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11: What Sheaf Thought

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Author Topic: 11: What Sheaf Thought  (Read 38 times)
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« on: August 08, 2023, 11:35:42 am »

THE superintendent was expecting him. “Well, French,” he greeted him, “you want to have a talk about the case?”

“Yes,” said French, sitting down and producing a new box of cigarettes, which he absent-mindedly opened as he spoke. “I’m not sure that I haven’t gone far enough with the thing, and I wanted to discuss the point with you. I admit the affair is not properly finished, but it seems to me so clear what has happened that I question if it’s worth spending any more time and money on it.”

Sheaf took and lit a cigarette, nodding heavily as he did so. “Go ahead,” he said briefly.

Slowly and with extreme care French in his turn selected a cigarette, while he marshalled his facts in his mind. Then he began to speak. He briefly recounted everything that he had done and learnt since he took over, but without commenting on the facts. “Now, super,” he went on, “it’s your shot. Will you let me know what’s been done locally?”

For answer Sheaf pressed a bell. “Find Sheepshanks, will you,” he directed.

The sergeant was evidently in the building, for he turned up in a few seconds. “The inspector wants to know what you’ve done, sergeant,” Sheaf said. “You might repeat what you told me a little while ago.”

“We’ve made enquiries on the lines you suggested, sir,” Sheepshanks answered, turning to French, “but we’ve got nothing. We’ve done the roads and the buses and any cars we could hear of and the railway stations and the houses in the neighbourhood. We’ve made all the enquiries we could possibly think of, without a single result. If Earle went away by road, either voluntarily or involuntarily, no one saw him. Of course that’s not so surprising as it looks at first sight. St. Kilda is a lonely place and he might have left a dozen times without anyone being a bit the wiser.”

“Yes, French, that’s quite true what Sheepshanks says,” Sheaf agreed. “Because the man wasn’t seen is really no argument that he didn’t walk away openly from the house. I agree that we had to make the enquiries, but I’m not surprised at the result. I didn’t hope for anything different.”

“I suppose you’re right,” French agreed. “All the same, it does seem a bit surprising that no one saw him. But of course what you say is correct. The place is very exceptional.”

Sheaf moved impatiently. “Well, you wanted to discuss it,” he grunted. “Suppose you go ahead and let’s hear your ideas. Then if there’s anything left to discuss, we’ll discuss it.”

French grinned. “I like your suggestion that when I’ve dealt with it there’ll be nothing more to say,” he declared, then as Sheaf opened his mouth to reply, he went on hastily: “Very well, I’ll give you my conclusions, and if you think I’m not right, stop me.”

“You’ll not get far on those terms,” the super muttered, while Sheepshanks grinned painfully.

“I’ll go on as long as I’m allowed.” French became serious. “So far then as I’ve been able to see, there are four possibilities in this case, which I, or rather we, have investigated to some extent. I say ‘to some extent’ because admittedly these enquiries are not complete. I suggest we take these possibilities in turn.”

Sheaf settled himself in his chair with an air of virtuous resignation, and Sheepshanks, who had been told to sit down, with one of interest.

“I begin with Earle,” French went on, “and to make the statement complete, I presume you agree that we may eliminate accident and suicide and confine ourselves to voluntary disappearance and murder?”

“I agree. That’s proved by the disappearance of the body.”

“Quite. Then let’s take murder first, in which of course I include kidnapping, because frankly it’s the case I don’t believe in.”

Once again Sheaf nodded.

“Now as to possible murderers. Julia Earle is the first. I don’t know that I need go over the case against her; you know it as well as I do. The home was unhappy; she was running after this man Slade; the husband presumably was after this Nurse Nankivel; there was a very real fear that he might change his will and leave her comparatively poor: you know all that?”

Sheaf put in his customary nod.

“Then she had opportunity. She could have drugged her husband at supper and she could have knocked him over the head in the drawing-room or outside. Or she could have poisoned him. All that was possible, but there were two snags. First, Could she have murdered him without the sister’s knowledge? and second, Could she have got rid of the body? I decided, rightly or wrongly, that she could have done neither. That’s my first possibility.

“My second is, Could the sister, Marjorie Lawes, have been party to the thing? On the whole, I thought not. She didn’t seem to me to have the character for it; she had no motive, and even with her help I did not believe the women could have got rid of the body. It is true that if they had taken out their car they might have disposed of it, but you, sergeant, felt the radiator when you got out and it was cold, and I made sure the water hadn’t been changed. So they hadn’t taken the car out. I came to the conclusion Marjorie Lawes was also innocent. That’s my second possibility.”

“I never believed those two were guilty,” Sheaf declared, while the sergeant nodded his approval.

“I’m glad you both agree,” French returned. “My third possibility was Slade: Slade either alone or in partnership with Mrs. Earle. Slade had motive. He was running after Mrs. Earle, and doubtless he wanted Earle out of the way. And if he had had any hint of Earle’s goings on in London, as almost certainly he must have, he also would want to prevent Earle altering his will. Moreover he was on bad terms with Earle: they had had at least one quarrel. Again, Slade had the necessary opportunity. He could have left his house unseen and knocked at the window of Earle’s drawing-room, got Earle out and killed him. But in Slade’s case the same snag arose: what could he have done with the body?”

“A car,” Sheaf suggested.

“No,” said French, “that’s just the point. I went into that and Slade could not have got a car,” and French recounted the evidence of the chauffeur and his wife. “So I eliminated Slade, my third possibility. That covers, so far as I can see it, the case for murder.”

“Then, by elimination, voluntary disappearance only is left?”

“I think so, but there’s more in it than that. Take it conversely. Suppose Earle was murdered. Very well then, what about the nurse?”

Sheaf grunted. “There’s something in that,” he admitted.

“There’s a good deal in it,” French declared. “I take it that no one’s going to suggest that the nurse was murdered too? Even if Mrs. Earle or Slade or both were guilty of killing Earle, they could have had no animosity against the nurse. Then where does she come in? Why should she disappear? I can conceive no reason.”

“Nor can I.”

“On the other hand,” French went on, “if Earle disappeared voluntarily, the nurse's action is accounted for at once. If they were attracted to one another, they might easily go off together. It’s not hard to make a case for their doing so: he would want peace and she security. I needn’t labour the point: you’ll both see it as clearly as I can.”

“Yes, that’s all right.” Sheaf was lounging back in a bored manner, but his expression showed that he was listening with the keenest attention and interest.

“Now,” went on French, “the more we consider this theory of voluntary disappearance, the more confirmation we find. First take the question of the absence of shoes and hat and coat and the failure to secure an uninterrupted period before the hue and cry is raised. From one point of view these may be eliminated, because they remain unchanged on any theory. I mean, whether the affair was murder or voluntary disappearance, these difficulties have to be met.

“At the same time their most likely solution is that Earle previously hid shoes and a hat and coat outside his house and put them on as soon as he left. He would only have had to carry the house slippers, which he could easily have put into his pocket. Knowing the district, he could have made his way unseen, say, to Guildford station, where he was unknown, and where by mixing with the crowd, he could have reached the London train unnoticed. And of course he might have taken these precautions to make it seem unlikely that he had gone off with a woman.”

“Same with the raising of the hue and cry?”

“Same with the raising of the hue and cry.”

“That’s all obvious,” Sheaf agreed. “If the man had wanted to get away on the quiet, he could have done it. What do you say, sergeant?”

Sheepshanks, delighted to be asked, emphatically agreed with his chief.

“Then there’s another strong point for voluntary disappearance: Earle’s book. Apparently this was an important work about which he was extremely keen. I told you the manuscript had vanished. Now if Earle were murdered, should the manuscript not be there? On the other hand, if Earle went off secretly, would he not have taken it with him?”

“I suppose, sir,” Sheepshanks said diffidently, “it’s out of the question that the doctor could have been murdered for the manuscript?”

This was evidently a new idea to Sheaf. He nodded approvingly. “Yes; what about that, French?”

“I thought of it,” French returned. “As a matter of fact, I wondered if Campion could have killed him for it. But Campion was in the drawing-room with his sisters and Miss Stone at the time of Earle’s disappearance. I couldn’t think of anyone else who might have done it.”

“Besides,” Sheaf added, “there remains the nurse. For the moment I forgot her.”

“That’s right, super. To say that either Campion or anyone else murdered Earle doesn’t explain what happened to the nurse.”

“Very well. Then, as I said, if we eliminate murder, only voluntary disappearance is left?”

“That’s my view,” French agreed. “So far I think the thing may be summarised by saying that there’s no direct evidence for murder, and that the murder theory creates certain rather grave difficulties, while there is evidence for voluntary disappearance, and this theory fits all the facts and meets these difficulties. Do you agree so far, super?”

“I do, but there are difficulties in the disappearance theory too,” Sheaf pointed out.

“I know there are: I’m coming to them. There are no fewer than five as I see it, but only two of them are serious.”

“Let’s have ’em, anyway.”

“Well, the first is financial. I’ve not been able to trace that Earle got any money to go away with. There’s nothing surer than that if he went off with the nurse he had money to do it: not merely a lump sum, but a steady income arranged somehow. As I think you know, I put out a circular with a photograph of Earle to all banks in the hope of tracing a second account in some other name, but without any success. I feel sure that if Earle had had such an account, I should have heard of it. Then I made enquiries from the companies in which Earle had his money. His holdings had not been sold out. Moreover, the man was not known to have had other resources.”

“You’re right about that being a difficulty,” Sheaf declared, grinding out the stub of his cigarette and lighting another. “If you ask me, it’s a pretty hefty snag. And the nurse had no money either?”

“No, not so far as I can learn.”

Sheaf nodded again. “Right; go ahead.”

“The second difficulty is that neither of these two sent any message to their respective friends. To me, super, this is an even greater difficulty than the first. It doesn’t seem to me in the character of either of them. Mrs. Earle was convinced that if her husband could have let her know his movements, he would have done so, and that sister at the nursing-home said exactly the same about the nurse. One can understand that they mightn’t say anything about it beforehand, but when the thing had actually been done, there could be no reason against, and many for, relieving their friends’ anxieties.”

“Curse it,” said Sheaf, “you’re right about that. I hadn’t thought of it. Well, never mind; go on.”

“The other difficulties are of less importance, but still I think they must be taken into account. The third is that no one who knew the nurse will believe that she would have acted as we are supposing: they all say she ‘was not that kind of woman’. Incidentally the same applies to some extent to Earle also. These general opinions may not perhaps be very convincing, but they should have some weight.”

“Not a great deal,” Sheaf declared.

“Not a great deal, but some. The fourth difficulty is that no information as to their leaving can be obtained. The entire police force of the British Isles is on the look-out for these two persons, and neither has been seen.”

“Nothing in that, French. All sorts of people disappear and are never found, in spite of police search. You should know that better than I.”

“I do know it,” French admitted, “but this should count when added to the other facts.”

“Very well, let it go. Next point?”

“Passports,” said French. “Earle had a passport, but he had not taken it. I found it in his desk. And Nurse Nankivel had never applied for one. Of course they might both have applied under false names, but they would scarcely have succeeded in getting them. Police supervision over this matter may not be very rigorous, but it would be enough to stop that. And neither would have known how to get a forged copy. I take it then that they did not mean to go abroad. But if they remained in this country, their identity would be almost certain sooner or later to become known.”

Sheaf rubbed his forehead. “I don’t think there’s much in that. What do you make of it, Sheepshanks?”

The sergeant held definite views. He thought they might remain hidden in London or some other big city. “Earle could fake an illness,” he pointed out, “and grow a moustache. He’d probably never be recognised then. And if people have only seen the nurse in her uniform, they mightn’t recognise her in ordinary clothes.”

The others looked at Sheepshanks with approval. Right or wrong, his view had been worth putting forward. “Then that’s the other side of it,” Sheaf said heavily and the trio relapsed into silence. At last Sheaf made an impatient movement.

“I will admit, French,” he declared, “that for a man who was proving this was a disappearance, you’ve been fair to the opposition.”

French shrugged. “Take care of the cons and the pros will take care of themselves,” he retorted. “You know that as well as I do, super. I’ve been as clear as I could about these difficulties, because the disappearance theory depends on them. If they can’t be met, the theory’s false: that’s all.”

The superintendent grunted. “Can they be met?” he asked. “What do you say, sergeant?”

This time Sheepshanks was not certain. It did not seem to him a clear case. On the balance he thought the facts pointed to a disappearance, but he didn’t think this was conclusively proved.

“I declare, French, I agree with Sheepshanks,” the superintendent said at last. “You’ve made too good a list of difficulties. Tell me, would you really be satisfied yourself to leave the case as it is?”

French laughed. “That’s a nasty one.” He thought for some moments. “I don’t mind confessing,” he went on, “that I’d rather have the thing cut and dry, and all these ends that seem to be over tidied away. But it’s going to mean the deuce of a lot of work, for which, I presume, you’ll pay. Under the circumstances, I think it’s up to you to call the tune.”

Sheaf appreciated that, but he didn’t want anything afterwards to come out which would indicate that the Farnham police and their superintendent had been caught napping. “I would suggest, French, if you’re agreeable, that you stick it a little while longer. Let’s see, this is Friday night: that’s less than a fortnight since the thing happened. What about trying for another week, and then if nothing fresh has turned up, we can have another talk about it?”

French agreed readily, indeed almost with enthusiasm. It was exactly what he wished himself. There was nothing he hated more than to leave a case incomplete.

“Right then,” he finished up. “I’ll go up to Town now and to-morrow try and tighten up the general search, and on Monday I’ll come down and have another shot here.”

Before Sheaf could reply his telephone bell rang out.

“Yes?” he grunted into the instrument; “speaking. Oh, it’s you, super? Yes? Oh, you have? Good! . . . Well, Inspector French is here now and I’ll tell him. Hold on a sec.” He turned to French. “Guildford super speaking. He has news of your nurse. He wants you to go over in the morning.”

“Not to-night?”

“Not to-night, super? . . .” Then again to French. “No, he thinks nothing would be gained. Fact is, he doesn’t think what he’s got will be much help to you.”

“Right,” said French. “I’ll go in the morning on my way to Town.”

“He’ll be with you first thing in the morning, super,” Sheaf repeated and rang off.

“He didn’t say who saw her?” went on French.

“No; no details.”

The tracing of the nurse’s possible arrival at the Hog’s Back being a local enquiry, French had asked Sheaf to put it in hand; and Sheaf, on the grounds that the area in question was outside his district, had passed the matter on to the Guildford authorities.

Next morning French took an early bus to Guildford and in ten minutes had heard the superintendent’s news. It appeared that the nurse had kept her appointment for that Sunday afternoon. Careful enquiries had led to the discovery of two persons who had seen her. The first was the conductor of a bus running from Guildford to Farnham. He said that a lady answering the given description and whom he recognised from the accompanying photograph, had boarded his bus, the 5.50 p.m. from Guildford, at the Technical Institute in Guildford, the regular stopping-place. She had travelled with him up on to the Hog’s Back to where the road to Compton branched off. There she had got out. It was dusk at the time and he had not seen in which direction she had gone. She had seemed perfectly normal in every way and not at all excited, though as his bus was well filled, he had not observed her with any special care.

The superintendent had not been content with this result, and had continued to press his enquiries. These at last had resulted in the discovery that a Mr. Kenworthy, of Guildford, had also been at the place just before six o’clock and had also seen the nurse. Mr. Kenworthy had been walking along the Hog’s Back road in the direction of Farnham, and was just approaching the Compton road junction, when a bus overtook him and stopped at the junction. A lady got out, and he was just near enough to see that she was dressed in some lightish colour such as grey. The bus passed on towards Farnham and she walked in the same direction, Mr. Kenworthy following some distance behind. At the Farnham side of the by-pass underbridge, some hundred yards farther on, a car was standing. As the lady reached it a man got out and spoke to her. Then she got in and the car moved off towards Guildford. Mr. Kenworthy had not, however, observed whether when it reached the road junction, it went on towards Guildford, or turned down the hill towards Compton. Presumably, however, it had gone towards Compton, as the nurse would scarcely have been taken back to the place from which she had just come.

“Fine, super,” French said warmly when he had assimilated these details. “That’s bound to be a help to us. This man Kenworthy wasn’t able to describe the car?”

“No, but I didn’t push him very hard. I thought you would probably like to see him yourself. As a matter of fact he was with me here last night when I rang Sheaf up, and I told him you’d be over this morning and asked him to keep in touch. He said he’d be at his house all day,” and the super gave the address.

The house was up on the hill at the back of the old High Street. A delightful position, French thought it, as fifteen minutes later he knocked at the door. Mr. Kenworthy was elderly, evidently a retired business man. But he could not tell French more than he had already told the superintendent. There is a footpath over the by-pass bridge on the right side, facing Farnham, and he, Kenworthy, was walking along this. When the lady got out of the bus on the far side of the road she crossed and walked along the footpath a few yards in front of him. The car was standing at the same side of the road, facing towards them as they came up. The lady had got into the car, and the car had just started as Kenworthy came up.

As to the man who had got out and spoken to the lady, Mr. Kenworthy could give no particulars. It was dusk, nearly dark, in fact, and he had only seen him as a smudge. No, he couldn’t be certain that it was not a lady. Someone got out, and that was really all he knew.

Nor could he tell anything about the car except that it was a saloon. He had not observed the make or the size; in fact it had not attracted his attention in any way. French, seeing he could get no more, thanked the man and walked slowly down to the station en route for Town.

As he thought over what he had heard, he swore. This information about the nurse was damnably puzzling. His next step, he supposed, must be to find the car which had met her. But that wasn’t going to be so frightfully easy. It meant the usual elimination. He must find out where all the possible cars had been at six o’clock. And the possible people also. . . .

And where had the nurse gone? . . .

Curse it all! He was sick of the whole confounded business. French realised that he had gone stale and that what he wanted was a week-end away from the case. Well, he was on his way home now and until Monday morning he wouldn’t let another thought of the darned affair into his mind. Sufficient unto the day!

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