“This explanation was all the more credible, mind you, because the question of the revolver had never been very satisfactorily explained by the prosecution. A man who has effectually strangled his victim would not discharge two shots of his revolver for, apparently, no other purpose than that of rousing the attention of the nearest passer-by. It was far more likely that it was Mr. Cohen who shot—perhaps wildly into the air, when suddenly attacked from behind. Mr. Ashley’s explanation therefore was not only plausible, it was the only possible one.
“You will understand therefore how it was that, after nearly half an hour’s examination, the magistrate, the police, and the public were alike pleased to proclaim that the accused left the court without a stain upon his character.”
“Yes,” interrupted Polly eagerly, since, for once, her acumen had been at least as sharp as his, “but suspicion of that horrible crime only shifted its taint from one friend to another, and, of course, I know—”
“But that’s just it,” he quietly interrupted, “you don’t know—Mr. Walter Hatherell, of course, you mean. So did every one else at once. The friend, weak and willing, committing a crime on behalf of his cowardly, yet more assertive friend who had tempted him to evil. It was a good theory; and was held pretty generally, I fancy, even by the police.
“I say ‘even’ because they worked really hard in order to build up a case against young Hatherell, but the great difficulty was that of time. At the hour when the policeman had seen the two men outside Park Square together, Walter Hatherell was still sitting in the Harewood Club, which he never left until twenty minutes to two. Had he wished to waylay and rob Aaron Cohen he would not have waited surely till the time when presumably the latter would already have reached home.
“Moreover, twenty minutes was an incredibly short time in which to walk from Hanover Square to Regent’s Park without the chance of cutting across the squares, to look for a man, whose whereabouts you could not determine to within twenty yards or so, to have an argument with him, murder him, and ransack his pockets. And then there was the total absence of motive.”
“But—” said Polly meditatively, for she remembered now that the Regent’s Park murder, as it had been popularly called, was one of those which had remained as impenetrable a mystery as any other crime had ever been in the annals of the police.
The man in the corner cocked his funny birdlike head well on one side and looked at her, highly amused evidently at her perplexity.
“You do not see how that murder was committed?” he asked with a grin.
Polly was bound to admit that she did not.
“If you had happened to have been in Mr. John Ashley’s predicament,” he persisted, “you do not see how you could conveniently have done away with Mr. Aaron Cohen, pocketed his winnings, and then led the police of your country entirely by the nose, by proving an indisputable alibi?”