Introducing a detective with side-whiskers in the strange case of the man who hated success
G. R. MALLOCH
IN A room at New Scotland Yard two men sat talking. “I sent for you, Ego,” said the assistant commissioner, “because, frankly, I am worried about this case. You know that I make it a rule never to butt in on the man on the job if I can possibly avoid it—but millionaires are not murdered every day and I’ve got to pass on the kick I received this morning from higher up.” “Quite, sir,” said Detective Inspector Ego with a nod.
“I understand. I read the papers.”
“Well, there you are ! They have no big stunt on hand just now and this murder is so much fat to them. They’re hinting at our incapacity pretty plainly already. In another week, unless we make an arrest, there will be a regular outcry.”
“I see no reason why we should not make an arrest pretty soon.’
“Neither do I,” groaned the assistant commissioner. “But will it be the right man? If we make a mistake, some of us will have to resign.” He frowned at the pen he was playing with and then at the cheerful rubicund countenance of the detective who sat opposite him. “You know, Ego, you don’t look a bit like a detective. That’s half our trouble; the crime experts and the public don’t believe in you. How can they be expected to believe that a man who looks like a prosperous farmer fed on roast beef and ale can be the sleuth hound of fiction? Side-whiskers, too—who ever heard of a detective with whiskers?”
Ego caressed the offending whiskers affectionately. “Suit my style, I always think, sir,” he replied complacently. “And what’s the use of a detective looking like a detective, may I ask? You know yourself, sir, how convenient it is when criminals look like criminals. But how often do they? Very seldom.”
“The worthwhile criminals, yes,” conceded the other. “It’s only the small fry who look habitually guilty. But this isn’t getting us anywhere. Who d’ye think murdered Hogarth? So far as one can see, he had no real enemies.” “Quite,” agreed Ego. “That is, no worthwhile enemies, to borrow your phrase. Quite a lot of people disliked
him, but dislike is scarcely likely to lead to killing. Having ruled out enemies, the obvious thing is to turn to his friends.”
“Had a man like that any friends?”
“Undoubtedly. Bit of a
vulgarian and all that, not too scrupulous in business— yes. But lots of friends. You know, sir, there is no fallacy so complete as that which supposes that a man without friends is a bad man. In fact, if I wanted a friend I could depend on, I should look for a friendless man.”
“Possibly you are right, Ego,” said the assistant commissioner, “and your theory is an interesting one. But may I remind you that what you want just now is not a friend but a murderer?”
“I’ve known some murderers I could have been very good friends with,” replied Ego, “but it’s too late, now.” “And may I add,” groaned the other, “that if you don’t find the murderer pretty quick, you’ll want all the friends you can muster?”
“As mine are mostly members of the criminal classes, I’m afraid they wouldn’t be of much use in such a crisis,” responded Ego imperturbably. “You’ll excuse me, sir, if I refuse to get excited about the Hogarth murder case. I make it a rule never to get excited about anything. Excitement is bad for the nerves and upsetting to the judgment. The man who rushes about wildly, looking for clues and people to arrest, gets nowhere. I’ve observed that some of my most esteemed colleagues, when the office hands them a nice crime, invariably start by trying to fix it on the most likely person. That, of course, is fatal. They should go for the unlikely.”
“Well, as I can’t stop you, I suppose I must listen,” said his superior. “You look for the most unlikely, do you?”
“Not just at once. What I do is to sit down—” “That’s just what the papers say you’ve been doing in this case!” interrupted the assistant commissioner.
YV/’HAT I do is to sit down,” resumed Ego, “and W analyze the case. Barring insanity, there’s no such thing as a motiveless crime. But almost everybody has a motive for getting somebody else out of the way or stealing a large sum of money—only the motive in the majority of cases isn’t strong enough to overcome his
moral resistance. For example, who had a stronger motive to get Hogarth out of the way than his own son who succeeds to five millions?”
“But you don’t suspect him?”
“No—quite a nice boy, considering what his father was. So one finds it necessary to be pretty careful with motives. They want to be analyzed and sifted pretty carefully. Dangerous things they are for poor, unsuspecting detectives. You may say that I am contradicting my theory of looking for the unlikely, but I’m not. As far as motive goes, I’ve shown you that the son is among the likelies. So is the butler—he might hate his master who bullied him or he might want to rob him. So are all the servants. So, you might almost say, is the wife who had to live with him.”
“Ah!” said the assistant commissioner. “The wife! Twenty years younger, very beautiful, miles above him in class, rather flighty if all one hearsis true. Had she a lover?”
“Probably; certainly many admirers. One of them, as you know, was stopping in the house at the time.” “Well, isn’t there motive enough there? You mean young Tansly. Suppose Hogarth discovers him making love to his wife—there’s a row, Hogarth gets killed.”
“It only happens in the pictures, sir. This is real life. As a matter of fact, I believe there was a row—but the rest doesn’t follow.”
“Weren’t there any fingerprints?”
“On the revolver, you mean? Yes, there were. Hogarth’s own.”
The assistant commissioner banged the desk in front of him. He had lost patience.
“Why the devil didn’t you tell me that before, Ego? Surely that clears the thing up. Suicide !”
“I didn’t tell you or anyone else,” said Ego calmly, “because the man was murdered. Of course, if the worst comes to the worst we can ride out of it on that. But a man who’s committing suicide doesn’t as a rule shoot himself experimentally in the foot before putting a bullet through his own head. Not as a rule, that is.”
“But the coroner—didn’t he ask about fingerprints?” “No. I asked hinj not to. A juryman did, but I told him that the murderer probably wore gloves and he was satisfied.”
“But what nonsense is this. A man’s found shot dead with his own revolver beside him and his own fingerprints on the handle, and you talk about a murderer wearing gloves.”
“Quite. He must have worn gloves or there would have been other marks besides Hogarth’s on the butt, wouldn’t there?” “But was there a murderer, man?” “I think so.” “Then in the devil’s name, who was he?” “Sir Barnes Castleton, in my opinion.” The assistant commissioner stared at Ego in silence for a moment. “Are you sure that you have not taken leave of your senses, Ego?” he asked at last. “Castleton was Hogarth’s greatest and closest friend. Furthermore, Hogarth was devoted to him. Castleton owed all his money and all his success to Hogarth. He began life as a poor man without prospects, and if it hadn’t been for Hogarth’s friendship and influence he would still be where he was, for he isn’t the kind of man to push himself. What’s more, he wasn’t in the house at the time. And you suggest that he killed Hogarth!”
“Well,” demanded Ego triumphantly, “could you have anything more unlikely? Didn’t I say look for the unlikely? I want a warrant for his arrest. I won’t move without a water-tight warrant.”
“And you won’t get it,” snapped his superior.
“Really, Ego, one expected better things from you.
You’re going theory mad.
If you have any real grounds for suspecting Castleton, let me have them. But it must be something like proof, very like proof. If we start arresting people on theory—”
“It’s conviction,” interrupted Ego.
“The only conviction I’m interested in,” said the other angrily, “is a conviction of murder.”
“Very well, sir,” said Ego, getting up. “I didn’t say that I was going to use the warrant but I wanted it handy. If you’ll excuse me I’ll get back to the scene of this interesting crime.”
“Or commonplace suicide. Have you satisfied yourself that Hogarth wasn’t in financial trouble?”
“I have, sir,” answered the detective wearily. “Also that no one was present at the murder as an eyewitness, for that would have simplified the task of Scotland Yard, as the reporters would say.”
“Don’t try your sarcasm on me, if you please, Detective Inspector Ego.”
“Sorry, sir, but detectives are only human, as one of the papers says very truly this morning. And that being so, they may very easily get stale on a case or be carried away by a theory.
Now, I envy your friend Johnson on that nice fresh forgery affair—I’ve always had a craving for forgeries —and I daresay he’s envying me on the Hogarth murder, because I happen to know that he’s keen on murders. Suppose the chief changed us round, sir, you’d undoubtedly get fresh views on both cases.
“Are you suggesting that we should take you off the case, then?”1
“No, sir; I thought you were.”
The assistant commissioner laughed a little wryly and then proceeded:
“I see I’ve offended you, Ego—sorry. I wasn’t suggesting anything of the kind. I daresay you may be right, after all. You usually are. But might I, without unduly outraging your susceptibility, venture to offer to accompany you to the scene of this interesting crime, as you phrase it?”
“Ah!” said Ego with a grin, “now we’re talking.
Nothing would please me better, sir. Like everyone else, I’m anxious for promotion, and nothing would please me better than to bring the case to a brilliant conclusion under the very eyes of my superior officer.”
“Very well, then, you shall have the chance. See to the car, will you, and send Johnson in to me. I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
“Very good, sir,” said Detective Inspector Ego, in the official manner, as he rose and left the room.
ASA swift car bore them along the sunlit roads, the *■ assistant commissioner looked with unseeing eyes upon the beautiful panorama of summer fields and woods. He was tired, worried about the interview he had had that morning with his chief, and thoroughly bored with the Hogarth case. Not so, apparently, Detective Inspector Ego, who discoursed fluently of the promising state of the crops, town-planning, and ribbon development, and other topics suggested by the passing
scene. And from these he passed to a subject probably still less interesting to his companion at that moment, the alleged superiority over all other vacuum cleaners of a machine known as the Wotagem Cleaner. It appeared that Ego used one in his own domestic establishment and had been so captivated by it that he did not hesitate to recommend the assistant commissioner to acquire one at the earliest possible moment.
“Do you get a commission on it, Ego?” asked his victim. “If so, say how much it is and I’ll give it to you now, if you’ll just shut up about the Wotagem. The very name of it offends a sensitive taste—a vulgar corruption of What a Gem, I suppose?”
“It may not interest you, sir,” replied Ego serenely, “but it interested the late Hogarth. He financed the company from the start and made an enormous sum out of it. So did Sir Barnes Castleton, if it comes to that. He’s a director of the company.”
“And are you suggesting that there’s some connection between the murder of Hogarth and the Wotagem Cleaner?” demanded the exasperated listener.
“There might be,” said Ego brightly. “It’s unlikely enough to be promising.”
The assistant commissioner’s response was to take a book from his pocket and pretend to become absorbed in it.
As the car swept through the lodge gates of the manor, that gentleman pocketed his book again and asked himself wearily why he had come. Here were all the hackneyed features of such cases over again; the lodge, the long drive through the park, the imposing mansion, the dead millionaire. And what was he going to do about it? Ego, for all his eccentricities, was a capable man who seldom made a mistake. He had already, no doubt, questioned and cross-questioned all the people concerned, the body had been buried a week ago, all the clues had been followed up and it was too late to find any fresh ones. And yet the chief had been in a devil of a temper about it all, and there had seemed nothing for it but to take a look at things himself.
As the car drew up at the front door, he realized that it wasn’t even an interesting house but a great bald pile of Georgian architecture of the worst kind. The lawns and gardens that surrounded it did to some extent redeem the place, he admitted, as his eyes travelled across a great sweep of velvety turf to a group of ancient cedars, in the shade of which two people were sitting in long chairs beside a garden table.
“Who are they?” he asked Ego as the chauffeur opened the door of the car.
“Mrs. Hogarth and young Mr. Tansly.”
“H’m! He’s still about, then?”
“And likely to be,” replied Ego. “Do you wish to look at the house, sir? And see the servants?”
“I suppose I’d better,” groaned the assistant commissioner. “But what’s the use of it?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
He looked at Ego’s face but it was like a serene and happy mask. The man looked incapable of sarcasm.
'“THE door was opened by a decent looking young footman who admitted Ego and his companion without question. An elderly butler advanced through the shadowy hall. The assistant commissioner looked at them both attentively and dismissed them mentally from the case.
“You will want to see the scene of the crime, sir,” said Ego, deferentially official. He led the way across the vast hall and down a corridor on the right. Throwing open a door, he stood aside to allow his superior to enter, and following him in, closed the door.
“It was here, sir; the study. Body lay here, where that mark is on the carpet. Nothing’s been disturbed
yet, that’s why you find that everything’s so dusty.” His companion sank into a chair. “Spare me, Ego, I beg of you,” he said. “I know the whole thing by heart and I don’t want to hear about the open window or the shut window or how you examined the sills and searched outside for footprints, or anything of the sort. Send for that butler, please.” Ego rang the bell and the butler answered it in person. “Come in and shut the door, please,” said the assistant commissioner. The man obeyed. He looked at Ego for guidance and Ego nodded and said, “The assistant commissioner.” “Now,” said the latter, “I’m sorry to have to bother you, but I want answers to one or two questions which may seem to you of an unpleasant nature but must be answered all the same.” “Very good, sir,” said the man. “Remembering that your master was cruelly murdered in this room—was Mr. Tansly in this house on the day of the murder?” “Yes, sir.” “At the hour of the murder?” » “I believe so, sir.” “Where?” “He was in the drawing-room, sir, with madam, when
was drawing-room, I rushed in after discovering the —the body.” “Had there been a quarrel between Mr. Hogarth and Mr. Tansly?” “I believe so, sir.” “Why?” “I overheard something like dispute, sir, as I was passing outside the window on my way from the lodge, where I had been to deliver a message.” “Did you hear what they were saying?” “Only the master saying, ‘Get out of my house, Tansly!’ ” “How long was that before you came in here and discovered that your master had been killed?” “Half an hour, sir.” “Do you think that Mr. Tansly killed your master?” “No, sir.” “Why?” “Because I know Mr. Tansly, sir.” “Thank you. That will do; you may go.” The butler left the room. The assistant commissioner swung round to Ego, who was absorbed in the view from the windows. “And you say that you don’t suspect Tansly, eh?” he demanded. “No,” said Ego, turning to his questioner. “No, sir—much too likely.” “We’ll go and see,” snapped the other. “Take me out to those two on the lawn.” “This is splendid, sir,” murmured Ego as he led the way. “Regular ruthless, downright style. I wish I could string myself up to it.” “Damn you and your unlikely theories !” was the reply he got. In silence they traversed the hall again, descended the shallow steps, and walked across the lawns to the cedar grove. To the annoyance of the assistant commissioner, the lady was now alone; there was no sign of Mr. Tansly. “Ah, sir,” commented Ego. “Bird’s flown, it seems. Still, we can find him at any time.” “How do you know that?”
“He lives practically next door, sir,” said Ego blandly, and his superior ground his teeth. "pGO made the introduction and the assistant commissioner found himself bowing to a pale handsome woman in the thirties, dressed in mourning. He felt decidedly uncomfortable, but a recollection of an earlier interview spurred him on. At Mrs. Hogarth’s request, the two officers took chairs. Silence fell. It was a hot June morning and the shade under the cedars was pleasant. Waves of scent from the sundrenched borders came to them. The assistant commissioner dug the ferrule of his walking stick into the soft turf and wished
that he hadn’t come and that the lady would open the ball. But she remained silent. “I have practically only one question to ask you, Mrs. Hogarth,” he said at last, “and I hope you will remember that it is a matter of duty with me.” “Of course,” assented Mrs. Hogarth politely. “Well, bluntly, you were in the drawing-room when— when this unfortunate affair happened?” “I believe I was, if Mr. Ego’s idea of time is correct.” “And Mr. Tansly joined you there, shortly before your butler rushed in?” “Yes.” “How long before?” “I don’t know; about twenty minutes, I should think.” “Did he appear to be upset?” “Yes. They had quarrelled.” “Did he say what had happened?” “Only that he had been ordered out of the house and had come to say good-by to me.” “I see. Is he to be found in his house now, do you think? Has he gone back there?” “Prohably.” “I am much obliged to you and must express my sincere regret at having had to trouble you with ques-
He rose to his feet and bowed, and was about to escape when Mrs. Hogarth detained him with a gesture. “I should like to say how much I appreciate the—the tact and kindness that Mr. Ego has shown to us all. It was all so unlike what one expects that I should like you to know how grateful we all feel to him.” For once in his life Detective Inspector Ego blushed. The assistant commissioner smiled. “Mr. Ego is known as a very tactful officer,” he said. “Indeed he was chosen for this case on that account. But I shall not fail to report your opinion of him in the proper quarter.”
“You are not suspecting Mr. Tansly of having had anything to do with this?” She spoke calmly enough but there was a note of anxiety in her voice, not difficult for experienced ears to detect. “You are ready to vouch for his innocence?” “Absolutely.” “Why?” “Because I know Mr. Tansly.” The assistant commissioner smiled. “You are the second person who has made that identical answer to the same question today,” he said. “No doubt when Mr. Tansly has answered the few questions I wish to put to him, I may be of the same opinion. You must remember, however, that you are speaking of a friend whom you know to be above suspicion, and I, of a complete stranger who stands in rather an equivocal position in this affair.” “I feel sure that he will have fair play, at any rate,” said Mrs. Hogarth softly. “He will, Mrs. Hogarth,” was the curt response. He didn’t like the remark or the glance that accompanied it. He felt that this very attractive woman was trying to drag him into the band of Tansly’s defenders. But he refused to be influenced. He would hear what Tansly might be willing to say and judge for himself, but
the very fact that Tansly had.so many admirers put him in class of unlikely people whom, according to Ego’s theory, ought to suspect first. Very unwillingly he took the white hand that Mrs. Hogarth offered in good-by. He resented glance that accompanied it and the imperceptible pressure that made him relinquish it quickly. No doubt she had been able get round Ego; but Ego in some things appeared to be a simpleton. “May we leave the car here and walk through the park Mr. Tansly’s place?” Ego was asking with a fatuous smile. The man was bewitched. “Of course.” And nodoubtshe would go in and telephone her lover that they were coming. HPHEIR path lay over undulating park land, hot in the blazing sun, and then through deliciously cool woods where the trees were still in the first new glory of green. They crossed clear brook on stepping stones and plunged, into thickets. Ego looked exactly like a farmer with his rubicund face and closecropped whiskers, and he talked like one. Crops, the prospects the hay harvest, game preserving and forestry were the subjects he chose to beguile the time. The Hogarth murder he did not touch upon at all. His companion’s thoughts were busy with that case, however, and he was grateful for the other’s flow of talk, to which he responded with an occasional monosyllable. At last they reached what seemed to be the boundaries of an estate, climbed over a stile, and found themselves in another park.\ A few minutes brought them Within sight of a really charming old red-brick house, set in the midst of formal gardens with high yew hedges and abundant topiary work. As they approached it the assistant commissioner felt rewarded for his exertions. It was really a perfect gem of its kind, as fine an example of an early Tudor manor
as he had ever seen, When they were close to it he paused and looked round appreciatively “So this place belongs to our young friend Tansly,” he said. “Lucky devil—at least, possibly lucky devil,” he added. “Not Tansly’s, sir,” said Ego calmly. “Oh, no; his is a bit farther on.” “Then whose place is this?” demanded the assistant commissioner, suddenly suspicious. “Why, it’s Ibbsey, Sir Barnes Castleton’s place, sir. Famous it is, I believe. Thought to be a wonderful example of early Tudor architecture.”
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“Then why the devil have you brought me here? I don’t want to see Sir Barnes Castleton, and we’re not out to study Tudor architecture this morning!” The assistant commissioner had lost his temper.
“I thought we might as well have look at it on our way, sir—why, here Sir Barnes himself!”
They had debouched upon a paved terrace running the length of the house. Close to them was a table covered with books and surrounded by chairs; and in one of the chairs sat a thin-faced, scholarlylooking man, grey-haired and ascetic aspect. He looked up at the sound their footsteps with a slightly startled expression which the assistant commissioner put down to justifiable annoyance at this intrusion.
Now, if there was one person in the world whom the assistant commissioner did not want to question that morning upon the subject of the Hogarth murder, it was Sir Barnest Castleton. He knew him by reputationes a rich man, a scholarly gentleman whose chief recreations were found in literary studies and who wrote occasionally for the more serious reviews, a man who avoided politics, did not go out much into society, and mixed no more in the business world than his affairs compelled him to. That such man should be a director of the Wotagem Cleaner Company, as Ego had asserted, seemed to him a rich joke. And again, Sir Barnes was known to dislike blood sports and to be reluctant to hurt a fly. To connect him with ja murder was palpably absurd, of course. Ego’s maunderings this morning were merely a bit of camouflage to hide some real scent that he was on. Ego was like that, he was intolerably tedious at times and yet one had to humor him for the sake of results, he was so infernally touchy.
“Ah! Mr. Ego and a friend,” he heard Castleton saying in a mild, gently-inflected voice, as he rose from his seat. And he found himself being introduced with full official honors and shaking hands before he could escape. They were pressed to sit down and offered refreshment; there seemed nothing for it but to accept. They sat down and spoke in desultory fashion of the view and the weather, while a servant brought out decanters and siphons. Then Ego took charge of the situation. Let him, thought the assistant commissioner bitterly; he had created it.
“I must ask your pardon, Sir Barnes,” began Ego with his most disarming smile, “for butting in on you like this. But your house lay on our way and I wanted the
assistant commissioner not to miss the chance of seeing such a famous place.” “You/ mustn’t apologize,” was the reply. “It has been a pleasure to me, and after all a house like this is really in a way partly public property, insomuch as it is a national possession. If the assistant commissioner is interested in such things I am very glad that he has taken the opportunity of seeing it.”
rT'HE assistant commissioner expressed his pleasure suitably, and as he was really something of an authority on the subject the conversation threatened to become an archaeological discussion. But Mr. Ego had no intention of allowing this and at the first opportunity he struck in.
“We were on our way to visit Tansly Hall,” he said.
Sir Barnes looked at him with interest. “Indeed?” he said. “A very interesting house, too. May one ask whether your visit there was merely with the object of inspecting the place?”
Ego appeared to be a little perturbed by the question. He looked this way and that and finally at his superior, who made no response.
“No,” he said at last reluctantly. “No; I don’t suppose it is divulging any secret of consequence tq say in confidence that it was not to view: the house. As I daresay you have guessed, we are down here on the Hogarth—murder.”
He paused on the word “murder” with apparently unintentional emphasis, so that it came out at the end of the sentence with the effect of a small explosion.
Sir Barnes stirred uneasily in his chair. “Indeed!” he said slowly. “You don’t suspect that very harmless young man of murder, do you?”
The assistant commissioner raised an imploring hand.
“Don’t, Sir Barnes,” he said, “say that you don’t think he killed Hogarth because you know him. Two people have volunteered that statement already' this morning. We haven’t suggested fet that he had anything to do with it. But I must ask him a few questions.”
“Hasn’t he been questioned already?” asked Castleton. “Can he add anything to what he has already said?”
“I hope so.”
“You mean that he is in danger of being accused? Well, his situation is certainly an awkward one. He is the last man seen with poor Hogarth, he admits a quarrel—yes, it is awkward. But I think you will have to look up another tree, sir.” “You think it was suicide?” The
assistant commissioner fixed him abruptly with the question.
Sir Barnes mused in silence for a moment.
“Yes,” he said at last. “I think you might almost call it that.”
“I’m afraid I don’t, sir,” said Ego deferentially. “I think it was a murder.” Sir Barnes turned to him with mild interest.
“Yes? I suppose you may be right, but if so, it is a mysterious case, is it not?” Ego nodded his assent.
“I like mysterious cases,” he said. “They’re much more interesting than plain common or garden murders. They give scope to the imagination, and imagination is one of the most valuable assets a detective can have.”
“You have a theory perhaps?” asked Castleton.
“Nothing concrete.” Ego shook his head. “But I like theorizing about such cases. When you’re completely baffled it’s only by the wildest theorizing that you stand a chance of hitting on the truth. For example—but, good heavens, I’ve been boring my superior officer all day with theories and I don’t think he’ll stand any more.”
He broke off, but Castleton turned to the assistant commissioner with a disarming smile.
“I confess, sir, that I should be very much interested to hear what Mr. Ego has to say, if we have your permission. Such discussions are always interesting to a student of human nature who is an amateur. To you professional gentlemen, it may not be so, of course.”
There was nothing for it but to agree, although the assistant commissioner was chafing at the waste of time. Tansly might be at the back of beyond by now. But they had delayed so long already that a few minutes more couldn’t matter much, and he felt that their intrusion upon Castleton required some justification and that he must assent to his expressed wish.
He smiled at his host and nodded to Ego.
“Go ahead, Ego; but make it as short as you can,” he said with what grace he could muster. His nerves were frayed to the breaking point.
Ego settled comfortably into his chair.
T-TERE, gentlemen,” he began, “we have a most mysterious case of murder. A popular millionaire is struck down by an unseen hand, as the reporters say, apparently without rhyme or reason. We can discover no one with the remotest interest in Mr. Hogarth’s death. His wife? Out of the question. His servants? They’d only lose good jobs. His friends? None of them upon whom, on any theory, you can fix suspicion.”
Castleton settled back in his chair a little and gave the speaker his entire attention.
“I leave Mr. Tansly out of it, for reasons I needn’t explain just now but which seem good to me. Well, then, what’s left? Nothing but mystery; sheer mystery that deepens the more you look into it. Nothing stolen, no attempt at robbery, no signs of breaking in—murder on a June afternoon! Yes, it’s a poser.” “Unless we accept the suicide idea,” interposed Castleton.
“But I don’t accept that, sir. I think we must go a little deeper.”
“Perhaps,” assented Castleton as the other paused.
“As I was saying to the assistant commissioner this morning,” Ego resumed, “short of insanity, there is no such thing as a motiveless crime. If we accept for the moment my supposition that Mr. Hogarth was murdered, we have, as we have seen, a very mysterious crime. Better to call it a very unusual crime, perhaps. Now, thinking it out myself though I’m not much of a thinker, it seems to me that what we should look for is a very unusual motive. Therefore, I dismiss the ordinary motives for murder,
such as robbery, jealousy, women, and so on. In any case we have no evidence of any of them except perhaps the last. Now, what would be a very unusual motive, strong enough to make a man kill the living body of, say, his friend?”
“He couldn’t very well kill a dead body, Ego,” interposed the assistant commissioner with weary sarcasm.
“You two gentlemen are scholars and must excuse my crude way of phrasing things,” said Ego placidly. “Not but that I might have turned the phrase that way on purpose. What would be such a motive? An adequate one? I can only think of one, and if it sounds fantasticbear with me a little. Suppose that the dead man had killed the soul of the murderer years before. Or, if not killed it, maimed it, injured it, condemned it to a life of misery and self-reproach, a life deprived of one thing that is vital to every man—self-respect!”
Castleton moved his chair a little into the shade, Ego looking at him expectantly as if expecting a comment from him. He shaded his eyes for a moment with one hand. v
“Such a motive might exist and might be adequate, I admit, Mr. Ego,” he said slowly. “But how could it arise? Pray go on. Your theories interest me.”
“Mind you,” Ego continued, “I’m not suggesting that I’ve solved the Hogarth case. I’ve just built up a similar one in my mind and tried to solve it, that being a proceeding I’ve often found helpful in a practical way. Having solved your ideal case, you can often apply a similar process of reasoning to the real one.”
“You interest me, if I may say so again,” said Castleton. “I hadn’t realized that detectives were quite so subtle. But you have not answered my question, Mr. Ego.”
“How could such a motive arise? Well, there are many possible ways. The thing to do is to choose one and see where it gets you. Now, in my hypothetical case, I imagined it like this: A young enthusiastic fellow just starting in life, married to a girl he loves devotedly, having a struggle to make ends meet—not just an ordinary young clerk but a fellow with fine enthusiasms, poetic, a student in his spare time, dabbling in literature a bit, perhaps—a chap full of great ambitions in secret, seeing himself famous one day and doing no end of good in the world—you know the sort.”
“There are such young men,” Castleton admitted with a sad smile.
“Of good family, although he’s poor; a gentleman and all that,” Ego went on. “Such a young chap, living in an obscure suburb as he has to, is bound to have to mix a little with people of a class inferior to his own—vulgar folk with uncouth manners, maybe. He has to meet them and be civil to them—they’re his neighbors. And the funny thing is that the inferior people, instead of resenting his superiority, are drawn to him. They admire him and won’t leave him alone, and want to be friends with him. He’s not a snob and he sees the good in them and can’t be disagreeable to them.”
“Very vivid picture, Mr. Ego,” said Castleton.
“Well, then, I suppose that this young fellow meets in business a hard, pushing, climbing city man, a man who intends to
succeed even if it means trampling on his neighbor’s face to do it. And I suppose that this hard, vulgar man is fascinated and attracted by this refined young fellow just by the very difference in their natures.”
He paused but there was no comment from Castleton.
“And I imagine that one day two young fellows living near him in the suburb come to him with the tale of a wonderful invention they have made. They don’t quite know how to handle it, but they think that his superior judgment and knowledge might help them. They offer him a share and trust him with their plans. They’d as soon expect the sky to fall as any betrayal by him, you see.”
“I see,” murmured Castleton, moving his chair a little farther into the shade.
7’ELL, to make a long story short, ** our young man is rather in difficulties at the time, behind with his rent, wife ill and not able to have the comforts she needs—things pretty desperate with him. But he is the soul of honor and it’s his very life to think that about himself. He’s touched by the confidence of his two inferior young friends, and in spite of his own troubles he finds time to ask his hard city friend how he could best help them. He shows him the plans or drawings or whatever they are. Suppose it was some kind of machine; a new vacuum cleaner, say.”
Castleton stared at him.
“A vacuum cleaner?” he asked, clearly astonished.
“Oh well, it’s funny I should hit on that. Association of ideas, meeting you and recalling unconsciously that you and Mr. Hogarth made a lot out of that Wotagem Cleaner of yours, no doubt. But that doesn’t matter. Anything would do.
“Well, this city chap sees a fortune in the idea but he means to have it himself. He takes the idea up and does a lot of company juggling. Our young friend is a bit uneasy but he needs money and he gets enough to settle his affairs and send his wife abroad for the change she needs. The city man isn’t trying to swindle him; on the contrary he’s very fond of him and is proud of his friendship. In the end, it works out that the two young inventors are induced to part with some of their rights and are juggled out of the rest and their invention is the property of the company—all done within the law but by sharp practice just the same.
“Our young friend has been drawn into it bit by bit, degree by degree, till he finds himself making a fortune out of what morally belongs to the inventors. As for them, one commits suicide and the other takes to drink. Both of them loaded him with reproaches. They’d trusted him. One of them called him Judas. And so it goes on. He gets richer and richer and tries to do good with his money, but all the time that word ‘Judas!’ keeps ringing in his ears. He getfc to hate the hard city man who’s made \ fortune for him and destroyed his self-respect.
“Mind you, the city man never understands what an injury he’s done to the character of his friend. He thinks he has made him a prosperous and successful man, out of love for him. Such a refinement as a tortured conscience is beyond him. Business to him is getting the better of the other fellow; eliminating com-
petition, he calls it. He gets fonder and fonder of his superior friend as they both grow older. He admires the other’s growing reputation as a scholar and a man who seems to live to do good tcTtbe community. He’s as proud as Punc-fr when he sees his name in the papers. But our friend gets to hate him more and more and regards him as the evil influence of his life. He can never respect himself again. All the time he hears that word, ‘Judas!’ in his ears, and he thinks of the two young fellows who trusted him.
“But the two remain bound together by their business association and they’ve almost become necessary to each other. They are neighbors in the country. (And all the savor is being taken out ofl life for the one of them by the sound of that word, ‘Judas!’ He can’t respect himself; he knows that he is a sham.
“Well, one day he comes in to see his city friend. I can imagine the sort of talk it might be. The hard city man is sitting in his study, a drawer of the writing desk is open and in it lies a revolver he always keeps handy. Our friend comes in without question. The house is frae to him. Maybe the butler has gone outi for something. He walks through to the study. The city chap is delighted to see him. You can imagine, after some business talk perhaps, a big, fat, gross fellow, chuckling and maybe saying something like, ‘That cleaner patent was the best bit of business you and I ever did in our lives!’
AND our friend just hating him and realizing for the millionth time that it was the worst bit of business he had ever done because it had robbed him of self-respect and of every honorable quality that made: life worth living to a man of his naturel and temperament. Then all the suppressed hatred and misery of years swells up in him till he only sees in the fat, chuckling man a devil to be slain by any means. So he leans down and picks the revolver out of the drawer with his gloved hands—he hasn’t taken his gloves off—and shoots him. The first shot goes wide of the man’s head and hits his foot. He takes better aim with the second and finishes him with it. Maybe he waits a minute, listening for an alarm. But nobody has heard anything, so he\ drops the revolver on the desk and just walks out of the house, unchallenged, as he came in. By a bit of luck, no one sees him. When the alarm’s raised, he’s safely at home. In and out and a man killed, hasn’t taken him ten minutes. He thought himself perfectly safe.”
Ego stopped speaking and stared out over the fields.
There was a sound of a chair scraping on the stone pavement. Ego turned round as Castleton got on his feet, pale and with a look of bewilderment.
“I’d rather you didn’t go into the house, sir,” said the detective inspector, stepping between him and the door.
“Another proof of your skill in thought reading, Mr. Ego,” said Castleton with a sad smile. “And another proof of my tendency to shirk a moral issue. Very well. But believe me if Tansly had been in danger, I would have confessed.”
He held out his hands but Ego shook his head.
“That’s not necessary, I think, sir,” he said, “if you will give your word to the assistant commissioner and myself to come with us. And remember, sir, that anything you may say—”
Castleton interrupted him with' a gesture. \
“I know that, Mr. Ego, and that’s why I say this now and finally. I killed Hogarth exactly as you described and for the reasons you gave. And let me add this— when I made to go into the house just now I had forgotten that what I wanted I have with me.”
Before they could interfere he had transferred something from his waistcoat pocket to his mouth. Then he swayed and crashed face downward on the table, scattering the glasses and decanters.