“No, no, I am sure they were real friends.”
“Well, then, we must explore the matter of the girl. Do you know her?”
“Everyone knows her. She is the beauty of the neighbourhood–a real beauty, Holmes, who would draw attention everywhere. I knew that McPherson was attracted by her, but I had no notion that it had gone so far as these letters would seem to indicate.”
“But who is she?”
“She is the daughter of old Tom Bellamy who owns all the boats and bathing-cots at Fulworth. He was a fisherman to start with, but is now a man of some substance. He and his son William run the business.”
“Shall we walk into Fulworth and see them?”
“On what pretext?”
“Oh, we can easily find a pretext. After all, this poor man did not ill-use himself in this outrageous way. Some human hand was on the handle of that scourge, if indeed it was a scourge which inflicted the injuries. His circle of acquaintances in this lonely place was surely limited. Let us follow it up in every direction and we can hardly fail to come upon the motive, which in turn should lead us to the criminal.”
It would have been a pleasant walk across the thyme-scented downs had our minds not been poisoned by the tragedy we had witnessed. The village of Fulworth lies in a hollow curving in a semicircle round the bay. Behind the old-fashioned hamlet several modern houses have been built upon the rising ground. It was to one of these that Stackhurst guided me.
“That’s The Haven, as Bellamy called it. The one with the corner tower and slate roof. Not bad for a man who started with nothing but–By Jove, look at that!”
The garden gate of The Haven had opened and a man had emerged. There was no mistaking that tall, angular, straggling figure. It was Ian Murdoch, the mathematician. A moment later we confronted him upon the road.
“Hullo!” said Stackhurst. The man nodded, gave us a sideways glance from his curious dark eyes, and would have-passed us, but his principal pulled him up.
“What were you doing there?” he asked.
Murdoch’s face flushed with anger. “I am your subordinate, sir, under your roof. I am not aware that I owe you any account of my private actions.”
Stackhurst’s nerves were near the surface after all he had endured. Otherwise, perhaps, he would have waited. Now he lost his temper completely.
“In the circumstances your answer is pure impertinence, Mr. Murdoch.”
“Your own question might perhaps come under the same heading.”
“This is not the first time that I have had to overlook your insubordinate ways. It will certainly be the last. You will kindly make fresh arrangements for your future as speedily as you can.”
“I had intended to do so. I have lost to-day the only person who made The Gables habitable.”
He strode off upon his way, while Stackhurst, with angry eyes, stood glaring after him. “Is he not an impossible, intolerable man?” he cried.
The one thing that impressed itself forcibly upon my mind was that Mr. Ian Murdoch was taking the first chance to open a path of escape from the scene of the crime. Suspicion, vague and nebulous, was now beginning to take outline in my mind. Perhaps the visit to the Bellamys might throw some further light upon the matter. Stackhurst pulled himself together, and we went forward to the house.
Mr. Bellamy proved to be a middle-aged man with a flaming red beard. He seemed to be in a very angry mood, and his face was soon as florid as his hair.
“No, sir, I do not desire any particulars. My son here”–indicating a powerful young man, with a heavy, sullen face, in the corner of the sitting-room–“is of one mind with me that Mr. McPherson’s attentions to Maud were insulting. Yes, sir, the word ‘marriage’ was never mentioned, and yet there were letters and meetings, and a great deal more of which neither of us could approve. She has no mother, and we are her only guardians. We are determined–”
But the words were taken from his mouth by the appearance of the lady herself. There was no gainsaying that she would have graced any assembly in the world. Who could have imagined that so rare a flower would grow from such a root and in such an atmosphere? Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed. Such was the girl who had pushed open the door and stood now, wide-eyed and intense, in front of Harold Stackhurst.
“I know already that Fitzroy is dead,” she said. “Do not be afraid to tell me the particulars.”
“This other gentleman of yours let us know the news,” explained the father.