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ANONYMOUS

THE MALLINGWORTH MYSTERY

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RGL e-Book Cover

First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 26 November 1910
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 14 January 1911 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-04-16
Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

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I.

"I WANT to find out if I have committed a murder. Heaven help me! That is what I want to find out, Mr. Blake."

Sexton Blake scrutinised Captain Reginald Curtice, his latest client, with his usual care. A tall, upright, soldierly figure—hair, including moustache, tinged with grey; cheeks sallow from long exposure to a tropical sun, mouth thin and determined, eyes troubled and restless, general air that of a man half mad with anxiety. Such was the great detective's mental inventory of his caller.

"It is dreadful—ghastly!" muttered the captain, restraining a shudder. "I shall go mad if I don't find out! And if I do find out—if I have done this thing—Oh, heavens, what then?"

Realising that it was no ordinary case, Blake departed from his usual methods, and decided to help the man unburden himself.

"You are referring to the Mallingworth mystery, of course," he said quietly. "I have read about it in the papers. You are a widower, retired from the Army, and the governess of your only daughter was found murdered five days ago in a lonely wood on your estate."

"Yes," said the captain, with pathetic eagerness; "those are the facts."

"The murderer has not been discovered, and the police are apparently quite at a loss."

Captain Curtice nodded.

"They suspect nobody," he said, slowly. "But I—oh"—again he shuddered—"I suspect myself!"

"Why?" demanded the detective curtly.

"Three years ago in India I had a very bad attack of sunstroke," replied the captain. "I was invalided home, and in the end retired from the service." He paused.

"Well?" said Blake.

"Nobody knows; but—but at times I am not quite myself. I—I do things that I am astonished afterwards to find I have done."

"Give me an instance."

"I had a dog once—a bulldog I was very fond of; and one day I—I shot it. When I saw it lying dead before me I was horrified. If I hadn't been holding my revolver in my hand I couldn't have believed it. There was no reason for it—absolutely none."

"I see. And what happened then—when you found out?"

"I was ashamed. So—so I buried it, and led people to imagine that I had come across the dog dead—poisoned—and buried him with my own hands because I was so fond of him."

"I see," said the detective again, his voice impassive, his eyes expressionless, all his wonderful faculties keenly alert. "Your governess was a girl of twenty-one; your gardener found her with a bullet through her brain; she had not been robbed; she had no enemies that anybody knew of; and since the murder the police have discovered nothing."

"Yes," said Captain Curtice miserably; "that is how the affair stands; that is all that is known."

"Your fear is that you did it in a sort of fit?"

He nodded, and buried his face in his hands.

"You have no recollection, however hazy, of actually murdering her?"

"No."

"It is merely because of the bulldog, and—and other such instances, I presume, that you are afraid you may be a murderer?"

"Yes."

He hesitated, and Blake regarded him searchingly.

"No man is bound to incriminate himself," said the detective. "I hardly know how to deal with this situation. If I should find out that your fears are justified—what then? You can't expect me to shield a murderer."

"The law," said the ex-soldier, meeting the detective's gaze, "demands a life for a life. If you should prove that I did this thing, I will give my life in atonement."

"You mean that you will commit suicide. But that again will demand that I should allow you to. It is a grave predicament that you place me in, Captain Curtice."

"I know—I know. But what else can I do? Think of my family; think of the disgrace! If it were not for that I would have gone frankly to the police and placed myself in their hands. But my child—my relatives! Oh, Mr. Blake, think of them! It is better for their sakes that I should die a suicide than be hanged as a murderer. And the law will have its pound of flesh."

"It is a difficult problem," said Blake reflectively, moved by the man's agitation. "Let us leave it till we see how the matter turns out. Tell me frankly, without prejudice, exactly what it is that makes your suspicions so strong."

Captain Curtice fumbled in his pocket and produced a revolver.

"There are twenty minutes of my time unaccounted for," he said brokenly. "I can't account for them myself, and the place where the poor girl was found is only about seven minutes from my house."

"Has no one questioned you? Haven't the police asked you about your movements?" enquired Blake, examining the revolver.

"They didn't miss those twenty minutes. They don't suspect me. There is no reason why they should. See," he said in horror-stricken tones, "there are six chambers, and—and five are loaded!"

"This is a Service revolver, a very common pattern," said Blake. "Was it a bullet which would fit this revolver that killed this poor girl?"

"Yes. I ought to tell you that, like many other country folk, I always keep it in my desk fully loaded, in case of need."

"Ah! And where was the revolver when you discovered that it was loaded in five chambers and one had presumably been fired?"

"That is the worst of all!" groaned the captain, his lips quivering. "It—it was in my coat-tail pocket while I was talking to the police! I found it there when they had gone."

II.

SEXTON BLAKE was interested in all his cases, however trivial, but that of Captain Curtice fascinated him. In all his experience Blake had never met such a situation before. It had in it the elements of the grimmest of grim tragedies.

On the actual case he had no definite opinion. He had got rid of the captain after a few more questions, promising for very pity's sake the utmost expedition; but he had no theory as yet one way or the other.

Getting to work, he soon established the fact that Miss Mildred Chitty, the murdered girl, had no enemies known to anybody near Mallingworth. The local police had appealed to Scotland Yard, and the inspector sent down was a friend of Blake's, who attributed the detective's interest to professional curiosity, and did not hesitate to explain the police theory.

"It is a tramp murder, Mr. Blake," he said lightly; "just an ordinary tramp murder, old chap. Girl alone in the wood, well-dressed, carrying a purse. Tramp comes along, demands money. Girl refuses. Tramp, probably an old soldier, pulls out Service revolver, loses his temper, fires, intending only to wound or frighten her. Girl falls dead; tramp, horrified, flies; won't touch body for fear of blood-stains, or else too panic-stricken to remember the purse he shot her for."

"Not a bad theory," said Blake.

"The theory; you mark my words. We shall get him soon."

"Any footprints?"

The inspector muttered something about stupid rustics.

"Gardener found her," he said. "Called others, tramped all round like a pack of fools. Local police did the same—ground all footprints for yards. Makes the case a bit tricky, but we shall get him in the end."

Blake thanked him, and went to the place where the body had been found and made a careful examination. But, as Inspector Harley had said, the ground was too trampled to be of any use, and he returned to the village and resumed his enquiries. Everybody was only too willing to talk. Miss Chitty had been well known and well liked among the cottagers, and the murder was the one topic of absorbing interest.

"She was a good-hearted girl, if ever there was one!" exclaimed one young laborer's wife. "Last winter, sir, when my Bill was turned off by Farmer Smith, and my first was just a-comin', we was 'ard put to it, and got a bit be'ind 'and with the rent. The capting, 'e don't like my 'husband; says 'e's good for nowt, which 'e ain't, though 'e do go to the White Stag a bit often now and then. But the capting, 'e wouldn't 'elp us; 'e wanted us to be forced to leave the village, so me and Bill we put our 'eads together, an' I pawned my ring to pay the rent and tide us over for a bit. An'—an' I didn't like to think as my baby would be born while its mother was wearing a brass ring, an' I cried about it to Miss Chitty. An' next mornin' she comes down to me, and says, ''Ere—'ere's a gold wedding-ring for you!' An' she gives me one all bright an' shiny, an' lots thicker nor the one I'd 'ad to pawn."

She held out the ring for the detective's inspection.

"It's a little tight," she murmured, "but not very. She guessed my size as near as never mind."

"What time of the day did you tell Miss Chitty about the pawning of your ring?" he asked.

"Evenin'."

"And do you happen to remember what time next morning she gave you this ring in place of your own?"

"First thing in the mornin' it was, before she settled down with 'er young lady to their regular lessons."

"Thank you," said the detective, handing it back. "Good-afternoon!"

III.

IT was not until four days later that Sexton Blake called upon Captain Curtice.

"Well?" said the captain anxiously, his hands trembling like those of a man with ague. "Have you discovered anything?"

"You can set your mind at rest," said Blake. "I may as well tell you right at the start that you did not kill Miss Chitty."

"Thank heaven!" exclaimed the captain, sinking into a chair, overcome with relief. "Thank heaven!"

Blake gave him a few minutes to recover himself.

"The murderer was her husband!" he said at last.

"Her husband!" cried the captain, startled back into self-composure. "Man alive, she was a single girl!"

"No," said Blake. "She married a rogue, and fled from him when he began to ill-treat her. You engaged her as a governess, and she doubtless thought that she was perfectly safe, buried alive down here."

"I can't believe it," said the captain. 'Miss Chitty married! Are you sure, Mr. Blake?"

"Positive! And I will tell you how I discovered it. One of the village women told me a pathetic story of how she had been forced to pawn her wedding-ring to pay her rent, and how next morning Miss Chitty had presented her with a wedding-ring to ease her grief. No doubt, the poor girl regarded the parting with her ring as a further sign of how completely she was done with her wicked husband, and rejoiced at being able to do good with a thing that had brought her only pain."

"But I don't understand," said the captain, bewildered. "How did that story prove that she was married?"

"It didn't. I proved that afterwards; but it made me ask myself how Miss Chitty could have obtained a new ring by the following morning, and I saw at once that that was impossible. And what was she doing with a wedding-ring?"

"It might have been her mother's!"

"I thought of that; but the ring was too new."

"I see. You are a clever man, Mr. Blake. That put you on the track. And after that?"

"Oh, the rest was child's play!" said the detective modestly. "I found out that she was married, found out the sort of man her husband was, and then devoted my attention to him. To make a long story short, I communicated the results of my investigations to the police, and the inspector in charge of the case went off to execute a warrant for the man's arrest before I started out to call upon you to-day."

"Do you know, Mr. Blake," exclaimed Captain Curtice, "I began to think that the police suspected me? There has been a man here asking questions, prowling about off and on—"

"Yes, I know," interrupted the detective. "His name is the same as mine!"

"You!" cried the captain. Blake nodded.

"You wouldn't have me deal with only half a case?" he enquired. "I had to find out what happened during those twenty minutes you cannot account for, and I had to discover what that bullet had been fired at.

"You will remember," he continued, "that you told me that on the morning of the murder you were in your study, and you distinctly recollected getting up for a book, and looking at the clock at twenty minutes to twelve, and that you were astonished as the clock struck twelve to find the book in front of you unopened?"

Captain Curtice nodded.

"You were puzzled, but thought no more about it till the police came, shortly after one, with the news of your governess' fate, and then you discovered your revolver in your pocket, with one chamber discharged?"

"Well, man—well?" exclaimed the captain impatiently.

"I asked myself what could possibly drive a man afflicted with sudden outbursts of fury into such a state on a late autumn morning. I studied the outlook from your window, and saw that you could see from there one of the places where your keepers put down grain for your pheasants. I saw, also, that the fantail pigeons from a cote on a neighboring farm know this, and generally contrive to rob your game of some of their food."

"Yes, confound them!" interrupted the captain.

"Now, the monotonous noise of these pigeons is admirably calculated to annoy an irritable man, Captain Curtice, especially when they are robbing his pheasants. What more likely than that in one of your fits you should seize your revolver—the nearest weapon to hand—and go out to slay? But pigeons are notoriously wide-awake and difficult to shoot, and the range of a revolver is small. They would be off before you got near enough, and you would follow in and out among the trees, till you were too far away for a shot to be heard. Then you would fire, the pigeons would all disappear, and you would return to your study, your fury dying away as the cause of it disappeared."

The captain shook his head.

"It is an ingenious theory," he said, "and the pigeons certainly do annoy me; but—but how can it be proved?"

"Listen," said Blake. "I made enquiries, and found that the farmer's son, who persists in keeping the pigeons which annoy you so much, had missed one. That led me to go on with my theory, and I took to prowling about. To the north, exactly in the opposite direction of the murder, there is a spinney, very little used. I turned my attention to it, and as the place is very damp, I found some very decided footmarks there."

"Mine?" interrupted the captain eagerly.

Blake nodded.

"Yours; and the ball of the foot was exceptionally deep, a sure sign that you were running. And I found something else there—the dead body of a pigeon, from which I took this."

As he spoke he produced a bullet, remarking, "Evidently you fired at a pretty long range for it to remain in the bird's body."

The captain took it, and turned it over and over reflectively.

"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Blake. I am perfectly satisfied with your explanation of my movements," he said quietly, "and more relieved than I can find words to express."

"There is one thing more that I must say," added the detective, "and that is that if you will take my advice you will not keep this affliction of yours entirely to yourself any longer. It isn't right, Captain Curtice. You ought to see a specialist; and if nothing can be done for you, which I cannot believe, you ought always to have someone with you. But I feel sure that something can be done."

"I will take your advice," answered the captain. "I have suffered enough."


THE END


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.