The Queen’s Messenger paused and surveyed the faces of those about him in some embarrassment.
“But the worst of it is,” he added, “that the story must have got about; for, while the Princess obtained nothing from me but a cigar-case and five excellent cigars, a few weeks after the coronation the Czar sent me a gold cigar-case with his monogram in diamonds. And I don’t know yet whether that was a coincidence, or whether the Czar wanted me to know that he knew that I had been carrying the Czarina’s diamonds in my pig-skin cigar-case. What do you fellows think?”
Sir Andrew rose, with disapproval written in every lineament.
“I thought your story would bear upon the murder,” he said. “Had I imagined it would have nothing whatsoever to do with it, I would not have remained.” He pushed back his chair and bowed, stiffly. “I wish you good night,” he said.
There was a chorus of remonstrance, and, under cover of this and the Baronet’s answering protests, a servant, for the second time, slipped a piece of paper into the hand of the gentleman with the pearl stud. He read the lines written upon it and tore it into tiny fragments.
The youngest member, who had remained an interested but silent listener to the tale of the Queen’s Messenger, raised his hand, commandingly.
“Sir Andrew,” he cried, “in justice to Lord Arthur Chetney, I must ask you to be seated. He has been accused in our hearing of a most serious crime, and I insist that you remain until you have heard me clear his character.”
“You!” cried the Baronet.
“Yes,” answered the young man, briskly. “I would have spoken sooner,” he explained, “but that I thought this gentleman”—he inclined his head toward the Queen’s Messenger—“was about to contribute some facts of which I was ignorant. He, however, has told us nothing, and so I will take up the tale at the point where Lieutenant Sears laid it down and give you those details of which Lieutenant Sears is ignorant. It seems strange to you that I should be able to add the sequel to this story. But the coincidence is easily explained. I am the junior member of the law firm of Chudleigh & Chudleigh. We have been solicitors for the Chetneys for the last two hundred years. Nothing, no matter how unimportant, which concerns Lord Edam and his two sons is unknown to us, and naturally we are acquainted with every detail of the terrible catastrophe of last night.”
The Baronet, bewildered but eager, sank back into his chair.
“Will you be long, sir?” he demanded.
“I shall endeavor to be brief,” said the young solicitor; “and,” he added, in a tone which gave his words almost the weight of a threat, “I promise to be interesting.”
“There is no need to promise that,” said Sir Andrew, “I find it much too interesting as it is.” He glanced ruefully at the clock and turned his eyes quickly from it.