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23: The Vicar Explains

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Author Topic: 23: The Vicar Explains  (Read 360 times)
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« on: March 05, 2023, 12:11:55 pm »

“WELL, Mr. Dodd,” said the Inspector as the men crossed from the study into the hall, “I can’t do more than to congratulate you on your astuteness. I don’t mind confessing that at one time I had pretty well abandoned all hope of solving the mystery. By the way---just one other point---the money? Miss Tregarthan’s money? Have you heard anything about it?”

“Yes. Ramsey, the solicitor, was over this morning. Just as you thought. Tregarthan had been gambling on the Stock Exchange. Luckily he had been unable to touch the capital. Most of the interest which should have been accruing from the trust investments has been lost. I must say, Inspector, that Ruth takes the matter very calmly.”

“Other things to think about, eh?” asked the Inspector with a quick grin.

The Vicar’s eyes twinkled with delight.

“Dear me---yes. Most satisfactory. It will be publicly announced soon. The engagement, I mean. They talk of marrying in the summer. I’m delighted! Delighted!”

Inspector Bigswell held out his hand.

“Well, good-bye, Mr. Dodd. It’s been a great pleasure to be associated with you in this case. I’m glad that something good has come out of the unfortunate business.”

They shook hands.

“Good-bye, Inspector. May I add that watching your methods has been a great education for me. Your thoughtfulness and humaneness have been considerable. Your patience . . . amazing! Good-bye.”

The Vicar saw Inspector Bigswell into his car and, a minute or so later, it swung out on to the Vicarage road and headed for Greystoke. With a small, conclusive sigh the Vicar returned to his study. The case was at an end. The mystery was solved. That was that.

He dropped with a beatific smile into his deep arm-chair, thrust out his slippered feet towards the blazing fire and lovingly filled his pipe. For a long time, meditating on the crowded events of the past week, he stretched there, puffing little clouds of smoke towards the ceiling. After all the worry and strenuousness of the last few days, he felt at peace. His mind was beset with no harrowing problems. He was free to browse among the pleasant pasturage of minor, commonplace affairs. Ideas for his new sermon drifted into his brain. He thought of new schemes for an approaching sale of work, drew courage from necessity and decided to tackle Lady Greenow about the redecoration of the church. His eye alighted on the calendar on his desk. Monday, March 30th. He started. Monday! Gracious! It was Pendrill’s evening. For the first time in years he had nearly overlooked the little ceremony which was always enacted in his study on Monday night. From the calendar his glance shifted to the clock. Seven-thirty, exactly. The chimes of the Greenow clock in the St. Michael’s tower came faintly to him through the closed window. The sound had scarcely died away when a gong clamoured in the hall and the wheels of a car crackled and swished up the drive.

The next moment Pendrill was announced.

“Just in time!” said the Vicar heartily. “I was just thinking of giving you up as a bad job, my dear fellow. Come on---hustle out of your coat. Dinner’s served.”

Later they returned to the sanctuary of the Vicar’s study, comfortable in mind and body, and dropped into their customary arm-chairs. The box of cigars was produced. Pendrill, with a wry look, refused his host’s offer and took out his pipe. The Vicar selected, pierced and lighted a Henry Clay. There was a deep silence for a space.

Then: “Let’s hear about it, Dodd,” said Pendrill. “No good sitting there and pretending you are disinterested. You’re bursting to tell me how you managed it. Come on---out with it! How did you guess?”

“Guess is an inopportune word,” contested the Vicar. “Guess-work is no good in criminal investigation. Proven facts are essential. Shall we say the collecting of unalterable data coupled with a vivid imagination?”

“Oh, say what you like! I don’t give a damn for your methods. I want your story, Dodd, not a treatise---and an amateur effort at that!---on Deduction and Detection.”

“Very well, I’ll tell you.”

“And you needn’t look so smug about it,” put in the Doctor. “I’ve no doubt providence or luck---call it what you will---was hand-in-glove with you from the start.”

“In a way, my dear fellow, you’re right. I did have luck. For one thing I’ve been blessed or cursed with a tenacious memory, and it was the recollection of past happenings which finally forced me to believe that Burdon had committed the murder. First of all, you know how puzzled I was about those scattered shots and the lack of footprints on the cliff-path---well those two factors led me to believe that Tregarthan had been shot from the sea. You know about the experiment I carried out and the results we obtained. We then narrowed down our search to those men owning boats over at Towan Cove. In one of the six boats there we found a few bits of gravel. Bigswell, as you may know, interviewed Crook, who owned the boat, and found that he had a perfect alibi on the night of the murder. It was obvious then that somebody had borrowed Crook’s boat on Monday night. At that stage I had no idea as to the murderer’s identity. I believed by a process of elimination that it could be one of four people---Parkins, Staunton, Burdon or Haskell. I had to find a reason why one of these four, who were all boat-owners, should find it necessary to borrow Crook’s dinghy. And then, suddenly, I remembered a conversation I had had with Burdon up at the quarries. The Inspector wanted the loan of Burdon’s boat to investigate Greylings from under the cliff. Burdon pointed out that I could easily distinguish his boat from the others on the slip-way because it was freshly painted. That remark proved illuminating. If Burdon’s dinghy was coated with wet paint on the night of the crime, he would be forced to borrow another boat. I assumed, at once, that Burdon was the murderer. I then had to find a motive for the murder. You remember the note which I found in Tregarthan’s desk?”

“Signed, M. L. Yes---go on.”

“Well, I was convinced that this note was in some way connected with the crime. M. L. was obviously a woman and probably a wife. Burdon’s wife was dead. I knew that. It occurred to me then that the woman’s full initials were M. L. B. and that she had initialled the note with her Christian names. I looked in the Parish Register and there, sure enough, I found that my assumption was correct. Burdon’s wife was Mary Louise. Why then had Mrs. Burdon written that curious note to Julius Tregarthan? There was some secret which they shared and of which Burdon, himself, was ignorant. I thought of your worldly suggestion, Pendrill---a liaison of some sort. And then my memory put a fresh spoke into the wheel. About two years ago I had called, one Friday afternoon, on Mrs. Burdon. My visit, I’m afraid, was a trifle inopportune. Tregarthan was just leaving the cottage with a scowl on his face and indoors I found Mrs. Burdon crying. I did my best to comfort her, but she offered no explanation as to why she was so upset. I thought perhaps there was trouble about the rent. Well this recollection suddenly took on a new significance when coupled with the note. It looked as if your suggestion was right, Pendrill. And then I recalled the night that Mary Burdon died. I called over at Towan Cove shortly after the child was born. Burdon had not yet come in, though I believe somebody had been sent post-haste to fetch him. Hearing from Mrs. Mullion that I was in the cottage, much to my astonishment, the woman sent word that she wished to speak to me. It was about the child.”

“The child?”

“Yes. Mary Burdon seemed certain in her own mind that she would not live. I had the idea that she did not want to live. At the time I didn’t understand, Pendrill. Now I do. Poor woman! Even in the midst of her suffering she had a thought for the child. She wanted it to be baptised and christened Joseph Alfred after her husband. I assured her that this would be done. But she seemed dissatisfied. She made me promise, no matter what might be said, that I would do as she wished. I solemnly gave my word. But that phrase puzzled me. ‘No matter what might be said.’ I couldn’t understand her anxiety at the time. You see, Pendrill, I didn’t realise then that the child was illegitimate.

“It was not until two days ago that I recognised the real reason for her anxiety. Tregarthan was the father of the child. That was the secret between them. After his wife and the child had died, Burdon, himself, came to me and made arrangements for the funeral. I was struck by the change in the man. Grief-stricken I expected him to be, but it was more than that. How shall I put it? He radiated a sort of bitter malice. When I mentioned the loss of the child and sympathised with him, he asked me fiercely never to mention the child again. He seemed to disown it.

“At the time I naturally accepted his strangeness as the result of his sudden bereavement. But two days ago I saw it all. I realised that his wife’s secret was no longer a secret. She had confessed to him just before she died and mentioned Tregarthan as the father of the child. Here, then, was the motive for the murder. A crime of revenge. A motive, alas, all too common in the annals of crime. I got Bigswell’s permission to confront Burdon myself. If I had made a mistake, you see, I didn’t want him to know that the police were in possession of the facts of his private troubles. I simply went up to him and handed him the note which his wife had written to Tregarthan. He went deathly white. I asked him why he had borrowed Crook’s boat on Monday night. I told him about the gravel found on the bilge-boards.

“He broke down then, Pendrill---he broke down completely! It was as much as I could stand. Murder is a terrible, inhuman thing---but somehow . . . well, what can one think? Is murder ever justifiable? In the eyes of the law---never! I suppose that is as it should be. But in the eyes of God? Think of the provocation? Terrible! To Burdon it must have seemed that Tregarthan had killed his wife. An eye for an eye---a tooth for a tooth. It is curious how the latent savage in mankind still reveres that ancient, Hebraic principle. At any rate, Pendrill, you know the facts of the case now. I hope----”

There was a knock on the door. The maid entered, carrying a small crate which she deposited on the rug between the two men.

“The carrier’s just brought it, sir. He’s sorry he’s late.”

The maid retired.

The two men eyed the crate and then, simultaneously, glanced up and queried each other.

“Well,” said Pendrill, “what about it? It was your turn to send in the list, you know. But I thought you might forget, so I did it myself. Shall we divide the spoils, Dodd?”

The Vicar hesitated and then slowly shook his head.

“I don’t think so. Really, Pendrill. Somehow . . . dear me . . . I feel that I never want to read another crime story as long as I live. I seem to have lost my zest for a good mystery. It’s strange how contact with reality kills one’s appreciation of the imaginary. No, my dear fellow, I’ll never get back my enthusiasm for thrillers. I’ve decided to devote my energies to worthier problems.”

“Such as?”

“The problem of your disbelief, Pendrill. Your obstinate refusal to accept the Faith.”

Doctor Pendrill grinned sheepishly.

“D’you know, Dodd, I’ve made up my mind. You seem to be a man of great practical common sense. You have an excellent analytical mind. I hadn’t realised before. I’m going to give you a chance to talk to me without my contesting your arguments.”

“When?” asked the Vicar.

“Next Sunday,” replied the Doctor. “At church!”

The Reverend Dodd beamed.

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