Beef put the gun in the cloakroom but kept Rudolf’s jacket over his arm as he entered the library. I watched narrowly the three people who were again awaiting us there and saw their eyes go straight to the jacket. Unfortunately Beef did not give me time to study their reactions for he held up the garment like a trophy and asked if any of them had seen it before.
“It looks like an old jacket of Rudolf’s,” said Mrs. Ducrow.
“When did you see it last?”
“I’ve no idea. He wore it once or twice last summer, I think.”
“You, Major Gulley?”
The Major’s ebullient manner had quietened considerably, I noticed.
“Can’t say at all.”
“I seem to have seen it lying about somewhere of late. Was it in his house, I wonder?”
“I have reason to believe,” said Beef in his witness-box voice, “that this jacket was worn on the night of the 12th.” He named the night of the murder. His pompous phraseology seemed to irritate everyone. “I notice that attempts have recently been made to clean it, and I deduce from these that there may have been bloodstains on it. I am sending it for expert examination. If any blood has been on it I am quite sure that traces of it will be found.”
“Where did you find it?” asked Gray.
“In the cloakroom of Rudolf Ducrow’s house.”
“What do you intend to do if there are traces of blood in the cloth?”
“There’s only one thing I could do. I should have to hand it over to the police.”
“Wouldn’t that be to strengthen the case against Rudolf?”
“It might be. But I warned you when I undertook this case, Mr. Gray, that I should look for the truth and withhold no material information from the police.”
Mrs. Ducrow began to speak loudly and vehemently.
“You see what he’s doing, Theo? He is trying to make Rudy guilty. He’s like the rest of them!”
Gray was calmer but he, too, seemed somewhat perturbed. “It’s perfectly true that we want you to find the truth,” he said, “and we are satisfied that when it is found it will clear Rudolf Ducrow. But surely you must see that he is already in danger of being arrested, and if you produce another piece of evidence which points to him he may be sent for trial before we can save him?” Beef answered thoughtfully.
“I don’t think there is any danger of an innocent man being hanged for the murder of Cosmo Ducrow,” he said.
Mrs. Ducrow was hysterical now.
“Get rid of him!” she cried. “I thought I could trust him. You must get rid of him, Theo, before he does any more harm. If Rudy is made to suffer I shall kill myself!”
Beef and Gray both looked at her as though in wonder.
“You should not talk like that,” said Beef inadequately.
“All the same,” said Gray quietly, “don’t you think it might be as well if you did give up this case? We would, of course, cover all your fees and compensate you for any loss you may suffer.”
“No,” said Beef obstinately. “I can’t pack in now. I’ve gone too far already. But I will promise you that no innocent person shall suffer. Now there’s one or two things I want to ask Major Gulley.”
“But he was not here that night,” said Gray.
“I’ve already given you a very full account of my movements.” Gulley sounded aggrieved. “I’ve told you they can be checked with the porter at the flats. If you’re going to demand the name of the lady who was with me you’re wasting your time.”
“No. It’s not that.” I felt sick with apprehension, guessing what was to come.
“I can’t think what else . . .”
“What’s this about you cooking the books?” asked Beef.
It was clear that all three of them had feared some such question as this and that they were stunned by it. The first to recover himself was Gray.
“You are making a very ill-timed and unjust reference to something which is of no possible concern to yon,” he said. “Major Gulley has now our complete confidence. Nothing in his conduct of Mr. Ducrow’s affairs has any connection whatever with the murder.”
“You don’t deny . . .” began Beef.
“I neither deny nor admit anything, Sir.” Gray spoke with dignity. “There is no need for me to do so. You have been listening to gossip which grossly distorts the facts. Mrs. Ducrow and I are perfectly satisfied with Major Gulley’s work for the estate.”
“Was Mr. Ducrow?”
“Mr. Ducrow is dead. We do not wish to speculate on what opinions he may have held. Now, are you prepared to withdraw from this investigation?”
“Then I must cancel your authority to make enquiries on our behalf and instruct you to leave the house tomorrow.”
“Just as you like about that.”
Gulley nervously cleared his throat. “Aren’t we being a little hasty?” he said. “If Beef withdraws he will have to give all the information he has acquired . . .”
“I see what you mean. We’ll discuss this tomorrow.”
Beef elected to have what he called “a game of darts at the local” that evening and left me to face a most uncomfortable evening with our hosts. We all carefully avoided any reference to the subject which was on our minds, and I did my best to make general conversation without even mentioning Beef. I recalled my schooldays at St. Lawrence College, Ramsgate, and gave them some vignettes of my life as an insurance agent and later inspector. Then I turned to literature and drew what I thought were some rather clever comparisons between writers whose names, I consider, confer a certain kudos on those who can discuss their work intelligently—such modern giants as Christopher Isherwood and Christopher Fry, Edith Sitwell and Elizabeth Bowen, W.H. Auden and V.S. Pritchett, Stephen Spender and Louis Macneice, a galaxy of illustrious names which I thought would arouse their interest. It was not long, however, before I saw that I was wasting my energy, for Gray confessed to a taste for such old-fashioned and bourgeois novelists as Conrad and Galsworthy, while Gulley could talk of nothing but “Westerns”. As soon as I could politely do so I took my leave and went up to bed.
Alone in my room I wished heartily that Beef had not left the house tonight. I felt curiously nervous, and although my door was locked I did not like the thought of undressing and lying unprotected in bed. Footsteps passed in the corridor several times and once paused for a full minute outside my door. I forced my breathing to be audible as a very light regular snoring sound which I hoped would seem natural to the listener on the threshold.
But I could not sleep. Even when there was silence in the house about me, suggesting that all were at last asleep, I found myself tossing and turning and wide awake. I could see the window from where I lay and knew that some of the clouds of the afternoon had been driven away and there was a fairly clear starry sky, while the wind seemed to have dropped.
Somewhere in this house or in one of the lodges, I reflected, a murderer was as restless as I, knowing that he or she had committed a brutal crime for which society would show no forgiveness. But I knew better than to speculate on his or her identity.
Then suddenly something told me to look out of the window. Had I heard a sound or was the warning of a psychic nature? I shall never know, but it was urgent enough to make me jump out of bed and cross the room. I looked down by the fitful and uncertain starlight and was rewarded by seeing something which, Beef afterwards admitted, provided him with an important suggestion. Someone was coming round the corner of the house walking swiftly towards the drive. I leaned out to see who it was, but the person evidently did not mean to be recognized for over his head was an open umbrella. No rain was falling, so this could only be intended to conceal his identity from the windows above. I thought I saw a man’s shoes, but could not be certain in that light.
What a diabolically clever disguise, I thought, for by holding the umbrella high above his head or down as low as possible he could conceal even his height. Who was this lonely being, I asked myself, leaving the house at half-past one in the morning? It could be anyone. Gabriel? Rudolf? Theo Gray? Mills? Major Gulley? Dunton? Even Beef? Or one of the women who had put on a man’s shoes? Freda Ducrow? Mrs. Gabriel? Zena? Mrs. Dunton? There was nothing to suggest the identity unless the absentee could be discovered by a tour of inspection of the bedrooms. Beef was capable of this, I thought, and resolved therefore to keep the information till the morning.
I woke early, and finding that it was a freakishly fine day with sunlight breaking through and the air quite warm, I decided to go out for a stroll before breakfast. Perhaps I would find some trace of last night’s mysterious noctambulist.
It was eight o’clock when I stepped out on the terrace and found that I was not the first up. Theo Gray had brought his newspaper out and was glancing at it as he strolled towards me.
“Wonderful morning,” he said.
I wanted to walk round the house and not stop to talk so I said, “Yes, wonderful,” rather curtly and pressed on. I had an uncomfortable feeling that he was smiling at me.
I could find no trace of any footprints, but soon Beef joined me and I told him what I had seen during the night.
“Oh, yes?” he said indifferently, once again seeking to belittle any help I might give to his investigations.
“Perhaps we might see some footprints.”
He laughed rudely. “You don’t half have some old-fashioned ideas,” he said. “And why on earth did you start making that noise like a sow in furrow when I was coming to your room last night? You shouldn’t do that, you know, someone might hear you. I was just coming along to tell you that me’n my partner were unbeaten at darts last night.”
“I’m sure I should have been most interested,” I said sarcastically.
“So you might have been when I told you who my partner was.”
“Who was it?”
“Mills, the chauffeur,” said Beef.
“Perhaps it was also you who was walking about with an umbrella up last night?”
“No. I never use an umbrella.”
“Well, I’m getting fed up with this case,” I said. “You left me alone with those three all the evening.”
“Didn’t you learn anything?”
“We didn’t discuss the case. Look here, Beef, are you really getting anywhere?”
“Slow but sure,” said Beef.
“I’m not asking you to tell me, but have you any idea of who the murderer may be?”
I thought for a moment, then admitted that I had not.
“Just if you were to guess?” cajoled Beef.
“Well, if I were to say at this point who I think is guilty, it would be nothing but guesswork. Sheer guesswork. So I’ll do what the readers of detective novels do and choose the most unlikely.”
“Go on, then,” said Beef.
“I’ll say either Mrs. Dunton or Theo Gray.”
His face grew grave.
“Those seem to you the most unlikely?”
“Just about. Yes.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
“I should like you to state that a little more definitely so that there can be no question afterwards of what you meant.”
“Very well. I tell you absolutely definitely that neither Theo Gray nor Mrs. Dunton killed Cosmo Ducrow.”
“Good enough. That narrows the field.”
“I may be able to put one or two more out of the running in a day or two,” said Beef.
“Process of elimination, eh? Well, I hope it doesn’t take too long. I want to get back to London.”