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19: Madam How and Lady Why

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Author Topic: 19: Madam How and Lady Why  (Read 45 times)
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« on: March 21, 2023, 08:40:10 am »

THE Chief Constable looked across the room at Pettigrew.

“This is your show, I think,” he said. “You tell him.”

Pettigrew did not reply at once. “It’s easy enough to say what you have done, Inspector,” he said at last. “When I first propounded my theory to Mr. MacWilliam I told him that it led straight to an impossibility. We’ve been staring hopelessly at that impossibility ever since. You have removed it. That’s all. So long as we were looking for a man who could play the clarinet we were looking for someone who simply did not exist. Now that we know we only have to find a man who could put on a false moustache and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and sit in the orchestra with a clarinet in his hand---well, there he is.” He indicated with his hand the little bundle of official papers which the Chief Constable had produced to him earlier in the evening. “I should have explained,” he added, “that I am alluding to my esteemed colleague, the secretary of the Markshire Orchestral Society.”

“Mr. Dixon!” exclaimed Trimble. “Do you really mean Mr. Dixon, sir?”

“None other, I assure you. Assisted, I regret to have to say, by Mrs. Dixon, who is on much better terms with her husband than she would have you believe.”

“Mr. Dixon! But I don’t understand. Why on earth should he have wanted to do such a thing?”

“As to the Why, that is where I come in. I spotted the Why some time ago, and the proof of it is in those papers over there. The really difficult problem was the How, and that you have succeeded in solving. With that done, it wouldn’t have taken you very long to get at the truth, but as it is, I can shorten your labour. There are some details that are not quite clear to me at the moment, but I have no doubt you will be able to clear them up as we go along.”

To look at Inspector Trimble at that moment, nobody would have believed that a short time before he had been on the verge of despair. With the complacent smile of success, he was sitting back to hear his assistant put the finishing touches to his work. Something very like a wink passed from MacWilliam to Pettigrew as the latter proceeded:

“Why? Why should Dixon wish to murder the woman from whom he was comfortably divorced as long ago as 1942? Both he and she had married again and they were as completely uninterested in each other’s lives---or deaths---as any two people could possibly be, to all appearances. Oddly enough, though, the motive for Dixon wanting to get rid of his ex-wife was presented to me at a very early stage in the case, in fact more than twenty-four hours before it was a case for the police at all. The person who gave me the hint, quite unconsciously, was Lucy Carless herself. I don’t know whether you are a reader of Dickens, Inspector?”

“I can’t say I am, sir. I have tried him once or twice, but I found him a bit too wordy for me.”

“Miss Carless had also tried Dickens---or rather he had been tried on her, with rather unfortunate results, it appeared. At Mr. Ventry’s famous party I happened to raise the subject of Dickens with her, and mentioned David Copperfield.”

“That’s one of the ones I dipped into, sir. There was a fellow in it called Micawber, I recollect, who was very comical.”

“Quite right. There were also two ladies who successively married the hero, named respectively Dora and Agnes.”

“That Dora! I think that was the bit of the book where I got bogged.”

“I can’t altogether blame you. Miss Carless held similar, and even stronger, views about that character. Now the point is this: Dora, in the story, is a charming but not altogether satisfactory wife, who conveniently dies, leaving the hero free to marry the equally charming and entirely satisfactory Agnes. As a matter of history, Dickens’s own marriage was somewhat of a failure, and he appears to have got it very firmly into his head that the girl he ought to have married was not his wife, but her younger sister. Whether things would have turned out any better if he had there is, of course, no knowing. But that being his state of mind, and since David Copperfield is obviously largely autobiographical, you can well imagine that many readers today identify Dora with Mrs. Dickens and Agnes with her sister---the convenient death of Dora and the subsequent marriage with Agnes being in the nature of what the psychoanalysts call ‘wish-fulfillment.’ ”

“Very interesting, sir, but I don’t quite see----”

“You will in a moment. As soon as ever I mentioned David Copperfield to Miss Carless she referred, not, as you very properly did, to Micawber, but to Dora and Agnes and to the commonplace identification of them with Dickens’s wife and sister-in-law. And she followed it up with these words---I think that I can recollect them exactly: ‘What a fuss he made about it! Nowadays he’d have simply got a divorce and married the other one!’ It struck me at the time that she seemed to be taking rather a strong personal interest in what is, after all, fairly ancient history, and I puzzled over it a good deal. Later on, a simple explanation occurred to me, which has now turned out to be the true one. Miss Carless was identifying herself with Dora---or with Mrs. Dickens, if you prefer it---and Dixon had done exactly what she suggested Dickens might have done.”

“With Mrs. Dixon, that now is, standing for Agnes?”


“But surely, sir, the two ladies weren’t sisters? Miss Carless’s father was a Polish count and Mrs. Dixon’s maiden name was Minch---or so Mrs. Basset says.”

“What Mrs. Basset says Debrett also says, and both are correct. What neither of them say, but is none the less true, is that Mrs. Minch and the Countess Carlessoff (or should it be Carlessova?) were one and the same person. Mrs. Dixon that was, and Mrs. Dixon that is, were half sisters.”

“You still haven’t told me, sir,” Trimble reminded Pettigrew, “why Dixon should have wanted to kill Miss Carless.”

“I thought I had made it clear. It was so that he could marry her sister.”

“Marry her? But isn’t that just what he’d done, years ago?”

“He had gone through a form of marriage with her, certainly. The Chief Constable has the certificate in front of him at this moment. But it is of no legal effect whatever. You may not lawfully marry your divorced wife’s sister---and a half sister, for this purpose, counts as a full one. That is the result of an Act of Parliament passed in the reign of Henry VIII—a gentleman who knew quite a bit about divorces. On the other hand, modern legislation has made it possible to marry a deceased wife’s sister, and that is exactly what Dixon intended to do.”

Seeing the look of incredulity on Trimble’s face, Pettigrew added: “Just to prove that this is not a piece of guesswork on my part, you will find on that table Dixon’s application to the ecclesiastical official known as the Surrogate, asking for the issue of a marriage license to enable him to marry Nicola Minch, spinster. It is dated just a week after Lucy Carless’s death. The license, of course, would enable him to marry without the publicity of banns, or giving notice at a register office.”

The inspector was still only half convinced.

“What beats me about the whole business is this,” he said. “Here’s a man in a good position, who, so far as anyone can tell, is comfortably married---he is married, to all intents and purposes, whatever the law may say. Why on earth should he run the fearful risk of committing a murder just to put himself right with the letter of the law, when he could have gone on as he was, and nobody any the wiser?”

“Because,” said Pettigrew, “he found himself in a position where he had to put himself right with the law, or sooner or later a great many people would be the wiser. Two unexpected events occurred just before the concert. The first was the death of the only son of Lord Simonsbath. That, as anybody within earshot of Mrs. Basset must have heard, left Dixon the next heir to the peerage, though his succession was liable to be defeated by the birth of a posthumous son to the widow. Then the posthumous child duly appeared and proved to be a girl. After that, whether he liked it or not, nothing but a miracle could prevent Dixon becoming the seventh Viscount, and, again according to the omniscient Mrs. Basset, the present peer is a pretty poor life, so that it might occur at any time.”

Pettigrew paused for a moment.

“Here,” he said, “I am obliged to speculate a little, but from what we now know happened I think I am on fairly safe ground. Whether married or living in sin, Dixon would unquestionably be Lord Simonsbath, and I don’t suppose anyone would question Mrs. Dixon’s right to call herself My Lady. But suppose he wanted to set up a family himself? Suppose---and time will very soon show if I am right---she is already in what the newspapers call ‘a certain condition’? I don’t profess to be an expert in such matters, but I fancy that before anyone can succeed to a peerage he has to take some steps to prove his right to do so. There would be a pretty kettle of fish, would there not, when Dixon’s son came to man’s estate and it turned out that after all he was what the law crudely styles a bastard. Plain Mr. Dixon could afford to let things go on in the way they always had done. Lord Simonsbath simply could not---and even if he was prepared to, the lady who had always passed as his wife was not going to let him.”

“When I was a boy,” observed the Chief Constable, “I was given a damned dull book to read. I’ve forgotten most of it, but the title has always stuck in my head. It was Madam How and Lady Why. It seems appropriate to this case, somehow.”

“I think we have disposed of Lady Why,” said Pettigrew, “and I must apologize for letting her ladyship take up so much of your time. And now, Inspector, we are waiting for you to give us Madam How.”

Inspector Trimble drew a deep breath. From the very beginning of the investigation he had been looking forward to the moment when before an admiring audience (which would certainly include the Chief Constable) he would demonstrate with telling logic and crystalline clarity the solution to the problem. Since then his confidence had wavered until, less than an hour ago, it had reached vanishing point. Now, it seemed, when he was least expecting it, his hour had struck. He was a successful detective after all! Except for one little detail---which, as Mr. Pettigrew pointed out, he would have found out for himself in due course---he had unraveled the mystery; and here was his audience, waiting breathless on his words. He could have wished for a little more time to assemble his thoughts---to assimilate the little detail which, he recognized, was not without its importance. But he would do his best. Tentatively at first, and then with growing assurance, he began his exposition.

“It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, sir,” he said, “but I think that I can explain how it fits together. Let’s start at the beginning: Dixon made up his mind to kill Miss Carless in the artist’s room at the concert. In order to do that he had to impersonate a member of the orchestra, relying on the fact that players in an orchestra don’t look at each other during a performance but at the conductor, and the conductor in this case was as blind as a bat. The trouble was that he couldn’t play a note himself. But he noticed that one of the pieces to be played---this K. thing---didn’t use clarinets, and he decided that he would pretend to be a clarinet player for the occasion. As I see it he had three difficulties to get over before he could bring it off: One, to get hold of a clarinet; Two, to get rid of the genuine player; Three, to arrange for this K. affair to be played at the start of the concert, instead of at the end, as arranged. Am I right so far, sir?”

“In my humble opinion, absolutely right,” said Pettigrew.

“The first job was easy enough. I take it that he simply lifted Mr. Ventry’s instrument at the party. The second must have given him a bit of trouble, though. But luckily for him he was able to take advantage of the row that blew up at the rehearsal between Miss Carless and the Polish fellow.”

“There I am afraid I must disagree with you,” said Pettigrew. “There was no luck in the matter at all. The whole affair was deliberately staged by Dixon.”

“Are you sure of that, sir?”

“Looking back on the occasion---and don’t forget that I was an eyewitness---I have no doubt about it whatever. It seemed to me at the time that Dixon was showing an extraordinary lack of tact in dragging Zbartorowski up to be presented to the soloist. He was obviously reluctant to be brought forward and only wanted to be left alone. Introducing him to Miss Carless was like introducing a spark to a powder barrel.”

“How did he know that?”

“How was he not to know it? Dixon had lived in Poland. He had been given the job of vetting Zbartorowski before Evans would admit him to the orchestra. Of course he had found out all about him, and knew that if there was one name calculated to send Lucy off the handle it was his.”

“Very good, sir. Having got rid of one player in this way, of course he was given the job of finding another one. As we know, he eventually succeeded in engaging Mr. Jenkinson.”

“Here again I think I can help you. It is a lamentable fact, but I have just realized that I am going to be an important witness for the prosecution. Dixon wasted a considerable amount of time, no doubt deliberately, in trying a number of different people before he finally pitched on Jenkinson, whom he must have known to be available all along. I think this was done so that it would be too late for him to come direct to Markhampton, which was essential to his plan. Also you will note that he so arranged matters that I and not he made the first contact with Jenkinson, by way of additional proof, if necessary, that the man had been genuinely engaged. Incidentally, Evans very nearly queered his pitch at the last moment by offering to do without a clarinetist, but luckily for him the offer came just too late.”

“That is very helpful, sir.” The inspector’s tone, to MacWilliam’s disguised amusement, had become positively patronizing. “Now we come to an odd point: Dixon then and there, in the presence of you and a number of other people, purported to ring up Farren’s garage for a car to meet the seven twenty-nine train at Eastbury Junction. But Farren is positive that the message he received was to meet the seven fifty-nine train. Moreover, he says that the message came at five twenty, whereas Mrs. Basset is prepared to swear that Dixon telephoned in her presence at five ten. Up to now I’ve gone on the line that either Farren or Mrs. Basset or both were mistaken. It looks now as if they were right. Somebody did, later on, tell Farren to meet the wrong train. That, of course, must have been Dixon. The message which you heard Mr. Dixon send, sir, must have been a fake, sent to some other number on the Markhampton exchange.”

“By Jove!” said Pettigrew.

“What is it, sir?”

“I have just remembered something. Not only was the message a fake, but it was spotted as such by one of those present at the time it was made, even though he did not realize the effect of his own observation.”

“You spotted, it at the time, sir?”

“Not I---but Clayton Evans certainly did. If you had got so far in your last interview with him he might have told you. Let me recall exactly what occurred. Dixon said: ‘I am going to ring up Farren’s,’ or words to that effect. (He had let me do the telephoning up to then, of course, but this time he was careful to do it himself.) He then repeated the number---2203---and proceeded to dial. But of course he didn’t dial that number, but another one. We shall see in a moment which that number really was. Now if you listen to a number being dialed on an automatic telephone you can tell, if you are sufficiently interested to notice, whether the digits composing the number are long or short by the time taken for the dial to come back to its position. Obviously our old friend 999 would take much longer to dial than 111, for instance. If you have a very keen and observant ear trained to notice exact gradations of speed, I dare say you could tell the difference, say, between dialing 99 and 98. Of course, I haven’t an ear like that---but Evans certainly has. Well, as he left the room just after the bogus telephone call had been made I noticed that he looked distinctly puzzled. Somebody asked him if anything was the matter, and he said that something had been bothering him---he wasn’t quite sure what, but he thought it was a question of tempo. Of course it was. He had been expecting to hear Dixon dial 2203 and what he had heard in fact was the sound of dialing 2381. Without realizing it consciously he felt that something was wrong with the timing and it upset him, just as an orchestra playing out of time would have done.”

“2381,” said the Chief Constable. “That is Dixon’s own telephone number, is it not?”

“Yes. There is only one person to whom he could have possibly given that fake message and that was his wife---as it is convenient to call her. We aren’t in a position to prove it, of course, but if Ventry is asked I shall be surprised if he doesn’t say that a telephone call came through to her at ten minutes past five.”

“Ventry,” repeated the inspector, who obviously felt that he had been kept from the centre of the stage quite long enough. “I was just coming to him. Dixon had still his third hurdle to get over---he had to prevent the items at the concert being played in their proper order. The obvious way to do that was to arrange for Ventry to turn up late at the concert, and rely on Mr. Evans’s anxiety not to keep the audience waiting. Well, we know where Ventry was, all right. He was having what he calls ‘fun and games’ with Mrs. Dixon. She, no doubt, had told him that the coast would be clear that afternoon and early evening---Yes?” he broke off impatiently, as Pettigrew showed signs of speaking again.

“I am sorry to butt in once more,” said Pettigrew humbly, “but I am a witness of fact on that point also. Dixon made it very clear to me, in Ventry’s hearing, that he would not be coming home between the concert and the rehearsal. When the shemozzle over finding another clarinetist began Ventry weighed in with the suggestion that Clarkson should be approached. Dixon fairly bit his head off, and thereupon Ventry beetled away with what I now recognize to have been a ‘You Have Been Warned’ expression on his face.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Trimble graciously. “Dixon and his wife between them baited the trap and Ventry fell into it. Once at the house, it was her business to keep him there. She was able to do that by setting her clock twenty minutes slow and only leaving the house just in time to drive down to the concert before it was due to begin. Ventry followed her out, and found that his own car was gone.”

“On the whole,” said MacWilliam, “I think that was the most ingenious part of the entire scheme. Dixon had to ditch Ventry. At the same time he wanted a car to meet Jenkinson’s train and ditch him. He killed two birds with one stone in the simplest possible fashion, by taking Ventry’s car and using it to get Jenkinson out of the way. I am bound to say I rather admire him for thinking of that.”

“At the same time,” Trimble went on, “he was throwing suspicion on Ventry, who was naturally reluctant to tell the truth about his adventures that evening. The rest of the story is quite straightforward. Dixon drove to Eastbury Junction, met Mr. Jenkinson there, landed him at Didford Parva and then came back to Markhampton, timing himself to arrive just as the concert was due to begin. He entered the Hall by the artists’ entrance. By that time, of course, the back of the Hall was deserted, as the orchestra was all assembled on the platform. While the National Anthem was being played he made his way into the soloist’s room and strangled Miss Carless with one of his wife’s nylon stockings, which he had brought with him. Presumably he was successful in taking her by surprise, but if there was any struggle the sound of it would be drowned by the noise of the music. Then he slipped into his place in the orchestra and sat there quietly, in full view of the audience, while the symphony was being played. In the confusion that followed the discovery of the crime it was quite easy for him to slip out, remove his very simple disguise and reappear in his ordinary capacity as secretary to the Society. Naturally, nobody thought of asking him where he had been that evening,” the inspector added defensively. “As secretary he would, of course, be expected to be here, there and everywhere up to the time of the concert and to have a seat somewhere in the hall while it was going on.”

“Exactly,” said Pettigrew. He was recollecting how he had sat in the gallery of the City Hall, and chatted amiably with the accomplice of a murderer, while she airily explained that her husband “had a seat downstairs, somewhere near the back”; how he had eagerly looked along the rows of musicians and seen their ranks joined by the very murderer himself fresh from his crime. His mind reverted again to Nicola Dixon. How sparkling and alive she had been! As he contemplated the real causes of her eager excitement on that evening, he shuddered.

Aloud he said: “I congratulate you, Inspector. It has been a most complicated affair, but your reconstruction of it appears to me perfect.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Trimble modestly. “I think it is pretty clear now. And, if I may say so, your assistance has been most valuable.”

The Chief Constable choked over his fifth whisky and soda.

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