The Poetical Policeman is a short story by Edgar Wallace. It is a detective story which has been simplified for intermediate learners of English.
THE POETICAL POLICEMAN
That bank which Mr. Green controlled was at the corner of Pell Street and Firling Avenue in Ealing. It is a large building.
On Wednesday afternoons, in preparation for the pay days of several big companies, large amounts in money were brought here and they were put in the safe, which was immediately under Mr. Green’s office. To enter this room you had to go through a metal door in the general office. You could see this door from the street. Above the door there was a strong lamp which shone on it. To make this room even safer, there was the night guard. His name was Arthur Malling and who had been a soldier.
Every forty minutes a policeman passed the bank. He looked through the window and waited until Malling appeared and gave him a signal that everything was OK.
On the night of October 17th Police Constable Burnett stopped as usual before the window and looked into the bank. The first thing he noticed was that the lamp above the door didn’t shine. He couldn’t see the night guard anywhere. This was strange. Burnett went to the door and it was open.
„Malling,“ constable Burnett went into the bank and shouted. „Malling!“
There was no answer.
In the air was a weak sweet odour. The offices were empty and when he entered the manager’s room, in which a light was switched on, he saw a a man on the ground. It was the night guard, Malling. He was handcuffed, and there was a rope about his knees and legs.
On Malling’s face there was a thick cloth which smelled sweet. Burnett immediately recognised the smell of chloroform. He threw the cloth away and pulled the man to the outer office. Then he telephoned to the police station and tried to bring Malling back to life. But he didn’t succeed.
The police arrived within a few minutes and they brought a doctor too.
‘He was probably dead when he was found,’ said the police doctor. ‘But I have no idea why there are scratches on his hands, I really do not know.’
The doctor pointed to the dead man’s hands. „The scratches cannot be older than one hour. Probably less.“
Burnett was sent at once to wake Mr. Green, the manager, who lived in Firling Avenue, at the corner of which the bank stood. When the policeman came to the door he was surprised to see light in the window. He knocked and Mr. Lambton Green opened nearly immediately. He was dressed and nervous. In the hall Constable Burnett saw a big bag and an umbrella.
The manager listened while Burnett told him of what had happened in the bank.
‘The bank has been robbed? Impossible!’ he almost screamed. ‘My God! this is terrible!’
He nearly collapsed and Burnett had to help him into the street.
‘I–I am going on a holiday,’ he said confused, as he walked to the bank. ‘In fact, I had left the bank. I wrote a note to the directors where I explain everything.’
Mr. Green came to his office. The policemen stood around him. He unlocked a drawer and collapsed.
‘They’re not here!’ he said wildly. ‘I left my keys here and the note, too!’
And then he fainted. When he recovered he was in a police cell. He was charged with the murder of Arthur Malling and stealing £100,000.
Mr. Reeder was sitting in his new office and he was looking around. He was over fifty. He had a long face and grey hair. He was wearing glasses but he never used them for reading or looking. Whenever, he wanted to read anything he took them off.
Inspector Holford, his boss, met him in the office to explain his duties.
‘Glad to meet you, Mr. Reeder. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you before, but I’ve heard a lot about you. You’ve been doing Bank of England work, haven’t you?’
Mr. Reeder answered quietly that he had.
‘Well,’ Holford said, ‘this job is different. But I’m told that you are one of the best informed men in London, and if that is true this will be easy work for you.’
‘Well–there is nothing much to do,’he continued. ‘That bank robbery case is pretty clear. When he was young Green got a job at a bank during the war and became a manager. And then he stole some money and spent 7 years in prison.’
‘Yes, I remember. I was the main witness against him: bank crimes were my hobby. And now he says he didn’t do it.’
The inspector looked at him.
‘I think the case is clear. He has stolen £100,000 and told the weakest story that I’ve ever read. You’ll find copies of the police reports here, if you’d like to read them. The scratches on Malling’s hand are interesting. They’ve found several on the other hand too. They are not deep so they didn’t happen in a fight. As to the story that Green tells–‘
Mr. J. G. Reeder nodded sadly.
‘It is not a great story,’ he said, almost as if he was sorry. ‘If I remember correctly, his story was something like this: a man who had been in prison with him had recognised him and wrote a letter to him. In the letter the man told him to pay or to go away. But Mr. Green didn’t want to steal again and he wrote everything to his bosses, put the letter into the the drawer of his desk with his keys. He wanted to go to London and start again there.’
‘There were no letters in or on the desk, and no keys,’ said the inspector. ‘The only true part of the story was that he had been in prison.’
Inspector Holford left his room and Mr.Reeder spent the rest of the morning reading all the reports about the case which were on his table.
It was late in the afternoon when Inspector Holford came into his room and saw the huge number of documents that Reeder was reading.
‘What are you reading–the Green case?’ he asked.’I have had a letter from the president of the man’s bank, who for some reason thinks Green was telling the truth.’
Mr. Reeder looked up with a puzzled expression.
‘Here is the evidence of Policeman Burnett,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you could help me, sir. Policeman Burnett said in his evidence–let me read it:
“‘Some time before I came to the bank I saw a man standing at the corner of the street, in front of the bank. I did not think it was important at that time, and then I did not see him again. Immediately after I saw him, I kicked a piece of iron on the pavement. It was an old horseshoe. I had seen children playing with this shoe earlier in the evening. When I looked again towards the corner, the man had disappeared.”
Mr. Reeder looked up.
‘Well?’ said Holford. ‘There’s nothing interesting about that. It was probably Green.’
‘Yes.’ Mr. Reeder said, ‘ye–es.’ He felt uncomfortable.’Could I go there and ask several questions?’
‘Sure,’ said the Holford happily. ‘Go there and see the policeman who is in charge of the case: I’ll give you a note to him. It is quite normal that we do our own investigation. But I am afraid you will discover very little.’
‘And could I see Mr. Green too?’ Reeder asked.
‘Green? Of course! I will send you the document.’
It was early evening and it was raining when Mr. Reeder came to Brixton Prison. He was taken to the cell where an unhappy man was sitting. He had his head in his hands.
‘It’s true; it’s true! Every word.’ Green said.
Reeder recognised him the moment he saw him, though it took Mr. Green some time before he recognised Reeder.
‘Yes, Mr. Reeder, I remember you now. You were the man who caught me before. But I’ve not stolen anything since. What will my girl think–‘
‘Are you married?’ Mr. Reeder asked.
‘No, but I was going to be. She’s nearly thirty years younger than me, and the best girl that ever— and now. A friend of mine told me that she has been absolutely knocked out.’
‘Poor girl!’ Mr. Reeder shook his head.
‘It happened on her birthday, too,’ the man went on.
‘Did she know you were leaving the bank?’
‘Yes, I told her the night before. But I don’t want the police to question her. We are not engaged yet, because she’s married and is spanorcing her husband. That’s why I never went out with her or often met her. And, nobody knows about our engagement, although we live in the same street.’
‘Firling Avenue?’ asked Reeder, and the bank manager nodded.
‘She got married when she was seventeen but she was not happy. It was really difficult for me not to tell anyone about our love. There were a lot of men around her and I could say nothing. For example, that fool Burnett, who arrested me, he wrote her poems. A policeman, would you believe it?’
But a poetical policeman did not seem to shock the detective.
‘There is poetry in every man, Mr. Green,’ he said gently.
It was a quarter to eight in the morning, when Mr. J.G. Reeder came into Firling Avenue.
He stopped only for a second outside the bank, and then went on along the broad avenue. On either side there were pretty houses. In front of each house there was a little garden. Sometimes there was only grass but sometimes there were nice flower beds. Green’s house was the eighteenth in the road on the right-hand side. Gardening obviously was not his hobby because there were no flowers and the grass was too long.
Mr. Reeder stopped before the twenty-sixth house in the road. On the other hand Miss Magda Grayne loved flowers. There were geraniums in window-boxes and around the small garden in front of the house. In the centre of the garden there was a circular flower-bed with one rose tree. But there were no flowers on the tree and the leaves were weak and brown.
Mr. Reeder walked away and at the end of the road he found a big field where the gardener grew many flowers to sell.
Deep in thoughts he looked at the flowers and greenhouses and then he turned and went back. He stopped at no. 412 again and went to the front door. A young girl opened the door and took him to the sitting room.
There was not much furniture in the room. There were only several chairs, a square carpet and a table. He heard the sound of feet above his head and a few seconds later the door opened and a girl came in.
She was pretty but she was really sad. Her eyes were red and it was clear that she had been crying a lot recently.
‘Miss Magda Grayne?’ he asked, and stood up when she came in.
‘Are you from the police?’ she asked quickly.
‘Not exactly the police, I work for the Public Prosecutor.’
She was confused, and then she said:
‘I wondered if anybody would come to see me,’ she said. ‘Did Mr. Green send you?’
‘Mr. Green told me about you: he did not send me.’
For a second there was a look in her face that scared him. But it disappeared immediately.
‘I knew somebody would come,’ she said. ‘Why did he do it?’ she asked.
‘You think he is guilty?’
‘The police think so.’ She was very unhappy now. ‘I wish I had never come to this place!’
He did not answer; he was looking around the room. On a small table there was an old vase which was full
of golden chrysanthemums. But in the middle of these there was a large daisy which looked strange.
‘Are you fond of flowers?’ he asked.
She looked at the vase as if she didn’t care.
‘Yes, I like flowers,’ she said. ‘Do you think they will hang him?’
‘It is a very serious charge,’ he said. ‘Have you got a photograph of Mr. Green?’
‘Yes; do you want it?’
As soon as she left the room he stood up and went to the vase. He took the flowers out of it. They were tied with a piece of string. He looked at the ends. None of the flowers had been cut by a gardener. Someone had picked them from the flower bed. Under the string there was a piece of paper which had been wrapped around the flowers. It was a page from a notebook; he could see the red lines, but he could not read what what was written there.
As he heard her going down the stairs, he replaced the flowers in the vase, and when she came in, he was looking through the window into the street.
‘Thank you,’ he said, as he took the photograph from her.
On the back of the photo there was written that Mr.Green loved her.
‘You’re married, he tells me, madam?’
‘Yes, I am married, and practically spanorced,’ she said shortly.
‘Have you been living here long?’
‘About three months,’ she answered. ‘It was his wish that I should live here.’
He looked at the photograph again.
‘Do you know Constable Burnett?’
He saw a that blood came to her face and went away again.
‘Yes, I know the fool!’ she said really angrily. And then she realised that she had said something that ladies do not say, and she went on in more softly: ‘Mr. Burnett is rather sentimental, and I don’t like sentimental people, especially–well, you understand, Mr.–‘
‘Reeder,’ he said.
‘You understand, Mr. Reeder, that when a girl is engaged and in my situation, those attentions are not very welcome.’
Reeder was looking at her carefully. There was no doubt that she was sad and sorry.
‘On your birthday,’ he said. ‘How very sad! You were born on the seventeenth of October. You are English, of course?’
‘Yes, I’m English,’ she said. ‘I was born in Walworth, I mean in Wallington. I once lived in Walworth.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Twenty-three,’ she answered.
Mr. Reeder took off his glasses and cleaned them on a large handkerchief.
‘The whole thing is sad,’ he said. ‘I am glad that I could speak with you, young lady. Sorry for all this.’
And after these words he left.
She closed the door and saw him stop in the middle of the path and pick up something from a flower bed. She wondered, why this man had picked up the horseshoe she had thrown through the window the night before. Mr. Reeder put the horsehoe into his pocket.
Mr. Reeder came into the police station and showed his credentials to the inspector in charge.
‘Oh, yes, Mr. Reeder,’ said that policeman happily. ‘We have had a note from your office, and I think I had the pleasure of working with you on that big case a few years ago. Now what can I do for you?…Burnett? Yes, he’s here.’
He called the man’s name and a young and good-looking policeman came.
‘He’s the man who discovered the murder,’ said the inspector. ‘Burnett, this man is from the Public Prosecutor’s office and he wants speak with you. You can use my office, Mr.Reeder.’
The young policeman saluted and went with Reeder into the inspector’s office. He was a confident young man.
‘They tell me that you are a bit of a poet, sir,’ Mr. Reeder said.
Burnett turned red.
‘Why, yes, sir. I write a bit,’ he said.
‘Love poems, yes?’ Mr. Reeder asked. ‘One finds time in the night–er–for such things. And there is no better inspiration than love.’
Burnett’s face was red.
‘I’ve done a bit of writing in the night, sir,’ he said, ‘but I’ve always done my duty first.’
‘Naturally,’ said Mr. Reeder. ‘You have a poetical mind. It was very romantic to pick flowers in the middle of the night–‘
‘The gardener told me I could take any flowers I wanted,’ Burnett said quickly. ‘I did nothing wrong.’
‘Yes, I know. You picked the flowers in the dark–by the way, you took a daisy with your chrysanthemums too — tied up your little poem to them and left them at the door with–er— a horseshoe.’
‘I threw them up on to her window-sill,’ corrected the the young man. ‘As a matter of fact, the idea didn’t occur to me until I had passed the house–‘
Mr. Reeder’s looked interested.
‘This is what I want to know,’ he said softly. ‘The idea of leaving the flowers did not occur to you until you had passed her house? When you kicked the horseshoe? Then you went back, picked the flowers, tied them up with the little poem you had already written, and threw them up to her window–we need not say the lady’s name.’
‘I don’t know how you guessed that, but it is a fact. If I’ve done anything wrong–‘
‘It is never wrong to be in love,’ said Mr. J. G. Reeder. ‘Love is a very beautiful experience–I have frequently read about it.’
Miss Magda Grayne had dressed to go out for the afternoon and was putting on her hat, when she saw Mr. Reeder walking up the path. Behind him she recognised a detective. She walked quickly to the window and looked up and down the road. There was a police car and another policeman who was guarding the street.
She took a lot of bank-notes from under her bed and put them into her bag. Then she opened a window, stepped on the flat roof of the kitchen and ran out of the back gate of her garden. Mr. Reeder was still knocking on her door when she sat into a taxi and disappeared.
The Public Prosecutor asked Mr. Reeder to come to his house after dinner and tell him his surprising story
‘Green spoke the truth when he said that he had received a letter from a man who had been in prison with him. The name of this other prisoner was, Arthur George Crater, but he changed it to Malling!’
‘The night guard?’ said the Public Prosecutor surprised.
Mr. Reeder nodded.
‘Yes, sir, it was Arthur Malling. His daughter, Miss Magda Crater, was, as she very truly said, born at Walworth on the 17th of October, 1900. She said Wallington after, but Walworth first. It is interesting that when people take a new surname they hardly ever change their first names.
‘Evidently Malling had planned this robbery very carefully. He had brought his daughter, in a false name, to Ealing, and introduced her to Mr. Green. Magda’s task was to learn all that she could. He probably wanted her to get him the keys. We will never know if Malling recognised Mr. Green or if the girl found out. But he knew anyway and he saw that he has a chance to rob the bank and throw the crime on the manager.
The story about the divorce was used so that Mr. Green would not speak about his engagement with the girl.
‘The night of the seventeenth was chosen for the crime. Malling’s plan to get rid of the manager had succeeded. He saw the letter on the table in Green’s office, read it, took the keys and then took as much money from the bank as he could carry, took them to his house in Firling Avenue, and he hid them under a rose tree. I hope the tree will not die.’
‘When Malling was working under the tree he scratched his hand. Then he hurried back to the bank and waited for Constable Burnett who always came at a certain time. Then he saw him picking up the horsehoe and ran into the bank. He left the door open, put on the handcuffs and the ropes. He put the chloroform on the cloth and thought that the policeman would arrive before anything bad could happen.
‘But Constable Burnett was in love with his daughter and when he found the horseshoe he got the romantic idea. It was Magda’s birthday so he turned and returned to the gardener’s field and picked some flowers, added the poem and the horsehoe and put it on her window-sill. But it took some time; and all the while this young man was showing his love, Arthur Crater – or Malling – was dying!
And because Burnett arrived ten minutes late, the chloroform killed Malling.’
‘How on earth did you find all this out?’ the Public Prosecutor asked in wonder.
Mr. Reeder shook his head sadly.
‘I have that terrible thing that I see evil in everything…in dying rose trees, in horseshoes–in poetry even. I have the mind of a criminal. It is horrible!’
Check your comprehension
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