“We come now,” said Beef pompously, “to the small part played in this affair by Major Gulley.”
Rather tactlessly everyone turned to stare at Gulley, who looked like an embarrassed walrus.
“He came motoring down from London with his friend Miss Tobyn exactly as he had described, quite unconscious that anything was amiss at Hokestones. I don’t think that on his side this night trip was quite as impulsive as he has maintained, because the cottage must have been prepared to receive her.”
“As a matter of fact it was quite on impulse,” interrupted Gulley in his plummy voice. “The cottage was more or less ready, but we had had no idea of using it that night.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Beef. “The point is that at five o’clock in the morning Gulley was coming up the drive with his headlights on when he turned a bend and his lights showed him someone lying on the grass near the pavilion. He pulled up, went across and found that it was the remains of Cosmo Ducrow, with blood clotted and cold round the head. It was an unpleasant sight for anyone to come on in the small hours, and Gulley quite lost his head. He knew that certain matters connected with his running of the estate were being examined, and he saw himself accused of murdering Cosmo because of them. He was foolish enough to drive straight back to London in the hope that his visit to Hawden during the night would never be known. Fortunately Miss Tobyn had more sense than he had, and made a clean breast of it. That is all that either of them had to do with the death of Cosmo Ducrow. But you may have noticed what a nasty turn it gave Gray when I first mentioned that car. It was something he did not know about, and it might produce all sorts of complications.
“But to return to the days following the death of Cosmo Ducrow. At first it seemed to Gray that everything was going according to plan. It was clear that the police suspected Rudolf and that an arrest might be expected at any minute. But when that arrest did not come he grew anxious. It was then he decided that the jacket must be found, and he called me in to find it.
“I never like a case where I’m expected to clear someone, and I distrusted Gray’s motive from the first. I soon began to think that so far from wanting to avoid Rudolf’s arrest he was impatient for it. I did not like the way he spoke well of everyone. No one could have been a murderer, he implied, Gulley, Gabriel, everybody was too good to be true. I wondered at first whether he could have murdered Cosmo and then made it look as though Rudolf had done it. But no, Gray was too confident, too smug to have committed murder then. And why not? For as we know now, all the time he had that suicide note to fall back on if the worst came to the worst.
“On my first morning here he decided to fetch Rudolf Ducrow ‘in case I should be ready to see him that morning’, though I hadn’t said anything about seeing him then. That afternoon when I went down to Rudolf’s lodge I found the old jacket in the cloakroom. Gray had asked me to take Rudolf’s gun away from him, and I believed I understood the reason—it was because the gun was in the cloakroom, and in getting it I should see the jacket. Gray had studied my methods. He knew that I shouldn’t miss a light-coloured jacket hanging among overcoats. He may even have guessed that I should have found out about it having hung up at Hokestones.”
There was a sudden “Oo!” from Mrs. Gabriel.
“I’ve just thought of something. I mentioned to Mr. Gray about that jacket having gone, and he said be sure and tell you about it! Why didn’t I think of that before?”
“Why didn’t you?” echoed Beef sternly. “Well, that accounts for it. Gray roughly cleaned it, and on going down to Rudolf’s that morning left it in the cloakroom for me to find. He knew I’d report it to Stute and thought now the case against Rudolf would be cast iron. Well, it was. But just a little too cast-iron. As usual, he had overdone it. The case was so damning that Chief Inspector Stute suspected a plant. So the arrest of Rudolf was still delayed while further investigations were made.
“I was interested to notice that as soon as I had found the jacket Gray wanted me to give up the case, and offered me liberal terms to do so. I had been useful-now I might learn too much. I decided to stick to it, and from that time onward I was very much on my guard.”
Ernest Wickham was the next to interrupt.
“This is all very interesting,” he said, “but I am chiefly concerned with the death of Freda Ducrow. It is growing late, and so far all we have learnt is that Cosmo Ducrow committed suicide and that Theo Gray tried to make it look like murder in order to implicate Rudolf. Perhaps you are going to suggest that in Mrs. Ducrow’s case it was the same.”
“No. Vice verse.”
It was natural for the solicitor to ask, for Beef had sounded as though he were speaking of immoral poetry.
“I mean that Cosmo’s death was suicide made to look like murder. Freda Ducrow’s was murder made to look like suicide.”
“I see. Perhaps you had better continue in your own way.”
“Perhaps I had. I wish my little chat with Gray on the roof tonight had been longer because there was so much I wanted to know which only he could tell me. For instance, at what point it occurred to him that he need not stop at getting half Cosmo’s fortune but could now get the whole lot. I imagine that it may have been at the very moment when Freda Ducrow announced that if anything happened to Rudolf she would commit suicide. That may have given him the idea. Why shouldn’t she? It would leave him still unsuspected and with a clear field.
“His first preparation for this was to get hold of Rudolf’s car. Even if Rudolf had been arrested before he needed to use it, it would be better than using his own. For he knew that in order to arrange Freda’s death he would have to be in some place other than where he was supposed to be. So he went out that night, using his open umbrella trick in case he was recognized from the house. Townsend saw him but hadn’t the sense to wake me. If he had I would have known who was absent and the case would have been broken open far sooner than it was.
“Then having taken the car he drove it to London, put it into one of the large all-night garages where it would attract no attention at all, and came down by the first train. He was an early bird, this Gray. You remember on the morning after Mrs. Ducrow’s disappearance he walked in as we were finishing breakfast. On this morning he was too clever to do that. He stopped at the pavilion, left his hat and coat there, then appeared on the terrace with his usual newspaper as though he had gone out for a minute’s air before breakfast. (His umbrella he had left in the car, I think.) Townsend, in fact, met him on the terrace but was too busy trying to find footprints to take much notice of him. Nor was Townsend much interested when I found the coat and hat in the pavilion and saw they had disappeared by the following evening.
“Gray intended to wait until Rudolf was arrested before arranging the ‘suicide’ of Freda Ducrow, because that would make it all the more natural. Besides he imagined that he only had to wait until the expert’s report on the jacket came through. But before any arrest he was given an opportunity which was too good to miss. Freda decided to go down to Folkover to see Mr. Wickham and asked Gray to phone for an appointment. He knew that she would be leaving Wickham’s office some time after five-thirty.
“Then he had what he thought was another piece of luck—we were going to London that day ourselves and would see him go there. And this is where I have to confess to a piece of blindness which may have cost a human life. For some reason it never occurred to me that he was going down to Folkover. I was pretty sure of my man by this time. I even saw Freda Ducrow’s danger and begged her not to talk of suicide. But I never dreamed that Gray would strike before Rudolf’s arrest, and I never thought of him going up to London then down to Folkover. Mr. Townsend could explain that psychologically. Something to do with their being in opposite directions. But there you are, I’ve got to own I missed it.
“What Gray did, of course, was to leave us at the station, have lunch at his club or at some place where they would remember him, then get out Rudolf’s car and make for Folkover. He parked round the corner, as I knew later from the infant prodigy whose hobby was car-spotting, then waited for Freda to leave Mr. Wickham’s office.
“He did not know she was meeting Gulley at six, but when she told him he could soon talk her out of that. He had been so worried about her, he said, that he had come down to find her and talk things over.
“His next two hours were the most difficult. He had to wait until about nine to be sure of Greynose Point being deserted, but he daren’t go to any bar with her for fear of being recognized afterwards. There was only one answer with Freda Ducrow and he had prepared for it. A bottle of whisky in the car. He had only to suggest that they should drive up on the downs and drink it and the thing was easy. By nine o’clock Freda Ducrow was hopelessly drunk in her own car on the grass near Greynose Point and so far as anyone could know, Theo Gray was in London.
“It’s not pleasant to think of the next part. I imagine he took no chances. First he made sure that no one was in sight—and in any case he had turned the car lights off hours earlier. Then I think he probably rendered Freda Ducrow unconscious, for no blow on the head that he gave her now would be distinguishable after that fearful fall through space. Then all he had to do was start the car, put off the handbrake and shove it over. There was a slight downward slope towards the cliff edge at the spot he chose which would have made it easy.
“There was a risk of the car bursting into flames and attracting attention at once. But even then, he calculated, an elderly gentleman with an umbrella taking an evening stroll would attract no notice. And in any case, it didn’t catch fire.
“Now his course was clear—but as usual he slightly overdid the taking of precautions, and his open umbrella as he passed the Greynose Point Hotel was remembered by George. But he had an easy drive back to London in time to be at the flat, as it happened, when we phoned through at midnight to tell him that Freda Ducrow was missing. I still had no idea that he had had anything to do with it, and not until Rudolf’s car was found at Cinderhurst Station, where he had left it before getting on a Hawden train that morning, did I see how he could have been there.
“Of course, he was clever enough to join with the rest of you in saying that it could not be suicide, knowing that his opinion would not make any difference one way or the other when the police came to decide. That was his policy, just as it had been his policy to say that Rudolf would not have killed Cosmo. Subtle, that’s what he was.”