Chapter XX. A Spanish Cigarette
Sleep was not for me, despite Harley's injunction, and although I was early afoot, the big house was already astir with significant movements which set the imagination on fire, to conjure up again the moonlight scene in the garden, making mock of the song of the birds and of the glory of the morning.
Manoel replied to my ring, and prepared my bath, but it was easy to see that he had not slept.
No sound came from Harley's room, therefore I did not disturb him, but proceeded downstairs in the hope of finding Miss Beverley about. Pedro was in the hall, talking to Mrs. Fisher, and:
"Is Inspector Aylesbury here?" I asked.
"No, sir, but he will be returning at about half-past eight, so he said."
"How is Madame de Staemer, Mrs. Fisher?" I enquired.
"Oh, poor, poor Madame," said the old lady, "she is asleep, thank God. But I am dreading her awakening."
"The blow is a dreadful one," I admitted; "and Miss Beverley?"
"She didn't go to her room until after four o'clock, sir, but Nita tells me that she will be down any moment now."
"Ah," said I, and lighting a cigarette, I walked out of the open doors into the courtyard.
I dreaded all the ghastly official formalities which the day would bring, since I realized that the brunt of the trouble must fall upon the shoulders of Miss Beverley in the absence of Madame de Staemer.
I wandered about restlessly, awaiting the girl's appearance. A little two seater was drawn up in the courtyard, but I had not paid much attention to it, until, wandering through the opening in the box hedge and on along the gravel path, I saw unfamiliar figures moving in the billiard room, and turned, hastily retracing my steps. Officialdom was at work already, and I knew that there would be no rest for any of us from that hour onward.
As I reentered the hall I saw Val Beverley coming down the staircase. She looked pale, but seemed to be in better spirits than I could have hoped for, although there were dark shadows under her eyes.
"Good morning, Miss Beverley," I said.
"Good morning, Mr. Knox. It was good of you to come down so early."
"I had hoped for a chat with you before Inspector Aylesbury returned," I explained.
She looked at me pathetically.
"I suppose he will want me to give evidence?"
"He will. We had great difficulty in persuading him not to demand your presence last night."
"It was impossible," she protested. "It would have been cruel to make me leave Madame in the circumstances."
"We realized this, Miss Beverley, but you will have to face the ordeal this morning."
We walked through into the library, where a maid white-faced and frightened looking, was dusting in a desultory fashion. She went out as we entered, and Val Beverley stood looking from the open window out into the rose garden bathed in the morning sunlight.
"Oh, Heavens," she said, clenching her hands desperately, "even now I cannot realize that the horrible thing is true." She turned to me. "Who can possibly have committed this cold-blooded crime?" she said in a low voice. "What does Mr. Harley think? Has he any idea, any idea whatever?"
"Not that he has confided to me," I said, watching her intently. "But tell me, does Madame de Staemer know yet?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean has she been told the truth?"
The girl shook her head.
"No," she replied; "I am positive that no one has told her. I was with her all the time, up to the very moment that she fell asleep. Yet--"
"She knows! Oh, Mr. Knox! to me that is the most horrible thing of all: that she knows, that she must have known all along--that the mere sound of the shot told her everything!"
"You realize, now," I said, quietly, "that she had anticipated the end?"
"Yes, yes. This was the meaning of the sorrow which I had seen so often in her eyes, the meaning of so much that puzzled me in her words, the explanation of lots of little things which have made me wonder in the past."
I was silent for a while, then:
"If she was so certain that no one could save him," I said, "she must have had information which neither he nor she ever imparted to us."
"I am sure she had," declared Val Beverley.
"But can you think of any reason why she should not have confided in Paul Harley?"
"I cannot, I cannot--unless--"
"Unless, Mr. Knox," she looked at me strangely, "they were both under some vow of silence. Oh! it sounds ridiculous, wildly ridiculous, but what other explanation can there be?"