The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
May 29, 2023, 05:43:29 am
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

15: Fatal Effect

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: 15: Fatal Effect  (Read 2 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 2180

View Profile
« on: May 25, 2023, 06:10:44 am »


THE repercussions of the double tragedy on the Summer Convention of the Children of Osiris can well be imagined. Granted it had stopped raining the day after the gruesome events at the Dower House had transpired. Granted the sun tried to break through a patina of watery cloud. But the shock of losing, at one foul swoop, a High Prophet and a well-loved member of the Inmost Temple left the members of the Movement depressed and horrified. Discussions concerning the mystic symbolism of the Ka and the Ba and the Ab no longer evoked the customary zealous interest. Many of the most fanatical Coo-ites no longer gave a damn whether the Sahu did possess an Aakhu or not, which merely goes to show how violent was the impact of the news on their imaginations.

Outside the lecture tent there was only one subject worthy of discussion . . . the Tragedy!

There was, of course, a stern refutation of the rumour that Mr. Mildmann had murdered Penelope Parker and then taken his own life. The general belief was that the poison had been planted by a third person who had a grudge against the High Prophet and his charming acolyte. So far, the fact that Mr. Mildmann had paid his last visit to the Dower House in the guise of Mr. Penpeti had not leaked out. The crux of every argument concerning the case was this: Had any member seen anybody suspicious hanging about near the Dower House just prior to the tragedy? If so, they upheld, it was the duty of such a member to go at once to the police. It was in this manner that Mr. Menthu-Mut (the only proven Egyptian in the Movement) came to meet Inspector Meredith.

Mr. Menthu-Mut had three large passions in life---Ancient Egyptology, Pasteurised Milk, and Moths. To the first and the third he devoted much time and study. On the second he more or less existed. He was, if one may use the expression, a milk addict, an incurable toper of milk. Provided, of course, that it was pasteurised. His pride in the magnificent civilisation of his forebears had brought him into the orbit of Cooism. His activity as a lepidopterist had brought him on the evening of Thursday, June 6th, to the edge of the lily-pond, some four or five hundred yards southwest of the Dower House.

During his few days at Old Cowdene, Menthu-Mut had already captured a good few specimens---including two flawless Rostralis, a female Tortrices Sorbiana, and an undersized Furcula Cuspidates. This was all well and good, but his immediate concern was to net a Stagnalis Pyralides, a moth that was only to be found near stagnant water. Shortly before dusk, therefore, Menthu-Mut had set out, with his lantern, net and specimen-case, across the park to the lily-pond. The drizzle in no way discouraged him, for long experience had taught him that such meteorological conditions were perfect for a moth-hunt. He trod softly in his goloshes, his lantern shuttered, until he came to the broad ring of sallow trees that bordered the pond. There, abruptly, he unshuttered his lamp and sent its beam playing over the foliage, already a pearly-grey in the fading light. The result of this action startled him, for, almost at his feet, the figure of a man sprang up and dived deeper into the bushes.

“Who goes?” cried Menthu-Mut in alarm. “Please to speak up yourself and reveal, I beg. Who is?”

Silence, save for the gentle drip of rain-drops on to the still surface of the pond. Menthu-Mut was puzzled and a little frightened, but for all that he plunged deeper into the tangled undergrowth below the sallows, the beam of his light roving about in the darkness like a prying eye. Then for the second time he disturbed the prowling figure, which on this occasion broke clear of the trees and dashed round to the far side of the pond. Menthu-Mut attempted to follow, tripped, fell, and shattered the bulb of his electric-lamp. But, in the brief instant before the figure had disappeared, Menthu-Mut had noticed two things---the man was wearing a belted rain-coat and he was hatless. Of his features he had seen nothing.

At the time, of course, although perplexed, Menthu-Mut had not valued the full significance of the event. It was only the next day when the news of the double tragedy “broke” that Menthu-Mut’s public-spirited tent-mates urged him to go to the police.

It was through Mrs. Hagge-Smith that Menthu-Mut learnt that Inspector Meredith had made his headquarters at The Leaning Man in Tappin Mallet. Shortly after lunch in the big marquee, therefore, Menthu-Mut borrowed a bicycle and rode over to the inn. Luckily Meredith, who had been discussing the case with Rokeby over their meal, had not yet left the place to continue his investigations. He arranged with the landlord for a private parlour to be put at his disposal. And it was amid the potted ferns, red-plush, and Toby-jugs of mine host’s own sitting-room that Meredith learnt of yet another complication in the case.

Menthu-Mut, despite his inadequate mastery of the English tongue, was voluble. In a few minutes Meredith had jotted down the salient points of his evidence and started his cross-examination.

“What time did you reach the lily-pond?”

“About sometime not more beyond nine o’clock than a little,” he said neatly.

“It was quite dark when you reached the spot?”

“Not complete. There was light of a small quantity but not much. I have my lantern for the moths which make me see a little more than otherwise.”

“You say this man was crouching under the trees?”

“So it has the appearance of.”

“You had the impression that he was anxious to avoid you---that he wanted to conceal his identity?”

“Indeed so!” exclaimed Menthu-Mut brightly. “If not so why make no answer when I make the question of him ‘Who goes?’ and ‘Who is?’ To which he replies not at all but bounds only away and into the dark disappears.”

“You say you were unable to catch a glimpse of his features, Mr. Mut. What of his build and height? Any idea?”

“Oh, of big size. Much muscular build. Very high as it goes among the average. Perhaps six foots or there around.”

“In a belted rain-coat but hatless, you said. What was the colour of his hair---fair or dark?”

“In the light of my lantern it was difficult. But more of the fair than of the dark, I would have it.”

“When he slipped away the second time you made no further attempt to follow him?”

“No. It was then much more dark than it was. Without my lantern I was no good to follow. I have very bad eyes to see in the dark.” Mr. Menthu-Mut paused and added with a shamefaced little smile: “Beside I am small built and I had a little fear as you will understand me. The pond is much alone in the dark---far from everywhere else. You have seen, perhaps?”

“No,” admitted Meredith, “not yet. But I intend to take a look round there this afternoon. Suppose you meet me there in an hour’s time, Mr. Mut. Is that convenient?”

“I have much pleasure,” said Menthu-Mut with a little bow.

“Good!” concluded Meredith.


No sooner had Mr. Menthu-Mut departed on his bicycle, when Meredith was discussing the implication of this fresh evidence with Rokeby. He was irritated by this introduction of a new line of investigation when he already had a number of unsolved problems on his mind.

“You see,” he observed with a disgruntled expression to Rokeby, as they finished their pipes in the landlord’s overcrowded little parlour, “we’re already far from your original belief that this was a cut-to-pattern case. The pith of the main problem is this---did Mildmann kill the Parker girl and then take his own life? Or did he commit suicide because he found her dead when he entered the room? Or is it within the bounds of possibility that both Mildmann and the girl were murdered by a third person?”

“It’s no good looking at me!” chuckled Rokeby. “As far as I’m concerned, one bet seems as good as another.”

Meredith went on:

“This much we can fairly assume, however---somebody entered that upstairs sitting-room before the girl returned from the Manor. Now the question is, was this ‘somebody’ the same person that our friend Mr. Mut disturbed near the pond?”

“What about the time-factor?” asked Rokeby.

“Not very illuminating. You see, we don’t happen to know what time the unknown person sneaked into the Dower House. It was not until nine thirty-five that Hilda heard those strange thumping noises up in the girl’s room. Mut arrived at the pond somewhere about nine o’clock.”

“Which means that the man seen by Mut and the man heard by Hilda could well be one and the same person?”


“And if the fellow wanted to slip into the Dower House just before the Parker girl returned from dinner, surely that ring of trees round the pond was the ideal place in which to wait?”

“But why wait?”


“I said---why wait? Why not arrange matters to arrive at the Dower House at the time he considered most suitable? After all, to hang about in the vicinity was to take an unnecessary risk. As it was, he only escaped identification by the skin of his teeth. If Mut had been able to see his features, we should probably have no difficulty in tracing him. As it is . . .” Meredith lifted his shoulders. “Tall, broad-shouldered, fair-haired---not much to go on, is it?”

Rokeby shook his head with an absent-minded expression. He appeared to be following some line of thought unconnected with the inspector’s statement. Suddenly he glanced up.

“You realise that prussic acid is a convulsant?”

“What of it?”

“That thumping noise heard by the maid.”


“It might have been the girl in her death throes. An unpleasant thought but logical.”

Meredith objected.

“But Hilda said it was like heavy footsteps. That suggests a certain regularity of rhythm. My personal opinion is that it was footsteps.”

“Any particular reason?”

“A very definite one. Hilda said she heard the thumping noise ‘a minute or so’ after her mistress came in. And I just don’t think it possible that the moment the girl entered the room, she was tricked into taking a glass of that poisoned sherry.”

“But why not?” argued Rokeby. “The very fact that the girl didn’t call out or scream rather suggests that she was not surprised to find this man in her room. Or, to put it another way, she may have been surprised to find him there at that particular moment but was not in any way frightened because the fellow was familiar to her. And if familiar, what more natural that the man should pour her a glass of sherry a minute or so after she came into the room?”

“Quite a neat little assumption,” admitted Meredith. “But surely this friend would have joined her in a drink? And we know he couldn’t have done so because some time later he slipped out of the house via the french windows. And he couldn’t have poured himself out an unpoisoned glass because it was the decanter which had been tampered with. Moreover, only two glasses were used and the second we know must have been used by Mildmann.”

“My dear fellow,” laughed Rokeby, “do you know anything about this Osiris gang? I bet a good fifty per cent of’em are T.T. This chap may have been one of the fifty per cent.”

“So you think it was this interloper and not Mildmann who murdered the girl?”

Rokeby nodded.

“Quite frankly, I do.”

“And Mildmann?”

“Well, as you said, he may have found the girl dead and committed suicide. On the other hand . . .”


“What about accident?”


“Exactly,” smiled Rokeby. “Mildmann may have been so overcome by the sight of the dead girl that he felt faint. What more natural than to turn to the sherry decanter? The point being that he didn’t know it was poisoned!”

“It’s a possibility, of course.” Meredith considered the new theory for a moment and then went on: “But if so, Rokeby, why the devil did Mildmann put on his gloves before pouring out the sherry? Strange, eh?”

“Good God!” exclaimed Rokeby. “I was forgetting all about those darned gloves. Not wearing them when he entered the house, but definitely wearing ’em when he came out. It’s a teaser!”

“I could use a more graphic word, but I won’t!” grinned Meredith. “You see, my dear chap, we’re in a very unsatisfactory position. We can put up between us quite a nice little collection of sound little theories. And we can just as easily bowl ’em over.” Meredith rose, knocked out his pipe in the glossy little grate and took up his hat. “And now, before we keep our rendezvous with Mr. Menthu-Mut, could you phone Maxton and ask him to come over this afternoon? I want a few more details of the medical evidence. In the meantime I’d like a despatch-rider from your H.Q. to run up to the Yard with some exhibits.”

“You mean?”

“The sherry decanter and those two glasses. I want an analysis made of the liquid residue in all three. If Mildmann and the girl drank that sherry at one and the same time, I still can’t see why there was such a time-lag before Mildmann actually passed out.”

“You think the girl died instantaneously?”

“Yes---more or less. If not, my dear fellow, surely she could have got to the door after Mildmann left and called for help? That’s one of the reasons why I want Maxton to make a more thorough post-mortem.”


Mr. Menthu-Mut was waiting for them near the lily-pond. He enacted with considerable histrionic ability the events of the previous night, pointing out where he had first made contact with the unknown prowler and so on. Snatching out his notebook Meredith made a rough sketch-map of the locality which, later that day, he expanded into a more comprehensive map of the Old Cowdene estate. He judged the pond to be about four hundred yards from the boundary fence of the Dower House. Although the immediate environs of the pond offered excellent cover, the ground between it and the house was more or less flat and open. A vague path meandered by the pond and terminated somewhere round the back of the Dower House. This path Meredith determined to investigate.

But before leaving the pond he closely examined the spot where Menthu-Mut claimed the man had been crouching. Although the ground was still somewhat soggy after the rain, no footprints were visible, for the weeds and grass were too lush and springy to accept any clearly-defined print. Certain it was that the grass and undergrowth at this point had been trampled underfoot, suggesting that the man’s wait under the sallow trees had been prolonged. Furthermore, to lend emphasis to this assumption, Meredith collected no fewer than four apple cores from the ground.

“Curious,” he observed to Rokeby.


“Because when a man’s keyed-up and waiting for zero-hour, his normal comfort is a smoke.”

“He may have been a non-smoker.”

“Impossible, if we accept Hildas evidence. Remember what she said about the smell of cigar smoke?” He turned to Menthu-Mut, who was standing discreetly in the background. “We needn’t bother you any more, Mr. Mut---thanks.” He swung round again on Rokeby. “Now let’s follow this path to the house.”

A minute or so later they discovered an interesting fact. The path led to a low gate let into a fence of the kitchen-garden, and just beyond it, half concealed by a clump of spruce trees, was a small thatched cottage.

“Hullo!” exclaimed Meredith. “This may prove useful. Let’s see if there’s anybody around.”

His knock was answered by a fresh-complexioned buxom young woman who, on seeing Rokeby’s uniform, looked a trifle worried. Meredith, catching her glance, reassured her.

“It’s all right, young lady. I just want to ask you a few questions. You can guess what it’s all about, eh?”

“That affair over at the Dower House, I reckon.”

“Exactly. What’s your position on the estate?”

“My man’s gardener here---employed by Mrs. Hagge-Smith at the Manor. You’ll be wanting to see him, maybe?”

“Possibly. But first let’s see if you can help us. We rather suspect that somebody came through this gate shortly before nine-thirty last night. And we think there’s a possibility that he left the place the same way some fifteen or twenty minutes later. Now I suppose you didn’t----?”

“Just listen to that now! My man’s been troubled about this ever since we heard what had happened to that poor Miss Parker. Only this morning he said to me, ‘Ruth,’ he said, ‘there may be something in this and I reckon I ought to tell the pleece about it.’ ”

“About what?” snapped Meredith eagerly.

“About what him and me saw last night. Just before ten it was. Herbie and me was sitting in the parlour when Dandy---that’s our terrier---started barking like he was gone mad. ‘Ruth,’ says Herbie, ‘there’s somebody out there, or the face in the mirror ain’t mine!’ he says. Well, the curtains of the window was undrawn and the light was shining out across the path.” The young woman swung round on the steps to face the cottage. “It’s that window there, see? Well, both Herbie and me turned naturally to look out of the window and, as we did so, we saw somebody slip by towards the gate. Proper caught in the light he was for the moment. Gave us a rare turn it did, too!”

“You noticed the man’s features?”

“Well, not as you might say in detail. Middlin’ old we reckoned---clean-shaven---’bout forty, maybe.”

“Wearing a belted rain-coat and no hat?” rapped out Meredith. “Tall, broad-shouldered, eh?”

“He was a tall, well-set-up sort of chap---that much I will say,” said Ruth in measured tones. “But he was wearing a hat all right. One of them soft tweed hats what gentlemen wear out shooting. And he certainly wasn’t wearing a coat, which we thought odd, seeing as that it was raining. I should say it was a sort of tweed suit he’d got on but I can’t properly swear to it. A gentlemanly chap, Herbie reckoned he was, to judge from his clothes, but neither of us could be sure about that as it all happened so quick. It was certainly nobody we reckernised. Nobody local, that is.”

“Is your husband anywhere about?” asked Meredith, puzzled and deflated.

“Down in the potting-shed beyond the asparagus-bed---over there, see?”

“Thanks,” said Meredith. “I’ll just go and have a word with him. And thanks for your information, young woman.”

They had no difficulty in running the gardener to earth. He was pricking out dahlia plants in the musty gloom of his potting-shed. But at the end of five minutes Meredith realised that, although he had fully corroborated his wife’s statement, he had no fresh evidence to offer.

As they walked slowly towards the Dower House, Rokeby observed sarcastically:

“A quick-change artist, eh?”

Meredith’s laugh was a trifle hollow.

“Damn it, Rokeby! What the devil was happening around here last night? You know now as well as I do that the man lurking near the pond was not the same man that slipped out of the garden just before ten o’clock. But I’m ready to swear that the man who sneaked out of the Dower House via the french windows was the gentleman in the shooting-hat seen by the couple in the cottage.”

“Perhaps the chap by the pond was a confederate,” suggested Rokeby.

“Umph---it’s possible.” Meredith glanced at his watch. “What time did you say Maxton would arrive?”

“About three o’clock.”

“In about ten minutes, eh? Good. Suppose we go up to the girl’s room and wait for him.”


It was actually some twenty minutes later when Maxton, the police surgeon, arrived in his car, escorted by the despatch-rider from County H.Q. In the interim Meredith and Rokeby had borrowed string and paper and cotton-wool and carefully packed the sherry decanter and two glasses. Before Meredith went into a huddle with Maxton, he wrote a note to Luke Spears, the chief analyst at the Yard, explaining exactly what he wanted. This note and the parcel he handed over to the despatch-rider.

“You’d better stay the night in Town and bring back the analyst’s report to-morrow. And for God’s sake, don’t bump the exhibits! This way up, fragile, glass with care! Remember that and go easy on the acceleration!”

The constable grinned, saluted and drove off soberly round the bend in the drive. Meredith returned upstairs to Maxton and Rokeby.

“Good of you to come over so quickly,” said Meredith. “But I want to bring myself into line with the detailed medical evidence. There’s no question about the poison being prussic acid, I take it?”

“None whatsoever,” said Maxton emphatically.

“And in the case of the girl---what’s your frank opinion---was death instantaneous?”

Maxton reflected for a moment and then said with professional caution:

“I can’t be absolutely sure about that at present. When your analyst has determined the exact concentration of the poison in the residue left in the glass handled by the girl, it will be easier for me to give a more exact answer. All the symptoms suggest that the girl died, more or less, instantaneously.” Maxton smiled. “You’ll say that the expression ‘more or less instantaneously’ is a paradox, eh Meredith? And as a purist I’d be inclined to agree with you. But medically the term ‘instantaneous death’ is rather more elastic than it suggests. Take the case of a person who swallows a concentrated dose of prussic acid. Death has been known to intervene within two minutes which, from a coroner’s point-of-view, could be described as instantaneous. In many cases where the acid has been drunk from a bottle, the victim has not only replaced the cork but put the bottle back on a shelf before the fatal collapse occurred. In other cases a person’s senses may be atrophied at once, though the victim is not actually dead.”

“And in this case?” asked Meredith.

“As far as I can judge from the post-mortem symptoms, the girl was instantly affected by the poison and probably only lingered on for a very few minutes.”

“Then can you explain why Mildmann, who presumably swallowed a solution of the acid equal in concentration to that swallowed by the girl, was able to open the door, walk down the stairs, let himself out of the house, walk twenty yards or more down the drive to where his car was parked, climb into it and, apparently, not collapse until the car was on the move?”

Maxton shook his head.

“Most emphatically---I can’t. Naturally I was unaware of these more detailed facts when I made my initial examination last night. Mind you, different constitutions suffer different reactions to equal doses of a poison. That’s a medical fact. But in this case . . . no, I’m damned if that can be the whole answer! The discrepancy between the times of the fatal effect is too great.”

“When you examined Mildmann’s remains, what was your opinion then?” persisted Meredith.

“My superficial examination led me to believe that, like the girl, death had intervened within a minute or two of taking the poison. The post-mortem appearance was identical.”

“Is there any way we can check up on your assumptions?” asked Meredith anxiously. “Confound it, Maxton, this sounds damned rude of me, but it’s a devilish important aspect of the case.”

“Oh, you needn’t study my professional feelings,” laughed Maxton. “I’m a pachyderm and don’t you forget it! And let me reassure you---we have two very good checks! First, an analysis of the liquid residue in the two glasses, as I mentioned before. Secondly, we could have an autopsy on both Mildmann and the girl with a subsequent analysis of the stomach content. And once we’re convinced that they drank a poisoned solution of equal strength, then we can fairly assume that they would have died within a minute of each other.”

Meredith turned to Rokeby.

“What’s your opinion, Rokeby?”

“I think we should press for an autopsy in both cases. If you like, and Maxton’s agreeable, I’ll get in touch with the coroner at once and arrange for the police ambulance to take the bodies to the mortuary.”

“I should feel happier about my findings after an autopsy,” said Maxton.

Meredith rose.

“Good. That’s settled then. I’ll leave you to make the arrangements. As a matter of fact, Rokeby, I don’t think it’s fair of me to take up any more of your time. If you can send me over a good sergeant with local knowledge and a police car from County H.Q. to-morrow, that’s all the help I shall need at present. Can do?” Rokeby nodded. “Right! Tell him to report at The Leaning Man. Nine o’clock on the dot!”

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy