Lunch was an embarrassing meal because it was now obvious to everyone that Mrs. Ducrow had been drinking too much. She was not intoxicated, but there was an unnatural animation about her and she laughed once or twice for very little reason.
When we had finished the meal she turned to Beef.
“I would like you to come to the drawing-room,” she said. “There is something I want to discuss.”
Gulley looked perturbed and said: “Wouldn’t it be better for you to see Beef this evening, Freda? He has arranged to go down to the lodge and interview Rudolf. What do you think, Theo?”
Gray seemed undecided and Mrs. Ducrow assumed her grandest manner.
“I shall see him now,” she announced, and led the way to her beautifully furnished drawing-room. Beef looked out of place among the delicate Sheraton furniture and Bow pottery, but he sat down quietly and waited for Mrs. Ducrow to speak.
“There is something you ought to know,” she said. “It may alter the entire case. It is not easy for me to discuss it, and I could not bring myself to tell the police. But too much seems to depend on it now for me to remain silent.”
“Before you tell me this,” said Beef, “I ought to warn you that whatever it is I may not be able to keep it to myself. If it is vital information I could not help giving it to the police. Otherwise I should become an accessory after the fact.”
“I realize that. You must do as you think right. The truth is that Rudolf was with me that night. We have been . . . lovers for more than a year. He would never have told you this himself, bless him. He is the sort of man who would . . . face trial before he would implicate a woman.”
Beef nodded solemnly but said nothing. Mrs. Ducrow seemed puzzled and put out by his silence.
“You realize what this means?” she said. “It explains what he was doing in the park that morning. He had left me to walk home.”
“That is so. But it also provides an additional motive for murder.”
She grew a little hysterical now. “Why do you say that?” she almost shouted. “He didn’t murder Cosmo. He would never have done such a thing. Why should he?”
“Take it easy now,” said Beef, trying to sound comforting in his rough way. “It won’t help if you lose your head. And you must see why it was an additional motive. He is in love with you, Mrs. Ducrow.”
“What of it?”
“A man in love makes plans. What he wanted was to marry you.”
“But his wife . . .”
“With the money he would inherit from his uncle he could soon arrange a settlement and divorce from her. Now I’m not saying he did it. I’m only saying that what you have told me cuts both ways.”
“If anything happens to him I shall kill myself.”
Beef looked very grave. “That’s one thing you must not say. Ever.”
“I shall! You’ll see! If anything happens to Rudy I shall kill myself.”
Beef was at a loss. His experience had failed to teach him what to do in such a case.
“I want a little more information,” he said uneasily.
Freda Ducrow at once seemed to pull herself together and to look at Beef suspiciously. “Well?”
“His wife must have known about this. How did she take it?”
“You will meet her presently and perhaps understand. She is a strange woman. She seems to care for nothing but dogs and horses. She never loved Rudy though I think she loved the prospect of money. As long as she could have that, and freedom to ride and breed dogs and so on, she did not seem to care. Of course she knew he came here at night.”
“And your husband?”
I think her expression softened. “He had no inkling,” she said. “He was a good man and trusted everyone. If he had guessed anything of the sort we should all have known instantly. He could not keep things to himself. No, he never had any idea, unless . . .”
“Well, something rather strange did happen that evening. Rudy used to come in by the back door and up the back staircase past the Gabriels’ bedroom. They . . . I’m afraid they knew he used to come to me and left the back door open for him. But that night as Rudy came into the kitchen he noticed that the door leading from the kitchen to the main hall was ajar. This was unusual but he would not have taken any more notice if he had not turned round just as he was about to go up the back stairs. When he looked the door was shut. It was as though someone was watching him.
“He supposed that it was Gabriel. But as he passed the Gabriels’ bedroom he heard them talking together. He did not go down again but told me about it. I did not take it very seriously. It seemed unthinkable that it should be Cosmo.”
“I see. Now from the time you said good night to him and Mr. Gray at ten o’clock that evening you never saw your husband alive again?”
“At what time did Rudolf Ducrow come to your room?”
“At about midnight, I think.”
“And remained till?”
“Till we heard the clock strike four.”
“You heard no sound from outside during that time?”
“No. But some minutes after he had left me I heard Theo Gray pass my door. I waited for his return and he told me that he had heard shouts in the grounds and had phoned to Dunton to be on the look-out.”
“So it was possible, in point of time I mean, for Rudolf to have caused those shouts?”
“I suppose so. I’m glad I’ve managed to tell you all this, Sergeant. I feel I can trust you. Of course, both Theo and Gulley have been very kind but they’re so worried themselves. I have thought of going to see my old family solicitor down at Folkover. But I’m sure you can clear Rudy of this terrible thing.”
“If he’s not guilty he will be cleared,” said Beef solemnly. “One more thing. What was he wearing that night?”
“I can’t be sure. He very rarely wore an overcoat, though. Probably a sports coat of some kind and flannel trousers. Why? Is it important?”
“It may be very important,” said Beef. “Now you take my advice and go and have forty winks. Do you good when you’re upset like that. I’m going to see Rudolf Ducrow this afternoon, then maybe I’ll have better news for you.”
It was strange to see that big masterful woman look like an admonished child.
“But . . . I haven’t told you the most important thing of all,” she said. “At least I think it is. It happened at about eleven o’clock, soon after I had heard Theo go up to bed for the first time. My room faces east, as you know, and looks out over the terrace. My window was open a little at the top. I heard a whistle.”
“A whistle? But Mrs. Ducrow, it was a gusty night. How could you have heard a whistle from up in your room?”
“I don’t mean a low, secret sort of whistle. It was a special shrill whistle repeated in a certain way.”
“You had heard it before?”
“Oh yes, often. I knew it quite well. It was the whistle used by Zena Ducrow to call those dogs to her. Rudolf’s wife, I mean.”
“And where do you suppose she was when she whistled?”
“Not far away. It sounded almost as though she was on the terrace.”
“Did she often come up to the house?”
“Not very often. She and Cosmo did not get on very well.”
The crude attempts at gentleness seemed to have gone out of Beef’s manner now. He did not again suggest that Mrs. Ducrow should go and lie down but said brusquely that he was going to see Rudolf, and left the room.
“Is he really clever?” Mrs. Ducrow asked me. “Will he find out the truth?”
“He always has done,” I said confidently.
“I couldn’t go on living without Rudy. I couldn’t!”
I shewed my tactfulness and resource. “The clouds will soon go by,” I said, and with a reassuring smile to her I hurried after Beef.
As we were pulling on our coats Theo Gray came up. “There’s something I should like you to do, Beef, if you would. Not a piece of investigation but something practical and helpful.”
“If it conforms . . .” began Beef, but Gray spoke rather urgently.
“Rudolf has a gun in his house,” he said. “A twelve-bore. I think that in the circumstances it would be much wiser if just now he was relieved of it.”
“It’s a lethal weapon, you know. However much Rudolf seems to be bearing up under all this is must be a terrible strain.”
“You mean he might . . .”
“I don’t know. I just think it would be better if he had not got it down there.”
“You may be right. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you. I may be exaggerating the danger, of course. But Rudolf is not quite the carefree young man he appears.”
“Where does he keep it?”
“I don’t know, I’m afraid. But you can soon find out.”
We started walking down the drive, and as I guessed he would, Beef began to reflect aloud on the results of his investigations so far.
“You ought to be pleased,” he said. “Just the job for you. Suspect under every stone. There wasn’t one of them who doesn’t seem to have been around the house that night.”
“Except Major Gulley,” I pointed out.
Beef let out a roar of laughter but made no other answer.
“I thought it wouldn’t be long before someone brought in Rudolf’s wife.”
We had reached the point where the drive ran nearest to the little fenced-off area kept for tennis and croquet, and Beef stopped and looked towards the pavilion. With a curt command to me to follow he walked across and opened the door, then stood looking down at the mallets and balls.
“Come on,” he said presently. “You’n me are going to have a basinful of this.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Game of croquet, of course. Get hold of those hoops.”
I pointed out to Beef that we were visible from the house and that it would be in the worst possible taste to do anything of the sort.
“Taste?” he said. “You forget that there’s been a murder here. That wasn’t in such wonderful taste, was it? Now shew us where these hoops go.”
Nothing would satisfy him till we had set out the appurtenances of the game. He commented caustically on it, maintaining that it was not a patch on darts, then tried to wield his mallet. I have no particular skill at croquet but I found it easy to do better than Beef, whose game was clumsy in the extreme. He kept swinging his mallet as though he were playing golf and using a driver. But something was on his mind as he did so, and when I asked him sarcastically whether this was a necessary part of his investigation he replied with a rather distasteful Americanism: “What do you think?” he asked.
Then, keeping on the side of the pavilion farthest from the house so that he was invisible from its windows, he began to swing the mallet in the air in the most extraordinary way, chopping it downwards on an imaginary mark. I could guess the object of this manœuvre and asked him whether a woman could have wielded the mallet which had killed Cosmo Ducrow.
He looked at me in his bland innocent way then said, “A woman was just as capable of it as a man.”
Finally he helped me replace all the articles in the pavilion and began to walk on towards the two lodges.
“Now I am getting somewhere,” he said. “Now I am beginning to see daylight.”
I am accustomed to these cryptic statements of his and knowing that if I asked any questions he would only grow more obscure, I said nothing.