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Our Library => J. S. Fletcher - Murder in Four Degrees (1931) => Topic started by: Admin on August 23, 2023, 05:32:57 am

Title: 3 - 5
Post by: Admin on August 23, 2023, 05:32:57 am
3 - 5

THE detective instinct in Chaney inclined him to linger in Monte Carlo and to interview the local police with regard to the murder of Mr. Samuel Watkinson, but as several years had elapsed since that took place, and as nobody had connected the missing Crowther’s name with it he decided that we should be wasting time in endeavouring to reopen the matter. The obvious next thing to do was to go to Paris and try for more news of Mrs. Crowther at the Hotel Mauriac. Probably, said Chaney, it was from Paris that she had gone direct to London: very well, let us investigate her doings in Paris. So to Paris we set off next day, and as we journeyed along Chaney began to speculate on the identity of Crowther.

‘It’s useless to pretend that we haven’t---both of us---got the same idea, or question, or whatever you like to call it, in our minds, Camberwell,’ he observed. ‘I put it in the form of a question---Is Paley Crowther? What?’

‘I’ve wondered!’ I said.

‘Can’t help wondering,’ he answered. ‘But let’s do a bit of supposing. Suppose Mrs. Crowther went to London from Paris with the intention of finding Crowther? Suppose she accidentally, if you like---recognized him in Paley?---and found out that Paley was the trusted private secretary of Lord Cheverdale, proprietor of the Daily Sentinel? Suppose also, she learns that the editor of the Daily Sentinel is her old Milthwaite friend or acquaintance, Mr. Hannington? What more natural than that she should take her troubles---and her papers---to him? Well, Hannington, who was, as we’ve heard on all sides, a regular enthusiast where he thought anybody had been wronged, determines to see justice done to the woman who’d sought his help. On his advice she leaves her marriage lines with him, and he locks them up. Other papers he puts in his pocket. He sets off, to do something at once. What? Well, we know that he went to Mr. Craye’s flat. He probably thought that as he knew Mr. Craye to be Lord Cheverdale’s business manager and the prospective husband of Miss Chever, he’d be the man to approach first. But he didn’t find Craye in---so he made for Cheverdale Lodge. And now---supposing he met Paley in the grounds? Suppose it, I say!’

‘Well?’ I said. ‘I suppose it. What then?’

‘What then---exactly!’ he exclaimed. ‘We know that Hannington was enthusiastic, quick-tempered, impulsive. Supposing he, at sight of Paley, immediately blurted out his discovery of Paley---or, as we’re supposing him to be, Crowther’s perfidy?---coupled, of course, with the threat to divulge everything to Lord Cheverdale there and then? And suppose that Paley there and then---killed him?’

‘After all, Chaney, it’s all supposition,’ I suggested. ‘It’s----’

‘It’s not supposition that Paley was away from Cheverdale Lodge from immediately after the discovery of the death of Hannington until half-past three,’ he retorted quickly. ‘That’s a fact! Where was he? What was he doing?’

‘Chippendale’s job!’ I said.

‘Aye, well, I hope Chippendale will make a good job of it,’ he replied. ‘If he hasn’t found something out by the time we get back, I’ll have to take that matter on myself---we must know where Paley was during the time of his absence from Cheverdale Lodge. One thing I do know!---he’d plenty of time, during that time, to go to Little Custom Street, murder that woman, search her room, and get back again! However, let’s see what we can discover at this Hotel Mauriac.’

The Hotel Mauriac turned out to be one of the new hotels de luxe which have sprung up of recent years in and about the Champs Elysée. It was, said Chaney, very much too grand for the likes of him, but as we were only likely to spend two or three days in Paris, and were laying out, not our own, but Lord Cheverdale’s money, we booked rooms there and were presently installed in surroundings of great luxury. And within a very short time of our arrival we were in confidential conference with an under-manager who was not only sympathetic but surprisingly helpful.

‘It is not very long since that Mrs. Crowther left us,’ he said, in his very good English. ‘She left here rather suddenly, to go to London on private business. Of course I knew her as one of the staff. But there is a man in the hotel, gentlemen, who can tell you a great deal about Mrs. Crowther. That is Monsieur Labatte, the hairdresser. Labatte in his younger days, lived in England, to learn the language, and he married an Englishwoman. Mrs. Crowther, I know, used to visit Monsieur and Madame Labatte, at their apartment, somewhere in the Neuilly quarter. Labatte, I am sure, will be delighted to give you all the information in his power. You will find him, now, in his saloon in the basement of the hotel.’

We descended to the basement and found Monsieur Labatte, a middle-aged artiste who, if his own hair, moustache, and beard were anything to go by, was in the very front rank of his highly useful profession. He was doing nothing just then, and we introduced ourselves and took him into our confidence. He had not heard of the murder of Mrs. Crowther and was horrified: his wife, he assured us, would be desolated.

‘We do not much see the London papers, messieurs,’ he observed. ‘And had we seen this too terrible news we should not have connected the name of Mrs. Clayton with the Mrs. Crowther we knew. But from what you tell me, it is she---oh, yes, I have no doubt of it!’

‘You knew Mrs. Crowther well, Monsieur Labatte?’ asked Chaney.

‘Very well, indeed, monsieur---but my wife, better. You see, I was, as a young man, in an English hair-dressing establishment of the first class, in Harrogate, and I married my wife there,---a Yorkshirewoman, like Mrs. Crowther also was. So---they have many things in common---yes. Mrs. Crowther, she told my wife many of her troubles---secrets, also, I think.’

‘Would it be possible, under the circumstances, to see Madame Labatte?’ enquired Chaney. ‘This is a most serious affair, monsieur!’

Monsieur Labatte reflected. This, yes, was Saturday---to-morrow, as a consequence, would be Sunday. If messieurs would do him the honour to call at his apartment---here, then, was the address---to-morrow afternoon, he would prepare his wife. . . .

We went out to Neuilly the next afternoon and in due course found ourselves in the presence of Madame Labatte. In spite of her smart Paris gown and her generally Frenchified ensemble, there was no mistaking the fact that she was still English, and not merely English but Yorkshire.

‘I never had such a shock in my life as when Henri there came home last night and told me that Mrs. Crowther had been murdered in London!’ she said, as soon as the ceremonies of introduction had been gone through. ‘Why, it’s not so long since she left Paris! Are you gentlemen absolutely sure that this Mrs. Clayton you speak of was the Mrs. Crowther who was here at the Hotel Mauriac?’

‘I’m afraid there’s no doubt about that!’ replied Chaney. ‘We’ve established that as a fact, ma’am, beyond question.’

‘Then I’ll be bound it’s that good-for-nothing husband of hers who’s at the bottom of it!’ exclaimed Madame Labatte, vehemently. ‘I know enough of him to believe him capable of any wickedness!’

‘You were in Mrs. Crowther’s confidence, ma’am?’ suggested Chaney.

‘Mrs. Crowther and I were close friends,’ replied Madame Labatte. ‘I’ve wondered and wondered how it was that I haven’t heard from her since she left Paris for London. Of course, I did notice in the papers that a Mrs. Clayton had been murdered in a flat in some London street, but there wasn’t much about it, and I never for one moment connected it with Mrs. Crowther. Yes, we were very close friends all the time she was at the Hotel Mauriac. You see, she got to know my husband there, and as he’d lived in Harrogate, he knew her for a Yorkshirewoman. Well, I’m a Yorkshirewoman, too, so he brought her to see me. She came from Milthwaite; that’s not so far from my home. And so we became very friendly---she used to come here regularly, and she told me a good deal about her troubles.’

‘Such as---what?’ asked Chaney.

‘Well, she told me all about her married life. How Crowther got round her and persuaded her to marry him. Of course, she soon found out it wasn’t her he wanted at all---it was her bit of money. He’d pretended, before they were married, that he was doing very well, in a good line of business---she found as soon as they were married that he’d no business at all, and no money: he was just one of those fellows that live on their wits. And, you see, she’d been fool enough to draw her money out of a building society in which it was nicely and safely invested, and to hand it over to him---of course, she never saw it again! But she only found everything out by degrees---at first she thought he was a smart young fellow with ideas and notions, and she was taken by the first he had, which was to go to Mentone and start a café or restaurant or something of that sort for the special benefit of English and Americans. Well, they did go there, and it didn’t pay---anybody who knows could have told them it wouldn’t pay----’

‘We’ve just come from Mentone,’ said Chaney. ‘We saw the place.’

‘Then you no doubt know all about that bit,’ replied Madame Labatte. ‘But did you go to Monte Carlo---next door, as it were?’

‘We did---to the Pension Hagill,’ answered Chaney.

‘Then you’d hear about Crowther’s leaving her there! But perhaps they didn’t---two maiden ladies, isn’t it, that keep that place?---perhaps they didn’t tell you all Mrs. Crowther told me? About the money side of it, I mean. When the Crowthers went to Monte Carlo there was still a fair lot of Mrs. Crowther’s money left and she’d also just had a further legacy of some hundreds, but it was all in Crowther’s name at a bank in Monte Carlo. And Crowther started gambling there, of course with her money. But she never knew whether he won much or lost much---he never would tell her. And then, all of a sudden, he went to the bank one morning, drew out nearly every penny of what was left, and clean vanished, leaving her with scarcely anything. But she induced the bank people to tell her what he’d carried off with him. Did you know what that was?’

‘Miss Wakeman mentioned the sum as being about Ł1,100,’ replied Chaney.

‘Just about that,’ agreed Madame Labatte. ‘Her money, poor thing! And as she never heard another word about him, she had to set to and earn her own living. She was at Monte Carlo for some time; then she came to the Hotel Mauriac as linen-keeper. And she was a careful woman; she saved a nice bit of money. And oh, dear, what a pity she went off to London. But----’

‘That’s just what I wanted you to get to, ma’am,’ interrupted Chaney. ‘You’re probably the only person who can tell us why she went to London! Why did she go?’

Madame Labatte gave her husband a look.

‘Ah!’ she said, turning to Chaney again. ‘We know! That’s what I was coming to! You see for all that she knew he’d treated her abominably, Mrs. Crowther was always wondering wherever Crowther had got to. It wasn’t that she wanted him back, but she did want to know if he was alive or dead---sometimes she used to wonder if he’d been killed in the War. But she never heard a word of him---never had none since the day he vanished at Monte Carlo. And then, all of a sudden, something happened---my husband and me know what it was!’

‘We should like to know, too, ma’am,’ suggested Chaney.

‘I’m going to tell you,’ said Madame Labatte. ‘One day, not so very long before she left Paris for London, Mrs. Crowther came here, unexpectedly. She was in a very excited state. She said her husband had been at the Hotel Mauriac the night before---she’d seen him! She said he must now be in very affluent circumstances; he’d one of the very best suites in the hotel. And she’d recognized him in a very curious fashion. She happened to be passing the open door of his bedroom---wide open she said---and he was standing just within, in trousers and singlet, doing some gymnastic exercises, while a waiter, who, of course had left the door open, was setting out his coffee. She’d only one glance at him, but she knew him. And do you know why?’

‘No!’ said Chaney. ‘Why?’

Again Madame Labatte glanced knowingly at her husband.

‘She told us!’ she went on. ‘Crowther has a most unusual tattoo mark on his left arm---a mark that goes clean round it, like a bracelet. It’s a Black Dragon! Well---she saw it, and knew!’

‘What did she do?’ asked Chaney.

‘Nothing, then,’ replied Madame Labatte. ‘She was too much taken aback. But during the morning she went and inspected the register, and found that he’d left: he’d only been there for the night. She got the name, of course.’

‘His own name?’ enquired Chaney.

‘No---some other. She wouldn’t tell us what it was,’ said Madame Labatte. ‘That, she said she’d keep to herself---it was very evident that he was now a big man. And she declared, there and then, that she’d now go to England and insist on her rights. And, as you’re aware, she went.’

‘She said,’ remarked Monsieur Labatte, ‘that she had a powerful friend there who would help her.’

Madame Labatte sighed.

‘That must have been the newspaper editor,’ she remarked. ‘Ah, don’t tell me!---that wicked Crowther has been at the bottom of all this. According to what she used to tell me about him, he’d the cleverness of a devil and the hardness of a stone!---a cruel, cold man.’

We talked a little longer to Monsieur and Madame Labatte, and after ascertaining from them the approximate date of Crowther’s visit to the Hotel Mauriac, went back there and made a careful examination of the hotel register. It was fruitless: we could not find a single name that conveyed anything to us. But with the aid of the under-manager we contrived to get an interview with the floor-waiter who had been taking Crowther his coffee at the moment in which Mrs. Crowther chanced to see and recognized him: he was able to furnish us with two particulars. First, he, too, had noticed the extraordinary tattoo mark. Second, he gave us the number of the private suite which Crowther had occupied for one night. Once more we consulted the register and this time found the name. It conveyed nothing at all---to us. F. Charlesworth, London.

We went back to England next day by the midday train from the Gare du Nord. Arriving at Dover towards the close of the afternoon we bought evening newspapers as we entered the train for Victoria. The first thing I saw in mine was a great staring announcement in big capitals, running right across the page:---

The Double Murders in Little Custom Street.
Opening of the Inquest.