It was nearly midnight when we came to Hokestones, but we found lights on and a great state of perturbation. Gabriel broke the news to us as soon as we came into the hall.
“She’s gone,” he said.
“What do you mean? Who has gone?” I asked him severely.
“Mrs. Ducrow. I’m not surprised myself. I thought she had more to do with it than what anyone seemed to believe. She drove down to Folkover today, saying she was going to see a lawyer. She was to have met Gulley at six o’clock but never turned up. Nothing heard of her since. Caught the eleven o’clock channel steamer and hopped it. That’s my bet.”
Beef clearly disapproved of this wild and speculative talk and pulled Gabriel up with a straight question. “Where were you this afternoon?”
Gabriel seemed baulked for a minute, then, as though deciding to bluff it out, said loudly: “In Folkover, as a matter of fact. Often go down there on my day off.”
“Where are Mr. Gray and Major Gulley?”
“Major Gulley’s in the library. Mr. Gray’s not back yet.”
We found Gulley ostensibly in great distress.
“I can’t understand it!” he said. “Mrs. Ducrow asked me to come down today and meet her after she had seen her solicitor. I was to wait for her at the Marina Palace. She expected to be there soon after six o’clock. I waited till nine and there was no sign of her.”
“Have you been on to the solicitor?”
“Yes. At once. Mrs. Ducrow was with him for about an hour. He did his best to reassure her, and thinks he succeeded. She was calmer when she left him than when she arrived.”
“What does Mr. Gray think about this?”
“He doesn’t know yet. He phoned through this evening to say he is spending the night in the London flat and seeing Sir Mordaunt Tiptree in the morning.” “Haven’t you phoned him?”
“Not yet. I’ve only been back about half an hour. I went to the police station in Folkover and asked them to do what they can.”
“I think Mr. Gray ought to be told. What is the telephone number at the flat? You phone him, Townsend.”
I was soon through and explaining the matter to Theo Gray. At first he did not quite see the seriousness of it. He suggested that Mrs. Ducrow might have decided that she did not want to meet Gulley and was making her own way home. She might have stopped on the way, he said, and reminded me of her “little weakness”. I pointed out that Mrs. Ducrow was a very highly strung lady and in a state of great anxiety and distress. For anyone in her state of mind to be missing, even for a few hours, was cause for great alarm and I underlined my meaning by reminding Gray of her frequent threats “if anything happened to Rudy”. Gray would not hear of it. Women talked like that, he said sweepingly, but Mrs. Ducrow was not the type to do anything silly. Finally I tried to suggest the possibility voiced by Gabriel of her having decided to cross the Channel. Gray was silent at that and said finally that nothing more could be done tonight and that he would cancel his appointment with Sir Mordaunt Tiptree and come down by an early train in the morning.
This did nothing to calm Gulley. “It’s all very well for him to say she’s not the type,” he said. “Freda might do anything. She’s very much in love with Rudolf, and if she thinks they’re going to arrest him she is capable of any lunacy.”
Beef, as usual, damped this excitement by a question. “What time did you get to Folkover?” he asked.
“Earlier than I expected. The accountant left at about three and I went straight down. I did some shopping and had tea at the Taj Mahal.”
“You saw no one you knew in the town?”
I thought I had never seen a man change so quickly as Gulley had in these few days. The boisterous individual with the bald head and monstrous moustache who had greeted us so heartily on our arrival had become a sagging and weary man. Even the moustache looked lifeless.
“What time did you leave Folkover?” went on Beef relentlessly.
“I don’t know. About half-past ten, I think. I supposed I should find her back here.”
“The police have a full description of her and the index number of her car?”
“Yes. I gave them everything. They promised to phone when they had news. Look here, Beef, this woman has been very good to me. Whatever may be said about her she was kind . . .”
“All right. All right. There’s no need to think the worst yet.”
Gulley poured three fingers of whisky into a glass and drank it neat.
“No one’s asked me to have a drink,” said Beef reproachfully.
“Sorry. Help yourself. I hear you’ve been to see Esme today?”
’“I’ve seen Miss Tobyn, yes.”
Encouraged by the whisky he had drunk, Gulley now became more confident and spoke loudly. “Well? Do you blame me for what I did? There was no reason to drag her in. Cosmo was . . . very dead.”
“You examined the body.”
“Examined?” shouted Gulley. “One look was enough. You’ve never seen such a sight.”
“Haven’t I?” said Beef reflectively. “You might be surprised at some of the things I’ve seen. However, you took one look and then went back to the car? You didn’t even notice the croquet mallet lying there?”
“No. Nothing. I saw . . . what remained of Cosmo and it was enough for me.”
“Was Cosmo going to prosecute you?”
Gulley gave us a glassy look of embarrassment, but answered quietly.
“No. I don’t think so. I’d admitted the whole wretched thing.”
“In fact, until this happened today we were sitting pretty. An alibi for the night of the twelfth . . .”
“What do you mean, ‘until this happened today’? I simply went to meet Mrs. Ducrow as she asked me and waited there hours for her. The barman knows I was there.”
“Thinking of another alibi, Major Gulley?”
“Good God! What for? You don’t suppose Freda has been murdered, do you?”
“It is one of a number of possibilities. But probably the most remote. Now I’m going to find out one or two things.”
I followed him through the hall to the kitchen quarters. We found the Gabriels in their sitting-room but there was not quite the spontaneous welcome for Beef of the former occasion.
“Come in,” said Gabriel wearily. “What is it this time?”
“Did Mrs. Ducrow take any luggage with her today?” he asked Mrs. Gabriel.
“No. Not that I saw. I could soon run upstairs and see if anything’s gone, though.”
“I wish you would.”
“Why don’t you leave it alone, Sarge?” asked Gabriel. “Look what a mess it’s turning out. Now the poor woman’s had to skip to the Continent.”
“I’ve told you that’s guesswork. And why has she had to skip?”
“Because she’s scared.”
“Oh, you think the police suspect her?”
“There’s other things to be scared of besides the police. I’m scared myself.”
“I don’t know. I don’t like this place. There’s something very nasty about.”
“You mean a murderer?”
“Not just a murderer. Crippen was a murderer and wouldn’t have scared a child. I can’t explain what I mean. It’s in the air. You feel as though you’re being watched.”
“You are. Everyone concerned is.”
“I don’t mean that either. I’ve got the feeling that one wrong step and I’ve had it. Same as the old man had.”
Just then Mrs. Gabriel returned to say that she was certain no baggage, or anything, had been taken by Mrs. Ducrow.
“Her toothbrush and her diamonds are there and she wouldn’t have gone far without them.”
“Well, thanks again, both of you,” said Beef. “Now I’m just going to have a word with Mills. Good night.”
The chauffeur was stretched on his divan bed, half-dressed, reading.
“Where’ve you been all day?” asked Beef.
“Nowhere much. Didn’t go out till nine o’clock. Thought you would be down.”
“Did you take Mrs. Ducrow’s car round for her today?”
“Yes. After lunch.”
“Any luggage with her?”
“Say what time she’d be back?”
“No. Told me not to wait.”
“You been driving this evening?”
Mills looked up, then grinned.
“Took the old man’s car when I went to the local. Testing the engine.”
“I see. Good night, Bomb.”
Before we returned to the house, however, Beef asked me whether my car was still at the front. When I said it was, he told me he wanted to run down to the lodges. He explained that if Mrs. Ducrow had disappeared the first thing the police would want to know was where Rudolf had been at the time. This seemed reasonable, and although I was longing to get to bed I agreed to accompany him.
I did not, however, bargain for another of his pieces of mysteriousness and play-acting. It was too late at night and the day had been too exhausting for that, and when we reached the bend in the drive near the little pavilion and he asked me to stop I felt inclined to ignore the request. He said it was a matter of the greatest importance so, faute de mieux, I stopped. Beef produced a torch and invited me to accompany him. I switched off my engine and followed him across. From the doorway he threw the light of his powerful torch round the pavilion.
“They’ve gone,” he said in an awed voice.
“The coat and hat have gone.”
I could almost have screamed with exasperation when I realized that he was being funny at my expense.
“Look here. Beef,” I said, “this is a serious case. You heard what Gabriel said? There is something dangerous here which you cannot define. Don’t please be a buffoon again. I’m willing to follow you and I believe you know what you’re doing. It’s when you’re funny that I find it unendurable.”
“Sorry,” said Beef. “Let’s get on then.”
We drove down to the lodge gates in silence. It was a very dark night and when I had turned out the car-lights I was glad of Beef’s torch to see our way across to Rudolf’s front door. The house was in silence and darkness and there was no reply to our knocking. Supposing that Rudolf and his wife were in bed and asleep we knocked louder.
After some minutes an upper window was opened in the lodge opposite and Mrs. Dunton’s head was thrust out.
“They’re not back,” she shouted. “They’ve been away all day and taken the dogs with them. The police have been here for them tonight but couldn’t get any reply.”
“Must have gone on foot,” went on Mrs. Dunton who once having started to give information knew no way of stopping, “him not having his car.”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
“Never been as late as this before. With the dogs, too.”
“Long time since they’ve gone anywhere together . . .”
We moved away in the darkness, but Mrs. Dunton’s voice followed us to the car, saying that she had seen them go out in the morning and was sure she would have noticed if they had returned.