Neither the night porter nor the barman proved helpful. The night porter remembered ringing up Miss Keene's room just after midnight and getting no reply. He had not noticed Mr Bartlett leaving or entering the hotel. A lot of gentlemen and ladies were strolling in and out, the night being fine. And there were side doors off the corridor as well as the one in the main hall. He was fairly certain Miss Keene had not gone out by the main door, but if she had come down from her room, which was on the first floor, there was a staircase next to it and a door out at the end of the corridor leading onto the side terrace. She could have gone out of that, unseen, easily enough. It was not locked until the dancing was over at two o'clock.
The barman remembered Mr Bartlett being in the bar the preceding evening, but could not say when. Somewhere about the middle of the evening, he thought. Mr Bartlett had sat against the wall and was looking rather melancholy. He did not know how long he was in there. There were a lot of outside guests coming and going in the bar. He had noticed Mr Bartlett, but he couldn't fix the time in any way.
As they left the bar they were accosted by a small boy about nine years old. He burst immediately into excited speech. "I say, are you the detectives? I'm Peter Carmody. It was my grandfather, Mr Jefferson, who rang up the police about Ruby. Are you from Scotland Yard? You don't mind my speaking to you, do you?"
Colonel Melchett looked as though he were about to return a short answer, but Superintendent Harper intervened. He spoke benignly and heartily. "That's all right, my son.
Naturally interests you, I expect?"
"You bet it does. Do you like detective stories? I do. I read them all and I've got autographs from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Dickson Carr and H.C. Bailey. Will the murder be in the papers?"
"It'll be in the papers all right," said Superintendent Harper grimly.
"You see, I'm going back to school next week and I shall tell them all that I knew her, really knew her well."
Superintendent Harper looked at him thoughtfully. He said,
"Did you hear them - er - say so?"
"Well, not exactly. Uncle Mark said, 'Well, it's one way out What did you think of her, eh?"
Peter considered. "Well, I didn't like her very much. I think she was rather a stupid sort of girl. Mum and Uncle Mark didn't like her much, either. Only grandfather. Grandfather wants to see you, by the way. Edwards is looking for you."
Superintendent Harper murmured encouragingly, "So your mother and your Uncle Mark didn't like Ruby Keene much? Why was that?"
"Oh, I don't know. She was always butting in. And they didn't like grandfather making such a fuss of her. I expect," said Peter cheerfully, "that they're glad she's dead."
Superintendent Harper looked at him thoughtfully. He said, "Did you hear them-er-say so?"
"Well, not exactly. Uncle Mark said, "Well, it's one way out anyway," and mum said, 'Yes, but such a horrible one,' and Uncle Mark said it was no good being hypocritical."
The men exchanged glances. At that moment a clean-shaven man neatly dressed in blue serge came up to them. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I am Mr Jefferson's valet. He is awake
now and sent me to find you, as he is very anxious to see you."
Once more they went up to Conway Jefferson's suite. In the sitting room Adelaide Jefferson was talking to a tall, restless man who was prowling nervously about the room. He swung around sharply to view the newcomers. "Oh, yes. Glad you've come. My father-in-law's been asking for you. He's awake now. Keep him as calm as you can, won't you? His health's not too good. It's a wonder, really, that this shock didn't do for him."
Harper said, "I'd no idea his health was as bad as that."
"He doesn't know it himself," said Mark Gaskell. "It's his heart, you see. The doctor warned Addie that he mustn't be overexcited or startled. He more or less hinted that the end might come any time, didn't he, Addie?"
Mrs Jefferson nodded. She said, "It's incredible that he's rallied the way he has."
Melchett said dryly, "Murder isn't exactly a soothing incident. We'll be as careful as we can." He was sizing up Mark Gaskell as he spoke. He didn't much care for the fellow. A bold, unscrupulous, hawklike face. One of those men who usually get their own way and whom women frequently admire. But not the sort of fellow I'd trust, the colonel thought to himself. Unscrupulous - that was the word for him. The sort of fellow who wouldn't stick at anything.
In the big bedroom overlooking the sea, Conway Jefferson was sitting in his wheeled chair by the window. No sooner were you in the room with him than you felt the power and magnetism of the man. It was as though the injuries which had left him a cripple had resulted in concentrating the vitality of his shattered body into a narrower and more intense focus. He had a fine head, the red of the hair slightly grizzled. The face was rugged and powerful, deeply sun-tanned, and the eyes were a startling blue. There was no sign of illness or feebleness about him. The deep lines on his face were the lines of suffering, not the lines of weakness. Here was a man who would never rail against fate, but accept it and pass on to victory. He said, "I'm glad you've come." His quick eyes took them in. He said to Melchett, "You're the chief constable of Radfordshire? Right. And you're Superintendent Harper? Sit down. Cigarettes on the table beside you."
They thanked him and sat down. Melchett said, "I understand, Mr Jefferson, that you were interested in the dead girl?"
A quick, twisted smile flashed across the lined face. "Yes, they'll all have told you that! Well, it's no secret. How much has my family said to you?" He looked quickly from one to the other as he asked the question.
It was Melchett who answered. "Mrs Jefferson told us very little beyond the fact that the
girl's chatter amused you and that she was by way of being a protegee. We have only exchanged half a dozen words with Mr Gaskell."
Conway Jefferson smiled. "Addie's a discreet creature, bless her. Mark would probably have been more outspoken. I think, Melchett, that I'd better tell you some facts rather fully. It's necessary, in order that you should understand my attitude. And, to begin with, it's necessary that I go back to the big tragedy of my life. Eight years ago I lost my wife, my son and my daughter in an aeroplane accident. Since then I've been like a man who's lost half himself and I'm not speaking of my physical plight! I was a family man. My daughter-in-law and my son-in-law have been very good to me. They've done all they can to take the place of my flesh and blood. But I've realized, especially of late, that they have, after all, their own lives to live. So you must understand that, essentially, I'm a lonely man. I like young people. I enjoy them. Once or twice I've played with the idea ofadopting some girl or boy. During this last month I got very friendly with the child who's been killed. She was absolutely natural, completely naive. She chattered on about her life and her experiences in pantomime, with touring companies, with mum and dad as a child in cheap lodgings. Such a different life from any I've known! Never complaining, never seeing it as sordid. Just a natural, uncomplaining, hardworking child, unspoilt and charming. Not a lady, perhaps, but thank God neither vulgar nor abominable. I got more and more fond of Ruby. I decided, gentlemen, to adopt her legally. She would become, by law, my daughter. That, I hope, explains my concern for her and the steps I took when I heard of her unaccountable disappearance."
There was a pause. Then Superintendent Harper, his unemotional voice robbing the question of any offence, asked, "May I ask what your son-in-law and daughter-in-law said to that?"
Jefferson's answer came back quickly. "What could they say? They didn't, perhaps, like it very much. It's the sort of thing that arouses prejudice. But they behaved very well yes, very well. It's not as though, you see, they were dependent on me. When my son Frank married, I turned over half my worldly goods to him then and there. I believe in that. Don't let your children wait until you're dead. They want the money when they're young, not when they're middle-aged.
In the same way, when my daughter Rosamund insisted on marrying a poor man, I settled a big sum of money on her. That sum passed to him at her death. So, you see, that simplified the matter from the financial angle."
"I see, Mr Jefferson," said Superintendent Harper.
But there was a certain reserve in his tone. Conway Jefferson pounced upon it. "But you don't agree, eh?"
"It's not for me to say, sir, but families, in my experience, don't always act reasonable."
"I dare say you're right, superintendent, but you must remember that Mr Gaskell and Mrs Jefferson aren't, strictly speaking, my family. They're not blood relations."
"That, of course, makes a difference," admitted the superintendent.
For a moment Conway Jefferson's eyes twinkled. He said, "That's not to say that they didn't think me an old fool. That would be the average person's reaction. But I wasn't being a fool! I know character. With education and polishing Ruby Keene could have taken her place anywhere."
Melchett said, "I'm afraid we're being rather impertinent and inquisitive, but it's important that we should get at all the facts. You proposed to make full provision for the girl that is, settle
money upon her but you hadn't already done so?"
Jefferson said, "I understand what you're driving at - the possibility of someone's benefiting by the girl's death. But nobody could. The necessary formalities for legal adoption were under way, but they hadn't yet been completed."
Melchett said slowly, "Then, if anything happened to you?" He left the sentence unfinished, as a query.
Conway Jefferson was quick to respond. "Nothing's likely to happen to me! I'm a cripple, but I'm not an invalid. Although doctors do like to pull long faces and give advice about not overdoing things. Not overdoing things! I'm as strong as a horse! Still, I'm quite aware of the fatalities of life. I've good reason to be! Sudden death comes to the strongest man especially in these days of road casualties. But I'd provided for that. I made a new will about ten days ago."
"Yes?" Superintendent Harper leaned forward.
"I left the sum of fifty thousand pounds to be held in trust for Ruby Keene until she was
twenty-five, when she would come into the principal."
Superintendent Harper's eyes opened. So did Colonel Melchett's. Harper said in an almost awed voice, "That's a very large sum of money, Mr Jefferson."
"In these days, yes, it is."
"And you were leaving it to a girl you had only known a few weeks?"
Anger flashed into the vivid blue eyes. "Must I go on repeating the same thing over and over again? I've no flesh and blood of my own - no nieces or nephews or distant cousins, even! I might have left it to charity. I prefer to leave it to an individual." He laughed. "Cinderella turned into a princess overnight! A fairy godfather instead of a fairy godmother. Why not? It's my money. I made it."
Colonel Melchett asked, "Any other bequests?"
"A small legacy to Edwards, my valet, and the remainder to Mark and Addie in equal shares."
"Would - excuse me - the residue amount to a large sum?"
"Probably not. It's difficult to say exactly; investments fluctuate all the time. The sum involved, after death duties and expenses had been paid, would probably have come to something between five and ten thousand pounds net."
"And you needn't think I was treating them shabbily. As I said, I divided up my estate at the time my children married. I left myself, actually, a very small sum. But after - after the tragedy - I wanted something to occupy my mind. I flung myself into business. At my house in London I had a private line put in, connecting my bedroom with my office. I worked hard; it helped me not to think, and it made me feel that my - my mutilation had not vanquished me. I threw myself into work -" his voice took on a deeper note; he spoke more to himself than to his audience - "and by some subtle irony, everything I did prospered! My wildest speculations succeeded. If I gambled, I won. Everything I touched turned to gold. Fate's ironic way of righting the balance, I suppose."
The lines of suffering stood out on his face again. Recollecting himself, he smiled wryly at them.
"So, you see, the sum of money I left Ruby was indisputably mine, to do with as my fancy dictated."
Melchett said quickly, "Undoubtedly, my dear fellow. We are not questioning that for a moment."
Conway Jefferson said, "Good. Now I want to ask my questions in my turn, if I may. I want to hear all about this terrible business. All I know is that she - that little Ruby was found strangled in a house some twenty miles from here."
"That is correct. At Gossington Hall."
Jefferson frowned. "Gossington? But that's -"
"Colonel Bantry's house."
"Bantry! Arthur Bantry? But I know him. Know him and his wife! Met them abroad some years ago. I didn't realize they lived in this part of the world. Why, it's -" He broke off.
Superintendent Harper slipped in smoothly, "Colonel Bantry was dining in the hotel here Tuesday of last week. You didn't see him?"
"Tuesday? Tuesday? No, we were back late. Went over to Harden Head and had dinner on the way back."
Melchett said, "Ruby Keene never mentioned the Bantrys to you?"
Jefferson shook his head. "Never. Don't believe she knew them. Sure she didn't. She didn't know anybody but theatrical folk and that sort of thing." He paused, and then asked abruptly, "What's Bantry got to say about it?"
"He can't account for it in the least. He was out at a Conservative meeting last night. The body was discovered this morning. He says he's never seen the girl in his life."
Jefferson nodded. He said, "It certainly seems fantastic."
Superintendent Harper cleared his throat. He said, "Have you any idea at all, sir, who can have done this?"
"Good God, I wish I had!" The veins stood out on his forehead. "It's incredible, unimaginable! I'd say it couldn't have happened, if it hadn't happened!"
"There's no friend of hers from her past life, no man hanging about or threatening her?"
"I'm sure there isn't. She'd have told me if so. She's never had a regular boy friend. She told me so herself." Superintendent Harper thought. Yes, I dare say that's what she told you. But that's as may be. Conway Jefferson went on, "Josie would know better than anyone if there had
been some man hanging about Ruby or pestering her. Can't she help?"
"She says not."
Jefferson said, frowning, "I can't help feeling it must be the work of some maniac - the brutality of the method, breaking into a country house, the whole thing so unconnected and senseless. There are men of that type, men outwardly sane, but who decoy girls, sometimes children, away and kill them."
Harper said, "Oh, yes, there are such cases, but we've no knowledge of anyone of that kind operating in this neighbourhood."
Jefferson went on, "I've thought over all the various men I've seen with Ruby. Guests here and outsiders - men she'd danced with. They all seem harmless enough, the usual type. She had no special friend of any kind."
Superintendent Harper's face remained quite impassive, but unseen by Conway Jefferson, there was still a speculative glint in his eye. It was quite possible, he thought, that Ruby Keene might have had a special friend, even though Conway Jefferson did not know about it. He said nothing, however.
The chief constable gave him a glance of inquiry and then rose to his feet. He said, "Thank you, Mr Jefferson. That's all we need for the present."
Jefferson said, "You'll keep me informed of your progress?"
"Yes, yes, we'll keep in touch with you."
The two men went out. Conway Jefferson leaned back in his chair. His eyelids came down and veiled the fierce blue of his eyes. He looked, suddenly, a very tired man. Then, after a minute or two, the lids flickered. He called, "Edwards?"
From the next room the valet appeared promptly. Edwards knew his master as no one else did. Others, even his nearest, knew only his strength; Edwards knew his weakness. He had seen Conway Jefferson tired, discouraged, weary of life, momentarily defeated by infirmity and loneliness.
Jefferson said, "Get on to Sir Henry Clithering. He's at Melborne Abbas. Ask him, from me, to get here today if he can, instead of tomorrow. Tell him it's very urgent."
Assignment 1 | VI. Correct the false statements. | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | I. Revise the Assignment 1 and translate the sentences into English in writing. | III. Correct the false statements. | IV. Find the following adjectives, write them out in your vocabulary books, remember the nouns with which they are used bythe author. | Chapter 6 | Chapters 5, 6 (pp.35-47) |