“Holiday Task” by Leo Bruce in New Mystery Collection

From British Library Crime Classics comes Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards (London, 2015), a collection of vintage mysteries relating to holidays.

The stories in the collection are:
“The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” by Arthur Conan Doyle;
“A Schoolmaster Abroad” by E. W. Hornung;
“Murder!” by Arnold Bennett;
“The Murder on the Golf Links” by M. McDonnell Bodkin;
“The Finger of Stone” by G. K. Chesterton;
“The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser” by Basil Thomson;
“A Mystery of the Sand-Hills” by R. Austin Freeman;
“The Hazel Ice” by H. C. Bailey;
“Razor Edge” by Anthony Berkeley;
“Holiday Task” by Leo Bruce;
“A Posteriori” by Helen Simpson;
“Where is Mr Manetot?” by Phyllis Bentley;
“The House of Screams” by Gerald Findler; &
“Cousin Once Removed” by Michael Gilbert.
“Holiday Task” by Leo Bruce is a Sgt. Beef story which begins with Beef prawning in Normandy and encountering an old colleague, Léotard of the Sûrété, who is baffled by the mysterious disappearance then death, an apparent suicide, of “the most detested man in the French Prison Service”; it is also available in Murder in Miniature: The Short Stories of Leo Bruce edited by B. A. Pike (Chicago, 1992).
Resorting to Murder is available, at a discounted price, and with free delivery, from Book Depository.  It is reviewed, rather briefly, here and here, and more lengthily here:
While I enjoyed the iconic “murder on holiday” theme well before starting Resorting to Murder, I was half worried that there wasn’t a diverse enough pool of mysteries behind it to fill an entire collection.  I’m glad to say that I stand corrected; I’ll try not to doubt Martin Edwards in the future.  The fourteen stories in Resorting to Murder are all very good, and while some of them seem similar this is quite a diverse collection.  All of the stories may deal with murders on holiday, but there’s enough kinds of mystery story here to keep the collection fresh and invigorated.  Not only did Edwards pick a great batch of stories, he also continues to write excellent introductions for the British Library volumes.

A Louse for the Hangman, Chapter Twenty

A Louse for the Hangman


Though Carolus supposed to his audience had long perceived where his thirteen points were leading, even that several of them have been expecting that name for a long time, he found that his statement had fallen with almost atomic force among them.
Eustace was on his feet shouting something like “You dare!” or “How dare you?”  Hermione was crying and Ronald in his thin, high-pitched tones shouted, “It’s a lie!”
Mr. Gorringer made his voice heard.
“Outrageous, Deene, outrageous!  Before Lady Penge, too.  If this is some of your ill-timed levity, you will answer for it, sir!”
From the back of the room came a hum and worry of indignation.  “What a thing to say?”  “There!”  “Fancy saying that!”  “What a liberty!”
When the first outpourings were subsiding Lady Penge spoke.
“Please go on, Mr. Deene,” she said.
“I’m afraid what follows will be very painful to you, Lady Penge.”
“I’m well aware of it.  I wish you to continue.”
“Very well.  As you wish.  Lord Penge murdered Ratchett for a very good reason.  Ratchett was blackmailing him.  I first suspected this when I heard that within six months of his receiving these mysterious papers from Buenos Aires, Ratchett had obtained five thousand pounds from his employer on the plea that it was to avoid death duties.  I became more sure of it when I heard from Wilpey some of the words used between Lord and Lady Penge in a quarrel which was overheard by Frieda.  I maintain that these words could bear no construction other than this—that Lady Penge had discovered what it was Ratchett knew about her husband which enabled him to draw money.  Exactly what this was I do not intend to reveal now, since it is a private matter for the family, but I must say that my suspicions have been confirmed without a doubt by the papers taken by Detective Inspector Scudd from a strong-box rented by Ratchett at the Royal and Colonial Bank, Bexhill.  They provide proof that Lord Penge did something during his three years in Argentina as a young man which, if it was revealed in later life, would ruin him and hurt his family.  Ratchett had discovered this, and was using it for his own advantage.
“So Lord Penge decided to kill Ratchett, making it appear to be attacked by someone who wanted to murder him, Lord Penge.  I think he probably had all the anonymous letters typed ready before he began and possibly others, to allow for all contingencies.  My guess would be that he bought a second-hand typewriter specially for the purpose and got rid of it again afterwards.  It was unlucky that Tramper had one of the same make and age, for this caused me some extra trouble in checking that the letters had not been typed on it.  Owing to the elaborate security arrangements Lord Penge had made for the Manor post, he was able to send the last one to himself without leaving the house.  The earlier ones had all been posted on days when he was in London.
“I must own but when I saw Lady Penge secretly posting a letter of the day before the last anonymous one was received I did for a moment wonder . . .”
“Shame” cried Mr. Gorringer.
“But I realized afterwards that she was writing to her cousin, because she was not sure of the Manor ’phone, to make arrangements to get her, at all costs, out of the house for a time.  The cousin was to answer any queries with the statement that she had begged Lady Penge to come at once.”
“Perfectly right,” said Lady Penge.
“So the thing was organized; but then Lord Penge came up against a snag.  The police did not take his anonymous letters very seriously, and it looked as though he would have difficulty in convincing anyone that they were real and earnest when the time came.  It was essential that the crime should be watched by someone intelligent enough to think that the murderer intended to kill Lord Penge but not intelligent enough to see that this was a double bluff.  So, not having a very high opinion of Mr. Gorringer’s discrimination, he asked him to invite an amateur detective he had mentioned as clever.  That was me.  I refused, and he decided to go ahead.  He believed he was successful, and was not at all pleased when Mr. Gorringer said that now there was a corpse I was coming.  But his displeasure, like most emotions of his, he concealed.
“On the Sunday before the day he had picked for the murder, Lord Penge went across to Ratchett’s cottage.  He had taken to frequent calls there lately to prevent any particular one being noticeable and to give probability to the idea that the murderer could mistake someone walking across there for him.  He was wearing, according to the observant Mrs. Carker, a particularly long overcoat, and he left, according to the same authority, after it was dark.  I have no doubt it was at this time that he appropriated Ratchett’s Savage 30•30.
“Then came the afternoon of the murder.  At something well past seven, when it was already dark, he suddenly discovered the need of a document which he knew was in Ratchett’s cottage and sent the secretary across.  We shall never know how he persuaded him to wear his coat, indeed I have played with the idea that he punctured it ready to put it on Ratchett after death.  More probably he said, ‘Don’t wait to go to the hall for your coat; take mine.’  It is the same with Ratchett’s glasses.  Penge may have taken those off after death and brought them back to the library.
“At all events, when Ratchett left he followed him at distance and took up his position at the forked tree, exactly as the police decided the murderer did.  His strict rule that no one should enter the library when he was working would ensure that his absence from house was not known.  When Ratchett returned he stopped him at gunpoint.  Again I can only guess but I daresay he said they were going over to Ratchett’s cottage now to obtain and destroy those incriminating documents.  If so, he told Ratchett to lead the way, and with the torch shining on him could easily kill him at fifteen yards.
“There is something rather interesting here.  Nobody except Lord Penge, who was supposed to be in a study behind closed doors, claimed definitely to have heard the shots.  I wonder how many of you noticed that?  At least eight people were within the probable earshot, and three would certainly have heard them if they had been audible.  But Lord Penge used the specially constructed silencer he had had made.
“He then went to the dead man, removed whatever documents Ratchett had been to fetch and put the dead hands in the overcoat pockets.  If he left them as they probably were, spread out above the dead man’s head, it would have shewn that Ratchett had his hands up when he was shot and could have revealed the whole plot.  He then removed the silencer, threw Ratchett’s gun in one of the ponds and returned to the house.  He sent Gribbley and Piggott over to the corpse and, as he told me, gave himself a stiff whisky-and-soda.  He had accomplished what he had set out to do.
“So, you see, Lord Penge fulfilled all my thirteen points.  He had a most adequate motive.  Lady Penge had the same, and so in a way had Eustace, had he but known it.  He had created the situation in which it would appear that he himself was the intended victim.  He was perhaps the only person who had had an opportunity of taking that Ratchett’s rifle, which could only have been removed at night, when even Ratchett locked his cottage.  He was a practised shot.  He, and he alone, knew that Ratchett would be coming along that path at that moment.  He was, by his own admission, the first to reach the corpse and the only person who could move the hands and remove the document.  He returned to the house.  He was the only person who knew Ratchett was wearing his coat.  He was perfectly able almost without fear of detection to be in the park before the murder and quite without question after it, for, as we have seen, he did not send Ratchett over till well after seven, when it was dark.  He was certainly stoical enough to go through the rest of the evening without giving himself away.  He could not possibly be suspected of wanting to kill Lord Penge and he was afraid that his reason for wanting to kill Ratchett could become known.  He had had the opportunity to type and send anonymous letters.  He had, as one could see in his character, the qualities necessary for this murder, and with them the love of his family and pride in his position and theirs which made it necessary.  He was the only person who fulfilled every one of these conditions.  I don’t know how all of you failed to see it.”
“I must halt you there,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “Can it be that you have mooted this monstrous suggestion about Lord Penge on nothing but the circumstantial tittle-tattle and personal opinion which you have put forward?”
“You’d better hear the rest,” said Carolus.  “But there’ll be no comfort in it, for you or anyone else.”
There was a pause and Carolus continued:
“Out of sheer meticulousness and the habit of drawing up a report—a bad habit acquired in the Army—I went into details of the other persons who might have been considered suspects.  A short chat with Mrs. Worsdyke was all that was necessary to convince me that her husband was not even remotely concerned in the matter, though by an unfortunate coincidence he was in Highcastle on the afternoon of the murder.  I found that Tramper’s story of his wife’s death from food poisoning was true, though there was nothing to shew that it had been due to a product of Archer and Buck’s.  Tramper probably did ask Ratchett to obtain a settlement of his nebulous claim, and it may even be true that Ratchett kept him hanging round with the idea of using him in some scheme of his own.  Ratchett, on the previous occasion when he had obtained a large sum of money, was very careful to have cover for the transaction—the supposed anticipation of the Will to avoid death duties—and it is conceivable that he wanted some such cover again and intended to make Tramper provide it.  But that is only guesswork based on Tramper’s statement that Ratchett gave him hopes.  There was nothing whatever to connect him with the murder and a short acquaintance with him shewed me that he had neither the determination not even the ability to commit it.  Chilham noticed that he was not sober when he called at the house a little more than an hour before the shots.
“But the elimination of suspects was a formality.  I knew that no one but Lord Penge could have shot Ratchett, and if I needed more proof he soon provided it.  He could see that neither the police nor I were quite convinced by the mistaken identity idea.  Detective Inspector Scudd said to me in his hearing—‘We’re not taking it as absolutely certain that Ratchett was shot in mistake for Lord Penge’, and I said much the same to Eustace, who no doubt repeated it.  So he decided to give weight to the idea by a pretended attempt on his life.
“This was not easy to fake.  He couldn’t just come into the house with a bullet-hole through his hat and say he had been shot at.  He decided to do the thing by poisoning, but then did not see how he could ‘discover’ this convincingly.  What he did in the end was as ingenious as the rest of his actions and gives a hint of the reason for his remarkable success in early life.  He added poison to the medicine which Chilham brought him each day at seven, and instead of replacing the bottle on the tray, left it on the writing-table beside it.  This would be noticeable to Chilham, but would not disprove the idea of a murderer having entered the room and poisoned the medicine.  He opened one of the windows, which in any case stuck at that point, about a foot.  Then, leaving only his eyes uncovered between something black wrapped round his face and an unfamiliar hat pulled down, he left the library by the french windows and peered in at the morning-room where Hermione would almost certainly be.  If he had been seen by anyone he would have explained that he had heard or seen or suspected an intruder in the library, which would have produced the same effect, but less convincingly.  His calling Chilham in front of me and letting him of his own accord notice the misplaced medicine bottle was a masterly touch.  Had I not by then been convinced that he had murdered Ratchett, I should have been deceived by it.
“The next incident which seemed to be significant was the second appearance to Hermione of a face of the morning-room window.  I might have been more alarmed by it if I had not noticed that afternoon that Spotter had lit a fire in the little sitting-room over the stables where he had once lived.  Knowing Spotter’s devotion to horse-lovers, and being with him when Hermione telephoned instructions to him, I guessed that this might be done for her sake, for what better place could there be in which to meet the man to whom she is now engaged?  But how was he to reach the stables?  There were two plain-clothes men watching for just such an intrusion.  Hermione could not leave the house for long without a good reason, and since the murder of Ratchett had made difficulties she probably have not been able to see Dr. Chilham.  So when she was called to the ’phone that day (it was noticeable, by the way, that Chilham came and summoned her instead of putting the call through to her) she told her young friend to cross from the road at exactly ten past seven.  She then created a diversion by pretending to see the face at the window again and urgently sending for the two plain-clothes men to tell them about it.  Noticing this, I went out to the stables and was in time to see Dr. Chilham come in and go upstairs . . .”
“Once again I must interrupt,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “You have collected more than a score of people, including the bereaved widow and heir, to hear one thing—who killed Lord Penge.  We have listened to a rigmarole of nonsense by which you have sought to convince us that he himself was a cold-blooded murderer, but you have thrown no light at all on the essential question.  I’m sure that everyone present, including the members of the Police Force, is as weary of these slanders as I am.  If you have nothing to say, Mr. Deene, let us draw a curtain on this most unfortunate and for me humiliating occasion.”
“Yes,” said Eustace.  “Who killed my father?”
“I did,” said Carolus calmly, “or at least, I was largely responsible for his death.  I caused him to commit suicide.”
Once again there was an angry outbreak.  Once again Lady Penge quelled it by insisting that Carolus should continue.
“You are very brave, dear Lady,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “But if Mr. Deene has nothing better to offer, I suggest that we adjourn.  A child could see that it was not suicide.  There was no weapon beside the body.”
Carolus ignored this.
“I was faced with a hateful situation,” he said.  “I believed myself to be the only person who suspected Lord Penge of Ratchett’s murder.  What was my duty?  Immediately to give the police the information in my hands?  Or to drop the case on the plea that blackmail justifies murder?  Or what?  If I did the first, there would be, for the family, the hideous experience of a famous trial in which they would all appear as witnesses.  The very thing which Lord Penge had murdered to safeguard—the future of his son—would be completely ruined, and there would be other consequences in the family which I need not specify.  On the other hand, if I decided to forget the whole thing I should be betraying something which to me is far dearer:  the ideal of historical truth.  For that, frankly, I would suffer myself or cause others to suffer.  It was against all my principles to shield a murderer.
“In the end I decided on a compromise.  I did not mind cheating the hangman so long as I did not cheat myself.  A louse for the hangman, I said.  I let Lord Penge know that I knew the truth, and left it to him to act.  I thought that in all probability he would commit suicide, and I’m bound to say I thought this would be the best solution.  But I did not anticipate what happened.  I did not realize that on the subject of his family and the future of this family he was not sane.
“I told him that on the following day I was going to reveal the truth.  Hoping against hope he continued to question me to confirm that I knew this, and I made it even clearer, adding that I had already posted away my notes on the case.  I also told him that I was aware of Ratchett’s strong-box, which meant to him that I not only knew of his crime but suspected its motive.  But all this was no more than the final confirmation to him.  He had already decided, I believe.  He was perfectly cool, and I think in a mad way courageous about it.
“I use the word ‘mad’.  Is the kindest one for his actions from now on.  Determined as he was that as little shadow as possible should fall on his family, he decided that he must appear to have been murdered, and went to the length of providing two suspects for the crime.  He called Lockyer late that evening and representing that he was afraid of the threats to his life and meant to hide for a time, sent the tutor to his shooting-box in the highlands.  Lockyer must start at one, he said, this very night, and drive straight to Achendouroch.  He would follow.  Lockyer in all innocence set off and reached Achendouroch, where he saw no newspapers for some days and did not know that the police wanted to question him till I drove up and found him there.
“But before this Lord Penge had sent for Piggott and pretending regret for a quarrel of that afternoon told him to take the next day off, lending him the truck on the condition that he left early for Brighton in order to deliver a letter to Mr. Gorringer at the Sandringham Private Hotel.  It must be there by eight o’clock, he said, and this meant that Piggott would leave before daylight.
“When Lockyer was leaving, and accompanied him to the garages, and as soon as he had gone took his own Savage 30•30 with its silencer from its hiding place in the garage in which Lockyer kept his car.”
“You’re wrong there,” interrupted Lockyer.
“Oh?  Hadn’t he hidden the Savage in advance?”
“No.  He carried it with him when he came with me to the garages.  Said it might be useful in self-defence and he never moved from the house nowadays without it.  That seemed natural enough to me.”
“Yes.  It would have seemed so to me.  But you didn’t tell me that.”
“I’d completely forgotten it till now.”
“The truck in which Piggott would leave next morning was standing there.  Lord Penge went to the back of this and, facing in the same direction as the truck, leaned on the tailboard.  He then put the barrel of the rifle to his head so that after the shot the rifle would fall into the truck, while he would fall behind it.  He was wearing gloves to leave no fingerprints on the rifle.  He pressed the trigger.
“The result was, as you know, disastrous for Piggott.  That young man came out to the garage in which there was no electric light, soon after six o’clock next morning.  He did as we all do with our cars, jumped in without looking inside it or behind it.  He then drove away quite unconscious of the fact that he left Lord Penge’s body on the ground behind him and carried the rifle which killed him in his truck.  When he was arrested that morning he still did not know it was there.
“There is one mystery left here.  The letter which he took to Mr. Gorringer’s private hotel never reached him.”
“Must I repeat it, Deene?  There was no letter.”
“I had hoped that Lord Penge’s conscience was not quite so blind as that.  I thought perhaps he had sent to Mr. Gorringer, and old and valued friend, some instructions on how to act if either Piggott or Lockyer were in real and immediate danger of trial or execution for his murder.  But it seems I was wrong.  Lord Penge was perfectly prepared to let one or both of these young men be hanged for a crime of which they are equally innocent.”
It was clear that Mr. Gorringer was suffering agonies of doubt.  The whole monstrous edifice of his faith in the bloater-paste king was cracking, but had not quite fallen.  It had been such an important feature in his own life, the present eminence of a one-time fellow undergraduate, that he could not reconcile himself to its loss so quickly.  But he was not a complete fool, and a part of him knew that Carolus was right.
“A solemn promise made to a doomed man . . .” he began.
“Did you see Lord Penge that night?” asked Carolus excitedly.
“No.  No.  The telephone.  A solemn promise to one who is passed on is not to be lightly broken.”
“Oh, he rang you up.  He did make some provision for the protection of Piggott and Lockyer if they needed it.  What was it?”
“If you are prepared to assure me, Deene, that two human lives may depend upon it, I have no alternative.  I must break my vow.”
“Certainly I assure you that at least one life depends on it.  Piggott has been charged with murder.  I saw him yesterday.”
“Then it shall be done!  Lord Penge telephoned me and said that he was sending me in the early morning an envelope addressed to me.  This would contain another envelope, sealed.  He required my word of honour as his oldest friend that the seal would only be broken if he should be killed and Piggott or Lockyer found guilty of his murder.  He also bound me by a most sacred promise of secrecy in the matter, a secrecy only to be broken if one of the two men was in danger of execution.”
“He was prepared to go as far as that, was he?  Let’s have a look at the letter.”
Mr. Gorringer thrust his hand into his breast pocket and dramatically drew out a sealed envelope and handed it to Carolus.
“I wash my hands of it,” he said.
Carolus glanced at the contents, while everybody in the room kept a tense silence.
“As I thought, a full confession of the murder of Ratchett.  Here, you’d better have it, Inspector.  It’ll clear young Piggott.”
Carolus felt exhausted by the strain of this long and painful statement and took little notice as the company disbanded.  He did not want to hear their comments, he did not want to see them again or Highcastle Manor or any of its inhabitants.  At that moment he did not want ever to investigate another murder.
He found itself at last alone with Lady Penge, Gorringer and Eustace.
“And what was it, Mr. Deene, that Ratchett knew about my father?” asked Eustace.
“I think your mother knows that and will tell you herself.”
“No.  You tell us.  I know no details,” said Lady Penge.
“Your father was a very young man when he was sent out to Argentina.  He seems to have done what better and worse young men have done before and since—married a prostitute.  She was an Englishwoman named Ivy Smith, and she had a small son by a former associate of hers.  She left your father after a time and returned to her profession, but in the meantime he persuaded his firm’s agent and his wife, a childless couple named Ratchett to adopt the boy.  Before leaving Argentina your father did what he could to find his wife in order to dissolve their marriage, but he failed in this and in every subsequent attempt to find her.  Since the average life-time of a prostitute in Argentina at that time was a very short one, he was perhaps justified in supposing her dead when he married your mother, but as she was never officially ‘presumed dead’ the marriage was not a legal one.
“Ratchett at first knew nothing of this or of his own heritage.  He always believed himself to be the son of the Ratchetts and knew Lord Penge by name from them.  He obtained his post here through this.
“Then a year ago his real mother died, leaving what she had to him, and with her possessions was sent to him her marriage certificate.  I saw this today, together with certain other documents.  The marriage certificate proved, of course, that his marriage to your mother was bigamous, and therefore disproved your right to inherit the title.  It was on this that Ratchett secured his five thousand pounds.  Though we have no evidence of it, we must suppose that Ratchett, like most blackmailers, was insatiable.  It was to end that situation and secure your right to succeed to the title that your father murdered Ratchett.  You see, he had that dangerous form of paranoia, an ambition for dynasty-founding.  It seemed to him the most important thing in the world that there should be a second Lord Penge.
“There is one curious little footnote to that.  Ratchett, as you all observed, was a reserved and probably lonely man.  He had no living relatives.  Only one person seemed to go out of his way sometimes to persuade him to talk, and that was Piggott, who used to visit him.  Piggott was rewarded for that in Ratchett’s will.”
“That is absolutely all I know about this case, and I would rather we talked no more of it.”
Mr. Gorringer broke a long silence.
“What you have told us, Deene, has been a severe shock to us all.  Since I carried, unbeknown to myself, Lord Penge’s own confession of his crime, I can doubt no longer.  But it has being a very terrible experience for us to learn what we have.”
“It has not been a very pleasant one for me, Headmaster.”
“Sympathies are, perforce, divided, but I think we should resolve to remember Lord Penge’s finer qualities and higher motives and more splendid achievements, and forget the one dreadful thing he persuaded himself to do.  I think we should . . .”
“I think we should have a drink,” said Lady Penge firmly and rang the bell for Chilham.

A Louse for the Hangman, Chapter Nineteen

A Louse for the Hangman


Mr. Gorringer was waiting for him in the hall.  It was evident that the headmaster felt it incumbent upon him to act as a kind of chairman or entrepreneur.
“Remembering the last occasion on which you delivered yourself in this way, my dear Deene, I have persuaded the Detective Inspector in charge of the case to take certain precautions.  You will remember that at the time I refer to an attempt was made on your life.  Detective Inspector Scudd—a very civil and competent officer I, I imagine—was not willing at first to take my representations very seriously, but wiser counsels have prevailed.  There will be a plain-clothes man stationed at the door of the library and one at the french windows.  You need fear no violence or attempt to escape.”
“Thank you.”
“Mind you, if, as you say, you intend to name the person responsible for the death of Lord Penge . . .”
“I said largely responsible.  I did not say that his murderer would be present.”
“Ah, but you did not deny it, Deene.  I have become accustomed to the evasive language you employ until the moment of revelation.  If, as I say, I find myself in a room with a person even partially responsible for my old friend’s death, I cannot be answerable for my own actions.  However, your audience awaits you.  We are eager for the truth.”
Carolus found that the library had been arranged as a small auditorium.  The desk at which Lord Penge had been wont to sit had been turned to face the room and cleared for Carolus.  Seats had then been put in rows to accommodate the score or more of people present.
The family occupied the front row—the orchestra stalls, as it were.  Gorringer joined Lady Penge here, and Eustace sat on the other side.  Dr. Chilham was beside Hermione, and Lockyer with Ronald.
Carolus looked carefully over the anxious faces turned towards him.  He saw that even those whose attendance had seemed most problematic were here, and for the first time saw Worsdyke with his sensible wife.  Worsdyke himself looked a sensible man, composed and serious.  Tramper was next to them, rather puffy and comatose, as though he had too much to drink at mid-day.  He had returned to Highcastle that morning, as Carolus had predicted he would.
“Carolus checked carefully, then asked, “Where is Wilpey?”
It was Chilham who answered:
“I thought it desirable to live someone in the hall, sir, in case of calls.  As Wilpey seemed to have no connection with the matter has selected him.”
“I should like him here,” said Carolus firmly.
One of the German girls went out and returned with an embarrassed-looking Wilpey, who took a place at the back of the room.
Carolus was pleased to see Scudd with a young assistant.
He began to talk quietly but clearly, as though he were addressing one of his classes at school.
“I came to this case unwillingly,” he said, “refusing to be involved in it when it seemed merely a matter of threats and agreeing only when there was a murder to investigate.  That they may seem wrong to some of you, and I think I should explain it.  All I had to offer in this or any other mystery is a lucky facility for discovering the identity of a murderer when this is puzzling to others.  I would not presume to do something which the police can do far better than I.  I make no apology for considering criminal investigation a hobby, though in this case it has been a sad one.  I came here in order to find out who had killed Michael Ratchett and with no other purpose in view at all.  I told that plainly to Lord Penge and to his eldest son.
“As soon as I began to investigate the circumstances of Ratchett’s death and the anonymous letters which had preceded it, I became aware of something which always seems to me highly suspicious.  There was a kind of compulsion here to give the thing is certain specific explanation.  I was being persuaded—coerced almost—into accepting a particular view and instinctively distrusted it.  Lord Penge had received anonymous letters threatening his life.  They had become more and more insistent and urgent, till one had been posted in the village containing the threat of imminent action.  Then Ratchett at a time and in circumstances in which he could be easily mistaken for Lord Penge was shot dead.  The implication was that the murderer had made a mistake and shot the wrong man.
“I began to play with an interesting supposition, rejecting for the moment the theory I was clearly intended to accept and which others accepted without question.  Suppose, I said, the murderer did nothing of the sort.  Suppose he intended to shoot Ratchett.  Suppose he was someone who had a motive for killing Ratchett but none for killing Lord Penge.  Suppose he believed that murderers were always identified (as they most often are) by motive.  Suppose, therefore, he committed his crime in a way that would look like a mistake.  Who would suspect him?  If he was someone who in no circumstances would harm Lord Penge but whose motive for killing Ratchett was known or could easily be discovered, it would be an ingenious way of averting suspicion from himself.
“As soon as this idea had formed I saw how well it accorded with the circumstances of the murder.  These, to say the least of it, left a lot of room for enquiry.  Ratchett was shot in the back, presumably as he went towards his cottage to fetch something for Lord Penge.  The murderer was supposed (and I thought and still think rightly supposed) to have stood beside a certain tree.  All evidence agrees that it was an unusually dark night, but according to Lord Penge’s calculation Ratchett left about lighting-up time.  Now how could a murderer concealed behind a tree mistake the identity of a man who had just passed within six yards of him?  And if it was so dark that he could mistake his identity, how could he, a moment later, have seen well enough to shoot him dead at fifteen yards?  It was a gross and insuperable inconsistency.  I decided provisionally that whoever had shot Michael Ratchett had intended to shoot him and no one else.  The anonymous letters and all the rest of it were an elaborate blind to deceive us into thinking that he intended to shoot Lord Penge and had shot Ratchett by mistake.
“At this point the case began to interest me, because I was up against a murderer with a good deal of ingenuity.  At first it seemed that all I had to do was to identify him and the case was over.  He had fulfilled his purpose and therefore was no longer dangerous.  But I began to suppose again.  Suppose he saw that I suspected the truth.  Suppose he saw that the anonymous letters were not enough to convince me or others that he had shot the wrong man.  Suppose he felt himself in danger of discovery.  What else could he do to make his deception more convincing?  Obviously only one thing—actually murder Lord Penge.  That at least would shew that the first murder had been a mistake.  That, if nothing else, would deflect all suspicion from him of his deliberately shooting Ratchett.
“I was not sure that this would occur to him, or that if it did he would follow the course of action I have suggested.  But there seemed to me sufficient probability of it to constitute a threat to Lord Penge.  So until I could identify the man—or woman, I’m only saying ‘he’ for convenience sake—I did not advise anyone that the murderer had shot his bolt and would not strike again.
“You will observe that my theory did not minimize the importance of the anonymous letters.  Though they were not what they seem, they were still a part of the scheme to murder Ratchett and had presumably been sent by or for the murderer.  But I did not think this likely to be a fruitful line of investigation.  Whoever had sent them would have taken ordinary precautions, typing them on a standard paper, using a standard typewriter and so on.  They had been posted in London on the mid-week days and afterwards in Highcastle.  Their wording suggested someone educated trying to sound like a maniac or a murderer, but could have been a natural form of expression.  Anybody could in fact have been responsible for them.
“But when I came to the circumstances of the actual murder I found them more revealing.  Ratchett had been brought to the house that afternoon by Eustace, so that his car would not be standing, as usual when he was there, on the gravel in front.  He started work with Lord Penge at five, and after a couple of hours, as Lord Penge said, started off for his cottage to fetch a document needed, borrowing Lord Penge’s very noticeable overcoat and leaving by the french windows in the library.  Some five minutes later—he could not be more accurate—Lord Penge heard two shots in the park, took a torch, hurried out and at a certain spot about halfway across the park found the body of Ratchett face downwards, his head in the direction of his cottage and his hands in his overcoat pockets.
“He had been killed at a range of about fifteen yards by a Savage 30•30 rifle of his own which was later found in a pond nearby.  The most noteworthy thing about that was that the pond was between the place of the murder and the house, suggesting rather forcibly that the murderer had returned to the house after firing and not made for the road.  He would have been in a hurry and would not wait to go twenty-five yards out of his way to throw the rifle in a pond from which it would be recovered anyway.  This rifle had been taken from Ratchett’s cottage, where it was usually kept unlocked.
“So far, but for the lack of motive, it could have been any single one of you.  None of your alibis was worth a light.  If we go back and suppose that was still just possible that Ratchett was shot in mistake for Lord Penge, there were a good many of you with something that could have been a motive.  So I considered each one of you in turn.
“Eustace, for instance, told his sister towards seven o’clock that he was going out to the stables, but, as Spotter told me, he did not arrive . . .”
Spotter was on his feet.
“No, I never said nothing of the sort, or if I did it wasn’t nothing Mr. Eustace wouldn’t have not minded.  No one ought to go not keeping quiet about anything said, and I wouldn’t not want Mr. Eustace to think I wouldn’t say nothing if it . . .”
Carolus interrupted
“You’ve nothing to worry about, Spotter.  Eustace told me himself afterwards that he did not go to the stables but was with Lockyer in the park looking for Ronald.  But, as you see, he had no alibi, nor had Lockyer.
“Hermione’s alibi was Chilham, and Chilham’s Hermione.  According to Chilham he was asked by Hermione to bring drinks for her and Eustace to the morning-room and did so.  He found her alone and stayed chatting for ‘about a quarter of an hour’, during which time Mrs. Murdoe, with whom he had been playing bezique, was left alone.  Any of those three, therefore, could have done it so far as their actual physical presence was concerned.
“Then, again, Gribbley’s alibi was provided only by Piggott’s, and Piggott’s only by Gribbley.  They were in the Gribbley’s flat at about seven-thirty when Lord Penge ’phoned, but there was nothing but their own words to shew where they had been till then.
“It might, as I say, have been any one of you, even Lord Penge himself or Lady Penge . . .”
There was a mighty rumbling as Mr. Gorringer cleared his throat.
“Let us, my dear Deene, not enter the realms of fantasy,” he said.
“It could,” continued Carolus, “have been Ronald, who was in the park at the time.  It could have been Spotter, who claims to have been in the stables but has no witness to his presence there.  Then, by what you may wish to think was an unfortunate coincidence, Worsdyke and Mrs. Worsdyke were in Highcastle that day.  Tramper had been up to the house an hour earlier.  There was no reason to suppose that Dr. Chilham was over here, but for all I know he could have been.  Wilpey the valet, claims to have been ironing trousers in the presence of Frieda, but again the alibis are only mutual.  Mrs Carker and Mrs. Spotter have no witnesses to shew that they were alone in their cottages . . .”
“Oh, haven’t they?” asked Mrs. Spotter belligerently.  “I’d like to know who told you that.  It doesn’t mean because Spotter wasn’t there no one else was, so don’t be too sure of yourself, Mr. Know-All.”
“Who was?” shouted Spotter furiously.  “Who was there with you?  I knew it!  I’ve never not known what you weren’t up to, nor not doubted it, not for a minute, I haven’t.  Who was it?”
Mr. Gorringer turned to them.
“This is no place for your discussion,” he said.  “Pray postpone it till a more appropriate moment.”
“Not if you wasn’t . . .”
“Silence!” shouted Mr. Gorringer, and Spotter subsided muttering.
“So you see,” continued Carolus, “with nothing like good old-fashioned clues, or think footprints, or fingerprints to help me, I was driven to the only way left to discover Ratchett’s murderer.  I had to find a motive.  At this time I almost lost faith in my theory, so impossible did it seem that anyone should have a motive for killing Ratchett.  But I set about finding out what I could about him.  In this Mrs. Carter was very helpful.”
“She would be,” Mrs. Spotter was heard to say bitterly.
“From Mrs. Carker, from Lord Penge, from Chilham, from Wilpey and from my own observation I learned a great deal about the murdered man.  Lord Penge told me that six months ago he made over five thousand pounds to Ratchett to avoid death duties.  Ratchett had been with Lord Penge for twelve years, since he came out of the army.  He did not seem to have been a very inspiring individual, for his death left no apparent gap in the life here.  Only Piggott and Lord Penge were mentioned as calling on him from time to time, and with Piggott, said Mrs. Carter, he was ‘very thick’.  I learned later that he had made a Will in Piggott’s favour.  Lord Penge told me that Ratchett was the son of his firm’s agent in Buenos Aires and that when he, Penge, had been out there as a young man, Ratchett had been too young to appear with his family at night.
“Then I heard for Mrs. Carker that about a year ago Ratchett’s mother died in Buenos Aires and that her property had been sent home to the son.  There were a great number of documents which Ratchett went through, but none of them was left in his cottage.  This at once caught my attention, because when a man so careless with his guns and other possessions that he does not even lock them up removes certain papers altogether, it suggests that they are of considerable value or importance to him.  When I discovered later that he had a private account with a bank in Bexhill and obtained the information that he had a strong-box there, it didn’t need much guesswork to know where these papers were.  I have been able to examine them, and will refer to them later.
“Then I learnt from Wilpey, who obtained information from Frieda, who had overheard talk between Lord and Lady Penge, that Ratchett had been some type of a bone of contention between them.
“All this was interesting, but it still did not do much to narrow the field.  Then I realized that I had two really vital pieces of information which took me a long way towards identifying the murderer.  The first had come from Mrs. Carker.  It was that at about seven, or shortly after, someone had hurried into Ratchett’s cottage and hurried out again.  Mrs. Carker had supposed at the time it was Ratchett, but when she knew how he had been shot with his own gun she decided that it was the murderer, who would come to steal it.  The last notion seemed to me most unlikely.  A man who has come for a gun with which to kill another does not bang in and out of his cottage switching on the lot, nor caring who sees or hears him.
“The second thing came from Ronald.  At the time fixed for Ratchett’s murder he was in the park, ‘about a hundred yards from the ponds’, when he saw Ratchett suddenly lit up by the light of a torch.  Ratchett was walking towards his cottage with ‘his hands up like someone being held up at pistol point in a film’.
“These two pieces of information convinced me that the murder had not happened, as it had as had been supposed, while Ratchett was going over to his cottage, but when he was coming back.  It was not done by someone who mistook him for Lord Penge, but by someone waiting for him with a torch who held him up, caused him to start walking back to the cottage and then shot him in cold blood.
“There was a third thing that I did not find out till later.  Tramper, about whom I shall have something to say later, was trying to obtain money from Lord Penge through Ratchett on most improbable and improper grounds.  At first, Tramper told me, Ratchett told him it was out of the question, but that was highly indicative to me.  One way or another, though I had no proof yet, I was pretty sure who had shot Michael Ratchett.
“Now I think, if you don’t mind, I will break off for a few minutes and have a drink.”
There was an immediate outbreak of conversation.  The family in the front row remained silent and rather tense, but behind them Mrs. Carker, an important figure for the moment, could be heard saying that she had thought to herself she might as well say all she knew and have done with it.  Mrs. Spotter, on the other hand, loudly disputed her claim to have known anything at all.  The police spoke together in low tones; they looked quite unruffled.
Mr. Gorringer crossed to Carolus.
“Lucid, so far, Deene,” he said, “but I think you should have made your revelation by now.”
“I have, virtually.  Isn’t it obvious to you?  All right—you shall hear in a few moments.”
Then he resumed:
“I knew these facts about the murderer of Ratchett,” he said.  “One, that he had some very adequate motive, for the murder was premeditated.  Two, that he had built up an elaborate situation which would make it appear that he was mistaking Ratchett for Penge.  Three, that he was someone who had an opportunity to take Ratchett’s rifle.  Four, that he knew how to use it—was, in fact, a fair shot.  Five, that he knew Ratchett would be coming along the path at that moment.  Six, that he would have an opportunity to arrange the corpse in a certain way after shooting, since when Ronald had seen Ratchett his hands were above his head, and the hands of the corpse were in his overcoat pockets.  Moreover, if Ratchett had gone to the cottage to fetch something, as Lord Penge said, the murderer had had time to remove whatever it was from Ratchett’s person.  Eight, that he knew Ratchett would be wearing Lord penge’s distinctive overcoat.  Nine, quite obviously, that he was someone who could have been in the park, on the spot, at that moment.  Ten, that he was someone with enough sang-froid not to have given himself away that evening or thereafter.  Eleven, that he was someone who would never be suspected of wanting to kill Lord Penge, but someone who was afraid of being suspected of wanting to kill Ratchett.  Twelve, that he had had the opportunity of typing and sending the anonymous letters.  Thirteen, and most deadly, that he was someone with the determination, the callousness, the desperation and the black courage to commit the murder of this kind.
“You will all see at once that there was only one person in existence to whom all those could apply.  It was Lord Penge himself.”

A Louse for the Hangman, Chapter Eighteen

A Louse for the Hangman


Mr. Gorringer arrived next morning.
“Ah, Deene, Deene,” he said so inevitably that Carolus knew the end of the sentence before it was spoken, “this is indeed a tragedy!”
“You and the writers of obituaries seem to be the only people who think so.  His family hasn’t turned a hair.”
“I can scarcely take you seriously.  I am sure that Lady Penge is heart-broken.  Heart-broken.”
“If she is it hasn’t spoiled her appetite, I can assure you.”
“Ah.  The table at Highcastle Manor was always a liberal one.  The children are surely suffering under their heavy loss?”
“The eldest son maybe.  The daughter has already recovered sufficiently to become engaged to a man whom her father forbade her to see.  The youngest son has not mentioned.”
“Your appal me, Deene.  When such a light goes out one would have thought that the family would be blinded with grief.”
“It’s possible.  I only say that they shew few signs of it.”
“But how could it happen?  How was allowed to happen?  There was warning enough, in all conscience.  I will reproach myself for not having been at hand.”
“I don’t think you need to reproach yourself for that.  It would not have made any difference.  Penge was warned not only by the anonymous letters, but also by me.  I told him he would not be attacked in his house that night.”
Mr. Gorringer stopped dramatically, for they had been pacing the gravel before the house.
“You don’t mean that you actually anticipated something of this sort?”
“Yes.  I told you from the first, Headmaster, but this wasn’t my case.  Mine is, after all, a very limited field.  I have a certain facility or a great deal of luck investigating murder.  I cannot act as a bodyguard or a Cassandra.”
“I accept that.  I may well have been to blame in recommending you so strongly to Lord Penge and in persuading you to come here.  I should, mayhap, have realized that your forte lay in other directions, not least, I may say, in the inculcation of history.  However, retournons à nos moutons.  I understand that there is no mystery about the death of Lord Penge.”
“Very little, I think.”
“The police have already arrested the brute responsible?  The footman, I learn from the newspapers.”
“The footman has been charged with murder, yes.”
“But no arrest has yet been made in connection with the other little incident?”
“Perhaps you have some suspicion there?”
“If by ‘the other little incident’ you mean the very brutal murder of Michael Ratchett, I think the same person killed both.”
“Ah.  I see your drift.  You do not think the police have all the facts?  Your deductions may at leas throw some new light on the whole tragic sequence of events?”
“I hope so.”
“You intend to propound your theory, my dear Deene?  If I mistake me not, I foresee one of those gatherings of the persons concerned with which it is your wont to wind up your investigations?  But I must put it to you that here such a thing would surely not been the best of taste.  A bereaved family, indeed one may say a bereaved nation, might not be well pleased with such a display of your own virtuosity.  Oh, I have no doubt that you would add to our knowledge of the events.  I have seen enough of your work on similar occasions to be confident that you would have surprises for us.  Your demonstrations have been well enough when less eminent persons were concerned.  But do you not think that such a tour de force would be unseemly in the case of Lord Penge?”
“It is already arranged for this evening.”
“I scarcely know what to say.  As an old friend of the deceased I cannot but feel it might shew some lack of respect to his memory.  On the other hand, I know that you believe such a gathering as you propose to be a sine qua non of investigation, a part of the traditional of detection which the greatest masters have not scorned to use.  Is it a large muster which you suggest?”
“Pretty large.  There are four members of the family, five of the indoor staff, a chauffeur, a groom and his wife, the wife of one of the gardeners, the tutor Lockyer, a man named Tramper, a Dr. Chilham, a former chauffeur and his wife and I hope the police.”
“But not of course the guilty man.  He is already under arrest.”
“I think I can promise you, Headmaster, that the person largely responsible for the death of Lord Penge will be present.”
“Indeed?  I cannot . . . but I must not enquire too narrowly before the event.  I know that to be against precedent.  You have of course sought and obtained the permission of Lady Penge and her elder son?”
“In case there’s little more for me to say.  The Press will be excluded?”
“Then I shall lend my presence.  At what time did you say?”
“Quite early.  About six o’clock.  Certain of those who will be there will have . . . journeys to make afterwards.”
“You feel no doubts?”
“Not on the main course of the thing.  There is still some evidence that I hope to see this morning.  You realize you’re a witness, don’t you?  If Piggott is brought to trial for the murder of Penge, you will be called.”
“I have foreseen some such unpleasing prospect since the police called me in Brighton.  It will be a most unwelcome duty.  Indeed, were this concerned with the murder of someone less distinguished I should tremble for the good name of the Queen’s School, Newminster.  But in the case of Lord Penge I feel justified in representing to the Governors that my appearance as a friend of the dead man will in no way be to derogatory.”
“Tell me, Headmaster, what happened about that letter?”
“You refer, I assume, to a letter from Lord Penge which the accused man claims to have left at my hotel on the morning after the body was discovered?”
“That’s it.”
“There was no such letter.”
A statement so round and curt from Mr. Gorringer should have been convincing.  But Carolus pressed the matter.
“I must point out,” he said, “that your statement that there was no such letter will be required in evidence just as much as, or more than, one in which you admitted receiving it.”
“Deene, I have spoken.  There was no such letter.”
“Then it must have been picked up by someone else in your hotel.”
“That can scarcely be the case.  The Sandringham Private Hotel is a small, I might say intimate, establishment.  It is my custom to spend a fortnight there with Mrs. Gorringer during each successive Easter vacation.  In the summer Le Balmoral, Ostende (with days spent in Bruges), in the spring the Sandringham, Brighton.  The proprietress, a Mrs. Tunney, has become a personal friend of ours, and at this time of year is assisted only by her two nieces, the Misses Plummer, somewhat plain young women well versed in domestic duties.  It chanced on the day in question no other guests were in residence.  As an habitué of the hotel I have certain little privileges and customs, and among others is the daily removal of the post from the letter-box on the front door and its display on the hall table.  That morning I did this at eight-thirty on my way to breakfast—that was a full half-hour after the man Piggott claims to have called.  I repeat, there was no letter.”
“Who had come down?”
“Only the elder, and I must confess plainer, Miss Plummer, whose turn it was to cook breakfast.  If such a letter had been left it would have been in the box when I emptied it.”
“Piggott is positive he left it there.”
“Piggott is a man on a murder charge.  His claims may be said to be neither here nor there.”
“I can’t see how he can of made that up, whatever else he has done.”
“Let us agree that this subject is exhausted,” said Mr. Gorringer airily, “and speak of more relevant matters.  It would interest me to learn how you discovered what you believed to be the truth in this case.  A series of significant clues?  Fingerprints?  Analysis?  Forensic chemistry?  The sifting of complicated evidence?  By what line of research did you proceed before your efforts were rewarded?”
“Guesswork and instinct, mostly.  How else do I ever ‘proceed’, as you put it?”
“You alarm me.  Have you nothing but guesswork and instinct to offer in explaining the death of Lord Penge?”
“Of course I have more now.  You asked me how I proceeded.  The answer is as usual.  I used what intuition and imagination I have in making a general review of the case, when investigated in order to decide whether they were or were not facts to back up my suppositions.  I think I’m the only investigator who works that way.  The others are more logical—they collect their facts, then draw their conclusions from them.  I usually flounder about a day or two till I hit on what seems a solution, using, as I say, more intuition than logic.  Then I start testing it.  It may have to be discarded, but in this case I was lucky.  I was on the target first time.”
Carolus saw Inspector Scudd alight from his car and prepared to join him.
“It sounds strangely haphazard,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “You’re certain you have the evidence to support it?”
“No, Headmaster.  You have the evidence to support it,” said Carolus, and left Mr. Gorringer with mouth ajar.
He found Detective Inspector Scudd in an ominously amiable mood.
“What about these famous papers of yours, Mr. Deene?  I’ve been reading your book about the crime mysteries of history and I can see hidden papers very much in your line.”
“I’ve told you, they’re not exactly hidden.  If you like we’ll go this morning and get them?”
“I see nothing against it.”
Both men were being deliberately casual.  Carolus knew that the policeman wanted to secure what information he could without revealing any himself, while Carolus was determined to give only if there were an adequate return.  He foresaw a good deal of hedging and sparring.
“I hear you went to see Piggott yesterday,” said Scudd as Carolus drove away.
“What did you make of him?”
“He looked pretty cheerful.  Doesn’t seem to have much to worry about.”
“Oh, doesn’t he?  I should be sorry if I ever had what he has.”
“Yes?  Something new turned up?”
“There’s always something new.”
“Getting him linked up with Ratchett’s death, perhaps?  That’s the trickier one.  Not a vestige of motive, is there?  How are you ever going to convince the jury when there’s no motive?
“There is a motive.”
Carolus caught the scent, but did not leap to the pursuit.
“Yes, but nothing worth speaking of,” he said.
“To you, five thousand nicker may not be worth speaking of, Mr. Deene.  To me it’s a lot of money.”
“And to Piggott, of course.  But how did he know he was going to get it.”
“Ratchett must have told him.  A man doesn’t make a Will like that I’m not tell the beneficiary.”
Carolus was delighted with the scrap of information, but resolved that Scudd should not know it was new to him.
“I heard it was rather less,” he said.
“We don’t know to a penny, of course.  But it can’t be much less.  So don’t tell me there was no motive.  I hear you’ve done a bit of enquiring about this man Tramper?”
“Unpleasant oaf.”
“Form any conclusions about him?”
“He’s a second-rate crook.”
“Yes, but in connection with the case, I mean?”
“I don’t know what his record is.  What convictions has he had?”
“Only two.  One for fraud; the other, oddly enough, for Causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent to Maim.”
“Really?  You wouldn’t think it to look at him, would you?”
“Mr. Deene, when you’ve had the experience I have you will know better than to be influenced by appearances.  Do you think Tramper has any connection with the murder of Lord Penge, or not?”
“Direct connection?  No.”
“Yet you spent quite a time on him.  Are you making for Bexhill?”
“I thought it would more likely be Eastbourne.”
“Did you?  Wonderful morning, isn’t it?”
“Wonderful,” said Scudd, and it might have been ‘Amen’.
They drove in silence for some time.
“I hope to be able to tell you more this evening,” said Carolus with an irritating air of being kind.  “You are coming to my little gathering, I hope?”
“Yes,” said Scudd.  “Having read that book of yours I don’t think I ought to miss it.  But frankly, I don’t expect to learn much.  We work, as you know, on rather more strict principles.”
“Quite.  This is our destination.”
Carolus had drawn up before the pretentious façade of the Royal and Colonial Bank.
“I see.  A strong-box?” queried Scudd.
“Yes.  Ratchett’s.”  Carolus drew out the key and ha handed it to Scudd.
“I don’t know what authority you have to possess this,” observed the Inspector, the policeman coming out in him.
“Nor do I, quite.  The important thing for both of us is that it’s here.  You can get past the manager.”
They were shewn into Mr. Flinch almost immediately.
“This is Inspector Scudd of the C.I.D.,” said Carolus.  “He is investigating the deaths of Michael Ratchett and Lord Penge.”
Mr. Flinch shone, but not with pleasure.
“I hardly know how I can have any information, Inspect-or Rer.  Ratchett had an account here, but Lord Penge did not.”
“Ratchett has a strong-box, I think?”
This direct reference to anything so secret seemed to pain Mr. Flinch.
“That is a matter . . . it’s not always easy . . . Inspect-or Rer.  I have already explained to Mis-ter Rer here . . .”
“He had a strong-box?”
“Well, yes.”
“I require to open it and take charge of any documents that may contain.”
“Really . . . I scarcely know.  This is quite unprecedented in my experience.”
“This is the key,” said Scudd.  “Here is my card of authority.  I shall, of course, sign for anything I may have to remove.”
“Yes, I quite understand, Inspect-or Rer, but it is . . .”
“Could we get this open now?” said the Inspector.  “I have not a great deal of time.”
Mr. Flinch stood up in all the shining splendour of his bright bald head and bright stiff linen.
“Very well,” he said, and led the way.
When they were in the car, Scudd handed Carolus the packet of documents he had removed from Ratchett’s strong-box.”
“I’ll keep my word,” he said.  “But we’d better stop on the road for a few minutes while you look at things.  Once I’ve handed them in at the Station I can’t shew them to anybody.”
“I quite see that.”
They pulled into the roadside.  It was at such a moment that Carroll’s academic training was most useful to him.  Accustomed to extracting the data he needed from many miscellaneous sources, he could draw his information now from this bundle in far less time than would be required by most people.  He took some pencilled notes and in a quarter of an hour was ready to drive on.
“Got what you wanted?” asked Scudd.
“I’ve got what I feared.  This is a rotten business, Scudd.”
“Just realized that?  Of course it is.  More rotten than you know yet.”
Back in the house, Carolus went straight up to his room.  He could not bear the prospect of another large meal with the family, particularly now that the Gorringer would be present.  He ’phoned down to Chilham and asked for something simple on a tray in his room, as he would be working there for the next few hours.  He should have been more specific, for at one o’clock Chilham ushered in the German girls with trays and Carolus found himself faced with a crab bisque, braised sturgeon, a filet steak with mushrooms, and gooseberry tart.  No one enjoyed good food more than he did, but the ten lean years of wartime and after had left him, like most Englishman, unable to do justice to it in quantities natural to other races.
When the last plates had been removed and he was alone with a pot of black coffee, he drew out his notes and began his final co-ordination and preparation of them for the statement he meant to make that evening.
He knew that in this, more than in any case he had tackled, his explanation would mean a severe ordeal, not only for others, but for himself.  His listeners would be, officially, the guests of Eustace and Lady Penge.  Certain of them would be present under protest, only attending because their absence might be unkindly interpreted.  But for most of them the chief emotion would be an avid curiosity.  Naturally enough they wanted to know what really had happened.
He waited till six o’clock struck from the little clock-tower over the stables.  It should have been a pleasant and peaceful sound, but it seemed to Carolus harsh and peremptory.  He could postpone revelation no longer.