“The letter sent to Scotland Yard shows that some one was there besides the murderer. If Birchill was there and helped to write the letter—and so much is part of your case—he wasn’t the murderer. In short, I believe Birchill went up there to commit a burglary and found the murdered body of Sir Horace.”
“Do you think that Hill did it?” asked Rolfe.
“That is more than I’d like to say. As a matter of fact I have been so obtuse as to neglect Hill somewhat in my investigations. In fact, I didn’t know until I got hold of a copy of his statement to the police that he was an ex-convict. Inspector Chippenfield omitted to inform me of the fact.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Rolfe, without a blush, as he rose to go. “He ought to have told you.”
When Rolfe left Crewe’s office he went back to Scotland Yard. He found Inspector Chippenfield still in his office, and related to him the substance of his interview with Crewe. The inspector listened to the recital in growing anger.
“Birchill not the right man?” he spluttered. “Why, of course he is. The case against him is purely circumstantial, but it’s as clear as daylight.”
“Then you don’t think there’s anything in Crewe’s points?” asked Rolfe.
“I think so little of them that I look upon Birchill as good as hanged! That for Crewe’s points!” Inspector Chippenfield snapped his fingers contemptuously. “And I’m surprised to think that you, Rolfe, whose loyalty to your superior officer is a thing I would have staked my life on, should have sat there and listened to such rubbish. I wouldn’t have listened to him for two minutes—no, not for half a minute. He was trying to pick our case to pieces out of blind spite and jealousy, because we’ve got ahead of him in the biggest murder case London’s had for many a long day. A man who jaunts off to Scotland looking for clues to a murder committed in London is a fool, Rolfe—that’s what I call him. We have beaten him—beaten him badly, and he doesn’t like it. But it is not the first time Scotland Yard has beaten him, and it won’t be the last.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Rolfe. “But there’s one point he made which rather struck me, I must say—that about Birchill telling Hill he’d found the dead body. Would Birchill have told Hill that, if he’d committed the murder?”
“Nothing more likely,” exclaimed the inspector. “My theory is that Birchill, while committing the burglary at Riversbrook, was surprised by Sir Horace Fewbanks. It is possible that the judge tried to capture Birchill to hand him over to the police, and Birchill shot him. I believe that Birchill fired both shots—that he had two revolvers. But whatever took place, a dangerous criminal like Birchill would not require much provocation to silence a man who interrupted him while he was on business bent, and a man, moreover, against whom he