“I’ll tell you everything,” faltered Hill. The impassive mask of the well-trained English servant had dropped from him, and he stood revealed as a trembling elderly man with furtive eyes, and a painfully shaken manner. “I’ll be glad to tell you everything,” he declared, laying a twitching hand on the inspector’s coat. “I’ve not had a minute’s peace or rest since—since it happened.”
The dry official manner in which Inspector Chippenfield produced a note-book was in striking contrast to the trapped man’s attitude.
“Go ahead,” he commanded, wetting his pencil between his lips.
Before Hill could respond a small boy entered the shop—a ragged, shock-headed dirty urchin, bareheaded and barefooted. He tapped loudly on the counter with a halfpenny.
“What do you want, boy?” roughly asked the inspector.
“A ’a’porth of blackboys,” responded the child, in the confident tone of a regular customer.
“If you’ll permit me, sir, I’ll serve him,” said Hill and he glided behind the little counter, took some black sticky sweetmeats from one of the glass jars on the shelf and gave them to the boy, who popped one in his mouth and scurried off.
“I think we had better go inside and hear what Hill has to say, Inspector, while Mrs. Hill minds the shop,” said Rolfe. He had caught a glimpse of Mrs. Hill’s white frightened face peering through the dirty little glass pane in the parlour door.
Inspector Chippenfield approved of the idea.
“We don’t want to spoil your wife’s business, Hill—she’s likely to need it,” he said, with cruel official banter. “Come here, Mrs. Hill,” he said, raising his voice.
The faded little woman appeared in response to the summons, bringing the child with her. She shot a frightened glance at her husband, which Inspector Chippenfield intercepted.
“Never mind looking at your husband, Mrs. Hill,” he said roughly. “You’ve done your best for him, and the only thing to be told now is the truth. Now you and your daughter can stay in the shop. We want your husband inside.”
Mrs. Hill clasped her hands quickly.
“Oh, what is it, Henry?” she said. “Tell me what has happened? What have they found out?”
“Keep your mouth shut,” commanded her husband harshly. “This way, sir, if you please.”
Inspector Chippenfield and Rolfe followed him into the parlour.
“Now, Hill,” impatiently said Inspector Chippenfield.
The butler raised his head wearily.
“I suppose I may as well begin at the beginning and tell you everything,” he said.
“Yes,” replied the inspector, “it’s not much use keeping anything back now.”