MR. MANNERING was called "the Captain" in the village of Woodern Green,
which is on the southern edge of Buckingham. Possibly because of his
military appearance and the frigidity of his manner; though why captains
are supposed to be frigid nobody knows.
He lived at Hexleigh Manor, which was a small house in a large park, and
by all accounts he was a gentleman who had no great store of money. The
Manor was something of a derelict when he rented it at a ridiculously low
sum. The repairs upon which previous would-be tenants had insisted were
apparently executed by the new tenant without the assistance of local
builders, according to their account.
The captain had a staff of three, two of whom lived in the house and the
third in a cottage within the grounds. They were three hard-faced men,
who never came to the village, and it was believed that they were old
soldiers who had served with the captain during the war.
It was to the cottage that all the provisions were delivered by local
tradesmen--none of them was invited to go farther. The bills were paid
weekly by cheque on a London bank.
One curious circumstance: no letters, save the inevitable appeals by
secretaries of local working men's cricket, football or other clubs, were
ever addressed to Captain or Mr. Mannering. He seemed to have no friends.
He had been there a year when he blossomed forth into something grander
than an impecunious military gentleman. Vans arrived from London filled
with expensive furniture; the dour man at the cottage engaged three
gardeners; a local builder was called in to decorate the house, and an
era of prosperity set in.
Mr. Reeder, of the Public Prosecutor's Department, became acquainted with
Hexleigh Manor in a peculiar way. His hobby, as all the world knows, was
chickens. He had a big poultry farm in Kent, and raised the choicest and
the rarest birds in the kingdom. The stocking of the Hexleigh Manor
poultry farm--a new branch of Captain Mannering's activities--brought
down Mr. Reeder in his capacity of poultry expert.
Captain Mannering was in town--he drove to London almost every day in his
closed sedan car--and the caller saw only the new poultry man, who was
talkative. When the business was at an end Mr. Reeder climbed up into the
seat of the little van which had brought him and his birds from London,
and drove down the drive. His profit on the transaction was microscopic,
but the satisfaction he had as a poultry fancier was of infinitely
They passed the cottage, outside which the surly servant of the
establishment was smoking. He looked up and Mr. Reeder saw him. He did
not notice the angular man who sat beside the driver.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder, mildly surprised, for he had seen the
He had a motto, which was that one should live honestly and let others
live honestly, which is not quite the same as the less elaborate adage.
But he was also very curious, and curiosity can be a nuisance to all
sorts of people.
At Scotland Yard they called him "lucky," and pointed out amazing
coincidences that had helped him to the solution of important mysteries;
but Mr. Reeder used to suggest that he was responsible for all the
coincidences that helped him.
In his spare time he came to Woodern Green and made a few inquiries, not
because he expected that the results would be of any service to him, but
because he wished to know. Knowledge was his working capital, and he
would go to great trouble in its gathering. He hoarded facts as some
women hoard scraps of silk, or mechanics hoard nuts and screws and odd
nails and useless scraps of machine parts, not because they were of any
immediate use, but because, some day ...
His chief asked about his visit to Bucks, and Mr. Reeder sighed.
"Unfortunately I have--um--a very bad mind. I see--er--the worst, as it
were, in everybody and the most--um--sinister meanings in the most
innocent things--in fact, I have the mind of a criminal. Had I the
courage, which of course I have not, I should have made--um--an
His superior smiled.
"Good. Go down and see that pompous gentleman at Mabberleys to-morrow and
expound what your criminal instincts suggest for the better protection of
So Mr. Reeder, in his mild way, quarrelled with a great man and later was
by premeditation offensive to one who was not so great. The great man was
Sir Wilfred Heinhall, K.B.E., and the rest of it. He was director of
seventeen corporations and chairman of eight of these. He knew everything
about business and economics, and trade balances and world conditions,
but he didn't know much about men.
Mr. Reeder went down to the City, representing the Public Prosecutor, and
in the course of a conversation which had as its subject the prosecution
of an unfaithful servant, suggested that the methods of this particular
corporation were rather antiquated.
"If I--er--may be permitted to offer the view--um--your checking system
leaves--er--much to be desired."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Sir Wilfred. "Are you telling me how to
conduct my business? Did the Public Prosecutor send you down here to
lecture ME on Filing Systems? Good heavens!"
He said a lot more, and Mr. Reeder said nothing much. There were few
opportunities. He went meekly forth into the city street and boarded a
bus that deposited him near to the Home Office.
It was in the afternoon, when he was leaving Whitehall, that he had
occasion to stop a gentleman in the street. The gentleman did not wish to
stop, but Mr. Reeder hooked his arm with the crook of his umbrella and
pulled him back. It was a shockingly undignified action on the part of a
reputable man, but Mr. Reeder did it with all the aplomb of a music-hall
"What are you doing in town, Mr. Higson?" he asked.
The good-looking man of forty, brought to a standstill so
unceremoniously, looked murder and smiled.
"Mister Reeder," murmured the detective. "What is the game--snide or just
Higson was well dressed, but that was part of his graft. Nobody could
remember seeing Hymie Higson looking anything but in the bandbox class.
He had a gold cigarette box in his pocket, and his watch-guard looked
platinum and probably was.
"I'll tell you." Hymie's tone was neither respectful nor humble. "When
you put me in with your damned perjury I had a snug bit of money put
away. That breaks your so-and-so heart, you dirty old something-or-other!
Fifteen thousand quid! I've done my time and you can't touch it. I'm
going straight because I can afford to go straight--if I couldn't afford
to, I'd be selling snide fivers and making a good living, and this time
you wouldn't catch me, you old--"
Mr. Reeder tapped him on the ear with the heavy handle of his umbrella.
It wasn't a heavy tap, but it was painful, and Hymie's hand went up with
"Don't be rude," said Mr. Reeder mildly, "or I'll trip you on to your
back and push the ferrule of my umbrella into your right eye--or left
eye, whichever is most convenient."
There was in Mr. Reeder something cold-bloodedly ferocious which Hymie
suddenly remembered. He blinked at the detective, still holding his ear,
and then abruptly turned and hurried away.
"Very curious," said Mr. Reeder.
But it was not so curious as the incident of the parlourmaid.
Few people would have given a thought to the parlourmaid. Certainly there
was nothing in her appearance or manner to stimulate an interest in her
relations. She was plain, long-faced and anaemic; her legs were
broomsticks, her feet grotesquely large. Mr. Reeder was conscious of her
long before she was completely conscious of Mr. Reeder.
She dusted his room with amazing caution, broke nothing that was
valuable, made no attempt to tidy up his desk, was never in the way. She
thought of him as "elderly," wondered why he was so old-fashioned as to
wear square-topped felt hats and square-toed boots, and why he didn't
shave his side-whiskers. All this in a vague way. She was never realty
interested in Mr. Reeder until his housekeeper told her he was a
"Mr. Reeder," said the housekeeper, more correctly.
"A copper?" definitely sceptical.
"Not a policeman, though he goes to Scotland Yard a lot--he's in the
"Good Gawd!" said the housemaid.
Her name was Elizabeth, and she was of the class that shortens that
stately name to Lizzie.
She pondered on Mr. Reeder after that, surveyed him furtively, craned her
head out of upstairs windows to see him "come from business," dangling
his closely furled umbrella and playing with his eye-glasses.
The question of Ena very naturally came into close association with Mr.
Reeder. Ena's Ernie was Lizzie's absorbing problem. Ena was lovely, with
a skin like ivory and teeth like white porcelain. She had the figure of a
sylph and legs that people used to turn in the street to look at again.
She was Lizzie's sister--nobody quite understood how this came about. Ena
had worked in the City, where she had earned some fifty shillings a week
for typing letters all of which began: "In reply to yours of even date."
Now she didn't work anywhere; lived at home in a room which she had had
specially furnished; drove hither and thither in taxi-cabs, and once or
twice had come home in a beautiful car. On her fingers were two all too
lovely diamond rings. She had three evening dresses, and withal was
respectable. For Ena was engaged to be married to a young gentleman of
fortune named Ernie Molyneux. He lived in the country, and came to town
or to Brighton only for week-ends.
There was nothing odd about this engagement. Mr. Molyneux was a young and
pallid man of twenty-six, slightly chinless but otherwise goodish
looking. He was madly in love with Ena, whom he had met at a cinema and
had brought home by train, calling upon her parents and being asked into
the parlour and asked his views about the weather and the state of trade.
And since he had given satisfactory replies to these questions, and had
passed the test which mother always applied and had answered that he did
not go much to church nowadays, but that he had sung in the choir, he was
accepted. This was before his uncle in Australia died and left him all
his money, and consequently before the taxi-cabs and the diamond rings.
There was nothing about this which worried Lizzie Panton. It was the
advent of the gentleman from the West End which had disturbed the Panton
household. He was a gentleman wearing evening dress and a heavy black
moustache and dark-rimmed eye-glasses. He had come to Friendly Street,
where the Pantons lived, at twelve o'clock one Saturday night. The
Pantons were all in bed except Lizzie. She was washing out some stockings
and things--being a "daily" she had little chance of doing her own work--
and she it was who answered the knock.
"I'm sorry to bother you," said the stranger in a deep, aristocratic
voice (the description is Lizzie's); "but is this Mr. Panton's house?"
"Yes," said Lizzie.
"Is that Ena?"
The stranger took a step into the passage and peered at her.
"You're the slav--the servant girl?"
Lizzie knew that he had been on the point of saying "slavey" and bridled.
"I'm parlourmaid at Mr. Reeder's," she said.
After a longer pause he made her repeat that. "At Mr. Reeder's--which
"In Brockley Road."
She heard the quick intake of his breath. "Really! Is Ena at home?"
"She's just gone to bed. Is anything wrong with Ernie?"
The stranger hesitated.
"No; you're her sister, aren't you?" And, when Lizzie admitted the fact:
"Ernest and she wrote out a paper to-night--a sort of advertisement. That
must not appear."
Ena had come home early that night and the advertisement had been very
completely discussed. As a matter of fact, it was Lizzie's idea
originally to announce the engagement. "It will tie him down," she had
said. And it had been "agreed," as the lawyers say, in this form:
"A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Mr.
Ernest Jakes Molyneux of Overdean, Birmingham, and Miss Ena Panton of
Now, Friendly Street is distinctly in Deptford, but Ena thought Brockley
was more respectable. "Has it been posted?"
"No, it hasn't," said Lizzie. "Wait a bit, I'll see Ena--won't you come
No, he wouldn't come in. He preferred the unlighted passage way.
Presently Ena came down in her new dressing-gown. She was a little
peevish, for Ernie had been rather trying that night--shilly-shallying
about the notice.
"Who are you, anyway?" she demanded. "I am Ernie's guardian," said the
It was evident to the shrewd Lizzie that he was controlling his
impatience with an effort.
"I think the announcement is absolutely unnecessary, and it may spoil his
chances with his other uncle, who doesn't want him to marry."
Ena was impressed. Her young man had not mentioned any other uncle, but
uncles are an unlimited commodity.
"All right, I'll tear it up," she said reluctantly. "I was putting it in
the _Kentish Mercury_, but if you don't think it's right--"
"May I have the paper that Ernest wrote?"
She had it upstairs, and, going up, brought it to him. Lizzie watched him
walk back to the end of the street, where a taxi-cab was waiting for him,
and then came in and shut the door.
"It's very funny," she said.
"It _is_ funny," agreed her sister. "Ouch!" She gave a little scream.
"What's the matter?"
"I put my foot on a mouse or something!" panted the pretty sister, who
was bare-footed. "Stuff! Mouse!"
Lizzie reached up and lit the gas. It was not a mouse--it was a furry
something of familiar shape. Stooping down, she picked it up.
"A false moustache--why, that was what he was wearing!" she gasped.
The two girls looked at one another in amazement.
"That's funny," said Lizzie again.
Ena sat up half the night, writing to her boy. She often wrote, but he
never replied by letter except once when she had had a note posted in
mid-week in Birmingham. Her letters were invariably addressed to a place
off the Haymarket which she discovered was a block of service flats. The
"funniest" thing of all was that that same week came a letter from Ernie,
saying that everything was a mistake, and that, though he loved her, it
was best for everybody if they parted. He told her to keep all the
presents he had given to her.
Ena wept, of course. She made a personal call at West End Mansions, to
learn that Mr. Molyneux had given up his flat and had left no
instructions as to where his letters were to be sent.
To Lizzie the crux of the mystery was that false moustache, until it was
superseded by the second mystery. It was a letter addressed to Ena--a
wild, more or less incoherent, adoring letter. It was from Ernie and bore
the postmark, Birmingham Central, and no address. It was written on
scraps of paper evidently torn from larger sheets.
"I love you more than anything...can't stop thinking about you...You
alone could save my soul from the tyrant who is sucking my blood...If I
could only see you and explain everything--but no, he stands behind me
and it's all oil, oil, oil...Sometimes I wake up and say to myself
suppose it's a lie. How can you tell if you're not on the ground? You
can't _see_ oil. I've read up the Encyclopaedia and it doesn't say
anything like that. Only eight weeks to the thirty-first--what horrible
thoughts possess me! It is the Inspector's fault. If he had done his duty
the first time he would have seen through it, instead of which he was in
a hurry to catch his train."
"I can't make head or tail of it," sniffed Ena.
"Except that he loves you," said her homely sister.
"I knew that," said Ena.
No further letter came from Ernie. One day Lizzie took her courage in
both hands and carried the letter and the moustache to Mr. Reeder.
She chose an occasion which was favourable. It happened to be an evening
off, and Mr. Reeder was dozing before the fire. She began an introduction
which was full of "I hope you will excuse me, sir's" and "I don't know
whatever you will think of me's."
Mr. Reeder blinked himself awake.
"Dear me, what is all this about?" he asked benevolently.
He then observed the parlourmaid for the first time.
"It's about my sister, sir," said Lizzie breathlessly. Mr. Reeder
straightened himself, drew up to his desk and put on his glasses.
"About your sister--yes?"
He had a very extensive knowledge of Lizzie's class, and realised that,
though it might be a very small matter, it was tremendous for her. A very
conventional tragedy, perhaps, the sort of thing that breaks hearts daily
in small and unimportant houses.
"It's her young man," began Lizzie, and told her disconnected story,
reserving till the last the grand denouement of the false moustache.
Mr. Reeder listened, forgot nothing, filled in gaps, and could have
recited the whole history of Ena's love affair without flaw, and much
more accurately than could her breathless sister.
"May I see the letter and the moustache?" he asked.
She produced these articles from her apron pocket and laid them on the
"I haven't told Ena about the letter--I mean, taking it away--but I knew
she kept it in the top left-hand drawer..."
There were some things which surprised Mr. Reeder in the story; there
were some which did not surprise him at all. The paper the letter was
written on, for example. He would have been surprised if it had been any
other kind of paper. The moustache set him frowning. It was very well
made, something better than one can buy in shops, the product of an
expert theatrical wig-maker. There was gum on the upper edge of it,
unevenly applied, and not the spirit gum which should have been applied.
He asked her many questions, few of which she could answer. In fact, he
never seemed to stop asking questions, about all sorts of odd matters
which had no bearing upon Ena's lover and the false moustache. Had Ernie
given the girl money? Had Ena ever met the man with the moustache in
Ernie's company, or anybody who might be he? Did Ernie ever talk about
going abroad, to America, perhaps?
Mr. Reeder was amazingly interested, much more than she had ever expected
him to be, in the love affair of her sister. Ernie was a nice chap, she
"Is that his writing?"
He tapped the letter.
"Are you sure it's his writing?"
Lizzie was absolutely sure; she had seen his writing before. No, Ena had
never received letters from him, but once he had written something in
Ena's autograph book.
"Did you see him write it?" asked Mr. Reeder eagerly.
"How did he hold his pen like this?" Mr. Reeder seized a pen-holder.
"And before he wrote did he make one or two flourishes like this?"
He sent the point of the pen twirling round before it dropped to the
paper, and Lizzie gaped at him.
"That's just what he did do!" she said. "I said to Ma at the time, by way
of a joke, 'He doesn't know what to write, so he's sort of marking
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"That's what he was doing, marking time."
"Do you want to know what he wrote in the autograph book?"
Mr. Reeder hesitated for a fraction of a second. "Well--er--yes," he
It was quite unimportant, but he would be interested to know.
Ernie had written a little bit of poetry about the advantage of a young
lady being good rather than clever, and doing noble things not thinking
"Very--um--admirable," said Mr. Reeder,July 30, 2016, 7:04 p.m. 0 Comments Report Embed 0
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