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34. The Creeping Sickness
From the ensuing consultation in the library we did not rise until close upon
midnight. To the turbid intelligence of Inspector Aylesbury the fact by this time
had penetrated that Colin Camber was innocent, that he was the victim of a
frame-up, and that Colonel Juan Menendez had been shot from a window of his
By a process of lucid reasoning which must have convinced a junior schoolboy,
Paul Harley, there in the big library, with its garish bookcases and its Moorish
ornaments, had eliminated every member of the household from the list of
suspects. His concluding words, I remember, were as follows:
"Of the known occupants of Cray's Folly on the night of the tragedy we now find
ourselves reduced to four, any one of whom, from the point of view of an
impartial critic uninfluenced by personal character, question, or motive, or any
consideration other than that of physical possibility, might have shot Colonel
Menendez. They are, firstly: Myself.
"In order to believe me guilty, it would be necessary to discount the evidence of
Knox, who saw me on the gravel path below at the time that the shot was fired
from the tower window.
"Secondly: Knox; whose guilt, equally, could only be assumed by means of
eliminating my evidence, since I saw him at the window of my room at the time
that the shot was fired.
"Thirdly: Madame de Staemer. Regarding this suspect, in the first place she
could not have gained access to the tower room without assistance, and in the
second place she was so passionately devoted to the late Colonel Menendez
that Dr. Rolleston is of opinion that her reason may remain permanently impaired
by the shock of his death. Fourthly and lastly: Miss Val Beverley."
Over my own feelings, as he had uttered the girl's name, I must pass in silence.
"Miss Val Beverley is the only one of the four suspects who is not in a position to
establish a sound alibi so far as I can see at the moment; but in this case entire
absence of motive renders the suspicion absurd. Having dealt with the known
occupants, I shall not touch upon the possibility that some stranger had gained
access to the house. This opens up a province of speculation which we must
explore at greater leisure, for it would be profitless to attempt such an exploration
Thus the gathering had broken up, Inspector Aylesbury returning to Market Hilton
to make his report and to release Colin Camber and Ah Tsong, and Wessex to
seek his quarters at the Lavender Arms.
I remember that having seen them off, Harley and I stood in the hall, staring at
one another in a very odd way, and so we stood when Val Beverley came quietly
from Madame de Staemer's room and spoke to us.
"Pedro has told me what you have done, Mr. Harley," she said in a low voice.
"Oh, thank God you have cleared him. But what, in Heaven's name, does your
new discovery mean?"