Case for Three Detectives
Now though it looked as though there was nothing more to be said, I for one was determined to clear up every point I could think of. I did not mean to be caught again by someone else who would come along with a theory that would supersede this one. So although Sergeant Beef had anxiously consulted a large silver watch several times, as though afraid that he was going to be late for some urgent appointment, I continued to question him.
“What about the ropes?” I said.
“Oh them, well, in the night ’e thought it all over, and it seemed a pretty neat crime to ’im. ’E knew by then that Dr. Thurston ’ad decided to keep quiet about this game of ’is and ’is wife’s, in case ’e should be suspected. Come to that it’s more than likely that Dr. Thurston had actually told ’im about it, as ’is lawyer. In fact, now I come to think of it, I should think he had. And Williams, of course, ’ad advised ’im to keep quiet till ’e saw what you gentlemen made of it. There might never be no need to mention the game, if you’d found the murderer without that. But whether or not ’e’d actually told Williams, Williams knew ’e would tell ’im before ’e told anyone else, if ’e was going to mention it. So Williams thought ’e’d got things pretty well set, a mystery as no one couldn’t solve. Well then, ’e began to wonder if it wasn’t too much of a mystery. Left as it was, the only solution to it would ’ave to be the true solution, and that wouldn’t suit ’im at all. So ’e thinks ’ow ’e could shew up some other possibility. And some time in the small hours ’e gets up, goes down to the gymnasium, finds a ladder, ’auls them ropes across, and ’ides ’em in the tanks. ’E ’ad nerve. But it wasn’t so dangerous as it looked. If ’e was caught with them anywhere ’e could ’ave said ’e was up to detective work and ’ad just found ’em, and shew ’ow the murderer ’ad used ’em. But ’e wasn’t caught. ’E got ’em in the tank safe enough. ’E brought the two, in case it should be proved afterwards that one ’adn’t been long enough, and all ’is work wasted.”
“But what about Strickland—and the pendant?”
“Wot about ’im? ’Is Lordship was right enough. He is the stepson. ’E got into a bit of trouble over racing, and changed ’is name. But ’e’s oright. ’E didn’t put ’is ’undred quid on that ’orse until Mrs. Thurston ’ad giv’ ’im the pendant which ’e could pop for more than that, to cover ’im if the ’orse didn’t win. ’E’s oright, I tell you, I’m glad ’is ’orse did come in. It’ll be drinks round to-night—if I get down there in time. Course he told one or two lies. Well, ’e wasn’t going to let on about changing ’is name. Why should ’e? ’E didn’t want all that raked up, As for ’is going to Sidney Sewell, well, what could be more natural? A run in the car was what anyone ’ud want, cooped up ’ere for a murder enquiry. It’s not everyone ’oo enjoys ’em, you know. And of course ’e chose Sidney Sewell, that being the place ’e’d stayed at. But there was no secret about it, or ’e wouldn’t of took Norris and Fellowes with ’im.”
I was determined to find out whether the Sergeant’s case was complete. “But the chauffeur?” I asked, “And the girl? And her ex-convict brother?”
The Sergeant smiled. “That’s where I had the advantage, sir. See, being sergeant in a place like this, you gets to know people and what they’re up to. I mean, we know ’oo might be doing a bit of poaching, and ’oo’s liable to get tight. I knew this chap Fellowes pretty well—played darts with ’im a good many times. Always starts on the double eighteen, ’e does. Never misses. Well, I knew ’e ’ad a bit saved up, and ’ad been looking for the right pub for ’im and Enid for a long time. And I also knew that ’e’d just settled to take over the ‘Red Lion’. Money was paid a week ago before any of this came along. And the brother, Miles, was to go and work for ’em. Pleased as punch they was about it. ’E wouldn’t of wanted to go doing anyone in. Not ’im. ’E was getting married and everythink. ’E may ’ave ’ad a bit of a row with the girl over not ’aving give in ’is notice. But ten to one ’e told ’er when they was out together on Friday afternoon that ’e’d tell Mrs. Thurston that night. And that settled it with Enid, so that when they got back to their car that afternoon their tiff was over. Then, as you remember, Mrs. Thurston sent for ’im, before dinner, to tell ’im about the rat-traps, which meant to tell him she wanted to see ’im later. And he came out with it then and there in the ’all, that ’e wanted to leave at the end of the week. No wonder you noticed ’er looking a bit upset when you were on your way up to change. She was upset, but she’d persuaded ’im to ’ave a word with ’er later. Well, at eleven o’clock ,’e and Enid ’ears Mrs. Thurston go up to bed. ’E wants to see ’er at once and get it over, but ’e mustn’t appear to be following ’em upstairs. So wot does ’e do? Wot would anyone do? Look at the clock of course and sez ‘Why, it’s past eleven’, as though it was later than wot ’e thought it was, to explain ’is ’urrying off.
“So ’e went to go in ’er room. Only ’e couldn’t because Stall was in there, after ’is two ’undred. Not that Fellowes knew ’oo it was, only ’e ’eard someone talking. And it’s my belief, as I’ve told you, that ’e was just coming downstairs to ’ave another try, when ’e ’eard those screams, and doubled back up again. The girl ’ad a nasty experience, though. She was in the Doctor’s room, right opposite to Mrs. Thurston’s, when those screams started. No wonder she couldn’t move for a minute. It must ’ave turned ’er up, coming sudden like that with no noise first. Enough to give any girl a turn, especially when she ’arf thinks ’er lover’s in there. She stays where she is a minute, till she ’ears you battering at the door, then she comes out and must ’ave been relieved to see Fellowes with the rest of you. ’E tells ’er to run downstairs, which she does, as we know from the cook.
“Mind you, it may of been lucky for Miles that ’e ’ad that alibi. It might easily ’ave appeared that someone would ’ave mixed ’im up in this, and brought out all about ’is past, which wouldn’t ’ave done ’im any good in the village, when ’e goes to ’elp at the ‘Red Lion’. But fortunately nobody knows anythink about it, except you gentlemen and me, so ’e’s oright. ’E’ll go straight enough now. ’E never chizzles on the dart-board, and that’s a good sign. Why, only the other night I was playing against ’im and I thought one of ’is darts was in the sixty. ’One ton,’ I says, but he says, ‘No, sixty. It wasn’t there.’ ’E could of ’ad it as easy as wink, an’ I shouldn’t ’ave known any different. But ’e didn’t, see! Honest ’e was. We shan’t ’ave no more trouble with ’im!”
It was just then, I think, that Mgr. Smith got up to leave us. He bore no grudge against the Sergeant, and like the good sportsman he was enjoyed being wrong at last. “You see,” he explained, “by the very nature of things it has never been possible for me to be mistaken before. And while there is error in a man, a man may be in error.”
He beamed round on us and picked up his parasol.
“Where are you off to?” I asked.
“I must go to the Vicarage,” he said, and scuttled out. We heard that it was several hours before he returned from the gloomy Vicarage, but what had passed in that time it was not our business to enquire.
When we had left the room I was seized by yet another doubt. “But, Sergeant,” I said, “there is one matter which you haven’t explained. And now I come to think of it, it is a serious one. What about the Vicar? You cannot account for all his movements so simply. They were really most peculiar. First of all his questions to me. Then all that time when he said he was out in the orchard, then his being by the side of the corpse so soon after the murder, and finally his saying that he had sinned. What does it all mean? Was he really mad?”
“Mad? No!” said Sergeant Beef. ’E isn’t mad. That was just ’is way of trying to get out of it—defend ’imself, like.”
“Defend himself? Then he did have something to do with the murder?”
“No. Not that. But ’aven’t you really guessed, sir, what it was ’e was ashamed of? It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
“I can’t say I have—unless it was this interfering puritanism of his.”
“No, not that. Though it’s all part of it. You see the kind of man he was? Always seeing something wrong when there was nothing to see. Well, you know what goes with that, don’t you? A nasty mind, that’s what! No wonder ’e was ashamed of ’imself. When he left here that night, where did he go? Out in the orchard, pacing up and down? Not he! ’E knew Mrs. Thurston would be going to bed in a minute, and p’raps didn’t trouble to draw the blinds. And out ’e goes in the garden to see whether ’e could see anything ’e shouldn’t. That’s how he came to ’ear the screams, and that’s why he was guilty afterwards.”
“In fact,” drawled Lord Simon, “as Monsignor Smith would say if he were here, he was not only a Nosey Parker, but a Peeping Tom.”