The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
May 29, 2023, 07:26:46 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  

16: Terence Through the Hoop

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: 16: Terence Through the Hoop  (Read 2 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 2180

View Profile
« on: May 25, 2023, 07:38:36 am »


WHEN Rokeby and the police surgeon had left, Meredith sat for a good ten minutes without the movement of an eyelid. He looked as if he were asleep. But mentally he had never been more alert. The case both interested and irritated him. Interested him because it was complex and shot through with unexpected twists---irritated him because the evidence, most of it conflicting, was coming in faster than he could comfortably deal with it. From the easy assumption that Mildmann had murdered the girl and then committed suicide, he had now passed on to the indisputable fact that any one of three people might have committed the murder---Mildmann, the man who slipped out of the french windows, or the man seen by Menthu-Mut.

His mind naturally turned once more to finger-prints. Mildmann’s he had been unable to isolate because he had undoubtedly worn gloves. But what of the man Hilda claimed to have heard leaving the house just before Mildmann arrived? Granted there were no recent finger-prints on either the decanter or the two glasses, save several clearly-defined specimens left by the girl on the particular glass she had used. But that did not mean Penelope Parker’s first visitor had also worn gloves.

Meredith considered the facts. The man arrived in the room before the Parker girl returned from the Manor. He was in a position, therefore, to doctor the sherry without secrecy or haste. To do this it was only necessary for him to withdraw the stopper from the decanter and pour in the solution of prussic acid. This theory would at once dispose of the problem as to why the acid had not been poured direct into the glasses---all in all, a far more effective method. Time and secrecy being at a discount, it would be just as easy to pour the poison into the decanter. Immediate objection---the glass stopper had surrendered no finger-prints. Quite. But suppose the visitor merely covered the knob of the stopper with a handkerchief whilst withdrawing and replacing it? That disposed of that! But what about the other objects in the room that the man might have inadvertently handled?

The tumbler switch? The door handle? Of no use. A dozen different people’s prints would have been left on both. Meredith’s keen eye roved round the room and suddenly came to rest on the mantelpiece, where he spotted a small beaten-silver ash-tray. Lying in the ash-tray, in splendid isolation, was a cigar-butt! Damn it! He ought to have noticed that before. In a flash Meredith drew on his rubber-gloves, picked up the butt and examined it. One point struck him at once. The cigar had not burnt out. It had been crushed out---quite obviously against the bottom of the ash-tray. (So Hilda’s nose had not let her down!) But how did this help from the finger-print angle? The cigar-leaf offered a very poor surface from which to “lift” a print. But hang on! Wasn’t the ash-tray of a very light and flimsy design? What would be a man’s instinctive gesture when crushing out the butt? Surely to steady the ash-tray with the other hand?

Three minutes later Meredith knew he had rung the bell. Several flawless prints were clearly visible after dusting over the highly-polished surface of the silver. And since the cigar-butt was the only object in the ash-tray, it was reasonable to suppose that these were the prints of Penelope Parker’s first visitor. Cautiously Meredith wrapped up the ash-tray in a clean piece of cloth, which he kept for such purposes in his attaché-case. Five minutes after that he had taken specimen prints from Hilda and the cook. Then, from the domestic quarters, he went straight through to the big downstairs sitting-room.

He did not have much difficulty in finding just what he was after. On one of the glass panes, near the swivel handle of the french windows, he developed two or three prints, which under his magnifying-glass proved to be identical with those on the ash-tray! With a glow of satisfaction he turned back into the hall.

As he did so there was a prolonged peal on the front-door bell. Without waiting for Hilda, Meredith decided to take matters into his own hands and open up. There was a momentary pause as the visitor looked him over with a fierce and beady eye, then a booming voice demanding:

“You’re the man from Scotland Yard, aren’t you? No need to tell me. It sticks out a mile. You’re just the person I want to see.” Then over Meredith’s shoulder: “No, no, Hilda. Run along! I wish to speak with this gentleman in private.” Then as Hilda, bolt-eyed and a little dazed, scampered off, she added: “I’m Mrs. Hagge-Smith. I own Old Cowdene. Suppose we go into that room and have a long heart-to-heart talk about this terrible contretemps.”


Ten minutes later Meredith was also bolt-eyed and a little dazed. The forceful tide of Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s monologue broke over him and took his breath away. He sensed his peril at once. He was up against a woman possessed of that awful virtue, “a strong personality”. But his long professional experience had bred in him an almost superhuman tolerance in dealing with voluble female witnesses. He refused to be overwhelmed by this momentous avalanche of words. After all, amid all this verbal chaff, might there not be concealed a few grains of wheat?

Mentally he catalogued the salient points of Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s robust discourse.

The tragedy had been a surprise and shock to all of them.

To none more than Mr. Penpeti and herself.

Mr. Penpeti would now be called upon to shoulder the responsibilities of high office.

There was to be a meeting of the Inmost Temple that evening to elect the new High Prophet.

There was no doubt that Mr. Penpeti would be elected.

She had long suspected that Penelope Parker and Eustace Mildmann had been “platonically interested in each other”.

But the subterfuge adopted by Mr. Mildmann to gain entrance into her house was not only a very uncharacteristic piece of behaviour, but certainly suggested that there had been some sort of quarrel between them.

“So she obviously hasn’t yet learnt of the existence of those letters,” thought Meredith. “Or of the manner in which they were to be used.”

She was convinced that the Movement was passing through a phase of “adverse astrological influences”. There had been the theft of a valuable piece of altar decoration from the Welworth temple.

There was the attempt on the life of Mr. Mildmann’s chauffeur when returning from a dance. It was a strange coincidence that at the time Arkwright had also “very insultingly adopted the habiliments of our dear Prophet-in-Waiting”.

But beyond that point Meredith refused to let Mrs. Hagge-Smith continue with her monologue. Here, suddenly, unexpectedly, was the grain of wheat for which he had been hoping. Curtly he dammed up the boisterous flow of Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s speech with:

“When and where was this attempt made on Arkwright’s life?”

“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. Hagge-Smith was dumbfounded. She was unaccustomed to interruption once started on a verbal gallop. She eyed the inspector with undisguised hostility. Meredith repeated his question. “But does it really matter?” asked Alicia. “It was several months ago now and it was only poor Eustace’s chauffeur. Nobody of any importance. I’m sure you don’t want to be troubled with such irrelevances.”

Meredith flatly disagreed.

“It’s essential that I should know the details.” Mrs. Hagge-Smith supplied them in a surly voice and tried once more to get into her stride. Again Meredith drew her up snorting. “There was, I presume, a police enquiry into the matter.”


“But no arrest?”


“Do you recall who handled the case?”

“No, really I . . . oh yes, of course . . . an Inspector Dubby or some such curious name. Or was it Duffy? Yes---Inspector Duffy of the Welworth Borough Police.”

Meredith made a note.

“Now tell me, madam, have you any ideas about this unfortunate affair?”

“Emphatically,” boomed Alicia. “There can be only one explanation. A suicide pact. I think Mr. Mildmann had some form of hypnotic influence over poor dear Penelope and that he willed her to do this dreadful thing. I imagine that she had given him his congé and, realising that she was lost to him, he mesmerised her into taking the poison. In the fond belief and hope,” added Mrs. Hagge-Smith, “that they would meet and communicate in perfect amity on a Higher Plane.”

“Had Mr. Mildmann any enemies?” asked Meredith practically.

“What a ridiculous question!” exclaimed Mrs. Hagge-Smith. “It’s quite exhausting enough to find out who are one’s own enemies. How can I conceivably give you a list of poor Eustace’s? Hostility is also a matter of degree. Dislike and hatred are poles apart.”

Meredith smiled and nobly curbed his impatience.

“Let me put it another way. Was there anybody in his immediate circle who might have had cause to dislike him?”

“At times I had cause to dislike him!” retorted Mrs. Hagge-Smith. “Over matters of policy and even theology he often irritated me to distraction. I know Mr. Penpeti felt exactly the same. We represent, shall I say, the progressive element in Cooism. Poor Eustace was a reactionary. And then, of course, that great overgrown boy of his, Terence . . . he and his father were always at loggerheads. Though in this case my sympathies were all with Eustace. A rebellious, ill-mannered, gross young man. He had the temerity to make love to my secretary. Eustace soon put a stop to that!”

“Is this young lady still with you?” Mrs. Hagge-Smith nodded. “Then perhaps the lad is still in love with her?”

“Of course he is!” said Alicia shortly. “But since Eustace and I have forbidden him to see the girl, I’ve no doubt his infatuation will die a natural death.”

“I see. And what about Miss Parker?”

“I can’t imagine anybody disliking poor dear Penelope. I think she was adored by nearly everybody. I, myself, found her a trifle vapid, a little too disorganised . . . but a sweet and charming disposition.” Mrs. Hagge-Smith added, with what might be described as “an aristocratic leer”: “Men, apparently, found her highly desirable.”

“She sounded like an estate agent,” thought Meredith, “describing an item of house property!”


But it had been an interesting interview. So Terence had been up against his father, had he? In love with a girl, whom his father had refused to let him see. A dangerous policy in the case of a hot-headed youngster who was probably in the throes of his first wild infatuation. Was there motive here? Yes, possibly. But according to Arkwright his employer’s visit to the Dower House was a secret shared only between them. Then, if Terence were desperate enough to want his father out of the way, how could he have anticipated that visit? Well, as a member of the North Lodge ménage, he might have overheard his father talking with the chauffeur. And Penelope Parker? He had no grudge against her. Quite. But she may well have been a mere victim of circumstances. Terence had crept into the house, poisoned the sherry and both she and Mildmann had taken the rap.

“But whoa!” thought Meredith wryly. “This won’t do. Mildmann was a strict T.T. Terence would have known that. Pointless to dope the sherry decanter when he knew that, in normal circumstances, his father wouldn’t have touched the stuff.”

And yet---that hatless lurker by the lily-pond in the belted rain-coat. Was that by any chance Terence Mildmann? Tall, well-built, with fairish hair---well, that certainly footed the bill. On the night of the murder, however, he claimed to have been in Downchester with the housekeeper. They had left the North Lodge shortly after lunch and not returned until eleven o’clock. Exactly! But, in the circumstances, wouldn’t it be as well to check up on these details?

Meredith decided to drop in at the North Lodge on his way back to The Leaning Man. He could at the same time warn young Mildmann that an autopsy would have to be performed and that the ambulance would doubtless call to remove his father’s body.

On reaching the North Lodge he decided first to interview the housekeeper. It was his idea to get her story about that alleged visit to Downchester and then check up with Terence afterwards. Mrs. Summers, herself, answered his ring and, at his request, preceded him into the little parlour. Once inside Meredith closed the door and began his cross-examination.

It did not take him ten seconds to realise that Mrs. Summers was nervous. Her replies at first were so vague and evasive that Meredith’s suspicions were quickly aroused. He began to pin her down to more circumstantial details. What time had they arrived in Downchester? About three-fifteen off the Tappin Mallet bus. What had they done on their arrival? She had gone off to do some shopping. And Terence? Mrs. Summers didn’t know. He said he was going to take a look round the book-shops. Had they met for tea? Mrs. Summers hesitated. Meredith repeated the question. Mrs. Summers admitted that they had, by arrangement, at four-thirty. Where? Again the hesitation---then finally: “Patty’s Parlour in Castle Street.” And after that? Oh, they had taken a walk down to the river-bank and eventually gone on to the theatre where there was a good variety bill. Had Mrs. Summers got a programme? Yes. No. She wasn’t sure if she’d kept it. Then she suddenly made up her mind and produced it from her hand-bag, which was on the book-case.

“May I keep this a moment?” asked Meredith.

“Yes, of course.”

“Good. Now will you ask Mr. Mildmann to come in and have a word with me?”

“But I don’t . . . I’m sure he . . .” Mrs. Summers appeared confused. “Oh, very well then---I’ll fetch him.”

“Good!” reiterated Meredith, concealing a small, malicious smile.

The moment the housekeeper had retired, he closely scanned the contents of the programme, noting carefully the various items that were billed. Then, as Terence came in, he slipped the programme quickly into his pocket. After Meredith had explained about the autopsy, he began his cross-examination. The boy’s answers came readily and certainly corroborated all that the housekeeper had already told him. Then they came to the show in the evening.

“A good programme?” asked Meredith casually.

“Yes---jolly good.”

“I see that John Merridew, the Yorkshire comedian was on.”

“Yes, he was jolly good, too.”

“And Lou Shelton’s band?”

“Oh jolly good. Really top-notch.”

“And what about the juggler chap on the bicycle? I can’t recall his name at the moment. But I’ve seen his act once or twice at the Coliseum.”

Terence appeared to hesitate a second or so, then he was off again on his eulogistic gallop.

“Yes---he was frightfully clever, Inspector. Wonderful balance and all that. Jolly good show!”

Meredith smiled. He pulled out the programme and handed it to Terence.

“Just cast your eye through that, will you?”

Terence did so, and when he had fully absorbed the contents of the programme he reddened violently.

“Well?” rapped out the inspector.

“I say . . . that’s queer . . . I seem to have got a bit muddled. The chap on the bicycle----”

“Quite!” cut in Meredith. “There was no juggler on a bicycle. Curious, eh? I mean, curious that you should have thought a non-existent artist so thundering good.” His voice hardened. “Now look here, young fellow, you may as well come clean about this. You didn’t go over to Downchester yesterday afternoon with Mrs. Summers. You didn’t see a single item in this variety show. You merely glanced at this programme when Mrs. Summers got back and learnt up a number of details from her to suggest that you made this visit. Unfortunately I succeeded in catching you out first ball of the over. It’s true, isn’t it?” Terence looked down blankly at his bare and brawny knees, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He said nothing. Meredith went on sternly: “For your own sake I advise you to tell me just why you didn’t go to Downchester and what you did during yesterday afternoon and evening.”

“I didn’t want to go,” muttered Terence sulkily. “So I just stayed back and mooned about the park.”

“For about nine hours, eh? In the drizzle!”

“Well, I don’t see why not. I like walking in the rain.”

“Were you wearing a rain-coat?”

“Of course.”

“Could I see the coat?”

“Yes, I suppose so. It seems a dappy request but you know best. It’s in the hall. I’ll fetch it.”

A few seconds later Meredith knew that he had solved at least one outstanding problem in the case. Big, broad-shouldered, fair-haired, wearing a belted rain-coat! But what the devil was Terence Mildmann doing by the pond? Bluntly he posed the question. For the second time Terence reddened and remained stubbornly silent.

Meredith warned him:

“You realise that if you refuse to give your reasons for all this queer behaviour, young fellow, the police are bound to suspect the worst. I happen to know you were up against your father. That pond is only a few hundred yards from the Dower House. You see the implication?”

Terence sprang up, goggling.

“Good Lord, Inspector!---you’re not suggesting that I had anything to do with my father’s death? You can’t be such an outsized cad as that!”

“Oh, can’t I!” said Meredith grimly. “Unless you’ll be frank with me, I’m bound to suspect anything. Why the devil can’t you come clean about all this?”

“Because . . . because I can’t,” said Terence weakly. “I was just mooning about---that’s all. Killing time. I didn’t want my father to know that I hadn’t been to Downchester. I had to hang about until Mrs. Summers returned. You see that?”

“In a way---yes,” admitted Meredith. “But what did you tell Mrs. Summers in the first place? You must have offered her some excuse.”

“Naturally. I told her how much I loathed buses and tea-shops and stuffy theatres and all the rest of it. I told her I wanted to go for a thumping long walk. And, as she’s a jolly good sport, of course, she understood.”

“Just that?” commented Meredith.

“Just that,” echoed Terence with a challenging look.


As Meredith left the lodge, Sid Arkwright came down the track that led to the barn. With Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s evidence fresh in his mind, the inspector took the opportunity to question him about the shooting incident at Welworth. It was in this manner that Meredith first came to hear about the Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat.

“Was Inspector Duffy convinced that this man had been responsible for the shooting?” asked Meredith.

“I can’t say, sir. He naturally didn’t tell me much. Anyway, there was never an arrest, so I reckon the inspector got bogged down and had to call it a day. He seemed pretty certain that I got winged in the leg because I happened to be dressed like Mr. Penpeti.”

“Interesting. And this man, I take it, has never been seen again?”

Sid looked round quickly, drew Meredith a little further into the barn, and said in a low voice:

“That’s just where you’re wrong, sir. He has been seen again.”

“Oh? By whom?”

“Me,” said Sid.

“You? When?”

“About ten days ago, sir, before the convention actually started.”


“Well, believe it or not, sir, I’m damned if it wasn’t in that little upstairs sitting-room where Miss Parker was found last night.”

“The devil it was!” exclaimed Meredith, profoundly interested. “Why the deuce didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because I couldn’t see that it mattered,” answered Sid simply.

“And how was it you came to be in that particular room?” demanded Meredith.

Sid gave a lengthy and detailed explanation of the whole matter, the reason for his visit, his attempt to recover the letters for his employer, his startling encounter with the man in question. Meredith demanded a description. Tall, broad-shouldered, middle-aged, obviously educated. And his hair? Oh, darkish, turning grey at the sides.

There and then, while Sid respectfully waited, Meredith drew up the following memorandum:

Man seen by Menthu-Mut---Tall, broad-shouldered, fair-haired, belted rain-coat, hatless. Man seen passing gardener’s cottage---Tall, well-built, of middle-age, gentlemanly, soft hat, tweed suit. Man seen by Arkwright in girl’s room---Tall, broad-shouldered, of middle-age, educated, darkish hair.

“One other point, Arkwright,” went on Meredith. “Was this fellow wearing his teddy-bear overcoat when you entered the room?”

“No, sir. It was lying on the sofa.”

“Did you notice what sort of suit he was wearing?”

“Yes---rough tweed affair, it was. Expensive-looking.”

“What about his hat?”

“Brown tweed cap, sir. That was on the sofa near his coat.”

Meredith closed his notebook and slipped it into his pocket. He took up his well-worn attaché-case which he had set down on the running-board of the Daimler.

“Well, thank heaven you had the good sense to tell me about this, Arkwright. It may have an important bearing on my line of investigation.” Meredith moved towards the door. “Well, I won’t keep you any longer.”

In a flash Sid was after him.

“Half a mo’, Inspector. There’s something else I want to tell you.”


“It was about a statement I made this morning. It come to me afterwards that I hadn’t been quite as exact as I should have been, sir.”


“No, sir. I said as the only other person besides Miss Parker ’oo knew about them love-letters was Mr. Penpeti. That’s not true. I didn’t recall this fac’ until after you’d left, Inspector. It was last Saturday week, just after closing-time at The Leaning Man . . . I was coming back down the Tappin Mallet road when . . .”

And there and then Sid told the inspector of Penpeti’s clandestine meeting with the unknown man in the moonlit lane. For the second time Meredith whipped out his notebook and made a series of detailed notes. In particular he found the scraps of conversation overheard by Arkwright by no means the least interesting part of this fresh evidence. Who was this man? Why had Penpeti elected to meet him? And what hold had this mysterious person over the man who was about to be elected High Prophet of this queer religious sect?

By the time he left the barn, Meredith’s head was full of new and startling theories about the crime. He decided to have a meal at the inn and spend the rest of the evening up in the privacy of his bedroom, trying to make sense out of these apparently unrelated odds and ends of evidence.

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