The Big Four/Chapter 4

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The Inspector drew a key from his pocket and unlocked the door of Granite Bungalow. The day had been fine and dry, so our feet were not likely to leave any prints; nevertheless, we wiped them carefully on the mat before entering.

A woman came up out of the gloom and spoke to the Inspector, and he turned aside. Then he spoke over his shoulder.

“Have a good look round, Mr. Poirot, and see all there is to be seen. I’ll be back in about ten minutes. By the way, here’s Grant’s boot. I brought it along with me for you to compare the impressions.”

We went into the living-room, and the sound of the Inspector’s footsteps died away outside. Ingles was attracted immediately by some Chinese curios on a table in the corner, and went over to examine them. He seemed to take no interest in Poirot’s doings. I, on the other hand, watched him with breathless interest. The floor was covered with a dark-green linoleum which was ideal for showing up footprints. A door at the farther end led into the small kitchen. From there another door led into the scullery (where the back door was situated), and another into the bedroom which had been occupied by Robert Grant. Having explored the ground, Poirot commented upon it in a low running monologue.

“Here is where the body lay; that big dark stain and the splashes all around mark the spot. Traces of carpet slippers and ‘number nine’ boots, you observe, but all very confused. Then two sets of tracks leading to and from the kitchen; whoever the murderer was, he came in that way. You have the boot, Hastings? Give it to me.” He compared it carefully with the prints. “Yes, both made by the same man, Robert Grant. He came in that way, killed the old man, and went back to the kitchen. He had stepped in the blood; see the stains he left as he went out? Nothing to be seen in the kitchen—all the village has been walking about in it. He went into his own room—no, first he went back again to the scene of the crime—was that to get the little jade figures? Or had he forgotten something that might incriminate him?”

“Perhaps he killed the old man the second time he went in?” I suggested.

Mais non, you do not observe. On one of the outgoing footmarks stained with blood there is superimposed an ingoing one. I wonder what he went back for—the little jade figures as an after thought? It is all ridiculous—stupid.”

“Well, he’s given himself away pretty hopelessly.”

N’est-ce pas? I tell you, Hastings, it goes against reason. It offends my little gray cells. Let us go into his bedroom—ah, yes; there is the smear of blood on the lintel and just a trace of footmarks—blood-stained. Robert Grant’s footmarks, and his only, near the body—Robert Grant the only man who went near the house. Yes, it must be so.”

“What about the old woman?” I said suddenly. “She was in the house alone after Grant had gone for the milk. She might have killed him and then gone out. Her feet would leave no prints if she hadn’t been outside.”

“Very good, Hastings. I wondered whether that hypothesis would occur to you. I had already thought of it and rejected it. Betsy Andrews is a local woman, well known hereabouts. She can have no connection with the Big Four; and, besides, old Whalley was a powerful fellow, by all accounts. This is a man’s work—not a woman’s.”

“I suppose the Big Four couldn’t have had some diabolical contrivance concealed in the ceiling—something which descended automatically and cut the old man’s throat and was afterwards drawn up again?”

“Like Jacob’s ladder? I know, Hastings, that you have an imagination of the most fertile—but I implore of you to keep it within bounds.”

I subsided, abashed. Poirot continued to wander about, poking into rooms and cupboards with a profoundly dissatisfied expression on his face. Suddenly he uttered an excited yelp, reminiscent of a Pomeranian dog. I rushed to join him. He was standing in the larder in a dramatic attitude. In his hand he was brandishing a leg of mutton!

“My dear Poirot!” I cried. “What is the matter? Have you suddenly gone mad?”

“Regard, I pray you, this mutton. But regard it closely!”

I regarded it as closely as I could, but could see nothing unusual about it. It seemed to me a very ordinary leg of mutton. I said as much. Poirot threw me a withering glance.

“But do you not see this—and this—and this———”

He illustrated each “this” with a jab at the unoffending joint, dislodging small icicles as he did so.

Poirot had just accused me of being imaginative, but I now felt that he was far more wildly so than I had ever been. Did he seriously think these slivers of ice were crystals of a deadly poison? That was the only construction I could put upon his extraordinary agitation.

“It's frozen meat,” I explained gently. “Imported, you know. New Zealand.”

He stared at me for a moment or two and then broke into a strange laugh.

“How marvellous is my friend Hastings! He knows everything—but everything! How do they say—Inquire Within Upon Everything. That is my friend Hastings.”

He flung down the leg of mutton on to its dish again and left the larder. Then he looked through the window.

“Here comes our friend the Inspector. It is well. I have seen all I want to see here.” He drummed on the table absent-mindedly, as though absorbed in calculation, and then asked suddenly, What is the day of the week, mon ami?”

“Monday,” I said, rather astonished. “What———?”

“Ah! Monday, is it? A bad day of the week. To commit a murder on a Monday is a mistake.”

Passing back to the living-room, he tapped the glass on the wall and glanced at the thermometer.

“Set fair, and seventy degrees Fahrenheit. An orthodox English summer’s day.”

Ingles was still examining various pieces of Chinese pottery.

“You do not take much interest in this inquiry, monsieur?” said Poirot.

The other gave a slow smile.

“It’s not my job, you see. I’m a connoisseur of some things, but not of this. So I just stand back and keep out of the way. I’ve learnt patience in the East.”

The Inspector came bustling in, apologising for having been so long away. He insisted on taking us over most of the ground again, but finally we got away.

“I must appreciate your thousand politenesses, Inspector,” said Poirot, as we were walking down the village street again. “There is just one more request I should like to put to you.”

“You want to see the body, perhaps, sir?”

“Oh, dear me, no! I have not the least interest in the body. I want to see Robert Grant.”

“You'll have to drive back with me to Moreton to see him, sir.”

“Very well, I will do so. But I must see him and be able to speak to him alone.”

The Inspector caressed his upper lip.

“Well, I don’t know about that, sir.”

“I assure you that if you can get through to Scotland Yard you will receive full authority.”

“I’ve heard of you, of course, sir, and I know you’ve done us a good turn now and again. But it’s very irregular.”

“Nevertheless, it is necessary,” said Poirot calmly. “It is necessary for this reason—Grant is not the murderer.”

“What? Who is, then?”

“The murderer was, I should fancy, a youngish man. He drove up to Granite Bungalow in a trap, which he left outside. He went in, committed the murder, came out, and drove away again. He was bare-headed, and his clothing was slightly blood-stained.”

“But—but the whole village would have seen him!”

“Not under certain circumstances.”

“Not if it was dark, perhaps; but the crime was committed in broad daylight.”

Poirot merely smiled.

“And the horse and trap, sir—how could you tell that? Any amount of wheeled vehicles have passed along outside. There’s no mark of one in particular to be seen.”

“Not with the eyes of the body, perhaps; but with the eyes of the mind, yes.”

The Inspector touched his forehead significantly with a grin at me. I was utterly bewildered, but I had faith in Poirot. Further discussion ended in our all driving back to Moreton with the Inspector. Poirot and I were taken to Grant, but a constable was to be present during the interview . Poirot went straight to the point.

“Grant, I know you to be innocent of this crime. Relate to me in your own words exactly what happened.”

The prisoner was a man of medium height, with a somewhat unpleasing cast of features. He looked a jail-bird if ever a man did.

“Honest to God, I never did it," he whined. “Some one put those little glass figures amongst my traps. It was a frame-up, that’s what it was. I went straight to my rooms when I came in, like I said. I never knew a thing till Betsy screeched out. S’welp me, God, I didn’t.”

Poirot rose.

“If you can’t tell me the truth, that is the end of it.”

“But, guv’nor———”

“You did go into the room—you did know your master was dead; and you were just preparing to make a bolt of it when the good Betsy made her terrible discovery.”

The man stared at Poirot with a dropped jaw.

“Come now, is it not so? I tell you solemnly—on my word of honour—that to be frank now is your only chance.”

“I’ll risk it,” said the man suddenly. “It was just as you say. I came in, and went straight to the master—and there he was, dead on the floor and blood all round. Then I got the wind up proper. They’d ferret out my record, and for a certainty they’d say it was me as had done him in. My only thought was to get away—at once—before he was found———”

“And the jade figures?”

The man hesitated.

“You see———”

“You took them by a kind of reversion to instinct, as it were? You had heard your master say that they were valuable, and you felt you might as well go the whole hog. That, I understand. Now, answer me this. Was it the second time that you went into the room that you took the figures?”

“I didn’t go in a second time. Once was enough for me.”

“You are sure of that?”

“Absolutely certain.

“Good. Now, when did you come out of prison?”

“Two months ago.”

“How did you obtain this job?”

“Through one of them Prisoners’ Help Societies. Bloke met me when I came out.”

“What was he like?”

“Not exactly a parson, but looked like one. Soft black hat and mincing way of talking. Got a broken front tooth. Spectacled chap. Saunders his name was. Said he hoped I was repentant, and that he’d find me a good post. I went to old Whalley on his recommendation.”

Poirot rose once more.

“I thank you. I know all now. Have patience.” He paused in the doorway and added: “Saunders gave you a pair of boots, didn’t he?”

Grant looked very astonished.

“Why, yes, he did. But how did you know?”

“It is my business to know things,” said Poirot gravely.

After a word or two to the Inspector, the three of us went to the White Hart and discussed eggs and bacon and Devonshire cider.

“Any elucidations yet?” asked Ingles, with a smile.

“Yes, the case is clear enough now; but, see you, I shall have a good deal of difficulty in proving it. Whalley was killed by order of the Big Four—but not by Grant. A very clever man got Grant the post and deliberately planned to make him the scapegoat—an easy matter with Grant’s prison record. He gave him a pair of boots, one of two duplicate pairs. The other he kept himself. It was all so simple. When Grant is out of the house, and Betsy is chatting in the village (which she probably did every day of her life), he drives up wearing the duplicate boots, enters the kitchen, goes through into the living-room, fells the old man with a blow, and then cuts his throat. Then he returns to the kitchen, removes the boots, puts on another pair, and, carrying the first pair, goes out to his trap and drives off again.”

Ingles looked steadily at Poirot.

“There’s a catch in it still. Why did nobody see him?”

“Ah! That is where the cleverness of Number Four, I am convinced, comes in. Every body saw him—and yet nobody saw him. You see, he drove up in a butcher’s cart!”

I uttered an exclamation.

“The leg of mutton?”

“Exactly, Hastings, the leg of mutton. Everybody swore that no one had been to Granite Bungalow that morning, but, nevertheless, I found in the larder a leg of mutton, still frozen. It was Monday, so the meat must have been delivered that morning; for if on Saturday, in this hot weather, it would not have remained frozen over Sunday. So some one had been to the Bungalow, and a man on whom a trace of blood here and there would attract no attention.”

“Damned ingenious!” cried Ingles approvingly.

“Yes, he is clever, Number Four.”

“As clever as Hercule Poirot?” I murmured.

My friend threw me a glance of dignified reproach.

“There are some jests that you should not permit yourself, Hastings,” he said sententiously. “Have I not saved an innocent man from being sent to the gallows? That is enough for one day.”