Inspector Seldon was seated in the taxi-cab when Flack appeared. He had been impatiently drumming his fingers on the door of the cab.
“Jump in, man,” he said angrily. “What has kept you all this time?”
Flack breathed stertorously to show that he had been running and was out of breath, but he made no reply to the official rebuke. Inspector Seldon turned to him and remarked severely:
“Why didn’t you let me know that Sir Horace Fewbanks had returned from Scotland?”
Flack looked astonished.
“But he hasn’t returned, sir,” he said. “He’s away for a month at least,” he ventured to add.
“Who told you that?”
“The housemaid at Riversbrook—before he went away.”
“H’m.” The inspector’s next question contained a moral rebuke rather than an official one. “You’re a married man, Flack?”
“So the housemaid told you he was going away for a month. Well, she ought to know. When did she tell you?”
“A week ago yesterday, sir. She told me that all the servants except the butler were going down to Dellmere the next day—that is Sir Horace’s country place—and that Sir Horace was going to Scotland for the shooting and would put in some weeks at Dellmere after the shooting season was over.”
“And are you sure he hasn’t returned?”
“Quite, sir. I saw Hill, the butler, only yesterday morning, and he told me that his master was sure to be in Scotland for at least a month longer.”
“It’s very strange,” muttered the inspector, half to himself. “It will be a deuced awkward situation to face if Scotland Yard has been hoaxed.”
“Beg your pardon, sir, but is there anything wrong about Sir Horace?”
“Yes. Scotland Yard has received a report that he has been murdered.”
Flack’s surprise was so great that it lifted the lid of official humility which habitually covered his natural feelings.
“Murdered!” he exclaimed. “Sir Horace Fewbanks murdered? You don’t say so!”
“But I do say so. I’ve just said so,” retorted Inspector Seldon irritably. He was angry at the fact that the information, whether true or false, had gone direct to Scotland Yard instead of reaching him first.
“When was he murdered, sir?” asked Flack.
“Last night—when you were on that beat.”
Flack paled at this remark.
“Last night, sir?” he cried.
“Don’t repeat my words like a parrot,” ejaculated the inspector peevishly. “Didn’t you notice anything suspicious when you were along there?”
“No, sir. Was he murdered in his own house?”
“His dead body is supposed to be lying there now in the library,” said Inspector Seldon. “How Scotland Yard got wind of it is more than I know. We ought to have heard of it before them. How many times did you go along there last night?”
“Twice, sir. About eleven o’clock, and then about three.”