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
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
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
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 …


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
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
, 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.



Mystery Mile

Police at the Funeral

Sweet Danger

Flowers for the Judge

The Case of the Late Pig

Dancers in Mourning

The Fashion in Shrouds

Traitor's Purse

Coroner's Pidgin

More Work for the Undertaker

The Tiger in the Smoke

The Beckoning Lady

Hide My Eyes

The China Governess

The Mind Readers

Cargo of Eagles


The Blotting Book

The Luck of the Vails


A Question of Proof

Thou Shell of Death

There's Trouble Brewing

The Beast must Die

The Smiler with the Knife

Malice in Wonderland

The Case of the Abominable Snowman

Minute for Murder

Head of a Traveller

The Dreadful Hollow

The Whisper in the Gloom

End of Chapter

The Widow's Cruise

The Worm of Death

The Sad Variety

The Morning After Death


Buried for Pleasure

The Case of the Gilded Fly

Holy Disorders

Love Lies Bleeding

The Moving Toyshop

Swan Song


The Red House Mystery


Speedy Death

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop

The Longer Bodies

The Saltmarsh Murders

Death and the Opera

The Devil at Saxon Wall

Dead Men's Morris

Come Away, Death

St Peter's Finger

Brazen tongue

Hangman's Curfew

When Last I Died

Laurels are Poison

Here Comes a Chopper

Death and the Maiden

Tom Brown's Body

Groaning Spinney

The Devil's Elbow

The Echoing Strangers

Watson's Choice

The Twenty-Third Man

Spotted Hemlock

My Bones Will Keep

Three Quick and Five Dead

Dance to your Daddy

A Hearse on May-Day

Late, Late in the Evening

Faults in the Structure

Nest of Vipers

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Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781446476079

Published by Vintage 2012

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Copyright © The Estate of C. Day Lewis 1938

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain in 1938 by Collins

Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA

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The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099565383

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