“I have more evidence,” Mr. Holcombe said eagerly, and proceeded to tell what we had found in the room. Mr. Howell listened, smiling to himself, but at the mention of the onyx clock he got up and went to the mantel.
“By Jove!” he said, and stood looking at the mark in the dust. “Are you sure the clock was here yesterday?”
“I wound it night before last, and put the key underneath. Yesterday, before they moved up, I wound it again.”
“The key is gone also. Well, what of it, Holcombe? Did he brain her with the clock? Or choke her with the key?”
Mr. Holcombe was looking at his note-book. “To summarize,” he said, “we have here as clues indicating a crime, the rope, the broken knife, the slipper, the towel, and the clock. Besides, this scrap of paper may contain some information.” He opened it and sat gazing at it in his palm. Then, “Is this Ladley’s writing?” he asked me in a curious voice.
I glanced at the slip. Mr. Holcombe had just read from his note-book: “Rope, knife, slipper, towel, clock.”
The slip I had found behind the wash-stand said “Rope, knife, shoe, towel. Horn—” The rest of the last word was torn off.
Mr. Howell was staring at the mantel. “Clock!” he repeated.
It was after four when Mr. Holcombe had finished going over the room. I offered to make both the gentlemen some tea, for Mr. Pitman had been an Englishman, and I had got into the habit of having a cup in the afternoon, with a cracker or a bit of bread. But they refused. Mr. Howell said he had promised to meet a lady, and to bring her through the flooded district in a boat. He shook hands with me, and smiled at Mr. Holcombe.
“You will have to restrain his enthusiasm, Mrs. Pitman,” he said. “He is a bloodhound on the scent. If his baying gets on your nerves, just send for me.” He went down the stairs and stepped into the boat. “Remember, Holcombe,” he called, “every well-constituted murder has two things: a motive and a corpse. You haven’t either, only a mass of piffling details—”
“If everybody waited until he saw flames, instead of relying on the testimony of the smoke,” Mr. Holcombe snapped, “what would the fire loss be?”
Mr. Howell poled his boat to the front door, and sitting down, prepared to row out.
“You are warned, Mrs. Pitman,” he called to me. “If he doesn’t find a body to fit the clues, he’s quite capable of making one to fill the demand.”
“Horn—” said Mr. Holcombe, looking at the slip again. “The tail of the ‘n’ is torn off—evidently only part of a word. Hornet, Horning, Horner—Mrs. Pitman, will you go with me to the police station?”
I was more than anxious to go. In fact, I could not bear the idea of staying alone in the house, with heaven only knows what concealed in the depths of that muddy flood. I got on my wraps again, and Mr. Holcombe rowed me out. Peter plunged into the water to follow, and had to be sent back. He sat on the lower step and whined. Mr. Holcombe threw him another piece of liver, but he did not touch it.