Ronald Standish - H.C. McNeile - ebook

Ronald Standish ebook

H. C. Mcneile

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Opis

Ronald Standish takes only those matters that interest him. He kills himself to find the killer. This story will surprise everyone. After all, the idea of?? the author is very unusual. A person decides to take extreme measures in order to solve the riddle.

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Liczba stron: 385

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Contents

I. THE CREAKING DOOR

II. THE MISSING CHAUFFEUR

III. THE HAUNTED RECTORY

IV. A MATTER OF TAR

V. THE HOUSE WITH THE KENNELS

VI. THE THIRD MESSAGE

VII. MYSTERY OF THE SLIP COACH

VIII. THE SECOND DOG

IX. THE MAN IN YELLOW

X. THE MAN WITH SAMPLES

XI. THE EMPTY HOUSE

I. THE CREAKING DOOR

§ 1

RONALD STANDISH lay back in his chair with a worried look on his usually cheerful face. In his hand he held a letter, which he read over for the second time before tossing it across to me.

“The devil and all, Bob,” he said, shaking his head. “From what I saw in the papers a clearer case never existed.”

I glanced at the note.

Dear Mr. Standish (it ran),–I do hope you will forgive a complete stranger writing to you, but I am in desperate trouble. You will probably remember a very great friend of mine–Isabel Blount, whom you helped some months ago. Well, it was she who advised me to come to you. Would it be possible for you to see me tomorrow after noon at three o’clock? I shall come, anyway, on the chance of finding you disengaged.

Yours sincerely,

Katherine Moody.

“Which means today, in a quarter of an hour,” he said, as I laid down the note.

“And I fear it’s pretty hopeless.”

“You know who she is, then?” I remarked.

He nodded gravely and crossed to a corner of the room where a pile of newspapers was lying on a chair. And as I watched him I wondered, not for the first time what had made him take up the profession he had. A born player of games, wealthy, and distinctly good-looking, he seemed the last person in the world to become a detective. And yet that was what he was when one boiled down to hard facts. True, he picked and chose his cases, and sometimes for months on end he never handled one at all. But sooner or later some crime would interest him, and then he would drop everything until he had either solved it or was beaten. With the official police he was on excellent terms, which was not to be wondered at in view of the fact that on many occasions he had put them on the right track. At times some new man was tempted to smile contemptuously at the presumption of an amateur pitting himself against the official force, but the smile generally faded before long. For there was no denying that he had a most uncanny flair for picking out the points that mattered from a mass of irrelevant detail.

“It’s bad to prejudge a case,” he remarked, coming back with two papers, “but this looks pretty damaging on the face of it.”

He pointed to a paragraph, and I ran my eye down it.

SHOCKING TRAGEDY IN LEICESTERSHIRE BRUTAL MURDER OF YOUNG ARTIST

“A crime of unparalleled ferocity was committed yesterday in the grounds of Mexbury Hall, the home of Mr. John Playfair, who has lived there for some years with his ward, Miss Katherine Moody, and her companion. Standing amongst the trees, some way from the Hall and out of sight of it, there is a summer-house which commands a magnificent view over the surrounding country. And it was in this summer-house that the tragedy occurred.

“It appears that for some weeks past Mr. Playfair has allowed a young artist named Bernard Power to use it as a studio. Yesterday, on returning in the afternoon from a motor trip, Mr. Playfair, while taking a stroll in the grounds, happened to pass by the summer-house, where he was horrified to see a red stream dripping sluggishly down the wooden steps that led to the door. He rushed in, to find the unfortunate young man lying dead on the floor with his head literally crushed in like a broken egg-shell.

“Touching nothing, he rushed back to the house, where he telephoned for the police and a doctor, who arrived post-haste.

“The doctor stated, after examining the body, that Mr. Power had been dead about five hours, which placed the time of the crime at ten o’clock that morning. Then, with the help of Inspector Savage, who has charge of the case, the body was moved, and instantly the weapon with which the deed was done was discovered. A huge stone weighing over fourteen pounds was lying on the floor, and adhering to it were blood and several hairs that obviously had belonged to the dead man. Mr. Playfair explained that the stone had originally come from an old heap which had been left over when the foundations of the summer-house had been laid. This particular one, he went on to say, had been used as a weight on the floor to prevent the door from banging when the artist wanted it open: he had suggested it to him some weeks previously.

“It is clear that a particularly brutal murder has been committed, as any possibility of accident or suicide can be ruled out. The murderer must have approached from behind while the unfortunate young man was at work on his picture, and bashed in his head with one blow.

“The police are in possession of several clues, and sensational developments are expected.”

I looked at the date. It was yesterday’s paper. Then I looked at the other paragraph he was indicating.

“These are the sensational developments,” said Ronald, “which are doubtless responsible for Miss Moody’s letter.”

“The police have lost no time in following up the clues they obtained in the shocking tragedy that occurred the day before yesterday at Mexbury Hall. It will be recalled that the body of a young artist named Bernard Power was found in the summer house with the head battered in in a fashion which proved conclusively that a singularly brutal murder had been committed.

“Yesterday Inspector Savage arrested a neighbouring landowner, Mr. Hubert Daynton, on the charge of being the murderer. It is understood that a stick belonging to the accused was found in the summer and the butt end of a cigarette of a brand he habitually smokes was discovered lying on the floor.

“The accused protests his complete ignorance of the affair, a further developments are awaited hourly. Needless to say, Mr. Playfair, in whose grounds the tragedy occurred, is much upset, as the dead man was a protegÚ of his.”

I put down the paper and glanced at my companion.

“It certainly seems pretty bad for Mr. Hubert Daynton,” I said. “He seems to have gone out of his way to leave the evidence lying about.”

“Exactly,” Standish remarked. “Which may be a point in his favour. However, there goes the bell. We’ll hear what Miss Moody has to say.”

The door opened, and his man ushered in a delightfully pretty girl of about twenty-one or two, who looked from one to the other of us with a worried expression on her face.

“Sit down, Miss Moody,” said Ronald. “And let me introduce a great pal of mine, Bob Miller. You can say anything you like in front of him.”

“I suppose you know what I’ve come about, Mr. Standish,” cried the girl.

“I know what has appeared in the papers,” said Ronald, “which summarises into the fact that Hubert Daynton has been arrested for the murder of an artist called Bernard Power in the summer-house of your guardian’s place.”

“But he never did it, Mr. Standish,” she cried, clasping her hands together.

“So, I gather, he states. At the same time, the police seem to think otherwise. Now will you be good enough to fill in all the gaps, as far as you can, which have been left by the papers? And one thing I beg of you– don’t keep anything back. It is absolutely imperative that I should have all the facts, even if they appear to you to be damaging.”

“I will conceal nothing,” she said. “You know from the papers that I live at Mexbury Hall with my guardian, and Hubert Daynton has the neighbouring house, Gadsby. Tower. He was often over with us, and we did the same thing at his place–”

“Was?” put in Ronald. “Do you imply anything by using the past tense?”

“During recent months matters have become a little strained,” she said, a slightly heightened colour coming into her cheeks. “To be brief, he wanted to marry me, and my guardian didn’t like the idea.”

“Why not?” said Ronald bluntly. “Was there any particular reason, or just general disapproval?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, “Uncle John–he’s not really any relation, of course–is very old-fashioned in some ways, and has the most absurd ideas about what girls ought to be told. But one thing is certain: the moment Hubert made it clear that he wanted to marry me, Uncle John’s manner towards him changed completely.”

“One further point, Miss Moody,” said Ronald, with a faint smile. “What were your feelings on the subject?”

“Well,” she answered frankly, “I didn’t say I would and I didn’t say I wouldn’t. He’s rather a dear, and I like him immensely, but I can’t say I’m in love with him. In addition, I’m terribly fond of Uncle John who has been a sort of mother and father to me, and the fact that he disapproved did influence me. There was an idea at the back of my mind, I think, that in time I might get him to change his mind about Hubert, which would have made a difference.”

“I understand perfectly,” said Ronald. “And that was the condition of affairs between you and Hubert Daynton at the time of his arrest?”

“I’m afraid it wasn’t,” she answered slowly. “Two months ago Bernard Power came to stay at the village inn. He was an artist, as you know, and in some way or other he got to know Uncle John. Now, my guardian is a photographic maniac–it is the one absorbing hobby of his life–and as Bernard went in for landscape work they seemed to find something in common. He was continually asking Bernard to dinner; and fitted him up, as you read in the papers, in the summer-house as a studio.”

She paused for a moment, and glanced from Ronald to me.

“The poor man is dead now,” she went on, “and if it wasn’t for Hubert’s sake, I’d say nothing. But there’s no getting away from the fact that Bernard Power was a nasty bit of work. You both of you look thoroughly uman, and you’ll know what I mean when I say he was always pawing one, touching one’s arm or something like that–a thing I loathe. But matters came to a head three days ago. I happened to be passing the summer-house when he called out to me to come and have a look at his picture.

“Without thinking, I went in. To do him justice, he was a very clever painter. And before I knew where I was, he’d seized me in his arms and was trying to kiss me. I was perfectly furious. I’d never given him the slightest encouragement. However, after I’d smacked his face as hard as I could, he let me go. And then I told him a few home truths and left.”

Again she paused, and bit her lip.

“I left, Mr. Standish, and, as evil fortune would have it, I ran into Hubert paying one of his very infrequent visits, He had come over to see me about a spaniel I wanted. If only it had been an hour later it wouldn’t have mattered; I should have recovered. As it was he saw, of course, that I was angry, and realising I’d come from the direction of the summer-house, he jumped at once to the correct conclusion.

“‘Has that damned painter been up to his monkey tricks again?’ he cried.

“And very foolishly I told him what had happened. He was furious, and there’s no denying that Hubert has a very nasty temper when roused. I regretted having said anything the moment the words were out of my mouth, but then it was too late. And it was only with the greatest difficulty that I prevented him going on then and there to put it across Bernard Power. I told him that I was quite capable of looking after myself, and that the matter was over and done with.

“In the middle of our conversation Uncle John joined us. He saw at once that something was up and asked what had happened. Hubert told him and he didn’t mince his words, which got Uncle John’s back up. And finally the two of them very nearly had a row.

“Uncle John’s point of view was that he was the proper person for me to go to, and that it was no business of Hubert’s. Hubert on the contrary said it was any decent man’s business if some swab of a painter kissed a girl against her will. And then he made the damning statement that he personally proposed to interview Mr. Bernard Power the following morning.”

“Did anyone else hear that remark besides you and your guardian?” asked Ronald.

“No one,” she said. “Of that I’m positive.”

“Why did he specify the following morning? Why didn’t he go right away?”

“He had people coming to lunch, and it was getting late.”

“And the following morning was the morning of the murder,” said Ronald thoughtfully. “Now let’s hear exactly what Daynton says took place.”

“He says that he started from Gadsby Tower at half-past nine and walked over to the summer-house. He found Bernard Power had no yet arrived, so he lit a cigarette and waited for him–a cigarette which he admits he threw on the floor and put out with his shoe.

“Then Bernard Power came in, and apparently Hubert went for him like a pickpocket. He called him a leprous mess, and a few more things of that sort, and they had a fearful quarrel, in the course of which Hubert put his stick up against the wall, because he was afraid he might hit the other with it, and he was a much smaller man than Hubert. Then he left, and went back to his own house, which he reached at twenty past ten.”

Ronald Standish nodded thoughtfully.

“Forgetting all about his stick,” he remarked. “A very important point, that.”

“He was so excited, Mr. Standish,” said the girl. “I know the police think as you do, but surely it’s understandable”

“My dear Miss Moody,” he said with a smile, “you quite mistake my meaning. Now that I’ve heard your full story I think it tells enormously in his favour. It is certain that he must have discovered he had left his stick in the summer-house on his way back to Gadsby Tower. There is nothing that a man notices quicker. If, then, he had murdered Power he would at all costs have had to go back to get it. To leave such a damning piece of evidence lying about was tantamount to putting a noose round his neck. But what was more natural than that he, rather than renew the quarrel, should decide to leave it there, and get it some other time?”

“Then you don’t think he did it?” she cried eagerly.

“What I may think,” said Ronald guardedly, “is one thing. What we’ve got to prove is another. If he didn’t do it–who did? The crime, according to the doctor’s evidence, must have been committed very shortly after Daynton left the summer-house. It is, therefore, I think, a justifiable assumption that the murderer was near by during the interview, heard the quarrel, and seized the opportunity of throwing suspicion on somebody else. So that at any rate one line of exploration must be to find out if this man Power had an enemy who was so bitter against him that he wouldn’t stick at murder. And from what you tell me of his manners with you, it would not be surprising if he has gone even further with some other girl. In which case there may be a man who was not as forbearing as Daynton.”

“Then you’ll help Hubert?” she cried.

“Certainly, Miss Moody,” he said. “Now that I’ve heard the details my opinion is quite different. Bob and I will come down with you this afternoon. But before we start there are just one or two points I’d like cleared up. First–what were your movements on the day of the murder?”

“I stayed in the house till lunch; and in the afternoon I played tennis at a house five miles away.”

“You had no communication with Daynton of any sort–over the telephone, for instance?”

“None.”

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