Case with Ropes and Rings
More than in any other case I had tackled with Beef, I felt that in this matter of two murdered boxers my own contribution to the attempt at a solution was going to be necessary. When I got borne that evening, therefore, I did what I always find so effective in these cases: I got out pencil and paper, and tried to consider the matter mathematically and objectively, rather than by instinct and personal judgment such as Beef used. This method had the advantage of treating individuals purely as humans and their actions as being determined by probabilities. Here were two dead boys—A and B—and the explanation of their deaths could be any of the following:
1. A could have committed suicide, and B followed his example. That often happens with much publicised cases.
2. A could have been murdered. B could have thought he committed suicide, and again followed his example.
3. A could have committed suicide, B could have been murdered by someone who hoped to pass off this murder as a suicide in imitation of A.
4. A could have been murdered by one man and B by another who had studied the methods of A’s murderer.
5. A and B could have been murdered by the same man, who in that case must have been some kind of homicidal maniac.
These seemed to me on the broadest lines to be the only possibilities which met the case. Naturally, one felt that the truth lay in that of 5, but the difficulty with that was to find somebody who might conceivably have been guilty of both murders; so different was the background in the two cases that it was hard to conceive any connecting point, and to the best of my knowledge there was none. In the case of most of the suspects it was a factual possibility that they should have been connected at Camden Town, Barricharan, Caspar and Danvers were ruled out at once by the fact that they had never left the school. There was nothing in cold fact to prevent one considering that Jones had been able, so far as time and place was concerned, to do both murders, but I could see nothing to connect the public-school master with the boxer of Camden Town. Come to that, it was conceivable (again so far as time and place were concerned) that Abe Greenbough or one of the Spaniards, or any of the London suspects, had first come down to Penshurst and murdered Lord Alan Foulkes. But what on earth was there to suggest this, and what conceivable motive could they have had? If there was a dual murderer, and he was a homicidal maniac, it might be some completely unknown person whom neither Beef nor the police had even heard of, and the fact that there had been a “mysterious stranger” in each case certainly made this possible. I could only hope that this was not so, since it would at once rule out any chance I had of making a detective novel out of this case.
To suppose that there had been a different murderer in each case brought one back to one’s original list of suspects, and so took one no farther, while to suppose that one had been suicide and the other murder meant very much the same thing. In some way, I felt that it was as bewildering a case as any we had tackled, and I did not take very seriously Beef’s assertion that he had already worked it out. If he should eventually find a solution, I could only hope that the guilty parties would turn out to be other than Jones and Greenbough, for such obvious suspects were these that it would weaken my story considerably if they were in fact guilty.
So offensively cheerful was Beef when I picked him up next morning that I had the gravest doubts of his solution, even if it had ever existed.
“It’s nice to see the end in sight,” he reflected as he climbed into the car.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked more practically.
“Down to St. Gerrards, of course.”
“It’s what they call,” said Beef with a grin, “a family seat. It’s Lord Edenbridge’s hang-out.”
“Have you any reason to suppose that he would want to see you?” I asked him.
“Yes. I rang him up last night, and told him we thought of coming down. He’s expecting us to-day, so off we go.”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Hampshire,” said Beef. “Near Petersfield. There’s about two thousand acres of it, so you can’t miss it, as they tell you when you ask the way.”
“Is it absolutely necessary to go down there?” I enquired. “It seems to me a long run, and you really haven’t got much to report.”
“I’ve got a great deal,” said Beef. “And if you’re worrying about the cost of the petrol I’ll put it down on my expense sheet.”
“It’s time,” I said, “not money. I can’t see how you can spare the time to drive down there. There’s so much you might be doing in London. We didn’t do more than touch the fringe of the Spanish matter, and Greenbough’s movements might easily provide a real solution. Why, I’d rather we were watching things at Penshurst than going on like this.”
“Well, that’s all very reasonable,” admitted Beef. “But you see, I happen to be employed by Lord Edenbridge, and I think it’s my duty to let him know how things are getting on.”
“What have you got to tell him?” I asked sceptically. “Can you say who is guilty?”
“Well, no. I can’t rightly commit myself to that,” said Beef. “But I have a pretty good idea, and I hope to have it all cleared up in a day or two.”
I sighed deeply, but I am afraid that the sound was lost on Beef on account of the somewhat noisy engine of my aged motor car. Perhaps, I thought to myself, with unconquerable optimism, if Beef should produce a really unexpected solution in this case, my royalties might be sufficient to enable me to purchase a new one.
We were soon out of London, making good time on the wide main road. I took advantage of the opportunity to try and draw Beef into conversation on the subject of the case, but he was obstinate and silent about it.
“Let’s forget about it,” he said, “until we get there. I like to look at the country as we go by,” and he settled down to this fruitless occupation.
When at last, after careful enquiry, we found ourselves at the lodge gates of St. Gerrards, Beef got out of the car with alacrity, and I heard him explaining in a loud and authoritative voice to the lodge-keeper that he had come to see Lord Edenbridge on most important business.
“Name of Beef,” he added confidently.
The great wrought-iron gates were swung open, and we passed between two high brick pillars, each supporting a stone unicorn—a symbol which I recognised as having been taken from the armorial bearings of the family.
When the great house eventually came into view I was enchanted by its fine proportions and impressed by its grandeur. It had been built in the eighteenth century, a period, I reflected, when families like this had had their due, and I thought with envy of the descendants of the clan who would inherit this superb and dignified domain.
“Make a nice hotel, wouldn’t it?” said Beef. “Or a home for the aged. It seems a shame that it should all be there for one man to live in.”
In the face of such a vulgar criticism I was silent.
I wondered for a moment as we drove up whether it would not be better to drive to the back door. If I had been alone, of course, I should not have hesitated to pull up in front of the ornate main portico, but Beef’s place in a house like this was more ambiguous. If he had ever had business here before I had raised him to the status of a private investigator he would have been given, I reflected, a glass of ale in the kitchen, and would have cycled away quite content to have inspected the dog licence or whatever business it was. However, on fuller consideration, I felt that I owed it to myself to ring the front door bell, and did so.
A very superior young footman explained rather loftily that he would inform Lord Edenbridge of our arrival, and we were left in a small lobby near the front door. It was not long, however, before the man returned, and in a voice that suggested some surprise told us that his Lordship would see us now, whereupon he led us through the main hall and opened a tall door on the left of it. In passing across, however, we found ourselves under the cold gaze of a number of Edenbridge ancestors, who stared down from their gilt frames with the same chilly and expressionless detachment as we had already found in the manner of the present Marquess.
“Not a very matey lot they don’t look, do they?” grumbled Beef in my ear, but there was no time to answer him, for we found ourselves under the scrutiny of his present employer.
Lord Edenbridge was standing before the empty grate of his library. It was a long, narrow room in the tradition of its period, with high windows and a tesselated ceiling which might have been designed, I reflected, by the Adams brothers themselves. The bookcases were mahogany, gracefully designed and carved in the manner of the same period, and filled with a well-kept library of bound editions. My eyes rested enviously on the leather and gilt of the set nearest to me, a collector’s edition in six volumes of the works of Sir Thomas Browne, in full crushed Levant morocco, the backstrips tooled in gilt with wonderful ingenuity and grace.
“Well?” said Lord Edenbridge, when he had silently indicated seats to us.
“Thought I’d just run down and tell you how I was getting on,” said Beef, and launched into a long, rambling account of our activities, from the time he had received the commission from Lord Edenbridge till now.
Lord Edenbridge did not interrupt him or express any disapproval, nor did he watch the Sergeant as he spoke, but fixed his grey eyes on the view beyond the windows.
When Beef had finished he said: “Does this bring you to any conclusion?”
Beef wiped his moustache on the back of his hand.
“Well, I’ve got an idea, sir, but if you don’t mind I’d rather keep it to myself for the moment. It needs a little confirmation before I commit myself to it. I can get this, I hope, in the next day or two, and you will be the first to know, of course, what I’ve got up my sleeve.”
Lord Edenbridge, as might be expected, showed no interest in Beef’s sleeve, and continued to contemplate the magnificent herbaceous border beyond the little lawn.
“Very well,” he said. “But I have some additional information to give, myself.”
Beef did not seem surprised at the news, but promptly pulled out his notebook.
“For some years,” said Lord Edenbridge, “I have been fairly well acquainted with Lord Rivett, the proprietor of the Daily Dose. A few days ago after I saw you I received a telephone call which purported to come from the offices of that newspaper. Since Rivett occasionally telephoned me from there, and no one else had ever done so, I assumed that he wished to speak to me personally. I went to the telephone. A most disgraceful episode followed. A voice at the other end asked me several questions about the murder—questions which were in the most execrable taste. I could not believe that any journalist, however sensational and unpleasant the paper for which he worked, could possibly bring himself to ask me questions of that kind. I am aware that there is a certain type of publication the readers of which take pleasure in such morbidity, but no genuine reporter could possibly have approached me in this way.”
“What sort of questions?” asked Beef.
“I have no intention of repeating them at length,” Lord Edenbridge told him. “But as an example I will quote you one.”
There was not a tremor in his voice nor a flicker in his eye as he gave all this information. I began to wonder if anything could stir his emotion to a point of expression.
“The fellow used these words: ‘How do you like having your son murdered?’ ”
Every syllable of this monstrous sentence Lord Edenbridge enunciated clearly and frigidly. Beef was busy writing, and did not look up.
“When I had replaced the receiver and given instructions that I was not to be called to the telephone until the possibility of a recurrence of this should have been removed, I telephoned Lord Rivett and explained to him exactly what had happened. He was most sympathetic, and undertook to see that the most exhaustive enquiries should be made at once, and that if the call had been put through by any member of his staff suitable steps should be taken. He telephoned the next day, however, to say that it could be regarded as quite certain that no call had been made to my house by any one of his staff speaking from elsewhere. You will understand that when Rivett says that this may be regarded as certain it may so be regarded. I retail the whole matter to you in the supposition that it may have some bearing on this case.”
Beef laid down his pencil and looked up.
“It has,” he said. “It fits in very nice indeed.”
Lord Edenbridge nodded.
“You would like a drink, perhaps?” he said, and rang the bell.
Delighted to find that he was not only offering us hospitality but drinking with us, I ventured to congratulate him on his excellent library.
“As a writer myself,” I remarked, “I can appreciate it.”
“A writer?” repeated Lord Edenbridge. “Ah, yes,” and he swallowed the rest of his whisky and soda somewhat hastily.