The Shrieking Pit by Arthur J. Rees
The innkeeper answered the bell in person, and was ordered by the chief constable to take a seat and tell everything he knew about the previous night's events, without equivocation or reserve. He took a chair at the table, his bright bird's glance wandering from one to the other of the faces opposite him as he smoothed with one claw-like hand the thatch of iron-grey hair which hung down over his forehead almost to his eyes.
"Where shall I begin?" he asked.
"You had better start by telling us how this young man Ronald came to your house yesterday afternoon, and then give us an account of the subsequent events, so far as you know them," said the chief constable.
"I was down near the breakwater yesterday evening, setting some eel-lines in the canal, when he arrived," commenced the innkeeper. "When I came in, Charles--that's the waiter--told me there was a young gentleman in the bar parlour waiting to see me. I went into the parlour, and saw the young man sitting near the door. He looked very tired and weary, and said he wished to stay at the inn for the night."
"How was he dressed?" asked Superintendent Galloway, looking up from his note-book.
"In a grey Norfolk suit, with knickerbockers, and a soft felt hat."
"Had you ever seen him before?"
"No, sir. He was a complete stranger to me. I could see he was a gentleman. I told him I could not take him in, as the inn was only a poor rough place, with no accommodation for gentlefolk at the best of times, let alone war-time. The young gentleman said he was very tired and would sleep anywhere, and was not particular about food. He told me he had lost his way on the marshes, and a fisherman had directed him to the inn."
"Did he say where he had come from?" asked the chief constable.
"No, sir, and I didn't think to ask him. I might have done so, but Mr. Glenthorpe walked into the parlour just then, carrying some partridges in his hand. He didn't see the young gentleman at first--he was sitting in the corner behind the door--but told me to have one of the partridges cooked for his dinner. They had just been given to him, he said, by the farmer whose land he was going to excavate next week. As he turned to go out he saw the young gentleman sitting in the corner, and he said, in his hearty way: 'Good evening, sir; it is not often that we have any society in these parts.' The young gentleman told him what he had told me--how he had wandered away from Durrington and got lost, and had come to the inn in the hopes of getting a bed for the night. 'Glad to see a civilised human being in these parts,' said Mr. Glenthorpe. 'I hope you'll give me the pleasure of your company at dinner. Benson, tell Ann to cook another partridge.' 'I don't know whether the innkeeper will allow me that pleasure,' replied the young gentleman. 'He says he cannot put me up for the night.' 'Of course he'll put you up,' said Mr. Glenthorpe. 'Not even a Norfolk innkeeper would turn you out on to the North Sea marshes at this time of year.' That settled the question, because I couldn't afford to offend Mr. Glenthorpe, and besides, his providing the dinner helped me out of a difficulty. So I went out to give orders about the dinner, leaving Mr. Glenthorpe and him sitting together talking."
"Did you get him to fill in a registration form?" asked Superintendent Galloway.
"I forgot to ask him, sir," replied the innkeeper.
"That is gross and inexcusable carelessness on your part, Benson," said Galloway sternly. "I shall have to report it."
"I do not understand much about these things, sir," replied the innkeeper apologetically. "It is so rarely that we have a visitor to the place."
"The authorities will hold you responsible. You are supposed to know the law, and help to carry it out. What's the use of devising regulations for the security of the country if they are not carried out? You innkeepers and hotel-keepers are really very careless. Go on with your story, Benson."
"He and Mr. Glenthorpe had dinner together in the little upstairs sitting room which Mr. Glenthorpe kept for his own private use. He did his writing in it, and the flints and fossils he discovered in his excavations were stored in the cupboards. His meals were always taken up there, and last night he ordered the dinner to be taken up there as usual, and the table to be laid for two. Charles waited at table, but I was up there twice--first time with some sherry, and the second time was about an hour afterwards, when the gentlemen had finished dinner. I took up a bottle of some old brandy that the inn used to be famous for--it's the same that you gentlemen have been drinking. When I knocked at the door with the brandy it was Mr. Glenthorpe who called 'Come in!' He was standing in front of the fire, with a fossil in his hand, and he was telling the young man about how he came to discover it. I put the brandy on the table and left the room.
"That was the last time I saw him alive. Charles came down with the dinner things about half-past nine, and said he was not wanted upstairs any more. Charles went to bed shortly afterwards--he sleeps in one of the two rooms off the kitchen. I went to my own bedroom before ten, after first telling Ann, the servant, who was doing some ironing in the kitchen, to turn off the gas at the meter if the gentlemen retired before she finished, but not to bother if they were still sitting up. It had been decided that the young gentleman should occupy the bedroom next to Mr. Glenthorpe, and Ann was a bit late with her ordinary work because it had taken her some time to get his room ready. The room had not been occupied for some time, and she'd had to air the bed-clothes and make the bed afresh.
"The next morning I was a bit late getting down--there's nothing to open the inn for in the mornings--and Ann told me as soon as I got down that the young gentleman had left nearly an hour before. She had taken him up an early cup of tea at seven o'clock, and he opened the door to her knock, and took it from her. He was fully dressed, except for his boots, which he had in his hand, and he asked her to clean them, as he wanted to leave at once. She was walking away with the boots, when he called her back and took them from her, saying that it didn't matter about cleaning them, as he was in a hurry. When she gave him the boots he put a note into her hand, and said that was to pay for his bill.
"It was the key in the outside of Mr. Glenthorpe's room which led to us finding out that he was not in the room. As I told you upstairs, sir, he used to always lock his door when he went to bed and put the key under the pillow. Ann noticed the key in the outside of the door when she went up with his breakfast tray--he never took early morning tea but he always breakfasted in his room. That would be about eight o'clock. She thought it strange to see the key in the door, and as she could get no answer to her knock she tried the door, found it unlocked and the room empty. She came downstairs and told me. I thought at first that Mr. Glenthorpe might have got up early to go and look at his excavations, but I went up to his room and saw the signs of a struggle and blood-stains on the bed-clothes, and I knew that something must have happened to him. I went into the village and told Constable Queensmead. He came to the inn, and made a search inside and outside and found the footprints leading to the pit on the rise. One of Mr. Glenthorpe's men who had been down the pit for flints was lowered by a rope, and brought up the body."
The innkeeper took a leather wallet from his pocket and produced from it a Treasury L1 note. "This is the note the young gentleman left behind with Ann to pay his bill," he explained, pushing it across the table to the chief constable.
"I would draw your attention, sir, to the fact that this Treasury note is one of the first issue--printed in black on white paper," remarked Superintendent Galloway to his superior officer. "Constable Queensmead has ascertained that the L300 which Mr. Glenthorpe drew out of the bank yesterday was all in L1 notes of the first issue. That money is missing from the dead man's effects."
The chief constable looked thoughtfully at the note through his glasses, and then passed it to Colwyn, who examined it closely, and took a note of the number, and held it up to the light to see the watermark.
"Did you or the servant find any weapon in Mr. Glenthorpe's room?" asked the chief constable.
"You have missed a knife though, have you not?" asked Superintendent Galloway.
"What sort of a knife?"
"Was it one of the knives sent up to the sitting-room last night?"
"Yes, sir. At least Charles says so. He has charge of the cutlery."
"Then Charles had better tell us about it," interposed the chief constable. "You say you went to bed before ten o'clock, Benson. Did you hear anything in the night?"
"No, sir, I fell asleep almost immediately. My room is a good distance from Mr. Glenthorpe's room."
"I do not think we have any more questions to ask you, Benson."
"Pardon the curiosity of a medical man, Mr. Cromering," remarked Sir Henry, "but would it be possible to ask the innkeeper whether he noticed anything peculiar about Mr. Ronald's demeanour, when he arrived at the inn, or when he saw him at dinner subsequently?"
"You hear that question, Benson?" said the chief constable. "Did you notice anything strange about Mr. Ronald's conduct when first he came to the inn or at any time?"
"I cannot say I did, sir. I thought he looked very tired when he first came into the inn, and his eyes were heavy as though with want of sleep."
"He seemed quite sane and rational?"
"Did you notice any symptoms of mental disturbance or irritability about him at any time?" struck in Sir Henry Durwood.
"No, sir. He was a little bit angry at first when I said I couldn't take him in, but he struck me as quite cool and collected."
Sir Henry looked a little disappointed at this reply. He asked no more questions, but entered a note in a small note-book which he took from his waistcoat pocket. Mr. Cromering intimated to the innkeeper that he had finished questioning him, and would like to examine the waiter, Charles.
"If you wouldn't mind pulling the bell-rope behind you, sir," hinted the innkeeper.
In response to a pull at the old-fashioned bell-rope, the stout country servant, who had been washing greens in the kitchen, entered the room.
"Where is Charles, Ann?" asked the innkeeper.
"He's in the kitchen," replied the woman nervously.
"Then tell him he is wanted here immediately."
"You run your inn in a queer sort of way, Benson," remarked Superintendent Galloway, in his loud voice, as the woman went away on her errand. "Why couldn't Charles have answered the bell himself, if he is in the kitchen? What does he wait on, if not the bar parlour?"
"Charles is stone deaf, sir," replied the innkeeper.