The parlourmaid seemed to think there was nothing
odd in his mission, and took him up to the drawing-room at once. A corner of
the room was devoted
to the silver-framed photographs of Mrs. Verreker-le-Flemming’s friends, and
there were many of them. Roger examined them with interest, and finally took
away with him not two photographs but six, those of Sir William, Mrs.
Beresford, Beresford, two strange males who appeared to belong to the Sir
William period, and, lastly, a likeness of Mrs. Verreker-le-Flemming herself. Roger liked
confusing his trail.
For the rest of the day he was very busy.
His activities would have no doubt seemed to Mrs.
Verreker-le-Flemming not merely baffling but pointless. He paid a visit to a
public library, for instance, and consulted a work of reference, after which he
took a taxi and
drove to the offices of the Anglo-Eastern Perfumery Company, where he inquired
for a certain Mr. Joseph Lea Hardwick and
seemed much put out on hearing that no such gentleman was known to the
firm and was certainly not employed in any of their branches. Many questions
had to be put about the firm and its branches before he consented to abandon
that he drove to Messrs. Weall and Wilson, the well-known institution
which protects the trade interests of individuals and advises its subscribers
regarding investments. Here he entered his name as a subscriber, and explaining
that he had a large sum of money to invest, filled in one of the special
inquiry forms which are headed Strictly Confidential.
Then he went to the Rainbow Club, in Piccadilly.
Introducing himself to the porter without a blush
as connected with Scotland Yard, he asked the man a number of questions, more
or less trivial, concerning the tragedy.
«Sir William, I understand», he said finally, as if
by the way, «did not dine here the evening before».
There it appeared that Roger was wrong. Sir William
had dined in the club, as he did about three times a week.
«But I quite understood he wasn’t here that
evening», Roger said plaintively.
The porter was emphatic. He remembered quite well.
So did a waiter, whom the porter summoned to corroborate him. Sir William had
dined, rather late, and had not left the dining-room till about nine o’clock.
He spent the evening there, too, the waiter knew, or at least some оf it, for he himself had
taken him a whisky and soda in the lounge not less than half an hour later.
He retired to Merton’s, in a taxi.
It seemed that he wanted some new note paper
printed, of a very special kind, and to the young woman behind the counter he
specified at great length and in wearisome detail exactly what he did want. The
young woman handed him the books of specimen pieces and asked him to see if
there was any style there which would suit him. Roger glanced through them, remarking
garrulously to the young woman that he had been recommended to Merton’s by a
very dear friend, whose photograph he happened to have on him at that moment.
Wasn’t that a curious coincidence? The young woman agreed that it was.
«About a fortnight ago, I think, my friend was in
here last», said Roger, producing the photograph. «Recognise this?».
The young woman took the photograph, without
«Oh, yes, I remember. About some note paper, too,
wasn’t it? So that’s your friend. Well, it’s a small world. Now this is a line
we’re selling a good deal of just now».
Roger went back to his rooms to dine. Afterwards,
feeling restless, he wandered out of the Albany
and turned up Piccadilly. He wandered round the Circus, thinking hard, and
paused for a moment out of habit to inspect the photographs of the new revue
hung outside the Pavilion. The next thing he realised was that he had got as
far as Jermyn Street
and was standing outside the Imperial Theatre. Glancing at the advertisements
of The Creaking Skull, he saw that it began at half past eight. Glancing at his watch, he saw
that the time was twenty-nine minutes past the hour. Не. had an evening to get through somehow. He went inside.
The next morning, very early for Roger, he called
on Moresby at Scotland Yard.
he said without preamble, «I want you to do something for me. Can you find me a
taximan who took a fare from Piccadilly Circus or its neighbourhood at about ten past nine on the
evening before the Beresford crime to the Strand somewhere near the bottom of
Southampton Street, and another who took a fare back between those points? I’m
not sure about the first. Or one taxi might have been used for the double journey, but I doubt that. Anyhow, try to
find out for me, will you?».
«What are you up to now, Mr. Sheringham?», Moresby
«Breaking down an interesting alibi», replied Roger
serenely. «By the way, I know who sent those chocolates to Sir William. I’m
just building up a nice structure of evidence for you. Ring up my rooms when you’ve got those taximen».
He strolled out, leaving Moresby positively gaping
The rest of the day he spent apparently trying to
buy a second-hand typewriter. He was very particular that it should be a
Hamilton No. 4. When
the shop people tried to induce him to consider other makes he refused to
look at them, saying that he had had the Hamilton No. 4 so strongly recommended to him
by a friend who had bought one about three weeks ago. Perhaps it was at this very shop? No? They
hadn’t sold a Hamilton No. 4 for the last three months? How old.
But at one shop they had sold a Hamilton No. 4 within the last
month, and that was odder still.
Al half past four Roger got back to his rooms to
await the telephone message from Moresby. At half past five it came.
«There are fourteen taxidrivers here, littering up
my office», said Moresby offensively. «What do you want me to do with ’em?».
«Keep them till I come, Chief Inspector», returned Roger with dignity.
The interview with the fourteen was brief enough,
however. To each man in turn Roger showed a photograph, holding it so that
Moresby could not see it, and asked if he could recognise his fare. The ninth
man did so, without hesitation.
At a nod from Roger, Moresby dismissed
them, then sat at his table and tried to look official. Roger seated himself on
the table, looking most unofficial, and swung his legs. As he did so, a
photograph fell unnoticed out of his pocket and fluttered, face downwards,
under the table. Moresby
eyed it but did not pick it up.
«And now, Mr. Sheringham, sir», he said, «perhaps
you’ll tell me what you’ve been doing?».
«Certainly, Moresby», said Roger blandly. «Your
work for you. I really have solved the thing, you know. Here’s your evidence».
He took from his notecase an old letter and handed it to the Chief Inspector.
«Was that typed on the same machine as the forged letter from Mason’s, or was it not?».
Moresby studied it for a moment, then drew the
forged letter from a
drawer of his table and compared the two minutely.
«Mr. Sheringham», he said soberly, «where did you
get hold of this?».
second-hand typewriter shop in St. Martin’s
Lane. The machine was sold to an unknown customer about a month ago. They
identified the customer from that same photograph. As it happened, this machine
had been used for a time in the office after it was repaired, to see that it
was O.K., and I easily
got hold of that specimen of its work».
where is the machine now?».
the bottom of the Thames, I expect», Roger
smiled. «I tell you, this criminal takes no unnecessary chances. But that
doesn’t matter. There’s your evidence».
It’s all right so far as it goes», conceded Moresby. «But what about Mason’s
«That», said Roger
calmly, «was extracted from Merton’s book of sample note papers, as I’d guessed
from the very yellowed edges might be the case. I can prove contact of the
criminal with the book, and there is a gap which will certainly turn out to
have been filled by that piece of paper».
fine», said Moresby more heartily.
«As for the taximan,
the criminal had an alibi. You’ve heard it broken down. Between ten past nine
and twenty-five past, in fact during the time when the parcel must have been
posted, the murderer took a hurried journey to that neighbourhood, going
probably by bus or Underground, but returning, as I expected, by taxi, because
time would be getting short».
murderer, Mr. Sheringham?».
«The person whose
photograph is in my pocket», Roger said unkindly. «By the way, do you remember
what I was saying the other day about Chance the Avenger, my excellent film
title? Well, it’s worked again. By a chance meeting in Bond Street with a silly
woman I was put, by the merest accident, in possession of a piece of
information which showed me then and there who had sent those chocolates
addressed to Sir William. There were other possibilities, of course, and I
tested them, but then and there on the pavement I saw the whole thing, from
first to last».
«Who was the
murderer, then, Mr. Sheringham?», repeated Moresby.
«It was so
beautifully planned», Roger went on dreamily. «We never grasped for one moment
that we were making the fundamental mistake that the murderer all along
intended us to make».
«And what was
that?», asked Moresby.
«Why, that the plan
had miscarried. That the wrong person had been killed. That was just the beauty
of it. The plan had not miscarried.
It had been brilliantly successful. The wrong person was not killed. Very much the right person was».
«Why, how on earth
do you make that out, sir?».
Beresford was the objective all the time. That’s why the plot was so ingenious.
Everything was anticipated. It was perfectly natural that Sir William should hand the chocolates over to
Beresford. It was foreseen that we should look for the criminal among Sir
William’s associates and not the dead woman’s. It was probably even foreseen that the crime
would be considered the work of a woman!».
unable to wait any longer, snatched up the photograph.
«Good heavens! But
Mr. Sheringham, you don’t mean to tell me that ... Sir William himself!».
«He wanted to get
rid of Mrs. Beresford», Roger continued. «He had liked her well enough at the
beginning, no doubt, though it was her money he was after all the time.
«But the real
trouble was that she was too close with her money. He wanted it, or some of it,
pretty badly; and she wouldn’t part. There’s no doubt about the motive. I made
a list of the firms he’s
interested in and got a report on them. They’re all rocky (22), every
one. He’d got through all his own money, and he had to get more.
«As for the
nitrobenzine which puzzled us so much, that was simple enough. I looked it up
and found that beside the uses you told me, it’s used largely in perfumery. And
he’s got a perfumery business. The Anglo-Eastern Perfumery Company.
That’s how he’d know about it being poisonous, of course. But I shouldn’t think
he got his supply from there. He’d be cleverer than that. He probably made the
stuff himself. Any schoolboy knows how to treat benzol with nitric acid to get
Moresby, «but Sir William ... . He was at Eton (23)».
William?», said Roger sharply. «Who’s talking about Sir William? I told you the
photograph of the murderer was in my pocket». He whipped out the photograph in
question and confronted the astounded Chief Inspector with it. «Beresford, man!
Beresford’s the murderer of his own wife.
«Beresford, who still had hankerings after a gay life», he went on more
mildly, «didn’t want his wife but did want her money. He contrived this plot,
providing as he thought against every contingency that could possibly arise. He
established a mild alibi, if suspicion ever should arise, by taking his wife to
the Imperial, and slipped out of the theatre at the first interval. (I sat
through the first act of the dreadful thing myself last night to see when the
interval came.) Then he hurried down to the Strand,
posted his parcel, and took a taxi back. He had ten minutes, but nobody would
notice if he got back to the box a minute late.
«And the rest simply followed. He knew Sir
William came to the club every morning at ten thirty, as regularly as
clockwork; he knew that for a psychological certainty he could get the
chocolates handed over to him if he hinted for them; he knew that the police
would go chasing after all sorts of false trails starting from Sir William. And
as for the wrapper and the forged letter, he carefully didn’t destroy them
because they were calculated not only to divert suspicion but actually to point
away from him to some anonymous lunatic».
«Well, it’s very
smart of you, Mr. Sheringham», Moresby said, with a little sigh, but quite
ungrudgingly. «Very smart indeed. What was it the lady told you that showed you
the whole thing in a flash?».
«Why, it wasn’t so
much what she actually told me as what I heard between her words, so to speak.
What she told me was that Mrs. Beresford knew the answer to that bet; what I
deduced was that, being the sort of person she was, it was quite incredible
that she should have made a bet to which she knew the answer. Ergo (24), she didn’t. Ergo, there never was such a
bet. Ergo, Beresford was
lying. Ergo, Beresford
wanted to get hold of those chocolates for some reason other than he stated.
After all, we only had Beresford’s word for the bet, hadn’t we?
«Of course he wouldn’t have left her
that afternoon till he’d seen her take, or somehow made her take, at least six
of the chocolates, more than a lethal dose. That’s why the stuff was in those
meticulous six-minim doses. And so that he could take a couple himself, of
course. A clever stroke, that».
rose to his feet.
Sheringham, I’m much obliged to you, sir. And now I shall have to get busy
myself». He scratched his head. «Chance the Avenger, eh? Well, I can tell you
one pretty big thing Beresford left to Chance the Avenger, Mr. Sheringham.
Suppose Sir William hadn’t handed over the chocolates after all? Supposing he’d
kept ’em, to give to one of his own ladies?».
snorted. He felt a personal pride in Beresford by this time.
Moresby! It wouldn’t have had any serious results if Sir William had. Do give
my man credit for being what he is. You don’t imagine he sent the poisoned ones to Sir William, do
you? Of course not! He’d send harmless ones, and exchange them for the others
on his way home. Dash it all, he wouldn’t go right out of his way to present
opportunities to Chance».
added Roger, «Chance really is the right word».
Anthony Berkeley, an English detective story writer.
1. club: the typical club is
an all-male society with an expensive annual subscription and premises where
its members can meet and enjoy the club’s facilities. The clubs strictly guard
the criteria for selecting their membership, which is generally elected by the
2. Piccadilly: a street in
the West End of London. The thoroughfare is supposed to have got its odd name
from one Robert Baker, a tailor, who made pickadils
(collars or ruffs). His house was named Piccadilly Hall and before long the
name meant the street itself.
3. blank: a euphemism for damn, from the once usual form of
4. ill wind: here unhealthy trend.
5. he had a finger in a good many
business pies: he was actively involved in many business undertakings.
6. but Beresford, whose wild
oats, though duly sown, had been a sparse crop, was ready enough to be a
Puritan himself: but Beresford who had never been given to a life of
pleasure and gaiety while young was quite prepared to settle down seriously and
abide by rigid moral standards.
7. to make no bones about it:
here beyond doubt.
8. kirsch (German): a cherry liqueur.
9. maraschino: a sweet
liqueur made from black Dalmatian cherries.
10. By Jove (coll): here an exclamation of surprise.
11. neat: undiluted, without
12. minim: here one drop. Minim is a fluid measure: one sixtieth of a drachm.
a brute of a case: a horrifying case. This type of metaphorical epithet will often be
used for emphasis, as in a brute of a
fellow, a fool of a boy, a shadow of a smile, etc.
14. on the modern side:
concerned with modern subjects, that is chemistry and physics.
15. bird (sl): a fellow. A classical bird means a school student studying the classics (that
is Latin and Greek – language and literature).
16. house: here a school boarding house.
17. light-o’-love: a woman
who is wanton or inconstant in her love.
18. humph!: an expression of
dissatisfaction or doubt.
19. fat chance (coll): no chance at all; usually
20. poetic justice: fitting
allotment of rewards or punishments to good and evil characters in a play.
21. play the game: act
22. rocky (coll): unreliable, financially insecure.
23. Eton: Eton College,
a famous public school for boys, near Windsor,
founded in 1440.
24. ergo (Lat): therefore.
1. What happened on the morning of the fifteenth of November?
2. What parcel did Sir William Anstruther get in his mail?
3. Why did he hand it over so readily to Graham Beresford?
4. How well did the two men know each other?
5. What caused Mrs. Beresford’s death?
6. What facts came to light during the police investigation of the case?
7. Why were the police baffled?
8. What was the Chief Inspector Moresby’s purpose in telling the story
of the crime to Roger Sheringham?
9. What facts did Roger Sheringham establish in the course of his
10. Whom did the police suspect?
11. Who was the true murderer?
(b) Read through the
story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:
1. Graham Beresford had laid his plans carefully.
2. But for the merest chance the crime would have remained unsolved.
3. It was an ordinary sort of case if you knew where to look for the
(c) Talking points:
1. What makes this a typical detective story?
2. Explain the title of the story.
3. How valid do you think is Roger Sheringham’s statement: «A tremendous
lot of cases get solved by a stroke of sheer luck»?
4. Why did the fact of Sir William Anstruther having been to Eton rule him out as a possible suspect?