Then Mrs. Brian’s voice mingled with that of her husband, and both became subdued. Finally, a slim man, who wore a short beard, or had omitted to shave for some days, appeared at the door of the living-room. His face was another history upon the same subject as that which might be studied from the walls, the floor, and the appointments of the room. Inspector Dunbar perceived that the shadow of the neighboring hostelry overlay this home.
“What’s up?” inquired the new arrival.
The tone of his voice, thickened by excess, was yet eloquent of the gentleman. The barriers passed, your pariah gentleman can be the completest blackguard of them all. He spoke coarsely, and the infectious Cockney accent showed itself in his vowels; but Dunbar, a trained observer, summed up his man in a moment and acted accordingly.
“Come in and shut the door!” he directed. “No”—as Mrs. Brian sought to enter behind her husband—“I wish to speak with you, privately.”
“Hop it!” instructed Brian, jerking his thumb over his shoulder—and Mrs. Brian obediently disappeared, closing the door.
“Now,” said Dunbar, looking the man up and down, “have you been into the depot, to-day?”
“But you have heard that there’s an inquiry?”
“I’ve heard nothing. I’ve been in bed.”
“We won’t argue about that. I’ll simply put a question to you: Where did you pick up the fare that you dropped at Palace Mansions at twelve o’clock last night?”
“Palace Mansions!” muttered Brian, shifting uneasily beneath the unflinching stare of the tawny eyes. “What d’you mean? What Palace Mansions?”
“Don’t quibble!” warned Dunbar, thrusting out a finger at him. “This is not a matter of a loss of license; it’s a life job!”
“Life job!” whispered the man, and his weak face suddenly relaxed, so that, oddly, the old refinement shone out through the new, vulgar veneer.
“Answer my questions straight and square and I’ll take your word that you have not seen the inquiry!” said Dunbar.
“Dick Hamper’s done this for me!” muttered Brian. “He’s a dirty, low swine! Somebody’ll do for him one night!”
“Leave Hamper out of the question,” snapped Dunbar. “You put down a fare at Palace Mansions at twelve o’clock last night?”
For one tremendous moment, Brian hesitated, but the good that was in him, or the evil—a consciousness of wrongdoing, or of retribution pending—respect for the law, or fear of its might—decided his course.
“It was a man?”
Again Brian, with furtive glance, sought to test his opponent; but his opponent was too strong for him. With Dunbar’s eyes upon his face, he chose not to lie.
“It was a woman.”
“How was she dressed?”
“In a fur motor-coat—civet fur.”
The man of culture spoke in those two words, “civet fur”; and Dunbar nodded quickly, his eyes ablaze at the importance of the evidence.