The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond/Chapter II
|Chapter I||The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond
Chapter II. The Crime of Captain Gahagan
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
It must be confessed that some people thought Mr. Pond a bore. He had a weakness for long speeches, not out of self-importance, but because he had an old-fashioned taste in literature; and had unconsciously inherited the habit of Gibbon or Butler or Burke. Even his paradoxes were not what are called brilliant paradoxes. The word brilliant has long been the most formidable weapon of criticism; but Mr. Pond could not be blasted and withered with a charge of brilliancy. Thus, in the case now to be considered, when Mr. Pond said (referring, I grieve to say, to the greater part of the female sex, at least in its most modern phase): "They go so fast that they get no farther," he did not mean it as an epigram. And somehow it did not sound epigrammatic; but only odd and obscure. And the ladies to whom he said it, notably the Hon. Violet Varney, could see no sense in it. They thought Mr. Pond, when he was not boring, was only bewildering.
Anyhow, Mr. Pond did sometimes indulge in long speeches. Triumph therefore and great glory belongs to anyone who could successfully stop Mr. Pond from making long speeches; and this laurel is for the brows of Miss Artemis Asa-Smith, of Pentapolis, Pa. She came to interview Mr. Pond for The Live Wire, touching his alleged views on the Haggis Mystery; and she did not let him get a word in edgeways.
"I believe," began Mr. Pond, rather nervously, "that your paper is inquiring about what some call Private Execution, and I call murder, but--"
"Forget it," said the young lady briefly. "It's just too wonderful for me to be sitting here next to all secrets of your government; why--"
She continued her monologue; though in a style of dots and dashes. As she would not let Mr. Pond interrupt her, she seemed to think it only fair to interrupt herself. Somehow it seemed at once as if her speech would never end; and not one sentence of it was ever ended.
We have all heard of American interviewers who rip up family secrets, break down bedroom doors and collect information in the manner of burglars. There are some; but there are also others. There are, or were, when the writer remembers them, a very large number of intelligent men ready to discuss intelligent things; and there was Miss Asa-Smith. She was small and dark; she was rather pretty and would have been very pretty if she had not dipped her lipstick in hues of earthquake and eclipse. Her finger-nails were painted five different colours, looking like the paints in a child's paintbox; and she was as innocent as a child. She was also as garrulous as a child. She felt something paternal about Mr. Pond and told him everything. He did not have to tell her anything. No buried tragedies of the Pond family were dug up; no secrets of the crimes committed behind Mr. Pond's bedroom door. Conversation, so to describe it, revolved largely round her early days in Pennsylvania; her first ambitions and ideals; which two things, like many of her local traditions, she seemed to imagine to be the same. She was a Feminist and had stood up with Ada P. Tuke against clubs and saloons and the selfishness of man. She had written a play; and she just longed to read it to Mr. Pond.
"About that question of Private Execution," said Mr. Pond politely, "I suppose we've all been tempted in desperate moments--"
"Well, I'm just desperate to read you this play, and--you know how it is. You see, my play's awfully modern. But even the modernest people haven't done just that--I mean, beginning in the water and then--"
"Beginning in the water?" inquired Mr. Pond.
"Yes, isn't it just too--oh, you know. I suppose they will have all characters in bathing dresses soon--but they'll only just enter L. or R.; come on at the side, you know--and all the old stuff. My characters enter from above, diving, with a splash--Well, that'll be a splash, won't it? I mean to say, it begins like that." She began to read very rapidly:
"Scene, sea outside the Lido.
"Voice of Tom Toxin (from above): 'See me make a splash, if--' (Toxin dives from above to stage in pea-green bathing-suit).
"Voice of Duchess (from above): 'Only sort of splash you'll ever make, you--' (Duchess dives from above in scarlet bathing-suit).
"Toxin (coming up spluttering): 'Splutter as splutter . . . splosh is the only splash by your--.'
"Duchess: 'Oh, Grandpa!'"
"She calls him Grandpa, you see, because 'splosh' means money in that ever-so-old comic song--they're quite young really, of course, and rather . . . you know. But--"
Mr. Pond interposed with delicacy and firmness: "I wonder whether you would be so very kind, Miss Asa-Smith, as to leave the manuscript with me or send me a copy, so that I can enjoy it at leisure. It reads rather quickly for old buffers like me; and nobody ever seems to finish a sentence. But do you think you can persuade our leading actors and actresses to dive from great heights into a stage sea?"
"Oh, I dare say some of the old-stagers would be stuffy about it," she replied, "because--can't fancy your great tragedienne, Olivia Feversham--though she's not so old really and just lovely still, only--but so Shakespearian! But I've got the Honourable Violet Varney to promise, and her sister's quite a friend of mine, though of course not so--and lots of amateurs would do it for fun. That Gahagan guy is a good swimmer, and he's acted, too, and--oh, well, he'd click if Joan Varney's in it."
The face of Mr. Pond, hitherto patient and stoical, became quite silently alert and alive. He said with a new gravity:
"Captain Gahagan is a great friend of mine, and he has introduced me to Miss Varney. As to her sister, the one on the stage--"
"Not a patch on Joan, is she? But--" said Miss Asa-Smith.
Mr. Pond had formed an impression. He liked Miss Asa-Smith. He liked her very much. And the thought of the Honourable Violet Varney, that English aristocrat, made him like the American even more. The Honourable Violet was one of those wealthy women who pay to act badly; and blackleg the poorer people who might have been paid to act well. She certainly was quite capable of diving in a bathing dress, or in anything or nothing, if it were the only way to the stage and the spot-light. She was quite capable of helping Miss Asa-Smith in her absurd play and talking similar nonsense about being modern and independent of selfish man. But there was a difference; and it was not to the advantage of the Honourable Violet. Poor Artemis followed idiotic fashions because she was a hard-working journalist who had to earn her living; and Violet Varney only took away other people's living. They both spoke in the style that was a string of unfinished sentences. It was the one language Mr. Pond thought that might truly be called broken English. But Violet dropped the tail of a sentence as if she were too tired to finish it; Artemis did so as if she were really too eager to get on to the next. There was within her, somehow, a thing, a spirit of life, which survives every criticism of America.
"Joan Varney's much nicer," continued Artemis, "and you bet your friend Gahagan thinks so. Do you think they'll really hitch up? He's a queer fellow, you know."
Mr. Pond did not deny it. Captain Gahagan, that swaggering and restless and sometimes sullen man-about-town, was queer in many ways; and in none more than in his almost incongruous affection for the precise and prosaic Mr. Pond.
"Some say he's a rotter," said the candid American. "I don't say that; but I do say he's a dark horse. And he does shilly-shally about Joan Varney, doesn't he? Some say he's really in love with the great Olivia--your only tragic actress. Only she's so jolly tragic."
"God send she doesn't play in a real tragedy," said Pond.
He knew what he meant; but he had not the faintest foreshadowing of the awful tragedy of real life and death in which Olivia Feversham was to play within the next twenty-four hours.
He was only thinking of his Irish friend as he knew him; and he was near enough to know all that he did not know. Peter Patrick Gahagan lived the modern life, perhaps to excess, was a prop of nightclubs and a driver of sports cars, still comparatively young; but, for all that, he was a survival. He belonged to the times of a more Byronic pose. When Mr. W. B. Yeats wrote: "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone; it's with O'Leary in the grave," he had never met Gahagan, who was not yet in the grave. He was of that older tradition by a hundred tests; he had been a cavalry soldier and also a member of Parliament; the last to follow the old Irish orators with their rounded periods. Like all these, for some reason, he adored Shakespeare. Isaac Butt filled speeches with Shakespeare; Tim Healy could quote the poet so that his poetry seemed part of the living talk at table; Russell of Killowen read no other book. But he, like they, was Shakespearian in an eighteenth-century way: the way of Garrick; and that eighteenth century that he recalled had a pretty pagan side to it. Pond could not dismiss the chances of Gahagan having an affair with Olivia or anyone else; and if so a storm might be brewing. For Olivia was married; and to no complaisant husband, either.
Frederick Feversham was something worse than an unsuccessful actor; he was one who had been successful. He was now forgotten in the theatre and remembered only in the law-courts. A dark and crabbed man, still haggardly handsome, he had become famous, or familiar, as a sort of permanent litigant. He was eternally bringing actions against people whom he charged with trivial tricks and distant and disputable wrongs: managers and rivals and the rest. He had as yet no special quarrel with his wife, younger than himself and still popular in the profession. But he was much less intimate with his wife than with his solicitor.
Through court after court Feversham passed, pursuing his rights and followed like a shadow by his solicitor, Luke, of the firm of Masters, Luke and Masters; a young man with flat, yellow hair and a rather wooden face. What he thought of his client's feuds and how far he ventured to restrain them, that wooden face would never reveal. But he worked well for his client; and the two had necessarily become in a way companions-in-arms. Of one thing Pond was certain. Neither Feversham nor Luke was likely to spare Gahagan, if that erratic gentleman put himself in the wrong. But this part of the problem was destined to find a worse solution than he dreamed of. Twenty-four hours after Pond's talk with the interviewer, he learned that Frederick Feversham was dead.
Like other litigious persons, Mr. Feversham had left a legal problem behind him, to feed many lawyers with fees. But it was not the problem of an ill-drawn will or a dubious signature. It was the problem of a stiff and staring corpse, lying just inside a garden-gate and nailed there by a fencing-sword with the button broken off. Frederick Feversham, that legalist, had suffered at least one final and indisputable illegality; he had been stabbed to death as he entered his own home.
Long before certain facts, slowly collected, were put before the police, they were put before Mr. Pond. This may seem odd, but there were reasons; indeed Mr. Pond, like many other Government officials, had rather secret and unsuspected spheres of influence; his public powers were very private. Younger and more conspicuous men had even been known to stand in a certain awe of him, owing to special circumstances. But to explain all that is to explore the labyrinth of the most unconstitutional of all constitutions. In any case, his first warning of the trouble took the commonplace form of an ordinary legal letter, with the heading of the well-known firm of Masters, Luke and Masters, expressing the hope that Mr. Luke might be allowed to discuss certain information with Mr. Pond, before it was necessary for it to reach the police authorities or the Press. Mr. Pond replied equally formally that he would be delighted to receive Mr. Luke at a certain hour upon the following day. Then he sat and stared into vacancy, with that rather goggling expression which led some of his friends to compare him to a fish.
He had already thought of about two-thirds of what the solicitor was going to tell him.
"The truth is, Mr. Pond," said the solicitor, in a confidential but still careful voice, when he was at length deposited on the other side of Mr. Pond's table next day. "The truth is that the possibilities of this affair, painful in any case, may be specially painful for you. Most of us find it impossible to imagine that a personal friend might come under suspicion in such matters."
The mild eyes of Mr. Pond opened very wide, and even his mouth made the momentary movement which some thought so very fishy. The lawyer probably assumed that he was shocked at the first suggestion of his friend being affected; in fact, he was mildly amazed to suppose that anybody had not entertained the idea long ago. He knew that words to that effect were common in the more conventional detective stories, which he heartily enjoyed, as a change from Burke and Gibbon. He could see the printed words on a hundred pages: "None of us could believe that this handsome young cricketer had committed a crime," or: "It seemed absurd to connect murder with a man like Captain Pickleboy, the most popular figure in Society." He had always wondered what the words meant. To his simple and sceptical eighteenth-century mind, they seemed to mean nothing at all. Why should not pleasant and fashionable men commit murders, like anybody else? He was very much upset himself, inside, about this particular case; but he still did not understand that way of talking.
"I am sorry to say," continued the lawyer in a low voice, "that private investigation which we have already made, on our own account, places your friend, Captain Gahagan, in a position requiring explanation."
"Yes," thought Pond, "and, my God, Gahagan really does require explanation! That's exactly the difficulty about him--but, Lord, how slow this fellow is!" In short, the real trouble was that Pond was very fond of Captain Gahagan; but in so far as one could ask whether men were capable of murder, he was rather inclined to think that Gahagan was capable of murder--more capable of murder than of meanness to a cabman.
Suddenly, with extraordinary vividness, the image of Gahagan himself sprang up in Pond's memory: Gahagan as he had last seen him lounging with his large shoulders and long stride, and strange dark-red hair under the rather rakishly tilted grey top-hat, and behind him a space of sunset where the evening clouds passed in a sort of crumbling purple pomp, rather like the pomp of poor Gahagan himself. No; the Irishman was a man seventy-and-seven times to be forgiven; but not a man to be lightly acquitted.
"Mr. Luke," said Pond suddenly, "will it save time if I tell you, to start with, what I know there is against Gahagan? He was hanging round Mrs. Feversham, the great actress; I don't know why he was; my own belief is that he is really in love with another woman. Yet he did unquestionably give the actress a huge amount of his time: hours and hours and late hours too. But if Feversham caught him doing anything unconventional, Feversham was not the man to let him off without a lawsuit and a scandal and God knows what. I don't want to criticize your client; but, speaking crudely, he almost lived on lawsuits and scandals all his life. And if Feversham was the man to threaten or blackmail, I give it you frankly that Gahagan was the man to hit him back in a bodily fashion; and perhaps kill him, especially if a lady's name were involved. That is the case against Captain Gahagan; and I tell you at the start that I don't believe in it."
"Unfortunately it is not the whole case against Captain Gahagan," replied Luke smoothly, "and I fear the full Statement may make even you believe it. Perhaps the most serious result of our investigations is this. It is now quite clearly established that Captain Gahagan gave three quite contrary and inconsistent accounts of his movements, or proposed movements, on the evening of the murder. Allowing him the highest possible marks for truthfulness in the matter, he must at least have told two lies to one truth."
"I have always found Gahagan truthful enough," replied Pond, "except when he was telling lies for amusement; which is really rather the mark of a man who doesn't prostitute the sublime art of lying to the base uses of necessity. About all ordinary practical things, I have found him not only frank but also rather precise."
"Even accepting what you say," answered Mr. Luke dubiously, "we should still have to answer: If he was commonly candid and truthful, it must have been a mortal and desperate occasion that made him lie."
"To whom did he tell these lies?" asked Pond.
"That is where the whole matter is so painful and delicate," said the lawyer, shaking his head. "That afternoon, it seems, Gahagan had been talking to several ladies."
"He generally has," said Pond. "Or was it they who were talking to him? If one of them happened, for instance, to be that very charming lady, Miss Asa-Smith of Pentapolis, I would venture to guess that it was she who was talking to him."
"This is rather extraordinary," said Luke in some surprise. "I do not know if it was a guess; but one of them certainly was a Miss Asa-Smith of Pentapolis. The other two were the Hon. Violet Varney and, last but not least, the Hon. Joan Varney. As a matter of fact, it was the last that he spoke to first; which, I suppose, was only natural. It is notable, on your own suggestion, that he is really attached to this last lady, that his statement to her was apparently much the nearest to the truth."
"Ah," said Mr. Pond, and pulled his beard thoughtfully.
"Joan Varney," observed the lawyer gravely, "stated most definitely, before she knew that there was any trouble or tragedy in this case, that Captain Gahagan had left the house saying: 'I am going round to the Fevershams'.'"
"And you say that is contradicted by his statement to the others," said Mr. Pond.
"Most emphatically," replied Luke. "The other sister, well known on the stage as Violet Varney, stopped him as he was going out and they exchanged a little light conversation. But, as he left, he distinctly said to her: 'I'm not going to the Fevershams'; they're still at Brighton,' or something like that."
"And now we come," said Mr. Pond, smiling, "to my young friend from Pentapolis. What was she doing there, by the way?"
"He found her on the doorstep when he opened the front door," replied Mr. Luke, also smiling. "She had arrived in a rush of enthusiasm to interview Violet Varney as 'Comedienne and Social Leader.' Neither she nor Gahagan are the sort of people not to be noticed; or to fail to notice each other. So Gahagan had a little talk with her, too; at the end of which he departed, with a flourish of his grey top-hat, telling her that he was going immediately to the club."
"Are you certain of that?" asked Pond, frowning.
"She was certain of it; because she was in a red-hot rage about it," replied Luke. "It seems that she has some feminist fad on the subject. She thinks all male persons who go to clubs go there to tell slanderous anecdotes about women and then drink themselves under the table. She may have had a little professional feeling about it too; perhaps she would have liked to have a longer interview, either for herself or The Live Wire. But I'll swear she's quite honest."
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Pond emphatically but rather gloomily, "she's absolutely honest."
"Well, there it is," said Luke, speaking also not without a decent gloom. "It seems to me that the psychology's only too obvious under the circumstances. He blurted out where he was really going to the girl he was accustomed to confide in; perhaps he didn't really plan the crime till later; or perhaps it wasn't entirely planned or premeditated. But by the time he talked to less friendly people he saw how unwise it would be to say he was going to the Fevershams'. His first impulse is to say, hastily and too crudely, that he was not going to the Fevershams'. Then, by the third interview, he thinks of a really good lie, normal and sufficiently vague, and says he is going to the club."
"It might be like that," replied Pond, "or it might--" And Mr. Pond fell for the first time into the lax habit of Miss Asa-Smith, and failed to finish his sentence. Instead he sat staring at the distance with his rather goggle-eyed and fish-like gaze; then he put his head on his hands, said apologetically: "Please pardon me if I think for a minute," and buried his bald brows once more.
The bearded fish came to the surface again with a somewhat new expression, and said with a brisk and almost sharp tone:
"You seem very much bent on bringing the crime home to poor Gahagan."
For the first time Luke's features stiffened to hardness, or even harshness. "We naturally wish to bring the murderer of our client to justice."
Pond bent forward and his eyes were penetrating as he repeated: "But you will have it that the murderer was Gahagan."
"I've given you the evidence," said Luke, lowering; "you know the witnesses."
"And yet, oddly enough," said Pond very slowly, "you haven't mentioned the really damning thing against him in the report of those witnesses."
"It's damning enough--what do you mean?" snapped the lawyer.
"I mean the fact that they are unwilling witnesses," replied Pond. "It couldn't be a conspiracy. My little Yank is as honest as the day and would never join a conspiracy. He's the sort of man women like. Even Violet Varney likes him. Joan Varney loves him. And yet they all give evidence to contradict him or, at least, show he contradicted himself. And yet they're all wrong."
"What the devil do you mean," cried Luke with sudden impatience, "by saying they're all wrong?"
"They're all wrong about what he said," answered Pond. "Did you ask them if he said anything else?"
"What else is needed?" cried the lawyer, now really angry. "They could all swear he said what I say. Going to the Fevershams'; not going to the Fevershams'; going to some unnamed club--and then bolting down the street so as to leave a lady in a rage."
"Precisely," said Pond. "You say he said three different things. I say he said the same thing to all three. He turned it the other way round and made it the same."
"He turned it the other way round all right," retorted Luke almost viciously. "But if he goes into the witness-box, he'll find out whether the law of perjury says that turning a thing round makes it the same."
There was a pause and then Mr. Pond said serenely:
"So now we know all about the Crime of Captain Gahagan."
"Who says we know all about anything? I don't. Do you?"
"Yes," said Mr. Pond. "The Crime of Captain Gahagan was that he didn't understand women; especially modern women. These men with a vague air of being lady-killers seldom do. Don't you know that dear old Gahagan is really your great-great-grandfather?"
Mr. Luke made a movement as of sudden and sincere alarm; he was not the first man to fancy for a moment that Mr. Pond was mad.
"Can't you see," went on Pond, "that he belongs to the school of the old bucks and beaux who called her 'Woman, Lovely Woman,' and knew nothing whatever about her--to the considerable increase of her power? But how they could pay compliments! 'Stand close about, you Stygian set. . . .' But perhaps, as you seem to suggest, it is not quite relevant. But you see what I mean by Gahagan being the old sort of lady-killer?"
"I know he's a very old sort of gentleman-killer," cried Luke quite violently, "and that he killed the worthy and greatly wronged gentleman who was my client and friend!"
"You seem a little annoyed," said Mr. Pond. "Have you tried reading Dr. Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes? Very soothing. Believe me, those eighteenth-century writers I wanted to quote are very soothing. Have you read Addison's play about Cato?"
"You appear to be mad," said the lawyer, now positively pale.
"Or again," continued Mr. Pond in a chatty way, "have you read Miss Asa-Smith's play about the duchess in the bathing-suit? All the sentences curiously cut short--like the bathing-suit."
"Do you mean anything whatever?" asked the lawyer in a low voice.
"Oh, yes, I mean a great deal," replied Pond. "But it takes quite a long time to explain--like the Vanity of Human Wishes. What I mean is this. My friend Gahagan is very fond of those old wits and orators, just as I am; speeches where you have to wait for the peroration; epigrams with the sting in the tail. That's how we first became friends, by both being fond of the eighteenth-century style; balance and antithesis and all that. Now if you have this habit and read, say, the hackneyed lines in Cato: Tis not in mortals to command success; but we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it'--well, it may be good or bad; but you've got to wait for the end of the sentence; because it begins with a platitude and ends with a point. But the modern sort of sentence never ends; and nobody waits for it to end.
"Now women were always a little like that. It isn't that they don't think, they think quicker than we do. They often talk better. But they don't listen so well. They leap so quickly upon the first point; they see so much more in it; and go off in a gallop of inference about it--so that they sometimes don't notice the rest of the speech at all. But Gahagan, being of the other sort, the old oratorical sort, would always end his sentence properly, and be as careful to say what he meant at the end as the beginning.
"I suggest to you, as the barristers say, that what Captain Gahagan really said to Joan in the first case was this: 'I'm going round to the Fevershams'; I don't believe they are back from Brighton yet, but I'll just look in and see. If they're not. I'll go on to the club.' That is what Peter Gahagan said; but that is not what Joan Varney heard. She heard about going to the Fevershams' and felt at once that she knew all about it--far too much about it--to the not unnatural tune of 'He's going to see that woman'; even though his next words were that the woman almost certainly wasn't there. Stuff about Brighton and the club didn't interest her, and she didn't even remember it. Very well, let us go on to the next case. What Gahagan said to Violet Varney was this: 'It's no good going to the Fevershams' really; they're not back from Brighton; but perhaps I'll look in and see; if they're not back, I shall go on to the club.' Violet is much less truthful and careful than Joan; and she was jealous of Olivia herself, but in a much shallower way, Violet supposing herself to be an actress. She also heard the word Feversham and remembered vaguely that he said it was no good going there; that is, that he was not going there. She was pleased at this and condescended to chat with him; but did not condescend to pay any attention whatever to anything else he said.
"Now for the third case. What Gahagan said to Miss Artemis Asa-Smith on the doorstep was this: 'I'm going to the club; I promised to look in on some friends of mine on the way, the Fevershams; but I don't believe they're back from Brighton.' That's what he said. What Artemis heard, saw and blasted with her blazing eye, was a typical insolent, selfish, self-indulgent male brazenly bragging in the open street of his intention to go to his infamous club, where women are slandered and men drugged with alcohol. After the shock of this shameless avowal, of course she could not stoop to pick up the pieces of any other silly things he had said. He was simply the man who went to the club.
"Now all those three real statements of Gahagan are exactly the same. They all mean the same thing; map out the same course of action; give the same reasons for the same acts. But they sound totally different according to which sentence comes first; especially to these rather jumpy modern girls, accustomed only to jump at the sentence that comes first--very often because there isn't any thing at all to come after it. The Asa-Smith school of drama, in which every sentence stops as soon as it starts, if it doesn't strike you as having much to do with the Tragedy of Cato, has had a very great deal to do with the Tragedy of Captain Gahagan. They might have hanged my friend between them, with the best intentions in the world, simply and solely because they will think only in half-sentences. Broken necks, broken hearts, broken lives, and all because they won't learn any language but broken English. Don't you think there's something to be said for that musty old taste of his and mine, for the sort of literature that makes you read all that a man writes and listen to all that he says? Wouldn't you rather have an important statement made to you in the language of Addison or Johnson than in the splutterings of Mr. Toxin and the Diving Duchess?"
During this monologue, certainly rather long, the lawyer had grown more and more restless and full of nervous irritation.
"This is all fancywork," he said almost feverishly. "You haven't proved any of this."
"No," said Pond gravely, "as you say, I fancied it. At least I guessed it. But I did ring up Gahagan and hear something of the truth of his words and movements that afternoon."
"Truth!" cried Luke, with very extraordinary bitterness.
Pond looked at him curiously. That woodenness of visage which was the first impression produced by Mr. Luke was found on examination to consist mostly of a rather forced look of fixity, combined with the rigid smoothness of his head and hair, the latter looking as if it had been painted on with some rather sticky yellow paint: a gummy gamboge. His eyelids indeed were cold and often partially closed; but inside them the grey-green eyes seemed strangely small, as if they were distant; and they were dancing and darting about like microscopic green flies. The more Mr. Pond looked at those veiled but restless eyes, the less he liked them. The old fancy came back to him about an actual conspiracy against Gahagan; though certainly not one worked by Artemis or Joan. At last he broke the silence very abruptly.
"Mr. Luke," he said, "you are naturally concerned for your late client; but some might feel you had a more than professional interest. Since you study his interests so deeply, can you give me a piece of information about him? Did Mr. Feversham and his wife come back from Brighton that day? Was Mrs. Feversham at the house that afternoon, whether Gahagan went there, or not?"
"She was not," said Luke shortly. "They were both expected to return next morning. I have no idea why Feversham himself did return that night."
"Looks almost as if somebody had sent for him," said Mr. Pond.
Mr. Luke the solicitor rose abruptly from his seat and turned away. "I cannot see any use in all these speculations of yours," he said, and, making a stiff salute, he took his top-hat and was gone from the house with a swiftness that seemed hardly normal.
Next day Mr. Pond clad himself even more conventionally and carefully than usual, and proceeded to pay a round of calls on a series of ladies: a frivolous solemnity which with him was by no means usual. The first lady he waited upon was the Hon. Violet Varney, whom he had hitherto only seen in the distance, and was gently depressed at having to see so close. She was what he believed, in these latter days, to be described as a platinum blonde. It was doubtless a graceful reminiscence of her own name which led her to tint her mouth and cheeks with a colour that was rather violet than purple, giving an effect which her friends called ghostly and her foes ghastly. Even from this listless lady he did extract some admissions lending to help in the reconstruction of Gahagan's real remarks; though the lady's own remarks had their usual air of expiring with a gasp before they were really finished. Then he had another interview with her sister, Joan, and marvelled inwardly at the strange thing which is human personality and stands apart from modes and manners. For Joan had very much the same tricks of style; the same rather high, well-bred voice, the same sketchy, uncompleted sentences; but, fortunately, not the same purple powder and not in the least the same eyes or gestures or mind or immortal soul. Mr. Pond, with all his old-fashioned prejudices, knew at once that in this other girl the new virtues were virtues, whether or not they were new. She really was brave and generous and fond of the truth, though the Society papers did say so. "She's all right," said Mr. Pond to himself. "She's as good as gold. A great deal better than gold. And oh, how much better than platinum!"
Stopping at the next stage of his pilgrimage, he visited the monstrous and ludicrous large hotel which had the honour of housing Miss Artemis Asa-Smith of Pennsylvania. She received him with the rather overwhelming enthusiasm which bore her everywhere through the world; and Mr. Pond had very little difficulty in her case in extracting an admission that even a man who goes to a club may happen not to be a murderer. Though this explanation was naturally less personal and intimate than his interview with Joan (about which he always refused to say a word to anybody), the ardent Artemis continued to earn his approval by her reserves of good sense and good nature. She saw the point about the order of the topics mentioned, and its probable effect on her own mind; and so far the diplomacy of Mr. Pond had been successful. All the three ladies, with whatever degrees of seriousness or concentration, had listened to his theory of what Gahagan had said; and had all agreed that he might very probably have said it. This part of his task being done, Mr. Pond paused a little, and perhaps rather pulled himself together, before approaching his last duty--which also took the form of calling on a lady. He might be excused; for it also involved passing through that grim garden where a man had lain murdered, to that high and sinister house where his widow was still living alone: the great Olivia, queen of tragedy, now tragic by a double claim.
He stepped, not without repugnance, across that dark corner inside the gate and under the holly tree where poor Fred Feversham had been spiked to the earth by a mere splinter of a sword; and as he climbed the crooked path to the doorway in the narrow and bare brick house that stood above him like a tower, dark against the stars, he revolved difficulties much deeper than had yet troubled him in the more trifling matter of the supposed inconsistencies of Gahagan's conversation. There was a real question behind all that nonsense; and it demanded an answer. Somebody had murdered the unfortunate Frederick Feversham; and there were some real reasons for directing the suspicion upon Gahagan. After all, he had been in the habit of spending whole days, or half of the nights as well, with this actress; nothing seemed more horribly natural, more repulsively probable, than that they had been surprised by Feversham and had taken the bloody way out. Mrs. Feversham had often been compared to Mrs. Siddons. Her own external behaviour had always been full of dignity and discretion. A scandal for her was not an advertisement, as it would be for Violet Varney. She had really the stronger motive of the two . . . but, good God, this would never do! Suppose Gahagan really was innocent--but at that price! Whatever his weaknesses, he was just the man to be hanged like a gentleman rather than let The Lady--He looked up with growing terror at the tower of dark brick, wondering if he were to meet the murderess. . . . Then he furiously flung off the morbidity, and tried again to fix himself on the facts. After all, what was there against Gahagan or the widow? It seemed to him, as he forced himself to colder considerations, that it really resolved itself into a matter of time.
Gahagan had certainly spent a huge amount of time with Olivia; that was really the only external proof of his passion for her. The proofs of his passion for Joan were very external indeed. Pond could have sworn that the Irishman was really in love with Joan. He threw himself at her head; and she, on the accepted standards of modern youth, threw herself back at him. But these encounters, one might say collisions, were as brief as they were brilliant. Why did a lover full of such triumphs want to go off and spend such a lot of time with a much older woman? . . . These broodings had turned him into an automaton and brought him unconsciously past the servants and up the stairs and into the very room where he was asked to wait for Mrs. Feversham. He nervously picked up an old battered book, apparently dating from the time when the actress was a schoolgirl, for the flyleaf showed in a very schoolgirl hand: "Olivia Malone." Perhaps the great Shakespearian actress claimed descent from the great Shakespearian critic. But, anyhow, she must be Irish--at least by tradition. . . .
As he bent over the shabby book in the dusky anteroom, there shot into his mind a white ray of serene and complete understanding: so far as this tale goes, the last of the paradoxes of Mr. Pond. He felt full and complete certainty; and yet the only words to express it wrote themselves rapidly across his brain with the bewildering brevity of a hieroglyphic.
"Love never needs time. But Friendship always needs time. More and more and more time, up to long past midnight."
When Gahagan had done those crazy things that blazoned his devotion to Joan Varney, they had hardly occupied any time. When he fell on her from a parachute as she came out of church at Bournemouth, the fall was naturally very rapid. When he tore up a return ticket costing hundreds of pounds to stay with her half an hour longer in Samoa, it was only half an hour longer. When he swam the Hellespont in imitation of Leander, it was only for exactly thirty-five minutes' conversation with Hero. But Love is like that. It is a thing of great moments; and it lives on the memory of moments. Perhaps it is a fragile illusion; perhaps, on the other hand, it is eternal and beyond time. But Friendship eats up time. If poor Gahagan had a real intellectual friendship, then he would go on talking till long past midnight. And with whom would Gahagan be so likely to have one as with an Irish actress who was chiefly interested in Shakespeare? Even as he had the thought, he heard the rich and faintly Irish voice of Olivia welcoming him; and he knew he was right.
"Don't you know," asked the widow with a mournful smile, when he had tactfully steered the conversation past condolences to Captain Gahagan, "don't you know we poor Irishes have a secret vice? It's called Poetry; or perhaps I ought to say it's generally called Recitation. It's been suppressed by the police in all the English salons; and that's the worst of the Irish wrongs. People in London are not allowed to recite poems to each other all night, as they do in Dublin. Poor Peter used to come to me and talk Shakespeare till morning; but I had to turn him out at last. When a man calls on me, and tries to recite the whole of Romeo and Juliet, it gets past a joke. But you see how it was. The English won't allow the poor fellow to recite Shakespeare."
Mr. Pond did indeed see how it was. He knew enough about men to know that a man must have a friend, if possible a female friend, to talk to till all is blue. He knew enough about Dubliners to know that neither devils nor dynamite will stop them from reciting verse. All the black clouds of morbid brooding on the murder which had oppressed him in the garden had rolled away at the first sound of this strong, good-humoured irishwoman's voice. But after a little while they began to gather again, though more remotely. After all, as he had said before, somebody had killed poor Fred Feversham.
He was quite certain now that it was not Feversham's wife. He was practically certain it was not Gahagan. He went home that night turning the question over and over; but he had only one night's unrest. For the next day's paper contained the news of the unexplained suicide of Mr. Luke, of the well-known firm of Masters, Luke and Masters; and Mr. Pond sat gently chiding himself, because he had not thought of the obvious fact that a man who is always tearing and rending people because he has been swindled, may possibly discover one day that he has been swindled by his own solicitor. Feversham had summoned Luke to that midnight meeting in the garden, in order to tell him so; but Mr. Luke, a man careful of his professional standing, had taken very prompt steps to prevent Mr. Feversham telling anybody else.
"It makes me feel very bad," said Mr. Pond, meekly and almost tremulously. "At that last meeting of ours I could see he was awfully frightened already; and, do you know, I'm very much afraid that it was I who frightened him."