The original has been in the First Lord's archives ever since; he says the copy must have been made from memory; but he has good reasons why nobody but Edenborough could have made it."

"Reasons that are not so good in law, apparently?"

"Exactly; as yet there's no case and there has been no accusation. But I very much fear that traps are being set, and I've taken it on myself to put the madman on his guard."

"To-night?"

"Yes; it was the first chance of getting hold of him, and that only by having the poor little bride to dinner as well. Heavy work, Dollar, drinking their healths and knowing what was in the air! The only comfort was that Edenborough knew as well as I did; it was written on his face, if you had the key, and I hadn't to do much beating about the bush when I got him to myself. He was wonderfully frank, from his point of view. He told me that the air of suspicion was driving him out of his mind; he said he hadn't slept for nights and nights."

"Although no accusation has been made?"

"Although not an open word has been said to connect him with the bad copy of his own map!"

"That's the worst thing you've told me," said Dollar quietly. "He protested his innocence, of course?"

"In absolute tears!"

"And what was your own impression, Mr. Vinson?"

"Extremely mixed. I felt that he was speaking the truth, and yet not the whole truth. He had an air of guilty knowledge, if not of actual guilt."

"His physical condition bears you out," observed the doctor with reluctance. "And the poor devil's to be married in four days' time!"

"There my pity's on the other side."

"But the girl's another friend of yours? May I ask her name?"

"Lucy Trevellyn."

"Any relation of Admiral Trevellyn?"

"Own daughter to the old sea-dog, and if anything the breezier of the two! I couldn't imagine a young girl more like an old salt at heart. She'd go to sea if she could; as she can't, she's a little pillar of the Navy League – and engaged to the First Lord's best young man! Could you conceive a more ingenious irony, or a greater tragedy when the truth comes out? Dollar, it must come out before Thursday, if it's ever coming out at all!"

"Is it otherwise a likely match?"

"The very likeliest, but for this world's goods, and there'll be more of them one day. She has go enough for two, and they have tastes in common. I told you he could draw a bit, but she's a little artist, though you wouldn't think it if you saw her teaching him to skate at Prince's or taking me on at golf! Lucy Trevellyn's the best type of sportswoman – just as Vera Moyle is one gone wrong."

John Dollar was on his feet.

"Well, I've stayed longer than I intended," said he abruptly. "I promised to go up within half an hour to see if he was asleep. And he will be. But what's a night's rest against such a tragedy as the whole thing's bound to be!"

"Or such a mystery?" suggested Topham Vinson. "If you could only get to the bottom of that, Dollar, we might know how to act."

"I'm not a detective," returned the doctor – but the stiff words were hardly out before the stiff lips relaxed in a smile. "I've said that before, Vinson, and I shouldn't wonder if you made me say it again. I am out to stop things happening, not to bother about things that have been done and can't be mended. But in this case discovery may be the mother of prevention, and I must have a shot with both barrels while there's time."

He had come in glum and grumbling; he went off gay and incisive, subtly enlivened by the very gravity of the matter, as he always was. But it was grave enough, as was Dollar himself behind the sparkling mask that he wore unawares in all times of stress. And on one point his confidence was justified without delay; the young man in the Chamber of Peace was found drenched already in slumbers worthy of the name he had unwittingly bestowed upon that magic fastness.

But this was not a case in which the crime doctor could leave well alone. Every hour of the night he was up-stairs and down again; and, in the intervals, either deep in such grim reading as the Illustrative Cases of Transitory Mania, in the terrible fourth volume of Casper's Forensic Medicine, or deeper yet in his own cognate speculations.

In the morning it was he who carried up the patient's suit-case, woke him up, and watched the rising tide of memory drown the thanks in his throat. Now was the doctor's chance of checking Mr. Vinson's version of the young man's troubles; but he waited for George Edenborough to open his own heart, and waited in vain till the last five minutes, when the boy began to thank him and ended with the whole story.

It differed very little from the second-hand synopsis, but it confirmed more than one impression which Dollar would have given much to relinquish. The talk of intolerable suspicions was indeed more consistent with a guilty conscience than anything else, since it was duly followed by the admission that nobody had expressed such suspicions in anything like so many words. The crime doctor was sorry he had put the question; it was the only one he asked. But by exhorting Edenborough to get all the exercise he could, and by saying he had heard great things of Miss Trevellyn's skating, the reluctant dissembler had little difficulty in obtaining an immediate invitation to tea at Prince's Skating Club.

Edenborough had departed with a face almost radiant at the prospect; yet he had scarcely spoken of his beloved until the subject of skating cropped up. It was as though that was the only relation in which he could still think of her without pain and shame; and in due course he was discovered on the ice with the same look of lingering pride and joy.

It was the height of the skating afternoon, and the glassy strip an opaque pane on which a little giant might have been scribbling with a big diamond. The eye swam with pairs rotating as in a circus – with single practitioners at work under dashing instructors down the middle of the rink – while the ear sang with a resounding swish of skates. One of the workers was George Edenborough, who came off one leg, with a glistening forehead, to find his guest a good place behind the barrier.

"So glad you're not late for the waltzing," he said nervily. "I've had a long day out of town, and didn't get here myself till much later than I expected. Lucy's writing a letter in the lounge, but she'll be here in a minute for the enclosure, and after that we'll have tea."

Dollar ascertained that the waltzing enclosure was a close quarter-of-an-hour for all but those more or less proficient in that delicate and astounding art. Edenborough said that he himself was not quite up to the standard of these displays, and suited the action to the word by taking the floor unsteadily on his skates. As he seated himself a gong sounded, the band struck up, beginners dispersed, confident hands clasped lissome waists, long edges ended in lightning threes, and the rink was a maze of sweeping grace and symmetry.

Dollar had never seen anything like it in his life, for artificial ice was in its infancy in London before the war, and ever since he had been a busy man. He followed first one couple and then another, and each seemed to him more competent and graceful than the last. Yet the first short waltz was not over before an involuntary selection had eliminated all but a dark strong girl in red and a swarthy man with bright eyes and a black mustache.

"Those two are the best," said he – "that girl in red and the heavy alien."

"Do you think so?" cried the delighted Edenborough. "Then you're a judge, because that's Lucy!"

"I didn't mean to insult her partner," said Dollar in some dismay. "He's the best waltzer on the ice except Miss Trevellyn."

"He's an Italian marquis," returned Edenborough, in another voice. "Rocchi's his beastly name. I've no use for the fellow. But he can skate."

The first waltz finished there were two more in quick succession, and Edenborough had a better word for Miss Trevellyn's next partner. He was only a glowing schoolboy, home from Eton for his leave, but the past mistress lent herself to his dash and fling with a gusto equal to his own.

"I'm glad that's over," said Edenborough, as she escaped with her life from the desperado's clutches. "I say, confound that fellow Rocchi!"

She was waltzing with the handsome brute again; for he looked no less, with his deep blue chin and insolent eyes, and his air of conscious mastery. Edenborough plainly loathed him, chafing visibly as the pair swept past with certainly the appearance of some extra verve for his benefit. Dollar himself was very disagreebly impressed, and that down to the end, when Rocchi skated up with the lady, whom he surrendered with a gleam of palpable bravado.

Yet that impression altered with the very opening of Miss Trevellyn's not less resolute mouth. She had good teeth and a hearty voice, and eyes of a breezy and humane audacity. Dollar thought of Topham Vinson's tribute, and agreed with all except the odious comparison. There was, indeed, no comparing types as different as Lucy Trevellyn and Vera Moyle; but the one had never puzzled him in the past more completely than did the other before he took his leave.

And they had talked about the wedding, and their presents, and the wedding trip, as though neither God nor man could interfere!

"Only three days to go!" said Dollar to himself. And two of the three were soon gone without alarums or excursions, except on the part of the crime doctor himself. He was neglecting his practise for the case in hand; he was nowhere to be found when badly wanted on the Tuesday night, nor yet on the Wednesday morning; and this was the more extraordinary in that it was George Edenborough who wanted him, now with an ashier face than ever, and now on the telephone in a frantic voice.

At dusk on the Wednesday his key turned in the latch, and next day's bridegroom burst from the waiting-room at the same moment.

"At last!" cried Edenborough; and looked so ghastly in the electric light that Dollar did not switch it on in the consulting-room, or ask a question as he shut the door.

It was one of those mild unseasonable days on which the best of servants keep up the biggest fires; the doctor opened the French window that led from his den, down rusty steps, into a foul and futile enclosure of grimy gravel and moribund shrubs. In the meantime Edenborough had not taken a seat as mechanically bidden, but had planted himself in defiant pose before the fire; and the glow showed restless hands twitching into fists, but not the face of which one look had been enough.

"You might have left word where you were!" he began with great bitterness.

"I have just done so," returned Dollar, "at your rooms. I was wanting to see you – presently. It seems like fate, to find you here before me."

"I suppose you've heard the latest, wherever you've been?" pursued Edenborough, aware and jealous of some independent perplexity on the part of Dollar.

"I have heard so much!" said the doctor, dropping into a chair. "Better be explicit – and as expeditious as you can, my dear fellow. I have an appointment almost directly."

"Oh! there's not much to say," rejoined the other sardonically. "You remember when you came to Prince's, doctor?"

"I do, indeed."

They both spoke as if it were weeks ago.

"You know I told you I'd had a hard day out of town?"

"I remember."

"I meant with my chief – Lord Stockton – seeing his new brood of submarines."

"In their unfledged state, I suppose?"

"That was it – and making the usual sketches. That's my job – or was! I was Stockton's walking Kodak until yesterday afternoon; then I got the boot for a wedding present, and a chance of the jug for my honeymoon!"

The harsh voice broke, for all its sudden slang and satire. Dollar was driven to his only policy.

"I'm not going to pretend I don't know of this," he said. "I know of it from the Home Secretary. A duplicate of one of those last drawings of yours – "

"A duplicate!"

"Well, a bad imitation, if you like."

The doctor paused as though he had finished a sentence, as though the amended phrase had interrupted his thought.

"Well?" said Edenborough grimly. "Did you hear how they got hold of it?"

"Intercepted in the post, I gathered, on its way abroad."

"In our post," said Edenborough. "Almost a casus belli in itself, I should have thought!"

"And have you no idea how it came there?" asked the doctor bluntly – but now he meant to be blunt; he was not sorry when his man flew into a feeble passion on the spot.

"What the devil do you mean, Doctor Dollar? I know no more about the matter than – I was going to say, than you do – but I begin to think you know more than you pretend!"

"I didn't think I had pretended," said Dollar, simply.

"Well, what do you know?" demanded Edenborough, in a fury of suspicion. "All, I suppose?" he added, with a schoolboy sneer, when the answer was slow to come.

"Yes; all," said the doctor, very gravely and reluctantly, as though driven into a pronouncement of life or death.

There was no outcry of surprise from Edenborough. He had some pride. But his knees began to tremble in the firelight, and his unclenched hands to twitch.

"I don't believe it," he exclaimed at length. "You tell me what you know!"

"All that you yourself suspected, and made yourself ill with suspecting – and couldn't sleep for suspecting – long ago!"

Pitiful tone and tender hand carried a heavier conviction than the words. And now it was the patient who had sunk into the chair, the doctor bending over his bowed and quivering shoulders.

"You are not the first man, my dear Edenborough," he went on, "who would seem to have been betrayed in cold blood by a woman – by the woman. Mark my words closely. I say it seems so. I would not condemn the greatest malefactor unheard. I meant to hear Miss Trevellyn first – feeling in my bones, against all reason, that there may still be some unimaginable explanation. But, if the worst be true of her, then the best is true of you; for you are the first man I have known bear the brunt as you have borne it, my very dear fellow!"

"What makes you suspect her?" groaned Edenborough to the ground.

"It's not a case of suspicion – don't deceive yourself as to that, Edenborough. I know that Miss Trevellyn produced – and parted with – those last two sketches about which there's been all the trouble. I only suspect that she got you to show her the originals, almost as soon as they were made, on the plea of her tremendous interest in the Navy."

"Quite true; she did," said Edenborough, but as though he did not appreciate what he was saying, as though something else had stuck in his mind. "But it was a tremendous interest!" he exclaimed, jumping up. "It was her father's interest; his life, indeed! Isn't it inconceivable that his daughter – apart from everything else I've found her – that she of all people should do a thing like this?"

"I am afraid the inconceivable happens almost as often as the unexpected," said Dollar, with a sigh. "Criminology, indeed, prepares us for little else. Think of the perfectly good mothers who have flown to infanticide as the first relief of a mind unhinged! The inversion of the ruling passions is one of the sure symptoms of insanity."

"But of course she's mad," cried Edenborough, "if she's guilty at all. But that's what I can't and won't believe. I can believe it one minute but not the next, just as I've suspected and laughed at my suspicions all this nightmare time. One look in her face has always been enough, and would be at this minute."

"Well, we shall soon see," said Dollar, glancing at the clock. "But I can only warn you that my evidence is overwhelming."

"Let's have it, then; what is your evidence?" demanded Edenborough, in a fresh fit of stone-blind defiance.

"My dear fellow, you force my hand!" said Dollar. "God knows you have a right – and it can't make matters worse than they are. My evidence consists of a full and circumstantial confession by a scoundrel to whom I took your own dislike at sight, and whose career I have spent the week investigating. I needn't tell you I mean the infamous Rocchi."

"Rocchi!" whispered Edenborough at the second attempt, as though his very tongue rejected the abhorrent name. Yet now he stood perfectly still, like a man who sees at last. "Well," he added in an ominously rational voice, "I must live long enough to send him to hell, whatever else I do."

"You will have to find him first," said Dollar. "He has gone back to his paymasters – not his own countrymen – they kicked him out long ago. I've taken it on myself to do the same, instead of handing him over to the police and doing an infinite deal more harm than good."

But Edenborough was not listening to a word; he was talking to himself, and he talked aloud as soon as he was given a chance.

"Now we know why she was so keen on my wretched job … on the whole Navy?.. No, not a life-long fraud like that… And she pretended to dislike that brute as much as I did! I believe she did, too, but for his waltzing… No, never jealous of him, and I'm not now … but so much the worse, so much the more damnably cold-blooded!"



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