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Our Library => J. S. Fletcher - Murder in Four Degrees (1931) => Topic started by: Admin on August 22, 2023, 11:44:39 am

Title: 2 - 5
Post by: Admin on August 22, 2023, 11:44:39 am
2 - 5

LEAVING our official colleagues of Scotland Yard to pursue the conventional method of investigation and to occupy themselves with enquiries, taking of---or looking vainly for---finger-prints, search for the man who had dined with the murdered woman at Riccasoli’s, endeavours to find out where she came from last and if anybody in London knew anything about her, Chaney and I spent the next two or three days in cudgelling our brains for a possible theory. That there was a good deal to be said for what had now been adopted as the police theory---that the two murders were of a political nature---no one could doubt from the evidence already in hand. But neither Chaney nor I had any firm belief in it: each had an uneasy suspicion that there was something as yet unguessed at. And suddenly we got a new illumination. About the third or fourth evening after the murders, as I was sitting in my rooms above the office, alone, reading the last accounts of the police investigations in that day’s papers, a ring came from the street door. Going down to see who was calling at that late hour I found myself confronted by the footman from Cheverdale Lodge, Harris.

Harris looked at me with an apologetic, half-doubtful expression: I could see that he was not sure of himself, not certain that he was doing the right thing. But after his glance he plucked up courage.

‘Can I have a word or two with you, Mr. Camberwell?’ he said. ‘In private, sir.’

‘Come in,’ I replied, and bringing him inside, shut the door again. ‘Come up to my rooms, Harris,’ I continued. ‘You can rely on absolute privacy.’

He followed me up to my sitting-room, and I gave him a chair and offered him a cigarette. I knew he had something to tell---but I was not going to hurry him.

‘It’s my night out, sir,’ he said suddenly. ‘I---I thought I’d call round and see you. There’s something that’s on my mind, Mr. Camberwell.’

‘You needn’t be afraid of confiding in me, Harris,’ I answered. ‘Anything that you want to tell me, and like to tell me, will be safe enough. The only person I might repeat it to would be my partner, Mr. Chaney, and he’s as safe as I am.’

He nodded his head thoughtfully, and then sat bolt upright in his chair with a look of decision.

‘Well, sir, I will tell you!’ he said. ‘It’s about the murders! I’m not satisfied in my mind, Mr. Camberwell. And I daren’t speak to anybody---I mean anybody at our place, Cheverdale Lodge.’

‘Yes?’ I replied encouragingly. ‘What about the murders, Harris?’

He glanced at the door, as people do, unconsciously, when they have secrets, and he lowered his voice.

‘It’s my belief that Mr. Paley knows something, sir!’ he said. ‘I honestly believe he knows something.’

‘What are your grounds, Harris?’ I asked. ‘You’ve reason for believing that, of course.’

‘I have, sir---in my opinion,’ he replied. ‘I shouldn’t say what I have said if I hadn’t. You remember, sir, what I told you and Mr. Chaney about finding Mr. Hannington’s dead body?’

‘I do!’

‘I told you that as soon as I found it I made straight for the house, and found Mr. Paley sitting reading in the library, all alone?’

‘You did.’

‘And that he went back with me to the shrubberies, saw the body, and then returned to the house and ’phoned the police?’

‘Yes---you told us all that.’

‘Yes, sir—but I didn’t tell you this. As soon as Mr. Paley had ’phoned the police he left me and the butler to receive them and so on, and went away! I didn’t tell you that, sir---it escaped me, at the time.’

‘Went away!’ I exclaimed. ‘Where?’

‘I don’t know, sir. He said he must go and tell Mr. Hannington’s relatives, or something of that sort---family was the word he used, I think---and he went straight off. And he never came back till half-past three o’clock, Mr. Camberwell!’

I made no answer for the moment: I was thinking. Paley away from Cheverdale Lodge from about twelve o’clock till half-past three! That required some thinking about.

‘You’re absolutely sure of this, Harris?’ I asked.

‘Positive, sir, positive! Ask Mr. Giles, our butler. He could tell you.’

Again I thought for a while: a long while.

‘Well, Harris,’ I said at last. ‘What are your ideas?’

Before replying he pulled a newspaper out of his pocket and turned to a marked passage.

‘There’s an account of the late Mr. Hannington in this paper, sir,’ he said. ‘It tells all about him. Listen to this, sir. “The deceased gentleman was unmarried, and his only relation is a sister, Mrs. Trenholme, who resides in the North of England!” So---there wasn’t any relation in London that Mr. Paley could go to break the news to, Mr. Camberwell.’

‘That would seem so, Harris, certainly. But---you’ve some other idea?’

He folded up the paper and returned it to his pocket.

‘I have, sir!’ he answered, deliberately. ‘That woman was murdered in Little Custom Street, between twelve and two o’clock. What do you make of that, sir?’

Whatever I made of it, I made no reply to this direct question, and he went on talking.

‘Mr. Paley, sir, was away from Cheverdale Lodge from about a quarter-past or, at the outside, half-past twelve till half-past three that morning. He said he was going to break the news to Mr. Hannington’s family. Mr. Hannington hadn’t any family. That was all a lie! Where did Mr. Paley go?’

Once more I said nothing. I wanted to know all that was in Harris’s mind: he was now talking freely, and I let him go on.

‘I’ve taken the trouble to ascertain one or two things for myself, sir. I’d an hour or two off day before yesterday, and I just made certain as to how long it would take anybody to walk from Cheverdale Lodge to Little Custom Street. I did it in exactly twenty-one minutes—fair average pace. That was in the daytime with traffic and foot-passengers about. At night, I’ll bet I could have done it in less.’

I had to speak, then---plainly.

‘Look here, Harris,’ I said. ‘Are you suggesting that Paley committed these murders? Both of them?’

‘I don’t know that I’m suggesting anything, Mr. Camberwell,’ he answered. ‘I said at the beginning that I believe he knows something. Look here, sir!---I’ve made a few guarded enquiries of my own, amongst our people. From the time Lord Cheverdale left him and retired for the night, nobody knows where Paley was! I found him reading in the library---yes, but a good while had elapsed between then and the end of his game of piquet with his lordship. And during that time Hannington was murdered. And where was Paley between half-past twelve and half-past three? During that time the woman was murdered. And---in just the same fashion! There’s something to think about, Mr. Camberwell.’

‘You’re quite right, Harris,’ I agreed, ‘quite right. There is a great deal to think about. But---you can keep a still tongue in your head?’

‘Trust me, Mr. Camberwell,’ he said. ‘Not a word, sir---if you say so.’

‘I do say so! Don’t you say a word to anybody---not even to your biggest crony. And especially not to anybody at Cheverdale Lodge. You won’t mind my discussing this with my partner? He’s as safe as they make ’em---and he’s experienced in these matters and will know what to do. Very well, trust what you’ve said to me, and leave me to deal with it. You’ve got it off your mind, now---just wait.’

He went away satisfied, and I sat for some time wondering over his story. And the more I wondered the more things came back to the same point---where did Paley go when he left Cheverdale Lodge immediately after the discovery of the murder of Hannington, and why? To say the least of it, it seemed a most extraordinary thing that Paley should have so hurriedly quitted the house and there was the further significant fact that Hannington, as far as we knew, had no relatives whom Paley could acquaint with the news of his tragic death. Still---were these relations of Hannington’s of whom Paley knew and nobody else knew? That was possible---but none of them had come forward. The sister in the North of England turned out to be an invalid and unable to travel: nobody related to Hannington had presented himself or herself so far. The presumption therefore, was that Paley’s remark to the Cheverdale Lodge servants was an excuse, a subterfuge. But---where did he go? And what was his reason for going anywhere?

I told Chaney all this as soon as he came to the office next morning: Chaney sniffed, and shook his head.

‘I’ve had a notion---instinct, intuition, call it by any swell word you like---all along that that chap knew something,’ he said ‘I’ll lay all I’ve got in the world that he knows something! He knew something when he came here that morning: he knew it when he sat, listening and holding his tongue---he’s a swell hand at the silent man business---while we talked to his master. However, they all give ‘emselves away, and I reckon he’s given himself away.’

‘How, Chaney?’ I asked, in surprise.

‘By clearing out as he did,’ answered Chaney.

‘I don’t understand,’ said I.

‘He can be traced! It may take time, a long time, but it can be done. We can find out where he went, where he spent the time between leaving Cheverdale Lodge and returning there,’ replied Chaney. ‘However long a time it takes, we can do it! And we will!’

‘I suppose it wouldn’t do to tax him straight out with the direct question?’ I suggested.

‘At this stage that’s just what we won’t do,’ replied Chaney. ‘We’ll keep that in reserve---it’ll keep, and in very good condition. No---I know a better trick than that. Call that clerk of ours up here.’

I wondered what he was after but I summoned Chippendale. Chaney motioned him to a seat and looked him carefully over.

‘Look here, young fellow,’ he said suddenly, ‘you’re a pretty smart ‘un, aren’t you?’

Chippendale’s mouth, an unusually large one, spread itself all over his face. His small eyes twinkled.

‘I’m not exactly a dull one, Mr. Chaney,’ he answered. ‘I know enough to come out of the rain.’

‘I’ll bet!’ said Chaney, laconically. ‘And which side your bread’s buttered too. Ever done any shadowing, my lad?’

Chippendale grinned again---maliciously, this time.

‘Should think I have, sir!’ he replied. ‘Did a deal of that, my last place. Once shadowed a West End swell for forty-eight hours with scarcely a mouthful to eat---led me a pretty dance, he did! Wanted to serve a writ on him.’

‘Get him?’ demanded Chaney.

‘I got him!’ said Chippendale.

‘Ever done any enquiry work?’ continued Chaney. ‘On the quiet, eh?’

‘Lots!’ answered Chippendale. ‘Sub rosa!

‘Oh, you know a bit of lingo, eh?’ said Chaney. ‘All right, my lad! Now there’s going to be a nice job for you. You’ve read all about this murder at Cheverdale Lodge, and the other at Little Custom Street?’

‘Everything that’s been in the papers,’ replied Chippendale.

‘All right,’ repeated Chaney. ‘Now listen! You’re going to take a hand. A big hand! I’m going---or, rather, Mr. Camberwell’s going---to introduce you to a footman at Cheverdale Lodge, one Harris----’

‘Chap that found the body,’ interrupted Chippendale, with new interest. ‘I know!’

‘Exactly---the chap that found the body,’ continued Chaney. ‘Very decent young fellow, too. You’ll make friends with Harris. Through Harris you’ll cultivate the other servants at Cheverdale Lodge---especially the women. Make love to ’em, if you like, but keep your ears open. Well, you want to know what the idea is?---the object? The object is to find out all you can about Mr. Paley---Lord Cheverdale’s private secretary. And you’re to use the most particular care about everything you do, my lad!---no false steps. Slow and sure---no undue haste. Got it?’

‘I’ve got it, sir,’ replied Chippendale. ‘You can trust me. Take my time, eh?---so long as I get there?’

‘Take your time---so long as you get there,’ assented Chaney. ‘And whatever conclusions you come to, keep ’em to yourself---till you tell them to us.’

I put Chippendale in touch with Harris at our office an evening or two later. I was obliged of course, to bring Harris into the plot. Harris entered into it with zest---he’d introduce Chippendale into the domestic circle at Cheverdale Lodge, he said, as his bosom friend: there was a parlour-maid there that would just suit him. He himself was already engaged to Miss Chever’s maid. And if the two of ’em, said Harris, couldn’t unearth something about Paley, well. . . .

‘Don’t forget that you’ll be well paid for whatever services you render,’ I said. ‘The great thing is secrecy---and next to secrecy, caution.’

So that was in trim---but Chaney wanted help in another quarter. One morning soon after we had fixed the Harris-Chippendale combination he came into my room and said we would go down to the Sentinel office and see Miss Hetherley. I asked why?

‘We want her help,’ he answered. ‘Come on!’

We gained ready admittance to Miss Hetherley, and Chaney took care that we were secure from eavesdroppers. Then, first pledging her to secrecy, he told her what Harris had told me of Paley’s doings on the night of the murders.

‘Now,’ he concluded, ‘I want you to tell me something, Miss Hetherley. Has Paley been here since the murders?’

‘Yes!’ replied Miss Hetherley. ‘Once. He came here a few days ago, with what he called an order from Lord Cheverdale to me. I am to go through Mr. Hannington’s desk and a cabinet in which he kept papers, and any private documents or papers that I find I am to separate from papers and documents relating to the Sentinel or the office and hand over to Mr. Paley.’

‘Have you begun that job?’ asked Chaney.

‘Yes---I’ve done a bit of it,’ replied Miss Hetherley. ‘So far I’ve found nothing. Mr. Hannington wasn’t in the habit of leaving private papers here.’

‘What about that flat of his, in Mount Street?’ suggested Chaney.

‘Mr. Paley told me that he was seeing to that. Whatever private papers there are,’ continued Miss Hetherley, ‘will, I should say, be there.’

‘All the same, there may be some here,’ said Chaney. ‘Now, Miss Hetherley, you must see, from what I’ve told you, that we’ve grounds for suspecting Paley of some complicity in these murders. What can we think of his quitting Cheverdale Lodge immediately after the murder of Hannington and being away for three hours?---during which time the murder in Little Custom Street took place? What do you think?’

‘I think Paley’s a bad lot, in any case,’ replied Miss Hetherley, frankly. ‘I always have thought so. He’s a schemer.’

‘Very well, then, you’ll help us,’ said Chaney. ‘It’s not much I want you to do, but it’s highly important.’

‘What is it?’ asked Miss Hetherley.

‘Just this! If you do find any private papers or documents here, in Hannington’s desk or cabinet, which seem to you to have reference to his murder or to the visit Mrs. Clayton paid to him, do not hand them over to Paley! Don’t even show them to the Scotland Yard people. Let Mr. Camberwell and myself see them. Can you promise this? It’s of the utmost importance.’

Miss Hetherley considered matters during a moment’s silence. Then she nodded.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘I give you my word. But---you think I may find something?’

‘I’ll tell you frankly what I do think,’ replied Chaney. ‘You told us that Mrs. Clayton came here with a handful of papers, and that when Hannington saw her out of that door the papers were in his hand, not hers. Now I think it highly probable that there was something amongst those papers which he wouldn’t carry about with him, but would at once put in a place of safety---here!’

Miss Hetherley reflected.

‘Possible!’ she said. ‘Very well, Mr. Chaney. It’s a bargain. I’ll look most carefully. And if I find anything, I’ll come straight to your office.’

Chaney sighed with relief when we went away.

‘That’s another valuable aid!’ he said. ‘What that woman says she’ll do, she will do! And I thoroughly believe what I said to her just now---there may be something there.’

Two days later Miss Hetherley was shown into us by the admiring Chippendale. She carried a small despatch case, and from it she extracted a foolscap envelope.

‘I’ve found something!’ she said quietly. ‘In Hannington’s cabinet. Now look---an ordinary foolscap envelope---sealed. There’s something inside---a mere sheet of paper, by the feel. Here, outside, you see two initials, A.C. Is that Mrs. Clayton’s? Here again are two more initials---T.H. That’s Hannington’s. And here’s a date---the exact date of her call on him. Now---what’s inside?’