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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 35. Milburgh's Story
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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 35. Milburgh's Story Post by :bambito Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :3583

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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 35. Milburgh's Story


"I do not intend," said Mr. Milburgh in his best oracular manner, "describing all the events which preceded the death of the late Thornton Lyne. Nor will I go to any length to deal with his well-known and even notorious character. He was not a good employer; he was suspicious, unjust, and in many ways mean. Mr. Lyne was, I admit, suspicious of me. He was under the impression that I had robbed the firm of very considerable sums of money--a suspicion which I in turn had long suspected, and had confirmed by a little conversation which I overheard on the first day I had the pleasure of seeing you, Mr. Tarling."

Tarling remembered that fatal day when Milburgh had come into the office at the moment that Lyne was expressing his views very freely about his subordinate.

"Of course, gentlemen," said Milburgh, "I do not for one moment admit that I robbed the firm, or that I was guilty of any criminal acts. I admit there were certain irregularities, certain carelessnesses, for which I was morally responsible; and beyond that I admit nothing. If you are making a note"--he turned to Whiteside, who was taking down the statement in shorthand, "I beg of you to make a special point of my denial. Irregularities and carelessnesses," he repeated carefully. "Beyond that I am not prepared to go."

"In other words, you are not confessing anything?"

"I am not confessing anything," agreed Mr. Milburgh with heavy gravity. "It is sufficient that Mr. Lyne suspected me, and that he was prepared to employ a detective in order to trace my defalcations, as he termed them. It is true that I lived expensively, that I own two houses, one in Camden Town and one at Hertford; but then I had speculated on the Stock Exchange and speculated very wisely.

"But I am a sensitive man, gentlemen; and the knowledge that I was responsible for certain irregularities preyed upon my mind. Let us say, for example, that I knew somebody had been robbing the firm, but that I was unable to detect that somebody. Would not the fact that I was morally responsible for the finances of Lyne's Stores cause me particular unhappiness?"

"You speak like a book," said Whiteside, "and I for one don't believe a word you say. I think you were a thief, Milburgh; but go on your own sweet way."

"I thank you," said Mr. Milburgh sarcastically. "Well, gentlemen, matters had come to a crisis. I felt my responsibility. I knew somebody had been robbing the house and I had an idea that possibly I would be suspected, and that those who were dear to me"--his voice shook for a moment, broke, and grew husky--"those who were dear to me," he repeated, "would be visited with my sins of omission.

"Miss Odette Rider had been dismissed from the firm of Lyne's Stores in consequence of her having rejected the undesirable advances of the late Mr. Lyne. Mr. Lyne turned the whole weight of his rage against this girl, and that gave me an idea.

"The night after the interview--or it may have been the same night--I refer to the interview which Mr. Tarling had with the late Thornton Lyne--I was working late at the office. I was, in fact, clearing up Mr. Lyne's desk. I had occasion to leave the office, and on my return found the place in darkness. I re-connected the light, and then discovered on the desk a particularly murderous looking revolver.

"In the statement I made to you, sir," he turned to Tarling, "I said that that pistol had not been found by me; and indeed, I professed the profoundest ignorance of its existence. I regret to confess to you that I was telling an untruth. I did find the pistol; I put it in my pocket and I took it home. It is probable that with that pistol Mr. Lyne was fatally shot."

Tarling nodded.

"I hadn't the slightest doubt about that, Milburgh. You also had another automatic pistol, purchased subsequent to the murder from John Wadham's of Holborn Circus."

Mr. Milburgh bowed his head.

"That is perfectly true, sir," he said. "I have such a weapon. I live a very lonely kind of life, and----"

"You need not explain. I merely tell you," said Tarling, "that I know where you got the pistol with which you shot at me on the night I brought Odette Rider back from Ashford."

Mr. Milburgh closed his eyes and there was resignation written largely on his face--the resignation of an ill-used and falsely-accused man.

"I think it would be better not to discuss controversial subjects," he said. "If you will allow me, I will keep to the facts."

Tarling could have laughed at the sublime impertinence of the man, but that he was growing irritable with the double strain which was being imposed upon him. It was probable that, had not this man accused Odette Rider of the murder, he would have left him to make his confession to Whiteside, and have gone alone in his hopeless search for the taxicab driven by Sam Stay.

"To resume," continued Mr. Milburgh, "I took the revolver home. You will understand that I was in a condition of mind bordering upon a nervous breakdown. I felt my responsibilities very keenly, and I felt that if Mr. Lyne would not accept my protestations of innocence, there was nothing left for me but to quit this world."

"In other words, you contemplated suicide?" said Whiteside.

"You have accurately diagnosed the situation," said Milburgh ponderously. "Miss Rider had been dismissed, and I was on the point of ruin. Her mother would be involved in the crash--those were the thoughts which ran through my mind as I sat in my humble dining-room in Camden Town. Then the idea flashed upon me. I wondered whether Odette Rider loved her mother sufficiently well to make the great sacrifice, to take full responsibility for the irregularities which had occurred in the accounts' department of Lyne's Stores, and clear away to the Continent until the matter blew over. I intended seeing her the next day, but I was still doubtful as to whether she would fall in with my views. Young people nowadays," he said sententiously, "are terribly selfish."

"As it happened, I just caught her as she was leaving for Hertford, and I put the situation before her. The poor girl was naturally shocked, but she readily fell in with my suggestion and signed the confession which you, Mr. Tarling, so thoughtfully burnt."

Whiteside looked at Tarling.

"I knew nothing of this," he said a little reproachfully.

"Go on," said Tarling. "I will explain that afterwards."

"I had previously wired the girl's mother that she would not be home that night. I also wired to Mr. Lyne, asking him to meet me at Miss Rider's flat. I took the liberty of fixing Miss Rider's name to the invitation, thinking that that would induce him to come."

"It also covered you," said Tarling, "and kept your name out of the business altogether."

"Yes," said Mr. Milburgh, as though the idea had not struck him before, "yes, it did that. I had sent Miss Rider off in a hurry. I begged that she would not go near the flat, and I promised that I myself would go there, pack the necessary articles for the journey and take them down in a taxi to Charing Cross."

"I see," said Tarling, "so it was you who packed the bag?"

"Half-packed it," corrected Mr. Milburgh. "You see, I'd made a mistake in the time the train left. It was only when I was packing the bag that I realised it was impossible for me to get down to the station in time. I had made arrangements with Miss Rider that if I did not turn up I would telephone to her a quarter of an hour before the train left. She was to await me in the lounge of a near-by hotel. I had hoped to get to her at least an hour before the train left, because I did not wish to attract attention to myself, or," he added, "to Miss Rider. When I looked at my watch, and realised that it was impossible to get down, I left the bag as it was, half-packed and went outside to the tube station and telephoned."

"How did you get in and out?" asked Tarling. "The porter on duty at the door said he saw nobody."

"I went out the back way," explained Mr. Milburgh. "It is really the simplest thing in the world to get into Miss Rider's basement flat by way of the mews behind. All the tenants have keys to the back door so that they can bring their cycles in and out, or get in their coals."

"I know that," said Tarling. "Go on."

"I am a little in advance of the actual story," said Milburgh. "The business of packing the bag takes my narrative along a little farther than I intended it to go. Having said good-bye to Miss Rider, I passed the rest of the evening perfecting my plans. It would serve no useful purpose," said Milburgh with an airy wave of his hand, "if I were to tell you the arguments I intended putting before him."

"If they did not include the betrayal of Miss Rider, I'm a Dutchman," said Tarling. "I pretty well know the arguments you intended using."

"Then, Mr. Tarling, allow me to congratulate you upon being a thought-reader," said Milburgh, "because I have not revealed my secret thoughts to any human being. However, that is beside the point. I intended to plead with Mr. Lyne. I intended to offer him the record of years of loyal service to his sainted father; and if the confession was not accepted, and if he still persisted in his revengeful plan, then, Mr. Tarling, I intended shooting myself before his eyes."

He said this with rare dramatic effect; but Tarling was unimpressed, and Whiteside looked up from his notes with a twinkle in his eye.

"You hobby seems to be preparing for suicide and changing your mind," he said.

"I am sorry to hear you speak so flippantly on a solemn subject," said Milburgh. "As I say, I waited a little too long; but I was anxious for complete darkness to fall before I made my way into the flat. This I did easily because Odette had lent me her key. I found her bag with no difficulty--it was in the dining-room on a shelf, and placing the case upon her bed, I proceeded, as best I could, for I am not very familiar with the articles of feminine toilette, to put together such things as I knew she would require on the journey.

"I was thus engaged when, as I say, it occurred to me that I had mistaken the time of the train, and, looking at my watch, I saw to my consternation that I should not be able to get down to the station in time. Happily I had arranged to call her up, as I have already told you."

"One moment," said Tarling. "How were you dressed?"

"How was I dressed? Let me think. I wore a heavy overcoat, I know," said Mr. Milburgh, "for the night was chilly and a little foggy, if you remember."

"Where was the revolver?"

"In the overcoat pocket," replied Milburgh immediately.

"Had you your overcoat on?"

Milburgh thought for a moment.

"No, I had not. I had hung it up on a hook at the foot of the bed, near the alcove which I believe Miss Rider used as a wardrobe."

"And when you went out to telephone, had you your overcoat?"

"No, that I am perfectly certain about," said Milburgh readily. "I remember thinking later how foolish it was to bring an overcoat out and not use it."

"Go on," said Tarling.

"Well, I reached the station, called up the hotel, and to my surprise and annoyance Miss Rider did not answer. I asked the porter who answered my 'phone call whether he had seen a young lady dressed in so-and-so waiting in the lounge, and he replied 'no.' Therefore," said Mr. Milburgh emphatically, "you will agree that it is possible that Miss Rider was not either at the station or at the hotel, and there was a distinct possibility that she had doubled back."

"We want the facts," interrupted Whiteside. "We have enough theories. Tell us what happened. Then we will draw our own conclusions."

"Very good, sir," replied Milburgh courteously. "By the time I had telephoned it was half-past nine o'clock. You will remember that I had wired to Mr. Lyne to meet me at the flat at eleven. Obviously there was no reason why I should go back to the flat until a few minutes before Mr. Lyne was due, to let him in. You asked me just now, sir," he turned to Tarling, "whether I had my overcoat on, and I can state most emphatically that I had not. I was going back to the flat with the intention of collecting my overcoat, when I saw a number of people walking about the mews behind the block. I had no desire to attract attention, as I have told you before, so I stood waiting until these people, who were employees of a motor-car company which had a garage behind the flat, had dispersed.

"Now, waiting at the corner of a mews on a cold spring night is a cold business, and seeing that it would be some time before the mews would be clear, I went back to the main street and strolled along until I came to a picture palace. I am partial to cinematograph displays," explained Mr. Milburgh, "and, although I was not in the mood for entertainment, yet I thought the pictures would afford a pleasant attraction. I forget the name of the film----"

"It is not necessary that you should tell us for the moment," said Tarling. "Will you please make your story as short as possible?"

Milburgh was silent for a moment.

"I am coming now to the most extraordinary fact," he said, "and I would ask you to bear in mind every detail I give you. It is to my interest that the perpetrator of this terrible crime should be brought to justice----"

Tarling's impatient gesture arrested his platitudes, but Mr. Milburgh was in no way abashed.

"When I got back to the mews I found it deserted. Standing outside the door leading to the storerooms and cellars was a two-seater car. There was nobody inside or in attendance and I looked at it curiously, not realising at the moment that it was Mr. Thornton Lyne's. What did interest me was the fact that the back gate, which I had left locked, was open. So, too, was the door leading to what I would call the underground room--it was little better--through which one had to pass to reach Odette's flat by the back way.

"I opened the door of the flat," said Mr. Milburgh impressively, "and walked in. I had extinguished the light when I went, but to my surprise I saw through the transom of Odette's bedroom that a light was burning within. I turned the handle, and even before I saw into the room, my nose was assailed by a smell of burning powder.

"The first sight which met my gaze was a man lying on the floor. He was on his face, but I turned him over, and to my horror it was Mr. Thornton Lyne. He was unconscious and bleeding from a wound in the chest," said Mr. Milburgh, "and at the moment I thought he was dead. To say that I was shocked would be mildly to describe my terrible agitation.

"My first thought--and first thoughts are sometimes right--was that he had been shot down by Odette Rider, who for some reason had returned. The room, however, was empty, and a curious circumstance, about which I will tell you, was that the window leading out to the area of the flat was wide open."

"It was protected with heavy bars," said Tarling, "so nobody could have escaped that way."

"I examined the wound," Milburgh went on, nodding his agreement with Tarling's description, "and knew that it was fatal. I do not think, however, that Mr. Thornton Lyne was dead at this time. My next thought was to stanch the wound, and I pulled open the drawer and took out the first thing which came to my hand, which was a night-dress. I had to find a pad and employed two of Odette's handkerchiefs for the purpose. First of all I stripped him of his coat and his vest, a task of some difficulty, then I fixed him up as best I could. I knew his case was hopeless, and indeed I believe," said Mr. Milburgh soberly, "I believe he was dead even before the bandaging was completed.

"Whilst I was doing something I found it was possible to forget the terrible position in which I would find myself if somebody came into the room. The moment I saw the case was hopeless, and had a second to think, I was seized with a blind panic. I snatched my overcoat from the peg and ran out of the room; through the back way into the mews, and reached Camden Town that night, a mental and physical wreck."

"Did you leave the lights burning?" asked Tarling.

Mr. Milburgh thought for a moment.

"Yes," he said, "I left the lights burning."

"And you left the body in the flat?"

"That I swear," replied Milburgh.

"And the revolver--when you got home was it in your pocket?"

Mr. Milburgh shook his head.

"Why did you not notify the police?"

"Because I was afraid," admitted Mr. Milburgh. "I was scared to death. It is a terrible confession to make, but I am a physical coward."

"There was nobody in the room?" persisted Tarling.

"Nobody so far as I could see. I tell you the window was open. You say it is barred--that is true, but a very thin person could slip between those bars. A woman----"

"Impossible," said Tarling shortly. "The bars have been very carefully measured, and nothing bigger than a rabbit could get through. And you have no idea who carried the body away?"

"None whatever," replied Milburgh firmly.

Tarling had opened his mouth to say something, when a telephone bell shrilled, and he picked up the instrument from the table on which it stood.

It was a strange voice that greeted him, a voice husky and loud, as though it were unused to telephoning.

"Tarling the name?" shouted the voice quickly.

"That is my name," said Tarling.

"She's a friend of yours, ain't she?" asked the voice.

There was a chuckle. A cold shiver ran down Tarling's spine; for, though he had never met the man, instinct told him that he was speaking to Sam Stay.

"You'll find her to-morrow," screamed the voice, "what's left of her. The woman who lured him on ... what's left of her...."

There was a click, and the receiver was hung up.

Tarling was working the telephone hook like a madman.

"What exchange was that?" he asked, and the operator after a moment supplied the information that it was Hampstead.

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