Case for Three Detectives
If the chauffeur had been uncommunicative, the girl who had been described as his fiancee made amends for him. She seemed to have a great deal to say, both on the subject of her life and his before they had entered the Thurstons’ service, and on the events of yesterday. Little questioning was needed to elicit from her a great deal of information which the investigators may or may not have required.
She was a handsome girl. I was annoyed with myself, as I looked at her now, to think how unobservant I had been in the past. Perhaps I could blame my upbringing a little, but I’m afraid that I had not until now been very much aware of her as a human being. I had seen her often enough, of course, on the many occasions on which I had stayed in the house. But beyond a cheerful good morning when I had passed her, I had paid little attention to her.
With her thick brown hair, and rather liquid brown eyes, she might have had an insipid face, were it not for the almost puckish tilt of the nose, and humorous mobile mouth. She looked intelligent, and full of character, attractive, but also determined. She was a young woman, I was sure, who would not shrink from a desperate act if it was a necessary one. On the other hand, she would be capable of loyalty, I thought. An interesting face, and an interesting creature.
The story she told in answer to Lord Simon’s tentative questions about the past was an unexpected one. She had been born in Soho, the daughter of a Greek mother and an English father. Her father kept a newspaper shop, and ‘did a bit for a bookie’, but when she was about twelve he had come home one day to say that a certain race gang was out for his blood, and that he had to disappear. She had never known whether the story was true, or merely an excuse for him to leave her mother, but at all events he had gone, and none of them had seen him since.
He left his foreign wife, the shop, Enid and her brother, then a lad of fifteen. The mother had been quite incapable of keeping the shop going, since she could not even write English. Within two months their stock was seized for arrears in rent, and the three of them moved into one room.
Sergeant Beef interrupted at this point in his official capacity. “One room?” he asked.
Enid sniffed. “There was a curtain down the middle of it,” she said, and continued her story.
According to her own account she had then appeared to be at least sixteen years old, and soon got a job for herself as a domestic servant to a couple who kept a small sweet and tobacco shop in Battersea. She left her mother, and it was perhaps typical of the circumstances in which she had been born and raised, that she now had to admit that she had never seen or heard of her mother again She went back once, a month or so later, to the address where she had left her, but the Greek woman had owed two weeks’ rent and had disappeared during the night-time. “The only thing I got from the people in the house,” said Enid, “was a box over the ears when they found that I wasn’t going to pay the rent that was owing.”
But, in her own words, she ‘kept herself decent’. She soon left the Battersea shop, where she had been overworked and ‘treated like dirt’ and found employment with a young married couple. And as time had gone on she had moved from place to place, endeavouring always to ‘better herself. By this she explained that she did not merely mean getting better wages, but finding a job with more educated people from whom she could learn how to behave.
Her ambitions seemed to have been entirely social. ‘Upwards’ to her meant nearer refinement. And I felt, as she talked, that she had let nothing stand in her way in that pursuit. A new expression came into her face and her voice as she spoke, a grating hardness which surprised me. This mixture of English and Mediterranean blood, I thought, could be a dangerous one. But I tried to keep an open mind.
Her meeting with her brother, five years after they had separated, was rather dramatic. They had seen and recognized one another at a dance-hall. And with her brother, on that night, had been Fellowes.
Her brother seemed to have plenty of money, but he gave her no explanations. He said he was working—‘electrical work’, was his only description—and he did not encourage her to ask questions. He, too, had left their mother, or at least she had left him when she had got work in the kitchen of a Greek restaurant. So that the brother and sister had become two of those detached individuals, such, presumably as one hears besought in S.O.S. messages to return to a dying parent.
She wrote her address on a piece of paper for her brother that night, but she did not hear from him, or of him, until some weeks later when Fellowes had called to see her. He had then told her that her brother was in gaol for burglary. She had realized at once, she said, that his prosperity had not been due to any isolated act, but that he was a professional criminal. While he had been in prison, she had seen a good deal of Fellowes, and we gathered that ‘an attachment’ soon existed between them. He admitted having helped her brother in several ‘jobs’, but had been quite ready to promise her to have nothing more to do with the life.
When, however, her brother had come out of gaol, he and Fellowes had become, as Enid put it, ‘very thick again’, and as a sequel to that friendship they were both arrested and given terms of imprisonment. But it was not, Enid hastened to explain, in the nature of Fellowes. Her brother had a strong character, and had led him into it.
“In spite of his promise to you?” put in Lord Simon.
“Well—he was out of work,” was Enid’s defence.
When he came out, however, as he did nearly a year before her brother, who was by now regarded as an habitual criminal, she had been able to help him. She had already got her job with the Thurstons, and, by appealing to Mrs. Thurston, and telling her the whole truth, she had persuaded her to engage him as a chauffeur. For nearly three years, she assured us, he had been as straight as a die, enjoying his job, and saving his wages.
“Until, of course, your brother reappeared?”
“That made no difference. My brother hasn’t done anything wrong since he’s been out.”
“I can believe in one reformed criminal,” said Sam Williams, “but two are hard to credit.”
“Well, it’s true, anyway,” said Enid. “My brother . . .”
“Respectively employed as porter at the local hotel . . .”
“Yes. He’s gone straight. And why shouldn’t he? He’s got a decent job. Twenty-five bob a week, and tips, besides his keep. Mrs. Thurston got it for him, and she knew all about him. You ask the Sergeant whether he hasn’t gone straight.”
“No complaints so far,” admitted Beef.
“Then I wonder why Fellowes didn’t mention that Miles was your brother.”
“Did you ask him? Why should he tell you what he isn’t asked? It’s not his nature. He’d rather say too little than too much.”
The end of her story was soon told. She and Fellowes had decided to get married, and to start in a little hotel of their own. It had always been her idea. And each of them had saved some money. There was that will of Mrs. Thurston’s, but of course, she took no notice of that. Why, Mrs. Thurston might have lived another thirty years. And she didn’t mean to spend all that time in domestic service. Not she.
At this point the suspicion in my mind left the other people who might have been involved in the murder of Mary Thurston, and became for a time centred on this trio. It seemed to me almost too much of a coincidence that two men and a woman, all of them more or less sprung from the criminal classes, should have been on the spot, without having been involved.
I could not see, of course, how they could have done it, for I could not yet see how anyone could have done it, but I felt that one or two, or all three of them, were guilty. And I do not deny that I was sorry. I should have liked to have felt that the story told by the girl was true. They had all had to fight for existence. I had caught some glimpses of that fight—the girl’s dreary struggle through the most sordid kind of domestic service at an age when she should have been at school. The years of malnutrition and overwork. And for the men the loneliness and nerve-strain of a life into which they had probably entered half from desperation, half from want.
But there was that hardness in Enid, that savagery in Fellowes, which seemed to prove them capable of any violent act, if violence served their turn. And though I still revolted at the thought of either of them having actually used that knife so horribly, I no longer felt that they were innocent of some part in the crime.
I felt nauseated, suddenly, with the whole affair. This relentless tracking down of the criminal seemed gruesome. Lord Simon, gently sipping his brandy, so obviously considered it all to be a most absorbing game of chess, ‘something to occupy a chap’, that for a moment I lost all patience with him. And the brilliant little Picon, whose humanity was more evident, he too could not help enjoying his own efforts —and that disturbed me. Certainly I had never known Mgr. Smith actually hand a man over to the Law, but even that was partly because the criminals he discovered had a way of committing suicide before he revealed their identity.
Of course, in a way, I wanted poor Mary Thurston avenged. But as I saw the investigators with appetites obviously whetted for the cross-examination they were about to make of this handsome girl, my gusto failed, and I felt like leaving them to their questions, and going out into the air. But my curiosity, of course, got the better of me, so that I took another whisky-and-soda and leaned back in my chair to hear what questions they would put to Enid, now that they had reached the point of discovering her movements last night.