Read The Beast Must Die Online

Authors: Nicholas Blake

The Beast Must Die (27 page)

Felix flushed. ‘Oh, look here, I’m not as bad as that. You don’t really think I’m capable of trying to incriminate some innocent person, do you?’

‘No. Not deliberately. I’m sure not. But your diary contained material which made me think for a while that old Mrs Rattery was the murderer, and Blount based a great deal of his case against Phil on the diary, too.’

‘I wouldn’t have minded Ethel Rattery getting hung, I admit. She was twisting up Phil’s life so abominably. But it didn’t occur to me that I was throwing suspicion on her. As for Phil – well, you know I’d have died rather than let any harm come to him. As a matter of fact,’ Felix went on in lower tones, ‘it
was
Phil who killed George Rattery, in a way. I might’ve become discouraged or frightened, and given up the idea of killing George, if I hadn’t been seeing every day the damnable effects he had on Phil. It was like seeing my
own
Martie being warped and tortured. Oh God! And if I’ve done it all for nothing! Supposing Phil really has—’

‘No, Phil’s all right. I’m quite sure he’s not done anything foolish,’ said Nigel, trying to put into his voice greater conviction than he felt. ‘But how did you mean Rattery’s death to be taken, then?’

‘Why, as suicide, of course. But Lena took the bottle away and got Phil to hide it. Poetic justice, I suppose.’

‘But where was George’s motive for suicide?’

‘Well, I knew he would come in from the river that evening very agitated. People would notice that. It’s the sort of question a coroner always asks – was the deceased in a normal frame of mind? I imagined the police would think he’d done it in a kind of brainstorm – afraid of the facts about Martie’s death coming out. Something like that. And I knew he would call the garage to get his car on the way back, so he could easily have got the poison then. I really didn’t worry about motive much, though. All I wanted was to get Rattery out of the way before he could do any more harm to Phil.’ Felix paused. ‘It’s a queer thing. I’ve been worrying myself sick all this week, but now I know I’m for it, I don’t seem to mind.’

‘I’m damned sorry it’s had to turn out like this.’

‘It’s not your fault. You just carried too many guns for me. Does Blount want to take me along now?’

‘Blount doesn’t know anything about it yet,’ said Nigel slowly. ‘He still thinks Phil did it. Which is all to the good – it’ll make him all the more zealous in his search for Phil. He’s got his reputation to keep up.’

‘Blount doesn’t know?’ Felix was standing by the chest of drawers, his back to Nigel. ‘Well, I wonder. Perhaps you didn’t carry too many guns for me after all.’ He opened a drawer and turned round, a feverish excitement in his eyes, a revolver in the palm of his hand.

Nigel sat quite still, relaxed. There was nothing he could do. There was the whole breadth of the room between them.

‘When Phil disappeared this morning, I went down to look for him at the Ratterys’. I didn’t find him, but I found this gun. It’s George’s. I thought it might come in useful.’

Nigel screwed up his eyes, looking at Felix with an interested, slightly impatient expression.

‘You’re not thinking of shooting me, are you? Really, there’d be no point in—’

‘My dear Nigel!’ exclaimed Felix, smiling at him sadly. ‘I don’t think I deserve that. No. I was thinking of my own convenience. I attended a murder trial once; I don’t much fancy having to attend another. Would you object if I declined the invitation and used this?’ He grimaced fastidiously at the revolver. Nigel was thinking, He’s doing it all with a monstrous effort of will, his pride is terrific. Pride and a kind of artist’s sense of climax are enabling him to rise to
the
occasion, to subdue his shrinking flesh. Under an intolerable stress we are all inclined to dramatise a situation – it’s our way of softening the hard reality, of making bearable an extreme agony.

After a minute he said, ‘Look, Felix. I don’t want to hand you over to Blount, because I think George Rattery was no loss to the world. But I can’t keep quiet about this either. There’s Phil to think of, and besides, Blount has trusted me in the past. If you’ll write a confession – I’d better dictate it to you so that all the vital points are covered, and post it to Blount in the hotel letter box, I’ll go to sleep for the rest of the afternoon. I need a sleep, the way my head’s buzzing.’

‘The British genius for compromise,’ said Felix, glancing at him quizzically. ‘I ought to be grateful to you for that. But am I? … Yes, I am. Better than a revolver – messy, squalid business. To go down fighting, in my element.’

Felix’s eyes were lit with excitement again. Nigel looked at him questioningly.

‘If I could get to Lyme Regis. My dinghy’s there. They’d never expect me to try and escape that way.’

‘But, Felix, you wouldn’t have a chance of reaching—’

‘I don’t really think I want a chance. My life ended with Martie. I know that now. I just came back to life for a few weeks to save Phil. I’d like to die out at sea – fighting a clean enemy for a change – the wind and the waves. But will they ever let me get that far?’

‘You’ve got a good chance. Blount and the police are all looking for Phil. If he had a tail on you, he’s probably taken it off by now. You’ve got your car here, and—’

‘And I can shave off my beard! By God! I might get through. I said I’d be shaving off my beard one day and slipping through the cordon – that evening in the garden, you remember.’

Felix tossed the revolver back into the drawer, put out scissors and shaving tackle and set to work. Then, with Nigel standing at his elbow, he wrote his confession. Nigel went with him to the head of the stairs and saw him drop the envelope into the postbox. They were alone together in the room for a minute.

‘It’ll take me about three and a half hours to get there in my car.’

‘You’ll be all right if Blount doesn’t return here till this evening. I’ll tip off Lena to keep quiet.’

‘Thanks. You’ve been good about this. I wish – I’d like to know that Phil was safe before I pushed off.’

‘We’ll look after Phil for you.’

‘And Lena – tell her it’s a far, far better thing, and all that. No. Give her my love. She was kinder to me than I deserved. Well, goodbye. Tonight or tomorrow should see the end of me. Or is there anything after death? It’d be nice to understand the reason for all these damnable things that happen.’ He grinned quickly at Nigel, ‘Then I’d be Felix
qui potuit rerum cognoscere causes
.’

Nigel heard the car start up. Poor chap, he muttered, I really believe he thinks he’s a chance, in a dinghy, with this wind getting up. He went off to find Lena …

Epilogue

PRESS CUTTINGS FROM
Nigel Strangeways’ files of the Rattery case.

Extract from the
Gloucestershire Evening Courier
.

Philip Rattery, the boy who has been missing from his home at Severnbridge since yesterday morning, was found today at Sharpness. Interviewed by a
Courier
reporter, Mrs Violet Rattery, the boy’s mother, stated, ‘Philip stowed away on one of the Severn barges. He was found when the barge was unloaded at Sharpness this morning. He is none the worse for his escapade. He had been worrying about the death of his father.’

Philip Rattery is the schoolboy son of George Rattery, the prominent Severnbridge citizen whose death is being investigated by the police. Chief Inspector Blount, of New Scotland Yard, the officer in charge of the investigation, informed our representative this morning that he is confident of an early arrest.

There is still no news of Frank Cairnes, who disappeared yesterday afternoon from the Angler’s Arms at Severnbridge, where he had been staying, and whom the police wish to question in regard to the death of George Rattery.

Extract from the
Daily Post
.

Yesterday afternoon the body of a man was washed ashore at Portland. The body has been identified as that of Frank Cairnes, the man for whom the police have been searching in relation to the Rattery murder case. Subsequent to the discovery of the shattered remains of Cairnes’ sailing dinghy, the
Tessa
, washed ashore during the southerly gale of last weekend, the investigation had been centred upon this stretch of coast.

Cairnes was well known to the reading public as a crime novelist, under the pseudonym of Felix Lane.

The adjourned inquest on George Rattery will take place at Severnbridge (Glos.) tomorrow.

Note by Nigel Strangeways

This is the end of my most unhappy case. Blount still regards me with some suspicion, I fear. In the politest possible manner, he intimated that it was ‘a great pity Cairnes slipped out of our hands like that,’ accompanying the words with one of those shrewd, chilly glances that are much more disquieting than any accusation. Still, I’m glad I gave Felix the chance to go out in the way he wanted to go. A clean ending, at least, to a dirty, dirty business.

In the first of Brahms’ four Serious Songs, he paraphrases Ecclesiastes 3, 19, as follows: ‘The beast must die, the man dieth also, yea both must die.’ Let that be the epitaph for George Rattery and Felix.

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Published by Vintage 2012

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Copyright © The Estate of C. Day Lewis 1938

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First published in Great Britain in 1938 by Collins

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