In which Sergeant Paxton searches for the killer of an ambitious young woman.
Durham, England, 1847.
- SALLY DISAPPEARS!
“What did you say was the name o’ this place, Sarge,” asked Constable Willliamson, a genial young man with red hair and freckles.
“The village is called Bearpark, Williamson” replied Police Sergeant Arthur Paxton shortly. He wasn’t sure he approved of this young recruit that the Inspector had assigned him. Too cocky and casual by half, thought Paxton.
“You don’t see too many bears around these parts,” insisted Williamson with a mischievous grin. “I doubt there ever were any.”
Paxton’s lip curled in irritation as he answered: “I understand, Constable that the name was originally a French one, but the locals couldn’t pronounce it very well, so over the years it got transformed into its current implausible form. Nothing to do with bears or any other animal that I’m aware of!”
The two men were walking their horses across an old stone bridge.
“And before you get to asking me, Williamson,” continued Paxton, “this here is known as ‘David’s Bridge’ on account of a local legend that King David of Scotland once hid under it after he lost the Battle of Neville’s Cross, fought not far from here. Yon wee river is called the Browney, and it flows into the River Wear near Durham City.”
“How come you know so much about this neck o’ the woods, Sarge?” asked Williamson.
Paxton winced visibly. He hated being addressed by the over-familiar term, ‘Sarge’.
“Well, Constable,” he explained patiently. “For two reasons. First, like all good police officers, I make it my business to know as much as possible about the district that’s under my jurisdiction. Secondly, it so happens that I grew up not far from here in a little village called Ushaw Moor. No, don’t ask,” he continued, raising his hand to silence the question on the tip of Williamson’s tongue, “We don’t have time for more local history lessons just now. We need to turn our attention to the task in hand which is to find out the whereabouts of Sally McIntosh.”
“Yes, Sergeant, whatever you say,” said Williamson meekly..
Paxton shot a sharp glance at the young man, but there was no trace of impudence to be seen on Williamson’s ruddy countenance.
“We will go first to the house of the mine superintendent, Mr. Joshua Hawley. Young Miss McIntosh was a servant there until she was reported missing,” Paxton said and he urged his horse up the hill towards Aldin Grange Farm.
“Mr. Hawley will see you now, sir,” said the housemaid, bobbing a polite curtsey to the two policeman. “This way, if you please,” she continued, indicating a large room to the left of the hallway.
Joshua Hawley, a stout, balding man with ginger whiskers, rose to his feet at their entrance, stepping out from behind a mahogany desk that was covered with ledgers and papers.
“Sergeant Paxton, I presume,” he declared in a booming voice. “You are here, I understand, to investigate the disappearance of Sally McIntosh.”
“That is correct, sir,” said Paxton. “This is Constable Williamson.”
The mine superintendent nodded curtly in the young officer’s direction, and Williamson nervously raised his fingers to his forehead as if to touch an imaginary cap.
“We understand that Miss McIntosh was employed in your household as a kitchen-maid, and that she disappeared three days ago,” continued Paxton.
“Yes, Sergeant. She was not in her room on Monday morning. We searched the house and garden. At first we were not unduly concerned. Sally was an impulsive young woman, and according to the cook, Mrs. Binks, given to moodiness and fits of restlessness. We thought that she had simply abandoned her post to visit her family who live nearby, or perhaps to run off with the young fellow who was apparently paying court to her.”
“And what might his name be, sir?” asked Paxton.
“He’s a field-hand down on Stephenson’s farm. I believe his name is Ralph Coates,” answered Hawley.
“Thank you, sir,” said Paxton, scribbling in his notebook. “Pray continue.”
“Well, I sent a message to the police station in Newcastle, and enquiries were made that revealed that she had not been in touch with her family nor, we discovered, had she spoken to Coates. She has quite simply disappeared off the face of the earth. We have no inkling of where she might have gone,” concluded Hawley, scratching his head in a perplexed fashion.
“Did she appear to have taken any clothes or belongings with her?” asked Paxton.
“She shared a room up in the attic with Doris Ritson, the chamber-maid, and Doris tells us that, as far as she can ascertain, none of Sally’s clothes are missing. They are still hanging behind a curtain in their room,” replied Hawley.
“I see,” said Paxton, “and who was the last person to see Miss McIntosh before her…ah, disappearance?”
“Most probably, Doris would have spoken to her on Sunday evening before they retired. It was the following morning that Sally’s disappearance was noticed,” answered Hawley.
“Do you know where Sally was previously employed, sir?” asked Paxton.
“No idea, I’m afraid,” said Hawley apologetically. “I know it’s not usual to employ domestic help without some kind of recommendation, but frankly the young girl just appeared on my doorstep one night begging me for a job. I hesitated, but she was well-dressed and seemed honest enough, and Mrs. Binks needed help in the kitchen, so I thought I’d give her a chance.”
2. THE BODY IN THE RUINS.
At that moment there was a scuffle out in the hallway, and a rough-looking individual in shabby clothes burst into the room, followed by the housemaid who apologized profusely as follows:
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Hawley, sir, but he insisted on seeing you. I told him you were busy with some visitors, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer!”
“Don’t distress yourself, Gertie,” said Hawley soothingly. “I will take care of this. You go about your duties.”
The housemaid curtseyed and backed out of the room hurriedly.
“Now then, Walters, what’s the meaning of this intrusion?” he enquired sternly, turning to the newcomer.
“We found her!” declared the intruder excitedly. “Me and Archie Robson! Over at the ruins! I knew as you’d want to know right away!”
“Found who?” exclaimed Hawley perplexed.
“Why Sally!” cried Walters. “Who does tha think?”
“And is she with you?” asked Hawley.
“With us?” said Walters in amazement. “Why, no! The poor lass is dead! Gone and got her head bashed in!”
“Which ruins are you referring to?” asked Paxton sharply.
Walters turned in his direction suspiciously.
“And who might you be?” he demanded.
“These two gentlemen are from the police,” said Hawley soothingly. “You’d best answer their questions, and tell them all you know.”
“Alright,” said Walters in a less than gracious tone. “I suppose that’d be proper. Archie and me, we went down to the ruins of the old Beaurepaire Priory down by the Browney River. We had set some traps for rabbits down there. We were hoping for some nice plump bunnies to fill our cooking pot, but there was nowt in the traps. Then we saw a hand stickin’ out from the long grass. At first we thought it were some tramp sleepin’ it off. But when we got closer, we could see it was a woman’s hand, and then we saw that it were Sally. We recognized her face right off. She were a comely lass, but someone had struck her some hefty blows on the back of her head and there was a lot of dried blood on the grass.”
“I trust you have told no-one else about this,” said Paxton sternly.
“No, sir,” replied Walters earnestly. “We came straight up here to tell Mr. Hawley.”
“You’ll take us there immediately,” ordered Paxton, “and, Mr. Hawley, I’d very much appreciate it, sir, if you would not mention any of this as yet to your household.”
“Of course,” said Hawley, nodding gravely.
“Now, Walters,” said Paxton. “Where’s your friend?”
“I left him to watch over the body of poor Sally,” replied the erstwhile rabbit hunter.
“Good!” said Paxton. “You did right! You’ve used good judgement.”
Walters’ chest swelled with pride at the compliment.
“Follow me, gents,” he said. “This way!”
“We will return later to question your staff, Mr. Hawley, if that will suit you,” said Paxton.
Hawley inclined his head in agreement and the two police officers followed Walters out of the room.
Paxton and his young constable followed their guide along a pleasant rustic path that followed the river until their guide veered suddenly to the right up a grassy slope and through a copse of trees. They found themselves gazing upon a cluster of ancient stones partially covered with grass and undergrowth. Some of the priory walls had survived the vicissitudes of history to remain standing up to shoulder level in places, and some doorways and window spaces were still intact.
Walters gestured towards a corner of the building where another man stood, nervously shifting from one foot to another and studiously directing his gaze away from what appeared to be a bundle of clothes protruding from the long grass. The police officers advanced toward him.
“Didn’t touch nothin’, officers!” he exclaimed, twisting his battered cap in his twitching fingers. “Honest!”
“Calm yourself, man,” said Paxton. “We’re grateful to the both of you for protecting the scene and for informing the authorities so promptly. There’s some as would have let her lie and scarpered without a word.”
Archie Robson relaxed visibly and let out a sigh.
“Just tryin’ to be good citizens, officers,” he muttered ingratiatingly.
Paxton nodded and gently eased the man aside to inspect the corpse.
She was certainly quite a looker, thought the sergeant. His sweeping gaze took in Sally’s soft attractive features unmarred by the brutal assault that had caved in the back of her skull. Clearly she had been taken unawares, and thankfully had most likely suffered little pain before expiring. The expression on her dead face was a strangely haunting, not one contorted by agony but rather one of haunting sadness as if she were reflecting upon the suffering of the world.
She was dressed in what appeared to be her Sunday best, a plain but elegant dress and a silk shawl. Her bonnet which had fallen from her head during the assault lay a couple of feet away. It was battered and stained with blood as was the surrounding grass.
Paxton dropped to his knees and carefully examined the area surrounding the body. He parted the stalks of grass carefully seeking any clue that might reveal the identity of the attacker. He was not optimistic. Seldom in real life did a killer carelessly leave behind a button or a cigar butt, but Paxton was an experienced investigator, and he knew that two people who came into close and violent contact occasionally left some trace behind that might shed a light on the crime.
Walters and Archie stood watching Paxton’s search with fascinated expressions on their faces.
“Found anything, Sarge?” asked young Constable Williamson.
“Not yet,” grunted Paxton tersely, a frown of concentration on his face. He examined the body carefully once again, sweeping his searching gaze from the soles of the young woman’s muddy shoes to the crown of her ruined head.
Suddenly he started and gave an exclamation of surprise. He turned and crooked a beckoning finger to his young associate.
“Step closer, constable,” he said, a note of excitement in his voice. “Sometimes we get some help in solving a crime from things left behind such as a button or a match or a strand of hair. But in this case it is not a matter of what has been left behind, but what has been taken away.”
Constable Williamson looked perplexed, and scratched his head.
“I’m not sure as I understand you, Sarge,” he said hesitantly as he leaned over the corpse.
“Use your eyes, man,” urged Paxton. “If you want to become a good copper, you’ve got to use your eyes. Look at her left hand lad!”
Williamson continued to stare at him blankly.
“I don’t see anything, Sarge,” he said nervously.
Carefully Paxton took the dead woman’s left wrist in his hand, and raised it gently to the level of Willliamson’s eyes. He pointed with his other hand to Sally’s limp index finger.
“Now do you see?” he demanded impatiently.
“Why yes,” cried Williams excitedly. “I do believe a ring has been removed from her finger. There’s a circle of pale skin around the finger with some redness to indicate chafing.”
“Very good, Williamson,” said Paxton. “We’ll make a detective of you yet! I think the ring has been removed recently and quite forcibly because there are small flakes of skin and a red mark at the knuckle.”
“A robbery, Sergeant?” asked Williamson.
“Could be, lad, but I don’t think so,” replied Paxton. “I believe the murderer removed the ring from Sally’s finger because he was afraid it would reveal his identity. Perhaps his name was engraved on it or perhaps it was an unusually distinctive piece of jewelry. If we find that ring, we’ll have our murderer!”
“But we don’t even know what the ring looks like, Sarge,” protested Williamson.
“Yes, but someone will have seen it,” insisted Paxton. “The cook or the chamber-maid or Sally’s young man. If we can get a description, perhaps we can find out where it was made and for whom. It’ll take some leg-work, constable, but that’s what we’re paid for. Now let’s see if we can find a weapon. Take a look over there in that clump of bushes!”
With a dubious expression on his face Williamson strolled over to the spot indicated by his sergeant and parted the leaves carefully. Moments later he let out an excited yelp, and extracting a branch from the bush, returned triumphantly and held it out for inspection. The end of the stick was covered in dry blood and there were also traces of brain matter.
“A gruesome discovery!” remarked Paxton. “But without doubt the murder weapon!”
“But how did you know where to find it?” asked a mystified Williamson.
“A fortunate guess,” admitted Paxton modestly. “When a crime pf passion such as this occurs, the murderer loses control of his emotions, goes momentarily berserk, if you like. When the deed is complete, the killer frequently experiences intense shock and revulsion, and throws aside his weapon. I merely guessed that such a reaction might have landed a weapon in the vicinity of those bushes. This killer did not come to this meeting with our victim planning to murder her, and was therefore probably not carrying a weapon. At the height of passion he would have seized whatever was to hand, a rock or a stick to use as a club, and would have had no need to carry it away with him. Thus my deduction that it would be nearby.”
Williamson eyed his sergeant with a new respect.
“What now, Sarge?” he asked.
“You will remain here to stand guard over the body and the crime scene while I return to the village to arrange the removal of the corpse to Durham for further examination. In the meantime you can take statements from these two ‘hunters’ here. Do you have your notebook handy?”
“Yes, Sarge,” answered Williamson obediently reaching into his pocket for a small pad of paper and a stub of pencil.
“When I return, we will question the staff at Mr. Hawley’s house in more detail,” said Paxton over his shoulder as he strode off in the direction of Bearpark.
3. WHO WAS SALLY McINTOSH?
“As you know, Mrs. Binks, we’re investigating the death of Sally McIntosh and we need to ask you some questions,” began Sergeant Paxton. “Constable Williamson is going to take some notes, but don’t you worry about it. We’re just trying to get a picture of who Sally was and who might have wanted to do her harm.”
Paxton, Williamson and the cook, a plump pleasant-faced woman in her fifties, were sitting together around the table in the kitchen of Mr. Hawley’s house. Mrs. Binks had brewed a pot of tea and set out a plate of small jam tarts in front of them. Williamson was eying them hungrily.
“Go on, constable! Tuck in!” said Mrs. Binks. “Everyone tells me they’re delicious!”
As the young policeman munched hungrily on a jam tart, his sergeant continued:
“Now Mr. Hawley described Sally as a young woman of a moody disposition,” said Paxton. “Would you agree with that characterization, Mrs. Binks?”
The cook paused for a moment before replying:
“Oh yes, sir, I’d certainly agree there. She was right surly some days. Couldn’t get a pleasant word out of her. She wasn’t cut out for kitchen work. Didn’t like to get her hands dirty. She’d sooner have been a lady’s maid, or summat dainty like that. And she were lazy too. I had to be always be telling her to make haste and put her back into it.”
“I gather you didn’t approve of her then,” said Paxton dryly.
“If you want to know the truth, sir, no I didn’t!” exclaimed Mrs. Binks firmly. “I’ve been in service thirty years now, and I’ve come across a few girls like Sally. They want to do as little as they can for their wages. They’ve always got an eye for the good-looking men. And they’ve all kinds of wild dreams above their station. They don’t have good character. They’re not reliable. They usually come to a bad end.” She paused in full-flow. “Begging your pardon, sir,” she continued, “nobody deserves to die the way Sally did. I wouldn’t have wished that for her, but there’s no doubt she was a restless and discontented kind of girl.”
“Now, Mrs. Binks,” said Paxton, “I want you to think very carefully. Did you ever see Sally wearing a ring on the index finger of her left hand?”
Paxton and Williamson waited patiently as the cook sat squinting her eyes in concentration.
“I can’t honestly say as I have,” she replied at last. “The staff was not allowed to wear any kind of jewelry during working hours. She may have put it on when she went out to meet that young man of hers. She certainly used to get all dolled up, but I never saw a ring.”
“And what about Mr. Coates?” asked Paxton. “What’s your opinion of him?”
“Ralph is a nice young lad,” replied Mrs. Binks warmly. “Very polite and well-spoken he was whenever I passed him in the village. He was proper gone on Sally, She was a sly young minx. She had him wrapped around her finger. Oh, she liked him well enough. He’s a big strappin’ lad, handsome to boot, but I think Sally thought he was too common and slow. She were looking for a man who could lift her up and give her a better life. Ralph was just someone to keep her amused while she looked around for summat better!”
“Now I’m going to ask you a delicate question, Mrs. Binks,” said Paxton. “I hope you’ll not be offended, and I’ll keep your answer strictly confidential, but it’s important for our investigation. Did Sally ever show signs of having designs on Mr. Hawley or he on her?”
“Oh no, sir,” said Mrs. Binks. “Mr. Hawley is a fine upstanding man, not at all the kind of man to engage in any hanky-panky of that kind. Besides in a village as small as this, such a thing would soon get about, and there’d be quite a scandal. It might happen in a big city like Newcastle or London, but not here. Oh no, sir, not here!”
“Very well,” said Paxton, smiling at the cook. “We’ve taken up too much of your time already, Mrs. Binks. We’ll let you get back to your work. But I want to thank you. You’ve been most helpful.”
“My pleasure, sir,” said the cook, curtseying politely.
“So this was the room you shared with Sally,” said Paxton.
“Yes, sir,” answered Doris Ritson shyly.
“Are these her things?” asked Williamson, pulling aside the curtain over a small alcove.
“Yes. She had some nice frocks and dresses,” replied Doris. “I asked her once about them cos they seemed a bit grand some of them for a kitchen-maid, but she said a gentleman admirer had bought them for her. Sally was pretty, sir. She could have made a man do that for her.”
“Did Ralph Coates buy them for her?” asked Williamson.
“Oh no, sir,” replied Doris firmly. “Ralph couldn’t have afforded dresses like that! He only works on the farm.”
“But he was fond of Sally, wasn’t he?” said Paxton.
“Oh yes, sir,” answered Doris with a deep sigh.
“Why the sigh, Doris,” asked Paxton kindly. “Was Ralph your man before Sally arrived?’
“Why yes, sir,” said Doris in surprise. “How did you guess?”
“I could see it in your face,” replied Paxton. “But didn’t that make you just a little bit jealous, Doris? A pretty girl like Sally comes along and next minute she’s stolen your man from you!”
“I was a bit jealous at first,” admitted Doris, “but I’m a patient girl. I knew she wasn’t really interested in my Ralph. I knew she wouldn’t be around too long. She just did it to show me she could. I knew I’d be there to pick up the pieces when she moved on.”
“Very philosophical!” said Paxton dryly.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” said Doris in a puzzled tone.
“Nothing, Doris,” continued Paxton. “So you never felt any hate or resentment towards Sally then? Never wanted to harm her?”
“As a matter of fact, I felt sorry for her,” remarked Doris. “She was never satisfied. Always complaining. Always dreaming of something better. Me, I’m grateful for what I’ve got.”
“Admirable!” said Paxton. Before Doris could interject, he continued: “Did you ever see Sally wearing a ring on her left hand?”
“I did indeed, sir. She was very proud of that ring. Said it was gold. It had two intertwined hearts and a pretty little diamond in the middle. She couldn’t wear it in the kitchen during the day, but she’d put it on up here after work was finished, and she’d go to sleep wearing it. I thought that was odd! People usually take rings off to go to sleep, and put them on when they get up in the morning. With her it was the opposite! She also used to wear it of a Sunday when she walked out with Ralph.” Doris paused for breath. “Does Ralph know what happened to her?” she asked anxiously.
“I expect he does by now,” replied Paxton. “Doris, I must ask you if you saw any sign that Sally was romantically interested in Mr. Hawley? Did she talk about him that way? After all she was looking to better herself, and Mr. Hawley is a wealthy man.”
“No,” said Doris firmly. “She never showed any interest in him. And besides, I don’t think Mr. Hawley is interested in women at all. He’s a life-long bachelor,” she concluded innocently.
Williamson uttered a slight snigger at this last remark, and Paxton looked at him sharply and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, that’s all for now, Doris,” said Paxton. “Thank you for being so frank.”
Ralph Coates was forking hay into a stall when Paxton and Williams walked into the stable at Stephenson’s farm.
“I expect you’ve heard about Sally McIntosh, Mr. Coates,” said Paxton gently after he had introduced Williamson and himself to the tall, handsome farm laborer.
The young man swallowed. “Aye,” was all that he said.
“Then you will understand that we are anxious to locate and arrest her killer,” continued Paxton. “When was the last time that you saw her?”
“It were last Sunday afternoon,” replied Coates in a shaky voice. He was controlling his feelings with an effort. “We went for a walk down by the…” His voice choked. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” he continued desperately. “Who’d do such a thing to my darling lass?”
The big man was on the verge of tears. Paxton put a friendly arm on his shoulder.
“Take a moment to compose yourself, lad,” he said kindly. “I know that it’s a terrible shock to you. We can come back another time if you’d like.”
Williamson raised his eyebrows in surprise. Has the boss gone soft, he thought? We have to question this fellow immediately. He’s a suspect!
“It’s alright,” said Coates, clearing his throat and wiping his face on his sleeve. “I want you to catch this bastard. If you don’t get him, I will. And when I do, I’ll tear his head off!”
His eyes were blazing as he spoke, and he had clenched his fists.
“Steady now, lad,” advised Paxton. “Now did Sally have any other admirers?”
“None that I know of,” replied Coates. “I know she was not as sweet on me as I was on her, but I can understand it. I’ve not much to offer a lass like Sally, not too many prospects. I never went to school, and I’m good for nowt but laboring work. I‘ve got just a small broken down farm cottage. Sally was an ambitious girl. She wanted to make her way in the world. No doubt she’d have tired of me after a while. But, Sergeant, I loved the lass, make no mistake about that!”
“I believe you, lad. I believe you,” said Paxton gently. “What do you know of a ring that she used to wear on her left hand?”
“Pretty thing it was,” replied Coates. “Had kind of a design on it. Two hearts as I recall with a small emerald and all. Made me feel a bit jealous, I’ll admit, but she told me it were given her by a fellow long time ago. She said she didn’t care for him anymore, but that she liked the ring so she kept it.”
“Did she tell you the name of the man who gave it her?” asked Paxton.
Coates shook his head. “No, Sergeant,” he said. “Sally was secretive that way. She wouldn’t tell me. Said it was none of my business, and to tell the truth, I didn’t want to know. All I cared about was that Sally was with me. She was my girl.” He broke off, and a deeply sad expression came over his face. “And now she’s gone…forever.”
“One more question,” said Paxton. “How did Sally seem when you saw her last Sunday? Was she happy or serious or what?”
“Funny you should ask that, sir,” answered Coates, wrinkling his brows, “but she did seem a bit distant…what’s the word… pre-occupied about something.”
“Well,” said Paxton soothingly. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Coates, and I thank you for helping us with our enquiries at this difficult time. There’s no need to trouble you further, but please be available for further questioning if it should prove necessary.”
“Do you believe him, Sarge?” asked Williamson in a low voice as they left the stable. “Was he telling the truth?”
“I think so,” answered Paxton. “His grief seemed genuine unless he’s a very good actor. But he seemed a simple kind of chap, not the sort who could hide things very well. And even though he’s a strong man, I don’t think he’d hurt a fly. He doesn’t have it in him. What about you, Williamson? What do you think?’
“You really want my opinion?” declared the young constable incredulously.
“Of course,” said Paxton. “We’re on this case together, and two brains, two sets of eyes are better than one. You might easily spot something that I might miss.”
“Well, Sarge,” said Williamson cautiously but with a distinct trace of pride in his voice. “I agree with you. He seemed right upset about the murder, and I believe he was genuinely fond of the lass though I’m not sure she deserved it.”
“We’ll need to confirm that he didn’t see her since the Sunday,” declared Paxton, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “From the looks of the body Sally was probably killed on the Tuesday night, the day before she was found. There was no signs of decomposition. Maybe we can find out where he was on the Tuesday. We can’t really be sure until the coroner gives his opinion on the time of her death. Actually I’m more interested in locating the person who gave Sally the ring. I think it’s the key to the crime.”
“Well, we have a description, Sarge,” said Williamson eagerly. “Why don’t we check with the jewelers in Durham City? Perhaps we might get lucky. Perhaps one of them sold the ring to a local fellow.”
“Good suggestion, lad,” said Paxton. “You’re coming on. You’ll make a good bobby yet! I had just the same thought. We’ll ride over to the city today and see if we can find out the identity of Sally’s secret admirer!”
4. THE SECRET OF THE RING.
Durham, a small city, boasted only three jewelers, and in the last of these on Silver Street the two detectives hit pay-dirt.
“As a matter of fact, I do remember such a ring as you describe,” said the proprietor, a studious-looking individual, named Maxwell. “Actually one of my craftsmen made it right here in our workshop from my own design.”
The jeweler puffed up with pride “A very nice bit of craftsmanship, if I say so myself. Made of course according to the customers specifications. I remember he particularly wanted two hearts entwined with an emerald in the center. Quite enamored of the young woman he was, as I understand. Couldn’t stop talking about her. Wanted an emerald because she had green eyes!” he chortled.
“And do you remember the customer’s name, Mr. Maxwell?” asked Paxton.
Williamson, standing next to his sergeant, could detect the excitement in Paxton’s voice.
The jeweler’s face fell as an expression of disappointment spread across his features.
“Alas, Sergeant, I cannot. I recall he was a short, rotund gentleman with receding hair and thick grey eyebrows. I particularly remember those brows, ‘beetling’ I believe is the common expression. A very pleasant, mild-mannered gentleman. Around fifty, I would guess. But his name escapes me. I am so sorry,” concluded Maxwell mournfully.
“Did you perhaps keep a record of the transaction, sir?” broke in Williamson. “The ring would have been purchased, probably within the last twelve months.”
“Ah, a splendid suggestion, young man!” declared Maxwell, his face brightening as he pulled out a large musty-looking ledger from beneath the counter and began thumbing feverishly through the pages. After a few moments his face fell again.
“I have kept a diligent record of the items purchased, the customers’ names and addresses and the prices that they paid. Unfortunately more than a dozen rings were purchased in the past twelve months, and I have not recorded any specific description of the individual rings. Any of them could be the ring you seek.”
“Not to worry, Mr. Maxwell,” said Paxton consolingly. “You have been most helpful. Constable Williamson will copy down the names and addresses, and we will visit each customer in turn until we find one who matches your description. You have a good eye for detail and a good memory so your description will most likely be sufficient for us to find this man. It is only a matter of time and shoe leather.”
Maxwell looked considerably happier after hearing Paxton’s words. When Williamson had written down the names and addresses, the two detectives took their leave of the jeweler, warning him that he might be required to identify the murder suspect and be a witness in court at a future date, a prospect that seemed to afford Mr. Maxwell some excitement.
“Phew!” declared Constable Williamson with a deep sigh. “I’m fair worn out, Sarge. Tramping up and down hill, pounding on doors only to find myself staring at someone who’s tall and thin and thirty years old. I don’t know as we’ll ever find this fellow. Maybe the jeweler made a mistake!”
“Patience, Constable,” said Paxton, smiling a wry smile. “Not all police work is glamorous and exciting. You should have learned that by now! How many more on the list?”
“There’s three more, Sarge,” replied Williamson. “Next one’s just up Western Hill, about fifty yards away. We should have kept the horses!”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Paxton. “We both need the exercise. Come along! This might be the one!”
The two police officers trudged slowly up the hill. It was five-thirty in the afternoon and the sun was sinking in the western sky, an attractive reddish glow showing over the roof-tops. They paused for a moment to look down the hill behind them towards the majestic Cathedral poised above the river.
“Quite a view is that!” said Williamson. “I’ve rarely taken the time to enjoy it.”
“A beautiful city indeed,” agreed Paxton. “My family’s home for generations.”
They arrived soon after in front of a modest row house of red-brick standing above the street. They ascended the short flight of steps, and Williamson knocked on the door. There was a brief shuffling inside, and the door opened.
Paxton stiffened in surprise. The ‘beetling brows’ were unmistakable! They had found Mr. Maxwell’s elusive customer!
“Can I help you gentlemen?” asked the mild-mannered man standing on the threshold before them.
“I believe you can, sir,” said Paxton politely. “I am Sergeant Paxton of the Durham Constabulary and this is Constable Williamson. We would like to talk to you about a ring you purchased from Maxwell’s Jewelers about a year ago. Could we come in?”
The man’s face seemed to crumple, and he moved as if to slam the door, but Paxton placed his foot firmly across the lintel, and said in a calm voice:
“I shouldn’t advise that, sir! Now let’s go on in and sit down and have a chat about all this. I’m sure you’ll feel so much better!”
The man turned and shuffled down the hallway and into the parlor where he sank into a chair and wept.
Paxton and Williamson stood awkwardly in the center of the room until the man recovered his composure and blinking back further tears, invited them to sit down. Williamson glanced around the room, noting the plain but tasteful furniture, the scattering of ornaments on the mantelpiece and a table by the window. There were few photographs, and the whole room cast an aura of loneliness and sadness.
“So you are Montague Taverner. And what do you do for a living, sir,” asked Paxton politely.
“I am…er, an antiquarian bookseller,” replied Taverner in a soft voice. “It is a profitable business for me. I have a small shop in town, and a goodly clientele, academics from the University, members of the Dean and Chapter and so on. I am not rich, but I make a tidy living.”
“When did you first meet Sally McIntosh?” continued Paxton cautiously. He examined Taverner’s face for signs of distress, but the bookseller appeared calm and resigned.
“I met her in a coffee shop in town,” replied Taverner. “She was looking for a position. I didn’t really need anybody. I live a simple life, but I took pity on her. She seemed so…helpless.”
She really fooled you, old man, thought Williamson as he scribbled in his notebook.
“I hired her to clean and cook and take care of my house, and in a while I fell in love with her,” said Taverner apologetically. “I know I am a foolish old man to imagine that a girl like that would be interested in a dry, fusty fellow like me, but I couldn’t help it. And she led me on, Sergeant. She convinced me that she cared for me too, but I know now she was only after my money. I bought her expensive dresses and shoes and finally a ring. I had it made especially with two hearts on it and an emerald. It cost me a packet I can tell you! She loved it when I gave it to her. She was so excited and ever so grateful!”
A dreamy expression spread over Taverner’s features at the memory.
“But she started demanding more gifts from me. I told her that I wasn’t rich, and that I didn’t have much money, but she wouldn’t believe me. She thought I was hiding things from her, that I didn’t trust her. She became angry and started to call me ‘Monty the Mouse’. She could be so scornful and cruel, and she had such a sharp tongue. Finally when she knew she could get nothing more from me, she left saying I was weak and spineless, and she would go find herself a real man to take care of her. At first it was a relief that she was gone, but after a while I missed her desperately. I knew I still loved her and could not live without her.”
“So you found out where she had gone and arranged to meet her,” said Paxton.
“Yes, sergeant,” said Taverner, blinking back a tear. “I saw her last Saturday in the morning and begged her to come back to me. She wouldn’t say yes or no, but she appeared on my doorstep the following evening – that was Sunday. She stayed for two days. I think she was hoping to get more money or gifts out of me whilst I only wanted her affection. On Tuesday afternoon she became angry and impatient and said that I was a wicked man and had deceived her. She stormed out of my house, but I followed her. For three hours she led me a pretty dance, but I cornered her at the ruins on Tuesday evening. She was angry when I appeared and told me to go away because she had gone there to find some peace. I told her I loved her and implored her to come back to me, but she sneered and laughed and turned her back.”
The bookseller paused, his lips still moving as if he were searching for words.
“I don’t know what came over me. I was seized with anger, an uncontrollable rage. A red mist swam before my eyes. I seized a branch from the ground and struck her a blow on the back of her head with all my strength. The sound of that blow will haunt me for the rest of my days. I could see that I had crushed her skull. I had not imagined that I could have such strength in me. She was not stirring. I knew she was dead. A horror clutched me. I threw the branch away and fled. I had not gone but a few paces when I remembered the ring. If it was found on her person, perhaps it might be traced back to me. I was filled with fear, and I tore it from her lifeless finger.”
“Do you have the ring still?” asked Paxton.
“Yes. I will get it for you,” said Taverner meekly, rising from his chair.
“Williamson, go with him,” ordered Paxton sharply.
“Oh, come, sergeant, what good would it do me to try to escape? You have my confession!” said Taverner as he glided from the room.
Paxton paused only a moment or two.
“Go see what he’s up to!” he grunted.
Williamson darted from the room. Paxton heard a brief struggle before the constable re-entered the room gripping Taverner firmly by one arm.
“Found him trying to swallow this, sir,” said Williamson grimly holding up a bottle. “It’s strychnine, sir. Used to poison rats!”
“You’d better put the cuffs on him, Constable,” said Paxton.
“I don’t want to live!” moaned Taverner. “Why won’t you let me die? They will hang me anyway!”
“That’s not our decision to make, sir,” said Paxton. “Our job is to take you into custody. Now do yourself some good, sir, and show us where you hid the ring.”
Within moments a small gold ring lay in the palm of Paxton’s hand, the fading light of day reflecting from the emerald set between two entwined hearts.
5. THE DETECTIVES REFLECT.
“Funny thing about love, Sarge,” reflected Williamson as he sat by the stove in the police station after Taverner had been safely locked away in the cells downstairs. “It can be so uplifting and yet so destructive!”
“My, not only a skilled detective but a poet and philosopher, Williamson!” exclaimed Paxton with a twinkle in his eye.
“There’s a fellow like Taverner living a comfortable, quiet life,” continued the constable, ignoring his sergeant’s jibe, “and suddenly this scheming hussy invades his serenity, completely enslaves him, drives him to distraction, and then deserts him cold. No wonder he murdered her!”
“You can’t blame it all on poor Sally,” remarked Paxton. “There’s many a young woman such as her. They’re just looking for comfort, a good life, some rich fellow to take care of them.”
“Come on, Sarge. She just used him!” protested Williamson. “And she treated him cruel!”
“We live in a world where women are designated the weaker sex, not allowed to own property, denied the wherewithal to make their way in the world on their own merits. What can we expect? Especially where most of the wealth is in the hands of the few, and the greater part of the populace lives in poverty,” said Paxton. “Poor Sally, she chose a lonely, unhappy man who became obsessed with her and couldn’t let her go. She paid a high price.”
“She could have been happy if she’d settled for Ralph Coates, a man who really loved her,” replied Williamson.
“Perhaps,” muttered Paxton staring into space. Then he roused himself. “Now, constable, it’s back to business. Take out that notebook of yours, sit down at that desk over there, and start writing up a report on our investigation. And make sure all details are included and stated accurately.”
“Yes, Sarge, all right!” exclaimed Williamson resignedly, “But what will you be doing in the meantime?”
“Don’t you be so impertinent, lad!” said Paxton good-humoredly. “Why, I think I’ll treat myself to a nice steak and kidney pie and a tasty pint of bitter over at the Shakespeare Tavern, and if you get your skates on and finish writing up that report, Constable Williamson, maybe you might just be in time to join me before I’m finished!”