Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Tailor-detective Treadgold in the strange case
of the buried bayonet and the twin footprints.
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, after tailoring, criminology has always been old H.B.'s chief interest, 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 crime.
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 4, 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 7 o'clock 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 specialized 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 9 o'clock, 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 dumfounded. 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 £5 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 2 o'clock." 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 my friend 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—Reval had never volunteered any information about himself. Kit had been gathering material for him from the files of prewar 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 neighbors; 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 daresay you could have one of them." The inspector 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 enquired.
"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 toward the surrounding fence. "Asphalt," said Mr. Treadgold, tapping with his foot. "That doesn'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 footprints," 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..." Treadgold's 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 lopsided, 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-humoredly. "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 realized 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 only we 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 knock 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 Reval 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 toward 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." I read:
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 6, 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 tonight," 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 tomorrow 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 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. My clerk handed me a telegram from Mr. Treadgold, dispatched from Paris that morning, asking me to be at his chambers at 6 p.m. that evening, and told me 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 6 o'clock. 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 6 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 rubber-shod 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 catechizing 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 1917 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 pale 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, 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 one. "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 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 mustaches 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?" he demanded.
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 rumor 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 Mikhailoff. 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 rumor 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 Mikhailoff this, and said that her companion was probably her employer."
"Did Mikhailoff 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 I possess of my service with the Russian Legion in France, where I lost my leg, had vanished. Mikhailoff 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. "Mikhailoff 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 Mikhailoff 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 Mikhailoff 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. Afterward 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 Constanta, 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 next day I saw Luboff."
"I have told these gentlemen of that meeting," Valianko interposed.
Mikhailoff 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."
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, I 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 Mikhailoff?' I shouted and slashed him across the face with my bayonet. With the blood running down his cheek 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 Mikhailoff 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 comrade here —all poor Russians ..." His voice trailed away, the burning eyes closed.
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 Mikhailoff 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 flowers.
Valianko's bayonet, fitted in its sheath which Mikhailoff 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 owes his promotion to his brilliant elucidation of the Acacia Lodge mystery, I submit is no more than fair.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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