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XLII


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?"

"Yes."

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."

Bassett nodded.

"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."





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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