Case with Ropes and Rings
“That’s very interesting,” I observed, “and it makes the case less of a failure from my point of view than it would have been otherwise. I certainly never suspected Greenbough of murdering Lord Alan Foulkes. I had more than once thought that the two murders must have been done by one person, but I hadn’t been able to decide how it could have happened. There seemed nothing to connect Greenbough with Penshurst.”
Stute smiled. “I must congratulate you, Beef,” he said. “Like Mr. Townsend, I always suspected that if both of these things were murder they were done by the same man, but I couldn’t find anyone with a connection with both places. You’ve done it, and I’m very grateful for your information.”
“But they weren’t done both by the same man,” said Beef.
“You mean that Greenbough didn’t murder Beecher?” I said incredulously.
“Certainly he didn’t,” returned Beef.
“Who did, then?” I asked.
“Herbert Jones, of course,” said Beef quietly.
Both Stute and I sat bolt upright in our chairs.
“What!” I gasped.
“You heard,” said Beef.
“But . . . but this is preposterous,” I told him. “You mean that Greenbough murdered Foulkes and Jones murdered Beecher. This is becoming fantastic.”
“Can’t help that,” said Beef obstinately. “That’s what happened. You listen to me and I’ll tell you how it all came about.”
Once again the two of us were silent, leaving the Sergeant to continue.
“You know, Townsend,” he said, “what you want to do is keep your wits about you. Didn’t you remember the matron in Jones’ House telling us that he used to have a room in London in the holidays? And didn’t you notice that the dates which Rosa looked up for the times when Wilson was staying in her house always fell during the school holidays? And didn’t you remember that everyone at Penshurst said that the trouble with Jones was women? And that Rosa told us that her mother had turned Wilson out for the same reason? And didn’t you ever put two and two together? I don’t say, mind you, that it was more than circumstantial, but it would have been a very funny coincidence, if it was a coincidence at all. I thought of it as a possibility as soon as ever I heard the two stories, and by keeping my wits about me I soon proved it was true.
“Now this Jones was a bad hat, we knew that much. He used to take this room in Camden Town and lead an awful life in London whenever he got a chance. Until at last he tried to pay attentions to Rosa herself, and you know what happens to anyone who tries that, don’t you?”
I had to admit, somewhat sourly, that I did.
“Well, there you are,” said Beef, “and he was turned out for it. He might never have heard any more about it if someone had not happened to give young Beecher a lot of old numbers of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, in which there was a series of articles about the great public schools. Young Beecher looks them through, and the first thing his eye lights on is a photograph of Herbert Jones, who used to be a great cricketer, and is new, he learns, a modern language master and housemaster. What would be the first thing that jumps to the mind of a lad like Beecher? We know that he is associating with criminals, and we know the kind of life he’s leading. I didn’t need to go and see those two boxing friends of his to be sure of what kind of a crowd he was mixed up in. Why, it was money for jam! Blackmail, of course,” ended Beef triumphantly.
“Besides, we knew he was being blackmailed. Didn’t the matron see that letter? ‘I may only be a boy,’ it said, and Townsend thought it was one of the boys in the school. He’s got a great opinion of the public schools, has Townsend, and talks about their tradition, but he is quite ready to believe that one of the lads is blackmailing his housemaster. Well, there you have it. Young Beecher has found out who that Mr. Wilson was, and he’s getting money out of him to keep quiet about what he’s been up to in the holidays.
“Then comes the first murder, and Jones sees how it’s done. ‘Ah,’ he thinks to himself, ‘easy, eh? I could be rid of that young devil as simple as what somebody’s been rid of this one.’ He knows the police have set it down as suicide in Foulkes’ case, so he doesn’t see why, if he goes about it the same way, they shouldn’t do the same over Beecher. And if he can pull it off he is free of these continual demands on his pocket.
“You could see for yourself he was half out of his mind with drink and everything, and in his crazy brain the plan forms. He knows Beecher’s habits, because he’s lived in his house. Beecher won’t be surprised to see him, because he’s only just written for more money, so that if Jones goes up to London and pretends that he’s going to hand the money over he can get Beecher to take him to the gymnasium just as Foulkes took Greenbough.
“Well, he went up to London on the night the second murder was committed, as the matron took the trouble to come and tell us. You never noticed that, did you, Townsend? But then you never notice anything. It may be just as well. You’d only go and give it away to your readers before the time comes, and then where should we be? Jones goes up to London, meets Beecher, by arrangement, and says he’s got the money. Beecher’s only too glad to take him somewhere private to hand it over, and somewhere, what’s more, where Jones can’t have any hidden witnesses. One of them suggests the gymnasium, and the other thinks it quite a good idea. They go there, and you know what happens. Jones follows the example of the first murderer, and in half an hour the blackmailer’s dead. He leaves two clues behind him, though. You remember those threads you found, Inspector, which you said were in the Spanish colours?”
“Yes,” said Stute, “red and yellow, weren’t they?”
“They were,” said Beef, “but they were nothing to do with Spain. Don’t you remember what Jones always had round his neck?”
“Great heavens!” I exclaimed. “The Marylebone Cricket Club tie! Surely he wouldn’t have used that? The man must be an absolute cad!”
“That’s what he did use,” said Beef, “sure as eggs is eggs. He got it round the young fellow’s neck from behind and strangled him. And that’s how you came to find those threads and to think it had been done by a follower of General Franco.”
“What was the other clue?” I asked.
“That scrap of paper which Seedy found on the floor.”
“But that was in Spanish,” I pointed out.
“Yes,” said Beef, “with a mistake in it, as they told us at the cafe. ‘La vita es sueño’ it said, and if the Spanish had been correct it would have been ‘La vida es sueño,’ or so they told me when I enquired. Now on the piece of paper we found the word which had been incorrectly spelt had been underlined in red. Why? Because it had been corrected. Because it was part of a boy’s exercise. Because,” Beef almost shouted, “Herbert Jones was a modern language master at Penshurst School.”
I did not speak for a moment, but sat watching the boyish pleasure in the Sergeant’s face.
“Easy when you’re told, isn’t it?” he went on more calmly. “But, of course, the crowning evidence was that key I found in one of his pockets.”
“But you said that was the key of the gymnasium,” I ventured.
“So it was,” agreed Beef, “but I didn’t say which gymnasium key, did I? It was you who jumped to conclusions. Why should you suppose that Jones had a key of the school gymnasium? No, he did it all right. Beecher’s sister saw him with her brother only a fortnight before, and that’s why I took Rosa along to identify Jones in Brixton Gaol. No wonder the man was going off his head. No wonder he could say how Lord Alan Foulkes had been strangled. No wonder he confessed to being guilty.”
“Then you never suspected the Spaniards at all?”
“No, of course not,” said Beef, “I guessed it was the boy’s father who came and spoke to us, and when I picked him out in the cafe", after seeing his wedding photo on the wall, I knew there was nothing in that. I dare say we shall pick up some more little odds and ends of evidence as time goes on, and Inspector Stute will get out his microscope, his fingerprint experts and all his gadgets and contrivances they keep at Scotland Yard for finding out who’s done what. But there you are. Old Beef’s done it again, and you can write your book, Townsend. And you, Inspector”—he smiled in a friendly way to Stute—“have got your men under lock and key already. All you’ll have to do is to swop the charge sheets.”
“I must congratulate you again,” he said.
“That’s all right,” said Beef. “I’ve enjoyed this case. Being a school porter and that. I like anything in the way of new experience.”
And he shouted to Mrs. Beef to join us for a glass of beer.
— THE END —