Amidst a storm of whispered criticisms, the
general opinion was that Letty Shaw was a silly little fool
who ought to have known better. When she had entered the
restaurant a few minutes before midnight, followed by Austen
Abbott, every one looked to see a third person following
them. No third person, however, appeared. Gustav himself
conducted them to a small table laid for two, covered with
pink roses, and handed his fair client the menu of a
specially ordered supper. There was no gainsaying the fact
that Letty and her escort proposed supping alone!
The Café at the Milan was, without
doubt, the fashionable rendezvous of the moment for those
ladies connected with the stage who, after their
performance, had not the time or the inclination to make the
conventional toilet demanded by the larger restaurants.
Letty Shaw, being one of the principal ornaments of the
musical comedy stage, was well known to every one in the
room. There was scarcely a person there who within the last
fortnight had not found an opportunity of congratulating her
upon her engagement to Captain the Honourable Brian
Sotherst. Sotherst was rich, and one of the most popular
young men about town. Letty Shaw, although she had had one
or two harmless flirtations, was well known as a
self-respecting and hard-working young actress who loved her
work, and against whom no one had ever had a word to say.
Consequently, the shock was all the greater when, within a
fortnight of her engagement, she was thus to be seen openly
supping alone with the most notorious woman hunter about
town a man of bad reputation, a man, too, towards whom
Sotherst was known to have a special aversion. Nothing but
a break with Sotherst or a fit of temporary insanity seemed
to explain, even inadequately, the situation.
Her best friend the friend who knew her and
believed in her rose to her feet and came sailing down the
room. She nodded gaily to Abbott, whom she hated, and whom
she had not recognized for years, and laid her hand upon
"Where's Brian?" she asked.
Letty shrugged her shoulders it was not
altogether a natural gesture.
"On duty to-night," she answered.
Her best friend paused for a moment.
"Come over and join our party, both of you,"
she said. "Dicky Pennell's here and Gracie Marsh just
landed. They'd love to meet you."
Letty shook her head slowly. There was a
look in her face which even her best friend did not
"I'm afraid that we can't do that," she said.
"I am Mr. Abbott's guest."
"And to-night," Austen Abbott intervened,
looking up at the woman who stood between them, "I am not
disposed to share Miss Shaw with anybody."
Her best friend could do no more than shake
her head and go away. The two were left alone for the rest
of the evening. When they departed together, people who
knew felt that a whiff of tragedy had passed through the
room. Nobody understood or pretended to understand. Even
before her engagement, Letty had never been known to sup
alone with a man. That she should do so now, and with this
particular man, was preposterous!
"Something will come of it," her best friend
murmured, sadly, as she watched Austen Abbott help his
companion on with her cloak.
Peter Ruff rose at his accustomed time the
following morning, and attired himself, if possible, with
more than his usual care. He wore the grey suit which he
had carefully put out the night before, but he hesitated
long between the rival appeals of a red tie with white spots
and a plain mauve one. He finally chose the latter, finding
that it harmonised more satisfactorily with his socks, and
after a final survey of himself in the looking-glass, he
entered the next room, where his coffee was set out upon a
small round table near the fire, together with his letters
Peter Ruff was, after all, like the rest of
us, a creature of habit. He made an invariable rule of
glancing through the newspapers before he paid any regard at
all to his letters or his breakfast. In the absence of
anything of a particularly sensational character, he then
opened his letters in leisurely fashion, and went back
afterwards to the newspaper as he finished his meal. This
morning, however, both his breakfast and letters remained
for some time untouched. The first paragraph which caught
his eye as he shook open the Daily Telegraph was
sufficiently absorbing. There it was in great black type:
TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN THE FLAT OF A WELL-KNOWN ACTRESS!
AUSTEN ABBOTT SHOT DEAD! ARREST OF CAPTAIN
Beyond the inevitable shock which is always
associated with the taking of life, and the unusual position
of the people concerned in it, there was little in the brief
account of the incident to excite the imagination. A
policeman on the pavement outside the flat in which Miss
Shaw and her mother lived fancied that he heard, about two
o'clock in the morning, the report of a revolver shot. As
nothing further transpired, and as the sound was very
indistinct, he did not at once enter the building, but kept
it, so far as possible, under observation. About twenty
minutes later, a young gentleman in evening dress came out
into the street, and the policeman noticed at once that he
was carrying a small revolver, which he attempted to
conceal. The constable thereupon whistled for his sergeant,
and accompanied by the young gentleman who made no effort
to escape ascended to Miss Shaw's rooms, where the body of
Austen Abbott was discovered lying upon the threshold of the
sitting room with a small bullet mark through the forehead.
The inmates of the house were aroused and a doctor sent for.
The deceased man was identified as Austen Abbott a
well-known actor and the man under arrest gave his name at
once as Captain the Honourable Brian Sotherst. Peter Ruff
sighed as he laid down the paper. The case seemed to him
perfectly clear, and his sympathies were altogether with the
young officer who had taken the law into his own hands. He
knew nothing of Miss Letty Shaw, and, consequently, did her,
perhaps, less than justice in his thoughts. Of Austen
Abbott, on the other hand, he knew a great deal and nothing
of good. It was absurd, after all, that any one should be
punished for killing such a brute!
He descended, a few minutes later, to his
office, and found Miss Brown busy arranging a bowl of
violets upon his desk.
"Isn't it horrible?" she cried, as he
entered, carrying a bundle of papers under his arm. "I
never have had such a shock!"
"Do you know any of them, then?" Peter Ruff
asked, straightening his tie in the mirror.
"Of course!" she answered. "Why, I was in
the same company as Letty Shaw for a year. I was at the
Milan, too, last night. Letty was there having supper alone
with Austen Abbott. We all said that there'd be trouble,
but of course we never dreamed of this! Isn't there any
chance for him, Peter? Can't he get off?"
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"I'm afraid not," he answered. "They may be
able to bring evidence of a quarrel and reduce it to
manslaughter, but what you've just told me about this supper
party makes it all the worse. It will come out in the
evidence, of course."
"Captain Sotherst is such a dear," Miss Brown
declared, "and so good-looking! And as for that brute
Austen Abbott, he ought to have been shot long ago!"
Peter Ruff seated himself before his desk and
hitched up his trousers at the knees.
"No doubt you are right, Violet," he said,
"but people go about these things so foolishly. To me it is
simply exasperating to reflect how little use is made of
persons such as myself, whose profession in life it is to
arrange these little matters. Take the present case, for
example. Captain Sotherst had only to lay these facts
before me, and Austen Abbott was a ruined man. I could have
arranged the affair for him in half-a-dozen different ways.
Whereas now it must be a life for a life the life of an
honest young English gentleman for that of a creature who
should have been kicked out of the world as vermin!... I
have some letters give you, Violet, if you please."
She swung round in her chair reluctantly.
"I can't help thinking of that poor young
fellow," she said, with a sigh.
"Sentiment after office hours, if you
please!" said Peter.
Then there came a knock at the door.
His visitor lifted her veil, and Peter Ruff
recognized her immediately.
"What can I do for you, Lady Mary?" he asked.
She saw the recognition in his eyes even
before he spoke, and wondered at it.
"You know me?" she exclaimed.
"I know most people," he answered, drily; "it
is part of my profession."
"Tell me you are Mr. Peter Ruff," she said,
"the famous specialist in the detection of crime? You know
that Brian Sotherst is my brother?"
"Yes," he said, "I know it! I am sorry very
He handed her a chair. She seated herself
with a little tightening of the lips.
"I want more than sympathy from you, Mr.
Ruff," she warned him. "I want your help."
"It is my profession," he admitted, "but your
brother's case makes intervention difficult, does it not?"
"You mean " she began.
"Your brother himself does not deny his
guilt, I understand."
"He has not denied it," she answered "very
likely he will not do so before the magistrate but neither
has he admitted it. Mr. Ruff, you are such a clever man.
Can't you see the truth?"
Peter Ruff looked at her steadily for several
"Lady Mary," he said, "I can see what you are
going to suggest. You are going on the assumption that
Austen Abbott was shot by Letty Shaw and that your brother
is taking the thing on his shoulders."
"I am sure of it!" she declared. "The girl
did it herself, beyond a doubt. Brian would never have shot
any one. He might have horsewhipped him, perhaps even
beaten him to death but shot him in cold blood never!"
"The provocation " Ruff began.
"There was no provocation," she interrupted.
"He was engaged to the girl, and of course we hated it, but
she was an honest little thing, and devoted to him."
"Doubtless," Ruff admitted. "But all the
same, as you will hear before the magistrates, or at the
inquest, she was having supper alone with Austen Abbott that
night at the Milan."
Lady Mary's eyes flashed.
"I don't believe it!" she declared.
"It is nevertheless true," Peter Ruff assured
her. "There is no shadow of doubt about it."
Lady Mary was staggered. For a few moment
she seemed struggling to rearrange her thoughts.
"You see," Ruff continued, "the fact that
Miss Shaw was willing to sup with Austen Abbott
tête-à-tête renders it more improbable
that she should shoot him in her sitting room, an hour or so
later, and then go calmly up to her mother's room as though
nothing had happened."
Lady Mary had lost some of her confidence,
but she was not daunted.
"Even if we have been deceived in the girl,"
she said, thoughtfully "even if she were disposed to flirt
with other men even then there might be a stronger motive
than ever for her wishing to get rid of Abbott. He may have
become jealous, and threatened her."
"It is, of course, possible," Ruff assented,
politely. "Your theory would, at any rate, account for your
brother's present attitude."
She looked at him steadfastly.
"You believe, then," she said, "that my
brother shot Austen Abbott?"
"I do," he admitted frankly. "So does every
man or woman of common sense in London. On the facts as
they are stated in the newspapers, with the addition of
which I have told you, no other conclusion is possible."
Lady Mary rose.
"Then I may as well go," she said tearfully.
"Not at all," Peter Ruff declared. "Listen.
This is a matter of business with me. I say that on the
facts as they are known, your brother's guilt appears
indubitable. I do not say that there may not be other facts
in the background which alter the state of affairs. If you
wish me to search for them, engage me, and I will do my
"Isn't that what I am here for?" the girl
"Very well," Peter Ruff said. "My services
are at your disposal."
"You will do your best more than your best,
won't you?" she begged. "Remember that he is my brother my
"I will do what can be done," Peter Ruff
promised. "Please sit down at that desk and write me two
letters of introduction."
She drew off her gloves and prepared to obey
"To whom?" she asked.
"To the solicitors who are defending your
brother," he said, "and to Miss Letty Shaw."
"You mean to go and see her?" Lady Mary
"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "If your
supposition is correct, she might easily give herself away
under a little subtle cross-examination. It is my business
to know how to ask people questions in such a way that if
they do not speak the truth their words give some indication
of it. If she is innocent I shall know that I have to make
my effort in another direction."
"What other direction can there be?" Lady
Mary asked dismally.
Peter Ruff said nothing. He was too
kind-hearted to kindle false hopes.
"It's a hopeless case, of course," Miss Brown
remarked, after Lady Mary had departed.
"I'm afraid so," Peter Ruff answered. "Still
I must earn my money. Please get some one to take you to
supper to-night at the Milan, and see if you can pick up any
"About Letty?" she asked.
"About either of them," he answered.
"Particularly I should like to know if any explanation has
cropped up of her supping alone with Austen Abbott."
"I don't see why you can't take me yourself,"
she remarked. "You are on the side of the law this time, at
"I will," he answered, after a moment's
hesitation. "I will call for you at eleven o'clock
He rose and closed his desk emphatically.
"You are going out?" she asked.
"I am going to see Miss Letty Shaw," he
He took a taxicab to the flats, and found a
handful of curious people still gazing up at the third
floor. The parlourmaid who answered his summons was
absolutely certain that Miss Shaw would not see him. He
persuaded her, after some difficulty, to take in his letter
while he waited in the hall. When she returned, she showed
him into a small sitting room and pulled down the blinds.
"Miss Shaw will see you, sir, for a few
minutes," she announced, in a subdued tone. "Poor dear
young lady," she continued, "she has been crying her eyes
out all the morning."
"No wonder," Peter Ruff said,
sympathetically. "It's a terrible business, this!"
"One of the nicest young men as ever walked,"
the girl declared, firmly. "As for that brute, he deserved
all he's got, and more!"
Peter Ruff was left alone for nearly a
quarter of an hour. Then the door was softly opened and
Letty Shaw entered. There was no doubt whatever about her
suffering. Ruff, who had seen her only lately at the
theatre, was shocked. Under her eyes were blacker lines
than her pencil had ever traced. Not only was she ghastly
pale, but her face seemed wan and shrunken. She spoke to
him the moment she entered, leaning with on hand upon the
"Lady Mary writes that you want to help us,"
she said. "How can you? How is it possible?"
Even her voice had gone. She spoke hoarsely,
and as though short of breath. Her eyes searched his face
feverishly. It seemed cruelty not to answer her at once,
and Peter Ruff was not a crud man. Nevertheless, he
remained silent, and it seemed to her that his eyes were
like points of fire upon her face.
"What is the matter?" she cried, with
breaking voice. "What have you come for? Why don't you
speak to me?"
"Madam," Peter Ruff said, "I should like to
help you, and I will do what I can. But in order that I may
do so, it is necessary that you should answer me two
Her eyes grew wider. It was the face of a
"Why not?" she exclaimed. "What have I to
Peter Ruff's expression never changed. There
was nothing about him, as he stood there with his hands
behind him, his head thrown a little forward, in the least
inspiring nothing calculated to terrify the most timid
person. Yet the girl looked at him with the eyes of a
"Remember, then," he continued, smoothly,
"that what you say to me is sacred. You and I are alone
without witnesses or eavesdroppers. Was it Brian Sotherst
who shot Abbott or was it you?"
She gave a little cry. Her hands clasped the
sides of her head in horror.
"I!" she exclaimed, "I! God help me!"
He waited. In a moment she looked up.
"You cannot believe that," she said, with a
calmness for which he was scarcely prepared. "It is absurd.
I left the room by the inner door as he took up his hat to
step out into the hall."
"Incidentally," he asked "this is not my
other question, mind why did you not let him out yourself?"
"We had disagreed," she answered, curtly.
Peter Ruff bent his head in assent.
"I see," he remarked. "You had disagreed.
Abbott probably hoped that you would relent, so he waited
for a few minutes. Brian Sotherst, who had escaped from his
engagement in time, he thought, to come and wish you good
night, must have walked in and found him there. By the bye,
how would Captain Sotherst get in?"
"He had a key," the girl answered. "My
mother lives here with me, and we have only one maid. It
was more convenient. I gave him one washed in gold for a
birthday present only a few days ago."
"Thank you," Peter Ruff said. "The revolver,
I understand, was your property?"
"It was a present from Brian," she said. "He
gave it to me in a joke, and I had it on the table with some
"The first question," Peter Ruff said, "is
disposed of. May I proceed to the second?"
The girl moistened her lips.
"Yes!" she answered.
"Why did you sup alone with Austen Abbott
She shrank a little away.
"Why should I not?" she asked.
"You have been on the stage, my dear Miss
Shaw," Peter Ruff continued, "for between four and five
years. During the whole of that time, it has been your very
wise habit to join supper parties, of course, when the
company was agreeable to you, but to sup alone with no man!
Am I not right?"
"You seem to know a great deal about me," she
"Am I not right?" he repeated.
"You break your rule for the first time,"
Peter Ruff continued, "in favour of a man of notoriously bad
character, a few weeks after the announcement of your
engagement to an honourable young English gentleman. You
know very well the construction likely to be put upon your
behaviour you, of all people, would be the most likely to
appreciate the risk you ran. Why did you run it? In other
words, I repeat my question. Why did you sup alone with
Austen Abbott last night?"
All this time she had been standing. She
came a little forward now, and threw herself into an
"It doesn't help!" she exclaimed. "All this
"Nor can I help you, then," Peter Ruff said,
stretching out his hand for his hat.
She waved to him to put it down.
"I will tell you," she said. "It has nothing
to do with the case, but since you ask, you shall know.
There is a dear little girl in our company Fluffy Dean we
all call her only eighteen years old. We all love her, she
is so sweet, and just like I was when I first went on the
stage, only much nicer. She is very pretty, she has no
money, and she is such an affectionate little dear that
although she is as good as gold, we are all terrified for
her sake whenever she makes acquaintances. Several of us
who are most interested made a sort of covenant. We all
took it in turns to look after her, and try to see that she
did not meet any one she shouldn't. Yet, for all our
precautions, Austen Abbott got hold of her and turned her
silly little head. He was a man of experience, and she was
only a child. She wouldn't listen to us she wouldn't hear
a word against him. I took what seemed to me to be the only
chance. I went to him myself I begged for mercy, I begged
him to spare the child. I swore that if anything happened
to her, I would start a crusade against him, I would pledge
my word that he should be cut by every decent man and woman
on the stage! He listened to what I had to say and at first
he only smiled. When I had finished, he made me an offer.
He said that if I would sup with him alone at the Milan, and
permit him to escort me home afterwards, he would spare the
child. One further condition he made that I was to tell no
one why I did it. It was the man's brutal vanity! I made
the promise, but I break it now. You have asked me and I
have told you. I went through with the supper, although I
hated it. I let him come in for a drink as though he had
been a friend. Then he tried to make love to me. I took
the opportunity of telling him exactly what I thought of
him. Then I showed him the door, and left him.
Afterwards afterwards Brian came in! They must have met
upon the very threshold!"
Peter Ruff took up his hat.
"Thank you!" he said.
"You see," she continued, drearily, "that it
all has very little to do with the case. I meant to keep it
to myself, because, of course, apart from anything else,
apart from Brian's meeting him coming out of my rooms, it
supplies an additional cause for anger on Brian's part."
"I see," he answered. "I am much obliged to
you, Miss Shaw. Believe me that you have my sincere
Peter Ruff's farewell words were unheard.
Letty had fallen forward in her chair, her head buried in
Peter Ruff went to Berkeley Square and found
Lady Mary waiting for him. Sir William Trencham, the great
solicitor, was with her. Lady Mary introduced the two men.
All the time she was anxiously watching Ruff's face.
"Mr. Ruff has been to see Miss Shaw," she
explained to Sir William. "Mr. Ruff, tell me quickly," she
continued, with her hand upon his shoulder, "did she say
anything? Did you find anything out?"
He shook his head.
"No!" he said. "I found nothing out!"
"You don't think, then," Lady Mary gasped,
"that there is any chance of getting her to confess that
she did it herself?"
"Why should she have done it herself?" Peter
Ruff asked. "She admits that the man tried to make love to
her. She simply left him. She was in her own home, with
her mother and servant within call. There was no struggle
in the room we know that. There was no necessity for any."
"Have you made any other enquiries?" Lady
"The few which I have made," Peter Ruff
answered gravely, "point all in the same direction. I
ascertained at the Milan that your brother called there late
last night, and that he heard Miss Shaw had been supping
alone with Austen Abbott. He followed them home. I have
ascertained, too, that he had a key to Miss Shaw's flat. He
apparently met Austen Abbott upon the threshold."
Lady Mary covered her face with her hands.
She seemed to read in Ruff's words the verdict of the two
men the verdict of common sense. Nevertheless, he made one
more request before leaving.
"I should like to see Captain Sotherst, if
you can get me an order," he said to Sir William.
"You can go with me to-morrow morning," the
lawyer answered. "The proceedings this morning, of course,
were simply formal. Until after the inquest it will be easy
to arrange an interview."
Lady Mary looked up quickly.
"There is still something in your mind,
then?" she asked. "You think that there is a bare chance?"
"There is always the hundredth chance!" Peter
Peter Ruff and Miss Brown supped at the Milan
that night as they had arranged, but it was not a cheerful
evening. Brian Sotherst had been very popular among Letty
Shaw's little circle of friends, and the general feeling was
one of horror and consternation at this thing which had
befallen him. Austen Abbot, too, was known to all of them,
and although a good many of the men and even the
women were outspoken enough to declare at once that it
served him right, nevertheless, the shock of death death
without a second's warning had a paralysing effect even
upon those who were his severest critics. Violet Brown
spoke to a few of her friends introduced Peter Ruff here
and there but nothing was said which could throw in any way
even the glimmerings of a new light upon the tragedy. It
all seemed too hopelessly and fatally obvious.
About twenty minutes before closing time, the
habitués of the place were provided with
something in the nature of a sensation. A little party
entered who seemed altogether free from the general air of
gloom. Foremost among them was a very young and exceedingly
pretty girl, with light golden hair waved in front of her
forehead, deep blue eyes, and the slight, airy figure of a
child. She was accompanied by another young woman, whose
appearance was a little too obvious to be prepossessing, and
three or four young men dark, clean-shaven, dressed with
the irritating exactness of their class young stockbrokers
or boys about town. Miss Brown's eyes grew very wide open.
"What a little beast!" she exclaimed.
"Who?" Peter Ruff asked.
"That pretty girl there," she
answered "Fluffy Dean her name is. She is Letty Shaw's
protégée, and she wouldn't have dreamed
of allowing her to come out with a crowd like that.
Tonight, of all nights," she continued, indignantly, "when
Letty is away!"
Peter Ruff was interested.
"So that is Miss Fluffy Dean," he remarked,
looking at her curiously. "She seems a little excited."
"She's a horrid little wretch!" Miss Brown
declared. "I hope that some one will tell Letty, and that
she will drop her now. A girl who would do such a thing as
that when Letty is in such trouble isn't worth taking care
of! Just listen to them all!"
They were certainly becoming a little
boisterous. A magnum of champagne was being opened. Fluffy
Dean's cheeks were already flushed, and her eyes glittering.
Every one at the table was talking a great deal and drinking
"This is the end of Fluffy Dean," Violet
Brown said, severely. "I hate to be uncharitable, but it
serves her right."
Peter Ruff paid his bill.
"Let us go," he said.
In the taxicab, on their way back to Miss
Brown's rooms, Ruff was unusually silent, but just before he
said good night to her on the pavement, in fact, outside
her front door he asked a question.
"Violet," he said, "would you like to play
detective for an hour or two?"
She looked at him in some surprise.
"You know I always like to help in anything
that's going," she said.
"Letty Shaw was an Australian, wasn't she?"
"She was born there, and lived there till she
was nearly eighteen is that true?" he asked again.
"Quite true," Miss Brown answered.
"You know the offices of the P. & O. line of
steamers in Pall Mall?" he asked.
"Get a sailing list to Australia there
should be a boat going Thursday. Present yourself as a
prospective passenger. See how many young women alone there
are going out, and ask their names. Incidentally put in a
little spare time watching the office."
She looked at him with parted lips and
"Do you think " she began.
He shook her hand warmly and stepped back
into the taxicab.
"Good night!" he said. "No questions,
please. I sha'n't expect you at the office at the usual
time to-morrow, at any rate. Telephone or run around if
you've anything to tell me."
The taxicab disappeared round the corner of
the street. Miss Brown was standing still upon the pavement
with the latchkey in her hand.
It was afternoon before the inquest on the
body of Austen Abbott, and there was gathered together in
Letty Shaw's parlour
a curiously assorted little group of people. There was
Miss Shaw herself or rather what seemed to be the ghost of
herself and her mother; Lady Mary and Sir William Trencham;
Peter Ruff and Violet Brown and Mr. John Dory. The eyes of
all of them were fixed upon Peter Ruff, who was the latest
arrival. He stood in the middle of the room, calmly taking
off his gloves, and glancing complacently down at his
"Lady Mary," he said, "and Miss Shaw, I know
that you are both anxious for me to explain why I ask you to
meet me here this afternoon, and why I also requested my
friend Mr. Dory from Scotland Yard, who has charge of the
case against Captain Sotherst, to be present. I will tell
Mr. Dory nodded, a little impatiently.
"Unless you have something very definite to
say," he remarked, "I think it would be as well to postpone
any general discussion of this matter until after the
inquest. I must warn you that so far as I, personally, am
concerned, I must absolutely decline to allude to the
subject at all. It would be most unprofessional."
"I have something definite to say," Peter
Ruff declared, mildly.
Lady Mary's eyes flashed with hope Letty
Shaw leaned forward in her chair with white, drawn face.
"Let it be understood," Peter Ruff said, with
a slight note of gravity creeping into his tone, "that I am
here solely as the agent of Lady Mary Sotherst. I am paid
and employed by her. My sole object is on her behalf,
therefore, to discover proof of the innocence of Captain
Sotherst. I take it, however," he added, turning towards
the drooping figure in the easy-chair, "that Miss Shaw is as
anxious to have the truth known."
"Of course! Of course!" she murmured.
"In France," Peter Ruff continued, "there is
a somewhat curious custom, which, despite a certain
theatricality, yet has its points. The scene of a crime is
visited, and its events, so far as may be, reconstructed.
Let us suppose for a moment that we are now engaged upon
something of the sort."
Letty Shaw shrank back in her chair. Her
thin white fingers were gripping its sides. Her eyes seemed
to look upon terrible things.
"It is too awful!" she faltered.
"Madam," Peter Ruff said, firmly, "we seek
the truth. Be so good as to humour me in this. Dory, will
you go to the front door, stand upon the mat so? You are
Captain Sotherst you have just entered. I am Austen
Abbott. You, Miss Shaw, have just ordered me from the room.
You see, I move toward the door. I open it so. Miss
Shaw," he added, turning swiftly towards her, "once more
will you assure me that every one who was in the flat that
night, with the exception of your domestic servant, is
"Yes," she murmured.
"Good! Then who," he asked, suddenly
pointing to a door on the left "who is in that room?"
They had all crowded after him to the
threshold thronging around him as he stood face to face
with John Dory. His finger never wavered it was pointing
steadily towards that closed door a few feet to the left.
Suddenly Letty Shaw rushed past them with a loud shriek.
"You shall not go in!" she cried. "What
business is it of his?"
She stood with her back to the door, her arms
outstretched like a cross. Her cheeks were livid. Her eyes
seemed starting from her head
Peter Ruff and John Dory laid their hands
upon the girl's wrists. She clung to her place frantically.
She was dragged from it, screaming. Peter Ruff, as was his
right, entered first. Almost immediately he turned round,
and his face was very grave.
"Something has happened in here, I am
afraid," he said. "Please come in quietly."
On the bed lay Fluffy Dean, fully
dressed motionless. One hand hung down toward the
floor from the lifeless fingers a little phial had slipped.
The room was full of trunks addressed to
Passenger to Melborne.
Peter Ruff moved over toward the bed and took
up a piece of paper, upon which were scribbled a few lines
"I think," he said, "that I must read these
aloud. You all have a right to hear them."
No one spoke. He continued:
Forgive me, Letty, but I cannot go to
Australia. They would only bring me back. When I
remember that awful moment, my brain burns I feel that
I am going mad! Some day I should do this better now.
Give my love to the girls.
They sent for a doctor, and John Dory rang up
Scotland Yard. Letty Shaw had fainted, and had been carried
to her room. While they waited about in strange,
half-benumbed excitement, Peter Ruff once more spoke to
"The reconstruction is easy enough now," he
remarked. "The partition between this sitting room and that
little bedroom is only an artificial one something almost
as flimsy as a screen. You see," he continued, tapping with
his knuckles, "you can almost put your hand through it. If
you look a little lower down, you will see where an opening
has been made. Fluffy Dean was being taken care of by Miss
Shaw staying with her here, even. Miss Dean hears her
lover's voice in this room hears him pleading with Miss
Shaw on the night of the murder. She has been sent home
early from the theatre, and it is just possible that she saw
or had been told that Austen Abbott had fetched Miss Shaw
after the performance and had taken her to supper. She was
mad with anger and jealousy. The revolver was there upon
the table, with a silver box of cartridges. She possessed
herself of it and waited in her room. What she heard
proved, at least, her lover's infidelity. She stood there
at her door, waiting. When Austen Abbott comes out, she
shoots, throws the revolver at him, closes her door, and
goes off into a faint. Perhaps she hears footsteps a key
in the door. At any rate, Captain Sotherst arrives a few
minutes later. He finds, half in the hall, half on the
threshold of the sitting room, Austen Abbott dead, and Miss
Shaw's revolver by the side of him. If he had been a wise
young man, he would have aroused the household. Why he did
not do so, we can perhaps guess. He put two and two
together a little too quickly. It is certain that he
believed that the dead man had been shot by his
fiancée. His first thought was to get rid of
the revolver. At any rate, he walked down to the street
with it in his hand, and was promptly arrested by the
policeman who had heard the shot. Naturally he refused to
plead, because he believed that Miss Shaw had killed the
man, probably in self-defence. She, at first, believed her
lover guilty, and when afterwards Fluffy Dean confessed,
she, with feminine lack of common sense, was trying to get
the girl out of the country before telling the truth. A
visit of hers to the office of the steamship company gave me
the clue I required."
Lady Mary grasped both his hands.
"And Scotland Yard," she exclaimed, with a
withering glance at Dory, "have done their best to hang my
Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.
"Dear Lady Mary," he said, "remember that it
is the business of Scotland Yard to find a man guilty. It
is mine, when I am employed for that purpose, to find him
innocent. You must not be too hard upon my friend Mr. Dory.
He and I seem to come up against each other a little too
often, as it is."
"A little too often!" John Dory repeated,
softly. "But one cannot tell. Don't believe, Lady Mary,"
he added, "that we ever want to kill an innocent man."
"It is your profession, though," she
answered, "to find criminals and his," she added, touching
Peter Ruff on the shoulder, "to look for the truth."
Peter Ruff bowed low the compliment pleased