It was so quickly and quietly done that the noise and the bustle went on about us undisturbed. The inspector, who had been barking orders on the telephone to a subordinate at Scotland Yard, now sprang up and seized his hat. “I’ll want you to identify this guy,” he told the manageress, “you, too, Caro—I’ll take you two in my car. You bring Mr. Ralton in a taxi, if you care to tag along, H.B.—he’ll have to come to the Yard later to make a statement.”
“You had that money from your mother to pay us, and what did you do? You frittered it away and when Mr. Harris at our place—who has been far too lenient—pressed you for something on account, you gave him a dud cheque.” “Here she is now!” said Brinckman suddenly. Trumpets again, a roll of drums, the announcement swallowed up in the squeak of Janet’s chair as she dragged it nearer the loud speaker, then Marcia’s vibrant mezzo sweeping into the opening recitative of the aria from “Werther.” Which, seeing that Divisional Inspector William Samuel Hodgetts owed his promotion to inspector to his brilliant elucidation of the Acacia Lodge mystery, I submit is no more than fair. Valianko’s bayonet, fitted in its sheath which Michailoff had left behind in the colonel’s house, hangs over Mr. Treadgold’s fireplace in Bury Street.
I had not even noticed that there was a carafe on the washstand in the girl’s bedroom, much less that it was empty. He has a mind like a sensitised photographic plate—no feature of the scene escapes it. At that moment a thick-set man with a heavy moustache put his head in at the dining-room door.
From the Yacht Club, with its clubhouse and little pier spread out at the foot of the steep rocks descending from the grounds of Sea Nest to the strand, the faint thump of a jazz band mingling with the distant stutter of a power-boat welled up out of the velvety dark. IN seeking to rearrange in my mind the exact sequence of events leading up to the tragic affair at Norhasset, I find that the story logically opens on the warm July evening a year or two back, when we were all gathered on the porch at Sea Nest, the Brinckmans’ place on Long Island Sound, listening to the Roden Radio Hour. There were eight of us, as I remember—Claud and Edith Brinckman and the two kids—Guy, twelve, and Janet, nine—who were always allowed to sit up for this important weekly event, Geoffrey and Pamela Draycott, down for the week-end like ourselves, and H.B. A talkative client made me a few minutes late in arriving at Bury Street. Vestibule and staircase seemed to be full of excited cripples, some on crutches, others with rubbershod sticks. There must have been a score of them—I had no idea there were so many one-legged Russians in London.
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With a dignified air Mr. Treadgold disengaged himself from the secretary’s embrace. “Strozzi,” he said, “I’ve called to ask you a service.” “She wasn’t wearing it and she didn’t deposit it at her bank, the Wisconsin Trust on the Place Vendôme. I was there yesterday—the manager’s a friend of mine.” He paused. “You can find her for me if you try, Mr. Treadgold. All I want to know is that nothing has happened to her.” “No. Maria was expecting her for dinner. She didn’t take even an overnight bag with her—she had nothing but the clothes she stood up in, the clothes she was wearing at lunch.” A little colour warmed the creamy pallor of her lovely face.
- “It is as I thought,” he said in excellent English.
- Something struck me on the head—I saw a great burst of light…
- “They were never very friendly to Uncle Eustace—to me, either. I think they regarded us both as intruders.”
- One could scarcely have found a lonelier spot lapped, as it was, in the forest stillness.
- He even examined the turn-ups of the trousers, and spent quite some time on the shoes.
The district attorney said, “All right, Mr. Brinckman,” then glanced at H.B. He and Brinckman went down the steps into the night together. “She was going to a party on one of the yachts. I sculled her across, had a drink with them and came back.”
Opening it out, he pointed silently to the lining. Bold brown and green stripes on a mustard ground were displayed there. They faced one another, big men both, Marton rather dandified in his elegantly molded grey suit, Treadgold looking like a farmer with his glowing cheeks and well-worn tweeds.
Crumbs of earth adhered to it, and there was a reddish stain where the blade was set in the haft. “In my opinion,” said the inspector, “Kendrick went for him the moment he got in and Reval made a bolt for it with Kendrick after him. Kendrick finished him off in the study as Reval crouched at the desk, trying to protect his head with his arms. One of the hands is badly slashed.” He showed us the dead man’s right hand. Mr. Treadgold made no comment and we went on to Acacia Lodge. The photograph, apparently enlarged from a snapshot taken on a racecourse, showed a nattily dressed young man with a laughing face and nose drooping to rather full lips. He held his hat in his hand and his curly, dark hair was displayed. “It is as I thought,” he said in excellent English.
Is for crime, and he rather wearied me by marshalling the facts at full length. I little knew how soon we were both to be drawn into the orbit of the case. He was busy with his stamp collection when I called round at Bury Street before dinner and curiously reluctant to discuss the case, although he told me that he had not heard from Manderton.
- “I bet this cost him a pretty penny,” he murmured.
- “At the Yard. It’s being returned to Broadstairs to- morrow.”
- The metal plate across the chimney was closed; the fireplace was evidently not in use, although a fire was laid in the grate.
- Installed at the desk, with Mr. Treadgold standing behind her, Tatiana O’Rorke was catechising each applicant and handing out Treasury notes—sometimes a pound, sometimes two, as Mr. Treadgold directed—from a bundle on the blotter.
“I can explain that,” the girl told him. “This room’s fearfully draughty. The other night, when it was blowing so hard, Mrs. Mangove showed me how to stuff up the keyhole with paper.” “By the seven forty-five to-night. I told them I had to come up for the day to sign some papers for the lawyer.” “I can’t say, except that it seemed to be louder than when I’d heard it before. There’s no electric light at Charton, and while I was groping for the matches I had a sudden feeling that someone was in the room. I cried out, ‘Who’s there?’ then a match was struck and I saw that it was Mrs. Mangove in her dressing- gown.” It took the four of us to get him to the car, and even then we had to strap his legs. Homicidal dementia in its most violent form, was the verdict of the doctor who examined him at the police station later on that afternoon.
The key he had entrusted to my keeping came back to my mind. Of course, he had locked the piano to preserve the dust on the keyboard while he hunted for further clues. But for Mr. Treadgold it would have been a melancholy affair. He took the lead in the conversation, and by remembering that mountaineering was a joint hobby of Wayne’s and our host’s, even succeeded in drawing Wayne into the conversation. He tried to lead Draycott into the ebb and flow of reminiscence about guides, and pockets, and couloirs, but Draycott, it appeared, was no alpinist.