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They're both what you might call complicated. I'll show you them. Come this way. He led Brent across a corridor that branched off from the head of the stone staircase, and presently stopped at a big double door. There's a staircase leads down from that to the rooms that Bunning and his wife occupy as caretakers—a back stairs, in fact.

But nobody can come up it, and through the Council Chamber, and along the corridor to the Mayor's Parlour without first coming through Bunning's rooms, that's flat. As for the other—well, it's still more unlikely.

He led Brent out of the Council Chamber and farther along to another door, which he flung open as he motioned his companion to enter. Now, Mr.

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Brent, there's a staircase—a corkscrew staircase, modern, of ironwork—in the corner of that dock which leads down to the cells. And that's the second way by which you could get to the Mayor's Parlour. But just fancy what that means! A man who wanted to reach the Mayor's Parlour by that means of approach would have to enter the police station from St. Laurence Lane, at the back of the Moot Hall, pass the charge office, pass my office, go along a passage in which he'd be pretty certain to meet somebody, come up that stairs into the dock there, cross the court and—so on.

That's not likely!

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And yet, those are the only ways by which there's access to the Mayor's Parlour except by the big staircase from the iron gates. And what seems more important just now is the question—how did he get away from it, unobserved? If Bunning is certain that no one entered by the front between my cousin's arrival and my coming, he is equally certain that no one left.

Is it possible that anyone left by the police station entrance? He opened the door of the dock and led Brent down an iron staircase into an arched and vaulted hall at its foot, whence they proceeded along various gloomy passages towards a heavy, iron-studded door.

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Near this, a police constable stood writing at a tall desk; the superintendent approached and spoke to him. Presently he turned back to Brent. Nobody has entered—or left—during the time that's elapsed. As I said before, what we do know is that the murderer got to the Mayor's Parlour, and that he got away from it!

Hawthwaite shook his head, with a puzzled expression overspreading his somewhat heavy and unimaginative features. My cousin showed me over it when I was here last, and I remember some queer places in it. Of course I'll have the whole place searched thoroughly—every inch of it!

We shall neglect nothing in a case of this sort, I can assure you, Mr. I—But come into my office. He led the way into a drab-walled, official-looking apartment, curiously suggestive of the lesser and meaner forms of crime, and pointed to a chair. Only what can one do? The doctors are doing the absolutely necessary things at present; as for me, all I can do is to search for clues and traces, as I suggested, and make all possible inquiries. But there you are, we've nothing to go on—nothing, I mean, that would identify.

His Worship, poor man, wasn't exactly popular in the town—with a certain section, that is—but I couldn't believe that there's man or woman in the place would wish him harm! No, sir—in my opinion this is outside work! Before the superintendent could reply, his partly-open door was further opened, and a little, bustling, eager-faced man, who wore large spectacles and carried a pencil behind his right ear, looked in.

Brent recognized him as another of the half-dozen Hathelsborough men whose acquaintance he had made on former visits—Peppermore, the hard-worked editor-reporter of the one local newspaper. Wallingford [Pg 24] had introduced him to Peppermore in the smoking-room of the Chancellor Hotel, and Peppermore, who rarely got the chance of talking to London journalists, had been loquacious and ingratiating.

His expressive eyebrows—prominent features of his somewhat odd countenance—went up now as he caught sight of Brent standing on the superintendent's hearth-rug. He came quickly into the room.

My profound sympathy, Mr. Dear, dear! Barber; he gave me the scantiest information, so I hurried to see you. All we know is that the Mayor was found dead in the Mayor's Parlour half an hour ago, and that he's been murdered. You'll have to wait for the rest. The Mayor of Hathelsborough!


Now that's something that's unique in the history of the town, I believe. I was looking over the records not so long since, and I don't remember coming across any entry of such an event as this. Hawthwaite made no reply. At that moment a policeman put his head inside the door and asked [Pg 25] him to go to Dr. Wellesley, and he went off, leaving the two newspaper men together. Brent looked at Peppermore and suddenly put an abrupt question to him. Brent," said Peppermore. That meant that half the Council was against him.

Against his policy and ideas, you know. Of course he was a reformer. Those who didn't like him called him a meddler. And in my experience of this place—ten years—it's a bad thing to meddle in Hathelsborough affairs. Too many vested interests, sir! Certainly—amongst some people—Mr. Wallingford was not at all popular. I'll give you some.

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Looks like a skilfully-planned, premeditated job too——". Hawthwaite came in again, carrying something in his hand, concealed by a piece of brown paper. His face betokened a discovery. Just after you and I had gone out of the Mayor's Parlour, Mr.

Brent, Bunning picked something out of the hearth, where it was half-burnt, and what's left charred, and gave it to Dr. He laid the brown paper on his desk, turned back the edges, and revealed part of a fine cambric pocket-handkerchief, crumpled and blood-stained, charred and blackened. He got blood on his hands—he wiped them on this, and threw it away on the fire, to burn.

And this half is not burned! D uring a moment's impressive silence the three men, standing side by side at Hawthwaite's desk, stared at the blood-stained memento of the crime. Each was thinking the same thought—there, before them, was the life-blood of the man who little more than an hour previously had been full of energy, forcefulness, ambition.

It was Peppermore who first spoke, in an awe-stricken voice. He picked up a box of letter-paper which lay close by, emptied it of its contents, and lifted the fragment of handkerchief by a corner. That, as you may observe, is no common article; it's a gentleman's handkerchief—fine cambric. If it had only been the other part of it, now, there'd probably have been a name on it, or initials wove into it: there's nothing of that sort, you see, on what's [Pg 28] left. But it's something, and it may lead to a good deal.

He put the cardboard box away in a safe and locked it up; putting the key in his pocket, he gave Brent an informing glance. The murderer, they're confident, was standing behind him as he himself was either writing or looking over the papers on his desk, and suddenly thrust a knife clean through his shoulders.

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They say death would be instantaneous. It would be a long, thin weapon, said Dr. Wellesley; and Dr. Barber, he suggested that it was the sort of wound that would be caused by one of those old-fashioned rapiers. And they did say, both of them, that it had been used—whatever the weapon was—with great force: gone clean through.