Excellent Intentions: A British Library Crime Classic

Excellent Intentions: A British Library Crime Classic

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY MARTIN EDWARDS 'From the point of view of the nation, it's a good thing that he died.' Great Barwick's least popular man is murdered on a ...

About The Author

Richard Hull

RICHARD HULL (1896-1973) was a chartered accountant who later became a notable writer of detective novels. The Murder of My ...

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Part I

Prosecution

 

“May it please your lordship—members of the jury,” Anstruther Blayton rose to his feet and, as was his habit, moved some papers that were near him in an unnecessary and fussy manner. At the age of fifty-two he was, he knew, comparatively young to have been selected by the Attorney-General to act as leader in a trial which was arousing a certain amount of public interest. Even though he had been known for some time as a leading K.C. on the circuit, it was his chance and he meant to make the most of it.

Fairly, of course—indeed to be anything other than scrupulously fair would not be to make the best of the opportunity—but with real efficiency and success.

He very definitely intended to show the world at large that though he was not exactly a new star in the legal firmament, for he was already quite well known at any rate to the Bench and Bar, he was a very bright constellation indeed. And, if the result must necessarily be the hanging of the prisoner, that was not his fault. After all a verdict of “guilty” would to his mind be right, and it was for the person who committed the murder to consider the consequences, before acting; they were no business of his.

He turned and faced squarely towards the Judge. Mr. Justice Smith had a considerable reputation as one who made up his mind and usually managed to induce the jury, whatever the case might be, to agree with him. It was rumoured that he was thinking of retiring which, in Blayton’s opinion, would be a pity, for he understood that Sir Trefusis Smith was a competent Judge and competent Judges were not easy to get—naturally enough considering how much a really successful K.C., such as Blayton intended to be, could earn.

Perhaps Anstruther Blayton’s reflections were too condescending and his expectations too sweeping. Certainly he was a long way so far from anything of the sort. Indeed the movements and the whole attitude of counsel for the Crown did not please his lordship. Blayton had seldom, during Sir Trefusis Smith’s long service on the Bench, happened to appear before him—and never when it had been essential for him to consider what type of man counsel was. Now that he had to do so, he rather took a dislike to the fresh, almost ruddy-complexioned man of medium height who was visibly trying to impress him, for Sir Trefusis was quite capable of discerning at once the intentions of those who came into his Court. Besides the whole case annoyed him. It was, he had privately decided, to be his last case and he wanted, like Falstaff, to make a good end, but definitely without the traditional “babbling”.

But the case before him, he suspected, was not going to provide such a curtain. It was, he had heard, likely to prove quite simple. There was very little doubt of the guilt of the prisoner, and he would much have preferred something more complicated in which his peculiar talents would have been displayed to advantage. However, if he was going to take a prejudice to counsel for the Crown, it might make things more interesting. Then he pulled himself together. He had no right to take prejudices and still less right to hear anything or form any opinion about the case before it came into Court. No one knew that elementary platitude that was invariably recited to juries better than himself, and usually he took the greatest care to turn the precept into practice. It was just bad luck that he had happened to hear rumours, portions of the Coroner’s inquest, gossip—just the things he had always before avoided. With trained ability, he turned his mind into an impartial blank. He would know nothing except what was told to him in Court and he settled himself to listen, sphinx-like.

“May it please your lordship—members of the jury, on Friday, July 13th—a combination of unlucky days—Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate died in a railway train between Larkingfield and Great Barwick stations on the borders of Essex and Suffolk at approximately eleven-fifty-seven in the morning. On Thursday,  August 9th the accused”—with  a melodramatic gesture which threatened to arouse anew Mr. Justice Smith’s latent prejudice, counsel pointed to the dock and rolled out unctuously the full name of its occupant—“was arrested and charged with wilfully murdering him by administering poison to him, and it is on that charge that the accused now stands before you. It will be my duty, in conjunction with my learned friend, Mr. Knight, to present the case for the Crown, while the defence is in the hands of my learned friends, Mr. Vernon and Mr. Oliver.”

Anstruther Blayton hitched his gown up on to his shoulders. He considered that he had now found what pitch of his full, mellow voice was best suited to the Court, and he thought the moment had come for a few words of wisdom to impress the jury, combined of course with a little flattery.

“Members of the jury, you will I know give your closest and most prolonged attention to this case, not only because it is of unusual complexity, not only because murder is the gravest charge known to the law, but because of the nature of the evidence on which you will be asked to decide this case.”

Blayton paused, feeling that he was doing excellently. That should put the jury at their ease and let them settle down in comfort, but in his more exalted position Sir Trefusis shuffled uneasily. He had during his life listened to a good many platitudes but on the whole he considered that those which Blayton was enunciating were about as bad as any that he had ever heard. Did he really think that any of the jury would consider murder to be a trivial charge? But, the “young” man was inexperienced at this particular work. Perhaps, he thought charitably, he was nervous, although he didn’t look it. He supposed that he must go on listening quietly and not run the risk of worrying him by fidgeting unduly. He let his small, aquiline nose twitch imperceptibly. It was a relief and allowed him to go on listening.

Not that Blayton was, for the moment, taking any notice of him. He was continuing to concentrate almost entirely upon the jury.

“The crime of administering poison is not one which is carried out upon the house-tops before the public gaze of all men. It is almost invariably committed in secret and the evidence with regard to it must almost of necessity be indirect, circumstantial evidence, not that of an eye-witness.

“So it is in this case. For when Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate—”

“I have no wish to interrupt you, Mr. Blayton, but might we in future refer to the unfortunate gentleman who is deceased a little less accurately but more concisely? I am sure that the jury will not misunderstand you.”

“Certainly, my lord. I believe that he was usually known as Henry Cargate.”

“Very well, then. The jury will understand that by Henry Cargate you mean Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate. Perhaps even, in practice, ‘the deceased’ will be a sufficient description. Go on, please, Mr. Blayton.”

For a moment counsel for the prosecution did not seem to know quite what point he had reached. Then he recollected and continued, trying to forgive and forget the fact that one of his best periods had been ruined.

“For when Henry Cargate died in, as I have told you, a railway train, the accused was not even present. Indeed it was unusual for Mr. Cargate to take a train at all. Such journeys as he had occasion to take, he usually performed by car, and for all that the accused knew or cared he might have met his death while actually at the wheel of a motor vehicle, and possibly in circumstances which might have endangered the lives of others utterly unconnected with the deceased or those about him.”

In the dock the accused moved angrily. Whatever else might or might not be true, that was a lie. A reckless and criminal disregard of innocent, third parties—certainly not! Cargate was one thing. Almost anybody might reasonably have killed him. But this red-faced, fussy, blathering man had no right to stir up prejudice in that way.

“Members of the jury, for that reason and for others, I am going to suggest to you that this was a very wicked crime and I will return to that subject again when we consider the question of motive. But for the moment let us return to the crime itself. As chance would however have it, there was a witness present when Henry Cargate died and your attention will later on be directed to the events that then occurred. For indeed had it not happened that a certain Mr. Hardy was looking into the window of the corridor of the train at the critical moment, coupled with, let me add, his presence of mind and the courtesy and public-spirited action, combined with acumen, of the London and North Eastern Railway, this crime might never have been detected.

“Mr. Hardy will tell you…”

Mr. Hardy indeed was burning to tell them. In fact he wanted to retail this quite exciting incident in a great deal more detail than he was likely to be permitted to do in Court. His friends, of course, would hear it in ever-growing form for years to come.

Not that he was so foolish as to regard it as the most important event in his life. On the whole that must be reserved for the building of the new oven in which for ten years past he had supplied bread to all the village of Scotney End after old Smee had decided that he was too old—at ninety-two—to bake any more. It was a very fine oven and it had added very nicely to the profits of the general shop and post-office which Hardy had already been running.

But Friday, July 13th had been an important day to him weeks before it had arrived, for on it he was to visit for the first time for many years his sister who had married and gone to live in foreign parts beyond Great Barwick. It was an expedition of considerable importance for it had been decided that it involved a journey not only to Larkingfield, itself nearly five miles away, but from there by railway. True it was only for one station, but when you are able to count on the fingers of your hands the number of times that you have done anything so adventurous as travelling by a train, it becomes a matter not to be embarked upon lightly.

He had naturally arrived at the station about half an hour too soon. You never could be sure what these railway companies might do. They did say in Scotney End that the time of the only morning train never altered, but he wasn’t going to run any risks. It wasn’t often that he could arrange to have a free day and, if anything went wrong, it might be another few years before he got the chance again. Accordingly he was in plenty of time to see Mr. Cargate arrive at Larkingfield Station.

He was of course perfectly well aware of who Mr. Cargate was. Nobody living in the village could fail to recognize the new owner of Scotney End Hall. Not that Hardy had many dealings with him. Mr. Cargate—it was rather a grievance of Hardy’s—got everything that he possibly could down from London; even his bread was some patent stuff in tins, for Mr. Cargate suffered from a weak digestion in addition to an indifferent heart. Still, there were the members of the household to be supplied, Miss Knox Forster, his middle-aged, plain secretary, Mr. Raikes, his butler, and half a dozen others. The village had at first tried to work up a scandal about his having an unmarried secretary, but one look at Miss Knox Forster had settled that. A woman clearly capable of looking after herself and definitely more competent than attractive.

Still, Scotney End on the whole thought very little of the new owner of the hall. He was a foreigner from London, not like the old Squire, and he made no attempt to overcome the handicap. Indeed he seemed capable of thinking that the village could be improved and he was always interfering in the parish. The vicar in fact was believed strongly to resent his intrusion, but perhaps it was natural that he should dislike having as his principal parishioner one who considered his church an interesting piece of architecture, but openly professed himself an atheist. There was a rumour that Cargate wanted to pull down the vestry to see if there were not the remains of a pagan temple—Roman or some such thing—underneath.

On the whole, Hardy agreed with the vicar and the village if more for the reasons which influenced the latter. Cargate clearly did not care what happened to Scotney End. He only troubled with what happened to himself. It was all very well to mind your own business—both Scotney End and Hardy were in agreement that that was a desirable thing to do—but there was a general consensus of opinion that Cargate overdid it.

But on the morning of Friday, July 13th, the first thing which intrigued Hardy—a naturally inquisitive man—was why Cargate was going by train at all. Normally his arrivals and departures from the village were made in a large and very fast Bentley which he drove at a speed unsuited to the roads round Scotney End at least. It might be all very well when you were beyond Larkingfield and got on to the main road to Great Barwick, but not in places such as the bridge over the brook by Hurst Farm where the corner was blind and there was generally a cow in the middle of the road.

However, that was beside the point. Here was Mr. Cargate getting out of the Austin that could be hired in Larkingfield, and Hardy very properly assumed that there was something wrong with the Bentley. There was also something wrong with Mr. Cargate’s temper. He was tapping his umbrella angrily on the flagstones of the platform and glancing at his watch. Then, seeing the stationmaster, he called out:

“Here, you, how much longer have I got to wait for this infernal train?”

“Due in in about two minutes, sir. We shall see her come round the corner beyond the wood any—”

“The train is already two minutes late. Can’t think what’s coming over railways these days. No wonder nobody ever travels by them.”

Hardy had stood watching, fascinated. He had never seen Harry Benson, who as stationmaster at Larkingfield was of some local importance, talked to in such a way and even interrupted. He wondered what he would do about it. On the whole Hardy was a little disappointed. Benson only shrugged his shoulders when Cargate’s back was turned. He didn’t trouble to make any reply at all.

Cargate himself moved a few yards down the platform in the direction from which the train would come, apparently under the impression that that would hasten its arrival. The movement brought him quite close to Hardy so that he was able to see exactly what happened next. From his pocket Cargate took a small gold-coloured box, rather thicker than a cigarette-case, with something on the lid which sparkled—at least that is how Hardy mentally described it to himself— and, opening it, put as much of a light brown powder on to his left thumb as could be conveniently placed there. It was rather clumsily done and, in fact, a few grains fell on to the platform. Though he had never taken it, Hardy recognized from what he had been told that this must be snuff. He wanted to see what happened next and without realizing what he was doing he took a pace forward.

What happened was that he caused the porter, who was wheeling Cargate’s luggage down the platform, to swerve slightly so that he just touched the left arm that was about to raise the snuff to the nose of an already irritated man. It was only the merest graze but it was sufficient to send the rest of the light brown powder on to the platform. Cargate’s temper gave way at once.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Great clumsy lout! For heaven’s sake go back to looking after the pigs which are your natural companions.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m sure, but you seemed to move in to me.”

“I did nothing of the sort.” It was perfectly true but there was no need for the withering contempt in Cargate’s voice. Snuff, after all, was cheap, and if he was in urgent need of its soothing influence, he had already wasted more time in abusing the porter than it would have taken to open the box and replace what had been spilt. But Cargate never had done sensible things like that. “Stationmaster! Stationmaster!” he yelled.

“What’s the matter now, sir?”

“I’ll trouble you not to be sarcastic to me. I shall undoubtedly report this when I get to Liverpool Street. Your train is late and you pretend that it isn’t; you are thoroughly impertinent and offhand in your manner yourself, and this oaf of a porter of yours runs into me and then has the cheek to tell me that I ran into him. With a heart like mine, the sudden shock might well have been very bad for me.”

“If you’ve got a bad heart, I should calm yourself, sir. I’m sure Jim here didn’t mean any harm and he’ll say he’s sorry. Accidents will happen, sir, even in the best regulated stations.”

“Which this certainly is not.”

“No, sir, but we do our best.” Benson did his best to pour oil on the troubled waters, though even at the time he couldn’t imagine why he was taking so much trouble. Still, it was a good example to the porter with whom he knew he was going to have trouble directly the eleven-fifty-six had gone.

Fortunately, before Cargate could reply, a diversion was created by a nondescript brown dog which came cheerfully bounding along the platform towards them with every sign of joyous recognition.

“Here’s that dog of yours again, Jim.” Benson turned at once to the porter. “How often have I told you to keep him locked up properly when there’s duty to be done.” He didn’t like telling off Jim in front of this man Cargate, but it might change the subject. Also it would anticipate the trouble that was only too likely to be brewing up. Even with porters, offence was often the best defence.

“Well, I’m sorry, sir.” Jim was unexpectedly humble. “But he’s that clever, he will get out.”

“Then he doesn’t resemble his master,” Cargate snapped, “except that he’s thoroughly out of hand. I notice that neither of you can control your subordinates. I shall add that to my report.”

But the dog had not yet finished creating his diversion, and now, instead of being ill-omened, it glanced aside into a more propitious course, since attracted by the smell, it put its nose down to where the powder had been spilled. Apparently it did not like it at all since after a startled sneeze, it ran away howling and rubbing its nose against the paling as if something was burning it. At that moment too the train came in, and with a less indignant “Serve you right”, Cargate got in. It had amused him to watch the dog’s discomfiture; nevertheless he saw no reason to tip the porter and he was fully determined to complain about the whole matter. Already in his mind he was preparing the exaggerated sentences that he would use, for Cargate was well aware of the best way of getting those to whom he took a dislike into trouble. In fact he had probably done more harm to other people than almost any other private individual in the world.

During all this time Hardy had remained in the background, an interested spectator. He could, and afterwards he frequently did, give a most vivid rendering of what occurred, but that was to make up for the fact that Mr. Justice Smith did not encourage him to tell the Court about it nearly so completely as he might. Moreover, just after the train left Larkingfield he was still an interested spectator for he shrewdly guessed that as soon as it started, Cargate would take his deferred pinch of snuff and he wanted to watch him. Quite what he expected to see, it is difficult to imagine. Perhaps it was simply that he did not know what he would see that excited his ever active curiosity.

Luck was with him. The train was only a slow one on a branch line, but Great Barwick was just sufficiently distinguished to be allowed (grudgingly) an occasional through carriage, composed partly of first and partly of third class compartments with a corridor. Consequently Hardy was able to stand in the passage, and while keeping out of Cargate’s sight, watch in the window the reflection of that gentleman once more taking out his snuffbox. Indeed afterwards Hardy was invariably to say that it was the accident of that reflection which made him look. On the whole it is probable that he would have looked anyhow, directly or indirectly, and that the reflection was just a lucky chance for him but, be that as it may, he looked and he saw.

Once more he saw “the box with the sparkling lid” appear from Cargate’s pocket and the light brown powder be put on the left thumb. A lot of it there was and this time the clumsiness had gone. Hardy admired the skill with which so much was kept so carefully in place. The thumb travelled surely up to Cargate’s nostril and with a powerful sniff, the brown powder disappeared. For a fifth of a second Cargate’s ill-natured face seemed more satisfied. Then followed a sneeze more violent than any Hardy had ever heard in his life. As if the sneeze wanted to expel everything from his nostrils. After that a slight flush appeared over his cheeks and he fell back in the seat, the box clattering on the floor and its contents being all spilled.

Hardy was only a simple country man but he didn’t like the look of it all. He was sure that Cargate was very ill and he remembered the remarks which he had just heard him making about his heart. He had only been in a railway train a few times before but he was certain that he ought to do something—in fact that he ought to do the thing that he had always been told was the one thing that normally you must never do. Before the train was out of sight of Larkingfield Station, he pulled the communication cord.

Naturally the account which Hardy gave to his friends was a longer one than he gave either at the instigation of Mr. Blayton or to Inspector Fenby. Jim’s dog, for instance, in whom the Inspector did show a transient interest, was not allowed to appear in Court at all, and when it came to being cross-questioned by counsel for the accused, the interest shifted to an unexpected subject.

The defence, as Blayton had so kindly told the Court, was in the hands of Mr. Vernon, K.C., assisted by Mr. Oliver, and Hardy, as the first witness, was taken in hand by the senior counsel.

“You were,” suggested Vernon in a bored voice, “when the deceased took the pinch of snuff, sitting in your compartment?”

“No, sir, I was standing in the corridor.” Considering that he had said so already only a few minutes before, Hardy was rather nettled by the question.

“And looking out of the window?”

“Yes, sir, and into the window, if you see what I mean.”

“I am quite able to follow you, thank you, but it isn’t quite the same thing, is it?”

“It comes to the same thing.”

“Does it?”

“Well, sir—”

“Come, come, ‘out of ’ and ‘into’ aren’t the same thing, are they?”

“But they come to the same thing; because there happened to be a reflection.”

“So you say. Are you sure you weren’t looking at the station or the fields?”

“No, sir.”

“I suggest to you that you were. ‘Out of ’ in fact, not ‘into’.”

“Anyhow I saw the reflection.”

“And what was the deceased wearing?”

There was a slight pause while Hardy collected his slow-moving thoughts to meet this new abrupt demand.

“Well, sir, I don’t know that I took much notice of his clothes. It was a warm day, and I don’t think he had an overcoat. No, I’m sure he hadn’t.”

“You presume that because it was a warm day he had no overcoat? Isn’t that all that it amounts to?” Since Hardy’s gesture implied consent, Vernon let it pass and went on: “What coloured suit was he wearing?”

“I think it was brown.”

“You think it was brown. And what coloured tie? Green?”

“I don’t rightly remember.”

“I suggest to you that it was red.”

“It may have been.”

“You aren’t very sure about colours, are you? Are you certain that there wasn’t a prismatic effect from a flaw in the glass of the window or reflection which made you think there was some colour present which was not in fact there at all?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand all those words, but very likely you’re right, sir.” Hardy was quite prepared to be friendly with anybody and, having no idea what learned counsel was talking about, was quite ready to agree on a point which seemed to him quite trivial. What did it matter what coloured tie Cargate had been wearing?

“Very likely I am right,” Vernon went on suavely, and a little contemptuously. “Now, Mr. Hardy, you said, if I heard you rightly, that you noticed a slight flush on Mr. Cargate’s face just after he took the snuff. Are you sure that you are right about that too? Might not that be a mistake? Or, alternately, might it not also be due to the fact that you only saw things reflected?”

Put that way it did sound possible and Hardy began to waver. Seeing what he thought was his advantage, Vernon unwisely pressed the point.

“I suggest to you that there was no flush on his face at all.”

But by now Hardy had recovered himself and his recollection was clear.

“Yes, sir, there was. I seed it clearly.”

“Though you didn’t notice the colour of anything else?”

“Well, it changed. Nothing else did.”

“Exactly. But the train was moving. The light might have changed too, might it not?”

“Yes sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hardy.” Vernon sat down. It was going to be part of his case that the witness’s imagination had played tricks with him, and he thought that he had established his point sufficiently.

In his turn Blayton rose to his feet and addressed the witness. He was not quite sure what Vernon’s point was, or how it would help him in view of the medical evidence, but it seemed easy to defeat it. “In your evidence, in chief you said that in your opinion a flush came over the deceased’s face just after he took the snuff?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I think you said that you clearly saw him take the snuff?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you also said—correct me if I am wrong—that you saw quite clearly that the snuff placed on Mr. Cargate’s thumb actually disappeared up his nostril?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hardy.” In his turn Blayton expressed his gratitude and resumed his seat. “That will be all, Mr. Hardy.”

“Aren’t I to say what happened after I pulled the cord and the guard and then Harry Benson and Jim came along? And the engine driver?”

“No, thank you, Mr. Hardy. They can give us quite a clear account of that themselves.”

Had Blayton been present at eleven-fifty-eight on that morning, it is doubtful whether he would have been so confident of the clarity of his witnesses, for at the time there is no doubt that there was considerable confusion.

Benson had just recorded that the eleven-fifty-six had, whatever Cargate might have said, left Larkingfield punctually when, as he emerged from his office, he was surprised to hear sounds as if the train were stopping. Looking down the straight track that led away from the station he saw that it had actually stopped.

“Now what’s the matter?” he asked himself. “Jim,” he called out to the porter. “There ain’t any signal against her, is there?”

“Course not. There ain’t one there what could be.” The porter looked rather pityingly at Benson. The old man must be breaking up, first truckling to men like that—quite unprintable—passenger, and now imagining that a signal had been put up all of a sudden where there never had been one before! “Most likely that man from Scotney End ’All—what’s ’is name? Cargate? Most likely he’s found something else to complain about. Doesn’t like the colour of the cushions, I expect.” He relieved his feelings by a loud guffaw.

“Seems as if something ’as ’appened. Guard’s going along the line. Better go and see what it is.” Benson started to walk down the track, followed by Jim who had nothing to do at the moment that would not wait and was not going to be left out of any fun that there might be. There might be a chance to get his own back on the object of his aversion.

On reaching the train Benson climbed up on to the step outside the carriage while Jim stayed by the side of the track and meditatively picked and chewed a piece of grass.

“Gent been taken ill.” The guard put his head out of the window of the carriage.

“What with? Look of Hardy’s face or what?”

“Shut up, Jim. If he should hear you—we’re likely to get enough trouble from him as it is. And he said he had a bad heart. Is that it?”

“Very likely.” The guard’s voice came from inside the carriage; “and if you ask me you aren’t to get any more trouble, because I think he’s dead.”

“Crikey! He can’t be. Why, he only just got into the train.”

“It was taking the snuff what killed him—if he is dead.” Hardy put his head out of the next window.

“Well, what are we going to do about it? Take him out and put him by the side and send for a doctor? We can’t keep the train standing here all day. There’s two in the front coach as it is and they’ll be getting excited; if we don’t get on to Great Barwick soon, we’ll miss the connection at Luke’s Tey.”

“Going to be a job getting him out and lowering him down. And if he is a bit dicky it might finish him off.”

Benson viewed the practical difficulties. He was less interested than the guard in such matters as connections with the remote outer world.

“And if he is dead,” Hardy put in, “it don’t somehow seem right to take him all the way to Great Barwick. Even if he isn’t a proper Scotney End man, or even a Larkingfield one, he does sort of belong here and he ought to stay here.”

“I could lock up the coach, but it wouldn’t help much to take it on if nobody’s going to be allowed to get into it. ’Twouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t a corridor train. No, he’ll have to be taken out here. Three of us had better do it while one rings up Great Barwick and tells them what’s happened and then perhaps gets on to a doctor. Though if he is dead—”

“’Ere,” a fresh voice broke in, “are you going to talk all day? ’Cause I want to get on.”

Looking out from the window Hardy saw the grimy face of the engine driver below. Instantly all four of those present started to explain to him what the trouble was so that it could not have been easy for him to understand what had happened. But the engine driver was a man of action. He swung himself nimbly up into the train, took one look at Cargate and pronounced a decided, if unscientific opinion that he was entirely dead. Moreover he was quite clear what in his opinion was the right course of action, and having got a definite programme in view, he carried it out regardless of whether it was right or wrong, simply because it was definite.

Carriages, he maintained, containing what he persisted in referring to as “stiffs”, ought not to be touched. There had to be an enquiry. Doctors and police and all that sort of thing; “Just in case,” he added vaguely.

“You aren’t implying, are you,” Jim mischievously suggested, “that ’Ardy murdered ’im?”

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not. Any’ow we drops the coach ’ere in the siding by the station and while we’re doing it, you report to Great Barwick what’s ’appened. Then you can settle things up ’ere nice and comfortable at your leisure and the train goes on. Somebody makes a note of this gentleman’s address—”

“Mr. Benson and Jim know me,” Hardy put in, rather taken aback.

“So much the better. You get in the other coach, then, and there we all are, all serene. Except perhaps the gent what’s dead, and even there you can’t be sure. Now while I and this young fellow-me-lad with the bright ideas does the shunting, perhaps the stationmaster will do the telephoning.”

Chance and the decision of the engine driver had seen to it that some of the evidence as to how Henry Cargate died had not been destroyed, and after an interval, the shortness of which was mainly to the credit of the engine driver, peace once more reigned in Larkingfield Station where nothing moved except the butterflies passing from rose to rose in the beds that flanked the notice-board giving the name of the station. They were very fine roses that Benson grew on the heavy clay soil and they were the pride of his life.

Normally he liked to linger in the complete calm of the platform, for Larkingfield Station lay up a side turning half a mile from the village, and there was nothing to disturb it in between the infrequent trains. But to-day it did not seem to Benson to be at all the same thing. Supposing that man wasn’t dead? Supposing he revived and needed attention? He would have no idea of what to do. It would be a great relief when Dr. Gardiner came. If only there was something to do! Jim, unconcernedly, was preparing some food for his dog, but then Jim, apart from the fact that he cared more for his dog than for any human being, was neither in a position of any responsibility nor particularly given to introspection as to sickness or corpses.

Suddenly it had occurred to Benson that he had not done one very obvious thing. He could only imagine that he had forgotten it because the engine driver’s ideas—he refused to admit them to be orders—had been otherwise so clear. He had not rung up Scotney End Hall, and he immediately decided to remedy the defect.

The voice of Raikes, the butler, was clear and unruffled and not particularly surprised. He was sorry to hear that Mr. Cargate had been taken unwell. His heart was at all times weak. The doctors had been sent for? That was good. No doubt if it proved to be anything serious Mr. Cargate’s own heart specialist would supplement the efforts of the local practitioner who possibly was not aware of the best treatment. What was that? It was suggested that Mr. Cargate was dead? That would indeed be (Raikes had paused as if he found the words difficult to say) very distressing. He would acquaint Miss Knox Forster, Mr. Cargate’s secretary, at once. Unfortunately the car being out of action, they had no means of transport, but very likely Miss Knox Forster would decide to make arrangements to come down at once herself. In fact Mr. Benson might assume that that would be so unless he heard to the contrary. Mr. Benson did assume it and it gave him some comfort.

Reviews of

Excellent Intentions: A British Library Crime Classic

“This droll and inventive golden age mystery, first published in 1938, from Hull (1896-1973) offers a courtroom-based whodunit with a twist…The court scenes, presented from the perspective of the presiding judge, the jury foreman, and the advocates for and against the accused, are artful examples of an author’s using wit as a method of diverting attention from vital clues, making the identity of the suspect a genuine surprise. This reissue exemplifies the mission of the British Library Crime Classics series in making an outstanding and original mystery accessible to a modern audience.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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