Case for Three Detectives
To our surprise Sergeant Beef conceived a sudden desire to ask questions at this point.
“Could you tell me,” he began ponderously, “which of the ladies and gentlemen staying in the house lit their fires last night?”
But Williams came to the rescue. “Really, Beef,” he said, “while these gentlemen have important questions to ask, I think we want to waste as little time as possible.”
One or two others of us joined the appeal to Beef not to hold up the cross-examination, so that, after murmuring something about “having a pretty good idea, anyway” he was silent again.
“See anything of your brother yesterday?” asked Lord Simon, returning indefatigably to his task of cross-examination.
“No. Nothing at all.”
“Yet it was his free afternoon.”
“How did you spend the afternoon?”
Enid hesitated, and I had a curious intuition that she was going to tell a lie.
“Well,” she said at last, “I’d been up late the night before—reading. And not a detective novel either,” she put in tartly. “So that yesterday afternoon I felt sleepy, and went up to my room for forty winks.”
“When did you first see Fellowes that day?”
“Not until just before dinner.” Again, I was sure that she was lying.
“Did he have anything particular to say to you then?”
“Nothing special, no.”
“Nothing about a rat-trap?’’
“Oh, that wasn’t anything particular. Whenever Mrs. Thurston wanted a talk with him, she’d tell him about the rats.”
“That was an understood thing, then. Did Fellowes mention it last night?”
“Yes. He just told me.”
“Did you mind?”
“Yes, Enid. Incredible though it may seem to you, I said ‘mind’. Very gauche of me, no doubt, but I just wondered whether a man’s fiancée would have an objection to his being summoned to a lady’s room at eleven o’clock or so, for a ‘talk’.”
Enid coloured slightly, but said only, “He can take care of himself. I never worry about him.”
“A very sensible attitude, I’m sure.”
“Well, there was nothing in it. You know what she was. She was a bit sentimental over him, that’s all. Didn’t worry me.”
“Do you happen to know how Mrs. Thurston spent Friday afternoon?”
“She went up for what she used to call her siesta. Don’t know how long she was in her room.”
“Was that a regular habit of hers?”
“Pretty regular, yes.”
“Did she have a siesta on the Thursday?”
“Yes. But not for long. She’d ordered the car for two-thirty.”
“And went out?”
“Do you know where?”
“How should I know? The chauffeur took her.”
“I see. Well, let’s get back to yesterday, Friday.
“Did you go up to Mrs. Thurston’s room when she dressed for dinner?”
“No. I’m not a lady’s maid.”
“When did you first go in there?”
“It wasn’t long after dinner. I went to tidy up her things. She used to leave them anyhow when she dressed.”
“And did you notice then whether the lights in the room were all right?”
“Only the reading-lamp came on. The big light didn’t.”
“That was, say, round about ten o’clock?”
“Were the lights all right on the previous night?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What did you do when you found there was a bulb missing?”
“Went to Mr. Stall, and asked him for one. He said he was busy and I must find it for myself.”
“And did you?”
“No. Why should I have? It was his place to give it me. He kept all the stores. So I thought to myself—well, if Mrs. Thurston asks about it, I shall tell her straight.”
“And did she ask about it?”
“When she came up to bed. The cook has told us that you followed her up.”
“Yes, I did, but I didn’t go into her room.”
Enid looked rather solemn, and. hesitated. “When Mrs. Thurston got to her room, I was not far behind. I saw her open her door and go to switch on the main light. Then I heard her say, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I stopped where I was.”
“What kind of a voice did she use for that interestin’ question?”
“She seemed a bit startled.”
“Did she know that you were behind her?”
“I don’t think she realized it. Or at any rate, finding someone in her room had upset her too much to notice.”
“And did you hear any answer?”
“So you waited to see who came out?”
“No I didn’t, then!” For the first time Enid sounded angry. “It was no business of mine who was there. It might have been any of the gentlemen. I didn’t know.”
“You know, however, that it wasn’t Fellowes?”
“It wasn’t him, because he came up to bed at that minute, and passed me on the landing.”
“What did you do next?”
“Started doing my bedrooms. Turning back the beds, and that. I went into Mr. Townsend’s room, then Mr. Williams’s.”
“No. I saw him going into his room when I went into Mr. Williams’s. He was coming back from the bathroom. I was doing Dr. Thurston’s when I heard the screams.”
Lord Simon leaned back in his chair, stroking the whole length of his chin. Then suddenly he leaned forward. “Look here, Enid. You’re about the nearest thing we shall get to a witness of this crime. We want the truth. Now, tell me, who was in Mrs. Thurston’s room when she reached it that evening?”
She looked straight into his eyes. “Cross my heart, I don’t know, my lord.”
“And you don’t know who took the bulb out of its fitting?”
At this point there was a sudden and rather violent interruption. The door was burst open, and a short dark man, with the sallow cheeks and burning brown eyes of the Mediterranean races, hurried into the room. He had a little black moustache, and undeniably the appearance of an atorante, an apache, an exotic sort of savage. He crossed straight to Enid, and his voice, which was entirely English, came as a surprise to me.
“Don’t say anything to them,” he advised her, “until you have a solicitor. Have they been asking you questions? You shouldn’t have answered. They can’t make you answer.”
Enid did not seem grateful for this consideration. “I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,’ she said.
“That’s not the point. They’d get anyone mixed up in their dirty crimes. Don’t you say anything, I tell you.”
Lord Simon had been examining the new-comer coldly. “Mr. Miles, I presume?” he said.
“Well?” assented Miles.
“Glad you’ve dropped in. You may be able to help us. I take it that you’ve heard of our little gathering from my man Butterfield?”
Butterfield, as though in answer, walked in. “I spoke to the person, as you instructed, my lord. I find his alibi quite in order. It was, as you knew, his free evening. He spent it, not at his own hotel, but at an inn called the Red Lion. He was actually partner to the Police Sergeant in a contest at a game known as Darts, my lord.”
“Darts,” repeated Lord Simon disgustedly.
“That was the name of the pastime, my lord. Darts. I made quite sure of my information. At ten o’clock he remained talking with a group of persons outside this public-house, until ten-twenty, when two of them accompanied him to his hotel. It appears that the winners in this game, my lord, have their—I beg your pardon for mentioning it, my lord—their beer paid for by the losers. This person and the Police Sergeant in partnership had been almost uniformly successful in the game, and in consequence in a very ambiguous condition. However, Miles was assisted to his hotel, where the kitchen-boy, who shares his room, undressed him, and states that he was in bed and asleep before eleven, and did not stir again. The Sergeant, it appears, was summoned here.”
“If I ’ad known you was interested in Miles’s movements, I could ’ave told you,” grumbled Sergeant Beef.
“Quite so. So you have an alibi, friend Miles. Well, well, it’s a useful sort of thing. What can you tell us, though?”
“Nothing. My sister never had anything to do with it, nor yet Fellowes. So you might as well stop questioning them.”
“You must admit that it’s rather odd, though, Miles, that the three of you, with such interesting records, should be handy when a crime’s been committed.”
“Don’t see what that’s got to do with it. There’s nothing against me since I came out. Fellowes has got a clean record for three years. And my sister’s never been in any trouble. I don’t think much of any detective,” he added, “who suspects people, just because they once had been in quod.”
“Nobody has mentioned the word suspicion, Miles. It was just the coincidence which interested me. You see, I’m not a great believer in coincidences. Who proposed that game of darts?”
“You met Sergeant Beef at the Red Lion, perhaps?”
“No. I went to his house.”
“You went and fished him out for a game?”
“Yes. What about it? He’s a good player. And there was two fellows coming over from Morton Scone who are hot stuff.”
“So it was for the honour of the village, as it were, that the Sergeant turned out? Thank you.”
M. Picon only asked him one question. “These gentlemen from Morton Scone, did they tell you anything of what you call in English the tittle-tattle of the place? Was there any news from Morton Scone?”
Miles looked honestly puzzled. “No. Not that I can remember. We didn’t have much time for talking. We were playing hard.”
There was silence in the room, broken only by the gentle snoring of Mgr. Smith. I had been examining Miles. Small, slick, rather furtive—here was a man who at least psychologically, I felt, could have been considered guilty. I had heard of the treachery of these people of mixed blood, and looking at him I could believe what I had heard. His long, rather yellow hand, lying on the back of his sister’s chair, could have used that knife as it had been used. And the almost feline agility of the man could, I felt, have overcome the inexplicable obstacles. But his alibi, as Butterfield had indicated, seemed unimpeachable, so that yet another suspect was abandoned in my mind.
“Anyway,” he said, “I’m not going to have my sister asked any more questions. Not without she has a solicitor here. She oughtn’t to have been asked any. It’s not fair, in a serious case like this.”
“All that we want, mon ami,” put in M. Picon, “is the truth.”
“Well, you can find that out, without asking her any more. Come on, Enid.”
She rose without a word, and with a defiant glance back at us, Miles escorted her from the room.
“It is of no consequence,” said M. Picon. “There was nothing else she could tell us. So if she and her lover are to be believed, someone was waiting in the chambre of Madame Thurston when she reached it, yesterday.”
“And that someone,” I felt called upon to say, “could have been one of five. It could have been Norris, Strickland, Stall, or the Vicar. But it could also have been a someone of whose presence in the house we are unaware.”
“Or someone of whose existence we are unaware,” put in Sam Williams.
“That is, always presuming that Enid and Fellowes have not invented that person altogether,” suggested M. Picon. “We have only Enid’s and her lover’s word that he was there.”
“Yes, we don’t seem to be getting very much farther, do we?” smiled Lord Simon.
“Who knows?” returned M. Picon. “A little light here, a little light there, and soon, voilà! the sun is up and all is day.”
“It will be, too,” grumbled Sergeant Beef, “if you don’t get on with it.”
“Bien, bien, my friend Bœuf. But remember the English proverb, the more you haste, the less you speed, is it not? We come now to the young Strickland.”