Case for Three Detectives, Chapter Fourteen

Case for Three Detectives

Fellowes seemed to have changed from the smart and well-mannered chauffeur who had met me several times at the village station.  He sat in the chair offered to him, with his head bent forward, so that when his eyes rose to meet those of his questioner he had an almost lowering appearance.  He looked sullen and on his guard.  I was disappointed in this, for I had somehow hoped that he would prove to be innocent, and I felt that he was making a bad impression on the investigators.
For the first time I allowed a purely psychological or instinctive kind of speculation to work.  Was this the kind of man who could have murdered Mary Thurston?  Could I picture him doing it?  Was it in his nature to do it?
I had never observed him closely when his hat was off until now.  I could not help admitting that his square, straight forehead, and the low line where his thick hair began, suggested something brutal about him.  Yet there was also in his manner an air of carefree and sailor-like good nature which seemed to contradict that.  On the whole, I felt that if he was guilty, it had been with some extreme provocation, if such a thing were possible.  He had not murdered with a mean or a greedy motive, if he had murdered at all.
Lord Simon had begun quite chattily.  “Know a bloke called Miles?” he asked.
Fellowes glanced up quickly.  “Yes,” he said, with enquiry in his voice.
“Known him long?”
“Some years.”
“Got into a spot of trouble with him, didn’t you?”
“Good God.  Are you going to rake that up?” growled Fellowes.
“Can’t help it.  Sorry to pull out the bally skeleton, and all that.  But it can’t be helped.  When did you see Miles last?”
“This morning.”
“See him yesterday?”
“In the afternoon, yes.”
A long pause.  “In the village.”  It was evident that Fellowes meant to give absolutely the minimum of information necessary.
“By appointment?”
“Where did you spend yesterday afternoon?”
“I had to meet Mr. Townsend at five-five.”
“And before that?”
“I was free.”
“What did you do?”
“I was running in the car engine.  She’s just been rebored.”
“Anyone with you?”
Very decidedly Fellowes said, “No.”
“You’ve been a sailor, haven’t you, Fellowes?  Life on the ocean wave, and all that sort of thing?”
“I was in the Merchant Service for a few years.”
“Had a pretty tough life, one way and another?”
He grinned.  “I suppose you’d call it pretty tough.”
“Ever seen anyone killed?”
“Saw a boy eaten by alligators once.  Crossing a river it was, on the East Coast.”
“And so what with such hair-raisin’ experiences and a spell in chokey, you can reckon to be pretty hardboiled?”
“Is that your way of tying this thing on me?” asked Fellowes truculently.
“Just one of my dam’ silly questions,” said Lord Simon, recrossing his legs.  “And now tell me something more interestin’.  What was there between you and Mrs. Thurston?”
This question seemed to produce a greater intensity in the atmosphere.  Sam Williams looked up, and watched Fellowes keenly, while even Sergeant Beef seemed interested.
“Oh, that . . .” prevaricated Fellowes.  “Well, nothing really.”
“Nothing at all?’
“Well . . .”
“Come along, man.  You’re not going to pretend to be bashful, are you?”
“It wasn’t anything to speak of.  I suppose she’d taken rather a fancy to me.”
“Entirely unreciprocated by you, of course?”
“How do you mean?”
Sergeant Beef came manfully to the rescue.  “’E means was you, or was you not, carrying on with the lady?”
Fellowes’s answer was an odd one, and seemed to be the result of genuine embarrassment.  “Not more than I could help,” he said.
“Did it worry you?”
“A bit.”
“Well, Dr. Thurston was all right.  I didn’t want anything like that.”
At this point I respected Fellowes.  I felt that I could see in a moment all that had happened.  Mary Thurston, indulgent, stupid, affectionate, having her little romantic affaire with this good-looking rather piratical young man.  Nothing serious, of course.  But she liked him about her.  Liked his opening the door of the car and arranging the rugs for her.  Probably gave him things, and expected little attentions such as young lovers shew.  Altogether rather like one of those stout and wealthy English and American women you see in Majorca with a youth attached to them.
“There was nothing else that worried you about it?”
“Only . . . when she wanted me to stop talking with her . . .”
“As she did last night?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she complained of hearing rats in the apple-room, and told you to set the trap.”
“That’s right, she did.”
“And did you set it?”
“Did you talk to her?”
“Why not?”
“Because . . . when I got to her door, I heard someone in there talking to her.”
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know.  A man.’’
“Did you hear anything said?”
“No.  I didn’t stop to listen.  I went on upstairs and set the trap.”
“What time would that have been?”
“Soon after eleven.”
“How do you know?”
“Looked at the kitchen clock.”
Whether it was the result of mental rehearsal, or honesty, or slick lying, I don’t know, but I noticed that Fellowes gave his answers promptly and clearly.  He scarcely ever paused.
“And having set the trap?”
“Went to my bedroom.”
“No.  Took my coat off.”
“Then, after a bit, I heard the screams.”
“Nothing else? Nothing before that?”
“Keen on a bit of P.T., aren’t you, Fellowes?  Gymnastics, and what not?”
“When did you go in the gymnasium last?”
“Not for about a week.”
“You didn’t know, then, that the ropes were missing from there?”
“No.”  The answer was sullen and quiet.
“In fact you know nothing more at all—nothing you want to tell us?”
“But, my friend . . .” It was M. Amer Picon who broke in now, unable to repress himself any longer.  “You have told us nothing—nothing at all to the point.  There are many questions which you can, as you say, clear up.  For instance, what did your young lady, your fiancée, think of Madame Thurston’s so kindly attention to you?”
“What young lady?”
Allons, my friend, you need not affect an air quite so innocent.  The parlourmaid, Enid.”
“She? I don’t see why she need be brought into this.”
“Everyone, tout le monde, who lives in this house is brought into it.  What did she say?”
“She did not much like it.”  Again he spoke in a deep sulky voice, without excitement, without any elaboration of the blunt fact.
“So she knew well that something was there?”
“She knew that Mrs. Thurston used to talk to me.”
“And she was jealous, perhaps?”
“No.  Not jealous.  She knew there was nothing in it.”
“With her mind she knew, with her heart she doubted.  The woman is like that, mon ami.  You had, perhaps, known this young lady a long time?  Before you came to this house?”
That surprised me—I scarcely knew why.  I suppose because I had assumed that they had met and fallen in love while both were in the Thurstons’ service.  But I admired M.  Picon for thinking of other possibilities.
“Before you first knew Miles?”
“No, Soon after.”
Bien.  A trio, I perceive.”
Fellowes did not answer.
M.  Picon seemed irritated by that, and his next question was asked quite fiercely.  “You climb pretty well the rope, n’est-ce pas?”
Fellowes looked him full in the face.  “Yes.”
“And you have thought of taking a little public-house, I think?”
This astounded the chauffeur.  “What’s it to do with you?  Can’t I have my own affairs without their being poked into?  And suppose I had?”
“Suppose you had, then I should like to know from where had come the money for so interesting an enterprise.”
“Can’t anyone save a bit without being suspected?”
“Perhaps.  Perhaps.  And now would you tell me something else equally interessant.  Who entered first the service of Doctor and Mrs. Thurston, you or Enid?”
“She did.”
“And obtained for you the job which you now have?”
“She told Mrs. Thurston I was out of a job.  Anything else you want to know?”
“Please.  One other little thing.  Quite little, but very important.  You have told us that yesterday afternoon you were nowhere near the house.  You were driving the motorcar because it must be driven slow for a time after the mechanical reparations.  That is so?”
“I was running her in, yes.”
“To prove that, would you perhaps be so good as to tell me something which would, as one might say, establish the alibi?  Shew that you had been away from here?  Someone, perhaps, you spoke to?  Something you noticed?”
Fellowes did not look up for a while.  I wondered whether he was indeed searching in his memory for the information demanded, or whether he was doubting the advisability of giving it.  M. Picon’s tone had been suave, but there was such an interested hush in the room while the chauffeur hesitated that it really made one feel that there might be a sinister significance behind the innocent query.
Presently Fellowes said, “Yes.  I can tell you something.  I noticed that the flag on the church tower at Morton Scone was at half-mast.”
M. Picon jumped.
“You did.  That is very interesting.”
Then Sergeant Beef broke in again.  “That’s right,” he said.  “It would ’uv been.  The doctor over at Morton Scone oo’d been there twenty years died yesterday morning.”
“Indeed?  That is more interesting yet.  Thank you.”
And the extraordinary little man sat down, his cross-examination ended.
It was scarcely necessary to appeal to Mgr. Smith this time.  Frankly, I was disappointed in this one of the great three.  He seemed to have lost all interest in the proceedings.  Of course I realized that the case was not fraught with the phenomena to which he was accustomed.  No tall strangers with Homeric beards and black cloaks were here, no uncommon or alliterative surnames, no ghost which turned out not to be a ghost, or supernatural things which became more harrowing when they proved to be natural, no ruins, no artists, no Americans.  Still, it did not seem to me to be such an uninteresting crime as all that.  I did not see why he should shew quite such boredom.  For now from the black bundle in the arm-chair was coming a sound quite regular, distinctly audible, and not very polite.  Mgr. Smith was snoring.