Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE ZEAL OF INSPECTOR TINKLER
The strange affair of Jentham's murder continued to occupy the attention of the Beorminster public throughout the week; and on the day when the inquest was held, popular excitement rose to fever heat. Inspector Tinkler, feeling that the County expected him to do great things worthy of his reputation as a zealous officer, worked his hardest to gather evidence likely to elucidate the mystery of the death; but in spite of the most strenuous exertions, his efforts resulted in total failure. The collected details proved to be of the most meagre description, and when the coroner sat on the body nothing transpired to reveal the name, or even indicate the identity of the assassin who had provided him with a body to sit on. It really seemed as though the Southberry murder would end in being relegated to the list of undiscovered crimes.
'For I can't work miracles,' explained the indignant Tinkler, when reproached with this result, 'and somehow the case has got out of hand. The motive for the shooting can't be got at; the pistol used ain't to be picked up, search how you may; and as for the murdering villain who fired it, if he ain't down below where he ought to be, I'll take my oath as a soldier he ain't above ground. Take it how you will, this case is a corker and no mistake.'
It had certainly occurred to Tinkler's bothered mind that Miss Whichello should be called as a witness, if only to prove that at one time the dead man had occupied a better position in the world, but after a short interview with her he had abandoned this idea. Miss Whichello declared that she could throw no light on the affair, and that she had lost sight of the quondam violinist for over thirty years. Her recognition of him as Amaru had been entirely due to the description of his gipsy looks and the noticeable cicatrice on his face; and she pointed out to Tinkler that she had not seen the so-called Jentham till after his death; moreover, it was unlikely that events which had occurred thirty years before could have resulted in the man's violent death at the present time; and Miss Whichello insisted that she knew nothing of the creature's later circumstances or acquaintances. Being thus ignorant, it was not to be expected that her evidence would be of any value, so at her earnest request Tinkler held his tongue, and forebore to summon her as a witness. Miss Whichello was greatly relieved in her own mind when the inspector came to this conclusion, but she did not let Tinkler see her relief.
From Mosk, the officer had learned that the vagabond who called himself Jentham had appeared at The Derby Winner some three weeks previous to the time of his death. He had given no information as to where he had last rested, but, so far as Mosk knew, had dropped down from the sky. Certainly his conversation when he was intoxicated showed that he had travelled a great deal, and that his past was concerned with robbery, and bloodshed, and lawlessness; but the man had talked generally as any traveller might, had refrained from mentioning names, and altogether had spoken so loosely that nothing likely to lead to a tangible result could be gathered from his rambling discourses. He had paid his board and lodging for the first week, but thereafter had lived on credit, and at the time of his death had owed Mosk over two pounds, principally for strong drink. Usually he slept at The Derby Winner and loafed about the streets all day, but at times he went over to the gipsy camp near Southberry and fraternised with the Romany. This was the gist of Mosk's information, but he added, as an afterthought, that Jentham had promised to pay him when certain monies which he expected came into his possession.
'Who was going to pay him this money?' asked Tinkler, pricking up his ears.
'Carn't y'arsk me somethin' easier?' growled Mosk; 'how should I know? He said he was goin' to get the dibs, but who from, or where from, I dunno', for he held his tongue so far.'
'There was no money in the pockets of the clothes worn by the body,' said Tinkler, musingly.
'I dessay not, Mr Inspector. I don't b'lieve the cove was expecting any money, I don't. 'Twas all moonshine--his talk, to make me trust him for bed and grub, and a blamed fool I've bin doin' so,' grumbled Mosk.
'The pockets were turned inside out, though.'
'Oh, they was, was they, Mr Inspector? Well, that does look queer. But if there was any light-fingered business to be done, I dessay them gipsies hev somethin' to do with it.'
'Did the man go to the gipsy camp on Sunday night?'
'Bell ses he did,' replied Mr Mosk, 'but I went over to Southberry in the arternoon about a little 'oss as I'm sweet on, so I don't know what he did, save by 'earsay.'
Bell, on being questioned by the inspector, declared that Jentham had loitered about the hotel the greater part of Sunday, but had taken his departure about five o'clock. He did not say that he was going to the camp, but as he often paid a visit to it, she presumed that he had gone there during that evening. 'Especially as you found his corpse on the common, Mr Tinkler,' said Bell, 'no doubt the poor wretch was coming back from them gipsies.'
'Humph! it's not a bad idea,' said Tinkler, scratching his well-shaven chin. 'Strikes me as I'll go and look up Mother Jael.'
The result of an interview with that iniquitous old beldame proved that Jentham had certainly been the guest of the gipsies on Sunday evening but had returned to Beorminster shortly after nine o'clock. He had stated that he was going back to The Derby Winner, and as it was his custom to come and go when he pleased, the Romany had not taken much notice of his departure. A vagrant like Jentham was quite independent of time.
'He was one of your lot, I suppose?' said Mr Inspector, taking a few notes in his pocket-book--a secretive little article which shut with a patent clasp.
'Yes, dearie, yes! Lord bless 'ee,' mumbled Mother Jael, blinking her cunning eyes, 'he was one of the gentle Romany sure enough.'
'Was he with you long, granny?'
'Three week, lovey, jus' three week. He cum to Beorminster and got weary like of you Gentiles, so he made hisself comforbal with us.'
'Blackguards to blackguards, and birds of a feather' murmured Tinkler; then asked if Jentham had told Mother Jael anything about himself.
'He!' screeched the old hag, 'he niver tol' me a word. He cum an' he go'd; but he kep his red rag to himself, he did. Duvel! he was a cunning one that Jentham.'
'Was his name Jentham, mother; or was it something else?'
'He called hisself so, dearie, but I niver knowed one of that gentle Romany as had a Gentile name. We sticks to our own mos'ly. Job! I shud think so.'
'Are you sure he was a gipsy?'
'Course I am, my noble Gorgio! He could patter the calo jib with the best of 'um. He know'd lots wot the Gentiles don' know, an' he had the eagle beak an' the peaked eye. Oh, tiny Jesus was a Romany chal, or may I die for it!'
'Do you know who killed him?' asked Tinkler, abruptly.
'No, lovey. 'Tweren't one of us, tho' you puts allays the wust on our backs. Job! dog do niver eat dog, as I knows, dearie.'
'He left your camp at nine o'clock?'
'Thereabouts, my lamb; jes' arter nine!'
'Was he sober or drunk?'
'Betwix' an' between, lovey; he cud walk straight an' talk straight, an' look arter his blessed life.'
'Humph! seems as though he couldn't,' said Mr Inspector, dryly.
'Duvel! that's a true sayin',' said Mother Jael, with a nod, 'but I don' know wot cum to him, dearie.'
At the inquest Mother Jael was called as a witness, and told the jury much the same story as she had related to Tinkler, with further details as to the movements of the gipsies on that night. She declared that none of the tribe had left the camp; that Jentham had gone away alone, comparatively sober; and that she did not hear of his murder until late the next day. In spite of examination and cross-examination, Mother Jael could give no evidence as to Jentham's real name, or about his past, or why he was lingering at Beorminster. 'He cum'd an' he go'd,' said Mother Jael, with the air of an oracle, and that was the extent of her information, delivered in a croaking, shuffling, unconvincing manner.
The carter, Giles Crake, who had found the body, was a stupid yokel whose knowledge was entirely limited to his immediate surroundings. Perched on his cart, he had seen the body lying in a ditch half full of water, on the other side of an earthen mound, which extended along the side of the main road. The spot where he discovered it, was near Beorminster, and about five miles from the gipsy camp. The man had been shot through the heart; his pockets had been emptied and turned inside out; and evidently after the murder the robber had dragged the body over the mound into the ditch. Giles had not touched the corpse, being fearful of getting into trouble, but had come on at once to Beorminster to inform the police of his discovery.
It was Dr Graham who had examined the body when first discovered, and according to his evidence the man had been shot through the heart shortly before ten o'clock on Sunday night. The pistol had been fired so close that the clothing of the deceased over the heart was scorched and blackened with the powder of the cartridge. 'And from this fact,' added Graham, with one of his shrewd glances, 'I gather that the murderer must have been known to Jentham!'
'How is that, doctor?' asked one of the jury.
'Because he must have held him in talk while contemplating the crime, sir. The murderer and his victim must almost have been breast to breast, and while the attention of the latter was distracted in some way, the assassin must have shot him at close quarters.'
'This is all theory, Dr Graham,' said the coroner, who was a rival practitioner.
'It seems to me that the whole case rests on theory,' retorted Graham, and shrugged his shoulders.
Before the evidence concerning the matter closed, Inspector Tinkler explained how difficult it had been to collect even the few details which the jury had heard. He stated also that although the strictest search had been made in the vicinity of the crime, the weapon with which it had been committed could not be found. As the shooting had been done during a downfall of rain, the assassin's and his victim's footmarks were visible in the soft clay of the roadway; also there were the marks of horses' hoofs, so it was probable that the murderer had been mounted. If this were so, neither gipsies nor harvesters could have killed the wretched man, as neither the one lot nor the other possessed horses and--'
'The gipsies have horses to draw their caravans!' interrupted a sharp-looking juryman.
'To draw their caravans I admit,' said the undaunted Tinkler, 'but not to ride on. Besides, I would remind you, Mr Jobson, as Mother Jael declares, that none of her crowd left the camp on that night.'
'Oh, she'd declare anything,' muttered Jobson, who had no great opinion of Tinkler's brains. 'Have the footmarks in the road been measured?'
'No, they haven't, Mr Jobson!'
'Then they should have, Mr Inspector; you can tell a lot from a footmark, as I've heard. It's what the French call the Bertillon system of identification, that's what it is.'
'I don't need to go to France to learn my business,' said Tinkler, tartly, 'and if I did get the measurements of them footmarks, how am I to know which is which--Jentham's or his murderer's? and how can I go round the whole of Beorminster to see whose feet fit 'em? I ask you that, Mr Jobson, sir.'
At this point, judging that the discussion had gone far enough, the coroner intervened and said that Mr Inspector had done his best to unravel a very difficult case. That he had not succeeded was the fault of the case and not of Mr Inspector, and for his part, he thought that the thanks of the Beorminster citizens were due to the efforts of so zealous and intelligent an officer as Tinkler. This sapient speech reduced the recalcitrant Jobson to silence, but he still held to his opinion that the over-confident Tinkler had bungled the matter, and in this view he was silently but heartily supported by shrewd Dr Graham, who privately considered that Mr Inspector Tinkler was little better than an ass. However, he did not give vent to this offensive opinion.
The summing-up of the coroner called for little remark. He was a worthy country doctor, with as much brains as would cover a sixpence, and the case was beyond him in every way. His remarks to the jury--equally stupid, with the exception of Jobson--were to the effect that it was evidently impossible to find out who had killed Jentham, that the man was a quarrelsome vagabond who probably had many enemies; that no doubt while crossing the common in a drunken humour he had met with someone as bad as himself, and had come to high words with him; and that the unknown man, being armed, had no doubt shot the deceased in a fit of rage. 'He robbed the body, I daresay, gentlemen,' concluded the coroner, 'and then threw it into the ditch to conceal the evidence of his crime. As we don't know the man, and are never likely to know him, I can only suggest that you should find a verdict in accordance with the evidence supplied to you by the zeal of Inspector Tinkler. Man has done all he can to find out this Cain, but his efforts have been vain, so we must leave the punishment of the murderer to God; and as Holy Scripture says that "murder will out," I have no doubt that some day the criminal will be brought to justice.'
After this wise speech it was not surprising that the jury brought in a verdict, 'That the deceased Jentham met with a violent death at the hands of some person or persons unknown,' that being the kind of verdict which juries without brains--as in the present instance--generally give. Having thus settled the matter to their own bovine satisfaction, the jury went away after having been thanked for their zeal by the coroner. That gentleman was great on zeal.
'Hum! Hum! Hum!' said Dr Graham to himself, 'there's too much zeal altogether. I wonder what M. de Talleyrand would have thought of these cabbages and their zeal. Well, Mr Inspector,' he added aloud, 'so you've finished off the matter nicely.'
'We have done our best, Dr Graham, sir.'
'And you don't know who killed the man?'
'No, sir, I don't; and what's more, I don't believe anybody ever will know.'
'Humph, that's your opinion, is it? Do you read much, Mr Inspector?'
'A novel at times, sir. I'm fond of a good novel.'
'Then let me recommend to your attention the works of a French author, by name Gaboriau. There's a man in them called Lecoq, who would have found out the truth, Mr Inspector.'
'Fiction, Dr Graham, sir! Fiction.'
'True enough, Mr Inspector, but most fiction is founded on fact.'
'Well, sir,' said Tinkler, with a superior wise smile, 'I should like to see our case in the hands of your Mr Lecoq.'
'So should I, Mr Inspector, or in the hands of Sherlock Holmes. Bless me, Tinkler, they'd do almost as much as you have done. It is a pity that you are not a character in fiction, Tinkler.'
'Why, sir? Why, may I ask?'
'Because your author might have touched you up in weak parts, and have gifted you with some brains. Good-day, Mr Inspector.'
While Graham walked away chuckling at his banter of this red-tape official, the official himself stood gasping like a fish out of the water, and trying to realise the insult levelled at his dignity. Jobson--a small man--sidled round to the front of him and made a comment on the situation.
'It all comes of your not measuring them footmarks,' said Jobson. 'In detective novels the clever fellows always do that, but you'd never be put into a book, not you!'
'You'll be put into jail,' cried the outraged inspector.
'It's more than Jentham's murderer will if you've got the catching of him,' said Jobson, and walked off.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.