Accordingly, we three presently gathered in my chambers, and Wessex, with one eye on the clock, outlined the few facts at that time in his possession respecting the missing girl.
Two days before the news of the disappearance had been published broadcast under such headings as I have already indicated, a significant scene had been enacted in the gamekeeper’s cottage.
Molly Clayton, a girl whose remarkable beauty had made her a central figure in numerous scandalous stories, for such is the charity of rural neighbours, was detected by her stepfather, about eight in the evening, slipping out of the cottage.
“Where be ye goin’, hussy?” he demanded, grasping her promptly by the arm.
“For a walk!” she replied defiantly.
“A walk wi’ that fine soger from t’ Manor!” roared Bramber furiously. “You’ll be sorry yet, you barefaced gadabout! Must I tell you again that t’ man’s a villain?”
The girl wrenched her arm from Bramber’s grasp, and blazed defiance from her beautiful eyes.
“He knows how to respect a woman—what you don’t!” she retorted hotly.
“So I don’t respect you, my angel?” shouted her stepfather. “Then you know what you can do! The door’s open and there’s few’ll miss you!”
Snatching her hat, the girl, very white, made to go out. Whereat the gamekeeper, a brutal man with small love for Molly, and maddened by her taking him at his word, seized her suddenly by her abundant fair hair and hauled her back into the room.
A violent scene followed, at the end of which Molly fainted and Bramber came out and locked the door.
When he came back about half-past nine the girl was missing. She did not reappear that night, and the police were advised in the morning. Their most significant discovery was this:
Captain Ronald Vane, on the night of Molly’s disappearance, had left the Manor House, after dining alone with his host, Sir Howard Hepwell, saying that he proposed to take a stroll as far as the Deep Wood.
He never returned!
From the moment that Gamekeeper Bramber left his cottage, and the moment when Sir Howard Hepwell parted from his guest after dinner, the world to which these two people, Molly Clayton and Captain Vane, were known, knew them no more!
I was about to say that they were never seen again. But to me has fallen the task of relating how and where Paul Harley and I met with Captain Vane and Molly Clayton.
At the end of the Inspector’s account:
“H’m,” said Harley, glancing under his thick brows in my direction, “could you spare the time, Knox?”
“To go to Deepbrow?” I asked with interest.
“Yes; we have ten minutes to catch the train.”
“I’ll come,” said I. “Sir Howard will be delighted to see you, Harley.”
THE CLUE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS