A Saxophone Solo
G. R. MALLOCH
Wherein the amiable Inspector Ego deciphers the mystery surrounding the Man with a Wart on His Nose
I SENT for you this morning, Ego,” said the assistant commissioner, “because rather a queer case has turned up and it seems to me that perhaps it is more in your line than that of less eccentric members of the force.”
“Many thanks for those kind words, sir,” murmured Ego. “Am I to understand that one of my esteemed colleagues has fallen down badly over it?”
“Nothing of the sort. But it may involve prolonged enquiries and we can't spare anyone else at present.”
“Again, thank you, sir.”
“Now, look here, I w’ant. you to listen seriously. The truth is that this is a very delicate matter and that’s why I’m choosing you. It may be a case of murder and it may not, and you will have to tread delicately. On the face of it, it’s simply a sudden death from heart , failure and that’s likely to be the coroner’s verdict. But the local police are not quite easy about it, and the chief constable of F’ordshire has asked us to look into things.”
“I see, sir.”
"The facts, so far as we know them, are that a young man named Wilkins recently inherited from a distant relative a fortune and a house which, strangely enough, is called Wilkins Hall. He spends most of his time in London and Paris, and apparently also a good deal of his money. He is not a very pleasant young fellow, I gather, and is so seldom at the Hall that he is scarcely known at all locally. He has one hobby in addition to those you can imagine from what I have said and that is conducting a jazz band, which he formed and pays himself.”
“I know the fellow,” said ligo. “He persuaded the Public Cave—that’s a dance club, sir, in case you don’t know about such places to let him provide the music there for a week. It wasn’t a bad band either. He had a wart on his nose, I remember.”
“Is the Public Cave situated in your suburb by any chance?” countered the assistant commissioner. “No? Well, as you have seen Mr. Wilkins, 1 needn’t describe him or his activities further. It seems that last week he arrived unexpectedly at the Hall. Dinner was prepared for him by the servants he had kept on his relative’s old butler but just before the dinner hour he announced that he was going out. Sort of fellow who didn’t consider the servants; didn’t know enough perhaps. Anyhow he went out and was not heard to return that night. But next morning a maid found him, or thought she found him, in the library, dead. Lying on a sofa. Doctor was called. He informed police. No injury of any kind shoes dirty, clothing dirty and torn in one or two places, apparently been exposed to weather. It was a cold, windy night. A telegram was sent by the police to his only known relative, a man named Baufstein who was a musician in an orchestra in some London restaurant.”
Baufstein I know him. Malabani’s—plays a saxophone in the band there. Best saxophone players I’ve ever heard. This is interesting, sir.”
“I am glad of that,” said the assistant commissioner sardonically. “To get to the end of it, who should turn up but young Mr. Wilkins, himself, very much alive. His story is that he had asked Baufstein to come down to the Hall about some matter of importance, and that when he didn’t turn up he w^ent back to London to find him. He was actually at Baufstein’« lodgings when the police telegram arrived.”
“Did he answer it?”
“Yes; here is a copy. ‘Cannot understand, coming immediately, Wilkins.’ ”
“And who was the corpse?”
‘That’s the funny thing. It was his cousin, Baufstein, the saxophone man. Wilkins’ explanation of the affair,
which the police have had to accept, is that his cousin came down to see him, got lost in the darkness and the gale that was blowing, and arrived at the Flail too late to arouse the servants. So he climbed in through the window, which was open and had apparently been left unfastened as there was no sign of its having been forced.
Then he died, perhaps of heart failure. FFe wasn’t strong and may have been exhausted.”
“Baufstein was a pale, weak-looking fellow, that’s true,” said Figo.
“Any sign of a struggle?”
“Not the slightest. He must have just lain down on the sofa and died.”
“Well, sir,” said Figo, assuming an exasperatingly puzzled air,
“that was no crime, was it? Unless, of course, being on enclosed premises for an unlawful purpose, or breaking in, or insulting behavior. As he was invited there, it appears to me that it makes things difficult.”
“I have not said, so far, that there was any crime,” said the assistant commissioner patiently. “Merely that the local police are not quite easy in their minds.” “Post mortem?”
“\es. The result will be disclosed at the inquest tomorrow, but I can tell you that nothing suspicious was found and that the doctor adheres to heart failure. The dead man had a weak heart.”
“Did Wilkins stand to inherit anything from his cousin?”
“Nothing but a few pounds and his effects. But it seems that Wilkins had made a will leaving everything to Baufstein. They were both orphans and cousins, and it seems that Baufstein had saved Wilkins’ life when they were swimming together.”
"And do you really think there is anything to investigate, sir?”
“Myself, I don’t think there is. But you know how, in these country districts, gossip goes about and people get
bad name. They dislike Wilkins down there. F\>r one thing, he’s a stranger to them and remains a stranger. Then he’s a Jew, like Baufstein—came into the Wilkins fortune by some marriage of a Wilkins with a Baufstein. They regard him as an interloper, he never subscribes to their charities or takes any interest in local affairs—and there you are! Quite enough to convince the yokels that he must be a villain.”
“What you want me to do then,” said Ego, “is to find out whether Wilkins had any secret motive for murdering his cousin. I daresay there are poisons beyond the range of the local doctor.”
"Quite,” said the assistant commissioner. “But I think the whole thing’s a mare’s nest.” He frowned interrogatively at Figo.
“Has any idea suggested itself to you?”
“Only that if there is a crime in this at all, it’s too clever a bit of work for a professional. No, it sounds like a first crime; an amateur’s. The most difficult of all to detect.”
“I’m afraid I do not agree,” retorted the assistant commissioner, a trifle exasperated. “An amateur is usually a blunderer of the first water.”
“Sometimes, sir, sometimes,” said Ego ruminatively.
“Of course a man can take too many precautions. That’s the amateur’s chief weakness; he leaves so many precautions lying around that the sleuth from Scotland Yard positively trips over them. A precaution is a precaution on one side and a clue on the other. You only need to pick it up and look at the under side.”
“When will you learn to stick to the point?” asked the assistant commissioner, glancing at his wrist watch. “Do you want any more information from me?”
“There is one thing you haven’t explained, sir, and that is how the servants didn’t see that the dead man was a stranger. A minor point, but interesting.”
“As you have seen both Wilkins and Baufstein, that should not require much explanation. Remember that Wilkins was practically a stranger to his servants at the Hall. He and his cousin were as like as two peas, according to the photographs. The butler is a very old man, near-sighted, and the maid had seen her employer only once before.”
“Yes,” agreed Ego. “Now that I think of it, they were superficially very much the same type—pale-faced, dark-haired young men with side whiskers like mine, loose mouths and long noses. Yes, I see. Have the police been to Baufstein s lodgings?”
“Yes, and they found a letter from Wilkins asking Baufstein down to the Hall on the day he arrived there. They didn’t make an exhaustive search.
That satisfied them of the truth of Wilkins’ story.”
“I see, sir,” said Ego.
"And they both played the saxophone. I don’t think there is any murder in this case, sir, but it’s a queer story. The saxophone! That sounds like a good line to follow.
There’s something very human about a saxophone, don’t you think, sir? The way it moans and howls and sobs and laughs at you, I mean. You can’t imagine a man who plays the saxophone committing a murder. But a drummer, now—I don’t know.”
“For heaven’s sake, go away and get down to it,” moaned the assistant commissioner. “I don’t know why I allow you to come in here and waste my time. You never listen to what anyone else has to say and you never do what you’re told. Why the authorities allow you so much latitude, I don’t know.”
“It’s to please the press, sir. When they’re told that I’m with you, they rush off and get a stoppress edition. ‘Arrest expected at any moment.’
They like that sort of thing, sir, and it keeps them busy and out of our way.”
“Good morning, inspector!”
“Good morning, sir, and thank you. I’m sorry about Baufstein. I rather liked the lad. He told me the other day that he’d just finished a new song that he thought a lot of, you know, one of those jazz songs that the band sings and plays. They were fixing up a sort of production ceremony for him at Malabani’s, when it was to be announced and played for the first time.
But I suppose that’s off now.”
^What has that to do with the case?”
I don t know, sir, but I’m going to look for the manu3Cnpt of that song. Do you know what it was called, sir?”
No, I don t, and unless it has some bearing on the matter--”
Oh, but it’s a good title, a striking title, sir. What o you think of this? ‘There’s a GOOQ Big Chicken in
This Fresh Egg.’ Sort of a catchy lilt about it. All right, sir, I’m off!”
The door closed hastily on Detective Inspector Ego.
■pGO arrived at the Wilkins Arms in the capacity of a -L' benevolent-looking gentleman making a little tour through the home counties in his car. He chatted genially with the landlord, admired the beauties of the local scene, enquired about fishing, and on learning that fishing was to be had announced his intention of stopping for a day or two. The landlord was delighted with his guest, and after a little chat in the bar he accompanied him to the door of the inn to point out the nearest way to the river, which Mr. Brown wished to inspect.
“Dear me,” said Mr. Brown, adjusting his spectacles to get a better view, “surely something is happening in the village this morning. Where are all those people going?”
“Well, sir, as a matter of fact, there is something happening in the village this morning, as you say. It’s the inquest on the young squire’s cousin today. Up at the Hall, it’s being held. A strange story, it is.”
“Why, of course!” exclaimed Mr. Brown. “I know; I
read about it in the papers. Wilkins so it was here, was it? Funny I should come to the place today of all days! Do you know, landlord, I must confess to some curiosity about such things; a morbid taste, perhaps, but these little dramas of the courts have an interest all their own. Do you think I should be admitted?”
“The public has a right to attend an inquest, sir, so
far as I’ve ever heard. I daresay you would ;et in all right.”
“Then, I think I’ll just trot up with the ( owd and look at the water afterward.”
He went off in the track of the little group of men, who were mostly jurymen in their best clothes. The iron gates of the park stood open. They passed the lodge, which had a tumbledown appearance, and followed a ■weedy drive up to the Hall. The house had been imposing but was obviously ill-kept and neglected. Everything bore out the idea that young Mr. Wilkins must be an infrequent visitor to the estate he had inherited.
When he reached the front of the house, Mr. Brown did not immediately follow the jurymen who passed under a pillared portico into the Hall. He diverged from the group and strolled in a leisurely fashion along the weed-grown gravel, surveying the mansion with the interest of a visitor who saw it for the first time. A policeman who was standing near the door watched his movements curiously, and to him Mr. Brown presently approached, his hands behind his back and benevolence gleaming in the eyes behind the horn-rimmed spectacles. “This must have been a fine place in its palmy days, constable,” he remarked with a pleasantly mournful smile.
“It was, sir,” said the constable, disarmed of suspicion, as most people were when Ego willed that they should be. “When the old squire, uncle of the present one, lived here it was a very different place; you wouldn’t hardly know it, sir.”
“I daresay; But young men nave different ideas; they’re all for a town life nowadays. They tell me at the inn that you don’t see much of the young squire down here.”
“I’ve never set eyes on him myself, sir, till this affair cropped up. His own servants don't hardly know him, they say.” “Well, it’s a melancholy affair altogether. I suppose it was in one of those rooms we are looking at now that the poor young cousin's body was found?” “Yes; the library, sir. I’ll show you.” The constable led the way to the left wing of the building and pointed to two long windows which came to within a few feet of the ground. “In there he was found, sir. That righthand window by which he climbed in was open. You can see the marks on the stone still if you look, sir.” Mr. Brown looked with interest. The stone was slightly scratched. There were footprints on a neglected bed just below the sill, but these were lost in the strip of grass that divided the bed from the gravelled drive; and the drive itself, which had not been weeded recently, presented a hard-baked surface that would leave no trace of anyone crossing it.
“I see, I see. The poor young fellow must have found the place locked up. Did he go to the front door first?”
“Probably, sir. We couldn’t tell, because this gravel is so hard he would make no trace on it. Why, if you’ve noticed it, sir, even all those cars we’ve had about the last day or two have scarcely marked it except where they’ve braked.”
“So even if he had arrived in a car himself, you wouldn’t have known,” mused the benevolent stranger; at which the constable laughed.
“We’d have found the car, sir, wouldn’t we?” he said with a chuckle.
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Continued from page 7
“Bless mt, I was forgetting that,” said the visitor ruefully. And, as if to conceal his confusion, he began to walk slowly backward across the gravel, under the pretence of getting a better view of the house. After a few steps he paused, pulled out a large colored handkerchief, took off his spectacles and began to polish them. As he replaced them on his nose he dropped the handkerchief. Looking more confused than ever, he stooped and picked it up and replaced it in his pocket.
“Well, I’m much obliged to you, constable,” he said. “I think I’ll just see if they’ll allow me inside.”
The constable allowed himself another chuckle at the departing back. A simple sort of gentleman, he allowed. Fancy his not seeing the point about finding the car if there had been one!
The inquest was held in a room adjoining the library, at the door of which stood a policeman. Mr. Brown presented himself for admission.
“Not on the jury, are you, sir?”
“Are you press, because the squire don’t want too much publicity about this case?”
“Oh, no! As a matter of fact, I only arrived in the village this morning and, having heard the late Mr. Baufstein performing in London, I was interested, that’s all.”
“That’ll be all right, sir,” said the constable, impressed by the genial M\ Brown. “Take a chair at the back, sir.”
Mr. Brown did, and presently the coroner arrived and the jury was sworn.
THE first witness was the maid who had discovered the body. She had gone into the library at half past seven to dust the room, and had pulled up one blind when she noticed the body lying on the sofa. It looked like her master and she thought it must be he, but he was practically a stranger to her. All the other blinds were down and the place was half dark. She thought he might be asleep, but he looked so queer that she ran at once to tell Arley, the butler. She didn’t go near or touch the body.
The butler followed her. He described how the maid had come to him in a state of agitation and he had gone to the librai y, which was semidark. He had noticed as he went in that one blind was flapping and that the window behind it was open. He had gone straight over to the sofa and seen what he took to be his master's body. He was rather short-sighted and had left his spectacles in the pantry in the hurry of the moment. He had touched the face and hands. They were quite cold. Knowing that in such cases nothing should be disturbed, he had left the room as it was, locked the door and telephoned for the police and asked them to bring the doctor. It was obvious that the person on the sofa was dead.
The local sergeant followed. The butler had told him that his master was dead and he had brought the doctor up to the Hall with him. He described the position of the body, the open window, and the marks he had found on the sill of someone climbing through. There was no sign of violence or of a struggle of any kind; nothing in the room had been disturbed. He had seldom seen the squire and then only at a distance, and it did not occur to him to question the identity of the body when the servants described it as that of their master. It was certainly like him, from what he recollected.
The doctor had little to say. He had never seen Mr. Wilkins, who scarcely ever came to the Hall, and he accepted the servants’ word that it was their master. He found nothing to suggest foul play, and his subsequent examination of the body had confirmed his opinion of death
from heart failure, following exhaustion. The heart was in a very bad state and the physical condition of the deceased was extremely bad.
There was a stir in the room when the coroner called for Mr. Wilkins. A constable went out and returned, ushering in the young squire. Even the rubicund Mr. Brown sat up with a display of interest as the tall, pale-faced young man in dark clothes took the oath, speaking with a slight lisp.
Ego recognized him at once; then he looked again. He had a good memory for faces and he well remembered the night at the Public Cave when young Mr. Wilkins had conducted his own jazz band. He seemed unchanged. His dark hair was as carefully brushed back, his brown eyes were as large and oxlike as ever, his suit was as much pulled in at the waist as his dinner jacket had been on that occasion, and there was that funny little wart on the side of his long nose. He seemed to be very genuinely sorry about his cousin’s death, and near to weeping in his emotional way at moments. He gave his evidence quite clearly.
He had expected his cousin the day before. It had been arranged between them some time ago that he was to come down on a visit. He identified the letter found in Baufstein’s rooms as his invitation in confirmation of the arrangement. His cousin was thinking of starting a band of his own and wished him to assist in financing it, and it was to discuss that matter that the visit had been arranged. His cousin was a very temperamental, moody man, and had been rather down on his luck recently, had even talked of 1 suicide. When he did not arrive on the appointed day, he was worried. He had been thinking about it all day, and when he was out walking in the afternoon he had suddenly decided to run up to town and see Baufstein. He knew that Baufstein hated borrowing money from him, although he was perfectly willing to lend it or even give it to him; he was afraid that something might have happened. So on impulse he had jumped into the ! London train at Sufftown— he liad walked into the market town to make some purchases, intending to take the bus back to the village. He was so preoccupied with the thought of what might have happened to his cousin that he had quite forgotten to telephone to the Hall to let the servants know that he would not require dinner.
When he reached London he went straight to his cousin’s rooms, and was told that the latter was out. The people didn’t know when he would be back. It was too late to return home that night; the last train had gone and he hadn’t the car with him. He knew the people in whose house his cousin lodged very well, and they gave him a room for the night, i He was there in the morning when the I police telegram arrived. He had come down at once and identified the body as that of Mr. Baufstein.
His theory was that his cousin, who was in bad health and a queer state of mind, had come to the village and wandered about till he was exhausted. Then he had come to the Hall and been unable to rouse the servants. He noticed that one of the library windows was open, had climbed in, and, perhaps exhausted by the exertion, had fallen on the sofa and died. He thought there was no other possible explanation of the facts. Both his cousin and himself were orphans, and so far as he knew had no living relatives. He had been very much attached to the dead man and had made arrangements for the funeral when the inquest was over.
The last witness was Mrs. Walker, the landlady of Mr. Baufstein’s lodgings in London. She had seen and identified the
body. A nicer young man she had seldom known. He was an excellent lodger. She knew Mr. Wilkins quite well; he sometimes visited his cousin. She remembered well his arriving and asking for his cousin on the fatal night, and his astonishment when she told him that Mr. Baufstein had left the house earlier in the day without saying when he would be back. She confirmed the young squire’s story in every particular, down to the arrival of the telegram and his hasty departure.
The coroner summed up very briefly. It was unfortunate that a painful mistake had arisen over the identification of the body, a very natural mistake on the part of the servants when one considered all the circumstances and the striking likeness between the two cousins, a likeness that extended itself even to certain facial markings such as a distinctive—er—spot on the nose. The jury need have no hesitation about their verdict, he thought.
The jury promptly returned a verdict of death from natural causes and expressed their sympathy with the young squire, who, when the coroner had finally closed the proceedings, invited all concerned to partake of refreshment in the dining room. Everyone stood up and began to talk, and the rubicund Mr. Brown made his way out of the house into the sunshine of the park. But he had not gone very far before he was overtaken by the military-looking man who had sat beside the coroner.
“Well, what do you make of it?” asked that gentleman without ceremony.
He was rewarded with an innocent stare.
“A lovely place, sir,” replied Mr. Brown, “but sadly neglected.”
“Come off it,” invited the other. “I’m Saunders, the chief constable. I know all about you. You arrived this morning in a two-seater and pretended that you’d come to fish. One of your names is Mr. Brown and the other is Inspector Ego.”
“Quite right, sir. But how did you know?”
“Oh, the assistant commissioner told me to look out for a man like a farmer who liked his beer. What do you think — is it all straight?”
Ego walked on in silence for some moments before replying.
“Well, sir, on the face of it it’s all straight. Not a hole in it anywhere.” “But,” said the chief constable quickly, “you feel like me—not quite comfortable about it?”
“Exactly, sir—and I’m going to try and find out just what it is that makes us feel not quite comfortable. You would oblige me very much if, when you return to your office, you would send a telegram to Mr. Brown at the inn, asking him to return to London at once on a matter of business. I’ve an idea that the end of the I thread is in London. I’ll be back here in I a day or two; I’ll keep my room.”
They parted after a little further conversation.
When Mr. Brown reached his room at the inn he pulled down the blind, then extracted from his pocket with great care the colored handkerchief and unfolded it on the dressing table, revealing a tuft of discolored grass with small specks of gravel adhering to the roots. This he examined with a pocket magnifying glass, lifted it to his nose and sniffed at it, finally wrapped it up in a piece of paper and placed it in his suit case.
1ATE that evening the landlady of a J dingy lodging house in Camden Town, answering a ring at the door, found a pleasant-looking gentleman on the doorstep. The caller smiled, handed her a card, and before she could read it had stepped into the little hall.
“A gentleman from Scotland Yard! Is it about that poor Mr. Baufstein?” she asked. “I thought that was all settled, sir, with the inquest.”
“Why should you imagine it isn’t settled?” asked Ego.
The woman’s sallow face flushed a little at the question.
“Of course, I know what the verdict was, sir,” she said. “But my husband and I were just talking it over, being so interested, him being with us so long, and we thought there couldn’t be anything wrong.”
“Well,” said Ego pleasantly, “I see no reason to question the verdict of death from natural causes.” He watched her narrowly and saw a faint shadow of relief.
“Poor young fellow!” she said. “Ten years he has been in this house and a pleasanter young man I couldn’t have wished for.”
“Quite, quite, ma’am,” said Ego sympathetically. “It must have been a shock for you. Now, will you please let me see his room?”
The landlady led the way up one flight of stairs to a pleasant front room. It was shabbily furnished; a bed in one corner, a wash-stand in another, a table in the window, a much-worn armchair, and, dominating all, an upright piano. The table was littered with sheets of music and others were stacked against the walls. Behind the door was a chest of drawers.
Ego walked down the room to the windows, looked out, came back to a point where he could see the landlady’s face in a mirror, and with his back still to her asked:
“Where is your husband?”
“He’s out, sir.” The answer came without hesitation or change of countenance.
“Your husband’s name is Walker, changed some years ago from Baufstein by deed poll. Any relation of the deceased?”
This time there was some agitation in the woman’s features.
“No relation at all, sir. That was just chance—though it did decide my husband to take him as a lodger when he heard the name, there being another young man after the rooms at the time.”
“That might be quite true,” thought Ego. He tried again, swinging round as he spoke.
“This is where young Baufstein composed his songs and practised his music,
“Yes. He was always at it, sir. We used to say it was lucky we had no other lodgers.”
“Then where is his saxophone?”
The landlady was dearly perturbed.
“I—I don’t know, sir. Someone must have taken it away. It used to lie on the top of the piano, always. The police have been here already, you know, sir.”
“I know, but they didn’t take his saxophone. Think: who took it?”
“I—I don’t know, sir.”
“Young Mr. Wilkins—did he take it perhaps?”
The woman looked instantly relieved. “Why, sir, now that you suggest it, I believe he did. Yes, I remember now. He said his cousin might want it and he wrapped it up, and when the telegram came he took it with him.”
“I see,” said Ego, nodding. “Very natural. Now, ma’am, if you’ll just leave me here I’ll have a look round by myself.” The woman hesitated.
“There—there isn’t anything wrong, sir—about the inquest, I mean?”
“Oh, no. But we want to trace any relatives he might have had, that’s all.” When he was alone Ego examined the contents of the chest of drawers very carefully. And in a few minutes he found what he was looking for—a sealed envelope marked, “Private, not to be opened.” He broke the seals and extracted a few sheets of music in manuscript headed, “There’s a Good Big Chicken in This Fresh Egg.”
“Quite,” he thought. “This was to remain sealed till the night of its production at Malabani’s. So he tucked it away here, and nobody has seen it but himself.”
“Now, I wonder,” mused Detective
Inspector Ego aloud as he let himsell out of the house quietly without calling the landlady. “Perhaps there is a good big chicken in this egg after all. If so, it’s a distinctly fresh egg to me.”
NEXT day Ego was an interested spectator of the very elaborate funeral of young Mr. Baufstein at a famous Jewish cemetery in London. The chief mourner was young Mr. Wilkins, and if ever the inspector had seen genuine grief it was printed on the pale face of Mr. Wilkins, who when all was over was assisted into his car with tears streaming unashamedly down his cheeks. Ego watched him unobtrusively with a puzzled look on his rubicund countenance.
“Still,” he mused as he turned away, “it would all fit in. So far as one knows they were good friends. I dare say he is very sorry.”
His next visit was to the Union Bank. “I know that you gentlemen are very particular about not divulging your clients’ affairs,” he said deferentially when he was seated in the manager’s room, “but I want to ask you a question.” “Well, Inspector,” said the manager, rubbing his chin, “we don’t like being asked questions about customers, that’s true. But suppose you tell me what it is you want to know?”
“The present address of Mr. Wilkins, of Wilkins Hall, if there is no objection.” The manager laughed.
“I shouldn’t be revealing any secret,” he said, “if I told you that, so far as I know, it is Wilkins Hall.”
“Ah!” said Inspector Ego. “Thank you.”
He picked up his hat and stick. The manager looked at him curiously.
“Wait a minute, Inspector,” he said after a moment of hesitation. “Just between ourselves, what has our young friend been up to?”
The inspector’s face became a blank. “Has he been up to anything?” he asked. “Come come, Inspector,” said the banker. "I can put two and two together, you know, and it’s my business to know all about my customers. And when you come here asking for his address and he—” “And he what, sir?” asked Ego as the other paused. “Come, it’s my business to know about your customers too, isn’t it?” “Well,” said the banker, “it’s curious. This is in strict confidence—but young Mr. Wilkins is going to New York, I understand, and it was just your enquiry on top of the fact that we’re taking out his passport. If he’s in any kind of mess, I’d rather like to know.”
“I suppose he’s transferring his money to New York, eh?” said Ego.
But the banker shook his head.
“I can’t answer any questions about his affairs, Inspector; you know that.”
“Of course,” Ego assented. “I had no business to ask that. And if it will relieve your mind —so far as I know, Mr. Wilkins is not in a scrape of any kind. Have you seen him lately?”
“Not since that unfortunate affair of his cousin’s death,” said the manager. “But he has written to us from Wilkins Hall, so I presume he is still there.”
“In that case, I may hope to find him there,” said Ego as he rose to leave. “As a matter of fact, I want to see him about a little matter in connection with his late cousin. Nothing to do with him really,” he added with a laugh, “so don’t be alarmed. But he may be able to give me some information that I rather want.”
T ATER that afternoon the car of the genial Mr. Brown purred into the village and the landlord of the Wilkins Arms re-welcomed his guest. In the bar, to which they adjourned after disposing of the car, a melancholy individual in black sat toying with a glass of port. Mr. Brown recognized the butler from the Hall and at once suggested that he should finish that glass and join himself and the landlord over another, a course to which the butler offered no objection.
“If I am not mistaken,” said the genial 1 visitor, “I saw you at the inquest the j other day.”
The butler nodded gravely.
“A most tragic affair,” pursued Mr Brown. “I expect that the young squire is very much cut up about it?”
“Well, sir,” said the butler, “he is, and, to do him justice, much more than I took it he would be. Seems to have made a change in him, it does.”
“The funeral was today, I believe; is he home again?” asked Mr. Brown.
“Yes, sir, he came straight home again.”
“It must be a lonely place for him, I should say, up there in that big house all by himself with this grief on him,” said the landlord sympathetically.
“You would think so,” admitted the butler. “But he has one consolation and that’s his music. He always was a one for music; had his own jazz band, they tell me, in London, as a sort of hobby. And now he shuts himself up in the drawing-room after dinner and plays to himself on the piano and that other instrument called the saxophone.”
Mr. Brown nodded gravely.
“Music is a great consoler, they say,” he agreed. And, after a little further gossip, the conversation was terminated by the butler’s departure to his duties.
Some time after dinner Mr. Brown announced his intention of going for a stroll. He wandered off pensively down the village street, a cigar between his teeth. On the bridge he exchanged a few remarks about the fishing with the rustics gathered there, and continued on his way through the falling dusk till he found himself again at the tumbledown gates of the park. There was no one to question his right to enter and he passed through them and up the winding avenue. But when he came near the dark bulk of the old house he threw his cigar away and lost his air of leisured benevolence. Leaving the open avenue, he skirted the building, sheltering behind the bushes of an overgrown shrubbery.
The Hall stood black and silent against the bust gleam of light in the west. It was late and presumably the servants were either in their own quarters or had retired to bed. But on the south face of the building a shaft of light ran out into the darkness. Mr. Brown made his way round cautiously and saw that it came from a large room, evidently a drawing-room, one window of which was open and uncurtained. He stole silently across the expanse of lawn that lay between him and the window, keeping out. of the light, and, slipping behind a bush, waited, listening for a sound that he expected to hear. Presently someone in the room struck a chord on a piano. Mr. Brown took a sheet of paper from a pocket and unfolded it. From another pocket he produced a small electric torch and shone it on the paper.
The unseen occupant of the room began to play, and as he played Mr. Brown followed with his torch the lines of music on the sheet he held. Presently the piano stopped, and after a pause the notes of a saxophone floated out into the gardens. It was being played very softly, almost as if the performer did not want to be overheard; and the melody was a strange, attractive thing.
“An excellent foxtrot,” murmured Mr. Brown, who was not a very brilliant musician himself and was following a line of the score in front of him with one finger. “And an excellent and very appropriate title,” he whispered as he folded up the sheet and returned it to his pocket along with his torch. Then he walked boldly up to the window and putting his elbows on the sill, called out:
“Mr. Wilkins! May I speak to you a moment?”
The music ceased abruptly and the astonished face of the young squire appeared at the window.
“Who are you?” he demanded in a voice that held both anger and apprehension.
“Come closer, sir,” said Mr. Brown. “It’s important.”
Mr. Wilkins thrust his face into the opening, and as he did so Mr. Brown made a quick snatch at his nose. When he withdrew his hand the nose of Mr. Wilkins was minus the little wart that had been a prominent feature of its length. And before the other could find words, Mr. Brown was climbing into the room. Mr. Wilkins retreated before him, his features working agitatedly.
“Detective Inspector Ego from Scotland Yard,” announced Mr. Brown as he reached the floor. “Now Mr. Baufstein, you might jast sit down quietly and explain it all in a friendly way.”
'^'EXT morning Ego knocked at the 4^* assistant commissioner's door.
"Come in!” shouted that gentleman, adding when he recognized his visitor. “Well, have you solved the Wilkins mystery already?”
“I have, sir,” said Ego, seating himself in front of the writing table.
“What is it— murder?”
“No, sir. The Wilkins case Is just what I expected it to be—the amateur’s first crime and that’s always the most complicated kind of crime, as I said before, sir.”
“Look here, we don’t want all that over again,” groaned the assistant commissioner. “Make it snappy, will you?” “Very good, sir,” responded Ego, settling himself down as comfortably as the hard chair provided for visitors would permit. “The key to the whole mystery is that these people were Baufsteins.” “Quite but it’s not very illuminating, so far. Still, I shall do my best to keep that point in mind, Inspector.”
“Thank you, sir. The late Mr. Wilkins—”
“But Wilkins is alive!”
“No, sir. That’s where the local police went astray. Wilkins is dead. Baufstein reigns in his stead, as the history books say.”
“Then it was a murder?”
“No; a perfectly natural death. But it didn’t take place on the sofa at the Hall; it occurred in the Camden Town lodging of young Mr. Baufstein. When Wilkins left the Hall that afternoon, he went,
presumably by bus, to the market town of Sufftown and there caught the London train. He proceeded to his cousin’s lodgings in Camden Town with the object of finding out why Baufstein had not come down to the Hall the day before as arranged.”
“But,” interrupted the assistant commissioner, “Baufstein was expected on the night on which Wilkins went out, according to the letter, wasn’t he?”
"According to the letter, as found, he was,” agreed Ego. “But what our sleuths failed to notice was a very clever alteration of the date made by Mr. Baufstein. Of course they weren’t looking for an alteration, and the letter, as it stood, confirmed Baufstein’s story sufficiently.”
“I see,” said the assistant commissioner. “Go on.”
“Wilkins was subject to heart attacks. He had one and died in his cousin’s room. Baufstein called in his aunt and uncle— for although their present name is Walker they were originally Baufsteins—and they held a council. Now w'e must remember what these people were —Polish Jews who had alw'ays been poor, originally much poorer than they are now. Eighteen months ago Wilkins had inherited a fortune of a quarter of a million from his uncle. You can figure out what he had to pay in death duties. It hurt him, but it seems that it hurt still more deeply the next heir, young Mr. Baufstein.
“I gathered from him that it had alw'ays been a grievance to think of all that beautiful money being swept up by the Government, and he often thought of how deeply the nice fortune would be depleted by a second Government raid before it reached him if his cousin died first. Now here was Wilkins actually dead, and he realized that another big slice of the fortune, not to speak of law costs, would be taken within eighteen months of the first levy. It was too much for him to bear.
"But he might have borne it had he not been worked upon by his uncle and aunt, who thought it a crime that any of the money should pass out of the tribe.”
"A damnably callous lot!” commented his listener.
“No, sir; that’s quite a wrong idea,” said Ego earnestly. “That’s just what they were not. Baufstein was very fond of Wilkins and he had saved Wilkins’ life, which would make him fonder than ever. A man is always grateful to a man who3e life he has saved -but we needn’t go into the psychology of that now. Baufstein was heartbroken, but that didn’t change his nature. It’s a popular theory with novelists that grief changes a man’s character but it doesn’t. It accentuates it, that’s all. Well, they did a little quick thinking. They put some of Baufstein’s clothes on the body, weeping heartily while they did it. Then they put the body in an old car belonging to the uncle and drove down to the Hall, where they arrived about midnight. Nobody heard them arrive, and if anyone had they had their explanation—Wilkins had been taken ill at Baufstein’s room and had begged them to take him home. He must have died on the journey—you see? They ran very quietly up the drive and as close to the house as they dared. They meant to force a window but found it providentially unfastened. Baufstein climbed in, the uncle carried the body to the window. It was easy so long as no one heard, and they knew that the few servants wcic in another wing and that there was no dog about the place—Wilkins hated dogs. If a servant had come along their story was watertight.”
“How did you guess it?”
GUESS, sir?” Ego looked pained. ,‘I don’t guess things, sir,” he continued reproachfully. “A clue which assisted me materially was the presence of a small patch of motor oil on the gravel not far from the window of the room in which the body was found. A car had stood there recently, and it was a place quite out of the track of cars coming to the front door or the back premises.”
“I apologize, Inspector.”
“Baufstein and his uncle returned to London as they had come and awaited the inevitable telegram. When it came Baufstein sent his reply and signed it, Wilkins. By this time he was equipped with a false wart on his nose. He was a clever
actor and it was easy for him to play the part of Wilkins in a place where nobody knew Wilkins with any degree of familiarity. He arrived wearing the very clothes that the butler had laid out the day before for his master. Nobody called the bluff no one can—the police have never seen the real Wilkins. His evidence at the inquest was a masterpiece. And he was really overcome with grief. If you had seen him at the funeral you wouldn’t doubt that.”
“But he couldn’t keep it up forever. Somebody would be sure to spot him sooner or later.”
“He didn’t have to,” said Ego. “He had instructed his bank to sell out his securities and transfer the money to New York. He had taken out a passport. Another week or two and Mr. Baufstein Wilkins would have been safely away with an easy confidence. The Hall was to be sold and the proceeds remitted to America. All done by a clever imitation of his cousin’s signature— he didn’t risk seeing the bank personally. It was no hardship to go to America. He told me last night that he always regarded New York as his spiritual home and I think he was right.”
“He might easily have got away with it,” mused the assistant commissioner, “if I hadn’t guessed that there was something wrong. Where did he fall down?”
“He fell down through the common human failing of vanity, sir,” said Ego.
“The credit is yours, Inspector,”
“I don’t know so much about that, sir,” said Ego thoughtfully. “It was his really. You see, he was the composer of that delightful little song, ‘There’s a Good Big Chicken in This Fresh Egg.’ He forgot to remove that from his room and I found it in a sealed packet. Now it was ten to one that Wilkins had never heard it because he was, in a way, a rival jazz merchant, and this thing was being kept secret for aproduction at Malabani’s.
So when I heard Wilkins playing it on the saxophone on the evening of the funeral I guessed that it wasn’t Wilkins.
“And what did you do?”
“The obvious thing, sir. I pulled the wart off his nose.”