As Rolfe stood there gazing intently at the corpse, and trying to form some theory of the reason for the murder, certain old stories he had heard of Sir Horace Fewbanks’s private life and character recurred to him. These rumours had not been much—a jocular hint or two among his fellows at Scotland Yard that His Honour had a weakness for a pretty face and in private life led a less decorous existence than a judge ought to do. Rolfe wondered how much or how little truth was contained in these stories. He glanced around the vast room. Certainly it was not the sort of apartment in which a High Court judge might be expected to do his entertaining, but Rolfe recalled that he had heard gossip to the effect that Sir Horace, because of his virtual estrangement from his daughter, did very little entertaining beyond an occasional bridge or supper party to his sporting friends, and rarely went into Society.
Rolfe began to scrutinise the articles of furniture in the room, wondering if there was anything about them which might reveal something of the habits of the dead man. He produced a small electric torch from his pocket, and with its light to guide him in the half-darkened room, he closely inspected each piece of furniture. Then, with the torch in his hand, he returned to the sofa and flashed it over the dead body. He started violently when the light, falling on the dead man’s closed hand, revealed a tiny scrap of white. Eagerly he endeavoured to release the fragment from the tenacious clutch of the dead without tearing it, and eventually he managed to detach it. His heart bounded when he saw that it was a small torn piece of lace and muslin. He placed it in the palm of his left hand and examined it closely under the light of his torch. To him it looked to be part of a fashionable lady’s dainty handkerchief. He was elated at his discovery and he wondered how Inspector Chippenfield had overlooked it. Then the explanation struck him. The small piece of lace and muslin had been effectually hidden in the dead man’s clenched hand, and his efforts to open the hand had loosened it.
“Well, Rolfe,” said Inspector Chippenfield, when his subordinate reappeared, “you’ve been long enough to have unearthed the criminal or revived the corpse. Have you discovered anything fresh?”
“Only this,” replied Rolfe, displaying the piece of handkerchief.
The find startled Inspector Chippenfield out of his air of bantering superiority.
“Where did you get that?” he stammered, as he reached out eagerly for it.
“The dead man had it clenched in his right hand. I wondered if he had anything hidden in his hand when I saw it so tightly clenched. I tried to force open the fingers and that fell out.”
Inspector Chippenfield was by no means pleased at his subordinate’s discovery of what promised to be an important clue, especially after the clue had been missed by himself. But he congratulated Rolfe in a tone of fictitious heartiness.