Beanie turned to us and said: ‘I – I think I’ve just seen a murder.’
It was Friday morning, the third of July, and the five members of the Detective Society were up in our dorm after breakfast. There were four minutes left until the first school bell, so we were busy piling books into our school bags and doing up our ties and chattering. Daisy, of course, was entirely ready, so she was lying on her bed with her hands pillowed behind her, staring thoughtfully at the cracks on the dorm ceiling. I was still making my bed, folding the scratchy blanket carefully over the neat sheets. Kitty was trying to get her hair to curl and Lavinia was struggling with her tie in front of the small mirror.
Beanie had been standing by the open window, warm summer-morning air breathing over her, staring out at the green tangle of Oakeshott Woods as if in a dream – and then she turned round and made her announcement. She said it quietly, in rather an awed voice, as though she could not believe the words she was saying.
We all stopped talking and stared at her.
‘WHAT did you say?’ asked Daisy, sitting bolt upright with a bounce.
Beanie was frozen, her fingertips clutching the window frame, and then she gasped, and shook herself, and pointed her finger out at the woods. ‘Come and look! Come and look!’ she cried. ‘Oh, quickly! There he is, on the ridge, next to that tree with a bare branch!’
We all rushed over and crowded round her at the window, staring out at the woods. Our House is on Oakeshott Hill, above Deepdean School, and our dorm faces away from the school buildings, towards the main wood itself. The road from school to House is on our right, and it winds back down again towards Deepdean town on our left, and so in front of our eyes was nothing but green leaves and blue sky, and the next high hill with trees standing up at the top of its ridge.
‘Where is he? Where?’ asked Daisy frantically, turning her head from side to side as though there might be a murderer behind each tree.
‘He’s gone!’ said Beanie with a little gasp. ‘He must have ducked down after her – but he was there, and she was there, and then he put out his arms and— Oh! He choked her to death, I saw it!’
She was shaking, I could see. Kitty put her arms round her in a comforting way, but Beanie stood rigid, breathing in short little pants.
Daisy looked at me, swift and sharp. I knew what she meant – that she believed Beanie. It is true that Beanie does not lie, at least not on purpose. If she says something, it is at least true to her. And if Beanie had seen a crime… then this was a moment for the Detective Society.
‘Come away from the window, everyone,’ said Daisy, in her Detective Society President voice. Her eyes were suddenly brighter than they had been all term. ‘Except you, Lavinia. You stand guard and watch, in case anything else occurs or he appears again. Beanie, explain yourself at once. Hazel, you take notes.’
‘It was awful!’ Beanie kept on saying. ‘Awful!’
‘Yes, all right, what was?’ asked Daisy fiercely, as I rushed to my tuck box and pulled out a new casebook, my hands trembling just a little. I opened it to its first page and looked up at Beanie, my pencil hovering over the paper. ‘Time is of the essence,’ Daisy continued. ‘You’ll forget if you don’t tell us quickly!’
‘Start at the beginning, Beanie,’ I said, trying to sound reassuring (for Daisy, of course, is not reassuring in the slightest). ‘It’s all right. What happened?’
Beanie chewed on the end of her plait and furrowed her brow. There was a long pause. At last she took a gasping breath and began.
‘We’d just come up from breakfast. Lavinia went to the mirror to put her tie on straight, and, Hazel, you were making your bed, and I was looking for my Maths book. Only I couldn’t find it, so I went to the window to look out at the woods and see if I could remember where it was. Then I began to think about Mummy seeing the woods this weekend and how much she’ll like them, and so I leaned out on the sill and I sort of stared into the distance and—’
At this, Lavinia made a grumbling sound, and Kitty said, ‘She’s getting to it, aren’t you, Beanpole?’
‘Oh yes, sorry,’ said Beanie. ‘Anyway, you know how sometimes when you’re staring at nothing much your eyes sort of focus without you noticing? I did that, with that ridge across from House. I suddenly realized that I was watching two people, a lady and a man.’
‘What did they look like?’ I asked.
‘Ordinary-ish,’ said Beanie. ‘It’s too far away to see details, but they were wearing summer coats – you know, just like any grown-up.’
Daisy, who had been sitting on her hands in an effort to remain calm, leaped to her feet. ‘Detective Martineau!’ she cried. ‘Have I taught you nothing? This is absolutely diabolical observation. Were they tall? Short? Fair or dark? Fat or thin?’
‘They had hats on!’ said Beanie, shrinking into herself. ‘And— Oh, I don’t know. The man was a bit taller than the woman, I think. I didn’t really think anything about them – they just looked like parents, like grown-ups. You know. I thought they were a couple, from the way they were standing talking together. Their heads were sort of bent together. But then they began to argue.
‘I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were waving their arms about, so I could tell it was bad. And then the man pulled the lady to him, and he put his hands around her neck and he squeezed. The lady was shoving at his shoulders, but it didn’t work, and she suddenly went all limp and fell down so I couldn’t see her any more, and he let go of her, and that’s when I turned round and said… what I said, and when I turned back he was gone! That poor lady!’
Beanie gave a sobbing gulp, and Kitty put her arms round her.
‘It’s all right, Beans,’ she said. ‘You’re safe, and he shan’t hurt you.’
‘But what if he saw me!’ cried Beanie.
‘I shouldn’t think he did,’ said Daisy. ‘And if he did, what would he have seen from that distance? A girl with brown hair in a Deepdean uniform. That could be anyone!’
‘I’m sure he didn’t see you, Beanie,’ I said, to try to calm the situation. ‘But—’
‘But,’ Daisy jumped in, ‘I must say that your story seems credible enough to investigate. And investigate we must. Detective Martineau, it is entirely possible that you have been witness to a murder!’
Find out exactly what Beanie saw in the new Murder Most Unladylike mystery