There was something in his tone that smacked of the lecture, so dry and precise was it. But a clearer observer of him than either of his present audience, to whom the words he said were so much more just now than the man who said them, would have seen that an intense agitation quivered beneath the surface. The man was desperately in earnest about something.
"There is one more preliminary word," he went on. "We are dealing, so far as my observations go, with a man who is scarcely sane. In the psychology of crime we find that such patient, calculated attempts to take life are usually associated with something else that indicates cerebral disorder—some fixed idea, in short, of an insane character, which is usually the motive for the homicidal desire. That symptom is present here."
"The Luck!" exclaimed Lady Oxted.
"Precisely. The idea of owning the Luck possesses our—our patient. He believes that it brings its owner dangers possibly, and risks, but compensations of an overwhelming weight. He believes, I may tell you, that it will keep off death, perhaps indefinitely. And to an old man that is a consideration of some importance, especially if he[Pg 379] has such an exuberant love of life as Mr. Francis has. On the other hand, we must remember that before the last outbreak, if we may call it such, Mr. Francis procured the death of a man who stood in no relation to the Luck. Yes, he shot young Harmsworth," he said slowly, looking at Lady Oxted, "for nothing more nor less than the insurance money. One may have doubts whether all crime of violent kind is not a form of insanity. But that particular form of insanity is punished with hanging."
It is by strange pathways that a woman's mind sometimes moves: she may take short cuts of the most dubious and fallacious kind to avoid a minute's traversing of the safe road, or walk a mile round in order to avoid a puddle over which she could easily step, but she at any rate knows when she has arrived, and at this juncture Lady Oxted got up and held out her hand to the doctor.
"I entreat your pardon," she said, "and, in any case, I trust you now."
A certain brightness shone in those dark, sad eyes, as he took her hand.
"I am glad to know that," he said, "and I advise you, if possible, to continue trusting me. You will have a trial of faith before long."
Geoffrey moved impatiently; all three seemed to have forgotten their manners.
"Oh, go on, man—go on!" he exclaimed.
"Bear in mind, then," said the doctor, "that we may be dealing with a lunatic. This fixed idea[Pg 380] inclines me to that belief; the murder of young Harmsworth pulls the other way. But Mr. Francis has now made his plans; he told me them this morning, for I, as you will see, am to figure in them. And what he will do is this."
The doctor again paused, and adjusted his finger-tips together.
"He expects Harry," he said, "to return to Vail before the end of the month; he and his servant will return about the same time, or perhaps a day or two earlier, for there will be a few arrangements to make. I shall also accompany Mr. Francis, so he tells me, on the ground of his continued ill health."