The Birmingham Mystery (The DeGenneville Peerage) (#11)
Illustrations by H. M. Brock
Another of the 1902 Old Man tales set outside London, this story includes a twist that will be spotted at once by veteran mystery readers, but which would not have been as familiar to the Baroness’ audience. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself used a similar device in his 1915 Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Valley of Fear.Dan Neyer
Introduction © 2013 by Dan Neyer
THE MAN IN THE CORNER rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and looked out upon the busy street below.
“I suppose,” he said, “there is some truth in the saying that Providence watches over bankrupts, kittens, and lawyers.”
“I didn’t know there was such a saying,” replied Polly, with guarded dignity.
“Isn’t there? Perhaps I am misquoting; anyway, there should be. Kittens, it seems, live and thrive through social and domestic upheavals which would annihilate a self-supporting tom-cat, and to-day I read in the morning papers the account of a noble lord’s bankruptcy, and in the society ones that of his visit at the house of a Cabinet minister, where he is the most honoured guest. As for lawyers, when Providence had exhausted all other means of securing their welfare, it brought forth the peerage cases.”
“I believe, as a matter of fact, that this special dispensation of Providence, as you call it, requires more technical knowledge than any other legal complication that comes before the law courts,” she said.
“And also a great deal more money in the client’s pocket than any other complication. Now, take the Brockelsby peerage case. Have you any idea how much money was spent over that soap bubble, which only burst after many hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds went in lawyers’ and counsels’ fees?”
“I suppose a great deal of money was spent on both sides,” she replied, “until that sudden, awful issue——”
“Which settled the dispute effectually,” he interrupted with a dry chuckle. “Of course, it is very doubtful if any reputable solicitor would have taken up the case. Timothy Beddingfield, the Birmingham lawyer, is a gentleman who—well—has had some misfortunes, shall we say? He is still on the rolls, mind you, but I doubt if any case would have its chances improved by his conducting it. Against that there is just this to be said, that some of these old peerages have such peculiar histories, and own such wonderful archives, that a claim is always worth investigating—you never know what may be the rights of it.
“I believe that, at first, every one laughed over the pretensions of the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville to the joint title and part revenues of the old barony of Genneville, but, obviously, he might have got his case. It certainly sounded almost like a fairy-tale, this claim based upon the supposed validity of an ancient document over 400 years old. It was then that a mediæval Lord de Genneville, more endowed with muscle than common sense, became during his turbulent existence much embarrassed and hopelessly puzzled through the presentation made to him by his lady of twin-born sons.
“His embarrassment chiefly arose from the fact that my lady’s attendants, while ministering to the comfort of the mother, had, in a moment of absent-mindedness, so placed the two infants in their cot that subsequently no one, not even—perhaps least of all—the mother, could tell which was the one who had been the first to make his appearance into this troublesome and puzzling world.
“After many years of cogitation, during which the Lord de Genneville approached nearer to the grave and his sons to man’s estate, he gave up trying to solve the riddle as to which of the twins should succeed to his title and revenues; he appealed to his Liege Lord and King—Edward, fourth of that name—and with the latter’s august sanction he drew up a certain document, wherein he enacted that both his sons should, after his death, share his titles and goodly revenues, and that the first son born in wedlock of either father should subsequently be the sole heir.
“In this document was also added that if in future times should any Lords de Genneville be similarly afflicted with twin sons, who had equal rights to be considered the eldest born, the same rule should apply as to the succession.
“Subsequently a Lord de Genneville was created Earl of Brockelsby by one of the Stuart kings, but for four hundred years after its enactment the extraordinary deed of succession remained a mere tradition, the Countesses of Brockelsby having, seemingly, no predilection for twins. But in 1878 the mistress of Brockelsby Castle presented her lord with twin-born sons.
“Fortunately, in modern times, science is more wide-awake, and attendants more careful. The twin brothers did not get mixed up, and one of them was styled Viscount Tirlemont, and was heir to the earldom, whilst the other, born two hours later, was that fascinating, dashing young Guardsman, well known at Hurlingham, Goodwood, London, and in his own county—the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville.
“It certainly was an evil day for this brilliant young scion of the ancient race when he lent an ear to Timothy Beddingfield. This man, and his family before him, had been solicitors to the Earls of Brockelsby for many generations, but Timothy, owing to certain ‘irregularities,’ had forfeited the confidence of his client, the late earl.
“He was still in practice in Birmingham, however, and, of course, knew the ancient family tradition anent the twin succession. Whether he was prompted by revenge or merely self-advertisement no one knows.
“Certain it is that he did advise the Hon. Robert de Genneville—who apparently had more debts than he conveniently could pay, and more extravagant tastes than he could gratify on a younger son’s portion—to lay a claim, on his father’s death, to the joint title and a moiety of the revenues of the ancient barony of Genneville, that claim being based upon the validity of the fifteenth-century document.
“You may gather how extensive were the pretensions of the Hon. Robert from the fact that the greater part of Edgbaston is now built upon land belonging to the old barony. Anyway, it was the last straw in an ocean of debt and difficulties, and I have no doubt that Beddingfield had not much trouble in persuading the Hon. Robert to commence litigation at once.
“The young Earl of Brockelsby’s attitude, however, remained one of absolute quietude in his nine points of the law. He was in possession both of the title and of the document. It was for the other side to force him to produce the one or to share the other.
“It was at this stage of the proceedings that the Hon. Robert was advised to marry, in order to secure, if possible, the first male heir of the next generation, since the young earl himself was still a bachelor. A suitable fiancée was found for him by his friends in the person of Miss Mabel Brandon, the daughter of a rich Birmingham manufacturer, and the marriage was fixed to take place at Birmingham on Thursday, September 15th, 1907.
“On the 13th the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville arrived at the Castle Hotel in New Street for his wedding, and on the 14th, at eight o’clock in the morning, he was discovered lying on the floor of his bedroom—murdered.
“The sensation which the awful and unexpected sequel to the Do Genneville peerage case caused in the minds of the friends of both litigants was quite unparalleled. I don’t think any crime of modern times created quite so much stir in all classes of society. Birmingham was wild with excitement, and the employés of the Castle Hotel had real difficulty in keeping off the eager and inquisitive crowd who thronged daily to the hall, vainly hoping to gather details of news relating to the terrible tragedy.
“At present there was but little to tell. The shrieks of the chambermaid, who had gone into the Hon. Robert’s room with his shaving water at eight o’clock, had attracted some of the waiters. Soon the manager and his secretary came up, and immediately sent for the police.
“It seemed at first sight as if the young man had been the victim of a homicidal maniac, so brutal had been the way in which he had been assassinated. The head and body were battered and bruised by some heavy stick or poker, almost past human shape, as if the murderer had wished to wreak some awful vengeance upon the body of his victim. In fact, it would be impossible to recount the gruesome aspect of that room and of the murdered man’s body such as the police and the medical officer took note of that day.
“It was supposed that the murder had been committed the evening before, as the victim was dressed in his evening clothes, and all the lights in the room had been left fully turned on. Robbery, also, must have had a large share in the miscreant’s motives, for the drawers and cupboards, the portmanteau and dressing-bag had been ransacked as if in search of valuables. On the floor there lay a pocket-book torn in half and only containing a few letters addressed to the Hon. Robert de Genneville.
“The Earl of Brockelsby, next-of-kin to the deceased, was also telegraphed for. He drove over from Brockelsby Castle, which is about seven miles from Birmingham. He was terribly affected by the awfulness of the tragedy, and offered a liberal reward to stimulate the activity of the police in search of the miscreant.
“The inquest was fixed for the 17th, three days later, and the public was left wondering where the solution lay of the terrible and gruesome murder at the Castle Hotel.”
&ldquot;THE CENTRAL FIGURE IN THE CORONER’S COURT that day was undoubtedly the Earl of Brockelsby in deep black, which contrasted strongly with his florid complexion and fair hair. Sir Marmaduke Ingersoll, his solicitor, was with him, and he had already performed the painful duty of identifying the deceased as his brother. This had been an exceedingly painful duty owing to the terribly mutilated state of the body and face; but the clothes and various trinkets he wore, including a signet ring, had fortunately not tempted the brutal assassin, and it was through them chiefly that Lord Brockelsby was able to swear to the identity of his brother.
“The various employés at the hotel gave evidence as to the discovery of the body, and the medical officer gave his opinion as to the immediate cause of death. Deceased had evidently been struck at the back of the head with a poker or heavy stick, the murderer then venting his blind fury upon the body by battering in the face and bruising it in a way that certainly suggested the work of a maniac.
“Then the Earl of Brockelsby was called, and was requested by the coroner to state when he had last seen his brother alive.
“ ‘The morning before his death,’ replied his lordship, ‘he came up to Birmingham by an early train, and I drove up from Brockelsby to see him. I got to the hotel at eleven o’clock and stayed with him for about an hour.’
“ ‘And that is the last you saw of the deceased?’
“ ‘That is the last I saw of him,’ replied Lord Brockelsby.
“He seemed to hesitate for a moment or two as if in thought whether he should speak or not, and then to suddenly make up his mind to speak, for he added: ‘I stayed in town the whole of that day, and only drove back to Brockelsby late in the evening. I had some business to transact, and put up at the Grand, as I usually do, and dined with some friends.’
“ ‘Would you tell us at what time you returned to Brockelsby Castle?’
“ ‘I think it must have been about eleven o’clock. It is a seven-mile drive from here.’
“ ‘I believe,’ said the coroner after a slight pause, during which the attention of all the spectators was riveted upon the handsome figure of the young man as he stood in the witness-box, the very personification of a high-bred gentleman, ‘I believe that I am right in stating that there was an unfortunate legal dispute between your lordship and your brother?’
“ ‘That is so.’
“The coroner stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment or two, then he added:
“ ‘In the event of the deceased’s claim to the joint title and revenues of De Genneville being held good in the courts of law, there would be a great importance, would there not, attached to his marriage, which was to have taken place on the 15th?’
“ ‘In that event, there certainly would be.’
“ ‘Is the jury to understand, then, that you and the deceased parted on amicable terms after your interview with him in the morning?’
“The Earl of Brockelsby hesitated again for a minute or two, while the crowd and the jury hung breathless on his lips.
“ ‘There was no enmity between us,’ he replied at last.
“ ‘From which we may gather that there may have been—shall I say—a slight disagreement at that interview?’
“ ‘My brother had unfortunately been misled by the misrepresentations or perhaps the too optimistic views of his lawyer. He had been dragged into litigation on the strength of an old family document which he had never seen, which, moreover, is antiquated, and, owing to certain wording in it, invalid. I thought that it would be kinder and more considerate if I were to let my brother judge of the document for himself. I knew that when he had seen it he would be convinced of the absolutely futile basis of his claim, and that it would be a terrible disappointment to him. That is the reason why I wished to see him myself about it, rather than to do it through the more formal—perhaps more correct—medium of our respective lawyers. I placed the facts before him with, on my part, a perfectly amicable spirit.’
“The young Earl of Brockelsby had made this somewhat lengthy, perfectly voluntary explanation of the state of affairs in a calm, quiet voice, with much dignity and perfect simplicity, but the coroner did not seem impressed by it, for he asked very drily:
“ ‘Did you part good friends?’
“ ‘On my side absolutely so.’
“ ‘But not on his?’ insisted the coroner.
“ ‘I think he felt naturally annoyed that he had been so ill-advised by his solicitors.’
“ ‘And you made no attempt later on in the day to adjust any ill-feeling that may have existed between you and him?’ asked the coroner, marking with strange, earnest emphasis every word he uttered.
“ ‘If you mean did I go and see my brother again that day—no, I did not.’
“ ‘And your lordship can give us no further information which might throw some light upon the mystery which surrounds the Hon. Robert de Genneville’s death?’ still persisted the coroner.
“ ‘I am sorry to say I cannot,’ replied the Earl of Brockelsby with firm decision.
“The coroner still looked puzzled and thoughtful. It seemed at first as if he wished to press his point further; every one felt that some deep import had lain behind his examination of the witness, and all were on tenter-hooks as to what the next evidence might bring forth. The Earl of Brockelsby had waited a minute or two, then, at a sign from the coroner, had left the witness-box in order to have a talk with his solicitor.
“At first he paid no attention to the depositions of the cashier and hall porter of the Castle Hotel, but gradually it seemed to strike him that curious statements were being made by these witnesses, and a frown of anxious wonder settled between his brows, whilst his young face lost some of its florid hue.
“Mr. Tremlett, the cashier at the hotel, had been holding the attention of the court. He stated that the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville had arrived at the hotel at eight o’clock on the morning of the 13th; he had the room which he usually occupied when he came to the ‘Castle,’ namely, No. 21, and he went up to it immediately on his arrival, ordering some breakfast to be brought up to him.
“At eleven o’clock the Earl of Brockelsby called to see his brother and remained with him until about twelve. In the afternoon deceased went out, and returned for his dinner at seven o’clock in company with a gentleman whom the cashier knew well by sight, Mr. Timothy Beddingfield, the lawyer, of Paradise Street. The gentlemen had their dinner downstairs, and after that they went up to the Hon. Mr. de Genneville’s room for coffee and cigars.
“ ‘I could not say at what time Mr. Beddingfield left,’ continued the cashier, ‘but I rather fancy I saw him in the hall at about 9.15 p.m. He was wearing an Inverness cape over his dress clothes and a Glengarry cap. It was just at the hour when the visitors who had come down for the night from London were arriving thick and fast; the hall was very full, and there was a large party of Americans monopolising most of our personnel, so I could not swear positively whether I did see Mr. Beddingfield or not then, though I am quite sure that it was Mr. Timothy Beddingfield who dined and spent the evening with the Hon. Mr. de Genneville, as I know him quite well by sight. At ten o’clock I am off duty, and the night porter remains alone in the hall.’
“Mr. Tremlett’s evidence was corroborated in most respects by a waiter and by the hall porter. They had both seen the deceased come in at seven o’clock in company with a gentleman, and their description of the latter coincided with that of the appearance of Mr. Timothy Beddingfield, whom, however, they did not actually know.
“At this point of the proceedings the foreman of the jury wished to know why Mr. Timothy Beddingfield’s evidence had not been obtained, and was informed by the detective-inspector in charge of the case that that gentleman had seemingly left Birmingham, but was expected home shortly. The coroner suggested an adjournment pending Mr. Beddingfield’s appearance, but at the earnest request of the detective he consented to hear the evidence of Peter Tyrrell, the night porter at the Castle Hotel, who, if you remember the case at all, succeeded in creating the biggest sensation of any which had been made through this extraordinary and weirdly gruesome case.
“ ‘It was the first time I had been on duty at “The Castle,” he said, ‘for I used to be night porter at “Bright’s,” in Wolverhampton, but just after I had come on duty at ten o’clock a gentleman came and asked if he could see the Hon. Robert de Genneville. I said that I thought he was in, but would send up and see. The gentleman said: “It doesn’t matter. Don’t trouble; I know his room. Twenty-one, isn’t it?” And up he went before I could say another word.’
“ ‘Did he give you any name?’ asked the coroner.
“ ‘No, sir.’
“ ‘What was he like?’
“ ‘A young gentleman, sir, as far as I can remember, in an Inverness cape and Glengarry cap, but I could not see his face very well as he stood with his back to the light, and the cap shaded his eyes, and he only spoke to me for a minute.’
“ ‘Look all round you,’ said the coroner quietly. ‘Is there any one in this court at all like the gentleman you speak of?’
“An awed hush fell over the many spectators there present as Peter Tyrrell, the night porter of the Castle Hotel, turned his head towards the body of the court and slowly scanned the many faces there present; for a moment he seemed to hesitate—only for a moment though, then, as if vaguely conscious of the terrible importance his next words might have, he shook his head gravely and said:
“ ‘I wouldn’t like to swear.’
“The coroner tried to press him, but with true British stolidity he repeated: ‘I wouldn’t like to say.’
“ ‘Well, then, what happened?’ asked the coroner, who had perforce to abandon his point.
“ ‘The gentleman went upstairs, sir, and about a quarter of an hour later he come down again, and I let him out. He was in a great hurry then, he threw me a half-crown and said: “Good night.” ‘
“ ‘And though you saw him again then, you cannot tell us if you would know him again?’
“Once more the hall porter’s eyes wandered as if instinctively to a certain face in the court; once more he hesitated for many seconds which seemed like so many hours, during which a man’s honour, a man’s life, hung perhaps in the balance.
“Then Peter Tyrrell repeated slowly: ‘I wouldn’t swear.’
“But coroner and jury alike, aye, and every spectator in that crowded court, had seen that the man’s eyes had rested during that one moment of hesitation upon the face of the Earl of Brockelsby.”
THE MAN IN THE CORNER blinked across at Polly with his funny mild blue eyes.
“No wonder you are puzzled,” he continued, “so was everybody in the court that day, every one save myself. I alone could see in my mind’s eye that gruesome murder such as it had been committed, with all its details, and, above all, its motive, and such as you will see it presently, when I place it all clearly before you.
“But before you see daylight in this strange case, I must plunge you into further darkness, in the same manner as the coroner and jury were plunged on the following day, the second day of that remarkable inquest. It had to be adjourned, since the appearance of Mr. Timothy Beddingfield had now become of vital importance. The public had come to regard his absence from Birmingham at this critical moment as decidedly remarkable, to say the least of it, and all those who did not know the lawyer by sight wished to see him in his Inverness cape and Glengarry cap such as he had appeared before the several witnesses on the night of the awful murder.
“When the coroner and jury were seated, the first piece of information which the police placed before them was the astounding statement that Mr. Timothy Beddingfield’s whereabouts had not been ascertained, though it was confidently expected that he had not gone far and could easily be traced. There was a witness present who, the police thought, might throw some light as to the lawyer’s probable destination, for obviously he had left Birmingham directly after his interview with the deceased.
“This witness was Mrs. Higgins, who was Mr. Beddingfield’s housekeeper. She stated that her master was in the constant habit—especially latterly—of going up to London on business. He usually left by a late evening train on those occasions, and mostly was only absent thirty-six hours. He kept a portmanteau always ready packed for the purpose, for he often left at a few moments’ notice. Mrs. Higgins added that her master stayed at the Great Western Hotel in London, for it was there that she was instructed to wire if anything urgent required his presence back in Birmingham.
“ ‘On the night of the 14th,’ she continued, ‘at nine o’clock or thereabouts, a messenger came to the door with the master’s card, and said that he was instructed to fetch Mr. Beddingfield’s portmanteau, and then to meet him at the station in time to catch the 9.35 p.m. up train. I gave him the portmanteau, of course, as he had brought the card, and I had no idea there could be anything wrong; but since then I have heard nothing of my master, and I don’t know when he will return.’
“Questioned by the coroner, she added that Mr. Beddingfield had never stayed away quite so long without having his letters forwarded to him. There was a large pile waiting for him now; she had written to the Great Western Hotel, London, asking what she should do about the letters, but had received no reply. She did not know the messenger by sight who had called for the portmanteau. Once or twice before Mr. Beddingfield had sent for his things in that manner when he had been dining out.
“Mr. Beddingfield certainly wore his Inverness cape over his dress clothes when he went out at about six o’clock in the afternoon. He also wore a Glengarry cap.
“The messenger had so far not yet been found, and from this point—namely, the sending for the portmanteau—all traces of Mr. Timothy Beddingfield seem to have been lost. Whether he went up to London by that 9.35 train or not could not be definitely ascertained. The police had questioned at least a dozen porters at the railway, as well as ticket collectors; but no one had any special recollection of a gentleman in an Inverness cape and Glengarry cap, a costume worn by more than one first-class passenger on a cold night in September.
“There was the hitch, you see; it all lay in this. Mr. Timothy Beddingfield, the lawyer, had undoubtedly made himself scarce. He was last seen in company with the deceased, and wearing an Inverness cape and Glengarry cap; two or three witnesses saw him leaving the hotel at about 9.15. Then the messenger calls at the lawyer’s house for the portmanteau, after which Mr. Timothy Beddingfield seems to vanish into thin air; but—and that is a great ‘but’—the night porter at the ‘Castle’ seems to have seen some one wearing the momentous Inverness and Glengarry half an hour or so later on, and going up to deceased’s room, where he stayed about a quarter of an hour.
“Undoubtedly you will say, as every one said to themselves that day after the night porter and Mrs. Higgins had been heard, that there was a very ugly and very black finger which pointed unpleasantly at Mr. Timothy Beddingfield, especially as that gentleman, for some reason which still required an explanation, was not there to put matters right for himself. But there was just one little thing—a mere trifle, perhaps—which neither the coroner nor the jury dared to overlook, though, strictly speaking, it was not evidence.
“You will remember that when the night porter was asked if he could, among the persons present in court, recognize the Hon. Robert de Genneville’s belated visitor, every one had noticed his hesitation, and marked that the man’s eyes had rested doubtingly upon the face and figure of the young Earl of Brockelsby.
“Now, if that belated visitor had been Mr. Timothy Beddingfield—tall, lean, dry as dust, with a bird-like beak and clean-shaven chin—no one could for a moment have mistaken his face—even if they only saw it very casually and recollected it but very dimly—with that of young Lord Brockelsby, who was florid and rather short—the only point in common between them was their Saxon hair.
“You see that it was a curious point, don’t you?” added the man in the corner, who now had become so excited that his fingers worked like long thin tentacles round and round his bit of string. “It weighed very heavily in favour of Timothy Beddingfield. Added to which you must also remember that, as far as he was concerned, the Hon. Robert de Genneville was to him the goose with the golden eggs.
“The ‘De Genneville peerage case’ had brought Beddingfield’s name in great prominence. With the death of the claimant all hopes of prolonging the litigation came to an end. There was a total lack of motive as far as Beddingfield was concerned.”
“Not so with the Earl of Brockelsby,” said Polly, “and I’ve often maintained——”
“What?” he interrupted. “That the Earl of Brockelsby changed clothes with Beddingfield in order more conveniently to murder his own brother? Where and when could the exchange of costume have been effected, considering that the Inverness cape and Glengarry cap were in the hall of the Castle Hotel at 9.15, and at that hour and until ten o’clock Lord Brockelsby was at the Grand Hotel finishing dinner with some friends? That was subsequently proved, remember, and also that he was back at Brockelsby Castle, which is seven miles from Birmingham, at eleven o’clock sharp. Now, the visit of the individual in the Glengarry occurred some time after 10 p.m.”
“Then there was the disappearance of Beddingfield,” said the girl musingly. “That certainly points very strongly to him. He was a man in good practice, I believe, and fairly well known.”
“And has never been heard of from that day to this,” concluded the old scarecrow with a chuckle. “No wonder you are puzzled. The police were quite baffled, and still are, for a matter of that. And yet see how simple it is! Only the police would not look further than these two men—Lord Brockelsby with a strong motive and the night porter’s hesitation against him, and Beddingfield without a motive, but with strong circumstantial evidence and his own disappearance as condemnatory signs.
“If only they would look at the case as I did, and think a little about the dead as well as about the living. If they had remembered that peerage case, the Hon. Robert’s debts, his last straw which proved a futile claim.
“Only that very day the Earl of Brockelsby had, by quietly showing the original ancient document to his brother, persuaded him how futile were all his hopes. Who knows how many were the debts contracted, the promises made, the money borrowed and obtained on the strength of that claim which was mere romance? Ahead nothing but ruin, enmity with his brother, his marriage probably broken off, a wasted life, in fact.
“Is it small wonder that, though ill-feeling against the Earl of Brockelsby may have been deep, there was hatred, bitter, deadly hatred against the man who with false promises had led him into so hopeless a quagmire? Probably the Hon. Robert owed a great deal of money to Beddingfield, which the latter hoped to recoup at usurious interest, with threats of scandal and what not.
“Think of all that,” he added, “and then tell me if you believe that a stronger motive for the murder of such an enemy could well be found.”
“But what you suggest is impossible,” said Polly, aghast.
“Allow me,” he said, “it is more than possible—it is very easy and simple. The two men were alone together in the Hon. Robert de Genneville’s room after dinner. You, as representing the public, and the police say that Beddingfield went away and returned half an hour later in order to kill his client. I say that it was the lawyer who was murdered at nine o’clock that evening, and that Robert de Genneville, the ruined man, the hopeless bankrupt, was the assassin.”
“Yes, of course, now you remember, for I have put you on the track. The face and the body were so battered and bruised that they were past recognition. Both men were of equal height. The hair, which alone could not be disfigured or obliterated, was in both men similar in colour.
“Then the murderer proceeds to dress his victim in his own clothes. With the utmost care he places his own rings on the fingers of the dead man, his own watch in the pocket; a gruesome task, but an important one, and it is thoroughly well done. Then he himself puts on the clothes of his victim, with finally the Inverness cape and Glengarry, and when the hall is full of visitors he slips out unperceived. He sends the messenger for Beddingfield’s portmanteau and starts off by the night express.”
“But then his visit at the Castle Hotel at ten o’clock——” she urged. “How dangerous!”
“Dangerous? Yes! but oh, how clever. You see, he was the Earl of Brockelsby’s twin brother, and twin brothers are always somewhat alike. He wished to appear dead, murdered by some one, he cared not whom, but what he did care about was to throw clouds of dust in the eyes of the police, and he succeeded with a vengeance. Perhaps—who knows?—he wished to assure himself that he had forgotten nothing in the mise en scène, that the body, battered and bruised past all semblance of any human shape save for its clothes, really would appear to every one as that of the Hon. Robert de Genneville, while the latter disappeared for ever from the old world and started life again in the new.
“Then you must always reckon with the practically invariable rule that a murderer always revisits, if only once, the scene of his crime.
“Two years have elapsed since the crime; no trace of Timothy Beddingfield, the lawyer, has ever been found, and I can assure you that it will never be, for his plebeian body lies buried in the aristocratic family vault of the Earl of Brockelsby.”
He was gone before Polly could say another word. The faces of Timothy Beddingfield, of the Earl of Brockelsby, of the Hon. Robert de Genneville seemed to dance before her eyes and to mock her for the hopeless bewilderment in which she found herself plunged because of them; then all the faces vanished, or, rather, were merged in one long, thin, bird-like one, with bone-rimmed spectacles on the top of its beak, and a wide, rude grin beneath it, and, still puzzled, still doubtful, the young girl too paid for her scanty luncheon and went her way.