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Ex Libris

As published in The Legion Book,
(ed. Capt. H. Cotton Minchin),
Cassell & Company Ltd., London 1929

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Version Date: 2020-07-09
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"The Legion Book," 1929 — Title Page

THERE is no doubt whatever that had it been necessary for Ronald Standish to earn a livelihood, he could have made big money as a private detective. And yet it would have been difficult to imagine anyone whose appearance suggested the fact less. Of medium height, he was inclined to be thick-set. His face was ruddy, with a short, closely-clipped moustache—and in his eyes there shone a perpetual twinkle. In fact, most people, on first meeting him, took him for an Army Officer. He was a first-class man to hounds, and an excellent shot; a cricketer who might easily have become first class had he devoted enough time to it, and a scratch golfer. And last, but not least, he was a man of very great personal strength without a nerve in his body.

Moreover, his memory was astounding. There are few of us, I venture to think, who have long left school, who would remember that formic acid might be used in the preparation of carbon monoxide. And yet it was precisely that piece of knowledge that enabled Ronald to solve the terrible mystery at Stavely Grange, a case of his I have already recorded.

And though no such recondite information was necessary in the affair I am about to put down, yet it illustrated very fully his favourite dictum:

'A fact pointing in a certain direction is just a fact: two pointing in the same direction become a coincidence: three—and you begin to get into the regions of certainty. But you must be very sure of your facts.'

It was early in the afternoon on a day in September that we left my club after lunch and strolled towards his rooms. He had just returned from a shoot in Scotland: I was tied by the heels in London on business.

'We might go up to Lord's for an hour or two,' he remarked, as we climbed the stairs to his rooms. 'Hullo! what's this?'

Stuck half-way into the letter-box was a visiting-card. He glanced at it; then with a shrug of his shoulders handed it to me.

'Don't know the gentleman,' he said. 'Do you?'

'No,' I answered. 'Never heard of him.'

The card bore the name of Sir Richard Burton. His address was Knowle Manor, Pangbourne: his club the Panthaneum. On the back of it in pencil was scribbled the following sentence: 'Found you out; will return at 2.45. R.B.'

Ronald sat down at his desk and picked up a copy of Who's Who. 'Burton, Sir Richard,' he read. 'Second Baronet. K.C.M.G. Created in 10,12. Born 1869. Travelled extensively in South America. Author of several books. Two Years on the Amazon, etc. Made J.P. in 1924. Recreations, Shooting and Fishing.'

The bell rang, and Ronald left the room.

'Come in, Sir Richard,' he cried. 'Sorry I was out when you came. This is a great pal of mine—Tom Manvers.'

Sir Richard proved to be a well-built man of average height. His hair was plentifully flecked with grey, but his face looked younger than his years. His eyes were keen and penetrating, and as he flashed a quick look from one to the other of us it struck me that he was essentially a man of action, who was quite capable of looking after himself in any emergency.

He nodded to me, and put his hat on the table.

'I shan't keep you long, Mr. Standish,' he said, 'but if you can spare me a few minutes I'd be very much obliged.'

'Go ahead, Sir Richard,' said Ronald. 'I can't promise you results, but I can promise to do my best.'

'Good,' said the other curtly. 'That's the sort of talk I like. To get on with it, it was in 1919 that I bought my house outside Pangbourne.'

'Is it a big house, Sir Richard?'

'Medium sized. Amply big enough for me. I am not married, and I live there with my nephew, who is also my secretary.'

He paused, and gave a short laugh.

''Pon my soul, Mr. Standish, the whole thing seems so damned foolish here in your flat, in broad daylight, that I almost regret having wasted your time.'

'Doesn't matter, Sir Richard,' said Ronald. 'Now you are here, you'd better get it off your chest.'

'Well, about a month ago,' continued the other, 'John—that's my nephew—came to me in a state of considerable surprise. He had an open letter in his hand—he deals with all my mail—and he put it down on the desk in front of me.

'"This beats me, Uncle Dick," he said. "Is it a practical joke?"

'I looked at the envelope; there it is, Mr. Standish—you can see it for yourself. Addressed to me in sprawling block capitals; handwriting illiterate; postmark Reading. Now—open it and see what was inside.'

I looked over Ronald's shoulder as he took out the enclosure. It consisted of half a sheet of paper with the number 18 scrawled on it. But the amazing thing was the manner of the scrawling. It was in a sort of discoloured brown ink, and had been done with some blunt instrument, so that the figure '1' was over a quarter of an inch thick and about three inches long.

'Was this all?' said Ronald, studying it.

'Absolutely all,' answered the other.

And then Ronald suddenly stared at the paper intently.

'Have you had this examined under a microscope?' he asked. 'Because, Sir Richard, unless I am much mistaken this is not ink. It is blood.'

'Blood!' I cried in amazement; but Sir Richard only smiled his satisfaction.

'Good, Standish, good!' he cried. 'I'm glad you spotted that. You're right—it is blood. And it is not human blood. The man who made the examination is prepared to swear that. In his opinion it is the blood of some bird, though what bird he is quite unable to say.'

'How very extraordinary!' said Ronald. 'Has any further development taken place?'

'Most certainly,' answered the other. 'About a fortnight ago a precisely similar letter arrived. There it is—same writing, same postmark. But with one big difference, which you will see when you open it. Instead of the number 18 it is 9.'

'Written with the same instrument,' said Ronald thoughtfully, 'and again in blood.'

'This morning,' continued Sir Richard, 'came the third. Once more the same writing, and the same postmark. Once more a big difference. In this morning's effusion the number is 27. There it is: see for yourself

In silence we stared at the three sheets of paper, whilst Sir Richard leaned back in his chair and lit a cigar.

'What do you make of it, Standish? Is it a practical joke?'

Ronald stared at him thoughtfully.

'Frankly, Sir Richard, absolutely nothing—at the moment. There is no use in my pretending that I do. It may be some stupid practical joke; it may be something very much more serious. What is it?'

Sir Richard, who was standing by the window, had given a sudden exclamation.

'Well, I'm blest,' he said. 'I could have sworn that was my nephew on the other side of the street.'

'Is there any particular reason why it shouldn't have been?' said Ronald.

'None, really. Except that I left him to do some work for me. And anyway,' he added with a laugh, 'I don't think it can have been. The man I saw seems to have gone to ground in a religious bookshop, which rules John out. Well, Standish—what's your suggestion?'

'Leave them with me, Sir Richard. I'll see what I can do. I may have a brain-storm, or I might be able to find out something in Reading. Though on the data you've given me up to now I don't hold out much hope.'

Sir Richard picked up his stick and gloves, disclosing as he did so a book which had been lying underneath them.

'Hullo!' said Ronald quietly, 'that's interesting.'

'What is?'

'The title of your book, Pheasant Rearing. Do you preserve, Sir Richard?'

'I do, though not on a very large scale.'

'A point of possible significance. The figures are written in bird s blood. Have you by any chance sacked a keeper lately?'

Sir Richard shook his head.

'No, I haven't. Yet another blind alley, I'm afraid. Well, Standish'—he held out his hand—'I'll leave the effusions with you. If you think of anything, let me know. And if I get another I will send it to you.'

With a nod to me he went out, and Ronald lit a cigarette.

'18, and 9, and 27,' he mused. 'Is there any significance in the fact that they are all multiples of 9? Is there any significance in the order in which they were sent? If we assume that it is pheasant's blood, is there any significance in that? Can it be that these figures are the records of some poacher, who out of bravado has sent the size of his bag to Sir Richard, and being an illiterate man, probably with a penchant for the films, has chosen this sensational sort of ink?'

'By Jove! Ronald,' I said, 'that's about the most likely theory you've put forward yet.'

'Most likely!' he laughed. 'It's the only one. And it's sheer guess-work. It is true that it does account for the facts as we know them: it is just as true that half a dozen others would do so equally well.'

He rose and stretched himself.

'But there's one thing I feel in my bones, Tom. Those numbers have some significance, though what it is I don't know. They are not an utterly pointless practical joke: of that I am convinced. Let's go to Lord's.'

And though the match was a good one, I found my attention continually wandering to Sir Richard Burton's strange story. What possible meaning could those numbers possess? Was it a warning, a threat, or what? And finally I came to the conclusion that Ronald's theory about the poacher was the correct one, though during the days that followed I could see that he was not satisfied with it.

'I can't help feeling,' he said two or three times, 'that we're not being very clever about it, Tom. There's something behind it.'

And yet though he blamed himself bitterly afterwards, I cannot think that he had any cause to do so. It is easy to be wise after the event, and to replay the hand when all the cards are on the table. And I maintain that in this case he didn't have a chance. If there are those who think otherwise they are entitled to their opinion. All I would ask them is to remember the sole data in our possession on the Monday morning when we saw the news in the paper.

Ronald came bursting into my room before I had started breakfast.

'Seen the news, Tom?' he said curtly.

He pointed to a short paragraph in the paper.

'Sir Richard Burton, the eminent South American explorer, was brutally murdered last night at Knowle Manor, his house near Pangbourne.'

'Good Lord!' I muttered. 'Poor old chap.'

'Put me down as a triple-distilled damned fool, Tom,' he cried. 'Monday, the 19th of September. Yesterday was the 18th. The 18th day, Tom, of the ninth month of the year 1927. Or for brevity 18-9-27. We've got the significance of the three numbers at last. I've already been rung up by Inspector Jobson of the Berkshire Police to go down there with the three sheets of paper.'

'But how did he know you'd got them?' I said.

'Presumably the nephew knew his uncle had come to me. Would you care to come?'

'You bet!' I said.

And the only remark he made in the car on the way down was typical.

'Sir Richard came to me and I've let him down. I'm going to find out who did it if it takes me the next five years.'

Knowle Manor proved to be a medium-sized house of that distinctive type which is met with only in England. A house with rambling wings, and windows that opened right down to the ground. A stout, shortish man was standing by the front door as we drove up, and at his side was a tall fair man of about thirty.

'Mr. Standish?' said the short one curtly, looking from one to the other of us.

'I'm Standish,' said Ronald. 'This is Mr. Manvers.'

'I am Inspector Jobson,' said the other. 'And this is Sir John Burton.'

'You've heard the ghastly news, Mr. Standish?'

'I read the brief announcement in the paper,' said Ronald gravely. 'May I express my sincere sympathy with you?'

'Sir Richard Burton, I am given to understand, consulted you a little while ago about some strange communications that he had received?'

'That is so,' said Ronald. 'Here they are.'

The Inspector took the papers, and gave a little grunt of satisfaction.

'The last possible doubt removed, Sir John. Look!'

'I feared as much,' said the other.

'Pendlestone,' called out the Inspector, and a policeman came towards him and saluted. 'Detain Mark Fuller at once on suspicion of murdering Sir Richard Burton. Caution him in the usual way.'

The policeman moved off down the drive, and the Inspector turned to us, rubbing his hands.

'Promptitude, Mr. Standish: quickness of action—that is my motto. A pity, if I may say so, that Sir Richard should have wasted—er—should have bothered to consult you. The proper people to come to with things of this sort are the police. The figures are, of course, quite meaningless, but, at the same time—'

He shrugged his shoulders expressively: enough had been said to put us in our place.

'Certainly,' said Ronald kindly. 'Yesterday was the 18th of September, 1927. September is the ninth month. 18-9-27.'

'By Jove! Mr. Standish,' cried Sir John admiringly, 'that's deuced quick of you.'

'I admit, Sir John,' said Ronald, 'to my everlasting regret, that I did not spot it before. Now, as I say, it is blatantly obvious—but now it is too late.'

'Great Scott! Jobson,' said Sir John, 'it's yet another bit of proof, if more were needed. I remember distinctly that last year the flower show was held on the 17th of September. And it was the day after that that Fuller was up in front of my uncle. Yesterday was the anniversary of his sentence. You can verify it, of course, but I'm certain I'm right.'

'Would it be indiscreet, Inspector, since we have come down here, to ask you to satisfy our curiosity?' said Ronald.

'Certainly, Mr. Standish, if Sir John has no objection.'

'I have none whatever,' said Sir John. 'You'll forgive me if I don't stay myself.'

He nodded and strolled off in the direction of the stables.

'If you will come this way, gentlemen,' said the Inspector, 'I will reconstruct the whole crime for you.' He stepped through the open windows and we followed him. 'Now this is the room in which the murder was committed—the late Sir Richard's study.'

It was a handsome oak-panelled room, with a big desk so placed in the middle of it that the writer had his left side to the light and did not face it. Several good heads adorned the walls, and the whole of one side of the room was taken up with bookshelves. In short, exactly the type of room which one would have expected Sir Richard to have as his own.

'Last night,' began the Inspector, 'Sir Richard came in here after dinner as was his custom. Usually his nephew came with him, but unfortunately on this occasion he did not. He had just obtained a new gramophone, and so he went to his own room at the other end of the house. At about ten o 'clock his door was burst open by the butler, who was in a terrible state of agitation. The man had apparently come in here to see if Sir Richard wanted anything, and had found the unfortunate gentleman dead at his desk with his head almost blown to pieces. It was a ghastly wound, Mr. Standish. Blood was all over the desk; a half-finished letter was in front of him; his pen was still clutched in his hand. Sir John came rushing down and at once rang me up and the doctor. We arrived together at half-past ten, and Doctor Jarvis made his examination. He placed the time of death at about half-past nine, and then we proceeded to search for the bullet. It had passed clean through the head, making a bad wound, as you will understand, on the side from which it came out. We found it lightly embedded in the wall. Here it is.'

He handed it to Ronald, who examined it carefully.

'About .260, I should say,' he said. 'High velocity rifle. A dangerous weapon. Go on, Inspector.'

To make it clearer to you, I must now digress,' the Inspector continued. 'About a quarter of a mile away from here, on the borders of the estate, is the cottage of a man called Mark Fuller. A morose, queer-tempered fellow living by himself, who makes a bare livelihood by market gardening. Officially, that is: unofficially he adds to it by poaching. And a year ago he was caught red-handed and came up before the bench when Sir Richard was chairman. Well, it is not for me to criticize, but they gave him a pretty stiff sentence—I'd almost go so far as to say a vindictive one. You know what these landowners are when it comes to a question of poaching. At any rate, since this murder was committed it has come to my ears that on two or three occasions Fuller has used some very threatening language about Sir Richard.

'However, to carry on in the proper sequence. It appears that Sir John has for a few months past been giving Fuller a helping hand. He hinted to me that on one or two things he did not see eye to eye with his uncle, particularly over the punishment that the bench had inflicted. And he has made a point of buying a certain amount of vegetables and flowers from Fuller. Strange, isn't it, how quite ordinary actions may prove links in the chain that brings a man to the gallows?'

'Go on, Inspector.'

I glanced at Ronald, and I noticed that he had a puzzled frown on his face. He was staring out of the window, and tapping the stem of his pipe against his teeth, a sure sign that something was worrying him.

The Inspector cleared his throat portentously.

'He treated Fuller as an ordinary tradesman, obtaining bills from him in the usual way. You will appreciate the relevance of that point later. Yesterday afternoon he sent for Fuller to come up here, as he wanted to talk to him. He interviewed him in the gun-room. Sir Richard, as you may know, was a noted shot; and he has a large collection of guns and rifles. Fuller was very interested in them, and after they had finished their talk Sir John explained to him the various types of weapon. Then he was called away and the interview ended. He did not go back into the gun-room, and he thought no more about the matter until the tragedy. Even then it was not until some time after I arrived that the possibility entered his mind.

'He said, "Good Lord! Jobson, I may be wrong, I hope I am. Come with me and we'll see."

'We went into the gun-room and he switched on the light.

'"The devil!" he said, "there's a stalking-rifle missing."

'And it was then he told me about the interview with Fuller yesterday afternoon. Naturally, I am too old a stager not to realize that one isolated fact like that is no proof: any number of people had access to the gun-room. But we had definitely advanced in our investigation. We knew that Mark Fuller had had the chance of taking the rifle: we knew that the rifle had gone.

'And now comes one of those small but absolutely damning bits of evidence that occasionally one stumbles on. You will remember that I told you that Sir John was in the habit of obtaining bills from this man Fuller for the stuff he bought. By a sheer piece of luck he happened to have one in his pocket. Here it is.'

He handed a half-sheet of paper to Ronald.


For a long time Ronald stared at the paper; then he handed it back.

'Very interesting, Inspector. Go on!'

'You see the utterly conclusive nature of the clue? You see why, the instant I saw the numbers Sir Richard had given you, I gave orders for Fuller's arrest.'

Ronald smiled slightly.

'You allude to the very characteristic 8. Also to the fact that the paper is the same for the bill and for the numbers.'

'You are quick Mr. Standish.'

'I take it then that your theory is as follows,' said Ronald. 'The hand that wrote the bill also wrote the numbers. We know that Fuller wrote the bill, therefore he wrote the numbers. The numbers contained a threat in the form of a date. On that date Sir Richard was murdered with a shot from a stalking-rifle. On that date also Fuller had the opportunity of stealing such a weapon, and such a weapon did disappear. Therefore Fuller shot Sir Richard.'

'Is there a flaw Mr. Standish?' cried the inspector triumphantly. 'And, incidentally, you haven't added the subsidiary points that the numbers were written in the blood of a bird; that a year ago Fuller was run in for poaching; that it is known that he has uttered threats against Sir Richard; and finally that at the time of the murder we have only his word that he was in his cottage.'

A shadow fell across the floor: Sir John was standing in the window.

'Poor old chap,' he said. 'By George! Mr. Standish, when I think of all that I've done for that swine, Fuller. I feel I'd like to have the hanging of him myself.'

'I quite understand your feelings,' said Ronald quietly. 'And since it hasn't been mentioned, I suppose no shot was heard? By the way, was Sir Richard at all deaf?'

'Far from it,' said his nephew in surprise. 'His hearing was exceptionally good. But there is one point that has struck me: possibly it has occurred to you also. If your theory, Mr. Standish is correct: if those numbers represent a date, how did Fuller know that on that actual date he would have an opportunity of murdering my uncle?'

'How indeed?' said Standish. 'It's your turn to be quick now, Sir John. It is possible, of course, that when he sent those numbers his only idea was to carry out a foolish sort of threat. And then by a strange coincidence he found the means at his disposal to turn a threat into reality.'

'I could kill myself for having shown him those guns,' said Sir John savagely. 'But the devil seemed so interested.'

'You mustn't blame yourself,' said Ronald gravely. 'No one could possibly have foreseen. Of course, no trace has been found of the missing rifle?'

'None,' said the Inspector. 'More than likely he threw it into the Thames. And if so, there never will be any trace of it. Well, gentlemen, I must be getting back. Your evidence will be required, Mr. Standish: I will let you know in due course.'

He went out through the window, and it was not until the sound of his footsteps had died away on the gravel drive that Sir John spoke.

'I don't know if I can offer either of you anything,' he said. 'If not, perhaps you will excuse me. I fear there is nothing more we can do, except bring that swine to justice.'

'Quite,' said Ronald. 'Well, good-bye, Sir John. We'll be getting back. Once again my sincere sympathy.'

I followed him through the window, and we crossed the drive.

'The place must surely be looking its very best,' said Ronald, and undoubtedly it was a charming property. In front of us the ground dropped away to a small lake fringed with trees that had already assumed their autumnal colouring. 'Really delightful.'

With his head thrown back, Ronald was studying the country through half-closed eyes as I joined him.

'Look there!'

He pointed with his left hand, and at the same time gripped my arm with his right in a way there was no mistaking. When he wanted, his grip was rather like a steel vice.

'Stay here,' he muttered urgently. 'Exquisite,' he said aloud. 'Exquisite. Well we must be going. Damn! I've left my tobacco pouch indoors.'

He turned and left me, and true to his orders I stood where I was until he hailed me again.

'Come on, Tom! Just get to town in time for lunch.'

'A pretty clear case,' I said, as we turned into the main road.

He grunted thoughtfully.

'What was the great idea about the tobacco pouch?' I continued.

'A little question of line of sight,' was his surprising answer. 'Dash it! Tom, if only Sir Richard had been deaf and this man Fuller had known how to spell cauliflower, I should be able to go off and play cricket tomorrow.'

And not another word could I get out of him during the drive.

It was not until the following day that I saw him again. I went round to his rooms to find him staring moodily out of the window. The morning papers had all contained accounts of Fuller's arrest, and when I mentioned it to Ronald he nodded.

'The worthy Jobson saw to that,' he said. 'I went down to Pangbourne again yesterday afternoon, Tom.'

'Why didn't you tell me?' I cried.

'Nothing very interesting,' he said. 'I wanted to play that gramophone or, rather, hear it. And you can't—not from Sir Richard's study.'

'Is the point important?' I asked.

'Vital,' he said. 'Absolutely vital. Tom, there's a missing link and I can't get it. A clever man may be a fool, but he's not a suicidal idiot.'

'You don't think Fuller did it,' I said.

'He had as much to do with it as we had,' he answered. 'But never have I realized more clearly the difference between knowing and proving.'

'Then you know who did it?' I cried.

'A singularly dangerous man,' he said grimly. 'And a singularly clever man. And what is defeating me, as I said before, is how a clever man could commit an act of such suicidal idiocy. The stupidity is such that I am really beginning, in spite of everything, to wonder if I 'm on the right hare. If you are told a man is a clever mathematician and you catch him making a mistake in the multiplication table, you're bound to think that something is wrong somewhere.'

He was drumming with his fingers on the glass, and suddenly his hand fell to his side.

'Good Lord!' he said softly, 'what a fool I am. Right under my nose the whole time. Damn it! I've been looking at it the whole morning.'

Without his hat he dashed out of the room, and in amazement I watched him dart over the street into the bookshop opposite. He came back in about ten minutes with a small parcel, and at once picked up the telephone.

'Trunks, please. I want Pangbourne, Knowle Manor: I don't know the number. We may get him, Tom,' he said as he hung up the receiver, 'but we've got to move darned warily. And our only hope is to make him give himself away.'

The bell jangled.

'Hullo! Is that you, Sir John? It is Standish speaking. Look here, the most extraordinary piece of corroborative evidence about Fuller has come to my ears. Could you possibly come up at once? It's very urgent. Good! You will.'

He rang off and turned to me.

'Now, Tom—no time to lose. Ring up the Yard while I adjust this.'

'But, good Lord! man,' I almost shouted, 'you can't mean that it was Sir John. Why, he was playing the gramophone the whole time.'

'The gramophone was playing the whole time,' he said quietly. 'And that's a very different matter when it happens to be one of those new machines that plays twelve records on end.'

He undid the parcel, and produced a small cylindrical object of a type I had never seen before. Then he took down one of his rifles and got to work.

'The Knebworth silencer,' he explained.

'I don't quite understand,' I said.

'It suddenly came to me as I was looking out of the window. Do you remember the day Sir Richard was here, he said he saw his nephew, as he thought, going into the religious bookshop. He did, but he didn't stop there. The agency for this silencer is on the floor above: I've just been over there. And he bought one, but not in his own name: the man spotted him at once from my description. It's the missing link, Tom: the one thing that has been puzzling me. And the devil of it is that even now, if he keeps his head, he may be able to get away with it.'

'But what did he do it for?' I cried.

'Up to his eyes with moneylenders,' said Ronald. 'I found that out the afternoon we got back from Pangbourne. A very fine example, Tom, of a man being too clever. And yet he's been clever enough, unless we can trap him, to illustrate what I said to you a little while ago—the difference between knowing and proving. Ring up the Yard, like a good fellow. Get McIver, if possible—and you can both go to ground in my bedroom. I will interview Sir John alone.'

So two hours later Inspector McIver and I sat in Ronald's bedroom, listening to the interview between him and Sir John.

'Sorry you'll have to wait a bit, Sir John,' said Ronald. The man hasn't rolled up yet, but he won't be long.'

They talked on casually for a few minutes, and then through the keyhole I saw Ronald produce the rifle.

'What on earth is that attachment?' said Sir John, and into Ronald's eyes there came a momentary gleam of triumph.

'The Knebworth silencer,' he said. 'Never seen one?'

'Never even heard of it,' he said. 'How does it work?'

'The owner of the patent is just coming to explain it,' said Ronald easily. 'What's the matter, Sir John? Don't go. I said—don't go.'

His voice rang suddenly stern.

'Come in, Mr. Parker,' and I heard the door open. 'Do you know that man?'

'I certainly do,' said a strange voice. 'Mr. Martin, isn't it? You bought one of my silencers on the sixth of this month. So you did not go abroad, after all?'

'It's a lie,' shouted Sir John.

'And is it a lie that you're up to your neck in debt, Sir John?' said Ronald quietly. 'Is it a lie that you shot your uncle from almost point-blank range through the head, having established, as you thought, an alibi by means of a gramophone? You sent those numbers, Sir John: you— God! Stop him!'

But it was too late. As McIver and I dashed in, Sir John pitched forward on his face and lay still. And in the air there hung a faint smell of bitter almonds.

'What first put you on the scent, Ronald?' I asked, as a couple of hours later we sat down to dinner.

'The very thing that that bright specimen had thought would put us off it—the numbers. The habit of dating a letter that way—or shall I say, of thinking of a date that way—is essentially the habit of a business man, or at any rate an educated one. Fuller was very uneducated: he spelt potatoes and cauliflower wrong in his bill. Moreover, he dated it August 2nd—not 2-8-27. And so, though I was convinced the numbers did mean a date, I was equally convinced that no uneducated man had sent them. If that were so, the whole case against Fuller fell to the ground, and a very different aspect of affairs presented itself. Fuller was being made the scapegoat for some one else. The question was who—the bill pointed pretty unerringly there. Our worthy Jobson assumed that because the two eights were the same, therefore the same hand had written them. Which would have been sound if the date of the bill had been after the number was sent. But it was before. So there was no reason why the number should not be a copy, which, in fact, it was. But the crux of the whole thing was the lie of the ground, coupled with the fact that Sir Richard's hearing was good. When I made that excuse about my tobacco pouch, I sat down at the desk. And I couldn't even see you, owing to the slope of the ground. So that the man who shot Sir Richard must have been on the drive itself. Now, however quietly you walk on gravel you make a noise. And would Sir Richard have remained sitting at his desk if he'd looked up and seen Fuller in the light from the window? If he'd looked up and seen his nephew he would have thought nothing of it. And when he'd resumed his writing that blackguard shot him at leisure.

The difficulty, as you see, was the sound of the shot. Whether a gramophone is playing or not, the sound of a shot travels on a quiet night. And it was not that that was defeating me. Because, whatever a man like Fuller might or might not have done, a man like Sir John would never have dared risk it. It would have been an act of suicidal folly from his point of view. A servant might have been outside the door and dashed in; somebody might have been in the grounds. I already was almost certain in my own mind that it was Sir John, and I must admit I admired his cleverness in anticipating the obvious difficulty about the date coinciding with the opportunity, a difficulty to which he left me to supply the answer. But it was the noise of that darned shot that was the stumbling-block. Had he risked it, or was I all wrong? Everything pointed to him, and yet I wasn't sure. Then we had our bit of luck—the fact: that Sir Richard had seen him enter that shop. But do you realize one thing, Tom? If he had given his own name when he bought that silencer: if he had stated all along that the rifle which he said Fuller stole had been fitted with it, he wouldn't be dead now. And in the fullness of time an innocent man would have gone to the gallows.'


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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