Wirgman's Theory

Whatever might be said against Roger Wirgman?and his intimates, had they been willing to speak, might have said a good deal?it was not to be denied that he was a man of marked individuality. And in this twentieth century world a man of individuality is like a rosebush in a bed of weeds. I don't know that my metaphor is exactly applicable to Roger Wirgman, for there was little about him, morally or physically, that suggested roses. He was lank of figure with the brow of a philosopher and the mouth of a satyr.

He was widely read, rather than well read; he had a passion for criminology, and murder was his study predilect. He contended?and facts offer no lack of justification for his contention?that the dictum 'murder will out' was found, when tested, to be as fallacious as most proverbial tenets.

'Given,' he would say in his cold-blooded manner, 'a man of sufficient education, with an imagination wide enough to foresee all possible issues, and intelligence strong enough to provide capably for each and every one of those issues so as completely to cover up his tracks, and he may kill with impunity.

'Think of the hundreds?indeed, I might almost say thousands?of yearly undiscovered murderers. Why are their crimes not brought home to them? Because, possessed of the qualities I have mentioned, they have successfully effaced all traces of any implicating evidence.

'Now, what is the first question that is asked when an investigation is opened? It is: Who could have had a motive for doing this? To baffle research at the outset, therefore, we must arrange that no motives shall be apparent. So that when a man is noxious, and his removal becomes a desideratum or a thing that at some future time may be necessary, we must look to it that we do not betray those feelings by over inveighing against him and exposing our inimical sentiments. On the contrary, let us feign and protest friendship and affection for him; let us court him, and make it appear that we are his dearest friend. Thus, when some day he is found dead, with a suggestion of foul play attaching to his end, and it comes to be asked who were his enemies, none shall think of naming us.'

In this fashion would he pursue his pet theme, dilating upon the contriving of accidents by land and water in a horrible, cold-blooded, logical manner that made his audience shudder.

'To listen to you,' said Pegram one night after Wirgman had delivered himself in this usual strain, 'one might almost believe you had actual experience.'

'On the contrary,' rejoined Wirgman with a touch of whimsical regret, 'I'm afraid that I am never likely to have an opportunity of applying my theories. Nevertheless, I am convinced that should the occasion arise I could prove them sound; though, for obvious reasons, I should unfortunately be unable to lay my results before you.'

'Wirgman, you'd make a nasty enemy,' laughed Pegram; 'and I for one am glad to rank among your friends.'

'Touch wood,' muttered a humourist, 'to avert the omen.'

'Come to think of it, though,' rejoined another, 'it is really his friendship that is dangerous, for the first step according to his methods entails making a close friend of his proposed victims.'

At that there was a fairly general and good-humouredly bantering laugh at Wirgman and his theory, and the topic was abandoned for others in better concert with a club smokeroom.

Little did Harry Pegram dream how soon that theory was to be put into practice against himself; and still less did Wirgman think how he was to discover the gulf that lies between theories based upon human actions and their application.

The thing came about six months later. It arose from a sufficiently common cause?a woman, whom by an ill chance they had both elected to woo. She was a poor thing herself in every sense unworthy of the struggle that followed between the rivals; but then is it not in the tortuous way of things that such women as these shall have power to inspire great passions and stir up great strife?

A coolness, slight at first, but later more remarkable, fell between the two friends. They grew distant in their manner, and avoided each other in so marked a degree that their estrangement grew into matter for conversation. Then Pegram did a mean and foolish thing. He uttered a slander calculated to harm Wirgman. When it came to Wirgman's ears and he discovered the source of it, he flew into a violent rage?self-possessed though he ordinarily was?and swore to kill the fellow. The threat was voiced in that same club smokeroom, and loudly enough to be heard by its every occupant. That he would kill Pegram they looked upon as mere hyperbolical expression of his passion?a mere figure of speech. But that his anger was deep they realised, and they implored him to calm hinself. Outwardly he succeeded in doing so; but inwardly his rage boiled on, and the desire to do for that man's existence what that man had done for his character was unabated.

Had anything been needed to swell his rancour he had it a week later in the announcement of Pegram's betrothal to the lady. Wirgman had over-estimated his own attractions, her show of favour had lured him on, and perhaps justified him in building an elaborate castle in the air. He relied upon his marriage to mend his crippled resources?for the lady was well endowed. This castle of his now came toppling about his ears, and the financial crisis which he was compelled to face deepened his ill will towards Pegram, and carried him a step farther in the contemplation of that gentleman's removal.

One night in the solitude of his elegant chambers he pondered the injury that had been done him. He cursed the moment of folly in which he had threatened Pegram's life. He recalled the theory he had been so fond of expounding, and he reflected bitterly upon how grievously he had neglected to be guided by it now that its application had become desirable. Gloomily he sat and thought. He was a man of stern, determined mind, without conscience and without any principles to speak of; and he found himself dwelling upon the contemplation of murder as calmly and coldly as he had been wont to dwell upon its theoretical aspect.

A dozen means suggested themselves to his fertile brain, any one of which he might have adopted with safety had he but refrained from alienating Pegram, and, above all from foolishly proclaiming his resentment and threatening his rival's life.

With brows knit he sat on through the night, and thought with all the intensity of his subtle intellect, until at length the frown lifted, and a smile gradually stole over his strong face, and relaxed the lines of his cruel mouth. He had found a way.

He realised that it was beyond his power?and the act he contemplated must render it doubly so?to win the woman, or, in fact, to reap any advantage beyond the satisfaction his enemy's destruction might afford him. But that satisfaction he deemed more than sufficient. Introspection showed him that he hated the woman now almost as bitterly as he hated the man; and he gathered pleasure from thought that the blow he intended to strike would be sufficiently far-reaching to wound her also. For this it was worth while abandoning England and his friends, even had not his creditors rendered such a step imperative in any event, now that he was not to have the assistance of her wealth to set him straight; and friends, after all, were of very slight consideration to a man of such self-centred interests.

Pegram was at the time staying down at Port Wimbush with the lady?whose name, by the way, was Miss Drummond?and her mother. No locality could have been better suited to Wirgman's projects than this little seaside resort.

His first step was to contrive a disagreement with his bankers, which afforded him the motive he sought for withdrawing his deposit, a matter of some three thousand pounds, representing all that he possessed.

On the morrow he left town. But before he went he took care to look in at the club, and announce to everybody likely to be interested that he was going down to Port Wimbush to administer to Harry Pegram the completest thrashing ever one gentleman visited upon another.

What he was about to do he knew. For the manner of it he must profit by such circumstances as should offer themselves. He put up at the Swan Hotel?having previously ascertained that Pegram and the ladies were staying at the Crown-and during the whole of the next day he kept his room.

After dinner, as dusk was setting in, he stepped across to the Crown Hotel, and, strolling into the bar, he called for a whisky-and-soda. Through the glass doors he peered into the smokeroom, and his eyes gleamed with satisfaction as they lighted upon Pegram, sitting there with his paper and his post-prandial cigar. Wirgman was building heavily upon a slender foundation of probabilities. This, the first of the circumstances he had relied upon, proved as he had reckoned. He emptied his glass, and, moving over to the office, he inquired was Miss Drummond in the house. He received an affirmative reply. She was in her sitting room. Truly the gods of chance were fighting

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