Wingate shrugged his shoulders. He made no reply. Shields took up one of the bottles of champagne, held it to the light, poured out the remainder of its contents and gazed with an air of surprise at the froth which crept up the glass.
“Dear me!” he exclaimed. “I do not know much about champagne, but it seems to me that this has not been opened very long. By the by, you all drank champagne?” he went on. “I see no trace of any spirits about.”
“It was one of Lord Dredlinton’s hobbles,” Wingate declared. “Spirits are very seldom served in this house.”
The Inspector nodded. He had crossed to the sideboard and was looking into the contents of a great bowl of flowers.
“I never heard,” he reflected, “that roses did well in champagne. Let me see,” he proceeded, counting the empty bottles, “four bottles between four of you, the contents of at least two bottles here, and—dear me, the carnations, too!” he went on, peering into a further bowl. “Really, Mr. Wingate, your orgy scarcely seems to have been one of drink.”
“Perhaps it was not,” was the resigned reply.
The inspector sighed.
“I have seldom,” he pronounced, looking fixedly at his companion, “seen a more amateurish piece of work than the arrangement of this so-called debauch. It seems pitiable, Mr. Wingate, that a man with brains like yours should have sought to deceive in so puerile a fashion.”
“What is this leading up to?” Wingate demanded.
The inspector drew a little pamphlet from his pocket and passed it across. Wingate took it into his hands, opened it and stared at it in surprise.
“A list of Cunard sailings!” he exclaimed.
“One of the safest of lines,” said Shields, with a nod. “The Agricola sails to-morrow morning. The boat train, I believe, leaves Euston at four.”
Wingate glanced from the sailing list to his companion. The inspector was making movements as though about to depart. Wingate himself was speechless.
“The physician is able to certify,” Shields went on, “that Lord Dredlinton’s death is due to natural causes. There will therefore be no inquest. That being the case, it is not my business to make enquiries—unless I choose.”
A newsboy went shouting across the square. The two men heard distinctly his hoarse cry:
“Great fall of wheat in every market! Cheap bread next week!”
The eyes of the two men met. There was almost a smile upon Shields’ thin lips as he turned towards the door.
“And I do not choose,” he concluded.
Peter Phipps and his nephew dined together on the last night of the year at a well-chosen table at Giro’s restaurant in Monte Carlo. There were long-necked and gold-foiled bottles upon the table and a menu which had commanded the respect of the maitre d’hotel whose province it was to supply their wants. Nevertheless, neither of the two men had the appearance of being entirely satisfied with life.