Next morning Beef was called to the telephone, and when he returned to the room in which I was sitting with Theo Gray and Mrs. Ducrow his face was grave.
“The report on Rudolf’s jacket is through,” he said. “Traces of human blood have been found.”
Freda Ducrow began to cry quietly. “Does that mean Rudy will be arrested?”
“I don’t know,” said Beef. “The Chief Inspector will do as he thinks proper, and certainly would not inform me of his plans.”
“It’s so dreadful,” sobbed Freda. “Losing Cosmo, and now this. They couldn’t find Rudy guilty, could they Theo?”
“No, no, my dear. How could they? We know Rudolf is incapable of it.”
“But it looks so black against him.”
“Perhaps that’s in his favour,” I said brightly. “Perhaps it looks too black. Too black to be natural, I mean.” Beef and Gray exchanged glances, seeming to agree that this was a silly thing to say.
“Even if they do arrest him,” Gray assured Freda, “they could not possibly find him guilty. Every scrap of the evidence is circumstantial.”
“But he might be tried. Oh, it’s so awful. All those dreadful newspaper headlines! They seem to be positively baying after him, like bloodhounds.”
“After the murderer, not him.”
“But they think he is the murderer. Everyone does. Even these two think so.”
I spoke for both of us. “In England a man is innocent till he’s proved guilty.”
“That’s small comfort when you’ve done your best to make him look guilty. Theo, I think I should like to go and see Ernest Wickham. He was my father’s solicitor and mine, and I believe he could advise me what to do.”
“By all means, my dear Freda, if you think it will be any comfort to you. He is certainly a very shrewd man.”
“Will you ’phone him and ask if he will see me today? As soon as possible? I could drive down to Folkover in time for lunch.”
Theo Gray went out to the telephone.
I knew that Folkover was about thirty miles away, the great Kentish watering-place between Folkestone and Dover from which there was a cross-channel service to Dilogne. I seemed to remember reading or hearing that Freda was a Folkover girl who had nursed Cosmo while he had been in hospital there.
Theo Gray returned to say that Ernest Wickham would expect her at about five o’clock.
“I’m going up to London myself,” Gray added. “I’m going to see Sir Mordaunt Tiptree. If Rudolf should need an advocate he is certainly the man. Besides, one of us should go and see Cosmo’s lawyers.”
“Oh, I’m glad, Theo. And perhaps they won’t arrest Rudy after all.”
“Perhaps not. But we’ll take every precaution.”
To my surprise Beef chipped in:
“Mr. Townsend and I have to go to London today,” he said. “Perhaps you would not mind giving us a lift?”
I could see that Theo Gray thought this pushing.
“I am going up by train,” he said coldly.
When we were alone I asked Beef why on earth he wanted to go to London at this point when the case was beginning to grow interesting.
“You’ve got a terrible memory,” he said. “What about Miss Esmeralda Tobyn of 18 Peckham Avenue, Putney Common? Forgetting her, were you?”
“The woman Gulley was with that night, you mean? I can’t see what she has to do with the case.”
“Perhaps she’s the flowers that bloom in the spring tra-la,” said Beef with grotesque attempts at elephantine comedy. “All the same we’ve got to see her.”
“Shall I drive you up, then?”
“No. If Gray is going by train we might as well accompany him. The eleven-four he said, didn’t he? We’ll be on that, too.”
At least, I thought, we should get out of this gloomy house with its overpowering atmosphere of watchfulness and evil. I would have an opportunity to go round to my flat and attend to private affairs which were always woefully neglected while I was on a case with Beef. I went up to my room and had started to prepare for the journey when I realized that I had not shut the door and could hear what was being said by two people in the passage who evidently took it for granted that the upper part of the house would be empty at this time.
I detest the idea of eavesdropping, but detection is the better part of valour and I found myself standing quite still listening. The speakers were Freda Ducrow and Major Gulley.
“Theo has arranged for me to see him at five. I should like you to come down with me.”
“I can’t do that. Theo has particularly asked me to be here today. The accountant is coming.”
If they had spoken in natural voices I might not have been impelled to listen. But this was whispering—furtive and hurried.
“Then would you come down later? I know I shall need a drink as soon as I come from Wickham’s.”
“I suppose I could do that.”
“We’ll meet at the Marina Palace at six o’clock, then. Or as soon as I can get there.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Are those two really going away today?”
“I hope so.”
“Have you noticed Townsend? He’s afraid. I can see it. The man’s in fear of his life.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Gulley grimly.
“See you at six, then.”
“I think I had better tell Theo I’m meeting you. He likes to know what is going on.”
They moved away, but to my relief neither of them passed my door. I went along and reported the whole conversation to Beef.
“That’s good,” he said. “That’s the best bit of news you’ve given me for a long time.”
“I think we’re most unwise to go to London,” I told him. “The accountant is coming today and it’s far more important that you should see him and get details of Gulley’s defalcations than go chasing after his girl friend.”
“I’ve no intention of chasing after anyone’s girl friend,” said Beef pompously. “I have to interview the lady.”
Just then Gabriel came down the passage.
“Will you both be here this afternoon?” asked Beef.
“Not me. It’s my day off. I shall get away at noon and stay away for the rest of the day, believe you me.”
“On your own?”
“Yes. We can’t get out together very well.”
“Pity. We shall be back in the early evening.”
“O.K., Sarge. I’ll tell the wife. Going to London are you? I wonder you don’t pack up this job, straight I do. It’s hopeless. I suppose they’ll arrest Rudolf at any minute?”
“I almost wish they’d get it over. I’ve had enough of murder mystery to last me a lifetime.”
At half-past ten I brought my car round to the front door in order to be in plenty of time to get Beef to the station for the eleven-four. I could see him in the hall talking to Gray and Gulley, so I joined them.
“May we give you a lift to the station?” suggested Beef. “It will save you having your car brought out.” Gray looked at my rather shabby old car but seemed to decide to be gracious.
“Thank you. That’s very kind,” he said smiling, then turning to Gulley he asked him to cancel his order to Mills. The three of us climbed in and I began to drive to the station. “Pity about these frauds of Gulley’s,” said Beef apropos of nothing.
“I should prefer that we did not discuss that matter,” said Gray. “Mrs. Ducrow and Rudolf and I are, after all, the only people who are affected by anything Major Gulley may have done, and we have decided to follow a certain course in the matter.”
“Very good of you all. I hope Major Gulley appreciates it. I understand he was to have had a cottage for himself?”
“Cosmo had decided that. I see no reason not to fulfil his wishes.”
Gray looked straight ahead of him and Beef seemed, for once in his life, to feel snubbed. But when we came to the station we did not part company, and Gray seemed quite pleased when we all entered the same compartment.
On the journey I had no newspaper and decided to go over the case and suspects again in my own mind to see whether I could reach a new conclusion. Great murder cases of the past threw little light on this one for it was hard to see how it resembled any of them as yet. If Rudolf was guilty it might have something in common with the Thompson and Bywaters Case, for I was prepared to agree with Mrs. Gabriel that if Rudolf murdered Cosmo, Freda Ducrow had had her part in it. If Mills was the murderer—and I had an obstinate feeling that he might be—the whole thing most nearly followed the Rattenbury Case, including the wife’s drinking and hysteria. If any of the women had killed Cosmo Ducrow it would mean something almost unprecedented for I could think of no murder by a woman in which there had been such horrible, such wanton violence.
I was turning all this over in my mind and had begun to grow drowsy as I went over the list of suspects, like a man counting sheep, when suddenly I heard Beef say something which made me sit bolt upright and become very wide awake.
“You know where we’re going, don’t you?” he asked Gray, and without giving him time to reply blundered on. “We’re going to see the girl whom Major Gulley had with him that evening. You see, Mr. Gray, there’s a great deal about Major Gulley’s movements on the night of the twelfth which needs explaining.”
“He has told you that he spent the night at the flat. The hall-porter saw him.”
“The hall-porter saw him come in with the girl and saw him again next morning. He did not see the girl go. He cannot say that Major Gulley did not go out to take her home then drive straight down to Hawden.”
“That sounds preposterous. What makes you suggest it?”
“Just that his car was in Hawden early that morning.”
“You have evidence of that?”
“Moreover, it was at what has been called the scene of the crime.”
“So that’s what you have been referring to in all this talk about a car. But have you any reason to suppose that Major Gulley was driving it?”
“I’ve no proof that he was,” said Beef. “Perhaps I shall know better when I have seen Miss Esmeralda Tobyn.”
It was fortunate that we had the carriage to ourselves. Gray was flushed and angry. “I employed you to find out who had killed Cosmo Ducrow,” he said. “and so to clear his nephew of suspicion. All you have done so far is to give the police something which they take for further evidence of his guilt and stir up a lot of dirty water. What business have you to be seeing this . . . lady?”
“Dirty water,” Beef retorted sadly, “is frequently all I find when I come to go into a case like this. Especially when in one household there are two people who have been in prison.”
Gray suddenly ceased to be righteously indignant and gaped at Beef as though appalled.
“Two?” he gasped.
“That’s what I said. If not more,” he added.
Gray waited a long time before answering. At last he said in steady solemn tones: “Sergeant Beef, I believe you to be an honest and a well-intentioned man. I ask you, for everybody’s sake, to clear up this terrible business as quickly as you can. None of our nerves are of iron, and I for one cannot stand much more.”
“I have told you all along—I’ll do my best, Mr. Gray.”
Seeming quite satisfied with himself, Beef lit his pipe and picked up his newspaper.