Case with Ropes and Rings
CHAPTER TWENTY -THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY -THREE
It was a brilliantly sunny day, and Penshurst School was basking in the midday heat. As soon as he got outside the Headmaster’s house Beef complained of the weather. The adjective he actually used was “thirsty,” which in application to the pleasant sunshine struck me as more desiderative than appropriate. As I anticipated, he marched off at once in the direction of the White Horse, leaving me to pass the next hour or so as I pleased.
My conscience was troubling me. I have, I am not ashamed to confess, a sense of public duty, and I did not consider that any misguided feeling of loyalty, which Beef may have imagined that he had either to Lord Edenbridge as an employer or to me as his chronicler, justified us in allowing this new revelation to remain our property. There was one man I considered who should know of it at once. That man was Inspector Stute.
Imagine my predicament. There was no one whom I could well consult. My brother would have sneered in his conscienceless way at any suggestion of making any move without the Sergeant’s knowledge. Mr. Knox was unworldly enough to have accepted the guidance of Beef. I realized that it was up to me to form a decision on my own account. If I telephoned Stute at once, by using a fast police car he could arrive at Penshurst within the hour—perhaps before Beef returned from the White Horse. Was it not my duty to do so? All very well for the blundering Sergeant to play with his “theories” and “observations.” Scotland Yard represented the law of England, and for that law from my earliest childhood I had learned respect.
Besides, I saw no reason why Beef should ever know that I had been in communication with Inspector Stute. What could be more reasonable than that he should decide to look into this matter as relating, possibly, to the murder he was investigating in London? Why should it be more than a slight coincidence that he should arrive at this moment to make inquiries? Without debating further in my mind I walked straight to a public call-box, and in a few minutes was speaking to Stute himself. He expressed, in his brisk, pleasant voice, his gratitude for my information, and promised to leave for Penshurst School immediately. I remembered how in a sense we had worked together in the queer affair at Braxham, while Beef had muddled about with the assistance of Constable Galsworthy. And although I recalled that Beef had happened to hit on the correct solution in the end, I considered that Stute was infinitely the safer man. His keen and thorough methods could be relied on, while all one could say of Beef was that he was lucky, with odd streaks of brilliance.
After I had eaten a hurried lunch, I went to the school gates, where I had arranged to meet the Inspector on his arrival. I was relieved to see his car draw up, and pleased when he expressed his appreciation of what I had done.
“Beef’s all right,” he confided. “But the old boy doesn’t always realize that you have to be snappy. I dare say he’s got a lot of evidence that I haven’t, and he may have excellent reasons for not arresting Jones just yet, but we can’t afford that sort of luxury. We have to act at once in these cases. Let’s have a talk with this man Jones.”
I climbed into his car, the driver of which immediately followed my directions to reach Jones’ house. We waited only a few minutes before Jones walked into the room, and I saw at once that he was in a far more highly nervous condition than he had been that morning. He stared wildly at me, and gave a furtive, frightened look in Stute’s direction. I spoke loudly and sternly.
“This is Inspector Stute,” I said, “of New Scotland Yard.”
For a moment Jones seemed to quiver, then suddenly, with a gesture as dramatic as I could wish, he thrust out his clenched hands towards Inspector Stute, as though offering them for a pair of handcuffs.
“I am guilty,” he said.
Stute wasted no time. I rejoiced to see the sensible treatment which this man gave to the situation.
“I must warn you,” he said, “that anything you say may be used as evidence against you,” and he accepted the challenging gesture of Jones by pulling out a pair of handcuffs and clipping them on the extended wrists. Within another four minutes my task was done, for I saw the Housemaster conducted to Stute’s waiting car, which disappeared in the direction of London.
I am not going to deny that I felt some trepidation at the effect which my action might produce on Sergeant Beef when he heard of it, but I felt no shame in having acted for the public good. I walked slowly down the road till I came to the school avenue, and followed this towards the cricket ground.
Several games were proceeding, none of them, I thought, of great importance, so I sat in a comfortable seat in the shade of the elm tree, waiting for Beef to return from the town. I had not been there more than ten minutes when one of the boys, whom I recognised as the youth with an impertinent and condescending manner whom I remembered at the Porter’s Lodge, came and sat beside me.
“Well, Ticks,” he said, “back again?”
I pretended not to have heard this.
“Where’s Boggs? Still on the old game?”
“What game?” I asked coldly.
“The detective racket,” said the boy. “You’re both nosing round after someone to pin a crime on, aren’t you? God, how that sort of thing bores me! All these fearful women writers and people like you, working out dreary crimes for half-wits to read about. Doesn’t it strike you as degrading?”
I decided to keep my temper.
“One can scarcely expect schoolboys to appreciate the subtlety and depth of modern detective fiction,” I said. “I have only to quote the name of Miss Sayers to remind you of what this genre has already produced.”
“God!” said the boy again. “And why do you always stick hackneyed bits of anglicised French into your conversation, Ticks? You’ve no idea how wearisome it becomes to anyone who has to listen to you.”
“My French is not usually criticised,” I told him.
“It’s not your French I criticise,” said the boy. “I’ve never heard you speak it. It’s your English, with all those over-used words like je ne sais quoi, esprit de corps, and savoir faire. Anyway, apart from all that, have you managed to involve anyone in suspicion yet?”
This was more than I could bear.
“Suspicion!” I said. “We don’t use the word. We go about our investigation with a little common sense, a great deal of psychology, and a flair for discovering the truth. In this case an arrest was made half an hour ago on our information.”
“Good lord, Ticks. Who was it?”
“I suppose you are bound to have the information in time, so I see no reason for not telling you that it was your Housemaster, Herbert Jones.”
“I’m not surprised. Have you got enough on him? I mean, are you really sure that you will be able to get him hanged?”
“I heard his confession,” I said, huffily. “I should think that sufficient.”
“I don’t see why,” said the boy. “He may be ‘shielding another’.”
I patted his shoulder kindly.
“You’d better think more about cricket,” I said, “and leave the investigation of crime to those who understand it.”
“Don’t get up-stage, Ticks. And tell us where Boggs has gone.”
“Mr. Briggs has been called away,” I said.
“Mmmmm. On the booze again,” said this odious boy, and I could not help regretting that Beef had given cause for such criticism.
Soon after that, however, the boy was good enough to leave me alone so that he could walk over to a neighbouring group. I watched him, with some misgiving, speak to them, for I realized now that before Beef returned the whole of Penshurst School would know what had happened.
It must have been half an hour later when I saw the Sergeant approaching. I could not help thinking, as he passed over the beautifully kept grass of the immemorial cricket field, how grotesquely out of place was his bowler hat, set squarely above his ugly face. As he came nearer, I saw that his face was shining from the heat and from the beer he had been drinking, while he himself looked purple with indignation.
“What have you been up to?” he asked.
I had no intention of being treated like a small boy.
“Sit down, and keep cool,” I said to him, but his anger had passed all bounds.
“What have you been up to? ” he repeated, in a voice so loud that some boys in a nearby group heard it and turned round to snigger.
“I have no intention of answering that sort of question,” I said with dignity.
“Did you ’phone Stute?” shouted Beef.
I evaded this issue.
“Stute has been here. Jones has confessed and has been arrested,” I said.
“Confessed! Arrested!” repeated Beef scornfully. “You don’t know what you’ve done. Couldn’t you see he was half out of his mind? But how did the boys get to hear of it?”
“That I felt it my duty to reveal. By your behaviour ever since you arrived here you have made the boys contemptuous of us both, and I felt it was time that they should realize that we had succeeded.”
A sound like a snort came from Beef, and once more he repeated my word.
“Succeeded!” he said.
I made a lively show of irony.
“Perhaps you don’t think Jones murdered that poor young fellow, about whose fate you seem to be so completely indifferent?”
“No,” he said obstinately, “I don’t.”