Castles on the Moon
"Ladies and gentlemen." Sir Alan Masefield beamed around at us from the podium as he waited for the murmurings to settle down. We were gathered in his dining room, which had been temporarily appropriated for this private presentation. We were all curious, and the excitement emanating from Sir Alan himself was almost palpable. "Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to my humble home. I confess I do not use it much. The business of exploring the unexplored, charting the uncharted, and, I dare say, treading where angels fear to tread--that takes up most of my time. Most of you were in attendance at my lecture yesterday, at the British Museum, where I spoke of my last expedition into parts formerly unknown. Most of you were also in attendance at the following lecture, given by my esteemed colleague, Colonel Edward Ross, on the flora and fauna observed and documented on his last expedition into parts formerly unknown. You'll notice my emphasis on the phrase, 'parts formerly unknown'. Ladies and gentlemen, through the efforts of the Colonel and myself, the number of parts still unknown on our God-given planet are growing increasingly rare. One might say the Colonel and I are actively working to deprive each other of our greatest joy: exploration. Adventure. Discovery. Future generations of explorers--and I see many among you who count as such--might well curse our name. Fortunately, there is still one frontier which remains virginal and untouched, unexplored, unplumbed, undiscovered. Colonel Ross and I are agreed on this: something must be done to open up this new frontier. For future generations!"
A cheer went up among the young men gathered at the opposite side of the table. They were a keen-looking, adventurous lot, and had probably been hand-picked by Colonel Ross himself as likely volunteers for whatever expedition Sir Alan had in mind for this new frontier of his. The only one among them whom I recognised was Eric Peterkin, whose sister had gone to school with my fiancée; we'd met a couple of times before, and he'd struck me as being a rather steady, level-headed sort, if perhaps a little over-concerned with old-fashioned notions of honour and chivalry. His excitement at the prospect of an expedition into unknown territory was hardly a surprise. Back at the dining room door, Colonel Edward Ross--big, bluff, and bear-like, the black ribbon of his thick pince-nez glasses lending a touch of incongruity--was grinning like a schoolboy and clearly enjoying the whole spectacle at least as much as Peterkin and his compatriots.
For my own part, I was rather more cautious about expressing my interest, as were the stolid investors and industrialists sitting on my side of the table. At twenty-five, I was half the age of the youngest of them, and I suppose I had the most to prove. It had only been a few years since I'd taken full control of Vane Industries, the corporation founded by my late father, and it was now only a question of what direction I wanted to take it.
Sir Alan waited once more for the general hubbub to die down, then said: "You must be wondering: what final frontier could I possibly mean? To explain, I now invite my colleague, Mr. Niraj Deosthali, to the podium. Mr. Deosthali, if you please?"
The tall, lanky young man at the hyalotype lantern stood and took Sir Alan's place at the podium. He was a very refined-looking Indian fellow, with a neat little moustache and an aristocratic nose, and dressed in the European fashion; but for his swarthy, olive complexion, he might have been taken for a white man. Already there was a ripple of murmurs and muttering in the audience. Beside me, Sir Timothy Morton half-rose from his seat, then sat back down with an air of displeasure. On my other side, Francis Hawthorne began whispering to his next neighbour, Benedict Summers, who chuckled ominously in reply. I must confess that I myself was a little surprised, for I had taken Deosthali for Sir Alan's assistant; the 1920s were an enlightened age, but not so enlightened that we'd quite let go of the preconceptions and prejudices most of us Englishmen had--and many still have--about races not our own.
Deosthali stood at the podium for a moment, hesitating. He gestured to Colonel Ross, who dimmed the lights; Sir Alan inserted the first of an array of slides into the hyalotype lantern, and the screen behind Deosthali lit up with an image ... of the moon. "Some of you will have read stories of Man finding his way onto the moon," said Deosthali in faintly accented English. "If you have not, then you must have at least heard of these stories. I believe--and Sir Alan believes, and Colonel Ross also--that this dream can be a reality. Ladies and gentlemen, the moon is unexplored territory, and I believe that I have the means to get us there."
What followed was a series of slides showing increasingly distant pictures of London: the first might have been taken from a tower, if such existed over Hyde Park; another might have been taken from an aeroplane. The last two were clearly taken from such a distance as to be impossible with any technology known to us then. I could hear gasps and whispers from all around. Several of the adventurous young men on the other side of the table--including Peterkin--were leaning forward, completely enraptured by the prospect.
"I assure you that the rocket I have developed could go higher still. But without the guidance of a human hand at the helm, the return and retrieval of the rocket becomes all but impossible."
The following slides showed details and schematics: Deosthali's ideas, and the rationale behind them. He had an idea about harnessing the ambient electricity to power the rocket, which was fascinating--I could think of several other applications for that technology, even if the idea of lunar exploration were to fall flat. He was frank about the shortcomings of his work, too: the areas where further research was necessary, and this assured me more than anything else that his rather fantastic ideas were in fact founded on solid reality and not, as they say, merely building castles in Spain. His prototype rocket was large enough only for a remote camera, but the one he envisioned for actual lunar exploration would be as large as a house, and cost ... well, there was a reason an independently wealthy fellow like Sir Alan Masefield had called in the likes of Hawthorne and Summers, Sir Timothy Morton and myself.
I could not help thinking that this proposed expedition would be more dangerous than all of Colonel Ross's and Sir Alan's many past expeditions combined.
When the lights came on, Sir Timothy rose from his seat. "I never heard such rubbish in my life," he declared. "You, Deosthali, are a thief; and I will certainly be calling in the Yard about this travesty." He strode to the door and pushed past the Colonel; the latter's question, what did he mean by that accusation, fell on deaf ears. The dining room door slammed behind him. A moment later, we heard another door slam as Sir Timothy left the house.
"Sir Timothy's an irritable sort," I said, by way of apology on his behalf. "But of all of us, he's probably the most interested. Let him cool off for a bit. He'll be back once he understands what this could mean." Sir Timothy's money, and his knighthood, came from engineering; I supposed that he was a little put out at not having come up with the idea of the lunar expedition himself.
"I don't know what he could mean by calling me a thief," said Deosthali. "Unless he is talking about the paper I drew my plans on." Deosthali worked as a sort of draughtsman for Sir Timothy's engineering firm. "I only worked on this on my own time, so I did not even take that from him."
"Sir Timothy's a fool," said a clear, feminine voice: Miss Eleanor Ross, the Colonel's daughter. She and Regina, Lady Masefield, Sir Alan's wife, were the only ladies in the room. Miss Ross floated up to the podium, drawing every masculine eye in the room along the way, and slipped one lily-white hand into the crook of Deosthali's arm. "We don't need him, do we, Niraj? Come on, let's take a walk around the garden: there's a lovely pond, and it's the one place in the world Sir Alan hasn't yet explored!"
"Eleanor--" began the Colonel.
"Later, Daddy." Miss Ross swept out, a rather befuddled Niraj Deosthali in tow.
Sir Alan laughed and turned off the hyalotype lantern. "Any questions will have to take their turn after Miss Ross; in the meantime, gentlemen, I hope you'll consider what we're proposing. Help yourselves to the refreshments. Now, I must look into this charge of leaving my own garden unexplored."
"Well, Peterkin, what do you think?"
It was an hour later and we--Peterkin, Colonel Ross, and myself--were standing at the edge of the ornamental pond in Sir Alan's garden. The grounds were indeed unkempt and overgrown; the pond itself might more accurately be described as a lake, occupying probably more than double the square footage of the house itself. But for the lights of the house some distance away and the pitched-roofed hump of the summer house in the opposite direction, we might have been on any one of Sir Alan's or Colonel Ross's wilderness expeditions, rather than Sir Alan's garden. Sir Alan himself was silhouetted in the lit glass enclosure of the conservatory, gazing out through the darkness towards us; everyone else was indoors--except for Niraj Deosthali, who was lying face-down in the water.
"It looks like a blow to the head," said Peterkin, kneeling in the mud. "Just one sharp blow, probably with that rock over there." He pointed to a sharp, blood-stained rock that lay nearby, apparently discarded by Deosthali's assailant. "He might have been dead when he went into the water. Or else he was only stunned, and left to drown. The police coroner will be able to tell us more, but I doubt it'll make much difference."
Colonel Ross shifted uncomfortably at the mention of the police coroner. "See here, Vane," he said, turning to me. "There's no way into this garden except through the house, so it's obvious enough that it wasn't some passing tramp that did this. That means it's someone back at the house. You say Mr. Peterkin here has experience with this sort of thing? Well, I say we let him have a shot at ferreting out the murderer before we call in the police. I've already told Sir Alan to keep mum until I give the word."
Peterkin got to his feet, and I could tell that he was only too happy to oblige. He had a quixotic streak a mile wide; he was like a greyhound that had just spotted a rabbit: you had only to unbuckle his leash and he'd be gone a cloud of dust. I refrained from rolling my eyes. "No," I said, before he could respond himself. "Murder isn't a game, and ought to be left to the professionals."
The Colonel's voice lowered dangerously. "I damn well know it isn't a game, Vane. I studied law before I went into the Army, not that anyone remembers. I'm asking for a private, preliminary inquiry because I know damn well what's going to happen when the police start asking around. They're going to discover that Eleanor left with Deosthali here after the lecture, and they're going to learn that she came back, alone and rather out of sorts, and dripping wet from head to toe. Then they're going to see Deosthali here lying half in the water, and they're going to put these things together and decide that my daughter is worth some extra-hard scrutiny. Eleanor's a proud, masterful girl, but I doubt if even she could come back from killing a man and only look slightly annoyed. Hell, I don't know if there are many soldiers who could do that, not off the battlefield, and even then."
Peterkin nodded. "Your daughter was the last person to see him alive, that we know of, and all we've got to say that she didn't do it is an idea of psychology. You want to know if there is anyone about with more compelling evidence against him."
"If! I don't want to know 'if'!" snapped the Colonel. "I want you to find the person who actually did this, and present him to the police, and keep my daughter out of it."
"And if I find compelling evidence that Eleanor did kill Mr. Deosthali after all?"
"Then she'll face the consequences like a man." The military moustache drooped, and the Colonel suddenly looked old and tired, a far cry from the dynamic personality he normally presented to the public. He turned abruptly on his heel and crunched across the gravel towards the house.
"I'd have liked to ask Colonel Ross about his own movements," mused Eric, watching the Colonel's retreating back. "He did leave the party for a while, and there's every possibility that he might have done the deed himself."
But I was thinking of Eleanor Ross. She had a reputation for being rather a wild one, though I've known a few supposedly "wild" girls who turned out surprisingly old-fashioned at heart. If Deosthali had tried to get fresh with her--or worse.... "Peterkin, can we really be quite sure that Miss Ross didn't do it? Remember the state she was in when she came back from the garden. She was flirting with Deosthali, that much is obvious; perhaps he tried to push things a step further than she wanted ... they fell into the pond, she caught up a rock and whacked him on the head, then fled back to the house. Colonel Ross is a remarkably tough character; if his daughter is even half what he is, she'd be twice as tough as he gives her credit for."
"Oh, I have no doubt that Miss Ross is braver than her father thinks," said Peterkin, kneeling by the body again. "But look, Deosthali's back is dry." When I expressed my confusion, Peterkin explained: "If things happened the way you suggest, they must have gone into the water together, with his arms around her. So either he went in first, with her landing on top of him--in which case he'd be lying on his back--or else he landed on top of her. And in struggling out from under him, she would have to push him onto his side, if not flip him completely onto his back. I think it's safe to say that, whatever happened, it wasn't that."
"What do you think happened, then?"
"I don't know. Perhaps we should speak to the lady herself."
Miss Ross had been provided with a dressing gown by Lady Masefield. She was, unfortunately, rather a bit taller than her hostess, or she would have been provided with a dress instead. But she had no qualms about receiving us in that state of dress--or undress--and I was uncomfortably aware that she was wearing nothing underneath but a strand of pearls. Peterkin, ever the gentleman, seemed to find the articles on Lady Masefield's dressing table inordinately interesting.
"You know, Mr. Vane, I'm actually showing rather less flesh than if I were wearing one of my garçonne party dresses." She crossed her legs at the knee, causing the dressing gown to part and expose the whole length of her calf. I honestly think she was enjoying my discomfiture. "Daddy doesn't mention it, but I'm sure he has had to do much worse when he's on one of his expeditions."
"We wanted to know what happened between you and Mr. Deosthali when you left the dining room," said Peterkin, peering at a musical jewelry box as if he'd never seen such a thing before.
"Nothing particularly interesting, unfortunately. We walked into the garden and started to go around the pond. We stopped at the clearing halfway to the summer house and we talked. Niraj seemed only interested in talking about Sir Timothy's accusation, which was a terrible bore. I assured him--again!--that the law was on his side, and then I tried to draw his attention to the moon and the way it reflected in the pond. The poor fellow didn't seem to have any idea what I was on about, until I jumped into the pond."
"You jumped into the pond yourself?" I forget which of us--Peterkin or myself--said it. Perhaps we said it in unison.
"It seemed to be the only way to shake him out of his funk. I wanted to pull him in with me, but he somehow slipped away from me at the last second. So there I was in the pond, and there he was standing well away from the edge, dithering about me catching my death of cold. That's when I decided that I wasn't going to get anywhere with him. So I got out by myself--no help from him, thank you very much--and came back inside. The last I saw of him, he was staring up at the moon and scribbling away in his notebook. I suppose he had some idea about an invention to keep young ladies from falling into ornamental ponds." She grew solemn of a sudden. "That's how I'd like to remember him, I think. Scribbling his ideas into his notebook."
I glanced at Peterkin. Neither of us had seen any sign of a notebook anywhere. It might simply have been hidden under the body, of course: Deosthali had fallen into the water face-first, and if he had been holding the notebook in front of him, to write in it, that seemed a logical place for it to wind up. Peterkin said: "What did you mean, about the law being on his side? Was there some legal question that was worrying him?"
"Oh, that." Miss Ross waved a dismissive hand. "Some rubbish about patents. Niraj had been inventing all sorts of new ways of doing things for as long as he can remember, and of course he brought those ideas with him when he began working for Sir Timothy. Now Sir Timothy imagines that those ideas and inventions belong to him--and I imagine that's what Sir Timothy meant by calling Niraj a thief. I looked up what I could in Daddy's old books, which of course are about forty years old. I had to confirm a point or two with some of Daddy's old school friends. It all came down to the same thing: Sir Timothy's a fool."
"You looked up--you researched all this, Miss Ross?" I confess I was a little surprised. Miss Ross did not strike me as the sort who read. Then again, I would never have taken Colonel Ross for having once had aspirations to the bar, either.
"Oh, I was a little besotted with poor Niraj, I admit. I had this idea of being ravished by a savage ... but I swear, the dullest London clerk has more savage blood in him than Niraj ever had. Daddy goes on about the white man's burden, but if this is what civilisation does...." She caught herself. "No. I'm doing him a disservice. Niraj Deosthali was a gentleman, and that should have been worth more than any romantic notions of primal, untamed lovers."
When we'd left the room, I said to Peterkin: "Miss Ross is a bit of a hard case, wouldn't you say? I wonder what her father must think of the flirtation. You know more about them--and about people like Colonel Ross--than I do, so what do you think?"
"I think Miss Ross's disservice was in seeing Deosthali as an exotic specimen rather than as a man. As for his people ... well, they've been civilised longer than we have, did you know that? Left to themselves, they might have become more than our equals--and we would certainly be less than we are now. I often think that if white men have a burden to bear, it's because we created it ourselves."
It was not exactly the answer I expected from a colonial boy like Peterkin.
"I've travelled a bit," he said with a wink. "And not just within the safety of our expatriate compounds, either! Anyway, it's safe to say that no two people will ever have exactly the same idea about anything, so let's see what Sir Alan and Colonel Ross have to say about this."
We found Sir Alan in the foyer, speaking with his butler. He turned to greet us as we approached, and said: "Haskell here is worried about being suspected of the murder. I don't keep many servants--no point in a full household, given how little I'm home--but it seems he's the only one with no-one to vouch for him."
"I was here, in case I was wanted," said the butler. "I never saw no-one, so I suppose no-one saw me. I suppose I should have waited in the servants' hall with the others, sir?"
I personally couldn't imagine any reason for Haskell--a very correct old man who'd faithfully served three generations of Masefields--to have attacked Deosthali, and I suppose Peterkin couldn't either. After ascertaining that Haskell had never met Deosthali before this night, he assured the man that he was not under suspicion, and let him go. Haskell bowed and disappeared into the shadows belowstairs; he'd reverted to that expressionless mask so many good butlers cultivate, so I suppose he must have felt reassured.
We turned to Sir Alan, who said: "Haskell worries too much. I don't suppose you're any closer to knowing what's what here?"
"I have my suspicions," said Peterkin, with more confidence than I felt. "I was wondering about your own take on this. Have you known Niraj Deosthali long?"
Sir Alan shook his head. "Colonel Ross introduced us. Ross was very pleased with the fellow, called him a great genius, but between you and me--I found him rather terrifying."
"He was brilliant, of course--worth much, much more than what Sir Timothy was paying him--but he was disappointingly European. It was like watching a magnificent African landscape being cleared away for an English public garden. The average Englishman imagines that a man is only respectable if he passes as another Englishman. It's an idea I've been fighting all my life. The world is full of strange and wonderful things--it would be a crying shame to turn it all into the same, dull, homogenous mass of familiarity."
"I take it you're no friend of the Empire."
"What? On the contrary: after the horrors of the Great War, I'd say that what this world needs is a strong single power to keep everyone else from killing each other--I'd rather that power be the British Empire, but only because I'm a British subject. I simply think the Empire would get much further if we stop imagining that the only people worth anything are those who are exactly like us."
Sir Alan was a conqueror at heart. His expeditions into the wilderness were expansionist campaigns--and we were back at the frustrations he'd touched on in his speech earlier: there seemed to be no place on earth now that did not already belong to somebody.
It was all very fascinating. For my part, I was dreaming of a world with neither a colonial army nor foreign import taxes; and Peterkin seemed similarly entranced. But it all seemed quite beside the point of Deosthali's murder. When we finally got back to it--after a diverting summary of the sophistication of the Chinese imperial bureaucracy--Sir Alan had disappointingly little to add.
"Hawthorne and Summers had more than their fair share of questions. Regina managed to distract them with the cheese plate, thank God, and I made my escape--into the conservatory, and from there into the garden. I took the right-hand path around the pond, to avoid overtaking Deosthali and Miss Ross: Deosthali had a morbid distaste for travelling counter-clockwise around anything--"
That sparked some curiosity. It was rather a strange little quirk, and it emerged that it was not Deosthali's only quirk. "He had also had a morbid distaste for pearls and silk: something about the way they're made--from the oozing bile of squirming, boneless creatures, he told me."
Miss Ross had been wearing a silk dress and a strand of pearls, I recalled. Perhaps she might have gotten further with a different choice of attire.
Sir Alan's chosen path around the pond was not ideal for enjoying the pond, being mostly screened from it by stands of towering bamboo. He heard, but did not see, Miss Ross jumping into the pond. When he got a clear look of the pond a moment later, he'd assumed that Deosthali had pushed her in. But then he saw her playfully try to splash Deosthali, and that assured him that there was no malice in the scene. He watched her climb out of the pond and proceed back towards the house, and then he turned around and began walking back to his starting point. He arrived at the conservatory door just in time to see it slam shut on the soaking-wet form of Miss Ross.
"I went inside and called Regina to give her a hand. Then I noticed that Colonel Ross was missing from the party, so I went looking for him. I found him in the library--I should have looked there first--and then, when I saw that Deosthali hadn't returned, we headed out into the garden to look for him. And, well, you know the rest."
"This is an outrage." Hawthorne's voice was deceptively querulous: I knew him to be one of the most vicious, ruthless men in the business world. "Why haven't the police been called in? This isn't a matter for a private inquiry, for goodness' sakes!"
"An outrage," rumbled Summers, beside him. Summers was short, broad, and dark, a contrast to Hawthorne's fair, gangling, cadaverous frame.
I tried to assure the two that Peterkin and I were only doing a preliminary look-around before calling in the authorities, but Hawthorne would have none of it. His voice seemed to rise a full octave. "And who do you two imagine you are? Really, Sir Alan ought to know better. This is obviously Colonel Ross's doing...." He had a lot more to say, none of it particularly interesting or informative. Beside him, Summers bit into a piece of cheese and eyed us all balefully. I remembered that Summers was at least as ruthless, though he rarely spoke.
"Gentlemen," said Lady Masefield, deftly sliding in between us. "The police will be here soon, you can be assured of that. Complaining isn't going to help." She drew Hawthorne and Summers away with her, and Peterkin and I made our escape.
"I rather agree with Hawthorne," I said. "We really shouldn't be doing this."
"A bit late for that," murmured Peterkin, watching our hostess tame the two industrialists. "I'd like to get Summers away from Hawthorne for a bit. I fancy he sees a lot more than he lets on."
"You don't know the half of it. Summers is a shark in human form. Of all the people here, I'd say he's the most likely to have struck someone down from behind. Rather a shame he couldn't have done it."
Most of the party, including Lady Masefield, Hawthorne and Summers, could be eliminated as suspects, by virtue of their presence in the drawing room at the time of the murder. By my estimation, the only real suspects, the only ones without actual alibis, were Sir Alan, Colonel Ross, and Miss Ross. Or the butler, Haskell, if one wanted to be thorough. Neither Miss Ross nor the butler struck me as particularly likely, however, so that left the two illustrious explorers: Sir Alan and Colonel Ross.
Sir Alan's story had seemed plausible enough. Meanwhile, I was beginning to wonder what Colonel Ross must have thought when he saw his daughter come in from the garden drenched in pond water. I had an idea that the Colonel was capable of great violence when roused.
The man in question was holding court at one corner of the dining room, and it took some effort to get him alone.
"It's a tragedy," he declared. "Deosthali was a fine man and a brilliant mind, and the human race in general is poorer without him."
Unlike Sir Alan, Colonel Ross seemed to believe that the purpose of the Empire--now, at least--was to raise up and civilise, and then to withdraw. "I think one thing we ought to have learnt from the Great War is that the time of the Great Empires is past. I don't say we should drop everything willy-nilly, but the least we could do is to see that the colonies have the means and ability to govern themselves before we cast them adrift. There's nothing innately inferior about the other races, and certainly nothing that a good education couldn't fix. Deosthali was living proof of that."
"You didn't object to your daughter flirting with him?"
"I objected as any father might object to his daughter flirting with any man. I know what you're thinking: you're thinking that I might have taken issue with his colour. Let me tell you something, Vane: Eleanor could have done a lot worse than Niraj Deosthali. He was a civilised fellow, more civilised than some Englishmen I could mention." He glanced in the direction of Hawthorne and Summers, who were still voicing their grievances--well, Hawthorne's grievances--to Lady Masefield.
"I don't suppose you suggested to your daughter that she wear silk and pearls tonight?" asked Peterkin shrewdly.
"Eleanor is a grown woman and it's not my business to dictate her choice of dress." But the Colonel's eyes twinkled with mischief. "I see you've heard about Deosthali's little eccentricities. I was rather looking forward to seeing his reaction, to be honest; or, at the very least, I'd have liked to have seen the aftermath. But I was distracted." The Colonel had gone to the drawing room to look at some of Sir Alan's souvenirs, then wandered into the library for more of the same. There, he'd gotten interested in a book about ancient Persian dynasties; he hadn't even witnessed his daughter's return from the garden, and knew nothing of it until Sir Alan found him afterwards. It wasn't much of an alibi, he admitted, but it was the truth, and he was not in the habit of lying.
We were in the conservatory, a glass outgrowth attached to the drawing room. Sir Alan's grandfather had been an avid horticulturist: it was he who had built this extension and filled it with exotic blooms. But Sir Alan's father had been somewhat less interested, and Sir Alan himself was devoted only to his travels. Over time, the exotic blooms had given way to fairly conventional ferns and palms. Sir Alan's souvenirs, which crowded the drawing room and spilled into the library, were beginning to encroach into this room as well. From here we could look out into the garden: the pond was directly before us, the full moon's reflection shimmering on the surface like a reminder of the original purpose of our gathering. The pitched roof of the summer house at the other end was still only just discernible; all other details, including the scene of the murder, were lost in shadow.
"It's a rotten place for a conservatory," said Peterkin, looking around. "If it were up to me, I'd build this place off the dining room instead. The drawing room needs the garden view more than the dining room."
I thought the drawing room hardly counted as such any more, and I said so. "I didn't think you were interested in architecture. Besides, what about Deosthali?"
Peterkin gave me an annoyingly enigmatic smirk, and said: "What about Deosthali? Everyone seems to remark about how civilised he was, but I don't think that's such a remarkable thing at all. Civilisation is a matter of decent, gentlemanly behaviour, and I've known some so-called savages who've been perfect gentlemen. Tell me about Hawthorne and Summers."
"Sharks, both of them. Hawthorne acts like someone's fussy old grandmother, and that fools some people. Summers couldn't fool anyone into thinking him less than he is, so he attaches himself to Hawthorne in the hope that people will be so taken by Hawthorne's fussing that they won't notice him. I've had my eye on them all evening. Hawthorne was making a big show of questioning the expedition, but I can tell that he was as anxious as any of your keen, adventurous friends to be a part of it. Summers is a little harder to read: he was looking uncommonly smug until the news came about the murder. I wonder if he didn't already know before tonight what Sir Alan and the Colonel were up to."
"Do you suppose they knew anything about Deosthali's involvement?" Peterkin peered at the garden door as he spoke, then carefully opened it and descended to the garden.
I followed after him. "Summers might have, as I said. Hawthorne, I doubt it."
"Do you think either of them might have had any issues with Deosthali's race?"
"I don't know. I doubt if either of them would have cared, except that he might work for less pay than an equally qualified Englishman." I paused, another idea occurring to me. "They'd have gotten him easily, too. Sir Timothy treated him disgracefully. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Summers had already spoken to Deosthali about switching allegiances. It would account for Summers' earlier smugness."
Peterkin nodded. He was peering at the gravel path. "I wouldn't be surprised, either. In fact, I'd rather count on it." He began to take off his shoes and socks.
"Peterkin, what are you doing?"
"I'm going for a bit of a paddle. You'd better come too."
"This is ridiculous."
Peterkin seemed determined to avoid the gravel path. Shrugging, I took off my own shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers, and followed him into the water. The mud and silt squelched between my toes, and I couldn't help wondering what anyone must think if they saw us. Rather to my surprise, Peterkin set off alongside the right hand path instead of the left.
"Aren't we going back to check on Deosthali?" I asked.
"No. We're going to the place where Sir Alan was when he said he saw Miss Ross turn back to the house."
"You think ... Sir Alan...?"
Peterkin shook his head. "Sir Alan's the sort of honourable gentleman explorer who wouldn't lie for fear of casting doubt on his entire history. Besides, he came back into the house immediately after Miss Ross; if he had gone down the right hand path--and if you look carefully, you'll notice that the gravel's been kicked up very recently--he wouldn't have had time to run over to kill Deosthali, not without being seen or heard by Miss Ross. And he wouldn't have had time in between coming back, speaking to Lady Masefield, and finding Colonel Ross. No, Sir Alan didn't do it."
We'd reached the opening in the bamboo stands where, according to Sir Alan, he'd stopped and seen the scene between Miss Ross and Deosthali. I pointed to the gravel. "Look, the gravel on the path towards the summer house has been kicked up, too. But Sir Alan said he'd turned around and come back the way he came. He could have run around that way--"
"And covered three times the distance Miss Ross walked, and done a murder besides, all in the time it took her to walk back to the house, and without losing his breath. No, I don't think so. I was expecting the gravel there to be kicked up, though: that's why I said we ought to wade through the pond. We don't want to disturb the gravel."
He turned and continued along the edge of the pond, and I followed behind him. "You mean the murderer came that way. Colonel Ross? Or the butler?"
"Neither of them could have, if you think about it. Remember, everyone was milling about in the drawing room. The only way into and out of the garden is through the conservatory; Haskell was in the foyer and Colonel Ross was in the library, and the only way from the conservatory to either of those rooms is through the drawing room. They'd have been seen coming in."
"Then there's no-one left! Unless you mean that it really was some tramp?" I didn't want to say it, but it occurred to me that, while Sir Alan might have seen Miss Ross leaving Deosthali to his scribbling, he couldn't see either of them from his path back to the house: Miss Ross could easily have turned around and killed Deosthali in that time.
We were at the summer house now. Peterkin pointed to something lying among the reeds at the edge of the pond. "What luck! I thought we might find that around here, but it was hardly a sure thing. Most of it appears to be dry, too, which is a more luck than I could have hoped for."
I went to pick it up, but Peterkin held me back, on the grounds that it was important evidence and had to be left for the police. I could see, though, that it was a cheap notebook, such as might be found in any stationer's. A strange pattern was picked out across the front cover, which Peterkin identified as Tamil script. "This is Deosthali's notebook, if I'm not mistaken. I doubt if any tramp would have bothered about that. Come on, let's see if Sir Timothy's still hiding in the summer house or if he's managed to escape over the garden wall."
"What? Sir Timothy?"
"Of course. We heard the door slam after he left, remember? We all assumed that it was the front door and that he'd gone home--I know I assumed so--but I realised as soon as I saw Haskell that that couldn't have been the case. If Sir Timothy had left for home, Haskell would have opened and closed the door for him, and he would not have slammed it. Besides, Haskell said he 'never saw no-one'. If Sir Timothy did leave the house, he must have left by the garden door, and been somewhere in the garden the whole time."
The summer house was empty, but it was plain that someone had been here very recently. Dust had been wiped from one of the chairs, and from part of the table. There was a conspicuously empty spot on one side of the table, and a look behind the summer house found one of the chairs set up against the garden wall. It appeared that Sir Timothy had opted to make himself scarce.
"Sir Timothy Morton!" I was flabbergasted. "He seemed rather put out by Deosthali's involvement in the expedition that Sir Alan and the Colonel were proposing, but is that motive enough for murder?"
Peterkin said: "You'd know that better than I would, I think. It wasn't just the expedition: there was Summers offering Deosthali better terms of employment, and there was Miss Ross's assurance that Deosthali was still master of whatever it is he might have invented. Sir Timothy's knighthood was the result of Deosthali's work, wasn't it?"
I slowly nodded. I remembered what Miss Ross had said about Deosthali's legal concerns. If he could prove that Sir Timothy had stolen the credit for his work, Sir Timothy would be, if not ruined, at the very least a laughing stock. And if Sir Timothy's success had really been rooted in Deosthali's genius, then losing him to Benedict Summers would have been an unacceptable development. "What about the notebook?" I asked. "Why did you think you might find it here, and why's it so important?"
Peterkin smiled. "The notebook is important because it proves that Sir Timothy didn't simply happen upon the body after the murder, and take the notebook from it. You see, if Deosthali had been writing in it when he was killed, the notebook would have wound up under the body. The notebook being here, and especially the fact of it being mostly dry, means that it had been taken from Deosthali before he was killed. That's evidence for Miss Ross's innocence. She could have doubled back to do the deed after Sir Alan saw her leave--I can't imagine why--but she wouldn't have had time if she had to wait for Deosthali and Sir Timothy to conclude whatever conversation they must have had in handing over the notebook. As for why I thought it might be here, well, I had an idea that Sir Timothy would have discarded it once he realised it was useless to him. Deosthali wasn't quite so European as Sir Alan thought: he wrote his notes in Tamil. Colonel Ross and Sir Alan, who've had more experience with this sort of thing, would have gotten a Tamil translator, but I don't think Sir Timothy ever considered that."
We waded back towards the house. Both Sir Alan and the Colonel were waiting at the conservatory door for us; if they were surprised to see us up to our knees in pond water, they didn't mention it. I let them know that we'd found all we could, and Peterkin went inside with them to finally call in the police. For myself, I lingered at the edge of the pond, gazing back across the rippling reflection of the moon to the distant summer house. I was half-tempted to wade back and retrieve the notebook myself, evidence be damned: Deosthali's notes could mean a fortune in industrial innovation. And then there was the lunar expedition, the feasibility of which depended entirely on Deosthali's engineering innovations....
If any of that notebook had been damaged by water--or if Sir Timothy had thought to tear out any of the diagrams ... but it was perhaps better not to think about such things for now. The possibility of lunar exploration had inspired in me more excitement than I cared to admit, now that I felt free to think about it. Perhaps I belonged, in truth, not with the likes of Hawthorne and Summers but with Peterkin's keen-eyed adventurers. Overhead, the full moon continued to glow in the night sky, and I dared to look up and dream. Until the police arrived, I stayed there: building castles not in Spain, but on the moon.