Read The Beast Must Die Online

Authors: Nicholas Blake

The Beast Must Die (9 page)

I called out to him to come and have a look over here. He started to move towards me. I would call his attention to the stone crusher in the quarry beneath us. He would be on the very edge of the cliff. Then I would begin to walk on. But at my first step my foot would trip in the rabbit hole, I would fall heavily against George’s legs, and he would go over the cliff. Its height and his weight would do the rest. It was a perfect murder. It didn’t matter if anyone did happen to see us. I had no intention, in any case, of concealing the fact that I had tripped up and barged into George. But, since no one knew I had any motive for killing him, no one could doubt that it was an accident.

George was only five yards away now. ‘Well, what is it?’ he said, still strolling towards me. Then I made a fatal mistake – though I’d no way of knowing it was a mistake then. A sort of bravado seized me and I said to him – almost as though daring him to come on – ‘There’s a huge quarry here. A hell of a drop. Come and look.’

He stopped dead and said, ‘Not for me, old man, thanks. I never could stand heights – no head for them. I get vertigo, or whatever it’s called …’

So now I have to start all over again.

10 August

the Ratterys’ last night. Two little incidents, revealing things about George – if ‘revealing’ is the word for such a blatant character.

After dinner, Lena did one or two turns. Then we began to play a singularly erotic game called ‘Sardines’. One person goes and hides, preferably in as confined a space as possible. Whoever finds him snuggles down beside him, and so on, till you get a cross between the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Babylonian orgy. Well, the first time we played, Rhoda Carfax was the ‘he’. As it happened, I found her very quickly, in a cupboard full of brooms.

It was quite dark, and as I sat down beside her she whispered, ‘Well, George, fancy you finding me so quickly. I must be magnetic.’ I guessed from the ironic way she said it that she’d already told him where to look for her. Then she pulled my arm round her waist, put her head on my shoulder – and discovered that she’d made a terrible mistake. However, she carried it off very well and took no steps about removing my arm. Presently someone else came blundering down on the other side of Mrs Carfax. ‘Hallo, it’s Rhoda, isn’t it?’ he whispered. ‘Yes.’ ‘So George found you first?’ ‘It’s not George, it’s Mr Lane.’

The chap who came in after me was James Carfax. It’s interesting that he should have assumed I was George; he must be one of those complacent husbands.
himself arrived third. I don’t think he was too pleased to find company. At any rate, after one more turn of Sardines, he said we’d play something else (he’s the kind of man who has to be bossing, even when it’s only parlour games). So he started to organise an exceedingly rough and shrieking game, which involved kneeling in a circle and flinging a cushion at each other. He chose a very hard cushion, and made quite a rough-house, bellowing with laughter. At one point, he hurled the cushion deliberately with all his force into my face. I fell over sideways – it had got me in the eye and I was blinded for the moment. George gave one of his bellows of vacant laughter.

‘Knocked him down like a fevver, it did!’ he roared.

‘You are an oaf,’ said Lena. ‘What’s the idea knocking people’s eyes out? The great big strong he-man, showing off.’

George clapped me on the shoulder with mock solicitude, saying, ‘Poor old Pussy. Sorry, old man. No offence.’

I was furious, particularly at his using that idiotic nickname before all these people. I said, bogus hearty:

‘That’s all right, Rat, old boy. You don’t know your own strength. That’s all, isn’t it?’

George was far from pleased. Teach him to keep his blundering, vulgar tongue to himself. I’m more and more inclined to think he’s jealous about me and Lena.
I don’t
know. Perhaps it’s that he’s just baffled about it – can’t make out what there is between us.

11 August

today why I didn’t come and stay with the Ratterys for the rest of the month. I said I didn’t think George would care for that very much.

‘Oh, he doesn’t mind.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I’ve asked him.’ Then she looked at me seriously for a little and said, ‘Darling, you don’t have to worry. I’m through with George now.’

‘You mean, there used to be something between you?’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ she burst out. ‘I was his lover. Now pack up and go home if you want to.’

She was nearly in tears. I had to try and comfort her. After a bit she said, ‘You will come, then, won’t you?’

I said, Yes, if George really didn’t mind. I don’t know if it’s a stupid move on my part, but it’s rather difficult to resist Lena. I’ll have to keep my diary well hidden, but there’s a great deal to be said for being on the spot. It’s all very well to talk about accidents, but it’s damned difficult when you try and work it out, to organise the right kind of ‘accident’ for George. I don’t know enough, for instance, about cars to enable me
tamper with his. Any kind of mechanical accident is right out, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe living in his house will give me an inspiration. Accidents, they say, will happen even in the best-regulated families – and no one could call his family that. It will be nice, too, to be in the same house as Lena, though I hope she won’t make me soft – there must be no room for love in my heart now – I am quite alone, and I must stay quite alone.

12 August

on the river with young Carfax’s dinghy. As I suspected last time I took her out – but there was not enough wind then to be certain – she carries a bit of lee helm and would be vicious to handle on a squally day. I really must take Phil out soon, he’s obviously keen to come but I keep putting it off – I believe it’s because I would have been teaching Martie to sail this month, if – All the more reason for taking Phil out; I cannot have too many reminders.

I’ve been wondering this evening how I am able to go on from day to day, seeing George, hating him in every fibre of my body so bitterly and inveterately that I am almost startled by the placid expression on my own face when I catch sight of it in a mirror. Hating him like this, body and soul, yet behaving towards him without any conscious effort at self
or concealment and feeling no impatience now to get the thing done. It’s not that I am afraid of the consequences; nor do I at all despair of discovering the right method. Yet it’s true up to a point that I’m willing to procrastinate.

I believe the explanation is this: just as the lover often procrastinates, not through timidity but to prolong the sweet anticipation of love’s fulfilment, so the man who hates wishes to savour his hatred, to gloat upon his unconscious victim, before he proceeds to the act by which his hatred will be consummated. This sounds far-fetched – so much so that I would not dare to confide it to anyone but my ghostly confessor, this diary. Yet I am convinced it is true. It may convict me of being a neurotic, abnormal creature – a thorough-going sadist – yet it answers so accurately my sensations when I am with George, I feel in my bones it must be the true explanation.

Doesn’t it explain, too, the long ‘indecision’ of Hamlet? I wonder if any of the scholars suggested that it was due to his desire to prolong the anticipation of revenge, to eke out drop by drop the sweet and dangerous and never-cloying nectar of hatred? I don’t think they have. It would be an agreeable piece of irony for me to write an essay on Hamlet, proposing this theory, when I’ve finished with George. By Jove, I’ve a damned good mind to do it! Hamlet was no hesitant, timid, veering neurotic. He was a man with a genius for hatred – one who brought it to a fine art. All the time he is supposed to have been vacillating, he
in reality sucking dry the body of his enemy; the final death of the King was no more than the flinging aside of an empty skin – the skin of a fruit sucked dry.

14 August

irony! A most extraordinary conversation broke out at the dinner table last night. I don’t know how it was started, or by whom, but it became a symposium on the Right to Kill. I think we began by discussing euthanasia. Should doctors, in incurable cases, ‘strive officiously to keep alive’?

‘Doctors!’ exclaimed old Mrs Rattery, in her heavy, pig-lead sort of voice. ‘Robbers, the whole lot of ’em. Charlatans. Wouldn’t trust ’em an inch. Look at that India fella – what was his name? – cut up his wife and hid the pieces under a bridge.’

‘Buck Ruxton, you mean, mater?’ said George. ‘Strange case, that.’

Mrs Rattery chuckled hoarsely. I fancied a glance of complicity passed between her and George. Violet blushed. It was a painful moment.

She said timidly, ‘I do think, when people are incurably ill, they ought to be allowed to ask their doctors to put them out of their misery. Don’t you think so, Mr Lane? After all, we do it to animals.’

‘Doctors? Pah!’ said old Mrs Rattery. ‘Never had a day’s illness in me life. Imagination, half of it –’ George guffawed a bit ‘– and let me tell you, George, you’d be better off without all these tonics of yours. A great healthy brute like you paying a doctor to give him bottles of coloured water – through the nose too! I don’t know what’s come over your generation. A lot of hypochondriacs.’

‘What’s a hypochondriac?’ asked Phil. We’d all forgotten he was there, I think. He’d only just been promoted to late dinner. I could see George had some crushing remark on the tip of his tongue, so I answered quickly:

‘A person who likes to think he’s ill, when he really isn’t.’

Phil looked puzzled. He couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying the idea of having a tummy ache, I expect. The conversation went on in this haphazard way for a bit. Neither George nor his mother listens to what anyone else says, they just pursue their own line of thought – if ‘thought’ is the word. I got rather irritated by this roughshod conversational method, and out of devilment said, blandly, to the table at large, ‘But physical or mental incurables apart, what about the incurable social pest – the person who makes life miserable for everyone round about him? Don’t you think one is justified in killing a person like that?’

There was an interesting moment of silence. Then several people began to speak at once.

‘I do think you’re all getting very morbid.’ (Violet. Breathless, hostessy-y tones, with hysteria not far below the surface.)

‘Oh, but think how many – I mean, where would one make a beginning?’ (Lena, giving me a very long look indeed, almost as though seeing me for the first time – or was that my imagination?)

‘Nonsense. Pernicious idea.’ (Old Mrs Rattery, just plain shocked; perhaps the only straightforward reaction in the room.)

George didn’t turn a hair. He obviously hadn’t the least idea that my random arrow was featherd in him.

‘What a bloodthirsty little chap your Felix is, eh Lena?’ he said. It’s typical of George’s particular brand of moral cowardice that he never makes this sort of crack when he and I are alone together, and even in company he has to do it obliquely – shooting at me from behind Lena, so to speak.

Lena paid no attention to him. She was still gazing at me in that doubtful, speculative manner, her red mouth twisting up at one corner.

‘But would you really, Felix?’ she asked at last, soberly.

‘Would I what?’

‘Rub out a social pest – the sort of person you described?’

‘Just like a woman!’ George butted in. ‘Always has to come down to particular cases.’

‘Yes. I would. That kind of person has no right to live.’ I added lightly, ‘That’s to say, I would if I could do it without running my neck into a noose.’

At this point, old Mrs Rattery charged into action. ‘So you’re a freethinker, Mr Lane? An atheist too, I daresay?’

I said soothingly, ‘Oh no, ma’am. I have a very conventional mind. But do
consider there are any circumstances which justify murder – war apart, I mean?’

‘In war it is a matter of honour. Killing, Mr Lane, is no murder where honour is at stake.’ The old thing delivered herself of these excruciating antiquities in really rather an impressive way. With her heavy features and dominant nose she looked for a moment quite the Roman matron.

‘Honour at stake? Your own honour, do you mean, or someone else’s?’ I asked.

‘I think, perhaps, Violet,’ boomed Mrs Rattery in her most Mussolini manner, ‘we will leave the gentlemen over their wine. Phil, open the door. Don’t stand there dreaming.’

George got confidential over the port. The relief of being rid of such a morbid, embarrassing topic of conversation, no doubt. ‘Remarkable woman, the mater,’ he said. ‘Never forgets that her father was fifth cousin umpteen times removed to the Earl of Evershot. Don’t think she’s got used to the idea of me being in business, either. Needs must where the devil drives, though. She lost her money in the slump,
old girl, you know – she’d be in the workhouse without me – you needn’t let that go any further. Of course, titles mean nothing nowadays. I’m no snob, thank God. One’s got to move with the times, I mean, eh? But there’s something rather fine about the way the old girl clings to her pride.
Noblesse oblige
, and all that. Which reminds me, d’you know the one about the duke and the one-eyed housemaid?’

‘No,’ said I, fighting down the nausea …

15 August

sailing again this morning. A gusty wind, turning to rain later. The dinghy was a proper handful. Phil not very adroit with his hands, but learns quickly and has the nerve – the wild fascination by and surrender to danger – of the sensitive. Also, he told me how to kill his father.

Not consciously, of course. Out of the mouth of babes, etc. He had just taken the helm, and a particularly vicious gust nearly put the gunwale under. He luffed up, as I taught him to, then turned to me, laughing, his eyes quite brilliant with excitement.

‘I say, this is jolly good fun, Felix, isn’t it?’

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