The Crime Doctor
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Dying philosopher could not have displayed a more acute detachment. But the last touch was lost upon Dollar, whose expectant ear had caught the ting of an electric bell.
"Edenborough," he said, in the voice of urgent conciliation, "the time has come for you to show what's in you. So far you have kept your head and played the man; keep it now, and you will play the hero! I still can't imagine what Miss Trevellyn can have to say for herself – but I implore you to hear her out, for I believe she is being admitted at this moment."
"Lucy – here – and you expected her?"
"I told you I had another appointment. But you were here first, one thing led to another, and it may be better as it is. You were bound to have this out between you – and to-day. If you wish me to be present – but no human being can help!"
"Unless it's you!" suggested Edenborough in a panic-stricken whisper. "I can't face her alone – I can't trust myself!"
Dollar took no notice of a knock at the door. "Edenborough, you must," he said gently; "and whatever she may have to say – much or little, and it may be much – you must hear patiently to the end. It's your duty, man! Don't flinch from it, for God's sake!"
"But I do flinch from it!" cried Edenborough below his breath. "I flinch from it for her sake as much as mine. I'm not the one to shame her, even if Rocchi's telling – "
The door opened in response to Dollar's decisive call. It was the little Barton boy, to say that Miss Trevellyn was in the waiting-room.
"Show her in," said Dollar. "I have more than Rocchi's bare word, Edenborough."
The distracted youth looked about him like a wild creature in a cage, and saw his loophole at the last moment.
"I won't be the one to shame her, whatever she has done!" he whimpered through his teeth. "If there's any explanation, she need never know I knew; if there's not, good-by!"
And he slipped through the open window, out upon the iron steps, as Dollar switched on the lights that turned the outer dusk to darkness; and the door opened even as the curtain was drawn in desperation, with a last signal to Edenborough to stand his ground and at least hear all.
"Good evening, Doctor Dollar," said Miss Trevellyn, briskly, and with that she stopped in her sturdy stride. "Is anything the matter?"
"Is it possible you don't know what?"
"Is it anything to do with George? You're his doctor, aren't you?" These questions quicker, but with a sensible check on any premature anxiety.
"He has consulted me, but the matter more directly concerns yourself. It's no use beating about the bush, Miss Trevellyn!" exclaimed the doctor, with a sudden irritation at her straight carriage and straighter look. "I have to speak to you about the Marchese Rocchi."
"Have you, indeed!"
Miss Trevellyn had winced at the name, but already her eyes looked brighter and bolder, and the firm face almost serenely obdurate.
"The Marchese Rocchi," he continued, "fled the country yesterday, Miss Trevellyn."
"I wondered why he was not at Prince's!"
"He fled because of a scandal in which you are implicated," said Dollar very sternly."He has been trafficking in naval secrets – this country's secrets, Miss Trevellyn – and he swears you sold them to him. Is it true?"
"One moment," said the girl, with a first trace of emotion. "Is all this of your own accord, or on behalf of Mr. Edenborough?"
"Of my own accord entirely."
"You've been ferreting things out for yourself, have you?"
"You are entitled to put it so."
"Detective as well as doctor, it appears?"
"Miss Trevellyn, I implore you to tell me if these things are true!"
"So that you may tell your patient, I suppose?"
"No. I shall not tell him," said Dollar, disingenuously enough, but with the deeper sorrow.
"Very well! I'll tell you, and you can shout it from the roof for all I care now. It's perfectly true!"
Dollar started, not at the thing that had to come, but at the manner in which it came. It seemed, indeed, the last word in wickedness – impenitent, unblushing, even vainglorious to eye and ear alike. His glance flew to the curtained window, but no sound or movement came from the iron stair outside.
"True that you sold those drawings to this man Rocchi?" he heard himself saying at last, in a tone so childish that he scarcely wondered at the smile it drew.
"Perfectly true," said Miss Trevellyn.
"Drawings made by George Edenborough for the First Lord of the Admiralty, and shown to you because you were the stronger character and insisted on seeing them, but only in such confidence as might almost be justified between future man and wife?"
"I didn't sell his drawings," said Miss Trevellyn, impatiently. "I copied them, more or less from memory, and sold my own efforts."
"Of course I know that! It was a slip of the tongue," he admonished her, while marveling more and more. "And you can put the whole thing plainly without so much as a blush!"
"I am going to put you to the blush instead, Doctor Dollar," returned the lady, with a lighter touch. "You are very clever at finding out what I did, but you don't ask why I did it; that's not so clever of such a clever man, and I must just enlighten you before I go. The first drawing was not a copy; it was the original they got that time, and it was stolen from Mr. Edenborough on his way home from the Admiralty. He never knew exactly where it was stolen, but I always thought I knew. You are a bit of a detective, Doctor Dollar; well, so am I in my way. You have not let me into the secret of your success, and I shouldn't think of boring you with mine. I thought it happened at Prince's, and I suspected Rocchi, that was all. It was last spring, and I had all the summer to think about it. But when Prince's opened I set to work, for there was Rocchi making up to us both as before. He didn't get much change out of George, but perhaps I made amends when George wasn't there, and sometimes even when he was! He could waltz, you see, and so can I," said Lucy Trevellyn, with something like a sigh for her bereavement on the rink.
"Yet you copied the other two drawings, and you even admit you sold him the copies?"
"I sold them quite well," said Miss Trevellyn, with sparkling eyes – "and you may guess what I did with the money – but it's not fair to call them copies. I made them as inaccurate as possible without spoiling everything, and indeed I couldn't have made them very accurate from memory, and they were only rough sketches to begin with! Of course George was wrong to let me see them, but he was assisting in the best of causes. Rocchi was an expert professional spy. I soon sized him down as one. But he was not a naval expert – and I'm that as well! That's my last boast, Doctor Dollar; but it's not unjustifiable, if you come to think of George and me between us keeping a national enemy out of serious mischief, feeding a friendly Power with false plans, and giving the money to our own dear Navy League!"
Dollar surveyed the radiant minx with eyes that needed rubbing. His only sorrow was that Edenborough did not burst through the curtains without more ado; he must have extraordinary self-control, when he liked.
"Not that George was a conscious party to the fraud; he wouldn't have approved of it, he couldn't possibly, poor George!" said George's bride. "But I shall tell him all about it now; of course I always meant to tell him – after to-morrow – but he has had quite enough bothers of his own, and this was my show. I suppose you don't know what's been bothering him, Doctor Dollar? He says it's overwork, and I do think Lord Stockton's an old slave-driver; do you know, I haven't even seen George since the day before yesterday at Prince's?"
"Nor I," said Dollar, no longer with the least compunction, "from that hour to this."
"Of course I know he's all right," concluded Miss Trevellyn, as they were parting perfect friends, "because he has rung me up several times to say so, and he looked better on Monday than for ever so long. But I must own I shall be glad when I get him away for a real good rest."
She had refused to hear another word from Dollar in explanation, or of regret, and she made her departure with all the abruptness of a constitutionally decided person. But she had blushed once at least in the last few minutes. And the doctor ran back into his den with singing heart, ready to fall upon his patient's neck in deep thanksgiving and even more profound congratulation.
No patient was there to meet him even now, but the curtain swayed a little before the open window. Dollar reached it at a bound; but there was nobody outside on the iron steps, and the curtain filled behind him as the inner door banged in the draft. The horrid little space at the back of the house, between the high black walls with the broken-bottle coping, lay empty of all life in the plentiful light from the back windows – but for an early cat that fled before Dollar's precipitate descent into the basement.
"The gentleman's gone," said Mrs. Barton at once. "He come through this way some time ago – said he couldn't wait no longer out there!"
"How long do you suppose he had waited?"
"Not long," said Mrs. Barton firmly. "Bob here was at his tea when he had to go up to show the young lady in; and the young gentleman, it couldn't've been more than three or four minutes before he was through 'ere as if something had 'appened."
"I didn't hear him."
"He was anxious you shouldn't be disturbed, sir."
"Did you show him out, Bobby?"
The master had never been so short with them. Mrs. Barton felt that something was the matter, but Bobby quaked.
"Which way did he go – and how – foot or taxi?"
"I – please, sir – I never stopped to see, sir!"
Dollar flew to his telephone; forsook it for a taxicab; drew Edenborough's rooms in vain; inquired as vainly (as an anonymous wedding guest, uncertain of the church) at Admiral Trevellyn's; was at the House of Commons by half past six, and at Scotland Yard (armed with written injunctions from the Secretary of State) before seven.
At that hour and place the matter passed out of the hands of Doctor John Dollar, who could only hasten home to Welbeck Street, there to enter upon the most shattering vigil of his life – the terrible telephone at his elbow – and still more terrible inquirers on the telephone as the night wore on!
But never one word of news.
Toward midnight Topham Vinson arrived with the elaborate sandwiches and even the champagne that he had found awaiting him at home. It was the measure of a born leader; the doctor had not broken his fast since lunch; and in the small hours he once dozed for some minutes in his chair.
But the politician had not the temperament to wait for the telephone to talk to him; he talked repeatedly into the telephone, set a round dozen of myrmidons by the ears, and at last was rightly served by being sent off to Hammersmith to identify the dead body of a defaulting clerk, just recovered from the Thames.
"I'm not coming with you," Dollar had said, even when the description seemed to tally. "Edenborough wouldn't drown himself – and this is my place."
It was a being ten years older who opened his own front door again at daybreak. His face was as gray as the wintry dawn, the whole man bowed and broken. Topham Vinson stood aghast on the step.
"It isn't all over, is it?"
The doctor nodded with compressed lips.
"When and where?"
"I don't know. Come in. They're getting up down-stairs; there'll be some tea in a minute."
"For God's sake tell me what you've heard!"
"Haven't I told you? They rang up just after you went. He bought prussic acid yesterday!"
Dollar had dropped into his elaborate old chair; the bent head between his hands drooped over its own reflection in the monastic writing-table.
"Who rang up?" asked the man on his legs.
"Some of your people."
"Was that all they had to tell you?"
"That was all; we shan't have long to wait for the rest."
"Where did he buy it?"
"At his own chemist's – 'to put a poor old dog out of its misery!' His very words, Vinson, so they tell me! I shall hear them all my life."
"And it has taken all night to learn this, has it, from the chemist's where the poor devil dealt!"
Dollar understood this outburst of truculent emotion.
"That was my fault," said he. "I told them to confine their attention to entries made in the poison books after five o'clock yesterday afternoon. Edenborough had signed his name and got the stuff earlier in the day."
"Before you told him anything?"
"He had his own suspicions, you must remember. I had confirmed them – and her first words left no more to be said, that he could bear to hear! If only he had waited another minute! If only I had dragged him back to face it out!" groaned Dollar, in a bottomless pit of self-reproach. "I call myself a crime doctor, yet I let my patient creep into space with a bottle of prussic acid, and commit the one crime I had to prevent!"
"Why prussic acid, I wonder?"
The idle question was not asked for information, but it happened to be one that Dollar could answer, and it brought him to his book-shelves with a certain alacrity.
"I know," he said, "though I never thought of it till this minute! I was trying to write him a prescription on Sunday night, when the poor chap suddenly remarked that Shelley was right, and I found him dipping into these Letters, and had the luck to spot the very bit he'd struck. It was this" – and he read out the passage beginning: "You, of course, enter into society at Leghorn: should you meet with any scientific person, capable of preparing the Prussic Acid, or essential oil of bitter almonds, I should regard it as a great kindness if you could procure me a small quantity" – down to "it would be a comfort to me to hold in my hands that golden key to the chamber of perpetual peace."
Topham Vinson's only comment was to pick up the book, which had fallen to the floor with the concluding words. Dollar was swaying where he stood, glancing in horror toward the door; at that moment it opened, and Mrs. Barton entered with the tea-tray.
"Mrs. Barton," said the doctor, in a voice that failed him as it had not done all night, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but did that boy of yours speak the truth when he told me he had seen Mr. Edenborough out?"
"He did not, sir, and his father thrashed him for it!" cried the good woman. "And that was very wrong of Barton, because I was as bad as the boy, in not telling you at the time. So we've all done wrong together, and we don't deserve to stay, as I told the both of them!"
The poor soul was forgiven and consoled, with an unconscious sympathy not lost on Topham Vinson, to whom it was extended a moment later.
"Take a drink of your tea," said Dollar. "It will do you good."
"What about you?"
"I'm going up-stairs first."
"You've thought of something!"
"I have," replied Dollar in a tragic whisper. "I've thought of my 'chamber of perpetual peace.'"
That sanctuary was on the second floor, and it had triple doors so spaced that each could be shut in turn before the next was opened. The house might have been in an uproar, and yet one might have entered this room without admitting the slightest sound by the door. The window was of triple glass that would have deadened an explosion on its sill, and the walls were thickly wadded behind an inner paneling of aromatic pine.
The first sensation on entering was one of ineffable peace and quiet; next came a subtle, soothing scent, as of all the spices of Arabia; and lastly a surprising sense of scientific ventilation, as though the four sound-proof walls were yet not impervious to the outer air, but as though it were the pungent air of pine-clad mountains, in miraculous circulation here in the heart of London.
All this would have struck the visitor by degrees; but to John Dollar, who had devised and superintended every detail, it all came home together and afresh as he entered softly with the Home Secretary; and a certain composite effect, unforeseen in the beginning and still unexplained, fell upon him even now, and with it all the weight of his own fatigue; so that he could have flung himself on bed or couch as a doomed wretch sinks into the snow, but for the light in the room and what the light revealed.
It was light of a warm, strange, coppery shade, that he had found for himself by dyeing frosted electric lamps as children dye Easter eggs; it was the very softest and yet least sensuous shade that eyes ever penetrated with perfect ease, and it turned the room into a little hall of bronze. The simple curtains might have been golden lace, richly tarnished with age; the furniture solid copper; the bed an Eastern divan, and the form upon the bed a sleeping Arab.
It was George Edenborough lying there in all his clothes, a girl's photograph beside him on the coverlet, and beside the photograph a tiny phial that caught the light.
"Stay where you are!" whispered Dollar in a voice that thrilled his companion to the core. And he stole to the bed, stooped over it for a little lifetime, and so came stealing back.
"How long has he been dead?" said Topham Vinson, harshly; but in realty his blood was freezing at an unearthly smile in that unearthly light.
"Dead?" was the doctor's husky echo. "Don't you know the smell of bitter almonds, and have you smelt it yet? Here's the golden bottle he hadn't opened when he lay down – perhaps for the first time since he was here on Sunday night – and this is his wedding morning, and he's only – only fast asleep!"