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CHAPTER IV. A STRANGE PIECE OF EVIDENCE.
Next morning there was great excitement in Chippingholt. That a murder should have taken place in that peaceful hamlet was bad enough, but that the victim should be the lord of the Manor himself was terrible beyond words. The body was carried up to the house, and the rural constable, not feeling himself competent to deal with so unusual an incident, sent for instructions to the police station at Langton.

Toward midday an inspector and constables came over to investigate. The inspector proceeded at once to the Manor and interviewed Lady Jenny. Her coolness and powers of endurance in such trying circumstances amazed even this stolid official.

She was a small, slightly-built woman, with a sylph-like figure, dark blue eyes and dark hair. Her rose-leaf skin was wonderfully delicate of tint and texture, and she looked fragile enough to be blown away by a breath of wind. She was said to be both frivolous and emotional, a shallow creature, fond of nothing but pleasure and spending money. In this emergency every one expected her to relapse into hysteria, and to be quite incapable of any control over her feelings; but, to their surprise, she was all the opposite of this, and shed hardly a tear. She received the news of the death almost apathetically, directed the body to be laid out in the bed which her husband had occupied when alive, and herself calmed the emotions of the household.

Indeed, Wilfred Burton was far more upset about the murder than was Lady Jenny. He expressed his amazement at her wonderful self-control. He was lying on the sofa in her morning-room when he spoke to her on the subject.

"Some one must manage things," said the brave little woman, "and I know well enough you\'re incapable, poor dear! Harold could be of use, I know, but I don\'t want him just now. When I do, I\'ll send for him."

"He was here this morning, Jenny."

"I know he was; I saw him before you were up. He told me about the finding of poor Gilbert\'s body."

"Who found it?"

"Branksom, the lodgekeeper. He was coming home from the village about ten last night, and took the short path through the orchards. He stumbled over a body in the dark, and lit a match to see who it was, thinking it was some drunken man. The match blew out, but he recognized Gilbert, and saw the blood on his face, so he ran back to give the alarm. Harold, who was at the \'Chequers,\' heard of the murder, and came with a man to remove the body. In fact, he was the first to arrive, and he examined the corpse before the rest came up."

Wilfred, a pale-faced, delicate-looking young man, with large, dark eyes, and a hectic flush on his face, shuddered at the calmness with which Lady Jenny went into these details. "I don\'t know how you can do it!" he gasped, putting his hand to his throat like a hysterical woman. "It is terrible. And I thought you were so fond of Gilbert."

"Yes, I was fond of him," said Lady Jenny, with emphasis, "but I learned something about him lately which rather checked my fondness."

"What?"

"Something that concerned our two selves only. Wilfred. Poor Gilbert! He is dead, so I suppose I must forgive him."

"I wonder who killed him?" said Wilfred.

"I wonder. Of course Gilbert made many enemies."

"Political enemies?"

"Yes, and private ones also. My dear Wilfred," said Lady Jenny, laying her hand on the young man\'s arm, "I wish to speak well of the dead, especially as the dead was my husband, but Gilbert was not a good man."

Wilfred looked at her doubtfully. "You speak as though you knew something."

"So I do; but that something has nothing to do, with the murder. I have no more idea who killed him than you have."

This conversation was interrupted by a message from Inspector Woke asking to see Lady Jenny, so she left the room at once. Mr. Inspector, a fat, stolid little man, much flurried by the unusual responsibility resting on his shoulders, had already seen the doctor and those who had found the body. He set about opening up the matter in his own way.

"I have seen the doctor, my lady," he said, wiping his face and breathing hard. "He tells me the deceased must have been murdered at about half-past nine last night. The wound is on the right temple, and as the skin and hair are burned and blackened with gunpowder, the shot must have been fired at close quarters. Death must have come very speedily, my lady. We can find no bullet, as it passed right through the deceased\'s head, and no weapon, although we have searched the orchards. All the evidence, my lady, must be circumstantial. We must find out who had a grudge against the deceased, or who had an interest in his death."

Lady Jenny arranged the ruffles of crape round her neck--she was in mourning for her father, and had been for some weeks--and laughed coldly. She thought very little of this elaborate explanation, and less of the man who made it. The inspector she took to be a man of the smallest intelligence, and one wedded to the red-tapeism and stereotyped routine of criminal procedure as conducted by the police generally.

"Mr. Malet had many enemies," she said quietly. "He was a politician, and at one time--not so long ago--was connected with the War Office."

"Can you tell me the names of any who had a grudge against him, my lady?"

"No; he told me he had enemies, but gave no explanation. Nor did I seek any. But this is a circumscribed neighborhood, Mr. Woke, and not over-populated. If a stranger came down to murder my husband, we should have no difficulty in getting a description of him."

Woke pricked up his ears. "Does your ladyship, then, suspect some stranger?"

"It is only an idea of mine," replied Lady Jenny, coldly. "I have no reasonable grounds for making a definite assertion. Still, my husband was popular to a certain extent in Chippingholt, and I know no one, I can think of no person--likely to desire his death."

"It might have been a stranger," mused Woke. "Rural murders do not use revolvers as a rule, and if they did it would hardly be at such close quarters as this. Can you inform me of the movements of this household last night, my lady?"

"Certainly. We dined at seven as usual. The night was hot and airless before the storm, so my husband said he would go out for a walk. He put a light coat over his evening dress, and strolled through the park. It was after eight when he went out."

"He did not say where he was going?"

"No, merely remarked that he would like a breath of fresh air. That was the last I saw of him. After eight I received a message from Captain Burton asking if I could call and see him at the Rectory."

"Why did he not wait on your ladyship here?"

Lady Jenny changed color, and her hands became restless. "He was not on good terms with my husband. They quarrelled over some family matter, and Captain Burton refused to enter this house again."

"Oh!" said Woke, significantly. "And where was Captain Burton last night?"

"He stayed at the \'Chequers,\' but, as of course I could not meet him at a public-house, he asked me to go to the Rectory. The rector is a mutual friend."

"Did you go?"

"I left shortly before nine o\'clock with Mr. Wilfred Burton."

"Who is he, my lady?"

"My husband\'s cousin--Captain Burton\'s brother. He is staying at the Manor, and has been here for the last month."

"Oh!" grunted Woke again--it seemed to be his method of expressing satisfaction--"then Mr. Wilfred Burton was not on bad terms with the deceased?"

"No. They were excellent friends. Mr. Burton is rather nervous and delicate, and my husband was careful of his health. I asked Mr. Burton to go with me to the Rectory, and he agreed. We left this house shortly before nine o\'clock. On the way Mr. Burton stumbled and twisted his ankle, so he returned to the house, and I went on alone. Before I got to the Rectory the storm burst, and it was so violent that I grew afraid. I was taking a path through the woods, and got under a tree for shelter. As I was nearer the Manor than the Rectory I determined to return, and explain to Captain Burton in the morning. It was ten o\'clock when I got back, soaking and tired out. I was waiting a long time under the trees for the rain to go off, and so it was late when I returned. Then I went to bed, but was awakened about midnight by the news of my husband\'s murder."

"And Mr. Burton?

"He did not get back until ten either--in fact, we arrived almost at the same time, for his foot became so painful that he could walk only with great difficulty. He also was caught in the storm."

"Oh!" said the inspector again, "I should like to see Mr. Burton."

"Certainly." Lady Jenny rose. "Is there anything else you would like to ask me?

"Not at present, my lady. I will examine your household first."

As Wilfred\'s foot was sprained, the inspector was shown into the morning-room. It was a case of the mountain coming to Mahomet--Mr. Woke being a veritable mountain of official dignity.

He looked curiously at the pale young man lying on the sofa, and seeing he was in pain, examined him as gingerly as possible. Wilfred was quite ready to give an account of his movements, although he expressed some surprise that such information should be required.

"Surely you don\'t suspect me of complicity in this dastardly crime, Mr. Inspector?"

"Dear me, no, certainly not," replied the jovial Woke, rubbing his hands, "but I am examining the whole household. It is wonderful what evidence may be gathered by such means. Indeed, I have got some evidence already. It may bear on the case, or it may not."

"What is it?" asked Wilfred, listlessly, and winced as his foot gave a twinge.

"I\'ll tell you later, sir. First relate your movements, please, last night."

Young Burton gave an account coinciding with that of Lady Jenny. "My foot must have got twisted," he said, "for it grew very painful, and the ankle is a good deal swollen, Otherwise I should not have let Lady Jenny go on alone; but she was anxious to see my brother and insisted on going. It was a few minutes past nine when she left me. I tried to walk, but could not. Then the rain came on, and I dragged myself under a tree. I got soaked through, and thinking I should probably catch a severe chill--I am not strong, Mr. Woke--I set my teeth to it and hobbled home. I found a stake, which I used as a crutch; but the pain was so great that I could only walk very slowly. No one was about who could help me--it was so late. I got home after ten, and the butler helped me in. Then I went to bed, and put cold water bandages on my foot. It is easier now."

"You should get the doctor to see it, Mr. Burton."

"The doctor has been too busy examining poor Malet\'s body," said Wilfred. "I shall see him soon."

"Have you any idea who murdered Mr. Malet, sir?"

"Great heavens, no! The whole case is a mystery to me."

"Mr. Malet had many enemies I believe."

"He said he had, but I think he spoke generally rather than of any particular person or persons. So far as I know he had no enemy who specially desired his death."

The inspector looked grave and a trifle ill at ease. "Mr. Burton," he said at length, "are you aware that your brother was on bad terms with Mr. Malet?"

"They were not friendly," admitted Wilfred, looking anxious. "There was a disagreement about my brother\'s marriage. But, come now, my brother hasn\'t anything to do with the affair?"

"Well," said Woke, pinching his chubby chin, "it\'s just this way, sir. I have been making inquiries, and I find that your brother and the deceased had a violent quarrel yesterday afternoon in this house."

"I know that, but a quarrel does not mean murder. Confound it, sir, I won\'t listen to your insinuations."

Mr. Woke went on coolly and deliberately. "I questioned Roberts, the butler," he said, "and the man admitted that Captain Burton had used threatening language."

"How did Roberts know?"

"He overheard Captain Burton at the open door of the library. He spoke loud enough for the whole house to hear, so Roberts says, but there happened to be nobody else about."

"Go on," cried Wilfred, flushed and impatient. "Let me hear what my brother said."

"He called Mr. Malet a swindler, and said he would make it hot for him."

Wilfred smiled derisively. "Really! And on such words, used in a moment of anger, you would accuse my brother of a brutal crime?"

"I don\'t accuse him, sir," retorted Woke, hotly; "but I should like an explanation of his words."

"I dare say he will furnish you with one." Wilfred forgot his sprained ankle now, and sat up filled with indignation. "And let me tell you, Mr. Woke," he went on, "the explanation will be such as to clear my brother wholly from all suspicion. He is the best fellow in the world, and I would as soon believe myself guilty of this thing as him. Suspect whom you please, but not my brother."

But the phlegmatic officer was quite unmoved by this outburst. "Natural enough," he said. "Oh, I don\'t dame you for standing up for the captain, sir; and I dare say, for that matter, he may be able to furnish an alibi, as he was at the Rectory waiting for her ladyship. All the same, I am bound to inquire further into this quarrel. I don\'t accuse him, mind"--Mr. Woke shook his forefinger--"but I can\'t help having my suspicions." He paused, and asked suddenly, "Who is Miss Scarse, sir?

"The daughter of Mr. Scarse, M.P., and the lady to whom my brother is engaged to be married. Mr. Malet disapproved of the marriage. That was the reason he and Captain Burton quarrelled."

"Scarse--Scarse," repeated the inspector, rising. "I\'ve heard of him. He\'s the gentleman that\'s always writing and talking tall about the Boers, isn\'t he?"

"I believe he is what is called a Little Englander."

"An unpopular part at present, Mr. Burton. I am an Imperialist myself. H\'m! so Miss Scarse is engaged to Captain Burton, is she? She called here at nine last night and asked for Lady Jenny, Roberts tells me."

"Perhaps you\'ll accuse her of the murder next!" said Wilfred, contemptuously.

"I accuse no one as yet, sir. But I must have my facts quite clear, and I go to get them. Good-day, sir," and Mr. Woke departed to call in at "The Chequers," with Captain Burton still the central figure in his mind.

But Harold was not at the inn. Late in the morning he had called at the cottage to see Brenda, and discuss with her the very stirring events of the previous might. She received him in the drawing-room, and, thankful to find that he was alive and well, embraced him more than ever affectionately. The poor girl looked ill and pale, for all this trouble had shaken her nerves more than she cared to confess. And in truth Harold himself did not feel much better, although he showed it less markedly. Mr. Scarse being shut up as usual in his study, they had the room to themselves. Van Zwieten had gone out.

"I had no chance, dear, of speaking to you last night," said Harold. "Tell me how you came to hear about this murder?"

"Harold, dear, I saw it committed!"

The man turned pale. "You saw it committed?" he repeated. "Why, Brenda, who did it?"

"I don\'t know. I had gone to the Manor to see Lady Jenny. I thought she might be able to help you about this money and on my way home I was caught in the storm. In a vivid flash of lightning I saw Mr. Malet sheltering under a tree. I did not know then that it was Mr. Malet. After that I heard a cry, and then a shot. I ran forward, and stumbled over the body. Then I fainted, I think, but as soon as I was able I made my way home. It was only when I met you that I knew that Mr. Malet was the victim. Oh, Harold, dearest, I thought all the time it was you!"

"What on earth put such an idea as that into your head?" he asked in amazement.

"I don\'t know. Van Zwieten had told me he hated you, and I am afraid of Van Zwieten. He told me he went to see you at the inn, and I thought you might have quarrelled, and----" She threw out her hands. "Oh, dearest, it is only because you are so much to me, I suppose, that I thought it must be you. Oh, Harold, the thought nearly drove me mad."

"But why did Van Zwieten want to see me?"

"To insist that you should give me up."

"Give you up? Confound his Dutch impertinence!" said Harold, angrily.

"Dearest, I am afraid of that man," said Brenda, clinging to him. "Yes, terribly afraid. He will not leave me alone. He speaks as though he were perfectly certain I should have to marry him."

"In that case, the most effectual method of putting an end to his presumption will be for you to marry me, dear, and that at once. Remember the twenty thousand pounds comes to me now!"

"Harold!--the money is yours? But how?"

"Malet\'s control of the fund died with him. Now that he is dead, nothing can prevent my getting it. We can be married straight away, dear."

"We should have done that in any case, Harold. But now---- Oh, do let us go to London at once; for, until we are really married, I shall not be able to shake off my fear of this man. I know I sha\'n\'t."

"Nonsense, Brenda! He can be nothing to you, Why, you told me you detested the man."

"So I do. I loathe him. But he is so determined and wicked, and so unscrupulous, that somehow I fear him, I----"

"Is he here now?"

"Yes; but I believe he goes this afternoon. He may meet us in London, Harold, and give us trouble there. Believe me, he is dangerous."

"Give me the legal right to protect you, Brenda," said Harold, "and you need not fear Van Zwieten. He is a brute. I don\'t know how your father can tolerate him."

"Simply because Mr. van Zwieten is going out to the Transvaal Government, and father has taken up the Boer cause."

"If Kruger goes on as he is doing, there won\'t be any Transvaal Government at all in a few months. Don\'t you bother about Van Zwieten, dear. As soon as poor Malet is buried I shall go up to London and see about the money."

"There will be an inquest, I suppose."

"Of course. The police are at the Manor now. I went over to offer my services to Jenny, but she did not want me, and sent out to say so. Poor little woman! I don\'t see how she\'s going to manage matters. I hope she\'ll have enough to live on."

"Why! I thought Mr. Malet was rich!"

"He was. But he spent money freely, and gambled a good deal." Harold looked uneasy. "I tell you what, Brenda, I sha\'n\'t be easy in my mind until I know that my money and Wilfred\'s is safe. Malet had supreme control over it, and for all I know he may have made ducks and drakes with it."

"Well, if he has, we\'ll have to do without it, that\'s all," replied the girl. "By the way, dear, why didn\'t you go to town last night as we arranged?"

"I changed my mind. It struck me that Jenny might manage to succeed with Malet where I had failed. I didn\'t go up to the house, because I didn\'t want to meet him; so I sent her a note asking her to come to the Rectory. You know Mr. Slocum is one of my oldest friends."

"How strange," said Brenda, wonderingly. "I had exactly the same idea; that was why I went to the Manor last night. When I got there they told me Lady Jenny had gone to the Rectory."

"I didn\'t see her," said Harold, grimly. "I waited till nine, and as she hadn\'t turned up then I went back to the inn. There, later on, I heard of the murder, and went to look at the body. Although we had quarrelled I felt sorry for the poor devil when I heard of his violent death."

"Poor Mr. Malet," sighed Brenda; "I wonder who killed him, and why?"

"Well, I can\'t say why, dear, but I have an idea who it was that shot him."

"Who? Who?"

"That man I mistook for your father."

Brenda turned pale, remembering her father\'s agitation.

"Impossible! Why do you think so?"

"I examined the body first, before the others came up. I found the right hand was clenched, and by the light of the lantern I opened it. It was grasping a scrap of crape!"

"A scrap of crape! But what has----" Brenda\'s voice died in her throat.

"Don\'t you remember my description? That old man wore a crape scarf!"

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