No more of an exciting nature was said until the omelette was disposed of, and Lady Mary comfortably settled on the chesterfield. She had by now recovered her poise. Looking at her, Parker noticed how her recent illness (however produced) had left its mark upon her. Her complexion had nothing of the brilliance which he remembered; she looked strained and white, with purple hollows under her eyes.
“I am sorry I was so foolish just now, Mr. Parker,” she said, looking into his eyes with a charming frankness and confidence, “but I was dreadfully distressed, and I came up from Riddlesdale so hurriedly.”
“Not at all,” said Parker meaninglessly. “Is there anything I can do in your brother's absence?”
“I suppose you and Peter do everything together?”
“I think I may say that neither of us knows anything about this investigation which he has not communicated to the other.”
“If I tell you, it's the same thing?”
“Exactly the same thing. If you can bring yourself to honor me with your confidence——”
“Wait a minute, Mr. Parker. I'm in a difficult position. I don't quite know what I ought——Can you tell me just how far you've got—what you have discovered?”
Mr. Parker was a little taken aback. Although the face of Lady Mary had been haunting his imagination ever since the inquest, and although the agitation of his feelings had risen to boiling-point during this romantic interview, the official instinct of caution had not wholly deserted him. Holding, as he did, proof of Lady Mary's complicity in the crime, whatever it was, he was not so far gone as to fling all his cards on the table.
“I'm afraid,” he said, “that I can't quite tell you that. You see, so much of what we've got is only suspicion as yet. I might accidentally do great mischief to an innocent person.”
“Ah! You definitely suspect somebody, then?”
“Indefinitely would be a better word for it,” said Mr. Parker with a smile. “But if you have anything to tell us which may throw light on the matter, I beg you to speak. We may be suspecting a totally wrong person.”
“I shouldn't be surprised,” said Lady Mary, with a sharp, nervous little laugh. Her hand strayed to the table and began pleating the orange envelope into folds. “What do you want to know?” she asked suddenly, with a change of tone. Parker was conscious of a new hardness in her manner—a something braced and rigid.
He opened his note-book, and as he began his questioning his nervousness left him; the official reasserted himself.
“You were in Paris last February?”
Lady Mary assented.
“Do you recollect going with Captain Cathcart—oh! by the way, you speak French, I presume?”
“Yes, very fluently.”
“As well as your brother—practically without accent?”
“Quite as well. We always had French governesses as children, and mother was very particular about it.”
“I see. Well, now, do you remember going with Captain Cathcart on February 6th to a jeweler's in the Rue de la Paix and buying, or his buying for you, a tortoiseshell comb set with diamonds and a diamond and platinum cat with emerald eyes?”
He saw a lurking awareness come into the girl's eyes.
“Is that the cat you have been making inquiries about in Riddlesdale?” she demanded.
It being never worthwhile to deny the obvious, Parker replied “Yes.”
“It was found in the shrubbery, wasn't it?”
“Had you lost it? Or was it Cathcart's?”
“If I said it was his——”
“I should be ready to believe you. Was it his?”
“No”—a long breath—“it was mine.”
“When did you lose it?”
“I suppose in the shrubbery. Wherever you found it. I didn't miss it till later.”
“Is it the one you bought in Paris?”
“Why did you say before that it was not yours?”
“I was afraid.”
“I am going to speak the truth.”
Parker looked at her again. She met his eye frankly, but there was a tenseness in her manner which showed that it had cost her something to make up her mind.
“Very well,” said Parker, “we shall all be glad of that, for I think there were one or two points at the inquest on which you didn't tell the truth, weren't there?”
“Do believe,” said Parker, “that I am sorry to have to ask these questions. The terrible position in which your brother is placed——”
“In which I helped to place him.”
“I don't say that.”
“I do. I helped to put him in gaol. Don't say I didn't, because I did.”
“Well,” said Parker, “don't worry. There's plenty of time to put it all right again. Shall I go on?”
“Well, now, Lady Mary, it wasn't true about hearing that shot at three o'clock was it?”
“Did you hear the shot at all?”
“What was it, then, Lady Mary, you hid behind the plants in the conservatory?”
“I hid nothing there.”
“And in the oak chest on the landing?”
“You went out—why?—to meet Cathcart?”
“Who was the other man?”
“What other man?”
“The other man who was in the shrubbery. A tall, fair man dressed in a Burberry?”
“There was no other man.”
“Oh, pardon me, Lady Mary. We saw his footmarks all the way up from the shrubbery to the conservatory.”
“It must have been some tramp. I know nothing about him.”
“But we have proof that he was there—of what he did, and how he escaped. For heaven's sake, and your brother's sake, Lady Mary, tell us the truth—for that man in the Burberry was the man who shot Cathcart.”
“No,” said the girl, with a white face, “that is impossible.”
“I shot Denis Cathcart myself.”