The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview
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Bassett was having a visitor. He sat in his chair while that visitor ranged excitedly up and down the room, a short stout man, well dressed and with a mixture of servility and importance. The valet's first words, as he stood inside the door, had been significant.
"I should like to know, first, if I am talking to the police."
"No - and yes," Bassett said genially. "Come and sit down, man. What I mean is this. I am a friend of Judson Clark's, and this may or may not be a police matter. I don't know yet."
"You are a friend of Mr. Clark's? Then the report was correct. He is still alive, sir?"
The valet got out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He was clearly moved.
"I am glad of that. Very glad. I saw some months ago, in a newspaper - where is he?"
"In New York. Now Melis, I've an idea that you know something about the crime Judson Clark was accused of. You intimated that at the inquest."
"Mrs. Lucas killed him."
"So she says," Bassett said easily.
The valet jumped and stared.
"She admits it, as the result of an accident. She also admits hiding the revolver where you found it."
"Then you do not need me."
"I'm not so sure of that."
The valet was puzzled.
"I want you to think back, Melis. You saw her go down the stairs, sometime before the shot. Later you were confident she had hidden the revolver, and you made a second search for it. Why? You hadn't heard her testimony at the inquest then. Clark had run away. Why didn't you think Clark had done it?" "Because I thought she was having an affair with another man. I have always thought she did it."
"I thought so. What made you think that?"
"I'll tell you. She went West without a maid, and Mr. Clark got a Swedish woman from a ranch near to look after her, a woman named Thorwald. She lived at her own place and came over every day. One night, after Mrs. Thorwald had started home, I came across her down the road near the irrigator's house, and there was a man with her. They didn't hear me behind them, and he was giving her a note for some one in the house.
"Why not for one of the servants?"
"That's what I thought then, sir. It wasn't my business. But I saw the same man later on, hanging about the place at night, and once I saw her with him - Mrs. Lucas, I mean. That was in the early evening. The gentlemen were out riding, and I'd gone with one of the maids to a hill to watch the moon rise. They were on some rocks, below in the canyon."
"Did you see him?"
"I think it was the same man, if that's what you mean. I knew something queer was going on, after that, and I watched her. She went out at night more than once. Then I told Donaldson there was somebody hanging round the place, and he set a watch."
"Fine. Now we'll go to the night Lucas was shot. Was the Thorwald woman there?"
"She had started home."
"Leaving Mrs. Lucas packing alone?"
"Yes. I hadn't thought of that. The Thorwald woman heard the shot and came back. I remember that, because she fainted upstairs and I had to carry her to a bed."
"I see. Now about the revolver."
"I located it the first time I looked for it. Donaldson and the others had searched the billiard room. So I tried the big room. It was under a chair. I left it there, and concealed myself in the room. She, Mrs. Lucas, came down late that night and hunted for it. Then she hid it where I got it later."
"I wish I knew, Melis, why you didn't bring those facts out at the inquest."
"You must remember this, sir. I had been with Mr. Clark for a long time. I knew the situation. And I thought that he had gone away that night to throw suspicion from her to himself. I was not certain what to do. I would have told it all in court, but it never came to trial."
Bassett was satisfied and fairly content. After the Frenchman's departure he sat for some time, making careful notes and studying them. Supposing the man Melis had seen to be Clifton Hines, a good many things would be cleared up. Some new element he had to have, if Gregory's story were to be disproved, some new and different motive. Suppose, for instance...
He got up and paced the floor back and forward, forward and back. There was just one possibility, and just one way of verifying it. He sat down and wrote out a long telegram and then got his hat and carried it to the telegraph office himself. He had made his last throw.
He received a reply the following day, and in a state of exhilaration bordering on madness packed his bag, and as he packed it addressed it, after the fashion of lonely men the world over.
"Just one more trip, friend cowhide," he said, "and then you and I are going to settle down again to work. But it's some trip, old arm-breaker."
He put in his pajamas and handkerchiefs, his clean socks and collars, and then he got his revolver from a drawer and added it. Just twenty-four hours later he knocked at Dick's door in a boarding-house on West Ninth Street, found it unlocked, and went in. Dick was asleep, and Bassett stood looking down at him with an odd sort of paternal affection. Finally he bent down and touched his shoulder.
"Wake up, old top," he said. "Wake up. I have some news for you."