Case for Three Detectives
So here we were with a new suspect, but his introduction did not seem to have produced much effect on the three investigators. This, I reflected, accorded with precedent, for investigators in these cases are never, by any chance, to be taken by surprise. Mgr. Smith had smiled blandly as he had answered Lord Simon, while M. Picon, who had remained silent for some time, now started assiduously to rearrange the fire-irons. Only Lord Simon himself, who was always painstaking and thorough, seemed to have taken much notice of the fact that a Mr. Miles, a competent cat-burglar, was working in the district.
Before anyone else came into the room, he lifted the telephone receiver and asked the manager of the local hotel which was his porter’s night off. The manager appeared to feel no astonishment at this sudden query from a stranger, for we heard Lord Simon thank him with drawling civility, and watched him replace the receiver. He turned calmly to us. “Last night, Friday, of course,” he said.
“But naturally,” pouted M. Picon, while Mgr. Smith nodded absently.
“He was back at ten-thirty, though,” said Lord Simon.
“Are you ready for the next person to be questioned?” asked Sam Williams.
There was no dissent, so that the lawyer rang the bell, and the cook came into the room. I had never seen her, though I had often felt kindly towards her, and was not a little disappointed to find that she was not the ample, beaming woman whom one expects to find happily tasting sauces in a cheerful kitchen, but a spare, grey-haired person with glasses, in appearance not unlike her predecessor, Mr. Kingsly. Her face, however, seemed to me to be not so much uncharitable, as I had at first supposed, as competent. I should have said, after scrutinizing her, that she was extremely good at her job, but like most artists, somewhat at sea in alien surroundings.
Lord Simon seemed to feel this, for he smiled reassuringly. “Oh, Miss Storey,” he said, and it was typical of him that he had troubled to find out her name, “sorry to drag you up here, an’ all that. And I’m sure everyone staying in the house will be the loser by your leavin’ the kitchen just now. Your fame has reached us.”
“There’s no dinner this evening,” said Miss Storey, glad to remain among familiar topics as long as possible; “the Doctor said you wouldn’t be done in time. Cold buffet when you want it.”
“I see. Well, you won’t mind if I ask you some of my dam’ silly questions, will you? I’m famous for ’em.”
“Well, I don’t see what I can tell you, I’m sure.”
“Funny thing. People never do. But you can tell me for one thing how long you’ve been with the family.”
“Longer than anyone else on the staff. Over four years now.”
“You like being here?”
“If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have stayed. I never took any notice of that silly idea about the will. I used to tell them all they was fools to listen to it. It was just a bit of stupidness of the missus’s. Poor thing—she used to think she was so clever with anything like that. And now look what it’s done for her!”
“You think her death had something to do with that will, then?”
“I’m not saying it did, am I? I know nothing about it. I was downstairs at the time, and only heard the screaming.”
“Did the other servants take the will seriously?”
“Well, they did and they didn’t. We all used to talk about it, of course. It was a funny thing, when you come to think of it—us knowing all that money might come our way if anything was to ’appen to her. But none of us wished her any harm if that’s what you mean. None of us didn’t.”
“You speak for the others, too, then?”
“No one can live morning, noon and night with people and not know something of what’s going on in their heads, replied Miss Storey. “I wasn’t overkeen on any of them, and I’m not going to say I was, and there was things I didn’t approve of. But I know very well it wasn’t none of them as did it. So if you’re trying to put it on to them you’re mistaken, that’s all.”
“We’re trying to come by a spot of truth,” said Lord Simon.
“I’m glad to hear it,” snapped Miss Storey, almost before his sentence was finished.
“Did you approve of Stall?”
“I’m not going to discuss the other servants, sir. I’ve made up my mind to that. I’ll give you what information I can, but beyond that my opinion’s my affair.”
“Quite right. Will you tell us, then, at what time Stall went up to bed yesterday evening?”
“As soon as ever he’d taken the whisky into the lounge. Couldn’t have been later than half-past ten. He complained of a headache, and Enid, the parlourmaid, said she’d be up if anything was wanted, and he popped off to bed.”
“You’re sure he went to bed?”
“How can I be? He took his alarm-clock, as he always does, and left the kitchen.”
“Saying good night?”
“He did to Enid. Him and me wasn’t on speaking terms.”
“How was that?”
“Oh, nothing to mention. Something to do with the soufflé.”
“Just so. Then you and Enid remained together in the kitchen. What about the chauffeur, Fellowes?”
“He was there, too. I never approved of the arrangement, and I told Mrs. Thurston a dozen times, but there it was. Fellowes comes in for his supper every night about nine, and stays in my kitchen smoking cigarettes till all hours.”
“But hang it all, where else was he to go, Miss Storey?”
“That’s not my look-out. There’s the village down the road. But I didn’t like it.”
“Well, there you were, the three of you. Who left the room first?”
“Enid did, when she heard Mrs. Thurston go up to bed.”
“Oh, you could hear that from the kitchen, could you?”
“Not if the door had been shut you couldn’t. But Enid would keep it ajar last night.”
“Did she appear to be listening for something?”
“She and the chauffeur, yes. Once I got up and put the door to, because of the draught. But she soon had it open again.”
“How did you account for that?”
“Oh, it was nothing very unusual. She always used to go up when Mrs. Thurston did. She was fond of her mistress, I will say that for her, and used to follow her up to see if she wanted anything.”
“We know that that was at eleven o’clock. How long did Fellowes stay with you?”
“Not more than a minute or so, because I remember him looking up at the clock and remarking on it.”
“On the clock?”
“No. On the time. ‘Hullo,’ he said, ‘it’s past eleven.’ And he got up and went upstairs.”
“Did you look up at the clock?”
“I can’t say I did. But I know it wasn’t many seconds after Enid had gone.”
“At any rate, you saw neither of them again until after the screams?”
“Which did you see first?”
“Enid. She came rushing in to say they were breaking down the missus’s door.”
“That would be within two minutes of the scream?”
“What had you done in the meantime?”
“Me? I was froze to the spot for a minute. Well, all alone in this old kitchen, which is creepy enough at the best of times, and then to hear someone hollering out like that. I’m not one to be frightened, but I ask you. When I’d pulled myself together, I heard the gentlemen running upstairs, and as soon as I’d got the door open I saw Enid come tearing down with her eyes popping out of her head.”
“Well, then, some time later, down comes Mr. Stall, looking like a ghost in his dressing-gown. And then Fellowes comes running down and says he’s sent for the doctor and the police. I heard him start the car and drive off. For about ten minutes, I should say, Enid sits there silent. Then all of a sudden she goes into hysterics, and Mr. Stall runs out of the room saying ’e was after brandy. He comes back for a minute, we gets Enid a bit calm, then he goes away again, to see to things as he called it.”
“Good. You’ve got it all admirably clear. You saw no one else that, evening? None of the guests?”
“I’m afraid I’ve been very inquisitive. But I can’t think of any more questions to ask you.”
Suddenly M. Picon turned round from the fireplace. “A little moment if you please, mam’selle,” he said. “You will tell Papa Picon what you call ‘a thing or two’, no?”
Miss Storey seemed to wonder for a moment whether this was the sort of opening favoured by old gentlemen in railway-carriages, or a genuine request for information, so she remained non-committally silent.
“The young man, the chauffeur. He called your attention to the clock perhaps?”
“Not exactly that. He just said it was past eleven, and that he must go.”
“He did not say why or where?”
“No. But he had a rat-trap with him.”
“Ah yes. The trap for the little rat, n’est-ce pas? And where would he be taking that?”
“The apple-room, I suppose. Mrs. Thurston was always complaining she could hear them over her head.”
“Always complaining, is it not, to Fellowes?”
“And tell ’im to place the trap, no?”
“I suppose so.”
“And now the girl. Did she tell you perhaps where she was when the screams were heard?”
“Oh yes. She was in Dr. Thurston’s room, turning back the bed.”
“And the chauffeur, you saw him no more that night?”
“Not to speak to.”
“I thank you. I thank you also, mam’selle, in anticipation, for the cold buffet,” he added with characteristic courtesy.
“That’s all, then?” asked Miss Storey.
Instinctively we turned to Mgr. Smith, but he was apparently asleep.
“Monsignor Smith . . . ” Sam Williams called him.
“Oh yes. Dear me. I’m afraid I was dozing. I was going to ask you about a bell. The front-door bell. Did you hear it last night, Miss Storey?”
“When the girl had hysterics?”
“Can’t say I did. But then—I might easily not have, even if it had rung a dozen times. She was in convulsions, as you might say. I had no time for listening to bells.”
Mgr. Smith resumed his sleepy posture, and Miss Storey left us.
“I can certainly believe in that lady’s cookin’,” commented Lord Simon; “accuracy and discretion seem to be her strong suits.”
“She is no lover of romance, your Mademoiselle Storey,” admitted M. Picon. “I wonder whether perhaps she had cause to dislike romance—a certain special romance. Voyons. We shall see as the time continues.”
I could not resist a query to Mgr. Smith. “You were thinking . . . ?” I said.
“1 was thinking about bells.”
“No, electric bells. Marriage bells, maybe. Or even . . .” his voice sank, “even muffled bells.”
Whereas I, just then, was troubled with many new doubts. Why did Miss Storey dislike the rest of the staff? Of what did she disapprove? Why had Fellowes called her attention to the time when he left her? And was it a coincidence that at the moment of the screams Enid, Fellowes, Stall, Strickland and Norris had all been, presumably, upstairs, while Miss Storey herself had been alone in the kitchen with no one to establish her alibi, and Mr. Miles, that new and rather sinister person, had been enjoying, somewhere in the district, his ‘evening off’?