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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 20. Mr. Milburgh Sees It Through
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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 20. Mr. Milburgh Sees It Through Post by :hammer23 Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :3107

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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 20. Mr. Milburgh Sees It Through


Ling Chu's story was not difficult to believe. It was less difficult to believe that he was lying. There is no inventor in the world so clever, so circumstantial, so exact as to detail, as the Chinaman. He is a born teller of stories and piecer together of circumstances that fit so closely that it is difficult to see the joints. Yet the man had been frank, straightforward, patently honest. He had even placed himself in Tarling's power by his confession of his murderous intention.

Tarling could reconstruct the scene after the Chinaman had left. Milburgh stumbling in in the dark, striking a match and discovering a wall plug had been pulled away, reconnecting the lamp, and seeing to his amazement a murderous-looking pistol on the desk. It was possible that Milburgh, finding the pistol, had been deceived into believing that he had overlooked it on his previous search.

But what had happened to the weapon between the moment that Ling Chu left it on Thornton Lyne's private desk and when it was discovered in the work-basket of Odette Rider in the flat at Carrymore Mansions? And what had Milburgh been doing in the store by himself so late at night? And more particularly, what had he been doing in Thornton Lyne's private room? It was unlikely that Lyne would leave his desk unlocked, and the only inference to be drawn was that Milburgh had unlocked it himself with the object of searching its contents.

And the _Hong_? Those sinister little squares of red paper with the Chinese characters, one of which had been found in Thornton Lyne's pocket? The explanation of their presence in Thornton Lyne's desk was simple. He had been a globetrotter and had collected curios, and it was only natural that he should collect these slips of paper, which were on sale in most of the big Chinese towns as a souvenir of the predatory methods of the "Cheerful Hearts."

His conversation with Ling Chu would have to be reported to Scotland Yard, and that august institution would draw its own conclusions. In all probability they would be most unfavourable to Ling Chu, who would come immediately under suspicion.

Tarling, however, was satisfied--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say inclined to be satisfied--with his retainer's statement. Some of his story was susceptible to verification, and the detective lost no time in making his way to the Stores. The topographical situation was as Ling Chu had described it. Tarling went to the back of the big block of buildings, into the small, quiet street of which Ling Chu had spoken, and was able to distinguish the iron rain pipe (one of many) up which the Chinaman had clambered. Ling Chu would negotiate that task without any physical distress. He could climb like a cat, as Tarling knew, and that part of his story put no great tax upon the detective's credulity.

He walked back to the front of the shop, passed the huge plate-glass windows, fringed now with shoppers with whom Lyne's Store had acquired a new and morbid interest, and through the big swinging doors on to the crowded floor. Mr. Milburgh was in his office, said a shop-walker, and led the way.

Mr. Milburgh's office was much larger and less ornate than his late employer's. He greeted Tarling effusively, and pushed an arm-chair forward and produced a box of cigars.

"We're in rather a turmoil and upset now, Mr. Tarling," he said in his ingratiating voice, with that set smile of his which never seemed to leave his face. "The auditors--or rather I should say the accountants--have taken away all the books, and of course that imposes a terrible strain on me, Mr. Tarling. It means that we've got to organise a system of interim accounts, and you as a business man will understand just what that means."

"You work pretty hard, Mr. Milburgh?" said Tarling.

"Why, yes, sir," smiled Milburgh. "I've always worked hard."

"You were working pretty hard before Mr. Lyne was killed, were you not?" asked Tarling.

"Yes----" hesitated Milburgh. "I can say honestly that I was."

"Very late at night?"

Milburgh still smiled, but there was a steely look in his eye as he answered:

"Frequently I worked late at night."

"Do you remember the night of the eleventh?" asked Tarling.

Milburgh looked at the ceiling for inspiration.

"Yes, I think I do. I was working very late that night."

"In your own office?"

"No," replied the other readily, "I did most of my work in Mr. Lyne's office--at his request," he added. A bold statement to make to a man who knew that Lyne suspected him of robbing the firm. But Milburgh was nothing if not bold.

"Did he also give you the key of his desk?" asked the detective dryly.

"Yes, sir," beamed Mr. Milburgh, "of course he did! You see, Mr. Lyne trusted me absolutely."

He said this so naturally and with such assurance that Tarling was staggered. Before he had time to speak the other went on:

"Yes, I can truthfully say that I was in Mr. Lyne's confidence. He told me a great deal more about himself than he has told anybody and----"

"One moment," said Tarling, and he spoke slowly. "Will you please tell me what you did with the revolver which you found on Mr. Lyne's desk? It was a Colt automatic, and it was loaded."

Blank astonishment showed in Mr. Milburgh's eyes.

"A loaded pistol?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, "but, my dear good Mr. Tarling, whatever are you talking about? I never found a loaded pistol on Mr. Lyne's desk--poor fellow! Mr. Lyne objected as much to these deadly weapons as myself."

Here was a facer for Tarling, but he betrayed no sign either of disappointment or surprise. Milburgh was frowning as though he were attempting to piece together some half-forgotten recollection.

"Is it possible," he said in a shocked voice, "that when you examined my house the other day it was with the object of discovering such a weapon as this!"

"It's quite possible," said Tarling coolly, "and even probable. Now, I'm going to be very straightforward with you, Mr. Milburgh. I suspect you know a great deal more about this murder than you have told us, and that you had ever so much more reason for wishing Mr. Lyne was dead than you are prepared to admit at this moment. Wait," he said, as the other opened his mouth to speak. "I am telling you candidly that the object of my first visit to these Stores was to investigate happenings which looked very black against you. It was hardly so much the work of a detective as an accountant," he said, "but Mr. Lyne thought that I should be able to discover who was robbing the firm."

"And did you?" asked Milburgh coolly. There was the ghost of a smile still upon his face, but defiance shone in his pale eyes.

"I did not, because I went no further in the matter after you had expressed your agreement with Mr. Lyne that the firm had been robbed by Odette Rider."

He saw the man change colour, and pushed home his advantage.

"I am not going to inquire too closely into your reasons for attempting to ruin an innocent girl," he said sternly. "That is a matter for your own conscience. But I tell you, Mr. Milburgh, that if you are innocent--both of the robbery and of the murder--then I've never met a guilty person in my life."

"What do you mean?" asked the man loudly. "Do you dare to accuse me----?"

"I accuse you of nothing more than this," said Tarling, "that I am perfectly satisfied that you have been robbing the firm for years. I am equally satisfied that, even if you did not kill Mr. Lyne, you at least know who did."

"You're mad," sneered Milburgh, but his face was white. "Supposing it were true that I had robbed the firm, why should I want to kill Mr. Thornton Lyne? The mere fact of his death would have brought an examination into the accounts."

This was a convincing argument--the more so as it was an argument which Tarling himself had employed.

"As to your absurd and melodramatic charges of robbing the firm," Milburgh went on, "the books are now in the hands of an eminent firm of chartered accountants, who can give the lie to any such statement as you have made."

He had recovered something of his old urbanity, and now stood, or rather straddled, with his legs apart, his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, beaming benignly upon the detective.

"I await the investigation of that eminent firm, Messrs. Dashwood and Solomon, with every confidence and without the least perturbation," he said. "Their findings will vindicate my honour beyond any question. I shall see this matter through!"

Tarling looked at him.

"I admire your nerve," he said, and left the office without another word.

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