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"Death in the Tunnel" is a mystery novel written in 1936 by Cecil John Charles Street (1884–1964) under his pseudonym Miles Burton: Sir Wilfred Saxonby travels alone in the 5 o'clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet ...
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Death in the Tunnel
Death in the Tunnel
The 5.0 p.m. train from Cannon Street runs fast as far as Stourford, where it is due at 6.7. On Thursday, November 14th, it was, as usual, fairly full, but not uncomfortably so.
It was a fine evening, dark, but with no suggestion of fog. Drawn by a powerful locomotive of the Lord Nelson type, the train kept well up to schedule time. In fact it ran through Blackdown station at 5.29, two minutes earlier than it was timed to do.
Beyond the station is Blackdown Tunnel, two and a half miles long. The gradient through the tunnel is fairly severe, and the speed of the train slackened slightly as it entered it. Still, it must have been travelling at fully fifty miles an hour. Suddenly, about half-way through the tunnel, the brakes were violently applied. So violently that William Turner, the guard, was nearly thrown off his seat in the rear van.
His first thought was that the communication cord had been pulled. But on glancing at the vacuum brake apparatus in his van he saw this had not been the case. He left the van, and started along the corridor towards the front of the train, looking into each compartment as he passed. Nearly every seat in the long row of thirds was occupied, but none of the passengers seemed in any way concerned by the slowing up of the train, which was now rapidly coming to a stop.
Turner unlocked the door leading to the first-class compartments. Here, too, all was well. The firsts were not so densely populated as the thirds, but they contained a fair sprinkling of passengers, mostly reading their evening papers. As Turner passed up the corridor, he heard a whistle from the engine. The train, which had slowed down nearly to walking pace, began once more to gather way. Still, it was curious. Turner continued on his way, expecting to meet his assistant from the front end of the train, who might be able to tell him what had been the matter.
He reached the last of the first-class compartments, a smoker, and looked in. Yes, there was the old chap who had given him a quid to keep him a compartment to himself. The application of the brakes had not disturbed him. He had dozed off, with his glasses on his nose, and his paper on his knees. Some big toff, no doubt. Turner remembered having seen him on the line before.
The guard unlocked a second door, separating the firsts in the centre of the train from another row of thirds, in front of them. Just beyond it, he met his assistant, who had walked down the train from the front van. “What’s up, Ted?” he asked.
“Everything O.K. my end,” replied the other. “I thought Bert must have run over somebody, or something. But he’s pushing her along again now, so it can’t have been that. Perhaps he dropped a sixpence off the engine, and wanted to go back and look for it.”
They exchanged a few more words, then each returned to his own van. Two or three minutes had been lost on schedule by the slowing down and gathering speed again. But this lost time was made good without difficulty. As the train approached Stourford, Turner noticed that the hands of his watch were barely past six o’clock. They would be well on time.
Once more he walked up the train, until he reached the first-class compartment occupied by the big toff, as he mentally styled him. The old gentleman was still asleep, and in the same position, as though he had not stirred since Blackdown Tunnel. Turner unlocked the door between the compartment and the corridor, and slid it back. “Just running into Stourford, sir!” he said loudly but respectfully.
The passenger did not move. So utterly still was he that Turner felt a sudden misgiving. He entered the compartment and laid his hand on the old gentleman’s shoulder. This having no effect, he shook him gently. To his horror, the passenger swayed, and appeared to lose his balance. He fell sideways, and subsided uneasily across the arm-rest. Turner, who had been through a course of first-aid, felt his pulse, but could detect no beating. He loosened his collar, and set him in an easier position.
By this time the train was running into the station. Turner went back to the corridor, which in this particular coach was on the left-hand side, opened the window, and put his head out. The station-master was standing on the platform. As the train drew slowly past him, Turner spoke. “I’d like a word with you, Mr. Cutbush,” he said quietly.
The station-master opened the door, and swung himself on to the train. “What is it?” he asked.
“There’s a passenger in here I don’t like the look of,” replied Turner. “He was all right when we left Cannon Street, but he’s pretty dicky now, I’m afraid.”
The station-master entered the compartment. “Hallo, it’s Sir Wilfred Saxonby, from Helverden!” he exclaimed. “He went up by the 9.50 this morning, and his car is in the yard now to meet him. Whatever can be the matter with him, I wonder?” As he spoke, the station-master unbuttoned the passenger’s overcoat, and opened it out. He started back in horror. On the breast of the dark grey suit beneath it was a patch of wet blood.
Mr. Cutbush was fully equal to the emergency. He wasted no more time in fruitless examination of the body. “Slip out and send a couple of chaps for the stretcher, and then come back here and help get him into the waiting-room. We’ll take this coach off here, and I’ll take the names and addresses of the passengers in it. And when you’ve got Sir Wilfred into the waiting-room, slip into the booking-office and tell the clerk to ring up Dr. Frant.”
Turner carried out his instructions to the letter. The body was removed from the train, and carried into the waiting-room, at the door of which a porter took up his post to keep out the inquisitive. The booking clerk was instructed to ring up Dr. Frant. Then Turner walked along the platform to the engine. “We’re going to take off a first-class coach here, Bert,” he said.
“All right,” replied the engine-driver. “What’s up? Hot box, or something?”
“No. The coach is all right, but there’s a toff in it who must have committed suicide. Mr. Cutbush knows him. Sir Wilfred Somebody. He said we were to take the coach off. Thinks the police will want to have a look at it, I expect. By the way, what was wrong with you to pull up in the tunnel like that?”
“There wasn’t anything wrong with me. Chap working on the line showed a red light. Then, just as I got to him, he turned it to green. So I came on.”
“Chap working on the line!” Turner exclaimed. “There’s nothing in the notices about any chaps working in Blackdown Tunnel!”
“I know that. But there was them blinking lights. You ask Charlie. He saw them, just the same as I did.”
The fireman, who was leaning out of the cab, nodded. “Yes, I saw them,” he said. “Chap was swinging them backwards and forwards, low down, just clear of the rails.”
“Well, I’ll have to put it in my report, I suppose,” said Turner. “I’ll get along now and see to the uncoupling of that coach.”
The coach was removed and shunted into a siding, where all the windows were closed and the doors locked. The train continued on its journey. At twenty minutes past six, Dr. Frant arrived at the station, where he was shown into the waiting-room by Mr. Cutbush.
A very brief inspection served to show that Sir Wilfred Saxonby was dead. “Not very long, hardly an hour, I should imagine,” said the doctor. “Now, let’s see if we can find out what he died of. Just help me to undo his coat and waistcoat, and we’ll see where that blood came from.”
The cause of death was soon apparent. Upon Sir Wilfred’s chest being bared, a small wound, surrounded with blood, was found in the region of the heart. A similar wound, but a trifle larger, was found in the back. The two wounds were level, that is to say that had the body been in an upright position, they would have been the same height above the ground.
“H’m!” said the doctor. “Pierced clean through the heart. By a bullet, I should say, though it might have been a very fine stiletto. Let’s have a look at his overcoat.”
Even in the not very powerful light of the waiting-room, the doctor found what he was looking for. “Here you are!” he exclaimed. “There’s a very small hole, corresponding with the position of the wound. And round it you can see some black specks, where the cloth has been burnt. Those specks were made by burning grains of powder. Sir Wilfred was shot with a pistol of some kind, probably a very small automatic, fired at very short range. Has the compartment in which he was found been searched?”
The station-master shook his head. “I’m a servant of the railway company, doctor, not a policeman,” he replied. “Every man to his trade, say I.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right,” said Dr. Frant. “The police will want to look into this, and they’ll be glad to find things undisturbed. It’s a bad job, altogether. You realise, I suppose, that this wound could have been self-inflicted?”
Mr. Cutbush nodded. “Sir Wilfred was alone in the compartment, so the guard informs me,” he said.
“Well, the best thing you can do is to get in touch with the police at once. I’ll make arrangements for the body to be taken to the mortuary. There’s nothing more I can do here, I’m afraid.”
It was not long before the police, in the person of Inspector Marden, of the local constabulary, arrived on the scene. As the result of Marden’s investigations, it was decided to call in the help of Scotland Yard. Not that there was much doubt as to what had happened, but it was just as well to make sure.
Inspector Arnold, of the Criminal Investigation Department, arrived at Stourford early on the following morning. He was met by Marden, who gave him a brief statement of the facts. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s a case of suicide,” he said. “But the dead man is a pretty important person in these parts, and my chief is very anxious that everything should be done to clear the matter up. Shall we have a look round the compartment in which the body was found?”
“Hold on a minute,” Arnold replied. “I’d like a little more information first. Who was this man, Sir Wilfred Saxonby?”
“A big man locally. Chairman of the bench of magistrates, and that sort of thing. He lived at Mavis Court, a big place near Helverden, about five miles from here. Lady Saxonby died some years ago. Sir Wilfred had a son and a daughter, but they are both married, and don’t live at Mavis Court. Since Lady Saxonby’s death Miss Olivia Saxonby, Sir Wilfred’s niece, has kept house for him. Sir Wilfred was chairman of a firm with offices in the City somewhere, and used to go up to London once a week or so.”
Arnold nodded. “Good enough. That’ll do to go on with. Now I’m ready to have a look at that railway carriage of yours.”
They summoned the station-master from his office; and the three of them walked across the metals to the siding on which stood the disconnected coach. It was nearly new stock, built of steel, a corridor coach of eight first-class compartments, with a lavatory at each end.
Mr. Cutbush produced a railway key, and unlocked one of the doors on the corridor side. They hoisted themselves into the coach, and Marden led the way to one of the end compartments. “This is the place,” he said. “Now then, Mr. Cutbush, perhaps you’ll be good enough to tell this gentleman where Sir Wilfred was sitting when the train came in.”
“The coach was running with the corridor on the left-hand side, facing in the direction in which the train was moving,” said the station-master. “This, then, was the front compartment in the coach. Sir Wilfred was in the corner seat, farthest from the corridor, with his back to the engine. None of the other five seats were occupied. The train runs fast from Cannon Street to here. After Sir Wilfred’s body had been removed, I cleared everybody else out of the coach, taking their names and addresses as I did so. There were twenty-four other passengers in it. I then locked the coach up securely, and had it shunted to where it stands now.”
“Mr. Cutbush and I examined it at seven o’clock yesterday evening,” said Marden. “I had Dr. Frant’s report, and the first thing I looked for was a bullet-hole in the back of the seat. Well, look here!”
He pointed out a small puncture in the upholstery, so small as to be hardly noticeable. “That’s just about the size of the holes in Sir Wilfred’s clothing,” he said. “They are all about a quarter of an inch, not more.”
“What is there behind this upholstery, Mr. Cutbush?” Arnold asked.
“A steel partition dividing this compartment from the lavatory,” the station-master replied.
“Let’s have a look in the lavatory,” Arnold suggested. They examined the wall there, but there was no sign of a bullet-hole. “The steel partition stopped it, no doubt,” Arnold continued. “We shall have to strip the upholstery in the compartment if we’re to find it. Now what about the weapon it was fired from?”
“We found that, too,” Marden replied. “If you’ll come back to the compartment, I’ll show you. I’ve put it back exactly where it was.”
Arnold saw it for himself as soon as he examined the floor. It was lying under the seat which had been occupied by Sir Wilfred, only a few inches back from the front edge of the seat. Arnold picked it up and examined it. It was a miniature automatic pistol, of foreign make. The barrel was foul, and the magazine contained cartridges. On the butt was engraved a monogram which Arnold deciphered as “W.S.”
“Had Sir Wilfred a firearms certificate in which this pistol was described?” Arnold asked.
“No, he hadn’t,” Marden replied. “I thought of that at once. He had a certificate for a revolver and a rifle, but not for an automatic pistol.”
“That’s queer,” said Arnold. “I don’t profess to be a firearms expert, but any one can see that this pistol is nearly brand new. Now, Sir Wilfred cannot have bought it in England without first obtaining a certificate. Was he in the habit of going abroad at all?”
“I believe so,” Marden replied. “But you’d better ask Miss Saxonby.”
In the rack above the seat occupied by Sir Wilfred was a small leather attaché-case. This also bore the initials W.S. Arnold tried the fastenings, but the case was locked. “Any other luggage?” he asked.
“No, Sir Wilfred had only been up to London for the day,” replied the station-master. “He left here by the 9.50 yesterday morning, and was carrying that case then.”
The only other objects in the compartment were two newspapers, the Evening Standard and the Evening News, both of the previous day’s date. They had both been opened.
“One of them was lying on the seat next to Sir Wilfred,” said Mr. Cutbush. “The other was on the floor when I saw it, but the guard, William Turner, says that it was on Sir Wilfred’s knee, and that it fell off when he tried to rouse him. Inspector Marden asked me to arrange to have Turner here this morning. He ought to have arrived by now. You can see him in my office, if you like.”
Since there was nothing more to be seen in the compartment, they locked it once more, and went to the station-master’s office. Mr. Cutbush ascertained that Turner had arrived, and sent for him. “Well, Turner, what can you tell us about this business?” Arnold asked.
“I can’t tell you much, sir, and that’s a fact,” the guard replied. “The dead gentleman came up to me as I was standing on the platform at Cannon Street, about seven or eight minutes before the five o’clock was due to go out. I’d seen him before, travelling up and down, but I didn’t know then who he was. ‘Are you the guard of this train?’ he says. ‘Yes, sir, that’s right,’ says I. ‘Well, I want you to find me a first-class carriage to myself as far as Stourford,’ he says. And with that he slips a quid-note into my hand.”
“What, a pound note!” Arnold exclaimed. “Passengers don’t often give you pound notes to keep them carriages to themselves, do they?”
Turners eyes twinkled. “Well, sir, that depends. I won’t say but that now and then a young couple that don’t want to be disturbed might slip a note into my hand. But they like coaches with no corridors, mostly. I don’t mind that a gentleman like Sir Wilfred has given me a quid before.
“Well, I walks up the train with him, and looks into the first-class compartments. There was somebody in every one of them until we came to the last, the front one of the coach, if you understand me, sir. I put Sir Wilfred into that, and he took the seat farthest from the platform with his back to the engine. Then, since the corridor side of the coach was next to the platform, I locked the door between the compartment and the corridor. I didn’t worry about the other door of the compartment, since there was a blank wall that side of the line, and nobody couldn’t get in that side.”
“So that, when the train started, the door of the compartment leading into the corridor was locked, and the door on the other side unlocked?”
“That’s right, sir. And that’s how they were until just before we ran into Stourford. And then I went along to unlock the door, seeing that that was the side the gentleman would have to get out.”
“Did you see Sir Wilfred during the journey from Cannon Street to Stourford?”
“Yes, sir. I saw him while we was running through Blackdown Tunnel, after the check.”
“After the check?” Arnold asked. “What do you mean by a check?”
“Why, sir, the driver put on the brakes all of a sudden, and I went along the train to see if anything was wrong. And as I passed Sir Wilfred’s compartment, I saw him lying back in his corner, just as if he’d gone off to sleep. And he hadn’t moved when I saw him again here, poor gentleman.”
“You didn’t open the door, but just looked through the window?”
“That’s right, sir. I thought if I unlocked the door and pushed it back, I might wake him and he wouldn’t like it.”
“What time was this?”
“We ran through Blackdown Station at 5.29, sir. It would have been three or four minutes later that I passed Sir Wilfred’s compartment.”
“Did the train actually stop in the tunnel?”
“No, sir, but it slowed down to not more than a few miles an hour. The driver told me that he saw a red light ahead, and put on his brakes. Then, just before he got to it, it changed to green, and he went on. Some chap working on the line, he reckons. But I can’t make that out, for there was nothing about it in the notices.”
The station-master put in a word of explanation. “Drivers are always warned of the sections where they may expect to find men working on the line,” he said.
Arnold nodded. “You say, Turner, that Sir Wilfred had not moved between the time you saw him in the tunnel, and the time you went along to unlock the door. Are you sure of that?”
“Well, sir, he was in exactly the same position the second time as he was the first. He may have moved in between whiles. That I can’t say.”
“Are you perfectly certain that the door was still locked when you reached here?”
“Perfectly, sir, for I had to use my key to unlock it.”
“Was this the only door in the train which was locked?”
“Well, no, sir, not exactly. There was a door at each end of the first-class coach, and these were locked. Passengers have been known to walk along from a third to a first after the train has started. So, unless there is a restaurant car on the train, we always keep the doors in the corridor locked between the firsts and the thirds.”
“And these doors were locked from the time the train left Cannon Street until it reached here?”
“That’s right, sir. I unlocked them when I went along the train in the tunnel, and locked them again when I went back to my van. They weren’t unlocked again till I went through just before we got here.”
Arnold had nothing more to ask the guard. He thanked Mr. Cutbush for his assistance, and left the railway station with Marden, carrying the articles found in the compartment. “I’d better have a look at the body, I suppose,” he said. “I suppose you’ve looked through his pockets? No letter, or anything like that?”
“The body is in the mortuary, and so are his clothes and the things found in them. It’s only ten minutes walk from here. No, I found no letter. And yet it’s a pretty clear case of suicide. What the guard told us seems to settle that. Sir Wilfred was in a locked compartment by himself, all the time.”
“Yes,” said Arnold, with a faint suspicion of doubt in his tone. “But, do you know, I’m never quite easy in my mind about locked doors, especially when they are railway carriage doors. You know what a simple thing the key of these locks is. Merely a tapered piece of steel, of square cross section. You put it in a square hole, turn it, and the door is unlocked. Anybody could make a key like that. All they would want is a piece of metal rod and a file. Besides, the outer door of the compartment, the one opposite the corridor, I mean, was not locked.”
Marden smiled. “You’re not suggesting that somebody climbed along the footboard and got in that way, are you?” he asked.
“I’m not suggesting anything. But, before we can dismiss this affair as a case of suicide, we’ve got to think out all the possibilities. I must say I would like to know more about that slowing down of the train in the tunnel. I am rather struck by a coincidence in time. You tell me that Dr. Frant examined the body about twenty minutes past six yesterday evening, and gave as his opinion that Sir Wilfred had been dead hardly an hour. That’s a very vague expression, but I know that doctors can’t be exactly accurate in these matters. Let’s accept it for what it is worth. According to Turner, the train passed through Blackdown station at 5.29, and entered the tunnel a minute or two later. Doesn’t that suggest that Sir Wilfred’s death may have taken place in the tunnel, just before Turner saw him?”
“I think it does. But anybody who meant to shoot himself in a train would probably do it in a tunnel. I often go backwards and forwards to London, and I know Blackdown Tunnel pretty well. If the train is going at any speed, there is such a roar that you can’t hear yourself shout. Certainly nobody in the next compartment could possibly hear the faint crack those little automatics make.”
“There’s something in that,” Arnold agreed. “And then, of course, there is the fact that he wanted a carriage to himself, and tipped the guard pretty heavily to secure it. By the way, is there any local gossip which might suggest a reason for suicide?”
“None that I know of. Sir Wilfred was very generally respected, and was supposed to be a man of very considerable means. Here we are at the mortuary.”
They went in, and Arnold inspected the face of the dead man. He appeared to be between sixty and seventy, clean-shaven, and with thin grey hair. The features were strong and well-chiselled, and even in death there was a firmness of expression which gave the key to Sir Wilfred’s character. A man of strong will and intellectual power, Arnold felt sure. Would such a man commit suicide? Not in a fit of sudden depression, certainly. But if a motive existed, which after due and prolonged consideration seemed to him adequate, he would do so without fear or hesitation.
Arnold turned from the body to the clothes, which he examined carefully. There was nothing remarkable about them, being just what a man in Sir Wilfred’s position might be expected to wear. On a table beside the clothes lay the contents of the pockets. There were as follows: a bunch of keys, with a silver chain and loop; a small quantity of change, silver and copper; a gold hunter watch with a fine gold chain, and a spectacle case containing a pair of tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles.
“He was wearing his glasses when he was found,” said Marden, as Arnold came to this item. “I found the case in his pocket, and put them into it for safety.”
Arnold nodded, and continued his inventory. A gold cigar-case, engraved with the initials W.S., and containing three cigars of an expensive brand. A gold match-box, containing half a dozen Swan vestas. And finally a leather wallet, with gold mounted corners.
Arnold opened this and ran through its contents. These were not numerous. A few visiting cards, with the address of Mavis Court. A book of postage stamps, of which two or three had been torn out. Three five-pound notes, seven one-pound notes, and two ten-shilling notes.
“Well, if he didn’t kill himself, the motive for shooting him wasn’t robbery,” said Arnold. “But there’s one thing you missed in turning out his pockets, Mr. Marden.”
“What’s that?” inquired Marden suspiciously.
“Why, his railway ticket. Unless you’ve given it up to the company?”
Marden shook his head. “I haven’t seen it,” he replied.
Arnold searched the pockets for himself. They were empty, and there was no sign of a ticket. “That’s queer,” he said. “Perhaps in that attaché-case of his. I expect one of these keys will open it.”
His guess was correct, and the attaché-case was soon opened. It contained nothing but a few printed papers, reports and statements of accounts, all headed “Wigland and Bunthorne, Ltd., 5 Shrubb Court, London, E.C.3.” Glancing at them, Arnold noticed that Sir Wilfred Saxonby, Bart., J.P., was described as the chairman of the firm. Another name caught his eye. Richard K. Saxonby, Esq., Managing Director. “Is that Sir Wilfred’s son?” he asked.
“I believe so,” Marden replied. “I couldn’t be sure.”
Arnold put the papers back in the case, and locked it again. “There’s no ticket there,” he said. “Now, what can he have done with it? It isn’t by any chance in his hat, is it?”
Search of the hat, a nearly new bowler, failed to reveal the ticket, and Arnold frowned. “He must have had a ticket,” he said. “They wouldn’t have let him past the barrier at Cannon Street without one. It’s not here, and he can’t have dropped it in the compartment, or we should have found it just now. What’s become of it?”
Marden shrugged his shoulders. Clearly he thought that this man from Scotland Yard was attaching undue importance to trifles. Sir Wilfred had shot himself, any fool could see that. What on earth did his ticket matter? He was beyond prosecution for travelling without one. But Marden did not give expression to these thoughts. “He may have dropped it on the platform at Cannon Street,” he replied. “It hardly matters, does it?”
“Details like that have a way of mattering,” Arnold replied. “However, we can leave the ticket for the moment. I’d like a word with Dr. Frant, before we go out to Mavis Court.”
Marden led him to the doctor’s house. They found him at home, and quite ready to give information. “Self-inflicted?” he said, in reply to Arnold’s question. “Yes, certainly the wound could have been self-inflicted. You found the pistol, did you? H’m. I rather thought you would. A small automatic? Just so, just so. The pistol must have been held horizontally, pointing at the region of the heart, with the muzzle not more than a few inches away. Death, I imagine, was practically instantaneous.”
“If Sir Wilfred had held the pistol, would he not have retained it in his grasp after death?” Arnold asked.
“Not necessarily,” Dr. Frant replied. “The effect of the bullet entering the heart would very likely be muscular reaction, causing the pistol to be thrown, as it were, from the hand.”
“We found the pistol just under the opposite seat of the compartment,” said Arnold.
“Very much what might be expected. A very slight twitch of the muscles would be sufficient to project the pistol that distance.”
Arnold and Marden took leave of the doctor and went to lunch. The meal over, they took a car and drove to Mavis Court.
Mavis Court was a beautiful Georgian house, surrounded by an extensive park. Arnold was immediately conscious of an atmosphere of wealth and luxury, which was intensified when they were shown into the drawing-room. And here, in a very few moments, Miss Olivia Saxonby joined them.
Arnold put her down at about forty, and immediately noticed the likeness between her and the dead man. She had the same clear-cut features, the same firmness of mouth and chin. But, whereas these had seemed suitable to Sir Wilfred, the effect in his niece was to make her expression hard and unsympathetic. “Please sit down,” she said coldly. “You have come about the death of my uncle, I suppose?”
“I regret that is the purpose of our visit,” Arnold replied. “You are Sir Wilfred’s niece, I understand. He has a son, has he not?”
“Yes, Dick, who is in America just now. I sent him a cable last night, and have a reply that he is returning immediately.”
“Had Sir Wilfred any other children?”
“Yes, a daughter, Irene. She married Major Wardour some years ago; they, too, are abroad, motoring in the south of France. I have wired to their last address, and so far have had no reply.”
“Was Sir Wilfred in the habit of going abroad frequently?”
“Not of recent years. He went to Belgium for a week or two last autumn, in connection with his business. Since then he has not spent a night away from here.”
“Was he in the habit of going up to London regularly?”
“He went up every Thursday, as a regular thing. Most weeks he went up on some other day as well, usually Tuesday or Wednesday. This week, for instance, he went up on Tuesday.”
“Did he always go and return by the same train?”
“He always went up by the 9.50, and nearly always came back by the 6.7. Three or four times a year, however, he would dine in London, and then he came down by the 10.37.”
“You have lived with your uncle for some time, Miss Saxonby?”
It seemed to Arnold that her expression hardened as she replied. “Ten years next June. Ever since Aunt Mary died. Uncle Wilfred wanted some member of the family to come and live with him, and, since Dick and Irene were both married, I was the next choice.”
“I see. Now, Miss Saxonby, I’m afraid that I shall have to ask some rather distressing questions. During the ten years that you lived with him, you must have got to know Sir Wilfred fairly intimately. You would, I imagine, be the first to detect any change in his health or manner. Did you notice any such change recently?”
Olivia Saxonby shook her head. “I noticed nothing, and Uncle Wilfred was not the sort of person to talk about his health. He seemed just the same, in every way, as I have always known him.”
“You know of nothing which might have disturbed his peace of mind in any way?”
“If anything had disturbed him, I should not have known of it. He never spoke to me of business, or, for that matter, of anything important. My business has been to behave like a cheerful companion, and see that the house was properly run.”
“You saw Sir Wilfred before he left the house yesterday?”
“Of course. I breakfasted with him at half-past eight, and saw him off in the car when he drove to the station.”
“Sir Wilfred had firearms in his possession, had he not?”
“Firearms? Oh, guns and things. Yes, there are some in the gunroom. I’ll show them to you.”
She took them through the house to the gunroom. There they found a fine collection of sporting guns, also a rifle and a revolver, both of rather antiquated pattern. They also found a quantity of ammunition, but among this were no cartridges to fit the automatic pistol. Arnold had this in his pocket. He produced it, and showed it to Miss Saxonby. “Have you ever seen this before?” he asked.
She merely glanced at it, and shook her head. “My uncle was not in the habit of showing me his guns,” she replied.
“You see that it has your uncle’s initials on it, Miss Saxonby,” Arnold persisted. “Now, it is rather a curious thing that none of these firearms have any initials upon them. Can you suggest why this pistol should have?”
“I can’t offer any suggestion. I don’t know anything about it. Somebody may have given it to Uncle Wilfred, and had his initials put on it. That’s all I can think of.”
After some further conversation, in the course of which they ascertained that Sir Wilfred’s regular medical attendant was Dr. Butler, of Helverden, Arnold and Marden left Mavis Court.
“I can’t help thinking that Miss Saxonby is not overwhelmed with sorrow at her uncle’s death,” Arnold remarked. “However, that’s her business, not ours. She wasn’t altogether a mine of information, was she? I think we’d better go and see this doctor chap. He may be able to tell us something.”
Dr. Butler proved to be an elderly man of benevolent aspect. He had already heard of the death of Sir Wilfred, and seemed greatly distressed. “He’ll be a great loss to the neighbourhood,” he said. “He took the lead in every kind of social work, and his name nearly always headed the subscription list. I have heard very few details of his death, but from those I have heard, it seems to me to have been a very extraordinary affair.”
“Confidentially, doctor, it looks very much like a case of suicide,” Arnold replied. “That’s why we’ve come to see you. Now, I’m not going to ask you to infringe the rules of professional secrecy. But perhaps you can tell me whether or not Sir Wilfred enjoyed good health?”
Dr. Butler considered this question. “He was, in most respects, in perfect health,” he replied. “I do not think that there will be any harm in my mentioning the exception, since many people are aware of it already. Sir Wilfred made no particular secret of it. Many years ago, shortly after his wife died, he complained to me of slight indisposition. I diagnosed this as some form of kidney trouble, and sent him up to see a specialist.
“The report was that the kidneys were undoubtedly affected, but that, with proper care, there was no reason to suppose that the fact would endanger the patient’s life. He might live to be a hundred. On the other hand, there was just a possibility that complications might ensue at some time, when the matter would become serious. The specialist recommended a diet, to which Sir Wilfred adhered strictly. So far as I am able to judge, his condition had certainly become no worse than when he first consulted me.”
“When did you see him last, doctor?” Arnold asked.
“On Monday. I made a habit of looking in on Mondays, as I knew I was pretty certain to find him at home. I asked him if he had had any symptoms of trouble recently, and he told me that he had never felt better in his life. I took samples, which, at the specialist’s suggestion, had become a matter of routine, and they showed, if anything, an improvement.”
“You knew Sir Wilfred fairly well, doctor. Would you be surprised if it were proved that he had taken his own life?”
“In my profession, one very soon becomes proof against surprise. If you ask me whether I believe that he killed himself as a result of concern for his health, my reply is most emphatically, no! But there are other reasons which might lead a man in his position to such a step.”
“Business worries, for instance?”
“Business worries might be among them. Though of recent years Sir Wilfred had not taken a very active part in business. The actual management of the firm is in the hands of his son, Dick.”
“Sir Wilfred was, to all appearances, a rich man?”
“A very rich man, I should say. Mavis Court has always been kept up regardless of expense. If any cause of which he approved was in need of funds, he was always ready with a generous cheque. I have no doubt at all that his will will be proved at a very high figure.”
“His son and daughter will come into the money, I suppose?”
“I suppose so. But I hope he has remembered Olivia Saxonby. She hasn’t had the easiest of lives since she has been with him.”
“Miss Saxonby’s parents are dead?”
Dr. Butler nodded. “Her mother has been dead a long time, and her father died a couple of years ago. He was the black sheep of the family. Long ago, when she was quite a young girl, there was a discreditable affair in which her father was mixed up, and he had to leave the country rather hastily, Sir Wilfred made his niece a small allowance, and she lived with friends until Lady Saxonby’s death. Then her uncle sent for her to Mavis Court.”
“She must have lived there in considerable comfort, surely?”
“Comfort? Oh, no doubt. But comfort isn’t everything, even to a woman. She was, in a sense, her own mistress before she came to Mavis Court. She could, within the limits of her income, of course, go where she liked, do what she liked, see whom she liked. But at Mavis Court she must have found things very different. Sir Wilfred had peculiar ideas, in some ways. You couldn’t call him unsociable, for when you got over his reserve, and could interest him sufficiently, he turned out a very pleasant companion indeed. But he hated having people at Mavis Court. Their presence irritated him, I think because he disliked performing the duties of a host. He always said that his time was too valuable to waste in talking nonsense. And, since his niece did not like to go and see people whom she could not invite back again, she often went from one week’s end to another without seeing anybody but her uncle and the staff at Mavis Court.”
“She could have left Sir Wilfred, if she found life with him irksome?”
“Oh, yes, she could have left. Her uncle would have ordered the car to take her to the station, I have no doubt. But in his eyes she would have broken her contract. No further allowance would have been forthcoming. And she couldn’t possibly afford to risk that.”
“Was Sir Wilfred aware that she was discontented?”
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