Rolfe saw that he had made a mistake in dismissing the idea of Mrs. Holymead having anything to do with the missing papers. “Do you think that she stole these letters—these papers?” he asked. “Do you think she knew where they were?”
“While she was in the room, Inspector Chippenfield came rushing downstairs for a glass of water. He said she had fainted.”
“Whew!” Rolfe gave a low prolonged whistle. “And after she left you took the first opportunity of looking to see if the papers were still there, and you found they were gone?”
“What made you suspect Mrs. Holymead would take them?”
“Well, sir, I didn’t suspect her at the time. I just looked to see if Inspector Chippenfield had found them. I saw they had gone, and as I couldn’t see any sign of them about anywhere else I concluded they must have been taken without Inspector Chippenfield knowing anything about it. The reason I came over here to-night was to have another careful look round for them.”
Rolfe was silent for a moment.
“What would you have done with the papers if you had found them?” he asked suddenly.
“I would have handed them over to the police, sir,” said the butler, who obviously had been prepared for a question of the kind.
“And what explanation would you have given for having found them—for having come over here in defiance of your orders from Inspector Chippenfield?”
“The true explanation, sir,” said the butler, with a mild note of protest in his voice. “I would have told Inspector Chippenfield what I have already told you. And it is the simple truth.”
Rolfe was plainly taken back at this rebuke, but he did not reply to it.
“In your statement of what took place when Birchill returned to the flat after committing the murder, he said something about having seen a woman leave the house by the front door as he was hiding in the garden—a fashionably dressed woman I think he said.”
“Yes, sir, that was it.”
“Do you believe that part of his story was true?”
“Well, sir, with a man like Birchill it is impossible to say when he is telling the truth, and when he isn’t.”
“There was no lady with Sir Horace when you left him that night when he returned from Scotland?”
“I think you said he was in a hurry to get you out of the house, and told you not to come back?”
“That is what I thought at the time, sir.”
“Well, Hill,” said Rolfe, resuming his severe official tone; “all this does not excuse in any way your conduct in coming over here and forcing your way into the house in defiance of the police; opening this desk, and prying about for private papers that don’t concern you. The proper course for you to adopt was to come to Scotland Yard and tell your story about these missing papers to Inspector Chippenfield or myself. However, I don’t