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« on: August 23, 2023, 05:07:34 am »

3 - 4

‘IN London, yes, certainly!’ said Chaney, when we had made our adieux and left the ladies of the Pension Hagill. ‘But Paris is on our way to London, Camberwell, and we’ll see what we can find at the Hotel Mauriac.’

However, we had not yet done with Monte Carlo. We had not been back at our hotel very long, and it was still scarcely ten o’clock, when a card was brought to us, bearing the name Mr. John Pettlegrew, and, pencilled beneath it, the words, Introduced by the Misses Wakeman. The card was presently followed by a little, elderly, very serious and solemn-looking gentleman chiefly remarkable for a pair of very large round spectacles through which he blinked at us like a wise owl. He made us a very polite and formal bow as he advanced to the corner of the lounge in which we were sitting.

‘Mr. Chaney?---Mr. Camberwell?’ he said in a very precise voice, as solemn as his expression. ‘You will excuse my intrusion, I am sure, when I state that I am waiting upon you at the desire of my friends the Misses Wakeman in whose house I am---and I may say have been for some years---a resident.’

‘Glad to see you, sir,’ responded Chaney. ‘Very kind of you to call, I’m sure.’

Mr. Pettlegrew bowed again, and taking the chair which I drew forward for him, removed his spectacles, and having polished them with a little cloth, taken from a waistcoat pocket, replaced them on his nose and regarded us more solemnly than before.

‘Yes,’ he observed, meditatively. ‘Miss Wakeman the elder thought---and Miss Wakeman, the younger quite agreed---that you might find it profitable to your purposes if I told you a little about Mr. Crowther, of whom you were speaking during your visit to the Pension Hagill---I was not in while you were there. I knew Mr. Crowther---I may say, intimately. I, of course, was a resident at the Pension Hagill all the time Mr. and Mrs. Crowther stayed there.’

‘Indeed, sir?’ said Chaney. ‘And what sort of man was Mr. Crowther?’

Mr. Pettlegrew placed his fat hands on his equally plump knees and bent forward with an impressive look at us.

‘A born---adventurer!’ he said. ‘Born!’

‘Bit of a gambler, eh?’ suggested Chaney.

‘Far more than a bit, my dear sir,’ replied Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘Every inch of him a gambler! The sort of man who was always trying for a big prize in the affairs of life. I, myself,’ he continued, rubbing his knees, ‘am not a gambler---I have a sufficient competence, and I do not care to tempt Fortune. But I am a student, a life-long student of Human Nature. For that reason I am a constant, a regular attendant at the Casino here. I like to study the types of human nature I see there---most interesting, I assure you. And, of course, I saw Crowther there---every day.’

‘What sort of luck had he, Mr. Pettlegrew?’ asked Chaney.

Mr. Pettlegrew shook his head.

‘He was there too often to have what a gambler would call good luck, my dear sir,’ he answered. ‘A man who haunts the gaming-tables morning, noon, and night, as he did, is bound to come out on the wrong side. I should say, from my own personal observation that Crowther lost a lot of money there. He had a system, invented by himself. Ah!---I have known a great many men who had systems!’

‘Did you ever hear his wife say anything about his losses?’ asked Chaney.

‘She gave me---and the Misses Wakeman---to understand that he had lost a lot of money, and that it was her money,’ replied Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘He was a masterful man---his wife was afraid of him. I feel sure the poor thing was happier when he vanished and left her---in spite of the fact that thenceforward she had to earn her own living.’

‘Do you know anything of the circumstances under which he left her?’ enquired Chaney. ‘Or anything about Crowther himself just at that time?’

Mr. Pettlegrew became more owl-like and solemn than ever. After staring steadily at us for a while, he leaned still nearer, and tapped first Chaney and then me, after which he carefully pronounced two words, very slowly and emphatically.

‘I---do!’

Chaney nodded his understanding of the decisive remark.

‘Just so, sir! You do!’ he said. ‘We should be glad to know, too.’

Mr. Pettlegrew went through the tapping process again: his forefinger, stretched stiffly out, poked itself first into Chaney and then into me.

‘Mark you!’ he said, oracularly, ‘I wish to be exact, correct. When I said “know”, I should perhaps have used another word. “Conjecture” or “surmise”. Or, perhaps, “suspect”. Suspect---yes! That is the better word. I suspect Crowther of---something! And---until now, I have kept my suspicions strictly to myself. But---as I understand you are private enquiry agents---I have no objection to telling them to you.’

‘Anything you tell us, Mr. Pettlegrew, will be regarded as a strictly confidential communication,’ said Chaney.

‘I am assured of it,’ graciously said Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘Well, it is this. You are aware that Crowther left his wife at the Pension Hagill without any notice or warning and completely disappeared, and---as far as I am aware---has never been heard of again. There was no question of suicide, for Mrs. Crowther quickly ascertained that he had drawn a considerable amount of money from the bank---some hundreds of pounds---and further enquiries proved that he had not visited the Casino after receiving this large amount at the Credit Lyonnais. No!---he just went; where, nobody knew or I believe, ever will know. But---a week or two after his disappearance, the dead body of a man was found in a lonely part of the country, in a gorge between here and La Turbie. Not Crowther’s, no!---the body was that of an elderly man, an eccentric sort of person, an Englishman, who had been staying in the town for some weeks, was a fairly regular attendant at the gaming tables, and who was well known---well known!---to always carry a considerable sum of ready money on his person. His name was Watkinson, Mr. Samuel Watkinson. Now, gentlemen, when Mr. Watkinson’s body was discovered, there was not a penny piece---or shall we say a centime?---on it!’

Mr. Pettlegrew paused and looked from one to the other of us, as much as to say ‘Now, what do you think of that?’

‘What are you suggesting, Mr. Pettlegrew?’ asked Chaney. ‘That Crowther killed this man and robbed the dead body?’

‘I have often wondered if he did!’ exclaimed Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘But I have never put my wonder into words till now.’

‘Was Crowther suspected?’ demanded Chaney.

‘Not by anyone, that I know of!’ replied Mr. Pettlegrew.

‘The police?’ suggested Chaney.

‘I don’t think the police ever suspected Crowther at all,’ replied Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘The police had its own theory.’

‘And what was that?’ asked Chaney.

‘Oh, the obvious one! That Mr. Watkinson had been watched in the Casino; was known to have large sums of ready money at his disposal, and was followed on one of the solitary country rambles he was fond of taking. The matter was never cleared up.’

‘Why did you suspect Crowther?’ demanded Chaney. ‘What grounds had you?’

Again Mr. Pettlegrew poked the admonitory finger into our ribs.

‘I shall tell you!’ he said, solemnly. ‘Let me, however, say first that the unfortunate Watkinson---Samuel---had been slain by a blow, or blows, on the head delivered with some blunt instrument----’

‘Ah!’ exclaimed Chaney, involuntarily. ‘Yes?’

‘Now, when I heard that,’ continued Mr. Pettlegrew, ‘it gave me to think---furiously, as the French would say. One night, during my acquaintanceship with him, I was with Crowther at the Casino when, for once in a way, he won a large sum of money. We left together, late. Outside, I asked him if he wasn’t afraid of going through the streets with all that money on him? For answer, he laughed, and, putting a hand in his outer pocket, pulled out and showed me---what do you think?’

‘A revolver?’ suggested Chaney. ‘Or automatic pistol?’

‘No, sir!’ replied Mr. Pettlegrew. ‘An old-fashioned life-preserver! And---I am not a fool, gentlemen---it was with just such a thing as that that Mr. Samuel Watkinson had been . . . struck dead!’

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