But it was more a spirit of idle curiosity than anything else that brought Rolfe to Crewe’s chambers in Holborn an hour later. Having secured the murderer, he felt curious as to what Crewe’s feelings were on his defeat. It was the first occasion that he had been on a case which Crewe had been commissioned to investigate, and he was naturally pleased that Inspector Chippenfield and he had arrested the author of the crime while Crewe was all at sea. It was plain from the fact that the latter had thought it necessary to visit Scotland that he had got on a false scent. It was not Scotland, but Scotland Yard that Crewe should have visited, Rolfe said to himself with a smile.
Crewe, in pursuance of his policy of keeping on the best of terms with the police, gave Rolfe a very friendly welcome. He produced from a cupboard two glasses, a decanter of whisky, a siphon of soda, and a box of cigars. Rolfe quickly discovered that the cigars were of a quality that seldom came his way, and he leaned back in his chair and puffed with steady enjoyment.
“Then you are determined to hang Birchill?” said Crewe, as with a cigar in his fingers he faced his visitor with a smile.
“We’ll hang him right enough,” said Rolfe. He pulled the cigar out of his mouth and looked at it approvingly. Though the talk was of hanging, he had never felt more thoroughly at peace with the world.
“It will be a pity if you do,” said Crewe.
“Because he’s the wrong man.”
“It would take a lot to make me believe that,” said Rolfe stoutly. “We’ve got a strong case against him—there is not a weak point in it. I admit that Hill is a tainted witness, but they’ll find it pretty hard to break down his story. We’ve tested it in every way and find it stands. Then there are the bootmarks outside the window. Birchill’s boots fit them to the smallest fraction of an inch. The jemmy found in the flat fits the mark made in the window at Riversbrook, and we’ve got something more—another witness who saw him in Tanton Gardens about the time of the murder. If Birchill can get his neck out of the noose, he’s cleverer than I take him for.”
Crewe did not reply directly to Rolfe’s summary of the case.
“I see that they’ve briefed Holymead for the defence,” he said after a pause.
“A waste of good money,” said the police officer. Something appealed to his sense of humour, for he broke out into a laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” asked Crewe.
“I was wondering how Sir Horace feels when he sees the money he gave this girl Fanning being used to defend his murderer.”
“You are a hardened scamp, Rolfe, with a very perverse sense of humour,” said Crewe.
“It was a cunning move of them to get Holymead,” said Rolfe. “They think it will weigh with the jury because he was such a close friend of Sir Horace—that he wouldn’t have taken up the case unless he felt that Birchill was innocent. But you and I know better than that, Mr. Crewe. A lawyer will prove that black is white if he is paid for it. In fact, I understand that, according to the etiquette of the bar, they have got to do it. A barrister has to abide by his brief and leave his personal feelings out of account.”