Murder in the Museum, A British Library Crime Classic (8 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Museum, A British Library Crime Classic
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“Would you be surprised to know that he left money to you?” asked Cunningham, and Moss grinned.

“I certainly should,” he said. “The old devil never did anything for me in his lifetime, and I shouldn't expect him to do anything for me after his death.”

“Well,” said Cunningham, not knowing, of course, what the disclosure of the will might bring forth, and in any case not wishing to give away any information, but thinking that this might prove a useful lever to extract the data that he needed, “I can't give you any information about that, but we understand that you may benefit under his will.”

“Hope to God I do,” answered Moss. “I'm pretty well broke at the moment, old man, and I don't mind admitting it. So the old fellow has turned up trumps after all, has he?”

“Don't go counting too certainly on that, sir,” Cunningham advised him. “I only told you that it was at any rate possible.”

“I imagine that your ‘possible' is as good as another man's ‘certain,'” returned the other, and Cunningham let the matter rest at that.

“There's another point,” he said, “that has to be settled—purely as a matter of form. This is a question that we have to ask everyone who might be connected with the case, or who might be expected to benefit by Professor Arnell's death.”

“Carry on,” said Moss. “You won't offend me, whatever your question is. I'm not one of these thin-skinned devils who take offence at every question.”

“Can you give me an account of your movements yesterday?” asked Cunningham.

Moss whistled softly. “Alibis, eh?” he said, and Cunningham nodded.

“You will understand that it is important to trace the alibis of everyone in any way connected with the case,” he explained, although he reflected that the explanation was probably quite unnecessary.

“Let me see, now,” Moss said thoughtfully. “What exactly did I do? Oh, yes, I know. I went to the British Museum in the morning.”

Cunningham was unable to restrain the “What?” that sprung unbidden to his lips.

“Yes,” said Moss. “The British Museum. What's wrong with that? Nothing unlawful about going to look at the Egyptian antiquities, is there? I happen to be interested in ancient Egypt, and I went along there to have a look at them. O.K.?”

“O.K.,” said Cunningham. “What time were you in the British Museum?”

“From about eleven o'clock until half-past twelve, I should think,” answered Moss. “I had had a thickish night the night before, and I didn't have breakfast until after ten.”

“What did you do when you left the Museum?” pursued Cunningham.

“Went to my firm's place off Regent Street,” answered the young Jew. “There was an old lady there who was trying to decide whether she wanted a car or not. I ran her out to Slough and back—along the Great West Road—had tea with her, and succeeded in landing the sale at about half-past six.”

“Then?” Cunningham was resolved to leave nothing to chance, although he felt fairly sure that the crucial part of the alibi would lie in the time which the young man had spent at the British Museum.

“Then I went home, had some dinner in my flat, and went to my pub—the Fifteen Swords in Bloomsbury Street—where I played shove-ha'penny until closing time. Then to bed, as old Pepys used to say.”

“What parts of the day have you any sort of alibi for?” asked Cunningham. “I mean, what times have you any confirmation for?”

Again the young man plunged deep in thought. “The British Museum part I think I can confirm,” he said. “I had a chat with the curator of the Egyptian Antiquities Room. A friend of mine has been doing some excavations in Luxor, and some of his stuff was on show there. He asked me to go and make enquiries about what they were doing. I think that fellow will know me, and will remember my being there.”

“And the rest of the day?”

“Well, the old lady—Mrs. Hatton, of Slough—will bear me out for the period from one-thirty until six or so, the waiter fellow at the flats where I live will give you the time I had dinner, and the barman at the pub, as well as some of the ‘regulars' there, will give you my times for the evening,” announced the young man. “I don't think, in fact, that there will be any difficulty for any part of the day. I think my alibi, my dear old chap, is about as watertight as it can be.”

“Seems quite satisfactory,” said Cunningham, putting into his voice far more conviction than he really felt.

“Anything more?” asked Moss, obviously getting restive under this cross-examination.

“Not much,” Cunningham admitted. “Only the names and addresses of the people concerned.”

“By Jove, you fellows are pretty thorough, aren't you?” said Moss, in open admiration.

“Have to be in our job, sir,” said Cunningham, and wrote down the names and addresses that the young man gave him.

“And now,” said Moss, when the work was apparently complete, “am I free to go where I like?”

“Perfectly free, sir,” said Cunningham, “although I should like you if you happen to leave London, to let us know where we can get hold of you. You are an important person in this case, you see, and we just can't afford to lose touch with you.”

“Right-ho,” Moss answered. “I'll take care to do that. And that really is all?”

“That,” Cunningham said, “really is all.”

As he was about to leave the club, now rapidly filling up, Moss called him back.

“Might I be permitted to ask you one question, old man?” he asked.

“If you want to, fire away,” answered Cunningham. “Although, mind you,” he added cautiously, “I can't guarantee to answer it. That must depend on my judgment.”

“Oh, of course, I understand that,” said Moss, with a smile. “Official secrecy and all that sort of thing. That's understood, of course; that goes without saying. Oh, yes, certainly.”

Cunningham was rather puzzled at this indecision of Moss. The young man seemed uneasy and on edge, as if there were a question on the tip of his tongue, a question which he was longing to ask, but which, none the less, he did not dare to risk putting to the test.

“Well,” he said, at length, when Moss seemed to have talked himself to a standstill, so to speak, and did not show any inclination to ask this question, whatever it might be, “what is this question that you want to ask me?”

“Why,” asked Moss, “were you so surprised when I said that I'd been at the British Museum yesterday?”

“Do you mean to say you don't know?” asked Cunningham.

Moss shook his head mutely.

“You said you read in the papers of Professor Arnell's death,” Cunningham went on.

“That's right,” said Moss.

“Didn't your paper mention where he died?”

“No. Or if so, I didn't notice it.”

“He died,” said Cunningham slowly, “in the Reading Room of the British Museum.”

Before he left Sally's Club the detective saw Moses Moss slowly walk towards the bar, his face a ghastly white, and order a double brandy.

Chapter X

An Appeal

Mr. Henry Fairhurst clicked his teeth in annoyance. “Dear, dear,” he said mildly. “Now isn't that too annoying for words?”

Miss Fairhurst looked up from her book. “Isn't what annoying, Henry?” she asked. “I wish that you wouldn't make these ridiculous statements without at least trying to explain what they mean.”

“Did I say that aloud?” asked her brother. “Really, Sarah, I wasn't aware that I spoke my thoughts. I was, to tell you the truth, only thinking aloud.”

“If you think aloud, Henry,” returned Miss Fairhurst, “you should be prepared to share your thoughts and make an effort at explaining them.”

“I was merely thinking,” said Henry, dutifully explaining—as requested, “that it was very annoying that Mr. Shelley did not invite me to help him over the case.”

“Nonsense!” Miss Fairhurst could put a lot of healthy contempt into one word, especially when that word was accompanied by a snort of gargantuan proportions. “Do you imagine, Henry Fairhurst, that any single creature on God's earth thinks of you as a useful detective?”

Henry smiled deprecatingly, and gripped his pince-nez firmly before replying. “Well, one person does, at any rate, my dear,” he said.

“What?” His sister sat bolt upright in her chair, and regarded him with an air of complete astoundment. “Who, may I ask?”

“One of the principal witnesses in this case,” he said, “rang up this afternoon while you were out shopping, my dear Sarah, and asked if she might come around to discuss the case with me.”


She?
” Sarah pounced on the most important word in the sentence. “Who is this hussy, I should like to know?”

“Miss Arnell,” explained Henry. He was somewhat fearful, it must be admitted. This was the first time that he had dared to do such a thing as bringing a young woman to the house, and he was not at all certain of what would be the outcome of it. Sarah was a curious creature, the workings of whose mind he had never succeeded in fathoming, but he was sure that this would be a matter for fireworks of one kind or another. And he was not mistaken.

“Miss Arnell, indeed!” exclaimed Sarah. “And who, pray, is Miss Arnell?”

“The daughter of the man I saw murdered in the Museum Reading Room,” explained Henry, feeling more like a worm with each moment that passed.

“And when have you taken the liberty of inviting her to my house?” asked his sister, magnificently disregarding the fact that the house and its contents were actually Henry's own property.

“This evening,” Henry faltered. “In fact,” he went on, as the outer bell rang, “in fact, I—er—I should think that is her at the door now.”

Miss Fairhurst set her face grimly and looked towards the door as Miss Arnell entered. Nor did that young lady's charm and sweetness do anything to alter the steady determination on Miss Fairhurst's countenance. She was clearly resolved to preserve her dignity and yet, at the same time, to study the young lady at close quarters. Although she said nothing to express such an opinion, both Henry Fairhurst and his visitor felt sure that his sister was mentally asking herself if the young lady could, by any possibility, be a parricide.

“This is Miss Arnell, my dear,” said Henry nervously. “And this, Miss Arnell, is my sister, Miss Fairhurst.”

“How do you do, Miss Fairhurst?” said Violet Arnell, holding out her hand to the grim old gorgon and smiling her most winning smile.

“Uh,” said Miss Fairhurst, taking the hand in her own for a moment, and then dropping it again as if it had been red hot.

“Won't you sit down?” said Henry, still nervous, but feeling that, with every moment that passed, he was getting a better control of the situation, difficult though that situation still was.

“Thank you,” she said gratefully, and sank into the depths of a cosy arm-chair.

“And now,” Henry went on, “can you tell me what I can do for you, Miss Arnell?”

She shuffled a little in her chair. She was plainly ill at ease. Whatever her request might be, she seemed to be finding it difficult to put into words. She made one or two attempts to speak, and then, with a plaintive smile, gulped, and began again.

“I understand, Mr. Fairhurst,” she said at last, “that you know a good deal about this case.”

“Huh!” Sarah grunted contemptuously, but Henry, taking his courage in both hands, disregarded her interruption and devoted himself to replying to Miss Arnell's question.

“I know a certain amount about it,” he said modestly. “You see, I happen to have seen your father just before his unfortunate death, Miss Arnell. And I happen to have been the person who was able to discover that Dr. Wilkinson, of Northfield University, died in somewhat similar circumstances some months ago.”

“I understood that from the papers,” she said. “It was that that made me ring you up, Mr. Fairhurst. I just looked your name up in the telephone book. Oh, you must help me!”

“Of course I will,” he replied earnestly. “But what is it that you want me to do? And, in any case, why are you so upset? I know that this death of your father is a very dreadful thing…but why the sudden upset feeling now? Why did you ring me up today?”

Violet Arnell looked him straight in the face. Her eyes brimmed over with tears, and her mouth set in a hard line. The effort of keeping her composure was clearly a troublesome one. Then she spoke, pronouncing each word separately, with a distinct pause between each, as if she found the very act of articulation difficult.

“They…arrested…Harry…Baker…today,” she said.

While Henry was still puzzling over this statement he saw a surprising thing. He saw Sarah's face dissolve into a sudden unwonted kindness, and he saw Sarah swiftly rise from her chair, and go towards Violet Arnell. His sister turned her head in his direction, and spoke in a strange, clipped voice.

“Go into the kitchen quickly,” she said. “Open the cupboard on the left of the gas-oven, and get out that bottle of brandy. Quick, man! Don't stand there like a ninny. Do what I tell you.”

There was such an air of masterful determination about her that Henry went without hesitation. What she wanted with brandy he could not think. But then Henry, as should by this time be clear enough, did not really understand feminine human nature.

When he returned with the brandy and a tumbler Sarah took the bottle and glass from him without a word, poured out a good stiff dose, and gave it to Violet Arnell.

“There, my dear,” she said. “You'll feel better when you've put that away.”

Without a word Violet Arnell took the proffered glass, and gulped off the pungent spirit, not without a good deal of coughing and spluttering in the process.

“Ah,” she said, “that's much better, thanks.” She smiled gratefully at them both.

“I thought so,” said Miss Fairhurst, with a satisfied grin. All her disapproval seemed to have vanished in this little effort of restoration. “You were on the verge of fainting. I had to get this fool of a brother of mine to get some brandy for you.”

“Silly of me,” said Miss Arnell, smiling wistfully again. “I'm sorry. But, you see, I felt so hopeless about Harry. You will help me, won't you?”

“Of course he will,” remarked Sarah, taking her brother's permission for granted. “Of course he'll do all he can to help you. And he's not such a fool as all that, really, although he does act like a perfect idiot sometimes.”

“Don't you think,” Henry interjected nervously, “that it would be a good idea if Miss Arnell told us what it's all about? Except that they arrested Harry Baker—and I don't even know who Harry Baker is—I've learnt nothing at all since Miss Arnell came in.”

“Of course,” she said suddenly. “I didn't tell you anything, did I? So foolish of me.”

“Well,” said Henry and waited.

Violet Arnell took herself firmly in hand and began. “Harry Baker,” she said, “is my fiancé. We have been engaged for some months now. But my father strongly disapproved of the engagement. He said that he wouldn't see me marrying a penniless young schoolmaster. He thought that I should aim at someone a little higher on the social scale. Father,” she added, “was a rather old-fashioned man. A good crusted old Tory, someone once called him, and I'm afraid that it was a pretty good description of him.”

Henry made sympathetic noises and waited again.

“Father went as far as to say that if I married Harry he'd cut me out of his will, and leave all his money to a queer cousin of mine—a man called Moses Moss,” she went on.

“But what about your fiancé's arrest?” asked Henry. “You see, that provides him with an excellent motive, if I may say so, for murdering your father. But the police don't work on motive alone, you know. They want proof of opportunity to commit a crime. And in this case there are two crimes.”

“Three,” corrected his sister, and read from the newspaper before her an account of the death of Dr. Crocker, which had taken place the night before. Henry looked at her aghast.

“You see,” went on Violet Arnell, “it's not merely that Harry had a reason for putting father out of the way. He inherited some money from Dr. Wilkinson, who was a distant relative of his. That was what put the police on his track, I think.”

“Even so,” murmured Henry thoughtfully, “that's no real reason why he should be arrested. Motive in the two cases would not be enough alone. They must have more to go on than that.”

“They have,” Violet explained somewhat grimly. “Harry was outside the British Museum last night, at the time when the murder was committed.”

“Good Lord!” Henry Fairhurst did not often permit himself the use of strong language of this sort, but he felt that this was a privileged occasion.

“How on earth,” he asked, when he had recovered his equanimity, “was he such a fool as to venture there last night?”

“That's really what I've come to you about, Mr. Fairhurst,” replied the girl. “Last night Harry was going to see me. After he had finished correcting some examination papers at school he had promised to call around and see me. But while I was at tea a note from him was brought round by one of the boys. This is it.” She fumbled in her handbag and produced a letter which she passed over to Mr. Fairhurst, who, conscious that his sister was craning her neck in a vain effort to peer over his shoulder and read it, proceeded to read its contents aloud.

“Dear Violet,” the note said, “I'm afraid that I shan't be able to come tonight. I've received a most mysterious missive, telling me to be outside the British Museum from midnight onwards. It hints that there will be developments with regard to the death of your father. I suspect that the police are going to try out something. Anyhow, my dear, I must be there, so I'm going straight up to town when school ends. Will give you a ring in the morning and tell you all about it. Wish me luck. Love. Harry.”

“You see, Miss Fairhurst?” said Violet. “It must have been some sort of trap. Oh, who can this villain be? Why has he such a grudge against Harry?” She was on the verge of tears, and Sarah, again much to her brother's surprise, made her way across the room to the girl's side and patted her hand sympathetically.

“Never you mind, my dear,” she said. “Henry will do something for you, and for your young man, too. Won't you, Henry?”

Henry, plunged deep in a daydream in which he outwitted Scotland Yard as well as the cleverest brains in the underworld, roused himself to reply.

“I'll do my best,” he announced, and Violet Arnell brightened up immediately.

“First of all,” he added, “can you tell me if the original of this letter is anywhere to be had, Miss Arnell? I mean, of course, the note that was used to lure your fiancé to the neighbourhood of the British Museum last night. After all, if he's to put up any sort of defence, it is essential that it should be found. Otherwise, his explanation of why he was there will sound very weak, very weak indeed.”

“I don't know,” Miss Arnell replied. “You see, I haven't seen Harry since…since his arrest.”

“Well, that's the first thing to be seen to, anyway,” remarked Henry with an air of intense resolution. “And then there is the matter of his inheritance from Dr. Wilkinson. Did he expect that, or was it a bolt from the blue, so to speak? Do you happen to know anything at all about it, Miss Arnell? It would certainly be most helpful if you could tell me anything about it.”

“A complete bolt from the blue, I think,” she announced. “I know that Harry was both surprised and delighted at the legacy. He said that he hadn't even known that Dr. Wilkinson was related to him, not to mention the expectation of a legacy from him.”

“That's a useful point, anyhow,” replied Henry, and then paused, deep in thought once more.

“I don't think,” he announced at length, “that there is much that I can do here. I think that I shall have to go to Scotland Yard and see if they can help me at all. After all, I've been of some use to them in this case. I've been able to provide them with some good information, and, if I tell them that I am acting on your behalf, I am sure that they will be pleased to tell me what is being done, and what are the grounds for their arrest of Mr. Baker.”

“Would you do that for me, Mr. Fairhurst?” asked Violet Arnell, her voice plaintively pleading her case. “If you would, I should be so grateful. You see, I have no one now that father is dead and Harry is arrested. I know that Harry can't be guilty of these horrible crimes, but I feel so completely helpless. There seems to be nothing that I can do.”

“That's all right, my dear,” interjected Sarah gruffly. “We'll do everything we can to help you. We'll get the rogue who's responsible for all this. Never worry.”

“I think,” Henry announced, “that I'll go straight up to Scotland Yard now.”

BOOK: Murder in the Museum, A British Library Crime Classic
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