Case for Three Detectives
I had guessed that one of the ’trimmin’s’ which M. Picon would add to Lord Simon’s brilliant reconstruction of the crime would concern the parlourmaid Enid, in whose movements he had shewn such a keen and sleuthy interest. But I could not see what more there was to be said. Lord Simon had been so thorough and so complete, forgetting not the most trivial point, and accounting for every known fact, that there seemed little left for M. Picon to divulge. However, the little man seemed eager to talk, and excited over something he had to communicate to us, so that we all leaned back and prepared to hear him.
“That,’ he said to Lord Simon, “was an interesting theory. Very ingenious, mon ami. I have listened with plaisir to every word of it. Unfortunately, however, it is incorrect, right from its commencement. The gentleman called Strickland, so genial and so sportif, as the good Bœuf has told us, is as innocent of the murder as you or I.”
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this startling declaration. Lord Simon was, of course, the least concerned, and sipped his brandy imperturbably. But his man Butterfield gave a visible start, and turned pale. It was evident that never before had he heard his employer’s theories questioned by anyone but police inspectors, unintelligent spectators, or criminals. That the celebrated M. Picon should make such a blunder seemed incredible to him. Williams and I sat up violently, and even Mgr. Smith shewed a mild interest.
“But have no fear,” continued the foreign detective, “I, Amer Picon, will reveal everything to you. Everything. Are you ready? Allez . . . hoop!
“I have told you, have I not, that when there seems to be no motive in the brain, one must look in the heart. This was no murder of the intellect—though by its very simplicity it was difficult to reconstruct, but a crime of passion. You are surprised, is it not? Eh bien, my friends, I also have had my surprises in this case.
“Let us examine, if you please, this household as it was before this violent occurrence. We have the genial Doctor Thurston, an English gentleman who, like so many of your English gentlemen, sees no farther than his nose. We have Madame Thurston—very kind, very easy-going, and a little, one must say, stupid. We have the butler, Stall, what you call in English ‘a sly dog’, eh? And the so competent cook. Then we have the young man Fellowes, who knows what it is to be inside a prison, and the girl Enid, of mixed blood and rather unfortunate antecedents. Voilà—the cast.
“Now what goes on? There is here the eternal triangle, n’est-ce pas? Madame Thurston is attached to the young chauffeur, who in his turn is in love with Enid, who is much enamoured of him. And there you have the beginning of the trouble. My friends—beware of that little triangle. He is dangerous.
“All is secret. The good Doctor must know nothing, nothing at all. Madame Thurston may take the automobile ride in order to chat with the young man she adores, but it must be surreptitious. Enid may know all, for her lover assures her that she had no need to doubt, but she must not let Madame Thurston see that she knows anything. And when the butler, Stall, has stolen the so fateful and incriminating letter from Madame Thurston to the chauffeur and uses it to blackmail the lady, she herself must be silent to Fellowes, and conceal from him what is going on, lest he attacks the butler, and all is exposed, all is ended. You see what secrets were here?
“Two people besides the sly Stall are suspicious of Madame and her chauffeur—the cook and the Vicar. But the cook is quite satisfied with her situation, and very sensibly decides that it is no business of hers, though, as she told us, there were things of which she did not approve. And the Vicar, he is not sure. He is fond of espionage, the good Vicar, and presently he will know more.
“Meanwhile, like many households, this household goes on. Underneath the routine, Madame Thurston conceals her love, and the torture of being blackmailed. Enid conceals the furious fire of her jealousy, which persists in spite of all her lover says. The chauffeur conceals from the middle-aged lady who loves him his real love for the girl. The blackmailer conceals his activities from all, save from Madame Thurston. And everyone conceals everything from Doctor Thurston. Voilà—an atmosphere! All have secrets. But the household goes on like any other.
“And why does it so? Because, my friends, there is money. For the servants there are good wages now, exceptionally good. And there is the will which shall make all of them rich one day. And for money much can be endured. So it goes on, and the time draws near to this fatal week-end, in which matters must reach a climax.
“Now everyone is approaching what you call the breaking point. But most of all the chauffeur. Three years he has worked here, and is not yet married to Enid. He wants to take a little inn. He has some money saved, but not enough. Enid, too, wants to go with him. But how can they? If they leave this situation they may not find another where they would be together. When we are in love we are slaves. They must stay here and work, and he must be pleasant with madame, and she must endure her pangs of jealousy. There is no escape, it seems.
“But there is the will. Are we not forgetting the will, the little trick which Madame Thurston has played on her servants? Voilà—a chance! If madame now were to die suddenly, of cancer or consumption, say, all is settled, all is solved. They would be rich, they could buy their little inn, there would be no more jealousy for Enid, and no more cleaning the car for Fellowes. If only . . . but why dream? Madame is strong. Madame may live for thirty years. Why dream?
“Yet, why not? If anything were to happen to madame, now. That would help. An accident—a fatal accident. Already the ideas are alive. Already the beginning of a plot. And as for time, when better than this week-end, when so many guests are here? All that must be found is the way. That is most important—the way to cause that so regrettable fatal accident, without any possibility of the stupid police interfering afterwards. That is the great question.
“And, messieurs, we who know something of these matters know only too well that when all else is determined, a way can be found. Only too soon. So we find Fellowes the chauffeur determined that Madame Thurston shall meet with this accident and the week-end approaching. It was into the atmosphere of this potential crime that you came for your week-end.
“The chauffeur had been a sailor. When I first perceived that among the tattoo marks on his arm was a representation of the Southern Cross, I was convinced of that, and he has since admitted it. And to me came the idea, the little plain idea, that a sailor might climb a rope. It was of the simplest, this idea, such as a little child might have. But beware always of the complicated. The idea was correct. It might have been otherwise, but as you will see it was correct.”
At this point Sam Williams broke in rather impatiently. “But, Monsieur Picon,” he said, “we’ve already discussed over and over again the possibility of anyone having climbed out of that window, and it has been proved that it was not possible in the time . . .”
“Patience, if you please,” said M. Picon; “step by step, if you will listen. I, Amer Picon, will tell you all. Eh bien, here we are with a chauffeur who can climb a rope. But of what use is that? He must have an alibi. No amusement to commit a murder, and be caught escaping by means of a rope. Pas du tout. It must be done better. How? Ah, then comes the great idea. The chauffeur sees just how the pauvre Madame Thurston may meet her accident, how he and Enid may inherit some of her money, and escape without ever being suspected. A big idea, this time! And one to deceive nearly all detectives. All but Picon. For Picon, too, has an idea sometimes.
“The room must be a little dark, and the chauffeur must go to see madame. That, we are told, was not so unusual. He must bolt the door. That, too, may have happened before. His rope hangs at the window, suspended firmly from the apple-room the window of which is directly over the opening of Madame Thurston’s room. All is prepared. He must advance to madame. That, also, he has done before. Then, not the embrace, but vite, the knife. Tcchhk! It must be done. In silence and swiftly he must sever the jugular vein. Then, hoop! On to the rope. The sailor’s climb to the apple-room. The concealment of the rope. The descent to the kitchen. The conversation with the cook. Voilà un menu!
“Meanwhile, the young woman, Enid, does her part. She is in the room of Dr. Thurston, which is divided from that of Madame Thurston by a wall. Near this wall she stands. She waits until her lover has descended to the kitchen, and the murder is done. Then Ow! Ow! she screams. It is Madame Thurston being murdered. For who can distinguish the screams of two women? One may know the voice of each very well, but the scream, that is different. No one can tell. So near to the wall, too, it must seem to come from the poor lady’s room. Then—all will arrive. The door will be burst open, the crime discovered. Who has done it? Certainly not the chauffeur, for was he not talking with the cook? Certainly not Enid, for does she not arrive at the door immediately? Certainly not Miles, for was he not with Bœuf? Such was the plot, Intelligent, n’est-ce pas? But not quite intelligent enough for Amer Picon.
“And now we see what came of that plot. Allons! Voyons! A la gloire! ”