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Our Library => J. S. Fletcher - Murder in Four Degrees (1931) => Topic started by: Admin on August 23, 2023, 11:52:24 am



Title: 5 - 2
Post by: Admin on August 23, 2023, 11:52:24 am
5 - 2

CHIPPENDALE was the next person we wanted to see, and Chippendale, on his coming to the office on the following morning, was eager to give in his report.

‘I haven’t had such bad luck, sir,’ he answered in response to Chaney’s first question. ‘I got in with ’em pretty thick at Cheverdale Lodge, and I jolly soon settled two points. First of all, there’s no doubt whatever that from the time that the old gentleman---Lord Cheverdale, I mean---finished the game of piquet he was having with him and went off to bed, nobody in the household can say exactly where Paley was. And second, there’s no doubt either that----’

‘Stop there, my lad!’ said Chaney. ‘A detail!---you say that from the time Lord Cheverdale left him for his bed, nobody can say where Paley was. But---till when?’

‘Sorry, sir,’ responded Chippendale, penitently. ‘Until Harris, running to tell of what he’d discovered in the shrubbery, found him in the library, reading a book.’

‘Go on with your second point,’ said Chaney.

‘This,’ continued Chippendale. ‘There’s also no doubt that as soon as Paley had ’phoned the police, he cleared out, saying to the butler and Harris that he must break the news to---but there, at that point, there’s difference of opinion, or of evidence, between Harris and the butler. Harris says that Paley said he must break the news to Hannington’s relations. The butler says that Paley didn’t say “relations”; he said “our people”---by which the butler thought he meant the Sentinel. However, Harris sticks to it that it was “relations”. On the other hand, the butler’s equally certain he’s right---it was “our people”.’

‘Anyway, Paley left the house?’ said Chaney.

‘At once, without waiting for the police. I did my best to get the exact time,’ continued Chippendale. ‘As near as I could ascertain, it was five minutes past twelve---midnight---when Harris found the body, and by a quarter past Paley had ’phoned the police and left the house. And----’

‘Just wait a minute, Chippendale,’ I said. ‘I want to glance at the notes I made at the time, after hearing what Harris had to say. There’s something I remember.’

I found my notes, looked them over, and came to a certain passage.

‘Now, listen!’ I continued. ‘I have it down here that Harris, when Mr. Chaney and I interviewed him, said “I heard Paley say to the police that it was a very suspicious thing that there were no papers in Mr. Hannington’s pockets, for Mr. Hannington’s pockets were always bulging with papers”. Now, when did Harris hear that said, if Paley was out when the police came?’

‘I know that point, sir,’ replied Chippendale, confidently. ‘It occurred to me, sir; if you remember, you gave me all your notes to read, so that I should be posted. That, sir, was overheard by Harris after Mr. Paley’s return: he and the police had a long talk then.’

‘Very well,’ I said. ‘You were saying, when I interrupted you----’

‘That Paley did not return to the house until three-thirty, sir. The police had asked the butler, Mr. Walker, for him several times. He came hurrying in at exactly half-past three.’

‘You’ve kept all these enquiries secret, at the house, my lad?’ asked Chaney.

‘Absolutely, sir! What I’ve discovered’s been found out through what you might call casual talk---they’re all talking about it still, up there, in the servants’ hall.’

‘Have you heard anything that would show there’s any suspicion about Paley amongst any of ’em?’ enquired Chaney.

Chippendale grinned, knowingly.

‘Well, I have, sir,’ he replied. ‘There’s a girl there---bit partial to me, I think, gentlemen---that I’ve taken for a walk in the Park now and then, and of course, we’ve had a good deal of confidential talk----’

‘You haven’t let her know your real job?’ exclaimed Chaney.

‘Not such a fool, sir!---she knows nothing about me except that I’m a friend of Harris’s---I told her I was a clerk, in a very promising way. Oh, dear me, no, Mr. Chaney, she knows nothing!’

‘Well?’ said Chaney.

‘Well, sir, she was talking about the murders one night when we were out, and she said something pretty stiff. Just this “I shouldn’t wonder,” she said, “if that sneaking centipede Paley hadn’t something to do with it!---I wouldn’t put it past him to do anything!” “You don’t like him?” I said. “Who does?” she said. “We all hate him like poison---a crawling crocodile!” “Well, the old man does,” I said. “Can’t do anything without him, can he?” “Oh!” she said. “He got round the old chap long since---he can twist him round his little finger!” ’

‘That opinion’s generally shared in, there?’ asked Chaney.

‘I should say so, sir,’ replied Chippendale. ‘Paley, gentlemen, seems to be the virtual boss at Cheverdale Lodge. Miss Chever appears to be a nonentity, and the old lord leaves everything to Paley. Paley, they say, pokes his nose into everything, and interferes with everybody---he even orders the meals.’

‘Useful sort of man,’ remarked Chaney, drily. ‘Well, my lad, you’ve got more than that to tell us. What next?’

‘Well, sir, what’s to come, is, of course, far more important. I set to work, sir,’ continued Chippendale, ‘to see if I could find out where Paley went when he left Cheverdale Lodge at a quarter-past twelve that midnight. And---I did!’

‘You did?’ exclaimed Chaney. ‘Good lad---good lad! How did you find out?’ he went on eagerly, betraying a characteristic desire to know the method before hearing the result. ‘Stiff job, eh?’

‘Very stiff job, sir,’ assented Chippendale. ‘Well, sir, I thought things over, and it seemed to me that Paley, when he hurried off, would probably go in search of the nearest cab-rank. That was at Clarence Gate. So I went there. And with a great deal of difficulty I at last unearthed a taxi-cab driver, who, on that night, drove a gentleman from Clarence Gate to two different places and finally landed him back at Clarence Gate about a quarter-past three.’

‘Get the details from him?’ enquired Chaney.

‘I did, sir! And,’ continued Chippendale. ‘I should prefer, gentlemen, that the man should give you those details himself. As soon as I got your wire from Paris yesterday, saying you were returning last night, I got into communication with this man---he’s a smart young fellow---and I’ve arranged for him to come here at eleven o’clock this morning---it’s half-past ten, now, gentlemen.’

We spent the next half-hour in dealing with some of the correspondence that had accumulated during our absence. At eleven o’clock Chippendale marshalled in to our office a young man whose appearance fully justified our clerk’s description of him---he looked shrewd, observant, watchful.

‘Albert Marks, gentlemen,’ said Chippendale.

Albert Marks made obeisance, and seated himself on the edge of the chair which Chippendale placed for him. And Chaney, after looking him well over, took him in hand.

‘Taxi-cab driver, eh?’ began Chaney.

‘That’s my occupation, sir.’

‘Our clerk there tells me that you remember a man engaging your cab late one night when you were on the rank at Clarence Gate. How can you fix this particular night?’

‘Very easily, sir. It was the night of the murder of the gentleman in Lord Cheverdale’s grounds. I remember reading about that in the evening papers next day---really, the same day.’

‘You didn’t connect your fare with the murder?’

‘I didn’t, sir. You see, it’s no uncommon thing to be hailed at that time of night, about there. There’s a lot of big houses thereabouts, and gentlemen stop late at ’em, after dinner-parties and such-like. No, I didn’t connect him with the murder until this here young man of yours come after me, and then, of course, I did begin to think there might be something in it.’

‘Can you describe the man who hailed you?’

‘Well, in a way of speaking, fairly well, sir. I should say he was in evening clothes, sir. All black, anyway. Black trousers, black overcoat—a big white muffler round his neck. Can’t remember his features---middle-sized man, he was; neither old nor young. Carried an umbrella.’

‘Would you know him again if you saw him?’

Marks glanced at Chippendale.

‘Well, sir,’ he replied, ‘this here young man, he put me in the way of having a careful look at a certain gentleman what lives up that way----’

‘A moment,’ interrupted Chaney. He turned to Chippendale. ‘Who was that?’ he asked.

‘Paley!’ replied Chippendale.

‘But,’ continued Marks, obeying Chaney’s nod, ‘I couldn’t say---couldn’t ha’ sworn, you know---that it was him as I drove that night. About his size, and all that. The most I can say as to that is that I daresay the man your clerk showed me is the individual I drove---but I couldn’t swear to him.’

‘Not on closer inspection?’ asked Chaney.

‘No, sir---not on closer inspection! I couldn’t be sure.’

‘Well, where did you drive him?’

‘He come up, sir, rather hurrying, and told me to go down to the bottom of Portland Place and pull up there, and to drive sharp. Of course, we weren’t many minutes getting down there---’tain’t far. I pulled up on the left hand side, facing the corner of the Langham Hotel. He jumped out and thrust a pound note into my hand. “Here,” he says. “I want you to wait---take that in the meantime---I may be five minutes---I may be half-an-hour; in any case, wait.” Then he hurried off.’

‘In which direction?’

‘He went along Riding House Street, sir.’

Chaney looked at me. I knew what he was thinking. Riding House Street leads straight into Great Portland Street; Little Custom Street is just behind Great Portland Street: from the place where the taxi-cab was left to Little Custom Street was not more than three minutes walk.

‘Well,’ said Chaney. ‘How long did you wait? But first, can you remember what time this was?---I mean, when the man got out of your cab?’

‘I can tell you the exact time to a second, sir, for I not only looked at my watch but heard the clocks going at the same instant. It was precisely a quarter to one.’

‘Did the man come back?’

‘He did, sir.’

‘After you’d waited---how long?’

‘Exactly three-quarters of an hour, sir. He came back at half-past one.’

Again Chaney glanced at me. And again I knew what was in his mind. He was wondering if the murdering of Mrs. Clayton and the ransacking of flat Number 12 at Minerva House could have been accomplished in three-quarters of an hour---or, rather, reckoning it a three minutes walk from Portland Place to Little Custom Street and the climbing of that long staircase at Minerva House, in thirty-five minutes.

‘Well,’ continued Chaney, ‘and then?’

‘He got into the cab again----’

‘A moment! Did he seem---or, rather, did you notice anything when he came back?’

‘Only that he seemed to have been hurrying. Breathed hard.’

‘Well---go on.’

‘He got in again, and told me to drive to the corner of Whitehall Place: the War Office corner. When we got there, he told me I’d have to wait a bit, again. Then he hurried off.’

‘Which way?’

‘He went down Whitehall, past the United Service Institution. I didn’t pay any particular attention, but I saw him going that way before I lost sight of him. I stopped where I was---there was nothing about.’

‘How long was he away that time?’

‘Longer! He didn’t come back till past three o’clock; about ten minutes past three it would be.’

‘Notice anything when he came back?’

Marks smiled, glancing at Chippendale.

‘Well, I did notice something, sir. I told this young man about it. As I said at first, this here party had an umbrella when he first got into my cab---I noticed it, particular: it had what looked like a fine gold top. He took it with him when he got out at Langham Place: he took it with him again when he got out in Whitehall. When he came back that second time he hadn’t got it. I drew his attention to the fact. “Excuse me, sir,” says I, “but haven’t you left your umbrella behind you?---I mention it,” I says, “because when you miss it you may think you’ve left it in my cab---which you had it with you when you got out this last time.” ’

‘What did he say?’ asked Chaney.

‘Seemed as if he wasn’t going to say anything, I thought,’ replied Marks. ‘Then he muttered something about it being all right---it would be taken care of; laid it down at a friend’s, or something.’

‘And then?’

‘Then I drove him back to where we’d set out from, and we settled up---leastways he told me to keep the change out of the pound note---and he went off.’

‘Marks!’ said Chaney, ‘are you sure you couldn’t swear to this man?’

But Marks shook his head. No! However sure he might feel, he couldn’t positively swear.