"Always assume the probable to be true, until otherwise proved."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
LOOKING backward, I fancy it was on the summer morning, some years ago, when the shadow of the Cleremount Abbey horror first darkened the threshold of Messrs. Bowl, Treadgold & Flack's dignified premises in Savile Row, that the resolve hardened in me to keep a note-book with a view to ultimately setting down in black and white some of the outstanding examples of my friend H. B. Treadgold's prowess as a crime investigator. Although for the past fifteen years, in succession to my father, the late Nathaniel Duckett, of Lincoln's Inn, I have been the firm's legal adviser, there is nothing improper in my undertaking. It is not of Treadgold, my tailor client, but of Treadgold the crime analyst I shall write; and if in the course of my narrative I succeed in painting the portrait of Treadgold the man, and my most admired friend, I shall not feel that the hours I have spent at my typewriter have been in vain.
Of course, many of the problems submitted to his scrutiny in his capacity as an amateur investigator are of a much too private a nature ever to see the light of day. For the others I have, where necessary, changed the names of people and places so as not to identify living individuals. It is not from any love of sensationalism that I have decided to become my old friend's Boswell or, to put it more aptly, to play Corporal Trim to his Uncle Toby—the allusion to Tristram Shandy will presently be made clear. On more than one count Horace Bowl Treadgold is a remarkable personality.
To begin with, he is a tailor, a famous and prosperous one. Head of the old-established and exclusive firm of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, and a direct descendant of that Josiah Bowl who founded the business over a pastrycook's in Watling Street, in the heart of the City of London, in the reign of George III, he is immensely proud of representing the fifth generation of a family of tailors. At 64, when most men have already retired, or are thinking of retiring, he still insists, not only on attending daily at the shop, but also on personally serving his older clients. "I'm a tailor," it is his wont to declare, "and, if I may say so, a pretty good tailor. So why shouldn't I wait on the customers myself?"
"A West End tradesman," he likes to call himself, in his old- fashioned way. On leaving Rugby, most democratic of all British public schools, he went straight into the family business under the stern eye of Grandfather Treadgold, with fob and cravat, and of Cousin Jeremy Bowl, old Josiah's grandson—"young" Mr. Jeremy, in spite of his white whiskers and bald pate—whose proudest boast was that he had measured the Prince Consort for a pair of nankeen pantaloons. Later, he went to New York to work under Cousin Oliver Treadgold, who had come out from Savile Row in the sixties to start the American branch, and Uncle Herbert Flack—the personal history of the firm is an intricate web of Bowls, Treadgolds and Flacks intermarrying through the generations. He lived long enough in New York to see the shop, originally situated on Lower Broadway, the corner of Pine Street, and numbering such historic personages as Mr. Seward and General McLellan, "Commodore" Vanderbilt, Jay Gould and P. T. Barnum, among its customers, move northward, with the rest of fashionable New York, from the East Thirties to its present luxurious quarters on East 50th Street.
Widely travelled, and with his American experience behind him, Mr. Treadgold has acquaintances in every quarter of the globe. He still crosses the Atlantic at least twice a year, and thinks nothing of flying to the Continent to measure a monarch for mourning or even, as he did last year, to India, to advise a Maharajah regarding new uniforms for his bodyguard. But crime, and, in second place, stamp-collecting, are the passions of his leisure hours. H.B. Treadgold is one of those rare people who makes a success of anything he undertakes. His collection of British Empire stamps, for instance, is one of the best in the world, and his unrivalled knowledge of the whole range of philately commands respect wherever stamp-collectors are gathered together.
But the study of crime is his favourite hobby. He has devoted years of his life to the subject. He possesses an extensive and valuable library of criminological works in the leading European languages, has published several small monographs himself on the more abstruse aspects of crime investigation, and is a regular contributor on criminological topics to police and law journals at home and abroad. Where another business man, in opening his newspaper, will turn to the city pages, Mr. Treadgold will hunt for news of any crime. When travelling abroad, where you or I would go to a theatre or picture gallery, he makes a bee-line for police headquarters. He has a perfect passion for policemen—I tell him he must have been a nursemaid in a former existence.
In this way he has gained the friendship of men whose names are prominently identified with the never-ending war upon crime—famous detectives like Manderton, of Scotland Yard, Hablard of the Paris Sûreté (who never comes to London without looking him up), and Aziz Bey, of the Narcotics Branch of the Cairo Police, and celebrated scientists such as the great Heidenreich, of the Vienna police laboratory, or Cigolini, head of the moulage department of the Milan police. Inspector Grote, of the Homicide Bureau at New York police headquarters, a stamp-collector like himself, is his bosom friend and still consults him on crime problems presenting an unusual angle.
It was while he was living in the United States that his interest in crime developed from the purely theoretical to the practical. The New World is always readier than the Old to try an experiment, and it is intelligible that Mr. Treadgold's first successes as an independent crime investigator should have been registered on the other side of the Atlantic. Of these probably the most sensational was his feat in solving, in the course of a fishing trip to Quebec, the baffling series of crimes known as the St. Florentin murders.
Always the most modest of men, Mr. Treadgold maintained a discreet reticence concerning his rising fame as a criminologist, and it was only Major Cobbey's dramatic irruption at Savile Row with his story of the strange happenings at Cleremount Abbey that really opened my eyes. Not that I was unaware of my friend's remarkable deductive powers. Sometimes when we were lunching together at a restaurant he would demonstrate them for my benefit by guessing at the character, or even the calling, of complete strangers. On occasion I would be able to check these pronouncements of his: he was rarely at fault. "If a fellow's no hero to his valet, George," he once said to me, "he's still less a hero to his tailor. No place like a fitting room for seeing humanity in the raw, my boy," and his blue eyes twinkled at his play on the words: "It's clothes, not manners, that makyth man. In Tristram Shandy, as I'm sure you'll recollect, it says that body and mind are like a jerkin and its lining: rumple one and you rumple the other. Ill-fitting clothes mean an ill-fitting mind: which is rather a roundabout way of saying that a tailor who takes any pride in his job has to be a bit of a psychologist. Mr. Treadgold is always quoting Tristram Shandy; the most human book ever written, he calls it—I verily believe he knows it by heart; and wherever he goes, his cherished first edition, calf-bound, goes with him. For myself, I discern in Mr. Treadgold the authentic reflection of Sterne's greatest creation, Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby, veteran of the Flanders campaigns, so English in his devotion to his hobbies, his courage in adversity, his quick temper, his kindness to animals and all helpless things, his robust common sense. Of him I can exclaim with the elder Shandy, as he flung rosemary into Uncle Toby's grave, "O Toby! in what corner of the world shall I seek thy fellow?"
On the July morning I speak of I had gone to Savile Row by appointment to take Mr. Treadgold's instruction in the matter of some cloth contracts. Pink-faced and portly, a dignified figure with his grizzled hair and moustache, he was chatting with Mr. Gallup, the manager, in the front of the shop, with its array of Royal warrants and fly-blown prints of Victorian dandies, all wasp-waists and whiskers. The hour was eleven, business slack, and we discussed the matter that had brought me at the long window overlooking the street, leaning on the counter among bales of cloth.
Presently my companion observed, "Here's somebody who's bringing me his troubles, I fancy!"
I glanced through the window. A dapper individual in brown, no longer very young, had alighted from a taxi before the door and was waiting with considerable impatience for the driver to give him change. I laughed. "How do you know he hasn't come for a fitting?"
Mr. Treadgold smothered a yawn. "He's not one of our regular customers. Besides people don't rush away from the country in a tearing hurry in order to call on their tailors. Surely you must have noticed that he has omitted to shave this morning and that he didn't wait to put on a day shirt with his tweeds but is wearing what's clearly the stiff-fronted evening shirt he took off on going to bed last night and his evening shoes. Look at them! Patent leather and no toe-caps!"
I chuckled. "You win, H.B. But what makes you think he's come up from the country?"
The taxi-driver had stopped a cruising cab for change, leaving his fare fidgeting on the pavement. Mr. Treadgold sighed. "George, where are your eyes? It hasn't rained this morning, but it poured all over the South of England yesterday. That white mud on his shoes is fresh, suggesting that he's recently been hurrying over wet country roads—to catch his train, I dare say."
"As far as that goes, there are wet roads in London, too."
"And the bundle of morning papers under his arm—the whole collection? They're crumpled, they've been read—doesn't it argue the train? Besides, what does the fact that he has no change suggest?"
"That he left home in a rush, I suppose."
"Surely, but also that he's a commuter."
My companion flushed. "Sorry; I was being American. A season- ticket holder. He is coming here. Do we know him, Mr. Gallup?" he asked the manager who had joined us.
Mr. Gallup shook his head. "No, Mr. Horace."
It was a trim little man with a weatherbeaten face who stormed in. "Mr. Treadgold?" he panted, gazing from one to the other of us. My friend inclined his head with dignity. The visitor grasped his hand. "My name's Cobbey, Major Cobbey," he introduced himself. "You don't know me, Mr. Treadgold, but my wife, who's American, has heard of you from her sister, Mrs. Van Sant, on the other side. It seems you were instrumental in helping Millicent Van Sant in a delicate affair involving a string of pearls."
"I remember Mrs. Van Sant very well," said Mr. Treadgold guardedly.
"My sister-in-law says you're a marvel, a born sleuth. She says that in half a dozen cases where the police were up against a brick wall——"
Mr. Treadgold looked acutely embarrassed. "She exaggerates, major. A matter of one or two lucky guesses—no more than that."
But the visitor swept on. "Mr. Treadgold," he declaimed dramatically, "if you refuse to help me, you see before you a ruined man!"
My friend made a clicking noise with his tongue. "Dear me, I hope it's not as bad as that."
Words rushed from the major. "I run the Cleremount Abbey Estate in Surrey—bungalows, you know; it was formerly the country seat of the Earls of Cleremount. Cleremount Abbey has been turned into a clubhouse, and there's an eighteen-hole golf course—everything tiptop." He sighed deeply. "Recently, the peace of our small community has been troubled by a series of alarming incidents. On three occasions within the past fortnight a mysterious stranger brandishing a dagger has pounced out upon unaccompanied ladies."
"Dear me!" observed Mr. Treadgold.
"The assailant is described as a tall man with a scrub of red beard, wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes and a truly remarkable overcoat."
At that the tailor in my friend pricked up his ears. "How remarkable?" Mr. Treadgold demanded. Cobbey shrugged his shoulders. "Well, one of the women describes it as a sort of khaki plaid, another as a mustard-coloured affair in brown and green."
Mr. Treadgold grunted. "A curious looking garment, indeed."
"He appears as it's getting dark," the other resumed. "The last time was yesterday evening, when he scared the wits out of Mrs. Plender-Barnes as she was stepping from her garden on to the golf course. The incident was reported to me only this morning, and my wife insisted that I should take the first train up to London and implore your aid."
Mr. Treadgold flung me a slightly ironical glance, then made an unwilling movement of the shoulders. "I don't know what I can do, major. It sounds to me like a practical joke."
"If it's a joke," declared the major tremulously, "it's one that's likely to cost me and my partners dear. The tenants are up in arms about it. They're threatening to cancel their leases unless this miscreant's laid by the heels."
"What are the police doing?"
Cobbey snorted. "Sergeant Cotter, our local Dogberry, is making inquiries. Which means that nothing will be done until someone's murdered." Mr. Treadgold elevated bushy eyebrows. "I take a serious view," the major insisted. "It's a pure matter of luck that he hasn't claimed a victim already. Rhoda Bryce, who meets her father at the train every evening, was attacked in the loneliest part of Clere Common; she's an athletic young woman, and saved herself only by taking to her heels. Fräulein Helder, the Fitchetts' German governess, was out for her regular evening stroll along the back avenue when the beggar appeared, and but for a telegraph boy who happened to arrive on his bike——"
"And the case last night?" Mr. Treadgold broke in.
"Mrs. Plender-Barnes? She breeds Peeks, you know, and walks her dogs after tea every day on the golf course. If she hadn't had the presence of mind to throw her handbag in the brute's face, she'd certainly have been knifed. I believe we're dealing with a homicidal lunatic. I've got to do something about it, and I don't want to hire detectives. If you'd come down and advise us—next week-end, say. My wife and I will be delighted to put you up—your friend, too. If nothing results, I can at least promise you some good golf and middling bridge."
Rather to my surprise Mr. Treadgold did not refuse. "How about it, George?" he asked me.
The prospect of seeing H.B. on the trail was not a little intriguing, and I hastened to say I was free. It was arranged that Mr. Treadgold should drive me down to Cleremount Abbey after lunch on the following Saturday. "I never could resist a hunt," he remarked to me apologetically after Cobbey had departed. "And the case certainly presents one rather mysterious angle." But what that angle was he declined to say.
This was on the Tuesday. At nine o'clock on Thursday morning Mr. Treadgold was on the telephone to me. "About that Cleremount Abbey business..." he began. His voice had an odd ring.
"What about it, H.B.?"
"A girl was stabbed to death on the estate last night. I'm off there at once and you're coming with me. I'll stop by for you with the car in ten minutes."
Mr. Treadgold drove us down to Surrey in his big coupé. His air was sternly purposeful. "She was only twenty," he told me. "Edgar Allan Poe said that the most tragic thing in the world is the death of a young girl. So young, and to die like that. Ye gods!"
Daphne Wade had lived at a house called High Trees on the edge of the estate. The household consisted of her stepfather, Henry Marton, a retired rubber planter; her mother; a young man, Stephen Keithley, who was Marton's secretary; a butler, Penruddock by name; a housemaid and a cook. The whole staff slept in with the exception of Keithley, who had a cottage in the grounds.
Mrs. Marton, who was an invalid, took her meals upstairs; and, on the previous evening, Marton, Daphne and the secretary had dined together as usual. After dinner Marton retired to the library, according to his invariable habit, leaving the young couple together in the drawing-room. About eleven o'clock Penruddock brought the whisky and soda to the library and was told he could go to bed. On his way there he asked Miss Wade, who was then alone in the drawing-room, reading and listening to the wireless, if he could get her anything. She said, No, but not to lock up; the rain had stopped and she meant to take the dog for a run.
She was never seen alive again. Around two o'clock Marton went to bed. The drawing-room lights were out and he concluded that his stepdaughter had long since retired, especially as he knew that she would be playing golf at nine in the morning. But when the maid took the tea to Miss Wade's bedroom at seven, there was no sign of her, and the bed had not been slept in.
The alarm was given. She was not in the grounds, but, in view of her statement to Penruddock, they looked for her in the wood abutting on the property—she sometimes took her dog there, although, since there had been these attacks on women on the estate, her mother had expressly forbidden it. They found her, face downward under a tree, stabbed to death in the back.
"Cobbey thinks," said Mr. Treadgold, looking grim, "that the murderer crept up on her in the dark, delivered his blow and fled. There's no trace of a struggle, and she's otherwise unharmed—the doctor says that death was instantaneous. By his statement, she'd been dead between eight and nine hours when she was found around half-past seven, which would put the crime back to somewhere between half-past ten and half-past eleven on the previous night. The secretary, however, asserts it must have been later than ten-thirty, for he was with her until then, when he went off to his cottage to bed."
"What about the knife, H.B.?"
"No weapon was discovered."
He frowned. "Nothing, Cobbey says. The wood is deep in leaves."
"And the dog, what became of him?"
My companion gave me an approving glance. "She never took him out after all; at any rate, the dog, a full-grown Alsatian, was discovered this morning shut up in the room off the hall where he always sleeps. The girl must have put him in there before she left the house, because when Penruddock said good night to her, the dog was with her in the drawing-room."
"And nobody heard her cry out or anything?"
"Apparently not; but maybe she was struck down too quickly and there was no cry."
"Was anything seen of the murderer?"
"No. The police are beating the woods for him."
"This funny looking overcoat of his ought to furnish a clue."
Mr. Treadgold grunted. "It's about the only one. The irresponsible crime is always the hardest to trace. The lunatic kills without motive, and, without a motive to work from, reason is left floundering."
A gateway flanked by heraldic beasts admitted us to the stately park. At the Abbey itself, now the club, an imposing mansion with an Inigo Jones portico, where we were to pick up the major, my companion gloomily studied the notices of the social activities of the community while Cobbey was fetched. Our host proposed that we should drive at once to High Trees; we could drop our bags at his bungalow afterward.
Outside the Martons' house, pleasantly shaded by centurion elms, a brawny young man paced furiously up and down. He was bare-headed and the sun struck lights from his fiery red hair. He ran up to the car and we saw that his eyes were sombre, his face distorted with grief.
"I warned her not to go out," he cried to Cobbey. "Apart from everything else, you know what her mother's heart is like. The least shock—if anything happened to her only child. But Daph wouldn't listen to me; she was always so sure of herself, so pig-headed. But I didn't mean to criticise her. Poor kid, I just can't bear it!"
"How is Mrs. Marton bearing up, Keithley?" the major asked.
"This ought to finish her," the young man returned rather brutally, and flung away. The front door was not locked. As Cobbey opened it a huge Alsatian bounded out, barking and snarling at us. Behind him a lanky figure in butler's dress came hurrying.
"Call him off, Penruddock!" cried the major, springing back. "Here, Rollo, here!" the man summoned the hound; but the Alsatian continued to growl and bare his teeth at us most alarmingly and, as the butler approached, snapped angrily at him.
Penruddock retreated in haste. He was an odd-looking man—Cornish, I surmised, by his name and dark colouring; tall and excessively thin, with hollow cheeks and sullen black eyes.
"That dog's as fierce as fierce with everybody, barring the master and Mr. Keithley and, of course, the poor young miss," he muttered in a surly voice. "If she'd had him with her last night, he'd have torn that bloody villain to bits!" Then Keithley came back. The dog went to him at his call and he took it into the house.
All the morning, Penruddock told us, Sergeant Cotter and his men had been "nosing round" in the wood. But they had finished now, and Marton had gone down to the village with them.
"It seems a good moment to have a quiet look round," Mr. Treadgold suggested to Cobbey. "Don't bother to come with us, if you'll just tell me how to find the spot. We'll meet you here, say, in half an hour."
The major would have liked to have accompanied us. But, for all his gentle manner, my companion had a firm way with him, and eventually Cobbey took us round to the back of the house and pointed to an iron gate in a box hedge on the far side of the gardens.
"Through that gate. She was lying at the foot of a tall fir about fifty yards into the wood. You can't mistake the place; the police have roped it off. You won't be disturbed. The only other access to the wood is from the road, and there's a constable on the gate there to keep the public out."
The fir in question, engirdled by its rope barrier, flanked a path that ran through the wood. I was relieved to find that they had taken the body away. I had expected my companion to whip out a lens and fling himself on his face. But he only stood there, his kindly features grave, his blue eyes sorrowful, gazing down at the carpet of leaves beneath the tree. For a good five minutes he must have remained thus, occasionally turning his head to look back toward the gate. Presently he stooped, and gathering up a tiny scrap of something white that clung to a clump of nettles—it looked like blotting-paper—slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
He broke a long silence. "Our red-bearded friend has changed his methods," he observed.
"Why, in the three other cases he appeared while it was still light. But this time..." He fluttered a small diary. "I thought so—the new moon's not until Saturday." His gaze rested on me bleakly. "How could he have seen her in the dark?"
He did not wait for my answer, but ducking under the rope, began to plod slowly round the tree in an ever-widening circle. In a little while he was out of sight, though I heard him crashing among the ferns. When at last he reappeared he was perspiring freely and breathing rather hard. He took my arm and led me to the gate. "George," he remarked as we retraced our steps to the house, "what do a red beard and a funny overcoat suggest to you?"
"Disguise?" I hazarded.
My companion chuckled. "Right. Anything else?"
"I'd have to think that one out."
"What are the three causes of all obscurity and confusion in the mind of man?"
"I don't know, but I bet it's a quotation from Tristram Shandy."
Mr. Treadgold nodded, his eyes twinkling. "Correct. The answer is dull organs in the first place; secondly, the failure to receive impressions when the organs are not dull and thirdly, a memory like a sieve."
Again that throaty chuckle.
"Meaning that a lot of things in life besides dreams go by contraries, George."
The major was in front of the house, fidgeting.
"Marton's in the library with Sergeant Cotter. He'd like to see you."
With his stalwart frame, leonine head and easy manners, Henry Marton was a personable individual, smartly tailored and dressed with considerable care. He seemed to be in his fifties, but his dark hair was thick and only touched with grey at the temples. He introduced Sergeant Cotter, a florid-faced, tow-headed man in uniform. "We're all terribly upset as you may imagine," he said to Mr. Treadgold with a haggard air. "Especially my poor wife. She's wonderfully brave about it. Only a few minutes ago she said to me, All that matters now is to protect other women's daughters from this maniac. Now that Daph's gone, I'm prepared to spend the last penny I possess on bringing her murderer to justice."
"A shocking affair!" Mr. Treadgold observed. "That young secretary of yours seems pretty cut up about it."
The other nodded, sighed. "He'd have liked to marry my step- daughter, but that, of course, was out of the question."
"He struck me as being a nice enough chap," observed Mr. Treadgold.
The major spoke up importantly. "You don't understand. The young man has no money. I'm sure our friend will excuse my mentioning it, but everyone knows that Mrs. Marton was left more than comfortably off by her first husband and that Miss Daphne, who's her only child, would have come into a considerable fortune on her death. Isn't that so, Marton?"
The master of High Trees nodded forlornly. With a vague air Mr. Treadgold began to drift about the library, stopping from time to time to read the title of a book. Penruddock came in with the sherry, and I thought again what an ill-favoured, gipsy- looking fellow he was. Treadgold gazed after the man as he left the room. "Bit of a character, that butler of yours," he remarked to our host. "Had him long?"
Marton shrugged his shoulders. "About six months. He's odd in some ways—he's Cornish, you know—but an excellent servant."
"I notice by the posters down at the club-house that he's been playing in the club amateur theatricals."
Marton and Cobbey both laughed. "I haven't seen him myself, but they tell me he's quite a good actor," said Marton.
I looked sharply at my friend and found his manner disarming. But he couldn't fool me. I caught the drift of his mind. Acting implied skill at disguise—Treadgold was thinking of that red beard. Eagerly I awaited his next question. But for the moment he said no more about the butler, standing at the big Empire desk which occupied the centre of the library and absently running his finger along the back of the deep arm-chair that flanked it. A reading stand with a book on it was attached to the arm of the chair. Mr. Treadgold picked up the book, a large paper-bound volume with the handle of a paper-cutter projecting from it, glanced at the title. "You read German, eh?" he observed to Marton, not without a certain respect in his tone.
The other smiled his easy smile. "Sure. That's Griesheim's treatise on synthetic rubber. As a matter of fact, with Steve Keithley's help, I'm collecting notes for a book on the subject."
Mr. Treadgold opened the book. "Heavy going!" he commented, making a humorous face. "I never could understand," he added, putting the volume down, "why Continental publishers still insist on issuing books with the pages uncut."
It was Sergeant Cotter who brought him back to business. "Did Mr. Treadgold have any ideas for intensifying the hunt after the killer?" he inquired, faintly sarcastic. They were checking up on the lunatic asylums; combing the woods.
"For a red-bearded man, sergeant?"
"That's right, sir."
Mr. Treadgold tapped a little tune on his teeth with his pipe.
"If you wished to disguise yourself, sergeant, how would you set about it?"
The other scratched a flaxen head. "Me? Mebbe I'd dye my hair like Charley Peace used to do, or get a black wig."
"Or a black beard!" Mr. Treadgold shot back at him. "The criminal mind always flies to opposites, my friend. Our chap sports a red beard; but you're fair—in your place I'd look for a dark, clean-shaven man. If you wanted to make yourself inconspicuous, would you wear an overcoat in loud checks?"
"I reckon not."
"And you'd wait until it was completely dark before showing yourself, wouldn't you..."
"Then don't waste your time hunting for a lunatic. The man who committed this crime is as sane as you or I." He looked inquiringly toward Marton. "Do you have a raincoat I could borrow for a moment?"
"I expect there are some in the hall," said our host, and went out. A minute later he was back with one. In an attentive silence Mr. Treadgold took the coat and turned the sleeves inside out, then made me put on the coat. Thus reversed, the garment displayed on the outside its lining of large brown and red and yellow squares on the neutral khaki ground. "See the idea?" my friend asked briskly.
"You mean the killer was wearing an overcoat turned inside out?" Major Cobbey demanded.
"Because the fellow's crazy, of course," said Marton quickly.
"Because," said Mr. Treadgold, raising his voice, "because this man intended that the persons he scared should not forget him easily; because he was out to create the impression that a dangerous maniac was loose, in order to divert suspicion from himself as the author of the horrible crime which he must have been plotting for weeks. That was why he didn't wait till night, but showed himself while there was yet enough light for the details of his appearance to be noted and reported. You don't have to look beyond the confines of the Cleremount Abbey estate for the murderer, sergeant; you don't have to look beyond this house!"
I thought that H.B. was being somewhat theatrical, besides letting his imagination run away with him. Evidently Marton thought so too, for he said pretty stiffly: "Come, come, Mr. Treadgold; isn't that pitching it rather strong?"
But the old boy, facing us, stern and resolute, at the desk, never wilted. "We were misled into supposing that Miss Wade didn't have the dog with her last night. Personally, my practice is always to assume the probable to be true until otherwise proved. She was in the habit of taking the dog out at night. Last evening, in particular, she announced her intention of doing so, and in fact she did go out, although apparently without the dog. Therefore I looked for the dog, or rather for some traces of it, near where she was struck down in the wood. And, by James"—he brought his fist down on the desk—"I found 'em!"
Sergeant Cotter glanced up, frowning. "You did, eh? Where?"
"At the foot of the slope behind that fir where she lay. A field drain discharges there, and a trickle of water runs away through the wood. A dog has left his footmarks all over the soft loamy soil at the water's edge—he went there to drink, I guess. A large dog, too, for the weight of his hind legs has crushed the ferns. One of them is snapped off short."
Marton sniffed impatiently. "If it was Daphne's dog, he may have made those footprints days ago." He paused. "If it was her dog."
"Those prints were left there last night," Mr. Treadgold précised inexorably. "Otherwise the rain earlier in the day would have washed them away—it hasn't rained since dinner-time last night, you know. Besides, that fern I spoke of has been recently broken."
The major looked thoughtful. "That Alsatian of yours is the only large dog on the estate Marton." It was obvious that our host was not used to being crossed. Suddenly he seemed to lose patience. "I never heard such nonsense in my life," he exploded, rounding on Mr. Treadgold. "What do you mean, sir, by coming here and saying such things? Will you have the goodness to tell us outright whom you suspect? Young Keithley, is it?"
They faced one another, big men both, Marton rather dandified in his elegantly molded grey suit, Treadgold looking like a farmer with his glowing cheeks and well-worn tweeds. Our host was clearly very angry—I could see a pulse beating in his temple and his eyes flashed fire. H.B., on the other hand, was entirely unmoved.
"Keithley?" he retorted. "I scarcely think so. The Alsatian's used to him, of course—I observed that for myself just now. But with that red thatch of his I can hardly picture him adopting a red beard as a disguise. Can you? Besides, anyone can see that he was genuinely attached to your step-daughter. But Penruddock now..."
"Penruddock!" Marton seemed to be flabbergasted.
"He's tall and clean shaven and dark," H.B. reminded him, "and, if you ask me, rather ill-balanced mentally, by the looks of him. Furthermore, as an amateur actor, he may well be in possession of the necessary make-up in the shape of crepe hair or even a false beard."
"He has a make-up box in his drawer in the pantry," Marton answered, "but, good Lord, man, you're not suggesting that he killed my stepdaughter?"
"Ah, but I am," was the bland rejoinder. "And what's more, I've reason to believe he borrowed your raincoat to stage those bogus attacks on women."
The other stared at Mr. Treadgold fixedly. "We'll soon settle that!" He hurried out.
"But the dog——" I began.
"Not now, George," said Treadgold shortly.
"I only wanted to remind you that Penruddock——"
"Will you shut up!" my friend roared. Then Marton returned with a dust-coloured rainproof. "My raincoat," he announced. Opening it out, he pointed silently to the lining. Bold brown and green stripes on a mustard ground were displayed there.
"Is that the coat young Rhoda Bryce and the other two described?" he demanded.
"Checkered in brown and green, they said it was. Aye, that'd be it," cried Sergeant Cotter. "Where is this man of yours, Mr. Marton, sir?"
"Just a minute," said Treadgold quietly and turned to me. "What were you going to tell us, George?"
I had no desire to show old H.B. up, but the interests of justice demanded that I should speak. "Whether it's the coat or not, I don't see how Penruddock can be guilty," I answered, "for the simple reason that the dog couldn't abide him."
"Thanks, George," H.B. replied. "I'm glad you reminded me. It seems to let Penruddock out, doesn't it, Mr. Marton?" He lifted the paperbound volume from its place on the reading-stand and held it up to him. "This is the book you were reading last night, I take it?"
Our host looked singularly ill at ease. "It is," he answered curtly. "What of it?"
Mr. Treadgold addressed himself to the Sergeant. "Here," he said, opening his palm, "I have a fragment of the paper known to the trade as feather weight. I picked it up on the scene of the crime. It's a frayed end such as comes away where you're cutting the pages of a book. I'm not an authority on papermaking, but I believe you'll find that this specimen comes from the book in my hand." He held out the book to the sergeant. "Take it, Sergeant, and I draw your particular attention to the paper-cutter. It's a so-called Norwegian knife with a sharp blade to which such a fragment of paper as that in my hand might adhere in the operation of cutting the leaves of this book. I think it'd be worth your while to have the knife analysed for blood stains..."
"Mind yourself, sir!"
The sergeant's warning shout cut across the closing words. He had been about to take the book when Marton edged him aside and plucked the knife from its place between the leaves. I had a glimpse of a livid, demented face, of eyes that murderously blazed, as the knife whirled up and, with an inarticulate shout, our host sprang at Treadgold. But with one accord we flung ourselves at Marton and the knife rattled to the floor.
It took the four of us to get him to the car, and even then we had to strap his legs. Homicidal dementia in its most violent form, was the verdict of the doctor who examined him at the police station later on that afternoon. A specialist in tropical diseases would be called, the patient having spent many years of his life in Sumatra, to determine the precise cause of the outbreak.
Mr. Treadgold apologised very handsomely for hoodwinking me about Penruddock. "It was clear to me," he said, "that we were dealing with a pretty cold-blooded customer. Since he'd made no attempt to conceal the knife, I guessed he'd kept the raincoat, too, only I feared that, at the first hint of danger, he'd get rid of it. Of course, lunatics are extraordinarily cunning; but this one overreached himself."
"What was the interesting angle you spoke of when Cobbey first told us about the case?" I asked.
"Why, it was evident that Redbeard was acquainted with the habits of the women he scared because he lay in wait for them when they were carrying out a daily routine—the Bryce girl crossing the common to meet her father, the German governess taking her regular evening stroll; the other woman walking her dogs. The assailant was therefore most probably a member of the community. My visit to the scene of the crime confirmed this—only someone aware of the girl's custom of taking her dog into the wood at night and able to find his way about the High Trees grounds in the dark would have waited for her there." He sighed. "Not a very tidy case, George, for, instead of starting out from a motive, as I like to do, I had to work back to one."
It was Mr. Treadgold who had broken the news of her husband's breakdown and arrest to Mrs. Marton. He saw her alone in her room and this conversation between us took place as we drove back to town afterwards. "I thought you told me that a homicidal maniac kills without motive?" I pointed out.
Mr. Treadgold coloured, cleared his throat. "There was a motive in this case and a good one. Marton was due to inherit his wife's fortune in the event of the girl pre-deceasing her mother. But a month ago, so the girl told Keithley, Marton was warned by the doctors that Mrs. Marton had no more than six months to live. That verdict was the girl's death warrant as well, for it determined Marton to lose no time in disposing of the only person who stood between him and the money."
"Not so mad!" I commented.
My friend pursed his lips. "I should have mistrusted him from the moment I set eyes on him. Did you notice the extravagant way his shoulders were padded? A fellow who falsifies nature has usually other things to hide as well. And that," he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "isn't Tristram Shandy, George! It's Treadgold, the tailor!"
"Successful crime detection is merely observation rightly applied."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
ONE May evening Mr. Treadgold had asked me to drop in at his chambers in Bury Street for a glass of sherry.
A young woman was with him when I arrived. Olivia Rawley was a nice-looking American girl, not more than twenty-two or twenty- three years of age, I judged. I gathered that her father, George Rawley, now dead, had been an old customer of the New York branch of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack during Mr. Treadgold's long sojourn in the United States. "Daddy said you'd the clearest mind of any man he'd ever met," the girl informed my friend shyly. "He said you'd a natural flair for solving mysteries."
Old H.B. shrugged his shoulders. "Don't let's exaggerate. Let's say, rather, that like Tristram Shandy's father, I try to weigh nothing in the common scales. I like to form an independent judgment."
She smiled. "Daddy told me you were always quoting Tristram Shandy. He said it was your favourite book."
I grinned. "It's his Bible. He finds texts in it to suit every occasion."
The girl had grown serious.
"I hope you won't laugh at me when you've heard my story," she told Mr. Treadgold gravely. "But I have nobody in England to confide in except Uncle Eustace's lawyer, and he's an old fossil, and I am in such terrible need of some good advice. Three months ago, when Daddy died, I came over to make my home with my grandfather, Colonel Charton, who, some years ago, came into the family property of Charton Place, in Somersetshire. My mother—she died when I was born—was English, Colonel Charton's only daughter, but he quarrelled with her when she married an American and all relations ceased between them. Of late years Daddy had no luck. First we lost our money in the crash and then he had to undergo this terrible operation, from which he never recovered. I guess he had a presentiment, for the day before he entered the hospital he wrote to my grandfather, begging him to look after me if the worst came to the worst. When Daddy died I sent my grandfather a line at Charton Place. My Uncle Eustace, mother's only brother, replied. I'd never met him, but I'd heard of him as being an engineer somewhere in South America. Well, he wrote now to say he'd returned to be with the old man, who'd had a stroke and was paralysed. He invited me to come and make my home at Charton, and enclosed money for the fare. He told me he was a bachelor and that a little young company would brighten up the old house.
"I had rather a shock when I first saw Charton," Miss Rawley continued. "It's a terrible decrepit old house and only one wing's in use. Moreover, my grandfather, who's over seventy, is quite helpless, unable to move or even speak properly, and never leaves his suite—he has a housekeeper and a male attendant to look after him. Still, I had quite a thrill to find myself in a place where my ancestors had lived for centuries. And Uncle Eustace was charming to me—I believe I could have been happy there if he hadn't died."
"He died?" Mr. Treadgold echoed sympathetically.
She nodded. "Six weeks ago yesterday—we found him dead in bed. A man who used to boast that he'd never had a day's illness in his life."
"What did the doctor say?" my friend asked.
"Heart failure. There had to be an inquest, as he'd appeared to be perfectly well, and the jury returned a verdict of 'death from natural causes.' He'd been living at Charton for about three months when I arrived, and I never saw a man so happy. Neither grandfather nor he seemed to have much money, and we never had a visitor. But Uncle Eustace was quite content to fish and go for walks and gossip with the farmers."
"Who else is there in the house?" H.B. wanted to know.
"Only Mrs. Mangove, the housekeeper, who's been with my grandfather for the past eight years, and the male nurse—his name's Oscar Halmquist." She checked. "They were never very friendly to Uncle Eustace—to me, either. I think they regarded us both as intruders."
Mr. Treadgold sat bolt upright in his chair. "Are you suggesting...?"
"He was big and strong," she burst out. "He'd always lived in the open air. He drank very little and didn't smoke at all. I never saw such a magnificent physique in my life."
H.B. canted his head sagely. "Physique's a deceptive thing," he observed, his blue eyes on the girl. "A fellow can strain his heart and never know it."
"He was in absolutely perfect health. In the afternoon we'd been for a long tramp over the hills, and after dinner we'd played chess together—we were such good pals. He'd got into the way of drinking mate in South America and had a silver-bound gourd to brew it in. He showed me how to make it, and I'd take it to him in bed in the mornings. On this morning he didn't move when I went in, and I thought he was still asleep. I touched his hand to wake him and it was cold—cold!"
She turned her head away.
"How did he look?"
"Absolutely calm, as though he were sleeping."
"Was there anything unusual in the appearance of the room?"
"No. His clothes were folded on a chair, the curtains drawn back, the windows wide open. He was always great on fresh air."
"Did anyone hear anything in the night?"
"I was coming to that. Uncle Eustace's room is at the end of the wing, on the ground floor—it's the only floor in use. I sleep on the same corridor but in the middle, with Mrs. Mangove's quarters between me and Uncle Eustace. I didn't sleep very well that night as I had a tooth that had been troubling me. Soon after three o'clock the pain woke me up, and as I lay there I thought there was a step in the passage outside. I opened the door and heard a curious humming noise."
Mr. Treadgold knit his brow. "A humming noise?" he repeated.
"A sort of faint, bubbling, droning sound. It came from along the corridor. Then someone approached from the direction of my uncle's room. It was Oscar. He asked me why I wasn't in bed, and I told him I had toothache. I said to him, 'What's that funny row?' and he answered, 'It's only the kettle singing in Mrs. Mangove's room. Your grandfather's not so well and as we're likely to be up with him all night, Mrs. Mangove's making us a cup of tea.' Next morning, after I'd found Uncle Eustace, I asked Mrs. Mangove whether he hadn't cried out or anything in the night, and she told me No, for if he had she or Oscar must have heard him because they were up with the colonel until dawn." She stopped. "You know," she added slowly, "I thought afterward that noise I heard wasn't really a bit like a kettle singing."
Her hands clasped together, she gazed earnestly at Mr. Treadgold, whose portly figure comfortably filled the big armchair as he reflectively smoked his pipe. He made no comment and she resumed: "Now I come to the strangest part of the story. Last night I had a terribly vivid dream. I dreamed I was drowning."
H.B. looked up sharply. "Drowning?"
She nodded. "Uncle Eustace's death was a great shock to me; I haven't been sleeping well since he died. Last night there was a tremendous wind at Charton, and so that it shouldn't keep me awake, Mrs. Mangove gave me some bromide; the wind was so strong that, on going to bed, I had to close the window. Well, maybe it was because I'm used to sleeping with the windows open, but when I fell asleep I had this frightful nightmare. I seemed to be stifling. I awoke suddenly, bathed in perspiration, with my head splitting. The cold air was blowing on my face and the window was banging about—the storm had blown it in. I was still half asleep but I was telling myself, the way one does, that I'd have to get up and shut the blessed window. Then suddenly I became aware of the strange humming noise I'd heard the night my uncle died."
"Where was it coming from?" Mr. Treadgold questioned.
"I can't say, except that it seemed to be louder than when I'd heard it before. There's no electric light at Charton, and while I was groping for the matches I had a sudden feeling that someone was in the room. I cried out, 'Who's there?' then a match was struck and I saw that it was Mrs. Mangove in her dressing- gown."
"And the humming noise?"
"It seemed to have stopped. Mrs. Mangove said, 'You were shouting in your sleep and the window's blown open.' She was going to close it, but I told her to leave it—the room was frightfully stuffy. I jumped out of bed and ran on the balcony in my nightdress. Mrs. Mangove's match blew out and she didn't light the candle—I could hear her moving about in the dark behind me and telling me I'd catch my death of cold. But I didn't care—after that terrible dream I felt I couldn't get enough fresh air. In the end she made me go back to bed."
"Did you notice anything to explain the curious sound you'd heard?"
"No; but, then, the room was still dark."
"Didn't you question her about it?"
"I did this morning. She said I'd dreamed it."
Mr. Treadgold wagged his head dubiously. "Well, you know, you may have. The singing of the kettle, or whatever it was, was connected in your mind with your uncle's death, which, as you say, gave you a great shock."
She shook her head. "It was no dream. And it wasn't the kettle either. I heard it as plainly as I hear the traffic under your windows—a funny, jarring noise, rather like a weak electric bell."
"What sort of person is this Mrs. Mangove?" asked Mr. Treadgold, filling his pipe.
Olivia Rawley shrugged her shoulders. "About forty-five and still good-looking in a way. Uncle Eustace used to say she'd been grandfather's chère amie, but I guess that was just his joke, although I believe the old man was pretty gay in his time."
"And this male nurse, Oscar What's-his-name?"
"Oscar Halmquist. He's only been at Charton for the past six months. Mrs. Mangove picked him up somewhere in London—he's a Swedish-American and a very clever masseur. He used to be in business in Chicago but went down in the crash."
"Who inherits from your uncle?"
"Grandfather and I were his only living relatives. What he had, Uncle Eustace left to me."
"Ah!" Mr. Treadgold laid down his pipe. "How much?"
"A few hundred pounds in cash and some South American investments. At the present market prices they'd realise only about fifteen hundred pounds, the lawyer said, but if I hold on they're likely to improve considerably.
"It was a tremendous surprise," she went on, "when, about six weeks after I'd arrived at Charton, my uncle sent for me and told me he'd made a will in my favour. Mrs. Mangove and Oscar were with him. Uncle Eustace said something to her about the old man being free to do what he liked with his own money, but he added, putting his arm about me, 'This little lady will eventually come into Charton and I mean to see that she's properly provided for.' I thought it was so sweet of him. Then he read the will aloud to the three of us and signed it, and made them witness his signature."
"You inherit the house, do you?"
"Yes. It's heavily mortgaged, I believe."
"What about your grandfather's money?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "From what Uncle Eustace told Mrs. Mangove that day, I thought maybe that grandfather had left it to her."
Mr. Treadgold nodded absently. "When do you go back?"
"By the seven forty-five to-night. I told them I had to come up for the day to sign some papers for the lawyer."
"If George Duckett and I ran down in the car to-morrow, could you give me some lunch?"
She was radiant. "Of course. I shan't be afraid going to bed to-night if I know I'm to see you tomorrow."
H.B. patted her shoulder paternally. "Don't worry! I think it's a mare's nest you're asking me to investigate, or should I say a nightmare's nest? But you may expect us about one."
I saw her to the lift. "So any excuse is good enough," I told him coming back, "to take a jaunt into the country?"
He beamed at me. "'I wish I had not known so much of this affair,' he quoted, 'or that I had known more of it.'"
"That's from Tristram Shandy I suppose?"
"Right, George! Somerset in May will be delicious."
"A lot of penny-dreadful imaginings of a hysterical young woman!"
He looked wise. "Your penny-dreadful is never half so improbable as real life dares to be, old man. The case presents certain points of interest. For instance, do you not perceive the shadow, as it were, of a motive, a pecuniary motive, of which so much crime is born?"
"I don't see what object these people had in putting Eustace Charton out of the way, if that's what you mean. He'd left his money to the girl, hadn't he?"
"And who inherits from the girl if anything happens to her?"
"Her next-of-kin, I presume."
"Her grandfather, that's to say. And who inherits from him?"
"I see what you're getting at. If the girl's to be believed, it's the housekeeper."
He nodded placidly. "Exactly. Then we start with a motive, at any rate. So let's see whether we may not discover at Charton Place the answer to the riddle, 'What sings like a kettle and makes people dream—of drowning?'"
"Eustace Charton didn't dream that I know of—he died."
My friend had veiled his eyes. "Yes," he said gravely, "he died. But in that sleep of death," he added, staring in front of him, "what dreams may come!"
Charton Place, its Tudor red brick glowing in the sunshine of a perfect May morning, proved to be a long, low mansion, the bulk of it given over to ruin and neglect, as the roof, broken in places, and sagging gutters suggested. Wings projected right and left from the central mass. At the sound of our wheels on the grass-grown avenue Olivia Rawley came running from a door in the right-hand wing.
"If you'd care to look round," she said to Mr. Treadgold, "now's the time. Mrs. Mangove and Oscar are with grandfather; they'll be busy for the next half-hour."
A red baize door led off the small lobby which we entered.
"My grandfather's suite," Miss Rawley informed us. "I saw him this morning—I pay him a little visit every day. He's not so well, I'm afraid."
We went to Miss Rawley's bedroom first. It was half-way along a shabby, cheerless corridor.
"Those are the housekeeper's quarters," she said, pointing to an opening farther along the passage. "And that's Uncle Eustace's room at the far end."
With American college pennants and an array of photographs displayed on the mantelpiece, she had done her best to lighten the gloom of the bedroom into which she ushered us. The furniture was Victorian, oppressive, a huge four-poster, a massive mahogany wardrobe, a marble washstand. A French window stood wide open on a small balcony, with shallow steps curving down to a stretch of green turf where thrushes hopped in the sunshine. Mr. Treadgold began to moon aimlessly about the room, scanning the ceiling, rapping the black oak wainscot with his knuckles, sounding the floor. He spent some time scrutinising the door, and presently, with his penknife, began to probe the keyhole, from which he ultimately extracted a fragment of newspaper.
"I can explain that," the girl told him. "This room's fearfully draughty. The other night, when it was blowing so hard, Mrs. Mangove showed me how to stuff up the keyhole with paper."
Mr. Treadgold grunted. "You read the Daily Telegraph in this house, do you?" he said abstractedly, staring at the piece of newspaper in his hand.
"Mrs. Mangove takes it; she reads it to grandfather," Miss Rawley explained.
H.B. nodded sombrely. He was at the fireplace now. The metal plate across the chimney was closed; the fireplace was evidently not in use, although a fire was laid in the grate. My friend opened and shut the plate, then began examining the pieces of newspaper with which the fire was laid. He smoothed out and glanced over a number of them before dropping them back, with a grunt, behind the bars.
"Will you show me your uncle's room now?" he requested, dusting his hands.
With its closed shutters and sheeted bed it was a creepy place. The girl let in some light, and we saw Mr. Treadgold raking over the unlit fire as he had done in the other room.
"What was the date of your uncle's death?" he asked the girl presently, a twist of newspaper which he had extracted from the grate and smoothed out, in his hand.
"The night of March twenty-seven," she told him.
"Is the gas laid on in the house?"
She shook her head. "We haven't even got the electricity. We cook with paraffin."
"Who does the cooking?"
"A daily woman from the village."
"Was it she who cooked the dinner the night your uncle died?"
We met the housekeeper at lunch. In her neat black dress, with linen collar and cuffs, her hair, blonde, paling to grey, carefully waved, Mrs. Mangove was the pattern of respectability. She greeted us as friends of Olivia's family, politely but without enthusiasm, and thereafter effaced herself, her thin lips compressed, her light blue eyes bent to her plate. It is my experience that few people can resist Mr. Treadgold's charm; but Mrs. Mangove remained proof against all his attempts to draw her out with harmless questions about the neighbouring country and the history of the old house.
The lunch was excellent, the duckling tender, the green peas fresh from the garden, the claret eminently drinkable. Under the influence of the meal Mr. Treadgold seemed to cheer up, and when a dish of ice cream appeared he positively beamed.
"Is this the result of the American influence at Charton, Miss Olivia?" he demanded of our hostess.
The girl laughed. "Indeed it isn't. The colonel loves ice cream and has it every day."
Mr. Treadgold took a large spoonful. "You must have a jolly good freezer," he said appreciatively, smacking his lips. "I never tasted better ice cream in my life."
"Mrs. Mangove says they never could get a cook in these parts who could handle a freezer properly," Miss Rawley explained, "so we get our ice cream in London. It comes down twice a week."
"By train, do you mean?" I asked.
"Uh-huh. Packed in dry ice."
Mr. Treadgold chuckled. "The way the drug stores in America send it out, eh? That's your suggestion, I suppose, Miss Olivia?"
"As a matter of fact, it's Oscar's," she answered. "You know he used to be in the food preserving business back in Chicago."
At that moment a thick-set man with a heavy moustache put his head in at the dining-room door. "He's asleep," he said to the housekeeper. "If he rings, will you see what he wants? I must go to the railway station."
"Very good, Oscar," Mrs. Mangove replied.
He went away, and presently we heard a car start up outside. We had our coffee at the table. Mr. Treadgold had grown strangely silent. He had lit a cigar and smoked it in vigorous puffs, his brows knitted in thought. The conversation languished and I felt relieved when a bell whirred twice and the housekeeper, standing up, announced that she must go to the colonel and took her leave.
"Well," said Miss Rawley rather tensely to my friend when Mrs. Mangove had gone, "what have you found out?"
Mr. Treadgold stared at her sombrely without replying. Then he said: "Let's go for a turn in the air, shall we?"
We strolled for a spell in silence on the turf under the windows. We were approaching the stables when we heard the sound of a car, and the next moment a small roadster came up the back drive and halted at the closed gates of the yard. Oscar was driving, and he had a large carton case in the tonneau. We were almost at the stable gates as he stopped, but he ignored us and, jumping down to open the gates, clambered back to the wheel and drove inside.
Something drew my attention to Mr. Treadgold. His air had become curiously alert. As we began to stroll back he said to the girl: "On the washstand in your bedroom there's an empty water- bottle, a carafe. How long has it been empty?"
I laughed at her astonished air. The question was typical of H.B. He has the most extraordinary eye for the tiniest details—he says it is his training as a tailor. I had not even noticed that there was a carafe on the washstand in the girl's bedroom, much less that it was empty. But H.B. had. He has a mind like a sensitised photographic plate—no feature of the scene escapes it.
The girl stared at him blankly. "As long as I've been here, I'd say. I never use that washstand. I clean my teeth in the bathroom."
He caught her arm. "The window of your room's round here, isn't it? Let's go to it!"
We entered the bedroom through the open French window. Just as H.B. had said, there was the water-bottle, empty, tumbler inverted upon it. Mr. Treadgold's blue eyes sparkled.
"I shall want a cork," he announced. He selected a cork from several Miss Rawley brought him from her dressing-table and, whipping the glass from the carafe, covered the neck of the carafe with his hand, then securely corked the vessel. "I'm going to borrow this for a day or two," he said, and thrust the carafe under his coat. "We'll go out by the window, shall we?"
The girl went first and I followed, Mr. Treadgold coming last. Scarcely had I set foot on the lawn when I heard the smash of glass.
"Dear me," H.B. observed, staring ruefully at the shivered pane of one of the two wings of the window, "how very clumsy of me! I stumbled, and in trying to save myself I put my elbow through it."
"It doesn't matter as long as you didn't cut yourself," said Miss Rawley. "I never shut the window in this weather, anyway."
Mr. Treadgold eyed her absently. "It was two nights ago you had this dream of yours?"
He nodded, then pointed at the broken pane. "Well, if the stuffiness of the room was the cause, you won't dream of drowning to-night, he remarked with a smile."
I looked at him sharply, but his air was blandly innocent.
We went to the car, and H.B. put the carafe out of sight under the rug. Then he gave the girl his hand. "Cheer up, young lady. I believe I can guarantee you a good night's rest. But you might telephone me as soon as that window's repaired."
"It won't be before to-morrow at the earliest. The glazier has to come from Glebely."
He nodded serenely. "To-morrow will be all right." He clambered to the wheel. "You'll be seeing me again very soon."
On our drive back to town he was in his most taciturn mood, and I wasted no time in asking questions to which, as I knew from experience, I should receive no reply. He dropped me at the office, promising to communicate with me next day. It was not until past seven o'clock in the evening that a telephone call summoned me to Bury Street. Chief Inspector Manderton, H.B.'s old crony from Scotland Yard, was with him.
Manderton is what Mr. Treadgold, who has a surprising habit of lapsing into American slang at times, calls one of the high-ups at the Yard. I believe him to be an able and painstaking officer, but I am irritated by his cocksure and somewhat overbearing manner, and particularly the air of faintly amused condescension he adopts towards my friend. This attitude of his, I notice, does not prevent him from consulting Mr. Treadgold on occasion, usually under the guise of seeking his advice on a subject on which he unhesitatingly recognises H.B. as an expert authority, and that is tailoring.
But H.B. does not mind. He is tolerant of all human foibles; besides, he likes Manderton; he will not hear a word against him. He admires the Inspector's personal courage (which nobody has ever questioned), his tenacity once he is launched upon an investigation, his dogged devotion to duty. But then they have known one another for years; and Mr. Treadgold is fanatically loyal to his friends.
When I entered the sitting-room Manderton was nursing a whisky and soda on the hearth-rug, his legs planted widely apart, his broad, red face a mask. The carafe, still securely corked, was on the desk. The air was thick with cigar smoke. H.B. was arguing with his visitor, who said nothing, his jaws firmly clamped on one of my friend's excellent Partagas. "Normal air contains only 0.04 per cent. carbon dioxide," Mr. Treadgold was declaring vigorously, "and here's the analyst's report"—he shook a paper at the visitor—"to tell us that the air in this water bottle contains something like one-half per cent., a vastly higher percentage. And that after nearly forty-eight hours, mark you! We've no direct proof, I grant you, that Eustace Charton was murdered, but I submit that the inference, based on this sample of the air in the girl's bedroom two nights ago which this carafe, protected by its tumbler, providentially retained, is irresistible. The question is: Are they going to have another go at making away with her, and if so, when?"
The telephone whirred. I lifted the receiver. It was Olivia Rawley.
"Tell Mr. Treadgold," she said, "that the window was mended this morning. I couldn't ring up before because we've been in such an upset. Grandfather's had another stroke, and I'm afraid he's very bad. No, nothing happened to me last night. I must hang up now; I hear somebody coming."
I had to interrupt H.B.'s argument with the Scotland Yard man to give him the gist of this communication. Mr. Treadgold became violently excited.
"If they mean to strike again, they'll strike at once," he cried. "I gained her a night's reprieve at least by busting her window so that they couldn't monkey with it. But now the window's repaired and the old man's had another stroke—don't you see that, if he dies on their hands, there remains only the girl between them and Eustace Charton's investments? I'm leaving for Charton at once, and I give you fair warning, Manderton, if I can't count on you I mean to take the law into my own hands."
The inspector grunted. "If I do go with you, I've no authority. It's a matter for the county police. I'll have to communicate with them."
"Go ahead! There's the telephone." He glanced at his watch. "We should be there by half-past ten. Tell them to meet us at the Charton Arms."
It was raining when we slid out of London and the Great West Road was glassy. Night fell black as pitch. It was past eleven o'clock when we drew up outside the half-timbered front of the inn at Charton. The police superintendent from Glebely, the neighbouring market town, a sergeant and two constables awaited us. Inspector Manderton retired into a private sitting-room with the superintendent, whom he introduced to us as Superintendent Charles. Then Mr. Treadgold joined them, leaving me to a long vigil over the local newspaper in the deserted tap, for the bar had closed at ten. The patter of the rain, the occasional bark of a dog, were the only sounds from the village.
At midnight Mr. Treadgold reappeared, followed by Manderton and Charles. The sergeant and his two men emerged from the inn kitchen and we set off in a body for Charton Place. The front gate was only latched, the lodge dark. To deaden the sound of our footsteps we walked on the grass bordering the avenue. The mansion in sight, the superintendent dispatched his three men to keep a watch on the front entrance, with orders to detain anyone who should try to leave, while we made a detour through the park and fetched up at the side of the house. I realised that our destination was the exterior of Olivia's Rawley room.
We halted in the lee of a great oak a hundred paces from the house. Not a light showed anywhere; we strained our ears in vain for any sound from the desolate mansion. Motioning to us to stay where we were, Mr. Treadgold crept forward. In a minute he was back.
"It's for to-night," he whispered tensely. "At any rate, her window's closed. There's no sound yet. We'll give it another half-hour."
I looked at my watch. It was twenty-five past twelve. In silence we waited under the dripping foliage. Opposite us, across the stretch of turf, as my eyes became used to the darkness, I could distinguish the outline of the balcony of the girl's room with steps down to the lawn. At last Treadgold touched Manderton's arm and the four of us advanced stealthily.
We halted under the balcony. H.B. went forward and noiselessly mounted the three or four stairs. I saw him with his ear laid to the window, then he turned and beckoned silently. I was nearest, and I went up first. I was trembling with excitement. At the top, I laid my ear to the window as I had seen H.B. do, and my heart began to thump.
A faint, bubbling, singing noise was audible within.
After that things happened quickly. I was aware of Superintendent Charles smashing the window with a vigorous thrust of his elbow, of Manderton fumbling at the catch, of H.B. leading the way in. They all had electric torches. The sound of heavy, stertorous breathing drew my attention to the bed. Olivia Rawley was there asleep under the bedclothes. She did not move at our entry.
The air in the room was stale and frowsty. Quietly persistent, the humming noise we had heard on our entry continued.
"Here we are!" cried Mr. Treadgold, directing his torch on the ground in front of the door leading to the corridor.
A block of ice gleamed coldly in the flashlight's glare. It stood on the floor, a solid chunk, almost a foot high and about half as thick, not crystal clear like ordinary ice but milky white like a block of camphor. Without any visible movement it seemed to be gently vibrating on the sheet of metal—zinc or aluminium—on which it rested, with a soft and steady whir.
"There you have it!" H.B. exclaimed to the inspector. "By morning that block would have disappeared, leaving in its place sufficient carbon dioxide gas to render the atmosphere absolutely unbreathable. And they weren't risking any fresh oxygen coming in, by the look of it. See!" He switched his light round to the window by which we had entered; the ground was strewn with the twists of newspaper which had been used to stop up every available chink. "And I've no doubt, he added, "that the door leading to the corridor is similarly blocked on the outside."
"But what is this stuff?" I demanded of Mr. Treadgold, pointing at the block on its metal tray.
"Solidified carbon dioxide—otherwise known as dry ice!" was the reply. "But let's see to Miss Rawley."
Superintendent Charles was bending over the girl. Her lips were parted, her breathing laboured.
"The young lady's unconscious," the superintendent declared.
"Hardly time for that," Mr. Treadgold snapped back. "She's doped more likely, the same as her uncle was, if we only knew. Get her out in the air!"
The girl opened her eyes. "What's happened?" she muttered drowsily.
Superintendent Charles gathered her up, bedclothes and all, in brawny arms, and bore her out through the French window.
Footsteps and a woman's voice, raised shrilly in protest, reached us as we stepped out in the grounds. Oscar Halmquist and the housekeeper were there in the custody of the sergeant and his men. Mrs. Mangove was hysterical.
"It was his idea," she wailed, pointing a denunciatory finger at Halmquist. "He got rid of his wife that way, three years ago in Chicago. He had me in his power; I had to do as he bade me."
"Well, well, well," said Inspector Manderton, switching his torch in her face, "as I live, if it isn't Betsy Carter!"
The housekeeper shrank back sullenly.
"I know her, though she hasn't been through our hands for a good long time," Manderton informed us. "She has a list of convictions as long as your arm—embezzlement, blackmail, and I don't know what. Hold them!" he ordered the sergeant. "We'll just run the little lady to hospital and send the car back for them."
With Olivia Rawley resting in the Cottage Hospital, and Halmquist and his accomplice lodged at the Glebely Police Station—where Manderton remained to interrogate them—Mr. Treadgold and I repaired to the Charton Arms for breakfast.
"What first suggested to me that Eustace Charton's death might not have been natural," he told me over our ham and eggs, "and that they had tried to use the same method on Olivia Rawley, was her dream that she was drowning."
I nodded. "Very shrewd. Of course, most dreams are influenced by our physical state. You mean that a dream of this kind implies some interference with the organs of breathing?"
"I once knew a woman," H.B. told me, "who fell into the hands of a charlatan, who persuaded her to let him treat her under an anaesthetic for a malformation of one of her toes. He gave her too much ether and too little oxygen with the result that, under the influence of the mixture, she fancied she was drowning. The incident came back to me when Miss Rawley told her story."
"So you looked for evidence of some asphyxiation process in the room, eh? Was that why you were prodding at that keyhole?"
He nodded. "The scrap of paper I retrieved wasn't large enough to give me the date of the issue; but I noticed that a number of twists of newspaper lying on top of the grate were all taken from the Daily Telegraph of two days before..."
"The day of the girl's nightmare, eh?"
"Precisely. In Eustace Charton's room, similar twists of newspaper bore the date March twenty-seven, the day of his death. In both rooms the pieces of newspaper were in long twists, and the idea occurred to me that they might have been used for stopping up the chinks in the door and window."
Mr. Treadgold helped himself to a second cup of coffee, and went on:
"I thought at first of fumes from the exhaust of a motor-car piped into the room; but I remembered that carbon monoxide poisoning leaves definite traces with which every doctor nowadays is familiar. It was not until we met Oscar Halmquist returning from the station in his car that I suddenly guessed the truth."
"I was with you, but I'm jiggered if I..."
Mr. Treadgold sighed heavily.
"George, George, where were your eyes? In the back of the car didn't he have a carton plainly labelled 'Dry Ice Thirty lb.,' with the maker's name? Now, I'm not a chemist, but I know a bit about dry ice from living in the States. They call it 'dry ice' because it doesn't melt like ordinary ice, but on evaporation passes into a gaseous state. This gas—carbon dioxide—reduces the amount of oxygen present in a confined space by the amount of gas with which the air becomes mixed. I realised that if they'd really attempted to asphyxiate the little Rawley by means of dry ice, the normal composition of air in the bedroom must have become altered, and it suddenly struck me that that empty carafe, protected as it was by an inverted glass, might well have retained a specimen of the denatured atmosphere, although probably weakened by lapse of time. I submitted the carafe for analysis to a chemist friend of mine, with the results you know, and at the same time inquired from the firm—whose name I'd seen on those cases of Halmquist's, as to his purchases of dry ice. Apart from the present consignment, I discovered that on March twenty-fifth, two days before Eustace Charton's death, a block of thirty pounds in weight was dispatched to him, and another four days ago. My chemist friend assures me that one such block, over a period of from six to seven hours, would have been sufficient to fill a room of the dimensions of Miss Rawley's with, roughly, a nine per cent. mixture of carbon dioxide gas which, over a period covering the hours of the night, would unquestionably prove fatal. He adds in his report"—Mr. Treadgold drew a paper from his pocket and, adjusting his pince- nez, read out:
"'I do not think there are any post-mortem characteristics which would lead to the elucidation of the cause of death.'"
I laughed. "You certainly have an answer to everything. But what about the humming noise?"
Mr. Treadgold cleared his throat. "That, I confess, stumped me. It also stumped my friend. But I fancy the metal plate explains it. While dry ice nominally does not melt, it deposits a few drops of moisture—it was to avoid leaving any marks on the floor, obviously, that our friends put a sheet of metal under the block. I believe the sound we heard is due to the gas escaping between the surface of the block and the metal plate, which causes an almost imperceptible lifting and falling of the block."
I grinned at him. "You don't miss much, do you, H.B.?"
He gave me his deprecating smile.
"If murder, as someone puts it, is violence wrongly applied," he remarked, producing his pipe, "successful crime detection is merely observation rightly applied. The criminologist has to think for himself, old man, remembering, as is written in Tristram Shandy that 'an ounce of a man's own wit is worth a ton of other people's.' But come, George, let's go to the hospital and call on Miss Olivia, for it seems to me that, with a dying grandfather as her sole relative, that little lady's future is our next most immediate concern."
"Crime is the war which ignorance wages upon knowledge. You
will only defeat the criminal by being better informed than he is."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
MARCUS WEBBER is not the type of man I have much use for. A pompous fellow with a strident voice and aggressive manner, he is a member of my club and abuses the relationship between us to force his company upon me at lunch, poison my food by his persistent nagging at the waiters, and destroy my postprandial digestive processes by talking at the top of his voice about himself in the smoke-room afterwards. Knowing him to be unquenchably inquisitive, I was not inordinately surprised when he started to pump me after dinner one night about Mr. Treadgold, wanting to know whether his ability as a crime investigator was as high as it was represented, and whether he was a trustworthy person. I attached no importance to it at the time, but I was not particularly edified to discover, next morning, that Webber had approached Mr. Treadgold, describing himself as a friend of mine.
Few customers of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack ever penetrate as far as the small and dingy office at the back of the fitting- rooms where, under the owl-like regard of the founder of the business, his great-grandson directs the fortunes of the firm. Facing old Josiah, sporting a white beaver hat of the Regency period, the portrait of Grandfather Treadgold, Alderman of the City of London in his day, bewhiskered and olympic in his furred robes and chain, as the Victorian Royal Academician depicted him, hangs over the fireplace, while above the desk a coloured daguerrotype of Daniel Flack, old Jos Bowl's son-in-law, and a very bad painting of Cousin Oliver Treadgold, the New York one, looking extremely British and dogged beside a looped-back curtain displaying the Pine Street shop before demolition, gaze down from the wall.
A corner cupboard houses the decanter of 1900 vintage port and the box of Partagas, produced only for the benefit of especially honoured clients, flanking a vast safe of ancient lineage which Mr. Treadgold would be the first to proclaim definitely non- burglar-resisting. For the rest, some moth-eaten examples of military millinery of a bygone age, and a faded scarlet tunic with tarnished gold lace in a wall-case, bundles of patterns stacked on a side-table, and a tray of pins and tailor's chalks on the desk, remind the visitor that, five days a week from ten to five, and on Saturdays from ten to one, Mr. Treadgold, whose deductive powers command the respect of Scotland Yard and Center Street alike, is outwardly a tailor and nothing but a tailor.
Fresh from his morning ablutions, his kindly face shining with soap and health, his grizzled hair neatly brushed, his moustache impeccably trim, Mr. Treadgold was at his desk, opening his morning mail when I walked in on him. He fished a letter out of a tray and passed it across to me. "From your friend, Marcus Webber, George," he remarked. "I know the name, don't I? Just what does he do?"
I glanced at the letter. It was brief and to the point. The writer would be glad to see Mr. Treadgold on an urgent private matter of the most confidential nature. A P.S. said, "I may mention that I am a friend of Mr. George Duckett, who is a member of my club."
Dash the fellow's impudence—he was a member of my club! "It's Professor Webber, the Egyptologist," I explained.
H.B. dandled his head. "Of course. I thought the name was familiar."
"He's an eminent savant, and he belongs to my club. But his only claim to my friendship is the fact that I haven't brained him to date with a newspaper-holder, for of all the crashing bores..."
"He telephoned just now—he's on his way here. He seems worried—look at the way his signature on that letter drops! What can you tell me about him in the meantime?"
"He's considered one of the foremost Egyptologists. He's been excavating for years, with a fair measure of success, I believe. At his house at Roehampton he has one of the best private collections of Egyptian antiquities in the country, I've been told."
Mr. Treadgold's eyes sought the clock. "He spoke of calling here at eleven. It's that now. You'd better wait and see what he wants."
Webber is a round-faced, chubby man in gold spectacles. He is not the sort of person who entertains the slightest doubt as to his universal popularity, and he greeted me quite cordially. It was evident he had come prepared to patronise Mr. Treadgold.
"The only reason I've decided to consult you," he told him self-importantly after I had introduced them to one another, "is because I'm loath to appeal to the—ahem!—more regular authorities. It must, therefore, be understood—clearly understood, Mr. Treadgold—that I'm counting on your absolute discretion." He turned a gooseberry eye on me—"Yours, too, Duckett." Mr. Treadgold, idly stabbing the blotter with his letter-opener, said nothing, and the professor went on:
"I possess, as you may know, a small but valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities. Mr. Treadgold, in circumstances as mysterious as they are distressing, one of the most prized pieces in my collection has disappeared."
H.B. raised his head sharply—he reminded me of an old dog pointing.
"A blue glass ushabti of Thoueris, the hippopotamus-headed goddess," Webber proceeded. "It appears to have been clandestinely abstracted and a replica left in its place."
"A ushabti—that's a small figure, isn't it?" Mr. Treadgold questioned.
"A figurine or statuette. Two evenings ago—on Tuesday, to be exact—I had some friends to dinner and bridge to meet Professor Larned, the American Egyptologist, who published that remarkable report on the graffiti of the Nubian rock tombs. I saw a lot of him in Egypt last winter. My collection is housed in a museum specially built onto my house at Roehampton, and after dinner I took Larned and the rest of my guests to see it. We were there for perhaps an hour, and then went to the drawing-room for our bridge. It's my habit to work in the museum with my secretary in the mornings—I'm writing a book on the scarabs of the Eighteenth Dynasty—and yesterday morning, by pure chance, I went to the case where the ushabti stands to get out a certain scarab I wanted to describe. I perceived immediately that the ushabti was not the original—it was a replica."
"The original's valuable, I suppose?"
The professor seemed to explode. "It's unique, my dear sir! It's from the tomb of Queen Ty. For colour and design it's unequalled—an exquisite thing. It's no more than six inches high, but it gave me more satisfaction than almost any other piece in my collection."
"What's it actually worth?"
He spread his hands. "That's hard to say. Personally, I wouldn't take two thousand pounds for it—it's insured for a thousand. Any dealer, I imagine, would buy it blind for three or four hundred pounds."
"The collection's insured, then?"
"For sixty thousand pounds."
Mr. Treadgold whistled. "Then the ushabti wasn't the most valuable piece, I take it?"
"In actual value, no. Some of the jewellery I have is worth a great deal more, for instance. But I'm not concerned with the cash value. I want my ushabti back. Otherwise, I could go to the insurance company. But they'll insist on my calling in the police. And that I'm resolved not to do. I should prefer to give the thief a chance to make restitution."
"And if you can't discover the thief?"
Webber's sigh was like air escaping from a cushion. "Then I must take my loss. The facts must not come out."
"Because I should be the laughing-stock of all my colleagues. You see, I was instrumental in giving the thief his chance to effect this substitution."
Mr. Treadgold leaned back in his chair. "Don't you think you'd better tell this from the beginning?"
With a nervous hand the professor pawed his thinning hair. "I bought this ushabti in Egypt two winters ago from a leading Luxor dealer. In the Gebbel above Luxor, lives an exceedingly adept forger of Egyptian antiquities. In an idle moment I let this fellow make me a copy of the ushabti. It stood on an open shelf over my desk in the museum. The first thing I did on discovering the substitution was to go to the shelf where the copy stood. It had vanished."
"Have you any idea how the substitution was carried out?"
He sighed. "It's only too evident, unfortunately. Going round the collection, I showed Larned the ushabti and, I suppose, rhapsodised about it a bit—at any rate, he asked permission to take it out of the case. I opened the case——"
"Are the cases usually kept locked?"
"Always. There's only one key, a master key to all the cases and the room as well, and it never leaves me." He drew a key- chain from his pocket and showed, on a bunch of keys attached to it, a small gilt key. "The ushabti passed from hand to hand, and when it eventually came back to me I restored it to its place and locked the case again."
"And, as far as you know, the case remained locked until the next morning when you went to it?"
"Then, instead of the original, you were obviously handed the replica to return to the case?"
He spread his hands. "I suppose so. And yet I can't think how I failed to detect it. The copy is remarkably faithful, but it'd never deceive an expert—not at close quarters, at any rate."
"Do you remember who handed the ushabti back to you?"
He shook his head dolefully. "I'm afraid I don't. There was such a crowd of us, laughing and talking."
"Do you suspect anyone in particular?"
With a haggard air our visitor ruffled his hair. "Yes and no. Suppose I tell you about my guests. We were nine, including my wife—two tables of bridge; Mrs. Webber doesn't play. The party consisted of Professor Larned, Colonel and Mrs. Allerton, neighbours of ours at Roehampton, Charles Cavander, the art dealer, and a friend of his, Mrs. Fleming, young Bewlish, who was out with me as draughtsman on my last expedition, and my secretary, Mercia Day, who lives in the house."
"All old friends, were they?"
"Mrs. Fleming had not been to the house before, Cavander brought her."
"What type of person is she?"
"Pretty and frivolous, a social butterfly." Mr. Treadgold winced at the bromide. "She's living apart from her husband—I'm told that Cavander wants to marry her. I should explain that I don't know Cavander very well. He consults me sometimes in matters appertaining to Egyptian art."
"He'd be liable to appreciate the merits of the ushabti, wouldn't he?"
Webber cast him an admiring glance. "Oh, definitely. But so would Bewlish—Bewlish even more so. He's been working at Egyptology ever since he was at Oxford."
"That gives us three of the party, then, with what you might call a professional interest in the ushabti—Cavander, Bewlish and, of course, Professor Larned?"
Webber looked shocked. "You can leave Larned out of it. He's an eminent savant, a most high-minded man. Besides, he has ample private means."
"What about this secretary of yours?"
"Miss Day? She's as good an Egyptologist as any of us. She's been with me for six years and has accompanied me on all my expeditions."
"That adds a fourth to our list." Pensively Mr. Treadgold nibbled his thumb. "How many of you knew about this replica?"
The Professor started.
"'Pon my soul, I never thought of that. A shrewd question, my dear sir, and easily answered—besides myself, only Bewlish and Mercia Day. They were with me that day at Luxor when I ordered the copy and, as a matter of fact, Bewlish helped Miss Day and me to unpack it with the rest of my acquisitions when we got back to London."
"Then it looks as if our suspicions narrow down to one of these two?"
"I had already arrived at this conclusion," said Webber pedantically. "On the one hand, Miss Day is in and out of the museum all the time—she'd have ample opportunity for planning a coup of this description. On the other, she and Bewlish are as thick as thieves, and I've an idea that the young man's in money trouble. Between ourselves, some bank called him on the telephone when he was at my house the other morning, and from what I happened to overhear I gathered they were pressing him about some bill that was falling due."
"Does Bewlish work in the museum, too?"
"Not regularly. When I'm home I employ him on occasional research work at the British Museum or the Bodleian, and he often drops in to see me. He has a few hundreds a year of his own, I understand, but even with what I pay him I imagine he lives well above his income. Smart clothes, a sports car." He paused, and added acridly: "A good draughtsman but uppish."
"Have you spoken of this business to anybody except ourselves?"
"Not to a living soul. My hope was that you'd evolve some means of inducing the thief to replace the ushabti in the belief that the fraud had not been remarked."
Mr. Treadgold nodded. "That would certainly seem to be the wisest course in the circumstances. You didn't mention the loss to your secretary?"
"With this idea in mind, I carefully refrained from doing so. She was not in the museum when I detected the substitution, and unless she's the delinquent it's highly improbable that she'll notice it. I left the replica in situ, and from the outside of the case you'd scarcely know it from the genuine ushabti."
"Did you tell your wife?"
The pudgy face assumed a contemptuous expression. "I tell my wife nothing, on principle."
"Did you handle the replica?"
The professor smiled condescendingly. "I may not be a criminologist, even an amateur one, Mr. Treadgold, but my reason informs me that there's a good chance of the thief's finger- prints as well as of course, my own, being found upon the false ushabti. And that reminds me. Through the kind offices of one of the assistant commissioners, I had my finger-prints taken at Scotland Yard this morning—you will require them, I believe, if you are to isolate the thief's on the replica." He drew a sheet of paper from his pocket and laid in on the desk.
"You think of everything," said Mr. Treadgold, not without a certain dryness. "Could I visit the museum with Mr. Duckett, say, at about half-past six this evening?"
"The sooner the better!"
"I agree with you, George," Mr. Treadgold remarked when the professor had left us; "a thoroughly objectionable fellow. He mistrusts his secretary, despises his wife and eavesdrops on people's private conversations. It must be a positive pleasure to rob him." He glanced at his watch. "I think I shall devote my lunch hour to a flying trip to the British Museum."
I laughed. "Do you really imagine that paddling round a lot of mummies is going to tell you who pinched old Webber's ushabti?"
He smiled sedately. "Crime is the war which ignorance wages upon knowledge. You will only beat the criminal by being better informed than he is. I like to equip myself before tackling an unfamiliar subject. Besides, aren't we told that the desire for knowledge, like the thirst for riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it?"
I did not recognise the quotation; but I knew where it came from. I was in no mood for Tristram Shandy however, and so I told him.
"Between you and the professor," I said brutally, "I've had all the culture I can stand for one morning. But I'll go with you to Roehampton this evening if you like."
I put that in to mollify him, for if there is one thing H.B. likes when he goes sleuthing it is a sympathetic listener—a "stooge," as he calls it in his abominable American slang.
The museum at Karnak House, as the professor's place was called, was a spacious apartment lined with glass vases and permeated with the faintly sweet aroma peculiar to mummies. Webber unlocked a case and showed us, surrounded by a number of other antiquities, a little statuette, in hue a deep peacock blue, representing a woman with the head of a hippopotamus. It struck me as being a singularly repulsive object, but then I am not an Egyptologist. He likewise drew our attention to a shelf of books above the desk against the farther wall, where, he told us, the replica had originally stood.
Mr. Treadgold on the job is direct in his methods. Having received the ushabti, or rather the copy, in a silk handkerchief, he bore it to the desk, where he had already deposited the battered attache-case containing his fingerprint outfit, and told the professor we would not detain him. Rather unwillingly Webber withdrew, saying he would have a glass of sherry for us in his "den" when we had finished.
Mr. Treadgold is a slow and very conscientious worker, and I soon tired of watching him manipulate his blower and powdered graphite. I was drifting round the cases when the door of the museum was silently pushed open and a dark-haired young woman, with a timorous glance behind her, came sidling in. Swiftly she went to the desk and addressed my companion.
"Mr. Treadgold," she said rather breathlessly, "I can get the ushabti of Thoueris back for you if you'll agree to ask no questions and to say nothing to the professor about how it was recovered. I'm Mercia Day, Professor Webber's secretary."
Mr. Treadgold glanced up from his work. "You know me, do you?"
"Mr. Bewlish spoke of you once in connection with the Carshalton diamonds case. Lady Carshalton's his aunt."
H.B. bent his bushy eyebrows at her. "So you knew the ushabti was missing?"
She nodded. "Professor Webber may consider himself a great diplomat, but I can always tell when he's upset. Ever since yesterday he's been asking me roundabout questions about the party on Tuesday night, continually harping on the moment when the ushabti was being handed round, besides pumping me about Mr. Bewlish's private affairs."
"Is Mr. Bewlish a particular friend of yours?"
"Mr. Bewlish is a very nice man, and I see a good deal of him." She paused. "But to return to the ushabti. On one pretext or another, ever since yesterday morning the professor has kept me out of the museum, although we have urgent work to finish. This afternoon, however, just before you came, I caught him before the open case where the Thoueris ushabti is normally kept, peering at it through a magnifying glass, and I saw at a glance that the figure was not the original, also that the copy had disappeared from the shelf. Then, when I heard you announced, I couldn't resist listening at the door when he was talking to you about finger-prints."
Mr. Treadgold's blue eyes dwelt sternly on her face. She was a quiet, self-possessed girl who, without being directly beautiful, had a wealth of character in her expression. "And you say you can get the ushabti back?" he questioned.
"How long will it take you?"
"Give me until to-morrow morning."
He nodded and drew a card from his pocket. "Very well. Call me at that number at noon."
She was going when he called her back. "Were any of the women wearing gloves on the night of the party?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Thanks. That was all."
As deferentially as though she had been a customer at Savile Row, he escorted her to the door.
"Nothing like a reputation!" I chaffed him. "She'd only to hear your name and she owned up at once."
Mr. Treadgold was repacking his paraphernalia. "So you think it was she who boned the hippo-headed lady, do you?"
He sighed. "That's just the trouble. I do. But I don't see why she went to all the risk and trouble of taking that particular statuette when——" He broke off. "Do you realise that there are scarabs, no longer than a small match-box, in this room, which cost our friend Webber as much as five and six thousand pounds? They were telling me about them at the British Museum to-day."
"I suppose this copy he had gave her the idea of lifting the ushabti."
"It's a reason, but a poor one, George."
When we went in search of the professor, a slender, rather pallid woman met us in the hall. "I'm Mrs. Webber," she announced. "The professor has an early dinner engagement and went to his room to dress. Would you care to wait in the drawing- room?"
We found Mercia Day in the drawing-room. There was a decanter of sherry on the piano, and she poured us a glass apiece.
"I suppose you're as keen an Egyptologist as your husband, Mrs. Webber?" I remarked, to make conversation.
"Indeed, she's not," Miss Day broke in. "She regards the professor and me as nothing better than a couple of grave- robbers."
Mrs. Webber smiled wistfully. "I must say I find the living Egypt more interesting than the dead," she observed.
"The professor always insists on Mrs. Webber going out to Egypt with him," Miss Day volunteered. "But while we're grubbing in the Gebbel she remains in Cairo, sitting on all kinds of committees of Egyptian ladies for the relief of the poor."
"An admirable idea!" declared Mr. Treadgold warmly.
"I wish my husband thought as you do," said Mrs. Webber. "He doesn't like Egyptians, and it angers him to think of me spending my time in the women's quarters of the Cairo palaces or in the hovels of the Arab city..." She broke off. "But forgive me—I don't know why I should bother you with all this."
I could have told her. Old H.B. has a charm of manner which leads the most unlikely people to confide in him at sight—time and time again I have noticed it. He did not reply now, and, as though to change the subject, picked up a large photograph that lay loose on the piano and regarded it.
It was a head and shoulders of a girl in a black décolleté, an Egyptian, as the thin gauze veil imperfectly concealing the lower part of the face suggested. Several ropes of magnificent pearls were coiled about the creamy, pale coffee- coloured neck. The eyes, lustrous and black above the wisp of gauze, were magnificent. The photograph bore the name of a well- known Mayfair photographer.
"What a lovely face!" said Mr. Treadgold.
Rather hastily Mrs. Webber took the photograph from him. "I'd rather my husband didn't see that," she remarked. "He doesn't approve of my being friendly with the Egyptians."
"Why, it's the Princess Murad Ali!" exclaimed the secretary, glancing over her shoulder. "I thought you told me she was ill in Cairo. This picture was done in London."
"She's here with her husband," said Mrs. Webber shortly, and slid the photograph out of sight into a drawer. "She gave me that photo to-day. But please don't tell the professor..."
Webber's voice boomed from the door—he was in evening dress with a decoration at the neck. "Sorry to leave you like this, Treadgold, but I'm dining out to-night." He ignored his wife and she went quietly away, taking the secretary with her.
"Well," barked the professor, "what about those finger- prints?"
"I'll report on them to-morrow," was Mr. Treadgold's reply. "I may have news for you by then. If I can recover the ushabti, are you prepared to ask no questions?"
Webber frowned. "Well, it depends."
"It's likely to be a condition," H.B. told him. "I'll telephone you in the morning."
I told H.B. I would give him dinner at my club.
"A rum business, George," he observed glumly as we drove Pall Mall-ward, "a devilish rum business. My head's no better than a puzzled skein of silk, as Tristram Shandy's father remarked on a celebrated occasion, all perplexity, all confusion, withinside." He grunted. "Well, the night brings counsel, they say. Let's wait and see what the Day will bring us in the morning." He grinned at his atrocious pun.
But the Day forestalled us. She was at Bury Street when we went round to H.B.'s chambers after dinner.
"I spoke too soon," she told Mr. Treadgold in an agitated voice. "I can't help you after all." She gazed at him despairingly. "You suspect me, don't you? And so does Webber."
Mr. Treadgold humped his shoulders. "I don't see why you shouldn't have taken a more valuable object—one of those scarabs from the Carnarvon sale, for instance—if it was a question of raising money"—he made a deliberate break—"for a friend..."
Her cheeks flamed. "You know—about that bill?"
"Not as much as I should like to know, my dear."
"Excuse me a minute!" She darted out.
In about five minutes she was back, dragging by the hand a broad-shouldered, reluctant young man. "This is Michael Bewlish," she announced, and added to the youth: "You'd much better make a clean breast of it, Mike."
"I only heard about this business from Mercia to-night," said Bewlish. "But she never pinched that ushabti and no more did I, though, when you hear the facts, you'll say it looks worse than ever for us. Some months ago I backed a bill for three hundred pounds for a friend of mine."
"For Charles Cavander," Mercia Day put in.
Mr. Treadgold sat up abruptly. "The Cavander who was at the Professor's that night?"
Bewlish nodded, tight-lipped. "He's crazy about this Fleming woman and she's deuced expensive."
"Is he a good judge of Egyptian art?"
The young man's air was haggard. "None better. But old Charles wouldn't do a thing like that. He's out of town to-night, but first thing in the morning——"
"What you have to do, young man," said Mr. Treadgold sternly, "is to keep this thing under your hat. And that applies to you as well," he told Miss Day. "What happened about that bill?"
"My aunt, Lady Carshalton, whom I think you know, stumped up," Bewlish replied. "Charles is going to pay her back by instalments."
"Every word this young man says further embroils the situation," Mr. Treadgold declared. "For the lord's sake, George, take him into the dining-room and give him a drink, while I have a word in private with Miss Day."
What that word was did not transpire, for after their departure, Mr. Treadgold became impenetrably mute, and next morning I had to go to Manchester on business. On my return, two days later, I found a note from Mr. Treadgold, telling me I was expected to dine at Karnak House that evening. Dinner was at eight, and he would meet me there.
There was no sign of Mr. Treadgold when I was shown into the drawing-room, and Miss Day was missing, too. But I had a thrill when Webber introduced me to the other guests—with the addition of H.B. and myself, it was the same party which had been present on the occasion of the theft of the ushabti.
One of them was the thief—I glanced them over as the cocktails went round. The Allertons—one could safely exclude them, a placid, suburban couple. Larned, the American Egyptologist, plump and grey-haired, looked harmless enough as he made himself agreeable to Mrs. Webber, but I was aware to what lengths the mania of collecting will carry the most respectable individuals. With Cavander and his lady friend, Mrs. Fleming, I was less favourably impressed. He was too well-dressed, too sure of himself, a poseur, and I suspected, a bit of an adventurer into the bargain. The woman, a dazzling blond, with the air of flaunting her beautiful clothes at one, was a fit associate for him, it seemed to me. I could not help noticing that young Bewlish was palpably nervous, his face turned to the door.
When at length Mr. Treadgold, accompanied by Mercia Day, appeared, I divined that a climax was at hand. Success always buoys him up; there was a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes, a certain bristling eagerness under his bland exterior, which told me that things were going his way. I had a surprise at dinner. Mrs. Fleming, who was on my right, said to me: "So our tailor friend is taking up Egyptology?"
I was giving nothing away. "Well, he collects stamps, so why not antiquities?" I returned with a laugh.
"They say he's going to make Marcus Webber an offer for his collection, that he's sending the valuers in to-morrow."
"Who says so?"
"Charles Cavander heard a rumour somewhere. I tackled Mrs. Webber just now and she didn't deny it."
We had our coffee at the table and went in a body to the museum afterward. There seemed to be something in the story Mrs. Fleming had told me, for Webber and Larned took H.B. from case to case, the rest of us trailing behind. They started at the near wall beside the door. The case containing the ushabti of Thoueris was against the opposite wall; I could see the little blue statuette with its repulsive head staring from behind the glass. I wondered what would happen when they reached it, for at close quarters like this Larned would surely detect the forgery.
Webber talked incessantly. The cases were unlocked—presumably in readiness for Mr. Treadgold's inspection—and he opened one after the other to take out some jar or figurine, some scarab or amulet, and expatiate upon it.
And then the light went out, plunging us all into Stygian darkness. I heard a little squeak of excitement—it sounded like Mrs. Fleming—and Webber roaring to Miss Day to bring candles. Little points of light appeared in the gloom; two of the crowd had snapped on their cigarette lighters. I had a glimpse of Webber, a match in hand, striding toward the door, but before he reached it, the light went on again.
There was a little sign of relief from everybody.
"Well, I never knew that to happen before," Webber grumbled. "It must have been a temporary failure at the power station." He had a scarab in his hand which he replaced in its case. "We now come to the jewellery," he said to Mr. Treadgold.
H.B. cleared his throat. "I think I'd prefer," he remarked, enunciating clearly, "to have a look at that charming Thoueris ushabti you told me about."
Webber stared at him blankly, then shot across the room. He opened the case and whipped out the little statuette. "Why—what——" he spluttered incoherently.
"A delightful piece," said Professor Larned, blinking through his glasses, then exclaimed: "But, dear me, you've cut yourself!"
Webber's fingers were red. He felt the statuette, then his hand went into the case. "There's red ink or something spilt on the velvet," he observed in a puzzled voice. He turned to Larned. "Will you excuse us a moment? There's something I want to show Mr. Treadgold in my study."
I followed them outside.
"You got it back then?" cried our host when the door had closed behind us. Mr. Treadgold's nod was very bland. "But that red ink?"
H.B. showed his fingers. They, too, were smeared with red. "It was you who put it back just now when the light went out?" Webber demanded.
Mr. Treadgold nodded almost imperceptibly. "You must let me have my little joke. Now, if you'll rejoin your guests, I want a word with my friend, George Duckett."
"But, look here——" the Professor was beginning.
"No questions was the arrangement," H.B. shut him up. "We'll be with you in a minute." So saying he pulled open the door, thrust Webber inside, and catching my arm, fairly ran me upstairs to the drawing-room.
Mrs. Webber was just coming out. At the sight of us she fell back a pace, quickly thrusting her hands behind her.
"Show me your hands, please!" Mr. Treadgold said to her.
"What do you mean?" she faltered. "Why should I show you my hands?"
"You can show them either to me or to your husband, madam," was the bleak rejoinder.
For a long moment she made no move, then slowly brought her right hand out from behind her back. The fingers were stained crimson even as her husband's, as Mr. Treadgold's were. "So you got the ushabti back from your friend, the Princess Murad Ali?" Mr. Treadgold demanded.
"You know?" she said in a choking voice.
"I made it my business to know. Thoueris, the hippopotamus- headed goddess, is the protective deity of women in child-birth, they told me at the British Museum, and the Princess gave birth to a son and heir the day before yesterday, didn't she?"
She bowed her head. "It's her first child, and she's been married eight years. It meant so much to her to bear her husband a son—she persuaded him to let her come to London so that the baby might be born under the best possible conditions. Egyptian women have such faith in these charms, and after all, this was the amulet of a great Queen. The Princess knew about this ushabti and begged me to lend it to her for a day or two until the child was born. I was sure it wouldn't be missed, especially as I put that copy in its place—I could have taken the copy, I suppose, but it seemed like cheating the poor thing. Then the baby was late in arriving, and I only got the ushabti back yesterday..."
"And you hadn't the chance to borrow that master key again?"
She shrank back aghast. "How did you discover that?"
"You took the key that night after the party while your husband was asleep, didn't you?"
She stared at him in terror. "Does my husband know?"
He shook his head. "Have no fear—your husband knows nothing and need know nothing. But the only finger-prints on the replica are his, showing that the thief must have handled it with gloves."
She bowed her head. "I remembered I mustn't leave any finger- prints."
"No one wore gloves at the party, therefore it was evident to me that the substitution was effected, not while you were all in the museum, but at some later time that night. What decided you to put the ushabti back just now?"
"Mercia Day told me two days ago you'd be sending the valuers in to-morrow, and I realised that the fraud was bound to be detected. Ever since yesterday I've carried the ushabti round with me, waiting for a chance to put it back. I was standing near the case when the light went out to-night—it seemed like a heaven-sent chance."
Mr. Treadgold chuckled. "It was hardly that, Mrs. Webber. I was virtually certain what had become of the ushabti, but I wanted to make sure. I got Miss Day to spread this completely unfounded rumour in order—forgive me!—to force your hand. And a little stain on the velvet inside the case did the rest."
"Then it was Miss Day who put out the light?" I exclaimed.
He chuckled again. "The switch is by the door. I waited until all the group were bunched around us, then gave her the signal." He turned to Mrs. Webber.
"Your secret is safe with me, Madam. A little pumice-stone will take that red ink off your fingers. And may the blessing of Thoueris be with the little prince and his mother!"
He slipped his arm into mine. "Come, George, let's go back to the museum!"
"To the crime investigator, a crime is like a painting. It
must conform to certain rules of construction, the figures
depicted standing in a proper relation to the background."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
IT was obvious that Manderton had come straight from the inquest to Mr. Treadgold's to discuss the Frohawk case. The evening newspapers were scattered about the sitting-room when I reached Bury Street: I could see their flaming headlines: "Wealthy Stockbroker's Double Life" and "Rich Man Jekyll and Hyde"; while in the Stop Press was recorded the verdict of the coroner's jury—in the case of Frohawk, wilful murder against Leila Trent, and in the case of the girl, felo de se.
I should not have said that the Dot-and-Carry case, as the newspapers called it, had any appeal for Mr. Treadgold. His interest in crime is directed rather towards the mysterious, the bizarre and the unusual. The circumstances of the suicide pact between Dudley Frohawk, the middle-aged London stockbroker, and the little dancing girl were tragic, but not uncommon. As Manderton remarked, Frohawk was not the first married man to have an affair with a chorus lady behind his wife's back.
They found them dead together in Frohawk's car outside the Dot-and-Carry, a raffish sort of roadhouse on the Great North Road—the man with a bullet through his heart as he sat at the wheel, the girl's body slumped across him. She had shot herself through the temple—the gun was still in her hand. She was not known to have possessed a pistol and actually the ownership had not been traced, but, as Manderton said, that proved nothing—the only finger-prints on the gun were hers.
It was not until next morning that the elegant Bentley was noticed, standing abandoned at the parking place. The medical evidence showed that the couple had been dead for about six hours, which would put the hour of death back to around midnight. This accorded with the other facts. No one saw Frohawk arrive but the girl, who was appearing with a troupe of dancers in the cabaret, vanished from the dressing-room soon after the first show finished at 11.15, and did not turn up for the second performance starting at 12.30—it was thought she had gone gallivanting off in a car with some man from the audience: the Dot-and-Carry was that sort of establishment. She was still wearing her stage costume under a coat when she was found. That no one heard the shots was not surprising. The parking place had no attendant and was a good hundred yards from the roadhouse and the dance band, a very noisy one, was going full blast all night, added to which there was the continual flow of nightly heavy traffic along the Great North Road.
Leila Trent occupied a tiny flat in Soho. The house had no porter, but other tenants—they were all women—spoke of various gentleman friends who came calling on her. The police, apparently, had failed to identify Dudley Frohawk as one of these, although it was known to members of the dancing troupe at the Dot-and-Carry that Leila had a rich admirer whom she called "Dudley." Actually, the only communication the police had been able to trace between the dead couple was a telephone call which Frohawk had received at his office late in the afternoon on the day before the tragedy was discovered.
A woman, who refused to give her name, had called up and spoken to him. On this Frohawk told his secretary to telephone his house that he would be dining at his club as he had to go down to the country to see a client after dinner and also to instruct the garage to deliver his car at his club at 9 o'clock. He dined at the club and left in his car, driving himself, at about 9.30—he was never seen alive again.
Frohawk's background was typical of an average well-to-do Londoner—Winchester: New College, Oxford: four years of the war and a D.S.O.: a prosperous business of his own, house in Kensington, devoted wife, boy at Oxford, girl "finishing" in Paris. It was not easy to see what the attraction for him was in a little gutter-snipe like Leila Trent, picking a precarious livelihood between her "gentleman friends" and the lower class of Soho night clubs, varied by an occasional cabaret engagement abroad. Yet the evidence was irrefutable. At the adjourned inquest Manderton put in her diary, showing that she had met Frohawk in the previous August—the tragedy occurred on November 21—at Juan-les-Pins, where she was filling an engagement at a night club. There were entries recording trips to Monte Carlo, Nice and Cannes. The police also produced various articles of Frohawk's found at the girl's apartment—some shirts and handkerchiefs, a gold pencil case, a diamond fox pin.
The widow identified the property, especially the gold pencil and the diamond pin, which she had given to her husband—he told her he had lost them—and confirmed the fact that in the summer Frohawk had spent a fortnight's holiday alone at Juan- les-Pins with friends; she had wished to stay in London as the house was being redecorated. In reply to the coroner she declared that she had been happily married for twenty-four years and had never had to complain of her husband's unfaithfulness. The coroner, expressing sympathy for the family, delivered himself of some unctuous remarks about "the hidden side of men's lives," and the jury returned its verdict as stated.
At Mr. Treadgold's that evening, Manderton was in a somewhat irascible frame of mind. "When you've been at this game as long as I have, friend H.B.," he told Mr. Treadgold in a loud voice, "you'll realise that Solomon knew what he was talking about when he said that one of the things that passeth understanding is the way of a man with a maid. Especially when it's a fellow in middle life."
"I wouldn't contradict you," H.B. replied urbanely. He had elected to spend an evening at home with his stamp collection and sat at the desk, with lens and perforation gauge, peering over the volumes spread out upon it.
"And yet the verdict of the coroner's jury isn't good enough for you?" the inspector challenged.
Mr. Treadgold smiled and delicately lifted a stamp on its hinge. "Did I say so?"
"Isn't it a fact that you've an appointment with Mrs. Frohawk this evening?"
H.B. chuckled. "So that's why you dropped in!"
"I'm not going along, the Lord forbid. But I don't want you to fill the poor lady's head with a lot of your Sherlock Holmes nonsense."
Mr. Treadgold laid his eye to his lens. "Tristram Shandy, a work from which you've sometimes heard me quote," he remarked, "has some highly pertinent observations on the importance of allowing people to ride their hobby-horses. You, my dear Manderton, are a detective and breed whippets in your spare time; I'm a tailor and when I'm not measuring my fellow man for suits, calculating his capacity for crime is one of my diversions. If people want to consult me..."
Manderton, who hated to be opposed, ground his teeth. "Lord, you've had your successes, I'm not denying it. But the Frohawk case is closed. If you go poking into it, you'll only stir up a lot of mud."
Mr. Treadgold looked up. "Now you're making me curious. As George Duckett here will tell you"—he winked at me—"my main interest in crime springs from my incurable inquisitiveness. You didn't tell the coroner why she shot him, did you?"
"I didn't tell the coroner a lot of things. Listen, H.B.: this is a beastly business. The girl was no good. She was running round with Malay Joe, Long Brady, the dope peddling crowd. I've a hunch she was selling the stuff for them round places like this Dot-and-Carry dump."
"Was Frohawk a drug taker?"
The inspector shook his head. "Not on your life. That's what makes it even worse. The girl wasn't either. She was in the game for the commission she made out of it, and here's Frohawk, a man of education, taking up with a nasty bit of work like that. There was evidently a rotten streak in him somewhere, but that's neither here nor there now that he's dead. I let the baggage down easy in my evidence on account of the family, see, so why should you come in and dig up a lot of dirt?"
Tranquilly, Mr. Treadgold applied his gauge to a perforation. "Have you the girl's diary with you?"
The small, leather-bound volume which Manderton produced was not kept, properly speaking, as a diary. It was rather a series of notes—of engagements, of telephone numbers and addresses, of sums paid to hairdressers and the like. It was characteristic of Mr. Treadgold that out of this jumble of jottings, set down in an illiterate hand, his observant eye should have seized and his retentive memory stored up the one essential date upon which his masterly elucidation of the Dot- and-Carry case was to turn, For me I saw only a mass of haphazard entries starting with the month of August at which the inspector opened the book: "Leave for J. les Pins 11 a.m."; "Henna Rinse 150 francs"; "Edna owes 100 francs." Manderton drew attention to the entry under date August 15th: "Manicure 25 francs. Meet Dudley Frohawk at Potinière after show."
A day or two later it was "To Nice with D. F. Lunched Negresco." Presently the "D. F." became "Dudley." "To Cannes with Dudley. Danced Palm Beach Casino"; "Monte with Dudley. Won 450 francs." The diary showed that she returned to London in the last week of August, "Dudley" seeing her off by the Blue Train. At the end of September, when she was back in London, "Dudley" reappeared. They dined together on the 30th and again on the 15th of October: he took her dancing on the 20th—"my birthday," the girl noted—and again on the first of November.
The last entry was November 9th: "Cochran's Revue and supper with Dudley." There was no further mention of him after that—the tragedy occurred on November 21st.
"May I borrow this for a day or two?" Mr. Treadgold asked the inspector, holding up the diary.
"Help yourself," said the inspector, rising from his chair and taking his hat. "But I'm telling you now, you'd best let sleeping dogs lie!"
He went away then, and ten minutes later we drove out to Kensington. Mrs. Frohawk was a dark-haired woman with a firm chin and considerable dignity. "I don't fear the truth," she told Mr. Treadgold. "I trusted my husband—I still trust him—and I know that the more light you can shed on this horrible affair the better he'll come out of it." Rather wistfully she added: "I realise I'm probably the only person who still believes in him. Even the children—they're very sweet to me, but the way young people are nowadays I can see that, without blaming him particularly, they're prepared to believe that their father was carrying on an intrigue with this girl. I'm not so conceited as to think I was necessarily the only woman in Dudley's life. But he was a refined man, Mr. Treadgold, and it's unthinkable to me, even in face of the evidence, that he should have compromised himself with a woman of this type."
Mr. Treadgold, portly, paternal, rubbed his nose reflectively. "To the crime investigator, Mrs. Frohawk," he observed blandly, "a crime is like a painting. That's to say it must conform to certain rules of construction, the figures depicted standing in a proper relation to the background. The reason I asked that we might meet at your home rather than at mine was because I wanted to see for myself your husband's environment—the clothes he wore, the books he read, the things he liked—in order to judge just how he fitted into the setting of Leila Trent and her world."
It was rather thrilling to observe how adroitly H.B., with Mrs. Frohawk's assistance, contrived to reconstruct the atmosphere surrounding the dead man. Mr. Treadgold had to see Frohawk's study, his dressing-room even; and he actually persuaded Mrs. Frohawk to show him some of her husband's letters to her. Little by little the various photographs of the dead man which, at Mr. Treadgold's request, the widow laid before us, seemed to come to life. An attractive personality emerged, tender, yet masterful, intensely virile, an open-air man, fond of tennis and golf, a pipe-smoker, who dressed in tweeds and soft collars by preference, a collector of books on bird life, a Conservative and a citizen who took his duties seriously—among other things, he was Past Master of one of the great city livery companies and, as Mrs. Frohawk informed us, had contemplated standing for Sheriff in the following year.
Mr. Treadgold asked a lot of questions regarding Frohawk's evening engagements during the time since his return from Juan- les-Pins, but here Mrs. Frohawk was unable to help him much. She kept no diary; she was vague about dates. It was no uncommon thing for her husband to dine in town; he often called on customers after dinner. With regard to the diamond fox pin which was found in the girl's apartment, she noticed that he was no longer wearing it and questioned him about it—it might have been a fortnight or so after his return from France. He told her then he thought it must have been stolen from him when he was abroad. "He wasn't staying at an hotel, was he?" Mr Treadgold remarked. "I thought he was stopping with friends."
That was right, Mrs. Frohawk agreed; he was the guest of Frank and Myra Donaldson. But they only had a hired villa; the servants were engaged locally. "I wanted Dudley to write and ask them if his pin had been found," she told us, "but he said something about not wishing to cast any reflection upon the servants—at any rate, he didn't write. About the gold pencil, I didn't know that he'd lost it."
"I suppose you wouldn't have missed these shirts and handkerchiefs of his?" H.B. suggested.
She shook her head. "Dudley had dozens of shirts and things, as you may have noticed in his dressing-room," he replied. "I knew really very little about his wardrobe."
Mr. Treadgold made her give him the Donaldson's address—they lived in Chelsea—and we took our leave. "To-morrow," H.B. promised me as we walked away from the house, "we'll have a look at Leila Trent's background."
I fetched him at Savile Row at the closing hour next day, and we took a taxi to Stonefield Street, off Shaftesbury Avenue, where the dead girl's flat was situated. It was a ramshackle Georgian mansion, with four floors of apartments on a black staircase smelling of cheese above a delicatessen shop. Leila Trent lived at the top of the house, and when we banged on the door—there was no bell—a blonde young woman opened it. "Was it for the gas account?" she asked rather nervously.
Mr. Treadgold gave her his blandest smile. "Nothing so unpleasant," he rejoined. "Are you a friend of Leila Trent's?"
She nodded. "You're reporters, likely?" She spoke with a flat provincial burr. "There were a lot of them round here last week. Do you want to interview me? I'm Edna Masters—I worked with Leila in the troupe at the Dot-and-Carry. You can come in if you don't mind the room being in a state—the hire purchase have took most of the furniture away, and I'm just packing her things to send to her sister."
The tiny sitting-room, with its coloured photographs of undraped females and cheap German knick-knacks on the mantelpiece, had a vulgar air. The Masters girl was a plump, peroxide blonde—she succumbed with alacrity to Mr. Treadgold's most deferential manner, answering his questions with an ultra-genteel air. Lelia Trent was a wild one, she confided: there were any number of very steady gentlemen as would have liked to take care of her, but there! she was never a one for sitting home with a book or the wireless, but must always be gadding about, round the night clubs and such places.
"Did Miss Masters ever meet Leila's friend, Dudley Frohawk?" H.B. interposed casually.
The girl gave him a knowing look. Catch Leila ever introducing her fellers to any other girl! But Leila had often spoken of Dudley—a perfect gentleman; she was crazy about him. Always as smart as smart and free with his money—he'd never take her out, but he'd send her a spray, carnation or lilies of the valley. And a marvellous dancer. Once, when they were at the Palais de Danse at Hammersmith or one of those places, Leila had told her, the orchestra leader had wanted them to do an exhibition turn.
"Did Dudley Frohawk ever come to the Dot-and-Carry?" Mr. Treadgold next inquired.
Edna Masters veiled her eyes. "Not on your life."
"There was someone there she didn't want him to meet."
"Another gentleman friend?"
"Lelia Trent used to run round with Malay Joe's crowd, didn't she?" said Mr. Treadgold innocently.
The girl nodded. "She and Long Brady, one of that push, were as close as twenty minutes to eight before she met Dudley." She lowered her voice. "If you ask me, it was Brady telling her she'd have to give up Dudley drove her to it."
"You mean he was blackmailing her—because she used to peddle the stuff for them?"
Edna Masters sprang to her feet in a panic. "I don't know nothing about that, and I don't want to hear nothing about it." She looked at her watch. "I can't stay here gossiping all day. I've got to get out to the Dot-and-Carry for the first show." She practically pushed us out of the door.
Half an hour later I sat with Mr. Treadgold before the fire in his chambers. "The picture," said H.B., breaking a silence that had lasted all the way from Soho, "is all awry."
I shrugged my shoulders. "There's no accounting for tastes, especially where men's relations to women are concerned. I don't see why Frohawk shouldn't have fallen for this little drab, and she for him—such things have happened before. The Masters girl gave us a perfectly rational explanation of the tragedy. Leila was in this fellow Brady's power—it was a choice between giving up Frohawk or going to jail, because, of course, Brady could have denounced her to the police. She decided she couldn't give up Frohawk."
Mr. Treadgold drove his fist into the palm of his hand. "Frohawk doesn't fit into the picture. I don't care what you say," he declared violently. "Yet he is in the picture—at least, in the picture that unfolded itself when the door of his Bentley was opened that morning. What's the inevitable deduction?"
"I've told you!"
H.B. snorted. "'There's a worth in thy honest ignorance, brother Toby,'" he quoted, "''twere almost a pity to exchange it for knowledge!'"
And then he barked at me, "What type of man do you suppose chorus ladies of the stamp of Edna Masters and Leila Trent regard as a perfect gentleman?"
Mr. Treadgold's habit of slugging me, in moments of emotional stress, with quotations from his beloved Tristram Shandy, gets on my nerves at times, and I made no reply. H.B. answered his own question. "Something slick and slimy," he declaimed, with a flower in his buttonhole and a diamond ring on his little finger, and, oh, spats, and a fob, and a gold-headed cane! What do you make of this Dudley fellow Edna Masters told us about who sends his girl cheap sprays from the corner florist, who dances like a professional, who takes the lady to popular dance-halls? It doesn't fit, George. This is an aspect of the life of gallantry a man of Frohawk's background knows nothing about, I swear. If he sends flowers, I bet it's orchids; if he takes a girl dancing, it's to one of the big hotels. And if any professional could describe a big upstanding he-man like Dudley Frohawk as a marvellous dancer, by Gad! I'll eat my bowler!"
"As for that," I told him crossly, "I know nothing, but I'll remind you that nowadays lots of men have taken up dancing as good exercise. For the rest, let me remark that it was probably Leila Trent and not Dudley who decided where they should go, and that a popular dance-hall was more likely her choice than his. If you remember, on the Riviera he took her to all the right places—the Negresco at Nice, the Palm Beach Casino at Cannes..."
H.B. nodded gravely. "A point well made, George!" he observed. Then he drew Leila Trent's diary from his pocket and fell to studying it. Presently he looked up. "But supposing I'm right," he said, "supposing Frohawk doesn't fit in the picture?"
"But, damn it, he's in the picture, H.B."
"He's in and he's not in." His voice was oddly tense. "Doesn't the thought convey anything to you?"
"Merely that you're talking nonsense!"
He glanced down at the diary again. "Then will you tell me what the date of November 9 suggests to you?"
"The Lord Mayor's Show," I answered ribaldly.
Mr. Treadgold took my reply in excellent part. "Nothing else?" he questioned good-humouredly.
"Not a thing."
"And yet," he said, "I've a notion that the entry under this date"—he held up the little book—"may put us on the right track at last!" He drew the telephone towards him. "Go and get your dinner, George. I'm going to be busy." I told him I'd wait and give him a chop at my club but he said he had no time. I telephoned him after dinner, but he had gone out, and all next day he was away from Savile Row. I went round there shortly before closing time and found he had just come in. He was signing his letters.
His air was curiously elated. "As soon as I've polished off these I'm going down to Scotland Yard," he told me. "Want to come along?"
"Dug up some dirt for Manderton, have you?"
He grinned. "I've some soil for him to sift, anyway."
"You've been busy, haven't you?"
He nodded, signing away. "I've been chasing the Donaldsons, Frohawk's hosts at Juan-les-Pins—they were out of town. Then I had to go to the city afterwards and Edna Masters came to tea with me. Perhaps you didn't know she was at Juan with Leila Trent? Yet it's in the diary: 'Edna owes 100 francs,' do you remember? Never mind, I missed it myself the first time. Come on, Manderton's expecting us."
It seemed to me that the inspector received us in his poky little office with a slightly supercilious air. But it vanished with Mr. Treadgold's first question. "What do you know of a fellow called Paul Morosini?" he demanded.
Manderton frowned. "So you're been talking to Malay Joe and the boys, have you?" he rasped.
Mr. Treadgold's blue eyes lit up. "Is he in that outfit?"
The other gave his harsh laugh. "Not on your sweet life. He's here for a Belgian syndicate that's trying to muscle in on their organisation. The boys are breathing blue murder, and this Morosini guy's for the high jump if ever they get their hands on him. They laid a trap for him the other night at a hang-out of his in Soho—I heard about it when I was tracing the movements of Long Brady and the others on the evening of the Frohawk shooting. None of them was at the Dot-and-Carry that night—they were over in Soho, waiting to give Morosini the works. But he was too smart for them."
"He's in London, then?"
"He's been here for months, but the gang has only just twigged what he was up to."
"Where does he hang out?"
"All over the shop. I only picked up his trail over the Dot- and-Carry affair. We're hot on his heels, though—at any minute I expect to hear we've run him to earth. Not that it matters what the boys do to him, but we don't let the gangs take the law into their own hands in this country."
"Is he in the Rogues' Gallery?"
"You bet. I've his file here." He tossed a photograph across the desk. "That's a French police picture. He's done various stretches in France for selling dope."
Mr. Treadgold gurgled happily. "The perfect gentleman, eh, George?" he said to me and winked. It was a vulgar face that confronted us in three positions, with dark hair slicked down with brilliantine, impudent black eyes, a natty moustache. "'Born Malta, 1899,'" Mr. Treadgold read out. "'Expert jewel thief, white slave trafficker, narcotic smuggler. Speaks fluently English, French, Italian. Originally hotel valet. Good appearance, plausible manner.'"
The desk telephone interrupted. Manderton answered it. "There's a lady asking for you," he informed Mr. Treadgold.
"Would you mind if she came up?"
It was Edna Masters. Mr. Treadgold handed her the photograph. "Ever seen this gentleman before, my dear?"
She scrutinised the face, then nodded. "He was with Leila one day at Nice—at the Negresco. We had drinks at the bar."
"Is it the man she called Dudley?"
I saw the inspector stiffen. The girl shook her head. "I didn't get the name. But there, she had so many gentlemen friends. I only saw this chap the once."
"What's the lay-out, H.B.?" Manderton demanded.
"Impersonation," said Mr. Treadgold. "Dr. Hans Gross, with whose Handbook for Examining Magistrates you're certainly familiar, says that the most important thing in any criminal investigation is to determine the right moment at which to form a fixed opinion about the case. My fixed opinion was that Frohawk never fitted into the picture. I came to the conclusion, therefore, that someone had been impersonating him. Those shirts and handkerchiefs of his found at the girl's flat suggested a dishonest servant—as you know, it's the commonest thing to find valets rigging themselves up in their masters' clothes and impersonating them. My mind went back to that diary"—he produced the little book. "What does the date November 9th suggest to you?"
Manderton replied as I had done: "The Lord Mayor's Show."
"The Lord Mayor's banquet," Mr. Treadgold corrected him. "Frohawk was high up in the livery of one of the great City companies, a potential Sheriff—I made sure he would have been present at the Guildhall banquet on the night of November 9th. Well, I checked up, and he was. Yet Leila Trent records that on that evening he took her to the theatre and to supper." He laid the diary, open at the date in question, on the desk.
"I have seen the Donaldsons, Frohawk's hosts at Juan-les- Pins," Mr. Treadgold went on. "They had a butler named Simmons whom they picked up locally but had to get rid of owing to the way he ran up their bills. I've spoken to the Commissaire de Police at Juan-les-Pins on the telephone, and he tells me that Simmons is thought to be identical with this man, Paul Morosini—it's believed he took the job with the Donaldsons as a cover for his activities in peddling drugs to the summer visitors. I've no doubt that, in order to cut a dash with Leila Trent, he gave himself out to be Dudley Frohawk, the wealthy stockbroker from London, and presented her with Frohawk's diamond pin and gold pencil which he had pilfered. You've told us that he came to London in order to barge into this other dope ring, and I imagine he lost no time in getting in touch with his old flame, Leila, again."
Manderton grunted. "Can you explain why she should have rung up the real Frohawk, and why he then should have gone to meet her?"
"I think so. You say yourself that Morosini has been in hiding. Probably Leila discovered that the gang was laying for him. I can well believe that Morosini forbade her ever to ring him up at his office—Frohawk's office, that is—but she had to find him quickly to warn him about this raid the gang was planning on his hang-out in Soho. Frohawk went to the Dot- and-Carry to meet her because he was naturally curious to know who was impersonating him."
"Then it was Morosini who killed them? Why?"
"You say the gang nearly caught him at this place in Soho. He knew that Long Brady and his crowd frequented the Dot-and- Carry—he must have jumped to the conclusion that only Leila could have given him away. It's my guess that he went straight out to the Dot-and-Carry, and probably arrived just as the girl emerged to meet Frohawk at his car. He recognised Frohawk as the Donaldsons' guest at Juan-les-Pins, and was confirmed in his belief that the girl was double-crossing him. He was probably full of hop—the French police describe him as a chronic morphinomane—and in that condition he shot the girl and, to cover up his traces, Frohawk as well. I believe you'll find that that pistol was his."
The inspector frowned and tugged at his heavy moustache. "We have to find him first," he remarked bleakly, but added, more cheerfully: "We've narrowed the search down to the Tottenham Court Road area—we ought to pull him in to-night."
They found Paul Morosini next day. But not in the salubrious environment of the Tottenham Court Road. He lay face downwards in a ditch near St. Albans, his smart clothes smeared with mud and blood, his hands tied behind him, three bullets in his head. In the pocket of his overcoat was a message, laboriously printed in block capitals on a dirty half-sheet of note-paper. It was addressed "To the Police" and unsigned. It read:
Look at the trouble we save you guys. You didn't know, did you, that it was this rat as killed Leila Trent and her toff? He thought she had squealed on him which is the bunk because he had it coming to him. This is on the level—he told us he done it before we gave him the works.
Manderton brought us the message the same evening at Bury Street, where he looked in on his way back from St. Albans and a long day's investigation with the Flying Squad. Mr. Treadgold smiled delightedly as he read it. "At last," he sighed, "the pieces fit!" With evident satisfaction he rubbed his hands together.
The inspector grinned indulgently. "Pretty cock-a-hoop, aren't you?"
"I hope," said Mr. Treadgold rather stiffly, "I may indulge in a justifiable feeling of pride at finding the process of logical reasoning leading to a logical conclusion. But, as a matter of fact, I was thinking of Mrs. Frohawk. Trust such as hers merits its reward. The quality of faith is so rare in a material world to-day, Inspector, that when it's justified one may fancy that the angels rejoice."
And, as though to illustrate his trope, his kindly features, broad and pinkly glowing with health, were wreathed in a seraphic smile.
"No loose ends!"
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
UNDER the heading "Axel Roth" I find in my note-book such cryptic entries as "H.B. on manicure: H.B. on trouser turn-ups (American, to remind trouser cuffs): H.B. on pipe-smokers," to remind me that the Axel Roth case which, to start with, was no more than a three-line item in the morning newspaper, was to afford my old friend the opportunity of applying his deductive processes to one of the darkest and most intricate murder mysteries in my experience.
This was one of the occasions on which Manderton called in Treadgold as a tailoring expert. They were to meet at the mortuary, to which the body had been removed, and H.B. suggested that I should go along. He has always displayed a fondness for my company, and never more than when indulging his bent for crime investigation. It is not wholly a matter of friendship with him. Like all great artistes, Mr. Treadgold likes to have an audience: also, without appearing unduly immodest, I think I may say he rates my intelligence pretty highly. He said to me once: "It's a constant corrective to have you with me, George—you're a curb on my somewhat over-vivid imagination. You're like the radio beam by which the American mail planes fly at night."
"You mean, I keep you on your course?" I suggested.
"At any rate, let's say you keep me in the one direction," he replied.
"The practical?" I queried.
"The obvious," he told me.
But there was a twinkle in his eye, and I knew he was joking. It was eleven o'clock, and I had not been long at my office in Lincoln's Inn when he called me. I went to Savile Row at once. He was waiting for me under the Georgian portico of the shop, looking more like an ambassador than a tailor, tall and silver- haired, in the sober black jacket suit of his business hours, with a black felt hat and the neatly rolled umbrella he carries in all weathers.
"Westminster Mortuary," he told the taxi driver. "It's only a suicide, George," he informed me, "but it presents one or two puzzling features, Manderton says. At dawn this morning a platelayer discovered a dead body of a man beside the permanent way under a road-bridge over the Great Western main line outside Willesden Junction. They're checking up at Paddington to see if all passengers last night are accounted for, in case he fell from one of the expresses; but it seems there are marks on the brickwork of the bridge and on the embankment indicating that he scrambled down from the road and flung himself deliberately in front of a train. His face is mangled beyond recognition; but papers found on the body show him to be a man called Axel Roth."
"It sounds pretty banal to me," I said. "Where does the master sleuth come in?"
Treadgold frowned at my levity. "Manderton's sufficiently interested in the case to desire my expert opinion on the clothes the fellow's wearing," he answered loftily. "You see, while the Yard have traced him to the address on an envelope in one of the pockets—it's a single room in a block of offices called Lymeton House, off Golden Square, which he rented about four months ago—they've picked up very little else about him. One curious point is that the home address he gave the renting agent proves to be non-existent."
"A mystery man, eh? What did he do for a living?"
"He called himself an importer, but what he imported nobody knows. He had no office staff, no telephone and no callers, and visited his office at odd times—sometimes not for a week on end."
"What was his nationality?"
"Definitely English, notwithstanding his name, the agent says. Both the agent and caretaker of Lymeton House have viewed the body, and had some difficulty in identifying it. But Roth had written his name in a note-book in one of the pockets, and the agent produced the case, and showed the signatures in both cases to be identical. The dead man also had the key of the office on him. Another odd feature is that he went to the trouble of removing every mark of identification from his clothing, but apparently overlooked the note-book and the envelope."
Manderton received us in a barely furnished office at the mortuary. A grey suit, shirt, underwear, socks and shoes were ranged on a table.
"Well, it seems to be suicide all right," he informed Mr. Treadgold. "At any rate, Paddington reports that all passengers are accounted for. There's his clobber. Let's see what you make of it!"
With great deliberation Mr. Treadgold stripped off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. The dead man's coat was torn and stained with blood and earth. With a testing air Treadgold turned it over, glanced inside the inner pocket, grunted, then directed his attention to the waistcoat and trousers. "Nary a maker's tab," volunteered the inspector, straddling a chair, pipe in mouth, "nor yet a laundry mark, even."
"Picked out," commented Mr. Treadgold, fingering the undervest. "Why didn't he destroy his papers, do you suppose?"
Manderton blew a cloud of smoke. "We all of us make mistakes."
Our companion grunted again and, producing a tape from his pocket, proceeded with expert deftness to measure the suit. There was a line of hooks on the wall on which he hung coat, waistcoat and trousers, and set about a leisurely examination of the pockets. "I've been through them already," said the inspector. "Beyond the notebook and that envelope, he'd next to nothing on him—a little change, a packet of fags, a box of matches." But, undeterred, Treadgold persisted with his search.
It did not appear to be very fruitful. From a side pocket of the jacket he clawed up with his nails a little heap of that fluffy grey substance that forms in pockets, and dumped it on the table; from the outside breast pocket he detached something so minute as to be unidentifiable from where I stood and, with a jeweller's glass screwed into his eye, submitted it to a rapid scrutiny. Then it was the turn of the waistcoat and trousers, and after that of the shirt, underwear, socks and shoes. He even examined the turn-ups of the trousers, and spent quite some time on the shoes.
At last he looked up. "This suit, a grey pin pattern worsted, was made in America," he told Manderton. "The cut, the workmanship, are characteristically American—the trousers, for example, are cut loose over the hips for wearing with a belt after the American manner. It's a ready-to-wear article, for the buttonholes are machined and not hand-sewn, but of the better description such as the more fashionable men's stores on Fifth Avenue retail at sixty or seventy-five dollars. The shirt, with pleated front and button cuffs is, by contrast, distinctly Continental—not French, I should say by the cut—by the cheapness of the material German, I should judge, or, from the fact that he's wearing Bata shoes, more likely Czecho- Slovakian—they turn out a lot of cheap cotton goods in Czecho-Slovakia." He paused. "Incidentally, the quality of all his other things is much inferior to that of the suit."
"Did you find a pipe or pouch on him?" he asked suddenly.
The inspector shook his head. "Not likely. He was a cigarette smoker. His fingers are yellow up to there." His hand struck the base of his index finger.
"Nevertheless, the dust in the right-hand pocket of his jacket is mixed with fragments of tobacco." Mr. Treadgold's finger poked the little heap on the table. "He's had a manicure recently, too."
Treadgold held up something between thumb and forefinger. "I found this nail paring in his outside breast pocket, and there was another sticking inside the waistcoat opening. When you cut your nails yourself the chips fly down or forward; but a manicurist, using spring clippers, holds the fingers tilted and the parings fly up—I've frequently noticed it."
The inspector chortled. "Now go ahead and tell us what he looks like—it'd be a good test!"
"Well," said Treadgold placidly, "for what it's worth—he's of athletic build, though probably not very well proportioned—about five feet ten in height and of energetic disposition—the nervous, as opposed by the lymphatic, type. And, by the way, he's recently been at the seaside."
Again Manderton's harsh laugh resounded. "Of course, his build comes from the size of his clothes," he said. "But where do you get the rest, H.B.? Or aren't I allowed to know?"
Treadgold's smile was bland. "Merely by reasoning, my dear fellow. 'Reason is, half of it, sense,' we are told in Tristram Shandy—a work which, by the way, is itself the very quintessence of common sense—that's why I quote from it, I fear much too often. If you'll examine his shoes you'll perceive that they're worn down at the heel, always a sign of a quick-moving, active person. By the same token I infer that he's not particularly well proportioned for the reason that, to judge by the size of his shoes, his feet are smaller than they should be for a man of his shoulder span."
"And what about his trip to Southend, or wherever it was?" demanded the inspector.
"I said nothing about Southend, I believe," retorted Treadgold, "but if you'll examine the turn-ups of his trousers—the trouser cuffs, as they are sometimes called in the trade—you'll find there, not only a small quantity of sand, but also a wisp of seaweed which has not yet lost its pristine greenness and is therefore comparatively fresh. Let me commend to you the study of trouser cuffs, inspector. I've read of a gentleman who's raised several hundred different varieties of plants from seeds accumulated by friends of his in their trouser ends in the course of a country walk. This rather senseless fashion is a potential source of the most illuminating indices in the investigation of crime. I'm thinking of writing a monograph on the subject."
Without speaking, Manderton strode across to the line of hooks and inspected the turn-ups of the dead man's trousers. "You're right," he said, and tugged at his heavy moustache. "And yet, in other respects, you're all wrong. I think you'd better see him, after all."
In the sombre morgue the dead man lay under a sheet. The inspector drew the sheet back, but left the face covered. It was a narrow-chested individual, flabby of body with a tendency to paunch. "Not much of the athletic about him," said the inspector, "though five foot ten's about the height, I'd say." He lifted one of the hands. They were short and stubby and ill-kept. "Look here! If this guy's ever had a manicure in his life, I'm a Dutchman!" He twisted the hand to show the nicotine-stained forefinger. "Cigarette smoker, see?"
"I'd like to look at his teeth," Treadgold announced.
"That's what I said!"
The detective shrugged his shoulders. "Okay." I heard them talking in low tones as they pored over the battered head, and I heard Treadgold say, "The habitual pipe-smoker has definite grooves on either side of the grinding surface. I have them and I bet you have, too. But this fellow hasn't; so why those grains of pipe tobacco in his pocket?"
The inspector had no answer ready, and Treadgold waited for none. He was staring at the corpse. Now he whipped out his tape again and fell to measuring the body in professional style—chest, waist, outside of the leg, inside of the thigh. Then he took a pace backward. "There's something wrong here," he exclaimed tensely. "I told you the quality of the under-things was much below that of the suit. Well let me tell you as an experienced West End tailor that this man here was never fitted for that suit." He stepped forward once more and laid his tape to the leg. "The trousers aren't too bad, but the jacket and waistcoat are miles too big for him."
Manderton, all professional gravity now, nodded. "Maybe he bought it second-hand?"
"He stole it, more likely. A dealer would at least have brushed the pockets out."
"What do you make of this?" said the detective. He had an envelope in his hand, the seal broken. He showed us the typewritten address: "Mr. Axel Roth, Lymeton House, Lymeton Street, London, W. 1." The envelope bore a Dutch stamp, and the postmark was "Rotterdam," dated three days before. "He received this yesterday," Manderton explained, and displayed the London postmark on the back. From the envelope he shook a scrap of black cloth into Treadgold's palm. It was no more than two inches square.
"Why, it's shaped like the letter 'F'!" I exclaimed.
The inspector nodded. "It seems to have come in that envelope. There was no letter with it. I asked myself if it wasn't a warning, or something. What I mean, we've ascertained that this Rotterdam letter was delivered at his office by the morning mail, and the same evening he jumps in front of a train."
The "F" was roughly scissored out of cheap black cloth. Treadgold fingered it, held it up to the light. "There's nothing in his office to throw any light on this, I suppose?" he questioned.
Manderton made a disgusted face. "The place is just a blind, I reckon. A desk, a chair and a table which the caretaker bought for him, a railway guide and some old newspapers."
"What about that note-book of his?"
"It's a blank except for some odd jottings that don't make sense. But we found a visiting card on him." From a bulging letter-case he took a card and handed it over. It was one of those cheap cards which are printed while you wait. It was inscribed simply with a name, "Manoel Preto." Underneath was scrawled in pencil, "Old Compton Street."
"You're following this up?" said Treadgold.
The detective nodded. "Two men have been on the job since this morning. But you know what Soho is—a mass of cheap cafés and lodging houses; it'll take time."
"Can I see that note-book?"
Manderton produced a small cloth-bound diary. On the fly-leaf was written in a bold hand, "Axel Roth, Lymeton House, W.1."
"It's an English hand," Mr. Treadgold commented. Methodically he went through the diary, page by page. It seemed to be blank until, presently, we lit upon an entry. It was not very illuminating. "Red yellow brown black blue," it ran—that was all. A few pages on there was this brief note, "Wire Violet"—and again, a month or so later, "Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m." Thereafter there were only empty pages. The entries appeared to have no reference to the date—they were scrawled anyhow athwart the page.
Treadgold frowned. "'Red yellow brown black blue,'" he repeated, turning back to the first entry. "I'll be bothered if I can make anything of this. And who, or what, is 'Regenb.'?"
He was interrupted by the appearance of the mortuary attendant. Scotland Yard was asking for Inspector Manderton on the 'phone. Like a big dog Manderton lumbered out and Treadgold, lighting his pipe, fell to studying the note-book once more in a brooding silence. In five minutes the inspector was back, his red face glowing with satisfaction.
"Well," he announced, rubbing his hands, "we're on to Manoel Preto. He arrived in London yesterday evening by the Ostend boat, and went to the Café Reggio in Old Compton Street. It's one of those anarchist hang-outs, the Special Branch tell me—quiet enough, but frequented by all sorts of long-haired revolutionaries in the way of Italian exiles and Spanish communists. Our man inquired whether anyone called 'Roth' had been asking for him...
"About an hour later a fellow in a grey suit turned up, and the waiter heard Preto address him as 'Roth.' Moreover, his description tallies with this poor devil here. He and Preto dined at the café, and left together on foot about ten o'clock. Preto has not been seen since."
"Quite!" remarked Mr. Treadgold.
"More than this," declared the inspector triumphantly, "our people, who've been at Willesden trying to trace Roth's movements last night, have got hold of an important statement by a tram driver. This chap lives in a turning off Old Orchard Lane which crosses the Great Western Railway by the bridge beneath which Roth's body was found. He went off duty at midnight and, at about twenty minutes to one, as he was turning off Old Orchard Lane to go to his house, he noticed a motor car stationary on the bridge about a hundred yards away. He watched it for a moment, then, seeing no sign of life about it, started to walk towards it. But it was late and he was tired, so, thinking better of it, he went off to bed."
Mr. Treadgold groaned. "Without taking the number, I bet!"
Manderton chuckled. "That's where you're wrong. He's a tram driver, remember—he has that kind of mind. He instinctively noted the number."
"And you've traced the car?"
"We have. It belongs to a man called Harrison Nickall, who lives down in Kent. It was stolen where he'd parked it in Jermyn Street during the theatre hour last night, and he reported the loss to the police at Vine Street. The car has since been found abandoned on a plot of waste land near Kensal Green cemetery."
"That's close to where the body was discovered, isn't it?"
"About a mile away. You see what this means, H.B.? It's not suicide—it's murder. It's my belief that the poor devil was knocked on the head or doped, and thrown in front of a train. The autopsy should tell us how it was done."
"A process of reasoning had already led me to the same conclusion," was Treadgold's dry rejoinder as he tapped out his pipe. "But I wonder why the murderer removed every identification mark, yet left that diary."
"If criminals didn't blunder, the Yard could shut up shop."
Our companion nodded. "I must say I'd like to know a little more about Mr. Axel Roth, this Englishman with the German name, who wears an American suit that doesn't fit him and Continental underwear, and who has tobacco flakes in his pocket, yet doesn't smoke a pipe."
"Mr. Manoel Preto's going to tell us all about it, don't fear!" the inspector assured him darkly. "We have a pretty fair description of him from the waiter at the Reggio. He's tallish and dark, and speaks English badly. He had no luggage, and when last seen was wearing a blue suit with a black tie and a black felt hat, and carried a raincoat over his arm. The café proprietor told our chaps he'd never seen him or Roth before, but I wouldn't put too much faith in that."
"Let's hope that our friend Preto will be able to elucidate that entry in the diary, the black 'F' as well," was Treadgold's mild observation. "No loose ends! They're apt to trip you up, as many a murder investigation has proved. I hate loose ends!"
"So do I," said Manderton. "The only loose end about this case, when I'm through with it, will be a rope dangling from a cross-bar waiting for M. Preto to push his neck in it." He held out his hand. "I'll have to leave you gentlemen—I'm going to be busy. Thanks for the trouble, H.B.—your tip about that American suit may help a lot. Our man won't run far: within the next twenty-four hours we'll have everything straightened out, you see!"
After dinner that evening, having had no word from Mr. Treadgold, I dropped in on him at Bury Street. At first blush it appeared as though he had settled down to a quiet evening with his stamp collection. The reading lamp on the desk, the only light in the room, shed its shaded rays upon a number of the thin volumes in which his very valuable collection is housed, and a stack of catalogues. To see him seated there, in the black velvet jacket he often wears at home, cigar in mouth, pince-nez on nose, you would have said that nothing was farther from his thoughts than the death of Axel Roth.
But as I advanced to greet him I perceived that the stamp volume before him no longer claimed his attention. He was staring at a sheet of foolscap that lay on the open page. I peeped over his shoulder and read, set down in his neat and flowing hand:
Red yellow brown black blue<
Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m.
"Still puzzling it out?" I said.
He raised his head abstractedly. "Hullo, George!"
"What's the good news from Manderton? Have they nabbed Preto yet?"
"I haven't heard from Manderton since we left him yesterday. Mix yourself a drink and shut up."
Treadgold is so rarely temperamental that in such moments I humour him. I fetched myself a drink from the sideboard and, making myself comfortable in a chair, picked up one of the stamp catalogues from the desk. It was a foreign catalogue, issued at Lisbon. It opened at one of the Portuguese colonies—Angola, I think—and for some minutes I studied the plump and cherubic features of the late King Carlos on the stamps depicted there. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw that Treadgold had pushed the sheet of foolscap aside. I decided it was safe to speak. "Well," I remarked, there's this to be said for stamp- collecting—it teaches one geography and languages, too. What does 'azul' mean, for instance?"
"It seems to be the colour of a stamp."
"It's the Spanish for 'blue.'"
"This isn't Spanish. It's Portuguese."
"The word's the same in both..."
He never finished the sentence but, snatching up the sheet of foolscap again, stared at it like a man possessed. For a full minute he remained thus, then sprang to his feet and began pacing up and down the room, shaking his clenched fists above his head.
"I'm a dolt, an ass, an idiot!" he declaimed plaintively. "Oh, was ever a man so obtuse!" With that he ran to the bookcase and dragged forth a large tome which he thumped down on the desk.
It was a German dictionary. He opened it at the F's, and frantically ran his finger down the column. Then it was the turn of the R's. At last he shut the dictionary and said, "Look here a moment, George!" He held out his sheet of foolscap. "What's the German for red?"
"'Rot,' isn't it?"
"Right! Sometimes spelt R-O-T-H."
"What's the Portuguese for black?"
"I haven't an idea."
He beckoned me nearer, holding out the foolscap sheet. His thumbnail underscored the "red" in the first line. "Here's red, or Roth, isn't it?" he demanded tensely. "And here, the second last word, is black—that's to say, Preto. Your question about the word for blue in Portuguese started a train of thought in my mind, and in a flash I perceived a certain co-ordination in this list of colours seemingly set down at random."
He tapped the paper, and I saw that he was pointing to the entry "Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m." "What's that first word a contraction for? 'Regenbogen,' surely!"
"It's the German for 'rainbow'—the colour motif again!"
"It might be a man's name."
"I don't think so. Do you remember the 'F' in black cloth they found in that envelope in Roth's pocket? I've been racking my brains to discover what it might stand for." He broke off. "Do you know the German word for colour?" he asked solemnly.
I shook my head.
"It's 'Farbe'!" he said. "And the black 'F' was a token of identification or something of the kind which Black—that's to say, Preto—was bringing to Red—Roth."
"And Regenbogen—the rainbow—where does that come in?"
"I believe it's a telegraphic address. In that case, the entry would mean that the party could be reached telegraphically on Sunday evenings up to ten o'clock."
"The telegraphic address of whom or what?"
Treadgold's healthy pink face clouded over. "I can't say—yet. Maybe a dope or smuggling ring—anyway, something criminal, I expect. But isn't that Manderton's voice in the hall? Not a word to him of this for the present."
Inspector Manderton's cheerful confidence of the previous day had evaporated—his air was jaded and despondent. The wanted man, he told us, seemed to have vanished. His description had been broadcast all over Great Britain and the Continent, railway termini, docks and air ports were being watched, while dozens of detectives were conducting a search of the foreign quarters of London—to date, without result.
Manderton refused a drink, but accepted a cigar.
"You didn't pick up any clues from the stolen motor-car, did you?" Treadgold asked, as he pierced the cigar for the visitor.
The inspector shook his head. "Not a thing."
"No finger-prints on the driving-wheel?"
"No finger-prints except the thick-headed cop's who drove it to the Yard."
"Where's the car now?"
"At the Yard. It's being returned to Broadstairs to- morrow."
"The owner, Harrison Nickall, has a bungalow on the cliff at St. Peter's."
Treadgold was silent for a minute, filling his pipe. "Have you interviewed him?" he said at length.
"Not personally. They took a statement from him at Vine Street."
"Who is he?"
The inspector shrugged his shoulders. "He's with Britannic Chemicals, or rather he was. He resigned recently to get married. He's marrying a wealthy American widow at the end of the month, and going back with her to the States to live."
"Why don't you drive that car down to Broadstairs to- morrow—and take us with you?"
"I was wondering whether Nickall could suggest why Preto should have picked on that particular car. There are a lot of cars standing about Jermyn Street during the theatre hour, you know."
"But they all belong to somebody. The owner of a stolen car doesn't usually know why his in particular is picked on. However, it's a fresh line of inquiry, anyway," Manderton admitted. He said he would drop by for us at ten o'clock the next morning.
When he had gone, Treadgold brought me my hat and collected his. "We're going to call on a friend of mine at a club across the way," he explained.
At a club in St. James's Street he asked for Major Okewood.
Treadgold did not wait to introduce me to the lean, grizzled man who presently appeared. "I won't keep you from your bridge, Francis," he said. "I just want you to answer one question. Does the name 'Farbe' convey anything to you in your particular line of business?"
"Farbe?" echoed the major.
"That's it. Of Rotterdam."
"Would it be indiscreet to tell me more?"
"Yes," said Okewood dryly, "but I can tell you this much. The name is Farb. Jacob Farb is a Pole who runs a spy bureau at Rotterdam with branches all over the Continent for the buying and selling of military information. He's also one of the greatest ruffians unhung. And now, if you don't mind, I'll go back to my game."
"That's the famous Francis Okewood, one of the greatest Secret Service men this country has ever had," Treadgold explained, as we regained the street.
But I scarcely listened to him. "Do you mean to tell me that this fellow Roth was a spy—Preto, too, for a matter of that?"
My companion smiled. "My dear George," he murmured, "you remind me of Tristram Shandy's father who, if you remember, was 'a great motive-monger, and consequently a very dangerous person to sit by.' You're free to form your own conclusions; but I've told you nothing."
Quoting from Tristram Shandy is one of H.B.'s favoured forms of evasion so, perceiving that I should get no more out of him, I went home to bed.
Next morning Manderton called for us at the wheel of a nice- looking Lanchester, and we set off for Kent. We lunched at an hotel at Broadstairs. After lunch Treadgold disappeared but, crossing the lounge soon after, I saw him in earnest confabulation with the hotel porter. To good purpose, for thanks to the directions he had gleaned, he guided us unfalteringly out of the little seaside town to where, on the edge of the cliff over-looking the Channel sparkling in the July sun, "Sea Nest," as the Nickall bungalow was called, thrust a red roof above its enclosing fence.
An elderly housekeeper took our names and showed us through the house into the garden where a tall, presentable man in flannels was smoking his pipe under a tree. "Chief Inspector Manderton of Scotland Yard, Mr. Nickall," the detective introduced himself, and added, "We've brought your car back."
The tall man sprang up with alacrity. "Thank the Lord for that! Sit down, gentlemen! The coffee has only just come—or would you prefer some nice cold beer?"
We had a cup of coffee with him and talked about the case. Our host could throw little light on the circumstances in which his car was stolen. He had driven up from Broadstairs in the morning, he told us, lunched with his fiancée at the Ritz, and put her on the afternoon 'plane for Paris, where she was going to buy her trousseau. After that he had done some shopping, visited the barber and, about 7 p.m., had called on a man friend at a block of flats in Jermyn Street. As his friend was out he had left the car outside the flats and gone across to the Trocadero Grill for dinner. He had intended to drive back to Broadstairs after, but, noticing that there was a film he wanted to see at the Carlton, he had gone in there. When he went to pick up his car in Jermyn Street after the show, the car was gone.
My attention was suddenly directed to Treadgold. His eyes were closed and he kept mopping his forehead with his handkerchief. "Is anything wrong, H.B.?" I said.
Mr. Treadgold's head dropped on his hand. "It's a touch of the sun, I'm afraid—it was pretty hot on the road."
Nickall jumped up. "Perhaps you'd like to come into the house and lie down?"
"If I might—for five minutes. I'm sorry to be such a nuisance."
They disappeared into the house together. Our host was soon back. "I left him on my bed," he told us. "He'll be all right presently, he says."
It was drowsy in the garden. The bees droned, the roses smelt delicious. My head nodded. Nickall's voice, questioning Manderton about the progress of the investigation, was a gentle murmur in my ears.
I stirred myself to find the housekeeper there with a letter. "A boy brought it, sir; he said there's no answer," she explained to our host.
"Excuse me!" said Nickall. The envelope appeared to be empty, then he shook it and something black fell out upon his hand. I was astonished by the change that came over his face. His eyes dilated, he paled under his tan. My glance dropped to his open palm. An "F" cut out of black cloth lay there.
The envelope had fluttered to the ground; it bore the name of the Broadstairs hotel where we had lunched. Instinctively I looked for Treadgold. As my eyes turned towards the house I saw him approaching along the path.
His expression was grim, his mouth under the grey moustache set in a hard line. Manderton had snatched the black "F" from Nickall's hand. I glanced at Nickall—he seemed to have crumpled up in his chair, gazing in terror at the portly figure bearing down on him.
Treadgold stopped in front of him. "Why did you kill Manoel Preto?" he demanded sternly.
The inspector bounced from his chair. "Are you still suffering from the sun or what?" he barked at Treadgold.
"I've measured his suits upstairs," was the implacable reply, "and the measurements tally exactly with that grey worsted the dead man was wearing. He lives here beside the sea, he's a pipe- smoker and he's just told us he was at the barber's—for a manicure, no doubt, as well as a haircut—the afternoon before the murder."
"But Roth——" Manderton spluttered.
Treadgold pointed an accusing finger. "He's sitting there before us—Mr. Harrison Nickall, who, under the pseudonym of Axel Roth, was supplying the Farb espionage bureau of Rotterdam with information about gas warfare, derived from his employers, Britannic Chemicals, the largest manufacturers of poison gas in this country."
Nickall shook himself from his lethargy. "I never meant to act as a spy," he said stolidly. "They told me a Dutch firm would pay £4,000 for a certain secret formula and I had to have the money—I'd lost a packet on the Stock Exchange. When I found out the truth, it was too late—they threatened to denounce me to the British authorities if I didn't keep on supplying them with information."
"Then you became engaged to be married and determined to make an end of it?" Treadgold suggested. "If you could be found dead in the guise of Roth in circumstances suggesting suicide, that would do the trick, eh? What was the meaning of that black 'F'?"
"Each capital had a colour and the resident agent might call himself by the name of that colour in any language—it was a safe cover and anybody in the Farb organisation would immediately identify him. Thus, I've been Lerouge and Rosso as well as Roth, while Preto has been Schwarz and also Negro and Lenoir; in reality he's a Czech called Topek."
"How did the colours run?"
"For the chief capitals—red for London, yellow for Paris, brown for Berlin, black for Rome, blue for Leningrad. There was a given rendezvous in each capital, and if one agent had to meet another, he simply sent an 'F' in his own colour to the agent in question and went to the rendezvous." He paused and, with a slight shudder, went on, "Preto, who was the Rome man, was Farb's executioner. I'd been trying to break away from Farb as I wanted to get married, and when that black 'F' reached me through the post, I knew it was a question of either Preto or me."
But now Manderton intervened irascibly with the customary police warning. "I don't mind telling you the truth," said Nickall simply. "This man was a killer, and though I acted deliberately, I acted in self defence. I told Preto that it was quite wrong to suspect me of wanting to break away and that if he'd come to my office I'd prove it. When we left the Reggio that night we fetched the car from Jermyn Street and went to my office—the building's deserted after dark. There I made him drunk by doctoring his drink, dressed him in a suit of mine I bought in New York last summer, and drove him out to Old Orchard Lane. I'd planned everything in advance down to the very express that was to finish him. It was a tough job carrying him down the embankment, but I managed it all right with five minutes to spare." He felt in his pockets, then glanced round the circle. "Have one of you a cigarette?"
The Inspector produced a packet, then with a cry hurled himself at Nickall. But he was too late. Nickall's fingers had flashed to his lips and without a sound he fell flat on his face, a great convulsion shook him and he lay still.
"Cyanide!" announced the detective grimly, rising from his knees.
Treadgold sighed. "No loose ends, Inspector!"
"Not even a rope!" said Manderton.
"All criminals make mistakes: that is why crimes
are solved. It is when the investigator also
blunders that you have the insoluble crime."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
I HAD gone round to Savile Row, one day after lunch, to be measured for a suit and, the operation over, was sitting with Mr. Treadgold over a glass of the 1900 port in his office, when Gallup came in with a card. H.B. glanced at it, then flicked it across the desk to me. I read, Sir Hector Foyne, Foyne Hall, near Lowcester, Devon, and in the corner "Travellers' Club." Gallup said, blinking at us through his gold spectacles, "It's not a customer, Mr. Horace. He wishes to consult you privately. He's a friend of Lord Hannington."
H.B. grunted. "Well, we'll have to see him, I suppose. Old Buzzy Hannington has been getting his duds here ever since my Guv'nor's day. When I ring, Gallup."
He took down Who's Who from the rack of reference books on top of the desk as the manager withdrew. "Another little problem, I guess,—George," he remarked cheerfully, fluttering the leaves. "Let's see just who the party is. Ah, here we are! Old family—he's the tenth baronet—and a retired diplomat, though not a very prominent one. Aged sixty-two and twice married; his present wife's Italian, I see. No children; his heir's his cousin, Major Gerald Foyne, Royal Artillery, retired. Well, let's have him in!"
The visitor seemed embarrassed at finding me there, but Mr. Treadgold reassured him. "This is Mr. Duckett, my solicitor," he said. "You can speak freely in front of him." Somewhat reluctantly the other put down his hat and took the chair I brought forward. He was a distinguished-looking man with aristocratic features and rather an unyielding air. "Mr. Treadgold," he began diffidently, "my old friend, Lord Hannington, to whom you rendered such signal service in the matter of a certain missing will."
Old H.B. is the most modest of men, but like the rest of us is not averse from a word of praise. His healthy face flushed a brighter pink. "It wasn't so difficult, my dear sir—merely a matter of clear thinking."
"This is precisely what's required in my case," Foyne answered. "Mr. Treadgold, I find myself in a quandary. A tenant of ours, a woman friend of my wife's, has disappeared."
The other fingered his neat grey moustache. "A married lady?" he inquired, not without a certain irony.
"So far as I'm aware, Miss Marless is unmarried," was the rather stiff rejoinder. He cleared his throat. "I should explain that the present Lady Foyne—the first died twenty years ago—is my second wife and considerably my junior in age. We have no near neighbours at Foyne and I was therefore rather pleased when, some weeks ago, my wife suggested lending one of the lodges on our place to a certain Edith Marless, an Englishwoman she had met in the South of France. I suffer from asthma and dislike leaving Devonshire, where the air agrees with me, but Lady Foyne, whose lungs are not strong, is in the habit of passing several weeks every winter on the Riviera. At Mentone this year she made friends with this Miss Marless. One day last March, when I was up in town, Miss Marless dropped in unexpectedly on my wife at Foyne Hall. On her explaining that she was looking for a place in which to spend the rest of the summer, Lady Foyne offered her the use of the west lodge, subject to my consent. I raised no objection—as I say, I was very glad for my wife to have the companionship of her own age."
"How old is Lady Foyne?" Mr. Treadgold asked.
"Twenty-seven. Edith Marless might be a few years older." He paused. "We saw her last on Sunday evening when she dined with us and my cousin, Major Foyne, who's stopping at the Hall—she had then been at the west lodge for about four weeks. She spoke to me of a leak in the roof of the cottage and I promised to drop in and see about having it repaired. I was busy all next day, but on the Tuesday morning, that's to say, yesterday, I walked down to the west lodge. There was no answer to my knock and, thinking she was out, I was going away when I noticed that two days' newspapers were still outside the door. A moment later young Maggs, who delivers milk and who happened to be passing, called out to me that he'd been unable to obtain an answer on the previous day. On that I climbed in through a window and found the place empty. The bed had not been slept in, and all her clothes were still there. But the lady had vanished without trace and we have neither seen her nor heard from her since. Evidently, since the milkman was unable to get an answer on the Monday morning, she must have gone away some time on the Sunday night, after dining with us at the Hall."
He made a break. "Frankly, I'm not sorry to see the last of her. She's not the type of woman I have much use for, one of these abrupt, rather gawky women, all hands and feet. But I could have put up with that if my wife had derived any benefit from her company. On the contrary, although they were constantly together, this Marless woman seemed to upset her. Normally, my wife has a happy and charming disposition. But since Edith Marless came to the west lodge, she's been brooding and highly nervous. This woman's word seemed to be law with her—there was no arrangement my wife wouldn't upset on her merest whim."
Mr. Treadgold shrugged his shoulders. "Then why worry? I should think you were well rid of her."
The baronet sighed. "This woman's disappearance has had the most inexplicable effect upon my wife. She neither eats nor sleeps and if I remonstrate with her, she flies out at me. She's obviously on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown; unless we can clear up the mystery of her friend's disappearance, 'pon my soul I fear for her reason."
"What do you know about the Marless lady?" Mr. Treadgold inquired.
"Very little. I understand she has no relations living, and spends most of her time abroad. I wouldn't describe her as a very cultured person, exactly, and she certainly had very little money—most of the clothes she had, Lady Foyne gave her. She kept no servant and did her own housework. She preferred it so, although we would willingly have given her the services of one of the maids from the Hall."
"Didn't anyone see her leave the village?"
Sir Hector shook his head. "Our place is outside Foyne village and except for the Hall, which is separated from it by an extremely long avenue, there are no houses within a mile of the west lodge."
"She must have taken the train, left by car, or something?"
"Of course. But the last train leaves Foyne at 9.5 on Sunday evenings, at which time she was at dinner with us at the Hall, and I have established that she certainly didn't travel by the first, or any other train on the Monday morning. And she didn't hire a car in the village." He paused with an embarrassed air. "What I am about to reveal to you now," he went on, "is in the strictest confidence for the simple reason that I don't feel justified in disclosing it to my wife in her present state. On two occasions within the last month a young man was seen, entering or leaving the lodge in the middle of the night. Our butler, Penny, saw him the first time. It was at about a quarter to one in the morning—Penny's motor-bike had broken down and he was walking home. He was taking the short cut to the Hall by the west lodge and the back avenue when he saw this fellow slip out of the garden gate and run off down the road. A week or two later, Bent, my gamekeeper, was crossing the Park just before dawn when he heard the gate at the west lodge squeak and caught a glimpse of a man standing there; when Bent looked again the man was gone—by his silhouette he seemed to be young and active, Bent says. You know how reticent villagers are about such things, and, of course, these stories came to my ears only after the lady had disappeared. But they suggest to me that she had a lover..."
"And that she's eloped with him. Well, what do you want me to do?" Mr. Treadgold broke in briskly.
"Come down to Foyne. Make your own inquiries. Trace the missing woman and her lover or, failing that, gain my wife's confidence and find out what hold this woman had over her. I shall be happy to put you up for as long as you like—Mr. Duckett, too, for that matter."
"You're too kind. But surely this is rather a matter for a firm of private inquiry agents, if not for the police."
Our visitor started back. "At all costs, the police must be kept out of this."
Mr. Treadgold frowned olympically. "If you really desire my assistance, Sir Hector," he remarked stiffly, "I'd suggest that you keep nothing back."
Foyne coloured, shrugged his shoulders. "All right," he said. "I suspect that this woman has been blackmailing my wife—at any rate, notwithstanding the fact that I allow Lady Foyne a hundred pounds a month pin money, her account at the bank is £387 overdrawn."
"So! Did she tell you this herself?"
"No. I only discovered it yesterday, when I happened to see by accident a letter from her bank manager."
"Have you spoken to her about it?"
"I thought I'd wait until I'd consulted you."
Mr. Treadgold nodded approvingly. "Forgive the question, but have you ever had to complain of your wife's attitude toward others men?"
"Never, notwithstanding our difference in age." He cleared his throat and went on severely. "My wife's trouble is gambling. After continually paying her gaming debts, last year I put my foot down and refused to allow her to return to the Riviera unless she gave me her word not to play. When she came back from Mentone in March she assured me she'd kept her promise."
"Quite. And rather than admit she'd failed you, she's borrowed from this Marless woman to pay her losses."
"Edith Marless never created the impression of being a person of substance..."
"She might be a woman money-lender. Or she might have found out where Lady Foyne had raised the wind—by pawning her jewels or something."
"Lady Foyne's jewels are intact."
"By borrowing from a friend, then—maybe a man. Whatever it was, the information seems to have been worth several hundred pounds to your wife." He paused. "Frankly," he went on, "the case is not one which appeals to me. But you're a friend of Lord Hannington, and since you claim my aid you shall have it. When do you return to Foyne Hall?"
"By the ten o'clock from Waterloo in the morning."
"We'll meet you at the booking office at 9.50. That's to say, I will," he added, looking at me.
"I never missed the chance of being in on one of your cases yet, H.B.," I told him firmly.
Mr. Treadgold's powers of observation are extraordinarily alert. We had an instance of it next day when, having left the London express at Lowcester, we were driving in Sir Hector's elderly Rolls from the junction to Foyne, a distance of ten miles. Nearing Foyne, at a village called, I think, Underhill, the closed gates of a level crossing halted us. "I suppose that Miss Marless doesn't hail from these parts?" Mr. Treadgold suddenly remarked to our host.
"Not that I ever heard of. Why?"
A shabby garage abutted on the railway. Mr. Treadgold nudged Foyne, and pointed to the sign over the door. "J. F. Marless, Auto Repairs, Cars for Hire," we read. "I was just wondering—you know the way local names keep recurring," my friend observed gently.
"Marless isn't a local name," said Sir Hector, "though I admit it's an odd coincidence—it hadn't struck me before. The Marless who keeps that garage hails from the Midlands, I believe."
Foyne Hall was a delightful old timber-fronted mansion, standing in the centre of an immense park dotted with centurion oaks. A great surprise awaited us—me, at any rate: Lady Foyne, who came out from one of the rooms leading off the hall as we entered the house, proved to be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. Her profile was of classic Italian loveliness—it reminded me of the head on one of those old Sicilian gold coins—her eyes were dark and expressive, and she moved with a simple grace that set off her perfection of line. But it was obvious she was suffering from some great nervous strain—the hand she gave me was cold to the touch. The butler, she told us, would show us our rooms, after which lunch would be waiting for us.
She had plenty of pluck. From a bronzed man in flannels, who took us into the library for a glass of sherry before lunch and who introduced himself as Gerald Foyne—I remembered that he was the baronet's heir and was staying in the house—we discovered that Sir Hector had made no secret of Mr. Treadgold's mission. At lunch we talked of indifferent things, principally about Biarritz and the Basque country, from which Major Foyne had recently returned; but no sooner had the servants left us to our coffee than Lady Foyne opened up. "My husband told me on the telephone yesterday," she remarked to Mr. Treadgold with the very slight foreign accent which, in my opinion, only added to her charm, "that you have come down here to clear up the mystery of Edith Marless's disappearance. But Sir Hector—from the best of motives, I know—has made a great deal out of a very little. Edith Marless was always an unaccountable person. She has no ties—she's free to go and come as she likes. No doubt, she was bored with our so quiet life down here and"—she made an expressive gesture of the hands—"she just went away."
"Leaving all her clothes behind her!" Mr. Treadgold suggested mildly.
Major Foyne spoke up. "You make it sound as though she bolted in her nightie," he observed. "Actually, the things she left behind were the clothes that Lady Foyne had given her. Isn't that so?"
"Yes," said Lady Foyne. "After all, she had some things of her own."
"And, in the circumstances, she didn't want to be beholden to you. I must say I think it does her credit," the Major put in.
"I wish one of you would tell me just what she looked like," Mr. Treadgold requested.
"She was quite tall," said our host, "almost as tall as Gerald there, and handsome in rather a bold way with strongly marked black eyebrows and good teeth and eyes. She wouldn't have been bad-looking, really, if she'd only carried herself better, but she slouched about with those big feet of hers. And that husky voice! I hate a woman with a husky voice."
"You're giving Mr. Treadgold a very misleading portrait," his wife corrected him. "Actually, Edith wasn't interested in clothes. That's probably because she never had the money to buy any nice ones, I imagine."
"You met her at Mentone, I think?" said Mr. Treadgold.
Sir Hector answered for his wife. "They were at the same hotel."
"Which hotel was that?" my friend inquired.
A little colour warmed the ivory pallor of Lady Foyne's cheeks. "The Oriental," she replied in a low voice. She paused and went on: "I do hope that you're not going to set them all talking in the village, Mr. Treadgold. After all, Miss Marless is a friend of mine, and she's perfectly at liberty to leave us if she wants to." Suddenly she rounded on her husband. "Why did you bring him here?" she cried passionately. "Why did you bring him? The tears gushed from her eyes and, springing from her chair, she ran out of the room."
Our host sighed. "Go after her like a good chap, will you, Gerald?" he said and, as the Major hurried out, "There you are!" he went on to us. "Every time there's any question of investigating this business, she has these storms."
At Mr. Treadgold's request, after lunch Sir Hector took us down to the west lodge. It was a tiny stone cottage set in the middle of a garden front and back with a front door opening in two halves and diamond pane windows. The ground floor consisted of a sitting-room with a kitchen and pantry leading off while a wooden stair mounted from the sitting-room to a bedroom with adjoining bathroom on the first floor. Distempered in cream throughout, with its beamed ceilings and furniture of cottage oak, it was an altogether charming and snug little place.
Whatever else had happened to the lady, she had clearly left in a hurry. The bedroom revealed no sign of dressing gown or nightdress, but the tenant had abandoned sundry pots of cosmetics, two or three boxes of powder and a lip-stick on the dressing table. She had even left her handbag, a large affair of shiny leather surmounted by her initials E. M. Save for a handkerchief and a crumpled cigarette, it was empty.
With a brooding air Mr. Treadgold poked about among the objects on the dressing table. "I don't see any hair-pins," he commented.
"She had an Eton crop," our host explained.
"And no flowers in any of the rooms."
Sir Hector shrugged his shoulders. "She wasn't that kind of woman."
Two minutes sufficed for my examination of the premises. But Mr. Treadgold took much longer. Sir Hector and I went out among the sweetly fragrant stocks in the front garden. With a glance at his watch our host said, "Bent, the gamekeeper, will be at home having his dinner now. I think I'll step over to the other lodge, where he lives, and fetch him—I dare say Mr. Treadgold would like a word with him about the young man he saw hanging round here the other night. The butler didn't have a proper view of him but Bent did, as it was getting light at the time." He opened the gate and strode off through the ferns.
Left alone, I strolled through the kitchen and out at the back. Here, in the foreground, was a small vegetable garden and, beyond it, clumps of currant, gooseberry and raspberry bushes. A path divided the garden into two, and a high beech hedge separated the whole plot, cottage and land, from the surrounding park. I sat down on a bench at the door, and lit a cigarette. Behind me I heard sundry clanking sounds where Mr. Treadgold was rooting about in the kitchen. Presently, there were voices and turning round, I saw Sir Hector and a sunburned, elderly man in breeches and leggings entering the lodge from the front.
I went into the sitting-room. The gamekeeper was saying in his broad Devonshire accent, "'Twor jest afore daybreak I zee 'un at the gate, a dark young chap, tallish, wi' a sca-arf around 'is neck 'stead of a collar. First off, I thought it wor one o' t' village lads after Squoire's conies. I turned me 'ead to whistle the dog on to 'im, but w'en I looked again 'e wor gone. I reckon 'e 'eared me swishin' through the ferns an' made hisself scarce."
"It was no one you know, was it?" Mr. Treadgold asked.
The man shook his head warily. "I reckon it worn't no one from these parts—'e wor dressed like a gen'elman, barrin' 'is sca-arf."
On this Mr. Treadgold let the gamekeeper go and, putting his hand in one of his jacket pockets, remarked slowly to us, "You know, a man has been at the lodge."
"How do you know this?" the baronet demanded.
Mr. Treadgold opened his hand and showed two parts of a pipe broken across the stem. "These were in the refuse bin in the kitchen," he declared, and added, "This can scarcely be a pipe discarded by one of the villagers. It's an expensive briar such as they sell in the West End of London for a guinea or twenty- five shillings. And I found these, too."
Open-eyed, Sir Hector stared at the fragments of stained and crumpled paper the other held out. "Shaving papers?" he exclaimed.
Mr. Treadgold nodded. "Used, too." His finger indicated the dark smears where the razor blade had been wiped.
"You mean that this fellow was in the habit of spending the night with her?"
"It looks like it, doesn't it?" He paused. "The first thing we have to do, it seems to me, is to try to find out something about the Marless woman's background. Could I borrow your car for the afternoon?"
"Of course. Do you want me to go with you?"
"I needn't trouble you. We shall be back for dinner, but, in the meantime, please say nothing up at the house about our discoveries."
While our host departed to give the necessary orders, Mr. Treadgold smoked a meditative pipe in the back garden. From the kitchen threshold I saw his portly figure disappear among the raspberry bushes. He was still there when the Rolls arrived. Red- faced and perspiring, he joined me at the car. "To the village post office," he told the chauffeur.
I imagine that Mr. Treadgold's call to Mentone was the first of its kind that the Foyne postmistress had ever been asked to put through. However, with surprising rapidity the communication was established, and through the closed doors of the booth I heard H.B. asking, in his careful French, for the Hotel Oriental. His face was stern as he left the box.
"Well?" I questioned.
"Wherever Lady Foyne met Miss Marless, it wasn't at the Oriental at Mentone—at any rate, not under that name. They assure me they've never had a guest called Marless."
We went out to the car again. "I'd like you to drive us to the Marless garage at Underhill," my companion informed the chauffeur.
"What's the idea, H.B.?" I asked him.
Mr. Treadgold has a way of twinkling his very blue eyes at you. He twinkled now and said, "Did you ever hear how Dickens chose the names of his characters?"
"He wrote them down from shop fronts, didn't he?"
My friend nodded. "Quite right, George!"
"Here's a lady who wants to change her name. Driving from Lowcester Junction to Foyne Hall, her car is stopped at the level crossing just as ours was. Looking about her, she sees a name over a garage..."
"By Jove, H.B., that's ingenious!"
His laugh rang a trifle grim. "It may also be wrong. Perhaps she really has a background in these parts. Let's see what Mr. Marless has to say."
But Mr. Marless, a depressed little man in grimy jeans, could throw no light on the missing woman's identity. He had never even heard of a Miss Marless over at Foyne Hall and, so far as he knew, he had no relatives in the county—he was from Castle Bromwich, Birmingham way, himself. Foyne was a matter of a mile and three-quarters from Underhill, he said in answer to Mr. Treadgold, and his was the nearest garage to Foyne, barring Porter's garage at Foyne itself.
Had he recently hired out a car to any lady from Foyne? was my companion's next question. Porter's did all the hiring trade at Foyne, was the garagist's somewhat glum reply. He did use to have one customer from over Foyne way, a young chap with a motor bike, who wanted a lock-up, which Porter's didn't have. "Leastwise, that's what he tells me," Mr. Marless added with a roguish air, "but it's my opinion he wuz a married man what didn't want his missus to know what he wuz up to, gallivanting off on 'is motorbike at all hours of the night." Mr. Treadgold seemed to stiffen. "That must be young Wright," he said, turning to me with an amused air.
I had no idea what he meant, but I gave no sign—H.B.'s methods of gleaning information are frequently tortuous.
"That ain't the name," said Mr. Marless promptly. "'Is name's Johnson, and I ain't likely to forgit it, seein' as 'e 'opped it with 'is machine last Sunday night owin' me a matter o' fifteen shillun'."
"Johnson, eh?" Mr. Treadgold remarked casually. "And he lives at Foyne?"
"I didn't say so," was the sharp answer. "I said 'e lived over Foyne way; but I don't know nothin' about 'im—neither where he lives, nor yit where he works."
From the ensuing interrogatory—which Mr. Treadgold was careful to make appear as desultory as possible—it emerged that the young man in question had first brought his motor-cycle to the garage about two months before. Marless described him as a "spry young spark" with dark hair who "talked like a Londoner." His comings and goings at the garage were veiled in obscurity. The forecourt of the garage, where the lock-ups were situated, was always open and, as Johnson had his key, he had unrestricted access to his machine at all times. Except on the occasion of his first visit, he was never seen in the day-time. At any hour of the night he might be encountered, or heard, taking his machine out or bringing it in, but at irregular intervals—sometimes, nothing would be seen of him for a week. The garagist had no record of the young man's movements during the week before he went away—all that Mr. Marless could say was that on the Monday morning he had found the key in the door of the lock-up and the motor-cycle gone. Johnson had not been seen since.
Mr. Treadgold was immersed in thought as we drove back to Foyne Hall. He bade the chauffeur drop us at the west lodge, where he dismissed the man. In that remote corner of the park, the silence of the mellow summer evening dropped about us like a curtain as the Rolls glided away. My companion walked through the house to the kitchen where he stopped and confronted me. "A dark business, George," he muttered, and his face was grave. "Take a look at this!"
He drew me over to the sink and pointed downward with his finger at the linoleum below it. I saw some red drops congealed there. "Blood!" he said.
I started. "Good God, H.B.!"
He had taken a key from his pocket and unlocking the drawer in the kitchen table, produced from it a very soiled face towel. The towel was stained with blood. "It was in the refuse bin with the other things," he explained briefly.
I was staggered. Dropping into a chair, I stared blankly at him. "Are you trying to tell me that this poor woman has been murdered?" I gasped.
He took a moment to reply, staring so fixedly past me into the garden all shimmering in the evening light that my blood ran cold. "There's something freshly buried out there," he said at last. Then from a cupboard where wood and coal were stored he brought forth an iron shovel. "That's damp earth on it!" he exclaimed.
Stupidly I gazed at the shovel. I was speechless.
"Yet I may be wrong," he said. "A theory is forming in my mind, so fantastic, so incredible, yet supported by such irresistible indices..." He broke off. "Come! Bring that shovel, and dig!"
He led the way into the back garden. "Don't walk on the path!" he barked, and I perceived that he had stepped among the potatoes, and was following the path along. A moment later he stopped and pointed downwards. The path was of pounded dirt. A footprint was clearly visible there. What do you make of that?" he demanded.
"It looks like a tennis shoe!"
"The pattern's characteristic. It's the mark of a rope sole." He glanced at me sharply. "Did you notice the shoes that Major Foyne was wearing to-day?"
"I can't say I did!"
He clicked his disapproval with his tongue. "George, where were your eyes? I doubt if there's another pair of shoes like it in the whole of the county. They were espadrilles—Basque sandals—with rope soles. Everybody wears them at Biarritz, in the Basque country, where the Major's been staying."
I stared at him in bewilderment. "Are you asking me to believe that Major Foyne killed this woman?"
"In crime investigation, George, I believe nothing until I know. All we know at present is that Edith Marless has disappeared, the young man, Johnson, too, and that something has recently been buried in the garden." His hand pointed forward along the path. "See, there's another footprint. His track leads to the raspberry bushes."
Between two raspberry bushes it was evident that the soil had recently been disturbed. We faced one another over the new-made grave. The perspiration was pouring down my face; my shirt was sticking to my back. I quailed to think of what horror the freshly turned clods concealed. I said hoarsely, "Sir Hector thinks this woman was blackmailing his wife. Which of them killed Edith Marless? The Major may have disposed of the body, but it doesn't say that he killed her. He's pretty friendly with Lady Foyne, it seems to me—she may have called him in to get rid of the corpse. Or is the young man Johnson the murderer, and the other two discovered the body and buried it to avoid a scandal?"
Mr. Treadgold gazed at me sombrely. "If my theory is right, it isn't the woman's body..."
"You mean, it's Johnson's."
He nodded. "If it's anyone's."
"But the garagist over at Underhill told us that Johnson decamped on his motor bike on Sunday night!"
"Quite! And Edith Marless disappeared at the same time."
"Then it's she who's buried here."
He shook his head obstinately. "Not if my theory's right. Give me that shovel!"
Cold with suspense, I let him take it from me. In a fascinated silence I watched him make the earth fly, the sweat rolling down his crimson face. Suddenly with a low cry he fell on his knees and began scratching with his hands. "What is it?" I gasped.
"A box," he grunted; but his air was jubilant.
He lifted something from the hole he had dug. It was an ordinary cardboard shoe-box. Kneeling on the damp earth, he whipped off the lid. To my astonishment the box contained nothing but two bottles filled with a dark liquid that looked like blacking, and a stiffly wired pink brassiere.
I glanced at Mr. Treadgold. His face was radiant. "I was right," he cried triumphantly, and shook his finger at me. "In crime investigation, George, always suspend judgment until you know. All criminals make mistakes; that's how crimes are solved. It's when the investigator also blunders that you have the insoluble mystery." Thrusting the things back in the box, he sprang to his feet, then paused, as if struck by an afterthought, and, replacing the box in the hole, shovelled the earth over it again and stamped it down.
I found my tongue at last. "But, H.B., what does it mean?"
His grin was mischievous. "As it says in Tristram Shandy, 'This rich bale is not to be open'd now.' A fairer hand than mine shall untie it! Come, let's go to the house!" Catching me by the arm and taking great strides with his long legs, he fairly ran me up to the Hall.
The sound of a piano greeted us as we entered the house. "Where's Sir Hector?" Mr. Treadgold snapped at the butler who advanced to take our hats.
"He went to the Home Farm, sir," the man replied. "But her Ladyship and the Major are in the drawing-room. I just took in tea."
Lady Foyne was at the piano in the large, cool drawing-room. She was playing Reynaldo Hahn's "Si mes vers avaient des ailes," and singing the words softly under her breath. Major Foyne stood with his back to the fire, watching her.
A note jarred as she broke off on our appearance. When she saw the look on Mr. Treadgold's face, she rose up abruptly.
He said harshly, "Who was this man masquerading as a woman down at the west lodge, madam?"
A sudden light broke in upon me: the pipe, those shaving papers!
Lady Foyne seemed to shiver, but answered boldly enough, "I don't know what you mean!"
"You know very well. There was no such person as Edith Marless. Edith Marless was a man."
"You're talking nonsense!"
He laughed grimly. "At any rate, she was a lady who shaved habitually, who smoked a pipe. And why did she have no clothes of her own? Why was she able to leave her wardrobe behind when she fled on Sunday night? Because the only clothes she possessed were men's! And why did she refuse to keep a maid? To guard her secret, of course! Answer me, please! Who was this man?"
The Major spoke. "You'd best tell him, Livia!"
But she burst into a storm of tears, dropping back upon the piano seat, her head bowed down upon her white arms.
"Don't get this wrong, Mr. Treadgold," said Major Foyne. "She's always played the game by my cousin—she may have been indiscreet, but believe me, it was nothing more. She met this fellow Ronald Braydon at Monte in February. He was a professional dancer, a gigolo: she gave him presents, lent him money—she's not terribly experienced, you know. Last month he turns up here disguised as a woman, tells her he's in trouble and will have to disappear for a bit. It wasn't the first time he'd masqueraded as a girl—at one time he was a female impersonator in a concert troupe. At first Livia—Lady Foyne—wouldn't hear of it, but he told her it'd be only for a few weeks and threatened her, if she didn't help him, to go to my cousin."
"And how do you come into this?" Mr. Treadgold demanded sternly.
"Livia and I have always been pals," said the Major simply. "I've a tremendous admiration for the way she's played up to old Hector, who's not so easy to live with, let me tell you. Directly I came back from Biarritz last week I saw that something was wrong with her. Braydon kept squeezing her for money—he had a motor-bike tucked away somewhere, Livia told me, and after dark used to go over to a pool-room at Lowcester where they ran a roulette game. On Sunday, after he dined here, things came to a head. He wanted more money, but she was overdrawn at the bank and desperate. After he'd gone I got the truth out of her. Then I went down and had a talk with the young man."
Mr. Treadgold smiled. "I'm afraid you were rather rough with him. There's a certain amount of blood about."
Foyne shrugged broad shoulders. "I didn't like the way he spoke of Lady Foyne, so I dotted him one. I'm afraid I broke his pipe off short in his mouth, too."
"And you cleaned up after him, eh?"
"That was next day. That night I left him spitting blood on the floor. I told him, if he weren't out of the place before it was light, I'd turn him over to the police and chance his blabbing. He tried to brazen it out, but I guess he thought better of it. At any rate, when I returned just before daybreak he'd gone. I tidied up after him and buried his bottles of hair- dye—he's normally fair, it seems—and his artificial bosom: they were the only things that might have given the show away." He looked at Mr. Treadgold boldly. "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
Lady Foyne spoke at last. "I told you it was no good, Gerald. You frightened him away, but he'll communicate with my husband, and if he doesn't, Hector is bound to hear the truth from this gentleman."
"Not from me, Lady Foyne," Mr. Treadgold declared firmly. "Normally, I'm a believer in frankness between husband and wife but, seeing that you've been no more than ill-advised, I doubt if the truth would be palatable to a man like Sir Hector, and as far as I'm concerned, it can remain buried with the last surviving vestiges at the bottom of that hole in the garden. You can inform your husband that I've withdrawn from the case, and if you care to add that I'm not interested in an adventuress who imposed on your good nature to borrow money and then bolted with her lover, I believe you'll hear no more of this affair." He gave her his gentle smile. "But in future don't play with fire!"
A little colour warmed the creamy pallor of her lovely face. She gave him her hand. "I shall take your advice, Mr. Treadgold—all of it."
He turned to me. "Come, George," he said placidly, "if we hurry we may catch that afternoon train back to town."
"The next best thing to knowledge is knowing where knowledge is to be found."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
NOT without considerable difficulty I had persuaded H.B. to take a holiday from his vicunas and cheviots and accompany me on a Mediterranean cruise. On our way home we left the ship at Marseilles and went to Paris, where we planned to spend a couple of days together before flying on to London. We were breakfasting in our dressing gowns, the morning after our arrival in Paris, when the door of our hotel suite was flung violently open.
A strapping young man stood there. "Mr. Treadgold," he cried, "glory be, I've found you. I read in this morning's Herald that you'd arrived in Paris, and came straight to see you. Do you remember me from New York—Jack Danesworth?"
Mr. Treadgold's countenance flushed with the Mediterranean sun, was creased in a welcoming smile. "If it isn't young Danesworth!" he exclaimed. "I heard you were practising law in Paris, Jack. Meet a brother of the cloth, my boy—George Duckett, who looks after my legal business. Our New York branch," he explained to me, "has been making clothes for Danesworths since I don't know when, and that's a long, long time." He chuckled. "Sit down, Jack, and have some breakfast with us." He bent bushy eyebrows at him. "You look as though a cup of coffee wouldn't hurt you. And when did you shave last?"
With a rueful air the young man rubbed his chin. I now perceived that his face was lined with fatigue; his collar soiled. "I haven't shaved or slept for the past two days," he exclaimed, dropping into a chair. "No, I've had breakfast, thanks," he told me, as I moved towards the bell. "Mr. Treadgold, one of my clients has disappeared, and you've got to find her. It's the Princess Malatesta."
"Her father, Prince Prospero Malatesta, was; her mother came from Pittsburg. Gemma was the only child. She doesn't remember her father, for the marriage was disastrous, and the mother soon returned to America, bringing the baby with her. When Gemma was eighteen her mother died, leaving very little money, and for the past four years Gemma has been earning her living as a dress designer in New York. About two months ago a Turin lawyer wrote and informed her that her father had been killed with the Italians in Abyssinia. Gemma was the last of the Malatestas and the only heir; she was to come to Italy and take over his estate. She arrived in Turin a month ago, but what with the Italian exchange regulations, and so forth, it has been a long business, and a fortnight ago she turned up in Paris and took a studio. She had a letter to me from the firm of attorneys I do business with in New York."
"And you say she's disappeared?"
"What do the police say?"
The young man frowned. "You know what the police are. Every time a girl leaves home they think there's a man back of it."
"And is there a man in the case?"
"There's an Italian called Aldini she's been running around with. But I believe this damned diamond is behind it."
Danesworth looked for a cigarette, and I handed him my packet. "It's a crazy story. Donna Laura's diamond, they call it. It's a family heirloom—except for some vineyards in the South of Italy it was about all the Prince had to leave. There's a legend attaching to it. It's a beautiful Golconda stone, about 35 carats, set between two claws. The story goes that Cosimo Malatesta, an ancestor, who lived in Florence in the sixteenth century, gave it to Donna Laura, his wife. Coming home unexpectedly one day he found her in the arms of a groom. Drawing his sword, he struck the man's head off, then told the wife to prepare for the same death. She begged for her life, but he was inexorable, so, before she bowed her neck to his sword, she put a curse on the ring. Whoever wore it henceforward, she predicted, would die as she was about to die—that's to say, they'd be beheaded."
Mr. Treadgold shivered. "A sinister legend, indeed. But, after all, only a legend."
The young man looked at him oddly. "Wait!" he said. "You haven't heard the half of it. The diamond disappeared for centuries. It eventually turned up in the possession of the Princesse de Lamballe."
My friend drew down his eyebrows. "The friend of Marie Antoinette?"
"Sure! She was a kinswoman of the Malatestas. You know what happened to her!"
"Yes, indeed. The mob cut off her head and paraded it on a pike under the Queen's window in her prison at the Temple."
"Gemma had the legend from her mother, who never would wear the ring, which consequently remained in the Prince's possession. When he died it came to Gemma. She'd never had any good jewellery before, and so she wore the ring. I wanted her to put it in the bank, as it wasn't insured; but she said that didn't matter as she never intended to take it off, and she couldn't afford the insurance premiums, anyway; although, as I told her, I'd gladly have advanced the money. But that's Gemma all over. She's a grand person, and terribly independent. Modern-minded, too. She laughed at the legend—until the other day, when this darn fellow, Aldini, spilled the beans."
"Bruno Aldini, this Italian friend of hers I told you of. He seems to have plenty of money—at least, he's been living at the Rex, which is quite an expensive hotel."
"Was she in love with him?"
The young man flushed. "I don't think so—I don't know. He's a marvellous dancer, and she's mad about dancing. They used to go dancing together." He broke off. "Two days ago, on Tuesday, that is, Gemma lunched with me at the Georges Cinq. The moment I clapped eyes on her I saw that something was wrong, and I noticed that she wasn't wearing the ring. Then the story came out. She'd been out with Aldini the night before, and he'd brought up the legend of the diamond—Gemma had told everybody about it. He asked her if she knew how her father had died, and she said she understood he'd been shot down in his plane—he was an observer with the Italian flying corps. Aldini said, true enough, but he'd fallen alive into the hands of the tribesmen, and they'd cut off his head. The censorship kept the story out of the Press; the Prince's lawyer must have known about it but, presumably, he wanted to spare Gemma."
Mr. Treadgold doffed his pince-nez, wiped them carefully and popped them on his nose again. "A most extraordinary story," he commented. "Are you going to tell us that the Prince was wearing the ring?"
"It never left his finger. When they crashed he was injured, and he gave the ring to the pilot who was unhurt and went off to summon help. But before he got back the tribesmen had closed in on the plane and massacred the Prince. The ring was sent home with the rest of his effects. That darned Aldini—you can imagine that Gemma was badly shaken. She told me she'd never wear the ring again; spoke of giving it to charity. I tried to laugh her out of it: I told her, if she didn't intend to wear it, she might as well sell it—the stone alone was valued for probate at the equivalent of fifty thousand dollars. But she was adamant: she wouldn't wear the diamond, and she wouldn't profit by its sale. When I asked her what she'd done with it, all she'd say was that she'd put it in a safe place. After lunch she left me to do some shopping, and that's the last I saw of her. She never went home."
He passed his hand wearily across his forehead. "I don't mind telling you, I'm scared for her. Normally, she's as game as they come, tremendously self-reliant, the grandest person. But this tale about her father had her all broken up." He sprang to his feet. "I can't bear to think what she mightn't have done, the state she was in."
"Take it easy, Jack," Mr. Treadgold's quiet voice struck in. "This man, Aldini, now—why do the French think she may have gone off with him?"
He shrugged sulkily. "Because he checked out of his hotel the same afternoon. But you know the French—they're always prepared to think the worst of American girls, especially an artist like Gemma living alone with just a maid to look after her. If Gemma has really run away with Bruno Aldini, why didn't she take any baggage?"
"You've established this?"
"I've seen Maria, her maid—it's an Italian woman Gemma brought back with her from Turin. After our lunch on Tuesday I couldn't help feeling worried and on leaving the office, I went up to the studio. Gemma wasn't there: she hadn't been back since leaving home at noon to meet me—she never came back. I hung around until eight or nine o'clock, then called Aldini on the chance, only to discover that he checked out of his hotel after lunch, leaving no address."
"She didn't tell the maid anything?"
"No. Maria was expecting her for dinner. She didn't take even an overnight bag with her—she had nothing but the clothes she stood up in, the clothes she was wearing at lunch."
"You went to the police?"
"Next day—yesterday morning."
"What did they do?"
"Beyond verifying these facts, nothing."
"What do they say about Aldini?"
"He paid his hotel bill before leaving—that seems to be enough for them. They say he has no record."
"You think she didn't have the diamond with her?"
"She wasn't wearing it and she didn't deposit it at her bank, the Wisconsin Trust on the Place Vendôme. I was there yesterday—the manager's a friend of mine." He paused. "You can find her for me if you try, Mr. Treadgold. All I want to know is that nothing has happened to her."
"Even if she's run off with this Italian?"
The young man sighed. "Even that."
Mr. Treadgold glanced at his watch. "Get that maid of hers and bring her here to see me. Meantime, George and I will dress."
"I'll be round with her in half an hour if she's home," Danesworth declared, a new note of eagerness in his voice. Snatching up his hat, he rushed from the room while Mr. Treadgold, after consulting a small pocket diary, lifted the telephone receiver. Meanwhile I had gone into the bathroom we shared and started to shave. As I lathered my face I heard my friend in the adjoining room say in his careful French, "Préfecture of Police? Inspector Hablard, if you please."
Hablard and Mr. Treadgold, I knew, were old acquaintances. An appointment was made for noon that morning at the Préfecture. "You know, H.B.," I remarked as Mr. Treadgold came lumbering into the bathroom, "a yarn like this takes us straight back to the days of the Borgias."
He cocked his head at me shrewdly. "The French police don't make many mistakes where women are concerned, George. If you ask me, the legend still holds good, if not quite in the way we think. Danesworth's little friend has lost her head like the others. But not to the headsman—rather to the languishing glances of her Romeo." He chuckled. "What did Uncle Toby say?"
"Not Tristram Shandy at ten o'clock in the morning, for pity's sake, H.B.!" I entreated, and threw my sponge at him. Still chuckling, he retired under the shower.
When, some twenty minutes later, we returned to the sitting- room, Danesworth was there with a small, swarthy, tight-lipped woman who seemed to be in her thirties. It was the Princess's maid. Madame had engaged her at Turin, Maria told Mr. Treadgold in very good English—she wanted an Italian maid in order to brush up her Italian. They had been a fortnight in Paris and during that time Signor Aldini had frequently called at the studio. She had no idea what his relations were with Madame—it was none of her business. Of course, she was familiar with the ring—as for any legend about it, she did not concern herself with such things. Madame always wore the ring, but whether she was wearing it when she went out on Tuesday she couldn't say. She had expected Madame back to dinner; if Madame had changed her plans, it was her affair—Madame was never very expansive about herself.
How had the Princess come to engage her?
For the first time the woman hesitated. She had read in the newspaper of Madame's arrival in Turin, she said at length rather sullenly, and had offered her services—members of her family had served the Malatestas in the past.
At Naples. The Malatestas came from Naples. If the matter was of importance, she admitted grudgingly, she, too, was "Napolitana."
Beyond this we gleaned nothing and, as it was getting on for noon, Maria was dismissed and the three of us took a taxi to the Préfecture. Inspector Hablard was affable, but not helpful. One must take such things too tragically, he assured us: there was a man concerned in at least three-quarters of the annual disappearances of women in Paris, and there were reports to show that, during the past fortnight, the Princess and her friend Aldini had been seen constantly together—he pulled out a dossier—tenez, at the Ritz Bar, the Boeuf sur le Toît, Chez Florence. The American gentleman feared that the young lady had destroyed herself: eh bien, the police would keep an eye on the Morgue.
Aldini?—it seemed to me that the Inspector's manner became a shade reserved—all that he could tell us about him was that he apparently had paid his way since his arrival in Paris and had no criminal record. An adventurer? It might be, but since when was it a crime for an attractive foreigner to pay attention to a young woman of title? As for the ring, until an official complaint was lodged charging a specific individual with its theft, the police were powerless. The Inspector stood up. He was desolated, but he was obliged to beg his good friend, Monsieur Treadgold, to excuse him. A conference with the head of the Sûréte....
"Stymied!" was Mr. Treadgold's blunt comment as we found ourselves in the street again. "The old dog knows something, but he's not telling. Ah, well!" He pulled at his moustache reflectively, his eyes fixed on us. "The next best thing to knowledge is knowing where knowledge is to be found. Aldini was stopping at the Rex: let's see what the Club St. Pierre can tell us about him."
His umbrella signalled to a passing taxi.
The Club St. Pierre was new to me. "It derives its name from St. Peter, the head porter at the pearly gates," said Mr. Treadgold in reply to my question. "Its membership is highly exclusive, being restricted to head porters of perhaps fifty of the leading hotels of England and the Continent. Hotel porters are important people, let me tell you; they make large incomes and wield considerable power through the intimate contacts they enjoy with every class of citizen. The club premises are quite unpretentious: the importance of the organisation lies in the secretary's office, which is a veritable clearing-house for confidential information about hotel guests exchanged between members in a dozen different countries. It happens that I was once in a position to render a small service to Strozzi, the permanent secretary and an ex-head porter himself. Let's see, therefore, what old Strozzi can produce about Mr. Bruno Aldini."
Half a dozen burly and somewhat pompous-looking individuals, easily identifiable as the hotel porter type, were lounging in the club reading-room where we were asked to wait while the secretary was fetched. At the sight of Mr. Treadgold, Strozzi, fat and brown-skinned, flung up his hands. "Dio mio, Meestair Treadgol'," he cried. "I think I nevair see-a you again. My frien', my frien'!" And he enfolded him in his arms.
With a dignified air Mr. Treadgold disengaged himself from the secretary's embrace. "Strozzi," he said, "I've called to ask you a service."
"Tell me only and it is done, amico." He led the way to the office. Over a glass of vermouth Mr. Treadgold said, "The head porter of the Rex, is he a member here?"
"Monsieur Adelmann? But certainly."
"A man called Bruno Aldini has been staying at the Rex. I want a report on him."
"Nothing is more simple, caro mio." He twisted his head at the clock. "You give me till six, hein? and you shall 'ave your report."
Eluding a pressing invitation to eat with him "the best gnocchi in Paris," we left him. Danesworth had to go to his office: Mr. Treadgold carried me off to lunch at Versailles, protesting he must absolutely see the new restoration work on the Chateau. Danesworth was to meet us at the hotel at six. He was pacing the lobby when we arrived. "I've had a note from Gemma," he exclaimed excitedly. "A cyclist picked it up yesterday in the forest of Fontainebleau near Moret, but waited until this afternoon to bring it to my office, darn him." He thrust a mud- stained envelope into Mr. Treadgold's hand.
The envelope, which was addressed to the young man at his office on the Boulevard Haussmann contained a scrap of glazed paper apparently torn from an advertisement, for there was print on the back. Hastily scrawled in pencil the note ran: "Tuesday. Dear Jack, If you don't hear from me by to-morrow, I want you to take charge of my ring. You will find it at..."
The note ended there. It was unsigned. "It's her writing?" Mr. Treadgold inquired.
Young Danesworth nodded and exploded. "She's been kidnapped, don't you see? That note was thrown from a car, I guess."
"Had she any friends at Fontainebleau?"
"Not that I know of."
"Ah, from Strozzi!" A page had handed Mr. Treadgold a letter. "We'll open it upstairs."
The report, in French, was admirably concise and marked "Private and Confidential." We read:
ALDINI, Bruno, 32, Italian subject, born Naples, adventurer type, speaks English, French, Italian. First time at Rex. Arrived 12th August; left 10th October. Came from Lugano. Poor tipper. Owed four weeks' before departure, when settled in cash. ? No bank account.
Frequentations. Mostly women. Assiduous in attentions to Miss Vandersley, American, who occupied Royal suite with parents and returned to U.S.A. September; Lady Grace Garth, British, who subsequently expelled from hotel and baggage detained for bill; Princess Malatesta, believed to be artist with studio in Paris. Men intimates: Dr. Benedetto, soi-disant Italian journalist representing anti-Fascist newspapers in Paris, but reputed agent provocateur and police informer; Gerrit Vlaamsch, Belgian, formerly connected international espionage bureau, Brussels; Isidoro Tedeschi, ex-member Black Hand, president anarchist club known as The Friends of Freedom, with premises at 994, Avenue de la Republique, which Aldini frequently visits (taxi-driver reports).
No forwarding address. On leaving drove to P.L.M. railway terminus, where deposited luggage (report of taxi- driver No. 14583).
Summary. On your guard. No credit. Bad character.
Mr. Treadgold laughed softly. "A full length portrait, 'pon my word. Now we know why Hablard was so discreet this morning."
"Why?" I demanded.
My friend tapped the document. "Look at the ex-spies, fellow's friends, agents provocateurs, anarchists! Obviously, he's a stool-pigeon, a copper's nark, an informer!"
"But the police must know as much about him as the hotel does, H.B."
"If he's working for the police, he's scarcely likely to have kidnapped Gemma," Danesworth struck in.
"No police force can afford to be squeamish as to the moral character of the spies they employ. And, answering your question, Jack, no crook, even though he works for the police, would let that stop him from pulling off an easy job that turned up." He shook his head. "I fear your little friend has fallen into bad hands, Jack, my boy."
"The police have got to act," the young man cried hotly. "Stool or not, we'll make them run this rat to earth."
"No," was Mr. Treadgold's firm rejoinder. "We're going to handle this ourselves." He glanced at the paper in his hand. "Does anything strike you about this report? Put your mind back to what Maria told us! She said the Malatestas were from Naples, as she herself is."
"You mean, Aldini, too, according to the report, is a Neapolitan?" I put in.
"Quite, but also that Naples, before Mussolini broke up the Italian secret societies, was a stronghold of the Black Hand, of which, it says here, Isidoro Tedeschi, Aldoni's friend, was once a member. American gangsterdom is one of the offshoots of the Black Hand which in its day was a murderous and terrible organisation. Its speciality was kidnapping and holding for ransom, and if the Princess is in the power of these ruffians..."
"But Gemma hasn't any money," Danesworth objected.
"She has a fifty thousand dollar ring!"
"But her note makes it clear that she hasn't got it with her!"
Mr. Treadgold looked grave. "That makes it worse for her. I fear they'll find means of making her disclose what she's done with it."
Danesworth had grown pale. "That damned ring!" he muttered. "It sounds crazy, I know, but I can't help thinking of the legend."
"Bah!" said Mr. Treadgold. "An old wives' tale."
"But her father..."
"Coincidence, Jack." He consulted his watch. "But we mustn't waste time talking. That maid of hers was for a certainty in the plot. Let's go and read the riot act to Maria." His air was grim. "Excuse me a moment." He disappeared into his bedroom.
Young Danesworth had his car outside, a smart eight-cylinder coupé, and within ten minutes we were climbing the stairs to the Princess Malatesta's studio off the Boulevard Raspail. But the door remained obstinately closed to our ringing, and at last a bearded beldame, who came wheezing up after us and who proved to be the concierge, informed us that the place was empty. The maid, she said, had returned at midday, loaded her trunk on a cab and departed. "That one was taking no chances," said Mr. Treadgold bleakly. "She came straight back from seeing us and hopped it. But where?"
Maria had left no address, the concierge confided. But she had overheard the maid tell the taxi-man to take her to the P.L.M. station. "But that's where Aldini left his luggage!" Danesworth cried eagerly.
"It's likewise the station for Fontainebleau," Mr. Treadgold pointed out.
"Then that's where they've taken her, for a thousand dollars," the young man thundered. "Come on, let's go to Fontainebleau!"
"Not so fast," said my friend. "Fontainebleau's a large order, especially if you reckon in the forest. Let's see if we can't narrow things down a bit. Maybe we might pick up a line at this anarchist club of Comrade Tedeschi's."
"Anything you like as long as we do something," Danesworth declared impatiently. "Every minute we delay may make us too late. Come on, let's go!"
With considerable difficulty, across two courts and three up flights of stairs, we located the headquarters of The Friends of Freedom in a gloomy tenement building in the swarming working class quarter of the East of Paris. By this it was half-past eight and darkness had fallen outside: in the trembling light of a gas jet at the top of the stairs we knocked and rang. But in vain. We could hear the bell pealing inside; but no light showed and the door remained fast.
Then, with the aid of a match, I discovered a strip of dirty paper gummed to the wall above the bell. "If closed," the inscription ran in French, "apply to Tedeschi, Châlet des Papillons, Fontainebleau." "Aha!" Mr. Treadgold's voice boomed triumphant in the obscurity. "The trail's still warm. To Fontainebleau it is!"
By Route Nationale No. 5 Fontainebleau is thirty-five miles from Paris, and we made it in under the hour, with ten minutes to spare. Passing lights showed me my old friend's usually beaming countenance set in hard lines, his blue eyes sternly veiled—this was not the Mr. Treadgold, deferential and debonair, as one was wont to see him at Savile Row, expertly draping a length of gent's trouserings about his portly leg for the benefit of some favoured client. No more of his gently sardonic jokes, no saws from his cherished Tristram Shandy—all his bulldog tenacity, his inexhaustible resourcefulness, had risen to the surface, and I knew from my experience of similar man-hunts on which we had been engaged together in the past that nothing now would deflect him from his goal.
We were rather crowded, the three of us, in the driving seat, for Mr. Treadgold's girth is not inconsiderable, and a hard lump in the side pocket of his overcoat kept boring into my hip. He transferred the object to a breast pocket and I saw that it was an automatic; I realised why he had gone into his bedroom before we left the hotel. Somewhat anxiously, I wondered what the night would bring forth.
No one at Fontainebleau seemed ever to have heard of the Châlet des Papillons until a postman off duty encountered in a small café where we called to consult the directory told us he knew the place, although he was under the impression that it was untenanted. Off the Moret road we should find it, a house standing alone on the outskirts of the forest on a track that ran right-handed from the clearing known as the Croix du Chevalier—the Route du Chevalier, they called it.
It was pitch dark, with rain threatening as we ran into the forest. A lichen-encrusted cross marked the clearing where we had to turn off the main road, exchanging the smooth asphalt for loose sand and many ruts. Then in the glare of our headlamps we saw a shabby frame house that thrust a grey slate roof from the trees. As the postman had told us, it had no near neighbours. One could scarcely have found a lonelier spot lapped, as it was, in the forest stillness.
The châlet, flush with the road from which it was separated by a dilapidated fence, was dark, with every window shuttered. Danesworth backed the car out of sight behind some bushes and switched off the lights; then we went and stood on the road, peering over the fence at the villa. There was not a sound. I must say that Donna Laura's malediction was strong in my mind as we lingered there, and I quailed at the thought of what horror might not be waiting for us within that silent house.
Mr. Treadgold was the first to stir out of our inaction. With a resolute air he opened the gate, tried the front door, and, finding it shut, fumbled at the shutter of the ground floor window beside it. The shutter swung back, and with his knife he attacked the window catch inside. The next thing I knew the window was open and his bulky form perched on the sill. Noiselessly he stepped down into the room beyond.
We followed after. The place reeked of stale cigar smoke; a match which our leader scratched showed a small dining-room with the remains of a meal on the table. "At least, the nest's warm," Mr. Treadgold whispered and opened the door.
At that moment a sound broke the stagnant hush, a whimpering wail—it was the sound of a woman crying, and it came from the upper floor. Roughly elbowing Mr. Treadgold aside, young Danesworth sprang past him through the door and into the hall that lay beyond, and we heard his feet thunder on the stairs. We ran out after him, and were at the foot of the flight when, without warning, the hall was flooded with light and a voice, raucous with excitement, screamed out behind us: "Haut les mains!"
Mr. Treadgold has a hair-trigger brain. He must have fired through his overcoat, for the roar of the report drowned the summons as a pistol clattered to the floor and our assailant, a pallid little man wearing a black felt hat, with a howl of pain clawed at his wrist. I dived for the gun as it lay on the ground; at the same instant a series of tremendous crashes reverberated from above, punctuated by young Danesworth's voice calling frantically: "Gemma, Gemma, where are you?"
Mr. Treadgold had our man by the throat. "Where's the Princess Malatesta?" he growled, shaking his captive. Unable to speak, the latter jerked his head in the direction of the upper floor. "And Aldini?"
"Gone with the others to Paris."
"Tedeschi and the woman."
"Maria, the maid?" The man nodded. "What have they gone to Paris for? To get the ring, is it?" The other hesitated, then screamed aloud as the grip on his throat was tightened. "Where is the ring? Answer me, you rat!" Mr. Treadgold trumpeted.
"At her studio, she says. Maria ransacked the place without finding it—she told us when she came out here this afternoon. Then the Princess confessed she'd hidden it in a book."
The blue eyes blazed. "Confessed? You mean..." Once more his fingers twined themselves about the skinny throat. The man howled with fear.
"It was Tedeschi—Tedeschi and Aldini, monsieur. I'd no hand in it, I swear!"
Mr. Treadgold glanced about him. "Open that door!" he bade me, pointing to a cupboard under the stairs. I complied, and with a vigorous thrust he sent his victim spinning into the cavity, slammed the door and shot the bolt. Then he rushed up stairs, I at his heels.
A light now burnt on the first landing. A door with splintered lock stood wide. Within the room, sparsely furnished as a bedroom, young Danesworth sat on the bed, his arm about a girl whose head was pillowed on his shoulder. Some lengths of rope lay about the floor. "Aldini kidnapped her," said Danesworth in a hushed voice. "After leaving me on Tuesday she met him for tea. He hocussed her drink, I guess, for the next thing she knew she found herself in a car with Aldini and two strange men driving through the forest of Fontainebleau. They wanted to know what she had done with the ring and when she refused to tell them, they became so menacing that she scrawled that note to me under the rug. She didn't have time to finish it; however, she was able to stick what she'd written in an envelope she had already addressed to me and drop it out of the window.
He ground his teeth savagely. "When Maria arrived this afternoon to say that the diamond was nowhere at the studio, they burnt her hands with cigarettes to make her confess what she'd done with the ring. She'd scooped a hole out of an old telephone directory at the studio and stuck it there. Once they'd dragged the truth out of her, they tied her up and left this guy, Vlaamsch, whose name's in that report, to guard her. What's become of him, by the way? That shot we heard..."
"He won't trouble us," Mr. Treadgold informed him. "But the ring's gone by this, Jack. Aldini, Tedeschi and the maid have gone to Paris to recover it."
The girl had opened her eyes and was listening to us. "They'll be back," she said. "They promised to pick up this man Vlaamsch and take him with them to Havre, where the four of them are booked on a steamer leaving for Rio at midnight—I heard them talking about it."
Danesworth became very excited. "By George, if we handle this right, they'll walk straight into our hands."
The girl shook her head. "No, Jack," she said, "we'll let the ring go. It's brought nothing but bad luck."
"Listen!" Mr. Treadgold warned sharply.
In the silence that fell we all heard the sound of a car stopping beneath the window. Drawing his gun, Mr. Treadgold dashed out on the landing, Danesworth and I close behind. Even as we reached the head of the stairs we caught the sound of a key in the lock of the front door, the door was opened, revealing the dark figure of a man. Instantly the door was violently slammed. "Stay with the girl!" Mr. Treadgold shouted over his shoulder to Danesworth, and set off in pursuit.
Outside a big white roadster, lights blazing, was in the act of backing to turn. But at the sight of us the driver desisted and, with a spin of the wheel, sent the car lurching off along the rough forest track. In a fleeting glimpse I had of the car in the reflected glow of its headlights I perceived a man and woman in the driving seat, while a second man was on the running-board, clambering into the rear. Mr. Treadgold shouted "Halte!" then fired. But he had not waited to put on his glasses and the shots went wild. He ran to our coupé; the motor roared into life. Ahead a diminishing ruby pin point marked the fleeing car.
A thin drizzle of rain had begun to fall. It was a terrible road, soft and treacherous, winding its way in and out of the sandstone boulders which are dotted all through the forest, now topping a precipitous rise, now dropping to a boggy bottom. On that surface speed was out of the question; moreover, it was obvious that the fugitives knew the road—at any rate, the ruby gleam we were following was soon lost to our sight. "Let's hope this leads us back to the main road," Mr. Treadgold muttered. "On the tarmac we ought to be able to catch up with them."
His hope was fulfilled. The ruby pin-point was again in sight as we swung out on the Route Nationale. The downpour increased, the roadway was like black glass, but my friend relentlessly drove the accelerator home—steadily the speedometer needle climbed. The red light we were chasing grew larger. But was it the right car? The lights of a service station ahead flashing on a long white chassis, on a pale blur of a face anxiously turned backwards, answered the question.
We were gaining. Now the twin beam of our headlamps glinted on the screen of the car ahead. I could see an arm flourished from the rear seat, encouraging the driver to greater effort. Then with lightning speed disaster struck. I heard the scream of brakes ahead, the rip and clang of shivered metal, a tense ejaculation from my companion as our car slithered, spun round. Something struck me on the head—I saw a great burst of light...
When I recovered my senses someone was bathing my face as I lay on the sopping grass. There was a sort of diffused radiance all about, and by its light I distinguished Mr. Treadgold on his knees at my side. "What happened?" I asked confusedly.
"Level crossing round a bend," he replied. "The gates were down and they saw them too late. They skidded and went clean through an iron picket fence into the river, a sixty-foot drop. We were luckier: we skidded too, but after two complete spins I managed to steady her and we landed up against a tree—I fancy a branch must have taken you on the side of the head. No bones broken, are there, old man?"
I sat up. Our car was wedged against one of the roadside poplars, but the head-lamps still blazed. Their glow disclosed Mr. Treadgold, his overcoat and trousers liberally besmeared with mud, gazing solicitously at me. "I'm all right, except my head's buzzing. How about you?" I said.
"Not a scratch." He paused. "The other car's at the bottom of the river. They were all flung out. Tedeschi escaped with a broken collar-bone. But Aldini and the woman are dead. They went through the screen."
"And the ring?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Maria was wearing it, Tedeschi says. It was she who first put him and Aldini on to the diamond—her father and brothers all belonged to the Black Hand—and she wasn't letting it out of her sight. But it wasn't on her finger when we took her out of the water and, there's no sign of it on Aldini or Tedeschi either—I searched him myself. I guess it's reposing somewhere on the river bed. Much luck it brought them. You should see the woman, poor wretch! She's terribly mutilated—her head was practically severed."
I stared at him aghast. "Her head was practically severed?"
He looked at me hard. "That's what I said."
"But, good God, man, the legend—the curse of Donna Laura's diamond!"
"As I told you before, an old wives' tale!"
"But this is the most amazing thing I ever heard of. How do you account for it?"
He shrugged his broad shoulders. "Does one have to? 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...'—you know the old tag. Let's not waste our breath in seeking to explain the inexplicable but rather, as is written somewhere in Tristram Shandy, halve the matter amicably, leaving you something to imagine as well as myself. And now, my dear fellow, if you feel up to it, how about going as far as the crossing-keeper's house and seeing what we can do about raising a conveyance back to Fontainebleau?"
"Coincidence is the snag on which the most
astute and ingenious deductions may be wrecked."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
THE Pimlico murder, as the newspapers called it, was meat and drink to Mr. Treadgold, especially as Chief Inspector Manderton was personally in charge of the investigation. A chill of horror ran through London when, one foggy November morning, the dead body of pretty little Mrs. Medloe was found at Hardmore Mansions, a cheap and not very reputable block of furnished flats off the Vauxhall Bridge Road. About eight o'clock on the previous evening she had arrived at Hardmore Mansions in company with a well- dressed individual who signed the register "Frank Barkley." The couple were shown to a suite on the second floor.
Around noon next day a chambermaid, entering the sitting-room with her pass-key, came upon the woman, fully dressed, dead upon the couch. She had been strangled—the medical evidence showed that she had been dead for at least twelve hours. Of her companion there was no sign, but it was discovered from the night porter that, soon after midnight, the man, passing through the lobby like someone in a hurry, had gone out and not returned. The door of the suite was locked, but not bolted inside, and the key was gone—it was inferred that the man had taken it with him.
The only luggage the couple brought with them was an over- night bag and a man's dressing-case. Both remained in the suite. The bag held a man's toilet articles and a suit of pyjamas; the dressing-case a man's evening clothes. The dead woman had nothing but a handbag. The fact that it contained some four pounds in change suggested that robbery was not the motive of the crime. Nobody living in the flats had heard any disturbance in the night.
Neither dressing-case nor bag was labelled or initialled and neither the luggage nor the woman's handbag threw any light on the couple's identity. But the victim's underwear was marked "B. M." All the resources of Scotland Yard got to work and within twenty-four hours she was identified as a certain Mrs. Blanche Medloe who had a furnished bedroom at the Hypatia Bridge Club in South Kensington.
As out of the welter of newspaper statements the victim's background gradually emerged, the mystery deepened. Blanche Medloe stepped into the floodlighting of modern journalism as a pretty, rather frivolous woman in her late thirties, of good social standing, living on a small allowance from her husband, a rubber planter in the Malay States, from whom she was divorced. She had a small circle of friends, many of them men from the East on leave, who asked nothing better than to have an amusing, nicely dressed companion to accompany them on a round of the theatres and restaurants during their furloughs.
She usually spent a month on the Riviera after Christmas, and for the rest bridge, visits to the hairdresser and cocktail parties filled her life. She was not known to be involved in any love affair and the police were able to establish that at the time the murder was committed the three or four men who had been taking her out during the London season had long since returned to their posts in the East. Neither the staff at the Hypatia nor any of her friends had ever heard her speak of the man Frank Barkley, nor could they account for her presence in the rather sordid surroundings in which she was found. "Mrs. Medloe," they said, "was always most particular about the men she went out with."
That her companion was the murderer was clearly indicated. The police had circulated his description, gleaned from the manageress at Hardmore Mansions: "About thirty. Dark, medium height, slight build. When last seen, wearing brown trilby hat, camel's hair overcoat, yellow muffler, dog-skin gloves. Speaks with educated accent." It was stated that he was unknown at the flats.
He had heard nothing from Manderton since the case broke, Mr. Treadgold told me one evening, three or four days after the discovery of the crime, as I walked back with him to his chambers from Savile Row. But when we reached Bury Street the inspector hauled his burly body out of a chair in the sitting-room. Mr. Treadgold went to the desk and glanced over his mail—he always likes Manderton to speak first—while I brought the tantalus and the cigars from the sideboard. "What do you make of this Medloe case, H.B.?" the inspector demanded through the smoke of one of Mr. Treadgold's Partagas.
My friend laughed. "Meaning you've failed to get a line on Barkley?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Only hers. He never took his gloves off, I guess."
"What about their traps?"
"That bag of his is old and battered—the Lord knows where and when it was bought. We're trying to trace the pyjamas, but they're a ready-made article, turned out in thousands by the manufacturers, and the prospect's pretty hopeless. As for his safety razor and toilet articles, they tell us nothing."
"And the dressing-case?"
"It's brand new, but the retailer's name has been slashed out. It's of English manufacture, however, and a luxury article—we've circulated the photographs to the trade. I brought the case along. I'd like your opinion on those dress clothes of his."
He fetched the case, solid brown crocodile hide, new and shiny, from the hall and dumped it on the desk, unsnapping the locks. Mr. Treadgold pursed his lips as a row of gold-topped bottles and containers were disclosed. "I bet this cost him a pretty penny," he murmured. Manderton's finger, indicating a clean slash just inside the rim, showed where the retailer's name had been obliterated.
A man's dinner suit—jacket, black waistcoat and trousers—were all the clothing the case contained. The inspector lifted them out and, his jeweller's glass in his eye, Mr. Treadgold inspected each garment in turn. "French," he proclaimed at length, "and made by a first-class tailor—Paris, probably. This suit stood him in at least two thousand francs."
Manderton ruffled his forehead. "You're sure of this?"
"Definitely. The French cut and stitching are characteristic. Look at the waistcoat! All that finicky braiding—it's typically French. Also, the suit's brand new—it's been worn at most half a dozen times. Maybe it's significant that the customary tab with the customer's name and date is missing—when we are asked to omit it it's generally by fellows who want to get new clothes past the Customs."
"Suggesting that this chap's on his travels?"
"From overseas, I'd submit. This new dressing-case, these new evening clothes, look to me like part of an outfit such as a man orders after long absence abroad." His glance rested tentatively on our visitor. "A lot of men from India and Malay leave the ship at Marseilles, you know, and travel to London overland through Paris. And, after all, the Continental terminus at Victoria is only round the corner from the Vauxhall Bridge Road."
The inspector frowned. "You don't suppose I didn't think of that. But if it's one of her planter friends, it'd be a new one—I've checked up on the others, and they're all back at their posts." He paused and, feeling in his waistcoat pocket, said, "There's one clue I haven't mentioned. When the woman was found she was clutching this sleeve-link in her hand."
It was a gold link with a monogram in white enamel. Mr. Treadgold perked up at the sight of it. "There was no mention of this in the Press?" he remarked reproachfully, scrutinising the link through his glass.
"For the good reason that the murderer must have overlooked it," the detective replied, "and I didn't want him to know we have it. There are three letters there—a G, an R and an S. The trouble is, they are superimposed—you can't tell in what order to read them."
"There's no B, at any rate," commented Mr. Treadgold, handing the link back. "It suggests that Barkley's an assumed name."
He turned to the dressing-case again. A cigar case of fine plaited straw, which was lying on the bottom, proved to be empty, and he laid it aside. Some of the bottles and containers were in use, and he removed their covers at random, sniffing at their contents with an abstracted air. "What sort of place is this apartment house?" he asked Manderton suddenly.
The inspector shrugged broad shoulders. "It's not the Y.M.C.A. The police have nothing against them, but I gather they're not too particular."
"Barkley was paying three guineas a week."
"It doesn't jell," Mr. Treadgold exclaimed violently. "What was a fellow who can afford a suit-case like this doing in a dump of that description?"
The detective grinned. "You'd be surprised at the love nests some parties turn up in!"
An angry snort was his answer. His head thrust into the case, Mr. Treadgold continued his inspection. With his square-tipped practical fingers I saw him rake up some particles of dust which he shook out on the blotter on the desk. He was examining the hair-brushes—solid, ivory-backed—through his glass when the telephone rang. It was a call for Manderton. The latter, who knows his way about the apartment, spoke on the extension in the bedroom. Seeing Mr. Treadgold completely absorbed, I picked up the evening paper.
Manderton was away a good ten minutes, by which time my friend had restored the clothing to the case, and was staring moodily between the undrawn curtains at the fog-blurred lights of St. James's. Only when the detective reappeared did he stir from his lethargy. "In your place, Inspector," he observed, "I'd try to ascertain whether, by any chance, this dressing-case was bought in Paris."
"It's English made."
Mr. Treadgold looked at him fixedly. "You can buy English luggage in Paris, you know. Try and trace the clothing, too, among the leading tailors. Ask after a red-haired man about six feet in height of athletic build, who's lately come from South Africa."
This suggestion evidently did not appear as preposterous to Manderton as it did to me. "At Hardmore Mansions they described the murderer as dark and of medium height, but they may be covering someone up. People who are out to mislead always fly to opposites," he said. "Meanwhile, your tip about Paris is a good one, and I'll follow it up. So long, H.B.—I'll keep you posted." Carrying the dressing-case, he clumped out.
I turned to Mr. Treadgold. "And where do you get the idea that the murderer's South African and red-headed?"
He sighed. "George, George, for a lawyer you have the sloppiest mind of any fellow I know. At no time have I affirmed that the murderer is a South African. My exact suggestion—for it's no more than that, at present—was that the owner of that dressing-case comes from South Africa. If I hadn't feared to test friend Manderton's patience too far, I might have added that he stoops, is probably middle-aged, and, like myself, is an inveterate pipe-smoker. Look here!"
He beckoned me to the desk. Mixed with dust some particles of pale brown tobacco lay scattered over the white blotting pad. "Boer tobacco!" he pronounced. "It had silted into the corners of the case, probably from a pouch. I found some grains in the pocket of the dinner jacket, too. As a pipe-smoker of some forty years' standing, I've made a study of pipe tobacco, and I know Boer tobacco when I see it—I've smoked it out there myself. Doesn't a fellow who carries a pouch in his evening clothes suggest an inveterate smoker? Then that cigar case of his..."
"That straw affair?"
"It's Madeira work and quite new."
"And the Cape steamers call at Madeira!"
"Exactly. Many South Africans like to get off at Gib. and travel overland to London—that would account for our man's presence in Paris. It looks to me as though he had been a long time away since the first thing he does is to get himself an outfit."
"But, H.B., the red hair, the stoop?"
"The stoop is clearly indicated by the hang of the jacket; his height and build by the measurements of his clothes. As for the red hair, well, he'd used the brushes in the dressing-case. A hair brush can be a tell-tale thing when a fellow begins to lose his hair, and that's usually when he reaches middle life." He sighed. "But the picture's out of focus, George. We can't work from motive, because there's no motive at present discoverable. What's wanted is clear thinking. It says in Tristram Shandy..."
"The day you fail to ram that damnable book down my throat, you get a medal!"
He chuckled. "It speaks admiringly of the disciples of Pythagoras who could get out of their body in order to think well. The best way I know of getting out of the body is to go to a movie. I think I'll go to the pictures!"
He was restless and absent-minded when I saw him next day. By evening he had had no word from Manderton, and the following morning he rang me up, asking me to meet him at Hardmore Mansions at noon. He was stalking impatiently up and down outside the rather grim, red-brick block when I arrived, and carried me straight into the office. He told Mrs. Argyle, the manageress—we knew her name from the newspapers—that we wished to see a flat for a friend arriving from abroad.
She was a determined-looking woman with a square jaw, two chins and bosom to scale, her manner such as to suggest that her opinion of the human race was based on experience with defaulting lodgers. But Mr. Treadgold believes that the way to disarm suspicion is to get people talking about themselves—cultivating the human relationships, he calls it—and by the time we reached the three-room apartment she proposed to show us on the third floor, she was chatting quite amiably about the difficulties of the servant problem.
We gravely inspected the cheerless, poky rooms with their cheap furniture and threadbare carpets, talked terms, even to the price of the breakfasts. Then Mr. Treadgold said in his most engaging tones, "I hope this isn't the flat where the poor lady was murdered."
Mrs. Argyle changed countenance. That suite, she proclaimed with trembling lips, had been sealed up by the police.
"Dear me," my friend remarked compassionately, "what a time you must have had! The police can be so ruthless when they're faced by the results of their own incompetence. They can't find Mrs. Medloe's murderer, and so they harass all kinds of innocent people. They've actually had the audacity to tackle a friend of mine, simply because he's red-haired and happened to arrive from Paris the night the woman was killed."
Mrs. Argyle snorted. "They're crazy. They were round here yesterday with this story of a red-haired man, though both Harris—that's the night porter—and I told them from the start he was dark."
"If I were the police, I believe I'd take your word for it," Mr. Treadgold put in. "You're observant, you've seen life, you're intelligent."
The manageress bristled. "I believe I can tell a gentleman when I see one. This one, Barkley, now, he didn't drop his aitches, but he wasn't out of the top drawer, to my way of thinking. Good-looking enough, I grant you, if you fancy a dark man, but nut-crackery—if you know what I mean—and a shifty eye, if ever I saw one—I wouldn't have trusted him farther than you could toss a biscuit, as the saying goes. Not that it mattered to the pore lady. She was just potty about him; couldn't hardly take her eyes off him when he was signing the register, and he as off-hand as anything—w'y if Harris hadn't stepped forward he'd have let her lug that big pigskin bag of his to the lift."
"You mean crocodile, don't you?"
"I said 'pigskin' and I mean pigskin, and nothing the newspapers write will make me say different. If the police want to call pigskin crocodile, it's none of my business."
"But..." I was beginning, when Mr. Treadgold trod hard on my foot.
"Do you think you'd recognise this man again if you saw him?" he asked the manageress.
"Anywhere. And my sight's as good as theirs, as I told this Chief Inspector Manderton, who called yesterday. If I can't tell a dark man from a red-head, and me with three husbands in the ground, it's time I shut up shop, I told him."
We took our leave then, Mr. Treadgold promising to let Mrs. Argyle know when our mythical friend arrived. At Victoria Station he quitted me. "Just an inquiry, George," he said. "Drop in this evening for a glass of sherry."
I could see he was itching to be rid of me, so I left him there. But he put me off that evening, and it was not until the following evening that I saw him again.
He was busy with his stamp collection when I called round at Bury Street before dinner and curiously reluctant to discuss the case, although he told me that he had not heard from Manderton. As he plied his gauge and lens, however, I had the feeling that he was waiting for someone—he seemed to have his ear cocked at the door. At last the front door buzzer sounded. At the same moment the telephone on the desk rang. Would you mind, George?" he said, lifting the telephone receiver. "I'm expecting Mrs. Argyle at seven. Or it may be a man called Caro, a Frenchman—he's due in by the Paris train."
I went to the front door. It was Manderton. "H.B. in?" he barked. Mr. Treadgold's voice speaking on the telephone answered him, and I led the way into the sitting-room. Mr. Treadgold, his back to the door, was just hanging up. "That was Caro—he's on his way over from Victoria," he informed me, then turned and saw Manderton standing there, and it seemed to me that his face fell.
"Well," said the inspector, rubbing his hands briskly together, "that was an A1 hunch of yours, H.B.! We've traced the bird that bought that dressing-case and the evening suit."
Mr. Treadgold made one bound. "No! In Paris?"
"In Paris. It's a Jo'burg engineer!"
"A South African, then?"
"That's right. Name of Ralton."
In his daily business of making clothes Mr. Treadgold carries without difficulty the names of hundreds of people in his head. He has a card index mind. For the moment I had forgotten all about the sleeve link found in the dead woman's hand. But H.B. hadn't. "Ralton?" he snapped. "There was an R on that sleeve link, Inspector. An S, too, and a G."
"Right! The initials are G.S.R.—Godfrey Stamford Ralton."
"Red-haired, is he?"
"So they tell me, and a six-footer. He arrived at the Grand in Paris October 15th, and left for London by the noon train November 4th."
"The day of the murder!"
He nodded. "He's our man all right."
"And where is he now?"
"As far as we know, still in this country—he was round at his bank for his mail the afternoon after he arrived; he's a cool hand, all right. That's the last trace of him we have to date, but we'll get him, never fear."
The front door buzzer whirred. "If it's Mrs. Argyle or the man, show them into the dining-room," Mr. Treadgold whispered as I moved towards the hall.
I opened the door. A tall figure confronted me. "Monsieur Caro?" I questioned.
His reply took my breath away. "My name's Ralton," he said.
He was a big, gangling fellow who peered shortsightedly through horn-rimmed spectacles; the hair protruding from under his wide-brimmed felt was a grizzled red. "I wanted a word with Chief Inspector Manderton, who's in charge of the Medloe case," he announced shyly. "I rang up Scotland Yard and they told me, if it were urgent, I should find him here."
"Just a minute!" I bade him, and ran back to the sitting- room.
Manderton was proclaiming in a loud voice: "Murderer? Of course, he's the murderer. I don't give a damn what that old witch at the flats says——"
"It's Ralton!" I interrupted him. He stood there with his mouth open.
Treadgold said in a puzzled voice, "Here?"
I called the man in from the hall. He lumbered in, clutching his hat; his coppery hair, showing the scalp on the top, was very noticeable. He looked to be in his fifties. I indicated Manderton. "I understand you've been inquiring for me at my bank and other places?" Ralton said to him.
"That's right," the other agreed imperturbably.
"I suppose it's about that dressing-case of mine. Well, it was stolen from me, right under my nose, at Victoria Station when I landed from Paris last week." He eyed the inspector nervously through his glasses.
"Is that so?" Manderton's tone was strongly ironic. "And when did you report the loss?"
"I didn't. I had an awful crossing, and I wanted to go to bed."
"Why didn't you report it next day? It doesn't figure on the list of stolen property reported to the Metropolitan Police."
Ralton hesitated. "It was stupid of me, I guess. But next day I read of the murder in the newspapers, and recognised my dressing-case by that cigar case I bought at Madeira and—well, I just didn't want to get mixed up with it."
The inspector's laugh was short and sarcastic. "I believe you. It's my duty to warn you that I'm a police officer, and that any statement you may make——"
Ralton cut him off. "It'll have to come out, I suppose." He paused, sighed. "At one time Blanche Medloe was my wife."
Manderton's heavy eyebrows came down.
He nodded resignedly. "It's more than seventeen years since I last heard of her." He hesitated. "The point is, I kept my previous marriage secret from my present wife—you see, she has views about divorce. Blanche was only eighteen when I married her. Out West in Nevada it was, twenty years ago—I was engineer with a mining outfit, and she was travelling with a troupe of English dancers. It was a rough life, and I didn't make much money and well, one day she lit out with an actor, and I never heard another word from her until two years later. I was back on the Rand then, and she wrote me from New York, saying she'd met a man called Medloe, a rubber planter in the F.M.S.—his name came back to me when I read of her death—and could she go to Reno and divorce me? I didn't stand in her way—I was always fond of the kid, and the next thing I knew I had a Christmas card from her to say she was married and living at Kuala Lumpur. That was the last time I heard from her. I didn't see her again until the other night."
The inspector's eyes snapped into action. "You admit you saw her, then?"
"It was at Victoria Station, the evening I arrived from Paris. There was a tremendous crush, and I couldn't get a porter. I was pushing along with the crowd, lugging that dressing-case of mine, when I suddenly saw her on the other side of the gates—you know, where they take the tickets. She was staring past me into the crowd, as though she was looking for someone. I knew her at once. I was so astonished at seeing her there, I stopped dead and at the same time someone behind barged into me and knocked my glasses to the ground. I can't see a yard without my specs, so I dropped my dressing-case and made a dive into the crowd to recover them. By the time I'd rescued them Blanche had disappeared, and, what's more, my dressing-case was gone."
There was a long pause. The front door buzzer chirped. But nobody stirred. "And where were you that evening?" Manderton's strident voice broke the hush.
Ralton laughed. "In bed and asleep at my hotel. I was all in after that crossing; I almost slept the clock round."
The buzzer trilled again. "I'll go," Treadgold told me, and hastened out. When he returned he was accompanied by a large woman in black. It was Mrs. Argyle, from Hardmore Mansions. Manderton glared at her; Mr. Treadgold said, pointing at Ralton, "Is this the man who brought Mrs. Medloe to Hardmore Mansions that night?"
"Indeed, it is not," replied the lady loftily. "I've never set eyes on him before."
Once more the buzzer sounded from the hall. Mr. Treadgold, moving to answer it, stopped on the threshold. "By the way, Inspector," he remarked diffidently, "you might get this gentleman to tell us whether the dressing-case stolen from him was pigskin or crocodile."
"Why waste time?" the detective growled. "It's crocodile, as well you know."
"It's crocodile," said Ralton.
"It's pigskin," said Mrs. Argyle. "And it wasn't a dressing- case—it was a kit-bag."
"The piece he left behind was a dressing-case and of crocodile," pronounced Manderton. "It was standing in the room with the dead woman—I saw it myself. I know nothing about any pigskin kit-bag, and if there was one, I'd like to know why I didn't hear of it before." The buzzer whirred again. "Wait!" said Mr. Treadgold. "Maybe here's someone now who can clear up the mystery." He went out.
I made them all sit down; there was a strained wait during the three or four minutes he was away. He returned, ushering in a small, foreign-looking man in a raincoat, who carried a shabby attaché case. "This is Monsieur Caro, of the railway police—the plain clothes branch—at the Gare du Nord in Paris," Mr. Treadgold informed Manderton. Without speaking the newcomer opened his case and produced an album of photographs, which he laid on the desk. Mr. Treadgold signed to Mrs. Argyle. "Would you take a look at those pictures and see if you can pick out anyone resembling the man who brought Mrs. Medloe to your flats that night?" he said.
Slowly she moved to the desk and for a minute or two the rustle of turning leaves was the only sound in the room. Then she looked up, one finger planted dramatically on the open page. "That's him! I'd know him anywhere!"
We crowded round. The photograph, apparently enlarged from a snapshot taken on a racecourse, showed a nattily dressed young man with a laughing face and nose drooping to rather full lips. He held his hat in his hand and his curly, dark hair was displayed. Caro laughed softly. "It is as I thought," he said in excellent English. "Eh bien, messieurs, if he is the assassin you have not far to look, for I saw the gentleman on the platform at Victoria when the Paris train came in just now. I took the liberty of asking my good confrères of the railway police at Victoria to keep an eye on him."
A stern eye on the speaker, Manderton snatched up the telephone. "Who is this man?" he demanded, dialling swiftly.
"The smartest luggage thief in France. We have yet to catch him in the act, but we know all about him. Some of the biggest coups are credited to him and his gang. His name is Larry Peters—'English Larry,' as they call him."
The inspector was speaking to Victoria Station. He broke off to exclaim to Caro, "English, is he?"
"That's right," the Frenchman agreed. "But he operates only on the Continent—Paris, the Côte d'Azur, Biarritz. Your international branch should know of him."
"If he attempts to leave, detain him," Manderton said into the telephone. "I'll be right along." He hung up, gazing at us sombrely. "He's drinking in the buffet on the Continental side," he announced and proceeded to dial another number.
"A luggage thief?" I exclaimed to Mr. Treadgold.
He shook his head at me. "I told you, George, that that dressing-case never fitted into the picture. But it was Mrs. Argyle here who first gave me the clue to the mystery by her positive assertion that the fellow brought with him, not the crocodile dressing-case which was found in the flat, but a pigskin bag. If this was a lie, I could discovered no reason for it. But I was already leaning towards the conclusion that the owner of the dressing-case and the murderer were two different persons, in which case it was very possible that the murderer had come by the dressing-case dishonestly. This view was strengthened by Mrs. Argyle's instinctive distrust of the man Barkley—it occurred to me that in her position she was probably an excellent judge of a crook."
Mrs. Argyle, who had approached us and was listening, sniffed. "In my job you have to be," she remarked feelingly.
"Thinking matters out," Mr. Treadgold proceeded, "I suddenly realised that the discrepancy in the matter of the dressing-case had a perfectly logical explanation in the device commonly employed by luggage thieves. This is a false bag, collapsible so that it may be concealed under the coat, with spring grapples instead of a bottom so that it may be dropped over and lift the piece of luggage it is intended to steal. The remainder was simple. There was no photograph agreeing with Mrs. Argyle's description of the murderer in the Rogues' Gallery which a friend of mine in the railway police at Victoria keeps of the known luggage thieves working the London termini. On the chance that our man might have crossed from Paris I had a word on the Paris telephone with Caro, who has helped me out before. He said at once that the description tallied with that of this Larry Peters, who'd been missing from his usual haunts for some days."
"And how!" declared the Frenchman phlegmatically. "An unsuccessful attempt was made to snatch a jewel case at the Quai d'Orsay on November 2; one would say this old Larry felt a breath of his native air would do him good."
The inspector, who had been barking orders on the telephone to a subordinate at Scotland Yard, now sprang up and seized his hat. "I'll want you to identify this guy," he told the manageress, "you, too, Caro—I'll take you two in my car. You bring Mr. Ralton in a taxi, if you care to tag along, H.B.—he'll have to come to the Yard later to make a statement."
We left in a body. A police car swept Manderton and his companions away in the traffic while we found a cab. None of us spoke. Ralton was palpably on edge, fiddling with his glasses, while as for me, my skin was tingling with excitement. Only Mr. Treadgold remained unalterably placid, gazing out of the taxi window with those blue eyes of his which seem so innocent, yet miss so little.
There was no sign of the Manderton party when we reached Victoria. We headed for the buffet. It was the dinner hour and the place was full of smoke and clatter, with a long line of people drinking at the bar and others seated at the tables. The room was so crowded that it was a minute or two before we perceived the inspector and Mrs. Argyle taking their places at a table on the far side. There was no sign of Caro: Manderton was clearly resolved that his companion should not be influenced in her attempted identification.
There was a vacant table behind them and the three of us sat down. Mrs. Argyle had put on her pince-nez and was staring about her with a challenging air. Presently I heard her say in a low voice, "Over there on the right."
We followed the direction of her gaze. At a table near the bar a youngish man sat alone. His hat was pushed back on his head and his legs were cocked up on a chair. He was unshaven and the striped collar he wore was crumpled and soiled. He had a glass in his hand and I had the idea that he was not entirely sober. Manderton's whisper rustled in my ear. "You're sure?" he said to Mrs. Argyle. "That's the man!" she declared firmly. On that the inspector stood up and blew his nose and out of the corner of my eye I saw two individuals, who were drinking beer at the bar, detach themselves from the long line of customers and edge towards the young man's table. "Come on!" Manderton told the manageress and advanced across the room, the three of us in his wake. "I want you, Peters!" he told the young man.
The other made no move but gazed up at him stolidly. Then he caught sight of Mrs. Argyle's face of doom behind the speaker and he took his legs down. "All right," he said in a nonchalant tone. "I had it coming to me, I guess." He rose thickly. He drained the glass he still grasped and stood up, the two men from the bar, who had joined Manderton, closed in on him and the whole party filed out. It was so quickly and quietly done that the noise and the bustle went on about us undisturbed.
At the office to which they took him Caro was waiting. At the sight of him the prisoner grinned impudently. "Old home week at Victoria," he remarked sotto voce. Manderton administered the usual warning, but Peters disregarded it—it was obvious that he meant to talk. "I'm not sorry it's over," he said. "I was fond of the little woman and I didn't mean to kill her. But she provoked me and I lost my temper."
He spoke like a gentleman, with a pleasantly modulated voice, but a loose mouth and a certain flash air, if they did not proclaim the habitual criminal, at least explained the manageress's first reactions towards him. "I met her at Cannes last winter," he continued. "She was crazy about me, wanted me to marry her—I guess she thought I was rolling; I'd had a damned good season down south, what with one or two jobs I pulled and a spot of luck at the tables. She came out to Paris once or twice and I saw her in London a couple of times. But then things began to go wrong; the splits were right on my tail and I was flat broke. I wrote her for a loan. But she was wild to see me and only sent me the ticket to London—I was glad of it when a job I'd planned at the Quai d'Orsay went sour on me and I had to skip in a hurry."
He broke off and asked for a cigarette. The inspector borrowed one from me and the prisoner resumed: "I wrote her I'd be taking the noon train on the fourth and told her to meet me—I had to have some cash. There was no sign of her when I got off the train: there was a terrific crowd on the platform and I thought maybe I'd missed her, which was devilish awkward for me as I didn't know where she lived—she always made me write to her at her bank. Well, I was tagging along with the rest of the passengers towards the exit when I suddenly saw people stepping round a devilish good-looking dressing-case, sitting there all by itself on the platform, simply begging to be hooked. It seemed almost like an answer to prayer." He laughed. "Well, I had the old grab under my coat; it was as simple as pie."
He blew a cloud of smoke. "Blanche was at the barrier. I wasn't too pleased to see her then, for that case was hot and all I wanted was to be rid of it as quickly as possible. But I couldn't shake her. She was all for booking me a room near where she lived; as she insisted on tagging along, I had to take her with me to these flats, handy to the station, I'd heard of from a pal of mine. My plan was to ring up a fence I knew right away, but first I had to go through the case. I sent her into the bedroom to tidy herself but she came back as I was still busy on the locks with the old skeleton keys and then the fat was in the fire."
"You mean she didn't know you were a railway dip?" Manderton suggested.
Peters shrugged his shoulders. "You know what women are. She asked no questions as long as I was flush, but directly I tried her for a touch, she got nosey. Now she came out bald-headed and accused me of having stolen the case. 'And what the hell do you think I do for a living?' I asked her. But she'd gone very serious. 'A common thief!' she said. The guy who owned this case had left some studs in one of the fittings. I had the sleeve links in my hand. Blanche snatched up one of them. 'Where did you get this case?' she screamed at me. 'Where did you get it?'"
Ralton spoke up. "She saw those links, did she?"
"You bet. She seemed to recognise them, too!"
The big man nodded. "It isn't surprising. They were her first present to me."
The thief stared. "So you're the guy that owns the case? And she knew you?" He began to laugh. "Oh, my gracious, what poisonous luck!"
"Cut out the funny business and get on with the story!" the inspector ordered roughly.
Peters shrugged his shoulders. "She said, 'It's someone who was very kind to me a long time ago. You'll have to return it, Larry.' And with that she tugged the label off the case. 'Oh, my God, it is Godfrey's!' she cried at the sight of the name. I had a bit of a tussle with her to get the label away—I shoved it in my pocket and burned it afterwards. She was like a wild woman, crying and sobbing like anything. 'You'll give him back his case, Larry!' she said. 'You'll give it back or I go to the police!' 'Like hell you will!' I told her and with that she flew at me like a tiger cat. 'Thief!' she screeched. 'Thief!' and she slapped me hard across the face. Well, then I saw red and I caught her by the throat—it was in self-defence, Inspector, for she was out to do me an injury, I swear it! I guess I squeezed too hard, for when I took my hands away she was dead. After that, I lost my head, I'm afraid—I just ran off and left her there. It was not till I was out of the house that I discovered I had only one of the sleeve links, and then I was too scared to go back. Was that how you traced me?"
Manderton's brick-red countenance flushed a darker red. "That, and some other things," he retorted loftily, avoiding Mr. Treadgold's watchful and gently amused glance. He fumbled in his pocket. Hold out your hands, Peters!" he gruffly bade the prisoner.
"As Larry said," observed Mr. Treadgold as we sat over our port at dinner that night, "it was poisonous luck—for Larry, and Manderton, too. Coincidence is the snag on which the most ingenious deductions may be wrecked. A mathematician would have to work out the chances against our young friend lifting that particular suit-case, although they are heavily discounted by the fact that Master Larry is a pro. who has doubtless stolen hundreds of pieces of luggage in his time. When coincidence takes a hand, your criminologist is all at sea for, without motive to guide him, he has to endeavour to pierce the fog with reason as his only light."
He held up his glass to the candle. "Still, though, as Tristram Shandy remarks, 'Every man will speak of the fair as his own market has gone at it,' I don't think I did too badly. It's clear thinking as does it, George, clear thinking, every time!"
"In crime everything has its explanation,
if we only know where to look for it."
—The Maxims of H.B. Treadgold.
IT was, as we were to have good reason to recall, one Monday, the 6th of March, when, arriving for breakfast with H.B. Treadgold at his chambers, I found him engrossed in a crime which was widely featured in that morning's newspapers. The affair at Acacia Lodge appeared to me to be no more than a brutal and sordid murder for gain; but you know what old H.B. is for crime, and he rather wearied me by marshalling the facts at full length. I little knew how soon we were both to be drawn into the orbit of the case.
Dr. Alexander Reval was a middle-aged foreigner of rather obscure antecedents who, eight months before, had rented a place on the western outskirts of London called Acacia Lodge, a small house standing in its own grounds. A scholar and a recluse, he lived very quietly, dividing his time between his study and the reading-room of the British Museum. Except for a girl typist who had latterly been working for him in the afternoons, he rarely had a visitor. The only other occupant of the house was his elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Kelly, who prepared his meals and did all the housework.
On March 4th, a Saturday, Mrs. Kelly had received her employer's permission to spend the day with a married niece at Margate. On arriving back at Acacia Lodge about half an hour after midnight, she noticed a light in the study, but since Reval was in the habit of working late, she did not disturb him but went to bed. On descending at seven next morning to dust the study she found the lights still burning and Reval dead at his desk with his head battered in. No weapon was discovered, but the doctors expressed the opinion that he had been killed with some moderately heavy instrument with a cutting edge and set the hour of death at some time between 9 p.m. and midnight of the preceding evening.
The door of a small wall safe in the study, where the dead man was in the habit of keeping comparatively large sums in Bank of England notes, was found open with the key in it and the money gone. Reval had no bank account. His income was derived from an investment in the Funds, and it was proved that a week before, at the half-year, he had presented the coupons in person at the Bank of England and received a sum of £310 in £5 notes. Mrs. Kelly deposed that, the day before she went to Margate, Reval had paid her wages and the housekeeping bill with two notes taken from a roll in the safe. The discovery of a parcel of bearer bonds intact in a locked drawer of the desk suggested that the crime was the work of some hurried prowler.
It was not until I reached my office that I learned, to my stupefaction, that young Christopher Kendrick, whom I had known ever since he was a schoolboy, had been arrested for the crime. Roger Kendrick, his father, who was at Cambridge with me, was killed in the war and, his mother dying soon after, the boy was thrown on his own resources. After a brilliant career at our old college, where he specialised in modern languages, he had come to London, where he made a living out of cramming youths for the diplomatic and army interpreterships, a little journalism and other odd jobs.
A singularly beautiful young woman brought me these disturbing tidings: she was waiting on the doorstep when he arrived at nine, my office-boy told me. "You don't know me, Mr. Duckett," were her first words to me. "I'm Tatiana O'Rorke. I'm a friend of Kit Kendrick's."
I glanced appreciatively at her. Black eyes, hair like the raven's wing, ivory skin—the young beggar had taste. "You might be Russian, in spite of the surname," I laughed, offering a chair. Kit, a remarkable linguist, had many foreign friends.
"Mummy was Russian, Daddy Irish. I was born in Petrograd. Daddy was in the timber trade there until the Revolution ruined him; they're both dead now. I know Russian well, and I teach it—that's how I first met Kit." Then, to my horror, she burst into tears. "Oh, Mr. Duckett," she sobbed, "I'm in such trouble. Kit's been arrested!"
"What's the young devil been up to now?" I demanded.
She gasped. "You don't understand. It's for murder—the murder of Dr. Reval. Kit had been doing research for him at the British Museum, and last night the police came to his rooms and—and..." A storm of weeping interrupted her.
I was dumbfounded. Kit, this clean-living, cheery young man, accused of such a crime! He had no private means, and I knew that at times he was pretty broke—I had helped him out once or twice myself. But robbery and murder! I put my mind back—I had a vague remembrance of Kit saying he was assisting some foreign writer in his spare time. "But this is ludicrous!" I exclaimed. "There must be some mistake!"
She sobbed aloud. "It's my fault. Kit got me a job with this man—he wanted someone who could take Russian dictation. Dr. Reval rises late—it was arranged I should go out to Acacia Lodge three days a week for lunch, and we would sit down to work directly after. I started a fortnight ago. The doctor was all right at first, but then—well, on Thursday, when Kit took me out to dinner, I told him I couldn't go on with it."
"You mean it was the old story of the amorous employer?"
She nodded. "It was horrible. Kit was frightfully upset, though he didn't say much then. But the next afternoon—that was Friday—without telling me a word, he went out to Acacia Lodge and saw Reval. What happened between them I don't know; but Mrs. Kelly told the police their voices were so loud that she could hear them in the kitchen and that Kit shouted at Reval as he went away: 'You try and see her again, and I'll come back and break your neck!'" She sighed. "You know what a temper Kit has!"
I nodded. "And this was only two days before the murder?" She could only bow her head. "And did Reval worry you again?"
She shook her head. "Kit wouldn't let me go back. But you haven't heard the worst of it. Three of those five-pound notes stolen from the safe..."
With a start I caught the implication of her words. "You don't mean to say..."
The tears streamed down once more. "The police had the numbers from the Bank of England. Kit says he told Reval on Friday he was through working for him and asked to be paid; and Reval gave him those notes. But of course the police don't believe him."
"Have you seen Kit?"
"I was at his rooms, helping him out on a rush translation job he's doing, when the police took him away. His last words to me were to get hold of you. But I only had your office address."
"What was he doing on the night of the murder?"
"He has no alibi, if that's what you mean. He says he was out walking all the evening—you know, he likes to walk at night—and didn't get home till nearly two." She gazed at me piteously. "You're his only friend, Mr. Duckett. You'll help him, won't you?"
It didn't need more than that for me to call up H.B. I took Tatiana round to Savile Row. Her pretty face fell when she saw "Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, Civil and Military Tailors," on the old-fashioned window screen. "A tailor?" she exclaimed, hanging back.
"As good a detective as he's a tailor. And that's the best in London. I'm his lawyer, and I should know!"
Mr. Treadgold, a tape about his shoulders, was visible on the threshold of one of the trying-on rooms, where a gaitered bishop was being fitted. He came out presently and led us into his office. He immediately set the little lady at ease. H.B. has a heart of gold, and no appeal by the helpless and unprotected is ever made to him in vain, especially, I might add, when the pleader is a lovely young woman. "Leave this to us," he said when he had heard her story. "If the young man's to be helped, George Duckett and I will help him. Tristram Shandy says, 'I reverence truth as much as anybody; and when it has slipped us, if a man will but take me by the hand and go quietly and search for it, I'll go to the world's end with him.'" He pinched her cheek paternally. "Chin up and try not to worry, my dear. Run away now; Mr. Duckett will let you know when there's any news for you."
When she had gone he stared at me questioningly. "Hot youth will kill to avenge a slight, especially where a woman's concerned. But would he have taken the money?"
"Not in a million years!"
He nodded. "He comes up before the local beak this morning, the paper says. I'll run you down in my car. I don't know this Divisional Inspector Hodgetts who's in charge of the case, but a word to Manderton at the Yard will take care of that."
Young Kendrick, whom we saw for a few minutes before the case was called, was high-strung and defiant. Certainly he'd had a violent scene with the deceased, who'd had the nerve to declare that the girl had led him on. But that was on the Friday before the murder, and he didn't see him again. "I didn't kill him, George, and I don't know who did," he told me. "Nor did I steal those notes. I told him I was through with him, and he paid me for my work—three weeks at a fiver a week."
We questioned him about Reval. Kit was rather vague. He judged the dead man to be a Russian probably a refugee, like most Russians in London—he had never volunteered any information about himself. Kit had been gathering material for him from the files of pre-war Russian newspapers at the Museum for a history of Communism Reval was writing.
"A Bolshevik, was he?" Mr. Treadgold wanted to know.
"I can't say. The stuff he dictated to Tatiana was mainly historical, she told me."
The proceedings in court were brief. Inspector Hodgetts, a brisk, taciturn person, gave evidence of the arrest and requested a week's remand. He was reserved, but not unfriendly when we spoke to him outside. Chief Inspector Manderton had telephoned him: he would be pleased to show us the scene of the crime. If we cared to see the body it was at the local mortuary—the inquest had taken place earlier.
We called first at the mortuary. The deceased was short of stature and corpulent, with a flat nose and fleshy lips. The face was badly mangled. He had received five blows in all, Hodgetts told us, one across the face from the front, four from the back on top of the skull. There were traces of blood in the hall, showing that Reval had first been attacked there—since there were no signs of entry by violence into the house, it was indicated that Reval, who was alone in the place, had himself opened the front door to the murderer.
"In my opinion," said the inspector, "Kendrick went for him the moment he got in and Reval made a bolt for it with Kendrick after him. Kendrick finished him off in the study as Reval crouched at the desk, trying to protect his head with his arms. One of the hands is badly slashed." He showed us the dead man's right hand. Mr. Treadgold made no comment and we went on to Acacia Lodge.
Though a section of the high wall surrounding the place bordered on the North Circular Road, with its heavy day and night traffic, Acacia Lodge impressed me as being almost ideally suited for an isolated murder. It had no near neighbours, the entrance, at the side, was from a lane, and a long avenue of poplars effectually screened the unpretentious, one-story villa from the sight and sounds of the outer world.
The study was a dusty, shabby place encumbered with books—in shelves that reached to the ceiling, in stacks on chairs and on the floor—and darkened by heavy curtains. One of the two windows was open and in the chill draught that entered a sooty lilac bush rattled its naked branches against the panes. My gaze centred on the desk, strewn with open books and papers, the chair, with its back to the door, pulled out, as though the occupant of the room had just been called away. There were crimson stains on some of the papers.
Stock still in the centre of the study, Mr. Treadgold gazed about him. He picked up a book or two at random, set them down. Glancing at a brass tea-urn, flanked with glasses, that stood on a table against the wall, he said to Hodgetts, "Russian, was he?"
"Bulgarian," the other replied. "Reval wasn't his real name. The name on his passport and the name he's registered with at Bow Street under the Aliens Act is Dimitrieff."
I saw H.B.'s bushy eyebrows tilt. "By his features I'd have said he was Russian, with probably a dash of Tartar. His books are Russian, anyway, and that samovar..." He broke off. "Do you happen to have a photo I could borrow?"
"He had some spare passport photos in his desk. I dare say you could have one of them." He extracted a photograph from his wallet and handed it across. Sombrely Mr. Treadgold studied the fat, rather sensual face, resolute, notwithstanding the pendulous cheeks and double chin, the small, beady eyes. Hodgetts walked to the open window. "This is where Kendrick escaped," he said. "Look, you can see the marks of his feet."
A number of fresh scratches were clearly visible on the white paint of the sill. "May one go out?" Mr. Treadgold inquired.
"Why not? We're all through."
It was a drop of only a few feet to the garden. The grounds were a tangle of laurels and rhododendrons with a tarred path winding its way between towards the surrounding fence. "Asphalt," said Mr. Treadgold, tapping with his foot. "That don't tell us much, Inspector!"
"Wait!" replied our escort.
As we approached the wall, forbiddingly high and set with murderous-looking broken glass all along its top, it became evident, from the succession of cars that went screaming by out of sight behind it, that we were in that part of the grounds bordering on the main road. A bed of shrubs ran along under the wall; in a gap between the bushes two short lengths of planking had been laid down. "He left a couple of foot-prints," Hodgetts remarked, pointing at the planks, then, raising his hand to waist-level, "Those scrapes on the brickwork of the wall are where he shinned over. The glass is splintered, too." He indicated the broken bottles set in the coping.
He pulled up the planks. "It rained pretty hard the night of the murder," he explained, "and the edges are pretty much washed away. Still..."
Two blurred impressions, side by side, were disclosed. Hands on thighs, Mr. Treadgold stooped to examine them. "It's a large foot!" he observed thoughtfully.
"Kendrick stands six foot one," the inspector reminded him.
My friend nodded. "He wasn't taking any running jump—see how the balls of the feet sank in! He made quite a pause here."
"You bet! He was waiting for a lull in the traffic; it's a busy road, by night as well as by day."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Treadgold suddenly. "This is really rather odd!"
He dropped to his knees and was peering down at the footmarks. "Did you examine these prints particularly?" he asked the inspector.
"I measured 'em, if that's what you mean. They correspond approximately to the size of Kendrick's foot. I tried 'em with a pair of his shoes, but it wasn't much good—the outline's too blurred."
"All the same..." His finger traced the curve of the impression on the right. "It's none too sharp, but surely the ball of the right foot is on the wrong side?"
The inspector stooped. "That right foot does look kind of lop- sided, I grant you. But Kendrick walks a bit pigeon-toed. It only means he was treading over on that side."
Squatting on his hunkers, Mr. Treadgold scratched his head. "It's really most extraordinary!" he proclaimed.
"What's extraordinary?" the inspector demanded.
"It sounds crazy, but I can't help thinking that these are the impressions of two left feet."
Hodgetts laughed good-humouredly. "Oh, come off it, sir!"
Mr. Treadgold stood up and dusted the mud off his trousers. "Footprints happen to be one of my subjects—I've made a special study of them at the truly admirable institutes of Forensic Medicine at Lyons and Vienna, and I repeat—these are the prints of two left feet."
The inspector shot me a humorous glance. "Well, I'll have to make a special trip to Brixton Jail and check up on Kendrick's tootsie-wootsies, I suppose."
The witticism was lost on our companion. Head down, he had vanished among the bushes. Hodgetts winked at me and tapped his forehead. We heard Mr. Treadgold crashing among the laurels, then the sounds grew fainter. He was away for so long that Hodgetts grew impatient. "I can't hang round here all the afternoon, really," he declared. A shout interrupted him. Mr. Treadgold had stepped out on the path. His face was crimson and in his hand he grasped, wrapped in the folds of his pocket-handkerchief, a bayonet with a long triangular blade. Crumbs of earth adhered to it, and there was a reddish stain where the blade was set in the haft.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" declared the inspector. His finger pointed to the stain. "It's the weapon all right. However did you come to find it?"
"I was looking for it," was the poised reply. "No weapon was discovered; I therefore argued that the murderer carried it off with him. He left by the window, ergo, he was in a hurry and he kept going until the wall stopped him and he realised that he'd reached the main road. It seemed to me that his first instinct would be to get rid of the instrument of the crime. So I just poked around and there it was, under the nearest bush, thrust up to the hilt in the ground."
"Neat work," said Hodgetts. "Well, this'll hang our young friend. The walls of his digs are draped with stuff like this."
I started. I remembered that Kit had all his dead father's war souvenirs. "It's a French bayonet with that long blade," the detective remarked. "Well, I'd best be getting back to headquarters with it. We parted from him at the house and, after stopping at the nearest call office to telephone, Mr. Treadgold drove me back to town. "The trouble about you, H.B.," I told him, "is that your imagination runs away with you. You know, there's really no such thing as a human being with two left feet!"
He stirred from a long silence. "Nevertheless, I'm right about that pair of prints!"
"He was deliberately confusing the trail, was he? But why two left feet?"
My companion laughed bleakly. "That, George, is precisely the difficulty."
"But a man with two left feet—it doesn't make sense!"
He shook his head gloomily. "It's we who don't make sense. In crime everything has its explanation, if we only know where to look for it."
Miss O'Rorke was waiting at Mr. Treadgold's rooms. She was aghast when, as gently as possible, I told her of the discovery of the bayonet. "But I know it well," she faltered. "It used to lie about the sitting-room. It had a sheath once, but it got lost."
She dropped down on the couch and covered her face with her hands.
It was a facer for both of us. Mr. Treadgold said nothing, but the look he cast me was full of meaning. Then the telephone rang. I answered it. It was Hodgetts. "I'm speaking from young Kendrick's rooms," he said. "Your friend Treadgold might like to know that his landlady has identified that bayonet."
I repeated the message to H.B. and he took the receiver. "How did she identify it?" he demanded. "After all, there are thousands of these French war bayonets knocking about." I don't know what Hodgetts replied, but my friend went on: "Even if Kendrick's French bayonet is missing, that's scarcely conclusive evidence of his guilt, is it? What does Kendrick himself say?"
He grunted. "I should be interested to hear," he remarked and hung up. With a moody air he began to cram his pipe from the tobacco jar on the desk. "Tell me about Reval," he said to the girl abruptly. "Was he Bulgarian or Russian?"
"Russian," was the listless answer, "and South Russian, by his accent. From little things he said, I gathered he'd been living in Soviet Russia until fairly recently."
"Was he a Bolshevik?"
"He was a Communist; but he didn't like Stalin. I remember a phrase he dictated to me about Stalin betraying the gospel of Lenin."
"Did he number a one-legged man among his acquaintances?"
She shook her head. "I can't tell you. I never met anyone outside of Mrs. Kelly at Acacia Lodge—I don't know who his friends were."
The front door buzzer whirred. A pause and Mr. Treadgold's servant announced, "Mr. Leander Leonard."
A dried-up, prim little man bustled in. "George," said my friend, this is Mr. Leander Leonard, Moscow correspondent of the London Bulletin, at present on leave in London, and an old customer of ours. Well, Mr. Leonard?"
The visitor fiddled with his glasses. "As I told you on the telephone this afternoon," he said nervously, "I'm always anxious to oblige, and I went into action at once." He wagged his head. "This is a mighty ticklish business, Mr. Treadgold, and if it should come out that I'm in any way involved in it, I can't go back to Russia."
He cleared his throat. "I had a word with a Moscow newspaper man now in town who happens to be under an obligation to me. He tells me that the Soviet Embassy are as silent as the tomb about this business and warns me not to approach them. But he gives me to understand that this Ravel is in reality a certain Vassily Luboff, one of the Trotsky crowd implicated in the plot against Stalin last year; he'd have been tried and shot like Zinovieff and the rest if he hadn't contrived to flee abroad."
"Do you know him?"
He shook his head. "He's not one of the bigwigs, I can tell you that. My friend says he's been living very quietly in the country outside Leningrad for years, never appearing in public, but very active in the underground politics of the U.S.S.R." He picked up his hat. "Well, there's the dope, Mr. Treadgold. It's a good newspaper story, but I want to keep my job and I'm not going to print it, especially as it doesn't affect young Kendrick's guilt. I make only one request—if you use it, leave me out!" With that he touched his hand to his hat and hurried away."
"I wonder if he's right," said Mr. Treadgold.
"How do you mean?" I questioned.
"About this not affecting young Kendrick's guilt." With brooding eyes he sat down at the desk and drew a writing block towards him. Tapping his teeth with his gold pencil, he reflected, then wrote a few lines, detached the sheet and held it out to Miss O'Rorke. "Can you turn that into Russian for me?" he asked her, then, noting the curiosity in my glance, added, "All right, George, you can read it, if you like."
"Pity for the one-legged. Russian veteran, who had the misfortune to lose a leg in the war, is anxious to come to the aid of fellow-sufferers of Russian nationality. Any one-legged Russian, whether a war cripple or not, should apply between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. at Flat 99b, Bury Street, St. James's, London, S.W. 1."
With wonder in her dark eyes the girl read this strange announcement. "If you wish," she said, and he made room for her at the desk. When she had finished, he took the sheet, covered with Russian writing, from her and sent her away. When she had gone he remained for a long time, puffing at his pipe and staring at the paper in his hand. I was burning to ask him what this bizarre advertisement, for such it seemed to be, signified, but I was prevented by the appearance of Hodgetts, who, pushing his way past Mr. Treadgold's manservant, walked in on us. "Well," the inspector announced, young Kendrick's seen that bayonet and admits that it's similar to the one he had in his rooms.
"You mean, he's identified that particular bayonet as his?" Mr. Treadgold snapped.
The other laughed. "You can hardly expect that. He claims that he hasn't seen the bayonet for days and suggests that it was stolen from him. But that's poppycock. I thought I'd just tell you."
Mr. Treadgold nodded impassively. "A drink?" he suggested.
"Thanks, no. My missus is waiting for me to come home to supper."
The inspector departed. Mr. Treadgold looked at his watch. "I'm thinking of going to Paris on the plane to-night," he told me. "That bayonet has a number, you know—all bayonets have—and I'd like to try and trace it..."
I shrugged my shoulders. "What's the good? The only thing we want to know is, who had it last?"
His mouth set obstinately. "All the same, I believe I'll go to Paris—I shan't be away long. Already the horizon of this crime has widened; we now know that Luboff was a doomed man when he left Russia and I seem to discern the shadow of political strife athwart his murder, like a cloud across the face of the sun." He picked up the sheet which Tatiana had left with him. "Will you take this to The Times to-morrow and ask them to run it in Russian script at the head of the agony column until further notice?"
"If you like. But, H.B., what's the idea?"
He gave me an enigmatic smile. "I'm still interested in the chap with the two left feet."
Next day I executed Mr. Treadgold's commission. Tatiana O'Rorke rang up eager for news, but I had none for her. Evening came and I called on my friend at his rooms, only to learn that he was still absent. The following morning the advertisement, looking very exotic in its Russian script, led the agony column in The Times. A court case kept me away from the office until after lunch. Jobling, my clerk, handed me a telegram from Mr. Treadgold, despatched from Paris that morning, asking me to be at his chambers at 6 p.m. that evening; Jobling said that Tatiana O'Rorke had made repeated efforts to reach me.
Presently she telephoned again. She, too, had received a wire from Mr. Treadgold, giving her a rendezvous at Bury Street at six. She had seen the advertisement and wanted to know what it meant, but I assured her I was as much in the dark as she was. Others had seen it, too, she informed me—at lunch at the Medved, a little Russian restaurant near the British Museum where she sometimes went, the Russians were talking of nothing else.
After she had rung off, I remembered that six o'clock that evening was the hour set for the one-legged Russians to put in an appearance at Bury Street. I had a sudden thrill. Old H.B. was not above staging a dramatic surprise on occasion—was he about to unmask the real murderer?
A talkative client made me a few minutes late in arriving at Bury Street. Vestibule and staircase seemed to be full of excited cripples, some on crutches, others with rubbershod sticks. There must have been a score of them—I had no idea there were so many one-legged Russians in London. Upstairs they were already hobbling into the flat. Installed at the desk, with Mr. Treadgold standing behind her, Tatiana O'Rorke was catechising each applicant and handing out Treasury notes—sometimes a pound, sometimes two, as Mr. Treadgold directed—from a bundle on the blotter. As she spoke in Russian I could not understand what she said, but, after listening to her for a while, I was aware that the names Reval and Luboff figured in every question.
I drew H.B. away. "What luck in Paris?"
The blue eyes sparkled. "I traced the bayonet."
"It's one of a series issued in the year to the so-called Russian Legion, composed mainly of ex-officers of the Russian Army who, after the collapse of the Russian front, volunteered for service with the French. This particular bayonet, the records show, formed part of the equipment handed out to a certain Boris Valianko, a Russian artillery colonel..."
The girl called from the desk. "Mr. Treadgold, one moment, please!"
A shabby man on crutches confronted her. "He knows Colonel Valianko," she said. I caught an exasperated exclamation from Mr. Treadgold. "Tchah! It should be his right leg that's missing." I glanced at the cripple. His left trouser leg dangled about a wooden stump.
Tatiana said, "His English is very bad. He says that Colonel Valianko publishes a White Russian weekly paper in London."
The cripple spoke up. "The Colonel vairy good man, vairy kind to poor Rossyans. You give me monney for him, perhaps—he lose leg like me."
Mr. Treadgold stiffened. "A one-legged man, too, is he?" he barked. "Ask him!" he trumpeted to Tatiana as the cripple stared at him uncomprehendingly. "And let him tell us which of Valianko's legs is missing."
The girl translated. "It's the right," she said. And Mr. Treadgold's eyes flashed.
A voice cried, "What's going on here?"
It was Hodgetts, gazing blankly at the halt and maimed stretching in a line to the hall. "I wanted a word with you, Mr. Treadgold," he remarked. But H.B. brushed him aside.
"Not now, damnit, I'm busy."
The Inspector, however, persisted. "It's about that bayonet of Kendrick's—we've found it at his digs. The slavey had carried it down to the cellar to break up coal."
Mr. Treadgold's laugh was a joyous "Ha!" "Then stick along, Inspector, and maybe we'll trace the other bayonet," he cried. He swung to Tatiana. "Does he know where this Valianko hangs out?"
She repeated the question. "His printing office is in Font Street, Islington, and he lives above," she announced.
Mr. Treadgold thrust the bundle of notes into her hand. "Get rid of the rest of these poor devils," he bade her, "and tell our one-legged friend he's coming with us."
Hodgetts had a police car below. We all piled in. At the last moment Tatiana joined us, breathless. The Inspector demurred, but "You'll want me to interpret!" she cried, and we made room for her.
As we sped northward Mr. Treadgold told Hodgetts briefly of his trip to Paris and his success in tracing the owner of the bayonet. The Inspector's face was grim in the light of a passing tram. "Then this Valianko's our man!" he exclaimed.
But H.B. said nothing.
The printing office, housed in a shabby shop in a shabby back street, was dark when we reached it, but a light burned over the side door and in answer to the inspector's loud knock a clumping footstep resounded from within. An elderly man with a shock of iron grey hair and bristling moustaches opened to us. He wore a ragged brown cardigan and his right leg ended in a wooden stump.
"Colonel Valianko?" said Hodgetts.
"I am he," was the proud reply in excellent English.
The inspector handed him a card: I saw the Colonel's face change as he glanced at it. "I want to talk to you," said Hodgetts.
The other inclined his head and led us into a small office. I noticed that he stared hard at Tatiana. "I've seen you at the Medved Restaurant in Museum Street," he observed to her. "It was you who were Alexander Reval's secretary, isn't it?"
But the inspector struck in. "I'm an Inspector of Metropolitan Police, and it's my duty to warn you..."
The Colonel cut him off. "It is about the murder of this man, I know..."
"Why did you kill him?"
"He didn't," Mr. Treadgold now interposed. "But I fancy he can tell us who did." He bent his bushy eyebrows at him. "Where is the man who wore two of your shoes that night?"
Valianko gazed at him out of gentle eyes for a long time in silence. Then, with a movement of the head, he indicated the upper regions of the house. "Upstairs," he said, and in a dull voice added, "He's dying." The inspector would have sprung for the staircase, but the Colonel restrained him with his hand. "Before you go..." he said.
"This man who called himself Reval," he told us, "was in reality the infamous Luboff, who, as Chief of the Secret Police at Odessa after the defeat of Denikin's army, put thousands of innocent people to death. Some months ago I printed in my paper a rumour that reached me from Riga to the effect that Luboff, who had fled from Russia to escape arrest, had taken refuge in London. One day last month a poor ragged fellow called to see me. He had papers showing that he had been a captain in the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Imperial Guards. His name was Paul Michailoff. He told me he had come across a copy of my paper with this story about Luboff while working on the docks at Salonika and wanted to know where Luboff was to be found. I said I couldn't tell him—it was just a rumour which we had failed to confirm. Then he went away."
"When did you see him again?" Mr. Treadgold asked.
"Last week. He came to me absolutely destitute and I discovered that, since our last meeting, he had been living in misery in the East End. He had a terrible cough and was half starved, so I gave him a bed. The next day I took him to a Russian restaurant I frequent to buy him a good dinner. We were passing the British Museum when he stopped dead and pointing to a man who was talking to a girl and who looked like a Russian, asked me if I could tell him who it was. The girl was Mademoiselle here—I'd often seen her at the Medved. I had heard from the proprietress of the restaurant that Mademoiselle was secretary to a man called Reval. I told Michailoff this and said that her companion was probably her employer."
"Did Michailoff tell you the man was Luboff?"
"Not then. But three days later—that's to say, on Saturday, the day of the murder—he did not come home all night and I discovered that my bayonet, the only souvenir of my service with the Russian Legion in France, where I lost my leg, had vanished. Michailoff returned at daybreak, exhausted, half delirious. He told me he had killed this man, Reval, the fiend of Odessa, who years before had caused the death of his mother and sister."
"And knowing this you said nothing?" Tatiana broke in with dark eyes flashing. "Are you aware that an innocent man has been accused of the crime?"
Valianko cast down his eyes. "Michailoff was my comrade and at death's door. I wanted him to die in peace. He would have been dead long before the other came to trial."
"Well, let's go to him!" cried Hodgetts. But Mr. Treadgold said, "One moment!" He turned to Valianko. "How did he come to be wearing your shoes?"
The Colonel flushed. "Gentlemen, I am very poor. When Michailoff came to me the second time his feet were bleeding in torn sandals. Another comrade of mine, whose left leg was shattered at the Masurian Lakes, has helped himself to all the right shoes remaining to me from my wardrobe of other days, and the best I could offer Michailoff was two left boots, part of my equipment as an officer. Fortunately, he is a smaller man than I. He turned to Hodgetts. "A moment, please, before we go upstairs..." He unlocked a desk and produced a sheaf of bank-notes, which he placed in the inspector's hand. "The money he took," he explained. "Two hundred and eighty pounds in all—you will find it intact."
In a barely furnished bedroom on the first floor a naked gas jet cast a trembling light on a haggard, unshaven man who tossed on the bed, coughing incessantly.
"Comrade," said Valianko gently, "these gentlemen are from the police."
The man in the bed turned and his sunken eyes sought each of us in turn. "It is well," he answered in a hollow voice. "I shall tell you the truth, for soon I am going to die." He spoke in fluent English. "It was I who killed Vassily Luboff, who called himself Alexander Reval. My only sister fell into his hands when he was Chief of the Ogpu at Odessa, and when my mother heard our poor little Nadia's story she took her own life. Afterwards Nadia was shot, with twenty-eight others, in the courtyard of the prison."
His cough cut his breath and Valianko gave him some medicine from a bottle. "I was with Denikin's army," he resumed, "and I only learned of my mother's and my sister's fate when, after Denikin's defeat, I reached Odessa in disguise. I followed Luboff about for weeks, meaning to kill him, but he was too well guarded. Finally, I was denounced to the police and had to flee. I reached Constanza, then Constantinople and finally Salonika, where, during all these years, I lived as best I could. But I never forgot Luboff."
His cough racked him again. When he had regained his breath he went on, "Then the other day I read in my comrade Valianko's paper that Luboff was believed to be in London. Within a fortnight, as fireman on a Greek fruit-ship, I was on my way here. Colonel Valianko could not tell me where Luboff was to be found, and for weeks I tramped the streets, looking for him, until all my money was gone and I was forced to ask my comrade for food, a bed. And the very next day I saw Luboff."
"I have told these gentlemen of that meeting," Valianko interposed.
Michailoff said, "This time I was resolved he should not escape me. I did not want to get my kind benefactor into trouble, so I told him nothing of my plan. But I ascertained Reval's address from the telephone directory and for three days, with my comrade Valianko's old bayonet, the only weapon I possessed, under my coat, I hung about the house, waiting for the chance to come upon him alone—I was determined to kill him undisturbed. On Saturday morning he left the house as usual and soon after the housekeeper drove away in a taxi."
His voice was tiring, but he kept on. "All day I waited. My hopes rose when the housekeeper did not return. At dusk he came back. I watched him enter the house, then, when it was dark, boldly rang the bell. As I had calculated, he opened the door himself. At the sight of him I lost all control of myself. 'Have you forgotten Nadia Michailoff?' I shouted, and slashed him across the face with my bayonet. With the blood running down his check he tried to slam the door, but I stopped it with my shoulder and pursued him through the hall into his study. 'I don't know you! I don't know you!' he kept crying. 'I am the brother of Nadia Michailoff, whom you ravished and murdered!' I told him. When he saw my hand go up he crouched down in his chair, trying to protect himself with his hands. But I split his skull for him. I struck him again and again. I..."
He broke off, gasping, spent with excitement. "There was money in the safe," he murmured. "I told myself it was part of the loot he had brought out of Russia—I meant to use it to help my comrades here—all poor Russians..." His voice trailed away, the burning eyes closed.
"And so," I said to Mr. Treadgold as I left him at his door that night, "you were looking for a one-legged man all along?"
He smiled. "At any rate, from the moment I came upon those two left-foot impressions. As you very aptly reminded me, there's no such thing as a human being with two left feet. I therefore asked myself who's a likely person to own a collection of shoes of the same foot? A one-legged person, obviously."
"All right. But, having traced that bayonet to Valianko, why didn't you assume that he was the murderer?"
"My dear George, have you forgotten that wall round the grounds at Acacia Lodge, a good fifteen feet high and set with broken glass? Do you really see a man with a wooden leg scaling it? It had to be an able-bodied person: the problem was to discover how he came to leave the impressions of two left feet. Reason found the answer, reason which, as Tristram Shandy says, 'is half of it sense!'"
Paul Michailoff never came to trial—he died three weeks later. Soon after, Kit and his Tatiana were married, the bridegroom immaculate in a morning-coat from Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, of Savile Row, a wedding present from Mr. Treadgold, who insisted on giving the sweet-looking bride away. Colonel Valianko is managing a flower farm at Grasse. Mr. Treadgold denies that he had anything to do with this; but some admirer in the South of France is always sending him boxes of fresh flowers.
Valianko's bayonet, fitted in its sheath which Michailoff had left behind in the colonel's house, hangs over Mr. Treadgold's fireplace in Bury Street. A small plate affixed to the scabbard reads "To H.B.T. in sincere admiration from W.S.H."
Which, seeing that Divisional Inspector William Samuel Hodgetts owed his promotion to inspector to his brilliant elucidation of the Acacia Lodge mystery, I submit is no more than fair.
IN seeking to rearrange in my mind the exact sequence of events leading up to the tragic affair at Norhasset, I find that the story logically opens on the warm July evening a year or two back, when we were all gathered on the porch at Sea Nest, the Brinckmans' place on Long Island Sound, listening to the Roden Radio Hour. There were eight of us, as I remember—Claud and Edith Brinckman and the two kids—Guy, twelve, and Janet, nine—who were always allowed to sit up for this important weekly event, Geoffrey and Pamela Draycott, down for the week-end like ourselves, and H.B. Treadgold and I.
H.B. and I were playing bridge with the Draycotts. But at Brinckman's behest we interrupted the game at ten o'clock, for he was President of the Roden Flour Corporation—Edith had been the Roden heiress—and the Roden Hour, which he had initiated and of which he was extremely proud, was in the nature of a solemn weekly rite.
To a fanfare of trumpets the announcer's voice rang out triumphant, "Roden Flour is on the air!" I stole a glance at Mr. Treadgold. I had procured him this invitation to the Brinckmans' in order that he might meet Marcia Murray. In a few minutes we would hear her sing—it was odd, I reflected, that he should have his first contact with someone who had given him much anxious thought, thus, through the medium of a disembodied voice.
I had been in the States for several weeks on business concerning the income tax of the American branch of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, and we had had to cable for Mr. Treadgold who had arrived on a flying visit on the previous Wednesday. The first week-end after I arrived Higgins, of Suprema Biscuits, whose law business I attend to in London, had taken me down to Sea Nest—Brinckman is on the board of Suprema. In the hospitable American way Brinckman invited me to propose myself for another week-end any time I liked, so that when on arriving in New York Mr. Treadgold told me of the trouble with young Hayden and Marcia Murray, as Marcia was spending the summer with the Brinckmans, I said he had better come down to Sea Nest and meet the lady.
The strains of "The Jolly Miller," that old English tune, which is the Roden theme song, broke in upon the quiet sounds of the night. Across the lawn the Sound was a cluster of beacons and wheeling lights framed in a gap in the pines above the shore. From the Yacht Club, with its clubhouse and little pier spread out at the foot of the steep rocks descending from the grounds of Sea Nest to the strand, the faint thump of a jazz band mingling with the distant stutter of a power-boat welled up out of the velvety dark.
Looking more like a bank president than a tailor, with his silvery hair, trim moustache and well-cut evening clothes, Mr. Treadgold had an abstracted air. I could guess he was thinking of Ken Hayden, at that moment aboard the Queen Mary, which had taken him that day to his Mamma in England, out of the fair Marcia's clutches. Three generations of Hayden men had been customers of the American branch, with which Mr. Treadgold had spent so many years of his life; he had fished and golfed with Ken's father; it was only natural, therefore, that Mrs. Hayden, who since her husband's death had made her home in England, on discovering that Mr. Treadgold was going out to New York, should have told him her trouble.
She was very wealthy, and at her death her two sons would come into a great deal of money. Friends in America had sent her clippings from the gossip sheets featuring her first-born's romance with the radio star, hinting at marriage. As Ken refused to answer her frantic letters on the subject, she went to Mr. Treadgold.
The swing band had wound up its opening number on a wail of saxophones, giving way to Benny Almond, the comedian and M.C. of the Roden hour, and we were all laughing at his sallies. Static blurred the next announcement; but I saw Mr. Treadgold lean forward eagerly in his chair as a young and fresh soprano voice soared out into the night to the chords of Musetta's song from "Bohème." "Marcia Murray?" he questioned. Guy answered him: "Lord, no! That's Linda!" he said.
Linda Weir was the daughter of the local doctor—the Weir place was just outside the lodge gates. Norhasset was proud of Linda's voice and local residents had put up a purse to send her to Paris to be trained. Since returning to America she had sung small parts with the Chicago Opera and then Brinckman had found her a place on the Roden Hour. While Marcia Murray was the Roden star, privately I considered that Linda had the better voice, although, for radio purposes, Marcia's warm mezzo was possibly more effective. I think Marcia knew it—at any rate, when I had been at Sea Nest before, it seemed to me that there was no love lost between these two.
Possibly Wayne, Marcia's husband, had something to do with it. Wayne and Linda were great cronies, and I don't think Marcia liked it, although, God knows, she was asking for trouble. It was an odd friendship between these two—Wayne, a cynic, with a brilliant mind and bitter tongue, a product of New York theatre, and Linda, still a small town girl, sweet and unspoilt, for all her two years in Europe: there was something clean and wholesome about her which probably took the taste of Broadway out of Wayne Murray's mouth. It seems he was a well-known radio writer before he ever married Marcia, a receptionist, when he first met her, at the Empire State Broadcasting System; it was he who had discovered the radio possibilities of her voice and built her up to stardom on the air, Edith Brinckman told me.
It struck me as rather a dog-in-the-manger attitude on Marcia's part. Although she and Wayne kept house together in New York, when he came down to Norhasset he went to the hotel, Marcia declaring that the bungalow was not large enough for the two of them. It was desperately hot in New York that summer, and Brinckman had lent Marcia this bungalow, a small pavilion perched on the rocks above the Yacht Club, so completely concealed from the main house by a high ridge of ground that from the verandah at Sea Nest you would never know it was there. The story was that the original owner of Sea Nest, an eccentric artist, had built the place to accommodate a chére amie of his, whom he wanted to keep out of the way of his weekend guests.
There was something bird-like and blithe about Musetta's song as Linda sang it; Mr. Treadgold had relapsed into his chair. I knew he was curious about Marcia. I had told him that, from what I had seen of her, she had every man her slave; it had not escaped my attention, for example, that Mrs. Draycott was furious at the way Geoff tagged round after her. Nevertheless, I thought my old friend had done pretty well to persuade young Hayden to take his summer vacation in England, sailing by the Queen Mary the morning of the day we came down to Sea Nest. H.B. had clinched matters by advancing the fare—it appeared that Ken, despite a generous allowance from his mother, was habitually broke.
"Here she is now!" said Brinckman suddenly. Trumpets again, a roll of drums, the announcement swallowed up in the squeak of Janet's chair as she dragged it nearer the loud speaker, then Marcia's vibrant mezzo sweeping into the opening recitative of the aria from "Werther."
"Ah, laisse écouler les larmes!"
The plangent melody, wafted out upon the soft night air, seemed to resolve itself into the troubling personality of the singer. I could see her with her dazzling skin and Titian hair seated at her Bechstein in the bungalow, as I had seen her the last time I was down, singing to her own accompaniment, turning her head to see if we were watching her, with laughing eyes, brown and liquid as a fawn's, and, like a fawn's, set a little off the straight under mischievously arched eyebrows: I remembered how young Hayden's glance devoured her. She was from the south, and her voice had the caress of southern women's voices, speaking of nights perfumed with magnolia and solemn with the silvery greyness of Spanish moss under the moon.
A silence fell when the aria was done. Mr. Treadgold broke it. "Charming!" he declared. "She has the largest fan mail of any singer on the air," Brinckman boasted. "The requests for her photograph arrive by the sackful. We've never kept the Hour so long on the air in summer before, but this year we're running clear through until August. She's hard at work on a new set of songs for next week. Listen to this Spanish thing of hers now—you'll like it."
She sang again, a gay little ballad, while the night breeze from the Sound resounded in the pines and the stars blazed down upon us. Then we had more of Benny Almond and the swing band, a men's chorus, Linda once more and, to finish up with, Marcia in the "Habañera," from "Carmen." At eleven the programme ended. Brinckman pressed the button of the remote control beside his chair—the main set, a radio-gramophone combination, was in the study—silence fell. "Bed, kids!" our host bade the children.
But Guy protested; he wanted to ask Mr. Treadgold a question. "Didn't you tell Janet before dinner that your father let you climb the Breithorn when you were a kid?" he demanded gravely.
Mr. Treadgold answered with the serious air he always employs towards children. "He did, indeed, old man. We set out from Zermatt in the afternoon, climbed to the Theodulhütte, where we spent the night, and started off to the top before daybreak. And was I stiff after it? My gracious, I could hardly walk for a week."
"And you were only thirteen?"
"That's right, Guy."
The boy rounded on his father. "There you are, dad! Next summer I'll be thirteen, and when we go to Switzerland you've just got to let me climb the Breithorn. And the Matterhorn, too, I guess. Last year," he explained to Mr. Treadgold, "dad and Wayne climbed the Breithorn, but they said I was too small."
"If you go, I'm going too!" declared Janet rebelliously.
"My children are enraged mountaineers, Mr. Treadgold," said Edith Brinckman placidly. "If they grow up, either of them, without breaking their necks, I shall be surprised."
"We usually go to Switzerland in the summer," Brinckman explained, "but this year I couldn't spare the time. I can't persuade Edith to climb, but the kids love it."
"Marcia climbs, too," said Janet impressively.
"We first met the Murrays at Zermatt," Mrs. Brinckman supplemented.
The children said good night and we resumed our game. It was half-past eleven before the rubber was finished. Mrs. Draycott wanted to go on, but, with a glance at his watch, her husband stood up. "Marcia said she'd try and make the eleven-eighteen train," he announced, avoiding his wife's eye. "I told her I'd take the car in to meet her."
Pamela Draycott pursed her lips. She was one of those smart Park Avenue matrons, ashen-blonde and beautifully turned out. "Nonsense, Geoff," she said. "Surely Carlsen or one of the other chauffeurs can go."
"There's always a car standing by, Geoff, you know that," Brinckman put in.
Draycott, a big, shambling man, shook himself like a bear. "It's so infernally close to-night," he muttered. "A run in the air will do me good."
He strode out. Mrs. Draycott's mouth trembled as she mechanically stacked up the cards. Presently she rose and said she was going to bed. That was the end of our bridge. Edith produced her knitting, Treadgold and Brinckman discussed radio advertising and I picked up a magazine. Brinckman refilled our glasses. Then there were voices in the house and Marcia Murray, in a man's camel-hair overcoat over her white tussore suit, came out on the porch. With her, to my unbounded astonishment, was young Hayden.
I looked at Mr. Treadgold. He was glaring at Ken, his blue eyes blazing. Marcia sank down on the couch. "Give me a drink, somebody, quick! This lunatic brought us down from New York in that supercharged soap-box of his in twenty-six minutes!"
"Twenty-four, honey!" said the boy, turning to the side table where the drinks were set out. "Do I get a bed, Claud?" he asked our host.
"Sure. Oscar will see to it if you ring that bell."
"Geoff went to the train to meet you, Marcia," Mrs. Brinckman told the singer.
She laughed. "Did he?" She was unmoved. Since nobody else did anything about it, I introduced Mr. Treadgold. "You're a friend of Ken's, aren't you?" she remarked as she gave him her hand. "Oscar left you some supper in the dining-room, Marcia," said Edith.
"I never have dinner the nights I sing," Marcia explained to Mr. Treadgold. She extended her wrist to Edith. "Look, darling, a present!"
It was a small but very pretty diamond bangle. "From Cartier's," she said. Ken gave it to me."
Old H.B. had gone very red. Marcia slung off her coat and, slim as a young larch, tripped into the house—like Lily Pons, she had not sacrificed her figure to her art—Claud and Edith trailing behind. Young Hayden would have followed after, but purposefully Mr. Treadgold's large bulk barred the way.
Normally H.B. is the most peaceable of men. But now he fairly bristled with anger—I had not seen him in such a rage since the Northwood murder, when we stood over the dead body of pretty little Agnes Hartley in the snow. I remembered that he had known Ken as a child, had personally measured him for his first tails. The boy faced him defiantly, a stripling in flannels and a bright blue pullover, good looking in rather a weak fashion, with fair hair towsled by his trip through the night.
Ken took the bull by the horns. "So what?" he said challengingly. "Can't a fellow change his mind?"
"That bangle?" Mr. Treadgold spluttered.
The young man shrugged his shoulders.
"You never meant to go?"
Ken wriggled. "Don't worry. Mother will refund you the four hundred bucks!"
Mr. Treadgold snorted. "Is that so? And will your mother likewise settle the bill you owe us for clothes—twenty-five hundred odd dollars?"
The young man flushed vividly, but said nothing.
"You had that money from your mother to pay us, and what did you do? You frittered it away and when Mr. Harris at our place—who has been far too lenient—pressed you for something on account, you gave him a dud cheque."
"The bank let me down."
"Fiddlesticks! You were overdrawn—you're always overdrawn. Now you listen to me, young man! I'm sailing by the Paris on Wednesday, and you're coming with me."
He looked sullen. "I can't do that. Marcia's been asked to Newport when her radio work finishes next month, and I'm going along." He hesitated. "You may as well know it, Mr. Treadgold. I'm in love with her—I intend to marry her."
"A woman ten years your senior!"
"She's not. I'm twenty-four, and she's thirty-one."
"She's thirty-five, but no matter. What about her husband?"
"Wayne? Skip it! He eats out of her hand—he'll give her a divorce any time she wants it."
"And what does the lady say to your plan?"
He coloured to the roots of his hair. "I haven't asked her yet. But..."
"Then you can save your breath—or get yourself a job. Your mother instructs me to say that the day you marry this woman your allowance ceases. And I'll tell you something else. Giving a cheque without funds is an indictable offence, and if you're not on that boat with me on Wednesday, as sure as God made little apples, you go to jail!"
A soft voice said. "Who's going to jail?"
It was Marcia. She had taken off her hat, and her lovely hair glowed under the lamp. Glancing curiously from Mr. Treadgold to the boy, she said disdainfully, "Scram, Ken!"
You would have said a puppy with its tail between its legs as young Hayden slouched out. Composedly, Marcia sat down on the couch. "Have you a cigarette, Mr. Duckett?" she asked me in her thrilling voice.
Mr. Treadgold had gone to the bridge table and finished his whisky at a gulp. "What's Ken been up to now?" Marcia questioned, as he turned to face her.
"It seems he wants to marry you, Mrs. Murray," said H.B., gravely.
With a delicate air she shook the ash from her cigarette. "Is this a proposal, Mr. Treadgold?" she inquired flippantly.
"My dear," pronounced my friend gently. "I'm old enough to be your father, so I can speak frankly. You're very beautiful—after hearing you sing and now seeing you, I'm not surprised at Ken, or any other young man, falling head over heels in love with you. Tell me, are you really contemplating getting a divorce from your husband and marrying the boy?"
Her face was impassive. "Ken's a grand person," she observed cautiously.
"Are you in love with him?"
"I might be. Why?"
"Because this marriage will entail a great sacrifice for him."
Her brown eyes snapped irately. "For him?"
"For him. Any money he may inherit is absolutely at the disposition of his mother who, I may as well tell you, is an extremely active person still in her early fifties. If Ken marries without her consent he will not receive, now or at any time, another cent from her, and at her death her fortune will go to his brother. You can take it from me that she will never agree to this marriage."
"Mrs. Hayden does not approve of divorce. Besides, forgive me, my dear, but you're older than Ken." He paused. "You're a woman of the world, Mrs. Murray. The young man's no good to you. He owes money all round New York; his mother's sick of paying his debts; sooner or later he'll land you in a scandal. Take my tip! Lay off!"
It seemed to me that I heard a step in the room behind us. I swung about. It was Ken. I wondered how much he had heard through the screen door.
"Your soup's getting cold, Marcia," he announced sullenly.
"I'll be right in," she said, and the door fell to as Hayden disappeared. She smiled at Mr. Treadgold. "Maybe you're right," she told him, and it was as though a pact had been sealed between them. Then Draycott came up the porch steps. He looked hot and cross. "Darling," she cried. "Ken came busting in on me at the studio with his old car, and I forgot all about you." She snuggled up to him. "Come and drink a glass of champagne with me while I have my supper."
Arm-in-arm they went into the house together. I looked after them and laughed. "Well," I commented, "if it isn't one man, it's another!"
Mr. Treadgold chuckled. "You remind me of Mrs. Shandy," he remarked, "who, if you remember, never was able to distinguish between a point of pleasure and a point of convenience."
"When you start quoting Tristram Shandy," I told him, "I go to bed!"
"When you start quoting Tristram Shandy, George," he gave me back, "I'll realise that your education is complete."
AFTER breakfast next morning I was in the library with Brinckman, looking at his first editions. The library had two windows giving on the porch where Mr. Treadgold was ragging with the children, on their way down to the Yacht Club to bathe. Presently I heard Linda's voice inquiring for Marcia. The next moment Wayne Murray strode into the library. He paid no attention to me. "What's this Ed Holmes tells me about not renewing Linda's contract?" he demanded brusquely of Brinckman.
"Now, Wayne," said Claud, "you know the agency decides these things!"
"The agency, my eye!" Murray's lean face was contemptuous. You know damned well who canned her."
"As from next Saturday we're cutting down to half an hour—you know that, old man!" Brinckman replied.
"You could have let the male singers out—you could have cut down on that lousy orchestra of yours. Why butcher Linda?"
"She's had thirteen weeks on the air, Wayne."
"So why couldn't she have gone the other four? You know why. Ever since the start Marcia's been as jealous as hell, and the moment Linda's contract's up, out she goes! You've got to put her back, Claud—she needs the money for her training. Another six months with Pinelli and she'll make the Met."
"It's impossible, old man!" Wayne Murray's eyes blazed. "If you won't listen to me, you'll have to listen to Marcia!" He stormed out.
A hunted expression crept into Brinckman's pleasant features. He was a fastidious man, cultured and charming, Groton and Harvard and all the rest of it; of much better social background, I knew, than Edith, whose father had started life as a German mill-hand. Her money, Higgins had told me, had rescued Brinckman from a somewhat precarious existence as a polo club secretary or something of the kind and, though on their marriage he had taken over his wife's family business, I fancied that the ways of commerce must be alien to his nature. That is probably why he was so keen about the radio hour—it gave the aesthetic side of him an outlet. I liked Brinckman. He was a simple-minded man, devoted to his wife and children; his home life was obviously ideally happy.
I could see that Wayne's onslaught had upset him. He gave me an apologetic glance. "Sorry, Duckett! This is what comes of getting mixed up with the arts. The artistic temperament's the devil, isn't it? Ah, well!" Then Mrs. Brinckman called him, and he drifted out.
It was another magnificent day. Outside on the porch I came upon Linda talking to Ken Hayden. Ken, who was in flannels, was grumbling, "Why are stars always late? Marcia said she'd play tennis at eleven, and it's getting on for twelve. She's going to New York after lunch for a rehearsal. Is Wayne going with her?"
"I believe so," said Linda shortly. Then we saw Marcia, clean- limbed in spotless slacks, crossing the grass. "Hello, everybody!" she cried. "Has anybody seen Geoffrey?"
"Marcia," said Ken in a suffocated voice, "you promised to play tennis with me."
"It's too hot," was the casual answer. "Run up to Geoff's room, will you, Ken, and see if he's ready? He's challenged me to a round of clock golf."
"We'll make it a threesome!"
"Nothing doing, honey! This is a match. Go on, hurry!"
Well, she had certainly laid Mr. Treadgold's advice to heart. But I felt sorry for Ken. He looked so dreadfully woebegone. Calf love is a harrowing thing.
He went slowly into the house. Linda spoke up. "Did Wayne say anything to you about my contract, Marcia?"
Marcia, scrutinising her lovely face in the mirror of her compact, drew her upper lip over her lower and said, "Yes, and I told him I wouldn't discuss it. You know as well as I do that it's Ed Holmes and the people at the agency who settle these things."
Linda's young face flamed. "You can't ride off it like that. I was on the Roden Hour before you were ever engaged, and you made up your mind from the start to get rid of me. You know it was you who put C.B. up to it."
"That's sheer nonsense! As if I had any influence over Mr. Brinckman!"
"You're the star, you run the whole programme, everybody knows that. Why, you even decide my numbers!" Her voice shook. "Listen, Marcia, be a sport! This means so much to me. Let me see the summer through, and maybe I'll find another sponsor."
Marcia stamped her foot. "I tell you I've nothing to do with it. The agency says the programme lacks variety. Is it my fault if Ed thinks your voice and mine are too much alike?"
"You flatter yourself. I may not be as successful as you, but at least I've learned to produce my voice properly. I mayn't have your tricks, your vibrato, for instance, but I do sing in tune."
I expected an outburst, but Marcia said with deadly calm, "I suppose Wayne told you that."
Linda faltered. "Never mind who told me. It's true."
At that moment Draycott came lumbering out of the house. Marcia shut her compact with a snap and turned to Linda. "You'd better watch your step, you and Wayne," she said. "Particularly you, Linda Weir." She held out her hand to Draycott. "Come on, Geoff, and watch me beat the head off you!"
Hand-in-hand they disappeared round the side of the house, leaving her disconsolate. Lunch came and brought with it—to me, at least—a sense of growing strain. Linda had gone home, but Wayne lunched with us and scarcely spoke a word throughout the meal. Marcia flirted outrageously with Draycott, and Ken looked blacker and blacker. I thought the pair of them would have come to blows when, after lunch, Marcia and Wayne rose to go to their rehearsal in New York. Ken's racing Benz and Draycott's convertible were parked one behind the other in front of the house. But, as I could have told Ken, it was Draycott who drove Marcia to the train, with Wayne isolated in the rumble.
I thought Mr. Treadgold should know how thoroughly Marcia had followed his counsel, and after tea carried him off for a round of clock golf. At the same time I told him of the trouble about Linda's contract. He smiled rather grimly as he swung his putter. "We tailors see a lot of the weaknesses of human nature in the fitting-room, George," he observed. "For a quarter of a century I've been studying my fellow creatures, yet it's always with a sense of surprise that I discover how inevitably people behave according to type. This Marcia woman now! I've had one brief interview with her, but even before you spoke, I could have epitomised her character on a half-sheet of notepaper. With half the talent of the little Linda lady she is forging her way straight to the top. Why? Because she has a single-track mind headed for her goal, whatever it is; because she's self-centred and utterly ruthless; but also because she's highly intelligent, as witness the way she reacted to my hint about Ken. I've met her type before. Society ought to do something about such women. After all, we don't leave packets of dynamite kicking around. A woman like Marcia Murray is every bit as dangerous."
"Did you notice Mrs. Draycott at lunch?" I cut in. "She didn't like the way Marcia was carrying on with Geoffrey."
"That's what I mean. Women of that type stir up strife wherever they go."
His words recurred to me an hour or two later when we were gathered on the porch for a cocktail before dinner. Sunday was the servants' night out at Sea Nest, and the Brinckmans were in the habit of taking their guests on that night to dine at the Yacht Club. Being Sunday, nobody dressed. Our hostess and Pamela Draycott were alone on the veranda when I appeared. Mrs. Draycott looked upset: I thought she had been crying. She was saying to Edith Brinckman, "What the heck! If it isn't Marcia, it's some other woman. A man like that ought to go out on a leash. I'm fed up with his everlasting affairs."
I realised then that we had not seen anything of the dashing Geoff since lunch. It was getting on for half-past seven by the time he and Marcia arrived in his car. There was no sign of Wayne. It was Marcia who did the explaining. It was so glorious driving, and it would have been so hot in the train: Geoff, like a sport, had taken them up to New York by road. Wayne was returning by train: he had one of his sketches to rehearse, and it had kept him late. I saw Draycott edging towards his wife; but she ignored him.
Soon after we packed into two cars and drove down to the Club. There was no direct access to the shore from the Brinckman place: the rocks were too steep. One had to go out by the lodge gates and take a road that wound down a hill to the beach. It was a rough road, and the Brinckmans and their guests mostly went to the Club by car. It was cool beside the water and we dined indoors, next to long windows folded back on a broad terrace, festooned with coloured lights. The Beach Club, a mile along the shore, was the social centre of Norhasset: the Yacht Club was the resort of the sailing boat crowd, and there were peeled noses, grubby white sweaters and shorts about us in the dining-room.
The children were having their supper at home. We sat down without waiting for Ken—our host and hostess, the Draycotts, Marcia, H.B. and I but Ken arrived soon after, and took the vacant place beside me. He was still sulking; he only raised his eyes from his plate to glare at Marcia who, across the table, was telling Brinckman about her rehearsal. One would have thought the boy had been snubbed enough for one day: I didn't realise then that he had been drinking. Anyhow, when I followed the others across the terrace to the lounge for coffee—I had gone back to get my glasses which I had left on the dinner table—I came upon him and Draycott shouting at one another on the board walk. Marcia was between them, and each of them held her by an arm. Then I saw Brinckman and H.B. running from the clubhouse.
Draycott was saying, "Let her alone, can't you? She's not going to the Beach Club or anywhere else with you. She's going with me!" and with flat palm he thrust Ken back.
"Damn you, keep your hands to yourself!" Ken snarled, and would have struck him if Brinckman had not stepped between.
Draycott tried to take Marcia away. "Come on, Marcia, let's get out of this!" he told her.
But she shook him off. "I'm sick of you both, and your stupid brawling," she cried, and slipped her arm into Brinckman's. "Claudie, take me up to the bungalow. I'm going to bed."
Fortunately, the board walk was momentarily deserted except for us, and our hostess and Mrs. Draycott had gone off to powder their noses. I found myself alone with Mr. Treadgold, who stood at the balustrade, gazing out across the little bay, his face sternly disapproving under the string of coloured lights. "The young puppy!" I heard him mutter.
"She's as much to blame as he is," I declared. "She led him on."
"I shan't be sorry to get him out of her clutches!" he remarked, and offered me his cigar case.
Sea Nest stood on a point forming one arm of a small inlet. The night was still and moonless: it was pleasant there, with the fragrance of Mr. Treadgold's unparalleled Partagas in our nostrils, and the moving lights of the Sound all about. There was a party in progress on a yacht moored in the bay, with laughter and the jangle of the radio drifting across the water. A young woman in white slacks came clattering up from the pier and disappeared into the clubhouse bar, and we had the terrace to ourselves again.
"Come," said Mr. Treadgold at last, "they'll be waiting to play bridge."
I was relieved to find that Draycott was not going to play: even when they were on speaking terms, he and his wife bickered incessantly at the bridge table. I partnered our hostess against H.B. and Mrs. Draycott. Brinckman drifted in and sat down to backgammon with Draycott. They had finished their game when Mrs. Brinckman discovered that she had run out of the special de- nicotinised cigarettes she smokes, and Brinckman went up to the house to fetch some.
We had finished the rubber, and I was totting up the score when something was said about hearing Marcia sing. "Aren't we going to play another rubber?" demanded Mrs. Draycott.
"It's ten to eleven," said Brinckman, who had appeared behind his wife's chair. "Anyway, before you start again, come outside a moment and hear Marcia. She's in glorious voice tonight."
"I thought she was going to bed?" Draycott put in.
"She told me she was going to practise a little. Quiet now!"
She was singing Tschaikovsky's Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. They had extinguished the lights on the terrace and the radio on the yacht was silent. We stood with our backs to the water, our faces raised to the black mass of the rocks, at the top of which the bungalow, screened in trees, was perched, and heard the lovely melody go soaring like a bird into the night. The piano that accompanied the singer had a splendid resonance—the sweeping chords crashed out majestically. "She always plays for herself," Mrs. Brinckman whispered to me. "Marcia's a wonderful musician."
There were dim figures about us on the board walk where people had stopped to listen. With tragic finality the last words of the song rang out:
"Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, weiss was ich leide!" clear and bell-like, the closing notes trembled in the stillness and died. The piano ceased; there was a little splutter of applause from the surrounding dark.
People moved about me, but I lingered there, banned by the magic of the song. I stirred at last to find Mrs. Draycott beside me. "Where's Geoff?" she demanded. I said I hadn't seen him, and she whirled away. A noisy troupe of boys and girls came up from the landing stage, headed for the parking place. A few minutes later I came face to face with Mrs. Draycott again. Brinckman and H.B. were with her. I heard her say, "I bet he went up to her bungalow." Brinckman laughed and answered, "Nothing doing, Pam, darling. When I took her up there after dinner, she said she was going to lock herself in and practise for an hour before going to bed. And when Marcia practises, she'll have no one butting in, you can lay to that!"
Then Draycott's tall figure loomed up—he said he had strolled as far as the pier. His wife made some snippish retort which I didn't catch, and we all returned to the lounge. "What became of Ken, I wonder?" H.B. said to me. There was no more talk of bridge, but we had another drink and, round midnight, drove back to the house. We were standing around gossiping when Ken appeared. He paid no attention to us but lurched unsteadily through the hall and up to his room. After that, we all went to bed.
WE were at breakfast next morning, Brinckman, H.B. and I, when Karen, the flaxen-haired housemaid who looked after Treadgold and me—all the Brinckman servants were Scandinavian—was suddenly framed in the open French window, blue eyes staring, mouth agape. "Mr. Brinckman," she panted, clutching her side, "the Madame, back there in the bungalow. I tak' her her hot water and lemon and—ach, Gott, O, Gott!"
We had all sprung to our feet. Oscar, the elderly Swedish butler, had hurried in from the hall. "What you mean, bursting in here like this?" he said to the girl severely. Karen did not seem to hear him. Hands pressed to her cheeks she wailed, "She lie there on the floor and don't say nothing. And there's blood, blood!"
H.B. had already darted from the room; as we hastened after, we saw him scudding across the lawn towards the high knoll behind which the bungalow lay.
The entrance to the bungalow was from the side. You stepped straight into the living-room which opened on to a veranda overlooking the water. We saw her at once, as Karen had blundered in upon her—the breakfast tray with its smoking jug and glass of lemon juice was on the table where the frightened maid had set it down—lying in front of the big stone fireplace which, set in the right-hand wall as you entered, facing the veranda, was the most noticeable feature of the room. She was on her back, with eyes closed and congested face, her head bent backward over the coping of the hearth in a pool of blood which stained the snowy flags and the white fur hearth rug beneath her. She had dined in the gay flowered silk she had donned for her trip to New York; now she was in black velvet lounging pyjamas with a little green jacket and green slippers over her bare feet. The crumpled look of the body, like a doll a child has thrown down, told us she was dead.
Mr. Treadgold was on his knees beside the prostrate figure, lifting an eyelid with probing finger. I heard Draycott's gasp of horror, "She must have fainted and struck her head in falling!" and Brinckman's sharp order to the butler, "Get Dr. Weir, quick!" As the man scrambled for the door, a brusque command from Mr. Treadgold halted him. "And ring up the police at the same time!"
H.B. stood up, dusting his hands. "She's dead," he announced. "She's been strangled!" He stepped aside and we saw the dead woman's face. There were black bruises on the ivory whiteness of the neck. "Those are finger marks!" he said.
"But who..." Brinckman began in a puzzled voice.
"My God!" Draycott whispered. Then he did a dreadful thing: he began to cry. Striding over to the grand piano, on the right of the fireplace, he buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaken by sobs.
Our host looked quite stunned. "What a ghastly, ghastly thing!" he murmured, staring down at the body. "Who should have wanted to kill her?" Then, perceiving that the butler had disappeared, "Excuse me, but I don't want that dumb Swede to go blurting this out to my wife. I'll be right back." He hurried out.
I could not bear to look at Marcia lying there. I had only been in the bungalow once before; but the living-room, with its airy windows and blue rugs, the masses of the roses she loved, the big Bechstein, open as she had left it, where she had sung for us, seemed to be permeated with her presence. Death is so merciless. What a poor tousled thing it had made of one who, living, had revealed grace and beauty in every line!
Draycott had flung away to the porch. Mr. Treadgold said, "She was killed last night. She's been dead for hours; at least twelve, I'd say."
I glanced at my watch. "Hardly that, H.B. It's 9.20 now; but around 11 o'clock last night she was up here practising. Look, there's the piano open as she left it with the top up and the stool pushed back. And isn't that a hairpin on the rug?"
He picked up the hairpin—it was gilt—glanced at it and laid it on the stool. "That's smart of you, George. For a moment I'd forgotten. Do you recall the exact time when we all went out on the terrace to hear her? It may be important."
"Absolutely. The precise hour was ten minutes to eleven—somebody mentioned the time when we were talking about playing another rubber. It was just before we left the lounge to listen to her."
He nodded. "It means that at ten minutes to eleven she was still alive."
He was mooching about the room with an aimless air which, however, did not deceive me—I had seen him so often on the job before. This is what H.B calls "getting the picture"—I know that peculiar mind of his, receptive as a sensitised film, was absorbing and fixing every detail of the scene. Pending the arrival of the police, he touched nothing but, as I was well aware, missed nothing, though, heavens knows, as far as I could see, the murderer had left no trace. The dresser with its glasses and crockery was undisturbed, the ash-trays clean. The refectory table, set against the long chesterfield before the fire, the shelf of books flanking the gramophone against the wall facing the door, revealed no sign of a foreign presence. The gramophone was open and I noticed that the record lying on the disc was the Habañera from "Carmen" as sung by Jeritza, in which we had heard Marcia on the air on the Saturday night.
But H.B. scrutinised everything, the glasses on the dresser, the magazines on the table, the gramophone, the bookshelves, even the piano keys, stooping to run his eye along them, always with the same bleak, abstracted air. Opening a door beside the bookcase, "Her bedroom," he remarked and went in.
The bed had not been slept in. It was turned down and a filmy crepe de chine night-dress lay across the pillow. The gown Marcia had worn at dinner was spread across the back of a chair. The room was in perfect order, the same with the bathroom and the small kitchen beyond it.
Back in the living-room H.B. faced me. "Well?"
There was no need for words between us. I knew what was in his mind. It was Draycott, appearing behind us, who put a name to it. "It's Ken who's done this," he cried furiously. "He'd threatened her, you know. She complained to me only last night that he'd told her, if she refused to marry him, he'd put a bullet through her and one through himself."
Footsteps outside prevented us replying. Brinckman came in with Dr. Weir, whom I had met before. The doctor's first examination was brief and business-like. "Well, her skull's fractured," he announced, rising to his feet, "but whether she died of that or of asphyxia through strangulation, only the autopsy can show."
"How long would you say she has been dead?" Mr. Treadgold inquired.
"At least twelve hours, I'd surmise, although these things depend to some extent on the temperature of the room." He stooped to feel again one of the limply pendant hands.
"That's not right, Doctor"—it was our host speaking. "We know that at 10 o'clock she was still alive. She was singing at her piano here—we all heard her down at the Club."
"That's correct," Mr. Treadgold agreed. "The exact time was 10.50; she was singing for about five minutes, I suppose."
"What's this?" said the doctor suddenly, bending to retrieve something from the floor. It was a tiny diamond-studded watch. "It was under her," he explained. "I guess it fell from her arm as she went down. The glass is broken." He held the watch to his ear. "It's stopped." He peered at the face. "At 11.6. That gives us the precise hour of death—at any rate, the moment when she was attacked." He dropped to his knees beside the body again.
Brinckman took the three of us aside. "Corcoran, the assistant district attorney, and Logan, the chief of police, are on their way," he told us. "Logan's all right, but Corcoran's pretty rough—the small town politician type—he's likely to make things unpleasant for everybody." His troubled gaze sought Mr. Treadgold's. "Especially for Ken." He paused. "I don't wish to be inquisitive, but Marcia told me you'd spoken to her about this affair of theirs."
"That's right," Mr. Treadgold agreed. "She took it very well, very well indeed."
Our host hesitated: his trouble deepened. "I may as well tell you fellows—I'll have to tell the police: I saw Ken coming away from the bungalow last night."
"What did I say?" exclaimed Draycott. And he repeated what Marcia had told him about the boy's threat.
Brinckman sighed. "It must have been around half-past ten. I'd walked up to the house to fetch Edith's cigarettes. I was hunting for them on the porch when I caught a glimpse of Ken rounding that knoll at the back of this. He didn't see me, for, instead of coming over, he cut across the lawn in the direction of the lodge gates."
"You didn't go back to the bungalow yourself?" said Treadgold.
"No. Marcia bolted the front door when I left her; she told me she was going to practise."
"Where's Ken?" remarked H.B. fretfully. "He ought to be here."
"I've sent for him. For Wayne, too."
Corcoran was a flabby man in horn-rimmed glasses with a self- important air and a peculiarly strident voice. Police Chief Logan, the type of police captain grown grey in harness, deferred to him in everything. Followed by a plain clothes man, whom they addressed as "Joe," a photographer and two uniform officers, they filled the house of death with their clatter. Corcoran's very first question grated on Mr. Treadgold, I could see.
"What are these men doing here?" he barked, pointing at us.
Brinckman presented us. There was a conference round the body. The watch was produced and, by the aid of a string of questions barked at us severally and collectively, the district attorney established the fact that at ten minutes to eleven the victim was singing and therefore alive. "She must 'a been attacked right after she'd done singing," Logan opined, "or, maybe, while she was yet at the piano."
"No," Mr. Treadgold interposed gently. "Mr. Brinckman told us she bolted the front door when he left her last night. But this morning the maid was able to get in with the breakfast. And you'll find that the door has not been forced. Mrs. Murray must have let the murderer in; it suggests, therefore, that it was someone she knew."
Logan grunted, and with Detective Joe at his heels began to prowl round while Corcoran set about our host with further questions—who was staying in the house?—when had the dead woman been seen last? Brinckman told of escorting her home after dinner—he supposed, around nine p.m. He had chatted to her through the bedroom door while she was changing into pyjamas and soon after she had sent him away. He was unable to give the exact time by which he was back at the Yacht Club; but H.B. supplied this. He had chanced to see the clock when Brinckman carne in; it was at half-past nine.
Wayne Murray's arrival interrupted this conversation. Of course, he had already heard the news; but it struck me that he was remarkably self-possessed as they stepped back and disclosed the body. In his brusquest fashion Corcoran tackled him at once. It was evident that he had heard some gossip about the Murrays, for his tone was distinctly suspicious.
But Wayne, his clean-cut features impassive under his drooping lock of greying hair, never lost his composure. He had not seen Marcia since about five p.m. the previous day, when they had parted in New York after their rehearsal, she to pick up Draycott at Jack and Charlie's bar, he to go to another rehearsal. Describing his movements he said he had promised to give Linda Weir dinner at the Blue Bird, a beach restaurant at Norhasset, but his rehearsal kept him late and he telephoned her to have her dinner and meet him at the Blue Bird at ten-thirty. He reached there at about ten-forty-five and stayed until half-past eleven or so, when he saw Miss Weir home.
The policeman on the door called out to Logan, "She's here, Chief!" Logan's glance appealed to Corcoran, who said, "Bring her in!" A screen, procured from the bedroom, now concealed the body; behind it the photographer, mounted on a chair, was at work. One glance at Linda's face told me she, too, had heard the news. She wore a bright yellow skirt over a swimming suit, and her slim, brown legs were bare. "I was in swimming," she told Logan breathlessly. "The lifeguard swam out to the raft and told me you'd sent for me." Her father had stepped forward, but—rather indiscreetly, I thought—she ran to Wayne Murray's side.
"Where were you last night?" Corcoran asked her.
"Home. Father was out and I was supposed to dine with Mr. Murray. But he phoned that he'd be late and..."
"What time did he meet you at the Blue Bird?"
"At five to eleven."
Corcoran frowned. "You know the time very exactly, don't you?"
"He was nearly half an hour late. I was watching the clock."
He swung to Wayne. "Your wife was attacked at eleven-six. Did you know?"
He shook his head. "I know nothing so far."
"But you have a good, strong alibi, haven't you?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Any number of people saw Miss Weir and me at the Blue Bird together."
"You weren't living with your wife, I think?"
"We have our apartment in New York, but this place was too small for us. She liked to practise her singing, and it interfered with my writing."
"So you stop at the hotel and take young ladies out to dinner, is that it?"
"I don't see that it's any of your damned business if I do!"
Corcoran glowered at him, his mouth ugly; but the appearance of Logan, whom Joe had beckoned behind the screen, averted the imminent explosion. He dangled a broken white shoelace.
"It was in the fireplace," he explained. "And there's this!"
He held up a charred and crumpled fragment of paper which he had smoothed out. "The fire ain't been lit, but it's laid. Joe found this with a lot of trash on top of the coals." He gave Corcoran the paper.
It was a sheet of the Sea Nest writing paper, deep blue in hue—I could see the telephone number, Norhasset 995, printed in white across the top left-hand corner. It looked as if the single sheet had been rolled into a ball and a match applied; it had been burnt across and only part of the writing had survived.
Corcoran studied the remnant, frowning. "Is this the writing of anybody in the house?" he asked Brinckman. It was H.B. who, looking over our host's shoulder, replied, "It's young Hayden's!"
Mr. Treadgold preserved the note and I reproduce it from his files:
this sort of thi...
but you are mista...
can't throw me out li...
sooner than that I...
bullet through you and...
Mutilated though the letter was, its purport was clear enough. It was Ken informing Marcia that he refused to be dropped. Evidently, she had had this letter in mind when she told Draycott that Ken had threatened her.
It was while we were all still speechless under the effect of this bombshell that Ken chose to arrive at the bungalow.
Corcoran let him wait while the whole wretched story, which none of us had wanted to take the lead in unfolding, came out. From Draycott first, telling of Marcia's disclosure, and of the scene after dinner; from Brinckman then, looking unhappier than ever, and last, but not least, with evident reluctance, from Mr. Treadgold. Wayne and Linda stood aloof while the district attorney's questions rained down on us. She was gazing, bright- eyed, lips parted, at Wayne, relief written plainly on her face. And no wonder.
The light of battle shone behind Corcoran's round glasses. I trembled for Ken. One could see the way of it so clearly. Fuddled with drink, maddened with jealousy at being discarded for Draycott, he had gone to the bungalow to seek the answer to his letter; there were words—he had seized her by the throat... I thought of him as I had seen him, pallid and with set features, staggering to his bed; I was cold with suspense as they brought him in.
I could guess the job they must have had to awaken him. The marks of the evening were on him—yellow eyeballs, twitching hands. He had not stopped to shave, scrambling hastily into the blue jacket and cream flannels he had worn at dinner. Instinctively my eyes dropped to his feet. His white tennis shoes had obviously not been cleaned that day.
And one had a broken lace!
The atmosphere in the room was tense with suspicion. Whether Ken felt it or whether it was that there are moments in life too poignant for expression—I once saw a French play based on this idea, in which the chief character never spoke; at any rate, with no more than a slow, unwilling glance at the unrevealing screen, he faced the district attorney in silence.
Corcoran played the cat-and-mouse game with him. He was anxious to establish the movements of Mr. Brinckman's guests on the previous evening, he announced with more suavity than he had hitherto displayed. Ken was palpably nervous. He had gone to the Blue Bird on leaving the Yacht Club, knowing that Wayne and Linda were dining there, he said, and, not finding them, around about ten-fifteen had made his way to the Weirs' place; but nobody was at home. On that he had strolled as far as the Yacht Club grounds where he sat down in a chair near the tennis courts and fell asleep. When he awoke it was nearly midnight and he went home to Sea Nest.
Corcoran produced the charred letter. "Is that your writing?" he demanded bluntly.
The boy cast a haggard glance about him. "Yes!"
"You threatened to kill her and then yourself. Is that right?"
He made an effort to pull himself together. "She wanted to walk out on me and I couldn't bear it. It was a stupid letter to write, and I guess I didn't mean it. I know what you're thinking, but I didn't kill her. I didn't see her again after dinner. I left that note here in the afternoon, while she was away in New York."
The district attorney held out the broken lace. "Is this your shoelace?"
He glanced down at his shoe, nodded. "I guess so. I remember my shoe coming untied when I was here yesterday afternoon and the lace broke..."
"And what were you doing here last night?"
Corcoran's harsh voice broke in.
"I wasn't here last night!"
Brinckman interposed. "But, Ken, I saw you coming away from here. Around half-past ten, it was!"
"I wanted to see if Marcia was still up."
The district attorney leaned forward. "Then you were here?"
"I was not. I didn't go farther than the knoll. The place was in darkness."
"Baloney." He swung to Brinckman. "Didn't you gentlemen tell me that at ten minutes to eleven she was singing here at the piano?"
"That's right," said Brinckman.
"I don't give a damn what they say," was Ken's angry retort. "I don't know what time it was when I was outside here, but I do know that the windows were dark. So I went down to the Yacht Club."
"And why didn't you mention the fact before that you went as far as the bungalow before going on to the club?"
The irate colour faded from his cheeks. "I guess I didn't think of it," he muttered. The denial was not convincing. The district attorney took Logan out on the porch. Ken said brokenly, addressing us all: "You don't believe I killed her, surely? My God, why would I want to do a thing like that when she was the only person in the world that mattered to me?"
Nobody spoke. Then Mr. Treadgold said: "Quiet, old man." Corcoran and the police chief came back. "I shall want you to sign a statement, if you'll come with me to police head- quarters," the district attorney informed Ken. "I shan't need you folks any more for the present," he told us collectively, and turned to confer with Dr. Weir about the autopsy.
It was our dismissal. I looked for Mr. Treadgold, and, not seeing him, concluded he had already gone out. Still under the influence of the tragedy, I was unwilling to join the others, so slipped out by the veranda. A path led from the bungalow along the top of the ragged basalt boulders piled up on the beach, as though a giant had spilled them there. I followed it along, then halted to gaze out over the Sound glittering in the sunlight at my feet, between the red roofs of the Yacht Club and the smoky outline of the farther shore. Suddenly, the aroma of burning tobacco was in my nostrils and a voice said in my ear: "Once it is resolved that an innocent and helpless creature shall be sacrificed, 'tis an easy matter to pick up sticks enough from any thicket where it has strayed, to make a fire to offer it up with."
As surely as the voice was H.B. Treadgold's, the quotation was from Tristram Shandy. "Helpless, may be, but not so innocent," I retorted.
With pursed lips Mr. Treadgold blew a ring of smoke from his blackened briar. "I've known him all my life," he observed. "He's a headstrong young fool, but the stock's good. If he'd killed her, I believe he'd have owned up." He contemplated me thoughtfully. "Don't you think that Corcoran is relying too much on that watch clue?"
"It fits in!"
"And how? It gives Wayne Murray a cast-iron alibi, for instance."
"Meaning what exactly?"
"Murderers have been known to advance the hands of a clock or watch to suit their purpose, haven't they? Just how far is this Blue Bird place from the bungalow?"
"Five minutes' walk at most. It's on the beach, on the outskirts of Norhasset, where the road to Sea Nest turns off."
He grunted. "If the watch clue were faked, you may bet your bottom dollar that the real murderer has a good strong alibi covering the hour the hands show—eleven-six. That goes for Wayne."
I laughed. "Listen, H.B., we know she was alive at ten-fifty. Right? If there was any monkey business with that watch, surely to goodness the murderer would have advanced the hands more than—what would it be?—sixteen minutes?"
For a moment he stared at me in silence. "There are times, George, when you most unaccountably talk sense!" He turned to Brinckman, who had joined us. "Well?"
"They're combing the place for finger-prints, Logan and that detective fellow," said our host. H.B. pricked up his ears. "D'you think I could see that?"
"I don't know why not!"
We moved towards the bungalow. I said to Brinckman: "I think I should tell you that Mr. Treadgold..."
I received a painful nip in the leg from H.B. and broke off. Brinckman noticed nothing, for at that moment Oscar hurried up and called him away. I said to H.B.: "I don't see why I shouldn't tell him you've forgotten more about crime investigation than a stuffed shirt like Corcoran ever knew."
He shook a warning finger. "No, George. If Ken's to be helped, let me preserve my anonymity."
"And let this oaf patronise you?"
He laughed and shot another of his infernal quotations at me. "Maybe, like Yorick, I prefer the contempt of my enemies and the laughter of my friends than undergo the pain of a story which might seem a panegyric upon myself."
I had no desire to see poor Marcia again, so I left him there and went for a walk on the beach. When I returned to Sea Nest about twelve he was on the porch. He told me that there had been a deluge of reporters and camera-men and that, to avoid them, Brinckman had packed the whole party off to lunch at the golf club on the other side of Norhasset. Brinckman himself was grappling with the press down at the bungalow. The police had picked up sundry specimens of the dead woman's finger-prints in the living-room, he informed me—on the piano top and on the Jeritza record on the gramophone, among other places—but none of anyone else. His air was slightly mysterious. "And what luck did you have?" I asked him straight out.
"Not much. But then I didn't want to make myself conspicuous, especially as Logan's man Joe seems to be a pretty conscientious worker. But I did come upon this on the floor just inside the door." He showed me a small fragment of red rubber, roughly triangular in shape. "That's shoe rubber. Who wears red rubber soles round here?"
I laughed and raised my foot; I was wearing a smart pair of tennis shoes, greenish elk strapped in black, which I had bought in New York. The soles were of red rubber.
"Brinckman has a pair like mine," I said.
"Brinckman! Of course, that would explain it. He was in the bungalow last night after dinner." He looked rather crestfallen. "What about Wayne?"
"He told me he never takes any exercise except mountain climbing; I doubt if he owns a pair of tennis shoes. Besides, he was in New York all the afternoon; he wouldn't wear tennis shoes to go to New York. What else did you find?"
"Some odds and ends in the waste-paper basket—nothing of much account. I only had the chance to scratch around a little while they were out taking the body away." He dredged a scrap of paper from his waistcoat pocket. With it came a small key. "That reminds me..." He dropped the key in my hand. "Keep that for me!"
I looked at the key. "What is it?"
He gave me his most mischievous smile. "Ask no questions and you'll hear no lies." He folded my hand over the key. "Not a word of this to anyone."
He glanced backwards as he spoke, for there was a step inside the house. It was Draycott. "My battery's down," he announced. "I thought I'd wait for Claud. We're all lunching over at the golf. You'd better come with us."
"When you brought Mrs. Murray back from New York last night, did she have a package with her?" Mr. Treadgold asked him.
Hands on hips, he confronted us, puffing at his cigarette. "Did she? I don't know. Wait! Yes, I believe she did. When we left Jack and Charlie's she made me stop off at an office on Broadway."
Mr. Treadgold glanced at the wisp of paper in his hand. "The Super-Something, was it called?"
He hoisted his brawny shoulders. "There you have me! It was somewhere in the fifties. I didn't go in, but I remember Marcia coming out with a small parcel. It was a radio studio or some such place, I guess, because it was open on Sunday evening—besides, I've a sort of idea she said something about calling in at the studio.'"
Brinckman appeared suddenly from the house. His air was very grave. "I'm sorry, he said, but you people will have to stay on at Sea Nest for a bit, even if it will mean postponing your sailing, Mr. Treadgold—it's the D.A.'s orders." He seemed to swallow. "He telephoned just now. They've completed the autopsy. She was strangled all right." With a gulp he added: "Though the police weren't able to make anything of those marks on her throat, they've arrested Ken."
THE next twenty-four hours were a horror. The tabloids were already featuring Ken as "The Playboy Killer," or something equally monstrous, trotting out snapshots of him and Marcia at the night clubs, and even pictures of old flames of his. Garbled stories of his money troubles found their way into print—I suspected that Marcia had told Draycott of her conversation with Mr. Treadgold and that Draycott had blurted something out to the reporters. H.B. had at once applied to see the prisoner, but so far permission had not been granted. Meanwhile, as the result of a series of agonised telephone calls from Mrs. Hayden in London, he had retained a well-known New York criminal lawyer for Ken's defence.
Gloom settled over the Brinckmans' hospitable house. The bungalow, sealed by the police, was shunned by us all and at meals—even at dinner, when the children were not present—we talked of everything except the case. In the circumstances I was not surprised that Mr. Treadgold evinced no taste for company, even mine. On our return from the golf club on the Monday afternoon he disappeared and at dinner that night sat wrapped in his thoughts with a gloomy and forbidding air. Next morning at breakfast the butler told us he had gone out at seven a.m. By lunch he had not returned; but Guy Brinckman said he had seen him going into the woods.
It was Linda who enlightened me as to his movements. It was a warm afternoon and I had escaped from the others and was dozing over a book under the big cedar of Lebanon by the clock golf. I awoke to find her shaking my knee. "What's your friend Treadgold up to?" she demanded.
I sat up, rubbing my eyes. "Why?"
She had plumped herself down on the turf at my feet. "What does he want, poking round in the rubbish pit?"
"What rubbish pit?"
"Behind the greenhouses. There's a short cut that way from our house. I was passing there just now, while you were all at lunch, with a note daddy asked me to leave for Mr. Brinckman, when I saw Mr. Treadgold. He was down in the pit, grubbing among the tin cans and things."
I shrugged my shoulders. "I can't tell you. I've scarcely exchanged two words with him in the last twenty-four hours."
She said rather tensely: "I know he takes a fatherly interest in poor Ken. But you don't suppose he has any doubt in his mind as to his guilt, do you?"
I fished out my cigarettes and gave her one. "Well, my dear, the police are relying on that watch clue. But suppose the watch was wrong, suppose the murderer altered the hands—there are other suspects, aren't there?"
She flung me a frightened glance across the burning match I offered. "What do you mean by that?"
"There's Draycott, for one. There's also Mrs. D."
The hand that held her cigarette trembled as she stooped to the match. "You're not suggesting——"
"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm merely pointing out that there are other people in this house besides Ken who were drawn into this poor creature's fatal ambit. You, for instance!"
She gazed steadfastly in front of her. "Because I was mad at her for getting me pushed off the air?"
"That, and also Wayne!"
She went pale beneath her tan. She said nothing, but I was aware that her whole body had stiffened as she crouched on the turf, her knees drawn up to her chin. "If Marcia was killed at eleven-six, Wayne's alibi holds," I pointed out. "But supposing it were earlier? Has anybody ever asked him what time actually he arrived back from New York?"
She sprang to her feet. "You're hateful," she cried, her eyes blazing. "As if you're going to clear Ken by incriminating poor Wayne. I won't sit here and listen to your horrible innuendoes." Without another look at me she ran across the lawn and vanished among the trees.
It seemed to me that, involuntarily, I had started something. By and by I set out to find H.B. It was the siesta hour, no more than three o'clock of a sizzling afternoon, and the gardens were deserted. I located the rubbish pit behind the conservatories, but Mr. Treadgold was not there. I went into the house and up to his room. It was empty. A towel was spread on the centre table, flecked with a lot of little specks of what seemed to be vulcanite, on it a pot of gum—what the Americans call mucillage—with a brush. I was still there when Guy Brinckman put his head in at the door. "I've got some fresh needles..." he began, then saw me. "Where's Mr. Treadgold?" he demanded.
"I'm looking for him myself, Guy!"
"He borrowed my gramophone—I went to get some more needles. Gee, he might have waited!"
He looked at me thoughtfully. "He's kind of odd, isn't he?"
"How do you mean, old man?"
"Well, rushing off to the woods with my gramophone!"
"Rushing off to the woods with your gramophone?"
"Sure. He came to the playroom just now an' said to me, 'Isn't that a portable gramophone I see there!' an' I said, 'Yes,' an' he said something about music charming his savage breast."
I blushed for the bromide—Tristram Shandy, even, was preferable to this. "'Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast!'" I murmured.
"That's it, I guess. He talked a lot about how he was worried—on account of the murder, I s'pose—an' could he borrow my portable an' take it out in the woods an' play himself some music? It sounded kind of nutty to me, but I said, Sure, but the needles were no good, an' if he'd wait I'd run an' pinch some of Dad's good fibre ones from the study. But when I came back with them he was gone."
"With the portable?"
"Then why don't we go after him? I believe I want soothing myself."
As you drove away from the front door of Sea Nest, on the left of the avenue, as far as the eye could reach, were woods. They reached to the edge of the estate and beyond, on the other side of the road descending to the Yacht Club. A number of riding trails, which Brinckman had laid out for the children and their ponies, threaded them; but the main trail started from a path which debouched from the angle of the flower gardens at the front door. It was to this path Guy brought me. "This is the way he went, I guess," he confided. "Leastways, Janet and I saw him going in here yesterday."
It was delightful in the woods with the long pencils of sunlight slanting athwart the grizzled hemlocks and the warm air sweet with the forest fragrance. Skipping along at my side Guy kept pointing out birds that to me, fresh from England were wholly unfamiliar—scarlet cardinals, yellow tanagers, slate-grey cat-birds. He showed me the spot where Janet had had a memorable encounter with a skunk and insisted on unearthing, for my edification, a most unpleasant-looking, badger-like creature, making a noise like a clock, which he called a ground-hog. Thus instructively engaged we ultimately found ourselves on a high bank looking down upon the road.
I flung myself down and wiped my dripping brow. "Well, there's no sign of him, old man!"
"Listen!" exclaimed the boy, lifting his hand.
The squeak of a gramophone was wafted across the stillness. "Come on! He's on the other side of the road," cried Guy, and scrambled down the bank. I following after. I saw him speed across the road and dash out of sight under the trees on the far side.
I plodded up the trail. The sound of the gramophone was clearer now. It was making a very odd noise; in fact, the record—it was a woman's voice—seemed to be broken; that is to say, there would be a clear passage, endlessly repeated, then a vast jarring, and another passage, and so on. As I drew nearer I began to identify snatches of the melody. It seemed familiar. Then I caught the words, part of a phrase, over and over:
"Es schwindelt mir, es schwindelt mir, es schwindelt mir..."
At that moment Guy's voice rang through the forest. "Oh, Mr. Tread-gold, ya-hoo!"
Instantly the gramophone stopped. I began to run towards the sounds I had heard. Presently H.B. hove in sight, carrying the portable, Guy dancing about him. He did not appear particularly glad to see me. "That song..." I panted, as soon as I reached him.
"What song, George?"
"Why, that record you were playing just now. It's the song Marcia sang that night, 'Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt'!"
His air was very bland. "Was it, George! How clever of you to recognise it! Such a bad record!"
"It wasn't the record, it was the needles," Guy struck in. "I told you those needles were no good."
"You can't fool me, H.B.," I told him. "What have you been up to?"
He hoisted his shoulders. "Just an experiment, George!"
And that, believe me or not, was all I could get out of him. He was in his most obstinately taciturn mood. I told him of my talk with Linda, and he registered nothing: it was like punching a feather cushion. He informed me that he would have to go to New York next day: he was going to see Corcoran to get leave.
"About Ken's defence, is it?" I inquired.
"Thank you, George. That's as good a reason as any other," was his baffling answer.
Marcia was to be buried next day. In the circumstances Wayne had preferred a strictly private ceremony, and she was to be interred in the little burial ground at Norhasset. He and Linda were at the house when we got back—they had been summoned to a conference with Brinckman and the head of the agency handling the Roden account, as the result of which it was decided that Linda should take Marcia's place on the air until the end of the season.
Wayne and Linda stayed to dinner. But for Mr. Treadgold it would have been a melancholy affair. He took the lead in the conversation, and by remembering that mountaineering was a joint hobby of Wayne's and our host's, even succeeded in drawing Wayne into the conversation. He tried to lead Draycott into the ebb and flow of reminiscence about guides, and pockets, and couloirs, but Draycott, it appeared, was no alpinist. "You should try it some time," affirmed Mr. Treadgold, running his eye over Draycott's stalwart frame. "It's the grandest sport in the world."
"Not for baby," said Draycott. "You may not know it, but I've a silver plate in my knee."
"A bullet shattered the cartilage at Belleau Wood," his wife explained.
I know Mr. Treadgold so well. Watching him I had the impression that a certain tension in his manner had relaxed—like easing a tight belt by a couple of holes. I wondered what he was driving at.
We had not played cards since the murder, but after dinner Mrs. Draycott wanted to play, and Edith Brinckman agreed to make up a fourth if I could get H.B. When I looked for Mr. Treadgold the butler told me he had gone down to the shore with Guy. It was still light when I sauntered to the edge of the rocks. I was gazing down at the beach when suddenly Guy came scrambling up, caught the sharp corner of a boulder and hauled himself erect. Waving his hand he shouted down, "Yahoo, Mr. Treadgold, I've done it!"
Peering over the brink I was aware of Mr. Treadgold below, his face a white patch in the failing light above his evening shirt, as he gazed aloft from the stretch of sand behind the Yacht Club. His voice drifted up. "You win! A minute and a half!"
Guy said to me, "Whoopee! I get a dollar."
I gazed at him severely. "You might have broken your neck."
"Aw, pshaw, I've done it before. But don't tell Dad. He said I wasn't to do it alone."
I pointed at his shoes, the leather all scuffed by the rough boulders. "You'd better change your shoes, then."
Mrs. Brinckman was calling him. "Guy! Bed!" Unwillingly he turned toward the house. I called down to H.B. that he was wanted for bridge, and strolled as far as the lodge gates to meet him. He seemed to be in high good humour. "The idea of your putting that boy up to a stunt like that!" I said.
He laughed. He was in no danger. "The kid climbs like a mountain goat. But don't say anything about it or you'll get him into trouble."
I said, "I wish you'd stop fooling and do something about Ken. You seem to forget that he's in jail."
He laughed. "Oh, no, I don't, George. As a matter of fact, I was talking to the D.A. about him this afternoon. With any luck he'll be free to-morrow."
I stared at him. "Free? What are you talking about?"
"I'm going to New York first thing in the morning: Corcoran's agreeable. If things pan out as I expect, I don't see how they can hold Ken..."
We were approaching the house. He put his hand on mine, his manner suddenly watchful. "No more of this now. And, George, mum's the word for the present." He halted. "By the way, have you got that key I asked you to keep for me? I shall want it to open the piano."
I had forgotten about the key; but I had it on my ring. I slipped it off and laid it in his hand. "What piano?" I demanded.
"The piano at the bungalow."
"Who locked it?"
"It's the first I've heard of it!"
He twinkled his blue eyes at me. "But not the last, George!" He led the way into the house.
They were all assembled on the porch. A sudden silence fell as we appeared: I had the feeling that some fresh development had taken place. I could not help remarking how pale Linda looked; while Wayne, who was playing patience under the lamp, had a frowning, moody air. Even our suave host seemed upset. He said to Mr. Treadgold, "The D.A. telephoned. He and Logan wish to meet us all at dinner here to-morrow evening. You saw the D.A. this afternoon: what's the idea, do you know?"
"He wants to question us, I gather."
H.B. shrugged his shoulders. "I suspect we shall have to wait until to-morrow evening to find out."
"What's eating that mick?" Draycott exclaimed angrily. "Ken's as guilty as hell."
"In that case, there's no need to worry ourselves," Mr. Treadgold observed brightly, producing his cigar-case. "Have a cigar?" He offered his large silver case.
"Thanks," said Draycott, and helped himself.
Mr. Treadgold followed suit. "These Partagas are the 1930 crop," he explained, "and if I do say it myself, they aren't bad. I brought two hundred in with me and paid the duty. Murray?"
"No, thanks," said Wayne curtly.
"I'm sure Mr. Brinckman will have one," declared H.B. amiably. "Pass the case across, like a good fellow!"
Wayne took the case and handed it to our host who was behind him, on the other side of the card table.
"I don't see why I should rob you, when there are plenty of cigars in the house," said Brinckman. But he took a cigar and gave the case back.
In fascination I watched this performance, for I had seen H.B. go through it before. As the case came to me, my fingers encountered, as I knew they would, the very thin layer of vaseline spread over the grooved surface.
Mr. Treadgold was after finger-prints. But whose?
I don't know how I got through the evening. Wayne and Linda left early, but the rest of us played bridge steadily until past midnight. After we had broken up, I wanted to go to H.B.'s room, next door to mine, for a chat; but he declared he was tired, and shut the door in my face. Whisky never agrees with me very well, and I suppose that, under the influence of my growing sense of excitement, I had drunk more than was wise—at any rate, I found it impossible to sleep. At length I gave up the vain struggle and turned on the light.
Twenty minutes to three. I lit a cigarette. The house was profoundly quiet.
I don't know how long I had lain there when I heard a board creak outside, the sound of a door stealthily closed. It came from the room next to mine whence normally the rhythmic diapason of Mr. Treadgold's snore should have proceeded. I was out of bed in a flash and tiptoeing to the door. The corridor was in darkness, but my ear caught the soft clack of a slipper on the stairs. I ran to the landing. Below someone had turned on the hall light—I was just in time to see a portly figure in a camel's hair dressing gown vanish through the door of the coat- room, where raincoats, tennis racquets and golf clubs were kept.
That brown robe was very familiar to me—Mr. Treadgold had had it for years. For fully five minutes nothing happened, then the swinging open of the door below disclosed H.B. hugging some bulky object under his dressing gown. I retreated as he came upstairs until I was in my room again, listening to his heavy tread outside, the closing of the door, the rattle of the bolt. More mystified than ever, I crept back to bed. I was still awake when at length Mr. Treadgold's snores began to reverberate from next door, and the bird chorus was in full swing before I closed my eyes. The consequence was that I slept late and discovered, on descending to breakfast, that H.B. had taken an early train to New York.
I SHALL abridge the day's events, dominated as they were by poor Marcia's funeral, and come to the dinner party and its startling dénouement. Lunch over, the Brinckmans and the Draycotts took the children out for a drive in the family limousine, but I preferred to lounge through the hot afternoon with a book under the cedar. We were to dine at eight "as we were," as the D.A. and Logan would not be dressed and toward that hour, hearing the sound of a car, I made my way up to the house.
I thought it was the limousine party. But it was Treadgold. He looked hot and dusty. Except for Oscar, who was setting the dinner-table at the other end of the porch, he was alone mixing himself a drink. I recognised as his the small overnight bag that stood on the couch. All he would say about his trip to New York was that it had been very hot in the city. On the way up from the station, he told me, he had called for Corcoran and the police chief. They were now at the bungalow, where he had promised to join them. With that he dashed down the rest of his drink and hurried away while I went indoors to wash.
The three of them were drinking whisky on the porch when I reappeared. Then Wayne and Linda arrived, followed soon after by the rest of the party. By the time our party of ten sat down to dinner the bats were already flying, and the crimsoning west bathed our faces in blood-red light. It was all very civilised and normal—the shaded candles, the lace mats and the Georgian silver, the roses in shining crystal drenching the air with their scent, the gentle murmur of voices from the head of the table where our host talked politics with Corcoran and Mrs. Draycott, on Brinckman's left, with her rather mannered utterance, was describing to Wayne some play she had seen. I could scarcely bring myself to believe that, if Treadgold was right, one of our fellow guests bore the mark of Cain.
Linda, who was next to me, ate almost nothing. Both Treadgold, on her other side, and I tried to draw her out, but she seemed to have no conversation, and we turned our attention to Logan who was talking flower shows with Mrs. Brinckman at the other end of the table. I can always tell when H.B.'s nerves are on edge: he has a trick of drumming with the little finger of his left hand spread flat, the finger that wears the heavy gold signet ring presented to him by a grateful Indian prince. Though, as long as dinner lasted, there was no mention of the matter uppermost in all our thoughts, I could see Treadgold at his stealthy drumming. At the thought that, before we dispersed that night, the identity of Marcia Murray's murderer would be disclosed, my heart pumped so hard that I could hardly get my food down.
The way things happen in life: I was suddenly aware that the servants had withdrawn, that I had one of Brinckman's balloon brandy glasses before me and that, out of a cloud of blue cigar smoke, Corcoran had made a remark that had silenced all the chatter. "Well, Mr. Treadgold," he drawled in the comfortable tones of one who has eaten and drunk well, "here we all are. Now what have you to tell us?"
All eyes were immediately riveted on my friend who, at Corcoran's side was smoking composedly and staring straight in front of him. Surprise was registered on every face, and our host looked up sharply. With a thoughtful air Mr. Treadgold sliced the ash from his cigar against his coffee cup. "I've submitted certain evidence to the District Attorney," he remarked evenly, "suggesting that Mrs. Murray was murdered not after eleven p.m., as we have hitherto believed, but earlier."
A blank silence followed this opening. "That's right!" Corcoran chimed in emphatically.
"But her watch...?" said Brinckman, in a puzzled voice.
"Faked," declared the District Attorney. "What we gotta do is establish the movements of everybody connected with the dead woman."
Mr. Treadgold turned to him swiftly. "Forgive me," he murmured, "but you said I might handle this in my own way."
"Shoot!" Corcoran flung himself back in his chair, while H.B.'s glance sought out Wayne, on the other side of the table.
"We'll start with you, Mr. Murray," he remarked. "What can you tell us about your movements, say, between ten and eleven on Sunday night?"
"I was out for a walk."
"Down on the shore."
"Oh! Then at what time did you arrive back from New York?"
"I got away from my rehearsal earlier than I expected, and caught that eight-something train that gets into Norhasset at nine-twenty-two on Sunday evenings."
Logan spoke up from the end of the table. "That's right. Ed Schultz from the bank was on the train with him."
"As I didn't have to meet Miss Weir until half-past ten," said Wayne, "and I had a plot to think out, I went for a stroll along the beach."
"Did anyone see you there?" Mr. Treadgold's tone was very gentle.
"Not that I know of."
"Then if the crime was committed earlier than eleven o'clock you have no alibi?"
"I suppose that's right."
"You handled all Mrs. Murray's radio business, I believe."
"Did you know that a firm called Super-Scriptions Inc., one of the many houses specialising in voice-recording, had made a record of her singing Tschaikovsky's 'Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt' to her own accompaniment?"
"It's news to me that she ever had her voice recorded."
"That was the song we heard her singing when we were down at the Club the night of the murder, wasn't it?"
"So I've been told."
"Did you know that, on the Sunday evening, before coming back in Mr. Draycott's car, she called in at the Super-Scription studios on Broadway and collected the record, which she brought back with her?"
Mr. Treadgold paused. "And if I told you," he said, averting his eyes from the man he addressed, "that when we heard her singing that night, it was that record we were listening to? That at that time she was in all probability dead?"
I could feel the tension coursing like an electric current round the table. Wayne's manner was suddenly frozen. "What grounds have you for such an extraordinary statement?" he demanded brusquely.
"On that record Mrs. Murray played her own piano accompaniment," Mr. Treadgold answered quietly. "Everybody down at the Club heard the piano." He bent forward impressively. "Shall I tell you that, when she was found, the piano keys were still dusty, showing that the piano had never been touched that night, that there were fresh particles of wax adhering to the gramophone needle that certainly did not emanate from the old 'Carmen' record which was on the machine, and that the record she collected that evening in New York"—his voice rose higher—"was subsequently found in pieces in a rubbish dump in the grounds here?"
I was trembling with excitement. I had a mental picture of old H.B., as I had seen him that first morning at the bungalow, squinting his eye along the piano keys; I remembered his mysterious visit to the rubbish pit, the traces of the broken record I had discovered in his room, his experiment with Guy's gramophone in the wood. The key he had entrusted to my keeping came back to my mind. Of course, he had locked the piano to preserve the dust on the keyboard while he hunted for further clues.
I stole a glance at Linda. With hands tightly clasped she was staring fixedly at Wayne. Corcoran noticed it, for he nudged H.B. and said, "Why don't you ask her, was she on the beach, too?"
The blood swept into Murray's pale face. "You can leave her out of it, understand me?"
The District Attorney snorted. "I can, can I? She's your girl, ain't she? Can you deny you were aiming to marry her, only your wife wouldn't give you a divorce?"
H.B. stayed him with his hand and spoke to Wayne again. "You say you were on the shore. And if I tell you the murderer reached the bungalow from the beach, by way of the rocks?"
Corcoran snapped, "What's that?" Brinckman was frowning: he looked thoroughly annoyed now. "Impossible!" he declared.
"Not to an experienced climber like Murray," said H.B. in a loud voice. "Why even Guy can climb those rocks!" He addressed Wayne once more, "When young Hayden said that at half-past ten the bungalow was dark, I believe he was telling the truth. At half-past ten your wife was already dead. Come, Mr. Murray, what have you to say?"
It was Linda who answered for him. "Wayne wasn't on the shore that night," she said. "He was at home with me."
"Linda!" Wayne had sprung to his feet. "Don't mind what she says," he cried savagely.
"Sit down!" Corcoran barked. He turned to the girl, while Wayne, with a helpless gesture, dropped back into his chair. "So he was home with you, was he? And just when did he show up?"
"Soon after half-past nine—he came straight from the train."
"And how long did he stay?"
"Until about a quarter to eleven. He had a manuscript over at the hotel he wanted to show me, so we walked down to the village and I sat in the Blue Bird while he fetched it."
"Hayden was over to your place between ten-fifteen and ten- thirty, Linda," Logan's deep voice boomed, "and there was nobody home," he said.
She looked nervously at Wayne, colouring under her tan. "We didn't let him in."
"Hell, he must a' seen the light," said Logan.
She shook her head. "There wasn't any light—we were on the back porch." She gazed defiantly round the table. "We've nothing to hide. We'd have been married months ago if Marcia would have released him. But he was useful to her in the business way, besides she hated me; she was out to make trouble for us. If Wayne lied to you about where he was that night, it was because he knew of the gossip going round about us and he wanted to save me from having my name dragged through those beastly newspapers. That's the truth!"
Mr. Treadgold said very simply, "Thank you, Linda. That's what I wanted to hear." He took out his old-fashioned half-hunter watch, mechanically wound it a couple of times, and laid it on the table before him. "Let me transport you now to the bungalow that Sunday night. The hour is somewhere about ten o'clock. There are lights in the bungalow. Marcia is still up. The murderer knocks and she lets him in. There's an altercation between them, as the result of which, accidentally or deliberately, he strangles her. When he regains control of himself, she's dead on the floor. He is appalled. His only thought is his own safety. Then his eye falls on the record which she has brought back from New York with her. It lies there as she unwrapped it—maybe to show it to him—the wrapping paper and string, even the bill, beside it. The record gives him an idea. They will hear her singing down at the Club as they have heard her before. If he can show himself down there while she is still singing, he will have an unshatterable alibi. But a record such as this lasts a bare four minutes—to make his alibi secure he must reach the Club before the record has finished playing."
He paused and let his regard range bleakly round the circle. "From this house to the Club by car is a matter of about five minutes, allow another minute to go from the house to the bungalow, say six minutes; to walk, it's much longer. But Guy climbed to the bungalow from the beach behind the Club in less than two minutes yesterday, and that's what the murderer did. He starts the record, and leaving the lights in the bungalow on, scrambles down to the Club, knowing that, having established his presence, he will have to scale the rocks again, turn the gramophone off and extinguish the lights and return with all speed the same way. Now listen!"
There was a moment of paralysing expectancy which an instant later resolved itself into Marcia's voice, flooding the night with music as on that fatal evening. Before ever the words struck an echo in my mind, I knew it would be the same song—its haunting sadness tore at my heart as, borne on the dead woman's voice, the melody swelled into the listless air; I had the sensation that she was there somewhere, seated at her piano, with head thrown back, singing to us out of the dark. Then I saw the little gadget under Mr. Treadgold's hand—it was the remote control of the radio-gramophone in Brinckman's study.
Beside me, Linda had cried, "Ah, no!" in an awestruck whimper; Draycott, who had raised his glass to drink, set it down so suddenly that the stem snapped in his hand; his wife murmured, "My God!" under her breath. I caught a glimpse of Wayne's bewildered face; of Brinckman straining forward, with fists clenched and features grey and set, at the head of the table. Treadgold's crisp "One minute!" jarred me out of the spell of the song; eye on his watch, he was checking the time the record took to run, calling the minutes.
"Now the murderer is clear of the bungalow and scrambling down the cliff," he proclaimed tensely, then, "Two minutes! He must be at the Club by this. Fortune is with him. Brinckman says, 'Marcia's in glorious voice to-night. Come out and hear her, everybody!' We all flock out. It's enough for the murderer. It's dark outside; he won't be missed. Three minutes!" His voice rang like a pistol shot as the song filled the air with sound. "He's on his way back, up the rocks again, to turn the record off. He must hurry—the song is almost done. Four minutes..."
"Nur wur die Sehnsucht kennt, weiss wir ich leide!"
"Four and a half minutes!" The curt announcement cut across the closing bars. The music was stilled, but Treadgold's voice went on. "Five minutes! He's in the bungalow by this, switching off the gramophone, turning off the lights. Wait! He mustn't forget the record. He snatches it up, not forgetting to replace it by the 'Carmen' record he found there when he came—to- morrow he will get rid of this tell-tale piece of evidence, breaking it up and throwing the pieces away in the rubbish pit. Now the bungalow's dark and he's once more embarked on that headlong scramble down the rocks, to reach the Club again before his absence is noted."
I could not keep my eyes off Draycott. None of us knew how far things had gone between him and Marcia; I remembered that he had been missing that night, while we were listening to Marcia singing—I could see that his wife remembered it, too, by the way she was eyeing him. Draycott himself gave no sign but sat with shoulders hunched, toying with his broken brandy glass. Brinckman, looking very disturbed, broke the silence that ensued when H.B. had finished. "This is all very extraordinary," he said huskily, then spoke across the table to Draycott. "Forgive me saying it, old man, but what were you doing between ten and eleven that night? I mean, the rest of us, Treadgold, Duckett and I have all accounted for our movements..."
"Draycott doesn't come into this," Mr. Treadgold declared bluntly. "He has a game leg; he could never have managed that climb. Besides, he has an alibi."
At that Draycott looked up swiftly. "He met a young lady in the bar and took her out in a boat," said H.B. quietly. "A young lady in white ducks. They slipped off together soon after ten; I happened to see them."
Mrs. Draycott said, "Is this true, Geoff?"
He nodded dourly. "She was going to a party on one of the yachts. I sculled her across, had a drink with them and came back."
My glance, travelling down the table, fell upon Brinckman. He seemed to have crumpled up in his chair, his chin sunk on his breast, the perspiration pearling on his forehead. Corcoran said to him in alarm, "Hey, don't you feel well?"
Mrs. Brinckman jumped up to run to him. "It's the heat!" she declared.
Mr. Treadgold had risen from his chair. He went to the couch and opened his bag, which still lay there. From it he produced a pair of shoes and what, by its shape, appeared to be a gramophone record wrapped in cellophane. Without ceremony he dumped the shoes down on the tablecloth, tennis shoes similar to mine, of greenish hide, black-strapped. They were badly battered, the leather scratched and torn. Mrs. Brinckman, on her way to succour her husband, stopped. "Why, those are Claud's shoes he couldn't find!" she exclaimed.
H.B. gave Corcoran the record. "That's the record—I patched it up as best I could—you'll find his finger-prints all over it. That was a duplicate you heard to-night—I got it from the Super-Scription people in New York to-day." His gaze, stern and sombre, shifted to Brinckman. "Why did you kill her?" he asked evenly.
"Have you gone crazy?" Mrs. Brinckman exclaimed indignantly. She bent over her husband and sought to take his hand. Brinckman said nothing, but pushed her aside, staring fixedly into space.
Simultaneously the D.A. and Logan had swung to Mr. Treadgold. He had one of the shoes in his hand. Turning it over, he showed a deep, jagged cut in the red rubber near the toe. "I found them hidden in the coat-room behind a lot of golf-bags," he explained. Then from an envelope which he drew from his pocket he shook the morsel of rubber he had shown me before. "He left that on the floor of the bungalow," he remarked. "And it fits the nick in this shoe."
From the end of the table Brinckman spoke hoarsely. "Send the women indoors!" he ordered.
Mrs. Brinckman broke a terrified silence. "But, Claud——"
"Do as I say," he bade her wearily. "I have to speak with these gentlemen."
She burst into tears then, and Mrs. Draycott and Linda took her into the house. Then Brinckman said: "Sit down and let's have another brandy, and I'll tell you the truth."
Draycott took the bottle round. Warming his glass in his cupped hands, Brinckman said: "I never meant to kill her, but she went too far. There's one thing I was resolved she'd never take from me, and that's my happy life here with Edith and the kids. She had letters of mine—letters I'd written her after I met her last year in Switzerland—checks, too, that I'd given her when I took her with me in January to Hot Springs, Arkansas. She squeezed a radio contract out of me, she planted herself down here right under my wife's nose, she made me push Linda off the programme, but when she wanted me to divorce Edith and marry her I struck." He glanced across at Wayne Murray. "I don't know how you like this, Wayne, but you've got to hear it."
He drank some brandy. "On Sunday night, when I took her up to the bungalow, she made me stay while she changed into pyjamas—she wanted me to hear this record she'd had made especially for me."
Mr. Treadgold broke in quietly: "You made your first mistake there. You said nothing to Mrs. Draycott about a record; you told her that Marcia had sung for you; the moment I saw the dust on the piano keys I began to smell a rat."
Brinckman made an indifferent movement of the shoulders. "She played the record for me. Then she started in again about my divorcing Edith. I told her, as I'd told her a hundred times before, I wouldn't discuss it. She became vaguely threatening, spoke of certain letters of mine she had, said women had been known to use such things before to obtain their rights. I told her not to talk nonsense and, leaving her there, drove back to the club. That was around half-past nine. Towards ten my wife asked me to fetch her cigarettes from the house. I thought I'd walk up. On the way I found myself thinking of what Marcia had said, and I made up my mind I wasn't going to be blackmailed. So instead of going to the house I went on to the bungalow. She was still up. I told her she would have to give me back those letters. She laughed at me. At last it came out, she hadn't got them, or so she said—they were in the safe of some New York lawyer who was working for her. Well, that about finished me! It made me clear mad all through to realise that letters of mine were trailing through some shyster attorney's office. I told her she was nothing but a blackmailer, that she could do what she damned well liked about it, but I was through with her. I turned to go then, but she caught hold of me, said she was only joking. But I wouldn't listen and threw her off.
"She came back at me blazing. She'd set her lawyer to work right away: Edith would see the kind of man she'd bought for her husband—that was because Marcia knew I'd very little money when I married—and a lot of stuff like that. I told her to leave Edith out of it, that a blackmailer as she was wasn't fit to mention a decent woman's name. With that she smacked me across the face, and I—well, I grabbed her by the throat and shook her, and when I took my hands away she just crumpled up and fell on the floor. She hit her head as she went down, and when I tried to raise her up she was dead."
He broke off, breathing hard.
"At what time was this?" asked Mr. Treadgold.
"At half-past ten, or soon after."
"And what did you do then?" the district attorney demanded.
Sombrely he stared into his brandy. "I lost my head, I guess—my only idea was to get away. I only stopped to switch off the light and fled. I was going back to the club when I remembered Edith's cigarettes; I went over to the house to fetch them where she had left them on the porch. I was standing there when I saw Ken coming round the knoll. I was in a panic; I made sure he'd been calling on Marcia and discovered her dead. But instead of rushing over to the house with the news he just sloped off through the grounds."
"And you went back to the bungalow?" said Treadgold.
He nodded. "I knew I had to do something about it. The bungalow was all dark. Marcia was as I'd left her. Then I saw that record and—well, you know the rest. I'm not sorry it's over. It's been hell, sitting around, pretending—hell about Ken, too. But I didn't know what to do—nothing like this has ever happened to me before. When I think of Edith, those kids of mine, Guy—God!" He fell silent, gazing into space despairingly.
The district attorney stood up and Logan followed suit. "We'll take him down to police head-quarters," he told the police chief, "if you can scare up a car. Best not let the women know."
Brinckman raised his head. "Thanks, Corcoran!"
Draycott said, "I'll see about a car for you," and went down the porch steps with Logan.
The district attorney looked at H.B. "I shall want to see you in the morning. I'll ring you."
"Not here," said Mr. Treadgold rather hastily. "I fancy in the circumstances..."
Wayne struck in. "You can come to the hotel—I'll drive you down in my car." He disappeared into the house.
The district attorney said, "All right, Mr. Brinckman," then glanced at H.B. "Nice work!" he murmured. He and Brinckman went down the steps into the night together.
Mr. Treadgold poured himself a measure of brandy, tossed it off, chose himself a cigar from his case. "Things were always too easy for our Claudie," he remarked, pinching the end of the cigar. "With a fellow like that, the first time he's really up against it, he cracks morally—I've seen it so often. But one can't help feeling sorry for the poor devil. What a charmer!" He wagged his grizzled head and sighed. "Come, George, let's go to the hotel!"
Wayne was waiting with his car on the drive. A dark figure was inside. It was Linda. As Mr. Treadgold heaved his large form on to the seat beside her she slid an arm about his neck and kissed him. "Thank you!" she said.
We were going down the avenue when H.B. leaned forward to where I sat beside Wayne in the driving seat. "Gad," he exclaimed, "there was one thing I forgot to ask Brinckman. That's about the watch. Why did he advance the hands only half an hour?"
It was Wayne who answered. "He didn't advance them," he said. "I guess he didn't even see the watch."
"But Marcia died around half-past ten, and her watch marked eleven-six!"
"She was late for every appointment," said Wayne. "She always kept her watch half an hour fast."
For a moment Mr. Treadgold let this sink in. Then he observed austerely: "And to think that I spent half a night wrestling with this very point! Let it be a lesson to us, George! As Tristram Shandy says, 'So often has my judgment deceived me in my life that I always suspect it, right or wrong!'"
With that he flung himself back in his seat and applied himself to his cigar.
Brinckman's defence cost his wife a great deal of money, but he got off with a verdict of murder in the second degree and a sentence from three to five years in Sing Sing. The last news of Linda, now Mrs. Wayne Murray, is that she recently made a successful début at the Metropolitan Opera.