“Oh, constable,” he said coolly, “come inside, will you? I have something to show you.”
Bennett mounted the steps doubtfully.
“There was a scream,” he said.
The man looked at him quickly. “So you heard it,” he said. “It was not pretty.”
“No, it was not,” replied Bennett.
The man led him down the dim passage into the back sitting-room. The body of a man lay on the sofa; it was curled like a dry leaf.
“That is my brother,” said the man, with a little emphatic nod; “I have killed him. He was my enemy.”
Bennett stared dully at the body, without believing it to be really there.
“Dead!” he said mechanically.
“And anything I say will be used against me in evidence! As if you could compress my hatred into one little lying notebook.”
“I don’t care a damn about your hatred,” said Bennett, with heat. “An hour ago, perhaps, I might have arrested you; now I only find you uninteresting.”
The man gave a long, low whistle of surprise.
“A philosopher in uniform,” he said, “God! sir, you have my sympathy.”
“And you have my pity. You have stolen your ideas from cheap melodrama, and you make tragedy ridiculous. Were I a policeman, I would lock you up with pleasure. Were I a man, I should thrash you joyfully. As it is I can only share your infamy. I too, I suppose, am a murderer.”
“You are in a low, nervous state,” said the man; “and you are doing me some injustice. It is true that I am a poor murderer; but it appears to me that you are a worse policeman.”
“I shall wear the uniform no more from tonight.”
“I think you are wise, and I shall mar my philosophy with no more murders. If, indeed, I have killed him; for I assure you that beyond administering the poison to his wretched body I have done nothing. Perhaps he is not dead. Can you hear his heart beating?”
“I can hear the spoons of my children beating on their empty platters!”
“Is it like that with you? Poor devil! Oh, poor, poor devil! Philosophers should have no wives, no children, no homes, and no hearts.”
Bennett turned from the man with unspeakable loathing.
“I hate you and such as you!” he cried weakly. “You justify the existence of the police. You make me despise myself because I realise that your crimes are no less mine than yours. I do not ask you to defend the deadness of that thing lying there. I shall stir no finger to have you hanged, for the thought of suicide repels me, and I cannot separate your blood and mine. We are common children of a noble mother, and for our mother’s sake I say farewell.”
And without waiting for the man’s answer he passed from the house to the street.
Haggard and with rebellious limbs, Police-constable Bennett staggered into the superintendent’s office in the early morning.