THE STORY:—While vacationing in New Brunswick, Inspector Jean LaTour of the R. C. M. P. is watching a university rugby game at Rockingham when he receives an order to go to the town of Wolfeton to investigate a murder.
Sergeant John Hollow was stabbed to death by a person unknown while sitting in the common room of the Wolfeton police station. Constable Durham, in another part of the L-shaped room at the time, claims that he heard nothing. Chief of Police Pecksniff and Inspector Leyden—the latter from Montreal to capture rum runners—were in another room of the station but can throw no light on the crime.
Durham admits there was bad feeling between him and Hollow. Pecksniff refuses to divulge the identity of a visitor to his office that night, saying he will question the person himself. Leyden tells LaTour that Pecksniff hated Hollow because the latter married Pecksniff's one-time sweetheart, who died a few months previously.
The Corrigini gangsters were in the cells that night. Bud Lawlor, a criminal discharged on probation, had threatened Hollow. He was seen at the station entrance by Constable Fellows, who thinks he entered. He is arrested. As LaTour and Leyden are inspecting the cells. Fellows declares he has found the fatal knife and knows the motive—and Lawlor makes a break for freedom.
Lawlor is captured and charged with Hollow's murder, but LaTour believes him innocent and retains Lawyer Macpherson to defend him. Corrigini admits to LaTour that on the night of the murder he did make an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the cell.
LaTour interviews Hollow's daughter and learns from her that a large carving knife is mysteriously missing. Their conversation is interrupted by Robert Spengler, the girl’s sweetheart and a student at the near-by university in Rockingham. Spengler’s actions arouse LaTour's suspicion. With Lawyer Macpherson, he decides to continue his investigation at the university.
They learn that though Spengler is hard-working he is not capable, and the university authorities have been obliged to rusticate him. Lawlor’s trial opens. Chief Pecksniff, on the witness stand, reveals that his mysterious visitor on the night Hollow was murdered was Spengler’s father. Dr. Spengler. This man commits suicide; the motive is a mystery. Lawlor is found guilty of Hollow's murder and is sentenced to death.
Continuing the Journal of Lawyer Macpherson
LATOUR was waiting for us outside. I had stopped for a moment to tell Lawlor, who had received the verdict and sentence with the courage of fatalism, that we should lodge an appeal, and when we met LaTour the crowd had dispersed.
“The judge misdirected the jury, and they did not find a verdict compatible with the evidence,” I said rather angrily. “I mean to appeal.”
"A new trial will not be necessary,” LaTour said.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I can’t understand your attitude. Two weeks ago you were bound that we should undertake this case and determined that we win it. Now, you don’t seem to care tuppence one way or the other. Well, I tell you, I care. And I shall move heaven and earth to keep an innocent man from hanging.”
We had been walking rapidly through the rain-swept streets, and stood now before the hotel.
“Come up to my room, sir,” LaTour said. “I’ll undertake to show you why I am not dissatisfied with the verdict.” When we were comfortably seated in LaTour’s room, he said:
“Two weeks ago I was satisfied that Spengler was the murderer, and I knew it would take me a long time to pin the guilt on him. At that time I was afraid that, if we did not get Lawlor off at the trial, he would hang before we could do anything to save him.
“But within the past two days I have learned that Spengler is not the murderer. For some strong motive, however, Spengler and Alice Hollow are protecting the real criminal. They protected him as long as there was a chance for Lawlor to be acquitted. But now—well, now I think they will talk. It’s a different matter altogether for them when they realize that by silence they will send an innocent man to the gallows. Indeed, I think this verdict is the best thing that could have happened.”
“If our appeal doesn’t go through, you’ll have only three weeks,” I said.
“That’s time enough.”
“But why,” I asked, “should Alice Hollow and Spengler protect the murderer of her father?”
“In that question,” LaTour replied, “you express the confusion that has clouded the whole affair. Let us put it this way: Why should Alice Hollow and Spengler protect her father when he killed John Hollow?”
I was amazed. Then I said:
“Her father or his father?”
“Then . . .?” I asked.
“Exactly,” LaTour replied. “Now,” he continued, “our next move is to check up on Spengler’s story. We’ll trip him up on that, I think, and then we’ll get him or Alice to talk. Our first move is to Brighton. Do you want to come along?”
“I should like to. When are you going?”
“In the morning. It is too late tonight. I’ll be ready at nine, if that suits you.”
“That will do very well. Shall I bring Brian?”
“If you’d like.”
NEXT MORNING Foulkes returned to Fredericton with instructions to lodge notice of appeal at once.
Brian and I were ready by nine o’clock and met LaTour in the lobby.
He had a big police car ready and a constable-chauffeur at the wheel. It took us nearly two hours to reach Rockingham. At the crossroads that form the centre of the village, the car went straight on instead of taking the right turn to Brighton and brought us to the university buildings.
We were led by LaTour direct to the dean’s lodgings and were lucky in finding him at home. Apparently he had just come from lecturing. A gown was hanging untidily from his shoulders. He waved us into seats, was openly curious about our visit, and glanced with considerable amusement at Brian.
“So you are back?” he said.
“Oh, rather, sir,” Brian replied. “As a matter of fact, I’m forming quite an attachment for your little place.”
Wilkenden laughed good-naturedly.
“Well, well,” he said. “I’m glad you find us so entertaining.” He paused, expectant. “I suppose,” he said, “you wanted to see me about this unfortunate young man. Poor chap. His father’s death is very tragic.”
“Yes,” LaTour said. Then he added: “When we were here before, Mr. Wilkenden, you told us that Spengler had leave the night of October the twenty-fifth. You telephoned a man whom you addressed as ‘Timmons,’ and he said that Spengler had not returned to college that night. You remember?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
“Spengler claims to have been in college before eleven o’clock that night. He claims that if he got in before eleven there would be no way of checking up on his entrance.”
“That is true, yes; only the hour is ten-forty-five, not eleven, and if he came on the nine o’clock train from Wolfeton he couldn’t get into the residence by a quarter of eleven. We call the train ‘the nine o’clock,’ but it leaves actually at nine-ten. It is a slow train which does not reach Rockingham until ten-forty. Even in a taxi he could not come from the station to the residence in five minutes that is, he might, but it is very doubtful.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wilkenden; that is all we wanted to ask.”
We tried the taxi rank at the station, but could find no one who remembered driving Spengler from the station to the college the night of the twenty-sixth.
“I think we may take it that Spengler spent the night in Wolfeton,” LaTour said. “Now for Brighton.”
We were only twenty minutes covering the sixteen miles of straight road which separated the two towns. It was, by this time, nearly one o’clock, so we had lunch before interviewing Mr. James.
When we called on him early in the afternoon, we were shown into a well-appointed library, and a brief glance at the books was sufficient to assure us that the man was a clergyman.
HE ENTERED the room, and LaTour introduced himself and us. The Reverend Mr. James looked puzzled.
“We have some questions, Mr. James,” LaTour said, “which we must ask you. They concern a young woman, Alice Hollow, whose father was recently murdered in Wolfeton, and a young man, Robert Spengler, whose father committed suicide the day before yesterday. You are acquainted with these young people, I believe?”
“Yes. I knew Robert Spengler as a boy. I had a church in Wolfeton then. We were great friends, he and I.”
“He has been to see you lately?”
“Yes. He is at Rockingham, you know, and it is a short journey. He has often been over.”
“Could I see the record of marriages you have conducted during the past six weeks?”
“There is no need. Inspector LaTour. You could consult the town register, but I shall tell you what you want to know. I married Alice Hollow and Robert Spengler on the fourteenth of October.”
“Who were the witnesses?” LaTour asked.
“My wife and the servant girl.”
“And the marriage was kept secret?”
“At their request--yes.”
“Did you know why this secrecy was maintained?”
"I gathered that the parents-- the fathers in both cases -—were opposed.”
“And knowing this, you married them?”
“Yes. They were of age. And I considered the fathers’ opposition ill-advised.”
“Did you know on what grounds this opposition was based?”
“I gathered that it was sheer snobbery in the case of Dr. Spengler. I did not know her father’s reason.”
“Oh. And you considered this secret marriage wise?”
“I do not consider it wise to thwart or forbid young people in these matters.”
“You did not know that John Hollow was not the girl’s father?”
The clergyman started and flushed, then said:
“No, not at that time.”
“You have learned that since?” LaTour asked.
“Spengler told you about it the night before last, when he was over here?”
“Who is the girl’s father?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Do you mean you can’t or won’t?”
“I do not know.”
“What else did you learn from this recent visit?”
“Inspector LaTour,” the clergyman said, “if I were a priest of the Roman Catholic Church which is. I suppose, your own faith-—and if I had received information in the confessional, would you expect or ask me to disclose it?”
"No. Now, you must consider that as a Protestant clergyman I received confidential information under circumstances similar to that of confession. You must not expect me to disclose it.”
“Not if it might lead to catching the criminal?”
“Very well, sir,” LaTour said. “Good afternoon.”
“But,” I expostulated when we were out of doors again, “you can’t let it go at that.”
“Oh. yes,” LaTour said. “He told me more than I had hoped.”
He was silent for the duration of our ride back to Rockingham. There we stopped to see Spenglers friend whom Brian had questioned. His name was Swift.
Our conversation with him took us over the same ground that he had covered with Brian.
"There is one thing I should like to say,” he said, "that I forgot to tell Mr. Woodworth. I do not know whether it will strengthen or weaken your suspicions, but I feel that, knowing what you do, you should also know this. I don’t know what it means myself, but one day—it was just after the time Spengler went up to Wolfeton about his rustication—I went into his room to tell him how sorry I was that he was going to be out for a term. I didn’t knock, I’m afraid - we seldom do, you know and the door was off the latch. I pushed it open. He didn’t hear me. He was lying on the bed, saying very softly to himself: ‘Father didn’t do it. Father couldn’t !’ ”
WE HAD learned a good deal that day, one way or another, but what it all meant when it was put together was more than I could say. Brian Woodworth was strangely thoughtful and silent on the return journey, and LaTour, though rather buoyant, expressed himself of all sorts of odd ideas and spoliations about the universe but would say nothing about the Hollow murder.
"Well,” he said as we approached Wolfeton, "there is nothing for it but to beard old Pecksniff in his den.”
“Yes,” said Brian, and relapsed into thoughtfulness. I looked puzzled. I could not follow the train of their thoughts. Finally my curiosity got the better of my pride, and I asked morosely what they were talking about.
It was Brian who replied. He said positively :
"John Hollow was killed by Alice’s real father. She, and possibly young Spengler, both know who the real father is, and they also know or suspect that he is the author of the crime. They have been covering him up; probably to avoid scandal. The father must be one of those three men Pecksniff, Leyden or Durham. The genesis of this crime dates back twenty years.”
"Nonsense,” I replied sharply. “It was one or other of the Spenglers, you may be sure. All our evidence is pointing that way.”
"Those three men were all in the police station that night,” Brian said. "Leyden may have sneaked in first, past the chief’s door, done the job, sneaked back and then entered noisily. The other two were there all the time.”
“So was Dr. Spengler,” I replied stubbornly, "and, whereas the others had a reason to be there, he had none, or at least none that will bear the light of day. And as soon as he learns his name has come out in the trial as the chief's mysterious visitor, he poisons himself.”
"But," Brian objected, "we don't know that he had learned that Pecksniff said he was there.”
"What motive would Leyden or Pecksniff or Durham have?” I asked.
"I don't know,” Brian replied, "but if one of them is Alice’s father it explains the fact of her unwillingness to talk. And it would explain the anxiety of the Wolfeton police to pin the rap on Lawlor.”
“Nonsense,” I said again. "Dr. Spengler fits those facts quite as well. Alice and young Spengler were covering him up. Why, you don’t even know that she was not Hollow’s daughter. That’s merely a guess of LaTour’s. As to the Wolfeton police, neither Durham nor Leyden has shown any anxiety to pin the crime on Lawlor, and Pecksniff is a conceited, stubborn old fool and won’t admit himself in the wrong.” I turned to LaTour: "What do you think? You seemed very confident yesterday that Lawlor won’t hang.”
“I don’t think he will.”
"Who killed Hollow?”
LaTour smiled at me.
"Do you know?” I asked.
“No. I merely suspect,” he replied.
"Who, then?” I asked, and Brian spoke the same words with me.
“I can’t tell you.”
"Can’t!” I exclaimed, almost repeating the words LaTour himself had used a few hours previously. “You mean you won’t?”
"Can’t or won’t—does it matter? I tell you, sir, we shall get Lawlor off. There have been enough people killed over this affair already.”
"That’s a queer way for an officer of the law to talk,” I said angrily.
"This is a queer business, Mr. Macpherson. Some day, perhaps, I shall tell you all about it. I can’t—or won’t—now, because I don’t see my own way clear. I don’t know what to do, that’s the truth of it, and I can’t commit myself until I have decided.”
"Surely,” I said, “your duty is plain.”
"I wish I could see it so.”
“If you know the identity of the criminal, it is surely your duty to save an innocent person from hanging and to denounce the guilty man.”
"Or woman,” Brian added softly.
LaTour ignored him.
“I shall see that Lawlor doesn’t hang,” he said. “Now here we are at the station. We are going to have some frank words with Pecksniff. Come along.”
ALL UNNOTICING in the heat of the argument, we had entered the town and were now in front of the station. The three of us entered without further conversation and went into the chief’s office. Leyden was there with him. He got up to go when we came. He said to LaTour as he went out:
"Corrigini got five years.”
"Good,” LaTour said.
Leyden left us. LaTour turned to Pecksniff, who greeted us rather too heartily. LaTour was very stern and curt.
“Alice Hollow and Robert Spengler were married two weeks before Hollow’s murder,” he said. “When did you learn of it?”
"The night Hollow was killed,” Pecksniff replied, after a short pause.
"Alice was not John Hollow’s daughter?”
"Who was her father?”
"I don’t know.”
“Were you?” The question was harsh. LaTour was strained. I had never seen his reserve so tried.
"No.” The answer was very low.
“He couldn’t have been. He was in Montreal.”
"Why did Dr. Spengler come here that night?”
Pecksniff shook his head angrily.
LaTour continued :
“Well, I’ll tell you. Spengler came in here to tell you that his son and Alice Hollow were married. He told you that Hollow was not Alice’s father. He told you something more which has frightened you so that you have withheld all this information, although you have been on the witness stand, on oath, to tell what you knew about this murder. You can imagine what will happen to you if this story gets about.”
Pecksniff lost his courage and his anger during this speech.
"All right,” he said. "I’ll talk.”
"Tell us all you know about that night.”
"Dr. Spengler came in here about five minutes past eight. He was very nervous and excited, and asked if Hollow were in the police station. I replied that he had just come in. Dr. Spengler had closed the door behind him, but the latch is not good and it swung open a few inches, as it is now. I sat facing the door, he with his back to it. In this way I was able to watch the corridor to see that no one came along to interrupt us or to listen at the door. I watched it closely. I can swear that no one passed while we were there.”
"My goodness!” I said. “And you were willing to let Lawlor hang?”
‘‘That was awful,” he replied. “I was sure you would get him off. The evidence against him was so weak. I never dreamed he’d crack so under cross-examination. Since the verdict I’ve been nearly crazy, I’ve not had the courage to tell. It will ruin me.”
He ceased to speak and looked around the room a little wildly—a shamed man, a coward exposed in his cowardice.
“I thought Lawlor would get off and I’d never have to tell about Spengler, and it would be better if it were never known.
“Well, no one passed in the corridor from five past eight till Leyden came along at eight-twenty, exactly as he has described. We heard his cry, and I ran out. When I came back, Dr. Spengler was gone. He ’phoned me later, begging me not to say anything about his visit.”
“Oh. And what did he tell you while he was here?”
“He told me he had just had a visit from his son. The latter had done badly at college and was being sent away for a term. The boy had come up to town that evening and had told his father that he had to leave college. Then he said he was married to Alice, and wanted his father to stand by them until he could get a job.
“The boy said they had kept it a secret from Hollow until that day. Then Alice had told him, and Hollow had threatened to ruin them. You see, Hollow had always hated the girl because he knew he wasn’t her father, and I think he saw this as a way to hurt her. Hollow had not been explicit in his threats to her, but poor Dr. Spengler knew what he meant.”
“Twenty years ago, before poor Marie married Hollow, she had been gay but weak. I had loved her myself, as did Hollow, but I soon learned that, she wasn’t the sort I’d want to marry. She had met Spengler, then a gay young spark just starting in practice, and she was flattered by his attentions. He was her lover. I knew that and dropped her. Hollow stepped in, married her, and then found she was with child. She told him, or he suspected, that it was Spengler. In any case, he believed Spengler to be the father, and they had a furious quarrel. Hollow hated his wife, Alice, and Dr. Spengler ever after.
“Poor Dr. Spengler, when he came to me that night, believed that Hollow intended to revenge himself on him, his poor dead wife and Alice, by broadcasting the story, which would separate Alice and Bob because they were brother and sister and ruin their young lives.
“He asked me, as a friend of Hollow, to interfere, to ask Hollow to be merciful. I promised to do it.
“But then Leyden came by. He called— Hollow was dead !”
“Could anyone have entered the station before five minutes past eight?”
"Yes,” Pecksniff replied. “I shouldn’t have noticed then.” He looked at me but did not meet my eye, then he said: “It was I who ’phoned Dr. Spengler the day of the trial, the day he committed suicide. I told him that I had had to tell his name at the trial.”
“Oh,” I said. We left it at that.
LATOUR SAID grimly when we were on the street again:
“Well, there’s Lawlor cleared or nearly so. We shall just finish the business off.”
We took our places in the car. LaTour lit a cigarette. It was growing dark, but the light of the match showed the tired, set lines of his face.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
"To see Alice Spengler,” he replied.
"Who?” Then I remembered. “Of course. I suppose that is her name.”
"We know now the real reason why Dr. Spengler committed suicide,” Brian remarked. “I suppose that paper which I saw his son destroy would have told us all this.” “And more,” I added.
The car stopped before the Hollow cottage. Alice opened the door and took us into the lighted front room. Her face looked tired and worried, and, I thought, had elements of weakness, though she was undoubtedly pretty.
“Mrs. Spengler,” LaTour began, and she started and blushed, “are you willing to allow an innocent man to go to the gallows?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean,” said LaTour, “that if you would, you could give evidence that would save Lawlor's life.”
“What could I say?”
“You could say that the knife with which Hollow was killed belonged here in this house.”
She made no reply but shook her head.
LaTour began on a new tack.
“When I saw you last, Mrs. Spengler,” he said. “I suspected your husband of the murder. There were many things that made me suspect him. Now, I must tell you that I am sure he had nothing to do with it. You may believe me. Anything you say will not be interpreted as evidence against Robert Spengler. And I must ask you to consider that, whatever your motives previously may have been to suppress evidence, now that an innocent man is awaiting execution your duty to clear him is plain.”
She still hesitated, and LaTour went on: “If you allow this man to die, you are as much guilty of murder as the person who stabbed John Hollow, and you will never sleep at nights because of the picture of a man mounting the gallows, with the black rope hanging loose, to die for a crime he never committed.”
“Oh,” she moaned. “What can I say?”
“Whose knife was it that killed John Hollow?”
“It was our knife. It belonged here.”
“Was John Hollow your father?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who took the knife?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know who killed John Hollow?”
“But you suspect someone?”
She began to cry.
“Whom do you suspect?”
She did not reply.
“Why won’t you tell me? Why have you been trying to shield him?”
“Oh—don’t you know? Can’t you see? He did it for me. I would be—oh, I would be a traitor if I told.” She burst into great sobs and LaTour did not question her again. After a bit, when she was calmer, he asked gently: “Would you tell us about your mother?”
“About my mother?” she repeated. “What do you want to know about her?”
“Whatever you can—whatever you want to tell us about her and her life with her husband.”
“There’s nothing to tell. Father—I always called him that—hated her. You see he found out about—about me, on their honeymoon. Mother didn’t know he’d found out. She was very happy then. You know, I don’t think mother ever thought of things being right or wrong. She was just like a bird—pretty and happy and buoyant. And she had forgotten all about the awful things she had done and was very happy on their honeymoon. She used to tell me about it and cry.
“They went down to the seaside after they were married and stayed there two weeks. It was near the end, and mother said, ‘John, I hope all our life together will be just one long honeymoon.’ He knew then: he had just learned somehow. And he called her a horrid name and told her, ‘All right. Life will be one long honeymoon.’ And he never spoke a kind word to her again, even when she was dying.
“When I came he hated me, because I wasn’t his. He said he always did his duty by me, but he never let me play or be happy or do the things other girls did. When he learned I was in love, he swore I should never be happy and drove Bob away. But we saw one another just the same. Then Bob said we must get married, and then he could look after me and father couldn’t hurt me or keep us apart any more.
WE PLANNED it all very carefully. Father had night duty from midnight till six sometimes, and I found out when this would be. On those occasions I used to go to bed and put food out for him. He didn’t make me get up when he came in in the morning.
“Bob made the arrangements with a clergyman in Brighton. Then after father went to bed I slipped out. Bob had a car waiting. I knew father would never miss me when he went out at midnight. We went to Brighton and were married, and stayed there till morning. Bob said it would be our honeymoon. I kept thinking of poor mother, and wasn’t happy. I was so worried about what was going to happen to us. But Bob is so desperate and stubborn. I was afraid not to do what he said.
“Father never knew. But I had to go on living at home because Bob had to fix things up with his father. Everything went badly with him. He did rotten at college. Then he came up one night and said we must see the thing through, and we told father. He was awfully angry at first. Then he laughed in a dreadful way and kept saying, ‘Spengler, James Spengler’s son,’ and he’d laugh again. But he had to go on duty. He went out and said, ‘I’ll ruin you now. I’ll crush the whole lot of you, and that will be a fitting vengeance.’
“Bob went to see his father. Then he came back here. He said his father had taken it terribly badly and had forbidden the marriage. Bob had then told him we were married and how father had behaved. Dr. Spengler had said he would try to get father not to talk. I suppose he meant about me.
"Bob got here at eight and stayed the night. He did start to go back to college but he 'phoned from the station and I asked him to come back. He was with me, so he could not have killed father if you ever thought he did. We learned about the murder that night, of course. Bob stayed because I was afraid and needed him.
“When he had gone, the next day, I saw that the knife was missing. I hadn’t missed it before, but I hadn’t wanted to use it for several days. Then I began to wonder. Bob came up the day after. I told him about it, and about what I suspected. He said we must keep it all quiet.
"That's everything I know. And I can’t tell you what I just think—it would be wicked.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Spengler,” LaTour said. “That will be enough to save Lawlor with what we already know.”
“If we could have that as a written statement and get Pecksniff’s the same way, it should save their having to appear as witnesses in a new trial,” I said. “I am sure that with this new evidence the courts will reverse the judgment, and the prosecution would never think of reopening the case in the face of evidence such as Mrs. Spengler’s about the knife and Pecksniff’s about the corridor from eight-five onward.”
“I'll attend to that,” LaTour said. “Will you sign a statement tomorrow, Mrs. Spengler, if I bring it you, repeating what is relevant to the case?”
"I won’t say anything against—” She stopped.
“Against the person who really killed Hollow?" LaTour said. “No. But you will say enough to clear Lawlor?”
"Yes, yes. If what I have told you is enough.”
“It is,” he assured her. Then he said: “Did you see the knife that was used to stab your father?”
“Yes, at the trial.”
“Was it your knife?”
“Yes, I think so.’
“Did your mother never tell you who your father really was?”
"No,” she replied.
“How did you come to suspect who your father was?”
She went white.
"It was when mother was ill— no ! I won’t tell you a thing more.”
“May I see the letter?” LaTour asked. She stood up, quite suddenly, and said with an unexpected dignity:
“Will you go now, please. I shall sign your statement in the morning.”
WE RETURNED to Fredericton by car the next day.
LaTour was worried and silent during the journey. Brian Woodworth and I were curious, but rather pleased on the whole with the certainty that our appeal would be successful.
When we reached our destination and the big police car had set us down before my rooms, LaTour expressed a desire to talk things over that evening. I invited him to come over. I also asked Eccles and Brian to come.
Brian was the first to arrive. He wore a tuxedo, and explained he had been dining at his father’s.
“What’s on LaTour’s mind, d’you suppose?” he asked as he wriggled out of his coat and gave his hat to Fritters.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
Brian looked knowing.
“We’ll learn tonight,” he said. “LaTour has an eye for the dramatic, and he’s as solemn in his old style chivalry as the stodgiest Crusader. LaTour has good reason in his own mind for his attitude; you may be sure of that. And I think I have an inkling of what it’s all about.”
Before he could tell me his suspicions, LaTour and Eccles were shown in. We made ourselves comfortable about the fire. Outside, the night was working itself up into a storm.
“A shocking night,” I said as I pulled the curtains, and there was a general expression of agreement.
Fritters served us with drinks and put some cheese and biscuits on the table. Brian reached for a biscuit, which he buttered meditatively. He chewed it thoroughly and drank a long draught of beer. There was an uncomfortable silence. Everyone watched Brian eat the biscuit and drink the beer. He broke the silence with a characteristically impudent remark:
“Good lord ! Have you never seen a man eat a biscuit before? Have one yourself, superintendent. They’re jolly good.”
Eccles took a biscuit, then abruptly he said:
“It’s a queer story LaTour has to tell me.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “As far as I know it, it’s very queer. But, quite frankly, LaTour has not taken us into his confidence. He seems to know a great deal which he is unwilling to explain.”
“Here is,” said Eccles, “the thing as I see it.”
He gave us a matter-of-fact résumé of the evidence that would free Lawlor, and then enumerated the points against young Spengler.
“I have learned as well,” Eccles concluded, his voice changing to a sombre pitch, “that Inspector LaTour has gleaned some further evidence which he is unwilling to divulge, and he has requested me to consider accepting his resignation. He has given no reason for this reticence as regards evidence or for resigning. I am afraid that I must insist on further information.”
“I can give you a little more,” LaTour said with a wry smile, “but I am afraid it will only make confusion more confused. I can tell you why Dr. Spengler committed suicide, and what was in the document which his son destroyed.”
“Great Scott ! What was it?” Eccles and I exclaimed. Brian, who had a mouthful of beer, was unable to do anything but gulp.
"After I left Mr. Macpherson and Mr. Woodworth last night, I went to see Robert Spengler. I found him occupying his father’s house. I told him, quite frankly, that I no longer suspected him, and that I knew a good deal more about the case than he realized. Then I explained that I wanted to know the truth of his father's suicide. He wouldn’t tell me, so I told him and he admitted it.”
“Will you tell us that, LaTour?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “on one condition.”
“Name it,” Eccles commanded.
“That you will take no action on what I have to tell you. Otherwise I must confine the knowledge to myself. Let me explain. I have already disclosed enough evidence to free Lawlor. What I am going to tell you appears to incriminate another man who is not guilty. I can soon show you that. I merely want your promise not to act on what I am going to say, because it is of itself incomplete.”
“May we not retain discretion to judge for ourselves?” I asked.
“No, sir; I must have your promise.”
“I am an officer of the law, you know,” said Eccles.
“So am I, sir,” LaTour said proudly. “But there are times, I think, when the man of honor must rise superior to the officer of law.”
“Well, tell us about Spengler. You have my promise,” Eccles said.
Brian and I added ours.
“Dr. Spengler killed himself because he could not face the scandal he felt sure would come. And the document his son destroyed was a confession, signed a few minutes before his death. In it he said that he was the killer of John Hollow.”
"AH!” I EXCLAIMED, forgetting LaTour’s warning. “Didn’t I say it was Spengler?”
“But, LaTour,” said Eccles in strong tones, “it’s a case. I congratulate you on a fine piece of work.”
“But wait,” said LaTour, raising a hand. In the strain and excitement under which he was obviously laboring, his French blood was manifesting itself. “You shall hear more!
“You see, I do not tell my story well. First, before I come to the document, I should tell what had transpired before. Robert Spengler had told his father who it was he thought to be the killer of John Hollow. He asked his father, ‘What shall I do? Shall I tell what little I know, or shall I wait till I learn whether they are going to hang Lawlor?’ His father says, ‘Wait.’ But it is a dreadful problem. I know; I have had it. Then the ’phone rings. It is Pecksniff. He says the name is out, the whole story will be discovered, they are ruined. Dr. Spengler, who is indeed melancholy and whose son has disappointed and hurt him by his marriage, by his failure at college—he cannot face it. He will destroy himself —so.” LaTour made a quick gesture. “But he will do one last act of sacrifice for his son. There will be scandal about him anyway. He will save the boy and girl unhappiness about the real murderer. So he writes his confession. The details are all wrong. In it he says he killed Hollow just before eight. Hollow was alive after that. It is too silly. But the son, Robert, he cannot have his father’s character so stained. He destroyed it. Then he lied to us. That is all.”
“Oh, no, it is far from all,” Eccles said. “We must test those times. The confession was genuine enough, I should think. It fits, better than anything we could possibly have, with the Crown evidence.”
“No,” said LaTour. “The most important known evidence concerns time and space, and this fits neither. The confession is not genuine.”
“We shall show that it is,” Eccles said with determination.
“I have your promise, sir,” LaTour said steadily.
“Promise be hanged!” exclaimed Eccles testily, though everyone present knew perfectly well that if he were not released from it he would never break it. “You don’t intend to hold us to that, LaTour?”
“I most certainly do,” LaTour replied.
“But there’s no sense or reason in it!” Eccles roared, working himself into a temper. “You don’t mean to tell me that, with all this evidence, we are going to leave this an unfinished case and take the rap of the newspapers and look generally sick and incompetent. Come, sir, there’s the Force. You can’t let us down like this.”
“You shall have my resignation, sir,” LaTour said in a steady voice.
“Resignation? Stuff and nonsense! LaTour, you’re behaving like an impressionable schoolgirl.”
“Honestly, LaTour,” Brian put in, looking very wise, “the woman isn't worth it.”
LaTour stared at him, his eyes wide open.
"Woman!” said Eccles, jumping at the word. “Is there a woman in this? Come, is that what’s at the bottom of it? But I might have known. Whenever a good man goes soft, cherchez la femme every time. Well, LaTour, I don’t want to meddle with your private concerns, but you know you can trust us here, and I think I am old enough to venture on a little advice, particularly in this case where I am so directly involved, and I don’t think you can say I’m officious. No woman who wants you, or is willing to allow you, to ruin your career for her is worth it. Now, any good woman is worth more to a man than a mere career, any time, but no good woman ever forces a man to make a choice. Believe me—”
LaTour interrupted before we could learn any more of Eccles’ philosophy of values.
“There is no woman concerned,” he said. “I have come to the place where I find my duty as a police officer is incompatible with my duty ...” He hesitated, trying to choose a word. Eventually he said: “Well, with my duty. I mean with what I think in myself is right. That is all. Lawlor is saved. I shall resign.”
“You must be mad!” Eccles shouted. “Surely there’s only one duty for a citizen of a Christian country, and that is to obey the law. This must be doubly so, in the case of a police officer and, I might remind you, a member of one of the most distinguished and respected forces in the world.”
“It amounts to this,” LaTour said, speaking slowly and choosing his words with precision. “I cannot see my way clear to arrest a person when it means that that person will be sentenced to death and when I do not think the punishment is deserved.”
COMING from the lips of a police officer, this was a statement which would surprise most anyone and which threw Eccles into almost apoplectic consternation.
“I am afraid,” he said, “I am afraid that I do not properly understand you, LaTour.”
“It’s plain enough!” LaTour replied. “When I joined the Force I never foresaw a situation of this kind. I never troubled to question whether the law was right or wrong. I don t suppose that it ever entered my head that it could be wrong. Now, I find that I cannot satisfy my conscience that it would be right to put a person into the toils of our system of justice, when I know that person does not deserve it.”
Eccles listened to this heresy with rising anger. But with a strong effort he controlled his temper, and when he spoke it was with restraint and in good temper.
“I see that we must just talk this thing over,” he said. “I did not suppose that one of my men would ever be affected by this sentimental sob-stuff about capital punishment. You have admitted that this man you are talking about has murdered. You imply that you can prove him guilty. You know, of course, that if he is innocent he will be so found by the courts of law—”
Brian interrupted: “How about Lawlor?”
"How about Lawlor?” Eccles repeated. “He is innocent. Well, he is getting off, isn’t he? I admit, however, that it is possible that there may occur a miscarriage of justice. Error is a characteristic of human institutions. We can none of us pretend to infallibility. It is no criticism of the legal structure to say that it may make a mistake. However, if I have properly understood LaTour, that is not the point at issue in this case. LaTour knows his man is guilty and that the courts would find him so. The point is that, though guilty of murder, the man does not deserve the death penalty. At least, such is LaTour’s opinion.”
LaTour nodded in slow and rather solemn corroboration. Eccles continued:
“Now there are two points that it seems to me LaTour cannot have sufficiently considered. The first is that, as a police officer, his duty is clearly to arrest his man. That is his sworn duty, and there his obligation and his responsibility end. He is not responsible for the law, or the interpretation and sanction of the law. If he thinks it wrong, he can, as a private citizen, agitate for a reform of our criminal code.” A trace of acerbity crept into Eccles’ accent as he spoke, but he controlled it and went on: “The second point is, that a man who kills must die. Now I am not going to maintain the old vengeance idea of punishment. I daresay that in vengeance and retribution lies the genesis of punishment and justice. That may have been the idea of punishment held by primitive people. Even today, when we read of some brutal crime we feel anger and the desire for retribution. But the paramount consideration in modem societies is purely a utilitarian one. We punish to protect. We execute to deter.
“It is, I will admit to you, LaTour, a dreadful thing to lead a man out in the cold of the morning and kill him in cold blood. I do not want you to think that I am a hard man. I do not say your criminal deserves it. Any man. it seems to me, who says another man deserves to have death dealt him in that fashion, presumes to have the wisdom and the attributes of God.
“I do take the plain, common-sense view that to protect society we have got to retain the death sentence.
“Now, LaTour, your job is to arrest this man, not to trouble about the judge’s worries. If there are extenuating circumstances, you may be sure the judge wall consider them. And as for capital punishment, rest assured that, though it is severe on one man, it is necessary for the preservation of society.”
He concluded this moderate appeal with a look at once serious, expectant and deprecating, as though to say, “But I am a plain man not given to speech-making and debate of right and wrong.”
LaTour replied in a most gracious yet firm manner.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “You have spoken with forbearance and kindness such as indeed I have learned to expect from you. Yet my determination is fixed firmly. I can only say, in answer to your first point, that I cannot see my duty as simply as you see it. I cannot explain why. I am not introspective and I cannot discern and explain my own feelings. All I know is that I feel a conflict between my duty as a police officer and some more fundamental sense of right and wrong.”
He paused and looked doubtfully at Eccles, who avoided his gaze by drinking from the glass in his hand. I nodded encouragingly, and LaTour resumed his argument.
“I do not consider the general case of capital punishment,” he said, “I only know this: If a man kills to save a life, the courts do not call it a crime. Now if a person kills to save another person’s honor and happiness—well, I can’t explain, but I can’t bring to punishment the person who killed John Hollow.”
“He might plead extenuating circumstances,” Eccles said.
LATOUR shook his head.
“I’ll resign, sir,” he said.
“LaTour, will you do one thing?” Eccles said. “Will you let this matter rest until tomorrow? We shall both sleep on it. And then, if you persist, I am afraid I shall have to send your resignation to Ottawa. But we shall part in good will.”
“With a will the best in the world, sir,” LaTour replied. “And I shall do more than you suggest. I shall go back to Wolfeton tomorrow and discuss the case with Leyden, who knows a good deal of the sad history which lies behind it. Perhaps, after I have learned what I can of this history and its characters from him, I shall be in a better position to come to a final decision.”
“Good man!” Eccles said. “You’ll drive over?”
“Yes. In the morning.”
“I have to go over in the afternoon,” Eccles said. “There’s a question of discipline I have to take up with young Morton. I’ll meet you over there in the evening. Where shall you be staying?”
“I shall be at the Carlisle, sir.”
“Very well. I’ll be there some time after dinner. We’ll conclude the business there.”
"Thank you, sir. I am afraid I cannot hold out much hope of a change in my position.”
“All right, man, all right. Forget it tonight. And don’t be stubborn.”
We all laughed at that, and the evening terminated on a happy and genial note.
I drove Brian home. The night was a foul one, with cold rain blown into lashes by a strong wind.
I said good night to Brian, and drove back leisurely to my garage -a public one, as there was no place near my lodgings for a private garage. The night attendant threw open the doors for me.
“A bad night, sir,” he said.
“Very,” I replied.
He sat down and resumed his briar pipe and the perusal of a moving picture magazine.
I drove my car down to the back and ran it into a free place between two other cars. I turned off the engine and stopped a moment to light my pipe, which had gone out while I was driving. While I was doing this. I heard two men talking in a big car next to which I had parked. One of them said:
“On the flats above Jemseg, then?”
“That’s right,” the other replied. “Here, I’ll show you just where. It’s all fixed up for tomorrow night.”
There was the rustling of a map, and then one man said :
“Careful. There’s someone in that next car.”
I moved away at once, though I must say my curiosity was piqued. On my way out I stopped at the door.
“Strangers?” I asked, nodding toward the rear.
“Yeah,” said the attendant. “Got Yankee number plates. Queer guys. Bin talkin’ there, as though they didn’t have no place to go.”
“Indeed,” I said, trying not to look interested. “Well, good night.”
“Good night,” he replied.
I fought my way home through the storm.
Poor LaTour. I could sympathize with him more, I think, than with Eccles. The world was not so easy and simple as my big friend believed. I reached my rooms, dismissed my thoughts, and had a quiet nightcap.
Just before I dropped off to sleep I resolved that I, too, should go to Wolfeton the following day. But the storm increased in violence, and my sleep was uneasy and disturbed by dreams and premonitions of evil in which John Hollow and rough-spoken American gangsters were inextricably interwoven. Had I known what the morrow was to bring I should not have slept at all.
To be Concluded