The following account is an incident which occurred in the early twentieth century during the visit to America by Inspector Albert Marquard of Scotland Yard. This account of Colonel Willoughby Jones in his “Memoirs of a Southern Host” affords an interesting problem in observation and deduction. Would you have been able to anticipate the conclusions of the Inspector?
The conversation of Inspector Marquard was always highly interesting to me. The man trained to observations and deduction finds much of interest in commonplace everyday life, as I learned when I had opportunity to entertain the Inspector during his short visit to Atlanta.
One October day we had driven out some forty miles into the country. Marquard was a confirmed lover of landscape: trees, clouds, and rolling hills. In order to pint out the beauty of a particular view I had stopped the car in the road at the side of a large meadow, when the Inspector directed my attention some fifty yeards up the roadside to something which I had not observed.
A white linen tablecloth was spread under the largest of the few trees in the meadow, perhaps fifty yards in from the road. it was spread for a picnic; the silverware glinted in the sunlight which filtered through the leaves. Beside it stood a handsome dining kit box, such as is used by motorists. It certainly was a picnic, but an abandoned picnic. Not a human being was in sight, and there was no spot within a quarter of a mile where anyone could be concealed.
“What a strange sight!” I said. “Where are the people?”
Our curiosity aroused, we left the car and walked over the meadow to the spot.
“Not unlike the traditional description of the captain’s cabin on board the Marie Celeste!” said Marquard, evidently much amused and pleased to have run across this rather baffling circumstance while he was on vacation.
The spread cloth was of a fine quality of linen, and five places had been laid around it, and a most tempting meal was set. The china and other picnic paraphernalia were neatly arranged; the silver was ood quality plated ware.
It flashed through my mind that there had been a party of spinsters frightened off by a bull, or perhaps even an innocently grazing cow. I outlined my theory to the Inspector.
“It could hardly have been that!” he said. “There is no one on the horizon. If they had run to their motor car to escape a bull they probably would have returned by now to pick up this valuable dining kit.”
The whim struck us both to sit down and wait, and for five minutes we smoked, expecting at any moment to see the picnickers approaching across the meadow. As they did not appear I urged Marquard to look into the matter more closely.
We had noticed upon approaching that, some twenty feet beyond the cloth, a small camp fire had been burning. A few charred sticks were still smoking.
At four of the five places around the cloth, cups for coffee had been set; but none of the coffee had been poured from a large thermos bottle in which it stood. At each of these places was also a half grapefruit, partially consumed. At the fifth place stood a mug of milk, untouched. A loaf of bread, sliced but still complete and unbuttered, rested on a large plate in the center. Beside it was a bottle of olives and a bowl half full of chicken salad. Plates at four of the places bore equal portions of the salad, with a smaller portion at the fifth place, where stood the mug of milk. There were also an unopened box of crackers, two opened boxes of sardines, and an opened jar of marmalade. And at one corner of the cloth was a small plate which, from traces left on its surface, had evidently contained a quantity of butter.
“Inspector,” I said, “now I have a chance to see you in action. Why was the picnic abandoned? Who composed this party? Which one of them, if any one, brought this about? I give it up.”
“Come, come, Colonel!” replied Marquard, “the answers are upon the table and need only to be read. Surely you see that.”
Do you see?
1. What occurrence had caused the picnickers to abandon their food and equipment?
2. From what is this deduced?
3. Of whom was the party composed?
4. From what do you deduce this?
5. Which one was most instrumental in bringing about the abandonment?
6. From what do you deduce this?
(See the comment section below for the answers.)
The above mystery is borrowed from The Second Baffle Book (NY: Doubleday, Doran, & Company, Inc., 1929).