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Chapter Eighteen

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« on: November 22, 2023, 09:22:49 am »

IT WAS some time later that Macdonald fulfilled a promise he had made to Sally Dillon to come and spend an evening at her flat before she left for her job in Switzerland, and “tell her all about it.” Arrayed in her best frock, looking very charming and chic (and, to Macdonald’s eyes, almost pathetically youthful), she sat him in the best chair and provided him with a glass of sherry.

“But you couldn’t have believed that Dr. Garstang did it,” she protested.

“Oh, couldn’t I?” rejoined Macdonald cheerfully. “I was prepared to believe that any of you had done it---though I doubted your own capacity either to wield an iron bar in murderous fashion, or to empty a man’s pockets efficiently. And the large writing lady seemed a most probable suspect when she failed to materialise in spite of all our appeals.”

“Poor Miss Deraine!” said Sally. “The fog nearly finished her off with bronchial pneumonia, while you were thinking she was a fugitive from justice.”

“Detectives can’t afford to be charitable,” said Macdonald. “We look on everybody with a coldly speculative eye.” He paused a moment, and then added: “We certainly had a well-assorted collection to speculate over, by the time they were all listed: here they are in order of appearance: Miss Dillon, secretary to Dr. Garstang: Miss Deraine, an eminent archaeologist who had been investigating long barrows on Exmoor: Bert Lewis, a bookies’ tout: Mr. Weldon, a radio engineer---with a character for reliability on British Railways: Dr. Garstang, an eminent psychiatrist: Walter Burrow, a Devonshire farmer noted for his interest in fat stock, and not averse from a flutter, whether on the race course or in his private life. And it was the latter who had the most obvious and substantial motive for wanting Dick Greville out of the way---though he proved to be a non-starter, in racing idiom.”

Smiling at Sally’s troubled face, Macdonald went on: “Don’t think I’m being flippant about this. I’m not. It happened by chance that you became involved in a very ugly story. I’m very sorry it so happened, but it’s better for you to realise that detectives have to be impartial. Neither eminence in a profession, nor youth and seeming innocence, can be regarded as a complete bulwark against suspicion. You see, it’s so easy to regard the obvious bad lot as the answer. That wretched youth Lewis looked an obvious suspect---but it wasn’t he who tried to kill Dick Greville. It was the respectable, sleepy-looking businessman in the corner.”

“When did you first realise who did it?” asked Sally. “And why?”

“It was a matter of assessing probabilities,” said Macdonald slowly. “We had Dick Greville, laid out with an iron bar a few minutes after he had arrived in London. Later we had proof that Bert Lewis had crawled under a barrow and probably witnessed the attack. When Lewis himself was killed, we assumed that he had been trying to blackmail the murderer. But the more I thought about it, the less probable it seemed to me that Lewis had had time to crawl out from under the barrow and follow the attacker immediately. The constable who found Greville had seen two boys running away from the spot where Greville lay, and I was sure that Lewis wouldn’t have left his hiding place when anybody could see him. The boys were found eventually, and from their evidence it’s clear that only one man ran away into the fog from the place where the body lay. I believed Lewis couldn’t have followed the would-be murderer immediately, but that he knew who the latter was and approached him in the hope of blackmail: that was a supposition, but it immediately suggested that Weldon, who travelled frequently to and from Reading, was the man recognised by Lewis. As Reeves said, the word ‘recognition’ was a sort of key word in this case: we believed that Greville had recognised somebody in the train. Your evidence partially, and Weldon’s most definitely, pointed to Lewis as the man Greville spoke to. But during the time you were in the corridor, you couldn’t give corroborative evidence about what happened in the compartment. Weldon had a clear field to tell us what he chose---but we don’t count anything as a fact until we get it corroborated.”

Again Macdonald paused, and then he said: “Let’s try a reconstruction of the evidence. You were exceedingly valuable because you gave very clear evidence that Greville was in an abnormal state of mind: he was distressed and confused and those qualities became evident as the fog thickened---as though fog or smoke were concerned in his distress. It was through your evidence I traced Greville to his home and heard his history. Then Salcombe told me about Greville’s recognition of certain things in Germany. It was this which turned our attention very definitely in Garstang’s direction. From what Salcombe said, it was plain that Greville’s memory was coming back, in odd patches, mainly visually: it seemed probable that he could have recognised a face he had known as a child---and since he had been in Germany as a child, it might well have been Garstang’s face.”

Sally cried out in indignant protest: “I simply can’t understand how you could have imagined for one minute that Dr. Garstang tried to kill that boy. He’s the gentlest person on earth, I can’t imagine that he’d ever kill anybody, for any reason.”

“Let’s get this straight, if only out of fairness to the Metropolitan Police,” said Macdonald quietly. “When Dr. Garstang escaped from Germany, he had to kill a number of people who got in his way. He killed them quickly and quietly and skilfully: it was their life or his, and he got through---against every probability. We don’t know the full details of how he escaped: we know that he had a very bad time, but to say that he’s incapable of killing is just not true. I’m not being unfair over this, but I told you to start with we had to be impartial. When James argued that an attack of this kind must have been well within Garstang’s experience, he was right. And you’ve got to remember this: our minds were considering some event in Greville’s life which was connected with his childhood in Germany. The connection between Garstang and Germany couldn’t be ignored.”

“Yes. All right,” said Sally unhappily, and Macdonald went on:

“There was no connection whatever that we could trace between Weldon and Germany, or Weldon and Greville. We went into it carefully enough: every event in Weldon’s life was documented. We know now how it happened: how he exchanged identities with another man in 1936 and dug himself in as a skilled radio engineer and lived in England as an Englishman. It was all very cleverly done, with no loose ends to cause suspicion. You know, we tend to forget too often that there were fascists in England in the 30’s.”

Sally sat without a word, and Macdonald went on: “Let’s take up the story from Greville’s angle: he’s been able to tell us quite a lot of it, and the rest will come in the course of time. The first thing that really jerked his memory to the surface was the sight of Weldon’s face in the train when Greville travelled from London to Reading after his interview with the university people over two years ago.”

Sally suddenly sat up. “I was sure something had happened then,” she said. “I told Brian so.”

“Well---I didn’t overlook the possibility myself,” said Macdonald. “Weldon travelled from Reading to London pretty regularly, on an evening train. Greville saw him on the platform on the first occasion, travelled to London with him, and was haunted by a feeling that he knew Weldon’s face and connected it with something horrible.”

“When had Dick seen Weldon before?” asked Sally.

“In Plymouth, in 1941. Dorward---Dick’s father---had lived in Germany: his son was there with him in 1939 and went to school in Cologne after Dorward had become a widower. Dorward brought the boy to England in 1941 because he realised that America was bound to declare war against the Axis sometime. So it happened that on the night of the Plymouth blitz, the boy was in a hotel in Plymouth with his father, en route for a school in Cornwall, and that Weldon stayed in the same hotel. Dorward and Weldon recognised each other---they’d met in Germany some years before. Weldon shot Dorward, and the boy saw him do it. Dick Greville remembers it now: the hotel must have been hit almost immediately after the shot, and I think Dick must have been literally blown into the road. That’s the last we know---or can conjecture---about him, until the shepherd found him on Roborough Down.”

>>2
“What a story!” said Sally.

Macdonald nodded: “Yes, but it’s a logical story: given the events we’ve lived through, it all pieces together---even to the fact that Weldon managed to poison himself after he’d been arrested, as other Germans did immediately after the war. The strangest part of it was that the train you travelled in stopped at Reading because of the fog, and Dick saw Weldon’s face again. A lot of things had happened in the interval: Dick’s period in Germany had begun to waken his memory, and two other things had happened---apparently unrelated things. Dick saw the advertisement which James put in the paper asking for information about Dorward. Dick recognised the name, but couldn’t connect it up. He was really ill by this time, confused and wretched, because his mind was in a turmoil.”

“I knew he was ill,” said Sally unhappily. “He looked ghastly.”

“If he’d only been to a psychiatrist months before, he could have got the whole thing straightened out by analysis,” said Macdonald, “but he’d got into a state when he was afraid to subject himself to analysis. He knew there was some horror behind him, and he had an abiding fear that he’d be proved to be a German.”

“Poor Dick,” said Sally, but Macdonald replied briskly:

“Don’t feel too bad about it. He’s been lucky in the long run. He’ll be all right now. Well, I’ve told you most of the story, but I’d like to tell you one very odd thing that happened in the train, and which suddenly jerked Dick Greville into remembering names he’d forgotten. His father---Dorward---sometimes used the name Francesco Revari: it was the name of an Italian engineer he was associated with.” He paused, but Sally made no reply, and Macdonald went on: “What was the title of the famous Penguin which Dick gave you, and which was stolen from your room---the book he’d scribbled in, as though he were trying to connect up sounds?”

“Heavens!” she cried. “The Franchise Affair. You mean the sound of the title made a sort of echo in his mind and he was groping after the name?”

“That’s it. Miss Deraine has helped us here: when you were in the corridor of the train, she saw Dick Greville scribbling in the book and obviously worrying himself to death about something. What he was trying to do was to sort out the confused sounds which were in his mind.”

“And you think that Weldon came here and stole the book from my room because he’d seen Dick scribbling in it?” asked Sally.

“Yes. You see, he couldn’t steal the book in the train because he was being watched, and he got your name from the Penguin you gave to Dick,” replied Macdonald. “When one talks about it afterwards, like this, there seems a certain sort of inevitability about it all---it’s almost obvious. But the whole thing was sheer confusion at the beginning. I had no reason to suspect either Weldon or Garstang, but circumstances made it possible for either of them to have come here that evening you and Miss Maine were out, to break in and steal the book. Similarly, either of them could have met Bert Lewis in the train the next morning---and pushed him on to the line. Garstang always goes out early, for his trot round Regent’s Park, and Weldon goes out early too. They both live by themselves, in such a way that nobody notices their comings and goings. In addition to this, we had the added possibility that Walter Burrow had been mixed up in it---and I still have a sneaking belief that Burrow would have put Greville out---if he’d dared.”

Again Sally sat silent for a moment, and then she said: “The thing which shattered me most was that Dr. Garstang did go to Paddington that evening. When Libby told me about it I felt simply awful. . . .”

“He went on the chance of seeing you walk up the platform,” said Macdonald. “It’s just one of the things a man is capable of doing when he’s in love. And having done it (as he’d doubtless done several times before when you’d been home for a week end), he wasn’t going to let you know he’d done it.” He broke off for a minute, and then added: “I think it’s only fair to get this straight. Dr. Garstang, as a practising psychiatrist, is one of the most eminent men in his profession. Perhaps his success is due, in some part, to the fact that he’s a very sensitive man, and one who has suffered a great deal in his time. Because he is ultra-sensitive, he couldn’t bear the thought that you, who are young enough to be his daughter, should become aware that he’d fallen in love with you: and to conceal the fact that he’d gone to Paddington to catch a glimpse of you, he risked drawing very grave suspicion on himself.”

“I feel dreadful about it,” said Sally, but Macdonald only laughed.

“Human nature being what it is, I dare say you’ll feel ‘dreadful’ about other men besides Dr. Garstang before you get yourself happily married and settled. But you can take a crumb of comfort from the fact that Garstang is happier in his mind in certain other respects. He and James have talked over all their old misunderstandings, and, in a sense, have apologised to one another: they’ve realised that each had done the other an injustice.”

“Thanks for telling me that,” said Sally, “and now, I must ask---I’m certain everybody asks you the same questions---when did you first suspect Weldon, first say to yourself: ‘He’s phoney’?”

“The first thing I noticed that made me wonder a bit was this,” said Macdonald: “he said he’d been dog-tired and that he went to sleep in the train---but the amount he’d noticed in his sleep was surprising. And then he described Lewis rather well: he said: ‘He sat with his hands in his pockets. I noticed that, because I expected his hands to be in my pockets any moment.’ And yet when he went to the mortuary, he identified Lewis by his hands---white, podgy hands. Those are the sort of small discrepancies we always look out for. Reeves and I were certain Weldon was the culprit---certain in our own minds---but we’d not got a thing you could call positive evidence until we saw him try to throw Garstang overboard. And if you want to know in what way detective technique and experience helped to sort things out, the simplest point I can make is this: I believed the origin of the story was something that happened in Germany: now Garstang lived in Germany from 1939 to the end of 1940. The nazi bosses must have known all about him eventually, after he’d got out. Well, my plan was to see to it that all contacts in the case saw Garstang, and were seen by him. I argued that if the story had originated in Germany, the sight and presence of Garstang at our consultations might rattle the guilty party up a bit. In other words, still believing that Weldon was guilty, I hoped the sight of Garstang might shake him and cause him to do something rash, because Garstang did know a great deal about what went on in Germany.”

“But Dr. Garstang didn’t recognise Weldon.”

“No. He’d never seen him: but Weldon knew who Garstang was, and how much he might know---and Weldon decided to quit while he could. It was all a bit of a mix-up at the end---but we got the evidence we needed.”

Sally sighed. “I think I get the idea---though I haven’t a detecting sort of mind. I shall always connect this story with that ghastly fog. I’ve never seen such a fog. It was horrible.”

“It was: and it gave us a great deal of trouble,” said Macdonald. “Our men can’t be expected to keep tabs on suspected parties in weather like that. But you’re going to Switzerland, and you won’t have any fogs there.”

Sally suddenly dimpled. “You know we’re planning to have Dick out there when he can travel---right away from the fog and gloom and smoke that reminded him of something black and dreadful . . . ?”

“Yes. I hope you’ll all have a very happy time to make up for the dark days. . . . ‘But with black Air accompanied. With damps and dreadful gloom . . .’ Do you remember that?”

“It’s Milton, isn’t it? Paradise Lost. It’s a bit . . . melancholy.”

“But he wrote Paradise Regained, too,” said Macdonald.

And this time Sally laughed outright.

THE END

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