The Shrieking Pit by Arthur J. Rees
"There are several things that I do not understand," said Superintendent Galloway to Colwyn a little later. "How were you able to decide so quickly that Benson had told the truth when he declared that he had not committed the murder, after he had made the damning admission that he had removed the body?"
"Partly because it was extremely unlikely that Benson could have invented a story which fitted so nicely with the facts. The slightest mistake in his times would have proved him to be a liar. But I had more than that to go upon. I said this afternoon that my reconstruction was not wholly satisfactory, because there were several loose ends in it. At that time I believed he was the murderer, and I was anxious to frighten the truth out of him in order to see where my reconstruction was at fault. His story proved that my original conception of the crime was the correct one, and my mistake was in departing from it, and ignoring some of my original clues in order to square the new facts with a fresh theory. I should never have lost sight of my first conviction that there were two persons in Mr. Glenthorpe's room the night he was murdered.
"When Benson told his story I asked myself, Could Charles' conduct be dictated by the desire to have a hold over Benson--with a view to blackmail later on? But he was not likely to risk his own neck by becoming an accomplice in the concealment of the murdered man's body! Charles, if he were innocent himself, must have thought that Benson was the murderer. It was impossible that he could have come to any other conclusion. He discovers a man washing blood off his hands at midnight, and this man admits to him that he has just come from a room which he had no right to enter, and found a dead man there. Why had Charles believed--or pretended to believe--Benson's story?
"It came to me suddenly, with the recollection of the line under the murdered man's window--one of the clues which I had discarded--and the whole of this baffling sinister mystery became clear in my mind. The murder was committed by Charles, who got out of the window by which he had entered just before Benson came into the room. Charles saw a light in the room he had left, and returned to the window to investigate. Crouching outside the window, he saw Benson in the room, examining the body, and it came into his mind as he watched that his employer had conceived the same idea as himself--had seized on the presence of a stranger staying at the inn in order to rob Mr. Glenthorpe, hoping that the crime would be attributed to the man who slept in the next room. Charles was quick to see how Benson's presence in the room might be turned to his own advantage. Charles had taken precautions, in committing the murder, to leave clues in the room which should direct suspicion to Penreath, but the innkeeper's visit to the room suggested to him an even better plan for securing his own safety. When Benson left the room Charles got through the window again, and followed him downstairs.
"Charles' story, told to me when he was dying, filled in the gaps which I have omitted. He said that he watched the whole of Benson's movements from the window. He saw him searching for the money, saw him feel the body, and saw the blood on his hands. When Benson turned to leave the room he forgot the candle, and it was then that the idea of following him leapt into Charles' mind. He divined that Benson would go downstairs and wash the blood off his hands. Charles' idea was to go after him and surprise him in the act. He followed him swiftly, and was never more than a few feet behind. While Benson was striking a match and lighting the kitchen candle Charles slipped into his own room, lit his own candle, and then emerged from his door as though he had been disturbed in his sleep. The rest of his plan was easily carried out through the fears of Benson, who agreed, in his own interests, to conceal the body of the man whom the other had murdered.
"The clue by which Penreath was virtually convicted--the track of bootmarks to the pit--was an accidental one so far as Charles was concerned. It is strange to think that Chance, which removed the clues Charles deliberately placed in the room, should have achieved Charles' aim by directing suspicion to Penreath in a different, yet more convincing manner.
"The murderer's revelation clears up those points which I was unable to settle this afternoon. He entered Mr. Glenthorpe's room during the heaviest part of the storm. He carried a box, under his arm, because he was too short to get into the window without something to stand on, he shielded himself from the rain with an umbrella, which got caught on the nail by the window, and he lit a tallow candle which he had brought from the bar.
"Another clue, which I originally discovered and laid aside, is also explained. The wound in Mr. Glenthorpe's body struck me as an unusual one. You heard Sir Henry Durwood say, in answer to my questions, that the blow was a slanting one, struck from the left side, entering almost parallel with the ribs, yet piercing the heart on the right side. The manner in which Mr. Glenthorpe's arms were thrown out, his legs drawn up, proved that he was lying on his back when murdered. For that reason, the direction of the blow suggested Charles as the murderer."
"I am afraid I do not follow you there," said Mr. Cromering.
"Charles had a malformed right hand; his left hand was his only serviceable one. The blow that killed Mr. Glenthorpe struck me at the time as a left-handed blow. The natural direction of a right-handed blow, with the body in such a position, would be from right to left--not from left to right. But, after considering this point carefully, I came to the conclusion that the blow might have been struck by a right-handed man. I was wrong."
"I do not think you have much cause to blame yourself," said the chief constable. "You were right in your original conception of the crime, and right in your later reconstruction in every particular except----"
"Except that I picked the wrong man," said Colwyn, with a slightly bitter laugh. "My consolation is that Benson's confession brought the truth to light, as I expected it would."
"It took you to see the truth," said Galloway. "I should never have picked it. I suppose there has never been a case like it."
"There is nothing new--not even in the annals of crime," returned Colwyn. "But this was certainly a baffling and unusual case. The murderer was such a deep and subtle scoundrel that I feel a respect for his intelligence, perverted though it was. His master stroke was the disposal of the body. That shielded him from suspicion as completely as an alibi. I put aside my first suspicion of him largely because I realised that it was impossible for a man with a deformed arm to carry away the body. Such a sardonic situation as a murderer persuading another man that he was likely to be suspected of the murder unless he removed the body was one that never occurred to me. That, at all events, is something new in my experience."
"It is a wonder that Charles, with his deformed arm, was able to go down the pit and conceal the money," said the chief constable.
"He did not go down very far. It is not a difficult matter to climb down the creepers inside with the support of one hand, and he was able to use the other sufficiently to thrust the small peg into the soft earth. He first hid the money in the breakwater wall, being too careful and clever to hide it in the pit until after the inquest. When he had concealed it in the pit he revived the story of the White Lady of the Shrieking Pit so as to keep the credulous villagers away from the spot. He need not have taken that precaution, because the hiding place was an excellent one, and it was only by chance that I discovered the money when I descended the pit. But he left nothing to chance. The use of the umbrella on the night of the murder proves that. Murderers do not usually carry umbrellas, but he did, because he feared that if his clothes got wet they might be seen in his room the following day, and direct suspicion to him. He chose to commit the crime when the storm was at its height because he thought he was safest from the likelihood of discovery then.
"The callous scoundrel told me with his last breath that he was waiting until Penreath was safely hanged before disappearing with the money. When he opened the door to us to-night, he knew that he was at the end of his tether, and he decided to try to bolt. He realised that Benson would tell the truth when he was questioned and, although the innkeeper's story did not implicate him directly, he did our common intelligence the justice to believe that, through his dupe's confession, we should arrive at the truth."