THE MAN IN THE LIMOUSINE
The house of the late Horace Vernon was a modern villa of prosperous appearance; but, on this sunny September morning, a palpable atmosphere of gloom seemed to overlie it. This made itself perceptible even to the toughened and unimpressionable nerves of Inspector Dunbar. As he mounted the five steps leading up to the door, glancing meanwhile at the lowered blinds at the windows, he wondered if, failing these evidences and his own private knowledge of the facts, he should have recognized that the hand of tragedy had placed its mark upon this house. But when the door was opened by a white-faced servant, he told himself that he should, for a veritable miasma of death seemed to come out to meet him, to envelop him.
Within, proceeded a subdued activity: somber figures moved upon the staircase; and Inspector Dunbar, having presented his card, presently found himself in a well-appointed library.
At the table, whereon were spread a number of documents, sat a lean, clean-shaven, sallow-faced man, wearing gold-rimmed pince-nez; a man whose demeanor of business-like gloom was most admirably adapted to that place and occasion. This was Mr. Debnam, the solicitor. He gravely waved the detective to an armchair, adjusted his pince-nez, and coughed, introductorily.
“Your communication, Inspector,” he began (he had the kind of voice which seems to be buried in sawdust packing), “was brought to me this morning, and has disturbed me immeasurably, unspeakably.”
“You have been to view the body, sir?”
“One of my clerks, who knew Mrs. Vernon, has just returned to this house to report that he has identified her.”
“I should have preferred you to have gone yourself, sir,” began Dunbar, taking out his notebook.
“My state of health, Inspector,” said the solicitor, “renders it undesirable that I should submit myself to an ordeal so unnecessary—so wholly unnecessary.”
“Very good!” muttered Dunbar, making an entry in his book; “your clerk, then, whom I can see in a moment, identifies the murdered woman as Mrs. Vernon. What was her Christian name?”
“Iris—Iris Mary Vernon.”
Inspector Dunbar made a note of the fact.
“And now,” he said, “you will have read the copy of that portion of my report which I submitted to you this morning—acting upon information supplied by Miss Helen Cumberly?”
“Yes, yes, Inspector, I have read it—but, by the way, I do not know Miss Cumberly.”
“Miss Cumberly,” explained the detective, “is the daughter of Dr. Cumberly, the Harley Street physician. She lives with her father in the flat above that of Mr. Leroux. She saw the body by accident—and recognized it as that of a lady who had been named to her at the last Arts Ball.”
“Ah!” said Debnam, “yes—I see—at the Arts Ball, Inspector. This is a mysterious and a very ghastly case.”