Roy Glashan's Library
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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.
"IT was a shame, whoever did it," said Dora Beck.
She had been restless all the morning since breakfast, taking up a book and putting it down again, passing in and out to the garden through the big glass door of the dining-room, arranging and rearranging the flowers in the vases, while her husband, Paul the placid, sat in a particularly comfortable chair in a patch of sunshine—he loved sunshine like a cat—and absorbed a novel by his favourite author.
As a last resource Dora had rummaged in the battered tin box which held the mementoes of his many triumphs, and discovered the photograph which excited her indignation. All the time she kept talking at her husband, but he never moved an eyelid.
"It was a shame!" she repeated emphatically, holding the photograph between his eyes and the page of his book. "Did you take it, Paul, or not?"
"Not," said Paul, and he shifted his book to get the light.
"How do you know, you didn't even look at it?"
"Oh, yes I did. I'm not at all likely to forget that photograph, Dora. What do you find shameful about it, my dear?"
It was a very pretty picture that Dora held up for her husband's inspection. A photograph of a corner of a flower-garden with a tall standard rose-tree throwing a straight sharp line across the close-shaven grass in which it stood. Beyond the grass was a rustic seat, and on the rustic seat a good-looking young man was snapshotted in the act of kissing a very pretty girl. Their lips were not six inches from each other, and the outline and expression of their faces was wonderfully clear. The man was eager, the girl not reluctant—so much at least might be deduced from the photograph. It had been snapped in strong sunshine, and the line of the rose-tree's shadow across the grass was sharp and dark.
"Of course it was their own fault to let themselves be caught," Dora commented. "All the same it was a mean thing to do, and the person who did it ought to have been whipped."
"Well, she wasn't," said Paul, "quite the contrary. Isn't it Shakespeare that says, 'Our indiscretions sometimes serve us well'? If those two had not kissed they would not have been caught, if they hadn't been caught they wouldn't have been photographed, and if they hadn't been photographed——"
"It sounds, like 'The House that Jack Built,'" interrupted Dora. "Is there a story? Of course there is, or it wouldn't have been in the box. It must be a love story."
"It is the story," said Paul slowly, "of the killing of an old man by shooting him through the ear with a revolver, and a charge of murder. Not a particularly pretty story I should call it."
"Tell it to me, Paul. Were those two kissing people in it?"
"Both; the man especially; you might say he was up to his neck in it."
"Then tell it to me." She whipped his book from his hand and planted herself on the arm of his chair. "I'll give you back your book and leave you in peace after you've told it."
"Once upon a time on a glorious day in July," Paul began, "I don't care to count how many years ago, old Randal Carmody went up the broad white steps of Rathmore House to inquire for its master, Clement Gore.
"Old Randal was a solicitor reputed to be very wealthy and very honest. In spite of the popular prejudice, my dear, the two things generally go together in the profession. The honest, stupid solicitor makes his pile, the clever rogue is always pulling the devil by the tail.
"A handsome old man was Randal Carmody, tall and straight, with a broad, benevolent face, blue eyes, and long wavy white hair, with the subdued lustre of silver. Old Reginald Moreland, the rich banker, had done wisely, so everyone said at the time, when, dying ten years before, he made Randal Carmody sole guardian of his two orphan girls, Mag and Maisy; and everyone said that Carmody had admirably discharged the duties of guardian ever since.
"It was on the business of one of those same orphans that he now climbed the broad white steps of Rathmore, pushed the electric button, and banged the bright brass knocker of the great front door, for Rathmore was only three miles distant as the crow flies from Oakdale, where the two Miss Morelands resided with an elderly maiden aunt, Miss Adelaide Stanhope; and Mr. Clement Gore, the owner of Rathmore, of late had been paying particular attention to Miss Margaret Moreland.
"The master wasn't in, the footman said, he was in the new shooting gallery practising. 'You can see the place from here, sir,' he added. 'That long, low building close to the garden with the sun on the glass roof. Yes, sir, round that way if you want to see him, particular.'
"Mr. Carmody had carefully made up Mr. Clement Gore's dossier before he started on his present errand. He knew all that was to be known about him. Among other things he knew that the young gentleman was reputed to be the best pistol and revolver shot in England, and had taken the first prize at Wimbledon, so he was not as surprised as he might otherwise have been to find that he had a shooting gallery on the premises.
"Strolling leisurely in the direction of the shooting gallery across the smooth lawn studded with radiant flower-beds, his astute mind was busy with what he had got to say to Mr. Gore. It was a particularly bright morning in July——"
"You said that before. Don't get into the habit of repeating yourself, Paul."
"There had been a thunderstorm and a deluge the night before—I didn't tell you that, did I? I want you to remember it, for it has to do with the story.
"Bang! Bang! Bang! Three sharp reports bursting on the summer air told Mr. Carmody as he approached that Mr. Clement Gore was hard at work. White smoke puffed out of the open windows of the long low building.
"During a lull in the cannonade inside Mr. Carmody knocked vigorously on the door, and as it opened he had a glimpse at the far end of the gallery of a target with a white bull's-eye splashed with small black spots.
"Only for a moment, for young Gore, hatless and coatless with a smoking revolver in his hand, came out into the grounds closing the door behind him. I don't need to describe young Gore, he is the man in the photograph."
"Handsome," commented Dora, carefully examining the picture, "and strong. But with that curved nose and stuck out chin of his I wouldn't say particularly sweet to anyone that vexed him. Mr. Clement Gore had a temper of his own, or I'm much mistaken."
"You are not much mistaken, my dear, as you shall see presently. Mr. Clement Gore did not look particularly sweetly on old Mr. Carmody as he stood facing him in the July sunshine.
"'Glad to see you, Mr. Carmody,' he said, but he did not seem glad.
"Mr. Carmody, for his part, wasted no time in compliments.
"'You got my letter?' he asked abruptly.
"'Oh, yes, I got your letter three days ago.'
"'You didn't answer it?'
"'It didn't seem to require an answer.'
"'It was straight enough to the point, anyhow. I wrote that it had come to my ears that you were paying special attention to my ward, Miss Margaret Moreland, who is,' the old gentleman put a sting into the deliberate words, 'as you are doubtless aware, a great heiress.'
"'Well,' retorted Gore, 'assume that I am, what have you to say to it?'
"The young man was plainly holding himself in; the words, harmless enough in themselves, were quietly spoken, but his voice vibrated with passion. But there was no restraint about the old man.
"'What have I to say to it?' he broke out furiously. 'I like that! What have I to say to it? I forbid it, that's all. Are you aware, sir, that I am the young lady's guardian? I was left by her father in absolute control of herself and her money, and I won't let her become the victim of any selfish fortune-hunter that may come along after it.'
"Gore still kept his temper under control, though it was raging like a caged lion behind the bars.
"'I am aware,' he said, 'that you are in control till the young lady is twenty-one; at twenty-one she can marry whom she chooses.'
"'You have laid your plans for that, have you? You have induced the silly girl to listen to you?'
"'Mr. Carmody, you had better take care——'
"'So you are a bully as well as an adventurer. You cajole young girls and threaten old men!'
"'I wish you were a young man, and I'd know how to deal with you. Let me ask you a plain question. What objection have you to me as a suitor to your ward?'
"For a moment Mr. Carmody seemed flabbergasted by this direct appeal. Young Gore was a presentable fellow of good family, his property was one of the best in the county. But it was only for a moment.
"'What objection have I?' he repeated, like a man stepping back for a spring. 'Your character won't bear inspection, if you must have it. What were you doing in South Africa a year ago, before you came in for the property on the death of your uncle. I've heard stones—oh, I've heard stories!'
"The young man flushed hotly, and a dangerous light shone in his dark eyes.
"'I've heard stories, too,' he said. 'I thought they were lies, but now I'm not so sure. I heard whispers of a highly respectable solicitor who embezzled the fortune of his ward and who was afraid her husband might prosecute.'
"'You young puppy, do you dare to insinuate——' Words failed him for a moment, and he glanced speechlessly at his opponent. 'It was what I might expect,' he said at last very slowly, 'from a diamond thief. Ah, I have touched you at last, have I?' for young Gore started violently. 'Now, listen; if you presume to address one word to my ward I will denounce you to the world for what you are. I have proofs.'
"Young Gore laughed scornfully.
"'I don't know what mare's nest you've found, he said, 'and I don't care. But to show you how much I value your threats, this day, if I live, I'll ask Miss Moreland to be my wife.'
"'I suppose you know what you are about? I heard that you were philandering for the last fortnight alone in the woods; you have some hold on the girl; she can't refuse you. Young girls are weak and foolish. And it may be that you were vile enough to——'
"The young man's temper broke at last in a furious explosion. Half-unconsciously, as it seemed, he raised the pistol he still held, and pointed it straight at Mr Carmody, who never flinched.
"'Stop,' he whispered hoarsely, 'if you value your life, don't dare to say a word against her. By God, I've a great mind to shoot you where you stand with that vile slander on your lips.'
"'Shoot away,' retorted the old man, 'and get hanged for it.'
"It is hard to say how that furious quarrel might have ended but at that moment a servant came on the scene.
"'There is a message for you, sir,' he called to his master, 'an important message on the telephone.'
"Gore seemed glad of the interruption, but he turned again to Mr. Carmody before he left.
"'You hear,' he said in a low voice that held a deadly menace, 'if you dare to repeat your vile insinuations I'll know how to deal with you.'
"Without re-entering the shooting gallery he left the pistol on the outer edge of the window and went towards the house.
"Mr. Carmody waited for a few minutes, apparently lost in thought, then, with his hands behind his back, he walked slowly along the shaded bridle path that led in the direction of Oakdale."
"Just one moment, Paul. How did you know all they said or did. You weren't there at the time?"
"A story-teller's privilege, my dear; besides, I had it all afterwards from the servant. It you are to follow the story properly you must give up interrupting while I try to give you some notion of the lie of the land where these things happened.
"Now, listen carefully: Oakdale was, and is for that matter, a long, low, rambling house built at different periods, the older half smothered in ivy. There are woods all round it, but the story only has to do with a long narrow belt of wood that runs from Oakdale in the direction of Rathmore House. I told you Rathmore was about three miles away, didn't I? Yes, that's right. From east to west across this road which is about a quarter of a mile broad at most, runs a lovely little stream called the Ripple that tinkles through the wood all day and night during the summer time. And from north to south, leading from Oakdale to Rathmore, there is a bridle path fenced with a double row of hazel bushes that jumps over the stream on a little rustic bridge. From the edge of the wood to the high road there was, at the time I tell about, a broad strip of meadow-land. Have you got all that right in your mind's eye?"
"It's as plain as a map," said Dora, "and ever so much prettier. I'd like to be sitting in the shade of the hazel bushes beside your tinkling little river."
"Don't be too sure of that, my dear. There was a man sitting there on the day I'm talking about, and he didn't find it too pleasant. But I haven't come to that yet.
"The mowers were mowing hay in the meadow. Some of the grass which had been made into small cocks was wet with the deluge of the night before, and the women and children were shaking it out to dry in the hot sunshine, while the sweating men plied their scythes in a row. The steel blades flashed in the sunshine, and the long swathes of flowers and grass went down before them.
"It was about two o'clock, the hottest time in the day, when the men, mowing mechanically with long even sweep of arm and scythe, were startled by a sharp report and a glint of fire through the trees at the edge of the meadow. They dropped their scythes and ran in a body through the wood towards the bank of the little stream.
"For thirty yards or so they ran in a row, and then the foremost of them stopped short with a cry of horror, and the others came crowding together to look at the body of an old man that lay limp and motionless close to the stream's brink. He lay on his face, one arm doubled under him, his hat had fallen off, and his silver white hair was dabbled with blood.
"The foremost of the mowers, a tender-hearted giant of a man, tiptoed to the corpse and touched the flesh gingerly with a huge forefinger.
"'He's warm!' he cried. 'There's life in him yet. Lend a hand and we'll make him comfortable in the hay, and send one of the boys running into Worchester for a doctor.'
"Very gently, very tenderly they lifted the body through the woods and laid it on a sweet-smelling couch of new-mown hay, while one of the women lent her broad straw hat to shelter the face from the sun.
"Meanwhile the fastest of the boys was sent racing for the doctor into Worchester, about two miles away. It's just at this point, Dora, that I come into the story.
"It so happened that I was sitting with Dr. Johnson in his surgery when the messenger arrived breathless, sweating, and red in the face as a poppy.
"'Man shot,' he gasped out, 'lying in the meadow! You're wanted at once.'
"'Steady,' said the doctor. 'Where? How far off?'
"'About three miles from here.'
"'All right, my boy, you drink this.'
"'This' was a brandy-and-soda which the doctor had poured out for himself.
"'Lie down on that sofa while I tell them to get the car round.' Then he turned to me. 'You'll come, Beck?'
"I had made up my mind before he asked me. I was coming, of course. I fetched my hat and coat from the stand in the hall, and in three minutes' time the three of us—the doctor, the boy, and myself—were bowling out of the town and along the country road at double the regulation speed.
"We didn't need the boy to tell us where the thing happened. The eager cluster of men and women, a vivid moving group against the green of the meadow, was token enough to make the doctor bring the car up with a jolt.
"We scrambled over the stile and ran. The crowd saw us and cleared a way to where the corpse lay. One look was enough. The doctor was too late. The man was stone dead.
"The doctor just shook his head sorrowfully at the group of good Samaritans whose eyes questioned him so eagerly, and the hope died out of their faces; then bending over the body which sprawled on the couch of hay, he carefully examined the wound.
"'Shot in the cheek, doctor,' cried one of the mowers with finger pointed to a ragged red gash.
"But the man was not shot in the cheek. A tiny puncture in the neck under the right ear showed where the bullet had entered. In its exit it had gashed the right cheek.
"'Clean through the skull,' said the doctor glancing up at me. 'A rifle, or an automatic pistol must have made that hole.'
"'Who is he, anyway?' I asked impatiently of the crowd generally. 'Who killed him? Was it accident or murder or suicide or what? Who shot him?'
"They didn't know. Their whole attention had been concentrated in a vain effort to save the dead man.
"'It's up to you, Beck, to unravel the mystery,' said the doctor. 'Murder or suicide, it's right in your line.'
"The same thought was already in my own mind, the instinct of the hunter, hungry and cruel, woke in me. As I looked at the dead body of the old man lying limp on the hay under the warm summer sky, with the light and beauty of the world around him, I was gripped with a sudden eagerness to lay my hands on the murderer, for murder, not suicide, was the answer to the riddle as I read it."
"I have felt like that," whispered Dora, with her eyes intent on her husband.
"The thought of robbery occurred to me for a second only to be put aside. Just as the thought flashed into my mind the oldest of the men put a purse and a heavy gold repeater into the hands of the doctor. The purse was initialled in gold letters 'R. C.' There were four five-pound Bank of England notes, two sovereigns, and some loose silver in it.
"'We found the purse in the trousers pocket,' the man explained. 'The watch had dropped on the grass with the fall and was hanging on to his waistcoat; it was just twenty-five to two when we found it, a good bit over an hour ago.'
"I turned the head of the corpse over on its hay pillow until I had a good view of the full face.
"'Johnson,' I cried, 'I know the man! He is a solicitor named Carmody, of the very highest repute in his profession, and a rich man, as I have always understood. He is guardian to those two pretty girls whom we saw in Worchester to-day.'
"'The Morelands,' Johnson said. 'That's what brought him to this part of the country, no doubt. I heard that Squire Gore was courting the elder Miss Moreland,' he went on slowly, as if dragging the facts from a sluggish memory, 'and that the father, or the uncle, or the guardian objected. I can't say who told me, but I heard it.'
"I put his news by in a corner of my mind for use if it should be wanted later, and turned to the wide-eyed group round the corpse.
"'Where was the body found?' I asked of the mower who had first spoken.
"He could not find the place at first till I pointed out an old moss-covered stump of a tree close to the river.
"'If the man was shot sitting down, as is most likely,' I said, 'he was sitting on that stump. He couldn't have missed so comfortable a seat.'
"'I think it was just in front of that he was lying,' said my guide, but without any certainty in his voice.
"I ran my fingers backwards and forwards, combing the long grass. I felt a clammy touch and saw a streak of blood on my first finger. We had found the place.
"It was a little hollow in the ground, only a few feet from the stream's edge. If the man had been sitting on the stump, as seemed most likely, he had fallen forward at the shot and might have rolled into the water, only the edge of the bank was higher than the hollow where he lay.
"I searched carefully all round for gun or pistol. There was none. When a man shoots himself, as a rule, his hand stiffens on the weapon in death's grip. This case looked uncommonly like murder. I was hot on the scent.
"'Johnson,' I said, 'I wish you could get those people away—yes, all of them. You might take the poor old gentleman back with you to Worchester in the car, and take one of those fellows with you if you like to hold him. Send me Sergeant Scott as soon as you can find him. Meanwhile I'll have a look round, and I may have some more news for him when he comes.'
"The crowd followed the doctor from the wood and I sat down on the mossy stump where the murdered man had sat and waited, letting my imagination picture the details of the crime.
"The stream tinkled over the pebbles, the birds fluttered and twittered in the branches overhead, and the golden sunlight rained through with the motion of the leaves. Still I waited till I heard the hum of the motor on the road and the dry whirr-whirr of the scythes in the meadow. I could just catch a glimpse of the moving figures and bright specks of colour through the green screen.
"Here where I sat the murdered man had sat a little more than an hour ago. He had sat with his face to the stream—the shape of the stump had made that certain. The pistol had been fired from the right-hand side—the row of hazels on the right, a few yards from the stump, would make a convenient cover for the murderer.
"Just at this spot the stream had widened to a pool, and a clump of close green weeds grew at the edge. There was a slight depression in the middle, and a long spray bent and held down under the water.
"Something had fallen in among the weeds, something heavy, which had bent and crushed them. Taking off my coat and rolling up my shirt sleeves to the elbow, I rummaged among the greenery till my fingers found the stock of a revolver."
"So it was suicide after all," commented Dora, "one should never be too hasty in coming to a conclusion."
"So it struck me the moment I found the revolver. The thing seemed plain enough. As the man fell the weapon was jerked from his tightening fingers and rolled into the water. It seemed as plain as a pikestaff, and I examined the revolver. It was contrived to fire five shots. There were only two cartridges left in it. That seemed a little strange.
"I turned it round in my hand, and on a little silver plate let into the stock was a name, 'Clement Gore.' I found in the back of my mind a little bit of information supplied by the doctor that Squire Gore had had a row with Miss Moreland's guardian. I had not identified the Squire Gore of whom the doctor had spoken, but Clement Gore I identified at once as the best pistol shot in England. So this was his pistol, and he had had a row with Mr. Carmody, and Mr. Carmody had been shot. I was not at all so sure it was suicide, as I had been a moment before.
"The line of hazels that bordered the path were only a few yards away, but they grew so thick at that spot that I could not force my way through. About twenty yards further down, in the direction of Oakdale, there was a gap, and the first thing that met my eye as I pushed through it was a footprint in the centre of the narrow path sheltered from the sun by an archway of close verdure. The pathway was still damp from the deluge of the night before, and the damp clay took impressions like a mould. Only one person had gone by since the rain. The feet that had made those prints were well shaped and well shod—a gentleman's foot, I guessed, in a gentleman's shoe. He was walking fast, to judge by the length of the stride.
"Right on to the rustic bridge the footsteps went with an even stride without a pause, but from the bridge the man had quietly slipped back again into the shelter of the hazels. There he had waited for a while—I could guess from the depth of the impression of both feet close together, the toe deeper than the heels. Right in front of him was a small break in the hazel hedge, and raising myself, as the man had done, on my toes, I had a distinct view of the stream and of the mossy stump on the bank.
"The deduction seemed quite obvious. As my man had got to the bridge beyond the hazels he had had a sudden view of his enemy on the bank and had slipped back into hiding. From the opening in the hedge he had had a fair shot."
"Too clear!" said Dora. "I never trust cases that are too clear."
"That's prejudice, my dear," said Paul. "The clearer the better, as a rule. I have had cases that were like A-B-C in big print from the first chapter to the last—and the last was the gallows. But just wait a bit, there is more to come.
"I sat down again on the stump, lit a pipe, and waited for Sergeant Scott. In about half-an-hour, more or less, I heard the humming of a motor on the road. I noticed at the same time that the whirr-whirr of the scythes stopped and that the mowers were motionless in the field, while the big figure of the sergeant stalked across the meadow-land.
"He pushed his way through the underwood and stood before me, six feet and upwards of burly manhood, with a kindly face and a pair of steel grey eyes that had a strange glitter in them.
"'This is a bad business, Mr. Beck,' he said as he came up. 'Have you found anything, sir?'
"Without a word I put the revolver into his big hand. I saw him start and wince when he read the name.
"'Squire Gore's pistol,' he cried. 'Where did you find it sir?'
"I pointed to the brook.
"'I fished it up out of those weeds,' I answered.
"'That's bad,' he said. 'I hope it doesn't mean——' He broke off suddenly. I could see he wanted no harm to come to young Gore. 'Anything else, sir? Have you looked around? But of course you have.'
"'I've found footprints,' I said, 'along the path behind the hazels there to the right. I waited for you before following them up.'
"'Rum go!' was the sergeant's comment when we came to the spot where the feet had stepped back off the bridge to the shelter of the hazels, but the kindly face grew grave. He guessed, as I did, what the quick movement meant. 'I hope they are not his,' I heard him mutter under his breath.
"From the bridge the steps went on faster than before, the stride was longer, the mark was lighter, for part of the way the weight was on the toes, the man was running. After a bit the pathway opened by a stile on to the main road and we lost the footprints for a while. The sergeant walked with his head bent, those sharp grey eyes of his searching the ground. But the road was hard. The storm had washed it clean, the hot sun had scorched it dry, it took no more marks than a rock. Once or twice the sergeant fancied he found a trace of the footprints we were following, but neither he nor I could be quite sure.
"After a while the road ran along the high wall of Squire Gore's property, so the sergeant told me. A hundred yards further on there was a gap in the wall just under a chestnut-tree. The mortar had been knocked off, and there were cracks between the stones that made it easy to climb.
"'It's worth while trying,' said Sergeant Scott, and he scaled the wall with the ease and lightness of a boy, in spite of his great weight. 'Come on, Mr. Beck,' he cried a moment afterwards from inside, 'I've found what we are after.'
"There, sure enough, in the damp mould under the trees, was a clear track, crushing fallen chestnuts into the ground.
"'It is pointing straight for the house,' I said. 'I think we may risk it, sergeant. Let us make sure if the track is your Squire Gore's or not. We can hark back if it isn't; the sooner the better.'
"We cut across the lawn at a brisk pace, mounted the steps that Mr. Carmody had climbed alive and well that morning, and knocked and rang.
"The footman could not tell whether the master was in or not. He had gone out a few hours ago, and he had not seen him come back. The man glanced at the sergeant's uniform as he spoke. There was a frightened look on his face which was explained later.
"'Is there any message?' he asked nervously.
"'See if your master has come back,' answered the sergeant, and we stepped into the great hall.
"The man wasn't gone a minute.
"'The master is in his own room,' he explained. 'He came in by a side door. Will you kindly step this way, gentlemen?'
"Squire Gore was at his desk. He rose as we entered, a fine figure of a man. My first glance was at his boots, and one glance was enough. They were the same boots that had made the tracks on the hazel path and crushed the chestnuts under the high wall. If Gore was startled by our entry he didn't show it.
"'Good-evening, sergeant,' he said cordially—it was plain that he and Scott were old acquaintances. 'What can I do for you?' He glanced inquiringly from the sergeant to me as he spoke.
"'This is Mr. Beck, sir,' said the sergeant, 'Mr. Paul Beck. You may have heard tell of him?'
"'Of course I have,' he replied. 'You are very welcome, Mr. Beck. I am delighted to meet you. I have read a lot of your exploits. What man-hunt takes you to this part of the country?'
"As we shook hands my forefinger touched his pulse; it was as steady as my own. But I said nothing, I thought it best to let the sergeant do the talking for the present.
"'We come on very important business, Mr. Gore,' he said. 'You must excuse us troubling you, sir, but duty is duty. There has been an old gentleman shot dead on the bank of the Ripple on the Oakdale side, and——'
"'My God—Carmody!' cried Gore. He was startled enough this time, but there was only surprise in his voice, not a particle of fear. If it was acting, Mr. Gore was a very fine actor indeed.
"'We found this in the stream close to where the body lay,' the sergeant went on. He showed him the pistol with the name on the stock, but keeping a firm hold on it while he showed it.
"'My pistol?' cried Gore excitedly, and an angry flush mounted to his forehead. His eyes blazed. He pushed back the heavy chair and it fell with a crash. 'You don't dare to think, you don't dare to say that——'
"'I say nothing,' the sergeant broke in stolidly, 'and I'd advise you to do the same, sir, if I might take the liberty. Mr. Gore, we found prints on the hazel walk close to where the murder was done. I've the measurements here, and it seems to me that the boots you are wearing might have made them same marks.'
"'Of course they might, of course they did. I have just walked along that same path from Oakdale.'
"This was taking the bull by the horns with a vengeance. If the man was guilty it was diabolically clever, for there was no denying the footprints. But was he guilty? There were none of the usual signs of guilt on his handsome face.
"'How long ago?' The sergeant's notebook was out. 'Don't answer if you had sooner not.'
"'Nonsense, man, I'll tell you anything I know, but I can't tell you that exactly. A couple of hours ago, I should say.'
"'That would bring you to the spot at the time.' The sergeant got the words out with difficulty. 'You know I don't want to do it if I could help it, but I must arrest you for the murder of the old gentleman, Mr. Carmody.'
"I fancy young Gore's quick wit saw what was coming, saw what must come. He took the arrest quietly enough.
"'You're all right, Scott. I don't see what else you could do under the circumstances, and I'll tell you something else without asking. It is bound to come out, so I want no credit for telling it. I had a violent quarrel with this same Mr. Carmody and threatened to shoot him, I believe. I'm not sure, but Hogan will tell you all about it, the man who opened the door for you; he was there most of the time. I'll ring for him, if I may.'
"'Hogan,' he said when the man appeared, 'I want you to tell Sergeant Scott what happened between the old gentleman and myself this morning. Don't be afraid, man, and don't mind about me, but tell the truth, every word as you remember it. Now, sergeant, I've a favour to ask. Take the man into the next room, or, better still, let me go into the next room; you see there is no way out except through this. Hogan may be nervous if I'm present, and I want a few words privately with Mr. Beck.'
"Sergeant Scott looked inquiringly at me before he answered.
"'I think you may risk it, sergeant,' I said. 'I'll be answerable for Mr. Gore.'
"Gore opened the door of the inner room. I passed in before him, and he closed it behind us. For one wild moment the thought flashed through my brain that he might strike me down and make a mad rush for liberty through one of the windows. I turned sharply round, my hand on the butt of the automatic pistol I always carry, and I was instantly ashamed of the thought.
"Squire Gore was very grave, but of fear there was no sign.
"'Will you sit down, Mr. Beck,' he said, and pointed to an easy chair near a bow-window that looked out on the wide walled garden with a profusion of colours in the flower-beds.
"The thought passed through my mind, 'What a beautiful room!' and he seemed to have read my thoughts.
"'I meant it for my wife's boudoir,' he said simply, and for the first time there was a catch in his voice. However, he pulled himself together at once. 'Mr. Beck,' he went on quietly, 'I've heard and read a lot about you. You have brought a lot of guilty men to justice and you have got off a lot of innocent.'
"'That's the best part of the game,' I answered, guessing what he was driving at.
"'And that's why I've asked for a few words alone with you. It looks a black case, doesn't it?'
"'Well, I'm innocent. Of course, I suppose I'd say that anyhow, so it doesn't count for much. But I want you to tell me, supposing that I am innocent, what would you advise me to do?'
"I looked at him steadily for a while, studying his game.
"'If you are guilty,' I said at last, 'I would advise you to hold your tongue and trust to luck. I will never tell I gave you that advice. If you are innocent, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.'
"'That's what I meant to do, anyway,' he said. 'Ask what questions you like and I'll answer them.'
"'What did you quarrel with the dead man about?'
"'He was her guardian, and forbade me to see her. I told him in so may words to go to blazes. He hinted that I had done something disgraceful in South Africa. It was a lie, but it riled me all the same, and I hit back that I had heard stories that he had played ducks and drakes with Miss Moreland's fortune. A chap in the city told me. This drove him raging mad. He said something about Miss Moreland that only a scoundrel would say. I don't want to be hard on a dead man, but that's the naked truth, and I threatened him with the pistol I had in my hand. I didn't mean it, of course, but a man doesn't know what he's doing in a rage. I was called away suddenly and I left the pistol on the windowsill. He must have taken it and shot himself with it, that's my reading of the thing. Oh, yes, I forgot, but before I left him I told him point blank that I meant to ask Miss Moreland to marry me right away, and I did ask her and she consented. There, you have the whole story; make what you like of it.'
"What time did you leave Oakdale? Miss Moreland's house?'
"'Honestly I cannot say. About one, I think. Is it important?'
"'Well, I'm sorry I can't help. I haven't a notion of the time.'
"'How far is it from Oakdale to the bridge over the Ripple? You can tell me that.'
"'Of course I can, it's about two miles. It takes me half-an-hour or so to walk it.'
"'Why did you step back from the bridge to the shelter of the hazels?' I sprung the question at him.
"For just one moment he was nonplussed.
"'I don't know what you mean,' he said.
"'Think. When you got to the bridge you stepped back into shelter. Why did you do it? It's a plain enough question.'
"He paused before he answered; he was trying to invent or to remember. Then his face brightened.
"'Now I remember. I had a glimpse of a big trout almost under the bridge. I stepped back to have a good view; I was afraid my shadow would frighten him.'
"'Did you see Mr. Carmody then, alive or dead?'
"'No, I saw him last at the door of the shooting gallery; I haven't seen him since. Oh, I know how silly this sounds! If I'd shot him I suppose I'd say the same thing; but I didn't shoot him.'
"Innocent or guilty the man was clever. What he said and the way he said it were both convincing. I made one more effort.
"'Try to remember the time you left Oakdale.'
"'I haven't the least notion. I took no thought of time when she accepted me. If I were to guess I would say about five minutes past one.'
"Unwittingly he had hit on the very hour that would bring him on the bridge at the time when old Carmody was shot. A fatal admission for a policeman or a jury, but I asked myself would he make it if he were guilty? I was almost convinced of his innocence. The next words he said raised a doubt.
"'If I shot the man would I be likely to throw the pistol where it would be so easily found?'
"'It wasn't easy to find,' I said, 'it was mere luck that I found it. But if it were easy to find it might suggest what you are suggesting now, suicide.'
"He was quick to see the point and made no answer.
"There was a knock at the door, and Sergeant Scott came in with his notebook in his hand, his honest face clouded.
"'This is very serious,' he said. 'The man says you threatened the deceased with a pistol. You may read what he says, Mr. Beck, if you care to.'
"I have already told you, Dora," Beck interrupted himself, "what was in the sergeant's notebook. You complained that I had made a story out of it; now you know how I knew.
"'Mr. Gore has told me pretty much the same thing,' I said to Scott, when I had read his notes. 'Now, Sergeant,' I added, 'we must part company. I appear for the accused.'
"'Upon my soul, sir, I'm glad to hear it,' the honest fellow broke out eagerly. 'I want the Squire to have fair play, and I know he'll get it with you on his side. But I must do my duty, all the same. I don't like to use the handcuffs, Squire, if you'll go quietly.'
"'As quietly as a lamb, Scott. Thank you, Mr. Beck, I feel sure you will pull me through it if any man can. Scott, if I order round the motor you could take me into Worchester. I know Mr. Beck drives, and you would be two to one if I tried to escape, which I won't.'
"'Then you can get him to prison quietly,' I said, 'and no one a whit the wiser—no fuss, no scandal. That suits you, Sergeant?'
"'First-class, sir. The quieter and pleasanter—well, pleasanter isn't the word neither—that things are done the better I'll like it.'
"We had a silent drive into Worchester, and little to say when we got there. The motor ran straight to the prison gate, and we all three went in together. The few people that were around didn't guess that one of the three wasn't coming out again.
"The governor, Sir Edward Preston, knew Gore and made things as easy as he could for him. We had a few words, the prisoner and myself, before I left.
"'Mr. Beck,' he said, breaking silence for the first time since we left his own house, 'there is something I want you to do for me. It is a pretty hard thing, too, but you won't refuse. I want you to break the news of this to Miss Moreland, and to tell her from me that I am innocent.'
"'And to tell her from myself, too,' I added.
"He crushed my fingers in his long strong hands, and I thought I saw tears start to his eyes. But I couldn't be sure, for he turned away at once and not one other word did he say."
"Were you sure he was innocent?" asked Dora.
"Pretty nearly, but I didn't see how on earth I was to prove it. I was glad he asked me to go to Oakdale, as I hoped to pick up something there.
"The ladies were having tea on the lawn after dinner when the motor swept up the smooth narrow avenue in the red gold sunset. It was a pretty picture they made as they sat together round a small table under a spreading beech, whose leaves were lit like a green lamp shade with the warm light of the slant sunshine. Stately Miss Adelaide Stanhope was pouring out tea from a silver pot that was a pure white flame where the sun struck it. She paused with the teapot raised in her hand when the car swept into sight. The other two stared open-eyed at a stranger walking quickly across the lawn. Two beautiful girls they were, I could see that with half an eye."
"I bet you could," said Dora, trying to pinch his arm. She might as well have tried to pinch rubber, he didn't appear to feel.
"Miss Margaret Moreland was a Madonna. Have you ever been to Florence, my dear?"
"Well, there is a Madonna there that is the dead image of what she was. Hair parted smoothly on her forehead, soft silky, golden hair, and a sweet gentle face—the face of a saint."
"She doesn't look much of a saint in the photograph," said Dora maliciously.
"Oh, well, women are mostly deceivers. I had you there, my girl. But Miss Maisy was the exception to that. She was no deceiver. She couldn't look like a pet saint in a photograph or out of it. I guessed Miss Margaret's age at about twenty; Miss Maisy was a schoolgirl of about fourteen or fifteen, tall for her age, with the face of a mischievous fairy. Her dark eyes twinkled like stars on a frosty night, but there was a warm light in them, and her lips were as red as cherries. Two long plaits of dusky hair tied with red ribbon hung down the small of her back; she was as lank as a greyhound, and I'll swear as active.
"It was the while-haired, mild-eyed Miss Stanhope that spoke first.
"'I beg your pardon, sir, but I must ask your business. Of course you know these grounds are private.'
"'I come on important business, madam,' I answered. 'Mr. Gore was here with you to-day; at what time did he leave?'
"'A little after one o'clock.' It was Miss Margaret that answered. She was very pale, and I feared she was going to faint. Miss Maisy on her side was all alive and quivering with excitement.
"A little after one o'clock, the fatal time!
"'Are you sure?' I asked.
"'Of course she's not; she had no watch on,' Miss Maisy flashed out instinctively. She seemed to have got a notion from my face that one was a dangerous hour. 'Time passes quickly under the circumstances. I'm sure it was later than that.'
"'Miss Moreland,' I said slowly watching the pale, gentle face, and feeling as if I must hurt a child, 'I wish you could fix the hour. It is very serious. Your guardian, Mr. Carmody, has been shot——'
"'Oh, my God!' broke in Miss Stanhope.
"Miss Margaret's face whitened and she gasped out something I couldn't hear.
"'That's awful!' cried Miss Maisy. 'But——' I could guess that Mr. Carmody was no favourite of Miss Maisy's.
"'There is worse than that,' I went on, feeling that it would be cruel to prolong the agony. 'Mr. Clement Gore has been arrested for the murder. He asked me to assure you that he is innocent——'
"But I spoke to deaf ears. The girl had dropped in a dead faint as if shot through the heart. Poor old Miss Stanhope had caught her in her trembling arms and let her down gently on the grass. Only Miss Maisy blazed out at me.
"'How dare you say such a thing! It's a lie. The idea of Clem committing murder!'
"'I'm quite sure he didn't,' I said meekly.
"The young firebrand nodded approval.
"'Of course he didn't. Then why was he arrested?'
"Miss Stanhope looked up from her charge; Miss Margaret was coming to.
"'I think, sir,' she said, 'you had better go.' And you bet, Dora, I scooted, glad of the chance.
"I was almost across the lawn when I felt a tug at the tail of my coat. Miss Maisy had run after me and caught me up.
"'I want to give you this,' she said, breathless from her run across the lawn. 'I promised Maisie that I wouldn't show it to anyone, but that doesn't matter.' She put that snapshot into my hand. 'Look at it, look at it,' she cried. 'Do you think a man could do murder after doing that?'
"In a second I knew that my luck had helped me again; I had got what I wanted.
"'No, I don't. I believe you have saved his life, Miss Maisy. You will leave me this photo?' She nodded and darted back across the lawn like a greyhound, her long plaits streaming behind her in the wind.
"The moment I got back to Worchester there were two telegrams sent. Sergeant Scott wired to Scotland Yard for instructions about the inquest, and I—where did I wire to, Dora?"
The answer came without a moment's hesitation:
"To the Greenwich Observatory, of course."
"You are a witch," Beck cried, and he let her slide from his knee where she had planted herself. She laughed up mockingly at him.
"Do you think no one can see shells and guess eggs but yourself? Go on with your story?"
"What's the use? I wanted to give you a surprise."
"Go on, all the same. I want to know how you managed."
"The inquest was postponed for two days to enable the Crown Prosecutor, Sir Arthur Judkin, to attend. The news of the murder of Mr. Carmody created a sensation in London, and rumours that were afloat materialised into facts. He had been speculating disastrously on the Stock Exchange. There were hints of defalcations and embezzlement.
"I got together such facts as I could in the brief time at my disposal, but my attention was chiefly occupied with the photograph, and with Professor McAllister, assistant astronomer, who had come down from Greenwich to Worchester in answer to my wire.
"'It's all right, Professor, isn't it?' I asked, as we sat in the hotel the evening before the inquest over a bottle of old port. 'There can be no doubt?'
"'Not the slightest, Mr. Beck,' answered the Professor. 'You may sleep easy. You have done the trick this time.'
"We had been over to Oakdale that day. Miss Maisy had shown us where she stood when she took the snapshot and had watched with amazement in her wide open eyes while the Professor took his measurements and drew circles and figures on the grass plot round the tall rose-tree.
"The court was crowded next morning. I could see Miss Stanhope and Miss Margaret away in a dark corner. The girl still looked nervous, though I could take my oath her vivacious young sister had told her there was nothing to be nervous about. Miss Maisy herself sat beside me on the solicitor's bench, brimming over with excitement and self-importance.
"The opening statement by Sir Arthur was very clear and very solemn. He drove every point home: the quarrel and the threat, the finding of the pistol, the footprints on the walk and by the wall. He was particularly strong on the question of time.
"'The prisoner himself had stated that he left Oakdale at about five minutes past one, and the statement is corroborated by Miss Moreland. It would take him about half-an-hour to get to the spot where the shot was fired. At twenty-five minutes to two precisely the murder was committed; of this there was no possible doubt. The murdered man's watch dropped out of his pocket and it was found by the people who ran to him at the shot. It was then twenty-five minutes to two o'clock. The watch has been kept carefully wound up since then, and it has never lost or gained a second in two days and a half. Gentlemen, in all my long experience I have never known a clearer case. I do not think you will have much difficulty about your verdict. Call Sergeant Scott.'
"'One moment, if you please,' I said. 'I represent the prisoner.'
"'Well, Mr. Beck,' said Sir Arthur, smiling—he and I were old friends—'he could not be in better hands.'
"'I want to save time,' I said.
"'Isn't it better to proceed regularly?'
"'I think not, in this case, if you will pardon me. On behalf of the prisoner I admit the truth of the statement you have made. If you will allow me to examine two witnesses I will show you, the jury, and everyone in court that Squire Gore is absolutely innocent of the charge.'
"'Have it your own way,' he said. 'Though this is most irregular.'
"'It is not necessary for me to show that this is a case of suicide, but it is plain that Mr. Carmody might have picked up the pistol that Mr. Gore left on the window ledge, and that it might have been jerked from his hand by the fall and rolled into the stream. I might suggest motives for suicide.' Sir Arthur nodded; he, too, had heard the tales in the city. 'I don't propose to go into that for the present. It is enough to prove that Mr. Gore is absolutely innocent, that he didn't and couldn't have fired the shot. I call Miss Maisy Moreland.'
"Miss Maisy jumped on to the table and deposed to taking the snapshot when Mr. Gore was bidding her sister good-bye. The photograph was handed up to the coroner and the jury, and I could see the quiet Miss Margaret blushing furiously in the background.
"'In the name of goodness what has this to do with the case?" asked Sir Arthur pettishly.
"'In one moment, sir, you will see.'
"Professor McAllister, assistant astronomer in Greenwich Observatory, took Miss Maisy's place, and the snapshot was put into his hand.
"'You have examined that photograph before?'
"'And the place?'
"'Can you say at what hour on Wednesday last it was taken?'
"'Why, certainly. Yesterday I made a rough sundial round the rose-tree and fixed the exact line of the shadow in the photograph. It was taken at fourteen minutes to two o'clock.'
"'As sure as there's a sun in the heavens,' said Professor McAllister smiling, 'unless some Joshua has been playing tricks with the solar system.'
"'You are quite right, Mr. Beck,' said Sir Arthur graciously. 'Mr. Gore seems to have been much better engaged at the time the shot was fired. I am sincerely glad the way things have turned out. I venture to offer my congratulations.'
"'Mr. Gore can leave the dock?' I asked.
"I saw that the ladies in the background were slipping quietly out, and I did not wonder at Mr. Gore's impatience. It was two hours later when the jury brought in their verdict of suicide.
"When I was leaving the court again, I felt a tug at my coat tails.
"'I wanted to tell you that you are a darling,' cried Miss Maisy.
"Then the impulsive young lady flung her arms round my neck and kissed me in the public street. It was a bit embarrassing for a nervous man like myself."
"Very," assented Dora ironically.
"I offered her the photograph.
"'Oh, keep it if you want to,' she said. 'I can soon catch them at it again.'
"Following her glance I saw Miss Margaret and Mr. Gore walking in front of us very close together, and I thought it most likely.
"Just one question to end with, Dora. Did the young lady who took the photograph deserve to be whipped? If she hadn't taken it the man would have been hanged."
"Yes," retorted Dora defiantly, "she deserved to be whipped."
Roy Glashan's Library
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