Murder in a small world - J. S. Fletcher - ebook

Murder in a small world ebook

J.S. Fletcher



‘What is it, Sevidge?’ I asked. He glanced round to make sure that we were alone. Then he came close. ‘It’s murder, Mr Henderson!’ he said in a low voice. ‘Do you know that young fellow Maidment—Roger Maidment?’ ‘The rent-collector?’ I replied. ‘Yes!’ ‘He’s lying there in Hagsdene Wood—dead,’ he went on. ‘I found him just now, as I was on my way to Wrenne Park. Been lying there all night from the look of him—clothes wet through, and so on.’ ‘What makes you think it’s murder?’ I asked. ‘Ah!’ he answered. ‘No doubt of it. There’s a wound on his left temple—but you’ll see for yourself. And—his pockets are all turned inside out. Murdered—and robbed!’ ‘Anybody else know?’ I inquired.

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Murder in a small world

J. S. (Joseph Smith) Fletcher

ISBN 9783963757310







First published 1932

byGeorge G. Harrap & Co. Ltd.

39-41 Parker Street, Kingsway, London, W.C.2



There recently died, at his country seat, Wrenne Park, near Ullathwaite, in Yorkshire, Mr Philip Wynyard Wrenne, a gentleman greatly respected in the county for his character, his abilities, and his devotion to the public service. Mr Wrenne—as an eighteenth-century writer would have said—was a man of parts. Born into the world of a good old family, endowed from childhood with more than ample means, educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, where he proceeded to his master’s degree at an unusually early age, he entered upon life with every advantage. He was a sound classical scholar and edited and translated a well-known edition of Horace. His real bent, however, was towards archæology and antiquarianism: a great collector of old books and old furniture, he left behind him one of the finest private libraries in England and a gathering of Elizabethan and Caroline chairs, tables, and presses which probably has never been equalled in variety and value. But he had other interests. Placed on the Commission of the Peace while still a young man, he became a model and indefatigable magistrate, and for over thirty years presided over the local bench, and for half that time was chairman of Quarter Sessions. He also filled other important public offices in the county, of which he was a Deputy Lieutenant.

During Mr Wrenne’s time as chairman of the Ullathwaite magistrates an extraordinary case of murder occurred in the town. A man named Roger Maidment, employed as a collector of rents, was mysteriously murdered and robbed one night when returning from his collecting round. Suspicion fell on a young man of a somewhat wild character, Richard Radford, whose father, a highly respectable solicitor, was at the time Mayor of Ullathwaite. Richard Radford was arrested, and after various appearances before the local bench was duly committed to the Grandminster Assizes for trial. In due course he was tried, and, though the circumstantial evidence against him was undoubtedly strong, he was acquitted, and the mystery of Maidment’s murder remained unsolved. It was felt by every one in the neighbourhood that the truth in this matter had never been approached, and no one was more inquisitive about it than Mr Wrenne. Some time after the trial Mr Wrenne privately induced three people to set down in writing their impressions of the case and to deposit their statements with him. One of these persons was the Superintendent of Police at Ullathwaite. Another was the solicitor for the defence. The third was the foreman of the jury which acquitted Richard Radford. And some years later, when all the principal persons concerned were dead, Mr Wrenne persuaded Richard Radford himself to complete the dossier by writing his story—in which lay the solution of the mystery.

On the death of Mr Wrenne these four manuscripts, duly authenticated and sealed, were found among his papers, and, in consequence of a direction in his will, were handed over to me by his executors, with instructions to make them public. As Richard Radford, like all the other actors in the drama, is now dead, and the telling of the truth as regards the murder of Roger Maidment can do no harm to anyone, these accounts of what happened, written from four different standpoints, may now be given to the world.


Falklands, Dorking


prefixed to the four authenticated documents referred to in the foregoing editorial note

The four papers herein enclosed, relative to the murder of Roger Maidment, at Ullathwaite, in October 1899, were obtained by me on the following dates:


Statement of Charles Henderson, Superintendent of Police at Ullathwaite

July 1900


Statement of Ernest Henry Wilsborough, Solicitor, of Ullathwaite

August 1900


Statement of Septimus Nettleton, foreman of the jury at Grandminster Assizes at the trial of Richard Radford

October 1900


Statement of Richard Radford

January 1925

I am firmly convinced, having made a close study of all the facts, that the statement of Richard Radford embodies the absolute truth as regards the murder of Roger Maidment.


Wrenne Park, Ullathwaite,



According to the Prosecution

Page 13


The Defence is Silence

Page 82


The Twelve Good Men

Page 145



ACCORDING TO THE PROSECUTION(Statement of Charles Henderson, Superintendent of Police, Ullathwaite)

At the request of Mr Philip Wynyard Wrenne, chairman of the West Riding magistrates at Ullathwaite, and as Superintendent of the West Riding Constabulary in that district, I proceed to write out, to the best of my ability, all that I know as regards the arrest and trial of Richard Radford, charged with the murder of Roger Maidment at Hagsdene Wood, on the outskirts of Ullathwaite, on the night of October 17, 1899. I shall endeavour to suppress any personal opinion of my own as regards this matter and shall confine myself to the bare facts of the case as they were presented to me in my official capacity. And here I had better explain a certain point in order to make things clear. Ullathwaite, as a borough, has its own borough police and magistrates; they deal with crimes and offences occurring within the borough. Hagsdene Wood, however, is outside the borough boundary; hence the Maidment affair came within the jurisdiction of the county police and justices and became my duty to investigate.

Ullathwaite is a small market-town in the purely agricultural part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Its population in 1891 was a little over 4000. Except on market, fair, and auction days it is a slow-going, sleepy place. Being so small everybody—of any consequence—is well known; I mean, everybody is, so to speak, known to everybody else. Society follows the usual lines of English division. In and round about the town there is a small percentage of the upper class. There is a larger one of the middle class, subdivided into the various sections of professional folk, clergy, doctors, lawyers, bankers, better-class tradesmen and people engaged in commerce; beneath these comes the always more numerous class of workers in one or other line of labour. It is safe to repeat, however—and it is pertinent to what I shall have to say in this statement—that in Ullathwaite, whatever his rank or class, almost every man is well known to the rest of his fellow-townsmen. Those familiar with English country-town life will know what I mean when I say that the local newspaper, the Ullathwaite Advertiser, prints nothing but purely local news, and that its editor would regard the production of a monster gooseberry or abnormal vegetable-marrow by John Smith, market gardener, as being of vastly more importance to his readers than an eruption of Vesuvius or a revolution in Brazil.

Being an unmarried man, I live in lodgings, instead of having a house of my own. I lodge with Mrs Marriner, at Oak Cottage, a little way outside the town, on its western border and beyond the borough boundary. I have there three excellent rooms: two sitting-rooms, one of which I use as an office, and a bedroom which has a private bathroom attached to it. About half-past seven o’clock on the morning of October 18, 1899, I was in this bathroom when Mrs Marriner’s servant-maid, Esther Thorp, came knocking at the door, calling my name.

‘Mr Henderson, Mr Henderson!’ she cried. ‘There’s a man downstairs, sir, says he must see you at once!’

‘Who is he?’ I called. ‘What name?’

‘I think it’s Mr Wrenne’s gamekeeper, sir,’ she answered. ‘But I don’t know his name. He says he must see you immediate!’

‘Tell him I’ll be there in five minutes,’ I said.

I got out of my bath, had a rub down, and got into some clothes and a dressing-gown. I knew Mr Wrenne’s gamekeeper well enough, a man named Sevidge, and I guessed that if, or as, he wanted me there had been some scrap between him and poachers during the night. But when I went downstairs and saw him standing in Mrs Marriner’s kitchen I knew that there was something more serious than that.

‘What is it, Sevidge?’ I asked.

He glanced round to make sure that we were alone. Then he came close.

‘It’s murder, Mr Henderson!’ he said in a low voice. ‘Do you know that young fellow Maidment—Roger Maidment?’

‘The rent-collector?’ I replied. ‘Yes!’

‘He’s lying there in Hagsdene Wood—dead,’ he went on. ‘I found him just now, as I was on my way to Wrenne Park. Been lying there all night from the look of him—clothes wet through, and so on.’

‘What makes you think it’s murder?’ I asked.

‘Ah!’ he answered. ‘No doubt of it. There’s a wound on his left temple—but you’ll see for yourself. And—his pockets are all turned inside out. Murdered—and robbed!’

‘Anybody else know?’ I inquired.

‘Not that I’m aware of,’ he replied. ‘I found him by accident—and came straight back to you.’

‘Very well,’ I said. ‘Now do something for me, Sevidge. The nearest of my men is Walshaw——’

‘I know where he lives,’ he said.

‘Run down to him, then,’ I continued. ‘Tell him to get two or three other men and to see Dr Simpson, and bring them all as quickly as possible to Hagsdene Wood. Then come back here and I’ll go along with you.’

He was an obliging fellow, Sevidge, and he hastened away there and then, while I hurried upstairs to finish dressing. While I dressed, I reflected on what I knew of Roger Maidment. He was a young fellow of, perhaps, five-and-twenty years of age, who, having been a clerk in an accountant’s office, had recently set up for himself as a collector of rents, and, I believe, had got quite a nice little business together. I happened to know, too, that he collected the rents of some property that lay on the farther side of Hagsdene Wood; probably he had been returning with the money in his pocket when, as Sevidge seemed to suggest, he had been waylaid, murdered, and robbed.

Sevidge was back within half an hour; as soon as I had swallowed a cup of tea and a mouthful of bread I set out with him. Hagsdene Wood was half a mile away. It was a bit of old woodland, thick with ancient oak and beech, which lay between the outskirts of the town and Wrenne Park—a gloomy and lonely place, intersected by two or three paths which formed short cuts from the neighbouring roads and lanes. And it was within a few yards of one of these paths that I found Maidment’s dead body: it had evidently been dragged from the path to where it lay. One glance at the dead man’s face and head showed me what had happened. He had been struck a terrible blow on the left temple—a blow sufficient to cause death, and probably repeated. Another glance confirmed what Sevidge had already told me—the dead man’s pockets had been turned out.

There was nothing to be done till my men and the doctor arrived, and as I was not very familiar with Hagsdene Wood I looked round to get my bearings. Through the trees, perhaps fifty or sixty yards away, at the edge of the wood, I saw the roof and chimneys of a house: it appeared to be the only house anywhere near where we stood.

‘Whose house is that, Sevidge?’ I asked. ‘I suppose you know?’

‘Yes, sir,’ he answered. ‘Mr Hebb lives there.’

I knew all about Hebb. He was managing clerk to Mr John Radford, a well-known solicitor of the town, and at that time Mayor of Ullathwaite.

‘I’ll just step across and find out if they heard anything during the night,’ I said. ‘If Dr Simpson and the police come while I’m away, tell them I’ll be back in a few minutes. Touch nothing, Sevidge, till they come.’

‘No intention, sir!’ he replied grimly. ‘Not to my taste.’

I went across the wood to Hebb’s house. It was a small place, an old-fashioned cottage really, standing in a pretty, tree-surrounded garden. I knocked at the front door, which faced the edge of the wood—knocked twice before I got any response. Then I heard a key turned, a bolt drawn; the door opened, and I found myself confronting Mrs Hebb. She was a very pretty, well-developed young woman of perhaps twenty-five years of age, the English type of fair hair and blue eyes; an attractive woman altogether. That I had disturbed her before she could complete her toilet was evident; her hair was loose about her shoulders, and she was still in a dressing-gown. Her eyes opened wide when she saw me—I was, of course, well known to her by sight, though I could not remember seeing her before.

‘Good morning, Mrs Hebb,’ I said. ‘Sorry to disturb you. But—something’s happened just inside the wood there, and I wanted to ask you if you or your husband heard any sounds of a struggle or anything of that sort last evening, or during the night?’

Mrs Hebb turned very pale—indeed, the colour completely left her cheeks, which were naturally very rosy.

‘Last night?’ she faltered. ‘I—we—I—we never——’

Hebb suddenly appeared behind his wife—in his shirt and trousers. He too stared at the sight of me.

‘Something wrong, Superintendent?’ he asked.

‘There’s something very wrong,’ I replied. ‘I don’t want to alarm Mrs Hebb, though. I came to ask if you or she, or both, heard any sound—cries, anything of that sort—from this wood last evening, or during the night?’

Hebb shook his head.

‘I was out till nearly midnight last night,’ he answered. ‘It was my night at the School Board meeting at Heckinley—I’m clerk there, you know. I don’t get back till the very last train. No. I heard nothing during the night. Did you, Lettie?’

‘I heard nothing,’ replied Mrs Hebb. Her colour was coming back, and her voice grew firm. ‘Neither last evening nor during the night.’

‘What is it, Superintendent?’ asked Hebb. ‘Poachers?’

‘The fact is,’ I answered, ‘there’s a dead man lying in the wood. You know him, I dare say. Maidment—Roger Maidment, the rent-collector.’

I was watching them both narrowly as I said this. Mrs Hebb’s pretty face puckered itself into a look of something like fear; Hebb simply stared.

‘Good Lord!’ he exclaimed. ‘Maidment! Ah!—last night, I happen to know, was the night he collected rents from that property the other side of Hagsdene Wood. He used to make a short cut across the wood coming back—I’ve met him now and then. But—do you say he’s dead?’

‘Murdered!’ I answered. ‘And robbed, too, no doubt. Well, you heard nothing?’

‘Nothing!’ they said, speaking together. ‘Nothing at all.’

I left them and went back to the wood. My men had just arrived with Dr Simpson: we stood by while the doctor made a preliminary examination of the dead man.

‘He’s been struck two heavy blows with some blunt weapon—perhaps a very heavy walking-stick,’ he said, rising from his knees. ‘Either would be sufficient to kill.’ Then, glancing at the turned-out pockets, he added, ‘Case of murder for the sake of robbery, I suppose?’

‘How long do you think he’s been dead, doctor?’ I asked. ‘We must fix the approximate time if we can.’

Dr Simpson looked at his watch.

‘It’s now nearly half-past eight,’ he replied. ‘I should say he’s been dead—and death would be instantaneous—roughly speaking, about ten hours.’

‘That would make it about half-past ten last night,’ I remarked.

‘About,’ he assented.

Having given certain orders to my men about the removal of the body, and the fencing off and guarding of the place where it had been found, I took Sevidge with me and, leaving Hagsdene Wood by the opposite side, went to visit the tenants of the property between it and Wrenne Park from whom Maidment collected rents.


The houses to which Sevidge and I now repaired made a little colony of their own, set in a narrow valley on the western side of Hagsdene Wood, and near the main entrance to Wrenne Park. I knew something about them and their owner. A few years previously a retired tradesman of Ullathwaite, Mr Stephen Winterbotham, having the chance of securing it at a fairly low price, had bought up the land in this valley, and had thereupon caused to be built some twelve or fifteen residences of the small villa type. Once erected, they had let readily, and were now all in occupancy. Mr Winterbotham, having amused and occupied himself by watching their construction, had, as soon as they were all finished and let, retired to enjoy the rest of his life at Scarborough, and had entrusted the collection of his rents to Roger Maidment. And Maidment, as I quickly ascertained, always called in person for the rents on the 17th day of each month. Why on that particular date I do not know, unless it was that the leases or agreements dated from some previous 17th.

I had no difficulty in getting the information I wanted. Maidment had been there the night before, and, going from house to house, had duly collected his rents. Some of the tenants had paid him by cheque; some in banknotes; some in gold; the total amount he received came to something like £112. More than a half of this was in notes and gold. Whether he had other moneys on him in addition to this when he was attacked, murdered, and robbed it was not, of course, possible to say: perhaps he had.

Nor had I any difficulty in ascertaining particulars about a highly important matter in reconstructing Maidment’s doings—the matter of exact time. Maidment had made his first call at the houses in Hagsdene Park—the general name of the little colony—at a quarter to nine the previous evening; his last at ten o’clock. He had stayed chatting a little at the last place; it would, they said, be about a quarter past ten when he left. As far as Sevidge and I could reckon things it would take him about twenty minutes to walk from this house to where his dead body was found in Hagsdene Wood.

Sevidge and I were coming away with this information—I had made a note of the various amounts collected by Maidment, and of the times concerned—when I heard my name called from one of the houses, and turned to find a tenant named Collingwood hailing me from his window.

‘Will you come back a minute, Superintendent?’ he called. ‘I’ve something to tell you.’

We went back; Collingwood met us at his door and took us into his parlour. I had, of course, told him, as I had told all the other tenants, of what had happened.

‘I’ve just thought of something that may be of use to you,’ he said. ‘It’s a small matter, but I suppose it’s in these cases as in most others—every little helps. As I told you before, I paid Maidment my month’s rent, six pounds, last night in gold—six sovereigns. Now amongst the six there was a sovereign with a hole in it!’

‘A hole?’ I exclaimed.

‘A small hole—just drilled through, under the rim,’ he answered. ‘As if it had been used as a pendant on a watch-chain. I don’t know where I got it—in change, somewhere, I suppose. I’d never noticed it, never known that I had it until I was counting out the six sovereigns to Maidment. Then we both noticed it. He made some remark about defaced coinage. I offered to go upstairs and get him another. No, he said, it wasn’t worth the trouble: he’d shove it into the bank amongst all the others; he said they’d never notice it. But—there it is! A sovereign with a hole in it. Worth anything as a clue, Superintendent?’

It was a very small clue, but, after all, it was a clue, and I made a note of it. A sovereign . . . through which a small hole had been drilled.


I went back to my rooms at Mrs Marriner’s after this, to get my breakfast and to think things over before going into the town. It seemed to me that certain things were obvious. Maidment had been murdered for the money he had on him. Could the murderer be traced through that money? Now I had made particular inquiries among the tenants at Hagsdene Park as to how they paid their rents the previous evening—I mean, in what form. As I have already said, some had paid by cheque, some in notes, some in gold. Well, as to the cheques, the murderer would certainly destroy them as being of no use to him. As to the banknotes, it would be difficult to trace them, for of all the people who had paid Maidment in that way not a single one had taken the precaution to note down the numbers of the notes with which they had parted. As to the gold, how could any man distinguish one coin and another? But . . . there was the sovereign through which a hole had been drilled. If we could trace that . . .

It is unnecessary to enter into the details of the work we did that morning in our efforts to come across some trace of the murderer. I set all my men to work, of course—uniformed and plain-clothes men. A thorough examination of the surroundings of the scene of the murder was made—we got some impressions of footprints, but they were so many and varied (for the paths through that wood were a good deal used) that I felt them to be of no value. Investigation showed nothing unusual in Maidment’s doings the day of his death. He had been at his office or about the town all day; he had gone to his lodgings—he was a single man, and not a native of Ullathwaite—at the end of the afternoon, and after having his usual tea-supper, or high tea, had set off for Hagsdene Park. All this was unilluminative. Inquiries among the lodging-houses and at the casual ward of the workhouse failed to reveal the presence in the town of any undesirable or suspicious characters. And at noon I was still without any direct clue as to the identity of the murderer.

Then came a startling revelation. Just before one o’clock, when, after a strenuous morning’s work, I was about leaving my office for lunch at the Black Bull, Ullathwaite’s principal hotel, Collingwood, the man whom I had seen at Hagsdene Park earlier in the day and who had told me about the debased sovereign, called, bringing with him a man whom I knew by sight as one Fardale, a bookmaker. There was an air of mystery, mingled with concern, about both which I was quick to perceive.

‘Can we have a word or two with you—in private—Mr Superintendent?’ asked Collingwood. ‘It’s—about this morning’s affair.’

I took them into my private room and closed the door. Even then Collingwood dropped his voice to something like a whisper, as men do when they want to be very confidential.

‘You know Mr Fardale?’ he began. ‘Know who and what he is, anyway. Mr Fardale’s a friend of mine. We often meet at the Black Bull—met there just now. Of course, we’ve been talking about the murder. Everybody’s talking about it. I told Mr Fardale about paying my month’s rent to Maidment last night, and about that sovereign that I told you of this morning; the sovereign with a hole drilled through it.’

‘Yes?’ I said, wondering what was to come. ‘Yes?’

Collingwood turned in his chair, nodding at Fardale, who so far had sat staring stolidly at me.

‘He’s got it!’ he said. ‘Fardale!’

I turned to Fardale. Without a word he plunged a hand into his right-hand hip-pocket and, drawing out a quantity of gold coins, picked out one and passed it to me. There it was—a sovereign of the reign of Queen Victoria, with a small hole drilled through it just under the rim, above the head of the figure. I held it out to Collingwood.

‘Are you sure that’s the coin you spoke to me of as having paid to Maidment last night?’ I asked. ‘Dead sure?’

‘I’m so sure, Mr Superintendent, that I’m willing to take my oath on it!’ he answered with emphasis. ‘It is the coin!’

Once more I turned to Fardale.

‘Where did you get this coin, Mr Fardale?’ I asked. ‘You’ll tell me, of course?’

Fardale shifted uneasily in his chair. He was evidently much disturbed.

‘I’m in a very difficult position, Mr Superintendent,’ he said. ‘A very unpleasant position! You know what I am—a bookmaker. Well, I’ve my clients to consider. I’ve clients in this town and neighbourhood whose identity you’d never suspect—they’d never come to me again if they thought I let their names out. You understand, sir?’

‘I understand quite well, Mr Fardale,’ I replied. ‘But—this is a case of murder.’

‘Aye, I know that!’ he assented. ‘If it hadn’t been, I’d never have told Collingwood what I did, nor come here with him. Well!—I suppose I must speak. I’ve had that coin, Mr Superintendent, since half-past ten this morning. It was paid to me by young Radford—Dick Radford!’

For the life I could not repress an exclamation.

‘Good God!’ I said. ‘The Mayor’s son?’

‘That’s it!’ he answered. ‘The Mayor’s son. Only son.’

I had been standing until then: now I sat down at my desk.

‘You’ll explain matters, Mr Fardale?’ I said. ‘You see how serious this is?’

‘I know,’ he replied. ‘Yes, I’ll tell all I can, now. This lad has been betting with me—and no doubt with others—for a year or more. He’s a bit shifty. When he wins he wants his money there and then, but when he loses he’s not so keen about putting accounts straight. And lately he’s been owing me about fifty pounds. I’ve had to dun him for it. Last week I just got sick of him, and I gave him an ultimatum. I told him that if he didn’t pay me my fifty pounds by eleven o’clock to-day (I was giving him a full week in which to raise it) I should tell his father about the affair and refuse all further business with him himself. And I let him see that I meant what I said!’

‘Well?’ I asked as he paused. ‘And——’

‘And at half-past ten this morning he came to me,’ continued Fardale. ‘He handed me the fifty pounds. Forty-five pounds of it was in five-pound notes—nine of ’em. I’ve got ’em here. Six pounds was in gold—the precise amount owing was fifty-one pounds. Now, to assure you on the point, I put the banknotes in this pocket—left-hand hip—and the gold in this—right-hand hip. That fifty-one pounds is the only money I’ve received from anybody this morning. As soon as Collingwood told me, at the Black Bull, about the marked sovereign, I pulled out the six pounds in gold which Dick Radford had given me and examined each coin. I found the sovereign you’ve now got in your hand. And—that’s all I know. I’m sorry to have to tell all this—but, as you say, it’s murder!’

I sat for a moment in silence, staring at the coin. I was thinking. I knew Dick Radford as a rather rackety, wild young fellow, but I should never have thought him capable of murder.

‘You’ll leave this marked sovereign with me, Mr Fardale?’ I said at last. ‘You perceive its importance?’

‘I’ll do more than that, sir,’ he answered, drawing out banknotes from one pocket and gold from the other. ‘I’ll hand all this over to you. That’s the exact amount, and in the identical notes and coins, that Dick Radford handed to me. And . . . what’ll come next, Mr Superintendent?’

But to that question I made no answer, and the two men went away.


I was in no mood for going to the Black Bull for lunch after that, and, sending out for some bread, cheese, and ale, I sat down to think matters over. In any case, I foresaw a terrible catastrophe for Mr Radford senior, at that time just completing his term of office as Mayor of Ullathwaite, and, as I knew, about to be re-elected for another year. Mr Radford was the leading solicitor of the town—a man of about fifty years of age, a quiet, reserved, eminently respectable (and highly respected) gentleman, who from, I believe, quite humble beginnings had built up a considerable practice. In addition to being Mayor—he had long been on the Town Council as councillor or alderman—he filled various other important posts in the town, and was a county as well as a borough magistrate. He was well-to-do, also; probably quite a wealthy man; early in life, when he was beginning to get on, he had married the daughter of a leading tradesman in Birmingham, a well-educated young woman who at one time had been engaged in teaching, and it was said that she had brought him a very handsome fortune. Mr and Mrs Radford were a sort of model pair; they lived in a beautiful house, of which they were very proud; entertained a good deal, and were popular. They had two children: a girl, Audrey, now aged twenty-one; a boy, Richard, now a year younger. Audrey, educated at Cheltenham and in Paris, was something of a highbrow young lady and was deeply interested in various intellectual movements. But Dick, it was well known, was something of a throw-back. Articled to his father, it was matter of common knowledge that he found it difficult to pass any legal examination; moreover, neither his father nor his mother appeared to be able to exercise any control over him. Without being actually bad or vicious, in the worst sense of the term, he was wild, irresponsible, weak, with tastes for horses, dogs, cards, billiards, and low company. But . . . murder? I could scarcely bring myself to believe him capable of that. Still . . . there was Fardale’s evidence. And it might be that if he did attack Maidment in order to rob him and so put himself in funds he only meant to stun him while he emptied his pockets. But that, of course, would amount to murder. Anyhow, I saw that I should have to see Dick Radford’s father. Him first; then Dick. And the prospect of seeing the Mayor was by no means pleasant. I determined, however, to get it over at once.

But before I could step across to the Town Hall, where I knew Mr Radford could be found about that time, I had two more visitors. These were shown in to me just as I was finishing my improvised lunch, a young man and a young woman, he of the artisan, she of the servant-maid class. The young man was shy and diffident; the girl seemed confident and assured.

‘Well,’ I said, when I had bidden them be seated. ‘What do you want to see me about?’

The two exchanged glances. It was evident that each wanted the other to begin. But it was the girl who spoke first.

‘It’s about what happened in Hagsdene Wood last night, sir,’ she said. ‘We—you see, we know something.’

‘Oh, you do, do you?’ I said. ‘Well, to begin with, who are you? Give me your names and occupations.’

‘My name’s Ellen Hopkinson, sir,’ replied the girl readily. ‘I’m parlourmaid at Mrs Rivers’s, Hagsdene Park. This is my young man, James Collier—he’s a plumber, at Mr Walker’s. Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jim?’

‘You’re speaking!’ retorted Jim, with a sheepish grin. ‘One’ll do!’

I jotted down the names and looked at the girl.

‘Well, Ellen?’ I said. ‘What is it?’

Ellen looked at Jim.

‘Which is to tell?’ she asked.

‘Go on!’ he answered. ‘You’re readiest at talking. I’m listening.’

‘Well, sir,’ Ellen continued, turning to me. ‘It’s like this. Last night was my night out. I came into town; Jim met me, and we went to his mother’s to supper—that was after we’d had a walk round. Then Jim saw me home. We went through Hagsdene Wood. We stopped a bit by a gate there, talking—it was a bit before my time for going in—and while we were there we saw something that we thought was strange—somebody, that is, that was what you’d call behaving strange.’

‘Yes?’ I said. ‘Who?’

Ellen looked at Jim; Jim looked at the ceiling.

‘I suppose it’s all between ourselves, sir?’ inquired Ellen.