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First published in The Novel Magazine, #107, February 1914

Collected in Paul Beck, Detective, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-14

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"Paul Beck—Detective,"
Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929, with "A Wedding Tragedy"



M. McDonnell Bodkin

Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).

Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.

Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."

...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).

Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.

ALL London rang with it, the newsboys shouted it at every corner. Flaring headlines, "Sensational Assassination," "Marriage and Murder," "From the Altar to the Grave," in huge black letters upon white jumped to the eyes of the passers-by from innumerable placards.

Up to the night that had made her name infamous, Lucy Weaving had lived an uneventful life with a maiden aunt in a remote corner of Kent. Seven years before, her father's death had left her mistress of a valuable estate and a charming residence. An orphan, an heiress, and a lively, capricious young beauty, it was no wonder that at twenty years of age she had almost as many suitors as Portia.

But two young fellows, distant cousins of her own and of each other, gradually cut down the field until they had the last lap of the race to themselves, neck and neck along the straight run home to the winning post.

Both were good-looking, tall, well set-up, and so like in face and figure that in the dusk they might be readily taken one for the other. Both had carried the Oxford drawl with them out of the University into the world. There the resemblance ceased. The successful young lawyer, Bertram Tressenger, was fond of work; the graceful young idler, Charlie Maxwell, was fond of play, and if rumour didn't wrong him, he was particularly fond of playing with the girls.

It was a short race and a merry one. For a while she flirted gaily and impartially with both; then, gradually, Tressenger drew away from his rival and established himself first favourite. But when he seemed to have the race in his own hands he stumbled and fell at the last fence, and Charlie Maxwell romped home a winner.

It was Lucy Weaving's own favourite maid, the tiny, pretty, innocent child-girl, Phoebe Dawson, that brought him to grief. In due course Tressenger had proposed to Lucy and had been accepted, and two days later the unconscious Maxwell had rushed on his fate.

He was so good-humoured over his rejection, that Lucy had been tempted to chaff him.

"I do believe it's the maid you are in love with, Charlie, not the mistress," she said. "I have caught you casting sheep's-eyes at Phoebe; you must not turn my little girl's head, sir."

For a moment he seemed wholly taken aback by her laughing suggestion, but, recovering himself instantly, he chose to take her chaff seriously.

"I don't know if I ought to tell you," he said, "it is hardly playing the game, but I would not like any harm to come to the little girl, for your sake and for her own, so a word of warning can do no great harm. It is not the butterflies like myself but the busy bees like our plodding friend, Bertram, that carry stings about with them."

At first, Lucy was very indignant, then curious, then persuasive, till at last she coaxed it out of him that he had overheard Bertram make ardent love to Phoebe.

"They have an appointment for ten o'clock this very evening in your own dressing-room," he concluded.

Lucy wouldn't believe him, she almost called him a liar.

"Bertram has gone to London to-day," she protested, "on an important case."

"If that is so he cannot keep his appointment, of course," said Maxwell.

"Oh, you mean thing!" she exclaimed. "It is all just spiteful gossip because you are jealous. I don't believe a word you say. How dare you come with such a story to me!" and she bounced out of the room in a rage.

At half-past nine that same evening Lucy Weaving was waiting in her bedroom, horribly ashamed of herself. The door was half-open, and the curtain that screened it was drawn aside a little so that she could see and hear all that went on in the dressing-room.

Just at ten Phoebe stole softly into the room. A moment later she was joined by somebody else. Shivering behind the curtain Lucy could hardly choke down a scream as she recognised her lover, Bertram Tressenger. The outline of his face, the way the hair fell over the left side of his forehead, his clothes, his walk, his gestures even in that dim light were unmistakable.

There is no need to repeat the pitiful story she heard, crouching there in the darkness, burning and shivering with rage and shame. It was the old, old story, the man had wooed and triumphed, the girl had loved and fallen. Again and again the eavesdropper in the bedroom gasped in amazement at the lurid revelations—her shy little maid a reckless and passionate woman, her modest and tender lover a callous and calculating libertine.

Dizzy and stunned, pitying the girl and raging against the man, Lucy listened to their whispers and watched their embraces. She heard, in an agony of humiliation, the soft low voice that she had loved confess to Phoebe their engagement, and heard the little maid break out in a passionate protest.

At last they left the room, the man still coaxing, the girl raging, and the unhappy Lucy left alone with her misery.

Her pride held her up. The same night she wrote to Tressenger's London address, cancelling her engagement and refusing to speak to him again. The next morning she accepted Charlie Maxwell.

Tressenger was terribly hard hit, but whether it was pride, despair, or conscious guilt—Lucy took it for granted it was guilt—he made no attempt to explain. And when a fortnight later Maxwell and Lucy were married by special licence, Tressenger started for Australia.

Paris was the destination of the "happy couple," but it chanced that day it was blowing a hurricane in the Channel, so they stayed the night in the Metropole Hotel.

At dinner the bride and bridegroom seemed on the worst of terms, hardly spoke at all, the waiter noticed, and once when he said a word in a whisper she turned on him fiercely.

They had taken separate rooms and the bride retired early, but the bridegroom sat moodily drinking till near midnight. That night the terrible tragedy was enacted that set the newsboys yelling next day through the streets of London.

A little after midnight, as one of the chambermaids was passing the bride's door, she was startled "out of her seven wits," as she afterwards declared, by hearing loud cries, a shriek for help, and afterwards a heavy fall in the room of the bride.

Just for a moment she waited trembling, unable to move; then, with unsteady fingers, she fitted her common key into the lock, threw open the door, and rushed into the room.

The glare of the electric light so dazzled her for a moment that she could see nothing. Then the horror of the scene forced itself on her eyes. Flat on his face the bridegroom lay on the carpet with the ivory handle of a dagger protruding from between his shoulders. Close beside him, half-undressed, her white clothes splashed with blood, the bride was stretched in a faint, her eyes closed, her face deadly pale.

She was a strong-minded woman, Margaret Dobson; she choked down her terror, and vainly tried to lift the prone man from the floor, daubing her fingers in his blood; but he lay limp and lifeless, too heavy to move. The dagger must have gone straight to his heart, for he was quite dead.

The bride was lifeless and motionless as the corpse; there was no one else in the room. The plucky chambermaid looked under the bed and behind the curtains, and even looked into the bride's huge travelling trunk which stood open and full of clothes close to the bed curtain. No one anywhere. All this the quick-witted girl noticed before she rushed off to give the alarm, carefully locking the door behind her, and, as she thought at the time, carrying the key away in her pocket.

It was about ten minutes to a quarter of an hour before she could find the manager with her horrifying story. The man, too, kept his wits about him, raised no alarm in the hotel, but just telephoned to Scotland Yard before he went with the maid to the scene of the tragedy.

To her surprise the girl found the door unlocked and the key in the keyhole. The room was almost as she left it. The man lay prone on the floor, deadly still under the glare of the electric lights that made the red blood look black; the girl beside him was as still as death. One change only was noticeable. On the carpet close to the bride lay a white scarf which the maid was almost sure she had not seen before. It was crumpled and smeared as if someone had wiped bloodstained hands in it. The great trunk which she had shut before she left the room was now open wide.

Even as they gazed benumbed by the horror of the scene, the young girl on the floor stirred, raised herself on one hand, and saw the dead body beside her on the carpet.

"Oh, my God!" she cried, shrinking from it in an agony of repulsion, "I have killed him!"

* * * * *

BERTRAM TRESSENGER was stepping on the boat at Southampton, when, half-mechanically, he bought an evening paper which an insistent newsboy thrust upon him. Half-mechanically, too, he glanced at it when he had crossed the gangway and stood at the rails waiting for the whistle. The startling headline "Marriage and Murder" caught his eyes as he glanced carelessly clown the column. In another moment, with the paper in his hand, he rushed back across the gangway, leaving his luggage to take a trip to Australia by itself.

It chanced that at that moment a middle-aged gentleman and his wife were moving leisurely towards the boat, a porter pushing a lorry with a pyramid of luggage behind; and Tressenger, with his head down, ran straight into them.

"Easy does it," cried the gentleman, steadying him with a strong hand on his shoulder, then, as he caught a glance of the pale, terror-stricken face: "Hallo, Tressenger! Why, man, what the deuce is the matter? You look as if you had seen a ghost."

"Paul Beck!" gasped out Tressenger, amazed in his turn.

"Right you are. But why on earth have you come at me like a living battering-ram?"

For answer Tressenger put the paper into his hand with his finger on the heading, and Mr. Beck's quick eyes had skimmed the contents in a third of the time it would take an ordinary reader.

"Well?" he said curtly, when he had finished.

"I love her!" broke out Tressenger, incoherently. "Guilty or innocent, I love her. We were engaged and she jilted me. I was just starting for Australia when that cursed paper was put into my hand. I must save her, and you are the man to help. It was Providence that threw you in my way. For God's sake, Beck, come back with me to London!"

"Sorry," said Beck, "but I can't. I am just off with my wife to Naples"—with a motion of his hand he introduced his companion, whom Tressenger had completely ignored—"she has set her heart on this trip."

But Dora Beck, who had taken the paper from her husband's hand and read it, turned quietly to the porter.

"You need not put that luggage on board," she said.

All three went back by the next train to London, and drove as quickly as a taxi could carry them to the Hotel Metropole. Lucy Weaving was not there; already she had been taken to the police station on a charge of wilful murder, and the hotel hall was thronged with idle sensation-mongers and busy reporters.

"We can do nothing here until the crowd settles down," said Beck. "Dora, my dear, will you engage rooms? We are off to the police station and will be back in an hour or so." Mr. Beck was by profession a solicitor, and he knew his way about a police-station. He had already engaged himself as solicitor for the defence, and in ten minutes he and Tressenger were admitted to the cell where the unhappy girl was confined.

She was sitting on a wooden chair, her chin in her hands, her wide-open eyes staring at nothing, her sweet face pale and tear-stained, a very picture of abject misery.

Their entrance roused her from her stupor. When she saw Tressenger she shrank back into a corner of the cell with hands outstretched to put him away from her. From first to last she had no eyes for Mr. Beck, who stood quietly aside and listened and watched.

"Don't touch me, Bertram," she wailed. "Don't look at me. I am the vilest wretch alive."

"Listen, Lucy," he said in the voice, low and quiet, that puts hysterics to flight. "Whatever happens, I love you. I don't care a straw whether you killed that cad or not. I love you and I'll save you if I can."

"Oh, I didn't kill him," she said. "The devil killed him, but I was the cause."

"Talk sense," he repeated in the same low, quiet voice; but his face showed what a relief her words were to him. "Pull yourself together and talk sense. I must know the whole story as shortly as you can tell it."

"It's very hard to tell. The wretch made me believe that you and Phoebe——" she hesitated, and strove vainly for words till he came to her relief.

"Never mind, darling, I can guess how he would lie, but it was his own story he told, not mine."

"Oh, I know now; Phoebe told me the day we were married. Poor child, she was half mad with grief and shame, and when I taxed him with his treachery he laughed and boasted 'All's fair in love and war.' But like a fool I was deceived at the time. I watched and I listened while he talked with her in my dressing-room. I thought it was you, Bertram; he looked like you and dressed like you, and talked like you. That's why I wrote, that's why I married him, though all the time I loved you, even while I believed such things about you."

"My poor little girl!"

"We were to be husband and wife only in name, he swore it to me on the Bible, but last night he——Oh, I cannot go on!"

"A word or two only—who stabbed him?"

"I don't know. While I struggled with him and screamed that I would kill him if he didn't let me go, a black shadow seemed to rise out of the ground. I saw an arm raised and the flash of steel. He fell forward on his face and I fainted. That's all I know. You believe me, Bertram, and forgive me?"

"And love you, my darling, from the bottom of my heart. Have courage, my own. I have got the man who can save you if anyone can, the cleverest detective in the world."

"Easy, young man," interposed Paul Beck, "you must not lay it on so thick!"

As he spoke the girl turned and saw him for the first time, but there was more fright than relief in her eyes.

"I don't want detectives," she said; "no one can save me."

Mr. Beck didn't seem to hear.

"I shall try," he said, "to catch the devil that struck the blow," and he turned discreetly to the door while the wretched girl, all constraint thrown aside, sobbed in her lover's arms.

When they returned to the Metropole they found the great hotel still buzzing with excitement. Tressenger could take neither rest nor food: for very pity's sake Beck found him something to do.

"You might look up Professor McTeeney of the London University—you know the man, the greatest analyst of the age. I don't care to trust to the 'phone. Walk there if you want to—it will do you good. Tell him from me that I would be awfully obliged if he would look me up here tomorrow; I hope to have an interesting job for him. Meanwhile, remember your own advice: have courage! I hope to fix the guilt fast on the right shoulders, to whomsoever the right shoulders may belong. That's all you want, isn't it?"

Tressenger departed, and Beck turned into a private room with his wife as if he had nothing on his mind. After lunch he told her of the interview in the cell of the police station. She listened intently and only asked one question.

"What was the girl like—did you notice?"

"Of course I did," he retorted. "Though the cell was dark I managed to have a good look at her. She is a rather tall, good-looking, girlish girl, if you know what I mean, dark eyes and hair, and a fine figure. I fancy she would be naturally of the lively kind, but to-day she looked like a ghost."

"And what do you think yourself about it? Go on!"

"There is no going on—it is a full stop. There is a dead wall in front of me; I can't see the length of my nose. I don't believe that nice-looking girl killed the man, but I can't in the least guess who it was."

"Oh, Paul, you are a fool!"


"I don't mean that, but you don't know women as other women know them, though you may fancy you do. Nice-looking girls do strange things sometimes. Shall I tell you the name of the devil who struck that blow? Lean over and I'll whisper it."

"By Jove!" cried the detective a moment later. "I believe you are right. But I'll have my work cut out to prove it, and I don't care much for the job."

All that evening and all the next day he spent at the Metropole Hotel—prying, questioning, puzzling. He won the chambermaid's sympathy by the hint of a love story, and found her an eager and invaluable ally. In the bedroom itself he questioned her minutely as to everything she had noticed the first and the second time—the position of the bodies alive and dead, the bloodstained scarf, the shutting and opening of the big trunk, whether it was full, half-full, or empty when she examined it. Not the smallest trifle escaped his devouring curiosity.

"Good girl!" he said, when she had answered all his questions shortly and clearly, "I won't forget your help. Now, is there anything more, no matter how trivial, you can tell me?"

"Nothing, sir; nothing in the least worth mentioning."

"Everything is worth mentioning."

"Well, it is this, though it is of no consequence, of course. I noticed, as I passed from the door to the trunk, a little splash where the water-jug had spilt on the carpet. I thought it was blood when I stepped into it, until I stooped down and touched it with my fingers, that's how I came to remember it. You mustn't laugh at me, you made me tell you."

Beck didn't laugh; he didn't seem in the least disposed to laugh; he immediately returned to the trunk, which was only quarter full, and rummaged among the contents searching for something.

On one or two of the white garments there were small grey patches of faint lines and dots like bits of stipple engraving, that was all. There was nothing in the trunk but lady's clothes, which he heaped back again when he had searched them thoroughly.

"There is just one other little thing you might like to know, sir," the maid said hesitatingly, as they left the room together. "I have not told it to anyone so far. The key which was in the lock when I came back with the manager was not my key, I found my own in my pocket afterwards."

Beck's whole pace brightened at this little bit of news.

"That's it, that's it!" he muttered to himself. "I knew I was right. Will you put your key in the lock?" he said to the girl. "I will pocket the other, it may prove a very useful bit of evidence."

Two days later the police court was crowded to the doors on the first day of the trial. All fashionable London was buzzing with excitement and curiosity to hear the strange case and see the modern Lucy of Lammermoor in the dock. A duchess and a countess sat on the bench beside the presiding magistrate, the seats at the back of the court were occupied by a fashionable gathering, every eye focussed on the beautiful girl, beautiful even in her misery, who leant against the dock railing half dead with shame and fear; and in all that crowded court only four people believed her innocent.

If doubt were possible, it must have dissolved and vanished before the conclusive case that was piled up against the prisoner, the evidence of the chambermaid being particularly deadly. But the climax came when it was proved that she had used the little ivory-handled Japanese dagger as a paper-knife, and had carried it with her book to her bedroom.

Through the whole proceedings the solicitor for the accused sat silent and unperturbed. Only once or twice during the evidence he smiled, and when the ivory-handled knife was produced and identified, and the public prosecutor, Mr. Godkin, announced the close of his case, he spoke for the first time.

"My learned friend does not propose to examine the prisoner's maid, Phoebe Dawson?" he said very quietly. "I think her evidence may be important."

"She can throw no light whatever on the case," said Mr. Godkin; "but I am willing to call her for the Crown if my friend wishes to cross-examine her."

"It might be as well," said Mr. Beck, and Phoebe Dawson, who sat in court closely veiled, stepped forward.

When she took the Book in her hand and threw back the veil from her face, there was a subdued buzz of admiration at the pale, spiritual beauty of the girl, whose blue eyes shone all the brighter for her deadly pallor. Mr. Beck faced her for a moment in silence, his lips tightened, his forehead dinted into a frown; he gazed at her with narrowing eyes. Again the spectators drew their breath sharply.

"You loved Charles Maxwell?" he began abruptly.

The girl's pale face flushed hot and red, and the answer was sharp and fierce with an intensity there was no mistaking.

"I hated him!"

"You had reason to hate him—you had loved him too well?"

No answer.

"Did you hate your mistress, too, because she married him?"

There was a dead silence in court while he waited in vain for an answer.

"I will not press you on that point. Do you remember the night of the murder?"


"You had the key of your mistress's room?"

"I had."

"Where is it?"

"I don't know; I lost it."

"Is this it?" He handed her a key.

"I don't know."

"What is that, Mr. Beck?" asked the magistrate.

"A key of the room, your worship, found in the lock by the chambermaid when she returned. I propose to prove later on by expert evidence that it was smeared with human blood."

"Do you see this?" he asked the witness, holding up a little grey lump in his hand. "Do you recognise it?"

"What is it, Mr. Beck?" asked the magistrate again; he was getting a little impatient.

"A piece of toilet pumice-stone, your worship, found on the basin-stand of the witness. I will also prove later that it has been used to scour away blood-stains—the blood has been forced into the pores of the stone. Do you know who rubbed off those blood-stains?"

"No." The answer came falteringly and faintly.

Mr. Beck held up, that the witness and the court might see, a folded handkerchief with a faint grey mark on it.

"Can you tell how that mark was made?"

"No." The answer was almost inaudible.

"Was the mark made with the sole of a stocking on a foot that had just stepped on a damp and dusty carpet?"

No answer.

"Was it made by you, Phoebe Dawson when you hid in the great wicker trunk to wait for your victim? Did you fly from the room after the chambermaid left, leaving a bloodstained key in the door?"

Dead silence. The witness sat pale, stiff and motionless as a corpse. Beck confronted her inexorably.

"Phoebe Dawson, speak the truth for your soul's sake. Did you kill Charles Maxwell with this dagger?"

There was a long silence. Then suddenly the corpse woke up to life. With a sudden swoop she snatched the ivory-handled dagger from his grasp.

"I confess! I confess!" she screamed in a voice that thrilled all hearts with horror. And as she spoke she drove the keen blade between her breasts home to her heart, and slid down to the floor a limp, lifeless heap.

Six months later Bertram Tressenger married Lucy. There was no tragedy at their wedding.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.